With the first international break of the season behind us, the ‘real’ football returned this past weekend. But as Derby smashed 5 past Hull and Celtic 4 past Hamilton, America was reflecting on the first night of the regular season. The NFL is back.
Thursday night saw the Kansas City Chiefs face an improbable task of overcoming Bill Belichick’s defending Super Bowl 51 Champion; New England Patriots. Many US analysts and pundits predicted the Pats had the potential to achieve an undefeated season; then Julian Edelman got injured and Thursday night happened. It was in fact the visiting Chiefs who sent shockwaves throughout America with a convincing win in Foxboro of 42-27. A frustrating night for Brady and the Pats combined with a career day for Chiefs QB Alex Smith, as the Chiefs provided the biggest upset of the opening weekend.
Thursday night’s rollercoaster was not all good for the Chiefs however; three time all-pro safety Eric Berry blew out his Achilles and with a briskly paced 16 game regular season, his year is over before it began. With the shortness of the NFL season, severe injuries heighten the stress on the coaching and front office staff of each respective franchise. But the short season also provides extra emphasis on the opening weekend.
Sunday is NFL day in America, and on opening weekend the entire country is glued to its televisions, radios and fantasy teams to watch the season begin. Not many people would have predicted the Jaguars beating down the Texans in Houston, 29-7. In fact, the opening day win granted the Jaguars their first winning record since opening day 2011. Although, like the Chiefs’ Berry and Pats’ Edelman, Jacksonville also lost a key part of their locker-room as WR Allen Robinson suffered a season ending knee injury in the win. Bill O’Brien’s defending AFC South winning Texans will need to galvanise quickly as they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday to face Marvin Lewis’s down and out Bengals.
Yes, Marvin Lewis is back on the banks of the Ohio…again! 14 years and no play-off win combined with a shutout defeat on opening day, it’s not good reading for Cinci. The Bengals were embarrassed on their home turf in a 20-0 shutout defeat to their divisional rivals Baltimore, heaping yet more pressure on Lewis. The Ravens defence is highly rated within the NFL, but to get a shutout, on the road and force Bengals QB Andy Dalton into 4 opening day interceptions, concerning to say the least. An eye opening performance from John Harbaugh’s squad on opening day as they look to bounce back in a big way this campaign following a disappointing season last year.
Speaking of disappointing seasons; how terrible were the Rams last year? Pathetic.
A move from St Louis to LA created a new buzz around a beaten down franchise, but then they fell flat on their face again. Former Head Coach Jeff Fisher is FINALLY out of the Rams organisation and now up comes the youngest Head Coach in NFL history, Sean McVay, who couldn’t have asked for a better start. The Rams bulldozed the Colts from LA all the way back to the Hoosier state, not even allowing a visiting touchdown. The 46-9 onslaught was a massive improvement from a Rams team which waited until its 3rd game to score a TD last season. As for the Colts…let’s move on shall we?
With the eye-openers out of the way there were also wins on Sunday for Green Bay, Philadelphia, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina and Dallas as we move on to our quick fire reviews.
Dallas made a difficult opening day divisional fixture fairly routine late Sunday night, as they held Eli Manning and the Giants to just 3 points whilst scoring 19 of their own. The Cowboys only lost 3 games last season but 2 of those were against the boys in blue from NYC as defending NFL Rookie of the year Dak Prescott recorded his first win against Eli. Running back Ezekiel Elliott was cleared to play following a suspended 6 game suspension for domestic violence, which could come into effect as soon as this weekend.
Green Bay made Seattle’s O-Line look like amateurs as Russell Wilson was chasing shadows in a 17-9 defeat at Lambeau. Seattle shutout Aaron Rodger’s offence in the first half, gifting the Seahawks a 3-0 lead, but the ‘baaaad man’ #12 persisted as the Hawks D tired in the second half.
Philadelphia flew high on Sunday with a convincing divisional win in the Nation’s capital, 30-17. Jon Gruden’s Redskins are the underdogs in a difficult NFC Eastern division and Sunday’s loss won’t do that reputation any favours. Carson Wentz was impressive for the Eagles throwing 2 TDs and for over 300 yards in the win.
Atlanta rebounded well from a devastating Super Bowl 51 loss with a win in the windy city. Mitchell Trubisky’s first NFL game did not go to plan for the Bears as the Falcons came out 23-17 winners. Dan Quinn’s team will be itching to open their new home on Sunday night and they’ll go there on the back of a solid win and performance.
Pittsburgh made it hard work in Ohio with a 21-18 win over the Browns. Mike Tomlin’s Steelers are favourites to win the AFC North again but all-pro RB Le’Veon Bell struggled running for just 36 yards against a stout Hue Jackson Cleveland defence. The Browns ended a horrific season strongly last year and looked no pushovers against one of the ‘big boys’ in the NFL as there were many positives to take from the performance on Sunday.
Derek Carr rebounded from last year’s disappointment in solid fashion in Nashville on Sunday as he led his Raiders to the 26-16 win. The young QB guided Oakland to the play-offs last season but blew out his knee in the closing weeks costing the Raiders hugely. Oakland crashed out in the wild card round to Houston but on Sunday they made quick work of a Tennessee side that looked disorganised and mistake ridden. With Houston and Indianapolis both getting beat down however, Tennessee can take comfort in knowing they are 2nd in a weak AFC South, despite the poor performance.
Cam Newton looked like the Cam Newton of old in the city by the bay Sunday as Carolina cruised past San Francisco 23-3. Expectation is low in the 49ers camp this season and Sunday illustrated why. With a rookie Head Coach that blew the Super Bowl last year as offensive co-ordinator of the Falcons, and with weaknesses at QB, many can’t see San Francisco making too much noise this season.
Buffalo won the battle for New York State in a comfortable 21-12 against the biggest underdogs in the NFL this season. Pundits and Analysts alike were quick to criticise Todd Bowles franchise in the off season as the Jets failed to ever really threaten in upstate New York. The Bills also were also heavily criticised in the off season after giving Rex Ryan the axe. However, the Bills can at least enjoy being top of the AFC East for at least one week, with Miami on a bye, and defeats for New England and their opponents on Sunday.