New and exciting teams have seized control at the top of the NFL, but the collateral damage of that upheaval has been a slate of lackluster prime-time games. For the most part, the teams the networks thought would be good have struggled, so the nighttime schedule has, more often than not, been pretty dire. This week features the Giants playing the Broncos on Sunday night—a game with just a few reasons to watch. Among them: Shots of Ben McAdoo looking at his play sheet as you think about how Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie bailed on the team because he was feuding with the coaching staff and how the head coach bungled the aftermath in every way imaginable. McAdoo also said he’s “not interested” in the idea that he’s lost his team—which is something you say only when you’ve actually lost your team.
Anyway, that’s Sunday’s prime-time game. The next night features Colts-Titans. Andrew Luck probably won’t play, and Marcus Mariota won’t, either. You might want to watch baseball that night if there is any, although Matt Cassel–Jacoby Brissett is just like baseball. (Hint: not fun!)
Luckily, the NFL always finds a way to entertain us. There are a bunch of exciting games this weekend, just not the ones we would’ve expected before the season began. Since some of the established teams find themselves in peril so early in the season, we have two competing themes in the NFL at the moment: Up-and-coming, too-good-to-be-true underdogs trying to prove themselves and been-good-for-years squads trying to prove they still belong. There is a lot at stake, so let’s run through the three stake-iest matchups of the weekend:
Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars
If the Jaguars win: The Rams and Jaguars are playing the game of the week. Repeat: The Rams and Jaguars are playing the game of the week. First, a word about the Jaguars:
Atlanta now has an 86% chance of winning, per ESPN. That's about the same Clinton's chances heading into the election pic.twitter.com/fNpBPSO8tJ— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) February 6, 2017
The chances of the Jaguars making the playoffs before the season, according to ESPN’s probability data? You guessed it—roughly the same (about 16 percent) as all these other low-probability events. In other words, if an outcome has a 16 percent chance of happening, it is 100 percent going to happen.
I wrote about probability’s tough stretch earlier this year. Criticizing win probability makes you sound like G.O.B. Bluth when he says, “I heard the jury’s still out on science.” But I’m glad all these crazy sports things are happening. I want the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl. And guess what … they … might?
Earlier this week, I wrote about the Jaguars’ innovative “ignore the quarterback position” approach—something I genuinely think can get them into the playoffs if they stick to it. Especially with some of the amazing pass defense they’re playing:
Lowest burn % (through Week 5)— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) October 12, 2017
B Carr 41
T White 44
J Jenkins 44
T Mitchell 46
R Melvin 47
R Robinson 47
T Johnson 47
Jalen Ramsey + A.J. Bouye: 64 targets, 25 receptions, 340 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs (30.72 passer rating)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) October 9, 2017
Spiking the Ball: 39.58 passer rating
If the Rams win: After Sunday, these teams will, barring a tie (a low-probability event, i.e., a certainty), combine for as many wins as they had all of last season with seven. If Los Angeles wins, a few things happen—first of all, it’ll leapfrog Seattle in the division. But more importantly, if Jared Goff can throw on this secondary, it might be his best act as a pro quarterback. He’ll have to make throws to win, but expect a lot of Todd Gurley as well. Despite the Jags’ ferocious defensive line, you can run on them. Jacksonville is allowing the most yards per rushing attempt in the NFL with 5.4. I found the below chart interesting. Some of the Jags’ worst holes match up with Gurley’s best. Look for a lot of runs wide and to the right.
Let’s try something new. Todd Gurley rushing data by gap vs what the Jaguars defense is giving up. (JAX data based on my RB priority list) pic.twitter.com/bCh6c5Yigi— Adam Spinks (@TheRBScout) October 12, 2017
New England Patriots at New York Jets
If the Jets win: There’s a supervolcano at Yellowstone Park that could wipe out life on Earth and may erupt sooner than we previously thought. This, obviously, is a problem, but it would be made moot if the Jets were to win on Sunday and end the world. The Jets have beaten the Patriots before, but a victory this weekend would mean that this Jets team, the one widely expected to tank, would be ahead in the standings and maybe, at least for now, better than the defending world champion and perennially awesome Patriots, who now own one of the worst defenses on the planet. I think the Patriots win here, but it won’t be the joke game we thought it would be a month ago. I’m not exactly in on this Jets team, but I believe they can exploit the Patriots defense for reasons that are pretty clear: That is an easy thing to do. Look at Josh McCown!
McCown pumps the LB to give himself room to move. Austin Seferian-Jenkins runs the snag but then finds the soft spot in zone as McCown moves pic.twitter.com/oJvZeuEYZR— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) October 11, 2017
If the Patriots win: If the Jets win, it’s a disaster for the Patriots, and it’s time for some serious soul-searching. If the Patriots win? We’ll say, “Well, of course they won; they are the Patriots.” The Patriots need to do a few things: They need to keep Brady—who is already one hit shy of his 2016 total—from getting hit. And they need to stop the freaking Jets from moving the ball. The Jets’ wins have not been against the most talented of opponents: They beat the Browns, Jaguars, and Dolphins—three teams we’re not totally sure about. But at the very least, the Jets have shown they can be a competent team on both sides of the ball on three separate occasions. The Patriots are significantly better than the Jets, and I feel very strongly that the Pats will win the division, but their defense has held an opponent under 20 points only once this season—and that was a Bucs team that was vomiting all over themselves. I’d like to see the Pats do it again before I can feel confident.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
If the Chiefs win: The undefeated Chiefs, perhaps the NFL’s best team at the moment, still have a few questions to answer, and the Steelers will help them. They struggle to stop the run, particularly on first down:
Most rushing yards allowed per attempt on first downs:— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_NewEngland) October 10, 2017
1. Patriots 6.2
2. Jaguars 5.9
3. Chargers 5.1
4. Chiefs 5.0
5. Panthers 4.8
It’s a good thing, then, that Le’Veon Bell is coming to help test this.
This is a matchup of two of the top running backs in yards per game in league history—Kareem Hunt vs. Bell. The difference is that the Chiefs keep feeding Hunt the ball and the Steelers haven’t used Bell enough. The Chiefs are probably going to go to the ground a lot on Sunday, since the Steelers have the league’s 28th-ranked rush defense. There’s not that much else the Chiefs have to prove. They already dismantled the Patriots on the road to start the season, but a win over another preseason AFC favorite wouldn’t hurt. Also, this is unbelievable:
When the Chiefs rush three men, they’re getting pressure 43.8 percent of the time, per @PFF, which seems insane.— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) October 10, 2017
If the Steelers win: The week in Roethlisberger:
Ben Roethlisberger after #Jaguars loss: "Maybe I don’t have it anymore"— Andrew Gibson (@1010XLAG) October 8, 2017
And then …
Ben Roethlisberger unequivocal in saying he still has "that belief that I'm one of the best" to ever play the position that he does.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) October 10, 2017
Roethlisberger then chided the media for asking about Antonio Brown kicking a water cooler. And he closed the loop on an eventful week with some pure, grade-A nonsense:
Ben Roethlisberger: "I'm a gunfighter. I got in a gunfight and I lost." Says, "But I'm a cowboy," promising he'll be back this week.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) October 10, 2017
The Steelers need a win over anyone. They are 3-2, same as the Jets, Rams, Jaguars, Bills, and Seahawks, but the difference with Pittsburgh is that there seems to be a gloom over the Steelers at the moment. The good news is that no one in the AFC North looks particularly good, so they could still back into a playoff spot, but to have any shot at playing deep into the postseason, they need to start looking like the juggernaut we all expected them to be. They do not look, at the moment, as talented as the Jaguars, Rams, or Alex Smith’s Chiefs. Maybe it’s time for the supervolcano.