November 29, 2022

The NFL continues to remain an enigma through seven weeks, unless that team plays in the NFC East. The only six-win teams in football reside in that division (Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants) as the NFC East is 20-7 so far. The .741 win percentage is the best record by a division through Week 7 since the 1970 merger.

While the NFC East is good, the NFC South doesn’t have a team over .500, and the surprising Seattle Seahawks lead the NFC West and the Minnesota Vikings control the NFC North. While the NFC is topsy turvy, the AFC has the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs at the top, and then everyone else. 

With Week 7 at a close, here’s one thing we learned about each team that played this week. 

DeAndre Hopkins is what Kyler Murray needs: Hopkins returned to the Cardinals in a big way, catching 10 passes for 103 yards in his season debut (having served a six-game suspension) as Arizona put up a season-high 28 points on offense.

Hopkins wasn’t just instrumental on the field, but also on the sideline. He was the player who calmed Kyler Murray down when he was yelling at Kliff Kingsbury. There’s a reason the Cardinals are 17-10 in games Hopkins plays since he arrived in Arizona. 

The Cardinals offense can get back in sync with Hopkins back. They showed progress in his season debut. 

Passing game is a major concern: The Falcons finished with just 107 net passing yards, 75 of which came from a touchdown from Marcus Mariota to Damiere Byrd (who didn’t catch a pass all year prior to that touchdown). 

Kyle Pitts and Drake London combined for four catches for 18 yards. Both were players the Falcons spent top-10 picks on over the last two years. Atlanta can’t get these two players the ball, as Pitts and London have only 493 yards and three touchdowns through seven games. 

The Falcons are 31st in passing offense and have playmakers at the skill positions. The problem may lie in the quarterback or the coach calling the plays. 

Baltimore can actually close out a game: This probably wasn’t the way the Ravens wanted to finish off the Browns, but Justice Hill’s fumble with 3:20 left in a 23-20 game took away an excellent drive that took 5:48 off the clock. Baltimore had to rely on its defense to pull off the win.

The Browns went seven plays for 57 yards that led to a Cade York 60-yard field goal attempt for the tie, but Malik Harrison blocked the kick to prevent another fourth-quarter collapse. This was also aided by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty and a false start penalty by Cleveland that moved them back 20 yards. 

The Ravens are the only team in NFL history to have a double-digit lead in each of their first seven games and not start 7-0 — and they’ve managed to lose three times. Baltimore hasn’t been able to preserve late leads. Perhaps this is a start toward getting things corrected. 

Who needs Christian McCaffrey?: In Carolina’s first game without McCaffrey, the Panthers rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s stunning win over the Buccaneers, who were 13-point favorites. D’onta Foreman finished with 15 carries for 118 yards and Chuba Hubbard had nine carries for 63 yards and a score as Carolina racked up a season high in rushing yards. 

Hubbard and Foreman averaged 7.5 yards per carry against a Buccaneers run defense that has a reputation to shut down opposing offenses. As Carolina is figuring out, that reputation may not be a reality anymore. 

Luke Getsy can get the most out of Justin Fields: Give the Bears offensive coordinator some extra time to prepare for an opponent and fans get to see the best of their franchise quarterback. Getsy had Fields roll outside, allowing Fields to find receivers outside the pocket or take off himself. 

The design worked, as Fields went 13 of 21 for 179 yards with a touchdown and an interception (85.2 rating) while also rushing 14 times for 82 yards and a score. The Bears also rushed 45 times for 243 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and two scores, taking the pressure off Fields and allowing him to make plays with his arm and legs. 

Getsy showed that his chemistry with Fields is growing. More time and game reps have been good for both. 

Joe Burrow continues to be red hot: Burrow has arguably been the best quarterback in football over the past five games, completing 71.3% of his passes for 1,560 yards with 12 touchdowns to one interception (117.2 rating). Not surprisingly the Bengals are 4-1 in that stretch and turned an 0-2 start into 4-3. 

Burrow completed 34 of 42 passes for 481 yards with three touchdowns to no interceptions (138.2 rating), including an NFL-high nine completions of 20-plus yards in Sunday’s win over the Falcons. When Burrow is on, the Bengals are very hard to beat. 

Cleveland Browns

The defense shut down Mark Andrews: Give Cleveland a ton of credit for doing what no team has been able to accomplish since 2018 — hold Andrews off the stat sheet. Andrews was targeted twice and had no catches for Baltimore, as Cleveland’s linebackers made sure Lamar Jackson couldn’t find his security blanket. 

Jackson was just 9 of 16 for 120 yards on the day, looking mortal without Andrews carrying the passing game. The Browns are average in allowing yards to tight ends (322 ranks 18th in the NFL), yet turned a significant corner by shutting down Andrews.

Of course, it makes the Browns’ loss even more painful with a wasted performance on defense. 

The offense didn’t change with Dak Prescott returning: Give Dallas credit for easing Prescott back and doing what it does best — running the football. Dallas ran the ball 32 times and only threw it 25, using Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to control the flow of the game. 

Pollard had 12 carries for 83 yards and Elliott scored two touchdowns on 53 yards. Prescott was rusty early in the game, but went 10 of 11 for 103 yards and a touchdown in the second half as he got more comfortable in his return. 

Will Dallas continue to use the run game to set the tone for the offense? Time will tell. 

The Broncos would be winless if it wasn’t for the defense: Sunday was just another game where Denver’s defense played incredibly well and had nothing to show for it. The Broncos allowed just 16 points in their loss to the Jets, the sixth time in seven games Denver has allowed under 20 points. 

