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The First Read: Bandwagons to hop on/off following surprising Week 5; must-see showdown in Week 6

In The First Read, Jeffri Chadiha provides a snapshot of the hottest stories and trends heading into Week 6 of the 2023 NFL season, including:

But first, it's time to weigh in with frank assessments on some emerging narratives across the league ...

The first four weeks of this NFL season gave us a decent enough sample size to determine who's good, who's bad and who needs a little more time to figure things out. Week 5 was all about curveballs. It was about tuning into games where you expected one type of result and then witnessing something entirely different. It wasn't that way all around the league, just in enough places to leave this particular writer re-thinking some ideas he had coming into the week.

It's really another reminder of how humbling a pro football season can be. We all want hard proof that what we see one week can be a reliable predictor of what's to come in the future. The truth is that the league really comes down to a gradual process and a belief in the journey for most. You want a finished product? It's generally quite hard to find that until people start setting up their Christmas trees.

That is why this week's edition of The First Read involves some bold leaps in judgment. There's still plenty of time in this season for more surprises to pop up, but it feels like some storylines, whether good or bad, are starting to become more certain. We're talking about where readers should feel comfortable hopping on a bandwagon and where they'd be wise to hit the eject button instead of clinging to misguided optimism. As previously stated, this is risky territory, but as they say, somebody has to do it.

Bandwagons worth riding on:

The Bengals will be fine: It certainly didn’t seem that way a week ago. Quarterback Joe Burrow was playing on one leg, throwing 2-yard passes and taking shot after brutal shot from defenders in a blowout loss to Tennessee. That wasn’t the same dude who showed up in Arizona. Whatever Burrow was doing to help heal his lingering calf strain made a huge difference, as he went 36-of-46 for 317 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Cardinals. More importantly, he looked like his old self, whether that was moving in the pocket or scrambling when opportunities arose. It helps that Burrow can throw to a star like Ja’Marr Chase -- who produced 192 yards and three touchdowns on a franchise-record 15 receptions -- but this was about the Bengals getting back to who they are. Even with wide receiver Tee Higgins sidelined by a rib injury, the offense was explosive -- and the message was sent. Cincy should be back in the conversation about championship contenders as long as Burrow doesn’t have any more setbacks.

Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · QB

Justin Fields is growing up: It would be one thing if Fields had one good game after all the talk about him developing as a passer. He’s now produced two outstanding efforts in consecutive weeks, the latter of which earned the Bears their first win of the season (a 40-20 victory over Washington). Fields generated 526 passing yards, three touchdown passes and four interceptions in his first three starts. He’s thrown for 617 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception in his last two. Fields also has become more accurate over the last couple weeks, completing 67.2 percent of his passes after connecting at a 58 percent clip over the first three games. It really does look like he’s committed to everything he said in that heavily publicized press conference he gave three weeks ago when he vowed to be less robotic in his play. Those words may have sparked controversy, but you can’t argue with the results. Fields is feasting on that highly anticipated chemistry with wide receiver D.J. Moore, and the 1-4 Bears have something to feel good about in what’s been an otherwise-brutal season to date.

Jacksonville is still the safest bet in the AFC South: It’s so enticing to take the Colts at this stage, but it would be great if they could keep rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson healthy. He’s already been banged up in three games, missed the bulk of two with a concussion, and now comes Monday morning's news via NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport: The rookie QB is out at least a month with a Grade 3 AC joint sprain that sent him to the sideline in Sunday’s win over Tennessee. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is trending in the right direction in this division after two consecutive victories in London, including a 25-20 win over Buffalo. The Jaguars are finding more rhythm on offense behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and their defense showed up big against a Bills attack that had been averaging nearly 35 points per game. Jacksonville was especially successful at harassing Bills quarterback Josh Allen in the pocket, something other defenses hadn’t been able to do over the previous three weeks. There are still legitimate questions about an offensive line that has endured injuries, inconsistency and a four-game suspension to left tackle Cam Robinson, but there’s time to resolve the unit's issues. No other team in this division has the Jags' talent or their recent success rate in big games. That puts them in the driver’s seat to repeat as AFC South champs.

