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The Schein Nine

OVERREACTION VS. REALITY: 49ers in big trouble? Jaguars AFC's best team? A.J. Brown for MVP?

It's Week 9. The trade deadline is in the rearview. We are at a pseudo halfway point of the 2023 NFL regular season -- and hyperbole is flowing.

So, which takes are legit? Which ones smack of overreaction? That's what I'm here to determine, Schein Nine style.

1) The 49ers are in serious trouble

HELL NO! OVERREACTION!! Everyone needs to chill.

Yes, San Francisco has lost three straight -- that's a fact. In related news, Brock Purdy has played his three worst games as a pro. Still, a little perspective is needed ...

At Cleveland back in Week 6, Jake Moody missed a 41-yard kick that would've given San Francisco the win. Then, in the road defeat at Minnesota and home loss to Cincinnati, the 49ers missed arguably the NFL's best left tackle (Trent Williams) and one of the game's most unique weapons (Deebo Samuel) due to injuries. Both could return to action following this week's bye.

Furthermore, I loved what San Francisco did at the deadline, getting Chase Young from Washington for the price of a third-round pick. What a steal! Young looks healthy again, allowing and the former No. 2 overall pick to get back to harassing opposing quarterbacks -- something the 49ers' defense hasn't been doing enough lately. In a contract year, playing for a winning team and reunited with old Ohio State teammate Nick Bosa, Young will thrive in San Fran.

San Francisco boasts a galaxy of stars on both sides of the ball. I know the Niners are currently second in their own division, but they remain my pick to win the NFC.

2) The Jaguars are the AFC's top team

This is not an overreaction -- it's the truth. At the moment, I have Jacksonville as the top team in the AFC. It's earned. Shoot, riding a five-game winning streak, the Jaguars are officially the league's hottest team. Did I mention that four of those five wins came away from EverBank Stadium? And only one of the vanquished foes (3-5 Indianapolis) currently owns a sub-.500 record. This is a legit run for the Jags, especially considering how they're doing it. During this stretch, Trevor Lawrence is completing over 70 percent of his throws while posting a 100.2 passer rating. Meanwhile, Travis Etienne is making a push for his first Pro Bowl nod, with seven touchdowns in the past four weeks. Jacksonville's pass catchers are strong and versatile, while the offensive line has improved. Honestly, though, the most encouraging development comes on the other side of the ball.

Mike Caldwell's defense is emerging as a force this season, ranking first in the league with 18 takeaways and 10th in points allowed. Josh Allen has become a true menace off the edge, collecting an AFC-best nine sacks, while veterans like LB Foyesade Oluokun and CB Darious Williams are playing their best football. When this unit holds up its end of the bargain, Jacksonville becomes a true championship contender under Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson.

At 6-2, the Jaguars own the same mark as the Chiefs, Dolphins and Ravens -- and at the moment, I think Jacksonville deserves top billing. The AFC could indeed go through Duval, with the Jags having serious potential to nab the conference's No. 1 seed.

3) The Bengals are BACK

Yes, this checks out. It was always about Joe Burrow's calf getting right. The two games before the Week 7 bye -- wins over the Cardinals and Seahawks in which Burrow completed 74.1 percent of his passes with five touchdown tosses -- were positive signs, but this past Sunday's effort in San Francisco was truly exhilarating. Burrow completed 87.5 percent of his passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-17 dismantling of the 49ers. Just as crucially, he was moving around like vintage Burrow, deftly navigating the pocket and even scampering for 43 yards on six carries. 

With Burrow back to his old self, the offense hummed along at Levi's Stadium. Receivers Ja'Marr Chase (10/100/1), Tee Higgins (5/69) and Tyler Boyd (3/40/1) all got theirs, while running back Joe Mixon provided his best effort of the season with 19 touches for 110 total yards and a touchdown. Lou Anarumo's playmaking defense racked up three takeaways, giving the unit eight total over the past three games.

With a healthy Burrow, Cincinnati's right back to what it was in each of the last two seasons: a true Lombardy Trophy threat.

4) The Dolphins have something to prove

No overreaction here -- Dolphins doubt is understandable. While Miami is 6-2, all six wins have come against teams that currently hold losing records. In the two losses, the Bills (currently 5-3) and the Eagles (7-1) beat the Dolphins by double digits. That's undeniably noteworthy.

Now, I think Jalen Ramsey's return is an enormous boost to the defense and the team's attitude as a whole. Getting the Chiefs this week in Germany -- not Arrowhead -- is a huge break. Take advantage, Dolphins. Beat the defending Super Bowl champions. Show me you are great.

