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 11
1. The Shield vs. Captain Kaepbattle rages on…
Wow! That’s a great name for a superhero movie! But moving on…After maintaining a perhaps overly optimistic view of what was happening with Colin Kaepernick’s surprise workout, the sky began to fall. It became crystal clear from the league’s requirements that they didn’t do this with the quarterback’s best interests at heart. First there was the scheduling on a Saturday, which virtually ensured that no high-level coaches could attend. Then there was the smothering control over what and how much media would be allowed. Next, what appears to be a liability waiver that was so restrictive that Kaepernick’s lawyers refused to let him sign. The fallout between the league and the QB’s team was so drastic, that they moved the workout to a different facility, against the NFL’s wishes. All reports and the footage that I’ve seen indicate that Kaep made the throws and looked as fit as ever. He’s ready to play, but we already know that. This was, as many feared, an “opportunity” that was more about the optics for the league, and less about getting Colin back on the field where he belongs. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this, but I fear I’m not.
2. Minnesota can come from behind
That looked grim for a while there, didn’t it, Viking fans? Here’s the Vikings drive chart for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Broncos:
At the half, Minnesota trailed by twenty, and that was honestly pretty lucky. They still trailed 23-7 entering the fourth quarter, but that’s when Kirk Cousins and crew figured out that there was a football game happening, and that they should probably try to win.
Here are the Vikings final four drive results:
Minnesota went ballistic to complete a comeback that they shouldn’t have needed. Along the way, Cousins connected with Stefon Diggs for a gorgeous 54-yard touchdown strike that will remind Minnesota fans why they paid through the nose for the former Washington signal caller. But it’s not all rosy. The weather is getting colder, and the Vikings still need to play the Packers and the Seahawks. Trust me, if they fall behind by twenty against better competition, they probably aren’t coming back.
3. The Panthers took a tumble
It was almost inevitable, wasn’t it? The Panthers are in the mix for a wild card slot without Cam Newton, but they’ve been a Jekyll And Hyde unit all season. The wheels were bound to come off the wagon sooner or later, and this Sunday’s home game against the division-rival Falcons was as good a time as any. Kyle Allen, who has been considerably better than expected since taking over in week three (his only losses until Sunday were at Green Bay and at San Francisco…), had his first full-blown stinker, a four interception, zero TD performance that dropped the Panthers back to 5-5. This isn’t exactly a ball-hawking Atlanta defense, either. They entered Sunday’s game with only two INT’s on the year. Ouch.
4. The MVP race might be more complicated
We all know that Russell Wilson is having a great season up in Seattle, but he’s got some guys tight on his heels. Let’s start with a few guys that you know are in the mix. Lamar Jackson’s run-first offense has dragged down his total passing yardage, in fact, he’s barely in the top twenty in aerial yardage. I think he deserves some serious consideration because of his skill set, but I doubt voters could wrap their head around a QB that isn’t at least in the top five in that category. So, probably a no. Dak Prescott is in the mix with 21 TDs and over 3,200 yards, but he also has nine picks this season to Wilson’s two. So, he’s probably out. Patrick Mahomes has struggled and missed some time with the knee injury, but he’s on pace, and can get back in the conversation, but the Chiefs don’t look nearly as dominant as they did last season, so the optics might not be right. Guess who is the most legitimate threat to Russell Wilson in the MVP race at this particular moment? Anyone? Anyone?
Kirk Cousins. No, really.
Player Comp % Yards TDs INT
Wilson 68.5 2,737 23 2
Cousins 70.6 2,756 21 3
The main knock on Cousins might be that another MVP candidate, Dalvin Cook, is on his team and that Wilson has pulled more clutch time heroics. But after Sunday’s comeback, his fourth quarter miracles rating got a boost.
“YOU LIKE THAT!!!!?!!!?!?!??!”
