- Steelers: 9-0, baby. The Stillers just keep winning dahn’ner in Pittsburgh. They easily handled the Bengals 36-10 and now head to Jacksonville for what should be a 10th straight win. Then it’s a quick turnaround for them to a Thanksgiving game against the Ravens in Pittsburgh. I’m starting to lose faith in the Ravens (more on them later), but it will be tough for the Steelers to beat them twice this season. It’s one of those “throw out the records” bitter rivalries. As good as Pittsburgh has been, they’re only a game ahead of Kansas City for the top seed in the AFC. One slip-up and they could lose their first round bye.
- Chiefs: They were on bye this week so there’s not much to talk about. Next week they’ll have a chance to avenge their early-season loss to the Raiders. They might be without two offensive line starters, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, for the Raiders game as both guys were placed on the Covid list. We’ll see what happens there. But an interesting stat I saw is that Mahomes has the third-most dropped INTs (5) in the league. So his 25:1 TD-INT ratio is a bit deceiving; he should probably have more INTs than that. Still, I’m not worried about him or his team. While the Raiders are a good team, I do not expect the Chiefs to lose to them twice this season. The Chiefs actually have a slightly better point differential than the Steelers at +103 to the Steelers’ +100. But holy hell that upcoming schedule: they’re at Raiders, at Bucs, then get a break with a home game against Denver, then it’s at Dolphins and at Saints. That is an absolute gauntlet.
- Packers: Should I be more concerned about the Packers barely escaping at home against the Jaguars in a game the Packers were -13.5 point favorites going into? Maybe. The Packers were actually losing 20-17 with under 10 minutes to go in the game, but managed to pull out a 24-20 win. The Jags kind of lucked out getting a punt return TD. It was a sloppy effort all around for Green Bay. Davante Adams had a couple of drops plus a fumble, Rodgers threw a pick. I think it was more a product of the Packers just not taking Jacksonville seriously. They may have been looking ahead to next week’s game at Indianapolis. If they can win that game, they’re pretty much home free for the season. Their six games after Indy are vs. Bears, vs. Eagles, at Lions, vs. Panthers, vs. Titans and then at Bears. Green Bay is now in prime position to earn the #1 seed in the NFC, which, remember, is the only seed that gets a bye in the playoffs now.
- Saints: The main thing here is that Drew Brees is out for at least 2-3 weeks due to broken ribs and a collapsed lung. I don’t know how that’s not a career-ending injury, or even a life-ending injury, but apparently it’s not as bad as it sounds. The Saints went 5-0 without Brees last season, but that was with Teddy Bridgewater. This year they have Jameis Winston. Can Winston hold down the fort? He’s going to push the ball down the field way more than Brees did, but you know with Winston you also get a lot of turnovers. His natural tendency is “I’m going deep, YOLO” which you’ve gotta love, but maybe Sean Payton can get the best out of him in a way Arians never could. Plus, we’ve never seen Lasik Jameis start a game. Getting vision fixed could be a game-changer. I’m not even kidding. Most people think this is Drew Brees’ last season in the league, so maybe if Jameis does well here he could solidify himself as their QB of the future. The Saints were fortunate enough to win against San Fran and improve to 7-2, so they still have the lead in the division by half-a-game. Luckily for the Saints their next four games are vs. Falcons, at Broncos, at Falcons and at Eagles. They’ll probably catch an L somewhere in those four given that three are on the road, but I think the Saints will be fine with Brees out.
- Bucs: A nice bounce-back game against Carolina. The Bucs took a bit to get in their groove given that this game went to halftime tied at 17, but Tampa ended up winning 46-23. Tampa has the best point differential in the NFC at +70 and that’s including their 38-3 blowout loss against the Saints two weeks ago. Brady had a phenomenal day passing the ball, plus RoJo ran for 192 yards on the ground including a 98 yard TD run. They looked great. The one concern about this team is that the Saints absolutely own them. If the Bucs somehow avoid the Saints in the playoffs, I probably consider them the favorites to win the NFC given that they matchup well against Green Bay. The next two weeks they host the Rams and then the Chiefs. We’ll know if they’re for real by the end of this month.
- Cardinals: I don’t want to overreact too much to their miracle win over the Bills, because 99 times out of 100 they lose that game. They won a Hail Mary. I don’t know what was more impressive: DeAndre Hopkins’ high-point catch in the end zone in triple coverage, or Kyler Murray escaping pressure and slinging it 50+ yards with perfect accuracy while being chased out of bounds. It’s probably the play of the year thus far. They have a quick turnaround to a Thursday night game at Seattle this week, and this #6 ranking is contingent on them winning that game. If they can win that game and go 2-0 against Seattle this season I will officially #Believe in the Cardinals. However, things could go south for them real quick as their next two games after Thursday are at Patriots (the Pats are apparently good again) and vs. Rams. I don’t think they’ll go 0-3 in their next three games, but they could. Their two best wins (Seahawks and Bills) were pretty damn lucky and they could’ve easily lost those two games. Maybe I’m way overvaluing this team. We’ll find out in the next three weeks.
