Who Fed It And Who Ate It: 2018 Week 6
It seems that the more games being played, those of us watching find ourselves asking more questions than finding solutions. Outside of a small number of both top line and bottom feeding teams, every other team have viable strengths and exploitable weaknesses, which means a team can make a strong playoff run if the match-ups hit just right. So, let's start checking some dogs for fleas...
The AFC South is deadlocked in a three way tie at 3-2. Who comes out of this crab bucket? With eight divisions in the NFL, not every race for a championship will be a classic. In fact, at least one crowns a titlist that may not have qualified for the playoffs if based solely on win-loss record. That division in 2018 could easily be the AFC South. This is a division that does not have a track record of cutthroat competition, and this year is looking to follow suit. At the bottom is a rebuilding Indianapolis Colts with QB Andrew Luck acclimating himself to the field of play after missing last season. But at the top is a logjam of three teams going separate directions. The Jacksonville Jaguars, the preseason favorite to repeat as division champs, have put up two bad losses in as many weeks, with both the offense and defense struggling mightily in each game. Also trending downward is the Tennessee Titans, who have also lost their last two. Unlike the Jags, the Titans have been playing closer to their style of ball. What is holding them back is their offense; 29th in yardage and points scored, with a horrendous showing today as QB Marcus Mariota was sacked a stunning 11 times as they were shut out by the Baltimore Ravens 21-0. What will keep Tennessee alive in this race going forward is the defense, which is a top 10 unit in points and yards allowed. But if their offense doesn't join the 21st century, they will be looking to a high to middle draft pick in April. That leaves the Houston Texans, who have recovered from their sluggish start in September and have picked up momentum in October. After starting 0-3, the Texans have ripped off 3 wins straight. The run defense has been especially stout, giving up an average of 79 yards on this hot streak. QB DeShaun Watson, returning from an ACL tear that cost him an electrifying rookie campaign, is getting comfortable with under center, with his favorite receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, making plays downfield. The Texans were rendered to using the Houston phone book to field a team by the time the 2017 campaign drew to a close. Now, with all that talent coming back (and the injury bug eradicated from south Texas), we may witness to see this squad's potential come to life. There's plenty of games to go, but these next few weeks are important to make progress for a playoff, and Houston right now has the wind to their backs. Let's see if that holds.
The Miami Dolphins stand at 4-2 after their overtime victory over the Chicago Bears. Can they keep it up? Last year, the Dolphins were adrift after QB Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season to a knee injury. Plus, the veterans on the roster were serving more as a disrupting influence in the locker room than a calming one. This offseason, general manager Chris Grier cleaned house by dumping those who were more concerned about collecting a check than building a winning culture. This left Miami a little thin on talent, but after seeing the 'Phins post a 4-2 record thus far, has the locker room improved? At least defensively, as the D has been among one of the better units in the league, generating 14 takeaways. This is key, because how the Dolphins fare in the turnover battle directly correlates with their game result. In either winning or breaking even on turnovers, Miami is 4-1. With talent levels so close to even, the smallest difference can turn an average team into a playoff contender. After being shelled by the New England Patriots, they will seen as afterthoughts in the AFC East race, but a wild card in the junior conference is certainly attainable. Let's see if they can playing this way.
The Ass Kicking of the Week was administered in Dallas, as the Cowboys thumped the Jaguars 40-7. Are the Cowboys serious NFC East contenders? While Jacksonville looks to get their mojo back after a nightmarish road trip, America's Team turned in their best performance of the season against a credible interconference opponent. Sitting at 2-3, the Cowboys are now one game behind the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and possibly primed to challenge the Green Birds straight up. The defense is a strong unit, 8th in points surrendered and 4th rushing yards per attempt, even despite only causing 4 takeaways. RB Ezekiel Elliott has returned to the top of the NFL rushing leaderboard, now adding receiving capabilities to make him a dangerous multidimensional threat. The X factor will be the play and continued development of QB Dak Prescott. Entering his third season, this is normally where a franchise player at that position begins to show technical proficiency. That has not happened, as his pedestrian 81.4 passer rating illustrates. To be fair, his receiving corps does not keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. But where Prescott lacks in traditional passing prowess, he compensates with great athleticism that makes the defense account for both his running and passing abilities. While Elliott is the Cowboys best player (with all due respect to DE DeMarcus Lawrence), the most important is Prescott. If Prescott can play within his abilities, then Dallas can replicate 2016, a 13-3 campaign that ended prematurely. If he does too much, the Cowboys will be in a fight for a wild card at best.