1. Entering last year, four quarterbacks had thrown for at least 3,000 yards and 20 TDs in their rookie season -- Jim Kelly, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Then Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson nearly doubled the size of that club. To those expecting these three to experience a sophomore slump, observe: Manning, Kelly, and Dalton all put up better numbers in their second year, and if Newton was a less prolific passer, it was only slightly so. More importantly, all four of those quarterbacks led their teams to a better record in their second campaign than in their first. It takes a lot of talent to start and succeed to the level Luck, Wilson, and RGIII did last year, and it would probably be foolish to assume that talent away for no reason.
2. If one of those quarterbacks does see his team regress in the wins column, however, it might be Andrew Luck, because it's very, very hard to see the Colts going 9-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less for a second straight season. It's also hard to picture the Panthers going 1-7 in those same situations again, but, Ron Rivera.
3. Five teams have not won a playoff game since we started putting a two and a zero at the start of the year. They are:
Kansas City (1993)
So if you have to pick one of these teams to break this streak, who are you going with? (Other than "not Buffalo.") Maybe Reggie Bush is the missing piece the Lions have needed. Maybe the Bengals are ready to finally break through and continue on last year's defensive gains. We'll go with the Chiefs and hope that a relatively easy schedule plus hopefully a capable quarterback for the first time in a long time plus a healthy Jamaal Charles equals some ugly win in the Wild Card round against Houston or something.
4. We won't know anything for a month, and it's best to remind yourself of that. Want proof? Here's the list of teams who, after Week 4, had at least a share of the lead in their division but did not end up making the playoffs.
2012 - Philadelphia, Arizona, San Diego, Buffalo, New York Jets, Chicago
2011 - Washington, Tampa, Buffalo, Tennessee, San Diego
2010 - New York Giants, Washington, Arizona, St. Louis, Houston
2009 - New York Giants, San Francisco, Denver
2008 - Chicago, Green Bay, Tampa, San Francisco, Buffalo, Denver
Don't get too pumped or depressed early on - with one exception. If you're a Rams fan, you will know, to a near certainty, whether or not a playoff spot is in your future. Since the start of the 1999 season, St. Louis has gone 5-9 in their opening game. In 4 of the 5 seasons they got the win in Week 1, the Rams went to the playoffs. In 8 of the 9 seasons when the Rams took the loss in the first game, they missed out on the postseason. So, yes: beating the Cardinals is the most important thing this year.
5. SPEED! In 2002, the average NFL team ran 62.7 plays per game. That number remained about the same through the 2009 season, and then, in 2010, we broke the 63 play barrier. It only took two seasons for that number to jump another full play when the average hit 64.2 last year. There's reason to believe it will jump again, as Buffalo and Jacksonville, two of the bottom nine teams in plays per game last year, are in the top 10 this preseason under new leadership. This increase is a good thing, because it means we get more football in this finite journey we call life. Who knows? Perhaps our children's children will live in a world where there two hundred plays per game thanks to the robotic ball that spots itself.
6. Let's talk about sacks. (Let's talk abooooooout sacks.)
Darrelle Revis looks ready to make his debut with the Buccaneers this Sunday, a welcome sight for a defense that has ranked near the bottom of the NFL in touchdown passes allowed and yards per opponent passing attempt for two straight years. Revis does not, however, fix Tampa Bay's inability to sack the quarterback, a deficiency that has plagued the Bucs for four straight years. It's a good thing last year's leading pass rusher didn't leave to go play for the Seaha-wait, what?
Instead of the absence of sacks, let's focus on the positive. If he stays healthy, Ben Roethlisberger is going to continue his climb up the list of history's most tackled quarterbacks, where he currently sits in twenty-fourth place. Big Ben has been sacked at least 30 times every year he's played except one (2005, when he only played 12 games but still was taken down on 23 occasions), and if he hits 30 again this season, he'll jump all the way to 15th on the list, passing Steve Young, Jim Harbaugh and Jeff George. That would put him 152 sacks away from breaking Brett Favre's all-time record. Just this season and about five more like it, Ben. YOU GOT THIS.
7. Kicker contracts are not normally a thing you should care about, but Mason Crosby does not have your average kicker contract. The $400,000 he can earn for making at least 80 percent of his field goals is doable, as 25 kickers with at least 20 attempts did just that last year. The extra $400,000 for connecting on 85 percent? That's a little harder, as only 14 of those 25 from 2012 were able to hit at that rate. But the real rub for Crosby is this -- he's only hit 80 percent of his field goals one year in his career, in 2011, and that was largely thanks to the fact that 20 of his 28 attempts came from inside 40 yards. (By comparison, Crosby only had 12 of his 33 attempts within that range.) This is a situation to watch, if only because of the possibility that Mason Crosby gives Mike McCarthy some major stink-eye when he's sent out to attempt a 55-yarder before halftime.
8. Every time someone talks about the possibility of miserable weather in New Jersey for the Super Bowl, just remind them of this: the coldest two outdoor Super Bowls (VI and IX) have been played in ... New Orleans.