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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Week 1 is in the books and I have some thoughts

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

1 – Welcome to the Jungle

The Bengals got fun and games.

There’s something special about Joe Burrow. He doesn’t have the biggest arm but he’s got “it” and all the sudden the Bengals are an interesting watch. Burrow led the Bengals to a 27-24 overtime win against the Vikings on Sunday, despite one of the weirdest sequences I’ve ever seen. Up 14 early in the 3rd quarter, the Bengals went for a 4th and 1 on their own 30. They got stuffed and gave Kirk Cousins and the Vikings a chance to get back into it. I guess the Bengals will always have a little Bungals in them.

The bad news is that the Bengals will not be the pushover that a lot of Bears fans have assumed they will be this week. The defense, filled with free agent vets, looked serviceable and the three WR attack of Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd could absolutely give the Bears suspect secondary fits. I expect the home opener to be a tight affair.

2 – Rodgers, Grab Some Bench

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers looked like he needed a haircut and a hug after his disastrous performance in a neutral location against the Saints. Playing in the Jacksonville stadium due to the impacts of Hurricane Ida, Rodgers and the Green Bay offense couldn’t muster one iota of competence Sunday afternoon. The final line for Rodgers, 15/28 for 133 yards and 2 INTs, is a line that would’ve made even Bears fans in the 1990s turn their noses.

You never want to overreact to any Week 1 performance, particularly when we have a mountain of evidence that Aaron Rodgers is a fantastic football player, but you’ve just got to hope that a stumble out of the gate like this can snowball into an avalanche of discontent. Rodgers made a big show all offseason that he didn’t want to be in Green Bay this year. He certainly didn’t want to be in Jacksonville on Sunday. Let’s hope Rodgers gets what he wants soon enough.

3 – Gronk. Catch. Ball. Score. Touchdown.

He may look and sound like the dude at your gym who talks more about front squats and taking creatine than you previously thought possible, but I think Rob Gronkowski has us right where he wants us. He’s had an incredible career – arguably the best tight end in history – and he’s had fun all along the way. However, what he’s doing now, two years removed from his initial retirement, is amazing.

The mind meld with Brady produced another two scores in the opener, giving him 88 in 132 games for third all-time. Antonio Gates has 116 scores but it took him 236 games to do it. Tony Gonzalez sits in 2nd with 111 over 270 games. Gronk is, of course, the superior blocker to either. To me, that makes him the best TE in the history of the game, even if he wasn’t blessed with the healthiest career.

4 – What’s that Bear Doing?!

Did you guys see the new “mixed reality” nightmare fuel at the Panthers game this week?

Look, I’m all for enhancing the fan experience but will this kind of simulated horror show desensitize us from acting when gigantic animals do attack our stadiums in the future?

5 – NFC West Best

The NFC West started off the year a perfect 4-0 with a +65 point differential. It would have been even better had the 49ers not taken their foot off the pedal and let the Lions back into it after leading by a whopping 4 TDs midway thru the 3rd quarter. We had a pretty good idea that this could be the best division in football with the Rams, 49ers, and even the Seahawks considered strong playoff teams.

It was the Cardinals, led by their defense and unique QB that makes this division even crazier. After the late season collapse last year, I thought the Cardinals would disappoint in 2021. While I don’t want to overreact to the first week, if the Cardinals can improve off of their 2020 season, this division is going to be fierce. I’ll still take the Rams to win the division, but it won’t be easy for them to emerge unscathed. Yes, the Bears play this entire division this year.

6 – Dak is Back

Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

If you put in a bet for Dak Prescott to win the Comeback Player of the Year, I think you can spend the winnings already. The likeable signal caller came out firing in Week 1 against the defending champs and almost pulled off the upset. Yes, the Dallas defense somehow won the turnover battle 4-1, but Dak played incredibly well with a smart gameplan to attack the Bucs secondary. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are amongst the best WR duos in the league. They should both easily top 1,000 yards.

All of that adds up to making the Cowboys interesting, maybe even relevant – I’m just not convinced they have enough on defense or in their Head Coach to be anything more than that.

7 – Mahomes

Watching Tom Brady in New England and now in Tampa Bay, Peyton Manning over his career, and Aaron Rodgers up in cheese land, it seems so automatic that leaving time on the clock at the end of the game is going to lead to a loss against those guys. You need to take the air out of the ball and never give it back to them.

Mahomes seems to be that cranked up to 11. No lead is safe against these guys and the Chiefs proved it again on Sunday against a good Browns team. While the Browns led most of the game, it never felt remotely close to over. One mistake led to a big play followed by another and another and all the sudden, Mahomes flipped a deficit into a lead. As long as he’s around, I think the conversation will be, “who can beat Mahomes” and I have a feeling the answer is going to be “no one” a few more times before it’s all said and done.

8 – Clubb Chubb

One of my favorite things to do in the realm of football is come up with names for fantasy teams. Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. needed a name for his squad led by Nick Chubb and, giving Lester a Bears twist, I pitched “Clubb Chubb” as my entry. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Chubb is my favorite runner in the league. He doesn’t add much in the passing game but as a pure runner, I think he’s the best going right now. Chubb ran for 83 yards and 2 scores on Sunday but coughed up a fumble that led to a FG in a seesaw affair. I bet the Browns to win the division and nothing I saw yesterday makes me back off that decision. The Bears get the Browns in Week 3.

9 – It’s Like Looking in a Mirror

The Vikings look a lot like the Bears. You know that Spiderman meme where two spidermen point at each other? That’s these two teams, stuck in the middle. Sure, you can quibble on some points – they’re not an exact match – but they’re close enough cousins to be confused as brothers at a family reunion. The Vikings struggle in the secondary and along the offensive line. They have talent at WR and along the front seven defensively but are held back by the QB position (obviously, Justin Fields can change this for Chicago). You simply can’t compete in the modern NFL with a bad secondary and a leaky offensive line unless you have a transcendent QB and even then, it’s not a good idea.

The Vikings are built to beat the bad teams, lose to the good teams, and split with the ones in the middle. Like the Bears. If things break right, it’s Wildcard Weekend. If they don’t, it’s a game or two below .500 and a conversation about how to “tweak it” to get it right. These two teams simply aren’t going anywhere as long as Mr. Pizza Ranch and his red-headed stepbrother take snaps.

Pro tip: Watch Vikings games as a litmus test for how the Bears might look against that team. They’re a good proxy for the Bears because they’re built similarly.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

I didn’t think Matt Nagy would play Justin Fields at all on Sunday. If he was following the “Mahomes Plan” he would’ve just left Fields on the bench to learn under Andy Dalton all season (Mahomes didn’t play until the final regular season game when the Chiefs rested their starters for the playoffs). Instead, Nagy played Fields for 5 plays. He handed the ball off twice, ran a little read-option shovel pass, completed a nice ball in the red zone, and kept the ball for a nifty rushing TD. Basically, he did the most he could with his time.

Andy Dalton, who seems like a nice guy, ran a somewhat efficient offense, but refused to push the ball down the field. Or even to the middle of the field. The Bears made a concerted effort to sign speed to the WR room in the offseason to add to Darnell Mooney. Between Mooney, Damiere Byrd, and Marquise Goodwin, this team needs the arm of Justin Fields to have any chance at an explosive play offense.

Do it now, Matthew “Be You” Nagy.

What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.