NFC South Week One Division Breakdown
The NFC South was less than a minute away from going 0-4 as a division. Drew Brees was able to salvage this with a heroic last-minute comeback that capped off perhaps the best game of the week on Monday Night Football. Disappointment was the common theme across the division, as players throughout the division performed well below their expected levels.
- Top Passing Performance: Drew Brees – 32 of 43 for 370 yards, 2 TD, and 1 Int.
- Top Rushing Performance: Christian McCaffrey – 19 carries for 128 yards and 2 TDs. He also added 10 catches for another 81 yards.
- Top Receiving Performance: Michael Thomas – 10 catches for 123 yards
Falcons-12 @ Vikings–28
The disappointment begins here with a big let down from the Falcons offense. Newly minted WR Julio Jones was invisible for most of the day before breaking loose for a late TD. His final receiving stats of 6 catches for 31 yards left a lot to be desired. Calvin Ridley finished with 4 catches and 64 yards, while also finding the end zone on a beautiful throw from QB Matt Ryan. Speaking of Ryan, statistically, he was able to salvage his day going 33-46 for 304 yards and those two TDs. He did throw two critical interceptions, and the Falcon’s offense as a whole struggled to sustain drives until the fourth quarter. The lone bright spot would be TE Austin Hooper who brought in 9 catches for 77 yards. The game script played a role here, but with the Falcons falling behind early they mainly abandoned the run. Freeman finished with a horrendous 8 carries for 19 yards, while Ito Smith was only slightly better with 6 carries for 31 yards.
The Falcon’s defense played similar to how we expected. They actually did well to contain the Vikings pair of elite WRs holding both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to under 50 yards. That is a huge win for this secondary that was atrocious last season. The Achilles heel for this defense has always been their ability to defend the RB position, and that proved to be the case again on Sunday afternoon. Dalvin Cook gashed the Falcons defense to the tune of 111 yards on the ground, finding the end zone twice. This will be a problem for this defense all season, a carry-over from last season when they were a bottom-tier defense against the RB position
Next up: The Falcons take on the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. This game has shoot out written all over it, with the porous Philadelphia secondary allowing Case Keenum to put up big numbers against them on Sunday. I expect a bounce-back game for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan and do not be surprised if Jones finishes next week as the number one WR. Miles Sanders also has a terrific matchup vs this Atlanta defense who struggles against pass-catching backs. The Falcons will need to do their best to keep him in check.
Texans-28 @ Saints–30
In perhaps the most thrilling game of the week, the Saints were able to sneak out with the divisions only win. Drew Brees was efficient throwing for 370 yards and two TDs. It was his ability to get the Saints into FG position at the end of regulation, resulting in a Will Lutz game-winning field goal that reminded us how much we take the all-time great QB for granted. His top targets were Michael Thomas (10 catches for 123 yards) and burner Ted Ginn Jr, who was able to break loose a couple of times, finishing with 7 catches and 101 yards.
Alvin Kamara performed well taking 13 carries for 97 yards, and hauling in another 7 passes for 72 yards. However, it was his teammate Latavius Murray who was able to find pay dirt in week one. Murray will step into that Mark Ingram role this season, which means for fantasy purposes that Kamara’s TD rate from the past two seasons absolutely is unsustainable. Kamara will continue to split carries with Murray and should settle into his predicted 60 percent snap share. Something you would have been aware of had you been following me on twitter. Something you won’t see show up in the box score but should be praised is the play of the Saints offensive line. Against three-time DPOY JJ Watt, there was little to no pressure generated from the Houston Defense. Watt did not record a sack or a tackle for the first time in his illustrious career. The effects of the Jadeveon Clowney trade are starting to have a ripple effect, but let us give credit where it’s due. Kudos to the Saints offensive line in this one.
The Saints’ defense was average, and even top CB Lattimore had a difficult time containing the Texans WRs, most notably DeAndre Hopkins who hung an 8 catch 111 yard and two TD performance on this unit. The secondary should improve, as Hopkins is a difficult matchup for even the most elite corners. Allowing Carlos Hyde to take 10 carries for 83 yards would be a bigger concern for me.
Next up for the Saints a match up with the Rams, which again could end up being one off the better games of the week.
This is where it gets even more disappointing. Entering the season as the unquestioned starter in the final year of his rookie deal, the stars looked to be aligned for Jameis Winston to finally put it all together. A plethora of weapons featuring Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, and OJ Howard should have resulted in more of an offensive output from the Bucs offense. The 49er’s defense is not elite by any means, but there are some interesting things that need to be taken into account when judging this performance. Top WR Mike Evans was sick and had a questionable tag, and while he did suit up he was not effective on the outside. Cameron Brate had not one, but two TDs called back when the Bucs were flagged for holding. This is a positive sign for Brate, who again showed his strong rapport with his QB, but is bad news for OJ Howard’s fantasy prospects. I would not overreact to this game, as this is no longer Dirk Koetter’s system, so growing pains were to be expected. The bright spot here that Bucs fans should be ecstatic about is how well former second round pick Ronald Jones looked running the football. Jones had 13 carries for 75 yards but looked explosive in doing so. I would expect him to take full control of this backfield in the coming weeks as incumbent starter Peyton Barber begins to fade.
The Bucs defense was never going to be elite this season, but the 31 points hung on them was more a reflection of the poor decision making by Winston. The last interception essentially sealed the game for the 49ers. They should be average going forward, and the Bucs offense will need to generate more points to keep them in games. The Bucs have been searching for secondary help for some time, and it looks like Vernon Hargraves will not be the remedy to their ailment. This unit should not be trusted to do anything other than provide average performance for the duration of the season
Next up: A Thursday night divisional matchup game with the Carolina Panthers. Winston should fare better in this contest, but I wonder how they will ever contain the do it all Swiss army knife known as Christian McCaffrey.
Rams-30 @ Panthers-27
It is a shame that playing well does not show up in the win-loss column, because the Panthers hung in with the powerhouse Rams the entire game. The offense is funneled through jack of all trades RB Christian McCaffrey, who essentially is the cog that runs the Panthers offense. McCaffrey took 19 carries for 128 yards and two scores on the ground while adding another 10 catches for 81 yards through the air. Cam Newton did not do anything to stand out here, throwing for 239 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 int. His numbers look worse than his actual play, as the Panthers were able to move the ball through CMC. WR DJ Moore brought in 7 balls for 76 yards and is starting to remind us why he was the first WR off the board last season. His target share is encouraging, and I expect him to continue to grow in the offense. The disappointment came with offseason hype candidate Curtis Samuel. The Former converted buckeye RB looked more like the player who was backing up Zeke Elliot at Ohio State then the talented playmaker he was being touted to be all offseason. I expect him to have bigger games, but I did come away from this game very unimpressed. Greg Olsen is back and was able to post a 4 catch 36 yard stat line. This is a far cry from the vintage totals in Olsen’s Heyday, but it was nice to see him back on the field. Keep an eye on his status with the panthers playing Thursday night on a short week.
The Panther’s defense continues to be an elite unit, holding one of the better offenses in check for most of the day and keeping the Panthers in the game until the final drive. Luke Kuechley is showing us why he is going to be a first-ballot HOF player when he hangs them up, and CB James Bradbury had a big INT of Jared Goff. I suspect the defense will not be the panther’s downfall this season.
Next up: A Thursday night division showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will be interesting to see how Winston bounces back from his poor showing vs San Francisco, and if Ronald Jones can build on his momentum against this stout Carolina front 7. I expect CMC to have another monster game, and perhaps we may even see DJ Moore break loose for a big play against a battered Tampa secondary.