I have now had four days to digest what I saw on opening Sunday of the NFL season in New Orleans when the Redskins manhandled the Saints, but it still doesn’t make any sense. The story of the game heading in was pretty much universally shared. New Orleans was an elite team coming off a tough season that had galvanized them, and they were ready to prove they were among the class of the NFC. Washington had an exciting young QB, but he was still a raw rookie and he had a shocking shortage of depth around him, so it was likely to take time for him to find his wings.
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That was the story, and it seemed like a good one, but in the end it had nothing to do with the truth.
Washington struck first with a field goal, was up 10-7 by the end of the first quarter, and never looked back. Every time it looked like New Orleans was going to gain momentum and set things right Robert Griffin III would strike again. He wound up going 19-of-26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and if he made any mistakes they certainly weren’t big ones. The final score of 40-32 was flattering for the Saints because they added a late touchdown. Washington had gone into the Superdome and deflated it.
As bettors we are left with a massive puzzle — what do we do with the Redskins now? Are they still the team many expected them to be, or will they be able to play at that high level, or at least close, all year? Griffin has played one week and earned one Player of the Week award. Can he keep it up? The presence of a high-profile rookie QB had already skewed the public sense of this team, but now this has it totally out of whack. The Skins Super Bowl futures odds have been cut nearly in half in one week from 65/1 to 35/1. Bettors interested in the long term will have to be very conscious of the value in the Redskins — where it might be and where it really isn’t.
To help in that tough pursuit, here are five factors to consider:
Shanahan is dialed in
Washington head coach Mike Shanahan is a control freak. He still keeps an iron grip on his offensive planning, and nothing happens without his approval. Having an old-school coach like him working with a new-age QB like Griffin was a potential issue for this team but only if the two couldn’t find common ground. So far, it appears, they clearly have no issues. Shanahan’s vision of the game fit perfectly with what Griffin can do, and the chemistry was undeniable. I still have little faith in the long-term sustainability of this performance, but I feel better about the chances with Shanahan at the helm than I would in most cases. Shanahan is an elite coach with a QB he clearly loves and a rookie running back who fits his mold.
He’s still a rookie
Griffin is a special rookie, but he’s still a rookie — and one who plays for a team with holes. There has never been and never will be a rookie QB who starts a whole season without looking very mortal at times. In the days since the game people have been tripping over each other in the race to proclaim the brightness of Griffin’s future and the potential he has right now. While that is quite possibly true, it’s also easier to overstate his current value to his team than any QB in recent history — especially following one year after Cam Newton played so well as a rookie to really get the public imaginations fired up. Is Griffin a special QB? Absolutely. Is he as special right now as the public thinks he is? No way. No one could possibly be.
It’s only one game
The NFL season is long. It’s like a play with many, many acts, and we’ve only seen the opening scene. In the opening week last year the Bills were incredibly dominant, and they seemed like a serious contender. They really weren’t. Heck, in that same week Rex Grossman looked like Peyton Manning for the Redskins, with 305 yards passing and two touchdowns in a convincing win over the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants. Grossman and company fell back to earth in a hurry. If Griffin and company are this impressive a few weeks in a row then we’ll talk. For now, though, an open but skeptical mind is what is called for.
The public has a clear opinion — for now
The betting public has a new crush, and they are seriously committed. Washington opened as three-point favorites at St. Louis. The public has crushed the visiting Redskins so far, with almost 90 percent of bets coming in on them. That hasn’t been enough to move the NFL odds yet — which is interesting in itself — but it very well could. The Redskins are a traditional public team — an iconic franchise with a bright history — but they have been hard to love for a long time. The public really wants to love them, though, so any excuse will get them on the bandwagon. You can’t predict the long-term public opinion, but for now you can be certain that they will back this team more aggressively than they would if Griffin had been drafted in Jacksonville or Buffalo and had gotten off to the same start.
The Saints’ defense has excuses
The story that isn’t getting enough credit here is that the New Orleans’ defense, which was mostly lousy, had several legitimate excuses for their woes. They are dealing with the adjustment to a new defensive coordinator, and the move from Gregg Williams to Steve Spagnuolo isn’t necessarily going to be a smooth one even though they share some philosophies. Their most experienced remaining defensive coach, the highly respected linebackers coach Joe Vitt, has been named interim head coach and then suspended for the first six games, so he is not available to work with the players. There have been personnel changes that are significant. The suspended player drama has weighed heavily on the team and on the defense in particular since that is who was affected. All that doesn’t mean that the defense was sure to be bad, but it obviously had a bigger impact in the opener than most anticipated. They had clear issues, and Washington exploited them perfectly. What happens when the Redskins face a more focused, more game-ready defense?
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