The 2014 NFL season has officially detonated, and bettors who are left stacking their winnings or mourning their losses after a thrilling Week 1 all have one thing in common: everyone want to do better in Week 2.
With that in mind, here are a few fears, revelations, and overreactions from opening week. We did learn something, didn’t we? I hope so…
— The Champs are back
The Thursday night opener feels like a long time ago with so much happening in the meantime, but in retrospect no team looked better in their season opener than the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who thoroughly dominated a Green Bay team that most expect to be a playoff contender. We can put all the “Super Bowl hangover” questions to rest.
— Return of the Falcons
Many people confidently predicted that the Falcons would return to their “almost elite” status this year after a rash of injuries derailed their 2013 season, others (like me) weren’t so sure that it was as simple as “our offense is healthy again, so we’re a great team again.”
Well, after one week it looks like it might’ve been that simple. Matt Ryan lit up a New Orleans defense that ranked 4th in the league last season (more on them in a minute) to the tune of 448 yards and 3 touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a come-from-behind victory over the favored Saints. Now, this may fall in the “overreaction” category, but it sure looks like the Atlanta offense will be one of the NFL’s best this season after struggling mightily in 2013. The defense is another issue, but right now those preseason Falcons Believers are looking smart.
— Clock strikes midnight for Saints D?
No team in the history of the NFL has seen a more drastic one-year improvement in the quality of their defense than the 2013 New Orleans Saints. The Saints allowed more yards than any team in NFL history in 2012, which is why they missed the playoffs despite having a top-5 offense. Last year, though, new coordinator Rob Ryan oversaw an almost unthinkable turnaround: the Saints suddenly had one of the league’s best defenses, a unit that ranked 4th in both yards allowed and points allowed. Everyone wondered– what gives? There wasn’t any single draft pick or free agent acquisition you could chalk it up to, so some heaped praise onto Rob Ryan while others assumed Creole Voodoo was the culprit.
Whatever the case, we’re left to wonder if the magic has worn off after what we saw on Sunday, when the Saints surrendered 568 total yards and 37 points to division rival Atlanta, a team they’re intimately familiar with. Is the New Orleans defense going to return to their sieve-like form of 2012, or was Week 1 just a blip on the radar of a Super Bowl contender?
— The Eagles are who we thought they were. And for that matter, so are the Jags.
Week 1 is always full of surprises, but at halftime of the early games many NFL observers were re-thinking the basic laws of nature because of one score:
Jacksonville 17, Philadelphia 0
The Eagles, a double-digit home favorite that is expected to be a serious contender in the NFC this season, were getting it handed to them by the lowly Jags, a team that is 6-26 in their last 32 games. And then, suddenly, the true colors of both teams emerged. Philly totally dominated the 2nd half, outscoring the Jaguars 34-0 and effectively squashing any glimmer of hope that the long-suffering Jacksonville fan base had for this season. Yes, in immortal the words of Dennis Green, THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE, in both cases.
— Sad times in St. Louis
The Sam Bradford injury was depressing for all involved, but in the days leading up to the season there was a renewed sense of “it’s okay, we can still do this” among Rams supporters.
“Bradford was never that good anyway”
“Shaun Hill has never really been given a chance, this is going to be Josh McCown ’13 all over again”
“The Rams are a defense/run the ball team anyway, Hill will be good enough”
“Jeff Fisher has won in these circumstances before. Remember Kerry Collins in ’08?”
Sound familiar? This is what some were saying about the 2014 Rams, and if you tried hard enough you could make yourself believe some of it. “That’s true, Bradford was never that good, maybe there won’t be much of a dropoff at QB and the Rams will be undervalued…”
This isn’t about Bradford’s worth or lack thereof; he’s been a tremendous disappointment since coming into the league, no one would dispute that. No, what really stood out on Sunday in St. Louis, when the Rams were steamrolled by a team that most picked to finish last in their division, was the all-encompassing hopelessness of the situation. This team just looks so, so bad. The Jeff Fisher Rebuild is well underway and to say the results are ‘underwhelming’ is putting it mildly, which has to be both surprising and thoroughly demoralizing for Rams fans.
— J.J. Watt is peerless
From the “Captain Obvious” department, but worth mentioning nonetheless: J.J. Watt is a generational talent who single-handedly controls a game in a way that hasn’t been seen from a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor. Think this is hyperbole, eh? Rolling your eyes as you’re reading this? I challenge you to watch his performance in Sunday’s victory over Washington and tell me I’m wrong (the NFL network, in their infinite wisdom, re-broadcasts every game with the “dead time” in-between plays removed, it’s called NFL Game Rewind).
Coming into the season all the talk centered on new arrival Jadeveon Clowney and what the Houston defense would look like with him lined up opposite Watt. However, Watt was so singularly dominant in Sunday’s game that Clowney’s knee injury, which sidelined him for most of the game and will cause him to miss 4-6 weeks, felt like a total non-issue. Compared to Watt, Clowney is nothing more than a role player, and that was plain for all to see. If you watched the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
— Reality check in Tampa
Every year it seems like there’s a team (or teams) that people get all worked up about in the offseason, and then Week 1 comes like a bucket of ice water for a drunk: they instantly snap to their senses and realize that they’ve backed the wrong horse.
Like many others, I had high hopes for the Bucs heading into this season. Lovie Smith is a quality coach with a track record of building excellent defenses, he has some talent to work with in Tampa, and the offense has difference-makers at the skill positions. It was easy to talk yourself into liking the Bucs, which is why they opened the season as a home favorite against Carolina, a team that won 12 games a year ago. Then, of course, the “bucket of water” moment: the Tampa offense is, in fact, awful. Awful, awful, awful. They look very similar to the unit that finished 32nd (a.k.a. dead last) in total offense last season, despite the supposed “upgrade” at quarterback (if you’ve seen some of McCown’s “highlights” from the game, you understand the use of the quotations for both ‘upgrade’ and ‘highlights’). Yes, the defense was salty at times and I realize the offense was going up against the stout Carolina D, but it doesn’t change the fact that Sunday threw a big wet towel over the hopes of Buccaneers fans.
— Same old Cowboys? No, it’s worse than that
While watching Dallas’ deflating season-opening loss to San Francisco, there were plenty of “same old Cowboys” and “same old Romo” moments, and it was nice to get that yearly kick in the pants right off the bat, lest we forget: The Cowboys Are Not To Be Trusted.
However, upon further reflection I think the situation may be more dire than “same old Cowboys.” After all, saying they’re the ‘same’ implies that this season’s team will be as good as the Dallas teams of years past, who wound up with 8 victories in 2011, 2012, and 2013. No, I’m afraid 8-8 may be a bit optimistic for this year’s bunch. Romo looks old, the offense as a whole looks out of sync, and the defense looks as bad as ever. This may be a Week 1 Overreaction, we’ll know in a few weeks, but the Cowboys certainly don’t strike you as a reliable team right now, do they? So in that sense, I guess… same old Cowboys.
— Cardinals are for real
If you missed the nightcap on Monday you missed a good one, as Carson Palmer eventually out-dueled Philip Rivers in a game that was competitive throughout. And despite the fact that the Cardinals didn’t cover (-3) and their offense sputtered at times, I came away from the game with one strong impression: the Cardinals are a legitimate contender.
I was one of many who thought that we would see significant regression in Arizona this year; after all, they play in the NFC West, one of the league’s toughest divisions, and they entered the 2014 season without several players who had been leaders on their defense in 2013, guys like Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby, and Darnell Dockett. After their performance against San Diego, though, I’ve been forced to change my thinking a bit. It’s clear that the Cardinals will still have one of the league’s better defenses, and the emergence of young players like Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington means that the Arizona offense will be something more than the Larry Fitzgerald Show for the first time in awhile. Big things could be brewing in Arizona… keep an eye on this team.
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