1. Steelers - Antonio Brown proved to us all Monday night why he’s far and away, the best wide receiver in the league. Even without Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell or Heath Miller the Steelers looked unstoppable and with Ryan Shazier coming into his own on the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh looks like the early favorite to take Superbowl 51.
2. Patriots - New England escaped their toughest Brady-free opponent Sunday night thanks to a missed field goal from Arizona that kept their narrow lead in tact. Jimmy Garoppolo was shaky at times but overall, he did a fairly good job against one of the league’s best defenses. It’s scary to think how much better this team looks when their two best players return.
3. Cardinals - Although they trailed for the majority of the game, Arizona was in prime position to eclipse the Patriots in the closing seconds of Sunday night’s closely contested showdown in the desert. However, a missed 47-yarder kept the Pats on top with Jimmy Garoppolo’s first career win. The Cardinals still looked impressive none the less with Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson supplying the offensive firepower and newly acquired Chandler Jones adding even more depth to an already stout defensive unit.
4. Bengals - In one of the best marquee head to head match ups of the weekend, A.J. Green survived his time on Revis island with an impressive 180 yard day despite not having last year’s secondary receivers (Sanu, Jones, or the injured Tyler Eiffert) there to help out. Green’s one of the best receivers in the league and as long as he’s there in Cinci to bail Dalton out of trouble, this pair is going to do just fine.
5. Panthers - Carolina opened up their season with almost as devastating a loss as the last they met Von Miller and the deafening Denver defense. But they won’t have to worry about a defense as ferocious as the Broncos’ week in and week out but that porous secondary Carolina is rolling out is going to make for a long season. Josh Norman’s absence is going to haunt this team all year long, especially with quarterbacks that more capable of throwing the deep ball than Trevor Seimian.
6. Seahawks - Fighting through a bum ankle, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks had just enough to push past the surprisingly stringent Dolphin defense. But outside of Doug Baldwin, the team looked incredibly limited, especially missing the threat of Marshawn Lynch in the running game and Russell Okung on the offensive line. Wilson’s going to have to shoulder much more of the offensive workflow this year than we might have expected and if he looks like he did Sunday against the Dolphins, it’s going to be a long season for the Legion of Boom.
7. Packers - Green Bay managed to survive a surprisingly tight contest in Jacksonville as the surging Jags came up just a fourth down conversion short of stunning the cheese heads. Rodgers looked more than elated to have the majority of his receiving corps back from injury but the defensive unit had a tough time containing Blake Bortles but I’m guessing a lot of teams will this season.
8. Chiefs - After falling behind 21-3 at halftime, the Chiefs bounced back from a 17 point deficit in the fourth quarter to steal an overtime win from their AFC West rival San Diego Chargers. The defense has always been great in KC under Andy Reid but seeing this team put up that kind of offensive production that quickly makes me think this may finally be the year the Chiefs get over the hump and past the first weekend of the playoffs.
9. Giants - With all the talk in New York circling Odelle Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz was the man who put the Giants on top of the NFC East showdown between the Giants and Cowboys. But even more impressive was the re-tooled defense which was able to keep Dallas’ offense fairly limited, included a measly 8 yards receiving from Dez Bryant. This may finally be the year we see Eli return to the post-season.
10. Broncos - With all the talk about the quarterback shake-up and whether or not the defense was good enough to carry this team on its own (and for the record, it’s starting to look like they might be) but the biggest difference maker for Denver’s chance at a repeat may be this much improved offensive line that provided C.J. Anderson with some of the best running lanes he’s had as a Bronco. The team commands both lines off scrimmage and may not need much from the fairly limited Seimian.
11. Raiders - In a “Where’s the D?!” all offense shoot out in New Orleans, Derek Carr outlasted Drew Brees thanks to a gutsy call to go for the two point conversion from Jack Del Rio. But hell, with how many yards these two defenses were giving up, why leave your team’s fate hanging on the balance of a coin toss for overtime? It’d be stupid not to rely on your offense like you had all game anyways, right? It’s just a relief to see a coach not afraid to break standard procedure and take the kick instead.
