It is crazy to think the September football has already come and gone. Instead of doing a week four recap this week, I decided to go over the top five takeaways that have popped out to me as a fan that I believe will continue to manifest as the rest of the season unfolds. Here we go…
- I was very wrong about the AFC North
The AFC North has turned out to be one of the most talented divisions early in the 2018 NFL season. The Bengals and Ravens are both 3-1, with the Browns and Steelers both sitting at 1-2-1.
The Bengals could easily be 1-3 right now but have pulled out two close contests against the Colts and Falcons. Each contest presented adversity for both the offense and defense. The Bengals defense was able to jar the ball loose from Colts TE Jack Doyle in the final seconds to spoil Andrew Luck’s much anticipated return week 1, while Andy Dalton was able to hit AJ Green for a touchdown as time expired this past Sunday against the Falcons to give the team a one-point victory on the road. The Bengals would have not won these games in previous years. They were not disciplined enough. The Bengals are the early favorites to take this division while already recording a win over the Ravens and we will get to see if they can continue to execute late in games.
Speaking of teams not executing late in games, there is a universe out there where this Browns team is 4-0. The third and short overturned late in the game Sunday against the Raiders that gave Derek Carr a chance to score the game-tying touchdown was just the latest misstep that led to another Cleveland loss. Despite all of this, the Browns are actually fun to watch and have a ton of talent. It might be too late to save this season, especially with Hue Jackson still making important decisions, but this team is going to give the rest of their opponent’s headaches and will have a marquee win at some point this season.
The Ravens are solid, per usual, with Joe Flacco looking a little more like the guy that won a Super Bowl in 2013. The defense is already in midseason form, and during a time where kicking is a rare commodity, Justin Tucker continues to dominate the third phase of the game. The Ravens do not do anything particularly special, but they do not have any glaring holes and they are well coached. At least one Harbaugh isn’t disappointing on the sidelines.
The surprise of this division is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Le’Veon Bell standstill looks to finally have some closure, with reports suggesting he will rejoin the team during their bye week. The team has struggled but this seems to be the trend for them every season. I am not going to judge this team until they play another four games. If they can go 3-1 in those games, I will have no more doubts. These next four games include a banged-up Falcons team, and each of their three divisional rivals. This is manageable. If not, I am so ready for Mike Tomlin hot seat conversations to escalate and the controversy that comes with that.
- The Eagles are going to be just fine
The loss the Eagles experienced on Sunday in overtime in Tennessee was brutal. The team had three separate occasions where that game could have gone final in their favor, and instead had to watch Marcus Mariota toss up a ball with less than a minute to WR Corey Davis for a game winning touchdown. There were a lot of pissed off Eagles fans after that game, but they need to take a chill pill. You guys have nothing to worry about.
The Eagles were hammered with injuries going into the season, particularly their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and top receiver Alshon Jeffery. This offense is going to be a juggernaut as the year goes on. The defense will pick it up. They just won a Super Bowl; Septembers are always rough for Super Bowl champions. The Cowboys and Giants are shitshows and the Redskins are not far behind them. In the next six weeks the Eagles must play the Vikings (home), Jaguars (away), and Saints (away). This is not cake walk, but if the Eagles can beat two of these teams, I am confident they will win their division handily and once this team makes it back in the playoffs, all bets are off on what happens the rest of the way.
- Khalil Mack has put the Bears over the top, and they can compete for a Super Bowl this year
The Bears sucked the remaining hope out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s season on Sunday afternoon, taking a commanding 38-3 lead going into halftime. Fitzmagic was laid to rest. Jameis was back to his bullshit. This was all caused from a suffocating Bears defense, led by the man of the year in Chicago, Khalil Mack. Mack has not been in the city of Chicago for more than a month and he is already royalty to the city. Each week, I seem to get stuck on the Bears, no matter who they are playing, and I cannot get enough of this defense. Opposing offensive coordinators are so terrified of what Mack can do that it allows the rest of their talented defensive roster to do as they please.
The only thing holding this team back from making a Super Bowl run is their offense, particularly QB Mitchell Trubisky. Although the Bucs have a high school JV level defense, Sunday did provide some evidence that this offense has enough skilled players and creativity to put Trubisky in position to score points. Trubisky threw a career high six touchdowns against the Bucs. Hopefully a performance like this gives Mitchell Trubisky the chance to build some confidence and continue to build chemistry with an almost brand-new receiving corp.
