Fox Sports Ranks Pouncey Best Rookie
The 1972 Miami Dolphins can’t celebrate if the Kansas City Chiefs fall to Indianapolis on Sunday.
The champagne isn’t cold yet.
Any serious threat to Miami’s perfect season already is gone. For the first time since 2001, there is just one undefeated team remaining after four weeks. And that franchise is the Chiefs, an early-season surprise but not a club talented enough to make a legitimate run at 19-0.
Get all the breaking roster moves from the NFL right here.
To their credit, the Chiefs are the only team to hold a two-game lead in their division. The NFC East and NFC West don’t even have a first-place team with a winning record.
League-wide parity was a major storyline through the first quarter of the 2010 campaign. But it’s not the only one. Here’s a breakdown of the other major happenings as October football kicks into full swing.
BEST TEAM: Jets
Yes, the Jets.
Save the venom, Ravens fans. I know Baltimore edged New York in the season opener. But the Ravens were beaten by a Cincinnati Bengals team that isn’t playing nearly as well as last year. I’d take the Jets in a New York-Baltimore rematch if the game were played today.
The Jets have actually lived up to the Super Bowl hype after sleepwalking through the season’s first six quarters. Second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez still doesn’t have an interception after 103 pass attempts. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson has displayed the burst sorely missing the past few seasons in San Diego. And the defense will become even stingier with the pending return of injured cornerback Darrelle Revis and pass-rushing linebacker Calvin Pace.
“I like where we are right now,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said at his Monday news conference. “We’re right at the top of our division with a win over everybody in our division. We’ve just got to handle our business.”
That means not losing six of the next seven games like the 2009 Jets did after a 3-1 start.
BEST DEVELOPMENT: NFL’s improved treatment of head injuries
One of the season’s most poignant scenes happened on the sideline. Dallas tight end Jason Witten went ballistic on a team physician trying to re-enter a Week 2 game against Chicago after becoming wobbly when his helmet hit the turf. The Cowboys medical staff held its ground. Witten sat for the rest of the contest.
Witten later admitted it was “good to be cautious.” It’s even better that the concussion issue and the potential long-term effects of such trauma are being taken more seriously by a league that stuck its head in the sand for far too long.
That being said, the detection system still isn’t perfect. There were signs that Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler was concussed before suffering his ninth sack in last Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants. And despite what the Philadelphia Eagles may claim, there is no way quarterback Kevin Kolb and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley should have been allowed to return (albeit briefly) after suffering concussions in the season-opener vs. Green Bay.
Dr. Mark Adickes, a prominent orthopedic surgeon and FOXSports.com medical expert, believes the NFL can do more to prevent concussions. Among his suggestions: Force players to wear safer helmets instead of being allowed to choose from models that may be outdated or provide inadequate protection. Dr. Adickes believes the latter contributed to Kolb’s injury following a sack by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
“His head hit the side of the turf. That should not have caused a concussion,” said Adickes, an NFL player himself for six seasons (1986-1991). “The newer-style facemasks come down to the jaw so there is no compression there. On some of these helmets, the jaw coverage is so soft that if you put on a padded glove and hit somebody, you’d probably knock them out.”
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Steelers
Going 3-1 and coming within a hair of defeating Baltimore without Ben Roethlisberger is better than anyone outside the Steelers locker room could have expected as the quarterback served his four-game NFL suspension. The Troy Polamalu-led defense leads the NFL in scoring average (12.5) and forced turnovers (12). Rashard Mendenhall has helped carry the offensive load with 411 rushing yards and four touchdowns. With Roethlisberger now back in the fold, the Steelers should be downright scary heading into a Halloween night matchup at New Orleans.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Brett Favre, Vikings
Favre claimed he was hesitant to return in 2010 because of concerns that he couldn’t still play at a high level. So far, these fears are justified. Favre actually has a lower quarterback rating (60.4) than stiffs like Bruce Gradkowski, David Garrard and Alex Smith.
Unlike last year when the Vikings played a soft early schedule, Favre was thrown into the fire right away against defending champion New Orleans. The rust from missing offseason workouts was evident. The absence of wide receiver Sidney Rice (hip) until midseason also is a crippler. Rice replacement Bernard Berrian has done nothing to justify being paid $23 million over the past three seasons, while fellow wideout Percy Harvin’s health problems have limited his opportunities to work with Favre in practice.
But Favre’s final season (or so he says) may not finish as badly as it began. As long as he stops pressing and just plays respectfully, the Vikings have a legitimate shot at the playoffs thanks to running back Adrian Peterson and a defense allowing just 12.7 points a game.
Plus, help is on the way. Randy Moss should be back in a Vikings uniform by the next game.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Arian Foster, Texans
A running back hasn’t won this award since 2006 – let alone someone who isn’t a household name like Foster. But that obscurity is quickly fading thanks to what this undrafted second-year player is accomplishing. No running backs in NFL history besides Emmitt Smith and Billy Sims have ever posted as many rushing (537) and receiving (152) yards through the first four games of a season.
The only thing that may keep Foster from greatness is Foster himself. He was benched for the first quarter of last Sunday’s win against Oakland after missing a team meeting and arriving late for another. Foster must learn how to handle success as Houston (3-1) marches toward the first playoff berth in franchise history.
TOP ROOKIE: Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers
A center will never receive the same acclaim as the player he snaps the football to. But even with the early success quarterback Sam Bradford is enjoying in St. Louis, the 21-year-old Pouncey has emerged as a wunderkind in Pittsburgh. Pouncey has provided a much-needed physical presence on Pittsburgh’s finesse offensive line. It won’t be long before Pouncey is challenging Nick Mangold of the Jets for consideration as the NFL’s best center.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Michael Vick, Eagles
Nobody saw this coming – even the Eagles. Otherwise, coach Andy Reid would have opened the offseason quarterback competition between Vick and Kolb for the starting spot.
Give Reid credit for shelving his customary stubbornness and sticking with Vick once he shined after Kolb was injured against Green Bay. Vick has his speed back, making him a nightmare for opponents to defend. Vick also has shown marked improvement in his passing and decision-making (well, at least on the field after another offseason misstep at a Virginia nightclub).
Vick will likely miss Sunday night’s game at San Francisco because of a rib injury, but there will be no quarterback controversy when he’s healthy enough to play. Vick is Philadelphia’s best chance for success in 2010.
TOP COACH: Steve Spagnuolo, Rams
Breaking a losing culture like the one Spagnuolo inherited in 2009 isn’t easy. But in the middling NFC West, the Rams (2-2) have a legitimate chance of being the second team in league history to rebound from a 1-15 record to division champion (Miami Dolphins, 2007-08).
Besides the quarterback upgrade with Bradford, St. Louis is playing its best defense in almost a decade. Spagnuolo has worked this magic without major free-agent upgrades during the offseason as team ownership remained in flux. Stan Kroenke should take notice of the nice job being done by Spagnuolo, his staff and the team’s front office
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