Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking Stock of Week 1

Wow, I am really suffering some serious blog content overload here just now. When you post as often as I do, I guess in comes in waves; sometimes it can be a bit of a chore to think of something to write for a period of time for whatever reason, but then at other times, like now, I find that I am just bursting with thoughts and ideas that I know would make great posts, but the problem is finding the time to write them all down. Between poker, the stock market, the Lehman anniversary, Serena, the NFL and various other topics, there is just too much flying around my head and not enough time or space to put in all on the virtual paper.

With the Monday night football doubleheader finally behind us, I thought today I would take stock of Week 1 of the NFL season. Rather than just go and review all the games, this early in the season I am focusing instead on how well each team played, relative to my expectations for that team to start the season. Last week I gave my general overview predictions for the NFL season, including division winners of the Eagles, Bears, Atlanta and the 49ers in the NFC, with the two wildcards coming out of a batch of Carolina, the Giants, the Vikings and the Packers. In the AFC I predicted division wins for the Patriots, Ravens, Titans and Chargers, with possible wildcard contenders in Miami, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. So who played in Week 1 like I thought they would, and who stepped up in the clutch while others choked away their dreams of an undefeated season?

Teams that played more or less as I expected them to play this week: The Titans and Steelers in their Thursday night matchup to officially kick off the 2009 NFL regular season, with each playing powerful defense against solid offensive squads, and with Ben Roethlisberger once again coming through in the clutch and raining down pass play after pass play on the Titans in the 3rd and especially 4th quarters of their game. Also living up to expectations in Week 1 for me were the Falcons, who beat a solid Miami team at home to start the season, the Broncos and Bungles who fought out a defensive battle until, of course, the Bungles had a punt blocked and eventually gave up the unthinkable play to lose at the last second of play, and the Vikings who beat up on a very poor Cleveland team but with little help from Brett Favre. The Indy - Jacksonville game also went according to recent history at 14-12 Colts, with neither team really able to establish its offense and the two teams playing their typical tough head-to-head battle, with the Redskins, Texans and Rams also all putting up their expected poor performances on the day. The Giants won a close one against the Skins as expected in Week 1 without themselves playing particularly great football, with the Seahawks, Cowboys, 49ers and Packers all winning their games as I expected as well to start off the 2009 season on a positive note.

Teams that played better than I expected in Week 1: I think this one has to start with the Eagles, who utterly crushed the upstart Carolina Panthers in Carolina to begin the 2009 season. I had picked the Panthers to win outright, and if you had told me that was going to be a 28-point game, I would have bet serious money that Carolina would be the winner. And you really can't have a real discussion on Week 1's big performers without mentioning the Saints, who ran up 45 points on the back of 6 touchdowns from Drew Brees, two of them to tight end Jeremy Shockey who had exactly zero touchdowns in all of 2008. Even the Lions I thought played a little better than I expected in hanging with the high-scoring Saints for about three quarters before defaulting to their normal losing selves. The Ravens, my pick to win the AFC North this year, put in a better than expected performance from their offense, with 2nd-year quarterback Joe Flacco busting out with 3 td's and the first 300-yard performance of his career, while another young quarterback, Mark Sanchez with the Jets, won his first start but did so while looking even more experienced, professional and poised than I would have expected for the first real NFL action of his hopefully long career. The Seahawks started off the season with a very impressive 28-0, with Matt Hassselbeck silencing the critics with 3 touchdowns of his own, but then again they were playing against the Rams' god awful defense so it's hard to know just how much that really means. The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Ravens, but they did manage to score 24 points against that vaunted Ravens D, even with a backup quarterback in there, so I should also give them a good mention before ending the discussion of the upside surprises from Week 1.

Teams that played worse than I expected in Week 1: This list is shorter, but it includes some really surprising teams, starting with the Panthers. Everybody's pick to win the NFC South completely shat the bed at home on Sunday, scoring just 10 points and picking up only about 50 yards rushing, with quarterback Jake Delhomme losing two fumbles and throwing four interceptions to boot. Meanwhile, the widely-respected Panthers defense allowed the Eagles to score 38 points for their second consecutive season-opener, and the Panthers just all-around looked like a beaten team in their first effort of 2009. I feel similarly about the Chicago Bears, who entered their Sunday night game at Green Bay with optimism on the back of new stud quarterback Jay Cutler, but Cutler was anything but studly in this weekend's game. By the time the Bears gave up a late lead by letting the Pack march down the field and score a touchdown over the span of about a minute, you could just tell from the look in Cutler's eyes that he was not into going back out there and giving it one more go, and the immediate interception one pass later could not have surprised anybody given how poorly he played on the day. The Ravens' defense allowed the Chiefs and backup quarterback with a last name of Croyle who is 0-9 in his lifetime as a starter to score 24 points against them, which definitely surprised me given the team's recent success on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams were atrocious on both sides of the ball, although I suppose one can hardly call that a surprise, and the NFC champion Cardinals really stepped down in losing in Week 1 to division rival San Francisco with Kurt Warner only connecting on one touchdown pass on the day. And lastly, I should mention the Dolphins, who can't feel too bad about losing on opening day in Atlanta, but who probably feel a lot worse about having given the ball away four times on the day after flirting with the all-time record for fewest giveaways in a season last year in southern Florida.

Finally, no recap of Week 1 would be complete without mentioning the ridiculous late comebacks for both the Patriots and the Chargers on Monday night. Both teams were up against far inferior opponents, among the worst in the NFL in true patsy matchups to start the 2009 season, but both teams far underperformed and it nearly cost each their first loss of the season. Tom Brady looked a little tentative in the pocket coming back from major knee surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2008 season, but with 39 completions for 378 yards and two scores -- spaced about a minute apart in the final four minutes of play on the day -- it's hard to feel too bad about that. And the Chargers resumed their habit from 2008 of playing down to the level of their competition, narrowly escaping defeat at the hands of the hapless Raiders thanks to a last-minute touchdown against one of the worst defenses in the game.

In all, it was a killer great week with several late-game comebacks and clutch heroics from key players, headlined of course again by the Broncos' ridiculous win in the last second against the Bungles. As I look to Week 2, the big games are setting up to include divisional matchups with Carolina at Atlanta, the Cheatriots at the Jets, Seattle at the 49ers, and the Giants at the Cowboys. Outside of the key divisional rivalries, Drew Brees takes to the air against the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Ravens visit the Chargers in each team's first real competition of the season, and the defending superbowl champion Steelers head to Chicago to try to keep that nasty look on Jay Cutler's face for one more week in the Windy City.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:58 PM  

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