The NFL is impossible to predict. At least that's what I'm telling myself today. Take, for example, the year 2004. The Steelers were coming off a 6-10 performance, and there was no reason to believe they'd be any better, let alone a playoff team. I was convinced they would be terrible. They went 15-1. With a rookie quarterback at the helm. This year, with no Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games, a shaky offensive line, a weakened receiving corps, and an aging defense, I thought they were at best a 9-7 team. But that was before they completely dismantled Tennessee in Nashville.
Now, I'm still not buying in completely, because things can go south in a hurry in this league. All it would take is a Troy Polamalu hamstring pull and Charlie Batch breaking both of his arms taking a firm shotgun snap from center. It could happen. Having said that, the defense right now looks just as good as it did two years ago during an all-time great season-long performance, and it may even be better due to the emergence of Lawrence Timmons. You rarely, if ever, see Chris Johnson get hit as squarely as Timmons hit him on Sunday. He makes the Steelers' linebacking corps by far the best in the league.
There seems to be a collective understanding among Steeler Nation this morning that it doesn't make one iota of difference who plays quarterback for this team for the next two weeks. It's disappointing to see Dennis Dixon get hurt because he's young and it would be good to see if he can show some game-to game growth, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. If we get to the bye at 4-0 (a possibility given The Flustering of Joe Flacco and the formula Cincinnati provided for shutting down Baltimore) or 3-1, this team is going places.
Do not underestimate how good Roethisberger is at playing quarterback in the National Football League, even as you contemplate his pronounced shortcomings as a human. If you're worried about the offense, stop. Think about the Denver Broncos circa 1987. They had no real running game, relying on the merely serviceable Sammy Winder. The receivers, especially if you plucked them from the Denver roster and stuck them on any other team, wouldn't scare anybody: Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, Steve Watson, Orson Mobley. The one thing that team did have was a quarterback who, if given a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, beat you every time. And his teeth were spectacular.
Some other thoughts on this weekend's action:
- There is no precedent for what Michael Vick is doing. Nobody goes to prison for 18 months and returns to the NFL as the best athlete on the field. He was at times incredible against the Lions. And is it possible that he's a better quarterback now than before he went away? He's scrambling now largely to buy time to throw downfield, and he's doing so with increased accuracy. All indications are he'll be back on the bench next weekend as Kevin Kolb returns from a concussion, but how long before he's the starting quarterback for the Bills or the Raiders?
- Among other things I was dramatically wrong about heading into the season: Brett Favre. I foresaw a backlash to the anti-Favre backlash, but after that woeful performance against Miami, I think we're looking at an imminent supplemental backlash to the prolonged Brett Favre backlash. I give it two more weeks until Favre and Brad Childress come to blows on the sideline.
- How much does off-the-field management and administration matter in the NFL? We've already got plenty of evidence that certain teams do it right (Steelers, Patriots, Ravens) and some do it terribly (Raiders, Bungles, Browns). Here's one more stark illustration of how the guys on the sidelines inform the product on the field: the Washington Redskins. They had a coach last year in Jim Zorn who called the following play two consecutive times, with the second attempt coming AFTER the Giants sniffed out the play in the first instance and called a time out.
- Take a minute to let that sink in. Waiting. Waiting. Yep, that's a bad coach. This year, under the new Mike "My face is more orange than a traffic cone" Shanahan regime, the 'Skins are thisclose to being 2-0 after facing Dallas and Houston, two teams with decidedly greater talent. The Washington Redskins have absolutely no business competing for the NFC East lead right now.
- Without the benefit of fantasy football and other forms of gambling, the NFL regular season would be about 60% unwatchable (or 80%, per Finesse). Witness the slate of games in Week 2, which included the following gems: Chiefs-Browns, Buc-Panthers, and Rams-Raiders. You couldn't have paid me even to watch the "highlights" on NFL Redzone if I wasn't managing or co-managing 4 fantasy football teams. I have no role in managing a fifth fantasy football team only because Mrs. Artistry does not need my help in any way, shape, or form. Even the Sunday night Manning Bowl wasn't worth watching on its own merits. Bring on the NHL regular season, where GTOG watches every game, no matter how meaningless where every game matters.