Monday, October 2, 2023

NFL Week 6 overreactions and reality checks: Patriots should bench Mac Jones? Jets a playoff team?

Week 6 in the NFL was as unpredictable as ever, as a changing of the guard seems to be upon us in the league. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are both .500 or worse this late in the season for the first time since 2012, and the New York teams are a combined 9-3. 

The Giants are 5-1 for the first time since 2009, while the Jets have their best start to a season since 2015. The Jets matched their win total from last season while the Giants passed it — in just six games. The Packers have lost consecutive games in the regular season for the first time in four years and suffered their worst loss ever under Rodgers at Lambeau Field. 

Plenty of overreactions are in store for Week 6. Let’s see if these are deserved or need to be dialed down a bit. 

The Bills will get home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs

Overreaction or reality: Reality 

Sunday’s win over the Chiefs wasn’t big in determining the Super Bowl favorite coming out of the AFC, but the road to the Super Bowl will likely be going though Buffalo. The Bills defeated the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and have pulled off wins in two straight one-score games, so that hex on the Super Bowl contenders is gone. 

Buffalo is the only one-loss team in the conference and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City. The Bills are the clear favorite in the AFC East and own a two-game lead on the Dolphins and a one-game lead over the emerging Jets. They also beat the Ravens earlier this year (and Baltimore is 3-3 after six games).

The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC looks like it’ll go through Orchard Park in January. That’s a scary thought. 

Injuries are going to cost the 49ers a playoff berth

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

Here’s the biggest issue with the 49ers. How many injuries can this team withstand? On San Francisco’s defense, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are the only two starters that didn’t suffer an injury during Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, nor had an injury prior to the game. 

Charvarius Ward left the game with a groin injury. Talanoa Hufanga had to be evaluated for a concussion (but did return), and Samson Ebukam left with a leg injury (he returned as well). Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and Azeez Al-Shaair all missed the game with various injuries. 

The 49ers defense didn’t overcome their injuries in the loss to the Falcons, but this team has the depth to withstand the injuries (and have through the majority of the year). San Francisco will eventually get some of these players back and make a run at the NFC West. 

The Patriots offense is better with Bailey Zappe

Overreaction or reality: Reality 

Zappe has made two starts with the Patriots, and New England has averaged 33.5 points per game and 381.5 yards per game in those starts. They are also 2-0 in the two starts under Zappe. The fourth-round rookie went 24 of 34 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday’s win over the Browns, actually finding both his tight ends (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry) six times for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Not only did the Patriots throw for 301 yards, but they were 7 of 14 on third down and 2 of 3 in goal-to-go situations. Zappe has four touchdowns to one interception and a 111.4 passer rating this season, with a 72.9% completion rate. He’s the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win and post a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first two starts. 

Bottom line: Zappe has done more than enough to warrant another start (at least). The Patriots offense is better with him at quarterback. 

The Jets are a threat to make the playoffs

Overreaction or reality: Reality

New York is 4-2 and just handed Green Bay its largest loss under Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. Breece Hall already looks like one of the most explosive players in the NFL, and the defense is shining with D.J. Reed, Sauce Gardner, and Quinnen Williams leading the way. 

The Jets have the look of a playoff team, finding different ways to beat opponents every week. The offensive line does a good job of protecting Zach Wilson, and the defense continues to improve, allowing under 300 yards for the third straight week. 

If the AFC had to pick seven teams to make the playoffs, the Jets would be one of them. 

The Colts wide receivers are good enough to get them to the playoffs

Overreaction or reality: Reality

Indianapolis had its best game from its wide receivers in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. Michael Pittman finished with 13 catches for 134 yards to lead the way, but the biggest contribution came from rookie Alec Pierce. The second-round pick caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan with 17 seconds left to get the Colts to 3-2-1 on the year, the fourth straight week he’s had a significant contribution to the offense.

Parris Campbell also had seven catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Ryan’s chemistry is growing with his wideouts, as he’s thrown for 996 yards and five touchdowns over the past three weeks. If Sunday’s game carries over, the Colts may not have to add another wide receiver at the trade deadline. 

Pittman, Pierce, and Campbell are good enough.

