Football has returned and nobody knows anything.
That’s one way to put it after a Week 1 in which so much of the conventional wisdom that dominated conversation during the summer was scattered to the wind. The defending champs were humbled in their own home, while our No. 32 team entering the season knocked off one of January’s NFC Championship Game participants.
The Bears weren’t alone. The bottom nine teams in the NFL Power Rankings ahead of Week 1 played competitive football, with four wins and a tie among the group. It helps create an extremely unsettled league landscape as we spin forward — just the way we like it.
Previous rank: No. 1
On Thursday night at SoFi Stadium, long after most Rams fans had headed for the exits, thousands of visiting Bills supporters hung around to soak in the feeling of an extremely satisfying victory. Sean McDermott’s team had drubbed the defending champions, 31-10, exorcising the demons of January’s excruciating Divisional Round loss in Kansas City. Josh Allen played like an MVP favorite, and the Bills’ front seven dominated the trenches, making life miserable for Matthew Stafford. On paper entering this season, it looked like Buffalo had the most complete team in football. One game in, the on-field product supports that notion.
Previous rank: No. 7
No Tyreek Hill? No problem for Patrick Mahomes, who reminded everyone of his otherworldly brilliance in a blowout of the overmatched Cardinals in Arizona. Mahomes completed passes to nine different receivers and threw five touchdown passes, connecting with four different targets for scores. The heart of the attack remained Travis Kelce (8/121/1 on nine targets), but an eye-opening 2022 debut from Clyde Edwards-Helaire makes you wonder if Andy Reid’s new-look attack will turn the running back into the impact chess piece Kansas City envisioned when it made him a first-round pick in 2020. It took only one dominating performance to put the ghosts of the 2021 postseason in the rearview. The Chiefs are ready to roll.
Previous rank: No. 4
Todd Bowles built his reputation as a defensive wizard. In his debut as Buccaneers head coach, it was his side of the ball that dominated throughout a 19-3 win over the Cowboys at Jerrah World. Tampa Bay’s defense put the clamps down on Dallas’ underwhelming receiving corps and pressured Dak Prescott relentlessly before sending the QB to the X-ray room with a busted thumb. Tom Brady and the offense moved the ball well and controlled the flow of the game, even if Tampa Bay’s performance in the red zone left plenty of room for improvement. Injuries to LT Donovan Smith (elbow) and WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) aren’t ideal — Godwin’s expected to miss a few weeks — but Julio Jones looked like, well, Julio Jones in his Bucs debut. If the seven-time Pro Bowler can stay healthy, look out.
Previous rank: No. 2
That’s not how the start of a title defense is supposed to go. On a brutally steamy night in Los Angeles, the Rams got run out of their own building by a Bills team that looked like the better, hungrier group. There was no one single culprit in the 31-10 beatdown: Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions, the offensive line was manhandled, Aaron Donald was neutralized, and the secondary surrendered too many big plays. After the game, Sean McVay said his squad had been humbled on a night that began as a celebration: “We weren’t ready to go. I take a lot of pride in that, and that’s on me.”
Previous rank: No. 9
The Chargers received impact performances from a host of newcomers in a promising 24-19 win over the Raiders. TE Gerald Everett and WR DeAndre Carter both scored touchdowns, while OLB Khalil Mack had three of L.A.’s six sacks of a rattled Derek Carr at SoFi Stadium. Justin Herbert was predictably great, finding ways to move the offense even after Keenan Allen left the game with a hamstring injury. Allen’s availability is in doubt on Thursday night for a huge early-season litmus test against the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Will J.C. Jackson, the team’s prized free-agent addition at cornerback, make his debut? The Bolts sure could use him with that Mahomes guy looming.
Previous rank: No. 10
The Ravens weren’t able to run the ball much in their season opener, but consider it a positive sign that didn’t doom their attack in a convincing win over the Jets. Lamar Jackson was on target as a passer, connecting on three scores — two to Devin Duvernay, who delivered an intriguing performance for a team in need of playmakers. Baltimore’s defense dominated, routinely collapsing the pocket on old friend Joe Flacco. When the Jets did move the ball, the Ravens bowed up near midfield and forced timely turnovers. They won’t all be this easy, but this was a nice start for Baltimore after the bitter frustrations of 2021.
