Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 6 to Week 7.
No one knows anything. This wide open 2017 season flipped out in Week 6, a slate of action marred by one transformational injury that only further underlined the upside-down nature of this NFL season. Consider:
-- NFL road teams have won more times (46-44) than home teams through Week 6 for the first time since 2000.
-- On Sunday, teams went 8-2 when facing an opponent who was higher in the standings.
-- The Giants only needed to get rid of starters Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall, Olivier Vernon, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Weston Richburg, Paul Perkins and Jonathan Casillas before resembling the team everyone expected them to be before the season, cruising to a win in Denver, one of the league's toughest environments for visiting teams.
It's felt like this NFL season has been an elaborate setup for the entire league to finish 8-8. The Saints were given up for dead at 0-2, but they've ridden their defense and running game -- really -- to three straight wins while playing in the NFC South, where four teams are separated by one game in the loss column. The division expected to be the most top-heavy in football, the AFC East, is similarly tight, with no losing records among its members. The AFC South has a three-way tie for first after Tennessee's necessary comeback win over the Colts on Monday night. The NFC North is squarely up for grabs in the wake of Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone, while the Rams lead a close three-way battle in the NFC West.
Add it all up, and 25 of the 32 NFL teams are either leading their division or within one game in the loss column of the division leader. That number doesn't even include the Raiders, Cowboys or Chargers, three teams with the talent to rise. Nearly every team is alive, and nearly every team has defined flaws. Conventional wisdom dies anew each Sunday. No one knows anything.
NARRATIVES BUSTED IN WEEK 6
1) The Falcons have put the Super Bowl loss behind them
Giving up leads is in this team's DNA. Before Sunday's unthinkable letdown against Miami, the Falcons lost a home halftime lead against Buffalo in Week 4. They allowed the Lions to come back from 17-6 to force a tie before holding on to beat Detroit in Week 3. The Bears were a drop away from completing a 10-point comeback against Atlanta in the final eight minutes in Week 1. The Falcons have been outscored 72-40 in the second halves of games this season.
This Falcons team has been less than the sum of its parts. Its offensive-drive stats are excellent on paper, but the defense can't get off the field. (Atlanta had only four offensive drives in the second half Sunday.) So many of the same elements from the Super Bowl loss were present against Miami. The defense gave up a fourth-down conversion where a stop could have all but ended the game. The offense had three-and-outs. A holding call and an ill-timed sack took them out of field-goal range, punctuating a scoreless dry spell in the fourth quarter. The pass rush faded late. Bad luck on a deflected pass made a big difference.
2) The Patriots' defense is getting fixed
The Browns gave up 212 yards to the Jetsin Week 5. In Week 6, the Patriots gave up 408 to the Fighting McCowns, while New England allowed an opposing passer to top 300 yards for the sixth straight game. A big part of the issue is that some of the team's highest-paid defenders are performing the poorest. Dont'a Hightower, whom the Patriotsessentially prioritized keeping long-term over Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, hasn't quite been his difference-making self this season, coming off an injury-marred start to the season. If nothing else, the last two weeks have revealed flashes of some lesser Bill Belichick defenses that gave up a ton of yards, though not points. The talent-poor 2011 defense ranked 15th in points allowed and nearly won the Super Bowl despite being 31st in yards allowed. That's this team's model.
3) The Dolphins are done
But this NFL season is full of teams finding a way to keep their records manageable even when they aren't playing that well. The Cardinals, Steelers, Bengals, Saints and Seahawks have all looked dreadful at times without it damaging them in the standings that much. The NFL shows us, year after year, that teams in December will often barely resemble what they showed in October, yet too often, early-season struggles are seen as definitive.
I don't know if Dolphins coach Adam Gase can turn this group around after the Dolphinsmoved to 3-2 on Sunday, but I know he's done it before. Miami is undoubtedly improved on defense, with the ageless Cameron Wake getting more support from a veteran linebacker group of Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. The Dolphins haven't given up more than 20 points in a game yet. Even if Jay Cutler is not salvageable at quarterback, this team has enough talent to play much better on offense. And unlike last year, the Dolphins don't have a 1-4 hole to climb out of this season.
4) The Saints are reliant on Drew Brees to win
There was so much insanity in New Orleans' 52-38 win over Detroit that it was hard to keep straight: eight combined turnovers, five combined defensive or special teams touchdowns and Matthew Stafford getting the ball back in a one-possession game after trailing 45-10 midway through the third quarter. But perhaps the craziest part of all was that Drew Brees didn't play particularly well during a fiftyburger by the Saints. Consider that a good sign.
In the team's first game since trading awayAdrian Peterson, the Saints called 20 runs (for 128 yards) against only 14 passes in the first half. They led, 31-10. This Doug Marrone-ization of the NFL is taking hold in New Orleans and elsewhere, with the Bears running 24 times in the first half against Baltimore compared to only eight passes. The Steelers passed only seven times in their first two drives against the Chiefs. Teams are increasingly running to take leads early in games, not just to preserve leads in the second half. That only works if there is a solid defense in place, which the Saints might finally have.
New Orleans' defensive turnaround is led by the annually underrated Cameron Jordan, who is having an incredible season. Also keep an eye on rookie Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who shows every sign of being a future Pro Bowler. (And possible Defensive Rookie of the Year.) Coach Sean Payton has been desperately trying to change this team's identity for years, and it's finally happening, with the team above .500 somehow for the first time since 2013.
5) The Raiders just needed to get Derek Carr back
The return of Carr didn't save the Raiders from losing to the Chargers on Sunday, because the team's issues go beyond the quarterback. The highest-paid offensive line in football isn't opening holes for Marshawn Lynch, who has run hard. Even when facing a struggling Chargers run defense, the Raiders showed a lack of faith in their run-blocking by pitching the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson on third-and-short. There are too many negative plays and too much penetration allowed by the Raiders' offensive line, which continues to have a black hole at right tackle. More importantly, the Raiders' defense can't get off the field at key times.
Prioritizing Carr's health, with the quarterback coming off a transverse process fracture in his back that kept him out in Week 5, the Raiders called for a condensed passing game against Los Angeles, which got the ball out of his hand quickly and barely pushed the ball down the field. The explosive, exciting offense from a year ago seems trapped in 2016 GamePass footage -- and there's just a few days before a "Thursday Night Football" matchup in Kansas City that could drop the Raiders to 2-5.
6) The Chiefs evolved beyond the team that lost last January
Le'Veon Bell devoured the Kansas City defense for over 170 rushing yards in each game, with the Steelers dominating time of possession roughly 71 minutes to 49 over the two contests. In both games, the Steelers held the Chiefs' offense under 255 yards and won the total yardage battle by over 160. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger only needed to be a caretaker, because his coaching staff, running back and offensive line so thoroughly controlled the action.
This Steelers defense is deeper than it was a year ago, with Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward appearing in Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith's face literally from the first snap of the game to the last. The Steelers essentially saved their new closer James Harrison during the first five weeks of the season just so he could torture Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher and nearly 77,000 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. This would all sound like overreaction to one game if not for the real chance these teams play again. It's been an upside-down season, but I'd be stunned if the Steelers or the Chiefs missed the playoffs. The Chiefs can only hope someone else takes Pittsburgh out for them.