The NFL’s opening Sunday had no lack of drama, particularly in an early-game slate that saw several wild comebacks, a pair of overtime games, and several significant upsets. We’ll get to all that shortly, but the biggest long-term news of the day came in Dallas, where the Cowboys put on a miserable performance in their home opener that was capped by the loss of quarterback Dak Prescott for the foreseeable future to a broken thumb.
Much like the Ravens in 2021, the Cowboys appear set to see their 2022 NFL season go down the tubes due to injury. Dallas had already lost a pivotal player in left tackle Tyron Smith, and a daunting early-season schedule looks that much more so after Carson Wentz threw for four touchdowns in his Washington debut (the Commanders and Cowboys play in Week 4). Without Prescott, a 1-5 start is very much in play.
It’s a disappointing position for Jerry Jones and company (as well as CeeDee Lamb fantasy owners), but it appears that the NFC East Title will once again change hands. Before Sunday, the development in Dallas would have appeared to clear the field for the Eagles, but the Commanders and Giants both pulled out wins, muddying that discussion.
The big theme around the NFL in Week 1 was quarterbacks in transition, and on that front, Washington and New York were winners. Let’s take a look at how other signal-callers in new situations fared, and what it means for their team’s outlook moving forward. However, before we do, if you haven’t signed up for The Oracle’s Picks, you’re doing it wrong – The Oracle was up 10.5 units on Sunday and is looking to continue crushing it as Week 1 concludes with the Broncos-Seahawks matchup and we move into Week 2.
Quarterbacks in Transition: The Good
The film may tell a different story, but based on Sunday’s results, Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins were the day’s big winners, with Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Tua Tagovailoa, and Daniel Jones all making cases for the third spot on the podium.
Mahomes conjured up memories of the opening performance from his MVP season, tossing five touchdowns to no interceptions as the Chiefs thrashed the Cardinals in their first game without receiver Tyreek Hill. In Minnesota, Cousins benefitted from Green Bay’s bizarre decision not to pay any particular attention to superstar receiver Justin Jefferson and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings cruised to a win in their first game under new head coach Kevin O’Connell.
Wentz got into a rhythm with his new group of receivers, hooking up with rookie Jahan Dotson for a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner, and hitting Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel for a total of four touchdown passes on the day. The pair of interceptions Wentz threw to help the Jaguars take an early lead will bear further scrutiny, but for now, the win takes the attention. Winston also provided late-game heroics, overcoming a 26-10 deficit once he found a rhythm with receivers Michael Thomas (two TDs) and Jarvis Landry (113 yards).
Tagovailoa wasn’t called upon to do as much, as the Dolphins defense ended New England’s long first drive with a pick, then pushed the score to 10-0 when safety Brandon Jones strip-sacked Mac Jones and Melvin Ingram took the fumble back for a score, but Tagovailoa got new receiver Tyreek Hill involved (94 yards) and hit Jaylen Waddle in stride so the speedster could take a crossing route 42 yards to the house. The fact that Tagovailoa (23 completions on 33 attempts) was so efficient even as the running backs stalled out (Chase Edmonds, 12 carries for 25 yards, Raheem Mostert, 5 for 16) is a positive sign for Dolphins fans.
As for Jones, after the Giants were shut out in the first half, their quarterback led a comeback from a 13-0 deficit with the help of an outstanding performance from running back Saquon Barkley. Jones finished the game 17 of 21 for 188 yards, a modest total that would have been far lower if not for a 65-yard reception by Sterling Shepard, but Barkley made up the difference, ripping off 164 yards on 18 carries, including a 68-yarder. It was a gut punch for a Titans team looking to maintain last year’s success, but a great win for head coach Brian Daboll in his Giants debut.
Quarterbacks in Transition: Mixed Bag
On a day where the reigning AFC South champs (Tennessee) lost, the Colts, Jaguars, and Texans got mixed results from their signal-callers as the three teams got two ties between them, leaving the AFC South at a group record of 0-2-2.
Houston was cruising early, going up 20-3 on the Colts on the strength of two Davis Mills touchdown passes, but while new Colts quarterback Matt Ryan couldn’t pull out the win, he did throw for 352 yards as he rallied Indianapolis to a tie. As for Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville couldn’t pull out the win, but the Jaguars were up 22-14 in the fourth quarter, which is a step forward from last year, even if Lawrence’s final drive ended with an interception rather than a go-ahead score.
Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota also got off to mixed starts; Trubisky protected the ball for an inefficient Steelers offense in a game they won in overtime after safety Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked an extra point at the end of regulation, while Mariota racked up over 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground, though the Falcons eventually lost as the Saints outscored them 17-3 in the fourth quarter. Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield also fits in here; the former Brown appeared to have led Carolina to a win against his former team, but Cleveland was able to kick a field goal to spoil his debut.
The last quarterback in this group is Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers; the scoreboard looks terrible, but the Packers’ offense is much closer to clicking than their seven points would indicate. A dropped pass by rookie Christian Watson on the first offensive play wiped out a gain of seventy-five yards and a touchdown, and running back A.J. Dillon was stopped on 4th and 1 at the goal line, taking another seven points off the board. Throw in the Rodgers fumble that ended a promising drive to open the second half, and you have an offense that scores seven points but could have easily been in the 20s. With edge rushers Danelle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith both healthy and contributing, Minnesota’s defense was much better than they have been in recent years – look for Green Bay to bounce back against a Chicago defense that isn’t as talented as the Vikings, whatever they did to Trey Lance.
Quarterbacks in Transition: The Ugly
The first name on the list has to be San Francisco’s Trey Lance. The weather was bad in Chicago, and both Lance and Bears quarterback Justin Fields failed to complete 50% of their passes, but the fact that the 49ers lost to the Bears is an abject disaster given the disparity in expectations for these teams.
San Francisco remains an 8.5-point favorite in their Week 2 matchup against Seattle pending the Seahawks’ Monday Night game, but if Lance’s film is as shaky as the numbers, the 49ers are in a tough spot. Lance possesses immense physical talent, but if this is a multi-year project, a la Josh Allen in Buffalo, it’s fair to wonder if San Francisco has the patience to wait and hope after finishing in the NFC Championship last season.
Fields also fits on the “Ugly” list based on his numbers, though he did get the win, and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones rounds out the group on a day that created plenty of questions about the vaunted 2021 NFL quarterback draft class. The film may tell a different story, but the box score says that Jones lost the game on Sunday between the interception into Miami’s endzone on the opening drive and the fumble on the strip-sack the Dolphins returned for the touchdown. The interception stood out as a concern because of the decision to at star Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, who broke up the pass to DeVante Parker in the endzone and tipped it to safety Jevon Holland who came up with the interception. With Miami’s second cornerback, Byron Jones, sidelined, the decision to go after Howard was a bizarre one on a rough day for New England’s second-year quarterback.
Takeaways Moving Into Week 2
San Francisco and New England have to be seriously alarmed after Sunday’s performances. The 49ers’ talent around Lance is outstanding, but Sunday’s box score doesn’t indicate Lance has progressed since his two starts as a rookie, and that is a problem. As for the Patriots, everything is pointing to the fact that this team simply isn’t very talented, and the fact that Bill Belichick couldn’t give new Dolphins head coach/offensive playcaller Mike McDaniel and Tagovailoa more problems indicates that any coaching advantage that might exist isn’t nearly enough to bridge this gap.
Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Kyler Murray didn’t fit the “quarterbacks in transition” list, but Tennessee and Arizona are two more teams that should be seriously alarmed after Sunday. Tennessee, last year’s top seed in the AFC, blew a 13-0 lead to a Giants team whose primary goal this season is to clean up their cap situation, and Arizona got destroyed by Kansas City, the second straight game the Cardinals have dropped in such brutal fashion. The Titans head to play the Bills, who jumped from 7.5 to 9.5-point favorites at some books, and the Cardinals travel to play the Raiders, who have jumped from 2.5 to 4.5-point favorites. Without a dramatic shift, these squads could be staring down an 0-3 start.
The last teams of note are last year’s Super Bowl participants, who both turned the ball over at an alarming rate in season-opening losses. The Bengals were an extra point away from a regulation win despite their minus-five turnover differential, so they should be able to rebound against a Dak Prescott-less Cowboys squad, and the Rams get a get-right game at home against Atlanta, setting Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford up for redemption in Week 2.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.