Certain things you can count on in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots will play good defense. The Indianapolis Colts will romp on offense.
But this season’s premiere showed how times could be changing rather dramatically from the way it’s been. Both the Super Bowl champion, New England, and the runner-up, Seattle, have now proved vulnerable to vertical passing attacks.
The Patriots had fun winning their celebration opener on Thursday night and chanting “Where Is Rog-er” in reference to their vanquished nemesis, Roger Goodell. The commissioner chose not to be traditional and witness the unveiling of the world championsip banner.
Thursday’s game went merrily along for the Patriots. Tom Brady, fresh off thrashing Goodell in federal court in Manhattan, had his way with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sagging secondary.
But because of their own breakdowns on defense, the Patriots beat Pittsburgh by only 7 points. Reality check: Marcus Butler is no shutdown corner, and Jerod Mayo is no longer Jerod Mayo.
Further, the Patriots clearly miss their mass of blubber in the middle, Vince Wilfork, who rolled on to Houston in free agency. First-round draft pick Malcom Brown is the designated replacement for Wilfork, but he did not look ready, as Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams cruised by him too many times.
As for the Seahawks, they were lost without their All-Pro strong-safety Kam Chancellor. In fact they lost 34-31 in overtime to a St. Louis team that’s coming off a 6-10 season.
Chancellor is under contract but hasn’t joined the team, insisting on renegotiating the deal he signed a year ago that has three years to run.
The two sides reportedly are less than $1 million apart, but the stalemate is costly: a $270,000 payday for Chancellor, a season-opening win for the Seahawks. Chancellor, 6-3, 235 pounds, is the hardest-hitting member of the Legion of Boom and every bit as important as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
Asked to describe the effect of not having to face Chancellor patrolling the back end of the Seattle defense, Rams receiver Stedman Bailey said, “Not having the presence of Kam Chancellor is huge.”
And not just on the football field but also in the locker room, where Chancellor is a team captain and a sort of godfatherly guide to the younger players.
The salary dispute would seem trivial if it were not so consequential. Basically, Chancellor wants to amend his contract to give him his 2017 pay rate, being $6.8 million, instead of the $5.1 million he’s set to earn this year.
Chancellor offered, prior to Sunday’s opener, to split the $1.7 million difference, but Seahawks management declined, concerned that to renegotiate a contract so far from its termination would set a dangerous precedent.
It seems to me that everyone can see Kam Chancellor’s value is what he says it is. He’s 27, in his physical prime. The results of his absence are obvious. Receivers run free in the secondary. It’s unlikely the Seahawks can find their way back to the Super Bowl without their starting strong safety.
The ’Hawks face an even more daunting road foe this weekend: the Green Bay Packers, Sunday night (7:30 CDT) at Lambeau. Without Chancellor clearing out the middle zone of the field, the Packers’ corps of receivers should thrive. And this time it’s not Nick Foles throwing, it’s Aaron Rodgers, MVP.
The Packers are a confident team. Coach Mike McCarthy promised last week to “kick Chicago’s ass.” The Packers won convincingly, 31-23, but they gave up 189 yards rushing, not reassuring with BeastMode, Marshawn Lynch, the next appointment.
You can expect both Seattle and Green Bay to run the ball, with Eddie Lacy benefitting from Chancellor not being in the box.
The Packers will be relentless in seeking revenge for a loss they felt they did not deserve in the NFC Championship Game. They would have won if not for Seattle’s unlikely recovery of an onside kick.
Even so, a Sunday early game, New England at Buffalo, may be more intriguing than the nightcap in Lambeau. The matinee features one of the most fascinating of coaching duels: Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan.
It’s Ryan’s nature to inflame opponents even as he devises strategies that will confound them. He was up to his usual antics when he belittled Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who rushed for 122 yards against Pittsburgh.
Ryan said Lewis “has done nothing in this league,” that quarterback Tom Brady “makes it a lot easier to be a running back.”
Taking their cues from their head coach, Bills players such as Marcell Dareus and Aaron Williams spoke this week of their personal dislike of the Patriots.
The Bills have reason for confidence, given their dismantling of playoff perennial Indianapolis, 27-14, in the opener. A team that throttled Andrew Luck so completely would seem equipped to put some restraints on the four-time Super Bowl winner Brady.
Then again, it’s possible to attach too much significance to the opening week. First impressions of NFL seasons are notoriously misleading. Go back only a year, when the Patriots in their opening game lost by 12 to Miami and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Belichick made numerous lineup changes and playbook revisions before his team solidified into a world champion. From what we’ve seen in this beginning, all the NFL teams are in need of many upgrades if the Super Bowl is their objective.