By: Dave Baker
The NFL youth movement is in full effect. Five rookie quarterbacks made their debuts Sunday. Some lived up to the hype, others were named Brandon Weeden. Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck tossed three interceptions, and posted an eerily similar stat line to the last rookie to come under center for the Colts, a guy named Peyton Manning. The RG III Show rolled into the Super Dome, while the other guys playing in their first starts looked lost. Between Luck and RG III, Indy and Washington have two of the most talented young quarterbacks to come into this league in a while. With so much emphasis on the quarterback position in a now pass-happy league, Week One provided evidence that the Colts and Redskins can look forward to stability and bright futures in the post-Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman eras. Things only figure to get worse for the Browns and Dolphins, as Cleveland sinks deeper and deeper in to a sports Great Depression, and the Dolphins settle into rebuilding Hell. As for, Russell Wilson? Eh, he was OK.
While the new kids took center stage, the old guys came out and balled. Peyton Manning reminded us that even at less-than 100 percent, he’s still better than your team’s quarterback. Tom Brady played like Tom Brady, and Jay Cutler flashed a douchey smirk and mumbled a lot on his way to over 300 yards and 2 TDs. Cutler did throw a pick-six from his own ten in the first quarter, but that wasn’t Jay’s fault. It’s never Jay’s fault. Jay went to Vanderbilt, which means he’s smarter than you and better than every other QB in this league, because they don’t have rocket arms like him so they’re just not as good. Oh, and Alex Smith beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers – at Lambeau.
Week One is only a small indication of what’s to come, but there was no shortage of big plays, big headlines and preseason contenders playing badly. Let’s get into Week Two.
The game America will be watching
Thursday, 9/13 8:30 ET
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Match Up: Israel vs. Palestine doesn’t hold a candle to the blood feud existing between two of the NFL’s flagship franchises. Before both teams’ historic meeting in the 2011 NFC Championship Game, ESPN blogger Kevin Seifert famously referred to the Bears/Packers rivalry as “The Epicenter of Humanity,” a rivalry exemplifying humility, respect, and reverence to tradition. Thursday marks the 185th meeting between these two teams, continuing a lengthy narrative already featuring the game’s founding fathers in George Stanley Halas and Vince Lombardi, and some of the greatest players to ever take the field in Walter Payton and Dick Butkus; Bart Starr and Reggie White. Bears vs. Packers represents everything that is right with football, and everything that is right with America. And for the past two seasons, it hasn’t been a rivalry at all.
Like his predecessor Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers is a Bear killer. He’s won six of his last seven meetings against Chicago, including the 2011 NFC Championship game. As I said, I hate Aaron Rodgers. Punishing defense and a power running game were once the foundations of any team hoping to win the Black and Blue division. But the days of grinding out 10-6 victories are now a thing of the past. The NFC North has evolved into a division loaded with offensive talent and big play potential. Last season, the division boasted two of the league’s best offenses in Rodger’s Packers and Mathew Stafford’s Detroit Lions. This year, meet Jay Cutler and the Super Best Friends.
At this point, America is well-versed in Aaron Rodger’s story: the golden boy from California sits on the bench for three years while he learns the quarterback position from a future Hall of Famer. Here’s Jay Cutler’s story: he has hair on his balls and he throws touchdowns. And a bunch of interceptions, but still, the guy can flat-out throw the football. Now that Cutler has an array of playmakers at his disposal, watch out. The Packers’ defense was torched by the 49ers’ ground game this past Sunday, and Alex Smith moved the chains almost at will. If they can’t pressure Cutler and force him into some mistakes, there will be no joy in Green Bay on Thursday night.
Players to Watch: Packers OLB Clay Matthews and Bears RB Matt Forte
Clay Matthews is the best player on arguably the league’s worst defense. Seriously, as good as the Packers offense looked last season, that’s how bad the defense looked against the 49ers. In the most impressive win of his young career, 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh provided fellow coaches with the blueprint for beating the Packers: win the possession battle and run it down their throats. The running back committee of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter is good, but Matt Forte and Michael Bush are even better. Matthews will have to be all over the field Thursday night to contain a Bears’ offense that is shaping up to be as good as advertised.
