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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Who will win the AFC North, the Rams are back, King Kittle, and more in this week’s thoughts

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

1 – Revitalized Rams

After a disappointing stretch with three straight losses, the LA Rams appear to be back on track after a huge win on Monday Night Football against the division rival Cardinals. The Rams took down the team with the best record in football with a clean sheet from Matthew Stafford and a couple of interceptions off Kyler Murray. Offensive Player of the Year candidate Cooper Kupp added another 13 catches for 123 yards and a score to his resume. He leads all receivers in all three categories.

The Rams may have squandered their chance at the #1 overall seed, but look like they can push the Cardinals for the division and if not, will be a handful as the top wildcard team in the playoffs. They finish the year with Seattle, at Minnesota, and at Baltimore, before hosting the 49ers in the finale.

2 – AFC North Mashup

This thing is a mess. The Ravens and Steelers are well coached teams that keep hanging around this divisional race despite injuries (Ravens) and talent level (Steelers) restricting their ceiling. The Browns and Bengals, desperate to take the division in a down year for the two dominant franchises, can’t get out of their own way half the time. Baltimore leads the division with a 1.5 game lead over the 4th place Steelers with four games left.

The Browns play the Raiders, Packers, Steelers, and finish with the Bengals. The Bengals get the Broncos, Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns. The Ravens have to play the Packers, Bengals, Rams, and Steelers, while the Steelers get the Titans, Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens. I’m cheering for the Bengals, but at this point, I think they all beat each other up and rely on some tiebreakers for the division.

3 – Used Carr for Sale

Is Derek Carr’s time in Vegas up after this year? It seems more than likely that the Raiders hit the reset button with a new regime after this season and it would be smart to sell Carr while he still has some value. He’ll be entering the last year of his deal – one that he’ll surely want extended this off season and entering his age 31 season. For the potential acquiring team, he is having a solid statistical season with plenty of potential years left in his career.

I’m just not quite sure a front office can sell themselves on Carr as the guy to get them over the hump. There’s a poor man’s Kirk Cousins feel to his game and if Cousins can’t get the Vikings deep into the playoffs, what can Carr do on a contender?

4 – High Score

The Bucs are leading the league in scoring through 14 weeks. Maybe that’s not much of a shocker considering they won the Super Bowl last year and Tom Brady is playing at an MVP level. They have 410 points through 13 games, 30 more points than the Cowboys in second place. If they keep up their season average of 31.5 points per game they’ll finish the year with 536, just outside of the top 10 of all-time. With the 17th game, that mark isn’t quite as impressive as I originally thought it might be.

Brady broke another record while you weren’t looking. He now has the most career completions in NFL history, passing up Drew Brees. The man won’t rest until he owns them all. No, I’m sure Brady probably gets 8 hours of sleep per night after stretching and an avocado ice cream treat.

5 – Wilson’s Woes

The Jersey Jets swung for the fences when they took Zach Wilson with the 2nd overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Wilson’s best signature trait was his ability to throw off-platform. It makes for great highlights and with the love around Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers ability to make those kinds of throws, many people tried to draw a straight line.

But the path for Wilson to succeed was never going to be linear. He was drafted to a bad football team from a lower level of competition. He didn’t play in a big conference or in big games like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones. It’s way too early to make any judgments about any of these rookie QBs – good or bad – but Wilson’s struggles may be more than just team context. He has struggled delivering the ball accurately and has made too many poor decisions putting the ball into harms way. Something to keep an eye on.

6 – King Kittle

This guy is out of control. He backed up his huge performance last week with another dominant outing with 13 grabs for 151 yards and a score. That 49ers offense is completely different when he’s on the field and healthy and it is tough to find a more valuable non-QB in the league. What makes Kittle such a complete player, of course, is the tenacity in his blocking. The only thing with the dynamic tight end is health. If he can stay on the field, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.

7 – Micah for Defensive MVP

I’ve been in the camp of TJ Watt taking home the prize, particularly if he’s able to secure the single season sack record, but there is a swell of support for Micah Parsons. The Cowboys rookie is up to 12 sacks on the year and has been a force on the Cowboys defense. There’s never been a more obvious vote for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award but don’t be surprised if he gets some buzz to take home the serious hardware.

8 – The Most Random Statistic of the Day

Every once in a while, someone hits you with a stat that is just completely random. Melvin Gordon scored two TDs on Sunday, giving him seven on the year. He is just the sixth player in league history to have at least seven rushing TDs in six consecutive seasons. The others include Jim Brown, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Adrian Peterson, and Shaun Alexander.

One of these is not like the other.

9 – Herbert’s Heave

I’m sorry, what?!

Justin Herbert has a howitzer attached to his right side. One of the better throws you’ll ever see. Herbert now has 30 TD passes on the year, the first QB in NFL history to throw for at least 30 in each of his first two seasons. He’s special.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

One noticeable improvement over the course of the season for Justin Fields has been his scrambling. He’s obviously a talented runner but he was seemingly reluctant to take off earlier in the year. As he continues to punish defenses for giving him open grass to pick up easy first downs, opposing coordinators will adjust and dedicate more resources to slowing him down. That can lead to easier throws and more predictable coverages.

Fields has shown the next regime plenty to get excited about. I’m not sure how many coaching jobs will be available, but Chicago must be near the top of anyone’s wish list because of the potential Justin Fields has to put it all together. Let’s hope the Bears can get the hire right.

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