Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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The Starting 11 — Surprise teams create exciting theme entering Week 2

Every week and every season, the National Football League never ceases to surprise. The league’s unpredictability is what makes it special.

Didn’t expect TAMPA BAY or the LOS ANGELES RAMS to go on the road and register impressive season-opening victories? How about the new quarterbacks that led LAS VEGAS and NEW ORLEANS to exciting wins?

Didn’t think the DALLAS COWBOYS would “put the league on notice” with a 40-0 statement victory?

What about you, head coach DAN CAMPBELL? What did you learn about your DETROIT LIONS after a fantastic 21-20 victory over the defending world champion?

“I didn’t learn anything,” Campbell said. “I got verification on what I already knew. This is a resilient team. It already was a resilient team and we added pieces to that resilient team. We’re built to handle some stuff and we did that today against a very good opponent.”

And speaking of handling some stuff against a very good opponent, the NEW YORK JETS branded an exclamation point – six to be exact – on the Week 1 schedule when undrafted rookie XAVIER GIPSON returned an overtime punt 65 yards for a walk-off touchdown on Monday Night Football,

The Lions and Jets aren’t the only teams looking to flip the script to begin the season. For the first time since 2004, DETROIT, CLEVELAND, JACKSONVILLE and the NEW YORK JETS are each 1-0. The Jets are bidding for their first 2-0 start since 2015 while the Browns look to advance to 2-0 for the first time since the 1993 season.

Take your seats, folks. The NFL has left port on 2023 and the long journey is filled with unexpected loops and bends. As the league enters Week 2, expect to see more of what you didn’t expect.

Just don’t be surprised.

The Starting 11 entering Week 2…

LION’S SHARE OF ATTENTION: Since Week 9 last season, Detroit’s JARED GOFF has guided the Lions to wins in nine of their last 11. In that span, only PATRICK MAHOMES (also nine) has as many wins as a starter among quarterbacks. Goff’s top target, AMON-RA ST. BROWN, has 77 receptions in that stretch, trailing only JUSTIN JEFFERSON (85) among NFL players. Meanwhile, Detroit’s offensive line has allowed just 12 sacks since Week 9 last season, second in the league behind Tampa Bay (10). Finally, only San Francisco (plus-17) has a better turnover margin than the Lions (plus-12) since Week 9 of 2022. DETROIT (1-0) hosts SEATTLE (0-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX) in a game that features some of the league’s most exciting young defensive backs. Last season, Seattle’s RIQ WOOLEN tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions. Detroit’s KERBY JOSEPH became the first rookie since KYLE FULLER in 2014 with at least four interceptions (four) and two forced fumbles (two). And last week, the Lions’ BRIAN BRANCH became just the third rookie in 21 seasons (2003-23) to return an interception for a touchdown in his team’s season-opening game, joining Minnesota’s MIKE HUGHES in 2018 and Washington’s RYAN KERRIGAN in 2011.

NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 3: Miami’s TYREEK HILL now has three eye-popping individual games on his career résumé. In last week’s comeback road victory, Hill posted 215 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions. It marked his third career game with at least 200 receiving yards and multiple touchdown receptions. Hill became one of just three players ever with three-or-more such games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DON HUTSON (four) and CHARLIE HENNIGAN (three). This week, Hill and the MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-0) are at NEW ENGLAND (0-1) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC). Dolphins quarterback TUA TAGOVAILOA in last week’s win passed for 466 yards, the fourth-most passing yards in a season-opening game in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer NORM VAN BROCKLIN (554 yards in 1951), TOM BRADY (517 yards in 2011) and Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (473 yards in 1994). Tagovailoa, who recorded 469 passing yards and six touchdown passes in Week 2 of the 2022 season, is the fourth quarterback all-time with two games of at least 450 passing yards and three touchdown passes in his first four career seasons, joining MARC BULGER, JOE BURROW and PATRICK MAHOMES. And for the first time since Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO in 1994, a Miami quarterback — TUA TAGOVAILOA (466) — is leading the league in passing yards after Week 1.

