The NFL is a rollercoaster and week 6 provided its fair share of twists and turns. Very few teams are proving themselves as surefire playoff material and, if anything, the overall picture of who can have one eye on January is murkier week by week. The fortunes of QBs are intertwined with those of the team and this was exemplified this week.
QBs on the rise
Step forward two back up QBs proving their worth standing in for illustrious counterparts. Both Kyle Allen (Carolina Panthers) and Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans Saints) have guided their teams to much improved records when fans may have feared the worst. The Panthers were 0-2 when Cam Newton was injured which could have completely dismantled any run at the NFC South. However, Kyle Allen has marshalled his offense to 4 wins in a row with 5 TDs and zero picks. Yes, the success is built upon the amazing talents of Christian McCaffrey and a blistering, re-energised, defense, but Allen is doing his part, ‘minding the shop’. The decision for Ron Rivera will be what to do when Newton is back. But that is a decision for after a well earned bye week.
In New Orleans it is a slightly different story as Bridgewater has a more established pedigree and more could have been reasonably expected when Drew Brees was injured in week 2. However, there was also more at stake. The Saints reached the NFC Championship last season and, but for one yellow flag that should have been, could have been at the Super Bowl. At the start of this season they were aiming for a return to that level and the loss of Brees could have stopped that run before it started. Bridgewater has (again with the help of a powerful D) kept that flame alive and the Saints sit 5-1 with 4 straight wins.
I think both Brees and Newton will return under center once they are able but when they do it will be Bridgewater and Allen who have kept both teams in the race to win the NFC South and make a run in the playoffs.
QBs on the slide
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are at the same point in the careers. It is a sharp point. It is the point where their careers as starting, franchise-leading, QBs live or die. They are both in dire need of resuscitation. Winston’s performance in London against the Panthers was breath-taking, for all the wrong reasons. An INT with his first throw and one with his last – and a frantic scattergun performance in-between. Five INT in total and sacks and fumbles which resulted from Winston hanging on to the football far too long. There were flashes of the good Winston – if Mike Evans had reigned in the bomb late in the 2nd Qtr the half time score may have been 17-14 and retrievable. Remember this is the Winston who led the Bucs to 55 pts against the Rams two weeks earlier.
Mariota is also mired in inconsistency but his appears to be a lack of spark. Additional tools were added in the off season but, aside from the week 1 43-13 demolition of the Browns, the Titans offense remains in neutral for large parts of games. Three of the last four games have yielded a total of 14 points. He was pulled for Ryan Tannehill last week although that did not alter the course of the result against, to be fair, a very impressive Denver Broncos defense.
The issue for both the Buccaneers and the Titans is how long can they continue with Winston and Mariota leading the way. My guess is that both are on their last chance but I doubt either can produce enough consistently great performance to earn a further contract. Interesting side note here – the Titans are home to the Bucs on 27th October. Winston versus Mariota would be an enthralling sub-plot.
Defenses do have the answer
The Kansas City Chiefs and the LA Rams were both high octane offenses last year run by coaches ranked among the very best creative minds on that side of the ball. Well it appears that this year the defenses are starting to bite back, certainly on these two sides.
The Chiefs have only lost the last two weeks but there has been an upward trend in terms of how to stop them. Keep the ball away from them. Both Baltimore and Detroit ran them close and held the ball for 32-33 minutes. In the two subsequent defeats Houston and Indianapolis have dominated possession (40 minutes and 37 minutes respectively). For the Rams I was extremely impressed with the energy the 49ers defense demonstrated and the way in which they attacked the edges of the line with pace and power. Squeezing the Rams worked very effectively. Also a passing note on the Denver Broncos – currently 2-4 but their defense has started to produce the goods. They will be hard to score against for the rest of the season which should improve their record still further.
Performance of the week
Two teams – Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers – both proved that they may just be the real deal this season. The 49ers are built upon one of the best defences in the league, and an intuitive head coach in Kyle Shanahan who has spent the last couple of years quietly rebuilding the 49ers roster. In Minnesota Kirk Cousins proved he can step up as the Vikings ripped the Eagles secondary apart. An offense with Diggs, Thielen and Dalvin Cook will provide points and, as with 49ers, a solid, mean defense will make life tough for any opponent. Both sides are primed and ready this year.
Look ahead to week 7 match ups – my 4 to watch
Well the least said about last week the better as I suffered a complete blowout 0-4. Ouch! A lot to make up for this week – what we got…
Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts – key divisional match up with both sides coming off a good week (Texans beating Chiefs, Colts sitting back watching Titans and Jags lose). More impressed by Houston each week so I’ll take Texans by 4
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions – Vikings are riding high after beating the Eagles whereas the Lions are coming off tonight’s Packers clash. I’m backing the Vikings to pick up where they left off, Minnesota by 6
Baltimore Ravens @ Seattle Seahawks – another battle of two mobile QBs, Lamar Jackson (look up his yds rushing already!!) versus MVP-in-wating Russell Wilson. Seattle is a difficult place to go and win so its Seahawks by 7
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys – the NFC East is wide open at the moment and the Cowboys are in free fall. Divisional match ups are always key to the destination of the NFC East title. Think the Cowboys will halt the slide, Dallas by 4
Same time next week!