There was a question on one of those "pop up" links on espn.com today. One of the ones where you have to be a registered espn.com user to weigh in. This one was sponsored by Miller Lite. There were in fact 4 questions to choose from, each with its own forum to "make your voice heard!". But there was one in particular that I almost opined on there before deciding to make it a post on here. That is "Which team has been more impressive through the first two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens or the San Diego Chargers?" And here is my answer. The Ravens.
Let me expand that answer for you (otherwise this would be a short, boring post).
The only real similarity between the 2 teams is that they replaced quarterbacks during the off season. Now on this point they did go in two completely different directions. The Ravens benched a young quarterback that they thought highly enough of to draft in the first round, but who hadn't lived up to expectations (Kyle Boller) and replaced him with a proven veteran, if maybe one that is a little past his prime (Steve McNair). Questions on how much of an upgrade this really is will have to be addressed at another time (I know I keep promising a Boller post. I will get to it, I promise). The Chargers, on the other hand, let a veteran QB (Drew Brees) who had led them to the playoffs in 2004 (where kicking kept them from going deeper into those playoffs) and to a winning record in 2005, showing that the 2004 success was no fluke (a lot of teams with a bad record one season can have a good following season. 2000 and 2001 Chicago Bears anyone?)go and in his place are now starting a highly thought of young quarterback (Phillip rivers). The proof that a team is turning (or has turned) a corner is in the season after THAT, when they have to play a much tougher non-conference schedule (see 2002 Chicago Bears). By posting a winning record in 2005, the Chargers showed that they were for real, even WITH Marty Schottenheimer as their coach (the fact that I could spell "Schottenheimer" without having to check it first- I just did check it- is a little frightening). I am also not going to get into a detailed discussion on the merits of"Martyball". I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to find the "there's a gleam" video. It is on NFL Films at least three times per week (union regulations). On the off chance that you have not seen this clip, find it and see it, as it will show you the "master motivator" at work. Anyway, Drew Brees forced the Chargers to keep their #4 in the 1st round pick on the bench for 2 years with his play, but when Brees got injured it made the decision to switch QB's relatively easy. And by now you should know that Phillip Rivers was no slouch. I am in Maryland, and I watched that young man play the Terps. He is GOOD. Look at his career stats (North Carolina State 2000-2003):
13,484 yards (3rd all time in NCAA)
13,582 total yards (2nd all time in NCAA)
34-17 record as starter among NCAA-record 51 career starts
95 touchdown passes (tied for 5th all time in NCAA)
MVP of four bowl games, including 2004 Senior Bowl
set school and Atlantic Coast Conference career records for:
passing attempts (1,710)
touchdowns responsible for (112)
300-yard passing games (18)
400-yard passing games (7)
Seventh quarterback in NCAA history and first in ACC history with three 3,000-yard seasons... Second-team All-America by NFL Draft Report as senior... 2003 ACC Player of Year and first-team All-ACC after leading NCAA in completion percentage (.720) and passer rating (170.5)... Ranked second nationally in passing yards (4,491) and total offense per game (353.9) ... MVP of 2003 Tangerine Bowl after career-high 475 yards and school-record-tying five touchdowns in 56-26 win over Kansas... Second-team All-ACC as junior... Received Award of Distinction from Columbus Touchdown Club... Co-recipient of Governor's Award as team MVP... MVP of 2002 Gator Bowl win over Notre Dame... CNN/Sports Illustrated National Player of Week after five-touchdown game against Navy in junior year. Honorable mention all-conference as sophomore ... ACC Rookie of Year and Academic All-ACC choice in 2000... Newcomer of Year by ABC Sports and Freshman of Year by Football News and Columbus Touchdown Club... MVP of 2000 Micron PC Bowl... ACC Player of Week once, ACC Offensive Back of Week twice and league-record ACC Rookie of Week eight times during career.
It is safe to say he doesn't suck. And he sat for two years learning the playbook and learning the game. He held the clipboard and never complained. He has earned his chance to start.
So who do I give the edge to QB wise? Right now I would have to go with McNair, because he has a history of winning. But the margin isn't by a whole hell of a lot.
Now let's look at the rest of the teams...
RB - Ladanian Tomlinson vs. Jamal Lewis
With the exception of 2003, when he ran for 2,066 yards, when would anyone pick Jamal Lewis over LaDanian Tomlinson. Maybe even not that year. I am a fan of the Ravens, and I am a big fan of Jamal Lewis. I think he is a great back. But Tomlinson is better.
WR - Keenan McCardell & Eric Parker vs. Derrick Mason & Mark Clayton
Edge: Mason and Clayton
It is hard to believe, given the press that the Ravens offense gets (and justifiably so), but I would take Mason and Clayton over McCardell and Parker any day.
TE - Antonio Gates vs. Todd Heap
I know Gates is a great TE (if you remember from an earlier post, I have him on my fantasy team, and I picked the first TE off the board, so I could have had Heap if I wanted him. My reason for picking Gates was the points system in the league), but I don't think he is better than Heap.
DEF - Chargers vs. Ravens
The defenses are hard to compare, just because San Diego is a 3-4 base while Baltimore is a 4-3 base. So I go to the litmus test of if I needed a defense to stop another team on 4th and 1, game on the line, who would I pick? If given the choice of the Chargers and the Ravens, I am picking the Ravens. I think the majority of you would too.
Okay, now we have all of that out of the way. The teams are very similar, which makes discussing who is more surprising a valid debate. I did give four of five "edges" to Baltimore, but not by enough of a margin to give either team a distinct advantage or disadvantage. And when the present is a wash, you look at the past. First the past two years. The Ravens went 9-7 in 2004 and missed the playoffs. In 2005 they went 6-10 and didn't even sniff the postseason. The Chargers went 12-4 in 2004 and won the AFC West. In 2005 they went 9-7 and barely missed the playoffs. From that standpoint the Ravens being 2-0 should be more surprising than the Chargers. So let us look at recent history. The Chargers have wins against the Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans. Neither team did anything last year nor are they expected to contend this year. The Ravens have wins against the Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Raiders are a commom opponent that neither team had any real problem with. Tampa Bay went 11-5 and won their division in 2005 (but to be fair, they were 5-11 in 2004, so that record was arguably inflated against lesser opponents. But even with that, who was expected to have a better season, Tampa Bay or Tennessee?).
So both somewhat recent and very recent history trended towards the Chargers having a playoff worthy season and the Ravens having a realistic shot at 8-8. So, to me, there is no debate as to which team is more surprising. Now as to which team is BETTER, well, we will get the first real answer to that on Sunday October 1st at 1pm.
Now I really need to get back to work. They are "paying" me after all.