For a week that had a lot of big games, week 8 sure ended up chalk. There was not a single game in week 8 where a team with a worse record beat a team with a better record. Not one. Not a single upset. The folks fighting upwards broadly missed chances to get back into contention, while the dominant simply reasserted themselves for yet one more week. While it does lead to a dearth of drama, it also helps to crystallize a rapidly forming playoff picture. To the games!
Game of the Week: Detroit Lions 236, Pittsburgh Steelers 210
While an argument can be made for Arizona’s bubble victory over Green Bay as more relevant to the playoffs or Kansas City’s Monday night comeback over Denver as more dramatic, the Lions and Steelers game was the highest scoring game of the week played by two division champions, and featured just enough drama and playoff implications to give it the nod.
After a series of wins that didn’t quite live up to their exacting standards, the Lions will take this one, exploding out of the gate with 27 from Matthew Stafford and Tyler Lockett, 24 from Marvin Jones, and over 100 points from the defense yet again. Much more exciting for Detroit is that who did the scoring. On a day when Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks combined for only 13.5 points, and they got a goose egg from TE Charles Clay, it was secondary offensive players who carried the Lions, including a nice 18 point game from ascendant Colts RB Marlon Mack. Cooks and Hill will get theirs. If guys like Mack and Lockett can keep it up, look out.
For Pittsburgh, it was a better effort but still a frustrating defeat. Juju “Tour de France” Smith-Schuster explored for 44 – only to see Jarvis Landry and Le’Veon bell fall off their MVP paces and the bottom of the offensive lineup continue to not perform. You won’t ever argue with 210 points, but Pittsburgh would have loved a win here and fall back to within a game of the “we might not be great, but we never ever go away” Bengals.
One interesting note – no defender on either side scored over 20 points, but both defenses passed the century mark. I think that might be a first!
Teams Rising: Tough to find a lot of risers and fallers in a week where all the favorites won and the underdogs did not, but when have we at the Real Deal Report ever shied away from a challenge?
Cincinnati Bengals: They down. They up. They back. They forth. Come see the amazing “what the hell are they doing”? crazy unpredictable Cincinnati Bengals! After blowing multiple chances to pass Pittsburgh and laying a relative egg during their rivalry game with the Steelers, the Bengals respond not by folding, but by crushing Indianapolis 178-84. The offense continued its putrid stench for Cincinnati with only 41 points, but the defense played nicely, putting in 114 points and led by an 18 point night from Geno Atkins. Coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss, the Bengals somehow find themselves only a half game back yet again, and with another (gulp) opportunity in week 9.
Denver Broncos: Denver has had a rough year. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t really worked out as hoped. Paxton Lynch and Tom Savage both looked like potential starting QBs and then neither were. Dion Lewis has been eclipsed in New England by Mike Gillislee, and the Denver host franchise hasn’t really put up the points. Even McManus has missed field goals. And yet, Denver has been surprisingly competitive, only 43 points back of the Raders for the season. They showed it this weekend. Explosive performances from Jack Doyle (36), DeAndre Washington (22), and Adrian Phillips (22) pushed the Broncos well over 200 points. There are two types of teams with rough records in this league – the “gimme games” who are not competitive at all, and the talented teams that have a great chance to win every week. Denver is in the second category – and are a quarterback and a couple pieces away from being playoff ready.
Buffalo Bills: It’s hard to rise when you are 11-0 and tops in the league. There’s no where to rise from when you are already at the top. But in a week where the favorites all won, it only seems appropriate to honor just how dominant the Bills have been and just how easy they have made it look in cruising to an 11-0 record and clinching the AFC East title in week 11.
The Bills have scored over 200 points every single week except for week 1. With the exception of two games that were within 15 points (one against the Jets and one against Cincy), Buffalo has won every single game on their schedule by 50 or more points, and most by over 75. They lead RDFL with 2634 fantasy points (almost 200 more than second place Detroit), and have both a top 4 offense and top 4 defense.
It’s not easy to dominate as smoothly and easily as the Bills have done this year. It’s unprecedented in our league. Can they go undefeated? Their remaining schedule includes the LA Chargers (should be an easy win), New England (same), those pesky NY Jets, the New Orleans Saints (how ironic would it be if NO knocked them out of the ranks of the unbeaten?) and a week 12 showdown with Alex Smith and the Chiefs.
My prediction: Buffalo goes undefeated.
Honorable Mentions: The NFC South not named Tampa Bay, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stop me if you’ve heard this theme before. Tampa Bay loses a game they really needed while the entire rest of the NFC South wins. This isn’t the first time this year, and it’s backbreaking. The quarterbackless Bucs offense, hampered by bye weeks, shut down entirely for a 25 point output that did not feature a single double digit performance as the Bucs were smashed by divisional rival Carolina 190-149. The defense, led by Halloween sensation Jadeveon Clowney (24), put up a game fight, but it wasn’t enough. Tampa now finds itself at 5-6, 4 out in the division and two back of both Atlanta and New Orleans for the wild card. They aren’t quite eliminated. But it’s close. Might be time to pack it up again in Florida.
Houston Texans: There is just no way the Texans should be 2-8-1. I still don’t understand it. That team has so much talent. So many good players. I thought they would be Buffalo’s chief rival for the AFC championship. And quite frankly, if I were picking today, I think I might still go with them. That team just looks so good. And yet, somehow, they can’t quite win games. The latest in the disappointing chapter is a 190-172 loss to Seattle where Jameis Winston regressed to 4 points, no single player scored more than 17, and the defense put in 67 total. Blech. Seattle wasn’t much better, but got a combined 110 points from the combination of Russell Wilson, Ezekiel “Is he suspended or not” Elliott, and Travis Kelce. Seattle bounces back from a brutal stat correction loss to the Giants, while Houston continues to wonder what the hell is going on.
Tennessee Titans: Just two short weeks ago, Tennessee was tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South with a scintillating 7-2 record and a couple of convincing victories. As the old reliable good team in the division, it seemed quite likely that they would outrace Jacksonville for the South and potentially contend for a first round bye. Two weeks later, and the Titans would simply take a playoff berth. It wasn’t so much that they lost to the Giants in week 8 (everybody loses to the Giants). Instead it was how they lost. Under 50 points on offense with Case Keenum as the only double digit scorer. 85 points for the defense which would have been much lower if Jimmy Smith hadn’t taken advantage of the hapless Dolphins for a 50 yard pick six in London. Two straight weeks under 140 points. And only a 1 game cushion now over Oakland and Cincinnati in the Wild Card race. Tennessee can get things back on track. But they are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to a division title at this point.
Dishonorable Mentions: Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns
Week 9 Games of the Week: So fair warning – this week’s games kind of suck in RDFL. Good weekend to check out and take advantage of some family time, because there ain’t much to see in week 9’s slate.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: Probably the best game of the week, this one pits a pair of rivals against each other. Carolina has a two game lead over both the Falcons and Panthers at this point. With a win this week, that lead would remain a minimum of two over New Orleans and three over Atlanta with only four to go. Put another way, Carolina can come close to clinching this week. A win by Atlanta, however, puts this division right back in reach. Kelvin Benjamin in Buffalo, Jay Ajayi in Philly and Willie Snead back from the dead provide some interesting question marks for key playmakers that will be worth watching also.
Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens: As mentioned, Tennessee is trending the wrong direction. Baltimore, while just about dead, is only two games out of the wild card. A win by Baltimore would put them back at 6-6 and within a game of the wild card. The Vikings bye is going to leave Tennessee without a quarterback for this week, but Baltimore will be starting a concussed and ineffective Flacco in addition to other bye week challenges. This should be a slog fest – and one I predict to see Tennessee emerge from.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: And what an obvious set up for the pattern to repeat itself. The Bengals have a chance to take over first place yet again from the Steelers – and failing that, to grab hold of a wild car spot in the AFC. To do so, they have to beat the Jaguars, who suddenly have a pair of QBs. It’s going to be tough. Jacksonsville is at full strength, playing great, and in a position to place the AFC South on lockdown. In the meantime, the Steelers have a winnable game with New England. If the pattern holds, the lead will be extended again.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desperation time for Tampa, contention time for New Orleans. This is a big game for the wild card, and possibly a big game for the divisional race. Thank goodness for the wild and wacky NFC South to provide big games on a week with a major dearth of them. New Orleans will have to adjust to a third string role for Wendell Smallwood, while the Bucs have to get that offense on track and face serious questions about famous Jameis. I hate to say it, but I’m guessing this officially makes the NFC South a three team league.
Good luck this week, friends!