We all come into a new NFL season with our thoughts on how it might go. So far, this season just seems different. I can’t remember a year in recent history where there’s been so much yo-yoing for most of the league on a weekly basis.
But, y’all know me. I take a measured approach and don’t overreact. Now that we have almost a full five weeks in the books, I want to look where I was right and wrong on some predictions for the season.
Right: The Indianapolis Colts can still win without Andrew Luck
In the season preview, I said the Colts would still win nines games with Jacoby Brissett entering the lineup for a retiring Andrew Luck. Well, they are right on track with a surprising victory in Kansas City. Indianapolis won the game even with multiple starters out due to injury and showed the blueprint to beat against the Chiefs.
On offense: ball control. The Colts’ offensive line dominated this game. They controlled the line of scrimmage and kept Brissett clean for most of the game. Indy only scored 19 points and had 4.5 yards per play, which aren’t ideal numbers for success. Brissett didn’t push the ball downfield often and was too quick to leave the pocket, both issues he’s had at times this season. Nonetheless, the offense did enough Sunday night. With the Colts’ offense dictating the tempo, they limited the opportunities for Patrick Mahomes.
The Colts’ defense gets the game ball, though. They harassed Mahomes by getting pressure against a badly beat up Chiefs offensive line. They stopped the run often and got a huge fourth-down stop late in the game:
Mahomes was inaccurate for large parts of the game for two reasons. The first was the Colts’ gameplan. They got super aggressive on the receivers and made it hard for them to get much separation, which is similar to the plan the Patriots used in the AFC Championship Game.
The other reason: injuries. Mahomes reinjured his left ankle and couldn’t step into his throws. He then wasn’t able to escape the pocket, where we know how dangerous he can be. To make matters worse for Mahomes, the Chiefs’ offensive line was down a left tackle and left guard, plus their center is new to his role.
No matter what, the Colts bullied in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They came into one of the toughest environments in the NFL and handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season. They proved they shouldn’t be overlooked this season.
Wrong: The Oakland Raiders aren’t a train wreck
The Raiders are now 3-2 and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. The Raiders physically manhandled the Bears in London Sunday in maybe the best performance of the weekend. It left me wowed. The Raiders’ offensive line helped them get out to a 17-0 lead and then ice the game late.
The Oakland offense, which struggled the first three weeks to do much after getting off the early script, has shown life the last two weeks. It’s been creative and aggressive, led by the offensive line. But the offense playing well isn’t a surprise, because it played well down the stretch last season.
Instead, the part where I’m “wrong” is the defense and coaching. The defense has a bunch of dudes. Who’s the best player? Is there anyone another team would trade for? Probably not. Yet, the defense ie playing well. The Raiders are getting to the quarterback and playing fast in the run game. They’ve taken to the coaching.
And that’s where I’m also wrong: I’ve never bought into Jon Gruden as a head coach. They looked like a dumpster fire at times last season, and this offseason was more of the same: Hard Knocks, Antonio Brown, plus the pending move to Vegas. I thought they’d fall apart. They haven’t. That’s a credit to Gruden, his staff, and his players.
Wrong: The Green Bay Packers are real contenders
I didn’t have a strong take on the Packers before the season, other than I thought they’d be a .500 team. They had a new coach, a lack of weapons for Aaron Rodgers, and a defense that hadn’t been good since they won Super Bowl 45. Well, after an impressive win in Dallas, they are officially on the NFC championship watch list.
The offense has slowly taken form. I’ve mentioned this often: It takes 8-10 weeks for a new offense (outside of Sean McVay’s in 2017) to hit its stride. A playcaller knows what he wants to run, but that might not be what his players are good at. So he’s got to get a feel for what works on the fly by running all these plays in the games. By midseason, the good offensive coordinators have figured it out. And I believe the Packers are on the way to figuring it. They still need to be better in the low red zone, though that’s usually where it takes the longest.
However, I’ve been most “wrong” on the defense. The Packers spent the money and draft picks on improving the defense. I just didn’t think they’d come together as quickly at is has. Last year, they ranked near the bottom of the league in passer rating allowed and quarterback hits. This year, they’re near the top. Before the win over the Cowboys, Football Outsiders ranked the Packers’ pass defense at fifth, and I have to imagine it got better after they dominated the Dallas offense for three quarters.
I think the Packers are here to stay.
Right: The Baltimore Ravens are not real contenders
I was never high on the Ravens and even though they are 3-2, it’s fake, folks. The combined records of the teams they’ve beaten is 2-11-1. And when we dig deeper, we see they struggled to beat the Cardinals at home and barely beat the Steelers with a third-string quarterback in overtime, in a game featuring plenty of calls that helped the Ravens.
The Ravens have played poorly in their two games against the teams that have winning records, just like I believed would happen. Baltimore feel like a team, especially with a porous defense, that could fade as the season goes on.
Right: Don’t sleep on the Carolina Panthers
I was bullish on the Panthers before the season, but I didn’t imagine they’d end up 3-2 this way: 0-2 with Cam Newton as the starter and 3-0 with Kyle Allen. Allen owes much of his success to offensive coordinator Norv Turner and all-world running back Christian McCaffrey, who’s in the talk for MVP right now.
The reason I’ve truly liked the Panthers all along is their defense. Head coach Ron Rivera took over the playcalling, and they’ve gotten better each week. They can keep winning.