OVER one-third of the NFL season has already been and gone, with enough time passing for us to form a fairly decent opinion of how all 32 teams are travelling. Some of those squads look fine, some look great and others, well, don’t look like anything. It would be unwise to assume that all of the trends we have seen so far are going to continue for the remaining 10-11 games of the season, but, for better or worse there are some clear candidates who are watching their stock swing after six weeks of action.
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San Francisco 49ers Defense
A year ago, the 49ers owned a middle of the road defense that forced just seven turnovers over the 16 game season. Oh, how times have changed. Allowing the second-fewest yards (237.4) and points per game (12.8) only behind New England, San Fransisco’s defensive unit now appears to be a force to be reckoned with. Offensive guru Kyle Shanahan has found the key to unlocking one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but it’s their growth on the other side of the ball that has helped the Niners stay undefeated. It’s worth noting their opponents so far haven’t been world-beaters, but having already recorded 12 takeaways, there’s no reason why this unit can’t stay hot.
SEATTLE’S franchise quarterback is off to the best start of his career through six games and you can see why Russell Wilson is generating MVP buzz along the way. He ranks first or second in most quarterbacking metrics, with the Seahawks play-caller playing at a crazy efficient level. Of the 44 players who have at least 10 pass attempts this year, Wilson is one of only two players who hasn’t thrown an interception – you’ll hear about the second guy in a minute. Wilson’s inability to turn the ball over has helped Seattle record the third-highest turnover differential and leaves him poised for a legitimate run at his second Super Bowl ring. There’s still a lot of football to be played between now and SB LIV, but right now the Seahawks look like a genuine threat to be the last NFC team standing thanks to an MVP level Russ.
Image from seahawkswire.usatoday.com
New Orleans Saints
WHEN Drew Brees went down in Week 2 there was an air of ambiguity over how the Saints would survive without their franchise QB. Since that time, New Orleans is one of four teams yet to lose a game, aided by an impressive defense and an ever-evolving gameplan for QB2 Teddy Bridgewater to succeed in. Getting the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands quickly has helped them move the chains without too much drama and while NOLA’s offense still has some hiccups without the future HOFer in Brees under center, Bridgewater is proving his worth as the most expensive backup in the NFL. Obviously, the Saints would be better off with Brees in uniform, but remaining undefeated since his injury is a testament to the organisation on both sides of the ball.
SPEAKING of undefeated, Carolina’s very own backup quarterback is turning heads through the first third of the 2019 season. Kyle Allen has re-ignited Carolina’s season after Cam Newton’s 0-2 start, winning four contests on the trot improving with every snap he takes. Leaning on MVP candidate and fantasy football god Christian McCaffrey certainly helps make life easier, but Allen deserves a bunch of the credit for what the Panthers have achieved in the past month. The former undrafted signal-caller will have to fight a healthy Newton for the starting tole following their Week 7 bye, with the 2015 MVP edging closer to a return. Allen has passed every test with flying colours thus far and not even a challenging matchup against the 49ers should sway his confidence from remaining atop the perch that is Carolina’s quarterback depth chart.
With a win against the Bucs, Kyle Allen becomes the first quarterback in NFL history to win his first 5 games without throwing an interception 🤯 #KeepPounding #NFLUK pic.twitter.com/v9o9NPukLO
— SportsbyFry (@sportsbyfry) October 13, 2019
TAMPA Bay’s season hasn’t gone according to plan so far, with their defense allowing over 30 points on average and their offensive output fluctuating between good and catastrophically bad. One bright spark throughout their opening six games has been the coming-out party for wide-receiver Chris Godwin, who continues to make the polarizing Jameis Winston look half decent. No player has hauled in more receiving yards (662 to be exact) than Godwin this season, with his six touchdown catches and 13 receptions of 20+ yards also league-best figures. Winston’s future with the Buccaneers appears shaky, but Godwin is doing his best to keep his quarterback’s reputation intact.
2013 & 2014 Heisman Trophy Winners
THE top-2 selections in the 2015 NFL Draft haven’t exactly blown up during their time in the league. I’ve already dragged Jameis Winston through the mud, with the top overall selection arguably playing the worst game of his career on the weekend. His first pass was intercepted, a theme that continued throughout the day as he recorded SEVEN turnovers against Carolina. Marcus Mariota had troubles of his own in Week 6, benched in the third quarter for Ryan Tannehill after tossing a pair of INT’s and failing to put any points on the board. It’s worth noting that Mariota and Winston have been sacked a league-high 25 times so far, however, they both deserve blame for that number being so large. The pair of 25-year old’s are earning north of $20 million for their exploits and once they come off the books at the end of the season I can’t see either of them sticking around with the franchise that invested so much in them nearly five years ago.
TWO games into the season we were ready to anoint the Dallas Cowboys as one of, if not the best team in the NFC. Doing the bare minimum to get past the Dolphins and three consecutive losses later, their place near the top of the food chain is no more. Everything came to a distressing climax this weekend after they dropped a game to the New York Jets, who, until Sunday hadn’t recorded a victory this season. The warning signs were there for a while with Dallas failing to get the job done against New Orleans and Green Bay beforehand, however, their Week 6 loss kickstarted the alarm bells ringing. There’s still time to right the ship, with the 3-3 Cowboys currently sharing the NFC East division lead with the Eagles, who they face this weekend at home. If they let a fourth consecutive game slide on Sunday though, the pressure will only continue to intensify.
Image from sportscasting.com
TAKING over the defensive playcalling reigns was meant to be the Dan Quinn masterstroke that helped fix the Falcons. Instead, they now look like the worst defense in the NFL, an honour that is pretty spectacular given the efforts Miami and Washington are putting forward. No team has given up more touchdowns than Atlanta over the last month, with their defense forcing just one turnover in the same time span. Quinn has Matt Ryan to thank, with his offensive heroics seemingly the only thing keeping the ehad coach from being fired right now. Ryan is having a career year passing the rock as he tries to save the Falcons’ season and keep his boss off the hot seat. It’s worked so far, but if Atlanta’s defense continues to be a hot mess then their season and Dan Quinn’s job security is only going to continue spiralling downwards.
A season ago the Browns owned a 2-3-1 record at this same point in the season. No one expected them to be worse this year after a promising offseason that saw a blockbuster move land star pass-catcher Odell Beckham Jr come to town along with some key defensive additions. First-year HC Freddie Kitchens has copped his fair share of the criticism for Cleveland’s deficiencies and his turnover-prone quarterback Baker Mayfield looks like the polar opposite of the player who excelled down the stretch in 2018. Some offensive line help wouldn’t go astray, but a league-high 11 interceptions from Mayfield and some questionable play-calling has this Browns team floundering and failing to live up to the preseason hype.
Los Angeles Chargers Running Game
WELCOMING Melvin Gordon back into the fold after his holdout was meant to unlock the Chargers rushing game. It hasn’t. Through the past fortnight, no team has been worse running the football, with L.A. totalling just 67 yards from 30 carries. It’s no coincidence that the Chargers own an 0-2 record in those two games, with Philip Rivers all of a sudden looking very much like a 37-year old despite putting up satisfactory numbers. It hasn’t helped that their offensive line is banged up, but they found a way to make Austin Ekeler succeed in the early part of the season, leaving a lot of scratching our heads when trying to pinpoint Los Angeles’ problems. If the Chargers can’t fix their issues soon, a playoff spot and their Super Bowl window might quickly slip out of their grasp.