Trend or Mirage: Sorting through Week 1
This is the time of the NFL season when I’d like to encourage everyone to just take a step back and calm down.
It is an annual event for football fans and experts alike to drastically overreact to Week 1′s results. The Giants, if you’ll recall, lost their Week 1 game in 2011 to the Redskins, leading New York fans to call for Tom Coughlin’s head and Washington fans to start dreaming about competing in the NFC East. That’s, uh, not exactly how the season played out.
So we’ll try to sort through what’s real and what was a one-week flash in the pan.
Trend: Michael Vick’s turnover woes
His interception total from Sunday is certainly alarming — Vick threw four picks vs. the Browns, just two fewer than he threw total in 11 starts in 2010. But at this point, everyone knows what they’re getting in Vick. He is an extremely talented quarterback who is sometimes undone by his desire to make plays happen.
He also fumbled twice Sunday, though the Eagles recovered both. Vick led the league in fumbles in 2004 (16) and 2010 (11) and put it on the deck 10 times last season. The Eagles are not going to change who Vick is at this point in his career, so they’ll have to live with the miscues.
Mirage: The Jets’ offense being unstoppable
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …
The Jets had just about everyone proclaiming their demise after a miserable preseason in which they scored all of 31 points. So, their Week 1 breakthrough — a 48-28 blowout of Buffalo — came as a major surprise. Mark Sanchez threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns and Shonn Greene rushed for 94 yards, while Tim Tebow played only sparingly.
Maybe Sanchez, suddenly and unexpectedly, turned the corner in Week 1 and became the QB the Jets have been hoping would arrive. The better bet is that New York’s offensive line has a tougher time holding up in Week 2 at Pittsburgh and that Sanchez winds up making a couple of mistakes as a result.
Trend: The Falcons and Ravens scoring in bunches
Passing yards and points were again up league-wide in Week 1, and Atlanta and Baltimore were at the forefront of that offensive explosion. They combined for 84 points and 806 yards against a pair of respectable defenses — Baltimore hung 44 on Cincinnati on Monday night; Atlanta put up 40 against (a banged-up) Kansas City defense.
This is what these teams wanted coming into the 2012 season. Both coaching staffs implemented more up-tempo, no-huddle looks on offense, giving QBs Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan more control over the game. Given the preponderance of weapons on these offenses, opposing defenses will have their hands full all season long.
Mirage: Cam Newton’s sophomore slump
The numbers Newton put up as a rookie were downright silly: 4,000-plus yards passing, 700 yards rushing, 35 total touchdowns. He almost single-handedly carried Carolina to six wins, as the offense scored 21 or more points 13 times.
Week 1 of the 2012 season was a different story. Carolina limped its way to 10 points, with Newton turning it over twice and rushing for a mere four yards. The silver lining for Carolina: Even in a miserable offensive showing, Newton still topped 300 yards through the air (303). Maybe Newton played over his head last season, but his ability to maintain that performance over 16 games pretty much blew off the notion that it was a fluke. He’s way too talented to be totally shut down for long, especially on the ground.
Trend: Robert Griffin III putting up big numbers
As if Redskins fans needed more people patting RGIII on the back …
Like the Jets’ 48-point outburst, the Redskins might have clipped the top end of their potential by busting out for 40 in a Week 1 win at New Orleans. Griffin probably is not going to carry a 139.9 QB rating through his entire rookie season, nor will he play mistake-free football for 16 weeks.
But we all got an extended look Sunday at why Washington gave up the farm to get him in the 2012 NFL Draft. Not only does his maturity and athleticism translate well to the NFL game, but also his skill set fits Mike Shanahan’s offensive game plan to a T. Washington’s offensive line also has to prove it can hold up over multiple weeks, but there is no denying Griffin’s potential impact.
Mirage: C.J. Spiller leading the league in rushing
With Fred Jackson likely sidelined for several weeks, Spiller will get a shot to prove his worth again in Buffalo. This will be a key stretch for the third-year back out of Clemson, who has shown flashes of brilliance — including in Week 1 when he posted 169 yards on just 14 carries (a staggering 12.1 per-carry average). There is no way he maintains that pace, especially on an offense that loves to throw the ball around. Spiller may still find some running room over his next couple of games, but his numbers will come back down to earth.
Trend: Reggie Wayne’s rapport with Andrew Luck
It seemed a little unusual when Wayne opted to stick with Indianapolis, despite the franchise’s drastic rebuilding plan, instead of testing the waters with another team. One week into the season, it doesn’t seem as strange. Wayne was targeted 18 times by rookie QB Andrew Luck and came down with nine receptions for 135 yards.
Granted, the Colts would love to run the ball a lot more than they did in come-from-behind mode against the Bears, but Wayne clearly was Luck’s No. 1 option through the air. Even if Austin Collie returns in the near future, Luck already has figured out that his best bet is to put the ball in Wayne’s vicinity.
Mirage: Green Bay being in last place in the NFC North
A rather obvious here, though the Packers’ next three games (vs. Chicago, at Seattle, vs. New Orleans) raise the possibility of a 2-2 or 1-3 start. While the Lions, Bears and Vikings all scored wins against teams expected to finish below .500, Green Bay had to deal with San Francisco, which might be the team to beat in the NFC. A loss to the 49ers is far from a disgrace. What will be troublesome for the Packers moving forward, though, is how poorly the defense played. Green Bay did little to improve its much-maligned secondary in the offseason, and it might be feeling the result of that decision.