NFL Week 1 Winners and Losers … Guess which category the AFC North belongs to?

Frank Schwab
September 9, 2013

The AFC North has always been a proud division. There's usually two or three really strong teams, and the Browns.

Well, that era might be changing. Except with the Browns, they looked the same as always.

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The AFC North as a whole went 0-4. The two traditional powers, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, had a terrible week. Cincinnati let one slip away at Chicago. The Browns had a maddening loss against the Dolphins.

The Steelers might be in the most trouble. They suffered what could be the most important injury in Week 1, as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a reported ACL injury. Without Pouncey, Pittsburgh's offense fell apart. They couldn't run the ball or protect Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times. Tennessee upset the Steelers 16-9. Pittsburgh's defense is still very good, but there were some bad opening-week signs for the Steelers.

The Ravens' issues have been well documented since Thursday night's loss. They couldn't defend against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and didn't have a lot of great options in the passing game. Then they watched as Anquan Boldin, who they gave to the 49ers for the low, low price of a sixth-round pick this offseason, go off for more than 200 yards against the Packers.

In Cleveland, Brandon Weeden reverted back to his rookie ways, throwing three first-half interceptions as the Browns lost at home to the Dolphins. The Bengals might have been the shining light of the division for losing by only three points at Chicago.

So the entire AFC North leads off this week's losers. Here are the other winners and losers from Week 1:

WINNERS

Russell Wilson: It seems fitting that everyone will be talking about division rival Colin Kaepernick after Wilson also had a great Week 1, because that's what happened all offseason. Kaepernick deserves all his praise after 412 passing yards, but Wilson had a heck of a game as well. With Carolina's strong front seven bottling up Seattle's run game, Wilson completed 25-of-33 passes for 320 yards. In the fourth quarter when the Seahawks needed him most, he hit second-year receiver Jermaine Kearse on a tremendous throw-and-catch to give Seattle a 12-7 lead that ended up being the difference in the win.

Tight ends: We're obviously going through a quarterback revolution in the NFL. And a lot of those great quarterbacks like their tight ends. St. Louis' Jared Cook, Cleveland's Jordan Cameron, San Francisco's Vernon Davis and (on Thursday night) Denver's Julius Thomas all had huge games. Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, the Jets' Kellen Winslow, Indianapolis' Dwayne Allen and Chicago's Martellus Bennett were among the other tight ends who scored a touchdown. Thanks to an influx of huge, athletic tight ends who can line up all over the field, the position has never been better.

Larry Fitzgerald: The first time Carson Palmer threw a pass to Fitzgerald that was actually accurate enough to catch, Fitzgerald must have shed tears of joy. After years of being invisible in Arizona because of horrible quarterback play, Fitzgerald is back. He had eight catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals' 27-24 loss, and must have felt good to know his NFL career is still alive.

Reggie Bush and the Detroit Lions: The Lions wanted Bush in free agency and made it their top priority to get him. They look smart after Sunday, when Bush finally gave the team a non-Calvin Johnson weapon. Bush had 90 yards rushing and 101 receiving as the Lions beat Minnesota 34-24. The defense also deserves credit. Reigning MVP Adrian Peterson had a 78-yard touchdown on his first touch, then 15 yards on his last 17 carries.

LOSERS

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert was 16-of-35 for 121 yards and two interceptions. He can't play. And this point can't be made enough: This is the same franchise that saw Gabbert every day and still drafted a punter over Russell Wilson in the 2011 draft. The Jaguars deserve the empty stadium they got at the end of Sunday's 28-2 loss. But, I guess the Jaguars get a lot out of that pick because they use their punter a ton. Bryan Anger had 11 punts on Sunday. Yes, 11. It's going to be a long season in Jacksonville.

The Browns' play-calling: Remember all that offseason chatter about how running back Trent Richardson would get the ball as much as he could handle? Yeah, that was cute. Richardson, Cleveland's best skill position player by miles, had 13 carries against Miami in a game Cleveland trailed 13-10 going into the fourth quarter. Weeden had 53 passing attempts, which is fairly insane in any situation, much less when the Browns are without suspended receiver Josh Gordon. At any point during the game did the Browns realize how truly horrible and inexcusable this offensive plan was?

Carolina Panthers: Last year the Panthers went 7-9 in large part because they couldn't win close games. They went 1-7 in games decided by less than a touchdown last season. That's usually a sign of some bad luck, but it's hard to keep blaming bad luck when you keep making mistakes late in games. Carolina trailed 12-7 with less than six minutes left when DeAngelo Williams ran to Seattle's 8-yard line. But on the play, Seattle safety Earl Thomas forced a fumble and the Seahawks recovered. The Panthers never got the ball back, and had yet another close loss.

Stevan Ridley and David Wilson: Ridley, the New England starting running back, got a bit of a reputation as a fumbler last season. It took Wilson months to become relevant last year after a key fumble in the opener. Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Patriots coach Bill Belichick don't like fumblers. So when Ridley fumbled in the second quarter against Buffalo and it was returned for a touchdown, there was no surprise that he was nailed to the bench the rest of the game. That second-quarter carry, his ninth of the game, was Ridley's last of the game. After Wilson's second fumble against Dallas, which was returned for a touchdown, Wilson was benched too. We'll see if they have long-term stays in the doghouse.

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