- Ravens: The Ravens did not look great in Foxboro, losing 23-17 to the Patriots in one of the worst rainstorms I’ve ever seen a football game played in. Towards the end of the game you could barely even see what was going on because the TV cameras were soaked. You could chalk the loss up to the bad weather, but the Patriots had to play in it, too. The Ravens are a far more talented team than the Patriots, so it’s slightly concerning that the Ravens lost to them. I just don’t see Lamar being able to lead that team to a Championship with his arm. That’s been my concern about them all season, and until he does something to change that perception I’m going to keep doubting this team.
- Bills: They played well on the road against a good team. It was a tough loss, for sure, but I doubt the Cardinals would’ve won that game if it was played in Buffalo in November. Still, the Bills are in first place in the AFC East at 7-3. The Dolphins are getting closer and closer in the rear view, however. Josh Allen is carrying this team. He threw 49 times against Arizona and led the team in rushing. That is not ideal. When you play in a city like Buffalo, you probably should be able to run the ball. I want to like this team more, but their defense has been disappointing and their run game is not great.
- Colts: I debated putting the Dolphins at 9 and the Colts at 10, but I gave the Colts the slight edge because I think their defense is a little better and I think they’re more of a proven and experienced team. But otherwise I think they’re very similar to the Dolphins. Both teams play great defense, they have decent but not elite offensive weapons, and they both have high-quality coaches. The only difference is whether Tua can turn into a star this season, and right now I just trust Philip Rivers more than Tua. Yes, Rivers is prone to throwing picks late in games, but I trust him right now more than I trust Tua. That could change by the end of the season, and I hope it does. It is not a knock on Tua at all, but rather an acknowledgement that Tua has only played 3 career NFL games. I could definitely see the case for putting the Dolphins ahead of Indy, but right now I just think Indy is more dependable.
- Dolphins: Look out, Buffalo: the Dolphins are now 6-3 having won 5 straight. They’re a half game back in the AFC East and they have a far better point differential than the Bills’ +7. In fact with a +69 point differential the Dolphins are 5th best in the NFL behind only the Chiefs, Steelers, Ravens and Bucs. They’re actually slightly ahead of the Colts, who are +65. The best part for Miami is their next three games are at Broncos, at Jets and vs. Bengals. They might be 9-3 going into their December 13 matchup with the Chiefs. I still don’t think the Dolphins can win a Super Bowl this season, but they’ve beaten both the Rams and the Cardinals, the latter being on the road. Tua just out-dueled Justin Herbert. I’m really impressed with the Dolphins this season. The big test for them comes in their final four games: vs. Chiefs, vs. Patriots, at Raiders, at Bills. It’ll be make-or-break for them. They need to win these next three games against beatable teams before those last four weeks. If they’re a legit good team, they will.
Just missed the cut:
- Rams: I had to leave one of the Colts, Dolphins or Rams out of the top 10. I almost gave the Rams the nod over the Dolphins due to the Rams having the more impressive win this past weekend, but then I remembered that the Dolphins dominated the Rams just two weeks ago. However, give the Rams major credit for being the first team to hold the Seahawks to under 20 points this season. Prior to Sunday’s game, the Seahawks’ fewest points scored in a game was 27 against the Vikings in week 5, and that game was in a driving rainstorm. The Rams just held them to 16 in an indoor stadium. That’s impressive. Jalen Ramsey held DK Metcalf in check, and the Rams’ secondary managed to pick Russ off twice and force a fumble on him. They held Russ to 59.7% completion. However, until the Seahawks game the Rams didn’t really have any impressive wins this year. Four of their six wins have been over the horrendous NFC East teams, plus they beat the Bears who might be worse on offense than the Jets. If the Rams beat the Bucs this week I’ll move them into the top 10, but as of right now they just don’t have enough quality wins. I know the Rams are a good team, but I don’t know if they’re a top ten team just yet. I certainly think they have the potential to be, but they haven’t proven it yet.
- Titans: As it stands right now, the Titans are currently the #9 seed in the AFC. Crazy, I know. They’re one of 6 teams in the conference with a 6-3 record. They lose the tie-breaker to the Colts given that they just lost to the Colts on Thursday night. Vegas, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland are all ahead of Tennessee (in that order) due to having better records against AFC opponents. You can say the Titans’ loss to the Colts wasn’t as bad as the 34-17 score indicates given that they had a lead until late in the third quarter, but Ryan Tannehill was held to just 147 yards passing. AJ Brown had a huge drop on a third down in the first quarter that would’ve gone for a TD, and the Colts blocked one of their punts and ran it in for a TD. It was a bad game for the Titans, sure. But I’m knocking them more for being 1-3 in their past 4 games than for just losing to the Colts. Their upcoming schedule isn’t favorable, either: they’re at Ravens this week, then at Colts, vs. Browns. They get a break with at Jags and then vs. Lions, but then they go to Green Bay in Week 16. That is not going to be a fun game for them. The AFC is very deep this year. The Titans could definitely miss the playoffs. Winning their division is imperative, which means the Colts game in two weeks has massive implications. Here’s a little interesting note on the Titans: We know that the Titans are 1-3 in their past 4 games. But we might also know the cause: when Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan went down for the season with a torn ACL on October 18, the Titans were 5-0. The injury happened during the OT win over the Texans. They have not been the same team without him.
