Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly NFL rankings, where we’ll break down the good, the bad, and the absurd of the 2019 season. Every Tuesday, we’ll have a ranking of the moments, players, or story lines that are driving the conversation around the league. This week, we’re listing our overreactions from Week 1.
We spend seven months a year trying to guess everything about how every NFL team will perform, and then Week 1 turns just about all of it on its head. It’s unwise to throw away seven months of research because of a one-game sample. But sometimes it is informative. In 2018’s Week 1, Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdown passes, Sean McVay’s Rams destroyed Jon Gruden’s Raiders, the Bears defense looked monstrous with Khalil Mack, and the Cardinals scored the fewest points of the week, all of which were indicators of the year to come. Past results are no guarantee of future ones, but overreacting to new information is all we can do until we see more football. So for the rest of this article, let the overreactions flow through you. Here are the 10 biggest overreactions of Week 1, ranked from the most obvious story line to the hottest take.
10. Mitchell Trubisky Is the New Blake Bortles
Trubisky, bless his heart, had 228 yards on 45 attempts while spraying the ball across Soldier Field like buckshot against the Packers on Thursday night. Trubisky is doing his best, but his best may not be good enough. The no. 2 pick in the 2017 draft has already fallen behind a half-dozen quarterbacks who entered the league at the same time or after him (Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, and possibly Kyler Murray). He may be incapable of throwing to his left, making him the Derek Zoolander of quarterbacks. Chicago’s defense is even better than Jacksonville’s defense was when the Jaguars made the AFC championship game two years ago, and if Trubisky holds the Bears back like Bortles did his team, he will become a meme.
9. The Falcons Are Already Cooked
Atlanta was crushed by the Vikings on Sunday 28-12—and they scored their only points in garbage time. This is a disaster for Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who fired all three of his coordinators (offensive, defensive, and special teams) this offseason. That’s an unusual arrangement. Since 1986 only nine teams have kept their head coach but had three new coordinators in a year, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac 2019. Quinn himself took over defensive coordinator duties, and giving up 28 points in three quarters is an atrocious start to the season. Wondering how that loss made the Falcons feel? Glad you asked.
Perhaps Quinn is thinking of how they could have completed a 28-0 comeback to redeem their 28-3 blown lead in the Super Bowl but failed. Or maybe he’s thinking about how he might not be the Falcons head coach by their bye in Week 9.
8. The Colts Will Be Fine Without Andrew Luck
Yes, the Colts lost this week, but Andrew Luck lost plenty of games. Hell, Indianapolis lost by 11 in Week 1 last year to Cincinnati, who went 6-10 on the year. This year the Colts lost again in Week 1, but at least they went to overtime, and they did it against a far superior Chargers team, which went 12-4 last year. The Colts started 1-5 last year, so Jacoby Brissett has plenty of runway to have a better start to this year than Luck did in 2018.
7. The Browns Are the Same Browns With Better Branding
Domino’s Pizza once had a reputation so abysmal the company launched an entire marketing campaign about how bad its pies were and all the work it was doing to fix it. That’s what the Cleveland Browns have done since going 0-16. They brought in Hard Knocks, had a campaign about “earning your stripes,” and asked fans to trust their new process. Both Domino’s and the Browns acknowledged that their product had caused a lot of heartache and stomach-churning, but they vowed it would get better. Domino’s shelled out for Eva Longoria, Sarah Hyland, and Richard Sherman to endorse its pizza. The Browns brought in Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry. They were selling a rebrand, and we all bought it. Then Sunday’s 43-13 loss to Tennessee reminded us of the truth. It takes only one slice to realize nothing has changed. But we still bought this pizza, so we have to eat it even though we know it will make us sick.
6. This Is the Most Talented Patriots Team We’ve Ever Seen
New England’s defense, led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, is possibly the best unit the team has had in a decade, and the defense isn’t why people are terrified of this team. The Patriots’ pass catching went from a question mark to a strength when Josh Gordon was reinstated. Gordon, the only player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games, is often the biggest, fastest, and strongest player downfield, and looked it against the Steelers on Sunday. On his first touchdown, defenders bounced off of him like he was solid brick.
