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We Knew A Football Team Would Win In Week 1. But Maybe Not ‘Football Team.’

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): The NFL season started with fans in Kansas City booing a moment of unity and smoke from the wildfires that are devastating the West Coast threatening to postpone the 49ers-Cardinals game. So guys, 2020 is still in full effect, even as football plays on.

One game is in the books for all but four NFL teams. We don’t freak out about small sample sizes here at FiveThirtyEight … but when a small sample is all we have, we at least have to dissect it thoroughly. So let’s start with what surprised you most in Week 1.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I guess we can dump on the Eagles early and get it out of the way.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Looking at our Elo ratings, the Eagles took a 48-point hit. I don’t know for sure, but that seems really high for a Week 1 game.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): The Eagles had to pull a game out of the fire in Week 1 last year, too. So I can’t say I was shocked.

neil: Yeah, Mike, but blowing a 17-point lead against a team with no name?

sara.ziegler: Is that what hurts more for Eagles fans, Neil???

neil: Yes. The fact that it was Washington made it way worse.

Salfino: Their name is “Football Team.” I like it.

It’s like “The Band.”

sara.ziegler: LOL

Salfino: The Eagles had a really bad summer with injuries to their offensive line, and they were also missing Miles Sanders, their putative bell cow. So I’ve had a bad feeling about the Eagles for much of the past few weeks.

neil: But also, Carson Wentz and the offense did nothing from the second quarter onward.

Salfino: Oddly, they blew the big lead last year in Washington in Week 1 too. ЁЯЩВ

neil: Maybe I’ve fully taken on the WIP listener mindset and I’m overreacting. LOL

Salfino: Oh, don’t get me wrong. This is very bad for the Iggles. I just am not surprised since it seems that the roof had leaks heading into the season.

neil: This was the second-worst game of Wentz’s career according to our QB Elo ratings — granted, he was under a ton of pressure, but that’s still not great.

Carson Wentz’s not-so-greatest hits

Worst games of Carson Wentz’s NFL career according to FiveThirtyEight’s quarterback Elo ratings, relative to an average starter

Date Location Opponent Playoffs? QB Elo vs. Average Starter
11/18/2018 Away New Orleans -294.5
9/13/2020 Away Washington -249.7
1/5/2020 Home Seattle тЬУ -216.9
10/16/2016 Away Washington -203.9
9/15/2019 Away Atlanta -114.8
11/20/2016 Away Seattle -112.1
10/20/2019 Away Dallas -108.4
12/18/2016 Away Baltimore -103.3
10/23/2016 Home Minnesota -97.5

QB Elo ratings are based on passing and rushing performance, adjusted for the quality of opposing defense.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Salfino: I would hate for Wentz to get trashed for this. But he was bad against a team that on paper had a very bad secondary. This is the textbook game that a franchise QB has to pull out of the fire and he couldn’t do it.

As you say, Neil, the Washington pass rush can be a problem generally. It was their one strength heading into 2020, and they added to it. Plus the patchwork offensive line exacerbated things.

joshua.hermsmeyer: My surprise of the week was the play of Josh Allen. He had some egregious fumbles that looked absolutely comical, and he missed a wide-open John Brown in the end zone, but he also drew the Jets offsides with a hard count then took a deep shot on the free play. He hit Stefon Diggs on shorter passes and moved the team well. The Bills actually missed two field goals. And of course Allen ran the ball really well, which we should expect at this point.

Salfino: (He also missed a wide-open Dawson Knox in the end zone, and those two fumbles were so careless.)

neil: That was like all of the good and bad of Allen wrapped into one game.

sara.ziegler: Just like last year, it’s kind of hard to tell if the Bills are good or not.

Salfino: Yes, overall Allen was good. It was the first Bills 300-yard passing game since Jack Kemp, I think. OK, not that long, but it was a really long time.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Since 2014 in a non-overtime, regular-season game.

Salfino: I do think the Bills are good.

neil: If you told Bills fans they would get 312 passing yards from Allen, even against the Jets, they’d be very happy. That was a career high for him, easily.

