Another week of NFL action is in the books, and some interesting revelations have been made over the first five weeks.
The Bengals may actually be good, the Falcons may not actually be good at all, and Drew Brees is ageless. I guess the last one isn’t that much of a surprise though.
The Steelers seem to be back from the dead. The Chiefs proved they were not only not a fluke but may be the best team in the league. And the Rams, despite losing their best two wide receivers at different points of their game in Seattle, still pulled out another win to stay perfect themselves.
The injuries to Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp are just a couple of big losses sustained this week. Matt Breida is shaken up, as is fellow game-changing back Saquon Barkley. I’ll be looking at the status of those injuries and several others today.
But first, to the headlines.
Drew Brees the Record-Breaker and the Saints Hot Start
Drew Brees may have just eclipsed Peyton Manning’s all-time record for passing yards. But he doesn’t look like a guy who is anywhere near the twilight of his career.
He has the Saints in the driver’s seat of the NFC South with a 4-1 mark, thanks mostly to his 1,658 pass yards, 11 touchdown tosses, and ridiculous 77.9% completion rate. Those first two numbers would average out to 5,306 and 35 over a 16-game schedule.
And now that he has Mark Ingram back from suspension, those averages may only surge. Sure, the running back will take a few passes away from Brees due to his capabilities on the ground. But he gives the QB yet another target to distribute to.
Between Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the backfield duo caught 139 passes last season. That’s an unprecedented number for a running back group in the NFL and goes to show how wide-open this passing attack is.
But out of all the thrilling production on offense, the most encouraging thing for the Saints might be their defense.
The Saints have still yet to give up 70 yards to a running back this year. But that was mostly because their opponents were more focused on picking apart the Saints’ dysfunctional secondary.
But after giving up big numbers the first three weeks of the season, the third level has improved dramatically. They’ll face bigger downfield threats at QB in the future when they play Jared Goff (Rams), Kirk Cousins (Vikings), and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers).
But for now, they look like they at least won’t be costing this team any games as they did early on.
The Chiefs Reign Over the AFC
There were apparently some lunatics who thought Jacksonville would end the Chiefs hot start this past Sunday.
But Kansas City kept pushing along, scoring 30 points on what is probably the best defense in the league.
Despite the Jaguars’ shutdown corners, Patrick Mahomes still threw for over 300 yards. It was likely his worst game of the season, which is not saying much. But even though he didn’t throw for a score and was picked twice, he still delivered several big throws and commanded the field with incredible poise.
It helped that he wasn’t knocked around much, as Kansas City only gave up one sack. Mahomes didn’t seem like he was trying to force too many of his throws either. And he hit on a couple over-the-shoulder throws to WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce that had absolute perfect touch.
As for his picks, the first one slipped and sailed on him over the middle. The second was the product of a cross-body throw while being pressured on the run. He may have been playing with fire throwing I back across toward the middle of the field, but it was one of the few poor decisions he made.
It also helped to have a day where Blake Bortles turned the ball over five times, including an interception that smacked off an O-lineman’s helmet. The pressure the Chiefs brought gets a lot of credit for those poor throws though.
Even if it was against Bortles and Jacksonville, who have clear inefficiencies on offense, it was still a step forward for this unit. They looked more like the bend-don’t-break defenses of the recent past, and not the ones inept inside the red zone.
They’ll be playing the Patriots this week though, and that creates a whole new set of problems, especially on the road. Tom Brady isn’t looking back on the slow start his team had and outscored his last two opponents 76-31, scoring 38 in each game.
The Chiefs can jump on the Patriots own issues at the center of their defense. Mahomes should have plenty of time to throw. And Kansas City showed last year they’re more than capable of silencing New England at Foxborough.
It should be a dazzling display of firepower for both teams.
Are the Bengals for real?
The Bengals will have to wait another week until they play Kansas City, but they’ve passed several tests so far.
They’ve taken out AFC North rival Baltimore, come from behind against Miami and won a shootout on a two-minute drill against Atlanta.
