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.
NFL Week 7
1. New England’s defense is spooky
As if it needed to be said out loud to become real, Sam Darnold said what opposing offenses have been thinking all season long: “I’m seeing ghosts out there”. This Patriots defensive unit is so well-drilled and so amorphous, any defender can come from anywhere to destroy a play. They don’t have a reputation as a great pass-rushing unit, because they don’t have a marquis name like Aaron Donald on their front. But I’ve got a secret for you…the Pats have 26 sacks thus far this season. That’s more than every team in the
league except the Panthers. That’s great, but the secondary is where things
get really scary for opposing signal callers. They’ve hauled in 18 interceptions through seven games. That’s double any other team’s tally this year. It’s also more interceptions than all but two teams recorded ALL OF LAST SEASON. Only Chicago’s ball hungry secondary and Miami beat that total. Sacks and interceptions don’t always equal wins, but in this case, they do…The Patriots have allowed only 48 points through seven games, which is terrifying, but three of the six TDs they’ve allowed this season were scored by opposing defenses or on special teams. Meaning that the Patriots defense has actually allowed only 27 points through seven games. That’s less than four points per game. That defensive rigor has allowed the Patriots to get out to an insane +175 point differential through seven games, as they’ve also scored thirty points per game every week except week four against Buffalo. Funny thing, the last team to boast a point differential that huge through seven weeks was…wait for it…the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans. Oh. And the Pats just added WR Mohammed Sanu in a trade from the Falcons… the rich get richer.
2. Aaron Rodgers looks like…Aaron Rodgers
I don’t want to say that Aaron Rodgers picked on Oakland, because that implies some level of simplistic school yard bullying. What he did was more surgical. Rodgers hit eight different receivers, five of whom caught TD passes. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was particularly scintillating, catching two passes for 133 yards and a TD. At this point I should remind you that the Packers were playing without their number one wideout, Davante Adams. I have previously mentioned that this situation would be untenable for Rodgers and the Packers…so…mea culpa. A-Rod is doing just fine. He even ran one in for good measure to account for all six of the team’s touchdowns. Bad man, indeed.
3. San Francisco is built to contend in the postseason…and they just got better
Following the Niners 9-0 win over Washington, it would be easy to think that San Francisco’s offense isn’t up to snuff. But this was a mud bowl of the
highest order and winning on the road in those conditions is never easy. Foul weather games are upsets waiting to happen. So, to go into the nation’s capital and come away 6-0 tells me that the Niners are very much here to stay. They have two tough matchups over the next three weeks, hosting both Carolina and Seattle in that time. If they still lead the division after this stretch, homefield advantage will likely be theirs to lose. The big knock on this team all season is that they don’t have many targets for Jimmy Garoppolo. George Kittle is productive, but that’s really been all they’ve had. That just changed. Perhaps to keep pace with New England’s acquisition of Mohammed Sanu, the Niners traded for Broncos number one wideout Emmanuel Sanders. It’s a deal that shows me that the Niners know that they can contend, right now, at the highest level.
4. The Colts are scary
Last season, with Andrew Luck under center, the Colts raged into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. All that appeared to fizzle with the abrupt retirement of their franchise QB. But behind Jacoby Brissett, who’s having a career year, the Colts haven’t fallen off. Bolstered by a defense that’s flirting with the top ten, The Colts have been in the mix every single week. More often than not, Brissett has played clean enough to get the win. He’s thrown 14 TDs to only 3 INTs thus far, and he’s completing passed at the highest rate of his career, (65%). It will be interesting to see if they can keep winning all of these close games down the stretch.
5. The Texans are still poised to take the AFC South
That being said, despite the loss to the Colts this week, I still feel like Houston is the team to beat in the AFC South. Deshaun Watson looks far more comfortable since the arrival of OT Laremy Tunsil from Miami. It’s helped shore up an offensive line that allowed far too many sacks last season. Watson is a scintillating passer when he isn’t running for his life, and I’m quite keen to see how he slings it next week against that Oakland secondary. (That’s a rare fantasy football tip, ladies and gents).
