My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season conclude today with thoughts on the eight teams from NFC south and west divisions.
A slew of upsets, windy weirdness and more rookies excelling. Let’s get it!
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0)
Last week: 1
Hell of a game in Baltimore for the Steelers to remain unbeaten. There was a lot of worry when linebacker Devin Bush was lost for the season, but so far Robert Spillane has filled in very well – adding an interception return for a touchdown, which is a rarity against Lamar Jackson. Mike Tomlin called it “winning ugly”, but what else would you expect from one of these games. Big hits, injuries, ejections – just another chapter in one of the NFL’s great rivalries.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-1)
Last week: 2
You know when you do such good work that you get let off early? No, me neither. But Patrick Mahomes does. He was sat for the best part of the last quarter against the Jets having tossed for 416 yards and five meat pies. No point in risking him any further in an easy game that was already well over.
3. Seattle Seahawks (6-1)
Last week: 3
That’s more like it. Last week DK Metcalf blew up on social media for a touchdown saving chase and tackle. This week? He was rewarded for his never-say-die attitude with 12 receptions, 161 yards and two touchdowns. When you consider that Russell Wilson only threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns – it’s clear to see which way he was looking. Next up, a trip to Buffalo.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1)
Last week: 5
So confident was I that Tampa Bay would beat the Giants on Monday Night Football, that I’ve ranked them here and started writing this review without even looking at the game. So, let’s see how that approach works for me… Holy heck, it almost ended up not well at all. If not for a defensive pass interference no call on the Giants two-point conversion, this could’ve gone to overtime. But it didn’t and now Uncle Tom and co. gear up to take on the Saints. Bring it.
5. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Last week: 5
Despite costly turnovers from Lamar Jackson, losing left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season ending injury and having Matthew Judon ejected for contacting an official (harsh call by the way), the Ravens were still one play away from stealing this game. They put up a whopping 265 rushing yards, contained Pittsburgh to just 48 and if Lamar had made one more throw at the end, this could’ve been a different story. Next up, another tough one at Indy.
6. Buffalo Bills (6-2)
Last week: 8
Alright then, the year is 1991. The song topping the charts was ‘(Everything I do) I Do It for You’ by Bryan Adams, to go along with its accompanying movie ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ starring Kevin Costner. It was also the last time Buffalo had gone 4-0 against division foes. They were also in their great era of Super Bowl losses (four in a row), so I’m guessing they won’t want to do that again. What a time to be alive.
7. Tennessee Titans (5-2)
Last week: 7
Disappointing loss at Cincinnati has seen the Titans slide a little bit. I know, losing to a side with only one win to their name doesn’t appear to be a good sign, but Tennessee weren’t awful. If anything, they probably applied a lot of pressure to Joe Burrow but let him weasel his way out of the pocket to make key plays. Derrick Henry rumbled, while Corey Davis and AJ Brown got scores too. Come to think of it – they have some big bodies at those skill positions. Look for a bounce back against Chicago.
8. Green Bay Packers (5-2)
Last week: 6
Starting to stutter a little bit in the past couple of weeks are these Packers. This week, they were blindsided – both literally and figuratively – by arch nemesis, the Vikings. Rush defence was paper-thin and there was a guy name Cook wearing #33, who Green Bay didn’t seem to want to know. The offense lookedokay, but there’s a bunch of stuff to get right before taking on a wounded 49ers on Thursday Night Football.
9. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
Last week: 12
Now here I was thinking that the Colts are one of the drearier teams in the NFL. And they probably still are, but boy oh boy, does running back Nyheim Hines know how to celebrate a touchdown. After his two scores against Detroit he performed an acrobatic display of a front somersault (probably not the technical name for it, but you get the idea). Those got the attention of Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles too. Now, that’s some real cred, right there.
10. Arizona Cardinals (5-2)
Last week: 13
Got some grief last week for not showing enough love to the Cardinals despite their epic win over Seattle, but perhaps a fortuitous bye week bump into the top 10 might suffice? Coach Kliff Kingsbury announced that two un-named players have been put in the COVID protocol, although linebacker Devon Kennard then tweeted that he was one of those players anyway #whoops. Interesting game coming up against a resurgent Miami side too. So yes, Kyler v Tua #hellyeah
11. New Orleans Saints (5-2)
Last week: 14
Tremendous win on the road against the Bears by Sean Payton’s collective. Alvin Kamara just keeps on being Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees orchestrated an efficient offense against a Chi-Town unit that thrives on strangling teams. Kept cool heads too after having given up a 23-13 lead in the fourth quarter, as Chicago forced overtime. But there was no panic and they got the field goal needed to seal it. Nice win.
12. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
Last week: 9
Yikes. What happened here? One week on from making the Bears defence confused, LA waltzed into the Hard Rock Café Stadium and made the Miami D look more like Chicago! Not exactly sure if the Rams skipped having a Snickers before the game of something, but these guys looked out of sorts and fell behind big. They now have a bye to think things over before Seattle comes to town. Damn, I feel like a Snickers now.
13. Chicago Bears (5-3)
Last week: 10
I mentioned last week that the Bears had been offensively inept, but that only a mild improvement could vastly help their fortunes. And so was the case against New Orleans, as they nearly made just enough plays to steal this game. Quarterback Nick Foles is struggling, but on occasion he can make key plays to guys like Allen Robinson, Jimmy Graham and rookie Darnell Mooney – who is becoming a sneaky good option. The bad news for these Bad News Bears is that next up they’re off to Tennessee, where the Titans will be out for blood.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (4-3)
Last week: 15
For all the offensive firepower on display in their match against the Browns, you would’ve thought this should’ve been a shootout. But alas the wind in Cleveland thwarted any such aspirations. Both teams were bugged by the conditions, with only one touchdown in the game, as Derek Carr passed to Hunter Renfrow in the fourth quarter. Good, tough win for the Raiders though. Didn’t know they had it in them.
15. Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Last week: 11
Yeah, I know – the Browns hold a better record than the Raiders, yet are still behind them in the rankings? True, however it’s close and Las Vegas just beat them at home, so deal with it. Not sure what the Browns can take from this game as it was bizarre. Baker Mayfield led all passers with just 122 yards, so that shows just what the wind was doing. And both team’s kickers will be having nightmares about that day. Chalk it up to experience.
16. Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Last week: 17
Party in the city where the heat is on. Welcome to Miami. Also welcome to Tua Tagovailoa making his first start at quarterback, as the Fins welcomed Aaron Donald and the Rams to town. It could be argued that Tua didn’t do very much, as the defence and special teams chimed in with scoring plays, but on the other hand – you could say that his mere presence elevated everyone around him, as they usher in a new era of success in Florida. It’s far-fetched, but I like it.
17. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
Last week: 15
Sometimes you get served up a hospital pass on the schedule and getting the Seahawks who were a tad peeved after losing to Arizona qualifies. Healthily outplayed and looking at a short turnaround to take on a similarly peeved Packers side is the least of the 9ers problems. First, Jimmy Garoppolo has a high ankle sprain which has him sidelined for an unknown amount of time and George Kittle is out for up to eight weeks, with a foot issue. Yikes! Just on that – how popular have high ankle sprains become this year? Seems like everyone’s getting one.
18. Detroit Lions (3-4)
Last week: 20
There’s no place like home for the Lions who have now lost every game they’ve played at Ford Field this season. But at least in their earlier games against the Bears and Saints they fought hard and were withing striking distance, cos they got flogged by Indy on Sunday (or our Monday). Next, they hit the road where they are 3-1, to take on the Vikings. Maybe avoid having that game in your multi.
19. Denver Broncos (3-4)
Last week: 21
Better late than never. And this was about as late as you could leave it. Denver came back from 21-3 down with a touch over six minutes left in the third quarter and stormed home. The underrated Phillip Lindsay erupted for a 55-yard touchdown run, then in the fourth quarter Drew Lock went bananas – hitting Albert Okwuegbunam and DaeSean Hamilton for touchdowns – before a late drive was aided by a defensive pass interference call to give them one more play. That ended up being a KJ Hamler touchdown reception. 31-30. Game over.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)
Last week: 23
They beat the Cowboys. Goodie gumdrops. Seriously though, a win is a win and these Iggles lead the NFC Least, as they head into the bye week. There was a little bit of booing from their home fans as they headed to the sheds at halftime, but there wasn’t too much worry in this one. Carson Wentz is still not protecting the ball well enough – getting picked off twice by Cowboys rookie Treyvon Diggs. So, a bit to ponder over the break.
21. Carolina Panthers (3-5)
Last week: 19
Much like my mood on Wednesdays – the Panthers have hit a bit of a dip. Three straight losses, including the latest on Thursday Night Football, hosting the Falcons. Apart from a couple of flashes on offense, they struggled all night against an Atlanta defence that isn’t exactly renowned for, well, defending. Carolina’s defence did get pushed around some but employed more of a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ ethos. Christian McCaffrey is not far away from returning and he will be needed, along with a decent all-round tune up.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1)
Last week: 26
Out of all this week’s results, I think Cincy’s win over the Titans made me the happiest. Great to see the hard work these guys have been putting in finally get rewarded, especially after some close calls and heartbreakers. Missing running back Joe Mixon was not ideal, but Joe Burrow made do and Giovani Bernard grabbed a pair of touchdowns – on the ground and in the air. Next week is a bye, so let’s just let these cats bask for a bit.
23. New England Patriots (2-5)
Last week: 20
Dark clouds are gathering in Foxboro. The new New England Patriots have now lost four straight games. That’s new. A week after Cam Newton berated himself for not being good enough, he comes up with a match-sealing fumble at Buffalo. I know 2-5 is not a good look, but they were in this game up to their eyeballs and given the personnel that is missing from this side, they are competing. But will all that matter? We’ll see.
24. Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)
Last week: 22
Just waiting for this to turn out like an old Scooby Doo cartoon, where head coach Anthony Lynn rips off his disguise to reveal he’s actually Dan Quinn and the Chargers team are all really the Falcons. Cos, that’s the kind of choke level these guys are at. Three consecutive 17-point leads blown in their losses. Justin Herbert sure does throw a long ball though and he would’ve got away with it, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids – Drew Lock and KJ Hamler.
25. Washington Football Team (2-5)
Last week: 24
So, what do you get up to on a bye week when you have no injuries or other noteworthy news? Throw out some trade rumours of course! Veteran pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan apparently wants out after being somewhat demoted behind young’uns Montez Sweat and Chase Young, while second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins is also sitting on the pine and – like Sherryl Crow said: “I think a change would do you good”.
26. Minnesota Vikings (2-6)
Last week: 27
Good win against the Pack at Lambeau Field and one gets the feeling that with the squad these guys have, they can be a thorn in several more highly fancied sides. Dalvin Cook went off in this one – putting up 226 all-purpose yards, rushing for three touchdowns and receiving one on a 50-yard screen pass. He was doing Green Bay a heckin’ bamboozle.
27. Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
Last week: 29
What a treat – Falcons fans got to watch their team lose in primetime. Except, they didn’t lose. This team hung tough, led by an annoying defence and the Matty Ice/Jet Jones tandem. Julio ended up with 137 yards on a rainy night and Ryan managed to haul his carcass for a 13-yard touchdown run. Kept waiting for them to blow it in the home stretch. They missed an extra point to keep it a one-score game and I thought “here we go”. Then they gave up a big gain on 3rd and 18 – “Yep, this is how it happens”. But in the end, they held on and got the win, with a Denver date up next.
28. Houston Texans (1-6)
Last week: 28
Tricky spot for the Texans right now. It’s almost as is the trade deadline is a few weeks too early, as they are unsure whether they can bounce back into contention or just start building for next year. The biggest chat around possibly trading players surrounds their wide receivers (cos apparently, the went so well last time). Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller are two guys under the microscope as to whether they can get good value or not.
29. Dallas Cowboys (2-6)
Last week: 25
Greg. The. Leg. Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein had one of the plays of the week and possibly kick of the year so far. In very blustery conditions at Philly, he had a 59-yard field goal attempt just before half time. And what followed was a beauty! He used the wind to perfection – kicking on a low trajectory and aiming it left, so as it flew the wind grabbed it and dragged it back to the right. Basically, for a right footer – he bent the ball backwards. It was amazing, but that was about all there was for the Cowboys to celebrate.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
Last week: 30
One wonders what a bye week must be like in Jacksonville… I tend to think of Hawaiian shirts and sipping cocktails in their stadium pool. Yeah, that’d do nicely, although probably nowhere near the truth. Quarterback Gardner Minshew is out injured for a while with fractures and a ligament strain on his throwing hand. Not that he was playing well, anyway. So now, step up rookie Jake Luton. You guys might as well head back to the pool for another Daiquiri.
31. New York Giants (1-6)
Last week: 31
Talk about taking a knife to a gunfight (thanks, I had that one in mind all week). The G-Men were served up for TB12 and the rest of the Avengers to destroy in primetime. So, how did that go? Almost very, very well. Daniel Jones does nothing to inspire confidence a lot of the time. Then, when it’s ‘miracle fourth down time’ be springs to life. He should have had that two-point conversion at the end too (just slightly late on the pass). Yeah. Almost.
32. New York Jets (0-8)
Last week: 32
Great win for linebacker Avery Williamson. He posted a hilarious pic on twitter in full Jets uniform trying to hail a cab in New York. The reason he did that was because he had just been traded from the winless Jets to the lossless Steelers. Tell me that wouldn’t make your Sunday. The Jets are cleaning house and Avery is cleaning up!