Don’t worry, Dallas Cowboys fans. Soon enough your team will lose, and you can go back to yelling about firing the coach and replacing the quarterback.
Every Cowboys loss is met with apocalyptic response, which has obscured something: The Cowboys have been really good the past couple of seasons, just without a deep playoff run. They don’t need to can Mike McCarthy (31-20 as Cowboys coach) or dump Dak Prescott (career 97.6 passer rating) every time they lose to another NFL team. Losing one game turns Cowboys backers into SEC fans, where overreaction is a second language.
There’s one difference with this Cowboys season. Maybe they don’t lose for a while. And maybe they won’t lose in the postseason either.
It was impossible to watch Sunday night’s 40-0 demolition of the New York Giants and not wonder if this is the year the Cowboys finally make that elusive deep playoff run. The Giants were a playoff team last season and at home. Dallas made the Giants look like they should be relegated. The offense couldn’t even function, with a pass rusher in Daniel Jones’ lap every time he took a snap. The Cowboys’ special teams scored the first touchdown and the defense scored the second one. Dallas’ offense didn’t look great, but it didn’t need to be. Tony Pollard was good enough, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the rain. Prescott didn’t have to do much, and even his numbers would have been better if not for some drops in the bad weather.
It was a balanced, brutal beatdown of a Giants team that shouldn’t be that bad this season. Dallas looked like a Super Bowl contender.
The key to finally making at least a conference championship game for the first time since the end of the 1995 season? Ask Jones and the Giants’ offensive line. It’s that nasty defensive front seven. Micah Parsons looks even better this season, somehow. Parsons and Dorance Armstrong had six pressures each, via Pro Football Focus. Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and Dante Fowler Jr. had four pressures each. Sam Williams and DeMarcus Lawrence had three. The Cowboys came at Jones in waves. Dallas ended up with seven sacks and got the shutout. Any team that can rush the quarterback like that can make a deep playoff run.
There’s no real weakness on the Cowboys roster. They’re in the same division as the Philadelphia Eagles, but there’s no reason Dallas can’t beat them for the NFC East and be in line for a No. 1 seed. The division race was close last season and Dallas might be better this year. Maybe we’ll find that this group has some fatal flaw and can’t get over the hump in the playoffs. But through one week, Dallas fans should be feeling more confident than ever. The Cowboys look like a potential Super Bowl team. Just don’t forget that feeling when they lose their first game.
Here are the power rankings after the first week of the NFL season:
The Cardinals were feisty. They had a real chance to win a road game at the Commanders. I don’t know exactly how they’ll win games, but it’s at least possible they won’t be the worst team in football. Or, almost beating a mediocre Washington team will end up being one of their best performances of the season.
The Texans had four starters on the offensive line suffer injuries since the start of training camp, and it showed. They couldn’t run the ball and struggled to protect rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. It’s a major problem for the Texans.
Offensive lines get blamed for sacks, but quarterbacks often have the biggest role in sack numbers. Justin Fields was sacked 55 times last season, which led the NFL, and he took four more in Week 1. He has to figure out how to get better in that aspect of the game if he wants to go to the next level.
Anthony Richardson’s passing chart was startling. He threw almost exclusively to the right side of the field.
Teams will often try to make half-field reads for young quarterbacks, especially in run-pass option heavy attacks, but at some point soon defenses are going to force Richardson to show he can use the other half of the field.
The Panthers don’t have the receivers to support Bryce Young. Adam Thielen got a three-year, $25 million deal, but he is past his prime. Rookie Jonathan Mingo will be good but it might take a while. D.J. Chark returning from injury won’t fix everything. Young didn’t play well on Sunday, but he also didn’t have a ton of help.
Russell Wilson was fine, but he wasn’t good. He completed a lot of passes for not many yards. Denver scored 16 points on offense against a Raiders defense that probably won’t be good this season. It’s just hard to be excited about Denver’s offense. It looked different than last season, but it was still ineffective.
Puka Nacua had a ridiculous debut. The fifth-round pick had 10 catches and 119 yards. He’s the fourth player in NFL history to have 10 catches and 100 yards in his first NFL game, via ESPN Stats and Info. It would be huge for a retooling Rams team if Nacua is a draft steal and not a one-game wonder.
The Buccaneers had just 242 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per play. They had 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. They made some big plays on both sides, and won mostly because of a plus-three advantage in turnovers, but they’ll need to play better to keep winning. But it was a win, which is enormous for Baker Mayfield and Todd Bowles as they begin huge seasons for their careers.
Imagine being a Giants fan, feeling good all offseason after a playoff appearance and win, getting hyped up for a huge prime-time Week 1 showdown against the Cowboys, then sitting in the rain for … that? Sometimes games just spiral out of control right away, and that’s what the Giants better hope happened in Week 1.
You’d still like to see more than 17 points from an offense that has All-Pros at running back and wide receiver, but it was a slow game with few possessions. What matters most is that the Raiders got the win, which is a habit against Denver. They’ve won seven in a row against the Broncos.
Mike Vrabel had about as bad of a day that a good coach can have, but Ryan Tannehill also played a big role in the loss. He had a 28.8 passer rating. He should not have been throwing it 34 times — that’s on Vrabel and the staff too — but he needed to be a lot better on those throws. Let’s not forget that Tannehill is 35, his numbers were way down the past two seasons, he was involved in offseason trade speculation and the Titans have selected quarterbacks with valuable picks in each of the last two drafts.
It’s hard to have a more underwhelming Week 1 win than Washington had. There were no standouts and nothing that looked great. The Commanders were in serious danger of losing to a bad Arizona team at home deep into the second half. It was a win and you don’t turn those down, but Washington is going to have to be much better to keep winning.
Last season the Vikings had plenty of games in which they were outplayed but they ended up winning close. On Sunday they outplayed the Buccaneers for the most part, but fell short in a close game. When people talked about the Vikings regressing this season, that’s what it looks like.
It’s really strange that coach Arthur Smith has this idea that getting your best players the ball is just some fantasy football fascination. When Drake London has no catches, your offense is not being optimized. When you draft Bijan Robinson eighth overall and have Tyler Allgeier getting more carries than him, it’s not the best use of resources. That has nothing to do with fantasy football.
Monday night was a great win, led by a fantastic defensive effort and a great walk-off punt return touchdown. But the headline was obviously Aaron Rodgers’ injury. A night like Monday, with the Jets beating a Super Bowl contender with almost nothing from the offense, will just lead them to wonder what might have happened with a healthy Rodgers and this stifling defense. We’ll see if Zach Wilson can keep the Jets afloat. This ranking has to reflect what they should be going forward, and unless Wilson makes some big strides from what we’ve seen so far from him, every week will be a struggle for the Jets.
I want to give the Steelers a pass for Sunday, and just assume the 49ers played a great game. But it was a really bad start to Kenny Pickett’s second season. He had nine yards passing until the final drive of the first half and looked flustered. The Steelers as a whole were overwhelmed by the 49ers. Maybe preseason really does mean nothing at all.
There were a few big disappointments in Week 1, but don’t forget Seattle on that list. That was a miserable performance in a loss to the Rams. Losing both offensive tackles was certainly a factor, as Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross both left the game in the second half. But Seattle was so bad that they’re on notice going forward. Maybe last season really was a fluke.
The Patriots played pretty well. They contained Jalen Hurts, as Hurts passed for just 170 yards. The offense put up more than 300 yards passing. They outgained a very good Eagles team 382-251. New England put itself in a big hole with two enormous turnovers in the first quarter and nobody wants to hear about a moral victory, but keep in mind going forward that the Patriots pretty much outplayed the Eagles. Even in a loss, that’s not a bad sign for them.
Brandon Staley got the Chargers job because he was a supposed defensive genius. His defense gave up 536 yards to the Dolphins in a disappointing Week 1 loss. It couldn’t get enough stops in the playoffs last season to hold a 27-0 lead against the Jaguars. Staley is entering a make-or-break season and it’s not off to a great start.
Rashid Shaheed is a really good player. The Saints receiver had some impressive stats per snap last season as a rookie, and it carried over to Week 1 when he had 100 total yards and a touchdown. The Saints have a lot of weapons, and they need to turn those weapons into more than 16 points like they had Sunday.
