- Despite having two untested quarterbacks, the top two on our list this week are the franchises we've grown quite accustomed to seeing at the top. Meanwhile, the Cardinals, who held the top spot this preseason, take a tumble.
What is true after Week 1 of the NFL season tends to be not as true after Week 2. The secrets that teams spent the summer guarding are out there now, on tape, for the opposition to see. The adjustments that come are what define the season.
One early conclusion that should hold up, though: The AFC is better across the board than the NFC. This week’s Power Rankings reflect that, with the top four teams and six of the top 10 coming out of the AFC. The results moving forward should affirm that argument, too. The AFC has more Super Bowl-caliber teams at the top and more competitive entries at the bottom.
And at least for this week, a very familiar franchise claims the top spot here:
I realize that for a lot of y’all, praising Bill Belichick is like complimenting Darth Vader on his Death Star, but come on. That win in Arizona, minus Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the handful of other key guys who were unavailable, is about as impressive as coaching jobs get. If the Patriots can get by Miami on Sunday and the Bills in Week 4, the AFC East race could be over by October.
Terrell Davis. Jamaal Charles. Curt Warner. Larry Johnson. Those are just a handful of the many, many running backs who have fewer career rushing yards than DeAngelo Williams. Now in his 11th season, 33-year-old Williams is just 71 yards from leapfrogging Garrison Hearst and becoming a top-50 rusher all-time. He has been a godsend for the Steelers during Le’Veon Bell’s repeated absences from the lineup.
That the Bengals made it to halftime Sunday down just three was near miraculous given how they started and how many scoring chances the Jets had. That the Bengals pulled out a one-point road win over a legitimate playoff hopeful is par for the course. Outside of New England, Cincinnati is as reliable a regular-season team as there is in the NFL.
The NFL statistical community has yet to embrace in any meaningful depth the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) calculation that has flooded MLB in recent years. Suffice it to say, Aaron Rodgers would carry an astronomical number if it ever did. Take Rodgers off this team, plug in Brett Hundley or some well-traveled veteran QB, and this is closer to a 5–11 rebuilding club than a division favorite.
Were it not for Larry Fitzgerald being a football-catching robot sent back in time to limit the world’s incompletions, the Cardinals would have been run out of their own building Sunday night. If we’re giving Belichick’s staff its earned praise for Week 1, Bruce Arians & Co. deserve criticism. Arizona was not ready for its opener.
I was among those who buried the Chiefs when they were trailing 21–3 in the first half on Sunday, forgetting an NFL cardinal rule: Never expect the Chargers to hold a lead. According to Pro Football Reference, Kansas City’s odds of winning with 12:53 left to play sat at 0.1%.
It’s always wise to wait awhile before buying or selling any storylines that emerge in Week 1. That said, feel free to grab stock in the Giants’ run defense. Damon Harrison and Jonathan Hankins were immovable up front, and LB Jonathan Casillas could be a 150-tackle defender playing behind them.
The Ravens limited Buffalo to all of 160 yards of offense on Sunday, the fewest they’d allowed since they held the (Rex Ryan-coached) Jets to 150 in 2011. “That’s all Ravens defense, man,” DT Timmy Jernigan said, via the team’s website. It hasn’t been like that enough of late. Week 1 could mark a return to the good ol’ days of defensive domination in Baltimore.
There have been three games in Jets history when they’ve recorded seven sacks and lost: 1962 against the Dallas Texans (who are now the Chiefs), 1971 against the Baltimore Colts (who are now in Indianapolis) and Sunday against Cincinnati. Aside from foretelling, apparently, a future Bengals relocation, the Jets’ Week 1 outcome goes in the books as a massive missed opportunity.
As everyone expected when Teddy Bridgewater injured his leg, and as was on display Sunday, the Vikings are going to play some games this season that make you question how much you really want to be watching football. The defense has a 2–0 lead on the offense in touchdowns scored this season, and that might be a tight battle throughout the year.
“Matthew Stafford can be better without Calvin Johnson” sounds a little ridiculous until you see it in action. Stafford completed 79.4% of his passes Sunday, to eight receivers, then led a dramatic game-winning drive in the closing seconds. He still has to prove he can do it against a defense that has, ya know, actual cornerbacks, unlike Indianapolis, but it was a heck of a start.
One sign that you’ve botched a fourth-and-1 call? If you would have been just as close to the first down by taking a knee as you wound up after the actual play. Moral victories shouldn’t cut it for the Jaguars anymore. They let a winnable game against the Packers get away.
Turns out it’s tough to put a rookie QB-RB duo in the backfield against a stout defensive front and expect miracles. Priority No. 1 for the Cowboys has to be to find more room for Ezekiel Elliott (20 carries, 51 yards). Priority No. 2 is finding Dez Bryant more often (he had one catch for five yards on Sunday). If the latter doesn’t happen soon, the odds of a Dez sideline outburst will rise exponentially.
Is it too early to designate a game as being “must-win”? Maybe, but if the Bills can’t knock off the Jets on Thursday, they’ll be staring 0–4 in the face (vs. Arizona in Week 3, at New England in Week 4). This team is not good enough to climb back from that hole, especially if Sammy Watkins is hobbled all year.
With Week 1’s 38–16 loss to Pittsburgh, Washington is now a calamitous 2–15 in Monday night games at FedEx Field. The Redskins will get another shot at turning the tide later this season, when they host Carolina in Week 15. But if they play like they did against the Steelers, there won’t be much else on the line.
“Andrew Luck is back! The receivers and tight ends are dangerous! The offensive line might be better than expected! Oh, shoot, the other team gets to have the ball, too?”
This is a critical year for John Fox to establish a clear identity with this team. It doesn’t have one at the moment. If Fox wants to build around his defense, the front seven cannot be the liability it was in Houston. If he wants a high-powered offense, the plan for a future beyond 33-year-old QB Jay Cutler has to come soon. Chicago has a healthy number of young players gaining experience, but that’s about it.
Outside of a three-yard Matt Ryan scramble, the Falcons’ rushing attempts in the first half gained the following yardage totals: 1, 0, 3, 3, 0, minus-3, 4, 4, 3, 1. That’s no way for any team to win, let alone one with the flaws on defense that Atlanta has.
Rather than watch the remaining 15 games, Chargers fans, might I suggest queuing up a loop of Sunday’s first half instead? Let that become your reality. Blowing a 21-point advantage to lose in overtime was one thing; seeing Keenan Allen fall with a season-ending knee injury was another. It could be a long four months.
One year after holding Adrian Peterson to 31 yards in a Week 1 upset, the 49ers’ defense put the clamps on Todd Gurley: 17 carries, 47 yards. Granted, that opener was the high point of the Jim Tomsula era, so here’s hoping for Chip Kelly’s sake that the 2016 end result is better.
The Titans had a 10–6 second-half lead on the Vikings until a sequence of five possessions that ended like this: pick-six, punt, fumble that was returned for a touchdown, fumble, punt. Minnesota’s defense is outstanding, but Tennessee has to figure out how to get out of its own way.
“Look at me, Browns fans. It’s not your fault.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“No, no you don’t. It’s not your fault. ... It’s not your fault.”
“Don’t mess with us, Chris. Not you.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It’s not your fault.”
Forget playing Jared Goff. After that Week 1 display, the Rams should consider sitting Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and anyone else of significant value, too, until the front office gets its act together. What a mess.