The Schein Nine  

 

Jaguars, Patrick Mahomes, Ryan Fitzpatrick continue to impress

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"They are who we thought they were!"

That memorable line -- shouted by the late, great Dennis Green after a Monday night meltdown by the Cardinals a dozen seasons ago -- rings in my ears to this day. It's just one of those things that sticks with you -- not only because it's a great sound bite, but also because of the simple wisdom. They are who we thought they were. Of course!

So, two Sundays into the 2018 NFL season, who fits that bill? And who doesn't? Who has met expectations? And who has performed in a manner no one saw coming?

Allow me to break it down, Schein Nine style!

1) Jacksonville Jaguars

NOT who I thought they were: They're even better.

Jacksonville is loaded and a bona fide Super Bowl contender. That's still a weird sentence to type -- prior to last season, this team hadn't won more than five games since 2010 -- but it's true. This is one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, playing with a chip on its shoulder after blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in last January's AFC Championship Game. So, Sunday's "rematch" mattered -- for eventual playoff seeding, and for the collective psyche of these up-and-coming Jaguars. Revenge was on the mind for Jacksonville, and I loved the team's approach. Even without star running back Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars outplayed the Patriots from stem to stern. It was remarkable and telling -- and yes, it took me by surprise.

I loved Jacksonville to win this game all offseason, but then I got spooked by the Fournette injury. I wish I didn't overreact. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who received my AP vote for Assistant Coach of the Year in 2017, called a splendid game on Sunday. Blake Bortles -- not Tom Brady -- was the best quarterback on the field. I'm just as stunned as you, but the Jags' much-maligned signal-caller threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns (against one pick), adding 35 rushing yards for good measure. I'd argue it was Bortles' best game ever in the NFL -- and it came at a great time. Meanwhile, Keelan Cole pulled off a one-handed sideline grab that would make Odell Beckham Jr. jealous, while Corey Grant looked like a mismatch nightmare out of the backfield. And then there's Jacksonville's defense, a unit I consider to be the league's best. The Jags pestered Tom Brady all game long and held Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards.

Here's the simple truth: Jacksonville's more talented than New England. And this time around, the Jaguars kept the pedal to the medal. It was an eye-opening display of brilliant coaching, toughness and skill.

2) Los Angeles Rams

Who I thought they were: Super Bowl-bound world-beaters.

It's worth reminding you the Cardinals do indeed have good players on defense. The Rams crushed their NFC West rivals, 34-0, and it looked like they were playing pitch and catch in the backyard. After coming out of the gates a little slow at Oakland in Week 1, Los Angeles has outscored the opposition 57-0 over the past six quarters. Of course, none of this is surprising.

I said just above that the Jaguars boast one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Well, this is THE most talented roster. After an offseason full of marquee acquisitions, the Rams have studs everywhere. And that's why they're going to win the Super Bowl.

3) Los Angeles Chargers

Who I thought they were (I think ...): AFC contenders.

I predicted a Rams-Chargers Super Bowl at the beginning of this month. And while the Rams have held up their end of the bargain with a pair of easy wins, the Bolts didn't remotely look the part in Week 1, getting shredded by the Mahomes machine (more on that just below). In Week 2, the Chargers hit the road to take on the lowly Bills, and there was a market correction. Philip Rivers delivered a passing clinic, while Melvin Gordon put on a show of his own. And hey, 2017 first-rounder Mike Williams scored the game's first touchdown by doing what everyone told us he'd do: beasting defenders in the red zone. Los Angeles' defense overwhelmed Bills rookie Josh Allen, sacking the quarterback five times and picking him off twice. And that was without the defense's best player, Joey Bosa, who remains sidelined by a foot injury.

All in all, that was the kind of performance I expect from Anthony Lynn's team in 2018. I'm not saying a win over Buffalo is earth-shaking stuff -- after all, the Bills lost by 44 points in Week 1 -- but it's a notable road bounceback after an uninspiring opener.

4) Patrick Mahomes

Who I thought he was: A legit MVP candidate.

Hate to say "I told you so" ... Just kidding: I love it! I called Mahomes an MVP candidate back in July. Two games into his first season as the Chiefs' starter, he has 10 touchdown passes and zero picks. He just went on the road to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers by completing 82.1 percent of his passes at 11.6 yards per attempt, with six touchdown passes to five different players.

This is why Andy Reid traded Alex Smith to Washington after the greatest year of Smith's fine career: Mahomes is just better. He's special -- and that talent around him is incredible. Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt all tormented the Steelers. And that will be the case every week. Reid is a great coach and perfect for this must-watch offensive juggernaut.

I told everyone to hop aboard the Mahomes train over the summer. Hope you listened, because now the bandwagon's well over capacity.

5) New York Giants

Who I thought they were: A highly flawed team.

I said it all offseason: The Giants applied various Band-Aids when they needed surgery. Sunday night's loss in Jerry World was prime evidence. The Cowboys' defense suffocated New York's offense. Not the '85 Bears or 2000 Ravens. Not the Steel Curtain or Legion of Boom. The 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Rod Marinelli's group owned the G-Men. And sadly, this was predictable. The Giants' offensive line was offensive. Eli Manning struggled. Odell Beckham Jr. never got going. Saquon Barkley, a factor catching it out of the backfield, couldn't find any room to operate on the ground.

New York is not a good team. I comfortably picked Dallas to win. It was always backward and naive that the Giants didn't draft Sam Darnold. Of course they should've been in the quarterback business, working to transition from one era to the next. Instead, they put lipstick on a pig.

6) Houston Texans

NOT who I thought they were: What is this listless, 0-2 mess?

The Texans are 0-2. And it's unacceptable. Losing in New England is one thing. Losing to Blaine Gabbert is illegal in most states.

Houston should be a playoff team this season. Anything less is highly disappointing. So far, not good. The defensive stars aren't playing up to expectations. And second-year signal-caller Deshaun Watson has been dogged by issues, physical and mental. What was he thinking at the end of the game? Houston looks sloppy and disoriented.

7) Ryan Fitzpatrick

NOT who anyone thought he was: Fitzmagic is alive and well!

After a disastrous 2017 campaign, I liked the Bucs and their talent more than most. I thought they could make a playoff run -- until Jameis Winston got suspended for the tough three-game slate to open Tampa's season. Figured this might derail the train before it ever really got going. Yet, with Fitzpatrick under center, the Bucs are 2-0 and lead the NFL in total offense. Wait, what??!

Gerald McCoy came on my SiriusXM Radio show last week and said he wasn't surprised by Fitzpatrick's sparkling season-opening performance at New Orleans. He loved the chemistry Fitz had developed with the Bucs' bevy of talented pass catchers, something the star DT said was obvious in August. Honestly, I remained skeptical. But then Fitzpatrick went out on Sunday and shredded the defending champs, with 400 yards passing and four TD throws for the second consecutive week. After the game, Fitzpatrick showed up to the presser looking like a rock star, and I loved every second of it.

I liked this team all along, but I doubted the backup quarterback. Shame on me. Oh, and Fitzpatrick's not the backup quarterback anymore -- that will be Jameis' role when he returns from suspension.

8) Miami Dolphins

NOT who I thought they were: Tannehill and Co. proving mettle at 2-0.

Coming into this season, I thought Miami could be the worst team in the NFL. Not so much. The Dolphins are alone atop the AFC East at 2-0 and they deserve great credit. I've been dead wrong thus far.

Ryan Tannehill has been really strong, much more than "just a guy," something I've labeled him in the past. The run game is consistent and the receivers have stepped up. The defense has been stout. Adam Gase's team won a road division game one week after surviving the longest game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. That shows you something.

9) New Orleans Saints

NOT who I thought they were: Sean Payton's team is lucky to be .500.

I thought the Saints would take a small step back, but let's be honest: They've been one of the league's bigger letdowns through two weeks of the season. Yes, they're 1-1, but that .500 record doesn't tell the full story.

The Saints opened the season with a pair of highly winnable home games. They proceeded to get run off the field by Fitzmagic and sneak past the Browns (thanks to a stunning display of ineptitude from Cleveland K Zane Gonzalez). New Orleans should be 0-2.

I'm not pushing the panic button yet, but I am saying this team looks ugly. Definitely not the top-tier title contender many anticipated New Orleans to be at the beginning of this month.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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