In case you haven't noticed, Julius Peppers is off to a great start
Julius Peppers is dominating games like he's rarely done before
Tennessee Titans aren't the only team that plays a little dirty in NFL
Colts 2-2 start doesn't worry me; Niners still the best team in NFC West
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.
The Bears should pay Julius Peppers in gold bars. Don't be confused by his average sack total (two in four games). He's been incredible for them and a different player than in his Carolina days. In the past, Peppers dominated during parts of games. Now, he's dominating entire games, proving to a new team how special he is. If Peppers keeps this up, I see him winning Defensive Player of the Year, hands down. Too bad he can't pad those sack stats against the Bears' offensive line.
I have never seen so much parity in the NFL. Take a look at the standings. The Chiefs are the only undefeated team left, and they are decided underdogs this week at the Colts, who just lost to a desperate Jaguars team.
Part of the reason for the unpredictability lies off the field. The imminent labor issue and potential lockout clouded free agency and quieted the trade market. As a result, some teams that were one move or one player away from taking that next step stood pat.
The Chargers, one of several up-and-down teams this year, are a prime example with the holdouts of wide receiver Vincent Jackson and, formerly, tackle Marcus McNeill. Maybe they would have started the season better without those issues, won the opener against the Chiefs and gone on to a 4-0 start. They're 2-2 instead.
The trade market has been silent. Many expected the Vikings to deal for a receiver, but it would have taken a combination of money, contract years and draft picks. They decided not to take that risk. The conservative outlook is popular among teams, which may explain why Marshawn Lynch hasn't been traded.
The Titans play tough and physical, but are they dirty? Yes, but they're not the only dirty team in the NFL. Just about every team has players of borderline character, or worse. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton called Jeff Fisher's team's "cheap" after beating them Sunday.
Jeff Fisher's team has a history of being aggressive and, at times, too aggressive. We all remember Albert Haynesworth stomping on Andre Gurode. Oilers/Titans defensive end Josh Evans once punched me in the stomach in the bottom of a pile, and that was totally uncalled for.
Like I said, this happens around the league, some teams more than others. Normally, physical players gain a psychological edge if they get in the heads of opponents. However, that reputation becomes a problem when it goes public. That's when referees get involved. Now that the Titans have an increased reputation as dirty players, do you really think they'll get the benefit of the doubt from officials on questionable calls?
The 0-4 49ers are still the best team in the NFC West. I don't particularly like anybody in that division, so I'll stick with the preseason favorite. After firing their offensive coordinator last week, the Niners still have problems, but I do think they're headed in the right direction. Their last-minute loss at Atlanta was a positive sign. They're playing with a sense of urgency.
Let me make it clear that Mike Singletary is the right coach to lead them back. He's dealt with this team underachieving in the past and has put a shock into its system before. He's prepared.
The Rams (2-2) have the best chance to capitalize if the 49ers can't turn it around. I've been watching Sam Bradford and I can't really find any faults in the No. 1 pick. I wasn't sold on his arm strength coming out of college, but he's proven me wrong. He's limiting turnovers, too.
The Seahawks (2-2) and Cardinals (0-4) are without identities. In Seattle, they're still trying to figure out what kind of coach they have in Pete Carroll. In Arizona, the quarterback situation is in the air. These are major hurdles that should have been resolved in the preseason.
A few more quick thoughts ...
-- Of the four 0-4 teams (49ers, Bills, Lions, Panthers), Carolina will be the last team to win a game. That's the problem with relying on a developing rookie quarterback.
-- I'm not concerned by the Colts' 2-2 start and stunning loss in Jacksonville. The Colts are professionals. They know how to win. Those two losses were division games on the road, never easy, and especially difficult for the Colts. They're the 800-pound gorilla in the AFC South. Everybody's gearing up to play them. You can bet the Jaguars, Texans and Titans circle those two games against Indianapolis every year the schedule comes out.
-- If Michael Vick is forced to miss even just one game, Kevin Kolb could retake the Eagles quarterback job for good. Vick could be more talented than Kolb, but Andy Reid's made it clear he's going to play the hot hand. Momentum is the top priority.
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