The old adage in the NFL is that defense wins championships. But in the 2018 season, if you want to be playing for the Lombardi Trophy in February, you’d better be able to score points.
The correlation between the best teams and the top offenses is where we begin our Week 9 review:
■ The top three scoring offenses through the midpoint of the season (subtracting defensive and special teams scores): the Chiefs (34.0 points per game), Saints (34.0), and Rams (31.2).
They also happen to be the teams with the best records — the Chiefs and Rams at 8-1, the Saints at 7-1. The Patriots, the fourth-best team at 7-2, are seventh in the NFL at 27.7 points per game by the offense.
When these teams play each other, the scoreboards explode. The Rams and Saints had a potential NFC Championship game preview Sunday, and while the Saints won, 45-35, the Rams erased a 35-14 deficit with relative ease. The game featured 970 yards of total offense, and the quarterbacks combined for 737 yards and seven touchdown passes.
When the Patriots faced the Chiefs in a potential AFC Championship game preview in Week 6, the Patriots escaped with a thrilling 43-40 victory. That game had 946 total yards and 692 passing yards.
And they’re not the only teams lighting it up. The 6-2 Panthers just scored 42 points in a win over Tampa Bay. The Bears put up 41 points on the road in Buffalo, and the Falcons had 38 points on the road in Washington.
Last year’s Super Bowl was a 41-33 shootout, and it looks like this year’s conference championships and Super Bowl will be track meets. Defense is optional in the NFL. Offense is necessary.
■ The Saints grabbed control of the NFC with their big win over the Rams. Technically the Rams still have the No. 1 seed (8-1 vs. 7-1), but the Saints now own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Saints have had only one home playoff game since the start of the 2012 season, last year’s win over Carolina.
“It would be amazing to have every playoff game come through here,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said.
Saints receiver Mike Thomas had 12 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown, setting a franchise record for yards in a game. Drew Brees has thrown for more than 60,000 yards with the Saints, but amazingly, that was the first time he’s ever had a 200-yard receiver.
Thomas also paid homage to former Saints star Joe Horn by hiding a cellphone inside the padding of the goalpost and taking it out to celebrate a touchdown. Thomas got penalized and will get fined, and a few pearl-clutchers have wagged a finger at him for the celebration, but I loved it.
■ As for the Rams, their loss means that for the 46th straight year, no team will finish the NFL season undefeated. The members of the 1972 Dolphins didn’t pop any champagne Sunday, but they definitely were rooting for the Saints.
“Hell, yes,” former Dolphins safety Dick Anderson told the Miami Herald. “People would say it would be nice if they joined us, but I don’t think we feel that way. If you have a record, you would like to keep it.”
■ The biggest surprise of the season is the Texans, who have now won six straight games, and have taken a commanding lead in the AFC South. The Texans sit at 6-3, having joined the 1970 Giants as the only teams since the merger to win six straight games after starting 0-3.
The Texans certainly have been lucky, but they’re getting good now, too. They followed up their blowout win over the Dolphins with a quality 19-17 win at Denver, and Deshaun Watson is looking increasingly comfortable as he returns from a torn ACL.
J.J. Watt also looks like his old self (nine sacks), and the Texans once again have a top-10 defense. This won’t be a fun team to play come January.
■ It was hard to be very impressed by the Chargers’ wins over the Bills, 49ers, Raiders, Browns, and Titans. But it’s time to take them seriously after their 25-17 win at Seattle Sunday to improve to 6-2. They won soundly in arguably the toughest road environment in the NFL.
Philip Rivers became just the fourth quarterback to start 200 consecutive games (Brett Favre, Eli Manning, and Peyton Manning), and he is at the top of his game this year, with 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions. A Thursday night showdown against the Chiefs in December could determine the AFC West winner.
■ The AFC East is always bad, but this year it is especially terrible. On Sunday, the scoreboard read: Patriots 31, Rest of the AFC East 28.
The Dolphins and Jets set football back 20 years with their debacle of a game, a 13-6 Miami victory. The Dolphins won with seven first downs and 168 total yards. Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold threw four interceptions and now has an NFL-high 14. The Jets are 3-6 and have averaged 11 points over their last three games.
The Bills are even worse at 2-7. They are barely competitive, losing their last three games 37-5, 25-6, and 41-9. They have turned the ball over 11 times in three games, and have scored three offensive touchdowns over their last six, while opposing defenses have scored four against them.
The Dolphins somehow are 5-4, which prevents the Patriots from wrapping up the AFC East by next week. But the Patriots are sitting pretty in the AFC playoff race, because they still have four games left against these putrid teams.
■ Two coaching seats have gotten uncomfortably hot. Mike McCarthy, the Packers coach since 2006, answered just four questions in a quick, tense news conference after Sunday night’s loss to the Patriots. His Packers are 3-4-1 and need a big second-half run to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season. And considering the rocky relationship between McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 2018 is looking as though it will be McCarthy’s last.
