Week 1: What I liked, what I didn’t and quick picks

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Christmas morning, Spring Break, your birthday or to a lesser extent,  the weekend. We look forward to special days with great expectations and anxious minds and before we know it, they’ve come and gone. It’s no different with the opening weekend of the NFL season. For months we break down positional battles, speculate about rookie or free agent additions and for a lot of us, pore over Fantasy Football rankings and mock drafts. We have get-togethers, some elaborate, some not so elaborate, with food, drinks and friends, and just like Christmas morning, it’s over in what feels like a blink of an eye. Despite the whirlwind feel, Week 1 started at 8:30 eastern on Thursday and didn’t end until well after midnight on Monday. I love sports, but dang, that’s a ton of football. With that block of time being consumed by one sport, there’s going to be a lot to digest. Some of it good, some if it bad. Let’s take a look at what I liked, and what I hated:

Things I liked:

Being right: Picking winners and losers is an exercise in futility, but thanks to a run of luck, I went 13-3 last week. Naturally, I didn’t place any wagers, so it didn’t help me. The first time I place bets, I can guarantee an 0-16 week.  Anytime you pick any type of upset, it feels good, so the Rams beating the Seahawks made me feel like a proud parent.

One last weekend of West Coast Time viewing: I leave for Indiana on the 18th, and with that move I transition back to the dreaded East Coast time zone. As someone who both gets up early and gets very grouchy without proper sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to watch Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night games and still being able to get to bed at a decent hour. I’m sure that I’ll adjust to the late nights, but I apologize in advance to my friends, family and future co-workers for my grumpiness after night games.

San Diego’s Uniform Strategy: 
San Diego is known for it’s beaches, mexican food, homeless friendliness and most of the year, it’s perfect weather. However, anyone who has lived in, or visited San Diego in September knows that it’s not always perfect. While most parts of the country experience their worst heat and humidity in July and August, Southern California gets blasted in September and October. The Chargers coaches know this and plan accordingly by using their uniform choice to wear their road whites rather than the traditional dark home jerseys. It may not be a huge difference, but the margins are so small in the NFL that every bit helps. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Lions wilted in the second half as the temperatures climbed and the players boiled in the dark jerseys.

A competitive Bears team: 
I know it’s loser talk, but after 2 years under Dr. Death (Marc Trestman), it was refreshing to watch a Bears team that actually knew where to lineup, didn’t commit dumb penalties and didn’t quit after going behind in a game. It’s depressing that the franchise has sunk so low that I’m essentially passing out participation ribbons, but as Matt Forte said at least “Nobody had that stupid look on their face”. They still got shredded by Aaron Rodgers, but he’ll do that to a lot of people. I’m rooting for 16 competitive games, 16 Bears’ losses and Sparty QB, Connor Cook in a Bears’ uniform next season.

Star Wide Receivers Running Wild: If you’re a fan of gigantic, shifty, fast or freakishly athletic wide receivers, then this is your nirvana. Whether it was Julio Jones‘ physical dominance, Tyler Lockett and Jarvis Landry’s outrageous speed or just Gronk being Gronk, receivers ruled the week. Thanks to restrictions on big hits and overly physical play, teams have taken to the air more than ever and while the defensive purists may cry and moan, it’s definitely exciting.

Things I hated:
Being wrong: 
I devoted roughly 1000 words to why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to be the “it” team of the year and win the NFC South. It’s too early to completely abandon ship, but they looked pretty awful and Jameis Winston didn’t look ready for the big stage.

Injuries: One of the things that turns my stomach when I watch football is the physical damage players are doing to themselves and each other. I understand that they are highly paid adults who are not coerced into participating, but I still don’t like the harm involved. Every week brings us a set of injuries, and this week was no exception. We already lost Kelvin Benjamin and Jordy Nelson to torn ACL’s, and this week we lost several stars on a short term basis. Luke Keuchly missed the second half with a concussion, T.Y. Hilton has a knee injury which could keep him out for a few weeks and Dez Bryant has a broken foot. If we learned nothing else from the past, we at least learned that you should underestimate the severity of, or rush the recovery from foot injuries.

