A few thoughts from me now that Week 1 of the 2009 NFL season is in the books.
* Let's start with the AFC North where much like last year, Baltimore and Pittsburgh carried the torch for the division with aplomb while Cincinnati and Cleveland failed to make the case that this coming year would be much different than last. The losses by both Cleveland and Cincinnati have to be considered disappointments - both were at home after all. But it was the Bengals' 12-7 defeat to the Broncos on the game's final play that was particularly sad. Even though the Bengals continued to play better defense - much like last year - Carson Palmer and the offense sputtered, gaining just 221 yards through the air while turning the ball over twice. The Bengals have no time to feel sorry for themselves either. They travel to Green Bay next week then host the Steelers in Week 3. Two more losses and their season will just about be over before it even really gets started. As for the Browns? Not such a great showing in Eric Mangini's first game as head coach. The Browns surrendered 180 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to the amazing Adrian Peterson. On offense, Brady Quinn was decent, but he turned the ball over twice, was sacked four times and converted only 3-12 third downs during Cleveland's 34-20 defeat at home to the Vikings. Cleveland travels to Denver and to Baltimore the next two weeks and could also find themselves in a world of trouble if they don't at least capture one victory in the next two weeks before returning home to face Cincinnati in Week 4.
* How about Baltimore? Very impressive opener for John Harbaugh's squad. The Ravens somehow found themselves in a fairly close game despite outgaining the Kansas City Chiefs 501 yards to just 188. Joe Flacco began to make his case that he's no one-hit wonder by throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ray Rice meanwhile eclipsed the century mark on the ground. Penalties plus one interception that was returned 70 yards by the Chiefs kept this game closer than it really was, but Baltimore sealed the deal with 21 4th quarter points. I'm still not 100% convinced Baltimore is a playoff caliber team this year, but we'll certainly find out a lot more about them in the next three weeks. They next travel to San Diego, then host the Bengals, followed by another road game at New England against the Patriots.
* NFC Team of the Week - Philadelphia Eagles. Plenty of other candidates - New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas even. But I'll take the Eagles, who forced 6 turnovers en route to a 38-10 thrashing over Carolina on the road. Donovan McNabb suffered a cracked rib and may miss action in the forthcoming weeks, but if Philly's defense can maintain anywhere near as high a level of play for most of this year, the Eagles should be in great shape to return to the playoffs and once again challenge for an NFC crown.
* AFC Team of the Week - New York Jets. Not many people thought Mark Sanchez would lead his team to victory on the road against the Houston Texans in both his and head coach Rex Ryan's first game. They did and did so emphatically, winning 24-7 in a game that wasn't ever in question. The Jets notched almost 300 yards more than did the Texans, converted 10-18 on 3rd down, held the ball for 17 more minutes than did the Texans and...well, they did just about everything better than a team that had been 12-4 at home the past two seasons. Congratulations to the Jets. Enjoy it while it lasts because I can't see them posting too many more similarly impressive outcomes this season.
* NFC Player of the Week - Drew Brees. Easy choice there. Brees threw for over 350 yards and 6 touchdowns. He connected with 8 different receivers, 5 of which caught at least one touchdown pass. Brees has lit up poor defenses plenty of times before though. It remains to be seen if he can avoid the turnover bug that has cost him and his team crucial victories in years past. Next week's showdown with the Eagles might give fans a glimpse of who one of the more legitimate contenders in the NFC is.
* AFC Player of the Week - Joe Flacco. Tough call here. No true standout performances in Week 1 in this conference. Big Ben was good. Brady and Moss were good. Troy Polamalu was amazing until getting injured. Peyton Manning was his usually solid self. I'll go with Flacco though, who had both his first 300+ yard passing game as well as his first 3+ touchdown performance. We'll see how things progress for him and the rival Ravens when the competition tightens up a bit beginning this coming week.
* A random note but if at all possible, find a way to watch San Franciso 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis play sometime. The 49ers are usually engaged in insufferably awful games to watch - this weekend's road victory over the Arizona Cardinals was no different really. But Willis is sure a special talent. Against the run, the pass, as sure a tackler as there is in this league - the guy does it all. A throwback player in a modern day body. Very, very good stuff.
* Yikes. Jake Delhomme has 11 turnovers in his last two starts. I can't see him keeping his job past next week if he were to crap the bed once more. Road games at Atlanta and at Dallas are on tap for the Panthers.
* To conclude, two great finishes on Monday Night Football. San Diego continues its slow-starting ways by needing a late touchdown drive to topple the Raiders. Earlier, the Patriots extended their winning streak over the Bills to 12 games by scoring twice in the span of just a few minutes late in the 4th quarter. Let the Tom Brady love fest begin, but that victory doesn't happen if the Bills simply protect the football on a kick return late in the game. The Pats will be competitive this year - no doubt about that. But they're not going to blindside the league like they did in 2007. Or will they? I don't see it, but they very well could get off to a 5-0 record (@NYJ, ATL, BAL, @DEN) before hosting the Tennessee Titans in Week 6.