Panthers' Luke Kuechly top linebacker in NFL

Sep 10, 2013 3:10 AM

Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have.

This week: NFC Tidbits from Week 1.

Chicago Bears: Sure, they didn’t make the playoffs last year, but won 10 and were one of the league’s better teams. This defense can still make plenty of big plays, as evidenced by Charles Tillman’s huge game and their complete domination against the run against Cincy. Jay Cutler did a great job finding open receivers on third and long.

Cutler can still scramble out of pressure and his mobility created several opportunities that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. But his propensity for making mistakes at crucial times was on display. However, he found the unstoppable Brandon Marshall repeatedly on the game winning drive.

Arizona Cardinals: They look a lot better with a real QB! Larry Fitzgerald is a dangerous weapon again, and both Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd were hit in stride repeatedly by Carson Palmer. Everyone should be talking about the Honey Badger’s strip/fumble on Rams TE Jared Cook, saving a sure TD; an immediate impact defender.

Love Bruce Arians aggressive nature. Arizona got the ball back on its 20 with less than 30 seconds to play before halftime. Does Arians sit on the ball? Nope, Palmer was firing away downfield, which led to a FG attempt. A smart coach, but not enough to prevent ‘Zona from choking away a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

San Francisco 49ers: With supposedly big concerns at WR, this passing game had little trouble moving the chains. Kaepernick wasn’t shy about finding different receivers. Anquan Boldin is certainly no second tier weapon, an absolute monster in his 49ers debut; making several eye-popping grabs in traffic.

This was not an elite level defense down the stretch last year. It wasn’t elite in the playoffs or elite last Sunday.

Detroit Lions: Detroit won by 10, but made a boatload of mistakes and failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities. A new punter, holder and kicker led to a botched snap on the first field goal try. A holding penalty negated a successful fourth down conversion; forcing the Lions to settle for 3. That was just one of 11 penalties, including a pair that took TD’s off the board.

This defensive line is absolutely dominant; as good as any in the NFL. Reggie Bush was the most valuable running back on the field. The Lions have a running game this year, and a valuable dump-off weapon for Stafford.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton was Carolina’s leading rusher last year, so they brought in the thoroughly discredited Mike Shula to coordinate the offense. Based on Week 1’s performance from DeAngelo Williams, Newton could be the leading rusher again, even though Shula’s stated goal is to limit his carries. Williams didn’t find much room to run and fumbled twice, including a crucial miscue in the red zone in the fourth quarter. And Newton was held to a career low in total offense, although Greg Olson’s case of the dropsies didn’t help matters.

This was a top 10 defense last year (very quietly) and could be in that range again. Luke Kuechly is as good as any linebacker in the NFL right now. The Panthers are now 2-13 in games decided by a TD or less in the Newton/Rivera era. I blame the coach more than the QB for that dismal record.

New Orleans Saints: They won the toss and elected to kick off first, putting their defense on the field. That’s something Sean Payton hasn’t done in the past; a telling indicator he expects significant improvement in the first year of the Rob Ryan era on D. This defense was record-setting awful last year and they were vulnerable to the big play here, allowing a pair of 50-plus yard gainers. But the pass rush was there throughout, with three sacks and ten QB hurries. And the Saints’ two minute defense saved the game for them.

It’s really hard to get New Orleans off the field on third down, regardless of the distance. But there’s not much of a running game – it’s all on Drew Brees again. I’m just not impressed with this group of RBs.

Seattle Seahawks: My biggest concern in Week 1 was their play in the trenches. This is supposed to be an elite level offensive line, but it sure didn’t look that way. QB Russell Wilson got hit as much as in any game last year. And Seattle’s defensive line has limited depth due to injuries; a subpar performance.

Wilson had five fourth quarter comebacks last year and led the Seahawks back again. He threw one strike after the next and was smart enough to be patient when things weren’t flowing. Lots of “too aggressive” penalties, personal fouls and late hits, typical of Pete Carroll-coached teams.

Minnesota Vikings: All five offensive linemen started every game together last year and return intact for 2013; a clear area of strength for Minnesota. But the defense got gutted with major losses in the offseason. That D got picked apart, a massive decline from 2012.

Christian Ponder is not that good, throwing a pick six here (overturned by penalty), struggling with consistency throughout. Even with Blair Walsh making every long field goal (now 11-11 from 50-plus in his career), the Vikings are likely to need TDs, not field goals, to win.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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