12. Jets - The Jets’ defense kept New York in the game with 7 sacks on Andy Dalton and manhandling both Bernard and Hill in the running attack. It was New York’s inability to score in the red zone that kept the team from pulling away from the Bengals as their reliance on their kicker came back to bite them as Nick Folk missed his first PAT in 322 attempts and also had a 20 yard field goal blocked as well. Forte added a great new dimension for this offense but they’ve got to figure out how to utilize him in scoring position if they’re going to improve upon last seasons’ near playoff effort.
13. Vikings - After getting off to an incredibly ugly start, the Vikings dug themselves out of their 10-0 halftime hole by scoring 25 consecutive points in the second half lead by their tenacious defense and three forced turnovers. The Titans held Peterson to just 31 yards and Shaun Hill was fairly innocuous but this defense may just be good enough to compensate for their offensive woes. At least against inferior teams like the Titans. Next week the true test comes when they open their brand new stadium against the NFC North elite the Green Bay Packers.
14. Cowboys - Although Dallas is starting off their season without Romo yet again, this is definitely not the Cowboys team that rolled over and died without him a year ago. Prescott was more than serviceable as a young backup quarterback but Jason Garrett isn’t doing him any favors with his Coughlin-like mismanagement of the end of the game. Once Romo returns though, this team should be ready to roll, I’m just interested in seeing whether or not Garret survives the Jerry Jones hot seat long enough to see his return.
15. Redskins - Washington was seemingly playing catch up all night long against the Steelers after their early 6-0 lead turned into a 24-6 deficit. But the biggest head scratcher has to be why anyone besides their high price offseason acquisition, Josh Norman, wasn’t covering Antonio Brown?
16. Texans - Behind a restructured offensive attack, the Houston Texans look much more balanced than last year with their victory over Chicago lead by first year Texans Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller. J.J. Watt seemed to be laboring a bit after that offseason back surgery but it may not matter that much now that the team finally has some support around him.
17. Buccaneers - For the first time since 2012, Tampa Bay has a winning record. Granted, it may not last long with a trip to Arizona up next but the Bucs have plenty to feel good about. Jameis Winston continues to progress as a formidable franchise quarterback and with all of the weapons Tampa has provided him, it’s not hard to see this team quickly pushing towards a wildcard berth in the near future.
18. Ravens - Coming off of a season riddled with injuries, Baltimore saw the return of Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs and Breshad Perriman to lift them to a tight 13-7 win over former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills. Mike Wallace also had his biggest play since playing for the Steelers back in 2012 with a 60+ yard touchdown grab that essentially won Baltimore the game. The team may not be as limited as they were a year ago but they still seem to have a long way to go to recapture the magic of that 2013 Superbowl team.
19. Bills - Buffalo looked incredibly limited in their season opener against Baltimore, as Tyrod Taylor was limited to just 111 yards passing and Sammy Watkins only grabbed four passes for less than 50 yards. Offense has never been Rex Ryan’s strong suit but he’s got to expand his game to both sides of the ball if he’s going to get anywhere as a head coach in this league.
20. Jaguars - Jacksonville put up a hell of a fight in their opener against Green Bay this Sunday. And while we’ve started getting used to seeing Bortles put up big numbers with Hurns and Robinson, it was the much improved defense that kept the game from getting out of hand. The Jags are definitely a team on the rise and with the AFC South up for grabs once again, I don’t think they’re that far off from sneaking into the driver’s seat.
21. Chargers - San Diego looked like they had the Chiefs by the balls. An 18 point lead going into halftime, a standout performance by Rivers, and the Chiefs defense looked absolutely lost. That is, until the second half rolled around. Then it seemed as if the two defensive units switched jerseys and San Diego’s looked even worse than Kansas City’s did in the first half. And if Keenan Allen’s injury is anything serious, San Diego may have lost much more than just an overtime game to a division rival Sunday.
