Week 6 of the NFL season proved that a fine line between winning and losing extends to all 32 teams, regardless of current momentum. It also gave reason to believe many squads can compete at similar levels until winter comes.
Granted, since we’re not yet at the regular season’s halfway point, we don’t know how those games in November and December — the ones that matter the most — will pan out. But the slate of results this week tells me that unpredictability might be rampant when the year 2017 nears its conclusion.
The Atlanta Falcons lost to the Miami Dolphins 20-17, the Chargers downed Oakland 17-16, and the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 19-13 to spoil Andy Reid’s undefeated record. Most notably, the Denver Broncos’ run defense broke down in a surprising 23-10 loss to the injury-depleted New York Giants. With the Falcons, Chiefs and Broncos all falling short, another Super Bowl choice, the New England Patriots, barely escaped MetLife Stadium with a 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, following a controversial touchdown reversal that took 6 points away from the Jets.
While the outcomes of these games were especially intriguing, this past week’s biggest story might be the loss of a Super Bowl contender’s one-of-a-kind quarterback, as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers left the game against the Minnesota Vikings. His broken collarbone could keep him out for the rest of the year. In the NFC North, the Vikings (4-2) and Detroit Lions (3-3) surely feel better about the opportunity to overcome the Rodgers-less Packers.
Former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, now Dan Quinn’s offensive coordinator, is one of the men to blame for the Falcons’ offensive situations not working out. The Falcons will travel to Gillette Stadium next week to take on the Patriots in a Super Bowl LI rematch, and both sides aren’t performing up to their previously high standards. Still, the Falcons have that explosive ability, and plenty of blueprints exist for Sarkisian to understand how to attack this lowly Patriots defense.
Extra points being missed can completely alter the outlook of contests, as was demonstrated when Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio drilled his attempt off target in the fourth quarter. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers then drove his team down the field for the game-winning field goal. Rivers finally had luck on his side, and Derek Carr returned to the field with a lackluster, two-interception performance. You’d think with Carr at the helm, the Raiders would be able to emerge victorious, but then again, it’s difficult to judge how effective he can be struggling through injury issues.
Rivers, meanwhile, appears to have a ton of fight in him as he nears the end of his career. With the win against the Raiders, both Rivers and Co. and Jack Del Rio’s crew have 2-4 records. The odds are probably more in the favor of the Raiders pulling out a playoff appearance, but if the Chargers are able to get running back Melvin Gordon going, I’m not counting the Bolts out. Ingram had 150 rushing and receiving yards versus Oakland. Chargers fans should also be excited for the potential of wide receiver Mike Williams after seeing him finally debut. Rivers could use a guy with that sort of size and speed, especially in crucial third-down situations that seem to destroy the Chargers at points.
For the Rams, their hype train becomes more real with their 27-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Rams haven’t been 4-2 in 11 years and haven’t begun the year 3-0 on the road since 2001. If you were to tell me this summer Jared Goff would be as stable as he is now, I wouldn’t believe it. That has to speak to Goff’s maturation and the quality of the new head coach Sean McVay, a young gun from the Washington Redskins. Goff has thrown only three interceptions in his six starts this year, compared to his seven interceptions in seven starts in 2016. Even when Goff has pedestrian numbers, as he did against the Jaguars, the Rams find ways to get the job done. This time, it was on special teams and defense. Pharoh Cooper returned the opening kickoff 103 yards, and Malcolm Brown took a blocked punt to the house. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has an unit that forces turnovers at the right instances. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, picked off by Nickell Robey-Coleman minutes into the fourth quarter, learned the hard way.
Is this merely an opportunistic team early on in 2017 or do the surprising performances signal the Rams actually have a shot in the NFC? I strongly believe the Rams have chance within their division, the NFC West. The 49ers look like the bottom feeder, and the Cardinals, despite their strong play against the Buccaneers this past weekend, have displayed bouts of inconsistency. Mark you calendars for December 17, when the Rams face the Seahawks for the second time. That game may decide the division champion.