From the Bleachers: Surprise Squads and Superstar Struggles

Baily Deeter ’22 shares his thoughts on the start of the 2021 NFL season in his latest installment of “From the Bleachers.”

by Baily Deeter | 9/28/21 2:00am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

It’s been more than four months since I last wrote, and much has changed since then in the sports world. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion. Russell Westbrook is a Los Angeles Laker. The San Francisco Giants are the best team in baseball. I’m in the weight room one to three days per week training for intramural flag football and basketball. Needless to say, there is a lot going on. 

The NBA playoffs were exciting and provided the league with much-needed parity, but as the leaves begin to change colors, it’s time for us to shift our focus toward the football season. Three weeks into the NFL season, we’ve seen some huge surprises. Teams many expected to be 0-3 are 3-0. One particular team that some thought would finish 17-0 is now 1-2. It’s an “any given Sunday” type of league, and that has been especially true this season. 

Currently, the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams are 3-0. None of those five teams made the playoffs last season. None of their five starting quarterbacks have won a playoff game. Yet here we are, with Derek Carr leading the league in passing yards — by a wide margin — Teddy Bridgewater leading the Broncos to 20-point wins on a weekly basis and Matthew Stafford looking like a prime MVP candidate.

Now, that’s not to say that last year’s cream of the crop is out of the mix. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked overmatched by the Rams on Sunday, but Tom Brady still looks sharp and is still poised to defend his title. Buffalo and Green Bay fell flat in Week 1, but both have rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins. After the Saints stomped Aaron Rodgers and the Packers 38-3 in Week 1, some thought Aaron Rodgers was more focused on hosting his next season of “Jeopardy!” than pursuing a second Lombardi Trophy. After Sunday night’s last-second win over the 49ers, however, Rodgers looks primed for another division title and another Super Bowl run.  

However, there are legitimate concerns mounting about last year’s Super Bowl loser, the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes and company are 1-2 after back-to-back losses to the Baltimore Ravens and the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Chiefs’ defense has surrendered 30 points in every game. The last two Super Bowl losers missed the playoffs the following year, and while missing the playoffs seems highly unlikely, the Chiefs find themselves in last place in their division. It’s an uphill battle for Andy Reid and company. 

Speaking of the Chargers, Justin Herbert is picking up where he left off from a stellar rookie season, and he now has some wins to go along with it. Herbert threw four touchdowns, including the game-winner to Mike Williams, in the hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are also 2-1, with Burrow’s college teammate, JaMarr Chase, shaking the preseason yips en route to catching four touchdowns through three games. Tua Tagovailoa has been injured and Jordan Love appears years away from seeing the field, but the quarterback class of 2020 appears to have two bonafide superstars in the making. 

The class of 2021, however, may not be on the same path. It’s still early, but Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields are all off to a rocky start. Mac Jones has been decent thus far, but he and the Patriots find themselves at 1-2. Trey Lance has shown flashes in his limited action, but the 49ers haven’t given him much of a chance at this point. 

It’s far too early to tell how these quarterbacks’ careers will turn out. Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his rookie season. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes barely saw the field in theirs. But many expected Lawrence to be a superstar from day 1 much like he was at Clemson, and that has certainly not been the case.

In the first 17-game season in NFL history, there is a lot of football left to be played. We may see the Chiefs right the ship and watch the NFL’s traditional elite rise to the top as the season goes on, or we may see someone like Sam Darnold or Matthew Stafford hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.

Actually, let’s be real. The only logical way the season could end is with Tom Brady winning his eighth championship, and then probably winning two or three more before hanging up the cleats when he turns 50.