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NFL Week 1's big questions, risers and fallers: 49ers offense, Browns defense impress

The 2023 NFL season is here, and Week 1 has been wild. In the early window, the San Francisco 49ers picked up right where they left off with a healthy Brock Purdy, the Cleveland Browns shut down Joe Burrow, and a handful of rookies really stood out in their debuts.

Our NFL Nation reporters are reacting to all the action, answering lingering questions coming out of each game and picking out who — or what — is rising and falling for every team. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:



Is the Browns’ defense for real? It sure looks that way. The Browns rattled Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and completely shut down the Cincinnati offense. Pass-rushers Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith were in Burrow’s face on almost every dropback. Cleveland’s secondary was even more impressive, as cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson Jr. locked up Cincinnati’s talented receiving corps. The rainy conditions helped. But the Browns’ defense sent a message that, after a rocky 2022 performance, it could be among the most improved units in the entire NFL.

Stock up after the win: Jim Schwartz. Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator came up with a masterful game plan in his debut, blitzing Burrow on 53% of his dropbacks in the first half, the highest rate of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Stock down after the win: Cleveland’s passing attack. Quarterback Deshaun Watson made several plays with his feet but tallied only 154 yards through the air, so the passing game will have to be sharper going forward for the Browns to become a true contender in the AFC. — Jake Trotter

Next game: at Steelers (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)



How concerning is the Week 1 offensive showing? Even a mild ringing of alarm bells seems like extreme behavior. Yes, quarterback Joe Burrow struggled and threw for a career-low 82 yards. But context is important — Burrow is still recovering from a strained right calf, he battled wet conditions that made passing miserable, and the offense looked like a group that didn’t have a ton of preseason reps with its starting quarterback. It might take time for Burrow and the offense to get in sync.

Stock up after the loss: The Bengals’ pass rush. Cincinnati’s defensive line pressured Deshaun Watson early and sacked him three times, a great sign for a unit that needed to be more disruptive than it was in 2022.

Stock down after the loss: Cincinnati’s run defense. Browns running back Nick Chubb and Watson were able to reel off some big runs, with the Browns totaling 206 yards on the ground, which was huge for Cleveland on a day when passing conditions were not good. — Ben Baby

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Is there reason to be concerned about Atlanta’s pass production? While Desmond Ridder’s completion percentage was good (15-for-18), Ridder threw for only 118 yards and many of those throws were because of great adjustments by receivers, including a fingertip catch by Mack Hollins and a swim-move type adjustment on a 35-yard completion to Kyle Pitts. The Falcons have a good run-based attack with Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson, but the question will be whether the passing game can catch up to complement it. If it can, Atlanta’s offense might become difficult to stop.

Stock up after the win: S Jessie Bates III. Atlanta made Bates one of the highest-paid safeties in NFL history this offseason, and he was marvelous in his debut, becoming the first player in the league since Chinedum Ndukwe in 2007 to have at least 10 tackles (he had 10), two interceptions and a forced fumble in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Stock down after the win: WR Drake London. The Falcons’ second-year receiver never seemed to be involved in the passing game Sunday, with only one target (a dropped pass). And while this likely will be an aberration for London, it’s worth noting because it’s only the second time in his career he’s had fewer than three targets in a game. — Michael Rothstein

Next game: vs. Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



Should the Panthers be concerned with Bryce Young’s interceptions? One of Young’s strengths, according to the Carolina staff, was seeing the middle of the field despite his height (5-foot-10). But on Sunday, the former Alabama star threw two interceptions on attempts over the middle in which he clearly should have seen safety Jessie Bates III. Both were on attempts of more than 10 yards, where Young struggled. The Falcons turned the interceptions into 10 crucial points. It could have been a fluke, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Stock up after the loss: LB Brian Burns. The Panthers had better give him a new deal soon or the price tag is going to continue to climb. He had 1.5 sacks in the first half alone and was a part of a defense that had four sacks and six quarterback hits in the first half before Atlanta got the lead and went more with the run.

