Well that was a week!
You’ll get the full gambling recap on Wednesday, but it’s safe to say that was my best week of the season and would have been the best week of my life (gambling division) if the Niners would have hit one more field goal or if there wasn’t a monsoon in DC. If the Patriots can pull a win off tonight then that will be the cherry on top of a very expensive sundae.
But as far as football? This was a weird week at first glance, but one that can offer us a lot of information if we dig in.
We’ve taken to playing with the verbs and their tenses (former English teacher remember) in the subject of this article, and this week will be no different.
In doing so, we have perhaps spent a little too much time on ‘What if’s” and “Could have been’s”. This is particularly troubling to me as my senior year quote was “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas”. Clearly that was a message to my present self to stop writing thousands of words about possibilities instead of realities.
So, to recap Week 7, we’re going to take a look at “What is real” from this slate.
What is real: The Bengals, Dolphins, and Washington will not win a game against anyone but each other
Quick sidenote, I do not use the Washington team’s mascot because I believe it is disrespectful and wrong. They will always be Washington in my columns.
Equally as disrespectful and wrong are the products these teams are putting on the field. Let’s go case by case and explain why this game specifically put them over the edge into hopeless.
First, in a game that saw the Bengals play the Jaguars a week after they traded their best player and as they continued to start their back up quarterback, the Bengals looked like they were out of their league. The final score was 27-17, but that was skewed by an Andy Dalton touchdown run with nine seconds left. The Jags ran for 200 yards in this game and passed for 250 more. Meanwhile, the Bengals turned the ball over four times and were out possessed by a two to one margin.
I like the Jags, but they are not a team who should dominate anyone. Watching as the Bengals were incapable of moving the ball and incapable of stopping Jacksonville was eye opening. This team has one shot at a win and that’s against Miami.
Speaking of Miami, this game was actually a positive! Which is actually a negative.
Playing their most complete game of the season, this Miami squad still never truly had a chance to win. They out-gained Buffalo 381-305, they out possessed Buffalo 33-26, and they had more first downs than Buffalo 24-17. Even with all of that, the Dolphins never led by more than five and immediately relinquished the two leads they did earn.
Part of the problem here was that they turned the ball over twice. No matter who their quarterback is, the Dolphins will have a turnover prone player under center and this affects the rest of the team. Adding in the fact that they reshuffle their running back order each week and that they continue to waste solid wide receiver play, and this team can’t win even when they play well.
And finally, playing well is not a problem for Washington, who managed to lose a game that offered them the EXACT SETTING that they should ask for. With Bill Callahan as coach, Washington has recommitted to the run. Like recommitted as in they don’t want to pass anymore.
But in a game the required only running, Washington ran for only 104 yards to go with 77 yards passing on only 12 attempts. They repeatedly were unable to move the ball and turned it over when they did. Even when a game is tailor made for their new, anti-analytical identity, they can’t deliver.
Moving forward, they are unlikely to ever have a game that allows them to lean on their “strength” this much.
The result of this is that they may have enjoyed their only win of the season last week, against Miami, who might not win a game unless it’s against Cincinnati. Outside of that, these teams don’t seem ready to win a game.
What is real: The Colts are the best team in the AFC South
Usually, I try not to give too much credence to a single result in a season’s worth of games. With that said, Indy beating Houston highlighted exactly why they are the favorites to win the AFC South over an uneven Texans team.
If you can remember all the way back to my “Good Team Bad Team” column, Indy was a good team and Houston was a bad team. This game was the perfect encapsulation of why.
For Indy, they have the ability to win a game anyway that is asked of them. A week after relying on Marlon Mack to beat the Chiefs, Jacoby Brissett threw or 300 yards and four TDs against the Texans. A week after shutting down the Chiefs offense by jamming up the running game and bottling up Travis Kelce, the Colts D took it to Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense, forcing turnovers and pressuring the QB all game.
Which leads to another reason we must favor the Colts to win the division. At every position outside of wide receiver and QB, the Colts are superior. Their offensive line dominated the Texans pass rush and their defensive line and line backers contained Watson at every turn.
Specifically, Darius Leonard was in the Houston backfield all game long and ended the day leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and bringing in one of their two interceptions.
Despite the Texans having the biggest defensive star on the field, it was the Colts unit led by their best player who stood out.
