The Schein Nine  

 

Cardinals, Steelers trending up; Packers, Raiders trending down

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Even in a crazy NFL season, the wackiness of Week 6 stands out. The Chiefs suffered their first loss (at home), while the Giants earned their first win (on the road). Jay Cutler led a 17-point comeback to knock off the defending NFC champs at their place, while controversy struck a surprisingly close Pats-Jets bout.

Sadly, a number of significant injuries cast a pall over Sunday's action -- and subsequently added to the general volatility of the league hierarchy in 2017.

So, which teams are rising? Who's on the decline? Let's take a look at some notable clubs, Schein Nine style.

TRENDING UP

1) Arizona Cardinals

Adrian Peterson!! What year is this?

I always hated the fit for Peterson in New Orleans. And given what we saw over his four games with the Saints (27 carries for 81 yards and zero touchdowns), that skepticism was valid. I also thought the 32-year-old Peterson was shot. Sunday, that clearly was not the case.

There's no question that the trade to Arizona sparked Peterson. With David Johnson sidelined by injury, the four-time first-team All-Pro instantly became the best back on the team. Both sides were desperate and needed each other. And in their first game together, it worked out brilliantly. Peterson turned back the clock and gashed Tampa Bay to the tune of 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, carrying the Cards to a 38-33 win.

The Cardinals seemed dead without Johnson. Peterson's career seemed defunct in New Orleans. Now there's a little juice and life for team and player. With Arizona back at .500 (3-3), Peterson and his new Cardinals teammates are heading into a huge showdown with the NFC West-leading Rams (4-2) in London.

2) Chicago Bears

Mitch-a-palooza! Mitchell magic!

Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky helped will the Bears to a 27-24 overtime win in Baltimore. No small feat, going against a great defense on the road in a tough place to play, with the throaty Baltimore fans. Trubisky's stat line won't blow you away -- 8 of 16 for 113 yards and a touchdown; four rushes for 32 yards -- but his athleticism, arm and leadership inspire. Of course, the No. 2 overall pick got a little help from his backfield friends. Jordan Howard was an absolute beast, with 36 carries for 167 yards. And rookie Tarik Cohen, who actually had a beautiful touchdown pass on Sunday, continues to be the perfect change-of-pace back.

There's some talent on this defense, as well. Just ask Joe Flacco, who threw a pair of picks (with one taken back for a touchdown), took three sacks and finished Sunday's game with a 48.8 passer rating.

With the Bears still in the NFC North cellar at 2-4, John Fox's seat remains hot. Personally, I think we're still trending toward the Bears' coaching job coming open for 2018. But with young, promising talent on both sides of the football, this would be an attractive gig in a historic football city.

Long story short: The 2018 Bears are on the rise, and the 2017 Bears appear to have some fight.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

Oh, hey! I remember you, Steelers!

Pittsburgh's offense went through Le'Veon Bell in this upset special over the previously undefeated Chiefs. Bell ran wild, with 179 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. That's not to say the running back was alone in offensive production. The great Antonio Brown racked up 155 yards on eight catches, including a circus catch-and-run touchdown on a ball that miraculously reached his hands after Chiefs CB Phillip Gaines botched a would-be interception.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's defense put forth its finest performance of the season, holding the Chiefs' juggernaut offense to 251 total yards and 13 points. While rookie sensation Kareem Hunt did gain 89 yards receiving, the NFL's leading rusher managed just 21 ground yards on nine carries. And Kansas City converted just three of its 13 third/fourth-down attempts.

It's about time we saw this kind of effort from the Steelers, knocking off a title contender on the road. I think the Steelers can continue this kind of play, to the tune of a division title. And if Bell continues to be the focal point of the offense, maybe more.

4) Philadelphia Eagles

I'm still buzzing about Carson Wentz and Fletcher Cox leading the Eagles to a road win over the Panthers on Thursday night to improve to 5-1. I picked Philadelphia to win the NFC East back in August, but this team is more than just a division leader. The Eagles are now the NFC favorites for the Super Bowl, given Aaron Rodgers' injury and the Falcons' uneven play.

Wentz is a star. LeGarrette Blount provides great balance. Cox is a top-five defensive player. And the Eagles are currently on track for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Yes, there's a lot of season to go, but right now, it's impossible to not be enthused by this upstart Philly bunch.

TRENDING DOWN

5) Green Bay Packers

Well, this is brutal. I've called Aaron Rodgers "the Michael Jordan of the NFL" many times, including just last week. Rodgers suffering a broken collarbone is awful for the Packers, their fans, all football diehards, the league and NFL history. Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL today. It's just terrible.

I liked Brett Hundley coming out of college. I like him as a developmental backup in this league. But it's like going from Michael Jordan to Harold Miner. Baby Jordan's just not going to cut it. Green Bay already had a plethora of injuries up front and at running back, but Rodgers covered for it all. Now? Good luck, Pack.

6) Oakland Raiders

While my preseason outlook on the Eagles looks wise, I whiffed on the Raiders. I had Oakland winning the AFC West and hitting the conference title game, but let's be honest: This is a really bad football team right now. There's just no other way to put it. Not after the Raiders lost -- at home -- to the Chargers and fell to 2-4.

Oakland's offensive line has deteriorated. Amari Cooper has the yips. Marshawn Lynch is not the same. Derek Carr's back remains a concern. The defense is terrible. And Jack Del Rio's had a bad season at the controls.

This team is a bitter disappointment to this point -- and now the Chiefs are coming to town on a short week.

7) Baltimore Ravens

Yes, Baltimore is banged-up on offense. But there is no excuse for losing at home to a sub-.500 Bears team featuring a rookie quarterback in his first road start. It's unacceptable and frankly unfathomable, given how stout the Ravens typically are in front of the home folks.

The Baltimore offense -- and particularly, franchise quarterback Joe Flacco -- looked inept on Sunday afternoon. The passing attack has no consistency or bite. I thought this would be a seven-or-eight-win season for the Ravens, but losing at home to this Chicago team should never be in the cards. That's one of the worst losses in John Harbaugh's fine tenure as head man in Baltimore.

8) Detroit Lions

Forget the ill-fated comeback. The Lions got smoked in New Orleans. A week after Detroit's home loss to the Panthers, this game felt like a litmus test. And the Lions flopped and failed miserably. The offensive line and defense were both horrendous and unacceptable.

With Rodgers' injury, the NFC North is officially wide open. But the Lions' effort on Sunday doesn't inspire any hope that they can capitalize on the opportunity. Jim Caldwell's team should be the team to beat now in the division. That's the expectation. But did that team we saw in the Superdome look like a group that can beat good opponents and win in tough spots?

Ton of pressure on Caldwell and Co. -- and Sunday provided major fuel for skepticism.

9) Atlanta Falcons

It's a little-known fact that losing to Jay Cutler is illegal in the state of Georgia. So is blowing a 17-point lead -- at home, following a bye week -- to a flawed Dolphins team. Despite the overall zaniness of this season, this shocking result still managed to ... well, shock me. Something tells me scores of Falcon fans spent Sunday night in the fetal position after such a stunning second-half collapse. (28-3, anyone?)

Following a second consecutive loss, the reigning NFC champs need to get right. And fast.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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