Written by Rhys
The 2021 NFL Draft is the official start of the new season, and fans across the world were eagerly waiting with renewed hope and expectation to see whether their teams could refresh their rosters and change their fortunes.
This is especially true in the AFC West, where prior to the draft there was significant trade activity. Most notably, Aaron Rodgers will feature for the LA Chargers this season after a first round pick was offered to Green Bay for the future-HOF passer. This signal of intent from Coach/GM JB could totally change the AFC West landscape.
The debate over whether this move will be enough for the Chargers to reclaim the division has already begun. There were a number of surprise results in the first three weeks of the new NFL season, and in this guide we look to unpack the learnings from these early knockings in what could turn out to be a long, tense campaign for these teams.
Chargers @ Broncos – Final Score 24-0
A key divisional game to start life as a Charger may not have been the introduction Aaron Rodgers had hoped for, but it was a challenge he took in his stride. He would finish the day 11-15 and throwing for two touchdowns, in complete contrast to Matt Ryan who completed only 10 passes from 23 attempts and gave up three interceptions.
The final statistics for the game will show that Ryan threw for nearly identical yardage to Rodgers in this match-up, but the Broncos were punished for surrendering good field position and with it the initiative. A dominant display by Joey Bosa, who would finish the day with 4 sacks, goes some way to explaining why things went so badly offensively for Denver, but the team will want to quickly move on from being shut out at home.
Chiefs @ Cowboys – Final Score 10–28
Ezekiel Elliot had a career day as the Cowboys ran out comfortable winners over the Chiefs in Arlington. The 26-year old superstar back averaged 12.1 yards per carry against a defense which simply had no answers on the ground. Even his alternate, Tony Pollard, would gain 74 rushing yards off only 4 carries. Based on this showing, the decision to trade away Chris Jones in the off-season will surely come back to haunt the Chiefs against the better offensive lines in the league as the young duo of Derek Nnadi and Christian Wilkins were bullied all game long.
Kansas City’s day was made worse by an erratic display from Lee McFadden, who would go on to throw an astonishing 6 interceptions over the course of the tie, albeit in circumstances where he was consistently chasing the game. If there were any positives for the Chiefs to take from this game it was that the secondary, in this early showing at least, appeared much improved, giving rookie Dallas QB Landon Hall a torrid time as he could manage only 40 yards through the air for the whole game, whilst being picked off twice.
Titans @ Raiders – Final Score 28–17
The Raiders team had something of a mini-revival throughout the second half of last season. Some good free agency acquisitions and an impressive draft led some to believe that it was in fact Oakland, and not Los Angeles, that was in the driving seat for the AFC West this season. One of those new acquisitions, Lamar Miller, carried on straight from where he left off in the Superbowl by racking up over 200 yards on the ground against the Titans in Week 1.
Unfortunately for Oakland, the defense could not prevent Tennessee’s Derrick Henry from inflicting similar damage upon them, and so the game lay in the hands of two inexperienced quarterbacks. Neither can be said to have had a stellar day, but Marcus Colvin was moving the chains for the Titans more effectively than rookie Myles Rafferty and that was just enough to see the Titans through in this close game.
Chiefs @ Jets: Final Score – 35-30
Kansas City rebounded from their defeat against Dallas to drop 35 points on Sam Darnold’s New York Jets. The scoreline was not the only pain inflicted on Darnold by the Chiefs, as he was sacked 5 times throughout the game. In truth, both teams had ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ moments in this contest. At the half, the Jets led 17-14 before succumbing to a 3rd quarter comeback by the Chiefs. A late comeback-from-the-comeback attempt from the Jets showcased the talents of rookie WR Damarious Sampson, but would fall just short, however.
The Chiefs would again give up significant rushing yardage in this game. However, as a unit the defense was much more consistent, and this yardage was primarily gained from one or two significant breakaway runs, rather than a consistent inability to contain. Dion Lewis introduced himself to Chiefs fans in response and, whilst Lee McFadden would take his tally for interceptions for the season to 8 during this game, the second-year did just enough to get Kansas City over the line.
