Three biggest takeaways from every NFL week one game:

The first of 18 NFL weeks is now in the rear-view mirror and while we don’t want to overreact to what we saw, there are some things that we were able to learn. Therefore – just like I did last year – I put together a list of three takeaways that I have coming out of all 16 games. Some of these may concern an individual player, a coach, a position group or a team as a whole. Obviously, there would more things to point out here, but for the purpose of this exercise, I chose the ones that were most apparent to me.

This is what I took away:


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Cowboys Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Buccaneers

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1. Dak Prescott is not 100%, but he’s still a baller

It’s good see Dak back out there. While I expected Dallas to struggle trying to run the ball, I didn’t think the coaching staff would actually let him drop back 62 total times, coming off foot surgery and kind of a mysterious shoulder injury. However, that’s what the game demanded and Prescott was awesome, with a questionable missed offensive pass interference call being what kept his team from probably beating the Super Bowl champs at their place. Now, there was clearly some limitations to his mobility, as I didn’t see some of that quick-twitch athleticism inside the pocket and then to actually take advantage of when there was space to run, and I thought he didn’t quite have the zip on the ball that we’re accustomed to seeing from him, but this guy’s already back to being a top ten quarterback, with room to move up.

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2. The Bucs offense is loaded with pass-catchers

This isn’t news to anybody, but I believe Tampa’s receiving corp could actually be significantly better than last year. Godwin looks like a PPR-monster for fantasy purposes whose toughness and physicality make him their designated YAC threat, AB can still dust corners with impeccable footwork and was great at tracking the ball down the field and Gronk might barely crack the five-second mark in the 40-yard dash at this point of his career, but him knowing exactly how Brady wants him to adjust on the fly and the way he can still tank forward make him a valuable piece. Evans was actually kind of the odd man out and looked a little banged up, but he’ll have better days ahead. And I haven’t even mentioned Scotty Miller as a guy to take deep shots towards, their TE1 until he got hurt last year in O.J. Howard and Giovani Bernard, who should become their designated third-down back.

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3. If they play with that kind of urgency, DeMarcus Lawrence and Vita Vea might both be All-Pro’s

Anybody who understands defensive line play knows what these two guys are capable of, but they have had different problems as to why they haven’t quite played at that top level. Lawrence was one of the more underrated players in the league early in his career, because of how tough he played the run, and we saw that in the opener, where he disengaged and punched the ball out of Ronald Jones’ hands, while as a pass-rusher, he packs a mean cross-chop and has good power to drive tackles backwards. However, he’s been hot and cold these last few years, not consistently playing with the right energy. Vea on the other hand is kind of an immovable object in the middle for this Bucs defense, which crazy agility for such a big man, to wrap up the ball-carrier, and then we saw just put those interior guys for Dallas on skates, on his way to the QB. For him, it’s injuries that have held him back.

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Jaguars  Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans  Texans

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1. Houston still has 53 professionals on the roster

Yes, I also had the Texans winning just one game this season and unless they lose their next 16, I’ll be wrong too. There is no doubt that this front-office and organization have been absolutely terrible in terms of managing resources and handling players these last few years. With that being said, these are still grown man out, whose livelihood relies on their play, and they won’t just lie down, because everybody in the media says they shouldn’t even be in the NFL and stuff like that. So for those guys to make a statement like that in the season-opener, against a young Jaguars team, that everybody seems to have high hopes for in general, I tip my hat to them. Will they end up winning many games or even stay in the lead for the AFC South for very long? High improbable – but I appreciate them fighting on the field.

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2. Brandon Cooks is one of the most underappreciated players of this era

And to make this clear right away – I’m not saying he’ll be like one of the forgotten greats or anything like that, but this guy has been productive no matter the situation. When Cooks has played at least 15 games – which has been all but twice in his career – he has cracked the 1000-yard mark all five times, which happened in four different locations. And while he was primarily a deep threat early on, he has consistently become a more savvy route-runner and complete receiver. In this game you saw him snap off curl routes and create separation to keep the chains moving, make things happen after the catch on shallow crossers and to start the day, he had an insane leaping grab in-between two defenders on a deep ball, despite not being known for it as a 5’10” guy.

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3. The Jaguars still have a ways to go

I, among many others, was too high on the Jaguars. I mean I had them at 6-11 and I think they could still easily get there, but I overrated the roster, how they’ve handled some hirings and signings was definitely questionable, Urban Meyer seems a little overwhelmed and even though I said that’s something that isn’t discussed enough, Trevor Lawrence comes from a very college-y offense and even if his coach adept a lot of it, it’s going to be tougher to consistently move the ball that way and you get a lot more different looks thrown your way. They may have all five starters from last year back, but the O-line has its issues and that young defense still has to grow together. Oh, and if James Robinson touches the ball just eight times, you’re doing something wrong.

