Week 1 shouldn't feel familiar. The start of the new NFL season should be overstuffed with shock and awe, with expectations upended and former weaknesses addressed. That's why Sunday's special teamsmeltdown by the Chargers was so disappointing. It's why the joy of Andrew Luck's return was deflated by problems that have plagued the Colts for years. It's why Steelers fans weren't that surprised to see Pittsburgh give away a win on the road.
I want to kick off this first Debrief of the regular season by focusing on seven teams that played to type, for good and bad. There is no telling where this season goes, but Week 1 felt like the continuation of a larger story for the teams below:
A familiar beginning
Los Angeles Chargers:Sunday's script was straight from the confounding Chargers playbook. They gained 541 yards -- 179 more than the Chiefs. They fumbled a punt return and missed a field-goal try. Philip Rivers played brilliantly, but he also forced a third-down throw late in the third quarter that was picked off, short-circuiting a chance for a comeback. A prior injury to a superstar -- Joey Bosa -- loomed over the proceedings, with an update parceled out by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport in the usual Sunday morning scoop competition. The Chargers lost to the Chiefs for a ninth straight time, with Andy Reid's ownership of the franchise ratified for all to see.
For the remaining hopeful who still believe all this talent in Los Angeles will be realized -- Hi, I'm Gregg, and I'm a sucker! -- this game felt like the continuation of a Chargers season that has played on loop for a decade.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The only thing missing from coach Mike Tomlin's ugly record against inferior competition on the road was a tie. A Steelers optimist might note that a tie isn't so bad when losing the turnover battle by five on the road, as Pittsburgh did in Cleveland on Sunday. A Steelers realist would recognize that another game of brilliant individual performances by running back James Conner, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebacker T.J. Watt didn't add up to team success.
These are the types of games the Patriots rarely stumble over but which the Steelers routinely give away early in the season, ensuring another playoff route on the road. Tomlin's crew needs to worry about simply making the playoffs out of an improved AFC North, especially if Roethlisberger has more games like Sunday's.
Watching Andrew Luck manage a game where both of his tackles were overwhelmed, where his running game was mediocre and where his defense gave up a late lead made it feel like Luck never left.
Familiar -- in a good way
The lack of live tackling and hitting last month was unnecessary for a Rams team that dominated both lines of scrimmage, creating interior pressure on Derek Carr while the Rams offensive line kept Jared Goff remarkably clean. Goff spread his targets around, with all three wideouts getting at least eight looks. Todd Gurley performed like a player intent on repeating as Offensive Player of the Year. This is a Rams team ready to build in Year 2 of a successful program, while the rest of the new NFL head coaches, like Jon Gruden, are scrambling to start from scratch.
Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid and his latest offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting, Eric Bieniemy, dispatched the Chargers with a dizzying array of play calls that other teams around the league will start copying this week.
Minnesota Vikings:Sheldon Richardson's "prove it" contract may prove to make him extraordinarily rich. With Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen consistently pressuring Jimmy Garoppolo from the edge on Sunday, Richardson took advantage of juicy one-on-one matchups inside to force the 49ers matinee idol into mistakes. The Vikings will always be the team that proved Jimmy G. isn't perfect, unless you already dispensed hot takes on his dating habits from your high horse.
The Vikings' defense threatens to be even better this season, because of the addition of Richardson and first-round cornerback Mike Hughes, who bypassed coach Mike Zimmer's standard redshirt year for rookies because he's too good to keep off the field. Minnesota's win over the Niners on Sunday was businesslike, with quarterback Kirk Cousins practically an afterthought. Cousins is already learning how forgiving Sundays can be when one is supported by two standout receivers and a dominant defense.
New England Patriots: So many names change annually in New England that it's almost easy to forget the greatest quarterback of all time and the greatest tight end of all time have played together for nearly a decade. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have never played a regular season with one another that didn't end with a playoff bye, and there's no reason to think that streak will end now.
Phillip Dorsett is now playing the role of Brandin Cooks. Trent Brown is now playing the role of Nate Solder. Rex Burkhead is now playing the role of Dion Lewis. None of it seems to matter much, as long as Brady and Gronk stay together, something Gronk made sure would happen once again this offseason.
Teams I already feel differently about ...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sometimes, the preseason matters. The Bucs had the best offense in August, and it carried over into Sunday's indoor fireworks show in New Orleans. The premature bloviating about Ryan Fitzpatrick keeping the starting quarterback job over the suspended Jameis Winston misses the point. This is an offense loaded with enough receiving options to win, regardless of who's throwing the ball. Mike Evans is just entering his prime as a top-five receiver, while DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries all complement one another with varied skill sets.
On paper, the Bucs faced the toughest three-game stretch to start the season in NFL history. They've already stolen a division road win, and they can't be counted out as potentially beating either Philadelphiaor Pittsburgh in Tampa over the next two weeks, with Fitzmagic being, as Dirk Koetter put it, "alive and well." Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has already added a Matt Nagy-like boost to the team's attack after taking over play-calling duties from Koetter.
This will be Winston's team again, because starting the 35-year-old Fitzpatrick for 16 games in the year 2018 -- when he hasn't won double digit games for three years -- isn't a wise idea. But Winston may return to a team with a winning record and the potential to make good on all that buzz the organization generated a year ago. Yes, it's possible to have a season-changing win in Week 1.