  1. THE IMPORTANCE OF 2-0: Since the NFL expanded its postseason in 1990, opening 2-0 has given teams a significant advantage toward qualifying for the playoffs. In that span, 63.8 percent of teams that have started 2-0 have advanced to the postseason. In contrast, only 41.8 percent of teams that began 1-1 have reached the playoffs since 1990. SAN FRANCISCO (1-0) goes back on the road against the LOS ANGELES RAMS (1-0) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, FOX). Niners running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY has played two career games at SoFi Stadium, both against the Rams in 2022 (just two weeks apart, one with Carolina and one with San Francisco). In those two games, McCaffrey averaged 5.3 yards per carry (163 yards on 31 attempts), with one rushing touchdown. In that second contest, his second game in a 49ers uniform, McCaffrey led San Francisco to a 31-14 win, rushing for 94 yards on 18 attempts with one touchdown, and catching eight passes for 55 yards with another touchdown. Also in that game, he threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to BRANDON AIYUK, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in a single game. In last week’s win at Pittsburgh, quarterback BROCK PURDY passed for 220 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 111.3 rating. Purdy is the first quarterback in NFL history to win each of his first six career regular-season starts and throw at least two touchdown passes in each start. He also is the first quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 95-or-higher in each of his first six career regular-season starts.
    In the Rams’ Week 1 win, quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 334 yards while rookie wide receiver PUKA NACUA recorded 10 receptions for 119 yards. Nacua became the fifth player in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions in his NFL debut, joining SID BLANKS (13 in Week 1, 1964), KEKE COUTEE (11 in Week 4, 2018), ANQUAN BOLDIN (10 in Week 1, 2003) and EARL COOPER (10 in Week 1, 1980).
  1. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS: Marquee matchups will be all over the field on Sunday when the NEW YORK JETS (1-0) meet the DALLAS COWBOYS (1-0) at AT&T Stadium (4:25 PM ET, CBS). In 2022, Cowboys wide receiver CEEDEE LAMB set career highs and ranked among NFL leaders with 107 receptions, 1,359 receiving yards and nine touchdowns catches. This year, Lamb is bidding to become one of just five in NFL history to record 70 receptions in each of his first four seasons. … Jets cornerback SAUCE GARDNER, named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, led the league with 20 passes defensed last season, the most by a rookie since 2015. In the Jets’ Monday night win last week, wide receiver GARRETT WILSON had five catches for 34 yards and a 3-yard highlight-reel touchdown reception to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Last season, Wilson led all rookies and set rookie franchise records with 83 receptions and 1,103 receiving yards en route to AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. …Cowboys cornerback TREVON DIGGS, who forced a key fumble in his team’s dominating Week 1 win, has shined since entering the NFL in 2020. Diggs has 17 career interceptions, second among all players since 2020. In 2021, Diggs recorded 11 interceptions, the most by any player in a single season since 1981. In the Jets’ Monday night win, safety JORDAN WHITEHEAD became only the third NFL player in the last 25 years to post three interceptions in a Monday Night Football game, joining the Jets’ MARCUS COLEMAN in 2000 and the Titans’ KEITH BULLUCK in 2007.

SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUPS: Defensive coordinators will have their hands full in a pair of AFC games this week that include some of the top offensive weapons in the NFL. Sunday’s game between the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (0-1) and TENNESSEE TITANS (0-1) at Nissan Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS) features a pair of stellar running backs. Since the beginning of 2019, Tennessee’s DERRICK HENRY leads the NFL with 58 scrimmage touchdowns. The Chargers’ AUSTIN EKELER ranks second in that span with 53. Also on Sunday afternoon, headline wide receivers will converge when the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (1-0) travel to play the BUFFALO BILLS (0-1) at Highmark Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Since the start of the 2020 season, the Bills’ STEFON DIGGS (348 receptions) and the Raiders’ DAVANTE ADAMS (344) rank first and second, respectively, among NFL players in receptions.

STREAK SPEAK: TREVOR LAWRENCE and JACKSONVILLE (1-0) open their home schedule against KANSAS CITY (0-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Jaguars have won five consecutive home games, including a comeback win over the Chargers in the AFC playoffs. In fact, in each of those five contests (wins over the Raiders, Ravens, Cowboys, Titans and Chargers), Lawrence has engineered a drive that either gave Jacksonville its game-winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime, or sent a game to overtime.

