Here at the TMFL Network we like to span the league and take the temperature on various topics the league has given us. Today we grabbed 7 journalists and asked them 7 questions about the first quarter of the 2017 season. We hoped to get their hot takes and maybe even some insight on the team they make a living covering. The 7 journalists joining us in this edition are… Trey Dingo, Orange and Brown Report (Cleveland, OH) - JFace907 R.N., The Sunday Brew (Miami, FL) - Raidernation Ace, BoltTalk.com (San Diego, CA) - Ace847 Jimenez Almeida, The Pigskin Pinata (Mexico City, MX) - Cgreen214 Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean/TitansOnline.com (Nashville, TN) - The Richuation Charles Henderson, The Dallas Morning New (Dallas, TX) - charter04 Nick Bakay, 12thManRising.com (Seattle, WA) - Cheez EDITOR’S NOTE: Questions were sent to journalists in middle of Week 5 and had until Week 6 conclusion to answer. Timeliness of stats may vary 1. What’s going on with the NFC North? No one is above 500. Is there a common denominator in this collective ineptitude? Trey Dingo:The NFCN drew a brutal schedule this year. They’ve got the AFC North (arguable the toughest division in the AFC) and the NFC South. The South has the defending SB Champ, an always game Saints team, and a team that has really impressed so far in the Atlanta Falcons (more on them later). Also, the NFC North was a division of old teams with the exception of the Vikings. We’re seeing these teams start to come into a transition period. Even the Vikings are in a transition as they look to transition from the former face of the franchise Adrian Peterson with former Auburn Tiger Tre Mason. R.N.: The only common denominator here, which is also a plus, is that they play each other so their chances on success are good in that regard. One of them will be in the playoffs and that seems to be Detroit at this juncture. The Lions fired out of the gate with a 3-0 start and are in control at this point. The Packers (1-4) are #3 in rushing offense yet last vs. the pass have a trio of division games up so their chances at .500 are pretty strong before their bye week. Minnesota (0-4) needs to come out of their AP-less slumber and get their offense rolling. While Chicago is dead last in rush defense yet top ten in offensive pass yards and has a good chance at going 0-9 before the remainder of their division games kick in. All in all they are bad but…… well one of them will be in the post season. Ace: The NFC North is struggling early but I'm not sure that's even newsworthy since they haven't been much of a powerhouse division since TMFL M16 began. The Bears at 0-5 is somewhat if a surprise and I had them taking the division but the HC/owner seem to be fickle on their decision making... Fales was the proclaimed future after taking the job from Cutler (not sure why they've even kept Jay...), and then they go out and take rookie QB Kyle Scott in the first round and he's looking like a Manziel repeat so far... Probably would have been best to go Tackle in the first and let Fales develop and show what he can do with healthy line. Jimmy A.: The NFC North has combined for 4 wins through 5 weeks this season. Three of those wins come from the Lions who are 3-2 on the season so far. Is the NFC North that bad? I say no, I believe that the AFC North is just their kryptonite. If you look at the AFC North's record versus the NFC North this season you can see where the majority of their losses have come from. The NFC North is 1-7 versus their AFC counterpart so far this season. The AFC North is easily the most high powered offensive division in the league from top tobottom. The lack of solid defensive play by the NFC North has allowedthem to be victimized by the AFC North and their dynamic offenses. Ilook for the NFC North to pick up the pace once they make it past their games with the Browns, Ravens,Steelers, and Bengals. Jim Wyatt: It's hard to find a bright spot in the division so far this year, all four teams rank in the bottom half of team defense and the offenses are pretty poor as well, especially Chicago and Detroit. I like Green Bay here as they have shown some signs of life offensively with the focus on the running game. The real disappointment here is the career of Aaron Rodgers. Looked to be a Hall of Fame type guy through his 20s, but over the last 3 years has looked absolutely terrible. I wonder if a change of scenery would help salvage his career. Charles Henderson: Being in the Dallas market makes it hard to criticize ineptitude at the moment but, it's easier to recognize it other places after seeing it here. The NFC north was bad last year and it's bad this year. The Bears had a great 2015 and have fallen off since. The Vikings, Packers, and Lions haven't been great either. 8-8 might be enough to win the division. Nick Bakay: As of my writing of this, the NFC North has a combined 6 wins. That said, 3 of those wins were in divisional games where SOMEBODY had to win, and 2 were against the Bucs. The only team to have a win against a non-divisional opponent not named Tampa Bay (who, lest we forget used to be in a division with these four teams prior to the last realignment) is Detroit who owns a home win against the Browns. The argument can be made that the NFC North drew a tough schedule, but they are getting blown out in a lot of these games. I'm not sure that they would be doing better with an easier schedule. The one exception is Detroit, and their win over Cleveland gives me hope that the division winner will be above .500 when the year is complete. 2. The Titans are off to a hot start with Marcus Mariotta leading the way. Are the Titans taking “the leap” into a legit AFC title contender? TD: I believe they are. Mariotta is looking like an MVP, the defense is snuffing out anything that looks like a running game from the opposition. Their division also appears to be on the downward slide early on as well. The Jags are having a hard time closing out games, the Colts are off to a very slow start, and the Texans are shaking their head as to how they can win the turnover battle each week but still lose. If the Titans can lock up their division and a first round bye, I don’t see why they can’t win one game to put them into the AFC Title Game. The schedule may be tough however, as the AFC South also drew the AFC North, setting up for some battles that will likely decide a first round bye. RN: While the Titans are bending the proverbial corner of success I wouldn’t say it’s a “leap” not quite. This season the Mariotta lead Titans have faced SF 19th overall def 19th vs. pass Cle 16th overall def 18th vs. pass Jax 31st overall def 29th vs. pass Hou 26th overall def 31st vs. pass that being said I believe we’ll have to wait and see what the Titans do with the schedule they’ve been given then go from there. Ace: The Titans are a team who apparently struck gold with drafting Marriota last year and they've taken a strange hold in the AFC South now that they've beat two teams already in the division and lead by 2.5 games. As for being an AFC contender, we'll just have to wait until week 10 when he matched up against Unique... Wait, new ownership... Stretch that, let's see here... Dang that schedule looks very soft... I'd say lock in the South but it's gonna be hard to make it deep in playoffs... At least did this year. I see bright things for the future if this team but don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Let's see them beat a contender and then we'll talk. JA: The Titans are 4-0 and hold on to your sombreros because they aren't going anywhere. The owner over there has been patient in the building of his roster. This team is young and very talented with just the right amount of vets sprinkled into the mix to hold the locker room together and keep the focus. The schedule is favorable and the talent is there. The Titans will make a huge splash in the playoffs and I predict their HC will win coach of the year. JW: Last season, there were 8 teams with +125 point differential or greater. 7 of them went at least 10-6 and made the playoffs, the 8th team was the 8-8 Tennessee Titans. Both last season and so far this season the Titans were ranked in the top 10 both offensively and defensively. They are primed to make a major breakthrough if Mariotta's late game decision making improves and Tennessee gets a few bounces their way. I personally sat through losses last year that ended with a 99 yard OT fumble return and an OT opening kickoff return to end games. Lady luck was not on their side. This year seems different. Mariotta seems focused and the Titans are closing out games and doing their job. CH: The Titans are off to a hot start with Marcus Mariotta leading the way. Are the Titans taking “the leap” into a legit AFC title contender? Mariotta is the best young QB in the league. If the Titans can't do it this year I'm not sure if they can. They have a solid team and seem ready to make the jump. NB: I'm not ready to buy into the hype quite yet. Mariotta is playing very well without question, but the combined record of Tennessee's first five opponents is below .500. To boot, one of their better wins is against a re-building San Francisco team (more on them in a little bit). Tennessee benefits from playing in a weak division, and I believe will cruise. I am not ready to put them on the same level as the Patriots and Raiders. 