Football is back! As we’ll do every Monday at the 33rd Team, here are my top five takeaways from Week 1:
1) NFC West dominates
The best division in football went 4-0 on Sunday with the Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers winning on the road in the early slate. Matthew Stafford and the Rams then welcomed fans into SoFi Stadium for Sunday Night Football, beating the Bears by 20. Digging into the specifics, Indy’s secondary looked poor against Russell Wilson, who was 18 of 23 for 254 yards and 4 TDs. Wilson went 5 of 9 for 68 yards and 3 TDs when under pressure; without pressure, he was 13 of 14 for 186 yards and 1 TD.
Kyler Murray also had four passing TDs, in addition to a rushing TD. On the defensive side, Chandler Jones was unblockable; he had 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. This is his second career game with 4-plus sacks and 2-plus forced fumbles (Week 16, 2019 at Seattle). He is the only player to accomplish that feat in multiple games in the last 20 years. It’s only Week 1, but not a bad start for someone who will be a free agent after the season.
In prime time, the Rams put an exclamation point on the weekend for the NFC West. Stafford was 7 of 9 for 212 yards, 3 TDs and a 158.3 passer rating on downfield passes (10-plus air yards). He also had 2 TDs of over 50 yards in his Rams debut, which is as many as the Rams had all of last season.
2) Saints rout Packers
Jameis Winston is the first QB in NFL history to throw for 5 TDs and less than 150 yards in a game, but he’s also the first to throw 5 TDs and 0 INTs in a season-opener in his first career start with a team. Overall, he looked great. His pocket movement was fantastic; he looked poised and made good decisions. In contrast, Aaron Rodgers was held to 133 yards passing, 2 INTs and no touchdowns. Having to move their home game due to Hurricane Ida, the Saints were smart to choose Jacksonville for this game’s location: Going into this game, Rodgers had a 3-4 lifetime record and 78.1 career passer rating in the state. Now he’s 3-5.
3) Chiefs comeback to beat Browns
Kevin Stefanski did a masterful job play-calling with motion, 2 RB usage, moving Baker Mayfield out of the pocket, play action, etc. Cleveland had 318 yards of offense in the first half, but K.C. only punted once in the second half, and Mayfield had the one bad play he couldn’t afford (throwing a late INT). The two QBs combined for 628 yards, but Patrick Mahomes continues to own the month of September. In 11 starts, he is 11-0 with 35 TDs and 0 INTs. He went 27 of 36 for 337 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday, connecting with Tyreek Hill for a statement 75-yard TD. Per NextGen Stats, Hill has caught 27 deep TDs (20-plus air yards) since 2016, 10 more than the next closest player.
4) Protecting second-year QBs
The Chargers’ much-improved offensive line was able to protect Justin Herbert against the formidable Washington defensive line. Four of L.A.’s five starters on the O-line are new, including former Packers center Corey Linsley and first-round pick LT Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern. No team allowed a lower pressure rate than the Chargers in Week 1 (12%), per PFF. On third downs Sunday, Herbert was 13 of 16 for 160 yards, 11 first downs and a TD.
Unlike Herbert, Joe Burrow did not benefit from significantly better protection; he was sacked 5 times in the Bengals’ opener against Minnesota. But he was able to get the ball out quickly, and he rekindled the connection with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who had 5 receptions, 101 yards and 1 TD.
5) College teammates in the NFL
Speaking of Burrow and Chase, they were not the only college teammates to rekindle their connection in the NFL this weekend. Two pairs of former Alabama teammates — Jaylen Waddle and Tua Tagovailoa for Miami, Devonta Smith and Jalen Hurts for Philadelphia — were also together again. Chase, Waddle and Smith all scored TDs on Sunday. Jacksonville also drafted college teammates—Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne—but Jacksonville unfortunately lost their rookie RB to a season-ending Lisfranc injury in his foot.
Grant Reiter contributed to this story