Which new faces will shine the brightest?
By Calvin K (Twitter: @Calvin_SGF)
After a long and tumultuous offseason, Week 1 of the NFL season has finally arrived. There will certainly be plenty of storylines to unpack from the 15 remaining games on Sunday and Monday, not least of which will be the performances of this year’s rookie QBs. Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, and three of them will start right away for their teams, bearing the burden of fan optimism from day one. In this article, I’ll be previewing those three games, analyzing the quarterbacks, and giving my final score predictions for each.
1. Jaguars vs. Texans (Trevor Lawrence)
Lawrence was the clear choice at number one overall for Jacksonville, and he’ll get to start his career with perhaps his best possible opening matchup, the dismal Houston Texans. There are no bright spots on this Texans defense, so Lawrence should definitely be able to make some noise in Week 1. Houston’s trade of starting cornerback Bradley Roby to the Saints further exacerbates their secondary problems, and it’s clear by now that the Texans’ year has been lost before it’s even begun.
Lawrence will have three solid WRs at his disposal, with Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault leading a group that could put up decent numbers this year. Running back James Robinson was the lone bright spot for Jacksonville last year, and if he can continue his level of play from last year, the Jags’ running game could be a problem for opposing defenses. Houston isn’t likely to get much done on offense, either, with a journeyman starting QB in Tyrod Taylor and a hodgepodge of mediocre RBs and WRs (outside of their one solid weapon, 27-year-old Brandin Cooks). The divisional rivalry could potentially add some atmosphere to this game, but viewers of this matchup are likely in for a slog, with the Jags taking victory with relative ease.
Prediction: Jaguars, 21-10
2. Jets vs. Panthers (Zach Wilson)
Wilson, this year’s number two overall pick, will also have an opportunity to succeed in Week 1, as this Panthers secondary became one of their biggest issues last year. The addition of cornerback Jaycee Horn with the eighth pick in the draft will certainly help matters, but it’s unlikely that Horn makes a big impact in his first career game. That will leave Wilson with a chance to pick apart Carolina’s defense, and with a reliable Corey Davis and explosive Elijah Moore at his disposal, he could rack up some good stats and potentially even win this matchup.
Wilson was one of my favorite prospects in this entire draft class, and my quarterback rankings actually predict him to have the best career out of all 2021 rookie QBs. His ability to launch bombs from anywhere on the field is undoubtedly the best in his draft class, and he has an underrated ability to consistently make good decisions from both inside and outside the pocket. This Jets defense will be hurt by the loss of young edge rusher Carl Lawson, but this is still a well-coached unit led by a defensive-minded HC in Robert Saleh. Carolina will certainly be a threat with Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson leading this offense, but I’ll predict that Sam Darnold continues his struggles and is unable to lead the Panthers to a victory.
Prediction: Jets, 27-21
3. Patriots vs. Dolphins (Mac Jones)
Jones was selected at number 15 overall by the Patriots, and with the release of Cam Newton, it’s now clear that he has earned the right to be New England’s starter from the beginning. He’ll have easily the toughest matchup out of all three of these QBs, facing a Dolphins team that has a tough, emerging young defense.
Cornerback Xavien Howard’s contract situation has been resolved, and he is back with the team and ready to play in 2021. This is crucial for the Dolphins, as they now get back a top-five NFL corner with the ability to lock down practically any elite receiver. Miami’s defensive line is led by edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah (nine sacks in 2020), and Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins should also be serviceable starters. Jerome Baker has also been able to get sacks from his inside linebacker spot (seven last year), and this secondary also has additional solid pieces, such as Byron Jones, Jason McCourty, and an interesting second-year talent in Noah Igbinoghene. This defense will make it hard for Jones to put up monster passing numbers, but Jones’ ability to consistently make good reads could mean he still has a good game. He’ll likely be relying on tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry as establishing underneath presences, and WRs Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers should be involved as well. This game will certainly be an exciting one to watch, but I’ll take Miami over New England in this one, although it should be close.
Prediction: Dolphins, 23-20