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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Reactions from a double full slate of games over the holiday weekend

NFL: NOV 24 Bills at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. NFC North Spotlight – Lions

We kicked off the week with the Detroit Lions hosting the first Thanksgiving game. It’s something that you know will be there even if you really don’t want it – like that weird green Jell-O thing that your aunt brings every year. It’s comforting in its presence but you’d gladly swap it for pretty much anything else. The Lions availed themselves quite well against the Bills in this year’s contest, going down in defeat while keeping the final score within a field goal. The NFL doesn’t reward close losses, but Lions fans seem happy with the honorable defeat.

Maybe the Lions are starting to finally figure it out and can end the year with a bit of a run to build confidence for 2023. Normally, you would snicker a bit as all that would do is take them out of position to draft their young quarterback of the future. The thing about that is the Lions own the Rams first rounder, which is looking like a top-5 pick at this point, gained in the trade for Matthew Stafford. The Lions may have the best of both worlds to finish out the season – feel good about your team direction and have a top pick to take the next signal caller. The Lions time could be coming soon.

2. Home Away from Home

The Bills played their second game in Detroit in less than a week and managed to squeeze out two victories. The relief on Josh Allen’s face, who is clearly gutting through an elbow injury, should tell you all you need to know about how close this thing is to falling down around them. This was an important stretch for the Bills to get back on track and try to keep pace with the Chiefs.

The Bills will play this Thursday against the rival Patriots. It sounds like the locker room was hit with a bug that may impact player availability. If that’s the case, add it to the list of weird things surrounding this football season for Buffalo. This will be the toughest challenge of this three-game stretch and you just know the team is dying for that “mini-bye” at this point. You can already hear the stories and player interviews from Super Bowl week if they’re able to overcome all this adversity and make the run expected of them. As a writer, I low-key love these kinds of storylines and start scripting out the NFL Films voiceover in my head.

3. Cowboys Deliver

If the Lions playing on Thanksgiving is like the weird green Jell-O dish, the Cowboys are more like cranberry sauce. You feel an obligation to put some on your plate and you think to yourself “do I like this?” until you take a bite and realize that there’s a reason you only see this stuff once a year. The Cowboys took care of business and, unfortunately, look like they’ll be sticking around the playoff picture for the foreseeable future.

The big takeaway for me in this one was CeeDee Lamb looks like he’s ready to be a bigtime playmaker. Lamb caught 6 balls for 106 yards in this one, his second time crossing the century mark in November, and is on his way to shattering his career best season. He’s on pace for about 100 grabs and 1,250 yards and 8 scores, all career bests. If the Cowboys are going to make any noise in the playoffs, it’ll be up to Lamb to provide the big play ability in the passing game to go along with the dynamic backfield duo of Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliot.

4. A Pumpkin in the Big Apple

Do you like pumpkin pie or apple pie more? If you’re a fan of the New York Giants, you might try to embrace the pumpkin down the stretch because the talent and schedule are starting to catch up with Big Blue and may be ending what looked like a Cinderella season. A late TD in this one allowed the Giants to cover the spread and make the final score respectable, but the game was over in the 3rd quarter when Dallas made their halftime adjustments.

The Giants will now try to pick up the pieces after two straight losses heading into a stretch of playing Washington, Philly, Washington again, and Minnesota over the next four weeks. The Giants, once 6-1 and then 7-2 are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture after their hot start. Their fate will likely be decided against Washington, who started off slow but have really found something as of late. Would you rather your team start hot and fade or start cold and heat up at the end of the year? Hmm, hot and cold together... now I want a piece of pie a la mode.

5. NFC North Spotlight: Vikings Bounce Back

The third Thanksgiving game has been my favorite over the years. I’m not sure what the rhythm of your holiday looks like, but this has mostly been a game to myself, like that last piece of pie you squirrelled away in the back of the fridge for later before your brother could nab it. And it was quite a treat of a football game.

The Vikings are getting some fortunate bounces, yes, but they’re also playing good football and getting the most out of this roster. Prime Time Kirk threw his pick, sure, but also delivered three TD strikes to his receivers – the All-World Justin Jefferson, newly acquired TJ Hockenson, and the savvy vet Adam Thielen. I’m still not worried about these Vikings long term, so I say let the purple people in your life enjoy their run this year.

6. Mac Attack

It’s tough to get too upset about Mac Jones if you’re a Patriots fan with an impressive stat line of 382 yards and 2 scores. However, the murmurs from the fan base seem to understand that Mac’s ceiling will likely never be high enough to recapture the glory of the Brady years. Shed a tear for Boston…

What will be interesting with the Patriots is where do they go from here? Do they stay the course with Mac and maybe just try to retool around him, maybe install coaches with experience calling offensive plays? Or do they try to move Mac to, say, the Raiders and Josh McDaniels and start anew? Herein lies the problem with taking a quarterback with a high floor and a low ceiling – you can’t stand up straight and figure out where to go.

7. NFC North Spotlight – TTUN

I sure enjoyed the result of that Sunday Night Football game, watching the Eagles dismantle the Green Bay Packers. I sure didn’t enjoy listening to the commentary about the game, which seemed like a three-hour long excuse for the terrible Packers season and the love-fest for the new signal caller in cheesetown. NBC really needs to invest in an alternate stream. I’m going to try the SAP button next time and work on my Spanish.

The Packers are bad. They were projected to contend for a title and they’re not even going to sniff the playoffs. It’s glorious and should be called out for what it is.

8. Eagles Run Roughshod

Did you know the team with the best record in football was playing on Sunday night? They absolutely crushed the Packers defense on the ground to the tune of 363 yards. 363! I added it up twice to make sure I didn’t make a mistake with the math. Both Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders rushed for over 140 yards, making it one of the most impressive modern-day running efforts we’ve seen.

The narrative of football that a lot of people are still stuck on is that it’s all about the quarterback and that quarterback needs to stand in the pocket and deliver 40 passes a game like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. That era of football is fading fast. Defenses changed the way they play these quarterbacks and some of the most successful signal callers look like Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen, getting it done on the ground just as often as through the air. And that’s okay! It’s exciting to see the league shift and while maybe it will shift back to the pure pocket passer eventually, right now running the ball effectively with a quarterback is an advantage that might take the Eagles back to the Super Bowl.

9. The Great Hype of Mike White

Life is all about timing and Mike White drew the perfect opponent in the Chicago Bears defense to take over for Zach Wilson. White did what every other quarterback has done over the last five weeks and took a blowtorch to this secondary. It’s tough to pin it all on the secondary of course when quarterbacks are able to sit back in the pocket, count to ten Mississippi, and deliver the ball. In other words, the Bears defense right now provides a “rookie-level-on-Madden” level of resistance to quarterbacks.

He’ll actually find more willing defenses over the next few games as well as the Jets travel to Minnesota in a sneaky fun game this weekend followed by Buffalo, Detroit, and Jacksonville. Buffalo is the only team in the next four games that may cause him problems and even they have been generous to the Jared Goff’s and Jacoby Brissett’s of the world. The Mike White Hype Train has officially left the station.

10. Justin Fields

Obviously, Fields didn’t play and I’m not sure why we needed to go through the drama all week with the questionable tag on the injury report. I’m not sure if he’ll play against the Packers and while I think we all would love to see him torch this Packers defense, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to risk further injury in a lost season. With Darnell Mooney and Eddie Jackson done for the year, you have to really question what can be gained from throwing Fields back on the pitch at anything less than 100% health.