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Chargers  Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team  Washington Football Team

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1. Justin Herbert looked like a veteran out there

This is a player that I feel like I missed on. I just didn’t love Herbert’s projection to the next level, largely because he was trapped in an Oregon offense didn’t allow him showcase the ability to read the field and execute many throws that weren’t screen or rail/fade routes. He hit the ground running, breaking every rookie passing record imaginable last season and proved that he can overcome things, when he’s put in some situations – deciphering more complex coverages, defeating the blitz and dealing with bad pass-protection. Well, the O-line looks like it has taken a major step and the defense under Brandon Staley should give him the ball back at a much higher rate. While it was the incredible talent that stood out last season, I was so impressed with the way he managed that game against Washington, who has a bunch of talent on defenses. He ended the game with four straight third-down conversions to run down the final 6:43, starting with a third-and-16, and never give up the ball again.

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2. We might have crowned Washington’s defense a little too early

I’ll include myself here, since I personally had Washington winning 11 games and run away with the NFC East. When you look at it on paper, with four first-round picks on the D-line, which have all lived up to their draft status, a former first-round corner in William Jackson III brought in, who has looked like a shutdown guy in the past, and a super-talented linebacker in Kentucky’s Jamin Davis drafted this year in the first, they have all the pieces terrorize opposing offenses. However, looking at this first outing against the Chargers, they lack some speed in the secondary to match up with the premiere receiving corps maybe and they leave some voids in their second-level coverage, that Herbert and an elite slot receiver like Keenan Allen will expose. I still expect them to be really good, but maybe not in that same tier with the Steelers and Rams.

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3. The Ryan Fitzpatrick injury really sucks

I was actually really excited for the first usual Thursday Night game – an NFC East battle between the Giants and Football Team, but Fitzpatrick being put on IR certainly put a damper on that. He was a big reason why I liked this Washington team so much and now we won’t have an established starter on either side of the field. Everybody seems to love Taylor Heinicke, after he battled tough with Tom Brady of all people in the Wildcard Round last year, but let’s see what he can do with a bigger sample size. Either way, I don’t get how you could not like Fitzy and watching his excitement out there – even if there have been some bad moments in the past. So it sucks to not be able to get that experience and for Washington to have given him all the reps with the one’s for a full offseason, only for Heinicke to have to work his way in on a short week now.

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Seahawks  Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts  Colts

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1. Tyler Lockett is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL

Early on in his career, Lockett was mostly known as a deep threat and punt return specialist. And I get why he’s a name that you can overlook at times, having a physical phenom like D.K. Metcalf on the opposite side of him. Yet, when you look at the body of work he has put together over these last three years in particular, you realize that this is a complete player. Lockett has averaged just over 1000 yards over that stretch and scored 28 total touchdowns, while his yards per attempt indicate how he has evolved to some degree, going from 16.9 yards per grab in 2018 to just 10.5 last year, but of his 100 catches, he still had 57 end up in first downs. He can move the chains on catch-and-run opportunities, is probably the toe-drag swag king right now and can still kill defenses over the top, which we saw on Sunday, making an incredible catch, where he had to transition from one shoulder to the other, and then split the two-high safeties for a 69-yard score on a post route.

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2. Indy’s defense has no reliable outside corners and Russ cooked them

The Colts had a top-ten defense last season and still feature a lot of quality pieces in the front-seven, with DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard as top-three players at their respective position, in my opinion, to go with several highly-drafted players. I also love their free safety Julian Blackmon, whose range and play-making ability are exactly what they were hoping for from Malik Hooker for so many years. Yet, unless they manage to find quality corners on the outside, they won’t be able to be in that top-tier as a unit and just be very limited overall in what they can run. Kenny Moore is one of the top nickels in the game, but Rock Ya-Sin has not been able to live up to his potential as a high second-round pick and even when Xavier Rhoades is back healthy, his speed at 31 years old is a concern. So Russ smoked those advantageous one-on-one matchups and even when they played two-deep coverages, those safeties had to widen too much.

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3. Chris Carson is about to go eat

And man, oh man, do I feel great about having Carson on my main fantasy team right now. It’s not as if this wasn’t clearly his backfield already anyway, but former first-rounder Rashaad Penny received just two touches before injuring his calf and now being projected to miss a few weeks, while the other two guys on that roster (Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas) combined for five total snaps. And Alex Collins should be promoted to the active roster, but those two youngsters play teams and he has struggled to stay on an active roster. Carson carried the ball 16 times for 91 yards and hauled in all three of his targets for another 26. He had that one fumble in the third quarter, where Darius Leonard came in from the side and punched the ball out, but came right back onto the field and he should remain their workhorse going forward.

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Jets  New York Jets at Carolina Panthers  Panthers

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1. Sam Darnold really needed that change of scenery and a competent play-caller

As a believer in the talent that Darnold presented coming out of USC, I thought he had a chance to turn around his career in Carolina, with playmakers around him and competent coaching – I was just worried about if Adam Gase had re-wired his brain in a way that he would struggle to overcome. You could tell that Sam – who is still only 24 years old, as crazy as that may seem – was dialed in with this offense, releasing the ball with perfect timing, open times before his guys broke open, and I was very impressed with how he handled pressure, which was a constant in New York, calmly working up in the pocket and finding his outlet Christian McCaffrey. He tossed a 57-yard TD to Robbie Anderson perfectly in stride and scored once himself, when the Jets defense was spread out from an empty set and nobody accounted for the QB.

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2. The Jets need to get their rookies more involved

We obviously saw New York’s rookie quarterback Zach Wilson get some valuable learning experience, even though he was under a lot of heat and he had to fit balls in some tight windows. I believe for their offense to be more dynamic, they need to “activate” their other rookies more regularly. Elijah Moore was targeted four times on Sunday, including one uncatchable ball underneath and a deep ball just off his finger-tips, as he caught just one of them for -3 yards on a little pop pass from a fly sweep action, while a nice gain on a cover-two shot was negated by penalty. Running back Michael Carter Jr. on the other hand, just received six chances, catching one of his two targets for 14 yards and gaining six yards on four carries. I believe Moore should be involved more on screens and shallow crossers, while Carter needs to get into a rhythm reading the zone blocking and while as a receiver, I saw him consistently make the first man miss in open space.

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3 Look out for that Panthers defensive front!

I have been telling you guys for a while now, that the Panthers are building up a monstrous defensive line, and in the season-opener we saw those dudes be unleashed. Sure, you can take away that the Jets O-line still has major issues, but I want to give that collection of young, talented players up front for Carolina some credit here. They sacked Zach Wilson six times on the day, pressured him on a ridiculous 46.5%(!) of his drop-backs and had eight different guys get a hit on the rookie QB, as free agency addition Haason Reddick immediately got involved with a team-best four pressures. To me it really was just a question of time and the coaching you can provide, with a speedball off the edge like Brian Burns, who can bend underneath tackles, Yetur Gross-Matos being sort of a piece of clay they could mold, Derrick Brown bulldozing his way through the interior and many others. They’ll be a handful to deal with for years to come.

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Vikings  Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals  Bengals

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1. Joe Burrow is a rising star and he can help build something in Cincinnati

For anybody who doesn’t know – and I think I do a pretty good job not letting it influence my opinions – I’m a Ravens fan and Alabama is the college I’ve been rooting for since before Nick Saban got there. So I should have no interest in a former LSU player now on the Bengals, yet I was devastated to see Joe Burrow get hurt past season. His toughness, poise and play-making ability are why I had him as a top-five prospect last season and why I believe he will become one of the top quarterbacks in the league. So him coming off major knee surgery and showing out like that in his first time back, while leading the Bengals to victory, was very encouraging. I’m still concerned about the O-line and Burrow did get sacked five times on Sunday, but he now has the skill-position talent around him, to take off pressure.

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2. The Bengals have added pieces on the D-line to control games

Last season, Cincinnati ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed and second-to-lost with 5.1 yards surrendered per carry, while finishing at the very bottom of the league with just 17 sacks on the year. So they spent big on former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson, coming off a breakout season, and were anticipating the return of D.J. Reader, who I thought was a really sneaky signing at nose-tackle a year ago. Those investments among others quickly yielded results, as the Bengals held Dalvin Cook and the Vikings to 67 rushing yards on 22 attempts this past Sunday. In the pass game, those interior guys were constantly driving blockers back into the lap of the quarterback, forcing Kirk Cousins to retreat, to where you saw him fade away when he didn’t have to a lot of times. I’m sure it was also great for them to see Larry Ogunjobi being a backfield disruptor for them, after signing him away from their division rivals in the Browns. And the whole defense I thought was out there hitting hard.

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3. The Vikings need their young DBs to emerge

A big reason I haven’t been high on the Vikings these last couple of years is how they have aged on the defensive side of the ball. They have drafted more players over that stretch than any other team in the league and there’s several guys that could step up for them, but we have yet to see anybody really establish themselves like Harrison Smith or Eric Kendricks have in the past. The secondary is what I’m most worried about, with Patrick Peterson still being a quality starter, but far from the All-Pro he once was, Harrison Smith starting to slow down and Bashaud Breeland now at age 29 as well. The latter one in particular got worked on Sunday, with the way those talented Cincy receivers were able to stem routes and snap them off rapidly to create separation and Ja’Marr Chase blowing by him for a 50-yard TD, lacking the speed to stay over top in his cover-three turn. No idea what’s the status of last year’s first-rounder Jeff Gladney, but they have some other young guys, who need to earn some playing time and their coverage schemes are starting to look outdated as well.

