The hardest week to predict the outcome of NFL games isn’t the first week, it’s the second.
So many mirages. So many false impressions from Week 1. So much overreaction.
Look back to opening week of last season:
- Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston threw four touchdown passes in a 31-24 victory over Atlanta, and the Buccaneers established themselves as the team to beat in the NFC South. (It was Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan who had the MVP season, with Atlanta reaching the Super Bowl and then suffering an epic meltdown after building a 28-3 lead against New England.)
- Dallas rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott looked like, well, rookies in a 20-19 home loss to the New York Giants. (That first-year tandem would go on to have a tremendous season, with Elliott going from 2.6 yards a carry in the opener to 5.1 for the season to lead the league in rushing.)
- San Francisco crushed the Rams 28-0, showing 49ers fans their team actually had a pulse. (Turns out, both teams were bad. The four-win Rams had no offense. The 49ers didn’t win another game … except for beating the Rams again on Christmas Eve.)
As NFL observers are reminded every season, you can’t believe everything you see. Earlier this week, I wrote about the 2014 Patriots bouncing back from a humiliating 41-14 loss to Kansas City in Week 4 to go on to win the Super Bowl. So their loss to the Chiefs in this season’s kickoff game should at least be tempered by the memory of that. Tom Brady and the rest of the defending Super Bowl champions aren’t going to curl up in a corner and call it a season.
Among the other Week 1 developments that should be viewed with at least a skeptical eye are the notions that:
- Seattle’s offensive line is horrible, and Russell Wilson is going to get crushed. Granted, the Seahawks looked anemic in their 17-9 loss at Green Bay last week, but remember how the sky was falling when Seattle barely beat Miami in the opener, then suffered a 9-3 loss to the Rams in Week 2? Those Seahawks, with a perpetually suspect offensive line, would go on to win the division by three games.
- Nobody’s going to stop Jacksonville’s pass rush. The Jaguars had a stunning 10 sacks in their 29-7 shocker over Houston. Calais Campbell alone had four; he hasn’t finished with double-digit sacks in any of his nine seasons. Admittedly, Jacksonville has a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but we’re a long way from knowing if the Jaguars have a great defense or one that simply shined on Sunday.
- The Rams are fixed. That was a tremendous opener for them, their 46-9 trouncing of Indianapolis. What a debut for Rams coach Sean McVay. But they need to show they can string wins together against teams with quarterbacks. It’s not like they needed a reminder, but Colts fans saw once again that their team looks very different without its leader. These Colts without Andrew Luck are reminiscent of the 2011 team without Peyton Manning.
- The Giants can’t move the ball. That was certainly the case in their 19-3 loss to Dallas last Sunday night, the team a big blue bust without receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “Everybody needs to take a breath,” quarterback Eli Manning said this week when asked about the offensive woes, his version of Aaron Rodgers’ famous “R-E-L-A-X” from a few years ago. Then again, maybe there is reason for concern. The Giants have gone six games in a row without scoring as many as 20 points.
Late sleepers — Since divisional realignment in 2002, more than half the teams that have made the playoffs started the season at either 1-1 or 0-2. That’s 108 of 180 teams (60%), and last season included five division champions — Atlanta, Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City and Seattle.
Encore? — Rookie running backs Kareem Hunt of Kansas City, Dalvin Cook of Minnesota and Leonard Fournette of Jacksonville each rushed for at least 100 yards in Week 1.
The most recent rookie to do that in each of his first two weeks was Tampa Bay’s Cadillac Williams in 2005.
The last time multiple rookies did that in the first two games of the season was 1979, when Ottis Anderson of the St. Louis Cardinals and William Andrews of Atlanta both accomplished it.
Sad state of affairs — Occidental College, my alma mater, canceled its football home opener Saturday against Pacific of Oregon because of low roster numbers.
It’s a troubling development for a once-proud Division III program that won 178 games and 11 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles under former coach Dale Widolff, including 12 consecutive winning seasons between 1983 to 1994.
Occidental also had a small but notable contingent of alumni who went on to make their mark in the NFL, including coach Jim Mora; players Jack Kemp and Vance Mueller; and on-field officials Jim Tunney and Ron Botchan, who played in the AFL for the Chargers and Houston.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer