Willo's 2021 stock report: Week One

By Thomas Willoughby

Did we all have a nice break from football? I know I did! When you support one of the league’s bottom-feeders (we’ll get to them), any break from the sport is greatly welcomed. Honestly I wish it could have been longer

But it wasn’t! And we’re back for the next 17 18 weeks, 32 teams will attempt to show themselves worthy of a real shot at the big one. And we’re one gameweek down. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s maybe going one way or the other? Let’s find out! Your favourite weekly dose of NFL content is back! It’s the stocks! 

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It’s old hat at this point, but Patrick Mahomes is good, isn’t he? Good lord, he’s good. The last time we saw him, he was doing his very best to singlehandedly keep the Kansas City Chiefs alive in Super Bowl LV. This week, the Chiefs welcomed the Cleveland Browns, looking for revenge for their AFC Division Round defeat last season, in Arrowhead. And they were down bad. 

Cleveland were having the run of it. Up 22-10 at the half, the Chiefs offense simply couldn’t match up with the dominance on display from the Browns defensive line. Like a light switch, Mahomes decided enough was enough. He ended the day 27/36, 337 passing yards (18 rushing yards), 3 passing touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown of his own. The Chiefs would win 33-29.

Make no mistake, the Chiefs are going to be there or thereabouts in 2021. Patrick Mahomes is the reason why.

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On the topic of quarterbacks, how about one getting a fresh start? Having been subjected to a lifetime of misery in Detroit, Matthew Stafford finally got a shot at greatness having been moved onto the previously QB-less LA Rams (I made my opinion of Jared Goff quite clear last season). He had himself a day.

Listen, the Bears aren’t good by any stretch. Stafford was always going to see a lot of the ball. He had every opportunity to show off what he’s all about, and he did so with aplomb. 321 yards, 3 touchdowns, no picks. And the best part? MINUS FIVE RUSHING YARDS! Things you absolutely love to see.

The Rams gave up a lot to secure the veteran gunslinger. Based on the evidence presented to us this week, it was a transaction worth making. An excellent performance from a very good player.

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Last season, I waxed lyrical at the performance levels of that years rookie class, starting all the way back in week two. This season I’m approaching with caution. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones all made the field. The results of their endeavors? Somewhat mixed.

It’s far too harsh to judge any of these guy’s just yet. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were basically handed career death sentences by being shipped to the Jaguars and the Jets respectively. But they did ok, right? Lawrence may have thrown 3 picks, but some of the passes he completed were a thing of beauty. Zach Wilson is throwing to pretty much no one right now, and had the Jets (just about) alive in Carolina. That’s something! Over in New England, Mac Jones played the full 60, and, while not brilliant, had the Patriots hanging with the side I think will win the AFC East in 2021. A solid first start.

The Trey Lance experience is going to be wild, because it’s clear to me that San Fran want him in as soon as possible, but don’t yet trust him full time. One pass (for a touchdown, might I add), and a handful of rushing plays might be how he’s used all season. Similarly, Fields was kept largely under wraps, despite Andy Dalton’s clear shortcomings.

These games won’t define these players, but I found it interesting how each one was used. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of all of them in the next few weeks. I have Fields turning full-time by week 6, at least.

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Last season’s NFC number 1 seed traveled to Jacksonville to face the Saints, and got slapped right across the face. Repeatedly. By Jameis “5 TDs” Winston. It wasn’t the loss that surprised me, really, but the manner of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Aaron Rodgers didn’t seem to get on with a contingent of the Packers’ setup. Have I missed something?!?

The breakdown between the Packers QB and the Green Bay Packers’ front office is well documented. Over the summer, Rodgers was linked with a good number of teams interested in the league MVP’s services. Rodgers himself was desperate for a move, of course, but it never came. So here we are. A player who hates his employer, wanting to leave, and being forced to say. It’s all feeling very Lionel Messi circa 2020.

Now I’m not suggesting that Rodgers was bad on purpose. Of course not. But 133 yards and 2 picks from the best the league has to offer? Something’s not right, there. I doubt we’ll see Rodgers benched for Jordan Love much this season, but that felt like a very pointed move. Let’s just say that I expect Rodgers to find his form in the event Brian Gutekunst is slung out before the end of the season.

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I’m getting this out the way now, so I can avoid talking about them negatively for the rest of the season. The Atlanta Falcons cleaned out the old regime mid-season last year, and brought in Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith as GM and HC respectively. In week one, they hosted the Philadelphia Eagles, themselves in a new place, coaching-wise. What we saw will not define the Falcons in 2021, that much I know for sure. But if adjustments aren’t made, and soon, they are going to get their best-ever quarterback killed.

The Falcons’ offensive line was bad in 2020. Matt Ryan was sacked 41 times, good for 5th most in the league. In the open game, he was only sacked 3 times. Which is good! He was, however, pressured on 41% of passing downs. Which is not good! It’s not like the Falcons haven’t put resources into this offensive line, either; Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary were all 1st round picks. Matt Hennessey and Jalen Mayfield were both 3rd round picks. This is a unit made up of early-round picks, and they’ll be the reason the Falcons are eliminated from contention by Halloween, again.

A word on Mayfield, while we’re at it: PFF assigned him a pass protection rating of 1.4. Out of 100. In week two, he faces Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. If the Falcons don’t do a better job of putting him in a position to succeed, or put someone in who is capable of being better than that, a career will be over before the end of the year. Be that his, or that of a teammate.

Featured image credit: Wally Skalij – Los Angeles Times

Thomas Willoughby