Starting calls could be pivotal now, later
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?
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.