Winner: Old quarterbacks
In sports, and particularly in the NFL at the quarterback position, people lean towards the young guy. In Week Five, though, we saw a couple of reasons to believe in experience.
Backup Matt Hasselbeck’s efficient performance (20/27, 213 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers) helped keep the Colts ahead in his team’s Thursday night road win in Houston, much like he was able to last week against Jacksonville. It hasn’t been pretty football from Indianapolis in Luck’s absence, but their 40-year-old stand-in has aided their hopes for a high playoff seeding these past two weeks. His performance Thursday also comes after he was, according to the ever-hyperbolic Chuck Pagano, ‘literally on his deathbed’ with a bacterial infection. Settle down now, Chuck, he’s not that old.
36-year-old Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown’s also had himself a day, setting a franchise-record with 457 yards passing. The Browns not only pick up an overtime win on the road, but further doom their rival Baltimore Ravens, who fall to 1-4.
Before we get too excited, though, let’s take a moment to run through the Browns’ upcoming schedule, which could realistically see them lose their next five games. Next week they host the Broncos, travel to St Louis in Week Seven, and return home for Arizona before two divisional road trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. McCown may have had a nice fortnight, but the team needs this kind of performance consistently in order to be successful.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars
Although second-year quarterback Blake Bortles is showing signs of improvement, the Jags failed to pick up a road win in Tampa on Sunday.
After last week’s crushing overtime loss against the division rival Colts, falling further behind in the AFC South race (if you can call it that) is unforgivable against a team that hasn’t won at home in their last ten attempts previous.
They now fall to 1-4, with excuses running out for a coaching staff, headed by Gus Bradley, that has been given plenty of leash since coming to town. Whether or not you believe change is good or bad is relative to the situation, and in this case, it’s clear Jacksonville isn’t a team any staff can force a quick turnaround with. However, if, at the end of the season, we’re looking at another 4-12/5-11 performance, questions will be asked.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are the hottest team in the league right now, and it starts with quarterback Andy Dalton. His new-found confidence is the credit of development in the offensive system, ran by a shrewd offensive co-ordinator in Hue Jackson.
Sunday marked a potential turning point in the Cincinnati/Dalton narrative of disappearing in big games, as they reduced a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to take the game to overtime and eventually win. Of all the stats I’ve ever scrolled past on Twitter, this contends for the most unbelievable: Teams are 1-427 in the last five seasons when trailing by 17+ points in the fourth quarter. The lone win is the Bengals’ on Sunday.
With much of the plaudits, ironically, heading Dalton’s way, it’s easy to forget the other contributors. This is a team with little to no weak spots, especially on offense. The emergence of Tyler Eifert has resulted in more teams having to respect not only A.J. Green, but the middle (and particularly deep), as well. The defense is also playing their part, with the return of a full-strength Geno Atkins the biggest factor, as well as cornerback Adam Jones enjoying a solid stretch.
There are a lot of fans and pundits alike who won’t buy what Cincinnati is selling until they prove it in January. This is fair, considering what we’ve seen over their past four playoff appearances, but there’s no denying that these Bengals are different. For how long they show it remains to be seen.
Loser: Jamaal Charles/Viewing public
In a similar vein to when Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week Three with a knee injury, the loss of running back Jamaal Charles for the season is not only a hit to the Chiefs, but to everyone watching, too.
Andy Reid has the tendency to suffer amnesia regarding the dynamic Charles, but when he is given an opportunity to be the focal point of this offense, he delivers. His absence is troubling for a Chiefs team who have looked uninspired this season, with a 1-4 record to show for it. With little offensive production by way of Alex Smith, something will have to be cooked up quick in Kansas City order to rescue what looks like a forgettable season.
Fourth-year back Knile Davis should assume Charles’ place, having played a bit-part role since being drafted out of Arkansas in the third round in 2012. His first test will come against a Minnesota rush defense which ranks 16th in yards allowed (502) despite ranking 27th in yards allowed per attempt (4.7).
Winner: Undefeated teams
It was another week of winning for New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, and Atlanta, as they kept their 100% start to the season alive. Carolina, meanwhile, return from their bye week to face Seattle on the road.
For the Bengals, Patriots and Packers, the unbeaten record is a fair assessment of how they’ve performed. They all look, at this time, to be the cream of the NFL crop.
Carolina, Denver and Atlanta, though, have questions surrounding them. The Panthers have been solid in their opening four wins, but have yet to play a team with a .500 record or above (Jacksonville, Houston, Tampa Bay, New Orleans). With Cam Newton’s ragtag bunch at wideout, there’s only so high the ceiling can be for this team. With a tough four games ahead of them, don’t be surprised to see them fall back to the rest of the pack by Week Nine.
Atlanta, playing in the same division, have a similar issue. You can only beat the teams that are put in front of you, but when the toughest teams you’ll face all season are Indianapolis or the New York Giants, it’s hard to label this team as legitimate contenders. They deserve credit for outlasting teams in tight games so far, but how good they really are will likely be unknown during this regular season.
Denver, meanwhile, have the well documented regression of Peyton Manning to deal with, and have looked torrid running the ball. Without their defense, which may be the best all-round group in the league, their record would look significantly more stained after five weeks. They will win the AFC West, but their seeding and chances in January don’t look strong on current showing.
Loser: Detroit Lions
Another week gone, and another Detroit loss is in the books. All defeats are painful, but most don’t involve your franchise quarterback being benched whilst suffering a 42-17 home drubbing.
Stafford’s job isn’t up for question, but after throwing three costly interceptions, and with the game lost, a further loss to his confidence was at stake. He is noticeably struggling with the blitz, but is even throwing poorly in a clean pocket. There’s little to no chemistry with Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate, too, which is surprising considering their history of success. The former Georgia quarterback ranks last (38th) amongst starters so far this year, per Pro Football Focus, almost doubling (-17.0) the negative grade of his closest competitor, Colin Kaepernick (-9.8).
Like with any rough situation around the league, though, it isn’t squarely on one man’s shoulders. The defense, particularly against the pass, is getting burned on a weekly basis. If the secondary can perform to half the standard of which it did a year ago, and Stafford can limit mental mistakes and regain the rapport with his wideouts, there will be improvement. However, what we’ve seen so far doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. There’s potential for their first win this Sunday versus divisional rival Chicago, but, at best, it’s a toss-up game.
The more interesting question is the direction of this team heading into next season. How do they regroup from what has been an abject misfire on all cylinders?
Tagged: Andy Dalton, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, cincinnati bengals, detroit lions, green bay packers, jacksonville jaguars, Jamaal Charles, Josh McCown, Matt Hasselbeck, Matthew Stafford, new england patriots, Winners and Losers