Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes -- Week 2 Update

Somebody on this list reminds me of Interceptaverde...can you guess who?

Finally, after 2 weeks of games, it’s time to significantly shake up the rankings. Prime contenders like Washington and Buffalo have all but eliminated themselves from contention, while 2010 division winners Kansas City and Indianapolis have thrust themselves into the heart of this epic race.

 Like last week, there is one new entrant to the Sweepstakes. Unlike last week, we have chosen to eliminate one team from the race after a hot start rendered them ineligible for the ultimate prize. Let’s take a look at where things stand through 2 weeks.

Dropped Out:

Detroit Lions

Current Record:  2-0
Last Game:  Won 48-3 vs. Kansas City
Current Starter:  Matthew Stafford
Last Game:  23-39, 294YDS, 4TD, 1INT, 106.1 QB Rating

Summary:  Lions fans are used to their team dropping out of races early…I doubt they’ll mind me ruling them out of this one though. Now, I’m not crowning them yet, like some are quick to do. A blowout win against a top level Andrew Luck contender isn’t quite the same as taking down the Packers, but there’s no doubt that Matt Stafford and company are totally legit. The scary thing is that Stafford, as good as he is right now, is still improving. Barring disaster, I doubt we’ll be seeing the Lions in these types of lists for quite some time. Truly, it’s the end of an era.

Can’t decide if we’re in or out!

New York Giants

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Won 28-16 vs. St. Louis
Current Starter:  Eli Manning
Last Game:  18-29, 200YDS, 2TD, 1INT, 91.2 QB Rating

Summary:  Eli’s stats certainly look better than last week, but anyone who watched the game can tell you that he still looks horrible. Once again, his propensity for turnovers is rather troubling. The last time Manning made it through a regular season game without an INT was Week 11 last season. Going further, the last time Manning had 2 consecutive regular season games without an INT was Week 13 and 14 of 2009! Again, I’ve never been a huge fan, but his metamorphosis into the modern day Vinny Testaverde is definitely surprising (and, for Cowboys fans, a pleasant surprise at that!). Still, with their defensive line rounding into form, it’s awful hard to imagine the Giants losing enough to climb the ranks of the loser elite.

Late Arriving X-Factor’s

St. Louis Rams

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 16-28 at New York Giants
Current Starter:  Sam Bradford
Last Game:  22-46, 331YDS, 1TD, 0INT (1 Fumble Lost)

Summary:  Let’s be clear, I don’t actually think the Rams are contenders for this. They’re the best team in the NFC West and victims of both injury and scheduling. Still, last night’s loss is discouraging for Rams believers. Poor Sam Bradford was hit 9 times and pressured on nearly every drop back. I don’t care how much talent he has…if he’s running for his life on every play, then he’s probably not going to get much accomplished. My concern for this team is clearly the injury situation. Bradford, Stephen Jackson, and Danny Amendola have already been hurt thus far, and any significant injury to Bradford would plunge this team back to the 1-15 depths they were in just a few seasons ago. In the unlikely circumstance they secure the #1 pick, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that they’d deal Luck.

Just fine with mediocrity, thank you very much

Arizona Cardinals

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Lost 21-22 at Washington
Current Starter:  Kevin Kolb
Last Game:  17-30, 251YDS, 2TD, 1INT, 92.5 QB Rating

Summary:  If ever we needed definitive proof that the Arizona defense was one of the league’s worst, the 455 total yards the Redskins put on them more than provided it. Unfortunately for Arizona, 4 games against Tarvaris Jackson and Alex Smith all but negate the significant “advantage” their defense gives them. On the plus side, Kevin Kolb hasn’t been a total disaster thus far. Of course, he hasn’t actually played against a real NFL defense yet, but still.

