Week seven is nearly finished and audiences have a better collective picture of who’s heading to the playoffs. Most of yesterday’s games revealed who’s staying in the race for an additional month and who will pack up and get ready for the offseason. Half the league needs to use the trade deadline to their benefit and fill in some gaps to make longer postseason runs or trade up for the draft. Without further ado, it’s time to discuss who or what stood out yesterday, positively and negatively on this final week of October.
Winners: Justin Herbert
Herbert looks to be the quintessential Chargers quarterback: puts up good numbers, looks great most of the game, can’t win when it matters in the fourth quarter. He’ll definitely be the franchise cornerstone for at least the next five years.
The one flaw was his donut in the win column. Los Angeles played one of their few complete games this season, picking up a needed win against Jacksonville. At 2-4, they are tied for third place in the AFC West. Herbert may have been nervous about that first NFL win, yet it comes at a time when the Chargers need to stay in the playoff race. He keeps them alive for a couple of weeks. Los Angeles has a chance to go .500 for the season with an easy schedule. At least they didn’t squander their bye week, unlike two of the other West Coast teams.
There are valid arguments for firing Matt Patricia after the Detroit Lions put up two miserable seasons with him on the sidelines. There’s still a lot of good Patricia has brought and anyone who’s watched Detroit the past two weeks can see there’s change.
Let’s consider who the Lions played yesterday. A rejuvenated Atlanta Falcons team with Raheem Morris providing a needed spark. The Falcons played like a winning team against Minnesota, and Patricia knew his defense had to find ways to slow down Matt Ryan and the offense. Detroit’s defense is still in re-build mode, but they can say they’re one of three teams to hold the Falcons offense under 25 points. That’s great to build on when Atlanta started Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst.
Patricia won a critical challenge after audiences thought Detroit would punt midfield on fourth and short. While kicker Matt Prater missed three points a few minutes later, that drive showed we’re seeing a different Lions team gradually. Two years ago, they wouldn’t have scored a game winning touchdown at the end of the 4th quarter. Yes, Atlanta blew another lead for Detroit to get that possession, but the Lions are 3-3 and have three losses because they couldn’t close out double digit leads. Their bye week looks like it came at the right time.
Detroit is in the easier part of the schedule. If Patricia leads his team to two or three more wins before the second matchup against Chicago, the conversation on his job security will change.
The Carolina Panthers once Christian McCaffery returns
We’re all in awe with head coach Matt Rhule turning the Panthers around after an awful 0-2 start. The worst team they’ve lost to is the Las Vegas Raiders, and that was Week 1.
You shouldn’t have to rely on a 65 yard field goal to tie the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t play his best when he had to near the end, and that’s what cost the Panthers a win. Still, there’s a lot to take away from the past two weeks for Carolina and the league. The Panthers are a good team, but star runningback Christian McCaffery is the X factor they’re missing. If McCaffery plays in both the Bears and Saints games, there’s no doubt Carolina is 4-2 and not 2-4.
Bridgewater’s return to form and emphasis on the offense to play well keeps Carolina in close games. Adding McCaffery back in the lineup once he’s healthy could give Carolina that edge to win close games. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Detroit play Carolina after this upcoming Thursday, and McCaffery should be good to go when the team goes to Arrowhead. Keep an eye on this team in November.
NBC & the NFL flexing mid-week for Seattle-Arizona instead of Tampa Bay-Las Vegas
The big story going into week seven was the faceoff between Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders v. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gruden and co. had their bye week with focus and revenge on a quarterback who not only cost him his job and championship in Oakland, but admitted the Tuck Rule moment in 2002 was a fluke. This built up hype for a great Sunday night game.
Unfortunately, the Raiders’ offensive line had to quarantine because of COVID-19 scares. NBC and the NFL wanted and needed their ratings, deciding last Thursday to flex the game out for another NFC West rivalry game. This time, it was Seattle and Arizona, and that made for wonderful t.v.
Tampa Bay forced another Tuck Rule decision early in their game against Las Vegas. After that, Brady and the offense didn’t hold back. The Raiders blew a three point lead and lost by double digits. A Raider offensive lineman was ejected for an after-the-play personal foul. This game wouldn’t have been a hit on prime time.
Most U.S. sports fans know after Sunday night Arizona came back from multiple 10 point deficits and stunned Seattle late in overtime to hand the Seahawks their first loss of the season. Kyler Murray is one of two quarterbacks to defeat Russell Wilson when Wilson holds a 10 point lead. Hilariously, the other is Tom Brady, and both of those games came in Glendale, AZ. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Losers: Las Vegas Raiders
It isn’t Denver Broncos bye week bad, but it’s still awful considering the opponent they played after the bye. The Raiders didn’t look ready in a game Jon Gruden personally coveted. An offensive lineman was thrown out for an egregious personal foul penalty. Then there’s the offensive line dealing with COVID quarantines days before the game. That cost them a Sunday Night Football slot, which they may not be featured in for a few more months.
