Wow! What a great first week of regular season football! Between Kyler Murray’s epic comeback, the incredible final minute of the Texans-Saints game, an excellent Colts-Chargers battle, and several tremendous individual performances, NFL fans were treated to quite the source of entertainment this weekend. Now, it’s time to recap all those games, while also updating our power rankings. Let’s rank all the NFL teams following Week 1, giving them grades and assessing each of their performances in their first respective games.
*All Stats and Grades Via Pro Football Focus
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Lost 59-10 vs BAL
Overall Grade: F
Top Performer: DT John Jenkins
The Dolphins are tanking, and there’s no hiding it. Though they were underdogs versus a decent Ravens team, they were still expected to be somewhat competitive. Instead, they were finished from the start. A defense that actually has some talent and an up-and-coming play-caller in head coach Brian Flores allowed Lamar Jackson to throw for 5 touchdowns, and 46.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. The victim of the unit was defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was constantly picked on; despite being more of a safety/slot cornerback, he was asked to guard one of the fastest receivers in the NFL in rookie Marquise Brown. The offense wasn’t terrible, but it was about as advertised; receiver Devante Parker did well with a 75.5 grade, yet they struggled to move the ball down the field and was awful in pass protection. Even Josh Rosen came into this game and threw an interception; everything went wrong for Miami. It only gets worse for them; they’ll host the Patriots in Week 2.
#31: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 35-17 at DAL
Top Performer: TE Evan Engram
Practically no one was predicting the Giants to upset the Cowboys in Dallas this Sunday. In fact, I predicted that they’d lose by 27 points, so “only” losing by 18 points shouldn’t seem so bad. Yet, it still does. New York’s secondary was absolutely torched, allowing Dak Prescott to throw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. Even more worrisome, one of their three first-round picks, cornerback DeAndre Baker was miserable in his NFL debut, posting a putrid 28.4 coverage grade while allowing 33 yards per reception. There were some positives; the pass protection held up, while tight end Evan Engram and running back Saquon Barkley were both terrific, but it’s clear that the Giants don’t have enough playmakers on offense, and that’ll only get worse since slot receiver Sterling Shepard is dealing with a concussion. Playing the Bills in their home opener is a winnable game, though judging by their inability to stretch the field or defend against the passing game, they certainly don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
#30: Tampa Bay Buccanneers (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 31-17 vs SF
Top Performer: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Could we be witnessing the end of the Jameis Winston era in Tampa Bay? The former first overall pick practically lost the game for the Buccanneers against the 49ers, throwing two awful pick-sixes and compiling an awful 36.9 grade. That’s a major reason why the supposedly Bucs offense scored only 17 points against a weak 49ers secondary, though it also doesn’t help that Winston was constantly harrassed by San Francisco’s pass rush. On the positive side, Tampa Bay’s young secondary fared well against a tough 49ers offense, but first-round rookie linebacker Devin White struggled mightily in his first action, and the defense as a whole still didn’t mesh very well. Unless head coach Bruce Arians can turn around Winston and this offense in a hurry, this could be a lost season for the Bucs, especially since the schedule remains tough with a road game versus Panthers on Thursday Night Football up next.
#29: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Won 24-16 vs DEN
Top Performer: QB Derek Carr
No AB, no problem for the Raiders? Not exactly; the Broncos didn’t exactly look like a formidable opponent on Monday Night Football, and it’s not as though Oakland blew them out. Still, the Raiders certainly exceeded expectations greatly, and a lot of credit has to be given to head coach Jon Gruden. Not only did he guide the Raiders through the Antonio Brown drama, but his offensive gameplan was perfect against the feared Broncos defense. Quarterback Derek Carr got the ball out quickly, distributing targets well to receiver Tyrell Williams and tight end Derek Waller, each of whom played well. Therefore, despite poor play from the offensive line, Carr was still able to post an elite 92.6 grade, and led an offense that functioned well. Then there’s first-round rookie running back Josh Jacobs, who as tremendous as advertised while rushing for two touchdowns and earning an 83.6 grade. Heck, even their notoriously talent-deficient defense did their job, constantly pressuring quarterback Joe Flacco and allowing just 16 points. This is probably the best the Raiders, who still have one of the worst rosters in the NFL and have to play the Chiefs next week, will play all season. Still, it was definitely encouraging to see them show some life, especially after a very rough offseason.
