Way-Too-Early NFL Overreactions

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2019

Way-Too-Early NFL Overreactions

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Every year, Week 1 of the NFL season leads to massive overreactions.

    The offseason builds hope, so when reality crashes down on those preconceived notions, we tend to lean too far in the other direction.

    Week 1 delivered some surprises and letdowns that will lead us to question our original thoughts. 

    Let's take a look beneath the surface of the stats and game results, delving into a six-pack of exaggerated takes and narratives that should lead to a slight pause.

    Which teams will bounce back from an opening-week letdown? Who's going to eventually come back to earth after flying high out of the gate?

         

Atlanta Falcons Aren't a Playoff-Caliber Team

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    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan
    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt RyanHannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons outgained the Minnesota Vikings 345-269 in yards, but the offense couldn't translate that advantage into points, primarily because of turnovers. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw two interceptions—including one in the red zoneand running back Devonta Freeman lost a fumble at Minnesota's 21-yard line. 

    In other discouraging news, the Falcons placed rookie first-round guard Chris Lindstrom on injured reserve. Jamon Brown will replace him in the starting lineup.

    Still, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson won't let Week 1 sway his perception of the Falcons. "This is a playoff-caliber team," he said, per Will McFadden of the Falcons' website.

    Pederson also pointed out Atlanta's speed on defense and called interior tackle Grady Jarrett "one of the best tackles in the NFL." 

    Despite the offensive mistakes and Lindstrom's injury, the Falcons can recover from a rough start. Ryan is now in his fourth year in play-caller Dirk Koetter's offense. Atlanta's passing attack has ranked eighth or better in each of the past three seasons. 

    Don't write off the Falcons as a middling .500 team yet. Their explosive offense gives them a chance to win plenty of games this year.

Lamar Jackson's Surge in MVP Odds

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    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar JacksonWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Quarterback Lamar Jackson carved up the Miami Dolphins defense with completions to eight different pass-catchers, including two deep touchdown strikes to rookie first-round wideout Marquise Brown. He finished 17-of-20 for 324 yards and five touchdowns in only three quarters of work.

    The Dolphins looked terrible, but their secondary is supposed to be one of their few strengths. They have Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, 2018 first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Bobby McCain, who signed a four-year, $27 million extension in June 2018. 

    Jackson answered his critics with an impressive performance, and his MVP odds went from 50-1 to 18-1, per ESPN's Doug Kezirian.

    Don't fall for the trap. 

    Despite Jackson's accurate arm and deep tosses downfield, the Ravens logged the most rushing attempts (46) and yards on the ground (265) of any team in Week 1. Jackson carried the ball only three times for six yards. Baltimore's ground attack will fuel the offense this year.

    Jackson may be vastly improved as a passer, but he shouldn't be viewed as a surging MVP candidate just because he beat an awful Dolphins team.

Cleveland Browns Are Overrated

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    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield
    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker MayfieldJeff Haynes/Associated Press

    During the offseason, the Cleveland Browns garnered no shortage of buzz. They went 5-2 down the stretch last season, and they added star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a trade with the New York Giants in March.

    The Browns went into their home opener against the Tennessee Titans as a 5.5-point favorite, but they lost by 30. While the result seems shocking because of the collective talent on Browns' roster, one loss to a better-than-advertised Titans team doesn't mean the Browns are overrated.

    Cleveland will face the New York Jets on Monday night, and head coach Freddie Kitchens figures to tweak his offensive design. Like he did throughout the second half of last season, quarterback Baker Mayfield will likely find quick reads to compensate for a questionable offensive line. Running back Nick Chubb may have more than 20 carries to neutralize an aggressive Jets pass rush.

    Kitchens also has the right mindset going into Week 2, per Nick Shook of the team's official website.

    "What we have to refrain from doing right now is overreacting,” the Browns head coach said. “It is one game in a 16-game schedule."

