So after the disaster that I had with the NFL last week(you can read that here), this week was a dramatic improvement. Not to step on the toes of my Thursday preview piece, but I did REALLY well. Granted that means I will probably go like 6-10 again next week, but whatever I will enjoy it while it lasts. I also should win most of my fantasy leagues this week, of course not the two that I wanted to win the most(#firstworldproblems). But the action on the field was actually pretty interesting as well.
Steelers fans nearly had a mental breakdown after watching Ben Roethlisberger going down in a heap, Colts fans thought that out of control beard Andrew Luck was playing, the Seahawks rolled the Bears(although they kept it close for a half), and Peyton Manning looked much better and more comfortable running his shotgun offense. But the main thing that I took away from this week is the how good the Cardinals might actually be. Let’s look at my top 10 teams through the first three weeks(minus the GB/KC game as I am writing this on Monday Night):
- New England Patriots: If this is not obvious to you, then you either have been living under a rock for the last three weeks, or your name is Roger Goodell. Tom Brady looks like a mid-20’s version of himself. Although it may be a small sample size, Brady is on pace for nearly 6,000 yards and 50 passing touchdowns. He is also completing over 70% of his passes He is locked in, and has the Patriots playing like the best team in the league. Add that to a defense that has had a very good pass rush to start the year, and the Patriots are an easy choice for the top spot of the power-rankings.
- Arizona Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals are currently the highest scoring team in the league through three weeks(unless Green Bay or Kansas City scores 70 points tonight. For some reason, I think they won’t). Think about that, the Cardinals, not the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, or Eagles are the highest scoring team in the NFL so far. Carson Palmer has been the difference for them so far, but also having a very good defense makes this team the best in the NFC.
- Green Bay Packers: As much as this hurts me as a Bears fans, but I think the Packers are still looking pretty good. Having arguably the best player in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers really helps that, but it is more than Rodgers. Getting James Jones late in August has really helped Rodgers overcome the loss of Jordy Nelson, as Jones has caught three TDs in the first two games. The Green Bay defense has also been decent this year. DVOA likes their passing defense, ranking them 8th, but the run defense is one of the worst in the league according to DVOA. The Packers should be fine for the rest of the year, and should be one of the favorites in the NFC.
- Denver Broncos: Man did Peyton look better running his own offense instead of Kubiak’s. If the Broncos can continue running Manning’s offense, they should be able to put up enough points to win games. Lucky for them, they might not need to score many points with the way their defense has been playing. They have only allowed 49 points, and have been one of the best teams in defending the pass so far. If the defense is truly as good as advertised so far, then the Broncos could go very far this season.
- Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have impressed me very much so far. I picked them to be just out of the playoffs before the season started, and they have done their best job to make me look stupid. Andy Dalton has performed very well this year, as he already has 866 yards and 8 TDs. He is showing a lot of critics that he is still capable of being the guy in Cincinnati after some openly wondered about his ability this year. A.J. Green, healthy again, is also having a monster year, the shining moment obviously being the game against Baltimore. This is the team to beat in the AFC North and looks like they could be the 3rd best AFC team.
- Seattle Seahawks: Look, I know that they are 1-2, but they are a play or two away from beating the Rams, and the other loss is to the Packers. Perhaps I am giving the Seahawks to much credit, but with that defense, Wilson, Lynch, and Graham, I think by the end of the year that they can potentially be competitive with anyone in the NFC. Watch out, this time in a few weeks, the Seahawks could be near the top of this list and make me look really smart.
- Buffalo Bills: Here is what I will say about the Bills, they have handily beaten Miami and Indy, and kept it close against New England. I said after week one that if Tyrod Taylor can be an average qb, then this team is going places. Well he looks average, if not better. Combine that with a tough defense, the Bills are a nuisance to up against with every week. Also, with Karlos Williams and LeSean McCoy, the Bills can ground and pound teams to death. The Bills are looking very much like a playoff team through three weeks.
- Atlanta Falcons: Man is Julio Jones good at this football thing. He has 440 yards and 4 touchdowns through three games. That is an insane pace(over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, totally sustainable), but it shows just how talented that man is. Dan Quinn has also come in and turned around the defense, to a certain extent. Desmond Trufant is a special player, and Quinn has dialed up blitzes to get pressure on opposing qbs. The Falcons look like they should win the NFC South.
- Dallas Cowboys: How can a team that lost arguably it’s two greatest offensive weapons be one of the top 10 teams in the league. Well the Cowboys showed that anyone can run wild behind their offensive line, and if they can get near that production each week, they won’t need to hope that Brandon Weeden needs to be a competent NFL qb(yes Weeden looked good for parts of that game, but he also tossed a really, really bad INT. WEEDEN IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE IS). They also just need the defense to bend but not break to keep winning games. If the Cowboys can go .500 without Romo, they should run away with the NFC East.