#28: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 23)
Result: Lost 40-26 vs KC
Top Performer: QB Gardner Minshew
Ultimately, the Jaguars played in Week 1 just as many had feared they would; they continued to be incredibly undisciplined and got routed by the Chiefs at home. Obviously, losing quarterback Nick Foles to a broken collarbone hurts, especially after they invested $88 million believe he was their savior, but it’s not as though that’s the reason they lost. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, a sixth-round rookie, was excellent with an 87.8 grade and an absurd 88% completion percentage. However, it was the defense that faltered. They simply couldn’t tackle, and both of their top-notch cornerbacks, AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, were awful despite the fact that receiver Tyreek Hill left the game with an injury in the first quarter. There was no pass rush, no tackling, no coverage, and no energy; this was definitely not an inspiring performance, and unless things change for better this week in a very tough road game versus the Texans, it may be time for a major overhaul.
#27: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 21-20 at SEA
Top Performer: DT Geno Atkins
The Bengals were supposed to get blown out this weekend. After all, they were dealing with major issues with the offensive line due to injuries and retirements, and traveling to Seattle was an extremely difficult task. Yet, it can be argued that they were the better team. The first game of the Zac Taylor era was a mini-success, as the offense was able to mask some of the deficiencies up front with a very similar offensive scheme to the Rams (Taylor was Sean McVay’s QB Coach), which allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to turn in a solid performance. Plus, receiver John Ross showed a pulse in the NFL for the first time since he was drafted with two deep touchdowns, and based on the 12 targets he received, one could hope he can be a major part of the offense moving forward. Although the defense struggled slightly in coverage, particularly cornerback William Jackson and safety Jessie Bates III, but the Bengals were able to slow the Seahawks down with their one defensive strength: their defensive line. Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard, and Carlos Dunlap were all terrific, which disrupted quarterback Russell Wilson, in addition to Seattle’s run-first offense. In their home opener versus the 49ers, it’ll definitely be exciting to see if Cincinnati can continue to play well under Taylor and get a victory; they are currently favorites to win that game.
#26: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 32-27 at PHI
Top Performer: WR Terry McLaurin
At one point, it looked like the Redskins had a chance to pull off a major upset in Philadelphia; they were up 17-0 at one point. However, if not for a garbage-time touchdown, the Eagles would’ve actually found a way to cover the ten points they were favored by. What went wrong? For starters, Washington’s pass defense was atrocious; there was no pass rush and the secondary allowed two huge touchdowns to Desean Jackson. If not for a few fluky plays, the offense also wasn’t great; although he threw for 380 yards, Case Keenum was as mediocre as possible with a 57 overall grade. If there was a bright spot, it was third-round rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, who shined in the vertical passing game with an 86.4 overall grade. Supposed franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins will need impact receivers once he takes over, and McLaurin could fill a major role as a vertical threat. Overall, this team is very feisty, and should put up a good battle at home versus the Cowboys this weekend, but it’s one with too many issues to compete this season.
#25: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 30-24 at LAC
Top Performer: EDGE Kemoko Turay
After Andrew Luck retired, the Colts went from Super Bowl contender to a team that will be competitive, yet will struggle to win games. Jacoby Brissett is a good backup, but it was unclear if he had what it took to be a quality starter. With a 78.6 overall grade against a strong Chargers defense, he’s on his way to proving his case, though the offense was centered around running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for 174 yards and average 7 yards a carry. With such a great offensive line and some playmakers, this offense should continue to be satisfactory under Brissett, though the defense is a concern. Poor performances from the linebackers allowed running back Austin Ekeler to dominate in this game, while the secondary was also gashed. There were some bright spots; edge rusher Kemoko Turay had an amazing 95.6 grade and 4 pressures in 23 snaps, while safety Malik Hooker may have made the interception of the year. Heck, had they gotten the ball in overtime, there’s a chance they would’ve been able to completely pull off their 15 point comeback in the fourth quarter. How they fare next week against a rising Titans team will be crucial for their season, as well as the AFC South.
