By Matt Citak
We're only five games in, and yet the 2017 NFL season has already been full of surprises. The New England Patriots, who some people believed could go 16-0 this year, lost their first game of the season to the Kansas City Chiefs. Once heavy favorites to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, the Patriots are currently tied for first place in the AFC East with both the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, Kansas City heads into Week 6 as the league's only undefeated team at 5-0. The Chiefs have been fueled by the superb play of veteran quarterback Alex Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, and both players find themselves in the discussion for league MVP through five games.
Another big storyline of the 2017 season has been the somewhat shocking play of teams like the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. It did not seem like Buffalo was going to compete this season after unloading two of their more talented players (Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby) for future draft picks during the preseason. But Sean McDermott, in his first year at the helm in Buffalo, has led the Bills to a 3-2 start, including big wins over the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, mostly due to the solid play of the defense. Similarly, the Jaguars have rode the stellar performance from their defense to an early 3-2 record, with victories against the Texans, Ravens, and Steelers.
Over in the NFC, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger disappointment than the New York Giants. After entering the year as a popular choice to win the NFC East, New York has lost its first five games. The season has completely unraveled for the Giants, with numerous players lost for the year and turmoil enveloping the entire franchise. The seats are getting very hot under general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo.
While the Giants have fallen far below their expectations, the Los Angeles Rams, in their first season calling LA "home," have exceeded theirs. Under the leadership of 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay, the Rams are off to a 3-2 start, and sport one of the NFL's best offenses. Los Angeles is scoring 30.4 points per game, second in the league, sparked by great play from Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. Believe it or not, the Rams are actually contenders in the NFC West.
Adam Schein, host of That Other Pregame Show (Sundays, 8 AM), NFL Monday QB (Monday, 6 PM) and Time to Schein, all on CBS Sports Network, joined CBS Local Sports to discuss some of the biggest storylines of the 2017 NFL season.
CBS Local Sports: The New York Jets are 3-2 and battling the Patriots for first place in the division this Sunday. Will the Jets be able to keep up this surprising play, or will they soon fall back to earth?
Adam Schein: I am stunned how well the Jets have played. I picked them to go 2-14 this year! I thought two wins was the high-water mark for the Jets. If Todd Bowles keeps this going, they're going to name a rest stop after him on the Jersey Turnpike. I'm stunned by this. Do I think it's going to continue? No. I give a ton of credit to Todd Bowles and the players: Josh McCown, Bilal Powell, the defense flying around. I think that the effort has been tremendous. I think the talent, obviously, is lacking. I am stunned by the Jets. They deserve a ton of credit. Clearly they are in rebuild mode. But you don't tell coaches or players that. They go out and play hard, and they deserve a ton of credit for the way they've played this season.
CBS Local Sports: On the other side of the Meadowlands, the Giants have been the biggest disappointment in the NFL with their 0-5 start. If they finish with one of the top picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, should the Giants select one of the talented quarterbacks, such as Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen?
Adam Schein: What the Giants need to do is change the hierarchy. They need a new general manager. They need a new head coach. Ben McAdoo, even when they were winning last year, you could see it was a house of cards with his questionable in-game decisions. I know it's only been two years, but I've seen enough. Jerry Reese, we've been saying the Giants need a new general manager for a while. This past offseason, he didn't address the offensive line. He didn't address the run game. It was very easy to see that they should have signed Andrew Whitworth or LeGarrette Blount, or drafted a running back. And right now, the Giants are a rudderless, gutless, unacceptable mess. How about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie getting sent home? The players have spiraled out of control. They have underachieved. Odell Beckham is hurt. Brandon Marshall is hurt. They're both done for the season. The Giants could end up with a top pick. And if they get it, yeah! If you have a chance to draft Sam Darnold, you go ahead and you do it. But I want a fresh set of eyes for the Giants. Someone like Terry McDonough or Eric DeCosta. Let him pick the next head coach. The Giants need to make sweeping, household changes.
CBS Local Sports: The Chiefs find themselves at 5-0 and sitting in first place in the division. Has Kansas City fully separated themselves from the rest of the pack as the team to beat in the AFC?
Adam Schein: The Kansas City Chiefs are the team to beat in the AFC. The Chiefs, if they get the No. 1 seed, will go to the Super Bowl. They have an amazing home-field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium. Andy Reid is a Hall of Fame coach. I know he's never won the "big one," but look at what he's done in Philadelphia and now Kansas City. He's a tremendous head coach, a wonderful guy, and has an amazing offensive mind. Alex Smith looks different. He's clearly motivated by the Chiefs, rightfully I might add, drafting Patrick Mahomes. It's not like last year or prior years where Kansas City won a lot of games and you feel like they're not going to be successful in the postseason. This teams feels different. It's because of Smith. It's because of Kareem Hunt, who's the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. [It's because of] Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce. They have a lot of speed and great vibes. The defense has been solid. The Chiefs deserve to be recognized as the team to beat in the AFC.
CBS Local Sports: The Jaguars are 3-2 and through five games, have the league's best point differential. Is it finally time for everyone around the NFL to take Jacksonville seriously?
Adam Schein: Absolutely the league should take the Jaguars seriously. Look, Jacksonville has an unbelievable defense. You can make the case that Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the second-best cornerback combination in the NFL, behind Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib with the Denver Broncos. Ramsey and Bouye might even be outplaying those guys in Denver. Calais Campbell is a star and a leader on defense. I love Leonard Fournette. He was the best offensive player in the draft. I love what Doug Marrone said after the draft. They wanted a running back for the run game that would be effective even when the opposition knew it was coming. I'm obsessed with Marrone and Tom Coughlin. Their toughness and their stamp is all over this team. Factor in J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, both done for the year in Houston, and Marcus Mariota obviously being a little banged up for the Tennessee Titans. Blake Bortles scares me. He is a terrible quarterback. But thus far, it has not been a problem. Jacksonville is a real contender, a real threat. They have a great run game, a great defense, a tough-minded team, a strong foundation at head coach, and are absolutely a contender in that division.
CBS Local Sports: The Rams currently have one of the NFL's highest-scoring offenses. Can Los Angeles continue this offensive production throughout the entire season?
Adam Schein: Yes, the Rams can absolutely keep this scoring going. Sean McVay is a stud and a phenomenal head coach. Think about one year ago. Jeff Fisher was running that "middle school" offense. Not my words. That's what Todd Gurley, the star running back, called it. Gurley, under Fisher, was basically a hood ornament, a pumpkin. Jeff Fisher was a special kind of inept. McVay is an amazing play-caller. Jared Goff has become solid. I'm a huge believer in Gurley. I love what they did in the offseason with Andrew Whitworth. The Rams can get even better. Even after they lost to Seattle, I still believe the Rams are going to win the NFC West.
CBS Local Sports: Who is the biggest surprise contender through the first five weeks of the 2017 NFL season?
Adam Schein: The biggest surprise contender in the NFL this year is Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills. They traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby right before the season started. And I got it. It made a lot of sense. They're building for the future. They have a couple of first-round picks, a couple of second-round picks, and a couple of third-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. I look at the Bills under Sean McDermott, who is a tough-minded coach with his fingerprints all over the 3-2 start, and this team has totally bought in. LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor, [the whole team]. The Bills are an unbelievable, pleasant surprise. They're going to be a tough out because of their style of play that stems from having a real head coach. A far cry from the clown show of Rex Ryan over the last couple years.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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