Week 1 of the NFL is in the books, so let’s go division-by-division with some observations…
NFC EAST: The big stories of Week 1 are all right here and there’s plenty of chances to overreact. Does Robert Griffin III’s fantastic debut—called the best ever by a rookie quarterback in the NFL yesterday by the normally reserved Michael Wilbon on ESPN—mean the Redskins are a division contender? Do Michael Vick’s four interceptions mean more than the fact he ultimately led a game-winning drive to push Philadelphia past Cleveland? Are the Giants headed for another pedestrian regular season or are the Cowboys now real Super Bowl material? For now, let’s just focus on the last point—we already know Dallas is capable of looking very good. What we don’t know is if they’ll string together consistent wins or if a clunker home loss is waiting in the wings. How about we see if they can at least go like 4-1 or 6-2 before we book passage to New Orleans for the Super Bowl?
NFC NORTH: I’m going to hold back on Green Bay’s poor defensive showing against San Francisco and Chicago’s win over Indy, since the Packers-Bears play Thursday night and we’ll talk about both teams more in depth in just two days. For now, let’s look at Detroit. Does their narrow home win over St. Louis mean a warning sign for the Lions, or instead an indicator the Rams will be improved? I’m concerned about Matthew Stafford’s three picks, but given the presence of Jeff Fischer on the St. Louis sideline and the talent the Rams have on the defensive front I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to St. Louis and say this was just a case of a team going from awful to at least semi-competent and semi-competent in the NFL means you can at least compete week-in and week-out.
NFC SOUTH: Just like Detroit gets the benefit of the doubt, so does Carolina. I think Tampa’s 16-10 home win over the Panthers is more a sign that the Bucs are going to be respectable this year than it is a sign of Carolina being overrated. At the start of the year I picked Carolina to go 9-7 and Tampa to shoot up to 8-8, so a home win for the Bucs fits that landscape.
NFC WEST: We’ll look at San Francisco in more depth tomorrow after their win in Green Bay has moved them to the forefront of Super Bowl discussion (to the extent the Niners weren’t there already). But I want to throw a second-guess at Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, or at least whomever handles the play-calling. The Seahawks trail Arizona by six points, and have three shots at the end zone. Russell Wilson is a quarterback who’s short, with some accuracy issues, but very mobile and good on the run. So does Seattle roll him out and let him create something? No, they run three straight pure dropback passes and fail to get in the end zone. I like to give coaches the benefit of the doubt, because I think they probably often have legitimate reasons for their decisions, even if they don’t work out. I’ll give the same to Carroll and his staff regarding this play-calling. I just wish I knew what the rationale was, because it escaped me.
AFC EAST: I know the media will want to talk about the Jets, but I can’t get past just how bad Buffalo was. I wasn’t a part of the modestly crowded Bills’ bandwagon to start the season, but I wouldn’t have expected the team to be this bad. How much longer do they stay with Ryan Fitzpatrick, after he throws three interceptions? And the most alarming stat anywhere in the NFL? Buffalo, after signing Mario Williams in the offseason not only ends up with zero sacks—against a questionable offensive line—but zero QB hits.
AFC NORTH: Even those of us who think Baltimore is in decline (I say “those of us” as though there were more people than just me thinking that) have to do a double-take after last night’s 44-13 thrashing of Cincinnati. Joe Flacco played the part of the quarterback having a breakout year and the defense produced four sacks. The concern? Cincinnati established the run, with 129 yards on the ground.
AFC SOUTH: Very disappointing effort from Tennessee. The Titans might not have been expected to win against New England, even at home, but the rushing game was non-existent and if that’s going to be a pattern than it will be a long year in Nashville. And though Jacksonville didn’t play badly in an overtime loss at Minnesota, if they can’t beat the Vikings, where are the wins going to come from?
AFC WEST: I’m sure everyone has heard plenty of pundit-talk about Peyton Manning’s play on Sunday night and this is a case where the mainstream commentary is pretty well right on. San Diego got a nice win on the road over Oakland, but that has the look of a game that was more about Raider incompetence offensively. And though Phillip Rivers’ completed 24/33 passes, the fact those completions only got 231 yards against a lousy secondary has to be a least a yellow flag. Last night might have been a 7-9 team beating a 5-11 team.