The worst part of their loss is what happened elsewhere in the division. Kansas City faced little resistance in snowy Denver, obliterating the Broncos without Patrick Mahomes II carrying the offense. The Chiefs are two games ahead of the Raiders and will likely win the West this year. The Raiders have a great win in Arrowhead, but sit in second at 3-3. Behind them are two teams with two wins each, and one has an easier schedule in the second half of the season.
In the Raiders’ defense, they’ve yet to play a bad team and came out with three wins after six difficult games. They’ll have two shots at Denver and Los Angeles, but they have to play like a playoff team the rest of the way. Given what we’ve seen so far, that could prove tricky.
Mina Kimes and Doug Kyed brought out a wild stat for Newton’s past two games. Cam Newton throwing only three passes to his right side in two games is alarming, and it explains partially why New England’s offense plummeted in those two losses.
Bill Belichick has struggled in his coaching career to defeat San Francisco, so the sky isn’t falling in Boston yet. Plus, the 49ers are in the gauntlet of their schedule right now. Newton put up one of his worst performances in his career. When you complete nine of 15 passes for 98 yards, but half of the incompletions are interceptions by the defense, you’re not going to win games.
Newton’s going through the asymptomatic side with COVID-19, and it’s clear he hasn’t been the same since testing positive. We knew the talent outside of Julian Edelman was scarce, but Newton hasn’t made anyone show progress like Brady had in past years. In order for New England to not fall apart and get back into contention within their division, they need Cam to play much better.
The Dreadful NFC East
I personally watched both the 2010 NFC West and 2014 NFC South dumpster fires. The 2010 Seahawks started off well in Pete Carroll’s first year, but their depth issues and bad tackling held the team back. They got to the playoffs because a rookie Sam Bradford couldn’t play when it mattered most. The 2014 Panthers got hot near the end of the season after the other three teams decided they didn’t care enough to make the playoffs. Both teams won their wild-card playoff games.
The 2020 NFC East may be one of the worst divisions in the history of U.S. sports, and that’s saying something. None of these teams went on a tear to start the season. At this rate with injuries piling up, they won’t go on a tear to end the season. Forget winning a playoff game, who the hell is going to put up seven wins?
Five of the seven wins in this division were against each other. The Washington Football Team, which faces legal crises off the field, has two divisional wins and the best record against their divisional opponents. Their -32 point differential is the best in the division. The worst point differential in the rest of the NFC is Minnesota’s -37, and they’re last in the NFC North with one win.
Dallas’ defense couldn’t stop Kyle Allen and the Football Team’s near bottom offense. News today says Dallas is trying to shop free agent acquisition Everson Griffen, someone who’s played far worse than when he came in. Their defense got torn to pieces by Daniel Jones and Allen. Kyler Murray completed 9 passes against it and the Cardinals put up 35 points. Dallas lead the division before week seven, even with news the locker room was starting to quit on the coaching staff. Coach Mike McCarthy could start third string quarterback Ben DiNucci next Sunday against Philadelphia because of second string Andy Dalton suffering a head injury in yesterday’s blowout loss.
While the Giants are just inept and bad in every facet, the Eagles have injury issues, and that’s accelerating each game. It won’t be long before Carson Wentz goes down with an injury.
Two teams going to the playoffs off sub-.500 records are fine only if those teams win a postseason game. The NFL has to restructure the division at the end of the season if the winner gets smoked, right?
Stephen Hauschka got blasted a few weeks ago rightfully over missing two critical kicks that deflated a Jacksonville Jaguars team in the second half. Kickers this week cost or nearly cost their teams wins. Jake Elliott, Zane Gonzalez, Matt Prater, Cody Parkey and Michael Badgley were fortunate they made kicks late or their opponents didn’t score again. The five teams these kickers are on all need to stay in the playoff race heading into December. They can’t screw up kicks in close scoring games. It’s worth keeping an eye on three of these for the next few weeks.
Stephen Gostkowski and Joey Slye both cost their teams a chance to go to/win in overtime, missing game tying field goals. Slye attempted a 65 yard kick because Carolina’s final drive was pushed backwards. That’s on the offense. Sadly, he’ll be the scapegoat because he didn’t score when it mattered. Gostkowski is up and down this season, but this time he cost the Titans a possible win. That affects seeding with Pittsburgh alone in first and the only undefeated team in the NFL.