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Cardinals  Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans  Titans

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1. Chandler Jones needs to be back on people’s minds

I can’t remember the last time we saw a top-tier pass-rush return from major injury and have that kind of bounce-back performance, as Jones racked up five sacks and was key in holding one of the most effective offenses these last few years to just 13 points. What makes Jones special are all the different ways he can beat blockers and he reminded us of it on Sunday, whether it was with a pure speed rush, transitioning to power or pushing the tackle upfield, once he got that momentum going, and taking the inside path. Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan is one of the biggest trash-talkers in the league and he literally thanked Jones on social media for exposing him, as the Arizona star defender routinely beat up him and his backup later on. And just watch out for this Cardinals defense and team as a whole.

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2. Kyler Murray can do things no other quarterback in this league can

It’s always tough to make statements like that, when you have Patrick Mahomes in the NFL, but with Murray it’s like trying to chase down a rabbit back there and then he has a pretty ridiculous arm of his own. He was magical all game long on Sunday, extending plays and placing the ball into almost impossible spots, but two plays really stood out. First, he had that mind-boggling scramble drill, where he ran for like 50 yards, did sort of a step-back and hit Rondale Moore for a big third-and-long conversion, and then later on he saw the blitz coming, bailed about 12 yards deep and launched the ball to Christian Kirk for a 26-yard touchdown on like a slot fade route with both feet in the air, like we’re used to from Mahomes at times actually. And his lower body seems to be stronger this season as well, to not be slowed down by arm-tackling attempts.

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3. Tennessee’s defense is as bad as I thought they might be

So, they did actually get a pick off Kyler on the initial third down of the second half, which was actually the one bad play the QB had on Sunday, as he was trying to do a little too much, but other than that, Tennessee could not get any stops. Overall, Arizona averaged 6.2 yards per play, they went 7-of-13 on third downs, just two of their plays ended up losing yardage and they had 31 points on the board until they punted for their second time of the day. When I put out my pre-season power rankings (LINK !!!), I had the Titans as a fringe playoff team, because I thought they were lacking depth and they needed a lot of things to right defensively, with four new starters in the secondary and Bud Dupree coming off a torn ACL expected to turn around their horrific pass-rush. They might still be good enough to win the AFC South however, where it’s the Texans alone in first place right now.

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49ers  San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions  Lions

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1. Put any running back in that system and Kyle Shanahan will make it work

I’m a known Shanahan believer and when you look at his time in San Francisco and beyond, he has shown that he will allow players to put up much better numbers than the individual talents would indicate. That’s why a guy like Nick Mullens can go from setting a new record for passing yards over his first 16 starts to being on the practice squad for Cleveland two years later. No position is this more apparent at than running back. If you can threaten with speed, stick your foot in the ground and hit the hole, you can play and produce for the Niners. Third-round rookie Trey Sermon wasn’t even on the active roster on Sunday and it took all of two carries for Raheem Mostert to be lost for the season. Insert sixth-rounder Elijah Mitchell, who was in a committee at Louisiana, and he goes for over 100 yards on 19 carries.

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2. Dan Campbell’s Lions are here to fight

We all had our fun with the knee-cap biting and all the Dan Campbell bits this offseason, but you really can’t blame this team for not trying. They got man-handled through three-and-a half quarters, as San Francisco was up 41-17 with six minutes left on the clock and it took Detroit until past the two-minute warning to draw within two scores (two TDs plus two-point conversions mind you). Still, they somehow get that first one, secure an onside kick, get in the end-zone again plus the conversion, punch the ball out of Deebo Samuel’s hands, who had killed them all afternoon and was already past the first-down marker, which should have finally sealed the game, and they get all the down to the San Fran 24, before finally getting stopped. This is still a roster in transition, they are already without one of their starting tackles and their third overall pick from a year and likely won’t win many games, but they’ll scratch and claw.

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3. But the Niners made it a team effort to nearly throw this game away

With all that being said, what an epic collapse this would have been if the Niners found a way to still lose. And it’s not like they just took this too lightly, putting in a bunch of backups. I literally asked out loud why the Niners still had so many starters on the field midway through the fourth quarter, but clearly it was necessary. They did so many things to shoot themselves in the foot, whether it was going three-and-out and stopping the clock after having the ball turned over on downs to them, George Kittle looking like he had stone hands when the ball came right to him on the onside kick or Deebo for some inexplicable reason not covering the ball up, after securing a first-down that would have ultimately sealed the deal. This was unreal. And the injury gods aren’t kind to the Niners once again it seems like.

