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. Patrick Mahomes is, in fact, human
Yes, I know he threw for 321 yards and a TD. Yes, I know that the TD will be
on year-end highlight reels. But this wasn’t a top-tier defense he was staring at across the trenches. This was a middle of the pack Colts unit that sacked him four times, forced the Chiefs to kick field goals, and basically made the Chiefs number one ranked passing offense look like a broken-down nag. The point is, without Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and anything resembling a running game (the Chiefs ran the ball for only 36 yards, and half of that was Mahomes scrambling) Mahomes struggled mightily and came up short in the final minutes. He also limped for much of the last quarter after having his ankle tweaked by a teammate. I’m not sure what this means for the Chiefs long term, but it does make me think that they’re going to need more than Travis Kelce for a prolonged playoff run.
2. Christian McCaffrey might not be
Every year there’s a game where Christian McCaffrey catches my attention.
This week’s game against the hard-hitting Jaguars defense left my jaw on the floor. With Cam Newton’s backup Kyle Allen under center, McCaffrey went ballistic, taking 19 carries for 176 yards (9.3 YPR) and two TDs, plus catching 6 passes for 61 yards and, you guessed it, another TD. Just for frame of reference, Kyle Allen threw for only 181 yards total. Essentially, whenever McCaffrey touched the ball, the Panthers gained an average of 9.5 yards. Wow. McCaffrey represented 53% of the Carolina offense in the win that keeps Carolina alive and in the hunt at 3-2.
3. Nick Bosa is everything we expected him to be
We know that Baker Mayfield is probably regretting showing up for work on Monday night. And when he has night sweats about that game at Levi’s
Stadium, they will all revolve around his former college rival, Nick Bosa. The former Buckeye tormented the former Sooner all night long (that is not an exaggeration). By the numbers, Bosa had two sacks, five QB hurries, and a forced fumble, but I wish we could have had him mic’d up, so we could know what he said to torment Mayfield into the waking nightmare of a 8-22, 100-yard, 2 INT game. It was probably NSFW.
4. Quentin Nelson is a bad man
I mentioned that the Colts defense showed up in a big way against the Chiefs, but that was only a part of the plan that rendered the Chiefs so ineffective. They also kept Mahomes and company on the sideline for huge chunks of time. The Colts dominated time of possession, holding the ball for over thirty-seven minutes and absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage. Much of that can be credited to second year OG Quenton Nelson, who is a monstrous masher of human beings. At 6’5”, 330lbs., no one is mistaking Nelson for a ballet dancer. This dude has one function in his life at this moment, and that is moving defenders to wherever he wants. Every time a big hole opened up for Marlon Mack (29 carries, 132 yards), there was Nelson. Every time it looked like someone might sack Jacoby Brissett, they didn’t, and there was Nelson. There aren’t many stats that can point to the success of an offensive lineman as an individual, but in Indy, the tape tells you how they’re doing what they’re doing.
5. The Texans are letting it rip
Speaking of pass protection…Last year, Deshaun Watson got lit up all season long, taking a whopping sixty-two sacks over the course of the year. That’s just under four times per game. This year, well, ok, he’s still been sacked a bunch. Fourth in the league, with eighteen. But on Sunday, against the Falcons, the Texans looked like they might have figured something out. They held Atlanta without a sack, and Watson rewarded his team with 592 yards of total offense and 53 points. They’re tied with the Colts atop the AFC South at 3-2, but if they can protect Watson, they are the team to beat.
6. The Packers are in the driver’s seat
Quick. Name the only division in football where every team is over .500. Yup. It’s the NFC North, where the Vikings and Bears are in the basement at 3-2. That 3-2 record would have them leading not one, not two, but three other divisions as of press time. But with a huge road win on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack have shown themselves to be made of sterner stuff than the last few years. Those Bears, who looked so fearsome before the season started are scuffling without Mitchell Trubisky, but the defense is still elite. The Vikings actually boast the highest point differential in the division, but they just don’t pass the eye test, with wins over the Giants, Raiders and Falcons and two divisional losses. The team with one of the best receiver tandems in the league should be doing more on offense. So, when in doubt, bet on the best QB in the conference. That, without a doubt, is Aaron Rodgers.
7. Oakland is…what?
For the life of me, I have no idea. Have they been galvanized by the perceived slight of a suspension to Vontaze Burfict? Were they just up for a game against Khalil Mack and his new squad? I don’t know, but I will say that even with Mitchell Trubisky on the sidelines, I’m surprised to see the Raiders beating Chicago. Chase Daniel and crew put up 21 points in the third quarter to briefly take the lead, but that was it for the entire game. Oakland sustained some drives with Josh Jacobs toting the rock, but do the Raiders even have a receiving squad to help out Derek Carr? Foster Moreau, Trevor Davis and Darren Waller all caught four passes for around 40 yards apiece, but that’s about it. That’s not balance on offense. That’s anemia. How they managed to eke out a win in this one is beyond me. But here we are: The Raiders have a -20 point differential, but they’re 3-2 and as I mentioned, would be leading three of the eight divisions in the NFL.
8. The Browns are the Browns
I mentioned what Nick Bosa did on Monday night to the Browns, and to Baker Mayfield specifically. What I didn’t mention is what the Browns did to
themselves. Here’s a short list of the more…Browns things that the Browns did on Monday night on the way to a 31-3 beat down.
- They started the game with a nifty trick pass play from OBJ to Jarvis Landry that would be one of the most exciting pass plays of the entire game for the Browns. This one is a pro, but it’s a deeply strange way to start off an offensive game plan.
- They were then forced to punt almost immediately and gave up an 83- yard touchdown run to Matt Breida on the 49ers first play from scrimmage.
- On their very next offensive down, Baker Mayfield threw a ball so badly that Richard Sherman intercepted it because the intended receiver pushed him towards the play, instead of away from it. It would almost certainly been offensive pass interference if Sherman wasn’t the only player within range of the ball.
- Their next four possessions ended like this punt, fumble, field goal, and interception.
- At halftime, OBJ had more passing yards than receiving yards.
- Baker Mayfield posted a passer rating of 13.4 on only eight completions all night.
- In a desperation move of some sort, late in the fourth, Freddie Kitchens asked OBJ to return a punt with the game way out of hand. Beckham retreated almost ten yards before fumbling the ball and giving San Francisco back possession inside the Cleveland thirty-yard line.
So, here’s what we know about the Browns. They have more talent than they’ve had in decades, but they’re still the Browns.
9. The NFC West is the most exciting division in football…and it’s getting better
OK- So, the NFC North is looking pretty exciting too, but the NFC West is home to the reigning NFC Champion Rams, the 4-1 Seahawks that just beat them, and the Niners who are the last undefeated team in the NFC. Even Arizona pulled off a win against Cincinnati and a tie against the Lions. It looks like the Rams do have a little bit of a Super Bowl hangover at 3-2, and a divisional test against San Francisco looms large. Those Niners might be facing their first tough stretch, but they still have the second highest point differential in all of football, trailing only the Patriots.
10. Gronk is back in football…
Fans in Boston are losing their minds as they read this…but stay calm Fitzy. He’s just going to be doing some commentary for Fox Sports. I’m not sure how Gronk’s over the top personality will play on the airwaves, but if it’s anything like Big Papi’s antics, we’ll all be so much better for it.