Stay Cool Or Panic: Assessing The Outlook Of Four Week 1 Losers
by 16 September 2017, 10:00 AM
Is the writing on the wall for these teams or is it too early to tell?
Week 1 was one of the stranger kickoff weeks in recent memory. The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots were knocked off at home on opening night, six teams were held under 10 points, and Sam Bradford somehow looked like Peyton Manning.
Any evaluation made this early in the season should be taken with a grain of salt, but judgments will be made regardless. Below, I’ll take a look at four 0-1 teams and decide whether they should feel fine moving forward or if it’s already time to hit the panic button.
Arizona’s first game couldn’t have gone any worse. Not only did Carson Palmer throw three interceptions, including a pick-six to seal the loss, but the team also lost RB David Johnson for at least two months to a sprained wrist.
SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) September 13, 2017
His impact is difficult to quantify, but without him, the Cardinals’ offense has little hope for success this season. Johnson led the league in yards from scrimmage last season and might be the league’s best receiving threat out of the backfield.
Head coach Bruce Arians utilizes a downfield passing attack, which can work if you have a good RB keeping the defense honest. Johnson’s absence doesn’t bode well for Palmer, who hoped to regain his 2015 form when he had a league-leading 8.7 yards per attempt. At this point, there is little reason to believe the 38-year-old QB will ever be effective again.
Arizona’s saving grace could be its defense. After all, the unit was second in the NFL last year, yielding just 305.2 yards per game. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t retain all its defensive pieces in the offseason, losing studs Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson in free agency. It showed against the Lions, as Matthew Stafford put up a four-TD performance and was only sacked once.
The Cardinals defense still has the talent to be a top-10 group, but the unit is undoubtedly weaker than last year’s. Unless the defense can effectively replace its losses and recapture the success of 2016, the Cardinals won’t be close to playoff contention.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers looked like a mess through the first three-quarters of their Week 1 matchup with the Broncos. In fact, their win probability fell to 0.6% early in the fourth quarter before Philip Rivers led a comeback that fell just short due to a blocked field goal in the final seconds. Are the real Chargers the team we saw in the first three quarters or the one that mounted an unlikely comeback?
With the talent on the Chargers’ roster, the answer is likely closer to the latter. The biggest factor will be health, as it seems to be every year. Keenan Allen is back after appearing in just nine games the past two seasons. Once rookie first-round WR Mike Williams returns next month, he’ll join Allen and up-and-comer Tyrell Williams to form a dangerous pass-catching group.
Protecting the QB has been an issue for the Chargers in recent years. The team has finished in the bottom half of the league in sacks allowed three years running, but was able to hold a strong Denver pass rush to just one sack in Week 1. If the offensive line can continue to keep Rivers upright, the Chargers offense should consistently put up big numbers.
Defensively, there are several reasons to believe Los Angeles will be fine moving forward. The first is the elite play of DE Joey Bosa, who has less than a full season under his belt yet still looks like one of the NFL’s top pass rushers. He wins with power and outstanding hand usage, which he put on display against the Broncos:
Melvin Ingram mans the other DE spot and gives the Chargers one of the nastiest bookend combos in the NFL. The defensive backfield features a quality CB tandem with Pro Bowlers Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. If there are two defensive positions needed to excel in today’s NFL, they’re the pass rushers and corners.
Nobody denies the talent Los Angeles brings to the table. Even in football’s strongest division, the Chargers will be able to compete as long as their key players remain healthy.
Verdict: Stay Cool
New Orleans Saints
For the most part, the Saints offense looked stagnant in their Week 1 showdown with the Vikings. The team mustered just 2.9 yards per carry and didn’t score their first touchdown until late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
The normally high-flying unit was never able to get in a rhythm, partially due to the constant rotation of RBs head coach Sean Payton was employing. It’s apparent Payton plans to utilize the trio of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and Alvin Kamara on a week-to-week basis, but his challenge right now will be figuring out how to maximize the strengths of each. In order to do so, Payton should probably avoid using the smallest of the three backs inside the five:
I am mystified by Saints decision to give this run on 2-3 +3 with 8:39 in 4th to Alvin Kamara. What are you saying to AP? pic.twitter.com/r5bKBRdx2s— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 13, 2017
The pass game’s subpar performance can largely be attributed to the matchup against the Vikings’ elite secondary. Either way, help is coming for Drew Brees. WR Willie Snead will be back from a three-game suspension by Week 4 and athletic LT Terron Armstead is expected to return sometime in October to aid in Brees’ protection.
On the other side of the ball, New Orleans let up 470 total yards to Minnesota and looked equally lousy against the run and pass. A rough start to the season was to be expected considering the Saints have three rookie starters on defense (CB Marshon Lattimore, FS Marcus Williams, and LB Alex Anzalone).
It’s no surprise to see a group of rookies struggle in their first career game, but it’s also reasonable to think they’ll improve throughout the season given they were all selected in the first three rounds of the draft.
In addition to those three, 2016 first round DT Sheldon Rankins is still getting his feet wet in the pros after missing almost half of his rookie season to a fractured fibula. The Saints have absolutely addressed their defensive issues, but now must be patient while their investments develop.
A Week 2 date with New England could have the Saints in an early-season hole. Nevertheless, New Orleans still has an elite QB with offensive pieces returning and a defense with budding talent. Their season outlook is far better than many of the league’s 0-1 teams.
Verdict: Stay Cool
Not only did the Redskins suffer a home loss in Week 1, but it was against a divisional opponent. That kind of start significantly lowers a team’s playoff chances. As of now, AccuScore has the Redskins’ playoff odds at just 17%, and based on their play the odds don’t seem too harsh.
Washington’s offensive downfall in 2016 was its red zone efficiency, converting trips inside the 20 for touchdowns just 45.9% of the time. Week 1 was no different as the Skins went 0-for-2 in the red zone, including one trip that ended in an interception on a terribly thrown ball by Kirk Cousins:
The Redskins’ season will quickly fall apart should this trend continue. Cousins has proven he’s more than capable, but unless he can find ways to finish drives more often, the team will be staring at a last-place NFC East finish.
Although the team added defenders in the first four rounds of this year’s draft, there are enough absences from last season’s unit to offset any potential improvement. LB Trent Murphy is done for the year and SS Su’a Cravens remains on the exempt list while he contemplates retirement.
Washington has a Week 2 matchup with a suddenly improved Rams team before facing the Raiders and Chiefs in back-to-back games. Unless there’s a drastic change in the team’s play, the Redskins will almost certainly find themselves in an uphill battle to contend for the playoffs.
Keep in mind, there are always teams that come out slow in Week 1 then proceed to turn their seasons around. In 2014, the Cowboys were written off after an embarrassing loss to the 49ers in Week 1, but went on to finish 12-4. Just last year, the Falcons fell to the Buccaneers in Week 1 before marching all the way to a Super Bowl appearance.
It’s still early enough that the above teams could go in any direction, good or bad. Knowing the volatile nature of the NFL, these predictions may very well be turned upside down in Week 2. The verdicts are simply based on the eye test and what information is available right now.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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