Early in his incredible career, American singer-songwriter Billy Joel wrote a song called “Summer, Highland Falls,” a self-examination of the thin line between being ecstatic or forlorn. Joel’s lyrics chronicle the hardships of becoming a rock star, which one moment create a euphoric feeling and the next tremendous sadness — kind of similar to NFL Sundays.
Week 1 of the NFL season mimicked Joel’s struggles for fans, bettors, coaches and executives. Everyone’s emotions from 3:30 Eastern until 4:30 were back and forth as the games were coming down to a single kick, resulting in, as Joel described, “sadness or euphoria.” To end the weekend, we watched Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle come down to another field-goal attempt to determine our state of well-being. Welcome back, NFL. We missed you.
Most everyone focuses on the scoreboard, the final result — who won, who lost. Giant fans were delighted with their win, and Titans fans miserable, yet the margin was so, so close, it could have gone the other way. Early in the season, it doesn’t matter who won, the scoreboard is not relevant, as each week presents a new challenge for the teams and the thin line is ever-present. We cannot make judgments by the scoreboard, we have to review the games, study the tape and prepare for next week's games.
Each Tuesday, I hope to present a fair and unbiased review of the games with information that hopefully helps our handicapping of the next week’s games. Before I do, I need to get something off my chest. This lack of respect for three points in the NFL is going to cost people their jobs. They will not be able to hide behind the protective shield of “the analytics” proclaiming their decision was the right one. Owners only care about winning, and playing the analytics card can only go so far. How do you think Colts owner Jim Irsay feels after watching his head coach, Frank Reich, continue to cost him games with his lack of respect for three points? It cost him a playoff win in Buffalo two seasons ago and a season-opening win in Houston on Sunday. If the object of the game of football is to collect as many points as possible, why do coaches turn down three points?Jaguars head coach Dougie Pedersen once again went on his fourth-down crusade and once again it cost him the game. Had the Broncos’ Nathaniel Hackett taken the three points when his team was inside the 5 twice on Monday night, he doesn’t need to try a ridiculous 64-yard field-goal attempt. I believe taking points in the first three quarters is always a smart move — and then in the fourth, when it becomes a stand-alone game, make the fourth-down decision. Had Denver, Indy and Jacksonville followed this advice, they would be 1-0 today, not 0-1. OK, enough of my rant.
— I am not a big fan of the Falcons' talent base, or their Over win total, but after watching their game against the Saints, I am a fan of the offense they created around quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota looked like a solid starter in the game — with his timing, athletic skills and accuracy. Credit coach Arthur Smith for being creative, and now that his offense has been fully declared on tape, it will be interesting to examine how defenses adapt and if Mariota can stay healthy.
— Week 1 proved my theory of teams being good for certain portions of the game. For example, some teams are capable of playing well for 50 minutes, some for 55, and the best can go for 60. The Falcons appear to be a 50-minute team, as in the fourth quarter last year, they were last in points scored, 28th in points allowed and 31st in point differential. The Seahawks also appear to be a 50-minute team as they managed only one first down in the fourth and held the ball for a little over four minutes. The Lions are a 60-minute team — not in a win-the-game way, rather, they will compete until the bitter end, which makes them a potential backdoor cover team. Here is my initial list of time element teams: