nfl week 1: four things to keep an eye on

By Tayyib Abu

It is less than 100 days till the Superbowl. The NFL regular season is now in Week 9. In Golfing parlance, the teams are now making the turn and heading onto the back nine. Every game now feels like a mini playoff game; teams are jockeying and jostling for playoff positions, while others attempt to haul themselves into contention.

Week 9 kicked off as the Colts flattened the Jets to keep themselves in the mix. There are several fascinating clashes on the Sunday menu, and it’s got an extra bit of spice as chaos has reigned off the field in the buildup.

Here are four things to watch in Week 9 of the NFL season…

Is the Browns' Season On Life Support?

Week 17 Review

Many experts fancied the Cleveland Browns to make a significant run in 2021. After all, Cleveland enjoyed a magical 2020 season in which they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. Rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski bagged the Coach of the Year award, and it seemed as if the Browns had everything in place for 2021.

Unfortunately, the Browns are bottom of the highly competitive AFC North as they lost to the Steelers last Sunday. The Browns are 4-4, battling injuries and drama surging around the locker room. Week 9 pits the Browns against their in-state Ohio rivals, the Bengals. Cincinnati inexplicably lost to the Mike White-inspired New York Jets. Nevertheless, Joe Burrow’s crew still sits atop the AFC North.

A lot of the advanced metrics and statistics suggest that the Browns are maybe better than their record. Football Outsiders rank them sixth in total DVOA, only behind the Bills, Bucs, Cardinals, Cowboys, and Rams. They are third in offensive yards allowed, and they are a top ten offense in yards gained. But, the Browns are not finishing games; they aren’t ruthless. Cleveland sits 19th in scoring offense, and one can trace their problems back to Baker Mayfield.

The former first-overall pick is fighting a shoulder injury, so he isn’t playing at full tilt. However, if the medical staff believes Mayfield can play, then the injury isn’t an excuse. Mayfield’s QBR rating of 42.2 places him 27th. He is only ahead of four rookie quarterbacks and the atrocious Ben Roethlisberger and Jared Goff. Mayfield lacks confidence, looks nervous in the pocket, and his most talented wide receiver is at war with the team.

All of the above makes the game against the Bengals a must-win. Cincinnati is undefeated in the division, and their brave defense can make big plays in critical moments. Trey Hendrickson enjoys a solid first season in the Queen’s City, while Safety Jesse Bates impresses everyone. Moreover, The Browns need to find a way to shut down Ja’Marr Chase and frighten Joe Burrow in the pocket.

The Browns secondary must stay alert when defending Chase. The rookie looks to gain early separation before creating a cushion between himself and the defender. Cleveland’s two-deep safeties could provide over-the-top help for defenders, but Burrow will not hesitate to throw deep if Chase has space.

In all the team meetings, the Browns coaches and senior players will stress the importance of keeping Burrow and Chase quiet. Offensively, Mayfield needs to step up for his team. The Bengals are a good run defense; Mayfield must shoulder the burden if Cincinnati can shut the run game down.

Mayfield is a polarizing quarterback. Analysts and fans either love him or hate him. The Browns’ leader must be decisive, accurate, and take what the defense gives him. Too many times, Mayfield hangs around in the pocket, going through progressions and considering a scramble. That is when things break down.

Winning is the perfect medicine for any ailment. The Browns have several ailments, but a win could ease the pain and quieten the noise. A victory may also resuscitate their season. The Battle of Ohio is set to be a big one.

What Next For The Raiders?

Las Vegas Raiders Fantasy
Credit: FanSided

The Raiders’ dramatic 2021 season took a devastating turn this week. Young wide receiver Henry Ruggs made a mistake that may well cost him his career. Ruggs drove his Chevrolet home while he was under the influence. He crashed into another car, and the young woman piloting the other car lost her life. It is a stark and tragic reminder that no one is immune from bad decisions. The Raiders immediately released Ruggs. It is another dramatic moment for an organization experiencing many controversies this season.

The Jon Gruden saga had only just settled down, and the Raiders now need to deal with another challenging situation. Amidst the stories, it is easy to forget the Raiders are 5-2, and they sit top of the AFC West. The Raiders take on an ailing Giants team in Week 9, and it is an excellent opportunity to get back to football.

The onus fell on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to speak for the organization. The veteran signal-caller showed tremendous heart and leadership as the Raiders tried to move on from a devastating week.

The Giants lost to the Chiefs on Monday Night, despite competing hard against a more talented team. Big Blue has several injuries at the receiver position, and their offensive line is struggling. Before the bye, the Raiders won two straight, and their tenacious pass rush played a significant role. That is the key ingredient to success for Las Vegas. Maxx Crosby is enjoying a solid campaign, and if the Raiders’ defense can upset the Giants up front, they should win the game despite needing to play in a different time zone.

