The Top NFL Storylines of Week 1: Pat Mahomes, Trevor Lawrence and the Dallas Cowboys

Plus, is it time to panic in Cincinnati after an upset loss?

September 12, 2023 5:35 am
Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars rolls out to pass.
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are off to a hot start.
Michael Hickey/Getty

With the NFL season’s first installment of Monday Night Football wrapped up and 16 games over and done, Week 1 is complete. While we can’t get to everything — like the Cowboys giving themselves a Latin motto — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the NFL’s first week and whether we’re buying or selling ’em.

Sell: Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have enough to win

In Tom Brady’s first five seasons as a starter in the NFL, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl three times and won all three. In his sixth season, Brady was able to lead the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game against the Colts, but New England ended up losing due to a depleted receiving corps led by not-so-notable names including Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and Troy Brown.

In Patrick Mahomes’s first five seasons as a starter in the NFL, the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl three times and won the big game twice. Now in his sixth season as the starter in Kansas City, Mahomes is trying to lead his team back to the Super Bowl, but some are already calling that an impossibility as they feel his receiving corps is woefully deficient following Kansas City’s one-point upset loss to Detroit in the NFL’s season opener.

Playing without top target Travis Kelce because the star tight end is nursing a knee injury, Mahomes was forced to rely on wide receivers including Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Rashee Rice and Skyy Moore. The reigning league and Super Bowl MVP finished with two touchdowns, but he also had the first Week 1 interception of his career when a ball he threw for ex-Giants wideout Kadarius Toney clanged off his hands and turned into a pick-6. The drop was brutal — and it was just one of four Toney had on the night. His postgame grade…not good.

A former first-round pick, Toney had an awful night and was mocked so viciously after his performance that he erased himself from social media. Nevertheless, his quarterback still claims to have faith in Toney, who did catch a touchdown in Kansas City’s win over the Eagles in the Super Bowl. “Stuff’s not always going to go your way, obviously. He would’ve wanted to catch a few of those in the game,” Mahomes told the Kansas City Star. “But I have trust that he’s gonna be that guy that I go to in those crucial moments and he’s gonna make the catch.”

If Toney doesn’t, he’ll be replaced, and Mahomes and the Chiefs will be just fine. With or without Toney, Kansas City has enough offensive firepower with Valdes-Scantling, Watson, Rice and Moore as long as their big gun, Kelce, is on the field to anchor the passing game. Kelce could potentially return as soon as next week against the Jaguars, and the Chiefs will get back on track if he does.

Mahomes, like Brady, can make the players around him better as long as he has a little help, and Kelce is certainly enough. Brady didn’t have a player like that in ’06 and it cost him. The same thing will not happen to Mahomes this year as long as he has Kelce.

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Sell: It’s time for the Bengals to panic

After engaging in some pretty epic trash talk, Ja’Marr Chase took the field against the Browns and had just five catches for 39 receiving yards as the Cincinnati Bengals were upset 24-3 by the Browns on their home field in Cleveland. It was a huge divisional win for a Cleveland team that some projected to finish last in the ultra-competitive AFC North and gives the Browns an early leg up on a Bengals team that is projected to be a Super Bowl contender.

They still are.

In the four years that Joe Burrow, the NFL’s highest-paid player until another quarterback signs a new deal, has been under center for Cincinnati’s season opener, the Bengals are 1-3. Last year, following a trip to the Super Bowl, the Bengals were 0-2. The rough start didn’t end up hurting Cincy too much as the Bengals won 12 of their next 14 games to finish the season atop the AFC North at 12-4. It will be difficult for the Bengals to repeat that feat if they lose to Baltimore in Week 2, but there’s no reason to panic about the Bengals until that actually happens.

Burrow, who missed a large chunk of the preseason with a calf strain and threw for a career-low 82 yards in Cincinnati’s loss to the Browns, will be better moving forward, and so will the Bengals as they’ve come too far over the past few seasons to revert into a cellar dweller. Sunday’s game was the first time the Bengals failed to score a touchdown with Chase and Burrow on the field together.  As long as they are both healthy, that won’t happen again.

“It’s not up to my standard, but 16 more, so just going to keep trucking,” Burrow said after Sunday’s loss.”Week 1 doesn’t define anybody’s season. Obviously, not very good out there. Anybody that watched saw that, but we’ve been in this spot before we’ve come back stronger and had great years. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Bengals, who are 22-11 in the regular season and have won multiple playoff games in the past two years, will.

