The 2015-16 season, the “golden anniversary” of the NFL, ended with the Denver Broncos capturing its third Super Bowl by defeating the Carolina Panthers 24-10. Even though Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset and Carolina lost All-Pro corner Josh Norman, both teams figure to be in the mix for another playoff run. To add intrigue to the start of the 2016-17 season, these two teams were set up for a Week 1 matchup that was sure to be epic.
Carolina’s Graham Gano missed a 50 yard field attempt with a few seconds left and Denver held on for the 21-20 victory on Thursday Night Football. Unfortunately, the storyline of this game wasn’t the battle between two Super Bowl contenders or Denver starting Trevor Siemian – a guy who had never thrown a pass in a regular season game. It was about the abuse endured by the reigning league MVP Cam Newton. Newton was only sacked three times, but the Broncos defense punished the quarterback with helmet to helmet hits all night long. Credit the man who is self-proclaimed to be on “Gods Fantasy Team” for hanging in there all night and even refusing to take jabs at the officials, but its past time the NFL look into the way the strips officiated Newton because he just doesn’t seem to get the same amount of protection from hits that other NFL quarterbacks receive.
The Baltimore Ravens got defensive by allowing only 169 total yards (not including special teams) in a 13-7 win over the Buffalo Bills. In the process, they won on opening day for the first time since 2012. Buffalo wasn’t able get anything going on the ground or through the air in an effort that brought back memories of the great Ravens’ defenses during the Ray Lewis era. The Kansas City Chiefs, down 24-3 late in the 3rd quarter, stormed back to pick up a 33-27 overtime win over division rival San Diego Chargers. It took awhile for the Chiefs offense to wake up, but better late than never. Alex Smith (363 yards, 2 TDs) led the team on three long scoring drives finishing things off with a two-yard plunge to cap a 10 play, 70 yard drive for the win. The victory was great but the Chiefs should be concerned that the defense, which is supposed to be the strongest aspect of the team, allowed 155 rushing yards. With Houston next on the slate, KC needs to get that run defense fixed in a hurry.
Speaking of Houston, the Texans shelled out a ton of cash this offseason to finally bring stability to their quarterback position and for one week at least, Brock Osweiler made the investment look wise. Osweiler (231 passing yards, 2 TDs) led Houston to the win by connecting with rookie wide receiver Will Fuller for the game-winning score early in the 4th quarter. The other major offseason free agent acquisition, Lamar Miller, gained over 100 yards on the ground and provided the Texans with the balance on offense that good teams develop.
In a highly entertaining game, the Oakland Raider knocked off the New Orleans Saints 35-34 for the come from behind victory. With the Raiders offense rolling in the 4th quarter, Oakland coach Jack Del Rio made the kind of gutsy call that can ruin a season by electing to go for two points with the game on the line. Instead, Derek Carr (319 passing yards) made his coach look like a genius after he hit Michael Crabtree on a fade route with 47 seconds left in regulation. Drew Brees (423 yards, 4 TDs) did everything in his power to will the Saints to victory, but the defense was so bad (over 500 total yards allowed) that he could have thrown for 500 yards and they still would’ve lost. Odds are the Saints will have plenty of games this season that end in this manner.
Cincinnati went on the road and picked up a quality win over the New York Jets, 23-22. Andy Dalton (366 passing yards) and AJ Green (see below) were spectacular, but the real hero of this game was kicker Mike Nugent who drilled a 47 yard field goal with less than a minute left to seal the win. The Bengals will head to Pittsburgh for a marquee matchup with the Steelers in what is sure to have plenty of fireworks.
No Tom Brady, no problem for New England. The Patriots took advantage of a Chandler Catanzaro missed FG to steal a 23-21 win in Arizona. Jimmy Garoppolo (264 passing yards, 1 TD) did his best Brady impression by leading his team to a come from behind victory. Arizona, much hyped as the NFC’s best team coming into the season, will use the week to regroup and get ready for a much improved Tampa Bay team. The Pittsburgh Steelers were missing Le’Veon Bell (suspension), Martavis Bryant (suspension), Markus Wheaton (injured) and Health Miller (retirement) heading its Monday night contest at Washington. However, it didn’t matter because the Steelers’ offense still looked unstoppable in a 38-16 win. Roethlisberger threw for 300 or more yards for the 5th time in his last seven games (going back to last season) and running back DeAngelo Williams (171 totals yards, 2 TDs) filled in capably for Bell. Of course All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown (126 yards, 2 TDs) made the Redskins secondary look like a college team. Injuries/suspensions aside, this version of the Steelers looks like a legitimate contender for a 7th Super Bowl ring.
