The NFL Didn’t Take a Strong Stance on Kneeling…Does It Have To?

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If we learned one thing from this past weekend of national anthem drama, it’s that the NFL loves unity. Both the league and many of its teams chose to approach the situation by embracing that ideal, whether it be through a statement or locking arms on the field.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” Goodell said in his statement.

“Our country needs more unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” the Miami Dolphins’ statement read.

After the Titans stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, one player explained the move by saying, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”

Although some teams and owners used stronger language in their statements, the overarching message of the weekend was that the NFL was united with its players. While this made some feel good inside and have hope for the future of the league, others asked, “Well, what are we showing unity towards? Anger towards Trump? First amendment rights? Recognizing an inequality problem in the county?”

The answer to that question was less clear, as nearly every official statement avoided the real reason players knelt in the first place (racial inequality/mistreatment towards African-Americans) in favor of “pursuing positive change” or something similar. This didn’t sit well with too many people, leading them to challenge the NFL to take a stronger stance and acknowledge if there’s a race problem in our country. But should they?

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While it’s fair to say the NFL approached the situation through a PR lens, is it fair to bash them for it? The NFL, as well as its individual teams, all share a responsibility to their stakeholders (fans, owners, players, employees, etc.) and they did their best at finding an effective way to do that in an extremely tough situation. Perhaps the best example of just how difficult it was for teams to balance that line was when Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys took a knee before the anthem and were still booed! Some fans are so hypersensitive to any sign of disrespect of the anthem that “unity” is just about the only reasonable course of action left. Conversely, vague displays of trust also leave many unimpressed.

Would it have been nice to see the NFL address the racial issues in our country or show support for the kneeling NFL players’ cause? Sure. Whether you agree with the extent of the issue or not, it would have been cool to see the NFL become a leader on a social issue like equality. But expecting them to is setting expectations a bit too high. Kaepernick’s fight is not their fight. By NFL standards, the move to call the President’s words divisive and disrespectful was pretty bold.

As a quick aside, I’ve never been one to complain about politics in sports. I also like players to be opinionated and unafraid to be their authentic selves. But in this case, I just can’t fault the NFL for staying neutral on this one (if that’s even what you can call it). The NFL doesn’t want to talk politics any more than fans do and that’s understandable. For once, I think the NFL’s statement was enough. It allowed players to approach the situation how they saw fit. It didn’t censor them. LeSean McCoy even stretched on the sideline during the anthem (vastly more disrespectful than taking a knee) and the league hasn’t said a word about it.

So where does the NFL go from here? I understand some still faulting the NFL for claiming to care about the interests of the players while catering to its fans and brand image more often. But this whole anthem situation really presents a great opportunity for the NFL and its teams to make a positive impact in society and come out looking fantastic after it’s all said and done. How can they do that? I don’t have that answer. But why not attempt to capitalize on all this “unity” and show that the league can be an agent for positive change (in anything) through actions, rather than statements? For once, the league and its players agree on something. That’s a rare and powerful combination. Let’s see if they use it for more than just fighting the President.

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From Chiefs to Lions: Is it a mirage?

Someone famous and cool once said the NFL doesn’t truly start until Thanksgiving. Well Turkey Day has come and gone and what we’re left with is a deep field of teams that look poised to play “real” football. Four teams in particular—Chiefs, Dolphins, Giants, and Lions—are a few of the hottest teams in football. It’s a typical NFL trope: who these teams are and how they win makes us skeptical of their potential. But just because it’s typical doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. Nobody likes to be made a fool. Is what we’re seeing with these four teams a mirage? A closer look may reveal what we should expect in a post-Thanksgiving world.

First, let’s play a game. It’s that really awful game where any football broadcast takes some impressive stats, but puts a question mark over the owner of those stats. When the question mark is taken away, we’re all shocked!

“The guy ranked 2nd in first downs and 4th in rushing touchdowns is…Melvin Gordon??? How can that be?!”

Anyways, there’s a team in the NFL that is scorching hot. They are 18-3 in their last 21 regular season games. Some might call that the beginning of a dynasty. (Most people wouldn’t, but some might!)

