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. Thursday Night’s game will have some interest this week
Packers-Seahawks on TNF might not seem that interesting on the surface, but I think it’s compelling for two reasons. First, both of these teams are better than their records. Green Bay sits at 4-4-1, third place in the NFC North, while Seattle is 4-5, but could EASILY be several games over .500, with two close losses to the Rams behind them. I have these teams right together in this week’s Power Rankings at #13 and #14. Second, I’m really keen to see how these two defenses scheme for each other. Green Bay is a top-tier passing defense, but they allow a lot of yards on the ground. Seattle is the league’s top rushing offense. They’ve got to stifle that running game somehow. On the other side, Seattle’s secondary will need to step up and keep Aaron Rodgers from doing what Aaron Rodgers does. It’s a s simple as that. Either of these teams can possibly make run at a wild card spot, but whoever loses this one probably has too big of a hill to climb.
2. Brandon Marshall, really?
With their new weapon Dez Bryant done for the season with an Achilles tendon injury, the Saints proved that they’re all-in right now by waiting exactly 45 minutes to grab veteran WR Brandon Marshall. The 6’5” Marshall is a six- time Pro-Bowler who has six seasons with over 100 receptions, that’s an NFL record, BTW. He’ll be yet another big, strong target for Drew Brees in the end zone. Since Michael Thomas wasn’t enough apparently. The Saints depth this year is just crazy, especially if you reflect on the fact that their backup QB, Tedy Bridgewater, would be the starter for at least ten teams in the league right now.
3. Frank Gore is still carrying the weight
If I told you that Frank Gore was the NFL’s fourth all-time leading rusher, would you be surprised? So far this year, he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and only needs around 700 more to catch Barry-freaking-Sanders for third place all-time. I doubt he’ll get there this season, but it might be close. What if I told you that he ALREADY has more yards this season than any rusher his age (35) or older? Still not impressed? How about this… He’s the only rusher in NFL history to record 14 consecutive 500-yard rushing seasons, breaking the record set by…wait for it…Walter Peyton. That’s some rarefied air. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? You should be.
4. No, the Patriots aren’t falling apart…but the Titans knew exactly how to attack them
I know. For fans in New England, that was ugly. You think the sky is falling. But it’s not. The Titans manhandled Brady and crew on Sunday. TB12 looked flustered and didn’t spread the ball around….at all. The offensive line looked completely overwhelmed. Sony Michel couldn’t get it going. I agree with all of that. But here’s the thing. Mike Vrabel, like Matt Patricia and the Lions earlier this year, has a window into the soul of the Hoodie. I think those two former Foxboro residents both knew what was coming at them and had the resources to do something about it. Generally, we’ve seen former Patriot coaches struggle against Belichick, but it’s not out of the question to say that they do have some advantages to play with. The defensive scheme worked to perfection in this instance, and the Patriots couldn’t get off the mat after a seventeen-point first quarter by the Titans. It’s going to happen sometimes. They’ll still win the east and probably have a bye week in the playoffs.
5. Brady was on a single-minded mission-it ended poorly
Getting back to Brady, he was strangely focused on only two receivers on Sunday. Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman were both targeted twelve times each. No other receiver or tight end was even close. Chris Hogan frequently saw separation but was only targeted twice. So, what’s the deal? Well, I’d say that it was the game plan to go all in on Gordon to build that rapport. It will be crucial in the playoffs. Without Gronk to draw double coverage, Edelman became the safety valve, so Hogan got lost in the shuffle. It’s not super common, but we’ve seen the Patriots focus too narrowly on a game plan and neglect to adjust when an opposing defense seems to have it stifled. That’s the trouble with selling out on one game plan. In this case, the running game wasn’t really an option after the first quarter, so the passing game became sad and predictable. They’ll have the bye week to watch tape and refocus before getting back to work in week twelve. PS. Brady is still in the top five in passing yardage, so calm down.
6. When two equally-bad teams play, it can masquerade as a good game
Monday Night Football between the Giants and Niners probably looked like a marquis matchup before the season started, huh. Two teams coming off lean years, with new hope and a chance to make the playoffs again. Womp-womp. Jimmy G goes down, the Giants somehow continue to under-perform and it becomes a battle of teams with a combined three wins, more than halfway through the season. But here’s the thing. That game was kind of awesome to watch. Circus catches by OBJ, check. Bruising runs by Saquon Barkley that erupt into big gains, check. Nick Mullen continuing to show that he belongs in the league, not the practice squad, check. Eli Manning leading a touchdown drive in the final minutes to win a close game, check. If you didn’t know that both teams are currently in the basement, it was a heck of a game to watch.
7. It’s the end of an error in Buffalo
I’m not saying that E.J. Manuel had a point questioning the Bills, given Nathan Peterman’s insane interception numbers, but yeah…he had a point. And the Bills did the only thing they could after Matt Barkley came out of nowhere to destroy the Jets. They sent Peterman packing. Show of hands, who thinks he’ll somehow get another job throwing footballs in the league?
8. The Eagles are grounded
I’d say that a loss is a loss, and that the Eagles are still in the mix. But they’re not. That was a brutal prime time loss to a not very good Cowboy team. This Eagles squad simply isn’t made of the same stuff as last year’s team. Carson Wentz might actually be better than last season, but they just aren’t finding the end zone with anywhere near the frequency. The emergence of Leighton Vander Esch for the Cowboys didn’t help, but let’s be honest, it’s not just this one game. This is just the latest in a string of winnable game that the Eagles have let slip through their fingers. The losses to Carolina, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay were all close games. Last year, they won those types of matchups. This year, it’s just not happening. Call me crazy, but I feel like Philly has lost the edge. Super Bowl hangover is more common for the losing team than the victor.
9. Washington is probably going to win the NFC East
If Philly had gotten off the snide and dealt with Dallas, I probably wouldn’t be saying this, but here we are. Letting that one slip away leaves Washington as the only NFC East team at .500 or better. With seven games left to play, Washington doesn’t have a lot to fear. They’ve made hay by playing largely error-free football and letting opponents make mistakes. You can do that when you’re playing with a lead…The one troubling bit is the offense. They don’t score a ton of points, but when your defense is in the top five in points allowed, sometimes that’s enough.
10. Le’Veon Bell is done for the year
One of the game’s best athletes is just going to take a pass on this whole 2018 thing. Can’t say I really blame him. It’s been a weird one. Tuesday’s signing deadline came and went, and Bell won’t be suiting up for Mike Tomlin’s Steelers this year, or, it seems, ever again. I can see a few teams that would make a big play for his services, but none is as interesting as the Texans. Will they step up and give him the deal that he’s looking for to pair with DeAndre Hopkins and that ferocious defense? San Francisco might also make sense if they want to solidify that running game to help keep Jimmy G upright next year. In any case, Steelers fans better hope that James Conners is the real deal long-term, because letting a guy like Bell walk away is nothing if not risky.
Image source: AP