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What's changed, what's still the same in the NFL


Every team has played at least a quarter of their schedule now, so let's take a look at what's the same and what's changed as the new 2016 begins to take on a clearer identity.

What's the same ...

The Patriots are the NFL's gold standard. New England's 3-0 start without Tom Brady was one of the more dispiriting developments in recent memory for NFL fans -- OK, Jets fans like me -- who are more than ready for this infinite pain reign to be done with. By the time Brady returned Sunday and threw for three touchdowns and 400 yards against the hapless Browns, the writing was on the wall. This will be another year of also-ran status for 95 percent of the AFC. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What's changed ...

The Vikings rule the world. What are we witnessing right now? First Teddy Bridgewater went down. Then Adrian Peterson. And the Vikings keep getting stronger. They're the only undefeated team left, they have the best defense in football, and they're playing in a brand new stadium that's the envy of the rest of the league. It feels like the Vikings took the best shot the football gods could deliver and kept charging. All that said, we know the Vikings are capable of doling out unimaginable pain on their fanbase, so let's not make any assumptions about how this will all play out. But it feels like something special is in the air.

What's the same ...

Being a Chargers fans is real, real, real hard. The Chargers had a one-in-30 million shot at losing four of their first five games -- and they pulled it off! That is Gary Busey insane.

Things that are more likely than the Chargers' 1-4 start:

» Being attacked by a shark (1.625 in a million)

» Living to 100 years old (1.73 in 10,000)

» Making a hole-in-one on a par-3 hole (1 in 12,500 amateur golfers)

» Being hit by a comet or asteroid (1 in 75,000)

» Being born with extra fingers or toes (1 in 500)

» Getting struck by lightning (94 in a million)

Thankfully, the Bolts knocked off the Broncoson Thursday night, giving some respite to the fanbase. But not before another near meltdown that almost killed Mike McCoy. Seriously. Mike McCoy almost dies here:

What's changed ...

Matt Ryan Da God. Ryan leads the NFL in almost every relevant passing category through five weeks. If he kept up this pace, his final numbers would read: 371 for 538 (69 percent), 5,568 yards (NFL record), 38 touchdowns, six interceptions, 121.6 passer rating (second all time).

Will Ryan keep that pace up? Probably not. But he's an early MVP favorite who's re-established himself as a top-10 passer after a couple of years off the grid. No one's ever gotten excited about Matt Ryan before. That he's changing his vanilla perception in his ninth season is impressive.

What's the same ...

The catch rule is still dumb. We still don't know what constitutes a reception, and measures taken to clear up this very important issue have only served to muddle the water further. Dez Bryantgot popped again, though he'll be happy to know he wasn't involved in the most egregious violation of commonsense this year.

When the Jaguars' Allen Robinson had a bogus incompletion call overturned to a touchdown this month, it was legitimately jarring.

I can't wait until this pops up again during the playoffs.

What's changed ...

The new "Sunday Night Football" intro song is a banger. "Waiting All Day For Sunday Night" was tired and had to go. The new song has a fun stomp beat to it and you can drive your friends nuts by scream-singing "Ohhhhhh-ohhh Sunday night!" when they're in the middle of making an important point.

Speaking of prime-time games, ratings are down. But why? Is it the absence of stars? A dearth of competitive games? Trump? The changing viewing habits of Americans? No Tirico? MILLENNIALS?!? Yeah, that's it. MILLENNIALS. Burn 'em at the stake!

What's the same ...

Peyton still here. Seriously, there's no escaping this guy. He retires after 18 years and he's on our TVs more than ever. I feel like there's a lot of truth to those DirecTV commercials where he makes depressing small talk with the supermarket cashier and calls Eli to see if he can hang out. Peyton didn't quit football. Peyton's body quit on football. I'd be shocked if he isn't in a front office or broadcast booth this time next year.

What's changed ...

Revis Island is now the Jets' "Shutter Island." The Jets are one of the early busts of the season and Darrelle Revis' fall from demigod status is at the center of all of it. Sure, there were some signs of things headed this way last season, but Revis' tumble from top-tier corner to outright liability was a stunner.

Revis' struggles (and subsequent hamstring injury) has had an ugly trickle-down effect on the whole team. The secondary is a sieve and Revis' reduction to internet punchline status (good one, J.R. Smith) has affected the confidence of the entire team. Revis is far from the Jets' only problem -- lest we forget Ryan Fitzpatrickthrew six interceptions in one game -- but his sharp decline has rocked the entire organization.

What's the same ...

Adam Vinatieri is unkillable. The 43-year-old Colts kicker made all five of his field-goal attempts against the Bears on Sunday and has converted his last 38 attempts, the third-longest streak in NFL history. He's just five makes away from setting the NFL record.

The man is a beacon of light for all middle-aged dads out there. Guys, you can be relevant. You can thrive. Adam is the path. Adam is the light.

What's changed ...

Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it.

What's the same ...

You don't want to be a Browns quarterback. You think Carson Wentz pinches himself every morning when he wakes up and remembers that the Browns traded away his draft rights in April? Because we all know he's not having this wonderful rookie season if he's punching in at the Factory Of Sadness. Meanwhile, being a Browns QB in 2016 has devolved into a Final Destination sequel. RGIII, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler and Charlie Whitehurst have all suffered injuries in the first five weeks. Maybe Johnny Manziel got out just in time.

What's changed ...

Speaking of Wentz, he's at the forefront of a new trend in the NFL. Stick a young passer into the lineup with little or no experience and watch him flourish. Wentz, Dak Prescott, Jimmy Garoppolo, Trevor Siemian and even Jacoby Brissett have found success when little was expected. The irony here is that all these green quarterbacks are flourishing while Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick, remains chained to the Rams' bench with a headset and tablet. Go figure.

What's the same ...

Andrew Luck is surrounded by slop. I wrote about this last week in the mailbag, but it bears repeating in this space. Luck is one of the most gifted young passers to come into the league in decades, and he's trapped on a Frankenstein monster of a roster created by Teflon Ryan Grigson (that's his legal name now). Hey, at least Grigson isn't in the press telling people that Luck's contract has hindered Indy's ability to build a defense. Oh wait.

What's changed ...

The Raiders don't suck! On the Around The NFL Podcast, I fought hard to make the Raiders our "Team of ATNFL" for a simple reason: There's a re-birth going on in Oakland right now. Let me count the ways: They have an exciting, young roster led by a rising quarterback. They have a head coach (Black Jack Del Rio!) who's unafraid to hit on 16. They have a loyal and insane fanbase that stuck with the team during an endless down cycle. And, oh yeah, a badass punter overflowing with SWAG.

What's the same ...

Big Ben is an assassin. When we all make our cute little top-5 quarterbacks list, why is it that Roethlisberger always ends up just on the outside? It's time for that to change. Roethlisberger is having another huge season, and his Steelers represent perhaps the best hope of keeping the Patriots out of another Super Bowl.

Even more impressive, Roethlisberger has kept the Steelers' offense humming even when Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant disappeared. He is the x-factor. And he might just be one of the top 10 quarterbacks ever.

What's changed ...

The Panthers are in trouble. I want to take you back to a more innocent time. It was Feb. 6, 2016, the day before Super Bowl 50. The Panthers were 17-1 and the favorite to win the NFL championship.

The Panthersgot spanked in front of Coldplay, Beyonce and the world the next day and the hangover appears to have carried over. They've lost four of five to start the 2016 season and are staring up from a deep hole in the NFC South standings. Is it time to panic? Not quite. A Cam Newton-led team is fully capable of ripping off a long winning streak. But yeah, they should probably get going.

What's the same ...

Your fantasy team is terrible. It sucks. Sorry.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus and check out his stuff on the End Around.

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