neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): Hello football fans! With Maya wrapped up in election coverage, we’re going to have a little bit of a different chat today — I’ll be leading, which means I’m somehow going to have to transition from flippant shitposter to stern chat-master. (We’ll see how THAT goes…) But otherwise, we’ve got a good crew to shoot the breeze about what we just saw go down in the NFL in Week 9 — and there is no shortage of material to discuss!
First things first, what happened to the Buffalo Bills? These were the heavy Super Bowl favorites in our model going into the week, and they struggled uncharacteristically on both sides of the ball against the New York Jets. Did this say more about the Jets — i.e., do I have to admit the Jets are truly good? — or about Buffalo and particularly Josh Allen, who seems to have hit another one of those patented midseason lulls of his over the past few weeks?
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I got a text this morning from Jets fan and frequent chat contributor Mike Salfino that said: “Just admit that the Jets are good.” So, I will. They look pretty darn good.
santul.nerkar (Santul Nerkar, editor): There’s no longer any jest in saying J-E-T-S JETS!
neil: Yes, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Saleh has turned this D around, particularly with the help of guys like Sauce Gardner.
santul.nerkar: I really came away more impressed with the Jets than worried about the Bills, tbh. The Jets finished sixth in offensive expected points added per play yesterday, on the backs of a balanced run game and a solid, “didn’t burn the house down” performance from Zach Wilson at QB. That defies what we’ve come to expect of the Jets offense over the years.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yep, their D is certainly the strength of the team. But this is still a deeply flawed team on offense. They are gonna need to figure that out. Even after that terrific win, they’re still firmly in the “We have no idea who these teams are yet” tier.
Ty Schalter: I think Allen and the Bills lost this game at least as much as the Jets won it, though. Even after this week, they’re still No. 1 in scoring margin, yard margin and total EPA. “Far and away the best team in the NFL, and totally unbeatable except when playing division rivals on the road” is a weird place to be, but that’s where the Bills are at this point in the season.
joshua.hermsmeyer: It reminded me a bit of the 1994 49ers’ loss to the Eagles.
neil: Now you are really channeling Mike Salfino.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, I think the Bills will be fine. Allen won’t have to face Sauce every week.
joshua.hermsmeyer: So much depends on Wilson — and he is just not playing well. He’s near the bottom of the league in both EPA per play and completion percentage over expected. Basically that means he’s not completing many passes, and the ones he does complete aren’t very valuable. It’s a toxic combination.
Ty Schalter: They have home games against the Bears, Lions and Jaguars left to go; I’d expect them to be favored in all three. On the road at New England, Minnesota, Buffalo, Seattle and Miami will be pretty tough sledding. But as the model is seeing, they have enough wins that they only need to take care of business at home and pull an upset or two.
neil: And no matter what happens, Jets fans can take solace in a fun nugget from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group: At 6-3 now, the Jets are the first team to hit the over on their preseason win total, which was 5½ according to Caesars Sportsbook.
santul.nerkar: Yeah, but I’m just not sure how much longer the Jets can continue winning in spite of Wilson rather than because of him. (Though he somehow has a higher QBR than Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers.)
joshua.hermsmeyer: Good pull, Santul. There’s more hope than the plot I linked implies. And Ty, I think I would take the Jags over the Jets right now. Sorry, Jets fans.
Ty Schalter: I think that says as much about Murray, Stafford and Rodgers as the other way around!
neil: Great segue, Ty. So you are, of course, our resident Lions Enjoyer … I’ll give you first dibs here. Is it finally time to write off Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers after that ugly 15-9 loss against Detroit?
Ty Schalter: At the risk of sounding biased? Yes.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Green Bay can’t win with this version of Rodgers. The roster is built around his perennial ability to generate explosive plays without turnovers — and regardless of what contributing factors are around him, he just doesn’t have that ability right now. The broadcast cut to him appearing to yell, curse, jump around, and/or clench his fists in frustration after every poor throw, dropped pass and miscommunication with a receiver. Meanwhile, a Lions secondary that ranked dead last in everything picked him off three times (including twice in the red zone, a career first).
santul.nerkar: I’m starting to think the Packers aren’t going to “run the table” in 2022.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m just glad Dan Campbell has something to coach off of this week besides his love for every person on the team.
santul.nerkar: Should Green Bay bench Rodgers and start Jordan Love, as some have hinted at? Like, how much worse can it get than the 27th-best QBR, 23rd-best completion over expected and 18 sacks for your 38-year-old quarterback with a million miles on his odometer?
neil: And it might be worth it just to finally see what you have in Love before you need to start making financial decisions about his future. (Although do you wanna have that convo with Rodgers? I don’t!)
joshua.hermsmeyer: Weezy knows. It’s time to let Rodgers begin his new career as an edgelord podcaster.
Ty Schalter: As I said after Rodgers was named MVP last season, they could have won the NFC North and lost their first playoff game without him. Now, I don’t think they can accomplish anything meaningful with him.
neil: It’s been weird to see this generation of older QBs sort of all hit the wall at once. There’s Rodgers and Russell Wilson, and then there are the two guys who played each other on Sunday — Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady.
