NFL Talking Points: It's The Ravens And 49ers, Then Everyone Else

September 10, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw (91) celebrates his sack with linebacker Paul Kruger (99) against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Week 1 is in the books, and we run down the biggest stories in the NFL, where The Ravens and 49ers own the league, Tom Brady is the toughest metrosexual, Michael Vick is a mess, and Roger Goodell isn't invincible. LET'S DO IT.

OK, let's get right into it: There were 16 games last week, but only two teams stood out and looked unfair. The 49ers dominated in Green Bay and made everyone look stupid for predicting they'd drop off this year, and then the Ravens came out and destroyed the Bengals on Monday night.

Coming into Week 2 it's hard to find two more impressive teams than San Francisco and Baltimore. Those goddamn Harbaugh brothers again. Let's start San Francisco. I spent a solid three months of last season betting against Alex Smith and doubting the 49ers at every turn, and all that happened was me losing a lot of money.

So I'll just concede this battle now, before they play the Lions Sunday night: Jim Harbaugh knows exactly how to optimize Alex Smith's skills in that offense, and Sunday wasn't a fluke. Which is to say, the Niners run the ball down other teams' throats and then pass only when they absolutely need to, and it works. They beat the crap out of people. In a league full of spread offenses with seven receivers on the field, the San Francisco approach is actually pretty refreshing.

Over at Grantland, Bill Barnwell broke down the Niners' running game in Week 1:

... the Niners simply gashed the Packers on the ground with their rushing attack. Last year, while San Francisco's running game carried the bulk of the offensive load, a series of eight-man fronts prevented Frank Gore & Co. from producing gaudy statistics. That wasn't a problem on Sunday, as the San Francisco offensive line created innumerable holes for Gore and Kendall Hunter to run through. The pair combined for 153 yards on 25 carries, 16 of which went for four yards or more. ... With Moss and Manningham playing limited roles in the victory, perhaps the idea behind signing Team M&M was merely to create more running lanes for Gore and Hunter to run through.

And that's before Harbaugh starts playing around with Colin Kaepernick and LaMichael James later this year, just to be extra dickish to defensive coordinators trying to gameplan for the Niners.

With the battering running game and Vernon Davis wreaking havoc in the middle of the field, Manningham, Crabtree and Moss on the outside ... OK, so the Niners' offense looks murderous. And the Niners defense IS murderous. It's been documented. They tortured Aaron Rodgers all day Sunday, and they will likely torture Matt Stafford on Sunday. Every level of the San Francisco defense is airtight, and they just shut down the best offense in football. All your standard "it's only one game" qualifiers apply, but it's hard not to be impressed and a little afraid.

And then there's the Ravens. For one thing, Ray Rice looks like the best running back in football -- he's reached the point where breaking off 5- and 6-yard gains just looks easy, and however you get him the ball, good things will happen. Like Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson or any other dominant running back in his prime. There's nobody else in the NFL that's at that level week-to-week.

If Baltimore's offense gives their defense 24 points per game and the defense stays healthy, that team's going 12-4. The Ravens looked ruthless on both sides of the ball Monday night, and they get another test with Philly this week, so #PrayForMichaelVick seems like an appropriate thing to say here.

Big picture? With San Francisco and Baltimore, we're basically talking about teams with rock solid defenses and offenses full of weapons that can now be equally deadly on any given night. So like I said, it's early, but both these teams look pretty unfair right now.

And hey, Ed Reed is still doing Ed Reed things, which is always fun.

I'm convinced he'll play till he's 60.

Speaking of which ...

IS RAY LEWIS THE GREATEST LINEBACKER OF ALL TIME?

Did you know tay Lewis has played SEVENTEEN seasons? Everyone knows he's been around forever, yeah. But damn. SEVENTEEN YEARS. That's impressive for a punter, let alone a middle linebacker.

Anyway, to answer the question above ... NO. From ESPN:

"As a freshman playing on special teams, he'd jump a good six or seven feet in the air to block a punt, then land on the back of his neck," said North Carolina assistant coach Bobby Cale. "He was reckless, just reckless."

Taylor was nicknamed "Godzilla," not so much for the way he played as the way he lived.

"We'd always joke him about how he wasn't getting respect at this bar downtown," said his roommate, Steve Streater. "So one night Lawrence walked into the bar and busted up everything -- chairs, glasses, everything. That's what he thought it took to gain respect."

With that attitude, respect came quickly in the NFL. The Giants drafted Taylor with the No. 2 overall pick in 1981. In his first training camp, teammates were calling him Superman and considered replacing his locker with a phone booth.

This question will be raised during every single Ravens game this year, so let's just get it straight. Ray Lewis is not the greatest ever, because even though I never saw LT play, life's more fun when we think the greatest defensive player of all time was a totally unhinged maniac who also happened to be a football genius. Ray Lewis is great, but LT is No. 1 forever.

TWO GAMES THAT WILL KICK ASS THIS WEEK

Both in prime time:

  1. Broncos at Falcons -- Both teams are wild cards in the Super Bowl conversation -- good teams that are potentially great if a few things bounce the right way and things come together just right. After one week, Peyton looks about as a great as you could hope for, and Matt Ryan tore apart the Chiefs in his own right. And we still have no idea what to make of these teams. Was Peyton's game a fluke? Was Ryan just taking advantage of a banged-up KC defense? This week's Monday Night game should help clarify things.
  2. Bears at Packers -- We're not going to overreact to how bad the Packers looked against San Francisco, BUT: The Bears looked pretty awesome against Indy, and if Chicago smacks Green Bay Thursday night, then it's two games in a row and maybe it's time to start wondering. We all silently assume Mike McCarthy has no idea what he's doing, so maybe this is the year it all unravels in Green Bay. Right? Maybe?

Remember: Jay Cutler's winning MVP this year, and it's going to be the best thing ever.

MICHAEL VICK IS A DISASTER

Judging from the 15 or so plays that RedZone showed, that Browns-Eagles game was the most depressing opener in the history of the NFL. Has a winning quarterback ever been this apologetic?

"When you throw interceptions. It's one thing. When you throw interceptions for a touchdown, and it changes the dynamic of the game and you look up at the scoreboard and now you're losing, you feel a sense of dissatisfaction. You look over at the sideline ... I have a responsibility to this team and that's to lead them, not to hurt them. ... I was hanging my head. They had never seen me like that before. I felt like I let them down. It will never happen again." (via)

"All I can do is continue to get better. I know I can keep the turnovers down. I just have to play within the system. That’s what my coach tells me all the time, not to do too much." (via)

I love Vick and have since I was 14 years old, but it's probably time to accept that he will probably never "figure it out" at this point. More because of how he plays than the interceptions. There was one play Sunday where Vick had a defender wrapped around one of his legs but refused to go down, instead wiggling around in the pocket just long enough to sail a reckless pass 20 yards to the far sideline and get absolutely murdered by a second Browns lineman. He used to be the most exciting player on earth, but at this point watching Vick play quarterback just stresses me out.

TOM BRADY IS ONE TOUGH METROSEXUAL

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(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Via Pro Football Talk:

"He’s such a good-looking guy," Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. "Obviously, he gets banged up, and he’s probably the toughest metrosexual I’ve ever come across."

He IS outrageously tough for a metrosexual, now that Wes Welker mentions it. And this has been our obligatory mention of the Patriots, who looked great on both sides of the ball on Sunday and probably should've been included in the 49ers and Ravens category. But you knew that already. (PS: The toughest metrosexual on earth is Prince, followed closely by Bruce Wayne. At best, Tom Brady's in a battle with Dwyane Wade for third on that list, just ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kanye West.)

PURPLE JESUS, RESURRECTED

Adrian Peterson to Jim Rome:

"I tell you this, it made me work harder than I ever have in my life. I've always worked hard, but I guess it took this for me to really understand how much better and how much harder I can push myself. To really hit the max."

Above we said that Ray Rice is the best running back in football, and that's still true, but Purple Jesus looked pretty great Sunday, and it was already incredible that he was even on the field like nine months after his knee exploded. So this is just the interlude where we stop and remember that the greatest players in football are basically aliens.

Look at that quote.

If YOU were Adrian Peterson and you already had the gigantic contract and everyone in the world already worshiped you, would you kill yourself to get back to play for what's obviously going to be a 6-10 Vikings team? Of course not. The knee injury seems like a perfect excuse for any sane person to tail off at the end of a solid career, and just collect gigantic paychecks. But then, that's why none of us are professional athletes. Or maybe that's just me. Either way Adrian Peterson is incredible.

ALL ABOARD THE RGIII BANDWAGON

Wrote a longer thing on this Monday morning, and RGIII is still the biggest story in football going into the Rams game this week. Are we still convinced something horrible's going to happen to ruin all this? Of course! But he looked pretty awesome, didn't he?

In other news:

THE SAINTS LOST TO THE REDSKINS

Apparently having a coach is important? Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees still looked unstoppable, but everything else about the Saints was just slightly off Sunday. The defense looked awful, sure, but even the outrageous offense looked a step out of sync, with Marques Colston dropping passes and fumbling, no running game whatsoever, and Brees under pressure all day long. It's not time to panic because it's never time to panic when you have Drew Brees, but where last year's Week 1 loss still had the Saints looking incredible, this year they just looked like a disorganized, mediocre team sleepwalking through a loss to a less talented team.

In other words, the Week 1 Saints they looked exactly like the Cowboys for the past three years, which means New Orleans fans should be TERRIFIED.

KEVIN KOLB CAN BE YOUR HERO

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Lost in all the focus on The Russell Wilson Letdown was... The Kevin Kolb Renaissance!

With John Skeleton in the locker room injured, Kolb came off the bench and went 6/8 for 66 yards and led the Cardinals on a game-winning touchdown drive. He was flawless, and reminded you that the Cardinals would actually be a pretty solid team with a decent QB. Speaking of which, the best part about the photo above is how it captures Kolb looking like a hero on Sunday, but then also, if Kolb starts the next 15 games for Arizona, that photo will be the perfect, soul-crushing snapshot of another year of Cardinals sadness.

THE REPLACEMENT REFS AND INTEGRITY OF THE GAME

I don't know, though. Does anybody give a shit? Let's all agree to not give a shit about this, and then a month from now we can act like it never happened.

AND NOW, A WORD FROM BOB COSTAS

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ROGER GOODELL FINALLY GOES DOWN

It's too bad the Saints decision broke on a Friday afternoon last week, because most writers and bloggers were already checked out for the weekend and we couldn't properly savor the Schadenfreude. Nevertheless... This is the first time I can remember that an independent arbitrator has successfully pissed all over one of Goodell's plainly illegal interpretations of a commissioner's power. It's a small victory, but sweet nonetheless. A step in the right direction. And a nice precedent to fall back on when Goodell tries to send some linebacker to prison six weeks from now. This is America and YOU DON'T MAKE THE RULES, YOU GINGER TYRANT.

And finally...

WEEK 1 IN A PHOTO

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(Photo by Greg Wilson/Deadspin)

She yelled at me, 'You're ugly, at least I'm hot!' That's when I stated laughing and pulled my iPhone out to get a pic. She went nuts." Her Bud Light, still half-full, got Greg right between the numbers, soaking his Demaryius Thomas jersey. The woman's boyfriend (not pictured) immediately grabbed her and hustled her out of the section.

My God, isn't it wonderful to have the NFL back in our lives?

WOOOO!

Nothing brings out the worst in America quite like NFL Football.

We'll be back Friday with picks. Until then, GO STEELERS.

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