Aloha readers and readettes!
First off, I have to brag a bit: I went to Cowboys Stadium this weekend, and it was awesome. Never mind the fact my Cowboys lost and looked lost, the experience was sensational, hanging out in a VIP suite with my dad watching the game, taking some great photos. The stadium is enormous, pictures don’t do it justice, and that giant HDTV looks like it was made for Paul Bunyan. Moreover, while I didn’t get any autographs, I did get to high-five ROLB DeMarcus Ware AND…I shook the hand of one Jerry Jones. I’ve only been to two professional football games, both Dallas games (the first being back in 2005 against the New Orleans Saints), but each one is memorable for me, not only for the camaraderie among fans and total strangers dedicated to supporting a team, but also for bonding with my dad, becoming more of a football fan than ever before.
As the phrase goes, “Unforgettable…that’s what you are….”
Now, since this is the halfway mark of the NFL season, I’m doing something differently. Instead of reviewing the week with my Standouts and Stand-Don’ts, I’ll be reviewing the first 8 weeks of the season with some very prestigious awards. How prestigious? So much so, it makes the Oscars look like those first place ribbons everyone gets at summer camp for participation.
1. Best Team in the League-New England Patriots (6-1)
The 6-1 record notwithstanding, Bill Belichick has stepped back into his role of master coordinator, able to coach and guide a young team without any superstars (save for Brady and Welker) to success. Perhaps his best move this year was trading WR Randy Moss to the Vikings for a third round pick, then watched as Randy lasted less than a month in Minnesota before being waived and thus released by the Vikings due to a lack of production and off-field drama.
Runner up-Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
2. Worst Team in the League/Most Disappointing Team in the League-Dallas Cowboys (1-6)
I know the Buffalo Bills are winless, but even they’ve put up more of a fight than the lame-duck Cowboys. After an 11-5 NFC East winning 2009 season, the Cowboys were considered (once again) Super Bowl favorites, especially this year, where Super Bowl XLV is in Arlington, TX, home of the Cowboys. In what is probably considered already one of the biggest downward spirals in recent football memory, Dallas has been plagued with bad luck, bad play, penalties, lack of heart, bad coaching, lack of fight, and any combination of aforementioned negatives. Watching them on Sunday playing Jacksonville was the culmination of their pathetic attempt to win purely on talent alone; they have made decent at best players this year (like David Garrard and Jay Cutler) look like Hall of Fame players. With Tony Romo knocked out of the season, all possible energy in the team has dissipated. Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett are goners. So will a lot of people by the end of the season. Change is coming. It just can’t come soon enough.
Runner up to Worst Team-Carolina Panthers (1-6)
Runner up to Most Disappointing-Minnesota Vikings (2-5)
3. Best Surprise-Lions, Chiefs, and Rams
All three teams last year were competitive, but ultimately failed to achieve success. These three teams last year were a combined 7-41. At this point in the season, they are 11-11. Looking closely at each team, you can see the differences immediately. With Todd Haley’s Chiefs, a revamped offense led by a strong rushing tandem, more production from Matt Cassel, and the hiring of Charlie Weis has revitalized this team. Adding to the mix a tougher defense coming from new coordinator Romeo Crennel and you have the current AFC West leader. The Lions are 2-5, but they share the same record as the Vikings. Coach Jim Schwartz has brought maturity and talent to this team, thanks to some solid draft picks in DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best, while Matthew Stafford has done well in limited action and his backup Shaun Hill was decent. They’ve played much harder and more respectable than ever before. Finally, the Rams have found their franchise QB in Sam Bradford. With Bradford’s abilities, they don’t have to rely on Steven Jackson all the time, and they can spread the ball more often through the air. I’d like to see some more playmakers in the receiving corps, but in the lowly NFC West, what they have is enough to win the division.
