After an intriguing opening week in the NFL that included some upsets (see Chiefs over Patriots), great performances by unlikely teams (see the big wins by the Jaguars and Rams) poor performances from some teams we expected to be strong (see the Giants in Dallas), here is a look at the High Five things to watch on this week’s schedule:
Rookie rushers to watch
Doesn’t it seem like just five minutes ago that the analysts had considered the running back position all but dead in the NFL? Well, based on Week 1, not so fast. Big-play running backs who can control the games do not appear to be as extinct as previously thought.
Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook ran for 127 yards on 22 carries. Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries.
The Bears’ less-hyped Tarik Cohen got in on the action as well, with a combined 113 yards rushing and receiving, 66 coming on the ground.
For the first three, the tasks get more difficult in Week 2. Cook, who isn’t even 22 years old, will try his encore against a stout Steelers defense Sunday. Hunt and the Chiefs play the Eagles. And Fournette and the Jaguars play the Titans.
The performances of the rookies marked the second time since 1970 that as many as three rookies rushed for 100 or more yards in Week 1. Rookie backs from the 2017 draft and undrafted free-agent class combined for 621 rushing yards, which is the second-highest total since 2001.
According to ESPN, since the start of 2001, the best season for rookie backs was in 2008, when they rushed for a total of 9,226 yards, with Steve Slaton rushing for 1,282 yards for the Texans, Matt Forte gaining 1,238 with the Bears and Chris Johnson 1,228 for the Titans. Though we’re only through Week 1, this group of rookies project to rush for 10,557 yards.
Patriots rebound to watch
Predictably, the sky has been falling in New England since the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots were beaten rather soundly by the Chiefs in the Thursday night season opener.
In that 42-27 loss, the New England defense seemed to be exposed, and quarterback Tom Brady looked ordinary.
Anyone writing off Brady and the Patriots, who play at 0-1 New Orleans on Sunday, should do so with caution. Based on the Saints defense allowing Minnesota’s Sam Bradford to complete 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards with three TDs last week, Brady could be in for a big day Sunday.
The Saints defense, since the start of the 2015 season, has allowed 75 passing TDs with just 18 INTs in 33 games. You have to believe Brady will feast on that.
A reunion to watch
It has been more than four years since Andy Reid took his talents from Philadelphia to Kansas City to coach the Chiefs. On Sunday, Reid and the Chiefs play the Eagles in Kansas City in what figures to be an emotional day for Reid, who coached the Eagles for 14 years, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson is one of Reid’s former assistants.
Reid has led the Chiefs to the playoffs in three of his four seasons in Kansas City, and the Eagles haven’t been to the postseason since Reid was fired.
“I love the city of Philadelphia,” Reid told reporters this week. “I love my time there with the organization. You don’t stay some place for 14 years and not have a fondness for a place. And I always wish them the best, except when we play them. I’m always pulling for the Eagles. Always pulling for them.”
Reid has an 8-3 record against his former assistants, which makes for a tough matchup for Pederson.
“I just can’t get caught up in that record,’’ Pederson said. “I can’t get caught up on who’s on the other sideline. I just have to focus on my job and getting our team ready to play.”
Pederson, who played for Reid in Green Bay and was his offensive coordinator in Kansas City from 2013-15 before being hired by the Eagles, said he knows Reid “wants to kick my tail and I want to kick his.”
“Obviously, it’s a tough task,” Pederson said. “His teams are always well-prepared.’’
Two season openers to watch
The Dolphins and Buccaneers will play their respective season openers in Week 2 because both had their games postponed last week because of the damage from Hurricane Irma.
The Dolphins play at the L.A. Chargers and the Buccaneers host the Bears, whose starting quarterback is Mike Glennon, who played for Tampa Bay his first three seasons.
For the Dolphins, their plight has become rather unfair considering the NFL declined their request to have its Week 4 game against the Saints in London moved to the U.S. This means not only will the Dolphins play 16 consecutive weeks, they won’t have a bye week after returning from London, which is a competitive disadvantage.
The Dolphins, in fact, will have to play its rescheduled opener against the Bucs the week they return from London.
Miami’s game against the Chargers will feature the debut in a Dolphins uniform of quarterback Jay Cutler, who was signed after starter Ryan Tannehill injured his knee in preseason. Cutler had retired and was supposed to do TV work before he unretired.
Most intriguing decline to watch
With Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, in the wake of their non-competitive 46-9 loss to the Rams in last week’s opener, you wonder if the Colts can be any worse.
Former Patriots third-stringer Jacoby Brissett will replace Luck, who is recovering from January surgery on his right shoulder, after Colts backup Scott Tolzien failed so miserably against the Rams.
Tolzien threw pick-sixes and finished 9-of-18 for 128 yards and was sacked four times. Brissett was 2-of-3 for 51 yards, leading the Colts to their only TD of the game.
There is more upside with Brissett because he is younger and more mobile than Tolzien. But Brissett has been with the Colts only since Sept. 2, when he was acquired in a trade with New England.
“There’s nobody that can come in and learn a playbook in that period of time, so there’s challenges that would be with any quarterback in any system and in any NFL building,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said this week.
“I’m new here, still continuing to learn, continue to get better and get familiarity with the offense and the team and go from there,” Brissett said. “Since I got here, I’ve been in the playbook and trying to learn as much and asking for advice in the quarterback room.”
Brissett started two games with the Patriots last season and figures to be able to better the 225 yards of total offense Tolzien and the Indy offense was able to muster against the Rams.
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