Mike Freeman's NFL Team Report Cards, Post-Week 1 Edition
Peyton Manning made this week's grades easy-peasy. He stole the show. Not just against the defending Super Bowl champions, but he stole the stage for the entire first week. The performance itself is well documented, but what it also did was cause ripples along the space-time-NFL continuum.
Normally, one game doesn't mean much, but Manning's seven touchdown passes, tying a decades-old NFL record, was different. It vaulted the Broncos to the top of the NFL's hierarchy, because Manning, always extremely accurate, looked even more radar locked.
There's something different about him. While his arm strength looks a tad weaker, his ability to hit targets in stride has improved.
Manning may be a playoff choker, but he dominates the regular season, and his performance against the Ravens means he'll likely dominate it again.
The Cardinals lost to the Rams, but Arizona gets a solid grade because it's clear they found something that they haven't had in years: a quarterback. It was noticeable how Cardinals receivers didn't have to break their hips bending backwards trying to make catches. Footballs were actually hitting them in the hands. In stride. What a concept.
The Falcons didn't have a healthy Roddy White, but there's no excuse for this loss. Yes, their games against the Saints are always close, but Atlanta should be able to drop 40 on a beat-up, not-very-talented Saints defense. The Falcons choked.
Not much to say here. The Ravens looked slow, old, outcoached and slow and old and outcoached. That is all.
The Bills lost to New England, taking the Patriots down to the last minute. The grade is high here because (like a few other situations) they seemed to have found a franchise quarterback, maybe the first since Jim Kelly. EJ Manuel is smart, mature and has good accuracy. He fits right in with this new crop of young QBs.
My problem with the Panthers: they need to open up the offense more. Let Cam be Cam. Don't be scared. Open it up and the Panthers could be more than solid.
I've been saying for some time to slow the roll on the Bengals as a Super Bowl team.
Sure, I'm the dumb-ass who picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to go the Super Bowl, but the Bengals aren't good enough. There was one bright spot for Cincinnati: A.J. Green made nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Green isn't just athletic and fast, he's also an excellent route-runner. Said one scout on Green: "He's the only receiver playing today I would compare to a young Jerry Rice."
Typical Browns. Just when you want to believe they could be special, that something positive could happen, they find a way to lose. This was a game they could have grabbed by the throat. Instead, the big moment grabbed them.
The Cowboys snagged six turnovers and the defense did look more energized. But it wasn't a great night. Too many turnovers of their own, and despite the Giants giving the ball away so much, New York still had a chance to win.
That Wes Welker sure does suck, eh? Totally useless. Totally get why the Patriots let him go. Can't help anyone. Slow. Terrible. Your grandma could cover him. Yeah, sucks. The Patriots made a brilliant move telling him to pack his stuff.
Sure, Welker had a bad turnover, but he continues to show that he's the least-appreciated player in football. He caught two touchdowns from Manning and once again proved that he cannot be covered one-on-one.
Because he stinks. Obviously.
Reggie Bush did what many of us thought he would: He dominated. He's made for this offense, and it showed with almost 200 yards of offense and a score. He still has speed, and on that turf Bush will destroy visiting teams throughout the season.
That would normally rate an 'A' grade, but for Ndamukong Suh's disgusting, dirty play where he took out the knees of Minnesota's John Sullivan on a Lions interception return that scored. Because of the dirty play, six points taken off the board.
And Suh was named captain this year.
The Lions will not win a Super Bowl this year—and will never win one as long as they make dumb plays like that.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers spent the offseason studying the read-option and then Colin Kaepernick came out in a standard pro offense and looked like Troy Aikman. The 49ers made Green Bay's defense look slow. That's because it is.
Two of the Texans' best players, J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, made big play after big play against the choking-dog Chargers. Cushing's interception return for a touchdown was a key component in a Houston 24-point scoring barrage that went unanswered.
Andrew Luck became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to have eight game-winning drives in his first 17 starts. This is both good and bad. Luck was almost a one-man show. That's not great. The good news is that Luck is so good, he can handle the pressure.
The word that comes to mind when watching quarterback Blaine Gabbert is "splat." He's always running or ducking or tiptoeing to avoid pressure. He plays scared, and that was on full display against the Chiefs. He's not an NFL starting quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, it was the Jaguars, but still the Chiefs allowed just two points. Two. The quality of the crappy opponent lowers the grade slightly, but you see what Andy Reid brings to the Chiefs. It's a solid foundation with lots of running, precision pass routes and a solid D.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times by Cleveland and knocked around even more. He was beaten up pretty good yet still produced 17 second-half points. Receiver Mike Wallace can criticize the game plan all he wants, but he was doubled and Tannehill found other receivers, namely Brian Hartline.
Adrian Peterson was initially dazzling, bursting for a huge run on the first play from scrimmage. Then he cooled. Of course he cooled. He was facing 38-man fronts, some Green Berets and the Nazis from Indiana Jones.
This is where Christian Ponder must do something. Anything. He simply isn't good enough and this fact will plague the Vikings all season long.
New England Patriots
No real running game to speak of, diminished offensive weapons and an average defense. It's why the Patriots were in a fight with a Buffalo Bills team they should have easily handled. This will be the plight of the Patriots all season.
New Orleans Saints
It was understood that the return of Sean Payton would lead to a far more efficient New Orleans offense. The surprise was how an injured Saints defense held a powerful Atlanta offense to 3 of 11 on third downs. The Saints managed this despite missing Will Smith, who is out for the season, among other key defensive players.
New York Giants
I remember saying Giants running back David Wilson was going to be a star. I was right. Just wrong about the kind of star. He's a falling one. He can't be trusted to hold onto the football, and he can't be counted to protect Eli Manning.
There's a chance Wilson rebounds and stays a part of the offense, because he's a better option than the running back stiffs on the street. Without a capable runner, though, the Giants are toast in the division.
New York Jets
Geno Freaking Smith. His opponent, the Tampa Bay Bucs, were putrid, but he showed what I've been saying for some time: Smith has a spark. There's talent in that body and maturity as well. Some cockiness, too, but that's in all worthwhile quarterbacks. His last minute victory, sparked by a dumb Bucs play, was a taste of what's to come.
Again, another young quarterback that we expected to stink out loud showed quiet poise. Terrelle Pryor was graceful and smart and fearless. He didn't know what he was doing. He can't read defenses, so imagine what it will be like once he actually learns these things.
The rest of this Raiders team is putrid, and it may win two games all year, but Pryor will be fun to watch.
At first, I thought Chip Kelly's offense wouldn't work in the NFL. Then I saw one opponent in the preseason totally exhausted playing against it and thought it could. Now I'm convinced it's brilliant. Washington players were gassed after about five minutes, and there seemed to be a number of "injuries."
This was an awesome display.
This summer when I spoke to Maurkice Pouncey he was glad that many in the media and others were underestimating the Steelers. I didn't. I picked them to go to the Super Bowl. Like an idiot. Pouncey is out for the year with torn knee ligaments, and a Mike Tomlin-coached team had never looked in such disarray in a season opener.
San Diego Chargers
Another Philip Rivers choke job. Served piping hot. Somewhere, this is Norv Turner:
San Francisco 49ers
The Green Bay Packers spent the entire offseason prepping for the Colin Kaepernick read-option. Then once the game began, Kaepernick stayed in the pocket like Troy Aikman. Accurate passer or great scrambler. It continues to increasingly look like Kaepernick might be the best weapon in football.
Ho-hum win. Showed guts. A victory is a victory, but the number of injured players is a concern, and the loss of Percy Harvin until November remains one of the most under-discussed stories in the NFL.
St. Louis Rams
It's still difficult to tell what the Rams are. What we know is they're tough, and they hung in against an Arizona team that finally has a real QB. Rams tight end Jared Cook caught two touchdown passes. The team is feisty, I'll say that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I thought the Raiders were the least talented team in the NFL. It might be the Buccaneers. They are disgustingly bad, and I think it's only a matter of time before there is a revolt in that locker room against the head coach.
Just for this one feat alone the Titans earn a high grade: they ended Pittsburgh's 10-game home-opener winning streak. Think about that. What was thought to be one of the worst teams in football goes in and schools the Steelers. Nicely done.
He looked slow. Out of synch. His cockiness was drained after he was smashed many times by the Eagles. Robert Griffin III wasn't even close to himself. This is what not playing the entire preseason does. Expect a better Griffin in future games as he shakes off the rust, but this was frightening.