Week 1 Monday Recap: Chiefs Rule, Bills Taken to School
Welcome to Confirm Your Priors Week, a Festivus for the segment of the population which thinks that Jump to Conclusions Week has gotten too commercial.
Jump to Conclusions Week used to be about the conclusions: smoldering, radioactive takes with 24-hour half-lives. In the age of social media, it's now all about the jumping: Dak Prescott's shoulder was a rusty hinge and Micah Parsons was a lost little lamb before the end of first quarter of the season opener on Thursday night. Both conclusions turned out to be a little silly, but the early bird gets the engagement.
A jump-to-conclusions column on a Monday nowadays is like a Christmas tree on December 26: still decorative but already starting to lose its needles, making it a little more baleful than cheerful. Confirming your priors, on the other hand, is something every mid-21st century human can appreciate. Why learn anything new when we can filter all of Sunday's information through our biases and preconceptions (preseason projections, draft takes, personal beefs) and reject everything that doesn't fit? It's what makes our society the paradise it has become.
Week 1 offered plenty of proof that everything Walkthrough has always believed is correct and that anyone who disagrees is an anti-intellectual ninny who didn't even watch the games. Don't believe us? Here's all the priors anyone would ever need confirming!
Teams Everyone Expected to Be Great
The Chiefs are good at football, actually. But we'll touch on that later.
Not only did the 49ers dominate the Lions until the final two minutes of their 41-33 win, but Kyle Shanahan reaffirmed his genius by using Jimmy Garoppolo like a quarterback-shaped scented candle, freshening the air and looking pretty while the defense, goal-line specialist Trey Lance, and a rando running back named Elijah Mitchell (who now costs 397 waiver points in your fantasy league) did most of the heavy lifting. Shanahan and John Lynch will have the last laugh when they trade Garoppolo after some team's starter gets hurt, then tell two contradictory stories about how the trade went down to two separate sets of NFL insiders.
Teams Everyone Expected to Stink
The Falcons remain a misery cult for folks who are crippled with self-loathing. Apparently, awful defenders don't suddenly become great by blitzing more, and handing Cordarrelle Patterson the Derrick Henry role in the old Titans offense isn't a key to instant success.
After the Jaguars' humiliating loss to the Texans, Urban Meyer spent Sunday night clunking Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer's heads together like Larry and Shemp while blowing up the Florida State athletic director's voicemail.
Teams Walkthrough Knew Would Overperform Their Projections
Justin Herbert led the Chargers to a cross-country road victory against the tough Washington Football Team defense. Why yes, Walkthrough has been high on the Chargers all along! We just rarely mentioned it.
National fans may have slept on the Seahawks in the preseason, thinking they would see the same old Seahawks in 2021. Russell Wilson and company did indeed look like their old selves when they took a 21-10 halftime lead over the Colts and seemed to declare, "Why yes, we can sit on this sucker for 30 minutes!" But the Seahawks' running game and overall defense looked a little bit sharper in Sunday's win than they did last year. A "little bit sharper" could go a long way for a team that went 12-4 last year.
Team Walkthrough Knew Would Underperform Its Projection
The Vikings managed to somehow fall into a trap game in Week 1 against the Bengals, losing 27-24 in overtime. But rest assured that they will make up for it by heroically backdoor-covering in both of this season's losses to the Packers.
Veterans Certain to Have Great Years in Their New Settings
Jameis Winston didn't have to do much against the Packers except dink, dunk, toss a few short touchdown passes at the ends of 12-yard scoring drives and watch as his defense and the sheer power of Aaron Rodgers' spitefulness propelled the Saints to a 38-3 rout. Winston even tried his best to throw a third-quarter interception in the end zone, but Za'Darius Smith drew a ticky-tack roughing penalty. Winston played well, but the overreactions to his five-touchdown stat line will be seismic.
Matthew Stafford proved that he could lead a team to victory over the Bears, something he has done 11 previous times in his career. Meanwhile, the Rams proved that they could beat the Bears handily, something they accomplished in their last two meetings. Yep, it's a totally new era for Stafford and the Rams! But seriously, Stafford appears to be so much sharper and more decisive than Jared Goff ever was that it's easy to overlook just how close the Rams victory over the Bears was until late in the third quarter.
Teddy Bridgewater looked more like Teddy Ballgame than Teddy Tapwater in the Broncos' victory over the Giants. If Bridgewater can play mostly mistake-free football while delivering about 1.67 highlights per game AND the Broncos can avoid catastrophic injuries (Jerry Jeudy's high ankle sprain on Sunday was a bit of a blow): look out, AFC wild-card race!
Veterans Certain to Disappoint in a New Setting
Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury early in Washington's loss to the Chargers. Tyler Heinicke played like the young Fitzpatrick (erratic as hell but kinda fun) in relief, which could spark the kind of quarterback controversy between two thoroughly suboptimal choices that has defined the Washington football experience for at least a generation.
Carson Wentz was fine, really, as long as you don't study the tape too closely and are content with 12-point losses at home. And really, Wentz would have been much more effective if the offensive line didn't play poorly, there weren't so many miscommunications with his receivers, he had more practice time, the game plan wasn't so run-oriented… (continue ad nauseum until December).
Veterans Ready to Regress to the Mean
Derrick Henry finished with 17 carries for 58 yards but rushed nine times for just 8 yards in the first half, when the Titans were incapable of moving the ball against the Cardinals. It's probably nothing to worry about, except that it looks exactly like the start of every other workhorse running back's collapse-to-replacement-level season.
Look, if you're a Giants fan who breathlessly followed Saquon Barkley injury updates for eight months, eagerly anticipated his triumphant return, and expected anything more than the 10 carries for 26 yards (longest run: 15 feet) we saw on Sunday, please keep reading Walkthough and Football Outsiders every week so we can set you back on the path to wisdom and relative sanity.
Rookies Walkthrough Knew Were Draft-Day Steals
DeVonta Smith caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles, proving doubters wrong for thinking he was too small to play in the NFL. Because the doubters totally thought Smith would never play a snap or score a touchdown because of his size. That's how draft evaluation and risk analysis work.
Ja'Marr Chase finally adapted to the larger, non-striped regulation NFL football that was giving him a case of the preseason dropsies, going 5-101-1 with a 50-yard touchdown in the Bengals' overtime win over the Vikings. Chase's comments last week about his difficulties adjusting to a larger football still sound a little odd. After all, what sort of weirdo is that fastidious about the girth of the football, right down to being so fussy about the ball's air pressure that he commands team employees to surreptitiously [the remainder of this segment has been redacted for a multitude of reasons].
Penei Sewell played very well against the 49ers at his natural left tackle position after looking almost helpless throughout the preseason at right tackle. That should convince coaches around the NFL to stop pretending the offensive line positions are interchangeable until the next time one of them decides to move a guy across the formation, whether to cover for an injury or just for kicks, probably in practice on Tuesday.
Trey Lance threw a touchdown pass as a goal-line specialist. So Matt Nagy said, "oh yeah, well I'm a super-smart offensive strategy person JUST LIKE Kyle Shanahan!" and unveiled his Justin Fields package on Sunday night. And Fields even rushed for a touchdown! But the Lance package underscored all the things that are clicking for the 49ers now that half the roster and 90% of the payroll isn't on injured reserve, while the Fields package underscored the fact that the entire Bears offense is a mess, while their defense is trying to get by on a rapidly fading reputation. It's an example of the difference between innovation and imitation, though it helped that the innovators got to play the Lions while the imitators dealt with the Rams.
Rookies Walkthrough Guaranteed Would Be a Bust
Eh, let's not go down this path. Mac Jones nearly game-managed a win, and both Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence flashed flickers of potential, even though Lawrence is stuck on a team bad enough to get shut out by the 2018 New England Patriots practice squad and the Jets are essentially the Rutgers Emerald Knights right now.
See? All of Walkthrough's opinions, conjectures, theories, and guesses were 100% confirmed on Sunday. Except that maybe the Cardinals were far better than we expected. Or the Titans far worse. Or both. The Bills were rather disappointing; more on that in a moment. Are the Eagles better than we think? What about Sam Darnold and the Panthers? And Aaron Rodgers isn't really going to sabotage the Packers' season in a four-month fit of pique, which means … maybe the Packers stink?
Ouch. All of this cognitive dissonance is beginning to feel like an ice cream headache. Too much confirming of priors may not be such a good thing after all. Let's move on to some other segments.
Game Spotlight: Cleveland Browns 29 at Kansas City Chiefs 33
What happened: The Browns took a 22-10 halftime lead by playing nearly flawlessly on both offense and defense while the Chiefs played like the brilliant kid who showed up for his oral exam without studying and tried to bluff his way through it.
Then the Browns made a few mistakes. Not many, mind you: a Nick Chubb fumble, a blown coverage against Tyreek Hill, a bad snap on a punt. That was enough for the Chiefs to stop noodling around and zoom past them in Week 1's least surprising comeback.
What it means: As you probably figured out over the last three years, Chiefs football is basically NFL Blitz. Patrick Mahomes, Hill, Travis Kelce, Tyrann Mathieu, and Chris Jones all have superpowers that make them nearly impossible to stop. Mahomes is allowed to play schoolyard yolo football, and opponents have no choice but to try to keep up. The Chiefs can get away with sloppy, silly mistakes; opponents cannot. Now that their offensive line is back up to code (it was mostly solid on Sunday), the Chiefs can only lose to themselves. And even when they are being somewhat self-destructive, their opponent better bring an A+ game for 60 minutes.
The Browns looked outstanding for about 51 minutes on Sunday and are going to pummel some opponents with their balanced offense and pass rush this season. In fact, the pummeling may commence very soon.
What's next: The Browns host Jack Easterby's Mighty Spirituality Book Club and Jaguars Slayers in Week 2. The Chiefs visit the Ravens in another test of Super Bowl worthiness next Sunday night.
Game Spotlight: Pittsburgh Steelers 23 at Buffalo Bills 16
What happened: The Bills played not to lose—which is a great way to not win the AFC this year.
The Steelers defense swarmed for four quarters. Their special teams provided a blocked punt for a touchdown. Their offense was built mostly from screen passes, pass interference penalties, and hocus pocus. It shouldn't have been enough to beat the Bills. But Josh Allen overthrew some deep passes, couldn't make things happen on the move, and had a general case of Regressiontothemeanitis. Also, the Bills came up very small on fourth downs: two fourth-and-short punts near midfield in the first half, a failed conversion on an ugly option pass that looked more like a panic attack than a plan, and two field goal attempts of less than 25 yards.
What it means: The Bills aren't going to win the AFC by building a deep, balanced roster and waiting for the other conference powerhouses to bow to them. They need to seize opportunities. That may mean Allen must keep playing at an MVP level, or Devin Singletary must start taking more than just what the defense gives him, or the secondary must stop doling out free first downs on penalties, or Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll must huddle up about fourth-down quality control. If they keep playing the way they did on Sunday, the Bills can still win 10 or 11 games this season. But that is no longer the goal.
The Steelers looked mostly terrible on offense, and what they did well didn't appear to be sustainable. But there are only about a dozen teams that will be able to keep their quarterbacks upright for four quarters against the Steelers defense. And they just beat one of them.
What's next: Things only get slightly easier for the Bills as they travel to Miami next week. The Steelers could well be 3-0 after a two-game homestand against the Raiders and Bengals.
Game Spotlight: Miami Dolphins 17 at New England Patriots 16
What happened: Lieutenant Commander Tua Tagovailoa (he's not a captain) was inconsistent for most of the afternoon but did just enough to lead the Dolphins on a pair of long touchdown drives. Mac Jones showed enough pluck/moxie/poise to fill a week's worth of fart-sniffing boilerplate Boston newspaper columns. But Bill Belichick's plan to munch the clock and play for a field goal while trailing by one point late in the fourth quarter backfired when Xavien Howard wrenched a fumble from Damien Lewis at the Dolphins' 9-yard line with 3:31 to play.
What it means: This game felt like the dreary undercard to all the whiz-bang action of Chiefs-Browns, and that's bad news for both the Dolphins and Patriots.
It's hard to get excited about Belichick's defense-and-game-management plan for Jones when the Patriots can't grind out 19 measly points at home. After all of that free-agent spending and a dramatic quarterback controversy, the Patriots are fielding a station-to-station offense that needs roughing penalties to score touchdowns and couldn't hold onto the football on Sunday. That's the recipe for being a worthy challenger to the Broncos or Chargers, not the Chiefs or Bills.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, were playing behind a shuffled offensive line and don't appear to have a running game to speak of. Tagovailoa had some moments, but he hasn't figured third-and-long out yet, and the Dolphins still engage in enough tomfoolery (Jacoby Brissett cameos, Wildcat sequences) to raise questions. The Dolphins may be poised for a 2019/2020 Bears type of year (strong defense, a hide-the-quarterback offense) when they must have been hoping for more of a 2020 Bills type of year.
What's next: Speaking of the Bills, the first-place Dolphins host them next week, while Jones gets to look at Zach Wilson's supporting cast and thank heaven that he wasn't drafted earlier when the Patriots visit the Jets.
News briefs from the weekend…
Cam Newton Posts a Video Interview Telling His Side of the Story of His Patriots Release
NFL decision-makers won't like what they heard or saw in the video. The rest of us, on the other hand, would be totally hunky-dory about handing a high-profile leadership position to someone who complained about how he was treated by his last employer and mused about the power of his "aura" on Instagram.
Eagles Sign Left Tackle Jordan Mailata to a Four-Year, $64-Million Extension
The Eagles now promote players directly from "late-round long-range pet project" to "one of the highest-paid players at his position," skipping the messy "reliable, affordable starter" phase in between. It's a great strategy for minimizing value.
Titans Kicker Battle Update!
Having signed with the Titans early in training camp and won the kicking job, Sam Ficken suffered a groin injury early this week and landed on IR. This is not the Titans' first placekicker rodeo by a long shot, so they had Michael Badgley stashed on their practice squad. The Money Badger missed a 46-yard field goal and an extra point. Fortunately (???), the Titans played so poorly that it did not matter. Walkthrough will continue to keep you abreast of all things Titans kicker.
Ravens facing a Spinal Tap Drummer Situation at Running Back
Luckily, they were able to sign Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, a.k.a. your 2016 fantasy backfield, a.k.a. the 2022 Houston Texans backfield.
Burst Pipe at FedEx Field Spews Sewage onto Washington Fans
Not today, magical realist fiction story hooks: I'm trying to keep Monday Walkthrough accessible to casual fans!
Walkthrough Week 1 Awards
A tradition dating back at least two media outlets and three Monday column name changes!
Defensive Player of the Week: Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals (five sacks, two forced fumbles).
Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewin thanked Jones in a postgame Tweet for "exposing" him. We all discover our late-life fetishes in different ways, and Walkthrough applauds anyone courageous enough to speak openly about them.
Offensive Line of the Week: New Orleans Saints
Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz, and Ryan Ramczyk (plus backup center Calvin Throckmartin, who is totally not a character in a Thornton Wilder play) helped the Saints hammer out 171 rushing yards and held the Packers without a sack or a tackle for a loss. Aaron Rodgers will read a seven-page statement on Tuesday castigating Brian Gutekunst for not acquiring all six of them.
Special Teamer of the Week: Miles Killebrew, Pittsburgh Steelers (blocked punt)
Killebrew was a Lions special teams ace for five years. He's the sort of player rebuilding teams can't really keep (they need to stock the bench with youngsters) but smart contenders sign to gain a marginal edge. In other words: smart little under-the-radar pickup, Steelers.
Mystery Touch of the Week
Titans safety and special teams punt protector Mattias Farley tossed a 6-yard completion for a first down to Malik Hooker early in the loss to the Cardinals. Per Paul Kuharsky, the Titans had gained -1 yard on 15 offensive plays INCLUDING the fake punt at that point in the game.
The moral of the story may be that the entire AFC South completely stinks.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Zach Ertz wins for his body language on DeVonta Smith's first NFL touchdown. "Why no, Mister Referee, I am not setting a pick at all. I am just minding my own business running a pass route, and … WOAH, did you see that? A defender ran right into me! Where do you suppose he was headed in such a hurry?"
Burn This Play!
OK, let's identify the three biggest problems with that Bills fourth-down option lateral of shame.
- Third-Biggest Problem: Matt Breida is fast but not particularly elusive; if he were both, he wouldn't be a backup running back for hire! This play was doomed to failure if Breida was forced to make an open-field cut to pick up a first down. Unfortunately, the play is essentially designed to force the running back to make an open-field cut.
- Second-Biggest Problem: It sure looks like Josh Allen could have just plunged over the left guard for a first down. It also looks like the backward pass is scripted, leaving him without the option to root for a hole and then dive forward. A play that looks like an option should have, well, options.
- Biggest Problem: The receiver goes in motion from the left side before the snap, leaving an unblocked overhanging cornerback on the side to which the ball is going. There should have been an option to check out of this madness when the defender did not follow the receiver. But really, this sucker should have been erased from the whiteboard the moment Daboll sobered up.
Gambling notes, thoughts, and lamentations to wrap up Week 1.
Lines on the Move: The Rams opened up -6.5 long ago against the Bears but ended up as 9.5-point favorites before kickoff. Walkthrough likes to nibble on the points when a line moves that quickly (see next segment), but I was wary of an Andy Dalton meltdown. Dalton melted down more like a candy bar on the dashboard than a nuclear reactor, but the Bears defense is two steps slower than it was at its peak, Matthew Stafford is a beat faster at noticing wide open receivers streaking downfield than Jared Goff ever was, and the Rams covered with room to spare in a 34-14 win.
The Rams opened -4 in Indianapolis for Week 2 and I am keeping an eye on it. The Bears opened -3 at home against the Bengals and you can blast your Andy Dalton Revenge Game storylines into a black hole.
Backdoor Cover Lover: The 49ers-Lions spread climbed all the way up to Lions +9 on Sunday morning, and Walkthrough couldn't resist! It was touch-and-go for a while (which is a nice way of saying the 49ers led 41-17 late in the fourth quarter), but Walkthrough knew the Lions had a meaningless touchdown/49ers fumble/meaningless touchdown trifecta up their sleeves after the two-minute warning. That's Dan Campbell's hard-nosed football at work, folks! (Walkthrough recommends never wagering on the Lions to cover again this season.)
Overwatch: Fans of classic Conference USA-style shootouts between awful AFC South bottom-feeders had to have their eyes on that 45.5 number in the Texans-Jaguars game. Sure enough, the dueling weaklings combined for 58 points. The Texans and Jaguars square off again in Week 14, but don't bank on another kinda-sorta shootout, because Brian Schottenheimer will be the Jaguars' interim coach by then.
Undertale: The Cardinals and Titans could not quite clear the 51.5 number in Arizona's 38-13 win. Curse you, Michael Badgley! The Titans are now 31-21-1 at clearing the over since 2018, but the house may be catching up to the fact that they look and act like a running-and-defense team but are more of a balance-but-not-much-defense team.
Monday Night Action: Baltimore Ravens (-4) at Las Vegas Raiders
This line drifted down from the -5.5 range as Ravens running back's (And Marcus Peters') ACLs popped like balloon animals at the county fair over the last two weeks. I was tempted to tease the line down to Ravens -2.5 (for a -160 payout) to buy a little breathing room, but Josh Jacobs (illness) is also questionable, and I'll take Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman over Kenyon Drake and Peyton Barber. Or, more precisely, who cares about running backs when the Ravens are a better top-to-bottom organization? I'm taking the Ravens, laying the points, and not worrying about the possibility that they win on a 55-yard Justin Tuck field goal.
Walkthrough's in-season schedule is here. That means we'll be back on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week with stats, special segments, previews and more! See everyone in a few days.