Week 1 has over and the grind has begun. The NFL kicked off its season last week and while excitement abounds in some markets, gloom and doom have already set in on others. What happened. What went right. What went wrong. Here’s my take on all 32 teams in the NFL following week 1. I’ll go division by division.
New England Patriots. My pick to win the Super Bowl this year, the Patriots started off quite well thank you very much. A 38-24 win over Miami was just the type of start the Pats were looking for. Tom Brady looked in mid-season form as he threw for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns. The highlight was a 99 yard strike to Wes Welker which sealed the game. The defence needs a little work but if the offence continues on this pace, the Patriots will be a force yet again. New England hosts San Diego on Sunday which has the potential of being another wild shootout.
New York Jets. The Jets should consider themselves rather fortunate that they escaped with a 27-24 win over Dallas on Sunday night. The Jets didn’t play particularly well on either side of the football but a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to tie the game followed by a Darrelle Revis interception which set up the game winning field goal was good enough for Rex Ryan’s crew. I still feel Mark Sanchez will have to step up his game and the defence has to live up to its potential. Jacksonville comes to town this week and they are never easy to play against.
Buffalo Bills. The surprise team of the week. The Bills walked into Arrowhead Stadium and simply destroyed Kansas City 41-7. No one expected this. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was simply superb as he lit up the Chiefs defence. If Fitzpatrick can play like this all season, the Bills all of a sudden could be the team that shocks the world. Their home opener is next week against Oakland and expect a lively atmosphere in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Optimism hasn’t been this high in Western New York since Jim Kelly was calling the signals.
Miami Dolphins. Granted they were playing powerful New England but the Dolphins have plenty of question marks already. The defence looked horrid in last Monday’s loss and it may be time for Jason Taylor to call it a career. I’m still not sold Chad Henne leading the Dolphins to the promised land. With the Jets along with the suddenly improved Bills in the same division, and Houston coming to town next week, things could get ugly in beautiful Miami.
Baltimore Ravens. It was only game one but the Ravens passed their first litmus test with flying colours. An impressive 35-7 blowout win over arch-rival Pittsburgh gives John Harbaugh’s crew much-needed confidence for the rest of the season. The defence looks its usual menacing self. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was particularly forceful as he totally decimated the Steelers running game. The Ravens hope this trend continues in Tennessee next week.
Cincinnati Bengals. A win is a win. The Bengals will take any win no matter how ugly it was. Beating in-state rival Cleveland on the road is a good start for Marvin Lewis’ team but an injury to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton could hurt the Bengals long-term. With Carson Palmer continuing his “retirement” look for Bruce Gradkowski to start in Denver next week. A.J Green looks like a future superstar at receiver giving the Bengals something to hold on too.
Pittsburgh Steelers. The black and gold could not have started the season any worse. Getting blown out by the hated Ravens while turning over the football 7 times equals a nightmare in the Steel City. The Steel Curtain looked old and slow which may be the biggest concern of all. But this is Pittsburgh. They don’t panic easy. This is a franchise that has dealt with adversity on many occasions and has not just survived but thrived under trying circumstances. The home opener against Seattle could provide a welcome tonic to the Steelers woes.
Cleveland Browns. There were some people who suggested the Browns might be a playoff team this year. However a home loss to Cincinnati says to me that the Browns have a long way to go. I’m not sold on Cleveland and I may never be sold on Cleveland. Yes Colt McCoy has potential and Peyton Hillis is a beast in the backfield but there is something not right on the shores of Lake Erie. This was a game the Browns were supposed to win but failed. A trip to Indianapolis to face the desperate Colts could be fatal for the Dog Pound.
Houston Texans. Owner Bob McNair said last week’s game was the biggest in franchise history. And the Texans sure played like it. A resounding 34-7 win over the Manning-less Colts sent a strong message to the rest of the division. Houston wants it. Now it its 1oth season the Texans franchise is seeking their first playoff berth and they truly believe this is the year. With running back Arian Foster returning to practice and expecting to play in Miami next week, hopes haven’t been this high since Warren Moon was running the run and shoot for the old Oilers in the early 90s.
Jacksonville Jaguars. After a week of turmoil and upheaval, the Jags showed their mettle once again. Under coach Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville has shown a resiliency that few clubs bring to the table. After releasing veteran quarterback David Garrard the Jags took the field and defeated division rival Tennessee 16-14. The Jags are unpredictable though and you never know when they could falter. A trip to the Meadowlands to face the Jets will test their mettle yet again.
