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Bad Ol’ Chargers Show Up at Exactly the Wrong Time, the Lions Will Not Go Away, Could This Be the Week Martavis Bryant Wins One for Pittsburgh?

Also, Seahawks try to ride culture to an NFC West crown, it's past time to eliminate victory formation plays, and do the Panthers dare blitz Aaron Rodgers. Plus, musical guest, King Calo Destroyer of Ships!

We’re going to open this week’s column with a little, tiny, baby-sized version of my other column, the Sunday FreakOut. If you don’t know what the Sunday FreakOut is, it’s reactions and analysis after the Sunday games. And if you, like most people here, don’t know who I am . . . whatever, here’s some stuff I wrote . . .

1a. Ah, there’s the Chargers we all know and kinda loathe but really not enough people pay attention to them to feel anything one way or another. Even when they get gifts—K.C.’s Daniel Sorensen runs into a punt that rolls toward the end zone with two Chargers leading the pursuit, and they can’t come up with the freebie—they can’t take advantage. Travis Coons missed an extra point because they will never have a reliable kicker. Then the wheels came off in the second half: Philip Rivers finally got burned forcing a throw deep, Austin Ekeler loses a fumble (Ekeler has had a wonderful rookie year but that’s two game-altering fumbles in huge games), Travis Benjamin doesn’t turn upfield to get a key third down followed by a fourth-down heave that’s intercepted. This is just what they do. That said, at 7-7 this isn’t over. It’s highly unlikely the Chargers catch the Chiefs for the division, but a wild-card spot is in play.

1b. Chris Jones was awesome yet again in this game. Everyone should know how good he is now and how good he is going to be. He needs a publicist. Or a more unique name. Christoven Jonesefeller.

1c. When the day comes, after the human race has annihilated itself and the aliens descend upon a ruined planet and try to piece together the age of human existence, one conclusion they will surely come to is that the 2017 Los Angeles Chargers special teams play was absolutely horrific.

1d. And after all that midseason drama, the Chiefs are going to win the AFC West anyway. Part of it was a bad night from the Chargers defense, but it’s awfully encouraging to see the K.C. running game find itself again. It was great work by the offensive line, and Kareem Hunt looked much more like the rookie of the year frontrunner he was when we were all 10 weeks younger.

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2a. Give the Lions a little credit for staying in the hunt for a second straight playoff berth. Their roster is fairly deep, but aside from Matthew Stafford it really shapes up as a team with a lot of second-tier players. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones would be good as your second and third receivers, not your Nos. 1 and 2, and they played most of their season without left tackle Taylor Decker. Theo Riddick is really their only viable option at running back, and he’s not much of a runner. Defensively, Ziggy Ansah, their only pure pass-rushing threat, has gone through another injury-filled year. And the back seven is decent, but it’s no Tavon Wilson right now and I still miss DeAndre Levy dearly (even if they don’t). Nine or 10 wins feels like it’s pretty much the ceiling for this Lions roster. Is it enough to get them into the playoffs in a stacked NFC? I dunno, watch the next two weeks and find out. But it does give you those warm, holiday feelings when a team plays to its potential.

2b. On the Bears side of this thing, Mitchell Trubisky will be fine. Maybe you already thought that because of the 314 yards. Or maybe you’re throwing a hissy fit over the fact that he threw three interceptions. (I don’t know how people read box scores these days, it seems most folks pick out the stat that will allow them to overreact in some way.) It’s hard to figure Trubisky out when he has no starting-caliber target to throw to, but on Saturday you saw some good and some bad. (He stepped up a couple of times and made some tough, tight-window throws, and he threw the three INTs, including a bad one in the tight red zone. It happens.) The physical skills are there. Let’s see what happens next year when he has some receivers. (You will get him some receivers, right Ryan Pace?)

2c. Neat plays by Lions receivers! First Marvin Jones:

Neat! Then Golden Tate:

And Bryce Callahan there, looking like the fourth member of The Slipnutz!

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3. The Steelers-Patriots game will likely be decided by a combination of whether or not Le’Veon Bell can just steamroll the Patriots D, the ability (or, more likely considering their play to this point, inability) of Pittsburgh’s linebackers to handle the New England running game, and whether Steelers corners who aren’t Artie Burns or Joe Haden can cover Danny Amendola/Chris Hogan.

But one X-factor matchup, especially with the Patriots more likely to send Malcolm Butler and safety help to counter Antonio Brown, could be Stephon Gilmore vs. Martavis Bryant. Those are two really talented players. But through 13 games as a Patriot, Gilmore has looked very Nnamdi Asomugha. Martavis Bryant lit the Minnesota Vikings on fire back in September when Xavier Rhodes was handling Antonio Brown, but other than that he has been, as Clay Aiken might say, invisible. (I promise my knowledge of Clay Aiken’s catalog is limited to the fact that he had a song titled “Invisible.” I also vaguely remember he made a joke to EW about Cheers fans having contracted “gonor-Rhea Perlman,” and all I could think was, You fool, “diar-Rhea Perlman” was right there!)

