Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season wasn't always pretty, but you can't knock the entertainment value. Seven of the 13 games in the two afternoon windows were one-score games, and an eighth was a tie. Five were decided by scores in the final two minutes. Multiple teams missed what would have been game-winning field goals, while another was stymied by a blocked extra point. The Chiefs and Ravens were back to their old selves, but the story of the week was upheaval.
Seven playoff teams from last season lost Sunday afternoon, with four losses coming against teams that missed the postseason a year ago. Both No. 1 seeds from 2021 were defeated. After the Rams lost in the season opener Thursday, their opponents in the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers, were dispatched amid 2 inches of standing rain by the lowly Bears. The AFC champion Bengals lost in a far more agonizing manner.
Let's get into a handful of those teams to get a sense of whether fans should be meaningfully worried by what they saw over the weekend. There's not much to say about the Cardinals getting manhandled by the Chiefs, who looked at first glance to be even better than the team we saw a year ago. I want to hit the five teams that made it to the playoffs in 2021 and then lost to a non-playoff team Sunday.
I'm also going to add two teams that made the playoffs last season, and I'll hit them first. The Steelers ended up topping the Bengals in overtime, but I wonder whether both fan bases might feel worse about their teams heading into Week 2. Let's start with Cincinnati, which seemed to overcome its own mistakes by the end of the game, only for the unbelievable to occur:
During the 2021 playoffs, we talked about several reasons the Bengals had gone from being 7-6 and in the middle of a crowded playoff picture to somehow coming out of the AFC as conference champs. The AFC North's quarterbacks were all injured to one extent or another. Their pass rate spiked. Joe Burrow was more confident about the left knee he injured in 2020. The defense coalesced. Nobody believed they had a chance against the Titans and Chiefs. All of those factors meant something.
The biggest difference between the Bengals who lost to the Bears and Jets and the ones who beat the Chiefs and Titans, though, was plain as day. Through the first 13 games of their season, they turned the ball over 21 times. When they turned the ball over two or more times during that 13-game stretch to start the season, they went 0-5.
Over their final seven games of the season -- leaving aside a meaningless Week 18 game their starters took off -- Burrow & Co. went 6-1. They turned the ball over just two times, with one giveaway in their win over the Titans and their subsequent victory over the Chiefs.
We knew the Bengals weren't going to turn the ball over once per month for any extended period of time, but the regression past the mean didn't have to come so suddenly and be so dramatic. Burrow and Cincinnati turned the ball over on four of their first five drives in Week 1, with the quarterback losing a fumble on a strip sack and tossing three interceptions. He added a fourth pick later in the game. Burrow was strip-sacked yet again in overtime, but teammate Samaje Perine fell on the fumble.
The Bengals probably win this game without those giveaways. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick took the first interception to the house for a pick-six, giving a limp Steelers offense seven crucial points. The Bengals might have been in position to attempt a long field goal if Burrow had merely avoided the strip sack in overtime, with Cincinnati instead being forced to punt. Even with the giveaways, the team was in position to win on an extra point at the end of regulation or a 29-yard field goal in overtime, neither of which produced points.
Should the Bengals be concerned about the turnovers? Not really. We know from history a five-giveaway game is historically unlikely. Watching those plays back, the Steelers deserve credit for making some spectacular catches. T.J. Watt somehow managed to catch a full-speed Burrow pass 0.2 seconds after it got into the air, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Cameron Sutton, who had a great game, made an excellent catch undercutting a Burrow pass up the seam. Ahkello Witherspoon tipped a pass to himself for his pick. Those throws are more likely to hit the ground harmlessly in weeks to come than they are to turn into interceptions again.