From East (PIT / NYG / DC) to West (SF), North (MIN / GB) to South (ATL), the landscape has been littered with some unexpectedly trashy play as NFL'13 approaches quarter pole.
Most the litter-bugs reside in the National but don't be singing American praises too loudly. Besides the Broncos, Patriots' 3-0 mark and upstart Chiefs & Dolphins (who could fall like souffles), AFC has had its share of sloppy ball in early going.
The darlings of Denver were the popular pre-season pick to represent junior conference next February. They're meeting expectations, and then some.
WK1: DEN (v BAL) 49-27
WK2: DEN (@ NYG), 41-23
WK3: DEN (v OAK), 37-21
On scale from 1 (cakewalk) to 10 (minefield), Denver's remaining slate rates a 7, with road-tests in Dallas (10/6), Indy (10/20), NE (11/24), intra-division foe KC (12/1) and Houston (12/22) when Texans should be back in the saddle. And don't under-estimate DEN wins over inconsistent Ravens nor struggling Giants. They'll find their stride.
College - Pro Disconnect
If you're one of those guys who fell head-over-heels for flash QB, thinking the running man's athleticism and fleeting brilliance presaged a cultural revolution in the NFL that spelled doom for Mr. Pocket Passer, you can come out from under the covers now.
As long as college coaches keep substituting run-QB in place of devising real offensive game-plans, and getting some pretty nifty results in the process (Young / Newton / Tebow / Manziel), the rebirth of the old single-wing (ball-hog) tailback will live on.
Just don't expect Mr. Athletic to catch-on big in the pro game (the disconnect), where the idiom, 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me (and I'm out of a job)' is etched on every OC's mind.
The record to WK4: Kaep crams to catch up on D-read, former fleet-of-foot RG3 ain't the same, Tebow & Young are outta' the game and injury-plagued Michael hangs on.
The savvy GM (and draft prognosticator) will dig deeper in future NFL draft pools for the vanishing breed of pocket passer, preferably with mobility, rather than spend a high-RD pick on another run-QB development project, whose 'athleticism' won't set him apart in a business where prevalence of speed is matched by strength and football smarts.
Cherry Picks Week 4
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) v. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) @ Wembley (London): 1:00 CBS (EST)
Battle of jugger-nots. One national power-ranking puts Vikes 24, Pitt 26, another, PIT 25, MIN 30. I rank PRs down there with mock-drafts, Smith & Skip (ESPN) and old milk: you know it's bad, but when it's in your face you gotta check it out. As both gurus struggle in the O-scheme, this one turns on Big Ben's field tactics (TDs & TOs (4/Wk3)) and Vikings' D. Even with steals up (6-I) and Cassel (?) calling, as long as Vikes coddle QBs (3S / Allen 1), Steelers 'play a blinder' and prevail across the pond.
New York Giants (0-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (3-0): 1:00 Fox
Free of run-around in Philly, Reid now has what he likes: steady QB (Smith), top-tier RB w/hands (Charles) and so far, stout stoppers (15S / 4-INT). KC cautions: more WR hands and tighter QB-wall (10S). Tom wishes he had Andy's issues. Li'l run game adds lots to Eli's pressure (11S) and flubs follow (8) that defense can't cover (3S / 2-INT). But this is classic upset scenario: proud club, back-against-the-wall in gut-check road game vs hot home team whose stars are aligning. It's Steve Martin kinda' NFL (W&C). Giants win.
Chicago Bears (3-0) @ Detroit Lions (2-1): 1:00 Fox (GOTW)
New & improved Bears? Fast starts before, then schooled by GB (WK9). Both seek 2-0 in intra-division. Trestman brings new O-minded set. Looks promising: Forte fine (4.1), ThD% (44) nice, Jay safer (3S) w/cool C% (67+), Rob launches (58) and D creative (11-TA). More hands, Devin finding KR groove and sack-authority (5S) are contendership keys. New Lions? Winning close ones in '13. Stafford smooth (64%), gets time (2S) and run game balanced (B&B). Losing 'Foodie (Nate)' hurts (19R), Bush gimpy, DET penalties piling (27) and there is 'Suh sigh.' Still, home guys adjust, Lions win.
Seattle Seahawks (3-0) @ Houston Texans (2-1): 1:00 Fox
Texans: "A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma (Pesci)." For one bad quarter, (BAL), HOU might be 3-0 and AFC big shots. One problem is as clear as a Texas' sky in mid-July: the take-away well is running dry (1-INT / 0FR). Tighten OL (7S), kick 50+ (0-3) and clean-it-up (26P), otherwise, fairly ship-shape. Seattle's T/A ratio tops (5/5), ThD & TOP% strong, Wilson manages well and D is stout; (-) Lynch low gear (3.4), flags flyin' (23P), so-so schedule so far and Russ needs patina. Motivation moves mountains. No GB-like beatdown in Houston in 2013 (WK6-'12). Texans "walk right" and triumph.
New England Patriots (3-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (1-2): 8:35 NBC
"Now, this is not the end," but maybe "the beginning of the end (Churchill on El Alamein '42)." Quote-mix from one of London's finest, during this week of trans-Atlantic football fandom. If WC were alive today (1874-65) and an NFL devotee ("Onslow" of KUA is a Packers' fan), he too might acknowledge the early ebb of gridiron's greatest dynasty since Walsh & Seifert (SF). Brady, Belichick & Mayo are still bueno but starting to lose aura of invincibility. A-birds bunged-up (Steven & Roddy) but have covered admirably, in spite. Ryan, Osi, R-Mac & air-corps need "their finest hour" as foe flawed but formidable. Atlanta wins this battle.
NFL Hunch Line
Photo Credit: Winston Churchill / 6-3-43 / wc.cc / British Imperial War Museum