The first week of November did not disappoint. A great World Series came to an end, College Football is releasing playoff rankings, and NFL playoff races are starting to form. If it wasn’t already, it’s full-on, glued-to-the-couch, yell-at-a-TV football season. Here are my thoughts after Week 9.
1. This Jets thing is still a thing huh?
No, you’re not dreaming, the New York Jets really are 6-3, half a game out of first place. After a 20-17 home victory over the Buffalo Bills, it’s harder than ever to call the Jets frauds. The wild card race in the AFC is certain to come down to the wire with teams like the Chargers, Patriots, and Bengals firmly in the mix. With a 6-3 record heading into their bye, the fighting Robert Saleh’s have given themselves a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
How has this happened?
It all starts with the defense. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, the Jets have the #7 defense in the league through nine weeks. Quinnen Williams has emerged as a complete stud on the interior of the defensive line while the first-round pick, Sauce Gardner, has done the same at corner. The impact of these players and many more was evident on Sunday against Buffalo. The Bills’ offense looked out of sync for this first time this season as the Jets got pressure on Josh Allen and did a nice job on the outside dealing with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. Head coach Robert Saleh was heavily criticized last year because he is a defensive coach and that defense was dreadful. Well he has turned things around on that side of the ball in year two. The Jets are winning in spite of their QB by playing fundamentally sound football on defense and special teams. New York is one of only six teams that is still generating a positive rush EPA. Though I’d be surprised if this lasts, Michael Carter and James Robinson just aren’t Breece Hall.
The Jets shouldn’t be taken seriously as a legitimate contender because Zach Wilson is not a quarterback capable of leading a playoff run at this moment. But the rest of this team is solid as a rock and plays hard for its head coach. New York’s remaining schedule is no joke and it will be fascinating to see if the Jets fly into the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
2. Mike Vrabel and the Titans are still here
The Tennessee Titans just never seem to flinch. Tennessee started the year 0-2 and had a few brutal early-season injuries. That didn’t matter, the Titans didn’t flinch. After rattling off a five-game win streak, the Titans rolled into Arrowhead for a Sunday night showdown with the Chiefs, and did so without Ryan Tannehill. Due to Tannehill’s ankle injury, the Titans were forced to start Malik Willis — who is closer to a running back than he is a QB at this point — at quarterback for a second straight game. The Chiefs were at home coming off a bye and were laying 14 points to a Titans team that didn’t stand a chance in primetime, right?
Mike Vrabel’s team of absolute blue collar junkyard dogs out-played the Chiefs in Arrowhead for a solid 55 minutes, before Patrick Mahomes, of course, took the game over and grabbed the win, but that’s not the point. The point is that Mike Vrabel is in the top-tier of head coaches and needs to respected as such. Tennessee’s roster has far more flaws than it does stars, yet the Titans remain a team that NOBODY wants to play. The Titans play week in and week out with a level of toughness, physicality, discipline, and detail that is not seen consistently in this league. Vrabel was part of the New England dynasty, he knows what it takes to win and it’s evident every time the Titans take the field. The Titans are going to win the AFC South once again and it won’t be because of a star quarterback or a defense loaded with All-pros. The Titans will win the division and be a tough out in the playoffs because the Titans know who they are and because no-matter what happens, they just don’t flinch.
So the Packers lost again. This time Green Bay fell short by a score of 15-9 against the Detroit Lions, who entered the contest 1-6. It’s legitimately difficult for an NFL team to fail to score double digits against this Lions’ defense. Yet here are the Packers, leaving Detroit at an all-time low. I’ve never been to Detroit, but the consensus is that one is supposed to be excited, thrilled, elated to leave the Motor City and head literally anywhere else besides College Station, correct?
The Packers are where they are for a medley of reasons, many of which I’ve already written about. Let’s not overlook the back-to-back MVP when divvying up the blame (cheese?) pie. 53% completion rate and three interceptions against THIS defense? Sorry, I’m not blaming all of that on Christian Watson. There are quarterbacks (Justin Herbert) doing much better with much worse. Part of the reason that the Packers no longer employ Davante Adams is because Adams looked at Rodgers as a complete wild card who could disappear at any given time, leaving Adams hanging with Jordan Love. Rodgers was getting away the with off-the-field one-man-circus act over the past few years because he was throwing a million touchdowns and winning MVPs. All the shenanigans and obscure quotes are starting to catch up to him and this franchise.
A QB that just signed for $150 million giving HIMSELF credit for not giving up after a loss to the Lions?!? No, drafting Jordan Love over Tee Higgins in 2020 was not good, and Rodgers had a right to be frustrated with that move. But make no mistake about it, Aaron Rodgers has brought most of this on himself.
