It’s a longstanding NFL tradition for fans and pundits to overreact to the results of week one. Expectations are constructed during the seven-month offseason, so the result is taken as a reflection of how the team will perform all year. While that may not necessarily the case, there are unexpected results every week in the NFL. Opening weekend is no exception.
The Broncos are still good without a good quarterback: Not since the 2000 Ravens has such a dominant defense carried a mediocre offense like the Broncos did last year. No one took them seriously during the regular season; so watching them triumph week after week in the playoffs took everyone by surprise. Ironically, most expected them to be handled by Carolina, despite an elite defense, similar to how Seattle was perceived before dismantling the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. The rematch with Carolina showed that they’ll be contender yet again this season.
Carson Wentz, my word: Before getting to the league’s biggest disclaimer, that he was playing the Browns, let’s just admire Wentz’s game for what it was: spectacular. Considering that the last full game he played was an FCS title game, this is pretty hard to believe. Wentz had plenty of believers, but nobody expected him to be good on day 1. Mid-training camp he was listed as an injured third string. Now he’s playing like a pro bowler and looks every bit the part of a franchise quarterback.
Jack Del Rio going for two: This is an incredibly rare and fittingly thrilling decision for an NFL coach to make. The task of getting into the end zone from the two-yard line isn’t as daunting as the consequences that follow a failed attempt (in most situations). Remember when Belichick went for 4th and 1? There would have been similar blowback if the Raiders had failed to convert yesterday. It’s hard not to applaud the gall, regardless of outcome.
The Patriots backup QB is more handsome than Tom Brady: Jimmy Garoppolo had an impressive debut throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown (106.1 quarterback rating), but it’s not his stats that left everyone speechless. How on earth did the Patriots find a successor for Tom Brady who is unquestionably more handsome? He looks like a Bachelorette finalist—the one you’re rooting for, too. The nice guy, who grew up with a big family in a small town and has the perfect balance of humility and confidence.
The Dolphins defense looked… great: The secondary was a big question mark but at least for week 1, the new faces played well. Rookie Xavien Howard avoided getting roasted like rookie cornerbacks often do. Byron Maxwell and Isa Abdul Kaddus appear to be upgrades over Brent Grimes and Walt Aikens. The Dolphins’ front seven looked stout as well, stuffing the run and limiting Russell Wilson, even before his ankle injury. Next week’s trip to Foxborough will be another test for a unit that was expected to struggle on the back end.
The Cardinals lost at home: There’s never any shame in losing to the Patriots, but a home game against a quarterback making his first start on primetime television is one Arizona should win. The usually sharp Bruce Arians failed to maximize Larry Fitzgerald’s slot mismatch and David Johnson’s beast mode. Cardinals’ fans would’ve liked to see more touches for both players and better defense in the first half.
Josh Norman didn’t cover Antonio Brown: Give the people what they want, Jay Gruden! This is a classic case of coaches overthinking football. Put your best corner on their best receiver. I’m confident the unit could’ve adjusted schematically, and the results would probably have turned out better. Schemes are important, but so is common sense. Putting Bashaud Breeland on the league’s best receiver doesn’t make sense when you just hand $75 million to Norman. Pittsburgh was more than happy to shred the young corner, which is not surprising.
Things that shouldn’t have surprised anyone
The Browns are still bad: RG3 showed himself to be what he’s been since his rookie year, namely, limited. Apart from two beautiful deep balls, the Browns offense looked abysmal. Meanwhile the defense made Carson Wentz look like an MVP candidate in his first full game since his Bison defeated Jacksonville State.
Mike Zimmer’s defense will literally win football games: The Vikings suffered a devastating loss to their young signal caller, Teddy Bridgewater, just weeks before the season began. Regardless of whether or not trading a first round pick for Sam Bradford was a good decision or not, the front office did it because they believe in the roster. Bridgewater hasn’t been asked to do much over the past two seasons, so Bradford likely won’t be either. That’s just fine with Mike Zimmer, whose defense scored more touchdowns than the Titans and Vikings offenses combined.
The Bengals looked impressive: The offseason story is the same every year in Cincinnati: How will the Bengals look after teams poached both their roster and coaching staff? Marvin Lewis doesn’t get more credit for way he has this team in the hunt every year. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are already one of the best quarterback- wide receiver duos in NFL history and their climbing up higher on that list every season.
Drew Brees is still good and the Saints defense still isn’t: How do you lose a game when your quarterback throws for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns? It’s a good thing Brees got his ring in 2009, because, if he hadn’t, his career would rival Dan Marino’s for heartbreakingly painful. The record-breaking success Brees and Sean Payton have had together doesn’t get enough love, but the Saints simply haven’t had competitive defenses since their Super Bowl. That’s why Payton isn’t viewed more highly as a head coach. It’s a shame that an underachieving team shields Brees’ greatness every year.