NFL Handicapping: Week 1 Surprises
by Trevor Whenham - 9/10/2013
The NFL season is very young, and we have learned time and again that what happens in the first week, or in the first few weeks, doesn’t always translate into what will happen over the whole season. That being said, since we spend the whole offseason crafting and refining our expectations for teams, it makes sense after the first game to look at the teams and players that posted surprising efforts — in positive or negative ways.
Here are five things that stood out in my eyes:
How bad Jacksonville was
We knew that the Jaguars were clearly in the hunt for the first overall pick in next year’s draft, and that they could even have the inside track to earning it. Even the most pessimistic, though, couldn’t have imagined it going this badly — not at home against a Kansas City team that was dealing with fundamental changes for the first time. Blaine Gabbert was just plain terrible — so bad that it is hard to believe he can turn it around at this point. He wasn’t helped by the fact that the offensive line was essentially a turnstile — he was sacked six times and hurried many more. That offensive line couldn’t block for the run, either, and the Kansas City defense could just sit and wait for the running game because they certainly didn’t fear the pass. The defense, aside from Paul Posluszny, was lousy. Special teams weren’t special. There was little emotion. This is a really, really bad team. Like Lions in 2008 bad.
Tampa Bay’s total absence of discipline
The Bucs had absolutely no excuse to lose to the Jets and their circus sideshow. But they played the least-disciplined game I can remember in a long time and threw the game away. Penalties by the boatload. Stupid ones, too. Poorly executed plays and questionable effort far too often. I was skeptical of the Greg Schiano hiring last year. If that is the kind of control he has over his team heading into his second season then that skepticism was very well-placed.
How competent E.J. Manuel looked
Manuel had every excuse for poor performance — a preseason disrupted by a knee injury and minor surgery, a team that lacked receiving weapons and depth, a new head coach adjusting to the NFL game after his time in Syracuse, and the pressure of facing the mighty Patriots in his debut while trying to shake off his rust. While Manuel’s performance was far from all-World, he gave his team a chance to win. Most impressively, he looked poised well beyond his years, and he avoided mistakes. The 150 yards passing needs to improve, but there is nothing wrong with the 67 percent completion rate or the two touchdowns without an interception. He was a shocker when he came off the board in the draft. However, if he keeps playing like that, we’ll have to admit maybe we got it wrong. Buffalo still has a long way to go, but they are a much more dangerous team if Manual keeps it up than they could otherwise.
How tentative the Panthers looked
We heard all offseason how much Cam Newton had matured, how focused this team was, how positive their coaching tweaks were this offseason, and what progress we could expect from them. It was totally absent in that opening loss to the Seahawks. Sure, Seattle has a nice defense. The Panthers made them look much better than they should have, though, by playing such a tentative, self-conscious game. It was like Newton was thinking far too much and questioning every instinct. I want to like this team last year, but they need to show a lot more than that.
How good Kaepernick was
We know how dangerous Colin Kaepernick can be, but the sample size was small. Against a solid Green Bay team, though, Kaepernick was a stone-cold killer, and he did it largely with his arm — 412 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe he can live up to the hype after all. If he keeps playing close to that well then the NFC is going to be hard pressed to beat San Francisco.
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