We received extra wins within the AFC East, together with a breakout efficiency from a substitute quarterback. We received an enormous efficiency from Trevor Lawrence in a comeback win over the Ravens. We received an enormous hat, a virtually nude mascot and skunks within the stands in Cleveland.

What else did we see throughout — and study from — Sunday’s early NFL slate? We requested The Athletic’s Tim Graham, Jeff Howe and Kalyn Kahler to weigh in on the motion.

Between the Jets bashing the Bears behind a banner day from quarterback Mike White, the Dolphins holding on to high the Texans and the Bills’ win on Thanksgiving, the AFC East race is shaping as much as be one of many NFL’s most enjoyable. Is New York or Miami the larger risk to Buffalo?

Graham: As terrific as Mike White appeared Sunday, he did it in opposition to the Bears, who misplaced their eighth sport in 9 tries Sunday. The Jets, regardless of Robert Saleh’s strong protection, have deeper points than a fifth-round draft choose making his fourth NFL begin can repair. The Dolphins haven’t benched a wholesome quarterback this yr, as Tua Tagovailoa continues to bolster his MVP case each week. The Dolphins face a grueling schedule down the stretch with their subsequent three video games (two of that are on the West Coast) and 4 of their subsequent 5 on the street, together with at Buffalo and at New England. If Mike McDaniel can survive that stretch, he may win not solely the AFC East but in addition Coach of the Year.

Howe: The Dolphins aren’t only a risk to the Bills. They’re a risk to everybody. They’ve already crushed the Bills, Ravens and Patriots, they usually’re 8-0 when Tagovailoa has been wholesome. Tagovailoa is an MVP candidate, whereas Tyreek Hill is within the combine for Offensive Player of the Year. Like Tim mentioned, McDaniel is within the dialog for Coach of the Year. And whereas their protection hasn’t been nearly as good because it was over the previous couple of years underneath Brian Flores, it’s a bunch with expertise. The Dolphins are a legitimately harmful staff that ought to be enjoyable to observe within the playoffs.

Kahler: I’ll choose the Jets right here to be just a little contrarian. As anticipated, Mike White proved at the moment that Zach Wilson was the Jets’ greatest problem as he threw for 315 yards, which is greater than Wilson’s final two video games mixed. Teams have made the postseason with much less at quarterback, and the Dolphins protection worries me as we strategy the ultimate third of the season. Miami’s protection permits 24.1 factors per sport and New York’s permits a full landing much less at 17.1.

Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders topped the Falcons for his or her sixth win in seven video games. They could also be in final place within the aggressive NFC East, however how would you gauge their playoff chances?

Graham: They are surging and amazingly delivered the Eagles’ first loss a few weeks in the past, however the Commanders’ different 5 victories throughout this stretch got here in opposition to groups who’re a mixed 17-38-2. They received’t catch the Eagles for the division crown however are 1.5 video games behind the second-place Cowboys with a rematch developing within the regular-season finale. They’re simply half a sport behind the Giants, whom the Commanders will face of their subsequent two video games (with a bye in between). Washington’s destiny lies forward, however I’ve no religion it’ll navigate December and early January nicely sufficient to leapfrog the wild-card contenders of their path.

Howe: They’ve completely received an opportunity as a result of they don’t need assistance from anybody else. With their subsequent two video games in opposition to the Giants, it’s proper there in entrance of them. However, each the Commanders and Giants — who’re starting to head in the wrong direction — have actually tough schedules down the stretch. Washington additionally performs the 49ers, Browns and Cowboys, whereas the Giants have the Eagles (twice), Vikings and Colts. The Giants, Commanders and both the 49ers or Seahawks (whoever finishes second within the NFC West) will battle for the ultimate two playoff spots.

Kahler: OK, that is bizarre. The Commanders will play the Giants of their subsequent two video games, Week 13 and Week 15, so these will likely be essential to overcoming New York within the division and giving themselves an opportunity. They are at the moment a half-game behind the Giants, who’ve misplaced two straight. I’m with Tim, although. This is enjoyable to see Heinicke be one thing aside from Carson Wentz (similar to Mike White isn’t Zach Wilson), however I don’t suppose it’ll be sufficient ultimately.

Who stood out to you as having probably the most spectacular particular person efficiency from the early slate of video games?

Graham: Rookie tailback Brian Robinson continues his sensational return from being shot twice throughout an tried carjacking three months in the past. He ran 18 instances for a career-high 105 yards and added two catches for 20 yards and a landing in Washington’s victory over Atlanta. But he by no means appeared higher than when he sported his “big hat” within the Commanders’ locker room. This fella was not all hat Sunday. He had the cattle.

Howe: Trevor Lawrence delivered an early career-defining second to guide the Jaguars’ 28-27 comeback victory in opposition to the Ravens. He led three consecutive scoring drives to erase a 19-10 deficit and shut the sport, and Lawrence was 15-of-19 for 173 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion throughout that stretch. He additionally accomplished passes for 3 third-down conversions and two fourth-down conversions over the past three possessions. His two-pointer was an elite throw to Zay Jones. Another purpose this was so pivotal? Lawrence and the offense had the ball late within the fourth quarter with an opportunity to tie or take the lead in six of Jacksonville’s losses this season, they usually failed to attain every time. It’s laborious for a younger group to learn to win in these conditions, and Lawrence lastly received over the hump.

Kahler: Mike White. I’m sorry I’m going by way of a Mike White section, and it’s most likely just because he isn’t Zach Wilson. This identical phenomenon occurred final yr when White upset the Bengals in his first begin in reduction of Wilson. He immediately opened up the Jets’ passing assault and made it clear that Wilson is the one holding again the offense. Beating the Bears isn’t fairly as massive as upsetting the Bengals, however White injected a lot vitality into an offense that sorely wanted it.

Which was probably the most alarming side of the day: the outfit worn by the Jaguars mascot, the skunk within the stands in Cleveland or the Broncos offense underneath Russell Wilson

Graham: Can what we see from Nathaniel Hackett, Russell Wilson and the Broncos even be thought-about alarming anymore? We see it each week — and, to make issues worse, an obnoxious variety of the subpar performances are on nationwide tv. That suggests how a lot the soccer world appeared ahead to seeing Denver resurrect its fortunes, however the extra I see of Hackett’s offense, the extra it resembles Jaxson de Ville’s getup: bare and regrettable (see the tweet beneath). I don’t know if Hackett can survive the season. The Broncos have invested way more in Wilson, and coaches don’t carry salary-cap baggage.

Howe: It’s no coincidence that the Jaguars got here again to win that sport after the mascot placed on some rattling garments. But possibly now we must always reside in worry that he’ll imagine his half-naked first half was good luck and he’ll do it once more. At least you possibly can avert your eyes from that state of affairs, although. You know what’ll spoil your day? A skunk. Browns followers have purchased far too many QB jerseys to throw one other one away from a skunk assault.

Kahler: It was clearly the Broncos offense, which averages an NFL-worst 14.7 factors per sport. I’ve seen fairly sufficient, and I’d be shocked if Hackett isn’t one and accomplished in Denver. Did you catch that delay of game on fourth-and-goal at the moment? For your sake, I hope not.

(Photo: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)



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