The Schein Nine  

 

Sean McVay, Deshaun Watson lead NFL bandwagons to hop on

Print

Four weeks into the 2017 regular season, it's been a pretty wild ride. Certain players and teams have emerged as enticing storylines. Which ones have staying power? Which legitimately merit your attention?

It's not too late to get behind subplots you might've been initially reluctant to support. Here are bandwagons I urge you to hop on, Schein Nine style:

1) Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams

Sean McVay is a stud. And he has the Rams (3-1) playing brilliant, winning football. At the quarter mark of the season, the Rams are clearly the team to beat in the NFC West. Yes, over the Seahawks. Forget preseason picks. I truly think the Rams can win the West this year. And this is what happens when you replace a bad coach (Jeff Fisher) with a good one.

What gets me so excited about the 31-year-old wunderkind in his first season as a head coach? It's his offensive savvy. It's his attitude. It's the all-star coaching staff he put together.

Sunday's 35-30 win in Dallas was a huge statement. McVay's Rams went on the road and knocked off a very talented Cowboys team that was the No. 1 seed in the NFC last January. And here's the beauty of it: This wasn't a total surprise.

McVay has swiftly turned Jared Goff into a legitimate starting quarterback. Gurley, who was reduced to a hood ornament last year under Fisher, is a bell-cow back who closed out the Cowboys. The free-agent pickup of left tackle Andrew Whitworth was a masterstroke from GM Les Snead, headlining an offseason that saw a needed influx of talent on the offensive side of the ball. This Rams attack under McVay is truly explosive -- L.A. leads the NFL in scoring at 35.5 points per game.

OK, so the defense has been surprisingly underwhelming. Wait until everyone -- including Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the game today -- gets fully acclimated to Wade Phillips' system. And hey, the Rams' D looked a whole lot better after some halftime adjustments on Sunday.

Entering this season, many thought the Seahawks would run away with the NFC West. Not so fast. Through the first month of action, the Rams look better than the Seahawks, plain and simple.

This is an exciting team led by the youngest coach in NFL history. Hop onboard and enjoy the ride.

2) Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans

I've been on the Watson bandwagon for quite some time. In fact, I wanted him to start Week 1. That didn't happen, but Texans coach Bill O'Brien wised up in Week 2.

This kid is special. As we all saw during his time at Clemson, he has a knack for flourishing when the spotlight shines brightest.

Sunday's bout with the division-rival Titans was a rather gigantic game for Houston. The Texans, whom many pegged as a playoff team in the preseason, could not fall to 1-3 and 0-2 at home. I picked Houston to win because of Watson and the defense, but ...

57-14?!?!?! Wow.

That's taking weeks of frustration out on a divisional foe and letting everyone know that you intend to not only win the division title, but also make noise in January.

After a very promising showing in a near-upset of the Patriots the previous Sunday in Foxborough, Watson was majestic in the throttling of Tennessee, throwing four touchdown passes and running for an additional score. His presence, accuracy, arm, smarts, athleticism, leadership, toughness ... They were all on display.

And don't forget about the talent on this Houston defense. The Texans forced five turnovers while holding Tennessee to 195 total yards and nine first downs. That's utter dominance.

Watson and Co. completely embarrassed a strong and balanced Tennessee (2-2) team. I'm begging you to believe -- like I did in the preseason.

3) Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles

Another bandwagon I was riding back in the summer. Wentz and the Eagles are winning the NFC East. Don't let the Chargers' winless record downgrade Philadelphia's 26-24 road win on Sunday. The Bolts have talent. And the Eagles were playing sans Fletcher Cox.

In his second NFL season, Wentz continues to improve. The stats aren't flashy (60.5 completion percentage, 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 90.5 passer rating), but Wentz's improvisational skills are -- just ask opposing pass rushers. And over the last two weeks, he's taken great care of the football with zero turnovers. Lastly, he's quarterbacking the offense that leads the NFL in time of possession. That's no small thing.

Of course, holding onto the ball is made easier with an effective ground game -- something the Eagles definitely had on Sunday. LeGarrette Blount beasted his way to 136 yards rushing on just 16 carries. The 250-pound back punished Chargers defenders all game.

"That man's angry," Wentz said after the game, per The Inquirer's Jeff McLane.

Indeed. Check out this 68-yard rumble:

For Philly to bust the Chargers' will like this -- flying across the country one week after beating the rival Giants at the gun -- tells you all you need to know about the Eagles' character and talent.

4) Sean McDermott's Buffalo Bills

Like the Rams, the Bills suddenly have a real coach, and it's awesome. Rex Ryan ran an undisciplined clown show in Buffalo. McDermott's team is buttoned-up and playing great. During the offseason, I touched on the 2017 Bills' potential to surprise, but never in a million years expected they'd begin October alone in first place. Heck, they are one Zay Jones catch (or Tyrod Taylor throw) in Carolina away from being 4-0!

Winning at Atlanta was a statement to the rest of the NFL. I don't want to hear about Falcons injuries and Julio Jones getting nicked. I don't want to hear about the officials. The Falcons had more talent on the field, yet Buffalo stormed Atlanta's gorgeous new building and beat the home team. And the Bills appropriately sealed the deal with a defensive stand at the end. That's McDermott's specialty. That's a fantastic 23-17 win.

Tyrod Taylor has been very solid. LeSean McCoy has bought in and played quite well. And the future is incredibly bright, with a whole bunch of draft picks stockpiled for 2018 and beyond. Remember when everyone claimed this team was tanking?

Buffalo is winning now and primed for the future. A legit plan and coach in Buffalo. What a concept.

5) Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions

This quarterback has a knack for winning close games. And thus, so does the team. Yep, Detroit won another tight one (14-7 at Minnesota). Maybe it's time for people to accept this is no fluke. Stafford didn't make mistakes, which has become the norm for the 29-year-old QB under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. And getting Ameer Abdullah going on the ground was vital and encouraging for the future of this offense.

Detroit's defense had another rock-solid performance, too, getting three more takeaways. Glover Quin, who has been one of the more overlooked standouts in recent years, put this game away by forcing a late fumble.

I still think the NFC North is the Packers' division, but they are a bit banged-up, so it's not inevitable. The Dalvin Cook injury will bury the Vikings.

Detroit's a strong, tough and likable team to watch. Yes, really -- the Detroit Lions.

6) Denver Broncos' defense

I knew this defense could be good with Von Miller and the best cornerback group in the NFL. But shame on me for thinking the unit would take a step back without the great Wade Phillips.

Denver has played -- and stuffed -- big-time talent in the first four games of the season. Against the Broncos, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch (12 Pro Bowls combined) have managed a grand total of 95 yards on 50 carriers. That's 1.9 yards per attempt. Something tells me Denver's run defense will finish a bit higher than 28th this season ...

7) Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

Let's never get it twisted: Luke Kuechly is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. But in the wake of two seasons that were abbreviated by concussions, I think some people kind of forget this.

No surprise to me that he was front and center for the Carolina defense on Sunday, leading the charge in the Panthers' upset special in New England. This cat was all over the field against the Patriots, stacking up 14 tackles, including one for loss. Kuechly is going to be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year this season, especially if the Panthers keep winning games.

8) Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

The Saints should cut Adrian Peterson. In fact, they never should've signed him in the first place. Peterson is the third-best running back on the roster, behind both Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Kamara was Drew Brees' favorite target in London, where the Saints put it on the Dolphins, 20-0. The versatile rookie RB caught 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. He's a big-time talent. And he will become the primary back over the final three-quarters of the season.

9) Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets

While Jets fans understandably came into this season thinking about next year's draft, the effort of the players has been superb. And no one exemplifies this more than Powell, who gashed the previously stingy Jaguars defense for a career-high 163 yards on 21 carries in New York's overtime win on Sunday. I've always been a fan of Powell's talent. And I loved his postgame quote to ESPN New York's Rich Cimini, describing his 75-yard, fall-down-then-get-back-up TD run: "That's something we practiced throughout training camp -- effort, finishing and that showed today."

Yes, it did.

Despite a surprising 2-2 record at the quarter mark, I still think Jets wins will be hard to come by going forward. But so far, the effort is there and the groundwork is being laid for future success.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop