It felt like it would never arrive, but here we are and NFL Week 1 is already mostly in the books. The Ravens play the Raiders tomorrow night, so with all but one game finalized, let’s review the action and take stock of how every team began the 2021 season.
No deep-dives with statistics, just instant reactions and initial impressions.
Bucs 31, Cowboys 29
- Bucs: People expected them to dominate because the last time we saw Tampa, they were dismantling the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But let’s get a bit more context here: they went 11-5 in the regular season, finishing as a Wild Card team. They got all they could handle in the first round from Washington, then needed to be bailed out by their defense in the ensuing two rounds of the playoffs. They benefitted a lot from Kansas City having a decimated offensive line in the Super Bowl. I’m not saying the Bucs aren’t good. They’re obviously really good. They probably have the best roster top-to-bottom in the league. But this is not the 2007 Patriots we’re talking about here.
- Cowboys: I think given the line this game closed at (something like Bucs -9), we were all surprised at how well Dallas held up. They benefitted a lot from key takeaways on defense, but they just showed they can keep up with the defending Champs. I never believed in Dak Prescott until Thursday night. He looked like a legitimate QB in that game. This is going to be a dangerous offense, and the defense is at least improved. Dallas looks like a playoff team to me.
Steelers 23, Bills 16
- Steelers: Their offense looked like shit for most of the first half; their defense kept them in the game. In fact, the difference in the game was a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. But this was a big early season test for them and they passed. If their defense is going to be this good all season long, they can get away with being inconsistent on offense. The Steelers won 2 Super Bowls in the 2000s with a formula of strong, hard-hitting defense and solid but not overly dynamic QB play from Big Ben. They got away from that a bit over the past decade or so, becoming more of an explosive offensive team, but it didn’t ever result in a Super Bowl. Maybe, out of necessity with Big Ben at the age of 39 and with limited arm strength, the Steelers are returning to the defense-oriented formula that worked so well for them early in Big Ben’s career.
- Bills: I was skeptical of the Bills all season last year even though they made the AFC Championship Game. They have no running game and they have no defense. It’s all on Josh Allen’s shoulders. They’ll win games because Josh Allen is really good, but they’re just not complete enough to win a Super Bowl.
Panthers 19, Jets 14
- Panthers: I guess they looked pretty good. I still don’t know if Sam Darnold is good or not, but he definitely looked better than he did with the Jets last year. Their defense looked good, but then again it was against the Jets. Jury is still out on Carolina.
- Jets: Somehow, it was all new players on offense plus a new coaching staff, but it felt like the same old Jets. They scored in garbage time, but they’re bad. If Sam Darnold wasn’t literally playing for the other team all game, I would’ve thought Sam Darnold was still playing QB for them.
Texans 37, Jags 21
- Texans: After how bad they were last year with DeShaun Watson and all the crap they went through in the offseason, they actually looked pretty decent, honestly. I know the Jags are a rebuilding team with a rookie head coach and a rookie QB, so it wasn’t exactly a tough matchup, but the Texans look better than expected.
- Jags: A rough NFL debut for both Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence. This was a 1-15 team last season, so while Lawrence definitely has an arm, it’s going to be a longer rebuild than just one offseason. They can’t protect the QB, and their defense is pretty awful. Not a whole lot to like about this Jags team right now. It’s going to be an adjustment period for Trevor Lawrence. This Texans team was expected by many to be 0-17, so the Jags have a lot of work to do. Still, despite throwing three picks, I feel like there’s a lot to be excited about with Trevor Lawrence going forward.
Cardinals 38, Titans 13
- Cardinals: Kyler. Fucking. Murray. Dude is something else. And DeAndre Hopkins is obviously a beast as usual. They looked unstoppable on offense, and it was a great road win to open the season. It’s hard for western teams to go out East and play early window games, but three of the four NFC West teams did so and got wins in the process today. It’s going to be a hell of a division race in what looks to be the most stacked division in the league.
- Titans: Well, their defense is still horrible even after adding Bud Dupree. But now their offense looks bad. Losing Arthur Smith, their offensive coordinator, might turn out to be a bigger deal than most of us expected. They couldn’t do anything in this game. The Cardinals have an underrated defense and now they have JJ Watt, so they’re even better this season, but the Titans offense is easily one of the most talented in the league. They have too many good players to be this bad. I assume they’ll figure it out and improve going forward, but this was an ugly, ugly loss. They do not look like a playoff team.
Chargers 20, Washington 16
- Chargers: I was expecting the Chargers to blow this game late like they usually do, but I guess things are different now for this team. They traveled cross-country and beat one of the best defenses in the league. This is not the same old Choking Chargers team. They look like a playoff team to me.
