NFLTR Review: Week 1 Overreactions

Football announced its return in a wild and wacky Week 1. In this issue:

  • What’s real and what’s fake from a week of unexpected results
  • If you’re a Bills fan, it’s not crazy to start looking at flights to Vegas in February
  • Dozens more takeaways from the first week of action

Week 1 Overreactions

There’s nothing quite like Week 1. After months of being starved for football, the NFL always comes back in a spectacular way, upending much of what we think we know about the 32 teams. 

Over the rest of the season, things tend to normalize and some of the things we’ve seen this week will prove to be just randomness. Others won’t be, though. We try to make sense of the madness below: 

Holy cow Bills — or should I say holy buffalo

There has been a ton of love for the Bills in the lead-up to the 2022 season. They have been a popular Super Bowl pick among talking heads and media analysts and most betting books gave them the best odds to host the Lombardi. The hype has been so unanimous that you start to wonder if things could really play out that cleanly. 

But on Thursday night in the season-opening game against the Rams, the Bills looked like they were worth every single ounce of hype. They dismantled the defending champions 31-10, and they did that despite turning the ball over four times. Two of those were fumbles and one of the two interceptions thrown by QB Josh Allen was in the hands of a receiver before being bobbled and taken away. 

Outside of those blunders, the Bills basically did whatever they wanted to on offense. Just five of Allen’s 31 passes were incomplete and he flexed his muscles on one play in particular where he rolled out and bombed a ball 50 yards past CB Jalen Ramsey, who looked caught off guard that Allen could make that throw, for a touchdown.  

But even more impressive than Allen was the performance of the defense. Buffalo put an emphasis on juicing the defensive line this offseason as the final piece to push them over the top in a loaded AFC after knocking on the door unsuccessfully the past two seasons. The addition of DE Von Miller stole most of the headlines, and justifiably so. Miller was spectacular on Thursday night against his former team, notching two sacks and drawing a lot of attention. 

What went under the radar is how Buffalo reset at defensive tackle, bringing in DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and reuniting with Jordan Phillips after he spent an up-and-down two seasons in Arizona. In Phillips’ last year in Buffalo, though, the nimble 6-6, 341-pound lineman had 9.5 sacks, a huge number for a defensive tackle. He picked up where he left off, notching 1.5 sacks and just generally making life miserable for the Rams interior offensive line. 

Buffalo’s edge group outside of Miller also has young and ascending players like Gregory Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Carlos Basham, and I haven’t even mentioned DT Ed Oliver who will have big games of his own in the coming weeks. That allows the Bills to rotate heavily and keep everyone fresh. Jones led the way with 46 snaps out of 66 on Thursday, Miller was in for just 35. 

There’s plenty of talent for the Bills in the back seven too, and DC Leslie Frazier is a superb coach who has his coverage units locked in. But it all starts up front. The Bills have the horsepower to rush with just four players and consistently get pressure. That’s a massive, massive advantage. Combine that with the alien playing quarterback on the other side of the ball, and you’ve got the makings of an incredible team. 

Trouble in Los Angeles?

On the other side of Thursday night’s game were the defending champion Rams who looked worse than they did even at their lowest points in 2021. Then again, when you consider how they lost two Hall of Famers — Miller and LT Andrew Whitworth — plus another high-level talent in WR Odell Beckham, it only makes sense they’d take a step back. 

The Rams dearly missed all three in the loss. Their pass rush still had Aaron Donald, but they weren’t the same dominant unit that closed out last season. Miller being on the opposite sideline and spearheading Buffalo’s wrecking crew just made it more apparent. Without Whitworth, Los Angeles didn’t have an answer, and the rest of their offensive line struggled as well. 

The lack of a third viable passing weapon also hurt the Rams. Cooper Kupp was his usual self, and QB Matthew Stafford locked in on the NFL’s reigning Triple Crown receiver. Big free agent acquisition Allen Robinson was confoundingly absent, finishing the game with just two targets. Everyone else was plagued with drops and couldn’t make a play. 

The over-arching takeaway from Thursday should be more about how good the Bills looked than the Rams being in real trouble. They have serious problems they’ll need to fix on the fly but most teams won’t be able to exploit their weaknesses to the degree Buffalo did. 

Then again, if the Falcons knock them to 0-2, it’s fair to panic. 

Bears, Giants, Falcons & Texans exceed expectations

Entering this season, these four teams were all expected to be contending for the No. 1 pick or fighting for draft position late in the year. We still might end up there. But in Week 1, all four looked surprisingly competent. 