#24: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Lost 17-16 vs BUF
Top Performer: S Marcus Maye
For three quarters, the Jets looked to be on their way to a convincing victory over the Bills. Yet, despite facing a below-average offense, New York managed to squander a 16 point lead. It was a tough start to the Adam Gase era, to say the least. The offense struggled all game; Sam Darnold constantly resorted to check-downs, and outside of running back Le’Veon Bell, no one stood out at all. Half of their points came from a pick-six and a safety; scoring eight points is unacceptable. The defense had its moments – linebacker CJ Mosley had that pick-six, safety Marcus Maye had a 92.3 grade, and the pass rush was better than expected. Still, the secondary struggled when it mattered most, and it was clear that Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were outcoached. If they can’t beat the Browns on Monday Night Football next week, their season could be over before it started; this was a very, very bad loss.
#23: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Tied 27-27 vs DET
Top Performer: EDGE Terrell Suggs
The Cardinals were the exact opposite for the Jets; in the first three quarters, their new air-raid offense couldn’t move the ball down the field at all, and they trailed by 18 points. However, in the fourth quarter, the offense came alive; first overall pick Kyler Murray was fantastic; his explosiveness will help Arizona remain competitive. There are major concerns regarding the offensive line and the receivers’ lack of separation, but as long as they have Murray, the offense should always be respected. Though the coverage was awful as expected without Patrick Peterson (suspension), the pass rush duo of Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs was dominant, and if that continues, this is a defense that could be a top-15 unit once Peterson returns. For now though, it’ll be a mini-struggle on both sides of the ball, especially in a very tough road game at Baltimore this Sunday.
#22: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Won 59-10 vs ARI
Top Performer: QB Lamar Jackson
No team is being more hyped up right now than the Ravens. After all, you get a lot of recognition when you beat a team by 49 points, and this was a flawless performance. Yes, quarterback Lamar Jackson (92.5 grade, 5 touchdowns) and first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown (15 yards per snap!) were incredible, and the pairing of those two has such a huge upside. The same goes for the defense, which was dominant in coverage and in the pass rush. Yet, they were playing the Dolphins, who are at an all-time low right now. If Jackson can continue to be tremendous on a weekly basis, then they’ll shoot up in these rankings. Still, there are too many issues with the passing offense, the pass rush, and the linebackers to move them up too high right now, though they’ll likely be 2-0 with their home opener versus the Cardinals up next in Week 2.
#21: Denver Broncos
Result: Lost 24-16 vs DEN
Top Performer: WR Courtland Sutton
The Broncos had a prime opportunity to get the Vic Fangio era started on the right track. The defensive mastermind was supposed to suffocate the Raiders offense, while quarterback Joe Flacco would do enough against a weak defense to win convincingly. Yet, the exact opposite happened. Denver fell into a hole early as Flacco and the defense both struggled mightily, and by the time they tried to come back, it was too late. I have serious concerns with this performance. Flacco simply looks well past his time as a starting quarterback, which limited Denver’s offense outside of receiver Courtland Sutton, who posted an 86.3 grade. Meanwhile, the coverage was a huge disappointment, while the pass rush was non-existent. This was a game that Denver needed to win; since they failed to take care of business, they’ll need to rebound against the Bears at home, but after watching this game, I don’t know how the offense will be able to score at all.
