Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 1

The NFL offseason can be excruciating. Between the waiting, the lack of other sports besides baseball, and the overwhelming amount of petty sports talk radio, when the first Sunday finally hits it really is like Christmas morning. Well forget all that waiting, all that time you wasted debating what your teams record will be (everyone will probably be wrong), football season is finally here. Now, the speculation ends, it’s time to watch all the glorious action unfold right before our eyes. Here’s what happened on the first real football Sunday of 2016…

The Broncos beat the Panthers in an exciting Superbowl rematch from last year. The Broncos were lead by quarterback Trevor Siemian who had never thrown an NFL pass prior to Thursday night. Impressed is an understatement of how I felt watching Siemian in his first ever start. He was confident, poised, and even made some nifty plays that would have made Brett Favre proud as he led his team to complete a fourth quarter comeback. His two interceptions are really not too concerning considering it was against a Superbowl defense and it was his first ever start (and they won). While you shouldn’t jump to a conclusion about someone’s long term future after watching one game, it’s hard not to be optimistic about Siemian being a starter in this league after Thursdays win. Perhaps the biggest story about this game was the abuse Cam Newton received from the Broncos D. He suffered multiple shots to the head and at times seemed like a guarantee to at least miss a few plays (which never happened). The Panthers and NFL have maintained that proper concussion protocol was followed although it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to realize that Cam Newton didn’t seem to be feeling so hot at times and might have needed a break. Despite the Panthers loss, they still figure to be a team playing late into the postseason.

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Keeping with the theme of young quarterbacks making their first starts, Carson Wentz looked stellar in the Eagles 29-10 beatdown of the Browns. A lot of times it’s easy to tell a rookie is playing quarterback…they look jittery, nervous, make mistakes, etc. Wentz did none of these things as he had the composure of a longtime veteran making just another opening day start. Yes, it was against the Browns who are plain awful, but it’s still impressive considering it was his first ever NFL game for a guy who played in Division 1AA and barely played in the preseason. The Eagles D looked great too, ferocious and aggressive as they seemed to play with a passion that was clearly lacking in the Chip Kelly era. I don’t know how else to explain it but the game just had a vintage Eagles feel to it…an energetic crowd, tough D, and a fine display of the west coast offense. The Eagles are certain to face far more challenging contests this season and both sides of the ball will inevitably have their struggles. But, one week into the season you have to be pleased with what you saw if you’re an Eagles fan. On the flip side, I thought the Browns would be improved with Hue Jackson and could do better this season than people expected. Nope. Highly unlikely. The Browns were atrocious as usual and RG3 suffered yet another injury and will be out until November. The Browns will add another weapon on offense when Josh Gordon returns but with Josh McCown under center and a clear lack of talent overall it figures to be another long year for Cleveland Browns fans.

Love them or hate them, you have to acknowledge the greatness that the New England Patriots display year in and year out. They had plenty of reasons to drop their first game against the Arizona Cardinals. No Tom Brady or Gronk (among other missing players), a quarterback making his first start (are you noticing a pattern here?), and an extremely tough opponent on the road…no problem. The Patriots found a way to win and notched the W behind strong quarterback play from Jimmy Garoppolo, who like Siemian and Wentz, looked like a season veteran playing just another opening game. In my opinion, this game is less about the Cardinals being able to take advantage of a weakened opponent and more about the Pats innate ability to find ways to win NFL games, no matter what cards they’re dealt (no pun intended). It was truly impressive. While many people expected more from Arizona, they should still be able to put together another great season that results in a deep playoff run.

If the Patriots are experts at finding ways to win games, the San Diego Chargers are in a league of their own when it comes to losing. The Chiefs completed their biggest comeback in 56 years as they downed the Chargers after being down 24-3 in the second half. Andy Reid is notoriously bad in the first couple games of the season but his early season ineptitude was trumped by the Chargers and theirs. The Bolts lost wide receiver Keenan Allen for the year which is certainly a blow, but that really doesn’t have much to do with the outcome of this single game. Going forward, it’s reasonable to expect another solid season for the Chiefs and while the Chargers certainly have talent on the roster, including Melvin Gordon who seems poised for a much improved second season, until the Chargers show they can manufacture some wins it’s hard to get too excited about any real chance of success in a tough AFC West.

