By: Edwards Kemedjio | September 17, 2021
The NFL has truly made a return. After what has felt like the longest 214 days of my life we as fans have been liberated from the shackles of the NFL offseason and graced with a true return to football. No empty stadiums. No constantly checking COVID lists with sweaty palms. Just highly regulated violence centered around a maroon-colored prolate spheroid. With every team in action for the first time, there was plenty to notice. I am simply here to narrow the scope.
Something Great by the Lake?
The Cleveland Browns have arrived and they are for real. Following a season in which they won their first playoff game since, *ahem* 1994, the Browns are no longer the black sheep of the AFC North, and they proved it Sunday. Despite the 33-29 loss to the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chief, you could make the argument they were the better team on Sunday. Baker Mayfield looked sharp, going 21/28 for 321 yards, but threw an interception on the final drive with a chance to win the game. The Browns were in control until untimely miscues opened the door for the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes to take over the game and spell their demise. Make no mistake though, Cleveland is a real player in the AFC.
Famous Jameis has Arrived
Jameis Winston’s trainer told him to be prepared and prepared he was. The 2015 #1 overall pick took the field as underdogs against the Green Bay Packers and lit up Lambeau’s finest en route to a 38-3 romp in what turned out to be the surprise of the weekend. Winston finished 14/20 for 148 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He capped his efficient day with a 55-yard bomb to Deonte Harris, something Who Dat nation hadn’t seen in quite some time. While Winston didn’t rack up the yardage, he ran Sean Peyton’s offense smoothly and thoroughly outplayed the 2020 NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers. More importantly, the Saints saw Winston not make the turnover-worthy plays that were a mainstay of his time with the Buccaneers. Winston also showed the other element he brought to the Saints offense with 6 rushes for 37 yards, including 4 first downs. It was a great start to the post-Brees era and the Saints made a major statement on Sunday.
The NFC West. Yes, the Whole Thing.
There is no better division in football than the NFC West and it showed on Sunday. The division went 4-0, with wins with all wins being more than convincing. The Seattle Seahawks traveled to Indianapolis and spoiled Carson Wentz’s debut with his new squad, winning 28-16 over the Colts. Russel Wilson was in peak September for, going 18/23 for 254 yards and four touchdowns. The Seahawks defense held the Colts scoreless in the second half up until a garbage time touchdown to Zach Pascal made the score seem closer than the game was. The Colts only managed 4.7 yards per play and went 0/3 on fourth down.
The San Francisco played spoiler to a quarterback debut of their own. The Detroit Lions hosted the 49ers in Jared Goff’s first game with his new franchise and the Niners won 41-33. Don’t let the score fool you, San Francisco led this game 41-17 at the two minute warning before the Lions scored two touchdowns in under a minute. A fumble by Deebo Samuel nearly led to disaster but the Niners defense held on to win the game.
Samuel had a monster day outside of the fumble, tallying for 189 yards including a 79 yard touchdown from Jimmy Garapolo. Jimmy G finished with 314 yards and Kyle Shanahan might’ve found a late-round gem in Elijah Mitchell. The 6th rounder out of Louisiana had 19 carries for 104 yards and a score.
The Cardinals in my opinion had the most impressive win of the division this week. They took on the 2020 AFC Champion Tennessee Titans and blew the doors off of Nissan Stadium. They won 38-13 and Chandler Jones submitted his early bid to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The star outside linebacker had five sacks, four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, causing absolute havoc in the Titans backfield. The Cardinals defense limited last year’s rushing champion Derrick Henry to 3.4 yards per carry and 58 yards overall. The Titans offense as a whole only managed a meager 3.9 yards per play, and turned the ball over three times. New Kyler Murray began his third year with a bang, tallying 409 total yards and 5 total touchdowns. Deandre Hopkins and Christian Kirk caught two touchdowns each as the Cardinals rolled to a win.
Sunday’s action was capped off by Matthew Stafford’s first game with the Los Angeles Rams. With fans in Sofi Stadium for the first time in its history, former Lions #1 overall pick put on a show on Sunday Night Football against the Chicago Bears. On only his third play as a Ram, Stafford uncorked a 67-yard bomb to Van Jefferson for the touchdown and he never looked back. Stafford finished 20/26 for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns and had a near perfect passer rating of 156.1 as the Rams walloped the Bears 34-14. The Rams defense shined as well, highlighted by stellar play from star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
You can make a legitimate argument for every team in the NFC West to win the division. If I had to pick a division to send all of their member to the playoffs, I wouldn’t hesitate, and we saw why this past week.
The Chick Fil A in Mercedes Benz Stadium doesn’t operate on Sunday’s and the Atlanta Falcons might be taking cues from them. The Falcons had easily the worst showing of any team this past week. Atlanta scored field goals on their first two drives and failed to put another point on the board, losing 32-6 to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons only managed 260 yards, and went 3-14 on 3rd down in the game. While Atlanta’s finest didn’t turn the ball over, they did commit 12 penalties for 99 yards. Defensively they gave up 434 yards of offense, 173 of those coming on the ground. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts had his best game as a pro with 326 total yards and 3 touchdowns. The citizens of Atlanta might want to turn their attention to the Braves or hold their breath until Trae Young takes the court again in October. It won’t get much better than this.
What happened to ‘Feed Zeke’? Have the Dallas Cowboys jumped ship on Ezekiel Elliot, or are they saving him for later? Elliot is coming off his worst season as a pro, not even topping 1000 yards in his 15 games last year. While the Cowboys were behind in a lot of those games and most came without star quarterback Dak Prescott, his yardage output and yards per run were the lowest since he was suspended six games in his second year. The running back that was once regarded as the best back in the league by some only managed 33 yards on 11 carries opening night. Despite coming off a season ending injury, Dak Prescott threw the ball 58 times on Thursday, more than any other quarterback in week one. The Cowboys won’t be facing banged up secondaries all season, they’re going to have to make use of their big money back.
Big Money Workload
Josh Allen was one of seven quarterbacks that had at least 47 pass attempts in Week One. Allen went 30/51 for 270 in a 23-16 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2020 MVP candidate signed a massive 258 million dollar contract in the offseason, but the Bills offense isn’t going to beat quality defenses asking Allen to sling the ball 50 times. They simply don’t have the weapons. Outside of Diggs, the Bills don’t have a reliable dynamic playmaker to throw to. 13 targets to Cole Beasley might have made sense five years ago, but it doesn’t make sense now. Dating back to last year, this is three straight games Allen has been ineffective against good defenses. Devin Singletary had 72 yards rushing but only had two more carries than Josh Allen himself. The Bills are a formidable team but they can’t put everything on the shoulder of their superstar QB.
There is plenty more to discuss about this week, but these are the things that caught my eye the most. Most importantly: football is back. Buckle up for the best five month of the year.