Four Verts: 49ers could conceivably go 17-0, and benching Mac Jones isn’t the answer for the Patriots

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The NFL season is taking shape with five weeks down in 2023. Some teams are bulldozing their opponents, some have a chance to stay afloat, but this week’s Four Verts column starts off with a team that can barely get the ball through the uprights — let alone into the end zone.

Can the 49ers go 17-0?

Let’s do a big overreaction. This 49ers squad is one of the best rosters that has existed over the past few years of football. Brock Purdy has gotten a lot of praise for his play as a former seventh-round pick, but the group around him is what really makes this whole team fly.

Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Trent Williams, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, plus the offensive linemen that the 49ers have been able to develop, give them a chance to score 30 or more points in every game they play. A defense filled with All-Pros in the front seven and an emerging crop of secondary talent gives the 49ers a chance to stifle every offense they play against. This is the best team in the NFL — full stop. Perhaps the Chiefs can get their act together in time to challenge them or the Dolphins’ defense steps up, but until then no one is even in spitting distance of the 49ers.

Can the 49ers go 17-0 this season? It's conceivable. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Can the 49ers go 17-0 this season? It’s conceivable. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) (Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images)

So. Let’s get a little wild here. Can the 49ers go 17-0 this season? It’s possible. Of course, they’ll likely slip up at least a couple times this season, but they will most likely be favored in every game they play barring injury. Their upcoming game against the Browns will be a good testing point for how good the offense actually is. The Browns have stumbled a bit recently, but they still have one of the toughest defenses in the NFL to play against. A huge performance over that defense should get people excited about what’s possible for the 49ers this season.

With the domination that the 49ers have shown up to this point in the season, it’s not inconceivable that they could win every game that they play. This team really is that good. From offense to defense to head coach to coordinators, they have the talent to truly go down in the history books as one of the best teams of all time. Is this premise a bit ridiculous? Yes, but so is Mr. Irrelevant leading the way for an elite offense in the NFL.

Patriots’ offense is stuck in the mud, but benching Mac Jones isn’t the answer

The Patriots are not having a great time right now. Over their last two games against the Saints and the Cowboys, they’ve been outscored 72-3 and have not come close to winning either game. New England was projected to have an improved offense coming into the season after hiring offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, but the offense has still been one of the worst in the league — and right now, it’s unequivocally the worst.

It’s not even really worth it to break down the stats behind the Patriots’ ineptitude. Just look at the scores. They’re averaging 11 points per game on the season and have scored three points over their last two games. That’s egregious. The interesting question is what’s next for them as far as this season is concerned. The defense can’t continue to carry the load for an offense that is incapable of helping them. Even the better defenses in the league will fold if they have no support on the backend from their offense.

The tough part for the Patriots and their fans to accept is the fact that there isn’t really anything they can change to salvage things. Even if O’Brien has been an upgrade at offensive coordinator over Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, the results haven’t been any different. The Patriots have the worst combination of players for a quarterback like Mac Jones — or really any quarterback. The offensive line isn’t blocking well, the receivers struggle to get open against anybody and Jones himself is not a player that’s going to be able to uplift the players around him. It’s a total mess.

There has been a lot of chatter on whether or not the Patriots should bench Mac Jones in favor of backup Bailey Zappe, who hasn’t done much to inspire the idea that he should be the starter in New England. Jones has not played well this season, but putting Zappe in there isn’t the answer, especially when he isn’t as good as Jones at playing quarterback. Bill Belichick said he wouldn’t do it this week, too.

The truth of the matter is this is the bed that Belichick has made for himself, which is why people have been pondering whether or not he should have his role reduced or be flat-out fired. That question cannot be answered until after the season is over. What we know for sure is that this Patriots offense is juiceless, and they’re gonna be stuck with this unit for the next 12 games before being relinquished into the offseason. It’s going to be a long season regardless — time to buckle in with Jones and reassess the situation after the season.

Colts can still be players in the AFC South without Anthony Richardson

The Colts got hit with some tough news this week as star rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was put on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury that will knock him out for a significant portion of the season. Richardson has added some juice to a Colts’ offense that didn’t have much last season, and this injury will hurt them, but they’re still in a spot where they can compete for the division title with how they’re built right now.

Having a backup like Gardner Minshew is helpful in times like these because it allows the Colts to at least look like a functional offense. Minshew isn’t the most physically gifted guy out there, but he’s fearless on the field and will take chances for big plays that can keep the Colts in games. With Minshew in place, they can at least play competitive football — which should be the plan for any team with an entrenched starter that has to play their backup. What will really keep the Colts in the mix, though, is their schedule.

Ah, the benefit of playing against the AFC South and a third-place schedule. Even without Richardson, the Colts should feel like they can continue to stack some wins and stay afloat in the division race. At 3-2, they’re in good shape to take hold of what’s happening in the division around them. Their next four games are against the Jaguars, Browns, Saints and Panthers. It’s unlikely they go 4-0 in that span, but they are well-equipped to have a chance to win each game. That’s a good spot for a team to be in as they wait for their quarterback to get back from injury.

This Colts team isn’t going to be mistaken for an AFC contender any time soon, but they can at least keep themselves relevant through this injury. That’s a great spot to be in and shows that they have somewhat of a cohesive plan after a tumultuous 2022 season that included Jeff Saturday becoming their head coach. If the Colts can even just split their record while Richardson is out, they’ll have a chance to make the playoffs, which is a huge step forward from where they were last season.

The Colts haven’t even gotten a real boost from Jonathan Taylor yet! They’re rounding into form in certain spots. The immediate and elongated future is bright in Indianapolis.

Under the radar trade candidates

It’s time for some of the bad teams in the NFL to start shipping players off in an effort to restock their rosters for a strong 2024 run. There’s already been some buzz over trades for players on the teams who are falling apart at the seams. Here are a few more players to potentially keep an eye on from the teams who don’t really have a shot to make the playoffs.

New York GiantsXavier McKinney, S

McKinney hasn’t been the perfect fit for coordinator Wink Martindale’s defense, but he is a talented, young safety who could be tempting for a team that’s looking for a long-term fit at the position. He’s been on the field for 100% of the Giants’ snaps this year. A change of scenery might do him (and everyone on the Giants) well.

Carolina Panthers Donte Jackson, CB

Similar story for Donte Jackson and the Panthers. Jackson has developed into an above-average starting cornerback, which is something that holds value on the trade market. The Panthers are about to hand over a top-five pick (maybe the first pick!) to the Bears. They need to get some more assets for what is now a long rebuild.

Denver Broncos Javonte Williams, RB

It hasn’t been a great start for Javonte Williams since Sean Payton has taken over for the Broncos, but he should still have some takers on the open market for a late Day 3 pick. That’s something. And something is more than what the Broncos have right now in general.

Las Vegas Raiders Hunter Renfrow, WR

Renfrow has been a nothing burger for the Raiders offense under Josh McDaniels, but his ability as a wide receiver in the NFL has already been proven. The Raiders should absolutely flip him to a team that’s going to use him if they aren’t. He does have real value for an offense.

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