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.
There were close games, brilliant plays and a couple of shock twists. This is getting interesting…
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
Last week: 1
Who saw that coming? The unbeaten Steelers fell into a hole against what should have been an easy-beat Cowboys and only prevailed in the clutch, with a touchdown catch to tight end Eric Ebron. Ben Roethlisberger picked up a bit of a bump on a tough quarterback hit, but is supposedly all good for next week. If anyone remembers Mason Rudolph, you’d better hope he is.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
Last week: 2
With a lot of talk swirling around different MVP contenders, one name who hasn’t been mentioned that much is Patrick Mahomes. He is just low-key killing it right now, throwing a 372 yards and another four touchdowns against the Panthers. Despite all that, the defence only just hung on against a surging Carolina offence, which lined up (and duly missed) a 67-yard field goal to steal it.
3. Buffalo Bills (7-2)
Last week: 6
Josh Allen was fair slinging it against one of the top teams in the league. Yes, the Seahawks have defensive issues (which seems very un-Seattle like), but Allen went toe-to-toe with Russell Wilson and came out well on top. The Bills’ defence also did a solid job making Wilson uncomfortable enough to make uncharacteristic errors. Next week is a juicy game at Arizona.
4. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Last week: 3
I was tempted to drop Seattle lower than the Ravens due to the win-loss nature of the week, but here we are. Things just weren’t quite gelling for the Hawks against the Bills, so there are a few things to address this week, before heading to LA to take on the Rams. I get the feeling that could help separate the men from the boys.
5. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Last week: 5
I can hear Ravens fans now and I’m sorry. But getting outplayed by a good Bills side shouldn’t slide Seattle behind Baltimore yet. It was a good road win for this side against a so-so opposition in the Colts to try and start getting this team back into their groove. There is a nice roadie coming up too against the Pats on Sunday night.
6. Tennessee Titans (6-2)
Last week: 7
Fresh from an upset loss to the Bengals, these Titans were ready to welcome the Bears to Nashville with some verve. Cornerback Desmond King was acquired in a trade with the Chargers and he obliged with a 63-yard fumble return touchdown. Meanwhile, AJ Brown came up with the touchdown celebration of the week after latching on to the goalpost like a sloth after his score. Are you not entertained?!
7. Green Bay Packers (6-2)
Last week: 8
After getting their pants pulled down by the Vikings, Green Bay were operating with hardly any running backs this week. It was a good thing they had a guy called Aaron Jones return from a calf injury and they were not shy to use him. Another good thing was even though they were low on troops, San Francisco were even lower, so this one ended up in a decent thrashing. To think this was last season’s NFC Championship match-up.
8. New Orleans Saints (6-2)
Last week: 11
I find it hilarious when you see breaking news pop up about Drew Brees taking the all-time touchdown from Tom Brady, because that’s a week-to-week proposition. However, this week, Brees overtook Brady, then got a bit of a lead, as they completely ruined the Bucs. On all sides of the ball, the Saints just caused pain for old man Brady and now suddenly sit atop the NFC standings. Are they the real deal?
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3)
Last week: 4
You just know these Bucs will be super annoyed right now. They just let New Orleans come into their house and completely trash it. I saw the pre-game coverage where all the experts were picking Tampa. And even if they were wrong, no one expected them to get so galactically wasted. The NFL should stream their team meetings this week. They will be entertaining.
10. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
Last week: 9
What to make of these Colts? They’re fighting hard and will win their fair share of games, but I’m just struggling to see it. They’re more a like classier version of the Bears. Now, to prove me totally wrong they take the show on the road to take on Tennessee. Is it an irresistible force versus an immovable object? We’ll see.
11. Arizona Cardinals (5-3)
Last week: 10
Anyone remember the Michael Vick experience? The reason I ask is because the closest thing in the current NFL has got to be Kyler Murray. He is just so much fun to watch. He led this game in passing and rushing yards and threw some dreamy long passes. It was another belter of a game too, but they just came up slightly short – both literally and figuratively, with a missed field goal to force overtime.
12. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
Last week: 12
The Rams got to chill on a bye week while watching their rivals, the Seahawks and the Cardinals, lose. So, if there’s any way to spend your recovery sessions, team meetings and games of Connect 4, that was probably as good as it gets. And what they get next week is a visiting Seattle side and a chance to take the top spot in the NFC West.
13. Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
Last week: 14
Jon Gruden’s Raiders are proving to be a sneaky little side. After having their game against the Chargers well under control, they just about let it slip at the end, but ultimately held their nerve. This side has won shoot outs, slug fests and downright crazy games so far this year and they beat the Chiefs too, so Gruden is doing something right in the desert. Next up, they play Denver at the Death Star.
14. Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Last week: 15
On the bye week, the Browns have had quarterback Baker Mayfield go into COVID protocol, but I’m sure they’re just being cautious. On the upside, they get their key guy back – running back Nick Chubb. Plus, they’ll get to let him loose on a porous Houston defence this week in Cleveland.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-3)
Last week: 16
Tua Tagovailoa time equals winning time for the Fins! Tagovailoa is two from two in his starts at quarterback and he was an integral part in the game that I was most looking forward to this week as an objective viewer. And it didn’t disappoint. Neither did Tagovailoa by making some brilliant throws, managing the game well and even running for some Houdini-like escapes out of the backfield. Miami have just won four straight, too.
16. Chicago Bears (5-4)
Last week: 13
I can’t pick a multi, but I got this Bears result right. Sort of. Chicago fell into a deep hole, trailing 17-zip up until the fourth quarter against Tennessee. Chicago did show some fight with Nick Foles again finding wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Jimmy Graham for key plays, but ultimately it was never going to be enough. Now they’ve got the suddenly hot Vikings coming to visit in prime time.
17. San Francisco 49ers (4-5)
Last week: 17
It seems like the Super Bowl hangover is at the point where you sink a couple of Panadol, drink a Gatorade and order a Macca’s delivery through slightly squinted eyes. Needless to say, 9ers fans, it’s in full effect. These are unprecedented times and I have never seen an injury/illness list like the one San Francisco are dealing with. Kyle Shanahan is like MacGyver at this point: trying to win games with a metal pipe, some string and a stick of chewing gum. Good luck.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)
Last week: 17
Things are so bad in the NFC East that Philly sat out the bye week with an underwhelming record and still sit comfortably in the division lead. They’ll be looking for a season sweep against the Giants in New York this week, so that could be interesting? Maybe.
19. Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
Last week: 26
I keep looking at this team and wonder how did they get here? Dalvin Cook is playing out of his mind right now, compiling 206 rushing yards against Detroit. Yes, 206 yards. Those numbers are like when you’ve set the defence to rookie level on Madden and pounded the rock all day. That level will go up this week, as he goes up against the Bears’ defence in Chicago.
20. Detroit Lions (3-5)
Last week: 18
Lions fans can now add Dalvin Cook to their nightmares, to go along with the existing Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson Jr retirement fever dreams. But for the playing group, a short memory could be the ticket, as they look to bounce back against Washington. A win for a 4-5 record wouldn’t be too shabby in the grand scheme of things.
21. Denver Broncos (3-5)
Last week: 19
Denver just about thought they had another comeback win. Fresh from last week’s buzzer-beater against the Chargers, the Broncos stormed back from a 34-13 fourth-quarter deficit against who else but the Falcons. To be fair, Drew Lock and the offence have been catching fire, but they had too much to do – even against the NFL’s elite chokers.
22. New England Patriots (3-5)
Last week: 23
Trailing by ten points deep into the second half, I started to wonder if Cam Newton had completely lost it. I mean, were they actually going to lose to the loss-perfect Jets? Eventually they came good and the Jets probably choked a little, but what about Pats kicker Nick Folk. The former Jet came in to the game with a dodgy back, then calmly slotted the game-winner against his old team. I’m trying to think of some funny pun here, but I’ve just got nothing.
