Plenty on the line when Patriots play the Chiefs, and other thoughts from around the NFL
Not to put too much on a Week 6 game, but when the Patriots host the Chiefs Sunday night, the No. 1 seed, and their best chance at a Super Bowl berth, is pretty much on the line.
The 5-0 Chiefs come to Gillette Stadium with two wins in hand on the 3-2 Patriots. Kansas City won’t lock up the No. 1 seed with a win, but it might all but eliminate the Patriots from contention. And history says the No. 1 seed is how the Patriots get to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs’ grip on the top playoff seed is where we start the Week 5 review:
■ A Chiefs win would improve them to 6-0 and drop the Patriots to 3-3. Making up three games seems like a steep uphill battle, given how well the Chiefs are playing. And the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, so realistically, a win Sunday would put the Chiefs 3½ games up on the Patriots.
The schedule also favors the Chiefs. They play six of their final 10 games at home, while the Patriots, 0-2 on the road so far, play six of their last 10 on the road.
Of course, a New England win would do the opposite — improve the Patriots to 4-2, drop the Chiefs to 5-1, and give the Patriots the tiebreaker.
For most of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, the No. 1 seed is how the Patriots got to the Super Bowl. They have been the No. 1 seed seven times, and went to six Super Bowls those years. The one outlier was 2010, when they lost at home in the Divisional Round.
The Patriots won the 2001 and 2004 Super Bowls as the No. 2 seed, but otherwise have needed to play at home in the AFC Championship game to reach the Super Bowl.
The Patriots like to say that the season doesn’t start until Thanksgiving, but their battle for the No. 1 seed could be over by mid-October.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, really can come close to wrapping up the No. 1 seed by Halloween. They already have wins over some of the AFC’s top teams (the Steelers, Chargers, and Jaguars). They can beat the Patriots Sunday. And there’s only one 4-1 team in the AFC — the Bengals, whom the Chiefs play at home next week. If the Chiefs get to 7-0 with wins over all of those teams, they will be hard to catch.
■ Another week, another mixed bag of coaches knowing when to be aggressive and when to play it safe.
Rams coach Sean McVay smartly listened to his players and pulled off the punt team on fourth and 1 late in the fourth quarter, and Jared Goff’s quarterback sneak got a first down and sealed the comeback win over Seattle. McVay’s decision was simple — pick up the yard, win the game — and going for it absolutely was the right call.
Browns coach Hue Jackson probably should have punted and played for the tie late in overtime instead of going for a low-percentage fourth-and-5 play from the Ravens’ 39. Instead, Baker Mayfield threw incomplete, and Jackson handed the Ravens good field position; they needed only about 25 yards to set up the winning field goal.
The Browns made a great three-and-out stop and got the ball back for the win, but pinning the Ravens deep was the better way to go.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pulled the blunder of the week by punting on fourth and 1 from the Texans’ 42 midway through overtime. The Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott and one of the most expensive offensive lines in the NFL. And they are 3 for 3 on fourth and 1 this season, went 8 for 9 last year, 7 for 7 in 2016, and 4 for 4 in 2015. The Texans won the game on the ensuing possession when Ka’imi Fairbairn hit a 36-yard field goal.
And Eagles coach Doug Pederson gets a gold star from the analytics community for his unusual but correct decision to go for 2 when the Eagles scored a touchdown to get within 20-12 early in the fourth quarter. The obvious move there is to kick the extra point, but getting the 2 increased the Eagles’ odds of victory from 45 percent to 60 percent, per ESPN. Few if any NFL coaches would make a similar call, but Pederson trusts his stats.
■ Matt Ryan has had an unbelievable three-game stretch: 359.3 yards per game, 72.4 completion percentage, a 9-0 touchdown-interception ratio, and a 129.2 passer rating. The only problem: The Falcons have lost all three games, shootouts against the Saints, Bengals, and Steelers.
Dan Quinn’s defense has fallen apart, with cornerback Ricardo Allen, linebacker Deion Jones, and safety Keanu Neal all out for the season on injured reserve. The Falcons, now 1-4, have allowed an average of 40.3 points in their last three games.
■ Big-time win by Matt Patricia and the Lions, jumping out to a 24-0 lead in the first half on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and holding on for a 31-23 win. The win gets the Lions to 2-3, and gives Patricia an impressive pair of wins to start his coaching career, over the Patriots and Packers.
Beating Brady and Rodgers in the same season isn’t as rare as I thought it would be. The Lions join the 2017 Panthers, 2015 Broncos, 2014 Bills, 2013 Bengals, 2012 Seahawks, 2012 49ers, and 2011 Giants in pulling off the feat. The Giants and Broncos both won the Super Bowl that same season.
■ Remember when 63 yards was the Holy Grail of field goal kicks? Tom Dempsey’s old record was broken by Matt Prater in 2013 (64 yards), and has now been equaled three times this decade after Graham Gano nailed a 63-yarder at the gun Sunday in the Panthers’ win over the Giants. Sebastian Janikowski also hit a 63-yarder in 2011, and David Akers hit one for the 49ers in 2012. Jason Elam has the other one, in 1998.
The NFL has seen three 60-yard field goals since the start of last season, and two were game-winners against the Giants – Gano, and Jake Elliott’s 61-yarder last year for Philadelphia. The other was Stephen Gostkowski’s 62-yarder in Mexico City.
■ The entire AFC East has regressed to the mean. The Patriots won two in a row to get to 3-2, the Bills and Jets bounced back with big wins to get to 2-3, and the Dolphins came back to the pack at 3-2 after a brutal loss at Cincinnati. The Patriots technically are in first place, with their head-to-head win over Miami.
The headlines may be “Rookie QBs win,” but the Jets’ Sam Darnold and the Bills’ Josh Allen were role players in their teams’ victories. The Jets rolled up 323 rushing yards on the Broncos, averaging 8.5 yards on 38 carries. Isaiah Crowell, who had a 77-yard touchdown run and finished with 219 yards, averaged 14.6 yards per rush, the highest in NFL history for a player with at least 15 carries.
Allen was carried by the Bills’ defense, which held the Titans to 221 yards and four field goals. Allen threw for just 82 yards and had an interception, and at this point is a more dangerous runner than pocket passer.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, are who we thought they were. They dominated all day and led, 17-3, entering the fourth quarter, but gave the Bengals two late defensive touchdowns and lost, 27-17. That 3-0 start was a mirage, and the Dolphins are staring at another 7-9 or 8-8 season.
■ Meanwhile, all four rookie starters won last week: Mayfield beat the Ravens, Josh Rosen and the Cardinals beat the 49ers, plus Darnold and Allen. It marked the first time in NFL history that rookie quarterbacks went 4-0 in a single week.
■ Tough day for the Jaguars in Kansas City. Blake Bortles committing five turnovers and the Jaguars wilting in their big test against the AFC’s best was bad enough. But they also lost dynamic running back Corey Grant for the season with a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
■ Broncos coach Vance Joseph isn’t having the time of his life. That once-vaunted defense is 23rd in points and 26th in yards allowed after getting rolled for 34 and 512 by the Jets. The Broncos will always be tough at home, but they have been noncompetitive in two road games.
■ Wouldn’t you know it? After trading Khalil Mack right before the season, the Raiders are now tied for last with the Giants with six sacks, and are 31st in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed. Their 149 points allowed are the most in franchise history since 1962.
■ The first player in NFL history to have 100 receiving yards in each of the first five games of a season wasn’t a first-round pick, or invited to the combine, or even drafted. It’s Adam Thielen, who played at the Division 2 level for Minnesota State, wasn’t even signed as an undrafted free agent, had to make the Vikings as a tryout player at rookie minicamp (sound familiar?), and earned a spot on the practice squad in 2013 before transforming into a Pro Bowler and the NFL’s second-leading receiver with 589 yards. Follow your dreams, kids.
■ Rams receiver Brandin Cooks suffered a concussion late in the second quarter against the Seahawks, and his status for this week against the Broncos is unclear. While Cooks has had a tremendous season, the Seahawks held him to zero catches. The play on which Cooks was injured was his 28th snap of the day and his first target.
■ Giants tackle Nate Solder had a clean day in a 33-31 loss to the Panthers, and the Giants allowed only one sack for 1 yard. Through five games, Solder has two holding penalties and has allowed two sacks. He had three and three for the Patriots all of last season.
■ Dolphins receiver Danny Amendola had another modest day (three catches for 30 yards). This is the time of the season when Amendola starts to hit the wall, but he did have a 16-yarder on third and 3, leading to a touchdown on the next play.
■ Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler had a quiet game in the Titans’ 13-12 loss to the Bills, with two tackles and no other stats.
■ Titans running back Dion Lewis had 12 carries for 34 yards with a long of 15, meaning he rushed for just 19 yards on his other 11 carries. Lewis also had just three catches for 14 yards, and lost a fumble in the third quarter that led to a Bills field goal. Lewis is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry this year, and hasn’t had more than 66 total yards in a game since Week 1.
Stats and nuggets
■ The NFL hadn’t seen a 33-31 game since 2009. There were two on Sunday: Panthers over Giants, and Rams over Seahawks. There have been 12 such scores since 1940 (via Pro Football Reference).
■ Odell Beckham became the first Giant to throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game since Frank Gifford in 1959.
■ Roughing-the-passer penalties through five weeks (via ESPN):
■ The Browns have an NFL-high 15 takeaways, two more than they had all of last season.
■ Giants running back Saquon Barkley is the third player in the Super Bowl era to have 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first five games (Adrian Peterson, Kareem Hunt).
■ Three players have a perfect passer rating this year (158.3): Titans safety Kevin Byard, Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson, and Beckham. All three are 1 for 1 with a touchdown.