Here we go, the big reveal…..it’s got to be the Patriots, right? They’ve been great for seemingly forever, with or without Tom Brady. But nope, not them.

Then maybe the defending champion Broncos? Think again.

Cowboys or Panthers?? They both lost just one game either this year or last year, so it’s not totally unreasonable. Except it’s not them by a long shot.

The answer, if not already given away by the title of the post, is…the Kansas City Chiefs! Shocked?? Ah, see, the game works!

Yes, the Chiefs are on a hot streak that has seemed to slip somewhat under the radar. Many Chiefs fans demand respect! Question is, do they deserve it? The idea of combining Alex Smith and Super Bowl triggers some cognitive dissonance. The way they win isn’t easy to trust. I believe Smith ranks just above WR Willie Snead in passes over 20 yards this season. TE Travis Kelce has consistently been Kansas City’s leading pass-catcher, snagging countless 10-yard seam routes. The defense has been consistently solid, ranking in the top 10 in points allowed for four straight years and never allowing more than 20 points per game in that span.

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The regular season is Alex Smith’s favorite time of year.

So why does it feel like KC is going to cruise into the playoffs, only to be knocked out by a “real contender?” They’ve beaten both the Raiders and Broncos already this year. At what point do we accept that they could make a run? Perhaps the latter part of their schedule could be a more in-depth litmus test for a playoff performance. They play @Atlanta, Oakland, Tennessee, Denver, and @San Diego (combined record 33-22). That’s a tough road to navigate, but if KC manages to squeak out just three, they’ll be sitting at 11-5 and almost surely in the playoffs. Even then, they’ll need to nab a couple playoff wins for people to take this team seriously.

In the deep AFC, the Chiefs are hardly the most interesting story at this point in the season. Many would likely hand over that title to the Oakland Raiders, but one scorching-hot team may be giving them some competition. That team is the Miami Dolphins, winners of six straight and now 7-4 on the season. There was a time when Miami was 1-4 and life made sense. This, once again, wasn’t a team we could trust and we could finally write them off early and move on with our lives. Jay Ajayi had different plans. Behind an offensive line that finally meeting expectations, Ajayi and the Dolphins have found a winning formula. They pound the rock with hard-hitting Ajayi and then toss the ball up to a budding superstar in DeVante Parker. Their defense is doing a better job of getting to the passer recently, but they still struggle to stuff the run game. One problem I have with this team that gives me pause is that they don’t seem to do anything spectacular. They are pretty good at a lot of things, but we often picture solid playoff teams with two or even one thing they’ve mastered. However, unlike the Chiefs, Miami may not have to be spectacular to find themselves playing in January. They face @Baltimore, Arizona, @Jets, @Buffalo, and New England (combined 28-26). Aside from the finale with the Pats, those are all games they could win with how they’re playing now.

Now let’s travel over to the NFC, where the Cowboys own the conference but their toughest competition might be found in their own division. New York (8-3) owns the 2nd best record in the NFC and are just two games out from the division lead. They won the crucial season-opener over Dallas and have another matchup (at home) approaching soon. However, even with the six-game win streak and the proximity to Dallas, something feels off. The expectations for this team before the season rested heavily on the defense. Many (including myself) figured that if those highly-paid free agents could just elevate that defense to average, a high-powered offense could carry them to interesting places.

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Not exactly the formula for a playoff contender.

Well, in true Giants fashion, the defense has done their job (16th in total defense), but it’s the offense that is struggling mightily. An offense with a two-time Super Bowl MVP QB, Odell Beckham, Victory Cruz, and Sterling Shepherd only ranks 22nd in total offense. To be fair, the passing game itself ranks 13th. But you can see the difficulties on the field. Punt after punt after punt against the Bears and Browns doesn’t exactly scream Super Bowl contender. With the offense still figuring it out 12 weeks in, we’re left with a similar question to Miami’s: what is this team actually good at? If you want to tab “clutch defense at the end of games” as reliable trait, then maybe that. Game after game the defense holds the opponent from that back-breaking touchdown that cost them so many games last year. That’s the real difference this year, isn’t it? New York isn’t that much different of a team from last year, they’re just winning the close games with a slightly-more-reliable defense. For New York, December looms as a potential wake-up call. They’re @Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit, @Philly, and @Redskins. Something tells me those teams won’t forgive stalled drives as much as the Bears and Browns.

Finally we come to the black magic that’s disguised as the Detroit Lions. In a division we expected Aaron Rodgers to control, but then thought Minnesota would run away with, the Detroit Lions hold the lead at 7-4. How are they doing it? Oh, you know, that old fashioned football strategy where you win seven games after trailing in the 4th quarter. Think about that. In all 11 games this season, Detroit has trailed in the fourth quarter. They’ve won seven of those games. It takes a brighter mind than I to figure out how they are getting away with that. Keep in mind this is all without star receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. We’ll see if they can manage to keep a lead against their upcoming schedule of @New Orleans, Chicago, @Giants, @Dallas, and Green Bay. It wouldn’t surprise me if Detroit begins to drop some of these late game. Their matchup with New York should be especially interesting given both those teams’ ability to close games out this season.

The NFC and AFC are incredibly deep this year, filled with many more interesting teams than just these four. However, there’s a great chance more than one of these teams gets into the playoffs on the back of their hot start. It may be hard to imagine now, but teams like these just need a few wins in January to luck into a Super Bowl birth.

A lot can change in seven weeks: A quick look back, then ahead

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Green Bay used to be the team to beat. Now they’re being beat and will have to fight for a division that looked locked up. Photo credit: ESPN.com

One of my favorite things about every NFL season is how we form a framework of the league in our heads, using what we watch and our own preconceptions to position teams. Power rankings are a perfect example of this. The standings reflect wins and losses, but power rankings try to explain who these teams really are based on what we’ve seen. Nobody in the history of the league has ever agreed on one Power Ranking list. Our frameworks are all different and they change all the time.

My absolute favorite part about all this is how soon these beliefs become deeply entrenched. After just five weeks, we think we know who these teams are. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. I wish we had the ability to show our Week 5 selves what we’re saying now. Take, for example, the conversation I overheard today between a couple of guys about the Green Bay Packers:

“How about the Packers? Wow.”

“Yeah they’re awful now. No chance against Minnesota.”

Imagine telling that to somebody after Week 5! Green Bay was arguably the best team in the league at that point and looked poised to meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl after cruising to a 13-3 regular season. Now they’re “awful.” Now, that’s obviously a bit of an overreaction but it still illustrates how quick things can change. That may sound obvious, but just think about how confident you are in some teams right now. What if I told you the division-leading Vikings would miss the playoffs completely? Last year, the 7-2 NFC East leading Eagles were in the same position and ended up falling short of the postseason.

The season moves so fast and we’re unable to appreciate some of the trends and changes that form the league. Here at the start of Week 11, I think this is a good place to take a quick look back at where we were in Week 5 and then see where we might be in Week 17.

Seven weeks ago…

Real Clear Sports does a good job of gathering all the different Power Rankings from major sports sites and creating an aggregate list. This smooths out some outliers and gives us a good idea of what the public generally thinks of the league. Click here if you want to view the full Week 5 rankings yourself. Some things I noticed:

To me, the Patriots and Packers were clearly the two top dogs. They were hardly the only undefeated teams–there were six–but they were dominating opponents consistently, had two of the best QBs in the league, and performed as elite teams consistently throughout the decade. We were used to these guys being on top and they were on top again.

With Green Bay dropping three straight and relinquishing their division lead to the Vikings, who are the top dogs now? New England sure seems to have a stranglehold on the league’s top spot. While I’d agree that Carolina owns that second spot, I don’t think they’ve quite yet reached the caliber that Green Bay and New England appeared to have in those opening weeks. Green Bay is still a solid team, but their recent tumble has left the Patriots all alone.

