1. There’s a thin line between parity and confusion
And I have no idea where that line ends. This season continues to baffle experts with far more experience than yours truly. What? You haven’t stopped laughing at me picking the Giants to win the NFC East yet. That’s cool. I deserve it. I’ll wait… Some surprises weren’t too surprising, but the Rams blanking Arizona? Oakland getting the job done vs. the Chiefs? Buffalo scoring ten points in the final 2:30 to nip Tampa Bay at the line. It’s getting wild up in here, so let’s explore a few of these.
2. New England’s Defense might be back
The Super Bowl rematch was supposed to be a high wire affair, and gamblers were salivating to jump on the over. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady were scheduled for a Sunday Night shootout. What we saw, instead, was a run of the mill domination by the reigning champs. Even when Ryan got some rhythm with Julio Jones to the tune of 99 yards and a TD, this game wasn’t really ever in doubt. Brady and the Patriots turned to the running game early in the second half after taking a 17-0 lead to halftime. The Pats defense looked much more like the unit that led the league in points allowed last year, forcing several three-and-outs, locking down on third and long to get off the field, and stopping the Falcons on desperation fourth downs. How desperate was Atlanta? They went for it on fourth down three times on Sunday night, converting only once. Atlanta is still in the mix for the NFC South crown, but they need to find some balance on offense. The Patriot will see the resurgent Chargers before their bye week, and the suddenly floundering Broncos the week after. I’ll need to see a few more solid performances against top teams before I declare New England the favorites in the AFC again. That defense still ranks last in yards per game.
3. Sweet Home, Chicago
Mitchell Trubisky didn’t accomplish much offensively against a stout Carolina defense. He didn’t need to. The Bears largely kept the ball on the ground and depended on their defense to make a few big plays. And make plays they did. The Bears scored two TD’s, both on defense, as they dismantled the Panthers 17-3. The Bears harassed Cam Newton into a fumble and two interceptions, resulting in two TD’s. Newton and the Panthers have looked great at times this season, most notably outdueling Tom Brady and the Patriots in week 3, but uncharacteristic mistakes have them in the middle of the pack in the NFC South after this loss and a putrid showing against Buffalo a few weeks back. The Bears, on the other hand are playing great defense and have a new commitment to the running game. In a suddenly up for grabs NFC North, might it be enough? Probably not, but hey, it’s fun to wonder…
4. It’s getting a little Oakland-ish over in the bay.
Now THAT was the team that looked like a contender last year. The Raider defense still looks porous, but that offense is seriously fun to watch. Derek Carr to Amari Cooper is a thing of beauty, and KC had no answer. It’s a good thing for the Silver & Black too, since the running game never really got going against the Chiefs. Is Marshawn Lynch really here to play? Or is he here on a farewell tour?
5. Bills’ Mafia might be on to something
We won’t really know this team’s makeup until they face the reigning champs in week 13, but that was a great show of fortitude against Tampa Bay when they needed it. The Bills offense put up ten points in the last two-and-a-half minutes against a tired Tampa Bay squad to seal a much needed home win and keep pace with the Patriots. The Bills defense didn’t look quite as lock-down as it has in previous weeks, allowing 384 yards of passing from Jameis Winston, but the offense looked more balanced and confident behind the rushing performance of LeSean McCoy, netting 91 yards and 2TD’s. If they can keep that running game going, they might just help their defense out a bit. Can they keep pace with the Pats? We shall see, but they look closer than any AFC East team has in some time.
6. Rams or Seattle? Who ya got in the NFC West?
Seattle made a mockery of the Giants this week. LA embarrassed the suddenly much better Arizona Cardinals. So who’s in the driver’s seat in the NFC West? An argument can be made for either team, but given that Jimmy Graham decided not to catch footballs that were thrown at him this week, and the Seahawks still won, I think it’s Seattle. It’s hard to find flaws to pick on the Rams after a 33-0 shutout win over a divisional rival, but if Seattle still has Russell Wilson and a top ten ranked defensive unit, they have the edge.
7. Miami lost their best option at QB. Or did they?
The Jets almoststole one away from Miami on Sunday. Their big mistake might have been cracking Jay Cutler’s ribs. The tide turned when Miami backup Matt Moore came off the bench and ripped off seventeen unanswered points to close out the game. Matt Moore is a good backup, and he clearly did his job Sunday. He’s been tapped to start this Thursday against the Ravens on short rest, so we’ll see how he fares against a top-ten passing unit. If he passes that test, there’s probably no reason for Jay Cutler to hurry back.
8. Martavis Bryant wants out of Pittsburgh…but…
Apparently, his cries for a trade are going to fall on deaf ears. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has made it clear that Bryant isn’t available. With the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as a legit red zone target for Big Ben, Bryant has felt slighted, despite still having more yards on the year. Playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown is one thing, but apparently not getting enough touches when it matters was grinding on the dangerous, but troubled, wide receiver. Why won’t Pittsburgh consider shipping him off? Because he’s a talented player on a super cheap contract who would be a boon to lots of other teams. In fact, it’s hard to find another roster that WOULDN’T improve if Bryant fell in their lap for less than a million per year. With the Steelers looking for a long run in the playoffs, they’d be foolish to ship off a super solid second option who can replace Brown should the unthinkable happen down the stretch, or when top cornerbacks can lock him down.
9. The Chargers Are Charging
And the Broncos are hardly recognizable. Phillip Rivers and the (light) blue bolts embarrassed Denver 21-0 and further muddied up the AFC West. Sure KC looks the best of the bunch, but they’ve dropped two straight. Travis Benjamin was electrifying on Sunday with a 42 yd touchdown reception and a video game look-a-like 65 yd punt return that ended up in the end zone. That’s three straight wins for the Chargers after losing four games by 21 points combined to start the season. Phillip Rivers gives the Chargers a chance, even if no one in LA goes to see it happen. Can they make up the ground they lost early and squeak into the playoffs? KC needs to stumble, but if the Chargers can win the rest of their divisional games, it’s a distinct possibility.
10. Joe Thomas isn’t Superman after all
A few weeks back, we celebrated Joe Thomas becoming the first player in NFL history to play over 10,000 consecutive snaps. That streak was finally snapped last week at 10,363, as Thomas was removed from the Browns’ game with a torn triceps tendon in his left arm. He will have the arm surgically repaired before considering his options. I’ve gotta think retirement is on the table for a guy who’s given so much to an organization that hasn’t returned the favor by winning a division title…or a couple of games in the same year, for that matter. The situation in Cleveland is so bad on offense that coach Hue Jackson benched rookie QB DeShone Kizer on Sunday for no real reason…as if it’s all his fault. This isn’t the sort of situation that screams “push beyond your limits to get back on the field”, but Thomas is a different kind of dedicated. We’ll see where this goes, but if this was it for Joe Thomas’ career, the next time we’ll see him is in a gold coat in Canton, Ohio.
Question of the Week:
“Vontaze Burfict…seriously, what gives?” Frank C. Philadelphia, PA.
Yeah Frank. I get it. Burfict kicks Roosevelt Nix in the facemask and gets off without a suspension. Burfict’s history with the league’s disciplinary policies is long and storied. He’s one of the most fined players in the history of the league, shelling out well over a half-million dollars since he debuted in 2012. He’ll pay out for this one too. He’s one of the few players in league history to serve a multiple game suspension for on-field actions. He plays full-tilt, always has, always will. Sometimes that renders him incapable of making good decisions. He adds a dimension of toughness and meanness on defense that the Bengals have obviously decided is worth the risk of his volatility. When he reigns it in and plays the game right, he can make the sorts of plays that do change outcomes. I’m guessing that when (not if) he has another flare-up this season, he’ll end up losing a few more game checks.
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.