After five games, the NFL Season has now reached a point where teams are beginning to reveal their true make and model. Which teams rank as true showcase luxury versus near luxury? Gather around the car lot NFL fans — it is now time to take the tour.
True Showcase Luxury — BMW 7 series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A7, and Jaguar XJ
These are the kind of cars people keep pictures of on their desk, hoping that the desktop picture will somehow bring motivation to earn the money to buy this type of luxury ride. A little tidbit of advice — that doesn’t work. Anyway, here are the luxury teams that are the envy of the rest of the league.
1) Houston Texans (5 – 0)
The Houston Texans are the most balanced team in the NFL this year, fielding a great offense that can run or pass with laser precision, and a defense that does not allow teams to convert third downs; as result, will not grant teams many scoring opportunities. This is the team that can offer the best of both worlds.
The Texans have one of the best running back tandems in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Second-string running back Ben Tate could start for almost any other NFL team. While quarterback Matt Schaub’s numbers do not necessarily jump out as “off the chart”, he does not take sacks, he does not throw many interceptions (three) versus touchdowns (eight), and he completes better than 63 percent of his passes. The receiver core presents a legitimate deep threat in Andre Johnson, and for third downs, Schaub usually finds Owen Daniels to move the chains. The offense averages 29.8 points per game, which ties them for third overall.
On defense, the Texans bring to the table a unit that is ranked fourth in points allowed and third in yards allowed per game. They have J.J Watt, a relentless defensive lineman that can pressure the quarterback with the added bonus of an uncanny ability to deflect passes. Offenses can only manage to convert third downs 25 percent of the time against the Texans defense. Stating the obvious here, but this conversion percentage allows the defense to get off of the field 75 percent of the time for all third downs faced.
To sum everything up, the Texans bring a balanced offense that can score almost 30 points a game, while allowing opponents to score only 14.6 points a game — those kind of numbers point to success.
2) Atlanta Falcons (5 – 0)
The Atlanta Falcons offer a smooth, fine-tuned offensive ride that outpaces the pack, and leaves the impression that nothing else matters. It is all about the engine acceleration with no road noise — feel the power.
The strength of the Atlanta Falcons lies on the offensive side of the ball, and they are explosive on offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan is enjoying a great year so far, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,507 yards with 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. The shift to a pass-first offense makes sense with Matt Ryan putting up these type of numbers, and with the accumulation of talented players receiving the ball. Julio Jones brings enough speed to get behind the defense along with incredible strength. The other wide receiver is Roddy White — one of the most productive wide receivers in the game. His receiver numbers are 31 passes caught for 481 yards with three touchdowns. That makes his average 15.5 yards per catch. Add in tight end Tony Gonzales finding plenty of room in the middle of opposing defenses, and there is the recipe for a potent offense. Atlanta ranks just behind Houston with a 29.6 points per game average.
The explosiveness of Atlanta’s offense makes up for some defensive deficiencies. For example, since Atlanta’s offense can score points in a hurry, teams that play Atlanta usually find that they are behind; therefore, they can not really grind Atlanta down with the run, which is Atlanta’s weakness. Atlanta gives up too many yards on the ground. However, Atlanta only gives up 18.6 points per game, and they are ranked seventh in stopping the pass, which are far more important statistics to live by in today’s NFL.
Atlanta forces teams to outscore them, and there are not many teams that can match their offensive firepower.
3) Minnesota Vikings (4 – 1)
One of the surprise teams this year, the Minnesota Vikings offer fans agile handling under the helm of steadily improving quarterback Christian Ponder, who gets to employ the dynamic athleticism of their two best offensive weapons — Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin.
People may think that Christian Ponder’s improvement is fools gold; however, he escaped the pocket to make timely throws and gain crucial yards against the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, arguably the best defense in the league. The fact that Ponder led the Vikings to a victory against a stellar defense trumps other quarterbacks’ gaudy numbers against inferior teams, and Ponder’s numbers are not that bad as he is ranked 10th with rating of 95.5, which is just behind Eli Manning’s rating of 96. The easier numbers to decipher are 69 percent completion rate, 1,082 yards gained, and six touchdowns against two interceptions.
Adrian Peterson still runs with speed and power despite last year’s ACL injury, and his rushing numbers testify to that statement. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry with four runs of 20 plus yards — one-off from the leader’s pace. Adrian Peterson still provides the ability to bust through a defensive line with a good burst, which probably surprised quite a few defenders since ACL injures are supposed to hinder performance. By the way, Toby Gerhart is no slouch, either. The running game definitely anchors the Minnesota Vikings offense.
The added extra flair comes from a man named Percy Harvin. Harvin’s ability to make anyone miss in the open field can turn a routine slant pass play into a dazzling display of agility as he weaves and dodges defenders like he is running in a basic practice drill. The definition of a home run threat.
How are things on the defensive side of the ball? Well, it is no secret that their pass defense was woeful last year, and while their corners do not exactly lock down opposing wide receivers, the Vikings do have the ability to get to the quarterback. They are ninth in the league in sacks with 14. The Vikings stop the run, though, and they are sixth in points per game allowed (15.8).