On the other side of things, you may remember a few teams getting off to rocky starts. Chicago dropped three straight to begin the season on the way to 2-3. They were getting blown out in their losses and Cutler even got knocked out in the second week to make things look really grim. But pay attention to who some teams lose to because it could tell us something. Chicago lost to the Packers (6-3), Cards (7-2), and Seahawks (4-5), a pretty tough opening slate if you ask me. Against some easier competition, the Bears have figured some things out and have an outside shot at the playoffs at 4-5.

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All looked lost when Jamaal Charles went down for the year. Instead, Kansas City has won three straight and put themselves in contention for a playoff spot. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Minnesota and Kansas City are a couple teams in a similar position. They started slow (Vikings 2-2, Chiefs 1-4), but have strung together some wins to put themselves in contention. Minnesota is obviously in much better shape, now atop the NFC North at 7-2. But the Chiefs are quietly competing in that large pack of AFC teams gunning for a wildcard spot. They looked dreadful to start the season, but now sit at 4-5, a game out of that sixth spot.

It’s important to note that despite all these changes, most things have remained the same. Carolina, Cincy, and Arizona are still flying high while Seattle and Indy are surprisingly struggling. The NFC East was thrown into chaos with early injuries to Romo and Dez and somehow it seems like we’re dealing with even more questions today. We can expect a lot to stay the same in the next seven weeks of the season, but what has the potential to flip the script?

Seven weeks from now…

It’s all about playoffs. Seven weeks from now will be Week 17, right on the brink of deciding the final playoff spots.

Are five of the six NFC spots pretty much decided? Arizona (1) and Carolina (2) look to be well on their way to division titles, while Minnesota (3) and Green Bay (4) look to have the NFC North and first wildcard spot locked up. Atlanta (5) is two games ahead of any other NFC team for that final wildcard spot. They’ve struggled lately, but still look far more promising than the other NFC wildcard contenders. That leaves the last spot to be decided by how the NFC East shakes out. The teams in that division are so dysfunctional, there’s plenty of people suggesting that the return of Romo can propel the Cowboys to run the table and steal the division. They’re 2-7 right now and would be the first of their kind to ever clinch a playoff spot. Could we see a major change in that division? Will two teams emerge in a couple weeks or will it remain the jumble it is now by Week 17? Also, don’t count Atlanta in quite yet. I’m interested to see how Seattle competes down the stretch. They had a great second half in 2014 and another good run could launch them right back into the playoffs despite their 4-5 start. They are certainly capable of stringing together some wins.

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I’m personally most interested in the Arizona-Seattle dynamic. Has Arizona officially replaced Seattle or are we just being tricked? Photo credit: ESPN.com

In the AFC, there’s a major win equality crisis. Three teams (Cincy, Denver, New England), own 90% of the conference’s wins while the rest share the remaining 10%. Ok so it’s not quite that bad, but those teams look to have their division just about wrapped up. The fourth division, the AFC South, is in flux much like the NFCE is. The Colts, Texans, and Jags are all right there at four wins. The last two wildcard spots are where things get messy. The Steelers and Bills own them for now, but expect that to change with every passing week. There’s a pack of six other teams just one game out of that sixth spot. I’m really interested to see how this race shakes out. I expect three or four teams will remain afloat long enough to have a shot in their final game. The question is, who will it be? Keep an eye on Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Kansas City.

Every week we see a little bit more and adjust our image of the league. The playoffs are great, but try and appreciate these next few weeks of football. The race is heating up and we’re in for the best part of the NFL. Anything can change.

No, I’m not giving up on the Seahawks

Seattle keeps dropping 4th-quarter leads and is now 2-4. Is it time we start thinking of the Seahawks as something other than an elite team?
It's not every Sunday that we see Seattle walking out of their own stadium with a loss. That's a problem, but it can be fixed. Photo credit: ESPN.com

It’s not every Sunday that we see Seattle walking out of their own stadium with a loss. That’s a problem, but it can be fixed. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The Seahawks play in San Francisco tonight on Thursday Night Football. The stakes? The winner avoids last place in the NFC West.

How did Seattle drop so far, from one-yard away from winning their second straight Super Bowl, to desperately trying to avoid last place and a 2-5 start at the hands of their diminished division rival? Are we witnessing the end of an elite team? A lot of people, especially those most eager to finally see the Hawks fall, would have you believe so. But I’m not jumping ship. Not after just six games.

