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NFL surprises: Rocky Russell Wilson, great Geno Smith, perfect Jalen Hurts ...

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass under pressure from the Bills defense in the playoffs last season.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass under pressure from the Bills defense in an epic AFC divisional playoff game last season.
(Colin E. Braley / Associated Press)
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The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs face each other Sunday in a showdown everyone saw coming. Two 4-1 teams vying for superiority in the AFC.

Sometimes the NFL is that way. You see it coming. But sometimes, like a no-look pass from Patrick Mahomes, reality comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the face.

Not many people would have predicted, for instance, that both the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals would be 2-3 at this point, the first time the Super Bowl teams from the previous season have been under .500 through the first five weeks.

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The Chargers are dealing with roster-crippling injuries, and what else is new? But raise your hand if you thought Indianapolis would have such a bumpy start after switching out Carson Wentz for the more reliable Matt Ryan?

Las Vegas probably would have assigned long odds to their hometown Raiders losing four of their first five games.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners in NFL Week 6. The Eagles will still be perfect while the Rams and Chargers will win.

Oct. 13, 2022

Among the other surprises so far:

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Rocky road

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson passes against his former team, the Seattle Seahawks.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, who has had a poor start with his new team, passes against his former team, the Seattle Seahawks.
(John Froschauer / Associated Press)

Denver has been an offensive disaster. The Broncos, with new quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm, are averaging a paltry 15 points per game and have scored six touchdowns, tied with Indianapolis for the fewest in the league.

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Only someone wearing orange-colored glasses would have expected Wilson to come in and hit the ground running the way that Peyton Manning did, but who would have thought the team would have one of the league’s worst offenses?

The combination of Wilson and first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett hasn’t worked so far, and that disastrous loss to the Colts was a prime example. The Broncos had the lead and the ball deep in Indianapolis territory late in the game, and the Colts had no way to stop the clock. Wilson forced a pass into the end zone and was picked off, setting the stage for the Colts to tie the score and win in overtime.

Wilson has completed two of 18 passes into the end zone.

Rumors had the Broncos pursuing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but Russell Wilson was their target all along and keeping that a secret enabled Denver to complete the deal with Seattle.

March 17, 2022

It’s still early. Wilson and Hackett have time to get on the same page. But this has not been a promising start.

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Slinging in Seattle

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) passes in the first half against the Detroit Lions.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) has been impressive throwing the football this season. He has nine touchdown passes in five games.
(Rick Osentoski / Associated Press)

Nobody is missing Wilson in Seattle these days, not considering the way Geno Smith has taken over at quarterback. That’s remarkable, even though Smith looked good in 3½ games of relief last season with five touchdowns and one interception.

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As recently as August, Drew Lock was in the running for the Seahawks starting job. But it was Smith, the former New York Jets castoff, who ran the offense more efficiently and did what Pete Carroll wanted him to do. The clincher was the preseason finale, when Lock had three interceptions and Smith kept playing mistake-free ball.

Although the Chargers won when the Browns missed a last-second field-goal attempt, coach Brandon Staley is under scrutiny for in-game decisions. Rams coach Sean McVay has a line of problems.

Oct. 11, 2022

It was difficult to tell last season how legitimate Smith’s performances were, because two of his games came in nasty weather conditions — against New Orleans in Seattle, and at Pittsburgh — so the Seahawks largely kept the ball on the ground.

But in the last couple of weeks, at Detroit and at New Orleans, the Seahawks have allowed Smith to show off his arm. He threw for five touchdowns with no interceptions in those games.

Through five games, Smith has nine touchdowns and two interceptions, and one of those picks came on a desperation fourth-down pass against Atlanta. He is exceeding everyone’s expectations, except maybe his own.

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In fairness, Wilson always will be a Seattle sports icon. But with Smith’s ability to complete passes over the middle and throw accurately across his body, he’s a better fit so far for Shane Waldron’s offense.

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Hurts so good

 Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs up field.
The ability of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts to be able to run and pass has been difficult for teams to defend so far this season.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Not so long ago, the NFC East was terrible and the NFC West was a powerhouse. Suddenly, that’s reversed.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-0 and the league’s only undefeated team. The last time they won their first five games was 2004, when they went on to win their first seven and eventually won the NFC before losing to New England in the Super Bowl.

This year, the pieces all seemed to fall in place for the Eagles, from their trade for receiver A.J. Brown, to signing free agent cornerback James Bradberry, edge rusher Haason Reddick and linebacker Kyzir White.

When Philadelphia’s offensive line is healthy, it’s the best in the league. And quarterback Jalen Hurts has been excellent, especially with a target such as Brown running across the middle.

Just as Hurts can fit throws into small spaces, the Eagles have a tight window for success. A lot of those guys are on one-year deals, and the team will have to pay Hurts in a big way soon, so they need to make the best of this strong start.

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Jets fueled

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner lines up before a play.
The play of top draft pick Sauce Gardner at cornerback has improved the Jets defense.
(Winslow Townson / Associated Press)

The New York Jets are relevant five games into the season. That alone is a triumph for a perpetually downtrodden franchise. At 3-2, they’re one victory away from tying last season’s win total.

Now don’t get too excited. The Jets have faced two top-shelf quarterbacks this season, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, and lost to both. On Sunday, the Jets get Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay, so that will be a major test.

But the Jets have to be delighted with what they’re getting from three of their top 2022 draft picks: cornerback Sauce Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall. Each has been excellent and that bodes well for the immediate future of this team.

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Surviving the storm

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) passes against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys’ Cooper Rush is unbeaten as a starting quarterback, but it’s been the Dallas defense that’s been dominant during a 4-1 start.
(Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

The Dallas Cowboys stumbled out of the gate and lost star quarterback Dak Prescott. Who could have guessed they would be riding high at this point?

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Thank the defense. That’s been the bedrock of this team, as the stifled Rams learned last Sunday. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News crunched some numbers and discovered that not since the 1986 Chicago Bears has a defense allowed fewer than 19 points and 350 yards in any of its first five games, collecting multiple sacks each week and not allowing multiple touchdowns in any game. (And that was when the NFL was predicated much more on running the ball.)

Cooper Rush has been excellent in relief of Prescott, but that’s more about not making mistakes as opposed to winning games with his arm. The Cowboys have leaned heavily on their running game, even without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, lost to a hamstring injury in training camp.

Sunday night, the Cowboys play at the Eagles in what is suddenly a must-see matchup.

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Detroit can motor

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff passes against the New England Patriots.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff had been leading the NFL’s top offense before Detroit ran into the New England defense in Week 5.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

Until they got shut out at New England last Sunday, the Detroit Lions were leading the NFL in total offense and scoring. That was a testament to the solid play of quarterback Jared Goff and the smart play-calling of first-year offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

It wasn’t as if Goff had won over all his critics, but at least he had temporarily hushed the talk that the Lions absolutely had to use one of their two first-round draft picks next spring on a quarterback.

Pretty remarkable that the Lions have had a top-10 pick for four years in a row and have yet to use one of those on a quarterback.

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This much is unsurprising: Despite all those gaudy offensive numbers, the Lions are 1-4.

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