- WFT: Unbelievable. They lose FitzMagic in the first game of the season, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be coming back anytime soon–if at all. It just sucks, man. This felt like the year Fitz would finally get to the playoffs. All Washington needs is a half-decent quarterback and they can make some noise in this league, but now it appears their QB is done for. Taylor Heinicke, it’s on your shoulders now.
Eagles 32, Falcons 6
- Eagles: Well, DeVonta Smith is the real deal. Jalen Hurts looked good. The whole offense looked good. I’ll be honest, I wrote this team off after I saw Nick Sirianni’s first press conference as head coach. He looked like a guy who was in way over his head, but apparently he can coach. Pleasantly surprised by how competent the Eagles looked.
- Falcons: It feels like the Falcons are a team in denial. They were so bad last season they had the 4th overall pick in the draft, but did they want to go into a full rebuild? No, they said: We’re going to get Matt Ryan another weapon in Kyle Pitts, and then make another run at this thing. They should’ve just gotten a new QB. Instead they’re in like a half-rebuild: they fired Dan Quinn as head coach, and jettisoned Julio Jones, but are still keeping Matt Ryan around. I don’t know what the plan is for this team. Their offense was supposed to be their strongest unit, but they couldn’t do a thing. It’s a bad situation down there in Atlanta.
Bengals 27, Vikings 24
- Bengals: It felt like they were going to choke that one away and go back to being the Same Old Bengals, but they managed to regroup and win it in OT. Somehow Joe Burrow is all the way back after completely destroying his knee barely 9 months ago. JaMarr Chase, after a shaky preseason, already looks like LSU JaMarr Chase after linking up with Joe Burrow on a 50-yard bomb TD. And somehow the Bengals’ defense held up well against a very talented Vikings offense. This was an impressive win for the Bengals, no doubt about it. I know it’s only one game, but it feels like something has changed in that team. They don’t feel like Losers anymore. I think a lot of it is Joe Burrow and his leadership. It’s like for the first time in a long time, the Bengals actually feel like they can and should win games.
- Vikings: It may seem like losing to the Bengals is a bad loss to start the season, but as I just wrote above, I think this game was more about the Bengals being surprisingly good than it was about the Vikings being shitty. The Vikings probably would’ve won this game if not for the Dalvin Cook fumble in OT. Not a whole lot of reason to be concerned for Minnesota. The defense, which looked awful last season, looks a bit improved this year, although they did get torched by JaMarr Chase through the air and Joe Mixon on the ground. Still, they only let up 27 points to what looks like a very dynamic offense. The Vikings look like a 9-8 team to me.
49ers 41, Lions 33
- 49ers: Should we be more concerned that the 49ers almost blew a 38-10 lead to the freaking Detroit Lions? Eh, not really, honestly. You’d like to see the Niners close out better, but the Lions got incredibly lucky in the final 5-6 minutes of that game. What really concerns me is that the injury bug is already hitting the 49ers, yet again. Raheem Mostert hurt his knee early in the game. Cornerback Jason Verrett looks to be lost for the season. It’s happening yet again.
- Lions: The kneecap-biters fought and clawed til the bitter end against a way better team, and I came away impressed with the heart of that team. It’s what Dan Campbell promised, and it’s what he delivered. Penei Sewell already looks like a stud on the offensive line, and although Jared Goff was at his best in garbage time, I think he’ll actually be pretty decent for them. D’Andre Swift looks extremely explosive, as did Jamaal Williams. It was a really bad day for the whole NFC North division with all four teams losing, but I think the Lions actually looked the best of the bunch, shockingly. Of course, I don’t think they’ll win the division, and we have to remember that at one point in that game they were down 28, but still.
Seahawks 28, Colts 16
- Seahawks: New year, same Seahawks team. That’s not a bad thing. They controlled the game from the start and easily handled a Colts team that made the playoffs last season. Seattle is good, we all know that. The question with them is, are they great? That we still don’t know, but this was an impressive early win for them.
- Colts: Carson Wentz wasn’t bad, but this offense just feels bland and mediocre. Not explosive, not dynamic. Just extremely average. The Seahawks aren’t a particularly great defense and still the Colts’ offense looked weak. I don’t really have a lot to say about the Colts: they just looked extremely average, and when you’re an average team playing against a good-possibly-great team, you tend to lose by 2 scores. The Colts are like an unseasoned chicken breast with a side of white rice and steamed broccoli. It’s adequate, but it’s also completely bland and uninspiring. I feel like they’re the most average team in the league right now.
