Week 2: Reacting to week 1 and looking ahead at an exciting slate of games

Sep. 13, 2018

Hello and welcome to week 2 of ‘An Englishman’s thoughts from across the pond’. With plenty of exciting storylines coming out of week 1, there is so much for the NFL fan to digest. Here is a brief look at the key storylines and potential game winners…

1) Are the Eagles legitimate contenders even while Carson Wentz is still on the side-line?

Their Thursday night win over the Falcons proved two things about the defending Superbowl champions. First that they don’t get panicked by a slow start and playing from behind, the second their defense is still scary good. Slowing down the Falcons is no mean feat and although it was week 1 they proved that they are ready for the challenge of returning to big game. Nick Foles certainly has his limitations but what he does provide is a veteran arm, he fits effectively in the scheme that is put in front of him and he is not afraid of the moment. Carson Wentz certainly raises the ceiling of this roster, but even without him this team is capable of challenging the best of the NFL which should be a scary warning for those looking ahead towards the postseason.

2) Is this the year the Dolphins finally manage to match expectations and challenge the Patriots in the AFC East?

Ryan Tannehill on Sunday finally showed the progress that the Dolphins were talking about last summer before he blew out his ACL. With the pressure very much on him and Adam Gase this season, the Dolphins showed poise and effective execution in putting away the Titans last week. Both their offense and defense look to have improved over the offseason, and so they are likely to be closer to the Patriots than they have been for a long time. Ultimately I think they are still some way behind New England until they can prove two things: 1) Consistency 2) Beating New England. Until they can show meaningful progress in both of those departments they are likely to flatter to deceive for a bit longer.

3) Are the Jets for real after their dominant week 1 performance in Detroit?

The Jets certainly flummoxed most NFL prognosticators with their truly dominant performance on Monday night. The answer to the question above likely sits somewhere in the middle of being for real and rebuilding for another year. Clearly their defense has really stepped up their level from last year with key young starters showing clear growth (Jamaal Adams an obvious one) but at the same time they took advantage from some very sloppy play by Matthew Stafford, something they are unlikely to see every week. What this team is more likely to be judged by is its offense, which is still young, unknown and unproven. I’d expect that while it remains that way the playoffs may be a step to far, but don’t be surprised to see Sam Darnold and the Jets ready to break out in a years’ time.

4) Which 0-1 team is looking like they may be in for a long season?

The Bills are certainly in with a shout here, but considering they are the focus of my next question I am going to focus on the Raiders. Everything about their Sunday afternoon performance especially in the 2nd half signified some real issues for Jon Gruden to fix and are potentially of his own making. Derek Carr currently looks like a shell of his former self, the defense was struggling to get any pressure on the Rams offense and the fans have already turned against the team for simple reasons such as their imminent departure from Oakland. The writing is by no means on the wall, but the high paid Gruden is certainly going to have his work cut out for him if this is the kind of performance the Raiders fan base can expect every week especially given the fact he was brought in to elevate the performance of Derek Carr.

5) How will the Bills fare now that Rookie QB Josh Allen has been named as starting QB?

The announcement from Buffalo is unsurprising given their performance last week in Baltimore. Nathan Peterman looked totally outmatched by the Ravens defense and although he wasn’t helped by his offensive line or RB’s, his performance certainly didn’t inspire confidence. Although the team clearly wanted Josh Allen to sit for a while that plan has changed and it will be interesting to see how he fairs. The Bills roster certainly has some holes in it and no matter who they have under center there are likely to be weeks where they really struggle. Allen will certainly move the needle in a positive direction but I would be surprised if that change comes immediately. Bringing in a rookie QB tends to suggest that a team is looking to rebuild around its young talent, it will be interesting to see how competitive the Bills are this weekend.

6) How long will the timeless Drew Brees continue to impress in New Orleans? Can the Saints live up to their preseason hype?