#20: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Lost 30-28 at NO
Top Performer: QB Deshaun Watson
Had it not been for an incredible drive by quarterback Drew Brees and a 58-yard field goal, the Texans would’ve gone into New Orleans and pulled out a major victory. Alas, they didn’t, and even if they did, it’s unclear if they actually deserved to. After all, their defense was torched all game long; the pass rush and coverage were both awful, and they also struggled to stop the run/screen game. This is a potentially catastrophic problem; if Houston is letting a 40-year-old Drew Brees throw the ball down the middle against them consistently, how will they fare against the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady? Yes, the offense had its flashes, especially with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who proved to be an elite quarterback with an 86.6 grade and multiple incredible throws. Still, the offensive line didn’t look improved from last year, which is why the offense wasn’t able to consistently move the ball down the field. In a way, the Texans were exactly who we thought they were; a team with some star power, but way too many holes to be a Super Bowl contender. At least they’ll likely be able to get on track next week; they’ll host Gardner Mishnew led Jags in Week 2.
#19: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Won 17-16 at NYJ
Top Performer: LB Tremaine Edmunds
It wasn’t pretty, but being able to come back from a 16-point deficit on the road is extremely impressive, and that’s what the Bills were able to do against the Jets this weekend. Quarterback Josh Allen played awful for three quarters, but he made plays when it mattered most, and the flashed he’ll demonstrate add an intriguing layer to his offense. His connection to receiver John Brown was particularly noteworthy; Brown is a solid vertical threat, and Allen’s elite arm strength makes the two a perfect match. However, it was the defense that was the major story, allowing just eight points. Two of their first-round picks over the past two seasons, defensive tackle Ed Oliver and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, were fantastic with grades over 78, and their development could turn this defense into a top-five unit. If that happens, this is a definite wildcard contender, and after winning this game, Buffalo needs to be taken seriously, especially with a very manageable game at the Giants this Sunday.
#18: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 21-20 vs CIN
Top Performer: LB Bobby Wagner
The Seahawks are very stubborn, and as a result, they’ll continue to play their style of football. That means a heavy emphasis with the running game with running back Chris Carson, while limiting quarterback Russell Wilson’s exposure. However, that means a lot of close games; although they were playing an inferior opponent in the Bengals, Seattle had the scrape by to get the win. Wilson was excellent with an 80.4 grade, and one has to wonder why he isn’t getting more opportunities to excel as a passer, especially with second-round rookie DK Metcalf emerging as the team’s #2 receiver opposite of Tyler Lockett. Plus, while the defense struggled at times in coverage, it completely took away the Bengals’ rushing attack, and linebacker Bobby Wagner continued to be incredible with a 90 grade. This team remains carried by Wilson and Wagner, but those two will keep them in every game, including their road affair against the Steelers this upcoming week.
#17: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Tied 27-27 vs ARI
Top Performer: TE TJ Hockenson
If there was a team that could give up an 18-point lead and tie with an inferior opponent in Week, it would certainly be the Lions, who are the epitome of mediocrity. Between first-round rookie tight end TJ Hockenson’s elite debut, the secondary’s early dominance, and the overall flow of the game for the first three quarters, there are a lot of positive takeaways for Detroit. However, they collapsed in drastic fashion, as head coach Matt Patricia got too conservative and the defense wore down. If the Lions had any hopes of winning this year, they needed to take care of business against a depleted Cardinals team. It may have only been one bad quarter, but with a tough schedule coming up that includes the Chargers in their home opener this week, that quarter could define a season that ends with a 5-11 or 6-10 record; trusting quarterback Matthew Stafford needs to be a priority for an offense that continues to focus on running the football.
#16: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 8th)
Result: Lost 33-3 at NE
Top Performer: EDGE TJ Watt
This was supposed to be the start of a “rebirth” for the Steelers. After moving on from offensive playmakers Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell this offseason, keeping the game close versus the defending champion Patriots could’ve been the start of an optimistic season. Instead, they beat themselves up before New England could do so. What is there to take away from this game, other that sheer dissapointment? A defense that looked to be an the up-swing may have gotten strong performances from their run defense, but the secondary was absolutely awful. Pittsburgh’s defense made no adjustments, and as a result, let New England’s receivers roam down the field wide open the entire game. The lack of adjustment was also clear with the offense, which had no answer for New England’s strong defense. Despite their terrific offensive line, unless someone can setp up as the #2 receiver opposite of Juju Smith Schuster for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, this could be a wasted season, especially with how awful the secondary looked. (Spoiler alert: the answer is not Donte Moncreif). Next week’s home opener versus the Seahawks could actually be a season-defining game for the Steelers.
