With three NFL Sundays in the books, we're beginning to get a better feel for the 2019 season. We're starting to figure out where things stand with trends and teams and individual talents -- and inherently, gaining greater clarity on the all-important issue of trust.
In this aggressive, reactionary media environment of hot takes and cold-blooded takedowns, the crux of most analysis remains the same: Who do you trust the most?
With that in mind, I cooked up a series of trust tussles. Who or what can you depend on more as we approach the quarter mark of this NFL campaign? It's a good old-fashioned trust-off, Schein Nine style!
1) Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady in the 2019 quarterback hierarchy?
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and he's enjoying another fine season, with sparkling statistics through three blowout wins: a 67.9 percent completion rate, a 7:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 116.5 passer rating. But ...
The answer is Mahomes. The answer in 2019 is always Mahomes. Right now, he's the best quarterback in the game. He's the best show in sports. This makes the guy a combination of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Don't take what he's doing for granted. This is amazing stuff. Mahomes has 370-plus passing yards, three or more touchdowns and zero picks in all three games this year. And this is despite the fact that Tyreek Hill has been on the shelf since injuring his shoulder in the first quarter of the season opener.
Mahomes was incredible in Sunday's win over Baltimore, giving a tough Ravens defense fits despite lacking his Pro Bowl protector, Eric Fisher. And when Lamar Jackson and Co. rallied in the fourth quarter to make a blowout into a game, the reigning MVP made the clutch plays to put the contest back on ice.
Patrick Mahomes has now started 20 regular-season games. He's thrown for 300 yards in 13 of them. That's the most ever in the first 20 games of any player's career. He's the fastest player ever to 60 touchdown passes -- hitting that mark with five games to spare, as Dan Marino now ranks second at 25 games. This is an unbelievable talent doing unprecedented things. Enjoy it.
2) Cam Newton or Kyle Allen as the Carolina Panthers' QB1?
Cam clearly wasn't right in the first two weeks of the season. He missed Sunday's game at Arizona with a foot injury and has already been ruled out of this week's contest at Houston. Honestly, Panthers coach Ron Rivera deserves to take some heat here. Why was Newton even playing in the preseason, when he first hurt the foot? His 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame has taken a beating over his nine-year NFL career, and he was coming off his second shoulder surgery in less than two years. It's unfathomable that Rivera would put Cam in harm's way during games that don't count -- especially in today's climate, when just about every other slightly injured NFL star is kept in bubble wrap during August.
But back to the star of Sunday's 38-20 win over the Cardinals. Allen, who showed plenty of promise in a Week 17 start last season after Cam had been shut down, added much-needed juice and life to the Panthers' offense in Carolina's first win of 2019. His arm was alive and accurate, unlike Cam's over the first two weeks of the season. He completed 73.1 percent of his passes and racked up four TD strikes against zero interceptions. No dinking and dunking, either: Allen averaged 10.0 yards per attempt, repeatedly beating the Cards downfield.
Allen will face a stiffer test in Houston this coming Sunday, but until he turns into a pumpkin, the kid needs to play -- regardless of whether or not Newton's healthy.
3) Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen as the top-10 pick making a Year 2 leap?
Am I allowed to mention that Allen has completed 64.1 percent of his passes this season? Meanwhile, Mayfield -- the 2018 rookie QB praised for his accuracy and ball placement -- is down at 56.9. On Sunday, Allen survived a little slop and was tough and clutch when it mattered most, allowing the Bills to hit 3-0. Mayfield and the Browns -- the offseason hype kings of this past summer -- are struggling out the gate, sitting at 1-2.
Now, in fairness to Baker, a lot of Cleveland's struggles are directly tied to first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. I loathed this hire, a shotgun marriage if there ever was one. No way John Dorsey had Kitchens on his short list when he took over as GM. And Sunday night's play-calling debacle in a 20-13 home loss to the Rams shows why. A draw on fourth-and-9? Four straight passes from the 4-yard line in Los Angeles' game-ending goal-line stand? This was coaching malpractice.
But Mayfield continued to display questionable pocket presence. Yes, his offensive line is quite suspect, but he didn't even give them a chance on a number of plays, routinely darting outside of his protection prematurely. And Mayfield's 3:5 TD-to-INT ratio is concerning.
Allen's still raw, but he's making the throws (and runs) necessary to win games. Isn't that what it's all about? Gimme the cannon-armed playmaker.
4) New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South?
But wait, on Sunday, the Brees-less Saints improved to 2-1 with a win in Seattle, while Atlanta dropped to 1-2 with a loss at Indy. What gives? Well, there was a reason I made sure to NOT write the epitaph for the 2019 Saints after Brees' injury, and it has nothing to do with the players.
When it comes to these two NFC South rivals, one team is coached by Sean Payton, the other by Dan Quinn. The former should absolutely be regarded as a future Hall of Famer, the latter is completely untrustworthy. So, that makes this decision easy: Who dat!
5) Pittsburgh Steelers' future or Miami Dolphins' future?
I like Minkah Fitzpatrick a lot, and the former Dolphin was a playmaker in his Pittsburgh debut following his trade there from Miami, but it was like putting lipstick on a pig. The Steelers are suddenly void of talent. San Francisco begged them to win Sunday, but the Steelers wouldn't comply. They have no depth at receiver, no top-notch talent at running back. Outside of my guy Devin Bush, the defense is weak.
Miami is breaking it all down to build it back up. The Dolphins will have three first-round picks and oodles of cap space next year. Oh, and two more first-rounders in 2021. The Fins could go winless this season -- and it will prove to be a springboard. The worst place to be in the NFL is in the middle. For years in Miami, it was clowns to the left, jokers to the right, there they were, stuck in the middle with Ryan Tannehill. Now the Dolphins are charting a new path.
The Steelers, like Miami, are 0-3. But thanks to the Minkah trade, they currently have one first-round pick over the next two drafts. The foundation of this roster is crumbling, and Pittsburgh has far fewer refurbishment tools than Miami.
6) Green Bay Packers or Dallas Cowboys as the storied NFC power rising?
Green Bay was my preseason Super Bowl pick for the NFC. And I told you this Packer defense was going to step up in a major way. After the Pack's 27-16 win over Denver on Sunday, I'm not backing off anything. My Chiefs-PackersSuper Bowl pick appears quite feasible here in late September.
But at this exact moment, it's the Cowboys. In an objective power ranking, Dallas has been the best team in the NFL. And I don't want to hear about the competition. The 'Boys are loaded and dominant in every single phase. This team lacks a true weakness. It's the most complete Dallas team since the mid-'90s dynasty outfits.
7) Detroit Lions or Minnesota Vikings as the Pack's biggest challenger?
The Lions deserve a little bit of credit and respect here. After a disappointing collapse/tie against the Cardinals in Week 1, Detroit beat Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz in back-to-back weeks. Yes, Philly had injuries, but that's football. There were moments on Sunday -- special teams mistakes, coaching head-scratchers -- that had "same old Lions" written all over them. Yet the Lions survived! That's a strong road win, and Matthew Stafford is clearly the second-best quarterback in the division. I'm sporting Honolulu Blue!
8) Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett in a battle of ex-Brady backups?
I like both of these quarterbacks, but Jimmy G still isn't all the way back. I currently trust Brissett more. Garoppolo has more upside and is coached up brilliantly by Kyle Shanahan. But Brissett is just so rock-solid, and it's no surprise. I've always liked Brissett's ability, smarts and leadership. Colts coach Frank Reich is fantastic for him, too. And on Sunday, we saw the best version of Brissett yet, as the 26-year-old lit up Atlanta for 310 yards and two touchdowns, completing 75.7 percent of his passes in the process.
9) Daniel Jones or the world?
I was totally against the Giants taking Jones with the sixth overall pick in April. And I certainly wasn't alone there. The Giants faced months of harsh criticism from all corners of the Earth for that selection. But on Sunday, Jones' debut was breathtaking and pulsating. His poise, arm, accuracy, athleticism and clutch play in his first NFL start were simply sensational. The rookie absolutely stuffed the stat sheet, with 353 yards passing and four total touchdowns. And to do it with Saquon Barkley missing the entire second half due to injury, my goodness.
Do I still question the wisdom of taking Jones over pass-rushing menace Josh Allen at No. 6 overall? Yes, I do -- because I believe New York could have had the quarterback later in the first round. But the Giants absolutely needed that amazing jolt they got on Sunday. Jones was the best quarterback on the roster all offseason and during the preseason. He should've been the opening-day starter. (That's what you do when you take a quarterback sixth overall, critics be damned. And Eli Manning has been shot for years.) But at least Big Blue corrected this error sooner than later.
I'm officially rooting for my opinion of the pick to be wrong. In April, I thought there was no way Jones could possibly be the sixth-best player in the draft. But I want Jones to be successful. And Sunday was an incredible start.