Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week

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.  

Week 6

1. NFL Officiating is an absolute mess

There’s no gentle way to put this.  NFL officials, through carelessness, or with malice, stole a game from the Lions. There are any number of officiating misses from the Monday Night Football game, but almost all favored the Packers, especially late in the game. The two phantom hands to the face calls against Trey Flowers were both absurd, and it’s clear from a quick review that neither play should have been flagged.  The league has admitted as much.  Remove the final penalty and Detroit might have still won. But if you call the prior one correctly, the Green Bay drive is over, and so is the game. Now, did Detroit squander opportunities to salt the game away? Yes.  Did Aaron Rodgers do standard issue Aaron Rodgers things to win?  Yes.  But, in this case, Rodgers wasn’t enough without the zebras.  The crazy part is that with the loss, the Lions are last in the NFC North, but with the win, they’d have been in first place.  Ouch.  It’s time for full time video refs at each game.  Ones that can see what fans can.  Will it make games slightly longer?  Yes. Will it get more calls right without resorting to the odd and strangely time-consuming challenge/review system?  Yup.  The answer isn’t to “let them play”, or to “focus more/less on certain rules”.  The answer is to use available technology to make sure that the correct team wins the game.  Fix it, NFL.  Fix it now.    

2. The Niners have planted their flag

The blowout win over Cleveland established San Francisco as a contender in the NFC, but the defensively dominant performance on the road, in their division, against the defending NFC Champs makes the Niners, dare we say it, the favorites in the NFC. They’re 5-0, and they boast the second-best point differential in the entire league.  They allow very few points and are a lock down unit up front and in the secondary.  Oh, and they can run the ball.  They’re averaging almost 180 YPG on the ground offensively.  The early schedule has been soft (much like New England), and we aren’t exactly sure how far Los Angeles has regressed, but those are the elements of a team that can win in the playoffs.  If they add a solid WR before the trade deadline, lookout.  

3. The Ravens are all in

In the hubbub around Jalen Ramsey heading to the Rams, one crucial point is getting missed.  It’s this.  The Ravens just onboarded an All-Pro cornerback for a song (Kenny Young and a fifth-round pick next year, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen).  Young is a good young backer, but Peters will shore up the lone weak spot in Baltimore, a passing defense that has allowed almost 270 yards per game.  More on the Rams angle in a minute, but this move has the whiff of a team that thinks they can compete with the Pats, Texans and Chiefs in the AFC right now.  They aren’t wrong.

4. The Patriots aren’t having any…

If you’ve forgotten somehow serious the defending champs are about team discipline, look no further than the case of new addition Michael Bennett.  The star DE had a “philosophical disagreement” with a coach, and he’ll get a week off for his troubles, at least.  Bennett has managed only 2.5 sacks in six games, trailing Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy (who missed a game) and rookie Chase Winovich, who has played in a limited role. Chances are, he’s now valuable trade bait, or will be cut after the trade deadline.  Either way, players who have outbursts like this in Foxboro rarely stick around.  The Pats defense is stacked, and I doubt that they’ll put up with the distraction. 

5. The Chiefs are in trouble…relatively speaking

Ok, they’re still 4-2, and lead the AFC West. Their primary challengers in the division, the Chargers, seem to have run into a meat grinder.  But this Chiefs team has dropped two straight games, and they didn’t just get outgunned.  Their gaudy offensegot stifled.  And we know why.  The Chiefs can’t run the ball.  At all.  They’re in the bottom third of the league, averaging only 82.7 yards per game on the ground.  That’s not enough to keep Patrick Mahomes safe, and it’s not enough to keep defenses honest.  Defenses are locking down on the Chiefs air attack and it’s working.  Defensively, they’re no better than last year, allowing the sixth-most yards per game and over 24 PPG.  Against the run they’re particularly bad, allowing just under 162 YPG to opposing rushers, good for third worst in the NFL.  Opposing rushers are earning 5.2 yards per rush attempt, which means that teams can basically just ram the ball down K.C.’s throat and keep Mahomes on the sidelines for huge chunks of the game, like we’ve seen for the past two weeks. Tyreek Hill is back, for better or worse, but it won’t matter at all if they can’t shore up that defense and running game.  They can’t win in the playoffs like this.  Period. 

6. The Panthers are roaring…without Cam

Not every backup who gets a chance due to injury will end up keeping the gig once the starter returns.  Tedy Bridgewater has overperformed in his time spelling Drew Brees for the Saints, but there’s no controversy there.  In Carolina, things might be a little different.  The Panthers are 0-8 in Cam Newton’s last starts, going back to last season.  They’re 5-0 behind Kyle Allen, who has yet to throw an interception in that time.  He’s completing over 65% of his passes at a clip of 7.4 yards per completion.  Cam Newton is the undisputed face of the franchise, but this season he’s completed 56% of his passes for an average of 6.4 yards per completion, with zero touchdowns and an interception.  Making matters worse for Cam is the fact the Panthers are in the mix in the NFC South, and it’s going to be really, really hard to bench Allen unless he has a massive hiccup.  Like a Nathan Peterman-type game.  The Panthers are off until week eight, but if Kyle Allen beats the Niners, on the road, Cam Newton’s days are probably numbered.  

7. The Bills are…

By record, the second-best team in the AFC.  If they weren’t in the AFC East with New England, they’d be leading a division at 4-1.  There’s no disputing that that defense did an amazing job ugly-ing up the game against the Pats, and if they can do it to the champs, they can do it to anyone.  That defensive unit is top five overall and top five against the run.  They allow a scant 14 PPG, only the Pats, Niners and Bears are better.  They’ll have a gimme against Miami this week, then a home tilt against the Eagles.  If they’re still a one loss team at the midpoint in the season, you’ve got to consider them a very, very legitimate threat, especially if they can become even a middle of the pack offense.

8. The Backup business is booming.

If it seems like there are a lot of backupquarterbacks playing really, really well right now, it’s because there are.  A friend asked me “why” the other day and I was kind of staggered by the response that came out of my own mouth.  It’s simple, really.  Modern NFL QBs are playing too long for the natural progression of QBs to happen.  This Tom Brady generation of passers has long overstayed what would have been their NFL career arc in any other decade.  Brady, Brees, Manning the Younger, Roethlisberger.  Heck, even Josh McCown is still around.  Point is, these guys that are subbing in and rocking it, Bridgewater, Allen, Minshew, Jones, etc.  Those guys are the league’s next wave of starters, they just hadn’t gotten their chances…yet.  My suspicion is that Bill Belichick will be the one to crack the code on backup evaluation and sharing playing time.  He might already have, by the way.  Brady’s former backups are currently 8-2… 

9. The NFC East is a whole lot of meh 

Man.  That Cowboys narrative took a nosedive quickly, didn’t it?  One minute it’s: “Jerry Jones is masterfully controlling the budget and the team…” and the next everyone is wondering: “Where should Jason Garrett coach next?”  The Boys have dropped three-straight, the Eagles look very beatable and no one in the division has a winning record.  The Giants are somewhat rejuvenated with Daniel Jones under center, but they hit a brick wall in Foxboro. As a group, the NFC East is six games under .500 and has a point differential of -77.  Unless the Cowboys find a way to get back on the rails, this division promises us the worst division winner in the league.

10. The Marcus Mariota era is over in Tennessee 

Maybe.  Yes, Mariota got yanked after a putrid showing against Denver (7-18, 63 yards, 2INTs).  Yes, Mike Vrabel is rolling with Tannehill this week against the Chargers.  But here’s the thing.  There isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that Tannehill can be any better in the short or long term.  He’s never had a full season where he threw fewer than a dozen picks.   His 81.3 % completion rate this season in Tennessee is clearly an early mirage (he did that in Miami every season).  And he’s thrown zero TDs and an INT as a Titan.  If you look at the career stats, Mariota and Tannehill are far more similar than Titans fans are hoping.  Quick stat comparison for y’all.

Passing TDs per game

Mariota  1.225 Tannehill 1.366

TD rate

Mariota 4.3 % Tannehill 4.3%

Interception rate

Mariota 2.5% % Tannehill 2.6%

Career Yards per Completion

Mariota 7.5 YPC Tannehill 7.0 YPC

Career Passer Rating

Mariota 89.6 Tannehill 87.0

And…get this one folks…

Career Completion percentage:

Mariota 62.9% Tannehill 62.9%

They’re the same dude.  Like, exactly the same.  Middle of the road professional quarterbacks that will be effectively interchangeable. At any rate, at 2-4, the Titans need to do something to prevent bottoming out. The Titans are a weird case, holding last place in the division despite a positive point differential because of that week one shellacking of the Browns. Maybe that’s Vrabel’s game here?  Light a fire under Mariota without any real risk to the win/loss record.  Shake things up and keep his job?  Who knows.    

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