So now that week five is in the books, and every team has played at least four games, I’m happy to take a look at the first quarter of the season and take a first look at how the divisions are shaping up.
It is a familiar team at the top of this division with the New England Patriots only dropping one game during Tom Brady’s four game suspension and he returned in remarkable form, throwing four hundred yards in the Patriot’s win over the Browns, considering he has not been allowed to practice with the team during his suspension. I could really do without the Bengals visiting them this week, and I suspect the Patriots are going to challenge once more for a title.
The Buffalo Bills are only a surprising game back from the Patriots having won three in a row after a poor start and firing their offensive coordinator. They will be hoping to push for the playoffs now that both sides of the ball are coming together, which already looks out of sight for the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins who have both fallen to 1-4. The Jets defence is surprisingly poor, whilst their offence is struggling through a combination of injury and poor play from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets’ roster was one of the oldest last season and this appears to be catching up with them this year. For the Miami Dolphins, the problems seem to do with roster construction and so with a defence that is under performing, and an offensive line that can’t protect their quarterback, it looks to be a long season for fans of the Dolphins as they try to find something they can build from.
The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a blip at the Philadelphia Eagles in week three, but otherwise have sailed through the first quarter of their season. An offence that was scary even before star running back Le’Veon Bell returned from suspension, becomes downright terrifying when you combine an elite quarterback, arguably the best running back and the best receiver in the game. They have also dug out another deep threat in receiver Sammie Coates, and pair all this offensive potency with a defence that is bending and not breaking and they look to be one of the elite teams in the league.
The Baltimore Ravens stand second in the division, and arguably could be 4-1 as they really should have beat Washington on Sunday, but between giving up a punt return for a touchdown and CJ Mosely making an interception and fumbling the ball stretching for a touchdown and having it go through the end zone so Washington got the ball back, they managed to lose. The question for the Ravens is how good they really are as their first three games were wins over modest opposition, and they have now lost two straight and just fired their offensive coordinator (a job with even less security than normal this season).
The Bengals are a similarly hard to pin down team this season having fallen to a 2-3 record. They have had a tough start to the season, and a trip to New England is hardly what they need right now, but the problems seem to the combination of a new offensive coordinator and new parts on offensive leading to yards but not points, whilst the defence was surprisingly poor against the Dallas Cowboys last week. The schedule will even out, but they can’t fall back much more behind the pace if they want to get back to the playoffs and break the longest playoff win drought in the league. I’m not in full panic mode yet, but I am pretty concerned.
The Cleveland Browns were always in for a long season, but the sheer number of injuries is a story in of itself as even when a young draft pick like receiver Corey Coleman starts to look promising, he breaks a hand in training. Meanwhile, five separate players have taken snaps at quarterback including the real bright spot of their season Terrelle Pryor, who has done everything that he possibly can for this team. The number of wins was always going to be low, and the Browns are playing really hard for Hue Jackson in his first year, but it looks like it is going to be a while before this team turn things around.
The Houston Texans stand a top of their division despite losing JJ Watt for the year and Brock Osweiler throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. I’m sure that Bill O’Brien cares more than he said to the press as the Texans paid a lot of money to go out and get their man, and have put plenty of options around him, but it hasn’t clicked yet.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans are both 2-3 but are having different seasons. The Titans have built a tough defence that currently ranks seventh in the league by DVOA, and have been getting by with what they turned an exotic smash-mouth offence. This has been uneven in results due to the limitations of their receivers and some inaccuracy from Marcus Mariota, but they got something of statement win over the Dolphins last week and we will have to see how they go. Meanwhile the Colts are in the race for the division thanks to Andrew Luck and TY Hilton, but there are problems all over for the roster and GM Ryan Grigson can complain all he like about being hampered by Luck’s new contract, it was him who was drafting and building the team around Luck whilst he was on his rookie contract so I don’t have a lot of sympathy with that one.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the most disappointing teams in the league for me, having been looking at finally breaking out, their defence played better but offence has struggled and they didn’t win a game until their trip to London in week four. They are only two games back on the Texans and so could pull themselves back into contention, but they will really need to push on with Blake Bortles needing to take a step to get back to how he played last year before he can start leading this offence to better performances.
The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders stand atop the division at 4-1 and could well be duking it out until the end of the season. The Raiders are playing offence as well as anyone in the league whilst waiting for their defence to come together. The connection between in Derrek Car and his receivers has led to eleven passing touchdowns and only two interceptions, with Amari Cooper snagging over four hundred and fifty yards whilst Michael Crabtree has caught five touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Broncos have been playing very good defence and doing enough on offence. The Broncos run defence has suffered a little with the changes in personnel, but only time will tell if the Falcons found something that other teams can exploit in their week five win or if the Broncos defence bounce back.
The Kansas City Chiefs may only be 2-2, but after the rescue job that Andy Reid pulled off last season, I would not count them out yet. They are rumbling along, but their defence is struggling to rush the pass a bit and are missing Justin Houston, whilst the offence Is struggling with a ranking by DVOA of twenty-fith. That said, Jamaal Charles is still working his way back from the season ending injury he had last year and they still have time to turn things round.
Everything seems to be going wrong for the San Diego Chargers, who could have a better record than 1-4 if they had managed to hold on to the ball in few more key situations. They again seem to be severely bitten by the injury bug, losing a starter for the season in each of the first three games, and the injuries have continued to pile up. It’s not that they have not been competitive, but they keep finding new ways to lose and it looks like another underwhelming season for a franchise who are one of the lucky ones to have a franchise quarterback.
The Dallas Cowboys lost Tony Romo in preseason to a fractured vertebrae, but all the noises from Jerry Jones is that he will be the starter once he is fit. However, unlike last season which fell apart in Romo’s absence, the Cowboys have gone 4-1 behind excellent rookie quarterback Dak Prescott who has yet to throw an interception, and whilst his yardage numbers are not that impressive, he is winning games and is also a threat on the ground. After a slightly slow opening pair of games, Ezekial Elliott has run off three straight 100+ yard games for a total of five hundred and forty-six yards and five touchdowns. Add to this a defence that is doing enough and the Cowboys look to have found a sustainable winning formula. I’m still not sure that Romo should come back, but if he does get injured they have a player with plenty of early success to step in.
The Philadelphia Eagles may have dropped a game to the Detroit Lions last week, but at 3-1 they are already ahead of schedule thanks to a defence that is already playing well under first year coordinator Jim Schwartz and the play of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. In a rare trade that was a win for both sides, the Eagles sent Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a first round pick with more to come if Bradford continues to play well, which meant Wentz was made the starter and he already looks at home. The coaching staff has done a great job of putting Wentz in a position to succeed, but he’s been in complete control of the offence and only threw his first interception against the Lions last week. The Eagles have been one of the surprises of the season and I could easily see them challenging in this division for the rest of the year.
It has been a season of ups and downs in Washington, but after a slow start they have won three straight and slowly dragged their season around. It looked like Kirk Cousins was possibly pressing at the start of the season, or he could just be a streaky quarterback. They were slightly lucky to win against the Ravens last week, but they will be hoping that they can keep in the hunt going forward.
The New York Giants got off to a solid start but haven’t been able to sustain it, losing their last three games. The NFL media are obsessing over Odell Beckham’s outbursts, but with an anaemic running game and Eli Manning struggling in the passing game, the offence is not flowing and the defence appears to be regressing after a promising opening couple of games. It is too early to read too much into this record, but I always thought there was more wrong with the Giants than Tom Coughlin’s coaching (which had previously netted them two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots and so I was very sceptical when he was fired and everyone else kept their jobs) and it looks like I may be proven correct in the long term.
The Minnesota Vikings are the only unbeaten team in the league, despite a number of high quality starters getting injured, including Teddy Bridgewater in a pre-season injury that was so bad it stopped practice. However, plaudits must go to both the coaching staff for the job in getting them ready, and to GM Rick Spielman who went out and got Sam Bradford in a trade with the Eagles. It was criticised at the time due to the price he payed, but it seems that he was right to believe he had a team capable of challenging for a Super Bowl, and with a new stadium that is proving to be a hostile place for visiting teams, the Viking look to be set to go deep into the playoffs despite the injuries.
The Green Bay Packer meanwhile, have assembled a very respectable 3-1 record despite having a certain amount of their problems from last year roll over into this season. The offence is improving, but still seems very reliant on Jordy Nelson, whilst the defence has improved markedly against the run whilst struggling occasionally to defend the pass. This is not helped by corner Sam Shield still being in the concussion protocol and you begin to wonder how long he may be able to continue to play. Still, with Aaron Rodgers you should be competitive most year and we will just have to see how the team develops in the coming weeks.
The Detroit Lions have been up and down as they gone 2-3, with a defence that is struggling again as injuries has hampered them, whilst the offence has continued its progress under Jim Bob Cooter with Marvin Jones playing very well having turned down the Bengals to get a bigger role.
