This is one of the best times of the NFL season. Every team — thanks for joining the party, Cardinals — has at least one win. That means there’s still hope for everyone before some teams’ fans — hey again, Cardinals — accept that it’s time to start studying up on the 2019 NFL Draft.
Right now, we can’t even be sure of things we knew to be true of just weeks ago. The Browns aren’t a laughingstock. The Eagles aren’t that intimidating. The Bills have two wins and over not-bad teams.
That’s exciting, and in an increasingly uncertain world, a bit scary. Because with that feeling of “anything can happen” comes doubt. And after doubt, comes panic.
The Packers aren’t just meh, they’re boring as hell
Have you ever asked yourself, “what would Jeff Fisher be like if he had a generational talent at QB?” The answer is Mike McCarthy — consistently underwhelming, dedicated to mediocrity. He’s managed to rise above the 7-9 bullshit because Aaron Rodgers works miracles to salvage the Packers’ season after slow starts.
But sitting at 2-2-1, that might be too much to ask of Green Bay’s hobbled quarterback.
Just look at how stale the Packers passing game five games into the season.
An offense led by Rodgers that lacks explosiveness. They’re not very good coming up with the kind of big plays you should expect, either. So why is Green Bay’s offense so meh? Why is Rodgers being overshadowed by so many of his peers in a season where even average quarterbacks are putting up outrageous stats?
Part of it is talent. The Packers have one of the league’s most forgettable group of receivers, and outside of Devante Adams, it’s a struggle for any of them to get open. If you can’t get open, Rodgers can’t work his magic and get the ball where it needs to be. Maybe that’s why he seemed so miffed about Jordy Nelson walking in free agency.
It falls to the coach, in that case, to scheme the players open, which is one secret of the success behind the 5-0 Rams and Chiefs and their explosive offenses. McCarthy made a big deal about calling the plays again this season, too. So there’s only one person to blame for a Packers offense that STILL hasn’t scored 30 points in a game this season.
Rodgers must feel the same way, at least he sounded like it in his comments after the Packers could only muster 22 points in a win over the hapless Bills in Week 4.
“But there was no flow to the game. There was a little bit in the first half. After that …”
And when asked if that was because of the personnel groupings, all he could say was “That’s not a question for me.”
He ripped the playcalling too.
“We need to find ways to get our playmakers in position to get some more opportunities. Davante is a tough cover for anybody. But he should’ve had 20 targets today. They couldn’t stop him. And they dared to play one-high a few times. So we’ve got to find ways to get him involved and Jimmy as well.”
That would be tight end Jimmy Graham, a pricey free agent addition who has one touchdown. One.
Of course, all parties went to great lengths to downplay the whole affair, but the same problems were obvious again in Sunday’s loss to the Lions ... the Lions. There are other problems the Packers are dealing with too — The running game stinks (which Rodgers has also commented on), the kicking game stinks, they can’t stop committing dumb penalties, and Rodgers may be a little more hurt than he’s letting on.
Panic index: This isn’t a new problem. It’s just one that’s always been easy to mask with an all-world quarterback, but it might not be this year ... and it might never be as good as it could be with McCarthy at the helm.
The Cowboys offense just isn’t good enough
No matter who you want to point fingers at, the Cowboys’ offense just isn’t performing at a quality level right now. Dak Prescott has regressed from last year, their receivers can’t separate from anyone, and the play calling has been uninspired — to say the least.
When an offense can only really function in the short portion of the field, they aren’t going to be very productive. The Cowboys offensive line is holding their own, even after Travis Frederick was lost for the year, but the rest of the offense just can’t seem to get things going.
Dallas does have one of the best rushing attacks in the league, but running the ball just isn’t conducive to scoring points in thr NFL. They need a massive overhaul with their coaching staff and players catching the ball, but, unfortunately for Cowboys fans, that won’t be coming until next season.
Panic index: The Cowboys’ offense has fallen off a cliff since a great 2016 season. There isn’t really anything they can do at this point to get back on track.
Doug Pederson wore a visor, and the Eagles still lost at home
It’s been a slow — and kinda boring — start to the season for the defending Super Bowl champions. So you can understand why the Eagles’ official team site would do a deep dive into coach Doug Pederson’s headwear. I mean, it’s better than having to write about an overtime loss to the Titans.
According to their investigation, Pederson had a perfect 13-0 coaching record at Lincoln Financial Field when he wore a visor, at least before Sunday. The Eagles were hosting the Vikings, a rematch of the NFC Championship that now feels like it happened years ago. Both teams were coming off losses and in need of a win — the Eagles were 2-2 and the 1-2-1 Vikings, who still reeked a bit of that two-week old “yeah, we lost to the Bills” stench, were slightly more desperate.
