1. The NFC is stacked, and the Eagles and Cowboys both already have three losses despite both teams being Super Bowl-caliber. There’s a good chance the wild-cards will be coming from a different division. So, just like in Highlander, in the NFC East there can be only one. Also, Jason Garrett might have a Scottish accent he’s disguising and could be immortal.
Injuries are a big reason both teams have been knocked off-track. The past three weeks, the Eagles trotted out a group of cornerbacks they assembled exclusively off Fiverr. The Cowboys, meanwhile—after a loss at New Orleans in which they got too conservative offensively then a loss to the Packers during which Dak Prescott misfired at a couple inopportune times and the defense played its worst game imaginable—lost both star offensive tackles (Tyron Smith and La’El Collins). Then they caught the Jets just in time to miss out on Luke Falk, the NFL schedule equivalent of the free stamp you get when you first get your sub club card. Smith, Collins and top receiver Amari Cooper are all question marks going into Sunday night; the Cowboys could be severely short-handed against the Eagles.
Philly, meanwhile, might have starting corners Ronald Darby (out since Week 3) and Jalen Mills (yet to play in 2019) back in the lineup. Neither are world-beaters, but they offer an acceptable, baseline level of competence that the Eagles have lacked on the outside the past three weeks. “Good enough” tends to be all you need at the reactionary positions (offensive line and defensive backfield) to be functional in the NFL. The question is whether the Eagles’ declining pass rush is still capable of creating enough pressure to keep Darby and Mills in the “good enough” category, since pass-rush aids a defensive backfield’s coverage (and vice versa). If nothing else, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s increasingly blitz-happy ways can return if he has corners he can (theoretically) count on in man coverage.
It’s not quite must-win territory for either team; Dallas and Philly are both good enough to beat anyone, anywhere when healthy, making them capable of going on a second-half run. But it would be a big one if the Eagles—seemingly just climbing their way out of the injury bad place—could steal one in Dallas against a Cowboys team that looks like it’s going to get worse injury-wise before it gets better.
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2. The Rams didn’t address their most pressing need—a soul-crushingly bad interior offensive line that is limiting their once-prolific offense—aside from adding bust-ish guard Austin Corbett from Cleveland in a low-risk deal. But while adding Jalen Ramsey didn’t necessarily satisfy a “need” per se, the upgrade from Marcus Peters to Ramsey is potentially significant.
Part of the reason Peters never really worked in L.A. is it seemed they wanted him to travel with No. 1 receivers—as he did early last season when Aqib Talib was out—which isn’t his thing (you could tell by his tendency to get toasted repeatedly). Peters is a quality corner with a useful skillset, but he’s more a one-side-of-the-field, eyes-on-the-backfield, off-coverage corner.
Enter Ramsey, who desperately wanted to travel with No. 1 receivers in Jacksonville but didn’t always get to (for more on that, check out the Q&A top NFL analyst who is inexplicably a free agent Andy Benoit and I did with A.J. Bouye last offseason). It seems Ramsey is precisely the kind of true No. 1 corner Wade Phillips and Sean McVay were looking for when building out their current scheme.
If we can accept McVay’s offense is probably not going to reach the levels it did in 2017 and ’18 with this offensive line (and we know it’s virtually impossible to re-stock an O-line at the trade deadline), then the best way for L.A. to salvage its Super Bowl return hopes was probably to upgrade the defense and hope they perform at an elite level.
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3. Perhaps we’re going about the officiating crisis the wrong way. If last Monday night is any indication, officials’ tenuous grasp of human anatomy might be one of the bigger issues. After umpire Jeff Rice threw two game-altering phantom hands-to-the-face flags against the Lions in Green Bay, you have to wonder if he knows precisely where on the body the face is located. Every morning he might be shoveling spoonfuls of Fruity Pebbles into his shoulder and wondering why he’s not enjoying delicious flavor.
But after a mandatory refresher course on the human body for all officials, it’s past time for the NFL to re-think how its games are officiated. Officiating is, without a doubt, worse than ever, and it’s because of the increasingly convoluted rules and interpretations of them. But the biggest issue—especially when considering the games as the entertainment product that they are—is that John Parry or Gene Steratore or Dean Blandino, with the aid of cameras and replay, can immediately point out officiating mistakes within seconds of the conclusion of a play. Football is a sport with 15- to 40-second breaks built in between every play. There is literally no reason a replay official, or panel of replay officials at each game, should not be correcting all calls in real time. It wouldn’t slow the game down any more than replay already is (in fact, it would probably make it more efficient), as you’d probably only be looking at 2-to-5 reviews every game.
