By: Jordan Kendall, Staff Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re already four weeks into the 2020 NFL season. I didn’t think we’d get this far, and after seeing multiple Tennessee Titans test positive for Coronavirus I’m not sure how much longer we have. But the NFL has successfully completed a quarter of its season with only a few games impacted by the pandemic. This column isn’t about the NFL and COVID-19, instead it’s focusing on some of the most surprising storylines so far.
Are the Cleveland Browns a good team
For anyone who’s watched the NFL over the past decade it’s pretty surprising to see the Cleveland Browns at 3-1 entering week five. They are coming off a 49-38 win at the Dallas Cowboys. While they’ve had an easy schedule so far, a 3-1 start puts them in a great position to compete for a playoff spot. Last week wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. put on a show, he had five catches for 81 yards and two scores along with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. I can’t find any stats to back it up, but that might be the most by a receiver in a single game. I can’t remember a receiver rushing for that many yards in a game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn’t had a breakout game so far, but he hasn’t thrown a pick and has thrown for two touchdowns in each of his last two games. If running back Nick Chubb returns before the end of the season, they could be a team to watch out for in late November and early December.
The offensive line and defense are their biggest concerns, Mayfield has been sacked twice in each of the last two games, and the defense ranks in the bottom ten in yards per game. The good news for Cleveland is their schedule shouldn’t be that hard. In a three week span they face the Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, and Jacksonville Jaguars who all have losing records entering week five. They also face the currently winless New York Giants and New York Jets late in the season when they could need some easy wins to secure a playoff berth. Since the NFL expanded the playoffs this season, I think they could be a team to watch for late in the season.
The NFC East has been easily the worst division in football, the NFC West is easily also the best. No one in the East currently has a winning record, and if the season ended today the 1-2-1 Eagles would host a playoff game as division champions. In last week’s column I focused on the Giants so I won’t say much other than the offense needs to wake up, the defense and special teams were the clear bright spots against the Los Angeles Rams. If the offense can’t start to score and fast it’s going to lead to another year with more questions than answers. For the Cowboys it all comes down to the defense, they are on pace to set a record for the worst scoring defense of all-time. They are allowing 36.5 points per game which would be a new record, and despite some big games from quarterback Dak Prescott it’s hard to score 30-35 points a game every week. Even if the offense can score that many points, you’re not going to win many games in a shootout.
And then there’s the Washington Football Team. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins appears to be on the hotseat, and this is concerning in only year two of his Washington tenure. He didn’t play well last year and he’s not off to a good start in 2020.
I think this quote from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell says it all.
“Scott Turner’s offense has started a league-high 10 drives in opposing territory this season and generated five touchdowns from those possessions,” Barnwell said. “When drives start at or inside their own 30-yard line, though, quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ group hasn’t been able to move the ball. It has scored an average of just 0.7 points per possession on those opportunities, the worst mark in football.”
While you can put some of the blame on the offensive line and the lack of talent around him, I think that Head Coach Ron Rivera never truly wanted him and was only giving him a chance just to be sure. He arrived this offseason after Haskins was drafted, and from my perspective it seems unlikely that Rivera is truly committed to him. He brought former Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen to D.C. along with him and I think Rivera probably likes Allen more than Haskins.
There are also a few other storylines that will be interesting to follow, from the battle for the NFC West to the who wins the sweepstakes for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. This season already has a lot of drama, and it’ll be interesting to see how it progresses as it goes on.