DID YOU KNOW?: WASHINGTON (1-0) heads west to meet DENVER (0-1) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) in a rematch of Super Bowl XXII 36 years ago. A standout in Washington’s rich history, DOUG WILLIAMS that day earned MVP honors and became the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Williams is now a senior advisor in the Commanders’ front office. Also in that victory, rookie running back TIMMY SMITH posted 204 rushing yards, a mark that still stands as the single-game Super Bowl record.

UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: When MINNESOTA (0-1) meets PHILADELPHIA (1-0) in the 2023 premiere of Amazon’s Thursday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, Prime Video), some will call it a linebacker-room reunion. That’s because MIKE SIRAVO, the Vikings’ inside linebackers coach, returns to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2016, when he coached future Pro Bowler HAASON REDDICK at Temple. Siravo and the Owls’ coaching staff helped Reddick rise from walk-on to first-round draft choice. A cornerback, linebacker and defensive lineman in college, Reddick starred at Haddon Heights (N.J.) High School, just nine miles from where he’ll play Thursday. Reddick and Siravo first reunited in 2021, when Reddick recorded 11 sacks under Siravo’s tutelage with the Carolina Panthers.

TREND TIME: The NFL has scheduled a pair of games on Monday Night Football this week. First, NEW ORLEANS (1-0) travels to CAROLINA (0-1) for an NFC South showdown (7:15 PM ET, ESPN). Then, CLEVELAND (1-0) and PITTSBURGH (0-1) close the evening at Acrisure Stadium (8:15 PM ET, ABC). Pittsburgh has 52 wins on Monday Night Football, tied with SAN FRANCISCO for most in NFL history. Monday also features two phenomenal pass-rushers from the NFL Draft Class of 2017: Browns defensive end MYLES GARRETT (selected No. 1 overall) and T.J. WATT (No. 30 overall). Since entering the league in 2017, Watt ranks first in the NFL with 80.5 sacks while Garrett (75.5) is tied for second with AARON DONALD. BRYCE YOUNG, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, is expected to make his first career home start for the Panthers. On the defensive side of the ball, the New Orleans-Carolina matchup also features two of the five active players with 100-or-more career sacks, Saints defensive end CAMERON JORDAN (116) and Panthers linebacker JUSTIN HOUSTON (111.5).

NEXT GEN STATS NOTE OF THE WEEK: In last week’s win, 49ers running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY posted a 65-yard touchdown, the third-longest carry of his career. On the play, he gained 63 yards after initial contact and covered 82 overall yards before breaking the plane. He also reached a top speed of 19.47 miles per hour, his fastest of the day.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: In a rematch of last season’s AFC Wild Card playoff at Paycor Stadium, CINCINNATI (0-1) hosts BALTIMORE (1-0) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). And unlike that 24-17 postseason loss in their last meeting, this time the Ravens will have a healthy LAMAR JACKSON. In seven career starts against Cincinnati, Jackson is 6-1, his best record against any AFC North opponent. Since Jackson entered the league in 2018, the Ravens are 0-4, including postseason, against the Bengals with any another starting quarterback. Jackson has won both of his career starts at Cincinnati. In those two starts, he has a combined 129.3 passer rating (six touchdown passes with one interception) and 162 rushing yards on 18 carries (9.0 avg.) with one touchdown – a 47-yard burst during his 2019 MVP season. Ravens kicker JUSTIN TUCKER has made 57 field goals of 50-plus yards, the third most in NFL annals. Two of his five longest career field goals have come against the Bengals. He enters this week needing one more to match SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI (58) for second in that category. Only MATT PRATER (72) has more. Last week in his 30th career game, Cincinnati wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE recorded five receptions for 39 yards in his 30th career game. Chase enters this week with 2,540 career receiving yards and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (2,527 receiving yards) for the third-most receiving yards ever by a player in his first 30 career games. Only ODELL BECKHAM JR. (3,035) and JUSTIN JEFFERSON (2,735) had more.

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