The Bengals may not be as glorified a team right now as the Chiefs, Rams, or Saints. But people need to start waking up to the possibility that Andy Dalton is going to make noise in this division once again.
It seemed at the beginning of the year that Cincinnati should be thinking about drafting a new guy at quarterback in the near future. Now it seems like Dalton can lead this team back to the playoffs, where he went his first five years in the league.
But this seems like the Bengals team that could finally get over their wild-card hump. They’ve lost there seven times in the last 12 seasons before this one, including those five years with Dalton.
The “Red Rifle” is having what could be his best season though. Sure, the interceptions are still a problem for him from time-to-time. Seven in five games will eventually be a trend that bites him in bigger games.
But he’s also led important drives with cool precision and delivered in the final seconds of the Atlanta game with a TD pass. Dalton has three game-winning drives under his belt already, just one short of his season-high.
He’s on pace to throw the most touchdown passes and yards of his entire career too.
It certainly helps to have the long and athletic frame of A.J. Green (409 yards), and they seem to be reconnecting on the field. Tyler Boyd has done his part at tight end too, with just under 400 yards and 30 receptions.
Now if they could only get John Ross (groin) back healthy to spread the field, they’d have a pretty dynamic aerial attack.
They finally have a ground game to blend it with. Joe Mixon is especially playing up to his potential, the kind Cinci thought he had when they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2017. Everyone thought he was a top-20 talent in the draft, but his misdemeanor assault charge in college deservedly hurt his draft stock.
But this season, he and Giovanni Bernard are making the most of their carries (4.5 and 4.6 yards-per-carry). This is a year after they had YPC marks of 3.5 and 4.4. It’s unfortunate that Bernard may now be out for an extended period of time (more on that later).
This was a show-me year for coach Marvin Lewis, who has been in town way too long (15 seasons) to not have a playoff win. It’s also one for Dalton, who was erratic last season on a 7-9 squad.
But while these good fortunes don’t usually last long for the Bengals, this year just might be different. Maybe.
Can Matt Ryan and the Falcons Recover?
The Falcons have lost games by choking in the red zone on offense (vs Philadelphia) and choking in the red zone on defense (vs Cinci).
Now they’re just getting blown out. And by a team that has been just as dysfunctional as them until Sunday.
The Steelers blew the doors off Atlanta in the second half, stretching it out to a 41-17 win. James Connor tore them up on the ground for 110 yards, while Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown created some fireworks in the passing game.
And now the Falcons join Oakland, Indianapolis, Arizona, San Francisco, and the New York Giants as 1-4 teams, the worst record in the NFL.
If you were to tell anyone that Cleveland, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Buffalo, and the New York Jets would all have more wins than them at this point, they would’ve told you to get your head checked.
Atlanta was the opening night opponent of the defending champion Eagles for a reason. A lot of people thought they could be the first team to play at home for the Super Bowl, predicting matchups with Pittsburgh or a rematch with New England.
But in recent years, the Vikings, Texans, and Cardinals had the same aspirations to play at their home stadiums for Super Bowls and fell short in the playoffs. Most of the host teams don’t even make the playoffs, only happening those three times over the last 16 years.
Playing in a division like the NFC South with big injuries all over the defense, it’s hard to see them regaining ground. If they lose to Tampa Bay this Sunday, their season is all but squandered.
Malcom Butler’s knee injury sustained against the Colts last Thursday must’ve not been detrimental, as he was back on the practice field Tuesday.
They’ll need him in their pivotal matchup with the Chiefs Sunday, as all the pressure the front can bring will be key against Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes.
Another big AFC East injury is that of Dolphins’ OT Laremy Tunsil, who was undergoing concussion protocol after Sunday’s game with the Bengals. He would be the third O-line starter to go down for the Dolphins if he can’t play Sunday versus the Bears
Joe Mixon may be back and healthy for the Bengals, but now Giovani Bernard is out with his own knee injury.
The team has said he could miss a month or more, stalling what had been a productive early-season stint for the running back.
The offense could also be without speedster WR John Ross again as he’s healing from a groin injury.
