The first week of the NFL season is always special. Seven months removed from the Super Bowl, each team has undergone a facelift, with new players acquired through free agency and the NFL Draft. Additionally, seven teams have signed new head coaches, including four first-time NFL head coaches. At the beginning of a new year, every team has something to be excited about. The Denver Broncos are aiming to repeat as Super Bowl champions, this time with Trevor Siemian running the offense. Last season’s playoff teams will all be hungry to see the adjustments take place that will (hopefully) lead them to the Lombardi Trophy while franchises that weren’t as lucky a year ago will be out to impress and become contenders themselves. Even projected cellar dwellers have the opportunity to see their young players develop into (again, hopefully) their franchise centerpieces who will lead them to future glory. And who knows, maybe a combination of surprisingly good play and fortunate circumstances throw them into the hunt? The idea is simple: a new season brings new opportunities for players and fans of all 32 teams.
Week 1 matchups are notorious for their unpredictability, but this year took things to a whole new level. 11 of the 16 games were decided by a touchdown or fewer, including a record four games decided by a single point. Among the chaos, the Chiefs and Raiders completed furious comebacks, with the Chiefs defeating the Chargers in overtime after trailing 27-10 early in the 4th quarter, and the Raiders using gutsy playcalling to go for two in the final minute of the game, giving them a one-point lead over the Saints and capping off a 4th quarter which saw a combined 32 points scored. However, not all comebacks were successful, as heroic efforts by the Panthers, Cowboys, and Cardinals all fell just short. With week 1 also comes interesting statistics unlikely to hold for the rest of the season. For example, the league’s current rushing leader, DeAngelo Williams, won’t even be starting following LeVeon Bell’s return in week 4. Similarly, Spencer Ware, who currently leads the NFL with 199 yards from scrimmage, will be backing up Jamaal Charles next week against the Texans. Drew Brees is currently on pace for over 6,700 passing yards, 64 touchdowns, and an 0-16 record. By current passer rating, reigning MVP Cam Newton is the 28th best quarterback in the league. Obviously, a lot happened over the first week of the season. Here are my takeaways from each game.
Broncos 21, Panthers 20 (GAME OF THE WEEK): The Thursday night Super Bowl rematch was supposed to be a great game, and boy did it not disappoint. Early on, the story seemed to be one of missed opportunities for the Broncos, turning the ball over three times in Panthers territory while the defense that won them the Super Bowl struggled to get pressure on Cam Newton. However, the Denver D stifled Carolina in the second half, allowing just three points and giving a surprisingly composed Trevor Siemian great field position to work with and regain the lead. C.J. Anderson silenced his doubters and was dominant both the rushing and catching the ball. Ultimately, Newton got the Panthers in field goal range to win the game as time expired, but a missed field goal gave Denver the victory. Although still defense-minded, Siemian looks capable of leading this team. The 2016 Broncos look a lot like the 2015 Broncos.
Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24: Jameis Winston looks like the real deal. Fresh off a Rookie of the Year campaign, the former Seminole threw four touchdowns passes against a helpless Atlanta defense. Winston has a fearless, gunslinger mentality, and has the personnel to create a scary offensive attack. The Falcons kept things competitive, but struggled to run the ball with either Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Red zone efficiency made the difference in this one, as settling for three field goals ultimately killed the Falcons.
Ravens 13, Bills 7: I didn’t watch much of this game, primarily because there wasn’t much to see. A defensive battle throughout, Joe Flacco’s 66-yard touchdown pass to speedster Mike Wallace gave the Ravens all they needed. For the Ravens, it’s great to see receivers Breshad Perriman and Dennis Pitta healthy. The defense held the Bills to under 200 yards of offense, a great sign for a Baltimore team that always seems to go deep when their D is dominant. Look for another dominant defensive performance against the Browns next week.
