Cowboys look like Super Bowl contender. Chargers have concerning flaw.



Week 6 in the NFL, frankly, was rather underwhelming.

It was marked by blowouts and a lack of drama, but there were still plenty of takeaways to be gleaned. And perhaps no one has more to celebrate than the Arizona Cardinals, who took down the Cleveland Browns and remained the lone NFL’s unblemished team at 6-0.

But the Dallas Cowboys also have plenty to be happy about, too, after they beat the New England Patriots for the first time since 1996 and continued to roll on offense. They have star power all throughout their team, but franchise quarterback Dak Prescott is the catalyst that has the Cowboys looking like a Super Bowl contender.

Dak Prescott threw for 445 yards and 3 TDs in the Cowboys' overtime win over the Patriots.

Dak Prescott threw for 445 yards and 3 TDs in the Cowboys’ overtime win over the Patriots.

Here are the winners and losers of Week 6.


Dak Prescott as an MVP candidate

Perhaps more so than any recent season, the early battle for the MVP race seems to be filled with several contenders. From Kyler Murray of the Cardinals, Josh Allen of the Bills, Tom Brady of the Buccaneers, Matthew Stafford of the Rams, to Lamar Jackson of the Ravens the list is full of passers with different skill sets. After the Cowboys battled the Patriots to overtime and then prevailed, 35-29, add Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to that list.

Prescott has completed 73.1% of his passes (which ranks second in the NFL) for 1,813 yards (fifth), with 16 touchdowns (tied for third), with a QB rating of 115 (fourth). Prescott has been especially reliable for the Cowboys (5-1) in the clutch for Dallas. And while the Dallas roster is exceptionally talented, Prescott has elevated the play of the young players — especially the young receivers like CeeDee Lamb, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass against New England. Prescott’s understanding of the Dallas offense under coordinator Kellen Moore is remarkable and his ability to make downfield throws while on the move makes him so difficult to defend. Not only is Prescott playing at an elite level, he has the Cowboys looking like a problem for the rest of the NFC.

The Bengals offense with Ja’Marr Chase

These are not the same Cincinnati Bengals that we had seen over the last half decade. This young team took another step in a dominant 34-11 victory against the Lions. Second-year passer Joe Burrow has been excellent, but it’s his former LSU teammate and rookie No. 5 overall pick Ja’Marr Chase who has electrified this offense. Chase now has 553 yards and five touchdowns on 27 catches so far this year. His receiving yards are second most in NFL history for a player through his first six games.

Just watch the effort that Chase spends on this Joe Mixon touchdown to make the key block down the field. These are the effort plays that good teams make. The Bengals have become one of the most reliable red zone teams in the NFL. They entered Week 6 ranked third in the league (80%) and converted both their trips inside the 20. Are the Bengals a playoff team? It’s still far too early to tell. While they toppled a capable Steelers team in Week 3 and an inconsistent Vikings squad in the season opener, their other victories have come against the Lions and Jaguars, who have combined for a 1-11 record. They need more games like this against playoff-caliber opponents. But, at the very least, it’s safe to say that this team just being in the conversation shows how much they’ve grown.

The opponent — the lowly Houston Texans — have to be considered here, but this was far and away Carson Wentz’s best game with the Colts. In a 31-3 victory, Wentz exploited Houston’s suspect secondary with deep passes. Wentz threw touchdowns of 51 yards (to receiver Parris Campbell) and 28 yards (tight end Mo Alie-Cox) and also had a 52-yard completion to receiver T.Y. Hilton in the second quarter that set up a field goal. He also benefitted from a boost in the rushing game, with Jonathan Taylor having an ultra-efficient (14 carries, 145 yards, two touchdowns) game.

Wentz has now, quietly, strung together three solid games. Over that span, he has thrown for 853 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. More importantly for Indy, the Colts have won two of those games. The long ball has been essential over this recent stretch. In the last three games, Wentz is averaging 9.8 yards per passing attempt. By comparison, the NFL leader in that category headed into Week 6 was Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, with 9.6 yards per attempt. The Colts (2-4) will need to show they can do this against better defenses — and consistently — to climb into contention in the AFC South.


The entire Week 6 slate

As far as parity and entertainment goes, Week 6 was a dud. Only one of the 1 p.m. ET games was a one-score game with any drama, that was between the Panthers and the Vikings. Even then, it only became that way late in the game. The best game of the week, far and away, was the one between the Patriots and the Cowboys in the afternoon window. Other than that, the only other one-score games Sunday were between the Dolphins and the Jaguars in London, which took place in the morning, and the Steelers-Seahawks matchup in primetime.

