SAC Ten Thoughts: NFL Weeks 1-3

1. The best words to describe the first three weeks of the NFL is expect the unexpected. A lot of events occurred that came completely out of the blue. A good example is the Eagles-Colts Monday Night Football game in Week 2. Andrew Luck has been 10-0 after a previous Colts loss. This means that the Colts would most likely win the game, especially after they built up a large halftime lead. However, the Eagles know a thing or two about second half comebacks, with 4 TDs in the 2nd half of their game against the Jags.  The excitement of this game would come in the 2nd half as well, where the Eagles and Colts are tied at 20 at the end of the third quarter.  In the end Andrew Luck threw an INT that soon lead to an Eagles FG to win the game.  This loss now puts the Colts at 0-2. The Colts have had tough opponents these first two weeks, but they proved that they could potentially beat the Broncos and Eagles, so they should recover nicely, especially in a relatively weak division.

2. The Cleveland Browns have also been a pleasant surprise this year. I was a little bit disappointed that Johnny Manziel would not be starting QB, but maybe he will be next year. During their first game the Browns were playing like their old self with an inefficient offense. I was very judgmental until I saw some highlights of the second half, where they started a comeback.  Even though they lost to a game-ending FG, the Browns have shown diligence and motivation.  Their big game, however, was against the Saints.  Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he is not as good on a regular field as he is in a done.  With that disadvantage factored on top of the opportunistic nature of the Browns’ defense, the Saints were in for a challenge.  The Browns were on top of the Saints heading into halftime until the Saints led a rally to come back. However, the game ended on a Browns game-ending FG. So in the end, THE BROWNS BEAT THE SAINTS. While the Browns ended up losing to the Ravens in week 3, they lost in style, losing by two points to a playoff contender. They are a respectable team with Brian Hoyer under center, so Johnny Manziel may have to wait.

3. Another surprise game was Sunday Night Football between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. These two teams have played before in the old Candlestick Park in a battle of backup QBs, where Bears Jason Campbell was beaten by new Niners starter Colin Kaepernick. In that last game the 49ers were dominant against the Cowboys, but back then Jay Cutler was injured and the 49ers had their star linebacker Navorro Bowman.  This week 2 game was also a debut, but this time for the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium.  The game at first favored the 49ers as Kaepernick throws a TD pass to his favorite WR Michael Crabtree.  The Niners were leading the Bears by 10 at the Halftime, but then the Bears scored three TDs in the Fourth quarter.  How did they score three TDs in one quarter?  The answer was Colin Kaepernick throwing two crucial INTs. These opportunities led to the Cutler Marshall connection working its magic and creating a comeback that gave way to a Bears win.  I thought the Niners had this in the bag, but it proves to show that anything can happen in football.  The two crucial components to what lead to a Niners lost were: flags on their Defense, which kept the Bears drive alive, and Kaepernick losing his confidence during the fourth quarter.  Even though the Niners could have sent the game to OT, there was still no chance, because I know the receiver who Kaepernick will throw to in game time decisions, and he is Michael Crabtree.  The Niners might have won the game if Kaepernick would throw to different receivers in crunch time instead of just one.

4. In week one, there was a true upset when the Patriots visited the Dolphins. After the Dolphins scored an opening touchdown, the Patriots rallied and held a 20-10. However, despite the injury depleted linebacking core of the Dolphins, the Miami defense suddenly tightened up and shut down the Patriots offense. On the offensive side, free agent signing Knowshon Moreno ran wild for 134 yards and scored a touchdown. For the Patriots, it was clear that their offense was not up to speed. Rob Gronkowski was limited in action, the offensive line was clearly missing Logan Mankins following his trade to Tampa, and the Patriots lacked a workhorse running back who can milk the clock and get critical first downs. The Patriots recovered to win their next two games, but there are still concerns with this team. The Vikings were without Adrian Peterson, and the Raiders would have tied the game with a minute left if it wasn’t for an interception from Vince Wilfork of all people. The Patriots defense held up its end of the bargain, not allowing a touchdown in the last seven quarters. However, the offense still has not shaken off its rust. It seems like Tom Brady’s only three options are Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen. If defenses begin to key in on these players, Brady would have a tough time. It is time for the young receivers like Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Tim Wright to step up and become viable targets.

5. Meanwhile, the biggest upset from week two has to be San Diego beating the Seahawks. In the season opener, the Seahawks thrashed the Green Bay Packers 36-16. Marshawn Lynch ran wild and the defense looked impenetrable, with Richard Sherman not being targeted once. After doing what they did to such a high powered offense, Seattle seemed unbeatable when they traveled down the Pacific for their San Diego team. While the Chargers have good pieces in QB Philip Rivers and WR Keenan Allen, they were not expected to do much against the Seahawks. However, the Chargers did not let up and ended up winning in one of the best games so far. The crowd was electric and the Chargers were unintimidated. In fact, they targeted Richard Sherman six times, exposing one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Also, Kam Chancellor was outplayed by Antonio Gates, who turned back the clock to score three touchdowns. Perhaps it says more about the Chargers and their lethal offense with talent stacked all over on the offense. Either way, the Chargers have made a statement of legitimacy with this game.

