We are now five weeks deep into the 2019 NFL season and we have had a fair share of surprise teams. The 49ers are undefeated, the Bills are a strong 4-1 and there is not a team below .500 in the NFC North. Meanwhile, the Browns have not lived up to the offseason hype, the Rams are No. 3 in the NFC West and the Cowboys have not looked great after a 3-0 start. The DC Sports Staff took it upon itself to weed out who the pretenders in the pack are.
Sure, the San Francisco 49ers look solid on both sides of the ball and figure to be a playoff team, but they are pretenders in the sense that they are not 4-0 good. They’re four wins this season have come against the Bucs, Bengals, Steelers and Browns, all teams with losing records. The defense has looked solid, especially against the Browns on Monday night as the defensive line, led by Nick Bosa, was all over Baker Mayfield. So far, the offense has been successful with a very physical running back by-committee rushing approach while using Jimmy G as an above-average game manager. Let’s see if this rather conservative offense can hold up when things start to get real in the Niners schedule.
The Chicago Bears are undeniably the worst team that is currently above .500, and while their defense is what was expected (one of the best in the league), their offense is somehow worse than anyone could ever have imagined. Sure, starting quarterback and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky has missed most of the past two games, but frankly, the offense has actually looked better without him. What’s especially troubling is that backup Chase Daniel has not played well, but he is still noticeably better than Trubisky. Considering Trubisky’s draft status, they’re not going to sit him when he’s ready to play. He’s simply a bad quarterback, and that pick is soon going to go down as one of the biggest busts this decade. Their defense can only take them so far, and Trubisky will make sure of that.
My definition of a pretender is a team that is good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to actually make a run at the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys fit that description perfectly. In the first three weeks of the season, Dallas beat up on some bad teams, the Giants, Dolphins and Redskins, and started to buy into their own hype. In the two weeks since then, they’ve been embarrassed by two tough opponents, the Saints and the Packers. The teams the Cowboys have beaten this year have a combined record of 2-12, while the teams they’ve lost to have a combined record of 8-2. Their schedule is easy enough that they can probably continue with this trend and land a wild-card spot, but their season will likely end there. Sooner or later, Dak Prescott and company have to prove they can beat a quality opponent. Until then, they’re just pretenders.
I share a similar thought with Ben on what a pretender is, which is why I’m going with the Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson is a lot of fun to watch, but I don’t feel the team is in a position to compete for a Super Bowl this year. Yes, they will make the playoffs with ease because the rest of their division is trash (see Jorge’s column), but they are maybe the fifth-best team in the AFC if we’re being generous. Everybody hyped up this team way too quick after their 59-10 rout of the Dolphins in Week 1. If you take that game out, they have only won one-possession games against the Cardinals and the Steelers, two teams in the bottom tier of the league. In fact, they almost lost to Pittsburgh last week with their third-string quarterback playing the majority of the second half. It took a 48-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to send it to overtime and a gift turnover by the Steelers to set up the game-winning field goal by Tucker. Jackson is flashy, but in my mind he has a long way to go to be an elite threat. The Ravens will be a first-round exit in the playoffs this year, which makes them pretenders in my opinion.