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NFL Winners and Losers: Are the 5-0 Steelers quietly the NFL's best team?

Frank Schwab
·9-min read

Sunday was supposed to be a referendum on the Cleveland Browns. If they could beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, their hot start this season would have been validated.

Maybe the Steelers were the team everyone should have been paying attention to.

There were four undefeated NFL teams heading into Week 6: Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh. It’s rare for the Steelers to fly under the radar, but they hadn’t gotten an inordinate amount of attention for their undefeated start. They have stars on offense and a defense that was the best in the NFL this season. Yet, other teams got way more attention.

The Steelers should get respect after Sunday. No matter which joke you want to make about the Browns being the Browns, they were 4-1 coming into Sunday’s game. And the Steelers absolutely obliterated them, winning 38-7. Minkah Fitzpatrick had an early pick-six and the rout was on after that.

The Steelers are 5-0 for the first time since 1978. That team won a Super Bowl and was one of the best in NFL history.

The main reason the Steelers hadn’t gotten a ton of buzz is they hadn’t beat anyone good. They took care of the schedule they had played — it wasn’t their fault a great matchup against Tennessee got pushed back because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the Titans — but beating a hot Browns team is more evidence the Steelers should be mentioned in any Super Bowl contenders conversation.

The offense has seemingly endless weapons. Rookie Chase Claypool has looked great and had four touchdowns last week and scored again Sunday. James Washington, the fourth-best receiver on the Steelers, had 68 yards and a score against the Browns. James Conner is a good lead back. Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t look like prime Big Ben after elbow surgery, but he looks pretty good. Certainly good enough to get those playmakers the ball.

The defense has been a bit disappointing but it looked great Sunday. Just about everyone in a black and yellow jersey got pressure on Baker Mayfield. It was a clinic in aggressive defensive football. The Steelers have the speed and talent in the front seven to make life miserable for opponents. Mayfield was eventually taken out, perhaps for his own safety. The Browns had scored 30 or more points in four straight games, and couldn’t move the ball in Pittsburgh.

There are a handful of teams that have a reasonable argument for the best in the NFL. Don’t forget one-loss teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs in that discussion. But the Steelers belong too. We’ll find out for sure on Nov. 1 when the first Steelers-Ravens matchup happens.

James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after a touchdown run against the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after a touchdown run against the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Here are the winners and losers from Week 6 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Derrick Henry, MVP candidate? Running backs need otherworldly seasons to be considered for MVP. It’s a quarterback award.

But why not Henry? There aren’t many players more valuable to their team.

Henry had a monster game on Sunday. He put up 212 yards rushing, 52 yards receiving and scored the game-winning touchdown on a key third down in overtime to help the Titans stay undefeated. Tennessee beat Houston 42-36, and Henry was the main reason.

Henry broke a 94-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give the Titans the lead. In overtime, he had a huge catch to get the Titans deep into Houston territory. They got the ball first in overtime, and a touchdown ended the game. A field goal would have given the Texans a chance to tie or win it. Henry took care of that, taking a direct snap and scoring to end the game.

Henry got a four-year, $50 million deal this past offseason. There were some questions about that, given the history of big running back extensions and Henry’s workload. It looks like a steal so far.

Carson Wentz: Through an awful first half, it was fair to wonder if the Philadelphia Eagles should give rookie Jalen Hurts a look in the second half against the Baltimore Ravens.

Wentz was struggling again and the Ravens were dominating a bad Eagles team. Baltimore led 30-14 in the fourth quarter. But Wentz wouldn’t give up.

Wentz got the Eagles back in the game and with 1:55 left he scored on a quarterback sneak to cut the Ravens’ lead to 30-28. The Eagles tried a read-option run on the two-point conversion and the Ravens weren’t fooled. It was a poor play choice, Wentz was stuffed and the Eagles lost.

But Wentz deserves credit for getting his team back in the game. With a group of skill-position players that was beat up and an offensive line that is also injury-riddled, Wentz somehow got his team back in the game against a very good Ravens defense. Wentz has not had a good season, but the comeback — even if it was unsuccessful — was a nice reminder that with a better situation around him, Wentz can still be a good quarterback.

