A whopping five teams were a mirage in September, but here in NFL Week 10, all is right with the world. Cincinnati and Jacksonville are not stinkers. Tampa Bay is no top dog. Who else was a mirage?
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As each new NFL season starts, we keep reminding ourselves of the same thing. The first couple weeks are a mirage; anything can happen, and it won’t necessarily prove anything. Then, a month passes, and we forget this. Now its NFL Week 10 and the dust has officially settled.
With each season being such a small sample, it is hard to get out of that pattern. Every batch of games is unrelentingly important to the playoff push. You can’t shrug off three games. However, shrugging off is different than letting those outcomes hold us back.
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Don’t let September football make you jump to irrational conclusions! Multiple teams once again got off to bad starts. Several were red hot in September, but it wasn’t meant to last. So who are the 2023 teams that proved to us the first couple weeks of the regular season are not real? Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and dare we say San Francisco.
NFL Week 10: Early Season Mirage Exposed
Todd Salem: Bengals Were Ultimate Mirage
Right off the bat, the number one answer has to be Cincinnati. Whether because of Joe Burrow’s injury, bad weather, notoriously slow starting, or all of the above, the Bengals began the season 1-3, with the lone win coming by three points to an underwhelming Rams squad.
Since then, Burrow has gotten healthy, and everything has clicked into place. Cincinnati is on a four-game win streak and back in playoff position. We cannot erase those three losses early, but we know that they didn’t reflect this team’s true talent level. A hard schedule remains, including Houston not to be overlooked in Week 10, but the Bengals could finish right near the top of the AFC once again.
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Likewise in the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been on a roller coaster. Preseason, everyone thought they would cruise to a division title. A 1-2 start put that on hold. We questioned whether a realistic first-to-worst path was forming thanks to the exciting Texans as much as the weak Jags. Then Jacksonville went out and won five consecutive games and is, once again, expected to cruise to a division title.
A tough test against an angry San Francisco squad is on deck, but Jax is set up, win or lose. People want to question the 5-0 run as being fluky, but what is more likely: the entire offseason and the past five weeks being wrong, or that brief run of three games to start the year throwing everyone off the scent?
In the NFC, Minnesota is a big one. The crowd was writing the Vikings off before the season started. When the first few weeks of outcomes confirm a potentially incorrect assumption, things can turn sour. Everyone piling on Minnesota’s demise felt grand after the 0-3 start. A 5-1 run since has put them right back into the NFC North conversation yet again.
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Obviously, Kirk Cousins’ injury dampens that excitement somewhat, but a cupcake schedule remains. If the Vikings at least split their Detroit games, anything seems possible. Even the playoffs.
On the negative side of things, Tampa Bay stands out. The Buccaneers started 3-1, but neither of us truly believed in this team. A fall was coming, which it did. Not sure the Bucs really fit into this conversation for that reason. None the less, their September was a mirage.
I outlined all of the obvious examples. Are there any other teams who got thrown into the wrong bucket because of the season’s first weeks? Or maybe there’s disagreement about Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and Minnesota belonging in the winner’s category.
Dan Salem: 49ers In BIG Trouble
We have several excellent teams that begin unimaginably slow every season, so it’s par for the course this year as well. Heading into NFL Week 10, the likes of Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Jacksonville all began the year with speed bumps. They stunk in September, but that was a mirage, a miss-step for otherwise solid football teams. You nailed it with all three and to add to the argument, all three probably make the playoffs. Only the Vikings are on shaky ground in terms of fighting for the NFC wildcard.
The negative side of things is way more interesting and much harder to predict, outside of Tampa Bay that is. We knew they were September frauds and I expect them to keep on falling into NFL Week 10. Only one other team even comes close to such a fall this season and that’s San Francisco. Losers of three straight, the 49ers began 5-0 and now sit at 5-3 with a hard matchup against Jacksonville upcoming. They may very well be 5-4 after this week and in a tough spot for a team everyone assumed would be in the NFC Championship game. I still expect San Francisco to make the playoffs, but it’s no longer a guarantee.
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I’ll go as far as to say the 49ers are not a favorite and if they make the playoffs, they lose early. This is not one of the best teams in the NFC. Three or four teams are easily better and while it may be unfair to call them September frauds, they are becoming a season disappointment. Every other team is more or less exactly where we thought they’d be after nine weeks of games.
With quarterback play down across the league and serious injuries to star players continuing well past the typical early season woes, I’m not sure what changes going forward. Obviously the wildcard picture will separate a bit, but so little separates each and every team in the league right now. Defense is dominating most games and that means there are very few sure things on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t bet on a Super Bowl rematch from last season, but we are trending toward a Super Bowl rematch from last season. Success favors the previously successful in the NFL, which is why Kansas City and Philadelphia sit atop their conferences once again heading into NFL Week 10.
Meet our Writers:
Dan Salem is Lead Editor, Writer, and Co-owner of BuzzChomp. He’s a published author, as well as an award winning Actor, Director and Producer. Visit M Square Productions for his film work, or get lost in his old-school comedy on Pillow Talk TV. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Todd Salem is a Staff Writer and Contributing Editor at BuzzChomp. He’s also a fantasy football and fantasy baseball Staff Writer for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter or comment below for his unfiltered opinions.
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