#15: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 28-12 at MIN
Top Performer: DT Grady Jarrett
The Falcons have a potentially incredible liability; their offensive line is a mess. Atlanta simply couldn’t handle Minnesota’s front seven in either pass protection or run-blocking, and as a result, the offense was absolutely pitiful. Outside of garbage time statistics, Matt Ryan was awful with two inexcusable interceptions, and running back Devonta Freeman and reciever Julio Jones were essentially non-factors. When your three best offensive players all struggle, that’s troublesome, especially since the offense needs to carry a defense that struggled against Minnesota. Though their defensive line actually did well versus the Vikings’ offensive line, running back Dalvin Cook still ran all over them, and as a result, they allowed 28 easy points, though the offense’s turnovers didn’t help. At least Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones played well after signing lucrative extensions this offseason; that’s about all Falcons fans can be happy with, and since they have to play an extremely talent Eagles team on Sunday Night Football this week, Atlanta will need to back to their usual ways in a hurry.
#14: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Lost 43-13 vs TEN
Top Performer: G Joel Bitonio
Is the hype train dead for the Browns? After losing 43-13 to the Titans in an absolute stunner this weekend, many have been quick to dismiss them as a playoff contender. Yet, doing so is likely an overreaction. Cleveland has issues – they struggled in pass protection, committed 180 yards worth of penalties, and were poor defensively – but they all can be solved. The discipline should get better over time, as it’s hard to imagine them to be this undisciplined every game, and if that does, that’ll force their opponents to try to beat them, instead of them beating themselves. As for the defense, there is too much talent in the secondary with defensive backs Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Damarious Randall, as well as with pass rushers Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, for the defense not to improve. They simply may need more time, and the same goes for the offense. Yes, Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions, but that came as a result of the deficit that Cleveland put themselves into, and overtime, his connection with star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should improve. The offensive line is an issue that may not be solved, but even then, left tackle Greg Robinson got ejected early, and reverting back to getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands quickly, like last year, could mask that problems. So, while everyone trashes the Browns this week, let’s remember; this is still a very talented team that simply needs time to gel, although if they can’t win week on Monday Night Football versus the Jets, then maybe this is a different conversation.
#13: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Lost 10-3 vs GB
Top Performer: S Haha Clinton-Dix
Many football fans pegged this as the year that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, would breakout. However, the assumption of a third-year breakout certainly didn’t start properly. The North Carolina product was awful with a 49.1 grade, and couldn’t even throw to his left. Essentially, he relies on his receivers to constantly make incredible catches in traffic, and when that doesn’t happen, we have results like we had in the season opener, with Chicago scoring just three points. Of course, the defense was as dominant as expected against the rival Packers led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but that’s as vulnerable as Green Bay will be, and the Bears couldn’t find a way to win at home. Therefore, despite the bright spots, it’s impossible to ignore how limited this team possibly is with Trubisky, and as a result, they fall in these rankings. A tough road game in Denver will give us a better sense of what the defending NFC North champions are.
#12: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 43-13 at CLE
Top Performer: EDGE Cameron Wake
The Titans were massive underdogs for what was supposed to Cleveland’s coming-out party, but in what seems to be an annual tradition for them, they stole the show with a major upset. Though the 30-point difference is a little overblown – most of the damage came when this came was already out of reach – there’s a lot of optimism regarding this team. For starters, this defense has a chance to be an elite unit. They’re very strong in the secondary, with cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson, as well as the best safety in the NFL in Kevin Byard. Yet, what they lacked was an elite rusher, and although the 37-year-old Cameron Wake won’t play 1000 snaps for them, he remains an elite rotational pass rusher, as demonsrated with his 89.9 grade and 85.8 pass rush grade. There even some excitement with the offense, which held up despite not having left tackle Taylor Lewan, although they were helped greatly by the Browns’ penalties. Whether they can actually keep this up remains to be seen, but for now, they’re stock is on the rise. It won’t be an easy game, but if they can beat the Colts at home this week, they could easily vault into the top-ten of this list and take over as the favorites for the division.