What are the odds that the Vikings offense, featuring two “take it to the house” threats, will not score more than 16 points a game? Answer: not likely.
4) San Francisco 49ers (4 – 1)
The San Francisco 49ers improved on their name brand this season by adding additional pieces to the offensive side of the ball. This should give fans a much more diverse ride this season, and it may wrap up with a luxury ride to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers are known for their stifling defense. The defense features a front seven that flat-out refuses to give ground to opposing offenses. The linebacker corps features four-time All-Pro defender Patrick Willis. The defense ranks first in points allowed per game (13.6), let in only one rushing touchdown this year, and gives up the fewest yards per passing attempt (5.8).
The offense now employs some newcomers to help free up passing lanes for superstar Vernon Davis. Now, teams will have to pay attention to Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Yes, the best days are behind Randy Moss, but he can still stretch the field. Michael Crabtree also looks better this year and leads the team in receptions.
The anchor of the offense is Frank Gore as it has been for years now, and he looks rejuvenated. Not a good sign for defenses. Gore’s numbers are 79 carries for 343 yards, netting a 5.5 yards per carry average. Kendell Hunter also averages better than five yards a carry when gets a chance to spell Gore.
With the running game hitting on all cylinders, the newcomers integrated, it is time to look in on the person playing the most important position on the roster…quarterback Alex Smith. Alex Smith has more weapons to work with, and he carries the number one quarterback rating this week according to ESPN. Even if people choose to ignore the quarterback rating, Alex Smith’s base numbers are nothing to dismiss.
20/26 211 yards CMP: 76.9% TD: 2 INT: 0 @GB
20/31 226 yards CMP: 64.5% TD: 2 INT: 0 @DET
24/35 204 yards CMP: 68.6% TD: 1 INT: 1 @MIN
12/21 143 yards CMP: 57.1% TD: 0 INT: 0 @NYJ
18/24 303 yards CMP: 75.0% TD: 3 INT: 0 @BUF
The 49ers dominate teams they should. Their defense can almost win the game alone, and the offense is reaching a new level of output. The offense averages 29.8 points per game, and most teams will struggle to score 20 points against their defense.
That rounds out the teams offering true luxury rides to its fans. Now, time to list the teams that offer “Near Luxury” rides.
Near Luxury Cars — BMW 3 series, Lexus, Infiniti, etc.
These cars are good cars, but they are one step away from “real” luxury. Maybe the engine does not run quite as well, or maybe the interior does not quite stack up to premier quality, and for most people, these qualities may not ever come into play. The problem, of course, is when these type of cars line up next to “real” luxury, and then the flaws are visible.
1) Chicago Bears (4 – 1)
Chicago owns one of the best defenses in the league, so why did Chicago not make the luxury list? The answer: Jay Cutler.
Jay Cutler equals a frustrating mess as Jimi Hendrix would call it. Jay Culter makes breathtaking throws one minute, but then the next minute, he makes a throw that begs the question, “What in the world was he thinking?” Not only is Jay Cutler erratic on the field, but he gives everyone a taste of that trait off the field as well. Aloof, sure, but that does not begin to describe the weirdness that is Jay Cutler. For example, last Monday Night, one of the coaches wanted to sit next to Cutler on the bench to talk things over, but Jay Cutler decides to stand up and walk away, leaving the coach sitting on the bench as if Cutler did not even realize the guy was sitting next to him. Who does that? Can anyone imagine doing that to their boss? People put up with that kind of behavior from Cutler due to his immense talent, but Jay Cutler can short-circuit a playoff team like the luxury cars with bad wiring systems.
2) Baltimore Ravens (4 – 1)
Baltimore looks balanced on offense with Ray Rice and veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, but they have taken a step back due to their defense losing a step or two. It takes time for a team to rebuild their identity. It had to happen at some point, and it looks the time to start acknowledging that this is not the Ravens defense of old is now. Teams can actually run on the Ravens now, and after the run breaks things open, the passing breakthroughs will follow.
Anyone buying that the Ravens are Flacco’s team? Look, Flacco can make a few plays, but he does not consistently make those plays, and he should make those plays if he wants that title. How can a superstar quarterback not make good throws with a strong running game in his back pocket? He does not face defenses without that legitimate threat, yet, his team barely beats the Chiefs last week 9 – 6. Anyone else in the league have trouble scoring against the Chiefs?
The Baltimore offense is like an engine that should run better, but the timing is off a little, and no one can figure out the real problem. A few adjustments here and there help, but the solution eludes everyone, leaving a frustrated fan base.
3) Arizona Cardinals (4 – 1)
Arizona is similar to Chicago in that both teams have defenses that can carry a team to victory. Arizona may even have a few more dynamic players: Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, and Daryl Washington. Like Chicago, though, the weakness lies in the quarterback position.
Kevin Kolb did manage to lead a game-winning drive against the Seattle Seahawks — probably, his best moment this year. The rest of the games; however, he played the “game manager” role, which does not imply that the coaches have confidence in him. How can a team expect to carry its fans on a smooth, luxury ride when the driver of the car does not handle driving under adverse conditions well?
Happy motoring, everyone. May your team provide the smoothest possible ride.