Indianapolis Colts. Right now the Colts are looking for a miracle. But Peyton Manning is still on the sidelines. The superstar quarterback is still recovering from his second neck surgery and the Colts are recovering after being dismantled by Houston last week. Kerry Collins proved he’s no Peyton Manning but he must step up if the Colts have any chance this season. Cleveland comes to town this week and this will provide the Colts a great chance to rebound from last week.
San Diego Chargers.
The season started rather ominously for San Diego. The Minnesota Vikings returned the opening kick off for a touchdown and kicker Nate Keading was lost for the season with a torn ACL while trying to make the tackle. The Chargers did recover and defeated the Vikings 24-17 however special teams are a major concern for Norv Turner’s crew. Things don’t get any easier for San Diego as they have to travel cross-country to face powerful New England. Very difficult to be sure.
Oakland Raiders. Last year the Raiders swept the AFC west. They are on pace to do the same this season starting with Monday’s win over Denver. While not always pretty, the Raiders got the job done led by Darren McFadden’s 150 yards on the ground, a blitzing defence which sacked Kyle Orton 4 times, and Sebastian Janikowski’s record tying 63 yard field goal to close the first half. A difficult trip to Buffalo awaits the silver and black but the Raiders show they can ball and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Denver Broncos. Let the controversy commence. Many fans want coach John Fox to start Tim Tebow at quarterback after Kyle Orton’s rough Monday night affair with the Raiders. Right now, Fox is sticking with Orton but the pressure is on the former Purdue Boilermaker to stake his claim as the starting quarterback. With injuries to Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil on defence, the Broncos will have to be more effective on offence. It would also help if they can cut down on the penalties. Denver hosts Cincinnati next week.
Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were simply embarrassed by the Buffalo Bills last Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium no less. Losing 41-7 at home plus losing second year safety Eric Barry for the season was the absolute worst way to start the season for Todd Haley’s team. With Matt Cassel’s rib still a question mark the Chiefs’ season is already in trouble. Playing an improved Detroit Lions team next week doesn’t make things any easier.
The so-called “Dream Team” made a successful debut in the 2011 season. A solid 31-13 road win over St Louis gives the Eagles an excellent foundation for the season. Michael Vick was well…Michael Vick. DeSean Jackson made big plays and the defence forced turnovers. No they weren’t perfect but the Eagles will be a factor all season long. Vick returns to Atlanta for a Sunday night showdown so expect some hype for this one.
Washington Redskins. Maybe the Redskins are better than I thought. I’m still not sold on Washington but they did play well in a 28-14 win over the New York Giants and Rex Grossman avoided the mistakes he usually makes. The Redskins still have to win me over a bit more but a win against Arizona next week could go a long way in doing that.
Dallas Cowboys. Once again the Cowboys continue to befuddle me. At one point last Sunday night, the Cowboys looked like they were going to destroy the New York Jets. But when the fourth quarter came along, the wheels fell off the chuckwagon. First a blocked punt, then a horrific interception by Tony Romo led to another confounding loss and more questions surrounding America’s Team. There’s always pressure in Big D but it will intensify if the Cowboys continue to blow 4th quarter leads. A trip to San Francisco is next and I really don’t know what’s going to happen next.
New York Giants. This is a hurting bunch. 5 defensive starters out for the season. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck continue their holdouts and the vicious New York media has already but coach Tom Coughlin on the hot seat. They’re never satisfied in the Big Apple unless you win. A disappointing loss to Washington means rough waters for the Giants to sail in. St Louis comes to town for an important Monday Night showdown and both teams will be desperate to win.
Green Bay Packers. The defending Super Bowl Champions got their season started on the right foot with a 42-34 shootout win over New Orleans last Thursday night. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers picked up right where he left off from last year’s Super Bowl and the Packers never looked back. Yes the defence struggled at time. Yes the special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown. But the Pack are the World Champions and someone has to step up and beat them when it counts. Easier said than done. A trip to Carolina awaits the Packers on Sunday.
Detroit Lions. Expectations are high in the Motor City. After a 27-20 win over Tampa Bay, the Lions look to go 2-0 for the first time since 2007. Matthew Stafford looked very impressive despite battling cramps in the Florida heat. Calvin Johnson had an outstanding game at receiver. The defence while not dominant, looked solid against the Buccaneers. The home opener against Kansas City is next and the Lions have a great shot at starting 2-0.
Chicago Bears. Team enigma got their season started with an impressive 30-12 beatdown on the Atlanta Falcons. While many questions about the Bears will be answered later in the season, quarterback Jay Cutler bounced back from a horrible playoff performance with a solid, efficient effort behind centre. The defence looked like the Monsters of the Midway as they overwhelmed the Dirty Birds. A trip to New Orleans is next and it won’t be easy for Chicago. Especially without linebacker Brian Urlacher who will miss the game to attend his mother’s funeral.