3. Who/What is your biggest disappointment of the first quarter of the 2017 season? TD: Has to be the Cowboys. I look at their depth chart and I see talent everywhere. It’s not coming through in the standings though. What’s even nuttier is that I don’t have a suggestion as to what can cure their woes. Some stability at QB would help, but lets be honest, they’ve got some elite pass catchers that an average QB should be able to succeed. RN: The run defense of Miami now ranked #30 and also the play of the front 7. Overall the defense hasn’t put enough pressure on offenses to force obvious passing downs it needs to get fixed. This all prompted the Suh trade talks, with the line moved around some there should be some indication of progress. Ace: Hands down, unequivocally, not even close, Americas team... Starting out 0-3 and trading again to grab a QB not much different than Glennon, only to drop the next 2 and sit at the bottom of the league at 0-5... Thinking we might need to crown another team Americas team since things are looking quite predictable for the Charter led Cowboys... Some may think I'm being hard in other new owner but he comes in here and shows promise only to miss out on the dance likely two years in a row... That may be sim for the Cowboys... It's not what we expect out of Charter... To his defense, he does find himself in arguable the best division in TMFL but that's partially because he's supposed to be solid too. Not showing that this far... Perhaps more practice and less complaining about play calls... Now the question remains, will he pull a JJ and BBJ? Or fight till the bitter end? I got my money on the latter... Too much pride in Dallas... If only to probe that his QB moves were not desperate attempts by a failed owner... He's gonna try to show that he can ball with Brock! JA: Living here in Mexico City I want to say Sean Mannion, but that's a rant for another day. Looking at the whole picture and not just locally I have to say the Dallas Cowboys. This is a team that has always been in the playoff mix since Charter has become the owner, but they come out this season and start 0-5. Yikes! I know Romo is no longer the QB, but this is "Americas team" and to not have a franchise QB ready to walk n the door after Romo's departure is on the front office. The cowboys have made some early season moves, so we will say where that takes them. JW: I wonder what is going on in New England and Jimmy Garoppolo. His first season taking over for Tom Brady was extremely productive outside of some questionable decision making and 27 INTs. This year he seems to be in full gun slinger mode and the results have not been pretty for Garoppolo and the Pats. The coaching staff needs to reign him in and get back to the basics to turn things around. CH: The Dallas Cowboys, no question. This team has talent everywhere. There is no excuse for starting 0-5. The defense has been horrible. The offense has been decent, especially the last two games. They started 0-3 and fired Jason Garrett. He's ended last year in a tail spin and was on a short leash. The new coach better figure it out this year or it might be a total rebuild. NB: Seattle started the year with one of the toughest schedules in the league, but being 0-6 at this juncture is inexcusable for a team with this much talent. Their owner is going to clamor that they have had a lot of close games again for the second year in a row, but at some point this team needs to find ways to win these games. 4. Who/what is your biggest pleasant surprise of the first quarter of the 2017 season? TD: The Falcons. Haven’t lost yet and don’t appear to be losing any time soon. The Falcons and Saints seem to be ready to take down last year’s champs in the South and I expect the Falcons to actually do just that. Bringing in Julius Thomas gave Matt Ryan someone else to look for and divert attention off Julio. The Falcons offense hasn’t featured a security blanket like this since Tony Gonzalez. RN: Landry has been a pleasant surprise out in Miami 21 receptions and 3 touchdowns through 4 games is a fantastic start given he had 51 receptions and only 2 tds all season last year he seems ready to lead the charge for a playoff push in 2017 season now about that 1-3 start. Ace: This one's another no brainer... The Atlanta Falcons! They've come along way from the FG shanking rookie team of late. They are winning. And they are beating very good teams... Saints, Cowboys, Panthers.... Some great competition song they are rolling. They have a bye this week and they better not get too full of themselves here because long season but if I would have guessed record through first month of season prior to it going down, I would have said 1-3 at best... JA: Washington Redskins. I never saw them starting the season 4-1. They have huge wins against the Diablos, Chiefs, Giants, and cowboys. Their only loss so far is against the Cardinals and they even held rookie phenom Patton in check throughout that game. That's a brutal stretch of games and they came out of it 4-1 and that's with an injury to the their starting QB. Impressive stuff by the Redskins. JW: We have had a few... the Falcons, Cardinals, and Titans are all playing at a high level and shaking up the league status quo. However, keep an eye on the San Francisco 49ers. After finishing 3-13 a year ago, the 49ers went out and drafted the San Jose St. superstar HB Trevante Barksdale to