It’s an annual rite of passage…
The uber-over-analysis of what we witnessed Week 1 in the NFL.
Is losing opening Wednesday/weekend a harbinger of a catastrophic campaign to come?
Well, it could be…
According to CBSSports.com, “Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 379 of the 490 Kickoff Weekend losers failed to make the playoffs, a rate of 77.3 percent.”
But there are those 22.7 percent of exceptions, of course.
After all, the Giants won two Super Bowls in the past four years and did so by losing their opener in each of those seasons.
The Packers road to glory in 2010 was also one that involved a slow start (3-3). But they got hot late, snuck into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, and ended up bringing a title back to Titletown.
As far as Week 1 this season is concerned, don’t put too much stock into home losses by the Pack, G-Men and Saints when attempting to determine if these teams are truly in trouble.
Like the NBA, it only seems to matter how you finish in the NFL (three of the last five Super Bowl winners had 10 wins or less in the regular season).
Still…it should be noted that Green Bay, New Orleans and the Giants all play in strong divisions and might not be able to overcome two defeats to start the season.
The NFC South also has a solid Super Bowl team (Atlanta, if they can overcome their January allergy) and an up-and-comer (Carolina, and not the JV imposter that showed up last week in Tampa).
So will three of the NFC’s final four teams of 2011 get back to .500 in Week 2?
Here’s how each of their matchups break down:
Bears at Packers (8:20 PM, NFL Network): The Bears looked impressive against an overmatched Colts team in last week’s 41-21 victory. Chicago also has revenge on its mind after being embarrassed Christmas night at Lambeau last year. Then again, the Bears QB that evening was Josh McClown and its starting RB someone named Kahil Bell.
With Jay Cutler and Matt Forte healthy, and Brandon Marshall dominant again after being reunited with the aforementioned Cutler (9 rec, 119 yds, one TD in Week 1), the Pack will have to bring their A-game to avoid the following ominous scenario:
Green Bay has started 0-2 five times under the current playoff format (implemented in 1990). None of those teams made the playoffs.
More potentially bad news: The Bears and the Pack’s Week 1 opponent (49ers) play similar styles: Strong defense, improved vertical game, consistent running attack.
No earth-shattering keys for the home team here…just allow Aaron Rodgers more time (sacked three times against SF despite only facing a four-man pass rush all day), get Greg Jennings more involved (just 34 yards receiving last week) and don’t abandon the run as quickly as it did last week (Rodgers ended up being the team’s leading rusher with 27 yards, while Cedric Benson got just nine carries).
Gut feeling: Maybe the Bears are just the more complete team right now.
Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24
Saints at Panthers:
Unlike the Pack, New Orleans doesn’t get a second straight home game to right the ship.
What they do get is an already-anxious 0-1 Panther team that looked, um…confused by a Tampa defense that will never be confused with the ’85 Bears. In the end, Carolina finished with only 10 yards total rushing, or 140 yards less than its average-per-game last year.
The Saints also face a quarterback that is similar to the one that embarrassed them last week (RGIII) from a run-pass-combo-threat perspective.
Despite the offense putting up a usually-good-enough 32 points last week, New Orleans didn’t remotely resemble the offensive juggernaut it was in 2011. Brees was under duress all day; completed less than half of his 52 passes (unheard of) and was intercepted twice (could have easily been four). The run game was non-existent (32 yards combined for Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram). And the defense helped make Griffin’s debut look so impressive (19-26, 320 yds, three TD) that he’s given Redskin fans the kind of hope not felt since Mark Robert Rypien burst onto the scene in D.C. more than 20 years ago.
But like boxing, the NFL often comes down to matchups. In this case, the Saints have beaten Carolina four straight, including by a 75-44 margin last season.
The real question is, was the Saints lack of offensive cohesiveness less related to Washington’s schemes and more to the absence of Sean Payton, the top play caller in the game?
Gut: Brees finds a way to get his two most versatile weapons more involved (Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles) in yet another Saint shootout.
Prediction: Saints 34, Panthers 24
Bucs at Giants:
The G-Men are a runaway No. 1 pick in my survivor pool this week (Patriots over Cardinals a distant second). But the apprehension is still there: Will this week feature that Giants team that loses to Rex Grossman (Redskins) or Tavares Jackson (Seahawks) at home, as it did last year before making (yet another) improbable championship run?
Given the three other NFC East teams won last week, the pressure is on the Giants more than any other squad in Week 2. New York also has the toughest schedule in the league, whose opponents include the Niners, Steelers, Packers, Saints, Falcons and Ravens. Throw in four division battles with the Redskins and Eagles and a trip to Dallas, and you have a team that absolutely has to win games like this in its own building.
The game also marks a return home for Greg Schiano, who started his career as an assistant coach at Ramapo High School in the New Jersey the same year my team (Wayne Valley) decimated them in a State Championship Game (49-10).
Schiano would eventually go to become head coach Rutgers and put the program back on the map with various mid-level bowl appearances. Tampa surprisingly hired him to apply the same healing process to their flailing organization, whose players quit on the season and their coach (Raheem Morris) in the second half of last year.
Gut feeling: Tampa is 1-6 all-time against the Giants in New Jersey, averaging only 13 points a game. Can’t see Josh Freeman and David Martin doing what Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray did to the Giants defense last week, particularly with the defending champs coming off 10 days’ rest.
Prediction: Giants 24, Bucs 11
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