Does all this sound familiar? If it does, it’s probably because Seattle suffered a similar rough start last year. In 2014, Seattle lost three of their first six. Looking at the records through six weeks, the opponents that had handed Seattle losses were the solid 5-2 Chargers, the red-hot 6-1 Cowboys, and the 2-4 Rams–a division rival playing at home.  The problem then? Seattle struggled to get off to a hot start, trailing at halftime and allowing over 27 points in all three of their losses. Seattle then rattled off nine of its last 10 games, never allowing over 24 points.

The losses for Seattle this year consist of another Rams team at home and three undefeated teams (Packers, Bengals, Panthers). The defense has allowed 27+ points in every loss (two games in overtime), but their hot-start problem has taken a bit of a different turn. They’ve led in all four losses at some point in the 4th quarter, only to see it slip away time after time. Quarterbacks are throwing at 84% in the 4th quarter against Seattle. They’re 0-3 on the road and have been taken down at home, a place they’ve only lost twice in two years.

So what does all this mean? They’re losing to good teams just like in 2014 and facing some defensive issues. Does that automatically mean they’ll turn it around and rattle off a bunch of wins? Of course not, but I don’t have a solid reason to dismiss the Seahawks yet. I’m a firm believer that truly great teams can beat other great/good teams and the Seahawks have been unable to do that so far. But, just like in 2014, that still doesn’t tell me that the situation is dire. Losses to the Packers, Bengals, and Panthers don’t worry me, especially when I’ve seen what their talent can do. I can’t possibly say they’re a great team at this point, but I’ve seen nothing that tells me they can’t become one.

Six games is just too small of a sample size to tell me how good they actually are. From what I’ve seen, this team can and will pull it together. They may be losing to great teams in the end, but don’t forget that they were actually outplaying these undefeated teams throughout most of the game. Seattle will not only beat the 49ers tonight, but they’ll pick up a bunch of wins against much easier competition (Cowboys, Vikings, Browns, etc.) and make it to the playoffs. If this is still the Seattle I know, they can even still win the NFC West, the very division that threatens to force them into last place with a loss tonight.

Buy or Sell: October

A month of football is in the books. Who can we trust to play well in the second month?
Atlanta is off to a surprising 3-0 start. Are we really buying what they're selling? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Atlanta is off to a surprising 3-0 start. Are we really buying what they’re selling? Photo credit: ESPN.com

It’s easy to predict that teams will experience the ups and downs of a regular season. What’s not so easy to predict is when those ups and downs will actually happen. You don’t want to be the guy who said that 3-0 team is destined for the Super Bowl only to see them fall to 4-7 later in the season. Luckily, I’m here to tell you which teams I love for the month of October and which ones I’m planning on ditching. As you’ll see this time, sound stock market logic–buy low, sell high–doesn’t always apply. Here’s who I’m buying and selling for the next month:

Atlanta Falcons (3-0): BUY

Atlanta has rocketed to a 3-0 start after ripping through the NFC East, but they were actually trailing in the 4th quarter in all three games. Doesn’t that mean they’re destined to drop a few at some point? Heck no. Here’s a shocking fact: most games in the NFL are close. I love a team that can continually pull out wins late in a game because that’s what it takes to win in the NFL. They do this primarily with a high-flying offense that sits behind only the Cardinals and Packers for most points scored in the NFC. Matt Ryan is playing like a top-10 QB and gets to throw to the best wide receiver in the league right now in Julio Jones. On top of all that, check out their October schedule: at home against the Texans and Redskins, then at New Orleans and Tennessee. Those four teams have a combined record of 3-9. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan, Jones, and a solid running game carry this Falcons team to a 6-1 or 7-0 record by Halloween. We’re not handing out Super Bowls or even playoff bids just yet, but for the next month I am totally buying the Falcons.

