Jussel: Handing out first-week grades for NFL, Broncos

Report card time, already.

Week 1 of the National Football League season is complete and we have learned the first few letters of the alphabet.

To wit:

The New England Patriots, with or without Tom Brady at quarterback, are not to be trifled with.

Pittsburgh might also be kept in mind. Big Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown make a heckuva combination, and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell (once he is off suspension) don’t hurt.

RGIII and Keenan Allen can’t stay healthy, with both the Browns’ new quarterback and the Chargers’ star wide receiver out for the season. Sad on both counts.

Jacksonville, which spent a bundle on free agents, is much better but not yet on par with NFC power Green Bay, which did not spend squat on the freebies.

The NFC West — once thought to be THE power — is and will be mediocre at best, pending the success of the Seahawks. Arizona, the Super Bowl favorite according to many, can’t beat the Patriots (Jimmy Garoppolo at QB) at home.

The AFC West, of late the property of the Denver Broncos, is officially up for grabs.

San Diego looked awesome in the early going in Kansas City against the Chiefs. Then Allen went down and the Charger offense stalled. Thus, the Chiefs kicked into gear and looked like world-beaters and rallied to win.

Oakland coach Jack Del Rio made the gutsiest call of the opening weekend when he went for a two-point conversion instead of an overtime-forcing extra point at the end of a Sunday game in New Orleans. Then, going all schizo on us, he called for a pass. That was completed and the Raiders overcame a huge deficit to nip the Saints.

All of that came, of course, after Denver’s one-point win over Carolina last Thursday night in the rematch of Super Bowl 50. The game lived up to its billing in many ways — most of which simply reaffirmed the fact that both of those teams are contenders again.

Speaking of Denver, let’s look at player report cards according to Pro Football Focus, my favorite tool for determining success or failure of individuals.

PFF, lest you have forgotten or, heaven forbid, you didn’t read my diatribes last season, grades each player at each position — up to a plus-2 points for a great play, down to a minus-2 for a huge mistake or simply getting run over. Zero points on a play is average.

A Pro Bowl-caliber player is expected to score 80 or more points in a game. A regular starter at a position should have between 50 and 70 points. Those with lower than 50 points are regarded as in need of being benched.

An example Broncos fans need pay attention to: Indy quarterback Andrew Luck was in on 70 offensive plays Sunday. Multiply 70 times the maximum of 2.0 and you get 140.0. His grade was 95.2, meaning he did something outstanding on more than 47 plays, easily the best grade of any QB on opening week.

Now, a few Bronco performances that need be mentioned in the win over the Panthers: I’m not going to get into the specifics on each Bronco performance — you can do that by subscribing to the website online — but am going to point out a few things that will better help us watch in the future.

First, it should be noted that these new-look Broncos had two players rate No. 1 at their position when all the reviewing, calculating and compiling was completed.

Rookie fullback Andy Janovich ranked best at his position with 87.5 points.

The other Bronco player graded No. 1: center Matt Paradis.

Those two obviously were big parts of 148 rushing yards against a very capable foe. Also playing a big part were right tackle Donald Stephenson and right guard Michael Schofield, both ranked highly with more than 70-point grades. The left side of the line, Russell Okung (43.0) and Max Garcia (52.0) struggled.

We should also note that Trevor Siemian, starting his first game, was 14th among QBs.

Defensively, cornerback Chris Harris was ranked second and linebacker Von Miller sixth. Among the pleasant surprises, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett was ranked 12th, inside linebacker Todd Davis 14th.

Poor grades as a whole went to the interior line (sub Billy Winn had the highest rating at No. 86) and specifically in the secondary to safety T.J. Ward, downgraded for his efforts in stopping the run.

There you have it: the good, bad and ugly of Week 1. Up next for Denver, the Colts and that highly rated quarterback.


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