Previous rank: No. 20
Here’s something dumb: A wide receiver has never won the MVP award. NEVER. Could Justin Jefferson end the drought? The third-year superstar was untouchable on Sunday against the Packers, piling up nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-7 win over the three-time defending division champs. According to ESPN, Jefferson averaged 4 yards of separation on his 11 targets, gaining 138 of his receiving yards on plays when he had at least 3 yards of separation — next-level dominance. Give some credit to new coach and play caller Kevin O’Connell, who moved Jefferson around the field and appears ready to use his top receiver in more imaginative ways than previously seen in Minnesota. Jefferson is a cheat code, and the Vikes look primed to take full advantage.
Previous rank: No. 6
Christian Watson toasted Patrick Peterson on a deep route and had nothing but green in front of him as a perfectly thrown Aaron Rodgers spiral entered his orbit. The ball clanked off Watson’s hands, however, an ominous first play from scrimmage for the 2022 Packers. Green Bay’s attack was held to a single scoring drive in a dispiriting 23-7 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. Watching in real time, it was hard not to think about moments in the game when Rodgers would have looked to Davante Adams to get the offense going. It’s a transition period for the attack, but trust Rodgers to figure things out in time.
Previous rank: No. 5
The Bengals had no business beating the Steelers on Sunday. They also had no business losing to the Steelers on Sunday. It was a weird one. The 23-20 overtime defeat was as disappointing as it will ultimately be memorable — Joe Burrow had a career-worst five turnovers, including four interceptions — but was also set up to be the hero (along with Ja’Marr Chase, of course) had Evan McPherson received some help from the backup long snapper on gimme kicks late in regulation and overtime. Burrow’s hot-and-cold performance isn’t a concern — the offensive line is another story. Burrow (sacked seven times) continues to get hit; the Bengals continue to flirt with disaster.
Previous rank: No. 14
This offense is going to be a problem for teams. The Eagles rolled up 455 yards on 10 possessions against the Lions in a 38-35 win, taking it to the Hard Knocks darlings through the air and on the ground in an entertaining shootout at Ford Field. New No. 1 wide receiver A.J. Brown was an immediate-impact playmaker, piling up 10 catches for 155 yards on 13 targets. Meanwhile, the tandem of Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders rushing behind a stout offensive line has the potential to turn Philly into a matchup nightmare for any opponent — not just a young and inexperienced defense like Detroit’s. Talent > Grit.
Previous rank: No. 3
The 49ers refused to get out of their own way against the Bears. San Francisco committed 12 penalties for 99 yards, turned the ball over during a fateful fourth-quarter swoon and generally looked as sloppy as the rain-drowned Soldier Field turf in a 19-10 loss. Trey Lance once again flashed playmaker chops with his legs, but he missed a touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft on the second possession and generally still looks like a work in progress. Then again, the miserable conditions in Chicago demand a halt on any rush to judgment on the offense. A disappointing start no doubt, but let’s see what this team looks like this Sunday against the Seahawks.
Previous rank: No. 13
That’s the type of Jameis Winston performance that will make believers out of doubters. The polarizing quarterback was shut down along with the rest of the Saints’ offense for the better part of three quarters against the Falcons, but Winston went off on back-to-back drives that changed the game in the fourth quarter. Winston was 11 of 12 for 156 yards with two touchdown passes to Michael Thomas during that stretch, capping his day with a final march that set up Wil Lutz’s game-winning field goal. While Marcus Mariota — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft — self-destructed in the final period, Winston — the No. 1 pick that year — was at his best. An eye-opener.
