Here are five takeaways from Week 5 in the NFL:
1. AFC Championship Game will be played in one of two stadiums: Gillette or Arrowhead
Is there a third viable option in the AFC? I really believed Jacksonville and their offensive attack had turned the corner, especially after a Week 2 demolition of New England. But even in that game, it was obvious second-year running back Leonard Fournette was favouring a hamstring injury that had slowed him up all last December and January, even during the Jags’ playoff run.
An AFC North team? I don’t see it, and I think any of the four teams could win the division, and maybe you’ll be stunned to read I think the current division-leading Bengals, at 4-1, are the least talented team in the division.
But the Chiefs shut up a lot of folks who thought they were a ton of fun to watch, with tons of playmakers on offence and maybe the eventual MVP in Patrick Mahomes, but were very limited on the defensive side of the ball. I thought they’d only be able to win shootouts this season against good teams, and the demolition of the Jags changed my mind.
2. History will deem Drew Brees as a better all-around quarterback than Aaron Rodgers, and it may not be close
I’ve been a bit slow on coming around on Brees as the all-timer he clearly is. He won the Super Bowl for the first time at age 31, but with a stacked team on both sides of the ball, one that had a very brief window as a true contender. He outplayed Peyton Manning in that game, and Sean Payton coached circles around Jim Caldwell — no shock there, either.
But following the Super Bowl, Brees and the Saints haven’t been back to even an NFC Championship Game in the seven subsequent seasons, and they’ve missed the playoffs four of the last six years. That’s not all on Brees in the least, but like Dan Marino on many of his Dolphins teams and what we’re seeing with Russell Wilson now, you need a lot of help later in your career to make for a team that consistently wins in the post-season. But Brees now has a better offensive line, a fantastic running game and the Saints’ defence has vastly improved from a team that had three straight 7-9 seasons.
As for Rodgers, we’re still talking about a legend, but can you see Rodgers playing like Brees is doing now at age 39? I can’t. Rodgers is not the easiest quarterback to coach, has had two season-ending injuries in the past half-decade and is not going to be 100 per cent the rest of this season, at least. He takes too much of a pounding, almost willfully. It’s not going to be easy to play at an elite level for four more seasons, to put it mildly. But I think Brees has a two-year window to get back to the Super Bowl, and I’m not sure Rodgers will be on a Packers team great enough the rest of his career to do so.
3. Vance Joseph is in big trouble in Denver
I didn’t have high expectations for the Broncos this season, and you may not have either. And obviously, the NFL is a very up/down league in terms of team performance from week to week, but the Broncos’ three-game losing streak (which will be at four after the L.A. Rams visit this Sunday), has seen the team get worse and worse without finding consistency. Last year’s five-win team looks about at the level that this year’s Broncos will be at, and there’s still too many above-average defensive players on this team for them to struggle so much.
Would I have signed Case Keenum if I’m John Elway? No, not in the least. But I wasn’t spending the money on Kirk Cousins, either. Keenum will be easier to leave behind eventually, but from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow to Brock Osweiler to Trevor Siemien to Paxton Lynch, and now to Keenum (yes, Peyton Manning was a lovely oasis in the desert, but he chose the Broncos as much as the other way around), Elway appears to have a bit of a blind spot, and Joseph isn’t helping himself with how the defensive schemes are being operated.
4. OBJ is right in his words, wrong in his approach
Look, we all want outspoken in our athletes, but I can also respect a good filter where it’s needed. When Odell Beckham says he’d like to get more deep targets, who wouldn’t? Isn’t he, as a leader of the team (Yes, a receiver can be a leader), saying what others in the Giants organization should be saying about Eli Manning, and reacting accordingly. They had last year’s head coach Ben McAdoo do the dirty work last year, benching Eli (because he was bad and he’s old!), and though it was done with very little tact, the entire organization walked it back, enabling more of the same.
The Giants have a star rookie running back, an upper-half receiving core in the league, and added Nate Solder to their offensive line. It’s made a minimal difference from a season ago, despite putting up 30-plus points on Sunday. Beckham’s right in his perception, but most of us learned a long time ago — Yes, even in the media business — don’t say everything that comes into your head!
5. The Browns: Consistent in giving a good time
If I told you that you could only watch five NFL teams and their games the rest of the season, and you can’t pick your favourite team, who are they? Mine are:
They’re fun, they’re young and they have no idea how to put teams away in games, and no idea, either, how to give up in games. In five weeks, they’ve had every possible result a team can have in the NFL: regulation win (Jets), OT win (Ravens), tie (Steelers), OT loss (Saints), regulation loss (Raiders). Amazing. Chargers at Browns this week? We all should be all over that one.