The first Sunday of the 2021 NFL season is in the books, and there were plenty of surprises. Several teams came out strong with impressive victories, while others stumbled out of the gates.
Here’s a look at some winners and losers from NFL Week 1:
Winner: Rookie wide receivers
The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle and Eagles’ DeVonta Smith entered the NFL with tons of type. They all lived up to it in their debuts on Sunday. Chase, who struggled with drops in the preseason, led Cincinnati with five receptions for 101 yards and a 50-yard touchdown. Waddle had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown as Miami beat the Patriots. Smith’s first reception went for a touchdown, and he finished with six catches for 71 yards in Philadelphia’s win. Chase, Waddle and Smith — selected fifth, sixth and 10th, respectively, in April’s draft — could have major impacts throughout their rookie seasons.
Loser: Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson
The top two picks in the 2021 draft struggled in their debuts. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was 28 of 51 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns. That was the good part. The bad? He had three interceptions and Jacksonville lost 37-21 to the Texans, who were expected to struggle this season. Second pick Zach Wilson also had a rude awakening, completing 20 of 37 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Wilson was sacked six times as the Jets fell to the Panthers, 19-14.
The Cardinals made a splash in the offseason by signing J.J. Watt, but it was another star pass-rusher who stole the show in Week 1. Chandler Jones totaled five sacks in Arizona’s win over the Titans, just two shy of tying the NFL single-game sack record. Jones had just one sack in an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, so Sunday was undoubtedly a sigh of relief for the veteran. He had 19 sacks in 2019, and he could be coming for that mark again this year.
Loser: The AFC South
After sending two teams to the postseason last year (Titans, Colts), the AFC South had an uninspiring start to the 2021 season. The Colts, led by new quarterback Carson Wentz, were easily dispatched at home by the Seahawks, 28-16. The Titans were lifeless on both sides of the ball, losing to the Cardinals at home, 38-13. The Texans and Jaguars played each other, so one had to win. Houston dominated from start to finish, winning 37-21, but both teams are expected to be near the bottom of the league this season.
Winner: The NFC West
The NFC West looked like it was ready to send multiple teams to the postseason in Week 1. The 49ers, led by a combination of Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance, held on for a 41-33 win over the Lions in Detroit. Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns and completed 18 of 23 passes in the Seahawks’ 28-16 win over the Colts. The Cardinals, who finished last in the division in 2020, steamrolled the Titans 38-13. Matthew Stafford showed out in his Los Angeles Rams debut, throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears.
Loser: Aaron Rodgers
Entering what could be his final season in Green Bay, Rodgers’ year got off to an ugly start against the Saints in Jacksonville. The Packers were dominated from the jump, falling behind 17-3 at the half and ultimately losing 38-3. Rodgers finished 15 of 28 for just 133 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In his 2020 MVP campaign, Rodgers had just five interceptions all season. He had four in 2019 and two in 2018, so Sunday’s performance was extremely uncharacteristic.