Five observations on the fifth weekend of the 2017 NFL season:
1. It was a weekend of close games as 10 of the 14 contests were decided by six points or less, the highest percentage of close games in 25 years.
But close games alone aren’t the answer to the NFL’s TV ratings problems.
Although the New England Patriots-Tampa Bay Bucs got a good rating Thursday night – a 26 percent hike over last year’s San Francisco 49ers-Arizona Cardinals games in Week 5 — the increases didn’t carry over for the rest of the weekend.
The Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys game was the highest rating game of the weekend, but the Sunday night Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans game and Monday night’s Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears contest were the lowest-rated games of the season in those slots.
2. Alex Smith continued to play lights out for the Chiefs as the league’s only unbeaten team boosted its mark to 5-0 with a 42-34 victory over the Texans, who lost both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season.
Smith threw three touchdown passes, giving him 11 for the year, and he’s yet to throw an interception. The Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes to be their quarterback of the future, but Smith may be delaying that future.
3. So much for the New York Jets tanking the season as they won their third game in a row to boost their record to 3-2 going into the New England Patriots game this weekend.
Granted, the Jets barely beat the lowly Cleveland Browns, 17-14, but all the speculation that they were getting rid of veterans to tank the season to draft a quarterback next year now looks kind of silly.
Yes, they still aren’t very good, but they’re competitive. And veteran quarterback Josh McCown is exceeding all expectations.
Meanwhile, the Browns benched DeShone Kizer for Kevin Hogan. Kizer obviously wasn’t ready to start as a rookie even for a bad team. Hogan was a fifth-round pick by the Chiefs last year out of Stanford. He can’t be any worse than Kizer.
Meanwhile, the Browns are facing a lot of questions why they passed on Deshaun Watson twice in the first round.
4. All those who predicted the Jacksonville Jaguars would be leading the AFC South with a 3-2 record after five weeks please raise their hands.
Ok, I don’t see any hands.
The Jaguars are the surprise team in the league with blowout wins in their first, third and fifth games. They routed Pittsburgh 30-9 with the help of two interceptions returned for touchdowns and the running of Leonard Fournette, who became the youngest player to have a 90-yard touchdown run, and they limited Blake Bortles to mostly handing off. Bortles threw only 14 times, just once in the second half.
At some point, the Jaguars are going to need Bortles to be an effective thrower if they are to win the division. Meanwhile, the Steelers appear to be imploding. Facing the league’s worst run defense and best pass defense, the Steelers gave Le’Veon Bell the ball only 15 times.
5. In the Game of the Weak, the winless Los Angeles Chargers posted their first victory, beating the New York Giants, who fell to 0-5 with a 27-22 loss. And the Giants have lost Odell Beckman Jr. and Brandon Marshall for the year.
A third receiver, Dwayne Harris, is also out for the year. The rest of the season now looks bleak for a team that was expected to be a playoff contender. And Eli Manning faces a difficult situation with a group of backup receivers.
But the quarterback always gets the blame, and there is much speculation about what the future holds for Manning. The New York Post is even speculating that a winless season for the Giants is a real possibility.
It’s unlikely the Giants will actually go 0-16, but they could go 3-13 for the team’s worst record since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, the year before George Young was hired as the general manager to turn the team around.
They went 3-12-1 in 1983, Bill Parcells’ first year as head coach. Unless the Giants suddenly turn it around, there is going to be a lot of soul-searching in this organization — and no doubt a lot of changes.