Anyway, this likely Bryant-Gilmore matchup. Gilmore has given up big plays all year. Bryant, when he’s going good, is one of the best pure deep threats in football. As people constantly scream in your face, the Patriots are a bend-don’t-break defense. And it’s true! They are third in points allowed per red zone trip (4.03)—when you get down there, they get takeaways or they make you settle for three. The Steelers, while they’ve improved in recent weeks, are just 21st in points per red zone possession despite all their weapons. But one way for Pittsburgh to avoid drives atrophying in the red zone would be to simply score from deep. Ben Roethlisberger has been especially sharp on downfield throws the past few weeks. Bryant vs. Gilmore, disappointment vs. disappointment, might be the kind of matchup that can swing this game.

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4. I can’t remember a team entering a crucial, season-defining game with more key injuries than the Seahawks. They’ve been treading water in the secondary without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and they still have had enough to get by on the defensive line without Cliff Avril (though they’ll rue the day they let Dwight Freeney walk away). But without K.J. Wright and, potentially, Bobby Wagner—who is essentially Luke Kuechly without the weird insurance commercials—a win over the Rams, even at home, should be virtually impossible on Sunday.

But this is seemingly a winnable game. One reason they can hang around is Russell Wilson doing Russell Wilson-y things in the most Russell Wilson-ish ways. There's also culture. Culture can easily be overrated in the NFL, but I don’t think it’s a leap to say that culture is playing some role in this Seahawks team staying competitive when they no longer have the dominant talent of three or four seasons ago. It’s a thin line between 11-5 and 5-11 in the NFL, and teams that have made a habit of winning games over a period of time seem to have the ability to withstand adversity better than others.

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5a. Though one part of Seahawks culture that needs to go: dumb crap on kneel downs. Swiping the snap isn’t a viable football strategy anymore than mortgaging your house to acquire more pogs is a viable financial planning strategy. Is there a chance you can actually disrupt the victory formation snap, recover a fumble and win the game? Sure. It’s about the same odds as pogs become the standard for a worldwide, universal currency.

Whether or not Michael Bennett’s play at the end of the Jacksonville game was dirty or just an aggressive but unwise football play (let's call it a little of both), it’s absurd that he was not suspended in light of last week’s one-game bans for Rob Gronkowski and JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s obscene that he wasn’t even fined. (Though a week ago I did criticize the league for only punishing acts when there is public outrage. Now, they heard the public outrage surrounding an obviously punishable offense and decided to ignore it. So . . . progress?)

There was the nonsense on the kneeldowns to finish Super Bowl XLIX. There was this from Jeremy Lane last year against the Packers (which is probably why officials were quick to toss him in the opener at Lambeau). It's a pattern. The league should be doing something about it.

5b. The lack of action on Bennett is egregious. But the league can actually save face on this: by getting rid of the kneeldown play. It serves no purpose. It’s not interesting or exciting. In victory formation situations, it does nothing more than entice the team that lost to get in a couple cheap shots with the protection of being able to say, Well, the game’s still going on.

The solution is so easy that Major League Baseball could even figure it out. Just give the offense an option to concede a down in exchange for 40 seconds running off the clock. The defense can choose to burn a timeout if they have any left. The offense can also announce that they are conceding multiple plays at once. Example: say the leading team has first-and-10 with two minutes left and the defense has no timeouts. They simply tell the official: We’re conceding the next three plays. That’s it. The game is over. Baseball did something similar with the intentional walk. And could you imagine being less progressive than the people who run Major League Baseball?!

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6. Leonard Fournette is an incredible talent, but considering his running style what’s the over/under on 16-game seasons he has over the course of his career? Maybe 3.5?

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7. The last time Aaron Rodgers was in Carolina, it was a grind. It was the third-most incompletions he’s ever thrown in an NFL game: 25-for-48 with an INT. It was either that interception (on fourth-and-goal right after the two-minute warning in a game Green Bay trailed by eight) or watching the official video for the song “Christmas Shoes” (a song that I’m still not convinced actually exists) that made him do this to a tablet:

Back then, the Panthers D was being coordinated by Sean McDermott and relied solely on front-four pressure. But you sheeple became a little more educated after reading Jonathan Jones’ piece on McDermott’s replacement, Steve Wilks, who’s making his mark this season with aggressive blitzing. Many teams prefer to back off blitzing Rodgers because of his ability to escape the pocket and slaughter defenses by extending plays. But, coming off a broken collar bone, and considering it is already the Panthers’ identity, does Wilks keep the heat on knowing that Rodgers might have that collarbone on his mind when he’s running around?

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8. Ladies and gentlemen . . . King Calo Destroyer of Ships!

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