The “real” games finally began around the NFL, a cause for celebration for everyone from New England to San Diego. Week One gave us some surprises (Niners handling the Cardinals), expected results (Colts, Giants, Steelers, and Patriots all found a way to win), and some heartbreakers (Bengals, Bills, and Jake Delhomme).
But let’s not forget that it was only one week of the 17-week and 16-game endurance-testing 2009 NFL Season. Fans and media need to wait a good five to six weeks before making broad assumptions or viewing trends as anything can happen in the wacky parity-laden NFL.
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Steelers (1-0) — The 2008 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch. As WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair says, "In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!" The Steelers won ugly against the scrappy Titans, needing overtime in the NFL’s season opener. The champs overcame Hines Ward’s potential game-changing fumble, but they should be worried about a ground game that only produced 36 yards. Next up for Mike Tomlin’s team is a trip to Chi-town to face a confident quarterback in Jay Cutler—confident despite throwing four interceptions in his debut—and the Bears.
2. Giants (1-0) — The G-Men won in typical G-Men fashion, playing tough defense and being efficient on offense against the Redskins. Quarterback Eli Manning spread the ball to seven different receivers and the Giants defense was led by returning Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who scored a defensive touchdown. The Giants will travel to Dallas for the opening of Cowboys Stadium on NBC Sunday Night Football where they'll try to shut down early-season phenom Tony Romo.
3. Patriots (1-0) — Quarterback Tom Brady returned from a devastating knee injury he suffered last season and took a little while to heat up. But in the end, the Pats found their rhythm and the Bills gave them the breaks they needed to shockingly win on Monday Night Football in the last minutes of the game. Everyone knows “Spygate” is long over, but there will be an emotionally-charged atmosphere at the Meadowlands when the Patriots travel to Jersey to face the rising Jets in an AFC East grudge match.
4. Eagles (1-0) — The Birds answered many questions as they pounded the Panthers in Week One led by a defense that caused seven turnovers. But the win was costly as quarterback Donovan McNabb fractured a rib and may not be available for two to three weeks. The Eagles responded by saying hello to Jeff Garcia, who they signed as a free agent this week to reinforce the team's quarterbacking corp. The Eagles will finally have their regular season unveiling of “starting quarterback of the future” Kevin Kolb in their home opener against the high-powered Saints.
5. Vikings (1-0) — It was all good news and roses for the Vikings in Week One as All-World running back Adrian Peterson led them in pounding the hapless Browns. The hits should keep on coming in Week Two as the Vikings travel to Motown to face another one of the NFL’s worst teams, the Detroit Lions. Even worse news for the Lions, Brett Favre should only get more involved this week in the Vikes' offense.
6. Colts (1-0) — For Indy it was a new season and a new head coach (Jim Caldwell), but it was the same old Peyton Manning who threw for over 300 yards against the Jaguars. The future hall of famer tied Colts great John Unitas in franchise career wins (118) as the Colts squeaked by Jacksonville, but lost receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee). Next up is a trip to Miami as the Colts return to the place where they won Super Bowl XLI.
7. Ravens (1-0) — QB Joe Flacco looked like he is ready to take the next step in his maturation by passing for over 300 yards in a tougher than expected win over the Chiefs. Next up for John Harbaugh’s team is a trip out West to face a hungry Chargers squad led by quarterback Philip Rivers, tailback Darren Sproles, and an attacking defense.
8. Saints (1-0) — Sean Payton’s team was back to their big play ways as they roasted the hapless Lions while being led by quarterback Drew Brees, who set a franchise record of six touchdowns in one game. However, the road to returning to the playoffs will get a little harder as the Saints travel to Philly to face the Eagles and their hostile defense.
9. Chargers (1-0) — The Bolts got the win in a tougher than expected battle with the Oakland Raiders in a “throwback” AFL game on MNF. In one of Week Two’s feature games, the Chargers hope to get LT back to full strength for anticipated tough battle against the improving Ravens.
10. 49ers (1-0) — “Iron” Mike Singletary got his first win of the 2009 NFL Season as his Niners showed the entire league that they are ready to fight for the NFC West by out-toughing the former NFC champion Cardinals in Arizona. The Niners quest to conquer the NFC West continues in Week Two as they host the Seahawks … wonder if malcontent draftee Michael Crabtree will be watching?
11. Titans (0-1) — Jeff Fisher’s team went toe-to-toe with the Super Bowl champion Steelers and came up a little short in the NFL’s inaugural game of the 2009 season. In a game I will call “The Battle of Bum Philips”, the Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) will host their former city’s new squad, the Houston Texans, in an AFC South matchup.
12. Falcons (1-0) — Head Coach Mike Smith and 2008 Rookie of the Year QB Matt Ryan started to prove that last year was not a fluke by dismantling the Dolphins. They were led by their turnover-happy defense which will look to have a repeat performance. I am sure the Falcons will not show the Carolina Panthers any Southern hospitality when they host them in Week 2.
13. Cowboys (1-0) — QB Tony Romo was up to his early season highlight reel ways once again as the Cowboys went to the air for several big plays in beating the Tampa Bay Bucs. All eyes will be on Texas this Sunday night as the Cowboys move into their new billion dollar stadium by hosting the New York Giants in the latest chapter of one of the NFL’s best rivalries.
14. Broncos (1-0) — Young head coach Josh McDaniels’ squad should be thanking their lucky stars as the Bungles—I mean the Bengals—found a way to hand them a victory in the last minutes of their opening game. The Broncos continue their tour of the lower portion of the AFC North as they host the Browns in Week Two.
15. Cardinals (0-1) — The 2008 NFC Champs had their Super Bowl glide going and forgot that the Niners came to play in their opening game loss. In a respect game, the Cardinals travel to Jacksonville to face a Jaguars team that is fighting to keep their head coach Jack Del Rio off the hot seat.
16. Jets (1-0) — In a surprise road victory over the Texans, Rex Ryan’s team gave notice to the NFL that there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Mark Sanchez. The J-E-T-S will look to continue to ride their growing rookie passer and attacking defense when they host the Patriots in an old-time AFL grudge match.
17. Packers (1-0) — On Sunday Night Football, the Pack served notice to the NFL that they were a team to be reckoned with as they outmuscled the Bears behind their new 3-4 defensive scheme. The Packers for the second week in a row host a team from the Midwest, as the stars from HBO’s Hard Knocks, the Bengals, come to town looking for their first victory of the season.
18. Seahawks (1-0) — The Jim Mora era got off to a good start for the Seahawks as they slapped around the punchless Rams in an easy Week One shutout win. I am sure the 12th Man will be parked in front of their television set for a highly anticipated NFC West battle as the Hawks travel to Frisco to take on Singletary’s Niners.
19. Bears (0-1) — Despite losing Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher (wrist), Lovie Smith’s squad hung in there for awhile against the Packers unfortunately too many turnovers were their undoing on SNF. QB Jay Cutler will need to start proving to the Windy City that he was worth all of the hoopla from this summer as the Bears host the Steelers.
20. Texans (0-1) — The team everyone picked to be the breakout team for 2009 laid an egg at home against the upstart Jets as none of the Texans’ offensive weapons (Schaub, Slaton, or A. Johnson) could get going. The Texans will be playing for civic pride as they travel east to face Houston’s former pro football team, the Tennessee Titans, in an AFC South divisional game.
21. Dolphins (0-1) — Last season the ‘Phins protected the ball like no other NFL team — only 13 turnovers all season. But against the hungry Falcons nothing seemed to work right as the Dolphins committed five turnovers in a bad season-opening loss. This week the national spotlight will be in Miami as the Peyton Manning and Colts come to town for a Monday Night Football showdown.
22. Panthers (0-1) — The 2009 NFC South Champion Panthers imploded at home again as turnovers, courtesy of Jake Delhomme, cost them dearly in a blowout loss to the attacking Eagles. I hate to put the term “must-win” on an early season contest, but John Fox’s team and quarterback have to bounce back in a big way when they travel to Atlanta to take on Matty “Ice” and Falcons.
23. Redskins (0-1) — You have to wonder when owner Daniel Snyder will start putting pressure on head coach Jim Zorn after his team once again could not get the job done against the Giants in a key NFC East battle. The ‘Skins may get their necessary medicine for winning as they host the hapless Rams in Week Two.
24. Raiders (0-1) — Of course Al Davis will talk about being jobbed by the referees again, but playing on the national stage for the first time in a while, the Raiders being the Raiders just could not finish the job against the Chargers on MNF. In a rivalry game that goes back to the heydays of the AFL, the Raiders travel to KC to face the Chiefs and a hostile Red Storm crowd.
25. Bills (0-1) — The new look Bills still played like the old Bills in a heartbreaking MNF loss to the Patriots. I am sure Orchard Park will be rocking as the Bucs come to town in an interesting game where Bills quarterback Trent Edwards better get T.O. the ball, if he knows what is good for him.
26. Buccaneers (0-1) — Head coach Raheem Morris’ squad did some nice things against the Cowboys, but they were unable to stop long plays down the field which cost them. Morris and his retooling squad will head North to Buffalo as they face a Bills’ team also looking for their first win and some respect.
27. Jaguars (0-1) — The Colts continued to be the Jaguars’ AFC South nemesis as they outlasted the Jags to open the season. The Jags’ secondary better be ready for some fireworks as the high octane Cardinals and triggerman Kurt Warner come to town looking for their first win of the season.
28. Browns (0-1) — “Mangenius” decided that Brady Quinn was his starter, but he should have been more worried about his defense, who allowed Vikes RB Adrian Peterson to embarrass them in a bad opening loss. In a battle of two former Bill Belichick protégés, the Broncos (Josh McDaniels) host the Browns (Eric Mangini) in Week Two.
29. Chiefs (0-1) — Head coach Todd Haley had to be proud of his team’s effort as the short-handed Chiefs almost pulled an upset against the Ravens. Somewhere former head coach Hank Stram will be smiling as the Chiefs host the hated Raiders in an old time AFL rivalry game.
30. Bengals (0-1) — Fresh off the positive experience of being on HBO’s Hard Knocks, you would have thought the Bengals had turned the corner, but to the dismay of head Coach Marvin Lewis the “Bungles” were back in a shocking loss to the Broncos. The road to redemption doesn’t get easier for the Bengals as they travel to historic Lambeau Field for a battle with the Packers.
31. Rams (0-1) — New Rams head coach and defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo got a first-hand look of how much work his rebuilding squad needs in a shutout loss to the Seahawks. Spags’ team travels to the nation’s capital to face a hungry Redskins team.
32. Lions (0-1) —Just like the Super Bowl Champion Steelers, the lowly Lions continue to retain the other end of my NFL power rankings. The Lions showed a little fight, but unfortunately the Saints blew the doors off them in an offensive explosion of a game. The Lions will look to end their 18-game losing streak as they host the Vikings and their venerable quarterback Brett Favre.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)