NFL Week 8 Predictions: The Fall of Brady and Rodgers Edition

Week 8 started on Thursday with Tom Brady falling two games under .500 for the first time in his career after a loss to the Ravens, then the next day the news broke that he is officially divorced from his famous wife. All I’ll say is let’s hope he’s right when he says his favorite ring is the next one.

Speaking of old quarterbacks with a broken family situation decaying in front of our eyes on prime time, Aaron Rodgers is a double-digit underdog for the first time in his NFL career. He’s playing Buffalo, so, duh. The Packers don’t even have Allen Lazard or Randall Cobb available for this one. I’m not expecting much from it, but maybe unlike Brady against the Ravens, Rodgers will pull out one last miracle on Sunday night. How does it happen? I honestly have no idea. Josh Allen air mails every third and fourth-down throw? The special teams decide to block an opponent’s punt for a touchdown instead of the other way? Beats me.

Some of my articles from a busy week:

NFL Week 8 Predictions

I’m honestly shocked Baltimore went from 10-3 at halftime to 27-22 final in Tampa. Great job by the shorthanded Ravens to grind it out and dominate the second half.

I’m not going to let Malik Willis starting his first game change my mind on the Tennessee-Houston game. Maybe stay away from the ML, but continue to pound those Derrick Henry props. Hell, maybe Willis’ mobility will open the running game up even more a la Vince Young in Tennessee years ago.

I’m not buying the Steelers and Packers keep it close enough to cover this week, but we’ll see. I wouldn’t be risking bringing T.J. Watt back when I’m 2-5 and an underdog like this. Not when the bye week is next week too. Just wait one more game.

But if I said I was overly confident in any one of these ATS picks, I’d be lying. One thing I felt after the Bears smoked the Patriots on Monday is that in these matchups between so-so teams, no one deserves to be an 8-point favorite right now. These teams are all too inconsistent to be getting that kind of line.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 7

I had my reservations about the Week 7 schedule going into the weekend, and it is hard to say that wasn’t justified with the results. There was a lot of sloppy football on Sunday with the Bills and Eagles, the leaders in each conference, enjoying a bye week.

We had a season-low seven games with a comeback opportunity, and there were only two lead changes in the fourth quarter. One even involved a game with the Raiders-Texans that was decided by 18 points.

If Sunday is remembered for anything, it would have to be a new low point in the careers of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, which just so happens to be occurring simultaneously. While both have had plenty of games worse than how they played individually on Sunday, it’s the continuation of a rough stretch since they met in a 14-12 oddity in Week 3 that is the reason why we can call this their lowest point in the NFL. Both are floundering on 3-4 teams that have fallen further than expected this year.

The NFL would be up shit creek if it did not have a rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to promote.  

At least, that’s one of the main things I took away from Sunday.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at 49ers: Not a Super Rematch

Patrick Mahomes DGAF what “sharp money” says about his team’s chances, especially going on the road after a tough loss to Buffalo. This is exactly the kind of game the Chiefs tend to dial in for when people start doubting them. While I understood the tactical advantages to the 49ers having a real shot in this one with them getting some of their best players back and adding Christian McCaffrey after a big trade, there’s still that glaring mismatch of Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.

It showed up here again even if Mahomes was intercepted on his first drive and the 49ers quickly built a 10-0 lead. Of course, the Chiefs are no strangers to coming back from 10-point deficits early.

Of the eight drives Mahomes played against what is supposed to be a top-tier defense, he threw for 423 yards, led six touchdown drives, one missed field goal from 39 yards before halftime, and that early pick off a deflection. Incredible stuff from this offense that nearly got three 100-yard receivers as Travis Kelce was just two yards shy of joining JuJu Smith-Schuster (124) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (111). 

The Chiefs finally hit on that deep ball to MVS for 57 yards, and it could not have come in a more critical moment than in the fourth quarter on a third-and-11 after the 49ers had cut the lead to 28-23. That led to another touchdown and 35-23 lead on Mecole Hardman’s third touchdown of the game on a jet sweep. Four snaps later, you could see Garoppolo in immediate trouble with edge pressure from Frank Clark, resulting in a sack and safety in the end zone. JuJu scored another touchdown to make it 44-23, blowout city. The Chiefs were 6-of-7 on third down with Mahomes, including four of their five biggest gains in the game (57, 45, 34, and 27 yards).

Let’s just say Garoppolo did not show up around the end zones. Not only did he have the safety, but he had a brutal red-zone pick earlier in the game when the 49ers were down 14-13 late in the second quarter. The Chiefs had one interception on defense all season and left this game with two more.

When the Chiefs play like they did against Arizona, Tampa Bay, and this game, which were all on the road, they look like the best team in the NFL. Certainly the best offense, and not one you’d ever think to bring up Tyreek Hill’s absence for. This is why if they have to travel to Buffalo for an AFC Championship Game, you can trust that they’ll be competitive and give themselves a good chance to win.

Since losing 27-3 to the Titans last year to start 3-4, the Chiefs have had a fourth-quarter lead or tie in 20 straight games. Now they get to enjoy the bye week and get ready for some Tennessee revenge on SNF at home in Week 9.

The 49ers (3-4) are going to have better days with McCaffrey fitting into the offense well after he learns the complete playbook, and the defense won’t see another quarterback or offense this good the rest of the regular season.

Buccaneers at Panthers: Does Tom Brady Suck Enough to Retire Yet?

In 2014, Tom Brady infamously said “When I suck, I’ll retire.” Well, he didn’t do that after the 2019 season where he finished 4-5 down the stretch and threw a pick-six in the playoffs on his final pass with the Patriots. He came back for more with Tampa Bay, and enough things went his way to win a seventh Super Bowl immediately.

But instead of retiring in the perfect spot on top with nothing else to prove, he had to come back for more in 2021. Getting shut out 9-0 to Taysom Hill and the Saints in prime time ended his MVP bid, and the Rams ended his repeat dream in the divisional round game that would have been a fitting end to his career.

But retirement lasted just 40 days so that he can come back to a team with downgrades at coach, tight end, offensive line, and healthy receivers. But hey, who doesn’t want to piss off their family so they can pad the passing totals into unreachable territory for a 3-4 team that’s fading fast?

Good thing the NFC South and the NFC in general are this bad, but this has to be the lowest point of Brady’s 23-year career. He is 3-4 for the first time since 2002, his first full season as a Week 1 starter for New England. But in the last two weeks, Brady has lost as a 9.5-point favorite in Pittsburgh to a rookie quarterback and Mitch Trubisky, and now he’s lost as a 13.5-point favorite to a Carolina team that wasn’t expected to win more than a game or two after firing the head coach and trading away star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Brady had two other losses (2012 Arizona and 2019 Miami) as a favorite of 13.5+, but at least those games were competitive late. This was a 21-3 embarrassment unlike anything we have seen in Brady’s career.

Tampa Bay had zero turnovers, zero missed field goals, and they only had four penalties for 30 yards. So, it wasn’t even some fluky upset where they kept coughing up the ball, or got railroaded by officials, or the kicker went insane and kept missing. None of that. Tampa Bay was forced to punt six times on the first eight drives, and it was stopped twice on fourth down in the game.

However, the third play of the game seemed to set the tone for the day to follow. Brady had Mike Evans wide open for a 64-yard touchdown, but the veteran inexplicably dropped the ball. The drive ended in a punt, which would become common the rest of the way.

Watching that play on RedZone, I was shocked but also just figured they were going to destroy this team if receivers like Evans are getting that open. However, it was seriously the best touchdown opportunity the Bucs had all game long. Carolina just kept stopping them cold as Brady’s low passes and throws short of the sticks just failed to keep any drives going. Leonard Fournette was also stopped on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Carolina backup P.J. Walker made confident throws and did not get greedy in turning the ball over on risky plays. He led three touchdown drives to give the Panthers a stunning 21-3 upset.

The Buccaneers are the first team since the 2009 Steelers to lose consecutive games outright as a favorite of at least 9.5 points. They are the only team on record (since 1978) to do it without turning the ball over in either game.

In fact, this is the second time in Brady’s career he lost a game by at least 18 points despite zero turnovers. He also lost 34-10 to the Titans in 2018.

Last week was a different kind of crazy in Pittsburgh, but this was just downright embarrassing against arguably the worst team in the NFL.

We knew there were signs before the season started that things would not be as good as they were in 2020-21. We knew in Week 1 that not everything was okay. But who would have guessed that after Brady and Aaron Rodgers met in a weird 14-12 game in Week 3 that the last month would play out the way it has for both?

We are witnessing the lowest points of their careers at the same time.

Packers at Commanders: When the Cat Starts Missing the Litter Box…

I thought Washington (+4.5) had a decent shot in this with the way the Packers have been slumping and the fact that Taylor Heinicke led the offense to 430 yards in a matchup last year, the team’s second-most yards in a game in the last five seasons. Green Bay won that one 24-10 because Heinicke just could not finish in the red zone at all.

But after seeing Heinicke start this game so inaccurately and throwing a pick-six to fall behind 14-3, it was absolutely shocking to see him outplay and beat Aaron Rodgers in the end. Once Heinicke settled down, he started making plays and used his legs to keep many plays alive. Terry McLaurin also put in a spirited effort with 73 yards and a touchdown.

Washington led 20-14 in the fourth quarter and the defense was able to stop Rodgers on a fourth-and-1 pass that should have been caught by Romeo Doubs, but it was right at the marker, and he couldn’t come up with it. Washington added a field goal for a 23-14 lead, then Rodgers answered with a touchdown on a drive aided by multiple penalties.

Heinicke almost ran the clock out on the Packers, but Rodgers got it back for one more chance in a 23-21 game with 23 seconds left. One big pass to Sammy Watkins for 28 yards and a spike seemed to set up another Hail Mary finish. At least, that probably would have been the smartest play for Rodgers. Instead, from 54 yards out the Packers seemed to believe they could pull off a series of laterals to score. It was very amusing and lasted longer than most attempts, but oddly enough it was Rodgers’ lateral to a lineman along the sideline that went awry, and the game ended. It wouldn’t have counted either way as the Packers were penalized for an illegal blindside block earlier on the play.

The Packers finished 0-for-6 on third down, their first game without a conversion since Brett Favre led the Packers into Denver in a 31-10 loss in 1999.

This is a lot of bad firsts for Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur as of late:

  • Between January’s 13-10 playoff loss and Week 1’s 23-7 loss, that was the first time in Rodgers’ career where he did not throw a touchdown pass in consecutive starts.
  • Rodgers beat Tampa Bay 14-12, the first time in his career he won a game where he scored fewer than 20 points and was shut out in the second half.
  • Rodgers threw his second career pick-six at home against the Patriots, a game they had to win in overtime against the 9.5-point underdog and their third-string rookie quarterback.
  • Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU as a favorite of at least 6 points before losing in back-to-back weeks to the Giants (+8) and Jets (+7.5).
  • The 27-10 loss to the Jets is the worst regular-season home loss that Rodgers started and finished in his career.
  • Now you have Sunday’s game as the first in 234 starts where the Packers failed to convert a third down under Rodgers.
  • The Packers are 3-4 after seven games for the first time in the Rodgers era (they were 3-3-1 in 2018).
  • Rodgers has also not passed for over 260 yards in nine straight starts, the longest streak of his career.

What a great time for the Packers (3-4) to be on Sunday Night Football against rested Buffalo next week. But you can see why this would easily be the low point of Rodgers’ career.

Steelers at Dolphins: Maybe Don’t Draft a QB with “Pick” In His Name?

After he lost to the Jets, I said Kenny Pickett had about the most encouraging three-interception debut a quarterback could have in the NFL.

After he lost 38-3 in Buffalo, I said Picket had about the most encouraging 35-point blowout loss in his first start that a quarterback could have.

After Pickett became the 28th quarterback since the 1970 merger to throw at least seven interceptions in his first four NFL games, I’m not so sure how encouraged I still am about him.

Pickett is the first quarterback since Ryan Leaf (1998) to throw at least seven interceptions and fewer than three touchdown passes in his first four NFL games. Yikes.

I could brush off literally all three picks against the Jets since they involved tipped balls and a Hail Mary. Even the bad throw in Buffalo was him being desperate down multiple touchdowns late in the half. Then the first pick on Sunday night was a play where Chase Claypool just fell.

But those last two picks in the fourth quarter of a winnable 16-10 game? Ugly stuff from the rookie to waste a good defensive effort over the last three quarters after it looked like the Steelers were going to get blown out on the road again. In fact, this is only the third NFL game in the last five seasons (2018-22) with no points scored after halftime.

I don’t want to make it sound like Pickett was 100% at fault for the loss. Things could have been much different if the defense did not drop three or four of the gift-wrapped interceptions Tua Tagovailoa threw their way. I guess someone has to keep up the lucky QB in the AFC East reputation.

In a frustrating second half for both sides, Pickett continued to get chances in a 16-10 game, thanks in large part to a bad sequence of play calls by Miami coach Mike McDaniel when he probably should have kicked a field goal to go up 19-10 in the third quarter.

But it seemed like Pickett was going to be able to put together a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. But the Steelers were did in by an illegal shift and holding penalty to bring up third-and-16 at the Miami 30. Pickett thought he had something, but the Dolphins just jumped the route and had a big pick.

Getting the ball back with 2:31 left, Pickett had his second shot at hero. After a great fourth-down strike to his tight end Pat Freiermuth for 21 yards, it again seemed like he was going to pull this off. But after bypassing a chance to run for good yardage in the final 25 seconds, Pickett let rip a horrible decision to no Steeler receiver in sight for a game-ending interception at the goal line with 18 seconds left.

These are growing pains many rookies go through. Peyton Manning (1998) is famously on that list of quarterbacks with a lot of picks in their first four games as he actually threw 11 interceptions in his first four games. But if Pickett continues to have the turnovers while only leading the Steelers to about 12 points per four quarters of action, then I think it’s safe to say he’s going to end up more like Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning in the NFL. At least Manning was breaking the rookie records for passing yards and touchdowns when he threw the 28 interceptions in 1998. He also showed a clear improvement in his final 10 games compared to the first six.