Somebody had to win that battle of underwhelming preseason favorites, but it wasn’t exactly inspiring on either side. Brady led a game-winning drive but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took 59 minutes to score a TD, in keeping with their dismal recent offensive form. Meanwhile, Stafford had a 32.2 Total QBR; he and the Los Angeles Rams seem completely out of sorts this season.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Even Brady breaking 100,000 passing yards for his career was depressing in a way. He said after the game: “All these kinds of lifetime achievement awards, they’re great to celebrate with everyone, and one day I’ll look back and think that it was pretty cool, although my kids probably won’t care at all,” and I just felt bad.
neil: Wow. That’s bleak, Tom.
santul.nerkar: Somebody forgot to tell
Michael Myers Tom Brady that Halloween was last week. But I’m with Neil. The air of inevitability we used to feel with Brady didn’t seem to be there — even after he led the Bucs on that six-play, 60-yard, last-minute drive to actually put the Rams away this time. Just a celebration of a once-was.
joshua.hermsmeyer: The best players always seem to hang on too long. And this year it feels like a lot of them are that kitten in the “Oh, Shit” poster.
neil: Still, the Bucs won, which coupled with the Falcons’ loss to the Chargers to put Tampa Bay in first place in the NFC South, with a 61 percent chance to make the playoffs according to our model. But man, with that offense struggling so badly, it’s tough to see how they might realistically do any damage if they get in.
joshua.hermsmeyer: As someone who wrote a preseason article about the upcoming Battle of the Bays Championship, I will take the Bucs in first place any way I can get it.
neil: Haha. Well, speaking of teams that barely won Sunday, I wanna close things out by talking about a couple of teams that have really good records but had more trouble with their Week 9 opponents than we thought they would — the Minnesota Vikings (who needed a late comeback to beat the Taylor Heinicke-led Commanders 20-17) and the Kansas City Chiefs (who needed a late comeback and OT to beat the Malik Willis-led Titans 20-17).
Let’s start with Minnesota — are we buying the 7-1 Vikings, or do we think they’ve just gotten lucky? They’re now 6-0 in games decided by one score. (Please note that, with beloved former sports editor and Vikings fan/hater Sara Ziegler moving on to The New York Times, we can freely talk about Kirk Cousins now.)
Ty Schalter: I like that!
joshua.hermsmeyer: As far as luck goes, Minny is right at 50 percent on fumble recoveries, smack dab at league average on third down, and is in the top third in red zone conversion rate. All of those are measures we expect to regress to the mean — but only one is over the mean. So, I guess the answer is no?
Ty Schalter: Oh they’ve definitely been lucky; their scoring margin gives them an expected W-L of 4.8-3.2.
neil: So wait, you don’t think winning a ton of close games is luck, Josh?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Hah, I knew it was coming!
Yes, close games should be considered coin flips.
neil: Aww. I thought maybe you had some fancy Next Gen number on why Cousins has the skill to win those.
Ty Schalter: We could call it “luck,” or we could call it “clutch,” but in the end they’re beating the teams a good team should beat (even if they don’t look impressive doing it). Like the Bills above, one really ugly loss won’t knock them off their perch — and unlike the Bills, they’re far enough ahead of the rest of their division that I can’t see anyone threatening them, let alone catching them.
neil: That’s a good point. Even if they regress, there are perks to being in a really mediocre division.
santul.nerkar: If we’re going by Pythagorean wins, then yes, the Vikings have undeniably gotten lucky. But I would also add that they’ve gotten lucky with injuries for the most part this year. Let’s see if they can keep that up, though they did lose defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson for yesterday’s game.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Agreed, let’s see what happens. Building a team to win close games is a fool’s errand, but also I’m not sure that’s what they have in Minny with Justin Jefferson.
Ty Schalter: Right, that’s the problem right now: They should be blowing people out, so close wins feels like underperformance.
neil: OK, finally, let’s talk about the Chiefs — are we more in awe of the ongoing comeback abilities of Patrick Mahomes, who basically put K.C. on his back (throwing AND running them to the W), or vaguely underwhelmed with them needing OT at home against a Tennessee team that seems to always have their number (despite starting a rookie QB who posed a minimal passing threat)?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I remain in awe:
santul.nerkar: I’m shocked that Tennessee was in this game when Willis completed five passes to Mahomes’s 43. (When has that ever happened?) It’s like we were watching two completely different eras of football in one game — and for a while, it really seemed like the older version would prevail.
neil: Yeah. Although I think I’m on Team Awe as well, Mahomes tied for the third-most passes thrown (68) in a single game in NFL history.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 52-attempt gap between Mahomes and Willis was tied for the largest in a game in NFL history as well, and the Chiefs became the first team to win while throwing at least 50 more passes than the opponent. Totally unconventional way to win a football game.
Ty Schalter: I am in awe of the Titans taking the Chiefs to overtime when they had only 48 offensive snaps compared to the Chiefs’ 91.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Santul, that’s a great point. Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in the NFL and he had the Titans playing incredibly well. I’m sure Titans fans wish running back Derrick Henry was used more in the second half, but they stayed in the game with guts and gumption. It was very old school.
santul.nerkar: It really seemed like the difference was Mahomes’s third-and-17 scramble — which, as Eric Eager pointed out on Twitter after the game, might be a pivotal moment we come back to if the Chiefs go on to do special things this year.
neil: Ooooh, yes.
I love when we can identify a potential ex-post-facto “season turning point” in real time. We’re building narratives here, boys!!
joshua.hermsmeyer: One QB scramble at a time.
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