Stock down after the loss: CB Jaycee Horn. Horn, who missed 18 games in his first two NFL seasons with various injuries, suffered a hamstring injury in the first half against the Falcons, putting the 2021 eighth overall pick in doubt for the foreseeable future. — David Newton

Next game: vs. Saints (Monday, 7:15 p.m. ET)

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What does the 49ers’ fast start mean for 2023? The 49ers’ slow starts of the past two seasons (2-4 and 3-4) haven’t prevented them from reaching the NFC Championship Game in either year. But those early losses have made the road to get there and beyond much longer and tougher. Which is why they emphasized the need to come out of the gates as fast as possible this year, with a long-term goal of cementing the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home games throughout the postseason. Sunday’s convincing win in Pittsburgh was a step in the right direction, and with their next three games against the Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, there’s reason to think the Niners are well on their way to the type of start that could pay big dividends come January.

Stock up after the win: K Jake Moody. After battling a right quad injury and a couple of rough preseason games, the No. 99 pick in this year’s NFL draft responded with a perfect debut, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts and all three extra point tries.

Stock down after the win: RT Colton McKivitz. In his first game as San Francisco’s new starting right tackle, McKivitz struggled against Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt, who finished with three sacks and forced and recovered a fumble. — Nick Wagoner

Next game: at Rams (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)



Why couldn’t the Steelers replicate their preseason offensive success? The Steelers faced one of the NFL’s best defenses in the 49ers, but the issues go deeper than that. Quarterback Kenny Pickett, who didn’t throw an interception in the preseason and was accurate throughout training camp, threw two picks in the season opener. He often threw passes high and off-target, including one intended for Diontae Johnson that was intercepted in the first quarter. Prior to the scoring drive just before halftime, the Steelers had just one net yard of offense on five drives — a stark contrast to the first-team offense scoring touchdowns on all five of their preseason drives. The run game didn’t have a good outing, either. The Steelers ran the ball just 10 times for 41 yards — and 24 of those came on one run by Najee Harris.

Stock up after the loss: DE T.J. Watt. Hard for the edge rusher to do much more for this team; he racked up three sacks to tie James Harrison for the most career sacks (80.5) in Steelers history — in 90 fewer games.

Stock down after the loss: QB Kenny Pickett. After a pretty solid preseason, Pickett’s accuracy issues — including a first-quarter interception — made him look like an entirely different quarterback against the 49ers. — Brooke Pryor

Next game: vs. Browns (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

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Should the Bucs be concerned by Baker Mayfield’s slow start? After a disastrous start that saw quarterback Mayfield go just 3-for-11 for 12 yards up until the two-minute warning in the first half, the quarterback settled down and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Evans and a 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Trey Palmer before Chase McLaughlin nailed a 57-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Evans said earlier this week that Mayfield’s biggest strength is “he doesn’t let anything get to him” and can turn the page after a bad play. That may be his best attribute as the Bucs’ offense learns to navigate life without Tom Brady.

Stock up after the win: The pass defense. The secondary may have had few answers for receiver Justin Jefferson, who had 150 yards, but it also got three takeaways — which kept the Bucs in the game. Outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka recovered a Kirk Cousins fumble on a botched quarterback-center exchange, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. had a sack-forced fumble and recovery, and rookie nickelback Christian Izien a touchdown-saving interception at the Tampa Bay 2-yard line just before halftime.

Stock down after the win: The running game. Rachaad White averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and Sean Tucker 3.0. The Bucs’ ground game unveiled a new wide zone and midzone scheme but had just 76 yards on the ground, making it very difficult to get anything going. — Jenna Laine

Next game: vs. Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



Have the Vikings lost their close-game magic? Sunday’s loss was the Vikings’ second consecutive defeat by one score after winning an NFL-record 11 such games during the 2022 regular season. (They also lost by one score to the New York Giants in the wild-card playoff round.) Rather than viewing it as a matter of “magic,” it’s better to accept the historical reality that close games typically have random outcomes. Some teams might be better at it than others, but they eventually even out. The Vikings were done in Sunday not by a loss of magic, but instead by three Kirk Cousins turnovers in the first half and an inability to stop the Buccaneers on third down in the second half. The Buccaneers converted five of their first nine such attempts before a final kneel-down.

Stock up after the loss: WR Justin Jefferson. The reigning offensive player of the year caught nine passes for 150 yards, setting an NFL record for most 150-yard receiving games (nine) in a career before turning 25, a day after he and the Vikings failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Stock down after the loss: C Garrett Bradbury. The Vikings center did not return after suffering a back injury in the first quarter, an ominous development considering he missed five games last season because of an issue with his back, and a reminder that the team decided to re-sign him in free agency despite that injury. — Kevin Seifert

Next game: at Eagles (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

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Can the offense improve? Washington will need to incorporate Brian Robinson Jr. and the run game more than it did Sunday; he carried the ball 18 times for 56 yards but needed more work earlier in the game to ease the burden on young quarterback Sam Howell. Robinson carried the ball only four times in the first half. With Washington’s passing attack led by a young QB — and with protection breaking down — the run game needs to be a bigger factor moving forward.

Stock up after the win: Washington’s defensive line. The line, led by tackle Daron Payne and end Montez Sweat in particular, combined for seven tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries.

Stock down after the win: Washington’s passing game. Howell managed just 202 yards passing, was sacked six times, threw an interception and had a fumble recovered for a touchdown. — John Keim

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)



Can the Cardinals’ defense keep the pressure on next week? Not just next week — this defense has the potential to have games like this all season. Arizona had six sacks by five different players and pressured Commanders quarterback Sam Howell six times. Arizona used five different outside linebackers in a variety of combinations that kept legs fresh and a rotation of different types of rushers constantly coming at Washington.

Stock up after the loss: LB Dennis Gardeck. He had two of the Cardinals’ six sacks, putting his pass-rushing moves on display. He was one of five Cardinals to get a sack Sunday, but the only one with multiple.

Stock down after the loss: Arizona’s third-down offense. The Cardinals were 4-for-14 on third down — including a failed attempt in the final 90 seconds that led to a game-ending fourth down — in a game that was within a touchdown the entire 60 minutes. — Josh Weinfuss

Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

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Is the offensive line’s play going to be an issue? Right guard Brandon Scherff was ruled out late in the game with an ankle injury, but the unit wasn’t doing a good job of dealing with the Colts’ defensive front before he left the game. The Jaguars averaged 3.2 yards per carry before their final possession, including running back Travis Etienne Jr.’s 26-yard touchdown run, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence got hit six times. That kept the offense from getting into a rhythm. If that continues to be an issue, it takes away the team’s biggest strength: The ability to be explosive.

Stock up after the win: LB Josh Allen. The Jaguars didn’t offer Allen an extension, so he’s playing on the fifth-year option — and playing for his next contract. He got off to a good start, with a career-high three sacks against the Colts. The pass rush was supposed to be the team’s biggest weakness, but Allen’s performance could be a sign that it won’t be as bad as previously thought.

Stock down after the win: Ball security. The Jaguars had three fumbles — including two on a bizarre play — and an interception. Rookie RB Tank Bigsby was involved in two, having a ball bounce off his hands for an interception and having the ball stripped from his hands after picking up Lawrence’s fumble. It didn’t cost the Jaguars the game, but it could have against the league’s better teams — like Kansas City in Week 2. — Mike DiRocco

Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What’s next for QB Anthony Richardson after a strong but unspectacular debut? Richardson had a largely impressive start to his career, completing 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards. He ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and he looked calm and in control throughout. But where he’ll need to progress is in making the sort of aggressive plays that win games. Coach Shane Steichen understandably had a relatively safe game plan for Richardson, but there were minimal passing attempts down the field — he averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt.

Stock up after the loss: DT DeForest Buckner. The star defensive tackle showed his worth Sunday, making a huge fourth-down stop and then registering a sack/fumble and scoop-and-score on the same wild sequence in the third quarter.

Stock down after the loss: RB Deon Jackson. Jackson was forced into a starting role in the absence of Jonathan Taylor (PUP) and Zack Moss (broken arm). He lost two fumbles and rushed for 14 yards on 13 carries (1.1 yards per attempt), as the Colts consistently struggled to muster a running game. — Stephen Holder

Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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What will the Ravens do now that J.K. Dobbins is done for the season? Dobbins left the game early in the third quarter, and coach John Harbaugh later said he suffered a torn Achilles and is done for the season. The Ravens will split carries between Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. On Sunday, Edwards received a lot of the snaps in early downs and Hill surprisingly was given most of the touches in the red zone. Hill, a fourth-round pick in 2019, scored two touchdowns in the season opener after totaling two rushing touchdowns in his first 43 career games. Hill is rostered in 0.3% of ESPN fantasy leagues and was started in less than 0.1% of them.

