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Shutdown Corner

Quarter-point conclusions that may look ridiculous in December, Part II

MJD
Shutdown Corner

(See Part I here.)

We're 25 percent through an NFL season that has thus far been as boring as a bag of rabid squirrels on angel dust. We've had stars emerge, teams implode, and comebacks that would make John Elway's eyes bug out of his head, if he wasn't so sad about the state of his own team.

The one-quarter mark seems like a good time to draw some conclusions, so we can, at the suggestion of liveblog participant Steve Patriot, look back at them in Week 17 and laugh. Here we go.

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NewtonPinkNun

Conclusion: Cam Newton is going to be a superstar quarterback.
It could be that: Yes, Cam Newton has shown everything he needs to show to prove that one day, he will be a star in the National Football League.
It could also be that: We're getting ahead of ourselves, and Cam Newton has a whole lot to prove before we can assume that he'll be picking apart defenses week-in and week-out.
Projection: Superstar. I'm sold. Most rookies starting the fifth game of their career are still living in terror, wondering why no one is ever open and if they'll ever get out of a game with fewer than three interceptions. Newton is so far ahead of the game. He's fearless. The presence is there. Obviously, so are the physical tools, but his work ethic, confidence and intelligence have made him stand out. Admit it. If your team was scheduled to play Carolina this weekend, you'd have a fear that Newton could beat you all by himself. And that fear would not be unjustified.

Conclusion: The Buffalo Bills are legitimate playoff contenders in the AFC.
It could be that:
The Bills are as good as their record shows and will stay at or near their current position.
It could also be that: The Bills are the early season "flavor of the month" and will drop off sooner or later.
Projection: The Bills are going to continue to score points, because they've got one of the best, most well-rounded offenses in the league. Their offensive line has played way above expectations, and they have a weapon at every other skill position: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Scott Chandler. They can beat you in a lot of ways. That's not going away. Good offensive teams are going to give them trouble, because there are holes in the defense, but the Bills aren't going anywhere.

Conclusion: Tony Romo is an abject failure who will never learn.
It could be that: It's in Romo's nature to take risks and make mistakes, and it's clear by now that this isn't going away.
It could also be that: A talented quarterback is a talented quarterback, and Romo is absolutely talented. He'll figure it out.
Projection: Perspective is important here. We've only played four weeks. In two of them, Tony Romo has been a conquering hero. In the other two, he's been Jake Plummer on Quaaludes. You saw what it was like on the Monday night game against the Redskins. Romo had to basically tell everyone what to do on every single play, and they kept screwing it up anyway. You're telling me the two Cowboy collapses are entirely his fault? Romo is a good quarterback. He will steady himself. He will win games for Dallas.

Conclusion: The Houston Texans will run away with the AFC South.
It could be that:
With the Colts Manning-less and the Texans with an actual defense, the division is theirs.
It could also be that: We're only four games in, we've been fooled by the Texans before, and maybe they're not the only quality team in the division.
Projection: The Texans win the South by at least two games. I do believe that the Titans are a quality team with a tough defense and they're getting almost unreasonable production out of Matt Hasselbeck. But the Texans are on another level. Their offense is better than adequate (provided that Andre Johnson doesn't miss too much time), and they finally, finally can stop someone. They are among the teams capable of winning the AFC.

Conclusion: The St. Louis Rams are back to being awful.
It could be that: At 0-4, the Rams have slipped back into the comfortable role of one of three or four NFC West doormats.
It could also be that: The Rams are just off to a bad start, but in that division, should be able to rebound.
Projection: The Rams are in trouble because they can't stop anyone. Apparently, someone in Missouri made defense illegal, because the only team that's given up more points than the Rams is the Chiefs. The Rams give up 179.8 rushing yards per game -- thirty-six yards worse than anyone else. There's still a lot to like with Sam Bradford, but the man needs help. A wide receiver would be nice, and they also might want to try letting him play sometime while not trailing by two touchdowns.

Conclusion: Calvin Johnson is the league's best wide receiver.
It could be that:
Calvin Johnson is unstoppable, and he will go up and get any ball over any two or three defenders in the league.
It could also be that: There are guys out there even more unstoppable than Calvin Johnson.
Projection: Wes Welker is the most unstoppable wide receiver in the league right now. I know that sounds crazy, and I feel silly saying it. They're two very different types of receivers, so it's hard to compare them straight up, but how close has anyone been to stopping Welker this season? Do you realize what he's on pace to do? I'll tell you: 160 receptions, 2,464 yards. Johnson, just as impressively, is on pace to catch 32 touchdown passes. I'm not taking anything away from Calvin Johnson. He is elite, he is a beast, and he has put the Lions on his shoulders. But Welker, somehow, is dominating, too. If someone could stop him, they would.

Conclusion: It makes sense for the Broncos to eventually play Tim Tebow.
It could be that: The Broncos are terrible and Kyle Orton is not helping them win games right now, so they might as well look at Tim Tebow.
It could also be that: The Broncos are terrible, Kyle Orton isn't helping them win, and it's still not time to look at Tim Tebow.
Projection: Tebow will get some snaps eventually, but I think most of them will come in the specially designed "Tebow Package," not the traditional, "just put him under center and see what he's got" format. It behooves Denver to take a look at Brady Quinn first, since he's a better quarterback than Tim Tebow. Arguments that it makes sense to play Quinn? I'm all ears. Arguments that it makes sense to play Tebow? Only after Quinn's gotten his chance.

Conclusion: The San Francisco 49ers might not be terrible anymore.
It could be that: The 49ers, behind the leadership of Jim Harbaugh, are turning things around.
It could also be that: San Francisco's 3-1 record is a mirage and it's not much different than any other NFC West team.
Projection: The 49ers are going to win the West, because they do have some things going for them. They're fierce against the run, and have a front seven that can compete with anyone. Alex Smith has somehow thrown just one interception on the season and has a completion percentage of 67.3 percent and a QB rating of 97.7. That's eighth best in the league, ahead of Fitzpatrick, Romo and Philip Rivers. I don't believe they'd be a playoff team in any other division, but there are good things happening in San Francisco. That's more than enough to win the West.

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