Posted 09/12/2011 at 06:31 PM
With two games to go in the first week of the NFL season we have had three kick return touchdowns. The rule change moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line certainly created many more touchbacks with the intention of eliminating kickoff returns and the potential for injury on the high speed collision plays but all three return touchdowns were taken out of the end zone. Last season there were 23 kickoff return touchdowns but only seven came from out of the end zone for more than 100 yard returns. The unintended consequence of the new rule may actually create more of the epic end zone to end zone plays as coverage teams may anticipate touchbacks more frequently and there will be more room to maneuver on the plays when the kick returner takes the ball out of the end zone. It may have been a fluke result in week 1 and there may be adjustments to be made as teams become accustomed to the changes but more exciting kick return touchdowns is certainly not a bad thing from an entertainment standpoint.
The increase in touchbacks was expected to decrease scoring with teams forced to go longer distances on average but it also takes less time off the clock. The week 1 results produced an overwhelming run on the ‘over’ with 10 of the first 14 games playing ‘over’ the total. Three of the four ‘under’ games stayed below the closing number by less than four points and 30 points was the lowest score of any of the 14 games in the grind between Tennessee and Jacksonville. Only three teams failed to score double-digit points and surprisingly they were all division winners from last season. The most points were scored by the Super Bowl champion Packers but the biggest margin of victory belonged to the Buffalo Bills. Another surprise of the opening week was that in eight of 13 games where it applied, the team that had the worse record in 2010 won in the opening week. On the early week lines, betting on the team that had the worse 2010 record would have left you with an 10-2-1 ATS record (Pittsburgh & Baltimore was the only match-up of teams that had the same 2010 record).
New head coaches also struggled with only Jim Harbaugh winning in a debut game on Sunday as the first year leaders went 1-5 S/U in six tries. On Monday night Denver and Oakland will give another mark in each column for the first year coaches with their new teams, though John Fox is a re-tread in Denver and several of the coaches did have interim games on their resume. Rookie QBs had a good showing with Andy Dalton playing well before leaving the game with an injury and Cincinnati was a winner. Cam Newton also impressed in a loss against Arizona as that game pushed on the spread. Veterans on new teams were less impressive with Kerry Collins, Donavan McNabb, Tarvaris Jackson, and Matt Hasselbeck all posting very poor games statistically and all being on the losing end of the final scoreboard. The lockout and the limited time to prepare with their new teams certainly makes sense as a compelling reason for the rough early transitions.
After one week there is no reason to overreact however. Last year Atlanta lost its opener but went 13-3. The Eagles lost but still won the NFC East and the Jets also started 0-1 before an AFC championship game run. Seven teams that went 8-8 or worse last season won in the opening week. The Titans, Giants, Seahawks, Redskins, and Texans had arguably the most impressive week 1 wins in 2010 and only Seattle at 7-9 made the postseason
The college schedule was without any huge national title implication games but there was certainly some excitement and the Notre Dame/Michigan finish will go down as one of the all-time greats. Alabama’s title hopes stayed on course passing an early season test at Penn State and the SEC featured two incredibly entertaining games as Auburn held off Mississippi State and South Carolina narrowly beat Georgia. There is a huge game this Saturday between Oklahoma and Florida State this week that will create waves at the top of the polls and couple of other top ten teams face games where there could be an upset risk, notably LSU, Stanford, Wisconsin, Boise State and Nebraska. It does not have the allure it had last season but Ohio State and Miami will face off in a primetime non-conference game and there will certainly be plenty of awkward things to talk about. On to this week’s slate….