The Texans pulled off the upset against the Tennessee Titans, ruining plenty of survivor pools and further confusing the AFC playoff picture. It’s yet another mark in a season of chaos where there are no dominant teams. A bad team (and make no mistake, the Texans are a bad team) can beat a good team any given week.
This is, of course, what the NFL wants. The league will create entertaining storylines regardless of what teams emerge for deep playoff runs but if everyone believes that their team could win any given week, they’re more likely to tune in. The league has done a remarkable job of promoting parity over the years.
RIP to your survivor league if you played the Titans here.
2 – Chiefs Make a Statement
The Chiefs are an interesting team to watch. Not just because of Patrick Mahomes, who is obviously incredibly talented and can make all the throws, but because they have followed a predictable pattern in previous years. The offense starts off hot as Andy Reid uses the offseason better than just about anyone but their defense looks terrible. Then, as the season moves along, their defense starts to figure it out as the offense slows down a bit as some of the tricks Reid added over the offseason start to get figured out. They never quite meet in the middle but early-season Chiefs are a different beast than late-season Chiefs.
This year was a little different with the offense struggling out of the gates to figure out how to beat the 2 deep safety looks. The defense followed its normal path but seems to have gotten it figured out at this point with their excellent play against a banged-up Dallas squad. Now they get a week to do some self-scouting with the bye and finish strong down the stretch with yet another AFC West championship. What looked like a lost season could turn into yet another playoff run in this wacky season.
3 – Belichick’s Bailiwick
This season is shaping up as a true Bill Belichick kind of season. What I’ve always admired most about Belichick is his ability to match up his team against anyone. They’re always well coached with a good game plan, which can keep them in the vast majority of contests. He has no qualms about exploiting one matchup and spamming what works and ride it to victory. In a year with a muddled AFC playoff picture, this is absolutely a year the Patriots could make a run in the playoffs. In an evenly matched field of solid but unspectacular squads, Belichick is the ultimate tiebreaker.
We will learn a lot about the Pats over the next month as they square up against the Titans, Colts, and the Bills twice before finishing with the Jags and Dolphins. I know the world has Patriots fatigue from the two decades of Belichick-Brady dominance, but I can’t help but get drawn in by a genius at work.
4 – Brady – Belichick Bowl?
Tom Brady returned to New England earlier this year for a historic night where he broke the record for most passing yards in a career. It was an amazing stroke of luck that the Bucs played at the Patriots for the NFL to get the opportunity to schedule the game at a point in the year when Brady would be most likely able to break it. It all lined up, it was a cool moment, I’m a sucker, and I eat all of that stuff up.
However, have you stopped and considered that Tom Brady’s Bucs and Bill Belichick’s Patriots will almost certainly be in the postseason? Have you considered how insane the storyline would be if Brady takes his team back to the Super Bowl and faces off against his former team? The internet might break.
5 – A Surprise MVP Candidate
Jonathan Taylor is starting to get some notice. Okay, a ton of notice after his 185-yard 5-TD day against the Bills. Taylor leads the league in rushing, scrimmage yards, and TDs and is solidifying himself as an elite running back in this league. Playing behind a good offensive line and a scheme willing to lean on his ability, Taylor has racked up six 100-yard games this year, all wins, including five in the last six weeks. The Colts are back in the playoff picture and if he can keep this up, he should win the Offensive Player of the Year and at least give voters a non-QB option for the MVP.
All that is to say that Derrick Henry’s injury is just that much more sad. Henry, hurt in Week 8 against Taylor’s Colts, was still tied with Taylor for the rushing lead going into last week! I’m all for Taylor getting his due, but we were unfortunately robbed of a potentially better version of this story with the year Henry was putting up.
6 – Grounded Birds
I like Arthur Smith. I love what he was able to do in Tennessee with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. I thought it was a good hire for the Falcons to bring him in and I figured Matt Ryan would have a good year under his play calling.
I may need to reconsider.
A four-day stretch for Smith’s Falcons resulted in three points against the Cowboys and Patriots. Now, the Cowboys defense is vastly improved from a year ago (not to mention their DC is the Falcons former HC), and the Patriots defense is legitimately good, but a combined 379 yards of total offense and 7 turnovers in two games is something out of a Chicago Bears record book.
It’s still early in his tenure and I’m not ready to hit eject just yet, but this was a big setback.
7 – Garrett, Gettleman and the Giants
Another historic franchise is undergoing some changes. The New York Giants relieved Jason Garrett of his
clapping offensive coordinator duties this week after a 30-10 loss against the Bucs. Garrett was a laughable hire by a divisional opponent who should have known better. The idea that Garrett was going to be good for Daniel Jones and the Giants never made any sense and he lasted less than two seasons.
Gettleman, on the other hand, appears to be at the end of his rope in New York as the brunt of the 3-7 mark is laid at his feet. With an outdated approach to roster building and an aversion to analytics and those that practice it, Gettleman was simply a vestige of a previous time. Assuming the Giants move on from Gettleman, they should wipe the slate clean and allow the new GM hire a new coach, but I have a feeling they move forward with Judge.
Say what you will about Gettleman (and believe me, I have), but he’ll always hold a special place in my heart as the guy who allowed the Bears to trade up for Justin Fields. Thank you, Dave!
8 – Eye on the Eagles
As of a few weeks ago, the Eagles looked like they were going to enter the 2022 NFL draft armed with three top ten picks. Such an amazing amount of draft capital at their fingertips would be a draftnik’s dream to watch and project. However, they may play themselves out of one of those top ten picks because the Eagles are starting to put some things together.
Winners of three of their last four, the Eagles now stare at a schedule that looks like this: at Giants, at Jets, bye, vs Washington, vs Giants, at Washington, and finish with the Cowboys. The next five games are completely winnable. Four wins gets the Eagles to 9 and a likely playoff spot.
The NFL always produces a surprise team or three and this one qualifies for me. Despite living in a weak division, I had no hope for the Eagles this year as it appeared to be a reset year. We’ll see what they can do down the stretch.
9 – Herbert’s Heroics
Justin Herbert added another game winning drive to his 2021 resume. After leading for most of the game on Sunday night, Herbert’s Chargers gave away the lead to the Steelers late in the 4th quarter with 17-straight points. Herbert came back with a huge 53-yard strike to Mike Williams in the final minutes to get the victory and keep the Chargers in the hunt in the AFC. That gives him five such game winning drives this season, the most in the league.
The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year is following up his impressive freshman season with another great season and he’s starting to get mentioned among the elite names in the game. The Chargers sit in the scrum of that AFC playoff picture at 6-4 with plenty of winnable games remaining on their schedule. Herbert makes this team one that no one really wants to play in January.
10 – Justin Freaking Fields
It wasn’t the best game for our guy and the worst part about the injury is that he will miss the opportunity to rack up free yards against the Lions. Bad games will happen with young quarterbacks (well, all quarterbacks) but the maturation process will eventually limit those games through growth. It would also help to have a coaching staff understand what #1 can do best. If anyone believes that Matt Nagy and his staff are putting Justin Fields in the best position to succeed week in, week out, you’re probably Matt Nagy or on his staff.
Let’s hope Fields comes back strong and provides some level of entertainment for a season that sure feels buried at this point.
What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.