We are at the quarter pole of the 2018 season and yet somehow next to nothing has taken shape. A lot remains up in the air as good teams have struggled to find footing and teams we thought would be at the bottom are leading divisions. Everything is week-to-week in the topsy-turvy NFL.
Here are a few things that are heading in the right direction as we kickstart week five.
Outrageous Levels of Quarterback Play
The position has never been in better hands. Last week, 14 quarterbacks went for over 300 yards passing. Five (Jared Goff, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan) threw for over 400 and four threw at least four touchdowns (Goff, Carr, Luck, Mitchell Trubisky). So we are not simply seeing a couple great passing performances a week. We are getting a handful of other-wordly passing performances on a consistent basis. And look at the names doing it: there are 10-year veterans, second-year studs and everything in between.
Oh, and by the way. None of those 300-yard passers from week four are named Brady, Rodgers, Brees or Roethlisberger. This is a new wave of quarterback where more than half the league is capable of taking on a high volume of the offense while maintaining offensive efficiency. The week four 300-yarders went 9-5, but the lowest point total was Carson Wentz and the Eagles with 23. Plus, only five of the 14 threw an interception, and Carr was the lone man to throw more than one. This is accuracy, production and confidence in quarterbacks at a level that has never been seen before.
Odds for a Defensive Player to Win MVP
Do not be mistaken; Patrick Mahomes is the MVP through four games. But the distance between him and the number two is arguably less than the distance between two and three. And number two? Khalil Mack. There is no player in recent memory who completely altered a season’s course by switching teams. The Bears look like potential Super Bowl contenders when two months ago, they looked like a still-rebuilding franchise with some compelling, if not jaw-dropping talent. Well, now they have the jaw-dropping talent and maybe the best defense in football. Mack is the reason why.
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To put some numbers to it, Mack is tied for second in the league in sacks with five, tied for first with four forced fumbles and also has a touchdown and two pass deflections. He is the first player since 1994 to force a fumble in each of the first four games of the season. With Mack at the helm, the Bears are fourth in the league in yards allowed per game, third in points allowed per game and first in sacks. They are also second in the league both in takeaways and turnover margin, behind only the Browns in both categories.
Of course, you will have to venture pretty far down the list before you find Mack’s name on Odd Shark’s list of MVP odds. He and teammate Mitchell Trubisky are both +3300 to take home the award, tied for 12th-best with Matt Ryan. But that is more of a product of who typically wins the award, as quarterbacks and running backs dominant the odds leaders. From the standpoint of who is most deserving at this point in the season, Mack is comfortably in second place.
Thursday Night Football on the Upswing
Ever since it began, Thursday Night Football has been the target of derision due to a combination of things. For one, it is oddly positioned in the work week, making it not as urgent of a viewing experience. But more importantly, the shortened practice schedule has led to years of uninspired football.
This year, however, the Thursday-nighter has become appointment television due to a series of fun, offensive showcases and interesting storylines. Sure, week one between Philadelphia and Atlanta was a snooze, but week two, Andy Dalton and the Bengals put up 34 points against Baltimore and Dalton threw four touchdowns. The next week, fans got to see the debut of Baker Mayfield and more importantly, the first Cleveland Browns win in almost two calendar years. Then last week, well, it was simply the type of passing clinic that requires a towel afterwards. Kirk Cousins went off for 422 yards and three touchdowns. Yet somehow, Jared Goff and the Rams upstaged him, as Goff threw for 465 and five touchdowns while completing almost 79 percent of his passes.
Tonight could be a tough watch, as the Colts are hurting at many key positions and the Patriots are finding their footing again. But at the very least, fans are no longer conditioned to expect lackluster entertainment come Thursday. And with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady in the fold, you can expect the ball to be in the air a lot tonight.
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