The 2012 National Football League season has finally returned, and after one week’s worth of games, fans have realized that a lot of their expectations for teams and individual players this year will be proven wrong pretty quickly.
Below are ten of the biggest things fans learned from the first slate of games this year, in no particular order.
1) Robert Griffin III will keep defensive coordinators up at night.
You talk about making a splash into the NFL. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw for 422 yards and two touchdowns in the 2011 season opener, but he also turned the ball over once and couldn’t lead his team to a victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
Robert Griffin III was unstoppable. Literally unstoppable. Against the powerful New Orleans Saints, he outdueled former league MVP Drew Brees, completing 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 42 yards, and led the Washington Redskins to a dramatic 40-32 victory.
It’s very realistic to consider the Redskins a legitimate threat to the wild-card in the NFC. At the very least, you know Griffin III will be keeping teams’ defensive coordinators up all night.
2) Joe Flacco could be this year’s Eli Manning.
I do not believe that 2011 was a fluke year for quarterbacks dominating the league. I expect there to be just as many 4000-yard and 30-touchdown passers in 2012 as there were in 2011.
Joe Flacco was one of my breakout guys for 2011. Through one game, he’s definitely on track. He threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, with a 128.4 passer rating, against an excellent Cincinnati Bengals defense. He’s still probably not a top 10 quarterback, unless you ask Baltimore Ravens fans, but he could play like one this year.
3) If not Flacco, it could be Matt Ryan.
I have predicted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to throw for about 5300 yards and close to 40 touchdowns this season. Impossible? I don’t think so.
He’s off to a pretty hot start, throwing for 299 yards and three touchdowns in an easy win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Second-year wide receiver Julio Jones is fast on track to becoming one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the league, catching six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Veteran Roddy Whitr added six grabs for 87 yards.
4) The New York Jets proved how little preseason football matters.
I cannot believe how many people counted out the New York Jets based on their preseason struggles. Sure, they didn’t score a touchdown, but it’s also the preseason.
They made a mockery out of their doubters in week 1, torching the Bills for 48 points. Mark Sanchez turned in arguably the best passing performance of his career, throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and the Tim Tebow saga took a hit, as the third-year quarterback rushed just five times for 11 yards and didn’t attempt a pass.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Jets are this good or the Bills are this bad. Or both.
5) Peyton Manning is back.
It took 60 minutes for many to forget that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had missed a full season of football following four neck surgeries.
Against last year’s top-ranked defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He tied the all-time NFL record with his 36th fourth quarter comeback. He also showed that the Broncos are a legitimate playoff threat, contrary to what many expected for a team that was full of holes last season.
Expect Manning to turn in his usual MVP-caliber season: more than 4000 passing yards, over 30 touchdowns, and a passer rating close to triple digits.
6) Torn ACLs aren’t slowing down Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles.
It’s pretty incredible how quickly NFL players can recover from major injuries these days. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles both suffered torn ACLs last season, and both appeared to be 100 percent recovered in week 1.
Peterson rushed 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. His recovery is especially impressive because he tore his ACL in December and had to rehab in just nine months. Charles carried 16 times for 87 yards, including a 46-yard scamper.
It will be interesting to see how both players hold up over the rest of the season.
7) The New England Patriots have a dangerous running game.
Imagine the New England Patriots and Tom Brady with a running game. It’s something we haven’t seen since aging veteran Corey Dillon exploded in the 2004 season. But it could happen this year.
Second-year running back Stevan Ridley ran 21 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. In fact, the Patriots called 35 running plays and let Brady throw just 31 times against the Tennessee Titans. Of course, he threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and the Patriots won big.
8) The Green Bay Packers do not, and it could cost them.
A truly elite quarterback is one who can mask a glaring weakness on an offense, such as a lack of a running game. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning have excelled at that over the past few years.
But you do need some sort of a running game, and the Green Bay Packers’ current running game is pretty weak. After all, they did sign veteran Cedric Benson a few weeks before the start of the season, and most expect him to lead the team in carries.
Benson carried just nine times for 18 yards. No other running back touched the ball. Rodgers’ 27 yards on five carries led the team. Green Bay still played well enough to beat probably two-thirds of the teams in the league, but it’s difficult to envision them going 13-3 without any resemblance of a running game.
9) The Buffalo Bills are a long way from becoming playoff contenders.
There was a lot of talk about the Buffalo Bills competing for a 10-win season and a playoff berth in 2012. Following their week 1 performance against the Jets, I’d say they have a long way to go.
They allowed 48 points to an offense that is expected to rank among the worst in the league. They didn’t register any sacks from a defensive line that added big names Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled, really raising serious doubts about whether he can be the guy to take the Bills to the postseason for the first time since 1999.
10) The St. Louis Rams could have a dominant defense under Jeff Fisher.
I don’t expect the Rams to win nine or 10 games this season, especially with an offense that is still one of the worst in the league. But I do expect them to have a top 10, possibly top five, defense in terms of points scored.
They got off to a brilliant start against the Detroit Lions in week 1. They didn’t win, but Matthew Stafford did throw three interceptions, including one to rookie sensation Janoris Jenkins and another to big free agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan. That’s a statement for a defense that was repeatedly torched in 2011.
I expect the Rams to finish about 6-10 this year, but I expect them to have a defense that consistently allows between 15 and 20 points.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.