6. The Green Bay Packers desperately needed a rebound game in order to set themselves on the right course for the rest of the season. They had a terrible start to the season in Seattle, but the Packers thought that beating the Jets in Week 2 would have set themselves on the path of winning the NFC North again. That wasn’t the case however. This week, the Packers lost to the Lions. The biggest worry about this game for Green Bay was not that they lost, but the way they lost. The defense had a respectable game, getting three turnovers, but this time it was the offense who failed to take advantage. It is truly a worrying sign for the Packers, and with weapons like Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, it is baffling how they were held to only seven points against the Lions defense. The Packers need to pick up their act against their division rival Bears, or else they would likely miss the playoffs this year.

7. After an inexplicably disappointing season last year, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are back to their winning ways after a great start to their season. A loss to the Cincinatti Bengals was sandwiched between an impressive comeback overtime victory against New Orleans, and an obscenely one sided 56-14 victory over Tampa Bay that was over in the first quarter. Julio Jones has been simply amazing so far, and the rest of the team has also been putting together some grade A football. The Falcons’ play bring about an interesting NFC playoff picture. Both the NFC West and NFC South have three teams that could conceivably get ten victories this year, so this means that there will be two deserving teams that won’t make the playoffs this year. My money is on the Cardinals and Panthers. The Cardinals have played well, but having to play the Niners and Seahawks twice a year puts quite the dent on one’s record. As for the Panthers, the defense has played fantastic, but Cam Newton simply does not have the weapons surrounding him to win games against top notch teams.

8. For all the upsets in the first two weeks of the season, it seemed like Week 3 was the week where every team that was supposed to win won. Of course, there were still some upsets, like the Cardinals beating the 49ers and the Steelers beating Carolina on the road. But largely, there weren’t too many surprises, especially compared to the last two weeks. The Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints recovered from their surprisingly poor starts to win their games against the Dolphins and Vikings respectively. Whether these teams will make the playoffs is another issue. The Chiefs look to have lost their luster, especially with their defense not performing nearly as well as last year. As for the Saints, they are a strong team, but they’re in a tough division and conference, so making the playoffs won’t be easy. In addition, the Bengals continue to dominate their opponents with a blowout over the Tennessee Titans. They have quietly amassed a 3-0 record with Giovani Bernard, AJ Green and the ever-versatile Mohamed Sanu putting up points and the defense holding opponents to 11 points per game so far. And while Andy Dalton isn’t posting eye popping numbers, he is doing well enough for the team to be in this position on top of the AFC. If Dalton continues his success, his $115 million contract won’t look too ridiculous anymore.

9. To be honest, Week 3’s Broncos/Seahawks matchup should have been the Super Bowl matchup as opposed to the 35 point thrashing that it was. This game had it all. Two quarters of lockdown defense, and two quarters of quick offense. After the first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie, the Seahawks broke out in the second quarter with two Russell Wilson touchdown passes to Ricardo Lockette (fulfilling the unknown player scoring in a big game theme the Seahawks are known for) and Marshawn Lynch. Going into the fourth quarter, it seemed like the Seahawks would silence the Broncos offense just like they did in February, but that was not to be. Peyton Manning demonstrated why he’s a Hall of Fame lock by throwing touchdowns to Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme, and then converting the game tying two point conversion to Demaryius Thomas, forcing overtime. However, Manning never saw the football in overtime, as the Seahawks drove the ball down the field until Marshawn Lynch scored the game winning touchdown on a six yard run. Unlike their previous match, this game was played like a true clash of the titans between the two best teams in the NFL. Here’s hoping for many more games like it.

10. Over the past few weeks, the NFL has faced a very upsetting and disappointing chain of PR moves that I still am not convinced are truly over. From Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson, these indignities have put a black mark on the NFL, with many calling on commissioner Roger Goodell to resign. These scandals are reprehensible and newest information suggests that they may hit the very top in the case of Ray Rice, where NFL officials and Ravens ownership have covered up information about the infamous Ray Rice video. With more scandals and suspensions being dished out, these seem to be dark days for the NFL. However, it is important to still remember that the NFL isn’t a league of felons, and that there are many good people who play football. With class acts like JJ Watt, Charles Tillman and Ma’ake Kemoatu out there, we need to be sure not to put a blanket of blame on football itself, and instead seek justice for those who were wronged.

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