Salfino: The only weakness for the Bills is that they have a QB who makes mistakes and leaves easy plays on the field. They are so solid everywhere that they’d be better off with a game manager. But Allen does have elite hybrid traits. He’s a very weird player.

sara.ziegler: I just can’t decide if that performance needs to be Jets-adjusted.

Sorry, Mike.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Exactly, Sara. It would have been nice of the Jets to actually put up a fight. I have one fun fact on Sam Darnold:

Take away the 69-yard screen pass to Jamison Crowder, and his stat line would be 20 for 34 for 146 yards and an INT.

Salfino: That’s fair, but the Jets defense isn’t bad. Things weren’t easy for the Bills. I thought they worked for it. I’m not a fan of “take away” stats, tbh. But Darnold was not good, for sure.

neil: Let’s just put it this way: The Bills had 12.5 more expected points added passing in that game than the typical Jets opponent had per game last season. That’s not bad! Only the Packers — sorry, Sara! — and Ravens had more passing EPA this week relative to their opponent’s 2019 average allowed:

Which passing offenses exceeded expectations?

Most passing expected points added (EPA) relative to the opposing defense’s 2019 average allowed per game, in Week 1 of the 2020 season

Team Pass EPA Opponent 2019 Avg. Allowed Pass EPA vs. Avg
1 Packers 20.55 Vikings -0.55 +21.10
2 Ravens 16.32 Browns 1.21 15.11
3 Bills 14.34 Jets 1.85 12.49
4 Seahawks 17.73 Falcons 6.11 11.62
5 Vikings 11.22 Packers 0.45 10.77
6 Raiders 10.17 Panthers 1.33 8.84
7 Falcons 9.89 Seahawks 2.05 7.84
8 Chiefs 13.87 Texans 6.29 7.58
9 Jaguars 9.02 Colts 3.42 5.60
10 Rams 5.98 Cowboys 1.23 4.75

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Salfino: You can tell a defense that doesn’t put up a fight by the rushing yards allowed, and the Jets characteristically shut down the Bills running backs. The offense was a different story. But so many offenses on Sunday looked really bad. How can you kill the Jets after watching how the Bucs and Saints looked?

sara.ziegler: LOL, that’s fair.

Let’s talk about that Bucs-Saints game! I was very excited to see Tom Brady, Mobile Quarterback, on that first touchdown.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Brady looked his age.

Salfino: For the first time ever, I was hoping Taysom Hill was in for Drew Brees just to maybe get some life into the offense. Brees couldn’t throw the ball 10 yards.

Brady had all of Jameis Winston’s characteristic mistakes without any of the big plays. But give the 43-year-old time!

It was 84 years on the field at quarterback, and it looked like 184.

sara.ziegler: ЁЯдг

Salfino: Watching the end of Saints-Bucs, all I could think of is that Sean Payton is Cobra Kai. (And then WR Michael Thomas got himself hurt.)

neil: For all the talk about Brady’s improved targets, the Bucs really struggled in the passing game.

Salfino: Mike Evans fantasy owners are in a tailspin, Neil. One catch for 2 yards! (OK, it was a TD, and he did draw a 45-yard pass interference call on a pretty good throw.)

neil: Yeah. Brady 1-for-4 throwing to Evans. And Rob Gronkowski was a non-factor, basically.

Salfino: And Evans looked healthy with the questionable hammy. Gronk looked like an imposter.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Brady was throwing the ball wildly, seemed out of sync and also confused. The Bucs are 24th in EPA per passing play so far in Week 1, just ahead of the Jets.

Salfino: But again, maybe the story of Week 1 is that some teams randomly shook off the cobwebs and some did not, and it’s not predictive even in the near-term?

neil: Perhaps. We laugh at the preseason, but it certainly must be tough to jump right into it straight from the offseason.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think some things may end up being predictive. The Ravens with a 32-point margin of victory over the Browns seems important.

neil: Ooooof, Browns.

