Judgements IX: Suddenly, AFC no longer a game of solitaire for Patriots
Sunday's two biggest winners: Baltimore and the rest of the AFC.
First, to the Ravens. With their 37-20 beatdown of New England they proved they can play with ... and beat ... anyone in either conference. Two weeks ago they went to Seattle and won. Now this.
More than that, though, they moved to within a game of the Patriots in the all-important race for home-field advantage. Except it's more like a half-game because if the two tie, the Ravens win by virtue of head-to-head play.
And, trust me, Tom Brady and the Pats don't want to meet Baltimore in the playoffs. The Ravens are Brady's Kryptonite, with the six-time Super Bowl winner 2-2 against them in the playoffs, throwing more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (6).
Now on to the rest of the AFC. Suddenly, New England no longer is a prohibitive favorite to reach Super Bowl LIV. It's still the team of choice, but not by a wide margin ... not after Sunday night when Baltimore overwhelmed the Pats on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
That wasn't supposed to happen, especially with the Patriots' defense and with Bill Belichick having a week to scheme Lamar Jackson. But it did. And now teams like Kansas City and Houston (both on the Patriots' schedule) can hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, New England can be caught at the finish line.
I know, it was just one game. I also know how the Patriots respond to big losses. But now the AFC no longer appears to be a game of solitaire.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. The Jets’ Adam Gase is wrong. You can be embarrassed by “this sh*t.” And he just was. It’s one thing to get drilled by New England, quite another to get lit up by … Miami? We don’t make ‘em up, folks. Gase couldn’t win when he coached there, and he can’t win there when he doesn’t.
2. Houston is the team to beat in the AFC South, not Indianapolis. The Texans are in first, and the Colts just lost Jacoby Brissett to what coach Frank Reich thinks is a sprained MCL. That will open some distance between the two.
3. Cleveland’s Freddie Kitchens is moving up on our list of coaches on the hot seat. He’s 2-6, his quarterback has a bigger mouth than passer rating and he just lost to a third-string quarterback who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass and had safety Jermaine Whitehead go on a profane and racist post-game Twitter rant that included death threats. Kitchens might have a team with talent, but he has a team without direction and discipline, too ... and that's on him.
4. Time for Chicago GM Ryan Pace to answer for Mitch Trubisky. He traded up to get him with the second pick of the 2017 draft. Patrick Mahomes was taken 10th and Deshaun Watson 12th. The Bears are a mess, and while Trubisky isn’t the only problem he’s the biggest.
5. Guess New England's defense isn't one of the best of all time, as more than one media outlet broadcast. In fact, it wasn't one of the best Sunday, shredded for 372 yards by Baltimore and unable to get off the field in the second half ... and you can look it up. The Ravens scored TDs on their first two second-half series, each 14-play drives, and produced four drives of 62 yards for the night, each of 11 or more plays. Defense was where the Patriots were air tight ... until, of course, they weren't. The past two weeks Cleveland the Ravens gashed them for 369 yards rushing and an average of 5.9 yards per carry, and that's a problem. Looks like the bye comes at just the right time.
1. Now that Miami has a win, who’s in line for ‘Bama’s Tua Tagovailoa? Good question, and here’s your mid-season answer: If the season were to end today, Cincinnati holds the first pick in the 2020 draft, followed by (in order) Washington, the Jets, Miami and Atlanta.
2. Super Bowl LIV I want to see: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Tom Brady.
3. Perfect day for the NFC North. The Packers, Vikings, Bears and Lions were 0-4. I told you this division was balanced.
4. Perfect day for the AFC West, too. The Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders and Broncos were 4-0.
5. Apparently, Moore is not less. There’s no overstating the importance of Matt Moore’s play in relief of the injured Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs were supposed to be toast sans St. Patrick. They’re not. If Kansas City closes in on New England down the stretch, consider Sunday's defeat of Minnesota a reason why.
6. I never thought Aaron Rodgers could produce anything as dreadful as those State Farm plugs. Then I watched him vs. the Chargers.
7. No need to wait on Doug Marrone making a decision on his quarterbacks. Gardner Minshew just made it for him.
8. When I look at the Bills’ schedule, I think they make the playoffs. Their next three opponents (Cleveland, Miami and Denver) are a combined 6-19. But when I look at the Bills’ quarterback, I make them an early playoff exit. You don’t go far if your quarterback is as inaccurate as Josh Allen.
9. Let’s just call it as it is: It was stupid for the Eagles to play DeSean Jackson a week before their bye. He lasted four plays after re-injuring his ab.
10. Best video of the afternoon: The Carolina Panthers waving from the field to the 21 pediatric cancer patients they hosted.
11. Guess we know now why New England paid such a stiff price for Mohamed Sanu. Going forward, the guy will be invaluable to Brady -- a reliable set of hands when Julian Edelman is blanketed.
12. There’s another New York Marathon scheduled for next weekend: It’s called the Jets-Giants game.
13. The more Chicago loses, the more Raiders’ fans rejoice. The Raiders hold Chicago’s first-round pick in 2020.
14. Two things that bother me about the Vikings’ loss: 1) Their inability to stop big plays on defense and 2) Kirk Cousins’ play down the stretch. I know he didn’t have Adam Thielen most of the game, but if you’re a Super Bowl contender – which the Vikings think they are – you must close out an injury depleted opponent (no Patrick Mahomes, Eric Fisher, Frank Clark and Alex Okafor) … with a backup quarterback who sat out 2018 … and in a venue where it hadn’t won in four of its last five starts. Yet Kirk Cousins couldn’t. Not when it mattered.
15. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as home-field advantage. Home teams were 11-1 Sunday, 11-0 if you exclude the Jags’ loss in London.
16. Time for the Jets to call Ghostbusters.
17. Too bad the Bears don’t have a running back like Jordan Howard. Oh, wait a minute …
18. Good day to be an Allen at quarterback. Brandon, Kyle and Josh all won.
19. My guess: Cam Newton doesn’t play again this season and doesn’t play again for Carolina … period.
20. I don’t care how lame the Pittsburgh offense looks. Do not scratch the Steelers from the playoff picture. Here’s why: They’re 4-4, and four of their next five games are vs. opponents (Cleveland twice, Cincinnati and Arizona) with a combined record of 7-25-1.
WILSON, McCAFFREY MOVE TO HEAD OF MVP CLASS
With Patrick Mahomes sidelined, the league MVP race is supposed to be wide open.
Except it’s not.
Halfway through the season, it's a two-man race, with Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffrey the two men ... and Lamar Jackson beginning to close from the outside.
Rrewind the videotape to Sunday’s games if you're not sure why.
All McCaffrey did was score three more times and produce over 150 yards from scrimmage for the sixth time this season. The only other players in league history to eclipse 150 in six of their first eight games are Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown and Matt Forte, and that’s significant. But so is this: McCaffrey is responsible for 45.8 percent of the Panthers’ offense and 59 percent of Carolina’s offensive touchdowns.
The Panthers are 5-3 not because of Kyle Allen but because of Run CMC. He’s carrying them.
But Wilson’s doing the same on the West Coast, dialing up a season-best five-TD game Sunday to overcome Tampa Bay in overtime. Wilson has ratings of 102.6 or better in eight of nine starts, and, like McCaffrey is shouldering the load.
Once upon a time, the Seahawks belonged to the Legion of Boom ... but not anymore. Now it’s all about Wilson, and there is no hotter … or more accurate … quarterback anywhere. The guy has league- best 22 touchdown passes and one interception, has been involved in 25 of the Seahawks’ 30 offensive TDs and has an NFL-best 118.2 passer rating. If you’re wondering why Seattle is 7-2 and a threat to the 49ers in the NFC West, you’re looking at him.
So take your pick: Wilson or McCaffrey? You can’t go wrong with either. But here's a suggestion: Make Wilson the early favorite. Quarterbacks have won the last six league MVPs and 11 of the past 12.
MY TOP FIVE
1. NEW ORLEANS … Brees is so good he goes back to Purdue and wins.
2. SAN FRANCISCO … Jimmy G better to watch than Kenny G is to listen.
3. NEW ENGLAND ... Recovering after hit-and-run in Baltimore.
4. BALTIMORE … John Harbaugh 13-1 in prime-time games at home, winning last 11. Honest.
5. SEATTLE … Coming soon to a theater near you: “Russell Wilson’s War.”
MY BOTTOM FIVE
32. AL RIVERON … One more screw-up, and he loses his Magic 8-Ball.
31. CINCINNATI … Mike Brown surrenders; calls Conan the Hero Dog to the rescue.
30. N.Y. JETS … Fireman Ed interviews as next team GM.
29. MIAMI … Say good night to Tanking for Tua.
28. WASHINGTON … Next starting QB: Howie Kendrick.
STAT THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME
That third-period field goal for Miami marked the first time the Dolphins scored a point … let me repeat: a point … in the third quarter this season.
AND ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
According to Elias Stats, the Bears’ 9 net yards in the first half Sunday are the team’s lowest first-half yardage over the last 40 years. But why stop there? They have a total … total … of three touchdowns in the first quarter this season. I guess that Washington Nationals’ PowerPoint didn’t work.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET
DENVER QB BRANDON ALLEN. He hadn’t played a game before Sunday. He hadn’t thrown a pass. He hadn’t played an NFL snap. In short, he was a journeyman quarterback pressed into duty only because Joe Flacco is out for most … if not all … of the season. Result: The guy wins, completes 12 of 20 passes, throws two TDs and puts up a 125.6 rating. "He was incredible today," said teammate Von Miller. Well, good for him. It’s about time something good happens to Denver, and, no, I don’t know what occurs when Drew Lock returns. What I do know is that Allen has a memory he’ll cherish forever.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“It’s the NFL, man. You can’t be embarrassed by this sh*t.” – N.Y. Jets coach Adam Gase after … what else? … an embarrassing loss to Miami.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE, PART DEUX
“I can't get the football to save my life.” – Cleveland wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
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