The first week of this new 2014 NFL season brought quite a few interesting games, and results. The Green Bay Packers opened up the season as visitors to the Seattle Seahawks. While the first half was competitive, the wheels fell off and the Seahawks ran away, 36-16. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions both hosted their opponents, the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, respectively. The Bears were stunned in overtime while the Lions manhandled the Giants on Monday Night Football. The Minnesota Vikings began the Mike Zimmer era with a big road win against the St. Louis Rams, who are still reeling from the loss of starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
Moving into week two, there are some stiff tests coming for all four NFC North teams. The Packers return home to host the New York Jets where the road team has won the last two matchups. The Vikings are also at home for the first time and will host their first game at TCF Stadium against the New England Patriots. The Bears travel to San Francisco and will be the 49ers’ first opponent in their new home, Levi’s Stadium. The Lions head to Carolina and will face the Panthers in their home opener.
With that, let’s take a closer look at each matchup.
New England Patriots (0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0)
The Vikings won in impressive fashion on the road and, as would be expected under a defensive head coach, did so with a stout defensive performance. The big change this week for Minnesota? Tom Brady is quarterbacking the Patriots. New England allowed the Miami Dolphins to take over and dominate the second half on their way to a win. The Patriots had not lost a season opener since 2003 and will surely be looking to turn things around quickly at the Vikings’ expense.
Minnesota’s secondary will have their hands full with New England’s receiving core of Rob Gronkowski, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Patriots had just 17 rushing attempts by running backs against Miami and will be looking for a boost of confidence in Minnesota. Vikings rookie linebacker Anthony Barr led the team in tackles last week with seven and will team up with veteran Chad Greenway to clog up the running lanes.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel attempted just 25 passes and had two touchdowns and no interceptions. Anytime the Vikings can get that type of play out of Cassel and come away with a win, they have to be pleased. Still, should Cassel start to struggle, many are wondering how short the leash is before we see rookie Teddy Bridgewater. On the other side, Brady has said that he has no intentions to retire any time soon and plans on having another successful season with the Pats. Given time in the pocket, Brady will make minced meat out of any defense so pass rush is a key for the Vikings.
Minnesota was impressive in week one and on the road but until I see them beat a top-tier team like New England, I can’t pick them. I’m going with the Patriots on the road and the beginning of “Bridgewater watch”
Detroit Lions (1-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-0)
The Lions beat the Giants in just about every facet of the game on Monday night and will look to carry that momentum to the road, where Detroit has historically struggled. This, however, is a new era for the Lions with Jim Caldwell as head coach. Earlier in training camp, veteran defensive tackle Nick Fairley had been benched and was overweight. He managed to get himself together and into the starting lineup against New York. Perhaps Caldwell’s influence and winning past can help the Lions get over the hump and become a more consistent team.
Carolina scored a big road win against division-rival Tampa Bay. After sitting on a 10-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter, a flurry erupted and 24 points were scored over the final 15 minutes. The big news for the Panthers is the expected return of quarterback Cam Newton from a rib fracture he suffered late in the preseason. Newton should provide a better test for Detroit’s secondary than did New York’s Eli Manning. There were questions about the Lions’ secondary and if they would be able to keep up with the better offenses in the NFL. While Carolina isn’t expected to be a juggernaut on the offensive side of the ball, they’ll offer more than the Giants did.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford appeared to grow up before our eyes against the Giants and on one play, escaping pressure to extend the play and find a wide open Calvin Johnson for a long touchdown. Stafford also seemed to benefit from newly acquired receiver Golden Tate, who will keep defenses honest and unable to slide max help to Johnson.
Carolina’s offense leaves a lot of questions but their defense is still solid and at home, I’m taking the Panthers over the Lions.
