1. Aaron Rodgers, just, no!
Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t like the hit that took Rodgers out, an out of the pocket tackle by Vikings LB Anthony Barr. It’s the sort of thing that the NFL struggles with when GQ’s go on the move. Rules that protect the QB in the pocket don’t apply when they scramble. Maybe it was overly aggressive, maybe it wasn’t, but one thing I know for sure is that the NFL got a little less exciting this week. Aaron Rodgers went down early in the Packers’ road game against the Vikings, landing awkwardly on his shoulder and breaking his collar bone. While the Packers haven’t announced anything yet, he’s likely done for the season if he agrees to surgical repair on the injured shoulder. Not only do we lose one of the NFL’s most exciting signal callers for the rest of the year, but the NFC as a whole just got a lot less interesting. Backup Brett Hundley didn’t impress, to say the least, throwing three interceptions and a lone touchdown in the unexpected loss to a Vikings team that started Case Keenum in lieu of Sam Bradford. As a rule, when Matthew Stafford of the Lions is the only starting QB in the entire division to still be standing, the division isn’t likely to provide much entertainment value.
2. Ezekiel Elliot is out…we think. Nope. He’s back.
I’m almost hesitant to even include this, but as I write this, Zeke Elliot has been granted yet another stay that will keep him on the field for a few more games before serving his six-game suspension. Earlier today ESPN, among others, reported that Elliot would be forced to serve the suspension immediately. Just a little later in the day, Ian Rappaport of NFL Network broke the story that the NFL had been dealt another setback in its punishment of Elliot under the league’s domestic violence policy. The temporary restraining order granted in New York is only in effect until the end of the month, so he’ll likely only see the next two games before he’s forced to sit out.
3. The Cardinals needed a running back badly.
How badly you ask? I’ll tell you. So badly that Adrian Peterson showed up and with only a few practices with his new team under his belt, came in and rushed for 134 yards on 26 carries with two TD’s. In case you missed it, that’s more yardage and TD’s than his entire tenure with the Saints. As hard as it may be to believe in week 6, it also makes Peterson the Arizona Cardinals’ leading rusher this season. It was more than that though. That balance on offense has turned the Arizona passing attack back into the weapon everyone thought it would be. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald look like their old selves (pun intended) and the Cards instantly became fun to watch. Make no mistake, with a viable ground attack, they’re back in the race for the NFC West at 3-3. If Adrian Peterson is out to prove that he’s not washed up, he’s on the right track, and on the right team.
4. The Chiefs have a serious flaw.
So it’s week six and already the ‘72 Dolphins can have their old dude champagne party and Mercury Morris can spout off about how they’d beat any team in the NFL this year. He’s wrong. They’d get blown out by any modern NFL team over .500, and even a few teams with worse records than that. But that’s beside the point. The Kansas City Chiefs, the last unblemished team in the league fell to the Steelers in what looked like a puzzler on paper. Last week Pittsburgh coughed one up to the Jags as Ben Rothlisberger heaved up five interceptions, making the AFC North look just as up in the air as any other division in football. This week, they went on the road, into unfriendly Arrowhead Stadium and neutered the league’s best team thus far. How did they do it? The exact same way they did it last year in the playoffs. The Chiefs can’t stop the run. Pittsburgh took the ball out of Big Ben’s hands and ran the ball down the Chief’s throats with a steady diet of Le’Veon Bell to the tune of 179 yards. The time of possession disparity is what’s really shocking here, with Pittsburgh holding the ball for thirteen more minutes than KC. That’s an eternity in NFL time. Now the Pittsburgh defense did well to get off the field and give Bell and the Steelers offense plenty of opportunities, but we’ve seen the blueprint on how to beat them. I’m interested to see who follows it. I’m also interested to see if Pittsburgh keeps with the ground and pound attack. They probably should.
5. The Falcons are???
Still one of the NFC’s best teams? Vulnerable? Over-confident? Honestly, I have no idea. I thought they might have some trouble recovering from a Super Bowl hangover after Tom Brady and the Patriots picked them apart in the fourth quarter. I have no idea how they’ll react after Jay Cutler and Miami basically did the same thing to them in their own building. Mind you, this is a Miami team that had only four total touchdowns before Sunday. A team that frankly, isn’t built to come from behind. Did the Falcons get cocky? Was this a trap game leading up to next Sunday night’s Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots? Probably. But blowing leads in the fourth quarter was a problem for the Falcons last year, they’ll need to figure out how to remedy that, or any team within three touchdowns with five minutes left to play is going to come at them with both barrels blazing. At the very least, it should make for some fun finishes. I do love an on-side kick.
6. The Giants are somehow better without OBJ?
If I told you that the 0-5 New York Football Giants were going to lose their best player, plus the rest of the depth chart at wide receiver AND their starting center, then deal with a disgruntled veteran defender being benched indefinitely, what would you think? You’d think they were gunning for the inside track on the number one pick, that’s what. You certainly wouldn’t pick them to go on the road against a tough Denver team that hopes to contend this year and beat them convincingly at Mile High Stadium. And yet, because this is the NFL in 2017, that’s precisely what they did by unleashing RB Orleans Darkwa for 117 yards on 21 carries. Denver had no answer because frankly, they had no reason to expect the Giants to come at them on the ground. Eli Manning threw for only 128 yards, and it was more than enough. The Giants’ defense picked off Trevor Siemian twice and recovered a fumble, showing that they can still be the dangerous, opportunistic unit we expected to see this season. I’m not saying that the Giants are contenders all of a sudden, but I think the shakeup caused by the roster issues, paired with Coach Ben McAdoo handing off the play calling to OC Mike Sullivan, have brought out the best in this team. I don’t see McAdoo taking back the play calling any time soon…
7. Even with Carr back, Oakland isn’t ready.
I think that the injury to QB Derek Carr late last year made Oakland fans a little unrealistic about their playoff chances. The Raiders were exciting to watch last year for sure, but if you think they would have unseated the Patriots and then beaten the Falcons to win the Super Bowl, you might have inhaled too many silver and black face paint fumes. Because of the “what if” factor, Oakland came into this year with higher hopes than were warranted. There were some offseason (theoretical) improvements that could have made a difference, but unfortunately for the faithful fans in the black hole, none of those changes has really brought much in the way of improvement to the defensive side of the ball. Then came the spinal injury to franchise QB Derek Carr, and the early season losses that weren’t expected. Oakland’s offensive game plan in Carr’s first game back was to focus on the run and not attack vertically against a Chargers team that is, at best, struggling to be competitive. In other words, our QB is back, but we can’t really have him throw down the field because he broke his back. Honest translation: he shouldn’t be playing, because his (literally) broken back hasn’t healed completely yet. The Charger game was viewed as a must win for Oakland, and they didn’t. Worse yet, they risked a player’s life in the process. I mentioned last week that rushing players back into the lineup is a dangerous game. Let’s hope the Raiders keep the ball on the ground and keep Carr safe if he’s going to be on the field.
8. The Niners are the best 0-6 team we’ve seen in a while.
Don’t believe me? I understand. 0-6 is bad. Here’s why San Francisco isn’t as bad as that record. First off, the Niners point differential over the first six weeks is -33. Not great, but not awful. Who has a worse differential than that, right at home in the NFC West? Arizona, who just clicked into gear and now sit at 3-3 on the season, with a -39. OK, now what if I told you that the Niners lost to a really good Carolina team in week one by 20 points, but that over the last five weeks, they’ve lost five games by a total of only 13 points. The Tennessee Titans LEAD THEIR DIVISION and are sporting a robust -18 differential. You can look at the numbers any way you like, but one missed tackle, one more catch, one more made field goal, or any number of small changes could change this SF team from 0-6 to 3-3 or even 5-1. At the end of the day, the takeaway is this. The Niners have been extremely competitive in every game this season except for that tilt against a resurgent Carolina team that looks like it can contend for the NFC title. Letting Navarro Bowman cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland came as a shock to Niners fans, but clearly Kyle Shanahan has a plan and it seems to be working, even if this year comes to naught because they couldn’t put the pieces together early enough this season.
9. The AFC West just isn’t as scary as we thought.
OK- so with the Chiefs running wild over people for the first few weeks, Oakland and Denver looking to be as good, or better than advertised and the Chargers always a threat with Phillip Rivers, I thought it was a lock that the AFC West would be a juggernaut of a division with multiple legitimate threats to win the AFC. So the Chiefs lost to the Steelers, the Broncos who looked solid as a rock, got whooped by the moribund Giants who have more injuries than a hospital ward and the Raiders lost to the Chargers, even with their golden boy back under center. So if this division isn’t the AFC’s Beast, what division is?
You might not believe me, but I think it has to be the East. Hear me out. The AFC North looks like Steelers country again, and even they look shaky. After that, I don’t see a playoff team. The AFC South is currently deadlocked between the Titans and Texans, both of which sit at 3-3. I said it at the beginning of the season, I see the Texans winning this division in a war of attrition. In the East, however, the Patriots look like they have their hands full this season with a much better rounded group. Name the only division in either conference with all four teams at .500 or better…I’ll wait. Yup. The AFC East.
10. Kaepernick is going to court…
With the president trying to vilify NFL players who have taken up Colin Kaepernick’s protest that started last year, and the NFL owners poised to attempt to silence them, it seems that Colin Kaepernick has decided that he’s highly unlikely to ever stand, or kneel on a football field ever again. Kaepernick had intimated that as long as he thought that he might make a roster, he wouldn’t take legal action. Week after week of watching lesser athletes take the field and be called out of retirement have taken their toll, and the beleaguered QB is taking his case to court. He’s filed a lawsuit alleging collusion between team owners to keep him from playing in the NFL this year. While it’s clear that teams have avoided him, it will be a tough case to win, unless insiders testify that the protest was the reason he didn’t get a chance, and also that multiple teams discussed the matter and agreed collectively to blackball him. It’s a shame it has come to this, but I can see how he would feel like didn’t have any choice at this point. It’s a shame too. I think he could probably win enough games to get Green Bay, Miami or Tennessee into the playoffs.
Question of the Week:
“Will Cleveland win a game this season?” Bill F. Daly City, CA.
Uhm, well, errr…maybe? As I’ve mentioned, San Francisco has been competitive, even at 0-6. Cleveland, not so much. As I look at the schedule, I see a few opportunities to right the ship a little. They could snag a win in their home game against Baltimore if the Ravens aren’t in contention by week 15. They could also sneak in a late win against Pittsburgh in week 17 if they lock up the division early and have nothing to play for seeding- wise. But my best guess for a Browns win comes on the road…against the LA Chargers. I’m thinking that the Chargers are just cocky enough to look past this game in week 13, leaving the door open for DeShone Kizer to have a late-game signature moment. In any event, I think they have a near stranglehold on the number one pick, as SF is going to catch a few breaks at some point.
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.