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SPORTS

SIDELINE
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale

NFL Week 2: London-bound teams go 0-4
October 18, 2013

If San Fran's Seattle trip is anything to go by, 49ers-Jags could be close after all, says Richard L Gale.

Week 2 of the NFL wasn't a good time for the teams headed to London. In fact, we'd be forgiven for thinking we'd been sold a bowlful of lemons. That Jacksonville isn't the best team in the NFL comes as no surprise to anyone, especially when Chad Henne seems determined to cement his status as the back-up quarterback home fans aren't going to cheer for – no mean feat when 'Blame' Gabbert is the theoretical starter. Jags fans are actually on the verge of cheering when he eventually returns, probably in time for October, which at least means he won't have given way by the time their Wembley game comes around. The stage is set for London as the backdrop to Gabbert becoming the upset hero of the week, upstaging Colin Kaepernick, defeating the 49ers and with a hard yank of the wheel, helping the Jaguars turn the corner.

No, I don't really believe any of that either.

However, after the weekend the 49ers had, I wouldn't bet my house on San Francisco. Kaepernick had an off day, the Seattle crowd were historically loud, and the 49ers depleted receiving corps didn't match up with a prayer against the Seahawks secondary, but San Francisco looked BAD. Kaepernick's mojo seemed like lost luggage, and while it was a day for defense, Russell Wilson a lowly 8 of 19 for 142 yards, Kaepernick's 13 of 28, 127 yard performance was consistently off-target. On passes over 10 yards, he was 1 of 8 for 17 yards. Ouch. It better not be road trips that are his problem, or 49ers-Jags is going to be… interesting. Regardless, our first look at the Seahawks-49ers rivalry for the the NFC West is making me real happy I chose the Seahawks for the division (and the Lombardi Trophy) – it could be a romp by season's end.

The Vikings are headed to London the week after next, and so are Pittsburgh. I was excited to see the Steelers in my own back yard, but I'm thinking it could be a difficult experience. Seated in the press section, at least I won't need to fear leaping up every time Pittsburgh scores – to the glares of American journalists and the tutting of British ones (we're supposed to stay neutral up there). Nope, I don't think the Steelers will give me too much cause for celebration without an offense. I may whoop for the odd Polamalu highlight, but the line's snakebit, the receivers are second-stringers, and the running game is still in preseason form. If they stumble and bumble their way to a 8-8 record again, I'll be astonished. 

The Vikings aren't living off Adrian Peterson this year. His 193 yards after two games sounds fine (it projects out to a 1500 yards season, after all), but take away his 78 yard run in week one, and his 36 yard run in week two, and he's averaging 1.8 yards a carry. Last year, the Vikes got away with Christian Ponder doing just enough; there's no hiding him away this year. But he is showing patches of good play. While we keep saying he's got to take the next step, that could be coming. My guess right now is that the Vikings have a much better time in London than the Steelers.

Week 2 is the time when, traditionally, we over-react to the 2-0 teams of destiny and the 0-2 bums. At this early stage I'm feeling pretty good about most my picks – the Patriots gutting it out, KC and Denver contesting the AFC West, Houston atop the AFC South, Seattle soaring, Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas… my division leaders are all at least in a share of their division lead (it'll all go horribly wrong soon enough). Baltimore is the only division pick who has the word 'crisis' hovering over them. While the offensive pieces clearly aren't fitting together too well without Anquan Boldin there, the defense is in disarray. Too many changes had to make it a difficult start to the season, so they can still pull things around.

They are, after all, 1-1. Just imagine how terrible it would be if your team was 0-2 – the knee-jerk madness that could ensue.

Take Cleveland for example (no, please, take it). One of the better defenses so far in the NFL season, they held things close against the 2-0 Miami Dolphins (down 10-13 going into the fourth quarter) and the defending Super Bowl champions (leading at the half, and down by one point going into the fourth quarter). So what do you do to find that edge that turns tight losses into wins?

Why, you trade away your only credible rusher – last year's first round pick – for a future consideration. Yup, that's what Cleveland just did. In a week when they will be fielding their third-string QB as their starter, they traded away former Alabama star running back Trent Richardson to the Colts for a first round pick. Richardson wasn't a bust, remember – he was their leading rusher. With QB Brandon Weeden injured, their next leading rusher has as many yards from scrimmage this year as I do. You hear calls for NBA teams to be investigated for maybe throwing games late in the season in order to get advantageous draft positions. I've never heard of a football team doing it in week 2. 

"I think it puts us in a good position," said Browns CEO Joe Banner, inexplicably. Assuming the position, more like.

No, I think this puts their trade partner, the Indianapolis Colts in a good position. The Colts were, according to my crystal ball, in position for either just missing out on their division, just missing out on a wildcard, or likely both. A few recalculations (…cue earnest tapping of keyboard and secret rolling of polyhedral dice…) and I predict (…flourish of finger in air…) that the Colts are definitely looking better than they were last week. Seriously, though, by the time this plays out, the Colts will have made the most meaningful trade move of the year, one that puts they the right side of the playoff cut.

Until we hear of any away-from-the-field complication to Trent Richardson's story, it's hard to argue that the Browns didn't just make a boneheaded move for the ages.

Week 3 game of the week could be tonight, with the re-energized Chiefs and Eagles meeting for the first time since coach Andy Reid moved house. One sided game of the week should be Jacksonville at Seattle (though Minnesota should enjoy Cleveland visiting), while Green Bay at Cincinnati and Atlanta at Miami could be the most revealing. Oakland at Denver shouldn't keep us awake too deep into Tuesday morning.


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