NFL Bandwagon Report: Getting tired of the 'playing hurt' mindset

After a scary scene involving Tua Tagovailoa on Thursday Night Football, Tim Micallef weighs in on how the NFL deals with concussions.

There are the teams you’re born rooting for, for better or worse, and then there are the bandwagon clubs – the franchises and star players that pique your interest, draw you in and drop you off. Each week of the 2022 campaign, we’re recapping some of the most encouraging and discouraging developments from around the NFL and deciding whose bandwagon to hop on or off – even if only for a week.

We’re at the approximate quarter mark of the 17-game regular season following a Week 4 that began with Tua Tagovailoa’s publicized injury and ended with the 49ers topping the defending champion Rams.

The NFL’s International Series resumed this past week with the Vikings and Saints entertaining fans in England, Aaron Rodgers became the fifth player in league history to register 500 passing career touchdowns, hitting the milestone in an overtime win over the Patriots. The Eagles are the only 4-0 team, while Houston is now the lone winless team after Las Vegas extended Denver’s woes.

So, which bandwagons are we hopping on and off this week?

Hopping on: KC's offensive line

Shaq Barrett’s pregame comments, in which he let out a little laugh when asked about Kansas City’s rebuilt offensive line and predicted an opportunity for he and his fellow edge rushers to “impose our will,” did not age well. Not that you could really blame the Buccaneers star for his enthusiastic confidence – Barrett & Co. tallied six sacks against Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV and after last Sunday’s breakdown against the Colts it was easy to question whether those same o-line issues would be the Chiefs’ downfall once again.

Sunday night’s Super Bowl rematch served as a referendum of sorts on the state of the Chiefs’ offensive line – after all, it was that dismal championship game in February 2021 that prompted the overhaul of the unit after Patrick Mahomes spent 60 minutes running for his life.

This time around, he was operating with time – a scary thing in his hands. The Chiefs’ run game thrived behind this line’s efforts, too, tallying a total 155 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. And then there was this offensive trickery in which they played a starring role:

Mahomes sang their praises post-game, as did everyone else. (ES)

Hop off: Ravens with no ability to hold a lead at home

This one is self-explanatory. Simply put the Ravens should be 4-0 and atop the AFC standings but instead Baltimore sits 2-2 because of a pair of huge blown leads – 21 points to the Dolphins and 17 points to the Bills.

The Ravens have blown leads of at least seven points in five consecutive home games dating back to last year and host the Bengals and the Browns two of the next three weeks. (MJ)

Hopping on: Cooper Rush's Cowboys

The Cowboys had just about the worst season-opener possible, putting on a sad show before losing their franchise QB. It was hard to see them winning many games without starter Dak Prescott, and yet here they are, riding a three-game win streak (including two divisional victories) into Week 5 and sitting just one win shy of the NFC East’s top spot.

Sunday's victory over Washington gave Rush a 4-0 career record as a starter, which is a franchise record. While there is certainly something to this Dallas offence rallying around the backup, these obviously aren't actually Cooper Rush's Cowboys. They're barely even Prescott's at this point. These are Micah Parsons' Cowboys – a defence so solid they’re limiting opposing QBs to a passer rating under 70 and currently sit second in sacks (15) and third in points allowed (62). (ES)

Hop off: Colts and their TNF opponent Broncos

We’ve already installed a revolving door on the Colts bandwagon at this point in the season and it’s not crazy to think Frank Reich could be on the hot seat soon if the results don’t change. The team is the lowest-scoring team in the NFL, averaging fewer than 15 points per game, and is worse without Jonathan Taylor and Shaq Leonard, both of whom left Sunday’s loss to the divisional rival Titans with injuries. Matt Ryan has fumbled the ball nine times (including recoveries) and his inability to consistently create something positive when his protection isn’t ideal has been costly. Indy does have Nick Foles, one of the most successful backup QBs of the era, to turn to if it comes to that. (MJ)

Oh, while we’re at it, let’s check in on the Denver Broncos, another AFC team whose new star QB has struggled and whose playoff aspirations are already waning…

Hop on: The J-E-T-S

The Jets are 2-2 and have a realistic shot at winning three of their next four (vs. MIA, at GB, at DEN, vs. NE) after generating positive momentum from the team’s second dramatic comeback win in three weeks. Zach Wilson knocked off some rust in his season debut Sunday against the Steelers, plus 2022 first-round picks Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson have already each contributed two touchdowns this young season. Top-five pick Sauce Gardiner leads the team with five pass deflections and the Jets are tied for second with six interceptions after picking off Kenny Pickett thrice. These Jets have youth, a high ceiling and might be a frisky team down the stretch. (MJ)

Hopping off: “Playing hurt”

A scary scene in Cincinnati last Thursday served as a stark reminder of the importance of players’ health and safety – that it must always, always come first. Professional sport has a history of glorifying playing through pain, crowning those who grit things out with “warrior” titles, and this idea of winning over everything is something we all contribute to no matter our relationship with the game. Tagovailoa’s situation made it impossible to overlook the fact that we need more accountability when it comes to teams’ processes for clearing players to return (as was the case in Week 3 against Buffalo) and start (Week 4 against Cincinnati just four days later). It’s understandable that, in the context of football, our first question when it comes to a player’s injury is “Can he play?” But as the NFLPA investigates the processes that allowed Tagovailoa on the field, it’s clear that the playing cannot be the priority when it comes to keeping individuals safe. (ES)

Hop on: Lions as most exciting team to watch

Generally (and subjectively) speaking, high-scoring games are more fun than low-scoring games and the 2022 Lions sure are fun! Win or lose, this Lions team is going to leave you on the edge of your seat and won’t shy away from back-and-forth barnburners. They’ve scored an NFL-high 140 points through four weeks which is more than the Chiefs, Ravens and Eagles, and at least twice as many as the Rams, Broncos, Bears and Colts. On the other side of the ball, they’ve allowed 141 points, including 48 to the Seahawks in Sunday’s highest-scoring contest. Despite the loss the Lions managed to post 45 points without running back D’Andre Swift and receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. (MJ)

Hopping off: Panthers

Count me among the curious this past off-season about the Carolina Panthers. Considering their strong defence to start last season and the return of a healthy Christian McCaffrey, it didn’t feel altogether unreasonable to imagine this club as a wild card team once they landed Baker Mayfield from the Browns. The Matt Rhule experiment is surely coming to an end, Ben McAdoo’s not the offensive mind the organization clearly believed him to be, and it’s hard to see this club as anything other than the same old five-win team it’s been the last three years. Their next three games feature some of the finest pass-rushers in the game today – 49ers, Rams, Buccaneers – which means things could get even worse. (ES)

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