NFL Week 1 Report

I've been writing weekly NFL power rankings for Sports Central for a decade. This season, we're tweaking the format to cover a wider range of topics, while going more in-depth on others, and I hope regular readers will appreciate the change in direction. I'll still look for interesting stats to point out, still go after coaches and announcers who do ridiculous things, still pepper in the occasional fantasy football advice or embarrassingly wrong prediction. Let's jump right in:

Thursday Night Opener

Denver Broncos 49, Baltimore Ravens 27

* I made a note when Peyton Manning threw his fourth touchdown pass: Manning ties Brett Favre for most 4-TD games, 23. Another note later: Manning's third game with 6 TDs, most in history. And finally: 7 TDs. First since Joe Kapp in 1969. I know Colts fans are excited about Andrew Luck, but I think they gave up on Peyton about five years too early. Maybe Luck will be the NFL's best QB in 2017, but right now, Manning would give them a better chance to win.

* Shaun Phillips had a nice second half, but with Elvis Dumervil gone and Von Miller suspended, Denver's lack of pass rush was the one obvious weak point from an otherwise stellar showing. If this team falls short of expectations, it will be from deficiencies in its run game and pass rush.

* Also less than stellar, actually: Danny Trevathan dropping an easy touchdown at the 2-yard line. When DeSean Jackson did the same thing in Week 2 of 2008, I wrote that his premature celebration "may have been the single stupidest play I have ever seen in an NFL game. He literally threw away a touchdown!" Trevathan did the same thing, and it caused a momentum shift that nearly put Baltimore back in the game. But you know, the celebration would be so much less cool if you drop the ball in the back of the end zone.

* The Ravens allowed 49 points against Denver, the most in franchise history. Their 22-point loss was the worst opening-week margin of defeat ever by a defending Super Bowl champion. Those of us who predicted mediocrity from the Ravens this year have been criticized for disrespecting the champs, and even Joe Flacco complained that people still don't think they're a good team. Hey, everyone thought the Ravens were pretty good last year. This isn't the same team. Eight of the 22 Super Bowl starters are gone, not on the roster.

The Ravens couldn't cover Denver's tight end on Thursday. Maybe because they lost both starting safeties. They gave up a bunch of completions over the middle. Maybe because they lost their starting inside linebackers. They didn't make big plays in the passing game. Maybe because they were without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Baltimore also has injury problems already, losing Jacoby Jones and Michael Oher on Thursday night.

* The NBC team covering the game repeatedly pointed out that Baltimore failed to use a replay challenge on Wes Welker's 3rd-and-9 reception, the beginning of a big momentum swing in Denver's favor. I don't deny that some things would have gone a little differently, but the Broncos won by more than three touchdowns, and that doesn't even count the one Trevathan threw away. Baltimore could challenge that play, change the momentum and all that, and still would have lost by double-digits. The difference in this game wasn't one play; the difference was that the Broncos were a lot better.

Sunday's Games

Tennessee Titans 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 9

* The Steelers already face massive injury issues. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling both tore ACLs in Week 1, while LB Larry Foote tore his biceps. All three will miss the remainder of the season.

* Troy Polamalu has lost a step. Maybe two steps. Early in the second quarter, a pass got deflected high in the air. Polamalu dove for it and missed. It was a tough play, but it's one he would have made a few years ago.

* Tennessee's offensive line looks good. Rookie Chance Warmack was impressive against the Steelers.

Detroit Lions 34, Minnesota Vikings 24

* Adrian Peterson ran for a 78-yard TD on his first carry. At halftime, he had 70 rushing yards. Peterson finished the game with 18 carries for 93 yards. It was a great first week, but after that first torpedo, he had 17 attempts for 15 yards.

* Peterson's stated goal this season is 2,500 rushing yards. He's currently on pace for 1,488. He'll have to average 160.5 per game to meet his goal.

* I know Reggie Bush's fantasy owners are thrilled with his 191-yards-and-a-touchdown performance, but he had two more TDs reversed on replay. Calvin Johnson also had a TD called back on replay, and DeAndre Levy had a return TD nullified by penalty.

Miami Dolphins 23, Cleveland Browns 10

* The Dolphins intercepted Brandon Weeden three times before halftime. They were losing at halftime, 7-6. Miami finished the game with 23 rush attempts for 20 yards, including 10 for 3 yards by starter Lamar Miller.

