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6 Things to Know After Week 6: Ravens In Control of the AFC

Plus, Bills did the right thing on fourth down, why Dak’s injury could be an issue, offensive background for defensive stars, Germany game, and more.

A week ago, the Bills had been crowned the best team in the NFL after a win at Arrowhead, only to lose last night to the only team that has lost to the Jets. I’m not saying this to make a case against weekly power rankings, but if the facts support it… anyway. Truthfully, the most important thing to know after Week 6 is that the Orracle should never be doubted, as on Sept. 9, Conor Orr correctly predicted that an AFC South team would surge after a prominent player overcame a bout of food poisoning. Now, he may have been a little off in terms of which AFC South team this was, but I am sure you all agree with my awarding Orr full credit. A.J. Brown was not only able to play after a bad burrito bowl, he led the Titans with 91 receiving yards, all in the second half of their 34–31 win against Buffalo. Here’s what else you need to know:

1. The Ravens are all alone atop the AFC. With the Bills’ loss Monday night, Baltimore is the only team in the conference at 5–1 (the NFC, on the other hand, has five teams at 5–1 or better!). Who could have expected this after an awful preseason stretch when the Ravens lost nearly their entire running back depth chart plus CB Marcus Peters to season-ending injuries? Yet, they beat one of the NFL’s hottest teams on Sunday, the Chargers, by putting up 187 rushing yards and befuddling Justin Herbert like no other defense has this season, with disguised looks and tight man-to-man coverage. The Ravens have taken pretty much any criticism or concern thrown their direction and discarded it so far this season. John Harbaugh deservedly won Coach of the Year in 2019, Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. But the job he’s done so far this season, not letting the onslaught of preseason injuries become catastrophic for either his team’s scheme or morale, might be even better.

2. The Bills made the right decision to go for it—even if it didn’t work. Asking your 6' 5" QB to gain six inches is preferable to kicking the field goal to force overtime, hoping you win the coin toss to get the ball first and executing in the extra minutes of play. The decision was also no doubt informed by Allen’s past success on such plays: He’d converted 13 of 14 career fourth-and-1 rushes before last night, with the lone miss being on a botched snap, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Bills ran the play from the 3-yard line with 22 seconds and one time out left, so if they’d gotten it, they’d have taken the time out and been able to regroup. They would have then been limited in their ability to run the ball given the dwindling clock, but they would have had at least two more tries to get into the end zone. But Allen couldn’t get his footing to push forward on the fourth down sneak, and Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons made an excellent play, surging off the line to stop him and seal the game. The good news for Buffalo is a soft upcoming schedule, with the 1–5 Dolphins, 1–5 Jaguars and 1–4 Jets on deck.

3. Calf injuries can linger. This was a lesson I learned early on in covering the NFL. A calf strain might not sound like much, or at the least it certainly is better news than, say, a season-ending Achilles tear. But calf injuries tend to be tricky and can keep players out longer than originally projected. That’s not to say that will necessarily be the case with Dak Prescott, who wore a boot after the Cowboys’ win in Foxboro on Sunday. Head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters the team is “optimistic” Prescott will be able to play Week 8, after Dallas’s well-timed bye week. But McCarthy did add there is a “variance” in timelines, which speaks to the uncertainty ahead for Prescott and the 5–1 Cowboys.

4. Two of the NFL’s best ball-hawks used to play offense. Trevon Diggs, who has seven INTs in six games, was a top high school receiver before Nick Saban switched him to cornerback full time his sophomore year at Alabama. And T.J. Watt, who has an NFL-best 22 INTs plus forced fumbles since the start of the 2018 season—including the game-clincher against Seattle on Sunday night—began his college career at Wisconsin as a tight end. There’s something to be said for their reps on the other side of the ball sharpening their instincts as a takeaway artist. In fact, Watt told SI last year that he drew upon that past experience as he worked on finding ways to take the ball away. “As I watched more and more film, I could see how vulnerable players are and how careless they are with carrying the football,” he said. It was something he noticed more as someone who once had to catch and advance the ball and worry about ball security.

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5. Dan Campbell’s honesty is refreshing. The Lions coach showed it earlier this season with Jamie Collins, being honest about the linebacker’s effort level and then the fact that they were trying to trade him (they later released him). On Sunday, he did the same with QB Jared Goff, saying bluntly, “I think he needs to step up more than he has.” Campbell is, very publicly, challenging Goff to show him and the team more. The Lions got two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Goff in exchange for Matthew Stafford this offseason, draft capital that will be essential to a necessary roster rebuild. A subsequent contract restructure added dead cap charges in future years, making it more likely that Goff will be with the team through 2022. But the sooner the Lions can get an answer on him, the better. Campbell is essentially putting Goff on notice to see if doing so can bring out the best in him. The Lions were certainly interested in trying to reclaim Goff, especially since they had no illusions of contending with this depleted roster, but going QB shopping in 2022 has always seemed likely. Also, if Tim Boyle can return this season after fracturing his right throwing thumb, it’s possible we’ll see him get some playing time.

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6. The NFL’s planned Germany game shows that its international strategy favors breadth. In 2014, a league executive predicted there would be a London-based team in seven to eight years (aka, by now). But more recently, Alistair Kirkwood, now the former managing director of NFL UK, admitted that may not happen. “Ultimately, that comes down to an owner deciding he wants to move,” he said in 2019. “It could be something that takes a long time, or never happens. I don’t think success or failure is based on that.” Obviously, there is still no London team. So the league is trying to grow its international presence in another way, by broadening it. The league announced last week that it’s in discussions with Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich to host a future regular-season game, something that it has been eyeing for a while for an obvious reason. NFL Europe, which had five of its six teams based in Germany, left behind what the league has said is the largest fanbase in Europe. Back in 2015, The MMQB visited Germany as part of a deep dive into American football’s foothold in Europe, and we saw the vestiges eight years after NFL Europe disbanded. There were about 500 teams in Germany from youth flag up to semi-pro, and an official from the German Football League told us half the people playing American football throughout Europe were from Germany.

More NFL Coverage:

Why the Giants Should Hold a Trade Deadline Fire Sale
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MAQB: Why Odell Beckham Jr. Won’t Be Traded
MMQB: The Cardinals Unusual 48 Hours En Route to 6–0

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