Drew Brees as ever was extremely impressive in his season debut going into his age 39 season. With the strength of the weapons around him and Mark Ingram yet to come back from suspension I’d expect him to keep up his high level of performance for the rest of the season. What is more questionable is whether the Saints themselves can build off their performance last season and hype that was building in the preseason. Their defense was bulldozed by the Bucs and their backup QB which should send alarm bells through Sean Payton’s squad. Although it is important not to overreact to a week 1 performance, this team’s defense is likely to be heavily scrutinised until they can live up the performance of their 39 year old QB and offense. If they can’t, the Saints are likely to struggle in a very competitive division and conference.

7) Are the Bears finally ready to come out of their rebuild after a spirited performance against the Packers?

Khalil Mack’s debut must have sent shivers through Raiders fans and sent Bears fans going crazy. It is difficult for an individual to have such an impact in a football game (apart from maybe a QB) but Mack did his best to pull the Bears along by himself. Outside of their new OLB’s performance the Bears certainly showed more fight on Sunday afternoon and if not for an otherworldly fourth quarter from Aaron Rodgers they would likely have won in Lambeau. Clearly all aspects of this roster are stronger than they were last season, with the offensive line and wide receiving corps showing the most obvious signs of improvement. With what looks to be a solid defense and burgeoning talent on the offense, the Bears could have an outside chance of making a playoff spot if things go their way down the road.

8) Can the Lions recover from what can be considered the worst to a season of theirs in a long time?

Matthew Stafford’s horrible outing defined how bad the Lions home opener went this season. Five interceptions, one offensive touchdown and a 31 point third quarter for the Jets (largely of his own doing) suggest that the only way for the Lions to go is up. The hope this season was that with a new coaching staff, this roster would reach the next level and reach their playoff ceiling that they are clearly capable of. Now there are questions that Matt Patricia wouldn’t have hoped to answer like were they reading your calls? Can Stafford find some consistency? Why can’t you beat a potentially rebuilding team? Certainly it is important not to overreact after week 1, but the Lions cannot win in spite of Matthew Stafford, they need him playing at a high level to have a fighting chance.

9) Which team particularly surprised in week 1?

The Bucs certainly deserve a mention, as do the Jets, Browns and Bengals. But for me the biggest surprise was the play of the Chiefs in week 1. Perhaps underestimated by yours truly, with a number of changes on the roster and most importantly a new QB, I assumed Andy Reid and company may struggle out of the gate. What happened was quite to the contrary, the defense enforced a bend but don’t break mentality, the offense hummed through its multi-dimensional nature, Patrick Mahomes showed off his natural talent & cannon of an arm and Tyreek Hill showed why he is perhaps the most dangerous weapon in football. One week of football showed that the Chiefs intend to use their new found athleticism in all areas to their advantage and it will be interesting to see if they can continue in the same way over the next few weeks.

10) Players of the week

Offensive player of the week – Tyreek Hill (RB/WR/Return specialist) – What a performance from the Chiefs speedster. He opened up the game with an electrifying 91 yard punt return for a touchdown and then caused the Chargers secondary fits all day torching them for through the air for 7 receptions, 169 yards and 2 td’s. That is certainly a dominant performance and it will be interesting to see how future teams try and slow down the third year man from Kansas City.

Defensive player of the week – Khalil Mack (OLB, Bears): A pick 6 and strip sack for the former Raider only begin to show the impact he had for the Bears on his debut. Yes there are a couple from the Jets defense that may also deserve this award, but given the fact that he only had a weeks practice and likely only knew a fraction of their playbook, his performance was almost too good to measure or understand.

Game predictions:

Record from week 1: 10-6

BAL@CIN; 20-26: A fascinating game between two teams who proved that they were looking to bounce back after disappointing performances last year. The Bengals seem to have regained some of the swagger that they lost at times last year, while Joe Flacco certainly looked motivated to prove his worth against the Bills. Expect this to be a tight affair, with both rosters evenly matched in this one. I am going to give the edge to the Bengals defense which looked impressive in Indianapolis last week.

