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.
NFL games on Thursday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday made for a football buffet this week. So, who rumbled, bumbled or stumbled?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1)
Last week: 1
Super Bowl preview? It wouldn’t be half bad. The Chiefs kept the winning roll going against Drew Brees and the Saints. They were really made to work for it too, with the Saints defence causing Patrick Mahomes and the KC offence all sorts of problems throughout. In fact if Mahomes didn’t have out-of-this-world talent, they would’ve been in trouble. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire picked up a high ankle sprain, but they have an excellent insurance policy in Le’Veon Bell, who’s starting to look more comfortable.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3)
Last week: 3
The Bills get their first division win since 1995. Wow. They did in splendid fashion too, thrashing the Broncos by about a bazillion points. And it wasn’t even that close, as the Bills shot themselves in the foot a number of times in the second half with offensive penalties. The scary thing is that they left a bunch of points on the table. They’re getting hot at the right time.
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3)
Last week: 5
When they were gifted a fumble by the Panthers in the first half it looked as though the Packers would pull away and win by a mile. Up 21-3 at halftime, they proceeded to come out in the second half and become like me in a Westfield mall – a bit lost. On the one hand they never looked like they’d lose, but they left if far closer for comfort than Matt LaFleur would prefer. Sorry, that rhyme was unintentional.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)
Last week: 2
You wanna know what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold. That’s exactly what the Steelers are right now. Juju Smith-Schuster decided to do some dancing on the Bengals midfield logo pre-game, then disrespected possession by coughing up a fumble from a fired-up Bengals hit. From there Pittsburgh fell way behind the lowly Bengals and, really, on form this does not look like a playoff team at all. Injuries are piling up on defence, and whatever has happened to their offence?
5. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
Last week: 4
The game against the Chiefs proved to be a real tricky spot for New Orleans. They had been going okay with Taysom Hill at quarterback, but really they wanted to get Drew Brees back in the groove ahead of the playoffs. Plus KC represented a huge challenge. It didn’t pan out as we would’ve expected, as the Saints offence was largely stymied, and even though the defence played brilliantly against a crazy-good offence, Drew and co. just couldn’t quite keep pace. Next up is a Boxing Day (Australian time) battle with the Vikings.
6. Seattle Seahawks (10-4)
Last week: 6
This was a very good week for the Seahawks, as they won against a resurgent Washington team by leaning on the run. But also they watched as the Rams lost an absolute shocker. They now sit atop the NFC West, with the Rams coming to visit next week in what will be a crucial game. Stay tuned.
7. Cleveland Browns (10-4)
Last week: 7
A huge amount of credit goes to the Browns this week. Having suffered a heartbreaker against Baltimore last week, they could very well have slipped up against the Giants, who have done it to a couple of teams already this season. But no. They came out looking like the much better team than they are and made the G-Men pay. Baker Mayfield continued his good form with another 297 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. Come crunch time, they are going to need him.
8. Tennessee Titans (10-4)
Last week: 8
Derrick Henry claimed another victim, unleashing another huge fend on Lions defensive back Alex Myres. Needless to say, it didn’t end well. Not for Myres anyway. For Henry, Tannehill and the Titans the game ended very well indeed. Next week they take the show on the road against A-Rod and the Packers.
9. Indianapolis Colts (10-4)
Last week: 9
Running the ball and stopping the opponents running game seems to be the blueprint for these Colts. And when you’ve got a defence that can hold up their end of the bargain, then life is a lot easier for Philip Rivers and TY Hilton. They’re a bit of a dark horse as we head to the knockout phase of the season.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)
Last week: 11
Down 17 points on the road to the Falcons at halftime? You should’ve known not to worry. Tommy and the Bucs came to life in the third quarter and by the time Antonio Brown pulled in his first touchdown as a Buccaneer this team had arrested all momentum in this game and taken the lead. Now a trip to Detroit awaits before playing the Failcons at home to boost the confidence ahead of a playoff run.
11. Miami Dolphins (9-5)
Last week: 12
The Dolphins officially eliminated the Patriots from playoff contention this week, and how sweet that must’ve been! This team is fighting incredibly hard, having lost their lead running back, pretty much all their receivers, top tight end and key defensive weapons. The offensive line did a great job against the Pats, so they’ll want that to continue, as they seek two more wins to make the playoffs.
12. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Last week: 13
While this is the team the Dolphins are trying to hold off, Baltimore hold the same record as Miami – but the Fins hold the tie-breaker, so Lamar Jackson and the band are hoping that they can win and Miami slip up. Yes, folks, it’s getting to the pointy end! First up, they’ll host the Giants to try and keep their recent momentum going.
13. Los Angeles (9-5)
Last week: 10
Well, the Rams stepped and fell on the metaphorical Lego piece (New York Jets). Handing the worst offence in the league their first win of the season was embarrassing and quite a critical slip-up for the team that going into this week had the NFC West lead. Now they’re behind Seattle and have to travel there this week in another early ‘playoff’. Time to pull your socks up, fellas!
14. Arizona Cardinals (8-6)
Last week: 14
Staying in the NFC West, Arizona won a wild one in the ‘Sooner Bowl’. Former Oklahoma quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts clashed for the first time, and boy did it not disappoint – 526 yards of offence and a gutsy fake punt call led the Cards to a 33-26 win, but they kept letting the Eagles threaten. I was getting flashbacks of Aaron Rodgers on the final Hail Mary passes, but thankfully they held on.
15. Chicago Bears (7-7)
Last week: 19
Spoiler alert. There’s a scene in the movie Primal Fear where Ed Norton introduces his other personality to his lawyer Richard Gere by asking, “Who the hell are you?”. The lawyer responds with an even more shocked, “Who the hell are you?”. To me, that sums up the Chicago Bears, who have now won two in a row after losing six straight. Could Mitch Trubisky really lead this bunch to the playoffs?! Like Richard Gere, I’m so confused.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Last week: 15
Okay, so playoff football is not looking likely for the Raiders in their first season out in Vegas. Losing Derek Carr to a groin injury that will keep him out for the next couple of weeks is not ideal, although Marcus Mariota (remember him?) came on and played really well against the Chargers on Thursday night. The overtime loss now makes it a hard road, but if former second overall pick Mariota can keep playing like that, they will at least have a shot. They would need a lot of other results to go their way though.
17. Washington Football Team (6-8)
Last week: 16
It was a small slip for the team this week. Again, they fought hard against the Seahawks but ultimately couldn’t contain Chef Russ. This week’s mission is to simply beat the Panthers, which appears very doable. If they can do that and the Giants fall to Baltimore (also very doable) then they will be looking at playoff football. They’re now holding their breath on whether starting quarterback Alex Smith will be back in time from a calf injury.
18. Minnesota Vikings (6-8)
Last week: 17
This is another bunch who are tricky to try and get a handle on. Another entertaining game, but another entertaining loss means that the men in purple cannot get a better than 0.500 winning percentage for the year. What they can do from here is play spoiler against the Saints, which for this team would not surprise me at all.
19. New England Patriots (6-8)
Last week: 18
How do you think Tom Brady is feeling right about now? As his Bucs are headed to the playoffs, New England are about to miss them for the first time since 2008. They put up some fight but ultimately were outplayed by Miami, which will leave the Pats with a couple of dead rubbers and plenty to ponder over the off-season. Side note: the last time they missed the playoffs Brady was out with a torn ACL. Just saying.
20. New York Giants (5-9)
Last week: 20
They weren’t really close against the Browns, but there have been some green shoots sprouting for this side as they begin to look ahead. Cornerback James Bradberry and tight end Even Engram were both voted to their first Pro Bowl, although the actual game won’t go ahead, While the defence held reasonably firm against the vaunted Browns running game. Rookie safety Xavier McKinney has been improving, which is good given they use him all over the field.
21. San Francisco 49ers (5-9)
Last week: 21
Well, they’re out of the running and there’s not much else going on, so I’m not sure what to say here. Wait, I know! Ever wondered why they are called the 49ers? That was the nickname given to the huge number of people who flocked to California in 1849 to find gold. I guess that explains the gold in their team colours too. Also, not to be confused with the 49er yacht racing class at the Olympics.
