By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
We’re through the first quarter of the 2016 NFL season and as always, surprises and disappointments abound throughout the league. Fans have been treated to stifling defenses, exceptional offensive rookies, and a surprisingly strong Philadelphia Eagles squad.
Things should only get better as the season progresses, but there are a couple things I’m buying, and a couple things I’m not, from the first four weeks.
Carson Wentz – The Eagles are off to a hot start, and a big part of that is the play of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He isn’t lighting up the scoreboards, but he’s playing efficiently and looks like a veteran with poise in the pocket.
Wentz has thrown only one interception through his first four starts, and the coaching staff trusts him with more of the offense each week. Wentz seems anxious to get better and already inspires his teammates, leading Philadelphia to a surprising 3-1 record over the first quarter of the season.
Terrelle Pryor – While the Cleveland Browns have been struggling once again, Pryor—a converted quarterback now playing wide receiver—is having a breakout season. With injuries and suspensions to other Browns receivers, Pryor leads the team in targets, averaging 10 per game.
Pryor was a jack of all trades against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, catching eight balls for 144 yards, running the ball four times for 21 yards and a touchdown, and even completing three passes for 35 yards. Whether he becomes an elite receiver or not, you can be sure that Pryor will continue to be a big part of the Browns offense and extremely exciting to watch this season.
Matt Ryan – I know Ryan is on pace for a record-breaking passing yardage season and has the Atlanta Falcons leading the NFC South division. However, don’t forget that we did this with the Falcons last year, and he’s done most of his damage against divisional opponents and terrible pass defenses.
Last season, Ryan had the Falcons off to a 6-1 record before stumbling down the stretch, throwing 10 interceptions and leading the team to a 2-7 finish. The Falcons may be better than last season’s iteration, but I’m not ready to anoint Ryan just yet.
Carolina’s demise – After the Panthers gave up more than 500 yards to Matt Ryan in Week 4, people gave up on what was an elite defense a season ago. The team is starting a pair of rookie cornerbacks and is failing to get a consistent push up front, but aside from the Atlanta game, they’ve been well above average.
They played well enough the first three games this year, and will continue to get better as their young defenders improve. They still boast one of the best front sevens in football and Cam Newton remains an electrifying talent at the quarterback position. This team is going to be OK.
Additionally, from the fantasy department, I’m buying the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia defenses as every-week starters, and I’m not freaking out over the lack of elite production from receivers DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans and Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants. Fantasy owners should target them both as buy-low options in all league formats.
Some early season trends will continue, others will die out, and still more will emerge as each week passes. It’s important to remember to separate bad games from bad signs for the future however, and it’s always exciting to identify those trends with staying power.
The NFL season always feels so short, so as you’re dissecting matchups and analyzing weekly statistics, don’t forget to give yourself a chance to kick back, relax, and relish in every dramatic Sunday.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.