nfl week 1: four things to keep an eye on

By Tayyib Abu

The NFL is back! After a dramatic offseason, the wait is over. Expectation and anticipation are at an all-time high ahead of the 2022-23 season. The Buffalo Bills’ Thursday night throttling of the LA Rams kicked off the season on opening night. The rest of the Week 1 schedule features storylines aplenty; from homecomings to new head coaches and star players in new uniforms, Week 1 has it all. Here are four things to watch on Sunday and Monday.

Are The Patriots In Trouble?

Credit: David Butler II / USA Today Sports

The New England Patriots kick off their season with a visit to the NFL’s equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Visiting the Miami Dolphins is a strange experience, especially for a team like the Patriots. New England has lost seven of their last nine games at Miami. Maybe that is why Bill Belichick chose to travel to Florida on Tuesday in an attempt to acclimate to the heat and humidity. But the weather may be the least of Belichick’s problems, because severe questions are circling Belichick and the Patriots offense. 

With Josh McDaniels now in Las Vegas, the Patriots officially don’t have an offensive coordinator. There is a very good reason for that, because the Patriots re-hired Matt Patricia. Patricia is still getting paid by the Detroit Lions after Sheila Ford fired him in 2020. If the Patriots officially designate Patricia as offensive coordinator, they’d have to pay him, not the Lions. Patricia’s title is senior football advisor/offensive assistant. But don’t get confused, he is the offensive coordinator. Patricia called the plays during the preseason game, and is responsible for the offense the Patriots are adopting. After 20 years of using the Dante Scarnecchia-led offense, the Patriots have scrapped that for a version of the San Francisco 49ers’ offense. 

The early results have been concerning; veteran Patriots beat reporters have commented that they’ve never seen an offense struggle so much in training camp. Mac Jones looks edgy, while the offensive line has lost two starters. And now, these unsettled Patriots play the Dolphins, led by former 49ers run-game guru Mike McDaniel. The Dolphins have won the last three games between these two teams, and they now have speedster Tyreek Hill on offense. 

Hill has racked up yardage in his previous meetings with the Patriots. It is a big test for corner Jonathan Jones and safety Devin McCourty. Hill joins Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki to form a stout pass-catching trio. It is a big test for a re-shaped Patriots defense that lost JC Jackson in the offseason. 

In a division with the Super Bowl favorites, a win for both sides is crucial. But a fourth-straight defeat to the Dolphins will worry the Patriots. They are used to returning from Florida empty-handed. Do that again, and it may signal a troubling trend for the Belichick dynasty.

Can The Vikes Upset The Big Cheese?

Credit: Fansided

The Green Bay Packers are the undisputed kings of the NFC North. The Packers have won three consecutive NFC North titles, but this year, optimism envelopes the Minnesota Vikings. New head coach Kevin O’Connell boasts a proven track record; he was the offensive coordinator for the Rams last season. Many analysts expect O’Connell to improve the Vikings, and this divisional matchup is an early test. The Vikings’ recent record at home against the Packers is good; they are 4-2 in their last six meetings at home. 

Moreover, Kirk Cousins’ numbers from the previous three games against the Packers are incredibly positive. Cousins’ statistics of +0.49 EPA per attempt, 57% completion rate, and 10.3 yards-per-attempt. Cousins’ average QBR across those three games is a solid 72.5. And while the Packers’ defensive secondary features several star players, the Vikings will fancy their chances. Especially with Justin Jefferson available. Jefferson spoke in the offseason that he envisages a role similar to Cooper Kupp’s from last season. Using Jefferson in a variety of formations and alignments could yield dividends for Minnesota. Jefferson is elite at hitting space in the middle of the field. Getting him away from Rasul Douglas and Jaire Alexander could be key. 

And the last nugget of positivity is this; the Packers toiled when defending the running game from 11 personnel. Vikes running back Dalvin Cook averages 5.4 yards-per-carry out of 11 personnel. O’Connell comes from the Rams stable, where 11 personnel is king. If the Vikings can establish an efficient run game, they could gain a foothold in this game. 

On the green and gold side, the Packers’ big mystery surrounds the wide receiver corps. The now departed Davante Adams notched eight touchdowns across the last four games he played against Minnesota. 