Time to hit the eject button on:

Sean Payton
Sean Payton
Denver Broncos

Sean Payton’s chances of immediately creating a winning culture in Denver: That hope went out the window after the Broncos dropped their first two games of the season and then surrendered 70 points in a Week 3 loss to Miami. The one thing the Broncos were supposed to be able to count on when Payton replaced Nathaniel Hackett as Denver’s head coach was a defense that had been pretty stout over the past few years. Instead, that unit has deteriorated, and the Broncos are already dumping talent. They traded edge rusher Randy Gregory, a high-priced free-agent acquisition in 2022, to the 49ers. There are reports that another pass rusher signed this offseason, Frank Clark, could be jettisoned as well. Of course, none of these moves should detract from the real issue here, which is that Payton showed up as a savior and realized that there’s far more work to be done here than any of us knew. Yes, Russell Wilson has played better. But you don’t get credit for quarterback whispering when your team is 1-4 and you just got beat by a Jets coaching staff that you openly belittled over the summer.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Bill Belichick
New England Patriots

The notion that Bill Belichick is still on his game: Belichick is the greatest coach the league has ever seen, but you’d never know it by watching New England these days. The Patriots are 1-4 and have lost their last two games by a combined score of 72-3. To make matters worse, New Orleans -- one of the most underwhelming offensive teams in the league -- just hung 34 points on New England in a shutout win in Foxborough. It’s easy to point the finger at quarterback Mac Jones and all his limitations, but this runs way deeper than that. This is about Belichick spending too much time as head coach and general manager and nobody in the organization having the clout to tell him that things have veered way out of control. This team has had a talent problem on offense since Tom Brady walked out the door following the 2019 season. It’s just taken four years to realize that all of Belichick’s brilliance can’t overcome that type of challenge. 

The Giants thinking this season could be as encouraging as 2022: No team in the league has been embarrassed more than the Giants have this year. They’ve played on prime time three times and scored all of 15 points. You want to know what they’ve given up in those contests? Ninety-four points. The consensus was New York overachieved last season when Brian Daboll won Coach of the Year honors for his ability to guide the team into the playoffs. It was just hard to discern how little Daboll had to work with until this season ensued. The Giants have an overpaid quarterback with obvious limitations, a struggling offensive line, an already-injured star running back who spent an offseason fighting for a lucrative contract extension that didn’t come (and will do so again next offseason) and a defense that can’t slow anybody down. The saddest part of all: These highly flawed G-Men still have to play 12 more games. Look, there was ample reason to assume the Giants might take a step back after their success last season. We just didn’t know that step could put them in position to pick first overall in next year’s draft.


De'Von Achane
Miami Dolphins · RB

It’s not an understatement to say Achane has been the biggest revelation in the league this season. He’s a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the football, and he was at it again in Miami’s win over the Giants. It wasn’t just that the rookie ran for 151 yards on 11 carries; it was how easily he raced by the New York defenders when the ball was in his hands. He now has three straight 100-yard games, and he’s averaging an insane 12.1 yards per carry on the season. His contributions have taken the Dolphins' offense to an entirely different level.

Dallas Goedert
Philadelphia Eagles · TE

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni says that everything in his passing attack starts with Goedert and wide receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown. The numbers weren’t backing that up this season -- not until Goedert went off in Philadelphia’s win over the Rams. He finished with 117 yards on eight receptions after entering that contest with only 88 receiving yards on the season. In fairness to Goedert, the Eagles are breaking in a new offensive coordinator and facing more defenses designed to minimize their strengths. Brown was frustrated a few weeks ago, and he’s had three 100-yard games since. Goedert might be beginning his own explosion.

Desmond Ridder
Atlanta Falcons · QB

This was the type of effort Ridder sorely needed at this juncture of his career. In throwing for a career-high 329 yards and logging two total touchdowns (including one on a 7-yard run) during a comeback win over Houston, he proved he could deliver when this team needed him most. The Falcons have plenty of talent around Ridder, including first-round picks like running back Bijan Robinson, tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London. The question has been whether he would enhance that group or drag it down. Ridder still has more questions to answer, but he at least showed on Sunday why the Falcons gave him this opportunity in the first place. 


Buffalo Bills

Buffalo looked like it had a defense that could carry this team to a championship if necessary. Now it’s fair to wonder how this unit can sustain its dominance when so many stars keep succumbing to season-ending injuries. Last week, it was stud cornerback Tre'Davious White who was lost to a torn Achilles. This week, it was Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Milano who sustained a broken leg. The Bills also are hoping to work edge rusher Von Miller back into the fold, but he didn’t do much of anything in the second half of Sunday's loss to Jacksonville. Buffalo has found ways to survive without injured stars in the past, but it’s starting to feel like this will be a much tougher hill to climb.

Bryce Young
Carolina Panthers · QB

You hate to pick on rookie quarterbacks because, well, they are rookies. The problem for Young is that the two signal-callers selected right after him in this year’s draft -- C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson -- have looked measurably better than him thus far. Some of that has to do with the lackluster supporting cast around Young. The rest comes down to his inability to take care of the football. Young threw two first-half interceptions in a 42-24 loss to Detroit. He now has four picks and two lost fumbles in four starts. The No. 1 overall pick can’t change everything at once, but he can improve in that department.

Mac Jones
New England Patriots · QB

What’s left to say about him? Jones was benched for the second time in as many weeks in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans, and it’s hard to see him lasting much longer. The man has thrown a pick-six in each of the last two games and hasn’t tossed a touchdown pass since Week 3. We can argue all we want about how Jones got to this point -- it’s a combination of his flaws, supporting cast and the coaching decisions made by Belichick -- but it doesn’t really matter. He looks more broken every time he takes the field, and the Patriots have no obvious way to resolve that.


The 49ers' dismantling of Dallas. This was supposed to be the game of the week. Instead, we learned that the NFC championship is likely to go through San Francisco. Brock Purdy threw four touchdown passes. George Kittle caught three of them. Linebacker Fred Warner led a defense that sacked Dak Prescott three times and forced four turnovers. The scoreboard said 42-10. The reality is it wasn't even that close.


  1. Ravens at Steelers: This was your typical AFC North rock fight, with Pittsburgh finding enough offense to secure a critical win.
  2. Jets at Broncos: This game was all about revenge, as Broncos head coach Sean Payton had to eat those offseason insults made about former Denver head coach and current Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
  3. Texans at Falcons: Atlanta needed this comeback victory to avoid a three-game losing streak.


Seattle has won three straight since a blowout loss to the Rams in the season opener. Cincinnati is trying to stay alive while Joe Burrow fights through that calf strain. This game could strengthen the Seahawks’ validity as true playoff contenders or give the Bengals one more reason to be optimistic about escaping that 1-3 start.


A simple ranking of the top five candidates, which will be updated weekly, depending on performance. Here is how it stands heading into Week 6 (with Caesars Sportsbook odds as of 8:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 9):

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · QB
  • Caesars odds: +500
  • Weeks in top five: 5
  • Next game: vs. Panthers | Sunday, Oct. 15
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB
  • Caesars odds: +550
  • Weeks in top five: 3
  • Next game: vs. Giants | Sunday, Oct. 15
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · QB
  • Caesars odds: +2500
  • Weeks in top five: 4
  • Next game: vs. Cowboys | Monday, Oct. 16
Brock Purdy
San Francisco 49ers · QB
  • Caesars odds: +550
  • Weeks in top five: 1
  • Next game: at Browns | Sunday, Oct. 15
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB
  • Caesars odds: +450
  • Weeks in top five: 5
  • Next game: vs. Broncos | Thursday, Oct. 12


My slowly evolving Super Bowl LVIII pick, which also will be updated each week, depending on performances: 49ers over Dolphins.

Previous picks ...

  • Week 4: 49ers over Bills
  • Week 3: 49ers over Dolphins
  • Week 2: 49ers over Bills
  • Week 1: 49ers over Dolphins

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