The NFL season continued to surprise in Week 5, and the hits continued to come on Monday Morning, as Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has been fired after a 1-4 start to the season. Rhule will be replaced by Steve Wilks, who previously coached quarterback Josh Rosen and a bad Cardinals roster for a single season before Arizona fired him, will take over, but it’s unlikely to change much for a Carolina team that saw quarterback Baker Mayfield exit with an injury after another poor performance.
We’ll get into the moves in Carolina, as well as the rest of the action around the NFL, but before we do, remember to sign up for The Oracle’s Picks to get outstanding action for NCAA, Canadian, and NFL football. The Oracle is putting together another big season, with an absolutely massive Week 4!
Now, let’s get into action from around the NFL, including an alarming lack of defense, trouble in Los Angeles, another strong week from the NFC East, and the collapse of the AFC/NFC South.
Will Defense Exist in the 2026 NFL?
This is hyperbole, of course, but after watching some of the dismal performances on display, it’s hard to think that NFL totals won’t move from the 40-55 range up to the 45-60 range within a few short years. There are a few exceptions – Dallas and San Francisco both scored defensive touchdowns and continue to terrorize opponent quarterbacks, but low-scoring games such as those between the Colts and Broncos and Texans and Jaguars tend to have the feel of a bad offensive performance rather than a dominant defensive display.
That started in the London game, as the New York Giants came out and possessed the ball for 19 of the first 24 minutes of the second half, scoring on three straight drives to turn a 20-10 deficit into a 27-20 lead. The Green Bay offense did get shut out in the second half, and that group has struggled to generate explosive plays, but the shutout consisted of not scoring on two drives, then driving to the Giants 6 and failing to punch in a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers and company did not make the most of their opportunities, but the second half was more a case of Green Bay’s defense allowing the Giants to comfortably possess the ball for long stretches as they moved it down the field, the exact formula teams want to use to limit a quarterback like Rodgers.
What makes it worse in Green Bay is that the Packers have invested so much in their group, but even talent-deficient defenses, such as Seattle and Detroit, should be able to do better than the Seahawks allowing Taysom Hill to run for 112 yards and 3 touchdowns on 9 carries or the Lions letting Bailey Zappe complete over 80% of his passes.
This doesn’t mean every NFL game will suddenly go over, but most indications are that the steady rise in scoring we’ve seen over the past two decades is accelerating rather than plateauing.
Lost in Los Angeles?
Outlooks have changed quickly for the two teams that call SoFi Stadium home.
The Chargers pulled out a Week 5 win when the Browns missed a last-second field goal, but given that Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 181 yards on 28 carries (6.5 per carry), it’s obvious that head coach Brandon Staley has not fixed this run defense. That was a fairly safe assumption given how the first month had gone, but now it’s beyond a question.
On the Rams’ side, it’s less a case of their roster-building approach catching up to them, and more a case of making some horrendous personnel decisions. Left tackle Joe Noteboom is a backup-level player thrust into the starting lineup at $15 million per year, and receiver Allen Robinson, who appears to have lost the ability to run/separate with any effectiveness, occupies another $15 million on the cap. Regardless of how clever the Rams are in structuring their cap, it’s difficult to win when you devote roughly 1/7th of your cap to backup-level players, particularly given the opportunity cost of not pursuing players who could have provided significant value at that price.
Both squads remain in position to make the NFL playoffs, but there are obvious structural issues to work around. For the Rams, the Les Snead-Sean McVay braintrust misevaluated a couple of players after years of doing a great job in this area, but while you might be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, there is a limited window to win another Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey all in the fold. For the Chargers, it’s a case where their head coaching hire seems unable to oversee his side of the ball, much less the entire operation. Given the talent general manager Tom Telesco has assembled, the Chargers may hesitate to move on at GM, but Telesco also hired Anthony Lynn as head coach before Staley, which creates at least some questions about whether he is as good at evaluating coaches as he is at evaluating players.
Beasts of the NFC East
Philadelphia and Dallas went to the far West as the Giants went to the far East, and all three squads fly home with victories. With the exception of the Washington Commanders Football Team, it has been a banner start for the division.
The Eagles found another way to win as they drove for a game-winning field goal after Kyler Murray and the Cardinals tied the game late, while the Cowboys scored a defensive touchdown en route to a win over the Super Bowl-defending Los Angeles Rams. With the Eagles 5-0 and the Cowboys 4-1 headed into their Week 6 matchup, it would appear that game will be pivotal to the eventual division outcome, but the Giants could surprise if their opponents go through any sort of a rough stretch. It is hard to argue the Giants, who are carrying a significant amount of dead money this season, have the talent level of the Eagles and Cowboys, but as long as they continue to find ways to win, opponents would be wise not to overlook Saquon Barkley and company.
DraftKings still has the Eagles as heavy division favorites at -300, with Dallas at +310 and the Giants at +1200. The latter price may be fair, as New York seems like a team that could fall off quickly, but given that Philadelphia and Dallas are within a game of each other and that both play very favorable schedules the rest of the way, it’s a bit surprising not to see the Eagles and Cowboys more like the roughly -200/+250 odds that DraftKings has for the 49ers/Rams in the NFC West and Chiefs/Chargers in the AFC West.
Collapse of the AFC and NFC South
After strong outings in Weeks 2 and 3, the ascent of Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has come to a screeching halt in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans in the past two weeks. Some, myself included, were willing to write Lawrence’s performance in Philadelphia off to the rain, but there’s no getting around putting up 7 points against a Texans defense that is bereft of talent.
The AFC South is now somehow a four-horse race; DraftKings has the Titans at +150, the Colts at +160, the Jaguars at +250, and the Texans at +2800, but Houston, who beat the Jaguars and tied the Colts, could see their odds shorten up if they beat the Titans two weeks from now, which is in the realm of possibility.
Regardless, unless Lawrence gets back on track, the Titans appear to be the front-runner, though that is not as clear as it is in the NFC South, where Tampa Bay’s defense rebounded to put the clamps on Marcus Mariota and the Atlanta offense in Sunday’s victory. New Orleans was able to pick up a win in Seattle on the back of Taysom Hill’s wild performance, but that doesn’t seem like a sustainable plan moving forward, and the down-and-out Panthers have already fired their coach.
That leaves the field clear for Tom Brady and company to bide their time until the NFL Playoffs. The Buccaneers will need to get their receivers more integrated at some point (running back Leonard Fournette led the team in receptions, yards, receiving touchdowns, and targets on Sunday), but as we saw with Matthew Stafford’s interceptions in last year’s Super Bowl runs, there’s always a chance that an issue goes away for a few games once you get in the tournament.
Tampa Bay and Buffalo are tied for the shortest division odds at -650, which makes sense given the unfortunate injuries the Dolphins have suffered at the quarterback position over the past few weeks. In an NFL season full of surprises, the AFC East and NFC South appear set to play to their pre-season odds.
Coming Up Next
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.