NFL Week Seven Winners and Losers

Week seven in the NFL featured new records, injuries to star players and blowout upsets. A new team is number one in the AFC and the Arizona Cardinals are undefeated this late for the first time since 1974. There were many winners and losers for week seven, so it’s time to break down who or what stood out.

Winners: Tennessee Titans

For the second time this month, a team winning a close Monday night game blew out an AFC West opponent the Sunday after. Tennessee did any and everything they wanted in a route against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs challenged Seattle’s 2012-15 record of having a lead in over 60 regular season games before Sunday. Tennessee shut down any chance of Kansas City gaining an upper-hand in either half. MVP candidate Derrick Henry threw a touchdown to MyCole Pruitt on Tennessee’s first drive. A couple of Randy Bullock field goals and Ryan Tannehill touchdowns (one thrown to A.J. Brown) cemented a 27 point deficit the Chiefs couldn’t challenge.

The Titans defense deserves as much credit if not more. Free agent acquisition Bud Dupree got his first sack of the season. The unit recovered two fumbles and intercepted quarterback Patrick Mahomes III. They followed up on how Buffalo’s secondary played Kansas City weeks prior: physical with zone coverage, something Mahomes cannot read.

When the Chiefs tried to close the gap near the end, Mahomes was dragged down throwing a pass and the knee of defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons hit his front helmet. Mahomes was pulled after in a fast finish.

Despite losses Kansas City’s had over the years, they weren’t dominated where they didn’t lead in a game since 2017. Tennessee’s won two impressive games against quality opponents in seven days. The AFC is on notice.

Damien Harris & J.J. Taylor

The New England Patriots steamrolled the New York Jets for their first home win of the season. The running game anchored by Damien Harris got the offense active early and often. Harris got the second touchdown of the game, giving the Patriots a 14-0 lead.

Harris and J.J. Taylor ran for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, adding 18 points to an impressive day. While Taylor ran for short distance situations, the duo ran for 127 yards on 23 carries.

Coach Bill Belichick caught flack in previous weeks for shouldering rookie quarterback Mac Jones with more responsibilities and throwing 40 passes (average) a game. Hopefully we see the tandem of Harris and Taylor for a few weeks so New England gets back to .500.

Rookie Pass Catchers

Last year Justin Jefferson was the talk of the rookie class making an impact week-by-week. This year’s draft of wide receivers and tight ends seem better in every aspect.

Ja’Marr Chase is and should win the Rookie of the Year with how he’s not just passed Anquan Boldin’s rookie record for most receiving yards the first seven games played, but how he’s scored in almost every game and is one of the best number one threats a team could have. If you haven’t watched highlights of Chase (outside of Sunday’s dominant road win in Baltimore), find time to this week.

Coach Arthur Smith finally found how to use rookie tight end Kyle Pitts in the passing game and how Matt Ryan can get the ball to him. While Pitts didn’t score Sunday, he caught seven passes for 163 yards on eight targets. That averages over 23 yards per catch. The Falcon offense looks fantastic with Pitts being the main star outside of Calvin Ridley.

On the opposite end, Jaylen Waddle also caught seven passes on eight targets. The second leading receiver for Miami had 83 yards and was critical in Miami’s offensive comeback. He’s growing into the leading receiving role quietly and should find ways to have break-out games before the regular season ends. Since the Dolphins have one win, his development will be under the radar.

We hear too much about quarterback play that’s simply been watered down. Receivers deserve a lot more credit for the numbers put up and it’s time they get it.

Mike Evans, Todd Bowles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Organization

Speaking of receivers, we’ll remember Buccaneer receiver Mike Evans for catching Tom Brady’s 600th touchdown pass. Evans however had a game most receivers could only dream. He caught three touchdowns in the first half of a blowout game against the Chicago Bears. Despite the debacle of getting the iconic gameball back to Tom Brady, Tampa’s offensive co-captain has seven touchdowns this year with under 500 yards receiving. He’s the number one wideout on a deep offense. Tampa can repeat a Super Bowl run as long as they stay healthy.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles showed why he landed a coveted job. Facing a rookie quarterback with no chance of winning, Bowles called aggressive plays and the Buccaneer defense obliterated Chicago’s pass game. The COVID-19 issue aside, the Bears benched a replacement right tackle by the fourth quarter. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields threw three interceptions, lost two fumbles and was sacked four times, two from an injured Jason Pierre-Paul. The defense had fun and dominated playing prevent defense the second half. It’s been discussed Bowles could return as a head coach and that topic will trend by November.

