Week 1 of the NFL season is officially in the books, and man am I glad that football is back. It was a crazy weekend of football, filled with ups and downs, and a weekend that arguably raised more questions than it answered.
Unlike the football we saw, our bold predictions for Week 1 fell flat, but we’re going to bounce back now that we have some real football data to work with.
The Baltimore Ravens Are About to Join Some Rare Company
The Baltimore Ravens had one of the most impressive season-opening performances we’ve ever seen, thoroughly routing the Miami Dolphins 59-10. And in Week 2, they’re about to become just the fourth team since 1970 to have back-to-back 50-plus-point performances.
It seems ridiculous to expect the Ravens to repeat their dominant Week 1 performance. You almost can’t read about the Ravens without someone adding a “but keep in mind they played the Dolphins” disclaimer, and that’s fair enough. But the Arizona Cardinals present an almost equally juicy opportunity for an offensive explosion.
The Cardinals’ defence is an absolute mess right now. Unlike the Dolphins, who at least had some pieces in their secondary — like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Xavien Howard — the Cards are completely devoid of talent in their secondary while Patrick Peterson serves out his suspension. As evidence of this, they gave up the sixth-most passing yards on passes 16 or more yards down the field against the run-heavy Detroit Lions. Lamar Jackson led all quarterbacks in Week 1 with 14.6 Passing Net Expected Points on those passes.
Arizona’s defence isn’t the only reason to be excited for Jackson and the Ravens’ offence in Week 2. To start, the Ravens were absolute savages in their destruction of the Dolphins. They kicked the ‘Phins while they were down — repeatedly — which should lead us to believe that this Ravens team is interested in racking up points, not grinding out games.
Two different instances of this come to mind. After the Ravens swapped Jackson out for Robert Griffin III, they drove down the field to the Dolphins’ goal line. After Gus Edwards failed to punch it in on third down, they kept the offence on the field and went for the touchdown on fourth down. They were already up 52-10 at that point. They also wrecked the ‘Phins with a fake punt on a fourth-and-one while they were up 35-5 in the second quarter.
These plays show us that the Ravens are focused on winning games, not just gaining and maintaining a lead like the Lions last week, who ran themselves out of a 17-point lead into an overtime tie.
The Cardinals’ offence is another reason to believe the Ravens could score over 50 points for the second straight week. According to Establish the Run’s Pat Thorman, the Cardinals had the league’s fastest raw pace in Week 1, averaging just 22.8 seconds per snap, while going no-huddle on a league-high 41.5% of their plays. This offence is going to keep the pedal to the metal in this one, which could force the Ravens to match that pace to keep up.
The Ravens are primed to join the 2013 Denver Broncos, the 2012 Seattle Seahawks and the 2014 Green Bay Packers as the only teams since 1970 to score over 50 points in back-to-back games this week.
James Washington Will Finish as a Top-16 Wide Receiver
This one feels bad, but hear me out.
I was pretty high on James Washington when he declared for the draft. I mean, how many receivers come into the NFL averaging over 20 yards per reception in their final year while catching over 70 passes? Pro Football Focus had him ranked as their second-best wideout in the 2018 rookie class, as well.
But sometimes things don’t work out the way we think they will. Despite absolutely destroying in the preseason each of the last two years, Washington has struggled in actual NFL games. He had a hard time finding the field in 2018, losing playing time to Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey at times and averaging an abysmal 42.1% catch rate on his 38 targets.
But this year could be different. Washington was distinctly behind Donte Moncrief in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 1 loss to the Pats — he played just 52% of snaps compared to Moncrief’s 90% — but things could change this week.
For all of Washington’s struggles in his rookie season, Moncrief was arguably worse in his first game as a Steeler. On a team-high 10 targets, Moncrief caught just three passes for seven yards. That’s really, really bad. To make matters worse, he was charged with four dropped passes. Moncrief’s terrible performance could lead the Steelers to take immediate action and shake up their receiver depth chart.
Washington also has a path to opportunity behind JuJu, who was forced out of that game with a toe injury late in the fourth quarter. Early reports say his X-rays came back negative and that he’s trending towards playing, but the Steelers may take it easy on their star wideout just in case.
You may be asking, “Why should we be excited about opportunities for a guy who averaged just 5.7 yards per target last year?” And that’s fair enough.
But it’s also worth noting that in Week 1, Washington had the second-most air yards (169) in the league.
Needless to say, he also led the Steelers in air yards by a significant margin. He did so on only six targets while playing just over half of their offensive snaps. He only converted those air yards into 51 actual yards, but the air yards indicate that the Steelers look to him on some of the most high-value targets they have to offer.
If the Steelers scale back Moncrief or JuJu’s usage this week against a beatable Seahawks secondary that just got torched by John Ross, Washington could go absolutely ballistic. The Steelers target Washington deep down the field, and those deep passes can turn into serious fantasy points in a hurry.
The Jaguars Will Upset the Texans
The Houston Texans are coming off of an absolutely heartbreaking, last-second loss to the potentially Super-Bowl-bound New Orleans Saints and look like a team destined for the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars just got wrecked by the Kansas City Chiefs and lost their starting quarterback.
The Texans are 8.5-point favourites heading into their first home game of the season. So how on earth could the Jags take down the Texans in Texas?
Well, it’s a long shot, but that’s what makes this a bold prediction.
First, we have to take a look at fashion icon Gardner Minshew, who filled in for Nick Foles following the quarterback’s exit and should start this week. Despite entering the league as a sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Minshew impressed in his unexpected debut. He completed 21 of his 24 pass attempts for 275 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. And for context, his one interception came on a pass that virtually bounced off of Leonard Fournette’s helmet and into a defender’s hands — it was hardly the quarterback’s fault.
His 12.19 Passing NEP — a numberFire metric which measures how much expected value a quarterback adds each time he passes the ball based on historic down and distance data — was the 11th-best total of Week 1, which becomes even more impressive considering that he didn’t start the game.
Minshew kept his passes short — his 5.5 intended air yards per pass were the second-lowest across the league — but he kept the chains moving. And while he rarely attempted deep passes in his debut, he completed each of his 4 attempts for 141 yards and a score. Excluding the interception and Fournette’s earlier fumble, all but one of Minshew’s drives ended in a score for the Jags.
He racked up these stats against a relatively weak Kansas City Chiefs defence, but Minshew might be quite a bit better than we expected heading into this season. The Texans’ defence also isn’t the same scary force it was a couple of seasons ago and could struggle to generate consistent pressure with the departure of Jadeveon Clowney.
It also bears noting that the Jacksonville defence is still pretty good. They’re just two years removed from one of the strongest defensive performances we’ve ever seen, and despite giving up 40 points in Week 1, they still only allowed a roughly league-average 0.18 Net Expected Points per play against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Deshaun Watson is no slouch himself, but he’s more turnover-prone than Patrick Mahomes, with a career 2.4% interception rate. Watson also plays behind one of the leakiest offensive lines in the league — he was sacked on a league-high 16.7% of his dropbacks in Week 1.
The Jaguars are understandable dogs heading into NRG Stadium for Week 2, but I think they have a better chance of upsetting the Texans than people realize.