carry the load. Barksdale is looking like a Pro Bowl caliber RB so far this season. After watching him against the Titans, I can tell you this kid runs hard and has a real drive to him. Will be interesting if the 49ers can tighten up the defense and ride the kid down the stretch. CH: The Washington Redskins. As Dallas has faltered they have stepped right up. When they drafted QB Hamilton #1 I knew he would make then scary quick. He has them playing like a play off team. NB: San Francisco is finding a way to do a lot without a lot. Coming into the year I still felt they were a year or two away, but they are sitting pretty at 4-2 with a couple of impressive wins against quality NFC East teams. Their only two losses are to unbeaten opponents in Philadelphia and Tennessee. Hard to find fault with what the 49ers are doing through the first quarter of the season. 5. The Raiders are showing no signs of hangover from back to back Super Bowl let downs. How important was it for them to get out to a fast start? TD: To the team? I’d say no. They are professionals who were trained to have short memories. However, the fans needed their team to start hot. Fans don’t have short memories. Giving them this fast start to cling to and have hopes that this could be the year the job gets finished is huge. RN: It is always important to shake of the doubt and get back to what made them successful and improving on it from one season to the next. I think it’s the mantra of every successful team throughout the history of sports. However, they don’t get it done this year, maybe it’s time for an owner change. I mean come on…. How many chances you need… Isn’t the commitment to excellence the fire that burns the brightest? Ace: The Raiders don't deserve the publicity or airtime that I've already given them... Team is just not worth discussing... But really, they are solid and whether they were 2-2 or 4-0, they are the team to beat and all others must use them as a barometer to determine true status. JA: The Raiders are coming off back to back super bowl loses and none more devastating than the last one when they pretty much had the game in the bag, but collapsed in the end. Well they are back at it again starting this season 4-0. Was this fast start needed, so they wouldn't let that loss linger in the back of their minds? I don't think so. Making it to back to back super bowls speaks for itself. The NFL season is grueling enough, so to make it to two super bowls in 2 years proves to me you have what it takes to keep your team motivated even during the tough times. JW: 2015: 13-3, 2016: 13-3, 2017: Undefeated so far. The Raiders have the #1 offense in the league by a huge margin. While their defense is only 18th, the run defense is #1. It's tough to find holes in this team. Carr is laser accurate and literally eviscerating defensive while Latavius Murray is averaging 5.8 ypc. 5.8! I believe the only hope here is that a team takes advantage on their holes in the secondary and wins in a shootout. CH: The Raiders are quickly becoming the TMFL version of the Buffalo Bills. Will they make it 3 then 4 straight SB loses? NB: In this league, it is always important for a team to start out fast (Seattle - take note) if for nothing else but the short schedule that teams play. It's no coincidence that every year we hear the playoff odds for teams that begin the year 0-3 and 0-4 - and that they are very short. So, just by that logic, it was important that they start fast. More pertinent to the Raiders, though, they have shown to be the cream of the crop in the AFC west. Had they started the year mediocre, I still feel they would have been fine down the stretch. 6. Four rookie signal callers are in starting roles for their teams, who has impressed you most? TD: Homer pick here. Kolton Stone. The Browns already have more wins than they did a season ago and the kid ended one of the most embarrassing streaks in all of sports. The season opener is so big in football because everyone comes into the season with high hopes. Losing the season opener immediately puts a damper on those hopes. Stone welcomed a division rival into his new home stadium and sent them home losers. Stone was coughing the ball up quite a bit in those first 3 games, but in the two thereafter he has thrown for 8 touchdowns and only 1 pick. Not to mention a total of 764 yards. I’m looking forward to his matchup with fellow rookie Sean Warren in Denver on Week 16. RN: The most impressive rookie thus far has been Kyle Scott of the Chicago Bears with a 53% 1432 8td stat line he is #5 through 5 weeks. This is not to say the others haven’t had great starts its just Scotts is by far the most impressive. Here are some of the other stat lines. Kolton Stone 5 td in week 5 Sean Warren 13 ints through weeks 1-3 Cory James 5 td in week 5 Ace: Corey James has looked the best statistically but Kolton Stone has shown the intangibles to take a 1 win team last season and win 3 out of his teams first 5 games. I can tell you a lot about both of these sign callers because many of us Charger fans thought the organization would take one of these QB's in the first but news is, they thought he would drop to 2nd but ended up being dead wrong on that hypotheses... Stone was my favorite of the two before the draft and remains so now. He's got a future in this league and will likely prove to be the best in this class year after year. JA: I will have to say Sean Warren. BBJ is like the Steve Spurrier of owners. He is hard and I mean hard on his QBs. The guy doesn't care who you are he will bench you and bash you in the media in a heart beat. Sean Warrens stats aren't off the wall amazing but he is doing something right in Denver to keep BBJ happy. I think BBj understands the guy is a rookie and he can tell the future is bright for the Broncos. JW: Hands down its Cory James in New Orleans. The kid has taken over for the now departed Drew Brees and really looking the part. He kinda reminds me of a Russell Wilson/Marcus Mariotta type player that doesn't have the biggest arm, but is accurate and has some movement ability outside the pocket. What's interesting is he went in the 2nd round behind Scott and Stone and has been outplaying them by a large margin up to this point. Well done by the Saints mindtrust. CH: The only one who comes to mind is the one from Denver. He could throw for 5000 yards this season. He could get 30 td's. Will he also end up with 40 ints? NB: Stone has Cleveland back in the mix in the always-competitive AFC North. A case can be made for the others, but Stone has legitimized Cleveland with one draft pick. Maybe this kid can do something for Cleveland that LeBron has not - bring them a championship. I'm not saying it will happen, but the way Cleveland has played in the last three weeks shows that you cannot rule this kid or this team out. 7. It was rumored that the owner of the New England Patriots was texting the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game exploring options to wave the white flag and end the game. What’s your take on that? TD: My, my, my. A franchise that can never escape the cloud of controversy. Owners have been known to pull some boneheaded moves when the product on the field isn’t matching their expectations or providing the financial return they desired. Trying to call the game and pull his players/employees off the field is a disgrace to the shield. He may own the Patriots, but the Patriots represent a larger brand, and that is not a good look for that brand. I caught my colleague in the journalism business, Skip Bayless, call for the owner to be suspended and barred from the facilities for 2 games, but that is a little too extreme. The embarrassment in this situation that its rumored the other owners are making him feel is punishment enough. RN: The Pats are always doing something. Conceit-gate adds nothing new to that philosophy. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the NE owner and he’s a good guy so maybe it was something afoot within the organization at the time. Or maybe this is a new tactic out in New England. hmmmmm Ace: When I heard skip discussing this with rage the morning after in first take I thought he must have been sensationalizing as usual but after reading the transcripts text messages I was just as irate as Skip. Classless, cowardly, and since we're in topic, "stoneless..." JA: The Patriots are mixed up in another controversy, can you believe it? Rumor has it that the owner was trying to concede the game with time still on the clock because it was a pats against the world type of game. We all have been there in life when things get tough and when it rains it pours. You just want to hang it up or call it quits, but you just don't do it. Especially in something as simple as a football game. You just have to swallow your pride, roll with the punches, and grind it out. After wards go grab a beer or call your girl up and get you some of that "Boom Boom Pow". JW: If the Patriots quit during a regular season TMFL, they might as well quit the TMFL. Sell the team and get our of this business. Winning is hard, losing is even more difficult. IF you don't have the stomach for this business, there are plenty of deep pocketed businessmen that would love a slice of the revenue and shot at glory in the TMFL. CH: Haven't heard about this but, it sounds like the Patriots. Their motto is "if you aren't cheating you aren't trying" NB: BR is not Roger Goodell. He is fair and will excise appropriate judgment if there is anything to substantiate these rumors. However, I am not BR. If there was evidence to substantiate these rumors, the Patriots owner would be locked in the stocks and have rotted vegetables thrown at him. We would also take the time to commence a trial to determine - by weight - whether or not the owner is a witch a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail.