Is it too early to use Halloween sayings in September? Well, five pound bags of candy imaginable have been out on the shelves since August so I guess not, especially when that simple turn of phrase so perfectly embodies the NFL preseason. Should fans expect what transpires on the field in the four-game preseason to become any sort of a reality during the long 16-game regular season? Is this a trick or a treat? What are we supposed to expect from these preseason trends?
Trick or Treat: The NFL East
After three weeks of preseason games every team is 1-2. Has the division fallen from the mantle of excellence after just two seasons of being adored?
The answer is simple, of course not, this is a trick. The New York Giants still possess one of the most dangerous front four on the defensive side of the ball and two of the three dreaded running backs (Brandon Jacobs and Ahmed Bradshaw) from last season’s top-rated running game still reside in the backfield. Top rated running backs are hard to find, but quality backups are perhaps the easiest thing to stock up on for the offense.
The Philadelphia Eagles still have one of the most talented rosters in football. Adding Michael Vick may be a distraction at first, but this team has an unquestioned leader in Donovan McNabb on the field and in Andy Reid. Vick will only be a powerful weapon that will confound opposing defensive coordinators that have to come up with answers just incase Vick even approaches the sideline.
The Redskins are still a dangerous team with a dangerous defense. The naysayers will cry out to the heavens that defensive tackles do not travel well. That there have been few defensive tackles that have switched teams and kept up the level of production.
The Cowboys will still dangerous, even without Terrell Owens dropping every pass that does not end with him doing an end zone dance. Romo and the ‘Boys may disappoint in the end, but they will throw some punches early in the season and scare the two frontrunners.
Trick or Treat: The NFC North
After three weeks of preseason football two teams are 3-0 and two teams are 2-1. This is not a trick. This is going to be a treat of a division to watch. The Vikings are better off with Favre than Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson under center. The defense that was so disappointing last season should find that pass rush they thought they had last season with Jared Allen at the right defensive end and the Williams tackles (once they return from their four game suspension to begin the season).
The Packers had a young defense that was somehow inspired by the play of Brett Favre two years ago. Well, Favre should serve as motivation of a different kind as that defense finds its way again and the offense continues to play surprisingly well with Aaron Rodgers leading the way.
The Chicago Bears already look like they are much more dangerous on offense with just a few halves with Jay Cutler as their starting quarterback. They might even post NFL worthy passing numbers and be able to convert on third and long instead of relying on a running back screen to position the punter for the optimal kick this season. The defense should have enough talent and athleticism left for at least one more decent season (even without safety Mike Brown).
The Lions are a trick here. They will be the punching bag for the rest of the division, giving each team at least two wins in division play.
Trick or Treat: The New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have pummeled the preseason competition, going 3-0, scoring 100 points, and only giving up 28. This is a nasty trick on the people of New Orleans. The Saints fans cannot help but their hopes up after last year’s disappointing season (8-8, last in the division after being favored to win the NFC South).
The trick is that the Saints have beaten up on Pee Wee football competition, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 17-7, the Houston Texans 38-14, and the Oakland Raiders 45-7. Combined these teams are 3-6 and the only team experts think may do something is the Houston Texans, but they are being portrayed as a dark horse candidate. The Saints are a good team with a prolific offense, but the defense is not that good. They will be competitive, but the playoffs are far from a guarantee once they start playing the rest of the teams in their division.
Trick or Treat: The San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers finished the 2009 football season winning five of the last seven games and have won all three preseason games so far. The problem is that they beat the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders by a mere one point each. These are not going to be good teams once the season begins.
Coach Mike Singletary may have done an incredible job last season, but the NFL is littered with stories of coaches who were unable to turn great records after being named coach halfway through the season into continued success. The offense is still looking like it is lacking a quarterback with Shaun Hill managing to out dual Alex Smith so far. Add an unsigned first round draft pick and things are not looking good. This is a trick, but I do not think it will surprise anyone.
Trick or Treat: The Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are 3-0 and are averaging a mere 16 and change in the preseason. Still, this team is for real. They made the playoffs last season in a deep AFC East and ushered in the year of the Wildcat. While the Wildcat will likely not be nearly as effective as last season and with Chad Pennington still having a noodle arm with really one option (Ted Ginn, Jr.) to throw to, this team still has a punishing defense and an edict to prove that they have a right to compete in the East, Tom Brady or no Tom Brady.
Trick or Treat: The San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers are 1-2 and trailing the Oakland Raiders in the preseason standings in the AFC West. This is all a trick though. The Chargers are going to win the division simply because the competition is about to lose their starting quarterback and go back to square one (Kansas City Chiefs), really just a parade of headcases in pads (Oakland Raiders), or alienated a franchise quarterback in preference of a system (Denver Broncos).
San Diego is still a threat in the playoffs because a) they might end up playing the Indianapolis Colts again (they have their number in the postseason) and b) they still have an amazing collection of stars. Phillip Rivers is still a superb quarterback, LaDainian Tomlinson is still an effective running back, Antonio Gates is still a mad scientist’s creation at tight end, and Shawn Merriman is still a beast at middle linebacker. The talent is all there and if the team remains healthy they should have an easy road to a first round bye.