O’Boyle: keep NFL’s unpredictability in mind
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Three weeks into the NFL season, a few things are abundantly clear. The Patriots will go 16-0 again; the Bills have at long last found their franchise quarterback in Tyrod Taylor; Chris Johnson is back on an unstoppable Arizona team; Marcus Mariota was the best quarterback in the 2015 draft; Chip Kelly has destroyed the Eagles’ offense; the Dolphins, Ravens and 49ers are all pretty bad; Andy Dalton is elite and Andrew Luck really isn’t that good.
Just like how Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were on the decline after early-season defeats to the Chiefs and Lions last year, right? How did that work out? A Super Bowl win for Brady and the Patriots and the league MVP award for Rodgers. Maybe we should listen to the Packers’ quarterback’s simple five-letter message to fans a year ago: R-E-L-A-X.
I’m not saying that some of the assumptions we make early on in the year won’t come true — some teams and players will no doubt continue in the form they’re in now. New England certainly has a great team this year. It’s hard to imagine Brady and company not making it deep into the playoffs yet again. But maybe we should pump the brakes on the 2007 comparisons: sure, the Patriots are motivated after Deflategate and look ruthless, but it takes more than that to win every single game — one slip-up and the perfect record’s gone, and we’ve seen that happen to plenty of teams with more talent than the Patriots have now.
Meanwhile, in the NFC, the Cardinals look like the strongest Super Bowl contenders, but as unfortunate as it is, their hopes will rest on the health of the injury-prone Carson Palmer. Arizona started last season strong as well, but that kind of uncertainty at the quarterback position never bodes well.
Not to mention how a good coach and quarterback can adapt when things go wrong. Peyton Manning had a slow first two games of the year, but a move to the pistol formation in Week 3 seems to have sparked an improvement, much like a simplification of Denver’s offense sparked a turnaround for Manning when he first moved to the Broncos in 2012. It could happen elsewhere too. Chip Kelly’s sweeping personnel changes in Philadelphia this offseason seem to have gone poorly for his offense, but his proven record of offensive innovation means the Eagles could always turn it around.
And individual players will of course have occasional surprising runs of games: just because they happen at the start of the season doesn’t mean it forecasts anything. Andy Dalton has enjoyed many great streaks before, only to come crashing back down to earth, usually in front of a primetime audience. Andrew Luck has had his share of poor performances, but as long as he can engineer a comeback when it matters like he did on Sunday, he will remain a force to be reckoned with. And with rookies, it can take years to be sure of a good or bad pick, three games tells us almost nothing.
This is hardly a phenomenon limited to the NFL. The entire Big Ten was largely dismissed from the playoff race after only two games last year, while Alabama’s hopes were seemingly crushed by a loss to Ole Miss, only for the Crimson Tide to enter the playoffs as the top seed and Ohio State to win the national title. In basketball, LeBron James’s return to Cleveland started slowly and the hype around the Cavaliers began to cool, but his team soon improved before injuries all around him hurt Cleveland’s chances of an NBA title.
A few of these early season assumptions might prove to be true, but for now we have more than four months before we find out who hoists the Vince Lombardi trophy. Maybe we could calm down just a little.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.