Hot Reads - Week 5
by Jeff Pasquino
October 3rd, 2012

Welcome to "Hot Reads". The general purpose of this column will be to collect some of my thoughts and observations throughout the NFL season as we go along - from waiver wire comments, how to get the most out of the Footballguys site, or anything else football related that comes to mind. It will mostly be a free-flowing, stream of consciousness - that means that there's no predicting what I might talk about in a given week. So...welcome to my world...

The Refs are Back...

Okay, we have beaten up, on and over the replacement refs far too much, but it was pretty funny how all of a sudden the official officials returned to action just days after the Green Bay Seattle debacle on Monday Night Football to end Week 3. What was that about it taking 1-2 weeks to get these guys back into shape and in good enough game form to not only work a game but (ahem) fit in their new uniforms? So much for that as the refs inked their new contract on a Wednesday and there was a veteran crew in Baltimore the next night for the Browns vs. Ravens on Thursday Night Football. I guess when you want to move mountains.....or were they molehills?

The Fake Field Goal

In case you missed it, the St. Louis Rams scored a touchdown in Week 4 on a fake field goal down close to the Seattle goal line where the punter / holder (John Kekker) stood up and threw a quick pass to an uncovered Danny Amendola on the right side of the field. The official (a real one, allegedly) threw a flag on the play but the touchdown stood. The reason? Amendola acted as if he was running off the field as a 12th Ram but was really just the 11th player and was on the field the previous play. A well-prepared Jeff Fisher had informed referee Mike Carey that this play was a possibility and Carey was ready for it and told the official to pick up his flag. Fisher was later quoted as saying that there was no downside to trying this fake: "They are going to just to conference," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of the flag. "They were made aware of the play before the game, and (referee) Mike (Carey) was aware of it. He's going to do it so they are absolutely sure that No. 16 (Amendola) was in the game on the previous play."

Nice call Jeff, as this touchdown helped the Rams beat the Seahawks at home in a wide open NFC West.

Contenders, Pretenders, and....

Back in Week 1, I talked about who I had going to the playoffs and the projected records for all 32 NFL teams. Now that most everyone has played four games, it is time to reassess those predictions. Let's talk about the undefeated teams and then go for a trip around the league, shall we?

4-0 teams
Arizona, Atlanta and Houston. Houston is, by far, the most complete team of the bunch. Over Matt Schaub's last eight starts, the Texans have won by a combined 160 points or 20 points a game. That's not just winning, or even dominant that is just devastating the opposition. Atlanta comes in next with a big comeback that should not have been but it was, pushing the Falcons to a commanding 4-0 record in the NFC South. Despite just one win in the NFC, the Falcons are well on their way to winning the NFC South with the rest of the division 0-8 outside of games between the Saints, Bucs and Panthers. Arizona is the dark horse here with another improbable win in Week 4, coming back late once again and winning over Miami in overtime. The Cardinals have won 11 of their last 13 games going back to last year and are 8-0 in their last eight at home, including five overtime wins. Can that defense and Kevin Kolb hold out against San Francisco is a tough NFC West?

I will mark Houston and Atlanta down as contenders, but I still am not sure what to do with Arizona. Wins over the Eagles and Patriots look really good, but Weeks 8 (SF) and 9 (at Green Bay) will tell me more about them as a contender or a pretender. For now, I will put them in stasis with a "Suspender" rating a team that might contend, but we need to see more, especially in a tough NFC this year.

AFC East
New England just stuck a big flag in Buffalo's back on Sunday, claiming the AFC East as their own once again. Even with just a 2-2 record, the Patriots look to be the class of the division with a big comeback win (and blowout) of the Bills in Week 4. Buffalo is still alive at 2-2 for a wild card run, but that defense better improve very fast. Miami (1-3) is getting better but they are still at least one year away, even though they had bad luck against the Jets. New York would be lucky to be .500 next year at best, as they are in the hunt for a Top 5 draft pick next April despite a very soft 2-2 record win wins over Miami and Buffalo. I still put them at the bottom of the division.

AFC North
The Ravens have been on a tear this year with Joe Flacco and the passing game leading the way. One tough loss in Philadelphia is their only black mark on a 3-1 record. Cincinnati is very quietly also 3-1 after a big loss in Baltimore to start the season. Pittsburgh had Week 4 off but could upset the Eagles in Week 5 to push towards a respectable 2-2 record. Cleveland continues to wallow in the cellar with an 0-4 start.

