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. Former NFL players are winning at the polls, too
OK- so maybe Election night isn’t really a part of week 9, but I think it bears noting that two new Congressmen are former players. Ohio elected former Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez to congress in the 16th district. The former first-rounder was injury-plagued toward the end of his career, but clearly, he
hasn’t lost his competitive edge. Additionally, undrafted Titans linebacker Colin Allred shocked the 11-term Republican incumbent in Texas’ 32nd-district in a close race.
2. The Saints are really good, and they just got better
In an EXTREMELY likely NFC Championship preview, Drew Brees and the Saints got the better of the Rams, partially by victimizing Marcus Peters, but mostly by running the ball. Last year, the Saints became surprise contenders as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram elevated the run game and made Drew Brees more dangerous by balancing the offense. This year, they’ve further refined the formula. And it’s working. Alvin Kamara is clearly the more explosive back, but it’s the versatility and misdirection that make these Saints deadly from anywhere on the field. The Rams made a game of it late, scoring eighteen second half points, and stifling the Saints in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough. This win likely sets the Saints up as the NFC’s favorite to make the Super Bowl, but they quickly went all in to cement their front-runner status. News came in today that the Saints are signing free agent WR Dez Bryant, and if that doesn’t scare the rest of the conference, it should. Dez will be coming in to the second half with no wear and tear, and something to prove. As for the Rams, that secondary should get some help before the playoffs start, with CB Aqib Talib set to return. No word yet on who will have to cover Dez when the time comes.
3. The Packers have a problem
It starts with the fact that at 3-4-1, they’ll likely need to catch both the Bears and the Vikings and win the division if they want to make it to the playoffs. That’s unlikely. But a wildcard berth is even more unlikely with no less than five teams ahead of them for the second wildcard slot. So that’s not great. But that’s also not the bad part. What’s worse is that Coach Mike McCarthy seems to have lost some control of the team, and the front office is over-reacting. For the second consecutive week, the Packers have sent a player away after an undisciplined mistake cost the team. While safety Jermaine Whitehead can’t be blamed directly for the Packers two touchdown loss against the Patriots, his ejection for a thrown punch (slap) was apparently enough for the Packers brass to send him to the scrap heap. By scrap heap I mean that Cleveland claimed him off waivers.
4. The Patriots don’t care about your fantasy team
We knew this already, but it’s as good a way as any to explain how and why the Patriots turned Cordarrelle Patterson into a stud running back for a week. The Patriots were cautious, even heading into this marquis game, leaving Gronk and rookie RB Sony Michel on the sidelines. The game plan was simple, but slightly odd. Patterson, a wide receiver best known for mercurial play on special teams, would become the feature back. Sure. Whatever works. But it did. Green Bay couldn’t stop him, and Patterson averaged over five yards per carry. Also, any concerns about Josh Gordon not fitting in to the Patriots scheme can probably be laid to rest. He’s gone for over 100 yards in two of the last three weeks, with a fifty-plus yard reception in each of those games. He’s exactly the weapon Brady was hoping for. The Pats have now won six straight games, four of those against teams with playoff aspirations this season. Nothing new in Foxboro.
5. The NFC North is going to get interesting
With the Packers loss to New England this week, the Vikings and Bears are eyeing each other up. The Bears seem to be ascendant, while the Vikings haven’t seemed as dangerous this year on either side of the football. Weeks 11 & 17 loom large, as the two have yet to clash this season. The Vikings also have a tough week 13 trip to Foxboro to contend with. The Bears will have their toughest test a week later, when the Rams come to town. I have to give the edge to the Vikings as the season wears on, but that inexplicable blowout loss at home to the Bills could easily come back to haunt them.
6. The NFC South is really good, again
No surprise here, really, but I want to point out one interesting tidbit about the division that sent three teams to the playoffs last season. The Saints are on top, and the Panthers are in prime position at 6-2, but guess who has the best record within the division…yup, the 4-4 Falcons, who beat the Eagles and lost a heartbreaker to the Rams. If you’re looking for a team that’s at .500 and might be able to make a playoff run, the Falcons are as good a bet as any.
7. The Niners aren’t good, the Raiders are just that bad
I got some bad news for people in Northern California. That Thursday night shellacking that the Niners laid on the Raiders wasn’t the emergence of an unheralded hero that will restore San Francisco’s glory days. That was just proof of exactly how badly the Raiders whiffed on their coaching decision. The silver and black defense turned a modest Niners offense into Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. San Francisco averaged a hefty 7.5 yards per play on offense, but when you’re doing that, it says more about your opponent. Nick Mullens threw for 262 yards and three TDs in a performance that will inevitably be blown out of proportion. Watching the game, it was clear that Oakland’s culture is rotten, if not completely broken. I’m not sure that we can lay this all at Jon Gruden’s feet, but when you win time of possession against a run-first offense with an untested rookie QB, but somehow get blown out of the water whilst committing twice as many penalties, something ain’t right.
8. Dallas added a weapon, but it’s too little, too late
Amari Cooper certainly looks right at home in Dallas, doesn’t he? It took until only Dallas’ second drive of the first quarter for Dak Prescott to connect with his new receiver and put points on the board. Despite the improvement, Dallas fell to a Titans team that was able to move the ball at will throughout the game. I don’t want to say that Dallas is cooked in week nine, but at 3-5, perhaps they should have held onto the draft picks that it took to bring Cooper in. Their schedule isn’t favorable for a late season run either, with two games left against the Eagles, plus a suddenly tough Washington squad, and the Falcons and Saints looming. 8-8 is starting to look like a stretch goal.
9. The clock is ticking on LeVeon Bell
If he’s going to report this year, now is the time. This is the last week he has to get on the field before he needs to sit out the whole season, so if you’re holding on too tight as a fantasy football long play, now might be the time to loosen up. For the Steelers, the franchise tag has become untenable. After this year at $14.5 million, next year’s tag would skyrocket above $20 Million. That’s QB money, and the Steelers are hardly motivated to pump that much into their combative star. For Bell, however, the move may be a calculated one. He can’t earn back what he’s lost this season, but he can keep the mileage off his legs as a selling point for his future employer. The danger here is that he’s misjudged the market, and his yearly average won’t stack up against the lost wages from this year. Despite the emergence of James Conner for the Steelers, they still rank 25 th in the league in rushing yards. I’m not sure anything can be done at this point that would salvage the situation for either side.
10. The Chargers are probably the best team in history to fire their kicker midseason
I have no data whatsoever to back that up but seeing a 6-2 team send a kicker packing after a road win does seem kinda unprecedented. Caleb Sturgis missed two extra points and a 42-yarder, allowing the Seahawks back into what should have been a relatively easy road win for the under-the-radar Chargers. Maybe it’s the fact that the other LA team is winning big and grabbing the headlines, but hardly anyone takes Philip Rivers and company seriously. That’s a mistake. These guys are keeping pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West and will be a tough out come playoff time. If they can find a better answer at placekicker.
Image source: Getty