1. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
So we’ve reached the quarter pole of the NFL season and needless to say there have been some surprises. Raise your hand if you had the Jags, Rams and Bills at the top of their divisions. I didn’t think so. Ok, now a show of hands: who had the Jets at 2-2 and tied with the Patriots at this point in the season. Yeah. Me neither. I’ll dig into a few of these in more detail, but I think this week only served to underscore that this season seems to be leaning increasingly in favor of parity and unless you’re a gambler, that’s a good thing. More on that in a moment.
2. The Texans are Explosive
I got some heat after my predictions came out when I called for the Texans to win the AFC South. The general consensus was that Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans were too polished for the Texans to make a run. After laying waste to the Titans 57-14 on Sunday, I think it’s clear that the Texans can contend. They’ve transitioned from Tom Savage to rookie DeShaun Watson at QB and the offense has clicked, setting franchise records in the process. Watson was a heartbeat and a Tom Brady drive away from having this Texans team at 3-1 and the clear division lead. Instead they sit at 2-2 and share the lead with the wildly inconsistent Jaguars and Tennessee. The Titans are probably still the better bet to challenge Houston for the crown in the AFC South, but after that beating and with Mariota slowed by a hamstring injury, I’m not sure they are up to the task.
3. It’s Trubisky Time in Chi-Town
With journeyman Mike Glennon sputtering out to a 1-3 record and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, Chicago coach John Fox has informed rookie Mitchell Trubisky that he’s getting the keys to the offense next Monday night against the Vikings. I’ll wager that Bill Swerski and the super fans are more than a little anxious to see if the number two overall pick is ready for the bright lights of primetime. Trubisky played his college ball at North Carolina, so I doubt he’s seen anything even remotely like NFL defenses. Expect a few bumps in the road for the youngster in Chicago, but going with new blood is working in Houston, so why not give it a try.
4. The Bills Have Decided Not to Rebuild After All
Last week I held off on saying the Bills were a challenger to the Patriots string of AFC East titles, but after two consecutive upset wins against division leaders, the Bills are making themselves heard. Even after beating the Broncos in Buffalo last week, I had to wait and see what they could do on the road against Atlanta. Well, here we are. The stifling defense that held Matt Ryan and the Falcons to 24-42 passing and two interceptions makes these Bills a legit contender, instead of the rebuilding project many had projected. Tyrod Taylor made smart decisions to keep his team in the game and the defense came up with the play of the game, a Matt Ryan fumble recovery TD that put the Bills in control. Atlanta fans are still wondering if Matty Ice had his hand moving forward before the ball came loose, but it was on his fingertips at best.
5. The Rams are Battering Teams
Remember when I said it would be really odd if the Rams won the NFC West? Yeah. It doesn’t seem so weird anymore, does it. I also said Jared Goff had some serious upside and now we’re seeing it. Goff and RB Todd Gurley (can I be the first to call the Rams offense G&G Points Machine?) have developed their chemistry and looked markedly superior to Prescott and Elliot in a 35-30 victory in Dallas, even connecting on a pass TD that showed the potential for the duo to create utter chaos in the secondary. If the Rams can play like this consistently down the stretch and avoid mistakes, this Rams unit will be fun to watch in the playoffs. Meanwhile, despite still having Ezekiel Elliot on the field pending the appeals process, the Cowboys have dropped to 2-2 and have a negative point differential. They (like anyone) can still win the questionable NFC East, but they have some work to do.
6. Protests Continue
Quietly, and with less fanfare this week, protests continued during and around the national anthem in defiance of the president’s call for regulation of NFL player activity. Until a national conversation is moved forward, I doubt we’ll see the end of these protests and that’s as it should be. Colin Kaepernick may not be on an NFL sideline at the moment, but plenty of the league’s top athletes are kneeling with him.
7. Chiefs are Rolling-Gamblers Be Damned
When you’re good, and you’re on a roll, sometimes you make your own luck. The last remaining undefeated team in the NFL, the Chiefs, survived a scare from Kirk Cousins and Washington on Monday night with a last minute drive and field goal. That should have been enough to make Chiefs’ fans happy. Instead, K.C decided to throw Las Vegas under the bus by leaving enough time on the clock for one more play after kicking off. If you were a gambler who bet the under and/or Washington to beat the generous seven-point spread, you knew what was coming. A stupid, last second, lateral-filled desperation attempt to score. Chaos, as usual, ensued, with the Chiefs getting ahold of a bad lateral and rumbling into the end zone for a TD after time had expired. In a second, gamblers all over the country lost their lunch money as the Chiefs simultaneously increased their margin to nine points and forced the over. THIS, people. This is why I don’t gamble on sports.
8. The Patriots’ Defense is Derailing a SB Repeat Bid
The defending champs are proud owners of one of the top offenses in the league, with Tom Brady leading the league in yardage and currently boasting a 10-0 TD-INT ratio. That’s impressive. What’s not impressive? Concurrently sporting the league’s worst defense by a number of statistical measures. They are the worst by a good margin too, allowing the second most points, but allowing over 60 yards more per game than the second most embattled defensive crew, the 1-3 Colts. The offense will win them a good number of games, but unless the Pats can get their defense straightened out, and in a hurry, the Bills are going to make this division really, really interesting. If that’s the case, you can forget about a repeat.
9. The Raiders Are Flailing
First, a supposedly improved defense continues to be mired in mediocrity, then the offense can’t repeat its flash of brilliance from last year. Now QB Derek Carr is injured again, this time out for two to six weeks with a back injury that could derail their playoff hopes. With EJ Manuel as the backup and playing in the AFC’s toughest division, it could be lights out for the Silver and Black. I know I said that both AFC wildcards would come from the West, but with the Raiders on life-support, it looks like that second wildcard in the AFC is back in play.
10. Miami’s Offense
Full disclosure. Miami has one less game under their belt than most of the league and they’re 1-2 for their efforts. A win would tie them with New England and the Jets for second place in the division. With one less game, it’s reasonable to expect them to be at, or near the bottom of the yardage and scoring totals. But by average they’re still in the basement, averaging 249 total yards per game and 8.3 pts per game, both are the worst in the league. Making all of this worse? The Dolphins, who pulled Jay Cutler out of the broadcast booth to lead their offense, were shut out on Sunday by the New Orleans Saints, a unit that allows on average almost twice that many yards and three times that many points. Not scoring on the Saints is like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and eating only a handful of carrots. Let’s just go ahead and add Miami to the list of teams that want to avoid Colin Kaepernick for political reasons, and are doing so despite clear evidence that he would help the team.
Question of the Week: Tom D. in Washington DC
“Still no love for the Bills? What do they need to do to actually supplant the Pats as AFC East champs?”
I’m coming around on this one Tom. As I mentioned above, this year’s Bills are surprisingly good, and their statistical dominance isn’t misleading because of inferior competition. I think that winning the AFC East is absolutely possible if two things happen. Firstly, the Bills need to win one of the tilts against New England, both of which are at the end of the season, weeks 13 & 16. With the Patriots possessing the best offense in the league, but a defense that is struggling to make stops, and the Bills NFL-best defense allowing only 54 points thus far this season, those two divisional games will likely decide the division. If they go 0-2 against the Pats, it’s probably over. Secondly, they can’t blow a winnable game. Splitting the series with the woeful Dolphins, or losing to the Chargers or Saints would likely give the edge back to the defending champs. In all, the Bills have the inside track on the AFC East right now and it’s up to them to hold their position.
Got a burning question? Disagree with me? Want more proof? Want to know my thoughts on your rookie that I didn’t mention? Hit me in the comments and I’ll answer the week’s best question (or questions) in next week’s edition.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.