Week 1 began with a thrilling upset ... and ended with an upsetting injury.
It was an eventful opening slate of games, to say the least. But in the grand scheme of the 2023 NFL season, which outcomes matter most? That's what I'm looking to determine today.
Here is my ranking of the biggest developments from Week 1, Schein Nine style. Unfortunately, you all know where we have to start ...
1) Aaron Rodgers lost, Josh Allen loses
Ugh. I'm sick for Aaron Rodgers. For the New York Jets. And of course, for the team's tortured fans.
Four snaps into the four-time MVP's highly anticipated debut campaign with the Jets, Rodgers took a sack. After briefly getting up on his feet and looking to the sideline, the 39-year-old sat down on the turf, and that was it. Torn Achilles. Rodgers' season didn't even last one full drive. Absolutely devastating.
Gang Green had serious Super Bowl aspirations, with the most talented quarterback ever joining a Jets team boasting enticing weaponry and an elite defense. Rodgers said and did everything right in the offseason and preseason. Monday night was supposed to be the first chapter in a potentially epic adventure. Instead, the book abruptly closed on New York's title dreams. Without Rodgers under center, this is a shiny ship without a captain. The Jets' Lombardi Trophy drought will continue for a 55th season. It's a soul-sucking turn of events.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Wait a second -- didn't the Jets WIN? Indeed they did. And what a display of resiliency that was, earning a 22-16 overtime victory over the Bills with a walk-off punt-return touchdown from an undrafted free-agent signee. I won't ever take that away from them. Truly inspiring stuff. But the point of this edition of the Schein Nine is to project how Week 1's biggest developments will impact the 2023 season as a whole. And in that sense, Rodgers' injury removes Gang Green from the championship picture. Zach Wilson just isn't ready to lead that charge in a loaded AFC.
Is Josh Allen? That's the other big takeaway from this game.
Overshadowed by Rodgers' injury and the Jets' rousing perseverance, Buffalo lost an extremely winnable season opener in alarmingly sloppy fashion. Allen, my MVP selection in the preseason, had four turnovers. Despite New York's one-dimensional attack after Rodgers' departure, Sean McDermott's defense gave up 172 yards rushing on just 28 carries -- 6.1 yards a pop! I picked this team to hit Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII, but that was a decidedly unimpressive first impression. We better not see that same kind of effort in Sunday's home opener against the Raiders. Bills Mafia deserves much, much better.
2) Cowboys blow Giants off their own field
In the aforementioned preseason predictions, I had Dallas winning the NFC East and New York missing the playoffs. But, man ... 40-0?!! I didn't think the gap between these two divisional foes was that wide.
In the first Sunday night game of the season, the Cowboys stormed MetLife Stadium and posted the biggest shutout in franchise history. That was a nationally televised beatdown. And while the final score certainly took me by surprise, the well-rounded effort from Dallas didn't. This roster is stacked, and Mike McCarthy had his team ready to rock. Big shoutout to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and special teams coordinator John Fassel, too, as their respective units provided the Cowboys' first two touchdowns.
With the total team effort, Dak Prescott and the offense weren't asked to do too much. Still, I was impressed by Tony Pollard's ability to run with authority. The 26-year-old running back's 2022 campaign ended with a broken leg in Dallas' Divisional Round loss to San Francisco. Eight months later, he carried the ball 14 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Cowboys absolutely wrecked shop, racking up seven sacks and three takeaways while allowing just 63 net passing yards. Micah Parsons is a force of nature, and Stephon Gilmore made an immediate impact for his new team.
Look, Dallas is no stranger to hyperbole. "America's Team" is routinely overhyped. But after Sunday night's road showing, the Cowboys deserve their flowers -- and they'll continue to. Unlike many Dallas outfits of the past, this is no paper tiger.
3) Jordan rules in Chicago
Full disclosure: I HATED Green Bay's decision to trade up for Jordan Love in the 2020 NFL Draft. My gripe is well-documented: Aaron Rodgers could've led the Packers back to a Super Bowl had the team used that selection on some receiver help in the form of Tee Higgins or Michael Pittman Jr. But that's in the rearview, and Love deserves credit in the here and now.
This was supposed to be the game where Chicago reasserted itself in the NFL's most historic rivalry, with the Bears finally having a quarterback advantage after three decades of torment from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Instead, it looks like Love just inherited Bears ownership from his predecessors. In his first game as Green Bay's full-time starter, the 24-year-old threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, with zero turnovers and a sparkling 123.2 passer rating. A model of toughness and efficiency on third/fourth down, Love guided the Packers to an easy 38-20 win at hostile Soldier Field. Meanwhile, Justin Fields committed two turnovers, including a back-breaking pick-six. The third-year pro couldn't get anything going downfield and failed to exploit his new weapon, DJ Moore (two catches for 25 yards).
Green Bay arrived in Chicago as an underdog and left with a ninth straight win over the Bears. Over the past 27 installments of this series, the Packers are 24-3. At what point do we stop calling this a rivalry?
4) 49ers blow Steelers off their own field
San Francisco is my Super Bowl pick. I expressed my belief in the 49ers possessing the best roster in the NFL -- bar none -- all offseason. And in their first outing of the 2023 campaign, they certainly didn't disappoint.
Any victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh would have been impressive, but the 49ers straight up embarrassed the home team, jumping out to a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter before ultimately cruising to a 30-7 win. Remember when the Steelers were darlings of the preseason? Yeah, this was a rude awakening. Honestly, I think this is a solid Pittsburgh outfit, a playoff-caliber team. But San Francisco just overwhelms you in so many ways. Brock Purdy can simply play ball. Brandon Aiyuk is Isaac Bruce 2.0. Christian McCaffrey is a special talent. And the Niners' defense remains one of the league's truly elite units.
In the wake of San Francisco's eye-opening win, my colleague Eric Edholm vaulted the 49ers to the top of the Power Rankings, and rightfully so: At the moment, this is the best team in the NFL.
5) Tua outduels Herbert in Los Angeles
The Tua Tagovailoa-Justin Herbert debate goes back to the 2020 draft. I liked both players as prospects, but ultimately leaned Herbert. The Dolphins thought differently, taking Tagovailoa at No. 5 before the Chargers pounced on Herbert at No. 6. Over the past three seasons, Miami has received plenty of grief for that decision -- which made Sunday's 36-34 win at SoFi Stadium that much sweeter.
No QB played better in Week 1 than Tua. Piling up a whopping 466 yards and three touchdowns through the air, the fourth-year pro started a pivotal season in style. In a classic shootout that saw nine lead changes and two ties, Tagovailoa comfortably outdueled Herbert (228 yards and one touchdown passing, with an additional 1-yard rushing score). Tua was better, tougher and more clutch than his quarterbacking counterpart. The Tua-Tyreek Hill combination is special, with the receiver cooking Bolts defenders to the tune of 11 catches for 215 yards and two scores.
It's a long season ahead, but this was a fine start for Tua and the Fins -- especially considering Miami suffered a spate of summer injuries, with CB Jalen Ramsey hitting injured reserve and LT Terron Armstead inactive for the opener. Meanwhile, the Chargers failed to exorcise the demons of last season's historic playoff collapse, losing the home opener with two road games on tap. Not great.
6) Cleveland rocks Burrow, owns Bengals
I thought the Browns could defend their home field by beating the Bengals with defense, but are you kidding me?! Cleveland absolutely stifled Cincinnati, holding the visiting team to 142 total yards and six first downs in a 24-3 whooping.
Days after becoming the NFL's highest-paid player, Joe Burrow posted a career-low 82 yards passing. At the outset of a contract season, Tee Higgins couldn't catch a single ball on eight targets. And after running his mouth during the week, Ja'Marr Chase was held to 39 receiving yards by the "elves." Most strikingly, the loss dropped Burrow to 1-5 vs. Cleveland. I still believe in the Bengals -- don't be surprised if they promptly knock off the rust in an enticing home opener vs. the Ravens -- but this was an absolute dud performance.
Enough about Cincy, though -- how about these Browns? In a highly competitive AFC North, Cleveland felt like the forgotten team all offseason. But this roster has high-level talent on both sides of the ball. Nick Chubb, who could easily win the rushing title, eclipsed 100 yards on just 18 carries on Sunday. Myles Garrett, an annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate, legitimately toyed with Cincy's offensive line en route to four QB hits and a sack. For Cleveland, it's all about building confidence, continuing to increase Deshaun Watson's comfort level in Kevin Stefanski's offense and putting it all together. Consequently, this season-opening statement was HUGE.
7) Lions restore the roar in Kansas City
I've clowned on the Lions in the past by employing a common refrain from their long-suffering fan base: Rebuilding since 1957. No more! Not after what Dan Campbell's squad showed us in the Kickoff Game, raining on the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs' parade with a gutsy 21-20 win at Arrowhead Stadium. The most impressive part: The Lions didn't even play their "A" game. That's why this is a group to believe in -- a group I believe in, having picked Detroit to win its first division title since 1993.
|Mahomes in Week 1
8) Rams blow Seahawks off their own field
I called this upset all offseason ... and then jumped off when Cooper Kupp got hurt. Shame on me.
Sean McVay is a total stud of a coach. Just ask Pete Carroll, who's now 5-9 against McVay after the Rams' 30-13 blowout of the Seahawks in Seattle. Matthew Stafford is a healthy, Hall of Fame-bound signal-caller who distributed the ball beautifully against the 'Hawks, totaling 334 yards passing with a receiving corps led by rookie Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell (119 receiving yards apiece). And Aaron Donald's still Aaron Donald. (Geno Smith knows!)
How about L.A. holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes in Seattle? How about Raheem Morris' defense flying around and dominating the Seahawks? Sleep on these Rams at your own risk.
9) Falcons just take care of business
Arthur Smith's team played smart. The new guys on defense -- led by ballhawking safety Jessie Bates (two picks and a forced fumble) -- made game-changing plays. Desmond Ridder distributed the mail when asked. Tyler Allgeier was his beastly self with two touchdowns. And rookie sensation Bijan Robinson provided an ankle-breaking score for the highlight reels.
The Falcons won their opener for the first time since 2017, which just so happens to be the last season in which Atlanta made the playoffs. The drought ends in 2023!