Reggie Roberts: There were huge pre-season expectations for the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Atlanta Falcons. All three of those teams – playoff participants a year ago – are a combined 5-10. Are all three teams good enough to rebound after slow starts and make the 2011 NFL playoffs?
Bob Glauber: I don't see the Eagles being able to recover at this point. Not only have the losses piled up, but their defensive problems can't be fixed quickly. Michael Vick is going up and down the field, but he's under way too much pressure to put up points because of the defensive problems that he's turning the ball over at an alarming rate. The Jets played better against the Patriots, and you could see some things that give them reason to hope. But they've got to turn it around immediately, because their schedule is a beast after the Dolphins: San Diego, at Buffalo, New England. I see the Falcons as absolutely capable of getting back in it. The division is going to be back and forth, and there's too much talent for Atlanta not to be able to make a run. Two games behind a Saints team that is not playing good defense right now is reason enough to think that there's plenty of opportunity ahead.
RR: Give us your take on the 5-0 Detroit Lions and tell us how head coach Jim Schwartz has gotten his club off to their best start since 1956?
BG: How do you not love what's going on with this team and this city? It's the feel-good story of the year so far, and I don't think it will stop any time soon. I covered a Jets-Lions came in the middle of last season, and you could see that Detroit had the makings of a very good team. They couldn't finish against the Jets that day (23-20 loss in overtime), but that's part of the learning curve for a young team. Schwartz has built a very good team, starting with quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who might be the best defensive player in football right now. Schwartz has put his stamp on the defense by stressing great defensive line play, and the rotation you saw against the Bears was just tremendous. Stafford's health is obviously a key, but right now, this team looks as good as just about any in the league.
RR: Green Bay is playing at a speed that other NFL team have not been able to match through five games. Did you have the Packers repeating as Super Bowl champions before the start of the season?
BG: Had Green Bay getting to the Super Bowl last year (and losing to the Ravens). Was going to take them this year, then decided to go with the Saints. It's hard not to like the Packers now, of course, but it's a long season, and a lot of stuff happens. Aaron Rodgers right now is a transcendent quarterback, and I don't use that word lightly. It's Rodgers and Tom Brady right now, with Drew Brees close behind. I think the Packers actually benefited from the lockout in this respect: They didn't get that off-season victory lap that teams take, which sometimes leads to complacency. The Packers are playing hungry, and – for now, anyway – they look unbeatable. But they'll hit a rough patch - all teams do – and we'll see how they come out of it.
RR: Let's switch back to the AFC and the 4-1 New England Patriots, who racked up over 450 yards of total offense in their win over the Jets on Sunday. Are the Patriots the best team in the AFC?
BG: I actually like the Ravens right now, mostly because of their defense. Baltimore is one of the few teams that is playing dominant defense, and I think it will serve them well the rest of the way. New England's offense is obviously brilliant, but they're still suspect defensively. They did a nice job against the Jets, but don't forget, the Jets are having problems on offense. The Patriots are a team that traditionally gets better as the season goes on, thanks to Bill Belichick's coaching. So they still have a ways to go on defense. But offensively, there's plenty to like, especially the fact that they're running the ball now as well as at any time during Tom Brady's tenure there. That's a dangerous combination.
RR: What's going on in Denver with the quarterback situation and is this the week – Denver's bye week – where they make a QB switch and go with Tim Tebow when they travel to South Florida to play the Dolphins on October 23?
BG: This is indeed the week, and we'll see Tebow as the starter against the Dolphins. And why not? Denver isn't going anywhere at 1-4, especially with the Chargers off to a 4-1 start. Kyle Orton hasn't played well all season, and you could see the spark that Tebow provided in the comeback attempt against the Chargers. I still have my doubts about Tebow as a long-term starter, but the Broncos need to find out about him and this is a completely logical spot to begin that process. Interesting that his first start will be against a Dolphins team that tried to trade for Orton before the season. Hmmmm... Will Miami make another attempt to trade for him now that Chad Henne is hurt? Doubt it. Doesn't make any sense at 0-4 and with a solid class of quarterbacks coming into the draft next year. Andrew Luck, anyone?
RR: You spend a good amount of time at Giants Stadium. Although the G-men lost last week to Seattle, do you think veteran head coach Tom Coughlin gets his guys back on track this week at home against the red-hot 4-1 Buffalo Bills?
BG: You can't underestimate just how big that loss to Seattle was. No excuses for the Giants. Terrible loss against a bad team at home. Coughlin will have them ready against the Bills, but unless the Giants' defense turns things around – especially against the run – there could be more trouble ahead. I will say this, though: If the Giants can get a consistent pass rush against Ryan Fitzpatrick, I think they'll have a shot to turn the ball over and make some good things happen. Justin Tuck's absence hurt them against the Seahawks, and they need him back in the lineup. And if Eli Manning doesn't turn the ball over, the Giants can win.
RR: And finally, the NFL lost iconic owner Al Davis over the weekend. What are your recollections of Davis and give us a sense of his impact on the game of professional football?
BG: It's hard to underestimate the impact Davis has had on the NFL, especially from his days as the Raiders' maverick in their heyday of the 1970's and '80s. A lot of the offensive strategy you see employed today has a direct correlation to the vision Davis had of the way football should be played when he first got into the league in the 1960's.
I always found Davis to be a refreshing voice, even in his rants against the league over the years. I will say that in my time covering the NFL (since 1985), Davis has presided over mostly unsuccessful teams. So I'd written my share of critical columns over the years. Al never reacted to any of them, but one day at an owners' meeting – I think it was around the year 2000 or shortly before – Davis saw me during a break in the meetings and said, "Hey, why do you keep hitting me in the papers?" Somewhat flustered, I said, "Well, your team hasn't won many games, so what do you want me to write?" He replied, "Take it easy, would you? My mother reads your paper."