Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes -- Week 3 Update

This guy probably shouldn't be getting the big carries on 4th and 1

Three weeks in and this race is heating up! After some surprising results from the first three games, a clear hierarchy is starting to form, and the true contenders are showing themselves. As I’ve noted before, it’s shocking to me how many horrendously bad teams there are in the NFL. Even some of these 2-1 teams are just awful! Still, only 1 team can win the ultimate prize. Picking up clutch losses against fellow contenders is the key to victory. Let’s see who’s been successful at that.

Like last week, there are some comings and goings in the Sweepstakes. Detroit left the party last week, and the Giants and Bills follow them out the door this week. Good luck on your season, guys! Hope your success is worth missing out on Luck! On the bright side, we have another new face. How long this team will stay is yet to be determined, but I would suggest they enjoy their time while they have it. Let’s get to the rankings.

Dropped Out:

New York Giants

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Won 29-16 at Philadelphia
Current Starter:  Eli Manning
Last Game:  16-23, 254YDS, 4TD, 0INT, 145.7 QB Rating

Summary:  Spanking the Eagles in Philadelphia is certainly no way to stay in the Sweepstakes, therefore the Giants must be eliminated from the competition (for now). Apparently Eli Manning caught wind of my Vinny Testaverde comparison last week, because he looked like the Eli Manning of…wait, he’s never looked that good! Perhaps, at 30, Eli is finally coming into his own? Or perhaps the Eagles have some serious issues. Yeah, I’ll take the latter. It was a good run, Giants. Until your next collapse, we must bid you adieu!

Buffalo Bills

Current Record:  3-0
Last Game:  Won 34-31 vs. New England
Current Starter:  Ryan Fitzpatrick
Last Game:  27-40, 369YDS, 2TD, 2INT, 92.6 QB Rating

Summary:  If you had told me before the season that I would be officially ruling the Bills out of this race by Week 4, I’d have called up Phil Costa and had him snap a football directly into your face. It’s not like Buffalo was a fringe candidate…they were an early favorite! As I mentioned in my Buy or Sell yesterday, I’m not buying the Bills as a playoff team yet, but there’s really no way for them to claw back into the Luck race. Yes, the Bills have certainly improved their fortunes exponentially. Now, instead of all out sucking and having an opportunity to land franchise changing players, they’ll just settle into a prolonged state of mediocrity where they consistently miss out on top prospects. Not that I’m pessimistic or anything…

Late Arriving X-Factor’s

Chicago Bears

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Lost 17-27 vs. Green Bay
Current Starter:  Jay Cutler
Last Game:  21-37, 302YDS, 2TD, 2INT, 78.9 QB Rating

Summary:  Bears fans, this was bound to happen at some point. You managed to luck your way into a Conference Championship game last year, but you had to know the roof would come crashing down at some point, right? Besides, how much faith did you actually have in Jay Cutler? Anyways, I’d be beyond shocked if Chicago worked their way to the top of these rankings, but the franchise does have a long history of putting together surprising, unspeakably bad seasons. Considering their early competition, the 1-2 start isn’t all that bad, but I’m not counting them out just yet.

Can’t decide if we’re in or out!

San Francisco 49ers

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Won 13-8 at Cincinnati
Current Starter:  Alex Smith
Last Game:  20-30, 201YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 85.6 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Colin Kaepernick
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  In terms of their hopes in the NFC West, Sunday’s win over Cincinnati was huge. In terms of their hopes in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes, Sunday’s win over Cincinnati might as well have been a 30 ton meteor crashing into the hamstring of Frank Gore. Speaking of Frank Gore’s demise, his injury status could be a major wild card in this race. Given that Alex Smith is about as productive as Ron Livingston’s character in ‘Office Space,’ any prolonged absence by Gore could lead to some serious losing. At this point, it sounds like he’ll play on Sunday. That’s a positive, I guess, but Gore’s noted injury history indicates this story is far from over. San Francisco fans better hope they don’t fall one measly game short of the ultimate prize, or else this devastating win will haunt you for decades.

Oakland Raiders

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Won 34-24 vs. New York Jets
Current Starter:  Jason Campbell
Last Game:  18-27, 156YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 81.7 QB Rating

Summary:  Yet another preseason favorite falling to the way-side. Such a shame to waste such a perfectly bad team. Much like with San Francisco, 2 early wins puts Oakland at a severe disadvantage going forward. Darren McFadden has clearly taken the next step and put himself in the same class as Adrian Peterson (not as good, yet), and the artist formerly known as Chris Johnson. Basically, he’s winning games all by himself. Literally. The defense is giving up points, the passing game is crap…it’s literally a one man show. That’s great and all, except that McFadden is going to die pretty soon. He’s already having a minor groin problem, and his workload definitely needs to be lightened. Conceptually, that sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea – except that we’ve already established that McFadden is a one man team. 2-1 looks great right now, but I think it’s unsustainable. We’ll see.

(By the way, has there ever been a geographic area featuring less dynamic QB’s than the Bay Area currently has? Alex Smith and Jason Campbell might be the two most boring QB’s in the league. They aren’t fun to watch in the “there’s a car wreck on the side of the road and I have to watch” sense, but they also don’t make any plays. Like, any. None. Call me when someone gets a real QB, OK?)

Cleveland Browns

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Won 17-16 vs. Miami
Current Starter:  Colt McCoy
Last Game:  19-39, 210YDS, 2TD, 1INT, 71.5 QB Rating

Summary:  Should I be less excited about McCoy because he’s pretty much sucked all year, or should I be more excited because he keeps making big plays at the end of close games?  Hmm, tough decision. Either way, don’t take this placement to mean I consider the Browns to be somehow mediocre. They have definitely proven thus far that they are not a good team. Their three opponents this season (Cincy, Indy, Miami) are a combined 1-8 – the 1 win coming against the Browns – and they’ve had tight battles in all three contests. The reason they can’t ranked in this spot is because their schedule is so darn easy and they’ve already dug themselves a hole by giving away key losses. Browns fans, you better hope McCoy figures some things because you’re definitely not getting Luck.

Parking in the Handicap Spot

Tennessee Titans

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Won 17-14 vs. Denver
Current Starter:  Matt Hasselbeck
Last Game:  27-36, 311YDS, 2TD, 0INT, 119.1 QB Rating (1 Fumble Lost)
QB of the Future:  Jake Locker
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  The handicap here is the loss of Kenny Britt for the remainder of the season. For a second, things were actually looking somewhat bright for the Titans hopes in the AFC South. Matt Hasselbeck apparently found Zoltar from ‘Big’ and pulled a reverse Tom Hanks, turning himself into a 25 year old stud QB. Through 3 games, Hasselbeck had the highest single season QB Rating of his career. Couple that with Kenny Britt’s sudden emergence (and ability to stop getting arrested), and you had a pretty nice offensive duo. Now, Britt, along with Chris Johnson, is out for the year. Wait, Chris Johnson is still playing? When did that start? Did I miss something?

Washington Redskins

Current Record:  2-1
Last Game:  Lost 16-18 at Dallas
Current Starter:  Rex Grossman
Last Game:  22-37, 250YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 77.5 QB Rating

Summary:  The handicap here is, of course, Rex Grossman, who overcame a good first week to once again re-gain his status as, well, Rex Grossman. The scary thing about this is that Washington definitely should have won the game. If that had happened, I’d have been forced to bite the bullet and drop them from the rankings. Thankfully, my pre-season favorite is still on the list, though their chances are very much on life support. Looking at their schedule, games against St. Louis, Carolina, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, and Minnesota probably give them too many wins to climb back in this race. Then again, it’s never wise to count Rex Grossman our of these types of competitions.


St. Louis Rams

Current Record:  0-3
Last Game:  Lost 7-37 vs. Baltimore
Current Starter:  Sam Bradford
Last Game:  16-32, 166YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 62.8 QB Rating (1 Fumble Lost)

Summary:  Again, I think their “demise” is being severely overplayed. There’s definitely a chance that they’re legitimately bad, but any concrete judgments after the schedule they’ve played and the injuries they’ve suffered is way too premature. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t soften for a few more weeks, so they’re going to have to find a way to beat a good team at some point. Washington at home this week is a huge opportunity to get on the board. With subsequent games at Dallas, at Green Bay, and vs. New Orleans; it’s almost a must win. If they can’t pull it out, there’s a very real chance of hitting their first division game at 0-7. At that point, the season is over. Even in the NFC West.

