I am playing with the order this week as given the news there’s only one place to start, although I will get to what I saw of the week five games
What I Heard
Dan and I discussed it on the pod, which will go up tomorrow, but the headlines and discussions over the last couple of days have understandably focussed on the racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails of Jon Gruden that were discovered as part of the investigation to the Washington Football Team.
The NFL informed the Raiders late last week, but it seems it took the new stories in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times revealing leaked information for Gruden to resign stating that he didn’t want to be a distraction. Given the makeup of his locker room, including the first openly gay player to play a regular season game, it is hard to see how he could have possibly led the team.
At this point it is hard to be surprised that a middle aged straight white male might have these views, though that is bad enough in its own right, but that he had the confidence to email such things over a corporate email system displays pretty amazing entitlement. Even in his short statement he hasn’t addressed the nature of what they contained but tried to defend himself.
The way the NFL has and hasn’t reacted to the contents of the Washington investigation (which haven’t been published) raises its own questions given so far the only person to be held accountable and lose their job is Gruden. The NFLPA are petitioning for all of the emails to be released and this is important because Gruden not only wrote such bigoted things but felt comfortable enough to do it to Bruce Allen’s team email. Who else in the league is enabling such behaviour and why does the NFL seem so set to protect the Washington Franchise’s owner Dan Snyder given what we know of the culture he fostered there?
I do not know what happens next, but all the inclusivity campaigns and gestures will ring hollow if the league doesn’t act. However, given the league’s history it is hard to have faith that will happen in a timely fashion.
What I Saw
I saw some of the Falcons hosting the Jets in London, and I had forgotten just how much the Spurs stadium looks like an NFL stadium when it is configured for American football. Personally, that makes me a little sad as I like the idea of seeing the game look different and knowing it is in London, but it also is a commitment to having football in the UK and so I’m not going to complain too much. I am looking forward to watching the progress of Kyle Pitts over the coming years, and that he should have a breakout game with the Falcons top two receiver not playing is obvious in hindsight. I also overestimated the progress of the Jets, which doesn’t mean the glimmers I saw in their week four win were not there, but I was naïve to think they could suddenly push on and win in London, where rookie QBs are now a grand 1-11. I’m sure Dave would have mentioned the 1-10 stat if we had recorded a pod last week and that would have saved a point in our picks competition but I should know better. The Jets came back late in the game, but 20-27 is a score that is closer than the game really was.
The next game on Sunday that I watched was the Bengals overtime loss to the Packers that finished 25-22, which includes the Packers’ Mason Crosby missing three chances to seal the game before he finally got the winning field goal. The Bengals next step is to win a game against this level of opponent and beat the teams around them, but Burrow needs to learn what risks he can and can’t get away with (he’s on a voice resting regimin having had a bruised throat that saw him taken to hospital after the game as a precaution). Still, the connection between Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase has been ridiculously productive already and if the defence keeps playing at their current level then the Bengals can hopefully stack productive quarters of the season together. I’m not saying playoffs, but there is at least some things for fans of the Bengals to base hope on. As for the Packers, they might not quite look like the team of the last two seasons, but they’re 4-1 so it’s hard to complain too much and you have to assume they will be in contention later in the year.
I don’t feel like I got the best of the Cardinals this weekend, but that was in part due to the play of the 49ers defence yet the Cardinals ground out a 17-10 win to maintain their unbeaten start to the season. The training staff were working on Kyler Murray’s arm in the fourth quarter, which obviously didn’t help the Cardinals but the 49ers’ defence played well and gave them a chance to win. Unfortunately, Trey Lance demonstrated why Jimmy Garoppolo was the starting quarterback for the 49ers until he picked up a calf strain as whilst Lance looked dangerous running the ball, he is a raw passer with only one speed of delivery and so the 49ers struggled against the Cardinals top five ranked defence by DVOA. I’m not sure that the Cardinals are the best team in the league, but they have established themselves as contenders so far this season and the question going into the second quarter of the season is can they maintain this challenge in the NFC West.
Probably the actual best team in the NFL right now are the Buffalo Bills, who apart from being the number one ranked team by DVOA, handed out a 38-20 beating of Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have real problems this season as they still are the number one ranked offence by DVOA, but they are also the last ranked defence and that combination doesn’t make for winning football. Yes they are missing defensive tackle Chris Jones and pass rush is a real problem, but for all they rebuilt their offensive line in the offseason, right now it’s the defence that’s letting them down. The Bills put pay to the idea of this being just another game by running Josh Allen eleven times, and right now the Bills look like the team to beat in the AFC while it’s hard to see the Chiefs challenging that unless a lot of things improve quickly.
What I Think
I am treating the first five weeks of the season as the first quarter, and teams are beginning to settle into some tiers. That the Jets, Texans, Jaguars, Giants and Lions are in the bottom tier is hardly a surprise, but to see the Dolphins with only one win is a genuine surprise. I knew the Colts had a difficult run into the season with Carson Wentz, but to see them also with only one win is also a bit of a surprise.
In the middle tier, there are a lot of teams who could go either way. The Broncos have to prove that they are more than their 3-0 start against struggling teams, and the 49ers are wrestling with health and starting quarterbacks again. I wonder if the Steelers’ win in week five is a blip or if they are going to drag themselves back into contention and I’ve already mentioned the Bengals positive start.
As for the top teams who are over one win above five hundred, the Buffalo Bills weren’t a given but it’s not that surprising that they are 4-1, nor is it a surprise to see the Buccaneers get to four wins despite their slew of injuries at cornerback. The Ravens have not always looked pretty but are competing as always. It’s perhaps not a surprise that the Cowboys are top of the NFC East, but with the development of their defence they have to be considered as potential challengers in the NFC and I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t think anyone predicted the Cardinals to be unbeaten through five games and they are probably the biggest surprise in a tough division as right now they have a one game lead on the 4-1 LA Rams. You could see the potential of Mathew Stafford in McVay’s system, but it has very much lived up to expectations so far in LA. Finally, in the AFC part of LA the Chargers have also got off to a fast start under Brandon Staley and now it’s just a case of if they can build on this momentum or if the things that seem to so often go wrong for the Chargers resurface.
What I Know
I am looking forward to hearing about Dan’s experience at the Spurs stadium this weekend and as ever, there are plenty of questions at stage of the season. I’m looking forward to getting back to football, but we can’t take our eyes of the governance and the wider issues of the NFL.
What I Hope
I truly hope that the Dolphins are inspired by Dan’s presence in London and he gets to see a win, or even just Tua return and play well. I want no repeats of him having to witness a shutout in person.