NFL Week 2: Questions Facing Every Team
Week 2 of NFL football begins today with a much-anticipated matchup between NFC North rivals the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. A matchup that is sure to filled with drama and should kick off a great slate of games.
During the past week, many questions were answered (Yes, Peyton Manning still has it!), but just as many are still being asked (How long before Andrew Luck becomes a star?). Every team has something it needs to be worried about and that’s what we’ll get into here.
Make sure to stick around until the end to see my picks for this week’s games.
Are Kevin Kolb’s late-game heroics a sign of things to come?
Personally, I’ve never been too high on Kevin Kolb. Is he a serviceable quarterback? Yes, but I don’t think I would be alone in thinking that this guy will never win a championship without some amazing players around him.
However, he had a huge game this past week when he came in for injured starter John Skelton. Kolb was beaten out by Skelton in the pre-season, but never wallowed in his defeat; just accepted it, and moved on.
It looks like a good plan, as he was able to take advantage of the opportunity put in front of him, scoring the go-ahead touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. Again, this team is still probably a cellar-dweller for the season, but, if Kolb can get the ball to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at a high rate, they’ll fill some fantasy stat sheets, at the very least.
Is Matt Ryan a legitimate MVP candidate?
I know the Atlanta Falcons were planning on limiting runningback Michael Turner’s touches, but I don’t think many would’ve predicted such a huge offensive effort out of quarterback Matt Ryan and the passing game in the first week of the season.
Ryan looked as good as any quarterback in the league last year and was able to put the ball wherever he wanted against the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only did Ryan look excellent, but both of his receivers look to be headed to the Pro Bowl after the first game.
Julio Jones had the more noticeable game with his two huge touchdowns, but Roddy White quietly had a great day as well with 87 yards receiving.
If the passing attack can keep up this kind of pace, the Falcons are going to be an offensive juggernaut throughout the 2012.
Speaking of stud QBs, is Joe Flacco the best quarterback in the league?
No one has a higher opinion of Joe Flacco than, well, Joe Flacco. The guy really does believe that he is the best quarterback in the NFL and, after his destruction of the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s kind of hard to disagree with him.
Now, I’m not quite ready to put Flacco in the same class as Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), but you can’t deny that the man knows how to win games.
It looks as if he’s improved even more this year and has really taken to the no-huddle offense that seems to be catching on amongst NFL squads. No one ran it better than the Baltimore Ravens and, if Flacco can keep running it at a high rate, it’s going to be difficult for any team to beat Baltimore this year.
Can C. J. Spiller keep up his level of play?
Fact: Runningback C.J. Spiller put his ridiculous stats in a game the Buffalo Bills had no real chance of winning. That said, it’s not as if we haven’t seen Spiller put up big numbers in the past.
Last year, after starter Fred Jackson went down with a knee injury, Spiller saw his output greatly improve. Over the last six games, he has taken on the look of a future premiere back, putting up at least 100 total yards and a touchdown four times.
With Jackson suffering another knee injury in last week's loss to the New York Jets, Spiller should see enough touches to put up some big numbers, further coming into his own as a feature back in the NFL.
How fast can quarterback Cam Newton turn things around?
I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t get too worked up about what happened in the first week of the season, good or bad. I mean, does anyone really think Washington Redskins' quarterback Robert Griffin III is going to play at an MVP level the whole year?
Not unless they’re crazy. The same kind of logic needs to be applied to quarterback Cam Newton’s play. Sure, he had two interceptions to only one touchdown, but he did top 300 yards and only misfired on 10 of his 33 passes.
That shows us that the man still has it and we shouldn’t doubt it just because of one less stellar game. Look for him to bounce back against the New Orleans Saints this week.
Will quarterback Jay Cutler be wishing he’d kept his mouth shut?
I’m all for some trash talk, especially against two big-time division rivals. However, I don’t know if it was wise for Chicago Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler to give the Green Bay Packers' defensive backs any more incentive than they already had.
