It’s almost the end of Week 5 in the 2022 NFL season and the most competitive division in football is … the NFC East?
After years of uneven play, three teams – the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles – all have records of 4-1 or better. Philadelphia, in fact, is the lone squad in the entire league that remains undefeated. And schedule makers unintentionally have given NFL fans an early season gift next week, when the Eagles will host the Cowboys on Sunday night.
Elsewhere, in the AFC, the conference’s No. 1 seed from last year – the Tennessee Titans – is looking like its old self after it dropped the first two games of the season. Not surprisingly, Tennessee is doing it with success in the red zone and with running back Derrick Henry as the anchor.
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Here are the winners and losers for Sunday’s slate.
Next week’s battle for first in the NFC East
Next Sunday night’s matchup between the undefeated Eagles (5-0) and the Cowboys (4-1), essentially a battle for first in the division, will alter the landscape not only in the NFC East, but potentially in the conference, overall. Jalen Hurts, whose 6 rushing touchdowns are tied for the lead in the NFC with running backs included, is playing himself into early MVP consideration. The Eagles lead the NFL in turnover margin (+9). And Philadelphia has shown it can win in different ways.
On the other side, the Cowboys have won four in a row since Dak Prescott (thumb) suffered an injury in the opener. While Cooper Rush has been a solid backup, it’s Dallas’ defense – and its pass rush – that has made the Cowboys a team to fear moving forward. And, to make this matchup even more intriguing, Prescott could be in line to make his return.
The Vikings are a player in their division
The Packers came into the season as heavy favorites in the NFC North. It’s time to rethink that. With their victory against the Bears, Minnesota (4-1) has affirmed itself as the most consistent team in the division. Credit coach Kevin O’Connell for helping scheme players open; Kirk Cousins attempted 41 passes and not a single one was thrown into a tight window, per Next Gen Stats. With that separation, Cousins completed a franchise-record 17 consecutive attempts to start a game. Minnesota was a model of efficiency, converting 12-of-15 third downs (80%), all four red zone trips and all four goal-to-go scenarios.
Minnesota’s lone loss this season came in Week 2 against the Eagles, the lone team in the NFL to remain undefeated. More importantly, the Vikings have raced out to a 3-0 record against their divisional foes – including a season-opening victory against the Packers – giving Minnesota a head start in its NFC North race.
The Titans, too
Last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC slumped to start the season, dropping its first two games. Now, Tennessee has won three in a row and – given the way other teams in the AFC South have struggled – the Titans (3-2) may very well be in position to run away with the division.
After failing to surpass 100 rushing yards in their first two games of the season, the Titans have done so in each game during their winning streak, totaling 341 in that span. But in what has become a hallmark of Mike Vrabel’s Titans teams, they have been unmatched inside the red zone: in Tennessee’s last four games, it has converted each of the 10 trips inside the 20. Running back Derrick Henry, who averaged just 3.14 yards per carry in Tennessee’s first two games, has rushed at a clip of 4.3 during the winning streak.
Brian Daboll’s New York Giants
It’s a new era for the New York Giants. They battled back from a two-touchdown deficit in the second quarter, scoring 17 unanswered to open the second half to fend off the Packers late in a 27-22 victory in London. New York (4-1) – already – has matched its win total from last season and has proved it will compete despite a roster limited in star talent and lacking depth.
Daboll has mandated physicality into New York’s culture. Running back Saquon Barkley (106 yards from scrimmage, one touchdown) anchors the offense, which entered Sunday as the NFL’s top rushing outfit. On defense, the Giants have limited explosive plays and clamped down on key situations; opponents have converted just 29.41% of third downs and 35.71% of trips inside the red zone, both of which are second-best in the league.
Play calling in Cincinnati
The Bengals will lament a wasted opportunity in Sunday night’s loss against the Ravens. The turning point was Cincinnati’s final drive of the third quarter, when it marched the ball down to the 2-yard line. But rather than trust his playmakers to do what they do well, coach Zac Taylor overthought his decisions.
He called a fourth-down shovel pass designed to receiver Stanley Morgan Jr., who has five career catches in his three-and-a-half NFL seasons. But an apparent breakdown by right tackle La’el Collins self-destructed the play. Two downs before that one was a double reverse pass that Baltimore read, which cornerback Marcus Peters blew up for a loss of 12. Making these calls worse is that Cincinnati is the lone defense in the NFL yet to allow a touchdown in the second half and leaving points on the board only placed undue pressure on the defense.
Seat warming in the desert
It’s time for Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury to worry about his job. After the Cardinals lost to the Eagles, with more late mismanagement, Arizona has fallen to 2-3 and bears the faults of a poorly coached team. While Kingsbury’s Cardinals squads have been known to collapse late in seasons, this year, they have also gotten off to slow starts in games.
The Cardinals have yet to score a point in the first quarter this season. They have lost eight straight at home, going back to last season. They rank dead last in the NFL in passing yards per attempt (5.7), despite Kingsbury (26-27-1) being an offensive-minded coach. While the ongoing suspension of receiver DeAndre Hopkins has certainly affected Arizona’s offense, there’s no excuse for Kingsbury’s teams, in his fourth season there, to have a lack of urgency, execution errors that use up timeouts, miscommunications and more.
Rock bottom in Detroit
Lions coach Dan Campbell said after a shutout loss against the Patriots: “I believe we hit rock bottom.” He’s not wrong. Campbell took a reckless approach when taking his team into Foxborough, a notoriously difficult environment, against arguably the greatest coach of all time.
New England started third-string passer Bailey Zappe, yet Campbell OK’ed a game plan that took the NFL’s top scoring offense heading into Sunday and dialed up rushes on 13 of Detroit’s first 18 plays. Detroit has dealt with injuries at receiver, but Campbell compounded that by not just crossing the line over calculated aggressiveness, he unintentionally sabotaged his defense by going for it on six fourth downs — and failing to convert any. Detroit averaged just 3.66 yards to gain in those attempts. Stunningly, its plays combined for minus-14 yards, including a strip sack that was returned for a score.
The Jaguars aren’t ready
Jacksonville, just two weeks ago, was 2-1 and atop the AFC South, looking like a team that could blossom into a surprise contender. Trevor Lawrence was throwing passes quickly and had a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The Jaguars (2-3), since then, have dropped two in a row – to the Eagles and now the Texans. Jacksonville had a league-leading turnover margin of +7 after Week 3; following Sunday, it now sits at +1 (tied for ninth in the NFL). Lawrence averaged a career-low 2.39 seconds in time to throw after Week 3; against Houston it was 2.89 seconds, tied for 25th-worst among 30 eligible passers in Week 5. Jacksonville didn’t score a touchdown on any of its three trips inside the red zone after going 9-of-16 through the first four games of the season. In essence, the components that made Jacksonville pop early in the year have disappeared.