Last but not least, coach Bruce Arians shows why he’s a great head coach and why the Bears made a franchise changing mistake in hiring Marc Trestman instead of him. Arians may be coaching one of the best rosters a collective audience has watched in a long time. The best part is everyone’s held accountable. Tampa Bay’s gone from laughingstock sports franchise to franchise best 6-1 and one of the best and funnest teams to watch. At the very least they’re not…

Losers: Chicago Bears coaching staff

…the worst coaching staff assembled in 2021. With Adam Gase shunned from the league, Matt Nagy and his offensive (both versions of the word can apply here) staff again made an embarrassment of the Bears organization.

Rookie quarterback Justin Fields is Chicago’s most important asset (until their new stadium in Arlington Heights) and there’s nothing Nagy or the coaching staff can do to either develop or help him. Whenever an offensive series ends, Fields is alone on the bench. No coaches nor veterans come over to talk or help him understand what can be better by next possession. He’s expected to play under center instead of a shotgun formation, easily exposing him to more hits and cheap shots.

CBS analyst and former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason offered worrying analysis stating that, “Fields doesn’t seem to know how to read an NFL defensive scheme nor coverages.” That’s damning on a coaching staff that also can’t figure out how to fix the league-worst offensive line nor how to capitalize on an efficient running game.

Coach Matt Nagy said Sunday night he left Fields in, “for pride” down 35 points. No sane coach does or says either. Then Nagy announced early Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 in a press conference from the back of a van where wifi was faulty and the interview dropped after a scathing Mark Potash question. If McCaskey ownership can’t move on from this coaching staff at the end of the year, real problems will arise.

Miami Dolphins defense

Last year, coach Brian Flores had a top three defensive unit in the league. The Dolphins forced turnovers in almost every game and bullied opposing quarterbacks. This year it’s the second worst defense ahead of only the Washington Football Team. They’re allowing over 29 points and 410 yards a game.

Defense is where Flores shines. Miami’s marred by rumors of a DeShaun Watson trade but with how the defense plays, the focus is on the wrong side of the ball. They allowed a rookie tight end to have close to a 200 yard game. The Atlanta Falcons almost blew a double digit lead at the end but got the last offensive possession of the game. Younghoe Koo easily made the game winning field goal, and the Falcons aren’t a hard team to beat. Miami needs to fix their schemes fast before it gets worse.

Matt Rhule

The hiring of Rhule as head coach looks more of a bad hire for Carolina. The Panthers have lost four straight and while most will blame the inconsistent play of quarterback Sam Darnold, Rhule is the offensive minded coach working with him.

Everything went wrong for Carolina’s offense after their first possession ended in a three point lead. Sam Darnold threw just over 100 yards and was pulled for P.J. Walker late in the third quarter. The leading rusher averaged two yards a carry and the offensive line gave up six sacks. The New York Giants are one of the worst teams in the league and the Panthers on paper should’ve beat them. Given their schedule, it may be a while before Carolina wins another game. That’s disappointing after an undefeated start heading into October.

Philadelphia’s hiring of Nick Sirianni

It’s understandable former head coach Doug Pederson needed to go after what many viewed as throwing away a game and under-developing talent. The hiring of Nick Sirianni to replace Pederson made one failure worse.

Sirianni has no idea how to work the Eagles’ running game. Yes, Miles Sanders’ injury impacted the Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive gameplan, but the leading rusher is consistently quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts had over 200 yards passing because of a Raiders 30-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

The coaching staff is on the same road the Chicago Bears offense is on. The offensive line is poor, the receivers are average at best, and the play-calling hasn’t changed despite opponents catching on to the schemes. Tied for last with the New York Giants, one has to wonder if Nick Sirianni will be a one year coach. There doesn’t seem to be any improvement nor development for Jalen Hurts from last season.


NFL Week Six Winners and Losers

Week six was full of eye-opening play and revealed who is closer to being playoff-bound. On the opposite end, some teams are close to preparing for the offseason. Time to break down who or what won or lost the week.

Winners: Bengals coach Zac Taylor

Cincinnati’s won as many games before November they did last season. After a crushing loss to the Green Bay Packers last week where five field goals were missed in a row, coach Taylor had to help his kicker’s confidence and make sure the team moved on from a game they could be stuck on mentally. He succeeded in that Sunday.

The Bengals blew out the Detroit Lions and didn’t let up. While they led 10-0 at halftime, Taylor made the adjustments league analysts had criticized him for not doing the past two years. They added ten points to the lead in the third and 14 in the fourth. Detroit finally scored in the middle of the fourth quarter and added a touchdown with a two point conversion when the Bengals all but won.

