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Week 1 Of The NFL Season Already Has Us Changing Our Minds

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): The NFL is back once again, and we got the gang back together for another season of our Slack chats. Some storylines from the first week were very familiar (like Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs making good on yet another comeback), while we did not see others coming. (Uhhhh, Aaron Rodgers, you OK?) 

So let’s dive into a wild Week 1. What were your biggest shocks?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): The Saints DEMOLISHING the Packers was a bit shocking. Just a bit.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Agree, Neil, that game tops my list. 

neil: Even Aaron Rodgers’ no-fucks-given arm punts got returned 50 yards.

It was that kind of day.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Has to be Rodgers. 

sara.ziegler: The #discourse now is all about Rodgers doing this to himself by holding out. Is that fair, though?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think the pettiness probability there is non-zero.

Salfino: He didn’t really hold out, IMO. He missed the minicamp, basically, but was there the whole camp. When a joke like this gets so much traction, though, maybe there are differences that are just too distracting. 

neil: I was just saying that to you, Sara! I’m here for that conspiracy.

sara.ziegler: Oh, 100 percent.

neil: “You won’t trade me, huh? How about NOW?”

sara.ziegler: I do think it’s hilarious that it’s easier to believe a conspiracy than to believe that he might be washed.

Salfino: He’s old but he was so good last year that I just don’t see how he could fall off a cliff. He had a game like Sunday’s last year in Tampa Bay. 

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joshua.hermsmeyer: The Saints had a say in this too. Sean Payton crafted a masterful game and Jameis Winston played out of his mind. Five TDs on less than 150 passing yards is simply unreasonably good QB play.

Salfino: That was the fewest yards ever in a five-TD game. It would have been the fewest since 1994 just with four TDs thrown! 

neil: That’s a good point, Josh. And I was wondering if we were all sleeping on the post-Drew Brees Saints some. Although there will also inevitably be some Jameis game where he throws five picks, too — that’s just how he runs, hot and cold.

Salfino: I mean, Jameis averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. I’m fading the hype.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Wait, you’re fading five TDs on 148 yards? You don’t think that’s sustainable??

Salfino: Hahaha. I think he had four on less than 80!

neil: Plus, Packer turnovers generated almost as many expected points added for the Saints as their entire offense.

Salfino: I think I — along with many — horribly underestimated Payton. I thought the Saints could be 1-5 heading into their Week 8 game with Tampa Bay.

An old-timey football player cut out and placed against an orange/green football field background

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sara.ziegler: It again makes me wonder why they spent all that time on Taysom Hill last season instead of just running with Jameis.

And this brings me to another surprise of the weekend: A big storyline for me was the play of three quarterbacks who had been kind of written off at various points in their careers: Winston, Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater. Which of the three impressed you all the most?

neil: Teddy, now in Denver, played the best by QBR, but I loved seeing Tyrod play as well as he did for Houston.

This is a guy whose entire career has been set back by such horrible luck and bad situations. Seemed like the 2021 Texans would be the cherry on top of that, but he and his teammates exceeded all expectations against Jacksonville.

Salfino: I have to confess to not watching much of the Jaguars-Texans. Though imagining Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer’s reaction to all of this is intoxicating. Winston’s game was so weird for the reasons we detailed. Bridgewater actually performed as I expected. He was above average in yards per attempt last year — he’s fine. 

joshua.hermsmeyer: Teddy and Jameis had the better games, but Tyrod had by far the worst situation, and he overcame it. Coaching helped as well. Houston ran some nice rub routes in the red zone (rub routes are where one receiver gets in the way of the defender guarding another receiver). Both of Tyrod’s TDs were to wide-open players inside the 20. If Meyer was frothing at the mouth over preseason mistakes, he may need to be sedated after watching the tape of this loss.

Salfino: I’ve gone from thinking Meyer won’t last the year to thinking he won’t last the month.

neil: I guess he’s the new Bobby Petrino we all needed.

Salfino: Lou Holtz too. J-E-T-S!

Just as an aside, the QB I was most surprised about was Jalen Hurts, mostly because the Eagles can’t seem to wait to get rid of him.

neil: I agree, Mike. Hurts was making a believer out of skeptics like me, even if the Atlanta defense isn’t traditionally the toughest test.

sara.ziegler: Hurts looked fantastic — his performance got me very excited for the Jalen-Dak Prescott matchup coming in two weeks.

neil: Atlanta looked horrible, BTW. Isn’t Matt Ryan and that offense supposed to be the strength of the team? The decision to move on from Julio Jones while not moving on at QB looks worse than ever.

Salfino: Well, Julio hardly distinguished himself. I think the Titans were way more disappointing in context than Atlanta, as hard as that is to believe to anyone who watched Atlanta.

neil: Everyone lost there, I suppose.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Julio just dropped another ball in the end zone. #neverjulio

sara.ziegler: We didn’t really know what to make of the Titans going into the season, and I’m more confused than ever now.

The Texans are the only team in the AFC South with a win. Who saw that coming?!?

Salfino: All the reports out of camp were that the Titans were radically improved, especially on defense. Shows you the value of camp reports.