If the Raiders return from New Jersey 6-2, they will be sitting pretty in the west and should have eyes on a divisional title prize.

Enter Jordan Love

Mountain West
Credit: ESPN

Amid Aaron Rodgers’ chaotic diatribe, it is easy to forget that Jordan Love will make his first start in the NFL regular season on Sunday. Love is perhaps the most talked-about young quarterback to have never started a game in the league. After all, many media members suggested Aaron Rodgers’ frustration hit new heights once Brian Gutekunst selected Love in the 2020 draft.

Fans joked that Love drove Rodgers to find new performance levels as the veteran quarterback bagged the MVP award in 2020. Now, Love gets his shot in a prominent spot, ironically due to Rodgers’ naivety. At 7-1, the Packers are surging towards another NFC North title. Their in-division ‘rivals’ are busy fighting themselves; therefore, the Packers may keep one eye on the number one seed.

Standing in front of the Packers this week is a Kansas City Chiefs side determined to kickstart their season. The Chiefs are 4-4, and three of their wins came against Washington, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants. They’ve lost to the Chargers, Ravens, Bills, and Titans. Kansas City is the definition of average right now.

Central to Kansas City’s problems is a defense that can’t stop anyone and Patrick Mahomes looking normal for the first time in his career. Mahomes leads the league in interceptions, and teams are causing him problems by moving to the new defensive philosophy in the NFL. The Fangio/Staley defense is designed to take away the deep, explosive passing play. Teams are dropping deep into coverage and letting their pass-rushers attack. The Chiefs offense is a home-run offense; Mahomes wants the big plays.

Teams are taking the big play away, and a scrambled Mahomes is searching for something that isn’t there. His CPOE number of -1.6 backs that up. Mahomes is trying to play hero ball. The bad news is this; Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry worked for Brandon Staley last year. He will apply the same principles.

Offensively, the Packers won’t veer away from their core philosophy. Matt LaFleur runs an efficient offense that lives and dies on the excellent decision a quarterback makes. Love should have key offensive players like Devante Adams to help him, and LaFleur may cut down the menu of plays they call in the early portion of the game.

Some analysts felt that Love might’ve made his NFL debut in 2021 after Rodgers threatened to leave the team. It took a bizarre turn of events to get here, but Love has the chance to show that the post-Rodgers era doesn’t have to be an ordeal. It’s Love’s time. After a long 18 months, the quarterback gets his chance in Green Bay.

The Jeff Fisher Bowl

Credit: Andy Lyons (Getty Images)

Sunday finishes with a game that evokes memories of one of the great finishes in Superbowl history. In February 2000, an upstart Titans side led by Jeff Fisher came awfully close to defeating Dick Vermiel’s Greatest Show on Turf. Fast forward 21 years, and the Los Angeles Rams welcome Mike Vrabel’s fearless Titans side in a massive inter-conference matchup.

Last week, the Titans outlasted a ferocious encounter with the Indianapolis Colts, although it came at a heavy price. Superstar running back Derrick Henry suffered an injury that rules him out for the rest of the season.

The Titans are 6-2, they are 4-0 in the division, and they will win the AFC South. However, the Titans are flawed, very flawed. Football Outsider ranks them 20th in DVOA. Furthermore, Tennessee’s point differential of +32 is the same as the 4-5 Colts. None of this is a knock on Mike Vrabel’s team; it is a backhanded compliment.

Tennessee is the NFL’s street fighter, the brawler that keeps coming back to fight. They are mentally so strong and have so much self-belief. It makes them such a challenging proposition. The Titans relish the battle; they rise to confrontation and embrace adversity. A road game away in Los Angeles without their best player would cause most teams issues; the Titans might find another level.

And they’ll need to play at their best. The Rams pushed another poker chip into the middle of the table as they traded for Von Miller. The Rams now boast three world-class players on defense and the runaway favorite for MVP Matthew Stafford. The former Lion leads the league in EPA, and by a fair margin. Pivotal to Stafford’s success is Cooper Kupp. The talented wideout is on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record. The offensive tandem is on fire and should cause significant problems for the Titans. Tennesee’s pass-defense is leaky, and Stafford is attacking all quadrants of the field.

It feels like a bigger game for Los Angeles. The Rams are locked in a wild divisional title race with the Cardinals. If the Titans fall to 6-3, they are still in a healthy position. However, Mike Vrabel and his players are not wired like that. The Titans would love to send another statement to the NFL. They already have big wins over the Chiefs and Bills; adding the Rams to the hit-list will frighten teams in both conferences.

Feature Image Credit: Appleton Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1