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. The long national nightmare is over
We can relax, everyone. The Bud Light coolers have been opened. The Baker Mayfield era in Cleveland has begun. After Tyrod Taylor’s concussion, Mayfield took over and immediately charged up a trailing Browns team, going 17-23 for just over two-hundred yards to complete a comeback that seemed almost inevitable once he entered the game. As if to punctuate his ascendency, the Browns tied the game on a two-point conversion…which Mayfield caught from WR Jarvis Landry. As good as that must have felt, we can’t talk about this Browns win without talking about the Jets. Mayfield may be this week’s wunderkind, but his counterpart on the far sideline, Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold came back to earth this week. He threw interceptions on both of New York’s last two possessions, cementing the Browns win. Darnold completed less than half of his passes for 169 yards in an exceedingly mediocre outing. The Browns defense is much improved, but not that much.
2. The Bills might be this year’s Jekyll and Hyde team
The surest bet of the week three slate of games had to be the potential laugher between the Vikings and the visiting and moribund Buffalo Bills. Except someone forgot to tell the Bills. They walked into Minneapolis like they owned the place. If they had bet on themselves, they would have. There hasn’t been a seventeen-point road underdog that has won in the NFL since 1995. It was that crazy a result. How did it happen? Well, a few things. First, the Bills were opportunistic. Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins threw an interception and fumbled three times, Buffalo recovered two of the three and put ten points on the board off of the miscues. Josh Allen also did some heavy lifting, scoring on the Bills first possession by scrambling ten yards and diving to the pylon. Listen, I’m not saying that the Vikings didn’t come in soft in a trap week. They did, but for Buffalo to take advantage and come home with a win was a huge step towards becoming the team they were at the end of the season last year.
3. New England might have let too much go in the offseason
I won’t get into the non-story of the Pats trying to trade Gronk to the Lions in the offseason. It’s old news. Gronk stuck around in New England because he realizes what a lot of football people miss. Brady can make heroes out of some practice squad guys. But he can’t make them out of any guy. Brady, perhaps more than any QB in history relies on repetition and trust with his receivers. That means he needs to trust that they will be free at one specific place in the route, or that they will break at one specific yard marker. Not a yard later. Not a yard earlier. What’s important here is that with the exit of Dion Lewis and Brandin Cooks, and the suspension of Julian Edelman (not to mention the injury to Kenny Britt), Brady is perilously low on trusted targets. Gronk is a mismatch nightmare for defenses, but he’s also injury prone, and far too valuable to target too often, this early in the season, especially in double coverage. On Sunday Night, former Patriots DC Matt Patricia and his Lions defense knew all of this. And they took advantage. The Lions also took advantage of a depleted Patriots defense, which was missing DL Trey Flowers, and DB’s Patrick Chung and Eric Rowe, rushing for over 100 yards in a game for the first time since 2013. It’s too early to put Tom Brady and the 1- 2 Patriots in a box just yet, but if they don’t catch a few breaks on the injury front, it could be a long season. We’ll need a few more weeks to see if they’re still a contender.
4. Clay Matthews can’t catch a break
But that’s mainly because he can’t stop himself from sacking the quarterback with a technique that’s been deemed dangerous by the league. Actually, it’s been illegal since the mid-nineties, they’re just focusing on those calls now. I know that the cheese heads are losing their minds over this. I know that Clay thinks that the rule is just going to change back. It’s not. Until he stops leaving his feet while sacking the QB and landing on top of him, he’s going to keep racking up penalty yards and extending drives for opposing offenses. Pundits everywhere are questioning this rule. Is it making the game “too soft”? Maybe, but it’s a major point of emphasis for the league to eliminate THAT SPECIFIC hit. How do we know? After this week’s action, referees have called thirty-three Roughing the Passer penalties, that’s up about fifty percent from the average of the last five years. That’s no accident. Referees are changing the game, because that’s how the league is moving forward. You know who’s incurring all those penalties? Veterans who are struggling to adjust, and teams who aren’t coaching their guys up. Fifteen teams have avoided RTP penalties this season altogether, while Clay and the Packers have been hit with the yellow flag five times.
5. Patrick Mahomes is still lighting it up
If you think Patrick Mahomes isn’t for real, you might want to check the NFL record books. He just broke Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdowns in the first three weeks of a season, with a gaudy thirteen strikes. That puts him on pace for an absolutely insane sixty-nine touchdowns this season. Sound incredible? It is. Mahomes is young and hasn’t gotten shaken up yet, but he’s showing the kind of poise that might make him the leader of the next wave of great NFL quarterbacks. He’ll need to be. Because that Chiefs defense is, ahem, porous. At best.
6. The Steelers would like to trade you the best running back in the league
The Steelers are officially in trouble. They sit at the bottom of the AFC North, Antonio Brown wants out, and Le’Veon Bell is being shopped. So, basically every reason I told y’all the Steelers would be good is looking for a one-way ticket out of the Steel City. What’s it going to take to get the best running back in the business? Maybe not as much as you think. The situation in Pittsburgh is untenable, so the Steelers don’t have a ton of leverage here. Bell won’t be cheap, but I can think of only a few teams who would be completely disinterested in making the call. One team that might be a really fun destination? Tampa Bay. They’re the league’s most prolific passing offense, but they rank way, way, way down on the list of rushing offenses. The addition of Bell to that mix would be, in a word, scary.
7. The way too early coronation of Jimmy G will have to wait
As the 49ers new face cruised out toward the sideline on a scramble, he decided he could salvage an extra yard or two. He was right, but as he weaved upfield, his weight buckled his leg, and just like that, with a torn ACL, his season is over. So too, is San Francisco’s season. If you thought that the Bills or Cardinals QB rooms looked shaky, check out SF’s new depth chart: C.J. Beathard. That’s it. No one else. Career stats? 4 TDs to 6 INTs. Under55% completion percentage. Oh, right. Apparently, they’ve put a call in to Tom Savage about filling the void. Career stats? 5TDs to 7INTs, 57% completion percentage. That’s the best you can do??? You want to know who else is available? I’m not saying. But his name rhymes with SCHMOLIN SCHMAPERNICK and he’s thrown 72 TDs to 30 INTs over his career and brought the Niners to the Super Bowl not too long ago. It won’t happen, but I’m just saying.
8. Records are made to be broken
I’ve already mentioned that Patrick Mahomes broke Peyton Manning’s mark for most TD’s to start a season, but he’s not the only one making waves early this season. Drew Brees just eclipsed Brett Favre’s record for career completions (6300), he’s also drawing close to Peyton’s career yardage record as well. One reason for his early success this year has been the steady hands of receiver Michael Thomas, who is quietly setting records himself this year. In the first three games, Thomas has hauled in an insane 38 catches for 398 yards. That’s the most catches by a receiver to start the season by a healthy margin. Julio Jones grabbed 34 to start the season back in 2015.
9. Are the Chiefs and Buccaneers great?
Actually, we can’t say that yet. And I’m leaning towards no. Why? While both teams are setting records and putting up gaudy offensive numbers, their defenses are allowing yards and points. Lots and lots of yards and points. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first QB in history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games. And he lost that third game despite a furious comeback attempt. Live by the gunslinger, die by the gunslinger. Both teams rank in the top three scoring offenses in the NFL, but they are the BOTTOM two in terms of yards allowed, and the Chiefs have allowed over thirty points per game thus far this season. That’s not good. I know that the league is evolving into a more passer friendly environment, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to play defense. Three games are too small of a sample size, even in a sixteen-game season to anoint either of these two teams.
10. Is Miami real?
Three and O. On top of the AFC East. Is this the year that someone overtakes the Patriots? It could be. Brady looks like the world’s oldest one-man army right now, and their defense is dinged up, but let’s not get too high on the Dolphins just yet. Aside from that nice win over Tennessee (who might be as good as that 2-1 record), Miami has feasted on a horrifically disjointed Oakland team and a Jets club with a rookie quarterback, and their stats on both offense and defense are middle of the road. If they can slay the dragon next week in Foxboro, we might be on to something. Until then, I can’t take this too seriously.
Check out previous editions of ‘Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week’ here
Image Source: USA Today