Week 2 may technically already be upon us thanks to the modern marvel that is Thursday Night Football, but there’s still so much to unpack from the first week of the 2020 regular season, including:
- Can we count out Touchdown Tom? (no)
- Last ride for the OG’s of the 2011 class
- New MVP candidate out West?
- The Jets’ terrible, no-good, very bad Week 1
Overreaction Time? What We Think We Learned Week 1
Football embraces small sample sizes like almost no other sport. Every year, the first week of the NFL regular season is fodder for victory laps and panic as the first real data point for all of our predictions for the season. This year that’s especially true given the lack of preseason, OTAs and even restricted training camp access. So how much of what we’ve seen so far is real? Let’s weigh in.
Bucs the latest disappointing offseason hype darling
Verdict: Pump the brakes
Every year, NFL pundits settle on a team that wins the offseason with their trades, free agent signings and draft. And often the hype of what’s been built on paper doesn’t stand up when the lights turn on and the games are played. Last year’s Cleveland Browns are a textbook example of this phenomenon.
This year, the Buccaneers were pretty unanimously the NFL’s offseason winners after adding Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to an already stacked offense. So Tampa Bay’s Week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Saints had some folks ready to hit the panic button and punt the Bucs into the “we’ve seen this before” bucket.
Here’s the deal, though. Tampa Bay didn’t look bad. They looked like a team with a lot of new faces, some injuries and one that missed several weeks’ worth of camp and preseason to work out the kinks, especially on special teams. They should bounce back in a big way this week against Carolina, which did all kinds of bending and breaking on defense against the Raiders. While it wouldn’t be shocking to see September be an ugly month overall for the Bucs, especially with WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin banged up, there’s still too much talent on offense and defense for this team not to be a force as the year goes on.
Kyler “MVP” Murray?
Had Tampa Bay’s offseason not included adding the GOAT, Arizona would have been an even trendier pick this offseason. The last two MVPs have been won by exciting, young, legitimate dual-threat quarterbacks entering their second seasons, and former No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray fit that bill this year. The Cardinals also traded for WR DeAndre Hopkins to give Murray a bona fide No. 1 and dedicated a number of resources to improving the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense in 2019.
The debut could not have gone much more smoothly. On the road against the defending NFC champion 49ers, the Cardinals went toe-to-toe and pulled out the win. Hopkins and Murray were sensational, connecting 14 times for 151 yards. Murray completed 26-40 passes for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but also had over 100 yards rushing until two kneel-downs at the end of the game. He looked an awful lot like Russell Wilson with both his arm talent and his speed. If the Cardinals have a big year, Murray will be right in the mix for top honors at the end of it.
Cam is back
Verdict: Looks like it!
Vintage Cam Newton returned to an NFL playing field on Sunday, and while it was weird seeing him in a Patriots jersey instead of Panthers colors, his unmistakable style was on display. Newton had 15 carries, the second-most of his career, and scored two touchdowns, while also completing 15-19 pass attempts for 155 yards. While that’s not a big number, New England as a whole rushed for over 200 yards, so it’s clear what the identity of this team will be.
Staying healthy is obviously the big question with Newton, but he didn’t show any visible wear and tear from his foot and shoulder injuries the past few seasons. He looked mobile and his arm looked fine. Questions about his receiving corps are still fair, WR N’Keal Harry cost him a passing touchdown with a fumble out of the end zone, but Newton didn’t have many big errors despite still learning the scheme.
The Jets stink
Verdict: wrinkles nose
In this space a couple weeks ago, I outlined why I thought the Jets were poised to contend for the NFL’s worst record this year. There was the lack of receiving threats, a brand-new starting offensive line and a defense trying to replace its top two playmakers. What hurt the Jets more than all of that, though, was the play of QB Sam Darnold.
In Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Bills — that was nowhere near as close as that score suggests — Darnold didn’t get much help but also didn’t do himself any favors. He made a number of head-scratching decisions, chiefly an interception he threw across his body into triple coverage. The big selling point HC Adam Gase sold the Jets on was his reputation as a quarterback developer. But a year and one game into his tenure, it’s questionable if Darnold has developed much if at all. Neither Gase nor Darnold will keep their jobs if that continues.