The Packers looked great, and that was without top receiver Christian Watson. Jordan Love will get a lot of the attention, and rightfully so (the possibility that he could be an above-average quarterback right away was criminally ignored for most of the offseason), but the strong play of the defense shouldn’t be overlooked. Everyone loved the Packers defense before last season, and while they were very disappointing, the talent was still there. The performance in Week 1 was promising. I could see this team rising up the rankings very fast.
Calvin Ridley looked great. The Jaguars didn’t have their best game, and they’ll need to clean some things up, but seeing Trevor Lawrence and Ridley already looking unstoppable was a great start to the season.
Injuries are already hitting the Ravens. J.K. Dobbins is out for the season, and they’re going to have to look at veteran options to replace him. Safety Marcus Williams and offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Tyler Linderbaum left Sunday’s game with injuries. Tight end Mark Andrews missed Sunday’s game. It’s not great to have injuries piling up this early.
We can’t keep making excuses for Deshaun Watson, but it was bad luck that he got yet another poor weather game to start this season. Everyone seemed affected by the rain and field conditions in Cleveland. Watson didn’t look very good to start the season, but we’ll see what happens when he plays on a dry field. And if the Browns defense plays like it did Sunday, Cleveland is going to be good whether Watson plays better or not.
We have to change how we discuss Tua Tagovailoa. Everyone seems to want to find a reason to not put Tagovailoa in the top quarterback tier. But since the start of last season, Tagovailoa has been elite. No disclaimers needed. Sure, he has Tyreek Hill to throw to. Other great quarterbacks have great receivers and they don’t get dinged for it. Sure, Mike McDaniel is a smart coach. Other star quarterbacks have smart play-callers on their side. Let’s stop trying to find reasons to downgrade Tagovailoa and acknowledge that when he’s healthy, he’s everything the Dolphins were hoping for when they drafted him.
The Lions are going to be at their best if they let their offensive line push around the opponent in the run game. That’s what happened on a key fourth-quarter drive that led to their huge win at the Chiefs in the opener. It also covers up the Lions’ biggest issue, which is quality receiver depth after Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Lions should feel great after Week 1, but still with some things to work on.
I can’t imagine the Bengals offense will look that bad again this season. Credit the Browns defense for a great job preventing Cincinnati from hitting any big plays or getting either of their alpha receives going. Tee Higgins had a shocking zero catches on eight targets and Ja’Marr Chase had just 39 yards. It was just a strange game for the Bengals.
Josh Allen cost the Bills that game. He can’t turn it over four times. When the Bills got the ball first in overtime, they didn’t even get a first down. Allen is a fantastic quarterback and the Bills will be fine — especially with the Jets probably taking a step back without Aaron Rodgers — but Monday night was a pretty ugly loss.
Tony Pollard delivered in his first game as the Cowboys’ main back, with Ezekiel Elliott out of the picture. Pollard averaged five yards per carry, picking up 70 yards and two touchdowns. We’ll see if he can hold up over a full season but the first step was a positive one.
The Chiefs will be fine. Of course they’re not the same team without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, but they also won’t drop everything thrown to them every week. Kansas City probably still wins in Week 1, without two of their three best players against a good Lions team, if a Kadarius Toney drop doesn’t turn into a pick six or another Toney drop in field-goal range on the final drive doesn’t happen. It’s hard to figure on all of that happening again. Just remember: Not everything we see in Week 1 means Team A is better than Team B. It’s why there are plenty of teams in these rankings I’m not overreacting about, good or bad.
The Eagles’ backfield answer seems to be Kenneth Gainwell. While Rashaad Penny was a healthy scratch and D’Andre Swift had two touches, Gainwell was practically an every-down back. It will be interesting to see if that split continues going forward. Also, defensive tackle Jalen Carter was unbelievable in his debut (and a lot of Bears fans are already angry that Chicago passed on the chance to take Carter to trade down with the Eagles).
It’s simple: If Brock Purdy plays all season like he did on Sunday, the 49ers might be the best team in football. They looked fantastic in that blowout win over the Steelers. I was skeptical about Purdy, but he looked great, the 49ers were awesome and they deserve the top spot for now.