Pretenders, contenders from 2018 Week 1 NFL surprises

Updated September 15, 2018 - 8:14 pm

It’s always fascinating to see which teams are getting the most love after Week 1 of the NFL season.

There were a handful of surprise winners, and that led to plenty of overreactions.

Here are the pretenders and contenders:

Pretenders

Cleveland Browns

There’s a lot to be happy about in Cleveland. The Browns delivered arguably the best season of “Hard Knocks” this summer and opened the season by not losing.

After a winless 2017 season, the Browns should be thrilled about tying with their AFC North rivals. But it’s become an annual routine for the Pittsburgh Steelers to flop on the road in September.

The Browns still have a lot of work to do on offense and will release troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon on Monday, the day after they play at New Orleans. Gordon won’t play against the Saints.

But the Browns are on the rise defensively with 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett leading the charge.

The Browns are a year from being a playoff team.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who predicted four touchdown passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Saints last week? Anyone?

Don’t expect the “Fitzmagic” to continue. Occasionally, Fitzpatrick has performances similar to what he did in Week 1. That’s why he’s one of the NFL’s top backups.

The Buccaneers will come back to earth after a grueling five-week schedule to open the season. Tampa Bay plays the Eagles, Steelers, Bears and Falcons in the next four weeks.

New York Jets

All Jets fans mumbled “Here we go again” after Sam Darnold gave up a pick-six on his first career pass attempt.

But the rookie quarterback never lost his confidence and had a solid debut in the Jets’ 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions.

It won’t be that easy every week for Darnold. He’ll endure growing pains.

The Jets have an impressive secondary but are lacking pass rushers. They won’t sniff the AFC East title but could finish 8-8.

Contenders

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are probably a stretch for Week 1 surprises, but how many pundits expected them to dominate the Chargers on the road?

Los Angeles was the preseason favorite to win the AFC West. It’s still the Chiefs’ division to lose after extending their winning streak to nine against the Chargers.

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense will be tough to slow.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins had no trouble in their win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Adrian Peterson got all the attention, but he’s not the only productive running back the Redskins have behind a physical offensive line. Chris Thompson is back to form and will receive plenty of touches as a pass-catching running back.

Quarterback Alex Smith could have a Pro Bowl-type season throwing to healthy tight end Jordan Reed.

With an improved defensive line, the Josh Norman-led secondary could have a standout season. Expect the Redskins to be in the mix for the NFC East crown.

Denver Broncos

Many had their doubts about Case Keenum taking over under center for the Broncos. But he already has developed a strong chemistry with wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Broncos had no problem moving the ball in a win over the Seattle Seahawks.

More important, the Broncos’ pass rush is ferocious again after adding rookie Bradley Chubb to pair with star edge rusher Von Miller.

They’ll push the Chiefs for the division title.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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