Previous rank: No. 19
The Dolphins opened their season with encouraging performances on both sides of the ball in a 20-7 win over the Patriots. Tyreek Hill and Tua Tagovailoa displayed the chemistry teased during the summer, connecting eight times for 94 yards on 12 targets, while the defense scored a touchdown (welcome to town, Melvin Ingram) and held New England’s undercooked attack to just 271 yards and a single scoring drive. Want a sign of the times in the shifting AFC East? Tagovailoa is now 4-0 in his career against Bill Belichick. Miami has surpassed New England — Buffalo is the new target.
Previous rank: No. 11
Not good enough. After a summer of hype around a Raiders offense now armed with a legit No. 1 receiver in Davante Adams, the Silver & Black attack went out and delivered a tepid performance in a 24-19 loss to the rival Chargers at SoFi Stadium. The offensive line struggled to protect Derek Carr (five sacks), while the quarterback missed on too many throws and was careless with the football (three interceptions and two fumbles). In a division with Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, this type of quarterback play is the recipe for disappointment in the desert. The pressure is already on this Sunday against the Cardinals.
Previous rank: No. 12
Sunday wasn’t a good day for kickers across the league, and you have to wonder how much rope Rodrigo Blankenship has left in Indy after his badly pushed field-goal attempt in overtime forced the Colts to settle for a 20-20 tie with the Texans. Blankenship, who also had a kickoff go out of bounds, is a weak point for a team that figures to play its fair share of close games this season. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan will eventually be seen as an upgrade over Carson Wentz, but this wasn’t the start Colts fans were expecting after a summer of Matty Ice hype. Ryan — with a big helping hand from Jonathan Taylor — did wipe out a 20-3 fourth-quarter deficit, but failing to stack a win against the lowly Texans is the type of thing that can haunt a team come January.
Previous rank: No. 8
Nathaniel Hackett worked his whole career to get to Monday night. Unfortunately, it won’t be a night he’ll recall fondly. The new Broncos coach watched his team lose two fumbles at the enemy 1-yard line, then found himself at the center of criticism for poor clock management in the final seconds of an ugly 17-16 loss to the Seahawks. Russell Wilson threw for 340 yards and a touchdown in his Denver debut, but he also bore some responsibility for a sloppy effort that included too many penalties and not enough execution at the most crucial moments of the game. Denver was a heavily hyped team following the blockbuster trade that brought Wilson to town. Monday night felt like the hangover after a summer-long party.
Previous rank: No. 17
The Titans entered Sunday hoping to wash away the taste of January’s ugly playoff loss to the Bengals. Instead, Tennessee was left to process another game it probably should have won but didn’t. Against the Giants, Ryan Tannehill looked like a quarterback who no longer has a No. 1 wide receiver, Derrick Henry looked like a running back who’s still working his way back to peak form, and the defense looked like a unit that was good — but not good enough — when the game was hanging in the balance. Throw in a grim field-goal miss by Randy Bullock in the final seconds, and the Titans had cooked up a recipe for supreme frustration in Week 1.
Previous rank: No. 24
Geno Smith was clearly the undercard on Monday Night Football, a contest hyped up as Russell Wilson’s Broncos debut and grudge match against Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. But it was the journeyman QB out of West Virginia who got the postgame-interview treatment after mind-boggling clock management by Wilson and new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett helped secure a 17-16 Seattle win. Geno went 23-of-28 passing for 195 yards and two touchdowns — nearly all of the production coming in the first half — and avoided the crushing turnovers that have haunted him in the past, as the Seattle defense repeatedly turned away the Denver attack from in close. All and all, a fun night at Lumen Field, especially for the other QB. Said Geno after the game: “They wrote me off. I ain’t write back, though.”
Previous rank: No. 21
Let’s start with the positives: The Steelers forced Joe Burrow into five turnovers, the front seven piled up six sacks and Chris Boswell’s long field goal secured an overtime win over the defending AFC champion Bengals in one of the craziest season openers in recent history. The negatives are ominous, however: The offense was largely stagnant under Mitch Trubisky, Najee Harris exited the game with a foot injury and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt appears likely to miss at least several weeks after suffering a pectoral injury in the final seconds of regulation. Sometimes even the most dramatic of wins can feel like a loss.
