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Hot or Not

NFL Hot or Not: Steelers son Browns; Dallas donezo?

In the wake of Week 6, Marc Sessler dishes on what's hot -- and what's not -- in the NFL:


-- Daddy's home.

That's how it felt Sunday watching the Steelers separate Cleveland down to the particle level. Those plucky Browns almost fooled the neighborhood, play-acting the role of adults over the past four weeks, doing adultlike things on the gridiron after 20-plus years of arrested development. On Sunday, though, the AFC North's true father figure came waltzing through the front door. One look at Daddy's face and the Browns knew there would be hell to pay.

Weeks on end marching through the abode as if they owned the place. Moving all the furniture around, taking the Ferrari 250 GT for a spin and inviting all their friends over for late-night festivities poolside with bottles of found liquor from that cabinet in the den. The Bengals mostly slept in, but Cleveland dressed up in Father's suit and walked arm-in-arm through the house with the most popular girls from school. Someone even brought a miniature horse on a leash while Tad from the lacrosse team performed jackknives off the diving board. "I never noticed you in school before," the Patriots said as the Browns filled New England's glass, "but you sure are cute."

Then the music cut out, the deck lights flipped on and dames scattered. Cleveland was reduced again to the role of child as the man of the house stepped onto the cluttered patio and rolled up his sleeves. He looked vaguely like Mike Tomlin, but who could be sure. "Wait until your mother hears about this."

Oh, no. The Ravens.

"Dad?" Cleveland asked, sounding again like a teenage boy with a D+ in Algebra 2. "Will we still be able to go on that vacation to Wild-Card Land?"

"Don't ask me any more questions tonight, son."

-- Sunday delivered lessons. Beyond Pittsburgh's 38-7 thumping of the Browns, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers used Week 6 to formally announce themselves as a bona fide threat in the tangled NFC. This seemed unlikely after falling 10 points down to the Packers, but then Tampa tore up the dancefloor in a 38-10 waltz over their woozy partners from Green Bay.

The difference Sunday was a Bucs defense emerging as a pounding headache for the enemy. A convenient development for Tampa Bay (4-2), as the team's big-name offense has taken its time to bloom: Brady has flip-flopped good quarters with quiet stretches; the running game has come and gone. On Sunday, though, Ronald Jones revved-up behind a bully-minded offensive line. Wideout Chris Godwin finally returned. Even Rob Gronkowski joined the party with a brilliant scoring grab, which tickled avid reader Gisele Bündchen.

Yes, this is Brady's machine, and I'm convinced this team is 1-5 without his luminous fire always burning at the center of the operation, but the environment helps. The generous blocking. A wise-old, brass-tacks coach in Bruce Arians. Most of all, a Bucs defense that left an MVP-chasing Aaron Rodgers frazzled and doing his little smirk-toward-the-sideline thing amid the wreckage of a Jamel Dean pick-six and five sacks on the day from Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White and Ndamukong Suh. Tampa's self-generated heat was a reminder that play-caller Todd Bowles -- angling to be more than a Gregg Rosenthal fetish -- has given Brady the kind of defense Rodgers expected in Green Bay.

-- Another teacher of lessons: The 5-0 Titans of Nashville, who emerged from their role as CoronaTime heavies to toss the Texans off a cliff in Sunday's 42-36 overtime jubilee. Would overtime have existed without Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel gambling on a two-point attempt in hopes of putting Houston up by nine with 1:50 left? The attempt fizzled and Tennessee marched down the field to tie the game at 36 apiece.

I don't mind Crennel going for the throat, but the risk was always Derrick Henry. Looming as a front-door-shaped berserker, the Titans back exploded in overtime, taking a Ryan Tannehill lob 53 yards to the Houston 27. Four plays later, Tannehill vacated the backfield and Henry took a direct snap into the Promised Land.

Henry's 264 total yards on Sunday should bring us back to a time when it was chic to question whether Tannehill and Henry could possibly wheel back last year's so-called "aberration" on offense. Said concerns were rooted in seeing Tannehill operate as a middle-of-the-pack passer for years on a rash of half-baked Dolphins squads. "One-hit wonder!" some screamed. The Henry critique was more about usage, with Fantasy Heads fearful the big-body rumbler had possibly enjoyed his DeMarco Murray-esque peak.

