1.You get a suspension, you get a suspension, you get a suspension. Everybody gets a suspension!!!!
Sorry Oprah. You no longer have the monopoly on handing stuff out to everyone in the room. The week after Michael Crabtree and Aqib Talib got told to take a seat following a melee that was more UFC than NFL, three more players have received suspensions from the league office for safety violations and unnecessary roughness. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was flagged for a late, out of bounds hit on Bills CB Tre’Davious White following an interception. Gronk apologized for the blow that sent White to the concussion protocol, but the suspension is well-deserved. There’s no excuse for the WWF move Gronkowski pulled. It wasn’t a football play. Frankly, I’m surprised that the suspension wasn’t longer. The Monday Night matchup between the Steelers and Bengals brought us the other two suspensions. The first was for Steelers rookie Juju Smith-Schuster who hit Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict with a vicious block that the defender never saw coming. It’s possible that the Steelers WR could have avoided the suspension, but Smith-Schuster stood over Burfict and was flagged for taunting in real time. In its letter to Smith-Schuster, the league office made it clear that the taunting was part of the equation. Burfict was carted off following the hit, but was walking under his own power later in the game. Bengals safety George Iloka was also given a week off of work by the league office following his head-to-head hit of Steelers star WR Antonio Brown after a scoring play. The league is clearly taking a stance against flagrantly violent collisions. We’ve come a long way since the days of “Jacked Up”. Nevertheless…
2.Football is exceedingly dangerous
Despite coming out of Cincinnati with a win, Pittsburgh isn’t celebrating this week. In the course of Monday night’s battle royale with the Bengals, the Steelers lost defensive playmaker LB Ryan Shazier in a play unrelated to any of the aforementioned unnecessary roughness. Shazier was injured on a routine tackle that left him with no movement below the waist. While still conscious and waving for the medical team, it was clear that the Steelers star linebacker was badly injured from the very beginning. It’s the type of injury that reminds us that even when played within the rules, football can be exceptionally perilous. Shazier is still undergoing tests that will determine the extent of his injuries and his prospects going forward. Everyone’s hoping for the best, and according to the last report from NFL Network, Shazier was getting some feeling back in his lower extremities.
3.The Giants are cleaning house
Well, that didn’t take long. Honestly, I sincerely thought that Giants’ ownership would wait until the offseason to take action to right their sinking ship, but I suspect that the benching of Eli Manning and the organizational embarrassment that stemmed from that decision led to John Mara pulling the trigger just a little sooner than anticipated. Mara did precisely what I thought he would (and should) do, parting ways with coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese, he just did it about a month earlier than I expected. The Giants ownership might have a point though. Having first choice of GM and head coaching candidates is never a bad thing, especially in a year where there will be more than a few moving pieces. Former Giants receiver and salsa dancing enthusiast Victor Cruz supported the team’s move on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, noting that the move was, if anything, later than was warranted. This Sunday, the Giants fell to a wildly mediocre Oakland team who have clawed back to .500 and a share of the moribund AFC West lead.
4.I told you so, Philly fan…
Well, I did mention that the Eagles hadn’t exactly run through the gauntlet thus far this season. What Eagles fans thought would be a coronation on Sunday Night turned into a decapitation instead. Not only did Seattle beat the Eagles in a game that wasn’t really as close as the score, allowing the Vikings to steal the inside track to the number one seed, the Seahawks showed the rest of the league how to beat Philadelphia’s balanced attack. Make it unbalanced. With the running game effectively shut down by scheme and sound tackling, Wentz struggled and forced balls into tight windows (which was occasionally awesome to watch), resulting in his sixth interception of the year. The Eagles didn’t even find the end zone until the fourth quarter, when the game was pretty much out of hand. I’ll take this moment to remind everyone that Seattle’s secondary is a shadow of its former self, with both Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman gone. In fact, this is a pretty darn average pass defense. Philly better find a way to keep their edge, or else they could find themselves playing football on wildcard weekend against this same Seattle unit, or a pissed-off team from the NFC South. Either way, it could end badly.
5.The Saints rule the South
Drew Brees might have to play football on wildcard weekend, but he wants that to be a home game. In a tightly packed NFC South, the Saints gained some separation by beating the rival Panthers for the second time this season. With a lead and most of the tiebreakers in their favor, it looks good for New Orleans to bring some jambalaya to the playoff party this year. Caveat: The Saints haven’t played the Falcons yet this year. If the Saints were to choke away both of those games, Atlanta could supplant them at the top. I just don’t see that happening. The Saints are balanced on offense (spoiler alert, they are better balanced than the Eagles…) with the emergence of our “One to Watch for week 13” Alvin Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram thriving in a two back system. That makes them a very dangerous team, and I can’t see the Falcons stopping them. I expect that these two games will have some serious offensive fireworks. Get your popcorn ready.
6.Aaron Rodgers is set to return?
Hold on cheese-heads, he hasn’t been cleared to play yet, but he has thrown the football and can return by week fifteen if everything goes according to plan. Here’s the question for the Packers brass in an extremely tightly packed NFC playoff field. Do you risk it? Green Bay is mathematically in the race and has a bit of a gimme this week at Cleveland, but after that it gets tougher. They still have tilts against Carolina and division champ Minnesota left on the schedule. Unless you really think you can win out to snag that six seed, I can’t see putting Aaron Rodgers at any risk by hurrying him back to go 9-7 instead of 8-8. It’s just not that realistic and the consequences of being too ambitious could be horrible.
7.The Vikings D is getting it done
Speaking of those Vikings. How good did they look this weekend against a solid Atlanta team that had scored over thirty points the previous two weeks? The Vikings defense held Matty Ice, Julio Jones and the crew to three field goals in a road win. How good were they on defense? Let’s just say that fantasy football players everywhere were emotionally unprepared to see Julio Jones finish a game with two catches for 24 yards and Matt Ryan throw for under two hundred yards and zero, count them, zero touchdowns. It’s the first time this season that the Falcons QB hasn’t found the end zone. It says less about the Falcons though, than it does about the quality of a Vikings defensive unit that ranks second against the run and tenth against the pass. As for that QB controversy that was brewing not long ago, you can consider it over. With the NFC North well in hand and a seven game winning streak heading towards the playoffs, this is Case Keenum’s team. In the ten games he’s played thus far this season, he’s been the leading passer in nine of them. The lone game in which he wasn’t the game’s top passer? A win against Washington, when Kirk Cousins threw for 327 yards. That means that this season, Keenum has outdueled Matthew Stafford (twice), Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Jameis Winston, among others. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea. Keenum is the very definition of “giving us the best chance to win”.
8.Marcus Peters completed the Chiefs’ melt down
As the once mighty Chiefs continued their descent into absurdity with a loss to the Jets, cornerback Marcus Peters decided to give the whole thing some punctuation. The holding call that gave the Jets a second chance on a two-point conversion wasn’t particularly exciting, but what followed was probably the funniest two minutes in the NFL since the butt-fumble. Incensed over the call, Peters barked at the refs before snatching the flag off the turf and launching it into the fifth row. What followed were two equally hilarious things. Firstly, the fans who caught the flag going selfie-crazy with the yellow laundry…someone’s Instagram feed got way better almost immediately. Secondly, Marcus Peters ejected himself from the game… Peters jogged off the field and down the tunnel, slapping hands with fans and handing out his gloves as souvenirs. Moments later an assistant from the Chiefs sideline was seen racing up the tunnel in pursuit, and Peters returned to the field…inexplicably without his socks. Apparently Andy Reid has decided to relinquish play-calling duties. He’ll now be focusing his effort 100% on figuring out what’s going on in between his cornerback’s ears. Here’s the best part of the whole affair. The penalty wasn’t even on Peters. It was on his teammate Steven Nelson…who was definitely holding Jets WR Jermaine Kearse, dragging him to the ground on the play.
9.Josh Gordon still has it
Listen, I’m not saying that Gordon can come back to his prior level of elite play. I’m not even saying that he’s going to become a popular sleeper draft for fantasy owners given the (ahem) quarterback situation in Cleveland. What I’m saying is this. Josh Gordon proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs on the NFL playing field. He recorded four catches and 85 yards in his return, and was, unsurprisingly, the Browns top receiver. You try to do your job after sitting it out for three years and see what happens. I’m amazed he didn’t have more rust, and I can think of a dozen other teams that would love to give him a chance. Hell, there are probably only 3-4 teams in the league that wouldn’t improve immediately by adding Gordon to the roster. I’m hoping Gordon can keep his demons at bay, and stay in the game.
10.The (AFC) West is a mess
After week thirteen, there are three teams tied for the lead in this division. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that they’re tied at 6-6 and I’m not super sure that anyone really wants this thing. The Raiders are, unsurprisingly, way too excited by their narrow victory over a team that has just fired its entire management structure and the Bay Area is alive with the sound of black and silver clad fans who haven’t realized that they still need to play the Chiefs, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles. The Chiefs, as I mentioned, have gone stone cold, how else can you explain a team beating the Patriots in week one and reeling off five straight, then closing out the past few weeks with losses to three teams from New York (Giants, Buffalo, Jets) state. OK, Met Life Stadium is in New Jersey, but until I see NJ on the side of a helmet, nothing changes. The Chargers are by far the most interesting team in the west. They suffered some preposterously bad luck early on that put them in a deep hole. Despite that, I’m fairly certain that they’re the best team in this very muddied division. Phillip Rivers is the fourth-leading passer in the league, and Keenan Allen is VERY quietly the fifth most productive receiver. Defensively, the Chargers have allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per game and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram both rank in the top twenty in sacks. I’m not even going to get into the Broncos issues at this point. The Chiefs-Raiders matchup this weekend might provide some clarity, but I think it’s up to Philip Rivers and crew to separate themselves.
Question of the Week:
What’s up with Kirk Cousins? He’s the same guy, right? The stats don’t look all that different, but there’s no buzz and the team can’t win…so what’s up in Washington? -Lisa T
Yeah…Weird right? Top five in passing yards, on pace for more TD’s and less interceptions than last year. Washington just isn’t producing the same way, it seems. The guy was destined to make the next big payday, and he still might. It’s as simple as this. He’s getting sacked more. A lot more. Only Jacoby Brissett and Matthew Stafford get knocked around more than Cousins does. He’s on pace to get sacked twice as much this season than any previous year. He’s also fumbled more this year than any other season, with four games still to play. Situationally, these negative plays and turnovers have turned the outcomes of several close Washington losses. Stalled drives, blunted comebacks. You get the idea. I think Cousins is still an upper level QB in the league, so I’ll be interested to see how his contract situation ends up. My gut feeling is that he ends up staying put in the nation’s capital, or something totally weird happens, like he ends up in Denver and revives a horribly underperforming Broncos squad.
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/steelers
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.