1. Tank Update, the Good Stuff
The Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars both graduated to the 5-win club this last weekend with road wins as underdogs. The Panthers ran the ball incredibly well to the tune of 223 yards on the ground, punishing the Seahawks defense, while Geno Smith threw two interceptions trying to bring his squad back. The Jaguars got a big game out of Trevor Lawrence who peppered tight end Evan Engram with 15 targets to beat the Titans. Engram converted those targets into 11 catches for 162 yards and 2 scores. Both teams removed themselves from immediate draft slot worry as it would take two Bears wins to tie the Panthers or Jaguars record. We will stop worrying about both for now.
The Seahawks are starting to fade in the NFC playoff picture, currently on the outside looking in. If the Seahawks can’t clinch a playoff spot, does that play into their draft plans for next year? Remember that the Seahawks own the Broncos 1st round pick, which currently sits at 2nd overall. They could absolutely be in the QB market or in the trade down for picks market. Either one would potentially impact the value of the Bears draft pick depending on final draft position.
2. Tank Update, the Really Good Stuff
Maybe the most surprising tank help came from the Los Angeles Rams with their stunning win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday Night Football. The Raiders controlled most of the game until a late TD drive closed the lead to six points. After a three-and-out by the Raiders, AJ Cole boomed a perfect punt that rolled down to the 2 yard-line where Baker Mayfield took over with 1:45 remaining. Despite having no timeouts left, Mayfield drove the length of the field and capped a 98-yard drive with a perfect ball to Van Jefferson for a 23-yard score.
Mayfield had only been in the building for 48-hours after his release from Carolina and probably didn’t know everyone’s name in the huddle. What an insane story for the former #1 overall pick. The Raiders choices on defense in that final drive have been rightly criticized, but let’s just appreciate this gem on its own. The Rams win moves their pick, owned by Detroit, behind the Bears and into the 4-win category. The Rams have a chance to further remove their pick from worry against Green Bay this week and the big showdown vs Denver next week.
3. Tank Update, Tanks for Nothing
Overall, three wins for teams competing for draft position with the Bears is a good week, but for at least moment it appeared we might witness a truly amazing week. The Houston Texans held a lead against the Dallas Cowboys until a Zeke Elliott TD put the game away with 46 ticks remaining. The Denver Broncos worked their way into Chiefs territory late in the fourth quarter trailing by only six points until backup Brett Rypien threw an interception to L’Jarius Sneed. The Arizona Cardinals took a 13-10 lead into halftime over the New England Patriots despite losing Kyler Murray early in the game. The Patriots took over in the second half and kept the Cardinals at four wins.
The Texans and Broncos results were expected but they gave fans a little extra hope. The Broncos and Cardinals face off next week and while it would be best for the Bears if the Broncos can win that one, there’s at least some level of consolation if the Cardinals grab their fifth win. Kyler Murray is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL. The Texans showing some signs of life could make for fun viewing down the stretch as they finish with three divisional games.
4. The 2-Seed
The battle for the NFC’s 2-Seed remains important and just got a whole lot more interesting. While the 2-Seed doesn’t hold quite as much advantage as it used to when the playoffs awarded byes to the top two teams, it’s still important as it guarantees a home game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs (assuming the 2-Seed wins its Wildcard game). After the Vikings loss to the Lions and the 49ers dominant win against the Bucs, only one game separates the two teams. As long as that gap stays within one game of each other, the Vikings will want to play their starters through the end of the year. That result would impact the likelihood of the Bears winning a meaningless game in Week 18, for what it’s worth.
The Vikings loss should be a bit of a wakeup call to Vikings fans. For those of you with Vikings fans in your life, you may have noticed a sizable swagger overtaking many as the season wears on. I liked the Vikings coming into this season and thought they were underrated. For those of you that listened to my “frenemies” podcast, all participants agreed that the Vikings would win the NFC North. With that title all but wrapped up, Vikings fans are starting to believe that they could, or even should, go all the way this year. I just don’t see it. Their defense is terrible and as much as I love Justin Jefferson (and I do), I’m not sure that’s enough.