Chicago Bears (0-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-0)
The Bears tied the Buffalo Bills late in the fourth quarter of their week one game and sent it to overtime. After the Bears offense stalled, the Bills leaned on a 39-yard run by running back Fred Jackson to set up a game-winning field goal. It doesn’t get any easier for Chicago, as they head to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that thoroughly beat the Dallas Cowboys and are opening up Levi’s Stadium. The 9ers hosted a few preseason games but this one finally counts and they won’t want the outcome of their inaugural game to be a black mark in the history books.
Many experts left the 49ers out of the playoffs entirely this season or aren’t expecting them to put up much of a fight in the NFC this season. So far, the 9ers haven’t seen that memo. Playing without Aldon Smith or NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco’s depth came through and easily handled the Cowboys. This week, San Francisco will get a better test defensively against Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense. Running back Matt Forte will, again, be a big part of the game plan and Chicago’s big boys at receiver, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will present matchup issues against the 9ers secondary.
Cutler tends to throw one up for grabs in every game. The 49ers are still good at creating turnovers. This could spell trouble for Chicago on the road. They have to take care of the ball against this physical San Francisco team. Moreso, the Bears looked out of sorts on defense against the Bills and need to improve greatly in a hurry if they want a chance against the 9ers. San Francisco rookie running back Carlos Hyde scored his first NFL touchdown and appears poised to take over the feature-back role from veteran Frank Gore. Receiver Anquan Boldin shows no signs of slowing down and the addition of Stevie Johnson from Buffalo gives 9ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick too many tools in the toolbox for a defense that’s ill-prepared.
This one seems like a layup for the 49ers, but there’s a reason they play the games.
New York Jets (1-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-1)
The Packers entered the season with all sorts of hope and hype. Several analysts chose them to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX and some even to win it all. Those hopes are still alive as long as Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback for the green & gold but the Packers were humbled in Seattle by the defending champion Seahawks. Green Bay managed to keep the game competitive for a little over a half before defensive breakdowns and penalties did them in.
The Jets handed the Raiders their first loss of the season to the tune of 200+ yards rushing while giving up just 25 to the tandem of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, who are no slouches. While Oakland’s defense isn’t stellar by any means, 200 yards is still a huge output, even if 71 of those yards came on one play. The Packers also surrendered 200 yards on the ground to Seattle so it’s fair to question how the defense will fare against Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory this week. If the Jets want to get really edgy, they might throw Michael Vick out there as well, as he has historically given the Packers fits on the ground.
New York’s defensive front is formidable, anchored by defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson. The Packers will likely be without offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and will start Derek Sherrod in his place. Sherrod had some visible troubles against Seattle’s tough pass rush. He needs to fare better this week. Bulaga’s injury was found not to be serious nor long-term but it would be catastrophic to the Packers if Aaron Rodgers were to get hurt due to a lapse by Sherrod. The Jets are fully aware that Sherrod is there and will surely throw some added heat his way. Expect to see more of fullback John Kuhn in the backfield to chip block and the tight ends lining up right on the line to help as well.
Speaking of Rodgers, he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, despite his struggles in Seattle. It’s his home opener and he will surely be looking to get the offense back on track. He had zero passes targeted for receivers Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams last week. This week, there’s no Richard Sherman to take away half of the field so expect to see the ball spread around more. Packers running back Eddie Lacy left the Seattle game with a concussion, but has passed his protocol so far this week. With a few extra days to prepare for the Jets, Lacy has a decent chance of playing. Adding Lacy to the Packers offense can only mean good things.
Some criticized Packers head coach Mike McCarthy for his predictable and vanilla play calling against the Seahawks. McCarthy doesn’t do change very quickly, but don’t be surprised to see some added sets or looks this week against an unfamiliar opponent. Also motivating McCarthy to step it up a notch is the fact that Rex Ryan will be on the other sideline and will surely try to confuse the Packers with some unscouted looks as well. McCarthy is 4-2 in home openers, with his last coming in 2011 against the New Orleans Saints following Green Bay’s Super Bowl win. The Packers have to have this game to get on the right track to accomplishing what so many expect them to this season. Earn your street sign, Mike!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: