Are we any closer to figuring out who the best team in the NFC is? Not really. The Packers beat the Saints, who beat the Buccaneers, who beat the Packers, thus throwing the accolade of ‘best in the NFC’ up in the air, writes Matthew Carolan.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ defence reminded everyone that they will hold this team back from silverware.
A Saints win or a Bucs loss?
Of all the potential ways this game could have gone, few (if any) would have anticipated a Saints blowout victory. Unlike the AFC, there is little semblance of hierarchy in the NFC. That said, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank highly in terms of DVOA, points differential and defensive performance. That was until Sunday night.
The final score in Tampa Bay was 38-3 in a game where everyone on the Saints offense seemed to see some ball. Brees was playing efficiently. Taysom Hill was effective. Michael Thomas was back making a difference. Emmanuel Sanders got in on the action. Jameis Winston got on the field. They even had a fumble or two and could have won by a higher margin.
It was a great night to be a Saints fan, because their season has only posed uncertainty so far, but in many ways, there still is a lot of uncertainty. Because although this was a super win, it was not a super offensive performance. They benefited from the opposition’s mistakes.
For all the points the Saints managed to score, the Buccaneers were not good.
Brady threw three interceptions on a night he will want to forget fast. In previous weeks, it looked like this team was trending in the right direction. They ranked high in the aforementioned statistical categories, and the offense looked to be functioning better as a whole. Even Gronkowski seemed to be finding a bit of form. It was anything but functional on Sunday.
It is hard to say whether this performance was a blip or a revert to what the Bucs were in Week 1 (when they last played the Saints). Maybe the Saints just have their number? Maybe the Saints’ defense just knows how to stop Brady? Whatever the case, it is a result that has left the NFL world pondering once more; can the NFC produce a Super Bowl winner this season?
Dallas gave us a scare
The later games on Sunday, for the best part, were a lot of fun. Each game delivered in different ways. Arizona v. Miami was exciting because of the two young quarterbacks on show. The Raiders and Chargers game went back and forth and ended in typically heartbreaking fashion for LA. And then there was the undefeated Steelers’ trip to Dallas. This was the worst of the three, but it damn-near gave us the shock of the week.
Without Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, the Cowboys handed the keys over to Garret Gilbert. Gilbert has been in and out of the NFL for some time, but at no point is he someone any fan would have wanted under centre. Sure enough, he almost led them to victory against one of the best teams in the league.
This is the first time in franchise history that the Steelers have gone 8-0, and although they may not be the best team in the league, their schedule gives them a great chance at a bye week.
The win against Dallas, however, was unconvincing. It took until the final three minutes of the game for Pittsburgh to finally take a lead, and one could make the case that they are not a team you would trust to go on and win the Super Bowl, in spite of their record. The old adage is that you can only beat who is in front of you, but there are ways to beat teams and this was not convincing.
Every season, it feels like Pittsburgh has a strange road loss. If this was to have been it, then perhaps it is a sign of them overcoming that annual hiccup to become something more formidable - a team that can eradicate any of their old mistakes. That did not stop Ben Roethlisberger doing his best James Brown impression as he hobbled off the field only to return for the second half miraculously. Never change, Ben.
Daniel Jones did not turn the ball over
Speaking of miracles, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones managed to not turn the ball over on Sunday. Going into Sunday, he had more turnovers than touchdowns as the Giants’ quarterback - a statistic almost as ugly as the Giants’ offense.
The Giants are bad. This much we know. What we are unsure of is whether they are going in the right direction under Joe Judge or not. For all the cultural improvements and hard nose perceptions we have been led to buy into, the results on the field have not reflected any change. They are 2-7, but one could argue that is largely due to the players they have - and blame for personnel resides with the general manager, Dave Gettleman.
It was Gettleman who inexcusably picked Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. The alternatives at quarterback that year were not amazing - Dwayne Haskins was available, so was Gardner Minshew. It was not a good draft for quarterbacks really. The Giants had many other positional needs, but they ignored that to pick a poor man’s Eli Manning.
It is unclear whether they would consider moving on from Jones after this season or not, but the question needs to be asked at least.
The biggest issue with Jones is the aforementioned turnovers. Time and again this season the Giants have been in contention to win games. In many instances, they have blown leads. And a lot of the time, that has happened because they have turned the ball over - either because Jones fumbled it or because he threw a pick. He currently has nine interceptions and just seven touchdowns this year, only Cousins and Wentz have thrown more picks.
