NFL Round Up: Observations From Week 1

Peyton Manning’s Brain Still Works. Peyton Manning’s arm strength and courage in the pocket was what the media focused on as he made his comeback from neck surgery.  Manning’s arm may not be all the way back, but in his masterpiece against the Steelers, he showed that his most valuable asset,  his mind, is as sharp as ever.  His ability to consistently diagnosis the Steelers’ defense and get his offense into the right plays was vintage Manning.  He showed that he’s still the best offensive coordinator in the NFL and with him at the helm, Denver  has a punchers chance against any team in the NFL.

The NFC Is A Beast.  Of course, we are only one game deep into the season, but Week 1 reflected the general feeling that the NFC .  The average margin of victory in the NFC exclusive match-ups was six points.  The NFC was also 4-0 against the AFC in Week 1.  The NFC should be fascinating all season.

Is 2012 The Year Of The Interception? Much has been made about the five rookies starting at quarterback this season. But, there are also five second-year players starting quarterbacks.  Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder are all entrenched as starters even though only Dalton and Newton had strong rookie campaigns.  About a third of the league is in the hands of inexperienced signal callers.  With so many green quarterbacks throwing the ball 35 to 40 times a game expect a lot of interceptions.

Replacement Officials Will Be A Factor.  The NFL dodged a major bullet in the Seattle when the officials lost track of the timeouts, giving the Seahawks a chance to win the game.   In Green Bay an obvious block in the back was not called.  Bills defensive end Mario Williams ranted about the officiating, saying they allowed Jets right tackle Austin Howard to punch him in the head the entire game.  In Denver the officials weren’t prepared as Peyton Manning ran the no huddle and missed a penalty for 12 men on the field against Pittsburgh.  This is not to say the regular officials are perfect, but the combination of inexperience and pressure the replacement officials are facing make for dangerous situation for the NFL.

And Your Rushing Leader Is?  I understand and accept that the NFL is a passing league.  With that said, some of the rushing “attacks” were absolutely pathetic in Week 1.   Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker out rushed starting tailback Chris Johnson eleven yards to four in their loss to New England.  The Cardinals  leading rusher against Seattle was wide receiver  Andre Roberts with 15 yards.   Throughout the league there was an unwillingness or inability to  run the football.  With so many inexperienced quarterbacks in the league, offensive coordinators need to go back to basics and play a little power football.

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Superbowl Sleeper: Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton was dominant in 2011 ( Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills) what it would take for them to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?

Quarterback Cam Newton took the league by storm, producing one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history.  Unfortunately for the Panthers, the defense was no where near as productive.   Injuries to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis along with a poor pass rush led to the Panthers giving up 429 points and a 6-10 record.

The Good

Of course this starts with Cam Newton.  His development as a passer exceed expectations and he transformed Carolina into one of the more explosive offenses in the league.  The Panthers also have playmakers at the skill positions, featuring the fleet footed Steve Smith, pass catching tight end Greg Olson and the explosive running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

The Bad

There are question marks throughout the defense.  Can Beason and Davis get healthy and regain their old form? Is the front seven strong enough to stop the run? Will someone other than Charles Johnson provide a pass rush?

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl

Cam Newton continues his development by cutting down on his turnovers.  Steve Smith shows he is still a top flight receiver, the running game provides balance and the defense improves from terrible to average.

Outlook

The New York Giants showed that a team can win the Superbowl despite an inconsistent defense if you have a top quarterback,  can create mismatches on the outside, and if you get hot at the right time.  Carolina has the weapons on offense and the potential to be good enough on defense.  Look for Carolina to be the Wildcard team nobody wants to play and a legit Superbowl contender.