1. How to Slay a Dragon
Make no mistake, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills traveling to Kansas City and coming out with a win against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs was as big of a football game we’ll get this regular season. The Chiefs have hosted four straight AFC Championship games and stood a fair to middling chance of making it five if they could’ve held serve in this one. Now, the two-loss Chiefs will be down the tie-breaker to the one-loss Bills, who easily look like the best team in football.
Regardless of who your favorite football team is, I would imagine you enjoyed watching this one. It wasn’t an offensive onslaught like many assumed, but big plays were made all over the field by both offenses and defenses. It was football at an extremely high level and a joy to watch. We can all cross our fingers we’ll get another crack at this matchup in January.
2. Home dogs
It was weird seeing Mahomes as a home underdog against the Bills. In fact, this was the first time the Chiefs were underdogs at home during a Mahomes start. That’s an incredible 41 consecutive games in the regular and postseason where the Chiefs were expected to win by the sportsbooks. Andy Reid and Mahomes have put together a remarkable run together and will set plenty of records when all is said and done but 41 straight games to start a career is a tough number to imagine getting topped.
As long as Mahomes is healthy, this Chiefs team can compete at the highest levels, but I wonder if they are just merely “really good” this year. It does feel like the Chiefs may be coming back to earth just a bit while the Bills occupy the rare air the Chiefs have recently enjoyed. Still, they’re likely the best bet for an upset down the road.
3. Balancing Act
While the Bills look dominant on both sides of the football, the Philadelphia Eagles may be the most balanced team. After a 26-17 takedown of the division rival Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles sit at the tippy top of the league at 6-0 heading into their bye week. They’ll take on the Steelers, Texans, and Commanders before getting the Colts, Packers, and Titans. They’ll be favored in all of those games, heading toward a clear path to the number 1 seed in the NFC.
If the Eagles can run this thing wire to wire in the NFC, it does create something of an alternative blueprint to team building in the era of the super-quarterback. All you have to do is have a great GM that can build a deep and talented roster at all levels and do things like trade for AJ Brown right before the season starts. Oh, and get out from under the Carson Wentz contract to eventually take the Saints 2023 first rounder, currently slated as a top ten pick. That’s right, the Eagles could be the #1 seed and have a top ten pick. Simple.
4. The Beginning of the End for Aaron Rodgers
I write these words knowing full well the potential for Rodgers to right the ship and the Packers to get hot and run through the NFC playoffs in a weak conference. I really do think it’s time to consider that this is the start of the decline for Rodgers and the Packers. Trading away the top receiver in football seems like a decision they might want back as no one on this roster can replace Adams’s production. The defense plays worse than the expectations put on it a year ago as it’s difficult to sustain good defense in this league.
All that might be something that Rodgers can overcome, but his line is failing him and he’s getting hit early and often in games. These body blows add up over time and not even an extra cup of magic tea can help you see downfield over a free blitzer. It’s just delicious that the Packers didn’t trade him when he wanted to get out for a huge haul of draft picks that could have rearmed them for the foreseeable future. I, for one, will enjoy this descent into mediocrity as Rodgers and his bloated salary drag the green and gold down with him.
5. The End of the End for Tom Brady
Let’s not forget about Tom Brady, making a return to football despite obvious personal life issues and… well, presiding over an offense that just doesn’t have it. There are a lot of Tom Brady haters out there. I’m not one of them. I think what’s he done is amazing and I think it’s a near psychotic mental and physical approach to get everything out of his mind and body to be that good, that long. You have to respect that sort of thing.
But I’m just ready to move on. It feels like I’ve had to worry about Tom Brady most of my football watching life because I have – he’s been in this thing since I was eating ramen noodles in Bartlett Hall between Organic Chemistry and Microeconomics class. It’s been too long, know when to say when, Tom. Go eat a strawberry, enjoy life.
6. Nature Abhors a Vacuum
So, who will fill the QB vacuum in the NFC? Dak Prescott becomes the de facto number one with Brady almost certainly walking away at the end of the year and Rodgers on the downswing. Jalen Hurts has a chance to establish himself this year as a contender. I can’t quite figure out Kyler Murray just yet, which likely means that he just isn’t anything more than a sideshow. The “Kyler, go do something” offense makes for fun highlights, but probably not sustainable football.
