Nine facts learned after Week 2 of NFL
The days leading up to Week Two of the NFL season were filled with rash anticipation, as fans and pundits alike were straight giddy about the prospects of Broncos-Giants and 49ers-Seahawks. Whereas the Manning Bowl and the latter NFC West showdown resulted in one-sided cakewalks, they were bailed out in the drama department by less-heralded matchups, a lot of which came down to the final moments. Of 16 games, exactly half of them were decided by four points or less-and that doesn't include another thriller between the Texans and Titans, which culminated in a walk-off DeAndre Hopkins touchdown in overtime.
Between rookie wide receivers (Hopkins included) having a field day, a couple of stud running backs having injury scares, and what is quickly becoming the biggest home-field advantage in all of sports, there's a lot to cover concerning Week Two. Therefore, allow me to present the second version of N.F.L.-"Nine Facts Learned"-which, for the newbies, is a column entailing nine things I'm pretty sure I know after consuming all of the action.
Why should you place your faith in me to deliver you league-wide coverage, you ask? Well, picture me being glued to the television each Sunday (and Thursday, and Monday) the way Seahawks cornerbacks were glued to Anquan Boldin. Need I say more?
1. Tom Brady needs his recognizable weapons back, and quickly.
Brady was a frustrated man on Thursday night, and quite frankly I'm not even sure he gets that crabby upon waking up with bedhead. Regardless, I believe he had every right to behave how he did. Through two games, both narrow wins over rebuilding squads with rookie quarterbacks, Brady's completion percentage (52.7% percent) is third worst in the NFL, ahead of only Blaine Gabbert and Josh Freeman. So why aren't Patriots fans calling for Brady's head, much in the same way that Florida residents are gunning for Gabbert's or Freeman's? For one, New England is still 2-0 (and even if they were 0-2, it's Tom-Freaking-Brady). Secondly, remember who Brady is playing pitch-and-catch with, or rather pitch-and-drop. If owner Robert Kraft built a statue outside Gillette Stadium of rookie wideout Aaron Dobson, the real-life version of Dobson would still have the coarser pair of stone hands. Dobson, combined with fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, have somehow only caught 9 balls despite being targeted 31 times. Julian Edelman has been reliable, but Brady must be counting down the minutes until his top two threats, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, return. Even though those two are question marks with their injury history (word on the street is that when Amendola was shipped from the Rams to the Patriots this offseason, the package was labeled "very fragile"), at least Brady recognizes the names on the back of their jerseys.
2. We're about to find out if the Dolphins are for real.
Let's not leave the AFC East just yet. While New England has gotten off to a 2-0 start, they are not alone atop one of the weakest divisions in football. That is because the Dolphins, anchored by Ryan Tannehill and a refined defense, have kicked off the year by winning at Cleveland and at Indianapolis. Tannehill, often the forgotten man in the sophomore QB class, has outplayed two of his peers on back-to-back Sundays-first Weeden and then Andrew Luck. In Indianapolis, he went for 319 yards and a touchdown, finding Mike Wallace early and often and opening lanes up for the running attack. Miami's defense, led by defensive end Cameron Wake and linebacker Philip Wheeler, has been just as good. The Dolphins get to head back home with their undefeated record, but it is in the next month or so that we will learn whether they are legitimate contenders. Weeks 3, 4 and 5 consist of the Falcons, Saints and Ravens, with the New Orleans tilt appearing on Monday Night Football. In the ever-weak AFC, a wildcard spot is ripe for the taking for the Fins-if they're prepared to make the big jump now, that is.
3. The Texans must be attending church a lot lately.
There lies a very thin line between being 2-0 and 0-2-if you think I'm kidding, see what the Bucs have to say on the matter. While Tampa Bay is one dramatic loss away from being turned into a movie script, Houston has stolen wins from San Diego and Tennessee in consecutive weeks, and they don't plan to apologize anytime soon. The verdict is still out on whether Arian Foster and J.J. Watt have been praying a lot recently, but it seems like everything is bouncing in the Texans favor in crunch time. Down eight to the Titans with under two minutes to go, QB Matt Schaub got a chance to redeem himself after throwing a killer pick-six. He did just that, hooking up with Andre Johnson for 21 yards on the sideline-Houston challenged the incomplete pass call and won it-before handing the rock off to Foster for both the TD and the tying two-point conversion. In OT, Schaub produced more magic on a drive that starred Hopkins making play after play. After joining the league in 2002, the Texans finally possess a No. 2 wideout that can free up Johnson on the outside. That's what happens when you go to church.
4. The rookie WR class is going to be a good one...
I've already expanded on DeAndre Hopkins and just how valuable he will be in Houston for years to come, but how about his classmates? Hopkins was the 27th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, and two picks later the Vikings nabbed Cordarrelle Patterson, a jack-of-all-trades type from Tennessee who was supposed to ease the loss of Percy Harvin. On the opening kickoff versus the Bears in Week 2, Patterson took it to the house for 105 yards. He is still developing as a prototypical wide receiver, but there has only been positive feedback regarding his progression thus far. The first of the three wide outs drafted was Tavon Austin, who went 8th overall to the Rams. Austin scored 2 TD's against Atlanta, the first of what should be many connections between him and Sam Bradford. In 2012, it was rookie QBs (Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson) and RB's (Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson) who burst onto the scene, while the guys who line up on the outside took a little time to develop. 2013 appears to be the dawn of a new day. While the trio mentioned above have experienced a smooth transition from the college ranks, the ride has been a bit bumpier for hyped prospects like Geno Smith and Montee Ball.
5. ...But Sunday was Redemption Day for the usual suspects.
Many fantasy football owners were left speechless post-Week one, wondering when in the world their top pass-catchers were going to start performing up to their usual standards. They didn't have to wait all that long, as Week Two in the NFL could be best described as a redemption period for a few top-flight wide receivers. Dez Bryant, for example, exploded for nine grabs, 141 yards, and a score after being held to a mere 22 yards against the Giants. Calvin Johnson, arguably the most gifted athlete and the biggest offensive threat in the NFL, was inexplicably limited to 37 yards in Week One. In Arizona on Sunday, Megatron reverted back to his customary self, although his monster 116-yard, 2 TD stat line was not enough to beat the Cardinals. Mike Wallace, a prima donna who can make A-Rod look humble every now and then, played like he should be unemployed in an opening victory over the Browns. He bounced back in a large way, totaling collecting over 100 yards and a TD-actually looking like a man who deserves the mammoth contract that he signed with Miami. Lastly, James Jones merits a shout-out on this list for 11-catch, 178-yard clinic, both of which are career highs. Normally a red zone camper (he led the league with 14 TD hauls in 2012), Jones played role reversal with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson for a change-this coming after not recording a single catch in Week One.
6. It would be best for the Ravens to head back to the drawing board.
Scan the current leaders in passing attempts per game right now, and you're more than likely to recognize the typical gunslingers near the top. Drew Brees, the Manning brothers, and Tom Brady all crack the Top-10, and it's inevitable that guys like Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan will join them shortly. Now, look more closely at the numbers, and please make sure you are sitting down when your eyes flicker upon No. 1: Joe Flacco. Um, Joe Flacco? Did Carson Palmer, like, change his name or something? A few thoughts: Yes, besides the period in which the lights went out, I watched the most recent Super Bowl very clearly. I witnessed Flacco have a postseason for the ages, play elite, mistake-free football, and raise the championship MVP trophy. But, although Flacco did lead all playoff QB's in attempts, he averaged just 32 throws a contest. Through two weeks this year, that amount has swelled to almost 50. Then you have Ray Rice, a top-5 NFL running back, who has fewer rushes right now than the Jets' Bilal Powell and the Bills' Fred Jackson-neither of whom is the definitive starter, mind you. Heck, Rice has three less carries than Bernard Pierce, also known as Rice's backup! Taking into consideration all of the factors, which includes Rice aggravating a hip on Sunday and the Ravens having to play from behind versus Denver, my head is still spinning in utter confusion. Like Flacco, Rice led his respective position in attempts in the playoffs, totaling 21 carries per outing. In 2013, he is barely reaching 21 carries in two games! He's the best and most-consistent playmaker on that roster, and there's even more of a reason to feed him this season after Baltimore lost Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and Dennis Pitta to the medical room. Flacco has a mightily powerful arm, but the true strength of the Ravens lies in a balanced attack. If they can't realize that and continue to put Rice in handcuffs, you can kiss a return to the Super Bowl goodbye.
7. Dark days lie ahead for MJD.
What do Ron Burgundy and Maurice Jones-Drew have in common? They're in a pickle. For MJD, the light at the end of the tunnel is only going to dim further. The Jaguars RB strained a tendon in his ankle in Week Two against the Raiders, making him anything but a sure commodity for Week Three. Come to think of it, if he does get the thumbs-up to play on Sunday, it may be his pride that strains a tendon or two. Not only does Jacksonville meet up with the Seahawks, but they have to travel across the country to do so (see below). You tell me what's better: getting continuously stuffed by Seattle's D in a laugher, or sitting out and at least pulling up NFL RedZone on the cellular? At least, if the ankle does sideline him, he'll finally be able to see some scoring this year-by his fantasy team, that is.
8. The Seahawks have the best home field advantage in sports.
I'm a self-admitting stat buff, so here are some for you to chew on: The Seahawks haven't lost a game at home since December 24th, 2011. In 8 wins in their friendly (opponents think otherwise) confines last season, they beat the likes of the Packers, Patriots, Vikings, 49ers and Cowboys. The 14-12 victory over the Packers, the same one that was aided by the replacement referees, marked the only time in 2012 that Aaron Rodgers failed to reach the end zone. The previous two occasions that Seattle has hosted the 49ers, with the latest installment of that rivalry coming this past Sunday, they've outscored San Francisco by a combined 71-16. Causally, in Colin Kaepernick's young but already illustrious career, his two worst performances (based on completion percentage and QBR) have taken place at CenturyLink Field. It has become the scariest road game in sports, period. And oh, by the way, that defense ain't too shabby either.
9. DeSean Jackson is sizzling.
In last week's N.F.L. column, I mentioned LeSean McCoy and how big of a year I'm projecting for Shady. Now, in another segment of "Bash Andy Reid," it's DeSean Jackson who I'm singling out as being another perfect suitor for Chip Kelly's offense. I leave you with one final stat: In 2012, Jackson, a notoriously dangerous playmaker, had nine offensive plays of 20+ yards over the course of the entire season. Through two weeks this year, he has already cashed in on six plays for over 20 yards. Anyone care to get #ChipKellyEffect trending until January?
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