Overreacting to any single week of football is neither prudent nor profitable, but what else are we supposed to do after Week 1 in the NFL? Overreacting to small sample sizes is synonymous with football itself. So let’s look at the biggest overreactions from the season opener and see whether [Cousin Vinny voice] any of the cases hold watuh:
The Steelers Are the Pretenders in the AFC
The Overreaction: Six turnovers and a tie — a tie! — against the lowly Browns. Pittsburgh is the playoff favorite who will drop off in 2018, and Mike Tomlin will be on the hot seat by Halloween.
The Reality: That isn’t a wild overreaction. It’s tempting to compare this to Week 1 of last year, when the Steelers sleep-walked into a three-point win against the Browns and went on to earn a first-round bye. The issue is that last season the Steelers went 8–2 in one-possession games, which is likely to regress, and Pittsburgh has a bad habit of playing down to its competition (see last season against Chicago and Indianapolis).
James Conner played great in Le’Veon Bell’s absence, but no matter how well he runs, he won’t bring the same receiving dimension into the Steelers offense that elevated them from great to the best skill group in football. But while Bell is the Yinzer scapegoat du jour, Pittsburgh’s bigger problem is its defense, and the blame could spread to Tomlin after a slow start. Pittsburgh had the second-highest rate of missed tackles on run plays last season, prompting the coaching staff to emphasize tackling this offseason. It didn’t work in Cleveland, and the open-field tackling is unlikely to get much better in their home opener against Kansas City, who just shredded the Chargers with the best open-field runners in football.
The Vikings Are Horns and Helmets Above the Rest of the League
The Overreaction: Minnesota exposed San Francisco and is about to rampage its way through the NFC.
The Reality: At every spot on their defense, the Vikings have an above-average player, but they are far from an invincible unit. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out in July, Minnesota’s astounding defense allowed just 25 percent of third-down conversions last season, a figure that led the league by so much that it will be almost impossible to duplicate. In their first game, the Vikings allowed the 49ers to convert five of 13 third downs (38.5 percent), which was almost exactly the median league conversion percentage last year. It could have been worse — the 49ers flubbed a number of big plays, including tight end George Kittle dropping a long pass before a pick-six on the next play, and Jimmy Garoppolo missing Kittle in the end zone, which forced the Niners to settle for a field goal.
Even a small defensive regression might mean the defense won’t be able to cover up all the warts on offense. Minnesota’s offensive line was shaken up due to retirements and injuries this offseason, and it is the weak link in the Vikings’ armor (though the TV show Vikings taught me that Vikings didn’t wear armor, just leather that shows too much skin for the Nordic cold). San Francisco’s defensive line sacked Kirk Cousins three times on Sunday, and managed to hold Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray to a combined 82 yards on 27 carries (3.04 yards per attempt). Vikings blockers struggled to get the linebackers at the second level.
Fred Warner introduces himself to the NFL and shows why fast, smart ILBs are all the rage. Warner IDs the run immediately, and the pulling center can't get over in time to block him. When the 49ers have both Warner and Reuben Foster at the same time, it'll be hard to run on them. pic.twitter.com/6Q2SXLPxkI— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) September 10, 2018
The Vikings face Packers defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike Daniels in Week 2, and then the best two defensive lines in football in the Rams and Eagles back-to-back in weeks 4 and 5, both on the road. Those squads are capable of dominating Minnesota’s offensive line, stifling the run game and forcing Kirk Cousins out of the pocket (which is also out of his comfort zone). Minnesota’s roster is stacked, but their weaknesses — a struggling offensive line and a quarterback who isn’t at his best when improvising — can cascade.
The Chiefs Are the AFC Favorites
The Overreaction: Patrick Mahomes II is God.
The Reality: Andy Reid is the patron saint of September play-calling. The Chiefs offense once again demolished a Week 1 opponent with innovative concepts and deep passing, but the defense was a cause for concern. Kansas City gave up 541 yards and 33 first downs to the Chargers, each of which was the worst in Week 1 through Sunday. It could have been much worse. The Chargers were plagued by some inopportune drops, including Travis Benjamin dropping an underthrown ball on what should have been a touchdown that would have given L.A. the halftime lead.
Cornerback Kendall Fuller can’t be expected to fill the void left by All-Pro Marcus Peters, and though safety Eric Berry will return soon, he won’t be enough to fix whatever happened on Sunday. The Chiefs are relying on a ragtag collection of theoretical playmakers like linebackers Dee Ford and Reggie Ragland, and (way) past-their-prime players like pass rusher Justin Houston and cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who is 31 and has been a weak link in defenses since he was 26 (Cowboys fans are nodding). The only offense better than the Chiefs’ this season might be any decent team facing Kansas City.
The Saints Are the Pretenders in the NFC
The Overreaction: They spent all offseason whining about the Minneapolis Miracle and then lost to Ryan Fitzmagic. Their defense sucks again. You are the weakest link in the NFC South — goodbye!
Those were headlines after Week 1 last season, when a previously moribund Vikings offense destroyed the Saints on Monday Night Football. The plot twist was that Minnesota had a fantastic offense the rest of the season, and the Saints sported their best defense in years. There’s a chance that Sunday was a similar phenomenon. Yes, the Bucs’ performance is partially because Fitzpatrick does this sometimes, but it’s also because head coach Dirk Koetter handed play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Todd Monken. (It’s amazing what happens when someone’s full-time job is to focus on the offense!)
The Bucs are far more talented than they got credit for in the preseason, and the Saints are way too talented to write off after one bad game. They are still stacked with young talent at premium positions. The defense might need a couple of more weeks to marinate, but the offense looked elite even without Mark Ingram, who will return when September ends. Bet on the talent to come along in the next few weeks against the Browns, Falcons, and Giants.
The Bills Are the Browns Now
The Overreaction: They don’t need a quarterback. They need to repent. The Bills lost 47–3, and Nathan Peterman had a passer rating of zero. Less than one year after breaking its playoff drought, Buffalo is the odds-on-favorite for the no. 1 overall pick in 2019.
The Reality: It’s all true. Only the Bills could turn Joe Flacco’s greatest fear — getting benched for Lamar Jackson — into a triumph. The Bills have the worst quarterback situation in football, and now they have to choose between sending ninth overall project Josh Allen to the wolves against the Chargers, Vikings, Packers, Titans, and Texans in the next five games, or send Peterman back out against the Chargers, who picked him off five times in his first half last year. Both seem cruel and unusual, which is par for the course in Buffalo. That situation is exacerbated by Buffalo’s depth chart, which boasts perhaps the worst receiving corps and offensive line groups in the NFL. There are a lot of overreactions on this list, but the Bills being hopeless is the only thing we know for sure.