The NFL season’s kickoff is one of the unofficial holidays of sports fans across the United States. However, with the return of our favorite quarterbacks slinging the ball across the field also comes a slew of armchair quarterbacks and their overreactions to the first week of the season.
Many people wrote off my beloved Cleveland Browns after losing 38-6 to the Baltimore Ravens in week one of last season. The Browns ended the season 11-5 and won their first playoff game since returning to the league in 1999, doing so without NFL Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Long story short, many are too quick to jump to conclusions based on the first week of action, so here I address a few of those.
Browns are contenders in the AFC? - FACT
The Browns got their rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs in week one, and it ultimately ended in a Browns-esque loss. After holding leads of 22-10 and 29-20, Cleveland fell to Kansas City in the waning moments of the game 33-29. Two fumbles, one from Nick Chubb and another from Jamie Gillian, killed Cleveland’s chances.
However, quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 75% of his passes and went toe to toe with Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes in a fantastic performance. Chubb and the Browns’ run game also picked up 153 yards on the ground.
The Browns went blow for blow with the two-time reigning AFC champs and fell just short due to a couple turnovers that Mahomes and the experienced Chiefs’ offense took advantage of. However, the beginning of year two with Mayfield and Stefanski leading the Browns’ offense looked fantastic, racking up 457 total yards and scoring four touchdowns in four red zone trips. The Browns are Super Bowl contenders for the first time since the late 1980s, and in my opinion the league is better off for it.
King Henry’s Court collapsing? - FICTION
The Tennessee Titans came into the 2021 season with high expectations, especially within a weak AFC South division featuring three new quarterbacks for the Colts, Texans and Jaguars. The Arizona Cardinals’ defense punched Tennessee in the mouth. The Cardinals defense held Derrick Henry, arguably the best running back in football, to 3.4 yards per carry.
Arizona edge rusher Chandler Jones had a career day, sacking Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill five times, launching himself into considerationfor defensive player of the year. However, the Titans’ issue on Sunday was falling behind 17-0 to start the game.
If the Titans offense can get an early lead, it will be able to control the time of possession and run out the clock on most teams with Derrick Henry, especially its divisional opponents.
Famous Jameis for Most Valuable Player? - FICTION
One of the biggest storylines from week one was the New Orleans Saints destroying reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 38-3 thanks to five touchdown passes from Saints new starting QB Jameis Winston. Winston looked fantastic against the Packers’ porous pass defense but doubt still remains because of his penchant for turning the ball over in big moments, and one game doesn't alleviate those concerns.
However, Sean Payton now finally has a quarterback that can throw the ball deep down the field again, and the Saints’ offense was borderline unstoppable with Drew Brees when his arm was a vertical threat. If Winston can keep the turnovers to a minimum, the Saints could return to the playoffs this season, and I could absolutely see him winning Comeback Player of the Year after being a backup to Brees last season.
Peyton and Eli were what Monday Night Football needed? - FACT
Monday Night Football, along with ESPN, has been on a downward spiral for the better part of a decade now. After Mike Tirico left the play-by-play booth after the 2015 season, the three-man booth has been a rotating cast of commentators who shouldn’t be primetime commentators. This includes Booger McFarland, who became a meme for stating blatantly obvious things happening on the field, and Jason Witten, who’s flubs became such talking points that he un-retired and returned to the Dallas Cowboys instead of the broadcast booth the following season.
The current trio of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick is fine, but the real entertainment on Monday night was over on ESPN2, where Peyton and Eli Manning commentated and talked about the game in a new way. It was more conversation based than actual live commentary, since they had guests such as Charles Barkley, Russell Wilson and Travis Kelce to talk about the game and their lives.
The Mannings provided their perspective on the Ravens and Raiders as Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, but also as two of the funniest people in football, as Peyton dressed up as Raiders’ coach Jon Gruden and blamed Eli for a fire alarm going off right before halftime. For a casual viewer, Peyton and Eli provide the perfect viewing experience that combines the game with fun analysis and interviews with other stars.
The chemistry and humor from the Mannings, plus their obvious love for the game made the broadcast a breath of fresh air for a company that has needed one for a long time.