After six weeks of the 2019 NFL season, some of our preseason predictions are right on track.
Russell Wilson is a bonafide MVP candidate, even if we didn’t see Christian McCaffrey joining him in the league’s upper echelon. Kyle Shanahan looks like an easy coach of the year selection after making his 49ers one of the league’s last two undefeated teams. And the Dolphins are still very much on pace for the No. 1 pick next spring — though the Bengals are plotting to usurp their throne of sadness.
That’s not to say our prognostications didn’t fall to the other side of the spectrum, too. Our enthusiasm for the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes have been dampened by Philly’s 3-3 start. The Broncos’ dominant pass rush turned out to be mostly theoretical over the first quarter of the season. The Browns’ long-awaited redemption has instead looked like someone spilled a bucket that said “FOOTBALL IDEAS” all over the city of Cleveland.
So what did we swing and miss on? Let’s talk about it.
The Cowboys vs. Eagles rivalry was going to determine the best team in the NFC
Coming into the season, I expected the Eagles and Cowboys to be on a collision course — not just for the NFC East supremacy, but the entire NFC. Armed with a couple of the most complete rosters in the NFL, Eagles vs. Cowboys was going to be the battle to watch all season.
So far, it’s fallen flat. Not even each side giving the other bulletin board material is giving it life. If not for the Patriots’ continued dominance over the AFC East, the NFC East has easily been the most boring division race all season.
Technically, it’s still competitive, just for all the wrong reasons. The Eagles and Cowboys are both 3-3, which is good enough to top the division and bad enough that they’re only a game up on the Giants. Currently, the fanbases aren’t warring over which has the best Super Bowl chances, but which is more depressed about how things are going:
The Cowboys — who looked disappointing even before losing to the Jets — have lost three in a row. The Eagles have no consistency. Once week, they can be the only team to stop the Packers. Another week, they can stubbornly refuse to defend Stefon Diggs and let previously lackluster Kirk Cousins-led Vikings offense come alive.
There’s not just one culprit for the teams’ woes, either. Injuries have played a role for both. So has coaching. Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz have been better this season than they’ve been credit for, but neither has been able to put his team on his back. The Cowboys’ pass rush can’t get going, while the Eagles’ pass defense can’t cover anyone, to the point that at least one player thinks they screwed up by not trading for Jalen Ramsey. Oh, and someone is anonymously calling out Wentz and the offense, which indicates the fans aren’t the only ones who are disgruntled.
That makes it hard to trust that either team will regain its edge this year. Maybe their Sunday Night Football clash will be the spark both rivals needs to rally in the second half of the season and live up to their hype. Or maybe they’ll just hover around .500 for most of the year until one of them finally pulls away.
Their Week 7 matchup is still crucial, despite each team limping into it. Both the Cowboys and Eagles need a win, which will put one of them in sole possession of first place. But instead of it being a game that might ultimately decide who gets a first-round bye, it’ll simply determine whose season is on the ropes more.
Baker Mayfield was supposed to make an MVP run
I knew it was bold to pick Mayfield to put up bigger numbers than Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady and win MVP, but it didn’t feel that wild of an idea. After all, he threw 27 touchdowns in only 13 starts as a rookie, and quarterbacks almost always improve in their second season. The ultra rare exceptions usually coincide with an injury — like Robert Griffin III struggling after his Rookie of the Year season ended with an ACL tear.
Mayfield’s been healthy and he’s just plain stunk it up so far. Through six games, he has five touchdowns, a league-leading 11 interceptions, and a 66.0 passer rating.
Even if Mayfield had a perfect 30-for-30 day with 300 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions every single game for the last 10 weeks of the season, his passer rating still wouldn’t be as high as Wilson’s is right now.
There’s still a chance for Mayfield and the Browns to figure things out — they have Odell freakin’ Beckham for god’s sake! — but any chance of him winning MVP this season is already extremely dead. — Adam Stites
Michael Bennett would be the heart of the New England defense
Bennett was supposed to be the team’s latest veteran reclamation project, a versatile replacement for Trey Flowers, who left in free agency. Even better, he only cost the Patriots a swap of Day 3 picks to bring his tiny shoulder pads to Foxborough.
Instead of being the next man up in New England’s pass rush, Bennett has been largely absent from it. He’s played just 35.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, and he’ll miss Week 7 following a “philosophical disagreement” with assistant coach Bret Bielema.
That hasn’t mattered for 2019’s top defense. The Patriots have smothered opponents with third-year tackle/end Adam Butler sliding into a bigger role along the defensive line. The former Vanderbilt offensive lineman has been the versatile, pocket-crumpling force Bennett was supposed to be, making life easier for a group that has eight different players with at least two sacks through six games (and that includes Bennett). That group has provided enough pressure for the league’s deepest secondary to thrive, and New England ranks first in the league in points allowed (8.0 PER GAME), yards allowed per play (4.1), and sack rate (10.6 percent) — Christian D’Andrea
Patrick Mahomes was poised for another MVP season
This one is really actually quite the bummer to write, and it’s no one’s fault. Mahomes absolutely lit up the league a season ago, throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns while winning the league’s MVP award. Heading into 2019, he came back with most of his offense intact, and despite the Chiefs’ offensive line getting banged up, all signs pointed toward another big year.
Although we’re only in Week 7 of the season, Mahomes’ storyline all season has been focused on his health instead of his numbers. He suffered an ankle injury Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then aggravated the same injury Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts — his numbers weren’t awful, but the ankle was clearly bothering him to the point where he just didn’t look like the same Mahomes.
Then came one of the scariest moments we’ve seen so far this season (at least for most NFL fans, including myself) during Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos in Week 7. Mahomes was seen on the field visibly in pain after keeping the ball on a QB sneak. Fortunately, the X-ray results showed a dislocated kneecap, with no other ligament damage, but Mahomes will miss at least a few weeks as he heals.
Obviously, that’s way better a scenario than say a torn ACL, but it’s unfortunate to not be able to see him fully healthy all season. Hopefully, he can look like the same Mahomes from last season when he does make his return. But either way, a repeat MVP performance doesn’t look like it’s in the cards. — Morgan Moriarty
What have you been most wrong about so far this season? Let us know in the comments.