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NFL Team Rankings, Week 2

By Christopher Reina

Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.

Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.

The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins climbed to first and second in the rankings after huge Trench Counter differentials in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, are 2-0 while posting a -5.3 and +5.6 in their two games so we're not quite ready to buy their fast start.

The Seattle Seahawks fell to No. 6, but had a +2.3 in their loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks rushed for 8.0 yards per rush, but running 35 fewer plays was a clear issue as was allowing Antonio Gates to score three touchdowns. The Seahawks will be fine though and will win more road games than they lose.

To reiterate, this is not how I would subjectively rank the 32 teams and two weeks of data produce results that are themselves fluky.

Week 2 Rankings

1. Cincinnati Bengals: 10.7
2. Washington Redskins: 8.0
3. Arizona Cardinals: 7.8
4. Chicago Bears: 7.5
5. Baltimore Ravens: 6.9
6. Seattle Seahawks: 6.2
7. Minnesota Vikings: 5.4
8. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.3
9. Carolina Panthers: 4.8
10. Detroit Lions: 3.7
11. Houston Texans: 3.5
12. Miami Dolphins: 3.2
13. Tennessee Titans: 2.9
14. Denver Broncos: 1.8
15. Cleveland Browns: 1.6
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1.5
17. New Orleans Saints: 0.8
18. Green Bay Packers: 0.7
19. Buffalo Bills: 0.2
20. Dallas Cowboys: -1.3
21. San Francisco 49ers: -1.7
22. New England Patriots: -2.2
23. New York Jets: -3.5
24. Oakland Raiders: -3.7
25. Indianapolis Colts: -5.2
26. Kansas City Chiefs: -5.3
27. San Diego Chargers: -5.8
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: -9.1
29. New York Giants: -10.0
30. Atlanta Falcons: -10.8
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -11.3
32. St. Louis Rams: -12.4


$.10 After Week 2

By Jeff Risdon

This was a real tough week to follow and cover the NFL. At one point six of these ten cents had nothing to do with anything on the field. It’s not, as some claim, the worst week in NFL history. Nobody died, which inherently makes the Jovan Belcher and Rae Carruth situations worse. Yet the barrage of negativity is hard to ignore when off-field criminal issues lead the network news shows, not just the sports networks.

$.01--The news story that dominated the nation this week involved the released video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife with a swift left in the elevator of a now-closed Atlantic City casino. That disturbing visual quickly shifted the story into two directions: domestic violence awareness and a stern challenge to Roger Goodell’s viability and effectiveness as NFL Commissioner.

It’s the Goodell angle that has transfixed the football world. Long a lightning rod of criticism, the commish earned near universal scorn for his ham-handed handling of such a public case. Even though the NFL committed no legal crime, the league is most certainly guilty of a cover-up scandal rivaling the Iran-Contra affair or Benghazi, based on your political persuasion.

Goodell claims to have no knowledge of the video before TMZ released it on Monday. That flies in the face of his authoritarian, omnipresent image and history. It also raises some serious questions about the competency of his office, as there is verified receipt of the video at NFL headquarters from several months ago.

Either Goodell is a lying hypocrite or a flaming rod of ineptitude, take your pick. I’m not even sure which is worse.

Will it be enough to cost him his $40M-a-year job? Probably not. He makes the NFL owners--his bosses--far too much money for them to send him to the gallows.

Still, a man whose driving force in life is “protect the shield” splattered the blood of abused women everywhere all over his league’s precious reputation. By coming down initially too soft, then overreacting (more on that coming below) in the other direction when caught with his pants down, Goodell has irreparably damaged his own credibility and power. He can never earn back what he gave away.

$.02--As macabre as it sounds, it’s really a damn shame that there isn’t a Ray Rice video of what Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy did to his girlfriend. Because if you think sucker-punching an agitated companion is worthy of a lifetime ban from the NFL, you probably want Hardy deported to northeast Syria.

It’s a complex case fueled by intoxicants and 911 calls from neighbors and Hardy himself, nicely detailed back in July by the Charlotte Observer. Yet he was found guilty in court of assault and communicating threats, which entailed him putting his hands around her neck and telling her he was going to kill her after dragging her around the house by her hair.