Trent Dilfer and Chris Berman’s assault on a national audience: It’s bad enough that we’re subjected to Chris Berman’s nonsensical ramblings on Sunday morning’s preview shows and during the home run derby, but for the love of all things holy, what did we do to deserve a further dose of his lunacy? Combined with Trent Dilfer’s manic intensity and the awful quality of the ‘Niners/Vikings game, I opted for a double dose of Tylenol PM and a full night’s sleep. Back, back, back, back gone! Indeed. 

Bad Quarterback Play: It’s said often, but along with a superstar in the NBA, no position is more important than Quarterback. When the position is played well, offenses are a joy to watch, but when it’s played badly…. woof. It’s bad enough when QB’s play badly, but some of what went on Sunday should be considered at least a misdemeanor for public indecency. At least most players had the decency to keep the bad play isolated to one team, but Denver and Baltimore conspired to bring us 2 quarterbacks whose combined salary (29.9 Million) was barely lower than their combined QBR for the game (39.3). I know that both players will rebound as the season goes along, but week 1 was a big pile of bad.

Thursday Night
Kansas City v. Denver: The Chiefs defense looked as good as advertised in their dominance of the Texans in week 1, and this may be the best version of Alex Smith thus far. With Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, Kansas City has legitimate offensive weapons for the first time in years. It’s more than a little disconcerting to see Jamaal Charles bottled up like he was, so the offensive line will need to improve for me to consider this offense anything more than average.
Peyton Manning has looked old before, but Sunday was a whole different level of bad. The throws lacked zip and accuracy, and he looked as uncomfortable as I’ve seen him in a long time. The offensive line was even worse than I expected, causing the running game to be non-existent and the passing game to bog down completely. They never found a rhythm, and Peyton Manning is all about rhythm. Luckily for them, that defense is ridiculous.There’s no shortage of playmakers in the front 7 or the secondary and that will be enough to carry them until the O-line can gel.
Prediction: I’ve been burned before by giving up on Peyton Manning too early. I think rumors of his demise are slightly exaggerated. He’s not the Manning of old, but he’s got enough left to still be a quality quarterback. The Broncos defense is among the elite in the league, and I don’t trust Alex Smith to move the ball against that pressure. Broncos 27 Chiefs 21.

As I said before, I’m in the process of moving, so I don’t have the time I would like to put into this week, so you get off easy and get to avoid a 5000 word monstrosity this week. My picks for week 2:

Texans 23 Panthers 21: The Panthers have no  weapons for Cam, and the Texans showed signs of life under Mallett. JJ Watt is still an absolute monster, and the Carolina O-line is abysmal. Poor Cam.

Steelers 31 49ers 20: It’ll take more than one week for me to buy in on this ‘Niners team, and that Steelers offense was even more terrifying than I expected. I like the Steelers in a bit of a shootout.

Saints 35 Bucs 21: I’m not jumping ship on the Tampa Bay season quite yet, but the Superdome is a tough place to play, no matter how mediocre the Saints are. I still believe in Jameis Winston, but the comeback starts in week 3.

Vikings 24 Lions 23: Oof, that Vikings O-line was brutal on Monday night. Luckily for them, they’re facing a Lions’ defense that looked severely overmatched against San Diego. See my last pick- I still believe in Teddy Bridgewater, the comeback starts now.

Cardinals 27 Bears 20: I’ve talked as much about the Bears as I can stand. The coaching is good enough that they’ll be competitive and competent, but there’s still no talent on defense. Arizona loves to throw deep, and the Bears love to give up big plays.

Patriots 34 Bills 19: Thank you, Buffalo. For one week, you were my favorite team, and now it’s time to go back to reality. I love the Tyrod Taylor experiment, but the O-line is still horrendous. The Patriots thrive on isolating weaknesses, and this week will be no different.

