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.
1. We got a free preview of the AFC Championship game
Unless the Chiefs devolve after their first loss (as they did last year), or Patrick Mahomes heads into a tailspin (he won’t), I don’t see a lot of reasons why we wouldn’t get this matchup with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. New England employed a somewhat obvious (to Bill Belichick, who eats young QB’s for breakfast) strategy to slow down the Chiefs, using complex defensive packages that would force Mahomes to pause as coverages developed and then throw uncomfortably. It worked. The Patriots kept the Chiefs out of the end zone for the entire first half, and that was the difference in this game. Yes, we got a vintage Tom Brady two-minute drill (Gronkowski, Gostkowski, Gamekowski), but the smothering defense in the first half and the steady diet of running plays to Sony Michel put New England in position to do what it does best. Play situational football with the game in the balance. If you’re thinking that whoever got the ball last was going to win, I can’t argue that. That’s why I still have the Chiefs above the Patriots in this week’s Power Rankings. I don’t want to argue about it anyway. I just want to see these two teams lock horns again.
2. The Packers worked too hard to beat a bad team
I’ll start with this. Aaron Rodgers is special. He makes the damn near impossible look easy, even when he’s working with a bum knee. But let’s be real here. They shouldn’t have needed that kind of magic from him in the final minutes to escape a home game against a rudderless San Francisco team that’s playing with their third-choice QB. No disrespect to C.J. Beathard, but that performance said more about a not-ready-for-primetime Green Bay defense than about him and that run-first offensive unit. If I told you that Aaron Rodgers threw for 415 yards and two TDs, zero interceptions, in a home game, would you think that he needed an assist from Mason Crosby as the clock expired to close the deal? Nope. Me neither.
3. Denver is nowhere near as bad as you think, but they do have a weak spot
Granted, you are what your record says you are. But what if I told you that these Broncos pushed the undefeated Rams to the brink on Sunday. What if I told you that they held that high-flying offense to barely 200 yards in the air? What if I told you that they also held the Chiefs down, eventually losing after a frenzied Kansas City comeback, 27-23. They also lost to a Ravens team that looks to be the class of the AFC North. The only head-scratcher in the mix is their loss to the Jets, when Isiah Crowell ran all over them. And that’s the common thread, and probably the main thing that Vance Joseph needs to address. They can’t stop top tier runners. If they can shore up that line, they’ll be as good as any defense in the league.
4. Saquon Barkley is being wasted
The Giants are a mess. When you have owners coming out on the record telling superstars to “stop talking and start playing”, you’ve got a recipe for a dumpster fire. They do have the most electric young back in the game in Saquon Barkley, but if they can’t shore up what’s around him, things will get worse before they get better. Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the most impressively talented receivers to emerge in the past few years but complaining about touches is beneath him. I envisioned Barkley and Beckham becoming a tandem like Brown and Bell in Pittsburgh…but…wait…never mind. Point is, get some team cohesion New York. You, too. Pittsburgh.
5. Oakland will get worse before they get better
The decision to skirt the Rooney Rule and lure Jon Gruden down from the press box has proven to be a poor one thus far, especially at $100,000,000 in total, at $10 million per year. The decision to trade away the best defensive player in the AFC has not gone over well in the locker room, either, and it feels a lot like Gruden is trying to tank the ship. Sure, he says he’s not, but he’s now trying to trade away their most valuable offensive asset, Amari Cooper. If you want to see exactly how frustrated Raiders fans are, have a look at this. A real time calculator that lets you know how much of Oakland’s money disappearing. Ouch. Never piss off a loyal and tech-savvy fan base.
6. The Jaguars just aren’t the same
I’m not sure if I can lay this all on the injury to under-respected running back Leonard Fournette. They needed a better quarterback to contend. They stuck with their guy. Probably a bad choice in this case. Blake Bortles just isn’t the guy you hang your hat on after one great season with an all-time great defense. The Jags defense is still tremendous against the pass, but they’re a bottom ten unit against the run, and they’re an average team if you’re counting sacks. That’s not the same unit that threatened to pitch shutouts every Sunday last year. In fact, following that blowout loss to the Cowboys, the Jags defense has slipped out of the top ten in points allowed. Not good. They’d better hope that that blowout loss to a previously listless Dallas offense wakes them up. Because it won’t take much for this unit to fall apart at the seams and get a coach fired. Don’t believe me? Jalen Ramsey usually has plenty to say…here’s ninety seconds of him muttering the same meaningless response to reporters after getting shell shocked by Dallas.
7. Seattle says goodbye to a legendary owner
I’m sad to report the passing of an NFL owner for the second consecutive week. Seahawks owner Paul Allen passed away this week after a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The Microsoft founder, philanthropist and NFL, NBA (Portland Trail Blazers) and MLS (Seattle Sounders) owner was well-known as a philanthropist for having donated over two-billion dollars to charitable causes around the world. He was instrumental in keeping the Seahawks in Seattle, purchasing the team when a move to Los Angeles seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The Seahawks enjoyed an unprecedented string of success under his ownership, winning the Superbowl in 2013.
8. Todd Gurley saved the Rams
When Denver’s pass rush and secondary started to clamp down on a dinged- up Rams passing attack, they turned to the weapon that made them one of the NFL’s most versatile attacks last year, Todd Gurley. Somehow, he’s been lost in the shuffle as folks go crazy over Jared Goff and that stacked receiving corps, but he’s the heart of this offense. He’s also leading the league in yardage, and when the Rams needed him to go off, he did, to the tune of 208 yards and two touchdowns. Denver had a legitimate chance to win this game, as Goff threw for barely two-hundred yards, zero touchdowns and an interception. Not to mention five sacks, three by rookie wrecking machine Bradley Chubb. They have a balanced offense, a very good defense and they find ways to win when key pieces are on the sideline. If you aren’t scared of this Rams team yet, you should be.
9. Nathan Peterman doomed the Bills
I’m sorry, Bills Mafia. I really am. This elbow injury to Josh Allen is a killer. The Bills were in the mix until Peterman threw a pick six, then another interception only five plays later to close out the game. You win that game, you’re somehow 3-3 despite the second-worst point differential in all of football. Why? Because that defense is still a tough unit to move the ball against, allowing the third-fewest yards per game (311.7) and second-fewest yards per play (4.9). I’m not sure that Derek Anderson is the answer to any fun NFL trivia question, but if the question is “Who gives the Bills a better chance to win?”, the answer is “Anyone but Nathan Peterman.”.
10. The AFC South is just going to be weird all season long
Why? Because despite having quality fantasy football quarterbacks on three of four teams (Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson) and pretty darn good defenses on three (Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee), there is no team above .500 in the entire division. What’s more, no team in the division has a positive point differential, and the team with the second worst +/- (Tennessee -20) is the team that technically LEADS the division. Oh, and the Titans have lost their last two games, including getting shut out by the Ravens, 21-0. Think that theTexans might have something cooking? They’ve won three-straight. BUT that was Buffalo, Dallas, and the Colts. All one score games, soooooooooo… I’ve already told you something’s rotten in Jacksonville this week, and I don’t think Andrew Luck is the guy he was before the surgeries. So, who wins this cluster-fest? I don’t know. Chime in and let me know if you figure it out.