Dolphins 17, Patriots 16
- Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle is going to be special. I’m pretty confident of that. Tua looked better than expected, but the star of the show was the Dolphins’ defense. Was it a great win? No, not really. They beat a rookie quarterback. The Dolphins were supposed to win this game. I don’t care that Vegas thought the Dolphins were 3.5 point dogs in this game. The Dolphins were the team that should have won that game, and they did. But they easily could’ve lost.
- Patriots: After remaking their roster in the offseason, somehow the 2021 Patriots look exactly like the 2020 Patriots. I don’t get it, it doesn’t make any sense, but they look just like last year’s team. They could’ve won that game if not for a late turnover, but then again, that’s exactly how a lot of their games last season went. Mac Jones looked okay, Damien Harris looked REALLY good, and the defense was stout. But the offense, despite all the money spent to upgrade it, doesn’t look much better than it did last season. Also, moment of silence for rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson who fumbled the ball on his first career NFL carry and was never seen again. Bill Belichick may have banished him to Siberia. Still, I won’t be too hard on New England because they’re breaking in a rookie QB. I trust Belichick; they’ll get better as the season progresses.
Chiefs 33, Browns 29
- Chiefs: This is the season people start getting sick of the Chiefs. They’re the Golden State Warriors of the NFL. They’ve been elite for 4 seasons now and I think this is the year they become the villains of the NFL. Even though they were losing for most of the game, you just knew they were going to come back and win. Looks like the Super Bowl was an anomaly and they are right back to being the best team in the league.
- Browns: The Browns were the better team for most of the game, but imploded in the 4th quarter. They gave up that long TD to Tyreek Hill after holding him in check for most of the game, then had that epic blunder on the punt that gave Kansas City the ball in the red zone. Despite the 4th quarter screw-ups, the Browns still had a chance to win at the end but Baker threw a bad, somewhat fluky INT to seal the deal. I think we see these two teams meet in the playoffs, and the Browns know they can win against this Chiefs team. Despite the loss the Browns are a Super Bowl contender.
Saints 38, Packers 3
- Saints: I’m so happy for Jameis Winston. 5 TDs, ZERO interceptions. The Lasik must’ve helped–that, and getting Sean Payton as his coach. He made the decision to go be a backup in New Orleans last season when he could’ve started last year. He knew he had a lot to learn, and learn he did. I didn’t know really what to think of the Saints in the post-Drew Brees era, but after seeing Jameis look good in the preseason and now in week 1, I actually think the Saints might be even more dangerous because they have a vertical passing game now. Their defense looks elite once again. Sean Payton looks like a genius.
- Packers: What the hell was that? The worst loss of Aaron Rodgers’ career is what it was. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Maybe Rodgers, after that tumultuous offseason, doesn’t fully have his head in the game. Maybe he’s mentally checked-out of Green Bay. I don’t know. Still doesn’t explain why the Packers’ defense was so bad in the game as well. I expect the Packers to be better going forward, but I also expected them to win this game, so who knows? This year’s Packers team does not look like the usual Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. Something feels off, something feels different. They’ve lost early games in the past before, but never this badly. I still expect them to bounce back, but I’m not 100% they will.
Also, Jameis Winston had the quote of the day after the game. I just love this dude so much. Every time he opens his mouth it’s pure gold:
Never, ever change, Jameis. You are a national treasure.
Broncos 27, Giants 13
- Broncos: The talent has always been there with this Broncos team, but now they a QB that can actually hit his receivers and take care of the football. Teddy Two Gloves looked good in his first start for Denver, and that defense was suffocating all game long. Great road win for Denver to start the season off. They look like a team that could contend for a playoff spot this season.
- Giants: Look, it’s time to admit it: Daniel Jones sucks. He can’t play. He has Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepherd, Kadarius Toney–there are weapons on this offense. Jones can’t take advantage of them. The Giants are bad.
Rams 34, Bears 14
- Rams: Well, the Rams look like the second-best team in the NFC . They might even look better than the Bucs, honestly, but I still have to give Tampa the benefit of the doubt because they’re Super Bowl Champs. Defense is stifling as usual, and the offense now looks even more dynamic with Matthew Stafford at QB.
- Bears: Surprisingly, it was the defense that looked like the weak-link for this Bears team, not the offense. Justin Fields is clearly ready to play, but Dalton didn’t do anything to really lose the starting job. Sure, everyone and their mother knows Fields is the better QB, but until that defense improves, this Bears team is going nowhere fast no matter who’s playing QB. Hey, as bad as the Bears looked, at least they weren’t as bad as the Packers. Unfortunately for the Bears, it’s much more likely the Packers’ ugly loss was a fluke and they’ll still bounce back and make the playoffs. Same can’t be said of the Bears.