We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
NFL Week 2
- Danger is everywhere
Saquon Barkley. Jimmy Garoppolo. Christian McCaffrey. Nick Bosa. Courtland Sutton. Solomon Thomas. Raheem Mostert. Tevin Coleman. That’s a lot of top-tier talent to lose in a single week of football. The Giants lost the engine of their offense and are exceedingly unlikely to win a game the rest of the season unless something changes quickly. Carolina’s McCaffrey isn’t doomed with that ankle injury, but he’ll miss several weeks, at the end of which, the 0-2 Panthers could well be out of contention in the NFC south. But no team is more snake bitten right now than San Francisco, who were already missing All-Everything tight end George Kittle and pro bowl corner back Richard Sherman before Sunday’s matchup with the Jets. In Sunday’s game, they would lose quarterback Jimmy G to a high ankle sprain, defenders Bosa and Thomas, both done for the season with torn ACLs on the same drive, plus the top two ball carriers in their running back platoon, Mostert and Coleman to hopefully less severe knee injuries that will require some time. Making matters worse for San Francisco, the NFC champs are the only team in the NFC West that isn’t undefeated after two games. It’s going to be a long year.
- Tyrod Taylor is just plain unlucky
Poor Tyrod Taylor just can’t catch a break. The Chargers had committed to Taylor as the starter going into their week two divisional game with the Chiefs, but on the first possession, there was rookie Justin Herbert under center, and Taylor was nowhere to be found. News soon emerged that Taylor had been sent to the hospital with chest pain and difficulty breathing. While coach Anthony Lynn has confirmed that Taylor is out of the hospital and will be the starter if “one-hundred percent healthy”, there might be a quarterback controversy in L.A. First off, almost no NFL player is one-hundred percent healthy, ever. So, that’s a lot of wiggle room to make the change. Second, Herbert was downright tremendous in his NFL debut against the Super Bowl champs, forcing Kansas City into overtime before finally losing on a fifty-eight-yard Harrison Butker field goal. The Chargers couldn’t possibly ask more of the former Oregon signal caller. At the end of the day, Herbert bested Patrick Mahomes in completion percentage (66.6% to 57%), passing yards (311 to 302) while throwing for a touchdown and adding another on the ground, with one interception in a game that the Chargers were most certainly not expected to be competitive in. Add that performance against a top shelf defense to Taylor’s stat line against the woeful Bengals (16/30 passing, 208 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) and the Chargers have some serious thinking to do, assuming that Taylor’s return to health makes him a factor.
- New England fans should be pretty happy about that loss
A win is a win. And a loss is a loss. The Pats lost to Seattle on Sunday night. There’s no arguing that. New England trails Buffalo in the AFC East standings. There’s no arguing that either. But these less familiar Patriots gave one of the best teams in the league all they could handle on Sunday night, coming within about a yard of the upset win in Seattle. So, here’s a few other things that Patriots fans can’t dispute, and probably wouldn’t want to.
Julian Edelman isn’t just a product of Tom Brady’s preferences as many have surmised. The sure handed receiver hauled in eight catches for a career-high 179 yards from his new quarterback, including some routes that had him streaking downfield, instead of crossing the flat and looking for gaps in opposing zone coverage. Cam Newton, for his part, looks increasingly comfortable pushing the ball down the field, connecting on 68% of his passes for just under four hundred yards in the air. He completed fifteen passes that travelled ten or more yards in the air this weekend, the most of any quarterback in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Oh, and he added two more touchdowns on the ground, and came oh-so-close to winning the game with a third. The defense wasn’t quite stout enough to contain the Seahawks aggressive passing game, as Wilson hit five different receivers for scores, but Pats fans should like what they saw in primetime. Everyone else in the AFC: not so much.
- Atlanta is historically bad at closing games out
I mean…at least it wasn’t the Super Bowl? Atlanta outscored Dallas 20-0 in the first quarter and carried a 29-10 lead into halftime. Then the wheels came off the wagon, as Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, their backs against the wall, clawed their way back. By the time the Dallas lined up for the expected onside kick with under two minutes to play, everyone knew what would happen. Atlanta froze and Dallas recovered. Dak then hit CeeDee Lamb for twenty-four yards to get into field goal range and the rest was a mere formality. In the process, Atlanta has become an interesting footnote in NFL history. It’s the first time since 1933 that a team has scored that many points, had zero turnovers, and still managed to lose a game, per Elias Sports Bureau. Atlanta has scored 64 points in the first two weeks. Only Baltimore, Green Bay, Oakland and Seattle have scored more. Those four teams are a combined 8-0. Atlanta has dropped to 0-2 and once again Dan Quinn should probably be concerned about his job prospects.
- New York City is the worst football town in America
New York may be the greatest city on earth, but when it comes to football, the city that never sleeps might want to take a nap. The two New York City (New Jersey) teams are a combined 0-4 and sport a -42 point differential after only two weeks. Both are down their star running backs, with the Jets Le’veon Bell on the injured reserve list for at least three weeks with a hamstring issue and the Giants losing Saquon Barkley for the season with a torn ACL. In week two, the Jets got blown out by a San Francisco team missing its best pass rusher (Bosa), best cornerback (Sherman), best receiving threat (Kittle), two running backs (Mostert and Coleman) and starting quarterback (Jimmy G). If coach Adam Gase isn’t feeling the heat, he more than likely will soon. As for the Giants, without Barkley, there’s just not a lot to be excited about on offense, and the defense hasn’t exactly been a lock down unit. It’s early, but it’s a fair assumption that one of these two teams will be on the clock first in the 2021 draft.