Texans 23, Bears 14: For two quarters, it looked like the Bears might actually stand a chance. Unfortunately for a miserable Bears team with just one playoff appearance since their Super Bowl run 10 years ago, the Texans’ D clamped down, pitching a shutout in the second half. For the Texans, new faces on offense enjoyed success, as quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Lamar Miller, and rookie receiver Will Fuller all put on impressive performances. The win sets the Texans off to a strong start, but week 2 means a clash with the Chiefs, who breezed by Houston 30-0 in the playoffs a year ago.
Packers 27, Jaguars 23: Despite a Green Bay victory, this game left two big impressions on me: 1) these are not the same Packers, and 2) these are not the same Jaguars. A Jacksonville team which would’ve been destroyed a few years ago kept pace with the perennial Super Bowl contenders, reaching the red zone on a game-winning drive before turning the ball over on downs. It shows a lot, especially since I had the Packers as my lock of the week. Blake Bortles has weapons in the passing game, and could make a big jump this season, likely giving the Jags their first season with six or more wins this decade. On the flip side, there are questions to be asked about the Packers defense, and the team needs Aaron Rodgers as much as ever.
Chiefs 33, Chargers 27 (OT): Never give up. The Chargers looked in full control over a Chiefs defense searching for answers, holding multiple three-possession leads in the game. However, with 199 yards of help from the explosive Spencer Ware, Alex Smith led the biggest comeback in Chiefs franchise history. The Chargers have a history of losing close games, and in an ultra-competitive AFC West, this game might come back to haunt the Bolts, who were out to avenge two losses to the Chiefs last season where they scored a combined six points.
Raiders 35, Saints 34: This game was a barnburner just waiting to happen. With Drew Brees and Derek Carr at quarterback against two below-average defenses, it became a question of how many points would be required to win the game. Drew Brees was phenomenal, throwing for over 400 yards and four scores, but after an improbable play led the Saints to a seven-point lead with six minutes to play, Raiders coach Jack del Rio decided that one way or another, this game would not be headed from overtime. A few costly Saints penalties perpetuated the Raiders’ drive, which resulted in a touchdown. Then on the game’s pivotal play, Derek Carr found Amare Cooper for the two-point conversion. Will Lutz had a shot at a 61-yard field goal for the Saints win, but it ended just wide left.
Bengals 23, Jets 22: Sunday was not a great day for Revis Island. The seven-time Pro Bowl corner struggled to contain A.J. Green, who went off for 18o yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions. It was a back-and-forth game at MetLife Stadium, but Mike Nugent’s last-minute field goal sealed the win. The good news for Jets fans is that Matt Forte looked good in his first game as a Jet, racking up 155 total yards. However, it wasn’t enough, and now both teams face important divisional matchups on the road in week 2- the Bengals face the Steelers, and the Jets get the Bills.
Eagles 29, Browns 10: The only real blowout of the early slate of games on Sunday, the Browns looked, well, awful. RG3 was able to successfully complete a couple deep balls to Terrelle Pryor and rookie Corey Coleman, but was injured while scrambling and instead of being the Browns QB of the future, now sits in a familiar position: the IR. Carson Wentz, despite playing in just one preseason game, performed as well as you could have asked, playing a turnover-free game and efficiently throwing for two scores. Now let’s see him do it against a real team.
Vikings 25, Titans 16: The first game of the season for the Vikings without Teddy Bridgewater didn’t start out pretty. By halftime, the team was down 10-0 due to Adrian Peterson’s inability to do much of anything on the ground and two missed field goals by Blair Walsh. However, people didn’t count out the Vikings after Bridgewater went down, and that’s largely because of the defense. In the second half, the Vikings D had both a pick-six and a scoop and score, practically winning the game on turnovers. The Titans are still a work in progress, but without their three turnovers, it was a winnable game. If Adrian Peterson can find his footing and either Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill can play turnover-free, the Vikings can still make the playoffs.
