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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Von Miller to the Rams, Jameis Winston and Derrick Henry injured, the bunched up AFC playoffs and more in this week’s thoughts.

Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

1 – Fortune Favors the Bold

Von Miller will one day wear a gold jacket and make a speech in Canton, Ohio about his career. But first, he will try to help the LA Rams win a Super Bowl.

The three-time First-Team All-Pro and 10-year NFL veteran will now line up next to arguably the best player in the game, Aaron Donald, and in front of one of the best corners in the league, Jalen Ramsey. The trade that made this all possible should benefit both franchises for where they want to go in 2021 and beyond. For the Rams, Miller provides pass rush juice on the outside as they start to make plans for the playoffs.

The Rams currently hold a 7-1 record, tied with the division rival Cardinals for best in the league, and are one of the clear betting favorites to win it all. SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams (and Chargers, kinda) hosts this season’s Super Bowl. If the Rams run the table in the second half of the year, they could host three straight playoff games, including the championship.

2 – Kudos to the Broncos

As for the Broncos, trading away one of your best franchise players and MVP of Super Bowl 50 can’t be easy for the fans or that locker room. However, new GM George Paton did extract more value out of Miller than could be reasonably expected in comp picks after Miller would leave in Free Agency at the end of the year by snagging the second and third round draft picks of the Rams. He also sent the future Hall of Famer to a contending team and an opportunity to further burnish his legend. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

The Broncos need to address several needs on both sides of the ball, including finding their QB of the future. Maybe they can attract a guy like Aaron Rodgers to follow the path of Peyton Manning and finish out his career in the Rockies. Maybe they position themselves to move up in the draft to acquire a rookie. Whatever they do, more capital will be useful to building the future of the Broncos and it takes some Rocky Mountain oysters guts to trade away an all-time player.

3 – Von Miller’s Legacy

One last thought on Miller. He currently sits in 23rd place all-time in sacks with 110.5 on the official leaderboard (official sacks since 1982). While there is no sack number that will ensure enshrinement in Canton, 135 sacks should get it done. Miller may or may not get to that mark, but with his post-season accolades, a Super Bowl MVP, and Defensive Rookie of the Year award, I find it hard to imagine keeping him out as it is.

However, if the Rams make a deep playoff run and Miller can benefit from playing next to Aaron Donald as so many others have before him, he could seal his Canton case this year, and probably put him in first ballot.

4 – Big Hurt

Two big injuries from Sunday that could impact the playoff picture for both conferences. First, Derrick Henry injured his foot and will miss time after undergoing surgery. The Titans are built through Henry’s unique talent, and this will obviously impact their ability to function on offense. This will end Henry’s bid to win three straight rushing titles and that makes me incredibly sad. He’s a fun player to watch and you just hope he gets back to form eventually. The Titans will still likely win their division, but they are a lesser version of their ideal without him.

The other injury shakes up the NFC playoff picture with Jameis Winston set to miss the rest of the year for the Saints. New Orleans looked like they were the obvious 6 seed in the NFC. Now, with question marks at the quarterback position (will Taysom Hill play a role?), the Saints may struggle to keep pace in the NFC. Good news for Saints fans is that their 5-2 start will likely provide enough cushion for them to hold on against a stratified conference.

5 – Mike Who?

I know the Bengals have won five games this year, but I can’t help but think of Bengals-Jets as one of those games that gets buried on the early Thursday Night Football slate. “Yeah, we need to give those teams a primetime game so let’s throw it on TNF.” With the Bengals off to a hot start and the Jets struggling through Robert Saleh’s first season and rookie QB Zach Wilson injured, it looked like an easy, breezy Bengals win.

Not so fast, says Mike White. The 26-year-old backup quarterback, making his first NFL start, threw for 405 yards and 2 scores in the upset win. Saleh hesitated to commit to Wilson as the starter when healthy, which seems like a position he may regret taking. No doubt the rookie head coach wants to win as many games as possible, and maybe it would benefit Wilson to sit for a while, but in the grand scheme of things, the Jets invested too much in Wilson to not play him when healthy. I hope that White can keep up his strong play and carve out an opportunity for himself, but I can’t imagine that will be in New Jersey as a long-term starter.

6 – Vikings = Bears

Before the year started, I stated that the Vikings and Bears were essentially the meme of the two spidermen pointing at each other. I thought that the two teams would be competing for the 7th seed in the NFC playoffs and that it would come down to the Week 18 matchup to see who wanted to go get beat by the Bucs in the first round of the playoffs. I think I might’ve been at least half right.

So far, the Vikings and the Bears have only 3 wins each but both dropped winnable games in Week 8 that might have signaled the end of the Nagy and Zimmer eras. The Vikings somehow lost a home game to the Cowboys without Dak Prescott. Cooper Rush threw for over 300 yards as both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb eclipsed 100 yards receiving.

The Bears didn’t do much better, dropping a game to the 49ers, getting thoroughly outcoached on both sides of the ball coming out of the half. The Bears seemingly had no plan for Deebo Samuel, the only real playmaker on the 49ers offense with Kittle out, and the Vikings had no plan for how to deal with Cooper or Lamb. Look for a hard reset for both teams in the offseason and a Week 18 game that might not mean anything.

7 – Down on the Browns

I’m waiving the white flag on the Browns as a legit AFC threat. Coming into the year, I thought the Browns could play spoiler in the AFC, sneaking into the championship game as a squad brimming with talent. They currently sit at 4-4 with more than enough concerns to abandon all hope for a deep run.

Maybe it’s as simple as Baker Mayfield not being good enough to carry this team through adversity. Maybe they truly are cursed. Whatever the case may be, they go on the road in three of their next four to play the Bengals, Patriots, and Ravens. They could be 5-7 in a month with a late season schedule that doesn’t let up. Tough sledding for the dogs.

8 – Hanging by a Thread

Speaking of things most of the football world got wrong, let’s talk about the Chiefs. Kansas City also sits at 4-4 after sneaking out a win against the New Jersey Giants. The offense looks disjointed and the defense looks like it could be the worst in the league. That’s not a great combination for a squad that had been a fixture in the AFC Championship game the last three seasons.

The AFC continues to bunch up in the middle with 11 of the 16 teams with a .500 record or better. All of their remaining games will be against teams with at least a .500 record. The NFL absolutely wants Mahomes in the playoffs, but maybe if the Chiefs miss the playoffs, it will eliminate the coverage of his brother’s TikTok videos on my Twitter timeline. That is something we can all cheer for.

9 – Lions Watch

I’m feeling bad about saying I would find the Lions going 0-17 at least somewhat entertaining. From a historical perspective, it is cool to see things that have never happened before. I’m just not sure I can cheer for it.

The Lions travel to Pittsburgh and Cleveland after this week’s bye before hosting the Bears on Thanksgiving. I would love to see the Lions grab that first victory in one of those two games but this truth is, their best bet for a win might just be on Thanksgiving. I’m already worried about it.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

I mean…

And then…

If you’re not excited about what Justin Fields can do on a football field, I’m not sure we can be friends.

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