5) The Vikings are done

This might surprise some of you, but I believe this is an overreaction. On Sunday afternoon, with the Vikings cruising past the woebegone Packers in Green Bay, I was ready to tout Minnesota as a playoff lock. But then Kirk Cousins' Achilles gave out. Just brutal. I feel terrible for Cousins, an unfairly maligned player who was enjoying his best season yet. And initially, it seemed like the 4-4 Vikings were suddenly cooked.

But I have to tell you: Tuesday's trade for Josh Dobbs was a savvy, underrated move from Minnesota GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The veteran quarterback has already proven that he has no trouble picking up a new playbook, performing admirably in Arizona after joining the team in late August and immediately becoming the starter. With rookie wideout Jordan Addison playing at a high level, I think Dobbs can enjoy success in Kevin O'Connell's offense -- especially if Justin Jefferson's hamstring heals up in the coming weeks.

Minnesota's remaining schedule isn't exactly a murderers' row of foes. You can find five more wins, which would put the Vikings in the mix for seventh playoff slot. This isn't a playoff guarantee -- far from it -- but I do believe this team still has a chance to hit the postseason.

6) The Bears made another foolish trade

Yep, that's the case -- and I remain confounded by the broader plan in Chicago. Look, I like Montez Sweat, but giving up a second-rounder at this juncture was a bizarre move by Bears GM Ryan Poles. Sweat is a pending free agent, after all, so Chicago just spent some serious draft capital on a rental. Why is a 2-6, last-place team sacrificing future assets for immediate contributions? Your guess is as good as mine. The Bears could have kept the pick and gone after Sweat in free agency this coming offseason, when they currently project to have the most cap space in the league, per Over The Cap. Or they could have addressed their D-line issues in last April's draft by taking Jalen Carter. It's all related and it's a mess -- just like last year's nonsensical deadline deal.

Remember when Chicago gave Pittsburgh a second-round pick for Chase Claypool. The wide receiver's Bears tenure lasted all of 10 games -- producing a grand total of 18 catches -- before Poles cut bait last month via a late-round pick swap with the Dolphins.

The Bears are on a road to nowhere in 2023, and if they keep inexplicably mortgaging the future, they'll just continue right on down this same path for years to come.

7) The Commanders lost deadline day

NO WAY! Overreaction. Losing your top two edge rushers is never ideal, obviously, but Chase Young and Montez Sweat are both free agents-to-be. Washington received a pair of Day 2 picks, valuable draft currency for the Commanders going forward. That's important, because this is clearly a franchise in transition.

There's a new owner and a new direction in Washington. With that in mind, I thought the Commanders' wheeling and dealing on Tuesday was proactive, inspired work. This organization hasn't evoked those emotions from me too often over the last few decades.

8) A non-QB can win MVP

It's always a longshot these days, but it at least feels possible in 2023. So no, I don't believe this is an overreaction.

Sure, according to Caesars Sportsbook, quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson own the best odds to take home the hardware. And it's not hard to imagine Joe Burrow and Josh Allen making a push in the second half of the season. But wideout Tyreek Hill is currently on pace to shatter Calvin Johnson's single-season record for receiving yards. And running back Christian McCaffrey just tied Hall of Famer Lenny Moore's NFL record by scoring a touchdown in his 17th straight game. Shoot, I haven't even mentioned my current leader for the league's most prestigious individual award ...

Right now, at the midway point of the regular season, A.J. Brown is my MVP.

The Eagles wide receiver is the best, most consistent, most dominant player on the team with the best record. He just became the first player in NFL history with six straight games of 125-plus receiving yards. Since joining the Eagles in April 2022 via a masterful draft-day trade by Howie Roseman, Brown has changed everything for Hurts, DeVonta Smith and this Eagles as a whole. Brown's hands, physicality and run-after-catch skills are off the charts. He routinely moves the chains and scores touchdowns. And his weekly displays of beastliness fuel highlight shows -- and inherently, his MVP campaign.

9) The Cowboys will beat the Eagles

While we're here, we might as well spin forward to one of the biggest games on the Week 9 slate. And yup, I'm feeling these Cowboys: They can do it! This is NOT an overreaction.

Fresh off the Week 7 bye, the 'Boys obliterated the Rams, 43-20, last Sunday. Dak Prescott threw four touchdown passes as CeeDee Lamb (12/158/2) ran circles around Los Angeles' defense. Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland and Co. terrorized Matthew Stafford. It was the kind of explosive ability that Dallas showed early on this season.

Yes, these Eagles often find ways to win marquee matchups like this coming Sunday's, especially in Philadelphia. But despite owning the league's best record at 7-1, the Eagles have looked shaky in multiple victories (the opener at New England, the Week 2 bout vs. Minnesota and both Washington games).

I know this Dallas group hasn't been great on the road in big spots. Call me a sucker. I like how this team has responded since the Week 5 debacle at San Francisco.

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