Stock up after the win: WR Zay Flowers. The rookie first-round pick was the top offensive weapon with 78 yards receiving and 9 yards rushing, nearly becoming the second player in Ravens history with 100 scrimmage yards in his first career game.

Stock down after the win: QB Lamar Jackson. Pressured throughout the game, Jackson looked like a quarterback who hadn’t played in 280 days, recording his first game with multiple turnovers (an interception and fumble) since Week 6 of 2022. — Jamison Hensley

Next game: at Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What can be made of the debuts of Houston’s first-round picks? Quarterback C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick, was inconsistent, going 28-of-44 for 242 yards with no touchdowns and a fumble lost. He completed only 5 of 10 attempts on throws longer than 9 yards. Defensive end Will Anderson Jr., the No. 3 overall pick, was disruptive as he finished with a sack and three quarterback hits.

Stock up after the loss: CB Steven Nelson. The corner was targeted five times, allowed only 38 yards in coverage and notched an interception.

Stock down after the loss: TE Dalton Schultz. Schultz was one of the more significant offseason acquisitions, but he underwhelmed with two catches for 4 yards on five targets in his debut. — DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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How much has this Saints offense improved? The Saints signed quarterback Derek Carr in free agency and restructured wide receiver Michael Thomas’s contract to keep him in New Orleans in an attempt to bolster the offense. There are bright spots, with Thomas off to a good start and Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed picking up where they left off last season. But there are certainly concerns, as the offensive line struggled to protect its new quarterback and kicker Blake Grupe provided most of the points. The Saints will need to figure out how to protect Carr to have success moving forward.

Stock up after the win: The Saints’ defense. This unit more than held its own, with the secondary combining for three interceptions, the run defense stifling running back Derrick Henry in the second half and everyone from starters to backups making contributions to keep the Saints in the game.

Stock down after the win: LT Trevor Penning. Penning missed a significant part of last season (his rookie year) and struggled Sunday, partially contributing to Carr’s four sacks. — Katherine Terrell

Next game: at Panthers (Monday, 7:15 p.m. ET)



Should the clock start ticking for Ryan Tannehill? Tannehill seemed uncomfortable for most of the game. He finished with three interceptions and completed only 13 of his 29 pass attempts. It was Tannehill’s eighth career regular-season game in which he was intercepted three or more times. Tannehill forced throws to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, resulting in two of the interceptions. He also overthrew tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo and running back Tyjae Spears when each of them were wide open for what would have been huge gains.

Stock up after the loss: LB Arden Key. Key was dominant in his Titans debut, finishing with two sacks and almost causing a turnover when he knocked the ball out of Carr’s hands.

Stock down after the loss: The offensive line. The line struggled to protect Tannehill, allowing three sacks on the day. Tannehill faced heavy pressure throughout the afternoon. — Turron Davenport

Next game: vs. Chargers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Will Lions QB Jared Goff break the NFL record for most consecutive passes without an interception? Goff was not intercepted Thursday and has now gone 359 consecutive passes without a pick. That’s the third-longest streak in NFL history behind Tom Brady (399) and Aaron Rodgers (402). Goff says he’s comfortable in the offense and has placed an emphasis on ball security, so there’s reason to believe he can do it.

Stock up after the win: DE Aidan Hutchinson. The second-year edge rusher had a career-high six QB pressures on Thursday night, tied for the most by a Lions player since the start of the 2020 season.

Stock down after the win: WR Marvin Jones Jr. The veteran dropped a pass and coughed up the first fumble of his 12-year career during the second quarter on a scoring opportunity on his 563rd career touch. — Eric Woodyard

Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



Did the Chiefs leave themselves short at wide receiver? Between having trouble getting open and numerous dropped passes, it looked that way against the Lions. Kadarius Toney was particularly struggling, which could be explained by the fact that he missed all of camp and the preseason with a torn meniscus in his left knee. If he and the other Chiefs receivers don’t improve dramatically, the answer to this question will be obvious.

Stock up after the loss: DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The Chiefs’ first-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) stood out — registering two tackles and two QB hits — as the Chiefs search for pass-rush help playing without Chris Jones and Charles Omenihu.

Stock down after the loss: Short-yardage offense. The Chiefs had nine plays in which they needed 2 yards for a fresh set of downs and converted on three of those. The Chiefs struggle with power football and often get too cute with their approach. — Adam Teicher

Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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