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FR: Week One

Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week One. We’ve noted where we’ve moved teams up a level or down a level from the season-opening comparison.

10 –  New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers – Both teams won tight games, with the Steelers beating a really good team (the Titans) and the Patriots beating a who-knows-how-good-they-are team (the Bills). The fact that both teams found a way to win says a lot. Both teams have questions on defense, with the Steelers losing Troy Polamalu for at least 3-6 weeks and the Patriots looking undisciplined and slow. I expect the Patriots to get better on defense if ILB Jerod Mayo stays on the field. But if he’s out, the Patriots will have to prove they have a way to replace their best player. For now, though, we’ll leave both teams atop our rankings.

9 – New York Giants, Tennessee Titans – The Giants jumped out to a big lead over the Redskins and then played more conservatively to finish off the win. They’ll get a better test at Dallas this week, but that was a good opener. Tennessee looked pretty good at Pittsburgh despite the loss. The Titans showed more explosiveness offensively in the passing game, and they should get the run game going more against a less stringent front 7. We’ll see how Tennessee bounces back, but I still believe.

8 – Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers (UP A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers – The Falcons put together a solid performance against Miami. New TE Tony Gonzalez added a dimension to the offense as expected, and the defense created more pressure and more turnovers than it did much of last year. Green Bay had a come-from-behind win, overcoming the close-loss tendency that plagued it last year. The defense’s switch to a 3-4 looked good in the opening effort, which is a really good sign. The Eagles’ defense is still a pressure machine under Sean McDermott — Trent Cole is a great underrated factor on that unit — but the injury to Donovan McNabb keeps us from moving the Eagles up right now. The Chargers had to come back to beat the Raiders, but they got the win on the road, which is always a good thing.

7 – Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings – The Ravens looked explosive offensively against Kansas City, with Joe Flacco throwing for 300 yards and three TDs. That’s a good sign, but the defense’s inability to completely shut down the Chiefs is a bit of a warning flag. We’ll leave the Ravens in place right now until we see a more dominant defensive performance. The Vikings won according to their best-case formula – run the ball with Adrian Peterson and stop the run. That’s the way Minnesota needs to play to be at its best.

6 – Arizona Cardinals (DOWN A LEVEL), Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers (UP A LEVEL) – The Cardinals lost to the 49ers, with the offense sputtering more than expected. If the Cards’ offense isn’t dominant, their playoff chances aren’t great. The 49ers, meanwhile, played hyper-solid football, and that’s going to be their recipe for success all year. We think that Mike Singletary can keep that recipe going all year. Dallas featured a big-play passing game in its win over Tampa Bay, but it didn’t create a lot of pass-rush pressure on defense. We’ll see how good the Cowboys really are against the Giants this week. The Saints had a huge offensive day from Drew Brees, but the defense didn’t seem to have solved the problems it had last year. The Dolphins lost a tough road game, and they’ll have to do a much better job of holding onto the football if they’re going to be contenders again this year. The Colts eked out a win over the Jaguars, but their passing game was Reggie Wayne and not much else. The defense was better than I expected, and if the Colts can maintain that trend they’ll move up this comparison.

5 – Carolina Panthers (DOWN A LEVEL), Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets (UP A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks (UP A LEVEL) – The Panthers looked awful against the Eagles and must address their QB crisis quickly or else they’ll lose this season. The Bears had an inconsistent performance from QB Jay Cutler, but they were in position to win on the road in Green Bay, which is a good sign. The Bengals had their game vs. the Broncos won until the ultimate fluke play, but the solid defensive performance is a good sign going forward. They’re still a dangerous team. The Jaguars lost a close game to the Colts, showing that they’re at least in the running so far. The Jets got a solid performance from Mark Sanchez and a great performance by the defense (especially CB Darrelle Revis vs. Andre Johnson) to beat the Texans on the road. That combination will work all year if the Jets can keep it going. The Seahawks overcame offensive line troubles to shellack St. Louis. That’s a good start for a team hoping to bounce back this year.

4 – Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins – The Bills’ young offensive line held up against the Patriots, and the defense was able to get pressure on Tom Brady. Those are good signs, but choking a game they should have had away was not. We’ll see how the Bills bounce back, but they showed more than I expected. The Texans showed less than I expected in losing handily to the Jets. They need to show more both offensively and defensively. The Redskins’ remade defensive line wreaked a little havoc, but the offense started slow and never really got going. Washington’s going to need more from that unit to compete in the tough NFC East.

3 – Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos (UP A LEVEL), Kansas City Chiefs – The Browns put up a fight but ultimately lost to a better team in the Vikings. Aside from Joshua Cribbs, the Browns just don’t have enough playmakers on either side of the ball. The Broncos got a miracle win in Cincinnati, but they move up a level in this comparison because the defense played better than expected. It’ll be interesting to see if they can repeat that performance. The Chiefs played OK against the Ravens even without Matt Cassel, so they stay in place as well.

2 – Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders (UP A LEVEL) – The Lions showed a pulse offensively against the Saints, but the defense melted under the high-octane pressure of New Orleans’ passing game. The Raiders competed hard against the Chargers, and their offense showed some good signs. Richard Seymour made a difference as well. But they must cash in on opportunities to move up the comparison more significantly.

1 – St. Louis Rams (DOWN TWO LEVELS), Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I expected St. Louis’ defense to be better, but they were awful against Seattle. The fact that the offense got shut out at the same time does not bode well for the Rams going forward. The Bucs got a good game out of Cadillac Williams, but the secondary was terrible, and I still don’t believe Byron Leftwich can move the team when faced by pressure.

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FR: Triple Threats

One of the best things about Twitter (yes, I’m on there) is that you can follow people whose stream-of-consciousness thoughts you would never hear otherwise. One of the people I’m currently following is agent Alvin Keels, who reps Jets RB Leon Washington. He’s trying to get Leon a new deal, and as part of his Tweet-aganda, he compared Washington to other players in the NFL who are dangerous three ways: as runners, returners, and receivers. He came up with a list of seven, and I added a few more names of my own based on research. That’s enough to do a relativity comparison of these triple threats. So that’s what we’re going to do, with 10 being the most dangerous all the way across the board, and 1 being the least impactful of this group of players.

The criteria for making this list is scoring at least one return touchdown in ’08 or ’07, either as a punt or kickoff returner, and also having at least 10 receptions and 5 carries in ’08. That criteria included Keels’ list of Washington, Devin Hester, Darren Sproles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush, and DeSean Jackson. Keels also suggested Percy Harvin, but we’ll omit him until we see what he does in his rookie year. I then added Joshua Cribbs and Roscoe Parrish via editor’s decision, because they fit the spirit of this comparison. And please remember that this comparison is as triple threats, not as players as a whole. So Maurice Jones-Drew, while a huge impact player on offense, falls down the list as his return role diminishes.

One more note before we begin: We’ve done similar lists comparing receivers and quarterbacks already, if you want to check them out.

10 – Reggie Bush, Saints – Bush is still the class of the triple threats because he’s so dangerous in all three areas. His best attribute of the three is probably as a receiver; he’s had at least 50 catches in all three of his seasons (he had 52 last year despite missing six games). Plus, he’s a dynamic punt returner who had three touchdowns on returns last year and has three in his career. While Bush isn’t an every-down, carry-the-mail back, and his yards-per-carry average has never been 4.0 yards in any of his seasons, 19 percent of his carries go for first downs and he has 12 career rushing touchdowns. The only thing missing from his resume as a triple threat is kickoff returns; he has none in his career. But when he does get the ball, he’s always a huge threat.

9 – Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles, who had been a dangerous return man since entering the NFL, exploded as a running back last year, stepping in for LaDanian Tomlinson at times and even supplanting him in the Chargers’ playoff win over the Colts. Sproles had 328 all-purpose yards, including 105 on the ground, in that breakout performance. In the regular season, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and more than 24 percent of his totes resulted in first downs. He also caught 29 balls and averaged nearly 12 yards per reception, which is a really high number out of the backfield. That’s why the Chargers staked $6.6 million in keeping Sproles as a franchise player. But he doesn’t quite compare with Bush because he has one year of that kind of production vs. Bush’s three-year resume. He also has one fewer return TD than Bush (4 vs. 3), although Sproles does return both kickoffs and punts. We may see Sproles take another step forward this season now that he has defined his role as Tomlinson’s complement, but we could also see Sproles fall out as teams see more of him and get to take more shots at his diminutive 5-foot-6 frame. 

8 – Leon Washington, Jets – Washington has been a triple threat for three seasons, but last year was his best as his yards-per-carry (5.9) and yards-per-catch (7.6) averages both increased, and as he scored 8 offensive touchdowns, more than doubling his career total of such scores. He proved his impact as a returner with three kickoff returns for TDs in 2007, and he added a fourth to his career total last year. Washington is a great change of pace to Jets starter Thomas Jones, and he can fill the same role if rookie Shonn Greene replaces Jones. Washington isn’t yet the threat that Bush is on offense, nor has he shown he can control a game like Sproles did in the playoffs. But he’s a definite weapon no matter how you get him the ball.

8 (con’t) – DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Jackson is the best wide receiver on this list, as he showed by starting 15 games and catching 65 balls for 912 yards and two scores as a rookie. He also had 17 carries with a 5.6-yard average and a score along with one punt return in 50 attempts. It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles do with Jackson moving forward. He should remain a starting receiver, and the pattern with such guys usually is to wean them off of returns. (Carolina’s Steve Smith would be the ultimate example of this.) Also, Jackson only had one kickoff return last year, and rookie Jeremy Maclin figures to get most of those attempts in ’09. So while Jackson is an emerging player, this may be the highest he ever ranks on the triple-threat list because his return role figures to diminish as he establishes himself as a receiver in the future.

