The first week of the NFL season is nearly in the books and there were plenty of surprises. As will be the case each week of the regular season, I’ll be here on Mondays to look at a couple of the big takeaways from Sunday’s games and offer final thoughts about the Monday night matchup. So, without further ado, let’s look at my three big takeaways from the first Sunday of the 2021 NFL Season.
The NFC West is as good as advertised
Pre-season I thought the NFC West would be the NFL’s best and toughest division. After seeing the first week of games, I know it will be. The Cardinals rolled out and destroyed the Titans at home, with Kyler Murray throwing four touchdowns and rushing for another. DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk both looked incredible. The San Francisco 49ers got more than 300 yards passing from Jimmy Garoppolo and more than 100 yards rushing from Sixth Round pick Elijah Mitchell, while hanging 41-points in an opening day win. And rumors of Russell Wilson’s demise were greatly exaggerated as he tossed four touchdown passes in a win in Indianapolis. Then the new look Los Angeles Rams exploded for 34 points on Sunday Night Football as Matthew Stafford threw for more than 300 yards and the Rams beat the Bears. So, yeah, the NFC West is 1-0 and it’s going to be a long, competitive season.
The Washington Football Team might be in trouble
Last year, the Washington Football Team was one of the league’s most pleasant stories. The team was scrappy, featured an incredible comeback from Alex Smith and did enough to make the playoffs at 7-9. Heading into 2021, Washington added new weapons and had veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick set to help them make a return to the playoffs. Prior to kick-off, Curtis Samuel was placed on IR with a groin injury. Then, in the first half, Fitzpatrick was hit hard, injuring his hip. We’ll find out more this week, but he’s expected to miss multiple weeks. Some reports even suggest the hip popped out of socket so, yeah, that’s not great. Taylor Heinicke was nearly a hero for Washington in the playoff loss to the Buccaneers but he wasn’t incredible against the Chargers. Washington lost Week 1 and now there are questions about who will lead the team in Fitzpatrick’s absence, even rumblings the team may look at Cam Newton. I thought Washington could be a playoff team and a strong contender in the NFC but things don’t look quite as rosy right now.
I might be wrong about Jalen Hurts
Look, I’m not going to reverse position completely after one week, but Hurts looked good Sunday. The Eagles traveled to Atlanta and clocked the Falcons. Hurts threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for an additional 62 yards. He currently sits as QB6 for Week 1 with two teams to play, so certainly he’ll finish in the Top 10. And the Eagles looked solid, getting touchdowns from young receivers DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor in addition to tight end Dallas Goedert. Pre-season I suggested neither Hurts or Daniel Jones would be starters in 2022. Hurts looked great and Jones was better than expected. Still, it’s a long season, so we’ll see.
And now, let’s look at tonight’s game.
The Baltimore Ravens travel to Las Vegas for the Raiders’ first game in their new stadium with fans. It figures to be a fun way to cap the opening week but both teams come in with questions. For the Ravens it’s the running back group. The Ravens looked to be loaded at running back heading into Training Camp but, slowly, the injuries piled up. J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL in a pre-season game. Next, Justice Hill tore his Achilles in practice. Then, on a particularly brutal day last week, the Ravens lost a third running back in Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters to torn ACLs. That left a position that once seemed solid as more of a question, especially considering veteran Mark Ingram departed in free agency for the Houston Texans this off-season.
Since, the Ravens have signed a trio of veterans—adding Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to the Practice Squad before signing former Saints’ running back Latavius Murray straight to the active roster. But tonight, the load will likely rest mostly on Ty’Son Williams, who had a solid camp and now remains the last man standing. I suspect we’ll see some Murray as well but Williams figures to be the starter. It’s also more pressure on Lamar Jackson to create with his legs and move the ball with his arm, possibly good news for tight end Mark Andrews, fresh off a new extension, and receiver Marquise Brown, who enjoyed his first 100-plus target season in 2020.
For the Raiders the questions are about the re-built offensive line and the weapons catching the ball from Derek Carr. The Raiders have two solid running backs in Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake and an all-world tight end in Darren Waller. But what about wide receiver? The team brought in veteran John Brown this off-season but released him at cut down day. That puts the focus on second-year receivers Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III, who seem poised to break out, and veterans Hunter Renfrow and Willie Snead. This week will be a chance to see who emerges from the pack, but my money is on Edwards right now.
This game was my upset special heading into the weekend and I’m sticking to my guns. I think the Raiders will get the upset win at home. I’m also looking forward to dropping in on ESPN’s alternative broadcast fronted by Peyton and Eli Manning.
Enjoy the game!
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.