The whole league is in chaos after Week 6 shook the snow globe that is the NFL. There are no unbeaten teams after the Chiefs, invincible a week ago, lost at home to the Steelers, last seen getting shellacked by the Jaguars, who this week lost at home to the Rams, who now lead the NFL in total points after scoring the fewest in the league last season. Oh, the Giants, who were 0-5 with Odell Beckham Jr. and a secondary that had not resorted to all-out mutiny, trounced the previously 3-1 Broncos in Denver. Sounds about right.
But the wreckage is especially severe in the NFC. You can make sense of the AFC if you squint. The Chiefs still look strong despite this week’s loss. The Patriots are 4-2 and maybe starting to get their act together. The Texans, now that Deshaun Watson is in charge, might be for real. The Steelers have issues to work through, but they know how to grind out a win. You can sort out who the contenders are.
The NFC? Good luck. The Eagles own the best record at 5-1. To believe they’re the best team in the NFC, you’d have to trust a second-year quarterback in Carson Wentz and a suspect secondary. They might be the top contender, and if they beat the Redskins a second time next Monday night, it might be impossible to deny it.
There aren’t a whole lot of other enticing options. The Packers just lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone, maybe for the season. The Vikings have lost Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, and as well as Case Keenum and Jerrick McKinnon have filled in, they don’t exactly scream “Super Bowl quarterback-running back combination.”
Three weeks into the season, the Falcons looked like the clear favorite to return to the Super Bowl. Then they lost at home to the Bills, and followed that up by blowing a 17-point lead at home, off a bye week, against the Dolphins. Guess they wanted to prove the Bills loss wasn’t a fluke. They’re now in third place in the NFC South.
First place in the South belongs to the Panthers, who are coming off an ugly Thursday loss to the Eagles. If linebacker Luke Kuechly remains in the concussion protocol, the Panthers’ defense will fall off the excellent pace it’s set. Cam Newton has regained his typical form after a rocky start, but the Panthers’ offense can’t overcome the absence of Kuechly even at its very best.
The Seahawks, a threat in the NFC for more than half a decade, have enough experience and defense to be there at the end. But their offense has been held to 17 points or fewer in three of five games, and they sit a half-game behind the Rams in the NFC West. The Seahawks also beat the Rams, which underscores L.A.’s not-quite-ready status. The Rams’ offense has been a revelation and their defense figures to improve as it learns new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’s system. But do you want to bet on a first-year coach and a second-year quarterback winning the NFC title?
It’s possible the best in team in the NFC isn’t among the above listed. The Cowboys won 13 games last season, but now they’re 2-3 and they’re about to be without Ezekiel Elliott. The Redskins are 3-2 with a win over the Rams, but they’re the Redskins. The Saints are 3-2, above .500 for the first time in almost four years.
It’s hard to see any NFC team in the Super Bowl. Maybe a favorite will emerge. The next 10 weeks will have to make a lot more sense than the first six.
>>> Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance alleging collusion by NFL owners, as Mark Maske writes. Kaepernick faces a high legal bar to prove collusion. The most interesting part of the case may be what the NFL has to make public through discovery.
>>> The Jets sure seemed to be on the short end against the Patriots. Maske runs through the strange call on a potential touchdown and the NFL’s ongoing problem with determining what is and isn’t a fumble.
>>> After the Chiefs’ offense sputtered in their 19-13 loss to the Steelers, the NFL has a new leader in points scored. You never would have guessed before the season started: It’s the Rams, with 177, or 29.5 per game.
First-year Coach Sean McVay has done the impossible. Last year, the Rams scored 225 points all year, good for last in the NFL and 14 points per game. In the past 10 seasons, starting with 2016 and working backward, the Rams have ranked 32nd, 29th, 21st, 21st, 25th, 32nd, 26th, 32nd, 30th and 28th in points scored.
Making the Rams watchable alone should put McVay in the conversation for NFL coach of the year. Making them winners should make him the early favorite.
>> Not something you see often in the NFL: First and 40. That’s what Minnesota faced after a Mike Remmers face mask penalty and Laquon Treadwell’s illegal crackback block on consecutive plays. Also rare: The Vikings ended up going for it on 4th and 30. (They had four seconds left before halftime and ran a deep pass play just to run out the clock.)
>> Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston injured his right shoulder in the first quarter of a loss to the Cardinals, left in the second quarter and did not return. As Rick Stroud writes, X-rays were negative on Winston’s shoulder, but he will undergo an MRI on Monday morning. “Not concerned at all. It was just pain,” Winston said. “That’s the only reason I didn’t come back. That’s the only reason. I’ll be back. Soon.”
The injury was the worst part of an awful day for the Bucs. A dark horse NFC contender before the season, Tampa fell behind 31-0 before losing, 38-33, in Arizona. The loss dropped them to 2-3 and last place in the NFC South. If the Bucs are going to pull out of it, they’ll have to do it on the fly. Because of Hurricane Irma, they had their bye week in Week 1.
>>> Doug Marrone had the right idea when he kicked a field goal on second down, just not quite the right timing. With the Jaguars trailing the Rams by 10 and 1:12 left in the fourth quarter, Marrone sent his field goal unit on the field and asked Jason Myers to kick a 54-yard field goal. Myers missed the kick, which effectively ended the game.
Despite the result, the theory was perfect — when you need two scores, take the field goal as soon as you can and save as much time as possible to score the touchdown. Marrone just got too aggressive with the yardage of the attempt.
Since the start of last season, entering Sunday, kickers had made 61.8 percent of attempts between 51 and 54 yards. The Jaguars could have advanced between five and seven yards easily, with the Rams’ defense playing soft to prevent a first down at that stage of the game. Without using much time, they Jaguars could have left Myers a distance between 47 and 49 yards — a range from which kickers have made 73.6 percent of their kicks since last season. Marrone could have safely and easily enhanced Myers’ odds to make the kick.
While Marrone didn’t stick the landing, coaches should follow his example. Too often, teams down between nine and 11 points exhaust clock trying for a touchdown, only to settle for a field goal, anyway, and leave themselves short time for the touchdown.
In their loss, the Jaguars drew their smallest crowd since Shad Khan bought the team. That’s troubling, considering the Jaguars’ strong (for them) start and the presence of an exciting rookie like Leonard Fournette.
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