Now that Monday’s game has concluded the first week of the 2021-22 NFL season is over. The games did not disappoint. There were a lot of great matchups throughout the week. A lot was learned this first week but it is important to remember that not all Week 1 headlines stick. Last year many were convinced after week one that Tom Brady and the Buccaneers may have been overhyped and that Gardner Minshew and the Jacksonville Jaguars could be in the middle of the pack rather than the bottom of the league. By the end of the season, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl and Jacksonville lost 15 straight games and had the first overall pick.
However, there are some things that were learned in Week 1 last year that stuck throughout the season. For example, Cam Newton showed that he is capable of being an NFL starter still. It wasn’t always pretty, but Newton had seven wins last year as a starter with a less-than-ideal cast around him. Also, Aaron Rodgers had a great game in week one last year and showed that he is still an elite quarterback after doubt started to creep into people’s minds about his long-term future in Green Bay. Rodgers ended up winning the MVP.
A lot of NFL headlines should dominate sports media throughout the next week. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the first week of the 2021-22 NFL season.
Dak Prescott is really good
The first game on Thursday night between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys may have been the most entertaining of the week. It was a legitimate back and forth battle between both teams. The biggest story coming out of this game was now how good the reigning Super Bowl Champions looked. Tom Brady’s ability to drive down the field for a game-winning drive with less than two minutes left was not the headline for this game. The biggest takeaway from this game was how Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott looked in Week 1.
Last year Dak Prescott was on pace to break the record for passing yards in a single season before his gruesome ankle injury. Many doubters believed his success may have had more to do with the strength of his opponent’s defense than his talent. He proved those doubters wrong this week. Prescott was coming off of a major ankle injury that ended his season and a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp. Many believed that he could struggle from the jump. But instead, Prescott completed 72.4% of his passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns.
Besides the fact that Prescott has a spectacular stat line, it makes it that much more impressive that he did it against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. This is the same defense that beat league MVP, Aaron Rodgers, in the NFC Championship and dominated Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Even though their offensive line was decimated it is still impressive that the Buccaneers’ defense held the league’s most explosive offense to nine points. So it says a lot that Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense was able to put up over 400 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and 29 total points on the Buccaneers’ defense.
Prescott showed that he deserves the contract Dallas had given him this summer. The Dallas Cowboys gave him a four-year $160 million contract. A times after a player gets paid they tend to left their foot off the gas since they are not playing for a lucrative extension. Prescott still has something to prove and his performance in week one helps his case to be among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Ja’Marr Chase can catch
Outside the quarterback competitions that the rookies competed in the biggest headline about a rookie player during the preseason was about Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The Cincinnati Bengals took Chase with the fifth overall pick after he sat out the year at LSU. This was a highly scrutinized move because both of the top offensive tackle prospects Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater were available and the Bengals needed help on their offensive line over more receiver help.
The headline about Chase had to do with his drops. He led all receivers in the preseason with four drops. The reasoning Chase gave for his drops started people to panic around the league. Chase said “The ball is different because it is bigger…It doesn’t have the white stripes on the side so you can’t see the ball coming from the tip point so you actually have to look for the strings on the ball at the top, which is hard to see because [the] whole ball is brown and you have the six strings that are white”. On top of the fact that this was not a great sign for a team who desperately needed to add an immediate impact player, this brought up questions on why Chase had not been training with an NFL football during his year off.
Those worries that people had about Chase went away during the Bengals’ season opener. Chase led the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards in their game against the Minnesota Vikings. He had five receptions on seven targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. This is a big deal that Chase led the team in those categories considering the Bengals have both Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in their receiving group as well. Minnesota was a light matchup for this young Bengals offense even though they added to their secondary this offseason. But for Chase to perform the way that he did and be a major reason for the team’s victory, it is fair to say that the preseason drop worries can now be let go.
Arizona is more than capable of making the playoffs
It seems that the team that took the biggest leap forward from last season to this week is the Arizona Cardinals. After an outstanding 5-2 start to the season last year, the Cardinals finished the year 3-6. This resulted in the Cardinals finishing the season 8-8 and barely missing the playoffs. A major reason for the Cardinals’ late-season collapse was the shoulder injury quarterback Kyler Murray suffered that limited his production. The Cardinals appeared to be better than they were at their peak last season after dominating the Tennessee Titans in their week one matchup.
In what felt like an upset the Arizona Cardinals defeated the Tennessee Titans 38-13. Arizona didn’t just dominate Tennessee on one side of the ball both the offense and defense had great days against the Titans. Kyler Murray completed 65.6% of his passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Murray also rushed five times for 20 yards and a touchdown. Both DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk had great games with two touchdowns each.
Defensively the Cardinals were outstanding holding what many thought was going to be one of the league’s best offenses to 13 points. It limited the production of each of the Titans stars A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Derrick Henry. The Cardinals’ front seven was able to hold back-to-back rushing leader Derrick Henry out of the endzone on two straight goalline carries. That is a feat that cannot be taken lightly. The most impressive accomplishment about the Cardinals’ defense was their six sacks. Former All-Pro Chandler Jones had an outstanding start to the season racking up five sacks and two forced fumbles in the opening game. The additions of J.J. Watt and Zaven Collins definitely helped clear up pass-rushing lanes for Jones. Also, it should be noted that 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Simmons looked a lot better in his first game this season than he did all of last year. Simmons led the team with seven tackles and had an interception. He is a potential breakout candidate this season after a disappointing rookie year.
If Arizona continues to play at or near this level every week they will be able to compete in the loaded NFC West, potentially win this division, and be a threat to come out of the NFC.
Tyrod Taylor still can lead an NFL offense
One of the major upsets this weekend was when the Houston Texans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-21 on Sunday. But the game was not as close as the score says it was. At one point of the score of the game was 34-7. This game was truly a blowout. Many believed this game could be closer and that the Jaguars would be the team on top. Coming into the year many thought Houston would only be able to win one or two games this season. But Houston proved on Sunday that they are more competent than people originally believed.
This offseason was a messy one for the Houston Texans. It started with the Texans hiring Nick Caserio and retaining Jack Easterby. Then the Texans’ refused to interview Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy despite quarterback Deshaun Watson requesting that the team interviews him. After that Watson demanded a trade and no one wanted to take the Texans head coaching job. So Houston hired underwhelming candidate David Culley who was the Ravens wide receiver coach and had never been a coordinator before in his NFL career. Houston decided to then retool their roster with veterans on cheap short-term deals since they lacked draft picks. Before the draft news emerged about some off-the-field issues Watson may be involved in. Shortly afterward the Texans changed their mindset about refusing to trade Watson and became open to moving the former Pro Bowl quarterback for the right price.
Houston’s roster does not look overly impressive on paper especially with Tyrod Taylor under center. The veteran quarterback is now a member of his fifth team. He has been a viable starter in the past but does not offer a high upside as a passer. His best season came in the 2015-16 season in Buffalo when he threw for 3035 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Taylor showed that he is more than a backup quarterback in his season debut against Jacksonville. He completed 63.6% of his passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He also had four rushes for 40 yards against the Jaguars. He did exactly what the Texans expected of him when they signed him. He ran the offense which was lead by its running back committee of Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, and Rex Burkhead. His conservative play should keep the Texans in close games. But Taylor is a professional quarterback who can potentially lead this team to a couple of wins. That was evidence of his performance this weekend.
The Detriot Lions have an offensive identity
One game from this weekend that many thought would be a total blowout this weekend was the San Fransisco 49ers taking on the Detriot Lions. The 49ers are expected to be a playoff contender and could be a name to watch out for the Super Bowl. While the Lions are expected to be in the running for the first overall pick. Detriot hired Dan Campbell who is trying to imprint his intense rugged personality onto the team and its culture.
They also made some major personnel changes this offseason by trading away Matthew Stafford and letting players like Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. Matt Prater, Danny Shelton, former first-round pick Jarrad Davis, and Danny Amendola leave in free agency. In the Stafford deal, they acquired two future first-round picks and former first overall pick Jared Goff. Then in free agency, they signed Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman (cut in preseason), Darren Fells, and Jamaal Williams.
One major question for this offense was what would its identity be now that their top three receivers left in free agency. Not only did those receivers leave in free agency, but they replaced them with lackluster options.
The week one game between the Lions and 49ers was close down the stretch as the final score was 41-33. Detriot only needed a game-winning drive and two-point conversion away from tying it up and going to overtime. The most surprising part of this game was the firepower that Detriot’s offense had. Even though many thought the Lions would be extremely run-heavy, Goff had 57 pass attempts in this game. He completed 66.7% of his passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He had a great game considering the lack of traditional weapons and the tough matchup.
Detriot’s leading receiver this past weekend was tight end T.J. Hockenson who had 8 receptions off of 10 attempts for 97 yards. However, running back D’Andre Swift led the team in targets with 11. He finished the day with 11 rushes for 39 yards, eight catches for 65 yards, and a touchdown. The team’s third-leading receiver was the running back who surprisingly got the start Jamaal Williams. He had nine rushes for 54 yards and eight receptions off of nine targets for 56 yards.
So as expected the Lions’ offense is led by their running backs and Pro Bowl tight end. But at the end of the season, the Lions’ leading receivers could be Hockenson followed by both Swift and Williams. Both running backs could be in for a major year as rushers and pass-catchers.
Jalen Hurts should be the Eagles starting quarterback
There was a lot of confusion about the direction of the Philadelphia Eagles at the beginning of the offseason, especially at quarterback. So originally the Philadelphia Eagles hired Nick Sirianni because he was the offensive coordinator for Frank Reich. It was Reich who was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run and when Carson Wentz played his best football. At that point, Philadelphia was prepared to have a quarterback competition between Wentz and Jalen Hurts. However, after that, the Eagles decided to trade Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. Then the Eagles signed veteran Joe Flacco and said that they were having a quarterback competition in camp.
At the end of the preseason, the Eagles finally named Hurts the starter but traded for Gardner Minshew anyways. The rumored reason for Philadelphia naming Hurts the starter had to do with the team’s reported interest in trading for Deshaun Watson.
During the first game of the season, Jalen Hurts played outstanding and similar to how he finished last year. Many thought the Eagles could have a good game against a poor Atlanta Falcons offense. However the Eagles’ offense didn’t just look good, it looked outstanding on Sunday. Hurts completed 77% of his passes against Atlanta which is a massive upgrade over the 52% completion percentage he had last season. He finished the day with 264 passing yards, three touchdowns, and 62 rushing yards on seven rushes.
Hurts didn’t just look like an athlete that plays the quarterback position. He looked like the potential franchise quarterback the Eagles have been looking for since midway through last season. If Hurts and Eagles can play like this throughout the season they can be a sneaky threat to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.
Something is wrong in Green Bay
The biggest headline in the league right now came from the game against the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints blew out the Green Bay Packers 38-3. This was the worst start of Aaron Rodgers’ career. He completed only 53.6% of his passes throwing for only 133 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. The three points the Packers scored were the lowest by league MVP in his first start after winning the award.
The passing game wasn’t the only part of the Packers that didn’t play great this past weekend. They only amassed 43 rushing yards on 15 attempts as a team. Then defensively they allowed Jameis Winston to do whatever he wanted against them. Winston completed 70% of his passes for 148 yards and five touchdowns.
For the first time since Matt LaFleur was hired as the Green Bay Packers head coach this entire team looked entirely unprepared and was dominated. After all the drama in the offseason, this performance does not bode well for the rest of the season. It shows that Aaron Rodgers was nowhere near ready to play this season. This was the most lost he has ever looked in-game in a while. There was a point that Rodgers aired the ball out near his own goalline and overthrew the receiver by almost ten yards and it resulted in an interception. Ironically that kind of play was typical of his rival quarterback Jameis Winston during his time in Tampa Bay.
It is clear that Rodgers needed more time in camp with his team. The fact that Rodgers had a rough first start isn’t crazy considering he missed a considerable amount of camp. But the extent that he looked unprepared was shocking because he was in the same offensive scheme with the same players as last year when he won the MVP. If he cannot play at an MVP level or even Pro Bowl level the Packers locker room will turn on their quarterback. He made a lot of comments about the team and on multiple occasions put his own interest over his teams. This type of drama is enough to ruin the season of a potential Super Bowl contender.
The Cleveland Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender
The most anticipated game on Sunday was the playoff rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. It was highly anticipated after their great matchup in the playoffs last year. Many were also excited to check out how the Browns would look after all the additions they made on the defensive side of the ball. The game did not disappoint. Kansas City edged out Cleveland 33-29 in a back and forth battle. There was a point late in the game where it got very uncomfortable for Kansas City. But they took advantage of a couple of late mistakes by the Browns and won the game.
Cleveland may have made a few mistakes late, but if they had played that game against seemingly anyone besides the Kansas City Chiefs they win that game. The Browns played at an extremely high level all over. Baker Mayfield did what he does best he played point guard and distributed the ball to all of his receivers. He threw for 321 yards without Odell Beckham Jr. in the lineup. Nick Chubb had 15 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Kareem Hunt had six rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown. Jarvis Landry also had two rushing attempts for 13 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively the Browns looked outstanding. Their new pass-rush duo of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney were all over Patrick Mahomes all day. Cleveland’s secondary did an outstanding job of limiting the production of any Chiefs pass catchers not name Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. In all fairness, it is extremely difficult to eliminate both or either of them from a game.
For the Browns to give the Chiefs a run for their money that they did this past weekend. It rightfully should put them in the early Super Bowl picture. It isn’t that far of a stretch to say that they had the second-best game of any AFC team this weekend behind the Chiefs.
The Las Vegas Raiders finally has a pass rush
Monday night’s game concluded in an exciting fashion with the Las Vegas Raiders beating the Baltimore Ravens 33-27 in overtime. The game was extremely back and forth. Just when the game seemed like it was over the other team was given a show to win it. This win was great for a Raiders team making their debut in their new stadium with fans.
It was a high-scoring affair, but credit must be given to the Raiders defense which for the first time in a couple of seasons didn’t look abysmal. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley brought in multiple new faces to this defense that have experience playing for him including Yannick Ngakoue, Denzel Perryman, Casey Hayward, K.J. Wright, and many more. On Monday night the Raiders were able to apply pressure to Lamar Jackson in the pocket. Maxx Crosby had two of the team’s sacks and a forced fumble. Crosby hit Jackson five times. Pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Carl Nassib also generated pressure as well. Nassib had a sack and forced fumble as well on Monday.
This type of production is a big deal considering the team only had 21 sacks last season which was fourth-worst in the league last year. Las Vegas’ lead pass rusher and captain says he wants to have a career year this season. The Raiders have equipped Crosby with the talent around him so he doesn’t have to do it himself. This start he has on the year is a great beginning to the season and could result in his best season. A consistent pass rush could be enough for the Raiders to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team.