Week 1: Near Misses, Big Wins, and the Buffalo Bills

As a Jets fan I have to root for the Bills 14 games a year. They’ve been awful for 10 years yet I feel they’re finally picking up some much needed steam. The play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson and Marcell Dareus will define how far they go this year.

While I did not see the Bills game live, I did get to see the Ravens destroy the all powerful, all aging defense of the Steelers while Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis prove that they still have the best defense in the AFC North. Ray Rice was a machine, and Ben Roethlisberger looked like his scrambling is not always going to end up with a 30 yard pass down the field. The Ravens proved that if you stop the Steelers run game, things get a little bit shaky when you mix coverages and blitz schemes.

The Rams! The Rams, like a few other franchises, seem to be flailing on all fronts. Steven Jackson rips one off for a 50 yard touchdown and then pulls a quad and misses the entire game. Sam Bradford looks like a rookie again and the Rams receiving core looks like a bunch of second stringers on any other team. Two rookie receivers and a rookie tight end who looks undeserving of a second round draft pick.

Michael Vick and the Eagles got lucky. Yes. Lucky. Name one good player on the Rams defense. Exactly, there aren’t any. Let’s see Vick go against the Ravens defense and see if he can run all over the field like that.

On to the Redskins, I said one thing to my dad (who is a Redskins fan) on the phone today. Redskins defense and Ryan Kerrigan will have to win the game. So what happens? Well there is currently 5 minutes left in the game and the Redskins are up 28-14. Ryan Kerrigan deflected a pass for an interception on the 9 yard line and ran it in for a touchdown. I also predict the length of marriages.

Colt McCoy didn’t look like the greatest quarterback of all time, despite many watching him in the preseason and proclaiming such. The Bengals will enjoy this one, and will again having fun watching the AFC north slip away for yet another year.

Calvin Johnson again proves Cris Carter wrong, and Matthew Stafford is proving that the 2009 QB draft class (Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman) may be one of the best in recent memory.

So how have things changed? Washington leads the NFC East, the dream team Vikings are no more, the NFC South is all even at 0 wins. A useless NFC West is tied between the Ted Ginn & Company 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals, Ryan Fitzpatrick understands the science of football. The Bengals lead the NFC north. Jacksonville leads the AFC South and San Diego actually won a game before the first snowfall in the East.

It Is All Downhill From Here: Better Than The Superbowl?

Sometimes you see people working on a higher plane. It happens in film (Martin Scorsese), it happens in music (Kanye West), and it happens in sports. Jordan made a career out of it. Mariano Rivera has done it. Last night, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were working on a higher plane.

Last night’s game left many questions. Think about this. If the Saints didn’t turn the ball over early in the game, would the Packers have pulled away so fast in the second half? Was it Drew Brees seeing the season opener slip away that turned him into the Drew Brees from the 2009 playoffs? Was it competitiveness or skill? We’ll never know, but we all know one thing, last night was something special.

We saw the Packers with the ball for what seemed like 2/3 of the game, yet Drew Brees threw for 400 yards. We saw Brees get sacked, yet somehow get the ball down to the Packers 1 with less than a minute to go. We saw the Packers go 3 and out once in the game, yet they couldn’t put it away when it counted. To say there were any weaknesses by either team on the offensive front would be like criticizing the follow through of a game winning 3 pointer.

The Packers have done something that everyone feared would eventually happen. They got their superhuman tight end the ball (resulting in some truly humiliating moments for Roman Harper), and they got the best value ever out of a 2nd round wide receiver this early in the season. Good luck making the team next year James Jones.

In my preview article, I talked about the dreaded 4 wide set for the Packers. It was successful, very successful. 250 yards of passing successful. It not only took 6 out of the box, it gave Aaron Rodgers time to scramble in ways Michael Vick can only dream of.
At times, Rodgers looked like he had literally been playing the 5th quarter of the Super Bowl. We are fortunate to have about 40 cameras surrounding the field for the 2011 season, because if this were the 70’s, you couldn’t comprehend how hard half of those completions were.

To add to this, usage of Mark Ingram for the Saints was so predictable it made the goal line run look foolish in retrospect. If they were to toss off the left they may have stood a chance, but as soon as you saw Packers linebackers flying over their defensive line, the game was over.

I recently bet a close friend of mine in Madden for PS3. The final was 49-14. I was literally turning to him at certain points and asking him if he was ready for me to go 10 yards, 15 yards, or 20 yards at a time. It made recent Madden commercials look like ads for the next Pixar movie.

Sometimes you see things so clearly it becomes almost laughable. That is why you saw the smile on Aaron Rodgers face, even after the incompletions.

TOJ Week 1 NFL Picks

Lines taken from BET US

Pittsburgh (PK) vs. Baltimore – The Ravens can never seem to get over the hump versus the Steelers and I don’t think that will change this week.

Detroit (PK) vs. Tampa Bay – Plenty of hype surrounding these two young teams, the Lions can overcome that vicious Tampa Bay home-field advantage.