The Packers survived a scare from up and coming Jacksonville. The Jaguars were threatening deep into Packer territory late in the fourth quarter but ultimately came up short (literally a yard away from a first down). Even with the loss, I think the Jaguars are a legitimate team this year and could very well win a weak AFC South. It makes sense for the Packers to have some rust as some of their players are getting reacclimatized to NFL game speed. The Packers have been a trendy Superbowl pick but they will have to show improvement if they want to compete with the other NFC heavyweights.

Perhaps the quarterback flying the most under the radar is Jameis Winston. The first overall pick from last year put together an impressive rookie campaign and continued to build off it in week one as the Bucs beat the division rival Falcons. The Bucs played conservative last year due to Winston’s inexperience but they could really let him loose this year and compete and it’s entirely possible the Bucs are the second best team in that division behind only Carolina.

The Jets lost a close one to Cincinnati. It seems like while they are a decent team, they just can’t break through to the next level. It is obviously early however and if Brandon Marshall can be as productive as newly acquired Matt Forte was, they can still be a dangerous team this season. Oddly enough, a big concern for the Jets was actually on defense. Darrelle Revis was absolutely torched by AJ Green, a possibly troubling sign for the 31 year old defender.

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The Redskins failed to live up to their hype as the favorites in their Monday night game against the Steelers who were missing some key offensive players. The story to me in this game was that Josh Norman was barely allowed to cover Antonio Brown while the arguably best wideout in the game went berserk in Washington’s secondary as they continued to send Bashaud Breeland on him. It was puzzling to not see Norman on the left side of the field with The Steelers really lacking any other real threats besides Brown.

Chip Kelly and the 49ers shut out the Rams 28-0. The performance by St. Louis, er, Los Angeles was an embarrassment and inexcusable. The Rams wanted to be competitive in their first season back in California yet trotted out Case Keenum and were thoroughly dominated by a 49ers team that is far from stacked with talent themselves. Chip Kelly could however do better than expected as he’s never had less than 7 wins in an NFL season.

The Seahawks survived a scare from the Miami Dolphins. It seems like the Hawks always have a few frustrating clunkers each season against inferior talent. They survived this one, and still expect to be contender when it’s all said and done. I do have a gut feeling however that Miami will surpass a lot of peoples expectations with Adam Gase running the show there.

Last year the Giants ultimate downfall was their inability to win close games. They buried that crutch in week 1 with a 20-19 win over Dallas. Eli Manning threw for 3 scores and even hooked up with Victor Cruz who finally returned to action. The Cowboys have an uphill climb with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback although a one point loss in his first game could perhaps be a sign of optimism rather than pessimism for the long haul.

Other results: The Ravens beat the Bills in an expected defensive oriented showdown. Jim Caldwell and the Lions narrowly beat the Colts as Indianapolis continues to give Andrew Luck none of his last name on the defensive side of the ball. Oakland beat New Orleans in a shootout, Minnesota beat Tennessee, and Houston was too much for the Bears.

Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 10

We’re getting to that sweet spot in the NFL season, Thanksgiving day football, coaches and coordinators dropping like flies, teams solidifying their playoff stature while others crumble. Whether your team falls in the former or latter category, it’s an interesting time of the season. Let’s take a look around the league, shall we?

Peyton Manning broke the record for most passing yards of all time, breaking Bret Favre’s previous record of 71,838. All smiles then right? Not hardly, Peyton struggled mightily thereafter, throwing four interceptions and getting benched for Brock Osweiler. What’s worse is that after the game it was revealed that Manning has a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Oh, and the Broncos were annihilated, losing 29-13 to the Kansas City Chiefs (it was worse than the score indicates too). Peyton is definitely out this week against Chicago and will be re-evaluated after that. Despite having no allegiance to Denver, I’ve defended the Broncos all year and will continue to do so. Their defense is stacked but was without DeMarcus Ware and Aquib Talib, two of their best players. Assuming these guys get back on the field this will be a very tough defense to face as the year goes on, as defense becomes ever so important. Plus, Andy Reid after the bye is like Chick Fil A on Sundays, lights out. Concern for the Broncos is definitely legitimate however, their health is key and they have to get in an offensive rhythm when Peyton returns. In reality, this will probably come down to Peyton’s health and his effectiveness when he gets back on the field, whenever that may be. Brock Osweiler was a second round pick and only 24, who knows, maybe he can play?

Somehow, some way the Lions beat the Packers. This is less about the Lions winning and more about the Packers losing. The Packers have a laundry list of offensive woes: lack of a running game, poor line play, and Randall Cobb’s inability to step up the way he was expected to. It’s just uncharacteristic of them to go three and out the way they are doing so often. With the Vikings playing so well, the Packers may be fighting for a wild card spot this year instead of enjoying their typical first round bye.