As tone deaf as Goodell appeared with the Rice case, the Panthers are worse. Hardy was convicted in July, yet the team has done nothing until Sunday. They weren’t even expected to do anything then until public outrage finally forced them to acquiesce to common decency and deactivate Hardy for Carolina’s game with the Lions. Per Chris Myers on the Fox game broadcast, it was “on organizational decision”.

I want to give Panthers owner Jerry Richardson some credit. He’s a very good man. Yet it never should have taken this long to begrudgingly sit down his star player. As Louis Riddick sagely said on ESPN’s exhausting NFL Countdown, Joe Gibbs would have cut Hardy long ago. That Hardy is still employed is a travesty. Maybe when he goes to prison later this fall Richardson will finally have the decency to cut him.

Perhaps there was some karmic justification in place for Carolina. Hardy’s replacement Mario Addison annihilated Detroit’s 3rd and 4th string right tackles for 2.5 sacks and was unblockable when the Lions were in definite passing mode.

$.03--Adrian Peterson made sure the negative spotlight shone brightly on the NFL all week. The Vikings star running back was indicted and later arrested for “reckless or negligent injury to a child”.

This is a tough case. Peterson quite clearly and sincerely believes his actions are a perfectly acceptable form of discipline that he perhaps took a bit too far.

Regardless of your personal viewpoint of corporal punishment, a 230-pound pro athlete hitting a 4-year-old child with a switch “10 or 15 times” for interrupting a video game is miles beyond a bit too far. The boy suffered nasty injuries to his legs and groin, ones that were visible to doctors days later. Google the pictures if you want the disgusting evidence.

What makes this especially gut-wrenching is that Peterson of all people should be hyper sensitive to this issue. He had another son killed by an abusive stepfather just 11 months ago.

I wonder if Peterson thought of his dead son while nearly beating the life out of this one. I wonder how many lashes he would inflict if the child did something really unreasonable, like setting off firecrackers in the living room or spilling grape juice in one of Peterson’s luxury cars.

I consulted with former Suffolk County (NY) Assistant District Attorney Craig Hayes about Peterson’s grand jury case. I’m going to quote Hayes directly from our correspondence here:

There is a good chance that this case goes to trial, unless the DA caves in.: Most DAs when a person has a good background in cases like this will offer things like parenting classes, anger management, probation, etc., and other alternatives to jail to dispose of a case like this. I would think that the DA made some type of pre-indictment offer. We probably will never know what -if any- pre-indictment offer was given to Hardin and AP. Neither DAs nor the defense attorney will typically share this kind of information.

But since Peterson rejected any offer, if he got one and I would guess that he did, and more important, he testified before the Grand Jury, the DA probably will not offer a plea bargain now, that ship has sailed. Many DA Offices have a "No Deal" policy once a defendant testifies. There reasoning is, "I know your defense, they didn't buy it, why should I cut you a deal now." Asking for a deal now is like wanting your chips back after showing your hand in poker.

Hayes’ opinion on why he was charged with those specific allegations:

“the fact that the Grand Jury indicted Peterson on a reckless theory means that they did not believe that he intentionally injured his child, but they are accusing him of doing something reckless (A 230 pound ball of muscle hitting a 4 yr old with a switch) that he knew that he could hurt him, but he disregarded that risk.”

It’s sad that Peterson doesn’t realize the gravity of his actions. It’s sad that he learned NOTHING from the death of one of his other children. It’s sad that folks are whining about how this impacts their fantasy football teams. Most of all, it’s sad for that little boy.

$.04--In actual football, the defending Super Bowl champs showed some vulnerability in San Diego. The Chargers beat the Seahawks 30-21, sending both teams to 1-1.

The story of the game was opportunism. Seattle’s vaunted defense could not get off the field on third downs, as San Diego converted 10 of 17 chances. They absolutely dominated the clock, and it worked:

On the other side, Dwight Freeney sacked Russell Wilson on Seattle’s first third down attempt and it set the tone for the game. San Diego stayed composed after Seattle cut the lead to 20-14, mounting a steady drive to threaten the red zone. Seattle had them stopped for a field goal attempt but a personal foul on Bruce Irvin kept the drive alive. Two plays later Antonio Gates caught his third TD pass--a spectacular one-handed stab--and it was 27-14. The game was essentially over.

The score shouldn’t even have been as close as it was. Percy Harvin clearly stepped out of bounds on his long touchdown scamper for Seattle, but the zebras on the field and in the replay booth all somehow missed it. Perhaps it was the 100+ degree heat on the field.

$.05--San Francisco opened Levi’s Stadium some 45 miles outside the city. It was a tale of two halves.

This was an ugly affair early on, one that made me wish I could go to bed instead of writing about the game. There were 17 penalties in the first half.

The Chicago offense was limper than an overcooked Ramen noodle for most of that half:

Fortunately I stuck around to catch what became a pretty compelling game. Niners fans might see it a little differently…

Chicago rallied while San Francisco imploded. Jay Cutler came alive while Colin Kaepernick came unhinged. Cutler wound up throwing four TDs and was masterful in the red zone. Kaepernick turned the ball over four times and was at his worst when his team needed him the most.

The Bears leave town with a much-needed 28-20 win. It elevates them into a 4-way tie in the NFC North. Meanwhile the Niners were exposed for their vulnerable secondary and declining offensive line. They’re now looking up at the Cardinals in the NFC West and travel to Arizona next week with what looks like a lengthy injury list.

$.06--Baltimore rallied around itself in the Thursday night game, thrashing the archrival Steelers 26-6. The actual game didn’t get nearly as much publicity as it should, because what happened between the lines was the most graphic exposure of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team in serious trouble.

Since jumping out to a 27-3 halftime lead in their opener against Cleveland, Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9. Worse, it’s to divisional opponents and with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and emerging stud in running back Le'Veon Bell.

There are myriad reasons why these Steelers look very much like a last-place, 5-11 team. Their offensive line is substandard. Their defensive line is worse than that. The linebackers make those units look like Pro Bowlers.

Poor drafting has been a major culprit. The Steelers are an organization which takes deep pride in its ability to replace aging talent from within. Unfortunately they’ve whiffed on several higher draft picks in recent years, going back to Limas Sweed and Bruce Davis in 2008. Some of the better picks have fled for greener pastures, guys like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, LaMarr Woodley and Kraig Urbik. Complete whiffs on guys like Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Marcus Gilbert, Ziggy Hood, Alameda TaAmu, Curtis Brown, the list goes on and on.  They drafted Jarvis Jones, a player who this 40-year old (at the time) with chronic turf toe outperformed in every Combine test except the bench press, in the first round last year and wonder why he’s been inadequate…at best.

At some point, some of the fault is going to hit the coaches for failing to develop these players and for their inability to properly scheme for the talent they do have. Dick Lebeau is a legend, one of the most innovative defensive minds in NFL history. Alas, he has not changed with the modern NFL. His time has come.

It might be coming for Mike Tomlin too. As many Steelers faithful lament, he gives the same press conference after every defeat. Tomlin takes the blame for failing to have his team prepared and making too many mistakes. How about trying to remedy that, coach? Omar Epps’ doppelganger needs to figure that one out soon. 

$.07--The New York Jets beat the New York Jets in Green Bay. I guess the Packers technically had something to do with it, but the Jets are far more culpable in their own defeat.

New York thoroughly dominated the game early, racing out to a 21-3 lead by scoring touchdowns on each of its first three drives. The Jets completely owned the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively, pushing around the Packer lines with ease.

The worm started turning late in the second quarter, when Geno Smith threw an ill-advised pick deep in Green Bay territory on the first play after the two minute warning. That gave Aaron Rodgers just enough time to mount a critical drive culminating in a Randall Cobb TD reception. That closed the gap to 21-16 instead of having the Jets ahead no worse than 24-9. Huge swing.

As for the second half, the Jets happened. They gained all of 50 yards in the second half. New York even benefitted from a ponderous officiating decision that negated a Smith fumble, as somehow a pass that goes backwards can be ruled forwards even if it’s not really thrown.

When the Packers took the lead, the Jets responded by starting a brawl on the 2 pt. conversion. After tying the game with a 52-yard field goal, it took exactly one play for Jordy Nelson to embarrass first-round picks Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor on an 80-yard catch and run for the go-ahead TD.