AFC South
Houston is a top team in the NFL, possibly #1 overall with convincing wins all season. Indianapolis (1-3) beat Minnesota (which looks like a good win right now) but a loss to Jacksonville shows how up and down this team is with so much youth and inexperience. Tennessee upset Detroit with two big special teams touchdowns but they cannot get Chris Johnson going nor can they keep a quarterback healthy. Jacksonville is still a long ways away and might be the first team packing for Los Angeles.

AFC West
This is between Denver (2-2) and San Diego (3-1). The Chargers have three soft wins (at Oakland, vs. Tennessee and at Kansas City) outside of getting blown out at home by the Falcons. Denver has had a tough start to the year but has pulled a 2-2 record (and New England looms in Week 5). If they can be 3-3 after facing San Diego in Week 6 right before the Broncos' bye week, they could really gear up behind Peyton Manning and win most of their games after that point (with only a home game against Baltimore looming as a likely underdog game). Oakland cannot get out of their own way most weeks and had to pull a huge comeback to beat Pittsburgh at home, while Kansas City has just their one win over the hapless Saints on which to hang their collective helmets. In a word, the Chiefs are done.

  • AFC Contenders (5) New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, Denver. All of these teams should be in the AFC playoffs.
  • AFC Pretender (1) Buffalo (two weak wins) needs to turn this around fast.
  • AFC Suspenders (2) (Teams we need to see more before declaring one way or another) - San Diego (weak wins over Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City), Pittsburgh (tough road losses, big game vs. Eagles in Week 5)
  • AFC Mind Benders (4) (Teams we never know who will show up from week to week) Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Oakland
  • AFC Season Enders (4) (also known as teams scouting college players already) NY Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City
  • NFC East
    Philadelphia has to be the luckiest 3-1 team around, with three wins by a total of four points (an NFL record). The Eagles may contend, but I cannot consider them a contender until Michael Vick strings a few good games (and turnover free games) together. The Giants look much better than the Cowboys despite Dallas' Week 1 win over New York. The Redskins are always teetering on the edge of the cliff, and I expect them to fall off once the NFC East games begin. Their next six games have all three NFC East teams plus Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh on the schedule, making anything beyond a 4-6 mark highly unlikely. The division is wide open and the NFC is rough, so put all three teams aside from Washington in the mix but not as true contenders yet.

    NFC North
    Sorry, no way can I get behind the Vikings at 3-1. Great story and great start, but their one loss is to the Colts, for crying out loud! Jacksonville and Detroit have looked very poor so far and the 49ers were a trap game for San Francisco, as Minnesota caught them at just the right time. I think both the Bears and the Packers are better than the Vikings and they will both be ahead of Minnesota in the final standings, but Vikings fans should be very encouraged by what they see so far this season. I cannot say the same for the Lions, who look like a train wreck every time I see "highlights" of theirs which are usually highlights for the opposition, especially on special teams. Green Bay (2-2) should be 3-1 with the Seattle game in question, so keep that in mind. Chicago took it to Dallas on Monday but they have already one loss to the Packers this year. I think both the Packers and Chicago (a mistake I made in the preseason, admittedly) are contenders as long as both quarterbacks stay healthy.

    NFC South
    Atlanta, and not much else. Carolina (1-3), Tampa Bay (1-3) and New Orleans (0-4) are a combined 2-10, but an even worse 0-8 if you do not consider games between those three teams. Ouch. Enjoy your bye of December, Atlanta.

    NFC West
    What a strange division. San Francisco still looks like the best team out in the West, but both Arizona (4-0) and Seattle (2-2) look to have world-beating defenses. Arizona's perfect start with some luck with it certainly puts them in contention, while Seattle cannot rely on a rookie quarterback to get them to 10+ wins this year, which will be the entry fee for the NFC playoffs this year. St. Louis (2-2) is definitely improving but still rebuilding in a tougher than expected division.

  • NFC Contenders (5) Chicago, Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, Arizona (4-0 and a strong defense)
  • NFC Pretender (2) Minnesota (just cannot get behind that club yet, and they will fade), Washington (despite a 2-2 start the rest of the schedule and the division is too rough, making 6-10 a good finish).
  • NFC Suspenders (3) (Teams we need to see more before declaring one way or another) Philadelphia, Dallas, and the NY Giants (at least one and possibly two of these three are likely going to the postseason, but good luck figuring out which one or two)
  • NFC Mind Benders (5) (Teams we never know who will show up from week to week) Detroit (kick it out of bounds always!), Carolina, Seattle, St. Louis, New Orleans
  • NFC Season Enders (1) (also known as teams scouting college players already) Tampa Bay
  • That will do it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this window into my world. Until next time...

    As always, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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