When the National Football League season kicked off three weeks ago there was one rookie quarterback starting for his team. Sam Darnold was given the job out of camp by the New York Jets, and he broke into his professional career with a road win over the Detroit Lions. His quick start has been leveled the past two weeks with losses to the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns.
In Cleveland, he met the only team to select a quarterback in front of him in the 2018 draft. With the fist pick in last spring’s allocation of college talent the Browns made Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield their pick. Last Thursday, the top two rookie quarterbacks went head-to-head after Cleveland starter Tyrod Taylor went down with an injury.
In an emotional contest, Mayfield led the Browns to a come-from-behind victory that matched the Browns win total for the past two seasons combined. While both Mayfield and Darnold promise to have solid NFL careers, the first head-to-head confrontation between the prize quarterbacks went to Mayfield, and his presence on the field sparked a dramatic Browns win and reaction from Cleveland fans akin to their team winning the Super Bowl.
Mayfield has been named the Browns starter along with two other rookie quarterbacks that have taken over the reigns of their teams since opening day. In Buffalo, it took the Bills only a half to remember how bad Nathan Peterman is, and they made the quick switch to rookie Josh Allen. The Bills first pick in this year’s draft lost his first start against the Los Angeles Chargers, but guided the biggest upset in recent memory last week with the Bills victory in Minnesota over the Vikings.
In Arizona, Sam Bradford was named the starter out of camp, but lost his job while surrendering a 14 point lead with three second half turnovers. Once the Chicago Bears had overcome the two touchdown deficit with 16 unanswered points, first-year head coach Steve Wilks called on rookie Josh Rosen to save the day.
While Rosen didn’t drive the Cardinals to any points during his work in the fourth quarter, he was named the new starter for Arizona.
All four rookie quarterbacks starting this week are playing on bad football teams. Rookie quarterbacks coupled with second tier teams is most often a formula that is measured more by progress than win/loss records. In his rookie season, Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman was one win and 15 losses with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Each year after that Aikman improved and by 1992 led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title.
The Browns, Jets, Cardinals and Bills will all be looking to get on that set of tracks for success, but expecting big things from any of these teams this season would be stretching expectations beyond normal constraints.
The Vikings came into this season as one of the favorites to win it all, but after three weeks they have only one win and last Sunday took it on the chin by a Bills team that was winless coming into the game and had been beaten by the Baltimore Ravens 47-3 in their only other road game. The Bills win over the Vikings came while the home team was favored by 16½ points, an embarrassing number given Minnesota didn’t even score the spread while being overwhelmed, 27-6.
This week, on Thursday Night Football, the Vikings competition goes from perhaps the worst team in the league to the best, when they meet the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum. The Rams have slammed their first three opponents and no doubt will erase the overconfidence that took down the Vikings last week.
The first order of business in any season is to determine who truly are the best and worst teams in the league. Despite last week’s result, the Vikings are among the five best and the Bills the five worst. The 3-0 Kansas CIty Chiefs have played like one of the best teams even though they have a suspect defense, but another 3-0 team is given no chance yet of being among the NFL elite teams, the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins have downed the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders to open their 2018 season, now they meet the New England Patriots to get their first true test for admittance to the elite club.
They come into this game two up on the Patriots in the AFC East standings, New England lost a pair of road games after opening at home with a win over the Houston Texans. Is this the year the Patriots give up their annual perch atop their division race, or is this early season blip in the standings only a temporary set back for Tom Brady and Company?
We will know a lot more about both of these team after this week’s game in Foxboro.