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Steelers  Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills  Bills

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1. Brian Daboll needs to throw out more challenging route patterns

While he wasn’t actually hired, Daboll was one of those hot head-coaching candidates this past offseason, thanks to how he helped turn around Josh Allen’s career. The system he installed in Buffalo was largely based on spreading defenses out and creating issues with coverage spacing, where they occupy individual players and force them to void their area a lot of times. In addition to that, the Bills often times had receivers just stop as if they were screen targets and they ran a lot of play-action last season, despite being a below-average rushing team and even worse Josh Allen didn’t push their numbers with his scrambles. That plan also worked pretty well against the Steelers last season, but with coaches getting a chance to study this offense and understanding that they’re only vulnerable if they let their eyes be manipulated, we could see teams fall off more in coverage and force Allen to check it down, which on Sunday led to just 5.3 yards per attempt for the gunslinger.

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2. Devin Singletary needs to be a bigger part of the Bills offense

This makes a good transition here. I’m big on efficient offensive play-calling and I can’t stand watching a team run the ball on like 60 percent of their first-down attempts, when the data is there to tell us that’s when throwing the ball is most successful. However, saying that you shouldn’t run the ball at all and that play-action doesn’t correlate at all with your efficiency on the ground is just wrong. I’m not saying that Buffalo should all of a sudden try to “establish the run” early on or anything like that, but coaches will figure out ways to punish you for being one-dimensional, especially having studied that offense for a full offseason. Singletary may not pack a lot of power or speed, but he’s excellent at setting up zone run plays, eludes contact well and you can also feature him as an excellent screen target. And we saw him rip off some nice plays late, once the defense was spread out.

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3. Big Ben just needs to throw it up to Chase Claypool

I could talk about the Steelers defense and especially their ridiculous front here, because that’s what will keep this team competitive, even in games like this past Sunday when they seemed pretty outmatched and their offense didn’t string together more than six plays on any of their first-half drives. However, I just don’t really have questions about that side of the ball, while Pittsburgh offense looked anemic for large stretches of that contest. The O-line can’t really create any vertical push, receivers have a tough time separating, without much creativeness in the play-calling and Big Ben looks really old. So when did they finally get into position to put up points? – A jump-ball deep down the sideline to Claypool finally got them across midfield for the first field-goal and then a 25-yard gain on an end-around by the second-year man set them up with a goal-to-go situation. This is the most talented Steelers receivers and he needs to see more than six chances.

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Eagles  Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons  Falcons

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1. Jalen Hurts is the Eagles quarterback of the future

I haven’t really gotten good vibes from Nick Sirianni and this Philly coaching staff this offseason. They certainly made a statement with that week one W and now are in great position, as the only team from the NFC East with a win already. However, the one thing I still believe was just stupid on their part was stretching this whole quarterback battle out until the last day of August, when Joe Flacco was the only other option, until they traded for Gardner Minshew shortly after. Hurts may not be a master at the position, in terms of making more advanced reads and delivering perfectly-placed passes all over the field. Yet, he has really improved with his accuracy, he presents a threat as a strong runner and he’s just a gamer, who his teammates believe in. In this very simple offense, he can make all the plays you need.

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2. Matt Ryan’s arm is limited and the Falcons lack a vertical passing game

All I have to tell you here is that Ryan threw the ball 35 times on Sunday, and 21 of those were actually completed, but none of them for more than 18 yards and for an average of 4.7 yards per attempt. And what makes those numbers even more crazy is that he actually ended up with fewer intended air yards than actual yards gained. I always thought that Ryan’s limit for depth of target was in the 45-50 yard range right down the middle and decreasing towards the sidelines. That’s an issue for a team without a great run-blocking offensive line and that has speed all across the board with Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Kyle Pitts. I know Arthur Smith’s offense involves a lot more underneath completions off bootlegs and stuff like that, but in Tennessee, he had Ryan Tannehill complete a bunch of deep crossers and a big post route every game it seemed like.

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3. If Philly can stay healthy, they’re good enough up front to be competitive

I wished I had swapped the Jaguars and Eagles when I put out my pre-season power rankings a few weeks ago. I acknowledged that I felt bad for putting them in that bottom tier, because I can see a path for them being a lot better, but that included Hurst taking a major step, those play-makers around him growing alongside him and them staying healthy, despite being pretty old in the trenches and in the secondary. Well, they are at least all together now and they have the guys to win the battle up front for the most part. If they can continue to run the ball with good success, keep defenses from stacking the box with how many wide receiver screens they throw, Jalen Hurts creates plays off script and their defensive front can get after at, as opposing teams have to throw the ball, they are in pretty good shape, especially considering some of the issues already for the other teams in the NFC East, which they are now in the lead for.

