Week 1 Must-Win Spots
August 6, 2014
By Joe Nelson
The Super Bowl is not won or lost in Week 1, but eight of last season’s 12 playoff teams won their openers last season and only two teams that lost to non-playoff teams in Week 1 wound up in the postseason in the 2013 season. In 2012, the same was true with only four teams that started the season 0-1 making the playoffs.
While many established teams with veteran leaders accustomed to success can likely handle a Week 1 defeat and move on to a successful season, the opener will hold extra importance for these four teams in 2014. These are teams that most expect to be on the postseason bubble this season and the Week 1 results could go a long way in determining which direction the season heads for these franchises.
Atlanta Falcons: If Atlanta is going to return to being a playoff team in 2014, as many expect they will, they need to re-establish the Georgia Dome as a formidable place to play. In three straight playoff appearances from 2010-2012, the Falcons went 20-4 at home, but in a disastrous 2013 season, the Falcons went just 3-5 at home. Atlanta only has seven home games in 2014 with a London date ahead and the opener with the Saints will be critical to establishing the Falcons as a viable playoff threat in the NFC again.
Atlanta lost both games with the Saints last season although both games were tight low-scoring affairs decided by just 10 points combined. With a very tough road game at Cincinnati next on the schedule in Week 2 and then a Thursday night game in Week 3, the season for the Falcons could unravel quickly, so a decisive first step is critically important for the Falcons chances in 2014. The Saints are one of the favorites in the NFC and a team that is a regular in the postseason, but this will be a much bigger game for the hosting Falcons.
St. Louis Rams: While Minnesota may be more competitive than many people think this season, this is a game that the Rams cannot let slip away. St. Louis has a ton of talent with an incredible defensive line going up against a questionable quarterback situation for the Vikings in the first game for head coach Mike Zimmer with Minnesota. St. Louis is a team that would likely be favored to win several other divisions this season, but they are caught in the ultra tough NFC West.
The Rams have a favorable starting schedule facing winnable games in the first three weeks before a bye in Week 4. With Sam Bradford healthy in a big season for the future trajectory of his career, he needs to perform well to get St. Louis off to a good start before the team gets caught in an incredibly difficult midseason schedule. To make the playoffs in 2014, the Rams probably need to start 3-0 or at least 2-1 given the remaining schedule and the depth of the division and starting 1-0 is an absolute must for this team, especially catching the Vikings in their first game of a major transition.
New York Jets: The Jets were respectably competitive last season at 8-8 even with an ugly overall point differential on the season. New York should again have a solid defense and with a few upgrades on offense, New York feels like it can be a playoff team again in 2014. The Raiders look like an improved team in 2014 even with the team going just 4-12 the past two seasons, but catching the Raiders in Week 1 given the great roster turnover for Oakland and getting to play a west coast team at home in the opener should be an advantage for the Jets. Given the microscope on the Jets in the New York media landscape, the opener will be a critical game for quarterback Geno Smith.
In his rookie season, Smith had great inconsistency, but this season with Michael Vick waiting in a back-up role, the Jets need to avoid fueling a controversy. The schedule also will put great emphasis on Week 1 for New York as the rest of the first half schedule is filled with contenders, facing three NFC North foes in the next three games and then facing three 2013 AFC playoff teams in Weeks 5-7, including games with the both the Broncos and the Patriots.
Kansas City Chiefs: In the first season under Andy Reid, the Chiefs stormed out to a 9-0 start and made the playoffs as a Wild Card at 11-5 before blowing a big lead against the Colts to exit the playoffs. The Chiefs are almost universally projected to fall in record this season and getting off to a good start with a Week 1 victory will be critical in any attempt to deflect a fall in the standings in 2014. Tennessee is an interesting team this season as there are some quality pieces in place and this is not a franchise that hit rock bottom and is starting completely over in the coaching change with Ken Whisenhunt taking over for Mike Munchak. The Titans expect to be a competitive team this season and are even considered a sleeper by many in the AFC.
If Kansas City is to remain a viable playoff candidate, they need to win this game at home, especially considering that a trip to Denver is next on the schedule and starting 0-2 would make for a very tough hurdle to climb. The Chiefs also have to play New England and San Francisco in the first five weeks as things could go from bad to worse quickly in Kansas City, but a Week 1 victory would at least allow the Chiefs to avoid a disastrous start and feature some confidence heading into the huge AFC West showdown in Week 2.
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