The Buffalo Bills are that good
The Buffalo Bills made a statement in the season opener when they defeated the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams 31-10. After a few early turnovers, Buffalo took control of the game and never gave it back to Los Angeles. They were dominant on both sides of the ball and proved why they are in a tier of their own.
Josh Allen confirmed his MVP candidacy with his outstanding performance against the Rams defense that features stars like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Bobby Wagner. Allen completed almost 84 percent of his passes for 297 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. He also led the team with 10 carries for 56 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Both Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis had outstanding performances as well.
Even though Buffalo’s defense was missing their All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, they still were very impressive. The Bills forced Matthew Stafford to throw three interceptions and had seven sacks. One of the most recent additions to their defense, former Rams pass rusher, Von Miller made an immediate impact on his new team. Miller had two sacks against his former team despite only playing 52% of the snaps. He could very well be the x-factor that gets this team over the hump.
It is hard to argue that any other team is as dominant on both sides of the ball as the Bills. On top of that, they have a perennial coach of the year candidate in Sean McDermott. It is Super Bowl-or-bust for the Bills again and this team could be talented enough to achieve that goal.
There should be real concerns about the Rams’ offense
It wasn’t surprising that the Rams did not come out of the first game of the season defeating the Bills, because Buffalo is an extremely talented team. The surprising part of the Rams’ season opener against Buffalo was how they were dominated. A major reason why the Rams never felt like they were in their game against Buffalo was because of how poorly their offense played.
For seemingly the entire offseason, the media has reported on Stafford’s elbow injury. There have been conflicting reports about the severity of the injury. Some have said that it will be a problem all season and others say that he’ll be fine because he’s dealt with this for a while. When a quarterback throws as many interceptions as Stafford threw the other night it is hard to blame all of them on the quarterback. However, this elbow issue had to have been a factor in why Stafford struggled so much on Thursday night.
It also doesn’t help that this offense lacks balance. They are extremely pass-heavy and despite having multiple proven pass catchers on the roster, Stafford seemingly only looks for Cooper Kupp. It is hard to blame Stafford for targeting Kupp so often considering he won the triple crown and Super Bowl MVP last season. However offensive guru Sean McVay should know that he needs to get more involvement out of his other offensive stars. Los Angeles’ new three-year $46.5 million receiver Allen Robinson only had two targets. The Green Bay Packers have taught us over the past four seasons that it is hard to contend for a Super Bowl when the offense is dominated by only one player every single week.
The Rams also couldn’t run the ball with much efficiency which played into why their offense was so pass-heavy. Darrell Henderson surprisingly dominated the offensive snaps over breakout candidate Cam Akers. He led the team with 47 rushing yards on 13 carries. Akers looked awful when he received his three carries on Thursday. He finished the game with a total of zero rushing yards.
A major reason why the Rams’ running game was so poor was because of their offensive line play. They lost two Pro Bowl talents in Andrew Whitworth and Rodger Saffold this off-season. Joseph Noteboom moved from guard to left tackle despite not playing well at tackle earlier in his career. Their offensive line is expected to get worse now than recently extended center Brian Allen is now going to miss time with a knee injury. This offensive line is down three starters from a season ago which is a massive blow to an offensive line that was in the middle of the pack a season ago.
Arizona has the worst defense in the league, and it isn’t close
The Arizona Cardinals got dominated by the Kansas City Chiefs at home on Sunday. After losing Chandler Jones in free agency the Cardinals entered the conversation for having one of the worst pass rushes in the league. However, after giving up 44 points to the Kansas City Chiefs, they clearly have the worst defense in the league.
This argument should not take anything away from the Chiefs. Over the last five seasons, the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense has consistently been one of the most explosive offenses in the league. But this defense truly is awful. Their best pass rusher J.J. Watt is outstanding when he’s on the field but hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the past six seasons. Markus Golden and Dennis Gardeck might be the worst outside pass rush tandem in the league. Arizona lacks two starting outside corners. Byron Murphy is a nickel-back that is forced to play on the outside because of the Cardinals’ lack of resources at the position.
