As we approach the midway point in the season the league is moving in four distinct directions. There are the great teams looking to keep their streaks alive, the middle of the pack trending up, the middle trending down, and the worst in the league who, well, bless their hearts.
This week I have six big questions I’m interested to see answered in the slate.
Can the Jaguars actually win one?
London is being cursed again with out of the worst games imaginable, this time getting to see the Jaguars play the Dolphins. However, the saving grace is that the crowd might get to be the first to see Trevor Lawrence will an NFL game.
If Jacksonville can’t beat Miami I really have no idea how long it’ll be before they can get a victory. In the four weeks following London they play the Seahawks, Bills, Colts and 49ers — all of whom should be able to beat the beleaguered Jaguars.
The Dolphins are in dire need of a confidence-boosting win too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Urban Meyer just stays in the U.K. and takes a job as a soccer coach if the Jaguars lose again.
Who wants it more between the Vikings and Panthers?
Both Minnesota and Carolina are really quite similar teams but in different positions. The Vikings are definitely underperforming expectations this season entering the week at 2-3, while the Panthers have fallen off and are now 3-2 after their unbeaten start.
If the Panthers want to compete they have to find ways to protect Sam Darnold. Early in the year Carolina was able to mitigate bad protection by using Christian McCaffrey as an outlet threat, but without needing to worry about him catching the ball out of the flat teams have been able to tee off on the offensive line.
Meanwhile the Vikings just need to get it together. There’s nothing that glaring about how they’re playing, but penalties have hurt the team a lot — and they keep playing down to competition. If Minnesota want to hang in the NFC North they need to make a statement this week.
Will the Chargers keep passing their tests?
The Chargers have been a delight this season and sitting at 4-1 they’re in great shape to keep control of the AFC West.
They’ve beaten really solid teams like the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns — now they’re facing the Ravens in a brutal stretch to their season. I’m interested to see if they can keep performing against top teams.
How will the Raiders look this week?
Tumultuous doesn’t begin to explain the week Las Vegas has had, and we don’t need to discuss Jon Gruden any more, but it will be interesting to see how the team responds. They were unquestionably flat against the Bears in Week 5, and now they face the Broncos in an AFC West contest.
Their playoff hopes could hinge on this game.
Can the Bengals avoid a trap game?
The Bengals are better than anyone expected this season, and fresh off a brutal overtime loss to the Packers in which they pushed Green Bay to the limit. In Week 6 they face the Lions, a game they should win based on past results, but this is very much a trap game.
This week Cincinnati faces, Detroit a team on the rise, so it’s not like they’re a terrible team — but if the Bengals look past them to the Ravens, it could be a problem.
Do the Browns have the tools to stop Kyler Murray?
The Browns are battling it out in the brutal AFC North and need a win in order to keep in step with the division. That’s going to be brutal considering they have to play Kyler Murray and the undefeated Cardinals.
Arizona is doing everything right at the moment, and there’s no single way to beat them anymore — but stopping Murray is key to any strategy. Or, at least, you need to slow him down a little. The Cleveland defense has been good, but not dominant yet this season. Considering the Ravens are on the uptick, and the Bengals are better than expected, the Browns can’t afford a bad loss here.