Reflecting on the season opener, and picks for Week 1

Before I begin, hello and welcome to my blog, “American Football Focus”! My name is Fred Stanley and I’m an avid follower of the sport, and as an aspiring Sports Journalist the idea of writing an American Football themed blog seemed perfect. I hope you enjoy reading and come back in the future to read more of my articles, and feel free to post a comment under any post.

Wednesday night saw the now traditional opener of the regular season, where the defending Superbowl champions host a conference rival in a midweek fixture before the rest of the teams in the league kick off their own seasons. Dallas upset the Giants 24-17 at the New Meadowlands stadium in a result that few saw coming, thanks to some inspired play from the likes of Tony Romo and Kevin Ogletree, whilst New York were unable to muster much offense themselves. In any sport getting off to a good start is vital, but this is even more true in American Football where the regular season spans just 16 games. As a result of this the Cowboys will be delighted with the opening night result, whilst the G-men will know a poor performance in their next fixture could see their season sunk before it’s even really begun. Here’s what I took away from Wednesdays game:

– Tony Romo threw one terrible interception in the first half, however the QB bounced back nicely with some deftly thrown balls in addition to showing excellent pocket presence and mobility in the face of the Giants vaunted pass rush.
 – Victor Cruz was the star of the post-season for New York last year, yet the wideout’s performance was terrible in week one as he dropped three very catchable passes. Cruz still finished with more than 50 receiving yards, yet he’ll be very disappointed with his effort and it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts.
– The replacement referees weren’t terrible, but their edginess and lack of clarity makes me believe that it won’t be long before there is a major talking point involving the ‘scabs’ during this weekends games. Of course, the more games these ref’s officiate the more they should acclimatise to the NFL.
– Kevin Ogletree, as previously mentioned, had a breakout game. Before this week he hadn’t had a receiving touchdown in four years, so his two scores came completely out of the blue. If Ogletree can repeat this level of play over the coming weeks the Cowboys will have a very deep receiving core, which of course also contains Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
– The Giants secondary looked all at see on multiple occasions Wednesday. Antrel Rolle failed to provide effective safety cover for some shoddy cornerback play, which is troubling when you consider than division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles and, obviously, the Cowboys possess fantastic receiving cores. If the Giants pass rush were to ever fail to pressure the quarterback then Tom Coughlin’s crew could give up some inflated passing numbers.

In conclusion, the game was a scrappy affair and neither side looked as sharp as they might have. This is somewhat understandable seeing as the game was both teams first of the season, but there’ll be a keen eye on both outfits in week two as the Giants look to rebound and the Cowboys attempt to build on what was a crucial early season victory over a division rival.

Now, it’s time for my predictions for the remaining games in the NFL this coming weekend.

Indianapolis @ Chicago
Andrew Luck makes his first NFL start against an experienced and tough Bears defence. Whilst the rookie QB will develop into a top tier signal caller this initiation won’t end well for the number one pick. Colts 10, Bears 27

Philadelphia @ Cleveland
The Browns are an almost unanimous choice as the leagues worst team heading into week one, despite adding one of the best rookie running backs in years through Trent Richardson. Unfortunately for Browns fans Richardson is questionable for the game with a knee injury, and Cleveland’s D won’t be able to contain the likes of Michael Vick, Shady McCoy and Desean Jackson. Eagles 30, Browns 17

St. Louis @ Detroit
Another game that I see being markedly one sided, with Detroit capable of making a serious run at being the best team in the NFC this season. Matthew Stafford is an elite QB and Calvin Johnson gives him the best target in the game. This game could be over by the end of the first quarter. Rams 13, Lions 38

Miami @ Houston
Houston made the franchises first ever playoff appearance last season, and although they appear to be building a great team in Texas the losses of DeMeco Ryans and, more importantly, Mario Williams through trade and free agency could potentially weaken the defense after last terms significant turnaround led by coordinator Wade Phillips. Nonetheless, Ryan Tannehill won’t have a debut to remember for the Dolphins. Another one sided matchup. Dolphins 14, Texans 27

Atlanta @ Kansas City
Over the past few seasons Atlanta has been one of the NFL’s great mysteries. A team that has made the play-off’s the past three seasons, the Falcons haven’t yet won a post-season game under the leadership of  Mike Smith. Kansas City on the other hand had a terrible season last year, although a strong finish helped Romeo Crennel earn the head coaching job on a permanent basis. If Matt Cassel, and it is a big if, rebounds from his showing in 2011 the Chiefs have an outside shot at the AFC West this season. I expect a close game with home field advantage just edging it in the Chiefs favour. Falcons 21, Chiefs 24

Jacksonville @ Minnesota
Probably the least appealing game on the week one slate, even more so because both teams star players, Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson respectively, are unlikely to feature much if at all. MJD held out all through training camp and is in no shape to play, whilst AP hasn’t seen game action since he blew his knee out on Christmas eve last year. Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder will both have a point to prove at QB and the two young players will see this game as an opportunity to grab what is likely to be a rare victory this season. I’m taking Ponder over Gabbert. Jaguars 13, Vikings 20

Washington @ New Orleans
This game should be a cracker, with Robert Griffin III making his NFL bow and the Saints with a huge chip on their shoulder thanks to the bounty gate scandal. New Orleans will miss Sean Payton’s leadership, but should still have enough talent on their roster to remain competitive this season. RG III is an elite talent, but making your debut on the road against a good defense in the Superdome will be just a little too much to overcome. Saints in a thriller. Redskins 17, Saints 24

Buffalo @ New York Jets

An interesting divisional matchup, it’s likely a lot can be learnt from the outcome of this game. The Bills are garnering attention as a potential AFC dark horse thanks to free agent signings such as former number one overall pick Mario Williams. On the other hand, the Jets have probably been the NFL team who’s stock has dropped the most over the course of the pre-season thanks to some abject offensive performances. Mark Sanchez will be constantly looking over his shoulder thanks to the signing of Tim Tebow, yet neither is an ideal NFL starting quarterback and Rex Ryan could see his team suffer as a result. I fancy the Bills to win this game with the Jets crumbling under the harsh New York glare. Bills 14, Jets 10

New England @ Tennessee

Usually, the thought of a young quarterback such as Jake Locker coming up against a Bill Belichick defense would lead you to believe the Patriots were on course for an easy day at the office. However last season the Pats D ranked 31st out of the 32 NFL teams, which will give Locker some encouragement before Sunday’s showdown. I still expect New England to prevail, but if Chris Johnson can break some long runs and Locker is adequate then the Titans ‘could’ pull off an upset against last seasons AFC champions. Patriots 27, Titans 17

Seattle @ Arizona

Seattle starts rookie QB Russell Wilson, whilst John Skelton goes for the Cardinals in this game. A year or two ago the NFC west was up for grabs and an 8-8 record might’ve been good enough to gain entry to the play-offs. Thanks to the 49ers rise to prominence this is no longer true, and unfortunately I just don’t see either of these two teams as a legitimate threat to San Francisco, whilst St. Louis figures to be even weaker. I’d take Wilson over Skelton, however, and if Marshawn Lynch can be effective then I’d back the Seahawks to grab a valuable road win. Seahawks 21, Cardinals 10

San Francisco @ Green Bay

Game of the week. Green Bay enter the year as a hot pick to win the Superbowl thanks to their explosive offense led by Aaron Rodgers, but the 49ers and their league leading defense will have something to say about that in this classic battle of offense versus defense. Patrick Willis and co will set out early to pressure Rodgers and not give him time to find his talented receiving group, but the real story could be how Alex Smith fares against the Packers D. If Smith is pressured then the niners will have to resort to the running game and Frank Gore, but I just don’t think that’ll be enough as the Pack put up points on San Fran. 49ers 17, Packers 31

Carolina @ Tampa Bay

Cam Newton will be out to prove last season was no fluke, and Josh Freeman will want to show that 2011 was a fluke. Freeman should be able to bounce back, especially when you consider the Tampa front office went out and signed Vincent Jackson to give him a genuine number one target. I’m expecting Cam to out-gun Freeman in a southern shootout. Panthers 34, Buccaneers 28

Pittsburgh @ Denver

The Steelers have had their problems this off-season with the holdout of Mike Wallace and the retirement of Aaron Smith at the end of last season, whilst Denver will be glad to have moved on from Tim Tebow having persuaded Peyton Manning to sign up following his recovery from neck surgery. Denver’s running game remains strong and they should be able to control the clock, but Ben Roethlisberger will put up a strong road effort against the team that knocked him and his teammates out of last years play-offs.  Steelers 21, Broncos 24

Cincinnati @ Baltimore

Last seasons surprise team, the Bengals found two star offensive performers in the 2011 NFL draft when they selected A.J Green and Andy Dalton in the first round. If the season was a resounding success, then the only blemish was an inability to beat good teams.. such as the Ravens. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are elite performers for Baltimore, so this AFC North showdown could see a fair few points put on the board. The Bengals possess a great secondary, whilst Ray Lewis still mans the middle of the field for Baltimore so neither team lacks for defensive prowess either. In a close game I’m going for the Ravens thanks to their superior running game and big game pedigree. Bengals 20, Ravens 23

San Diego @ Oakland

Norv Turner seems to be on the hot seat every year – and this season his job is in as much jeopardy as ever. Having lost Vincent Jackson Phillip Rivers will struggle to find able recievers in the passing game sans Antonio Gates, and even the veteran tight end is slowing down. Oakland on the other hand appear to be a team on the up, with Carson Palmer up to speed thanks to a full off-season following his acqusition from the Bengals last year. If Darren McFadden can stay healthy and Darrius Hayward-Bay can finally break out then it could be a season to remember for Raider nation. I’m backing Oakland to put this seasons first nail in Turners coffin. Chargers 17, Raiders 28

So there you have my predictions, which inevitably will fall wide of the mark. No matter how much you analyse the NFL it seems every year at least a few teams surprise, for better or worse, and this season should be no exception. I’ll be back early next with a recap on the weekends action, as well as a report on how my fantasy team fared. For your information, the team I’m starting is as follows: QB D.Brees, RB T.Richardson, RB M.Turner, FLEX M.Ingram, WR D. Hayward-Bay, WR V.Cruz, TE A.Gates, DEF Patriots, K M.Crosby. 

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