The first week of the NFL season is in the books, and it was a phenomenal slate of games. The week kicked off with an instant classic between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It ended with the incredibly entraining mess that was the Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders game. What we got sandwiched in between these enthralling games were several players, coaches, teams, and even divisions that make up the NFL Week 1 winners and losers.
Winner: Kyler Murray
There were all sorts of conversations around Kyler Murray’s NFC West counterparts — Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance — this offseason. There was also plenty of talk about the NFL’s young QBs like Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson. Murray was the odd man out in all this talk.
The former minor league baseball player thrust his name into all these discussions in Week 1. He put up a dynamite performance during a 38-12 bashing of the Tennessee Titans. Murray was an efficient 21-of-32 for 289 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
Murray may not have been the name on everyone’s lips in the offseason. But, if he continues to play like this, he’ll not only get more attention, he’ll be a top name in the NFL MVP race.
Loser: Aaron Rodgers
Unlike Murray, there was no shortage of talking, writing, thinking, or speculating about Aaron Rodgers between this season and last. The wayward passer spent the summer hobnobbing with celebs hosting TV gameshows. He rolled back into Green Bay in late July, and we all assumed he and the team would be right back to where they were last year at the top of the league.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday.
NFL coaches live in constant fear of “distractions,” and this is why. Everything in and around the Packers organization has been about the Rodgers drama these six months. That showed up on the field in an embarrassing 38-3 smackdown by the New Orleans Saints.
There is still a lot of time to turn it around this season, and, as Rodgers says, “It’s just one game.” That said, if the Rodgers saga continues to play out off the field, it wouldn’t be surprising if these types of results continued on the field.
Winner: West Divisions
The best division in football race is on, and the two candidates in 2021 are the AFC West and the NFC West. The two left-coast divisions produced eight winners in Week 1 and are home to some of the best teams in football.
The AFC West had some nail-biters on Sunday. However, the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, and Las Vegas Raiders all prevailed. In the other conference, the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Rams got the same results, but without the drama. The four NFC West teams won their games by a combined 65 points.
The two western-most divisions don’t have a single game against each other during the regular season, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see two teams from these two divisions face off against one another in the Super Bowl.
Loser: North Divisions
The AFC North gets thrown in here for the sake of balance on the NFL Week 1 winner and losers list. The Pittsburgh Steelers actually looked great against the trendy Super Bowl pick Buffalo Bills. The Cincinnati Bengals only squeaked by the Minnesota Vikings in OT, but a win is a win. The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens took L’s but did so against good teams.
The AFC North was a loser in Week 1, but don’t expect that to continue all season.
On the other hand, the NFC North made its claim for the worst division in football, and that could stick. As discussed above, the Packers looked lost the first time out, and the Vikings couldn’t put away an average-at-best Bengals squad.
The Detroit Lions could be one of the worst teams in the league, but at least they looked tough under head coach Dan Campbell on their way to a scrappy eight-point loss to the Niners. The Chicago Bears got smacked around on national TV by the Rams. The most concerning part is that it wasn’t Andy Dalton who disappointed. It was the defense.
Especially if the Packers continue to struggle, the NFC North looks like it could be pound-for-pound the worst division in the league. Although, the AFC South may have something to say about that.
Winner: David Culley
Speaking of the worst teams in the league, how’s that working out for the Houston Texans? After a messy coaching search and both the football and non-football drama surrounding Deshaun Watson, everyone expected the Texans to come out and lay an egg from day one.
First-time head coach David Culley had something to say about that, which is why he ended up on the NFL Week 1 winners and losers list.
Culley’s squad doesn’t have much top-end talent, but what it does have is veteran, professional NFL football players. Led by unheralded journeyman Tyrod Taylor, the solidly average coach and his solidly average players took college man Urban Meyer and his golden boy, Trevor Lawrence, out to the woodshed.
This might be the only game Houston wins all year. Even so, at least for one week, the much-maligned Culley and his band of mediocre (but not bad) men are winners.
Loser: Brian Daboll
One of the big reasons so many picked the Bills to have a banner season is that not only did they bring back most of the players from last season’s ACF Championship game appearance, they brought back almost the entire coaching staff too. This includes offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Daboll was hot head coaching name in the offseason but didn’t get the call. Now, just a few months removed from his season of play-calling brilliance, his Bills’ offense looked stagnant on Sunday.
The OC never even tried to establish the run game until it was too late. He didn’t call plays that would neutralize the Steelers’ vicious pass rush, and his mind-boggling call for an eight-yard backward pass to Matt Breida on a 4th-and-1 might have been the most indefensible play call of the entire weekend.
There’s a solid chance the Steelers — and especially their D — are just excellent this season, and this was a one-off against a tough team. If not, Josh Allen and the Bills could be in trouble.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference