NFL week one ignites hope for fan bases

8th overall pick Bijan Robinson scampers into the endzone in the Falcons 24-10 victory over the Panthers. Robinson had 10 carries for 56 yards along with 6 receptions for 27 yards and a score. // Photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons

Week 1 of the NFL is always an exciting time. Fans are hyping up their favorite rookies, teams are eager to display their off-season adjustments and unheralded players are poised to make a name for themselves. Of course, all this optimism comes with its fair share of chaos and destruction. 

The season opener leaned into the chaos as the upstart Detroit Lions captured a 21-20 win over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. Lions rookie — and former Tech standout — running back Jahmyr Gibbs averaged six yards per carry in his first game and showed excellent promise for the Lions. Ultimately, the Lions defense was able to hold star quarterback Patrick Mahomes in check amidst struggles from his receivers and injury to his favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs need Kelce to return quickly as he is critical to their offensive success. Although their defense held up against an explosive Lions offense, this game could have been different if the Chiefs resolved the contract dispute of their star defensive tackle, Chris Jones, who did not suit up for the Week 1 game. 

If the Chiefs cannot right the ship, the rest of the AFC will take advantage. In their own AFC West, they will need to fend off the Los Angeles Chargers. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is one of the few quarterbacks capable of battling Mahomes and looked the part against the Dolphins in Week 1, but he was let down by his defense and kicker as the Chargers lost 36-34. The rest of the division poses no threat to Kansas City; the Denver Broncos made a high profile trade to get legendary coach Sean Payton from the Saints to fix their $200 million investment in quarterback Russell Wilson, but lost 17-16 against a lackluster Raiders team. Still, the Raiders actually have a great pass rusher in Maxx Crosby and a game-breaking wide receiver in Davante Adams. 

The AFC North is perhaps the deepest division in football. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow are both MVP candidates and surrounded by talent. Burrow’s wide receiver duo of All-Pro weapon Ja’Marr Chase and deep-ball savant Tee Higgins is complemented by a defense starring edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle DJ Reader. However, both the Bengals offense and defense looked absent against the Browns, who handled the Bengals easily by an emphatic score of 24-3. 

Cleveland’s defensive duo of All-Pro edge Myles Garrett and lockdown cornerback Denzel Ward were excellent against their Ohio rivals while the Ravens beat the Houston Texans 25-9. Baltimore added Boston College receiver Zay Flowers from the ACC to pair with superstar tight end Mark Andrews and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett improved towards the end of last season, but looked off in a blowout 30-7 loss against a lockdown San Francisco 49ers defense. Pickett will need to be better in order to support a solid Steelers defense led by former Defensive Player of the Year linebacker TJ Watt and stellar coverage safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. 

The AFC East is another tough division with all four teams vying for playoff spots. The New York Jets had the splash of the offseason when they traded for disgruntled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the team’s defense, starring dominant defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, is the real story. They clawed out a 19-16 win against the Bills on Monday Night Football on a walk-off kickoff touchdown, but unfortunately lost Rodgers to a season-ending Achilles injury in the process. The Bills once again showed that their offense runs because of quarterback Josh Allen, who struggled on Monday. His connection with All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs is critical to their offense. Flaws in Buffalo’s defense could make them susceptible to the team they beat in last year’s playoffs: the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins made a big trade of their own to land star cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Rams, but the real question is the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered multiple concussions last year. When he’s healthy and has protection, he can get the ball to the lightning-quick receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. It would be unwise not to mention the Patriots as their defense is very underrated. First-round cornerback Christian Gonzalez solidifies a strong Patriots secondary that can take advantage of the mistakes created by Pro Bowl pass rusher Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Christian Barmore. 

The AFC South is the division of youth — the Colts and Texans both have rookie quarterbacks in CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson and similarly young rosters. The Titans are an offensive line and quarterback away from a deep postseason run, but the combination of Mike Vrabel’s coaching, running back Derrick Henry and an underrated defensive line make them a tough opponent. The Jaguars stand at the top despite a suspect defense, thanks to exciting young quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence will have a new weapon for 2023 in former Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley and the two looked great in Week 1, beating the Colts 31-21. 

Switching over to the NFC, the top three is clear, but questions surround everyone else. The Philadelphia Eagles just suffered a close loss to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, but the reigning NFC champions should still be impressive. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is an MVP candidate and dual threat for defenses while throwing to one of the best 1-2 receiver duos in football in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Eagles defense lost a big interior presence in defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, but replaced him with former Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and retained a solid secondary. They looked a bit disorganized against the Patriots, but won 25-20. Their biggest rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, aren’t going to let up. Their ferocious defense, led by versatile linebacker Micah Parsons and a lockdown corner duo of Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore, shut out the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. However, the Cowboys’ season likely comes down to what quarterback Dak Prescott can do in a new offensive roster makeup. 

Out west, the San Francisco 49ers signed Javon Hargrave away from Philadelphia and added him to a pass-rushing group of Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. The group looked dominant against the Steelers, blowing them out 30-7. On offense, the former Mr. Irrelevant — the last pick of the 2022 draft — Brock Purdy looked comfortable throwing to receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, as well as All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. 

Beyond San Francisco, Philly and Dallas, the NFC’s possible playoff teams are a lot murkier. The hometown Atlanta Falcons ran all over the rebuilding Carolina Panthers in a divisional showdown, but it remains to be seen how their defense and quarterback Desmond Ridder perform against better competition. Fortunately for Atlanta, their first round, 8th overall pick Bijan Robinson looked electric in all of his carries as he scored his first touchdown  for the Falcons by juking the defender out of his shoes. 

The Detroit Lions just came off their biggest win in years over the Chiefs, but there are still questions about their defense and quarterback Jared Goff. The Green Bay Packers made the change from a franchise legend in Aaron Rodgers to unknown quarterback Jordan Love, who ripped the division rival Chicago Bears’ secondary up on Sunday as the Packers won 38-20. The Minnesota Vikings’ 2022 record in one-score games will regress, but they still should be considered a playoffs candidate despite losing 20-17 to a surprisingly tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Both the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks defied expectations last year by making the 2022 playoffs but came out flat against their division rivals Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams respectively. Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and Giants quarterback Daniel Jones both received new contracts in the off-season; they will have to live up to these contractual expectations in order for their teams to succeed. 

At the bottom of the conference, the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals and Washington Commanders all face long odds to make the postseason. Even though Washington beat Arizona 20-16 and the Saints eked out a narrow 16-15 win over Tennessee, all of these teams are either rebuilding or have severe roster questions. Still, the exciting thing about Week 1 is that anything is possible. Another exciting NFL season is on the horizon and it will be fascinating for fans  to watch teams race to the post-season or, unfortunately, the top of next year’s draft order.