And John Harbaugh’s 11th season as Ravens coach is also looking like his last. The Ravens are 4-5 after Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, having lost three in a row. They have missed the playoffs three years in a row (and four of the last five), and Harbaugh might not keep his job even if the Ravens earn a wild card.
Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome already has announced his exit after this year, and it would hardly be surprising if the Ravens cleaned house and started over with a new head coach as well.
■ Rough day for the Redskins. Losing, 38-14, to the Falcons at home and whining about the officiating is bad enough. But their offensive line got decimated by injuries.
Right guard Brandon Scherff tore a pectoral muscle and is out for the season, and left guard Shawn Lauvao is now out for the season after tearing an ACL. Right tackle Morgan Moses is week-to-week with a sprained MCL, and left tackle Trent Williams is out a couple more weeks with a thumb injury. The Redskins also lost receiver Paul Richardson to a torn ACL on Sunday.
The Redskins are in first place in the NFC East at 5-3, but injuries could ruin their playoff hopes.
■ A dark-horse candidate for Coach of the Year (or maybe Assistant of the Year)? Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The Panthers are 11th in the NFL in scoring, but have scored 36 and 42 points in consecutive weeks, taking down the Bucs Sunday.
And Cam Newton is flourishing. His 67.3 completion percentage is by far his career best (previous: 61.7), he has 15 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, and his 100.8 passer rating is also a career high. The Panthers are the team that no one wants to face right now.
■ Matt Patricia’s Lions are plummeting again, beaten soundly at home by the Seahawks and looking lifeless in a 24-9 loss to the Vikings. His team is 3-5 and looking at another playoff-less season, while his defense ranks 23rd in points allowed.
And Patricia has lost the local media and fans, who are just looking for excuses to dislike the ex-Patriots assistant. The Detroit News went with “Poor Posture” as its Monday headline, taking a dig at Patricia for his bizarre attack on a reporter’s posture during a news conference last week.
Patricia needs to win a few games not only to win over his locker room, but also to win over his fan base.
■ Here come the Falcons, winning three straight to improve to 4-4. The defense seems to have figured things out after getting decimated by injuries early this season, allowing just 34 points the last two weeks.
But the Falcons may have put themselves in too big of a hole. They still have tough road games at the Saints, Packers, and Panthers, plus home games against the Cowboys and Ravens.
■ Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Had six catches (on eight targets) for 114 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Saints, playing 59 of 60 snaps. Cooks caught a 48-yarder and leads the NFL with 16 catches of 20-plus yards. Overall, he has 757 yards and three touchdowns, and his catch percentage is 68.3 percent, compared with 57 percent last year for the Patriots. Cooks is a much better fit for the Rams than he was in the Patriots’ offense.
■ Dolphins WR Danny Amendola: Had a team-high five catches (on seven targets) for 47 yards in the win over the Jets, playing 47 of 57 snaps. He has been reliable as ever for the Dolphins, but certainly isn’t an explosive No. 1 receiver.
■ Falcons S Jordan Richards: The Patriots traded him in training camp, and he has emerged as a starting safety over the last four games. Richards played 19 snaps against the Redskins, finishing with two tackles. He didn’t have a role in the Patriots defense, but thanks to injuries, he’s getting on the field in Atlanta.
■ Titans RB Dion Lewis: Had 122 total yards and a touchdown as the Titans’ leading rusher (62 yards) and receiver (four catches, 60 yards) in their 28-14 win over the Cowboys Monday night. Lewis gained 87 of his yards in the second half as the Titans took control of the game, and had electric plays of 37 and 18 yards on screen passes. He played 59 of 70 snaps and is basically the Titans’ whole offense right now.
■ Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Continued his role as the Titans’ No. 3 cornerback behind Logan Ryan and Adoreé Jackson. Butler had five tackles in Monday’s win, but also bit badly on a double move and allowed a 23-yard touchdown to Allen Hurns. It was the fifth touchdown allowed by Butler, tied for most in the NFL. Safe to say the Patriots made the right decision to let him leave in free agency.
■ Since 2001, the Patriots are 7-6 at home when tied at halftime, and 96-1 when leading at halftime. Against the Packers, Cordarrelle Patterson broke a 10-10 tie with a 5-yard TD run with 1:57 left in the second quarter.
■ Caleb Sturgis, who was released by the Chargers Monday, became the first kicker since 1979 to miss a field goal and an extra point in three straight games.
■ Chargers RB Melvin Gordon in his first 14 NFL games: 0 touchdowns. In his last 36 games: 34 touchdowns.
■ Dolphins RB Frank Gore passed Barry Sanders for the sixth-most scrimmage yards of all-time. Gore has 18,204 yards in 14 seasons.
■ Chiefs QB Pat Mahomes has more passing yards (3,185) and touchdowns (29) in his first 10 career games than any player since 1950.
■ Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger became the first player since John Elway in 1989 to have a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown, and a punt in the same game. Before Roethlisberger, Tom Brady was the last quarterback to attempt a punt (2013).