Commentary

Vikes', Raiders' starts surprise for different reasons

The Vikings, Jets and Colts are among our scouts' one-win wonders. But the Bears and Raiders surprised in their own way.

Updated: September 25, 2008, 2:22 PM ET
By Scouts Inc.

The roundtable weighs in on the NFL's disappointing starts, undefeated pretenders and sure-thing matchups. After watching all the film, Scouts Inc.'s pro scouts debate the hot topics heading into Week 4.

Which 1-2 team is the biggest surprise?

Jeremy Green: The Bears were expected to start 1-2, or maybe 0-3, but it's interesting that they lost their past two games at the wire and easily could be 3-0 right now. But they've beaten themselves with penalties and turnovers. Against the Panthers in Week 2, TE Greg Olsen had two receptions and two fumbles lost. Against the Bucs in Week 3, QB Kyle Orton was picked off twice, one of which was returned for a touchdown. I thought Chicago might flat-out get beaten in those games, but I never expected those guys to beat themselves. I guess I'm surprised at the way the Bears have gone 1-2.

[+] EnlargeGus Frerotte
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireIs journeyman Gus Frerotte really the quarterback to lead Minnesota to the promised land?
Gary Horton: Minnesota. The Vikings had huge expectations headed into the season, and although they beat Carolina last week, they aren't hitting on all cylinders. They're fine on defense and, after LT Bryant McKinnie returns next week and assuming RB Adrian Peterson can stay healthy, in the run game as well. But can they survive with journeyman QB Gus Frerotte? A tough road game at Tennessee this week will be a great measuring stick to find out where this team is at. The Titans will be very physical, and with the Packers playing well, the Vikings can't fall any further behind in the NFC North.

Keith Kidd: Without a doubt, it's the New York Jets. The team spent a lot of money in the offseason in an effort to close the gap on New England. With the addition of QB Brett Favre and the season-ending injury to QB Tom Brady, the Jets should be in good shape but find themselves needing a win in the worst way to stay in the AFC East hunt with the Bills and Patriots. Buffalo should easily move to 4-0 with a win over the Rams this week, so the Jets can ill afford to start 1-3.

Doug Kretz: The obvious choice would seem to be San Diego, but I'm going with Minnesota. With arguably the strongest ground game in the NFL and one of the league's best defenses, I would expect the Vikings to be at least 2-1. They had a tough loss up in Green Bay, but they also have won only one of two home games. They spent a lot of resources on WR Bernard Berrian and DE Jared Allen, yet the passing game and pass defense both rank in the bottom third of the league.

Ken Moll: I'm going with Indianapolis. The Colts rarely lose at home, and the Bears are so one-dimensional that I expected Tony Dungy and his staff would have had a better game plan for the opener (say, eight-man fronts and zone run blitzes to force Orton to make plays downfield). For such a conservative offense to pile up 183 rushing yards on the road against a supposed contender is puzzling. Devin Hester didn't have a huge impact and there weren't an inordinate amount of turnovers, so what gives? The Colts are lucky to be 1-2. QB Peyton Manning had to work his magic in Week 2 against another one-dimensional club (Minnesota) club for Indy's only victory. I realize SS Bob Sanders was missing last week, but for a banged-up Jaguars offense to rack up 236 rushing yards was still surprising. The Colts have been an AFC powerhouse for years, but they're really struggling.

Which undefeated team is most likely to fade away?

Green: Every undefeated team has one or two holes. But, I think the team with the most holes is Baltimore. Unlike 30 other teams in the NFL, the Ravens have only played two games due to Hurricane Ike. Both of the Ravens' wins have come at home against teams that are a combined 0-6 (Cincinnati and Cleveland). Plus, neither is known for its run defense and both teams are struggling on offense. Despite being 2-0 as a rookie starter, QB Joe Flacco has not had to play on the road and I don't think he is ready for it. He has struggled at home in completing only 58 percent of his passes, and he is averaging only 5.38 yards per pass attempt. He has thrown zero touchdowns with two picks and has a QB rating of 55.7. While Flacco has managed the offense and is going to be good at some point, that time is not now. His lack of foot mechanics and penchant for making bad rookie throws into coverage are going to catch up with him starting this week in Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
G Fiume/Getty ImagesA rookie QB could be a problem, but the Ravens also have to worry about Ray Lewis and an aging D.
Horton: Baltimore. Right now, the Ravens are winning with their stout defense, solid run game and unexpected good play from their rebuilt offensive line. However, they still have a rookie at quarterback. Flacco is talented, but isn't able to read defenses or recognize the blitz yet. Eventually defenses are going to take away the Ravens' running game and the perimeter passing game, which will force Flacco to throw between the hashes, and that's where he struggles. Plus, this is not an explosive offense that can play from behind and that will eventually become a problem.

Kidd: It's Baltimore. The Ravens are very sound in two phases of the game: defense and the kicking game. However, their offense is too one-dimensional with the running game and they don't have enough playmakers at the skill positions, most importantly a true No. 1 receiver to help them attack all levels in the passing game. We will find out a lot about this team's lack of a passing game on "Monday Night Football" against a very strong Steelers defense.

