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.
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.
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.