The coaches challenge system is dopey (a suspicion that was confirmed when those goobers who run MLB and NBA copied it). Coaches have enough on their hands without being charged with officiating games as well. In a world where Jeff Bezos can ship Jeff Rice’s Fruity Pebbles to his door the morning after Rice orders them, the NFL can utilize technology to officiate their games properly, especially when the mistakes are glaringly obvious to anyone watching from their couch.
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4. I’ve been working diligently on a screenplay about time travel—the twist in my film is that people travel back in time—starring a young John Dorsey. And in it, he trades a bunch of draft capital in the offseason of 2019 not to the Giants for Odell Beckham Jr., but to Miami for Laremy Tunsil instead. In that altered reality, the Browns are sitting at 4-2. And also, most of the eastern seaboard has been overrun my feral cats. Because you don’t know how the alterations you make to the past will affect the future.
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5. The 49ers—better known as the Kyle Allen of football teams—will likely move to 6-0 in Washington on Sunday. As good as they’ve been, the scary part is that Jimmy Garoppolo has been pretty scattershot this year; this offense has room—perhaps significant room—to grow. (Though to be honest, that’s not that scary. The chance that werewolves don’t come out just on full moons, but anything from waxing to waning gibbous, that’s scary.)
The 49ers’ resurgence has been built around a significantly upgraded front seven, where Kwon Alexander is doing a pretty good Patrick Willis impression, and Nick Bosa and (to a lesser extent) Dee Ford have transformed one of football’s worst pass rushes into one of the best. I’ve taken to calling that pass rush “The Gold Rush,” for many reasons but mainly because loyal reader Gregg Dieguez did not suggest it. Feel free to use it, but just be aware that you’ll owe me—and not loyal reader Gregg Dieguez—a nickel every time you do. While I am litigious, I’m not going to be ridiculous about it. If you say it only a couple times on Sunday, presumably because of an early-afternoon larynx injury, don’t send me 30 cents in the mail. Wait until next week, when you say it 45 times, then fly out to New York, Uber to SI’s offices and hand me the $2.55 you owe me.
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6a. For the second straight year, a heady safety for the Ravens gets to take on his former team. Last December, Eric Weddle helped de-pants Philip Rivers in front of the loyal Los Angeles Chargers fan. On Sunday, Earl Thomas returns to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson.
You might remember Thomas’s final moments as a Seahawk, when he broke his leg last September while playing without the security of a long-term contract and, as he was carted off, made a hand gesture to the Seattle sideline (that means “peace among worlds”?).
The beauty of this matchup for the Seahawks, and why it’s unlikely to play out like that Ravens-Chargers matchup last year, is that Wilson’s improvisational jazz style of quarterbacking means there are few tendencies to exploit. Instead, this one likely comes down to how Lamar Jackson—in a tough road environment, against a fast defense that plays a lot of zone and therefore will have eyes on him—performs.
6b. One of the worst things about being an editor in 2019 is writing SEO headlines (it’s not as bad as writing social teases, but it’s up there). To anyone who has to do that, I feel you, and I apologize for going after one of our own. But what in the world is this one:
What ill will would Pete Carroll possibly hold against a player who helped win him a Super Bowl ring, who his organization then refused to honor with a long-term commitment, and who then suffered a potentially career-altering injury while playing on a short-term, below-market contract when he should have been holding out because of the aforementioned mistreatment?
I guess I should point out that I feel no ill will toward the guy who jumped my car then dropped a jumper cable on his foot and broke his big toe in the Arby’s parking lot a few years back. (They were doing the 5-for-$5.95 deal and I was so excited that I neglected to turn off my headlights after I got there. Then the battery drained because I was in there for a long time. On account of eating five roast beef sandwiches that cost a mere $5.95.)
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7. This is the mid-October Sunday I take off every year, so Conor Orr will be your substitute for the Sunday FreakOut this evening—I expect you to treat him with the same respect you treat me.
I’ll wrap up my work week with a song for someone special. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Talking Heads!
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