X-factor: Bengals defense – This unit was very much the heartbeat of the successful Bengals teams of the past 5-6 years. The team is likely to go as they go and if they continue to pressure the QB like they are capable of, this unit is likely to keep them in most games

CAR@ATL; 17-30: A tough outing for the Falcons in week 1. This week gives them the opportunity to right the ship and beat one of their fellow division rivals. The defense certainly looked up for the challenge last week, the offense simply needs to take their scoring chances more effectively.

X-factor: Matt Ryan – After a so-so week 1 performance all eyes are on the former MVP and his abilities to make the explosive offense tick. Against a Panthers secondary that is weak on the back end, Ryan’s ability to take the chances given to him will be a key factor in the outcome of this game.

LAC@BUF; 31-20: Disappointing results for both teams last week but there is still a gulf in class between the two rosters. Phillip Rivers looked good on the whole, while the Bills QB situation is a mess proven by the fact they are now going to start Josh Allen this week. Allen is certainly likely to raise the ceiling of this team in time, but this is a tough match-up for his first start in the NFL.

X-factor: LeSean McCoy – The star RB was a shell of his former self in week 1, rushing for a miserly 3 yards per carry. With a new QB under center anything he can do to relieve the pressure may help the Bills stay in this game.

MIN@GB; 30-24: An intriguing match-up between two division rivals and likely playoff contenders. Aaron Rodgers impressed on one leg so much so that is tough to find enough praise for the former MVP, but in his way is one of the strongest all round rosters in the NFL. Kirk Cousins looked comfortable in week 1 and backed by one of the best defenses in the NFL, they will be a tough out for any team.

X-factor: Packers offensive line – Rodgers was running for his life at times last week and no matter the state of his injury this week, he will not be able to survive the whole season without much better protection. This week is a fantastic test for a line that really needs to work out how to protect their most important player.

CLE@NO; 17-28: The Saints will be looking for redemption having given up 48 points to the backup Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick last week. The positive was of course that Drew Brees still looks as good as ever. Although the Browns certainly looked better last week, I think they may struggle to keep up with the Saints offense in this one.

X-factor: Saints defense – After some high value acquisitions and big expectations the Saints defense very much let themselves down last week. Fortunately they have a young Browns offense to deal with this week and they need to prove last week was an aberration not the new norm for the Saints.

MIA@NJY; 28-24: An interesting match-up between two teams that impressed last week. The Jets defense looked dominant while the Miami offense seemed to be humming with Tannehill under center, especially in the second half. Each team certainly has a chance in this one, with the youth in the Jets roster for me meaning they may just not be ready for primetime just yet.

X-factor: Sam Darnold – After a solid performance in week 1, the rookie QB has a chance to really get the Jets off to a good start. There were certainly some mistakes in week 1 (opening pick 6) but he looked promising in his NFL debut. His play is likely to determine how many games they can win this year, with this week being no different.

KC@PIT; 31-21: The absence of Le’veon Bell was certainly obvious for the Steelers offense last week. Perhaps more worrying was the lack of pressure the defense managed to put on the Browns. With Patrick Mahomes and the high flying Chiefs coming into town this week, the Steelers may be slightly too under-manned for the challenge.

X-factor: Steelers defense – They have yet to prove they are able to compete to a high level without lynchpin Ryan Shazier. This week is going to be a tough challenge and with their offense struggling somewhat at the moment, their ability to slow down opponents will be vital to their chances of winning this one.

PHI@TB; 24-21: What a fantastic performance from the Bucs in week 1. Can they replicate it? I would be surprised especially given the legitimate top 3 NFL defense they are about to come up against, if nothing else they have certainly made this game tougher to predict. The Eagles looked solid in week 1 and I’d expect more of the same on both sides of the ball, no matter who is lining up under center.

X-factor: Ryan Fitzpatrick – The veteran backup QB looked very good in New Orleans last week although he has a

history of uneven play in his career. If he can keep it up however, the Bucs will be tougher to stop even with Jameis Winston still currently suspended.

HOU@TEN; 24-20: A key early AFC match-up for both rosters looking to bounce back after week 1. In a division where they are likely to need more wins than in the past, this game is vital to each rosters playoff chances. The Texans certainly look more dominant on both sides of the ball and until proven otherwise, they are likely to have the edge in this one.

