It was very good indeed to be a new head coach in the NFL in Week 1, unless you happened to exit Denver in order to pursue your new opportunity. Five of the league’s seven new coaches won their debuts: the Jets’ Todd Bowles, the Broncos’ Gary Kubiak, the Bills’ Rex Ryan, the Falcons’ Dan Quinn and the 49ers’ Jim Tomsula. The only two new coaches to rack up a Week 1 defeat were the Bears’ John Fox and the Raiders’ Jack Del Rio, who were a very successful act together the past three seasons with the Broncos.
The NFL’s new starting quarterback set was not quite so impressive. Of the nine teams that went with new options at the game’s most pivotal position, just four were victorious in Week 1: Tennessee with rookie sensation Marcus Mariota, Buffalo with Tyrod Taylor, the Jets with Ryan Fitzpatrick and St. Louis with Nick Foles. On the losing side of the ledger were quarterbacks Brian Hoyer of Houston (since replaced in the lineup by Ryan Mallett), Cleveland’s Josh McCown, Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford, Washington’s Kirk Cousins and of course, Tampa Bay rookie and No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. And if you had Hoyer being on the shortest leash of any starting quarterback, you win a prize.
But first impressions often don’t last in the NFL, and there’s plenty more to learn in Week 2 about the teams with the fresh faces at head coach and quarterback. How will another 16 games worth of results change the dynamic by late Monday night? We’re about to find out.
• Last week: 11–5; Season: 11–5 (.688).
• Best pick in Week 1: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 (actual score: Packers 31–23).
• Worst pick in Week 1: Minnesota 34, San Francisco 17 (actual score: 49ers 20–3).
Below are my Week 2 picks. And here’s my pick for Thursday night’s game between Denver and Kansas City.
You think Brian Hoyer got the quick hook from Texans coach Bill “No short leash” O’Brien? I covered the 1993 Bucs, who were coached by Sam Wyche, and he benched starting QB Steve DeBerg at halftime of the opener at home against Joe Montana’s Chiefs. Tampa Bay trailed 17–3 at the break, and the 39-year-old DeBerg, Montana’s onetime 49ers teammate and quarterback mentor, had thrown for just 79 yards, with a pick, a sack and a fumble. In came Craig Erickson for the third quarter, but the Bucs still lost, 27–3. DeBerg was cut by midseason and the Bucs went 5–11. So perhaps Hoyer should feel fortunate he still has a job, even though he had to quickly give way to Ryan Mallett last week. The Texans offense will play better under Mallett, but it won’t be enough to get the job done against a stout Carolina defense. The Panthers are about to start 2–0 for the second year in row, and this time they won’t follow that with a 1-8-1 stretch like they did in 2014.
I took my medicine and offered a mea culpa to 49ers fans via Twitter, after pronouncing that their favorite team would start the year 0–8 in my 20 bold predictions column this preseason. Missed that one by a mile. And even if San Francisco swoons starting now and stands 1–7 at midseason, I’m not going to claim partial credit. But for now, the 49ers are 1–0 and coming off a game in which they totally out-played the Vikings, setting an aggressive tone and getting stronger as the game wore on. Carlos Hyde, you have our attention. But I expect reproducing that entire effort in Heinz Field will be considerably harder. Pittsburgh’s defense needs to bounce back in a big way after the loss at New England, but nothing wrong with that Steelers offense, even without Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Maurkice Pouncey. Pittsburgh was the only team in Week 1 to boast a 100-yard rusher (DeAngelo Williams), 100-yard receiver (Antonio Brown) and a 300-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger).
The loser is going to own sole possession of last place in the NFC South after this one, and a sold-out Superdome for the Saints home opener is not the ideal venue for Jameis Winston to try and erase the stench of his Week 1 performance. New Orleans showed plenty of vulnerability on defense last week in losing at Arizona last week, but the Bucs aren’t close to being able to capitalize on those weaknesses. The Saints should roll, and sew the seed of doubt a little deeper as to whether Lovie Smith is the coach who’s capable of stopping the bleeding in Tampa Bay. Smith is staring at 2–16 in his Bucs tenure if his guys can’t pull the upset.
Remember when teams didn’t want to visit in Soldier Field? Now Chicago is one of the most popular road trips you can take in the NFL, with the Bears going 5–10 in their past 15 home games, dating to early in the 2013 season. The Cardinals reflect their straight-talking head coach, Bruce Arians, and he’s not intimidated by many things in the NFL, least of all a Chicago club that hasn’t won at home since beating Tampa Bay in Week 12 of last year. The Bears blew it when they opted to not hire Arians in 2013, opting for Marc Trestman. Chicago would have hailed him as the next Mike Ditka, and Arians probably would have a steakhouse or two with his name on it by now.
I believe in the Bills and don’t see them turning into a mirage later this season. But I also believe in the edge that Bill Belichick seems to give his team when it has extra time to study an opponent, which came courtesy of playing the Thursday night opener. The NFL said this week that tight ends combined for 22 receiving touchdowns in Week 1, the most in any week in the last 15 seasons. New England’s Rob Gronkowski didn’t score all of those. It just seemed that way against Pittsburgh.
