Trick or treat?
Yup, it's Halloween. But after another compelling NFL Sunday in this capricious league, I have a different three-word query in mind:
True or false?
On the day of ghosts, ghouls and goblins, let's separate reality from fiction on the gridiron, Schein Nine style.
1) The Raiders are the most disappointing team in the NFL
This is true. It's not even close or up for debate. Sunday's no-show in NOLA was the latest embarrassment -- and the most grotesque display yet.
Coming off a 38-20 win at Houston -- in which Josh McDaniels' offense reached 400 yards for the first time while outscoring the Texans 21-0 in the fourth quarter -- the Raiders had a golden opportunity to really get some momentum going against the Andy Dalton-led Saints. Instead, Las Vegas completely derailed, losing 24-0 in the franchise's first shutout since 2014. The Raiders (2-5) didn't even cross midfield until two minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Derek Carr's feeble play in 2022 reached a new low, with 101 passing yards on 26 attempts -- 3.9 yards per throw doesn't exactly cut it. Carr's favorite target, Davante Adams, suited up after battling a flu all week, but after totaling one catch for 3 yards, he might as well have just sat this one out.
On the other side of the ball, Vegas failed to record a single sack for the second time this season. With a measly nine sacks through seven games, the Raiders are the only NFL team without double-digit QB takedowns. In related news, prized free-agent signee Chandler Jones was a ghost once again, finishing Sunday with one tackle on the score sheet and nothing else. The 32-year-old edge rusher owns a half sack through the first two months of his Raiders tenure.
Before the season, I predicted Las Vegas would nab the top wild-card slot in the AFC, stating that "America is sleeping on these Raiders." Well, touché, America! Apparently I should've hit the snooze bar and piled up more Zs. Year 1 of the McDaniels era is not going as planned. And it's unacceptable. No wonder the head coach reportedly had another long postgame meeting with owner Mark Davis.
2) The Falcons will win the NFC South
Now, I know Atlanta enjoyed plenty of good luck in Sunday's wild, 37-34 win over Carolina. The game appeared to be over when Panthers QB P.J. Walker connected with D.J. Moore on a miraculous, 62-yard touchdown heave with 12 seconds remaining. The TD tied the score at 34 apiece, meaning Carolina would almost certainly prevail with a successful extra point. But Moore inexplicably took his helmet off during his touchdown celebration, automatically drawing a personal foul. This pushed the PAT back, making it a 48-yarder, and Eddy Piñeiro missed! Then in overtime, Piñeiro missed a would-be game-winner from just 32 yards out. To the Falcons' credit, they proceeded to march 55 yards and set up money kicker Younghoe Koo for the 41-yard game-winner.
A win's a win. Good fortune doesn't take anything away from the result, especially for a team that largely makes its own luck. Arthur Smith is a fantastic coach. He's buttoned up. His Falcons are tough and disciplined, and now they sit alone atop the NFC South at 4-4. Shoot, without the highly controversial roughing-the-passer penalty in the Week 5 loss at Tampa Bay -- a healthy dose of misfortune for the Falcons -- Atlanta could be 5-3 with a two-game cushion over the rest of the division.
Tampa Bay's flat. Blame the offensive line, the inability to run, Tom Brady, Todd Bowles, the defense ... Everything. Carolina isn't that good, obviously, seeing how the Panthers fired their head coach three weeks ago. While I loved New Orleans before the season kicked off, the Saints haven't sold me with their erratic play from week to week. And the Falcons have the better coach.
3) The Jets should bench Zach Wilson
This is a loaded topic of conversation. There are jobs -- and egos -- on the line here. For the most part, Joe Douglas has been fabulous as Jets general manager. But this Zach Wilson pick could be a real problem. Other than an inspired fourth-quarter performance in the comeback win at Pittsburgh back in Week 4, Wilson hasn't shown much in his two years as a Jet. In Sunday's 22-17 home loss to New England -- the Jets' 13th straight loss to the rival Patriots -- Wilson completed fewer than 50 percent of his 41 passes and threw three mind-numbing picks. This against a Pats defense that, six days prior, had no answer for Bears QB Justin Fields, who was taken nine picks after Wilson in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The season-ending injuries to Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker -- two stellar draft picks by Douglas -- certainly don't help this Jets offense. But that doesn't excuse Wilson running around like a chicken with his head cut off. It doesn't explain Wilson throwing the ball away ... straight to a Patriots defender. This game was a bad look for No. 2.
Now, the Jets are still a surprising 5-3. Douglas wisely traded for James Robinson after Hall went down, and Gang Green boasts the sixth-ranked total defense. It's all still there for the Jets. I wouldn't bench Wilson ... yet. So, I'll call the above assertion false. But Robert Saleh CANNOT be afraid to go to the bullpen when it's obvious Wilson doesn't have it -- or, if need be, to ultimately replace the 23-year-old.
4) The Vikings are the second-best team in the NFC
6-1 is 6-1. Kevin O'Connell has done a superb job during his debut season in the big chair. After back-to-back losing campaigns, the Vikings are well on their way to the postseason. Up four games on Green Bay and Chicago in the loss column, Minnesota has the biggest division lead in football.
But still, that's a false declaration.
