Enough time had passed for us to mostly forget about the Titans’ Week 4 loss to the Jets … and then they lost to the Texans. So much for them being the AFC team we could count on the most. (What dunce would have said that?) Is that team now the Ravens, who found a way to win with Tyler Huntley? Dare we say it … the Patriots? In the NFC, Aaron Rodgers is dealing with a mysterious toe injury, and the defending champion Bucs avoided a third straight loss, albeit against the hapless Giants. There are seven more weeks in the season, plenty of time for the standings to be shaken up and dumped out in an entirely different order and new favorites to emerge. But now, after Week 11, here are seven things to know.
1. The Giants are ready to make some changes. That much was clear from Joe Judge’s press conference after the 30–10 loss to the Bucs, in which he called out the coaching staff for not putting players in positions to succeed, stopping just short of saying offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s name directly. The Giants' offense was miserable to the point of being hard to watch, managing just 215 yards on a night when they got Saquon Barkley and Andrew Thomas back and had a healthier Kenny Golladay. Daniel Jones threw two interceptions, one to a 300-pound defensive lineman. The last play they ran when they still had a chance was when they went for it on fourth-and-1 early in the third quarter trailing by seven. That was the right call, but there seemed to be a delay with the play call coming in, causing the Giants to huddle late and then have to rush to the line with less than 10 seconds on the play clock. The call itself was equally inexplicable, a rollout pass to a receiver crossing from the other side of the formation, which Bucs linebacker Devin White snuffed out immediately; Golladay and Kadarius Toney were not even on the field. The $72 million Golladay got only two targets all night. So, yes, the Giants need to start making changes. But the bye week, which just passed, is typically the ideal time to make a coordinator swap, rather than on a short week. Judge is clearly desperate, though, because his seat is very hot midway through his second season. In the preseason, co-owner John Mara said he needed to see “progress” and feel like the team was “moving in the right direction.” Not only are the 3–7 Giants at the bottom of the NFC East, but unlike Washington and Philadelphia, they haven’t shown any signs of moving in the right direction. The question is not if changes need to be made, but rather, how many.
2. The MVP almost always comes down to the wire. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to debate on or speculate about potential winners, particularly after Jonathan Taylor’s five-TD performance in the Colts’ big win against the Bills, making a non-QB winner seem plausible. But the votes aren’t due until Jan. 13, after Week 18 and still nearly two months away. Plus Kyler Murray’s three-game absence with an ankle injury, or even Lamar Jackson's sitting out with an illness, is mitigated somewhat by the season being one game longer and players more commonly missing time due to COVID-19 protocols.
3. Baker Mayfield’s future with the Browns is more uncertain than ever. The results so far this season haven’t been what the Browns were hoping for after last year’s 11–5 campaign that ended with a tight divisional-round loss to the Super Bowl–bound Chiefs. Mayfield has been playing through multiple injuries; while that should be taken into account when evaluating his play, it has also meant that he hasn’t been able to give the team a definitive answer on whether he’s a QB with whom they can compete for championships. Mayfield is under contract through 2022 after the team picked up his fifth-year option this spring; while Josh Allen signed an extension this summer, both Mayfield and fellow '18 first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson went into this season without long-term deals with their clubs. The decision for the Browns may come down to which other QBs are potentially available in what is setting up to be an offseason of veteran QB movement and whether they can land someone they feel more confident in than Mayfield. But after a game in which Mayfield was visibly both banged-up and frustrated, his future with the team that drafted him No. 1 feels much more tenuous than a year ago.
4. Chris Jones has been in the middle of the Chiefs’ defensive revival. Literally. When the Chiefs traded for Melvin Ingram at the deadline, I was skeptical how much impact the 32-year-old edge rusher would have. But perhaps the biggest impact he’s made is that his presence exclusively on the edge has allowed Jones to return to playing a majority of snaps on the inside, where he is at his best. In the first six games of the season, Jones’s ratio of snaps on the edge to inside was about 5:1. Since Ingram got to K.C., however, Jones has lined up as a defensive tackle 50% times more often than on the edge. During Sunday’s win against the Cowboys, for example, Jones spent 30 snaps as a defensive tackle, 16 snaps lined up over the offensive tackle and 4 snaps outside of the opposing OT, per Pro Football Focus. On the Chiefs’ game-clinching play, on which Jones deflected a pass that was then intercepted by teammate L’Jarius Sneed, Jones was, you guessed it, lined up inside.
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5. The Cowboys got a draft steal in Micah Parsons. Cornerback might have been a higher-priority position for the Cowboys going into this year’s draft, but missing out on the top two corners led to their selecting Parsons, who has become one of the most important pieces of their defense. As a draft prospect, Parsons was branded as a converted edge rusher, a high school defensive end who played weak-side linebacker in his two seasons at Penn State (before opting out for COVID-19 in 2020). But the Cowboys have played him at both spots, in part out of necessity due to injuries to DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory—but also because they recognized he could do it. His role has vacillated week to week, but Sunday, Parsons lined up on the defensive front on all but one snap, per PFF, and recorded two sacks to tie the franchise’s rookie record (8) set by DeMarcus Ware. Maybe it’s weird to say that the No. 12 pick was a steal, but that kind of pass-rushing performance from a rookie who went into this season not even slotted for that role certainly qualifies as such.
6. Deebo Samuel’s versatility has helped spark the 49ers. His receiving stat line in San Francisco’s win at Jacksonville was one catch for 15 yards. But Samuel also had 8 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown, out of the 10 snaps in which he lined up in the 49ers backfield. Samuel has lined up everywhere for the 49ers offense this season: Out wide, in the backfield, in the slot and even, on occasion, in-line. Samuel’s two largest backfield shares have come in the last two games, both of which were wins. In Week 10 against the Rams, he had an equal number of rushes and catches and scored one touchdown apiece both through the air and on the ground. As Gary Gramling would say, send this man a Mylar balloon.
7. The Vikings did something that is very hard to do. In 2020 they decided to trade away a very good but disgruntled veteran, Stefon Diggs, and then used part of the draft haul to select his replacement, Justin Jefferson. The remarkable part is how well it worked, and almost immediately. On Sunday, Jefferson demonstrated how critical he is to the team with eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the division-leading Packers, his best personal showing of the season. Receiver is a tough position to draft, and one that some of the league’s best personnel departments, like the Ravens and Patriots, have a hard time hitting on. But Jefferson’s production as a rookie in '20 wasn’t far behind Diggs, and this year, he’s tracking ahead of the player he replaced, with 944 receiving yards through 10 games.
More NFL Coverage:
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