We’re back, people. Your weekly look–around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
I was prepared for the Buccaneers to lose against a Bears team that has really started hitting on all cylinders defensively. I just didn’t expect the Bears to put on an offensive clinic (albeit against the NFL’s WORST defensive unit) that turned the thing into a rout. I also didn’t expect the Buccaneers to lift Ryan Fitzpatrick and give Jameis Winston a look. But look they did, and despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, Winston has been named the starter for the Buccaneers next matchup. Winston did complete sixteen of twenty passes, so he looked great from that metric, but those two interceptions should have given the Tampa Bay brass some pause. Frankly, they were probably just looking for an excuse to hand the ball back to the more marketable Winston. So, while Fitzpatrick’s jersey is on the way to the hall of fame, following the first stretch of three consecutive 400 yard passing games for a quarterback in history, Fitz is headed to the bench, and the Buccaneers are likely headed to the scrap heap of the NFC South.
That was a very good, and extremely motivated Vikings team that went out to LA on Sunday. They put in the work, but the Rams are just too much for anyone right now. Before the season started, these two teams would have been my picks for this year’s NFC Championship game. That might still happen, but the Vikings have been uneven, while the Rams have not. Los Angeles has been exceptional in almost every facet of the game, trailing only the Chiefs offensively in points per game, plus they’re a top five scoring defense. Jared Goff trails only Big Ben in yardage, and only Patrick Mahomes in TD’s. The addition of Brandin Cooks has made a dangerous offense even harder to cover, and Goff’s willingness to spread the ball around is proving to be impossible for defenses to deal with. Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods ALL had at least 100 yards and a touchdown on Thursday night, and Todd Gurley was good for 156 yards from scrimmage and a receiving TD. After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted that his team is better than this on pass coverage. I agree. There’s just not a lot you can do to game plan for an offense with four legitimate top-tier targets. It might hurt their fantasy stats, but Sean McVay cares as much about those stats as Bill Belichick. Goff will spread the ball around and the Rams will win a LOT of games.
Yes. They got nailed by Buffalo in a trap game in week three, and they lost a shootout to the best team in the NFL this week. This unit is still a contender in the NFC. I see some adjustments happening as Kirk Cousins gets comfortable with his new targets. Adam Thielen has been good for over 100 yards per game every week this year, so that’s working well, but Cousins appears to be streaky with Stefon Diggs thus far. Part of that might just be Cousins still thinking Laquon Treadwell needs touches. He doesn’t. Despite having some shaky hands, Cousins has actually been going Treadwell’s way more often, rather than less as the season goes on. A few more bad drops should cure the Vikings QB of his egalitarian offensive strategy. The other elephant in the locker room is the scary situation with defensive end Everson Griffen, who was taken in for a psychiatric evaluation following some erratic behavior before the week three matchup. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has said that Griffen is not expected back any time soon, as he deals with these personal issues. I’m sure the Vikings are hoping that he can get the help he needs, as he’s been one of the anchors for that defensive unit for years. They can still win the NFC North, but that race is looking more crowded by the week.
Listen. I’m not trying to tell you that hanging points on Tampa Bay’s defense is impossible. It’s not. They give up yards and they give up points. But what Mitchell Trubisky did on Sunday was no joke. That 48-10 shellacking that cost Ryan Fitzpatrick his starting job was about as thorough a domination as you’re likely to see in the NFL this year. Six touchdowns to five different receivers from the second year QB has got to have visions of an NFC North crown dancing in people’s heads. But that’s not what’s important if these Bears want to make noise. I’ll tell you what is: that defense. I’ll start here. Khalil Mack has had AT LEAST one sack and one forced fumble every time he’s put on a Bears uniform. That’s ridiculous. They also stifle the run…completely, allowing only 64 yards on the ground per game. They trail only the Eagles in rushing yards allowed, and even then, by about six inches per contest. They’re sitting at 3-1, alone atop the NFC North, and that single point loss at Lambeau Field feels more and more like a game they could have (or should have) won, not a strange aberration.
In the lead up to the season, star safety Earl Thomas and the Seahawks were at loggerheads, trying to find any common ground at all between the elite, but thirty-year-old safety and team management. Thomas eventually asked for a trade out of Seattle, but one couldn’t be arranged that provided the Seahawks for anything resembling value in return for the lynchpin of the “Legion of Boom”. Thomas, for his part, wanted an extension and more guaranteed money from the only team he’s ever known, just in case his career was cut short. Since reporting, Thomas has been as good as expected, making three interceptions and twenty-two tackles before the broken leg ended his game, his season, and most likely, his career with the Seahawks. The unmistakable gesture he waved at his own bench as he was wheeled off in the cart on the way to the hospital spoke volumes about why he was holding out in the first place. For all the money and fame that comes with being an NFL player, the job security is terrible, and the career trajectory for many is far shorter than you’d think. Earl Thomas will undoubtedly find a new home in free agency, assuming the leg heals up properly, but he’s very likely lost the ability to demand top dollar in what will almost surely be his final contract.