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Vikings are a Super Bowl contender

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

Hard to not be in favor of a 5-1 start, especially since the Vikings have built a commanding lead in the NFC North. Minnesota is one of just three five-win teams in the NFC and four five-win teams in the entire NFL. The Vikings did lose to the Eagles, but that was over a month ago. They haven’t lost since.

Minnesota certainly capitalized on Miami’s miscues, as a Jaylen Waddle bobbled ball led to a Harrison Smith interception and an eventual field goal. Waddle’s fumble after a long catch late led to another Miami turnover — taking more potential points off the board in a 17-16 game. The Vikings got 10 points off Waddle’s miscues. 

The Vikings are a good team, albeit in a mediocre division. They are not in the Super Bowl contending tier yet. 

Saints have to commit to the run game more

Overreaction or reality: Reality

What the Saints were able to do on the ground against the Bengals was impressive. New Orleans rushed for 228 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry against a Bengals defense that allowed 99.6 rushing yards per game and just one rushing touchdown on the year. 

Without their top three wide receivers, the game plan should have been easy for the Bengals defense. A healthy Alvin Kamara ran for 99 yards while Mark Ingram added 46 on the ground and Taysom Hill had 39. Rookie Rashid Shaheed also had a 44-yard touchdown run.

Even when the playmaking pass catchers come back, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. should dial back the pass and commit to the run more. The Saints are a better running team than they might have thought. 

Brian Daboll is the Coach of the Year

Overreaction or reality: Reality

The Giants are 5-1 and already have more wins then they had all of last year. A healthy Saquon Barkley helps, but New York is winning with Daniel Jones and a subpar offensive line. Beating the Ravens is another excellent win for an emerging Giants team that’s starting to believe they are more than just a Cinderella story. 

This is the first time since 2009 the Giants have started 5-1 or better in the Super Bowl era. Daboll is the first Giants coach since Allie Sherman in 1961 to begin his career 5-1. Jones has four game-winning drives as New York is 5-1 in one-score games — the only team this season to have each of its games be decided by eight points or less.

Daboll might not be just the Coach of the Year. He might be one of the best in the league — already. 

Mike Tomlin is still a top-five coach in this league

Overreaction or reality: Reality

There’s a reason why Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 15 seasons of being a head coach — upsets like Sunday’s over the Buccaneers are why. Tomlin lost starting quarterback Kenny Pickett (concussion), but Mitchell Trubisky found a way to record a 142.4 passer rating against a Buccaneers defense that allowed just 193.7 passing yards per game entering the contest.

The Steelers secondary didn’t have its top three cornerbacks and Minkah Fitzpatrick, yet held Tom Brady to just one passing touchdown. The Buccaneers also went just 4 of 14 on third down and 1 of 4 in the red zone. 

Pittsburgh outplayed Tampa Bay after getting blown out by Buffalo last week. That’s all Tomlin. 

Kliff Kingsbury’s days in Arizona are numbered

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

Kingsbury isn’t close to getting fired yet, but something needs to be done with this offense. The Cardinals are 2-4, reside in last place in the NFC West, and were held to another slow start after netting just three points and 142 yards in the first half. Arizona even had a stretch where it had 10 plays for 11 yards.

The Cardinals had just nine points against the 31st-ranked scoring defense in the league and had only 315 yards against the 32nd-ranked defense in yards per game allowed. That’s unacceptable for a team with Kyler Murray on it — and he struggled after going 22 of 37 for 222 yards with an interception. 

The hot seat is getting warmer for Kingsbury, but he deserves time to cool it off. 

Cooper Kupp is the best receiver in the NFL

Overreaction or reality: Reality

No disrespect to Justin Jefferson, but Kupp continues to produce each and every week behind an offense that still is out of sync. Kupp finished with seven catches for 80 yards to lead the Rams in Sunday’s win over the Panthers, giving him 56 catches for 607 yards and four touchdowns on the year.

With Allen Robinson starting to show some sense of production, Kupp is still being tasked to carry a wide receiver group that’s just him through six games. The task isn’t easy, yet Kupp is on pace for 159 receptions this season — which would set the NFL record. 

Kupp — the only 2,000-yard receiver in league history (regular season and postseason) — still deserves his due as the best pass catcher in the game. He’s carrying the Rams right now. 

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