Atlanta (-3.5) vs. Chicago – There is some buzz about the Bears upsetting the Falcons this week, who are a popular Super Bowl pick. I just don’t see it.

Buffalo (+6) vs. Kansas City – The Chiefs aren’t returning to the playoffs this year and the Bills will be better than people expect.

Houston (-8.5) vs. Indianapolis – The Colts are a one man team and that man is hurt.

St. Louis (+4.5) vs. Philadelphia – Tons of pressure on Philadelphia out of the gate, against an improving young St. Louis team on the road sounds like an upset to me.

Cleveland (-7.5) vs. Cincinnati – The Browns should get off to a strong start this year considering their schedule.

Tennessee (+1) vs. Jacksonville – Watch out for the Titans in the suddenly depleted AFC South.

Washington (+3) vs. New York Giants – Jersey’s JV team gets off to an ugly start.

Carolina (+7.5) vs. Arizona – The Panthers will keep this tight and maybe steal a late win to kick off the Cam Newton era.

San Francisco (-5) vs. Seattle – Man, I hate the NFC West.

Minnesota (+8.5) vs. San Diego – Upset alert.

New York Jets (-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys are too banged up to pull the upset in this one.

New England (-7.5) vs. Miami – The game would be blacked out if the 15,000 Patriots fans didn’t show up.

Oakland (+3) vs. Denver – Crazy to have faith in the Raiders? Against Denver, I don’t think so.

Week One: The Beginning For Some…The End For Others

College football got off to one of the greatest starts in the past ten years. LSU shutdown the triple option Oregon offense. Boise State shut down the team with the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen (Georgia), that is until I saw Maryland’s uniforms. So how does the NFL counter? Two previous Superbowl champions in the season opener. checkmate.

Parody. The Saints had a powerhouse defense when they won the Superbowl. The Packers had a powerhouse defense when they won the Superbowl. The common thread? Turnovers. Turnovers win championships.

So who’s going to win? Handlebar mustache Rogers and the Packers by 7. The Saints can’t stop the Packers passing game, save for heroic performances from Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. And when the Packers get into their “let’s go 30 yards” 5 wide set? Someone’s going to get beat in man coverage. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley will have a field day in that formation.

What’s the weakness of the Packers defense? Mark Ingram. He will run up the middle and plow through the linebacking core of Green Bay with anger and brute strength. What about Michelle Beadle’s boy Clay Matthews? As soon as Drew Brees sees Clay Matthews get into his edge rush, Brees will check down to a draw play and there you go, a completely useless Matthews. Good luck AJ Hawk.

A rookie running back? yes. Mark Ingram is different than most running backs. Most NFL running backs look for a hole and tiptoe through it. Mark Ingram makes his holes and people hang on. Go look at the game film from last year against the SEC.

As a brief side-note, everyone raves about speed guys like Chris Johnson dominating the NFL. How many playoff games has he played in again and had a significant impact? How many top 5 defenses does he put up big numbers against? 34 yards against the Steelers last year. I rest my case.

Enough about the man with the long hair, back to teams that will make the playoffs. The Saints will be looking to prove a point at Lambeau. They will want to strike fear into the Packer faithful. they want to send a few messages:

We will beat your corners by going over the middle
We will hit your quarterback. repeatedly
We will keep your quarterback off the field by running the ball

Gregg Williams has been waiting a very long time to unleash the dogs of hell. Do not take that for granted. a few strip sacks and this game will swing into the Saints favor.
There’s a strange method I’ve been using to get a better glimpse at teams I watch in the NFL. I did this for the preseason, and i will probably use it in the regular season as well. I look at the current roster of a team and write down the age, college, round taken, and number of Pro Bowls a player has for each team. I also write down the relevant information of the 2011 rookies (age, college, round taken)

Example:

Charles Woodson – 34 years old/Michigan/1st rd/7 Pro Bowls

It helps to get an overall view of a team as per how many first round draft picks they keep, the production of guys like Tramon williams, who was undrafted yet made it to a Pro Bowl, or Donald Driver who was a 7th round pick that made 4 Pro Bowls. Is the Pro Bowl a real litmus test? Yes and No.

One thing you notice about the Packers is that they took a tight end in the 5th round and another in the 7th. They also took a wide receiver in the second round. If i were to make predictions, it would be that Randall Cobb is slated to take over Donald Driver’s spot next year.

Two tight ends may in fact mean that the packers plan to run a little more with two tight end sets, or are simply looking to get some pressure off their receivers.

So what do the Saints look to do with their draft? Run the ball and get after the quarterback. Shaun rogers will show Cameron Jordan how to hit in the NFL. The front 4 of New Orleans will look to wipe the smirk off Aaron Rodgers face. They made Brett Favre hurt so good. The secondary is the strength of the Saints, so look for them to run alot of nickel and dime packages, disguising a few 3 down coverages in an attempt to get Rodgers out of sync. Monday Night Football on a Thursday. Welcome to Interzone.