4 Week 2 Storylines: A New AFC East Leader
Week 1 in the NFL was full of action, surprises, and some great football. But now it's on to Week 2. Let's look ahead to some of the top storylines to watch this week.
Julius Thomas Looks to Be the Best Tight End in Football
It's no secret that the Denver Broncos offense is great. In fact, last year's offense was historically great. The Broncos didn't show any signs of slowing down in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, scoring 31 points behind three touchdowns from Peyton Manning. All three touchdowns were scored by tight end Julius Thomas, who caught seven of his eight targets for 104 yards. Thomas, after Week 1, has more Net Expected Points (NEP) than any receiver not named Calvin Johnson
Thomas had a great year last season, finishing with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking fourth in Reception NEP among all tight ends. It was a breakout year for Orange Julius, and many think he could be even better this season with the departure of Eric Decker to the New York Jets. Last season, Decker had 136 targets and was a threat in the red zone for Peyton Manning. Thomas should without a doubt see an increase in targets from the 90 he had last season, and could replace Decker's red zone targets as well.
While Jimmy Graham is the unquestioned best tight end in the NFL, Julius Thomas may not be as far behind as many think. If Week 1 was any inclination on how the rest of his season will go, Thomas could challenge Graham - or Rob Gronkwoski - as the top player at the position this season.
Who Controls the AFC East?
Who would have thought going into the season that, in Week 2, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills would be playing in a game against each other that would give the victor early control of the AFC East? With both teams picking up surprise victories in Week 1, they have a chance to start the season off 2-0 and in the driver's seat in the AFC East.
Miami began their season by upsetting the New England Patriots 33-20 behind a strong rushing attack led by Knowshon Moreno. The former Denver Bronco racked up 134 yards on the ground and added a touchdown in his debut for the Dolphins, and now leads all running backs in Rushing Net Expected Points. The victory for Miami was sealed with 23 unanswered points in the second half against the Patriots.
The Bills also began their season with an upset, defeating the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in overtime, 23-20. Similarly to Miami, Buffalo ran all over the Bears totaling 193 yards rushing on the day, and they now are listed in fifth in the league in rushing offense, according to our metrics. Instead of one man leading the way, however, the Bills had three guys who each totaled over 50 yards on the ground. Fred Jackson put Buffalo in a position to win the game in overtime when he broke free for a 38-yard gain on the Bills' first possession in the extra period, taking the ball all the way to the one-yard line. The Bills then won on a field goal.
One thing for sure is that not many picked both Miami and Buffalo to pick up victories in their first games of the season, and on Sunday, they'll meet for a chance to improve to 2-0 and be atop the division in this very young NFL season. Both teams will look to control the football and run the ball like they did in Week 1, and whichever defense can stop their opponent's rushing attack will most likely emerge as victorious.
Can the Bears Rebound?
Speaking of those Bears, how will they rebound in Week 2? After going into season number two under Coach Marc Trestman with high hopes for success, the Bears stumbled out of the gates in Week 1 with a disappointing loss. Chicago did have chances to take control, but two ill-timed interceptions by Jay Cutler kept the Bills in the game and prevented Chicago from picking up a victory to begin the season. Cutler, at the end of the day, played like a replacement-level quarterback according to Net Expected Points.
Now the Bears face the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, which is a daunting task in its own. Throw in the fact that the two teams face off on Sunday Night Football with the entire nation watching, and you have a lot of pressure on the Bears to perform well. And if the Bears needed anything else working against them, this game will be the opener for the Niners' new Levi Stadium, and you can bet emotions will be running high. All these things combined make for an extremely bleak outlook for the Bears this weekend, but if they want to avoid a dreaded 0-2 start to the season, they will need to dig deep and be firing on all cylinders. Hopefully those wide receivers are healthy.
It won't be an impossible task to knock off the 49ers on their home and stadium opener, but the Bears will need to play a nearly perfect game if they stand any chance. The cards are stacked against them in Week 2, but will the Bears be able to use the underdog role to their advantage and pull off the improbable upset? That will most likely be decided by whether or not Jay Cutler turns it over, or if he can manage to stay out of trouble and get the ball to his great - hopefully healthy - receivers.
Matt Ryan's Encore
In Week 1, Matt Ryan played perhaps the best game of his career, throwing for an Atlanta Falcons franchise record 448 yards. Ryan went 31 for 43 and had three touchdowns, notching the second-highest Passing NEP in the league. You could tell that Matty Ice felt extremely comfortable being able to throw the ball to his once again healthy, top two receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Falcons didn't play a full game in 2013, where both White and Jones were fully healthy and active, and having them both at 100 percent was a huge boost to Ryan's production.
Ryan and the Falcons travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in Week 2. How will Matty Ice follow up his record setting performance against a Bengals defense that just allowed Joe Flacco to throw for 345 yards in their Week 1 matchup? Well, it could be tough because, despite the nice raw numbers posted by Flacco and company last week, the team posted them due to volume - the Bengals secondary actually ranked 13th in the league a week ago according to our metrics.
Outside of the Georgia Dome, Matt Ryan has a big task in Week 2. A win and good play from Ryan would be huge for this Falcons team.