    Jets head coach Adam Gase told reporters quarterback Sam Darnold won't suit up because he contracted mononucleosis; Trevor Siemian, who's completed 59.3 percent of his passes, will start in his place. 

    The Browns have an abundance of talent on offense and a strong pass rush with defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, which should allow them to flip the script on Monday.

    Despite their embarrassing Week 1 loss, the Browns are still a potential playoff contender primed for a 9-7 or 10-6 record.

San Francisco 49ers Have a Strong Defense

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    San Francisco 49ers wideout Ahkello Witherspoon
    San Francisco 49ers wideout Ahkello WitherspoonJulio Aguilar/Getty Images

    In Week 1, the San Francisco 49ers allowed only 295 total yards and forced four takeaways in an inspiring performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    However, we shouldn't be ready to crown the Niners defense just yet. 

    The 49ers took advantage of Jameis Winston, who has more interceptions (61) than games played (57) in the NFL. Against San Francisco, he threw two pick-sixes and completed only 55.6 percent of his passes. 

    This offseason, Niners general manager John Lynch acquired defensive ends Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. Both made an immediate impact with a sack apiece. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon also had a stellar performance with three pass breakups and an interception returned for a score. 

    San Francisco deserves credit for capitalizing on Winston's mistakes, but this group will face far better quarterbacks this season. Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan will pose legitimate challenges in the weeks to come.

    If the 49ers can stifle those passers, then we can say their defense has taken major steps in the right direction. Until then, we need to see more before labeling the unit "new and improved."

It's Man Overboard in Miami

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    Miami Dolphins Running back Kenyan Drake
    Miami Dolphins Running back Kenyan DrakeMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    After the Dolphins' 59-10 loss to the Ravens, a number of players reportedly wanted to abandon ship, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.

    "Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, multiple Dolphins players contacted their agents after Sunday's season-opening blowout loss and directed them to attempt to engineer trades elsewhere. The players believe that the coaching staff, despite claiming that they intend to try to win, aren't serious about competing." 

    Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald confirmed Florio's report. The Dolphins have also allowed defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick permission to gauge the trade market, but the team isn't pushing to move him, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe.

    Nonetheless, we shouldn't expect multiple trades in the next week or two. Like Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, fellow Bill Belichick disciple Matt Patricia faced similar discontent in the Lions locker room after a 48-17 loss to the Jets in Week 1 last season, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo

    The Dolphins don't need to beat the New England Patriots to quell the noise. If Flores' coaching staff shows the ability to adjust and compete, unhappy players can at least look at the big picture and envision progression through a rough season.

    Miami may execute deals to dump salaries and acquire draft picks closer to the trade deadline, but the players will likely stick it out through October.

Pittsburgh Steelers Will Miss Antonio Brown

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    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster
    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-SchusterMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 on Sunday night.

    The offense couldn't find its rhythm, converting on only 3-of-12 third-down situations. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recorded an 18.2 QBR and didn't toss a single touchdown pass. After falling into an early hole, the Steelers largely abandoned the run game and finished with only 32 yards on 13 carries.

    Looming large over those struggles was the absence of Antonio Brown, whom the Steelers traded to the Oakland Raiders in March. Brown's relationship with the Raiders quickly deteriorated to the point that they released him Saturday, which allowed him to sign with the Patriots hours later.

    Although the Steelers have a tall task in filling Brown's role with a lead wideout who can draw double-teams, let's not forget that they have a 2-5 record with Brown against the Patriots, including a playoff loss. He logged 100-plus yards in only two of those contests.

    The Steelers disappointed in a blowout loss, but the Patriots have a solid secondary with cornerback Stephon Gilmore able to match up with No. 1 wide receivers. Based on Brown's past numbers, New England has a history of limiting Roethlisberger's top receiving option. 

    After Week 1, many may question JuJu Smith-Schuster's ability to step into the role of a No. 1 wide receiver, but he has the physical tools and reliable hands (69.2 percent catch rate) to handle heightened expectations.