The NFL's opening week brought a host of contender hopefuls together, with some of the games producing wildly unexpected results. Quarterback debuts generated considerable intrigue Sunday. Here is how that lot of teams looked with their new passers, along with grades for every other squad from this week's action.
Patrick Mahomes' previous full half against the Browns produced a 19-3 Chiefs lead, but a near-flawless Cleveland half Sunday tilted this fresh rivalry. Baker Mayfield was 13-for-17 with 231 passing yards at halftime when the Browns led 22-10 after going 3-for-3 on fourth-down tries. While the Chiefs were missing their second- and third-best defensive players -- Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark -- the Odell Beckham Jr.-less Browns delivered as strong an opening statement as possible. It took three second-half turnovers for the Chiefs to escape should be of some consolation to the Browns. But like January, Cleveland blowing a chance to upset a vulnerable Kansas City squad may have lasting consequences.
BROWNS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
The 12-point comeback was the biggest regular-season rally of Patrick Mahomes' career, but it was already the Kansas City icon's eighth victory (in 12 tries) when facing a 10-plus-point deficit. Mahomes' fourth-quarter heave to Tyreek Hill, which reminded me of the duo's game-extending connection against the Ravens three seasons ago, helped enhance his increasingly preposterous September stat line. Mahomes exited Week 1 11-0 in September with a 35-0 TD-INT ratio. No QB has mounted such a streak in any month previously. A "Mr. September" Mahomes moniker is damning with faint praise, but his comeback conquests over high-caliber teams being this predictable is certainly notable.
CHIEFS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
For the second straight season, a Cardinals pass rusher posted a five-sack game. Jones' outing is more meaningful than Haason Reddick's last December. If the Cards are going to contend in a loaded NFC West, Jones will need to play a lead role. The 10th-year veteran showed he is back after last year's season-ending biceps tear, sacking Ryan Tannehill five times -- a career-high and the third-best Week 1 mark of the sack era (1982-present) -- before the fourth quarter. Weeks after requesting a trade, Jones is set to force the Cardinals' hand in his contract year. The NFL's 14th-highest-paid edge rusher is coming for his check.
CARDINALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
Many defenses would have run into trouble against Kyler Murray's Week 1 form. Arizona's electric quarterback accounting for five touchdowns still sent out unfortunate reminders for the Titans, whose abysmal defense restrained last year's team. Murray had a perfect passer rating against Titan blitzes, going 8-for-10 for 142 yards and two TD passes, shredding a Tennessee team that devoted its top offseason resources to its pass defense. Bud Dupree and Denico Autry combined for one QB hit, while first-round cornerback Caleb Farley barely played. With the same defensive play-caller as 2020 (Shane Bowen), concern is necessary -- even on a prime overreaction day.
TITANS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Seahawks (Sun.)
The Bills spread the field frequently against the Steelers, deploying their new Stefon Diggs-Emmanuel Sanders-Cole Beasley-Gabriel Davis quartet on nearly a third of their offensive plays. A Steelers team that lost two of its three starting corners this offseason held up, limiting Diggs to 7.7 yards per catch (9/69) and keeping Josh Allen below 5.5 yards per attempt for just the second time since the start of last season. Buffalo's offense relies more on the pass than just about anyone's, with the team's Zack Moss deactivation further illustrating this. The aerial crew's struggle dealt the team an unexpected blow in the race for the AFC's lone playoff bye.
BILLS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)
Watt secured guaranteed money beyond the first year of his record-setting extension, convincing the Steelers to deviate from their non-Ben Roethlisberger contract M.O. Days after that $28 million-per-year deal became official, Watt showed why he landed it. Watt registered two sacks, a forced fumble, and six pressures against Allen, disrupting the breakout star. One of those pressures, which led to a Cam Heyward sack, came a play before the Steelers' game-changing blocked punt. With Melvin Ingram adding five pressures, the Pittsburgh pass rush that has led the NFL in sacks four years running appears in good shape post-Bud Dupree.
STEELERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
The Broncos can at least display modest optimism after a five-year QB nightmare. Teddy Bridgewater carved up the Giants with his brand of football, peppering a team coming off a top-10 defensive season with midrange strikes. Bridgewater hit nine different targets and showcased athleticism in big spots, including a second-effort fourth-down TD toss to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Bridgewater's day, which would have been better had K.J. Hamler not dropped a wide-open long TD, doubled as his top single-game QBR mark (95.7, tops in Week 1). The oft-maligned journeyman may be a clear upgrade for a team that is a quarterback away from serious playoff contention.
BRONCOS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
Fired after two bad seasons in New York, Pat Shurmur returned and called a quality game for his current employer. The second-year Broncos offensive coordinator and his ex-Vikings pupil, Bridgewater, bettered the Giants defense in a game that featured a 20-point Denver lead in the fourth quarter. New York allowed the ninth-fewest points last season and returned nearly every key player from that unit, adding ex-first-round cornerback Adoree' Jackson as well. Failing to deter a quarterback frequently near the NFL's basement in air yards amassed represents a sobering start in a critical season for Giants power brokers.
GIANTS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Washington (Thu.)
Aaron Rodgers' 2020 MVP march included a 283-yard, three-TD win in New Orleans without Davante Adams. With Hurricane Ida relocating this year's Packers-Saints tilt to Jacksonville, the outcome disparity could not have been starker. Rodgers catalyzed the Packers' 35-point loss -- the worst by a team coming off a conference championship game bid in Week 1, per ESPN Stats and Info, and the worst defeat margin of Rodgers' career -- by throwing two INTs and averaging 4.75 yards per attempt. The Packers have a stronger receiver cast this year but obviously went through Rodgers-related offseason tumult. Given the Bucs' capabilities, this loss could be costly in the two Bays' home-field pursuit.
PACKERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Lions (Mon.)
The Saints started the season down All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas and fourth-year sidekick Tre'Quan Smith, leaving Alvin Kamara and a skeleton receiving corps to work with a quarterback who threw 30 INTs in his last starter go-round. But Winston appears to have made strides after his 2020 apprenticeship. Sean Payton's new starter managed an odd-looking 148-yard, five-TD game, and Drew Brees' successor added a few successful scrambles. Mixing in a precise deep ball to 5-foot-6 return man Deonte Harris with two scoring strikes to former UDFA Juwan Johnson, Winston was masterful. The NFC became more interesting because of this north Florida outing.
SAINTS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
The Anthony Lynn era involved numerous near-misses, but the Chargers began Brandon Staley's tenure by not blowing a late lead. Granted, Washington used its backup quarterback. But still. The Bolts lost 16 one-score games over the past two seasons. Anything different is good . With help from Mike Williams's back-shoulder grab, amid a career-high eight-catch game, the Bolts converted 14 of 19 third downs and ran a four-minute drill that took the final 6:43 off the clock. Herbert is only the fifth QB to convert 12-plus third downs in a game since 1991, per The Athletic. The Chargers may be starting something special. Will their homecoming (feat. fans) remotely reflect that?
CHARGERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)
Washington took a risk by adding only Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback this offseason, refusing to part with sufficient assets to land a younger veteran and not following the Bears' lead by trading up in the first round. Fitz went down in the first half with what could be a severe hip injury, and wild-card surprise X-factor Taylor Heinicke could not lift the team past the Chargers. Cam Newton having been in Scott Turner's offense at the end of his Panthers tenure would point to Washington considering a reunion, though the ex-MVP's stock has nosedived. Regardless, Fitzpatrick's injury probably changes the NFC East's complexion.
WASHINGTON GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Giants (Thu.)
Russell Wilson's playoff outing against the Rams doubled as one of the worst games of his career. With ex-Ram assistant Shane Waldron now calling the Seahawks' plays, the future Hall of Fame passer brushed aside on- and off-field issues. The Seahawks' swoon produced rare Wilson turmoil, but the 10th-year QB was back on track post-drama, throwing just five incompletions and divvying out four TD passes. While the Seahawks signing on for a McVay-derived offense will flood NFC West matchups with bootlegs, given the Rams and 49ers' schemes, the prospect of Wilson raising his game adds intrigue to what could be the deepest division ever.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
After spending last season playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line, leading to dreadful performances and a Philadelphia exit, Wentz joined one of the league's best-blocking quintets. The marriage started rocky. A marginally talented Seahawks pass rush sacked Wentz thrice and hit him 10 times. The Colts' fourth starting quarterback in as many years fell into a familiar situation, with shaky protection, and in an offense without its most accomplished wideout (T.Y. Hilton). Fill-in left tackle Julie'n Davenport allowed two sacks and eight pressures, making Eric Fisher's return all the more critical.
COLTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)
Howard has 22 interceptions in his five-year career, but he entered this season with just two forced fumbles. The All-Pro Dolphins cornerback added a third at a crucial juncture. Howard ripping the ball away from Damien Harris and recovering it inside Miami's 10-yard line denied the Patriots a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, preventing Tua Tagovailoa from a final-drive assignment against Bill Belichick. Howard, who successfully lobbied for an offseason pay bump despite signing an extension in 2019, showed his value as a top-10 corner on a play that may well have an impact on a deep AFC playoff race down the road.
DOLPHINS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)
The Patriot passing attack endured a woeful 2020 season. Mac Jones' rapid rise booting Cam Newton off the roster proved legitimate will almost certainly mean a superior aerial dimension. Although Jones lost his first NFL matchup with Tagovailoa, he had the Patriots in position to take a late lead -- before a second running back fumble intervened -- and showcased the accuracy that enabled him to dominate in Tuscaloosa and unseat Newton in a matter of weeks. Jones' 75.1 QBR figure far outdistanced Tagovailoa's (39.9), despite the latter throwing to superior wideouts.
PATRIOTS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
Matthew Stafford's final Lions-Bears matchup featured a frenetic fourth-quarter comeback. The current Bears edition bolstered the new Rams QB's stat line considerably Sunday, botching two game-changing plays. After veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson did not touch down Van Jefferson, leading to an embarrassing TD, Chicago's secondary blew a coverage that left Cooper Kupp open by several yards for another. Aging front-seven starters aside, the Bears still run through their defense. First-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai's opener did not show much promise to extend that formula.
BEARS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
While it will take multiple games to determine how much better the Rams will be with Stafford compared to Jared Goff, the longtime Lion dazzled in his initial Ram outing. The 33-year-old passer still displayed the cannon that helped Calvin Johnson to the Hall of Fame on his first try. Stafford's opening-drive laser to Jefferson reveals new layers for Sean McVay's offense, which Goff's lesser deep-ball capabilities constrained. The Bears rolled out the red carpet on Stafford's second TD pass -- Kupp's 56-yarder -- but they have been a top-10 DVOA defense since 2018. January's Rams-Lions swap could become an upper-echelon QB trade.
RAMS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
If the Zac Taylor-era Bengals are to commandeer relevance, that ascent will require star turns from Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. Respectively coming off an ACL tear and a 2020 opt-out that turned into a preseason funk, the ex-LSU teammates led the Bengals to a season-opening upset. One of the highest-regarded wideouts to enter the draft in years, Chase beat eighth-year starter Bashaud Breeland deep for a touchdown during a five-catch, 101-yard day that helped Burrow pick up a win in his first game back from multiple ligament tears. Although the Chase-Penei Sewell debate will not end after one week, Team Ja'Marr is off to a stronger-than-expected start.
BENGALS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
Last year's Vikings fielded by far the worst defense of Mike Zimmer's stay, ranking 29th in points allowed after a five-year run of top-10 finishes. The team responded by adding a host of veteran D-linemen and secondary cogs. While the bolstered unit's debut included five sacks, it allowed too many big plays in an overtime loss to a Bengals team that entered 6-25-1 under Taylor. Joe Mixon going for 150 scrimmage yards behind one of the NFL's worst O-lines and middling-at-best tight end C.J. Uzomah sneaking past defenders to snag a game-deciding OT pass are troubling signs for a Vikings team that cannot get away with many losses like this and make the playoffs.
VIKINGS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
The 49ers' payroll does not include a running back earning more than $3 million this year. Sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell's 104-yard outing Sunday showed why that is the correct choice. After wasting payroll on the likes of Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman, Kyle Shanahan pivoted to rookies and low-cost vets. Like his father's famed run scheme, Kyle's keeps going regardless of the ball-carrier. After another Raheem Mostert injury, Mitchell followed the likes of Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, and Mostert by emerging from obscurity to deliver for the 49ers. This ground game will likely improve as Trey Lance gains seasoning. It is among the NFL's most reliable facets.
49ERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)
No team has committed to rebuilding in 2021 like the Lions, whose roster points to a tough season ahead. But Dan Campbell's overmatched squad nearly turned garbage time into one of the NFL's greatest comebacks. Down 24 points inside the two-minute warning, the Lions reeled off two TDs and two two-point conversions in 46 seconds before a Deebo Samuel fumble turned Jared Goff and Co.'s stat-stuffing effort into a legitimate comeback bid. While the 49ers stopped the Lions on downs, Goff and the league's lowest-profile skill-position collection showed fight for their new coach.
LIONS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Packers (Mon.)
The Jets are not expected to contend this season, but GM Joe Douglas has invested highly in offensive linemen to guide Zach Wilson's development. Featuring two first-round picks and three Douglas free-agent additions, Gang Green's starting O-line hindered Wilson in his debut by allowing six sacks and 11 QB hits. Although Mekhi Becton's MCL sprain hurt the group, the mammoth left tackle was beaten badly for one of the sacks -- by career backup Marquis Haynes. Wilson made a few solid throws on the run, illustrating why the Jets punted on Sunday foe Sam Darnold, but Darnold's baby-faced successor will need better protection going forward.
JETS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)
Christian McCaffrey resembled his 2019 version again, totaling 187 scrimmage yards to help the Panthers fend off the Jets. The All-Pro's nine catches for 89 yards boosted Darnold in a revenge game that did not receive too much national publicity ahead of a deep Week 1 slate. But the lethal receiving back converted six first downs through the air, keeping Darnold's drives going and allowing him more opportunities to build chemistry with D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall. After the Jets' Le'Veon Bell debacle two years ago, McCaffrey stands to provide tremendous all-purpose support to Darnold's rebound bid.