6. The Vikings are very much alive, and that’s fun
Three weeks ago, these guys looked like they were done. Toasted. Kirk Cousins wasn’t on the same page with his star receivers and they couldn’t seem to do much right. The seemed to be headed for another disappointing season. Then something happened. Kirk Cousins came alive and hit Stefon Diggs for three TDs in a game. He’s also had three straight games with at least three TDs and a passer rating over 138. Dalvin Cook has rocketed up the leaderboard and is now the league’s top rusher. Is it a fluke? Is it for real? We’ll know soon enough. The Vikings have Kansas City and Dallas in back to back weeks starting in week 9.
7. The Bills are still here, you know
It’s really easy to overlook the rest of the AFC East when Brady, Belichick and company are 7-0 and look nigh on unstoppable. But for just a moment, consider how good these Buffalo Bills really are. They’re 5-1, the best record
in the conference outside of Foxboro. They also boast the fourth-best point differential in the conference. That’s not a fluke. These Bills are a tremendous defensive unit, allowing the third fewest points per game in the league, behind only New England and San Francisco. On the other side of the ball, they’re a top ten rushing offense, averaging over 135 YPG on the ground. Outside of a second matchup with the Patriots, a trip to Jerry World to play the Cowboys and a home game against Baltimore, these Bills have a cupcake schedule in the second half. It’s not impossible that this could be a twelve, or thirteen-win wildcard team. Heck, if they beat New England in week sixteen, they could be the number one seed in the conference…
8. Lamar Jackson and Baltimore should scare you
Buffalo is good. But my suspicion is that Baltimore is the top contender in the AFC. They’re walking away from an AFC North that is nowhere near as compelling as some people thought it would be. The run game is shockingly good, averaging over 200 YPG. Lamar Jackson is as good as we thought he’d be, which is to say far better than many pundits thought. He captains the second most prolific offense in the league, and they’ve scored more than anybody but New England. He’s still a tremendous threat to run the ball, but it isn’t a given like it was last year. Much, much tougher to defend. Defensively they stuff the run but have been vulnerable against aggressive passing attacks. Enter Marcus Peters…It’s going to be exciting come week nine when the Pats come to town in a potential AFC Championship game preview.
9. The Falcons are throwing in the towel
Some might say that trading Mohammed Sanu to New England was just good business. And maybe it is. But in reality, it’s the Falcons admitting that the team they imagined with Matt Ryan at QB will probably never become what it could have. That Super Bowl loss to New England will probably go down as one of the greatest come-back wins of all time, but for Atlanta, it’s a reminder of a crippling collapse on the game’s biggest stage. Sending Sanu (whom Bill Belichick has coveted since he was drafted and attempted to trade for several times) to the architect of that destruction is an admission that they need to start over. Despite Julio Jones trying to put the onus on himself, this is a team that needs new leadership from the top down. I’m fairly certain they’ll get it. After five straight losses and no let up in the upcoming weeks (they’ll face Seattle, in week eight, then go on the road to face the Saints and Carolina), this is going to get far worse before it gets better.
10. The Patriots 2016 QB room was apparently pretty stacked
I don’t think that anyone realized exactly how good that room really was… The QBs from that room (Brady, Garoppolo, Brissett) are currently a ridiculous 17-2 and leading three of the NFL’s eight divisions. Jacoby Brissett is looking more and more confident in his starting role for the Colts, and currently undefeated Jimmy G will benefit from the addition of new wideout Emmanuel Sanders. And Old Man Tom? Well, he still leads his former backups in almost all meaningful categories. But there’s one stat here that stands out, particularly as we continue to hear the horrible take that this Patriot offense is slipping (they score more points per game than any team in the league at the moment)… Brady has thrown more completions of 20+ yards than any passer in the league. Yes. You read that right. Not Patrick Mahomes, not Aaron Rodgers, not Deshaun Watson or Matt Ryan, who is averaging over 300 yards passing per game. Tom Brady.
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