How do you let one player (Chandler Jones) get five sacks?

sara.ziegler: I enjoyed the reaction of the Titans lineman who Jones destroyed:

Salfino: I respect that tweet.

(But he should have been given help.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Social media has made players way more human, and for all Twitter’s faults that’s probably a good thing.

Salfino: Is Kyler Murray this year’s Josh Allen? (No idea who this year’s Allen is, but the MVP candidacy took a hit yesterday.)

sara.ziegler: Murray is so much fun to watch. Are you all buying stock in him after Week 1?

Salfino: I think we have to buy stock in the Cardinals, period, but mostly because of Murray. Maybe Kliff Kingsbury has the personnel he needs now to run his offense.

neil: I (and our QB ratings) already loved Murray, so if we’re buying stock, maybe I’m buying their defense after that performance. They had the fourth-most defensive EPA of Week 1 against an opponent that ranked fourth in offensive EPA last season.

Salfino: Murray was great last year until he hurt his shoulder. Can he stand up physically? I thought it was interesting that he didn’t run that much yesterday. The threat of the run is better than the run, IMO.

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joshua.hermsmeyer: I do not believe in Kliff and the horizontal raid. Murray was running all over the place all game — this was his excellence, not some brilliant scheme by the coaches. And I fear it won’t be sustainable until Kliff and company get their act together.

Salfino: It’s also possible the Titans again are a bottom-five defense.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Bottom half almost certainly.

sara.ziegler: And as always, the Cardinals’ division doesn’t do them any favors.

How are you all feeling about the new, Matthew Stafford-led Rams?

Salfino: Stafford looks like an early MVP favorite and he has Narrative Street working for him, too.

neil: You could tell they were looking to flex their new QB early: 

Salfino: The Rams hate the NFL draft, which is fascinating, and as a result have no depth. But if they can somehow stay healthy, they are definitely championship caliber.

Jalen Ramsey is the one shutdown corner for the 20 we label that way. He’s generational.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I would fade the Stafford MVP talk. He had a good game, but he also took a terrible sack that backed them up, and this was all against the Bears who simply did not come to play. I was surprised that the Bears simply refused to put their best QB on the field Sunday Night against the Rams and continued to trot out Andy Dalton.

Salfino: It would be my dream if writers cared enough about sacks to factor that into MVP voting. But they don’t.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Let’s see how Stafford does against a real defense, and we’ll revisit.

Salfino: You may be right, but the Bears have been all about defense for 60 years. So it’s disorienting.

neil: I was impressed as always by the Rams’ defense. Yes, the Bears ran on them some, but in the ways that matter they still looked dominant. They got pressure on Dalton, allowed only 188 net pass yards, and Chicago was 5-15 on third- and fourth-down conversions.

Detroit Lions fans wearing jerseys and paper bags over their heads. The paper bag has eye holes and drawn on frown, with the words “Same old Lions” on the forehead.

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joshua.hermsmeyer: Allowing the runs is kind of the point with that Vic Fangio-inspired defense, too. Death by 1,000 cuts and all that.

Salfino: Ramsey allowed Allen Robinson, who is very good, 35 yards on 11 targets. Peak Darrelle Revis numbers.

sara.ziegler: I heard someone say that Robinson deserves better.

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s so sad. The list of QBs that have thrown him touchdowns is wildly depressing.

Salfino: Terry McLaurin looks at Allen Robinson and is super jealous. Though Robinson will get Justin Fields soon enough, so we’ll see.

sara.ziegler: The Bears were easily the biggest disappointment for me, but I wanted to get your take on the Bills, too. They were third in our preseason Super Bowl odds, but they didn’t quite have it against the Steelers. What’s going on in Buffalo?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Oh oh, pick me, pick me! Their QB threw for like 5 yards an attempt, to start!

Salfino: Josh is going to want to punch me, but they need to run more with Devin Singletary, who has almost 5 yards per carry for his career. Allen is not good enough to beat a real defense like Pittsburgh — which was No. 1 last year in defensive success rate — with just passing. 

Allen is good. But is he as good as Buffalo thinks?

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Bills really do think he is the guy. They doubled the rate of four-WR sets from last year in the game, which is a move that says “we will beat you through the air, come stop us.” And the Steelers did.

Salfino: Like 60/40 pass/run proactively would be fine. Buffalo wants to be 90/10, which is crazy to me with Allen.

neil: Pittsburgh did hold Allen to one of his more mediocre games last year as well, so we can’t forget that they project to be an elite defense (to your point, Mike). And it’s just one game. But I do have to say seeing Allen and that offense come out like this is concerning, given the big potential for Allen to regress after an out-of-nowhere MVP-caliber season like he had last year.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Before we go, I need the crew to weigh in on this important topic: 

Salfino: My mind is blown.

sara.ziegler: ЁЯдп

Salfino: Fact check: true.

neil: And I thought all the low-hanging fruit (pun intended) of big brain takes was picked. 

So wrong, I was.

Salfino: My esteem for Mike Davis has gone way up.

sara.ziegler: I’m going to be thinking about this for days.

neil: Clearly he and the Falcons were thinking about this kind of stuff in meetings instead of prepping for the Eagles.

joshua.hermsmeyer: ded

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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.