We are through seven weeks of the NFL season, and the action has been historically competitive: 84 games within one score in the fourth quarter and decided by one touchdown or less are the most in a season's first seven weeks in NFL history. We witnessed some star performances from around the league and some big stars not shining as brightly as usual, both swinging the outcomes in what has started out as the NFL's most competitive season yet.
Welcome to NFL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn't necessarily a good thing -- it simply means you're capturing the NFL world's attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the National Football League season.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Quarterback Joe Burrow and his defending AFC Champion Bengals are BACK, winning for the fourth time in their last five games with a 35-17 home victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Burrow balled out, completing 34 of 42 passes for 481 yards and three touchdowns in addition to another score on a quarterback sneak. His 481 yards Sunday are the third-most in a single game in team history. His output Sunday was also the most passing yards by any player since Burrow threw for 525 against the Ravens in Week 16 last season.
Most passing yards in a game (Bengals history)
2021 vs. Ravens
1990 at Rams
2022 vs. Falcons
1975 vs. Bills
2021 vs. Chiefs
Week 7 marked Burrow's second career game with more than 400 yards passing, three or more passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, making him the fourth player in NFL history to have multiple such games. The others who have accomplished this feat are Pro Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
Burrow also passed the standard for early-career quarterback success in Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino. The third-year Bengals signal-caller's 481-yard performance is his fifth career game with more than 400 passing yards, the most in a player's first three seasons in NFL history. Burrow broke a tie with Marino, who had four such games.
After a slow start to the season, Burrow is on fire with 12 passing touchdowns and only one interception in the past five games, four resulting in wins. He has averaged 312 passing yards per game during the five-game stretch, a stark contrast to his first two games.
"I'm feeling comfortable," Burrow said after the game, via ESPN. "We're getting the timing down. We're starting to find a rhythm as an offense."
Now that he has had three months between an emergency appendectomy that occurred prior to training camp last July, Burrow's play and his words align: he's back in the zone. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati defense hasn't allowed a second-half touchdown in their first seven games, making them the first team since at least 1950 to do so, according to Elias Sports, via ESPN. Sitting at 4-3 and tied atop the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow once again looks like the superstar who led the Bengals on a deep playoff run.
Joe Burrow this season
|Weeks 1-2||Weeks 3-7|
Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase
Ja'Marr Chase was "in a rut" from Weeks 2-5 due to the expectations set from his 1,455 receiving yards in his inaugural campaign, which was a Super Bowl era rookie record. His combined 22 catches, 214 receiving yards and one touchdown across those four games left his fantasy managers scratching their heads. Now, it's been two weeks in a row that he has looked like the all-world receiver he was in 2021. In Week 6, he had seven receptions, a then-season-high 132 receiving yards and a season-high two touchdown catches -- the final one a 60-yard pitch-and-catch to seal a win in New Orleans against the Saints.
In Week 7, Burrow had success at everything he tried on the Bengals' first four drives, all of which resulted in touchdowns. What he wanted was more Chase. Three of those four touchdowns were either Burrow connecting with his receiver Tyler Boyd (a 60-yard deep ball over the middle on the opening possession) and Chase twice (touchdowns of 32 and 41 yards). Boyd and Chase each finished the first half with over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown, making them the first wide receiver duo to do so in a single half since Hall of Famer Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the New England Patriots' snow-filled 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 6 of the 2009 season.
Chase totaled his fifth career game with 130 or more receiving yards, finishing with 130 on the nose to go along with his two first-half touchdowns on eight catches. Only Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson (six each) have more 130-yard games since Chase entered the NFL as the fifth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. These last two weeks have completely erased the irrational doubts some may have had about Chase's staying power as a top-flight receiver in the National Football League.
"I think we're finding our stride," Burrow said, via ESPN.
Ja'Marr Chase since Week 2 this season
|Weeks 2-5||Weeks 6-7|
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs entered Week 7 with a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers facing arguably the NFL's best defense through the season's first six weeks. The 49ers ranked as the NFL's top total defense, allowing an NFL-low 255.8 total yards per game, while also standing as the league's second-best scoring defense behind only the Buffalo Bills, allowing only 14.8 points per game.
Now, the 49ers rank as the NFL's ninth-ranked scoring defense (19.0 PPG) and third-ranked total defense (294.9) thanks to Mahomes' near-perfect performance of 423 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and one interception on 25 of 34 passing in Kansas City's 44-23 demolition of San Francisco. Mahomes' dazzling performance has him knocking on the door of an elite group, with Sunday being his eighth career game with more than 400 yards and three or more passing touchdowns. Only four players in NFL history have totaled double-digit such games in their career: Drew Brees (12), Peyton Manning (11), Dan Marino (11) and Tom Brady (10). Mahomes is on a legendary pace to blow past all of those all-timers.
Most career games with 400+ pass yards and 3+ pass TD (NFL history)
The Chiefs quarterback has already passed all of those legends following his masterpiece Sunday, as no other player since at least 1950 has more passing touchdowns (171), passing yards (21,150) or completions (1,726) than Mahomes through their first 70 career games.