Blow up the Browns
Verdict: Not yet
After an ugly Week 1 blowout at the hands of the Ravens, the buzzards were already circling in Cleveland — especially around QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham. Mayfield struggled and only connected with Beckham on three of 10 targets for 22 yards. The Browns weren’t shopping Beckham but teams smelled blood and were reaching out to them.
However, Thursday night’s game will do a lot to quiet those fears. Mayfield was an efficient 16-23 with two touchdowns, including a deep connection with Beckham, who finished with four grabs for 74 yards. He’ll want one throw back that was intercepted late in the game but it was a much better performance for Mayfield. The Browns offense ran more through the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns while Hunt added 101 total yards and two touchdowns of his own. That’s a much better identity for this team.
The Jaguars are…good?
Verdict: Well they don’t suck
Jacksonville was the betting favorite entering the season to be the NFL’s worst team. Instead, they spoiled a ton of survival entries by outlasting the Colts in a 27-20 win. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew in particular was outstanding, completing 19-20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Undrafted RB James Robinson looked tough and dynamic as opposed to the plodding Leonard Fournette, more than justifying Jacksonville’s decision to cut Fournette and hand Robinson the starting job. And the Jaguars receiving corps showed off its depth with DJ Chark, Keelan Cole and second-round rookie Laviska Shenault all snaring touchdowns.
Combined with a defense that looked scrappy against the run and might have a legitimate ball-hawking corner in C.J. Henderson, and this Jaguars team doesn’t look like the dismal outfit many projected it to be. The playoffs might be asking a lot, though with seven teams this year who knows, but right now the Jaguars don’t look like a team on the verge of bottoming out and starting over.
Philip Rivers Is Cooked
Verdict: The expiration date is smudged and something smells funky, but bake it in some bread and it’s just fine
The Colts were pegged as a bounceback candidate and potential AFC contender after signing Philip Rivers at quarterback this offseason. The thinking was Rivers possessed the passing proficiency the team missed after the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck, while the 20 interceptions he tossed last year were mainly due to being put in bad situations by the Chargers.
Well, not a lot looks different for Rivers in 2020. He distributed the ball well and threw for 363 yards against the Jaguars, but he had two bad interceptions while pressing on third down, plus a third on a fourth down that was overturned by a penalty. On his potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, Rivers missed three straight throws to end the game— one dropped by WR T.Y. Hilton, one overthrown and the final one released late and broken up on an out route to Hilton on fourth down.
The Colts claimed this offseason their plan was to lean on the offensive line, run game and the weapons around Rivers to allow him to be a game manager instead of pressing and putting too much on his shoulders. If they can get back to that instead of going pass-happy with 46 attempts, they can still benefit from an effective Rivers. But if the Jaguars can take the Colts out of their gameplan, so will a lot of other teams.
Rodgers accessed god-mode
Verdict: I’m buying it
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had as good of a game as he’s played in a while Sunday, eviscerating a youthful Vikings secondary for 363 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His connection with Davante Adams bordered on telepathy, and while he’ll face stiffer challenges, he looked as locked in as ever after a lot of sloppy moments in 2019. Quarterbacks in Shanahan-style offenses like the one Packers HC Matt LaFleur runs have talked about how they feel exponentially more comfortable the second year in the system and that appears to be true for Rodgers. It also helps that LaFleur called maybe his best game ever, stretching Minnesota horizontally before lobbing it over the top.
Verdict: You bet
After a hot start, the Eagles’ injuries caught up to them as Washington turned a 17-0 deficit into a 27-17 win. Down three starters on the offensive line, the Eagles surrendered eight sacks and Carson Wentz tossed a pair of ugly interceptions. Right tackle Lane Johnson and RB Miles Sanders are coming back, so Philadelphia won’t be as short-handed. But the schedule up ahead is absolutely brutal. The Eagles will take on the Rams, Bengals, 49ers, Steelers and Ravens the next five weeks before a short-week game against the Giants. It’s entirely possible the Eagles are 2-5 or 1-6 heading into a Sunday night game against the Cowboys before their bye in Week 9.
