NFL Week One: Five things we learnt

It’s only week one, but here’s what we learnt from the NFL’s opening set of games

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The Independent Online

We might be just a week into the season but already there are intriguing storylines emerging for the coming months. Zander Swinburne takes us through the what happened in Week One.

1. There was no Super Bowl hangover for Seattle

To open the season last Thursday night, the reigning Super Bowl champions began the defence of their title with a stunning, if not brutal, performance against the Green Bay Packers. If there was to be a slow start for the Seahawks, it only lasted one quarter as the offence, spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch, proceeded to tear gaping holes in a Packers defence that had no answer for Seattle’s running back. It’s only Week One, but so emphatic was the Seahawks' 36-16 showing that the word “repeat” is already floating around the NFL. Not since 2005 has a team lifted the Lombardi Trophy in consecutive seasons, but the league has been put on notice that Seattle is the next team to do it.

What makes the Seahawks a legitimate candidate was the minimal amount of change they experienced over the offseason. Teams who win a Super Bowl often lose players to salary cap issues and expiring contracts, but Seattle have remained loyal to their vision and hung on to a core set of young, talented players There’s still a long way to go, but anytime a team so emphatically despatches an Aaron Rodgers led Packers team, the rest of the league pays attention.

2. The NFC South is the new NFC West 

Competition has finally returned to the NFC South and it looks as though the division is all to play for. One of the highlights of the week took place in the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints 37-34 in overtime. Both quarterbacks were exemplary, with Matt Ryan getting the better of Drew Brees and the Saints with 448 yards thrown and three touchdowns. This was a rivalry much missed last year as the Falcons failed to materialise into a team that could once again challenge for the division title. New Orleans remains a top calibre team, but any divisional game loss can have a significant impact on a team’s play-off chances. The NFC South’s other divisional game saw the Carolina Panthers topple the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-14 in what was a close fixture up until the last two minutes. In Lovie Smith’s first game in charge of Tampa, the Bucs did enough to give themselves a chance of winning, despite what was otherwise a messy performance throughout. Carolina came out on top, but not without a scare.

Whilst the NFC West boasts two of the best teams in the NFL, the South looks set to be one of the most competitive divisions, with all four teams in with a chance of not only making the play-offs, but emerging as division champions.

3. Dallas looked worse than expected 

It took less than a minute to see the Cowboys’ season get off to its worst possible start. In their opening game of the year, San Francisco travelled to Dallas, only to leave four quarters later with a comfortable win and a score line that gives Dallas more credit than they deserved. The game seemed over before it started with San Francisco 28-3 at the half. What was concerning for Dallas is that all their worst fears came true and more. Their defence was the main concern going into the season and this was immediately picked on by San Francisco, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick finishing the day with over 200 yards passing and two touchdowns, as well as the team combining for over 100 yards rushing. Even more worrying for Dallas was their offence, the so called workhorse of the team for this year. Turnovers proved costly, with Dallas giving the ball away four times, of which three of those were from quarterback Tony Romo. Dallas do have talent on their roster, but a heavy reliance on Romo and Dez Bryant proved costly. One positive to take from Sunday’s game for Dallas was their running game, which saw Demarco Murray rush for over 118 yards.

The wheels are not off yet for Dallas as there is still plenty more season to recover but if they are to challenge for the division, their offence needs to quickly realise that their role in the team needs to be greater than it once was.

Dallas looked even worse than expected against COlin Kaepernick and the 49ers

4. There is still hope for the Jaguars season 

The box score looks uninteresting and the stats far from spectacular, yet none of those tell the full story of Jacksonville’s 34-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s hard to believe (and certainly was at the time), but Jacksonville were 17-0 up at half-time and were fully deserving of the lead. Wide receiver Allen Hurns emerged from nowhere to give the Jaguars their first two touchdowns as well as every Eagles fan in Philadelphia a sense of disbelief. This was subsequently cancelled out as the Eagles woke up to the realisation they were losing their season opener to the Jaguars at home. Quarterback Chad Henne was too inconsistent despite positive moments and the teams’ forfeit of the game in the second half was almost unforgivable. However, for the Jaguars and their fan base, it was a performance that could be defining, a recognition that they can compete with the league’s top teams. For the last four to five years, this franchise has been a source of uncompetitive and unexciting games that leaves even the more committed fans in despair. There is a long way to go, and this is a team far from the finished article, yet the direction the franchise is going seems to have put some flair back in a team that desperately needed it.

5. Denver enter the season the top AFC team to beat 

Sunday night saw a battle between the NFL’s young and old generations. For all of Andrew Luck’s talent and conviction, his predecessor Peyton Manning proved once again that it is not yet time for a changing of the guard. In what was an enticing matchup for a Week One game, that very well could be repeated come January, the Denver Broncos toppled Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts 34-21.

Denver made numerous moves this off-season to keep the majority of their roster together, and the strengthening of their defence is likely to work wonders in the weeks to come. What Sunday’s performance showed is that not only is Peyton Manning still at the top of his game, but that his supporting cast is too. In 269 yards of passing, Manning threw to six receivers, giving Julius Thomas the lions share as well as three touchdowns. Running back Monte Ball proved himself an asset the team will likely rely on through the latter stages of the season and their defence did well to subdue a Colts running game that looked almost nonexistent. With New England faltering this week, as well as other top AFC teams such as San Diego, Kansas City and Baltimore, Denver’s chances of once again making a run for the Super Bowl already look good.