4. A check-in on some other Quarterbacks around the league
Hand up. It appears that I may have given up on Fields too soon. The Bears have started to design the offense around Fields’ strengths and he is starting to look like the dynamic playmaker from Ohio State. A recent stretch a good games culminated on Sunday with Fields rushing for 178 yards and scoring 4 total touchdowns in a 35-32 loss to the Dolphins. Fields is still missing some throws he should hit, and he’s still taking a lot of bad sacks. But fans in Chicago are excited about their QB and rightfully so. The Bears have gone from unwatchable to low-key almost must-see TV, and that’s because of Fields.
Allen had his worst game in quite some time in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. And to add insult to injury, he also suffered an injury. Allen reportedly suffered some damage to the UCL in his throwing elbow, and it remains to be seen if he will miss any time or be impacted this injury. But even before the injury, Allen was making some startlingly bad mistakes.
Mistakes like these were not uncommon for Allen in 2019, but the unstoppable super-human version of Allen had really cut down on these mind-boggling picks over the past two years. There is nothing that opposing defenses can really do to stop Allen other than pray to the heavens that he might give the ball away a few times, and he actually has on more than a few occasions this year. Josh Allen is the second-best football player in the world and is having a year for the ages, but it only takes one of these mistakes in a key moment during the playoffs to derail a season. Decision making will be something to keep an eye on with Allen as we head into the playoffs.
Things have not gone according to plan for Herbert and the Chargers through 9 weeks. Going into the season the plan was to have Herbert throwing to two high-paid receivers behind an offensive line with multiple All-pros and first round picks. Safe to say that hasn’t been the case, and the reality is that Herbert is firing darts to Josh Palmer and Michael Bandy behind a dangerously weak O-line. Herbert himself has dealt with an injury to his ribs that clearly has impacted his style of play at times. But through it all, Herbert has toughed it out and has carried this underachieving and unwatchable team to a 5-3 record.
The Chargers have allowed the fewest number of sacks in the NFL, and trust me, that’s not a reflection of the offensive line, that’s Justin Herbert.
The Chargers’ offense has been serviceable enough to win games not because of a league-worst rushing attack, or because Deandre Carter and Gerald Everett are making plays down the field (they most definitely are not). All of the credit should go to #10. He’s carrying a bad offense, a bad defense, and a worse coaching staff to playoff contention.
Let’s see how Kirk Cousins and the 7-1 Vikings are feeling after a road win against the Commanders.
5. Rapid Fire Fantasy Football Takes
The Chargers’ horrific, 31st-ranked rush “defense” is about to get *WORSE now that Austin Johnson is out for the year. Start Christian McCaffrey next week in my opinion.
Justin Fields has had 12 or more rushes in 3 of his last 4 games and is a clear QB 1 for the rest of the year.
I wouldn’t blame anyone that sells high on Joe Mixon. BYE week and the Titans in two of the next three weeks.
Everyone on the Packers and Colts… not great Bob
JuJu seems to be developing some real chemistry with Mahomes and might be more reliable down the stretch.
Josh Palmer is a very reliable start while Mike Willimas and Keenan Allen are out, which should be at least 2-3 more weeks.
D’Andre Swift is borderline unstartable and it could stay that way for the rest of the year.
Teams that are clearly going to make the playoffs, start planning ahead now. Trade for players that have great matchups during the playoff weeks. The best defenses to attack include the Lions, Browns, Falcons, Texans, and Raiders.
6. Updated NFL Week 9 SB Pick and MVP Ladder
SUPER BOWL PICK
Preseason – Bills over GB
Week 1 – Bills over GB
Week 2 – Bills over GB
Week 3 – Bills over GB
Week 4 – Bills over Tampa
Week 5 – Bills over Tampa
Week 6 — Bills over Philly
Week 7 — Bills over Philly
Week 8 — Bills over Philly
Week 9 — Bills over Philly
I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Bills against the Vikings next week along with the 49ers coming off a BYE. I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Francisco go 8-1 down the stretch if CMC and Deebo stay on the field.
Preseason Pick – Justin Herbert
Week 1 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Herbert
Week 2 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 3 Ladder – Allen, Hurts, Lamar
Week 4 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 5 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 6 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 7 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 8 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 9 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
If voting were to take place today, Mahomes should be the MVP. I still have Allen atop the ladder because I project that he will take the title back if this elbow thing ends up being OK. Mahomes does the one-man-show bit like nobody else and he does it in the biggest moments. The fact that the offense is what it is without Tyreek Hill is incredible, even for Mahomes.
7. We’re on to Week 10
The Week 10 slate is a fun one. London games are back and we get a very nice matchup between the Seahawks and the Bucs. I’m aware that this game is technically being played in Germany, but any game that is on TV while I’m eating donuts is considered a London game, those are the rules. The Vikings play the Bills in a game that will show us what Minnesota is really made of, assuming Josh Allen is near full strength. The Sunday night game is the Chargers at the 49ers. The Bolts couldn’t be down worse with injuries right now and Kyle Shanahan is going to run all over this middle school run defense of the Chargers. If Herbert wins that game on Sunday night, I might write 15,000 words about him next week.