Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations. That is not a bad competitive season! It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.
Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202
Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing. The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend. It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders. When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker. Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats! Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome. With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3. The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5. Still a great team. Still within striking distance. But they need to move soon.
Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated. But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated. Because then you never really rise. You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them. So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo is on track. They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet. They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing. Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB. AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected. Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP. The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day. Everything is going according to plan. And that’s a fantastic plan. It’s the best plan. Believe me.
Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right? Scuffling team? Pair of abysmal performances in a row. Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll. Tough, right? No problem. Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25). The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie). Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.
Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype. The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule. And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs. But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week. Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses. Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.
Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts
New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on? After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams. In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants. Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511. Way over both of their season averages. There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures. But they’ll be fine. This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players. LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed. Now to see if they can build on it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh. After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition. That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race. The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney. But that offense… something needs to change fast. It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders. Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.
Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss. Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense. The wrong kind of consistency. Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1. As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.
Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars
Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West. Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks. This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams. Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.
Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”. Does Buffalo need this game? Nope. Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome? Sure. Does New England need this game? It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins. Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either. What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully. A good game? Who knows. A must have? Not really. But drama? Almost certainly.
Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston. After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown. This IS a standings game. Houston can’t afford a loss here. Detroit could. But best not let the Bears get too close…
Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works? A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs. The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play. That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough. It’s been a challenge to point. Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.
New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game. Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4. Both teams badly need this game. For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division. For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk. In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like… ::haunting music:: last year! A Halloween special.
Good luck everyone!