A lot happened in Week 7, but before we turn the page to next weekend let’s seek some answers to the questions we were left with.
We’re past the first quarter pole of the NFL season and things are starting to clear up. Much like William Black in Mallrats, we still have no idea what we’re looking at but we’re staring hard enough to make it look like we’re figuring it out.
Some teams actually are figuring things out. A week after getting tossed into an active volcano, the Packers went on the road and proved their loss to the Buccaneers was likely more of an anomaly than a true representation of what they are. The Chiefs dismantled the Broncos to remain atop the league, the 49ers had a bounce back game, and the Steelers continue to live on the edge as the NFL’s only undefeated team left standing.
So before we look too far ahead to Week 8, let’s allow what happened this Sunday to wash over us as we seek answers for the questions we’ve been left with.
1. Will the Cowboys fire Mike McCarthy after one season?
Never in the history of the Dallas Cowboys existence has a head coach been fired after one season. The shortest tenured head coach was Chan Gailey, who lasted two seasons from 1998 to the end of the 1999 season. The one time the Cowboys have had an interim head coach, his name was Jason Garrett and he went on to coach the team for another nine years.
The Cowboys simply do not fire head coaches before seeing everything they have to offer but we may soon reach a point where Jerry Jones has seen enough of Mike McCarthy.
Dallas is cratering and it’s only Week 7. Dak Prescott is out for the season and his future is murky, the team is 2-5 thanks in large part to Mike Nolan’s defense is allowing the most points in the entire league by a long shot. Washington was averaging less than 20 points-per-game and playing its backup quarterback yet hung 25-points on the Cowboys defense with relative ease.
It goes beyond the obvious of what we see on Sundays. This past week we heard anonymous reports of dissent growing in the Cowboys locker room and McCarthy used his postgame press conference as an opportunity to blast not Washington for cheap shotting Andy Dalton out of the game but his own team for not standing up for their quarterback.
Say what you will about Jason Garrett’s tenure, but this sort of thing wasn’t happening under his watch and if it was he kept it under control.
As bad as things have been through the first quarter of the season for McCarthy, it’s still unclear where the bottom is in Dallas. Jones isn’t known to give up on things too soon, but this is getting historically bad and is bordering on unprecedented. Dallas has won four or fewer games just once in the last three decades, and have posted less than four wins just six times in its entire franchise history.
Six times since 1960 — Dallas might not always win but they don’t lose, not like this.
McCarthy was quoted before the game as saying his analytics research unearthed the fact that four divisional wins significantly increase a team’s chance of making the playoffs. At this point, Dallas will be lucky if it gets four total wins this season.
2. Can the Patriots win the AFC East?
I wrote this question down before Sunday kicked off, assuming that New England would look better than it did last week.
It did not.
A dangerous and foolish game we’ve all played the last handful of years is to declare the Patriots dynasty dead before the body is cold. For the first time, it seems like the bell is tolling in Foxborough.
Last week Cam Newton was sacked four times, three of which he had more than three seconds to throw the ball. New England finished with less than 300 yards of total offense and 12-points. That was against an okay-ish Broncos defense that by no means is a world-beater. This Sunday, against a 49ers defense missing almost all of its star pieces, Newton threw for less than 100 yards, zero touchdowns, and was benched in the second half. The Patriots have now lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2002 — the last time New England missed the playoffs.
This isn’t all Cam’s fault, and it certainly has nothing to do with his wardrobe. The Patriots have no offensive weapons, most of the defense opted out before the season, and there’s no cohesive plan of attack. Bill Belichick is a master schemer but we’re quickly learning that even the best scheme is only as good as the parts it involves.
Buffalo is not in the same class as the Chiefs and Ravens in the AFC but they’re the best team in the AFC East. New England might not even be the second-best team in the division, as the Miami Dolphins look both very good and have a brighter future than the Patriots do.
It was a glorious 20-year run for the Patriots but all things come to an end. We didn’t know it would be like this but it appears the wheels are finally coming off in New England.
3. What would you do if D.K. Metcalf was chasing you down at 22 MPH?
Personally, I’d cry.
D.K. Metcalf chasing down Budda Baker was something straight out os Terminator. It was more human than human, as Metcalf reached a max speed of 22 MPH before he caught up with Baker just short of the endzone.
We’ve all seen what Metcalf looks like. Getting hit by him at 22 MPH would be like getting hit by a car.
Nearly every single angle is insane, but the skycam footage is perhaps the most terrifying.
Even the NextGen Stats bubble chart is somehow suspenseful in the same way a horror movie is when you know the killer is behind a character yet you have no way of warning them.
4. How will the NFC West be won?
The NFC East is blushing at the sight of what the NFC West is doing.