This is a pivotal season for the third year head coach and he’s doing everything right, from helping with confidence to a winning record.

Henry Ruggs III

One of the top four Alabama receivers drafted in the past three years, Ruggs’ growth to be a number one wideout shines brighter. His touchdown gave the Raiders an early lead against the Denver Broncos. His three catch, 97 yard performance opened Las Vegas’ passing game and took pressure off tight end Darren Waller.

Ruggs has equaled his touchdown total from last year but his yards per game is almost double from 34.8 to 74.2. His yards after catch and targets increase almost every week. At the end of the season, he could be close to some of the top receivers in the league. Las Vegas is developing the receivers with franchise quarterback Derek Carr’s career year.

J.J. Watt

The Arizona Cardinals dominated a hobbled Cleveland Browns team. While the Cardinal offense had a highlight-filled day, the defense did a good job holding Cleveland’s offense under 400 yards. One of the undervalued free agent signings this past offseason is J.J. Watt. He’s playing like his old self before injuries slowed his career in Houston the past four years.

Watt recorded five tackles including a sack against one of the best offensive lines in the league (which is somehow struggling. More on them later). His pass defensed came at a critical time in the second half when the Browns rallied, and his leadership helps the unit be one of the better and more complete defenses in the league.

Comeback player of the year will go to a bigger name on offense but J.J. Watt deserves credit for having a bounce-back season on a team that’s undefeated after week six.

Matthew Wright and that awesome Curved Field Goal

The Jacksonville Jaguars won a game after 399 days. Their kicker Matthew Wright is a big reason why they’re heading into the bye with a win against the Miami Dolphins. Wright tied the game at 20 with a field goal that curved inside after a wide-right kick. He made the winning attempt at 53 yards with one second left…and one of the best U.S. sports broadcasters in Kevin Harlan called both. That’s a season highlight.

Losers: New York Giants

A win against New Orleans may be the top highlight of their season. Since the victory, New York has been outscored 82-31 despite a top ten ranking in passing yards.

Injuries are a factor on offense and one has to wonder if the concussion quarterback Daniel Jones suffered in a loss last week was one reason the three point lead and redzone trip to start was the best part of their game before a meaningless Eli Penny touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The defense is terrible and that’s an understatement. The only game the Giants held an opponent to under 21 points was a 17-14 home loss against Atlanta, where Adoree Jackson dropped a potential game winning interception. The Falcons scored ten points to win in the final four minutes.

The worst part is how undisciplined New York is. Receivers are in fights whether it’s practice or games. The duo of coach Joe Judge and general manager David Gettleman appear to be a failure of epic proportions for the original franchise.

Cleveland Browns’ AFC North lead chances

Injuries play a factor in a team’s success, which is why quarterback Baker Mayfield’s shoulder injury and runningbacks Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have valid excuses for scoring failures. However their top rated offensive line, the defense and coaching is responsible for collapses the last two weeks against quality opponents.

Baker Mayfield’s shoulder injuries are related to offensive line play. Mayfield was sacked five times against a defense missing it’s best pass rusher. The starting runningbacks are injured partly because the team can’t rely on the offensive line to protect the passer.

The defense is non-existent. While there were controversial calls in the loss to Los Angeles, they couldn’t defend the pass or get off the field. Arizona’s offense shredded Cleveland’s defense early, scoring on drives adding up to 69 and 78 yards, totaling just under ten minutes of playing time in the first quarter. The Browns’ offense had life in the beginning of the third quarter before Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins put the game away.

Worse yet is every team in the AFC North won Sunday. The Bengals and Ravens are the top two teams who don’t appear to slow down soon. Pittsburgh’s ugly win in overtime Sunday night gives them a share for third place with Cleveland. Coach Kevin Stefanski has to figure out how to get past a reeling Denver team by Thursday night.

Denver Broncos

Speaking of Denver, the undefeated start to their season is a distant memory. The Broncos are .500 after a non-competitive home loss to a Las Vegas Raider team mired in controversy and a head coach who’s an interim at best.

Coach Vic Fangio is renowned for defensive schemes. Earlier in the week there was talk of Denver cutting two of their cornerbacks to save salary cap space. The defense needs both cornerbacks after the Raiders torched them for over 400 yards combined offense. The running game produced two touchdowns and Derek Carr threw for two additional scores with a 134.4 quarterback rating.

The offense is worse. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater still looks off after a concussion two weeks ago. Pittsburgh took advantage of it and so did Las Vegas. Two of his three touchdowns thrown were in the fourth quarter down 21 points.