The Patriots’ Instagram story had the best angle on the Josh Gordon touchdown. I still don’t fully comprehend what happened, but I haven’t seen The Matrix in at least 15 years. pic.twitter.com/WXdEtuwO7x— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) September 9, 2019
That was just one of the scary parts of New England’s 33-3 demolition of Pittsburgh, which was the fourth-biggest margin of victory in Week 1 by a defending Super Bowl champion ever. The thought of putting Antonio Brown alongside Gordon and turning Julian Edelman, the Super Bowl MVP, into this team’s third receiver is harrowing—and immediately conjures thoughts of the Randy Moss–Wes Welker team. In case you think it sounds silly to invoke the 2007 Patriots, consider that the ’07 Pats averaged just over 36 points per game through five weeks. This Pats team scored 33 points against Pittsburgh and their next five games are against the Dolphins, Jets, Bills, and Washington. Matching that ’07 mark is certainly possible. The real test of how good this team is will be five weeks from now when it meets its true foil, Eli Manning and the Giants.
5. John Ross Is Better Than A.J. Green
John Ross had seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday while Andy Dalton had a career high in passing yards without A.J. Green, who missed the game with an ankle injury. But half of Ross’s 158 receiving yards were deceiving yards. His first touchdown came on a 33-yard flea flicker.
His second touchdown came on a 55-yard touchdown pass where the Seahawks safety was perfectly positioned to make an interception before misjudging the ball like a Little League outfielder and whiffing as it fell into Ross’s hands.
Here's a look at the John Ross TD at the end of the first half. pic.twitter.com/ZnzKskMtXa— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 8, 2019
Ross has been hailed as having a third-year breakout because of these two scores. In reality, he got free on a trick play and then was lucky that an Andy Dalton pick went through the hands of a defensive back.
4. Lamar Jackson Is the Best Quarterback of All Time
In seven starts last year, Jackson had six touchdown passes. On Sunday, he had five. That one game, in which Jackson threw for 324 yards on 17-for-20 passing, took his career passer rating from 84.5 to 99.1. Obviously eight games is not a big sample size, but extrapolating from small sample sizes is the whole point of Week 1, so it’s worth noting that Jackson’s passer rating would be third best all time after Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Lamar Jackson is Russell Wilson merged with Aaron Rodgers.
3. Cam Newton Is Trapped in Three Separate Prince Concerts
Cam looks like an old woman in a fable who puts a curse on a young prince in order to teach him a lesson about empathy pic.twitter.com/qehb0dAtoW— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) September 8, 2019
What in the name of Under The Cherry Moon does Cam have on??? He looks like he's trapped in 3 Prince concerts.... SMH.... https://t.co/aViGk9ALV9— Ed Brunson (@ed_brunson) September 8, 2019
Aunt Tee Tee sharp today... https://t.co/m6FvHfIWCG— Darron Eichelberger (@ImFit2Win) September 9, 2019
Why is there barbed wire wrapped around Cam Newton’s hat like he’s getting ready for an Extreme Rules match? pic.twitter.com/gtWeC7oGKf— Francis in Glendale (@TFPWillEat) September 9, 2019
2. The Dolphins Would Lose to Clemson (and Alabama, and Georgia)
If Jackson isn’t the GOAT, this is the only other explanation. Suggesting that an NFL team would lose to a college team is to fundamentally misunderstand how good pro football teams are. (Except for the Dolphins.) But that’s only true when the players want to be part of that NFL team, and it seems some Dolphins players don’t. Multiple Miami players immediately told their agents after the 59-10 walloping on Sunday that they wanted a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. If they got moved, that would make an already talent-barren roster one of the worst we’ve ever seen. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at the end of last season he felt the team was a few years away from competing. That may have been optimistic.
1. The Raiders Will Make the Playoffs Without Antonio Brown
The Raiders seemed like they’d be one of the worst teams in the league without their star receiver. Instead they came out on Monday night and beat the Broncos 24-16. The crowd chanted “fuck AB” loud enough to be heard on the broadcast, and ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that one teammate referred to Brown as an “energy vampire.” Perhaps Brown’s move to force his way out can inspire the entire team. If the Raiders do somehow make it to the playoffs, fate would likely dictate a matchup with the Patriots and Brown for a Tuck Rule redux. (Remember, Jon Gruden was coaching the Raiders in that game too.) Wilder things have happened to Oakland just this weekend.