With Adams gone, and Allen Lazard dealing with injury problems, the Packers’ wideout cupboard looks bare. Aaron Rodgers is exceptional, and he’ll need to be at his surgical best to navigate this game. Vikings corner Cam Dantzler will have a big role to play. Ranked 7th overall by Next Gen Stats in coverage rate, Dantzler has improved, but has struggled against Rodgers. 

The MVP will target the young cornerback, and Dantzler must respond if the Vikes are to pull off the upset.

How Much Pressure Is On Mike McCarthy?

Credit: Associated Press

The Dallas Cowboys 2021-22 season ended in farcical fashion. A botched two-minute drill drive saw the Cowboys run out of time as they succumbed to the San Francisco 49ers. 

Despite going 12-5, that defeat left Mike McCarthy squirming on the hot seat through the offseason. McCarthy is back as head coach, and this year the Cowboys and Jerry Jones expect big things. But already, problems are beginning to plague America’s Team. Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury. It is a seismic loss for the Cowboys. Per Next Gen Stats, the Cowboys’ pressure allowed rate goes from 29% with Smith to 34.2% without Smith. 

Worryingly, the red-zone sack rate jumps from 5.9% to 9.8%. Dallas’ offensive line ranked 23rd in Pass-Block success rate. Now without Smith, it is an almighty concern.

On the defensive side, the Cowboys lost Randy Gregory. He was one of their best pass-rushing threats. Add that to a team that lacked discipline, the well-known McCarthy clock management issues, the loss of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup’s injury, and the problems are mounting for the Cowboys. Dallas kicks off their season by welcoming the returning Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The one-on-one matchup to watch is Mike Evans vs. Trevon Diggs. Diggs put the NFL on notice in 2021 as he snagged 11 interceptions. However, Diggs is susceptible to giving up big plays and yards. Evans is a gritty technician, one of the best wideouts in the game, and his intensity will trouble Diggs. It is a big test for the cornerback and the Cowboys’ secondary. 

Why? The Bucs’ offense finished 1st in passing DVOA, and Brady led the league in big-time passing plays. Switching to the Cowboys’ offense, Dak Prescott, Tony Pollard, and Zeke Elliott must step up. Elliott’s rush-yards-over-expected from 2021-22 was -25.

In comparison, Nick Chubb’s was 269. Elliott could make upwards of $17 million this season, and he needs to play up to his contract. Elliott should be the thumper, while Pollard may act as a receiver in a two-back set. Pollard is a handy slot-back, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore might wish to utilize the two running backs. It feels silly to suggest a Week 1 game is season-defining, but in the Cowboys’ case, it is. The odds are stacked against them, and a defeat to an NFC rival will pile the pressure on Mike McCarthy.

The Return

Credit: Jack Dempsey / Associated Press

The NFL is sport’s greatest drama, and May’s schedule release confirmed that. First up on Monday Night Football, the Denver Broncos travel to the Pacific Northwest to battle the Seattle Seahawks. No, this isn’t just a rematch from Super Bowl 48; this game will see Russell Wilson step onto the field at Seattle as a visiting player. The Seahawks legend is now a Bronco, and expectations are a mile high. After all, the last two Super Bowl winners have triumphed with new quarterbacks. Wilson will be desperate to make that a three-peat, and a victory over a Seahawks team in transition is a must. But are the Seahawks in transition? Pete Carroll has consistently stated that the Seahawks don’t view this season as a rebuild, and they will engender a siege mentality. 

The 12s will be ferociously loud, and the atmosphere will be white-hot. In the lead-up to the game, Joe Buck (who is also making his debut on Monday) said that he felt Wilson seemed a little tight, a little on edge. The emotions may get to Wilson, and the Seahawks will surely try and prise any opening. One area they should exploit is taking away the deep ball. Wilson is arguably the best deep-ball thrower in the business, but the Seahawks can defend the deep field well. In 2021, the Seahawks allowed a passer rating of 47.1 on deep passes.

The promotion of Clint Hurtt to defensive coordinator should see the Seahawks incorporate more elements of the two-deep Vic Fangio defense. The Seahawks know Wilson inside out, and they’ll want to take away the deep shots and sideline passes. Carroll will want to funnel Wilson into the middle of the field, and be patient. Can Wilson block out the noise and play a smart, decisive game and resist his natural urge to be the hero. It promises to be an electric game to close out Week 1.



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1