The MVP hype makes it’s rounds for Kyler Murray, two divisional races heat up and the play of the year.
Football is great for so many reasons: the physical action seems to stir up a subliminal connection with the ancient Romans roaring on gladiators. The raw emotion a collection of fans will feel in any given season sometimes feels like a hot new drama on television (at least how it used to be) that generates a lot of reasonable questions, but you can’t wait to watch. Then there’s the men on the field, playing a compound complex game of violent chess, while average Americans (like myself) scream at the television as if we have put time in to understand the, carefully, controlled chaos that occurs from play-to-play. With all of those ideas in mind, it seems fair to say that football is another piece of abstract art. Beautiful, awe-inspiring, motivated, visionary, passionate, specific, and of course, utterly confounding. Week 10 definitely leaned more towards the head-scratching end of the abstract spectrum that is professional football, and left most franchises with a lot of uncertainty going forward for the playoff stretch.
One of those teams in particular is the Tennessee Titans (6-3). After a hot 5-0 start to the season, Tennessee has since gone 1-3, with one of those losses from an inferior opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1). Despite how embarrassing that loss looks on paper, the circumstances didn’t quite match up to Thursday night’s implosion in a key divisional matchup against Indianapolis (6-3). The Colt’s defense (ranked 4th DVOA) further exposed gaping holes in the Titans’ offense. The Colts went in to the 2nd half down 17-13 and shut out for the rest of the game and held the Titans to 109 yards of total offense.
If you watched the game, then you would probably say that Tennessee choosing to call up punter, Trevor Daniel, from the practice squad to replace injured starter Brett Kern, instead of sticking with backup Ryan Allen, defines the power shift in this game. Though that’s true, both of these punting fiascos shine a light on Tennessee’s one-dimensional offense. The first was miserably shanked and gave the Colts great field position to score a go-ahead touchdown, however this was the Titans’ first drive of half shortly after a failed fourth down conversion from Indianapolis. The drive stalled out after four straight run plays and a Tannehill sack on 3rd down. Yes, Trevor Daniel gets paid to not have the ball skid off the right side of his foot for 17 yards, but Tennessee only had a four-point lead and played conservative, essentially doubling down on long-term game management.
The second failed punt was blocked for a touchdown after a quick three and out. Again, Vrabel and the overall situational management seems questionable. Does he lack trust in Tannehill’s ability as a playmaker? Getting shut out in the second half, with barely 100 yards of offense, seems odd with their offensive talent. More than likely, it’s a credit to defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, but Tennessee will have two more tough defensive matchups traveling to Baltimore (6-3) and Indianapolis on back to back weeks. The Colts will be looking to make a statement against a very questionable Packers team, despite being tied with the Saints for the best record at 7-2, while Tennessee’s matchup with Baltimore (6-3) will probably just continue to confuse the hell out of everyone watching.
(TEN v IND was not featured in WW picks)
Speaking of confusing the hell out of everyone watching and the Ravens, we’ll fast-forward through Sunday’s action and save the best for last. Sunday Night’s monsoon was upstaged by a wild game in Foxborough. Baltimore and New England (4-5) are 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in rushing yards per game this season, per ESPN.com. Weather being a factor played into New England’s minimal strengths. A heavy run diet of Cam Newton (11-21 1 TD) and recent rookie standout, Damien Harris (22-121) helped control the pace of this game. Newton going 13-17 for 118 yards with one touchdown (still without a touchdown pass to a receiver) and no turnovers is all Belichick will want out of this version of Cam. He even turned to his quarterback-turned-wide-receiver, (in his freshman year at NC State) Jakobi Meyers, for a 24-yard go-ahead touchdown pass shortly before the half.
It’s difficult to put this Ravens loss in to context. Similar to that of Tennessee: Baltimore’s offense has gone stagnant. They’ve been affected by major injuries across the board, including their franchise tackle Ronnie Stanley, and the offense lacks any true explosive weapon other than reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson. Offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, has received a large share of the criticism, (possibly indirectly from his own quarterback) and this is what makes it so difficult to put this loss in to some kind of perspective. On the one hand, you consider the devastating injuries and expected regression towards the mean for Jackson, as defenses continue to get looks against him. Baltimore will still keep themselves in games with their tough defense (6th DVOA), and the Ravens will adjust out of necessity if they want to compete. However, even in terrible weather, Lamar still managed to go 24-34 with 249 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception, (that could’ve easily been two if not for a Jason McCourty drop) and led his team in rushing with 11 carries for 55 yards.
Is it possible that the Ravens ran in to the worst luck for this game? On any normal Sunday evening, in New England in November, it could be cold and you may notice the grass is a little harder than it was last week. Baltimore rides in to town, possibly imagining what it will feel like to bury the remains of dynasty on its own turf. Instead, down 23-17 with ample time for Baltimore to tie the game, the heavens seemed to opened up for Belichick, and his dynasty he’s so desperate to prove is still a contender, without a certain someone at quarterback. The rain came down in sheets with a little over a minute left on the clock and Baltimore’s pathetic attempt to fight the elements left them with a 23-17 loss. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the idea of talking about the Zombie Patriots for the rest of the season, so, once again, demolition remains on pause as New England travels to Houston (2-7) next week.
(BAL v NE was not featured in WW picks)
Pivoting back to Sunday’s midday action, one team seems ready to finally take away the AFC East title from New England. Miami (6-3) hosted the Chargers (2-7) for an exciting matchup on paper between rookie quarterback sensations, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. The result left something to be desired, despite the final score of 29-21. Miami’s defensive effort has truly been the star of their current five-game winning streak, forcing a total of ten turnovers and two fumble recoveries for touchdowns. Without skipping a beat, Miami forced a three and out on the first drive of the game for the Chargers, blocked the punt, ran it in for a touchdown on the next play and set the tone early. Coming off a tough week against Kyler Murray’s ridiculous speed and acceleration, Miami was able to pressure Herbert all game (20-32 187 yds 2 TD 1INT) with dynamic blitz packages (gif of Miami D?): being forced to get rid of the ball faster than he might like to and nipping his chance to make a read in the bud. The glaring cloud that seems to hang over the Chargers now is, whether or not, Anthony Lynn will lose his job before or after the season concludes.
With solid rushing numbers from rookie Salvon Ahmed (21-85 1TD) and the defensive effort, again, reducing Tua’s role this week (15-25 169 yds 2TD). Going forward with Buffalo on a bye, and a shaky Drew Lock, Miami will be looking to extend their winning streak and fall neck-in-neck for first place in the AFC East.
(WW Prediction MIA: 27 LAC: 24 Actual: MIA: 29 LAC: 21)
Now, ladies and gentlemen (or lady and gentleman) the moment we’ve all been waiting for: The Hail Murray. The AFC East race would not be the only divisional shakeup after a second consecutive wild west game in Phoenix that left the Cardinals (6-3) waking up on Monday in first place in the NFC West. Arizona and Buffalo (7-3) was poised to be the marquee matchup of the week and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Like we discussed last week, fans were left to wonder how the MVP conversation should proceed from here. Ultimately, Patrick Mahomes (220-329 2,687 yds 25 TD 1INT) and Alvin Kamara’s numbers (104-486 rushing yards/67-648 reception yards 11 TOT TD) plead their cases. What was interesting about this week was how it was eerily similar to last week’s Buffalo Seattle game. Russell Wilson’s case for MVP has declined (3 more turnovers vs the Rams) since being outdueled by Josh Allen. This week, Josh Allen returned to some of his old habits and poor decision-making: Patrick Peterson dropped two interceptions before finally securing one late in the third. However, Josh Allen can manage to make the beautiful throw where only is receiver can get it, especially on the near game winner to Diggs.
Kyler Murray continues to be red hot (22-32 245 yds 1TD 1 INT/11-61 rushing yards 2TD) as he, and Kliff Kingsbury play offensive roulette and set the league on fire, much like Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s explosive offense from last season. His passing numbers certainly don’t boast dominance, but his uncanny ability to extend a play is enough to vault him high up in the MVP conversation. Clearly, that unique gift came in handy as he broke a tackle, launched the ball in only the way he can, and Hopkins pulled it down over three defenders in only the way he can. Attempting to recap this game wouldn’t do it any justice. Just watch this as many times as you need.
Riding the high of a spectacular finish, Arizona has a key divisional rematch in Seattle (6-3) on a short week, Thursday night, while the Rams (6-3) travel to Tampa (7-3), putting a bright spotlight on the tight NFC West race.
(WW Prediction: BUF: 33 ARZ: 31 Actual: ARZ: 32 BUF: 30)
WW Honorable Mentions:
PIT: 36 CIN 10 (WW Prediction: CIN: 26 PIT: 24) Going off the early Covid-19 news for Big Ben, I doubled down on him not playing. He did. Pittsburgh easily moved to 9-0. Shout-out to any Steelers fans reading feeling I’m not showing them any respect (I don’t actually care).
TAM: 46 CAR: 23 (WW Prediction: TAM: 27 CAR: 31) Well, I guess Tom was pissed, something I should be used to by now as a Dolphins fan. Tampa fumbled once early in the game and never punted once.
GB: 24 JAX: 20 (No WW prediction) Green Bay’s remains to have eyebrows raised their way, as they sneak out of a classic trap game against a bad team.
This week’s WW predictions will be slightly different because the predictions last week were not only a guess on the scores, but on the games I thought I would be discussing this week. Instead, this week I’ll predict all the scores for Week 11 to set up the chance to have a running record of predictions in the recap.
ARZ: 41 @ SEA: 30 PIT:28 @ JAX:15 DET: 23 @ CAR: 28
NE: 26 @ HOU: 24 TEN: 24 @ BAL: 20 PHI: 17 @ CLE: 21
ATL: 31 NO: 28 CIN: 29 @ WAS: 24 NYJ: 18 @ LAC: 23
MIA: 27 @ DEN: 13 DAL: 15 @ MIN: 28 GB: 20 @ IND: 24
KC: 34 @ LVR: 31 LAR: 27 TAM: 33