NFL season isn’t playing out as expected
Remember back when we were young and naive about the NFL?
Like, four weeks ago?
The New Orleans Saints were Super Bowl-bound. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy was primed to win the rushing title. And Michael Sam was the biggest issue on the league’s plate.
The Saints are 1-3. Lacy has averaged 40.3 yards rushing in his first four games. And while Sam is a footnote — the league’s first openly gay player is now on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad — domestic-violence issues have taken center stage.
Through the first quarter of the regular season, a lot of theories floated this summer have unraveled like a cheap knockoff jersey.
Ten of the surprising truths at the season’s quarter pole:
Theory: The New York Jets’ Geno Smith was going to protect the football much better this season.
Truth: Ball security was definitely a focus for the second-year quarterback during the off-season. In August, Jets quarterbacks coach David Lee told reporters: “Just his ball security has been a gigantic (improvement). And that’ll be the biggest turnaround thing for us, if he just takes care of the ball and doesn’t get it knocked loose.” Through four games, Smith has seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles), putting him ahead of last season’s pace.
Theory: Arizona lost way too much on defense to follow up on last season’s finishing flourish.
Truth: The Cardinals, who won seven of their final nine games in 2013, came into this season ravaged on defense, having lost stars Darnell Dockett (injury), Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency). Not many people would have predicted Arizona would be the NFC’s only undefeated team through four weeks — with backup Drew Stanton at quarterback for the last two games, no less — and its reconstructed defense would be ranked fifth and would not have surrendered a point in the fourth quarter.
Theory: Johnny Manziel would be called in from the Cleveland Browns bullpen at the first hint of a stumble by starter Brian Hoyer.
Truth: The Browns are better than their 1-2 record suggests, and Hoyer is still hanging on to his job. With Derek Carr opening the season as Oakland’s starter, and two more rookie quarterbacks starting Sunday — Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater — Johnny Football is more like Johnny Come Lately.
Theory: Nobody’s going to be able to throw on Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary.
Truth: That sure looked to be the case in the Kickoff Opener, when the Seahawks limited Aaron Rodgers to 189 yards passing, and the Green Bay star didn’t throw once in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. But San Diego’s Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns in a Week 2 win over Seattle, and Peyton Manning was a surgeon on Denver’s final drive to force overtime at Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Broncos with a touchdown drive on the opening possession of the extra period.
Theory: The Cincinnati Bengals would struggle without their coveted coordinators, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, who became head coaches in Minnesota and Washington.
Truth: At 3-0, the Bengals are the AFC’s only undefeated team. Gruden’s Redskins are 1-3 and in the NFC East cellar. Zimmer’s Vikings are in a 2-2 cluster with Green Bay and Chicago, behind NFC North-leading Detroit.
Theory: Second-year quarterback EJ Manuel was going to take a big step forward in Buffalo, especially with the help of star rookie receiver Sammy Watkins.
Truth: Manuel took a big step back Monday — to the bench. He has been wildly inconsistent through four games, and the final straw was a 23-17 loss to Houston (and former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.) So, for the moment, Buffalo’s “quarterback of the future” will carry a clipboard for Kyle Orton — everybody’s “quarterback of the past.”
Theory: The New England Patriots must know what they’re doing, getting rid of All-Pro guard Logan Mankins. The offensive line is one of their strong suits.
Truth: Tom Brady has taken a pounding. Through the first three games, he was sacked seven times and hit at least 20. That’s no way to treat the franchise.
Theory: In light of their Ray Rice turmoil that spilled into the season, the Baltimore Ravens might as well call it a year.
Truth: The Ravens have compartmentalized just fine so far. After losing by a touchdown in their opener against the Bengals, the Ravens tore off three straight victories — convincing wins over Pittsburgh and Carolina, and a narrow triumph at Cleveland.
Theory: Thursday night games would be especially intriguing this season, considering they’re all division matchups.
Truth: Precious little intrigue so far. They’ve been blowouts, with Baltimore beating Pittsburgh by 20, Atlanta beating Tampa Bay by 42, and the New York Giants beating Washington by 31. The tackling has been particularly awful, and that stands to reason — defenses are too banged up to play at full speed four days after a Sunday game.
Theory: Everybody’s talking about the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals in the NFC West, but don’t go to sleep on the St. Louis Rams.
Truth: Oh, Sam Bradford’s done for the season? You can go back to sleep.