photo: Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports
By Anthony Goss
Life as an NFL fan can be very rewarding, and other times hurt like hell.
There are the surprise road victories, enjoyed by Dolphin fans and Raider fans nationwide on Sunday. Contrast to the jubilation, there are tragic injuries that have the power to take the life out of stadiums as big as AT&T Stadium.
This season, these feelings have been given an extra catalyst as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the league’s schedule. Fans now need to prepare for double-headers on Monday nights, or Tuesday night football (maybe not the worst thing in the world).
Nevertheless, the games are still played, and fans see the success, the failure, and ride the rollercoaster of emotions all the way through Super Bowl Sunday.
Three Good Things
On a Sunday lacking any real heavyweight matchups, the Raiders and Chiefs provided an entertaining battle in Arrowhead Stadium. After the first few weeks of the season, the Chiefs had dismantled the Baltimore Ravens, but struggled a bit against some of their lesser competition.
QB Patrick Mahomes II made some incredible plays, as per usual, but the Raiders went toe-to-toe with the defending champs, making a statement in a 40-32 victory. QB Derek Carr played one of his best games in the silver and black, throwing for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a pair of lasers to WR Nelson Agholor and WR Henry Ruggs III.
After an offensive flurry in the first half, the defense stepped up in the second half with crucial stops and an interception by DB Jeff Heath which helped seal the game. The Chiefs should win the AFC West, but with the new expanded playoffs, the Raiders are strong contenders for a playoff spot.
Battle for the AFC North
Besides the Cincinatti Bengals, the AFC North has been great through five weeks. In first place, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-0 and QB Ben Roethlisberger has found another weapon in a stellar offense with rookie WR Chase Claypool. The Steeler defense is a strong unit once again, although giving up 29 points to the Eagles is surprising.
The Baltimore Ravens, led by QB Lamar Jackson, have bounced back after the loss against the Chiefs with a 27-3 win over division rival Cincinatti. Cleveland is off to its best start since the Bill Belichick and Nick Saban days. Sunday against the Colts, the Browns offense had key contributions from several players and defensively, Myles Garrett is reminding everyone why he was taken first overall in 2017.
Each of these teams have an argument for the best in the division, but Cleveland’s matchup against the Steelers this week will be a chance for each team to make a big statement.
Panthers Keep Pounding
Going into the season, analysts and insiders raved about the battle for the division between Brady’s Bucs, Brees’ Saints, and Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
Forgotten were the Carolina Panthers, yet after Week 5 they are sitting at 3-2, tied with the Saints and Buccaneers atop the NFC South without their best player, RB Christian McCaffery. Head coach Matt Rhule deserves a lot of credit for the success in Carolina, but Teddy Bridgewater has been solid and built off his performance last week, throwing for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns.
RB Mike Davis has stepped in and become a fantasy football darling in place of McCafferey. With a game against the Saints looming ahead, as well as a rematch with the Falcons, the Panthers have an opportunity to assert themselves in the NFC South.
Three Bad Things
Dak Goes Down
This was tough to watch.
QB Dak Prescott was off to a record start this season, until he suffered a gruesome injury on Sunday afternoon. Running for a first down, Prescott collided with Giants DB Logan Thomas, and his ankle buckled as he came to the ground. The image of Prescott sitting on the cart with tears cascading down his cheeks left fans of all teams stunned.
Dallas lost the heart and soul of its franchise on Sunday, but hope is not lost (yet). QB Andy Dalton stepped in and marched the offense down the field, highlighted by two spectacular grabs by WR Michael Gallup, and K Greg Zuerlein buried a game-winning field goal.
Many issues remain with the Dallas Cowboys, but Dalton has proven to be a competent NFL quarterback, and the defense showed slight improvement, albeit against a lackluster Giants offense. In such a weak division, the Cowboys can still contend for a playoff spot, but one must wonder how feasible this is without Prescott.
Falcons Take Fifth Loss
After another disappointing loss, the Falcons have fired head coach Dan Quinn. After two consecutive blown leads, followed by losses to Green Bay and division rival Carolina, it was time for Quinn to go. The Falcons 0-5 start should not be all his fault since the defense has been poor, QB Matt Ryan has struggled, and WR Julio Jones has been dealing with a hamstring injury for several weeks.
The onside hiccup in Dallas seems to have had a lasting impact on the Falcons, because they lack the confidence they should have with the talent on this roster. Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris will take over as interim head coach, but with the way the season has gone already, there is not much left to salvage.
Vikings Blow a Prime Opportunity
Very few, including myself, gave the Vikings a chance on Sunday night. Some might have watched the Lose Angeles Lakers win their 17th NBA championship, or tuned in to Game 1 of the ALCS.
While these games were played, the Vikings claimed a 13-3 lead at halftime, and hung with the Seahawks in the fourth quarter. Up 26-21 late in the fourth, the Vikings decided to go for a fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 6-yard line, instead of kicking a field goal to go up by eight. Minnesota failed to convert, and QB Russell Wilson made Vikings Head Coach, Mike Zimmer, pay for the poor decision.
A win against Seattle would have given Minnesota a 2-3 record with a prime opportunity to get back to .500 with a win against Atlanta next week, but instead they sit at 1-4.
Keep an eye on…
Justin Herbert’s Development
It is very frustrating to watch the Chargers try to finish games this season, but very little of the blame can be attributed to rookie QB Justin Herbert.
Despite the 30-27 OT loss to the Saints, Herbert has stormed out of the gates this season and confidently competed against three of the best quarterbacks in the league. Herbert threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns, and three of those came in the first half. It seems like ages ago that head coach Anthony Lynn said he would not be the starter, but now the Chargers have their guy and look ready to move past the Philip Rivers years.
The Chargers will not contend this year, but with Herbert, they are certainly a fun team to watch.