1. Philly ain’t all that
Stop screaming at your computer, Philly fan. They are 10-1 and can clinch this weekend with a tie. I get it. They’re good. Everyone sees the balance on offense and a defense that doesn’t allow the run…it’s all very exciting. But they aren’t the juggernaut everyone thinks they are. Not yet. Here’s where it falls apart, my Santa-cursing, cheesesteak-eating, green-clad friends. The Eagles haven’t really played anyone yet. They’ve played only one division leader thus far, the Chiefs. They lost that matchup, and we know the Chiefs aren’t really THAT good, anyway. In fact, the Eagles have exactly one quality win, a single digit victory over the Panthers. Those two are the only teams that they’ve played this year who even have a winning record. OK, that doesn’t sound great, but how bad is it? Their opponents are a combined 47-72. That’s a robust -26 on aggregate. How does that compare to the other top teams from both conferences? Vikings, -1. Patriots, -5. Steelers, -7. The Eagles have been beating up on bad teams, while the other three top contenders have been winning against more-or-less average competition. Numbers aside, I’d still be making this argument if the Eagles were undefeated, because they play in the worst division in the NFC (themselves excluded, of course), and their AFC schedule alignment this year is against the worst division in football, period, the AFC West. Philly has Seattle this weekend, and the Rams after that. We should have a better idea of who they are after those two games. Does that mean they can’t win the NFC? No, but let me put it this way, if they falter down the stretch and lose home field advantage, it could be a surprisingly short post-season.
2. Eli got benched
Sort of. To be more specific, Ben McAdoo told Eli that the team wanted to get a look at Geno Smith, and possibly Davis Webb this weekend against Oakland. Manning chose not to start a game he knew he couldn’t finish, ending his string of consecutive regular season starts string at 210. Generally, Eli Manning isn’t one to show it, but this hit him hard. The Giants have a lot of problems, but the normally stoic Manning isn’t one of them. Not this year. Despite the entire depth chart at wide receiver being gone, he’s on pace for one of his better seasons. Sure, the yards per completion number has gone down without OBJ, but his completion percentage and TD-INT ratio are among his career bests. I know the Giants are in bad shape, but treating your franchise quarterback like this seems just plain absurd. Especially if you think that Geno Smith might be the answer. There’s no way the Giants can go back to Manning now, so it’s likely that he’s started his last game for Big Blue. Mark my words, there is a very high probability that Manning ends his career playing football in Jacksonville.
3. The NFL is not ready to rumble…
Aqib Talib and Michael Crabtree have a history. Last season, Talib famously ripped Crabtree’s chain from his neck during a game and things got dicey. This time around, the Raiders’ WR wasn’t waiting for the Denver secondary to bring the fight to him. According to the league’s letter to the two sparring partners, Crabtree first punched Denver CB Chris Harris in the stomach, before blocking Talib well beyond the field of play. Talib retaliated, Crabtree lost yet another chain, and chaos ensued. While the fracas seemed mild, and almost funny by other sports standards, the NFL is taking a harder line with these two, suspending each for two games before reducing the penalty to one game apiece. Football is a sport with plenty of violence, so, the reasoning goes, there’s no need for extracurricular activities. While the suspension may come as a surprise to some in light of the league’s inaction to similar previous incidents, it’s clear that the history of the two involved factored into the league’s decision.
Yeah, that Ravens D is keeping them in contention for a wildcard slot, and Terrell Suggs is at the center of it all. Again. At age 35. We all know Tom Brady is somehow defying father time, but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think Suggs plans on retiring until Brady does. Suggs lives to harass quarterbacks, and at an age when most defenders are losing a step and playing contain, Suggs is on pace for the highest sack total of his career. He’s also forced four fumbles so far this season, and isn’t far off his career best pace there. His tally from this week’s tilt with Houston, two sacks and a forced fumble. Ball so hard, old man, ball so hard.
5. Buffalo stays alive
One week removed from the Nathan Peterman debacle, (or, as it will come to be known, “Pulling a Peterman” ex. The Giants are pulling a Peterman this week, they’re starting Geno Smith, it’s going to be awful) the Bills took the field against the floundering, but AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. What did they do with the opportunity to put pressure on the wildcard Ravens? Plenty. The Bills defense held Kareem Hunt to 17 yards on eleven carries and they came out of Arrowhead stadium with a huge win. Want to know who the Chiefs’ leading rusher was? Alex Smith. Once again people, if your QB is your top rusher, something is wrong. Last week, I told you the Bills hit rock bottom, and it seems that this week they are on the rebound with a steady, if unexciting performance from Tyro Taylor. The AFC wildcard should be interesting down the stretch. The bad news for the Bills? They still have to play the Patriots…twice.
6. Pittsburgh let their guard down
I don’t want to say that Pittsburgh got cocky and looked past Green Bay, as Mike Tomlin’s teams are seldom prone to such bouts of overconfidence. But without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers haven’t been much of a threat and I think the Steelers let their guard down just a bit. They got punched in the mouth by a still in contention Green Bay squad and it almost cost them dearly. The Brett Hundley-led Packers gave Pittsburgh all they could handle and more, with the Steelers needing a last second, Heinz Field record-long field goal to win it. Oh, and to even get there, they needed thirty-seven yards from Antonio Brown with under twenty seconds on the clock. Listen, sometimes games are tighter than expected. A few turnovers, or random bounces can change the outcome of any game. I don’t expect the Steelers to play this loose again this season. There’s too much on the line and too little margin for error in what is likely to be Ben Rothlisberger’s last season.
7. Revis island is back
Somehow the Jets thought they would be better without him and cut Darrelle Revis outright following a scuffle outside of a bar in February of this year. The charges against him sounded serious, but were dropped shortly afterwards, when it became clear that Revis hadn’t been the one throwing punches. In fact, all charges related to the incident seem to have been dropped, leaving the feeling that the incident was in fact, much ado about nothing. Now, one of the league’s all-time best cornerbacks joins a Chiefs unit that leads their division, but has slipped into the bottom third by most defensive metrics. I’m not sure that Revis is still the game plan-changing guy he was a few years back, but I know this, the Chiefs need a shot in the arm. My guess is that he will help shore up the secondary, but his days of solo coverage on the league’s best wide receivers are over.
8. The Jimmy G era is upon us in San Francisco
At last. That took way too long for my liking, but with the knee injury to C.J. Beathard late in the game against Seattle, Garoppolo took the reins and immediately did what the incumbent couldn’t do all game. He threw a touchdown. It more than likely won’t be the last, as Garoppolo has been named the starter for this week’s game against the Bears and, it stands to reason, for the remainder of the season. I’m not sure that this will make the Niners the favorite for this weekend, but my guess is that it will tighten up the betting odds.
9. Jacksonville is in the market for a QB
I’ll be brief here because I’ve mentioned this in previous columns, but Jacksonville is one piece away from being a very legitimate threat to win the AFC. But if you think they are somehow going to get past Pittsburgh, or New England with Blake Bortles at the helm, you’re sadly mistaken. They coughed up their divisional lead this week to a very beatable Cardinals team that doesn’t exactly have a hall of famer under center. The Jags charged back late, but didn’t have enough to come back from the 13-3 halftime deficit. The Jags only offense in the first half was a last second field goal that prevented them from heading to the locker room with a goose egg. The second half wasn’t much better, with the Jags needing the defense to come up huge. Right on cue, a 10-yard Calais Campbell fumble return that hit pay dirt brought the game within reach. Bortles simply couldn’t get the job done late in the game. With the score tied, Jacksonville had the ball twice in the final four minutes, the results from those two possessions? An interception, and a three-and-out. If you think Tom Coughlin hasn’t already sent a carrier pigeon to Eli Manning, you’re out of your mind.
10. The NFL is upping its shoe game
This weekend, be on the lookout for some flashy new kicks on your favorite players. This week’s “MY Cause, My Cleats” initiative partners some 500 NFL players with shoe designers and their favorite charities, according to the NFL League Office. The colorful and extremely personal designs reflect players’ commitments to the charity that they hold closest to their hearts. Almost any type of cause you can imagine is being featured, from cancer and heart disease, to those that are helping build infrastructure to bring water to third world countries. Each custom pair will be auctioned off, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to the charity associated. If you want to sneak a peek before game time, or want to know how to bid on the custom cleats, visit http://www.nfl.com/mycausemycleats for more information.
Question of the Week:
“Does Ben McAdoo go, or stay on as head coach of the New York Football Giants? – Charlie G
Tough one. There’s a few moving pieces here, but my guess is that he’ll be gone after this year. Why? Well, he took over and guided Tom Coughlin’s bunch to an impressive 11-5 record last year. That’s the good, it’s also the only reason this is even a close call. The Giants are terrible this year, but they shouldn’t be. That’s usually a pretty clear indicator of when it’s time to move on from a head coach. This Giants squad should have been contending for a wild card slot at the least, but instead, they’re among the league’s worst teams on both sides of the ball. To cap it off by unceremoniously benching a two-time Super Bowl MVP having a solid season (without a receiving corps) for Geno Smith is simply scapegoating at its very worst. Giants ownership is likely to make some major moves in the offseason, and I think it could well start with GM Jerry Reese. If Reese goes, I’d say McAdoo has a slim chance of staying on, given all the personnel injures this season and the good start last year. If Reese stays, McAdoo is almost certain to be sent packing in his stead. In either case, after seeing what Tom Coughlin is doing down in Jacksonville, the Giants should be kicking themselves.
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.
Image source: twitter.com/Eagles
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.