The unusual suspects
Simon Veness wonders whether normal service will be resumed on Week Two of the gridiron campaign.
Last Updated: 13/09/12 10:49am
Dennis Green, the one-time coach of Arizona, once famously left the press corps in stunned silence after a near-hysterical outburst at the end of a collapse of Biblical proportions against Chicago.
Having seen his team lose a 20-point lead in less than 20 minutes, with the back-and-forth featuring six Rex Grossman turnovers, two Bears defensive touchdowns, a Devin Hester punt return for the winning score and a last-gasp missed field goal for the Cardinals.
The game itself, in October 2006, was a classic of Keystone Cops football, with both sides seemingly hell bent on proving they were worse than the other. And it culminated in Green's amazing press conference rant, which insisted of Chicago that: "They are who we thought they were!" Not once, but four times.
That statement still reverberates through the NFL ether at regular intervals, and it is especially worth reviving as we cautiously eye Week Two of the fledgling season.
But we do so with one minor modification: they AREN'T who we thought they were.
At least that is certainly the case for a good number of teams this week, and especially those involved in Sky Sports' three featured outings, starting with the Thursday Night (or Friday Morning, as it is in UK time) game between Chicago and Green Bay (live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 1am).
As if it isn't hard enough to get to grips with the gridiron week starting so early, we have to try to get our heads around teams who haven't so much changed their identity as gone completely into the Witness Protection Scheme.
That's the only way you can explain such bizarre personality disorders as Washington, rookie quarterback and all, out-duelling pass masters New Orleans; San Francisco getting the star quarterback performance against Green Bay; Dallas keeping their cool to defeat the Giants; Chicago throwing the ball all over the field; and Cam Newton playing more like Isaac Newton.
Of course, we DID still have Philadelphia and Cleveland doing their best to uphold the Spirit of Green with a display of staggering ineptitude and New England proving they are still as formidable as ever, but, by and large, Week One was notable for sitting down to watch Star Wars and getting Indiana Jones instead. It was still a blockbuster show but the characters and settings were completely different from what we expected.
Hence we have an immediate chance to see if it was just an opening day aberration or if this is the new normal, starting at Lambeau Field, that fortress of icy invincibility that was breached with alarming ease by the forces of Jim Harbaugh last weekend.
Now, with the new-look Bears and their twin wideout towers of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery coming to town, we will see for sure if the Packers can be consistently out-gunned on home turf or if Chicago's 41-point outburst against Indianapolis was a one-off.
Green Bay certainly have plenty to prove after being chewed up for so long by the defensive threshing machine that the 49ers currently represent. It's likely that few teams will put up many points against the bookies' new favourites to reach New Orleans next February. But Aaron Rodgers' eternal air of MVP-in-waiting will take an even bigger hit if he also fails to out-perform Jay Cutler
The Bears QB has some formidable new weapons to show off in the lanky shape of Marshall and Jeffery but he needs to demonstrate a consistent ability to put the ball in their hands from long distance - and not in the hands of marauding defensive backs. Otherwise, that old cry of Dennis Green's WILL be heard again.
Then there is the big Sunday programme, kicking off with the Saints at Carolina (live on Sky Sports 3 HD from 5.30pm). If ever two teams needed to shake off the bad taste of their opening outings quickly, it is this duo.
While Drew Brees did at least make the final scoreline close at home to the Redskins, the instant cold shower of defeat was as stark as the realisation that it was their first home defeat since a Week 17 upset in the 2010 season by the Buccaneers.
If New Orleans are to harbour any hopes of appearing at their city's own Super Bowl celebration in anything more than party hats, they simply have to be better in all phases of the game against the Panthers.
But, while the Saints try to figure out who they really are, the home team will be trying to stave off an identity crisis of their own.
When it came to quarterback Cam Newton, Fantasy Football watchers in particular were perplexed, to put it mildly - one opponent of mine who had Newton in his line-up in the confident belief he'd run all over my team, led by Cutler, could be heard to utter "He ran for HOW many yards?" over and over again in stunned disbelief.
So, Cam, you had better not chalk up another four-yard display anytime soon if you want the Hockley Steelers to remain fans of yours. Just for the record, Newton ran for 706 yards at a 5.6 yards-per-carry average last year and added 14 rushing touchdowns for good measure. A bigger personality disorder in Week One was hard to find.
But then there is Washington at St Louis (9.15pm on SS3) and the chance to see if Robert Griffin III really is this year's version of Newton after his Player of the Week performance against the Saints.
While no-one has any realistic notion that the Rams will become a major force any time soon - they were handed three interceptions by Detroit but still managed to lose on opening day, in impressive overtones of Green's Cardinals - they do boast a defence masterminded by Jeff Fisher and, as many a befuddled passer has found in the past, that can be a tough test to pass.
St Louis had given the impression they could be a much tougher proposition all round since the ex-Tennessee boss took over, and they certainly made the high-powered Lions work much harder than expected. But, ultimately, the Rams offence still looks light years away from being competitive.
When the dust settles on Week Two, we may be able to make some serious judgments on who we can pencil in for a play-off spot - and who will be this year's Dennis Green.