The NFL was always facing an uphill battle this week. College football just had one of its best weekends in quite some time. The MLB Playoffs have been thoroughly enjoyable (unless you’re a Mariners fan like me). And the NHL season has started (if you care about that). It would have been easy for the NFL to fly under the radar this week with all of the chaos happening across the other sports. But thankfully, that did not happen. It’s kind of hard for that to happen when two of the league’s best teams with the brightest stars are facing off. The NFL gave us plenty to entertain ourselves with on Sunday. Whether it is two surprise teams that reside in the same state or a team continuing its march toward history, there was something for everyone. So here are some of my takeaways from the NFL action.
Football is Going Good in New York
Despite all the crazy stuff that has happened in the league this year, this is for sure the most unexpected. Having the New York teams hold a combined 9-3 record at this point in the season is something that no one had on their 2022 NFL season bingo card. And if someone did, they need to be playing something a lot more high stakes than bingo. What makes those accomplishments even more impressive is what each team did this week to reach that record.
The Jets took down the Packers, one week after the Giants did it in London, and did so in pretty convincing fashion. It was a 27-10 game that was bordering on a rout, despite the fact that Aaron Rodgers plays for one of the teams (and not the one that was winning). But the Jets did an amazing job stopping Rodgers and his crew, and the defense was the biggest reason they won the game. They held him to 246 yards and one touchdown while completing just 63 percent of his passes. Even more shocking was that the Jets held the talented running back duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to just 60 yards on the ground. New York also had a blocked punt that it turned into a touchdown, just further emphasizing the defense’s superb effort. It was much-needed, too, because Zach Wilson threw for just 110 yards. Breece Hall did contribute 116 yards on the ground and a score, but really the offense didn’t play that well. This win was earned by the defense, who shut down the reigning MVP in dominant fashion.
The Giants used their momentum from last week’s win over the Packers to rattle off another win, giving them an astounding 4-1 record on the year. This week it was the Ravens’ turn to fall to the mighty Giants. They played another well-rounded game but really turned it on in the fourth quarter, where they scored two unanswered touchdowns to turn a 20-10 deficit into a 24-20 win. This was the second week in a row that New York has a late, game-winning drive, which suggests there is a clutch factor to this team that has been missing lately. Of course, Saquon Barkley helps a lot with that. He is an absolute workhouse for this team, totaling 22 carries, several of which were in the wildcat formation, to the tune of 83 yards. He once again had the go-ahead touchdown but his most impressive play may have been staying out of the end zone on the final drive in order to ensure that the Giants could run the clock down to zeroes and preserve the win.
It’s a good time to be a sports fan in New York (other than the Mets getting eliminated in the playoffs and the Yankees facing the same fate). And if you throw in the Buffalo Bills (more on them later), that gives New York three NFL teams with winning records. But even if you don’t include the Bills because they’re all the way upstate and that isn’t true New York (even though the Jets and Giants play their games in New Jersey), the state of football in New York is still very good. Both teams have legitimate playoff aspirations at this point after coming into the season probably just trying not to finish last. There is no guarantee that they can both keep it up, that may be too much for the city to handle, but for the time being let’s enjoy two good football teams in New York City.
The Falcons are 2022’s Scrappiest Team
This is not an official title or anything and is far from having any worth, but I am awarding the Falcons the title of 2022’s Scrappiest Team. If you don’t know what that means, which is totally fine because I basically just made it up, let me fill you in. Basically, every year there is one team that is not good and has no shot to make the playoffs but somehow manages to play in a ton of close games and even pull off an upset or two over a legit contender. Last year it was the Lions, who were winless for most of the season despite seeming like every game came down to the wire. This year’s Falcons team is a lot like that Lions team, just with a little more hope.
Atlanta had the ultimate display of scrappiness on Sunday when it took down the 49ers, who looked like they were starting to get on a roll. But the Falcons stopped that roll with a 28-21 win that was actually a two-score game for most of it. The Falcons looked like the better team despite having a clearly less talented roster, yet made the plays necessary to earn the victory. They did the exact things that a scrappy team needs to do in order to win a game like this. They won the turnover battle (three to zero), controlled the ball (33:25 time of possession), and ran the ball (40 rushing attempts). That led to an Atlanta win despite San Francisco racking up more yards and gaining more first downs.
The Falcons have the perfect quarterback to lead this type of team in Marcus Mariota. He is essentially the concept of ‘good but not good enough’ come to life. He is exceptionally average as a starting quarterback and has been exactly that this season. He has not completed more than 14 passes in any of his last four games, most recently going 13 for 14 for 129 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was to Kyle Pitts who does still exist despite what your fantasy team may suggest. He caught his first touchdown in America, further establishing himself as the one player that is too young and too good to be stuck on this team.
I have no idea if the Falcons can continue doing this. Choosing not to pass the ball does not seem like a sustainable way to win football games in 2022 but they are trying their best to prove that wrong. This may be a case of Icarus flying too close to the sun and they will come crashing down to Earth and lose their next 11 games in a row. Or this could be the case of a real falcon who can fly as close to the sun as nature allows because his wings are real and not made of feathers and glue or whatever Icarus’s feathers were made of. It is possible that the Falcons continue on this run and keep winning or almost winning games. If that is the case then every team left on their schedule better watch out because Atlanta is a team that can absolutely take you down, no matter how much better you are on paper.
Rhamondre Stevenson Deserves to be a Starter
The NFL likes to advertise itself as a meritocracy where the best players in the world earn their spots. And for the most part that is true. But if the league were a true meritocracy, that would mean that the 32 best running backs would fill the 32 starting running back spots. That is not the case, though. And do you know how I know that? Because Rhamondre Stevenson is not one of those 32 starting running backs. Sure, you could argue that Stevenson has a more prominent role in New England’s committee than he would as the starter on some other team but that is not the point. The point is that Stevenson is among the top 32 running backs in this league and needs to be recognized as such.
