AFTER FURTHER REVIEW - NOVEMBER EDITION
Brendan Lavell; @brendan_lavell
Why Newton is an MVP candidate, Melvin Gordon is a disappointment and Chiefs as a playoff team?
After nine weeks of football, a handful of teams have separated themselves from the pack. This upper tier consists of New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers. Three of those teams, Carolina, Cincinnati and New England, are all 8-0, a first in NFL history to have this many teams undefeated this late in the season.
The Patriots have been the most dominant, winning each of their games by at least seven points and scoring no less than 27 in any game. The Pats lost Dion Lewis for the year, but if we’ve learned one thing about Tom Brady, it’s that it doesn’t matter which players Belichick surrounds him with. The Bengals are still rolling along at 8-0. Cincinnati has used its defense to make the playoffs for four straight years now, but this year they have also used a dynamic offense, led by Andy Dalton, to rack up wins.
The Broncos suffered their first loss at the hands of the Colts in Week 9. Their defense has been the best in the league this season, but Peyton Manning has thrown at least one pick in every game thus far. The Packers have now lost two straight, but both came against elite teams with vaunted defenses. The final spot in the upper tier belongs to the undefeated Carolina Panthers. The Panthers won their first seven games playing a cupcake schedule before finally proving themselves in a 37-29 win over Green Bay last week that included a red zone stop in the game’s final minute.
Below these five elites, chaotic parity reigns. In the AFC East, the Jets have fallen off after a strong start to the season, losing two of their last three. They are now 5-3, one game ahead of Buffalo. Miami fired head coach Joe Philbin after a 1-3 start to the year. The Dolphins won their first two games under interim coach Dan Campbell, but have since lost two straight. Pittsburgh sits at 5-4 in the AFC North, but may have to do without Ben Roehtlisberger (again) for a week or two. Baltimore and Cleveland each have two wins.
The AFC South has a combined record of 6-17 in games played against teams outside the division. Indianapolis sits in 1st at 4-5, but Houston, Jacksonville, and Tennessee are all less than two games back. Oakland has used a resurgent offense to reach 4-4. Kansas City is 3-5, while San Diego occupies the AFC West’s caboose at 2-6. The Giants lead the NFC East at 5-4, but Philadelphia is just a half game back and Washington isn’t too far behind. Dallas regained Dez Bryant, but has now lost six straight games without Tony Romo in the lineup and is fading quickly.
Surprisingly, Minnesota is tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North at 6-2, while Chicago sits three games back. Detroit, the league’s last one-win team, is in major crisis mode, having recently fired both their general manager and team president. Atlanta has lost three of its last four to slip to 6-3. On the other hand, New Orleans won three straight before last week’s overtime loss to Tennessee dropped them to 4-5. Tampa Bay sits in last in the NFC South at 3-5. Seattle has looked strong defensively in winning their last two games, but is still tied for 2nd in the NFC West at 4-4. Finally, San Francisco benched 2012 sensation Colin Kaepernick for Blaine Gabbert, and it worked. The Niners beat the Falcons in Gabbert’s first start to raise the team’s record to 3-6. Due to the extreme parity of the league this year, look for a few of these three- and four-win teams to roll into the playoffs come January.
Player of the Month
He may not be the best statistical passer in the league, but no quarterback means more to his team than Cam Newton. Newton has led the Panthers to an 8-0 record with hardly any offensive help. Carolina mainstay DeAngelo Williams left for Pittsburgh in the offseason and star wideout Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp. That injury left journeyman and professional pass dropper Ted Ginn Jr. and second round rookie Devin Funchess to lead the receiving corps. The only legitimate pass catching threat on the Carolina offense is tight end Greg Olsen. On top of that, the running game is led by lifelong committee back Jonathan Stewart. Despite this, Newton has managed to lead the Panthers to 28.5 points per game, good for 4th in the NFL. Certainly, having a defense as strong as the Panthers unit helps, but Newton plays the biggest role. Newton may be the best running QB in the league, and the Panthers coaching staff has let him loose this season.
Tweet of the Month
In response to quotes from Eagles players Bennie Logan and Eric Rowe calling the Cowboys “whiners” and “cry babies”, beloved ESPN personality Skip Bayless took to Twitter prior to the Eagles-Cowboys Sunday night showdown.
Eagles' Bennie Logan questioned the manhood of NFL's best offensive line, Dallas'??? Rookie Eric Rowe called JASON WITTEN a crybaby???— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 6, 2015
My Cowboys WILL beat the Eagles. Then we'll see who the crybabies are.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 6, 2015
Young Guns Watch
Heading into the 2014 NFL draft, there were three consensus top quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater. All three were drafted in the first round. Fresno State product Derek Carr managed to slip under the radar, falling to Oakland in the 2nd round. He started all 16 games for the Raiders last year and quietly put together a solid season. This year, with Latavius Murray in the backfield and highly touted rookie Amari Cooper paired out wide with new acquisition Michael Crabtree, Carr has put up huge numbers. Over the last three weeks, Carr has thrown for 923 yards with a 64 percent completion rate and 11 touchdowns to just one pick. The Raiders are 2-1 over that span, averaging 35.3 points per game, and now find themselves in the middle of an unexpected playoff race.
Derek Carr is the real deal. I've gone from "he's better than I thought" to "he's got the chance to be really special"— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 9, 2015
Five Things I Think
1. I think the 3-5 Kansas City Chiefs will find their way into the playoffs without Jamaal Charles. This is a team that’s won 20 games over the last two seasons and didn’t lose any huge playmakers this offseason. And now they have a true number one receiver in Jeremy Maclin. Yes, the loss of Charles to an ACL injury hurts, but Charcandrick West has filled those shoes admirably thus far. I chalk up their poor record to three losses against top tier NFL teams (Denver, Green Bay, and Cincinnati) and an unlucky loss to Chicago. The Chiefs defense hasn’t allowed more than 18 points in a game since Week 4. Kansas City has won its last two games by a combined 45 points. I think those wins change the momentum of this Chiefs season. Give them a wild card berth.
Chiefs and Eagles best positioned to make a run in the second half.— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) November 11, 2015
3 I think Ron Rivera will win Coach of the Year. You could make a case for Marvin Lewis if the Bengals keep up their pace, but I really like the way the rest of the Panthers schedule sets up. Five of the Panthers eight remaining games are against sub-.500 teams (although one of those five is against Dallas, who should have Tony Romo back by then). The other three consist of two games against the faltering Falcons and one against the inconsistent New York Giants. At this point, their worst case scenario is 12 wins, best case may be as high as 15. Either way they win the division and earn a bye. That’s a tremendous turnaround for a team that started last year 3-8-1. If you’re counting at home, that’s 12 straight regular season victories for Carolina dating back to last year. Tremendous coaching job by Rivera. I still don’t think they’ll win a playoff game.
4. I think Philip Rivers is the best quarterback to never reach the Super Bowl. A case could probably be made for Dan Fouts (another Charger, go figure) or Warren Moon, but I’ll take Rivers. He currently ranks 27th all-time in most wins by a starting QB, 17th in most passing yards, 13th in most passing touchdowns, and 6th in passer rating. Rivers guided San Diego to the playoffs in four straight seasons from 2006-09, but the Chargers have made it back to the playoffs just once since, in 2013. As Rivers nears his 34th birthday, it’s hard to imagine him making a Super Bowl run at any point in the next three to five years. The Chargers just don’t have any of the pieces right now. Rivers played on some pretty good teams during the LaDainian Tomlinson era, but it’s interesting to think what might have been had he never been traded for Eli Manning on draft day 2004. He could have played in the same offense as Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, and Jeremy Shockey. More importantly, he would’ve had those dominant Michael Strahan defenses on his side.
5.I think there is absolutely no reason for Greg Hardy to be playing in the NFL right now. The Greg Hardy case has drawn a lot of comparisons to the Ray Rice case. Teams won’t touch Rice with a 39 and a half-foot pole. So why is Hardy on the field? Because running backs are viewed as replaceable, whereas pass rushers are a commodity. The fact that Hardy got away with a four-game suspension should cause the NFL to pause and evaluate their disciplinary system. And the Dallas Cowboys organization is not only tarnishing their image by employing Hardy, they are preventing Hardy the chance to better himself. Hardy has obvious anger issues, as could be seen when he blew up on the sideline during the Cowboys game against the Giants. Greg Hardy should be taking time off and getting help for the sake of his mental health. It’s disgraceful that he’s playing on a football field instead. Some things are bigger than the game. Or at least, they should be.