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NFL pressure meter: 8 players under a microscope in Week 1

Vincent Frank

NFL Week 1 is finally here. It starts Thursday with the defending champion Los Angeles Rams hosting the Buffalo Bills in Southern California. There’s a certain player in Los Angeles under some pressure heading into this opener.

Looking at the full NFL Week 1 schedule, multiple quarterbacks will be placed under a microscope. That includes a former first-round pick making his Pittsburgh Steelers debut and a young gun heading into the Windy City.

As we will do all season, here’s our NFL pressure meter for Week 1 with a focus on eight players who must step up for their teams to have success.

Related: NFL Week 1 power rankings

Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

nfl pressure meter week 1: mitch trubisky, pittsburgh steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Trubisky has not even started a regular-season game for the Steelers, and he’s already favored to be the first quarterback benched. As if replacing franchise legend Ben Roethlisberger didn’t bring enough pressure. But with rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett breathing down his neck, a lackluster performance against the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals to open the season could make for a quick hook.

Trubisky should be able to have a good opener during Week 1 of the NFL season. He has several solid receivers and a running back in Najee Harris who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Meanwhile, the secondary has to be considered one of the few weaknesses on Cincinnati’s roster.

Dane Jackson, cornerback, Buffalo Bills

nfl pressure meter week 1: dane jackson, cornerback, buffalo bills
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With star cornerback Tre’Davious White sidelined for Thursday night’s NFL opener, Jackson will take over center stage in Southern California. The third-year cornerback will not have an easy go at it against new Rams wide receiver Allen Robinson. Talk about being thrown into the fire.

In primarily a reserve role a season ago (six starts), Jackson recorded six passes defended without an interception. With that said, he also yielded a mere 50% completion mark and 70.2 QB rating when targeted. The pressure is now on Jackson to perform at nearly the same level if Buffalo is going to contain Matthew Stafford and Co. en route to a statement win.

Also Read: Everything you need to know about the NFL Sunday Ticket

Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers

nfl pressure meter week 1: carolina panthers running back christian mccaffrey
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not simply the fantasy football world that will be paying close attention to Christian McCaffrey Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns. If Carolina is going to have any shot at competing for a playoff spot in 2022, it will need McCaffrey to overcome his injury-plagued ways and return to 2019 form. The All-Pro has played in all of 10 games over the past two seasons due to a number of different issues.

  • Christian McCaffrey stats (2019): 1,387 rushing yards, 116 receptions, 1,005 receiving yards, 2,392 total yards, 19 TD

With Baker Mayfield under center and acting as an upgrade over last season’s iteration of Sam Darnold, Carolina’s offense could be vastly improved. It has a solid wide receiver group and an above-average offensive line. A prime McCaffrey, starting Week 1 against Cleveland, could set this team up for success.

Geno Smith, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

nfl pressure meter: geno smith, quarterback, seattle seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The pressure Geno Smith will feel come Monday night has multiple layers to it. He’s tasked with replacing all-time franchise great Russell Wilson in front of national television audience. He will be doing so against Wilson and the future Hall of Fame quarterback’s new Denver Broncos team at home.

“He just keeps earning it. We really put him up against the competition, and Drew took his shot him all the way throughout,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll after naming Smith the starter.

Carroll’s own expectation of winning double-digit games in the post-Wilson era creates even more pressure for Smith. After all, we’re talking about a veteran quarterback who has thrown all of nine regular-season touchdowns in five starts since the end of the 2014 campaign. Should Smith struggle against Denver to open the NFL season, it could also open the door for Drew Lock to take over.

Related: 10 burning questions for NFL Week 1

Tyler Smith, offenive tackle, Dallas Cowboys

nfl pressure meter: tyler smith, offensive tackle, dallas cowboys
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be clear. No one is going to replace what the Cowboys have seen from future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith over the past 11 seasons. It’s even more foolish to believe that a rookie first-round pick from Tulsa can step into that role. With the older Smith sidelined through at least November, the Cowboys are really up against it. That starts Week 1 against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team with an elite-level pass rush.

Being forced into action against one of the best teams in the NFL on “Sunday Night Football” will create a ton of pressure. Protecting Dak Prescott’s blindside less than two years after the star quarterback suffered a career-threatening injury creates even more pressure. We’re intrigued to see what happens in Big D.

Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers

nfl pressure meter: sammy watkins, green bay packers

With Packers “No. 1” receiver Allen Lazard questionable to go Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, there’s a chance that this veteran cast off will be relied on a whole lot to open the season. Watkins, 29, simply has not been a starter-caliber receiver since his sophomore season with the Buffalo Bills all the way back in 2015. His peformances with the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens over the past two seasons adds another element to this.

  • Sammy Watkins stats (2020-21): 64 receptions, 815 yards, 3 TD

Two-time reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers doesn’t seem too inclined to rely on his rookie receivers on a wholesale basis in 2022. This means Watkins must step up. The good news? He’s feeling the best that he has in a long while.

“I’ve never been this sharp. Just to be this sharp, it feels good to go out there and play freely and play fast,” Watkins said ahead of the season opener in Minnesota. He will likely be tasked with going up against another veteran in Patrick Peterson when things kick off Sunday afternoon. It’ll be interesting to see how this goes.

Related: 2022 NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

Kolton Miller, offensive tackle, Las Vegas Raiders

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One could conclude that the only failue of the new Raiders’ regime was largely ignoring a questionable offensive line in front of recently-extended quarterback Derek Carr. Once right tackle Brandon Parker went down with a season-ending injury and Vegas waived 2021 first-round bust Alex Leatherwood, depth became a major issue.

This is magnified heading into Week 1 of the NFL season against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that boasts Pro Bowl edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Bosa is going to eat against journeyman right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. We can also expect head coach Josh McDaniels and Co. to throw double teams that way with guard Lester Cotton.

All of that means Miller will likely be going up against Mack in one-on-one situations. It’s not an ideal scenario wiith the new Chargers edge rusher looking to make a statement against his former team. Since being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of UCLA, Miller has been slightly above average in pass protection. With that said, Miller was among the best left tackles in the NFL a season ago. He’s improved every season in the league and needs to take his game to a whole new level starting Week 1 given Vegas’ widespread offensive line issues.

Related: NFL QB rankings heading into Week 1

Trey Lance, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine another second-year quarterback being under as much pressure as Trey Lance. The No. 3 pick in last year’s NFL Draft has started all of two regular-seasong games in his NFL career. Dating back to his days with North Dakota State, Lance has thrown 86 passes since the end of the 2019 season. He’s “leading” a Super Bowl contender, was not named a team captain and has someone by the name of Jimmy Garoppolo backing him up.

All of this comes after a summer filled with mixed reviews in Santa Clara. There’s a narrative that Lance just isn’t ready to take over as the face of the franchise. Whether that’s media spin or something completely different, the onus is going to be on the youngster to prove himself come Week 1 against the Chicago Bears.

“We all know how it’ll go. I also know if Jimmy wasn’t here and Trey did bad, how it would go. So we understand that. The fact that he has this successful quarterback behind him, that’s obvious how that narrative will be and understandably so.”

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on if Trey Lance struggles

There’s raw talent here. That can’t be denied. San Francisco also has the skill-position grouping to help Lance out. With that said, his inexperience coupled with a questionable offensive line could lead to some initial struggles against Chicago. If so, the media-driven conversation will turn to when — not if — Garoppolo replaces Lance not under.