Things are not going to get any easier for Pickett with a trip to 6-0 Philadelphia next week. Meanwhile, the Dolphins remain a curious team after getting blanked in the second half and having some questionable clock management and decision making. It is still an incredible outlier that the Dolphins scored 28 points in the fourth quarter of the comeback win over Baltimore when they have failed to score more than 21 points in any of their other six full games.

The quarterback injuries can only work so far as an excuse for McDaniel. With the way Tua took on some contact for several hits on Sunday night, it may not be long before we are talking about injury again at that position.

Giants at Jaguars: The Best Game on Sunday?

Who could have imagined a game between two of the NFL’s worst franchises in recent years would be the best-played game in Week 7? I am not saying it is up there with Bills-Chiefs from last week, but this is the kind of game you should want to see more often.

Both teams moved the ball very well with each finishing with 27 first downs and just above 430 yards. In fact, it’s criminal the over 43.5 points did not hit in this 23-17 game as it’s only the 34th game in NFL history where both teams had 27 first downs and 430-plus yards of offense. It is the first time one of these games ended with fewer than 52 points.

But the game only had one sack and one turnover. There were three fourth-down stops. A few less penalties (21) would be nice, especially if we can ease up on the roughing the passer, but each side got a generous one.

Once it was going to be a tight game in the fourth quarter, you should have known the Jaguars were in trouble. The Giants used to be the terrible fourth-quarter team, but not this year under Brian Daboll. The Jaguars are historically terrible in any game where they don’t lead wire-to-wire and allow more than 20 points.

With the Jaguars leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, I can’t knock Doug Pederson’s decision to go for it. But Trevor Lawrence was stopped on a badly executed quarterback sneak. Sure enough, the Giants took that stop as another opportunity for the offense to go on its fifth game-winning drive of 2022.

The Giants showed Lawrence how the QB sneak is done as they used it on the go-ahead touchdown run with 5:31 left. I can’t believe this is a real stat, but Daniel Jones is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead five game-winning drives in the first seven games of the season. There were 16 other quarterbacks to do it four times, but never 5-of-7 before this run.

With quarterback play down around the league and Jones using his legs so well – he rushed for 107 yards and the winning touchdown in this one – he is now up to No. 6 in QBR (62.6) in 2022. For real.

After the Jaguars went three-and-out, the Giants could have run out the clock, but Saquon Barkley accidentally went out of bounds to save the Jaguars some time, which was almost costly after the Giants tacked on a field goal to take a 23-17 lead.

But Lawrence had 64 seconds left to do something great. He marched the Jaguars down to the New York 17 where he fired a pass to Christian Kirk near the goal line, but the Giants showed great tackling to prevent him from reaching out for the end zone as time expired. The Jaguars were inches away from their biggest win in quite some time.

Instead, the Jaguars have now lost 39 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points. Lawrence is 1-19 when the Jaguars allow more than 11 points in a game. Lawrence is also 1-10 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 2-11 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Before this season, Jones was the guy at the bottom of those lists with his 3-14 (.176) record at GWD opportunities. Now he is 5-1 this year, doing it in historic fashion. So, that leaves hope for Lawrence to turn it around, but this was another winnable game where he came up, quite literally, short.

Colts at Titans: AFC South Supremacy

The Colts have not won the AFC South since 2014 and it is looking like that streak will continue for another year after a fifth-straight loss to the Titans. This loss may be the worst yet because it’s not like the Tennessee offense was anything special with four field goals. The Titans finally scored their first fourth-quarter points of 2022, but they were just two field goals.

It looked like Matt Ryan and the offense figured something out last week with the quick passing game against the Jaguars. But even with their best runner (Jonathan Taylor) and receiving back (Nyheim Hines) returning to action, the offense fared worse than it did against the Titans a few weeks ago.

Ryan was panicking again at the thought of getting hit in the pocket, so he tried to throw a hot route that was intercepted for a touchdown in the first half. His second pick was also the result of trying to not get hit. Even after getting a gift fumble from Ryan Tannehill at midfield in the fourth quarter of a 16-7 game, the best the Colts could do was drive 24 yards for a field goal.

After the Titans matched it to make it 19-10, Michael Pittman fumbled a pass that was close to being incomplete and the Titans ran out the clock with their closer, Derrick Henry, who had 128 yards on the ground.

The Colts are going to be in ninth or 10th place in the AFC going into Week 8, but there is zero reason to trust this team right now.

Lions at Cowboys: Oh, So the Lions Can’t Score Anymore?

This game is one of those great examples of why you just cannot use the final score to judge the closeness of a game. Anyone betting Detroit +6.5 had to be sick on this one as it was the right side for 57 minutes. The Lions were either tied, in the lead, or trailed by no more than 4 points for the first 57 minutes of this turnover-plagued mess of a 24-6 loss as apparently Detroit is done playing historic shootouts after four games.

It did not help that top receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown left after one catch in the first half. But Jared Goff finished with four turnovers (two picks, two fumbles). Still, the costliest turnover of them all may have belonged to running back Jamaal Williams, who coughed the ball up on a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with the Lions down 10-6.

Goff was intercepted on the next drive and the Cowboys turned that into another Ezekiel Elliott touchdown and 17-6 lead. Goff then lost another fumble on a strip-sack and the Cowboys turned that into the final touchdown with Dak Prescott getting his first of the season through the air in his return game.

The Lions have gone from leading the NFL in scoring through four games to six points in their last eight quarters. I guess that’s not that surprising with the injuries and Goff being Goff, but I really thought the Lions could be better than a 1-5 team that only beats Carson Wentz.

As for Dallas, let’s give Prescott some time to catch up. This wasn’t pretty by any means, but if he finds his 2021 groove to go with this defense, then Dallas may have something here.  

Browns at Ravens: When Both Teams Want to Choke

What do you do with two teams who can’t seem to hold on to leads and close games out? The Browns had blown a league-high three leads in the fourth quarter while the Ravens have already blown three double-digit leads after halftime.

This could have been another as not even a 23-13 deficit in the fourth quarter seemed to matter to the Browns, who got one of Jacoby Brissett’s best games this season. The offense cut the lead to 23-20, then the defense forced Justice Hill to fumble just outside the red zone with 3:12 left.

Was it going to happen again? Unfortunately, Brissett is maybe the worst option this side of Trevor Lawrence to finish off a comeback like this. He did seem to have a go-ahead touchdown pass, but Amari Cooper, another suspect player in clutch moments, was penalized for offensive pass interference to wipe out a 34-yard score. That also made the field goal 10 yards longer, and a brutal false start made it 5 yards further than that.

Rookie kicker Cade York continues to be put in difficult situations to kick critical field goals for this team. He made the game winner in Carolina in Week 1, but his 60-yard field goal was blocked by the Ravens here. I felt that the play ended several seconds before the two-minute warning, only to see the clock tick down to 1:59, costing the Browns a clock stoppage. The Ravens are up there with the Eagles for games where the home cooking on the clock operator has stood out to me over the years. However, it is possible the TV angle made this look worse as it didn’t show the ball bouncing around or when the play was finally dead. Still, it looked fishy to me as the players they showed weren’t reacting like the play was still live.

In the end, the Browns used their last remaining timeout to force a three-and-out and get the ball back with 16 seconds. The last play went down as a fumble by Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Ravens escaped with the win despite Lamar Jackson completing nine passes (none to Mark Andrews).

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is 1-11 when the Browns allow at least 23 points since 2021. His only win in that time is against Matt Rhule’s Panthers, and we know Rhule was horrible in that split.

If the Browns can’t beat the Bengals at home to avoid being 2-6 at the bye with trips to Miami and Buffalo to follow, then this team can probably forget about being relevant by the time Deshaun Watson is eligible to return. My bold prediction of Houston having a better record than Cleveland for that Week 13 meeting may not be far off after all.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a reasonable time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 7.

Falcons at Bengals: This was one I’m happy about since I let good numbers change my gut feeling and it worked out. When I sat down the other day to write a little pick for this game, I was ready to go with the Falcons (+6.5) to move to 7-0 ATS. But after seeing how little pass pressure and sacks they had generated, and the terrible 2022 numbers for corner AJ Terrell, and knowing the way Joe Burrow lights it up at home, I changed my pick to the Bengals to win by a touchdown or better.

Sure enough, Burrow passed for 196 yards in the first quarter alone. He had 344 yards at halftime, and this could have been in Norm Van Brocklin (554) territory if the Falcons were equipped to put up a fight. But there was only one touchdown in the second half as the Bengals won 35-17. Burrow finished at 481 yards but that start to the game was some 2004 Colts type of stuff. Lethal.

Atlanta finished with 13 pass attempts, becoming the 11th team since the merger to throw fewer than 14 passes despite trailing by double digits at halftime and losing by at least 17 points. It’s like they’re playing a different sport.

Jets at Broncos: A pyrrhic victory for the 5-2 Jets. They outlasted Denver’s backup quarterback Brett Rypien, 16-9, but lost emerging star rookie running back Breece Hall for the season with a torn ACL. Hall barely played in the game before the injury happened, but he still managed a 62-yard touchdown run. The Jets had no other touchdowns in the game, and the offense only had four other players that gained more than 8 yards. This is a tough injury for an offense that has little kick to it, and the defense isn’t going to feast on backup quarterbacks forever. Don’t trust the Jets as anything more than fool’s gold at this point. And don’t trust the Denver Broncos for a damn thing but a low-scoring game.

Texans at Raiders: Nothing says excitement like two 1-win teams coming out of the bye. But the Houston run defense is the gift that keeps giving as Josh Jacobs hit them up for 143 yards and three touchdowns. The 38-20 final covers up that this was close throughout with the Texans leading 20-17 going into the fourth quarter. But Jacobs scored twice in the quarter to give the Raiders a 31-20 lead, then the defense intercepted Davis Mills, who was having a solid offensive day before that, for a pick-six to make it 38-20.

The late pick-six denied Jacobs the chance to set his career high in rushing for the third week in a row. He had 144 yards against the Broncos, 154 yards against the Chiefs, and now 143 against Houston. The only player to ever rush for at least 143 yards in four consecutive games was Earl Campbell back in 1980 for the Oilers.

Fun fact: Out of Derek Carr’s 31 game-winning drives, this is the one with the largest margin of victory (18) and only the third with a MOV larger than 8 points. The Raiders are the 22nd team in NFL history, and the first since 2014 Steelers vs. Bengals, to win a game by at least 18 points after entering the fourth quarter trailing.

Seahawks at Chargers: I cannot believe these two franchises played a game that was never closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter. Seattle went up 17-0 in the first quarter and the Chargers continue to struggle and rack up injuries as Mike Williams and J.C. Jackson went down in this one. Keenan Allen was limited in his return with just two catches for 11 yards.

Geno Smith outplayed Justin Herbert, and Kenneth Walker stole the show with 168 yards and two touchdown runs. He is showing exactly why I ended up picking him for the Offensive Rookie of the Year winner in August with the expectations Rashaad Penny would get hurt and he’d take over the run-heavy offense Pete Carroll wants. So far, so good.

Next week: Either the Seahawks are going to be 5-3 or the Giants are going to be 7-1 after they meet next week in the schedule’s top game between winning teams if you can believe that. The only other potential game between winning teams is Jets vs. Patriots. What a season, and no, I don’t say that to be complimentary.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Snoozer Edition

We go from the Game of the Year last week to a prime-time slate that the NFL must have been high when they put together. No one wanted to see this shit in April, let alone late October.

I said I would nap during the island games, and so far I’m 1-for-1. What I saw of Saints-Cardinals actually wasn’t that bad in a surprisingly high-scoring game, but that had more to do with my jacked up sleeping pattern this week. I’ll stay awake for Dolphins-Steelers. Probably.

But quarterback injuries are a huge theme again this week.

Not just which players are out, but how will the guys returning from injury look? I’ll share a few thoughts on those games below in the predictions, but first, here are some of the articles I wrote this week:

NFL Week 7 Predictions

Okay, TNF was probably the most far off I’ve been about an island game this season. Still, I wonder how it goes without that bobbled pick-six the Cardinals scored.

Dak Prescott’s return: Was he just off in Week 1, or what was that all about? I think he’s going to look fine in this one, but I’m taking the Lions to cover as a precaution. I’d say we know the Lions can score but they did just get shut out before the bye week.

Taylor Heinicke takes over for Carson Wentz (finger): This one is interesting because Heinicke marched Washington up and down the field in Lambeau last year. The 430 yards of offense were the second most the team has had in any game in the last three years. They just couldn’t finish in the red zone at all. With the way the Packers have been playing, I can’t trust them in any game that isn’t at home on SNF against the Bears right now.

How the hell does Carolina score?: The game I’m planning on betting on a lot is Tampa Bay to beat Carolina by 14+ points. I know, Tampa Bay hasn’t looked right all year, but how the hell does Carolina score on this defense without Christian McCaffrey? He had most of their yards last week and they still only scored 3 points on offense. You know Brady is pissed off and won’t blow another double-digit favorite game here. Even if TB doesn’t light up the scoreboard, this could end 21-6. The Panthers haven’t been this unwatchable since 2010 Jimmy Clausen year, and at least that team had Steve Smith.

Brett Rypien replaces Russell Wilson (hamstring) vs. Jets: This one is funny cause Rypien played against the Jets in 2020 in his only other NFL start, a weird 37-28 game in prime time. A lot of people are going to jump on the Jets (4-2) bandwagon here, but I’m going against the grain and taking Denver to still win at home. I don’t trust the offense, but I trust the defense at home, and I think it’d be funny if Rypien led the offense to its best game of the season the moment Wilson goes down. Let’s root for chaos and have him light it up.

Kenny Pickett vs. Tua Tagovailoa: I thought Tua changed the concussion protocol enough to where we wouldn’t see Pickett in this game, but here we are. It’s anecdotal evidence, but my experience says fade the Steelers quarterback coming off a head injury in his next game. Look up what Tommy Maddox did against the 2002 Texans after an injury scare, look what Ben Roethlisberger did to the 2006 Raiders after a concussion, or just look at how bad the Pittsburgh offense is in general. They may not get blown out here like they have been on the road lately, but I can easily see a 24-16 loss.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

Week 6 was a great one in the NFL because Sunday felt like a throwback to what I view as the game’s golden era:

  • An epic, hyped game lives up to the hype and ends 24-20
  • Tom Brady vs. Mike Tomlin’s defense
  • The Giants pull off another upset and are improbably a good team
  • The Colts threw the hell out of the ball to sneak past the Jaguars in the fourth quarter
  • An NFC East showdown on SNF that actually matters this year
  • Even Tony Romo was good today and I watched a great college football game on Saturday (Alabama-Tennessee)

You could have written this list for some random Sunday in October in 2007, and I have to say I enjoyed it from start to finish. If the 2007 connection doesn’t click yet, just read below about the top game, because Bills-Chiefs lived up to the hype.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: Game of the Year (and Buffalo) Delivers

I ended last week’s column with saying this game was going to be hyped almost to the level of 2007 Patriots-Colts when both were undefeated going into Week 9. These teams were 4-1, and Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes is still not up to the drawing power of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, but it might be getting there after a fantastic game that now gives Buffalo the inside track to home-field advantage after a 24-20 win.

24-20 sound familiar? That was the winning margin for the Patriots in that 2007 game, which featured a fourth-quarter comeback led by Brady and Randy Moss. In this game, Allen and Stefon Diggs (148 yards) really put in the work after Diggs had just 7 yards in the 42-36 playoff classic. But No. 1 wide receivers have toasted the Chiefs every week since Mike Williams in Week 2.

It may not have been the smoothest game for both teams, but this is what a great, lower-scoring game looks like between two of the best teams in the league in a game that means so much. You want to see a good mixture of offense and defense, and we got exactly that.

You still had plenty of offensive highlights. Both quarterbacks manipulated the defenses well with their legs while throwing 40 passes with 329 yards for Allen and 338 for Mahomes. Five different players caught a touchdown, including the first with the Chiefs for JuJu Smith-Schuster and the first of 2022 for tight end Dawson Knox on the game winner with 1:04 left.

Special teams showed up with Harrison Butker hitting a 62-yard field goal to end the half after the Bills left Mahomes 16 seconds, which we know is a few seconds too many. Butker was wide left on a 51-yard field goal to start the third quarter, however.

Then there were the defenses. According to CBS, this was the first NFL game since 2001 where both offenses started the game with a red-zone turnover. Allen and the Bills got too cute with a late pitch on an option run that went backwards and was recovered for a fumble, an unforced error. Mahomes got too greedy on a third-and-goal and forced an interception in the end zone.

Allen failed on a couple of big fourth downs, including one from midfield in a 17-17 game early in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, bad officiating threatened to mess up the finish to this one. The Chiefs had a big play to Travis Kelce wiped out on a horrendous offensive pass interference call, leading to only a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

Buffalo had lost its last 12 games when trailing in the fourth quarter. The last fourth-quarter comeback win was against the Rams in Week 3 of the 2020 season. With that in mind, Allen took a third-down sack by Chris Jones to quickly end his first response drive, but it was also clear as day that Jones tripped him. No call for tripping, however. Why even have the rule in the book if you’re not going to call one that obvious? It would have given the Bills an automatic first down too, so it was a huge no-call from the refs.

Fortunately, Von Miller had his offense’s back. This was exactly the game and moment they acquired him for. Miller sacked Mahomes on a third-and-6 to force a three-and-out, Miller’s second sack in the game. Miller and the defense did its part. Now it was up to Allen with 5:31 left to lead the signature game-winning drive of his young career.

He had to sneak for a first down to avoid it from being a four-and-out, but he got the job done. Diggs couldn’t be guarded with three more catches for 34 yards. Allen’s legs moved the ball to the 14 where the Bills were in a tough spot, because you know you want the touchdown but you don’t want to leave Mahomes much time.

The good news is unlike in the 42-36 game, the Bills would be up by four points here assuming the extra point is good, so Mahomes would need a touchdown this time. Still, when Allen threw a 14-yard touchdown to Knox (great throw) with 1:04 left, it felt like too much time for Mahomes with two timeouts.

But two snaps into the drive, the Bills worried Mahomes enough into double clutching and Taron Johnson added to his little collection of huge plays with a game-ending pick of Mahomes with 51 seconds left.

Buffalo pulled it out and really checked off a lot of boxes in the process. Allen delivered the big game-winning drive, Diggs dominated Kansas City’s secondary, the Buffalo defense emphatically stopped Mahomes at the end, Von Miller was a force, and even the running game (Devin Singletary had 85 yards) showed up early to make sure Allen wasn’t doing this alone.

It is a fantastic win for Buffalo, and it fits into what I have been saying all offseason and leading into this game. For this to be Buffalo’s year, it had to win this game and take the inside track to home-field advantage so that any possible rematch is in Buffalo in January. Mahomes has never played a true road playoff game.

If we are keeping things in perspective, this win guarantees nothing for Buffalo. Last season in Week 5, the Bills won 38-20 in more dominant fashion in Kansas City than they did in this game. That dropped the Chiefs to 2-3 and the Bills moved to 4-1. Yet, look what happened the rest of the season. The Bills finished 11-6 and Kansas City was 12-5, leading to the Chiefs hosting the Bills in the divisional round. That cannot happen again if Buffalo wants to win it all. The Bills need to let this fuel them towards greater things because this game is hardly the end goal.

But this is the kind of game we will talk about for years as we do with 2007 Patriots-Colts and 2017 Patriots-Steelers. Of course, the NFC East (2007 Giants and 2017 Eagles) still improbably won the Super Bowls in those years, but that’s just how the NFL goes sometimes.

I still think these are the two most trustworthy contenders in the league and would love to see an AFC Championship Game rematch in Buffalo this time.

Buccaneers at Steelers: One Wedding and a Funeral

If Sunday was the last time the Steelers ever have to face Tom Brady, then they ended things on a high note in a 20-18 upset.

Pittsburgh is the first double-digit underdog to win outright this NFL season. Tampa Bay was a 10-point favorite because half of the Pittsburgh starting defense was out, including the top three corners, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and some guy named T.J. Watt. Even with some of those players available, the Steelers lost 38-3 in Buffalo last week, allowing a career-high 424 yards to Josh Allen.

Now here comes Brady, the long-time nemesis who has picked apart far better defenses in Pittsburgh over the years. It made sense why Pittsburgh was such a big underdog at home, even if Tampa Bay hasn’t looked right all year. There’s also the fact that rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was facing a defense that had yet to allow more than 15 points to non-Kansas City opponents.

But color me shocked that Pittsburgh had 4:38 left in a 20-18 game with Brady and denied him from getting the ball cause Mitch Trubisky and Chase Claypool turned into vintage Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.

It was that kind of weird afternoon. Pickett started and threw his first touchdown pass to Najee Harris on a well-designed opening drive that seemed to be scripted, because he did very little afterwards and seemed to fall into the usual trappings of this offense with too many passes short of the sticks. Then he banged his head off the ground in the third quarter and had to leave for the concussion protocol.

Still, Pittsburgh led wire-to-wire thanks to one of the most inspired performances by a Mike Tomlin-coached defense:

  • I did not believe the Steelers were for real on defense, not even after an opening-drive three-and-out where they pressured Brady on third down.
  • Not after repeatedly stopping him in the red zone and holding Tampa Bay to field goals.
  • Not after stuffing Leonard Fournette at the 1-yard line.
  • Not after misplaying the end of half and allowing a 54-yard field goal.
  • Not after stuffing Fournette again on a third-and-1 to start the fourth quarter.

But when they stuffed Brady on the quarterback sneak, his go-to play that works over 90% of the time, I started to believe something with the Steelers up 20-12 halfway through the fourth quarter.

Where was this defense against Brady in years where Pittsburgh was a real contender? It did help that he chose Sunday to play like crap, skipping balls off the ground left and right in an attempt to kill earthworms while bitching his teammates out on the sidelines. Did going to Bob Kraft’s wedding on Friday night piss him off that much? He looked miserable once again and played like it to boot. If the large group of pigeons on the field in the second half were there in the first half when Brady was so off, he may have pulled a Randy Johnson and killed some with his throws into the dirt.

Of course, Tampa moved on from the failed sneak on third-and-1, converted two more fourth downs on that drive, and still got the touchdown with 4:38 left. No one’s going to talk about Brady missing a Saturday walkthrough with the team when the win was still right in front of him.

But Brady’s pass failed on the two-point conversion and the Steelers led 20-18. That’s when I switched to thinking the offense was going to lose this game now by being too conservative. Run-run-incomplete. Run-run-sack. Give Brady plenty of time to dink and dunk for a field goal and 21-20 win. The defense did what it could today. Steelers about to be 1-5 for the first time since 1988.

But Trubisky seemed to have something to prove in the fourth quarter, as did wide receiver Chase Claypool. Trubisky and Claypool hooked up on a touchdown earlier in the quarter, but Pittsburgh seemed like it was going to fall into the run-run-punt strategy. They even nearly turned the ball over inside their 25 due to a bad snap that Trubisky fortunately got on. But on a third-and-15, Trubisky found Claypool for 17 yards. Three plays later on a third-and-11, Trubisky found Claypool for 26 yards. It was Trubisky’s fourth third-down conversion of the quarter with all but one of them needing at least 11 yards to convert.

Where the hell did that come from? It was the best game for Claypool in a calendar year, if not longer. Trubisky’s legs took care of the third and final first down to run out the clock. Trubisky somehow proved to be the best quarterback in this game.

Underdog is always a role that seems to suit the Steelers well, but this was completely unexpected. While I would still bet on Tampa Bay (3-3) in a heartbeat in a playoff game against the likes of the Vikings and Giants, this team has taken a big step back this year after multiple retirements and a downgrade at coach and offensive line. Brady and the offensive line aren’t as good, the receivers aren’t as loaded, and the defense can be had.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (2-4) is only a game back in the division, and the only blowout loss was in Buffalo last week. I still would start Pickett if he clears the concussion protocol in time for next week in Miami in prime time, but Trubisky definitely earned his paycheck on Sunday.

If the only thing that comes of Trubisky’s Pittsburgh tenure is that he came off the bench to outplay Tom Brady, then it was worth every penny to sign him.

Ravens at Giants: So Much for Close-Game Regression (Both Ways)

Despite a historic number of injuries, the 2021 Ravens lost five games by a combined eight points as part of a six-game losing streak to close the season. Things were supposed to be better on the health front, a new defensive coordinator, and the returns of Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, Marcus Peters, and J.K. Dobbins.

But while there have been some more injuries, this season is starting to turn out more frustrating than last year when the team did start 8-3 before that losing streak. At least that team didn’t blow their third double-digit lead after halftime by mid-October.

Meanwhile, the Giants (5-1) making all these fourth-quarter comebacks is crazy to see after the way this team has played since winning Super Bowl XLVI:

Giants when trailing by 7+ points in fourth quarter

  • 2012-2021 combined: 3-78 (.037)
  • Thru Week 6, 2022: 3-1 (.750)

If we limited it to wins in regulation, the count would be 3-to-1 for six games of this season compared to the last 10 seasons combined.

So, do we just give Brian Daboll the Coach of the Year award now, or what? It is not sustainable for winning, but Daboll is getting a 4-1 record in game-winning drives out of a quarterback, Daniel Jones, who came into 2022 with a career record of 3-14 (.176) in those games.

The defense (and Lamar Jackson) helped a great deal in this one, but the 20-10 comeback in the fourth quarter started with a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Ravens had a lot of time to burn but were halfway through it until disaster struck. Jackson got on a loose ball and made a bad play terrible by forcing an interception. The Giants only needed to travel 13 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and 24-20 lead with 1:43 left.

Jackson had plenty of time to answer, but rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 5 pick in the draft, picked a great time to get his first career sack.

Thibodeaux knocked the ball from Jackson two plays into the drive and the Giants were able to recover and run out the clock for another stunning win. The Baltimore defense could have done a few little things better, but the Giants didn’t even have a 20-yard play in the whole game.

Like the Buffalo loss, this blown lead was more on the offense than the defense. Can’t turn the ball over like that in the fourth quarter of a close game. Jackson is quickly playing himself out of any MVP conversation with these finishes.

Cowboys at Eagles: Second Quarter Does the Trick Again for 6-0 Eagles

I was about to sneak this game into the bottom section, but I figured Sunday Night Football always shows up somewhere near the top of the page. This game just did not have high expectations for me as I expected the Eagles to do exactly what they did: jump out to a big lead in the second quarter and hang on for the cover. It would have been a lot more interesting if this was Dak Prescott’s return game from surgery, but the timing was just off for that.

At the very least, we saw the inevitable result of when Cooper Rush plays a legit defense and a team that can take Dallas out of its comfort zone. He was brutal on the night with three picks before finding somewhat of a rhythm late, though Dallas had success running the ball too to crawl back from a 20-0 deficit to make it 20-17 in the fourth quarter.

I do think there is something troubling about the way the Eagles can be so good offensively in the second quarter and barely score in the other three quarters. That’s just setting them up for playoff disappointment, but they have time to work at it. Still, they led 20-3 after a scoreless first, and were outscored 14-6 after halftime.

But the touchdown drive in the fourth after Dallas cut it to 20-17 was great to see. The Eagles can grind games away with their rushing attack, and Jalen Hurts is just about unstoppable on those sneaks.

Still, I think Cris Collinsworth was much more enamored with this Philadelphia team than I am so far. The Cardinals were arguably more interesting at 7-0 last year. The 2019 49ers were 8-0. The 2018 Rams were 8-0 before losing in New Orleans (huge matchup), who moved to 7-1 at the time.

The NFC has had some teams really flash for a year before fizzling out quickly. The 2017 Eagles were one of them that actually came through for a championship. This is the best Philadelphia team since that one, and it has a chance to be better, but I guess I’m just looking for something a little more than “dominates second quarter, finishes in the 20-to-29 points range.”

And yeah, I’m sure they will drop 30+ on the Steelers in two weeks. Road games are where the Steelers get blown out.

Bengals at Saints: Good Homecoming for Burrow and Chase

Starting to sound like a broken record, but good job by the Saints to fight hard in a losing effort despite missing their quarterback, top three wide receivers, and best corner. They pushed the Bengals and led most of the game, but some poor tackling on Ja’Marr Chase gave the Bengals the win:

True story: that right there was the only play on the first game-winning touchdown drive of Joe Burrow’s NFL career. Andy Dalton still had a chance to lead a game-winning touchdown drive, but a huge sack led to an incompletion on fourth-and-17 to end the game.

The Bengals are at their best when Chase and Burrow are playing this way, but you still have to wonder how the Bengals (3-3) will fare after the Week 10 bye when they hopefully will be playing some real quarterbacks and not a bunch of backups or injury replacements.

As for the Saints (2-4), they join the Giants as the only teams to play six close games so far this season. Much better results for the Giants in those games.

Jets at Packers: We Can’t Play This Game Anymore, But Can We…

Regression is coming harder than a Peter North video for these Packers.

We knew they were going to miss Davante Adams and not win 13 games again, but these last few weeks have been rough.

I have Aaron Rodgers (last two weeks), Carson Wentz (2021 Colts), Jimmy Garoppolo (2020 49ers), and Alex Smith (2017 Chiefs) as the last four quarterbacks to lose consecutive starts as a favorite of at least 7.5 points. Sounds about right with the other three, but what exactly is going on here in Green Bay?

This is the second time in Rodgers’ career at home that he played in a game where neither team had 280 yards of offense (both finished at 278), and the first was January’s 10-3 playoff loss to the 49ers.

Before these last two losses to the Jets (7.5-point underdogs) and Giants (8-point underdogs), Green Bay was a 9.5-point favorite at home to the Patriots and had to force overtime to win that one. I think three times is enough to say the Packers shouldn’t be -7.5 against anyone these days.

The Jets just bullied Green Bay with four sacks and shutting down Aaron Jones (9 carries for 19 yards). It’s not like the offense was lighting it up. Zach Wilson passed for 110 yards. New York blew the game open in the middle of the third quarter by sacking Rodgers on third down at midfield to force a punt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead. Apparently, that’s still a problem for the special teams in Green Bay.

The Jets had their only other touchdown drive to answer a Rodgers touchdown with Breece Hall ripping off a 34-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. The Packers then shot themselves in the foot with a holding penalty and delay of game penalty, leading to Rodgers throwing an incompletion on fourth-and-14. The Jets put together a long field goal drive to take a 27-10 lead with 2:34 left, which meant Jordan Love time.

The 17-point home loss ties the worst of Rodgers’ career in a game he finished, matching the 37-20 margin in the 2011 Giants’ upset of the Packers in the NFC divisional round. That means you just witnessed Rodgers’ worst regular-season home loss of his career. Rodgers’ 16.9 QBR was the lowest of any quarterback in Week 6.

Have the last few weeks been the lowest point of Rodgers’ NFL career? You could make that argument given the expectations that were still there, even if the Giants and Jets look improved. Green Bay just looks that more on the decline.

49ers at Falcons: Still No Winning Record for Kyle Shanahan

Coming into Sunday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was 46-46 including playoff games. He was looking to get his career record above .500 for the first time in the NFL, so of course, the Falcons shut that shit down with the quickness.

I should have known something was sneaky about the way the spread kept moving towards Atlanta, but the smaller it got, the more I figured the 49ers would be safe. You know, because it’s Atlanta. Even if you don’t deserve the win, they are usually willing to give you one on a silver platter in the fourth quarter. Plus, that San Francisco defense has been so good, but when you take away Nick Bosa, Jimmie Ward, Arik Armstead (then some more), it becomes a problem.

Still, it was one of the surprises of the day to see the 49ers allow their first two touchdown passes since Week 1. Marcus Mariota finished 13-of-14 for 129 yards after hitting his first 13 passes.

  • By my count, the Falcons are the first team in NFL history to finish a game 13-of-14 passing.
  • Falcons are the first team since the 1983 Seahawks to throw one incompletion with fewer than 15 pass attempts in a game.
  • Falcons are the 11th team in NFL history to have one incomplete pass on at least 14 pass attempts.

Atlanta didn’t shred the run defense (40 carries for 168 yards with Mariota rushing for an efficient 50), but it paced the offense well enough that the lack of passing didn’t matter for them to get three touchdown drives.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco offense did not have a 15-yard gain until more than 53 minutes into the game. Jeff Wilson lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown to put the 49ers in an early 14-0 hole. They tied the game quickly but mismanaged the drives to end the first half and start the second, and that’s when Atlanta punched them again for a 28-14 lead. The 49ers never responded, and Shanahan will have to wait at least a few more games to get over .500. With the Chiefs up next, maybe wait until November for this to come up again.

But I think it’d be funny and fitting if he never gets there despite approaching 100 games in the league.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a not grotesque time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 6.

Jaguars at Colts: Matt Ryan still has something in the tank. Down his top two running backs and facing the team that blanked him 24-0 in Week 2, Ryan threw 58 passes without taking a sack. That’s something that has only been done 13 other times in NFL history. Ryan had one game in his career where he took zero sacks on even 48-plus attempts. He also had the 14th game in NFL history with 42 pass completions, getting familiar with his new receiving corps.

But what I really liked here was the ending and the way the Colts didn’t settle for a 50-yard field goal to win the game after some major kicking issues the last two years. It looked like they were going to do just that after Ryan took a 4-yard loss and just handed off for a 1-yard gain to bring up a third-and-13. Really, Frank Reich? But Ryan stood tall in the pocket, took the hit, and still got a deep throw away to rookie Alec Pierce, Midwest Cooper Kupp, for a 32-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left to take a 34-27 lead. The Jags didn’t have enough time to answer.

If the Colts are actually going to block, play with a fast tempo, and put up points like this? Might still pull this division out after all. Ryan moves into sole possession of fifth place with his 37th fourth-quarter comeback win.

Patriots at Browns: Guess who wasn’t at Robert Kraft’s wedding on Friday night cause he had a game to win this weekend? Sure, it’s the Lions and Browns, but the Patriots have won their last two games by 23-plus points each, shutting out the Lions’ top-ranked scoring offense and containing Nick Chubb better than anyone has this year. They also are doing it with rookie Bailey Zappe, who threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Zach Wilson and Justin Fields have yet to throw for 300 yards in the NFL. Coaching matters.

Seriously, imagine Tom Brady telling Bill Belichick that they need to ditch the team to attend Kraft’s oddly-timed wedding less than 48 hours before a road game.

Vikings at Dolphins: Miami is not making things easy on the NFL this year with these quarterback injuries. A thumb injury knocked Skylar Thompson out of this game, leading to one of the least expected 300-yard passing games ever from Teddy Bridgewater, who was in the concussion protocol. He was not starting this game because he apparently lacked preparation time by being in the protocol. Okay. He did well enough to get Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill heavily involved as the duo both went over 120 yards again. But it only led to 16 points as Bridgewater threw two picks and the Vikings racked up six sacks.

Minnesota had a strange game as Kirk Cousins only passed for 175 yards and took three sacks. The running game produced almost nothing until Dalvin Cook exploded for a 53-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings up 24-10 with 3:15 left, basically clinching the game. That drive was set up by Harrison Smith forcing Waddle to fumble in scoring territory while the Dolphins were driving in a 16-10 game. That’s the second week in a row the Vikings forced a wideout to fumble late in a game.

That is one way to get to 5-1, but man, I am not sure this team is a contender this year. But that probably says more about the NFC in general than just Minnesota.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Christ, this was supposed to be a shootout or at least a running back showcase. Seattle rookie Kenneth Walker did well with a touchdown and nearly 100 yards, but somehow Kyler Murray turned 222 passing yards and 100 rushing yards into an opening-drive field goal and zero offensive points on the last 10 drives. He also took six sacks. It’s about time we admit that Kliff Kingsbury is just Matt Rhule with better talent around him. Underachievers all the same.

Panthers at Rams: This game stayed competitive for about as long as Matthew Stafford felt like keeping Carolina in it. He added another pick-six bringing his career total to 29, tying Dan Marino and only trailing Brett Favre (32) now. Carolina’s offense managed just one field goal as new starter P.J. Walker had 60 yards passing despite playing into the final five minutes of the game. Again, the Rams are going to be okay against the cupcakes, but it is hard to see them winning in Tampa Bay, Kansas City, or Green Bay later this year. The schedule also has the 49ers next, Sean McVay’s kryptonite.

Next week: We go from the best week of the season to one of the worst (on paper) I’ve ever seen. Maybe Chiefs-49ers will still be interesting. Maybe Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino will play quarterback in Pittsburgh-Miami if these teams can’t keep their quarterbacks in the game.

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Game of the Year Edition

Week 6 brings the start of byes and the two biggest games on the schedule to this point. Bills at Chiefs should be the biggest game of the regular season period with everything on the line in that epic matchup. But Cowboys at Eagles is a surprisingly big one in the NFC on Sunday night. It’s just a shame this won’t be Dak Prescott’s return game as that would add more intrigue to it. I expect the Eagles to move to 6-0, and if they get past this one, they may not lose until after Thanksgiving.

Articles this week:

But clearly I’m all about talking Bills-Chiefs this week.

Game of the Year: Bills at Chiefs (+2.5)

I want to draw attention to the nearly 3,000-word QB-centered preview I did for this game already, the first of two previews I wrote about it (see above link too). I covered the first four meetings between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes as well as what can happen this time around.

That piece covers a lot of my feelings about this game and budding rivalry, which should be drawing comparisons to the 1990s 49ers-Cowboys and 2000s Colts-Patriots. But for it to step up to that level, the Bills have to be the better team this year. That means winning this game to give themselves the best shot at hosting a rematch in January instead of going to Arrowhead for the third year in a row.

Not only is homefield advantage at stake here, but the leader in the MVP race is going to get a big boost from this outcome, assuming both QBs won’t be as stellar as they were in January’s playoff decision. Someone should create a gap in this game, and my pick for that is Allen going up against the lesser defense. That should be the main reason why the Bills are favored by 2.5 points, the first time Mahomes is a home underdog in the NFL.

But if Mahomes pulls this game out, I think you have to never bet against this guy as an underdog again. He has 28 touchdown passes in eight games as an underdog (6-2 SU, 7-0-1 ATS). I just think this is the game where not having Tyreek Hill is going to stand out, and if the Bills can keep up the attacking style the Raiders had in the first half on both sides of the ball on Monday night when they led 17-0 and 20-10, then they should win this game. I knew before Monday night that I was picking Buffalo in this one, but that emotional Kansas City comeback, fueled largely by a terrible roughing the passer penalty, actually strengthens my pick of Buffalo in this game. I just don’t think the Chiefs have as much margin for error anymore on offense, and the defense is not up to championship caliber like what the Bills have.

Not Sure Allen-Mahomes Can Be Manning-Brady

Something I wanted to touch on that I didn’t write about in either preview was the comparison of Allen and Mahomes to Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. These quarterbacks are playing better than anyone else right now, and after meeting in the playoffs the last two years and being the two favorites to win it all (plus MVP) as we head into Week 6, that is why this is possibly the No. 1 rivalry in the NFL today.

But I have a lot of issues with calling Allen-Mahomes the new Manning-Brady.

The first huge problem: which one is which?

Throughout NFL history, so many of the great quarterback rivalries were instances of a naturally gifted player who had to carry his team each year and another top-tier player who had more winning and championship success despite lesser statistics because he was on a better team with superior coaching/defense/ST and maybe just some better luck.

  • Sammy Baugh vs. Sid Luckman
  • Bobby Layne vs. Otto Graham
  • Johnny Unitas vs. Bart Starr
  • Ken Stabler/Roger Staubach vs. Terry Bradshaw
  • Dan Marino/John Elway vs. Joe Montana
  • Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman
  • Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

In just about every case there, it is clear which QB is serving which role. But when it comes to Mahomes and Allen, that is not very clear at all.

One of the main hallmarks of a traditional QB rivalry is here with Mahomes having the better stats/weapons/honors and Allen having the better defense, but Mahomes also has the better coach, and he has the better record (reg. season and playoffs) and the only MVP and ring between the two of them.

That really throws this one for a loop, because Mahomes does not match up well with the traditional “rings” QB as he is so prolific as a passer. But in time, this could shake out to make more sense. Maybe Allen wins a couple of Super Bowls here, leapfrogging Mahomes in the ring count and matching him in MVPs. The slow start to Allen’s career (rare Year 3 breakout) certainly does him no favor in these comparisons.

Also, it’s only 2022. There is plenty of time for this to change. This would be like me writing in 2006-07 about comparing Manning and Brady to Marino and Montana. I absolutely could have done it then, and those comparisons are stronger than the ones presented here. But I also can say with confidence what kind of quarterbacks Manning and Brady ultimately turned out to be. We still have no idea if Allen will ever get to a Super Bowl or if Mahomes will win multiple rings/MVPs or not. They both should do great things, but they also are both starring at the same time, and that is going to lead to one limiting the other. Without those 13 seconds last year, Allen might already have a ring.

That’s why hyping this up as a chief NFL rivalry is fun, and why this game deserves hype similar to the levels of 2007 Patriots-Colts (or at least 2017 Patriots-Steelers). Games like this don’t come around often in the regular season. Let’s hope it’s a classic, but if I had to guess which Bills-Chiefs game from 2021 it will look more like, I’d say the 38-20 Buffalo win rather than the 42-36 playoff masterpiece.

Maybe I’ll be wrong about Buffalo, my preseason pick to win it all, but if I’m right about this being their 1994 49ers or 2006 Colts type of year for them to vanquish KC, then that means they are going to win this game.

