Since kicking off on Sept. 10, the NFL season has been able to go on relatively undisturbed, despite the threat of COVID-19 still very much in the air. This is a huge win for football fans across America as it represents some semblance of normalcy in the country. Who else has won? Who hasn’t?
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have been on the rise in the past few years, making the playoffs last year and now racing out to a 4-0 start this year. Quarterback Josh Allen is both exhilarating to watch and also very effective. The Bills have been a defense-first team for much of the past few years, but now they seem to have their quarterback of the future and finally some balance. With the New England Patriots taking a step back this year, the door is open for the Bills to win their first AFC East title since 1995(!!!!)
AFC North: The AFC North is just absolutely loaded. The Pittsburgh Steelers are back with a rejuvenated offense and arguably the best defense in football. The Baltimore Ravens look dominant once again behind their reigning MVP quarterback and a wonderfully coached team. Even the Cleveland Browns have won four straight games and are finally putting together some results with their uber-talented roster. The Cincinnati Bengals have to play each of those teams two times. Poor guys.
Rookie quarterbacks: The 2020 NFL Draft had plenty of promising young quarterbacks, and some are already showing that potential. First overall pick Joe Burrow has been tasked with carrying the Bengals offense and has done so pretty well, even earning his first career win. Chargers first-round pick Justin Herbert has stepped up big time for Los Angeles, averaging over 300 yards per game and keeping them very competitive in the process. The future looks bright for both teams if they can keep their signal-callers healthy.
Alex Smith: Washington quarterback Alex Smith made his return to the football field after being sidelined for over a year with a life-threatening injury. He suffered a spiral and compound fracture to his right tibia and fibula, which lead to sepsis and eventually 17 surgeries. Smith had a terrible time in his first game back, getting sacked six times and ultimately doing little to help the team. But the feel-good story is very much the takeaway from his return.
Seattle Seahawks: Seattle has soared to a 5-0 start, leading a very competitive NFC West division. Russell Wilson has looked like a potential MVP-candidate and has dominated teams alongside an emerging receiver in D.K. Metcalf. The defense isn’t as strong as in years past, but certainly isn’t holding the team back too much. The Seahawks look like Super Bowl contenders a little under halfway through the season.
Houston Texans: Yes, Houston did get handed the toughest schedule in football. Playing the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers – who have a combined record of 12-2 – is not an easy task for anybody. An 0-4 start for them was pretty justifiable, but the way that they lost was not. Head coach Bill O’Brien was destroyed by the media for several questionable roster moves during his tenure with the team, most notably for trading away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This left quarterback Deshaun Watson with no hope, as he has been running for his life behind a turnstile of an offensive line, receivers that can’t get open and a play-caller that is both bad at his job and disliked by his players. It’s no surprise that he was fired.
NFL stadiums: It’s great that we can even have football, but the element of home-field advantage really isn’t there. The NFL has installed regulated crowd noise into all of the stadiums, but it really isn’t the same. Seeing all of the crazed fans in obnoxious costumes was such a fun part of the game. A few teams are allowing fans into the stadium, but most venues are spookily empty.
Injuries: Due in part to a shortened training camp period and no pre-season, teams have dealt with the injury bug far more than in years past. Star players have gone down left and right, both opening up opportunities for back-up players but also crippling their teams in the process. The San Francisco 49ers are the poster-child for this effect. At one point they were down their starting quarterback, running back, two starting receivers, a starting tight end, two starting defensive lineman and several defensive backs. Oy vey.
Atlanta Falcons: Blowing a 20-point lead against the Cowboys hurts. Blowing a 16-point lead the week after to the Bears really hurts. Firing your head coach and your general manager after just five games really really hurts. You can’t say the Falcons haven’t had chances to win. They sure have. But through a combination of bad luck, poor game management and awful execution, Atlanta just hasn’t been able to pull it together. Another year is wasted for the aging Matt Ryan and Julio Jones as the Falcons franchise continues to be in limbo.
NFC East: It’s pretty undisputed that the NFC East has been the worst division in football this year. The New York Giants are one of only three winless teams in the league at this point, the Washington Football Team has a new name but the same losing ways, the Philadelphia Eagles players seem like they have glass bones and the Dallas Cowboys just lost their star quarterback to a gruesome ankle injury that would make even Joe Theismann cringe. The 2010 Seahawks won their division with a 7-9 record, making them the worst team to ever host a playoff game. The winner of the NFC “Least” has a real shot to break that dubious record.