- The Raiders: The Raiders were only up 10-6 on the Broncos at halftime, but pulled away in the second half to win 37-12. It was a dominant win for Vegas. They ran for 203 yards and picked Drew Lock off 4 times, plus forced a fumble on Broncos WR DaeSean Hamilton. You better win by 25 when you’re +5 in turnover margin. This team has two high-quality wins over the Saints and the Chiefs, and their only losses are against New England, Buffalo and Tampa. Nothing really to be ashamed of there. The Chiefs get a chance at revenge this week but luckily the Raiders get the game at home. I doubt they win, but if they do end up beating the Chiefs twice this season I am putting the Raiders in the top 10, hands-down. They’re currently the #5 seed in the AFC right now, but the upcoming schedule is not favorable: they host KC this week, then they’re at the Falcons who are 3-1 in their last 4 games. They have a cupcake game at Jets, but then it’s vs. Colts, a division game against the Chargers (no guarantee), vs. Dolphins, and then at Broncos to close out the season. A division road game out in Denver in early January is no gimme. I think I have enough faith in the Raiders to believe they’ll win 10 games this year.
- The Seahawks: What has happened to Russell Wilson lately? He’s got 6 INTs in his past 5 games. The Seahawks are 2-3 in those games and have lost to the Rams, Bills and Cardinals, while beating the 49ers and the Vikings. And they’re lucky they won that Vikings game, too. They could easily be 1-4 in their last 5 if the Vikings convert that late 4th-down try. Prior to the Rams game the easy answer would’ve been that they just don’t have a defense, as they lost 44-34 to Buffalo and 37-34 in OT to the Cardinals. But then the Rams held them to just 16 points. The Seahawks just don’t feel as scary as they were at the beginning of the season when they were 5-0. Did they get figured out? It feels like they’ve been figured out.
- The Browns: Gamblers were absolutely livid when Nick Chubb ran out of bounds to let the team kneel out the clock on the Texans. But it was the right move. If Nick Chubb would’ve run it in to the endzone, and the Browns went up 17-7 with just under a minute to play, then the Browns probably win the game. But Chubb ensured they definitely won the game. And I loved it. It feels like the Browns are no longer a loser organization that always finds ways to lose games. That game against Houston felt like a game the old Browns would’ve found a way to lose: you’re up 10-0 in the 4th, then Watson gets a TD to make it 10-7, and you could just see the Browns finding a way to lose 14-10 or in OT. But they didn’t. They ran the ball extremely well–Chubb and Hunt each had over 100 yards–in some of the ugliest weather conditions I’ve ever seen in a football game (other than the Pats-Ravens game), and they won the time of possession. They’re built for Cleveland weather. The next two games are winnable: vs. Eagles, at Jaguars. Then they’re at Titans, the week after that they host the Ravens, and then two consecutive games in New York at Giants and at Jets. Then they close the season out with the Steelers at home. I need to see them win against either the Titans, Ravens or Steelers. This Browns team is clearly better than any Browns team of the past 10-15 years (only the ’07 Browns team that went 10-6 but still missed the playoffs is debatable), but I want to see them beat a great team before I can think about trusting them.
Notable Teams Outside the Top 15
- Vikings: After starting 1-5 the Vikings are now 4-5 after three straight wins against their division. I have always thought this team was too talented to be as bad as they were to start the season, but it looks like they’re coming around. They’re still alive for a playoff berth, although right now in the NFC 6-3 is the cut-off point. Can the Vikings pass the Seahawks and the Rams in the wild card hunt? That close loss in Seattle in week 5 really hurts for the Vikings, but Seattle looks like a team trending down and the Vikings are trending up. They might just be able to squeeze in the playoffs.
- Patriots: They were dead at 2-5, but now they’re not dead at 4-5. It’s going to be tough for them to make the playoffs in the AFC, especially given that they still have to play the Cardinals, Rams, Dolphins and Bills. But you can never count out Bill Belichick. It’s possible he’s able to control the weather up there in Foxboro given just how bad that typhoon was on Sunday night. Nobody wants to play the Patriots, I guarantee you that. Losing that game to the Bills a few weeks back (the Cam fumble) really hurts a lot, and they probably should have beaten the Broncos back in week 5, too. On top of that, they were one play away from beating the Seahawks in week 2. Then again, they were damn close to losing to the Jets two weeks ago. This is what happens when you lose Tom Brady.
Finally, here’s the Hopkins catch for those who want to re-live it: