The greatest time of the year is officially back now that the NFL has kicked off their full slate of opening week games. And like always, there are some players and teams that performed significantly better or worse in their first game than everyone was expecting. I'm going to discuss which teams I was most surprised by in week 1, both positively and negatively, as well as whether or not I think those teams' first games are truly indicative of how they will perform going forward.
Let's talk about the good surprises first. That is, the teams who played much better than I expected in the opening week. Before we get rolling here, I would like to point out that just because a team played really well or really poorly does not mean they will be included in the following paragraphs. These are strictly the teams whose performances I was most shocked by.
(W, 32-6 at Atlanta)
The Eagles absolutely dominated in Atlanta on Sunday, and Jalen Hurts had the offense clicking on all cylinders. Now, we have to keep in mind that the Falcons probably aren't representative of most teams the Eagles will face this season, but it was an impressive win nonetheless. Hurts was spreading the ball around to everyone on the offense and his former Alabama teammate, rookie receiver DeVonta Smith looks like his game will transition nicely to the pros. The fact that Jalen Hurts amassed over 300 total yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers is a great sign for the offensive future in Philadelphia, and Philly fans proved that by spiking Hurts' jersey sales by about 400% on Monday.
While this performance alone doesn't have me placing bets on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl or anything, they definitely won the weekend from the NFC East by being the lone team in their division to notch a win. That, coupled with the fact that they play in the worst division in football, leads me to at least have more confidence in them to make a push for the division crown and make it back into the postseason. We'll get a much better idea for how good this Eagles offense is when they take on the 49ers next week.
(W, 27-24 vs. Minnesota)
Cincinnati got off to a much better start this season than they did a year ago, as they held off a fourth quarter comeback to defeat the Vikings in overtime. The Bengals looked really good on offense, as Joe Burrow put up a solid passing stat line while Joe Mixon dominated on the ground. Bengals fans and Ja'Marr Chase fantasy owners were nervous about Chase's struggles with drops during preseason, but he put those concerns to rest on his way to 101 receiving yards and a touchdown.
âMy biggest concern about Cincy, aside from their lackluster pass defense, is the fact that Burrow was still sacked five times. Improving the offensive line should have been the Bengals' top objective, and while it looked like their run blocking was solid, Burrow still took way too many hits. The whole league is hoping for Burrow to stay healthy because he makes that offense fun to watch while also giving his team a chance to actually win some games. Cincinnati will have a slightly tougher matchup, I believe, when they travel to Chicago in week 2.
(W, 37-21 vs. Jacksonville)
Houston dominated this game from the very beginning, grabbing a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looking back. I thought the Texans would be a disaster this season, and I even picked the Jags to finish ahead of them in the AFC South. But the Texans showed up for this one and, believe it or not, now sit alone at the top of the division after the Colts and Titans both lost. Tyrod Taylor appears to be a serviceable replacement for Deshaun Watson, who has no timetable for a return to the team currently.
Surprisingly, the box score showed that both teams were pretty even with the exception of the run game and turnovers, which both favored Houston. I will say that I don't think this version of the Texans will show up too often this year, but they did play basically a flawless game on Sunday, which warranted them a spot on my list of surprises given how bad I thought they would be coming into the season. All I'll say about them for now is that I'll be stunned if their position relative to the other teams in the AFC South remains the same by the end of the year. They'll have a much tougher week 2 matchup taking on the Browns in Cleveland.
New Orleans Saints
(W, 38-3 vs. Green Bay)
This was the most surprising positive performance of the week to me. I thought the Saints would be a good team coming into 2021, but I didn't think they would roll through the Packers like they did on Sunday. This was an absolute massacre from start to finish. It felt like the Saints could do whatever they wanted on offense, and Green Bay had no answer for their running game. The Saints were arguably even more impressive on defense, holding Aaron Rodgers to less than 150 passing yards and forcing two interceptions. It got so bad that the Packers benched Rodgers for Jordan Love early into the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the most encouraging statistic for Saints fans is the number of Jameis Winston turnovers in this game: 0. If Winston can protect the football and limit his turnovers, the Saints will be a force in the NFC for yet another year. Winston has a much bigger arm than Drew Brees did late in his career, so while it wasn't needed in this game, I'm sure Sean Payton has some schemes drawn up to push the ball downfield more often when it becomes necessary. If it becomes necessary, as New Orleans might just run their way to the playoffs instead. For now, they'll try to maintain the momentum in Charlotte as they clash with the Panthers in week 2.
Las Vegas Raiders
(W, 33-27 vs. Baltimore)
It felt like the Ravens were in control of this game the entire night, and they sort of were. But the Raiders did just enough to hang around until the fourth quarter, and they took advantage of their scoring opportunities to defend their new, fan-packed Las Vegas home. Even though Baltimore was leading for most of the game, the Raiders actually won the box score in pretty much every category besides rushing. Derek Carr was really impressive, especially down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime. And realistically, the Raiders did a good job of containing Lamar Jackson (I consider holding him to just over 300 all purpose yards to be a solid effort in containing Lamar Jackson).
The AFC West looks like it could be really competitive this season, as all four teams won their opening contests. Where will the Raiders fall within the division by season end? I'd say somewhere below the Chiefs and above the Broncos, though I don't know who will prevail between them and the Chargers. Las Vegas was just on the outside of the playoffs looking in a season ago, so maybe this year will be the year from Derek Carr to take the next step and Jon Gruden to get the Raiders back into the postseason. They'll travel to Pittsburgh next week.
(L, 16-28 vs. Seattle)
I expected better from the Colts, despite going up against a tough Seahawks squad. The final box score was actually pretty even in this matchup even though Seattle was seemingly in control for the whole game. Indianapolis looked pedestrian on the offensive line, allowing Carson Wentz to be under duress for much of the contest and not getting much going on the ground. Additionally, their defense seemed rather helpless against Russell Wilson and his big time receivers, although they did get a few big stops in the second half that failed to lead to any points. It was their breakdown at the end of the first half that would be their sore spot, allowing Wilson to hit Tyler Lockett deep down the middle of the field for a 69-yard score with under a minute to play.
I felt that Frank Reich completely mismanaged this game, as he went for it on fourth down twice in field goal range in the second half, failing to convert both times. I like Reich's aggressiveness most of the time, and hindsight is always 20-20, but if he just kicks it one of those times, Indy may have still had a chance to tie or win the game on their final drive. There are still a couple positives that Colts fans can take away from this game. Carson Wentz actually played pretty well in his debut and the team should continue to improve as they get familiar with each other and get a few guys back from injury. Additionally, their likely top division foe suffered an even worse loss, which I will discuss next. It won't get any easier next week for the Colts, as they have to take on the Rams.
(L, 13-38 vs. Arizona)
Man, oh man. The Titans looked absolutely horrendous in all aspects in this one. This was an utter beatdown by the Cardinals, who looked like they could do no wrong for nearly the entirety of the game. Tennessee had no push on the offensive line, allowing Tannehill to get sacked seven times and fumble a couple as well. Derrick Henry was held to just 58 yards on the ground, and the Titans only sniffed the end zone twice all game. It was definitely a discouraging start for that Tennessee offense, who I thought was going to be one of the best in the league. Defensively, they had no answer for Kyler Murray, who consistently extended plays and found his top two targets, DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk, for big gains.
I would like to think that this game isn't going to be the norm for the Titans. While I do expect them to continue to struggle on defense and in the kicking game, I think they have too much talent on offense to be bottled up like they were on Sunday. Similar to the position in which the Colts find themselves, the Titans will have to take on the Seahawks in week 2 and could easily start out 0-2 on the season. I think the AFC South will still be a tossup between Tennessee and Indianapolis to win the division, but both teams have gotten off to very shaky starts in 2021. However, I think the Titans will figure it out on offense sooner rather than later.
(L, 16-23 vs. Pittsburgh)
I was expecting a big first game from Josh Allen and the Bills offense, but that wasn't the case in actuality. Now, I debated including Buffalo on this list because they actually dominated the Steelers statistically and the game was decided in the end by a blocked punt for a touchdown. However, I was unimpressed by Buffalo's lack of big plays and mediocre efficiency despite controlling the time of possession and running 24 more plays than Pittsburgh.
With that said, the Bills played relatively well on defense, and the Steelers just appeared to be a solid team capable of competing against anyone. At least that's how I viewed it. I thought it was more of a good performance from Pittsburgh than a bad performance from Buffalo, but I still didn't expect the Steelers to win outright at all, especially when entering as nearly seven point underdogs. Only the Dolphins managed a victory out of the AFC East, and the division is still Buffalo's to lose in my opinion. They'll need a win in Miami next Sunday or they'll make a division title much harder for themselves after an 0-2 start.
Green Bay Packers
(L, 3-38 at New Orleans)
I mentioned this game in the "good" section of this article, but now we'll discuss the other end of this massacre of a game. The Packers were just abysmal in week 1. They had no run game, couldn't convert a third down hardly, didn't take care of the ball, and allowed the Saints to do whatever they wanted all game long. Other than that, they looked pretty good. In all seriousness, this was probably the worst game I've seen out of Aaron Rodgers, whose off-season drama has been speculated to be a cause of this opening week rout.
I, for one, don't associate this performance with Rodgers' offseason antics or time away from the team. I just think they had one of those days where nothing could go right for them and everything would go right for their opponent. As the Internet mentioned following their game, the Saints defeated a team 38-3 last season, and that team went on to win the Super Bowl. Now, am I saying the Packers are going to win the Super Bowl? Yes. Go ahead and make your futures bets now, as their odds will only improve from here.
Let me know in the comments below what teams you were most surprised by and who your biggest winners and losers of week 1 are.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.