23. Carolina Panthers (3-6)
Last week: 21
They fight and fight. And fight and fight and fight. Just like Itchy (or was it Scratchy?) these Panthers refuse to die. They gave Kansas City the full array of tricks on Monday, with the newly returned Christian McCaffrey showing why he’s the highest paid running back in the league and Teddy Bridgewater making some huge plays, including a fourth-quarter run and acrobatic dive for a first down. But they still lost and host an angry Tampa Bay this week. Good luck.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1)
Last week: 22
Coach Zac Taylor is preaching calm this week. I mean, the best week to have two players (cornerback Trae Waynes and offensive lineman Fred Johnson) test positive for COVID is surely during the bye week. I’m interested to see what they can bring to the contest against a Steelers team that are unbeaten, but are starting to have the burden of that weigh on them.
25. Atlanta Falcons (3-6)
Last week: 27
They need to reschedule the draw so that Atlanta can play the Chargers. I’m pretty sure they would both try to outdo each other in trying to lose the game and cause a major glitch in the matrix. Anyway, the Falcons just managed to hold on to a 21-point lead against the Broncos – led by none other than Olamide Zaccheaus. The wide receiver led Atlanta’s receiving yards with 103 and dragged in a 51-yard bomb from Matt Ryan. Oh, they also waived problem child and former first round pick Takk McKinley too.
26. Los Angeles Chargers (2-6)
Last week: 24
Out of all the Chargers new uniforms, I like the navy-on-navy look the best. Damn, they look sharp. Pity they couldn’t get a win in them, but Justin Herbert really did his part for the Bolts to come away with the W. He put two perfect passes up high for his jump-ball receivers to drag in. Neither could and that was that. Now for a beauty of a clash as they head to Miami to take on the Dolphins. That might settle some pre-draft debates.
27. Washington Football Team (2-6)
Last week: 25
Maybe this franchise is cursed. Their quarterbacks continue to pick up gruesome injuries. Kyle Allen dislocated his ankle, which is something I never even realised you could do to an ankle. Comeback champion Alex Smith subbed in and just about led the team to victory over the Giants, before fading faster than my enthusiasm for running. It will be interesting to see how they go from here, with Smith back at the helm.
28. Houston Texans (2-6)
Last week: 28
They are getting back to a bit of Texans football, which is good to see. The defence is still struggling to stop anyone, including Jake Luton (you’ve probably heard of him), but Deshaun Watson is getting his offence back to making plays, as was shown by Will Fuller burning Jacksonville for a long touchdown. They now head to Cleveland to try and keep things trending upwards.
29. Dallas Cowboys (2-7)
Last week: 29
Garrett Gilbert should’ve got a slow clap from his side. Not the sarcastic kind either. I’m talking about the kind of slow clap that builds to a fever pitch of applause, like the one the Jamaican bobsled team got in Cool Runnings, just after they’d crashed in nearly doing something special. Because Gilbert nearly brought about the upset of the year. Sure, the Steelers were flat, but Gilbert made some really nice plays out of the pocket, which brought some Tony Romo flashbacks.
30. New York Giants (2-7)
Last week: 31
I got fooled by these Giants after their win against Washington, because I was sure they had a couple more wins. But no, those were just a couple of really close losses against heavily favoured opponents. The NFC East is still wide open though, so if they can maybe get to 5-11 at season’s end, they might have a shot.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
Last week: 30
Another unheralded guy steps in at quarterback, as rookie Jake Luton suited up for the Jags against Houston. And he didn’t look too bad. He connected well with receiver DJ Chark and running back James Roinson got his fill too. Plus, Luton pulled out a devastating spin move on his way to running in a touchdown. So, I guess he’ll do. For now.
32. New York Jets (0-9)
Last week: 32
It really did seem like the perfect season was going to end for the Jets, as they led handily against the old enemy, the Patriots. Joe Flacco subbed in at quarterback and flung three touchdowns and 262 yards in a pretty decent outing. The only letdown was the key interception he threw in the dying stages and then failed a game-winning drive to let it slip. Never mind, you Jets are still perfect in my eyes.