The Browns, Marquise Brown and a 19-0 Season: Buying or Selling Week 1’s Top NFL Storylines
Cleveland losing by 30 points to start the season could leave a mark
With Week 1 of the NFL season in the books, we’ve gotten our first sip of what the 2019 season might offer, and it tastes pretty sweet. Below, you’ll find the top storylines to emerge around the league following Week 1 of the season, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Sell: The Raiders will be a winning football team
One win on Monday Night Football does not a season make.
In the final game of Week 1, the Raiders were able to take care of business at home against the Denver Broncos and win 24-16 in Oakland. It was a great start to the season for the Raiders as Derek Carr looked competent and rookie running back Josh Jacobs gave Oakland — who finished eighth in the league in rushing last season — a solid ground attack.
Today, you’re going to hear the narrative that it was addition by subtraction for the Raiders when they released Antonio Brown, but the reality is that Oakland rarely had Brown on the practice field during the preseason, so the offense was fairly used to operating without him.
That showed on Monday night, when the Raiders put up 24 points against Denver. However, the Denver defense is not what it once was (allowing nearly 22 points and 370 yards per game last season) and let’s not forget the 6-10 Broncos weren’t much better than the 4-12 Raiders a year ago.
It was a good night for the Raiders, but with five of their next six games coming against quality opponents (Chiefs, Packers, Vikings, Bears, Texans), it won’t be one of many. (Interesting side note: Before last night, the Broncos had won their first game of the season in seven consecutive years.)
Buy: The Lions will fire Matt Patricia during the season
Last season, former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia inherited a Detroit Lions team that went 9-7 the year before. Though he was able to knock off his former team, Patricia was only able to guide the Lions to a 6-10 record last season and did not qualify for the playoffs.
Detroit’s quest to reverse that did not get off to a good start this season as, thanks in large part to a Patricia gaffe, the Lions opened their year with a 27-27 tie against the Cardinals in Arizona.
Leading 24-6 in the fourth quarter, the Lions let the Cardinals score 10 straight points to pull within eight with less than three minutes left. Detroit had the ball and appeared to ice the game with a third-down conversion and the Cardinals out of timeouts. But, the first-down play was waved off because officials ruled the Lions had called timeout an instant before the ball was snapped.
Though it was Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell who signaled for the timeout, Patricia took responsibility and said he ordered the call. “I’m calling the timeouts,” Patricia said, via the Detroit Free Press. “We’re looking at the play clock trying to get that stuff down and get it figured out at that point … We’ve just got to go out and execute the next play.”
Forced to attempt to convert on third down for a second time, the Lions were unable to as quarterback Matt Stafford threw incomplete on a pass to Kenny Golladay. Things got worse from there as punter Sam Martin had his kick partially blocked on fourth down and the Cardinals took possession at their own 40-yard line. Ten plays later, the game was tied.
It’s a horrible way to start the season for a guy who has underwhelmed during his first, and possibly last, shot at being a head coach in the NFL. The Lions now play three straight games against playoff teams from last season (Chargers, Eagles, Chiefs) following by a pair of divisional matchups against the Packers and Vikings, both of whom won in Week 1. At best, the Lions will probably win one of those games and start the season at 1-4-1. Should they lose ’em all and be 0-5-1, Patricia will be gone before Week 7. Even if that isn’t the case, his prospects of surviving the season aren’t good.
Sell: The Patriots will go undefeated
With Antonio Brown in the fold and a dominant Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on national TV under their belts, the New England Patriots have emerged as the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
But some aren’t just stopping at predicting the Patriots repeating as Super Bowl champs and are instead calling for the team to go a perfect 19-0. It’s one thing for Ken from Lowell or Mike from Woburn to do that on Boston sports radio stations, quite another for a writer like Ian O’Connor hinting at the possibility for ESPN.
“If Brown conducts himself in accordance with all Patriot Way ordinances — and that’s a pretty damn big ‘if’ — the Patriots will have enough firepower to mirror the juggernaut that was the 2007 team that featured Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker at the peak of their record-breaking, scoreboard-tilting powers,” O’Connor writes. “Enough firepower to finish the job those 18-0 Patriots couldn’t finish when … well, you know.”
O’Connor is right that the Patriots have the most firepower, at least on paper, on their roster since ’07, but his assumption they’ll be able to use it to run the table seems a bit far-fetched.
