Tuesday, September 30, 2014

NFL 2014 Week 4 Snap Judgments

A truly special defensive player in the NFL is a real rarity.  Going back to just the 1980s, the truly elite list of defensive players - bar none on position - would include the likes of Mike Singletary, Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Troy Polamalu.  They're all all-time greats at their respective positions, with Taylor being the last defensive player to win the league MVP award.

J.J. Watt has quickly put himself among that list of great defensive players of all time.  Earlier this season, he was used as a tight end on a goal-to-go situation for the Texans and caught a touchdown pass.  On Sunday, he picked off E.J. Manuel for an 80-yard touchdown run in addition to hitting Manuel nine times over the course of the game.  He's quickly taken the lead on Defensive Player of the Year, though it's far too early to talk about him becoming the first defensive player since Lawrence Taylor to be MVP.

1. Joseph Vincent Flacco is quickly becoming the man the Ravens paid him to be.  Flacco had one of his best career games Sunday, throwing for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns with a 71% completion percentage.  He's well on his way for setting career highs in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating.  Adding Steve Smith, Sr, to his group of receivers, hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator, and rebuilding the offensive line has finally given Flacco the opportunity to put some serious points on the board every Sunday, which the Ravens certainly did on Carolina.  The sluggish first half in the Ravens' first game against the Bengals in Week 1 feels like a distant memory, and their next meeting in Cincinnati in November could possibly decide who wins the AFC North.

2. DeMarco Murray is the Cowboys' MVP (and possibly league MVP) through the first month of the season.  Murray has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game thus far in the season and scored at least one touchdown in every game.  He's on pace to rush for over 2100 yards and score 20 rushing TDs on the season, which would blow out the previous single season rushing record if he maintained his pace.  The Cowboys have quietly invested in their offensive line through the draft over the last five years, and adding Zack Martin this past spring is starting to pay some dividends.  Their defense is their obvious Achilles heel, but since the Eagles' defense is equally weak, would it shock anyone to see the NFC East come down to those two teams again?

3. Is Mike Tomlin on the hot seat?  The Steelers choked up a heartbreaking loss to the previously-winless Bucs at home on Sunday.  The Steelers have regressed as a team over the last 4 years, going from division (and AFC) champion in 2010 to back-to-back 8-8 seasons the last two years.  Eight wins on the year feels like a generous amount for the team to accomplish this season based on their quality of play in three of their first four games.  They blew a 24-point lead against Cleveland in their first game, looked completely inept against Baltimore, and then collapsed against Tampa on Sunday.  Tomlin was visibly upset in his post-game conference after Sunday's loss, blaming stupid penalties as the primary reason why the Steelers blew the game.  Despite being right in his assessment, he's been in this position before each of the last two years, and the results hadn't improved.  The Rooneys are exceedingly patient in their decision making in the past, giving both Tomlin and Bill Cowher the benefit of the doubt to bounce back after some tough seasons.  Even they have to be thinking about the long term future of the franchise if Tomlin continues failing at properly disciplining his players to avoid making stupid penalties that cost the Steelers games.

4. Nobody in the NFC South is very good.  Despite being blown out the last two weeks, the Panthers are still tied for first place in the division with the Falcons at 2-2.  The Saints looked like their old Jekyll and Hyde selves Sunday night: dominant at home, but below average at best on the road.  The Bucs could not have looked worse 10 days ago in Atlanta if they had actively tried, but they managed to take advantage of some late play calling blunders on the Steelers' part on Sunday.  Through the first four weeks of the season, there have been only three head-to-head matchups among NFC South teams, and two of them were in the first week of the season.  These four teams are going to beat each other up all season long, so there's a good chance the division winner may finish with 9 wins.

5. What's wrong with LeSean McCoy?  Through four games, McCoy has carried the ball 70 times for a total of 192 yards and scored only 1 touchdown.  Nick Foles has also had a tough start to his season as well, but it isn't as glaring as McCoy's.  The obvious answer is poor offensive line play, but the Eagles' collapse in San Francisco was more about turnovers and poor defense.  On the Eagles' final drive of the game with about 2:40 to go in the game, McCoy got 5 yards when the Eagles were on the 49ers' 6-yard line.  The 2013 version of LeSean McCoy would have gotten to the goal line and scored the go-ahead touchdown, but the 2014 version has been coming up short in situations just like that.  If the Eagles are going to play football in January, they're going to need the old version of McCoy again.

6. The Goat of the Week Award goes to the entire Oakland Raiders team.  This team is just unwatchable.  It's quite embarrassing that the NFL sends a product like the Raiders across the pond to play in London in order to build interest in an NFL franchise overseas (which they still project will happen by 2022).  There just aren't words to describe how terrible the Raiders looked against Miami, particularly Matt McGloin's first snap after Derek Carr went down with a knee injury.  Head coach Dennis Allen was just fired overnight.  They aren't a franchise built for being competitive or relevant, and that isn't going to change any time soon.

7. The Packers and their fans can truly relax.  Shame on me for thinking the Packers were taking a step backwards this season and Jay Cutler and the Bears would simultaneously take a step forwards.  Aaron Rodgers put on a show in Chicago, and Jay Cutler was so far behind in Rodgers's shadow that the Bears didn't look like they were ready to take their own field.  The Packers' next three games are all very winnable, starting Thursday night at home against Minnesota.  If they win all three, they finish the first half of the season on the road in New Orleans before their bye week.  Even if they lose in New Orleans, that would put them at a very respectable 5-3 heading into their bye.

8. The Patriots may finally be meeting their decline.  When I was putting together my season predictions in August, one that I had considered making was the Patriots would not reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2002.  Then I looked over their schedule, and I quickly put that prediction aside because I couldn't come up with a feasible way they would fail to get at least 10 wins again.

Now, having seen what they did last night, I think there's a real chance they may win only 9 games this year.  They don't have a horse of a running back, a la LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, or Jamaal Charles; their receivers are a bunch of unknowns who may not make the roster of many teams across the league; and their defense is filled with holes top to bottom.  Tom Brady even recently said he'd only retire when he'd start sucking, and while no one will claim that day has come, he certainly isn't playing at the level he was in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season.  He doesn't have the kind of talent he needs as a quarterback to have a competitive team anymore.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

NFL 2014 Week 3 Snap Judgments

Three weeks into the season, and there are only three undefeated teams left: Philadelphia, Arizona, and Cincinnati.  Arizona is the big surprise of the group, despite winning 10 games last year and barely missing out on the playoffs.  No one is expecting any of these teams to go undefeated for the season, but as long as they keep winning they have little to complain about.  Other teams in the league don't have such a luxury though, such as....

1. Boy, oh, boy, are the Bucs a bad team.  I must eat some crow on this one.  I had picked the Bucs to not only be an upstart team this year, but win the NFC South outright.  I had expected Josh McCown to at least play at an average level at quarterback, but he has been anything but average.  The Bucs are one of three winless teams left in the NFL right now, and it's hard to tell where they fall in line relative to the Jaguars and Raiders.  If this weekend's games are the litmus test, the Jaguars and Bucs are neck and neck for how inept each of them looked.

2. The Bengals, on the other hand, are really, really good.  Give credit where it's due.  The Bengals have looked excellent through the first three weeks of the season.  Andy Dalton hadn't thrown an interception - in fact, the Bengals didn't turn the ball over at all - until late in the first half against the Titans.  The pick shouldn't even really count since the ball was deflected into the hands of Tennessee's George Wilson.  The Bengals are the lone undefeated team in the AFC right now, and they have an early bye next week.  Their first truly tough game of the season comes in Week 5 when they travel to New England.  If Dalton leads Cincinnati to a win on the road against one of the top two teams in the conference, the Bengals could show a sign they're not going to be one and done in the playoffs again.

3. How good are the Eagles, really?  The Eagles put themselves in the record books by winning their first three games of the season despite being down by double digits in every game so far.  That obviously says they don't lose composure when they face at least a two-score deficit, which can only mean Chip Kelly knows how to keep his team focused.  However, they still gave up over 500 yards of total offense to the Redskins.  Their defense is ranked 26th in the league at the moment, giving up almost 400 yards of offense per game and 26 points per game.  Their next game is in San Francisco (another enigma of a team), but their tougher games against the likes of Arizona, Carolina, and Seattle all come much later in the season.

4. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Stephen Tulloch.  The Lions beat up the Packers on Sunday, but Tulloch gets the Goat this week because with just under 8 minutes to go in the first quarter, Ziggy Ansah sacked Aaron Rodgers.  Tulloch was so ecstatic over the play that he did Rodgers's Discount Double Check move to celebrate a play that wasn't even made by him, and in the process he hurt his knee, knocking him out of the rest of the game.  The Lions have confirmed Tulloch tore his ACL during his celebration, so hopefully players will use Tulloch as an example to not get overly excited over a play as relatively routine as sacking the opposing quarterback, especially midway through the first quarter of a game.

Oh yeah, and celebrate a play they made themselves, instead of celebrating a play a teammate just made.

5. The big rookie quarterbacks are finally going to get their moment.  Due to injuries to Chad Henne and Matt Cassel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater made their season debuts this weekend.  Neither were originally planned to play so soon - particularly in the case of Bortles - but necessity is the mother of all rookie quarterback play.  They both managed to play fairly well yesterday, given the sudden need for them to jump in each of their respective games.  Johnny Manziel is still in very limited use in Cleveland at the moment (save for a trick play that was called back due to penalty Sunday), leaving him be the one first-round quarterback who hasn't gotten the call to take the reigns yet.  Bortles's first start will be in San Diego next week, while Bridgewater will stay at home against Atlanta, so both rookies will face some tough challenges in getting their first wins.

6. Baltimore won a Pyrrhic victory Sunday.  Going 2-1 in three divisional games to start the season has to feel good for the Ravens, especially given all the off-the-field drama involving the Ray Rice case.  Their running game has vastly improved from last season in particular, with three good backs carrying the load.  They won on the road in a tough match up against an improved Cleveland team, but tight end Dennis Pitta hit the ground untouched after catching a pass from Joe Flacco.  Last year he fractured his right hip, and he re-injured that same hip Sunday.  He's since gone under the knife to repair the dislocation and fracture, and is now out for the season. Considering this makes two hip injuries in the span of a little over a year, the question of whether his football career may be over has to be asked.  His absence will once again be felt on the field, but the improvements and changes made to the Ravens' offense this year may mask his loss.

7. Seattle and Denver put on a classic game.  There was little surprise that Sunday's Super Bowl rematch proved to be much more competitive than their previous contest.  Seattle appears to have Peyton Manning's number though; if these two teams wind up facing off again in Super Bowl 49, one has to wonder which Denver team will show up to that game.  If it's the same team who played in Seattle on Sunday, then the game should be worth watching.  If not, then we'd have two Super Bowls reminiscent of the Cowboys/Bills games from over 20 years ago.

8. Are the 49ers in trouble?  It's normally quite premature to ask such a question, and it's also worth noting around this time last year a very similar question came up.  This time, however, the circumstances are different.  The 49ers are without Aldon Smith and Navorro Bowman, Ray McDonald is awaiting his domestic violence case to proceed, and there's significant tension between Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke.  This combined turmoil could lead to the kind of downward spiral that sinks a team's season, especially since the Cardinals are playing better than most people's expectations.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NFL 2014 Week 2 Snap Judgments

Last week was arguably the most brutal week the NFL has seen in off-the-field drama in a very long time, possibly ever.  The latest horrifying story line with Adrian Peterson and his alleged child abuse made for two players who had been perceived to be really good guys in the eyes of the public but now have their reputations tarnished, to say the least.  This weekend, however, things finally felt like I could concentrate more on the on-field action, so if the NFL will allow a simple writer to borrow a catch phrase, we can get back to football.

