Judgements Eight: Is Buffalo legit threat to Pats in AFC East?
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There's something extraordinary going on in Buffalo. Halfway through the season the Bills look like ... I can't believe I'm saying it ... a playoff team waiting to happen.
Yeah, I know, they haven't been there since 1999, the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and they've teased us before. But this team not only is different than others before it; this team could push New England in the AFC East.
I'm serious, and here's why: 1) They're one of only three unbeaten teams at home; 2) their streak of 13 games at home with 20 or more points is the longest current run in the NFL; 3) they've had three or more takeaways in four consecutive games, the first time that's happened since 2004; 4) they make virtually no mistakes, with their three season turnovers second only to Kansas City and 5) they lead the league in the all-important takeaway/turnover differential at a plus-14.
And it's that last point you better consider. Because teams that led the takeaway/turnover differential the last 19 years reached the playoffs.
You heard me ... playoffs.
"Winning is fun," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "News flash, huh?"
Well, yeah, in Buffalo it is. The Bills have had only one winning season (2014) since 2004 when they were 9-7 and missed the playoffs with a Week 17 loss. Now, nearly halfway through the season, they're a half-game behind perennial AFC East champion New England, and there's every reason to believe they're not going away.
Granted, Tyrod Taylor is no Tom Brady. But he doesn't have to be. He makes plays with his legs and arm, and he doesn't make stupid mistakes. And, since we're on the subject, the Patriots' D is no Buffalo D. And that -- plus a rushing attack that's gotten unlocked after the Bills' bye -- is what could close the gap between these two teams. They don't meet until Dec. 3, and, don't laugh, it could be for supremacy of the AFC East.
- I keep hearing there's no defense in today's NFL and that it's a quarterback's league. Well, this just in: Through the first eight weeks of 2017, there were six shutouts, including Miami twice. Through the same period a year ago, there were three ... and none after the fourth week when Buffalo blanked New England 16-0.
- Talk about bad English. This is what London gained this season in four NFL games: A 44-7 Jacksonville rout of Baltimore; a 20-0 Saints' shutout of Miami; a 33-0 Rams' rout of Arizona and a 33-16 Minnesota win over winless Cleveland. Do the math: The average margin of victory? Try 26.75 points. No wonder the rest of the world doesn't want the NFL.
- Derek Carr already has as many interceptions (6) in seven games as he did all of last year. Just sayin'.
- More fodder for the conspiracy theorists: West Coast teams that went off at 10 a.m. Pacific time ... or 1 p.m. Eastern ... were 0-3, outscored 88-37.
- So much for that home-field disadvantage. Excluding the London game, which should be considered a neutral site, home teams were 7-4 this week, including Baltimore's 40-0 beatdown of Miami Thursday.
- The Seahawks need more than a left tackle; they need a legit running back ... other than Russell Wilson, that is.
- Next to a Kyle Shanahan return, the Falcons could use a year's supply of Gorilla Glue. Matt Ryan fumbled three center snaps Sunday, losing two.
- Halfway through the season, the Raiders still don't have an interception. Honest.
- Let me repeat: NFL catch rule = dumbest rule ever.
- The Bengals didn't win as much as they survived. Look at the weapons Pittsburgh has on both sides of the ball, and tell me Cincinnati can push them in the AFC North. They can't. Nobody can.
- How bad are the 49ers? This bad: Through the first three quarters Sunday they had more punts (8) than first downs (6). Sam Darnold, please stand by.
- How appropriate that an interception preserved New Orleans' latest win. Defense has been the story behind the Saints' five-game win streak. Where they gave up 65 points the first two games, both losses, they've surrendered 80 in the five games since, or an average of 16 per. But exclude the 52-38 defeat of Detroit, and the Saints allow an average of 10.5 in the other four victories.
- Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is a pair of hands to catch footballs. Desperately waiting, Jordan Howard.
- "Go Browns!!!" Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas tweeted Sunday morning. "They're better without me." No, they're not. Still haven't won.
- In case you're interested, the Browns are the fourth team in the Super Bowl era ... and the first since the 1993-94 Bengals ... to open consecutive seasons 0-8.
- With 7-1/2 sacks this year, 37-year-old Julius Peppers has one-half more than the entire Tampa Bay team, and, yep, that's a problem for the Bucs.
- This is how much Drew Brees means to New Orleans; That win Sunday? It was the Saints' first without a Brees touchdown pass since Oct. 4, 2009.
- So now we know: The NFC East is a two-horse race between Philadelphia and defending champion Dallas, with the two meeting Nov. 19. But the Cowboys' next most important showdown is Monday, with Cowboys' running back Zeke Elliott due for a hearing on the appeal of his six-game suspension. Elliott has 373 yards in offense and five touchdowns the past two weeks.
- Not only did the Steelers hold off Detroit ... in Detroit ... and without allowing a touchdown ... they broke a Jim Caldwell record. The Lions' coach was 3-0 following byes ... until Sunday night.
- The Minnesota defense has gotten most of the credit for the Vikings' run to the top of the NFC North. But how about Case Keenum's protection? The Vikings allowed one sack the past three games and pitched three shutouts this season.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS. Not only do they solidify their first-place position in the AFC North; they're rewarded with consecutive weeks off -- first, with a Nov. 5 bye and then with a Nov. 12 game vs. Indianapolis.
PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE. All it did was sack rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard four times and intercept him twice, returning one for a touchdown. The Eagles can beat you with Carson Wentz, defense, LeGarrette Blount, special teams ... and all were there Sunday vs. the 49ers.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He becomes just the third quarterback in NFL history to complete 6,000 career passes, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
ATLANTA OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR STEVE SARKISIAN. With Atlanta's first win this season over an AFC East opponent, he catches a break from local columnists and questions about job security.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. That makes him 7-0 vs. Philip Rivers, including the playoffs.
CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. With a win, he doesn't have to field questions this week about a sputtering offense. But maybe he can answer this: If he's Superman, as he pretends to be after every score, why is he tied with DeShone Kizer for that league's most interceptions at 11? Next question.
PHILADELPHIA QB CARSON WENTZ. He's 6-0 in his last six home starts.
HOUSTON DEFENSE. Once upon a time, this was the backbone of this team. Not anymore. Not with the losses of key players, including three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. The Texans twice couldn't protect fourth quarter leads, hemorrhaging 479 yards, allowing 7.5 yards per play and losing when they allowed Seattle to drive 80 yards in three plays in the last minute-and-a-half.
PITTSBURGH WR MARTAVIS BRYANT. Prior to Sunday's game he goes on social media to say, "JuJu is nowhere better than me." Uh, sorry, Martavis, but the numbers don't lie. Yes, he is.
DETROIT OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM BOB COOTER. Five trips inside the Steelers' 20 and no touchdowns? You gotta be kidding. Nope, and look no farther than the last three series there. The Lions twice were at the Pittsburgh 1, once getting stuffed and the second time settling for a field goal. They put up nearly 500 yards, including 411 passing, yet emerged with five field goals. This, people, explains why they're 3-4.
CHARGERS' SPECIAL TEAMS. It doesn't matter where these guys play -- San Diego, L.A., it doesn't matter. Their special teams never change. They stink. Year in and year out ... they stink.
NEW ENGLAND WR CHRIS HOGAN. He left the stadium with his right arm in a sling, and he was in obvious pain. The Patriots might be, too, depending on what happens to Hogan. This is a team, remember, that lost Julian Edelman for the season.
SAN FRANCISCO COACH KYLE SHANAHAN. He was supposed to make an immediate impact with the 49ers, and he has. The 49ers' 0-8 record is the worst start in franchise history.
CHICAGO TE ZACH MILLER. He not only lost a touchdown on an iffy call. He suffered a horrific injury, dislocating his knee while making a spectacular catch/non-catch.
SUNDAY'S REPORT CARD
CINCINNATI DE CARLOS DUNLAP. He rescued the Bengals when Andy Dalton couldn't, with a 16-yard return of a Jacoby Brissett pass that he tipped and intercepted -- only the seventh takeaway this season by Cincinnati. But he did more than that. He rescued the Bengals' season ... at least for the moment.
BUFFALO RB LESEAN McCOY. In two games since the bye, he's run for 242 yards and scored three times. He had no touchdowns in the five games prior.
PITTSBURGH WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER. Uh-oh, the Steelers just uncovered another receiving threat, and he's not 21. The rookie had a breakout game, with seven catches for 193 yards, including a 97-yard catch-and-run that broke open the Steelers' latest win. If you haven't already, put in a claim for him in your local Fantasy Football League.
HOUSTON QB DESHAUN WATSON. Don't blame him for Houston's heartbreaking loss. He was sensational, rallying the Texans with 402 yards of passing and four touchdowns ... and he had them this close to a come-from-behind upset after putting up the first fourth-quarter touchdowns this season on Seattle's Legion of Boom. But he also had three interceptions, including one returned for a TD, and that's why his grade gets knocked down. Watson now has 19 TD passes, an NFL best in the Super Bowl era for the first seven games, and one question, please: How did this guy last until the 12th pick of the draft?
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. Yep, he scored his first defeat of an AFC East opponent and he stopped a three-game slide with fourth-quarter heroics. But he had to overcome a raft of mistakes, including two fumbled snaps.
NEW ORLEANS RB MARK INGRAM. A key figure in the Saints' five-game run, he ran for 75 yards and scored in the team's latest triumph. But he also committed two fourth-quarter fumbles that kept this one close.
NEW ENGLAND RED ZONE OFFENSE. Four times the Patriots were inside the Chargers' 20, including three times inside the 10, and they produced one touchdown and three field goals. Not Tom Brady-like.
OAKLAND LB KHALIL MACK. Prior to Sunday's game the NFL's defending Defensive Player of the Year didn't want to talk about returning to Buffalo, where he went to college, and, OK, that's his prerogative. But afterward there was no reason to talk to him, and that's the prerogative of reporters, too. Mack had two tackles, no sacks, no tackles for losses and no impact.
SEATTLE RUNNING BACKS. They had 16 carries for five yards. Horrible.
DETROIT RUNNING BACKS. That's 59 straight games where the Lions haven't had a 100-yard rusher. Detroit backs had 21 carries for 60 yards -- or fewer than three per -- and no TDs.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
SEATTLE QB RUSSELL WILSON. Not only did he outduel rookie Deshaun Watson, he rallied the Seahawks from a 38-34 deficit with a sensational 80-yard drive on just three plays to pull out a last-minute 41-38 win. Wilson did it all. He led the Seahawks in rushing. He avoided sacks and big losses. And he threw for a franchise-record 452 yards and four touchdowns in one of the finest performances of his career. "His demeanor in the huddle is just unbelievable," said tight end Jimmy Graham. So is his play outside of it.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
JETS SPECIAL TEAMS. A muffed punt cost them three points. Two Chandler Catanzaro missed field goals cost them another six. "I just feel terrible about how things went today," said Catanzaro. He should. The Jets aren't bad, but they're not good enough to overcome mistakes like this. That's three straight weeks where they've blown second-half leads. Somebody dial 1-800-Mike Westhoff.