The Chargers can’t be spotting the Bengals an 18-point lead like they did the Lions, because Cincinnati still plays defense and there won’t be another comeback win in the offing for San Diego. The Bengals looked great against the Raiders, but I’m having a difficult time gauging how much that’s really worth. This should be one of the most entertaining games of the week, but Cincinnati is pretty adept at protecting its home turf.
That 28-point victory at Tampa Bay last week made Marcus Mariota the first rookie quarterback to win by that big of a margin in an opener since the Bears’ Johnny Lujack won his opener by 38 points in 1948. Like Mariota, Lujack was a Heisman winner, but the NFL scouts probably picked him apart that year before the draft because they weren’t share his brand of quiet leadership would work. Or something like that. Mariota will have a poor game at some point this season, but not here, against a mistake-prone Browns team that already has had instability at quarterback.
The jittery Vikings clearly weren’t ready for their close-up Monday night in San Francisco, and there wasn’t a single element of their game by which I came away impressed. Teddy Bridgewater needs to relocate his comfort zone, and fast. And Adrian Peterson needs to be worked into the flow of the game from the outset, instead of selectively used here and there. This is a Lions team that just discovered there might be a problem on defense after all this season, so Minnesota needs to pounce early, build a lead and keep the doubts growing in Detroit.
Desperation is often the greatest motivator in the NFL, and Eli Manning and the Giants should have the sense of urgency on their side after giving that game away in the final minutes in Dallas on Sunday night. Atlanta started fast and then hung on at home against the Eagles, but we saw how the Falcons secondary can be susceptible to giving up yardage in chunks. It’s time for the Giants passing game to kick it into high gear, and keep their wits about them when the game gets late and tight. If New York is going to be heard from at all in the NFC East, this is a win Tom Coughlin’s club has to have.
No pressure Rams, but with a win in Washington you can move to 2–0 for the first time since 2001, and rise to two games above .500 for the first time in coach Jeff Fisher’s tenure. St. Louis often hasn’t been able to follow a big win with a consistent performance, so this is significant early test whether or not the “Same Old Rams” still exist. But with the strength of St. Louis’s defensive front, it should be a very long day for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been known to get sloppy with the football when he’s under pressure.
Not smart, Blake Bortles. You can’t win when you talk down to the fans, whether you have a valid point or not. The Jaguars quarterback basically scoffed at fans who criticize the team’s play-calling, comparing it to a conversation between a kindergartner and a college student. But when you’re the quarterback for a franchise that doesn’t even seem capable of taking baby steps of improvement in recent years, you really don’t have too much right to lecture. The Dolphins stay on the road, but stay unbeaten, giving their in-state AFC rivals a lesson in humility. Jacksonville the next two weeks travels to New England and Indianapolis, so not getting the job done at home against the likes of Carolina and Miami won’t bode well for Year 3 of the Gus Bradley era.
The Harbaugh-ians of Baltimore are getting their two road games against the AFC West out of the way right off the bat, and if they can’t take this one, they’ll be 0–2 for the first time in a decade. Not going to happen. The Ravens were pretty dreadful on offense last week at Denver, joining the Vikings and Broncos as the only teams to go without an offensive touchdown on kickoff weekend. But they won’t struggle to move the ball and score anywhere near as much against the Raiders, who laid one of the biggest eggs of Week 1. Look for Baltimore to establish some nice offensive balance and give quarterback Joe Flacco the downfield shots he’s begging for in the passing game. Even if quarterback Derek Carr plays with his bruised throwing hand, Oakland won’t have enough success against a Ravens defensive front missing Terrell Suggs.
No Dez Bryant for a while, and DeMarco Murray now plays for the Eagles—no one in Dallas envisioned this situation the last time the Cowboys visited Philadelphia, for that big 38–27 win in Week 15 which basically won the NFC East for Jerry’s team. But that’s the reality of things in 2015, and that means advantage, Eagles. Philly couldn’t quite close the deal on that almost-comeback-win in Atlanta on Monday night, but Chip Kelly’s team showed how quickly it can rally once Sam Bradford starts getting in a groove. Dallas will put up a decent fight, but the Eagles know winning this game will start charting their path to a division title.
How’s the bitter Super Bowl loss going to affect this season in Seattle, everyone asked all offseason? I think when the mother of the team’s star running back feels open enough to trash the offensive coordinator’s play-calling and call for his firing, you start to get the sense that the rubicon has been crossed and nothing will be off limits in 2015. Like a politician trying to camouflage their biggest weakness, the Seahawks brain trust didn’t need to be giving anyone reason to question their decision-making about now, but that’s exactly what happened in St. Louis last week, with the flubbed overtime kickoff and that failed fourth-and-1 call. And the vibe isn’t going to get any better for Seattle this week, once Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay exacts a little revenge for last January’s NFC title game. The Seahawks aren’t in serious trouble at 0–2, but it’s only going to ratchet up the noise surrounding the two-time defending NFC champions.
The Jets defense is going to keep this one interesting, and we know we’re going to see plenty of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, because everyone runs and runs successfully against the Colts. But Andrew Luck doesn’t usually have two bad games in a row, and Indianapolis will scratch out a victory in its home opener, quieting the anxiety level in the heartland.