For the first time in franchise history, there is an offense in Chicago. Brandon Marshal, the physical freak who helped Cutler to a Pro Bowl in 2008, and Alshon Jeffery, potentially the steal of this year’s draft, line up on the outside, while sure hands Earl Bennett works the middle. Forte and Bush give the Bears a deadly backfield and Devin Hester is still the most dangerous man on earth with a football in his hands. Despite their newfound depth, Forte remains a crucial part of this team’s success. He accounted for roughly half of the Bears’ entire offensive output last season and was on pace for over 2,500 all-purpose yards before a minor knee injury derailed his season. Forte ran all over a hapless Colts’ defense and the Packers could be in for a long night if Forte finds those same running lanes in Green Bay.
Prediction: Bears 27 Packers 23
The Bears are due. Green Bay was outworked, outplayed, and outmatched against a fierce Niners’ defense and a bruising ground game. These teams know each other well. Lovie Smith’s defensive unit is more than capable of keeping the Packers in check and the Bears finally have an offense that can keep pace with the league’s best. In the NFL’s oldest rivalry, a new chapter begins Thursday.
Games America won’t be watching but you should still give a shit about
Sunday, September 16th
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Giants
I always thought Josh Freeman looked like the kid from Different Strokes. Nappy ‘fro and all, Freeman finally played like Josh Freeman again, eliminating turnovers and making plays down the stretch to hold off Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. They’ll travel to East Rutherford, New Jersey Sunday to take on Eli Manning and the Giants. After a weak showing against the Cowboys last Wednesday, a distraught Victor Cruz wandered into head coach Tom Coughlin’s office looking for a hug and some consoling after three inexcusable drops. Instead, Coughlin brought Cruz back out onto the field and rifled passes at the crying receiver until he caught one; like that sadistic middle school basketball coach did in Air Bud. The New York Giants Parent/Coaches Association was less than thrilled.
Prediction: Giants 24 Bucs 16
Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins
How can anyone not feel bad for Ryan Tannehill? The kid’s first NFL start and he faces a swarming Houston Texans D. Games like that are a great way to shellshock your young quarterback, Joe Philbin. Tannehill is the future of the franchise and…ya know what, fuck it. I don’t feel bad for you, Ryan Tannehill. You have a smokeshow for a wife and no matter how many picks you throw you’re still going to have a smokeshow for a wife. You are a selfish sonuvabitch sir, and I wish you nothing but more picks and a lifetime in the AFC East basement. Good day.
Prediction: Raiders 21 Dolphins 13
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Houston Texans will continue to dominate the AFC South, for at least one more season. With so much pomp and fanfare surrounding the league’s established contenders (i.e. Green Bay, New England, San Francisco), Houston has assembled one of the more complete rosters in the NFL. They have the quarterback in Matt Schaub. They have the elite running game in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and an All-World receiver in Andre Johnson. The pieces are in place for that elusive deep playoff run, and if expectations weren’t high enough, Houston General Manager Rick Smith delivered his quarterback a serious ultimatum: “Win, or our Monday fundays at laser tag are donezo.”
Prediction: Texans 27 Jaguars 17
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Prediction: Bengals 23 Browns 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills were absolutely blitzkrieged by the New York Jets. Fitzpatrick tossed three picks, running back Fred Jackson went down in the second quarter with a knee injury, and prized free agent acquisition Mario Williams failed to make an impact. The good news is C.J. Spiller looks like he’s coming into his own, and the Kansas City Chiefs got smacked just as badly by Matty Ice and Julio Jones.
Prediction: Chiefs 17 Bills 16
Baltimore Ravens @ Philadelphia Eagles
It’s almost impressive how bad the Eagles looked against Cleveland. QB Michael Vick threw four interceptions and had to mount a late-game drive to comeback and beat the Browns. The Browns. Ray Lewis played like a possessed 24 year-old Ray Lewis on Monday night, tallying 14 tackles and one sack against the Bengals. At this rate, it’s safe to say Ray Lewis is going to play forever. An NFL without Ray Lewis killing people, screaming a lot, and saying crazy shit in a bugged-out Ray Lewis way is just too depressing to think about.
Prediction: Ravens 28 Eagles 20
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
The modern day incarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf didn’t have an answer for Robert Griffin III. They also didn’t have a running game or a head coach. Part of me was hoping to see Drew Brees assume the role of player/coach, like Regg Dunlop in Slap Shot, and the Saints play like the Charlestown Chiefs; dirty play, casual alcoholism, off-the-field antics and all. Those hopes died when Saints’ safety Roman Harper explained how RG III burned the Saints D on Sunday. “Yeah, we were gonna hit him. But then we remembered we wasn’t getting paid for it, so what’s the point?”
Prediction: Saints 31 Panthers 24
Arizona Cardinals @ New England Patriots
Kevin Kolb gets a rare shot at redemption Sunday when the Cardinals visit the New England Patriots. Coming off the bench for injured starter John Skelton, Kolb led the Cardinals on a game winning fourth quarter drive against the Seattle Seahawks. After the game, it is rumored that head coach (and Satan himself) Bill Belichick will be taking (minion) Tom Brady and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald out for a lovely New England-style seafood dinner. The three plan to discuss all possible ways to get Larry into a Patriots uniform next season, short of selling his soul or forcing Cardinals GM Rob Graves to have an “accident.”
Prediction: Patriots 35 Cardinals 21
Minnesota Vikings @ Indianapolis Colts
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson proved that you don’t need knees to be an elite NFL rusher, and Christian Ponder proved he might not suck so much after all. For all his interceptions and miscues, Andrew Luck showed moxie in his first NFL start. Playing the Vikings at home could go along way in building this kid’s confidence. Early on, this game could have serious implications on Minnesota’s chances of winning the Matt Barkley sweepstakes. Beating the Jaguars in OT is one thing, but seriously, get it together Leslie Frazier. Don’t talk yourself into Christian Ponder.
Prediction: Colts 26 Vikings 23
Washington Redskins @ St. Louis Rams
The Washington RG IIIs are legit. Griffin looked sharp, made great decisions, and won a shoot-out against Drew Brees and the Saints in the Super Dome. Adversity will come for this young team, there’s no question about that, but for now they’re ready to make some noise in the NFC East. In his Rams debut, head coach Jeff Fisher was reportedly wasted on the sidelines, mixing Gatorade and nips of Svedka. Plays were radioed in to quarterback Sam Branford via a headset connection with 12-year-old Madden ’13 prodigy Timmy Kirshner of Baroda, Michigan. Young Kirshner has been offered a lucrative contract of $200 to act as game day offensive coordinator for the Rams, but rejected the deal, citing that, “the Rams fucking blow.”
Prediction: Redskins 21 Rams 14
Dallas Cowboys @ Seattle Seahawks
The Greatest Regular Season quarterback of all time, Tony Romo, is flying high after a statement win against the New York Giants. Having to play at Qwest Field, though, only brings up painful, repressed memories for Romo of that botched field goal attempt against the Seahawks in the 2007 NFC Wildcard game. Romo was found in the showers balled up in the fetal position after Tuesday’s walk-through, and head coach Jason Garrett is hoping that Kyle “The Neck Beard” Orton is ready to go if Romo’s Prozac doesn’t mellow him out. As for the Seahawks’ front office, they’ve filed their sixth and final restraining order against recently cut wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is still warming up on the sidelines waiting for his number to be called.
Prediction: Cowboys 16 Seahawks 10
New York Jets @ Pittsburg Steelers
Since the start of 2011, the Steelers are 0-4 against the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, and 12-2 against the rest of the NFL. Coming home to face a New York Jets squad that generated a greater offensive output than its previous three outings combined may not sound as good as it did two weeks ago. Maybe a skinny Rex Ryan is a winning Rex Ryan? Or, maybe Mark Sanchez can win football games? Either way, I’m sure Tebow has something to do with this.
Prediction: Steelers 20 Jets 16
Tennessee Titans @ San Diego Chargers
Four yards on 11 carries? Against the Patriots? Welcome to the Fall of Chris Johnson. Patriots’ linebacker Jerod Mayo was found in the locker room after the game fashioning a necklace adorned with the remains of Johnson’s grill. A Titans PR person asked Mayo if Johnson could have his teeth back, to which Mayo responded, “A warrior takes what is his. It is known,” in perfect Dothraki, the fictional language of the badass horse lords in Game of Thrones.
Prediction: Chargers 20 Titans 12
Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers
Following last year’s handshake-gate, both the Lions and 49ers went on to earn playoff berths. Harbaugh’s Niners thrashed the Packers at Lambeau, and Jim Schwartz’s squad narrowly escaped a home loss to the St. Louis Rams. The Niners are quickly emerging as an NFL juggernaut and they’ll make quick work of yet another NFC North team at home.
Prediction: 49ers 31 Lions 23
Monday, 9/17 8:30 ET
Denver Broncos @ Atlanta Falcons
Picking apart the Chiefs is one thing, but the Broncos’ defense looked scary against the Steelers. Granted, Matt Ryan isn’t nearly as immobile as Ben Roethlisberger. He can still light up a scoreboard against a tough defense, and he’ll need to if Peyton Manning is coming to town.
Prediction: Broncos 39 Falcons 34