A pitiful performance in the season opener is nothing new for the Green Bay Packers. Something similar happened a year ago and everything turned out fine. So, as Aaron Rodgers would say, just R-E-L-A-X. Remember, it’s only one of 17 games and look at a loss in Week 1 as nothing more than a Panchakarma cleanse.
In the NFL world, this is known as Overreaction Monday, when one game defines the season, for better or worse. This is all we have to analyze until the next game is played and most teams appear completely different.
Rodgers, who considers himself the coolest quarterback on the planet, admitted he could have played much better than he did Sunday in the Packers’ 23-7 loss to the Vikings. He was intercepted once and sacked four times. Green Bay had bigger problems, however, and its defense deserved most of the blame.
Why bother to put a man (or two) on Minnesota’s top receiver? Justin Jefferson ran free through the secondary and finished with nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Kirk Cousins was barely touched in the pocket, and Dalvin Cook ran for 90 yards on 20 carries.
The Vikings, who opened as home underdogs and turned into a sharp side for bettors, played the role of NFC North favorites.
The result should not come as a big surprise. Rodgers and the Packers treated the preseason as a nuisance and used Week 1 as their dress-rehearsal game for the second year in a row. The situation seemed much worse this time last year after the Packers were embarrassed 38-3 by the Saints in the opener.
Here’s what happened next: Green Bay won and covered its next seven games and eventually finished 13-4 as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Will the Packers repeat recent history?
There are some reasons not to be alarmed. Green Bay was without starting tackle David Bakhtiari and top receiver Allen Lazard because of injuries. On the Packers’ first offensive play, rookie receiver Christian Watson dropped what would have been a 75-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers. In the second quarter, AJ Dillon was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal run up the middle.
The offense was not at full strength, and plenty of chances were squandered. The defense will look much better in Week 2, when Green Bay is a 9.5-point home favorite against the Bears.
The truth is Week 1 is often a lie. There is plenty of time to make up for a bad first impression. The Packers will rebound, but they are not going to win the division by five games as they did last year. I bet on Minnesota and hoped for the best. What I learned is the Vikings, mostly due to a coaching change, are legit this season.
At the risk of occasionally overreacting, here are nine more things I learned from Week 1:
Bill Belichick is losing the benefit of the doubt
The Patriots appeared to be a mess in the offseason, when Belichick lost his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and never replaced him. Belichick decided it was a good idea to appoint a defensive coach, Matt Patricia, to call the offensive plays.
The Dolphins, led by rookie head coach Mike McDaniel, were 3.5-point favorites. How do you not take Belichick and the points against a first-time coach? I passed on the Patriots, fortunately, and in the past I would have bet on Belichick in this spot. Yes, he’s a six-time Super Bowl winner, but he seems to be slipping and this year feels different in a negative sense.
“I’m starting to wonder if Belichick has lost his fastball,” VSiN analyst William Hill said after the game. “I just always lean toward giving him the benefit of the doubt.”
In a 20-7 loss at Miami, the Patriots were minus-3 in turnover margin and second-year quarterback Mac Jones suffered a back injury. The Dolphins have more firepower, whether you believe in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or not, and a far more creative offensive plan. New England is the No. 3 team in the AFC East and Belichick might not have the personnel to prove otherwise.
Mike Tomlin remains a bet-on coach
While many wanted to see rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett win the starting quarterback job for the Steelers, Tomlin stood firm with veteran Mitch Trubisky and was rewarded with a 23-20 overtime win at Cincinnati. Trubisky passed for 194 yards and a touchdown, took only one sack and committed no turnovers.
On the other side, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow turned it over five times (four interceptions) and was sacked seven times. Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor bungled a clock/game management situation with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and paid for his mistakes. The reigning AFC champions were humbled as 7-point home favorites, although the underdog was popular with the sharper bettors.
Burrow, who missed the preseason after appendix surgery, will be better. The Steelers might get worse. Elite pass-rusher T.J. Watt suffered a torn pectoral muscle late in the game, which could be a potential season-ending injury.
This is Tomlin’s 16th year and he never has had a losing season. Watt’s injury is a problem for Pittsburgh, which opened as a 1-point home dog to the Patriots in Week 2. I’m not ready to pick a side in the Belichick-Tomlin showdown, but Tomlin’s bet on Trubisky was a smart play.