Denver and Cleveland play a pivotal Thursday night game that could determine which team has a better chance to make the playoffs. If the Broncos lose against an ailing Browns team after starting off undefeated, watch for coach Fangio to be back on the job market by postseason.

Brandon Staley and Renaldo Hill

Despite a shootout win against the Cleveland Browns in week five, coach Brandon Staley’s defense looks off. They started the season sharp but haven’t looked right this month. When the wins add up, it’s a concern. When there are losses, it’s a problem.

Don’t put most of the blame on the Chargers offense despite the performance. Quarterback Justin Herbert was sacked less and had fewer turnovers than Lamar Jackson. Yet the defense dug a hole early and Los Angeles trailed 17-0. Baltimore’s a quality team that won a close Monday night game previously, so defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill knew the scheme would be focused on run defense. You wouldn’t know with how the Ravens ran over 150 yards and three touchdowns.

Los Angeles can use their bye week to fix these issues. While the next five games after the bye are against shaky opponents, if the defense performs poorly Halloween afternoon, it’s reasonable to ask how far this team can go in the playoffs by early January.

2021-22 NBA Western Conference Playoff Picks

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handled a troubled and bumpy 2020-21 season well. The result was an exciting playoffs that had one of the most watched conference and championship finals in years. This season we should see more sold out arenas and fans cheering for their favorite teams. When it comes to play, eight teams will stand out and make a push for deep playoff runs. Time to break down which teams in the western conference have the best shot to make the playoffs and advance past play-in rounds.

#1 Los Angeles Lakers

The easiest choice bolstered by the return of center Anthony Davis makes the Lakers an instant favorite. Los Angeles added more players that pushes them to the number one prediction. Kent Bazemore, Trevor Ariza, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony give Frank Vogel’s team better starting guards and complimentary talent who can score against playoff bound opponents. They might reach the finals if most of the roster is healthy by May.

#2 Utah Jazz

They had the best record last year for good reasons. The Jazz just couldn’t win a critical playoff series. Newly signed center Hassan Whiteside will turn heads in Quin Snyder’s defense. The return of guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell puts many teams in difficult positions to guard especially when they drive to the paint or shoot three’s consistently. Forwards Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic should be consistent on scoring and defense. Just don’t expect them to cruise to a number one seed like last year.

#3 Denver Nuggets

Another team that performs well in the regular season but struggles at times in the playoffs, Denver has better talent and depth to compliment league MVP Nikola Jokic compared to the last two years.

The Nuggets traded for Aaron Gordon mid-season and he disappointed in the playoffs. Both the team and Gordon believe last season was due to lack of chemistry during the playoffs, and hope this year is better.

A full season of Aaron Gordon helps not only the forward depth but it gives time to both offense and defense to work with each other in better ways. PJ Dozier and Jeff Green should have an easier time playing in games whenever Gordon leaves. Jamal Murray will return some time this season and it’ll be a plus to the guard position that is starting Monte Morris at point beginning of the year. Bones Hyland comes to a team desperate at shooting guard. He could see a lot of minutes in the first half of the season.

#4 Dallas Mavericks

Jason Kidd has much to work with regarding a talented roster that failed to win a first round series up two games to none against the Los Angeles Clippers. Kidd’s biggest test is helping team and league star Luka Doncic take the next step to greatness and closer to winning a championship. Whether that involves trading or helping Kristaps Porzingis play his role to avoid team conflict.

Star Kristaps Porzingis helps ease pressure off Luka Doncic in the regular season, but he must play better in important games and series. It cost the Mavericks a 2-0 lead against the Clippers mid-2021.

Dallas made sure to re-sign free agents such as Tim Hardaway Jr. but didn’t add pivotal players to take pressure off the franchise stars. That shows Dallas’ front office wants coaching to be the difference and why the team can make it to the second round of the playoffs. Thankfully they’re the best team in a weak Southwest division.

#5 Golden State Warriors

Last year was going to be better than the 2019-20 season no matter what happened. James Wiseman was one of the top three rookies in the league and was coveted in trade talks. This year the Warriors get shooting guard Klay Thompson back at some point. The trio of Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be a threat heading into the playoffs. In fact, Vegas gives the Warriors fourth best odds to win the championship.

Warriors seventh overall pick Jonathan Kuminga (00, white) should blossom into a multi-faceted and reliable player, even if a lot of his growth is after this season. He’ll help the Warriors a lot early in the season with franchise star Klay Thompson still out.

While Thompson will return middle of the season, Golden State will be working on their depth, role players and development of new stars. First round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody should contribute when needed. It helps older players such as Andre Iguodala develop and tutor the rookie and sophomore players to take the next steps, playing with franchise stars and learning how to play under pressure in critical games. Finally, Otto Porter Jr. is an upgrade at forward in case Green or Andrew Wiggins can’t play or need rest.

The Warriors will be a threat in the second half of the season, so expect the team to struggle the first few months. Should they finish in the middle of the western conference, they have a good chance of reaching the conference finals.

#6 Los Angeles Clippers

Franchise star Kawhi Leonard won’t play the regular season and that means the Clippers will be in the bottom parts of playoff predictions. All four of their draft picks in the first two rounds were guards, three of them shooting.

Both coach Ty Lue and forward Paul George have to keep the Clippers at .500 or better before Kawhi Leonard returns for a possible playoff run. Guard play is crucial for that to happen.

The picks will be pivotal when Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe need rest. Terance Mann is good depth to replace Bledsoe, but Justise Winslow is a question mark at pointguard. Los Angeles did secure forward and center depth with last season’s trades. Coach Ty Lue can find adjustments even early in the season. Still, without their main star the Clippers could have a turbulent time if they’re inconsistent monthly.

#7 Portland Trailblazers

They don’t have last year’s depth but with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading, they’ll clinch playoff berths late in the season. New coach Chauncey Billups could play rookie Greg Brown III early since Robert Covington is the best forward on the team. A full season from Jusuf Nurkic helps a team that was terrible on defense most of last season. There aren’t many solid choices left for the playoffs, so Portland’s a best bet to clinch a spot near the bottom and win a play-in game.

#8 Memphis Grizzlies

Year three of coach/star player duo Taylor Jenkins and Ja Morant should not disappoint. Both have grown since arriving to the Grizzlies. Jenkins’ team reached the play-in round and advanced to the playoffs, winning one game against the Utah Jazz and earning respect from fans and analysts in the league. This year will build off that more, but Memphis could struggle at times with a conference full of talented teams and veteran roster depth even in their own division. It’s possible they’re a much higher seeded team next year, since they’re still learning.

After a forgettable season in Atlanta, Kris Dunn has a fresh start in Memphis where he can be relied on to play defense and hold leads when star Ja Morant needs rest. Holding leads is something the Grizzlies need to improve on against quality opponents.

The acquisitions of Kris Dunn and Steven Adams solidifies better defense and depth when needed. Memphis knew additional height and talent was a must and drafted a forward and a center with their two first round picks.

Memphis has more talent than San Antonio and has younger players and additional height to contend and move past Phoenix. Don’t be surprised if they win play-in games against both teams to clinch the eighth seed.

Play-in teams that will miss the playoffs: Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs

Last year’s conference predictions: 6-2

NFL Week Five Winners and Losers

Week five in the NFL had a lot of thrills, surprises and hair-pulling moments. Audiences are finding out which teams could be contenders and which ones could be one and done if they reach the playoffs. Despite a lot of storylines off the field with some coaches and players, Sunday’s games revealed what to expect from next week to even next year.

Winners: Tom Brady

All the years, games and highlights we’d seen of Brady there was never a stat-line where he threw five touchdowns and over 400 yards. Not until yesterday. The Miami Dolphin defense was competitive for one half but broke down and Tampa Bay’s receivers ran whatever routes they wanted.

What’s more special is what happened to Brady mid-game. Reports on CBS and after the victory said the 44 year old quarterback injured the thumb on his throwing hand. When he wasn’t passing touchdowns to Mike Evans or Antonio Brown, he was icing his thumb on the bench.

We’ve often heard how once-in-a-lifetime Tom Brady’s career is. Three of his first five starts he’s thrown four touchdowns and over 300 yards in. Only a handful of quarterbacks have done that. George Blanda looked haggard and somewhat reliable when he was in his mid-40s. Brady could win an MVP award and shatter more of his own records this year at 44.

Buffalo Bills

It was fair to wonder if Sean McDermott’s team were pretenders heading into Sunday night’s game in Kansas City. They pummeled three awful teams and lost their first game of the season to a one and done Pittsburgh squad. After Sunday night, this team is the best in the AFC.

Buffalo’s opening drive was eight plays and 75 yards, ending with a touchdown run by quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills’ offensive line allowed no defender to tackle Allen that play. Kansas City’s defense was alert for three quarters, not blitzing a quarterback many see as a legitimate dual threat. They couldn’t stop the running game but didn’t need to when receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Dawson Knox were open all night. The best highlight was Allen hurdling over L’Jarius Sneed on a wet and slippery grass field. He finished the night with three touchdowns, over 300 yards passing and a 139.1 quarterback rating.