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Browns  Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs  Chiefs

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1. Baker Mayfield was dealing out there, until late

Through three quarters on Sunday afternoon, Baker was arguably playing the best game of his career and better than Patrick Mahomes. He was firing rifles all over the field and that’s what I was already impressed with last season – his confidence and the force behind the ball, to fit it into some tight windows. And I’m not talking about shooting his receivers on slant routes over the middle or just driving the ball on out-routes, but rather attacking the smallest throwing windows, like his receiver having maybe a step on his man and the safety over the top not quite being able to crowd the catch point. Unfortunately, this is how the game ended for Baker and the Browns – turnover on downs, three-and-out and then ill-advised pick, where he just kind of threw it up for grabs at the sideline, on first down with over a minute and a timeout left.

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2. The Browns played an almost perfect game and still lost

If you wrote a believable on how this game could have gone, the Browns marching right down the field and holding the Chiefs to just one touchdown, to go into halftime up 22-10, would have been pretty close to the optimal outcome. Baker, as I said, was throwing darts, Nick Chubb got around the edge a few times and ran through defenders, Kevin Stefanski was in a really good groove calling plays, Myles Garrett was beating up their left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and despite the completely overhauled offensive line, Mahomes was pressured on basically every second snap. Even after that Chubb fumble early in the second half, with Cleveland going down the field and making this a 9-point game with ten minutes left, they were in great position. But then just one play later, Mahomes chucks that 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill, the Browns punter can’t handle the snap, they score again three plays later and the Browns are shell-shocked. When KC is on, you just can’t stop them.

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3. This could easily have been an AFC Championship preview

So the Chiefs were my AFC favorite by a pretty significant margin and my pick to win Super Bowl LVI. The Browns on the other hand I had at 11-6 as a very dangerous playoff squad, but with Baltimore seemingly being cursed by the injury gods and the Bills losing to the Steelers in their season-opener, I’m back to believing Cleveland might be the biggest challenger to Kansas City in the conference. The Chiefs obviously have one of the most lethal aerial attacks in the league, but with their re-worked offensive line and Clyde Edwards-Helaire in his second season, they look like they should be more balanced and the defense should be a lot better once Tyrann Mathieu is back in the lineup. The Browns on the other hand to me have the premiere O-line in the NFL, a truly balanced offensive approach and with OBJ coming back, they can really strike off play-action, while the defense saw major improvements on the second and third level.

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Packers  Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints  Saints

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1. Jameis Winston was clearly the right choice under center

It took an amazing showing in week two of the preseason for Jameis to finally run away with that quarterback competition in New Orleans, but I don’t think anybody would question now if they should have gone with Taysom Hill instead. Winston looked like he was in full control of the offense, making confident decisions and releasing the ball before his receivers even had come out of their breaks a lot of times. On top of that, he displayed a suddenness that we hadn’t quite seen from him, to dart upfield and pick up crucial first downs with his legs, while bringing a vertical passing component to the table, that they just didn’t have with Drew Brees at the helm. It’s not like we’ve seen Jameis perform in high-stake moments or try to catch up in a game yet, but he’s on the right track for sure.

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2. The Saints physically dominated the Packers up front

This game was a blowout from the very start and you rarely see this in the NFC, where you have professionals at the highest level go up against each other on every snap, but New Orleans just man-handled the Packers with their offensive and defensive lines throughout the day. While he was a little banged up, New Orleans was able to completely neutralize Za’Darius Smith and the other edge rushers for Green Bay, while consistently gaining four or five yards when they handed the ball off. On the flipside, David Bakhtiari still being out at left tackle and some of the changes up front overall, was taken advantage of by the Saints front-seven, as they held the visitors to just 43 yards rushing on 15 carries and pressured Rodgers on 27.6% of his dropbacks on Sunday. And they did so in Jacksonville, without having the benefit from a true home crowd.

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3. We shouldn’t completely overreact to this game

As jarring as this outcome might have been, it’s still just one game and it doesn’t define these two teams. I personally do look at the Saints in a little bit of a different light, just because of how comfortable Jameis was right away and how well their defense performed, but I predicted the Packers to slightly regress at 11-6. Will we see a stat-line like Winston tossing five TDs but on less than 150 yards again, thanks to winning the turnover battle three-to-nothing? Probably not. And will we see another putrid showing like that from the reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers, where he throws the ball behind his man on a shallow crosser or just chucks it up for grabs, with a safety playing punt returner at the back-end? Highly unlikely.

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Broncos  Denver Broncos at New York Giants  Giants

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1. That 4th & 1 conversion and touchdown turned the game around

I picked the Giants to win on Sunday and still believe that they easily could have, if not for one specific play. So the Broncos were up 10-7 with seven minutes left in the third quarter from the four-yard line and had one yard to cover, as they ran a naked bootleg and tight-end Albert Okwuegbunam slipped into the flats. If Xavier McKinney doesn’t hesitate for a split-second to go after Teddy Bridgewater or has his hands up as he approaches him, or if Blake Martinez doesn’t leave his feet as he tries to make that tackle at the sideline, New York stops them and take over with a chance to either tie or take the lead potentially. The following two drives the Giants make it to the Denver 22 and 6 respectively, but turn the ball over. Either way, this is a completely different game and I still believe this was a very competitive matchup, which doesn’t look that way on the scoreboard due to that 70-yard breakaway run by Melvin Gordon.

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2. Teddy Bridgewater’s style of play can help Denver be a Wildcard team

I previewed this position battle for the Broncos at quarterback in the offseason and discussed how I thought Drew Lock would be the guy to lift this team’s ceiling, but that an oldschool, defensive head coach like Vic Fangio may prefer the “safer” option in Teddy Bridgewater. And while I still don’t believe they can actually beat the Chiefs inside their division, because they just don’t have the firepower to match them, Teddy can certainly be good enough to beat teams like the Giants, who can kind of get in their own way. They may not be able to take full advantage of it, but the receiving corp can make plays individually, they have a physical one-two punch out of the backfield and Fangio’s defense can really get after it, pressuring the passer and creating takeaways. Maybe ten wins is at the top of the spectrum, but they could be in the hunt for a Wildcard spot.

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3. Saquon Barkley is being wasted in New York

I feel so bad for one of the greatest running back talents I have ever seen, to not get a chance to really show off those insane skills. Thinking back to his rookie year, I can remember all those crazy individual effort plays, often times where he actually had to reach behind himself for Eli Manning’s horribly placed balls and make something out of nothing, and thinking I can’t wait to see him play with a capable quarterback. Well, Daniel Jones has had his moments, but far too often hasn’t put his team in position to win, their receivers have often been banged up and the offensive line has probably only gotten worse since then. You can see the talent whenever he does get a chance to get into the open field, but far too often there’s just no room to get going in the first place for Saquon – and that sucks.

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Dolphins  Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Patriots

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1. Tua is so much more in control of the offense this year

He did toss an ill-advised pick, when he kind of threw the ball up for grabs near the sideline, after spinning out to the side, but other than that, the second-year quarterback looked very comfortable operating in this offense. Tua got the ball out quickly, felt comfortable progressing to his secondary and even third read when he had the time to do so and when the Patriots brought extra pressure, he knew where to go with the ball, finding leverage advantages for his targets. In a defense-oriented game that he had to manage accordingly, he started the day with a ten-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, led a two-minute drill, to tie the score with a field goal, drove 75 yards down the field for another TD to start the second half and even though they got a little lucky at the end, Tua completed a crucial first-down pass after the Damien Harris fumble, to burn down clock, after a penalty pushed his team back.

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2. Mac Jones is truly wise beyond his years

Anybody who’s been following my draft analyses knows that I thought there were four quarterbacks at the top, all capable of being long-term franchise guys. Mac Jones to me was kind of in a tier of his own, where I said he could be a really solid starter for a decade potentially, but lacked the physical traits to carry a team. New England wanted to go back to the roots of their dynasty, where they beat defenses up with their physical run game, play tough defense and have a signal-caller, who can quickly process information and keep drives moving. Miami was bringing the heat on several snaps, but Mac was so quick to ID the pressure and delivered the ball accurately, as the Patriots nickel and dimed their way down the field, beating man-coverage with displayed superb ball-placement to beat leverage, protect his receivers and avoid defenders from being able to swipe at the ball. And if not for that fumble at the end, when they are in field goal range and have the control, they probably win.

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3. Facing either one of these defenses, you better have a plan to defeat the blitz

If it wasn’t clearly already from what we saw out of the Dolphins last year and the Patriots in seasons prior especially, when they had all their pieces in the secondary, both of those teams will challenge quarterbacks to recognize where they bring pressure from, often times with a free rusher barreling at the quarterback, and defeat tight man-coverage with accurate passes. We saw that become a problem for Miami’s opponents last season, when the offensive line routinely executed full-line slides and the guy behind it didn’t realize so quickly enough, only to get strip-sacked. What Brian Flores and Bill Belichick excel at is teaching the DBs behind it, how to read routes and at times have their eyes in the backfield, because they know where the ball might go. We have a lot of young QBs in this league, where their offensive coordinators better make sure their guys can recall the answers instantly and make the defense pay.

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Bears  Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams  Rams New

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1. Matt Stafford will transform this Rams offense

L.A. had a very interesting offseason I want to call it, where I was all on board with swapping Jared Goff for Matt Stafford, but didn’t really love anything else they did. Still, if that one move pays off the way I think it could and what the early signs tell us, none of the other stuff will matter. It took all of three plays for the Rams offense – and I actually broke this down on my different social media channels, if you’re interested in checking it out – for us to see what this gunslinger can bring to his new team, when he threw that 67-yard touchdown to Van Jefferson. The Bears actually outperformed them, with 24-to-18 first downs, but Stafford averaged 12.3 yards per attempt and I believe bringing those big plays through the air will make this team a lot more dangerous.

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2. The Bears wasted an excellent roster with their poor quarterback play

Just three years ago, the Bears went 12-4, with Matt Nagy winning Coach of the Year, Mitch Trubisky showing promise in his second season and that defense turning dominating games, having brought in Khalil Mack and forcing turnovers at an absurd rate. These past two seasons, they have gone 8-8 each thanks to an anemic offense, with some of the worst quarterback play league-wide. Now that they have a guy on the roster that I believe can create some magic – whenever he’s ready, according to the coaching staff – their roster shows holes at offensive tackle, where they’re banged up now as well, and in the secondary. As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they will be the front-runners in the NFC North, but Chicago truly had a championship window, where they could have won it all with quality quarterback play. That seems to be gone now.

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3. It should be Justin Fields time

And I would tell you the same even if they did have a shot, because I don’t think Andy Dalton is good enough to win in the playoffs, but now that it seems pretty clear that there’s some deficiencies with this roster, they should really get their promising rookie QB out there to collect some valuable playing experience. I thought there were four quarterbacks in this draft that can absolutely be franchise guys and then there’s another one I feel pretty good about. Fields has some issues having to speed up his internal clock and pairing his footwork with it, but I have said many times that his play-making ability is so good that he can survive out there whilst learning on the fly, and he’s the guy who can neutralize some of those protection issues as well. Nobody knows better how he’s progressing than the coaching staff there, but everybody’s job is on the line here and this isn’t Kansas City, where Alex Smith was a rock-solid veteran.

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Ravens  Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders  Raiders

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1. You can’t play man-coverage on Darren Waller and not press him

First of all, 19 targets for Waller is just absurd. The Ravens had a plan for him off the bat, having somebody press him off the line and a safety bracket him or a guy trailing him over the top and a shallow zone defender stay underneath, forcing Derek Carr to lob passes over the underneath guy and sort of force-feeding big number 83 to some degree. As the game went along however, you saw more and more off-man coverage that just gave Waller way too much freedom to release and get into his routes unimpeded. That coincides with my second takeaway, but no way can any team consistently treat him that way. When they had Marlon Humphrey in his face, he could stay with him, but as Bryan Edwards becomes a bigger part of the offense, which we saw late, and hopefully so will last year’s first-round speedster Henry Ruggs, Waller will see more favorable looks and eat.

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2. The Marcus Peters injury is already making a big impact

Peters is known for gambling on some routes and he’s been caught out of position on some double-moves and stuff in the past, but having that trio of corners who they can rely on for the most part in man-coverage allowed this Ravens defense to be as aggressive as they like to be. Even though they signed him a couple of years ago to play in the slot for them, Tavon Young is certainly a step down from Marlon Humphrey, as he allowed a couple of big third-down conversions via pass interference due to grabbing receivers. And more importantly, with Jimmy Smith banged up right now as well, Baltimore had to throw out young guys like Chris Westry and Brandon Stephens out there. It’s in defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s DNA to call up zero-blitzes and playing true man-coverage behind it and that’s just not realistic with the guys they have out there then, where they panic and get lost on some cross-releases, like they did on that game-winner out of a bunch set.

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3. This just may not be the Ravens’ year

The injury gods have not been kind with Baltimore, as they lost their top three running backs all in a span from their week three game to a couple of days before the NFL kickoff, saw their Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters tear his ACL as well and all after having to place first-round receiver Rashod Bateman on IR as well. Ty’Son Williams looked good in his debut and linebacker Patrick Queen seemed to have taken a pretty significant step, looking at how much faster he played in his first sophomore showing. Yet, with right tackle Allejandro Villanueva getting worked in his first game as a Raven, those young DBs getting exposed on numerous occasions and the health factor, things aren’t pointing the right way. Then, when they’re up by seven and driving, with a chance to make this a two-score, Lamar loses the ball mid-air, and then up by three with 37 seconds and no timeouts left, the Raiders find a way to tie the score and send this to overtime, where Lamar gets stripped. This wasn’t really a game they could afford to lose.

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For in-depth breakdowns of the NFL and college football, head over to my page https://www.halilsrealfootballtalk.com and my Youtube channel

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Twitter: @halilsfbtalk

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