The average margin of victory in Sunday’s games was 15.4 points. Even the Sunday night game, which is usually the marquee matchup of the week, was dulled because Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sidelined against the Steelers because of a finger injury. And while the game ended up being decided in overtime, the primary source of drama came down to an odd officiating sequence and several turnovers. NFL Sundays are typically wild and this sometimes happens. The good news is that Monday night’s game should be an interesting look at a pair of teams in the AFC that should be up for playoff spots in the Bills and the Titans.

Kansas City ball security

The second half of the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory against the Washington Football Team showed just how dangerous this team can be when its offense is clicking. The Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points after halftime to run away with the game. But ball security issues are a major problem for the reigning AFC champions. And if the problem persists, it threatens their chances of making another deep run in the postseason.

With three more giveaways against Washington, the Chiefs now rank dead last in the NFL with 14. Most problematic is that 10 of those have come after the Chiefs have crossed the 50-yard line, essentially wiping out scoring opportunities. The good news is that so many of these have been careless mistakes. Just on Sunday, one of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ interceptions glanced off of receiver Tyreek Hill’s hands. Fellow receiver Mecole Hardman fumbled in the second quarter, an issue the Chiefs’ skill players have had all season, loose handling of the ball. Mahomes, at times, looks as if he’s trying to do too much. He has thrown at least one pick in each of his last five games. He is tied for second most in the league with eight. Last season, he had six in the entire season. The Chiefs are still one of the most explosive and dangerous teams in the league, but if they don’t solve their ball security problems, that alone won’t be enough to get them out of tough matchups.

Chargers’ run defense

The Chargers were a surprise upstart in the NFL this season, and still are, but their 34-6 loss against the Ravens revealed their most concerning flaw. A rushing defense that came into Week 6 ranked last in the entire league (157.6 yards allowed per game) was mastered by Baltimore. To be clear, the Ravens’ rushing outfit would cause fits for any defense. But Baltimore used six different ball carriers to total 187 rushing yards. In L.A.’s only other loss of the season, a Week 2 game against the Cowboys, Dallas rushed for 198 yards, meaning that in the Chargers’ losses, they gave up an average of 192.5 yards per game.

In L.A.’s victories, however, that number drops to 147.5. Taking out last week’s 47-42 shootout victory against the Browns in which Cleveland rushed for 230 yards, that number drops to 120. When the Chargers give up that many rushing yards, it does two things: the defense wears down and stays on the field — the Ravens held the ball for 38:07 of game time — but it also keeps the explosive Chargers offense on the sideline.

Sam Darnold and the Panthers receivers

After starting the season 3-0, the Panthers have been complete opposites and are in the middle of a three-game losing streak after they fell to the Vikings, 34-28. All three losses have come with star running back Christian McCaffrey sidelined. McCaffrey was placed on injured reserve Saturday, so he’ll be on that for at least two more games. McCaffrey, one of the top pass-catching backs in the NFL, had been a safety valve for Sam Darnold. And, without him, Carolina’s receivers have underwhelmed. Against Minnesota, the Panthers had six dropped passes, several of which would’ve extended drives had they resulted in first downs.

Darnold finished the game 17-of-41 passing for 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a QB rating of 55.8. His first half, was even worse. He finished with a QB rating of 17.8. But the drops appeared to impact Darnold’s decision-making and accuracy. While Darnold’s play improved in the fourth — he helped the Panthers score 11 unanswered points in the final five minutes of the game — he also missed on several throws he should’ve completed. Carolina’s schedule eases up over the next couple of weeks before it stiffens at the end of the year. But if the Panthers can’t figure out how to win without McCaffrey and if they can’t stop the self-enforced errors, their hot start to the season may just end up going to waste.

Vic Fangio

The Broncos got cooked at home against a division opponent that just had its head coach resign less than a week before the game because of leaked emails that showed misogynistic and homophobic language. And it was the defense, Fangio’s expertise, that let Denver down. The Raiders, coached by interim Rich Bisaccia after Jon Gruden resigned Monday, beat the Broncos, 34-24. Now, Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did account for four turnovers, but he was playing at a disadvantage because the defense put him in a hole from very early on.

This was a Raiders team that had a new play-caller in offensive coordinator Greg Olson and whose players and coaches had to spend all week answering questions about Gruden. “The best part for me was getting back on the grass,” Bisaccia said. “The worst part for me was figuring out the headset.” That’s how new this was to Las Vegas’ staff. The Broncos allowed the Raiders to convert seven chunk plays of 20 or more yards. Denver had only five fewer yards of total offense than Las Vegas gained (426-421), but Denver needed 25 more plays to get there. That means the Raiders averaged an astounding 8.2 yards per play. Denver started the season hot, but their three victories came against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, who are 3-14, combined. Now, after the Broncos fell to 15-23 since Fangio became their head coach, he’s about to start facing questions about his future.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 6 winners, losers: Cowboys looking like Super Bowl contender


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