Bengals 28 Chargers 20: Everyone in San Diego was jacked up over last weeks’ win against Detroit, but what it really showed was the Lions’ weaknesses. I’m not sold on the Andy Dalton Project, but with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard behind an elite offensive line, he doesn’t have to be great, just good enough.

Titans 24 Browns 13: Marcus Mariota was electric in his first start for Tennessee, and the Browns were as bad as advertised. However, the second start is tougher for a rookie QB, since teams have film on him. I still believe enough in his talent and in the weakness of the Browns. Johnny Manziel is exciting, but he’s also not good at football.

Falcons 31 Giants 23: Odell Beckham and Julio Jones will be playing in the same game. There’s at least a 50 percent chance that my head will explode at some point. Both of these defenses are garbage, and both coaches love to throw. It won’t be fun for defensive junkies, but it will definitely be exciting.

Rams 38 Washington 17:  With the way people reacted to the Rams win over Seattle, you would think that the US had beaten Russia all over again. This win was no stroke of luck; what should really make Rams’ fans happy is how comfortable St. Louis looked in the victory. This wasn’t like last years’ trick play-fueled upset. This was a legitimate victory in a game where they outplayed Seattle. In Washington, they may have a different player under center, but the position is still a mess. Things are bad in Washington and don’t look like they’re going to improve any time soon.

Dolphins 27 Jaguars 16: The Dolphins didn’t blow me away in their win over Washington, but they at least showed some flashes of above average-ness. The defense is incredibly thin, but Suh covers up a lot of holes. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is slowly moving in the right direction. Bortles is still bad, but he looks more like an NFL quarterback in his second season. The pieces are in place, but there just aren’t enough pieces.

Ravens 31 Raiders 10: Nothing cures a bad offense like a trip to Oakland. Joe Flacco looked like Rex Grossman circa 2006 against the Broncos’ defense, but Oakland’s D is a far cry from good. Amari Cooper looked as polished and explosive as expected last week, and it will be fun to watch him improve every week. Just like Jacksonville, some of the pieces are in place, but the Raiders are a long way from relevant.

Eagles 27 Cowboys 23: Poor Tony Romo. One botched hold and some bad luck, and he’s labeled a loser who can’t come through under pressure. Despite some unlucky bounces, he worked with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning to win Sunday Night’s game last week, but now he’ll be without Dez Bryant for the foreseeable future. I still think they’re the better team, but on the road in Philly is a bad place to have to re-configure your offense on the fly.

Seahawks 28 Packers 24: In what should be the game of the week, I’m interested to see how Seattle’s offense can hold up against the aggressive Packers’ front 7. The game plan for St. Louis was to play coverage and keep Wilson in the pocket. He played a solid game, considering the lack of a running threat and intense defensive pressure, but the defense just couldn’t get any stops against the Rams. Meanwhile, Green Bay just keeps on rolling with business as usual. Even without Jordy Nelson, the offense is scary and borderline unstoppable. The Seahawks are a proud group, and proud players tend to bounce back well from embarrassment. I’m worried about their success long-term, but for this week at least, they’ll recover their swagger.

Colts 34 Jets 27: I still believe in the Colts, but the defense looked abysmal against Buffalo and the offensive line couldn’t protect Andrew Luck long enough to move the ball downfield. The Jets’ defensive line is as good as any in football and will provide another challenge to Indy. For New York, the running game looked as solid as ever against a shaky Browns run defense, and they get another defensive cupcake in Indianapolis. Despite his shortcomings, even Ryan Fitzpatrick can be competent when he faces bad defenses. If he’s going to make the MVP run, it’s a good time for Andrew Luck to start.

It’s good to have football back in our lives. As always, enjoy the games, enjoy the people around you and make sure to always overreact to everything that happens. If your team wins, live it up; and if they lose, it’s probably the end of the world. At least until the next game.

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