AFC North Once Again Looking Like One Of NFL's Best Divisions
Well, if the first week of the NFL season was any indication, we are in for a brutal battle in the AFC North again this year.
Would we want it any other way?
The Ravens came out victorious in a defensive struggle against the Rex Ryan-led Buffalo Bills. The banged-up Cincinnati Bengals rode wide receiver A.J. Green to a 23-22 victory over the New York Jets. And with the nation watching in primetime Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed why they are an early Super Bowl pick by dismantling the Washington Redskins, 38-16.
You could argue other divisions are the best, including the AFC West (Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers), but the AFC North is certainly in the conversation.
Cleveland was the only team in the division not to get a Week 1 win, losing big to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns already had to place their starting quarterback on injured reserve (more on that below). But the rest of the division lived up to expectations with victories.
It's a good thing the Ravens' re-made secondary gave such an inspiring performance Sunday, allowing just 111 passing yards to the Bills. Both the Steelers and Bengals boasted single receivers who blew the Bills' total out of the water.
In Cincy, Green finished the day with 12 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Andy Dalton broke off 366 total passing yards despite getting sacked a whopping eight times.
"No Tyler Eifert. No Marvin Jones. No Mohamed Sanu. No Hue Jackson. No matter," wrote Cincinnati.com's Paul Dehner Jr. "The Bengals still employ A.J. Green. Good luck beating that."
For Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown nabbed eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Big Ben Roethlisberger tallied 300 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
"Any hype about the Pittsburgh Steelers before 2016 was fully warranted," wrote CBSSports.com's Will Brinson. "The offense is ridiculous and absolutely loaded at the skill positions – and the Steelers are not even remotely at full strength yet."
The AFC North will start to beat up on each other in Week 2, which means we will start to see some early separation. While the Ravens travel to the Dawg Pound Sunday, the Bengals and Steelers will meet in Pittsburgh.
"The Steelers certainly look ready for the Cincinnati Bengals in what promises to be a bruising clash on Sunday at Heinz Field," wrote ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
Numbers Say RGIII A More Favorable Matchup Than Josh McCown
Unless you're the opposing team, it's never good news when an NFL franchise loses its starting quarterback like Cleveland did when it placed Robert Griffin III on injured reserve yesterday.
But, in this case, it may not have been good for the opposing team either. That's because the numbers say the Ravens have played better against Griffin than they have against his backup, Josh McCown.
"The Cleveland Browns lost their starting quarterback on Monday and the Baltimore Ravens gained no advantage," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
As Hensley pointed out, McCown has gone 2-1 against Baltimore with a 96.7 rating. He's averaged 295 passing yards and thrown four touchdowns to no interceptions against the Ravens. The worst game came last year when McCown passed for an unconscionable 457 yards in a 33-30 overtime win.
Compare that to the one game the Ravens faced Griffin in which the then-Redskins quarterback went 15-of-26 for 242 yards and one touchdown before being knocked out of the game with a knee injury.
"In addition to the numbers, the change in quarterback styles will cause the Ravens to adjust," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore had been preparing for a mobile quarterback like Griffin all offseason, and the Ravens probably didn't have to switch up much after playing Tyrod Taylor in the opener.
"Now, Baltimore has to alter its game plan for a pocket passer who's done well against the Ravens in the past."
Still, Las Vegas sees the Ravens as the favorites to win.
The Ravens originally opened as 3.5-point favorites to beat the Browns on the road, but after Griffin was put on IR, that widened to six points, according to The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer.
NFL's Top Two Guards In Week 1
Pro Football Focus came up with the best players at every position in the first week of the NFL, and if you look closely on offense, you'll see two familiar guards.
There is Ravens Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda on the right, and at left guard is Kelechi Osemele, who the Ravens tried to re-sign this offseason but the Oakland Raiders offered a massive amount of money the Ravens just couldn't match.
Don't be too sad about the Ravens not being able to retain Osemele. As awesome as it would have been to keep him, that money was put to use by signing players like Eric Weddle and Mike Wallace. If either of those two were not on the field Sunday, would the Ravens have beaten the Bills?
Elvis Dumervil Itching To Come Back
It's still unclear exactly when outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will return to game action after suffering a setback in rehabbing from his "foot-area" procedure this offseason.
We'll need to see him return to the practice field before he makes it into any games. One thing is for sure, however, Dumervil is itching to come back.
While the defense had a stellar outing against the Bills, allowing a league-low 160 total yards in Week 1, the unit could certainly use its sack leader of the past two seasons.
"It's difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn't generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust."
Sammy Watkins Was In Significant Discomfort
We don't want to take anything away from cornerback Jimmy Smith in limiting one of the NFL's top receivers, Sammy Watkins, to just four catches for 43 yards, but it doesn't look like Watkins was 100 percent Sunday.
"Watkins told the team's medical staff after Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens that his surgically repaired foot was sore, prompting a report Monday from the New York Daily News that Watkins could be 'shut down for several weeks' as a precaution," wrote ESPN's Mike Rodak. Ryan told media that the Bills are not considering sitting Watkins going forward, however.