St. Louis Rams (1-2): SELL

A lot of people loved the Rams before the season started and then even more after they beat the Seahawks. Now they’ve lost their last two, including a measly 6-point showing at home against Pittsburgh. It doesn’t get any easier for this up-and-comer as they have to face Arizona and Green Bay in back-to-back weeks. Think that’s bad? Throw in the fact that both of those games are on the road and that is absolutely brutal. Not only are they facing two of the best teams in the NFL, but they have to play them where they just don’t lose (combined 15-1 2014 home record). They finally get a break in Week 6 when they get the Browns at home, but by then they will be staring a 2-4 record in the face. In one of the toughest divisions in football, that is a deep hole to climb out of. Their schedule lightens up at certain points, but for now I am staying away from St. Louis.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2): BUY

This team is a tricky read. Who are they really? The team that looked plain miserable in their first two games or the team that looked like they were figuring things out in a surprise win over the Jets? I have faith that the Eagles are a little bit closer to the latter team and a light schedule may help them out in a division rife with issues. Their four games this month consist of playing in Washington, getting the Saints and Giants at home, then having to travel to Carolina. Aside from Carolina, those are three very winnable games against foes with a 2-7 combined record. I’m banking on the fact that the Eagles will continue to get better and that preseason projections weren’t totally off. I think it’s realistic to expect at least a 2-2 split in those games if not 3-1. Even a 2-2 October would leave Philly at a manageable 3-4. Considering the division they’re in and the fact that they looked finished after two games, 3-4 is not too shabby. I wouldn’t go all in here, but I’m still buying Philly to look like a much better team heading into November.

Lions are off to an 0-3 start and it looks like it'll only get worse from here. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Lions are off to an 0-3 start and it looks like it’ll only get worse from here. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Detroit Lions (0-3): SELL

On the surface, Detroit seems like the perfect team to buy low. They’ve faced some tough competition early, lost a couple close games, and are a better team than their record indicates. While this seems like a great recipe for some early bandwagon-hopping, I’m telling you to stay away. They’re already virtually guaranteed an 0-5 start with the Seahawks (on the road) and Cardinals (at home) coming up. After that, they get the Bears and Vikings at home. Assuming they can handle the Bears for their first win and top a Minnesota team that beat them earlier this season, Detroit is looking at a 2-5 record after two months of football. And that’s optimistic. The Lions are still a decent team, but a slow start combined with a rough October schedule forces me to sell.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2): BUY

This is another risky buy, but it could pay off big. Right now a lot of people consider the Bucs to be one of the worst of the worst and I simply don’t see it that way. I think they have a lot more talent than their recent performances would have you believe and their upcoming schedule gives them the perfect stage to showcase that. They’ll start off with 3-0 Carolina, a likely loss sending Tampa to 1-3. But then they get the Jaguars at home and travel to Washington after a bye. No game is an easy game for the Bucs but these at the very least are winnable. If they manage to take those two, they’ll be sitting pretty at 3-3. Like Philly, this still won’t garner much love but it’s a heck of a lot better than what they look like right now. Tampa could just as easily blow all three of these games on the way to a 1-5 start, but Buy or Sell was made to take risks. I’m buying the Bucs to keep their season afloat.

A few things from Week 1

“It’s only one week.” –losers in Week 1
Marcus Mariota hit the ground throwing, propelling Tennessee to a blowout win over Tampa Bay. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Marcus Mariota hit the ground throwing, propelling Tennessee to a blowout win over Tampa Bay. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Unfortunately, those losers are right. Week 1 won’t make or break a season for any team, but that doesn’t make the wins any less valuable and it sure as heck doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about.

Marcus Mariota stole the headlines on Sunday by outshining Jameis Winston (does it still count as outshining if one player didn’t shine even a little bit?) and leading the Titans to a definitive 42-14 victory. This kind of a win generates a lot of optimism for a franchise like Tennessee and understandably so. The last time Tennessee hung 40 points on an opponent was in September 2012. Despite his college success, a lot of question marks surrounded Mariota and his ability to adapt to the NFL. Obviously questions still remain, but Mariota proved he at least possess the capability to play a solid game (or in this case, a perfect game based on passer rating). I’ll pump the brakes on the Titans for now because I’m still not crazy about their ability to string a bunch of wins together. But hey, they did their job on the opening Sunday and it’s one less loss they have to worry about.

