The pomp and circumstance that was opening weekend is now over. Now that the dust has settled, some favorites fell, and some surprises rose. While we only have one week to work with, here is how things stack up headed into the second week of the regular season:
1. San Francisco 49ers (1-0) – Last Week: 3
Since last year’s NFC Championship loss and their rash of offseason moves, the 49ers were considered, by many, a Super bowl favorite. On Sunday, they made a case for league’s best squad. Outplaying Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense for most of the day, with big performances by QB Alex Smith and RB Frank Gore, they walked out of Lambeau Field with a win. Their mettle will again be tested against a feisty Detroit team.
2. Baltimore Ravens (1-0) – Last Week: 6
The other Harbaugh-led team, predicated on a stout defense, annihilated the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. Led by a seemingly rejuvenated Joe Flacco, the offense showed that they, too, could hold their own against a reeling division opponent. If they can do the same thing to a Philadelphia Eagles team with a bevy of offensive issues, there is no reason that they can’t make a case for the number 1 spot on this list.
3. New England Patriots (1-0) – Last Week: 2
The defending AFC Champs got off to a good start to the 2012 season, beating the Tennessee Titans without huge numbers from their passing game (Tom Brady: 236 yards, 2 TDs). They may finally have a significant presence in the running game with RB Stevan Ridley (21 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD), which, if it holds up, could prove another significant cog in what may already be the most dynamic offense in the NFL.
4. Green Bay Packers (0-1) – Last Week: 1
The Packers can’t be knocked down too much for losing to, arguably, the best defense in the NFL. Then again, it’s not a good sign that they’ve lost their last two games at Lambeau (dating back to last season), and they don’t know when to shut up after a loss. In any case, the Pack don’t have a lot of time to brood – they now face another daunting task in longtime-rival Chicago on Thursday Night Football.
5. Dallas Cowboys (1-0) – Last Week: 9
Pretty good start for a team that has had a recent reputation of “living down” to expectations: their opening-night win over division rival – and defending Super Bowl champion – New York was pretty impressive. As long as QB Tony Romo stays consistent in the passing game, early projections might see them winning the division. It helps to have WRs like Dez Bryant and Miles Austin – with the recent emergence of Kevin Ogletree – in your arsenal.
6. Chicago Bears (1-0) – Last Week: 7
Turns out the QB-WR duo of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall didn’t miss a beat since the last time they played together, in 2008. Cutler had 333 yards passing and 2 TDs – 119 of those yards and one of those TDs going to Marshall, who had nine catches on the day – in their blowout of the Colts. Now, for the main course: a Thursday night showdown against their division rivals to determine NFC North supremacy (at the very least, early this season).
7. Houston Texans (1-0) – Last Week: 10
It didn’t look like the Texans lost their step, in any facet of the game, in their dominant win over the Miami Dolphins. RB Arian Foster, in particular, looks like he’s back to old form, with a 26-carry day and 2 TDs on the ground. The defense, even without stalwart DE Mario Williams, held Miami to 275 yards (albeit against a rookie QB in Ryan Tannehill). Considering the rest of the AFC South, the Texans are already in great shape to win the division.
8. New York Giants (0-1) – Last Week: 4
Wednesday night’s loss to the Cowboys at home was definitely not the way the Giants wanted to start their title defense. But whether it was a Dallas secondary that didn’t allow a Giant to go over 58 yards receiving, opening day jitters by QB Eli Manning and WR Victor Cruz, or both, the Giants were uncharacteristically flat on Wednesday. While it would be best to avoid an 0-2 start next week vs. Tampa Bay, it isn’t a requirement – at least, not for them – to reach the playoffs.
9. Denver Broncos (1-0) – Last Week: 13
Welcome back, Peyton Manning. The Broncos, after their fruitful courtship of the former Indianapolis Colt QB, were paid off when Manning threw for 253 yards and 2 TDs – not bad for a signal-caller who hadn’t seen the field in more than a year. Ironically, it was Tracy Porter – who intercepted Manning for a TD in Super Bowl XLII to beat the Colts as a member of New Orleans – who sealed the victory over Pittsburgh, with another Pick 6. Now it’s off to the ATL for MNF.
10. Atlanta Falcons (1-0) – Last Week: 14
It was the Matt Ryan Show on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, with TE Tony Gonzalez’s return to his old stomping grounds in KC. He threw a yard shy of 300, 3 TDs, and added a touchdown on the ground. WR Julio Jones, who looks poised for a true breakout season, caught 2 TDs in the 40-24 win. Next up, they welcome Peyton Manning’s Broncos in their first home game of the season. With Ryan vs. Manning, it could turn into a veritable shootout.
11. Detroit Lions (1-0) – Last Week: 11
It was a tale of two halves for QB Matt Stafford in his first regular season game of 2012. He threw 3 INTs for the first time in his career that saw the St. Louis Rams with a halftime lead, and he needed a game-winning TD pass to Kevin Smith in the final seconds to seal the victory. An odd struggle vs. a sub-par team can be one of two things – a bad sign of things to come, or knocking the rust off. For their sakes, it better be the latter – especially if they expect to fare well against a much tougher opponent in the 49ers in Week 2.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) – Last Week: 5
It doesn’t look like the Eagles have really excelled since their disappointing 2011 season. Expectations of QB Michael Vick’s resurgence wasn’t evident – or, some could say, was non-existent – in their near-miss against a below-average Browns team. Vick threw four INTs, but hit the go-ahead TD pass with a minute to spare to win. Not exactly how they wanted to start, and it definitely doesn’t get any easier, as they host a sudden juggernaut in the Baltimore Ravens next week.
13. New York Jets (1-0) – Last Week: 17
They had not thrown a touchdown since last season, but apparently, that didn’t matter in an offensive clinic against the Bills. With a surprising 266-yard, 3 TD performance from QB Mark Sanchez, the Jets have established their franchise signal-caller… for now. Tim Tebow quietly – and publicly – waits in the wings with one waffling performance from the fourth-year veteran. Is this still a recipe for disaster, or is it much ado about nothing? We’ll find out when they travel to Pittsburgh next week.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) – Last Week: 8
New quarterback, same result – at least, that’s what it probably felt like for the Steelers in their loss to the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Despite having the talent on offense – including WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown on the outside – they simply could not stop Manning in his Broncos debut. And that was even with an over 10-minute advantage in time of possession. The result should likely change if they do something similar against Sanchez, Tebow and the Jets in Week 2.
15. New Orleans Saints (0-1) – Last Week: 12
It hasn’t been easy for the Saints since their stunning loss to San Francisco in January. The Drew Brees holdout, the Bountygate scandal; and losing the bulk of their coaching staff for stretches of the 2012 season, including head coach Sean Payton. While good news came with the reinstatement of suspended players like LB Jonathan Vilma, there was still a big letdown in the Big Easy, losing to RG3 and the revamped Redskins at home. They hope to remedy the loss with a road win in Carolina for Week 2.
16. Washington Redskins (1-0) – Last Week: 22
What a debut for the man they call RG3. While many expect him to be an electric player as his career progresses, no one expected QB Robert Griffin III to make such a huge impact in his first NFL start: 19 completions, 320 yards and 2 TDs to beat New Orleans on the road. He looks comfortable with fellow newcomer, WR Pierre Garcon. I would expect those two to be a constant duo throughout the signal-caller’s rookie campaign.
17. San Diego Chargers (1-0) – Last Week: 18
It isn’t really clear whether the San Diego Chargers won their Monday Night game, or the Raiders imploded in typical Raiders fashion. In any case, they made the fewest mistakes in the victory, and Nate Kaeding’s leg gave them the bulk of the scoring (5 FGs). If they want their first 2-0 start since 2006, they will need a more dynamic offense- including a running game that only saw 32 yards on 20 carries – against a Tennessee Titans squad looking to break out.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) – Last Week: 15
Sure, the Bengals struggled to put up points on Monday night, coughing up two turnovers, one of which was returned for a TD. But, then again, they were facing off against one of the most formidable defenses in the league. Give Cincy a team like, say, Cleveland, and Andy Dalton and Co. – combined with the potential of new RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (18 carries, 91 yards, 1 TD), and they should be able to get their footing again.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) – Last Week: 16
They couldn’t hope to spoil TE Tony Gonzalez’s return to Kansas City, and didn’t get much out of QB Matt Cassel (258 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) – at least in the air (1 rush TD). On the plus side, RB Jamaal Charles returned from a torn ACL suffered last year, to the tune of 87 yards on 16 carries. If he comes back to form, he should be able to flourish a la 2010 (1,935 total yards, 8 total TDs). They also play struggling Buffalo next week, so there’s that.
20. Arizona Cardinals (1-0) – Last Week: 25
The Cards had to overcome a bevy of challenges – losing their starting QB (John Skelton) to injury in the middle of a divisional matchup; struggling mightily in the running game (20 carries, 43 yards total); the replacement referees giving the Seahawks an extra timeout in a key late drive – to win at home vs. Seattle. Now, another daunting challenge awaits new starter Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals – a road matchup at Foxborough, against the Patriots.
21. Seattle Seahawks (0-1) – Last Week: 20
It was head coach Pete Carroll’s idea give rookie QB Russell Wilson the “Baptism by Fire” treatment, by naming him opening week starter against the Cardinals. And it wasn’t like it was a necessarily bad call – he had a 153-yard, 1-TD game in his NFL debut. They were even helped by an inexplicable fourth timeout given to them late in the game. The Seahawks just faltered in the red zone in the final seconds. They should take the learning experience back to Qwest Field against the Cowboys next week.
22. Tennessee Titans (0-1) – Last Week: 24
Against the Patriots in Week 1, the Titans could not take advantage of any of their offensive weapons – especially speedster RB Chris Johnson (4 yards on 11 carries) and QB Jake Locker (229 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). With the former’s paltry performance on the ground, and his sub-par play last season, is it already time to panic in the RB department? I suppose they will find out when they face off against another formidable defensive front in the San Diego Chargers.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) – Last Week: 28
New head coach Greg Schiano needed to start a winning culture the Buccaneers seemingly lost during their season-ending 10-game losing streak. With the help of veteran CB Ronde Barber (2 PDs, 1 INT, 1 sack), they did just that. Now they will travel to New York to face the defending Super Bowl champs. With that, they will probably need bigger days from rookie RB Doug Martin, WR Vincent Jackson and TE Dallas Clark to go 2-0.
24. Carolina Panthers (0-1) – Last Week: 21
Cam Newton’s sophomore campaign stalled in Tampa Bay – despite his 303 yards passing, he had two series-ending INTs that could have led to precious points, which came at a premium in a 10-16 loss to the Bucs. It didn’t help that their running game was completely stifled: combined, the Panthers’ multifaceted rushing attack went for a miniscule 10 yards on 13 carries. It doesn’t get better – they face an angry Saints team next week.
25. Oakland Raiders (0-1) – Last Week: 19
I will admit – under new head coach Dennis Allen, an entire offseason under QB Carson Palmer’s belt, and a rejuvenated RB Darren McFadden, their immediate outlook was positive … until their second half vs. San Diego on Monday night. It didn’t help that their starting long snapper, Jon Condo, was out. Replacement Travis Goethel accounted for a bevy of special teams miscues. They better shape up in time for their visit to Miami next Sunday.
26. Miami Dolphins (0-1) – Last Week: 23
Poor Ryan Tannehill. Coming off Texas A&M as the tenth overall pick, he was thrown into the fire as starting QB for a Dolphins team amid offseason drama (see: Chad Johnson), then was asked to go up against one of the best defenses in the AFC in Houston. Not the greatest way to be baptized in the NFL (219 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs), but maybe he and the Dolphins offense can fare better against a struggling Oakland team in Week 2.
27. Minnesota Vikings (1-0) – Last Week: 29
While they easily could have lost to a Jacksonville team that took the lead late in their game on Sunday, QB Christian Ponder – who had zero TDs – threw a key pass to set up the game-tying 55-yard FG, that eventually led to a Vikings win in OT. Don’t forget about RB Adrian Peterson, whose 2 rushing TDs – albeit against Jacksonville’s subpar defense – are a great sign that he will have a comeback season from an ACL/MCL injury in 2011.
28. Cleveland Browns (0-1) – Last Week: 27
I’ll say this much for a Browns team still trying to find its bearings in 2012 – with a rookie QB under center (Brandon Weeden), a rookie RB lined up in the backfield (Trent Richardson), they almost beat an NFC favorite in Philadelphia, their defense picking off QB Michael Vick four times. Unfortunately, Weeden had four interceptions of his own, and ended with only 118 yards. It may be another long season for Cleveland, but at least it can be chalked up to a youth movement.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) – Last Week: 29
The good news: they took the Minnesota Vikings to overtime, after dominating on offensive time of possession (37:49 to 27:05), while second-year QB Blaine Gabbert threw for 2 TDs – including one with 23 seconds left to take a 3-point lead. The bad news: They still lost to a Vikings team that still has a lot to prove, giving up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Furthermore, it may be an even longer day next week when they meet up with Houston’s high-powered roster.
30. St. Louis Rams (0-1) – Last Week: 32
On the plus side – they took the Detroit Lions to the brink, losing on a TD in the final seconds. They picked off Matt Stafford three times, and led the Lions through most of the game, on the road. So, why are they down here? They were nearly doubled up in total yards (429 to 251), and their schedule may put them at 0-3 before division play, starting with RG3 and the Redskins next week. There’s potential for a climb in the rankings in coming weeks, though.
31. Indianapolis Colts (0-1) – Last Week: 31
I feel like the Colts, in their first game of the Andrew Luck era, should sort of get a pass. After all, WR Reggie Wayne looked impressive in tandem with the Colts’ new signal-caller (9 rec, 135 yds), and they lost to a Chicago Bears team that look good to contend for the NFC North. Like the Rams, expect them to climb later in the season – especially if they can get an inaugural victory at the RCA Dome next week, against the Vikings.
32. Buffalo Bills (0-1) – Last Week: 26
They fell far after one week, but for good reason: they looked the worst in Week 1, giving up 48 points vs. a Jets team that did not score a TD in the preseason. Don’t let the score fool you, either: 21 of Buffalo’s points were scored in the last 20 minutes, with the game out of reach. Based on the eye test, the Bills don’t have much going for them right now – especially with reports that WR David Nelson is out for the year, and RB Fred Jackson is out for a month. Ugh.