A bevy of preseason favorites in the NFC are struggling to find their way, and it’s beginning to get worrisome for a few of the teams.
There’s an old saying that predictions are worth as much as the paper they are written on. That’s false. The paper is worth more.
Going into the season, there was a general consensus that the Philadelphia Eagles were even better than the edition that won the Super Bowl after adding Michael Bennett to the mix. The Minnesota Vikings, who went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum at the helm, upgraded with Kirk Cousins before adding Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line.
In Atlanta, the Falcons were supposed to be back with vengeance after struggling to a wild card berth under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Dan Quinn and Co. were going to fight it out in the brutal NFC South, with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers as fellow playoff teams a year ago, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the clear afterthought.
Fast forward to the quarter pole of the season, and that’s all anything but reality.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles haven’t been able to get everybody on the same page in any game this season. In the season opener, the defense was terrific but Nick Foles wasn’t. Against the Buccaneers, Foles and the offense finally got going bu the defense was torched by Ryan Fitzpatrick to the tune of 27 points. It has gone that way through Sunday, when Philadelphia blew a 17-3 lead at Tennessee, losing to the Titans, 23-20.
As for Minnesota, the Vikings are struggling to do anything right. Cousins has been the one exception, as he has amassed 1,387 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Cousins has been worth every bit of his $27 million this year, but the rest of the roster has been lacking.
The Vikings desperately need the defense to step up, something it hasn’t been able to do in each of the past three games. Minnesota has allowed a total of 94 points over that span, leading to an 0-2-1 record. If not for a horrendous roughing the passer call against Clay Matthews Jr., that mark would be 0-3.
In a loaded NFC North, the Vikings can’t afford to keep sinking deeper. Oh, and no pressure, but they now head to Philadelphia for a Week 5 date with the Eagles.
Of all the aforementioned contenders fighting to stay afloat, the Falcons are in the biggest trouble. Atlanta is 1-3 after losing in the final seconds of a shootout to the Cincinnati Bengals, and now faces the prospects of playing the Pittsburgh Steelers this coming Sunday at Heinz Field.
Playing away from home against Pittsburgh and that offense is always a challenge, but the Falcons are playing with a short deck. Atlanta is without Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, three integral pieces of the unit that has short-circuited without the trio. Over the past two games, the Falcons are giving up an average of 40 points despite playing both at home.
Again, the season is long and memories are short. If the Eagles, Vikings and Falcons get rolling and start to move up in the standings, the worries of the present will be fodder of the past.
However, football isn’t the marathon most other sports are. It’s a sprint. And the Eagles, Vikings and Falcons are slow out of the blocks.
Top 10 rivalries in NFL history
1. Chicago Bears – Green Bay Packers
2. Washington Redskins – Dallas Cowboys
3. Kansas City Chiefs – Oakland Raiders
4. New York Giants – Philadelphia Eagles
5. New Orleans Saints – Atlanta Falcons
6. Pittsburgh Steelers – Baltimore Ravens
7. Los Angeles Rams – San Francisco 49ers
8. Pittsburgh Steelers – Oakland Raiders
9. Cleveland Browns – Cincinnati Bengals
10. Green Bay Packers – Minnesota Vikings
– Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on his overtime decision
The Colts apparently aren’t satisfied with a tie, which is fine, unless you turn the game into a loss. That’s what happened on Sunday in a 37-34 overtime defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans. Indianapolis faced a 4th and 4 at its own 43-yard line with under a minute remaining. Reich went for it, the Colts came up empty, and two plays later were walking off the field in shock.
This is the kind of game that can stick with a team for a long time.
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Drew Brees will need 201 passing yards in Week 5 on Monday night against the Redskins to break the all-time passing yardage record of 71,940, held by Peyton Manning.
Info learned this week
1. Trubisky torches Bucs as Bears keep rolling
Mitchell Trubisky has taken plenty of heat in recent weeks, with his play holding the Chicago Bears back. On Sunday, Trubisky stepped up to the challenge and then some, throwing six touchdowns — including five in the first half — as the Bears rolled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-10.
Trubisky was fantastic, throwing for 354 yards on 26 attempts. The Bears are now 3-1 and leading the NFC North by a half-game over the Packers, who pummeled the Buffalo Bills at Lambeau Field. If Chicago can continue getting competent performances out of the offense, it could very well be playing in January behind the runaway Defensive Player of the Year (to this point), Khalil Mack.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen the last of FitzMagic. Ryan Fitzpatrick was rough in the early going, throwing for 126 yards and a pick before Jameis Winston replaced him in the second half. Winston, fresh off a three-game suspension for groping an Uber driver, hit on 16-of-20 attempts but with two interceptions.
2. Pats put Dolphins in place with resounding win
The New England Patriots let everybody know that they are very much alive and well. Conversely, the Miami Dolphins put to bed any notion that they belong in the contention circle, getting blown out 38-0 at Gillette Stadium.
Miami was completely and utterly hammered by the Patriots, who held Ryan Tannehill to 100 passing yards before he was replaced by Brock Osweiler. Yes, it got that bad. Osweiler made an appearance and it wasn’t due to injury.
New England got a quality game from rookie running back Sony Michel, who chewed up 112 yards on the ground while Tom Brady threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns — albeit with two interceptions — in the win. All told, the Patriots only find themselves a game back of the Dolphins in the AFC East, who suddenly have ample issues.
3. SNF recap
4. Jags trounce Jets; lose Fournette again
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-1, getting back on schedule after pounding the hapless New York Jets. Without any headliner weapon to speak of, rookie Sam Darnold was outmatched and overwhelmed against Jacksonville’s defense, going 17-of-34 for 167 yards and a touchdown in the 31-12 defeat.
Jacksonville, though, has to be worried about Leonard Fournette. The second-year running back left with a hamstring injury for the second time in four games this season. The Jaguars have to hope the ailment isn’t serious, with the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium looming this upcoming weekend.
5. Broncos try to slow Mahomes, Chiefs on MNF
The Denver Broncos are trying to stop what has become a phenomenon in Kansas City. The Chiefs are the AFC’s lone unbeaten team, largely because of Patrick Mahomes and his 13 touchdown passes through three games. Now, Denver becomes the first team to see him for the second time, hoping to expose some flaws.
If the Broncos can win, they would move into first place of the AFC West via tiebreaker. However, a loss would put the Chiefs up two games with road wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver. It’s early, but this is a huge swing game in the divisional race for both parties.
Barry Sanders might be the most underrated player in NFL history. Despite retiring at 30 years old, Sanders played 10 NFL seasons and made the Pro Bowl in each one. The Detroit Lions star never had less than 1,115 rushing yards in a season, won the NFL MVP in 1997 with 2,053 yards on the ground, and retired with 15,269 yards, second-most all time when he hung up the cleats.
Sanders doesn’t get talked about with Jim Brown and Walter Payton as much as he should. He was magnificent, and possibly the most elusive player the sport has ever seen.
We care far too much about style points in the NFL.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers played an uneven game against the 49ers. Philip Rivers threw a pick-six, the Niners led 14-0, and things looked bad. On top of it all, Los Angeles kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal and two extra points. Still, the Chargers emerged with a 29-27 win, getting to 2-2 on the season.
The Tennessee Titans are another example in winning ugly. Tennessee fell behind 17-3 in the second half against the Eagles but rallied for a 20-17 overtime win, including multiple fourth-down conversions in the fifth quarter.
In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks effectively kept their season alive — for now — beating the Arizona Cardinals, 20-17, on a last-second Sebastian Janikowski field goal. It wasn’t a masterpiece against the league’s only remaining winless team, but it was enough to finish the first quarter of the season at 2-2 despite three road games.
All that matters in the NFL is winning. Ugly or otherwise.