X-factor: Titans defense – After an unspectacular week 1, they come up against a young offense that has the capacity to blow this game wide open. They will need a better performance this week and it will be interesting to see how they fare with the pressure to bounce back.

IND@WAS; 34-28: Luck’s return certainly provided some optimism for Colts fans, although there were some uncharacteristic errors that need to be eliminated for them to succeed this week. Against a Redskins roster that is solid, the battle is likely to be between the two QB’s in which I’m going to give the edge to Andrew Luck.

X-factor: Redskins defense – Here is the first legitimate test for a defense whose ceiling is unknown. With the capacity of their offense much easier to predict, the defenses ability to dominate and perform is likely going to prove whether the Redskins can win this game and compete for a playoff spot this season.

ARI@LAR; 14-35: A match-up between two rosters who have a vast talent level difference. The Rams looked impressive in week 1, while the Cardinals looked like the rebuilding team they are likely to be this year. If the Rams can keep all their personalities in check, this could be a very big year for the LA based team.

X-factor: Jared Goff – The third year QB looked solid in his season debut, although he was definitely outshone by other parts of the roster last week. While his solid play is likely to get the Rams through the regular season, his ability to elevate his level of play will likely determine how far they can make it in the postseason, where QB play has a much higher scrutiny on it.

DET@SF; 14-31: The Lions looked completely out of sorts last week, even if the Jets were able to understand Matthew Stafford’s hand signals. No matter the state the Lions are in, the 49ers looked solid against one of the best teams in the NFL and I expect them to justify the preseason hype this weekend.

X-factor: Matthew Stafford – After what can only be described as an abysmal opening performance, Stafford will be looking to prove that he can aid his teams cause this week. Still considered to be one of the better QB’s in the league, Stafford is capable of winning any game on his day but he needs to limit the turnovers that have killed his team’s chances over the past couple of seasons.

OAK@DEN; 14-31: For Raiders fans last week must have proven the nightmare it is to be a fan of their team. Only two years ago it looked like they might be the next great AFC challengers, now they are starting to look like the mess of the previous decade. No matter how your team is performing going into Denver is a tough challenge, and I expect it to be too much for this inconsistent Raiders team.

X-factor: Derek Carr – Nobody epitomises the Raiders disappointment as the play of the franchise QB. With known QB whisperer as coach, he needs to show a dramatic improvement to give the Raiders a chance in this one and in the season as a whole.

NE@JAX; 24-21: A fascinating match-up for the neutral fan. This again is likely to be a potential playoff game so it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Tom Brady was clearly himself in week 1, breaking down the Texans highly rated defense with ease. Although I would expect him to find life a bit more difficult in Jacksonville, the difference may come on the other side of the ball where the Jags offense are without Leonard Fournette and Blake Bortles looked a little underwhelming in New York

X-factor: TJ Yeldon – Can the backup RB replicate his second half performance from last week. With the defense looking as dominant as they were last year, the Jags still need to move the ball enough to score. If he can help relieve the pressure from Bortles, the Jags have a real chance in this one.

NYG@DAL; 21-30: An NFC East match-up that is perhaps not quite as exciting as it used to be. Both teams portrayed their known flaws very effectively in week 1, so I am going to back the young Cowboys roster in this one, who are likely to improve and learn at a quicker rate giving the youth on their roster.

X-factor: Giants offensive line – This is likely to be a key theme throughout the season as Eli Manning spent significant parts of week 1 running for his life. Until this issue is fixed it is difficult to see the Giants making real inroads against their opponents.

SEA@CHI; 21-27: No longer a matchup that is quite as predictable as it used to be. Both rosters attempted to rebuild on the fly to different degrees in the offseason, with home-field likely to be the key deciding factor for me in this one.

X-factor: Bears defense – Khalil Mack and his new defensive unit looked impressive against the Packers last week, and their improvement is likely to be a decisive part of this game. The Seahawks team has very much become an offensive focused roster over the past two seasons, making this the key match-up that will likely decide the outcome of this game.