- New York Jets: Take a deep breath Jets fans, we all figured the Eagles would explode(24 points, close enough) at some point. But the Jets still boast a defense that has been pretty good at creating turnovers. Their offense has actually been pretty competent with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. To keep this up, the Jets might need to continue to get turnovers at an insane rate, but hey anything is possible!
The Panthers, Steelers(we don’t know how Vick will do, we saw the cowboys could be alright with Weeden), and Colts are probably the next three.
Aright, now onto two or three no football thoughts this week:
As a Nationals fan, I was livid after watching what Jonathan Papelbon did yesterday. Actually, livid might not be enough of a word to describe it. I was sitting in my dorm and became visibly angry upon watching him try and choke Harper. Like I was really angry, but I have calmed down(somewhat) now and can offer some sort of organized thoughts on the subject:
There are very few scenarios in which Pap should be on this team next year. If you really wanted to blame the Nats not making the playoffs on the Pap trade I wouldn’t be opposed to that(told you I’m still a little pissed off). But either way, there is no reason that choking out a teammate is okay… EVER! Just because Pap thinks that he has to enforce his idea of the way the game should be played, does not mean he gets to put his hands on a teammate, especially Harper.
For those that want to call Harper out for a supposed lack of hustle are dumb. In the 155th game of a season that is nearing the end for the Nationals, Harper, the soon to be NL MVP(if you disagree well then you haven’t been watching baseball this year, sorry), hit a pop-fly to left field. Harper, clearly disgusted, slammed his bat down, and did not run as fast as he could have towards the base. This led to a huge outcry of people on the internet calling Harper a lazy, self-entitled, arrogant, player. All of these concepts about who Harper is today are just simply not true. Lost in the shuffle of course was the fact that Harper actually did touch the base, and really, how much more do you want in September of such a disappointing season.
If you are going to call Harper out for a lack of hustle, then why don’t you call out all the other players who don’t run out routine plays like that? Oh yeah, that does not fit into a narrative. Harper has been a beacon of light for the 2015 Nationals season. When nearly everything else went wrong, Harper finally became the all-around dominant player that baseball fans thought he could be. He currently has a WAR of 10.2, nearly 2 whole wins higher than the next AL player on the list, Paul Goldschmidt. On the baseball reference page it says 8+ WAR is an MVP season, and Harper is tied for the 44th highest WAR in a single season.
Stats back up what a great season that Harper is having as well. He is currently tops in the NL in batting average, only one point behind M. Cabrera for tops in the majors. He leads the NL in HRs, tied for third in the league, with 41. He also has 96 RBIs on the season. He leads the majors in OBP, slugging, and OPS and WAR, plus he is 2nd in runs and walks. Sabermetric stats also love Harper. He leads the majors in runs created, and at bats per HR, as well as isolated power. The numbers tell a fascinating story for Harper’s 2015 season. We are watching one of the best single-season performances of all time by Bryce Harper in 2015.
Anyway back to the Papelbon incident, even though I just spent a lot of words talking just about Bryce. No one in their right mind can watch Bryce Harper play everyday and say that he does not play with heart and hustle each and every day. My biggest question really is: Who the hell does Papelbon think he is questioning Harper’s hustle after the season that he just had. Perhaps Harper could have ran a little faster, but at this point in the season what do you really want? So far this season Bryce has had so much put on his shoulders, such as media requests, Bryce signs autographs before every game, and he does all of this without complaining. To yell out at Harper for just simply not running out a fly ball is not a smart move.
To choke him however, is ridiculous. To actually physically put your hands on the neck of one of the top players in the games is way over the line. I was very pleased that the team suspended Pap for the rest of the season. Honestly, I do not want to see him in a D.C. uniform next year, but that may not be possible, seeing as how $11 million for a closer is a luxury, and many teams will be scared to have his personality in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the club may have damaged their relationship with Drew Storen beyond repair after removing him from the closer role again, and his subsequent collapse, a change of scenery might be best for everyone. At the end of the day, what Pap did is inexcusable, and I hope that the Nationals make sure that Bryce is happy throughout this whole situation, as he should be the face of the franchise for the next decade at least.
Also, thank you so much to Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann(as well as Span and Fister) for everything that they have done for the Washington franchise. That no hitter by Zimm is one of my favorite sports memories that I have ever watched. Both of these guy played their heart out this year, and it will be hard to watch them leave and play for other teams next year. I only wished that this current Nats team could have won a ring, that would have been great. It is so much fun, I got to watch my Blackhawks win a cup and it was a lot of fun. But best of luck to Zimmermann and Desmond, I will hold out hope that they aren’t leaving until they actually sign with another team.
Ted Van Green
Spark Sports NFL Analyst