READER REPORT:

Off the long run: NFL promises another corker

IAN CALDER
Last updated 07:31 21/09/2012
New England Patriots
PATRIOTS: Quarterback Tom Brady is a three-time Super Bowl champion and ''tough guy''.

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I love the NFL for many reasons but the biggest is because of the competitive balance in the league.

On average, 5-6 teams every year make the playoffs who didn't the previous season. The first two weeks of the season are always the time of big surprises and upsets.

Average teams who start well are over hyped and panic sets in for good teams who start poorly. I therefore wanted to have a look at the most intriguing teams so far, breaking down whether they will continue on the path they seem to be setting or whether it's just a mirage.

San Francisco 49ers
Record: 2-0

Many (including myself) expected that the 49ers would take a step back this year, after their breakout 13-3 season, last year. They sure proved that notion wrong after beating fellow playoff favourites Green Bay and Detroit  in a convincing fashion over the last two weeks. 

Their defence is stifling and creates ample turnovers, while the run game is dominating oppositions right now.  Even though their quarterback Alex Smith is not a dynamic player he doesn't turn over the ball, which is key.  The only way teams are going to beat them is getting ahead of them and forcing them to throw.

Outlook: They are the best team in the NFL and an early contender to be the the NFC champions.

Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 2-0

Despite turning the ball over nine times in their first two games the Eagles have somehow won both. You can only run on luck for so long though. 

Head Coach Andy Reid is known for assembling talented teams who are madly inconsistent.  He is also a very stubborn coach when it comes to play calling, to the detriment of the team.

The best example of this is that he continually allows quarterback Mike Vick to throw and expose his brittle body to hits when he has one of the best running backs in the NFL in LeSean McCoy, who can dominate a match.

This week's game away against the red-hot Cardinals will be another hard one for the Eagles, especially with the mounting injuries among their Offensive line.

Outlook:  There is no way Vick can stay healthy for the full season considering the frequency with which he is being hit.  When he misses games the Eagles are really going to struggle to compete and I see them missing the playoffs, especially being in the competitive NFC East division.

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Atlanta Falcons
Record: 2-0

No team was more hyped to have a successful season than the Falcons after the pre-season games. After relying on a conservative run game over the past four years, they have decided to become a passing team and the results have been promising.

Having beaten the hapless Chiefs, away, they beat a good Broncos team at home.  Quarterback Matt Ryan is looking great, passing to perhaps the best wide receiver duo in Roddy White and Julio Jones.  The defence also looks solid.

Another challenge awaits them this week as they travel to face the 2-0 Chargers. 

This will be a good litmus test for both teams to see whether they are legit playoff prospects this year.  I think the Falcons are a better team though and I expect them to come away with the win.

Outlook: With their rivals The Saints struggling, the Falcons should be considered favourites to win the NFC South.  The defence needs to be more consistent but the signs are good.

New Orleans Saints
Record: 0-2

The Saints had the worst off season possible with the 'Bounty Gate' scandal which resulted in their head coach and offensive coordinator being banned for one year and 8 games respectively.

This has really showed early, with them losing both games and looking nothing like the team that won the Super Bowl only three season ago.

The defence is the main issue as they can't stop the pass or the run right now, conceding a combined 75 points in both games. With Drew Brees commanding the offence they will stay competitive but he can't do it all himself.

Outlook: The Saints will improve and will be competitive but I think the loss of head coach Sean Payton has been underestimated and this team is going to struggle to make the playoffs. Their defence is just not good enough to stop anybody.

Arizona Cardinals
Record: 2-0

The biggest surprise of the season so far.  Nobody expected the Cardinals to win their  two opening games, they are now 9-2 since last season, thanks to their elite defence and special team's play.

The win against the Patriots was even more remarkable because the Cardinals offence was atrocious. Not enough  media coverage is being given to just how bad the offence is, especially their offensive line and quarterback.

The Cardinals gained a measly seven first downs in total, as opposed to the Patriots 17, for instance.  Their defence will have to contain the opposition to less then 20 points if this team has any chance of winning.

Outlook: The defence keeps them competitive but this team can't score and in a quarterback dominated league, that just doesn't cut it. I can't see them making the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 0-2

The complete opposite to the Cardinals are the Chiefs, who are the most disappointing team so far. A sneaky pick to win the AFC West, they have been blown out in both their games by a combined 34 points.

They were supposed to have a Top 5 defence as well as an elite rushing attack - both have been extremely disappointing.

To be honest, the writing was on the wall for another bad season when they hired defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to the full head coaching role. Crennel was previously fired as the Browns head coach. The defence can't continue to allow the opposition to score early as the offence is not designed to come from behind.

Outlook:  There is too much talent on this team for it to not compete and I see them bouncing back. If they don't improve soon though I don't think Crennel is going to last very long.

New England Patriots
Record: 1-1

Last week's result vs the Cardinals was the first opening day loss at home since 2001, when a little known reserve quarterback called Tom Brady took over after an injury to Drew Bledsoe. The rest is history.

The Patriots had an off day, where they were simply out coached and the players executed poorly. The funny thing is that it's not there defence, perhaps the worst in the league last year, that is the problem as they improved markedly.

The offensive line, a strength last year, has suffered from retirements and injuries and is not giving Brady enough time in the pocket to find open receivers.

The most concerning thing however, is the offensive play calling from coordinator Josh McDaniels.

The running game has been a strength of the team this season but he is stubbornly calling a lot of passing plays.

This along with his refusal to utilise Wes Welker, an All Pro receiver last year, makes you wonder whether he is the right man for the job.

Outlook: The coaches need to realise that with the offensive line playing so poorly that they need to run the ball more to relieve the pressure on Brady.

The defence is seriously improved from last year so they don't have to rely on their offence to win games. This team is still one of the best in the NFL, they just have to play to the new strengths, not the previous year's ones.

San Diego Chargers
Record: 2-0

Over the past decade the Chargers have been hyped to go far every season but have traditionally struggled early on and then at tail end of the season a flurry of wins allows them to squeak into the playoffs.

So it's with irony that this year, when there is less hype, they start with two emphatic wins.

The defence looks strong and their quarterback Philip Rivers isn't turning the ball over like he did last year.

To me this is a mirage. The two teams they played, the Raiders and Titans, look likely to be two of the worst teams this year. We should get a better indication of how good this team really is when they play the Falcons this week and I this certainly won't be easy for them

Outlook: I think there start is a fool's gold and they will undoubtedly face stronger opposition. When they do their weaknesses at offensive line and running back will be exposed big time. I still think the Denver Broncos are the better team in the division.

What NFL teams do you think are showing or not showing their true colours so far?

Off the long run is an ongoing Stuff Nation assignment. To contribute hit the green button.


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