Well, well, well. What a weekend of gridiron action we were blessed with as the NFL returned with 16 matches in an action-packed Week 1.
Rookies thrived, stars shone, and underdogs reigned supreme in an enthralling slate of games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
But what was there to take from all the action? We’ve taken a look and come up with a list of nine things we’ve learned from the opening weekend of the 2021 NFL campaign.
The West is best
Eight games in the book for the NFC and AFC West franchises and eight victories – an unbelievable performance in week one from those situated in the Western divisions.
In the NFC, third-year quarterback Kyler Murray produced a sensational performance for the Arizona Cardinals in a 38-13 rout of the reigning AFC South champions Tennessee Titans. Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson tossed four touchdown (TD) passes in his team’s 28-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts – wide receiver Tyler Lockett hauling in two scores and 100 yards in victory.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
San Francisco 49ers outlasted the Detroit Lions in a 41-33 thriller in which wide receiver Deebo Samuel tallied nine catches, 189 yards and a touchdown and on Sunday Night Football, quarterback Matthew Stafford led the Los Angeles Rams to a 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, throwing for three scores and 321 yards.
In the AFC, Kansas City, LA, Denver and Las Vegas also secured Ws. KC defeated the Cleveland Browns, LA the Washington Football Team and Denver won against the New York Giants before a ‘game of the year’ candidate on Monday night saw Las Vegas defeat Baltimore – more on that game later.
The impressive nature of all eight victories showcased the outright strength in depth of the AFC and NFC West. All eight have a shot at making the post-season on their week one performances.
Don’t rest on the NFC East
Last season the NFC East – or NFC Least if you will – was historically bad, with all four sides finishing under .500. The Washington Football Team won the division with a 7-9 record.
You may look at the 1-3 record in week one and think the four NFC East rivals are in for another season of pain, but the performances suggest otherwise.
The Dallas Cowboys were a questionable call away from taking victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense are certainly capable of putting up mammoth numbers but their success this season will rely heavily on their defense showing a sustained improvement on last term.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, routed the Atlanta Falcons on the road 32-6. Eagles’ fans just need to look at the dominance of their offensive and defensive lines to take confidence into the season.
First-year head coach Nick Sirianni also produced a dynamic gameplan for quarterback Jalen Hurts who tossed three touchdowns and 264 yards in the contest – adding 62 more yards with his legs.
Washington suffered a narrow 20-16 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers, conceding a late touchdown in a hard-fought matchup. However, they lost quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to injury during the game and will have to rely on their highly ranked defense to help them contend this season.
The New York Giants, however, will require a vast improvement to challenge for the division after a 27-13 reverse at the hands of the Denver Broncos. They struggled to maintain a run game – despite the return of superstar back Saquon Barkley – whilst they allowed Denver to rush for 165 yards.
Overall, the eye test shows that the NFC East has improved in 2021.
‘The Rookie Five’ make an impression
All five rookie quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft made their debuts in week one – three starting their team’s matchups and two showcasing their talents from the bench.
Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence – selected first overall in April’s draft – went through the typical learning curve of a rookie QB in the Jags’ defeat to the Houston Texans. Some mesmeric throws coupled with rookie errors saw Lawrence throw for 332 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
No.2 overall pick Zach Wilson of the New York Jets helped dig his side out of a 16-0 hole to comeback against the Carolina Panthers – albeit eventually falling 19-14 to the NFC South outfit. He produced 258 passing yards, two touchdowns and a pick in an assured performance.
49ers’ Trey Lance – selected with #3 pick in the draft – backed up Jimmy Garoppolo in a 41-33 thriller against Detroit. Lance was afforded a number of plays, however, and threw a five-yard touchdown to Trent Sherfield with his only pass of the contest.
Patriots’ Mac Jones took command of the New England offense in their 17-16 defeat at the hands of Miami in Foxborough. Jones played mistake-free football throwing for 281 yards and a score to Nelson Agholor.
Justin Fields, meanwhile…..
18+ only • New customers only • Min deposit £/€/$10 • A qualifying bet is a ‘real money’ stake of at least £/€/$10 • Min odds 1/2 (1.50) • Free Bets are credited upon qualifying bet settlement and expire after 7 days • Free Bet stakes are not included in returns • Casino Bonus must be claimed within 7 days, wins are capped at £/€/$500 • To withdraw bonus/related wins, you must wager the bonus amount up to 40 times its value within 14 days • Casino Bonus expires after 60 days • Casino Bonus can be used on selected games in casino only • Restrictions apply to withdrawals, payment methods & countries & full T&Cs apply • BeGambleAware •
18+ only. New customers only. Min deposit £5. Bet Credits available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.
Justin Fields needs to start
The fourth quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft watched on as Andy Dalton led the Chicago Bears offense in a Sunday Night matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
Dalton struggled to match opposing QB Matthew Stafford as the Bears fell behind early – Dalton mustering a mere 206 yards and interception in the game.
Both of Chicago’s touchdowns came in the running game, with one of those attributed to the legs of Fields’ who scampered home for a solo score. Fields then took command of the offense in ‘garbage time’ for a pair of completions and 10 passing yards.
If the Bears want to have any success this season they need to hand the keys over to the Ohio State product. Fields showcased his talent in pre-season with a series of impressive outings.
With the success of the rushing game against LA, Fields being in the line-up should open up space for running back David Montgomery who amassed 100 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night.
Second-year QBs on fire
As mentioned earlier it was a tough learning experience for several of the first-year quarterbacks making their debuts this weekend – but their sophomore counterparts, beginning their second season in the league, all shined in week one.
Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, LA Chargers’ Justin Herbert, Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts combined for a 4-0 record, threw for 1064 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 14, 2021
Burrow showed exceptional poise to lead the Bengals to an 27-24 overtime (OT) victory over the Minnesota Vikings – including a delightful fourth-down throw in OT to setup the game-winning field goal. He also hit former LSU teammate and first-round draft pick Ja’Marr Chase with stunning 50-yard touchdown.
Herbert produced a fourth-quarter comeback against one of the fiercest pass defenses in football. The sixth overall pick last year hit Mike Williams with an outside shoulder throw in the corner of the endzone – perfect pass placement to keep the ball away from the defender.
Tagovailoa did enough to overcome a tough matchup against a strong Patriots defense in an AFC East divisional matchup. He threw and rushed for a touchdown in an efficient display with the Dolphins coaching staff scheming the offensive gameplan well to make use of Tagovailoa’s exceptional accuracy.
Hurts dominated the Falcons, making accurate throws both down the field and in the screen game. The second-year man looked poised and didn’t put the ball in danger, something that has lacked in Philadelphia in recent years.
Who needs Drew Brees?
I’m not sure many individuals who follow the NFL would have expected Jameis Winston to outplay reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers – especially by the margin he did in New Orleans Saints’ 38-3 demolition of the Green Bay Packers.
The former #1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers threw for just 148 yards in the contest but did connect with Juwan Johnson (2), Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan and Alvin Kamara for a quintet of touchdowns.
Rodgers, on the other hand, was a mere imitation of himself on Sunday. He completed under 55% of his passes for 133 yards and two interceptions as the Packers’ registered a solo field goal on the scoreboard.
The Packers eventually turned the offense over to second-year quarterback Jordan Love who made the most of his snaps by completing five of his seven passes for 68 yards – although he did fumble once.
But all credit must go to Winston and New Orleans’ head coach Sean Payton who silenced the doubters – at least for one week – who thought the Saints would implode with the retirement of Hall of Fame certainty Drew Brees.
Falcons in play for #1 pick
We discussed the Falcons’ defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the article, but it is really important to emphasise just how much of a struggle it was for the Falcons – outside of an encouraging first quarter.
The Falcons enjoyed two points-scoring drives to open the contest. On both drives, the Falcons ran all over the Eagles defense amassing 100 yards rushing in just the first half. At 7-6 early in the second quarter the NFC South outfit were very much in the contest.
It was all downhill from there, however, as Philadelphia dominated the line of scrimmage. On offense, Matt Ryan threw for just 136 yards and no touchdowns, the team totalled just 124 yards rushing, converted just three third downs out of 14 attempts and punted six times.
The Atlanta offensive line also struggled to protect Ryan, the quarterback was under pressure all afternoon before suffering three sacks in the fourth quarter – rookie guard Jalen Mayfield having a particularly tough afternoon on his debut.
Defensively, they gave up 173 rushing yards and 261 yards through the air against an offense that ranked in the bottom ten both in yards and scoring in 2020. Add in 12 penalties for 99 yards and it all spells trouble for first-year head coach Arthur Smith.
On the basis of this performance, Atlanta must be considered a viable candidate to select first overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Chandler Jones is going to get paid!
It’s not every week a defensive player has an afternoon the calibre of Arizona Cardinals’ EDGE rusher Chandler Jones. The former Patriot sacked Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times in a 38-13 triumph.
The performance equalled the Cardinals’ franchise record for sacks in a single game and he forced two turnovers – both fumbles – in a dominant display.
This comes off the back of a contract dispute during the off-season. Jones missed mandatory minicamps but has avoided going public about the dispute. One thing is for sure though, he showed his worth to the Arizona front office with a breath-taking performance.
Jones has now amassed 102 career sacks in his illustrious 10-year stay in the NFL and the 31-year-old will be keen to earn one last pay day as he heads into the twilight of his career.
Chiefs are still the class of the AFC
The reigning back-to-back AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs remain the class of the conference after a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead.
The Browns had been talked up all off-season as a contender for the AFC crown and looked like backing up those words when leading 22-10 at the interval – the running back committee of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt reaching the endzone on three occasions while wide receiver Jarvis Landry added another on the ground.
However, the irrepressible Patrick Mahomes and lightning quick Tyreek Hill combined for 11 receptions, 197 yards and a touchdown, Mahomes adding two more scores to dynamic tight end Travis Kelce, as the Chiefs scored 23 second-half points to take victory in the 33-29 contest.
The Chiefs, under the leadership of head coach Andy Reid, have a regular season record of 71-25 since the beginning of the 2015 season and have won five straight AFC West titles – and there is no end in sight to their dominance with Mahomes and Reid at the helm.