If the Eagles didn’t exist, that would be the biggest egg laid on Sunday.

Salfino: The Browns looked like the Jets times five.

sara.ziegler: But the Browns’ egg came against a team we expect to be one of the league’s best. Doesn’t that mitigate it some?

neil: True. But 6 points?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Against a defense without Earl Thomas.

Salfino: Also the Ravens defense was not expected to be better than the Bills, was it? Maybe it’s me.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Lots of Jets apologia going on right now.

Salfino: Is Odell Beckham Jr. the new John Jefferson? A wide receiver on a Hall of Fame trajectory who just loses it at a prime age? He seems washed up, but how can that be? Ten targets for 22 yards. Egads.

neil: It wouldn’t be one of these chats without harkening back to an old-school player. Love it!

Salfino: But Jefferson is the only comp I can think of. OBJ is having one of the weirdest careers in NFL history.

joshua.hermsmeyer: OBJ was injured last year, and it’s one week. I think my prior is that he’s still good. But are the Browns, and is Baker Mayfield? Less sure there.

Salfino: I thought we were ahead of ourselves with Baker in 2018, but I’m not ready to throw him onto the scrap heap. He has to stop the commercials. Just pay them to stop airing them. And he keeps distracting himself needlessly with stuff like the anthem that does not require his input. Just play football.

sara.ziegler: One of my favorite Salfino Tropes is how much you hate those commercials.

Salfino: Doesn’t he sound like Mark Wahlberg if you close your eyes?

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

neil: I just think every time we expect Mayfield to take a step forward, this happens.

Salfino: Except the first time, when he did step forward. Look at what happened with MVP Mitch. He had the toe tag on at least as a Bear in the fourth quarter Sunday, and then he makes history with an epic comeback. It was the first time in more than 20 years that the Bears came back from down 17 in the fourth quarter (also against the Lions). Was this a second act for Trubisky? If so, maybe Baker can bounce back, too.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, let’s talk about that Bears-Lions game.

neil: Oooooof, Lions.

sara.ziegler: It was such a good encapsulation of both teams … except that the Bears actually won.

Salfino: Mitch.

sara.ziegler: I heard one announcer say Mitch Trubisky’s performance in the fourth quarter proved that Matt Nagy was right to choose him as the starter. Um … your thoughts?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think two things can be true: Mr. Biscuit had a good fourth quarter, and he should not be an NFL starter.

neil: He and Nick Foles have almost exactly the same Elo QB rating, LOL.

Salfino: The narrative that I actually buy (and I generally hate narratives) is that Trubisky is done with a benching to start the season, but Foles doesn’t care and thus comes in if Trubisky fails like his benching was nothing. So it gives the Bears two outs instead of one at QB.

neil: I agree with that, Mike. Coming in relief as the savior is basically Foles’s entire brand.

Salfino: So true with Foles. That energizes him.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Nick has big off-the-bench energy, for sure.

sara.ziegler: What’s the over-under on Matt Patricia keeping his job in Detroit the full season, just based on that one game?

neil: I give him seven games.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think Patricia is done. I mean:

neil: Maybe seven is too high.

Salfino: We have to note that Matthew Stafford came back and potentially won that game with seven seconds left, but rookie D’Andre Swift dropped one of the easiest catches imaginable in the end zone.

neil: Yup.

Salfino: Feel horrible for him.

neil: Just a brutal way to lose.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Good point, Mike. Had the ball all but secured, turned his head and just dropped it.

sara.ziegler: I also love that the game included one of the world’s weirdest ejections:

(You know how I feel about that call based on the tweet I chose.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: My cat hits me with his head harder than that tbh.

neil: LOL

Yeah — and losing Jamie Collins, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, couldn’t have helped as the Lions were blowing that 23-6 lead.

sara.ziegler: Let’s move on to talk about that plucky little team from Massachusetts, the New England Patriots. They seem to finally have themselves a real quarterback!

neil: I’m so glad something good could finally happen for the Patriots!