Rex Ryan returned to New York to face his old team in an emotional Thursday night game. Ryan prevailed as the Bills beat the Jets 22-17. The Bills and Jets have very similar styles but the Bills were the more physical team and were able to force turnovers, giving them the advantage in a hard fought game.

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Rob Ryan, on the other hand lost his defensive coordinator job as the hapless Saints defense allowed 47 points to Kirk Cousins and company. Yeah, that will do it. The Redskins are now 4-5 and right in the thick of the  pathetic, and I mean pathetic, NFC East race.

The Eagles are also 4-5 except they seem to be trending down instead of up as they endured a sickening loss to the Miami Dolphins who were just asking to lose the game. The Eagles are a mess, Sam Bradford wasn’t well protected at all and it cost them. Slammed to the ground in the third quarter he suffered a sprained shoulder on his non throwing arm while also coming away with concussion from the thud. Jason Kelce looks lost. Miles Austin and Riley Cooper combined for over 90 snaps while each failed to receive a single catch. Mark Sanchez threw an excruciating fourth quarter interception. Chip Kelly seems to be overmatched and this team is just simply not that good. They aren’t even fun to watch and Philadelphians are truly over this team, despite being alive in the division race. Can you blame them? It’s one of those “even if they win the division how far can they really go?” type of deals. I still want the Eagles to finish strong and make a playoff push because you never know what could happen, but for now one would be naive to have any real expectations for this middling, injured, uninspired group.

Bill Belichick is one of the best, (if not the best, coaches of this generation, but he always struggles with Tom Coughlin and the Giants and this Sunday was no exception. However, while trailing, Tom Brady in classic Tom Brady fashion drove the team down the field and set up Stephen Gostkowski for a cold blooded 54 yard game winner that took the life right out of Metlife Stadium. Unfortunately for the Pats, Julian Edelman suffered a leg injury and his return this season is in question which comes right after losing Dion Lewis for the year. The Patriots are known for overcoming these kinds of losses so while it is indeed a loss, history suggests they’ll be just find going forward. On the other hand, despite losing the game the Giants probably aren’t too disappointed. They almost knocked off the best team in the world and are still in first place in their division while getting a bye week to fix things up. Not saying they’re going to or should win the division but until another team consistently gets going, they should be relatively confident about their playoff chances.

The undefeated Bengals are now defeated, losing to the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. Not necessarily a reason to abandon ship for the Bengals, every team has a hiccup at one point in the season or another. The Texans are now tied for first with the Indianapolis Colts who were on bye in the AFC South. The Colts have been disappointing all season so it’s actually pretty reasonable to expect this to be a real competition for the rest of the season, with the Texans having a legitimate shot to win the division.

Everyone knew the Arizona Cardinals were a good football team, but a lot of people were unsure if they were that good. The answer to that question is yes, yes they are as they secured a clutch win in one of the hardest places to play on earth, Seattle. The Cardinals look like they are the real deal and a real contender that’s built for the long haul, watch out.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the leagues best QB-WR combo and it’s scary. The Steelers beat the Browns and are 6-4 and currently stand in good position to compete for a playoff spot. In reality, with the ever unstable condition of their quarterback, it’s really week to week with this team.

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Gratz’s Grumblings: Week 1

I’ve been waiting for the return of NFL football like a fat kid waiting for a hot pocket to cool off. It’s been excruciating, and at times painful, but when it arrived last Thursday it was all worth it. The annoying part sometimes is reading the tweets or watching the analysis the next day and seeing all the overreactions from one game. “They’re going to the Superbowl!”. “He’s a bust!”. “Fire him!”. That’s why Gratz’s Grumblings exists, to give you some perspective on things that happened around the league, one week at a time. Such as:

The Patriots didn’t appear to skip a beat as Tom Brady was sharp as usual and Gronk was beastly, collectively shredding the Steelers’ secondary to bits. In classic Patriots fashion, they chose their running back seemingly out of a hat, opening the season with Dion Lewis who missed the entire 2014 season with a broken leg. In his return to NFL action he racked up 69 yards on 15 carries and 51 yards receiving on 4 catches. As always, if the Patriots are healthy they figure to be a team playing deep into January and possibly even February.

It’s too early to begin evaluating the Steelers. Yes their defense was inept against Brady and the Pats but their bread and butter is really their offense and they’re without star running back Le’Veon Bell for another week and wide receiver Martavis Bryant for another three weeks. Once they get their full arsenal of weapons back they should start to click and be a tough team to outscore, assuming their defense improves enough at least to slow opponents down.

It’s also way too early to jump to conclusions about the Indianapolis Colts. Their performance against the Bills was ugly but when a team has so many new pieces it takes time to gel and come together. Many of their new players are older too so they didn’t exactly receive the most reps during the preseason. Although I don’t exactly agree with them being the trendy Superbowl pick just yet (mainly because of their defense), they should win their division handily and look like a different team than what was on the field week one.

Adam “Pacman” Jones should face discipline for his actions on Sunday. After a play, he ripped the helmet off rookie receiver Amari Cooper and slammed his head against it. He showed virtually zero remorse and claimed it was a “heat of the moment” incident. When you have as checkered a past as Jones does, I don’t think you get to use that excuse anymore. The officials clearly missed it as he should have been ejected from the game right then and there. He probably will receive a fine but no suspension, however I personally would support a suspension of a substantial length. What if somebody accidentally stumbled onto Coopers face with their cleats while Coopers helmet was off? Then what?

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Speaking of Pacman Jones, I’m also sick of defending Ndamukung Suh. This week after a play he “accidentally” knocked off the helmet of Redskins running back Alfred Morris with his foot while walking back after making the play. He claimed he didn’t see him. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to Suh, so that excuse is starting to wear thin as well. You’re a world class athlete, you can bench a bajillion pounds, yet you can’t lift your leg up or move your body so you avert a human body laying next to you? If that’s the case then you shouldn’t be allowed to play in the league. The NFL has said that he didn’t do anything wrong, but I think they are just toning down the discipline to players after getting embarrassed from the recent Tom Brady sanctions getting reversed. I don’t know if Suh should necessarily be punished for this instance or not, but I will say that he should be on very, very thin ice.

I don’t care who he played, Marcus Mariota’s debut performance was downright impressive. He went 13-16, while tossing 4 tds in the process, all to different players. He also didn’t even play the fourth quarter. It’s just rare for a rookie quarterback to show that kind of comfortability on the road in his first NFL game, Marcus Mariota could be really special.

LeSean McCoy still isn’t over the fact that he was cut from the Eagles. He arranged for a group photo of “Chip Kelly rejects” including himself, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans. Whatever. Get over it dude.

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The Giants/ Cowboys game was ridiculous and frustrating. As an Eagles fan I was “rooting” for the Giants because it would appear early on that we’d be battling more with the Cowboys than the Giants for a divisional title later in the season. I’ve seen better clock management from 8 year olds playing Madden than what Eli and Todd Coughlin displayed Sunday night. Coughlin is the most conservative coach and it just doesn’t make any friggen sense. It’s one thing to continually run the ball and settle for field goals but it doesn’t take Vince Lombardi to realize that if you don’t have a defense that can hold anybody then those field goals won’t do shit for you by the end of the game. That gaffe also led to Jason Witten’s second touchdown catch which was the difference maker in a brutal fantasy loss by yours truly. Fuck you Barkow.

The Eagles gave fans many things to be happy about as well as many things to be enraged about, I’m mostly enraged though. I admit I brushed off Cody Parkey’s preseason struggles and simply thought “hey, it’s only preseason, he’ll be fine”. Yet, the nearly automatic kicker from last year missed a 44 yard field goal in a dome that would have put the Eagles back in front and in good position to close out the game. Also, something that has plagued the Eagles for the past… I don’t even know how long it’s been is the secondary. This offseason we threw a boatload of money at Byron Maxwell to come in and anchor the secondary and be our shut down corner. Well, he looked bad, really bad on Monday night. Not only was he consistently torched by Julio Jones, he was also getting beat by a 33 year old Roddy White who’s best playing days are clearly behind him. Maxwell wasn’t bad in his debut, he was fucking horrendous. Another thing I took issue with was the complete lack of discipline, accumulating 10 penalties for 88 yards, many occurring at key moments. On the bright side Kiko Alonso made what was perhaps the best catch in the NFL this weekend, making a diving end zone interception to prevent a touchdown. While the offense was out of sync the entire first half, it looked razor sharp in the second half. If they’re able to consistently replicate their offense from the second half on Monday night, the birds will be a tough team to outscore.

If you didn’t stay up for the second Monday night game, just know that Carlos Hyde is the real deal. He ran all over the Vikings accumulating 168 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries, a total workhorse. The 9ers actually looked pretty good and while a lot of people completely wrote them off this season, they definitely still have enough talent to overachieve.