The Schein Nine  

 

Aaron Rodgers is magical, Ben Roethlisberger's not a top-10 QB

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Five Sundays into the 2017 NFL season, we're starting to get a feel for what's real. Or at least we think we are.

Which emerging trends have staying power? Which hot takes are nothing but hot air? Let's take a look at some prominent subplots and separate fact from fiction, Schein Nine style:

1) FACT: Aaron Rodgers is Michael Jordan, NFL Edition.

You know what would've been surprising? If Aaron Rodgers didn't win that game for the Green Bay Packers (4-1) with a 62-second clinic in late-game savvy. On a day when the Pack botched a couple extra points and the Cowboys (2-3) controlled the clock for the vast majority of the fourth quarter, Rodgers was yet again the reason why Green Bay miraculously prevailed in Dallas (again).

Down by three with 1:13 left in regulation, one timeout and 75 yards to paydirt? Aaron Rodgers scoffs at this perceived challenge.

This is what I mean when I compare him to Michael Jordan, as I did following the Packers' thrilling upset of the top-seeded Cowboys in Dallas last January. Aaron Rodgers makes the impossible possible. Rodgers drops your jaw -- like Mike did in his heyday -- making plays that other elite quarterbacks can only dream of. Rodgers, like Jordan, is the entire package. We saw this down the stretch on Sunday.

On third-and-8 with 29 seconds remaining, Rodgers dropped back to pass, but the pocket started to collapse. So Rodgers evacuated, broke a tackle and scampered 18 yards before dipping out of bounds with 21 seconds left. On the ensuing play, Rodgers just missed Davante Adams for the go-ahead score. Odd, given what we've come to expect from No. 12 in these moments. But maybe he was just building the drama! Rodgers and Adams knew they had rookie CB Jourdan Lewis beat, so why not go right back to the well? "Let's do it again," Adams told Rodgers in the huddle, as related to colleague Michael Silver. Same play, different result -- because this time, Rodgers delivered a picture-perfect back-shoulder throw to Adams for a touchdown with 11 seconds left. Game over. Another Pack stunner in Jerryworld.

Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in NFL history. Like Jordan, it's must-see TV. When you watch the Packers QB, you see something new and epic and legendary with stunning regularity. You expect greatness.

2) FACT: The Jacksonville Jaguars are for real.

Oh, yeah. When you beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh by three touchdowns to improve to 3-2 -- and the Titans lose again, with Marcus Mariota sidelined by injury -- you are for real. When Leonard Fournette bashes the Steelers -- and the Texans lose J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season in a defeat of their own -- you are for real.

The Jaguars are alone at the top of the AFC South, and at this point, you can't discount their ability to stay there.

I love Doug Marrone. I love Tom Coughlin. I love this team's toughness. I love the defense and the way Jacksonville hounded Ben Roethlisberger into five picks. While I don't trust Blake Bortles -- at all -- maybe keeping him out of the way is the only way for the Jags.

Yes, I know Jacksonville lost to the Jets. No, I'm not telling Jaguars fans to print "Division Champs" T-shirts. But it's Columbus Day, and if I'm a Jags fan, I wouldn't make any plans for the first weekend in January, because you actually might be busy.

3) FACT: Ben Roethlisberger is no longer a top-10 quarterback.

Ben's a Hall of Famer. But right now, he looks done and sounds defeated (SEE: "Maybe I don't have it anymore"). While we've seen drama from Ben before -- only to see him bounce back -- the only way to describe his performance thus far in 2017 is simply awful.

Yes, Mike Tomlin deserves blame for another gruesome defeat -- check out my Schein Nine from a couple weeks back to see the laundry list of Steeler choke games under Tomlin -- and I wish Todd Haley ran the ball earlier in the game. But Roethlisberger is completely out of sorts right now. Maybe all that retirement talk in the offseason was more than just talk.

I still hold out hope for Roethlisberger to play at a winning level. But he's not a top-10 QB right now -- and given what we've seen, it's not easy to envision him back in that tier. He's not getting any younger -- Ben's an old 35, given all the damage his body has taken through the years. And his play and commentary over the past five weeks have been alarming. Very alarming.