Minnesota Vikings

Current Record:  0-3
Last Game:  Lost 23-26 vs. Detroit
Current Starter:  Donovan McNabb
Last Game:  22-36, 211YDS, 1TD, 0INT, 86.7 QB Rating
QB of the Future:  Christian Ponder
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  I initially planned on putting them much lower than this, but seriously, how can a team that racks up huge first half leads be worse than the Bengals? Minnesota’s second half woes are certainly comical, to say the least. Believe me; I derive great pleasure from making post game phone calls to Prince about his team’s epic collapses. Still, double digit leads to San Diego, Tampa Bay, and Detroit are impressive. You have to be at least decent to even be in the position to collapse, right? After Adrian Peterson’s comments, I imagine they’ll be giving him more work in the second half. That can only help. With upcoming games against Kansas City and Arizona, you have to think Minnesota will bounce back and get to 2-3. If not, then it’s probably Ponder time…and that leads to Luck time.

The Young Guns

Cincinnati Bengals

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Lost 8-13 vs. Cincinnati
Current Starter:  Andy Dalton
Last Game:  17-32, 157YDS, 0TD, 2INT, 40.8 QB Rating

Summary:  Thus far, Cincinnati has proven their ability to make games ugly. I’m not sure if that actually counts as an ability, or if it’s just a product of having to play against Andy Dalton’s flaming red hair. (Gingers are scary!) Either way, they’ve been in every game so far. That, of course, isn’t the same as winning games, so their place is in this Sweepstakes is still a fairly prominent one. Going forward, it looks like Cincinnati will have to overcome a suspension to RB Cedric Benson. To be honest, I think that may help. Just saying.

Carolina Panthers

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Won 16-10 vs. Jacksonville
Current Starter:  Cam Newton
Last Game:  18-34, 158YDS, 1TD, 0INT, 75.4 QB Rating

Summary: To be totally honest, Cam Newton’s performance in the “Monsoon Game” was far more impressive to me than either of his previous two starts. No, the ridiculous yardage wasn’t there. No, the out of this world highlight plays weren’t there. What Cam Newton was able to do was stay poised in a tight game with ridiculously difficult conditions. He made key plays down the stretch and did an excellent job of taking care of the ball. No, he’s not Joe Montana all of a sudden, but solid performances like this have me seriously questioning my thoughts on Newton’s abilities. I still need to see him do something against a good defense before I’m fully on board, but I kinda doubt Carolina is even remotely thinking about Luck right now.

The “I Hate Tarvaris Jackson” Division

Seattle Seahawks

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Won 13-10 vs. Arizona
Current Starter:  Tarvaris Jackson
Last Game:  18-31, 171YDS, 0TD, 1INT, 60.0 QB Rating (1 Rushing TD)
Starter by Week 5:  Charlie Whitehurst
Last Game:  DNP

Summary:  How much longer can this farce go on? Seattle currently ranks 30th in passing and 29th in rushing! They’re awful! Tarvaris Jackson is the worst QB in the NFL! Again, I think Seattle is a real contender if Tarvaris starts all 16 games, but I’m just waiting for the day when Whitehurst comes in. I thought it would be Week 4, but apparently Pete Carroll is either too stubborn to pull the plug, or too stupid. Either way, Seattle is going to get blasted this week by Atlanta. Maybe then the Charlie Whitehurst train will get rolling.

Arizona Cardinals

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Lost 10-13 at Seattle
Current Starter:  Kevin Kolb
Last Game:  25-39, 252YDS, 1TD, 2INT, 69.6 QB Rating

Summary:  Speaking of hating Tarvaris Jackson, how about some hate for the guy who lost to Tarvaris Jackson! Before the season started, I described Kolb as an average, middle of the road NFL starter. That was obviously too generous a prediction. Kolb sucked against Seattle, pure and simple. His arm strength is bad, he’s not as accurate as billed, he has terrible pocket presence, he constantly ran into the pressure, and he completely choked down the stretch. What a piece of crap. Do you think Arizona could get a 6th rounder from Philly right now? No, didn’t think so.

The Contenders

Denver Broncos

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Lost 14-17 at Tennessee
Current Starter:  Kyle Orton
Last Game:  24-39, 173YDS, 2TD, 2INT, 67.6 QB Rating

Summary:  Sunday’s close loss at Tennessee, while not improving their short term standing in the rankings, could give them much greater long term sustainability in their quest to land Andrew Luck. Not only did they lose to a fellow contender, but current starter Kyle Orton had a disastrous game that is sure to have Denver fans extra motivated to belt out their typical “TEBOW” chants during the next home game. Playing Green Bay on the road this week guarantees further angst for a Week 5 home showdown with San Diego. By their Week 6 bye, Denver should be 1-4 and in complete and utter turmoil. Won’t be long until Tebow Time!

Miami Dolphins

Current Record:  0-3
Last Game:  Lost 16-17 vs. Cleveland
Current Starter:  Chad Henne
Last Game:  19-29, 255YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 90.4QB Rating

Summary:  Wow! What a clutch loss by Miami! Truly, it takes a special effort to throw away a late lead to Cleveland. Really, really impressive. Going forward though, Miami still has some mountains to climb. Chad Henne, while still doing Chad Henne things, doesn’t look nearly as bad as anticipated. Meanwhile, rookie RB Daniel Thomas is actually good. If owner Stephen Ross is smart (and I’m assuming he’s not), he’ll fire Tony Sparano right now and replace him with some idiot flunky, with the guarantee that he’ll get a front office job if he can land Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Current Record:  1-2
Last Game:  Lost 10-16 vs. Carolina
Current Starter:  Blaine Gabbart (Still spelled wrong)
Last Game:  12-21, 139YDS, 1TD, 1INT, 73.3 QB Rating

Summary:  It’s not that I think Jacksonville is “better” than either Kansas City or Indy, it’s that they have a 1 win handicap already. Given the nature of these teams, 1 win seems big. Also, it’s tough to peg exactly what Jacksonville is at this point. Gabbart wasn’t a total disaster in his first start, but it’s impossible to take anything away from that game, considering the horrific conditions. Fact is, Gabbart’s lone TD was a giant fluke play, so the numbers are inflated if anything. If Maurice Jones-Drew stays healthy and productive for 16 games (unlikely), and if Gabbart can simply take care of the ball (also unlikely), then Jacksonville will probably get too many victories in the awful AFC South to truly compete for Luck.

Kansas City Chiefs

Current Record:  0-3
Last Game:  Lost 17-20 at San Diego
Current Starter:  Matt Cassel
Last Game:  17-24, 176YDS, 2TD, 1INT

Summary:  On the plus side, Kansas City didn’t lose by 12 TD’s again. On the negative side, San Diego did everything in their power to hand this game to the Chiefs, and they still lost. Without Jamaal Charles, this offense is way too punchless to compete on any decent level. Heck, they weren’t able to compete with Jamaal Charles! It’s clear that KC is in this race to stay, but they have to avoid a few upcoming land mines in order to seize this race by the neck. The biggest hurdle in deciding this thing might be their Week 5 showdown with Indianapolis, a game I’m sure will grip the entire nation.

Indianapolis Colts

Current Record:  0-3
Last Game:  Lost 20-23 vs. Pittsburgh
Current Starter:  Kerry Collins
Last Game:  13-29, 93YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 52.8 QB Rating
Also in the Mix:  Curtis Painter
Last Game:  5-11, 60YDS, 0TD, 0INT, 62.7 QB Rating (1 Fumble Lost)

Summary:  After battling Pittsburgh tough, I was all set to move Indianapolis out of the pole position. Then I found out that Curtis Painter might be playing. Curtis. Painter. Needless to say, the Colts are still the favorites for Andrew Luck. Good luck with Curtis Painter…

Games Andrew Luck might want to watch this week:

Carolina at Chicago – It’s very possible that this game might have no relevance to the Sweepstakes, but it should help clarify exactly where these two wild cards stand.

Tennessee at Cleveland – Hard to believe, but this is essentially an elimination game. The winner improves to 3-1, well out of sight of the leaders.

Minnesota at Kansas City – If I’m Andrew Luck, I’m DVR’ing this game and watching it several times. Even at 0-3, Minnesota doesn’t seem like a true contender. A shocking loss to Kansas City would push them to the forefront of this race and force us all to take them seriously.

Washington at St. Louis – This is St. Louis’ season right here. An 0-4 start makes them serious candidates in this race. With Bradford already on board, it could be the most interesting scenario out there.

San Francisco at Philadelphia – I don’t want to jump the gun, but a 1-3 start by Philly would force me to put them in the rankings. Conversely, a 3-1 start by San Francisco would end all hope.

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