Week 2 of the 2017 NFL Season: We Don’t Know What We Know.

By | September 15, 2017
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If NFL Week 1 hot takes, Super Bowl proclamations, and panicking football fans were unwelcome relatives, candy, and nuts, then oh what a Christmas we’d have.

There’s an old adage among front office executives of NFL teams, in regards to the conclusion of Week 1 of the NFL season: the 50% of teams in the league who win their opening game will begin wondering if they’ll lose at all that upcoming season, and the 50% of teams who lose their opening game will begin to wonder if they’ll win a single game all year long. But deep down, people in and around the league know the truth: that Week 1 of any NFL season offers some of the wonkiest — and often meaningless — results, especially in the grand scheme of the marathon that each season ends up being.

Kansas City’s offense isn’t as prolific as everyone is making it out to be. New England’s defense isn’t as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Jacksonville’s defense won’t maintain their pace for finishing this season with 160 sacks of opposing quarterbacks. The New York Giants won’t maintain their pace for scoring a grand total of 48 points this season. The Los Angeles Rams won’t have the #1 point differential in the NFL for much longer. The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions aren’t going to finish the season with an undefeated record. The Seattle Seahawks aren’t going to finish the season with a winless record.

Tom Brady isn’t going to finish the year without ever throwing a touchdown pass. Alex Smith won’t maintain his pace for throwing 64 touchdown passes this year. Carson Palmer won’t continue his current pace of turn the football over 48 times this season (… I think, but more on that in a bit).   Deshone Kizer and Jared Goff won’t have more touchdowns passes than Marcus Mariota and Russell Wilson for much longer. Le’Veon Bell won’t be ranked below 29 other running backs and two different quarterbacks, in terms of total rushing yards. Antonio Brown won’t maintain his pace for catching 176 passes this year. Austin Hooper can’t possibly maintain his average of 64 yards per catch.

So, let’s just enjoy Week 1 for what it was — one week of football in a really long season. There’s still plenty more football to go, and plenty more for all of this season’s stories to unfold.

All of that being said, here are a few stories coming out of Week 1 of the 2017 season, and a quick look ahead to Week 2’s slate of games:

A Fascinating — and Haunting — “What If” Scenario for Dalvin Cook

It certainly shouldn’t have shocked any of the NFL Draft nerds out there (which I would consider myself), but rookie running back Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings looked great last Monday night, against the (still non-existent) defense of the New Orleans Saints.

But as the Vikings started wearing down the Saints defense, and as he started ripping off runs for more and more yards, the same thought kept popping into my head as i’m watching the game:

Dalvin Cook should’ve been drafted by the Washington Redskins.

I mentioned back in April that, based on intel from people who new people who knew things, the Redskins had a legitimate interest in Cook. But given that Jonathan Allen fell to the #17 overall pick, absolutely nobody could or should fault them for taking him. But the fact that Cook wasn’t taken in the first round entirely was a much larger surprise. And that’s where the sense of regret for not getting him enters the equation.

Cook actually fell all the way to the 41st overall pick (the 9th pick in the second round), before the Vikings swapped second round picks (Minnesota had #48 overall) and gave Cincinnati their fourth round pick (#128 overall) to move up to #41 and grab Cook. So, again: the Vikings gave up #48 overall and #128 overall to go up and get Cook.

Guess who had #49 overall? That would be Washington, who ended up taking outside linebacker Ryan Anderson. If you’re a Redskins fan, wouldn’t you have given up #49 overall, the better of our two fourth round picks (#114 overall — acquired from the New York Jets in a draft day deal back in 2016 — which we used to take Samaje Perine), and maybe even one of our extra 7th round picks for good measure (if necessary), to go up and get Cook?

In other words, wouldn’t you rather have Dalvin Cook, instead of the combination of Ryan Anderson & Samaje Perine? Washington could have walked out of the 2017 NFL Draft with two of the top 15 players in this year’s draft class, in exchange for nothing more than the extra draft picks that Scot McCloughan blessed us with.

I love the heart that Rob Kelley shows when he runs. Perine has the combination of sneaky speed + bruising running style that reminds you a lot of former Redskins great Stephen Davis.

But neither of those guys are anywhere near as talented as Dalvin Cook. I feel like this could be a haunting “what if” situation, as we watch Cook’s career unfold over the next few (but likely more) seasons.

Tarik Cohen: The Chicago Bears Running Back Du Jour Last Sunday

Raise your hand if you thought that Chicago Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen would have more rushing yards than Le’Veon Bell, more combined yards than David Johnson, and even more touches than his teammate — and last year’s star rookie running back — Jordan Howard.

Now put your hand down, because you’re lying.

Cohen ran for a team-high 66 yards (on five carries), and caught a team-high eight passes (on a team-high 12 targets) for 47 yards and a touchdown. That’s 113 total yards and a TD, for those counting. Not too shabby for an overlooked running back coming out of North Carolina A&T.

I actually happened to be in Chicago for work a week before the season started, and one of the locals there absolutely gushed about Tarik Cohen, based off his performance in the preseason. In fact, he emphatically told me that Cohen is someone I need to have on my fantasy team. At the time, I attributed it to preseason excitement (especially for a team that has little to be excited about), but after his performance last Sunday, it looks like there might have been at least some merit to his statement.

And at the risk of sounding like Captain Hindsight, I was a little wary of Howard’s potential performance this year, given the fact that the Bears already lost Cameron Meredith to a season-ending ACL injury before the year started, and there were too many questions around Kevin White (who just went down with YET ANOTHER season-ending injury). There wasn’t much to stop opposing teams from loading up the box to take away Howard. Plus, i’m also a huge believer of the sophomore slump; ie, rookies who have an enormous first year in the NFL — as Howard did last year, when he finished second in the NFL in rushing yards — and follow it up with a very sub-par second year.

But as far as Cohen, his speed (he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.42 seconds) and ability to catch passes out of the backfield presents an interesting option for the Bears offense, especially in a time where running backs who specialize as pass catchers — think of Danny Woodhead (when healthy), Theo Riddick, or Darren Spoles — create major matchup problems for defenses.

It Could Be A Very, Very Long Season for the Arizona Cardinals

I know I just got done saying that we shouldn’t make any wild blanket statements about anything we saw in Week 1, but for anyone who roots for the Arizona Cardinals, last Sunday’s loss against the Detroit Lions should be plenty of cause for alarm.

Detroit essentially started off the football game by telling the Cardinals: “don’t worry, we’re (yet again) totally unprepared to this game, thanks to our head coach who’s basically an animatronic muppet; we have no chance — and no interest — in winning today, so why don’t you all take it from here.” The Lions put up a grand total of 24 yards of offense in the first quarter, and turned the football over twice (one of which was a pick-6 by Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel, less than four minutes into the game). They committed gloriously stupid mental gaffes like trying to return a kickoff after fumbling it seven yards into the endzone.

Fast forward to four minutes left in the third quarter, when the Cardinals held a 17-9 lead. And then, from that point onwards, Arizona basically decided: “we see your total inability and disinterest in winning, and we’ll raise you by turning what should be an ugly win into an even uglier collapse.” Thus began the process of Arizona getting outscored by a 26-6 margin over the final 19 minutes of the game.

It’s not like the Lions suddenly morphed into the New England Patriots of the 4th quarter of Super Bowl LI. It’s just that Arizona’s offense was so utterly incompetent for the vast majority of the game, doing little more than basically handing the ball right back to Detroit every time they got it; seven of Arizona’s first 10 drives ended in either a punt or a turnover.

The Cardinals finished with less than 310 yards of total offense, including less than 270 passing yards and less than 50 rushing yards, against a team that finished 32nd in the NFL in defensive DVOA last year. They lost the time of possession battle against a Lions team whose top three running backs ran the ball 22 times for 51 yards.

In what shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, Carson Palmer’s arm looks absolutely finished; we’re about a year-and-a-half into this storyline now.

Superstud running back David Johnson is going to be out for at least the next eight weeks, and that might be an optimistic recovery time frame. In his place, they’re going to platoon Andre “everyone in this organization and the city hates me but somehow i’m still here” Ellington, Kerwynn “I was probably named after a paint company” Williams, and Elijhaa “my first name has too many vowels” Penny at running back. You’ll have to forgive my total lack of optimism around those guys.

The Cardinals defense didn’t really help all that much either, allowing three second half touchdowns to the Lions. Arizona’s secondary, which is supposed to be the strength of this team, made Golden Tate (10 catches for 107 yards) and rookie Kenny Golladay (four catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns) look like Cris Carter and Randy Moss circa 1998. The Lions attempted 41 passes yesterday (third most in the NFL), yet Arizona’s defense registered exactly one sack, against an offensive line that’s one of the worser groups in the NFL.

The only short-term consolation for Arizona is that they have a get-well game next Sunday, against the putrid Indianapolis Colts. They better get a much needed tune up that day, considering they host the Dallas Cowboys the ensuing Monday Night.

But otherwise, I predicted this Cardinals team would make the playoffs this year. And, at the risk of overreacting to a Week 1 loss, that prediction looks like it could be hilariously wrong.

The Most Overrated Player In The NFL

Allow me to interrupt the Baltimore Ravens lovefest for a moment, with a cold dose of reality.

Yes, the Ravens defense played great last Sunday. But they’re not going to have the benefit of the opposing quarterback turn the ball over five times every week, and put up one of the five worst performances by a quarterback over the past three decades.

But lost in Baltimore’s 20-0 beatdown of Cincinnati was just how miserable Joe Flacco has continued to play. Last weekend, Flacco threw for less yards than Scott Tolzien (the current laughingstock of the NFL). Flacco was the only quarterback who started and finished the game for his team, and threw less than 20 passing attempts while doing so; Flacco had 17 attempts … and STILL managed to throw an interception in those attempts.

Just take a look at this majestic passing attempt from last Sunday.

I’ve been on this soapbox for quite some time, and i’m going to double-down on it: Joe Flacco isn’t just the most overrated player in the NFL; he might be the most overrated player of the last two decades.

In 2012, Flacco finished outside the top 13 quarterbacks in completion % (19th), passing yards (14th), and touchdown passes (15th). Yet, because of his performance in the 2012 postseason, en route to his Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens gave him an unfathomable $120.6 million contract, which crippled their salary cap over the next few years.

Flacco’s current annual salary (his base salary + his signing bonus) is higher than that of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger.

Read that list again.

And what has Flacco done to provide a return the investment the Ravens made in him? How about repaying them with non-winning records in three of the four ensuing seasons, and a 29-29 record as the team’s starting quarterback since winning the Super Bowl. Or how about the fact that, of those 29 wins, only FOUR of them came against teams that finished the season with a winning record.

I can’t think of a single player in recent memory whose reputation so grossly exceeds his actual production. Before the season started, an ESPN poll of NFL personnel resulted in Flacco being ranked higher than Jameis Winson and Marcus Mariota. That’s absolutely mind-numbing.

To me, Flacco is one of the five worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL today, even though he’s paid more than the five best quarterbacks in the league. I don’t think he’s anything more than a rich man’s Blake Bortles.

Yep, I went there.

 

Quick Parting Thoughts

* For those who haven’t seen it, check out my recap of New England’s loss to Kansas City last week. Now, all of that being said, I’m betting all the hypothetical moneys on the Patriots this week. On top of letting Cook run all over them, the Saints defense made Sam Bradford look like… well, Tom Brady. So, I can’t wait to see what the real Tom Brady, and the rest of this New England offense, does to this Saints defense, with the Patriots having spent the last week-plus stewing over their opening night loss. The line went from the Patriots giving the Saints 4.5 points earlier this week, up to 6.5 points when last I checked. And i’d still confidently take that bet.

* I think Atlanta’s defense has interesting pieces and has the potential to (maybe) be (kinda) good, but this isn’t a unit that’s going to dictate the way the game is going to be played, and make the offense change its identity. The Falcons were one terrible dropped pass by Chicago away from blowing their fourth quarter lead (again), and potentially finding themselves on the wrong end of the biggest upset of Week 1. I would never own any theoretical stock in the Falcons. But I would anyone who had such hypothetical shares to start dumping them ASAP. And yet, somehow, Vegas has the Falcons giving three points to a Green Bay Packers team coming off a Week 1 win over a team that very likely has the best defense in the NFL… are you kidding? Bet the farm. Bet your neighbors farm, too. Bet ALL the farms on Green Bay not only covering, but beating Atlanta this weekend.

* The New York Jets registered 225 yards of total offense in their game against Buffalo. Now, compare that to the fact that the Chiefs accumulated 231 yards of offense in the 4th quarter alone last Thursday night. But the really cruel irony for the Jets is that they can’t even “win” the distinction of worst team in the NFL, because given what we also saw last Sunday, that (dubious) honor belongs to the Indianapolis Colts. Referring to the Colts as “tragically bad” might be putting it kindly. The Los Angeles Rams scored 30 or more points in only game in all of 2016; against the Colts last Sunday, the Rams had 37 points before the third quarter ended. If you happen to root for the Colts, then no, it’s not too early to start scouting players you’d like to take at the top of the 2018 NFL Draft.

* Speaking of the Rams: I said this last time the Rams played the Redskins, and i’ll say it again — the very notion of Shaun Lauvao trying to block defensive tackle Aaron Donald (who’s rejoined the team after his preseason holdout) should cause a shit-in-your-pants-level of fear. We’re only days removed from Lauvao’s turnstyle-caliber blocking nearly getting Kirk Cousins impaled; I don’t even want to think the havoc that Donald could wreak on Sunday.

* My Week 2 NFL Picks:

Houston at Cincinnati (-6) — pick made last night
Tennessee (-2) at Jacksonville
Cleveland at Baltimore (-8)
Carolina at Buffalo (-7)
New England (-6.5) at New Orleans
Arizona (-7) at Indianapolis
Philadelphia at Kansas City (-5.5)
Minnesota at Pittsburgh (-6)
Chicago at Tampa Bay (-7)
Miami at LA Chargers (-4)
NY Jets at Oakland (-13.5)
Washington at LA Rams (-2.5)
Dallas (-2) at Denver
San Francisco (-14) at Seattle
Green Bay at Atlanta (-3)
Detroit at NY Giants (-3.5)

Last Week: 6-9
Season To Date: 6-9

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