Even though the Patriots looked dominant while playing one of the better teams on their schedule in the Steelers, it seems highly unlikely New England will make it through the season without losing a game on the road to either the Ravens, Eagles or Texans or dropping one at home to the Chiefs or Cowboys.
In the long run, it’ll be better for the team if they do because the pressure of going 18-0 prior to the Super Bowl had just as much to do with the ’07 team losing to the Giants as the Giants did.
Buy: Marquise Brown is an elite playmaker
Nicknamed “Hollywood,” Brown made his debut for the Baltimore Ravens, and it was an explosive one. The 25th pick in the NFL draft needed only 14 offensive snaps to record 147 yards from scrimmage and a pair of long touchdowns from quarterback Lamar Jackson. With an average of 10.5 yards per snap, Brown, who is the cousin of new Patriot Antonio Brown, has the best yards per snap in Pro-Football Reference’ database among players with at least 10 snaps in a game.
Obviously, Brown is not going to be able this efficient week in and week out, but the Ravens and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman prioritized making Baltimore’s offense a speedy unit with the ability to move the ball downfield. Even if he doesn’t play a ton of snaps, Brown should be a weapon for the Ravens and can affect games in limited time on the field.
“We said it before that this was going to be a different offense. I don’t think people really believed us when we said that,” Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews, who had more than 100 receiving yards and a touchdown, said after the game. Brown, 22, is going to be a key part of that offense.
Sell: The Browns will start better than 4-4
Picked by many as a sleeper candidate to make it the Super Bowl, the new-look Browns started off their season in old-school Cleveland fashion by getting drubbed by 30 points by the underdog Tennessee Titans.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield tossed a trio of interceptions in the 43-13 loss and the Browns looked horrible from top to bottom as they committed 18 penalties as a team. Afterward, Titans tight end Delanie Walker channeled his inner Dennis Green during his postgame remarks: “They were who we thought they were.”
Considering what the Browns have on their schedule in the next seven weeks, losing to the Titans could be a bigger deal than it might seem.
Next week, the Browns go on the road to play a Jets team that lost yesterday in heartbreaking fashion to the Buffalo Bills. The Jets will be desperate and their home fans will be ravenous, so that game is by no means a gimme.
Then, the Browns host the reigning NFC champion Rams, travel to Baltimore to play a Ravens team that put up 59 points in Week 1, go out to San Franciso to play the 49ers, host the Seahawks and All-Pro Russell Wilson, travel to New England to play the Patriots before wrapping up their first eight games against the Broncos in never-easy-to-visit Denver.
Handicapping that schedule with the Browns already at 0-1, it seems Cleveland has a much better chance to finish their first eight games at 3-5 than 5-3. At best, they’ll be 4-4 before their season loosens up, but that seems like a longshot.
Buy: Larry Fitzgerald will have a bounce-back year
Kyler Murray leading a fourth-quarter comeback to help the Cardinals tie the aforementioned Lions is the big story in Arizona, but what shouldn’t be lost is the re-emergence of Larry Fitzgerald.
A forgotten man last season with only 734 receiving yards and six touchdowns, the 36-year-old looked to have great chemistry with Murry and caught 8-of-13 targets for 113 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. The yardage and targets were both higher than any mark Fitz hit last year.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise as Fitzgerald was effusive in his praise of Murray prior to the season. “I’m really impressed by a lot of different things,” Fitzgerald told InsideHook at an event in July. “His accuracy and obviously his speed, agility and arm strength. But his intelligence and maturity is something that I really found amazing when I first got a chance to meet him. His ability to pick up the system so quickly, be able to get in there and lead has been really fun and I’m excited about our future as an organization and his, obviously.”
Now sixth all-time in receiving touchdowns with 117, Fitzgerald has the potential to surpass Marvin Harriston (128) for fifth on the list this season and an outside chance at catching Cris Carter (130) with Murray under center. And, if Fitzgerald sticks around next season and beyond, he’ll almost certainly pass both guys. And, Fitzgerald sticking around is a possibility.
“No, there are no definites in life,” Fitzgerald told IH when asked if he was definitely planning on retiring after this year. “I just take it one day at a time, one year at a time and see how I feel when it’s all over. I love playing in Arizona. It’s been great. As of right now, I can’t see anything different.”
Having a bounce-back year, as Fitzgerald looks primed to do, should go a long way in convincing him to stay.