I heard Phil Simms talking over the weekend on the Showtime show “Inside the NFL,” and he said that you don’t really know anything about the NFL until after Thanksgiving.
The sentiment is that it takes times for teams to jell, to develop and either rise to the top, sink to the bottom or make a home for themselves somewhere in the middle.
By my count, that means that we won’t know who’s who in the league until 11 of the 17 weeks have passed.
I don’t buy it.
I think we know a heck of a lot about teams before two-thirds of the season has gone by, even if we don’t know everything.
And I think that applies to the high school game too. We don’t need five out of the eight regular season games to be finished before we can determine if a team is good.
Right now, with every Division I team having played at least two games, and most having played three, we can glean quite a bit. There are still plenty of questions out there, but a lot has already become crystal clear.
Here’s what we know.
The Haves: La Salle, Hendricken, Cranston East, Portsmouth
For starters, these teams are the top four in the division record-wise. That makes things easier, for sure, but early season records haven’t always been a perfect indicator of long-term success. Last year, Cranston West started out 3-0 in the division and finished 4-4, outside of the playoffs.
But the odds of something like that happening to any of these teams are very slim. La Salle and Hendricken are both 3-0, while Cranston East is 2-0. Portsmouth is 2-1. They look like the best four teams in the state by any measure.
They’re ranked one-through-four in the Rhode Island Sports Media Poll, with La Salle, Hendricken and East each receiving first-place votes. Portsmouth is only a shade behind.
La Salle has already beaten Portsmouth – handing the Patriots their only league loss – and defeated a strong Tolman team (which we’ll talk about in a minute), as well as Cranston West. Hendricken and East have also beaten Tolman, while East has knocked off Barrington and the Hawks have beaten East Providence and South Kingstown.
Portsmouth has beaten Cranston West and South Kingstown.
For the most part, the wins have been dominant. La Salle has started slow in all three of its games, but still gotten the job done. Against Portsmouth and Tolman, it turned the games into blowouts.
Hendricken has blown out South Kingstown (24-0), East Providence (42-13) and Tolman (28-7). Cranston East blew out Barrington (41-18). Portsmouth blew out Cranston West (33-7) and South Kingstown (42-7).
And they all pass the eye test. They have the best skill players in the state, they’re well-coached and they’re confident. They’re the four best, and they all know they’re good.
It’s entirely possible that the only losses any of them suffer this year will be at the hands of each other.
The Wild Card: Tolman
Here’s how you know I’m not basing this just off records – Tolman is 0-3 so far.
The Tigers, in their first-year after moving up from Division II, have the talent to play in D-I, but were handed the hardest schedule in the state. It was an awful greeting.
But to Tolman’s credit, they hung tough. They battled back from a 14-point deficit and nearly beat Cranston East in the first game, were tied with La Salle 14-14 in the second quarter of their second game, and were one big play away from being close with Hendricken in their third game.
They’ve been competitive. They’ve just had a horrible draw.
Unfortunately, maybe some rite of initiation or something, Tolman’s brutal schedule continues this week. They travel to Portsmouth.
That game could very well decide a playoff spot. Tolman will likely beat Cranston West, South Kingstown and East Providence and should beat Barrington. That gives it four wins. But if the top four don’t lose to anybody but each other, Tolman will be on the outside looking in.
It’s going to take five wins to get in the playoffs, and Tolman has five games left. They’re fast enough and skilled enough offensively to do it.
But it’s now or never.
The Middle of the Pack: Barrington, Cranston West
Maybe this is being too hard on Barrington, which has a 2-1 record and I’m sure considers itself in the middle of the playoff chase. But with a loss to Cranston East, and wins over Cranston West and East Providence, it’s all a bit misleading.
The Eagles still have Hendricken, La Salle, Portsmouth and Tolman to play. They’re not getting to five wins. Sorry.
Cranston West isn’t getting to five wins either. They’re 0-3 right now, with losses to Barrington, Portsmouth and La Salle. It’s been a tough draw, and the Falcons could have made the game against Portsmouth close if they had just closed a few drives.
Yet, there’s really only one reason why I put them in this group – their game with La Salle last week. Cranston West held a 10-point lead over the No. 1 team in the state into the fourth quarter before eventually falling short.
It was a gutty performance, and with a top-level defense, West doesn’t belong at the bottom of the D-I pack.
The Have-Nots: South Kingstown, East Providence
East Providence is 0-2 in D-I, and has been outscored 77-28. It also has a 21-0 loss to Division II Woonsocket on its resume.
South Kingstown is 0-2 in D-I as well, and has been outscored 66-7. It has a 20-0 loss to Division II West Warwick on its resume.
It looks like a fight to stay out of the basement.
Conclusion: Just think how much we’ll know by Thanksgiving.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.