  • The Giants toppled the Titans, last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC
  • The Bears out-mud wrestled San Francisco, upsetting the NFC runner-ups by a score of 19-10
  • Houston held a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead against the Colts before eventually falling into a tie
  • The Falcons were up 16 points on the Saints in the fourth quarter before New Orleans rallied with a couple of fortunate breaks for a one-point win. Atlanta’s potential game-winning field goal was blocked. 

All those opponents were either playoff squads last year or expected to contend for the playoffs this year. So does that mean prognosticators were wrong about these four teams? I’d pump the brakes. The Giants were down 13-0 at halftime before hitting a few big plays in the second half and still needed to survive a missed field goal. The Bears took advantage of the weather conditions to hang around long enough to get the jump on the 49ers. The Texans wilted in the fourth quarter and overtime, as did the Falcons. 

It’s one thing to play well in Week 1 when you’re healthy and motivated after hearing how much you suck all offseason. It’s another to string together consistent performances. Seeing these teams keep it up for another week or two is necessary before we completely abandon our priors here. 

Packers lay a Week 1 egg for second straight year

Last year, the Packers got clobbered 38-3 in Week 1 by the Saints in a game that had to be played in Jacksonville due to a hurricane hitting New Orleans. They went on to win 13 games and finish with the NFC’s No. 1 seed, so it truly was just an aberration. 

This year, the Packers once again got blown out in Week 1, this time taking a 23-7 beating at the hands of the Vikings, also on the road. Green Bay struggled to protect QB Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked four times and turned the ball over twice on a pick and a fumble. He didn’t get much help from his receivers either, with second-round WR Christian Watson dropping a wide-open 75-yard touchdown on the game’s first play. And despite entering the game with a lot of hype, the Packers defense was shredded by Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and WR Justin Jefferson. The duo hooked up nine times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. 

Another fluke? Or are there reasons for the Packers to be concerned? The offensive weapons are likely going to be an issue all season, with a mix of limited veterans and inexperienced young players for Rodgers to lean on. But the biggest issue on Sunday was an offensive line missing both starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, each rehabbing ACL injuries. They’re not on injured reserve which suggests both should be back soon, which is fortunate for Green Bay and gives a reason for optimism. 

Defensively, the Packers blew coverage after coverage as Jefferson ran wild through their zones. That should be something that gets tightened up. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s unit started slow last year, too. The Packers didn’t get a lot of pressure but they also were down 17-0 at the half. They should see better game scripts in the future. 

Joe Burrow threw four picks, fumbled twice and took seven sacks

One of 2021’s biggest breakout stars began 2022 on an inauspicious note. There were a ton of rough moments for Burrow in Week 1’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Steelers. He was responsible for five turnovers, and while the rebuilt offensive line shares some blame for the sacks, Burrow made them look a lot worse. That the Bengals were in this game at all is a testament to their defense, the talent gap between them and the Steelers right now and, incredibly, Burrow’s fortitude to get back up and keep swinging. 

Burrow dug the Bengals out of the hole he put them in and they had multiple chances to win at the end of the game and in overtime. Pittsburgh deserves credit for holding on and making enough plays to avoid the tie, though. This game is a good reminder that Burrow is just in his third year and will have some learning experiences mixed in for all the great games. Ball security and not taking sacks should have been points of emphasis after last season, and this game ought to drive the lesson home. 

Geno Smith outplayed Russell Wilson

For a game, this was absolutely true. Wilson wasn’t bad but he also didn’t play one of his best games. The Broncos had multiple delay of game penalties and regularly struggled to get the snap off in time. It was the first game for the starting offense in HC Nathaniel Hackett’s system and in a tough environment on the road, but you still expect a veteran of Wilson’s caliber to have the operation running far more smoothly than it did. 

Fresh off a $240 million contract, Wilson completed 29 of 42 passes (69 percent) for 340 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers, although he was sacked twice. He connected with WR Jerry Jeudy deep on a 67-yard touchdown pass, but that ball and a number of others going to the left side were underthrown, especially when targeting WR Courtland Sutton. One drew a pass interference penalty but another was lucky to not be picked off in the end zone, as Seahawks S Quandre Diggs let it go right through his hands. 

Meanwhile, Smith turned in one of the best performances of his career. He connected on his first 13 pass attempts and finished the first half 17-18 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. He was a real factor with his legs, too, scrambling to suck up the defense on his first touchdown and picking up a third down on a quarterback sweep later in the game. 