Speaking of losses to worry about, we’ll stick with this game and talk about the Bucs. I’m not gonna go crazy here and ask “What the heck happened??” and try to decipher every little thing that went wrong for them (that could take a while). It was a bad game. It probably feels like they’re 0-10 after a performance like that, but they’re not. They’re 0-1. So not that bad, right? Ehhh, maybe, maybe not. I picked this team to go to the playoffs because of the pretty consistent trend of at least one bad team going to the playoffs the next year. I rationalized picking the Bucs over the other five candidates by predicting Winston was the type of QB who is heavily influenced by confidence. Looking at Tampa’s early schedule, the potential for a few confidence-building wins was very prevalent. Unfortunately, this Week 1 opener at home against the Titans looked to be the easiest win of the bunch. Now they have to travel to New Orleans and Houston in back-to-back road games. A couple losses there could wind up making this another long and unsuccessful season for the Bucs. One game at a time. If Tampa can manage to somehow win in the Dome, that could make up for all the lost hope suffered in Week 1 and put this team back on track. For the record, it does appear I am at least somewhat correct in my assessment of Winston’s abilities to play with confidence. His first throw resulted in perhaps the most demoralizing play of all: a pick-six. From there, both Tampa and Winston struggled.

We'll likely notice the impact of Bryant's injury when Dallas is in the redzone. Photo credit: ESPN.com

We’ll likely notice the impact of Bryant’s injury when Dallas is in the redzone. Photo credit: ESPN.com

I don’t like to talk too much about what certain wins “mean” for different teams after the opening week. Too much changes week to week for me to already pencil in St. Louis as the NFC West champion. If you want to look at what may have lasting effects, turn to Dallas where Dez Bryant has been ruled out for 8-12 weeks with a broken bone in his foot. Even though the Cowboys’ offense relies mostly on Tony Romo and the offensive line, the loss of Bryant could really cause some issues. They seemed to have no problem moving the ball in their last two drives against the Giants, but tougher defenses will surely take advantage of the fact that a huge endzone threat is missing. Bryant led the league with 16 receiving TDs last year while only being the 12th most-targeted receiver. Bryant is on that offense to score. This won’t kill Dallas–that fantastic O-line will give Romo time to find other options–but there’s reason for concern going forward.

Some other brief notes that I don’t feel like expanding on further:

–That Rams defense looks great. I know Seattle’s offensive line isn’t the best, but boy did they send Wilson running a lot. They also forced three field goals and stuffed Marshawn Lynch on fourth down in overtime. Impressive win overall for St. Louis, I really thought Seattle would be ready for them this time.

–Let’s not forget the last team to earn a win in Week 1, the San Francisco 49ers. They had a pretty late game and quietly dominated a Vikings team that many believe will take a leap forward this year. They can still do that of course, but they looked helpless against the 49ers’ defense. Even after a rough offseason in San Fran (to say the least), something tells me the 49ers won’t be nearly as bad as people think. We’ll see.

–I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my Giants. There, I mentioned them. Now can we please not talk about that game?

–Ok, in all seriousness, that was a painful loss. One yard away from beating Dallas in their own stadium. One yard. Defense looked much better than I thought but looked gassed by the end. Eli played decent aside from that egregious throw-away decision on 3rd and goal. Sigh, just one yard away. Then we hear afterwards that Jennings was told not to even score on the first two downs…..let’s not even get into it. A silver lining for Giants fans, because we all need it: they lost the opening game in both 2007 and 2011, when they won their last two Super Bowls. It’s 2015, another four years gone, another opening loss in the books……Super Bowl here we come?

–Fun fact of the week: Tony Romo threw 36/45 (80%) for over 350 yards, three TDs, and two interceptions. Josh McCown of the Browns completed 5/8 before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. McCown finished with a higher QBR (88.7) than Romo (85.9).

–Thursday night pick: Broncos over Chiefs. Peyton has a great track record against KC and I think despite the win, Denver is disappointed in its performance in Week 1. They’ll look much better in their win in Arrowhead.