Every year in the NFL, some teams can get off to a hot start only to flame out and break our hearts and prove us wrong. We talk ourselves into specific routes for them to be good even though we know we shouldn’t.
We ask ourselves, “Could this year be different???” And they have garnered no trust within us at all due to that reason.

There is a fine line between being a reliable, winning, competent organization over the last two decades instead of one that we’re skittish about. Teams can transform from Cinderella’s carriage into a pumpkin with one game.

It’s fall, and it’s pumpkin patch season. We’re through four weeks in the season.

We’re officially on team pumpkin watch.

Who are the teams that could still ride this magnificent carriage out the rest of the year, and who are the teams that will eventually fizzle out and turn into a pumpkin?

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are the final undefeated team in the league and are coming off of beating what many thoughts was the best team in football, the hated division rival Los Angeles Rams on their home turf 37-20, and it wasn’t particularly close. They’re top five in BOTH offense and defense.

The Cardinals came into the year where many thought they were potentially the worst team in the NFC West because of their defensive liabilities and Kliff Kingsbury’s inability to game plan a creative offensive scheme, but they’ve

Photo: Charles Curtis/USA Today

been one of the most impressive teams so far. The only thing that might be holding us back from buying into them is that historically they’ve never been a dominant team outside of the Kurt Warner run and the few great Carson Palmer seasons, which isn’t fair to the team at all.

Kyler Murray is playing like the MVP of the league thus far, and while those numbers may not be sustainable, the perception that their defense can’t perform behind him has been a busted myth. Chandler Jones is a sack machine, Budda Baker is a dynamic safety, and JJ Watt is a reliable veteran as they’re 4th in the league in turnover margin. They have a gauntlet of a schedule in the NFC West, but their success looks sustainable throughout the year. They’re for real.

VERDICT: Carriage

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are convincing on paper every season because of their defensive run that led them to a Super Bowl. We see Von Miller, the altitude home-field advantage of snowy Mile High, and think there’s no way they can’t shut down any team on any given night, no matter who the quarterback is.

They started off 3-0 and looked dominant with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, but just last week, Teddy went out with a concussion in a loss to the Ravens, they had already had injuries to KJ Hamler, Bradley Chubb, Jerry Jeudy, Patrick Surtain II, and Ronald Darby, and those three wins that they had to kick off the year were against the Giants, the Jaguars, and the Jets, who all looked like terrible teams and were a combined 0-9.

In a division with the Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders, the injury bug and their fool’s gold win make them look likely to fizzle out.

VERDICT: Pumpkin

Dallas Cowboys

Something always appears to go wrong for America’s Team over the past three decades. There was the “Dez Caught It” debacle. There were constant seasons of unfortunate and untimely Tony Romo injuries when you were finally buying in.

The years where they had a good defense, they would have an inept offense and vice versa. It’s led to the NFC East being the most topsy-turvy, unpredictable disaster of a division year after year.

This season feels different.

They’re 3-1, their only loss coming against the defending Super Bowl Champions on their ring night, and have quality wins against the Chargers, Panthers, and an Eagles blowout. They look like they have a clear path to the postseason by far, looking at their division: the Eagles are injured and are just trying out Jalen Hurts. Washington is 2-2 with a backup QB, and their defense doesn’t look anything like it used to be. The Giants have been awful and have the toughest remaining schedule left in football. They should cruise even if they’re average.

But on a grander picture, the Cowboys only had three possible flaws holding them back from being contenders coming into the season:

-Will Dak look okay following a devastating injury?

He’s looked like an MVP candidate, and their offense averages 420.8 yards per game, third in the league.

-Will their defense be as historically bad as last year’s?

Dan Quinn is now making things simple for them as a defensive coordinator rather than a head coach. Trevon Diggs has five picks in four games, and they’re second in turnover margin.

-Will Mike McCarthy not be a stooge of a head coach

I guess we’ll find out… Outside of that, the Cowboys look to be contenders.

VERDICT: Carriage

Las Vegas Raiders

Photo: Pinterest

The Raiders are coming off of back-to-back years where they look like they’ve got a promising start, beginning 2020 with a 6-3 record and 2019 with a 6-4 record, only for the wheels to fall off and they finished 8-8 and 7-9. It’s been the same story- a good start with quality, unexpected wins with awful finishes in Vegas, so, naturally, the 3-0 start, albeit with good wins against Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, and Miami, there exists some natural and validated skepticism on whether or not they’ll flame out.

Derek Carr has been playing out of his mind and trying to garner the trust from his coach, considering we always murmur about Jon Gruden wanting to move on from him. He’s averaging 326 yards per game, second in the league. But those numbers are a bit inflated, considering he’s had two extra quarters to do so with overtime games, and it feels like every single throw goes to Darren Waller or Hunter Renfrow. That’s easy to figure out. They also average less than 100 yards rushing per game- less than the Houston Texans.

It just feels like another Raiders team that has gotten lucky and is going to be in a juggernaut of a division trying to compete with the Chargers and the Chiefs- they’ve had two games now where they could have easily lost in overtime, they beat a Steelers defense with a crippled roster, and got shut down by the Chargers on Monday night. They still don’t have earned trust until we see them playing in January, given their roster, what’s being asked of them, and their history.

VERDICT: Pumpkin

Los Angeles Chargers

How many times in the past have we seen it in the Philip Rivers era: the Chargers down one score in the fourth quarter with the sun going down only for them to blow it with a tragic mistake? Or for a back-breaking injury to happen to one of their playmakers in the midst of when their roster looks like it can be competitive? Or for the coach to mismanage the clock and blow a lead, something that happened to the team four times last year by more than 16 points?

The Chargers have been cursed. This year might break it.

We saw how fantastic Justin Herbert was last year in his rookie season, setting the rookie record for most passing touchdowns in a season with 31; they just couldn’t put it together and win games due to Anthony Lynn’s incompetence as a head coach with poor game-planning and clock-management.

They hired Brandon Staley, the young Sean McVay protege that is organized enough to where you would trust him with your life. He’s essentially fixed all of the problems that the Chargers have had in the past where they’ve just shot themselves in the foot over and over again. They’ve managed to get an easy win at Washington, a statement win in Kansas City, a Monday Night win against the Raiders, and their only loss coming in a close one against a good Dallas team. His game plan makes everything easy for Herbert where he makes few mistakes- top 10 in completion % and total yards, and on the opposite side of the ball, they have a top 10 defense.

Everything looks crisp: something we haven’t seen for the Chargers in what feels like forever, and Justin Herbert is merely scratching the surface as he learns the game at only 23 years old. The Chargers will only improve, and we’re all thankful for it because those uniforms look too good for them to be donning them in anything less than a winning effort.

VERDICT: Carriage

Featured Image: Pinterest
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