Is this the year the slow start dooms the San Diego Chargers?
Does Mike McCarthy have regrets?
Is Donovan McNabb better than Mike Vick?
Could Anquan Boldin be the difference maker for the Ravens in Pittsburgh?
And try this on without laughing — the first place St. Louis Rams.
We play boom or bust, SCHEIN 9 style.
1. The Chargers are in trouble
The Colts are going to the playoffs. They were my Super Bowl pick preseason. I picked the Jets to win the East and I feel good about that call. Baltimore was my pick in the North and despite the amazing start in Pittsburgh I like the look of the Ravens as a playoff team with Super Bowl upside.
On the other hand, the Chargers are loaded with issues and are playing hot potato with the ball on offense. This is a boom.
It all just looks so, well, troubling.
San Diego is off to another slow September start. The special teams play was awful against Seattle and drew the ire of San Diego players. The offensive line has predictably resembled a subway turnstile sans Marcus McNeill. When the Seahawks and Chiefs are blowing you up, there are significant problems. Ryan Mathews has been hurt. Philip Rivers is a star, but one who misses Vincent Jackson. Shawne Merriman is clearly not the same player. The front seven on defense has been hit or miss. The penalties in key spots are too frequent. And the game management by Norv Turner has been very questionable, especially at the end against Seattle. The Chargers have lost to the Chiefs and Seahawks, clubs that are clearly inferior when it comes to talent.
Now McNeill will play at some point. And the Chargers are fantastic under Turner in December. But you wonder when the slow starts will actually catch up to San Diego. With the way the Chiefs are playing, and the myriad of issues in San Diego, I am thinking 2010 could easily be the year it falls apart.
Now, Denver couldn’t quite seal the deal in 2008 when San Diego underachieved yet did enough to barely win the AFC West. Josh McDaniels took over for Mike Shanahan and McDaniels’ Broncos collapsed after a mighty start last year. I think KC represents a legit threat because of its coaching staff.
Let’s say the Chargers pull the annual, proverbial rabbit out of the hat late in the year. If they only win nine games, if they fail advance in the playoffs, if they fail to make the Super Bowl, it represents major disappointment for Turner and A.J. Smith based upon expectations.
And that’s what I mean by trouble.
San Diego will look good against the quarterback-challenged Cards. But is that going to stop the bleeding or the roller coaster ride of a season? Do yourself a favor and re-read that meaty paragraph on the Chargers and their play in September. It finally might be too much to overcome.
2. Mike McCarthy considered letting Chicago score at the end of the game
Despite what he told the news media in the aftermath of a disappointing loss to the Bears on Monday night, this is a boom. As we wrote on Tuesday, letting Chicago score, giving Aaron Rodgers a chance to tie it was a no-brainer. In an exclusive interview on the Sirius Blitz with Rich Gannon and me on Thursday, McCarthy admitted he thought about it.
"It was definitely an option," McCarthy said. "You have two options there and we chose to play defense. And I understand when you make decisions in key situations in games and it doesn’t work out in your favor you are judged accordingly. But you have two options in that particular situation and we chose to play defense."
McCarthy added, “I do understand the percentages of your other option, in particular with Aaron Rodgers and our offense. It’s definitely something that you have to consider. … If you go back and look at the whole time frame it really falls right in that area. Two timeouts, after the pass interference, and then they take the ball down to the I guess it was the 1- or 2-yard line, you make a decision there I think you’d have been close to almost between 50 seconds to a minute left. We were definitely in the time range as far as making that decision."
He should’ve let the Bears score to give Rodgers a crack. He shouldn’t have challenged the recovery of the James Jones fumble. McCarthy is an excellent coach. These were big mistakes but he will have the Pack en route to a Super Bowl. The real issues that need to get cleaned up are the omnipresent penalties and poor special teams.
3. Matt Cassel will hold the Chiefs back
This is a bust. You read my column on why I am totally buying into the Chiefs on Tuesday. In talking to Chiefs coach Todd Haley this week on Sirius NFL Radio, he praised Cassel for his work ethic under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. With Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, Cassel only has to be a game manager. And let’s not forget how well he played in New England. The talent is there. Cassel will get better. Let’s make that much better.
4. The Bills represent a trap game for the Jets
I cannot stress enough how much this is a bust. Talking to Jets guard Brandon Moore on SNY this week, he laughed at the notion. Mark Sanchez threw five picks in a stunning home loss to the Bills last year. And Sanchez and the Jets struggled in a win against Buffalo in Toronto. That was the game where Sanchez forgot to slide and injured his knee, drawing the ire of Rex Ryan. It’s a road, division game. The skeptic says the Jets had Miami in primetime last week and face Brett Favre and the Vikings on national TV in Week 5. Trust me. The Jets will be ready. This isn’t "Same Old Jets."
5. Mike Vick is better than Donovan McNabb
This is also a bust.
Vick is hot and has much better weapons. But wait until McNabb gets into a flow under Mike Shanahan. And let’s not pretend that McNabb doesn’t have a fantastic body of work. I’d want McNabb as my quarterback. I can’t wait to watch McNabb zing the ball around against his old team.
6. The Steelers and Ravens have the best current rivalry in the NFL
Mike Tomlin made that case to us on Sirius NFL Radio. I look forward to both Steelers and Ravens games every single year. They are intense and bone crushing. The teams are mirror images of each other. They are always close and entertaining if you love defense. But I’d call this a bust. I still think it is the Redskins and the Cowboys followed by the Bears and the Packers.
7. The Ravens finally win in Pittsburgh
Welcome to the rivalry, Anquan Boldin.
As Matt Birk told me on Thursday, “We struggled on offense against Cincinnati. And you saw what Anquan did against Cleveland with three touchdowns. He is a clutch player. He is tough. He has been his whole career. We are thrilled to have him.”
I understand the Steelers can negate receiver match-ups with pressure on Joe Flacco. But Boldin will go over the middle and be a major weapon on third down. Boldin will score. The Ravens, finally, have the equivalent of what Hines Ward means to Pittsburgh.
8. Trent Edwards will start this year for the Jags
This is a boom. If you read the quotes coming out of “America’s City,” you would think the Jags claimed Joe Montana from the Bills. David Garrard has been terrible. Jack Del Rio’s seat is flaming red. Edwards isn’t that bad. Edwards will get a crack to become "America’s quarterback" this season.
9. Break up the Rams!
Dare I say, boom? So if the Rams beat the Seahawks on Sunday and the Cards lose in San Diego, we are talking about the first-place Rams! I need to see a shrink if that happens. Sam Bradford has looked super confident in his first three starts. Talking to him on Sirius NFL Radio on Tuesday, he rightly praised the surprising strong St. Louis offensive line. Color me stunned on how well they have looked. Mark Clayton has contributed at receiver. The defense has actually shown progress in Year 2. And the Seahawks aren’t the same team away from the great fans in the great Northwest. Break up the Rams?