Sitting out NFL preseason helped some QBs, hurt others
Sitting out the preseason did nothing to slow the start to the season for guys like Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott.
For guys like Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill and Matt Ryan, there appeared to be some rust.
In all, nine quarterbacks who didn’t take a snap in the preseason started Week 1, and there was no consistent pattern on whether that decision helped or hurt.
Four of the nine quarterbacks ended up on the winning side, with Wilson’s Seahawks beating Carson Wentz’s Colts 28-16 in the only game featuring two starting QBs who sat out the preseason. The combined 95.2 passer rating for the quarterbacks was slightly lower than the league average of 99.6.
Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Stafford, who went 20 for 26 for 321 yards and three TDs in a 34-14 win against Chicago in his debut with the Rams. The 156.1 passer rating was the highest ever in Week 1 for a player on a new team, as the lack of preseason work didn’t seem to have a negative impact.
Prescott and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr each threw for more than 400 yards in the opener, with Prescott’s Cowboys losing to the Buccaneers 31-29 and Carr leading a wild comeback for a 33-27 overtime win against Baltimore thanks to a walk-off 31-yard TD pass to Zay Jones.
Wilson had four TDs and no interceptions in his first game under new play-caller Shane Waldron. His 11 games with at least four TDs and no interceptions are the seventh-most ever.
He even threw a red zone interception for the first time since Oct. 14, 2019, against Detroit, ending a streak of 50 TD passes in the red zone without an interception, including the playoffs.
Ryan and Tannehill struggled in new offenses after sitting out the preseason, with Ryan throwing for only 164 yards in a 32-6 loss to Philadelphia in his first game with Arthur Smith as coach in Atlanta.
Tannehill missed Smith, his former offensive coordinator, in Tennessee’s opener against Arizona, a 38-13 loss. He went 21 for 35 for 210 yards with a TD, an interception and six sacks in his first game with Todd Downing as offensive coordinator.
WEST IS BEST
The eight teams in the West divisions all won their openers this season. This marked the first time since the merger that every team in two separate divisions won every game in the same week.
Since the current eight-division format started in 2002, this marked the third and fourth times that a division went 4-0 in Week 1, with the AFC West doing it in 2002 and the AFC East in 2015.
The NFC West was more dominant, with the 65-point combined margin of victory compared to plus-28 for the AFC West. The NFC West had the biggest Week 1 margin of victory under this current format.
On the other side of the equation was the NFC North, whose teams went 0-4 and got outscored by 66 points.
GO FOR IT
Fourth-down aggressiveness for coaches keeps increasing, with the 52 attempts the second-most ever in a week dating to 1991.
But where the increased aggressiveness really shows is earlier in the game, when the tie and score makes the decision less obvious.
The 33 fourth-down attempts in the first three quarters were the most in any week as far as SportRadar records go back to in 2000. Teams converted 18 of those tries.
The change in approach has been stark in recent years. Teams averaged just 10 fourth-down attempts per week in the first three quarters of games in 2014, when it took until Week 5 to hit the 33 mark achieved in the opener this season.
The best decision of the week was made by Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor, whose decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his 48 in the final minute of overtime increased the Bengals’ win probability by 11.2 percentage points, according to EdjSports. Joe Burrow’s 32-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah set up the game-winning field goal in the Bengals’ 27-24 overtime win over the Vikings.
Jameis Winston had a remarkably efficient first start in New Orleans. The risk-taking quarterback who made history with the first 30-touchdown, 30-interception season in Tampa Bay in 2019 made another mark in Week 1.
He threw five TD passes against Green Bay despite throwing for only 148 yards. That’s the fewest yards in a five-TD game since at least 1948, with Dallas Eddie LeBaron holding the previous low with 158 yards on Oct. 21, 1962, against Pittsburgh.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs once again got off to a fast start in the season.
Mahomes threw three TD passes in a 33-29 win over Cleveland to lead the Chiefs to their 15th straight September win. Mahomes has been the starter for 11 of those games, throwing 35 touchdowns and no interceptions in those contests.
His 35 straight passing touchdowns without an interception in September is the longest streak in any month by any quarterback in NFL history, according to ESPN.
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