22. Detroit Lions (5-9)
Last week: 22
After a healthy shellacking by the Titans I stumbled upon an article entitled What went wrong for the 2020 Detroit Lions?. The short answer to that is: plenty. The latest thing is the firing of special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs. On the upside, interim coach Darrell Bevell is bringing in added accountability, which can only help moving forward. Right? Nah, I wasn’t even convinced by my own argument there.
23. Denver Broncos (5-9)
Last week: 23
After letting the Bills wander into Mile High Stadium and give them a good old-fashioned belt-whipping, what’s left to ponder for these broken horses? Well, plenty. They’ve got two straight games against division foes (Chargers and Raiders) and I guess everyone wants to know what they have in Drew Lock. Their strength of schedule is also hurting their draft order – they’re currently tied on a 5-9 record with five other teams but not picking until 13th. To tank or not to tank?
24. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)
Last week: 25
I’m still puzzled as to how this side were thrashed by the Patriots. But amid a season of heartbreakingly close losses, it was pretty satisfying to win in overtime against their good ‘friends’ the Raiders, not to mention pretty much end their postseason hopes. Justin Herbert throws such a pretty ball, and with a potential top-ten draft pick next season it’ll be interesting to see what pieces they want to add.
25. Dallas Cowboys (5-9)
Last week: 29
It was a points-scoring bonanza against the 49ers as Dem Boys got another win. Ezekiel Elliott was a late withdrawal with a calf issue amid growing discontent about his performance, with some fans calling for him to be traded. Jeez, I didn’t realise he was doing that badly, but maybe I’m just stuck in 2016. Big game coming up this week though against the Iggles.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1)
Last week: 24
Speak of the devils! I’ve been following these guys pretty closely over the last few weeks as they went from benching Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts winning an upset and now playing brilliantly in a close loss. So where exactly does that leave things? Who knows! Head coach Doug Pederson is not giving much away, although there are rumours Wentz has requested to either start or be traded. This is so fascinating, especially given the mega bucks invested in Carson.
27. Houston Texans (4-10)
Last week: 26
A little bit of fun came back this week against the Colts despite still losing. Deshaun Watson passed for 373 yards and two touchdowns against a very good Colts defence, so that’s something. The running game is still a long way off, with Watson nearly leading that stat. And the receivers? Those stats were led by running back David Johnson. Still fun, but something is a little off here.
28. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
Last week: 28
I kinda went in on Matt Ryan last week even though he played well against the Bucs and you could accuse the defence of slumping at the wrong time to lose the match. But I’m still in the same spot. Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback, but he had numerous opportunities to win this game he didn’t take. Down 31-27 with the ball in his hands, he felt the pressure on second down, bumped into one of his own linemen and – without a defender even touching him – deliberately fell straight to the ground. I’m done.
29. Carolina Panthers (4-10)
Last week: 27
Crikey! These Panthers looked awful for the first half at Green Bay but really did turn the tide in the second. The defence started to confound Aaron Rodgers, which is no mean feat. But ultimately they fell into too big a hole, especially with Teddy Bridgewater’s goal-line fumble, which was unforgivable.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1)
Last week: 30
How good is an underdog victory? This one was a pretty big too. Even against a stuttering Steelers, the Bengals – featuring a backup running back and third-string quarterback – weren’t supposed to make any noise. But they sure did! Forcing their old enemy into costly turnovers and Ryan Findley’s scramble for a touchdown ended up being the difference. Great stuff.
31. New York Jets (1-13)
Last week: 32
A win! A win! A lot of Jets fans have labelled it the ‘worst win ever’ as they now slip up the rankings and down to second spot in the NFL draft. People had assumed quarterback Trevor Lawrence would come in and save the franchise next year, but now those plans could be gone. I’m sure a guy named Sam Darnold would not have wanted to mentor Lawrence anyway.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)
Last week: 32
They were given a bath by the Ravens and came out of it squeaky clean by getting the first overall pick. Coach Doug Marrone insists they were trying to win, but really this long-haired Lawrence is being hailed far and wide as the best quarterback prospect in a decade. Not that Marrone would be around to coach him. Just the Bears and Patriots to go to see where the chips land.