Ten observations from a football weekend, starting with the NFL:
▪ What are the Kansas City Chiefs? Are they lucky? Good? Not very good? Probably some of all of that after Sunday’s incredible comeback win over San Diego, in overtime. The Chiefs were terrible in the first half in front of a crowd jacked for the first game of the season, in Arrowhead and on a gorgeous day. You didn’t have to perk up your ears to hear the boos that were raining down on the Chiefs during a miserable first 30 minutes as the Chargers led 21-3. But the Chiefs’ defense kicked in, holding San Diego to just a pair of field goals in the second half. And the offense, directed by Alex Smith, began to flow. I wonder what Smith’s non-believers think now. After a pedestrian first half — and that’s being kind — Smith completed 21 of 28 passes in the second half and overtime for 227 yards. Before Sunday, I doubt many would have considered Smith to be a likely candidate for engineering the Chiefs’ most dramatic comeback in team history. But he did it, including a two-yard option run for the winning touchdown in OT. Give that man a ton of credit.
▪ After the St. Louis Rams bolted for Los Angeles in the spring, I was left without an NFL team. I despised the way Rams owner Stan Kroenke jilted Rams fans, even though — let’s be honest — the team did a pretty good job of jilting Rams fans for years. I went through a tedious process to pick a new team to follow and went with the Oakland Raiders. Many of my friends don’t believe my “Raiders love” is genuine, and I’ve given up trying to convince them. All I can say after Sunday, though, is that I’ve never been more proud to be a Raiders fan. Jack Del Rio’s decision to go for a two-point conversation late, after a touchdown had pulled Oakland to within a point of the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, was thick with machismo. And let’s face it, I need all the machismo I can get. Then Derek Carr hooked up with Michael Crabtree on one of those fade routes that rarely works to give the Raiders a one-point lead. Still, it took a missed 61-yard field goal by Wil Lutz (no relation) to seal the deal. Suffice it to say, I’m pleased with my decision to join Raider Nation.
▪ Speaking of machismo, the New England Patriots showed plenty of it in going to Arizona and beating the Cardinals, who are a legit threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Pats pulled off the 23-21 win, of course, without quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, their two most-potent offensive weapons. Jimmy Garoppolo, stepping in for Brady, completed 24 of 33 pass attempts for 264 yards and one touchdown. New England, with home games against Miami, Houston and Buffalo, could conceivably get through Brady’s four-game suspension without a loss.
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▪ Philadelphia rookie QB Carson Wentz had the perfect opportunity in Week 1, a home game against Cleveland, and he came through. Wentz, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft out of North Dakota State, was 22 for 37 for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 29-10 win. The Browns look to be one of the NFL’s soft touches in 2016 and were the perfect opponent for Wentz, who no doubt gained confidence in himself and from his teammates.
▪ The Houston Texans, Kansas City’s Week 2 opponent in Houston, made significant changes to an offense that produced almost nothing in a playoff loss to the Chiefs in January. Quarterback Brock Ostweiler, running back Lamar Miller and receiver Will Fuller were added and all produced dividends in Sunday’s 23-14 win over the Chicago Bears, who still have Jay Cutler at quarterback. And is anybody sure why that is? Anyway, back to the Texans. Ostweiler, who last season was with Denver, completed 22 of 35 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. Miller, formerly with Miami, rushed for 106 yards on 28 carries while Fuller, a first-round draft selection in 2016 from Notre Dame, caught five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown and teams with DeAndre Hopkins to potentially give the Texans one of the most dangerous receiving duos in the league.
Now some thoughts on college football:
▪ Kansas looked every bit as bad as any Kansas team has looked for the past seven or eight seasons during the first half against Ohio on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. It was terrible, awful, pitiful — you pick the negative adjective. Yes, the Jayhawks were better in the second half. And maybe the bad first half is a symbol of growing pains. I still believe David Beaty is the right coach for this job, if there is a right coach for this job. At times Saturday, I wasn’t sure. The Jayhawks have to avoid the kind of blitzes that was put on them by Ohio on Saturday and the schedule only gets tougher from here, including a road game at Memphis this week.
▪ What do we make of the Big 12? Preseason favorites Oklahoma and TCU have already lost. The Horned Frogs, beaten in two overtimes by Arkansas on Saturday night, have allowed an average of 432 yards per game to South Dakota State and the Razorbacks. Not good. And yes, the officials botched a call on the late Central Michigan touchdown that beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Still, should the Cowboys have been in a position to lose that game? Central Michigan will win a lot of games thanks to quarterback Cooper Rush, who was great Saturday. But the Chippewas shouldn’t go on the road in September and beat Oklahoma State. So, which is the team to beat in the Big 12? OU? TCU? Or is Baylor back in the mix? Maybe this is the year for a Texas breakthrough. West Virginia, perhaps? And could Kansas State potentially do something unexpected in a conference that hasn’t looked particularly strong through the season’s first two weeks? I’ll still go with Oklahoma, but the Sooners need to make Saturday’s game with Ohio State interesting.
▪ Clemson struggled with Troy before winning, 30-24. Georgia had all kinds of problems with Nicholls State before pulling out a 26-24 win. It’s starting to look more and more clear cut for the College Football Playoff. Give me Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Houston. Of course I’m being facetious. There is never anything clear cut about college football, especially this early. But those four teams, along with Michigan, have done a pretty good job of separating from the pack early on.
▪ The SEC hasn’t been as fierce as normal early on. But watch out for Texas A&M, which goes to Auburn this week. With a win, the Aggies will establish themselves as a key threat to Alabama in the SEC West.
▪ Games to watch this week, and they’re all being played Saturday: Florida State (2) at Louisville (10); North Dakota State (1, FCS) at Iowa (13); Oregon (22) at Nebraska; Alabama (1) at Ole Miss (19); Michigan State (12) at Notre Dame (18); Ohio State (3) at Oklahoma (14); Texas (11) at Cal.