Week 1 observations: Could NFC West be worse?

Here are a few things that caught my attention after our first full Sunday of the season, in no particular order:

NFC Least?
Could the NFC West actually be worse this season? Is that possible? I picked the Cardinals to win the division, and for Kevin Kolb to be a primary reason why, but man, giving up 422 yards passing in Cam Newton’s debut (and I am taking nothing away from the rookie. That was a performance for the ages and should shut a lot of people up … for at least a week anyway).

The Seattle/San Francisco game was tough to watch and both those teams have flaws.

The Rams have a truly brutal schedule in the first half and were crushed by injuries in Week 1. I really think 7-9 could get it done out there again, sadly enough.

Lockout schmokout
For months, we obsessed over the potential damage that all of the missed time would mean for the caliber of football. It would be sloppy and unimaginative and penalty-riddled, right? And there was no way any young quarterback could survive, much less thrive, much less throw for 422 yards in his debut? Right? Well, overall, the quality of play, especially considering the heat in some locales, was very good. The impact, from an on-field standpoint, will become even more negligible by the week. I suspect, however …

… The one caveat being
Rookie coaches are going to be kinda screwed by the whole lockout thing. The lack of teaching time to implement systems and get new coaching staffs familiar with players and have everyone speaking the same language, well, yeah, that’s going to matter. And in a year where the teams with continuity and experience of staff will be at an advantage, the novice coaches are caught even further behind.

Heading into Monday night, teams with a new coach in his first full season with the team were 1-5, with Jim Harbaugh in San Fran the lone victor, and that came with the help of two return TDs at home against a Seattle team that could be in trouble. Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, Cleveland all found ways to lose. The Titans tried to rally but came up two points short. I have a feeling this trend will continue.

Don’t doubt the Wizard
With the Ravens gutting some trusted veterans, and the offensive line a major cause of concern, you heard a whisper or two in the preseason that maybe Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome was slowing down some. Um, not so much. Newsome got Lee Evans for a fourth-rounder from Buffalo to add a vertical element, signed Bryant McKinnie on the cheap late in camp, and added fullback Vonta Leach in free agency.

All McKinnie and Leach did was key a renaissance in the running game, so vital for the Ravens. Leach and McKinnie beat and beat up the Steelers and Ray Rice finally had holes to hit. And two of the primary players Newsome wanted to get on the field more — which is a big reason why Derrick Mason and Todd Heap were jettisoned — young tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson – were stellar against Pittsburgh. Mason and Heap combined for 59 yards. I know it was only one week, but the early returns for The Oz could not have been better.

Don’t believe the hype
Critics were already railing against the new kickoff rules after the first few preseason games. It was way out of control and indicative of the instant-analysis that suffocates all aspects of modern society (okay, I’m off my soap box now). So within the first 14 games of the regular season, we have three kickoff returns for a touchdown, matching a Week 1 record, guys taking the ball back 100 yards and several other long returns. Remember, the lack of a running start for kicking teams matters, too, and there will still be electrifying returns. Trust me.

Quick hitters
» Todd Haley entered the season, in my opinion, as the coach most on the hot seat given raised expectations after a division title and some of the realities about the true talent base in Kansas City. I would say Week 1 would only solidify him atop the list

» Jim Caldwell could end up something of a fall guy in Indianapolis, sans Peyton Manning now, and if the Colts are as bad as I suspect they will be, I’m not subjecting Manning to football in 2011. By the time he comes back, assuming he will be able to do so this season, they’ll be woefully out of the playoff race.

» No team looks more improved in the trenches, on both sides of the ball, than the Washington Redskins. The entire MO there has changed in year two under Mike Shanahan. We’ll see if they can maintain it, but they brought their more physical mentality straight from the preseason into the manhandling of the Giants on Sunday.

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