Since we’re at the quarter pole of the 2010 NFL regular season, pundits across the nation will begin (or may already have begun) building their arguments for “Best Team in the NFL.”
Given how crazy this 2010 season has been — after four weeks there we no undefeated teams remaining — the Best-in-the-NFL debate can get pretty heated. There’s no runaway winner, but the odds-on choice for top spot thus far has been the Baltimore Ravens. Their resume is filled with quality attributes — victories over the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers (consensus top-five teams themselves), balance on both sides of the football, playmakers at nearly every key position and a QB, Joe Flacco, who seems to be improving with every week.
No surprise, then, that eyes will be on the Ravens this week as they take on a team that’s almost always in the conversation of the NFL’s elite — the New England Patriots. It’s been a strange 2010 season for the Pats as they’ve racked up 3-1 record in decent, albeit unspectacular, fashion. There were convincing wins over the Bengals and Dolphins, but also a squeaker against the lowly Bills and a 28-14 loss to the Jets, their hated divisional rivals. The blockbuster trade of Randy Moss only made things more peculiar — Moss was a dynamic force in the high-flying Patriots offense and even if he wasn’t racking up the stats, his mere presence made life easier for the likes of Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and Aaron Hernandez.
And that pretty much sums up this Pats-Ravens match up in a nutshell. The Ravens are loaded with talented, game-breaking players like Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata; the Patriots will counter with a team led by Tom Brady but followed by some rather obscure players. Think about who’s shown up big for New England this year: Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Rob Gronkowski, BenJarvus Green-Ellis…not exactly household names.
Cleveland Browns (1-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
At some point, you have to start feeling truly sorry for the Cleveland Browns. After starting the season 0-3 despite being close in every contest, Cleveland finally got its first win of the season two weeks ago against Cincinnati. Then, on Sunday, the Browns seemed like they had a glorious chance to record their second win and a row, playing the Falcons close (the Brows lead 10-6 in the third quarter) for most of the afternoon.
But we say “most” because, true to form, the Browns found a way to screw things up. This time, it was at the quarterback position — starter Seneca Wallace had to leave at halftime with an ankle injury — and that meant Jake Delhomme was forced to play. Delhomme had little mobility, making him a sitting duck against one of the league’s better pass rushes. He finished 13 of 23 for 97 yards and two interceptions, including a pick-six that cost the Browns the game.
And as if things couldn’t get worse for Cleveland…they now get to play in Pittsburgh against the 3-1 Steelers. Against QB Ben Roethlisberger, who will be making his 2010 debut. And possibly without Wallace, who might not recover from the ankle sprain in time for Sunday. That would either leave Delhomme or rookie Colt McCoy to face the Steelers — not exactly a great choice either way.