The 2014 NFL season is finally underway and kickoff weekend did not fail to exceed our expectations.
While some teams lived up to their off-season hype, other teams reminded us that the old adage of “any team can win on any given Sunday” is still as true in this league as it ever was.
Thank the Lord that football is back.
Game of the Week:
The Atlanta Falcons are hoping to do in 2014 what the Kansas City Chiefs did last year, and that is to earn a trip to the playoffs after having one of the worst records in the league.
Starting off the season with a thrilling 37-34 overtime upset win over the division rival New Orleans Saints is a great way to get the ball rolling.
Personally, I think that the Falcons are an incomplete team, but if QB Matt Ryan’s performance from week one is any indication of things to come, ‘Matty Ice’ may just be able to carry this team on his shoulders (courtesy of Julio Jones and Roddy White, of course).
I targeted Ryan as my fantasy quarterback, only to have him scooped up a couple of picks before I was on the clock – and what it week it would have been to start Atlanta’s signal caller.
Ryan threw for a new franchise record of 448 yards on 31 of 43 passing with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, and as Mr. 5,000 stood on the opposing sideline we had to wonder if there will be a new member of the 5,000 club in 2014?
Brees had a solid outing (333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) but a costly fumble by Marques Colston in OT set the Falcons up for Matt Bryant’s 52-yard game-winning field goal. Bryant also nailed a 51-yarder at the end of regulation to even up the score.
Julio Jones looked like his old self out there as he hauled in 7 catches for 116 yards, but he did lose a fumble.
The Saints offense looked the part (save for the turnovers) but their revamped secondary couldn’t hang with the multitude of weapons presented by the Falcons’ O. Even recycled WR Devin Hester piled up 99 yards on 5 catches.
There’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water for Brees and the Saints; they were simply outplayed and coughing up fumbles in OT is akin to a death sentence, but it may be time to rethink Atlanta’s chances in the NFC South.
Ryan had this to say after the game: “It’s a good start, but it’s a long season.”
Performance of the Week:
Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions has always been kind of an enigma.
He came into the league toting high expectations, and while at times the gunslinger has met those expectations, at other times his decision-making (read: inopportune interceptions) has kept his team out of the post-season hunt.
In week one Stafford was able to couple sound fundamentals with his strong arm to play the perfect game.
He finished up with 346 yards on 22-of-32 passing with 2 touchdown passes and another rushing score, but more importantly he didn’t turn the ball over.
The Lions crushed the NY Giants 35-14, and should Stafford remain consistent for a full 16 games, Detroit might just compete for the NFC North crown in a season when nobody really expected them to.
Biggest Upset of the Week:
Very few people expected the Buffalo Bills to go on the road and win their opener at Soldier Field in Chicago, but a 38-yard run by Fred Jackson in overtime to get the ball down to the one-yard line set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winning field goal to push the Bills over the Bears 23-20.
Brandon Marshall went on record this off-season to say that Jay Cutler was going to have an MVP season, but in week one the Bears’ QB looked like his same old self.
Cutler put up big numbers through the air (349 yards) but tossed one interception for every TD (2 of each), and if Chicago’s going to make it to the next level their Field Marshall will need to get the turnovers under control.
EJ Manuel certainly didn’t look much better, throwing for just 173 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT, but the Bills’ dominance in the ground game proved enough to earn the victory.
Buffalo rushed for 193 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per rushing play and earning 7 first downs on the ground. On defense, they held Matt Forte and the Bears to just 86 net rushing yards.
Next weekend the Bills take on the Dolphins at home and the winner could have sole possession of first place in the AFC East after Miami upset New England 33-20. The Jets, who edged past the Raiders 19-14, are unlikely to win in week two when they travel to Green Bay.
What to Look Forward To Next Week:
– Philadelphia Eagles @ Indianapolis Colts: In week one the Eagles came back to topple the Jaguars after falling behind 17-0, but Andrew Luck and the Colts were unable to do the same at Denver, falling to the Broncos 31-24.
While it’s far too early in the season to be looking at must-win games, the Colts certainly don’t want to start the season off at 0-2, even if they are in one of the league’s weakest divisions.
This game will feature two of the league’s most dynamic offenses and could turn into a barn burning shoot-out on Monday Night Football.
– Thursday Night Football features two division rivals that always provide a competitive match-up. The Steelers, who nearly allowed the Browns to come back and beat them at home in week one, will travel to Baltimore to face a Ravens team mired in controversy over the Ray Rice domestic violence video.
Sure, the team has cut ties with the running back, but the last thing this offense needs is turmoil. Veteran Justin Forsett looks primed to carry the load after picking up 70 yards on just 11 carries with 1 TD in the loss to the Bengals.
– Can the Falcons do it again? To go 2-0 Matt Ryan will have to translate his passing game not only to the outdoors, but also on the road. Should they win at Cincinnati they’ll have half the wins they earned all last season in just two weeks.
Cincy did give up 345 yards through the air to Flacco in week one, including an 80-yarder to Steve Smith, so Jones, White and Hester could have yet another field day.
Predicting NFL results is extremely difficult, which is why most betting spreads are less than a touchdown even when conventional wisdom might say one team is a huge underdog.
Every year sports writers work endlessly from March through August to analyze draft picks, free agent moves, coaching shifts, and player development to map out what we might expect to see in the coming season.
Invariably, half of these forecasts are dead wrong … which is precisely what makes the NFL such a popular league to follow.
The games from week one go to show that you just never know what results we’ll see on game day until the clock ticks down to double zero.
It’s too early to start pointing fingers and saying “I told you so”, but let’s look at a couple of title contenders that started the season off on the wrong foot last weekend and a couple of bottom feeders that may be ready to make the leap.
1. New England Patriots: it’s no secret that the front-runners in the AFC are the Pats and the Broncos, but Brady and Belichick certainly got off to a rough start in week one at Miami.
It’s not just that the Dolphins pulled off the upset, but more so how they did it in an almost dominant fashion in the trenches. Miami out-gained the Patriots 191 to 89 yards on the ground en route to a rather convincing 33-20 win, and on many plays Revis Island looked more like Revis Peninsula.
2. Green Bay Packers: the Seattle Seahawks looked nearly unbeatable on Thursday night in their blowout 36-16 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. So what does this say about a Green Bay team that many have predicted to not only beat out the defending champs, but to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February?
The Pack will need to find a way to shore up their porous defense as they simply can’t count on outscoring every opponent all season long. Face it, the Hawks’ defense isn’t the only quality unit that Green Bay will have to face this year, particularly come playoff time.
At any rate, it’s not so much that the Packers lost on the road in perhaps the league’s most hostile environment, it’s the fact that they couldn’t even hang that has us wondering if they truly are the title contenders we’ve all presumed them to be.
3. Buffalo Bills: momentum and confidence are huge in the NFL and after winning the opener on the road against a solid Bears team, the Bills may just start to believe in themselves.
Their season still very much hinges on Manuel’s ability to advance his game, but nobody expected them to start the 2014 campaign off 1-0.
4. Minnesota Vikings: Yes, the Vikings were playing a QB-less Rams team that started the game with a back-up under center and ended the game with a non-drafted rookie free agent, but they did score 34 points against one of the toughest defenses in the league.
If Cordarelle Patterson can force teams to put less focus on Adrian Peterson, then this team could be dangerous on offense, even with Matt Cassel (170 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) at the helm.
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