It’s starting to become clear which teams are for real, and which are for real heading for a high draft pick. We’ve got just one undefeated team left, and lots more that we can totally cross off for the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, far too many costly injuries have massive impacts on the NFL landscape, but that’s just how it is. It’s a brutal game, and regardless of rule changes, bones and ligaments will be tested to their breaking point. Sad but true.
One more thing. It’s shameful that our Vice President used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to stage a badly-managed political stunt at an NFL game. We are reaching a lot of true low points in our political history – sometimes it almost doesn’t seem real. Okay, I’ll #sticktosports now.
Biggest Winner – Kansas City Chiefs
5-0. 33 points per game. Wins at New England, at Houston, and over Philly. This Chiefs team is for real. And poetically, their big win this week was against Week 4’s “Biggest Winner”, the Houston Texans. The score makes the game seem closer than it was – Houston scored a garbage time TD as time expired. Despite the fact that J.J. Watt went down in this game, Houston has a good defense all around, but they were bullied by KC all night long. It’s hard to say what’s more impressive – the dominance of Kareem Hunt or the weaponization of Alex Smith. The Chiefs now have a 1.5 game lead on the rest of the AFC in the race for the 1 Seed, though their biggest competition is from the 3-1 Broncos. Their schedule gets substantially easier the second half of the season, which should make the path to 12 or 13 wins relatively easy. This was a big statement win on national TV, in which KC demonstrated their clock-killing running game, explosive special teams (aka Tyreek Hill), and their game manager-turned-star QB. They have significant injury issues – Travis Kelce, Justin Houson, and Chris Conley all exited Sunday’s game (Conley for the year) – but their remarkable depth lets them keep on ticking.
Biggest Loser – Pittsburgh Steelers
I could have gone so many different directions with this one. The Lions folded at home. The Bucs let Brady wriggle off the hook. The Rams couldn’t escape their little brother complex against Seattle. But the Steelers were the most pathetic of all in Week 5, suffering a 30-9 drubbing at the hands of the Jaguars (yes, really). Roethlisberger threw five interceptions – two of those pick-sixes – and was sacked twice. No QB has thrown five picks without a touchdown since Ryan Fitzpatrick did it more than a year ago. This was a particularly bad game, but it’s part of a very lackluster season for Pittsburgh, who barely beat Cleveland and suffered their other loss to the Bears. Lucky for them, the AFC North is pretty mediocre this year, but it doesn’t get any easier in Week 6 as Antonio Brown & Co. head to Arrowhead for a date with the Chiefs. Now Le’Veon Bell is publicly criticizing the offensive play-calling, always a surefire indicator of sparkling team chemistry. And I mean, come on: 30-9 against the Jags? Sheesh.
Rookie Watch – Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears
The Mitch Trubisky Era has begun in Chicago. And even though they lost, and even though it was a butt-ugly game that was 3-2 at halftime, the young QB made a favorable impression. Maybe that’s just because Bears fans are so jaded from years of incompetent signal-callers that a kid who looks like a professional is a huge relief. Or maybe it’s because of his beautifully-orchestrated banana jet sweep two-point conversion. Regardless, he moved well, was in control of the offense, and certainly brings some energy to the team. He’ll have to improve on his 48% completion rate and tendency to make risky throws, but it was obvious to anyone watching that his upside is much higher than any Bears QB in ages.
Sleeper Awakens – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Holy crap, Aaron Jones. The Pack lose their WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery, and this guy fills his spot in the best possible way. The 5th round pick out of UTEP (whatup, Paydirt Pete) jumped into the starting role and went ham, piling up 134 total yards and a tuddie on just 20 touches. He got consistent good yardage all day long, providing A-Rod with some much-needed ground relief. There are thousands of happy fantasy owners who snagged Jones off the waiver wire last week, so if you’re not one, I’m sorry. It’s hard to imagine Ty Montgomery reclaiming his starting spot when he returns from injury if Jones continues balling like he did. Reminds me a little of old Wally Pipp – and yes, I just compared Aaron Jones to Lou Gehrig. Deal with it.
Dominating Performance – Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Let’s just get this out of the way: Cam’s comment to Jourdan Rodrigue was sexist, lame, and totally inappropriate. I can simultaneously believe that and believe that he played a hell of a game, storming into Ford Field and shredding a pretty good Lions defense for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was incredibly efficient, averaging nearly 11 yards per attempt, and completing 79% of his throws. Those are the sort of numbers that win games. And Carolina is now 4-1, all alone atop the NFC South, though they do have a divisional loss already. It’s worth remembering that Cam is throwing to a relatively crap group of receivers – his big target Sunday was ex-Raven castoff TE Ed Dickson, who wrangled all five of his targets for an astounding 175 yards. Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Christian McCaffrey aren’t terrible, but there isn’t a go-to option in the bunch. But if this group grows together, the Panthers could be a surprise contender in the NFC.
Most Devastating Injury – J.J. Watt (and Whitney Mercilus), Houston Texans
Welp, Watt is out again. After missing all but three games last year, he’s on the shelf again, and one of the NFL’s brightest stars is temporarily extinguished. It sucks for fans, because Watt is unbelievably fun to watch. It especially sucks for the Texans, who are feeling themselves with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, but whose Super Bowl chances took a significant hit when Watt went down. Plus they lost Mercilus, a heck of a player in his own right who has averaged 7.5 sacks a year for Houston since he broke into the league. He’s the type of guy who could have potentially stepped up to fill Watt’s shoes, but obviously that’s not happening now – Houston has to fill two huge holes in their front seven. It will be sad if injuries are the story of J.J. Watt’s career, as he had a chance to be one of the great defensive players in the history of the NFL.
The 49ers clung to their winless season, finding new and creative ways to lose on the road to the hapless Colts. Cleveland, too, is 0-5, after escaping a very winnable Jets game with the loss they needed. But the big question is whether the New York Giants will join in the Tankathon? They are also 0-5, and just lost basically every single athlete on their offense for the season. They now consist of Eli Manning’s raggedy beard, Lean Mean Sheen Vereen, a man named Rhett born after the Civil War, and something called a Roger Lewis. Maybe it’s time the G-Men pack it in and start angling for a top pick? Would the New York Media tolerate such sustained worthlessness? We can only hope we get to find out.
Image Sources: Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports, Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports, Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports, Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports, Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports, Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports, Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports, Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports