Despite the fireworks of otherworldly quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes (oh, man — that pass) and a dinged-up Justin Herbert (oh, man — his pass!), Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs tilt was decided in large part by the Kansas City defense. Early in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepted a misguided Herbert goal-line toss and returned it 99 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and the Chiefs held on for a 27-24 win.
Are the Chiefs the team to beat again in the AFC? Will Herbert, who suffered an apparent rib injury on a hard but legal fourth-quarter hit, be healthy enough to play in Week 3 and beyond? We’ll find out in the coming days.
Justin Herbert’s ‘superhuman’ performance can’t mask Chargers mistakes in loss to Chiefs
But there’s much more to Week 2 still to come. What are the main storylines worth following? Who needs a win the most? The Athletic‘s Greg Auman, Nick Baumgardner and Mike Sando dish on what they’ll be watching Sunday and Monday.
What storyline are you most excited to see unfold this weekend?
Auman: Chargers-Chiefs lined up as the best and probably most important game of the week, but of the weekend matchups, I’m curious to see which team can emerge as the surprise 2-0 opener. Seattle and Chicago are both road underdogs by more than a touchdown, and there’s only so much to say about Washington beating the Jaguars and Lions. But if the Giants can take care of the Panthers at home in the Gettleman Bowl, they’ll have some buzz building, especially facing a Dak-less Cowboys team in Week 3 and the Bears in Week 4.
Baumgardner: Vikings-Eagles on Monday night feels like a possible early season heavy hitter. The Eagles’ roster is stacked right now, and Jalen Hurts was under control and able to do a lot of damage with his feet last week against a fired up Detroit club. The Vikings’ offensive debut under Kevin O’Connell was outstanding and seems like a perfect fit for most of the roster that’s already there. These two teams surely have a lot of positive momentum building early in their rooms, as both left Week 1 with a lot of confidence. Colts-Jaguars is also a sneaky one. The Colts moved the ball last week, but Matt Ryan is new and still ironing out his timing. If Indianapolis starts 0-1-1 here after all this? Ugh.
Sando: Denver and Indianapolis acquired veteran quarterbacks to get them over the top, only to have their teams go winless in Week 1 despite facing what were perceived to be rebuilding opponents in Seattle and Houston, respectively. I want to see what results Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan deliver in Week 2 as both again face underwhelming opponents. Indy must face down his demons in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars ended the Colts’ 2021 season. Imagine Jim Irsay’s reaction if Indy loses this game! Wilson is home against the Texans. The Broncos are going to roll to an easy victory, right? Imagine if they stumble.
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Teams with new head coaches went 6-3-1 in Week 1. Which of the six victorious coaches do you see moving to 2-0 this weekend?
Auman: Todd Bowles and Dennis Allen face each other, and aside from that there might not be another winner. Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins are at Baltimore, Matt Eberflus’ Bears are at Green Bay and Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings are at Philadelphia, so that feels like three losses. Brian Daboll is at home against Carolina – both teams overcame big holes in Week 1, but I think Saquon Barkley’s strong showing is good reason for optimism there. I think Tampa Bay will win at New Orleans (even though they’ve lost seven in a row in the regular season to the Saints), but I’m more confident that the Giants can get to 2-0 against a lesser Panthers team.
Baumgardner: Todd Bowles and the Bucs over Dennis Allen’s Saints feels like a good choice. I like how O’Connell started, but winning in Philly against a good team is going to be tough. The other one that’s not as crazy as you think, of course, is the Giants and Daboll beating the Panthers, who have all sorts of offensive issues. Give me Bowles and Daboll to move to 2-0.
Sando: I’ll take Bowles’ Buccaneers over New Orleans. I give O’Connell’s Vikings and Daboll’s Giants very good shots to win this week too. Beyond those, I’m so intrigued by McDaniel’s Dolphins facing Baltimore because Miami has the same defensive coordinator, Josh Boyer, whose scheming helped contain Lamar Jackson last season. Among the other new coaches, though, I’ll take Josh McDaniels’ Raiders over Arizona and Nathaniel Hackett’s Broncos over Houston. I’m also intrigued by Pederson’s Jaguars facing the Colts, who simply must win this game but are vulnerable and could wilt in the heat.
Which team that lost in Week 1 most needs a win in Week 2?
Auman: I think it’s New England. To lose at Miami and muster only seven points only adds to concerns about that offense, and they’re at Pittsburgh, which was plenty wobbly in eking past the Bengals. The Patriots are a road favorite, but the Steelers forced a ton of turnovers from Joe Burrow, and a weak showing would give the Pats the wrong kind of national attention. I’m confident the Packers, 49ers, Bengals and Broncos can bounce back from their opening losses, too.
Baumgardner: The Colts don’t count because they tied. But they might be the answer. In terms of the teams that lost, the Raiders left a ton of points on the field last week and lost a game against the Chargers they absolutely could have had. Derek Carr’s play was not great. He needs a bounceback this week against the Cardinals (who could also be the answer to this question), and the Raiders need to iron out some wrinkles.
Sando: The Broncos, because if they cannot beat Seattle and Houston to open the Russell Wilson era, then who are they beating in the AFC West?
The Athletic’s NFL experts make their predictions for Week 2
Which Week 1 winner is most likely to lose this weekend?
Auman: It must be Chicago or Seattle, and it’s hard to argue against the Bears, who have lost six in a row overall against the Packers and last won at Lambeau in 2015. Aaron Rodgers, 22-5 all time against Chicago, has 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last four games against the Bears, so I think Green Bay bounces back nicely and brings Bears fans back to reality.
Baumgardner: Unless the Bears are bringing the rain and that mess of a field with them, I don’t see a Chicago win happening in Green Bay.
Sando: Yep, Chicago traveling to Green Bay for a dose of Aaron Rodgers is problematic.
If you had to pick an upset this week, which team do you see pulling it off?
Auman: I was surprised to see the Eagles allow the Lions back into the game Sunday after building a 17-point lead in the second half. The Vikings are a two-point underdog on the road, but Justin Jefferson is much more of a threat than anything the Lions had, so this will be a real test for Philadelphia’s defense, which has high expectations under coordinator Jonathan Gannon. The Eagles don’t want to lean on Jalen Hurts’ scrambling as much as they did, but I see a lot of scoring here and Minnesota pulling out an impressive road win to improve to 2-0.
Baumgardner: The Steelers are two-point home underdogs against the Patriots as I type this. New England’s offense was root canal bad last week against Miami, and the answers (more creativity, better pass protection) probably aren’t coming in Week 2. Although Bill Belichick has made fools of us all before.
Sando: The Vikings are barely an underdog at Philly, so that’s an easy one. Looking at the fatter point spreads, I think Seattle being a 10-point underdog at San Francisco jumps out, simply because the 49ers are averaging 14.3 points per game in Trey Lance’s three starts, and it won’t be a shock if Lance has a bad enough game to lose against anyone, in my view.
(Top illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos of Aaron Rodgers and Bill Belichick: Getty Images; photo of Justin Jefferson: USA Today)