Final: Bills 31, Chiefs 27

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I nailed my TNF pick (Washington) and I would have nailed my SGP but Carson Wentz is a bum who couldn’t throw for 100 yards.

Like half of Pittsburgh’s defense is out with injury tomorrow, so nice of Tom Brady to catch a break in Year 23. He really deserves one…

The Jaguars may sweep Indy, who is down both RBs again, but that loss to Houston last week really soured me on Trevor Lawrence and the offense. I think Matt Ryan is a threat to fumble every time he’s touched now, which is often behind this OL, but I’m still going to back the Colts this week.

I like the Dolphins to upset the Vikings, who can’t keep pulling off 4QCs every week behind Kirk Cousins. The world isn’t that warped yet. I also think the Ravens are in dangerous territory in NY against the blitzing Giants. It could look like that Miami loss last year where they just teed off on Jackson, so I hedged with NYG ATS/BAL ML.

I’ll change my ATS pick to Carolina if Cooper Kupp doesn’t play, but whatever. Carolina still stinks after going with a different HC (Steve Wilks) and QB (P.J Walker) this week.

Cooper Rush is a wild story and that Dallas defense is tough this year. I just think the Eagles are going to score too much in the first half to get the Cowboys out of their comfort zone. We’ll see.

And finally, I am crazy enough to trust Russell Wilson to play his best game in a Broncos uniform. I wasn’t crazy enough to pick them to win outright, but in a MNF game between Wilson and the Chargers, how the fvck can it not be super close at the end?

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

While Week 5 in the NFL did produce two huge blowout wins, it was another fairly competitive week with 10 comeback opportunities and a season-high eight game-winning drives, including one in all three island games.

The teams favored by at least seven points were just 1-4 ATS and two even lost outright. Last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, are both just 2-3. Only the Eagles (5-0) remain undefeated after playing their closest game of the season against an Arizona team that was 2021’s last undefeated team.

And yet, it may all just be leading to what 2021 should have led to: Chiefs vs. Bills being the real Super Bowl. Last year, it was the instant classic in the divisional round, but the Chiefs blew it in the AFC Championship Game, setting up that first Super Bowl without a top-three seed. Now the Chiefs and Bills are the talk of the league again as they get ready for their Week 6 showdown in Kansas City that could determine everything from the MVP to home-field advantage to the Super Bowl champion.

But before we get way ahead of things, there were a lot of close finishes, mind-numbing plays, and questionable calls on Sunday to go over.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Ravens: Winner Gets a Set of Steak Knives

Before this season is over, the Bengals and Ravens will have their say on which AFC team is represented in the Super Bowl. It was just hard watching them on Sunday night and not thinking that they are a tier below what we are soon going to see when the Bills and Chiefs meet again next week.

As far as 19-17 games in prime time go, this was one of the best ones with a good balance of offense, defense, and special teams with two great kickers. But there were also some egregious misses by both Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow. Jackson had a terrible pick when the Ravens were up 10-0, then he missed one of the easiest deep balls in the Next Gen Stats era on a fourth down. Burrow had an awful third quarter with a pick and one of the ugliest shovel passes on a fourth-and-goal that you’ll ever see.

Also, for the second week in a row I found myself disagreeing strongly with John Harbaugh’s fourth-quarter decision making. I thought last week he should have kicked the late field goal for the lead over Buffalo when Lamar’s fourth-down pass was intercepted. This time, Harbaugh looked like he was going for a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 3 with a 13-10 lead and 9:46 left, but he took a delay of game and kicked the field goal to go up 16-10.

I don’t like that move. Go for the conversion and try to get the 20-10 lead that is so valuable in this game. You leave some hope in a 16-10 game, not to mention you incentivize them to treat this drive as touchdown or bust.

The Bengals did a good job of chipping away on the drive, with Burrow eventually sneaking into the end zone himself with 1:58 left. Evan McPherson’s go-ahead extra point was just over the right crossbar, leaving no margin for error on that judgment of make or miss. Now if he could have done that against the Steelers in Week 1, the Bengals would be in better shape.

But in a 17-16 game, Jackson had nearly a full two minutes to set up Justin Tucker for the win. When he can use his legs to pick up a quick 19 yards, it’s almost too hard to stop him from doing just that. Eventually, Tucker came on to drill the 43-yard field goal at the buzzer, straight down the middle as if it was ever in doubt. The Ravens (3-2) take the lead over the Bengals (2-3) and the rest of the AFC North going into Week 6.

For all the hype about Burrow’s 941 yards passing last season against the Ravens, he finished this game with 217 yards, including one pass play of 20-plus yards. Ja’Marr Chase only had 50 yards on 12 targets. Tee Higgins had an ankle injury and barely played, receiving zero targets as he continues to deal with injuries almost weekly this season.

Both of these teams would comfortably win the AFC South if that was the division they called home this year. They should continue to battle for the AFC North as they are better than Pittsburgh and Cleveland right now. But are they on the same tier as Buffalo and Kansas City? I’m just not seeing it yet.

Steelers at Bills: Pickett’s First Start Is Biggest Pittsburgh Blowout Since 1989

Before I get into Kenny Pickett’s first start, I just want to say that the Bills played a great game in handing the Steelers their first 35-point loss since losing the 1989 opener to Cleveland by a 51-0 score. Right from the third play of the game when Josh Allen went over the top of the defense for a 98-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis, you knew the Steelers were in trouble.

Allen had not broken 5.6 yards per attempt in his first three starts against Pittsburgh, but with all the confidence in the world and no T.J. Watt to worry about, Allen shredded this defense for career highs in passing yards (424), YPA (13.7), and he threw four touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards. He even had 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone as Buffalo led 31-3.

Was it a perfect performance or even the most dominant the Bills have looked this season? No (Tennessee), there were some mistakes on special teams on a windy day, and Allen was intercepted by Levi Wallace in the end zone on a nice-looking grab by the defender. The Bills also fumbled at the 1-yard line while leading 31-3. But it was the kind of dominant performance that makes you think the Bills are going to be favored the rest of the way this season unless things drastically change.

As for the Steelers, we know they were a 14-point underdog for the first time since the 1970 merger, but this is the latest loss in a recent troubling string of road losses where they have been blown out, often before the fourth quarter:

  • Week 4 at Packers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 27-17)
  • Week 11 at Chargers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 41-37)
  • Week 12 at Bengals: Trailed 41-3 in 4Q (L 41-10)
  • Week 14 at Vikings: Trailed 29-0 in 3Q (L 36-28)
  • Week 16 at Chiefs: Trailed 36-3 in 4Q (L 36-10)
  • Wild Card at Chiefs: Trailed 42-14 in 4Q (L 42-21)
  • Week 5 at Bills: Trailed 38-3 in 4Q (L 38-3)

It gets worse.

  • From 1990 to 2010, the Steelers had three games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • From 2011 to 2020, the Steelers had five games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • The Steelers have trailed by 28+ points in five of their last 13 games.

It’s not good when you can ask “what’s the worst half of Steelers football in the last 30 years?” and you are getting a handful of choices from just the last 11 months.

I could not help but watch Kenny Pickett’s first NFL start and think about how Ben Roethlisberger probably feels very content with retirement now with the way the Steelers are getting blown out these days.

Pickett alone cannot turn this around, which might be why head coach Mike Tomlin said he is open to changes of all kinds after this 38-3 loss. But I’m not sure how you fix something like this in-season when things are so fundamentally flawed here.

But as for Pickett, there were some positives despite the 38-3 final. While I did go to Pitt, I cannot say I feel any real attachment or need to defend Pickett. I wasn’t even excited about the pick on draft night because I know the top quarterback lasting on the board that long is a bad sign of the class itself. But maybe I’m just prepping to become an apologist for him, because this team has a lot of holes that shouldn’t all be blamed on the quarterback.

I said last week that Pickett’s debut was about as encouraging as it could have been for someone who threw three interceptions. I might say the same thing about his first start being the most encouraging for someone who scored three points.

Among 34 quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in their first NFL start, Pickett is the only one to not score at least 13 points and the only one to lose by more than 26 points.

First, we know it was only three points because Chris Boswell missed two field goals on a windy day that he usually will make (33 and 45 yards). That’s why the Steelers became the 21st team in NFL history to throw 50 passes and score fewer than six points. It’s a rough thing to do, but it’s not the end of the world. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs did it last year against the Titans in a 27-3 loss.

Second, why were the Steelers even kicking field goals down 24-3 and 31-3? Tomlin never approached this game like he was a 14-point underdog starting a rookie quarterback on the road against the Super Bowl favorite. He acted like it was Big Ben trying to pull out an upset like he did in Week 1 last year thanks to a special teams bounce and some of that T.J. Watt greatness this defense is sorely missing. Tomlin mismanaged the moment by not appreciating the quality of opponent and his team’s predicament more.

Third, Pickett wasn’t bad by several measures. He was 34-of-52 for 327 yards, three sacks, a pick, and a 10-yard run. Pickett’s 56.7 QBR ranked 10th this week and was above average. The most egregious pass he threw early was the pick before halftime, but that was something he forced with 23 seconds left in a 31-3 game from his own 37. It didn’t lead to any points for Buffalo. It didn’t even matter.

Pickett’s receivers had a few costly drops too, including one off Diontae Johnson’s hands that was nearly intercepted. Johnson also could not hang onto a fourth-and-6 play in the third quarter that would have extended the drive in the red zone.

The points will come for this offense, but with the way the defense has handled good quarterbacks for the last year, the wins are not coming any time soon with Tom Brady and Jalen Hurts coming up.

The experience level of Pittsburgh’s quarterback cannot continue to overshadow the real problem of allowing an absurd number of points in so many big games in recent years. If only there was an obvious, common link between these losses that the team could put a finger on… But the standard is the standard.

Giants vs. Packers: Old-School Green Bay Loss, New-School Problems

Sunday began with a shocker in London when the Packers (-8) fell 27-22 to the Giants, who are now 4-1. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU when favored by at least six points but make that 22-1 now after his offense scored zero points after halftime.

This was almost like some old-school Tom Coughlin-coached upset by the Giants against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. First, there was a sack that knocked the Packers out of field goal range late in the third quarter. Daniel Jones then used his arms and legs to put together a 15-play, 91-yard touchdown march to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.

The Packers went three-and-out after three incompletions by Rodgers. Saquon Barkley continued his career season with a 41-yard catch and a 2-yard touchdown run to take a 27-20 lead with 6:08 left. Rookie coach Brian Daboll hasn’t really fixed Jones and the passing game, which has had a lot of injuries, but he is getting more timely plays from the young quarterback, and he absolutely has gotten Barkley on track to be the playmaker the Giants thought they were drafting years ago.

But just when you thought the Packers would tie the game with a touchdown like they did a week ago against the Patriots, that New York defense stepped up again. With two plays needing a yard from the New York 6, the Packers shunned their running backs and let Rodgers throw quick passes. The Giants pounced on both of them and knocked them down at the line. I think you have to feed Aaron Jones or A.J Dillon at least once there. Get the first down, then work the clock situation to get the touchdown and go to overtime or go for two and the win if you have a play you love.

But it was moot after some batted balls. Daboll miscalculated the clock as the Packers still had two timeouts to get the ball back. The Giants should have been running real offense instead of taking knees and an intentional safety, but they did that, giving Rodgers seven seconds to set up a Hail Mary, his specialty. But the best way to stop him on that is to not let him get the ball off. The Giants didn’t, forcing a fumble to end the game and seal the 27-22 upset win, Week 5’s shocker.

The 4-1 Giants are using a strategy much like the one that last carried them to the playoffs in 2016 (they lost to Green Bay in the wild card that year). Keep it close, close it out on defense. It is working for them, but with Dallas and Philadelphia in the same division, it is hard to see this lasting.

As for the Packers, there is still time to turn this around, but I am starting to think this identity-crisis offense without Davante Adams has the Packers less prepared than ever before to deal with the NFC playoff field. Could you imagine this team in January winning against the 49ers, Eagles, Buccaneers, or even Cowboys? Maybe they’d like a rematch with these Giants, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk like it was in 2016.

I think a dream playoff road for Rodgers this year would be getting the Vikings in the wild card round in prime time (Kirk Cousins at night), hoping the Eagles choke in their first playoff game as the No. 1 seed, and then going to Dallas to take out the Cowboys in the building where Rodgers seems to have all his best playoff moments. That might be the path, but that’s assuming Green Bay gets that far.

Maybe it’s too early to be talking about this, but the last two weeks in nearly losing to Bailey Zappe and losing to the Giants in London, it has been an eye-opening experience on where the Packers are these days.

Eagles at Cardinals: Was Kyler’s Gatorade Spiked Too?

It took until Week 5 before the Eagles did not lead for the entire second half of a game. But the Cardinals are a better offense with Rondale Moore available, and Marquise Brown is starting to make an impact with Kyler Murray.

The Eagles were also not historically dominant in the second quarter this time, getting outscored 10-7 after starting the game with a 14-0 lead. Arizona (+5.5) kept it close as offensive holding penalties plagued the Eagles in the third quarter. After Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth, the Eagles turned to the running game with eight straight runs out the gate. Jalen Hurts is all but automatic on those sneaks with a yard to go. He had a couple of those conversions on a long drive that consumed nearly eight minutes, but the Eagles were unable to put the ball in the end zone, settling for a 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left.

Murray had plenty of time in a 20-17 game, but this is not a spot where you feel like you can trust him, coach Kliff Kingsbury, and certainly not new kicker Matt Ammendola, who was just jettisoned from the Chiefs after a bad game against the Colts.

Murray moved the offense into the fringes of field-goal range, but he spiked a ball on first down after a completion when he had plenty of time to call another play. He then scrambled for 9 yards, then quickly did a spike again to bring up fourth-and-1 with 22 seconds left. Did Murray not know that he started his slide early and was spotted short of a first down? Maybe, but he did not need to spike it with it being third down.

