As October ends there’s a separation of which teams are closer to clinching playoff seeds and which ones will have a high draft pick. Coaching plays a part in who advances or goes home. A lot stood out in week seven’s action, so it’s time for the winners and losers.
Winners: Cincinnati Bengals offense
Many were wondering when the Bengals’ offensive barrage would break out. It finally came Sunday in a decisive victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Quarterback Joe Burrow had another career game throwing almost 500 yards, three touchdowns and a 138.2 quarterback rating. Burrow and runningback Joe Mixon each ran for a touchdown. Wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase both had eight catches for 130 yards or more and scored eighteen total points.
Atlanta has a good chance of making the playoffs by winning their division. The Bengals ran up 28 points in the first half and could’ve broke the all-time yards record if the game was closer. Head coach Zac Taylor has to be thrilled his team’s finally resembling last year’s conference winning unit.
If you told viewers heading into week seven that P.J. Walker would beat Tom Brady, Taylor Heinecke would outperform Aaron Rodgers and Geno Smith would be the better quarterback instead of Justin Herbert, those people would laugh it off. No one’s laughing after those three games.
In the most shocking upset, P.J. Walker led the Carolina Panthers to a decisive win over Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. Walker completed one throw past the line of scrimmage (one yard in fact) in week six versus the Los Angeles Rams. Walker threw two touchdowns and completed 16 of 22 passes. It was better than Brady’s 32 completions and no scores.
In D.C., Taylor Heinecke threw more yards than Aaron Rodgers in a close win. Both threw two touchdowns but Heinecke has a better understanding of his offense and completed three or more passes to four different receivers. His touchdown throw to Terry McLaurin gave the Commanders their first lead of the day.
Seattle’s win in Los Angeles was also unexpected. Geno Smith finished the game with a 105.5 quarterback rating and is still the league’s most accurate passer. While Smith and Justin Herbert threw two touchdowns and an interception each, the latter attempted 51 passes for under 300 yards. Smith faced adversity at multiple points and progressed. The winning effort helped cement Seattle’s rise to first place in the NFC West.
While Geno Smith has been consistent most of the year, it’s unknown if Walker or Heinecke continue to build off the success. It does keep Seattle, Carolina and Washington relevant until November.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City’s struggles last season made the team evolve into a more dangerous unit. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II learned from the losses and is more comfortable reading the middle of the field. His receivers have grown into their starting roles and the defense plays better in the second half of games.
The Chiefs offense slammed the number one defense in the NFL with a 500 yard performance. Receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 100 yard games. Receiver Mecole Hardman ran for two touchdowns and tight-end Travis Kelce caught six passes for 98 yards.
Kansas City’s defense recorded a safety (two points given to the defense for stopping an opposing offense in their endzone) and gave up 13 points after the first quarter. The Chiefs defense will always be the lesser of the three units on Andy Reid’s team but coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s turned things around in four seasons. The front seven is getting more pressure on quarterbacks, the secondary defends passes better and most importantly they adjust against high scoring opponents.
The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles are seen as the complete teams in professional football at the end of October. Kansas City is the third team to put in this category. No one will want to face them come January.
Clint Hurtt and Sean Desai
There’s a lot to say about the Geno Smith-led Seattle offense. However the Seahawks are over .500 and in first place in the NFC West because both the offense and defense are in-sync and frustrate teams each week.
Ken Norton Jr.’s firing after last season was viewed by many in the Pacific Northwest as a popular move knowing the defense could play better. The organization promoted Clint Hurtt and hired Sean Desai from the Chicago Bears. The issue was how both coaches were going to get a bunch of young players to switch from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 one.
While it’s still early in the season for a definitive result, there are positive signs. In the last two weeks the defense gave up 24 points. 17 of the 24 came from long offensive drives (Geno Smith’s interception gave Los Angeles an easy, seven point drive to trail 17-14 before Seattle scored again). What many thought was an anemic defensive line has nine sacks in the two game span. Linebackers and safeties are tackling better since the week three fiasco versus Atlanta and they’re limiting extra yard chances for opposing receivers or runners.
Seattle faces three more star-studded offenses before the bye week but should improve in each game. Even if Geno Smith and the offense slow down, there’s relief knowing the defense can step up.
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Losers: The hype around Davis Mills being a franchise quarterback
Anyone watching the Houston Texans is learning about the risk-reward of having a third round quarterback be a starter. A lot of people were high on sophomore pick Davis Mills heading into the season. Most of it was deserved. After seven weeks we’re learning he probably won’t be the guy who propels the Texans to the playoffs.
Houston had a mediocre performance in Las Vegas Sunday. The Raiders secondary is porous and Mills struggled against them. One might say Las Vegas got things together during the bye week, but the Texans shared the same week off and finished the game with two ten point quarters.
Keep in mind owner Cal McNair is investing heavily in Davis Mills since he’s the quarterback replacing DeShaun Watson. The team needs better pieces on offense but an ok passer isn’t what the franchise envisioned this season.
There isn’t a worse division in the NFL than the NFC South. Before the season started many people predicted Tampa Bay would win the division and New Orleans would get a wild-card spot. It’s hard to see either happening after seven weeks.
The Buccaneers have the talent and coaches to turn things around but they’re tied with Atlanta for first place at 3-4. Atlanta and Carolina were teams no one saw doing well. Arthur Smith’s Falcons play hard almost every week and feel they have the best chance to win the division. Carolina’s been one of the worst teams to watch all season and somehow thumped Tampa Bay in a double digit home win.
While it’s week eight it’s hard to see how anyone wins the NFC South over .500. If there’s no team in this division that clinches a wild-card berth, it opens the door for a struggling team like Los Angeles or San Francisco to make the playoffs and do some damage.
Despite a lot of upsets on Sunday due to quarterback play, no one believed Denver’s backup quarterback Brett Rypien would outperform New York Jets starting quarterback Zach Wilson.
Everything that can go wrong for the Broncos this season, is. Starting quarterback Russell Wilson has underperformed all season. He’s also out for a month due to a partial hamstring tear. That means Rypien has three more weeks after Sunday to show he can be a starting quarterback given the week-to-week preparation. It doesn’t look promising so far.
Rypien threw 100 yards more than Zach Wilson but it took 46 passes. He threw one interception and posted a quarterback rating of 56.9. Denver’s receiving core consists of Cortland Sutton, K.J. Hamler, Jerry Jeudy and an emerging Greg Dulcich. They mustered only nine points.
The Broncos are a disappointment due to inept offensive play and it won’t change with Brett Rypien under center.
Cleveland can complain about the referees for that terrible false start penalty but the real culprit is Amari Cooper a couple of plays before that mishap.
On a third and two, Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett found Cooper one-on-one versus Marcus Peters and threw a well-timed pass. Cooper caught it but pushed off against Peters for an uncontested completion and ran into the endzone for a touchdown. It was called back for a blatant offensive pass interference call.
Commentator and former quarterback Trent Green even said, “He (Cooper) didn’t even have to do that because the pass was far enough ahead to catch.”
The Browns mishandled every play after and lost by three points.