Five NFL teams entered Week Seven sporting league best 5-and-1 records.
One got crushed on the road. A second suffered an upset defeat. The third won easily against a struggling divisional foe. And the final two played each other in a possible Super Bowl preview. So what should we take away from these results?
Since an Opening Night upset win in Kansas City, the Detroit Lions bandwagon has been collecting new passengers on a weekly basis. Several pro football pundits, whose opinions I trust, recently called them “the NFC’s best team.” Early window TV audiences were bristling that Fox was offering the Redskins @ Giants rather than Detroit’s much-anticipated matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in the 1:00 PM Eastern time slot.
Yes, indeed… the stage was set for some proverbial poop to hit the propeller!
Not only did the new-look Lions lose to the Ravens, but they played horribly doing it. Baltimore scored five unanswered touchdowns before Detroit mustered its first and only scoring drive. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson threw and ran the ball as he pleased with total impunity. By game’s end, his offense had amassed 503 total yards at an astounding 9.1 Yards per Play clip. Those are college football numbers, folks!
Prior to the contest, NFL Network’s Michael Irvin compared the Lions to his 1991 Dallas Cowboys, a team with good young players who weren’t quite ready for the big stage. For once I agreed with him. But I did not foresee Detroit QB Jared Goff looking lost and ineffective during three scoreless quarters. Nor did I anticipate the 38-to-6 ass-kicking Detroit endured on both sides of the ball last Sunday.
BTW, the Baltimore Ravens may now be the AFC’s most complete 5-and-2 team!
In the NFC, following an upset defeat in Cleveland, the once beaten San Francisco 49ers appeared primed to rebound on Monday Night Football in Minnesota. The 2-and-4 Vikings would be without wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and their QB Kirk Cousins’ lackluster prime-time record did not bode well for Minnesota. Christian McCaffrey’s presence in the 49ers’ starting lineup pretty much guaranteed a win for San Francisco, right?
The weaknesses that Cleveland exposed in the Niners defense in Week Six reappeared Monday night. Vikings rookie wide out Jordan Addison hauled in 7 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Kirk Cousins converted key third downs all night. Meanwhile, his QB counterpart Brock Purdy tossed up two crucial drive-killing picks, one of which occurred on San Francisco’s final possession.
Like the Ravens and Lions, the 49ers remain a complete 5-and-2 team. But a berth is Super Bowl LVIII (58) is certainly not a lock just yet.
Speaking of Super Bowls, since their Week One loss to Detroit, Patrick Mahomes and the defending NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs have won 6 straight games. Last Sunday, Travis Kelce celebrated "National Tight Ends Day" by catching 12 of Patrick’s passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Taylor Swift was on hand for the football and related festivities. A large national audience tuned in to watch two elite quarterbacks battle it out. But only one showed up.
There’s something terribly wrong with the LA Chargers. I’ve watched their young passer Justin Herbert dominate defenses with his arm strength and throwing ability. Maybe his skill players aren’t Hall of Fame bound, but they’re certainly not bad. Yet the Chargers have won just two of their first half dozen games.
I can’t imagine San Diego’s ownership being satisfied with head coach Brandon Staley’s “We’ve got to reset” remark—or with Staley himself, for that matter. Tough to watch a young QB’s talent being wasted this way.
As for the Chiefs, only the Ravens have allowed fewer points than Kansas City in the AFC. If KC’s defense continues to play at this level and Mahomes can avoid injury, I truly doubt anybody will beat them in the conference playoffs. They've hosted five consecutive AFC championship games and played in three Super Bowls since Mahomes took over. And now Patrick’s wife and kid are hanging out in a luxury box with Tay Tay. Can you say “Dynasty?”
Finally, in Philadelphia, the NFL’s two highest scoring teams faced off in front of a rabid Eagles’ crowd and a national Sunday Night Football audience. The sub plots were tantalizing. Quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, dueling passers from the same national championship Alabama team, playing against each other. Miami speed versus Philly power. A Super Bowl preview for certain?
Prior to kickoff, a friend at a dinner party asked me if I was certain of an Eagles victory. I hesitated, then shook my head. I suggested Philadelphia’s battle-scarred secondary might not be able to run with the Dolphins lightning-fast skill players. He nearly choked on his rump roast. After halftime, when Hurts limped out of the locker room wearing a knee brace then tossed up a game-tying interception—I was even more skeptical of Philly’s chances.
Then, two things happened: First, near the end of the third quarter, Hurts threw to wide receiver A. J. Brown for a 14-yard touchdown. Then, following a pivotal interception by Darius Slay, Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni reconfirmed his faith in Philly’s infamous short yardage stratagem: the “Brotherly Shove.”
On two consecutive fourth downs deep in Eagles’ territory, Sirianni called his “tush push” play twice—and when the Dolphins couldn’t stop it, their hopes of winning evaporated. Philly running back Kenneth Gainwell capped off an 83-yard game clinching drive with a 3-yard score, and Philadelphia improved its 2023 record to 6-and-1, tied with Kansas City for the best in football.
Didn’t these two teams play last February in Super Bowl LVII (57)? Perhaps that’s the most significant takeaway from “The NFL’s Top Five.”