San Francisco 49ers

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Lost 24-27 vs. Dallas (OT)
Current Starter:  Alex Smith
Last Game:  16-24, 179YDS, 2TD, 1INT, 99.1 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Colin Kaepernick
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  I, and every other Cowboys fan, ran the gambit of emotions during Sunday’s overtime victory. Initial optimism that a superior Cowboys team would slaughter the ‘Niners. Terrible disappointment that we came out so flat and lifeless. Some sort of sick satisfaction that Romo was off the field. Immediate regret that Romo was off the field. Cautious happiness that Romo was back in the game. Elation that Romo was leading the comeback. The familiar pit in the stomach that comes with having Romo on the field in late game situations. And, of course, the incredible joy resulting from a thrilling overtime victory. All that to say, the 49ers DEFINITELY should not have lost that game. No way, no how. A 2-0 start would have been huge for this team, especially considering the 0-2 start by the Rams. After blowing this huge opportunity, it will be interesting to see how they respond. Alex Smith hasn’t been bad, but he should have done much more against a severely depleted Cowboys secondary.

Oh wait, we were supposed to lose to get Luck? Crap!

Buffalo Bills

Current Record:  2-0
Last Game:  Won 38-35 vs. Oakland
Current Starter:  Ryan Fitzpatrick
Last Game:  28-46, 264YDS, 3TD, 1INT, 89.4 QB Rating

Summary:  You might be surprised to know that Buffalo opened the 2008 season with no just 2 straight wins, but 4 straight! Not surprisingly those wins were against Seattle (4 wins), Jacksonville (5 wins), Oakland (5 wins), and St. Louis (2 wins). Also not surprisingly, they ended up missing the playoffs at 7-9. Similarly, Buffalo has taken advantage of an easy first 2 games to get the NFL world excited. In reality, while they’re easily better than the 4 wins I projected before the season, they aren’t the up and coming dynamo everyone seems to think they’ve become. Sunday’s home game against New England will give us a much better idea of just how good this Bills team really is. If they’re as mediocre as I think, the team will be placed in a tough spot after the season when they have to decide on whether or not to give Fitzpatrick an extension. Obviously, the two early wins are crushing for their Luck hopes, so it’s likely back to the drawing board for the former Jim Kelly’s.

Washington Redskins

Current Record:  2-0
Last Game:  Won 22-21 vs. Arizona
Current Starter:  Rex Grossman
Last Game:  25-43, 291YDS, 2TD, 2INT, 74.9 QB Rating

Summary:  Let’s face it; I was totally wrong about the Redskins. They started the season perched high atop the Andrew Luck rankings, only to shove it in my face with a 2-0 start. Hey, guess what Redskins! You just guaranteed yourself another season of Rex Grossman! Instead of Andrew Luck! So, IN YOUR FACE!!! (That’s just the bitterness talking) Their next three games are at Dallas, at St. Louis, and home vs. the Eagles; so we should finally get a clear picture of whether or not Washington is for real. I’m still guessing no…and Rex Grossman’s “Sexy Rexy-esque” performance against Arizona definitely should not inspire confidence. We all knew it was only a matter of time before “The Human Turnover” showed up, and his 2 interceptions nearly cost Washington the game.

It’s a stretch, but don’t count us out

Tennessee Titans

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Won 26-13
Current Starter:  Matt Hasselbeck
Last Game:  30-42, 358YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 95.1 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Jake Locker
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  In what can easily be described as the most random result from Week 2, the Titans showed clear signs of life by annihilating the prematurely anointed AFC Champions, the Baltimore Ravens. What has to be even more encouraging for Titans fans is that they did it with star RB (excuse me, star playmaker) Chris Johnson still playing like a guy who hasn’t been on a football field for 8 months. Basically, the Titans threw away an incalculable amount of progress (losing to Jacksonville is HUGE) with their win over the Ravens. The crazy thing is, they could actually go from Andrew Luck contender to division winner…no seriously, it’s possible. Tennessee’s offensive line is infinitely better than Seattle’s, and Hasselbeck apparently can still throw it when given time. With the weapons on offense, not to mention the competition in the division, it seems like Tennessee’s early surge might have been a fluke.

Minnesota Vikings

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 20-24 vs. Tampa Bay
Current Starter:  Donovan McNabb
Last Game:  18-30, 228YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 83.8 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Christian Ponder
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  The Vikings are getting a lot of negative press right now for blowing two second half leads (and rightfully so), but let’s not forget that they had second half leads in the first place. Against good teams! So, it’s hard for me to believe Minnesota will be winning the Luck sweepstakes. Still, it’s painfully obvious that Donovan McNabb is no longer Donovan McNabb. The upcoming schedule is manageable, with games against Kansas City, Arizona, and Carolina coming before their Week 9 bye. The Vikings could realistically have 3 or 4 wins by that point, thereby keeping McNabb at the helm and sealing their fate in the Sweepstakes. However, a blowout loss at Detroit in Week 3 coupled with an upset loss at Kansas City in Week 4 could spell the beginning (and immediate decline) of the Christian Ponder era. If that’s the case, then Luck is surely in play.

Miami Dolphins

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 13-23 vs. Houston
Current Starter:  Chad Henne
Last Game:  12-30, 170YDS, TD, 1INT, 56.2 QB Rating

Summary:  A typical Chad Henne performance leads to a typical Dolphins loss. I honestly held some optimism for the ‘Fins after their Week 1 showing against New England, but my faith was obviously misplaced. On the bright side, Miami has played two possible (likely) division winners in New England and Houston, so two losses isn’t a big shock or anything. A loss at Cleveland this week could see the entire franchise come unglued, and with games at San Diego and at the Jets following that, the Mighty Chad Henne’s could find themselves in a disastrous 0-5 hole to start the season. Follow that up with remaining games against the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots, and Jets – not to mention two against the suddenly resurgent Bills – and you have the makings of a serious Andrew Luck contender. Also, there’s a strong chance Tony Sparano is canned before too long, which will only go to further the Andrew Luck cause.

Cleveland Browns

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Won 27-19 at Indianapolis
Current Starter:  Colt McCoy
Last Game:  22-32, 211YDS, 1TD, 0INT, 97.3 QB Rating

Summary:  If any team should feel discouraged following a win, it’s the Browns. As you’ll soon read about, the Colts are really bad. Like WNBA level bad. Yet, for three quarters, these teams looked pretty evenly matched. Once again, Colt McCoy is most definitely NOT the problem here. The right side of their line is thinner than the walls at my old apartment complex, and the complete and utter lack of playmakers severely limits what Cleveland is capable of doing. Greg Little made a few nice plays, but they need a lot more from him and Josh Cribbs if they’re going to stay out of the AFC North basement. That having been said, the presence of McCoy gives them some semblance of legitimacy, and their remaining schedule (games against Miami, Tennessee, Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Arizona) makes it all but impossible to lose more than 10 or 11 games. Unless of course your team plays in Cleveland…

The Young Guns

Cincinnati Bengals

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Lost 22-24 at Denver
Current Starter:  Andy Dalton
Last Game:  27-41, 332YDS, 2TD, 0INT, 107.0 QB Rating

Summary:  While Cincinnati may have managed to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory, the performance of Andy Dalton leads to some cautious optimism regarding their fortunes. He played OK in the opener against Cleveland, but the game plan was so conservative that no real truth can be gleaned from it. But after being allowed to throw a whopping 41 times against Denver, it seems like The Ginger might have a future after all. Of course, let’s not forget that he put up numbers against Denver, a feat that even the worst among us could likely accomplish. But still…it’s better than nothing, right?

Carolina Panthers

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 23-30 vs. Green Bay
Current Starter:  Cam Newton
Last Game:  28-46, 432YDS, 1TD, 3INT, 72.0 QB Rating (53YDS Rushing, 1TD)

Summary: After another red hot start by Cam Newton, I had all but resigned myself to facing endless amounts of pubic shame and embarrassment regarding my “infallible” preseason decree that Cam couldn’t cut it in the NFL. Then, the rest of the game happened. I’d like to personally thank Cam Newton for throwing 3 horrendous interceptions and multiple wildly errant passes. You really made my Sunday. By the way, he’s a quick note for those who are stuck on Cam’s sky high passing yards…YOU’RE AN IDIOT! They called a ton of passing plays and Newton racked up meaningless stats after the outcome had been decided! Yards mean nothing if you keep giving the ball back to the other team! Just thought I’d mention that. Of course, I also have to mention that Cam isn’t as bad as I thought. We’ll see how he performs the rest of the season, but Carolina is a feisty team that will probably snag a few more wins than I initially thought.