But the Eagles had one clear advantage:
Alas, not even Pederson’s magic visor could save the Eagles from drops, a nonexistent running game (that’s now worse with Jay Ajayi’s season-ending injury), the latest infuriating roughing the passer penalty, Linval Jospeh’s glorious fumble return touchdown, and yet another close loss. The Eagles have now lost three games by a total of 11 points.
They’ve also only won their two games — against the one-win Falcons and Colts — by a total of 10 points. So it’s not like they’re looking impressive even when luck is on their side. Right now, their Super Bowl followup is looking like True Detective Season 2 levels of letdown.
Panic index: Here’s why Eagles shouldn’t be freaking out just yet: the NFC East is total garb and Pederson is by far the best coach in the division. Pederson isn’t afraid to go against conventional wisdom — like being just the second coach in the last 16 years to go for two while down by eight points. That’s someone who has a good head on his shoulders, no matter what he wears on top of that head.
The Broncos defense has thrown in the towel
Being a defender in Denver over the last few years has to have been frustrating. An elite defense was the backbone of a Broncos team that won the Super Bowl in 2015, but since then, the offense has dragged them down.
They finished No. 4 in total defense in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017, but couldn’t get into the playoffs either year. It was because the quarterback trio of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler was flat out awful. Case Keenum was supposed to be the solution, but he’s been terrible too and the Broncos are again stuck in neutral.
So is the Broncos defense really as terrible as they looked in Week 5, or did they quit?
Isaiah Crowell set a Jets’ franchise record with 219 rushing yards against the Broncos, and Bilal Powell added 99 more yards for good measure. The 323 rushing yards for New York are the most any team has had in a game since 2014.
At the end of the 2017 season, Vance Joseph tried to convince media that the Broncos didn’t quit near the end of a 35-9 loss to the Dolphins. He’ll have an even tougher time making that argument this time around.
Panic index: Joseph is probably the likeliest NFL coach to get fired first this season. Even if you don’t think the Broncos quit Sunday, a change looks necessary. With the Rams and Chiefs on the schedule in two of the next three weeks, don’t expect things to magically get better.
The Chiefs are 5-0 again, which has never, ever ended well
There are many great Kansas City traditions. Slow-smoked barbecue. Jazz. Fountains. The Chiefs building hope, and then flushing it all away in the postseason.
2018 marks the fourth time in franchise history the Chiefs have started a season 5-0. The prior three seasons all ended without a postseason win. In 2003, an overtaxed defense gave up 38 points in a Divisional Round loss to the Colts. In 2013, an overtaxed defense gave up 45 points in a Wild Card loss to the Colts. And in 2017, an overtaxed defense coughed up a 21-3 halftime lead to the Titans that saw Marcus Mariota throw a momentum-shifting touchdown pass ... to himself.
This is important, since the 2018 Chiefs boast the league’s second-best scoring offense and its 32nd-ranked defense. Kansas City has given up more than 461 yards per game this fall, relying on first-year starter Patrick Mahomes II to light up the scoreboard behind one of the league’s most explosive — and most underpaid — offenses. That’s an extremely Chiefs way of doing things, and it’s typically led to heartbreak in the past.
Panic index: If Week 5 is any indication, the Kansas City defense is beginning to trend upward. The Chiefs limited a Jaguars offense that saw Blake Bortles hang four touchdowns on the Patriots weeks earlier to just 14 points, establishing the club as the team to beat in the AFC. Dee Ford, the club’s soon-to-be free agent linebacker, led a defensive effort that recorded five sacks and forced the bad throws that led to four interceptions.
Orlando Scandrick, coming off his best game with the club since coming to Missouri as a free agent this offseason, attributes last week’s newfound strength to increased physicality — something Kansas City will work to sustain throughout 2018. That’s good, because if this defense can’t get any stops in January it’ll be another brief playoff run for the Chiefs.
Blake Bortles is still as unreliable as it gets
The Jaguars have alternated week to week from Super Bowl favorite to below-average disappointment. The defense is still great with stars at every level. The Jaguars became the first team to keep Patrick Mahomes in check when he was held to no touchdowns with two interceptions in Week 5.
The reason for the inconsistency is the same as it’s always been: Blake Bortles.
Based on the pattern, we should expect a passer rating of at least 110 from Bortles against the Cowboys in Week 6. But should you expect it? Absolutely not. There’s been no rhyme or reason to Bortles’ peaks and valleys. They seemingly happen at random.
His performance against the Chiefs was a doozy. He had four interceptions, including two that were hilariously awful. There was only one appropriate soundtrack:
Blake Bortles' game against the Chiefs was basically a blooper reel. pic.twitter.com/gbSz9edD8o— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 8, 2018
Bortles is now at 71 career interceptions, seven more than any other quarterback since he was drafted in 2014.
Panic index: It’ll always be hard to trust the Jaguars as a legitimate contender so long as Bortles is the quarterback. When he plays well, they’re close to unbeatable. When he doesn’t, he really, really doesn’t. All Jacksonville can do is cross their fingers that good Bortles shows up when it counts.