Week 1 of the NFL regular season is almost in the books. As many have pointed out here at BTB and other forums, before today there wasn't a heck of lot else to talk about since the Cowboys 24-17 victory at the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants Wednesday night. So I thought I'd take a look at how the Cowboys upcoming NFC rivals and potential playoff opponents fared in week 1.
We all know it's just the first week of the season and teams can come out flat before getting hot later in the year. But just as the Cowboys have shown undeniable improvement on defense and along their offensive line against a quality opponent, other teams have taken a few steps forward of their own, starting with RGIII and the Redskins' 40-32 victory at the New Orleans Saints.
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WEEK 2 OPPONENT @ SEATTLE
Let's start with our Week 2 opponent, the Seattle Seahawks. The good news is they weren't good enough to beat the mighty Arizona Cardinals, who as we all recall from last year have a pretty good defense but are a mess at the quarterback position. The Cards also suffered a serious injury along their offensive line this preseason with the loss of starting tackle Levi Brown. They slammed the door on the Seahawks as they were driving at the end of the game to win 20-16 in the desert. Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson barely passed for 150 yards and was harassed by the same pass rush that gave Tony Romo fits last year. If Arizona would just fix their o-line and find a quarterback their defense is good enough to make them a playoff contender in an otherwise weak division.
Rob Ryan's defense can't get too cocky because Matt Flynn is waiting in the wings. But there's no sign Pete Carroll is ready to roll out the former Green Bay back up just yet despite Seattle fans no doubt calling for the veteran on sports talk radio in the Pacific Northwest. Bottom line: the Seahawks will need a heroic effort from their defense, and likely a driving Seattle rain to slow down Tony Romo and company, given the pathetic state of their passing offense with the rookie under center. I see Dallas winning by at least as comfortable a margin as last year's game at Cowboys Stadium if not more and big games from Murray and Dez if the Hawks try to shut down Ogletree.
WEEK 3 OPPONENT vs. TAMPA BAY, WEEK 7 OPPONENT @ CAROLINA
The Bucs may have surprised Cam Newton and the Panthers with their defense this week, but this was a unit that actually played well in 2010 and was poised for a rebound.
Raheem Morris Greg Schiano is a good defensive coach and the addition of free agent corner Eric Wright from the Detroit Lions plus Bama ballhawk Mark Barron might have made a terrible secondary at least average enough to do a good job of containing Newton in a 16-10 win. So much for my notion that our game at Carolina will be a shootout, I think our ILBs can keep Newton bottled up and Carolina's receivers besides Steve Smith still need to step up. We should beat the Carolina Kitties by 10 points or more.
Overall I think we're headed for an easy win at Seattle, but the Bucs at home may give us a tougher match up than many were expecting when the schedule first came out. We should win both games, but I'll be interested to see how well the Bucs D plays against Eli Manning and the Giants passing attack next week. The Bucs were able to run rookie Doug Martin behind free agent guard Carl Nicks and company for nearly 100 yards, but Carolina shut down Vincent Jackson and our corners are much better than theirs -- either Tampa is still missing a viable no. 2 or no. 3 receiver or Josh Freeman just isn't that good in his third season.
WEEK 4 OPPONENT vs. CHICAGO
I plan to do a full FanPost scouting the Bears after the Bucs game. Chicago as expected manhandled Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 at Soldier Field. Brandon Marshall was targeted no fewer than 15 times by Jay Cutler but former Gamecock Alshon Jeffrey had 80 yards and a score. The Bears also ran over the Colts D with Forte and Bush combining for three scores.
To paraphrase Adam "Pacman" Jones, "But it was the Colts, dude". Luck was not as harried by the Bears' pass rush as I thought he would be considering he was playing way behind most of the game. But much of that is due to the rookie's undeniable talent and mobility, which our quarterback also has in spades. Thanks to Luck the Colts will be a very good football team in 2013 or 2014 once they get it together on defense and special teams, but they seem likely to be one of the top suitors should Purdue alum Anthony Spencer become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney aren't looking very good in the 3-4 at all. The Colts will likely be selecting the top pass rusher in the 2013 draft with a top 10 pick.
Bottom line: Chicago's offensive line looks improved from last season, especially at both tackle positions, and Michael Bush gives them a much more powerful punch down on the goal line (still kicking myself that I didn't take the ultimate fantasy vulture back sooner to be my no. 2 ball carrier).
Nonetheless, I still like our chances against their smallish corners and suspect safeties. Rookie TE Coby Fleener also had six catches for eighty yards against the Bears safeties and linebackers though some of that was no doubt in garbage time. I'll have to see the Bears beat the Packers at Lambeau Field next week before I conclude they can beat Tony Romo. The Packers should have plenty of motivation after losing the San Francisco 49ers in today's game that could already have determined which NFC seed will claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Truth be told I thought the Bears would be a 10-6 wild card behind the 12-4 Packers for the NFC North crown this year. But if they come out and make Rodgers 0-2 I'd have to start wondering if they're ready to win the division and have been perhaps overlooked by (B)SPNers more enamored with the Iggles and Falcons of the NFC. Detroit certainly looked like an 8-8 playoff-missing team as they struggled to beat the 'Rams, dude' this afternoon. It seems both the Packers and Lions struggles in the secondary and running game are starting to bite -- though St. Louis D can make even Kevin Smith look Demarco Murray-like on the Fantasy Football points sheet.
The Bears are starting to look like the team most likely to hand us our first loss of 2012, even before we play at the Baltimore Ravens.
WEEK 9 OPPONENT @ ATLANTA
The Dirty Birds came out shooting with Matt Ryan completing three touchdown passes and rushing for one more against an overmatched Kansas City Chiefs team. The Chiefs are likely looking at drafting one of the top two QBs to go off the board in 2013. Atlanta won 40-24 without getting much on the ground from Michael Turner/Jacquizz Rodgers but they seem to be better than the Packers in rushing just enough to keep opposing pass rushes honest.
Again as with the Bears above it's hard to evaluate how good ATL is going to be as 'it was the Chiefs, dude' and the secondary that shut down the Packers last season included our very own Brandon Carr. Stanford Routt clearly hasn't turned out to be just as good for KC, and the Chiefs appear headed for a top 10 pick. Atlanta meanwhile may yet live up to the hype of being 'Next Year's Team' and overcome their own black mark of consecutively being one and done in the playoffs. I expect the Cowboys to either meet them in the wild card round or play them in the divisional round this year as the New Orleans Saints defense appears likely to struggle all season long in a relatively weak NFC South. The good news for us is that even with the addition of CB Asante Samuel, the Falcons pass rush doesn't look like it can stop Romo from setting the pace for Matt Ryan in a shootout. I expect us to prevail at the Georgia Dome 37-34 in one of Romo's best statistical performances of 2012.
WEEK 10 @ PHILADELPHIA, WEEK 11 vs. CLEVELAND
Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson either left behind a pretty good secondary with Joe Haden in Cleveland or Michael Vick is reverting back to his pre-Philly days in being careless with the football. It's not surprising that the Iggles fierce pass rush and good corners forced former Oklahoma State Cowboy Branden Weeden into four picks. But Vick threw four of his own and it looks like the Browns did a decent job of slowing down LeSean McCoy.
Either way aside from RG3's performance against a suspension-sapped Saints defense, this will be the most talked about NFC East game of the week here at BTB and perhaps even at Iggle-loving (B)SPN. If I'm our friend JimmyK and watching Vick play like that I'd have to get nervous or suspect that Andy Reid would contemplate benching Vick and going with rookie Nick Foles for at least a start or two while leaning on his running game.
Of course, as JimmyK wrote after the triumph on Wedneday, it's just one game guys. But Vick has looked out of sync and dinged up throughout the preseason. And for those who say preseason doesn't matter that rust clearly carried over today against an inferior opponent. As the OCC says the mark of good teams is not winning the majority of razor-thin games but blowing out weaker opponents (i.e. Cowboys against Seahawks). The Browns are certainly less talented than the Eagles who edged them 17-16 in a game that shouldn't have been close at all.
In Part II I'll look at how the Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Saints and Redskins fared and whether their perfomance can tell us about our mid to late season matchups with those teams.