With four weeks of action under our belts, Mike Carlson looks back at this weekend's action and the season so far...
"After our game at Wembley yesterday, could we say the Saints' defense is for real? Especially because any year the Saints' D can play at a league average, they should be playoff locks."
To win a Super Bowl, or at least contend for one, you need to be either exceptional on one side of the ball and league average on the other. Think Denver with Peyton Manning at QB for the first, and Indianapolis with Peyton Manning for the other.
Or you can be better than average on both sides of the ball, with good play-makers, which usually means a very good quarterback. Or you can be Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (though most of the time they are in category three above).
One of the problems with prognosticating after the first quarter of the NFL season is that there seem to be very few teams in any of those three categories (including the Patriots). Which means fluctuating play by journeyman quarterbacks, efficient one week, stumbling the next (cf, Bortles, B); big plays by a defense; injuries or the usual turnovers/special teams let downs/triumphs lead to a certain amount of in-exactitude. Welcome to the NFL.
Was the perception after Week Three that the Bengals had turned their offense around proved real by their big win over Cleveland? Or is just that they were playing Cleveland? After our game at Wembley yesterday, could we say the Saints' defense is for real? Especially because any year the Saints' D can play at a league average, they should be playoff locks.
Can we say the Dolphins' struggles against the Jets were for real? Quick answer: Yes. Are the Jets' better than we thought, or are the Dolphins and Jags really not that much better than what we thought the Jets were? Certainly the Jags deserved at least not to lose that game, though Marquise Lee gave it his best shot to guarantee a loss. But they forced a Josh McCown fumble that, had fumble luck not let McCown fall on the ball, would have given them a shot at the game-winning field goal in regulation.
You'd like to think you could distill some of the certainties of the game into knowledge, but the reality, the beauty, of sport in general and the NFL in particular, is that there are few certainties.
Great players can be schemed away from being major factors, great players can also destroy the best game plan, or best-drawn play. Given how much holding and interference is allowed on any given play, penalties are an insanely random factor: we had 19 flags at Wembley; they had 23 in the OT torture of Arizona and San Francisco, which nearly ended in the league's first-ever touchdown-less 15-15 tie.
So I don't know if you still like my outside pick from Friday's column of the Chiefs to cover a seven point spread at home against Washington. But if you don't, I'm thinking neither Kirk Cousins (277.5) goes under and Alex Smith (245.5) will go over the passing yardage at 5/6 on the Betfair Sportsbook.
That's a lot of Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill yards after the catch. If Smith does go over, Travis Kelce is likely to go over 60.5 yards too, also @ 5/6 on the Sportsbook.