To begin with, let’s give Agent Cooper kudos for figuring out the key to last week’s Team Previews. For everyone who wasn’t Agent Cooper, the original Tecmo Bowl for the NES was paid tribute throughout our Week Seven piece. Last week’s title was the computer’s pre-snap voice-over; the Team Previews were lifted straight from the user’s manual with the exception of the player names – I updated those. And all my original commentary aside from picks formed an acrostic that spelled TECMO BOWL. Agent Cooper, for your sharp recall of 30-year old video games, you win a signed copy of my latest literary offering Whatshisname: Gone But Not Forgotten.
Now to the matter at hand: This week marks the halfway point of the NFL season, and if the season ended today, people everywhere would be asking “Why was the season so short?” Then they’d notice that the Philadelphia Eagles had earned the best record in the NFL. The talk of the 2016 draft class last season was Dallas’ Dak Prescott; this season it’s all about Philly’s Carson Wentz. Prescott isn’t quite up to his standard of last season but he’s playing very effectively; Wentz is playing like one would expect from the second pick in the draft. LeGarrette Blount is 10th in Rushing Yards and TE Zach Ertz is 6th in Receptions and tied for 4th in TD Catches with five. WR Nelson Agholor is part of that tie for 4th. Blount has been an effective player in his seven-plus seasons, though he’s yet to make a Pro Bowl; ditto Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor has improved significantly over his first two seasons. This trio of Eagles isn’t exactly Emmitt Smith, Jay Novacek, and Michael Irvin – hell, they aren’t as talented as Dallas’ current trio – but Wentz’ stellar play under center has had a ripple effect on the rest of the Philly offense. However, losing All-Pro OT Jason Peters last week may cast a long shadow over the rest of the Eagles’ season.
Behind the one standout team lies a morass of some good teams, some decent teams, some if-we-get-a-couple-of-breaks-
LA Chargers @ New England – Ho hum, Pats win again
Denver @ Kansas City – Chiefs get back on track
Oakland @ Buffalo – Raiders build on last week’s big win
KANSAS CITY: Buy. Yes, the defense is less than the sum of its parts. Yes, Alex Smith is probably going to play more like Alex Smith and less like 1984 Dan Marino as the season wears on. And yes, Andy Reid is more or less the Marty Schottenheimer of this generation. Still, how many teams are better? Philadelphia? New England? Pittsburgh? Twenty eight teams would love to have KCs problems.
DENVER: Sell. Oh, that defense is scary, no doubt. But Trevor Simien and his backups are even scarier.
OAKLAND: Buy. They faced a lot of difficulties early and seem to be overcoming them. If Derek Carr doesn’t aggravate that back issue, they’re going to look a lot better in the second half of the year.
LA CHARGERS: Sell. This seems to be a tradition with this franchise in recent years: Start badly. Rebound strongly. Become the proverbial Team No One Wants To Face in the playoffs, then lose in the Wild Card round. Philip Rivers was under center for a lot of those teams, and he’s there now. They’re right on schedule.
Miami 0 @ Baltimore 40 – (F – 10/26)
Minnesota @ Cleveland – I’ve just jinxed the Browns into their first win, haven’t I?
Indianapolis @ Cincinnati – the Colts are playing for the draft
Pittsburgh @ Detroit – The Steelers are picking up steam
PITTSBURGH: Buy. Roethlisberger seems to have his mojo back; Levian Bell and Antonio Brown are humming along like always. They’ve got a great secondary, and the rest of the defense seems to be improving week-to-week.
BALTIMORE: Sell. I can’t think of a single good team they’d be favored to beat at this point. As our resident child-enthusiast and Ravens expert has observed, Baltimore’s receiving corps couldn’t catch the plague in 17th-century London.
CINCINNATI: Sell. AJ Green remains one of the best in the business, and Andy Dalton’s not horrible. There, I’ve just listed Cincinnati’s assets.
CLEVELAND: Sell. One. Last. Time.
Houston @ Seattle – Great defense at home versus rookie QB? Yeah, me too.
Indianapolis @ Cincinnati
JACKSONVILLE: Buy. This is like Denver, only Jacksonville is best in the NFL at getting to the QB, and Blake Bortles is better than any QB on the Broncos’ roster. (Sad!)
HOUSTON: Buy. I know John Cena JJ Watt is hurt, but the defense is okay even without him. And Deshaun Watson has really given the team a boost; my feeling is that he’ll keep it up for most of the rest of the year.
TENNESSEE: Buy. Marcus Mariota has been very solid in his first two seasons, but a little down so far this year. With a fairly soft schedule to finish the year, I think he’ll look more like last year’s version.
INDIANAPOLIS: Sell, but everyone already knew that already. They might flip the script next year with a high draft pick and the return of Andrew Luck.
Miami 0 @ Baltimore 40 (F – 10/26)
LA Chargers @ New England
Oakland @ Buffalo
Atlanta @ NY Jets – Atlanta goes back over .500
NEW ENGLAND: Buy. I’m starting to think that Brady and Belichick are all the team needs anymore.
