Week four’s results brought a whole new bundle of questions to the forefront. All but two teams are at the quarter point of their seasons, and it’s time to figure out where they are at and where they will end up. Who is in trouble? Who has surprised thus far? Who has disappointed? Can anyone figure out who will win the NFC East? What about the AFC South? Why does pumpkin spice have to be a thing? Let’s figure it all out here, well, except for that last one. Off we go!
What We Know
Julio Jones is the best in the league: Sorry Antonio Brown, I was on your bandwagon all last season while he was delivering my fantasy team a title. But, after last Sunday, there is no doubt in my mind. When he’s healthy, there’s no one like Julio Jones. He has the size, the speed, the hands, and all the athleticism in the world. His combination of skills with more production like his 300 yard game on Sunday could earn him a spot in Canton as well as a spot with the all-timers. His quarterback isn’t playing too bad either.
The Broncos and Vikings are here to stay: A lot of talk emerged in the offseason about whether the Broncos would be able to make a playoff run with “no quarterback” and a depleted defense. Well, the Broncos have squashed that narrative flat. Trevor Siemian is growing into his own as an above average quarterback, and the defense is still as lock down as it has been. As for the Vikings, with losses of Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson, folks wondered if the Vikings could keep it up. The defense has worked its way to elite status, and Sam Bradford has found comfort in the offense. By terrorizing quarterbacks the way Denver has done, the Vikings, like the Broncos, will be around in January.
The AFC is in fact wide open: When many thought that the Patriots were invincible when Jacoby Brissett and company beat down the Houston Texans 27-0. But, then, the Bills came to town and dominated Brissett, and found the right game plan. They didn’t let the Pats run the ball, and made Brissett have to make plays. The Pats looked like the favorites, based on the fact of Brady’s return. But, with that loss to the Bills, the Pats look more vulnerable again. Denver is still the team to beat, but teams like the Steelers, Bengals, and Chiefs look to be on track for the playoffs as well.
The Raiders have arrived: The Raiders are now growing into the team we thought they could be: a contender. Derek Carr continues to outperform his 2014 draft class, and his weapons are great. Amari Cooper is exactly what the Raiders hoped he’d be, and Michael Crabtree has had a rebirth in Oakland. The defense seems like it will come around, and with big games coming up on the schedule, the Raiders can prove how good they really are.
Jacksonville/Tennessee need work: Perhaps coaching is the issue here. There is a bunch of talent on the Jags’ roster, and yet, they can’t seem to figure out how to win games. The Jags have been patient, but the reality is, once the talent is there, the coach must figure out how to put it together. If the Jags don’t have a miraculous turnaround, it’s time for Bradley to go. As for Tennessee, they do continue to find themselves in games, but can’t seem to finish the deal, and I think that comes down to coaching as well. Mariota isn’t allowed to do too much in the offense, and with exotic smashmouth in place, the offense revolves around the running game and not the supposed franchise quarterback. Tennessee needs to bring in an offensive mind that will help Marcus Mariota’s growth.
The Jets are in trouble: New York’s start to the season was a gauntlet. The Bengals, Chiefs, and Seahawks were all tough battles, but the last two, the Jets handed games away. Ryan Fitzpatrick is now the definition of a turnover machine, giving it up nine times in the last two weeks. What’s worse is the fact that the schedule doesn’t give them a break anytime soon. Going to Pittsburgh and Arizona in back to back weeks isn’t good, and Baltimore is still a solid team as well. The Jets could very well be 1-6 after those games. Maybe it’s time to give Geno another shot.
Are You Sure?
Not sold on Atlanta just yet: Here’s the thing about the Falcons: they haven’t impressed me yet. With Carolina most likely being their best win, that raises some doubts. Carolina clearly isn’t the same team we saw last season. The Raiders were still figuring themselves out and dropped 28 points on them. The injury riddled Saints had a chance late in the fourth, but a tipped pick six ended their hopes. This next stretch of schedule will determine whether this team is a playoff team. Here are the next nine weeks: at Denver, at Seattle, vs. San Diego, vs. Green Bay, at Tampa Bay, at Philly, BYE, vs. Arizona, vs. Kansas City. Yikes. I’ll be very impressed if they win more than half of those games, but I don’t think they will. Atlanta will be fighting for their playoff lives come December.
Do the Cardinals/Panthers still have what it takes?: The participants of the NFC Championship Game last season have taken a nose dive at the beginning of 2016. Arizona can’t seem to find themselves on either side of the ball, with Carson Palmer not playing like his 2015 self. The defense is allowing too many big plays, mostly due to how aggressive they have been. If they want to right the ship, it starts with controlling the game and not taking so many chances. David Johnson plays like a top five back in this league. Feed him the ball, play tough defense, and they can climb back into the thick of things. As for Carolina, their two weaknesses have showed up in bunches the first four weeks. They didn’t draft anyone for the future at tackle to protect Cam Newton, and the starters they’re rolling with aren’t getting it done. Newton has taken a pounding through four weeks. The secondary hasn’t helped the defense out either. Julio Jones torched them last week to the tune of 300 yards. 300. Plus, the Panthers aren’t dripping with swagger like last season. Both of these teams have the talent to make the playoffs, but the turnaround needs to start soon, as panic is growing.
Up In The Air
The NFC East: The NFC East is the talk of the league right now. No team is under .500 through four weeks. The Eagles are undefeated, and Dallas is only a half game back at 3-1. The Redskins and Giants each have two wins, and with many division games to go, it’s anyone’s guess who will win this division. On paper, it looked like the Giants would reign, but they are dealing with some issues. No one would’ve thought the Eagles would be 3-0, especially with a rookie quarterback starting, but Wentz has impressed. This division could very well come down to the final week of the season.
The AFC South: Another division with many questions, the AFC South seemed like a write off with the Texans starting out hot and everyone else falling flat. But, two shaky performances later, and a Jags win to get off the ground, there could be some drama brewing, especially with JJ Watt being done for the season and Brock Osweiler yet to prove himself. The Titans are most likely not going to be challenging for the division title, but it’s possible to see the Colts or Jaguars do it, especially with Houston’s schedule. They still have to play Oakland, Denver, and Cincinnati, all of whom will be tough outs. One win for the Colts or Jags in Houston and we could have serious drama in December.
Three Rookies You Need To Know
Laremy Tunsil: The Dolphins took a beating last Thursday, but the first round offensive lineman held his own against a very good defensive line. He was very good in one on one match ups with Michael Johnson, and even gave Geno Atkins, one of the premier interior rushers in football, some issues. He is a promising future left tackle for the Dolphins.
Will Fuller: He was a speedster coming out of Notre Dame, and has made an immediate impact in the passing game for Houston. Taking pressure off of DeAndre Hopkins is exactly what the Texans were looking for. Yes, he does drop passes, but as long as you can get the ball in his hands, he can make plays. He can even make an impact on special teams, as his AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award shows. Just. Get. Him. The. Ball.
Deion Jones: Coming out of LSU, not many were sure Deion Jones had the size to play linebacker in the NFL. But, his speed and instincts were too great to ignore. Even though he is a bit undersized, his speed shows that he can play “money backer” as well as start in Atlanta’s base defense. He seems to always find the ball and make a play (pick six in New Orleans, for example). Atlanta found a second round gem in Jones, and the league should take notice.
Stud On The Rise
Xavier Rhodes: If the league hasn’t taken notice of this guy yet, you’re doing it wrong. In back to back weeks now, he has held Kelvin Benjamin to zero catches in coverage and frustrated Odell Beckham on Monday Night (3 catches, 23 yards). You might even say had he played against Green Bay that it would’ve been an even more miserable night for the Pack. Going forward, watch any matchup you can with Rhodes covering a top receiver. He will hold his own, and will weave his way into elite corner status by the end of the season.
Most Surprising Team: Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons
The birds are flying high after four weeks. Atlanta is fresh off a dominant performance over the defending NFC champs, with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones running on all cylinders. The Eagles, on the other hand, are undefeated with rookie Carson Wentz at the helm. The underrated defense in Philly has also been a major part to their success. Both teams still have very tough roads ahead, but it’s a nice surprise to see other teams contending in the NFC.
Most Disappointing Team: Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers
The Super Bowl hangover for Carolina was predicted by many, but to be 1-3 after four games? Not too many people would’ve said that. Carolina has had issues up front with the offensive line, a stagnant running game, and no secondary to speak of. Cam Newton doesn’t have enough time in the pocket to make throws, and he has continued to take a beating from opposing defenses. There needs to be a scheme change or something to kick start the Panthers. Meanwhile in the desert, Arizona is 1-3 and playing San Fran on Thursday night with no Carson Palmer. If they lose to the Niners, their playoff hopes are all but up in smoke. The NFC is already competitive enough, but with the Rams and Seahawks having a 2.5 game lead, it will be hard to come back from.