Another wide receiver who will miss some time is Browns WR Rashard Higgins. He caught a touchdown pass and had 66 yards receiving Sunday.
But now he has his own knee injury and will miss the next two games, if not more.
After swelling of his right foot kept Titans OT Taylor Lewan from playing in the second half of Sunday’s loss to Buffalo, it’s still yet to be determined whether he’ll be out for an extended period of time.
Expect results from his MRI sometime within the next day.
Nipping at the heels of Tennessee in the AFC South are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost another productive RB on Sunday. This time it’s Corey Grant, who was expected to see the field a bit more with the lingering issues Leonard Fournette has been having with his hamstring.
Grant has a Lisfranc (foot) injury that will probably end his season.
And though it probably isn’t any major concern, Houston QB Deshaun Watson has been listed as questionable with a chest injury.
He’s day-to-day, but don’t expect him to miss a game.
The story for Colts’ WR T.Y. Hilton is a little trickier.
His hamstring issues will have to be constantly monitored. Even after a long week to prepare for this Sunday’s game, it’s hard to know if Indy will test the injury or not. As everyone saw with Fournette, it’s easy to aggravate a hamstring injury worse when returning too soon.
Though Kansas City is rolling through their schedule right now, it would be great to get Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry back. Especially with games coming up against New England and the LA Rams.
But Berry’s heel/Achilles injury is something that could flare up at any time, a bone spur of sorts that’s been extremely painful for him. He’s listed as questionable for now. But he won’t be at 100% for the foreseeable future.
Two-time Pro Bowl OT Russell Okung has also been listed as questionable by the Chargers. He missed Sunday’s game with a groin injury and has yet to return to the practice field.
The Broncos also have an OT missing action in Garrett Bolles (ankle). This is a team that’s already down Adam Jones (hamstring) in the secondary, and now may have to do without a key piece of their offensive line.
With Jay Ajayi finished for the season and having ACL surgery on Thursday, the Eagles are in need of capable RBs. But Darren Sproles (hamstring) is still unlikely to play Thursday night against the Giants.
If it had been a Sunday game, he might’ve played. But with an early contest, he’s listed as doubtful.
The Eagles will thankfully get RB Corey Clement (quad) back to take a few carries. And for the defensive line, they still have DT Haloti Ngata (calf) out, but regain the services of DE Derek Barnett (shoulder).
Big news also came out of Giants practice, where Saquon Barkley has been given the green light for Thursday’s game versus Philly. He had a back spasm during an amazing touchdown run on Sunday but had an MRI done to make sure nothing worse had transpired.
After sitting out Sunday, Dalvin Cook (hamstring) is once again questionable this week. The Vikings may not need him against the lowly Cardinals.
The Packers are a little beat up at several different positions. CB Jaire Alexander should play this weekend despite a groin injury. WR Randall Cobb (hamstring), who missed last Sunday, is also planning to play this Sunday.
A significant contributor for the Lions should be back this week, as RB Kerryon Johnson will likely play after sustaining an ankle injury in what had been another great performance for him.
Key tight ends are still out in the NFC South. But Greg Olsen is at least running drills at Carolina’s practices and nearing a return from a foot injury.
O.J. Howard, on the other hand, wasn’t expected to be available after a knee injury. But he was back at practice Wednesday after having been listed as “out” on Monday. This is big news for the Bucs.
They will be playing an Atlanta team this week that had an X-Ray run on Matt Ryan. But there’s little-to-no chance he misses Sunday’s clash with a foot injury.
The Saints had a lot of fun on the field Monday, but they do have one big injury of note. No. 1 corner Marshon Lattimore left the game with a concussion. He’s listed as questionable while undergoing protocol.
The Rams pulled through on Sunday despite losing their two best wideouts.
But both Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp should be ready for Sunday but were still being cautious due to the worries of concussions.
Another big injury in the NFC West was that of Matt Breida. He now has a left ankle injury, which he suffered in the first quarter against Arizona on Sunday.
He is listed as “doubtful”, so don’t expect the sprain to heal fast enough for him to play against the Packers.