By Robert Weintraub
Generally speaking, the opening week of the NFL provides little of relevance to the long forced march ahead. After all, last season the Jets and Mark Sanchez destroyed Buffalo in a powerhouse display of offensive prowess, 48-28. They would score only 233 points in their other 15 games, or 15.5 per game. Long before Halloween, that opener had been proven to be a one-off fluke.
But this season feels different. Stipulating that what is obvious today is quite likely to feel moronic when winter comes, it just seems that happenings from Week 1 have more staying power this season.
Some of those early returns weren't exactly shocking, and I'm not referring to the lightning storm that forced a delay in Denver (which also proved to be prophetic in a biblical way, with two more forestalled games). Maybe we didn't figure Peyton Manning for seven touchdown passes on opening night, but five was basically chalk.
But we casually glossed over other pertinent stat lines from that first weekend, like this one:
Richardson, Trent -- 13 carries, 47 yards, 0 TDs, 3.61 YPC
So here are nine other omens from last month that we should have taken more seriously.
1. Failure is the new black (and gold)
When the Steelers were held to 31 yards on the ground by the Titans, it wasn't taken all that seriously as a warning sign. It's Pittsburgh! The Steelers have always found a way to control games with the run, and they'll do so again. (Even without Maurkice Pouncey? Heck yeah! Stillers, Yinzers!!) But five weeks in, they rank 31st in rushing, and the offensive line has had the consistency of polenta over the first month of action. Rookie Le'Veon Bell gave the team a hint of the Jerome "The Bus" Bettis power/niftiness combo during the game in London 10 days ago, but with the Jets (allowing only 3.0 yards per carry, which leads the league) and the Ravens (fifth at 3.4 YPC allowed) next up on the schedule, the Steelers don't figure to sort out their ground issues any time soon.
2. Feeling kind of blue
Just the mere fact the Giants actually lost at Jerry World for the first time should have tipped us off that all was not well with Big Blue. But the play that ended the game was the true tell. Eli Manning whipped a pass at 45th-string running back Da'Rel Scott, who volleyballed it up for an easy pick-six for Dallas CB Brandon Carr. It was Eli's third interception of the game, and he has thrown nine more since, some of the mind-bending 20 turnovers New York has committed in five games. The ball-hawking Bears are drooling at the idea of padding their defensive stats at Manning's expense. By Thursday night's kickoff, the water level at Soldier Field may surpass that of Lake Michigan.
3. Hide the banana peels when the Bucs are around
How things would be different in Tampa if only Lavonte David hadn't gone all XFL at the end of the Jets game in Week 1. David's moment of madness started an epic spiral that has seen a Kramer vs. Kramer-level divorce between the team and quarterback Josh Freeman, the Sword of Damocles dropping to within an inch of coach Greg Schiano's job and Tampa fans ignoring the team in favor of the Rays, of all teams. The Bucs are already 4 ½ games behind New Orleans. They have a better chance of beating the Red Sox in five than they do catching the Saints.
4. Help! I need somebody (I guess we'll settle for Josh Freeman)
Minnesota lost to Detroit in week one 34-24 in a tight game until the end. But the score flattered the Vikings; the Lions dominated but were undone by penalties and crazy plays. Obscured were Christian Ponder's three picks and lost fumble. His performance has been shaky enough (his broken ribs haven't helped) for the Vikings to pick up Freeman, he of the 59.3 QB rating, and make him the presumptive starter once he learns the checkdowns and dumpoffs required to pilot the stumbling Minnesota offense. Alas, that means Matt Cassel will likely start against Carolina and the Giants, winnable games even with Freeman still calling for Vincent Jackson to run a 12-yard dig route.
The Bengals have been a schizo bunch this year, which was presaged in Week 1 at Chicago. Cincinnati committed a couple of early turnovers, followed by a dominant stretch, followed by another turnover just as the Bengals were about to put the game away, followed by the Bears coming out of hibernation to steal a win. The Bengals have since shut down Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady but lost to Brian Hoyer. Sunday, the Bengals play Buffalo and Thad Lewis, fresh off the practice squad. The surprise will be if the Bengals roll to an easy victory.
6. Regression melts Matty Ice
The Falcons thought they were Super Bowl contenders, but they were a prime candidate for regression given their close wins off crappy performances in 2012. Sure enough, the close games are swinging the other way in 2013, thanks mainly to poor red-zone play. That was front and center in Week 1 at the Superdome, when New Orleans stopped the Falcons on four plays inside the 10-yard line to close out a six-point win. Now that Atlanta is 1-4 and Julio Jones is gone, close wins are likely to be the only ones they get, and they figure to be few and far between.
7. Meet the new boss -- no, not him, the other new boss
Hidden in the aforementioned Saints win over Atlanta was the fact they held the then-healthy Falcons to seven points over the last three quarters, and 3 of 11 on third down. The New Orleans defense, with new schemes, new attitude and a new appreciation for hair under hirsute defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, has been a key to the Saints' 5-0 start. One element to the success on D has been getting off the field and to the Gatorade bucket. The Saints are ninth in the league in third-down defense by percentage. This Sunday they play the Patriots, who were 1 of 12 on third down against Cincinnati last week. It's Ryan against Rob Gronkowski for control of that trend! That matchup is pure savagery, like two cavemen fighting over the last Mastodon rib.
8. Sure, he's not Wilson, or Luck, or Kaepernick, or Griffin, or even Tannehill, or Locker, or Dalton, but if you squint hard he looks just good enough to win some games for you …
Geno Smith. 'Nuff said.
9. You're giving me the "It's not you, it's me" routine? I invented "It's not you, it's me."
Kansas City 28, Jacksonville 2, was seen more as a sign that the Chiefs were back to decency under Andy Reid than a preview of the Jags' epic futility. But while the former has indeed held up, the latter is more likely to continue through the end of the season. The only question this Sunday is whether Denver will agree to a running clock in the fourth quarter.
(As an aside, before the season Larry David, George Costanza's real life model, bragged to Rich Eisen that he could easily do the job of NFL offensive coordinator. OK, Larry, the Jags gig awaits. He could hardly do worse.)
Whatever happens the rest of the way, those lightning bolts before the first game surely portend a snow-delayed Super Bowl. If we learned nothing else, it's this: Mother Nature is the new commissioner.
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Robert Weintraub is the author of the books The Victory Season and The House That Ruth Built. He writes regularly for The New York Times, ESPN.com, Football Outsiders, CJR, Slate and many others. Follow him on Twitter @robwein.