Stevenson got a chance to start on Sunday because of an injury to Damien Harris (who should now be concerned about whether his starting spot will still be there for him when he returns). Stevenson took that opportunity and ran with it, literally, racking up 76 yards and two touchdowns to go along with four catches for 15 yards. This is coming off of last week’s performance where he ran for 161 yards after taking over in full following Harris’s injury. This is clearly a guy that deserves to be getting 25 or 19 carries like he has gotten the past two weeks and not the 10.75 carries that he was averaging over the first four weeks of the season.
Stevenson was arguably outperforming Harris even when he was serving as his backup. He is the more explosive and dynamic runner, not to mention the much more dangerous weapon as a receiver. That seems like an all-around back to me. The Patriots love to use a running back-by-committee approach and will probably continue to do so. But it is telling that this team has had success when leaning heavily on Stevenson. New England won this week and last week, both games in which Stevenson got a huge majority of the snaps and carries. The second-year player is ready to be a workhouse back in this league, and if the Patriots don’t want to give him that opportunity, somebody else will.
Bills versus Chiefs Was Not What We Expected, but it Was Still Awesome
We did not get the shootout game we were expecting when the Chiefs and Bills squared off on Sunday. Instead of 70-yard touchdowns and scores in the 50s, we got methodical drives and red zone turnovers. It made for a low-scoring game but not necessarily a boring one. This was still a matchup of two teams that are very serious Super Bowl contenders. In fact, they are the two favorites in the NFC and two of the top three favorites for the Super Bowl (we will talk about that third team in a minute). So what we ended up with on Sunday was a down-to-the-wire battle between two of the most elite teams in the sport. Doesn’t sound too bad to me.
I’m sure most people were surprised when this game was tied at 10 apiece heading into halftime. I mean, the last time we watched them play they scored 25 points in the final two minutes of the game. But this time around the game was dictated by the defenses. We’re used to saying that about the Bills, considering they have one of the best defenses in the league. But the Chiefs are not typically involved in games with a whole lot of defense. But in this game, both teams’ first drive was stopped by a turnover in the red zone. The Bills needed five possessions until they finally managed to get into the end zone. The overall defensive numbers may not look that great because both teams still racked up tons of yards, but the defenses did show up today.
But in the end, this game was decided by the quarterbacks, as we all expected. Josh Allen led what ended up being the game-winning drive, capping it off with a beautiful touchdown pass to Dawson Knox with 1:04 left. Allen was incredible on that drive, as he has been all season long. He proved why he belongs in the driver’s seat of the MVP race. He even hurdled a freaking guy as if he can’t get crazy enough on the field. Mahomes, on the other hand, throw an interception when he got the ball back and ended his team’s chance to win the game. Granted, it wasn’t all his fault. Von Miller was quite literally in his face after beating the right tackle at the line of scrimmage. That was a problem for Mahomes and the Chiefs all day. And while it did lead to some awe-inspiring scrambles and plays from Mahomes, it ultimately led directly to the game-sealing interception as well. How Kansas City deals with Mille the next time these two teams see each other will be a very interesting wrinkle. And we will see these two teams play again. Hopefully, it is this season and hopefully, it is in the AFC Championship Game because that would lead to another memorable contest.
The Eagles Just Got Through Their Toughest Test
Whoever wins that hypothetical conference championship game might just have to face the Eagles in the Super Bowl because they look unstoppable. The Eagles were faced with a tough task on Sunday Night Football, going up against the Cowboys. Even though Dallas was still without Dak Prescott, the 4-1 Cowboys were not going to be an easy matchup at all. That proved to be the case, as the Cowboys did give the Eagles a run for their money, but ultimately the game ended as a 26-17 victory for Philly.
The Most impressive thing that the Eagles did on Sunday night, and maybe the most impressive thing any team did all week, was mitigate Micah Parsons’ impact on the game. He has legitimate game-wrecking ability and if Dallas was going to win this game, it was going to be because Parsons played like an absolute beast. He did play well in the game, registering seven tackles, one for loss, and two pass breakups, but it was far from his usual impact. That is because the Eagles came in with a game plan for Parsons and executed it to perfection. They constantly made him the focal point of their attack, forcing him to choose which player to defend. They made him the read player on option plays or RPOs and would take advantage of whatever option he left open. Philly has success several times forcing Parsons to choose between going after Jalen Hurts on a bootleg or guarding a receiver, usually A.J. Brown, in the flat. That was the Eagles’ best play on Sunday, running it for huge gains and even a few touchdowns.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Eagles on offense, though. Once right tackle Lane Johnson was ruled out for the game with a concussion, and guard Landon Dickerson missed time with an injury, the pass rush started to get to Hurts. Phill’s first two drives of the second half gained a combined 21 yards and resulted in two punts. That allowed Dallas to score two touchdowns, cutting the lead down to 20-17. But luckily, the Eagles’ defense came up big when it needed to. The secondary was especially great, accounting for three interceptions and nine of the teams’ pass breakups. That play on the backend combined with a relentless pass rush up front made for a rough day for Cooper Rush who took his first loss as a starter.
Some people, including myself, thought this game could provide the Eagles with their first loss. They were sorely mistaken. Not only did Philly stay undefeated, but it dispatched its biggest rival in the division and possibly even the entire conference. The Cowboys will be a different team when these two teams face off again, most likely with at least a big change at quarterback, and may ultimately give the Eagles a loss that time around. But for now, the Eagles are on top of the NFL, and possibly the world with the way they are playing.