As many as four NFC West teams could make the playoffs. Three AFC North teams could do the same.
As we approach the midpoint of this crazy season, some important lessons are coming into focus. Here are my five takeaways from Week 7:
The Dallas Cowboys have no fight. Coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t happy when his players didn’t go after Washington linebacker Jon Bostic for his violent hit to the head of quarterback Andy Dalton.
“We speak all the time about playing for one another, protecting one another,” McCarthy said. “It definitely wasn’t the response you would expect.”
In some ways, the response beyond that play was even worse — the overall effort level had some wondering whether the players quit. With Dak Prescott done for the season, things could get ugly for Dallas — this is a team that has run only 21 plays with the lead all season. The Cowboys are approaching Jaguars and New York Jets territory among the worst teams in the league, and a loss Sunday night at the Philadelphia Eagles might escalate things further.
McCarthy is in the first year of a five-year contract believed to be worth more than $9 million per year. If he were a first-year coach with a $5 million-per-year contract, he might be one-and-done. Owner Jerry Jones faces some very tough decisions about the most disappointing team in football.
The Patriot Way has gone south. The early returns of the Tom Brady-New England divorce are lopsided, with Brady thriving for the 5-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Bill Belichick and the Patriots sinking fast. They are now on a three-game losing streak, their longest since 2002, and Brady’s replacement, Cam Newton, is playing so poorly that Belichick benched him during Sunday’s blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Belichick said Newton will remain the starter, but there could be a quick hook coming Sunday if he plays poorly during a vital AFC East game at the Buffalo Bills. Newton’s numbers have been getting worse and worse since he missed a game after a positive novel coronavirus test. On Sunday, he threw for only 98 yards and had three interceptions. Some have wondered whether he has lingering effects from the virus, while others question whether his shoulder problems from years past are resurfacing.
“I have to deliver,” Newton said after the loss. “I haven’t done that. One thing that can’t happen is I can’t allow myself to feel sorry for myself. I know what the issue is. You just have to attack it and do it better.”
His supporting cast isn’t helping. He leads the team with 244 rushing yards. There is little speed at wide receiver, and his tight ends have eight catches in six games. A loss to the Bills would make the Patriots more likely to earn a top-10 draft pick than a playoff spot.
One glaring weakness finally caught up to Seattle. The Seahawks got off to a 5-0 start behind an MVP-caliber performance from Wilson, who is leading one of the best offenses in football. That big-play ability was on display during Sunday night’s overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals; unfortunately, so was Seattle’s biggest weakness.
Kyler Murray and the Arizona offense exposed Seattle’s lack of pass rush, which has been an issue since the offseason when the Seahawks were unable to bring back Jadeveon Clowney. Murray dropped back 48 times, and he wasn’t sacked or hit even once. You have to go back to 2014 to find another game in which that happened.
The Seahawks thought they were going to be in good enough shape at edge rusher with Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, but Irvin was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Mayowa has played well, but it’s not translating into sacks, and Seattle has just nine in six games. The defense is allowing 368.7 passing yards per game, by far the most in the league. General Manager John Schneider may need to make a trade for a pass rusher before the Nov. 3 deadline.
Baker Mayfield pulled off an important comeback. There has been plenty of criticism directed at Cleveland’s quarterback this season, even with the Browns off to a strong start. And no quarterback had a worse beginning to a game this week than Mayfield, who started 0 for 5 against the Bengals, including an interception that led to star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffering a season-ending ACL tear on the return.
But Mayfield rebounded like a champion. He completed 22 of his final 23 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns. He also showed the leadership everyone expected when he was a No. 1 pick, passing up the chance to play it safe down 34-31 and instead going for the win. He pulled it off by throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds left.
“I told the guys, ‘Screw that; let’s go for the win,’ ” Mayfield said.
At 5-2, Cleveland is in position to earn a wild-card spot.
This year, no lead is safe. The Cardinals’ big comeback victory Sunday night was the 22nd time in seven weeks a team overcame a double-digit deficit to win.
The 22 comeback wins are more than during the 2011 season, when there were 21 after seven weeks. The most in the first seven weeks was in 1987, when there were 23. You may notice the trend. The 1987 season was a strike year with replacement players. The 2011 season followed a lockout that resulted in no offseason program. In years that are vastly different from normal, the seasons have opened with more crazy games and big comebacks.
Around the NFL
Even though it wasn’t a great Week 7 for kickers, they have bounced back following a bad start to the season. Remember in Week 1, when kickers connected on only 76.1 percent of their field goals? Heading into the Monday night game, kickers were making 83.9 percent of their field goal attempts — 3.4 percent better than last year.
Things look hopeless for the Jets. Adam Gase gave the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in Sunday’s 18-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and things started out well, with Sam Darnold completing 11 of 15 passes for 116 yards en route to a 10-6 halftime lead. But then the Jets had only four yards — yes, four — in the second half. Darnold completed only one pass and was sacked four times. It doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Kansas City next on the schedule. As of Monday night, the Chiefs were 19½-point favorites, one of the biggest spreads in league history.
Le’Veon Bell got a little bit of playing time in his Chiefs debut. He was on the field for 17 plays and had six carries for 39 yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was on the field for 27 plays and had only eight carries for 46 yards. The Chiefs didn’t need much from either: They ran just 51 plays in a 27-point victory over the Broncos.