4) FICTION: The Seattle Seahawks have restored their NFC West reign.

Please don't misinterpret: Sunday's 16-10 road triumph over the Rams was a great win for Seattle. But I'm not ready to crown these Seahawks. They made a few more plays and capitalized on a few more breaks. Earl Thomas dislodging the football from Todd Gurley -- turning a would-be touchdown into a touchback -- was a true early-first-quarter game changer. And late in the fourth-quarter, Cooper Kupp just couldn't haul in what would have been a spectacular game-winning touchdown.

So the Seahawks earned a tight win. But let's not pretend this was Seattle re-establishing its dominance over the division. Give the defense a ton of credit for stifling what had been the league's highest-scoring offense. But let's not go overboard here. This division race is alive and well, with the 'Hawks and Rams both at 3-2.

5) FICTION: The Cincinnati Bengals are BACK with a new play caller.

With the ambiguity and congestion in the AFC North, it's fair to reconsider Cincy's outlook on the season. Bill Lazor, who took over as offensive coordinator following Ken Zampese's firing in mid-September, has made a wise adjustment in the game plan: get A.J. Green the ball. In a related story, the Bengals (2-3) have won consecutive games. And beating the well-coached Bills is a big deal.

But I'm not ready to bump Cincy to the top of the division quite yet. Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis haven't earned that kind of trust. Let's see how the Bengals fare after this bye week, when four of their next five games come on the road.

6) FACT: Carson Wentz is the best quarterback in the NFC East.

I didn't need to see him throw for four touchdowns in Sunday's 34-7 blowout of the Cardinals. I was singing Wentz's praises last week. I picked Philadelphia to win the NFC East in the preseason.

And it's happening.

Wentz, who sports a shiny 10:3 TD-to-INT ratio, is the best quarterback in the division this year. And he'll have a better career than Dak Prescott. Come at me, Cowboys fans.

7) FICTION: The Carolina Panthers are the most complete team in the NFL.

The Panthers are 4-1. And winning at Detroit -- against a solid Lions team -- is a really strong road statement.

But I'm not ready to declare Carolina the most complete team in the NFC South, let alone the NFC or NFL. I'll still take Atlanta.

The Panthers are still struggling to incorporate hyped rookie Christian McCaffrey into the offense -- and particularly, the ground game. The offensive line is still a question mark. And altogether, Carolina's committing too many penalties.

8) FACT: The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl favorites.

The Chiefs beat Houston on "Sunday Night Football." And they are 5-0. This isn't one of the years where K.C. stockpiles regular-season wins and immediately bails out in January. You feel it in 2017. You see it and believe it.

Alex Smith's middle finger tour is awesome. Kareem Hunt changes the complexion of this offense. The Chiefs have a special home-field advantage and a fantastic coach. I don't think anyone will beat them in Arrowhead this postseason.

Now, they did suffer some injuries on Sunday -- and health is always a factor down the stretch. But K.C. is proving its depth by rolling with the punches and maintaining perfection. This is no paper tiger.

9) FICTION: The New England Patriots won't win the AFC East.

Total fiction. Yes, there's currently a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East between the Patriots, Jets and Bills. Yes, it's surreal to even write that sentence. But let's be honest: We know how this movie ends.

I raved about Sean McDermott last week, noting that a new culture has been established in Buffalo. A win in Cincy could've changed the big picture for the Bills. But it didn't happen.

Meanwhile, in the preseason, I picked the Jets to go 2-14 (and the Patriots to finish 14-2)! The Jets are 3-2, which is stunning, given the state of this roster. Forget Coach of the Year -- Todd Bowles might get a rest stop named after him on the New Jersey Turnpike. But do you honestly think this team has what it takes to compete at a high level for the next three months?

The Patriots' defensive issues are for real. I don't care. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still around, New England is the best team in the division. That seems like a sentence I shouldn't even have to write. We all know it's the truth.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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