BUFFALO: Sell. Buffalo is on the rise and should be optimistic for 2018, but their first six games this year feel like fool’s gold. Growing pains will lead to a little regression to the mean.
MIAMI: Sell. When the franchise’s hopes are tied to the return of Ryan Tannehill, that can’t be a good sign.
NY JETS: Sell. On the other hand, they’re not the worst team in New York.
Houston @ Seattle
San Francisco @ Philadelphia – The Niners Year Of Woe continues apace
SEATTLE: Buy. At the start of the year it seemed to me that Seattle wasn’t the team they’d been in the past few years, and that may still be true. But other NFC contenders have fared worse. With Atlanta suffering a huge Super Bowl hangover, with Carolina’s inconsistent play, with their struggles in the running game, with the Green Bay Packers losing Aaron Rodgers, with Dallas’ secondary issues, the Seahawks seem to be well-placed to go deep in the NFC playoffs.
LA RAMS: Buy. This team the Rams are building looks like one that will be in the mix over the next several seasons.
ARIZONA: Sell. Sell this team for pennies on the dollar. Carson Palmer is hurt and 38 years old. David Johnson, their young stud at RB, has been hurt since week one. Larry Fitzgerald, their HOF-bound wideout, is near the end of his career. Tanking for Palmer’s replacement should be Arizona’s priority.
SAN FRANCISCO: Sell, if for some reason you bought them previously. This is Year Zero in the Niners’ great rebuilding project.
Chicago @ New Orleans – The Saints take another one
Minnesota @ Cleveland
Pittsburgh @ Detroit
GREEN BAY: Sell. The time to sell was two weeks ago in the Minnesota game, but better late than never.
MINNESOTA: Buy. They might be the worst 5-2 team in memory, but the return of Teddy Bridgewater approaches. With Green Bay sure to drop in the standings, Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the division championship.
DETROIT: Sell. They weren’t that good to start with, and they seem to have more injured players than healthy ones. But…if you’re looking for reasons to buy, how about: 1) they’ve handed Minnesota their only in-division loss, in Minnesota. 2) After the Pittsburgh game, it’s a pretty reasonable schedule, with five division games left. 3) Matthew Stafford has a nice track record in close games.
CHICAGO: Sell, but thanks to a tough young defense and a rookie QB with promise, things are looking up for 2018.
Atlanta @ NY Jets
Chicago @ New Orleans
Carolina @ Tampa Bay – Winston might return, won’t matter
NEW ORLEANS: Buy. This team has improved substantially since the start of the year and should be in contention for the NFC championship.
CAROLINA: Sell. Carolina’s underwhelming running game figures to undermine the rest of their season.
ATLANTA: Sell. The Falcons have shown virtually no signs of getting out of their SB51 funk. Hard to believe that losing Kyle Shanahan could be this detrimental to a team. If you’re a Falcons fan and still want to buy, well, it’s largely the same team of a year ago. That team started 7-5 and finished 11-5. They have yet to play a division game. I’m saying sell, but the glass half full argument is reasonable.
TAMPA BAY: Sell. If everything goes exactly right from here on out, maybe they get to 9-7.
San Francisco @ Philadelphia
Dallas @ Washington – Take the home-standing Skins
PHILADELPHIA: Buy. Losing Jason Peters definitely hurts. And they’ve got a tough stretch of games after their bye week on November 12: At Dallas, versus Chicago, at Seattle, at LA Rams. On the other hand, a 4-7 finish gives the Eagles a 10-6 record for the season. They’ll get there at least.
DALLAS: Sell. Pass defense issues in a pass-happy league doesn’t bode well.
WASHINGTON: Sell. Other than Kirk Cousins, who’s playing at a superstar level, the Redskins skill players aren’t impressive. Well, Vernon Davis, if this is 2013.
NY GIANTS: Give ’em away, because you won’t be able to sell.
ONE LAST THING
Every week on Westwood One’s radio broadcast of Monday Night Football, during the pregame, Jim Gray interviews Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald in taped segments. Here, give the Brady interview of this past Monday a listen:
Now, these interviews are sponsored by Macy’s, and naturally the sponsor gets their due mentions. But these interviews always come off as “thinly veiled league propaganda” rather than “a conversation with a top player”.
First of all, note the choice of players: two elder statesmen, both well-respected household names. No young guys who might pop off. No guys with a screw loose – they’re not interviewing Richie Incognito here. Then, take note of the tone of the answers: [Atlanta is] such a great team, it was a great atmosphere, there was some cool military things that we really honored and showed them so much appreciation that they deserve, I’m so proud of [my parents]…just hokey and aw shucks all the way down. It’s like they handed Brady a checklist and said “Be sure to hit these points during the interview”. Was Brady’s interview coach from the DPRK News Service? That was my reaction; maybe I’m wrong.
Week 6: 8-6