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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

15 key questions for NFL Week 2

Rob Gronkowski
Week 2 began on Thursday night, with the Cincinnati Bengals becoming the first 2-0 team in the league. The Baltimore Ravens also showed us that no matter how good you look in Week 1, a lot can change in Week 2. In other words, it’s time to almost wipe out everything from the first week of the season and begin with a clean slate. Who will join the Bengals at 2-0 and get off to a fast start? Who will go the opposite direction at 0-2? Can any of the new head coaches get in the win column? Those are some of the key questions we will be exploring entering Week 2.

1. Is Jalen Ramsey right about Rob Gronkowski?

Ramsey had some not-so-nice things to say about some of the NFL’s biggest stars during several interviews over the offseason, and Gronkowski was on his hit list. More specifically, Ramsey said he does not think Gronk is good and that he struggles every time he’s matched up against a top cornerback. Ramsey will likely line up opposite Gronkowski on several plays in Week 2, so he should have plenty of opportunities to prove his theory. Gronk caught just one pass in the first half of the AFC Championship Game before leaving with a concussion last year. He’d love to shut Ramsey up by having a big day.

2. Can the Falcons get their red-zone offense sorted out?

The Falcons’ red-zone struggles were one of the biggest topics of discussion surrounding the team during the offseason. Those problems only continued in a Week 1 loss to Philly that ended in similar fashion to last season’s playoff loss: stalled inside the 10. The pressure has been placed on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to figure things out. Atlanta needs to get back to their form from 2016 when they led the league in scoring or else they will be in big trouble.

3. Will Jon Gruden rebound in another tough matchup?

Gruden’s (second) debut with the Raiders could not have gone much worse. His team was dominated by the Rams in every phase of the game, and the coach who is supposed to be a quarterback guru watched Derek Carr turn in a poor performance. It’s never wise to make snap judgments after one game, but it was concerning that Oakland let the game get away from them so badly late in the second half. Gruden made the unpopular decision to trade Khalil Mack, and he’s going to hear about it for a long time if his team continues to give up points in bunches. Life isn’t going to get much easier going on the road to face the division-rival Broncos.

4. How quickly will Lions fans turn on Matt Patricia?

Like Gruden in Oakland, Patricia embarrassed himself in his first game as the head coach of the Lions. Detroit began the game with a pick-six on Sam Darnold’s first ever NFL pass, but it was all downhill from there. Patricia, a former defensive coordinator, watched his team give up 48 points against the youngest ever Week 1 starting quarterback in league history. The Lions now have to try to rebound with a tough West Coast trip to take on the 49ers, and there are already rumblings that players have been frustrated with Patricia. Fans in Detroit won’t hesitate to turn on the first-year coach if things go south.

5. Were the Giants’ offensive struggles a product of opponent?

The Giants had one of the worst offenses in football last season, and that problem is expected to be remedied in 2018 for a number of reasons. For starters, New York has a new offensive-minded head coach in Pat Shurmur. They also added Saquon Barkley to their backfield, signed star offensive lineman Nate Solder to a massive contract, and have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. Barkley rushed for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown last week and Beckham caught 11 passes for 111 yards, but the Giants still managed only 15 points. Of course, they did have the tough task of having to face the league’s best defense from a year ago. Still, the Giants are going to have to look a lot sharper going forward, or fans will get flashbacks of 2017.

6. Can Mitchell Trubisky build off of a solid performance?

Trubisky is looking to make the second-year leap under new head coach Matt Nagy, and his first showing of the season was fairly impressive. While he completedly 23-of-35 passes for just 171 yards, he also managed to protect the ball by not throwing an interception. At some point, the Bears are going to have to take the training wheels off. They have a revamped receiver group led by Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and tight end Trey Burton gives Trubisky another weapon in the passing game. Nagy called plenty of creative plays in a tough loss to the Packers last week, and we expect that to continue in a home game against the Seahawks in Week 2.

7. Will Jimmy Garoppolo rebound from his first NFL loss?

Garoppolo was bound to lose an NFL game at some point, and it’s not all that surprising that he got it out of the way in Week 1. The Vikings may have the best all-around defense in football this season, and they proved it by baiting Garoppolo into throwing three interceptions in what was the worst performance of his young career. There’s no reason to think that trend will continue for Jimmy G. and the 49ers, but it will be interesting to see how he responds in a good spot to bounce back at home against a Lions team that was just demolished by Jets rookie Sam Darnold.