22. Falcons - Matty Ice has been locked out of the playoffs three years straight now and with the limited offense picking up right where they left off last season, it looks like they could be going for a fourth. Without a reliable running attack, Ryan has looked awfully pedestrian, even with standout receivers like Julio Jones and Roddy White at his disposal. And with the defense still going through it’s share of growing pains, the team really can’t afford to be settling for this many field goals in the red zone.
23. Lions - There was a lot of concern about how Matthew Stafford would look directing the Detroit offense without Calvin Johnson in his receiving corps but luckily enough, his first chance to prove himself came against one of the worst secondaries in football. Sadly, Detroit’s isn’t much better. Stafford’s safe for now but don’t expect this to last, he and Caldwell will be running from an angry Detroit mob before the season’s over.
24. Colts - After nearly completing an improbable comeback, the Colts’ atrocious defense allowed Detroit to march down the field and steal the game back with a last second field goal that handed Indianapolis it’s third consecutive loss on a season opener. And while Luck had a slow start in his return to the Colts, it’s not his fault this team is stuck in developmental purgatory. The team’s offensive line is abysmal and their defensive unit is even worse.
25. Eagles - There’s no better way to boost your rookie quarterback’s confidence than playing the Cleveland Browns on opening day. Wentz and the Eagles made easy work of the bad news Browns but the team still has a long way to go in cleaning up the aftermath of the Chip Kelly experiment.
26. Saints - Despite a 400+ yard, 4 touchdown performance from their own patron Saint Drew Brees, New Orleans still couldn’t hold off the vibrant Raiders who rallied to escape bayou with a win. Sunday’s game should be a fairly telling snapshot for what to expect from the Saints this season, phenomenal individual play from Brees in a losing effort due to a dreadful defensive unit.
27. Dolphins - I guess it wasn’t a huge shock last year when the Dolphins weren’t dominating the league but it was surprising how bad their defensive unit looked considering all the talent they have on that side of the ball. With their first game under new head coach Adam Gase, that defense finally showed up and looked to have nearly won Miami what would have been a huge upset over the Seahawks. Sadly, their offense is still just as incompetent as ever, blowing three great scoring opportunities that would have padded their narrow lead. Miami's running out of people other than Tannehill to blame (although, did you see that Kenny Stills drop yesterday?!). It’s long overdue at this point, the Dolphins need to move onto a new quarterback if they want to climb out of the AFC East basement.
28. 49ers - San Francisco made a mockery of the Rams’ return to the sunshine state with a dominant 28-0 victory Monday night. However, if you remember just a year ago, the 9ers had the same kind of lopsided victory in their season opener against the Vikings but then went on to win just 4 more games all season. So don’t rush out to vote Chip Kelly for Coach of the Year just yet, this is more of a statement about how bad the Rams are than how good the 9ers are.
29. Bears - It feels like Jay Cutler’s spent the entirety of his time in Chicago running for his life due to the Bears’ incompetency at offensive line and this season started just the same. Even without much of an impact from J.J. Watt, the Texans defense manhandled Cutler for most of the game and with the Chicago defense as bad as it is, if the offense can’t keep up then the team’s destined for a lot more frustrating losses like Sunday’s.
30. Rams - Welcome to California! Of all 32 NFL teams, the Rams were the only one to make it through their season debut without scoring a single point. It’s going to be a long year in Los Angeles and neither Jared Goff nor Case Keenum is going to keep this team out of last place in the NFC West. I respect the Rams’ commitment to Jeff Fisher but it’s been this long without a single playoff appearance - maybe it’s time to bring in a new voice.
31. Titans - Tennessee actually looked pretty impressive in the first two quarters of their 2016 campaign. Mariota moved the ball down field fairly effectively, DeMarco Murray contributed to the offense both rushing and receiving and the defense held the league’s best running back to virtually nothing. Then the second half happened. Two lost fumbles and a pick six later and the Titans’ 10-0 lead suddenly turned into a 25-10 deficit. Maybe the Titans have already peaked?
32. Browns - The RG3 era is officially underway in Cleveland and it’s just as ugly as you might have guessed. And that’s just trying to keep up with Carson Wentz. It’s not going to get any better next week against the Ravens.