We are only five weeks into the 2023 NFL season, but that doesn't mean we haven't already learned a whole lot about what is going to matter this year. We certainly have. There have been 78 games played already, and each of them has given us a window into what these 32 teams are, and where they are going.
With that in mind, we're going to walk through five of the biggest and most important things we have learned through five weeks.
The 49ers are on another level
After their Sunday night destruction of the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers have emphatically asserted themselves as the best team in football. San Francisco checks in second in EPA/play on offense, per TruMedia, as well as fifth in EPA/play on defense. The Niners are the only team in the league ranked inside the top five on both sides of the ball. If EPA isn't your jam, consider that they are second in both yards per play and points per drive on offense, as well as third in yards per play and tied for fourth in points per drive on defense. Again, they are the only NFL team ranked inside the top five in each of those categories.
Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and Co. have been a Death Star of an offense that can beat defenses in every way imaginable, and the defense has not missed a beat with Steve Wilks stepping in for DeMeco Ryans as the coordinator. The 49ers have stars at every premium position and some of the best players in football at other playmaking positions like running back and linebacker. They are extraordinarily well-coached and they do not make mistakes. They should continue to run roughshod over the league through the rest of the regular season.
The Patriots have hit their nadir
By contrast ... boy, are the New England Patriots a bad football team. Years of poor drafting and free agent spending, compounded by injuries to the only true star players on the roster, have sent the Pats into the basement of the AFC East. The roster Bill Belichick has assembled over the last several seasons is almost entirely devoid of offensive playmakers. The coaching staff is made up almost exclusively of people with personal connections to Belichick himself. The Patriots are slow, uncreative, and behind the times. They are 1-4 and going nowhere fast.
C.J. Stroud is the real deal
Here's the list of players to throw for more yards than C.J. Stroud in the first five games of their rookie season: Cam Newton. End of list. The list of players to throw for more touchdowns in their first five games consists of only Newton, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert and Marcus Mariota. The list of players to throw fewer interceptions consists of nobody.
Stroud has done all this while playing behind a depleted offensive line that has also been missing several starters for most of the season. He's averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and has taken a sack on only 5.6% of his dropbacks. In Pro-Football-Reference's adjusted efficiency metrics, he ranks better than league average in every category except for completion percentage and touchdown rate, which should come along with time and experience. He's eighth among all quarterbacks in EPA/play, sandwiched between Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford. He seems far ahead of the other rookie quarterbacks as a passer. He's the real deal, and as the Texans surround him with more talent, he should only get better.
If you're not stealing (from the Dolphins), you're not trying
Nobody in the league is better at creating space for playmakers right now than Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel. Whether it's with play design, motion, or simply execution of simple concepts at a higher level than other teams, the Dolphins are living in the future offensively and other teams should be stealing from them at every opportunity. We have already seen teams adopt the new "cheat" motion Miami has been using to free up Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and to give Tua Tagovailoa easy reads. We should see more and more teams incorporating McDaniel's ideas about how to use multiple backs in the run game, and how to get them to the second level with relative ease. Anybody who isn't watching what the Dolphins are doing is in danger of falling behind.
The following players (and many more) have all either been placed on injured reserve (or are expected to be placed there) since the start of the regular season:
- QBs Anthony Richardson and Aaron Rodgers
- RBs James Conner, J.K. Dobbins, Nick Chubb, De'Von Achane and Jamaal Williams
- WRs Mike Williams, Justin Jefferson and Diontae Johnson
- OL Jack Conklin, David Bakhtiari, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Cam Jurgens
- ED Matt Judon
- DL Cam Heyward and DaQuan Jones
- LBs Matt Milano and Nakobe Dean
- CBs Tre'Davious White, Jaycee Horn, Trevon Diggs, Derek Stingley Jr., Christian Gonzalez, Marcus Jones and Avonte Maddox
- Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson
They are all expected to miss somewhere between four weeks and the remainder of the season from the time of their respective injuries. This list includes some of the game's biggest stars, as well of some of its most underrated contributors. It's a massive blow to the players, their teams, and to football fans who want to watch these guys at their best.