We’re halfway there (well, for some teams).
The 2019 NFL season has reached its midpoint, and it is safe to say we all know the strengths and weaknesses of every team. The contenders and pretenders are starting to separate themselves, some squads are either getting their stuff together while others are falling apart, and the Dolphins and Bengals should be relegated to the XFL.
With that being said, my weekly top 5 takeaways from this past weekend include a few contenders, pretenders, and a few collapsing teams as well.
1. THE PATRIOTS BIGGEST COMPETITION
We’re going to speak on the Pats very shortly, but what don’t we know about them already? They have the best coach in NFL history, the best quarterback in NFL history, and they might have the best defense in NFL history (this stat is ridiculous)! They are still the cream of the crop, but let’s not act like there isn’t a specific team in Louisiana that could give them a run for their money.
In his first start since his Week 2 thumb injury, Drew Brees returned and didn’t skip a beat, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-9 demolition against the Cardinals. Despite Alvin Kamara missing his second straight game, Brees got help in the form of monster performances from Latavius Murray and Michael Thomas. The defense combined for four sacks on Kyler Murray, and it was another example of dominance from a team with the new nickname “Patriots of the NFC”.
I can see the argument being made for New Orleans as a better team, especially when you factor in the level of competition. As a small exercise here are the quarterbacks each team has faced so far this season:
NEW ORLEANS: Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Gardner Minshew, Mitch Trubisky, and Kyler Murray
NEW ENGLAND: Ben Roethlisberger, Fitzpatrick/Rosen, Luke Falk, Josh Allen, Colt McCoy, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield
Outside of Big Ben (Baker has been terrible this year), look at the difference. Listen, you can only face the teams put in front of you, and the Pats are doing EXACTLY what they should be doing. Still, don’t tell me if New Orleans had this same schedule they wouldn’t have similar results.
Thankfully, these two powerhouses don’t play each other during the regular season. It makes the potential Brady-Brees Super Bowl even juicier.
2. THE CLEVELAND CURSE IS REAL
Man, this one is sad. Who remembers how fun the second half of the Browns’ season was in 2018? Even before the moves they made this offseason, this team looked like it was on the rise. This season…
Cleveland took on the battalion known as New England this past week with predictable results, turning the ball over at one point on THREE CONSECUTIVE SNAPS in a 27-13 defeat. While it was certainly on-brand for the Pats to have that type of defensive performance, perhaps sloppy play, turnovers, and penalties were more customary for Cleveland. So, who’s the most to blame? Well, it comes down to three issues. Outside of Adam Gase in New York, Freddie Kitchens has shown he ain’t it. What was a fun, exciting offense last season is so vanilla right now, I’d rather put on the Titans game. The offensive line is still abominable, allowing five more sacks yesterday. Last but certainly not least, Baker Mayfield has been bad. Like, really bad. This was a guy getting Drew Brees comparisons last year. Does he need better protection? Yes. However, he looks like he’s regressing. I’m also one for a quarterback who speaks his mind, but stuff like this sounds ridiculous especially after a loss.
The Browns have a good chance to get back in the win column at Denver next week, but that is certainly not an easy task whatsoever. Especially with their play so far this season.
3. ABOUT DAMN TIME JARED GOFF!
The Bengals and the Rams squared off in London, and LA could not risk laying an egg that would put their playoff hopes at near zero. Thankfully, after a somewhat slow start, they prevailed 24-10 thanks to a sensational Jared Goff performance.
The fourth-year gunslinger has certainly gotten off to a… blah start to the season. He hasn’t been Baker Mayfield bad, but he certainly wasn’t the Pro Bowler of the past two weeks. Well, there is no cure like sixty minutes throwing on an awful Cincinnati secondary. Goff threw for 372 yards, 220 of which came from Cooper Kupp, who put on the best performance of his life. Their defense is remaining lackadaisical, allowing Andy Dalton to throw for almost 330 yards (though much was in garbage time). Still, this was an excellent offensive performance from a team that needs a little kick in the behind.
The Rams head into their bye before traveling to Pittsburgh. They are currently the #7 seed in the NFC, just outside of the playoff picture. If they keep playing as they did Sunday afternoon, they’ll be right back in the mix.
4. IT WAS NICE WHILE IT LASTED CAROLINA
I’ll be honest. I was part of the group that thought if the Panthers remained undefeated with Kyle Allen behind center, he should remain the starter, even when Cam Newton comes back. After watching this week’s game… hold on, let me put on my outfit.
We can wax poetic about how the 49ers served up a good ole’ fifty burger against Carolina Sunday afternoon, but we know they’re elite. What the heck happened to this supposedly great Ron Rivera defense? It looks like the loss of Kawaan Short is starting to catch up to them, because their run defense was putrid to say the least. They gave up 232 yards and five scores on the ground, including three to Tevin Coleman.
(SIDE NOTE: Coleman was on my fantasy bench. Thankfully, I started Latavius Murray and Aaron Jones, so I couldn’t quite throw a tizzy over it.)
Outside of Christian McCaffrey being… Christian McCaffrey, the rest of the offense was nauseating. Allen threw three picks, and posted a 4.7 QBR, easily the lowest of the week.
It’s safe to say the honeymoon period is over with Mr. Allen, and while he performed commendably in Newton’s absence, he should return to the bench this week against the Titans.
5. WHAT IS GOING ON IN CHICAGO?
Sunday afternoon put forth a battle between two of the unluckiest franchises in the sport when the Los Angeles Chargers took on the Chicago Bears. The Chargers won 17-16 at the last second. Oh no, they didn’t kick a game-winning field goal, they watched Bears’ kicker Eddy Pineiro miss one. You couldn’t write a better ending.
This loss isn’t totally on the kicker, though. The Bears offense has been a disaster. Mitchell Trubisky has been one of the three worst quarterbacks in the league this season, the running game had been non-existent until this game, and Matt Nagy’s play-calling has literally been losing them games. They still have a great defense, but what good is that when you can’t rely on the offensive at all. I’m getting flashbacks to the Blake Bortles Jaguars teams.
If Chicago hopes to stay in a competitive NFC playoff race, a win in Philadelphia next week is a must. If they blow that one, that’s all she wrote for this team.
TNF PICK: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (7-0) [-10.0] vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-4-1)
Uhmmmmmmm… what is this line?
Maybe this line is so small because of the Vikings failure to cover last week, or maybe because San Fran is on the road. To that I say… this may be free money.
The Cardinals haven’t been awful, but don’t tell me their defense has been great. This team just allowed a backup running back to run all over them, and now they get the most ferocious running attack in the league headed by Tevin Coleman and Matt Brieda? I’m sorry, I don’t see any chance (outside of injuries, knock on wood) for the Cards to cover this spread. I’m sure it will start climbing because I expected this line to be -14 or -15.
THE PICK: 49ers (-10.0)