The first game of the 2022 NFL season is over, with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills showing in Thursday’s 31-10 win over the Rams why they’re a favorite to take the Super Bowl crown from LA in February.
What other intriguing games are on the schedule for Week 1? Which quarterback has the most pressure in his season debut? Who could be an upset winner this weekend? The Athletic NFL writers Dan Pompei, Mike Sando and Nate Tice discuss what they’ll be watching on Sunday and Monday.
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Which Week 1 game intrigues you and why?
Pompeii: Packers-Vikings is a fine way to get the ball rolling in the NFC North. The rivalry is strong between the teams. It will be interesting to see what the Packers offense looks like without Davante Adams, and it will be interesting to see what the Vikings look like with Kevin O’Donnell in charge. Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith doesn’t have to wait long to show his old team what it will be missing.
Sando: The Chargers drawing the Raiders out of the gate is so fascinating after the Chargers dedicated their offseason to fixing a defense that wasn’t good enough to lift them over a Las Vegas team in turmoil last season. This one game becomes an instant referendum on the offseason because it forces the Chargers to immediately face what doomed them last season. Having Josh McDaniels coordinating the Raiders’ new offense adds another component, as we’ll naturally measure the Chargers’ head coach and defensive architect, Brandon Staley, against one of the best offensive callers in the game. It’s a lot to absorb in Week 1.
Tice: Packers-Vikings. I have become more and more optimistic about how this Vikings offense will look under O’Connell’s Rams-inspired attack (the Jared Goff version). I think the skill players he has at his disposal — Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and others — will fit this offense like a glove and I am excited to see it in action with Kirk Cousins (hopefully) launching balls down the field off play action. On the Packers side, I rate their starting defensive backs as one of if not the best group in the NFL, and want to see what this defense looks like injected with Quay Walker at linebacker. Also, how does Aaron Rodgers look with this receiver group? What does Matt LaFleur lean into with this Adams-less offense? I have faith they’ll figure it out this season, but can’t wait to see what it all looks like.
What’s the top storyline you’ll be watching unfold this weekend?
Pompeii: Can the Bucs protect Tom Brady? The questions go beyond the departures and injuries on their offensive line. He also is without his go-to receiver, as Rob Gronkowski will probably be on a beach somewhere, cold one in hand. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Micah Parsons are undoubtedly seeing opportunities for sacks.
Sando: Great expectations surrounding quarterbacks who either changed teams, were promoted into the lineup or had their teams ramp up around them. The list includes Russell Wilson for Denver, Matt Ryan for Indianapolis, Tua Tagovailoa in that remade Miami offense, Baker Mayfield in Carolina and even Trey Lance replacing Jimmy Garoppolo — especially with Lance facing a Bears team led by Justin Fields, who the 49ers bypassed in Take Lance.
Tice: The Broncos-Seahawks “Monday Night Football” game will be so intriguing. What will Russell Wilson’s reception be in Seattle? What does the Wilson/Nathaniel Hackett offense look like? How do the Seahawks’ young offensive linemen look with Geno Smith at the helm? Does Pete Carroll get his wish to pound the rock whenever he wants with Rashaad Penny and (when he gets fully healthy) Kenneth Walker III? Monday night should be a fun glimpse of what’s to come.
Which quarterback has the most pressure on him in his season debut?
Pompeii: Mitch Trubisky is trying to revive his career by replacing Ben Roethlisberger, a player who could be on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Steelers have gone all in on Trubisky, naming him a captain in addition to giving him the starting job. But rookie Kenny Pickett performed pretty well in the preseason, and, given that the Steelers drafted him in the first round, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the starter.
Sando: The Broncos embraced the idea that they found their savior at quarterback in Wilson. Whether that becomes the case, there’s pressure on Wilson to elevate that team right away, but he must play his first game against the team and coach that knows him best and against a remade Seahawks defensive scheme that did not reveal much in the preseason. Seattle’s offense could lose the game, obviously, but is it realistic to expect Wilson and that Denver offense to hit their stride right away? There’s more for Denver to lose than win in this game.
Tice: It has to be Wilson. Whether directly or indirectly, he has put pressure on himself to perform and deliver this season. And any blemishes Monday will be compounded given the game’s spotlight. Overreacting to Week 1 performances is an NFL tradition, but Wilson can help quiet whispers by delivering against the Seahawks.
Which rookie has the biggest potential for a Game 1 breakout?
Pompeii: Lions edge Aidan Hutchinson appears ready physically and mentally to seize a moment. And if he does, he just might moonwalk.
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Sando: The Saints’ Chris Olave is a pro-ready wide receiver facing the Falcons defense in Week 1, so he could be a candidate.
Tice: Tyler Linderbaum will bring a different skill set at center for Baltimore. He’s an outstanding athlete who the Ravens will love to get out in space as a puller, and he gives them a different flavor of attack than they’ve had lately. If the Ravens perform well against the Jets, check for No. 64 flying to second-level defenders.
Which team is too overconfident heading into its first game?
Pompeii: I wouldn’t say the Chargers are overconfident, but I would say they better not be. The Raiders are a dangerous opponent, and they are even more dangerous because it’s Week 1 and they have a new coaching staff.
Sando: I have no way to measure overconfidence across the league, but this offseason has been one big celebration of the Eagles’ incredible roster, with little regard for some of the risks associated with players that team is counting on. I would expect Philly to beat the Lions in the opener. I would expect Philly to expect to win that game as well. But the last time we saw the Eagles, they trailed 31-0 through three quarters of a playoff game. That seems totally forgotten.
Tice: I think every team is overconfident at this point in time, but as Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If I had to choose one, it would be the Chargers — not because of their own hubris but because of how they’ve been discussed by third parties. I am just as excited as others to watch Justin Herbert and the Chargers take a step forward this year, but every AFC West division game is going to be a fistfight. We’ll see how this team responds to a bloody lip.
Which team will be a surprise victor in Week 1?
Pompeii: The Jaguars are an upset candidate. They are a more talented team than they have been given credit for, Trevor Lawrence appears ready to take a big step and Doug Pederson is going to have them ready to play. The Commanders are in for a dogfight, no doubt.
Sando: There are some great upset candidates. We have no idea who might come out flat or whatever, but the Packers lost their 2021 opener 38-3, and now they visit the Vikings to open this season. I really like Green Bay this season overall and think this could be a Super Bowl season, but the Packers split with the Vikings last season. Minnesota isn’t bad. Looking at longer-shot upsets, I wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle won at home against Denver, if it takes a while for Wilson and that offense to synchronize.
Tice: The Giants over the Titans. The Titans have a strong defense, but their offense seems to be in transition after Tennessee sent AJ Brown to the Eagles. The Giants are rebuilding and re-evaluating their personnel with a new regime in charge and Daniel Jones is still proving he belongs as a starting quarterback. He is now with a creative coaching staff, though, that will likely love to use his legs a bit more to make things easier for their offense. The Giants also have a healthy Saquon Barkley and lots of draft capital invested in their offensive line. Look for an ugly fistfight in Nashville, with the Giants a strong candidate to not only cover their 5.5-point spread but outright win.
(Top illustration: Wes McCabe / The Athletic; photos of Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady and Za’Darius Smith: Getty Images)