7 – Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Mo-Jo is another guy whose offensive role will knock him off this list eventually, but you could argue that over his first three years, he’s been even more productive than Bush. Jones-Drew has had between 160 and 200 carries each year, never averaging less than 4.2 yards per carry in a season, and he’s had at least 40 catches each year, including a career-high 62 last year. He had 36 offensive TDs in his first three years, which is far more than Bush. But Jones-Drew had just 20 total returns last year, down from 30-plus his first two seasons, and he failed to score on a kickoff return in ’08 after reaching the end zone in both of his first two years. Now that Fred Taylor is gone, Jones-Drew will become the Jaguars’ top running back, and they just won’t be able to risk him on kickoff returns except in desperate situations. So his days as a triple threat are probably over, but it was fun while it lasted.

6 – Devin Hester, Bears – Hester didn’t have a return touchdown last year after amassing 11 in his first two seasons (four on punts and seven on kickoffs). But he played a more significant role in the receiving game with 51 catches, 29 of which went for first downs. He’s still growing into his game as a receiver, but the Bears believe he can be a true No. 1 threat in the passing game. Hester only had six carries, but he’s dangerous getting the ball that way too. If he were solely a returner, Hester would probably be the best in the league at it, but the Bears want his dynamic playmaking ability available on offensive snaps too. That makes him more of a triple threat but lessens his impact on special teams a bit. If Hester continues to emerge as a receiver now that Jay Cutler is flinging the ball his way, he’ll move up this list.

5 – Joshua Cribbs, Browns – Cribbs has been one of the better returners in the league since his rookie season in ’05, and he has 6 career return touchdowns, with at least one each season. Over the last two years, he’s started to get more of an offensive role. He had 29 rushes and averaged 5.8 yards per carry last year, mostly out of the wildcat formation. He also had two catches, which isn’t surprising considering that he found his offensive role under center. Cribbs is a guy who needs a few more offensive touches to move up this list, but his returning prowess makes him a lot of fun to watch.

4 – Ted Ginn Jr., Dolphins – Ginn might never live up to his top-10 draft position, but he’s become a nice weapon in Miami. He had 87 returns in his rookie year and just 39 last year, but that’s still a significant role. His lone return touchdown came on a punt in ’07. While his return numbers decreased, his offensive role increased, as he notched 56 catches in ’08 after having 34 in ’07. His yards-per-catch average also went up from 12.4 to 14.1, which is a positive sign. He only has nine career carries, but he took two of his totes for scores last year, which speaks to his threat level in that role. The Dolphins don’t really have a No. 1 receiver, and Ginn can’t fill that role, but he can be a deep threat and a gamebreaker.

3 – J.J. Arrington, Broncos – It might surprise you to see Arrington’s name on this list, but after several disappointing seasons as a second-pick in Arizona, he finally proved his worth last year – just in time to leave for Denver as a free agent. He averaged six yards per carry as a complement, first to Edgerrin James and then to Tim Hightower, and also had 29 catches and averaged 8.8 yards per reception. Arrington also had his second kickoff return touchdown in his career. It’ll be interesting to see what role Arrington carves out among the glut of running backs in Denver, but his performance last year suggests that he can be a third-down back and returner who takes a little pressure off rookie Knowshon Moreno. The question will be whether Arrington can beat out Correll Buckhalter and others for the carries that role could provide.

2 – Harry Douglas, Falcons – This rookie also was a surprise to make this list, but he fit the category and actually scored as a runner, receiver, and returner last year. Of course, two of those three touchdowns plus a 69-yard catch came in a single game against the Panthers. But that game marked the start of Douglas’ emergence. He finished with 23 catches and a 20.0 yard-per-catch average, 12 carries for a 5.8-yard average, and an 11.9-yard average on 19 punt returns. He’s a guy to watch in the triple-threat category moving forward.

1 – Roscoe Parrish, Bills – Here’s the stat that shocked me when I was researching this piece: The NFL career leader in punt-return average is Parrish, who passed Hall of Famer George McAfee in that category last year. At 13.96, Parrish averages more than a yard more per punt return than anyone else in league history. (Thanks to the Hall of Fame’s site for the numbers.) That’s an impressive stat. He also has punt-return touchdowns for each of the last three seasons. Offensively, Parrish was a third receiver last year who had 24 catches for 232 yards and a score. He also had two rushes. So while he’s not much of a triple threat, he’s a huge threat on punt returns. He should focus on that role this year with Terrell Owens joining Buffalo’s receiving corps with the underrated Lee Evans as well as Josh Reed and James Hardy.

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