Week One Thursday Night Football Recap
Football is back! The NFL regular season kicked off in memorable fashion Thursday night, allowing fantasy football, Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), and other Vegas considerations to reclaim their rightful spots in our minds, sports bars, and living rooms.
The New England Patriots hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium for the 2017 NFL Kickoff game, with pregame festivities and the Super Bowl LI banner-raising preceding what was expected to be a relatively easy opening win for the home team. Even as Online Sportsbooks moved the line slightly towards the Chiefs, the Patriots were still 8.5-point favorites heading into kickoff, with the over-under for the game at 47.5. But a funny thing happened on the way to 19-0. In fact, several things that few of us expected:
- After a back-and-forth opening half of football, the Chiefs ran the Patriots out of the building in the second half, outscoring the Patriots 28-10 after halftime en route to a surprising, but convincing 42-27 victory in Foxborough.
- Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid, infamous for clock mismanagement, still had all three (!) of his timeouts until well after the two-minute warning at the end of the first half.
- Andy Reid…outcoached Bill Belichick? Reid’s game plan was inspired, particularly on offense, where several of his play calls appeared to catch Patriots’ defenders unprepared and out of position. After insisting that Andy Reid had the coaching edge over Bill Belichick on an NFL Network feature earlier in the week—and being lambasted for it—analyst Maurice Jones-Drew rightfully enjoyed a victory lap after the game last night.
- Alex Smith…outplayed Tom Brady? Yes, and badly. After an offseason spent looking over his shoulder and hearing the footsteps of rookie QB and 1st Round pick Patrick Mahomes, Alex Smith silenced his critics (for now) by completing 28 of 35 passes for 368 yards and 4 TDs, amassing a 148.6 QB rating. Meanwhile, Brady, who at times looked erratic and occasionally overthrew his receivers, completed 16 of his 36 passes for 267 yards without a TD for an uncharacteristic 70.0 QB rating.
- Reid appeared to have lost a noticeable amount of weight during the offseason. For the first time in his professional coaching career, he looked almost…svelte?
While the pregame speculation of fantasy players and prognosticators focused on how the New England backfield would shake out, Chiefs’ rookie RB Kareem Hunt stole the show while running roughshod over the Patriots’ defense. Though initially expected to start his NFL career in a timeshare with incumbent starter Spencer Ware, Hunt became the Chiefs’ de facto feature back and a hot fantasy commodity late in the preseason when Ware suffered a season-ending injury.
On Thursday night, Hunt rewarded his fantasy owners with 148 yards rushing, 98 yards receiving, and 3 touchdowns. While he was stuffing the stat sheet, Kareem Hunt also passed the eye test with flying colors, popping off an impressive 58-yard run and displaying Le’Veon Bell-like receiving ability on a 78-yard touchdown catch. Though the New England defense was depleted and on its heels for much of the second half, rest assured that Kareem Hunt is for real, and here to stay.
The New England backfield is a different story. After much debate, Mike Gillislee appeared to be exactly who everyone initially thought he would be when he signed with the Pats: the goal line back and short-yardage specialist – this year’s LeGarrette Blount. With 45 yards rushing on 15 carries, Gillislee didn’t wow anyone, but also did not disappoint his owners, punching in short touchdown runs of 2, 2, and 1 yard. Formal Bengal RB Rex Burkhead technically started the game for the Patriots, but disappointed with only 3 carries and 1 reception on 10 snaps, while Super Bowl LI hero James White totaled 10 rushes and 3 receptions on a team-high 43 RB snaps. As expected, the Patriots’ backfield situation likely remains fluid and bears monitoring moving forward. The timeshare could look completely different in games featuring “normal” Tom Brady performances and more positive game script for the Patriots.
Like his quarterback, WR Tyreek Hill providing a resounding response for anyone who doubted his ability to be the Chiefs’ #1 WR following the offseason departure of Jeremy Maclin. He recorded an efficient 7 catches on 8 targets, and his world-class speed was on full display on his 75-yard catch and run as he blew past Pats’ CB Stephon Gilmore late in the game.
In a somewhat surprising twist, WR Danny Amendola appeared to be the biggest beneficiary in the Patriots’ receiving corps of Julian Edelman’s absence. Unfortunately, Amendola left the game in the second half with concussion symptoms after recording 6 catches for 100 yards. New Patriot Brandin Cooks looked like a WR1, flashing his dynamic speed on 3 catches for 88 yards, and tying Amendola for the team-lead in targets (7).
Travis Kelce was mostly limited to designed shovel passes that were basically short runs, and Rob Gronkowski was very much held in check by the dynamic Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry, who, incidentally, was lost for the season due to a torn Achilles suffered late in the game. Though both tight ends had uncharacteristically quiet nights, they remain the cream of the fantasy crop at their position for the rest of the season.
The best part about the season’s first football Friday is that the 2017 NFL season is just getting started. Enjoy the opening weekend!