Are we giving the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers enough credit? I tend to think not.
The class of the NFC South, these two teams are winning every week without, in the case of New Orleans, a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback (Drew Brees) who has been as productive as any passer in the history of the game. And in the case of the Panthers, they have churned out three straight victories without recent league MVP Cam Newton.
Both teams are making a statement, Sunday after Sunday, with backup quarterbacks. I don't think that's going to stop anytime soon, either. I figured these to be the two best rosters in this tough division and two postseason teams, and they have already rallied from adversity and, with the Falcons a lost cause with a coach in jeopardy of losing his job any day now, and the Buccaneers still quarterbacked by Jameis Winston – who struggled for any semblance of consistency – I dare say this division is going to be a two-team race.
The Saints and Panthers each had abundant faith in their No. 2 quarterback and both have the luxury of making sure that Brees (thumb surgery) and Newton (mid-foot sprain) take all the time they need before they return, and I continue to believe that will be after each team's bye (Carolina is off Week 7 and the Saints are off Week 9). Those offenses are in good hands.
Week 5 Sunday is in the books and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness.
Bridgewater, shaking off years of rust after overcoming a career-threatening knee injury, is looking more comfortable with each start. He is cool and confident and learning to trust his athleticism more with each game. Sunday he picked apart what had been an increasingly-stout Tampa defense, putting together the kind of film that will get him a nice, fat payday come free agency in the spring. Bridgewater, still just 26, was 26-for-34 for 314 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, completing multiple passes to six different receivers. He was unstoppable working to his two best weapons, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, going 18-for-20 for 224 yards and two touchdowns to them alone.
This Saints defense is beastly, the run game is no joke, coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis are all about adding pieces at the trade deadline, again – another receiver or tight end is a prime target – and if not for a blown call against the Rams they might be unbeaten. They are going to be a factor deep in January and getting Brees back next month would be like a massive deadline acquisition in and of itself.
As for the Panthers, that defense was pushed and tested by Gardner Minshew is ways it usually is not (more on the mustached QB in a minute), but found a way to make enough plays to win. Running back Christian McCaffrey had another MVP-like performance and Kyle Allen ran the offense and moved the team and avoided the fumbles this week. He wasn't eye-popping, but he didn't have to be against a tough Jags defense, staying within the confines of the game plan and remaining undefeated (4-0) as an NFL starter dating back to last year.
He played well enough to support his talented teammates and allow the team to win. He did what he had to do. And the Panthers kept pace with the Saints. If they can avoid being swept by the Bucs – they travel to Tampa next week – they're likely to be the team to push New Orleans in that division the rest of the way.
Falcons defense is hopeless for a second straight season
The Falcons' defense is simply not good. Everyone gets about five sacks and 10 quarterback hits when they face the Texans – except Atlanta. They were toothless on that side of the ball yet again the Texans hung 50-plus points on them with Quinn under intense pressure and the Falcons, prone to getting pushed around for large chunks of each game, completely wilted in the second half. If owner Arthur Blank made huge changes no one should be surprised at this point.
More insider notes from Week 5
- Minshew is the Jaguars' quarterback of the present and the future. Period. I've said it before and I will say it again – no reason in the world to go back to Nick Foles. Minshew brought the Jags back – again – when it appeared the Panthers might trounce them and his energy and spirit are infectious, to say nothing of his fearlessness and play-making ability. There isn't a decision to be made at this point and Minshew is not going to suddenly hit a wall. He can play.
- If the Ravens win the AFC North, Marlon Humphrey will have everything to do with it. On a day when the Ravens defense again largely suffered against novice quarterbacks, succumbing to foolish penalties and miscues, the stud cornerback's strip of JuJu Smith-Schuster in overtime – and ability to somehow recover the fumble, also, well downfield, led to the win and may provide a lift that carries over for more than just a game or two.
- If Mason Rudolph is out a while after being knocked from Sunday's game with a concussion, rookie Devlin Hodges showed more than enough to merit another look. The kid has some Minshew in his game, he is not afraid to let it hang out with his legs or arms and did not flinch despite having to make his NFL debut under duress. I liked his approach and gutsy effort. They may have found a little something in the undrafted quarterback from Sanford.
- The Skins may be the worst team in football. When they play the Dolphins in Week 6, that game should be a pick 'em. Rival GMs entered this week beyond baffled at Washington's bizarre approach to an obvious rebuild; maybe this is the week Bruce Allen wakes up and trades Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan and any other veteran another team will take off his hands. Washington will rival Cincinnati as the most barren NFL stadiums in the league from here on out.
- Kudos to Kyler Murray for earning his first NFL win. I have continually been impressed by the youngster. He was solid enough in the pocket and let it go with his legs, coming just shy of 100 yards rushing.
- Buffalo's offense remains rough overall, but quarterback Josh Allen again got better as the game went along and managed more touch passes and lobs into space rather than relying on the fastball most of the time.
- Titans are the team of the week to be on the prowl for another kicker in what is a constant ritual around this league.
- How about the Raiders? Give Jon Gruden credit -- this team has a totally different ethos from a year ago and is battling back within games and week-to-week. Looked like they had handed Sunday's game back to the Bears before concocting a game-winning drive. Knocking off the Bears and Colts in a week is no easy feat, and they moved the ball on Chicago more than you tend to ever see. Going all the way to London and pulling that off to stand 3-2 at the bye could propel them for a while.
- Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan had a tough game back. Buffalo got a ton of pressure, and Lewan had a holding penalty to negate a touchdown and then a false start to push the team back and, eventually, Marcus Mariota was over the line on a touchdown throw that negated that score. This offense continues to go in fits and starts; 64 points in two wins and 31 total points in three losses.