4. Worst Surprise-Premature playoff contenders: Dallas, Vikings, Bengals, 49ers.
I’ve said enough about Dallas, but they’re not the only disappointing teams in the league. Minnesota has tanked, both on the field and off. Publicly, with the recent Brett Favre/Jenn Sterger sex scandal, the desperate Randy Moss trade and subsequent embarrassing release, the Childress-Favre clashes, and the overall lack of offense, they are pretty close to the Cowboys in terms of “suckage”. The Bengals, also a 2009 division winner, can’t seem to find any rhythm or identity, despite a resurgence e of sorts from Terrell Owens. Furthermore, the predicted NFC West winner this year, the 49ers have also suffered public backlash from coach Mike Singletary’s questionable play-calling and handling of the QB situation, as well as the inability to put teams away.
5. Rookie of the Year-Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams)
It’s so tempting to put Dez Bryant or Ndamukong Suh as THE rookie of the year, and to be fair, all 3 are having excellent rookie seasons so far. Yet, when it comes down to it, Bradford has made more of an impact this year on his team, to the point where the 1-15 Rams of 2009 are now the 4-4 Rams of 2010 (so far). Even if they lose the rest of their games, they’re already more improved than last year. Much of the success has come from Bradford, who has taken the burden and workload off of standout running back Steven Jackson. Even with Dez Bryant’s skills, the Cowboys are still 1-5, and as good as Suh is on defense, he can’t dominate by himself on defense, it’s so much harder. I’m sticking with Bradford, but Suh is a close second.
6. Best Coach of the Year-Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
At 5-2, the Steelers are in the top 3 teams in the league, and a lot of that has to do with Coach Tomlin. First, he had to handle a seemingly disastrous offseason, starting with Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault case and subsequent suspension. Then, he traded Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes to the Jets, losing a deep threat. Moving onto the regular season, he had to rely on a turntable of backup QBs like Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dixon to make up for Big Ben’s suspension of the first four games; both Leftwich and Dixon ended up being injured and lost for the season. Yet, the Steelers, predicted to go 0-4 without Ben, went 3-1. The defense stood up and dominated, with their opponents’ averaging 12.5 points per game. Perennial Steelers backup Charlie Batch was effective enough, and the running game returned. Now with Roethlisberger back, the offense has adjusted to its normal mode. Moreover, Tomlin also has had to deal with star linebacker James Harrison’s dramatic antics over the NFL’s enforced rules on hard hits; the threat to “retire” was a joke. While other teams have had their share of drama and angst, no one’s handled it better so far than Tomlin.
Runner-up: Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
7. Worst Coach of the Year-Brad Childress (Minnesota Vikings)
Putting all your Super Bowl hopes on a 41-year old QB is risky, even if that QB is Brett Favre. What Favre did last year was amazing for a 40-year old (or for any QB of any age), but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believed he could do it again. Even Brett wasn’t sure, so much so that the Vikings had to personally show up at his house and ask him yes or no. So you have the requisite Brett Favre drama, what’s next? A losing record. What do you do? How do you handle it? Argue with your star QB for starts, with the two of you trading subtle barbs back and forth. Now how do you fix the season? You bring in Randy Moss, who has his own emotional baggage. Ok, at least he’s proven to play well. But to make worst coach of the year so far, you have to mess up even more so now. So, instead of seeing how the season plays out with Randy Moss, you waive him, less than ONE month after you traded for him and gave up a third round pick to New England. Brad, you weren’t winning with Randy, and he wasn’t playing at a pro-level, that’s understandable. But how did you not predict that when you even agreed to the trade? You knew what you were getting into with both Moss and Favre. Unless the return of WR Sidney Rice proves fortuitous to Favre’s gameplay, this team is losing more games than the Lions, and Childress may be coaching elsewhere.
More creative awards coming soon…
Week 9 Predictions:
Week 8 was another dead week, I went 7-7 again. But, I predict a rebound this time around. I can sense it, much like when you feel a pimple coming on. Ok, here we go with the picks.
San Diego at Houston-two offensive powerhouses with “ok” defense, I see San Diego coming off a big win at Tennessee with a surge of confidence against a struggling Texans team. San Diego-20, Houston-16.
New Orleans-30, Carolina-21
New England-21, Cleveland-13
Tampa Bay-24, Atlanta-20
Chicago-13, Buffalo-14 (UPSET of the week)
NY Jets-17, Detroit-24
NY Giants-31, Seattle-20
Kansas City-27, Oakland-10
Dallas-13, Green Bay-24