This is why we like the NFL
Week 1 of the NFL reminded us why we like football.
We saw AFC powerhouses Indianapolis and San Diego defeated by Chicago and Carolina, respectively. Also among the major upsets were Atlanta’s trouncing of Detroit, Buffalo’s drubbing of Seattle, and Tennessee’s solid victory over Jacksonville.
And if not for a dropped touchdown by wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City may have pulled the shocker over New England in Foxboro, which would have marked the first time that the Patriots, Colts, and Chargers all lost on the same day since Dec. 22, 2002.
One might point out that the Chiefs’ chance at victory came largely due to the absence of NFL MVP Tom Brady, but it was still a tremendous effort for Kansas City to keep up with a team that can fill seemingly any position.
Brady’s knee injury, which will keep him off the field for the entire 2008 campaign, surely had fantasy football owners crying at their computers, while it left my prediction of New England as Super Bowl Champions spiraling downwards (Due to this severe injury I have revised my predictions, and I now have Philadelphia defeating Pittsburgh in an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl).
Brady wasn’t the only quarterback injured in the season’s first week. Tennessee’s Vince Young will miss 2-4 weeks with a sprained MCL, while Tampa Bay’s Jeff Garcia will also be out of the starting lineup in Week 2 with a sprained ankle. Other teams bitten hard by the injury bug include Seattle, who had starting running back Maurice Morris leave and receiver Nate Burleson placed on injured reserve, Indianapolis, who saw Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark leave Sunday night’s game with injuries, and San Diego, whose All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman belatedly chose to have season-ending surgery to avoid permanent knee damage.
Another major storyline in the NFL’s opening weekend was the success of offensive rookies around the league. Highly-touted runner Darren McFadden looked effective in his limited work for Oakland against Denver, while Detroit running back Kevin Smith lived up to his tremendous college success with a nice outing in Atlanta.
Rookie receivers also shined, as Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson caught six balls for 106 yards and Denver’s Eddie Royal had nine receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. And, for the first time since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970, two rookie quarterbacks took their rookie coaches to Week 1 victories, as Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco secured victories for the Falcons and Ravens respectively.
With the first weekend in the books, it’s time to hand out Week 1 awards.
Most Impressive Team: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles stomped all over St. Louis en route to a 38-3 blowout, with Donovan McNabb putting up 361 yards and 3 TDs while hitting seven different receivers.
Best Offensive Performance: Denver Broncos
Jay Cutler shredded one of the league’s best secondaries for 41 points with an astounding 18.7 yards per completion and the Broncos racked up 441 yards in total offense.
Best Defensive Performance: Chicago Bears
Chicago looked like the Bears of 2006, holding Peyton Manning and company to 13 points while taking a fumble back for a touchdown.
Fantasy Stud of the Week: Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Turner more than exceeded expectations in his Falcons debut, rushing for a team record 220 yards on 20 carries while finding the end zone twice.
Rookie of the Week: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos (three-way tie)
It’s hard to argue with Ryan, whose first career pass went for a 61-yard touchdown, but Flacco ran for a 38-yard touchdown en route to his first career victory, while Royal dominated Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall for 146 yards and a touchdown.
As we head toward Week 2, some major things to watch for will include performances by backup quarterbacks now in the starting lineup (Matt Cassell, Brian Griese, and Kerry Collins) and responses by playoff contending teams to Week 1 disappointments (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Diego, Minnesota, Seattle, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay). Here are your games to watch for this weekend:
Indianapolis at Minnesota
This game sees two highly talented teams clash after frustrating losses to NFC North teams, trying to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. The outcome will most likely be decided by who wins the battle in the trenches when Indianapolis has the ball, as the Vikings stacked defensive line will hope to put a lot of pressure in Peyton Manning. I like the Colts to squeeze this one out late in a high scoring thriller.
New England at New York
A game that would seem destined for a blowout just one year ago, the Jets-Patriots rivalry has now taken on new meaning. As the Jets have added a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, the Patriots have lost their MVP caliber quarterback. The deciding factor will likely be how well the Patriots defense can take advantage of Brett Favre’s mistakes. I see a low scoring game that comes down to the wire.
Winner: New England
San Diego at Denver
While most experts are handing the division to the reigning AFC West champion Chargers, San Diego managed to lose their first game on the final play at home against Carolina. The Bolts also head into Week 2 with Shawne Merriman lost for the season and minor injuries to Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Marcus McNeil. The Broncos, on the other hand, are coming off a dominating victory, albeit over the helpless Raiders, and will be playing at home in their thin air. I’m looking for Jay Cutler to have a monster day and for the Broncos to jump out to an early lead.
Game of the Week: Philadelphia at Dallas
In a clash between the two best teams in the NFL’s strongest division, the Eagles fly into Dallas on Monday night looking to continue their Week 1 dominance. Dallas looked very sharp in a 28-10 victory over Cleveland, and should be more than ready for their biggest rival in their home opener. Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are fully healthy for Philadelphia, while Marion Barber is a bit banged up for the Cowboys. This one could turn quickly into a shootout, but I like the Eagles to seal a single-digit upset with an Asante Samuel interception late in the fourth quarter.
When not dazzling on the soccer pitch for Battle Mountain, Davey DeChant breaks down the NFL for the Vail Daily.