The Chicago Bears are propping up the division on 1-4 and have a frightening number of players injured, which has included Jay Culter and with Bryan Hoyer throwing for six touchdowns and no interceptions it feels like a quarterback controversy could be brewing. There are bits of this team that look like it might come together at some point, but they are ways away from competing for the playoffs, but their fans will be hoping to see something that shows they are building towards winning.
The Atlanta Falcons have the best ranked offence by DVOA in the NFL and have ridden this to a 4-1 as they come into a stretch that will really prove if they are for real this year. An excellent offensive game plan and a good enough defence was enough to beat Denver this week, but they have stayed out west as they now travel to Seattle as part of a fearsome road trip to two of the hardest places to visit in the NFL. They will be hoping to avoid the huge dip in form they had last season, but Matt Ryan has looked a lot more comfortable in this second year in Kyle Shanahan’s offence with a much more balanced array of options open to him, and whilst I wasn’t expecting this happen, they are making me a believer this year. I am really looking forward to seeing them this weekend and going forward.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are really struggling this year, yet are somehow second in the division with a 2-3 record, with both wins coming against divisional opponents. However, they have not been convincing with questions surrounding the running of a team that thought it was a good idea to trade up in round two to pick a kicker. The offence hasn’t continued from where it was last year with Dirk Koetter stepping up to head coach and making some poor game management decisions. This is another team that we’ll have to see how they progress through the season but I am not convinced that they are going to improve that much.
Both the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers have only win with the Saints going 1-3 and the Panthers a miserable 1-4. It is a familiar tale in New Orleans with Drew Brees producing but not being surrounded with enough talent to win. It is not unusual for the team who lost the Super Bowl to struggle next season, but I don’t think anyone was expecting quite this fall off. The injury to running back Jonathan Stuart and Cam Newton picking up a concussion are part of a worrying trend on offence, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the defence. The front seven are basically the same, but the secondary features three rookies playing in the rotation and the decision to let Josh Norman doesn’t look to be paying off anytime soon. I don’t think anyone was expecting the team who went 15-1 last season to look like this, but that’s why you play the games.
The Seattle Seahawks have almost quietly got themselves a 3-1 record to lead the NFC West. The big worry for me going into the season was their offence, and specifically the offensive line, but despite getting Russell Wilson injured they have managed to do enough to win. In his second season in Seattle Jimmy Graham is finally beginning to look himself, whilst the defence looks as strong as ever. The Seahawks are once again near the top of the DVOA rankings, and their solitary loss was the now seemingly annual defeat by the Rams.
The Rams have moved to LA, picked a quarterback first who hasn’t even sniffed the field, but they have gone 3-2 off the back of defence that is playing well and not a lot else. The offence is struggling once more in the passing game, whilst the big play reliant Todd Gurley is not finding the big plays that covered up his lack of consistency last season. They are trying to avoid 7-9 agricultural manure football, but it feels they might end up there or there abouts.
The Arizona Cardinals have got off to surprisingly bad start. The offence has been misfiring on offence, with Carson Palmer not finding the deep ball regularly even before his concussion. In David Johnson they have one of the best running backs in the league, and it looks like they may need to rely on him a bit more if they are to turn round the season. They are only 2-3, but they will need to find some consistency if they are to get to where they want to go, and where everyone expected them to be. On a personal note, Larry Fitzgerald continues to be the prototypical receiver and human being that everyone should aspire to be.
It is not surprising that the San Francisco 49ers are propping up the division given the upheaval of their roster a year ago. There is not a lot to write home about, and the loss of NaVorro Bowman was particularly sad given how hard he had worked to come back from last season’s horrible knee injury where basically everything in his knee was torn apart. The big offseason news was Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, which has developed into a series of protests across the league and looks to be spreading to other sport. Kaepernick will be making his first start of the season this weekend and he will want to provide a spark to an offence that has struggled under Blaine Gabbert, but there are bound to be those looking to write stories about how the off the field situation affects his on field play, and the only way to silence that will be to play well. Given that he has played in a Super Bowl, the fall over the last couple of seasons was steep and I for one would like to see him turn things round.
And now onto tonight’s game:
Broncos @ Chargers (+3.5)
The Broncos may have lost last week, but are facing a very different team in the Chargers, and with all the ways that they are finding to lose and the injuries I can only pick one way in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Broncos
Dan’s Pick: Broncos