Trey Lance has a long way to go
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said he expected Lance, a second-year quarterback, to have some growing pains. Lance’s first Sunday as the full-time starter was a painful one. Lance was 13-for-28 passing with an interception in a 19-10 setback at Chicago, where it rained and the field was sloppy.
It’s too soon for Lance to be looking over his shoulder, but Jimmy Garoppolo was brought back as the backup and could be a better option if Lance continues to struggle. There’s also a chance Garoppolo could be traded to Dallas. Lance needs to show a lot of improvement this week against the Seahawks.
Justin Fields also has a long way to go …
And the Bears are still who we thought they were. It was a fun opener in Chicago. Fields’ fourth-quarter touchdown pass helped rally the Bears from a 10-0 deficit to a surprising win as 6.5-point dogs.
Still, the numbers don’t lie. Fields connected on 8-of-17 passes for 121 yards and the Bears were outgained 331-204 by the 49ers. Chicago plays five of its next seven games on the road and will be an underdog in each one (Packers, Giants, Vikings, Patriots and Cowboys), so I still feel good about my season win total bet Under 6.5.
The Texans are not the worst team in the league
ProFootballTalk released preseason power rankings last week and put Houston at No. 32. The Texans are not trash, and they proved something in a 20-20 tie with the Colts, the AFC South favorites.
Davis Mills, who has played like the second-best quarterback from the 2021 draft, passed for 240 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. I bet on Houston as a 7-point home dog. The Texans are better than some of the so-called experts think and they certainly rank higher than the Jets and Seahawks.
The Eagles will win the NFC East …
But don’t get blinded by your affection for any team and think it’s OK to lay 3.5 points on the road. I like everything about Philadelphia this season and in May predicted a division title for this team. Jalen Hurts, who’s headed for a breakout season, passed for 243 yards and rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown in the opener at Detroit.
I did not lay the 3.5 or 4 points with the Eagles mostly because of aversion to road favorites of more than a field goal. Philadelphia led 38-21 after three quarters, yet left the backdoor open for the Lions to cover in a 38-35 decision. The explosive Eagles rushed for 216 yards and A.J. Brown, acquired in a trade with Tennessee, finished with 10 receptions for 155 yards. I’m also leery of home favorites laying less than a field goal, and it’s suspicious to see Philadelphia open -2 against the Vikings in Week 2.
The Cowboys were headed for big trouble before the Dak Prescott injury
Dallas’ offensive shortcomings — a severely deteriorated offensive line and thin receiver corps — were on display Sunday night prior to Prescott leaving the game with a thumb injury that’s expected to keep him sidelined for about six weeks. The Cowboys were outgained 347-244 in an ugly 19-3 loss to the Buccaneers.
Prescott’s absence means about a nine-point line adjustment this week against the Bengals. Cooper Rush is the quarterback going forward unless Dallas makes a big move. The Cowboys were going in the wrong direction anyway and it’s now a certainty that there will be no sweating my season win total bet of Under 10.5 wins.
Brian Daboll and Saquon Barkley will make the Giants bettable again
Daboll, the Bills’ former offensive coordinator, won his coaching debut for New York and made a statement in the process. Daboll gambled on a 2-point conversion try that was successful with 1:06 left in a 21-20 win at Tennessee.
Barkley ran 18 times for 164 yards and a touchdown, recapturing the magic from his rookie season in 2018. If Barkley can stay healthy, the Giants (6-11 against the spread last season) are a good bet to give the Eagles a run for the top spot in the division.
The Derek Carr-Davante Adams reunion has a dark side
Adams ditched Rodgers and the Packers in favor of the Raiders and his former Fresno State quarterback, Carr, in the biggest free-agency move of the NFL offseason. Adams was the real deal, totaling 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, in his debut. Doubts will linger about Carr, who threw three interceptions and took five sacks behind a weak offensive line.
Carr too often wears blinders and zeroes in on his favorite receiver. He targeted Adams 17 times while targeting tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow a total of 12 times. Carr’s mistakes were mostly to blame for the Raiders’ 24-19 loss to the Chargers.
I took a loss with the Raiders + 3.5 in what was a big win for Las Vegas bookmakers.
“If you looked at the scores, you would think we had a borderline monster day,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “We had a winning day, but it was minimal. We lost big decisions on the Ravens and Buccaneers. Our best result was the Raiders game.”