Seahawks 12, Dolphins 10: The Seahawks entered this game as the biggest favorites of week 1. However, Russell Wilson struggled against the Dolphins, turning the ball over twice and being held to just two field goals for most of the game. When Ryan Tannehill ran for a touchdown with just four minutes left to put Miami up 10-6, the Seahawks were in real danger of being shocked at home. However, Wilson was able to engineer a game-winning drive to survive Miami’s scare. Kenny Stills’ drop of a wide-open touchdown earlier in the game proved fatal for the Dolphins. When playing in Seattle, you have to make the most out of every break you get. Still, the Seahawks were largely unimpressive in their opener.
Giants 20, Cowboys 19: The numbers weren’t earth-shattering, but Dak Prescott had a fairly successful debut performance. He led the Cowboys on several lengthy drives, including the opening possession of the game, which lasted nine minutes. However, the Cowboys’ inability to convert their drives into six points, instead settling for four field goals was the difference-maker. Key to the defensive stops were the Giants’ front four, limiting Ezekiel Elliott to just 51 rushing yards on 20 carries. On offense, the Giants weren’t as effective but made the most of their big drives. Eli Manning threw three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Victor Cruz in his long-awaited return. What proved key late in the game was the Giants’ ability to run the ball successfully to drain the clock, something they couldn’t do in the season opener against the Cowboys a year ago. This time, the Cowboys didn’t have enough time for the game-winning drive.
Lions 39, Colts 35: The Lions and the Colts, also known as Raiders-Saints part 2. Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck combined for 725 yards and seven touchdowns in this pass-happy affair. The Lions struck early and often, taking a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. Andrew Luck doesn’t give up, though, and successfully took a 35-34 lead in the fourth quarter stemming from a successful two-point conversion and a missed extra point by Matt Prater. Unfortunately for Luck and Co., poor clock management gave the Lions 37 seconds to work with, when the game really could have been over already. Stafford then shredded the Indy D for 50 yards on three plays, setting up a game-winner that redeemed Prater. Without Megatron, the Lions used a balanced passing attack that proved successful. Indy now faces a tough Denver test to avoid going 0-2.
Patriots 23, Cardinals 21: It may have taken 20 months, but Tom Brady is finally serving his Deflate-gate suspension. On paper, this game looked horrible for New England. No Brady. No Rob Gronkowski. Elite Cardinals defense. In Arizona. So many factors would have suggested a Cardinals victory, but Jimmy Garoppolo thought otherwise. 10 for 16 on third downs, the Patriots kept extending drives, taking advantage of a weakness in the Cardinals secondary. Larry Fitzgerald did all he could, including catching two touchdowns, to keep the Cardinals alive, but a missed field goal in the game’s final seconds clinched a huge road win for the Pats.
Steelers 38, Redskins 16: Monday Night Football left much to be desired, as the games were the week’s two biggest blowouts, both over 20 points. The first game was the far more interesting of the two, as the Steelers shredded the Redskins without LeVeon Bell. If it wasn’t clear who the best offense in the NFL is, it should be now. DeAngelo Williams is one of the league’s best running backs, and he’s not even a starter. Antonio Brown is likely the league’s best receiver. Big Ben is near-unstoppable when healthy. Despite over 300 yards from Kirk Cousins, the Redskins just couldn’t keep up. You won’t see them at the top of my power rankings yet, but the Steelers are legit Super Bowl contenders.
49ers 28, Rams 0: You know a game is pretty terrible when the most memorable event was announcer Kevin Harlan’s call of a fan running onto the field. The Rams laid an egg, plain and simple. Blain Gabbert impressed, in particular with his scrambling ability. Carlos Hyde was great, and Jeremy Kerley looks like a steal. The defense appeared fierce. Just like the Eagles, however, do it against a real team. The Rams were not ready for this football game. They lacked composure, played sloppy, committed penalties, and played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think it was possible going into Monday night to take the #32 spot in my power rankings away from the Browns, but mission accomplished.
Here’s how my power rankings look after week 1. Week 2 picks coming tomorrow.