That was cool wasn’t it? On a key third down, while being chased out of the pocket by an unblocked Von Miller, Mahomes swung out, switched the ball to his left hand and flicked it forward to Tyreek Hill for the first down. It was, once you realized what he’d done, breathtaking. That being said, Mahomes came back down to earth on Monday night despite leading the Chiefs to a comeback win. The Broncos (more on them in a moment) largely stifled the Chiefs world beater offense for three quarters before succumbing. This was the young Kansas City QB’s worst performance by far this year, but he showed some grit, overcoming a deficit and a preposterous second-and-thirty situation. The refs had another questionable prime time game, where a missed delay of game penalty kept a fourth quarter Kansas City drive alive, but you can’t question that Mahomes and the Chiefs are AFC contenders.
While the national media focuses on Patrick Mahomes and the comeback on Monday night, let’s not forget WHY he needed to comeback. The Broncos put the Chiefs in a big hole that they needed some luck to dig out of. If not for that bad missed call, the Broncos are very likely 3-1, atop the AFC West. That’s a big improvement over last year’s Denver unit that went 5-11 and selected fifth overall in the draft. What’s the difference? Well for one, Case Keenum might not be the flashiest new weapon, but he was the architect of the Vikings success last season. The thing about Keenum is that he seldom makes mistakes, and he plays well with the pieces around him. His lone interception on Monday night wasn’t a risky throw, it was Chiefs DB Eric Murray ripping a caught ball from Jeff Heuerman’s mitts. That’s not on the QB. For three quarters, Keenum and that Broncos rushing attack built a lead on the previously unassailable Chiefs, while the defense showed the rest of the league how to make one Patrick Mahomes very, very uncomfortable. It’s not cool. It’s not flashy and fun. But the Broncos are going to be tough to beat this year. Don’t be surprised if they spoil more than one team’s hopes on the way to a playoff berth.
It isn’t the fact that they lost to New England in Foxboro. It isn’t that Tom Brady and his patchwork offense hung thirty-eight points on them. It isn’t that the Patriots defense pushed Miami all over the field in a must win game. It’s that Miami had no answer for what the Patriots did to them. They had no response. A garbage time touchdown late in the fourth quarter might have made the hoodie yell and scream, but it did little to lift the spirits of the previously unbeaten Dolphins. They’re still 3-1 and lead the AFC East. They have a quality win over Tennessee, but that loss to New England had bad coaching written all over it. This Dolphins team came in expecting to beat up on New England in their house, and that just doesn’t happen that often. A win this week would have gone a long way towards dethroning the AFC East’s bullies. Miami simply wasn’t up to the challenge. As fans in Boston await the return of Julian Edelman, it’s not hard to see that the Patriots will become exactly what Miami was afraid of.
If you need any evidence that the era you play in makes a difference, just look at poor Drew Brees. While he’s breaking NFL career records left and right, and he’s won a Super Bowl, he’s somehow going to end up as this generation’s Dan Marino. Playing in the shadow of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning has been rough on the guy. He just broke Brett Favre’s record for career completions last week, and this week Brees will more than likely pass Peyton Manning for the most yards in a career. He’s had more consecutive 4,000–yard passing seasons than anyone in history, and he broke Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a touchdown (54). He’s essentially tied with Brady for career TD’s. Who knows who’ll win that staring contest. In any other era, he’d be a god among men, but because Tom Brady is hoarding rings and planning on never retiring, Brees has never seemed, or felt like the alpha dog. Point is, give the guy some love.
Don’t look now, but the Ravens are out for blood. That solid win over the faltering Steelers in Pittsburgh was nice, but it’s more about how they’re doing it. The Ravens are stifling opposing offenses again, having allowed only 65 points through four games. A big reason is the new look secondary, led by the underappreciated Tony Jefferson who quietly leads the Ravens with 24 combined tackles, a forced fumble and an INT. Rookie LB Kenny Young is pulling his weight, too, with 22 combined tackles and a sack over the first quarter of the season. Eric Weddle leads this defense though, in beard length, and in boisterous attitude. As we’ve learned in season’s past, when that defense has an edge to it, look out. The offense is back as well, on the shoulders of a reinvigorated Joe Flacco, who’s again playing like a top-ten quarterback. Former Arizona WR Joe Brown is enjoying his new surroundings, leading the team in yardage and is on pace for his best season since 2015 (the lone year he was over 1,000 yards).
Check out previous editions of ‘Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week’ here
Image Source: ESPN