Let’s face it, the Packers got outplayed at home against the San Francisco 49ers last week and they’re already mad about that. Why give them even more of a reason to be hyped up for a chance to prove that they’re still a legit Super Bowl contender.
Now Cutler can completely shut everyone up if he performs as he did against the Indianapolis Colts last week, but this Packer team is a whole other animal. He’s going to need to be on his A-plus game when he takes the field tonight.
Can a young offense come back up after a less-than-stellar performance?
To be fair, no one plays great against the Baltimore Ravens' defense. The Ravens might be aging, but they can still lay the hammer down on their opposition.
That said, I expected the Cincinnati Bengals to play better in the first game of the season, especially after how much they over-achieved last year. Only time will tell if quarterback Andy Dalton can get back on track.
Luckily, the Bengals get a much less stingy opponent this week in the Cleveland Browns. Plus he’ll be playing in front of the home crowd. Look for Dalton and receiver A.J. Green to hook up early and often in this one.
Is Brandon Weeden really the quarterback of the future?
Out of all the rookie quarterbacks starting last week, Brandon Weeden was definitely one of the worst out there (I have him tied with Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill at the bottom of my list).
Now, I must point out that runningback Trent Richardson didn’t really help matters with his paltry 39 yards rushing, but the Browns would’ve liked to see more out of Weeden.
Considering he’s in his late twenties, it’s hard to think of Weeden as a rookie. But he is and it’s going to take some time before he can really become the great quarterback the Browns are hoping for.
Can the secondary keep up its level of play?
Going into this season, my biggest question for the Dallas Cowboys (outside of quarterback Tony Romo’s tendency to lose big games) was their secondary play.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has this front seven swarming all over the ball. I was really impressed last season, but I felt like the defensive backs were lacking. The team seemed to agree with me as it went out and acquired cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne .
Any questions I had about these newcomers were answered by their exceptional play against New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning and his receivers during Week 1. If Carr and Claiborne can keep playing at this level, the Cowboys might be looking at that elusive Super Bowl at the end of the season.
Who’s going to be quarterback Peyton Manning’s No. 1 target?
This one’s a little personal because of my fantasy draft, which saw Denver Broncos' receiver Demaryius Thomas go the pick before me; causing me to panic draft Denver receiver Eric Decker.
To be fair, both will probably excel with quarterback Peyton Manning tossing them the ball, but I’m interested to see who steps up and becomes the team's number one.
Will quarterback Matthew Stafford cut down on turnovers?
Three interceptions to one touchdown is not the ratio team’s want from a starting quarterback; especially one who many thought could become the next big thing in the sport.
True, Matthew Stafford’s yardage was there and his team did win the game. But he has to improve on his INT-TD ratio or the Detroit Lions will have difficulty winning many games.
The St. Louis Rams aren’t a bad team and the Lions are going to struggle against teams like the Green bay Packers and the Chicago Bears if their quarterback keeps giving the ball away.
Green Bay Packers
Can they find their running game against the Bears?
I’ll be the first to say that I don’t even know if the Green Bay Packers really need a running game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers can just dink it off to one of his many receivers on screens, which effectively work as a running game.
However, it’s pretty difficult to win in the NFL when Rodgers is your leading rusher. Coach Mike McCarthy has said that he plans to put a bigger emphasis on running back Cedric Benson, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
One thing is for certain: the Packers are going to be chomping at the bit to prove that their opening week loss was merely a small blemish and not a sign of things to come.
Just how good is this offense?
Runningback Arian Foster, receiver Andre Johnson, and quarterback Matt Schuab. Each of these guys is either elite or borderline elite at their own position. However, putting up points against the hapless Miami Dolphins doesn’t really tell us much.
It will be interesting to see if this trio can continue to play well (and stay healthy) once they begin seeing better competition.
