Who else missed the Monday night doubleheader? Most fans would likely take two games on Monday and do away with Thursday Night Football, but alas, the NFL schedule reverted back to normal in Week 7. Of course, this is good news in the big picture because it means fewer teams had virus outbreaks to affect their schedules. Still, few people would miss those Thursday night snoozers in future seasons.
At this point in the 2020 season, we can make two statements fairly confidently: the NFC West has four good teams, and the NFC East has four bad teams. Hardly a shocking proclamation, yet it will be a shame that a Wild Card team out of the West will have to play on the road against an inferior East champion. But that’s a problem for another day. For now, let’s reassess where the league’s risers and fallers stand.
32. New York Jets (0-7, Last week: 32)
Both left tackle Mekhi Becton and quarterback Sam Darnold returned from injury Sunday against Buffalo, but the song remained the same. Darnold was sacked six times, and he has now been sacked in 21 consecutive games, which is the longest current streak in the NFL. The Jets gained only 190 total yards and gave up 422. They’re coming for you, Trevor Lawrence.
Next week: at Kansas City (6-1)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6, Last week: 31)
Another solid day from James Robinson was not enough to complete the comeback victory in Los Angeles. After trailing 16-0 early, Jacksonville led 21-16 in the third quarter and retied the score at 29 before eventually falling by 10. The Jags have almost no pass rush and cannot force turnovers consistently.
Next week: idle
30. Atlanta Falcons (1-6, Last week: 28)
Another week, another blown fourth-quarter lead. Atlanta needed only a field goal to beat Detroit Sunday, but Todd Gurley scored with just over a minute left (after trying to hold himself up at the goal line), and the Falcons defense posed no resistance to the Lions’ offense marching down for the winning score. Only Atlanta can make scoring a touchdown a bad thing.
Next week: at Carolina (3-4)
29. Dallas Cowboys (2-5, Last week: 23)
Dallas’ downward slide continued on Sunday, as they failed to even show up in Washington. Andy Dalton left the game with a concussion in the third quarter, but the Cowboys already trailed 22-3 by then. Ben DiNucci was sacked three times in his relief of Dalton, and neither the offense nor the defense could do anything to challenge their division rivals.
Next week: at Philadelphia (2-4-1)
28. New York Giants (1-6, Last week: 27)
Is there a play more reflective of the Giants’ season so far than Daniel Jones’ 80-yard trip and fall? In the third quarter, Jones kept the ball on a zone read, broke through the Eagles’ defense, stumbled inside the 20-yard line with no defenders in sight, and fell victim to the turf monster. Even when things are going smoothly for New York, they find a way to screw it up.
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay (5-2)
27. Minnesota Vikings (1-5, Last week: 29)
During their bye week, Minnesota traded away defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore for draft picks in 2021. Then, they announced that defensive end Danielle Hunter would be placed on injured reserve. Ugh.
Next week: at Green Bay (5-1)
26. Houston Texans (1-6, Last week: 24)
The Texans’ season has completely gone off the rails due to an offense that can’t score consistently and a defense that can’t stop anyone. Houston has the sixth-worst turnover margin, sixth-worst scoring defense, fourth-worst defense by yardage, and fifth-worst scoring margin. At this point, they may decide to carry on Bill O’Brien’s legacy and trade away even more of their assets by the trade deadline on November 3rd.
Next week: idle
25. Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1, Last week: 26)
Despite 400 yards through the air, Joe Burrow was sacked four times and turned the ball over twice. He is carrying the entire Cincinnati franchise on his back right now, and he needs some help. Tyler Boyd is doing his part at least, whereas disgruntled veterans like A.J. Green and Carlos Dunlap are candidates for the trading block.
Next week: vs. Tennessee (5-1)
24. Denver Broncos (2-4, Last week: 21)
Broncos defenders tallied four sacks and forced and recovered a Nick Keizer fumble at home on Sunday. Denver even outgained the Chiefs by 125 yards, but moral victories still count as losses in the final standings, and this was an ugly one. Drew Lock has now thrown four interceptions and zero touchdowns in his last two games.
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)
23. New England Patriots (2-4, Last week: 19)
These may not be your older brother’s Patriots. Neither Cam Newton nor Jarrett Stidham could get the offense going (Stidham came on in relief after Newton’s third interception), and the defense yielded 33 points and 467 yards to San Francisco Sunday. At 2-4, New England now sits at third place in the AFC East, behind Buffalo and Miami. Are the Patriots in danger of finishing with their first losing record since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year at the helm?
Next week: at Buffalo (5-2)
22. Washington Football Team (2-5, Last week: 29)
Antonio Gibson carried the offense (pun intended) with 128 rushing yards and a score. Montez Sweat notched two of the team’s six sacks on Dallas’ quarterbacks as well. If Washington faced the porous Dallas and Philadelphia offensive lines every week, they might reach 100 sacks in a season. They have forced 14 of their 22 sacks in those two games, both wins.
Next week: idle
21. Detroit Lions (3-3, Last week: 22)
Matt Stafford didn’t throw a touchdown until the last play of the game, but it was the one that counted. D’Andre Swift and Matt Prater handled most of the scoring, and Romeo Okwara added two timely second-half sacks to keep the Lions in it. Stafford connected with T.J. Hockenson for a touchdown in the third straight game.
Next week: vs. Indianapolis (4-2)
20. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4-1, Last week: 25)
The Eagles relied upon a strong second-half passing attack to overcome an 11-point deficit and reclaim first place in the NFC East Thursday night. Carson Wentz completed passes to eight different receivers, led by tight end Richard Rodgers and his six catches for 85 yards. Six wins may be enough to clinch this division, but can any team mired in the peat bog of the East actually cross that threshold?
Next week: vs. Dallas (2-5)
19. Carolina Panthers (3-4, Last week: 18)
From their matchup on Sunday, New Orleans’ drive chart reads like this: touchdown, touchdown, fumble lost, touchdown, field goal, field goal, end of game. An optimist could be encouraged by the early turnover forced and the defense’s ability to force second half field goals. A pessimist may wonder how the Panthers can win a game in which they force no punts and yield three touchdowns in four possessions to start. Matt Rhule’s team is improving, but it will not be a contender until it can fix its defense.
Next week: vs. Atlanta (1-6)
18. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4, Last week: 20)
Justin Herbert put up over 400 yards of total offense and four touchdowns to earn his first career win against Jacksonville. Herbert connected with Keenan Allen 10 times and never turned it over, which proved to be enough to hold off the Jaguars. Uchenna Nwosu led the pass rush that got Gardner Minshew on the ground five times Sunday afternoon.
Next week: at Denver (2-4)
17. Las Vegas Raiders (3-3, Last week: 10)
As well as Derek Carr has played this season, the Raiders have to be concerned about their continuing difficulty running the ball. Josh Jacobs is averaging well under four yards per carry, which is the standard mark upon which runners are judged, and his long run this year is only 16 yards. If Jon Gruden can’t get his team to run the ball, protect the ball, and force more turnovers, things could turn south in a hurry.
Next week: at Cleveland (5-2)
16. Miami Dolphins (3-3, Last week: 16)
Coming out of their bye, Miami will be handing the reins to Tua Tagovailoa. The rookie from Alabama will be tested right out of the gate against the Rams and Cardinals. The Dolphins’ final eight games are then split evenly between four pretenders and four contenders. They are, in order: Chargers, at the Broncos, at the Jets, Bengals, Chiefs, Patriots, at the Raiders, at the Bills. Good luck, Tua!
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams (5-2)
15. Indianapolis Colts (4-2, Last week: 14)
Indianapolis is now only a game back of Tennessee in the AFC South standings, and they may be getting a few key players–Darius Leonard, Michael Pittman, Mo Alie-Cox, and Kemoko Turay–back from injury soon.
Next week: vs. Detroit (3-3)
14. San Francisco 49ers (4-3, Last week: 17)
Jamar Taylor was the star in Foxborough Sunday, picking off two passes, deflecting two others, and securing three solo tackles. The 30-year old Taylor is playing for his seventh team and is listed third on the 49ers’ depth chart, but he certainly took advantage of his opportunities against New England. Jeff Wilson had a breakout game at running back but will now miss a few weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Next week: at Seattle (5-1)
13. Buffalo Bills (5-2, Last week: 15)
With two of their tight ends placed under COVID-19 quarantine late last week, the Bills barely missed a beat, throwing for over 300 yards and running for another 126. Starting tight end Tyler Kroft did play, and he was second on the team with 64 receiving yards on four catches. The most impressive stat has to be this one: eight different Bills defenders registered at least a half-sack (the official tally was six sacks for 29 yards lost).
Next week: vs. New England (2-4)
12. Chicago Bears (5-2, Last week: 7)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Chicago’s defense outplayed its offense last night. In fact, safety Eddie Jackson scored the Bears’ only touchdown on a fumble recovery in the third quarter. They can seemingly neither run the ball nor protect the passer, so a fortified offensive line is another item to add to the wish-list, behind “better quarterback play.”
Next week: vs. New Orleans (4-2)
11. Cleveland Browns (5-2, Last week: 13)
Even with the running game held in check, Baker Mayfield hung 37 points on Cincinnati thanks to five passing touchdowns. Myles Garrett recorded two more sacks and forced a fumble, which Ronnie Harrison recovered. With every come-from-behind road victory they can complete, the more these Browns prove they belong in the playoff discussion. Sadly, they will have to finish the season without Odell Beckham Jr., who tore his ACL.
Next week: vs. Las Vegas (3-3)
10. New Orleans Saints (4-2, Last week: 11)
Alvin Kamara had another solid day of production on the ground and through the air, and Jared Cook kicked off National Tight End Day festivities by scoring the game’s first touchdown. The Saints’ defense yielded some big plays to Teddy Bridgewater and D.J. Moore, but they held Carolina to a long field goal attempt late in the game. Joey Slye missed, and New Orleans clung to a win.
Next week: at Chicago (5-2)
9. Seattle Seahawks (5-1, Last week: 2)
Seattle needed heroic efforts from several players in Arizona, but it was still not enough to overcome the host Cardinals in overtime. Russell Wilson accounted for almost 500 total yards, Tyler Lockett caught 15 of 20 targets for 200 yards and three scores, and D.K. Metcalf chased down Budda Baker on one of the best hustle plays in NFL history. Unfortunately, Wilson threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions, and Bobby Wagner and the defense could not stop Arizona’s offense in crunch time.
Next week: vs. San Francisco (4-3)
8. Arizona Cardinals (5-2, Last week: 9)
Kyler Murray had himself a day against Seattle on Sunday night. The 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year accounted for over 400 yards and four touchdowns to upset the Seahawks. Chase Edmonds chipped in with over 12 yards per touch (seven receptions and five carries for 145 total yards) to keep the offense afloat when it needed him most.
Next week: idle
7. Los Angeles Rams (5-2, Last week: 12)
The Rams won the yardage battle, the turnover battle, and the time of possession battle against Chicago Monday night. Defensively, they provided consistent pressure on the Bears’ offense, allowing only 49 rushing yards and gaining four sacks. On the other side of the ball, Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson combined for a potent rushing attack to complement another steady outing from Jared Goff.
Next week: at Miami (3-3)
6. Tennessee Titans (5-1, Last week: 3)
Tennessee could not complete their furious comeback against unbeaten Pittsburgh thanks to a missed field goal in the final seconds. Still, Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown put the Titans back in the thick of things even though Derrick Henry was effectively bottled up. Jayon Brown recorded four of his defense’s 11 pass deflections, but they must be concerned that they failed to achieve a single sack in 49 Steeler pass attempts.
Next week: at Cincinnati (1-5-1)
5. Green Bay Packers (5-1, Last week: 6)
Green Bay built a 21-0 lead at halftime and coasted to a 35-20 win over woeful Houston Sunday. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns, while Jamaal Williams added 114 total scrimmage yards and a score on the ground. Davante Adams put up another monster game, hauling in 13 receptions for 196 yards and two scores.
Next week: vs. Minnesota (1-5)
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-1, Last week: 5)
The Ravens lured Ngakoue from Minnesota for relatively cheap. They are also rumored to be interested in free agent receiver Dez Bryant. This aggressiveness is surely due to Pittsburgh and Kansas City playing so well.
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh (6-0)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2, Last week: 8)
The Buccaneers are really playing well right now. Despite their two losses, Tom Brady is commanding this offense at a high level, Devin White is making plays all over the field, and Antonio Brown is now joining the fray as a street free agent. Only the poor Giants stand between Tampa Bay and their Sunday night revenge game against New Orleans in early November. That should be a good one.
Next week: at New York Giants (1-6)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-1, Last week: 4)
It is rare when Kansas City’s defense and special teams carry the team to victory, considering how explosive the Chiefs’ offense usually is. However, four turnovers forced, a kick return touchdown, and an interception return touchdown were more than enough to stifle the Broncos in snowy Denver. Daniel Sorensen and Byron Pringle stretched the lead from 10-6 to 24-9 in consecutive possessions, and the rout was on.
Next week: vs. New York Jets (0-7)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-0, Last week: 1)
The Steelers are the league’s lone unbeaten team after outlasting Tennessee on Sunday. James Conner, Diontae Johnson, and T.J. Watt helped build up a 27-7 second half lead before the Titans crawled their way back. Ben Roethlisberger (three interceptions) will need to limit his turnovers for Pittsburgh to win another championship in 2020.
Next week: at Baltimore (5-1)