Buy: The Jaguars are winning the AFC South

Following losses by the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans and their own defeat of the Indianapolis Colts, whom they had lost to in nine out of their last 10 trips to Indy, the Jacksonville Jaguars are all alone atop the AFC South with a record of 1-0. Barring an injury to rising superstar Trevor Lawrence, who is shedding the potential bust label he was saddled with following his rookie season by shredding opposing NFL defenses like they’re tissue paper, the top of the AFC South is where the Jaguars should remain.

A surprise playoff team last year, the Jaguars upset the Chargers in the first round of the postseason and played a competitive game against the Chiefs before ultimately being eliminated by Kansas City. Based on how the Jaguars looked on Sunday and the relative ease of their schedule, expecting Jacksonville to make it back to the playoffs and win a game is not an unrealistic expectation.

Lawrence, who was 24-of-32 with 241 yards and two touchdowns, is now in his third year in the pros and can start looking ahead to signing a lucrative extension after this season. In order to make that deal as rich as possible, he’ll want to have an excellent junior campaign and is certainly capable of doing just that as he has an excellent supporting cast of skill players around him and a coach who knows how to structure an offense in Doug Pederson.

Receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram all had career seasons for Jacksonville in 2022 and now former second-team All-Pro Calvin Ridley, who was suspended for all of last season for gambling on football games, is a Jaguar. Playing in his first game in nearly 23 months, Ridley had eight catches for 101 yards and was the recipient of one of Lawrence’s touchdown passes on Sunday afternoon.

It’s probably too early to start thinking about the Jags as true Super Bowl contenders, but it may be time to start putting Lawrence’s name in the MVP conversation. Out of all of the quarterbacks who were selected in his much-hyped QB class, which includes Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, Lawrence was the only one to lead his team to a win on Sunday. If he keeps doing that, awards — and a massive payday — are on the way. (Wilson was able to help the Jets win on Monday Night Football after taking over for Aaron Rodgers, who is out for the season and may have played his last down in the NFL.)

“You’re not a well-oiled machine going into Week 1, and that was obviously on display today,” Pederson said in his postgame remarks. “But this team, I learned a lot last year with this team and you know, playing for four quarters and learning how to finish, learning how to win — that showed up today.”

It’s weird to say considering it’s about Jacksonville, but expect that to continue.

Sell: The Cowboys are going to be better than expected

Favored by 3.5 points entering a Sunday Night Football matchup on the road against the New York Giants, the Cowboys rolled into MetLife Stadium and put up 40 points in a shutout victory that saw Dallas score on offense, defense and special teams. The 40-0 win was the largest margin of victory between the teams since the Cowboys topped the Giants 35-0 during the 1995 season-opener in the Meadowlands.

Talented on offense but possibly even better on defense to start the year, the Cowboys sacked New York quarterback Daniel Jones seven times and also intercepted him twice. The Dallas defense also forced five fumbles, recovering one. The Cowboys were so dominant on offense that quarterback Dak Prescott only had to throw the ball 24 times as Dallas built a huge lead and was able to mainly rely on the running game to put away the punchless Giants.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, it was a statement win — and it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

There’s no doubt that the Cowboys are good and have a chance at competing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC with perennial contenders like the Eagles and Cowboys, but the blowout win on Sunday night says more about their opponent than it does about them.

A playoff team last season despite having a negative point differential after 17 games (-6), the Giants were exposed on national TV and are really the same mediocre team that they were last season. Aside from bringing tight end Darren Waller from the Raiders, the Giants did not make many major offseason moves and were content to enter this season with an offense based around running back Saquon Barkley. Perhaps the Giants were hoping that quarterback Daniel Jones, who parlayed a decent season last year into s big contract, would be able to improve. He might, and an improved Jones might even be somewhat good, but he won’t be good enough to compete with a team that’s as talented as the Cowboys. Or the Eagles. Or the Niners.

Seeing how Dallas fares against either Philadelphia or San Francisco will be a much better barometer to measure how good the Cowboys really are as beating up on a Giants team that was trailing 26-0 at halftime and already looking ahead to a get-right game in Arizona on Sunday doesn’t tell us much about Dallas we didn’t already know.

“Yeah, it’s just one win, it’s the beginning of the season, but definitely feel like we put the league on notice, that we’re for real, that we’re coming,” said Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. “But we got a lot of work to do.”

They do — and doing it against the Giants doesn’t count.

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