Tennessee Titans: Imagine the Tennessee Titans in your mind, ideally not in those new road uniforms. Who do you see?
My mind goes to Marcus Mariota and Delanie Walker. If I'm searching for the identity of a team that made the Divisional Round last season yet still changed coaches, perhaps I also think of their standout bookend tackles, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. None of those four players is healthy after Week 1.
No team had a worse opener, because the damage done after the lightning delays in Miami could last all season. Mariota was erratic even before he left the game with an elbow injury. Walker, the bulked-up rock of the offense at tight end, suffered a dislocated ankle nearly seven hours after the game kicked off, ending his season. That doesn't seem fair, and neither does Lewan suffering a concussion in his first game after receiving a huge contract, especially with Conklin still not back from his torn ACL.
Mariota is undergoing more tests on his arm, and his status for Week 2 is unclear, with the injury raising newfound questions about the fourth-year quarterback's durability. The injury arrives after a rough preseason during which Mariota struggled to adjust to a new offense with retooled mechanics. We may only be beginning Week 2 of the 2018 season, but Mike Vrabel is already having his Welcome to the NFL coaching moment.
Sneaky good weeks
Ravens wide receivers: Watching the Ravens' defense flummox a quarterback like Buffalo's Nathan Peterman with an array of blitzes isn't surprising. The Ravens do that even in lean years. The more encouraging part of Baltimore's 47-3 beatdown of the hapless Bills was the efficient passing game led by Joe Flacco and his trio of new wideouts. All three of Baltimore's big free-agent signings caught touchdown passes: John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. Could general manager Ozzie Newsome finally get the position right just as he prepares to leave the building?
To put it another way: Flacco last threw three or more touchdown passes in a game in Week 13 of the 2016 season.
Buoyed by an offensive line with a chance to recall the Hogs, Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson combined for 294 yards from scrimmage in Arizona. Alex Smith played keepaway, and coach Jay Gruden looked lighter than he has since taking over a messy QB room led by Robert Griffin III. Expect the Redskins to remain in the playoff mix all season, challenging the Eagles for the NFC East, because they are so strong up front.
Dolphins running backs: The key drive in the first NFL game to take place in the Bermuda Triangle came early in the second quarter, before the first of two lightning delays. Marcus Mariota's off-target completion at the goal line toward the end of the first quarter gave the Dolphins the ball at the Miami 2-yard line. Twelve plays and 98 yards later, Miami scored its first touchdown of the season on Frank Gore's back.
Gore, just 14 yards away from fourth place on the all-time rushing list, ran nine times for 61 yards on Sunday, conjuring memories of his days at Coral Gables High School. Kenyan Drake was bottled up in the second half, but he showed off the traits that helped him finish last season with such a flourish.
Patriots front seven: The formula in New England figures to be different this year. The offensive firepower is undeniably diminished. The defense is undeniably deeper. Patriots pass rushers, from Trey Flowers to Deatrich Wise to Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown, harassed Deshaun Watson throughout Sunday's win over the Texans. Rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley played 51 out of 74 defensive snaps, the most playing time in a front seven boosted by the return of Dont'a Hightower, who missed 11 games in 2017 with a torn pec. After losing the Super Bowl to an Eagles defense that can bring waves of defenders, Bill Belichick has a roster capable of winning games with defense again.
Players set to fill a surprisingly big role
Damontae Kazee, Falcons safety:Keanu Neal's season-ending ACL injury changes the personality of the Falcons defense. There is no replacing Neal's edge or upside, but the Falcons have a fascinating replacement for him in the lineup. Kazee, a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, played like a man possessed in the preseason, and he made an immediate impact after being inserted at free safety following Neal's injury, with Ricardo Allen moving to the strong side.
It would have been fun to see if Atlanta coach Dan Quinn eventually deployed Neal and Kazee together in 2018, but now there's a chance the Falcons will develop another late-round find for Allen to join next season. Teammate Desmond Trufant called Kazee a "fire starter." He seems destined to earn a great nickname; I just have no idea what it is.
Ian Thomas, Panthers tight end: The Panthers' thorough manhandling of the Cowboys had to energize coach Ron Rivera, as it resembled so many of the victories by Rivera's best Panthers teams. But the organization's poor injury luck continued, with right tackle Daryl Williams getting hurt again and tight end Greg Olsen re-injuring his right foot.
Losing Olsen for an extended period would be a blow, and any serious setback will present the longtime Panthers great with some difficult questions about his future. Carolina will replace Olsen with Ian Thomas, a formidable fourth-round talent who already earned playing time alongside Olsen. Rivera believes Thomas is well prepared to take on a starting role, and coordinator Norv Turner runs a tight end-friendly roster. Fantasy sirens ahoy!
(UPDATE: It was revealed on Monday that Olsen re-fractured his right foot and will be out for awhile, with a potential trip to injured reserve on the horizon.)
Phillip Lindsay, Broncos running back: So much for that Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman battle. The Broncos' offense looked reborn against Seattle, and Lindsey's contributions were the most pleasant surprise. The undrafted satellite back led the backfield in snaps and yards from scrimmage. Lindsey and Freeman combined for 30 carries and 173 yards from scrimmage, part of an impressive-looking rookie haul with the potential to transform the entire team.