By Danny Cox
The first week of the 2016 NFL season has come and gone, and it’s brought a great many surprises and shocking moments. Week 2 is just around the corner, and it’s only going to get more interesting.
Some teams have started out with surprising wins, and others are proving that they don’t need their All-Pro quarterbacks to succeed. Phil Simms, CBS Sports lead analyst who played quarterback for 14 years in the NFL and was Super Bowl XXI MVP, took some time to discuss three huge AFC match-ups coming in Week 2, including the AFC East battle on Thursday Night Football.
New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills – Sept. 15, 8:25 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Many thought the Jets would split carries between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. But in Week 1, Forte had 18 more carries. Do you believe the Jets are hoping Forte can revive his old form to become their featured back?
Phil Simms: Never draw a lot of conclusions from Week 1, but when Matt Forte was in the game, he had the hot hand. The screen game was working, and when he split out as a receiver… he was hot. Being in that position, the Jets simply didn’t take him out.
Overall, if both backs stay healthy, you’re going to see the numbers get closer. I see Forte getting two carries to one for Powell. That’s how I see it panning out.
CBS Local Sports: The Bills offense looked awful against the Ravens on Sunday, with just 160 total yards. What changes need to be made when they face the Jets?
Simms: The Bills are going to face a better defense this week than last, but the good news is that they will be at home. The best thing Buffalo did last year, besides Tyrod Taylor being very careful with the ball, was… the Bills were extremely creative the way they moved people around, different formations, and they always had a group of five plays that teams had not yet seen. They would catch you with it. Using that and getting Taylor to stay more of a pocket passer will have to become common until they find success.
CBS Local Sports: Is Tyrod Taylor the franchise quarterback the Bills have been searching for?
Simms: That’s almost like wondering if a freshman in college will be a superstar in the NFL.
Many things go into that phrase of a ‘franchise quarterback.’ It’s the team, the offensive coordinator, the head coach, the general manager and then the quarterback. Tyrod Taylor has a good arm, great feet… and the Bills need to build around that. They have to let him get out and just go more. I want to see a quarterback who doesn’t focus on not making a mistake, but one who focuses on being great.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – Sept. 18, 1 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Cincinnati did not look like the dominating team they were last season. Do they look like AFC Championship contenders to you?
Simms: They do. Over the years with coaching, this team, the players… there is a little bit of toughness that comes with winning and going to the playoffs for five straight years. Hardened veterans know, and that’s what they have. Cincinnati has fought a lot of battles with the Steelers and New England and in the playoffs, and that toughens you up. You have to be in the league a few years to get to that point. You think you know when you’re young, but as you get older, you realize you weren’t ready.
The Bengals are ready now.
Losing a lot of physical battles against the Jets last week and still winning? Two main things come from that. Andy Dalton has great resiliency and toughness. Also, the coaching. They overcame a lot of adversity on both offense and defense. Everything was thrown at them, and they still got the win.
CBS Local Sports: Ben Roethlisberger is entering his 13th season, and he has had some injury issues the past few years. Do you think he’s still the same quarterback he was during those two Super Bowl wins?
Simms: No, he’s not the same guy he was during those Super Bowl years because he is much better now. He gets overlooked a lot, and he just makes passing look so easy. He throws with such beauty and grace. I’m sorry, but there is no other way to say it.
Ben’s touch on the football is second to none, but he can throw a 98 mph fastball when he needs to. Once stars were put around him, he now has the tools he needs to show everyone that he’s as good as he has always been. He can finally prove it, and others are noticing that now. But I don’t know why it took them so long.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos – Sept. 18, 4:25 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: The Colts defense looked almost nonexistent in Week 1. They couldn’t wrap up on tackles and simply couldn’t cover well. Do you think they will have better luck against an offense led by Trevor Siemian and Chris Anderson?
Simms: I won’t sit here and say ‘yes’ to you about this… Just because Trevor Siemian isn’t a bona-fide, locked-in starter like Matthew Stafford… Well, he’s still pretty good. I wasn’t shocked when he won the starting job at all. Many people were, but I wasn’t, and it’s because he’s very good.
The task in Week 2 will be just as hard for the Indianapolis defense as it was last week against the Lions. This game will be in Denver against a rested team and a quarterback getting his second start. The Broncos are still finding out what their offense really is… There is no more Peyton Manning. This is a true Gary Kubiak offense that will simply get better, and the quarterback will, too.
CBS Local Sports: The Broncos pulled out what can only be considered a major upset in the season opener, but do they have what it takes to actually contend in their division and conference?
Simms: Yes. No hesitation. I have total belief in the Broncos as they have a loaded roster. The offensive line may be better this year than last, and the quarterback will be able to make the plays physically. Also, if I’m not mistaken, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are still on this team, and Wade Phillips is still the defensive coordinator.
All these things I keep reading about how it’s going to be a bad year for the Broncos, and I don’t see how that is going to happen. They pulled out some close victories last year, and that’s what the NFL is all about. They will be in this thing the whole way.
They are an 80 percent Super Bowl threat this year. Last year, I had them as a 90 percent threat, so I’m confident in them enough this season to take off just 10 percent.
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.