The opening week of the 2020 NFL season is in the books and there is a lot to talk about. First, taking a step back, a shout-out to all those who made the opening week possible. I’m not just talking about the players, the coaches, the administrators and the like, I’m talking about all those people in the country who have made it a point to do the right thing. To those who are wearing a face covering, the teachers who are tirelessly working to make this upcoming school year work, the health care workers who are stretched impossibly thin, to the parents who continue to remind their kids that times are different right now and they cannot hang out with their friends every day. Many, MANY people to thank for doing what is right and for being kind.
The play on the field was predictably inconsistent. Without any preseason games to measure up against, it was a mystery as to what was going to happen to the product on the field. There are a few story lines worth touching upon, so let’s get right into it.
There are roughly 328 million people in the United States and in a normal year there are over 100 schools playing in the NCAA Division 1 FBS. There are somewhere around 3 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 who are registered soccer players in this country, with countless others around the globe. Why is it so difficult to get 32 quality kickers in the NFL?
As players such as Adam Vinatieri and Sebastian Janikowski have aged out, finding replacements for them and others have proven to be a difficult task. Like many on draft day, I looked at the kicker listing and found many of the Top 15-20 or so were not household names. Of all the positions that struggled on opening weekend, it was the kickers that had some of the most difficulty. There were 67 three-pointers attempted last week, with only 48 of them (71 percent) being successful. Sure there are a couple of blocks in those misses, but that is a lot of points being left on the table.
Several teams have already moved on from their Week 1 starter, and others are hanging on by a thread. Cleveland has moved on from Austin Seibert, as he missed both a field goal and an extra point; well-traveled Cody Parker will take his place. Cincinnati will stick with Randy Bullock despite the fact that it looked like he blew out his leg on Cincinnati’s potential (and relatively short) game-tying attempt. Cincinnati has ironically, brought in Seibert as insurance.
In Buffalo, rookie Tyler Bass beat out veteran Stephen Hauschka, but then he went ahead and missed two of his four field goal attempts, putting him on a short leash. New England did some roster maneuvering before the opening game, inactivating both rookie Justin Rohrwasser and Nick Folk leading up to its game against Miami. Folk got the call in Week 1, but he missed his only three-point attempt. For Tennessee, newly acquired Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point and three field goals (THREE!), before being summoned perhaps one final time by coach Mike Vrabel to attempt a game-winning boot. I’m guessing if that did not get through the uprights, Tennessee would be in the market this week for a new kicker.
Finding a solid fantasy kicker may be more of a challenge this year. Early in the season it might make sense to dedicate a couple of roster spots to the kicker position to hold down a pair of guys each week to see if they will establish some scoring consistency and job security!
A New-ton Era begins in New England
New England has always treated the month of September as an extended preseason. With the offense under new leadership, there were many questions regarding the unit going into the opening game. Luckily for New England, Miami proved to be an easy opponent, where the offense was able to keep things simple while still getting into the win column.
By all accounts, Cam Newton passed his first test. The playbook was kept very simple, with the important part being there were several running plays called where Newton had to read the defense and then physically get himself down the field. The coaching staff had to be pleased with what they saw as their quarterback got into the end zone twice and survived taking a couple of hits. Some halftime adjustments had New England putting the ball in the air more, with Newton getting the ball downfield and on target. His fantasy numbers were inflated by the two rushing touchdowns, but his owners are not complaining.
The next test for the New England offense and Newton is a meeting with the Seattle defense. Seattle will surely keep a man on the corner to make sure Newton is not able to run the ball to the outside. He will be forced to pass the ball more, but New England is likely to keep things short and will be getting the ball out of his hands quickly. New England has the weapons in Julian Edelman and James White, so look for Newton to continue to score well but with a slant towards some better passing numbers this week.
Can the GOAT make it work in Tom-pa Bay?
Things did not go as well for the man that Newton replaced. Tampa Bay landed Tom Brady and surrounded him with a cast of other last-minute additions in the hopes that throwing them together in the pot and mixing would be enough. Tom Brady looked good at the start, getting himself a rushing touchdown in the early going against New Orleans. As the game progressed, the play calling let him down a bit as Tampa Bay tried to do too much in its opening game. Brady and his wideouts were not on the same page at times, and in general, Tampa Bay did not look sharp. This was evident in the fumbled pop-up kick-off where two players collided, giving the ball and essentially the game to New Orleans.
Brady ended the game with two touchdowns, two interceptions and 239 yards in passing offense. The post game comments were very interesting. In stark contrast to how he was treated in New England by Bill Belichick, after the game coach Bruce Arians planted the blame for both interceptions squarely on Brady. He even doubled down the next day, refusing to back down from those post game comments.
He could be trying to motivate him to be better, but over the last 20 years Tom Brady has always been his own most harsh critic and has never needed any motivation to come from the coaching staff. Tampa Bay has a game against Carolina this week, so it will be interesting to see how things go in Act 2. Look for Brady and the rest of the team to be sharp and on point, because if not, then the rift between coach and quarterback is going to make for a long season on Florida’s west coast.