Kretz: I can see the Ravens fading as the season wears on for two reasons. First of all, both of their wins have been at home and against teams that have underachieved. Second, their defense is getting a little old at key positions. MLB Ray Lewis is in his 13th season, CB Samari Rolle is in his 11th and Chris McAlister is in his 10th. When players have been in the league for more than 10 years they tend to have a harder time playing the full 16-game schedule, and with their bye already behind them the Ravens have 14 straight weekends of games without a break to let their bodies rest.

Moll: For me this is a toss-up between Denver and Baltimore, for opposite reasons. Denver has been awesome offensively, while Baltimore has been outstanding defensively. I'll say that in the second half of the season the Ravens' defense will still be playing well, while the Broncos' air assault may not be as effective when the weather turns cold. Everyone is jumping on the Broncos' bandwagon, but it's important to remember that Denver could easily have lost its past two outings. I believe that really good defenses will pressure QB Jay Cutler with a variety of blitz packages and force the Broncos to win games on defense. I don't see them getting a lot better defensively and once they slip in a somewhat-marginal division, they may fade late in the year.

Tag Ribary: I have to say the Ravens because they are playing with a rookie quarterback and their two wins have come against Cincinnati and Cleveland. I like Flacco, but rookie quarterbacks will eventually struggle in this league. The Ravens have some tough games in the coming weeks, which should give us a better indication of where they are in the grand scheme of things.

Matt Williamson: It won't be Tennessee and it certainly will not be Dallas. Buffalo is here to stay as well and is a very difficult team to play against. However, the other teams will fade to some degree. Denver will slip because of its defense and Baltimore will falter because of its quarterback, but neither team is a pushover. The Broncos have an easier schedule than the Ravens, so I like their chances of getting to the postseason more so than the Ravens'.

Based on matchups, which player do you expect to have a big Week 4?

Green: I'm going with Bengals QB Carson Palmer, who has had a ton of success against the Browns. After two poor starts to open the season, he straightened out in Week 3. The timing of the offense was much better and he threw his first touchdown pass. I expect Palmer to throw a minimum of two touchdowns against a marginal Cleveland secondary and a front seven that's getting very little pressure on the quarterback. A lot of Palmer's early struggles can be attributed to matchups against tough pressure defenses. The weak link of Cincinnati's offense is the offensive line, but switching to a shotgun formation last week helped Palmer get more comfortable. Expect big numbers this week.

Horton: I like Ravens ROLB Terrell Suggs, who is back in form after a lackluster 2007 season. This week he faces a Steelers offensive line that is really struggling on the edges and doing a poor job of picking up the blitz (nine sacks allowed last week). LT Marvel Smith can't match Suggs' quickness, and Pittsburgh's passing game will be compromised if Smith needs regular help from a chipping tight end or back. Baltimore will give this O-line a lot of different looks with overload blitzes, and odds are the Steelers won't adjust well to them.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Jack DNo player is hotter than WR Brandon Marshall, who could go nuclear against the Chiefs in Week 4.
Kidd: Broncos WR Brandon Marshall against the Chiefs. Marshall and QB Jay Cutler were a dynamic, unstoppable duo the past two weeks. Cutler has been amazing, showing off his arm strength and attacking all levels in the passing game. Now Marshall gets to take on a very bad Kansas City defense? Look out. Chiefs CB Patrick Surtain, a starter when healthy, may have to sit again this week. He was inactive last week -- and it showed against Atlanta. Expect the Broncos to move Marshall around in the formation to create matchups against rookie CBs Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr.

Kretz: Buffalo RB Marshawn Lynch could run wild at St. Louis. The Rams have the league's fourth-worst run defense, and players are starting to go through the motions. On the fast track inside the Edward Jones Dome, Lynch's elusiveness and breakaway speed likely will translate to a whole lot of yards against this defense. And because the game is indoors and the crowd noise can disrupt a visiting team's passing attack, I see Lynch getting a lot of carries.

Moll: Has to be Marshall. The weather hasn't turned cold yet and the Chiefs, struggling on both sides of the ball, already look finished. Kansas City has one of the NFL's worst defenses, specifically the pass rush (two sacks). Now the Chiefs have to face Marshall, one of the league's most feared receivers, armed with two rookie corners. Cutler is excellent in the pocket and should shred this weak unit. Marshall seems to be on a mission, and racking up receptions and yards should be no problem against any combination of man or zone coverage that the Chiefs throw at him.

Ribary: I like Lynch against the Rams' defense. Lynch is off to a great start and St. Louis isn't playing nearly as well as hoped. Combine his running skills with a physical Buffalo offensive line, and this matchup should add up to serious production. Last week the Rams had all kinds of trouble stopping Seahawks RB Julius Jones behind a banged-up offensive line.

Williamson: Lynch -- and the reason is simple: his opponent. The Rams allowed the Seahawks -- a team without any wide receivers to speak of, mind you -- to rush for 245 yards last week. I have little doubt that the Bills have a stronger running game than Seattle's. Mix in a few receptions out of the backfield, and Lynch should have a monster day against one of the few truly horrendous teams in the league. Runner-up: Everyone in Denver's offense. Cutler and Marshall, in particular, should explode against Kansas City, another awful team.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.