10 takeaways from the NFL season so far
October 5, 2018
Pope & DC’s 10 Takeaways from NFL Week 4
Three overtime matchups, three last-second wins, and a multitude of standout performances made NFL’s fourth week one of the most interesting slate of games in recent memory. The bouts also gave insight as to who were credible playoff contenders and who were mere flukes over the previous three weeks.
With all of that being said, here are some events and footnotes from the past few days:
- Bengals improve to 3-1 and will strengthen their divisional lead in the coming weeks.
All of the criticism surrounding the never-ending coaching job held by Marvin Lewis and the inconsistency of Andy Dalton do not change the fact that the Bengals are sitting at the pole position in the notoriously difficult AFC North. A down to the wire 37-36 win on the road against the Falcons showed how well Dalton could sling the ball around to his many different options (four receivers with 4+ receptions) and that he had the ability to perform in the clutch, connecting with AJ Green for a game-winner in the final moments. Two evenly split matchups between the surprise 3-1 Dolphins and the slacking Steelers could give them a comfortable lead heading forward.
- The Eagles don’t have what it takes to do damage in the postseason (if they make it)
The Eagles might sneak into the postseason to spite the rest of the struggling of the NFC East, but they do not look like the powerhouse that won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Every contest has been decided by seven points or less and they rank within the bottom five in scoring offense as they head into a Week 5 matchup with the Vikings. Luckily, Philly has the defensive skill to make them competitive even though Carson Wentz & Co. has not been stellar. The uber-passionate Eagles faithful hope that Wentz’s first two games back were to shake off the rust and that he can revert back to the MVP-caliber player that performed tremendously the year before. Even if this happens, I still think the Eagles are not the same team that took home the Lombardi Trophy due to the lack of options surrounding their franchise quarterback.
- The AFC North power dynamic has flipped
For the first time in what seems like ages, there has been questions regarding who is the premier team in the AFC North. Aside from a couple standout seasons from Baltimore during their Super Bowl campaigns, Pittsburgh has been the near-consensus top dog for a long time. 2018 has not been great for the black and yellow ever since the Jaguars ran them out of the playoffs at home, and they have continued their struggles through their first four. The defense is a shell of the great units led by Troy Polamalu and others and they have not put up a fight on that side of the ball. Every quarterback the Steelers have faced up to this point has had a field day. On the other hand, while the Browns are currently toting the same record as the Steelers, they have been competitive in every game and have proved they can hang with most teams. The Bengals and Ravens have two underrated yet productive offenses that can put up solid numbers on a weekly basis. The Steelers dynasty as we know it may very well be finished.
- The Vikings defense needs to step their game up as soon as possible
Mike Zimmer’s defensive juggernaut last year decided it didn’t want to leave the friendly confines of the 2017-18 season, where they brought the Vikes to the brink of the Super Bowl. An underwhelming start of 1-2-1 can be owed in some respects to lackluster defensive efforts in three out of the four games. Since their opening weekend win against the Niners, the once-formidable eleven have given up an average of over 30 points per game, one of which was against the pathetic Buffalo Bills. At home. Jared Goff looked like he could’ve gone home, had a bag of chips, and returned to the pocket without having a single white and purple jersey applying pressure. The second and third line of defense could not stop any of the Rams receiving core and were torched for 465 yards. And could defensive coordinator George Edwards put somebody besides Anthony Barr into pass coverage, because he got outright smoked for three touchdowns. Maybe the Vikings defense was lost somewhere on the streets in Philadelphia and they can pick it up when they go there this weekend.
- The AFC East might just be the worst division in football
This one might be a bit early to call, but seriously?
Even though the Dolphins got thrashed by the divisional rival Patriots by a final score of 38-7, the Fins are still slotted number one in the AFC East. That fact in itself makes me question how legit this division is.
Week 4 was the first week where the squad looked like the dynasty that has been in contention for the world championship for most of the 21st century. In the two weeks prior, they looked straight up lost and they conceded back-to-back losses, one in an AFC championship game rematch in Jacksonville and one was a pathetic three-score defeat to the average Detroit Lions.
The rest of the division aside from the Pats looks like a sorry lot as well. The Dolphins showed their true colors in Foxborough, putting on a weak offensive display that featured Ryan Tannehill managing to complete only half of his passes. Buffalo followed up a shocking road win against the reigning NFC runner-up Vikings with a shutout loss at Lambeau Field to a far superior Packers team. Sam Darnold didn’t get picked off in his loss to Jacksonville, but he also didn’t manage to eclipse the 200 yard mark either.
While the Pats might be primed to be rejuvenated with the countless options surrounding their veteran QB, the rest of the division looks tattered and probably won’t live to see the playoffs.
- Don’t let the offense fool you: the Saints might be looking from the outside in come January
The New Orleans Saints, unfortunately, do not play in the AFC South.
They have to deal with one of the toughest schedules of any team in the NFL, and with a defense that has performed as atrociously as they have, it’s hard to believe that they are perched above the rest of the NFC South with a record of 3-1. A lot of this success comes via their amazing offensive prowess, complete with the second best wideout (Mike Thomas) and top overall player (Alvin Kamara) in fantasy football as well as the timeless Drew Brees taking the snaps.
The only convincing effort from the boys in the Bayou came this past week against the New York Football Giants, but even then Drew Brees looked human and didn’t throw a touchdown. A .500 record in shootouts against division rivals and a near loss at the hands of the Browns show that there is more to the reigning NFC South champs than is being presented in the wins and losses.
Down the stretch, Sean Payton’s crew will have to line up across the line of scrimmage from every single NFC playoff team from last year. A ramshackle collection of players who sit 30th in defensive scoring are going to have to come up with something to improve their D. (Stay away from a bounty though. Probably not the best idea.)
- The Rams are bringing back The Greatest Show on Turf (or grass)
There are a lot of grievances that I previously covered with the Vikings defense, but man can this faction play.
I cannot name a player that accounts negatively towards to the progress of the Rams offense. Every person on that field is doing something incredible and that is why this lot is one of the two remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL.
When analyzing this stellar bunch, it’s hard to start with any one specific member that makes it stand out, but we’ll start with the man under center. Jared Goff has flipped himself from a #1 pick who was playing backup duties on the lowly Rams to being a potential MVP candidate. He had a career game this past Thursday night (26/33, 465 yards, 5 TD) and there were no passes that were objectively bad.
Goff has played so well that he’s even managed to take away some of the shine from one of the best running backs in football. Goff’s number being called more often has not taken away from the fact that Todd Gurley is still on his A-game week-in and week-out. TG is second in the league in rushing yards and has also been doing it well through the air.
The receiving corps that Goff is throwing to right now might be the most underrated set of pass catchers in football. Minnesota could not cover Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, or Cooper Kupp throughout the four quarters and they also proved capable of gaining yards after the catch on multiple occasions. Each of the three receivers racked up over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown to boot.
Working with one of the best offensive lines so far this year, everything has been smooth sailing down in southern California. And with the dominance they have shown over some pretty solid defensive units, opponents better be circling the Rams game as a key matchup.
- Big contracts do not equate to big production
After months and years of complaining that they deserved quarterback money, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. have started out their respective seasons in a bit of a slump.
It is arguable that these two Pro Bowl caliber receivers are two of the best to do their craft and rank among the top targets in the NFL today, but they have not played up to the standard that they had set in previous seasons.
The Steelers locked in Brown with a five year deal worth $72.7 million at the beginning of the 2017 offseason, but it was restructured this past offseason in order to fit Le’Veon Bell on their payroll. AB has had a somewhat productive year getting the ball into the endzone (3 TDs) and he is top 10 in the league with 29 receptions. The only thing holding him back from establishing himself as this year’s top receiver is his receiving yardage (68 ypg) and the fact that sophomore sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster has consistently outplayed him through the first quarter of the season.
Brown slipped into the shadows during the second half of the Steelers primetime loss to the Ravens and failed to record a single reception after an average 30 minutes.
The Steelers wideout does have some favorable matchups that could probably pad his stats over the next couple of weeks, but at this point in the season, he hasn’t performed to the level expected of him.
I don’t think the same rebound will happen for Odell Beckham Jr.
Over his four seasons, OBJ has repeatedly putting a target on his own back for his cockiness mixed with his sheer talent to catch a football. Now, the LSU alum has gained so much attention that he has had trouble getting the football in the red zone and has zero touchdowns through the first four weeks.
While anything can change on a dime in this league and these two players are incredibly talented and can drop a career game any week, the first quarter has not fared well for these to megastars.
- Patrick Mahomes is the real deal
Kansas City has so many options for Patrick Mahomes that he could draw a name out of a hat and he could be confident to throw to them everytime.
However, everything negates those talented players if their QB1 cannot utilize those correctly (looking at you, Eli Manning).
The Chiefs are nowhere near the misery of the Giants. In fact, they are quite the opposite. A 4-0 record has Kansas City sitting pretty atop the AFC West and they owe a lot of their success to the outstanding play of their signal caller.
Patrick Mahomes is a major upgrade from the average to above-average Alex Smith, who was not horrific by any stretch of the imagination, but failed to make a dent in the postseason. Smith never led the Chiefs to the conference championship in his five years under center in Kansas City.
Mahomes has been rolling during his first season at the starting quarterback position. In fact, the Texas Tech alum has been historically good during his first four contests (most TD passes through the first three games). And even though the team struggled for three quarters against the Denver Broncos this past Monday night, Mahomes and crew picked up the W on a fourth quarter comeback that was aided by an unreal left-handed pass by Mahomes himself.
He has so many freak athletes to aid his success, including Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, but a quarterback mostly controls how many picks he throws and he hasn’t thrown one yet. He has totaled 14 touchdown and zero interceptions. That is simply awesome.
Mahomes’ ability to throw the ball has kept the Chiefs undefeated despite their underwhelming defensive core. And if he continues at this pace, he not only will lead the Chiefs to a third straight division title, but will be a favorite among many MVP discussions.
- The Bears looked like the most complete team in the NFL
If you would have told me that the Chicago Bears were going to be a formidable team prior to the Khalil Mack trade, I probably would have laughed in your face.
But here we are. Somehow this team has melded together into one of the grittiest and hardest working teams in the league. Heading into the fifth week of the season with the Chicago Bears topping the notoriously difficult NFC North with a legitimate shot to take the division for the first time since 2010.
Aside from Khalil Mack, there isn’t really one huge superstar that leaps out as being one of the best in the league. For the first three weeks, every game was decided by one score or less and they were one quarter away from beating the Packers on the road until a quintessential Aaron Rodgers performance sent them packing.
The cosmos aligned, however, during their Week 4 matchup against the high-flying Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by Fitzmagic and his explosive offense. Chicago decided the outcome of the game by halftime and looked like a team to be reckoned with for all 60 minutes.
Second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky dropped six touchdown passes in three quarters and had the pocket presence of a veteran who had been in the league for ten years. He utilized his ball fakes and precise throws to march the Bears down the field on nearly every drive.
Something that won’t be recognized very much, however, were the hard-nosed plays that the wide receivers were making down the field. Allen Robinson caught a nice touchdown, but his legal pick to get Taylor Gabriel wide-open for a touchdown is a moment that sticks with me more. Also, Kevin White did not catch a pass but contributed in a big way by blocking for ball carriers who were in his vicinity.
The Bears defense dominated the Bucs all game long, racking up four sacks and three interceptions to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston in check.
If team efforts like this continue for this squad, they will be in a nice position going into the postseason.