Four Sundays into this unique 2020 NFL season, trends and takes are emerging.
Seems like a perfect time to separate fact from fiction, Schein Nine style!
1) The Browns will snap their 17-season playoff drought
This is a fact. And I predicted it in this space just before the season kicked off. Cleveland's 49-38 win in Dallas was the single biggest statement of Week 4. The Browns entered the fourth quarter in Jerry World with a 41-14 lead -- and, for a while, it looked like they were going to blow it in inexplicable fashion. But a clutch, 50-yard touchdown run by Odell Beckham -- who scored three times in his best game as a Brown -- swung the momentum back in Cleveland's favor, and then Denzel Ward slammed the door on Dallas with a diving red-zone pick.
Cleveland, now 3-1 for the first time since 2001, handled success and prosperity. Kind of a huge deal. Since that 38-6 dud at Baltimore in the season opener, the Browns have scored 34-plus points in three straight games for the first time since 1968, per NFL Research. That's first-year head man Kevin Stefanski getting the most out of his talent and keeping the Browns buttoned up, neither of which happened under the last few clownish coaching regimes. This is why Cleveland is winning.
Despite losing Nick Chubb to a knee injury in the first quarter, the Browns racked up 307(!) rushing yards -- the most ever allowed by a Dallas defense. This is big for Cleveland, because Chubb is now expected to miss roughly six weeks, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Fortunately, the Browns have the best RB2 in football in Kareem Hunt. Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield is playing a responsible brand of football, with two touchdown passes in each of the past three games (against just one total pick in this span). OBJ is cooking once again, having already equaled his touchdown count (4) from Year 1 in Cleveland. Myles Garrett, who leads the NFL with five sacks and has now posted a strip-sack in three straight games, is arguably the early leader for Defensive Player of the Year.
Cleveland's no fluke. The Browns are making the playoffs. That's the expectation.
2) The NFC East winner will not have a winning record
Say hello to your first-place 1-2-1 Eagles! Carson Wentz gave Philadelphia a late lead in the 25-20 win at San Francisco with a beautiful, dropped-in-the-bucket throw to someone named Travis Fulgham -- apparently an Eagles receiver -- and Alex Singleton's pick-six extended what would ultimately turn out to be an insurmountable deficit for the injury-riddled 49ers. Now, thanks in part to the much-maligned Week 3 tie with Cincinnati, Philly sits atop the NFL's worst division.
I didn't pick the Eagles to make the playoffs back in the preseason. I think this club has major issues and injuries on both sides of the football. The Jalen Hurts pick was illogical. The wideouts are banged up. Wentz was dreadful in the first three weeks.
Is this team capable of going 8-7-1? Of course. That said, I'm sticking with Dallas to win the division.
The Cowboys have been a disaster, no doubt. I am so disappointed in Mike McCarthy's 1-3 start. Mike Nolan's defense is deplorable, ranking 30th in yards allowed and dead last in points allowed. As mentioned in the Browns blurb above, Dallas just gave up the most rushing yards (307) in franchise history. It's grotesque.
Yet, I still say the initial statement up there is fiction.
While the Cowboys' defensive woes will hold them back from making the Super Bowl march I predicted, the offense will be good enough to win 10 games. Dak Prescott is making money every time he steps on the football field. He's the first player in NFL history to eclipse 450 yards passing in three straight games. Both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are on fire. And the schedule offers plenty of opportunity, with all six games against the Cowboys' lackluster NFC East brethren still on tap.
But for this season to be a success, Dallas needs to win at least one playoff game.
3) Josh Allen is a top-three contender for MVP
FACT! FACT! FACT! After helping build the Josh Allen bandwagon with my bare hands three years ago and then spending much of this past offseason hyping the quarterback and his team, I feel pretty vindicated in this moment. Buffalo's 4-0, and Allen's posting some remarkable numbers: 70.9 percent completions, 12:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 122.7 passer rating, three rushing touchdowns. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one crucial factor in Allen's rise ...
Brandon Beane's March trade for Stefon Diggs was genius. That's what you do when you have an enticing young quarterback -- you surround him with talent. And Diggs, a masterful route runner and contested-catch wizard, comes out of Sunday with an NFL-high 403 yards receiving. Beane, Sean McDermott and Co. have done a spectacular job in building this roster overall, but the Diggs move was particularly astute. It gave Allen a true No. 1 receiver, and boy, has the QB responded.
4) The Seahawks are NFC favorites
4-0 is amazing. Russ is cooking -- so much so that he's currently the MVP favorite. And, at publishing of this piece, Rodgers' Packers are undefeated, with the 36-year-old reminding everyone how truly special he is. But a month into the season, gimme Tampa Bay by a hair over Seattle and Green Bay as the NFC's top team.
