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NFL Football – What Have We Learned?

Great games, blowouts, upsets, injuries, suspensions. We have seen it all. The first nine weeks of the NFL season has shown us just about everything a fan wants to see in the most powerful and popular sport in America.

This blog is going take what we have seen and learned since early September and apply it to what we can expect for the remainder of the regular season, and into the playoffs. Which teams are exceeding anyone’s expectations? Can the current top teams keep up the hot play? Who will be left standing when the fat lady sings?

All these questions will be addressed and answered in the following sections. Crack open a beverage and get comfortable as we dive into the NFL season!

Who is Playing the Best Football?

As I sit here today, on the verge of week 10 of the NFL season, a few teams stand out as the ones who are playing the best football. While many teams have shown flashes of brilliance here and there, no team is playing great football more consistently than those guys in the city of brotherly love.

Philadelphia Eagles

At 8-1, the Eagles are currently the only team in the NFL with more than six wins. They are winning games a number of ways. First, let’s look at the offensive side of the ball. Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz has looked like the star that Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles organization hoped he would become when they traded up to the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft to snag the North Dakota State product.

Seeing this much improvement in just his second year in the league has to make Eagles fans happy as they look towards the next 10-12 years. His talent was never in question. The fact that his leadership skills are coming to the forefront so soon proves the type of character this kid has.

His 23 touchdown passes not only lead the NFL, but nobody else has even thrown 20 touchdowns yet. He has looked stellar in pressure situations and has shown he has the athleticism to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.

A lot of NFL analysts are starting to pick the Eagles as the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Wentz’s steady progression into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks is a big reason why.

Praising the quarterback play is more than justified for the Philadelphia Eagles. After all, the 31.4 points per game the Eagles are scoring places them second in the NFL behind only the Los Angeles Rams. But let’s be fair and give their defensive unit the credit they deserve.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has his bunch playing as good as any defense in the league. They lead the NFL with 56 pass deflections and only the Ravens defense have intercepted more balls. Not only is the Eagles secondary a ball-hawking group, their front seven is as stout as they come. The Eagles are allowing only 66.4 yards per game on the ground. That’s a full 12 yards less than the second-best defense in the league.

Leading the NFL in total offense and giving up the fewest number of rushing yards per game sure seems like a solid recipe for winning games to me. This 8-1 start by the boys in Philly is no joke. “The proof is in the pudding”, or in this case, in the data.

The Eagles are winning games by soundly beating up on their opponents in all facets of the game. I see no reason why this won’t continue. I’m not expecting a 15-1 season, but I certainly expect this squad to be a force come playoff time. Until another team steps up or the Eagles show signs of slowing down, I’m picking the Eagles to be playing the Super Bowl in Minnesota in early February.

Who Else Has Impressed?

Los Angeles Rams

Believe it or not folks, the Rams are the real deal. Their 6-2 record is no fluke, as they are manhandling teams as of late. In the last two weeks, they have outscored their opponents 84-17. How is rookie head coach Sean McVay getting his group to respond and play so well?

Well, let’s by scoring more points per game than anyone in the league- how about that? That is exactly what Jared Goff and the Rams are doing. A 32.9 points per game clip is far, far greater than even the loyalist of fans back in St. Louis could have hoped for.

Their defense is playing exceptionally as well, ranking in the top ten in several of the major defensive statistical categories.

When I think about if the Rams are going to be able to sustain this great play, I have a hard time coming up with reasons why they won’t. If you look at the NFC West division you see the abysmal San Francisco 49ers. You see a completely lackluster Arizona Cardinals team who is without their premier weapon in David Johnson.

Even Pete Carrol’s squad up in Seattle has looked extremely inept at times, leaving me to believe there is one team in that division that is for real. That team is the Los Angeles Rams. They are young, they are hungry, and they mean business.

I look for the Rams to continue playing well and potentially being able to win in the playoffs. The inexperience of their nucleus may come back to haunt them, but only time will tell. I have really enjoyed watching Todd Gurley being used early and often, as I think that is a great formula for success.

Now let’s cross over to the AFC. If I like the Rams but think the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl, which team or teams have the most realistic shot at making it to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as well?

A couple weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were the popular pick amongst many so-called touts to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. After losing three out of their last four games- suddenly people are jumping off the Andy Reid and Alex Smith bandwagon.

The Steelers have won three straight to improve to 6-2 on the season. Their AFC North division is littered with three teams that are a combined 7-18, so do I think the Steelers will make the playoffs- yeah, sure I do. Do I trust Ben Roethlisberger will be able to excel in a potential road matchup at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots in January?

That’s an entirely different question and another discussion. Let’s just say the fans in Pittsburgh wouldn’t respond too well if they heard my true opinion on “Big Ben”. The only top-five quarterback statistical category Roethlisberger can claim is most interceptions thrown. He is 26th in the NFL in completion percentage and quarterback rating.

It’s not just me who is saying the Ben looks like “a corpse” of his old self, the stats say it as well.

That leaves me with one team in the American Football Conference that I can trust. One team that I expect to be in left standing when the dust settles in the AFC.

New England Patriots

That’s right. Until Tom Brady decides to act like a normal human being and actually slow down with age – I’m sticking with the team led by Brady. Although the Patriots have looked iffy at times, when push comes to shove – I like having Bill Belichick in my corner as well.

Overcoming injuries has been a theme for New England so far. First, it was losing star receiver Julian Edelman to a knee injury during the preseason. Then in week 7, they lost their best linebacker Dont’a Hightower due to a torn pectoral muscle. Shea McClellin suffered a setback a few days ago and now is also out for the season.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they have abided by the “next man up” philosophy for many years. As long as #12 is behind center, they seem to find a way to get the job done. At age 40, he is leading the NFL in passing yards and completions. His 16-2 touchdown to interception ratio isn’t too shabby either.

The key for New England moving forward is improving their defense. To put things politely, they have been vulnerable to allowing passing yards. In fact, they have been more susceptible to giving up yards through the air than any of the other 31 teams in the National Football League up to this point. Some of that yardage is from teams playing catch-up late in the games against them. Either way, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia needs to sure up his 11-man unit if the Patriots have plans of repeating as Super Bowl Champions.

With all that being said, I truly believe Brady could be on track to being fitted for a 6th Super Bowl ring. In order for that to come to fruition, the Pats will need to find a way to get some stops. Just a few key 3rd down conversion holds could go a long way. If they are able to keep their defense off the field and Brady on his feet- look out for the Patriots to be right back where they have been seven times since 2002.

In Closing

The NFL is a crazy league where unexpected things happen all the time. We see outcomes we never predicted. We witness star players have terrible games. We even see undrafted and unknown players come out of the woodworks and be major contributors for their teams.

That’s exactly how the first half of the NFL season always plays out. As we get into “the meat of the season” and closer to December and January games, “the cream starts to rise to the top”. I expect to see the playoff picture start to shake out in a way that I described.

Teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City have at times played as well or better than any team in the league. I just don’t want to put all my eggs in a basket that’s being held by Alex Smith or Ben Roethlisberger.

I once heard a smart man say, “the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The team can only go as far as the quarterback will take them.”

The more I watch and the more seasons that pass by, the more I believe in this statement. So many games end up coming down to that final drive. Can you march down the field in the final two minutes and score a touchdown when you need it? Can you put the team on your back and lead them to the promise land?

To answer these questions confidently with an astounding “yes”, you are going to need a quarterback that is not only skilled but is a true leader.

Everyone knows Tom Brady is the epitome of this, so it’s no surprise I picked the Patriots to play in the Super Bowl. I honestly believe that Carson Wentz is on the road to becoming a truly elite QB in the National Football League.

I am not saying Wentz is the next Tom Brady. What I am saying is he is in total command of the Eagles offense. His talent combined with his relentless work ethic has gained the trust and respect of the entire locker room. Not an easy task for a 24-year old kid from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

When I take everything into account- offense, defense, coaching, who I can trust, etc….

I envision seeing a rematch from the 2005 Super Bowl. The only difference is it won’t be Donovan McNabb facing off against a 28-year old baby-faced Tom Brady!

If you are wondering who I think will win Super Bowl LII? Check back in a few weeks down the road and you will find your answer!

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