After 9 weeks, “parity” is the NFL’s biggest buzzword, with “ratings” close behind. Early division leaders like Pittsburgh, Denver, and Minnesota tumbled back down to earth in recent weeks. Meanwhile, teams like Seattle, Arizona, Carolina and Green Bay were expected to compete for the NFC title and look mediocre week after week. Only two teams stand out after 8 games: New England and Dallas. Oakland is the NFL’s darling at 7-2, but their defense and undisciplined play (they lead the league in penalties) keep expectations at bay for now.
In addition to the cumulative surprises, the league gave fans plenty of unforgettable moments this Sunday, including a 300+ pound hurdler and a reality TV star getting thrown out. Also, despite lingering skepticism, the Oakland Raiders are 7-2. Believe it.
Travis Kelce going all “reality TV” on everyone: The tweet of the week comes from Gil Brandt, who matter-of-factly relayed the ejection news to his followers with a snarky hashtag. Early in the 4th quarter, Travis Kelce lost his cool over a non-call in the endzone. In his defense, it was blatant defensive pass interference. Still, bad calls happen every game and Kelce lacked the perspective a veteran player should have. His reality show Catching Kelce bled over into his day job, as he took a page out of the Real Housewives’ playbook and threw his towel at the official. Ladies, this bachelor won’t be easy to reel in.
Kapernick turning back the clock: It wasn’t long ago when the New Orleans at San Francisco served as a potential preview of an NFC playoff matchup. That was back before Colin Kapernick’s career took a nosedive and the Saint’s defense became historically bad. Sunday served to turn back the clock for Kapernick, but it could be a result of the Saint’s weak secondary. Last week, they stifled Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. This week, Kaep lit them up for nearly 400 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fortunately, Drew Brees is still killing every defense in the NFL and outscored the 49ers.
This onside kick:
Onside kicks are difficult to pull off in any circumstance, but this attempt was especially poor. These guys are (usually) good at their job and Chris Boswell looked downright silly on that play.
The Saints and Chargers aren’t done: Former teammates Phillip Rivers and Drew Brees simply willed their teams to contention. How should Chargers and Saints fans feel about their chances in the season’s second half? San Diego has a more talented defense than New Orleans, while the Saints have a better record (4-4 vs. 4-5) and play in a weaker division. It’s hard to picture either of these teams making noise in the playoffs (if they even make it), but they won’t be an easy out for anyone. No defense wants to face an elite quarterback who knows he’s in final stage of his career.
The Colts left Lambeau with a win: The Packers haven’t been right all year. Whether or not that’s Aaron Rodgers fault, the offensive line, the defense, or the fact that they’re down three running backs is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that the Colts are not good. Their offensive line is weak and their defense is abysmal. They hung tough in a hostile environment on Sunday and picked up a huge win. Their playoff hopes remain alive in a weak division, while Packer fans are heading to State Farm for a refund on their discount double check.
Jordan Phillips running like Zeke Elliot: Defensive linemen rarely reel in interceptions and it happened twice on Sunday. The more impressive of the two was surely the 324 pound Jordan Phillips dropping into coverage and picking off Ryan Fitzpatrick. What happened next was breathtaking. Phillips ran towards the endzone and hurdled the Jets’ Robby Anderson with flawless technique. See for yourself:
Things that shouldn’t surprise anyone
Mike Wallace winning a footrace: While it wasn’t quite the deep “Go” route that he made his name on in Pittsburgh, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh had to be pleased watching Mike Wallace streak down the sidelines against the team that drafted him. Baltimore was on the wrong side of Wallace’s speed for several years. Now they’re dealing with his limitations for the sake of games like yesterday. Wallace may be a one trick pony, but his trick changes games. The man can straight fly.
The Lions winning last minute: It’s now a routine for Matt Stafford. Detroit doesn’t look all that impressive in these high wire victories, but the wins buy them time to get their act together. Beating Minnesota brings them within a game of the division lead and plenty of time to gain ground. Based on how they’ve played all year, expect the Lions season to come down to week 17. Stay away from betting against them, though.
The Falcons dropping 40: With the exception of perhaps New Orleans or New England, Atlanta may have the highest-powered offense in football. Their defense is still suspect, but it hasn’t mattered much so far this season. Matt Ryan is on a short list of MVP candidates right now and he appears to be improving each week. The second half will reveal whether this team is phony or for real.