By: Andrew Atkins
Thirty-one out of the thirty-two National Football League’s (NFL) team’s 2014 season ended with disappointment. Each year all thirty-two NFL teams fight and yearn to lift the Lombardi Trophy in February. Every year in February, one team accomplishes their dream while the other thirty-one hope for next year.
It is now “next year” around the NFL and already in three weeks several interesting stories have played out. The unfortunate, yet predominant story around the league has been that of injuries. Already five starting quarterbacks have been injured on the field. Drew Brees (New Orleans), Jay Cutler (Chicago), Josh McCown (Cleveland), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), and Tony Romo (Dallas) have all missed good portions of at least one game. McCown returned in the week three loss to the Raiders, only to leave again with a hand injury. Brees may return next week, but he will remain questionable. Romo, Cutler, and Roethlisberger are all going to end up missing substantial time. Other injured stars include wide receivers Jordy Nelson (Green Bay) and Dez Bryant (Dallas) and defensive end Terrell Suggs (Baltimore).
The reigning National Football Conference (NFC) Champion Seattle Seahawks have had a tough season start, losing their first two games to the Packers and Rams respectively before blanking the lowly Bears 26-0. Perennial American Football Conference frontrunners Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens have begun their seasons poorly as well. Both began 0-2 with the Ravens falling to the Broncos and Raiders and the Colts losing to the Bills and Jets. In week three, the Colts edged out rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans 35-33, however the Ravens lost a heartbreaker to division rivals Cincinnati Bengals 28-24. Besides a pathetic and dismal season opener against Denver, Flacco has performed admirably well. Against the Bengals and Raiders, Flacco has returned to his super-bowl winning form, throwing for a total of 746 yards (two 300+ yard games), four touchdowns, two interceptions, and an average quarterback rating of 97.45 (well above his career average of 84.7). It has been Baltimore’s formerly dominant defense which has led to their demise. Giving up an average of twenty-eight points per game. After two abominable games, Luck returned to his form as well, coming from behind and putting up twenty-one points in the fourth quarter for his win.
One team who seemed destined for the Super Bowl last year was the Arizona Cardinals. Although the Cardinals went on to go 11-5, the loss of starting quarterback Carson Palmer in week ten, and then the loss of backup quarterback Drew Stanton, was too much to overcome as they fell to the Panthers in the first round. This year, the Arizona’s preeminent defense has returned and already staked their claim. In week three against San Francisco, the defense forced four interceptions, scored two touchdowns, and only allowed seven points. Lifelong football fanatic and Oakland Mills High School (OMHS) senior Darius Crole sees Arizona surprising people this year: “because of their defense and offensive consistency so far in the season.” The Cardinals are now 3-0.
A big surprise through the young NFL season has been the New York Jets. After letting long time coach Rex Ryan walk to Buffalo this offseason, new head coach Todd Bowles has rebuilt the team. New playmakers have been added including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Jets are now 2-1 after winning two blowouts. The week one victims were the Cleveland Browns (31-10) and in week two the Colts (20-7). Week three saw the Jets lose by one touchdown to the Philadelphia Eagles (24-17). If the Jets can keep this up, the may be a team to watch down the playoff stretch.
Despite certain teams trending in positive or negative directions, Crole firmly believes that it is too soon to determine who will advance on to the playoffs this winter: “The regular season pretty much just began, but (the records) give us an understanding of who might not be a contender for the playoffs in the next couple of weeks.”