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So now that every football-related media outlet, social media account and pregame show is done chortling how football is back (even though college ball has been going for two weeks), it’s time to give the public service announcement to all fanbases successful or struggling after Monday night: It’s just one game.
Whether you are the San Francisco 49ers feeling the sting of losing to the Chicago Bears in the rain, the New Orleans Saints giving Atlanta Falcons fans fraudulent hope (unless fans were looking for the first overall pick in 2023), or the Denver Broncos head coach refusing to “let Russ cook” in lieu of a 64-yard field goal attempt to beat the Seattle Seahawks, or basically any team that needed a kick to win the game, it is only a single week in a beautiful barrage of 18. Remember that you aren’t doomed for a season as a team until you go 0-2 (allegedly).
In this edition of the Student of the Game’s Match Up Mania, we’ll focus on franchises that are looking to avoid their second straight loss “ending their season” or games that could come back to bite teams in December…unless you are in the AFC South. There’s a reason draws exist. Sometimes neither team deserves to win a contest. And if the leading teams in the division can’t even muster a victory, they don’t deserve a spot in the MuM. Otherwise, I might have featured the Colts (0-0-1) and Jags (0-1-0).
Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)
There are alleged football fans that complain about Thursday night football games. While they are a challenge from the players’ perspective for recovery, the AFC West has delivered time and time again with competitive and compelling football on that night of the week.
On paper, this looks like an epic shootout between two of the best teams in the NFL’s best division — something that would be filmed out in California. Unfortunately, with Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen’s hamstring injury, it’s like Matt Damon pulling out of the production for the next Jason Bourne movie. But for all the “Justin Herbert for MVP” believers out there, if he can outduel Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense after their defeathering of the Cardinals, that could be something that builds a script for a Disney movie, or at least a Netflix documentary.
16 weeks later either squad’s fanbase could be pointing at this loss as the reason they miss out on the division crown, if not the playoffs outright.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (1-0)
With all the hip picks for the Saints as a top seed in the NFC around NFL media, expectations had suddenly become high for the fans of the fleur de lis. But when the Saints came marching in last Sunday, apparently none of them wanted to be in that number until the 4th quarter when they overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the fraudulent Falcons. Credit to Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry both showing proof of life for their respective playing careers as there were targets from Jameis Winston that lead to game-winning heroics, 27-26.
Escaping that let-down puts them with the NFC South defending champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tied for the top. The Bucs with Tom Brady at quarterback beat the hapless Dallas Cowboys 19-3 in a particularly dull affair where Dak Prescott was knocked out of the game with a hand injury. While Brady is undefeated lifetime against the Cowboys (7-0), he has yet to secure a win against New Orleans since he’s arrived in Tampa. Breaking this streak on September 18th could decide a division winner in the season’s closing weeks.
With Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin questionable with a hamstring injury, the solid Saints defense will be helped, but they’ll need all the help they can get supporting a Winston-led offense against the Bucs’ defense.
Las Vegas Raiders (0-1) vs. Arizona Cardinals (0-1)
As much as the NFL public at large has been critical of Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, his former favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, fared no better losing to the Los Angeles Chargers. Likewise, no amount of film study hours demanded by Kyler Murray’s contract was going to have him outperform Mahomes and the Chiefs, especially without DeAndre Hopkins.
While it’s easy to say that Derek Carr and the Raiders have an advantage since they have their top receiving target with Adams, Murray’s mobility and the remaining corps of pass catchers is nothing to sneeze at. Whichever one of these teams secures a sequel to their opening day woes may find themselves starring in a horror movie dealing with the ire of their fans and the prospect of the now “dead” season.