The first Sunday of the NFL season is in the books, and it was a thrilling day of football to say the least. From unlikely comebacks in Washington, Jacksonville, and Detroit, to offensive showdowns in Carolina and Atlanta; from rookie debuts to hall of fame duels, the first slate of action was full of excitement from start to finish.
We all know “it’s only one week.” There’s no use in adding that caveat to every bit of analysis.
In that spirit, I’ve refrained from any mention of the chaotic nature of Week 1 in my overreactive hot takes and lessons learned from Sunday’s events.
Ron Rivera is the early frontrunner for Coach of the Year
The Washington Football Team began a new era on the field today. After getting off to a slow start and falling behind 17-0, the Football Team buckled down and started making plays. The defensive line talent Washington has assembled got after Carson Wentz all day, and Rivera’s Football Team made an impressive comeback.
The team probably won’t win too many games this year, but the fact that Rivera is balancing the duties of an NFL head coach with cancer treatments is a phenomenal feat, and that Washington looks to be turning around this quickly is a testament to Rivera’s efforts.
It’s Cam Newton vs. A.J. Green for Comeback Player
The Patriots unveiled their Cam Newton offense that included plenty of designed runs mixed with some traditional “Tom Brady concepts,” as Tony Romo referred to them during Sunday’s broadcast. Newton had two touchdowns on quarterback sweeps and looked as healthy and full of joy on the field as ever. A weird altercation postgame was tactfully dismissed by Newton in his press conference afterwards.
A lot of analysts picked the Bills to finally wrestle the division from Bill Belichick’s grasp, and while Buffalo looked fine in their win over the terrible Jets, the Patriots showed they won’t be so quick to give up the AFC East crown.
In the second window of games, A.J. Green made his return to football after sitting out since December of 2018 and looked like the A.J. Green of old. He and Joe Burrow connected on a number of plays down the field and right at the sideline, with Green frequently plucking the ball in tight coverage situations.
Along with some rookie mistakes, Burrow made a lot of nice plays in his debut. He managed to lead the Bengals all the way down the field with under a minute to play in need of at least a field goal. He even hit A.J. Green on a perfect pass in the front corner of the end zone for what should have been the go-ahead score. However, Green was guilty of pushing off, negating the touchdown. Still, it was an impressive showing from Burrow, and from Green, as well.
Newton and Green made the strongest returns to play of all the potential Comeback Player of the Year candidates. But also, don’t rule out Trent Williams…
The NFC West is the league’s best division
The Seahawks finally let Russ cook, and Wilson finished Seattle’s 38-25 victory over Atlanta with 322 yards passing and 4 touchdowns on 88.6% completion, including a beautiful downfield throw to D.K. Metcalf for six. The Seahawks comfortably cruised to victory over the Falcons on the road, piling the points on Atlanta’s questionable defense.
Although Atlanta got on the scoreboard plenty themselves, with Matt Ryan throwing for a whopping 450 passing yards (Ryan is a good bet to lead the league in passing), this game felt firmly in the Seahawks’ control pretty much from the first of Chris Carson’s two scores.
The Super Bowl hangover might be a real concern for the San Francisco 49ers, who went back and forth with and eventually blew a late lead to the Arizona Cardinals. Or perhaps the Cardinals have simply arrived. Kyler Murray orchestrated a couple of touchdown drives to answer San Francisco, running in one himself and later finding DeAndre Hopkins to move the ball down to the one-yard-line, which set up the final go-ahead score.
If Sunday was any indication, DeAndre Hopkins is set to lead the league in receptions. He and Murray showed off a constant connection, hooking up 14 times for 151 of Murray’s 230 total yards.
On Sunday night, the Rams contained what was supposed to be an uber-explosive Cowboys offense and came up with the huge opening season win. The NFC West looks to be unquestionably the strongest division in the league from top to bottom.
Never before has it been possible for one division to send four teams to the playoffs, but with a 7th playoff team this year, will all four NFC West teams compete in the postseason?
