Did you expect the Indianapolis Colts to be this competitive? Or the New England Patriots to not be at all? Or the Kansas City Chiefs to have a receiving problem?
The AFC is supposed to be top heavy with excellence -- and we still have three months for that to sort itself out -- but right now it is glorious jumble, a conference best exemplified by the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Games between these rivals often resemble rolling balls of knives, but this one was especially brutish, including Steelers fans booing their ineffective offense, the Ravens' revamped receiving corps dropping at least five passes, two Lamar Jackson turnovers, a blocked punt by the Steelers, a fumble on a punt return forced by the Ravens, seven sacks between the two defenses and a where-did-that-come-from 41-yard touchdown pass from Kenny Pickett to George Pickens late in the fourth quarter.
"We don't expect our guys to drop passes," Jackson said after the game.
Five weeks into the season, the NFC has a clearly delineated top tier -- the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles entered Sunday as the league's only undefeated teams -- and the league's only winless team, in the Carolina Panthers. The AFC, though, is replete with agents of chaos in addition to the Ravens and Steelers that have crowded the field and revealed real issues among even the leading contenders.
Here are the teams and groups that have muddied the view after five weeks:
Their 25-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London was devastating, not because of the offense's sluggish start -- they have enough talent there that we will chalk that up to jet lag -- but because of two more injuries to the starting defense. Already without Tre'Davious White, who is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury, linebacker Matt Milano, the best player on the defense, and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, might both be lost for the season, Milano with a serious leg injury and Jones with a pectoral injury. Getting Von Miller back will help, but that defense was playing so well it was the only one that has slowed the Miami Dolphins this season when they held Mike McDaniel's squad to 20 points in Week 4. The only good news is that the rematch comes in the regular-season finale, giving the Bills plenty of time to figure out how to make do in a two-team race for the AFC East title.
The entire AFC South
Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson got hurt again (right shoulder), but the Colts beat the Titans. C.J. Stroud was poised again, but the Texans lost to the Falcons. The Jaguars dominated time of possession and yardage, and they made a statement against the Bills, winning their second straight in London after a slow start to the season. The unexpected competitiveness of the Colts and Texans indicates this likely won't be a Jaguars runaway for the division, and the return of Jonathan Taylor to the Colts figures to give them a boost, especially as Richardson struggles to stay on the field. Last year, the Jaguars took off in the second half of the season en route to the playoffs. With the rapidly developing connection between Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley, the Jaguars can start a run much earlier if they can extend their streak with a win over the Colts next week in their return to Jacksonville. That tiebreaker over the Bills could come in handy for playoff seeding, too.
Kansas City Chiefs receivers
This is what's known as a Champagne problem, but through the first month, the Chiefs mostly young corps of receivers were often invisible and when they weren't, they were dropping the ball. It was a problem in the opening loss to the Lions and in the near-miss victory over the Jets last week. Teams tend to find their level eventually in the NFL, and the one that won a Super Bowl right after shipping Tyreek Hill out of town was always likely to figure it out. On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes completed 16 of his 31 passes to six different receivers, including one touchdown to rookie Rashee Rice. (Travis Kelce led the Chiefs with 10 receptions despite suffering an ankle injury that briefly sidelined him.) Mahomes said after the game he thought the offense was better this week. Good teams win while they work out their issues and that is what the Chiefs are doing while they smooth out the wrinkles of their pass catchers. They beat the Minnesota Vikings, 27-20, on Sunday, and the Denver Broncos defense on a short week should provide another chance to get the youngsters and Kadarius Toney going again.
In Sunday's 31-16 victory over the New York Giants, the Dolphins were both thrillingly explosive and maddeningly mistake-riddled. So much so that had they been playing a better equipped team -- and not one with a quarterback in Daniel Jones who was running for his life and eventually forced out of the game behind an injury-decimated offensive line -- the Dolphins might have been in trouble. Tua Tagovailoa's two interceptions kept the Giants in the game much longer than they should have been, especially the pass he forced to Jaylen Waddle that was intercepted in the end zone by Jason Pinnock and returned 102 yards for a pick-six. Good teams overcome mistakes, and the Dolphins, who rolled up 524 yards of offense, did that, but this game should be a reminder for Miami to clean up its mistakes before it faces an opponent better able to capitalize on them. Like, for instance, the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, who the Dolphins face in two weeks.
In the wide-open AFC North, the most important development might be the improvement in Joe Burrow's calf injury. That allowed the Bengals offense to get back to normal, with Burrow hitting Ja’Marr Chase for three touchdowns in a 34-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Burrow (36 of 46, 317 yards) looked comfortable and nimble in and out of the pocket. He even had a 10-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter. With a home game against the Seahawks next week and then their bye, the Bengals, at 2-3, have joined the fray. Just as the Ravens let a game -- and a chance at a more commanding division lead -- slip away.