Justin Fields has as much or more natural talent than any of those players, but it remains to be seen if he can take the steps necessary to reach the top and if the Bears can build around him. The biggest truth might be that the top quarterbacks in the future NFC might still be in college.
7. Purple Reign
The Minnesota Vikings stand atop the NFC North with a 2+ game lead for the divisional crown. They’ve opened up the year a perfect 3-0 against the other teams in the division and have taken care of the Saints and Dolphins. Heading into their bye week, the Vikings will square up against the Cardinals and Commanders before taking it on the chin in Buffalo. With the rest of the division down bad right now, this race feels all but over.
Can the Vikings do anything meaningful in the playoffs? As of right now you’d have to say no. It appears the Vikings will field an average defense with a couple of star players on offense. We’ve seen Kirk Cousins fold in the spotlight plenty, but even if he can take a step forward they may not be good enough to hang with the Eagles. If the Vikings continue to rack up the wins, don’t be surprised to see Justin Jefferson lead the way and earn Offensive Player of the Year votes in a fun season for the purple team.
8. Falling off a Kliff
As mentioned above, I can’t figure out Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. After hanging tight with the Eagles last week, the Cardinals can’t do anything against the Seahawks and drop to 2-4. This in a year when Cardinals faithful were expecting a deeper run to the playoffs. With Hollywood Brown likely out for an extended period of time, the Cardinals went out in the trade market and acquired Robbie Anderson. Most importantly, they will get DeAndre Hopkins back from his 6-game suspension to try to save their season. Will the offense improve with Hopkins and Anderson? I mean, it couldn’t hurt.
Hopkins is in his age-30 season and despite hauling in 115 balls in 2020, wasn’t quite at that peak-level he was in Houston in 2017-2019. Part of the problem when Hopkins was active in this Cardinals offense was that Kliff Kingsbury built the whole ship out of Hopkins targets and decoys, giving a one-dimensional feel to the offense. Can Kliff finally show evolution with his favorite playmaker back or will this offense fall flat? I’m not hopeful.
9. The Browns get Zappe’d
Mac Jones goes down with an injury and rookie backup quarterback Bailey Zappe comes in and… steers the ship for two wins? The NFL is so weird. The Browns defense has been an absolute paper tiger in the early going but you still have to give props to the young backup keeping the Patriots afloat in the AFC playoff picture while Jones heals.
The Patriots get the Bears on the schedule next on Monday Night Football. Bill Belichick will be looking to pass George Halas for the second most wins all-time in this one – a serendipitous turn in the schedule (just kidding, the schedule makers clearly timed this one well). While much of the attention will be on how Bill Belichick attacks Justin Fields (deservedly so), I’ll be curious to see if the Bears defense can fare any better against a rookie quarterback with a limited arm. Time for Coach Eberflus and company to take this defense to the next level, on the road, and try to win one for Papa Bear and hold off Darth Hoodie for one more week.
10. Justin Fields
I think if Justin Fields proved anything in Thursday Night’s loss to the Washington Commanders, it’s that he is a fighter. Under constant duress all night from a leaky offensive line and throwing to receivers who struggle to get open can challenge the best quarterbacks but it sure makes it difficult to evaluate the young ones. When the Bears got the ball back at the end of the game, most of the fans around me at Soldier Field had given up and left the stadium or stuck around out of morbid curiosity. Fields ripped off an amazing scramble down to the five-yard line after spending much of his night prone on the ground, needing his line to scrape him off the turf.
We can talk about the ridiculous pass interference on third down that the refs missed and how, yes, the Bears probably punch it in from the one with a fresh set of downs. But that game should’ve never come down to the final moments. It should have been put away long before Fields fired a fourth down pass into, and ultimately out of, the hands of Darnell Mooney. At a minimum, we all just wanted to know what we had in Justin Fields at the end of this season. Right now, the only definitive thing I’ve got is that he’s one tough dude.
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