Last time we looked ahead at the next month of our schedule, we were optimistic after a solid performance against the Falcons. Now, coming off of a (insert negative adjective here) game against the Saints, our early gauntlet against top opponents comes to a close with the Packers, but the next two after them loom as more challenging than originally thought. Jump, you fools, this is bat country!
Green Bay Packers- In a closer than expected game, the defending champs (blech, just threw up in my mouth) edged the Panthers 30-23 in Carolina. The Panthers game showed a couple of things about the Pack: they're struggling defending the pass (800 air yards allowed), can still force turnovers (3 Newton Rotten Apples) and are playing the run well. Oh, and their offense is still good. Nick Collins' injury hurts, and the Packers seem to be banged up in a few positions, but we're dealing with some serious injuries and a whole lot of guys that may not play (Bennett, Roy, Hitman, Wright, Carimi, etc). Do you like our chances if Meriweather's starting with Steltz? Where's Dane to make me feel better? Regardless of injuries, though, a home win against the Pack - and going 2-1 during a brutal opening stretch of games - would be fan-freaking-tastic.
(Gratuitious side note: Steven, next time we play the Pack and you write your excellent Pleased to Meet You series, may I suggest changing the title to "Ugh, You Again!" Thanks, pal.)
Carolina Panthers- Did you know Cam Newton has... well, if you don't know what he's done so far, I'm not going to share since you don't watch sports, read sports, or listen to sports, apparently. The biggest story outside of early season injuries is Newton's passing ability and terrific yardage stats aren't enough to buoy a team with no running game (trust me on this, D-Will has been killing two of my fantasy teams) and an injury-depleted defense. Beason went down in week one, and Thomas Davis tore his third ACL (or maybe re-tore one, what am I, a doctor?), and the Panthers have hype on their side now, but will struggle until they find balance on offense and a healthy defense (sound familiar?). Carolina has a good shot at win #1 at home this weekend against the Jags, in a battle of rook-quarterbacks. Did someone say cat-fight?
Detroit Lions - First of all, the Lions dismantling of the Chiefs 48-3 means something, but it doesn't mean they're going to the Super Bowl just yet. What it does, though, is give the team added confidence, which has been growing since the team's strong finish to last season. With the Lions visiting the Vikings this weekend, where they haven't won since 1997 (i.e. when I graduated high school... good Ditka what have I done with my life!?!). The Lions don't scare me yet, but a win against the Vikings would definitely put them in legitimate running for a playoff spot/NFC North contender, and give them a road win in the division, no small matter of importance. The Vikings are struggling, but they gotta win a game at some point. And by the way: while Angelo defends his O-Line search ("we did everything we could"? Really? In what universe?) the Lions are gaining praise for successfully acquiring quality veterans at a previous area of need. Wonder what that's like it.
Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings are starting to realize what the Fabulous Shanahan Boys realized last year: it may sound crazy, but John Beck and Rex Grossman give you a better chance to win nowadays than Donovan McNabb. The Vikings are struggling, but they're as close to a win on the scoreboard (seven point loss to Chargers and four point loss to Bucs last week) as they are far away from being a contending playoff team on it. Peterson is still a stud, the defense is still able to slow the run but struggle against the pass, but the wide receivers aren't getting the job done (and it helps that Percy Harvin is a part-time player) and McNabb... well, if he isn't looking in his rearview mirror yet, he may be soon. The Vikings host the Lions, visit the Chiefs, and host the Cardinals before hosting the Bears in week six, and probably need to win two of the next three to prove that they won't roll over as easily as last year.