Week 1 of the National Football League’s 2014 season is in the books and the takeaways from NFL talking heads and writers are hot as ever. Amid the narrative, one thing is clear from the first week: The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are every bit as good as we thought they would be. The rest of the league? We will have to wait and see.
This week, the marquee match-ups feature up-and-coming teams, some who feel it is their time to make a postseason push, like the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, and others, like the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions, who have the talent in place and are hopeful to build off of impressive Week 1 performances.
The most impressive performance of Week 1 from an offensive standpoint was Matt Ryan’s 448-yard, 3 touchdown dismantling of the New Orleans Saints. This Sunday, Ryan will be tested when he and the Falcons (1-0) travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals (1-0) at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
Ryan and the Falcons had a woeful 2013 season, going 4-12 with Ryan putting up his worst season as a pro. While some of the blame is shouldered by Ryan, the majority of it can be attributed to a weak offensive line and the absence of play-maker wide receiver Julio Jones. In 2012, Ryan was among the league’s best, tossing 34 touchdowns and putting up a Total Quarterback Rating, a weighted stat which is measured from 0-100, of 74.5 which was third in the NFL.
Coach Mike Smith asserted that the Falcons were back in a press conference after Week 1. “I look at it as an anomaly,” Smith said to reporters at NFL.com about the 2013 season. “I know the type of organization we are from top to bottom. We feel like we’re a relevant organization in the NFL.”
The Bengals will hope that Ryan still has a little 2013 left in him as they try to slow down the explosive Atlanta offense. Cincinnati looked sharp on defense in the first half of their Week 1 game, shutting out the Ravens, but let their quality of play slip before eventually putting up the necessary stop to seal the game.
Overall, fans should expect this Bengals team to put out one of the league’s best defenses. Football Outsiders, which weighs defensive performance on a play-by-play basis, ranks the Bengals 5th in the league as they move forward this season. Something has to give in this offense versus defense match-up that fans will not want to miss.
The Panthers (1-0) know a thing or two about defense as they rode theirs to a playoff berth in 2013. This Sunday, they host Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions (1-0) at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
The Panthers followed up their stellar 2013 defensive campaign with a shutdown performance in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers start the season first in defensive Defense-Adjusted Value over Average (DVOA), a stat developed by Football Outsiders which measures play-by-play, the value of a defense over the league average, and puts weights on situations, rather than just yards in general.
A far cry from the Buccaneer offense, the Lions looked to be in mid-season form in Week 1 thanks to great decision making from quarterback Matthew Stafford and big plays from Calvin Johnson. Stafford looks very comfortable under new Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell and might be in line for a big year. Johnson, who scored twice in the first half last week, pulling in a total of 164 yards on 7 catches against the Giants, has impressed his new coach.
When asked about Johnson, Coach Caldwell told reporters at Fox News, “When he is catching those balls and making those plays for your team, it has a different feel to it. I think all of us felt that way. I do recall that one of the assistant coaches stepped over to me during the game and said ‘Man, I’m glad he is on our side.'"
Fans of the NFL will want to tune in to see the return of Cam Newton, who has recovered from injury. They should also keep an eye out on the other huge, athletic pass catcher on the field, rookie Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who caught 6 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in his debut. Look for Benjamin and the Panthers offense to have some bite to them, and tab Benjamin as an early candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
To end the football week, two of the most exciting teams face off as the Eagles (1-0) travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts (0-1) and Andrew Luck at 8:15 p.m. Eastern Monday night. Last week, both teams got off to nightmarish starts as the Colts trailed Denver, 24-7, at the half and the Eagles were inexplicably down to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 17-7.
Both teams rebounded well. The Colts eventually lost to Denver but outscored them, 17-7, in the second half. Meanwhile the Eagles remembered they were playing the Jaguars and subsequently reeled off 27 consecutive points in route to a 34-17 victory.
In this contest, it will be important for both to get off to a strong start and keep the other offense off the field. The Eagles will try to establish running back Lesean McCoy, who had a difficult time in Week 1. McCoy addressed his performance talking to reporters at Comcast Sportsnet in Philadelphia, saying “I felt I could have gotten it going a little bit more than I did. I could have made more plays that were positive and given us an extra spark.”
Look for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles to target McCoy in the short passing game and for head coach Chip Kelly to find ways to get his stud running back into space where he can make defenders miss. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, on the other hand, will try to keep the rhythm he had with his pass catchers going in Week 2, and try to target wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who excelled last season and broke numerous big plays.
The player to watch in this game is big Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. At 6’5, 250 pounds with plenty of speed and quickness, Ertz is a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties. He had a strong Week 1, hauling in 3 reception for 77 yards and a touchdown. If he continues to play well, look for Rob Gronkowski comparisons soon.
A great way to end the football week, the Eagles and Colts should keep NFL fans and fantasy owners plenty entertained as they create big plays and put up lots of points.