Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for Week 6:
The big questions
Who can stop the Chiefs?
Going into the regular-season opener, a team involved in that game was getting hype for a potential undefeated season. Five weeks later, one of those teams is still unbeaten. It’s just not the one many expected.
The Kansas City Chiefs have been the NFL’s best team over the first five weeks, with signature victories against the New England Patriots in that opener and the Philadelphia Eagles. This week offers a chance to knock off another team once thought to be a prime AFC contender in the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a win, Chiefs coach Andy Reid would be the sixth coach of the Super Bowl era to have three 6-0 starts, and Kansas City would have its third 6-0 start in franchise history.
To get it done, the Chiefs again will look to rookie sensation Kareem Hunt to provide some big plays. His 775 yards from scrimmage are the third most by a rookie in his team’s first five games of a season. If the running back reaches 100 yards from scrimmage, he’ll be the first rookie in NFL history to hit that mark in each of his team’s first six games.
While Kansas City enters this week as the clear favorite, there are some signs pointing to Pittsburgh as being capable of the upset. The Steelers have handed the Chiefs two of the four losses they’ve suffered in their past 20 games. Also, the Steelers have six victories against teams that are 5-0 in the Super Bowl era, tied with the Patriots for most in that period, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has won five straight starts against Kansas City.
Can the Packers continue to dominate the NFC North?
The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will meet Sunday in a game that should help the NFC North race begin to crystallize. The Vikings are at home and favored slightly by the Football Power Index, but the Packers have been kings of the North (this feels like a good spot for a "Game of Thrones" reference, but some of us are lame and have never seen it) for five of the past six seasons.
Green Bay enters Sunday’s meeting with six straight divisional wins. But as is the case with the string of division titles, the Vikings were the last NFC North team to beat the Packers. A win for the Packers would move them from a 65 percent chance to win the division to 81 percent, while a Minnesota win elevates it from 21 percent to 33 percent, according to FPI.
Of course, the Detroit Lions will be heard from in this battle, as well, but a win in Minneapolis would put the Packers in the driver’s seat once again.
Can it get worse for the Giants?
At 0-5, it’s hard to imagine that things could be much worse for the New York Giants, especially after losing receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris to season-ending injuries.
That means Sunday night’s game against the Denver Broncos will feature quarterback Eli Manning throwing to the likes of Travis Rudolph and Ed Eagan, elevated this week from the practice squad. Of the five active receivers on New York’s roster, only Sterling Shepard has more than 15 catches, and Shepard is dealing with an ankle injury of his own.
Simply losing Beckham is enough cause for concern in Giantsland. Since 2014, Manning has an interception percentage of 2.2 with Beckham on the field and 3.7 without him. And his touchdown-to-interception ratio drops from 2.3 to 1.2 without his star wideout.
All of which could make for a very long night in Denver against the Broncos’ top-ranked defense. A loss would drop the Giants to 0-6 for the third time in franchise history.
Numbers that matter
50.9: That’s the percentage of total offensive yards that the Jacksonville Jaguars have recorded in their ground game, the highest in the NFL by more than 5 percent. The last team to have more than half of its yardage total come on the ground was the 2011 Broncos.
3.1: Think newly acquired running back Adrian Peterson is going to be a panacea for the Arizona Cardinals' offense? It would take quite a turnaround. Since Week 13 of the 2015 season, Peterson is last in the NFL in yards per attempt (3.1) among players with at least 150 attempts.
28: Cleveland Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan is No. 8 in your program, No. 1 in your heart and set to be No. 28 on your jersey that keeps a running tally of Browns starting quarterbacks since 1999. Coach Hue Jackson named Hogan the starter earlier this week, replacing rookie DeShone Kizer.
0: Hard as it might be to believe, that’s how many turnovers the New Orleans Saints have through their first four games. According to Elias, the Saints are the third team in NFL history to achieve that. If New Orleans makes it through Sunday’s game against Detroit unscathed, it will be the first team ever to have no turnovers in the first five games of a season.
What we’ll be talking about after Week 6
The future is now at quarterback
There was a time, not so long ago, when football fans wondered where the next generation of great quarterbacks would come from. Lamentations about spread offenses and how they stunted the growth of young signal-callers were abundant. The thought of a league without Brady, Roethlisberger and Drew Brees was enough for some to wonder if the wishbone would return to prominence.
Consider the NFL quarterback crisis averted. For evidence, one need only to look at the top-rated passers in the league. The best three quarterbacks in the NFL in total QBR are Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz. None has even completed his second season in the NFL.
It’s too early to proclaim Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s proclamation that Watson will be the Michael Jordan of the NFL correct, but Watson certainly has opened some eyes.
Watson’s total QBR of 85.5 is almost nine points better than that of Prescott, who ranks second. Watson also is first among quarterbacks in rushing yards, yards per rush and first downs. And when Watson cuts it loose with his arm, he doesn’t hesitate to push the ball down the field. His 11.1 air yards per attempt is the highest in the NFL, and he has recorded four touchdown passes that have traveled at least 15 yards downfield, tied for second most in the league. This week, Watson gets to go after the Browns.
There’s still some proving to do for the league’s top young quarterbacks, but the future of the position seems to be in much better hands than once thought.
Kirk Cousins-mania runs wild
With the Redskins hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, there has been no shortage of discussion about the future of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins is playing on his second straight franchise tag and could become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The talk of his future picked up this week, because the Niners have a desperate need for a franchise quarterback and their head coach, Kyle Shanahan, drafted and developed Cousins as offensive coordinator in Washington.
Cousins-mania should settle down soon enough, but don’t expect it to happen Monday. Cousins is fourth in the NFL in Total QBR since 2015. He has a chance to bolster that number this week against a Niners pass defense that has allowed 7.53 yards per pass attempt (23rd) and 1,249 passing yards (28th) through the first four weeks.
Back to business as usual in the AFC East
The idea that the Patriots’ run at the top of the AFC East could be coming to an end has become a real discussion recently, as they’ve stumbled to a 3-2 start. And for as few people who thought New England already would have two losses, even fewer thought the Jets would have three wins and an identical record at this point.
According to FPI, there was a 4 percent chance that both teams would be 3-2 as they enter this week’s matchup. The Jets haven’t had a better record than the Patriots in Week 6 or later since 2010, and even then, it was only because the Jets had played one more game.
Alas, the Patriots have won 10 straight on the road and have a history of turning it on right around this time of year. Over the past 10 seasons, New England is 88-22 from their sixth game through the end of the season, with a turnover margin of plus-91.
Suffice to say, order is likely to be restored if those trends continue.