This situation reminds me a lot of the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. The defense played out of their mind, but you never knew what you where going to get out of Blake Bortles. Bortles had some moments, the prime example being the AFC divisional round against the Steelers where the Jags scored 45 points, and when he did, the Jaguars looked like a Super Bowl team. The Bears defense is not quite as good as the Jaguars defense, but the Bears have much better playmakers on offense than the Jaguars did. I do not know how this balances out in the long run, but the Jaguars made the AFC Championship last season and I do not know why that could not accomplished in Chicago this season.
The team has an easy schedule coming up after their bye week (@Dolphins, vs Patriots, vs Jets, @Bills, vs Lions). My bet is that they go 4-1 during that stretch and make it to 7-2 on the season. The schedule gets much tougher after this stroll through the park, but they would realistically only have to go 3-4 in those last seven games to make it to the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers might have something to say when it comes to the division title, but one thing is for sure—the Bears are for real and here to stay. Thanks Jon.
- Pat Mahomes is what Andy Reid has been searching for his entire coaching career
Andy Reid had a front row seat to the Brett Favre show from 1992 to 1999, the year he took the head coaching job in Philadelphia. Ever since his Green Bay days, Reid has been searching for the quarterback that made the Packers tick for all those years. Donavan McNabb and Alex Smith are good NFL starting quarterbacks, but they are not all-time talents. This Pat Mahomes kid might be. It is way too early to make any hardcore predictions for what the next fifteen years might project to look like, especially with only five games of NFL tape out on him, but Mahomes has come out guns-a-blazing (do not care if that sounds controversial because the dude can throw a football faster than a gun bullet, so it makes sense). Mahomes threw for thirteen touchdowns in the first three games of the season, an NFL record. After all the hype surrounding him, the young quarterback found himself down ten points in the fourth quarter on the road in one of the toughest environments in football against their division rival, the Denver Broncos, on Monday Night Football. What does he do? He leads the Chiefs on two touchdown drives, which included a viral left-handed pass on a crucial third down, and led the Chiefs to another victory, reaching 4-0 on the season. It is much easier playing while ahead, but to be able to torch a good Bronco defense on the road on consecutive drives to close out a game is impressive, something we all know Smith would have never done previously.
The defense is not where it needs to be if the Chiefs want to be a Super Bowl contender, but All-Pro safety Eric Berry has yet to play this season due to injury, and that should add some much-needed leadership and playmaking ability to the struggling unit. With Mahomes on a rookie contract for the next couple years, the Chiefs should now be turning to win-now mode. I do not see this offense slowing down, and that alone should be good enough to win at least 11 games. Chiefs fans were letdown year after year during the Alex Smith era, but those days are over. The Pat Mahomes era is off to a hot start, and I do not see it slowing down anytime soon.
- My Rams-Patriots Super Bowl prediction is looking rock solid
The Rams are literally unstoppable. They have an offense that can score point for point with the Chiefs, and a defense that is going to finish in the top five in the NFL by season’s end. The only reason the NFL MVP will not be a Rams player is because the Todd Gurley and Jared Goff votes will be split up between voters. Sean McVay looks like the second coming of Bill Belichick, except McVay relates with his players well, you know because he is 32 years old, and everyone is loose and having fun. I predicted that the Rams were going to go 14-2 in my season preview of the team, and I kept questioning what I was overlooking when examining this team. Looks like I did not over examine anything. This roster is just loaded.
As for the Patriots, they are doing what they do every season. They never play well in September. They always play in February and know how meaningless September football is. We all know Josh Gordon is going to pan out for them, Julian Edelman is going to come back and dominate the slot position that the team has lacked since last season, Gronk is going to start doing Gronk things, and the Patriot machine will continue to roll. I am not going to overthink this. The Dolphins game was enough for me to not question the greatest sports dynasty of the 21st century. God, I hate the Patriots so much, but every team in the AFC has a major flaw, and although the Patriots have plenty themselves, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick negate every one of them. Until Brady gets hurt, I will not question this team.
Photo Credit: KansasCity.com