The first quarter of the 2019 NFL season has passed and the league is as polarizing as ever. One division has four teams with the same record. Backup quarterbacks are taking the league by storm, and, of course, the New England Patriots are dominating everyone.
Who are the Cleveland Browns this season?
After a promising end to last season and an off-season filled with notable additions like Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, the Browns entered the 2019 campaign with probably their highest expectations of this century. In typical Browns fashion, they were blown out in their first game by the Tennessee Titans at home. All the hype disappeared and the doubters were proven right. Then, Cleveland beat an injured New York Jets team, but arguably didn’t play very well. At the very least the defense showed potential. That potential carried over into the next game against the Los Angeles Rams, the defending National Football Conference Champions. Although the Browns lost the game, their defense held one of the best offenses in the league to 16 points. Finally the team put everything together in week four against divisional rival Baltimore Ravens, winning 40-25. Head Coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield finally got the offense humming against a very solid Ravens defense. Will Cleveland build off this momentum in the coming weeks? Or was this offensive explosion an anomaly? The Browns definitely have talent, but it still remains a question if they’ll be able to put it all together and make a playoff run.
A two-team race in the AFC
The Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs each sit at 4-0 after meeting in the 2018 American Football Conference Championship game a year ago. It appears they are on a collision course again. This edition of the Patriots boasts a stifling defense. They are currently allowing a league-low 240 yards per game; the next closest defense allows 280 yards a game. It is not even close. More impressive perhaps is that they are allowing less than seven points per game. What New England is doing defensively is nothing short of miraculous in today’s offensive heavy league. On top of that, their offense averages more than 30 points a game thus far. The defending NFL champions look even better this year.
In red and yellow, the Chiefs are led by a freak of nature at quarterback, reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes II. Mahomes is having an even better year this season, throwing for more than 1,500 yards through four games. Just for context, that puts him on pace to throw for 6,000 yards in one season. Kansas City’s offense has proven almost impossible to stop so far, as they average 34 points a game. However, their defense is barely mediocre. The Chiefs need to dramatically improve that side of the ball if they want to make it to the Super Bowl this season.
The fall of the quarterbacks
Multiple prominent starting quarterbacks have been injured for significant amounts of time, and for some teams the backups have proven more than serviceable, while others desperately miss their starters. In Jacksonville, the Jaguars signed Nick Foles in the off-season, who broke his clavicle in the first game of the season. Enter Gardner Minshew II, an enigmatic rookie drafted in the sixth round. Besides becoming an instant icon given his unique personality and almost mythical stories (apparently he does his stretches in a jock strap), Minshew has impressed many people with his abilities, including leading a game-winning drive against the Denver Broncos in week four. In Carolina, star quarterback Cam Newton has been battling injuries, but Kyle Allen has led the team to back-to-back wins after an 0-2 start. After Drew Brees had to have surgery on his hand, the New Orleans Saints called on Teddy Bridgewater to manage the offense, and he has looked decent as well. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season because of elbow surgery, and backup Mason Rudolph has been more of what you might expect a backup to look like. It will likely be a long season for fans from the Steel City.
The NFC is a crapshoot
While the AFC has two teams that are clearly playing at a level higher than their competition, the NFC is wide open. The Saints have played well, but who knows if they’ll be able to keep winning with Brees out. The Dallas Cowboys arguably are the best team on paper, with Dak Prescott at quarterback, Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield, Amari Cooper at wide receiver and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker, but Head Coach Jason Garrett has not yet proven to be a great coach. The Rams just lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and gave up 55 points. The NFC North has four teams that all could win the division. Don’t forget about the Philadelphia Eagles or Seattle Seahawks. Only six teams can make the playoffs. The race for the NFC will be fun to watch the rest of the year.