Then this happened…

The following wins football tweet of the weekend:

The wiped out TD would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, but some official ruled that some Jets coach not named Rex Ryan called timeout. Of course Ryan is the only person allowed to call timeout from the sideline, but that didn’t matter because the play was blown dead right at the moment of snap. Marty Morninwheg happens, just ask Lions fans…

Somehow, Green Bay eked out the win to improve to 1-1. That’s a critical win, keeping them tied for first in the NFC North and headed to Detroit next week with a chance to seize control of the NFC North, a division they’ve owned recently. The Jets fall to 1-1 and have only themselves to blame.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--Very happy for Austin Davis getting the win in his first start for the Rams. The way that game ended was a travesty, however. Bucs WR Mike Evans makes a great catch and gets rocked by the crown of a helmet into his neck and shoulder. He tries to get up but can’t; he’s obviously hurt by a hit that was obviously a penalty. Since Tampa had no timeouts left, the 10-second runoff penalty caused time to expire with the Bucs in field goal range and trailing by 2.

--The RG3 injury looked terrible, but this is why Washington selected Kirk Cousins in the same draft and refused to trade him despite some (allegedly) tempting offers. Cousins was 22-for-33 for 250 yards and 2 TDs in leading Washington to a 41-10 thrashing of the Jaguars. He’ll be the starter for the foreseeable future, and if he plays like this the question might turn to “what can they get for RG3” instead of Cousins.

--I love the Ickey Woods commercial for Geico. Even after seeing it approximately 113 times over the football week, it still hasn’t gotten old. I totally believe Woods would celebrate getting cold cuts.

--Woods’ old team, the Cincinnati Bengals sit atop the AFC North with a quiet 2-0 record. One of those wins is over Baltimore, the other came Sunday in whacking the Falcons 24-10. A big key: they have yet to turn the ball over in their two games. If only Andy Dalton could do that in January…

--One of the most surprising outcomes came courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, who trounced the host Titans 26-10. The surprising number there is 10. The Cowboys embattled defense forced Jake Locker into a rough day, as Tennessee went just 2-for-10 on third down. Dallas held the ball for over 41 minutes thanks to a pounding rushing attack, the best way to keep a bad defense from being exposed. Good game for Coach Jason Garrett.

--The New York Giants didn’t come close to beating an Arizona team playing an early Eastern game with a backup quarterback. That was one the Giants had to have, and they were thoroughly outclassed. Eli Manning is much more a part of the problem than the solution at this point.

--In my Football Meteorology virtual wagers, I’ve bet big against the Browns twice. I’ve lost twice. Huge win in the home opener for Cleveland and Coach Mike Pettine. They’ve been very solid over the last six quarters with a strong running game and smart football. Like their I-71 brethren, the Browns have yet to turn the ball over in 2014.

$.09--College/Draft quickies

It was a pretty lame weekend of college action, and I watched almost none of it in real time. So the focus here this week is the draft.

--I’m not a huge fan of Michigan State QB Connor Cook, whom I compared to a McCown brother this week. Yet he’s got this going for him…

He’s a better prospect than Hoyer or Cousins at the same point. Stanton was a different style of QB so it’s hard to compare them, but their talent level and ceilings are comparable: capable #2 who can start a few games and not be the reason you lose, but not a guy you are comfortable calling a true #1.

--The one game I was watching was UCLA vs. Texas in Jerry Jones’ palatial shrine to his own cash in Arlington. The Longhorns looked better than they have in years early on, and they even knocked overrated (as a draft prospect) Bruins QB Brett Hundley out of the game. I fell asleep at halftime. I woke up just in time to see backup QB Jerry (son of Rick) Neuheisel being carried off the field after leading UCLA to the win. At some point I’ll have to watch the second half…

--I spent time breaking down Toledo C Greg Mancz and his performance in the Rockets’ exciting loss to Cincinnati. Mancz was impressive as both a right tackle and guard earlier in his Toledo career, and now he’s moved to replace Zac Kerin in the middle. He’s better than Kerin, an undrafted rookie currently on Minnesota’s practice squad. Kerin was nastier but Mancz is stronger and more technically proficient with his hands. I like his ability to fire off the ball and dictate the action, and he generally did well engaging in space. I want and need to see more, but Mancz looks like a worthy Senior Bowl candidate and potential middle-round pick next May.

$.10--Friday was a gut punch, a rotten day to have this job which I normally love. Minutes after talking to ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids (thanks Sean Baligian!) about Greg Hardy’s brutal assault of his girlfriend and Carolina’s tone-deaf refusal to suspend him--let alone deactivate him for a game--the Peterson news broke.

Frequent readers know I’m a Lions fan, but not the kind of fan who hates or roots against other teams. I’m above all else a football fan, and watching AD run all day is a great example of why. My children got home from school about 30 minutes later, and my son immediately wondered why one of his favorite players was in trouble.

It’s hard to explain child abuse to a child who hasn’t been abused. That’s a foreign concept, as is corporal punishment to my children. Answering questions about why someone would whip a child is a conversation I was not ready to have with my kids.

So I unplugged on Friday night. I watched the first half of the Toledo-Cincinnati game with the sound off. Yet every time I saw the NFL on the crawl it completely bummed me out. I really needed a good Saturday to get my mind back in the right place.

I got it thanks to lower levels of sports. My daughter Elizabeth had her first game of kindergarten soccer at 8 AM in the 44 degree cloudiness of the early fall in West Michigan. The game was everything you’ve heard about 5 and 6 year olds playing soccer, one giant amoebic mass of children chasing the ball with no organization or passing. My Lizzie made two legitimate saves while playing goalie, and she nearly scored the first soccer goal in Risdon family history at the other end later on.

It was the lowest level of sports, and it was fantastic. Kids knocking each other over and saying “sorry” before sometimes sitting down next to them as the action played on nearby. There was the one inevitable kid who just couldn’t resist using his hands on the ball…every single time. Each team had one player who looked like Lebron James playing middle schoolers, a couple of kids who have clearly played before, and novices like my Lizzie who smiled when they simply kicked the ball in the right direction.

My son Layne wildly cheered on the young ones, yelling praise and literally leaping out of his shoes when his little sister launched a shot that required a save worthy of Tim Howard. My kids get along well together, but seeing him so fired up and happy for his sister was still absolutely awesome.

After defrosting for a bit, my wife headed to the Michigan/Miami tilt and I took the kids to the local D-III college game. We watched Hope College host Augustana, part of a crowd that was notably less than high school games we attended in Clear Lake, Texas.

We had no rooting interest in the game. Heck, we didn’t even have seats; we sat on a grassy knoll in the end zone. Layne fielded an extra point, as there was no net to catch the ball. Popcorn was $1.25 for about half the amount that costs $8.50 at Ford Field. Admission was $11 for the three of us. Parking, which costs at least $40 to park 3 miles away in Ann Arbor, was free two blocks from the stadium.

It was joyous. The game was close and exciting, with Hope winning 37-27. The skill level was solid and pretty balanced. There were no future NFL players on the field. Most of these young men couldn’t walk onto downtrodden Big Ten teams. It didn’t matter.

For one day anyway, sports became about fun and escapism again. I wish it could always be that way. 


Observations From Week 1, NFC

By Ron Marmalefsky

It is never wise to overreact to last week’s results, especially since it was just the first week of the NFL season.

I support looking back to Week 1 results to find some talking points but given the no contact emphasis of the NFL, coupled with starters barely playing during the preseason it is wise to take a step back and understand what just happened in a broader contest.  New coaches, new QB’s and marquee free agents made their debut last week.  Team chemistry is a work in progress when multiple changes occur.  So what really happened last week?

This report will take a look at each team’s Week 1 performance and provide a brief look forward to the next week. 

DALLAS COWBOYS:

Looking back:

Tony Romo was not sharp at all in Week 1.  Murray ran 22 times for 118 yards and that is exactly what Dallas needs to do, but Romo is showing how much rust he has no matter what his coach and owner say.  San Francisco was not firing on all cylinders after a lackluster preseason but they did not have to facing Dallas.  The Dallas defense produced just one sack.

Looking forward:

Eventually the offense will click to some degree but I don’t see the defense making any kind of progress in ’14.  Dallas was +8 in turnover margin in ’13 and began this season at -4.  Forget any free points as these Cowboys are just trying to tread water.

