Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Marc Sessler offers a bead on six us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 6:
WFT's disappointing defense vs. Mahomes & Co.
We entered this season assuming Washington's defense was stout -- perhaps even Super Bowl-caliber. Instead, the unit has operated as a welcome friend to opposing attacks by allowing a whopping 31 points per game, more than every team league-wide beyond Sunday's opponent: defense-averse Kansas City. That bodes well for a Taylor Heinicke-led offense charged with pacing Patrick Mahomes, but what about Washington's flimsy wall?
The pass rush appeared in a 33-22 loss to the Saints, but so did the defense's knack for blown coverages. Safety Landon Collins was caught playing catch-up on Jameis Winston's 72-yard scoring bomb to a wide-open Deonte Harris. Asked about the gaffe, Washington coach Ron Rivera told reporters a defender should have been stationed deep. Even more ghastly was Marquez Callaway's 49-yard Hail Mary score before the half, an edgy play call that caught The Team with its pants down -- a gaggle of burgundy-clad men who appeared in a state of frozen admiration at Winston's gorgeous hurl.
"We weren't] expecting them to go Hail Mary there. A regular football team will try to get a couple yards and kick a field goal," said veteran corner [William Jackson III, who inked a three-year, $40.5 million deal this past March to play both regular and irregular opponents.
Communication issues have beguiled a defense that gave up 29 points to the G-Men, 30 to Atlanta and 43 to the Bills. Kansas City coach Andy Reid sees what we see: The Chiefs must win shootouts. They're hampered by bottom-five run and pass defenses, and tied for the fifth-fewest takeaways in the NFL. It's a chance for Heinicke to peak, but does anyone trust Washington to solve Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, a two-headed, LSD-doused Rubik's Cube determined to beguile coordinators weekly?
Jalen Hurts vs. Tom Brady
Call it his messiest start of the year, but Jalen Hurts took a step forward in Sunday's nail-biter win at Carolina.
For two-plus quarters, Hurts and the Eagles were out of sorts against the Panthers, squeezing out 13 yards over their first seven drives. Philadelphia's chances drifted when Hurts overthrew a third-quarter lob that landed in the arms of underrated Panthers cover man Donte Jackson. Instead of folding, though, the young starter overcame his mistake with artistry: a laser to Dallas Goedert that set up Hurts' second rushing score. He then sealed the 21-18 win by evading Carolina heat-seeker Haason Reddick to rip a two-point dart to DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone. Said tackle Jordan Mailata of Hurts: "He's all bite, no bark."
This resilience will be requisite against Tampa on Thursday night. The Eagles were flamed for 83 godless points in back-to-back losses to Dallas and Kansas City. Tom Brady's Bucs have posted 45-plus in two of their past four tilts. We barely blinked Sunday as a 44-year-old man posted season highs in passing yards (411), rating (144.4) and air scores (5) against a previously feared Miami defense.
There's a sense the Eagles -- lounging in a stream of accrued high draft picks -- remain in referendum mode on Hurts. I see a starter who offers nearly everything you could ask for in today's environment. Tampa Bay's defense will limit Hurts on the ground, but the Bucs have allowed 275-plus passing yards and two-plus air scores to every quarterback they've faced. With Philly hosting Tampa on the nationally televised TNF stage, here's an opportunity for Hurts to further establish himself as a fantasy -- and real-life -- stud.
Two weeks ago, they were the feel-good venture of the year: A frolicking, fun-loving, DGAF Raiders squad having their way in the Vegas heat. Today, they've dropped back-to-back stinkfests against the Chargers and Bears -- and that was before their head coach suddenly resigned during Monday Night Football.
Jon Gruden's shocking exodus -- following reports that emails he authored over a seven-year span included racist, homophobic and misogynistic language -- alters the very core composition of a Raiders squad dipped for years in his Chucky-fueled aura and unflinching offensive philosophy.
Where to now? Can special teams coordinator turned interim coach Rich Bisaccia prevent a total team implosion? Beyond the organizational shockwaves, there's plenty to fix on the field before traveling to Denver for Sunday's tussle with the Broncos.
After averaging 401 passing yards over his first three starts, Derek Carr has screamed back to earth behind a line that's given up seven sacks over the past two weeks. Carr's definitely not my favorite quarterback to observe, but the polarizing signal-caller is not to blame: In Sunday's loss to Chicago, injuries forced rookie tackle Alex Leatherwood to play right guard while little-used Brandon Parker filled in at OT. Upshot: The NFL's second-most penalized team fizzled on the ground while birthing a ridiculous eight holding infractions. It's one reason the Raiders have hit double-digit deficits in four of five first halves.
These feel like nerdy details inside a whirlwind week for Las Vegas. With the season on the brink, though, maybe it's time for the Raiders to lean into their true identity: a devil-may-care, deep-ball stage act throwing balance to the wind. The Silver and Black vs. The World.
Davis Mills vs. regression
Plopped on a couch during the NFL's longest-ever Sunday, I found myself openly rooting for Houston to complete the upset against Bill Belichick. The Patriots -- scoring 16 unanswered points -- wouldn't allow it in a 25-22 win, but New England was beyond permissible with Davis Mills.
Houston's thrust-into-the-fire rookie passer overcame Week 4's brutal four-pick meltdown in Buffalo to sock the Patriots where it counts. Completing nearly 73 percent of his throws, Mills uncorked two deep-shot scores and didn't turn the ball over. The third-rounder was money when it mattered, hitting 12 of 13 throws for 209 yards and two touchdowns on third and fourth downs.
Our friends in the desert view the Texans as sitting ducks against the Colts, but not if we get last Sunday's version of Mills. If his ascent continues (and if someone burns that Buffalo tape), why not get a longer look instead of throwing Tyrod Taylor back into a largely meaningless campaign?
New England just another faceless entity?
Back to the Patriots.
Belichick's defenses have spent 20-plus years chomping rookie passers to bits. Mills, though -- surrounded by skill players presumed to be a flock of naïfs -- pumped out the highest rookie passer rating ever against Bill's Pats, per NFL Research. Mills went into halftime having completed 12 of 16 throws for 202 yards. It was the kind of slump you don't expect from a Belichick-run defense -- not against a Texans team that had scored just nine total points over its previous two games.
A glitch in the sim? Or have we finally reached that off-in-the-distance, shimmering vista where the Patriots are just another team? Staying afloat with wins over the Texans and Jets amid frustrating stumbles against Miami, New Orleans and Tampa. The next five weeks include showdowns with the Cowboys, Chargers, Panthers and Browns. In a post-Brady milieu, the Patriots feel like a stretch in every one of those clashes. Welcome to average.
Cleveland's black-and-blue roster vs. the most exciting team in football
When the league added a 17th regular-season game last spring, Cleveland appeared to draw the easiest assignment out of the rugged NFC West: the Cardinals. Little did society know that Arizona would morph into the NFL's last remaining undefeated team led by a bona fide MVP candidate in Kyler Murray.
The Browns are technically favored in Sunday's tilt, but that's a total charade if they don't get healthier. In Week 5's 47-42 loss to the Chargers, Cleveland toiled through injuries at both offensive tackle spots. In the secondary, my 12-year-old niece, Irene Manchester, finished the game at slot corner after Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Troy Hill and M.J. Stewart all left for portions of Sunday. Jadeveon Clowney is nicked up, too. It's a scenario to monitor, as Murray rolls into town with DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, electric rookie Rondale Moore and a revived A.J. Green looking to fry a hobbled secondary.