The Week 1 statistical leaders are a curious mix of usual suspects and in each statistical category to see if they can hold onto the top spot. Was their performance in Week 1 the real deal, or just the product of good fortune and favorable circumstances?
Hint: the LA Rams are the second one.
Leading Passer: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
If Alex Smith plays the whole season like he played against the Patriots, he won’t just be the leading passer, he’ll be the MVP. Posting a gaudy 368 yards and four touchdowns in a rout of the Pats, Smith looked like the quarterback he’s long had the potential to be. Alex Smith doesn’t throw the deep ball, we thought, until he threw a 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill, and then a 78-yard touchdown to Kareem Hunt.
Whether he can keep it up is another question entirely. Smith has had some tremendously productive games in a KC uniform, but there is zero precedent for Smith/Andy Reid-led teams having prolific passing attacks over the long haul. The Chiefs will get back to their bread-and-butter — i.e. a balanced, efficient offense — when they’re not facing teams like the Patriots, who force you to keep up.
Plus, there is a ton of competition at the top of the QB ladder: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are going to put up some serious numbers over the next 16 weeks, as are ageing veterans Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That doesn’t even account for the possibility that Sam Bradford, Jared Goff, or Carson Wentz follow up their own impressive Week 1 showings with more of the same.
Odds Alex Smith leads the NFL in passing in 2017: 8/1
Leading Receiver: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sure. Antonio Brown is a special receiver; he’s been top-five in receiving yards each of the last four seasons, leading the league in 2014 with over 1,800 yards. He will see competition from Julio Jones, without doubt, and potentially the freakishly fast Tyreek Hill, if Alex Smith keeps pushing the ball downfield. But a lot of the other contenders are poised to fall off the map: AJ Green is part of a Bengal offense that’s on life-support; TY Hilton (the 2016 champ) has Jacoby Brissett and his one career start throwing him the ball (or worse, Scott Tolzien); and Odell Beckham Jr. may miss more time than just Week 1.
Another pick here might be DeAndre Hopkins, because he’s both talented and an obvious favorite of Deshaun Watson. If the Texans continue to start Watson, expect Hopkins to put up some ungodly numbers — at least in terms of targets — as Watson is a little too green to make more than one read and always keys up on his #1.
Odds Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receiving in 2017: 3/1
Leading Running Back: Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs used Kareem Hunt in the same way the New England Patriots were expected to use James White: as a multi-threat running back, catching passes, running option concepts, exploiting specific matchups to make bigger defenders miss tackles and get bad angles. While he’ll remain the Chiefs lead back, he matched up beautifully with this Patriots defense and won’t have as easy a time against better defensive fronts.
Also: Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension doesn’t seem to be holding, plus Le’Veon Bell is still in the league, and so is LeSean McCoy. If we want to have a conversation about top rookie running backs, we can do that, but I’m going to wear my illegally signed Leonard Fournette jersey to that meeting.
Odds Kareem Hunt leads the NFL in rushing in 2017: 5/1
Scoring Offense: LA Rams
Don’t get me wrong, Jared Goff made some pretty throws and is looking great with an actual offensive line in front of him, but the LA Rams are not going to be the top scoring offense in the league. The Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots — hell, even the Kansas City Chiefs — will see to that.
As much as the AFC South is trying to make it a reality, you still can’t play the Colts 16 times a year. It could be the case that the best team in the league is whoever’s playing the Colts that week.
Odds the Rams lead the NFL in scoring in 2017: 29/1
Scoring Defense: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens pitched a shutout against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, and look to be set up well for 2017. The Ravens upgraded their secondary in the offseason, drafting Marlon Humphrey in the third round and signing Tony Jefferson to a four-year contract. There are a handful of uber-strong defenses in this league, but the only top offenses the Ravens have on their schedule are the Raiders, the Steelers (twice), and the Packers, and their defense-friendly AFC North schedule features another game against Cincinnati and two against the Browns.
The team I expect to unseat the Ravens is the Denver Broncos, who have led the league in total defense two years in a row. Their secondary is maybe the best in the league, Von Miller is still (somehow) an underappreciated nightmare at linebacker (seriously, how has he never won Defensive Player of the Year?), and the defensive line is as experienced as you could want. Where the Broncos lead in talent, they lose in schedule: games against the Raiders (twice), Chiefs (twice), and Cowboys are not a recipe for top-level points-against numbers.
Odds the Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense in 2017: 4/1