In this installment of CBCSports.ca's weekly NFL chatter, the guys look at the resurgent Steelers and Eagles, the emerging Andy Dalton, and the suddenly wealthy Ryan Fitzpatrick.The Steelers put together a great game plan and took it to New England. Despite all the "old" talk Pittsburgh has endured this season, has another contender emerged in the AFC?Tony Care:
I believe the word I used to describe the Steelers after Week 2 was "decrepit." Might have jumped the gun there, because the victory against the Patriots showed there's life left in this dog. What I was impressed with the most was that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau learned from the beatdown last season to New England and adjusted. Pittsburgh pressured Tom Brady, and the defensive backs were physical with the one-on-one matchups against the Patriots' receivers. Now for a delicious rematch against the hated Ravens on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh could have overlooked the Patriots, focusing instead on its grudge match next week with the Ravens, who embarrassed the Steelers 35-7 in Week 1. Instead, the Steelers took care of always dangerous New England despite their continued inability to force turnovers. The Pittsburgh defence ranks last in the league with just three (three!) takeaways this season. You've got to figure that evens out at some point, and if it does in time for the playoffs, the Steelers could be one of the top contenders for the Super Bowl.
I had my doubts about the Steelers earlier this season, but now I'm starting to believe that Mike Tomlin's boys are once again among the AFC's elite. LaMarr Woodley made things difficult for Brady in the first half, registering a pair of sacks. Hopefully for the Steelers, Woodley's hamstring injury isn't too serious. And as far as all this "old" talk goes, boys, if experience leads to wins, then it's not a bad thing at all. Can't wait for the big AFC North showdown with the Ravens at Heinz Field.The Bills made good on their intention to sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, locking up the Harvard Grad for six years and $59 million US ($24 million guaranteed). After years of mediocrity at the most important position, is Fitzpatrick finally the man to lead the Bills into the foreseeable future?
Yes, because the future is now for the Bills, who have a real shot to make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Buffalo leads the AFC East at 5-2, and that's no fluke: it beat New England (5-2) in their only head-to-head matchup, and its point differential is 22 better than the Patriots' and 44 better than the third-place Jets'. New York visits Buffalo this Sunday, and while the Jets have looked good in their last two games, there are some things I like about this matchup for the Bills. First, Buffalo is 4-0 at home and New York is 0-3 on the road. Second, the Jets' next game is a primetime home matchup against New England, their most bitter rival. There's a chance the green guys look past the Bills this week.
Hard to argue that he isn't, even though I think he's been good, not great. Fitzpatrick has 14 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 68 per cent completion rate in seven games. And he's only been sacked eight times, basically picking up where he left off from a solid 2010 season. With Fitzpatrick, the Bills now have stability under centre, something that hasn't been the case since Jim Kelly was at the helm or, to a lesser extent, Drew Bledsoe. Just one piece of advice for Fitzpatrick when the Bills host the Jets: don't throw to Darrelle Revis.
You give Fitzpatrick time to throw the ball and he will eat up secondaries like he's Johnny Sack's wife on The Sopranos
. Fitz is more than just a stopgap quarterback. He's someone you can win with. He's proven that he has the brains and accuracy to lead a team. The contract also works for both parties. Fitz has the security of a long-term deal, while the Bills didn't have to compromise their salary cap to sign him.Philadelphia absolutely destroyed the Cowboys on Sunday night. They did it with a patient offence, one that didn't turn the ball over. Can the Eagles get back into the thick of the NFC East race?
Without a doubt. After stumbling out of the gates, the Eagles have found their stride. Two solid wins to get to 3-4, and now they're finally starting to resemble a team that can live up to its "Dream Team" billing. But there is still work to do. Monday night, the Chicago Bears will look to continue to get back into the NFC playoff picture following a week off when they visit Philly. Michael Vick will need to be wary of Brian Urlacher and company. A relatively weak Arizona Cardinals squad comes to Philly the following week before Andy Reid's charges head out on the road looking to exact some revenge on the New York Giants for the loss suffered back in Week 3. That game could very well decide the NFC East, especially with Dallas and Washington fading fast.
Well, the Eagles will contend if they play like they did against Dallas. Vick didn't force the ball into double coverage and gashed the Cowboys with throws across the middle. Running back LeSean McCoy ran for185 yards, and what else did the Eagles do? Oh yeah, they didn't turn over the football!Jesse Campigotto:
I say they're already in it. Philly is tied with Dallas and Washington at 3-4, two games back of the division-leading Giants. But New York may have the toughest schedule in the league from now until the end of the season. Check out its next six games: at New England, at San Fran, vs. Philly, at New Orleans, vs. Green Bay, at Dallas. I mean, wow. They may lose all of those. Over the coming weeks, you're sure to hear plenty of media types calling out the Giants for their typical late-season collapse, so just remember that strength of schedule matters. Even if it's commonly ignored by those in search of an easy narrative.Cam Newton has gotten all the press as far as rookie quarterbacks go. But Cincinnati pivot Andy Dalton has quietly led the Bengals to a 5-2 record. What's been the secret to his success?Jesse Campigotto:
Much of Dalton's success is due to factors outside his control - namely, a much better Bengals defence than the one that played with his predecessor, Carson Palmer, last year. The Cincy D is tied for second in the league with 4.8 yards per play allowed this season. Last year, it finished in a three-way tie for 25th with 5.6. The schedule has been favourable too. Throw out games against Buffalo and San Fran (which Cincy split) and the Bengals have faced Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville and Indy (combined record: 7-23). Dalton has been reasonably accurate, I consider him an upgrade over Palmer, and he may one day be a star. I just don't think he's one right now.Tony Care:
It helps that the Bengals are ranked third in total defence. I'm ready to, as Bill Parcells so eloquently said about Tony Romo years ago, put away the "anointed oil" when it comes to Dalton's future. I like what he's done so far. He's forming a dangerous duo with rookie receiver A.J. Green and has thus far completed 62.4 per cent of his passes. But his TD-to-INT ratio (9-7) suggests he still has a lot of improving to do - a lot more than Newton. Remember that the Bengals still have to face Pittsburgh and Baltimore a total of four times this season. There's your measuring stick.Jason Davidson:
Who Dey! That chant is alive and well once again in Southwestern Ohio, isn't it? Dalton deserves plenty of credit for that. The rookie has shown lots of poise and maturity in the first two months of the NFL season. He's willing to learn and study the playbook. And despite his average second half in Sunday's win over the Seahawks in Seattle, Dalton was great in the second quarter, throwing two touchdown passes. There may have been some extra motivation there, seeing as how Seattle passed on Dalton at the draft last April when they had the chance to take him in the first round. The question is, though: Can he keep this up? No one, including myself, thought the Bengals would be 5-2 at this point.
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