Welcome to the latest edition of the Sunday Recap, a weekly column dedicated to thoughts on the previous day’s NFL action. Here are the top storylines from yesterday’s games.
The kickers blew it, but Seattle and Arizona remind everyone that they’re still contenders
Wow! I mean…does anyone know what to say? Let me just rattle off a couple of quick thoughts about what I saw during the overtime:
David Johnson scored on that run before Catanzaro missed that kick
You could argue that Johnson’s heel landed out of bounds before his foot his the pylon, but I thought Johnson was in. I’m still shocked that the officials didn’t review that play. I suppose the Cardinals offense didn’t help matters, as they immediately rushed to the line to try to catch the Seahawks off guard. In hindsight, Arizona must be frustrated that they could’ve avoided that ill-fated field goal attempt altogether and still won the game.
I was surprised that Bobby Wagner wasn’t penalized for jumping over the snapper, but I’m happy with the no-call
This rule confuses me. It looked as though Wagner made contact with the long-snapper when he hurdled the line in a desperate attempt to block Chandler Catanzaro’s kick. Chris Collinsworth commented that because the snapper moved, the officials made the correct call by not penalizing Wagner. However, I’m still surprised a call wasn’t made because Wagner did make contact with him.
Why did Seattle rush their field goal attempt?
Pete Carroll should’ve called time-out because it looked as though Seattle’s field goal unit rushed their last-second attempt. If Steven Hauschka had more time to compose himself, I think he would’ve had a better attempt. I don’t want to excuse him completely, though, because a) it was a short kick and b) he wasn’t even close. I still think Carroll deserves some blame for not settling things down.
This tie may be a bitter pill for both teams–especially Arizona–to swallow. Nonetheless, I still came away very impressed with both of these teams. Their defenses were so outstanding that they can clearly contain any offense in the league on any given Sunday. Moreover, even though they combined for twelve points, these offenses still have the potential to give most defenses trouble as well. The Cardinals, who should’ve won the game with ease if not for poor special teams, gained over 400 yards and have some of the league’s best playmakers in David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Their offense won’t reach the same heights as last year, but they’re still damn good. As for the Seahawks, their offensive performances this season have been deceptive because Russell Wilson has been playing on a gimpy knee. Plus, they too should’ve won the game after their offense moved down the field with ease on the last overtime drive to set up Hauschka’s chip-shot.
If Arizona can make the playoffs–and that’s certainly an if after this game–they will be dangerous. Minnesota’s defense has received a lot of praise this season, but Arizona’s is quietly just as good and their offense has the potential to be one of the league’s best. Meanwhile, Seattle reaffirmed that they are one of the best teams in the NFL. Yes, even with a tie–the Seahawks are still one of the NFL’s most well-rounded teams and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Wilson’s knee will heal over the course of the season, and their offense will thrive like it did in the second half of last season. Once again, Seattle will be very dangerous come January.
Vikings drop first game, as offense finally holds them back
The ’72 Dolphins can pop the champagne. Minnesota became the last team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten with a sloppy 21-10 loss to the Eagles. To their credit, Philadelphia outplayed the Vikings in all three phases of the game. The momentum swung in Philadelphia’s favor after Josh Huff’s return touchdown, and the Eagles continued to put pressure on the Vikings from there by harassing Sam Bradford and suffocating their rushing offense. They all but sealed the upset after stopping Minnesota on a fourth-and-goal from inside their five yard line.
While it was an uncharacteristic performance from the previously unbeaten Vikings, it wasn’t necessarily surprising. Part of Minnesota’s early-season success was attributed to their favorable turnover luck. Minnesota came into Week 6 first in the NFL in turnover margin with a staggering +2.2 TO differential per game (Buffalo, for the record, was second at +1.3–that’s a wide margin!). Sure, they have a terrific defense; but Minnesota hadn’t coughed up the ball once through five games. As random as turnovers typically are, that sort of ball-protection wasn’t necessarily lucky. It just isn’t sustainable, especially since the Vikings don’t have an elite quarterback.
Minnesota is unlikely to fall victim to another spate of turnovers like they did yesterday (they turned the ball over four times against Philadelphia). However, their ability to protect the ball may have masked how inefficient their offense was in the first place. The Vikings came into Sunday ranked 30th in yards per play, alongside mediocre offenses like Baltimore and Houston. Moreover, they ranked 31st in the league in yards per drive, which suggests that most of their recent offensive success was attributed to favorable field position provided by their defense.
In fairness to the Vikings, losing Adrian Peterson in Week 2 was a serious blow. Nonetheless, for a team that many people believe to be a Super Bowl contender, they are still severely short on offensive weapons. Even with a great defense that will single-handily keep them in the NFC playoff race, Minnesota will continue to play in many close, low-scoring games due to their average-at-best offense. This leaves them prone to being upset by teams comparable to Philadelphia.
The Vikings could be this year’s Denver. The 2015 Broncos had an even worse offense, yet they managed to overcome this fatal flaw and still win the title on the strength of their defense. Denver, however, was an exception to the rule. Let’s pump the brakes on Minnesota’s Super Bowl expectations.
Jay Ajayi has rescued Miami’s season
With their playoff odds hovering around one percent, the 1-4 Dolphins looked finished two weeks ago. Two consecutive 200-yard performances from Jay Ajayi, though, has Miami back in the playoff hunt.
The turnaround has been remarkable. The Dolphins were one of the league’s pass-happy teams through four weeks, throwing the ball on nearly 65% of their plays. With the season heading south, Adam Gase decided the solution was to turn to a former fifth-round pick out of Boise State. Somehow, it’s worked. Miami has run the ball on 57% of its plays over the last two weeks, averaging a robust 6.9 yards per play and 6.2 yards per rush attempt. The commitment to the run has worked wonders for Ryan Tannehill as well, as he’s posted Total QBR’s north of 70 in each of the past two weeks.
But the real story has been Ajayi, who became only the fourth running back to post consecutive 200-yard games. That puts him alongside the likes of Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson. Is it a fluke? Probably. After all, he hadn’t had a game in which he ran for at least 50 yards, let alone 200. However, there’s no reason to think that Gase will move away from the running game that has worked so well in recent weeks. Ajayi should continue to post solid numbers as he continues his Pro Bowl-caliber season. It might just be enough to get the Dolphins into more serious playoff contention.
Buffalo and Tennessee ruined golden opportunities
The Bills and Titans came into Week 7 as two of the league’s biggest surprises. I guess things were too good to be true. Both missed opportunities to cement themselves as playoff contenders yesterday.
With their loss to a beatable Miami team, the Bills not only saw their four game winning streak snapped, but they fell outside of the top six in the AFC as well after Kansas City hung on to beat New Orleans. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they are out of the playoff picture for good. However, Buffalo had a chance to really separate themselves from under .500 teams like Cincinnati, Miami, and Baltimore. Now they’re not only back in that clump, but they’re a step behind the superior Broncos and Chiefs. Buffalo now has a crucial game against New England that could make or break their season given how streaky Rex Ryan’s teams tend to be.
Meanwhile, the Titans had similar playoff aspirations after two consecutive victories put them only a game behind the Texans for first place in the AFC South. Their chances to win the South could have been bolstered with a win over divisional foe Indianapolis plus a Texans loss. Instead, Marcus Mariota’s couldn’t deliver when it mattered most and the Titans defense, which deserved praise for the way they played entering Week 7, did little to prevent a big day from Andrew Luck. Tennessee fans might have to wait another year before the playoffs become a real possibility.
The Elite Eight
This is a brand new segment of The Sunday Recap. After all, it’s about that time when we can start accurately measuring the strength of each NFL team. Real simple: I’m going to rank the eight best teams in the NFL based on how strong I feel their Super Bowl chances are.
8/ Philadelphia Eagles
Their defense proved it belongs, but Carson Wentz has made some “rookie” mistakes in recent weeks. That could hurt them in January.
7/ Green Bay Packers
I guess Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got back on track against Chicago. But how impressive is it when you beat Matt Barkley? I still wouldn’t bet against the baaaadddd man.
6/ Pittsburgh Steelers
No shame in losing to New England without Big Ben. However, their defense, which has been thrashed in recent weeks on the ground, is a concern moving forward.
5/ Minnesota Vikings
The sky isn’t falling after one loss, but the Vikings will certainly need to find a way to better protect Sam Bradford.
4/ Dallas Cowboys
Dallas has one of the best offenses in football. Let’s not sleep on their defense, either.
3/ Seattle Seahawks
There’s no “best team” in the NFC right now. When in doubt, take the most complete team that has the most playoff experience.
2/ Denver Broncos (pending MNF)
They may not be the best team in the AFC right now, but they’re still a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
1/ New England Patriots
The Brady-revenge tour rolled through Pittsburgh. They likely won’t relinquish this position unless they suffer a spate of injuries.
Fantasy Heroes & Zeroes
Hero: Melvin Gordon (29 points)
Gordon’s made amends for his disappointing rookie season. He’s been a scoring machine this year.
Zero: Eli Manning (7 points)
I’m not sure how many people had Manning in their starting lineup this week, but it’s shocking how stagnant this Giants offense is with all those weapons.
Hero: Jeremy Hill (24 points)
It’s about damn time!
Zero: Matt Jones (-1 points)
That’s not what you like to see.
Hero: Eagles D/ST (25 points)
It’s always nice when your defense goes off.
Zero: Allen Robinson (0 points)
Are you kidding me Allen Robinson? You guys were playing a college defense!
Monday Night Prediction
Houston Texans (4-2) vs Denver Broncos (4-2)
Spread: DEN -8.5 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: HOU (30) < DEN (10)
Public Betting: DEN 61%
Houston is not very good, despite what their record says. With that said, I think Lamar Miller can have some success on the ground against Denver, who ranks only 16th against the run. That may be enough to keep the Texans in the game. The Broncos are still the better team, though. Reports out of Denver say that Trevor Siemian is healthier than he was in their loss to the Chargers. Denver should be able to find their groove offensively to move to 5-2.