"You ever play [NFL] Madden, and they have the X-Factor on the quarterback?" Smith-Schuster said, referencing when a player becomes essentially unstoppable in the video game, while grinning. "They had it on Pat today. It was, like, fire."
Patrick Mahomes' first 70 career games (NFL rank since at least 1950)
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Another week, another five-alarm fire for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Green and Gold suffered their third consecutive defeat in Week 7, 23-21, at the hands of Taylor Heinicke, making his first start of the season in place of an injured Carson Wentz, and the Washington Commanders, a team embroiled in controversy as pressure mounts for owner Daniel Snyder to sell the team.
Rodgers put up a modest stat line of 194 passing yards and two passing touchdowns on 23 of 35 passing. However, that box score masks what was a largely ineffective Packers team that sandwiched four punts and a turnover on downs in between Rodgers' two passing touchdowns to running back Aaron Jones. The loss gave Rodgers' his first losing record through seven games for the first time in his career as starter, and the current losing streak is also the first time Rodgers has lost three straight games, all as a favorite of three or more points, in his future Hall of Fame career. Green Bay's 18.3 points per game this season ranks the Packers as the 23rd scoring offense in the NFL out of 32 teams, and it's also the fewest ever in a seven-game span of the four-time NFL MVP's career.
Aaron Rodgers this season
|Career rank through 7 games|
Still, Rodgers remains optimistic about the Packers righting the ship and making a run back to the playoffs this season.
"I'm not worried about this squad," Rodgers said, via ESPN. "In fact, this might be the best thing for us. This week, nobody's going to give us a chance, going to Buffalo on 'Sunday Night Football,' with a chance to get exposed. Shoot, this might be the best thing for us."
The Packers are currently an 11.5-point underdog in Buffalo in advance of their prime-time showdown against quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Von Miller. Aaron Rodgers has never been a double-digit underdog in 234 career starts including playoffs, which is the second-longest QB streak since 1970, including playoffs. That streak will likely come to an end this week barring a blockbuster trade. It's another flashing indicator of the grim situation Rodgers and Packers are desperately looking to rectify.
Longest streaks without being 10+ point underdog (starting QBs since 1970 including playoffs)
Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers had what should've been a get-right game in their Week 7 road matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Their NFC South foe had just traded away All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers and wide receiver Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals. However, it was the Buccaneers offense that looked like it had just traded away two of its top playmakers, losing 21-3 on Sunday. Brady threw for 290 yards on 32 of 49 passing without a touchdown or an interception.
"It's been an interesting year in the NFL," Brady said, via the Tampa Bay Times. "There's a couple teams that are playing at a really high level, and there are a lot of teams that are 4-3, 3-4, and the whole season is ahead of us. But I think the point is you have to learn from mistakes and we've made plenty of them in the last seven weeks. … We have not played to our level and what we're capable of. That's our reality and we have to own it."
Sunday's loss was the lowest level of both Brady's 2022 season and his career, recording his first game without a touchdown pass this season while going the most pass attempts in his career in a game without a touchdown.
Most pass attempts without TD (Tom Brady's career)
Up next, Brady's bunch hosts former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens on "Thursday Night Football," another uphill battle for the Buccaneers' anemic offense to keep pace considering its scoring chances will be limited. The Ravens average 156.3 rushing yards per game, the fifth-most in the NFL, and average the eighth-highest time of possession in the NFL, 30:31. It's an offense designed to play keep-away and keep opposing quarterbacks like Brady left to impatiently sit on the sideline.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have been a rollercoaster this season. They have alternated wins and losses every week, coming off a nail-biting 23-20 home win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7. Jackson struggled and was unable to find the end zone, throwing for 120 yards on 9 of 16 passing without a touchdown or an interception while rushing for 59 yards on 10 carries. The Ravens totaled a season-low 254 yards of offense against a Browns defense that is allowing 26.7 points per game, the fifth-most in the entire NFL.
Since leading the NFL in passer rating in the first three weeks of the season (119.0), Jackson has fallen off a cliff with a 70.4 passer rating since Week 4, ranking 29th in the NFL, ahead of only Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush (69.3), Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett (66.7) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (61.8). Fantasy managers with Jackson on their football team have definitely noticed the drop off, as his 40.8 fantasy points per game in the first three weeks led all quarterbacks, but his 15.2 points per game rank 21st since Week 4. His four straight starts with under 20 fantasy points is tied for the longest such streak of his career.
|Weeks 1-3||Weeks 4-7|
"I feel like this whole season we have been driving the ball down the field; it's just been the red zone and a little outside the red zone, we just have to finish there," Jackson said Monday when asked about his offense's struggles. "We're making progress, but we don't want Tuck [kicker Justin Tucker] kicking field goals for us for that to be our points. We want seven points each and every time we are out there on that field. It's NFL football, so it might not happen the way we want it to. We just have to keep going."
With the Panthers offense led by backup quarterback P.J. Walker finding the end zone three times last week, Jackson and the Ravens should be able to snap out of their funk in Week 8.
The Cowboys defense entered Week 7 "pissed," according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, following its Week 6 loss at the Eagles in which it surrendered a season-high 26 points. Micah Parsons declared that it was "shark week" leading up to their game against the Detroit Lions, with the defense thirsting to re-establish its high standard of performance. Mission accomplished: the Cowboys defense crushed Jared Goff's Lions, forcing five turnovers and accounting for five sacks in a 24-6 win. Their two biggest defensive stars, Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, set the tone.
The Cowboys' five takeaways were their most in a game since their 2013 season opener against the New York Giants (six), and it was Dallas' NFL-best fourth game with a minimum of five sacks this season. The Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks with 29.
Parsons recorded his 20th career sack Sunday, which passed DeMarcus Ware (19.5) for the most by a Cowboys player in their first two seasons. The second-year linebacker has 7.0 sacks in seven games this season, tied with 49ers defensive Nick Bosa for second-most in the NFL. Only Patriots linebacker Matt Judon has more with 8.5.
"I said, 'You challenged me, and I'll never let you down.'" Parsons said after the game Sunday when asked what he said to Quinn leading up to the win against the Lions.
"Stuff like that [passing DeMarcus Ware] I credit to Q [Quinn] because he's a person who means a lot to me, and I just hate to let him down. So when I'm out there, I try to give everything I've got for him."
Diggs' interception of Goff marked the 17th of his career, tied for the most in the NFL since entering the league in 2020 with Los Angeles Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson. Only three players have more interceptions in the past 25 years: Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed (21), Richard Sherman (20) and Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (19).
Week 7 was the sixth game in which Parsons had a sack and Diggs hauled in an interception since the start of last season, the most such games by any teammate duo in the NFL in that span. With quarterback Dak Prescott showing some rust in his return from a five-game layoff while dealing with a broken thumb (19-25, 207 passing yards, one passing touchdown), Dallas' defense has once again shown that it can be the one to carry its team to victory.
Browns RB Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb joined the history books in Week 7 even though his team lost, 23-20, at the Ravens. Thanks to his 91 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on 16 carries, Chubb now leads the entire league in rushing yards (740) and rushing touchdowns (eight). Chubb's eight rushing scores put him in a club with Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer. Chubb became the fifth player in NFL history with eight or more rushing touchdowns in each of their first five NFL seasons. The other four are only some of the greatest at the position in NFL History: LaDainian Tomlinson (nine), Adrian Peterson (seven), Emmitt Smith (seven) and Jim Brown (seven).
Most consecutive seasons with 8+ rush TD to start career (NFL history)
Chubb is also following in Brown's footsteps in terms of his team success as the first Browns player with at least 700 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in the first seven games of a season since Brown himself in 1963. Being mentioned in the same breath as Jim Brown twice through the first seven weeks of a season makes Chubb the cream of the crop among his fellow running backs so far this in 2022.
Titans RB Derrick Henry
After suffering a broken foot midway through the 2021 season, it was fair to consider the idea that Derrick Henry may not be the wrecking ball that had been dominating the NFL since 2020. However, Henry's last three games this season have put an end to those worries, running for over 100 in each with a season-high 128 on a season-high 30 carries.
Derrick Henry this season
|Weeks 1-3||Weeks 4-7|
Sunday's 19-10 win against the Indianapolis Colts marked his 18th game with 100 or more rushing yards since 2020, the most in NFL and three ahead of Chubb's 15 such games.
"We have a bunch of goons on the team, the defense, and a goon-made coach," Titans linebacker Bud Dupree said Tuesday, via the team's official website. "We go out there, and we are trying to hit people in the mouth as hard as we can. We want to dominate and make our punches count."
No one embodies that mindset or makes their punches count more when it comes to wearing out the opposing team quite like Henry.
Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Another week, another win for the Giants, as the G-Men held on in Jacksonville on Sunday to defeat the Jaguars, 23-17. Running back Saquon Barkley once again played a significant role, totaling 135 scrimmage yards on 28 touches, his fifth game out of seven with over 100 yards from scrimmage. He took over in the fourth quarter, gaining 72 of his 110 rushing yards in the final 15 minutes.
"I was running soft, thinking about the wrong things, but the o-line was playing lights out," Barkley said when asked about his slow start to the game before finishing strong. "I have to do a better job of hitting the hole, but found a way to get on fire a little bit close to the end of the game. I have to do a better job of starting off faster."
Leading the NFL in scrimmage yards this season with 906, the Giants need every ounce of brilliance Barkley can provide because even though they are 6-1, they're the first team in NFL history to start 6-1 or better with each game decided by a single possession. Barkley being able to help drain the clock down and keep the ball out of the hands of opposing offenses will be crucial to keeping the good times rolling for the Giants.