Willo's stock report: Week Eight

By Thomas Willoughby

I’ve done my best to dress this week up as a super exciting one but, I’m not going to lie, it was a slog. Week 8 was the week where things just didn’t click for a lot of teams. It was less than vintage.

Am I projecting because the Falcons stank the place out? A little. But looking back at the week as a whole, there just wasn’t a great deal there to get excited for. Thank goodness for “Sunday in 60” on gamepass, eh?

So let’s sift through the mess and find some threads worth latching onto. Here are the stocks.

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We fans of this here sport love storylines. That’s kind of what gives this column life on a weekly basis. The NFL itself gives us an overarching tale, but it’s the connecting of the threads week to week that gives us the greatest thrill. So if the 2021 NFL season is the main plot, the state of each division is the side stories. With that in mind, the AFC North is provisioning the most exciting b-plot currently running.

There is exactly 1 game separating 1st and 4th in the AFC North right now. Baltimore currently sits atop the throne, and will be delighted with that given they enjoyed a bye-week, but everything could change in an instant. The Bengals have had a very fruitful 2021 thus far, and are 2nd on 5-2. Pittsburgh, who we wrote off some weeks back, have managed to climb out of the basement to 3rd at 4-3. The Browns cannot catch a break. They are 4-4, but any game they come away with single-digit casualties is a victory. Simply put This is the division to be watching right now.

The thing is, you could make a case for all four of these sides taking the crown. They’re all made up of pretty good players, and all capable of catching fire. The fine margins then come down to coaching, and, sans Zac Taylor, the division has some good ones. If you’re going to watch one division for the rest of the season, make it the AFC North. The inevitable twist at the end will blow your mind.

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I’ve been on the fence with New England this season. 2020 was far from the season they’d have liked, for a number of reasons, but they went all in this summer to build a team capable of making noise for the next few years to come. It’s been difficult to really gauge just who they are this year, but I think I’m ready to commit to a stance. This team is pretty good, actually. And they’re going to be an issue for the rest of the year.

You just need to look at the Patriots’ season thus far to see that they’re pretty good. Bar their defeat by the New Orleans Saints, they’ve been in every single game this season, both wins and losses. And they’ve played some good teams, too. Tampa Bay, Dallas, the aforementioned New Orleans; all teams you can expect to be involved at the business end of the season. The Patriots went toe to toe with them, with a rookie under center, and played them close. On Sunday, they beat such a team.

The LA Chargers, who’ve captured many an imagination this season. The Patriots came to town and took them down. It wasn’t pretty, and they leaned heavily on their defense. But they got the job done. They’re now 4-4, and only a game behind the all-conquering Buffalo Bills. Dare I say, they might just make it interesting?

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In week 3, I had the Colts trending down. But I was very deliberate when I said “I do get the impression they’re capable of turning things around”. Since then, they’ve got themselves to 3-5, which still isn’t great, considering they just lost to their division rivals from Tennessee. However. 

Derrick Henry, a man tipped by myself on the Touchdown Review Show (give it a listen, it’s excellent) to be in the MVP conversation, has undergone foot surgery. He will now likely miss the remainder of the season, to the chagrin of my fantasy team. The Titans have replaced him with Adrian Peterson, but that’s a step-down by anyone’s measure. And so, despite there being a 3 game difference between them, the Colts might actually be in with a shout.

The AFC South is a bit of a wasteland. But that hit to the Titans’ offense will cause them to change their approach to offense. Even if they have AJ Brown and Julio Jones, how comfortable are they becoming a passing team? We’ll see. But that race might be closer than it looks.

Zach Bolinger-AP Photo

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Any side without a win come November is destined to have a bad time. I think the Detroit Lions knew this when they started the year, to be fair. But they’ve been a source of inspiration for a lot of people, based purely on the fact that they’ve seemingly bought into Dan Campbell wholeheartedly. The fact that they hung with the Rams for so long a last week was an indication of that. This week, against a significantly worse side, the Lions were abject. With that in mind, Dan Campbell, let’s have a chat.

He had the cards stacked against him from the beginning, to ba fair. The Lions have been so bad for so long that a hard reset was almost necessary. And I’m not sure anyone truly beloved Jared Goff was much more than a body to take the hits until such a time the long-term QB could be added to the roster. There’s every chance that 1st overall was always the plan, this season. But you need a couple of wins to help players, both under contract and prospectively coming in, buy into the setup. 

Don’t get me wrong; they’ve come close once or twice this season. But we’re nearly halfway through the season, and the losses keep piling up. Already, rumours are swelling that he’s on the hot seat. When you’re trying to build a new culture, that’s the last thing you need. The problem is, it’s difficult to see where the win is likely to come from. Chicago, maybe? Atlanta in December? I really don’t know. All I know is that he needs something, soon. Because being the architect of the first-ever “0-17” isn’t something any employer is going to tolerate.

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Alright, I’m calling time on the Bears this season. There was a point when I thought that they’d be something, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s just nothing there for them this year. 2021 is over, and the long road ahead needs to be addressed. The Bears are done.

The writing has been on the wall for a while. Stretching back to last season, actually. That Nickelodeon Bowl appearance masked what was a pretty ugly season in Chicago. To their credit, they recognised the need for change, and replaced Mitchell Trubisky with Justin Fields. But it’s taken time for him to adapt to the NFL, and the issues deep within them have slowed his ability to adapt. Those issues have been there for years. And Matt Nagy will pay the price.

The rest of 2021 will be focused on trying to nab one of those playoff spots, and keep Nagy and company in employment for another year. The reality is, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore on the horizon, it’s unlikely we’re going to see Chicago after Spongebob Squarepants again. It’s over, I’m afraid.

Featured image credit: Mike Stobe-Getty Images

Thomas Willoughby