If you saw Ammendola with the Chiefs, you probably knew what was coming next. From 43 yards out, he was about as wide right as Mike Vanderjagt on a clutch playoff field goal. The Eagles escape this one with a 20-17 win and will have a big showdown with the Cowboys (4-1) next Sunday night.

Falcons at Buccaneers: Did the Roughing Flag Come with Another PPP Loan?

The sad state of the NFC South where a battle of 2-2 teams with a 10-point spread is a game for first place in Week 5. But the Falcons never had much of a chance without Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, their two most proven skill players. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay led 21-0 to start the fourth quarter.

But wouldn’t it have been something if the Falcons, trying to avoid going 0-11 against Tom Brady, erased a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to beat him and take over first place in the division?

The Tampa offense started stalling while the Atlanta offense found some success on the ground after the defense wore down. Just like that, it was a 21-15 game with 4:38 left after the Falcons wisely went for two.

It looked like Brady was going to stall again in the four-minute offense after Grady Jarrett sacked him on a third down with three minutes left. However, one of the worst roughing the passer penalties you’ll ever see was called to gift the Buccaneers a first down. True LOAT stuff and superstar rules right here:

That is literally just a sack. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t to the head/neck region, and he didn’t do the whole “body weight” nonsense that came up years ago. It’s just a sack, but maybe the ref felt sorry for a 45-year-old man going through a publicized divorce?

It took six dropbacks before Brady made a play on the drive, converting a third down to Mike Evans to end the game, never giving the Falcons the ball back with a one-score deficit.

So many fan bases will be happy once Brady retires for good, but if Atlanta fans want to lay claim to being sick of him the most, I cannot argue against them. He is still going to win this division and get a home playoff game. With the Rams fading, it may take a Philadelphia/San Francisco/Dallas to put an end to this team in the playoffs short of the Super Bowl.

Cowboys at Rams: Coming Down the Mountain

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this game, because it really does break down in simple terms.

The Rams (2-3) have been held to 9-or-10 points against the Bills, 49ers, and Cowboys in their losses. Those are three elite defenses this year, if not the three best. The Rams looked just fine offensively, albeit with Cam Akers sucking at the goal line, in wins over the Falcons and Cardinals, which are two lousy defenses. This offense is not built to excel against elite defenses anymore with the deficiencies along the offensive line (Andrew Whitworth’s retirement plus injuries), running back (see Akers sucking and being a lesser player than Darrell Henderson), and the fact that Cooper Kupp is about the only receiver worth a damn, especially in Matthew Stafford’s eyes. He takes five-to-seven sacks against these elite defenses as he can’t seem to find anyone open but Kupp. They miss that second threat like Robert Woods or Odell Beckham Jr. They don’t even have Van Jefferson this year and it shows up when they play a good defense. The “fvck them draft picks” team finally reached the top of the mountain last year, but this is not a surprising, rocky path for them to take coming back down it to join the rest of the pack in mediocrity.

As for the Cowboys (4-1), this was the first win for backup QB Cooper Rush where they really just babied him with the dominant defense and running game (30 carries for 164 yards). If Dak Prescott threw for 102 yards and lost 26 yards on three sacks, I’d say the Cowboys got smashed and he left the game injured. Rush has done a good job, but they’re not beating Philadelphia next week or for the division with this level of quarterback play. The challenge for Mike McCarthy is to make sure the defense and running game continue to play at this high level when Prescott returns. Don’t just “rally around the backup” and rest on your laurels “when #4 is back.” Play like a great damn team every week if you want to actually achieve something, like maybe your first NFC Championship Game appearance since the 1995 season.

Chargers at Browns: Boo-urns Brissett (and Brandon)

Not often do you see a running back shootout in the NFL, but Austin Ekeler and Nick Chubb put on a show in this 30-28 thriller. Both scored multiple touchdowns and Ekeler even outrushed Chubb, 173-134.

But Cleveland fans probably wish the running backs could have decided this game instead of the quarterback. I tried to warn people about Jacoby Brissett being terrible with the game on the line:

Sure, he can avoid mistakes for most of the game, but this is already his third time getting picked in the final minutes this season in close losses. The first two were desperation throws against the Jets and Falcons. This one was just foolishness in a 30-28 game with barely under three minutes left. It was third-and-7 at the Los Angeles 9, so Brissett had a go-ahead field goal in his back pocket. Instead, he scrambled and forced a throw and did not even see the defender (Alohi Gilman).

Brutal stuff. But the Chargers were not going to let this one go without some Chargering. The offense got one first down to make Cleveland burn all three timeouts but not the second to clinch the game. They faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:14 left.

Head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it at midfield, and Justin Herbert’s pass was incomplete. The Browns had 70 seconds left at the Los Angeles 45, basically needing a few yards for a reasonable game-winning field goal attempt.

I hated the decision by Staley, who has not impressed me for quite a number of games now after his promising start last year.

  • If you are leading 31-28, then going for it is justifiable, if not preferable. Don’t fear the game-tying field goal or overtime. Trust you can convert a yard with a high-percentage play (QB sneak).
  • If you are facing a dangerous quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or a team with an incredible kicker like Justin Tucker who can make from 60+, then going for it is justifiable, if not the only real option.

But you are only up 30-28 and you are facing one of the worst quarterbacks on record at game-winning drives. His offense’s biggest threat is a running back (Chubb) who likely won’t see the field on this drive. Just punt it deep and make him drive a long field.

But the Chargers gave Cleveland a gift that should have bit them in the ass. Brissett even got the 10 yards and new set of downs you figured they needed, but a stuffed run of Kareem Hunt – see, not Chubb – really hurt Cleveland’s chances. Then Brissett threw incomplete twice and the rookie kicker, Cade York, had to make a 54-yard field goal to save the day. He beat the Panthers on a 58-yard field goal in Week 1, so this is doable. However, this time he missed, and the Browns lost another close one.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is just 3-14 (.176) at 4QC/GWD opportunities. Only Carolina’s Matt Rhule (0-16) is worse among active coaches.

Hurry-Up Finish

Most weeks I am still wide awake when I say I need to get to bed, but I really am tired this week after barely sleeping last night. So, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 5:

Titans at Commanders: I will certainly mock Carson Wentz for throwing a game-ending interception, his third attempt from the 2-yard line in a 21-17 game’s closing seconds. But that really was a great defensive play by David Long. Almost like James Harrison in Super Bowl 43 without the crazy return touchdown.

The Titans (3-2) have won three in a row despite scoring zero points in the fourth quarter this season, the first team since the 2005 49ers (ALEX’s rookie year) to go scoreless in the fourth quarter through five games. These Titans are barely hanging on against the Raiders, Colts, and now Commanders, and they still might win the division. Speaking of which…

Texans at Jaguars: You can replace Doug Marrone with Urban Meyer or Doug Pederson, but apparently this sad sack of a franchise can’t beat the trash-heap version of the Houston Texans. That’s nine losses in a row to Houston, and this is probably the most disappointing yet cause the Jaguars were 7-point favorites and expected to run wild on Houston’s defense. It did not happen, and instead, No. 1 pick Travon Walker made a boneheaded play by throwing down Davis Mills in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter on a third-and-20. That led to the game-winning touchdown, and Trevor Lawrence wasn’t able to answer again. He is now 1-8 at 4QC and 2-9 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Either we gassed up the Jaguars a bit too much after those wins over the Colts and Chargers, or the Texans inexplicably have their number. Either way, what a weird cat turd of a division race this is.

49ers at Panthers: That double-clutching pick-six Baker Mayfield threw may be the highlight/lowlight of his time in Carolina. The play we remember him for. His arm just doesn’t look strong enough for the NFL right now. It was surprising to see him throw for 215 yards in this matchup, but the 22-point loss was no surprise.

The biggest surprise is if I wake up and find that Matt Rhule isn’t gone already. It’s clearly not going to work in Carolina for him (or Baker). Just in case this is the last time, here are those updated Rhule numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-24 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-25 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-27 when not leading by double digits at halftime

As for the 49ers, nice win but they need to stop racking up the injuries. Nick Bosa was the latest star to go down. The 49ers were the only NFC West team to win on Sunday, moving to 3-2 while the rest of the division is 2-3. This defense and the yards after contact/catch from Deebo Samuel may be plenty enough to win the title.

Dolphins at Jets: The Jets were my upset pick this week, but even I was surprised to see them hang 40 points on Miami with Zach Wilson scoring another touchdown and rookie back Breece Hall gaining 197 yards from scrimmage. They did catch a break with Teddy Bridgewater leaving with a head injury after one pass and a grounding penalty for a safety. Third-string rookie Skylar Thompson was hardly a nightmare, but he did have a success rate of 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter when the Jets blew open a 19-17 lead into a 40-17 final.

Miami missed a 54-yard field goal that would have given the Dolphins the lead with 13:15 left, then Thompson fumbled on the next drive, leading to a 5-yard touchdown drive. That basically put this one away, and now the 3-2 Jets have the tiebreaker over the 3-2 Dolphins. Life comes at you fast.

Bears at Vikings: I don’t know if the Earth can handle all these 4QC/GWD by the Vikings:

This was the third in a row and maybe the most shocking since Minnesota completed its first 18 passes of the game and led 21-3. Letting Justin Fields lead a comeback to take a 22-21 lead can’t be good for Minnesota’s playoff prospects, but to Kirk Cousins’ credit, he led another game-winning drive and even snuck in the winning touchdown himself. Fields actually seemed up to the task of answering with a touchdown, but a great defensive play by Cameron Dantzler forced Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a Minnesota fifth-round pick in 2021 (double agent?), to fumble with 1:01 left.

I honestly don’t know if the 2022 Vikings (4-1) are all that good since they’ve largely shown us the same things they always did under Mike Zimmer: Win over Green Bay, close wins over the NFC bottom dwellers, and Cousins shit his pants on a Monday night in Philly. A trip to Buffalo in Week 10 will be the next big challenge for a team that could actually be 7-1 going into that one.

Seahawks at Saints: Sean Payton had to love the Taysom Hill three-hour love fest this game turned into. Hill rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score from 60 yards out, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass, and recovered a fumble. The Seahawks had some explosive plays on offense again behind Geno Smith, but he took a badly-timed 14-yard sack on a third down, and the Saints were able to run out the clock in a 39-32 win.

Lions at Patriots: The Lions went from 281 combined points in four games, including last week’s 48-45 loss to Seattle, to getting blanked 29-0 by third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Patriots. Was this Matt Patricia’s revenge game? Amon-Ra St. Brown returned and had four catches for 18 yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson went from 179 yards and two scores last week to one 6-yard catch in this game. This was some extreme regression, and arguably the biggest dud ever laid by a Dan Campbell team.

Next week: It’s not going to reach the hype of 2007 Patriots vs. Colts, but 2022 Bills at Chiefs is a huge one. Maybe the biggest game this regular season because getting home-field advantage is going to be very important for Buffalo to maintain its favorite status for the Super Bowl. I will be all over this matchup this week.

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Return of the Blowouts Edition

The last two weeks in the NFL have been something else. Twenty-five of the 32 games had a comeback opportunity, the highest two-week total since I’ve been following this on a weekly basis. Only one game had a spread larger than 6.5 points, and only one game (Jags 38-10 vs. Chargers) was decided by more than 16 points.

So, you can say the spread and the outcomes were in alignment with the games being close as the spreads were within one score too.

I expect this to change in Week 5, and the schedule backs that up. Six games have a team favored by 7+ points this week, including the largest spread (14) for the Steelers since the 1970 merger as Kenny Pickett makes his starting debut against the Super Bowl favorites in Buffalo.

This doesn’t mean a bunch of three-score blowouts, but a lot of those teams that are heavily favored, I like them to cover as you’ll see below.

First, some of this week’s articles:

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I got my first TNF game wrong this season, because Russell Wilson is a joke in the red zone.

As I said above, I like some of the small-spread games to be won by the home underdog, including the Jets, Browns, and Commanders. It’s not that I necessarily like Washington to win that game, but it just feels like a spot where they can pick up a win to avoid going 2-15 or whatever. I don’ t like the way Tennessee has stopped scoring in the second half the last two weeks and had to hang on.

But back to my theme this week, I really like Green Bay (-8), Tampa Bay (-10), Philly (-5.5), and KC (-7.5) to all cover big spreads. Buffalo was a hard pick because you just don’t know how Pickett will play in his first start. But I know I’ve seen Josh Allen play the Steelers three times and he’s never looked like anything special. It’s easier without T.J. Watt on the field, but the Bills are also banged up at slot receiver and tight end. I’m hoping it’s at least competitive for a while and looking forward to how Pickett handles it. I still think getting him ready after the TNF loss to start at home against the Jets would have been wiser than making at Buffalo his first start, but here we go. It’s a new era in Pittsburgh.

Patrick Mahomes Is Fastest to 20,000 Passing Yards; Matthew Stafford Slips Off Pace

Lost in the Week 4 NFL coverage were two big events with the all-time passing yardage leaders.

Patrick Mahomes surpassed the 20,000 passing yards mark in his 67th game, becoming the fastest to do it by four games. Matthew Stafford held the previous record by hitting 20,000 yards in his 71st game.

Meanwhile, Stafford did become the fastest quarterback to 50,000 yards on opening night against Buffalo, doing it in his 183rd game. However, in recent weeks, Stafford has fallen behind the pace of Drew Brees.

Through 186 games, Stafford has 51,010 passing yards.

Brees had 51,081 passing yards through 186 games, so he is 71 yards ahead of Stafford’s pace again. This could be a back-and-forth thing this season, but Stafford will not clear the board anymore.

We’ll see if Mahomes can match Brady’s longevity and wipe him off the board some day, but the key to that may be finding out that he loves football far more than he’ll ever love his family.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

I said in this weekend’s predictions that we would get some crucial breaking points to this season with the games on tap. Sure enough, the games were very competitive again. In fact, with Monday Night Football still to come, we again had 12 games with a comeback opportunity after 12 last week, the second-highest total in the last seven seasons:

Technically, I should say a 4QC/GWD opportunity since the Bills-Ravens game was not a 4QC opportunity for either. More on that semantics mess shortly.