5. New England’s defense is still all-everything
With Tom Brady and the offense grinding the gears against a tough Eagles front, the defense really needed to step up to keep Carson Wentz and crew in check. With the exception of one long drive and a huge (and pretty questionable) pass interference penalty, they did exactly that. The Eagles sustained a 90-yard drive to take the lead in the second quarter, but they would manage less than 150 yards of total offense for the rest of the game. Wentz posted season lows in completion percentage (50%)and yards per attempt (5.35) as well as second lowest QB rating (74.4) and most sacks (4). The 2019 Patriot defense is still in the mix for greatest unit of all time with the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens in every important metric and as for this season, the Patriots lead the league in yards per game allowed, yards per play allowed, points per game allowed, interceptions, turnover margin, and third down conversion percentage. Boogeymen, indeed. There are still some very real tests in front of New England as the weather gets colder, but before we bury the Pats, it should also be noted that despite what you’ve heard about Brady being old (he is) New England is still the third-highest scoring offense in the league on top of all that defensive dominance…
6. The Steelers stumbled on the road
It was all there for the Steelers. A chance to cement their claim on a wildcard spot and punish the upstart Browns in the process. Just last week I was touting Mike Tomlin as a Coach of the year candidate, but this week they couldn’t get the job done against a talented but less than cohesive Cleveland team. Mason Rudolph was sacked four times and threw four picks before doing his part to ignite a brawl on the second to last play of the game. It was, to be kind, a mess. I could see if OBJ just gouged their secondary, but he was again a highly paid decoy, pulling in only four catches for 60 yards and no TDs. Hardly a dominant performance from one of the guys on the Browns who is capable of being a game changer. In all, it looks like pride might be all that’s left in steel town.
7. The Niners don’t like playing the Cardinals
It’s…weird. The Niners defense has been almost as dominant as New England’s this season, with two notable exceptions. The two games against Arizona. Jimmy G has predictably had his two best games against the Cardinals defense, but Kyler Murray and crew are forcing him to. San Francisco has allowed over twenty points only three times this season and two of those games are against the Cardinals. The other was the overtime loss to Seattle. Maybe it’s divisional familiarity, but it sure seems like Arizona’s new head coach KliffKingsbury has found some buttons to push against the NFC’s top seed.
8. Miles Garrett isn’t coming back
Yes, Mason Rudolph wrenched his helmet after the possibly late hit. Yes, there appeared to be some kicking down low before Garrett ripped Rudolph’s helmet off and used it as a bludgeon. But the sheer violence of the overreaction here can not be ignored. In all seriousness, the blow that came down on Mason Rudolph’s head could well have killed him. That’s not hyperbole. We’ve now entered a world where the most horrific play on a football field was committed neither by Vontaze Burfict, nor Ndamukong Suh. Think about that for a minute. Garrett will be gone for the rest of the season, if not longer. I’m not sure what, if any leniency will be available when he looks to get back on the field, but I’m pretty sure he just burned nine of his ten NFL lives.
9. The Chiefs are hanging on
This simply isn’t the dominant unit that we expected to see. We anticipated a Chiefs unit that was ready to return to the AFC Championship and possibly take the next step. Instead, we’re seeing Mahomes and company limping into a four seed, and they might not even get that if Oakland keeps winning. The Chiefs have a losing record at home (2-3) and only a +52 point differential, only good for sixth league wide. Not exactly the next phase of ascendancy for a potential juggernaut. This week, as the Chiefs struggled wildly to get past a below .500 Chargers team, Mahomes threw for only 182 yards, with one TD and one interception in the 24-17 win. If Philip Rivers hadn’t had a career worst four interceptions, including the game ending pick in the red zone at the end of regulation, the Chiefs would likely be looking up at Raiders in the AFC West. There’s still time before the playoffs roll around, and the Chiefs are on a much-needed bye this week, so they’ll need to go back to the drawing board before they host Oakland and travel to New England in weeks thirteen and fourteen.
10. The Ravens are rolling.
We all know that the Pats have the highest point differential in the league (+179), but the Ravens are closing the gap. They’ve now won four straight games by at least two TDs to boost their PD to a whopping +145. Good for second in the league. The offense has been gaudy, but Baltimore seems to have sorted some things out defensively, and if they can continue to develop that balance, they should be considered the favorites in the AFC. Why? Because Lamar Jackson looks darn near impossible to stop, and Tom Brady looks like he’s really, really hoping Gronk is going to walk through those doors. The Pats may have the number one seed, but right now, the Ravens are the scariest team in the AFC.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, click here.
Image Source: AP Images