The NFL Sunday Review: Week 7

Every single week of this NFL season appears to be trying to be weirder than the last. We had all manner of upsets last week, which left us expecting big bounce back performances this time around, and what did we get? More weird upsets. You have to say the unpredictability makes for excitement, as teams we had all written off pre-season now look like locks for Playoff berths! It’s hard to make much sense of it all, but I’ll give it a go, starting with analysing how two of the greatest NFL QBs of all time just lost to two backups…

Heinicke & Walker > Rodgers & Brady

“Father Time is undefeated,” they say. He may be in the process of claiming another two victims. Two of the All-Time great Quarterbacks in this league, two sure-fire Hall of Famers, were beaten this weekend, by Taylor Heinicke and PJ Walker respectively. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are BOTH in trouble. The Packers have lost 3 straight and are 3-4. The Buccaneers have lost 2 straight and are also 3-4. These were my two pre-season favourites to meet in the NFC Championship game. What on earth is happening!?

The Green Bay Packers look absolutely awful right now. I’m just not sure what’s going on. Aaron Jones had a good game, but again largely as a receiver. So did AJ Dillon dominate on the ground? Not even slightly. The Packers aren’t getting chunk plays, so they’re relying on dink and dunk offense which just isn’t scoring enough points. Without De’Vondre Campbell’s Pick 6 who knows what this would have looked like. 7 points in each half, and that’s it.

Obviously the loss of Davante Adams was going to be felt, but losing to the Giants, Jets & Commanders 3 weeks in a row suggest the problems in Titletown are way deeper than just an elite WR leaving. Matt LaFleur’s team should be 6-1 on paper, and yet find themselves more than 3 games back from the Vikings atop the NFC North, who now seem to have a free waltz to the division crown barring Kirk Cousins reverting to his norm (which could still happen).

But the main question – that will be all over Sports TV Talk shows all week – is: Is this the end for Aaron Rodgers?! Should he have retired already? He clearly wanted one more run at a SuperBowl, but right now that seems an eternity away. This is the first time Aaron Rodgers has ever had a losing record through 7 games of a season… And you want more bad news for Green Bay? They travel to face a rested Buffalo Bills team next weekend… On Sunday Night Football. Eeeeeeek. And – lastly – is Taylor Heinicke the guy for Washington?! Good for him and the Commanders. A great victory.

And then, in Tampa… Is TB12 done too!?!? Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both had a number of catches, and yet the Buccaneers were unable to score a touchdown against the lowly Carolina Panthers. They lost 21-3!!! That’s not a narrow defeat. That’s the Panthers who just traded their best player and were starting their 3rd choice QB… against the much vaunted Bucs defense. What on earth!?

Without getting into Brady’s alleged off-field personal dramas, this entire Bucs team doesn’t look like itself, but it’s Brady who causes the most concern. He is the franchise, and without him the Bucs are not going deep in the playoffs. And yet he doesn’t feel like late-Denver Peyton Manning, where you have to hope the team around him can manage the QB through the game. Brady was still performing at an elite level in 2021… is this now the wall? It’s probably too early to say definitively “yes,” but something needs to change asap for the Bucs, with the Baltimore Ravens looming on Thursday Night Football.

On the other side… How’s this for absolute insanity? If the Buccaneers lose to the Ravens on Thursday (Probable, on the evidence of this showing), and the Panthers beat the Falcons next weekend (plausible), then the Carolina Football Panthers – with PJ Walker at QB, without CMC, having fired Matt Rhule just a couple of weeks ago… WILL BE IN FIRST PLACE IN THE NFC SOUTH. I had to triple check this to believe it. It’s wild. And yet… THIS is the NFL in 2022. Marvellous.

New York City Football: 11-3

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The city of New York has suffered for a while now. I read something the other day that said something like “not one of the City’s sports teams has reached a Championship series in the past decade or so.” For a city as proud as New York, with as many sports teams as New York, that’s brutal. But in football, fans of either New York team would have just settled for their squad making the playoffs.

It’s been so long. And yet – here we are – following another Sunday where both the Giants and the Jets were victorious, and New York football is a combined 11-3 through 7 weeks. I can’t even imagine how rich you’d be right now if you’d bet on that before the start of the season. It’s genuinely incredible.

With a win over the hapless Broncos on Sunday, Robert Saleh’s New York Jets remained in 2nd place in the AFC East, and have now won the same amount of games as the Buffalo Bills (with one more defeat). Zach Wilson is working smarter not harder, with just 231 passing yards combined across the last two weeks, and won both games! Sure, the less said about Brett Rypien, Nathaniel Hackett, and these Broncos the better, but you can only beat whoever’s in front of you, and the Jets have accomplished that yet again this week.

