NFL’s Quarterly Statement
Best Team: Chicago Bears
This isn't homerism; the Bears have been the best team in the NFL so far. Their defense, expected to be a strength, has been top-five in the league by any measure. The offense, surprisingly, has also emerged as one of the best in football. And the special teams have been the best in the league. The defense has been led by a defensive line that is terrorizing quarterbacks, while remaining stout against the run. Meanwhile, the Bears' own QB, Rex Grossman, has led one of the best passing attacks in the league, covering for a rushing attack that has been the team's only weak spot. Even with the running game just now rounding into shape, the Bears are 6th in the league in yards per drive and 2nd in the league in points per drive.
Worst Team: Tennessee Titans
The Titans have been uniquely terrible, even compared to other winless teams like Detroit, Tampa and Oakland. Detroit's offense is average, Oakland defense is not atrocious, and Tampa has played poorly, but not horribly, on both sides of the ball. Tennessee, however, is second to last in the NFL in both offensive and defensive efficiency. In fact, there is no area in which the Titans have not been terrible, with the exception of average punt and kick coverage. That's not much to get excited about.
Surprise Team: New Orleans Saints
Not much was expected from the Saints this year. They were terrible last season, and while some new parts were added -- Drew Brees and Reggie Bush most notably -- there remained more questions than answers. But the Saints are 3-1. After two wins over bad teams, the Saints won impressively in their emotional home opener, and even their first loss earned the team some extra credit, as they played a good Carolina team tough on the road. The Saints are ranked right around the top 10 in the league on both sides of the ball. The only notable negative is that the team hasn't had much success running the ball or stopping the run. But that's of overrated importance; just ask the New York Giants, who rank in the top 5 in the league in both categories, but are one lucky quarter away from being winless.
Disappointing Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
This is a tough category. I expected huge things from the Seattle Seahawks this year, but they've played quite poorly. Still, they're somehow 3-1, so that's not so disappointing. The aforementioned Giants have disappointed many, but I had limited expectations for them to begin with. The Steelers have played poorly, and are 1-2 with a very tough game against the Chargers on deck. Some of their struggles may be attributable to Ben Roethlisberger's unfortunate offseason. Unquestionably, some of their struggles are attributable to his crappy play. He has 5 turnovers and no touchdowns. Among qualifying QBs, only Andrew Walter ranks behing Big Ben in overall contribution, and on a per play basis.
MVP: Peyton Manning
We've come to expect so much that we can tend to overlook his excellence. He's collected 1,063 yards on 139 passes, and thrown six touchdowns while turning the ball over only once. He is once again leading the league's most efficient passing attack. The only question is whether Manning will survive the season. The departure of Edgerrin James to Arizona hasn't really hurt the Colts' rushing attack, which is the 10th most efficient in the league, but it is killing the team's pass protection. Manning is on pace to be sacked more than in any season since 2001, which James missed with a torn ACL. I suppose it makes Manning's continued efficiency all the more impressive. I just hope he doesn't get decapitated at some point. And, will somebody please get this man an endorsement deal! What does a guy have to do to get on tv around here?
Rookie of the Year: Marques Colston
Um, who? Colston is the Saints' seventh round draft pick out of Hofstra. His name is starting to penetrate the national consciousness because he qualifies as a TE in fantasy football. He is, in fact, a wide receiver, and a 6'4", 230 lb. wide receiver at that. He has been the 16th most productive wideout in all of football so far. On 33 passes thrown his way, he has 336 yards and three touchdowns. Sixty-one percent of passes intended for Colston have been completed. Colston is not running away with the race, however. The New England Patriots' Laurence Maroney has been almost as good. He has 294 yards on 60 carries, and three touchdowns of his own. He's "succesful" on 50% of his carries. That means he is gaining 40% of the yards remaining on 1st down, 60% of the yards remaining on second down, or 100% of the yards remaining on third down. Only ten backs have a higher success rate in the entire league. Plus, Tom Brady is 6 for 9 for 76 yards on passes directed towards Maroney. If Colston is the number 1 rookie so far this year, Maroney is 1A.
Super Bowl Favorite: San Diego Chargers
I know I just said that the Bears are playing the best football right now, and the Chargers are coming off a loss, but mixing what I've seen so far with my expectations for each team before the season started, I now expect to see the Chargers standing tall at the end of the year. First, the Chargers lost to the Baltimore Ravens because of a botched field goal and an intentional safety. They basically outplayed another top team on the road. More importantly, the Chargers are the only team in football that is among the league's 10 most efficient teams in rush offense, pass offense, run defense, pass defense, and special teams. That's balance. And the great LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't even really gotten on track yet. He has 300 yards on 76 attempts, for a 3.9 yard per carry average. That's nearly half a yard under his career average. When he gets rolling, and he will because the Chargers' passing attack is good enough to keep teams honest, the Chargers will be even better.