NEW YORK GIANTS:

Looking back:

Everyone saw in August how Eli Manning was struggling with the new offensive scheme.  He was 18-33 for 163 in Week 1, with a pair of interceptions.  Cruz and Randle combined for four catches and 25 yards.  I do expect bigger things from the run game which was hardly perfect last Monday.  Then again, these Giants have had issues on Monday night.  The defense couldn’t stop Calvin Johnson, but no one can. 

Looking forward:

This next game hosting Arizona is very important.  Sure, the NFC East is awful, but a loss here further highlights the point that maybe only the Divisional winner will make the playoffs.  Arizona has less time to prepare and is off a nice, emotional win.  I’ll be watching defensive pressure to see if the NYG can ramp it up vs. Carson Palmer.  WR Cruz will be targeted more as well.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:

Looking back:

A number of teams posted big second half’s after falling behind in the first 30 minutes of play.  Philly beat the Jaguars 34-0 in the second half.  Newly acquired RB Sproles had a big hand in the offense, and WR Maclin contributed 97 yards and a TD after missing all of ’13.  The weak link was the offensive line.  They allowed five sacks to a bottom five sack defense.  Philly escaped Week 1 but must play better moving forward.

Looking forward:

Two offensive linemen are injured and OT Lane Johnson will remain on suspension until Week 5.  The Colts are hardly a great defensive team so I look for the Eagle scheme to make this a shootout.  This game will test the Eagle’s secondary.  Philly’s history of solid play as a road dog, in domes and on Monday night will be put to the test vs. Andrew Luck. 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS:

Looking back:

Six points!  That shouldn’t happen vs. a Texan team with a shaky secondary and an error-prone QB.  The stat sheet shows RG III at 29-37, RB Morris at 91-7.0 per carry and WR’s Garcon and Jackson catching 18 passes for 139 yards.  I’m just a bit surprised at the point total.  Washington’s defense was decent, but not spectacular. 

Looking forward:

When will that first win come?  The regular season losing streak is now at nine.  It’s important Washington stretch the field vs. the Jacksonville defense and put pressure on Henne without committing to blitz schemes which caused them headaches in the past.  The OL is not perfect as documented by my August preview.  Still, this seems like a must win situation for the team. 

CHICAGO BEARS:

Looking back:

I wonder what the critics would have said if the Bears won 23-20?  Jay Cutler threw an awful across the body pass late which gave Buffalo the chance to win in overtime.  The reality is that the Bears did not look any better on defense.  Similar to Baltimore, Chicago felt the need to throw 49 passes while running just 18 teams vs. a Buffalo run defense that has been in the bottom five each of the previous three seasons.  Something went wrong.

Looking forward:

San Francisco will certainly try to run the ball down Chicago’s defense.  The Bears should have run the ball more last week, but this week they face a team that is tougher vs. the run.  They’ll need Cutler to have a pretty good day in order to pull an upset. 

DETROIT LIONS:

Looking back:

I’m “guilty” of bashing this team for their inability to draft effectively at cornerback and safety.  So when two starters were injured the Lions fielded a secondary with virtually no name recognition.  That group held Eli Manning and the inept NYG to under 170 passing yards.  Golden Tate had a decent career in Seattle, a run first team.  I expected him to thrive here and Calvin and Golden combined to go 13-257 vs. a decent NYG pass defense.  All QB Stafford needs to do is limit his own turnovers, which he did quite nicely in the opening week.  Is there any way the Lions can limit penalties? 

Looking forward:

Win at Carolina and I will be duly impressed.  The Lions will have less than six full days of preparation and have historically been poor as a grass dog.  But this looks like a playoff team IF the secondary overachieves and the penalties stop. 

GREEN BAY PACKERS:

Looking back:

I have very good news for Packer fans.  Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota have QB’s who are pocket passers.  Green Bay could not contain Seattle and mobile QB Russell Wilson just as they have had continuous trouble with SF and Colin Kaepernick.  In the end the Packers allowed 207 rush yards and sacked Wilson just once.  The offense will be fine as long as Lacy is cleared, but I’m a bit concerned that there was no production at WR behind stars Nelson and Cobb.  It’s Green Bay’s own fault that they have fewer options than usual at TE.  Once again there are concerns along the offensive line.

Looking forward:

The Packers have a full 10 days to prepare for Geno Smith.  I expect a solid passing performance from Rodgers.  What I don’t know is if the run defense will regroup vs. a varied Jet rush attack.  How good is this Green Bay defense moving forward?

MINNESOTA VIKINGS:

Looking back:

It’s just one game, and it came vs. the QB challenged Rams, who also have a problem in pass defense.  Still, as much as I have touted the talent of new head coach Mike Zimmer for over a decade it is quite possible I underestimated his value to this organization.  We’ll all know more moving forward but game #1 was pretty good.  The Vikings allowed 24-36 vs. the two Ram QB’s and I did project an over 60% pass defense.  The team is not fully complete of course but they are in great spirits and figure to improve upon last year’s -12 turnover ratio, which is +2 after game #1.

Looking forward:

Games 2-5 are tougher, especially for their defense.  They face Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.  That’s why it was so important for the new staff to get that first win early!  I think the turnover ratio will not regress to ’13 levels, but I do expect parts of the defense and even some of the offense to be exposed a bit.  Look for TE Rudolph to be used more often.

ATLANTA FALCONS:

Looking back:

That was nice!  Games vs. New Orleans are always entertaining and this one did not disappoint.  I liked the 25-123 rush attack but since rookie RB Freeman was just 2-15 I’m not sure this is sustainable.  It sure was nice to have Julio Jones back (7-116).  Atlanta’s defense had zero sacks.  That area was not fixed in the offseason and won’t be a strong suit this season.

Looking forward:

Obviously, Drew Brees is elite, but overall I still see Atlanta has having a suspect pass D%.  Winning a close game is a positive sign but I still want to see how Atlanta plays offensively in the red zone in crunch time.  The defense will be tested this Sunday at Cincinnati but the offense could possibly go toe to toe with the Bengals. 

CAROLINA PANTHERS:

Looking back:

What do Stephen Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Wheaton and Derek Anderson have in common?  They all went to Oregon State University!  The first four guys played in the early slate of games and each one of them made a difference.  Is it any wonder that Anderson would make it five for five in the late game?  Carolina lost three OL this offseason yet allowed just one sack of the immobile Anderson.  All WR’s who caught a pass left the team yet Anderson was 24-34 for 230 yards.  The secondary is not good at all yet held its own.  I don’t think Head Coach Rivera gets enough credit for his understanding of defense.  This was a solid effort by a team who knows how to win playing against a team that must learn how to win.  Rookie WR Benjamin was expected to flourish in this offense and he was 6-92-1.  TE Olsen was 8-83-1.  Good things will happen if that turnover ratio remains on the plus side.

Looking forward:

Cam returns now and he faces a Lion team that is just as vulnerable in the secondary.  I’m not a fan of the Panther’s secondary which will be tested by Matthew Stafford.  I noted in the preview that a win at Tampa may trigger a 3-0 start.  I still think there will be rough points during the season but the confidence level got a huge boost in Week 1.  

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS:

Looking back:

Here we go again.  The Saints and Rob Ryan still need to work on their 4th quarter defense.  There’s nothing wrong offensively and I like what Mark Ingram brings to the table.  Brandin Cooks had a solid debut.  I just need to see a reduced point defense.

Looking forward:

I think the secondary will begin to intercept passes this weekend but I came into the season worried about the run defense and nothing changed after the Saints allowed 25-123 to a below par Atlanta rush attack.  I projected defensive sacks to be above the league average for ’14.  That could easily happen, but game one was nothing special (one sack).  All eyes should be on the defense in the weeks ahead.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS:

Looking back:

Ugly!  Carolina was without Cam Newton and was starting three new OL and an all new WR group.  The secondary was below par last year and lost its best player in free agency.  Tampa laid an egg at home in what I called their key game of the season!  Would QB McCown miss Chicago offensive guru Marc Trestman?  The immediate answer is yes.  Once again, there is a reason why I have a column called “Does the preseason mean anything?”  RB Martin ran 10 times for 10 yards in August.  He ran nine times for nine yards in game #1.  To refresh, Tampa could not run this preseason and the offensive line allowed 14 sacks.  The August pass D% (68.5%) showed no signs of recovery.  Tampa had a 1-3 sack ratio vs. Carolina and allowed 24-34 passing to a back-up QB.  Was this performance just part of the adjustment period with so many new faces on the team or a sign that Tampa is not really that good of a team?

Looking forward:

I never was sure why McCown was so coveted considering he was out of football not that long ago.  Still, he can be accurate and he has a good 1-2 punch at WR.  Of greater concern is how the defense fared in Week 1.  I noted in the team keys part of the preview that Tampa “improved” to 35 defensive sacks in ’13.  The NFL average was near 41 so realistically this team is and remains below average in this area.  What if they can’t beat STL in their second consecutive home game?  Tampa needs not just to win on 9/14, but to win with authority. 

ARIZONA CARDINALS:

Looking back:

One of the best games in NFL Week 1 took place in Arizona where the Cardinals edged out San Diego 18-17.  The good news from that game is that Arizona was able to run with some effectiveness and Caron Palmer threw zero interceptions.  I also like this secondary which limited the experienced Philip Rivers to under 60%.  The run defense was strong in ’13 and started out much the same in Week 1.  I suspected that defensive sacks would be a challenged with all their injuries and suspensions.  Arizona had zero defensive sacks in Week 1.  10-6 did not make the NFC playoffs in ’13.  This was a much needed win.

Looking forward:

It may not have looked that way, but the NYG have a solid defense.  They hope to force Palmer into making some ill-advised throws.  The NYG will try to establish the run so if Arizona can force them to pass it becomes advantage Cardinals.  This has typically not been an easy game for Arizona but perhaps they steal a win just because the Giants are in a far darker spot emotionally.  A 2-0 record in games that really looked on paper as tossups would be a great way to start ’14.

ST. LOUIS RAMS:

Looking back:

I watched as Jeff Fisher delivered a fiery emotional speech at halftime of the game hosting Minnesota.  The team did not respond.  New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is an upgrade over his predecessors but Week 1 results vs. a team in transition (Minnesota) showed zero progress.  The run defense was 30-186.  The pass defense vs. a mediocre QB was 17-25.  Sacks vs. a sack prone QB totaled 1, and now Chris Long is sidelined.  The OL could not protect their substandard QB’s.  How quickly can the Rams erase this disaster from their memory?

Looking forward:

Kansas City and Washington had Week 1 problems but it could be argued that STL and Tampa were at the bottom of the barrel based solely on Week 1 results.  Now they play each other.  A confidence boosting win for either team is essential.  STL was +7 in turnover ratio last year.  I don’t like the looks of that figure right now.  STL would dearly like to establish the run vs. Tampa, taking pressure off their QB’s.  More importantly, they need to force turnovers vs. Tampa QB McCown, as I suspect he will complete a nice % vs. this Ram secondary. 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS:

Looking back:

San Francisco took advantage of early Cowboys' mistakes and rolled to an easy victory.  This may be slightly misleading, as facing and beating a poor Dallas team in convincing fashion masks the fact that the 49ers are not playing all that well themselves.  This team looks once again like it will run effectively and finish on the good side of the turnover ratio ledger but I remain concerned about play in the middle of the defensive line.  In addition, I’m not sure SF knows if it is fully comfortable in transitioning to more of a pass attack even with a stronger receiving unit in place.  SF had three defensive sacks and that is a good sign.

Looking forward:

The defense will be tested by Jay Cutler in Week 2.  The offense will be tested by defensively sound Arizona in Week 3.  The results of these games will help determine if Kaepernick is throwing more accurately and if the defense is not quite performing to the level they were at a year ago.  I have some concerns but this well-coached team may overcome many of them. 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS:

Looking back:

If confidence wins games then mark Seattle down for 16-0.  Their game plan was vastly superior to Green Bay’s Week 1 and they toyed with the Packers' defense.  Once again this team was able to parlay looking good in August with early regular season performance.  Maybe everyone underestimated the value of Percy Harvin in the run game!  He was a man among boys in Week 1.  Seattle allowed but one sack to the Green Bay defense.  They allowed 43 sacks in total a year ago and if this area improves then the team goes to a whole new level. 

Looking forward:

Seattle did a credible job limiting Green Bay to 80 rush yards but I still feel the run defense will undergo some growing pains in ’14.  Few teams come close to repeating a +20 turnover ratio.  Seattle is unlikely to get that close but will probably be strong in this area.  At some point the Seahawks will be challenged, perhaps on the road or with their offensive line in pass protection but for now it’s all systems go.  



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