Matt Harab

NFC midseason divisional report card

NFC midseason divisional report card
Dak and dunk is not working out. Tim Warner/Getty Images

NFC East

Redskins (5-2) A:  If we were listing “where the hell did this come from” teams in the league, Washington is right at the top and so is Adrian Peterson.  Talk about resurrection from the dead, he is fifth in the league in rushing, and Washington is just solid everywhere. It is so important to win in the trenches, and this team basically dominates the point of attack  in every game on both sides of the ball. They’re doing it with an old school running back, quarterback, and philosophy. Can they keep up on the scoreboard against the big boys down the road?

Eagles (4-4) B -: Let's just be honest, this team does not look as good as they did last year.  Carson Wentz is playing well coming off the injury; that is the lone bright spot for a very one dimensional team.  Wentz has 13 TDs and 2 interceptions, and keep in mind he has not played in all eight games. He looks great, but this team has zero quality wins.  Atlanta, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and the NY Giants. None of those teams are above .500. Many people think Philly will win this division and four of their first five games are within the division. Show us you’re a true champion Philly.

Cowboys (3-4) C: Dallas fans, are you ready for a really alarming statistic? They have 16 plays that have gone at least 20 yards this year.  THAT’S IT. That is second worst in the league as they trail only the Tennessee Titans. The word that comes to mind when you think about this “Dak and Dunk” offense is underwhelming.  They are the Anti-Kansas City. It’s bland, stale, and just completely unimaginative. Dallas has a great defense this year, but if the combination of playcalling / Dak’s playmaking ability doesn’t improve soon, this team will go nowhere.

Giants (1-7)  F: As a Giants fan this has been the worst season of my life.  I’ve gone through every stage you go through during a break up. 1.) Desperate for answers 2.) Anger 3.) Sadness 4.) Acceptance.  I would like to get to 5.) “redirected hope” but there is no hope with no answer at QB for the future. When you go through a breakup you eventually realize there are 100,000 other fish in the sea and and you go fishing.  I have no idea what the Giants plan is to get a QB, offensive line and defensive line together. This team sucks.

NFC North

Bears (4-3)  B-: There is so much to like about this team. The Khalil Mack acquisition, young innovative offensive mind as the head coach, playmakers all around.  But I think the story in the first half of the year for Chicago is “they could have drafted Patrick Mahomes OR DeShaun Watson.” Mitchell Trubisky is the hot girl that you FINALLY get a chance with.  You ask her out, set up this great date, get a haircut, get your sister to iron your shirt, clean your car and go to pick her up…. Then at the end of the night you drop her off, shake your head and say to yourself damn, her personality SUCKS and she’s got this zit on her nose I cannot unsee. Such a disappointment.  I’m not saying he cannot improve, I’m not saying he’s bad, he’s just a bit disappointing given the weapons and coach that he has and the quarterbacks they could have had.

Vikings (4-3-1) B -:  Just like Philly, lets review the wins.. They have beaten the Jets, Cardinals, Eagles (nice), and San Francisco. Three out of the four are just not very good.  Not having Dalvin Cook has hurt them a lot this year and you just would like to see more from them. Coming into this season I thought they were the most balanced team outside of the Rams.  Solid at every level offensively and defensively but they are losing close games to good teams. They play three divisional games to start the second half, show us who you are.

Packers (3-3-1) C:  This is the only division in football where the team with the best quarterback is not leading the division. Aaron Rodgers needs help from his running game, offensive line, wide receivers and defense. That’s right, he’s more on an island this year than Russell Wilson.  They have not won a road game yet this year and Rodgers' magic has personally won two games for them this year. They SHOULD win this division, but they’ve been underwhelming so far.

Lions (3-4)  C: This is about what I expected the Lions to be this year.  Detroit is this year’s “Never bet on them OR against them” team.  They will have days where they beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and they will have days where they lose to the Jets and 49ers.  They are the hands up in the air to the side, confused face emoji. I don’t know what else to say, they are who they are, a slightly below .500 squad.

NFC West

Rams (8-0)  A+: The Rams are just a force, plain and simple.  Where to start with the compliments? Offensive line is tremendous, Todd Gurley is an MVP and Sean McVay is Coach of the Year.  Is that enough? Defensively they get after the quarterback, and if I were to criticize one thing it would be one on one man coverage. However they have had injuries in the secondary this year. Tough stretch of games coming up though against the Saints, Seahawks and Chiefs (how lucky is Mexico City?)  We’ll see if they take a loss..

Seahawks (4-3) B-:  This team has overachieved, no question about it. A running game has finally emerged with Chris Carson, and you have got to give Pete Carroll a ton of credit in addition to Russell Wilson.  If I told you at the beginning of the year that a team with Chris Carson, Mike Davis, David Moore, Ed Dickson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett as the top skill position players would be averaging 8.5 yards per play (sixthth in the league) you would tell me to get off the internet and stop writing. That’s what they’ve done and it’s impressive.

Cardinals (2-6) D:  I am fearful of Arizona screwing up Josh Rosen’s first year just like I am of Cleveland screwing up Baker Mayfield. They fire their offensive coordinator and just are not giving him a great chance to develop right now.  Nobody expected this team to be good, but Rosen has to LEARN. He has a 55% completion percentage and a 69.0 Passer Rating. I put a lot of this on the coaching staff who can’t get David Johnson working correctly either. This team has had bad leadership since Bruce Arians left.

49ers (1-7) D:  One bad decision ruined this team’s season. Jimmy Garoppolo not stepping out of bounds on a play where he tried to get more yards, cost him a healthy ACL. Dude, you are the FUTURE and the FRANCHISE. Be smarter in the future.

NFC South

Saints (6-1)  A:  I don’t think we’ve seen the best of this team yet, which is scary.  Mark Ingram was suspended the first four games of the season and just like last year, this defense started slow. I think they only get better from here with Michael Thomas having a career year and the threat of running the football with two quality backs is super scary to any defensive coordinator.  Drew Brees, just like Tom Brady, has not declined with age. I love this team.

Panthers (5-2)  A: Cam Newton has at least two touchdowns in each of his last six games.  Norv Turner has come in and totally progressed this offense. John Harbaugh gave a quote after Carolina beat Baltimore last week saying “They out-schemed us.”  That is the offensive coordinator doing one hell of a job, and that is Newton buying in. With 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, he has a 97.4 passer rating which is the second most he has averaged in his career.  Cam is also completing 66% of his passes which is the best percentage in his career. I CANNOT WAIT until they play the Saints the last two weeks of the year

Falcons (3-4)  C: Injuries have killed this team on both sides of the ball.  Having said that, I believe they have the best trio of wideouts with Ridley, Sanu, and Jones.  I’m actually relatively curious if they can make a push for a wildcard just because of the offensive firepower they have.   

Bucs 3-4  C: The Fitzmagic flame was rekindled last week, but realistically this team is going nowhere.  They fired their defensive coordinator already and they have a really long-term quarterback dilemma.  Is Jameis Winston their guy? The 10 interceptions in four games leads me to think the answer is no.


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It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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