The Cardinals have invested much of their resources in the offensive side of the ball including trading their 2022 first-round pick for Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Arizona did invest back-to-back first-round picks in versatile linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins. But neither have proven to be star players at this point of their career.
It is clear that the Cardinals are planning to be in a lot of shootouts this year. Unfortunately for them, it is difficult to rack up enough wins to make the playoffs when you have to score 30 points a week to have a shot at winning. Arizona could regress back to a middle-of-the-pack team because of their lack of defensive talent this season.
Trey Lance is a project
The biggest upset of the first week of the NFL season was the Chicago Bears upsetting the San Francisco 49ers. The Bears were at home and the weather did limit the game script for both teams. Also, Elijah Mitchell’s early game injury was a huge blow to the 49ers who likely expected to run all over the Bears. But the story/headline coming out of this game is going to be that Justin Fields beat Trey Lance despite having a much worse roster surrounding him and an inexperienced coaching staff compared to Lance’s which has produced multiple head coaches in recent years.
Lance did not look good in his third career start. He completed 46% of his passes for 164 passing yards. Lance did not throw a touchdown pass and threw an interception. He should receive the benefit of the doubt because it is difficult for quarterbacks to play well in heavy rain. However, if this continues veterans and fans of the team will start calling for Jimmy Garropolo to start for the team again. A quarterback controversy of this magnitude could be the downfall of this Super Bowl contender.
This is why many thought it would have been wise for the 49ers to just cut ties with Garoppolo. However, he was retained at the end of training camp either because of stubbornness or lack of trust in Lance. The reports are that they are holding out for a team to still attempt to trade for Garoppolo. But the reports about Lance’s struggles in practice confirm the ideology that they retained him because of the lack of trust in Lance.
The 49ers are too talented to have Lance hold them back from potentially reaching their Super Bowl ceiling. But the investment made to select Lance is why the team is forced to start him when he is clearly not ready. If Lance does not show massive improvement in a hurry this could put John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan on the hot seat.
Cincinnati could experience a Super Bowl hangover
The Cincinnati Bengals’ offense had a league-leading five turnovers on Sunday. Joe Burrow threw four interceptions and lost a fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Somehow the Bengals managed to get almost win this game in overtime. People are wondering why the Bengals had so many miscues in the game. The reigning AFC Champions not only had the five turnovers but had multiple special teams blunders that cost them the game. Cincinnati’s kicker Evan McPherson missed a chipshot field goal and had the game-winning extra point blocked.
Many believe that the Bengals could be better this season because of the additions they made to their offensive line and defense. Not one expected the Bengals to be in an overtime shootout with the Mitch Trubisky-led Pittsburgh Steelers. But after the performance, they had early in the game the Bengals should not have been in a position to win that game.
It is not uncommon for teams that lose the Super Bowl to regress the following season. But if the Bengals want to repeat as AFC Champions they must let this game be an outlier and clean up their play. If they do not fix their mistakes they will get passed by the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and division rival Baltimore Ravens.
The Detroit Lions are a Wild Card threat
The highest-scoring game of the weekend was the matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions. Philadelphia ended up beating Detroit 38-35. Even though the Lions lost, it was impressive that they were in this game as much as they were. The Eagles are considered a fringe Super Bowl contender in a top-heavy NFC. For the Lions to go toe-to-toe with a team as talented as Philadelphia after only winning three games a season ago shows major improvement.
Outside of the main playoff contenders, there are multiple potential teams that could make the playoffs in the NFC. Many believe the teams that will make the playoffs in the NFC are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers. The teams who could make the playoffs after that include the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Commanders, and Carolina Panthers. Why can’t Detroit be in that conversation? Would it surprise people if the Lions went on a run at the end of the year and snuck into a wild card spot over one of the previously listed teams? Definitely not, because this is a talented young roster that is going to get better down the stretch. Also many believe Dan Campbell could become a great coach and leader for this team going forward. Adding a weapon like Jameson Williams to this offense down the stretch could land the Lions in the playoffs this season.
