NFL

NFL power rankings, good teams look bad, Andrew Luck’s return and more

Week 1 had ample storylines emerge in its wake, but teams expected to show up playing poorly is the biggest takeaway.

Preseason picks are fun, but often times they coming crashing down to earth amongst an avalanche of regular-season reality. That line of thinking certainly held true on Sunday, with a host of summer favorites wilting under the bright lights.

The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be a sneaky team in the NFC with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. In Week 1, Garoppolo was rocked by three interceptions in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, completing fewer than half his passes.

Elsewhere, the Dallas Cowboys fell without much fight agasint the Carolina Panthers. Dak Prescott and Co. scored a measly eight points, with only nine more rushing yards (94) than penalty yards (85). If the Cowboys can’t get more out of Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott, America’s Team is going to have a long season.

The NFC South had its pair of underachievers as well. The New Orleans Saints were the biggest favorite of the week and was trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowing 48 points at the Superdome. New Orleans has to figure out how the defense reverted to itspre-2017 form, allowing an absurd 529 total yards.

On Thursday night, it was the Atlanta Falcons continuing to look inept in the red zone, somehow targeting Austin Hooper more than Julio Jones inside the 10-yard line. At some point, the Falcons have to answer some hard questions about coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Atlanta has all the talent it could ask for — although Keanu Neal’s torn ACL is a major blow — but none of it matters without execution.

Then there was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who couldn’t have played an uglier game. The Steelers turned the ball over six times (Ben Roethlisberger being responsible for five), somehow escaping against the Cleveland Browns with a 21-21 tie. Pittsburgh spent all week talking about Le’Veon Bell and it showed, with a lack of focus in a divisional battle. The result? A miserable tie in a game that could well come back to haunt them later.

The AFC South wasn’t immune to lackluster showings either. The Houston Texans are supposed to be a Super Bowl contender, but they were easily dismissed by the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady did what he pleased while Deshaun Watson completed half his passes for 176 yards and an interception. Even more worrisome was the offensive line, which consistently allowed pressure.

In Miami, the Tennessee Titans were left injured and ambushed. Mike Vrabel’s debut ended in disaster, with Delanie Walker and Marcus Mariota leaving hurt and humbled. The Dolphins won 27-20, forcing three turnovers including a pair of Mariota interceptions. If the Titans can’t get healthy and figure out their issues prior to Sunday when they host the Texans, they will be staring at a significant hole

Finally, the ever-underwhelming Los Angeles Chargers. This is the year for the Chargers to finally win the AFC West for the first time since 2009. All the pieces are in place. Instead, Los Angeles was walloped by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs, losing 38-28 at Arrowhead West. If the Chargers are going to usurp the Chiefs in 2018, losing at home is a rough way to start that trek.

Power rankings

Top 10 individual performances in Week 1

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick/Mike Evans/DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7 combined TDs)
2. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (169 receiving yards, 2 TDs; 91-yard TD return)
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints  (439 passing yards and 3 TDs)
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (286 passing yards, 3 TDs)
5. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (7 receptions, 123 yards and TD)
6. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (135 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
7. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (106 rushing yards, TD)
8. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (16 receptions, 180 yards, TD)
9. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos (10 receptions, 135 yards, TD)
10. Von Miller, Denver Broncos (3 sacks, 4 pressures)

Quotable

“I was very excited to play,” Luck said. “Part of what I think I’ve been trying to do is to sort of have that same feeling when you’re a 12-year-old playing football. A young kid. Because it is a game. We do play the game. We don’t work. We play football. Certain things felt a little different.”

– Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on his return to football

The Colts lost 34-23 to the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium, but the defeat had to feel like a moral victory in Naptown. For the first time since the 2016 season, Andrew Luck was under center and slinging it, throwing 53 times for 319 yards and a pair of touchdown.

Luck and the Colts have a long season ahead of them, but seeing No. 12 playing and playing well was a terrific sight.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill are bringing you a new episode of Stacking The Box every Sunday night. The duo will be joined by Ashley Young and Mark Carman each Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. on the FanSided’s Facebook page.

Random stat

The Cincinnati Bengals have enjoyed two MVP quarterbacks, and yet neither — Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason — are in the Hall of Fame.

Info learned this week

1. Rodgers leads comeback for ages over Bears

The Chicago Bears were leading 20-0 with the game seemingly in hand. Aaron Rodgers was hurt. Everything seemed to be coming up Chicago, lining up beautifully for a conversation on Monday morning about how the Monsters of the Midway were back.

Instead, the narrative did a complete 180, with the overriding talking point being about Rodgers and his magnificence. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer threw for nearly 300 yards in the second half alone, notching three touchdown passes in a heart-stopping 24-23 win. The Packers somehow escaped to 1-0 while the Bears — thanks to some dubious play calling and a Kyle Fuller dropped interception — sit at 0-1.

Still, Rodgers is the center of this game, a contest that will be remembered for some time. It was a virtuoso performance by perhaps the league’s best player on a national stage.

2. Ravens, Bills trending in opposite directions

The biggest blowout of the weekend involved the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, with the former hammering the latter by a 47-3 final score. For Baltimore, the early returns showed a motivated Joe Flacco, a defensive hurricane and a balanced attack. Flacco threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns, the defense amassed six sacks and two turnovers, and six players had at least 30 receiving yards.

Conversely, nothing went right for the Bills. Nathan Peterman continues to look like the worst quarterback in league history, at least lasting into the third quarter this time. Peterman threw both picks and completed just 5-of-18 attempts for 24 yards, before ceding the starting job to rookie Josh Allen. Allen looked flustered and overmatched, going 6-of-15 for 74 yards while being thrown for three sacks. All told, the Bills are the proverbial leader in the clubhouse for the No. 1 overall pick come April.

3. Jags win despite offensive concerns

The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the New York Giants, 20-15, to start their season, but things were far from encouraging on the offensive side. Blake Bortles was controversially extended on a three-year deal this offseason, and he did nothing to back up that faith by going 18-of-33 for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Perhaps more concerning was the exit of Leonard Fournette in the first half, leaving with a hamstring injury. Head coach Doug Marrone doesn’t believe it’s a real serious issue, but time will tell. If the Jaguars are without Fournette in addition to wide receiver Marqise Lee, Jacksonville will need its defense to be damn near perfect.

4. Smith, Peterson look good for ‘Skins

The Washington Redskins have barely been talked about, but the nation’s capital should be feeling confident after a 24-6 pounding of the Arizona Cardinals. Washington rolled behind a pair of veterans in Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson, with the duo accounting for 365 total yards of offense.

Smith was his typically efficient self, throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. As for Peterson, the future Hall of Famer totaled 96 yards and a score on 26 carries, showcasing his value for the new team.

5. Monday night features intriguing matchups

The Oakland Raiders have been an ongoing saga for months, and now they finally take the field at home against the Los Angeles Rams. Jon Gruden graces the sideline for the first time in a decade, fresh off a six-month stretch that has seen more questionable personnel moves — more on that in a minute — than thought imaginable in that timeframe. As for the Rams, this is our first look at them with Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks and Aqib Talib.

In the early game, Sam Darnold makes his NFL debut for the New York Jets, taking on first-time head coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions. Do the Jets finally have their first franchise quarterback since Joe Namath? We’re about to begin finding out.

History lesson

The Seattle Seahawks retired their first number in 1984, choosing12 in honor of their fans.

Parting shot

This is going to be short and sweet. The Bears lost in devastating fashion on Sunday night, but it sure wasn’t because of Khalil Mack. Mack, who recently became the richest defensive player in NFL history, was nothing short of brilliant in defeat. The 27-year-old racked up a sack, touchdown, interception and fumble recovery in one of the most dominating games you’ll ever see.

The performance makes one wonder what the heck Gruden is doing in Oakland? If you can’t make that kind of Hall of Fame talent a priority over things like signing Jordy Nelson and trading for Martavis Bryant, why even get back in the business?

The Raiders are going to host the Rams on Monday night, and they are going to do so with the worst defensive personnel in the league. Meanwhile, their former star showed why he’s worth every cent the Bears paid for him, and why Oakland is going to spend decades trying to find his talent again.

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