Had we only trusted the enduring magic of coordinator Arthur Smith.

Family history tells us he's the son of FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith, but fear not: This fellow was not born on third base thinking he hit a triple. The shipping-king offshoot has leaned on a creative forest fire to place Tannehill in a play-action-soaked attack that simply jives with the symphony of surrounding weapons. Henry looks fresh as a Scandinavian garden in May. Head coach Mike Vrabel oversees the chorus with his lovable-tough-guy approach, one that has the Titans looking like a testy puncher ready to clobber all the doubters.

-- I watched a pretty awful Jets-Dolphins game on Sunday that saw the teams start a combined 0-for-19 on third down. It was an affair that aged viewers in the Big Apple, but even steamed Jets fans could feel a tinge of appreciation seeing Tua Tagovailoa take the field in the final seconds of Miami's 24-0 win. With uber-mentor Ryan Fitzpatrick whipping the crowd into a frenzy of support for Tua, the first-round quarterback, in his first action since suffering a calamitous hip injury at Alabama, thrilled the faithful by hitting Patrick Laird for 2 yards and finding Jakeem Grant for 7 before the final gun sounded. What happened next served as a balm for even the most cynical.

Now, as I'm filing this, everything is shifting toward the future in Miami, where coach Brian Flores is suddenly handing the reins to Tua as the team's starter, with a source telling NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, "It's just time." With the Dolphins heading into their bye, that first start will come in Week 8 against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams.


-- In that same Jets-Fins game, we watched men clad in green vanish further from the Polaroid. Disappearing altogether might be the answer. What Adam Gase has put on the field is not an NFL product, feeling much closer to a high-level prank aimed at a group of humans who have suffered enough: Jets fans. My pal Dan Hanzus knows that bad football in 2020 comes packed with something almost equally evil: Twitter's reaction to bumbling sports teams. The experience of a Gase-led game plan is painful, but it's only half the battle when every Sunday is aglow with thousands of wit-crackers offering mostly identical, weathered jabs at a Jets team floating 22,000 miles above the Earth with the pilots knocked out in the cockpit, just seven gallons of gas left in the tank -- and freaked passengers devolving into finger-pointing.

-- Watching Kirk Cousins throw a trio of picks in a hideous 40-23 loss to the previously winless Falcons reminds me of how I felt about the Vikings last season, too: I don't believe in them. Sitting less than a fortnight away from November, I don't consider it knee-jerky to full-on GHOST this team as an observer. Barring a seismic change to the scenery, I will not be mentioning the Vikings in this column again until their season comes to an unholy end.

-- Dallas vanished before our eyes in Monday night's 38-10 loss to the Cardinals. Blaming the mess on Andy Dalton doesn't work, either, when underwater coordinator Mike Nolan has dreamt up a defensive scheme determined to morph every opposing team into a bells-and-whistles juggernaut. We all know Kyler Murray will take off on third-and-long -- and away he goes, with no trouble moving the chains. Fourth-and-1? No problem, let's just have Arizona's mobile passer dart for 11 more yards with no Cowboy anywhere close. Let's treat Larry Fitzgerald like a deep threat, soft cushioning the wily veteran on an 11-yard pickup that came easy. Let's then be rocked to sleep as Christian Kirk fries us on an 80-yard scoring shot to turn out the lights. Wait, Kenyan Drake was in a mini-slump? Say no more. Let's open up the old barn door and allow him to gallop for a 69-yard touchdown en route to 164 yards on terra firma. The Dak Prescott-free offense did no favors, with Ezekiel Elliott imploding via back-to-back fumbles while Dalton ran for his life behind a fractured line that lost one of its last standing stalwarts, guard Zack Martin, to a concussion.

Dallas is bubbling with individual talent on offense, but few teams feel more fractured, disorganized and lost coming out of Week 6. Does anyone trust Mike McCarthy to turn this around?

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.

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