5. Speaking of Justin Jefferson...
Another game, another record for Justin Jefferson and the amazing start to his career. Jefferson put up a career high 223 yards on 11 catches Sunday, torching the Lions in a losing effort. He’s already gone over 1,500 receiving yards on the year, becoming the first player in NFL history to clear 1,400 yards in each of his first three seasons and tying Lance Alworth for the most games of 175+ yards in his first three seasons with five such contests (h/t NFL Communications). He’s ridiculous.
Cris Carter, the Hall of Fame receiver, ranked Jefferson ahead of himself and Randy Moss in the pantheon of great Vikings wide outs. Incredibly high praise but he’s off to an incredible start to his career that it’s difficult to disagree.
6. Playoff Lions?
The Detroit Lions have won five of their last six, the only loss coming against the Buffalo Bills. I don’t personally know anyone in my day-to-day life that wears Lions gear, but I’ll report back if I see one in the wild. The Lions start the final quarter of the year with an intriguing game against the Jets in Jersey followed by a trip to Carolina before closing things out against the Bears and Packers.
I don’t think there’s any reason they couldn’t take at least 3 of the last 4 to finish with 9 wins. Further, I think they could run the table and get to 10 wins, which would almost certainly get them a spot in the show. Good for them.
7. For Those About to Brock, We Salute You
The 49ers are starting to hit their stride down the stretch and surprisingly didn’t lose a step after Jimmy G’s foot injury. Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has entered stage right to remarkable success. Purdy completed 16 of 21 passes for 185 yards and 2 scores, leading the 49ers to a 35-7 blowout win against Tom Brady’s Bucs. Can Brock Purdy carry this well-oiled 49ers machine into the playoffs and on a deep run? A definite yes to the first part of that question as the 49ers have the Seahawks, Commanders, and Raiders on tap - winnable games to help put away the division. As for the second part, I’m not sure they could beat the Eagles at this point, but with Jimmy G’s timeline up in the air, Purdy may only need to get them through the Wildcard round. With the infrastructure around him, I believe he could.
I was so convinced that Brady was going to pull out an epic performance in this one as a showcase for 49ers brass to consider signing him to a one-year deal next off-season. Brady grew up a 49ers fan and for guy that has absolutely nothing to prove, it could be the one remaining thing that he just wants to do - wear a 49ers jersey and take him boyhood team back to the promised land. I don’t think he helped his cause on Sunday.
8. Most Underwhelming
I’m trying to decide what team should “win” the award for biggest disappointment and I can’t quite decide. One could say the Packers, but
a bad Packers season is the best thing in the world that was actually somewhat expected for me. I think it’s Denver with their new coaching hire who looks like a dud and the Russell Wilson trade and extension, which ties the team to Russ for multiple seasons.
Arguments could be made for the Cardinals, Rams, and Colts. I expected the Cards to struggle this year but the other two teams really surprised me. The list probably goes something like Broncos, Rams, and Colts. At least the Rams already got their ring.
9. Most Impressive
My answer to the team that has impressed me the most is similarly couched in my expectations coming into the year. I was high on the Eagles and Vikings so their ascent hasn’t really shocked me. The Giants or Seahawks could be good answers, but it sure seems like the helium is getting let out of the balloons on those two squads. I think it comes down to the Commanders and the Jets.
At the Senior Bowl this last February, the Jets staff was selected to coach one side of the game because they were one of the worst teams in the league with a returning coach. Their record currently has them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The Commanders, with a similar record, are currently in the playoffs in the weaker NFC and have a solid path to try to get in as the third NFC East squad. Both deserve kudos but after a 1-4 start, I’ll have to give the nod to the Commanders.
10. Justin Fields
I miss Justin Fields highlights. I’m sure you do too. If you missed any of the breakdowns, here are some links for your viewing pleasure:
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