Speaking of Buffalo, Sunday seemed to reroute the course to a place many were expecting it to go: Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Round III in the AFC playoffs, and that huge matchup in Week 6 at Arrowhead is looming.

Did we get much clarity on the MVP race? Not really, because annoying rain made the games in Baltimore and Philly sloppy for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts.

But we learned that Bailey Zappe is a real NFL player, Geno Smith might get an NFL MVP vote before Russell Wilson, the Mitch Trubisky era should be dead in Pittsburgh, and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs run it up on Tom Brady’s ass (in prime time too) like no other.

Now if only the Chiefs could have done this in the playoffs a couple times, then they’d be a dynasty instead of me asking if there’s still an elite team in the league. But let’s just enjoy the ride, and any Sunday is a nice one when you hit +13118.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Ravens: Most Valuable Pick of the Season

When I picked the Bills to win it all before the season, I pointed out that the schedule was going to make them so battle tested for the playoffs. Just the early lineup is incredible with Kansas City and Green Bay to come soon before the bye. But at Baltimore was a big test too, because we know the Ravens are usually tough to beat in that building with John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.

I also wanted to see how the Bills would react in a close game. They had lost the last 12 games they trailed in the fourth quarter of, and their last 20 regular-season wins were all by 10-plus points, tying the NFL record set by the 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

Well, one of those streaks was snapped on Sunday, and the Bills can thank Harbaugh and Jackson for that.

Blame it on the weather if you want, but the wet conditions were not as bad as 49ers-Bears in Week 1. The weather was not helpful, but the top two MVP candidates were also not doing their teams many favors on Sunday. Josh Allen was wide of the mark three snaps into the game and his interception set up a 4-yard touchdown drive for Jackson.

After Buffalo’s running backs put the ball on the ground and got stopped on a third-and-1, the Ravens were up 20-3 in the second quarter. We may have been looking at a blowout as the only comeback of more than 10 points in the Sean McDermott era was a 16-point comeback against the 2019 Jets on opening day.

But the front-running team ran into the team that blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. Baltimore mismanaged a pass-happy three-and-out late in the first half, and the Bills were able to put together a touchdown drive to make it 20-10. Something doable.

Third quarter started the same way with a false start and three failed passing plays by the Ravens, who were getting the running backs going early in the game for a change this year. Allen scrambles keyed a field goal drive, and then he tied the game up his next chance with his legs on an 11-yard run.

The Bills didn’t have starting safety Jordan Poyer in the Miami loss. They already lost Micah Hyde for the season too at safety. Poyer was back on Sunday and made his presence felt by running up to catch an interception by Jackson on a ball tipped at the line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But after the Bills went three-and-out, Jackson looked like he was going to shake off a rough passing day with a 95-yard touchdown drive. However, he and J.K. Dobbins were stopped short of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 2 with 4:09 left.

There is at least an argument for going for it in this spot, but given you haven’t scored all half, and the weather stinks, and your kicking unit is superb, I think you kick the field goal there. Make the front-running team that hasn’t come from behind to win in the fourth quarter in over two years put together a drive. The Bills are so overconfident at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would try a fourth-and-goal in a 23-20 game if it was within reason. And they might not get it like in Miami or against Tennessee last year.

I did not like the decision, but then again, I disagreed with most of Harbaugh’s close-game decisions last year when the Ravens kept blowing all these games. Sure enough, Jackson tried to force a pass after pressure got to him and only Poyer was there in the end zone to catch it for a second interception.

Jackson went from second in MVP odds to tied with Jalen Hurts (+550) for third place behind Allen (+300) and Mahomes (+500). I can’t say it’s not justified this week. Blame the defense all you want for the Miami meltdown, but in this game, the Ravens were scoreless on their final five drives with two fourth-quarter picks by Jackson. He passed for just 144 yards, and star tight end Mark Andrews also did not help shed his “big game choker” label with two catches for 15 yards.

On the other side, Allen was able to put the game-winning drive together this week, only needing a field goal. I didn’t love the angle on the big roughing the passer penalty that put them in field goal range, but it looked like an excessive takedown after he released the ball.

Singletary had some key gains on Sunday, and he put the ball inside the 3. The Bills were able to make the 21-yard field goal with no time left to get the 23-20 win.

This is a rare game that was tied to start the fourth quarter, and the only other score was a game-winning field goal on the final snap. You see maybe one of these a season, but we already have two this year with Bears-Texans and this. That’s also why it’s just a game-winning drive for Buffalo and technically not a 4QC.

That will just have to come later for the team, but this was a very important comeback win. The Bills will have that confidence now that they can come back if a game starts ugly like this one sure did.

But for the Ravens, I am not sure where their psyche is after blowing two 17-point leads at home in a couple of weeks. This is a franchise that had three such blown leads in 1996-2021, and two of those were in the early days of the bad defenses (1996-97). The only other one was in 2004 against the Bengals, a game that showed us the potential for Carson Palmer and his receivers.

Speaking of the Bengals, that’s Baltimore’s next opponent on Sunday night. It’s another front-running team with the quarterback and firepower to destroy this defense. This season could really turn on its head for Baltimore by Week 5 when it should be 4-0 and the talk of the AFC. Instead, here we are.

It’s a Bills vs. Chiefs conference until proven otherwise.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Old Man, Look at My Highlight

If only Super Bowl LV looked like this for Kansas City, but it was never going to happen with the rotated offensive line that night. The Chiefs really seemed to take this rematch personally and came out on fire with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff setting up a quick 7-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.

The Chiefs led by double digits for the final 49:01. This is only the seventh time in Tom Brady’s career where he trailed by double digits at the end of all four quarters. The only time the game felt in doubt was in the second quarter when the Chiefs were stopped for the first time after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped a wide-open fourth-and-1 pass. But on the very next play, the Kansas City defense, which was not outstanding on the night, saved its best disguised blitz for Brady to force a fumble and set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for another short-field score and 28-10 lead.

The Buccaneers allowed more points in the first half (28) than they did in the first three games combined (27). The Chiefs really seemed to save up some A+ plays on offense for this matchup, and Patrick Mahomes may have thrown his most creative touchdown pass yet.

The game really did remind me of when the 2005 Colts went into New England on a Monday night and just walloped them 40-21. If we got the Chiefs this prepared and fired up for every game, this team could go undefeated. They didn’t punt until the final minute when they were up 41-31.

This is now the eighth time in Brady’s career where his team allowed 40 points, and half of those games have been against Andy Reid’s Chiefs (all in prime time in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022). It is only the sixth time a team scored at least 40 offensive points on a Brady team. But no one has ever scored more than 42 on him, and Mahomes threw away that chance with an ill-advised pick with just under five minutes left. But even at 41-24, this one was over early. The Buccaneers finished with 53 passes to six runs (3 yards).

The Chiefs are never not interesting under Reid and Mahomes. They looked as good as ever against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but not so hot against the Chargers and Colts in between. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are not playing complimentary football and haven’t looked that good period this season. While the offense had its best game of 2022, the defense had its worst game in the last three years since Brady arrived.

This is the eighth time Brady has trailed by 17-plus points in a game with Tampa Bay since 2020. He had eight such games with New England in his final six seasons in 2014-19.

I thought the Bucs would split at home with Green Bay and the Chiefs, but they lost both games. I still would not panic unless Atlanta comes in there on Sunday and wins too. But something has looked off with this team all season.

Patriots at Packers: Green Bay Nearly Loses to Fallout’s Vault Boy

Bill Belichick’s Patriots pushing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers into overtime at Lambeau is a story you could have believed last week. If I said they’d get the fourth career pick-six of Rodgers before halftime, you might believe it less. If I said they’d start Brian Hoyer and lose 27-24 in overtime, you probably wouldn’t believe it. If I said they played most of the game with the Fallout Vault Boy turned Vault Man – someone named Bailey Zappe – you definitely would have said I was making up some Madden player.

But it all happened. If the Patriots had just a little more faith in Zappe, they may have pulled it off in overtime too after getting Rodgers to go three-and-out after the Packers won the coin toss and received. But even after getting the ball at their own 49, needing just a field goal to win, the Patriots ran twice, and Zappe threw incomplete on third-and-5 before a punt. He’d never see the ball again.

Rodgers started cooking with his wide receivers and set up a field goal as the final play. Mason Crosby was reliable from 31 yards out, and Matt LaFleur escaped breaking his 21-0 (now 22-0) mark as a favorite of at least six points.

Isn’t it something that the only game with a spread above 6.5 (Packers were -9.5) was the one game to go to overtime? Typical bizarro NFL.

For Rodgers, it is his 30th game-winning drive, becoming the 24th quarterback to have that many. It is also his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win, becoming the 35th quarterback to join that club. It is also notable that it took him 239 games to do it. Only former teammate Brett Favre (222) also needed over 200 games. Something about Green Bay…

But from a 3-19 4QC record to 20-45, that’s a respectable turnaround for Rodgers since the 2012 season. With the way the Packers are playing against injury-weakened teams, Rodgers may need more of these than any season before.

Jaguars at Eagles: Probably Not a Super Bowl Preview

Talking this up like it was some surprise Super Bowl preview, like the 1999 Rams playing the Titans on Halloween, was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just some early excitement for how these teams have started in 2022.

Even when the Jaguars took an early 14-0 lead, I saw no reason to panic about the Eagles. Jacksonville got a pick-six off a wildly tipped ball, then saved a second touchdown drive after recovering a fumble at the 3-yard line that was there for the taking.

The weather was not extreme, but the conditions were not helpful to offenses. The Eagles just happened to handle them better and converted three times on fourth down with Jalen Hurts being pretty unstoppable there. I did want to see how this team would react to an early deficit after cruising through games to start 3-0. They handled it well with A.J. Brown having another big game against a former division foe.

Trevor Lawrence handled the wet conditions about as well as the aliens in Signs would handle a dixie cup of water. He lost four fumbles, which apparently hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever by one player:

Even when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (RIP) set the NFL record with seven fumbles in a game in 1964, he appears to only have lost three out of seven. Going 4-for-4 is some cruel stuff, and the last one came in the final two minutes with the Jaguars trying to tie the game at 29 after getting it to 29-21.

But even that comeback opportunity was set up by a suspect decision from the Eagles to try a fourth-and-3 pass at the Jacksonville 21 at the two-minute warning. Apparently there was an injury situation to the kicker, which would be about the only good reason to not kick the 39-yard field goal and make this an 11-point game. Lawrence was always unlikely to drive for eight points, but it was still a gamble that could have gone wrong.

The Eagles are the last unbeaten team (4-0), and I am starting to wonder if 14-3 was not a crazy prediction as that was the number I had them at on my first run through the schedule for all 32 teams this year. There will be tougher tests ahead, but maybe not that many if things continue playing out as they have.

Jets at Steelers: Move, Mitch, Get Out the Way

This would be the typical Pittsburgh letdown loss at home to a bad opponent, but the fact is it’s not a letdown if you no longer have high expectations. The Jets and Steelers might as well be in the same tier, and had it not been for the Bengals twice failing to execute a short kick in Week 1, Pittsburgh would be the NFL’s only 0-4 team right now.

But while the Jets got their young quarterback, Zach Wilson, back in action today where he showed off some incredible athleticism, maybe Mike Tomlin had seen enough of Mitch Trubisky after another bad half with a couple really long field goals to show for it.

He made the only logical, inevitable move he could by starting the second half with rookie Kenny Pickett, and the only question is why didn’t he do it to start what was going to be the team’s most winnable game for many weeks?

The Steelers came out flat as ever and were down 10-0 to the Jets, but once Pickett entered a 10-6 game in the third quarter, you could see the offense looked like it got a shot in the arm. Sure, his first pass was technically intercepted, but it was an aggressive deep ball down the middle of the field, and Chase Claypool made a soft effort on it.

Sure, no one is going to get crazy about a quarterback sneak for a touchdown, but it’s nice to see the Steelers will let Pickett use that weapon in the playbook. But the 82-yard drive between the third and fourth quarters really showed why the Steelers had to make the move. Pickett looked decisive and he knew how to get George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth involved. He had some timing routes on intermediate throws to the sideline instead of just more go routes 30-plus yards down the field. He scrambled for a third-down conversion.

He looked pretty damn good, then he got a little greedy and was intercepted on a more dangerous throw that was again tipped with 3:34 left. The Jets, now down 20-17, got a fine drive out of Wilson, who showed a ton of escapability on the day. Maybe not the best decision maker yet, but he can really move around out there. It was another game where the Steelers dearly missed T.J. Watt.

Wilson was able to drive 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the staple to old home letdowns when the defense would blow it in the final seconds for a Roethlisberger-led team. Rookie back Breece Hall just reached over the end zone before fumbling for the score.

Pickett’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone on a Hail Mary in a 24-20 loss. He finished 10-of-13 for 120 yards with three picks, so all his passes were caught by someone even if they were two tipped picks and a Hail Mary pick. Frankly, it might be the most encouraging three-pick debut you’ve ever seen.

Pickens and Freiermuth had 187 of Pittsburgh’s 204 receiving yards. They’ll need to get Diontae Johnson more involved next time, but I actually have faith now that the offense will be better if they go forward with Pickett as the starter. I don’t know how you bench Trubisky and not have the move be permanent. You cannot be afraid to put Pickett in the game in Buffalo. He is a 24-year-old rookie. Let’s see how he stacks up against the favorite in the league on the road.

The bigger concern is that this defense is a waste without Watt available. With the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles coming up next, it is hard not to see the Steelers sitting at 2-6 or 1-7 going into the bye.

Are they the worst team in the league? Absolutely not. Can they still win about seven games if Pickett is named the starter, Watt returns after the bye, and that schedule lightens up a lot? Definitely. But they can’t put the clamps on Pickett and program him to be super conservative. The defense isn’t good enough to hold up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets.

The standard has changed in more ways than one.