Minnesota Vikings. Last year it was Brett Favre. This year its Donovan McNabb. No matter. 39 passing yards just won’t cut it in today’s NFL. McNabb looked old and slow in the Vikings season opening loss to San Diego and there are some people in the Twin Cities who have already suggested that the Vikings give rookie Christian Ponder playing time at quarterback. Coach Leslie Frazier will have none of that. McNabb will start against Tampa Bay next week, but he must play better for the Vikings to have any chance of winning.
New Orleans Saints.
The Saints started the season with a 42-34 loss to Green Bay and many questions concerning the defence. At times it looked like the Saints D couldn’t stop a high school offence as they were pushed around and manhandled by the Packers. If the Saints defence doesn’t step up its game, it could be a long season in the Crescent City. However there is reason for hope. Every team in the division lost so everyone is equal. The offence led by Drew Brees looks in fine early season form. And the Saints have time on their side. The Bears come into the Superdome on Sunday for a key NFC battle.
Atlanta Falcons. Finishing 13-3 last year gave the Falcons much optimism this season. However after a devastating playoff loss to Green Bay, an 0-4 preseason, and now a blowout loss to Chicago to start the season, the Falcons look very vulnerable. The defence looked very passive against the Bears. They must change their style to become more aggressive whether they blitz more often, or give opposing offences different looks and schemes. The offence struggled despite Michael Turner’s 100 yards rushing. Matt Ryan looked uncomfortable in the pocket all game long. With Michael Vick and the Eagles in town for a prime time matchup the Falcons have no time to feel sorry for themselves.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is the youngest team in the NFL so expect some highs and lows from the Bucs this season. An opening day loss to Detroit was disappointing but there were bright spots. Josh Freeman displayed his toughness and spunk and nearly led the Bucs to a comeback victory. Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams and Arrellous Benn are all excellent receivers with bright futures. The Bucs will learn the hard way some weeks but aren’t that far away from being legitimate contenders. A trip to Minnesota awaits the young Bucs.
Carolina Panthers. Even though the Panthers lost in Arizona last week, they may have found their franchise quarterback. First overall pick Cam Newton had a brilliant outing as he threw for 422 yards in his NFL debut. While the Panthers do have issues in key areas, Newton is someone to build the franchise around. The World Champion Packers come into town and will provide stiff opposition to Newton and the Panthers.
Arizona Cardinals. It wasn’t pretty but the Cardinals will take it. Despite giving up 422 yards in passing to rookie Cam Newton, Arizona did manage a 28-21 victory thanks to rookie Patrick Peterson’s 89 yard punt return for the winning touchdown. The Cards looked shaky at times but big plays saved this team. A trip to Washington is next for Arizona and the long plane ride always makes it a challenging game.
San Francisco 49ers. Right now Ted Ginn Jr is the toast of the bay area. 2 kick returns for touchdowns, one a 102 yard kickoff return, the other a 55 yard punt return, were the impetus of the Niners 33-17 win over Seattle. Yes the offence struggled, especially in the red zone. Yes questions still remain whether Alex Smith is indeed the man to lead the 49ers to glory. But for now they will take the win and await the hated Cowboys return to Monster Park next week.
St Louis Rams. The one time Greatest Show On Turf had high expectations coming into 2011. However after Steven Jackson’s touchdown which he pulled up lame due to a quad injury, the Rams tumbled to a 31-13 loss to Philadelphia. The biggest scare was when quarterback Sam Bradford injured his throwing hand in the fourth quarter. To the relief to many in the Gateway City, no serious damage was done and Bradford is expected to start on Monday night against the Giants. The big question right now is can this young Rams team overcome early season adversity? We shall see.
Seattle Seahawks. There are whispers by some NFL insiders that the Seahawks are the early favourites in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. For people in the Pacific Northwest, if this is true, it will be a long season in Seattle. A lacklustre 33-17 loss to division rival San Francisco did nothing to alleviate the whispers, in fact it elevated from whispers to normal conversation. Tavaris Jackson does not inspire confidence at quarterback and Charlie Whitehurst isn’t the answer either. The defence looks OK but the special teams were awful as they gave up 2 kick returns for touchdowns. A trip to Pittsburgh to face an angry Steelers team is not what the doctor ordered for the Seahawks. Perhaps Andrew Luck will be a Seahawk after all. Only time will tell.