New Orleans has been banged up, but Tampa is just better. I'm not crowning the Buccaneers, just recognizing their promise. No Chris Godwin or Leonard Fournette on Sunday? No problem. In a 38-31 win over the Chargers, Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes to five different receivers for the first time in his legendary career. Think about that. And the Bucs have just gotten started. Brady's rapport with Mike Evans is budding in a major way, setting up for what should be a sensational final three-quarters of the season. Tampa's defense got shredded early by Justin Herbert. No shame in that. The rookie's legit. Tampa's front seven is strong and well-coached under Todd Bowles.
Wouldn't it be something if Brady notched another historic feat, helping Tampa Bay become the first NFL team ever to play a "home" Super Bowl?
5) Tyrod Taylor should get his starting job back when healthy
That's pure fiction. I feel awful for the classy Taylor, who initially lost the gig when a team doctor accidently punctured his lung shortly before kickoff in Week 2. (Can't make that up.) But Herbert was picked No. 6 overall for a reason -- a reason that's been on full display since he was pressed into action. The Oregon product has thrown for 931 yards over his first three NFL starts -- the second-most in league history (trailing only Cam Newton's 1,012). And in Week 4, he went toe-to-toe with the G.O.A.T., making numerous high-level throws in a narrow loss at Tampa Bay.
Sure, he also had a bad (and costly) pick on Sunday -- the type of turnover you rarely get from Tyrod. But you know what else you don't get from Tyrod? A ceiling that's even remotely close to Herbert's. And now that the Bolts have gotten a taste of the rookie's immense upside, there's no way they can go back to the vet.
6) New York football teams will own the first two picks of the 2021 draft
FACT. The only question is which one will pick first. Both 0-4, the Jets (-66) and Giants (-49) own the two worst point differentials in the NFL. These teams aren't tanking, either -- they're just terrible.
Jets coach Adam Gase might be sitting on the hottest seat in football. Gase was brought in to boost Sam Darnold, but the 23-year-old QB's stock is divebombing in this highly flawed environment. These Jets are hapless, a rudderless ship sailing to nowhere. Big Blue doesn't look much better. GM Dave Gettleman spiked the football on his roster overhaul extremely prematurely. Now Daniel Jones is backsliding, Saquon Barkley's on the shelf until 2021 and the Giants are averaging a pitiful 11.8 ppg -- worst in the NFL and nearly five points shy of the Jets' 31st-ranked average of 16.3.
The Jags will struggle to find wins. Philly and Washington are pretty terrible. Atlanta doesn't know which way is up. Same with Detroit. But the Jets and Giants are rock bottom. At least New York City has the Yankees.
7) The Texans are wasting Deshaun Watson
This is an unassailable fact. Look, starting the season at 0-3 is brutal, but at least those losses came at the hands of the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers. That murderer's row of opponents muddled the early evaluation of this team. However, Sunday's home loss to the previously winless (and Danielle Hunter-free) Vikings provides clarity -- as in, the Texans are clearly poorly built and wasting Deshaun Watson. And that's sad.
The Texans have won four of the last five AFC South titles. Yet I predicted they'd miss the playoffs altogether. That's what happens when you inexplicably trade a bona fide NFL superstar like DeAndre Hopkins.
Bill O'Brien is now calling plays again -- in addition to serving as head coach and general manager. It's his work in that last role that's really undermining this franchise. David Johnson, who came on over in the absurd Hopkins trade, still can't get to 4 yards per carry. Brandin Cooks, another offseason trade addition, couldn't manage a single catch against a beleaguered Vikings secondary. This is the residue of a dreadful design. Oh, and did I mention that the Texans don't have a first- or second-round pick next year?
Houston is on a road to nowhere and it didn't have to be this way. O'Brien The GM is to blame.
UPDATE: After the publishing of this column, news broke that the Texas have fired Bill O'Brien.
8) The Bears have the worst QB situation in the NFL
A simple fact. Only Washington could challenge this statement.
With all of the enticing options available at the quarterback position this past offseason -- both in the draft and on the veteran market -- this is what Bears GM Ryan Pace settled for? I wasn't alone in first-guessing this approach. Spent a lot of time on the airwaves begging Chicago to sign Teddy Bridgewater. But here we are. Mitchell Trubisky is an epic bust. Nick Foles is not a legit starter in the NFL. Philadelphia legend? Of course. But in 2020, not a top-32 quarterback in the league.
The Bears, shockingly, are 3-1. But how long can they stay above .500 with quarterback play this subpar?
9) The Ravens are no longer the AFC's second-best team
Naw, that's fiction. Yes, the idle Steelers and Titans are 3-0. Yes, I lead the league in Bills love and they've earned their 4-0 mark. Heck, with Indy's defense, don't rule out the 3-1 Colts.
But it's still Baltimore. Shame on you if you downgraded the Ravens after the loss to Kansas City. The Chiefs are the defending champs and clear favorites to win the Super Bowl again. Baltimore lost in prime time to Patrick Mahomes and Co. No shame in that. And no surprise, Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews bounced back with an easy win over Washington.
Baltimore and Kansas City remain on an AFC Championship Game collision course.