8. What will Josh Allen look like in his first career start?

The Buffalo Bills were an utter disaster in a Week 1 loss to the Ravens. Nathan Peterman was 5-of-18 for 24 yards and two interceptions and was an all-around nightmare. He was replaced by Josh Allen in the third quarter, who will now start in Week 2. The rookie first-round pick didn’t fare much better, going 6-of-15 for 74 yards. Our expectation is that the Bills will be among the worst teams in the league this year and that Allen will not develop into a franchise quarterback. This will be his first chance to prove us and many others wrong. He’ll at least have the luxury of facing a Chargers team without Joey Bosa.

9. How will Aaron Rodgers’ knee injury affect him?

Rodgers went down in the first half against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night with a knee injury that looked like it might have been bad. Though he was in pain, Rodgers returned in the second half to lead the Packers to a comeback win. He is dealing with a sprained knee and has not had practice reps during the week. Rodgers talked after the game about the importance of playing through injuries for his teammates. But without the adrenaline pumping in the same way it was mid-game against Chicago, will Rodgers be able to deliver another special performance? He might need it against a tough Minnesota defense.

10. Which team will gain the upper hand in the AFC South?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the favorites to win the AFC South for the second year in a row, but which team will give them the greatest competition? We’ll gain some big insight into that question when the Titans and Texans play Sunday in Nashville. Both teams have started out the season 0-1. The Texans had a tougher test, losing in New England 27-20 and making things close with a second-half comeback. The Titans lost in Miami and got poor play at the quarterback position in Week 1. Between Marcus Mariota’s elbow and Blaine Gabbert being Blaine Gabbert, we’re not expecting that situation to get much better.

11. Can the Saints’ defense turn things around?

That sound you heard while watching football last weekend came from Saints fans grumbling about the defense yet again. The team allowed 48 points in Week 1 — to Ryan Fitzpatrick of all people — and looked horrendous. Defense has been New Orleans’ weakness over the last several seasons, save for 2017. They looked like they had finally turned things around on that side of the ball last year, but that all changed against Tampa Bay. New Orleans’ first chance to prove that was an aberration will come at home against Cleveland. The Browns finally have a decent quarterback and some offensive weapons. It might not get better for the Saints quite so soon.

12. Will the Jets continue to soar?

Fantastic Sam threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass, but he quickly turned things around on Monday night. Then the Jets opened up a can on the Lions and ran away with the game in the third quarter. Was it a fluke, or is it a new era for the Jets? They won’t have the luxury of facing Matthew Stafford again, whose signals they say they picked. Without that advantage, they might not be able to create as many turnovers. Expect their game against Miami to be a tight one, perhaps one determined by a late turnover.

13. Can the Chiefs continue to hit home runs?

The Chiefs impressively put up 38 points in Week 1 against the Chargers, but is that sustainable? Three of their five scores were of at least 36 yards. Tyreek Hill scored on a 91-yard punt return and 58-yard catch, in addition to a 1-yard pass. Absent those big, game-changing plays, the Chiefs would expect to be in much tighter contests. That will likely be the case against a Pittsburgh team looking to prove a point at Heinz Field after last week’s tie against Cleveland.

14. Is Washington a quiet contender?

There was very little buzz surrounding the Washington Redskins this offseason, but very few teams looked better in Week 1. They dismantled the Cardinals on the road, performing well on both sides of the ball. Now they get a Colts team at home and seem to have a clear path to a 2-0 start. Nothing about this team seems flashy, but under Alex Smith they may have some steady consistency. They also have a rugged worker in Adrian Peterson, at least until he gets sidelined by injury the way he was the last two years.

15. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick do it against a high-quality defense?

It’s one thing to pick apart the Saints defense, which has had many questions over the last several years. But doing it to the defending Super Bowl champs — who had the No. 4 defense last year — is quite another. Ryan Fitzpatrick entered Week 2 as the NFL leader in touchdown passes and second in yards after a 417-yard, 4-touchdown performance. Few would expect him to repeat such a performance against a team that kept Matt Ryan from throwing a TD in Week 1. But if he does, Jameis Winston might have to kiss his starting job goodbye.

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