As for the rest of the NFL, concern is what best describes what teams are feeling watching the 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals.
Every single team in the division has a winning record, combined the division is allowing around 20 points-per-game and three of the top-10 scoring offenses in football are in the NFC West.
To put it in perspective, the first-place Washington Football Team is one-and-a-half games worse than the last-place 49ers. There’s a strong possibility that the NFC West produces two Wild Card teams and one of them has to go to an NFC East stadium for a road playoff game.
Aside from all the insane stats about the NFC West, the most fascinating thing is that we have no clue who will raise the division banner at the end of the season. The 49ers are a week removed from getting fired into the sun by the Dolphins and are missing almost every important defensive player, yet they looked dominating in New England. Kyler Murray was having so much fun in Sunday night’s win that he cheesed hard at the sight of an open DeAndre Hopkins. The Rams look like they’ve figured things out and Russell Wilson speaks for himself in Seattle.
November will see extremely educational and entertaining football played out west. Three of Seattle’s next four games are against divisional opponents, San Francisco gets the Packers and Saints (as well as the Seahawks) before getting a bye to recharge and get healthy pieces back in place. The Cardinals will come out of a by after next week to face the Dolphins, Bills, and Seahawks (again, which after this Sunday is appointment viewing). Meanwhile, the Rams head to Miami on a short week before playing Seattle and Tampa Bay.
The NFC West is the Gladiator division, but if you’re not entertained then you’re admitting that you don’t understand good football. We are about to learn a lot about these four teams over the course of this next month and everything that happens will have ramifications across the league.
5. Are the Bears worthy of being 5-2?
Don’t be a prisoner of the moment and assume the Bears are actually terrible after getting dismantled on national television. But don’t also fool yourself into thinking Chicago is anything more than merely average.
This happens every year. A team will race out to an impressive and often improbably start before regressing back to the mean. Aside from a major injury, how many things happen in September that end up mattering in January? Much of the first month of the season is spent sorting out what’s real and what’s not, which teams are actually good and which ones are actually bad.
The Vikings, for example, are a team we thought was good and gave the benefit of the doubt until they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they are in fact bad. Tampa Bay is another example, as the Bucs and Tom Brady looked out of sorts in a Week 1 loss, had an embarrassing Thursday night loss to Chicago, but have now scored 83 points and 10 touchdowns in two games.
Which brings us to the Bears and figuring out what the hell they are. It’s impossible to get a read on Chicago as just when it looks like they’re one thing they shapeshift into something else — it’s frustrating.
It’s also the eternal problem with this incarnation of the Bears; a team not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl but not bad enough to snag a top draft pick to start rebuilding the franchise with.
After benching Mitchell Trubisky in Week 3, the Bears offense has looked pretty much identical to what it was while he was under center. Taking the half-game against Atlanta away, one we’ll chalk up to adrenaline and the Falcons going Full Falcons, Nick Foles has just three touchdowns to five interceptions in four games. That’s worse than the pace Trubisky was on (he had six touchdowns to three interceptions) when he was benched.
What’s worse than anything on the stat sheet is the return of the type of hopeless dread felt on Monday night. At no point was there any confidence that the Bears offense would be participating in a meaningful way. Chicago ran one play from inside the Rams 10-yard line and it was an interception. That sums up how effective the offense was all night.
Bears fans thought they were getting away from when Foles replaced Trubisky, but the problems in Chicago run much deeper than issues at quarterback. Matt Nagy’s insistence to run plays through Cordarrelle Patterson, up to and including a horribly drawn up 4th-and-1 play that didn’t work, highlights a systemic ineptitude in Chicago that won’t be fixed by deflecting with a kicking competition or swapping out your starting quarterback.
The most interesting thing that’s happened to the Bears during the first seven games wasn’t a win or a loss, rather it was when Foles frustratedly tried explaining to Nagy why something he just did ruined some positive momentum gained in a game Chicago was winning. This week, three weeks after that incident, Foles told Brian Griese that he knows some of the plays Nagy calls won’t work as soon as he calls them in.
That’s more telling as to why we’re even asking this question about the Bears than anything analytics or statistics can show you.
6. Is this more depressing or hilarious?
Trick question, it’s depressingly hilarious.
The Falcons have already lost in so many embarrassing ways that they’re creating new ways to break hearts. Only the Falcons could lose by scoring a touchdown, which is what happened when Todd Gurley failed to stop himself short of the end zone.
Don’t blame Gurley for this loss.
Yes, he probably could have just fallen down well short of the goal line, but Gurley wasn’t the one who allowed the Lions to go 75-yards in just over a minute. If 2020 were a football game, it would have been this one.