UPDATE: Harris said on Tuesday that he will play in Week 2.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Browns have landed themselves a major weapon in Cade York, the fourth-round rookie kicker out of LSU who was absolutely nails in Cleveland’s 26-24 win over Baker Mayfield and the Panthers in Charlotte. York’s 58-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining would have been good from 10 yards further (at least!), the final kick in a perfect 4 for 4 day. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt carried the offense, something they’ll be tasked with doing for the entirety of Jacoby Brissett’s limited time as the starting quarterback. The best that can be said about Brissett? He avoided the killer turnover. But it’s clear opponents will be able to stack the box against Cleveland with impunity until Deshaun Watson returns from his suspension.
Previous rank: No. 28
With one bold decision, coach Brian Daboll won over the hearts and minds of millions of Giants fans in the tri-state area. Instead of playing for overtime against the favored Titans, Daboll put the ball in the hands of Saquon Barkley, who took in the two-point conversion with 1:06 to play in a thrilling 21-20 win in Nashville. That level of bravery all but guaranteed the Football Gods would be with the Giants when Randy Bullock’s subsequent field-goal attempt hooked wide left as time ran out. What a way to start a season, and Barkley’s performance is a reason for legitimate hope at the Meadowlands. The injury-plagued former No. 2 overall pick looked all the way back, piling up 194 total yards in a dominant performance that recalled his amazing rookie year. We have a very early Comeback Player of the Year favorite.
Previous rank: No. 16
Maybe it was just a bad day. Maybe sometimes a team catches Patrick Mahomes on the wrong Sunday and there’s simply nothing anyone can do. But then there’s the other possibility: The Cardinals really are that far behind the top teams in the league like the Chiefs. The offense looked like it was trapped in the dark ages as Andy Reid unlocked new worlds, while the defense was simply overmatched and embarrassed by a Kansas City team that doesn’t even have Tyreek Hill anymore. There might not be another team in more dire need of a strong Week 2 performance than the Cardinals.
Previous rank: No. 18
After a summer of bad buzz surrounding the offense, the Patriots went out on Sunday and delivered a tepid performance that justified all the panic in New England. The Pats’ attack had moments when it was able to move the ball — primarily on the ground — but after four quarters, the team had managed a single scoring drive in a 20-7 loss to the Dolphins. To make matters worse, Mac Jones missed his postgame media obligation so he could undergo X-rays on his back. Jones appears to have dodged serious injury, but the scare serves as a reminder that any hope of success this season will hinge on the team’s ability to keep the young quarterback upright. The Pats have work to do.
Previous rank: No. 30
The Commanders got the full Carson Wentz treatment in his Washington debut. The veteran quarterback threw two early touchdown passes to put the Commanders in, well, command, then tossed a pair of interceptions on successive plays that put the game on the brink. But credit Wentz for not letting the game spiral away. He led Washington on two more touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to secure a 28-22 victory and win over the Commanders faithful — for the time being, anyway. The Wentz experience has always been a roller coaster. Another NFL fan base is buckled in with no chance to exit the ride. Hold tight.
Previous rank: No. 32
Playing in soaking-wet conditions at Soldier Field, the Bears’ offense looked pitiful in the first two quarters of their opener against the 49ers. How bad? Chicago managed 26 yards on its first 20 plays from scrimmage and went into the half without a catch from a wide receiver or tight end — the first time that’s happened for the Bears since 1991, per the FOX game broadcast. But Chicago showed gumption, taking advantage of a host of unforced errors by San Francisco to put together three touchdown drives in the second half to score the upset. Justin Fields sparked the comeback with the type of scramble play that’s fast become his signature — the second-year QB spun away from the rush, found some open space, then threw across the field to Dante Pettis, who scored from 51 yards out. Fields has playmaker traits that produce enough electricity to raise a team from the dead.
Previous rank: No. 25
The Lions opened the season by hanging until the final minute with a loaded Eagles team that has the look of a potential NFC superpower. That counts as progress for Dan Campbell’s team, which showed resolve in a 38-35 loss at a raucous Ford Field. There will be a time when merely hanging with a tough opponent won’t be good enough, but for now, the Lions appear on the right track. Keep an eye on D’Andre Swift, who ran for 144 yards and looks fully primed to deliver the biggest running back season by a Lions player since Barry Sanders was in town. The defense is an obvious work in progress, but the Detroit attack looks ready to go.
Previous rank: No. 15
Sunday night was a disaster for America’s Team. The chief concerns about the Cowboys entering the season — offensive line stability and wide receiver depth, in particular — proved to be very real problems, while Dak Prescott struggled through a poor performance before exiting with a thumb injury requiring surgery. With Prescott on the shelf until at least mid-October, the ‘Boys take a massive plunge in these here rankings. Given what we’ve seen from backup QB Cooper Rush, you can make a case that Dallas suddenly has one of the worst offenses in football. Bad times in Big D.
Previous rank: No. 27
Lovie Smith won’t say it, but when he sends the punt unit on the field on 4th-and-3 at midfield with less than one minute to play in overtime, he’s telling the world, “I don’t think my offense is good enough.” Settling for a tie when you have a chance to score a major Week 1 upset is a disappointing way for your new head coach to announce his arrival, but it’s not like Smith was without justification. The Davis Mills-led offense produced just 12 yards in the fourth quarter, allowing the Colts to erase a 20-3 deficit. “When you get a lead like that, good things had to happen on both sides of the football and special teams,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’ll build on.” Ugh.
Previous rank: No. 23
Baker Mayfield salvaged what was shaping up to be a dreadful Panthers debut with some fourth-quarter heroics, scoring on a 7-yard scramble and then hitting Robbie Anderson on a 75-yard touchdown bomb before leading Carolina to the go-ahead field goal in the final minutes. It still wasn’t enough to secure the win, or wipe away the grim nature of the first three quarters of his first start as Sam Darnold’s replacement in Charlotte. It’s fair to wonder why Matt Rhule sent Mayfield into this grudge match against his former team without a strong game plan in place for Christian McCaffrey, the running back dynamo who had just 14 touches. CMC is healthy and freakishly dynamic — good God, use the man while you can!
Previous rank: No. 31
The Falcons must learn how to close games. A season ago, they struggled to stop offenses and score points in the fourth quarter — and that trait resurfaced in a hard-to-swallow 27-26 loss to the rival Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta had a 26-10 lead with less than 13 minutes to play before surrendering three straight scoring drives to cough up the lead. Marcus Mariota had two key fumbles in the second half — one was lost deep in Saints territory and another, while recovered by Atlanta, led to a failed third-and-short conversion with the team ahead in the final minute. “You buried us in May. Bury us again,” coach Arthur Smith said after the loss. “We don’t care. We’ll get back to work.”
Previous rank: No. 29
The Jaguars looked like a more professional operation than the one that debuted with Urban Meyer last year (low bar alert!), but Sunday was a reminder the team has to learn how to win. Trevor Lawrence flashed traits of a franchise cornerstone, but his fourth-quarter interception was another example of the young quarterback trying to force the issue rather than live for another down. That was Lawrence’s only turnover on the day, though he also missed an open Travis Etienne on a would-be touchdown in what was an uneven performance overall. Etienne would later drop a walk-in touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. That kind of day for the Jags, who profile as a frisky but frustrating product.
Previous rank: No. 26
The Jets were supposed to be better in 2022. Instead, it was “Same Old Jets” in a packed house of rain-soaked and frustrated fans at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Joe Flacco struggled to move the offense, the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends couldn’t hold onto the ball, and the defense lost its nerve after a strong first-half performance. Jets coach Robert Saleh praised his team’s effort level after the lopsided loss to the Ravens, but that messaging no longer flies for a fan base that’s been watching bad football for the better part of a decade. It’s time for the Saleh and Joe Douglas regime to deliver tangible results — Week 1 was an ominous sign.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter.
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