Fair or not, this game was seen as a referendum on the rift between Wilson and Seahawks HC Pete Carroll. Wilson wanted to “cook” and have an offense built for and around him, Carroll viewed the quarterback as ideally another cog in the machine of the team and not more important than a strong running game and defense. Smith pretty much had Carroll’s ideal game for a quarterback, and Seattle upset what was seen as a far superior team. A pair of goal-line fumbles and one of the most baffling coaching decisions in recent memory helped spoil Wilson’s return, but in the end the result is still the result.

I’m doubtful there’s too much to take from this game moving forward, however. Frankly, this was probably the Super Bowl for the 2022 Seattle Seahawks. They have limitations other teams will be able to expose over the next 16 games. The Broncos also should be able to work out the kinks but this is an inauspicious start, at the very least, for the Hackett/Wilson pairing. 

This Week In Football

  • As usual coming out of Week 1, the injuries are the biggest storyline as the grind of the football season starts to take its toll. The two biggest names to go down were Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and Steelers OLB T.J. Watt. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that neither will be gone for the whole season. Watt’s a spectacular player in his own right, but it’s easier to replace a defensive player, even the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, than it is a quarterback. That leaves Pittsburgh in slightly better shape to manage the six weeks Watt is expected to miss after just tearing his pectoral muscle, not the tendon attaching it to the bone. 
  • Prescott broke a bone in the base of his thumb and is looking at a recovery timeline of six to eight weeks (don’t buy what Jerry Jones is selling about it being four weeks or less). Unfortunately for Dallas, they have a lot of other issues that were exposed in Week 1. Like Seattle last season when they lost Wilson to a finger injury, the Cowboys might be in too big of a hole to dig out of by the time Prescott is back. 
  • Some other injuries of note; the Seahawks lost S Jamal Adams on Monday night for the rest of the season with a torn quad. It’s yet another ding for Adams who has started to accumulate a lot of mileage on his body even though he’s still only 26. He’s had multiple finger dislocations and tore his labrum last season. It’s unfortunate for Adams. He’s a fierce competitor and it’s likely killing him to be out. It’s also a brutal blow for Seattle as their decision to send two first-round picks for Adams and pay him a mega deal continues to age poorly. 
  • In his first game back from a torn Achilles, Ravens OT Ja’Wuan James, starting on the left side for Baltimore, suffered the worst-case scenario. He tore his left Achilles for the second time in two years, which will end his season and start a long, long road for James to come back, one he might not be able to do. It also puts the Ravens in a bit of a bind, as James was starting in the place of LT Ronnie Stanley who is still not back after a gnarly ankle injury all the way back in 2020. 
  • Last week we mentioned two players to watch for extensions before Week 1 and both guys snuck in just before the deadline. The Raiders gave TE Darren Waller a three-year, $51 million extension, adding on to the two years he already had remaining. By new-year average, that’s $17 million a year that resets the market. Upon closer inspection, it’s a little less impressive. Waller was set to make just under $14 million the next two years, now that figure is closer to $25 million. The rest of the deal is essentially year-to-year team options. Colts G Quenton Nelson’s deal is truly impressive, though. It’s a four-year, $80 million extension with $60 million in practical guarantees which is a big boost to the guard market at $20 million a year and reflects Nelson’s status as one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen, period. 
  • The other deal that didn’t get done was between the Ravens and QB Lamar Jackson, and Jackson has basically confirmed reporting that the lack of guaranteed money in Baltimore’s final offer is what prompted him to turn it down and play out his contract year. The deal included more than $133 million in guarantees and would have beat Wilson’s $48.5 million per year to make Jackson the NFL’s second-highest paid quarterback. But it fell short of Browns QB Deshaun Watson’s $230 million fully guaranteed, and that sets up an interesting standoff down the road. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sounds philosophically opposed to fully guaranteed deals, and the Ravens have the ability to tag Jackson for the next two seasons. At some point, though, they’re going to have to pick. Preserving contractual precedent, or keeping their superstar quarterback. 
  • For years, Tom Brady had said his goal was to play until he was 45, which was this season. So if he were to walk away at the end of the season — which people close to the Buccaneers quarterback say is the expectation — it would not be surprising. He’s not completely closing the door, but given he’s already retired once, it would qualify as a bit of a surprise if he came back at 46. Still, stranger things have happened. 
  • One of the early themes coming out of Week 1 is the number of potential quarterback changes brewing. In San Francisco, the 49ers kept Jimmy Garoppolo behind Trey Lance, sparking speculation about how long a leash the youngster has. The Steelers and Titans both drafted potential quarterbacks of the future, with first-rounder Kenny Pickett and third-rounder Malik Willis lurking behind veterans Mitchell Trubisky and Ryan Tannehill. However, maybe don’t hold your breath for a change. The 49ers have a lot invested in Lance and don’t plan to yank him soon. Garoppolo is just a backup and insurance policy. In an ideal world, the Steelers want to redshirt Pickett, and it seems Trubisky would really have to struggle to get pulled. And there’s zero quarterback controversy in Tennessee. Tannehill’s hold on the job is iron. 
  • It’s not a huge deal in the scope of news this week, but the news that the Rams were ready to sign Garoppolo as a backup had he not accepted a pay cut and instead forced the 49ers to release him is something that might have looked familiar if you read this column…
  • It’s clear that this season is different for the Colts and the pressure is on. It’s all about the results, which is why the Colts felt like they had to move on from a young kicker in Rodrigo Blankenship who was going through a rough patch. Life as an NFL kicker can be tough, as there’s not much tolerance for mistakes. Blankenship missed a potential game-winning field goal and sent two kickoffs out of bounds. Now he’s looking for a new team. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

