NFL Sunday wrapup: A perfect start for the AFC East
The dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski was merely a prelude for what the rest of the teams in the New England Patriots' division would do in the NFL season's first week: All four AFC East teams won their season openers.
Under first-year head coach Todd Bowles, the New York Jets kept the Cleveland Browns in check, aided by the fact that Johnny Manziel had to enter the game in relief of the injured Josh McCown.
Manziel, whose off-field dalliances have been well-documented, did throw his first touchdown pass as a pro, but everything unraveled for him and the Browns from there.
The Jets forced five turnovers, three charged to Manziel (an interception and two fumbles), and veteran journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed two touchdown passes for New York in the 31-10 win.
Miami started its season with an interconference meeting in the nation's capital against the controversy-ridden Redskins. Washington held a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, but Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill capped a two-minute drill at the first half with a touchdown pass to close the gap to 10-7.
With the game tied at 10 early in the fourth quarter, Jarvis Landry returned a punt for a score to give Miami a 17-10 lead, which the Dolphins held until the end of the game.
The Buffalo Bills produced one of the more head-turning results of the weekend when they beat Andrew Luck and former AFC East member Indianapolis 27-14.
The Colts, who reached the AFC championship game last year and who figure to be one of the AFC's favorites in 2015, fell behind 24-0 before scoring for the first time midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-8.
Luck played one of the worst games he has played in a long time, going 26-for-49 for just 243 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Colts running back Frank Gore, signed to bolster a rushing attack that was among the worst in the NFL in 2014, couldn't find much room against the Bills (eight carries, 31 yards).
Tyrod Taylor, the shock winner of the Bills preseason quarterback competition, put up a 123.8 passer rating and threw a touchdown pass without committing any turnovers.
For the better part of two decades now, the AFC East basically consisted of the Patriots and everyone else with "everyone else" trying in vain to build some kind of winning habit. The closest any team has come was when the New York Jets appeared in back-to-back AFC championship games in 2009 and 2010.
The coach of those teams was the current coach of the Bills, Rex Ryan. The foundation of those Jets teams was a strong defense and an effective running game. The way Ryan's Bills played defensively Sunday against the Colts, one of the most potent offenses in the AFC, could indicate that Buffalo is working from a similar blueprint.
Brady and his Patriots will make the trip up to Ralph Wilson Stadium for an early showdown between the old AFL rivals. Buffalo will be riding high all week after keeping Luck and the Colts under control, and if Ryan's team can similarly frustrate the Pats and get to 2-0, the Bills could be well on their way to breaking the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, it's time to pick the Monday Night Football doubleheader winners:
Philadelphia (-2½) at Atlanta
The first of Monday night's two games is a battle of the birds in the Georgia Dome.
Chip Kelly's Eagles were constantly in the spotlight during the offseason after luring free-agent running back DeMarco Murray from the Dallas Cowboys, trading for former No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford and giving Tim Tebow another shot to win an NFL roster spot.
On the field in the first three games of the preseason, Philadelphia displayed a potent offense, scoring 36, 40 and 39 points in three wins, including against the Packers in the third exhibition game.
Philly's pass catchers are young and haven't quite made names for themselves, and Bradford has proven over his career to be a serious injury risk. The jury is also out on the Eagles' defense.
The Falcons still have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but question marks in the running game and on defense could hurt them over the course of the year.
THE PICK: Bradford's Eagles fly higher than the Falcons and cover the spread comfortably. 35-24 Philadelphia
Minnesota (-2½) at San Francisco
It was a tumultuous offseason, to say the least, for the 49ers. Premature retirements, arrests and an ugly separation from head coach Jim Harbaugh leave new coach Jim Tomsula to build a new culture in the Bay Area just a few short years after a Super Bowl appearance.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a fruitful rookie campaign in 2014, and he has a few new toys to play with in 2015.
Adrian Peterson, who played in the first game last season before being banished from the team by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the player was indicted on child-abuse charges, is back and figures to be as good as ever. Minnesota also added speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace to go along with Charles Johnson and Kyle Rudolph.
Bridgewater and Peterson might be handcuffed slightly by injuries along the offensive line, but the Vikings just might be the second-best team in the NFC North behind Green Bay.
THE PICK: The offseason upheaval around the 49ers turns out to be too much to overcome in Week 1. 23-17 Minnesota