Salfino: It’s been so long!

joshua.hermsmeyer: I wondered if the Pats would go run heavy with Cam Newton or try to stay balanced and pass a bit. Turns out it was the former: They ran more than twice as often as they passed, and they lead all Week 1 teams with 42 rushing plays. And I mean, it worked.

neil: Yeah, the running game was very impressive. First among all teams this week in rushing EPA.

sara.ziegler: This was the Running Patriots we were promised.

neil: You were right, Josh!

joshua.hermsmeyer: Neil, I was wrong thinking they wouldn’t use Cam near the end zone to protect him.

Salfino: The Patriots are going to go back to the early part of the century when the QB was mostly a game manager and occasional playmaker and they won with defense and old-school football. This works as long as Cam stays healthy, but I can’t imagine 160 carries at age 31 with his recent injury history.

neil: Yeah, that’s the part I worry about. The Dolphins had the worst pass D by EPA last season, and Newton was efficient when called upon, but mainly they ran and ran.

That’s good when you control the game script but maybe not against tougher opponents.

Salfino: The Patriots’ advantage is that no team has a good run defense against running quarterbacks. The Patriots backs did little even yesterday.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Also, did you see the play where a Patriot fumbled through the end zone? I could feel Bill’s rage.

sara.ziegler: That guy is OFF THE TEAM.


Salfino: That was N’Keal Harry, who is just having a brutal start to his career. Imagine if Bill Belichick could draft in the first round.

neil: I think we’ve probably noted how weird and bad that rule is before.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Terrible rule.

sara.ziegler: It really is bad.

Salfino: The Patriots bench you for that 100 percent. Belichick is obsessed with not losing the ball there.

sara.ziegler: Back to Cam, I guess I’m expecting Belichick to do what he always does and scheme around the opposing defense’s weaknesses. So I don’t think we’ll see this exact look every time, right?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think Miami is exactly the type of team you don’t open your playbook against. So in that regard, I agree, Sara. But I’m not sure they suddenly start passing heavily.

Salfino: Who are they throwing to?

joshua.hermsmeyer: James White?

sara.ziegler: Not N’Keal Harry anymore!

Salfino: Are the Niners in trouble? BRUTAL ending to that game for Jimmy Garoppolo.

neil: Jimmy G. is just going to fuel our doubts all year again, isn’t he?

joshua.hermsmeyer: If Seattle continues to Let Russ Cook, the Niners are in trouble.

Salfino: After the overthrow to fail to win the Super Bowl, Garoppolo underthrows a wide-open Kendrick Bourne in the end zone and then misfires on fourth-and-5 to Trent Taylor with 37 seconds left.

neil: I do wonder whether that game said more about the Cardinals than the Niners, though: 151 receiving yards for DeAndre Hopkins! Kyler Murray passing and running! They could be really interesting.

Salfino: Fantasy football was so down on Hopkins. I get that changing teams is bad, but he had a massive upgrade at offensive coordinator and not that much of a QB downgrade. He is the WR1, the 1A and the 1B in Arizona.

sara.ziegler: We’ve been thinking the Cards would be fun for a while now. Murray has the weapon this year in Hopkins.

Salfino: The Niners had A LOT of trouble with Murray. And now George Kittle is hurt again with a similar injury to the one he suffered last year against the Cardinals — it’s what ended up causing him to miss the next two games.

joshua.hermsmeyer: And Kyle Shanahan said he thought they did a good job containing Murray.

neil: Scary.

sara.ziegler: So it was a pretty eventful Week 1! We’ll double our sample size next week and have even more to discuss. But let’s end it here before we have to talk about the Vikings — keep this chat a safe space.

neil: Real convenient to avoid mentioning them, Sara. LOL

Salfino: Did the Vikings throw a pass in the first half?

joshua.hermsmeyer: ЁЯШн

Salfino: Mike Zimmer, man. Hates the forward pass. Wishes it were never invented.

And maybe hold off on those Aaron Rodgers obits.

sara.ziegler: Talk to you next week, guys!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer was a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.