1. At least some of the remaining unbeaten teams are going to come back to Earth.  Buffalo, Houston, Carolina, and Arizona are all to some degree already looking better than they really are.  I had expected Arizona to compete for one of the NFC Wild Card spots by the end of the season, but I don't expect any of the other three to be truly good teams this year.  Houston, amazingly enough, started last season off 2-0 as well, and then went on to lose their next 14 games.  Buffalo isn't quite playing with house money yet, but they've clearly overachieved by winning last week in Chicago and then beating up Miami.  Carolina still has an elite defense, but I don't believe in their offense being able to score enough points every week to play with the big dogs in the NFC.

2. Meanwhile, some of the 0-2 teams have to be better than they've looked so far.  This comment mainly applies to the Saints and Bucs, who can't be as bad as their records would otherwise indicate.  The Saints managed to lose a heart-breaker to their divisional rival Falcons last week, and then Sunday they had to merely stop the Browns on their final drive to get the win in Cleveland.  Instead, Brian Hoyer led the Browns down field into field goal range, where Billy Cundiff had to kick what had amounted to little more than a chip shot for the Browns to win the game (more on the Browns in a moment).

The Bucs managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by a rarely-used rule at the end of the game.  Inside the 2-minute warning of either half, if a player is injured on the field, the player's team can call for an injury time out to stop the clock.  The Bucs' Mike Evans caught a key pass with 8 seconds left on the clock, but he was hurt on the hit he took after making the play.  The Bucs' trainers had to rush him off the field, but the Bucs were hit with a penalty for not having any time outs left for an injured player, so they were forced to run 10 seconds off the clock.  There's your ball game.

3. The Browns are not push overs.  Last week, the Browns managed to come back from down 27-3 against the Steelers, and Sunday they were neck and neck with the Saints before pulling an improbable victory for themselves (they had even jumped out to a 10-0 lead early on).  I still see the Browns losing double-digit games this season, but they aren't going to be blown out 30-10 every week.  If there's such a thing as a Pyrrhic victory in football, it will be that the Browns will finish around 5-11, but only have a minus-20 point differential, give or take.  That should give them something to build on for 2015.

4. Some teams are going to miss some key players for a significant portion of the season.  Take a look at some of the players who had sustained potentially serious injuries this weekend: Robert Griffin III, DeSean Jackson, Jamaal Charles, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, and Ryan Mathews.  The severity of some of these injuries is still unknown at this point, but Griffin, Moreno, and Mathews are all going to miss a minimum of four to six weeks at least (Griffin's dislocated ankle could even possibly end his season).  From a fantasy football perspective, these injuries are going to affect a lot of fans out there, but from an on-field perspective, their respective teams will have to make some serious adjustments for the rest of their seasons.

5. Here's a rather crazy thought: Philip Rivers may actually be the best quarterback from the 2004 NFL draft class.  Rivers is clearly in the shadow of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, considering those two guys have each won two championships so far (and Manning has two Super Bowl MVPs to go with his rings).  Rivers has still managed to be a really good quarterback for the bulk of his career and won a lot of football games for the Chargers.  His performance against the Seahawks was virtually perfect, and his three touchdown passes to Antonio Gates were all beautifully thrown balls.  However, if you go back to comparing Rivers's stats to Eli's and Ben's, he has them both beaten in career completion percentage, QB rating, and touchdown/interception ratio.  If Rivers never wins a championship he'll never measure up to Manning or Roethlisberger, but he could well be the best QB to never win a championship since Dan Marino (which is quite a backhanded compliment).

6. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Marty Mornhinweg. The Jets were up 21-9 late in the first half in Green Bay, and were driving well into field goal range with the ball.  They were also due to get the ball back after halftime as well, so they could potentially have put the game away.  With just under 2 minutes to go in the first half, instead of running the ball to get a little closer for another field goal, Mornhinweg called for a pass to make a play for the end zone again.  Instead, Tramon Williams picked off Geno Smith's pass, putting the ball in Aaron Rodgers's hands.  The Packers then took the ball all the way down the field to score a touchdown, down only 21-16 at the half.  The Packers went on to win the game 31-24.

