Key stat: Seattle and New England rank second and third in offensive efficiency after Week 1 by Football-Outsiders' DVOA metric
We’re in for a treat on Sunday Night Football in Week 2. Both Seattle and New England started 2020 with exciting wins that featured new trends that should make their games entertaining all season.
On the Seahawks side, it was simple. Seattle finally Let Russ Cook, passing on a higher percentage of first and second down plays through the first three quarters (neutral situations) than any other team in the league in Week 1. Russell Wilson talked about this all offseason, commenting on his offense’s tempo and how they should expand their two-minute sets to other game situations, and it seems Pete Carroll and the Seattle brass listened to their superstar. Wilson was finally free to assert himself early rather than needing to bail Seattle out late after three quarters of leaning heavily on the ground game.
There seems to be some disbelief as to whether this will actually stick. But Wilson went 31-for-35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns passing, and Seattle’s 13-point margin of victory was wider than all but one of their 11 wins in 2019. While the shift in philosophy may be hard to believe, it’s perhaps harder to imagine the Seahawks going away from such overwhelmingly successful results.
The Patriots do present a stiffer defensive challenge than the Falcons, but recall that both Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung opted out of the 2020 season. There’s still plenty of talent there, most notably elite cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but it’s possible the Patriots will need some time to gel despite looking very strong as a unit against the Dolphins.
At any rate, Wilson has historically found success against New England. Apart from a memorable loss in Super Bowl XLIX, Wilson has faced Bill Belichick’s team twice in the regular season, winning both times with at least 290 passing yards and three touchdowns in each game. Malcolm Butler’s infamous interception at the goal line was the only time Wilson was picked off in those three games. All three were competitive, one-score games where both teams hit at least 23 points.
Then there is New England’s side of this game, and their offensive performance was one of the under-the-radar storylines of Week 1. The Patriots moved the ball well in a run-heavy offense built around new quarterback Cam Newton, who rushed 15 times for 75 yards and two scores. Newton threw just 19 passes, but was efficient and looked good through the air. An uncharacteristic Julian Edelman drop helped stall a successful first drive from reaching field goal range, and a N’Keal Harry fumble through the end zone for a touchback late also left points off the board. In the end, New England scored just 21 points in an easy win. But their offense was well-tailored to their new personnel, as expected, and the way they moved the ball, particularly in the second half, bodes well for higher-scoring totals in the future. I left this game thinking New England’s offense could be one of the best units in the NFL this season.
One minor concern for the over bet here is the slow pace the Patriots operated at. Some of that was to be expected after the shortened offseason and lack of a preseason, plus a new offensive install with a new quarterback. We might see more of that early on Sunday night, but I expect things to pick up in the second half. This should be a much more competitive game than either team played in Week 1, and I expect the Patriots to start opening up the passing side of the playbook and be willing to play with a little more tempo. It’ll be a blast to see two good offenses square off, and while the game could go either way, I feel great about plenty of points on the scoreboard in this one.