The Charlie Whitehurst Division

Seattle Seahawks

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 0-24 at Pittsburgh
Current Starter:  Tarvaris Jackson
Last Game:  20-29, 159YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 82.4 QB Rating
Starter by Week 4:  Charlie Whitehurst
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Seattle has the worst offense in the league. In a scenario where Tarvaris starts all 16 games, I’d be tempted to call them the favorite for Andrew Luck…even considering the division they play in! Still, I refuse to put them in this category until I’ve seen them play all their cards. That “card” is, of course, Charlie Whitehurst. Could be decent, could be horrible. Nobody knows at this point, and until we do, it’s impossible to accurately predict Seattle’s position in this race. Also, if Whitehurst were to be inserted next week (which seems unlikely), he’d have the benefit of playing all 8 Seattle home games.

The Contenders

Oakland Raiders

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Lost 35-38 at Buffalo
Current Starter:  Jason Campbell
Last Game:  23-33, 323YDS, 2TD, 1INT, 108.5 QB Rating

Summary:  The Raiders are on the very fringe of “contender” status after their brief impersonation of a real football team. Jason Campbell stepped up against a terrible Buffalo secondary and delivered a solid performance while the Raiders running game continued to be fantastic. With Kansas City looking more and more like 2 free wins, the Raiders might be in trouble of falling behind in this race. The early victory over Denver put them at an obvious disadvantage, and if Campbell stays healthy and moderately productive, the Raiders could easily play themselves out of the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes and into the Matt Barkley Consolation Prize Sweepstakes.

Denver Broncos

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Won 24-22 vs. Cincinnati
Current Starter:  Kyle Orton
Last Game:  15-25, 195YDS, 2TD, 0INT, 111.2 QB Rating

Summary:  Let’s be honest, Sunday’s “victory” over the Bengals is a complete and utter disaster for the Broncos long term fortunes. Kyle Orton delivered a solid performance, while the rest of the crappy roster did everything they could to give the game to Cincinnati. In the end, the mere presence of Tim Tebow on the field and his amazing leadership (and 0 targets) gave Denver the edge it needed. Seriously though, Denver is crap. Andy Dalton should not be throwing for 300 yards on an NFL defense at this point, but Denver made him look like a red-headed Aaron Rodgers. The two matchups with the Chiefs should go a long way in determining the outcome of this Sweepstakes.

Kansas City Chiefs

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 3-48 at Detroit
Current Starter:  Matt Cassel
Last Game:  15-22, 133YDS, 0TD, 3INT, 44.5 QB Rating

Summary:  I know I’ve been harping on the “don’t overreact” thing the last 2 weeks, but when you give up a seasons worth of points in your first two games AND lose your top playmakers on offense and defense, it’s time to hit the panic button. 4 games combined against the Raiders and Broncos give them hope of at least a few wins, but even that seems iffy at this point. What confuses me is how Todd Haley can get absolutely zero production from guys who have played well at previous points in their careers. Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers, and others are talented young players who should give the Chiefs a fighting chance of at least staying respectable. Note the word “should,” because it simply isn’t happening. My gut tells me they’ll pull out 4 or 5 wins and finish just shy of the ultimate prize, but I won’t be shocked if Kansas City totally bottoms out. Honestly, as a reader pointed out not too long ago, that would be the absolute best thing to happen to them since NFL-AFL merger.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Current Record:  1-1
Last Game:  Lost 3-32 at New York Jets
Current Starter:  Luke McCown
Last Game:  6-19, 59YDS, 0TD, 4INT, 1.8 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Blaine Gabbart (Still spelled wrong)
Last Game:  5-6, 52YDS, 102.8 QB Rating

Summary:  Wow, Luke McCown. We all knew you were bad, but a 1.8 QB Rating is really impressive. I mean, I’ve never before seen a 1.8 rating! Congratulations for making me stand up and pay attention. At this point, it makes absolutely no sense for Jacksonville to stick with McCown over Gabbart, but that appears to be what they’re doing. As I detailed in my Ohio State article, the idea that early failures will ruin a young QB’s career is totally false. Both Jacksonville and Gabbart can only benefit from having him play. Either way, this team is really bad. I honestly think they might be worse than Indianapolis, but the early win handicaps them slightly, forcing me to rank them below the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts

Current Record:  0-2
Last Game:  Lost 19-27 vs. Cleveland
Current Starter:  Kerry Collins
Last Game:  19-38, 191YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 62.5 QB Rating (1 Fumble Lost)

Summary:  Seeing the Colts ranked at the top of this type of list is a truly stunning turn of events. Still, based on their performance without Peyton Manning, it’s completely warranted. Over the years, it seems like many people have taken Peyton Manning’s value for granted, but it’s abundantly clear now exactly what he meant to this team. The fact is, the Colts don’t have much talent…and the talent they have is quickly aging. Fortunately for Indy, Week 2’s results weren’t as embarrassing as Week 1. Unfortunately for Indy, they couldn’t take down a bad Browns team at home. If that’s a true litmus test for what their season will be like, then it’s totally appropriate to think they’ll secure the top pick. 2 games against Jacksonville, a home game against Kansas City, and a road game against Cincinnati are likely their only real chances at wins. Best case scenario likely involves them winning 3 of those games, and maybe one additional upset along the way. Basically, I see 4 wins at the most. With 3 key games against chief Andrew Luck rivals, the Colts will have to get the job done (lose) to secure the services of their next franchise QB (or major trade bait, whatever the case may be).

Note: Our good friend Nate Dunlevy from wrote a terrific piece about Indianapolis’ options should they land the #1 pick. Follow the link here and give it a read. I don’t claim to know the right answer, but I’d have a hard time moving Andrew Luck. Especially given Manning’s age and injury.

Games Andrew Luck might want to watch this week:

Jacksonville at Carolina – Cam Newton’s big opportunity to get Carolina on the board. Basically, this is a game Jacksonville can’t afford to win.

Miami at Cleveland – A loss for either team could start a major downward spiral, but Miami seems to have much more at stake. An 0-3 start could spell the premature end to Tony Sparano’s tenure as coach, and could thrust the Dolphins deep into contention.

San Francisco at Cincinnati – A 2-1 start for either team would be tough to overcome.

Denver at Tennessee – After an unfortunate win last week, Denver can’t afford to win another winnable game and hope to keep pace in this thing. For Tennessee, a 2-1 start might spell the end for their hopes.

Arizona at Seattle – Seattle’s homefield advantage was always considered a major factor in this race. Dropping a winnable game at home against Arizona would give them a lot of momentum going forward.


  1. I LOVE the new piece: "Games Andrew Luck might want to watch." Great idea! Hadn't thought of it before now, but I just love the image of Andrew actually sitting on his couch, watching Chad Henne complete an 80-yard TD pass, all the while going, "NOOOO!!! NOOO!!! Please, not Cleveland!!! NOOOO!!! Anywhere else!!" ... just like you with Cam Newton's TD pass last week! That image is likely to live on in my mind for awhile.

    Question: how far would a 49ers' win set them back in this race? Given their ENTIRE division appears in this column, I have to say I'd consider even taking them off... at the very least, they'd appear in "Can't decide if we're in or out."

  2. It was always an uphill battle for San Fran, so losing this game is vital. There's just a thin margin for error when you play in the NFC West. However, I won't remove them totally if they win. Possibly the "Can't decide..." section, or maybe a totally new section.