Two weeks ago, the best team in the AFC was a no-brainer. It was Tennessee. But now? Not so much.
So who is? Give me the winner of the game between Buffalo and New England next Monday.
The bills are no surprise. They were a trendy Super Bowl choice ahead of the season. But New England? No, I’ve never seen that happen. Now, though, I’m not sure if the Patriots aren’t the team to beat in a conference where 12 teams are .500 or better, but only one in a six-game rip.
That would be the Patriots, who dropped Tennessee on Sunday.
“They’re playing the most consistent football in the AFC right now,” Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy said NBC.
They can run. They play defense. They don’t make mistakes, they enforce them. Their rookie quarterback is one of the league’s most efficient and effective passers. And they improve week after week, with New England hammering its last four opponents with a combined score of 130-26.
Cleveland was one of those opponents, and the Browns were a playoff team last year. Tennessee was another, and the Titans defeated seven of the 2020 playoff teams this year. But it’s not like those two lost; it is that they were obliterated, 81-20.
I know. Cleveland didn’t have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and Baker Mayfield is injured. And Tennessee doesn’t have Derrick Henry, Julio Jones and AJ Brown. I do not give a hoot. The Patriots suddenly look like the 2001 edition that was stratified by a freshman quarterback starter (guess it) and defined by a lock-down defense.
That team finished 11-5 and won the Super Bowl.
This team could do that too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Patriots then play Buffalo, Indianapolis and Buffalo again, in order. That will tell us what to think. Until then, all I know is that the Patriots have another 8-4 win than last year and they’re somewhere we wouldn’t have expected without Tom Brady.
On top of their division and maybe, just maybe, the AFC.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. The Steelers are toast. OK, so at 5-5-1 they have nothing left. But let’s face it: their defenses are leaking oil and Ben Roethlisberger isn’t Big Ben anymore. In the last two games – both losses – the Steelers have been destroyed for 903 yards and 82 points… and that was against the Chargers and Bengals. In their first nine games, no opponent scored more than 24, with the Steelers allowing an average of 20.5 per start. But now? Now their defense looks like an open window and the playoffs an unattainable goal.
2. Apparently Aaron Rodgers can manage pain. He said that after missing practice last week with a broken toe. Then he went out and threw two TD passes and ran for a third. Against the Rams, no less.
3. The Bengalis are back. They just swept Pittsburgh for the first time since 2009, approaching AFC North leader Baltimore. They have scored 30 or more points in five of their last six games. So? So they only did that once in their previous 13 games. “They really don’t have any weaknesses now,” said NBC analyst Drew Brees. Carefully. It’s the Bengalis. We already said that this season.
4. Tom Brady owns the Colts. He’s been 9-0 against them since 2010 (including the playoffs) — or since Peyton Manning left.
5. The Vikings are in deep kimchi. They can’t win close games, and now they’ve lost star Dalvin Cook. He has a shoulder injury serious enough to leave Sunday’s game against the 49ers on a cart. You know the Vikes are in trouble when Kirk Cousins is behind the guard on a fourth goal. But he did. Honestly.
THIRD AND 20
1. The more I see Tennessee without Derrick Henry, the higher he ranks on my MVP vote.
2. The Rams are a descending team. They’ve lost three in a row, dropped another game behind AFC West leader Arizona and are getting less and less winning from Matthew Stafford, picking six in three consecutive games. These guys need a break…and they’re going to get one. Jacksonville is next.
3. Look at it this way, Jaguars fans. Trevor Lawrence threw at least a touchdown pass. He hasn’t done that for the past three weeks.
4. Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle?
5. It’s your opponent’s fourth goal on the 3 and you’re eight minutes behind with nine minutes to go. What are you doing? If you’re the Minnesota Vikings, go for it, a move the broadcasters enthusiastically endorsed – calling it the only one they could make. Except it wasn’t. A field goal would have narrowed the gap to five, with nine minutes left to produce the match-winning TD. Instead, the Vikings passed the field goal, Cousins missed the fourth-down pass and they lost by eight.
