Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week:Week 9

1.The Jags have some swagger…and I know why.

Sure, the Jags are a surprising 5-3 and are tied with the Titans for the AFC South lead. They are also crushing opposing QB’s and running the football downhill on offense. In fact, the Jags lead the NFL in rushing yards per game. It’s like the “other” team in Florida has gotten a shot of courage they’ve lacked for years. How confident are they? So confident, in fact, that they benched their leading rusher, Leonard Fournette against the Bengals this week, despite missing him due to injury in week seven. Fournette rested up over the bye week, but was a healthy scratch on Sunday for breaking team rules relating to treatments and meetings. It’s a bold move, risky too, considering the great start the Jags are off to, in large part, due to Fournette. It’s also the single most “Tom Coughlin” move that I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, he’s an executive, not a coach. But his fingerprints are all over this team. He’s a huge reason behind their resurgence, and the accompanying collapse of the New York Giants. Don’t be surprised if his name starts coming up when heads start to roll in the coaching ranks.

The Jags, for their part, and in classic Coughlin fashion, continued their roll without him, easily beating the Bengals. If this team ever gets a legit QB, it’s going to be scary.

2.Seattle is deeply flawed

The Seahawks are hanging in there, even if Russell Wilson is running for his life behind a seriously flawed offensive line. This week’s loss to Washington, however, shows us how dependent on Wilson the Seahawks are. If he can’t make things happen on the move, they’re toast. The Seahawks started the game well with a sack in the end zone for a safety, but then struggled to capitalize on the momentum as Wilson threw for two interceptions and then were hit with sixteen penalties for 138 yards. It’s a game that Seattle should have won, and with the Rams looking solid in LA, it could haunt them later in the year. If he goes down, they’ll likely look as bad as the next former contender on my list here.

3.Hundley is struggling & the Packers are sliding

Monday Night in Green Bay. A Lions team that has been scuffling. If there was a chance for Brett Hundley to step up in a big way and show that he can deliver for the Packers, this was it. Lions RB Ameer Abdullah put the ball on the turf twice and the Lions didn’t pull away until late. Green Bay had their chances, but Hundley’s lack of chemistry with Jordy Nelson is becoming crystal clear, with the All-Pro receiver hauling in only 35 yards on four catches. Hundley simply can’t keep drives alive. The Packers went 2-9 on third down and 0-2 on fourth. That’s the sort of thing that exhausts defenses and by the fourth quarter the Green Bay defense was gassed and it showed. Green Bay may still have a chance at the playoffs this year, but it probably isn’t with Brett Hundley. Hint: His initials are C.K.

4.The Texans Quarterback is Texas toast

All right, maybe it’s a little early to use my favorite line from my favorite Christmas movie (spoiler alert: it’s Die Hard), but this one hurts. The Texans put on a show last week in their loss to Seattle, but with the mid-week news that DeShaun Watson would need surgery to repair a torn ACL, the hopes of Texans fans were extinguished. Watson has been a revelation at QB, and proof that they made the smartest possible move for their team in the draft. This injury makes it much more likely that they’ll end the season on a sour note, as they lost at home this week to the lowly Colts with Tom Savage under center. For a team that was still contending despite the loss of J.J. Watt, it’s a tough blow. There’s a better option than Savage out there though. I’ll say it again… Hint: His initials are C.K.

5.Oh Buffalo, what happened???

Speaking of tough blows to take, the Bills needed to stay on track to keep pace with a Patriots team that isn’t showing signs of stopping. The Bills have looked better than advertised all season long. That is, of course, until Thursday Night against the Jets. The Jets ran all over the Bills for almost 200 yards and put up thirty-one points. This, mind you, despite Josh McCown throwing for only 140 yards and a single TD. To be honest, this game wasn’t as close as the score looks, as Buffalo scored two TD’s in the final 2:30. Divisional road games are tough, but this should have been a gimme for a Bills team that looks competitive. Bills fans, for their part, were completely unsurprised by the result on Thursday Night Football. I guess losing several Super Bowls in a row makes you numb to nationally televised choke-jobs.

6.Cam Newton isn’t slowing down, but he has been less accurate

OK, OK. Carolina is still in contention for the division title. Not to mention that they did what they needed to do and beat a flailing Atlanta Falcons team this weekend, so it can’t be all bad. But Cam was again his team’s leading rusher, and that’s not good. In fact, he’s the second leading rusher for the Panthers THIS YEAR. And it’s really, really close. How close? Nine yards separate him from full time ball carrier Jonathan Stewart. Newton is using his legs as much as can possibly be expected to create space and throwing lanes. He’s then making really, really bad passes. He’s tied with DeShone Kizer for the most INT’s in the league with eleven each. Seeing as how Cleveland is 0-8, it makes more sense there. He’s also ranked 28th in the league in completion percentage, below such luminaries as Ryan Fitzpatrick, third-stringer Case Keenum, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Mike Glennon and count them, four punters. OK, so the four punters are 1-1 on trick plays, so they don’t count…But still. Mike Glennon has been removed from his job by the Bears, Keenum, to his credit, is keeping the Vikings alive, Jay Cutler was RETIRED until the Dolphins called him. Josh McCown is an end of the road journeyman on a below .500 team. You know who else is better this year? Eli Manning. Peyton’s kid brother, who has no professional receivers on his team anymore, still has a higher completion percentage than Cam. Cam Newton was the 2015 MVP of the league. He’s better than this. If the Panthers want to close the deal and catch the Saints, they need him to be Superman again.

7.The Rams are jamming

Todd Gurley ran for two TD’s on Sunday. Jared Goff threw for four more. The killer G’s are killing it (seriously, why hasn’t the killer G’s caught on yet???) Granted, the Rams were picking on a Giants team that lost all of its receivers to the injury bug, and seems to be losing all of its defensive standouts to the disciplinary bug. As Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was allowed back on the field, his secondary running mate Janoris Jenkins was hit with a single game suspension by the Giants brass. Team rules are team rules, but the Rams took advantage of the depleted secondary and made the Giants look silly on both sides of the ball. In a week where division rival Seattle lost a close game that they should have won, LA might have laid the foundation for a divisional title.

8.The Saints are sailing

OK, so this was an easy one. Against the Buccaneers… without Jameis Winston. Not a serious test. I’ll admit, the Saints haven’t had the toughest schedule thus far, and Chicago gave them a momentary scare, but remember, the Saints started 0-2. They’ve reeled off six straight since dropping the opener to NFC North-leading Minnesota and week two to New England. Those are what you might call quality losses and Drew Brees is still playing like a superstar. There are only a few players in the league that you really should never rule out. Brees is one of them. If they can beat the Panthers at home in week thirteen, they’ll likely lock up the division and maybe a first round bye.

9.The Chiefs are still reeling

From a team that stumbled at the start, to a team that looked like a juggernaut out of the gate. The Chiefs have regressed. Substantially. Why? Simply put, teams have adjusted for Kareem Hunt, and are again daring Alex Smith to beat them. Hunt was limited to 37 yards this week against Dallas, while Ezekiel Elliot galloped for close to a hundred with a touchdown. The Chiefs have lost three out of their last four with the lone win being an ugly victory over the Broncos. They’re a different team now that Hunt isn’t an afterthought for defensive coordinators. Want proof? While Hunt is still the leading rusher in terms of total yardage, he’s averaged below fifty yards per game over the last four weeks. He’s coming back to earth quickly and he’s bringing Alex Smith with him. Smith started the year completing over 77% of his passes. That’s stratospheric. It’s also unsustainable. He’s dropped over ten points on average and he’s thrown his first pick. He’s still near the top of the pile when it comes to completion percentage, but the easy opportunities aren’t there like they were at the beginning of the season. In other words, he’s still Alex Smith.

10.The Colts are out of Luck

Jacoby Brissett will have the rest of the season to make his mark in Indy. Andrew Luck has been shut down for the year as his recovery from shoulder surgery wasn’t progressing as well as the Colts’ brass had hoped. It’s a blow for sure, but the Colts are going nowhere this year and Luck is young enough, and good enough that it’s senseless and dangerous to rush him back. Kudos to the Colts for looking out for the health of their franchise QB. It seems obvious to me, but it’s become increasingly rare to see ownership and management take the patient route when talking about QB’s with career threatening injuries. Brissett has shown flashes of brilliance. It will be good to see how he plays for the rest of the season now that he’s not watching over his shoulder.

Question of the Week:

“What do you think the 49ers should do with Garoppolo? Let him play for a few weeks before signing him to a long-term deal or sign him right away? Or should they hold him off the field for the next few weeks and let the goal be getting their hands on that first round pick?” Kevin-

Thanks Kevin, I really, really wanted to get into this, since the Niners opted to sit Garoppolo this week, and he still hasn’t been named the starter for week 10. It’s an interesting move. Put simply, they got him for a song this year, and they aren’t going to win enough games this year to make any noise. I’d guess that no matter what, the Niners will still pick in the top four and it was a super low risk way to have a look at him before deciding on making a run at Cousins.  I think in an ideal world for the Niners, they would get a look at Garoppolo and then lock him up if they like what they see early on. He’ll command more in free agency, and he could get multiple offers, driving up the price. The Niners do have the option of the franchise tag at around $22ish million next year, and that would be tempting if they’re still unsure after the season ends. Garoppolo isn’t exactly walking into a great offense that just needs a gunslinger, but the Niners do have a tremendous amount of cap space and will likely go spend in the off-season to get some pieces for him to play with.

If I’m John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, I need to see what I have in the former Pats backup, so he’ll be playing soon. But I just don’t see a reason to make a long-term deal with him right now. Too many Brady backups have become just that…backups.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

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