- The NFC West is the best division in football
How good is this division? Crazy, crazy good. A few points off the top after two weeks of play. The worst team of the bunch this year might have played in the Super Bowl last year. The reigning NFC champs are in the basement of the division at 1-1, and with all the injuries, it looks like San Francisco might stay there. With that in mind, the NFC West is currently 7-1 and every team in the division has a positive point differential. With the expanded playoff format, there is a not insignificant chance that every team in this division makes the playoffs. Russell Wilson is going bonkers in Seattle, completing well over 80% of his passes so far this season to pair with nine touchdowns. The Rams were a wildcard contender that won ten games in 2019, and they look much better thus far. Gone is Todd Gurley, but the play action is working again, and Jared Goff is on pace for career highs in completion percentage and yards per attempt. We all knew that Arizona was going to be better with the addition of Deandre Hopkins, but he’s been averaging over one hundred yards per game thus far, quickly making him Kyler Murray’s favorite target. It’s going to be tough to know who’ll come out on top of this division for a long time. Like, December.
- Burrow is good. Cincy isn’t
In week two, Cincinnati asked a lot of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. I mean, he was drafted first, so fair is fair. But sixty-one (61) pass attempts? Seems, I dunno, kinda excessive for a rookie quarterback who didn’t even get a preseason to work out the kinks. While he wasn’t well synced with returning star wideout A.J. Green (3 receptions, 29 yards on 13 targets), Burrow did keep the Bengals in the game with 316 yards passing and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. That should be good enough from the rookie, but the Bengals are really bad at two things. Stopping the run and winning close games. Cleveland did both. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 210 rushing yards and three TDs, while Cincy continues its abysmal record in close games. They’ve lost ten such games going back to the beginning of last year. “How many have they won”, you may ask? Zero. None. That’s why they now have Joe Burrow.
- Kirk Cousins REALLY misses Stephon Diggs
I was skeptical of the mega deal that brought Kirk Cousins to Minnesota, and even more skeptical of the deal that sent Diggs away. Before Cousins to town, the Vikings were loaded with young talent and cap space. Cousins appeared to spoil the milk in his first season (2018 record 8-7-1), bringing his brand of good stats and mediocre results to a team that had gone 13-3 in 2017. But a return to the playoffs in 2019 put things to right, as Cousins thrived with the receiving tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. But we all knew it couldn’t last. Now, two games into the season, Diggs is in Buffalo, and the Vikings are 0-2 after an absolute thrashing by the Colts. Cousins completed just eleven of twenty-six pass attempts for 113 yards and three interceptions, with no touchdowns. Thielen was effective against the Packers soft defense in week one, but the Colts locked the Vikings pass catcher down, and Kirk Cousins had nowhere else to turn. Sometimes, when teams look to improve, they look in the wrong places. Minnesota looks like they made that mistake in the offseason. Diggs is averaging almost fifteen yards per catch and almost one hundred-twenty yards per game for the 2-0 Buffalo Bills.
- Defenses are missing the cohesion that the preseason brings
In defense of the preseason, defenses really need those meaningless games to get their ducks in a row. There’s ample evidence that quarterbacks and receivers can start to get on the same page during the offseason by working out without pads on an empty field. Linebackers and safeties figuring out how to hand off coverages and communicate shifts, not so much. I’m never surprised to see defensive miscues early in the season, even with preseason games to tune up. This year it has become obvious that defenses just haven’t had time to lock it in. Good defenses tend to get stronger as the season wears on and this year will be no exception. Well coached units can begin to get ahead of opposing offenses tendencies and be more proactive in their attacks. You’ll see the better teams adjust and refine their coverages by midseason at the latest, even without the benefit of preseason, but early on, expect a bit more scoring than normal. Don’t believe me? Cool. Only eight of the league’s thirty-two teams are scoring fewer points per game thus far this season. Three of the teams that have scored slightly less: The Niners, Chiefs and Buccaneers, teams that posted gaudy offensive numbers in 2019. ‘Nuff said.
- The Las Vegas Raiders are…fun?
Say what you want about Gruden. But aside from the total lack of fans, the Las Vegas premiere of NFL football went off to perfection. In front of a raucous crowd of (checks notes) zero fans, the Raiders came back from an early 10-0 New Orleans lead to win the home opener in their new stadium 34-24. Derek Carr threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns, while Josh Jacobs ground out 88 yards on twenty-seven carries to help the Raiders to a massive edge in time of possession (36:18-23:42) and the ten point win. Drew Brees is still a very dangerous offensive weapon, but like any quarterback, he’s far less-so when he’s sitting on the bench. I’ve said any number of times that the NFL is more fun when the Raiders are good, and the Black and Silver are out to a hot start, coming out of the gate 2-0 and scoring at least thirty points in both contests. I’m crossing my fingers for playoff Gruden, because frankly, that dude is hilarious.
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Image Source: AP Images