The one real down-side to this win is the now confirmed ACL tear for Breece Hall, who had been taking the league by storm before this injury. But with how well this Sauce Gardner-led defense is playing, the Jets can stay in any game right now, and will look to get another win next week against the Patriots.

And then there’s the Giants! The 6-1 Giants! Brian Daboll is working miracles in the Meadowlands. I legitimately cannot believe how this team has won so many games, and are RIGHT in the hunt for the NFC East. I thought the Giants would improve under Daboll, but not like this, and not this fast. This roster has no right to be 5 games above .500. Almost all of their Wide Receivers have been injured all season, and yet they’ve found ways to win games.

Sure, the Jaguars aren’t the finished article, but – similar to the Jets – you can only play who the schedule dictates. Every single Giants game this season has been a one-possession game, and they’ve won 6 of them. Sceptics will say that’s unsustainable – and I might even agree with them – but as long as they keep winning, they’ll keep proving the doubters wrong. I’m not sure what magic spell has been cast by the league to make both New York teams good at the same time, but the Big Apple is buzzing this morning.

Dolphins Get Back On Track With Tua

Associated Press

Sunday Night’s game was weird, because it started at an electrifying pace, and then slowly descended into a defensive slog, so much so that ZERO points were scored in the 2nd half. In Tua Tagovailoa’s return from concussion, it was Kenny Pickett who we arguably learned more about, as he helped keep the Steelers in this game, but ultimately fell short of a remarkable comeback victory.

Mike Tomlin’s decision to insert Pickett as the starter over Mitch Trubisky has undoubtedly made the Steelers better, as Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson & Chase Claypool now appear energised and engaged in a way that was absent before Pickett’s ascension. That said, he’s still a rookie QB, and threw a couple of bad INTs, plus another unlucky one, that ultimately decided this game. 

The Dolphins improved to 4-3, despite letting the Steelers hang around for way longer than they should have. Tua’s opening drive was masterful. The Dolphins hit multiple chunk plays, to both Waddle and Hill, before Tua – on the run – found Mostert for the TD. It was a clear example of just how good the Dolphins offense can be when firing on all cylinders. After the first few drives…

Well, Tua got away with a number of dropped interceptions, but he still hit tight throws in narrow windows as is his specialty. If he can limit the risky throws, and take the open ones that his speedy receivers will create separation for, the Dolphins will be absolutely fine long term. I’d also like to ask Tua to slide more. Please mate. We need you healthy, stop lowering your shoulder and looking for contact!!!

Mike McDaniel had a couple of head-scratching decisions, including the choice to pass up a Field Goal to go up 9pts, that nearly came back to bite the Fins as the Steelers attempted a last gasp drive to win the game. Noah Igbinoghene’s interception of Kenny Pickett (Pickett’s 3rd of the night) sealed the victory for Miami, and helped get them right back on track, snapping the 3-game Tua-less losing streak. What would the Dolphins record be had Tua not been concussed?! It’ll be debated this week I’m sure, but I’d say this team feels more like a 5-2 team than a 4-3 one. I still think the Bills are clearly better than Miami over the course of the season, but if we see the “first drive Dolphins” more… then watch out.

Thursday Night Throwback

The Arizona Cardinals welcomed back DeAndre Hopkins last Thursday night and, what do you know?! They immediately looked more like themselves on offense. Not the finished article, largely due to injuries and bad execution at times, but Eno Benjamin stepped in well for James Conner, and helped carry the load alongside Keontay Ingram. Kyler & Kliff have a lot to smooth out, but despite being fairly abject during their first games, the Cardinals are somehow still in the mix for the NFC West… The Hard Knocks bounce starts now!

For New Orleans, Andy Dalton’s two back-breaking back-to-back Pick 6’s going into halftime are the story here. Without those, the Saints were right in this game. In Chris Olave, they appear to have found a top tier receiver, who will benefit from the (eventual) return of Michael Thomas, and that of Jameis Winston which seemingly can’t come soon enough. The Saints have been ravaged by injuries all year, and yet with the state of the rest of the NFC South, they’re still alive in the playoff hunt. The Saints host a beatable Raiders team next Sunday.

Quick Hits

Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
  • “Did you forget who we are? Did you doubt us?” – The Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday October 23rd 2022. Patrick Mahomes and his merry band of exceptionally fast men heard all the talk about the Niners loading up for a SuperBowl run with their new toy, Christian McCaffrey, and decided to shut that down real fast. The Chiefs are still – alongside the Bills – top contenders to reach the SuperBowl out of the AFC. The Niners will certainly improve once CMC is fully integrated, but this team has a long way to go before I’m seriously considering them as a threat to win the NFC. 
  • The Texans continued their march towards the #1 overall pick, and helped the Raiders keep their season somewhat alive. Josh Jacobs has proven every single fantasy analyst wrong, by absolutely exploding over the last month and suggesting that those who thought Darren Waller and Davante Adams would mean the Raiders move away from the run game were entirely wrong.
  • Beyond the two New York teams, I have the Seahawks as my next biggest surprise. What an unbelievable start to the season for Pete Carroll, with Geno Smith at the helm, and Kenneth Walker running riot in the backfield. I didn’t think the Seahawks would win 4 games all year, and yet they’ve done it before the end of October. Seattle is in 1st place in the NFC West. The Chargers? They still can’t find any consistency, and lost JC Jackson to what looks like a season-ending injury. The Chiefs still clearly own the AFC West.
  • Well the Matt Ryan resurrection lasted one week. The Titans ran all over the Colts, and took complete charge of the AFC South with a fairly dominant win. Titans have won 4 straight since starting 0-2. Don’t doubt Mike Vrabel’s ability to galvanise a team.
  • Dak’s back! The Cowboys beat the Lions in what became a fairly straightforward and surprisingly low-scoring game. Prescott will need a couple more weeks before he really looks like his old self, but Ezekiel Elliott appears to be doing the resurrection act with a couple of short TDs for himself on Sunday. The NFC East has all of a sudden become a tough division again. Weird. One Lions fan I spoke to was immediately in “tank for Bryce” mode… but I find it hard to believe Dan Campbell will acquiesce to that request. 
  • Lamar Jackson’s MVP buzz has disintegrated following four somewhat mediocre individual performances, but the Ravens have rebounded somewhat from a wild start to the year, to condemn the Browns further with this loss. Cleveland have lost 4 straight, and seem to be limping along until he-who-should-not-be-allowed-to-play returns following their Bye. Baltimore will want more out of their offense (Mark Andrews had 1 catch for 4 yards, and Lamar had 0 TDs), but a win is a win, and they’re atop the division with…
  • The Bengals! This was more like the Cincinnati of last year. Explosive throughout, from Tyler Boyd’s early 60yd TD to Ja’Marr Chase just running away from people in the open field… Joe Burrow back to his absolute best. The Falcons ran into a buzzsaw on Sunday, and for once weren’t able to stay connected in a game.

MNF Prediction: (Season Record: 5-2)

Okay so we’ve got another Bears PrimeTime game. Seriously, who makes this schedule? Poor Justin Fields. He’s getting absolutely destroyed on the field, and on social media, in front of the biggest possible audience for what feels like the 6th week in a row. Now, he gets to go against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, with the aforementioned Head Coach having the chance to pass George Halas on the list of all time wins with a victory tonight. Good luck Justin, mate…

Fields has nobody to throw to, but has also made poor decisions throughout the season so far. If not for the Week 1 weather-influenced fluke win over the 49ers, the noise coming out of Chicago might be far louder than it already is. Is there a decision to be made? If Chicago has a Top 5 pick in next year’s draft, would they consider jettisoning Fields? Have they seen enough!?

It seems that Mac Jones will be back under centre for New England, despite the electricity that Bailey Zappe has brought to the table over the past 3 weeks. This Patriots offense lacks weapons – though perhaps Rhamondre Stevenson is turning into one – but with their intelligent coaching, schemes, and precise QB play they’ve been able to grind out more wins than I thought they’d have at this point of the season. Against Chicago, they have little to fear. I don’t believe the Bears have enough to hurt this Pats D, and if Jones can just be himself (without trying to do too much on his return), the Patriots will win.

Week 8 Preview

So we head to Week 8, with another London game on the schedule. Will Russell Wilson return to face the “home-town” Jaguars in London? More Broncos PrimeTime… and the crowd goes mild. Before we get to the UK, Amazon brings us Lamar vs Brady, as the Ravens look to pour more misery onto the Buccaneers – though that feels very set up for a big audience Brady bounce back game.

Sunday’s best game is probably 49ers-Rams as the NFC West continues to be weird and make no sense, though the 6-1 Giants vs the 4-3 Seahawks will strangely draw some eyes too. As previously discussed, Sunday Night could be a good one if the Packers actually show up against the Bills, and then we finish with Browns – Bengals on Monday night as the AFC North takes centre-stage again.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this article. I’m @CallumJDSquires on Twitter & Instagram. Come say hey. Hope you all have a great week. Cheers.

Callum Squires