Browns at Falcons: Thanks for Screwing Up My 26-Points Stat

One of my favorite facts for Week 4 was that Atlanta and Cleveland were the only two teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Of course, neither would get past 23 points in this game, but for the second week in a row, the Atlanta defense held at the end by intercepting a Jacoby Brissett pass in a three-point game.

Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes for 139 yards, and his running game hooked him up with 199 yards. The defense was also solid despite some decent totals for Nick Chubb. But twice in the first half, the Browns had the ball inside the 2-yard line and only came away with one field goal.

Mariota did not do much, but he at least hit a deep ball for 42 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 2:28 left. Things went downhill quickly for Cleveland’s answer drive, and on a third-and-23, Brissett’s desperation pass was intercepted with 55 seconds left to end the game.

Honestly, I am pissed that Brissett/Kevin Stefanski are this bad at comebacks, and not just because I had Over 47.5 points. But a field goal to make it 23-23 and bring up overtime meant it would have taken one of these teams to score 26-plus points to get the win, which would have been poetic given their starts to the season. Oh well.

The Falcons are suddenly 2-2 just like Tampa Bay and will battle them for first place next week. I say bet the farm that Brady doesn’t lose a third in a row at home to a team of this caliber, but I know what the most amusing outcome of Week 5 would be.

Saints vs. Vikings: Double Doink

I almost feel better about the Saints after this loss than I do about the Vikings after the win, the second week in a row they had to escape at the end over a team they were favored to beat.

For not having Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Andy Dalton did a solid job filling in for Jameis Winston in London. These teams were up and down the field for most of the second half, with the Saints even taking a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

The officiating definitely bailed out Minnesota on a 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty to wipe out a third-and-8 incompletion. There was DPI, but Adam Thielen also should have been penalized for shoving a player by the face. That was a big break, which the Vikings turned into an easy little 3-yard touchdown run for Justin Jefferson, who was un-guardable again this week (147 yards).

In typica Vikings fashion, they missed the extra point to keep it a 25-22 game after a lot of people had Vikings -3.5 bets. The Saints were able to answer with a 60-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who was then one-upped by Greg Joseph’s 47-yard field goal after the Vikings looked like they were going to screw themselves by settling for the long kick.

Dalton hit one deep ball to rookie Chris Olave, who then almost made a spectacular diving catch at the sideline to help make the field goal shorter. But he gave Lutz another chance to send it to overtime. Lutz had the distance from 61 yards, but he hit the left upright and the crossbar without getting the lucky bounce on either. Saints lost 28-25 and will be 1-3 with a slew of penalties, turnovers, and other sloppy play to blame.

But was it the kind of game that makes me think the Vikings will do just fine in a playoff setting against the Eagles or Rams or Packers or Buccaneers? Absolutely not.

Titans at Colts: Maybe Tennessee Is Still the Best AFC South Team?

The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 has been Tennessee. After turning to Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have controlled the division, one that the Colts have not won since 2014. Matt Ryan was supposed to make a difference this year, but things have not gotten off to a good start.

In fact, the Colts have trailed by at least 17 points in every game except the upset win over the Chiefs, which is probably going to look stranger over time.

Like last week, pass protection was an issue with Ryan getting blown up and losing the ball on a sack on the first drive of the game. Like last week, the Titans quickly rang up 24 points on a team before hanging on for dear life in the second half.

Like he did in Houston in Week 1, Ryan used his arm to lead a comeback attempt since Jonathan Taylor (20 carries, 42 yards) and the running game has disappeared behind the miserable line performance this season. I mean, the guy should have stayed in Atlanta if this is how the Colts are going to play around him.

But after turning a 24-3 deficit into a manageable 24-17 game, the Colts were scoreless on their last three drives. Nearly a second strip-sack of Ryan knocked the Colts out of scoring range going into the fourth quarter, a quarter where they would hit completions of 34 and 44 yards and score zero points on the two drives. Taylor lost a fumble with 8:40 left and just shy of the red zone.

Then Ryan’s third sack of the day was a killer in no man’s land with the Colts facing third-and-13 at the Tennessee 25. Not only did Ryan lose eight yards to bring up fourth-and-21, but the clock was running to the two-minute warning, losing that fourth clock stoppage after new kicker Chase McLaughlin’s 51-yard field goal was wide left with 1:58 left.

The Colts needed a three-and-out to get the ball back, but Tannehill converted a third-and-4 with a short pass to end the game at 24-17. Are the Titans still the best team in the division? I don’t know, but the upcoming schedule (@WAS, IND, @HOU) certainly gives them a shot to start 5-2 with three key AFC South wins.

Broncos at Raiders: Running with the Devil

A game between Derek Carr and Russell Wilson sounds made for a 4QC/GWD, but this was really a day for the running backs. Melvin Gordon had another brutal fumble that was returned for a huge touchdown, Javonte Williams may have suffered a season ending knee injury, and Josh Jacobs put the Las Vegas offense on his back 175 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing) and two touchdowns in a 32-23 win.

Carr only passed for 188 yards, but he did his best Wilson impersonation by running five times for 42 yards (kneeldowns excluded) and some of the biggest first downs in the game, including a 20-yard scramble before halftime to set up a field goal and a 9-yard scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter after Denver cut the lead to 25-23. Carr is usually one of the least valuable rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, so this game was uncharacteristically huge for him.

The fumble by Gordon and the no-show third quarter by the offense really hurt Denver, which is now 2-2. But the Raiders were finally able to put together a winning formula this season. Just don’t expect it to be a repeatable one, especially against the Chiefs next Monday night.

Seahawks at Lions: Coach an Campbell Cause He Ain’t Got No ‘D’

I am not sure which fact here is most surprising:

  • A team coached by Dan Campbell with Jared Goff at quarterback is playing in historic shootouts, including Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks with Geno Smith, and in a game where the Lions were without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and D.J. Chark.
  • The 2022 Lions have 281 combined points in their first four games, setting an NFL record for a team’s first four games.
  • This was the 13th game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 45 points, but it is the first one to end 48-45.
  • Goff has been the quarterback in two of the last three games this high scoring (54-51 against Mahomes and the 2018 Chiefs is obviously the other one).
  • Seattle is the first team in NFL history to have a wire-to-wire win with no ties after 0-0 despite allowing more than 42 points.
  • The 2009 Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in the wild card playoffs in a game they never trailed, but it was tied 38-38 and 45-45 in the fourth quarter before going to overtime.
  • The previous record for points allowed in a wire-to-wire, no ties after 0-0 win is 42 points, done by the 1998 Cardinals at Washington and the 2017 Jaguars at Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Both games ended 45-42.
  • The Seahawks (48) scored more points in Detroit than they had thru Week 3 (47) and more than the Broncos had (43) going into Sunday.
  • Geno Smith’s completion percentage (77.3%) is the highest in NFL history through four games of a season (min. 125 passes).

Pretty bonkers. Seattle was so good at answering scores with scores, that the last time Detroit had the ball while down by 1-to-8 points was when it was 17-9 in the middle of the second quarter. Still, the Seahawks had to recover an onside kick at 1:06 and run for one more first down to finally put the Lions away.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 4:

Commanders at Cowboys: Choose your Ginger! You knew I was backing Cooper Rush, who is now 4-0 as a starter and ranked No. 4 in QBR (74.0). It’s really not a quarterback controversy in Dallas unless Dak Prescott comes back and starts playing as poorly as he did in Week 1. It was nice to see Michael Gallup back for the Cowboys, catching a touchdown and drawing 65 yards on two pass interference penalties.

But Wentz really struggled again despite only taking two sacks this time. You have to wonder how short that leash is if Ron Rivera senses he might not be making it to 2023 in Washington if this keeps up. Most of the league is keeping it close in the fourth quarter right now. The Commanders have not in the last two weeks in two division losses.

Bears at Giants: Daniel Jones left with an ankle injury, but before he left, he still finished with the highest QBR (92.3) at ESPN for Week 4. How did he do it?

Exactly as you imagined. He ran for two touchdowns, or two more than what the Bears had after settling for four sub-40 yard field goals. You knew this would be a low-scoring battle of teams who don’t legitimately look like the 3-1 record they would have after a win. But given the Jones injury and backup Tyrod Taylor leaving with a concussion, the Giants may have to travel overseas to face the Packers with Davis Webb at quarterback.

Chargers at Texans: Austin Ekeler went from scoring no touchdowns in three games to three scores on Sunday. Play every running back against the Houston defense until further notice. It’s a gold mine right now. But good on Justin Herbert and the Chargers for not blowing another 21-point lead. There was some serious Chargering going on once the special teams fumbled a kick return, and Houston, only down 27-21, was 16 yards away from the lead. But the defense held up, and the offense put it away with a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that hinged on a fourth-down conversion at midfield to Ekeler. It was his day (finally).

Cardinals at Panthers: This game was such a mess that Arizona’s game-winning drive saw them face a third-and-goal from the Carolina 27 before kicking a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left. Then another Baker Mayfield pass was tipped by J.J. Watt for an interception and a 5-yard touchdown drive basically put the game out of reach because we know the Panthers aren’t coming back from 20-10. Not in the Matt Rhule era, which now boasts these numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-26 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-23 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-26 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I did not think Mayfield would be worse to start the season than Sam Darnold was last year, but it has happened.

Next week: Colts-Broncos on TNF might be good just because the teams are on an even playing field of disappointment. Will Kenny Pickett really make his first start in Buffalo against the Super Bowl favorite? Tomlin has no reason to declare it early in the week, but it needs to happen. Might as well see how he stacks up to a contender, because we know the defense is getting shredded if the weather is half decent. Bengals-Ravens could be cool on SNF. Another AFC North breaking point.

NFL Week 4 Predictions: Breaking Point No. 1 Edition

This week would normally conclude the first-quarter mark of the regular season with all teams playing four games, but thanks to the 17-game season, it’s slightly less than that.

But this Week 4 schedule does look like a pivotal one that I will call the first major breaking point of the season: a week where the outcomes of these games will have far-reaching impact on how the narrative of this 2022 season (and beyond) unfolds.

We’ve already seen this play out on Thursday night when the Dolphins sacrificed Tua Tagovailoa’s health and career by playing him four days after they let him go back into a game following what looked like a pretty obvious concussion. His decision making look compromised on Thursday night, and he took another hard hit that may have given him a second concussion in less than a week. Hopefully this will bring some changes to the concussion system going forward, but it was a terrible sight to see his fingers lock up like that in a game he really shouldn’t have been playing in.

But that was a big game since it could have led to Miami at 4-0 and the Bengals at 1-3. Instead, Teddy Bridgewater threw a pick late and the Bengals are back in the hunt at 2-2.

There should be a lot of these breaking point moments this week:

First, keep in mind that 14.9% of teams starting 1-3 since 1990 have made the playoffs, and 63.7% of teams starting 3-1 have made the playoffs. It hurts more to start 1-3 than it helps to start 3-1, but it’s a big week for teams in those positions.

The Vikings can drop the Saints to 1-3 with Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas sitting this one out, denying us a battle of the last two QBs (Winston and Kirk Cousins) in the NFL to throw a pick-six in overtime. I wrote an upset pick for the Saints earlier in the week, but I’d change my pick after that injury news dropped.

The Colts (1-1-1) have a big home game with the Titans (1-2) in the AFC South.

Dallas can get to 3-1 and drop Washington to 1-3 in the first game of the Cowboys-Commanders era, also known as The Battle of the Gingers (Carson Wentz and Cooper Rush)

Chargers-Texans is the No. 32 rushing offense vs. No. 32 rushing defense, but if the Chargers start 1-3 with losses to Jacksonville and Houston, you might as well forget this season for them.

One of the Giants-Bears should be 3-1 after tomorrow, but this isn’t a breaking point. Neither team is going to amount to anything this year.

Jaguars-Eagles is shockingly decent on paper, and it would be something if the Jaguars are for real this year and Doug Pederson got the win in Philadelphia.

If Mitch Trubisky sucks against the Jets at home, the Kenny Pickett era might be here now, or else the Steelers aren’t winning another game until after the bye.

Bills-Ravens is a huge game in both the MVP race and AFC playoff standings. I wrote about the intertwined careers of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who are both looking at the Five-Year Rule with their head coaches this season as they hope to win their first Super Bowl.

With Mac Jones down and Brian Hoyer starting, the Patriots are in real danger of falling to 1-3 in Green Bay where Matt LaFleur doesn’t lose to scrubs.

Remember when Josh McDaniels started 6-0 in Denver in 2009? He might be 0-5 to start his job with the Raiders if they don’t get the win over a struggling Denver team this week.

The Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl rematch (preview) is going to look a lot different, but it’s still about Todd Bowles’ defense, which is allowing 9.0 points per game this year. The Chiefs are a 1-point underdog for now, and if that holds, then Patrick Mahomes has to defend his 6-0-1 ATS record as an underdog.

Finally, the Rams can get to 3-1 and drop the 49ers to 1-3 on Monday night (prop picks), but we know Shanahan has gotten the best of McVay most of the time in that matchup.

For Week 4 prop picks, see here.

For a Week 4 parlay (+553 after last week’s +531 hit), see here.

For updated Super Bowl 57 winner odds and my best picks for the favorite, value pick, and dark horse, see here.

It should be a very important week in the NFL.

NFL Week 4 Predictions

TNF has been good to me this year even if it hasn’t been that good to watch. I also went 11-4-1 ATS last week and still felt like a total bum for the way the Chiefs and Bills lost.

To be honest, the Bengals winning on Thursday night was the second-highest confidence I felt in any pick this week. My only stronger pick is Green Bay taking care of New England. I can see the argument for every other side, including the Texans over the Chargers since they already upset them after Christmas last year.

Fun fact: Browns and Falcons are the only teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Now watch that game end 15-10, but it could be an entertaining shootout in the dome while some of these games may be affected by the weather thanks to this awful Hurricane Ian. I really am doing my best to not go nuts on SGPs for Ravens-Bills. Not after the huge disappointment that was 17-3 when they last met in the 2020 playoffs.