Mike O’Brien ’23
Chief Sports Editor
After what has felt like a lifetime without football with the Super Bowl being played in February and a prolonged period where the season was in jeopardy due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the NFL is back. While it was certainly an unconventional return to football with less practice heading into games due to a lack of a preseason and most stadiums not permitting fan attendance, this provided for many different storylines in the opening weekend that may show us how the season will trend. Here are 5 takeaways from Week 1 to watch out for down the road.
- Lamar Jackson will win MVP again.
Last year, after Baltimore’s Week 9 49-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, I sang the praises of Lamar Jackson and advocated for him to win the MVP award; which he went on to do. Well, I’m doing the same thing again after one week of football in the 2020 season and predicting that he will win back to back MVP awards. Jackson absolutely dazzled in his season opener with a dominant 38-6 win over the Cleveland Browns. The dual-threat Jackson relied much more on his arm than his legs during the Week 1 victory over Cleveland, torching the Browns’ defense for 275 yards through the air and throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not bad for a running back! While the Ravens improved their backfield in the offseason by pairing veteran RB Mark Ingram II with Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, it is clear that the offense will run through Jackson and his talents as both a passer and a rusher. The Ravens will be looking for redemption after a disappointing loss in the Divisional Round to the scrappy Tennessee Titans, and you can count on Jackson to deliver Baltimore to regular season glory and capture the MVP award in the process. That being said…
- Aaron Rodgers is still a bad man.
Although I would bet on Jackson to win the MVP Award this season, Aaron Rodgers reminded the NFL that he is still here to compete after a vintage opening week performance in a highly offensive 43-34 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. There seemed to be much controversy in the Packers QB room in the offseason after Green Bay spent their first round pick, which they even traded up for, on Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Rather than providing Rodgers with some much needed offensive weapons at wide receiver or tight end, many thought that the Packers’ selection of Love signaled a new era of football in Green Bay and that soon Love would replace Rodgers exactly how Rodgers replaced Brett Farve in his days as a Packer. But boy, did Rodgers prove his doubters wrong. Rodgers played like a man on a mission against Minnesota, throwing for 364 yards and four touchdown passes. Three of those went to wide receiver Davante Adams, who had a monster game himself, tacking on 14 receptions and 156 receiving yards to go with his three scores. In a postgame press conference, Rodgers told the media “…Five letters here, just for everybody out there in Packerland and yourself today…R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We’re gonna be okay.” It’s obvious that Rodgers paid no mind to the media’s spin on the Packers’ drafting of Jordan Love and was set to go to work this season.
- Drew Brees and the Saints are still the top dogs in the NFC South.
One of the most anticipated games in Week 1 took place at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans in a matchup between two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Brady sent shockwaves around the NFL with his decision to leave the New England Patriots, the team he won an unprecedented six Super Bowls with, to play for coach Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay. Brady and Brees, arguably the two best quarterbacks of the modern era, had only faced off five times before in their careers, and now played each other as divisional rivals in the opening weekend. After the final whistle, it became clear that Brees got the better of his new nemesis, with a convincing 34-23 victory. Brady had a subpar game in his new beginning as a Buccaneer, throwing for an average 239 yards, but was intercepted twice, one of which was taken back to the house, which proved vital in the Saints’ victory. It appears that Brady is human after all and will need to take more time to gel with the Bucs and Arians’ offensive schemes after playing under Bill Belichick for so long. Until that happens, Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Co. look like a good pick to win the NFC South over Tampa despite an injury to their star wide receiver Michael Thomas.
- The NFC West will be the tightest divisional race in recent memory.
If you thought the NFC West was a competitive division last year, strap in your seatbelts for this season; every single team in the West looks like a contender to win the division. In Week 1, the NFC West went an impressive 3-1 (4-0 was impossible as the Cardinals and 49ers faced off against each other.) The Seahawks won in convincing fashion in Atlanta by a final score of 38-25. Russel Wilson proved that he is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, throwing for a massively impressive 322 yards, four touchdowns, and completed 31/35 of his passes. Wilson also ended up being the team’s leading rusher, adding 29 yards on the ground. If the Seahawks can get their running backs more involved in games going forward, Seattle’s offense is going to be a problem. The Rams opened their season with a thrilling 20-17 win in Dallas to open their season, including late controversy involving a questionable offensive pass interference call against Dallas wide receiver Michael Gallup. In any case, the Rams got the job done and boast a balanced aerial attack with targets like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and increasingly improving tight end Tyler Higbee, along with a very good defense that includes cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. Perhaps one of the bigger surprises of the day was the Arizona Cardinals defeating the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers by a score of 24-20. The Cardinals were one of the biggest dark horses in the league entering the season; many people considered Arizona to have the best offseason in the NFL, by trading for stud wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and having an excellent draft, including picking athletically gifted linebacker Isaiah Simmons from Clemson to bolster their defense. Second year quarterback and former Hesiman winner Kyler Murray was a popular underdog pick to win the MVP heading into the season due to the Cardinals revamped offensive weapons. The Cardinals proved that they are a team to be feared this season with a win over the Niners. Although San Francisco was missing their top two wide receivers in Deebo Samuel and rookie Brandon Aiyik due to injury, dealt with a reduced role from running back Tevin Coleman due to his sensitivity to the air quality in the Bay Area, and unfortunately saw George Kittle sprain his ankle, the Cardinals are legit. Watch for this to be the closest division race since the 2017 NFC South, which saw the Saints and Panthers finish 11-5 while the Falcons finished 10-6.
- The Eagles are in danger of slipping to the basement of the NFC East.
For the last couple of seasons, it has been widely considered that the NFC East is the weakest division in football. After the Eagles’ improbable run to a Super Bowl victory during the 2017-2018 season, the Eagles and Cowboys have been in a wave of mediocrity as the division’s leaders with a combined 36-30 record since the 2018-2019 season. Before I begin, I firmly believe that Carson Wentz does not get the credit that he deserves as a quarterback. It seems that the rest of the Eagles franchise is still hungover from the Super Bowl win, while Wentz has been eager to get to work to return there, since he was injured that postseason and watched Nick Foles raise the Lombardi with a team he led for the majority of the regular season. Going into Week 1 this season, it seemed that the Eagles would win comfortably over the Washington Football Team, a franchise whose offseason could be described as tumultuous. After renaming their old team, the Redskins, after backlash of its racist origins, as well as owner Dan Snyder getting into hot water for alleged sexual misconduct, Week 1 seemed to spell disaster for Washington, and the Eagles capitalized as they quickly jumped out to a 17-0 lead. However, disaster struck for Philly as they saw this lead vanish as Washington scored 27 unanswered points to steal the game 27-17. The story of the game was the Eagles offensive line allowing Wentz to be massacred in the pocket, as he was sacked a whopping eight times. This needs to be a punch in the gut, a wake up call, or whatever else you want to call it for the Eagles. If they allow themselves to play down to their competition and continue to not protect Carson Wentz, this could be a very long season for the Eagles and their fans.