After Week 1, there are a few stark takeaways from the NFL’s opening weekend. Plus, power rankings and Tom Brady still smoking Father Time.
It’s only Week 1.
This is a popular refrain you’ll hear throughout the week. It’s popular largely because it’s true. One game doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme for most clubs. Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked terrible at the Superdome to open their season, and things turned out alright.
However, here’s a six-pack of meaningful lessons from Week 1 — some hidden by results — that are worth noting…
– The AFC North standings are lying to you
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t better than the Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh deserves credit for beating the Buffalo Bills 23-16 at Highmark Stadium. The Steelers defense was excellent, forcing Bills quarterback Josh Allen to. have a miserable afternoon. However, the offense is exactly the same as it was a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger has little arm strength, the line is getting bullied and the combination means zero ability to push the ball.
Meanwhile, Cleveland lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 33-29 at Arrowhead. Yet the Browns didn’t have receiver Odell Beckham Jr., turned the ball over three times and still almost beat the AFC’s standard. While the records show Pittsburgh off to a great start and the Browns languishing after a tough loss, there’s no reason to think the Steelers hold off a superior Cleveland team.
– The Atlanta Falcons can be left for dead
Just write the obit. The Falcons came into the season with some seeing sleeper potential. Atlanta then proceeded to lose 32-6, at home, to a Philadelphia Eagles team with a first-time head coach at any level, and a quarterback who made his fifth-career start on Sunday.
Everything was bad for Atlanta, with quarterback Matt Ryan averaging 4.7 yards per attempt and the defense allowing 434 yards and 6.5 yards per play.
Yes, it’s one game. But the Falcons’ biggest issues in 2020 were red-zone issues (0-for-2), the defense and a leaky offensive line (three sacks). Check, check, check. Checkmate.
– Dak Prescott is back in Dallas
The Cowboys lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Buccaneers, but there’s reason for optimism in Dallas. While the news of Michael Gallup’s injury and La’el Collins’ suspension are problems, Prescott made every throw against a terrific Tampa Bay defense.
If Prescott can play this well consistently — and past performance suggests he can — the Cowboys are the favorite to win the NFC East, especially with Washington Football Team quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick injuring his hip.
– Nobody can accurately judge Zach Wilson behind the Jets’ line
Don’t waste time trying to figure out New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson in 2021.
Wilson’s stat line was bad on Sunday — 258 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 28.9 QBR — but he had no chance. In their 19-14 win, the Carolina Panthers were swarming him constantly with six sacks and 10 QB hits. Any rookie is helpless facing such pressure.
Furthermore, star left tackle Mekhi Becton was carted off the field with a knee injury. If the second-year stud is lost for a lengthy time, the Jets don’t have any recourse to protect Wilson.
– The Titans’ defense remains a huge issue
No contender changed up personnel more than the Tennessee Titans. The offense might work out beautifully. The defense is a hot mess.
Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson brought in edge rusher Bud Dupree, defensive tackle Denico Autry and cornerbacks Jackrabbit Jenkins and rookie first-round pick Caleb Farley. In Week 1, the Arizona Cardinals scored 38 points with ease, rolling up 416 total yards along with four Kyler Murray touchdowns.
Tennessee couldn’t cover the Cardinals, who don’t have more than one elite playmaker in DeAndre Hopkins. The rest of the unit is adequate but unremarkable. Bad news for the Titans.
– The Urban Meyer Experiment is going to end horribly
Staying in the AFC South, this is the biggest lesson and one which has long been coming.
On Sunday morning, a report dropped of discontent festering in Jacksonville. Hours later, the Jaguars were blown out by the lowly Houston Texans, losing 37-21. Trevor Lawrence threw three interceptions and had a 14.3 QBR, with Meyer not calling a running play until the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Texans ran for 160 yards, threw for 289 and wrapped up the game by halftime.
If the Jaguars can’t beat the Texans, or even be competitive against them, forget it. As for Meyer’s future, look around. USC and Texas are all great college jobs, and at least one is likely available come December. You’d have to think Meyer would be intrigued to get out of a brutal situation.
Top 10 Week 1 performances
1. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals — 5 sacks, two forced fumbles
2. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys — 403 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
3. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs — 11 catches, 197 receiving yards, TD
4. Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers — 9 catches, 189 yards, TD
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks — 254 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs
6. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys — 13 catches, 139 receiving yards, 2 TDs
7. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles — 264 passing yards, 62 rushing yards, 3 TDs
8. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 379 passing yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs
9. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals — 289 passing yards, 4 TDs, INT
10. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals — 150 total yards, 4.4 YPC, TD
“I’ll let him use those words and I’ll use, it’s just one game. We played bad. I played bad. Offensively we didn’t execute very well. One game. We’ve got 16 to go.”
– Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints
Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks had a saying about bad games: “it’s in the can.”
The Packers should seal the can, set it on fire, pick up the remains and burn them again.
Green Bay was humiliated with the worst loss of the Rodgers’ era, losing by 35 points to the Saints in a neutral-site game at Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. Of course, the Packers aren’t a bad team. They get an extra day to stew next week before hosting the Detroit Lions on Monday night in their home opener.
All is far from lost for the Packers, but no team took more of a beating to start the season.
The only 0-2 teams to ever win the Super Bowl are the 1993 Dallas Cowboys and 2007 New York Giants.
Info learned this week
1. Saints showed why they can still be really dangerous
At a neutral site, against a top contender, the Saints plowed the Packers.
They didn’t do it with Jameis Winston throwing for 400 yards, or Michael Thomas (who is injured) going for 150 yards and two scores, or even a virtuoso day from star running back Alvin Kamara.
Instead, the Saints won with Winston being conservative but turnover-free, leading to five touchdown passes and only 148 yards on 20 attempts. The defense, without suspended defensive tackle David Onyemata, harassed Rodgers and blanketed receivers, something which will admittedly be tougher as corner Marshon Lattimore needs thumb surgery.
Still, New Orleans, which will get Thomas, Lattimore, Onyemata and suspended corner Bradley Roby back, showed the blueprint. Winston doesn’t lose the game, the strong supporting cast wins it.
The main takeaway from the Saints’ 38-3 win will be about Green Bay’s turmoil, but it shouldn’t distract from how well New Orleans played and coached. Maybe the score isn’t, but the formula is readily repeatable.
2. Vikings continue to be perplexing despite tons of talent
With due respect to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Minnesota Vikings can’t lose that game.
After taking a 7-0 lead, Minnesota fell behind 21-7 before rallying to force overtime. In the extra session, the Vikings did nothing, finally losing in the final seconds on a Evan McPherson 33-yard field goal.
How many teams have better weapons than receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and running back Dalvin Cook? How many defenses have All-Pro caliber players on every level in edge rusher Danielle Hunter, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and safety Harrison Smith? Yet Minnesota missed the playoffs last year and follows it up with an ugly loss to the Bengals.
Mike Zimmer is a respected head coach and for good reason. Yet if Minnesota struggles through another campaign, it might be time to clean house, Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins included.
3. Chiefs show why they’re so dangerous in comeback win
The Cleveland Browns played a perfect half. They played a very good overall game. They still lost.
At Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs earned a 33-29 victory over Cleveland. With the Chiefs missing All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark, the Browns didn’t punt until 5:30 remained in regulation. The Browns also turned a pair of three-point opportunities into touchdowns by converting on fourth downs in the red zone.
Ultimately, though, Kansas City’s victory was largely due to the Browns’ mistakes, with three turnovers spelling doom. It’s also because the Chiefs have three generational offensive talents in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
Case in point: Cleveland scored a touchdown to lead 29-20 with 10:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. After a touchback, Mahomes scrambled right and threw across his body deep downfield to Hill, who was facing safety John Johnson III in man coverage. Hill adjusted, made the catch and raced for a 75-yard touchdown.
On the next drive, following a Cleveland turnover inside its own 20-yard line, Mahomes found Kelce for his second touchdown of the day to put Kansas City ahead for good.
To beat a healthy Chiefs squad, even really good teams need to be perfect. The Browns were excellent for much of the contest, but a few bad plays spoiled the effort.
4. Mac Jones was as advertised against Dolphins in defeat
The New England Patriots should be happy with their long-term future, even if the immediate resulted in a divisional home loss.
Mac Jones played well against an excellent Miami secondary, hitting on 29-of-39 for 281 yards and a touchdown without a turnover. Jones distributed the football to New England’s weapons, finding eight different receivers including at least five targets for tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, receiver Jakobi Meyers and running back James White.
Moreover, Jones functioned within the offense being accurate while the run game provided balance, with Damien Harris rushing for 100 yards.
Ultimately, Jones’ debut goes as a loss, but it provides ample hope for the Patriots.
5. Ravens, after brutal week, meet Raiders in almost must-win game
No team is facing a more important Week 1 game than the Baltimore Ravens.
Lamar Jackson and Co. open up at Allegiant Stadium against the Las Vegas Raiders, who are hoping to complete a sweep for the AFC West. Baltimore has been besieged by injuries this preseason including torn ACLs for running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, corner Marcus Peters and linebacker L.J. Fort.
Against Las Vegas, the Ravens are still the more talented team. They also have a rough Week 2 ahead, getting short rest and drawing the Chiefs, whom they are 0-3 against since Mahomes took over. If Baltimore gets upset in Vegas, it could be significantly behind in the tough AFC North.
The Chicago Bears are desperate to avoid 0-2 and get the Bengals coming to town. The early line has Chicago favored by four points at home per WynnBet, and although the Bears are the good moneyline bet, take the Bengals to stay within a field goal. Chicago’s defense isn’t what it was, and Cincinnati can throw the ball. Backdoor cover.
Few teams were more impressive Week 1 than the Eagles. We’re going to find out more this week.
Philadelphia opens its home slate against the 49ers in the early window, always a tough spot for a west coast team. The Eagles aren’t anywhere near as talented as Philadelphia and head coach Nick Sirianni is going against one of the league’s best schemers in Kyle Shanahan.
In short, the Eagles are facing a massive test.
If Philadelphia keeps the game or wins outright, the Eagles might be far better than originally thought. Something to consider when grousing over the Week 2 slate.
Inside the league
Around the NFL, there was a prevailed belief this summer about the Lions: they’d be bad, but they’d fight under head coach Dan Campbell.
We saw that in full force on Sunday afternoon.
The 49ers completely outclass the Lions on both sides of the ball. Detroit was trailing 41-17 in the fourth quarter and scored 16 points before recovering a late fumble and actually driving to the San Francisco 25-yard-line before a turnover on downs.
Does that provide Detroit fans with any solace? Probably not, but it should. In past years, the Lions likely would have been blown out with Ford Field silent and empty midway through the third quarter.
Next week, the Lions travel to take on a furious Packers team, in primetime, at Lambeau Field. It’s probably going to get ugly. But if Detroit keeps showing this sort of fight, it’ll win some games and plenty of respect around the league in the early phase of its rebuild.
In 1969, Joe Kapp was atop the football world. One year later, he was finished.
Kapp, spent eight years quarterbacking in the Canadian Football League before joining the Minnesota Vikings in 1967. In ’69, Minnesota went 12-2 and breezed to the Super Bowl as heavy favorites while Kapp finished second in the MVP vote to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel.
However, Kapp and the Vikings lost Super Bowl IV to the Chiefs. Due to a contract dispute, the man who didn’t use the laces to throw was a free agent and signed with the Boston Patriots. Ultimately, commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in — the NFL didn’t have standard free agency until 1993 — and made Boston send two over two first-round picks.
With the Patriots, Kapp played 11 games in 1970, throwing three touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Like that, his career was finished.
The Dolphins have a chance to make a big move in the AFC East.
After beating the Patriots in Foxboro this weekend, Miami now welcomes in the Bills this weekend. Following an offseason of questions surrounding Tua Tagovailoa and a potential pursuit of Deshaun Watson, much of the conjecture can be washed away quickly.
With a victory over Buffalo, the Dolphins would be 2-0 with the Bills two games back. Also, the Patriots and Jets clash at the Meadowlands, which means another 0-2 team in the division — probably New York.
It’s early, and leads can be erased in a blink. But the Dolphins have an opportunity to get out in front and get some positive headlines after a summer of negativity.