Despite the record-breaking pace this season is off to, the NFL in 2018 has not been without its head-scratching disappointments.
The other-worldly play of Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes and the efficiency of Jared Goff has effectively masked some teams and players thought to be ascending at the end of last season. This includes the teams who are traditionally very good, or possess an established, elite passer. But it is those middle-tier teams that so often throw a wrench into the knowledge we think we’ve accumulated after so many weeks of play.
With a little more than a month to go, it feels like the right time to dissect some of these teams—the ones we can’t quite figure out—and project where they might be headed.
Packers (4-5-1): I find it strange that a team priding itself on constant, rigorous self-scouting has found itself in a sustained offensive funk. But it’s not really a funk, is it? Here are the stats from Aaron Rodgers’s last six games: 139-229 (60.70%), 1,943 yards, 12 touchdowns, 0 INT, passer rating of 105.5. Aaron Jones’s last four games: 346 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 100 receiving yards and one touchdown. Davante Adams’s last seven games: 52 catches, 749 yards, six touchdowns, 67.5% catch rate. On paper, the Packers should be hammering opponents, but they’re losers of three of their last four. But … are you ready to call them finished?
Broncos (4–6): A team that looked to be on the verge of an in-season coach firing throttled the Cardinals 45–10 to save Vance Joseph’s job in October. They’ve come within a field goal of the Rams, a touchdown of the Chiefs and a safety of the Texans. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have 900 combined rushing yards already and Von Miller still steps in to take over a game every few weeks. And on Sunday, they beat the red-hot Chargers.
Lions (4–6): Matt Patricia’s team was whooped by the Jets in a bizarre season-opener but saved their season in a win over the Patriots. They dropped three straight before edging the Panthers on a two-point conversion stop. Matt Stafford has nearly eclipsed his 2017 interception total already, but the Lions finally have a running back who has twice gone over 100 yards this season. A divisional Thanksgiving showdown with the Bears should set the table for a critical slate that includes the Rams, then winnable games against the Cardinals and Bills. What if they get vintage Stafford the rest of the way? How much stranger does that make the final stretch?
Titans (5–5): A resounding win over the Patriots was followed by an ugly loss to the Colts this weekend. They are 3–4 when a sometimes-healthy Marcus Mariota plays and 2–1 when Blaine Gabbert makes a start. They have rushed for 100 yards or more in all but three of their games, but feature back Derrick Henry has just a season high of 58 yards. Obviously, having an oft-injured quarterback contributes to a constant identity crisis, but the Titans have done a fine job of holding it all together.
The NFC East: There was more than one Giants column written on Sunday about the playoffs... The 3–7 Giants and the playoffs. It seems a little early, but look at their final set of games and tell me which ones are absolutely impossible IF they’re able to control the ball and keep Eli Manning upright: at Philadelphia, Chicago, at Washington, Tennessee, at Indianapolis, Dallas. The whole division is strange. Does Dallas have the best shot at winning it all now? Will the Eagles finally wake up (and get healthy?). Every few years all the talent in this division somehow jams itself into a blender and the result is an ugly stew that’s not easy to digest.
NOW ON THE MMQB: Lamar Jackson can’t come out now…. With Alex Smith down, Washington should legitimately consider calling Colin Kaepernick, and not just Mark Sanchez…. What the bizarre Condoleezza Rice report tells us about women in coaching, and where it needs to go from here.
2. Ron Rivera is getting roasted for trying to win the game on a two-point conversion, even though we should respect the chutzpah.
3. Lamar Jackson makes history in his Ravens debut.
4. We’re talking about a Giants playoff run! Holy hell.
5. A hard-to-find-redemptive Ben Roethlisberger talks about his harrowing defeat of the Jaguars.
6. Did Le’Veon Bell almost come back at the last minute?
7. A “quiet rebellion” simmers among house democrats looking to replace Nancy Pelosi.
I know it’s too early for Holiday music. So how about whetting your appetite with this deep cut from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This is the same group that delivered the greatest holiday record ever made, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.