Sunday was a formative day for the AFC North, one of the NFL's most hotly contested divisions. Heading into Week 6, this division was the only one with three teams each with at least four wins. The Pittsburgh Steelers were 4-0, while the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns were both 4-1. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin likened it to playing in a hot kitchen during a press conference last week, and as the old saying goes, if you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.
Well, the AFC North kitchen is a bit less crowded this week. The Ravens took care of business during a tough road test in Philadelphia, while also taking another step closer to tying an NFL record for scoring output. The Steelers, in a head-to-head battle with the Browns, took care of business at home. That was the predictable outcome, as it has been almost two decades since Cleveland has gotten a win in Pittsburgh. The Browns are now 0-2 with two blowout losses to their closest division rivals and 4-0 against the rest of the league. Maybe they'll be a wild card team, considering the expansion to seven playoff seeds per conference this season, but they look like the clear third-place team in their division through six weeks.
We'll dive into a few AFC North numbers to know — including one that involves the Cincinnati Bengals (unfortunately for those fans) — but first let's hop elsewhere around the NFL.
The reigning rushing champ isn't ready to give up his throne. Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry exploded for 212 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-36 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. Henry now has three career games with at least 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He joins Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players in NFL history with three such games. Henry currently leads the NFL in rushing with 588 yards, an average of 117.6 yards per game. That production is a big reason why the Titans are one of only three remaining undefeated teams at 5-0.
Henry's two touchdowns were massive. The first one was a 94-yard run at the start of the fourth quarter. That run made him one of just five players in league history to score two career touchdowns of 90-plus yards (you may remember his 99-yard rumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018). His second touchdown was the game-winning score, a five-yard punch out of the Wildcat formation in overtime. On top of his insane rushing production, Henry also caught two passes for 52 yards. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is always comfortable putting the game in the hands of his workhorse running back.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was in full meltdown mode on Sunday. His Vikings lost 40-23 to a previously winless Atlanta Falcons team and are now 1-5 on the season. Cousins threw three interceptions in the losing effort and now leads the entire NFL with 10 picks. His first attempt of the game was intercepted by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Five plays later, Atlanta took the lead with a touchdown and never looked back. The Vikings were trailing 23-0 before scoring their first points of the game, and two of their three touchdowns came in garbage time.
Cousins is not Minnesota's only problem. The defense, traditionally stingy under head coach Mike Zimmer, is a bottom-five unit in terms of points allowed per game. No one on the Vikings defense, however, has an average salary of $33 million per year. The Vikings pay Cousins a top-10 quarterback salary with the expectation that he will keep the ship afloat even when it's taking on water. So far this season, that has not been the case. He is only three interceptions shy of his career high (13) and finally looking like the quarterback his detractors always suspected him to be.
For the sixth week in a row, at least one team has come back from a deficit of 16 points or more and won the game (an NFL record to start the season). This week, the comeback came courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts, who were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 21-0 on Sunday afternoon and ended up winning 31-27. Here are the other 16-point comebacks we've seen this season:
Week 1: Washington trailed the Eagles by 17 and won
Week 2: The Cowboys trailed the Falcons by 20 and won
Week 3: The Bears trailed the Falcons by 16 and won
Week 5: The Saints trailed the Chargers by 17 and won
While the Cowboys' comeback against the Falcons was probably the most thrilling of the season, the Colts' 21-point deficit in Week 6 was the largest one that's been overcome this year. A loss to Cincinnati would've put a serious dent in Indy's reputation. Instead of losing two straight and falling to 3-3, the Colts are now 4-2 and firmly in the AFC mix. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes in the win, had his first multi-touchdown outing of the year and also posted a season-high 371 passing yards. It looks like he still has a little bit of life left in that 38-year-old arm.
The Cleveland Browns have now lost 17 games in a row at Heinz Field. Their last road win against the Steelers came in 2003, when Tim Couch was the starting quarterback. On Sunday, the Browns were on the wrong end of a 38-7 beatdown in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' defense, which may be the best in the NFL, limited the league's best rushing attack to just 75 yards on the ground and forced a banged-up Baker Mayfield to win the game with his arm. Mayfield wasn't up for the task and threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, before coming out of the game late in the third quarter. Mayfield now has seven multi-interception outings since the start of last season; only Jameis Winston (9) and Philip Rivers (8) have more.
Heading into Week 6, the Browns looked like they had a chance to win the AFC North. They're not entirely out of the race at this point, but this loss combined with their 38-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1 makes the division look more like a two-horse race. The Steelers, on the other hand, are now one of only three remaining undefeated teams at 5-0. They will face another one of those three teams when they take on the 5-0 Titans in Week 7. The winner of that game will claim pole position in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots by a score of 18-12 in Week 5. All 18 of Denver's points came off the foot of kicker Brandon McManus. Not only did McManus single-handedly outscore New England, he also scored more points than the Browns, Panthers, Jaguars, Jets, Packers and Rams did on Sunday. McManus set a Broncos franchise record by going six-for-six on his field-goal attempts versus the Patriots, so it was a big day for a very big leg.
While Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (23 years, 343 days) became the youngest quarterback to win a game at Gillette Stadium, he did it without leading a touchdown drive. This marked the first time that a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team lost a game while not surrendering a touchdown. His teams were previously 39-0 in such situations, including the postseason. New England needs to find some help for quarterback Cam Newton on offense. He only has two touchdown passes on the season, compared to four interceptions. On Sunday, Newton scored the team's only touchdown (a one-yard rush), was the team's leading rusher with 76 yards on 10 carries and also caught a pass for 16 yards. He's doing all he can, but the Patriots undeniably miss the offensive balance they had with Tom Brady.
After beating the Philadelphia Eagles 30-22 on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens have now scored at least 20 points in 29 straight regular-season games. This streak dates back to the moment Baltimore made the switch at quarterback from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson halfway through the 2018 season. It is also one game shy of the NFL record set by Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos from 2012-2014. For those who insist on pointing out Jackson's postseason record at this point, remember that the Broncos were also one-and-done in the playoffs twice during this stretch.
There are some legitimate criticisms of Jackson's passing game. His completion percentage (63.0), average yards per pass attempt (7.0) and passer rating (99.2) are all down significantly from his MVP season a year ago. He does leave some plays on the field due to inaccurate throws, particularly on intermediate and deep attempts. Despite all this, Baltimore's offense has not slowed down a bit. Against the Eagles, Jackson provided a reminder of the damage he can do with his legs, as he rushed for a season-high 108 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts. Nitpick his game all you want; NFL defenses haven't been able to hold the Ravens under 20 points since he became the starter.
A lot of fans may be scratching their heads and wondering how the Chicago Bears are 5-1 and leading the NFC North after beating the Carolina Panthers 23-16 in Week 5. The answer is their defense, and that unit is at its best when it matters most: third down. The Bears have only allowed their opponents to convert 31.8 percent of their third-down attempts this season. That is the second stingiest rate in the NFL behind the Miami Dolphins (31.3), and Miami's number may be slightly skewed by a New York Jets team that went 2-for-17 against them on third down this weekend.
Chicago's defense isn't quite at the level we saw in 2018, but it's strong enough to carry the water for an offense that's still searching for its sea legs. The Bears have been out-gained in total yards in four out of six games this season, including the Panthers game on Sunday. Somehow, they've managed to win three of those four games. Chicago has a shaky quarterback situation and a bottom-five rushing attack (90 yards/game). That puts a lot of pressure on the defense to not only play breakdown-free, but also create scoring opportunities. It's not outlandish to still be skeptical of the Bears, as their current formula is somewhat unsustainable.
Everything was smooth sailing for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Packers on the first two drives of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, they hit a brick wall. After racking up 144 yards and a 10-point lead in the first quarter, the Packers only had 57 yards and were completely shut out the rest of the way. The Buccaneers, conversely, scored 38 unanswered points en route to a 38-10 victory.
This was only Green Bay's first loss of the season, but it was a concerning one. Rodgers was completely neutralized after the first two drives. Sunday's loss to the Bucs marked only the second time in his career that he finished with zero touchdown passes and two interceptions (the other time came during his 2014 MVP campaign oddly enough). While Rodgers struggled to deal with Tampa Bay's fierce defensive front, Tom Brady rekindled his connection with tight end Rob Gronkowski while cruising to victory. Brady and the Bucs looked refocused after an ugly loss to the Bears in primetime the week before. Now, Rodgers and the Pack need to do the same, if they want to reclaim their potential stake the NFC's top team.