The NFL Regular Season is underway, and as is often the case, it was full of surprises no-one could have predicted after the off-season and preseason periods. And at the same time, some things seemed to remain the same, in spite of plenty of indication that they should change. We look at five of the things we learned from the NFL opening weekend after the jump.
1. NFC West Remains Division to Beat
In their opening games, both the NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks and 2013 playoff contender San Francisco 49ers proved that they are still amongst the favourites to contend for the Super Bowl again this year. Both teams dominated their oppositions, with spectacular defensive football, and solid offensive play. Neither team seemed to have missed a beat following their playoff caliber football in 2013, and look set to continue to dominate in 2014.
The Arizona Cardinals played a late Monday night game, beating the San Diego Chargers 18-17. It was a tough match between two potentially playoff caliber teams, and the Cardinals proved that their defence has not been hugely impacted by the key losses they have suffered, while their offence continues to make strides forwards. With the expected return of Tyrann Mathieu next week, this is another tough team who are making considerable noise, and have many considering the Cardinals serious playoff contenders too.
2013 also-rans the St. Lois Rams looked predictably poor again, with another major injury to Sam Bradford effectively ending their season before it began.
The NFC West looks to once again be one of the toughest divisions in football, with many wondering if NFC West could potentially own both NFC Wildcard spots come post season.
2. Dolphins Victory Over Patriots Could Signal Changing of the Guard In AFC East
In one o the biggest shocks of the early season, the New England Patriots—a team that have only failed to win their division once in the last decade, and had not lost a season opener over that same period—were handed a shock defeat by division rivals the Miami Dolphins.
During preseason many had considered the Patriots one of the best defensive teams in the AFC following the addition of Darrelle Revis, however after a relatively solid first half for the Patriots defence, the Dolphins were able to post 23 unanswered points in the second half to win the game 33-20.
However, perhaps the biggest shock there is the word unanswered. Teams have long known how to score points on the Patriots, but Tom Brady and the team’s offence have usually always done a better job of racking up points of their own. However, against the Dolphins, the struggled immensely to move the ball, with Brady posting just shy of 250 yards through the air, with just one passing TD and two lost fumbles, and a lousy 51.8% completion percentage.
Brady simply didn’t seem to be able to work his usual magic, and the team looked lacklustre throughout. A huge part was an offensive line which clearly lacked chemistry, but in practically every phase, and at every level, the team struggled. The Patriots may recover, but it will take a lot of hard work if the team want to make the playoffs again this season.
3. “Gimme” Extra Points Aren’t Quite A 100% Sure Thing
During the preseason, the NFL experimented with ways to make extra points more exciting and less “automatic”. Whether the experiment was a success or not remains to be seen, but their reasoning was, well, reasonable. Their argument was simple—extra points are virtually automatic. They are rarely missed and virtually never blocked, so why are we risking players health on a play that doesn’t matter.
Seemingly, a few special teams coordinators didn’t take kindly to being told their effort was pointless, and put in a little extra practice time blocking extra points—seemingly to prove a point.
That paid off big time for the Houston Texans, when JJ Watt blocked the extra point following the Redskins first—and ultimately only—touchdown of the night.
In the end, the blocked extra point was not decisive for the Texans, and come the end of the season when conversations about the value of the extra point continue, this will be a forgotten anomaly, the exception that proves the rule.
But at least for now, JJ Watt can rest easy knowing he single handedly affected the extra point completion percentage in a meaningful way.
4. Injuries Continue to Shape Season For Multiple Teams
We have already mentioned how the Rams season was derailed by the season ending injury to their quarterback Sam Bradford, but multiple Week One injuries could have similar results for other teams, if they are as serious as they initially appear.
Perhaps the biggest names were first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and Bengals TE Tyler Eifert, who has quickly emerged as one of the teams top targets, but numerous other injuries could have significance for their respective teams.
Clowney injured his knee, and underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Typically, this takes at least 4-6 weeks to heal for an athlete, meaning Clowney could miss nearly half of his rookie season, which could potentially derail the Falcons season.
Eifert suffered what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, which can take at least 10 weeks to heal, but is often coupled with nerve damage that can be debilitating, and take extensive rehabilitation. He could be placed on the IR as designated to return, which would guarantee he is out for at least 8 weeks.
Additionally, LB Derek Johnson and DE Mike DeVito of the Kansas City Chiefs both suffered ruptured Achilles tendons, ending both of their seasons. The Chiefs defense is already thinned by injury, and this may prove a difficult loss to overcome.
Other inures include Vontaze Burfict (Concussion) an injury which can be notoriously problematic in both the short and long term, Ben Tate (Knee) the extent of whose injury is currently unknown, but again, which could be long term, and Jordan Reed (Hamstring) a player known to be injury prone, and with a typical recovery time of at least 2 weeks, but often more—given that re-injury is common.
Ravens Playoff Hopes Could Be Over
The Baltimore Ravens were expected by many to be playoff contenders again this season. After a disappointing 8-8 season in 2013, the Ravens appeared set to bounce back. Even without their talismanic running back, Ray Rice, due to suspension, many fans were encouraged was handed a surprisingly lenient two-game suspension—even in spite of the outcry from womanise rights groups, and the world at large. Those two games came against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, two tough, but winnable games.
Most had predicted that even without Rice, the Flacco and the Ravens should have been good enough to win against the Bengals, who have historically struggled significantly in Baltmore, and at least challenge against the Steelers. Even a 1-1 start to the season was considered positive for most fans.
However, the Ravens simply did not look on point throughout the game, and did not look like the team which went to the Super Bowl two seasons back, looking far more akin to the sub-par 2013 version of the team. A relatively close 23-16 loss for the team perhaps belies how bad the team looked for long stretches of the game.
However, after a tough loss in week one, things went from bad to worse when TMZ released video of the assault which got him suspended in the first place.
The video was hard to watch, and the Ravens made the correct choice, releasing Rice from his contract, with the league suspending him shortly afterwards.
However, now without Rice for the rest of the year, and with the added distraction this brings them, many are wondering if the Ravens can hope even to match their 8-8 record from 2013.
We shall wait and see, but things do not look good for the franchise at the moment.