Chicago Bears defense: Matt Nagy came to Chicago with a reputation as an innovative offensive coach. He’s lucky he has a defense that takes the attention away from how punchless his offense is.

The Bears couldn’t run the ball again on Sunday and the passing game with Nick Foles produced almost nothing, and it didn’t matter. The Bears cooled off a Carolina Panthers offense that had been hitting its stride in a three-game winning streak. Chicago held on for a 23-16 win when it intercepted Teddy Bridgewater in the last two minutes. That came after the Bears offense couldn’t get a first down to seal the game.

Chicago is 5-1 and will still be doubted, mostly because its offense is not very good. But its defense can carry the team. It will probably have to continue to the rest of the season.

Denver Broncos, aside from Drew Lock: Sunday’s Broncos win is why quarterback wins aren’t a good stat to cite.

Lock looked bad in a 18-12 win over the New England Patriots. He completed 10 of 24 passes for 189 yards. He had two interceptions. He never led a touchdown drive. But the Patriots couldn’t do much on offense and Cam Newton’s fourth-down incompletion on Denver’s 24-yard line gave the Broncos an upset win.

Lock started late last season and the Broncos went 4-1 in his starts. Some credited Lock for the nice record, though it’s dangerous to blindly believe a quarterback is solely responsible for any team’s win. Lock was OK during that stretch, far from great. He was awful on Sunday, but the Broncos won in spite of him.

Joe Judge: It has been a tough start to the season for Judge, the rookie New York Giants head coach, and Sunday wasn’t pretty either.

But a Giants defensive touchdown with 3:29 left broke a 13-13 tie against the Washington Football Team, and then the Giants got a stop on a two-point conversion in the final minute for a 20-19 win in a game between two putrid NFC East teams (yes, “putrid” and “NFC East” is redundant). That gave Judge his first win as a head coach.

Not that one win changes much, but it has to feel good for Judge. If the Giants didn’t beat Washington on Sunday at home, who were they going to beat this season? At least Judge and the Giants can go forward in this rebuilding year not concerned about the 0-16 possibility.

LOSERS

Kirk Cousins: When Cousins is bad, he doesn’t do it halfway.

Cousins was miserable on Sunday. He had three first-half interceptions in a 40-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. If the Vikings had a reasonable backup, they might have thought of benching Cousins. He looked lost.

It looked like the Vikings’ spirit was broken by last week’s loss at the Seahawks. The Vikings outplayed Seattle for most of the game but couldn’t convert a late fourth down and lost in the final seconds. That dropped them to 1-4. The Falcons didn’t look like an 0-5 team on Sunday, at least compared to the Vikings.

Signing Cousins hasn’t paid off like the Vikings hoped. He has had some bad games this season and Sunday might have been his worst. It’s going to be a long season in Minnesota.

Philip Rivers critics: All the talk about Rivers being finished might be put on hold for a week.

After Rivers looked bad last week against the Cleveland Browns and heard a lot about how he had lost it, he engineered a huge comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts trailed 21-0 but Rivers threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns and the Indianapolis defense picked off Joe Burrow in the last minute to clinch a 31-27 win.

A loss to the Bengals at home would not have been good for the Colts’ season, especially with the Titans improving to 5-0 with an overtime comeback win. Rivers made sure that didn’t happen.

Jacksonville Jaguars: In Week 3 the Jaguars played on “Thursday Night Football.” They were 1-1 with a win over the Indianapolis Colts and a close loss to the Tennessee Titans. The NFL Network pregame crew talked about the Jaguars like they were playoff contenders. All four panelists picked the Jaguars to beat the Miami Dolphins.

The Jaguars haven’t won since and they haven’t come all that close either. Jacksonville got blasted by the Detroit Lions 34-16. The Jaguars are 1-5 and they shouldn’t even feel very good about that one win because it could end up costing them Trevor Lawrence in the draft.

We’re unlikely to hear about the Jaguars being playoff contenders the rest of the season.

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