The Bills’ defense aced their first true test of the season. The secondary limited Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They played physical with receivers instead of the track and field style used in last year’s games. Mahomes was intercepted twice, one of which from Micah Hyde was returned for a touchdown. Greg Rousseau recorded the other turnover and one of the two sacks on Mahomes in the game.

What sets the Bills apart from a lot of teams is their depth from defensive line to quarterback. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth pointed out how backup Mitchell Trubisky can run the same type of offense if Josh Allen’s injured. Buffalo’s defensive front was eye-opening and the network’s graphic calculated at least nine players recording over 30 snaps (or plays) the whole game.

Last but not least, their schedule eases up. After a clash next Monday night in Nashville, the Bills have a bye week, followed up by an easy divisional home game and two road games against the Jaguars and Jets. They could clinch a playoff spot before Thanksgiving.

Marquez Calloway

While he isn’t having the same year Bengal’s star receiver Ja’Marr Chase is, Calloway’s production is growing and he’ll be a fun receiver to watch. The undrafted sophomore is averaging just over 17 yards a catch with Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith not playing. That’s not an easy mark to accomplish. Two of his three touchdowns this season were scored yesterday.

Calloway lived a receiver’s dream catching a Hail Mary touchdown pass to end the first half in a road game versus the Washington Football Team. That score gave the New Orleans Saints a 20-13 lead, and they didn’t trail the rest of the game. His second touchdown came minutes into the fourth quarter to cement an eleven point lead, effectively ending the game and helping the Saints receive their third win of the season.

Last year Tre’Quan Smith turned into a reliable option for Drew Brees when Michael Thomas was injured. It’s possible Sean Payton can help Calloway grow into a dangerous, reliable third option for quarterback Jameis Winston.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have yet to play their Monday night home game but they’ve already won week five. Cincinnati and Cleveland lost gut-wrenching games yesterday, dropping to 3-2. The Steelers aren’t a threat to the divisional race yet despite their win against Denver. The worst the Ravens could do Monday night is lose against a one win Colts team.

Think of it this way; Baltimore’s chances of winning the AFC North come from beating their division rivals, and those are six games yet to be played. Even if there’s a three-way tie, Baltimore’s chances of splitting with any of those three teams are none. They’ve shown who’s better in every rivalry.

Losers: Special Teams

There hadn’t been ten missed field goals AND extra points since the extra point distance was made longer in 2015. If there’s anything that stood out in week five, it’s the missed chances teams had to win or contain leads.

All three extra points in the first half of the New England-Houston game were missed. Chargers kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed two extra points, one in each half. Mason Crosby and Evan McPherson missed five straight field goals before Crosby kicked a game-winner in Cincinnati.

It wasn’t just field goals or extra points. Matt Gay committed two illegal procedure kicks out of bounds on kickoffs, keeping Seattle alive late in the game Thursday. Cameron Johnston had a blocked punt…from the back of his lineman’s helmet. Byron Pringle fumbled early Sunday night to give the Bills a second straight possession.

Thankfully the league doesn’t see these mistakes as a trend week-to-week. Week six should be a smooth time for this side of the ball.

Davis Mills

Usually a rookie quarterback who throws the first three touchdowns of his career and a 141.7 rating against a Bill Belichick defense doesn’t wind up in this section. However, when you lead 22-9 in the second half and allow an opponent to come back by playing mediocre football, the offense will face a lot of questions and criticism.

It’s not fair to say a rookie quarterback in his third start should get the majority of the blame for the offense stalling and blowing a 13 point lead. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn had his chances and missed. The Texans run defense broke down. However Mills is the leader of Houston’s offense and knew he had to close the game out running the ball or using play-action passes, not gambling downfield and going three and out against one of the league’s best coaches. The special teams may have given the Patriots hope, but it was Mills’ job to slam the door on a comeback and he failed to.

Urban Meyer

For any long-time NFL fans, ask yourself when was the last time a rookie head coach lost a locker room four or five games into a season. Chances are it’s really hard to pick one. Adam Gase, Greg Schiano, Cam Cameron and Matt Patricia at least kept interest for 12 games or even a full season before they epically flamed out.

Halloween is three Sundays away and the Jaguars players are not only quitting on plays (Steve Smith Sr. even acknowledged they changed nothing in their Thursday night loss to Cincinnati), but they’re laughing at the head coach after he leaves and finishes talking with them.

It worsened when Urban and number one pick Trevor Lawrence disagreed on play-calling in a blowout home loss to Tennessee in post-game interviews. Meyer’s not only far apart when it comes to plays with the franchise star, he’s lost with veteran players in the locker room and has been lectured to re-build trust with an owner who may or may not know what he’s doing.

At least Nick Saban avoided linebacker Zach Thomas’s fists in his tenure with the Miami Dolphins. Meyer might not have that luck.

Las Vegas Raiders

No team in the league could’ve had a worse week on and off the field. Regardless of what you think about the Urban Meyer situation, it pales in comparison to Jon Gruden’s.

Let’s start with on-field issues. Derek Carr’s career almost ended on a quarterback sneak. Thankfully he’s ok. Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields however didn’t feel the love. The Raider defense targeted Fields early, resulting in three unnecessary roughness penalties. Fans not wearing the silver and black should be relieved the rookie quarterback didn’t suffer a serious injury. Backup Bears runningbacks Khalil Herbert and Damien Williams averaged over four yards a carry against the defense, including a touchdown. A Darnell Mooney reception on third and 13 doomed a comeback.

Former franchise star Khalil Mack had a sack and seven pivotal tackles against the Vegas offense. Josh Jacobs ran over three yards a carry in his return from injury. The team didn’t look ready to play a home game against a .500 Bears team transferring play calling duties from head coach to offensive coordinator.

The off-field issues are more concerning. Coach Gruden has over five years left on his current contract. He won’t be fired anytime soon. It’s possible some players will want out or try to throw games by not playing well, elongating an already slow re-build. Then Raiders owner Mark Davis proved his father Al right again claiming he knew of no such racial issue involving Gruden despite his disappointment.

The bigger problem ahead is what else is in the 2,000 emails the Wall Street Journal leaked out involving the Washington Football Team and what is still buried. Until more is revealed, Gruden, Davis and the NFL need to be held accountable.

NFL Week Four Winners and Losers

After one of the most memorable weeks in football concluding September, the first week of October followed up with a highlighted sequel. Some teams are still undefeated or winless, distancing themselves from those trying to figure out how to have favorable matchups. Time to break down what and who stood out most.

Winners: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas was favored to beat an undefeated Carolina Panthers team that didn’t have their best offensive player and standout defensive rookie. The offense and defense made the necessary adjustments, slamming Matt Rhule’s team in the second half.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw under 200 yards and four touchdowns, three in the third quarter. The runningbacks Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both averaged almost seven yards a carry. Elliott ran over 140 yards and a touchdown. Dallas’ offense may be one of the most balanced and dangerous in the league.

The defense deserves a lot of credit for how the team is alone in first place. Cornerback Trevon Diggs had two interceptions and the front seven sacked Panther quarterback Sam Darnold five times. Dan Quinn’s made the impact and worked well with younger players trying to find their way in the league, and it’ll pay off come playoff time.

Dallas’ biggest test could be in Kansas City November 21st. It’s possible this team could lock up a division title by that time if both the offense and defense keep playing like yesterday.

Taylor Heinicke

Credit the Atlanta Falcons for choking away a great Matt Ryan performance. Their defense can’t stop anybody in second halves. However Washington quarterback Taylor Heinecke played better than Ryan when it mattered most.

The Football Team’s defense isn’t close to last year’s credibility and that means the offense has to score more than 16 points to win. Despite a back and forth game, Washington trailed by eight at one point and many expected the Falcons to win. Heinicke wasn’t having it.

He threw the first touchdown with four minutes remaining to Terry McLaurin, one of the best receivers anyone can watch. The two point conversion failed, preserving Atlanta’s lead. After a bumbled drive for coach Arthur Smith’s offense, Heinicke wasted no time. He threw a 30 yard catch-and-run pass to J.D. McKissic, who dove into the endzone for another lead change, this time ensuring a win.

The comeback doesn’t happen without the backup quarterback playing his best football when it matters, getting both runningbacks and receivers involved in the passing game. Ron Rivera’s team has ways to go but they’re comfortably in second place.

Arizona Cardinals

Last week on Pro Talk, Wesley Woods and I discussed who the best team in both the NFC, specifically the west was. Most people had the Los Angeles Rams as the best. That’s not true after Sunday.

Last year Arizona had an eye-opening three straight wins to start the season, but collapsed because of inconsistent play and injuries to important players. They’re not in that situation after week four.

Rams coach Sean McVay was 8-0 against the Cardinals since his hiring. The first loss in five years comes at a time when everyone thought Los Angeles was the best. Arizona did any and everything they wanted in a pivotal road win. Quarterback Kyler Murray threw for two touchdowns and posted a 120.3 rating against what’s considered the best defense in the league.

The Cardinal offense gets a lot of credit because of their playmakers but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in less than two years. Los Angeles quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted in the first half and forced passes a veteran shouldn’t throw, frustrated by receivers not getting open. Joseph’s defense controlled the pace and made sure Darrell Henderson Jr. wouldn’t have a career game with a double digit lead on the line.

When Arizona went undefeated after week four a decade ago the team finished up 1-11 because of poor offensive performances. This team won’t fall apart with the talent and leadership. Until the Cardinals host the Green Bay Packers late this month, it’s possible they stay undefeated or in first place. Just don’t tell those who think the Rams took a step forward after beating Tom Brady that.

Mac Jones

The Tom Brady-Bill Belichick storyline even through postgame was what everyone wanted to watch, hear and talk about. It’s all football fans focused on, and we got great reactions. Yet the quarterback who stood out was the New England rookie who would have the storylines if kicker Nick Folk didn’t hit the left upright, ensuring Tom Brady’s victory in Foxborough.

Mac Jones tied a Brady record with the Patriots: 19 straight completions. He out-dueled his predecessor throwing for more yards, a better passer rating and two touchdowns. There were questions on how Jones could handle throwing passes more than 40 times every week. Coach Belichick had to let his quarterback play aggressively and they nearly won their first home game with that gamble.

Regarding the other rookie quarterbacks, we don’t know how they’ll perform in pivotal games against playoff opponents a few months from now. We do know that New England has one that can and put them in a position to win.

Losers: Anyone/thing associated with the Houston Texans offense

Last week any professional football fan with a pulse criticized the Chicago Bears for a league worst offensive performance unheard of since 2009. This week the Houston Texans wanted to challenge how bad it could get and they succeeded for two quarters.

The Buffalo Bills defense looks as good if not better than their 2018 and 2019 seasons. They put a beating on the Miami Dolphins in the second week of the season, of which Miami has yet to recover. Houston had a week and a half to prepare for the defense and came up with these stats in the first half: two interceptions, -23 net passing yards, eight total yards and one first down. The second half was better but not much as Buffalo won by 40.

Tyrod Taylor couldn’t come back at a better (or worse) time. The AFC South is terrible this year and most of that is because…

Randy Bullock

…the teams we thought would make the playoffs aren’t showing up and finishing games. It’s understandable the Tennessee Titans didn’t have their best two receivers Sunday against the Jets. The offense did play well despite that and a porous offensive line.

This is where coaching during the week comes into focus. Special teams knows if the team’s best playmakers are out, pressure falls on them to deliver in every phase of the game. Punting the ball deep in opponent territory helps the defense. Kicking field goals and receiving punts help the offense. Randy Bullock was perfect until overtime when the Titans needed a tie to remain over .500.

The kick went left. The Titans are 2-2 with two one win teams behind. At least they play the Texans twice.

Philadelphia Eagles

Fans and analysts wasted no time bombarding the internet about how the great Kansas City offense came back and the Chiefs snapped their two game losing streak. The takeaway from their game against the Eagles is how bad Philadelphia’s played two games in one week. They didn’t just lose. They were routed.

Too much credit was put on Philadelphia’s defense the first two weeks of the season. Atlanta can’t run the ball and San Francisco lost three runningbacks. Competent offenses show the Eagles can’t defend the pass nor stop the run. That said, the offensive gameplan from coordinator Shane Steichen was awful.

Kansas City’s defense may be worst in the league at stopping the run. Philly’s leading rusher was Jalen Hurts averaging five yards a carry. The next leading rusher carried the ball three times. Steichen’s gameplan involved Hurts throwing the ball nearly 50 times. The Eagles and Chiefs had multiple lead changes in the first half, and the game was close until the third quarter.

Philadelphia should have kept Patrick Mahomes and company on the bench for longer drives rather than using a pass-first mindset. The result was a highlight day for Kansas City, who had their first blowout win since last November.

San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach Dustin Perry

There’s nowhere like San Francisco where talented players are piling up on injured reserve. Every game the 49ers have played at least three players finish the day going to the locker room before seeing the final score.

This week the unfortunate players were starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and starting left tackle and offensive captain Trent Williams. All injuries were revealed in different ways. No one knew Garappolo was injured until San Francisco’s offense came back onto the field. Kinlaw suffered his injury tackling the grass instead of a speeding Russell Wilson, and Trent Williams carted to the locker room after injuring his shoulder on a Seahawks blitz.

Injuries have been a common theme in coach Kyle Shanahan’s tenure and Perry’s been on staff since his arrival. If the 49ers want to curb major injuries, they need to cast out their strength and conditioning staff. One full season of healthy players out of five is a red flag for any football team.