Saquon Barkley could play his way into a future with the Giants
Giants running back Saquon Barkley turned it back to 2018 with his performance against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts. He also caught six passes for 30 yards. For the first time in a long time, the Giants’ offense was funneled through Barkley. He proved to his doubters that he is still the most talented offensive player on the Giants’ roster and that he is still one of the best offensive talents in the league.
After an offseason where many discussed the Giants shipping Barkley off to a Super Bowl contender like the Bills and Chiefs, it becomes a real possibility that Barkley could be a part of the Giants’ long-term plans if he continues to play like this. Many thought the Giants should have traded Barkley for whatever they could get so they wouldn’t be forced to extend him or let him walk for nothing. New York may want to consider keeping Barkley around for at least the short-term future of the team.
If Barkley has a Pro Bowl-caliber season why wouldn’t New York sign him to a three-year $24 million deal? That is $1 million per year more than the Cardinals’ Pro Bowl running back James Conner is making. Similarly to Barkley, Conner was been great when healthy but has been limited throughout his career by injuries.
The new Giants regime may want to rebuild this team from the ground up, but they may be interested in retaining some of the pieces already on this roster. If Barkley continues to produce at a high level, he could once again become a franchise centerpiece for this rebuilding offense.
Aaron Rodgers cannot do it all by himself
It was extremely ugly for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Originally, the Minnesota Vikings were a popular upset pick over Green Bay. But by Sunday morning, Minnesota had overtaken Green Bay as the favorite in their matchup. The Packers were without their number one receiver Allen Lazard, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, and Pro Bowl offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins. On top of that, the Packers were playing their first game without All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adam, who was traded the Las Vegas Raiders in the offseason.
Even though the Packers had back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers under center. The future Hall of Famer couldn’t overcome all of the losses on his offense to match the explosive Vikings offense. Their offensive line should return in the coming weeks. But unfortunately, their receiving core will not get any time soon. For years Green Bay needed to add complimentary receivers to Davante Adams for Rodgers to get the ball during the few times that Adams was unable to make a play.
After the first week, it appears that the Packers found those receivers in rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. However, they are lacking a true number one receiver. Rodgers had no chemistry with his receivers on Sunday. That should improve throughout the season but it seems extremely unlikely that Rodgers pulls off an MVP hat trick with the current receivers on his team.
Everyone was right about New England
There was too much conversation about who would be calling offensive plays for the New England Patriots. It is understandable for questions to be raised about New England’s offensive playcalling when their two options are former Lions head coach Matt Patricia and former Giants head coach Joe Judge. Neither Patricia nor Judge were offensive assistants or play-callers during their previous stints with New England. Also, both coaches are notorious for having poor offenses during their head coaching stints. A major reason for that was that both coaches rubbed their players the wrong way.
Outside of the playcalling questions, there was another major factor that could result in New England having poor offensive production. The Patriots lack offensive playmakers that could help Mac Jones. It is not an understatement to say that Jones had better weapons at Alabama than in his first two seasons in New England. The Patriots have made major investments in pass catchers in recent years. However, it was apparent at the time and is obvious now that they overpaid for a majority of their weapons. Jones will be primarily getting the ball to Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry, Devante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith, and Nelson Agholor. None of those players are or should be considered elite offensive weapons. New England is once again lacking a true number one receiver.
Many predicted before the season that New England would struggle offensively because of the lack of talent in their group of pass catchers and the lack of a true offensive coordinator. After the Patriots’ first game against the Miami Dolphins, those naysayers appear to be right.
Dallas can now publicly tank this season
The biggest headline coming out of Week 1 of the NFL season is that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will miss 6-8 weeks after fracturing his right thumb. This is a massive blow to a Dallas Cowboys team that is already dealing with too many injuries at this point of the season. Prior to Week 1, Dallas was without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, recently resigned wide receiver Michael Gallup, and projecting starting deep threat receiver James Washington. Also on Sunday Dallas lost starting left guard Connor McGovern and defensive play-caller Jayron Kearse to injuries that will cause them to miss significant time. On top of that the playoff team from a season ago traded away former Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, cut starting right tackle La’El Collins (for salary cap reasons), and let pass rusher Randy Gregory walk in free agency.
This Cowboys team got significantly worse before the season started. Now after the team’s most recent injuries it would not be shocking in the slightest if this team finishes near the bottom of the league in overall record. Dallas is expected to explore their options at quarterback beyond backup Cooper Rush but is expected to start Rush in Prescott’s absence.
When the Cowboys were discussed leading up to the season many talked about this team as a potential playoff team. However, the actions the team made this offseason were not discussed enough. After the disappointing loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card round of the playoffs many called for head coach Mike McCarthy to be fired. The biggest weakness of the team was their head coach who had extremely poor time management skills and was responsible for this team being one of the most penalized in the league last season. Cowboys owner went after former Cowboys assistant and Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton as a replacement for McCarthy. But when Payton opted to stay retired, Dallas decided to hold onto McCarthy.
The timeline for Dallas this offseason gets really interesting after they retain McCarthy. Following that the Cowboys then dumped Amari Cooper’s salary to the Cleveland Browns for essentially just a 2022 fifth-round pick (Matt Waletzko). Then Dallas failed to trade long-time starting right tackle La’El Collins and cut him. Finally, Dallas let the Denver Broncos swoop in and steal Randy Gregory from them after he had agreed to a deal with the Cowboys. Dallas also failed to get proper backups for their often injured star players.
Why would a playoff team seemingly try to get worse this off-season? The only logical reason is that Jerry Jones may be trying to tank the season. But why would Jerry Jones be trying to tank the season? Jerry may be setting up incumbent head coach Mike McCarthy to fail so he could be let go after the season. Jones rationally could not have fired McCarthy after leading his team to the playoffs. However, the Cowboys can fire McCarthy after a poor season and attempt to bring in FOX NFL analyst Sean Payton as his head coach for the second season in a row. Dallas could also consider getting rid of high-price running back Ezekiel Elliott and his cap hit next offseason and only take an $11.8 cap hit. A poor season offensively would rationalize doing that as well.
Jerry Jones could not have planned for Dallas’ injuries to take place. However now ownership could publicly embrace the tanking that they may have been planning to do this season. They may be willing to “take the L” on this season to put the team in a better position to win next year and beyond.
AFC West is a two-team race
After an insane offseason, there is reason to believe that all four AFC West teams could make the playoffs. Mathematically it seems almost impossible for this feat to happen, but from a talent standpoint, it doesn’t sound insane. This week all four AFC West teams got to show the world how talented they really are. The division went a combined 2-2 on the week. The Kansas City Chiefs dominated the Arizona Cardinals. The Los Angeles Chargers defeated division rival Las Vegas Raiders. On Monday Night Football, the Denver Broncos were upset by the Seattle Seahawks.
Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers looked outstanding like many imagined they would. While the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos struggled in their season openers. Even though it was only one game, it appears that the Chiefs and Chargers are the only legitimate contenders to win the division. Las Vegas just doesn’t have enough talent to compete with the previous two listed teams. While the Denver Broncos showed growing pains against a Seahawks team that had as low of expectations this season as any team. Denver could not afford to struggle much more out of the game if they want to contend in the AFC West.
It is a long season, so a lot could change in the AFC West and league overall. But it seems that there are two teams in the division that could be locks to make the playoffs while battling it out for the division crown. While the other two teams could be setting their expectations at a potential wild card birth as the sixth or seventh seed.