6. I don’t know what will happen to Tampa Bay in January, but I do know this: The defense is nowhere near the one that knocked out opponents in last year’s playoffs.
7. What is so rare as a day in June? An afternoon where the Giants and Jets each win. It happened on Sunday,
8. Contrary to reports, there is still home court advantage in the NFL. He lives in the Green Bay. The Packers have won their last 10 regular season games at Lambeau and 17 of their last 18 there.
9. Tell me again why Matt Rhule was such a great asset to Carolina. He is 10-18.
10. That makes Matt Stafford 0-17 vs. opponents playing with five or more wins over .500. Just sayin.’
11. Cam Newton may be back. But not Superman. If you make only two more passes to your teammates (5) than your opponent (3), gets a pass score of 5.8 and is benched, you are Clark Kent.
12. Don’t change Miami too short. After starting 1-7, the Dolphins have a four game pitch. But this is what’s better: their next two opponents: the Jets and Giants, both at home. Meaning 7-7 is very much in play.
13. So what is pushing Miami? Defense, that’s what it’s all about. In the last four games, the Dolphins have allowed an average of 11.5 points per game, with 16 sacks and 10 takeaways. In other words, they are the defensive coach Brian Flores envisioned three months ago.
14. I thought Denver’s pass rush had to miss Von Miller. Tell that to Justin Herbert.
15. Quick question for Nick Sirianni of Philadelphia: If you have one pass to take one last breath, why throw it at Jalen Reagor? The man was unable to take a taxi in Manhattan at this time.
16. “And I think for the week,” NBCs Mike Tirico said after Baltimore’s 16-10 defeat to Cleveland, “the final result is Harbaughs 2, Ohio 0.” Tirico lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and according to Football on Sunday evening partner Cris Collinsworth, waited all weekend to get into that dig.
17. Not sure what it means but Tennessee is 1-5 vs. rookie quarterbacks since 2018…or in the Mike Vrabel era.
18. They have Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller. So why are the Rams leaking like the Titanic? They’ve given away 28 or more points in three consecutive games, and that shouldn’t happen with this all-star lineup.
19. Funny about Lamar Jackson and multiple first-half interceptions: He’s committed them four times in his career and the Ravens are 4-0 in those games.
20. Per ESPNStatsInfo: Jackson became the first quarterback since 2013 to pitch and win four interceptions in a game. One reason why: Cleveland scored just three points out of four turnovers, and that’s on a struggling foul that netted 14 or fewer points in five of Baker Mayfield’s last six starts. Prior to Sunday night, quarterbacks with four picks had lost 41 consecutive times.
STAT THAT ONLY ME MAY INTEREST
A Jets quarterback has been fired in 46 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Aaron Rodgers is 73-1-1 in his career as he leads at the half.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
The AFC East went 4-0 on Sunday. It is only the second time in the past decade that all four teams have won in the same week. The previous example was 2015.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“We have higher ambitions than beating the Steelers now.” – Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
“See ball. Grab the ball.” – New England corner back JC Jackson.
“We can’t keep playing like this. It’s absolutely embarrassing.” — Pittsburgh linebacker TJ Watt.
“We don’t.” — Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski about the possibility of a quarterback substitution.
“If we turn it around, it gives them life. That’s number one. Number two: they have Tom Brady.” – Indianapolis coach Frank Reich on the Colts loss to Tampa Bay.
“Once we get into a flow, it’s hard to stop us.” – Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams.
RECEIVER OF SUNDAY’S GOLDEN JACKET
Tampa Bay RB Leonard Fournette. He had four touchdowns prior to Sunday. Then he doubled that number in one afternoon, with three rushes and one on a 4-yard reception. It was the first time Fournette had scored four goals in one game and his timing was perfect. It led Tampa Bay to a come-from-behind loss to Indianapolis after the Bucs trailed 14 at halftime. In fact, it was about the halfway mark that Fournette gave an impassioned speech to his teammates, urging them to get their act together for the next two quarters. They did. “I was like, ‘You have to have a will and a will,'” he said. “You have to be willing to risk everything. I think they got that message and played out their light.”