Start­ing calls could be pivotal now, later

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS | COLLEGE FOOTBALL - Nate Davis

The cur­tain has lifted on the 2018 NFL sea­son, re­veal­ing the usual mix­ture of plot twists, ad­ver­sity, over­re­ac­tions and even ex­pected out­comes. This week’s sched­ule should be­gin de­ter­min­ing which trends are truly form­ing while likely ren­der­ing some early sur­prises anoma­lous.

Here are the seven big­gest ques­tions for Week 2.

1. Is play­ing Aaron Rodgers the right call? De­spite pulling an epic come­back out of the fire Sun­day night and quickly guar­an­tee­ing he’d be ready for the vis­it­ing Vik­ings in the up­com­ing game, the Pack­ers star is dayto-day with the left knee in­jury he suf­fered be­fore half­time against Chicago.

It’s ad­mirable that the two-time league MVP wants to per­se­vere through pain, a la pre­de­ces­sor Brett Favre, but Rodgers was ob­vi­ously fa­vor­ing the knee and had lim­ited mo­bil­ity while en­gi­neer­ing that 20-point turn­around. Min­nesota projects as Green Bay’s pri­mary com­pe­ti­tion in the NFC North and will pack the same de­fense (in­clud­ing line­backer An­thony Barr) that put Rodgers and his clav­i­cle in moth­balls for the ma­jor­ity of 2017. Big game. Also a big de­ci­sion for Pack coach Mike McCarthy given the long view would be to pro­tect a vul­ner­a­ble star from his own bravado and what’s ar­guably the league’s top de­fense.

2. Is play­ing Josh Allen the right call? Bills coach Sean McDer­mott said Wed­nes­day that start­ing the first-round pick is “the right move for our foot­ball team.”

But is it? Re­ally?

The only rookie quar­ter­back from a vaunted draft class who started in Week 1 was the Jets’ Sam Darnold, and he looked pretty spiffy. But the Jets were also fir­ing on all cylin­ders in all phases of their dom­i­nant win at Detroit. Con­versely, the Bills were thor­oughly bru­tal­ized in ev­ery as­pect of their 44-point loss at Bal­ti­more. Hop­ing a rookie — one who lacked big-game ex­pe­ri­ence at Wy­oming and hardly sparked the of­fense in re­lief of Nathan Peter­man against the Ravens — with a se­verely lim­ited sup­port­ing cast can rem­edy mat­ters doesn’t seem like a sil­ver bul­let so­lu­tion and is prob­a­bly more likely to put a bul­let in Allen’s con­fi­dence.

3. Is a first-year head coach go­ing to get a win? The new guys went 0-7 col­lec­tively in their de­buts, de­feated by an av­er­age of 13.3 points.

No guar­an­tee for a break­through this week as none of these side­line bosses square off. No par­tic­u­larly invit­ing matchups, ei­ther, and the — can we call it drama? — wait might ex­tend to the prime-time win­dows when Pat Shur­mur and the Gi­ants visit the Cow­boys on Sun­day night be­fore Matt Nagy’s Bears host the Seahawks on Mon­day.

4. Is it do-or-die time for the Gi­ants and Cow­boys? Speak­ing of Shur­mur (and Ja­son Gar­rett), we’re ob­vi­ously over­re­act­ing here ... right?

Maybe not.

Teams that start 0-2 wind up miss­ing the play­offs roughly 90 per­cent of the time. Since post­sea­son ex­panded to 12 teams in 1990, New York and Dal­las have each sur­vived a 0-2 start once (and the ’93 Cow­boys and 2007 Gi­ants each won the Su­per Bowl). Still, this show­down car­ries ex­tra weight (as do the other four con­tests be­tween win­less clubs).

5. Who wins the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game re­match? The week­end’s mar­quee bat­tle pits the Pa­tri­ots against the Jaguars eight months af­ter Jack­sonville blew a 10-point fourth-quar­ter lead in Fox­bor- ough, Mas­sachusetts, with a Su­per Bowl LII berth at stake.

The re­match is sched­uled to oc­cur in north­ern Florida, which means it’s pos­si­ble Hur­ri­cane Florence could af­fect the out­come — and it would seem New Eng­land could be more vul­ner­a­ble given the of­fense’s re­liance on Tom Brady’s arm and the air game.

Weather or not, this should be fun — and keep an es­pe­cially close eye on chatty Jags cor­ner Jalen Ram­sey, who barked loudly at Brady be­fore the AFC ti­tle game be­fore he pil­lo­ried Rob Gronkowski in an ESPN piece this sum­mer.

6. Is the NFC West race over? OK, ad­mit­tedly a bit pre­ma­ture ... and, no, there won’t be a de­fin­i­tive an­swer by next Tues­day. Prob­a­bly.

Still, it was note­wor­thy that the Rams were alone in first place be­fore they beat up the Raiders on Mon­day. The Car­di­nals, 49ers and Seahawks dis­played se­ri­ous flaws in their de­feats, and none seems ready to go toeto-toe with a Los An­ge­les squad har­bor­ing le­git Su­per Bowl hopes. Ari­zona gets the first in­tra-divi­sional shot at the Rams on Sun­day in the Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Coli­seum.

7. How many times will An­drew Luck throw? Guess which quar­ter­back had the most pass­ing at­tempts in Week 1? If you said the guy com­ing off re­con­struc­tive shoul­der surgery and play­ing his first NFL game that counts in 616 days, then you win a horse­shoe!

While it was heart­en­ing to see Luck’s semi-tri­umphant re­turn Sun­day — In­di­anapo­lis did im­plode af­ter all — watch­ing him hoist the ball 53 times to keep his club afloat was nev­er­the­less ... con­cern­ing. Now he’ll march on Wash­ing­ton to face a Red­skins de­fense that eas­ily flanked Sam Brad­ford in the open­ing skir­mish.

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