It wasn’t pretty but the Green Bay Packers made enough plays to pick up an important road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-23. Aaron Rodgers (199 passing yards, 3 TDs) and the rest of the offense didn’t look like the fine-tuned machine we are used to seeing. But the defense, which allowed 320 passing yards to Blake Bortles, was able to make the play of the game, stopping Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns on a 4th and 1 to close out the game. Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz started off his NFL career in brilliant fashion leading the Eagles to a 29-10 over the Cleveland Browns. Wentz (278 passing yards, 2 TDs, 101 QBR) looked like a seasoned vet engineering an offense that shredded the lowly Browns for 403 total yards. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews added 7 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown in what looks like the makings of a potent vertical threat for Philly. Of course it’s the Browns, so the performance should be taken with a grain of salt.
For the Browns, it couldn’t have gone any worse. Josh McCown will be taking over at quarterback as RGIII is slated to miss at least 8 weeks with a shoulder injury. Matthew Stafford led the Lions to a 39-35 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the first game ACJ (after Calvin Johnson). Stafford picked up right where he left off last season going 31/39, 340 yards and 3 TDs. In fact, it was Stafford’s fifth consecutive game with a 100+ quarterback rating. Stafford continues to look highly efficient in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense which also averaged 4.8 yards per carry on the ground. Lion’s management swore that the offense might be better without Megatron because his absence would force teams to change coverages. Call me naive, but I don’t understand how losing a guy who commanded the attention of double and triple defenders wouldn’t make it easier for other guys to make plays, but hey if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
The New York Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-19 in a matchup of NFC East rivals. The Giants used a balance attack on offense and made enough plays on defense. Dallas played this game with rookie Dak Prescott under center. Prescott wasn’t great, but he didn’t look uncomfortable. He will need to find a way to get Dez Bryant the ball more because make no mistake, Bryant is the Cowboys best offensive weapon. Four targets isn’t enough for one of the league’s best receivers. Tampa Bay pulled out a huge 31-24 win over NFC south rival Atlanta Falcons. Jameis Winston was in total control passing for 281 yards and 4 TDs. Atlanta couldn’t stop Tampa and couldn’t get anything going on the ground as running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for 42 rushing yards on 20 attempts.
Minnesota’s Super Bowl title hopes seemed to end at the very second quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic leg injury. As good as Bridgewater was supposed to be, it was really the defense that potentially makes Minnesota elite. That defense showed up in a big way in a 25-16 win over Tennessee. After going trailing 10-0 at the half, the defense scored two touchdowns in the 3rd quarter; a 77 interception return by Eric Kendricks and a 24 yard fumble return by Danielle Hunter. The Vikings reacted quickly to the Bridgewater injury by trading for quarterback Sam Bradford. With their defense, it might not matter if Bradford or incumbent starter Shaun Hill is leading the offense.
The winner of the ugliest win of the week goes to Seattle which beat Miami 12-10 in a game in which I literally dosed off watching. Not much to say about this one. In the final game of Week 1, the San Francisco 49ers shut out the Los Angeles Rams 28-0. I’m not sure if San Francisco is really good or if the Rams are really bad. Smart money suggests it’s probably a combination of both. Regardless, the Chip Kelly era got off to a great start.
- DeAngelo Williams (PIT) – 143 rushing yards (5.5 yards/carry), 6 catches, 2 TDs in a win over Washington.
- AJ Green (CIN) – 12 catches, 180 yards, 1 TD in a win over the NY Jets.
- Spencer Ware (KC) – 70 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD; 7 catches and 129 receiving yards in a win over San Diego.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Brown (8 catches, 126 yards, 2 TDs), Drew Brees (423 passing yards, 4 TDs), CJ Anderson (139 total yards, 2 TDs), Brandin Cooks (6 catches, 143 yards receiving, 2 TDs), Andrew Luck (385 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, 4 TDs), Jameis Winston (281 passing yards, 4 TDs), Matthew Stafford (340 passing yards, 3 TDs).
- Dez Bryant (DAL) – 1 catch for 8 yards in a loss to the NY Giants.
- Devonta Freeman (ATL)– 11 carries, 20 yards, in a loss to Tampa Bay.
- Coby Fleener (NO) – 1 catch, 6 yards (6 targets) in loss to Oakland.