#11: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Won 31-17 at TB
Top Performer: TE George Kittle
The 49ers may have won on the road this week, but it wasn’t in the way they likely imagined. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was awful and sloppy with the football, two George Kittle touchdowns were taken away due to penalty, and linebacker Kwon Alexander was ejected in the first quarter. Yet, a win is a win, and there were some bright spots with San Francisco. The team’s two new pass rushers, Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, proved to be worth the investments made in them, as they harrassed Jameis Winston. As a result, they had two pick-sixes, which equals the number of interceptions they had the entire season last year. Garoppolo will get better, which means the offense will as well. However, if the pass rush can continue to dominate and mask the issues in the secondary, which got an encouraging performance from Akhello Witherspoon (81.7 coverage grade), this could turn into a complete team, and a potential Super Bowl contender. Avoiding a trap game at Cincinnati this weekend will be critical.
#10: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Lost 30-27 vs LAR
Top Performer: RB Christian McCaffrey
The Panthers were one of the most popular bets as initially three-point home underdogs this past week; their spread was cut in half. It was all for naught however; Carolina lost by three points and would’ve lost by ten if not for a late-game touchdown. It was very uneven game for Carolina, and specifically quarterback Cam Newton. The former first overall pick committed multiple bad turnovers, including an interception in which linebacker Cory Littleton completely duped him, and a fumble in which he threw a very sloppy backwards pass to receiver DJ Moore. It looks like it’ll be another season in which Christian McCaffrey has to carry the offense, and considering he had 209 yards from scrimmage, he is a generational talent that could probably do so. However, Newton’s rehab back from his shoulder injury will determine this season, though at least Carolina’s defense stood strong in coverage against a dynamic Rams offense. Their Thursday Night divisional matchup versus the Bucs is a must win if they have playoff aspirations this season.
#9: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 10-3 at CHI
Top Performer: S Adrian Amos
It wasn’t appealing to the eye by any means, but the Packers arguably picked up the biggest win of the week with a road upset in the season opener versus the rival Bears. From the statsheet, it’s hard to imagine how Green Bay won this game; their offense didn’t have any sort of rhythm. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was extremely mediocre in head coach Matt LeFleur’s debut, with the only touchdown drive happening due to some freelancing by Rodgers to find Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a huge completion down the field. However, LeFleur’s emphasis on zone runs, screens, and play actions didn’t work at all, albeit against the league’s best defense. Considering that they didn’t play in the preseason and are in a new system, Rodgers and the offense should improve over time, though the team’s lack of receiving talent outside of Davante Adams is a little concerning. The defense, however, may finally be supporting Rodgers. The team’s new additions, pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, as well as safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, all played well, with Amos sealing the game with a huge interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. The pass rush looks fixed and the coverage should improve as the young defensive backs develop; this defense could seriously be a top-ten unit, and although their dominance came against a poor Bears passing attack, its massive enhancement make them a serious Super Bowl contender. That is, assuming their offensive struggles were a fluke, and we’ll find that out when the host the divisional-rival Vikings in their first game at home this season.
#8: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 28-12 vs ATL
Top Performer: S Anthony Harris
A lot has been made about the Vikings’ impressive 28-12 victory over the Falcons. After all, this is a game in which they led 28-0 heading into fourth quarter, and had quarterback Kirk Cousins throw the ball just ten times. After an offseason in which they emphasized the running attack, many have been quick to assume this is how the offense will function. However, in my opinion, this probably was a result of the flow of the game; Minnesota had the lead from the beginning of the game, and played keepaway from the Falcons’ potent offense. Considering they have one of the best receiver duos in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, as well as a capable quarterback in Cousins, it’s likely that they’ll pass the ball more in closer games; atleast, that’s the hope. However, the major takeaway has to be with the defense, which suffocated Atlanta’s offense with surprisingly excellent coverage. If they can continue to be a top-five defense with a good enough offense, this is a team that could win the NFC North. Still, they still have red flags with their offensive line and gameplan, and it’ll be interesting to see how they plan to compensate for that this weekend in Green Bay.
#7: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 35-17 vs NYG
Top Performer: QB Dak Prescott
When they signed running back Ezekiel Elliot to a six-year, $90 million contract, the Cowboys envisoned the former top-five pick being a major component this season and in the future. As it turns out, Dallas may be fine even without relying on Elliot. Facing a Giants defense that dared them to run the ball, the Cowboys decided to pass the ball frequently under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. With a heavy use of play action, Moore made life easier for quarterback Dak Prescott, who had one of the best games in his career with a 92.6 overall grade and a pefect passer rating. Furthermore, receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb all scored touchdowns in this game; the Cowboys may have more weapons offensively than we thought. It was a surprise struggle for the defense, with linebacker Jaylon Smith failing to make any sort of positive impact, but given their talent, it’s almost a certain they’ll shape up. It’s the offense that’s being schemed up by Moore that is the most exciting part about this team currently though; if this offense continues to function like this to pair with their elite defense, this team could be scary, and they’ll be able to beat up on another inferior divisonal opponent when they travel to Washington this weekend.
#6: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 30-27 at CAR
Top Performer: LB Cory Littleton
Though they weren’t as flashy as usual, the Rams were able to take care of business with a road victory against a strong Panthers team. Head coach Sean McVay’s offense wasn’t as strong in the passing game, with quarterback Jared Goff turning in a mediocre performance, but as usual, the team was able to run with authority, no matter who was playing running back. Running back Malcolm Brown got a lot of opportunites as the team continues to be careful with Todd Gurley’s injured knee, and as a duo, both played very well. Obviosuly, better play from the offensive line will be needed going forward, but Los Angeles did what they needed to do offensively, which worked since their defense was quietly spectacular. They forced multiple turnovers, got excellent play from linebackers Cory Littleton and Bryce Hager, which is a very pleasant surprise, and also limited Carolina’s passing attack. Sure, running back Christian McCaffrey had over 200 scrimmage yards, but by taking away everyone besides him, Los Angeles discombulated the Panthers’ gameplan, thus leading to a win. It’s a nice start for the defending NFC Champions, who now face the Saints in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championshop Game.
#5: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 30-28 vs HOU
Top Performer: QB Drew Brees
At halftime, the Saints looked like they were serious trouble, down 14-3 and with no bright spots whatsoever. Yet, they battled back from that deficit. Heck, they seemed to be finished after blowing a six-point lead on just two plays, especially since there were only 37 seconds left for Drew Brees to get the team in the field goal range. Still, somehow, the 40-year-old was able to do just that, and with kicker Will Lutz coverting on a 58-yard field goal, New Orleans avoided being upset at home. It’s a great win for New Orleans, who overcame multiple bad calls that could have destroyed the team’s morale. However, there are a lot of issues to be straightened out before this team can be considered a blue-chip team. Yes, the offense played well as they started to sync together, but they were still incosistent as a unit, and a lot of their success had to do with Houston’s poor secondary, though the offensive line was fantastic. They’ll always be dynamic with receiver Michael Thomas and dual-threat Alvin Kamara, but for them to be an elite unit, they need to start off quicker, and also close out the game, which they failed to do. The main issue, though, is with the secondary, which was exposed in the vertical passing game everytime the pass rush couldn’t harrass Deshaun Watson. They were extremely vulnerable last year as well, and at some point, the team needs to realize that they cannot rely on the likes of Eli Apple and PJ Williams if they want to win consistently. How the secondary does in a very tough game against the Rams is a key storyline; New Orleans is dominant in the trenches, but they need better play on the outside.
#4: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Won 30-24 vs IND
Top Performer: RB Austin Ekeler
At one point, it looked like the Chargers would pull off the ultimate Chargers moment, and blow a 15-point fourth quarter lead to the Colts. However, they got the ball first in overtime, and by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive, they were able survive. That’s the theme with the Chargers right now, who are dealing with injuries to safety Derwin James, tight end Hunter Henry, left tackle Russell Okung, and now receiver Mike Williams. It’s not an ideal situation for them, but in running back Austin Ekeler, who dominated in their win, Los Angeles has a playmaker who can be an elite runner, or an elite receiver. That adds a nice twist to the offense, and with a terrific quarterback in Phillip Rivers and a true #1 receiver Keenan Allen, the offense should be fine despite issues with the offensive line. Though they weren’t great against the Colts, this is still an excellent defense with a deep secondary and arguably the best pass rush duo in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. There’s a lot of talent on this team, and once they get healthy, they’ll be able to make a deep playoff push. For now though, they’re fighting for their lives, and that starts with a potential trap game at Detroit this upcoming weekend.
#3: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Won 32-27 vs WSH
Top Performer: QB Carson Wentz
When they were down 17-0, some started to doubt the Eagles. However, this is clearly the best team in the NFC, and once they were able to shake off the rust, since they didn’t play in the preseason, they were spectacular. Thanks in large part to his connection with receiver Desean Jackson, quarterback Carson Wentz looked like an MVP, and with a great performance from the offensive line, the offense as a whole looked scary. The addition of Jackson, to go along with an already stellar receiving corps, could turn this offense into a potent unit, which would only add to this team’s arsenal. Yes, the secondary struggled against an offense led Case Keenum of all people, but this defense still has a lot of talent, especially with their front seven, and if this offense meshes as well as they did on Sunday, there’s no doubt this is a favorite to win the Super Bowl. We’ll see what they’re all about next week, when the travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons to play on Sunday Night Football in a very intriguing matchup.
#2: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 40-26 at JAX
Top Performer: WR Sammy Watkins
For those who though that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense would slow down in the quarterback’s second year, look away. Despite receiver Tyreek Hill going down with a shoulder injury and Mahomes spraining his ankle, Kansas City scored 40 points on a talented Jaguars defense; they’re simply unstoppable. Receiver Sammy Watkins replaced Hill by scoring three touchdowns, and with second-rookie Mecole Hardman also in the fold, this offense will be able to compensate for the loss of Hill, who’ll be sidelined for four to six weeks. For what it’s worth as well, the tackle duo of Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz shut down Jacksonville’s edge rush, and running back LeSean McCoy looked like another fantastic weapon in his first action with the team. Obviously, this team still has issues defensively; they struggled against Garder Minshew. Still, they may have found the cover linebacker they desperately needed in Damien Wilson, who posted a 91.1 coverage grade, while defensive backs Breshaud Breeland and Juan Thornhill also played well. There’s still work to be done as all the new faces on defense mesh together, but with an offense that’ll constantly score 40 points a game, as they’ll do next week in Oakland, they can afford to go through that transition, and when it’s over, they’ll be the team I though they’d be what I picked them to win the Super Bowl.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 33-3 vs PIT
Top Performer: CB Jonathan Jones
Just when we thought they were slowing down with the losses of center David Andrews (injury) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (retirement), the Patriots have done what they’ve always done; they’ve reloaded. What was supposed to be a lackluster passing offense was incredible against the Steelers this Sunday; Josh Gordon looked like he did in 2013, Julian Edelman was constantly open, and even Phillip Dorsett had a huge game. With very little pressure as well, it looked like Tom Brady was toying with this defense, and now, he gets another fantastic weapon in star receiver Antonio Brown following his release from the Raiders. There’s no weakness with this offense anymore, and we haven’t even gotten to the defense. Even on a night in which star cornerback Stephon Gillmore struggled, the Pats shut down Pittsburgh’s offense, thanks to excellent safety and linebacker play, as well as an amazing game for slot corner Jonathan Jones, who signed a three-year extension the day prior. It’s simple; there’s no flaw with this team whatsoever, and since they’re hitting their stride early this season, it already feels as though they have the #1 seed locked up in the AFC. Next week, we’ll be able to watch them win by a million as they get the honor of blowing out the tanking Dolphins in Miami.