Add it all up, and you have a conference that appears much weaker overall than its NFC counterpart — strengthening even further the Super Bowl paths of defending conference finalists New England and Kansas City. That’s where we’ll start our top takeaways from Week 1 of the NFL season.
Could we be reliving the 2017 season in which the AFC had only four legitimate playoff teams? That year, the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans made the playoffs as wild-card teams even though they produced point differentials more in line with 7-9 squads. The Titans won a playoff game but still fired coach Mike Mularkey.
Starting out in the AFC East, it’s already looking like another cakewalk for the Patriots. The Miami Dolphins look like front-runners for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft after getting trounced, 59-10, by the Baltimore Ravens. It’s hard to figure out what to say about the Bills, who won, 17-16, or their opponent, the New York Jets. Buffalo somehow overcame second-year quarterback Josh Allen’s four first-half turnovers to score 17 unanswered points. New Jets coach Adam Gase called his offense inept.
In the AFC North, we’ll know more about Baltimore once it plays a team other than Miami, but Lamar Jackson dazzled with five touchdown passes, indicating his progression to becoming more of a pocket passer in his second year is going well. You have to give the Ravens the early leg up in that divisional race, given how poorly the Steelers and Browns played.
Cleveland was particularly disappointing. The Browns had 18 penalties for 182 yards, and they clearly have issues on the offensive line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked five times and hit six more times. Left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected. Now it’s up to new coach Freddie Kitchens to respond to the adversity of the first loss and put the team back on the right path.
No team suffered worse Sunday than the Jaguars, who lost Foles in their 40-26 loss to the Chiefs. He was expected to have surgery Monday and will probably go on injured reserve. That would keep him out at least eight weeks, but it’s not out of the question he could miss the rest of the season. Making matters worse, the defense that led Jacksonville to the AFC championship game two years ago looked completely lost. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 yards. On six of the first 16 plays, the Jaguars’ defense gave up between 21 and 68 yards.
“Anytime you give up 40 points, that stuff sucks,” cornerback D.J. Hayden told reporters after the game.
You don’t want to overreact too much to an opening weekend that followed a preseason with fewer starters playing than in the past. But while we wait to see how Cleveland and Pittsburgh respond and how Baltimore fares against tougher competition, the Patriots and Chiefs are a clear top two in the AFC, with a Los Angeles Chargers team that eked out a win over the Indianapolis Colts not far behind. The AFC South is wide open. The AFC East looks like it’s already won.
More Week 1 takeaways
The Los Angeles Rams’ offense is different. For starters, Sean McVay’s offense ran several four-receiver sets, a departure from last season when Los Angeles used three-receiver formations 91 percent of the time.
But the much more noticeable, and significant, change has to do with running back Todd Gurley II. McVay split the workload Sunday between Malcolm Brown and Gurley, whose arthritic right knee has seemingly kept him from performing up to his level of the past two regular seasons — an MVP candidate and arguably the league’s best running back. Gurley had just six carries for 33 yards through three quarters before he got hot and finished with 97 yards on 14 carries.
L.A.'s Super Bowl opponent last season, the Patriots, changed things up in Week 1 as well, using formations with two backs and three wideouts on 23 plays in its victory — a new look following the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
A new coach hasn’t changed Jameis Winston. Despite welcoming Bruce Arians as his coach this offseason, Winston kept up his turnover-producing ways, throwing three interceptions, including two pick-sixes, in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He has 61 interceptions in 57 games. If Winston doesn’t figure it out soon, the Bucs could be drafting his replacement next year.
But the Bengals’ new coach has changed Andy Dalton. The combination of McVay protege Zac Taylor and Dalton was impressive in Week 1: Dalton got rid of the ball quickly and accurately in a 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Dalton finished 35 for 51 for 418 yards, and he did so without the injured A.J. Green at wide receiver. Even though the Seahawks’ defense looked pretty bad in their victory, Jadeveon Clowney got off to a good start. He posted a sack of Dalton, and he played 48 snaps even though he had only been with the team for about three practices.
Mike Zimmer appears to have gotten his wish. The Minnesota Vikings coach wants his team to commit to the running game, and that was certainly the case in a 28-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings had 38 rushes for 172 yards, led by Dalvin Cook’s 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, threw only 10 passes, completing eight for 98 yards and a score.
Don’t write off Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray yet. The early returns on the Arizona Cardinals’ new Air Raid offense were pretty bad after three-plus quarters against the Detroit Lions, who led 24-6. But Murray got hot, completing 15 of 19 passes for 154 yards in the fourth quarter in what turned out to be a 27-27 tie. Murray has the skills to be a good quarterback.
The longer Jerry Jones waits to give Dak Prescott a contract extension, the more expensive it will be. Carson Wentz, who shined in a Week 1 win over the Washington Redskins, got $32 million per year this offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles. Jared Goff got $34 million per year from the Rams. Prescott made his case to get more than both of them in the Dallas Cowboys’ 35-17 win over the New York Giants. Prescott completed 25 of 32 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. He might not get the $35 million per year that went to Russell Wilson, but Prescott needs to get paid.