If they can play as they did against the Miami Dolphins every week, this team has a real shot at making it to a Super Bowl.
How will quarterback Andrew Luck respond?
Regardless of how many times Andrew Luck gave away the ball, he had a decent day at the office, especially against the Chicago Bears' tough defense.
However, I can easily see that game getting in a young quarterback’s head, leading him to doubt himself.
That’s something he simply can’t do against the Minnesota Vikings’ pass rush. Anytime you have defensive end Jared Allen coming at you, you have to be on top of your game. If Luck hesitates at any point, he's going to be getting very familiar with the turf.
Can they close out a game?
When you throw a game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left on the clock, you generally win. The Jacksonville Jaguars were unable to do so this past weekend, letting the Minnesota Vikings come back and kick a field goal to send it overtime. The Vikings eventually won the game.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked much better than he did last season, playing with poise against the Vikings' pass rush. But the Jaguars just couldn’t get it done in the end.
A lot of that comes with having a fairly young team, but it needs to learn from this quickly if they want to compete in games this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Where did they go in the second half?
Going into halftime, the Kansas City Chiefs were still very much in the game against the Atlanta Falcons, only down 20-17. However, the Chiefs really stunk up the second half, scoring one touchdown while the Falcons put 20 more points on the board.
This is especially disconcerting when you take into account that the Chiefs were playing at home. Kansas City is a scary place for opposing teams because the crowds get so loud. You would expect the Chiefs to take advantage of this and come out hyped up along with their fans after halftime.
That simply didn’t happen in Week 1. The Chiefs let the game slip away from them. If they don't come out with more energy this week, they’ll be staring down a 0-2 hole.
Will they win a game this season?
Now, I obviously don’t think the Miami Dolphins are going to go winless this year. The team isn't quite that bad, but it is fairly close.
If you have a good reason for me to think otherwise, please let me know. I have yet to see anything from this squad that leads me to believe that it isn’t the worst team in the NFL.
The good news is that there is hope for Miami fans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t going to be a stud anytime soon. But, if you watch closely, you can see flashes of what made him such a high draft pick. It’s going to take some time, but this team could compete given a few more years of growth.
Will the offense open up the playbook this week?
The Minnesota Vikings may have won the game, but it sure looked stagnant throughout much of the first quarter and at points during the second.
The Vikings have to find ways to get the ball into receiver Percy Harvin’s hands, but that will continue to be difficult without many other options in the passing game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph looked promising, but without a true deep threat opposite Harvin, he’s going to see double and triple-teams all season.
The great news is that runningback Adrian Peterson looks completely healthy. It might be a passing league these days, but you always have a chance to win when you start the best back in the game.
New England Patriots
Is something wrong with tight end Rob Gronkowski?
I mean, the man couldn’t even spike the ball after scoring a touchdown! In all seriousness, it’s hard to find much to question following the New England Patriots' beat down of the Tennessee Titans.
Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady looked like his old self, tossing the ball all over the field. Runningback Stevan Ridley was a breath of fresh air, going off for 125 yards. The Patriots' defense even looked great, garnering my fantasy team 17 points.
There really isn’t much to critique, so I guess I’ll say that New England needs to make sure not to stay complacent and keep getting better every week.
New Orleans Saints
How big of an impact is the loss of Coach Sean Payton?
Many were surprised to see the New Orleans Saints lose to the Washington Redskins at home this past week, especially considering the 'Skins were starting a rookie quarterback and a running back who was third on the team’s depth chart going into the weekend.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Saints lost the game. But, I think it’s safe to say that the loss of their head coach—who was suspended for one season because of the Saints' bounty debacle—was a big reason.
You simply can’t replace a coach like Payton, who was known to have called the right play at the right time. He’s one of the best in the game and replacing him won’t be easy. Let's hope the Saints can lean on veteran quarterback Drew Brees to be the anchor, but look for this to be a question that’s asked throughout the season.