I like to go back and look at columns from previous years on recurring topics like these, and sometimes it results in some interesting discoveries. For instance, last year in Week 1:

  • The Packers were blown out on the road
  • The Lions gave up a lot of points but fought back to have a last-ditch chance against an expected NFC playoff team
  • The Steelers beat another AFC heavyweight after being picked as a regression candidate all offseason
  • The Colts sleepwalked through most of Week 1, with the difference being the opponent in 2021 didn’t let them back in the game. 

In Week 2, the Packers got back on track in primetime against a division opponent, which happened to be the Lions who got blown out; the Steelers lost a legacy AFC matchup; and the Colts lost a nailbiter to the Rams. Hints for 2022?

Speaking of the Colts, they ran the ball four straight times on their game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter with RB Jonathan Taylor, which says a heck of a lot about Taylor and also probably some of the issues the offense has right now…

The Titans also have some issues at receiver which played a major role in their upset loss to the Giants. They don’t have anyone right now who can reliably beat man coverage, which contributed to them going just 3-11 on third down attempts. Two big plays by the Giants’ offense and they were right back in the game…

Ruiz, an NFL staff writer at the Ringer, hits the nail on the head in his next tweet: “The NFL does not allow Black quarterbacks to be just average.”…

This is just an absurdly special play, the type you like to see from a defender taken No. 1 overall…

On the flip side, the Commanders have some really fun pieces on offense between Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Logan Thomas and eventually perhaps Brian Robinson. But for the second straight year, you’re left wondering why a defense under a Ron Rivera-led coaching staff looks so poor…

Check out the rest of the thread. This was just magnified by the Chiefs going against the real Derwin James on Thursday and having a much rougher go of things than against Arizona…

Chiefs S Justin Reid had himself a pretty cool day Sunday. He started and notched four tackles, then came through in a pinch as Kansas City’s emergency kicker with an extra point and five touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Nice depth card for the Chiefs to have in their back pocket…

What an illustration of Buffalo’s dominance. Rush four, drop 7 and still get to the quarterback. The holy grail of playing good defense…

Continuing on with more takeaways from Week 1, the Lions look like they might have a pretty solid offense. Jared Goff is still Jared Goff, but he can make some plays if he gets kept clean. The Lions offensive line kept him clean most of the day Sunday. The defense still has a long way to go, though…

Breer is pretty plugged into the New England organization, and he’s not the only one saying stuff like this. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that these are not the same Patriots we’re used to seeing…

In a few months or sooner when I have to sum up why Panthers HC Matt Rhule got fired, I’m going to come back to something like this. In a host of areas, from fixing the quarterback to designing the offense, Rhule’s inability to stick with a plan doomed him…

It’s embarrassing that the Rams and Chargers both had to go to silent counts in home games against the Bills and Raiders respectively. Buffalo has a rabid fanbase and there are plenty of Raiders fans in SoCal, but this also isn’t a rare occurrence. Tough to play without a home field advantage…

The level of NFL discourse has gotten so much smarter in recent years, and I think the next realm to develop will be when talking and analyzing offensive line play. We have better tools now to grade the position than just sacks allowed, which were always more of a quarterback stat…

More fun ways to use analytics, especially for all the fantasy managers out there…

I’ll admit it, I thought Julio was cooked. This would seem to decidedly prove the opposite…

I thought Arrowhead seemed a little flat Thursday night. This makes much more sense…

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