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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

The shift in power in the AFC, London games, Survivor Sweats, and more in this week’s ten thoughts on the NFL.

NFL: OCT 10 Bills at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1 – Shifting the Narrative

I don’t envy Cris Collinsworth’s job. Sunday Night Football pulls in millions of viewers and fans of every team have a sensitive portion of their fanbase that will take offense to anything not completely complimentary. However, it did feel like Collinsworth was wearing red and yellow in the booth this week in Kansas City. Whether it was clinging to the preseason belief that the Chiefs would run it back again or how he saw the game unfolding during his week of prep, the narrative he clung to centered on the Chiefs as the favorite and the Bills as the underdog. He grasped for anything he could find to fit his narrative (refs, weather, Jupiter in retrograde, etc.).

That surprised me. After a slow start against Pittsburgh in the opener, Buffalo has emerged as the team to beat with an MVP candidate as their triggerman. I was shocked I could get the Bills plus 2.5 points in the spread with a boost on the moneyline. This is the frontrunner in the AFC and that narrative officially shifted after their big win in Kansas City. Don’t be surprised if the Bills go on a big run here. After a date with the Titans next week, the Bills come out of their bye with the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, and the Colts.

2 – Great to Good

The Chiefs sit at 2-3 on the year. They’re too good to panic about whether or not they’ll make the playoffs yet, but this team has flaws. The offensive line is still trying to figure some things out and the defense, well, that defense has issues. They’ve now given up a league high 163 points through the first five weeks.

It says a lot about league windows. The window for the Chiefs will never fully close as long as Mahomes is the quarterback – he’s simply too good – but the Chiefs current iteration may be starting a downward trajectory. The Chiefs have been a “final four” team in each year of the Mahomes era, making at least the conference championship game in each of the last three seasons. There’s a long way to go in 2021 but they now need to turn their attention to clawing back into the AFC West divisional race. Luckily, their schedule gets much easier from here on out.

3 – Wait, Geno Smith is still in the League?

Imagine my surprise, checking my phone while I waited for my halibut to be served at a birthday dinner party, when Geno Smith came back into my life. I had no idea Smith backed up Russell Wilson until his name popped up on the game tracker. Imagine my further surprise when his numbers looked pretty good doing it! No, Geno Smith is not Russell Wilson and the Seahawks now sit 2-3 in probably the toughest division in football. However, I’m now fascinated to see what Smith can do with this opportunity. He wasn’t exactly drafted into the best of circumstances for the New Jersey Jets and he’s bounced around the league as a backup without really getting a chance to shine in a good offense.

He’s “only” 31, which in quarterback years means he could still reclaim value for his career. An extended run with the Seahawks could restore value or at least ensure he keeps a backup job for longer. I’m pulling for him.

4 – Stamp Act revenge tour

I can’t imagine why England hasn’t completely bought into the NFL with all the great games we send over the pond...

The Jets and Falcons are not exactly the best the NFL has to offer. The AFC East and NFC South play each other this season but I don’t mind the idea of the London series featuring non-conference games. In fact, I think the series should feature the “plus one” game that the NFL added this year. The 17th game, scheduled against a non-conference opponent in addition to the regular division vs division games we’re used to, gives the NFL incredible flexibility in scheduling neutral location games.

The NFL should schedule all sixteen of these games in neutral locations so as not to give some teams an extra home game. Games in Europe make the most sense, but I’d also suggest games in some of the better college stadiums in the US and nice soccer stadiums in other countries. As long as the field surface is safe enough for players, schedule all of them that way.

5 – Anybody want to win this thing?

I, stupidly, watched the end of the Bengals-Packers game hoping for a sweet shot of schadenfreude to launch me into the start of the Bears game. Mason Crosby missed three field goals but the Bengals couldn’t capitalize on an all-time terrible performance because they couldn’t make a kick either. The Bengals shifted into conservative mode, playing for the long field goal attempt and I just can’t understand the thinking.

One of the best aspects of analytics permeating football is more teams now push for the kill shot, go for it on fourth down, and otherwise understand it’s better to take control into your own hands. The Bengals let it slip through their hands and lost it on the foot of their rookie kicker. Maybe it won’t make much of a difference in the long run but every loss for the green and yellow team makes it that much harder for them come playoff time. Dang you, Bengals!

6 – Put the Lions on Hard Knocks!

I don’t have anything against the Lions. It’s like that scene in Mad Med where Ginsberg says “I feel bad for you” and Don replies “I don’t think about you at all.”

But that was before Dan Campbell. I’m completely, 100% bought in on the Campbell experience. Maybe the Lions figuring this all out and competing with the Bears for the division in the near future could be fun and reinvigorate a series that dates back to the Portsmouth Spartans days in the 1930s. He isn’t afraid to show his excitement and his pain. He lays open his soul and there’s something pure and wonderful about it.

If the Lions become relevant, I’ll get to start to care and cheer against them for the first time…ever? That sounds like fun, I’m hoping that happens. The Lions won’t make the playoffs this year, obviously, but I think Campbell is getting players and fans to buy what he’s selling. HBO is foolish if they think they can find a more interesting team for their annual event.

7 – The Spoiler Bowl

The Browns and Chargers played a crazy one out in Sofi with both sides putting up huge numbers in a 47-42 Chargers victory. Herbert led the way with 398 yards passing and 4 TDs, two of those to the suddenly big time WR1 Mike Williams. Herbert’s ascension to one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league will continue to grab all the headlines but Williams is on pace to shatter everything we know about him. Williams is in his 5th year in the league and has averaged about 47 grabs, 800 yards, and 6 TDs over the last three seasons. He currently sits at 31 catches, 471 yards and 6 scores through five games. Williams could wind up nearing the 100 catch mark, over 1,500 yards and flirt with 20 TDs if he continues at this pace. That’s a First Team All-Pro type year.

The Browns end up dropping another tough one and sit at 3-2 with two road losses against the Chiefs and Chargers where they held the lead late and let it slip away. Still, the Browns are a talented football team and remain in good position to compete in the AFC. In fact, I think both the Browns and Chargers could be the best bet for a longer-shot spoiler team to knock off the Bills (or Chiefs if they recover). Both of these teams have teased us before but with the Coach-QB combo in LA and the overall talent in Cleveland, I think they’ll both be around in January. Heck, sign me up for this rematch in January.

8 – Into the Great Wide Open

Sunday night’s game seemed to separate the Bills from the pack in the AFC picture, at least at this early stage in the season, but the NFC feels murkier. The Bucs, Rams, Cowboys, and Packers all improved to 4-1, a game back of the 5-0 Cardinals. I think you can make a valid argument that any of those teams could capture the 1 seed. The NFC is wide open.

The team I’m most interested in backing is the Rams because I think they’re the most complete squad and have already beat the Bucs. The Cowboys early success on defense is fueled by turnovers, which could dry up, but their offense is legit. The Packers will always be relevant with Rodgers, even if they’ve escaped a couple of these games in the last few weeks. The Cardinals are the team that requires more study. They have the largest net points total in the conference and own a win over the Rams. They seem volatile and rely on the “Kyler go do something” offense, but you can’t deny that they’re fun.

9 – Survivor Sweats

You’ve likely heard of “flop sweat,” the nervous energy that pours itself out in perspiration experienced by many performers and public speakers. They call it flop sweat because apparently people fear falling. Sure, I guess.

I would like to nominate “Survivor Sweat” as a new term for when the team your pick in the survivor pool decides to make you sweat it out for three hours. That was my life this weekend as I decided a date with the lowly Texans was the perfect time to burn the Patriots and save the Buccaneers, Cowboys, and Titans for another day.

Oof.

The Patriots were down 22-9 at one point in this one when a weird sideways punt gave the Patriots great field position and started their comeback. It amazes me how something as simple as a survivor pool contest can make me care about the outcome of a meaningless game in Week 5 but here we are.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

The Bears didn’t need a heroic game out of Justin Fields, but they did get a gutty performance. A failed spin move earned him a shot to the ribs and an awkward tackle resulted in a hyperextended leg as all of Chicago held their breath. Andy Dalton filled in admirably for one completion on third down before Fields returned from the leg issue.

The final stat line is far from noteworthy but he did make a couple of great plays when he needed to for the Bears to win a game on the road against a solid Raiders squad. The dart throw to Jesper Hosted for his first career TD pass punished the defender for turning his back to him. A late dagger to Darnell Mooney to convert a 3rd and 12 extended a drive that ultimately led to a Bears FG to extend the lead to 8. It’s fun to watch his early development and even though there will be bumps along the way, it’s comforting to know he’s got alligator blood running through his veins.

What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.