* The Browns' new head coach, Rob Chudzinski, drew praise for his offense in Carolina, especially his work with quarterback Cam Newton. In Chudzinski's first week with Cleveland, Weeden finished with 6 sacks, 3 picks, and a 49.1% completion percentage. The Browns went 1/14 on third downs.

New England Patriots 23, Buffalo Bills 21

* The Patriots were losing with :06 left, and their much-hyped rookie receivers (WR Kenbrell Thompkins and TE Zach Sudfeld) fell flat in Week 1. But the stats make this game look like an easy win. New England had 11 more first downs than Buffalo, almost 150 more yards, a 15:30 advantage in time of possession. They need to limit turnovers and do a better job in the red zone.

* Buffalo DB Leodis McKelvin was credited with 4 passes defensed. That's a lot.

* This was the 10th season in a row New England has won its first game.

Seattle Seahawks 12, Carolina Panthers 7

* Missing three pretty significant defensive players — CB Brandon Browner and DEs Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril — the Seahawks still held Cam Newton and the Carolina offense to 7 lonely points and under 250 yards. On the road. Last year, Seattle was 3-5 in road games. This week, traveling all the way across the country and facing a team that is probably at least average, they came away with a win. Look out, NFC.

Chicago Bears 24, Cincinnati Bengals 21

* A.J. Green (162 yds, 2 TD) and Brandon Marshall (104 yds, TD) both had big games. Other than that, both offenses were pretty quiet. Matt Forte averaged 2.6 yds/att, but salvaged his stat line with a rushing touchdown and 41 receiving yards.

* With 1:15 left, the Bears were up 24-21, with 3rd-and-6 around midfield. A 1-yard run left Chicago about to punt, giving Cincinnati about a minute to drive for a game-tying field goal. But a roughness penalty on Rey Maulaluga, after the play was over, gave the Bears an automatic first down and let them run out the clock. Something very similar happened in the Buccaneers/Jets game.

New York Jets 18, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

* Bucs are ahead, 17-15, with :15 left in the game. Jets have the ball just shy of midfield, with maybe two plays to gain about 15 yards and get into possible field goal range. Geno Smith scrambles for 10, and Tampa's Lavonte David hits him out of bounds. Fifteen-yard penalty, 1st-and-10 at the 30. Nick Folk hits the game-winning, 48-yard field goal. Maulaluga cost his team a chance to tie, but David's foul probably cost his team the win. These were both senseless penalties, dead-ball fouls that happened after the play.

* The Buccaneers finished with 13 penalties for 102 yards. David's was the most obvious, but in a 1-point game, you could find the difference in several places. Even with a high total like 9 or 10, the Bucs probably still would have won. They've got to get that under control.

* No one expects Smith to be Russell Wilson or RG3. But as long as he's not Mark Sanchez, the Jets could be surprisingly okay this year. Everyone's been anticipating another year of horrific QB play, and if the Jets can elevate that to mediocre, they'll be a lot better than people expect.

* Tampa has never won a road game against the Jets (0-7).

Indianapolis Colts 21, Oakland Raiders 17

* Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor leads the NFL in rushing (112 yds). Not a real big week for RBs.

* I am taking bets, right now, that say Pryor — not Darren McFadden — leads Oakland in rushing this season.

Kansas City Chiefs 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 2

* A blocked punt gave Jacksonville its only score. With several experienced QBs available in the offseason, the Jags decided to stick with Chad Henne and Helpless Blaine Gabbert. This is the result.

* Jamaal Charles left this game with a quad injury, but he is reportedly fine and should be good to go in Week 2.

* If the Chiefs perform that way in all their games, Andy Reid is going to win Coach of the Year.

New Orleans Saints 23, Atlanta Falcons 17

* The Saints look better now that Drew Brees has a coach again. I think last year, he pretty much did whatever he wanted. Mostly throw.

* Something that never changes: Brees spreading the wealth. Part-time RB Darren Sproles led the Saints in receptions (6) and yards (88).

* With Roddy White limited by a high ankle sprain, Harry Douglas had 4 catches for 93 yards and got some looks in the red zone. White's fantasy owners may want to consider Douglas as a short-term fix.

St. Louis Rams 27, Arizona Cardinals 24

* The Cardinals have a real QB again. Carson Palmer passed for 327 yards on Sunday, more than any Arizona QB had in a single game last season. His 96.6 passer rating was the team's highest since Kevin Kolb in Week 3 of last season.

* Palmer's presence has rejuvenated Larry Fitzgerald. Following his worst season as a pro, Fitzgerald just posted his best single-game fantasy numbers since 2011.

* Big defensive games for St. Louis: Robert Quinn picked up 3 sacks and Janoris Jenkins defensed 2 passes.

San Francisco 49ers 34, Green Bay Packers 28

* Missing two of their best defensive players (Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward), the Packers put up a surprisingly strong fight. Allowing 34 points doesn't sound good, but the 49ers are pretty tough to stop.

* This was the 14th 400-yard passing game in 49ers history. The first 10 were all Joe Montana and Steve Young. Then two by Jeff Garcia, one by Tim Rattay in 2004, and now Colin Kaepernick almost 10 years later.

* During three seasons in Baltimore, Anquan Boldin never reached 1,000 receiving yards. He was always close, with averages of about 60 receptions, 875 yards, and 5 TDs. But that offense was never really about the passing game, certainly not passing to wide receivers. Boldin was one of the best WRs in the game, but his stats didn't show it. In San Francisco this year, they're going to show it.

* The big story in this game was Green Bay getting hosed by the officials. Off-setting dead-ball fouls should have left San Francisco with 4th-and-2 and a probable field goal attempt. The officiating crew screwed up and gave the Niners a replay of 3rd-and-6. Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass, so that was probably a 4-point swing. These replacement refs don't even know the rules. An experienced referee like Bill Leavy would never make that kind of mistake.

Dallas Cowboys 36, New York Giants 31

* I watched America's Game of the Week, and then I watched America's Game of the Week. Obviously there are people in marketing who think this is a terrific slogan, since both FOX and NBC use it. But I just can't imagine that there are really people who think, "Oh, I was going to catch a movie, but if this is America's Game of the Week, I'd better watch this, instead." I think FOX should have to give up the name because it's misleading, and NBC should give up the name because it's stupid.

* The Giants committed turnovers on their first three drives. After grabbing just 16 takeaways all of last seasons, the Cowboys already have 6. Nice job, Monte Kiffin.

* Hustle play of the week: DeMarco Murray sprinted 90 yards to tackle Ryan Mundy at the 1-yard line. The Giants never reached the end zone, so Murray's hustle saved 4 points. Murray also had 86 rushing yards and 8 catches. As long as he stays healthy, Murray should be one of the most productive RBs in the league.

Monday Night Double-Header

Philadelphia Eagles 33, Washington Redskins 27

* The Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half, just 24 in the second half.

* In that first half, Philadelphia gained 21 first downs, while Washington ran 21 plays. Washington also committed 7 penalties before halftime, a ratio of one penalty per three offensive plays. Yikes.

* ESPN did an awesome job of keeping up with Chip Kelly's frenetic offense, working in prompt replays without missing the beginning of the next play.

* Washington looked terrible in the first half, but if they play the rest of the season the way they played the last 25 minutes, they're going to win the NFC East again. Maybe it just took a while to adjust to Kelly's offense and to get Robert Griffin III in sync.

Houston Texans 31, San Diego Chargers 28

* ESPN did a notably poor job with replays in the late game. In the first half, Trent Dilfer specifically asked for a replay that was never shown. In the second half, the same thing happened to Chris Berman. The first game was handled superbly, but show some love to the West Coast and night owls.

* This game was much closer on the scoreboard than the stat sheet. Houston's advantages: + 12 first downs, + 186 yards of offense, + 13:02 time of possession.

* San Diego's last five drives: three-and-out, three-and-out, interception, three-and-out, three-and-out. No first downs.

* The Texans threw a ton of screens and short passes on Monday. Going forward, teams are going to be ready for that.

Miscellaneous

* This is from almost four years ago, but I came across it again recently, and it's still one of my all-time favorite clips from an NFL game: a pigeon, with passably Raider colors, flying down the field to cover a kickoff return. It didn't break contain until the play was decided!

* Last season, there were 13 safeties scored in the regular season. There were four in Week 1 of 2013.

* If your fantasy team is in trouble and you're desperate for a running back, you might consider Jackie Battle (TEN) and Ronnie Brown (SD). Neither one is a game-breaker, but if you just need a backup or bye-week fill-in, those guys are probably available. Battle scored 8 fantasy pts in Week 1, while Brown had 4 standard and 6 PPR. That's not going to win your league, but it could keep you from losing if your other positions are pretty strong.

* Doing research for my fantasy football draft, I came across some yahoo claiming that low-BMI running backs are at greater risk of injury. That jives with conventional wisdom, but if you think about it, I'm not sure it makes sense. Who's more likely to get injured, a player who goes up the middle, breaks the arm tackle from a lineman, bounces off his fullback, then charges into a linebacker so he'll fall forward, or the quick little guy who sprints outside and goes down on the first hit, maybe runs out of bounds when there's a defender ready to make the tackle?

The writer seemed interested in statistics, but I think he's working off an unfounded assumption, and if there are numbers to back up that idea, I'd like to see them. Using the same data from my 2011 article on RB size, I found that among players who finished in the top 10 in rushing yardage between 1991-2010, 141 had BMIs greater than or equal to 29.5, while 59 had BMIs below 29.5. Among those bottom 30%, you've got 24 different players. Some of them, like Errict Rhett and Harold Green, were never as promising as Jamaal Charles or C.J. Spiller. Once we sift through the Rhetts and Greens and Adrian Murrells, we're left with about half the group, 13 players who showed talent comparable to the young backs the other author was worried about. Those 13 are: Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, Adrian Peterson, Ricky Watters, Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson, Warrick Dunn, Brian Westbrook, Eddie George, Chris Warren, Terry Allen, Charlie Garner, and Robert Smith.

Martin had 8 seasons with 300+ carries — more than Emmitt Smith — 4 with over 360. Tiki played 4 seasons with over 300 carries, plus he caught 50+ receptions every year. Neither of them ever suffered major injury. Peterson has been hurt once in a 6-year career, and he bounced back with one of the greatest seasons in history. Watters played 9 years before any major injury, including 4 seasons with over 300 carries. Davis suffered a career-ending injury after his third straight season of 345 or more carries, with additional workload in the playoffs each season. Johnson has at least 250 rushes every year of his career, 358 in his 2,000-yard season, and he's never really been hurt. Dunn played 12 seasons and ranks among the all-time top 20 in rush attempts. George carried 300 times in each of his first eight seasons, including a ridiculous 403 in 2000.

I suppose Westbrook could stand as a cautionary example, but he's an obvious exception to the norm, and he delivered two great fantasy seasons (2006-07) before injuries became an issue. If you're looking for breakout stars who won't break out because they can't handle the workload, Westbrook shows the opposite. Warren had back-to-back seasons over 300 carries, ranking as a top-5 fantasy RB both years. Allen did get hurt, and missed the whole 1993 season, but he came back with three straight years of over 250 carries, including huge workloads (and exceptional fantasy production) in 1995-96. Garner is a weird case because he peaked late and had his best season when he was already 30. Smith, apparently healthy, retired following his best season.

Smaller RBs getting injured easily is one of those things everyone "knows" is true, only it's not. I understand why a numbers-oriented writer would think he's being savvy going by BMI instead of weight. But I just don't see any foundation for the belief that low-BMI runners are more vulnerable to injury.

NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

Top 10

1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Denver Broncos
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Houston Texans
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Atlanta Falcons
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Chicago Bears
10. New England Patriots

I have San Francisco hanging on to the top position, but I see those top four as roughly equal right now, and I believe Seattle will beat the Niners at home in Week 2. The Bengals are ranked one spot ahead of the Bears, who just beat them. But the game was in Chicago, Maulaluga's bone-headed penalty cost Cincinnati a chance to win, and injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth should be back soon.

Bottom Three

30. Cleveland Browns
31. Oakland Raiders
32. Jacksonville Jaguars

We're only one game in, but so far, the Jaguars seem like by far the worst team in the NFL. Last week's preseason power rankings are available here.

Comments and Conversation

September 10, 2013

Marc:

I like the new format, Brad!

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