A quarter of the way through the season, the NFL is finally hitting its’ stride.
While we might not have an idea as to who will win the NFL’s most prestigious awards or know which teams are truly contenders, we are starting develop a bit of an idea. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Here are the headlines heading into Week 5:
The word of the week, for some teams, is: return. The Bengals, Patriots, and Saints welcome back key members to their organizations that could take them to another level.
The talk in Cincinnati is about the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton, and the red-hot offense, but their defense could stand to improve with the return of the emotionally imbalanced Vontaze Burfict. Cincy is 29th in total yardage allowed per game on defense, struggling against both ground and aerial assaults. If they want to be a playoff team and a contender in the AFC, they have got to make teams one dimensional.
Defense isn’t an issue for New England as they are holding offenses to 347.8 yards per contest (11th in the NFL). It’s the offense that could use an injection of energy. It’s a good thing Julian Edelman is ready to go after his four-game suspension. The Pats’ offense has been stagnant at times, but with Minitron back expect his presence to be felt in a chain reaction.
Lastly, New Orleans is hardly having issues offensively and despite lacking a physical presence in the rushing department they are actually 5th in that category. The Saints will get even scarier with Mark Ingram back in the fold. His return is good news for the offense, but it’s even bigger for the defense who might not have to be on the field as frequently.
Jimmy Smith (Ravens), Corey Liuget (Chargers), Robert Turbin (Colts), and David Irving (Cowboys) are other players worth mentioning that should provide an impact in their return.
NFC Championship Rematch
Usually, a rematch of the conference championship game the following season is exciting business. For Minnesota and Philadelphia, a good chunk of their nucleus has returned, both Mike Zimmer and Doug Pederson are back, and even the venue of the game played in January is the same. But, both teams seem to be struggling with finding their footing this season.
The Vikings added Kirk Cousins with the underlying premise being he was the piece they needed to be a Super Bowl contender. Cousins has performed about as well as anticipated as he is third in passing yardage. On the contrary, the defense has been lackluster after leading the league in fewest yards allowed last season. Their spirited leader Everson Griffen is missing due to off-the-field issues and for a 1-2-1 Vikings team this is almost like a must-win contest.
The competition in the NFC East isn’t as fierce as the NFC North. Therefore, I give this Eagles team a pass because Carson Wentz is still working off the rust and there’s a new offensive coordinator. Every week it seems like a new running back or receiver is inactive due to an injury for the Eagles.
Despite both teams getting off to a slow start, the Vikings panic meter is higher as they seem like they lack a true identity.
The new trend in the NFL is seeing a few barnburners on a weekly basis. One game that could continue that trend is the Falcons versus the Steelers. It’s scheduled to be the highest scoring contest this week with both teams projected to score 57 total points.
Atlanta and Pittsburgh are both top 10 in total yardage on offense and in the bottom third of the league in yardage allowed.
Still not sold?
Well, you’ve got two top 10 quarterbacks in this one (yardage wise) in Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. Also, you’ve got two of the game’s best receivers in Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. Finally, you’ve got two young budding stars in Juju Smith-Schuster and Calvin Ridley. Start every skills position player in this one for the sake of winning in fantasy.
The Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object
Can we stop attributing Patrick Mahomes success to sitting behind Alex Smith? Mahomes would have been ready to go as a rookie last season and you know why? Andy Reid.
Reid has continued to evolve since his days with Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. He went from running the traditional I-Formation with McNabb to running a spread offense with different elements to accommodate Michael Vick and Nick Foles to now orchestrating a Golden State Warriors brand style of offense for Smith and Mahomes. The Chiefs are like the Warriors in the sense that they keep you glued and mesmerized with their weapons the entire game.
Lost in all of the chaos in the AFC are the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have had their issues on offense with the mercurial Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette dealing with hamstring problems. Yet, they still rely on their defense to will them to victories and rightfully so. They are giving up the fewest points and second fewest yards per game.
Mahomes has virtually went unscathed through a quarter of the season, but a win against the Jags would put him in the driver’s seat for the MVP and entrench the Chiefs in Super Bowl talks.
The Battle of Texas
Like the Vikings and Eagles, the Sunday night bout between the Cowboys and Texans might be a season-altering victory for the team that wins. The Cowboys are 2-2 while the Texans are 1-3 with Houston favored by Vegas with a -3.5 spread.
Dallas is 6th in yardage allowed, but 25th in yardage gained on offense. On the other hand, Houston is 22nd in yardage allowed yet they are 5th in total offense. It’s hard to find very many dichotomies between the two teams, if any at all.
After digging a bit deeper, the Texans struggle defending the pass as they are giving up 307.3 yards per contest and have allowed 11 passing touchdowns. The Cowboys have only given up 5 passing touchdowns and have held quarterbacks to 234.8 yards.
In a game against a leaky defense, I think Dak Prescott builds off his performance from last week and hovers at or around 300 yards. Ezekiel Elliott will help the Cowboys control the pace too with 150 yards of total offense. Watson will light up Dallas’s defense, but Demarcus Lawrence and company will get home often in key spots.