This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
I forget every offseason, and every Week 1 I remember again. A substantial portion of NFL outcomes is due to dumb luck. You might wonder how someone who has written about the league for more than 20 years and watched it for more than 40 would need to re-learn this lesson in 2021, but I'm here to attest it happened again.
I'm not talking about the concept of luck, or memories of certain games where luck was the deciding factor – of course, I would be able to talk and philosophize about that in May or June should someone have brought it up. I'm talking about the visceral experience of watching games just rug-pull you without warning and grasping the implications at a cellular level.
For example, I had the Bucs in Survivor Thursday night – and this year Dalton Del Don and I plunked down $1,000 for the Circa Sports Book Survivor contest. The Bucs were up two and driving with five minutes left, when Chris Godwin caught a pass inside the Cowboys five-yard-line, made a spin move and fumbled. I was about to be up two scores with five minutes left to play, and instead, the Cowboys got the ball back down only two. A stronger man might have defenestrated on the spot, but I stood idly by and watched the Cowboys drive down to kick the go-ahead field goal with 1:24 left in the game.
While steady-handed GOAT Tom Brady calmly guided the Bucs to game winning field goal attempt, which Ryan Succop did not botch, it was the rug-pull, not the comeback win, that signaled, "Oh right, I'm back."
There were of course more rug pulls on Sunday – Damian Harris' late fumble, the Raiders having first-and-goal from the one in overtime and turning it over – and often they go in your favor. But who gets the benefit is not the point. Rather, it's that barring a one-sided and decisive blowout, a decisive rug-pull can happen for no reason at any moment. You do the research, make your best efforts, celebrate confirmation of your priors and curse the opposite, but know always you are skating on the thinnest of ice.
Maybe that I got such a big dose on Thursday – and still survived it – served as an inoculation of sorts, but I can't remember feeling as calm amidst the chaos as I did this week. I'm the kind of person that suffers greatly from randomness – I naively believe in concepts like truth, merit, and fairness – and I can't stand when things get inverted from a corrupt deal, a libelous claim, a dishonest report, a bad call or a funny bounce. But with sufficient emotional detachment, one can see the apparent randomness is only so up close – zoom out in space and time, and the Tuck Rule, the Malcom Butler pick, the freak Drew Bledsoe injury – are noise.
Through the widest aperture, everything happens as it should, and randomness only highlights the truth by contrast. Every soul-crushing fumble or bogus penalty is a bodhisattva of sorts, conspiring to help you embrace the biggest picture, irrespective of short-term winds.
In that spirit, I will henceforth invoke Godwin's Fumble (if I might coin a law so to speak) to end any further discussions about luck or randomness. When someone (likely me) complains about luck, the conversation (internal or external) is over.
Week 2 Sporcle Quiz
Apropos of Darren Waller's 19 targets Monday night, can you name every tight end since 1992 to receive 17 or more targets in a single game?
Guessing The Lines
|My Line||Guessed line||Real line||Net||My O/U||Real O/U||Net|
|Giants at Football Team||4.5||6.5||3||-1.5||43||41||-2|
|Patriots at Jets||-5.5||-3.5||-5.5||0||43||43||0|
|Broncos at Jaguars||-3||-3.5||-6||-3||47||45.5||-1.5|
|Bills at Dolphins||-2.5||-1.5||-3||-0.5||46||47.5||1.5|
|49ers at Eagles||-1||-3||-3.5||-2.5||51||50||-1|
|Rams at Colts||-2.5||-3||-4||-1.5||45||47.5||2.5|
|Raiders at Steelers||4.5||6.5||6||1.5||47||48||1|
|Bengals at Bears||3||4||3||0||47||45||-2|
|Texans at Browns||13||13.5||12.5||-0.5||54||48||-6|
|Saints at Panthers||-2.5||-3||-3.5||-1||52||44.5||-7.5|
|Vikings at Cardinals||4||5.5||4||0||52||51||-1|
|Falcons at Buccaneers||15.5||14||13||-2.5||56||52||-4|
|Titans at Seahawks||6.5||7||5.5||-1||54||54||0|
|Cowboys at Chargers||3||3||3||0||55||55||0|
|Chiefs at Ravens||-3||-2.5||-3||0||53||55.5||2.5|
|Lions at Packers||13.5||13||10.5||-3||54||48||-6|
I differ from the book most on the Jaguars, Eagles, Buccaneers and Packers. It's also laughable how for off I was on the Texans-Browns, Saints-Panthers and Lions-Packers totals. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book tomorrow.
Week 1 Observations
- It was hard to watch this game and not regret passing on Darren Waller (19-10-105-1) in all my drafts. The most important number is the 19. He also dropped a ball that could have been a big play, and he was wide open for a would-be huge play, but Derek Carr didn't see him and checked it down instead. The Raiders finally got Edwards, Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs involved late, but for the first three quarters Waller had such a massive target share, he looked peak Andre Johnson, only bigger.
- Carr (435 yards, 2TD, 1 INT, 7.8 YPA) played soundly. The overthrown ball to Willie Snead that was tipped for the pick was bad, but otherwise he avoided mistakes and was mostly accurate. The Raiders gave him decent protection, too.
- Edwards looks like the top outside wideout, and Renfrow is a solid slot guy. Ruggs made one huge play on the final regulation drive, but it's hard to see him getting the necessary volume.
- Josh Jacobs (10-34-2, 2-1-6) is strictly the early-down/goal-line guy, but he looked healthy and ran hard into a tough front. Kenyan Drake (6-11-0, 5-5-59) is the third-down and two-minute drill guy, more or less as we expected.
- Daniel Carlson delivered huge on the game-tying 55-yarder.
- Jackson (235 yards, 1 TD, 7.8 YPA, 86 rushing yards, two fumbles) didn't look especially sharp and had trouble connecting with Mark Andrews.
- Marquise Brown (6-6-69-1) looked quick as usual and scored a TD, but he usually does his damage early in the year – we'll see how he holds up physically. Sammy Watkins (8-4-96) led the team in receiving, but the same can be said for him. That said, if they hold up – and first rounder Rashod Bateman comes back at full strength – Jackson will have a deeper and more talented group than he's ever played with.
- Andrews (5-3-20) was targeted on one deep ball just barely out of his reach, but was otherwise quiet. I expect Jackson to look his way more, but there's more competition for targets.
- Ty'Son Williams (9-65-1, 4-3-29) looked good running the ball, but he whiffed in pass protection late in the game, and Latavius Murray (10-28-1) got more work as the game went on.
- Justin Tucker doesn't just make every kick, he makes them without any doubt. If you're ever betting on Ravens or rostering Tucker in fantasy, the stress-reduction alone could add years to your life.
Some Assumptions of which I was disabused:
- The 49ers view Trey Sermon (healthy scratch) as a co-starter with Raheem Mostert. While I'd obviously hang onto Sermon, sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell saw most of the work after Mostert got hurt.
- That Brandon Aiyuk, who didn't receive a single target, would be the team's top receiver. I had Deebo Samuel (12-9-189-1) ahead of him in the rankings for much of the summer, and I have no Aiyuk, but I got swayed by the market and pushed Aiyuk ahead by one or two spots late. Of course, you should hold onto last year's first-round pick who produced every chance he had. God knows what Kyle Shanahan is up to, though.
- That the Bengals' offense would be sluggish due to their offensive line. While Joe Burrow took five sacks, he managed 9.7 YPA, and Joe Mixon had 127 yards on the ground. (The offensive line might slow them down yet, though.)
- That Austin Ekeler would be featured more as a receiver than a runner. Ekeler logged 15 carries and scored at the goal line, but did not receive a single target. (This should change, but it was odd, to say the least.)
- That the Panthers would ease up on Christian McCaffrey, given his slight frame, injury-ruined 2020 season and the 17-game schedule. McCaffrey saw 21 carries and nine targets, while backup Chuba Hubbard saw no carries and two targets.
- That Mark Ingram was the No. 3 running back on the Texans. Ingram had 26 not very efficient carries for 85 yards and a TD.
- That the Texans might go winless, given they're sitting a top-five NFL player and traded away their best cornerback to the Saints.
- That James Robinson would dominate the work and snaps in the Jaguars backfield. Robinson saw only five carries while Carlos Hyde had nine.
- That the Browns would be able to move the ball against the Chiefs all game. After an easy first half, Cleveland did next to nothing.
- That Odell Beckham's Week 1 return was never in serious doubt. It was.
- That maybe I was wrong about not initially buying into the Marquez Callaway hype, especially after Tre'Quan Smith went on IR too. So far I was not.
- That Alvin Kamara would catch a ton of passes, given the state of the WR corps. He caught only three, but in fairness, the Saints were way ahead all game.
- That Kenny Golladay was already compromised by a bum hamstring. He looked healthy and powerful, ripping a possible pick out of a defender's hands for one of his catches.
- That the Rams would go easy on fragile Darrell Henderson and spell him with Sony Michel. Henderson got 16 carries to Michel's one and played nearly the entire game.
- That Justin Jefferson would outproduce Van Jefferson. So far Van has him.
Things I Expected
- Jalen Hurts (264 passing yards, three TDs, 62 rushing yards) can play. The Eagles offense, with its healthy offensive line, improved outside receivers and QB upgrade, should produce.
- Miles Sanders (in whom I probably have too many shares), looked like the guy at the end of last year with Hurts rather than the one who struggled with Carson Wentz. His 15 carries and four catches on five targets bodes well.
- Kenneth Gainwell (9-37-1, 3-2-6), not Boston Scott, is Sanders' backup.
- Diontae Johnson (10 targets, despite leaving temporarily with an injury in the first half) is the Steelers' go-to guy.
- That Ja'Marr Chase's shaky preseason was irrelevant (though I regrettably do not have any Chase.)
- That Tyler Boyd's role (four targets) is no longer assured given the presence of two more dynamic options.
- That the entire Lions offense runs through Jamaal Williams, D'Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson.
- That Jonathan Taylor (17-56-0, 7-6-60-0) would have a sufficient role irrespective of game flow to justify a top-five overall pick. Nyheim Hines (9-34-0, 8-6-48) also had a significant role, but Taylor led the team in receiving and no other back saw a touch.
- That Taylor Heinicke might already be better than Ryan Fitzpatrick (who left early after injuring his hip.)
- That Trevor Lawrence would put up big fantasy stats, given the personnel on his team.
- That Clyde Edwards-Helaire would see a modest number of targets (3) because Patrick Mahomes does not check down when in trouble.
- That the Saints are still a good team.
- That Melvin Gordon (11-101-1, 3-3-17) would not cede the job to Javonte Williams (14-45-0, 1-1–4) easily.
- That Saquon Barkley (though ineffective) would see a fair workload (10 carries, three targets) and prove largely healthy.
- That Cooper Kupp (10-7-108-1) would be the Rams' best receiver.
Other Sunday Observations
- Kyle Pitts (8-4-31-0) didn't do much, but he was the co-leader in targets with Calvin Ridley (8-5-51-0) who didn't do much, either. Both should be fine unless 36-year-old Matt Ryan (4.7 YPA) is done.
- The Lions should have just kicked a field goal down eight in the closing seconds to cement arguably the greatest backdoor cover of all time. (The Niners were up 41-17 at the two minute warning, while laying 7.5.)
- Even with Najee Harris, the Steelers still couldn't run the ball to save their lives. Maybe the Bills are just stout up front, though. On the bright side, Harris had all 16 RB carries, so Mike Tomlin's tendencies haven't changed.
- The Giants defense played okay, but it got beat on a few soul-crushing fourth-down conversions. Then again, KJ Hamler dropped an easy long TD, so it could have been worse too. One problem is the still inept offense keeping them on the field.
- It felt good at the time to own Dalton Del Don in Beat Chris Liss 2 when I snaked him on Travis Etienne and Trey Sermon, two picks I knew (and he confirmed) he was set to make.
- Tom Brady looked awfully sharp to me. His throws had zip, his intercepted Hail Mary at the end of the half made it easily into the end zone, his long TD to Antonio Brown was dropped in perfectly, and he had total command and poise on the final drive, burning clock with no timeouts by calmly dropping back and tossing the ball out of bounds. He also survived the tipped-pick that was mostly (though the ball wasn't perfect) Leonard Fournette's fault and drops by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the fourth quarter, along with the Godwin fumble. In fact, Brady had no real interceptions, four TD passes and 379 yards passing, and he didn't take a single sack. He won't face Dallas every week, but I wish I had some shares.
- Rob Gronkowski looked like the prime version, hauling in anything in his vicinity with his giant mitts – he caught all eight of his targets for 90 yards and scored two TDs for the second straight game. Why people were fine with Travis Kelce in the first round, but Gronk (the widely acknowledged GOAT at the position) not until the 12th or 13th when the two are five months apart in age, was one of the great mysteries of draft season.
- Antonio Brown (7-5-121-1) caught a 47-yard TD and looked as fast and spry as ever. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the Tampa offense, but really there's only a big-four including Gronk, and not much left for anyone else.
- Chris Godwin (14-9-105-1) led the team in targets, but he had a drop on a deep ball late and of course the nearly catastrophic fumble. Still, he might be the most skilled pass catcher on this team, given his quickness, speed, size and route-running.
- Mike Evans (6-3-24-0) had a drop on a key drive and wasn't heavily involved. Don't be overly concerned. He will get his.
- Ronald Jones fumbled early and didn't much work after that. Playoff hero Leonard Fournette struggled to get going, had a pass tip off his hands for a pick, but did catch five passes for 27 yards. I expect Jones to get another chance next week as he's the more formidable early-down runner. Gio Bernard (3-2-12) made a catch on the final drive, but didn't get a ton of work.
- Dak Prescott (58-42-403-3-1) didn't show any rust early on, but later in the game the pass rush got to him a bit. Still, he took only one sack against a tough defense, and his pick went off CeeDee Lamb's hands. He even had a nice escape in the fourth quarter, but he didn't get too far. Prescott is one of the favorites to lead the league in passing attempts this year, though keep in mind this was against arguably the toughest run defense in the league.
- Ezekiel Elliott (11-33-0, 2-2-6-0) did very little against Tampa's run defense, but that was by design as Prescott attempted 58 passes while he and Tony Pollard had only 14 rushing attempts combined.
- Amari Cooper (16-13-139-2) was the best receiver on the field. He was going a full round later than CeeDee Lamb, but it's clear they're co-No.1's, and it's 50/50 who has the better year.
- Lamb (15-7-104-1) had a couple drops, including one that resulted in a key pick, but he's slippery and for a skinny guy, tough to bring down after contact, something he showed on a punt return too.
- Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin split targets 6:4. It's hard to see either being especially useful with that ratio.
- Michael Gallup (7-4-36) had a modest showing, though he left in the second half with an ankle injury.
- Greg Zuerlein looked awfully shaky early, which is why it was so tough to watch him absolutely drill the 48-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a lead with 1:24 left.