Another week is in the books and the NFL remains the strangest professional sports league in the world. The variance from game to game of teams is higher than any other professional league, and part of that is due to the high risk of injury week to week. Players get banged up in every sport, but the violent collisions in football make predicting performance from guys much more difficult. With that being said, here are the four biggest takeaways from Sunday’s slate.
- Dallas might be in a world of trouble
It is easy to look at the final score of the Cowboys 27-7 thrashing at the hands of Atlanta and say it was a blip not a trend. The reason that Dallas’ issues might be larger than just one game is why they were beaten so badly. They were without star running back Ezekiel Elliott for the first time all season as he finally began to serve his six game suspension, but more importantly they were playing without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith. Dak Prescott was sacked eight times Sunday including six by Adrian Clayborn against Smith’s backups. With all due respect to Clayborn, he is not exactly pass-rushing royalty and the fact that he tuned up the offensive line that way is extremely concerning. Couple that with an injury to linebacker Sean Lee and Dallas found themselves up a creek without a paddle. They will undoubtedly make adjustments and find ways to better protect Prescott, but the schedule does not get any easier for Dallas in the coming weeks. They have to play NFC-leading Philly twice still and will have to host Seattle down the stretch. They also have to take on the Los Angeles Chargers on a short week over Thanksgiving, a team that has a stable of pass rushers that are tied for second in the NFL with 29 sacks. The heat will be turned up America’s most talked about team as the season winds down.
- The Patriots are still the class of the AFC
After laying a beating on the Denver Broncos in primetime, it is clear once again that it is New England vs the field in the AFC. They are tied with Pittsburgh for the best record in the conference, but the Steelers are coming off an uninspiring victory over Indianapolis and have routinely played down to the competition. In a conference that lacks many elite units, the team that has Tom Brady under center should be the heavy favorites. After being absolutely horrific to start the season, the Patriots defense has come back to the middle of the pack, ranking 14th in points per game allowed. New England’s schedule still features four divisional games against teams they have absolutely owned throughout the Brady-Belichick era. They do have to travel to Pittsburgh Week 15 in a game that should go a long way in determining home field advantage, but with the way they have been playing of late there is no reason to believe the Pats should not find themselves in the AFC title game again.
- The LA Rams – Minnesota Vikings game next week should unclog the NFC playoff picture
There are three teams tied at 7-2 (Minnesota, LA, and New Orleans) and the Seahawks at 6-3 all behind the Philadelphia Eagles at 8-1. The NFC playoff picture is about as muddled as it possibly could be. Seeding will be jumbled until late in the year, but the Rams-Vikings matchup next week will go a long way in determining that. Minnesota already holds the tiebreaker over New Orleans thanks to a Week 1 victory, and if they notch a win next weekend that puts them in the driver’s seat to get a first round playoff bye. This game features one of the league’s most explosive offenses in the Rams against one of the most aggressive defenses in football. Jared Goff has gone from a punchline to a borderline MVP candidate in his second season under new coach Sean McVay. The winner of this game has the inside track for a bye, which could prove pivotal for two young teams that thrive at home. Also a quick shoutout to Jeff Fischer, who managed to win four games last season while starting Goff and Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum who have combined this season for a 12-4 record.
- The Giants defense is a mess
After being preseason darlings for many pundits, the New York Giants have completely imploded this season. They are playing without star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., but that does not explain how inept they have been defensively. Facing off against a San Francisco squad that ranks 26th in points per game, the Giants allowed 31 points and more importantly it was the way they gave up those points. They allowed three scores of 30+ yards to a team playing without their best receiver in Pierre Garcon. The wind seems to have left the Giants sails and after three straight losses by double digits including a 51-17 beatdown at home against Los Angeles it appears that a defense that many predicted to be one of the NFL’s best is in complete shambles. It does not help that the offense struggles to stay on the field or control the clock, but the amount of big plays they are allowing is an indictment of a secondary that was supposed to be a strength of this unit. Lackluster performances like Sunday’s have Ben McAdoo’s seat feeling white hot and unless they can show signs of life during the final weeks of the year it may cost him his job.