With Week 5 (almost) in the books, here are five things that stand out.
1. Prescott’s predicament. The Dallas Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East (albeit at 2-3), but now the team must overcome the loss of QB Dak Prescott, who suffered a compound fracture in his right ankle in Sunday’s 37-34 win over the Giants. While I’m devastated for Dak, I’m also confident he will come back strong. He can look at the examples set by the likes of Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, and he should appreciate the symbolism of his injury occurring on the same day that Washington’s Alex Smith returned to the field following his horrific injury.
As for the front-office ramifications of the Prescott injury, here’s what I would do: Attempt to sign him to a compromise deal as soon as the season is over. Initially, try to use playing time incentives so that it gets him to market value – somewhere between $32 and $40 million a year — if and when he returns to form. The incentive-based approach is unlikely, but worth a shot. If that doesn’t work, I would strongly consider franchising the player. The challenge is that if he’s not ready to go by Week 1 next year, the Cowboys may be overpaying Prescott on a one-year basis, but they don’t have a choice, unless they’re willing to risk losing him. This conundrum is one that has been caused by their reluctance to get a deal done with him earlier. I would re-sign Andy Dalton (he’s currently on a one-year deal) to solidify the position while Prescott works his way back. I would also take a QB in the 2021 draft – just as a precaution.
2. Undefeated, but… The Seattle Seahawks may be 5-0, but their defense is ranked 32nd in the league. That may prevent them from reaching the Super Bowl. Seattle is allowing 27 points per game, and that is putting a lot of pressure on Russell Wilson and the offense.
3. Controlling the clock. One of the keys to beating the Kansas City Chiefs is keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field and limiting his opportunities – and the Raiders were able to do that in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Las Vegas converted third and fourth downs when they needed to, and the Chiefs only had the ball for 4:56 in the final quarter. Making explosive plays in the passing game — they averaged 10.8 yards per pass — and only turning the ball over once were also contributing factors to the Raiders getting a huge road win.
4. Baker or bust. The Cleveland Browns are 4-1 under rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski. Myles Garrett and the defense are playing well. The running game is effective and Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are making big plays. But there is one area that has room for improvement: QB Baker Mayfield ranks 27th in the league in yards per attempt. That number needs to get better if the Browns are to challenge Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North.
5. Little decisions mean a lot. It’s easy to second-guess Mike Zimmer’s decision to go for it on fourth down at the end of the Vikings-Seahawks game – failing to convert and then watching Seattle march down the field for the game-winning score. Sure, had they kicked a field goal there, Seattle would have needed a touchdown and two-point conversion just to force overtime. But it was a decision Zimmer made in the third quarter that kept the door open in the first place. Minnesota took the lead midway through the third, making it 26-21 after a touchdown and extra point. But why not go for two there? There’s no difference being up by four or five. If the Vikings convert a two-point try there to go up by six, then a field goal with two minutes left puts the game away.