The stakes are starting to rise in these regular season games. Players and coaches across the league are ditching stoic poker faces for transparent attitudes of frustration and joy. The wins are starting to feel bigger and the losses are starting to hurt more. I left a noticeable dent in my couch after watching football all weekend, here are some thoughts.
1. The Bengals are significantly better than last year
For an impressive third time in a row, the Bengals got the better of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Cincinnati picked up the big 27-24 win in a game that featured more passing touchdowns than punts. Joe Burrow is now 3-0 against Mahomes, certainly a narrative that we will be reminded of if these two meet again in the playoffs.
In 2021 the Bengals made the playoffs on the back of momentum, vibes, and stellar coaching on the defensive side of the football. The defense got hot at the right time as Joe Burrow and the offense completed deep shots at a historic rate. The AFC champs from last year were pretty average overall and had some real flaws. 17th in overall DVOA is not a number you’d expect to see from a team that was a few plays away from winning the whole thing. The 2021 Bengals got lucky in many ways and then took advantage when the ball bounced their way. This 2022 version of the Bengals is a different animal that might not even need luck to make a deep run.
With an 8-4 record and a DVOA ranking of sixth, it has become clear that many of the Bengals’ flaws have become strengths. The most notable change has come up front. Cincinnati’s o-line is MOVING people up front. Zac Taylor and the offense made a shift early in the season and became a unit that operates almost exclusively from the shotgun. A risky move considering how tough it has been for many teams — especially the Bengals — to have success running the ball from the gun. But as this o-line group has had time to mesh, there has been an incredible transformation in Cincinnati’s run game. On the season, the Bengals are now 7th in rush DVOA, a number you just don’t often see from a team that operates from the gun without a dynamic runner at QB. Zac Taylor, the o-line, and the offense as a whole deserve a lot of credit for an in-season improvement of what was once a dormant and predictable rushing attack.
Through the first two and a half years of his career, Joe Burrow’s main weakness could be spotted from a mile away. He hunted big gains on every play and took many unnecessary sacks because of it. Burrow refused to get the ball out quick to avoid negative plays. In albeit a small sample, it looks as if Burrow is really fixing this weak spot in his game. In recent weeks, Burrow has masterfully moved the ball down the field by taking the short gains when they are there, while also still uncorking deep shots when the play allows for it. Again, the offensive-line has really come a long way since Week 1, but so has Burrow.
An offense that once felt dependant on Jamaar Chase 70-yard touchdowns now looks like one of the most well-rounded groups in the entire league. With Lou Anarumo leading what I believe is the most underrated defense in the league, I have no hesitation in calling the Bengals a legitimate threat to win this whole thing. No Super Bowl hangover in Cincinnati, the Bengals were a year early last year and I think even they know that. This team won’t need a billion interceptions from Ryan Tannehill, it won’t need inexplicable miscues from Patrick Mahomes, it won’t need 58-yard bombs from Evan McPherson. This team is solid as a rock and is a team that nobody should want to play in January.
2. Someone finally slowed down the Dolphins
The most fascinating tactical matchup of the week took place in San Francisco, where the 49ers rather easily handled the Dolphins by a score of 33-17. Dolphins’ head coach, Mike McDaniel, was Kyle Shanahan’s guy for a long period of time. When McDaniel took the job in Miami, he obviously brought many aspects of the trademark Shanahan offense with him. And he has had that offense cooking through 13 weeks. However, this matchup against the 49ers’ defense was going to show just how unstoppable this McDaniel-Tua juggernaut really is. While the Dolphins did connect on some big plays, DeMeco Ryans and the 49ers’ defense got the better of Tua in this one.
When teams play the Dolphins they typically play a lot of zone defense, this seems obvious, who would want to play man coverage against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle all day? The issue there is that McDaniel’s offense and Tua’s strengths as a QB are suited perfectly to shred zone defenses. Demeco Ryans’ defense made a name for itself last season by executing a flawless zone scheme and have been doing the same this year. LB Fred Warner is built for this type of scheme and Ryans knows it. Nick Bosa and the rest of the San Francisco pass rush generated consistent pressure in the face of Tua, and while Tua is a master at certain things, he handles pressure in the pocket about as well as Ben Simmons shoots threes.
The blueprint for slowing down this Dolphins offense is now on tape. Get relentless pressure in the face of Tua while also jamming wide receivers at the line-of-scrimmage and executing a perfect zone with no miscommunication. The problem for the league is that the 49ers might very well be the only defense in the league that can do all of this. It’s also important to note that Miami was down some offensive-linemen in this game. The recipe to slow down Miami is there, but I don’t see any other teams in the league with Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, and Demeco Ryans calling the shots.
There should be very little panic in Miami, this was just another masterclass from a special defense in the Bay.
3. The Detroit Lions… are figuring it out
It won’t lead sportscenter or make the front page of the times, but Jared Goff and the Lions are playing some good ball. After thumping the Jaguars 40-14 on Sunday, the Lions’ offense moved up the ranks to 9th in DVOA, per football outsiders. Detroit has won 4 of its last 5 on the back of a passing attack that looks far too easy when considering the narratives around Goff and the franchise as a whole. To make it simple, the o-line can really block, Amon-Ra St. Brown can consistently get open, and Jared Goff is a very smart and accurate passer when he has time to read the defense and deliver the ball. Detroit also has two strong running backs and other solid pass catching weapons to help out.
The Lions spent their first-round pick on WR Jameson Williams who played for the first time on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has established himself as one of the better offensive minds in the game, and as the touchdowns and wins continue to pile up, it’s hard not to get optimistic about the future in Detroit. The defense still has a ways to go, and Jared Goff likely isn’t the long term answer at QB, but the pieces are falling into place in the Motor City.
It feels different, it feels weird, and it feels kind of fun to imagine the Lions playing in important games over the next few years, and that is where we are headed.
4. Updated NFC outlook with Jimmy G injured
I wanted to give San Francisco some praise for a nice win without mentioning the important and depressing news that Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a foot injury and is out for the remainder of the season. This is just an absolute gut punch for a QB and a team that looked primed for another deep playoff run. While backup QB Brock Purdy played well in relief, and the 49ers may have even signed Baker Mayfield by the time you read this, the injury to Jimmy G severely damages the Super Bowl hopes for this team.
Brock Purdy looked frisky and had some moxy to him, but when the film gets out on him things could start to look ugly. Jimmy is a guy that has won huge playoff games time and time again, and it’s not fair to just assume Purdy can do the same even with all the great pieces around him.
This swings an already open door wide open for the Eagles and the Cowboys. I suppose due to their record and potential playoff path the Vikings should also be mentioned here, but the eye-test is real and says that Minnesota would need some really good luck to make the Super Bowl in Arizona.
For Dallas and Philadelphia, it’s hard to ask for much more than this. A two-horse race for a conference title in early December is pretty rare. Both seem to be clicking on all cylinders right now, with Philly having the inside track for the No. 1 seed and the bye in the NFC. That NFC East rematch will be fascinating to watch and enjoy later in the year.
5. Rapid Fire Fantasy Football Takes
The A.J. Brown revenge game did not disappoint.
The fantasy football playoffs are here. Make sure to do all the little things right. Grab a defense with a strong matchup a week early. Block your opponents from acquiring a player they might need. Don’t start TNF guys in the flex. These little things might just make the difference.
Pity the fools that are facing Justin Jefferson or Amon-Ra St. Brown this upcoming week. Minnesota vs Detroit is going to be a track meet.
Both Dallas running backs can and should be started against Houston this week.
Not sure how you could play any Raven besides Mark Andrews this week against Pittsburgh.
I’d be terrified to start anyone on Cleveland this week. Obviously you play Chubb if you have him, but holy smokes did Deshaun look bad.
Garrett Wilson has Buffalo, Detroit, and Jacksonville in his next three games. He’s a league winner and we should have seen this one coming.
My DM’s are open and I’ll answer any questions you got during this crucial stretch for fantasy football.
6. Updated Week 13 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 6–11 — Bills over Philly
Week 12 – Chiefs over Philly
Week 13 – Bills over Philly
I’m back on the Bills and I’m mad that I ever left. The defense is mostly healthy and looked fantastic against the Pats. I trust the defense in Buffalo more than the one in KC, and the Bills once again control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed.
Preseason Pick – Justin Herbert
Week 1 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Herbert
Week 2 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 3 Ladder – Allen, Hurts, Lamar
Week 4-9 Ladder – Allen, Mahomes, Hurts
Week 10-11 Ladder – Mahomes, Allen, Tyreek Hill
Week 12 Ladder – Mahomes, Hurts, Allen
Week 13 Ladder – Mahomes, Hurts, Allen
What a game from Jalen Hurts. He torched a solid Titans team in every way imaginable. Hurts looks like a guy fully capable of winning two home games and getting Philly back to the Super Bowl.
7. We’re on to Week 14
Week 14 is a weird one. The most points should come in a duel between Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff. Panthers vs Seahawks is a weirdly important game. Brock Purdy is laying points against Tom Brady. Patrick Mahomes was flexed OUT of primetime because Russell Wilson is the worst thing to happen to TV since the Dexter finale.
All leading up to the first ever “Take Bowl” between Tua and Justin Herbert on Sunday night football. Make sure to tweet responsibly during this game and simply ask yourself, “What would Tua look like in this Chargers’ offense with Joe Lombardi calling the shots with no offensive-line?”
In all seriousness, we established the key to stopping Miami is with an elite pass rush, smart linebackers, and a genius defensive coach. CAN I INTEREST YOU IN EDGE RUSHER KYLE VAN NOY, KENNETH MURRAY, AND BRANDON STALEY?!?
Spoiler alert, the Dolphins will be scoring points in this football game.