The Vikings boast the NFC's second-best record, but the 7-0 Eagles aren't the only team I'd place above Minnesota in conference power rankings. I think the 49ers and Cowboys are superior, largely because I still love how both those teams play defense. Yes, the Niners are just 4-4, but they provided an inspired road beatdown of the defending Super Bowl champs on Sunday. San Francisco was missing Deebo Samuel, so Kyle Shanahan leaned on his new do-everything playmaker, Christian McCaffrey, who became just the third running back since the 1970 merger to log a touchdown passing, rushing and receiving in the same game. If this team gets healthier in the second half of the season, LOOK OUT. And then there's Dallas, which sits at 6-2 after consecutive three-score wins. With Micah Parsons spearheading a ferocious defense and Dak Prescott getting back into a groove on offense, the Cowboys are rounding into form as a complete team. Give Mike McCarthy credit for the job he's done this season.
5) Frank Reich and Chris Ballard should be on the hot seat in Indianapolis
That's the sad truth in Indy. No blaming Matt Ryan for the latest bad loss -- a painful 17-16 home setback to Washington -- as the veteran was already replaced in the starting lineup by Sam Ehlinger. Different quarterback, same result: The Colts scored 20 points or fewer for the seventh time in eight games this season, dropping below .500 at 3-4-1.
The way Sunday's game finished was quite disconcerting. Indianapolis took a 16-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but then it all came apart. Reich's play selection and game management in the final period were suspect. Meanwhile, the defense, which Ballard has put together over the past half-dozen years, turned Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke into Josh Allen with the game on the line.
Neither Ballard (who took over as GM in 2017) nor Reich (who got his head-coaching gig one year later in 2018) own an AFC South title. With Tennessee suffering offseason attrition, and Jacksonville and Houston in rebuilding mode, Indianapolis entered this season as the division favorite. But Tennessee (5-2) is clearly better, with vastly superior coaching, roster management and general toughness. Indy is a big disappointment. Again.
6) The Seahawks will fold
False. I was dead wrong on Geno Smith and Pete Carroll's Seahawks. Now, I was very high on Geno when he came out of West Virginia back in 2013 -- go ahead and check the receipts! -- so maybe that salvages some of my credibility on this front. But yes, back in June, I wrote that Geno vs. Drew Lock "will be arguably the worst and least-inspiring quarterback battle on record." I deserve an extra-large helping of crow on my plate. Smith is suddenly a model of consistency and accuracy, boasting a league-best 72.7 completion percentage while throwing nine touchdown passes against just one pick over his past five games. Seattle traded Russell Wilson and, at least so far, upgraded the quarterback position. Didn't see that coming.
And the team, sitting alone in first place of the NFC West at 5-3, is really starting to form nicely around Geno, too. It looks like Carroll and GM John Schneider really nailed this year's draft. RB Kenneth Walker III is a beast, having authored another highlight-reel run in Sunday's 27-13 win over the Giants. Meanwhile, the rookie bookend combo of LT Charles Cross and RT Abraham Lucas has acquitted itself quite well. Fifth-round CB Tariq Woolen looks like the biggest steal in the entire draft class, while CB Coby Bryant is starting games in Year 1. Oh, and rookie edge rusher Boye Mafe logged another sack on Sunday.
I love Seattle. I love Wild Ginger. I was all about Edgar Martinez being a Hall of Famer. I love Wild Ginger. I wish the Sonics were still around. I love Seattle!
7) The Dolphins are back!
Big truth. Really, the Dolphins never went away -- Tua Tagovailoa was just sidelined. Thankfully back in the lineup, Tagovailoa is once again running Mike McDaniel's system with aplomb and guiding Miami (5-3) to the winner's circle.
Detroit actually led for nearly the entire game against Miami on Sunday, but the Fins' dynamic passing attack just proved to be too much in a 31-27 final. Tua completed 29 of his 36 throws (80.1 percent!) for 382 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a whopping 10.6 yards per attempt. Tyreek Hill had 12 catches for 188 yards, while Jaylen Waddle hauled in eight balls for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It was a breathtaking air show, a true thing of beauty.
My opinion has never wavered during this roller-coaster season in Miami: I expected the Dolphins to make the playoffs at the outset of September; two months later, I'm every bit as bullish on this franchise hitting the postseason for just the second time in 14 years.
8) The Packers took positive steps Sunday
Forget about moral victories or progress -- there's nothing good about one of the NFL's most storied franchises losing a fourth straight game. It's false. In the preseason, I predicted a Bills-Packers Super Bowl. On Sunday night in Buffalo, the Bills jumped out to a 24-7 lead at halftime and never really looked back in a 27-17 win. Sorry, Pack, but you don't get plaudits in this space for covering (barely) a 10.5-point spread.
Yes, it was good to see Green Bay crack 200 yards rushing. And rookie Romeo Doubs bounced back from a brutal game against Washington to catch four passes for 62 yards, including a nifty post-up grab and a scintillating scoring play. Unfortunately, the Packers are still 3-5, miles behind the first-place Vikings.
9) The Broncos are back!
Great win! Needed win! Russell Wilson cooked late in London with the season on the brink! Nathaniel Hackett is golden after surviving the trip across the pond!
Get real. This is false.
The Broncos entered this season as purported Super Bowl contenders. On Sunday, they needed a late rally to sneak past the rebuilding Jaguars, 21-17, and "improve" to 3-5. To be honest, it's a miracle they've won three.
Russ still made a number of bad plays, including a first-quarter pick that put Denver in an early hole. Meanwhile, Hackett still looks like he's in above his head as a coach and play caller. With 12 more penalties on Sunday -- including 10 in the first half alone -- Hackett's Broncos easily lead the league with 70 infractions on the season.
The result in London shouldn't change the franchise's direction heading into the trade deadline on Tuesday afternoon. Denver is a mess and on a road to nowhere. With a new ownership group that didn't hire Hackett, the head coach remains at serious risk of being a one-and-done on the job.