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What to know from NFL Week 6: The road to the Super Bowl goes through Buffalo

Bills quarterback Josh Allen hurdled Chiefs safety Justin Reid on his way to a redemptive win. (Peter Aiken/AP)
10 min

Week 6 delivered a blend of sublime and strange. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes traded blows in a classic game that lived up to the hype. At night, the Philadelphia Eagles played brilliant, efficient football to maintain their unbeaten record. Before that, Mitchell Trubisky beat Tom Brady, Daniel Jones beat Lamar Jackson, and Zach Wilson beat Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.

This week reaffirmed that the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Eagles are excellent — and everything else is a guess. Here is what to know.

The road to the Super Bowl goes through Buffalo. Sunday’s showdown between the Bills and Chiefs was billed as the sequel to January’s divisional-round epic. Really, it was a prequel. Barring injuries or a shocking upset, the Bills and Chiefs will meet again in the playoffs. The level of play during the Bills’ 24-20 victory made clear that they are a cut above the rest of the conference, if not the entire NFL. When they play next, the confrontation probably will occur at Buffalo.

The Bills began to heal the psychological scars from their 13-second postseason collapse as they seized control of the AFC behind one player who vaulted them into the NFL’s elite and another whom they acquired to push them over the top. Allen led the Bills on a 12-play, 76-yard drive in the final minutes, finishing with a 14-yard dart to Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone with 1:04 left. Last year, the Bills couldn’t hold a three-point lead with 13 seconds left. On Sunday, Von Miller recorded a crucial third-down sack with six minutes left and pressured Mahomes out of the pocket before he threw a game-sealing interception in the final minute.

Allen-Mahomes has become the best rivalry in the NFL, the evolution of Brady-Manning. Both teams know each other well, and the smallest margin could decide any game they play. During 124 minutes of game time between January and Sunday, the biggest lead was seven points.

The Chiefs led all of Sunday until the final drive, when Allen earned a first down on a quarterback sneak on fourth down deep in his own territory and ripped off a long run by hurdling a defensive back. He plays quarterback with extraterrestrial talent. He still has to get past Mahomes, but this year he should get to face him at home in the playoffs.

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The Eagles might be on their way to a historically great record. Philadelphia stayed undefeated with its 26-17 victory over the Cowboys, taking control with a 20-point second quarter and holding on by running the ball down Dallas’s throat. It may be a while before the Eagles lose, for two reasons: They’re really good, and their schedule is really easy.

The Eagles have excellent depth on both lines, waves of capable skill players and a quarterback in Jalen Hurts who has improved greatly and seemingly always makes the right decision. Their offense is creative and smart. On Sunday night, they neutralized Micah Parsons by running option plays at him that forced him to hesitate. Parsons is basically unblockable, so on many plays the Eagles by design didn’t block him at all.

Look at the schedule. After a bye next week, Philadelphia’s next three games come against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Washington Commanders. If the odds were available today, they would be favored in every game for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean they’ll win them all, of course. But it’s fair to expect the Eagles will get to mid-November without a loss. The most wins in franchise history are 13; at this point, it would be a surprise if the Eagles don’t surpass that.

The Packers are unraveling. Any notion that having Rodgers makes the Green Bay Packers immune to a lost season faded during their 27-10 loss to the New York Jets, a performance packed with ugly football and self-sabotage. The Packers have the talent and track record to turn their season around, but it cannot be taken for granted.

The Jets blocked a field goal and a punt, returning the latter for a touchdown. Green Bay’s run defense was gashed for the third straight week. Its offensive line crumbled. Rodgers kept shaking out his right hand after taking a hit to it. After a fumble in the first half, the entire offense huddled around Coach Matt LaFleur, who gave his players a tongue-lashing. Randall Cobb, the receiver Rodgers trusts most on third down, suffered an ankle injury and rode to the locker room on a cart with tears in his eyes. Late in the game, defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton ripped the helmet off a Jets lineman and drew a 15-yard penalty.

It was not the kind of performance that can be explained away as the product of figuring things out after the departure of Davante Adams. The Packers won 39 regular season games in the previous three years, but the evidence that they are a good team this year is lacking. They have been outscored by 16 points. For one of their three victories, they needed to deny a two-point conversion in the final seconds. In another, they made a field goal as overtime expired. They already trail the Minnesota Vikings (5-1) by two games in the NFC North.

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The Giants aren’t going away. Their victories may require a forensic investigation to determine how they pulled them off, but the 5-1 New York Giants stand alone in second place in the surging NFC East after an improbable 24-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. For the third time in six weeks, and on the heels of a 17-point comeback in London, the Giants won after trailing by double digits. Former Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, in his first season with the Giants, stymied the Ravens, and No. 5 pick Kayvon Thibodeaux clinched the victory by stripping Jackson on Baltimore’s final drive.

For Baltimore, the maddening loss turned on a disastrous sequence. The Ravens were in full control of the game up 20-17 with 3:09 left, at their 44-yard line and facing third and inches. Jackson plunged for an easy first down — only for a flag to wipe it out because the Ravens had lined up incorrectly. The next snap flew over Jackson’s head, and after he scooped the ball up, he scrambled away and heaved a wholly avoidable interception. The Giants returned it to the 13 and scored the go-ahead touchdown in three plays.

“It feels like we’re beating ourselves,” Jackson said. The Giants’ opponents always seem to feel that way.

The Patriots have something in Bailey Zappe. Three weeks ago, Zappe was a fourth-round pick with a funny name on the bottom of the Patriots’ quarterback depth chart. After New England thrashed the Cleveland Browns, 38-15, on Sunday, Zappe is 2-0 as the starter and the surprise instigator of a potential quarterback controversy.

Zappe is not a threat to take incumbent Mac Jones’s job yet, but he has done enough to put Jones on notice when he returns from a high-ankle sprain. In three appearances, Zappe has completed 73 percent of his passes and played with total control of New England’s offense. He has taken five sacks — only two as a starter — and thrown just one interception. He operates like a veteran, not a rookie who had been getting third-string reps.

Against the pitiful Browns defense, Zappe completed 24 of 34 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He constantly made quick reads and found the open man; four Patriots receivers gained at least 60 yards, and rookie Tyquan Thornton added 37 and a touchdown catch.

Jones, the 2021 first-round pick who led the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie, probably doesn’t need to look over his shoulder. But if he struggles after returning from his injury or his early-season turnover issues resurface, Bill Belichick has another option. Belichick has shown over and over that he doesn’t care where a player was drafted or how much he is paid. It’s too early to declare Zappe an NFL starter, but his performance has at least raised the possibility.

The Jets are becoming a bully. In Coach Robert Saleh’s second season, the Jets may be arriving ahead of schedule. They improved to 4-2 with a nothing-fluky-about-it mauling of the Packers that gave them their first three-game winning streak in three years. They are a game behind Buffalo and a game ahead of New England in the AFC East. If they can win next week in Denver, their subsequent games against the Patriots and Bills would be their most important in years.

The Jets have drafted seven players in the top 40 picks over the past two years. At the start of the season, it seemed that talent would need time to coalesce. Suddenly, the Jets are beating up other teams as Saleh’s San Francisco defenses used to.

Two Sundays in a row, the Jets have destroyed an opponent in the fourth quarter; they scored 21 points against the Dolphins last week and 10 against the Packers on Sunday. Entering Week 6, the Jets had pressured the quarterback on 28.9 percent of drop-backs, fifth best in the NFL. They hit Rodgers nine times and dropped him for four sacks. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams has been a force, one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL.

Wilson, the Jets’ second-year quarterback, remains inconsistent, but his team isn’t asking him to do much, and his improvisation and athleticism allow him to make one or two explosive plays each game. Rookie running back Breece Hall has excelled in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s running game. And the Jets have attitude to spare — rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner walked off the field Sunday wearing a foam cheesehead. This is what a Saleh team looks like, and it looks pretty good.

Crankiness is going around. It’s the time of the season when reality is starting to smack hope in the mouth. Frustration spilled over for the Panthers and the Buccaneers.

In Los Angeles, Carolina interim coach Steve Wilks sent wide receiver Robbie Anderson to the locker room after he got into a verbal spat with wide receivers coach Joe Dailey. Wilks was coaching his first game as the replacement for Matt Rhule, who was fired last week. With Anderson watching, the Panthers lost to the Rams, 24-10.

During a 20-18 upset loss in Pittsburgh, Brady screamed at his offensive linemen on the sideline. One wonders what those linemen thought about getting yelled at by Brady, who missed Saturday’s walk-through and meetings and traveled to Pittsburgh on his own after he attended the wedding of Patriots owner Robert Kraft.