The final remaining undefeated teams both went down in Week 6. The dominant San Francisco 49ers were bullied, and also a bit confused, by the ferocious Cleveland Browns. Near the Jersey side of the Hudson River, the New York Jets defense was undermanned and still took it to the Philadelphia Eagles to improve to .500 on the season and keep their playoff hopes alive — even if their offense was stuck in that new turf for most of the game.
Another year, another drink of champagne for Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and the surviving members of the undefeated Super Bowl Champion 1972 Miami Dolphins — never forget though that the 2007 New England Patriots won the most games in a row in a single season before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Brock Purdy finally played like a backup quarterback against the Browns. It was by far his worst NFL performance, coming after five weeks of him playing like an MVP. The Browns’ pass rush, and injuries to Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, certainly affected him. However, if Jake Moody makes that field-goal with less than 10 seconds remaining, Purdy’s performance is seen as the smallest of blips alongside a game-winning drive.
The Eagles have certainly not trounced opponents in 2023 the same way as the 49ers. Their only double-digit margin of victory this season was a, 25-11, Week 3 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Week 6, even without their starting cornerbacks, the Jets put the Eagles’ backs against the wall throughout the day.
Standout right tackle Lane Johnson went down with an ankle injury and the Jets defense took advantage. Bryce Huff — NFL leader in QB pressures since last season per Next Gen Stats with 250 minimum attempts — recorded nine by himself in the Jets’ 20-14 win. Jalen Hurts threw three interceptions, including one right before the two-minute warning and the Jets scored on the next play.
While the 49ers and Eagles will not end the ‘72 Dolphins libations, they are still arguably the strongest teams in the NFL. Two balanced offenses accompanied by swarming defenses. They are not alone amongst championship contenders through a third of the season. Counting out the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills would be ridiculous with their team strengths, employing the two best quarterbacks in the world.
In Week 6, there were also some other teams, though, who appeared ready to do some January damage, even if their performance lacked the same style points as the NFL elite.
Teams who play the Browns need to bring extra pain relief
There is a reason the Browns ranked first in defense-adjust value over average (DVOA) in the NFL prior to their Week 6 matchup against the 49ers. They are determined to be as miserable to opposing offenses as an Ohio winter.
The second-best offensive team in the NFL — per DVOA — failed to score 20 points against the Browns. Even sans Nick Chubb and Deshaun Watson, P.J. Walker’s 52.9 completion percentage with no touchdowns and two interceptions was all the offense that the Browns needed to defeat the 49ers.
Maybe the Browns were more accustomed to performing without key players, or their physicality shocked what was widely considered the best team in the NFL. Purdy did not complete 45 percent of his passes or total 150 yards in the air in Week 6.
Watson is due back soon for the Browns, and just prior to his injury, finally was playing well. Combine him with Amari Cooper ripping footballs from the grasp of opposing defenders, a capable running back corps, and that tenacious defense, the Browns will be a level boss that the AFC is forced to battle.
An NFC North title should be only the beginning of the Detroit Lions aspirations
Going into Week 6, only three teams in the NFL were Top-10 in both offensive and defensive DVOA, the 49ers, the Bills and the Lions. A defense that struggled so mightily early in 2022 that Dan Campbell fired the defensive backs coach mid-season, has been playing in 2023 like one of the best units in the league.
The Lions’ defense continued to roll in Week 6 against the Buccaneers. Baker Mayfield & Co. were 3-1 coming into the game off of a bye week. On Sunday, they were not even as explosive as the cannons at Raymond James Stadium.
In a 20-6 victory, the Lions held the Buccaneers to 2-of-12 on third down conversions, and also 251 yards of total offense, compared to the Lions’ 380. On offense, Detroit did not score its first points until halfway through the second quarter. Yet the Lions were still able to dominate the Bucs and finish the evening tied with the best record in the conference.
The Cincinnati Bengals are very much in the playoff picture
Through six weeks last season the Bengals were 3-3. At the same checkpoint in 2023, they have the exact same record. In 2022 there was no concern in September about Joe Burrow’s ability to move two steps left, right, back and/or forth.
His injuries have cost the Bengals this season as they got off to a 1-3 start, but in Week 5 he looked like himself in a big win against the Arizona Cardinals. Even after the win and Burrow playing well, the Bengals’ defense and offense were in the bottom 10 of the NFL in DVOA going into Week 6. The Seahawks, on the other hand, entered the game with balance, ranking in the top 15 on both sides of the ball.
Against the Seahawks in Week 6, the Bengals had some trouble moving down the field, but it was their defense that took control of this game. Geno Smith threw the ball all over the field, going 27-for-41 for 323 passing yards — his second 300-plus yards passing performance of the season. But in key moments, he threw two interceptions and also got sacked twice in a goal-to-go situation with less than a minute remaining in the game.
The Bengals are doing just enough to hang around in games and Burrow again looked mobile. If they start to click around the holidays, that AFC Championship Game rubber match against the Chiefs will begin to look inevitable.
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