Hilariously, the Giants could still win the NFC East. There is a scenario whereby they beat Philadelphia in Week 10 and go on to become NFC East champions, and that could be the worst thing for the Giants’ next five years because, a) it covers up just how poor Jones is and, b) it gives them a worse draft pick.
But if Daniel Jones can start to turn the ball over less, then we can revisit the topic. He has half a season left to prove us wrong.
Seattle’s defense will hold them back
The talk around Russell Wilson for MVP has taken a hit lately, with him throwing interceptions for fun. If this season was broken into quarters, Wilson would have been excellent in the first quarter, but just decent in the second. However, he is not the reason why Seattle lost in Buffalo.
The Seahawks’ defense might be the worst in the NFL, and that showed on Sunday.
Per ESPN, their defence gives up a league-worst 455.8 yards per game to their opposition. That equates to 362.1 passing yards per game for opposing quarterbacks, although their run defense is more respectable at just 93.6 yards per game. That is their saving grace, because if teams could run through Seattle, then the clock would be against them, too.
At 6-2, Seattle still holds the lead in the NFC West and are tied first in the NFC overall, but there is a sense that their defense could let them down when it comes to playoff football. When Wilson is at his best, he is electric, but what good is that when your defense is going to allow almost 500 yards to the opposition?
Eventually, that will catch up with you, and that is what happened in Buffalo.
Rivers is not much of an upgrade for the Colts
What can you say about the Indianapolis Colts over the past few seasons? That they are just a quarterback away from competing? That seems fair, right? So why do they look short in that position again this season when almost everything else seems to be clicking?
The Colts need to consider that Philip Rivers was not, and is not, playing like an upgrade at quarterback.
Rivers ranks 15th in the league in terms of passing yards with 2,087, and 23rd in the league for touchdowns with 10. This is bolstered by their large victory over Detroit too. The fact of the matter is that Rivers has played fine at times, but never impressively, since coming in at quarterback for the Colts.
Even their wins are largely against borderline hapless outfits like the Jets, the Bengals, the Lions and the Vikings. You will not see any of those teams in the playoffs, and when the Colts have played decent opposition, they have not just come up short, they have come up very short.
The Colts may well make the playoffs. They are 5-3 and seven teams make it into the playoffs, so it is very possible. In the same way, Seattle’s defense may let them down, Rivers may well let the Colts down.
It is sad to say that about a quarterback with such a good career, but outside of being a strong leader for this team, Rivers has not improved their offence.
The quarterback future is bright in the NFL
The late games on Sunday were a lot of fun to watch.
In Arizona’s game against Miami, we got a rematch of the CFB Orange Bowl between Oklahoma and Alabama with Kyler and Tua facing off. It promised to be a good one, and it did not fail to deliver. Kyler Murray threw three touchdowns and completed 21 of 26 passes for 283 yards. Tua Tagovailoa threw two touchdowns and completed 20 of 28 passes for 248 yards, and moved to 2-0 as a starter in the NFL.
When considering the future of the position in the league, the obvious candidates that stick out are Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but Tua and Kyler have such high ceilings and are a joy to watch too.
When Miami decided to bench Fitzpatrick and start Tua, it was unclear how far they could go this season. The fact of the matter is that Tua gives Miami a great chance to win and their defense is among the league’s best too. This team means business.
Elsewhere, Justin Herbert was anything but responsible for another Chargers loss.
On the last play of the game, Herbert threw a fade to Donald Parham Jr. There was no time left. The clock struck 0:00 and it looked like the Chargers had won. Justin Herbert, the rookie quarterback out of Oregon, had successfully led his team to victory when all seemed lost. But in true Chargers fashion, upon further review, the receiving player did not hold onto the ball and it was ruled incomplete.
Heartbreaking loss or not, this should not take away from just how impressive Justin Herbert has been this season. Between Herbert, Tagovailoa and Burrow, the high draft picks are all looking exciting and it feels like the future of the position is in good hands for years to come.
A reminder of what a shame it is that the Giants are stuck with Daniel Jones.
Written by Matthew Carolan.
Read Shocked, Not Shocked Week 8 here, by Matthew.