But perhaps the Colts biggest advantage is at coach. With Frank Reich scheming the Colts offense, Brissett has more touchdowns so far this year than he had when he played an entire season for the injured Luck. Coaches shouldn’t make excuses, and the fact that Reich is doing this after losing his franchise quarterback a week before the season puts that into practice. Any team who is blaming their circumstances and playing “what if” should take a page from his book.
Meanwhile, this week in Bill O’Brien blowing clock management, O’Brien had his team on their own 4-yard line, down 5, with 4th and 10 and 2:41 left. In a shrewd game management move, O’Brien elected to take the safety and punt the ball away so his team could us their three timeouts plus the two-minute warning to get the ball back.
Instead, O’Brien called a timeout BEFORE taking the safety. Although this may not seem egregious, the fact is that if his team had taken a delay of game penalty IT WOULD HAVE MADE NO DIFFERENCE. He could have punted the ball away with three timeouts, and instead he kicked it away with two.
The result was that Houston stopped Indy and got the ball back with 1:41 on the clock, but got it back without timeouts. After seeing almost a minute tick off the clock for three plays, Watson threw an interception under pressure and the game was over. Although not huge, the inexplicable move highlighted the difficulty the Texans face in overcoming their coaches clock management.
It was reminiscent of the New Orleans game to open the season where O’Brien similarly allowed minor clock and game management to cost his team a chance to win.
In fact, to date, the Texans have only won games in which their strengths have aligned with another team’s weakness. They have shown no ability to use their personnel to change shapes and attack another team’s specific weak spots. Against the Jags, the Texans continually tried to move the ball their way, only to have Jacksonville stop them in their tracks. Same thing against the Panthers. In those two games, they scored a total of 23 points.
This says to me that they have a coach who can’t do anything but roll them out there and let his guys play their game.
So in the end, the truth that emerged this week is that the Colts are a well-coached, versatile juggernaut while the Texans are a one-dimensional mess that can’t protect its quarterback or develop a game plan to effectively attack another team’s weakness.
What is real: The Ravens can beat anybody
This was one of the games I was most excited about this week because it pitted two teams that are having great, perhaps overachieving, seasons against each other.
Heading into the game, Seattle had a point differential of just +19 and that drops to +2 when you take out their game against the Cardinals.
Meanwhile, Baltimore was just 1-4-1 against the spread (with the one win their blowout of Miami) heading into the game, which indicates that they are playing a lot of teams closer than they should be.
So with two teams who have good records, exciting offenses, but could hit regression patches at any moment, it was exciting to see one of these teams grab the game with authority.
As a result, the truth that lies at the heart of this is that Baltimore can beat anyone they play. This is a product of a quarterback who is even better than he is getting credit for, a defense that has pieces slowly being added in, and an identity that allows them to impose their will upon anyone they play.
To first examine their quarterback, Lamar Jackson is my MVP so far. To put this in perspective, the Ravens top receiver is a tight end who ranks fourth in the league amongst tight ends in receiving yards. Their second leading receiver has played five games and in two of those games had under 25 yards. Their third leading receiver is Willie Snead. He has 12 catches.
Somehow amidst all of this Jackson has thrown for more yards than Carson Wentz.
Now, if you were about to jump in and say, “But they’re a running team! Jackson benefits from that!” you would be correct. But Jackson is also the heart of that side of the ball. He currently has 576 yards rushing on the season, which is sixth in the NFL. Amongst all players. Even running backs. At that ranking he is nestled in between Ezekiel Elliot and Chris Carson who have both carried the ball more than 130 times. Jackson has carried it 83 times.
If you watched the game on Sunday, there were multiple times he willed the team to a first down, touchdown, or just turned a negative to a positive. He has the ability to keep this offense moving even when it does not have pieces around him that scare a defense.
Speaking of defenses, the Ravens have certainly underperformed, but that all might be changing. After acquiring Marcus Peters, who debuted with a pick-six, the Ravens are now eyeing the return of Jimmy Smith from injury. In the span of a week they went from starting two backup cornerbacks to potentially starting two Pro Bowlers as early as next week.
If this defense can return to league average, Jackson has the offense averaging over 30 points a game this season.
In beating Seattle on the road, Baltimore proved that they can beat anybody in the league. That much we know is true.