PANTHERS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)
Not many easier games appear on the Jaguars' schedule, and the most publicized coach-QB tandem in team history came up short against the Texans' patchwork roster. Houston's collection of placeholder veterans minced Meyer's troops, handing Trevor Lawrence his first regular-season loss as a starter dating back to his high school days and dealing Jacksonville its 16th straight defeat. Danny Amendola's final-seconds TD left the Jags down 20 at halftime, which doubled as Meyer's largest deficit since 2010. After a run of bad press for Meyer's new regime, losing by 16 to a team most have landing the 2022 No. 1 pick will not help.
JAGUARS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
The Texans are still a long way away from resurfacing as a contender, with the organization having not exactly started its rebuild. But Tyrod Taylor delivered some good news for a desperate franchise and offered up a throwback performance. In his third and most awkward stopgap role, given Deshaun Watson's situation, Taylor accounted for 331 yards and teamed with other veteran afterthoughts to smother the Jaguars. After being replaced by Baker Mayfield and Justin Herbert early in his previous two bridge-QB years, Taylor bought himself more audition time by leading the pitied squad to victory.
TEXANS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)
The Eagles hiring Frank Reich's offensive coordinator and then reuniting Reich and Carson Wentz made for a strange development, putting the once-well-structured franchise in between eras. The Nick Sirianni-Jalen Hurts partnership started well, however, with the second-year scrambler involving each relevant Eagle pass-catching principal in a romp. Hurts connected with DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Dallas Goedert a combined 16 times, hitting each for touchdowns -- with the half-ending Goedert strike particularly impressive -- and completed 77% of his throws. The Eagles could have three first-round picks next year, keeping Hurts on a hot seat.
EAGLES GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)
Both the Arthur Smith offenses sputtered Sunday, with Smith Titans disciple Todd Downing unable to unleash Julio Jones or any of the Tennessee stars and the Falcons doing next to nothing against the underdog Eagles. Despite Atlanta trailing by multiple scores throughout the second half, Matt Ryan tallied 164 passing yards -- his lowest total since an October 2019 loss to the Rams. Smith booked HC interviews with six teams and chose the Falcons, who suffered their worst Week 1 loss in 34 years. Atlanta's defensive outing was understandable; that unit has been in decline for years. The Eagles stifling Smith's offense to this degree was a major surprise.
FALCONS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)
The Cowboys will need to use a backup tackle option for nearly a third of the season. And given Tyron Smith's injury history, Dallas' swingman will likely be busy this season -- in the event the Pro Bowl left tackle does not go down during La'el Collins' recently revealed five-game suspension. However, Mike McCarthy praised Connor McGovern's guard play in the Cowboys' opener. With Joey Bosa set to primarily face Dallas' right tackle, would the Cowboys kick Zack Martin outside? McCarthy was against it last season, after a brief try, but sliding the All-Pro guard to right tackle would be the way for Dallas to have its best five out there.
COWBOYS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)
Antonio Brown is clearly set to be a bigger part of this year's Buccaneers receiving corps, with the four-time All-Pro -- after a quieter offseason spent with Tampa Bay -- having drawn seven targets and turned them into 121 yards and a touchdown. It seems a good time to note just five teams have churned out three 1,000-yard receivers -- the 1980 Chargers, 1989 Washington, 1995 Falcons, 2004 Colts, and 2008 Cardinals. Two of those (San Diego, Washington) deployed three 1,100-plus-yard receivers. No team has seen three targets surpass 1,200. In a 17-game season, that is in play for Brown, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
Exiting training camp with All-Pro corners and depth, the Ravens took a lesser crew to Nevada and did not fare well. Darren Waller lit up his former team, catching 10 passes for 105 yards. But the Raiders' middling-at-best wideout cast won key matchups, with Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow coming through late. Afterthought Zay Jones beat Baltimore's remaining healthy All-Pro, Marlon Humphrey, to seal Las Vegas's upset and punctuate Derek Carr's 435-yard night. The Ravens were down Jimmy Smith, and All-Pro Marcus Peters will not play in 2021. Baltimore has ranked as a top-six pass defense since 2018. Without that safety net, an injury-riddled offense is in trouble.
RAVENS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
The Raiders did not win 2018's Khalil Mack trade; it weakened their pass rush for years. They recorded fewer than 20 sacks in two of the past three seasons, including a historically bad 13 in 2018, and top-five defensive end pick Clelin Ferrell has not panned out. But the Raiders' pass rush swung Monday night's game. Maxx Crosby dropped Lamar Jackson twice and tallied five QB hits, and Carl Nassib's overtime blitz and sack-strip -- which takes on greater meaning after Nassib recently became the first active NFL player to come out as gay -- set up Las Vegas's offense for its game-winning strike. Monday was certainly a good night for an embattled position group.
RAIDERS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.