Home, sour home: road teams have a ball in Week 1
Home, sour home.
Winning on the road is supposed to be difficult in the NFL, particularly early and late in the schedule, when weather can be a factor. Last season, hosts went 147-107-2, a .578 winning percentage. That actually was the second-lowest success rate at home since 2006.
On this opening weekend, though, it pretty much paid to be the travelers.
Heading into Monday night, eight visiting teams are 1-0, including some major surprises. Kansas City won at New England, where hardly anybody prospers. Philadelphia took Washington, which had won four of its last five home meetings with the Eagles. Baltimore blanked Cincinnati, which had won five in a row when hosting the Ravens. And while defending NFC champion Atlanta should have gone into Soldier Field and marched out with a victory, the Falcons had lost six straight there, the last win coming in 1983.
The Jaguars, with their thoughts on their Jacksonville home and the potential damage from Hurricane Irma, romped in Houston, where they had fallen six of the last seven trips.
"Yes, I was thinking to myself before the game that a lot of them are probably going to lose power right after the game is over," said newcomer Calais Campbell, who had four sacks in an overpowering defensive performance. "So I wanted to try as a unit to try to motivate some guys so that they can have something to be proud of while they're going through whatever we're going through. I don't know how hard it's going to hit or where it's going to hit as far as the hurricane goes, but I know that it's going to hit all of Florida, and it feels good to be able to show Duval (County) that they got something to be proud of this year."
So why did a majority of road trips pay off Week 1 as the Saints head to Minnesota and the Chargers to Denver on Monday night?
MATCHUPS: Of the victorious visitors, the Falcons, Raiders, Steelers and Chiefs were playoff teams last season. The Panthers were in the Super Bowl the previous season. Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Carolina were playing weaklings Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.
Philly and Washington was basically a toss-up game. So was Baltimore-Cincinnati.
The Bears, Browns and 49ers are rebuilding and struggle mightily at home. They went a combined 5-19 as the host in 2016.
The Bengals let perhaps their two best offensive linemen leave in free agency, and then the Ravens with their solid D and strong pass rush came calling to open the season.
QUARTERBACKS: Once again, some mismatches in the key offensive position. Think about it: 2016 league MVP Matt Ryan against career backup Mike Glennon. Ben Roethlisberger and his two Super Bowl rings vs. rookie DeShone Kizer. Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP and, presumably, healed from rotator cuff issues, against journeyman Brian Hoyer.
And in the other games where the quarterbacking was relatively even — Philly's Carson Wentz against Washington's Kirk Cousins; Baltimore's Joe Flacco vs. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton; Oakland's Derek Carr taking on Tennessee's Marcus Mariota — the better defense played a major role in the wins. That was particularly true for the Ravens and Eagles.
CONDITIONS: Teams once hated road trips to the South in September and the North in December. Some of those disadvantages for visitors have disappeared with the rising popularity of indoor palaces.
Plus, with the postponement of the Bucs-Dolphins contest — not that Tampa Bay would have been put off by the heat — none of the Florida teams hosted this weekend.
Travel can be an issue in subsequent weeks when clubs are coming off games. On opening weekend, that's not a factor (barring the unforeseen) because everyone is well rested after the break from preseason to real football.
So Oakland journeying to Tennessee, Carolina to San Francisco, even KC to New England is no big challenge in this department.
THE UNPREDICTABLE: No team can exactly be sure what it has entering a new season. The status quo really doesn't exist for NFL rosters, which especially was telling in the Patriots' loss to the Chiefs.
A rookie on whom opponents have little film to study can boost a team immeasurably, as running back Kareem Hunt did for Kansas City. A veteran newcomer such as Marshawn Lynch for Oakland, Alshon Jeffery for Philadelphia and, most emphatically Sunday, Campbell in Jacksonville can provide the impetus for a win, no matter where.
No matter what happens Monday night, road warriors will hold the edge after Week 1. More good news, perhaps, for the Eagles: They are the only winning team thus far that once again will be away from home next week.
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