7. The Ravens avoided digging themselves into an incredibly deep hole Thursday night.  The Ravens were front and center amid the worst off-the-field week for the NFL in a very long time.  Coming from the perspective as a Ravens fan for a moment, I had firmly expected them to be clobbered by Pittsburgh Thursday night.  I thought the short week coupled with the Ray Rice drama was going to affect their ability to play well to say the least, but they brought their A-game on the field.  Had they lost that night, they would have been 0-2, in a complete disarray as a team, and face going on the road into the aforementioned not-push over Browns.  How well they fare on the road in their next game will start to show whether they're truly improved as a team this year over last.  Their running game has done well so far in their first two games, but Joe Flacco needs to play well on the road for a change.

8. The Colts are not in trouble...yet.  I kept the Colts as a separate talking point from the rest of the 0-2 teams in the league because they were my pick from the AFC to reach the Super Bowl.  If the Colts played in any other division, I'd probably be super concerned about their season.  Losing to two very good teams (including my projected Super Bowl champ last night) is not going to break the Colts' season when they have three average to bad teams in their division.  Three of their next four games are against the other teams in the AFC South, so they can put themselves back into first place and bounce back from a tough start to their season.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And the Ray Rice Case Is Only Getting Started

I'm sick.

I'm disgusted.

I'm angry.

I feel like I, along with most other Ravens fans (and NFL fans in general), have been personally betrayed.  To some degree that's a silly idea, but Ray Rice was a guy who I had a lot of admiration for.  He was my favorite player on the Ravens for years, and not just because of his skills as a football player.  He was an extremely active member of the Baltimore community from the moment he took the field in his rookie season, particularly when it came to his anti-bully campaign that he posted constantly about on his Facebook page.

He was also a great teammate, one who took on a leadership role during the final seasons of Ray Lewis's career.  He quickly became one of the most outspoken members on the Ravens, one who loved playing for the team just as much as the organization and the fans loved him right back.

That's why Ray Rice's firing from the Ravens and subsequent indefinite suspension by the NFL stings so much.

I haven't watched the elevator video that was released earlier this week by TMZ; in fact, I haven't even seen the first video that was released in February of Rice dragging the unconscious body of Janay Palmer through the casino floor.  I knew I'd throw up if I watched either video.  I have to tilt my head down or look elsewhere if I'm at the gym and the video comes up on ESPN on one of the gym TVs.

Last night Steve Bisciotti sent out an email to all Ravens season ticket holders and various stakeholders.  It quickly found its way publicly, as it should have.  In my opinion, while the Ravens' front office led by Bisciotti mucked things up pretty well over the last six months or so, the email did a fairly decent job outlining their thinking and ultimate actions.  Bisciotti pulled no punches though; he openly admitted where the Ravens dropped the ball and how they could have acted differently.

Some may argue the Ravens' dismissal of Rice and Bisciotti's email would be too little and too late, and they would have a pretty compelling argument.  Keith Olbermann sure would say that.  Take a look:

Kind of hard to argue against Olbermann's thoughts, and this comes from someone who regularly disagrees with his philosophies.

Here's the real problem though: this entire outrage is completely in response to the shocking video in question.  Domestic violence is a far, far bigger issue than Ray Rice, one that has existed in the NFL for years.  We've all turned a blind eye to it, and I'm just as guilty of doing so as everyone else.  Until Ray Rice's story broke, NFL players who had been charged with any kind of domestic violence charge were left largely to be footnotes in the news.  The recently retired James Harrison was even suspended for one game for punching his then-girlfriend in the eye in 2008.  Less than a year after that incident, he was a Super Bowl hero for the Steelers against the Cardinals.

Harrison is only one example though.  Brandon Marshall held a knife - a knife - to his then-girlfriend (and now wife) in 2008.  He was later diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, and had to seek counseling to deal with his issues.  Now he's regarded as a great teammate and leader for the Bears.  His history, which is quite a laundry list of domestic violence claims and charges, is extensive to say the least.  Because he has since straightened himself out, no one talks about his background.

Yes, I'm also perfectly aware of Terrell Suggs's incident with his then-fiance involving a bucket of bleach as well.  He's another one who was a footnote when his incident had happened, but has since been a leader for the Ravens.  I don't know what the answer is when dealing with players who had previously had cases of domestic violence.

Ray Rice had to know the elevator video would surface eventually, as did the Ravens and the league office.  While I believe the Ravens' front office team members and the league office didn't see the video prior to Monday (I'll explain why in a moment), I don't believe either party took the necessary steps to properly obtain the video, which Bisciotti discussed in his email.

This kind of gross incompetence is unacceptable.  Somebody will be the fall guy for the league office, especially when considering Commissioner Roger Goodell's lack of explanation over what he knew, when he knew it, and what actions he took in response to whatever he knew.  Groups such as the National Organization for Women are now calling for Goodell to resign in light of everything that has happened and been made public.  Goodell has said he won't resign as a result of the fallout from all this, but that doesn't mean somebody won't be fired or forced to step down.

Goodell has said the league office had contacted law officials for all evidence in Ray Rice's case, to which the police department declined due to the video being the primary evidence in the incident in question.  If Goodell lied or hid the truth about somehow obtaining the incriminating video and the ACPD could somehow prove it, that would be the start of a defamation lawsuit waiting to happen.  If you thought the fallout from this entire scandal was already bad, consider the fallout from that scenario.  Goodell would almost certainly have to step down as commissioner, and the NFL would be eager to settle the lawsuit out of court.  The impact to its brand at that point would be beyond comprehension.

The Ravens have already put together plans to distance themselves with Rice, starting with offering fans who have his jersey to bring them in to exchange for another player's jersey of their choice.  Bisciotti's email also referenced the Ravens partnering with the House of Ruth, a nonprofit organization designed to help women who have been victims of domestic violence.  Small steps to be sure, but they're making an effort to make amends for their foul ups.

I haven't even gotten to the real victim here, and that's Janay Rice.  She's made the choice - for better or worse - to stay with her husband.  I want to believe that this was the first and only time Ray has ever hit her, but there are too many inconsistencies in the entire story that have left me wondering where the lies stop and the truth starts.  His anti-bully campaign looks like a farce, one that many people would rightly question its validity and whether it was a front to cover up other domestic violence.

Oh, by the way, the Ravens have to play tomorrow night against their arch rival Steelers.  When was the last time any football game was such an afterthought, especially when it's game featuring one of the best rivalries in the league?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NFL 2014 Week 1 Snap Judgments

This was supposed to be a fun and excited post.

It was supposed to be something that I was looking forward to writing, something that sets the stage for Week 2.

Instead, this Week 1 recap was laborious and quite difficult to write.  It almost felt inappropriate to put it together in light of yesterday's events.  I've already talked about Ray Rice in a previous post, but in light of the developments yesterday, I have a whole lot more to say about it.  That will be later this week.

For now, let's get into Week 1.

1. There were some pretty incredible comebacks.  The Dolphins, Falcons, and Eagles all had to dig themselves out of holes early on in their respective games.  The Eagles in particular blinked and suddenly saw a 17-0 deficit against the lowly Jaguars, only to right the ship by the second half.  Nick Foles could have found himself as the Goat of the Week had the Eagles lost the game.

Meanwhile, the Falcons were in a dogfight with the Saints, exchanging leads back and forth before the game went into overtime.  Matt Ryan had a career performance for the Falcons, throwing for 448 yards and 3 touchdowns.  It's only one game, but the Falcons may be more improved from last season than I had expected.

2. And then there were some near misses.  The Browns, Ravens, Bears, Patriots, and Saints all found themselves on the short end of the stick this weekend.  The Browns were essentially dead and buried in Pittsburgh at halftime, down 27-3.  Somehow, the Steelers' defense took their collective feet off the gas, allowing the Browns to come all the way back and tie the game up by the 4th quarter.  Brian Hoyer isn't going to lose his job to Johnny Manziel without putting up his best fight, regardless of not having Josh Gordon this season.

As for the Ravens, all I will say is Chykie Brown had no business covering A.J. Green on his own.  Either put Jimmy Smith on him, or have a safety backing Brown up.  That's the second consecutive Ravens/Bengals game in Baltimore where Green came down with a bobbled pass, so the Ravens have to be better prepared for him when they meet again in Cincinnati later this season.

3. And then there were some good ol' fashioned butt-kicking.  The Texans laid into the Redskins all day by getting their fearsome front seven in Robert Griffin III's face.  J.J. Watt showed once again why he is the premiere defensive end in the entire league by bringing constant pressure on RGIII, sacking him once and hitting him five other times.  The Texans' major liability will be their offense led by their quarterback play, but their defense will be fine.*

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Vikings ran backwards and forwards over the Rams.  The Vikings' defensive front brought all kinds of pressure on Shaun Hill and Austin Davis, compiling five sacks and picking off two passes. Cordarelle Patterson was a one-man offense, rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown, while also adding another 26 yards in receiving.  The Rams managed to contain Adrian Peterson, but they couldn't do a thing about Patterson.

4. *Though the Texans will be without Jadaveon Clowney for a while.  Clowney tore his meniscus Sunday, which will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.  There are always big names who go down with serious injuries in the first week of the season, so hopefully Clowney will still be effective once he returns.  The likelihood of him being Defensive Rookie of the Year is somewhere between slim and none, given the amount of time that he'll miss.  Both Clowney and the Texans have to be hoping this injury won't be a bad omen of things to come for his career, especially when taking into account he already had surgery on his shoulder after the Texans had drafted him.

5. The Seahawks still look incredibly dominant.  Solid defense and a strong running game will win just about any team at least 10 games in the NFL.  A suffocating defense and elite running game will win at least 12 games in most cases, which is precisely what the Seahawks have.  Russell Wilson can make plays with both his arm and legs, translating to the Seahawks still being the team to beat in the NFC.  They took the second half of Thursday night's game into overdrive, marching right over top the Packers, who suddenly could already be in trouble after losing Bryan Bulaga again to an MCL sprain in his knee.

6. The Cowboys' defense deserve the Goat of the Week Award.  The 49ers needed only 4 offensive plays in the first quarter Sunday to be up 21-3 over the Cowboys (albeit one touchdown was a fumble recovery returned for a score).  The sloppy tackling (particularly the missed tackle on Colin Kaepernick on Vernon Davis's first touchdown catch on the day) is something Cowboys fans will likely have to get used to for the season.  I had originally picked the Cowboys to win 6 games this year, but if their defense doesn't improve that might have been an overestimation.

7. Julius Thomas is going to be very expensive for the Broncos to lock him up long term.  Thomas has a breakout year in 2013, and he started off his 2014 season with 3 more touchdown receptions.  Denver is using him in very similar fashion to how the Saints use Jimmy Graham and the Patriots use Rob Gronkowski.  If Thomas has another year of double-digit touchdowns, he's going to face some serious demand on the free agent market when his contract is up after this season.

8. Jim Caldwell may be a better offensive mind than most people expected.  Granted, the Lions played a bad team in the Giants Monday night, but their offense actually looked stronger and more efficient than when Jim Schwartz called the shots.  During Caldwell's short time as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, he designed an offense that compiled plenty of yards and put points up on the board in 2012 with quality players on the field.  Last year, he wasn't able to do that thanks in part to a patchwork offensive line and an awful running game.  Now that he has a receiver like Calvin Johnson to use, he'll be able to make the Lions a quality football team.

9. The 49ers may be okay after all.  Between player suspensions, Ray McDonald, and Jim Harbaugh's alleged head-butting with ownership and the players, the 49ers looked prime for a fall this season.  Add in the Cardinals being better, and I almost thought they'd fail to make the playoffs for first time under Harbaugh.  Again, it's only one game, but they looked dominant over Dallas on Sunday.  They can put points on the board against anyone in the league, and that's going to keep them in a lot of football games.