Chiefs/Ravens still the class of the league
Verdict: Don’t book your Super Bowl tickets…but start looking at flights
In a week where a lot of things didn’t go as expected, the Chiefs and Ravens both won handily against teams that weren’t expected to be pushovers. You got the sense watching Kansas City on opening night that it left a few bullets in the chamber, while Baltimore didn’t work up much of a sweat pounding the Browns. Their matchup in Week 3 is absolutely looking like a preview of the AFC Championship and arguably pits the two best teams in the NFL right now against each other.
This Week In Football
- It’s not an NFL season without a disgruntled wide receiver sparking trade rumors, and this year that mantle belongs to Bears WR Allen Robinson. Whether or not Robinson is actually available for trade is questionable, but without any other compelling candidates, this is what we’ll settle for.
- In-season extensions do happen, but generally, Week 1 is seen as a deadline for most negotiations to allow players to focus on the regular season without the distraction of contract negotiations. So on the eve of the season last week, deals got done between the Vikings and Dalvin Cook, the Rams and Cooper Kupp and the Saints and Alvin Kamara, plus Demario Davis.
- Despite the different totals, the deals for Cook, Kamara, Joe Mixon of the Bengals and Derrick Henry of the Titans all look pretty similar. Strip down some funny money and looking at just the yearly average, all these running backs are getting paid between $12 and $13 million a year.
- Now that Kupp is in the fold, the next item on the docket for the Rams is WR Robert Woods. He’s under contract for two more years at $5.5 and $7.5 million and is due for a raise.
- Week 1 wasn’t complete carnage from an injury perspective, but there were some significant hits. Colts RB Marlon Mack tore his Achilles which is awful timing given he’s in a contract year. Steelers OT Zach Banner and Packers G Lane Taylor each tore ACL’s after winning starting jobs for their respective teams. The Cowboys lost both TE Blake Jarwin to a torn ACL and LB Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone, though the latter should return later this year.
- Saints WR Michael Thomas was the most notable player to go down, picking up a high ankle sprain. It’s usually a several-week injury but Thomas will be chomping at the bit to play.
- Jets RB Le’Veon Bell also has a hamstring injury. The Jets have already placed him on injured reserve, which will keep him out for three weeks. For a Jets offense already starved for playmakers, it’s a big loss even if they’ve never figured out how to maximize Bell’s skillset.
- If you have to come out publicly and give a surprise press conference after a horrendous Week 1 loss to say you still have confidence in your head coach, that probably means you’re losing your confidence in your head coach. Make no mistake, Gase is on the hot seat in New York. There are maybe two or three games the next nine weeks before New York’s bye in Week 11 that you can realistically see the Jets having a shot in.
The Big Picture: 2011 Draft Class
This coming draft will mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2011 draft class — one of the best classes of the past decade. The top ten reads like a roll-call of the All-Pro awards in the 2010s. A lot of these players have carved out long, productive careers and been defining players for their franchises in many ways. But this year has been a great example of how nothing lasts forever and players end up in uniforms you’d never expect outside of Madden; like Brady with the Buccaneers.
For the class of 2011, this season might be the last time many of them suit up for the teams you know them best for. Some, like the No. 1 pick in 2011, Cam Newton, have already been displaced. A look through the rest of the top ten in 2011 reveals several more players who could be coming to the end of their time with their original teams.
Rededicated and reinspired, Miller seemed poised for a monster 2020 season before dislocating tendons in his ankle and jeopardizing his entire year. There were some quiet rumblings about Miller being potentially on the trading block this offseason after a relatively quiet first season under Vic Fangio and those will only intensify. Miller will be 32 next year, in the final year of his deal and carry a $22.125 million cap hit, $18 million of which can be saved by cutting or trading Miller. Depending on what happens this year with the rest of Denver’s edge rushers, Miller could be rushing the passer elsewhere in 2021.
Cut by the Jaguars after being traded by the Bills, Dareus’ next team will be his third. The Seahawks expressed some interest but it’s unclear if the veteran intends to play.
Like Miller, Peterson is entering the final year of his deal after a tumultuous 2019, which in Peterson’s case was due to a six-game suspension. It appears Arizona intends to let Peterson play out at least part of the season. The 30-year-old is still an effective corner but the end often comes fast at that position. Reloading with youth might be the priority for the Cardinals next offseason.
Few receivers have been as snakebitten as Green the past few years. He hasn’t played in a season and a half due to multiple injuries ranging from his toe to his ankle to his hamstring. He’s playing out the season on the franchise tag because Cincinnati just hasn’t seen him healthy enough to commit anything. Green can do a lot to assuage those concerns this year. If he can’t, the Bengals have no shortage of other receiving options to turn to.
Jones signed an extension to finally push the receiver market over $20 million a year last summer. He’s still going strong but when the cliff hits receivers, it hits hard. He almost certainly has fewer seasons in front of him than he does behind him.
The book was seemingly written on Smith’s career as a player with ludicrous talent — 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons — but haunted by substance abuse issues that caused him to wash out in 2015. But Smith has worked his way back for another NFL shot with the Cowboys and has been turning heads in training camp. He might have an inspiring second act in him.
Locker retired in 2014 after sustaining too many injuries and losing his passion for football.
A top-ten pick at just 20 years old, Smith will lock down the Cowboy’s blindside for another year as he goes on a decade of excellence. The Jets asked for Smith in negotiations for Jamal Adams last year but Dallas didn’t bite. Smith remains under contract until 2023.
Decent second act as a backup quarterback, including to Brady this year.
A three-time defensive player of the year, injuries have held Watt back in three of the past four seasons, including a pectoral injury that wiped out half of his 2019. When he’s healthy and in the lineup, his impact rivals that of any other defensive player in the game right now. But a $17.5 million cap hit in 2021, the final year of his deal, is a lot for a Texans team that will be looking to create space after doling out massive extensions to a number of players. An extension might make sense to lower that figure. But if HC Bill O’Brien can trade Hopkins, he can trade anyone.
Other notable players from the 2011 class potentially leaving their teams in 2021: Washington DE Ryan Kerrigan, Colts LT Anthony Castonzo, Ravens CB Jimmy Smith, Ravens RB Mark Ingram, Seahawks LB K.J. Wright and Eagles C Jason Kelce.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick hits and takeaways from Week 1…
We went from Belichick comfortable starting Jarrett Stidham to inactive Week 1. https://t.co/vDZW3hSTOY
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 13, 2020
Let’s try and remember this for the next offseason narrative we get carried away with…
McDaniels on Cam: "People talk about his athletic ability, but I could sit here and talk a lot about how intelligent he is, what he saw on the field during the course of each series, his communication from 1 series to the next, his accuracy, poise. He's a pretty complete player."
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 15, 2020
This year in New England is really going to do a lot for Cam Newton’s national perception…
Add Kelechi Osemele and Robby Anderson to the list of players who thrived after getting away from Adam Gase. Anderson had six catches for 114 yards and a huge 75-yard touchdown, plus a two-point conversion, in his Carolina debut. Meanwhile, Osemele got as much love on Thursday for his work in the run game as I can remember a guard ever getting from the broadcast crew. New York basically ran him out of town over a medical disagreement involving his shoulder.
NFL holding penalties
Week 1, 2019: 82
Week 1, 2020: 18
Pendulum has swung wildly, and it’s probably why you thought games this weekend looked better than you anticipated. As officials basically ignored holding, second-fewest total penalties in 20 years https://t.co/zyd1pqavZQ
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 15, 2020
The games looked pretty good this week, but that’s probably because the NFL basically told the refs to swallow their whistles. Though I can’t say I mind too much…
I should have listened to my own advice about Nyheim Hines. The Colts satellite back caught eight passes for 45 yards and a touchdown but he was also pretty involved in the run game even before Mack’s injury. He finished with seven carries for 28 yards and another touchdown.
Kliff Kingsbury, on the one thing he looks for in QBs to believe they have a chance to be really good: pic.twitter.com/rNJe75rcqE
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) September 16, 2020
Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury distills what the new prototype for the quarterback position looks like. Guys who can’t make plays outside of structure will be seen as limited quarterbacks. Perhaps that’s why the Raiders and Vikings have made an effort to get Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins to use their legs more…
Falcons K Younghoe Koo is a legitimate weapon on onside kicks. He converted another in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks after converting three in a game last year against the Saints, albeit having one wiped away due to a penalty. With the NFL rule changes neutering onside kicks for the most part, Koo gives the Falcons a real edge on special teams…