There were a lot of strange happenings in Week 1, from the one-sided games to the defenses dominating to CBS analyst Tony Romo being almost too good at his new job. But there was nothing stranger than seeing the trio of middle-class quarterbacks above out-shine future Hall of Fame quarterbacks under the bright lights.
Bradford and Siemian's performances shouldn't be a shock to anyone who watched them closely last year. Bradford made huge strides in 2016 with his downfield passing and displayed incredible toughness throughout the season. Siemian makes an incredible amount of "wow" plays for someone routinely put in a box for a lack of talent. (Although juking Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa in the open field might have been flying too close to the sun.)
The difference on Monday night was the support around Bradford and Siemian. Bradford showed he can still spin it like it's his pro day if he's afforded pass protection. Asked to carry the team as a first-time starter last season, Siemian was buoyed by a strong Broncos running game and defense.
It's too early to say these gains will stick all season; I've seen Alex Smith play clean games with a few deep shots mixed in before. But Bradford and Siemian are coming off campaigns which proved they have staying power -- and it only takes one big season to alter expectations forever. After all, at this time a year ago, Blake Bortles was seen as a potential future star and Matt Ryan was just another guy stuck in the middle.
This is the Quarterback Index. I grade every QB start throughout the season and will rank them after Week 3 based on 2017 play alone. Since there is only one game to evaluate thus far, this week's top 15 is based on answering one simple question: Who would I want as my quarterback for the 2017 campaign?
Brady relies so much on his receivers understanding the Patriots' offense like he does. That's going to be a major challenge with his current group. The team was quite limited in its ability to change tempo and spread Kansas City out in Week 1 when the game situation called for it. The Chiefs forced Brady to beat them deep. And ultimately, New England's receivers didn't prove they could win enough one-on-one matchups on the outside. (Malcolm Mitchell's absence hurts here.) Kansas City's strategy was not so different than the one that worked in the first three quarters of the Super Bowl for Atlanta.
Watching Carr and Marcus Mariota face off in the opener, it was easy to forget the two men both suffered devastating injuries just hours apart last Christmas Eve. Carr played such a veteran game, knowing when to use his new toys, like tight end Jared Cook, and when a low-percentage outside throw to Amari Cooper isn't really that low-percentage. (Cooper looks more explosive this season, which spells trouble for defenses. Gotta cut down the drops, though.) Carr is a year ahead of Mariota in his development, but the maturation of Oakland's offense stands out more. The Raiders brought back all their key pieces and upgraded at positions of need.
The offseason overhauls to the offensive lines in Carolina and Detroit are off to fast starts. Newton had a few highly concerning throws before settling down in the second half of his first game back from shoulder surgery, but all the Panthers' offseason plans played out in Week 1. Cam wasn't hit much and got the ball out of his hand faster. Stafford also received solid protection and took advantage of a deeper skill-position group. The arrival of rookie Kenny Golladay, whose feet are quick enough to gain separation off the line of scrimmage despite his big size, could transform this offense. It upgrades two spots, with Golladay on the perimeter and Golden Tate back to bugging opposing defenses from his natural slot position.
It is exceedingly early to worry about this sort of thing, but Bradford and Smith could both be playing for a new contract this season. Bradford likely controls his future. If he plays at a high level all season in Minnesota, the free agent-to-be will be able to name his price, regardless of how Teddy Bridgewater's recovery from injury comes along. A strong season from Smith could help the Chiefs on two fronts: allowing talented-but-raw rookie Patrick Mahomes to ease into his NFL career while making Smith more attractive in a potential trade next offseason. The final year of Smith's contract in 2018 carries a $17 million price tag, which should be an enticing figure for a team looking to get over the quarterback hump with an experienced, quality starter.
I was once told that being a professional means doing your job well on the days you don't feel like it, on the days when forces beyond your control conspire to erode your joy. Palmer looked miserable on the field last week. He lost the Cardinals' best player, running back David Johnson, possibly for the season. Palmer threw a few passes to no one in particular and watched a few of his out routes uncharacteristically lose steam on the way to the sideline. Out of the 63 offensive tackles Pro Football Focus ranked last week, Arizona's starters finished No. 57 and No. 62. Palmer was pressured 24 times in 57 pass plays. After deciding to play another season at age 37, Palmer could be tested like never before this year.
Goff's season is like a potential no-hitter-in-the-making I don't want to talk about yet for fear of jinxing it. His decisiveness stood out during the Rams' blowout of the Colts, in large part because he was given defined throws and incredible pass protection. Like the last quarterback taken No. 1 overall by the Rams, Goff showed he can throw it accurately from a clean pocket. The second-year signal caller provided answers after a rookie season in which he didn't appear to know the questions.
Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.