Brady and Rivers are washed
Much excitement was made about the Colts move to sign Philip Rivers this offseason to elevate the Colts to true contender status. After a good start to his Indianapolis tenure, Rivers fell into an old habit: throwing back-breaking interceptions.
Tom Brady also started off well before things began to crumble for Tampa Bay. New Orleans showed why they’re favored as one of the NFC’s top teams, as they were able to come back from an early deficit to handily defeat “Tompa” Bay in Brady’s debut. Brady made a few nice throws, but like Rivers, he too had a couple of bad interceptions, including a pick-6.
It’s possible Father Time is finally coming for these two legendary passers. It seemed like while in the scripted phase early in the offensive gameplan, they were effective, but the later the game progressed, the harder it got for either guy to complete passes downfield.
Brady did manage to lead a garbage time touchdown drive, but the game was well in hand by that point.
The Colts and Buccaneers came into Week 1 with high expectations, but head into the rest of the season with questions and possibly concerns about the teams’ most important position.
Aaron Rodgers is still really good
The Packers didn’t address many holes in the offseason. Maybe that’s because they didn’t have many holes to address. The summer was full of discussion about how the Packers weren’t a “true” 13-win team last season, that they were due to regress, wondering if Aaron Rodgers time in Green Bay was running out, about the tensions between Matt LaFleur and Rodgers and how those would boil over after the team ignored the receiver selection and spent a first round pick on a quarterback…
But the Packers were dominant on Sunday, on the road, against the defending division champs, largely thanks to the play of Aaron Rodgers. He connected with Devante Adams for a pair of touchdowns and hit mind-boggling throws all game long.
Green Bay hung 43 points on Mike Zimmer’s Vikings and dominated the majority of the game, despite allowing a late touchdown to Minnesota. It was a reminder that the Packers–and particularly Aaron Rodgers–are still really good.
The Browns are still the Browns
Last season, one of the best performances a hapless Freddie Kitchens coaxed from his Browns team was early in the season (Week 2) against Lamar Jackson’s Ravens, a 40-25 victory.
If anyone hoped for a repeat of last year’s early season meeting, those hopes were quickly dashed. Cleveland was a mess. Baltimore was able to use the second-half as a tune up of sorts, cruising to a 38-6 victory.
The Ravens are picking up where they left off last season, with Jackson making plays both through the air and with his legs. Mark Andrews was highly visible with two touchdown catches, and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown appears poised for a big sophomore campaign. Rookie J.K. Dobbins was even better than advertised, finding the end zone for a pair of scores.
Meanwhile, the Browns suffered from careless turnovers and blown coverages. The defense made a few plays early on, getting in the backfield for some stops, but overall, the Browns looked as ill-prepared and outmatched as ever. Many are left to wonder, will the Browns ever stop being the Browns?
Fans or not, football is exhilarating
Sunday’s action was full of excitement, even in some of the lower profile matchups. The story of the Washington Football team’s turnaround, beginning with Sunday’s comeback, will be one to watch.
And as usual, Week 1 was full of surprise upsets. The Jaguars, many people’s pick for worst team in the league, knocked off the AFC South-favorite Colts to start the season 1-0 with Gardner Minshew completing 19 of 20 passes. The Cardinals beat the NFC Champions. The Bears made an epic late-game comeback. The Carolina Panthers are fun to watch, even if (especially if) they can’t stop anyone on defense. Cam Newton’s Patriots are must-see television.
The young quarterback talent in this league is sensational. Kyler Murray is ready to take the next step. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are ready to pick up where they left off last season. Joe Burrow is the real deal. Even Dwayne Haskins put together an exciting second half.
Watching the games on TV wasn’t even that weird with no fans. The crowd noise in the broadcast, and the excitement brought by the play-by-play guys, made it feel like, well, watching football, especially when it came to the drama of a big play unfolding with the broadcaster’s voice rising to match the roar of the crowd.
It wasn’t even that weird to see the wider shots of empty stadiums, because it’s not like we were expecting to see fans there. We all know the situation. But very well handled by the various networks throughout the day’s broadcast.
Overall, it was an A+ day for the NFL, and a terrific start to what should be an enthralling season.