Colts @ Chargers: Final Score – 21-17
Following up their dominant performance against the Broncos against a very good Colts side was always going to be a difficult task, but it was one that Chargers nearly achieved. T.Y. Hilton showed why he is one of the league’s best receivers by turning his 6 receptions into 125 yards as the Colts did just enough to keep this game away from Los Angeles, but the Chargers coach was left wondering what might have been if more success could have been achieved in the rushing game to support Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers found 7 different receivers throughout this game, and the signs are that he is already developing good chemistry with some of the more important targets on the Chargers roster such as Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry. Despite not being on the right side of the result here, performances like this against good teams may be hard for other AFC West teams to match over the course of this season.
Raiders @ Broncos: Final Score – 21-24
There are conflicting opinions over whether it is helpful or not to play in front of your home crowd so soon after a blow-out defeat, but after this game it is clear to see how the Broncos felt about it. Devin Funchess in particular would punish the Oakland secondary repeatedly throughout this contest, catching 7 passes from Matt Ryan including two for touchdowns. The Broncos quarterback was again somewhat erratic, throwing for 2 picks in addition to 3 TD passes, but this aggressive strategy would pay off ultimately.
For the Raiders, this game was something of a polar opposite to their Week 1 performance, although the end result would prove to be the same. Myles Rafferty was much improved, averaging 12 yards per completion from only 7 the week before, but Lamar Miller was restricted by the Denver defense from making a significant impact on the game, by and large. It is still very early in the career for the new Oakland quarterback, but at this stage of development it could well be that any team that can stop the Raiders rushing can stop the Raiders winning.
Broncos @ Chargers: Final Score – 6 – 37
If there is one thing that fans of Denver Broncos can be pleased about following this match up, it’s that they won’t have to watch their team play against the Chargers again this season. Once LA has established a lead in this match-up they never looked like letting it go, and forced the Broncos offense to become more one-dimensional as a result.
This result puts the Chargers clear at the top of the AFC West, with the Raiders to play in Week 4. A positive result there could put them two games clear of their divisional rivals early on, and if they continue to play as they have done, this could be difficult for the others to claw back. For Denver, they next face the winless Jacksonville Jaguars. A positive result there could be a springboard for their season, but they will have to achieve an impeccable record in their remaining divisional games.
Raiders @ Patriots: Final Score – 20-10
Life after Tom Brady has not been smooth so far for the New England Patriots, and a dominant Raiders performance meant that they left Foxboro with the win in Week 3. The Patriots defense never really got to grips with Lamar Miller in this game, as he scored both of Oakland’s touchdowns, whilst at the same time they struggled to get anything going with Sony Michel to take the pressure off their rookie passer, Jesse McCloud.
A textbook example of how to control a game by the Raiders will do much to build the anticipation for their next game against the Chargers. This upcoming fixture could already be a decisive clash even at this early stage of the season. Much will come down to whether Los Angeles run defense performs better or worse than the pass defense of Oakland, and either way it is a contest that you won’t want to miss.
Texans @ Chiefs: Final Score – 13-9
After two consecutive road games, the Chiefs fans finally got to welcome their team to Arrowhead Stadium this season. A solid performance in last season’s playoffs has done much for the popularity of Jenkins’ regime in these parts, but a shaky start to the season meant there was some trepidation in the air ahead of this match, not least because the visiting team were the reigning Superbowl champions. In truth, the Chiefs missed a big opportunity here. Despite a rare off day for kicker Harrison Butker, and some crushing drops in the second half, the Chiefs still had an opportunity to win this game deep into the final quarter and couldn’t get it done.
Mitch Thurman and Gerard McDougle both failed to gather in redzone passes with seconds left in this game, but in truth the Chiefs should probably have been out of sight long before then. As with the Jets the previous week, who nearly came back from three scores behind, there is increasing evidence that this roster has yet to develop a killer instinct in games. Up next for Kansas City are Cincinnati, with whom they shared a great playoff game last season. This early season schedule is tough for the Chiefs, but they have to be careful not to slip too far behind the impressive Chargers and Raiders teams before their run of divisional games in the second half of the season.