New York Giants
Can the receiving corps step up?
The New York Giants' receivers had a big case of the drops last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Considering New York hardly ever had that happen last year, you have to be a little concerned if you’re a Giants' fan.
I will say, that the Cowboys' secondary looked much improved over last year, which could be a factor in New York’s struggles.
Look for receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to come out strong this week, making people forget about the big loss to the Cowboys quickly.
New York Jets
How well will quarterback Mark Sanchez play going forward?
New York Jets' Mark Sanchez had one of, if not the best game of his career this past weekend. He looked amazingly sharp throughout the contest and showed fans that the pre-season really doesn’t matter.
That said, we all know the immense pressure the quarterback faces this week. Personally, I believe that quarterback Tim Tebow isn’t one-third the player Sanchez is—and I’m not even that high on Sanchez—but you have to expect that the Jets’ fans will turn to Tebow at the drop of a hat if Sanchez struggles.
For the Jets play-off chances, I hope that doesn’t happen because they’re not going to win many games with Tebow behind center. He’s great out of the Wildcat formation, but Sanchez gives them the best chance to win.
Can quarterback Carson Palmer build on a solid performance?
His squad might have lost the game, but Oakland Raiders' quarterback Carson Palmer quietly had a good day at the office with 297 yards and a score. I was a little worried the man would look old going into the season, but he’s proven me wrong so far.
Oakland really needs to get Palmer some help in the form of a running game if it wants to pull out the tough wins.
Runningback Darren McFadden only had 32 yards on 15 carries, so doesn't appear to be exactly the elite back the team had hoped for. On the plus side, he did have 86 receiving yards, so it’s not as if he’s doing absolutely nothing. Look for the quarterback and running back to have big games in the second week.
When does the “Dream Team” become a reality?
Over the past few seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles' management has put together an amazing group of football players who would win most games if played on paper.
Unfortunately for Philly fans, the games are played on the field and this squad has struggled more than expected. Quarterback Michael Vick, in particular, had a lackluster start to his 2012 season.
You have to expect a player of Vick's caliber to produce against a weak Cleveland Browns' team, but he just didn’t show up. Curiously, Coach Andy Reid didn’t decide to go with the run as Vick struggled. Instead, he called for 55-plus passes. When you have a back like LeSean McCoy, you need to trust him to help out your star quarterback during a tough day.
Will the return of linebacker James Harrison mean a win?
The Pittsburgh Steelers played well against quarterback Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos this past Monday night, but there was definitely something missing from its much-talked about defense.
That something was linebacker James Harrison, the heart and soul of the team. He perfectly embodies the rough and tough Steeler way. Without his leadership, the team didn’t look quite as imposing as it did in the past.
It appears he will be in the lineup this week, which is great news for any Pittsburgh fan out there. Look for the defense to step up his game, now that its fearless leader is back in action.
St. Louis Rams
Which Sam Bradford are we going to get this year?
Quarterback Sam Bradford played fairly well in a close loss to the Detroit Lions and that could be a good sign. True, he didn’t overly impress, but he wasn’t the lackluster starter we saw last year, either.
Let's hope the decent start to his season signifies that he’s shrugged off 2011. Let's hope he is ready to come back to be the cerebral passer he was known to be. After all, that lead to his high draft position.
Bradford has the skills to make things happen for the St. Louis Rams. I question the team’s talent at wideout, but there’s enough at the position to give Bradford a shot at having a breakout season.
San Diego Chargers
Can they find a rushing attack?
When healthy, runningback Ryan Matthews is one of the better backs in the league. The key words in that past sentence are “when healthy.”
Matthews has struggled to stay on the field throughout his short career and began this season on the sideline because of a broken clavicle. He looks to be questionable for this coming week, and that means the Chargers desperately need to find someone to take his place.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers and company looked solid tossing the pigskin around against the Oakland Raiders this past week, but it’s difficult to sustain those winning ways when your leader rusher has 12 yards. Needless to say, Coach Norv Turner has his work cut out for him until he gets Matthews back in the lineup.
San Francisco 49ers
Just how dominant can this defense be?
I’ll admit, I thought there was absolutely no chance that the San Francisco 49ers would beat the Green Bay Packers on its home turf. Oh, how wrong I was.
The 49ers' defense played outstanding football against one of the most prolific passing attacks this league has ever seen. Sure, Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with 300-plus yards, but he had to throw the ball 40 times to get there and was held to 22 points.
Now, that number isn’t overly impressive, but keep in mind that 15 of those points came in the fourth quarter when San Francisco pretty much had the game locked up. I was very impressed by the defense, but I need to very quickly mention that quarterback Alex Smith played an excellent game. If the 49ers keep playing like this, they’re going to be one of the toughest teams to beat.
When is wide receiver Sidney Rice going to show up?
Sidney Rice was huge for the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. For that, the Seattle Seahawks paid him mightily. However, he hasn’t really done anything since then, as he’s been hampered by injury and ineffectual quarterback play.
The receiver was able to find the end zone last week, which is promising news. But he only managed four catches for 36 yards.
The Seahawks desperately need him to become the pass-catcher he was in Minnesota and help out the team’s rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Can quarterback Josh Freeman continue to play the game manager?
Let’s be honest, quarterback Josh Freeman didn’t have anything close to an eye-popping game against the Carolina Panthers last week. Sure, the Tampa Bay Bucs' squad came out with a win, but he only threw for 138 yards.
I would like to see him get between 175 to 225 yards per week for the Bucs as they continue to pound the ball and play good defense. Runningback Doug Martin is a solid back who’s going to keep opposing offenses off the field.
Hopefully, Freeman can build on his numbers from last week. Look for him to look for strikes down the field more often this week, as he tries to keep defenses honest.
What’s up with runningback Chris Johnson?
Many (including me) were looking for Chris Johnson—or CJ2K—to return to form after his holdout last year, but he disappointed heavily in his opening game.
When you only manage four rushing yards over an entire game, you’re not an elite back. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because the Tennessee Titans were down and had to pass a lot, but he has to improve.
With him playing so poorly, the Titans won’t have an easy time transitioning quarterback Jake Locker into the NFL, let alone winning games.
What happens when quarterback Robert Griffin III fails?
Admittedly, I’m an unabashed Robert Griffin III—also known as RG3—fan and was as hyped about his Week-1 performance as anyone else in the nation. That said, I’m also a realist after many years of being a Minnesota Vikings' fan.
As a quarterback, RG3 is going to be good this year, not Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) good, but very, very good. At times, he’ll look great. Heck, at times he might even look like an MVP (as many were saying after this past Sunday). On the other hand, at times, he’s going to look like a rookie. At times, he’s going to suck.
What happens then? Can the Washington Redskins' other players step up and bail out the rookie? Do the 'Skins fans go crazy and call for him to benched?
These are questions I hope never need to be answered because I want him to throw for 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. But those questions will be asked and he will struggle. Let's hope he deals with it like a true professional and comes out the next week with another huge performance.
Week 2 Picks
Last week I went a pedestrian 8-8, but going forward I’m hoping to look like a play-off team. Here are my picks for this week’s games:
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers: Packers
Minnesota Vikings @ Indianapolis Colts: Vikings
Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills: Chiefs
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals
Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins: Raiders
Arizona Cardinals @ New England Patriots: Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Giants: Giants
Baltimore Ravens @ Philadelphia Eagles: Ravens
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers: Panthers
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Texans
Washington Redskins @ St. Louis Rams: Redskins
Dallas Cowboys @ Seattle Seahawks: Cowboys
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers
Tennessee Titans @ San Diego Chargers: Chargers
Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers: 49ers
Denver Broncos @ Atlanta Falcons: Falcons