Denver is second in the NFL in points allowed per game (16.4) and third in yards allowed per game (286). The offense is dead last in scoring (14.3), a result of poor play calling and quarterback play. If it wasn’t for the defense, Denver wouldn’t have a win — the Broncos’ two victories are by the scores of 16-9 and 11-10. 

Jared Goff’s days in Detroit may be numbered: A top-five pick may be looming in Detroit with the offense becoming a shell of the unit that was the NFL leader in scoring after four games. Goff has been brutal over the last two games, particularly during Sunday’s loss. 

Goff threw two interceptions and fumbled twice while being sacked five times. That’s six turnovers in the last two games, in which the Lions have scored a combined six points against two very good defenses. 

Detroit is likely to have a high pick in a loaded quarterback class and Goff isn’t the long-term answer. The early season success looks like a mirage. 

Offensive line had some questionable moves: The Packers made some interesting choices with David Bakhtiari out, starting Zach Tom at left tackle, Jon Runyan at right guard, and Yosh Nijman at right tackle. None of those players had played an NFL snap at these positions. 

Naturally, Green Bay had just 38 rushing yards — and only ran the ball 12 times. The offense is disjointed, but the offensive line combination didn’t help either in not controlling the line of scrimmage. This unit needs players healthy — and significant work.  

Dameon Pierce is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner: With Breece Hall going down with a torn ACL, Pierce is taking over as the leading candidate to win Rookie of the Year. The rookie running back had 20 carries for 92 yards against an aggressive Raiders defense that ranks in the top 10 in stopping the run. 

Pierce has 106 carries for 504 yards and three touchdowns in six games for a poor Texans offense, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He has 322 yards in his last three games with two touchdowns. Pierce is on his way to a 1,400-yard season — very impressive in Year One.

Matt Ryan trade was a failure: The Colts continue to play quarterback roulette and hope one sticks. Seven games was enough for Indianapolis to move on from Ryan, after he led the league with nine interceptions and fumbled the ball 11 times. The Colts are 30th in the league in points per game (16.1) and 31st in turnover differential (minus-7).

The offense can’t get any worse with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, so Indianapolis is giving him a shot. The Ryan trade was still a bad move in a series of bad quarterback moves by this franchise. Indianapolis can’t seem to get it right at quarterback — and it may cost Frank Reich his job.  

Penalties cost Jacksonville a win: The Jaguars defense had three crucial penalties on the Giants’ go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter — all in a row. A defensive pass interference put the Jaguars at the 1-yard line, followed by too many men on the field and an encroachment that basically put New York on the 1-inch line. 

The Jaguars also had an interception and fumble recovery called back because of penalties, adding insult to injury. Mistakes and miscues cost Jacksonville’s defense, one that is struggling to get off the field. 

The chemistry between Patrick Mahomes and the wide receivers gets better every week: The Chiefs offense put on a clinic against the 49ers defense, mainly the top wide receiver trio of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman. 

Smith-Schuster looks like the No. 1 wide receiver with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, while Valdes-Scantling averaged 37 yards per catch in Sunday’s win. Hardman was used in a 2016 Tyreek Hill mode with two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown, as K.C. used creative ways to get him the ball in space.

Add Travis Kelce to the mix and this Chiefs offense is very dangerous. The passing game is getting better by the week. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Keep giving Josh Jacobs the ball: The Raiders are just a better team when Jacobs gets his carries, as he rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 carries in Sunday’s win. Over his last three games, Jacobs has 69 carries for 411 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

No surprise the Raiders are 2-1 during this stretch and averaging 33 points per game. The best move Josh McDaniels made was giving Jacobs the ball consistently and the Raiders are reaping the benefits. 

Who is going to play wide receiver?: Mike Williams left Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain and Keenan Allen (hamstring) left in the second half. Allen had just returned from injury, so he could be out again. Williams is going to be out a few weeks. 

Who is Justin Herbert going to throw to? Joshua Palmer is still in concussion protocol, but the Chargers are entering their bye week. Palmer and DeAndre Carter are the top two wideouts at the moment, unless Allen comes back. 

The Chargers are already banged up, but the wide receiver depth will be challenged over the next few games. 

Tua Tagovailoa has to protect himself: Tagovailoa is a competitor and will do anything to gain that extra yard, but he put himself at risk Sunday. In Tagovailoa’s first game back from a concussion, he had a run where he lowered his shoulder into multiple defenders to get that extra yard or two (he ended up getting four).

Tagovailoa did the same thing on a 7-yard run later in the game. He didn’t get the first down and took a hard hit in the process. Tagovailoa has overcome a serious hip injury and is working his way back from this significant head injury, but the Dolphins quarterback has to learn how to see another play. 

Sliding and protecting the body is the best option. 

Bill Belichick doesn’t have a quarterback: Mac Jones was benched in the second quarter for Bailey Zappe on Monday night, as the Patriots were looking for a spark on offense after Jones threw an early interception. The spark fizzed quickly after Zappe’s first two possessions, as the rookie fumbled and threw two interceptions in relief of Jones. 

The Patriots offense has been better under Zappe, but 87 yards on five possessions in the second half (with two interceptions) isn’t encouraging. Jones hasn’t exactly shown he deserves the job either after going 3 of 6 for 13 yards with an interception (16.7 rating). 

Belichick won’t name a starter for Week 8, because he likely doesn’t have one. 

Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston? It doesn’t matter: The Saints have two quarterbacks that turn the football over at an alarming rate. Whether it’s Winston or Dalton, the pair have combined for 10 turnovers in seven games. Dalton threw three interceptions in Thursday’s loss — two of which were returned for touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half. 

Winston will likely get his starting job back this week, but he has five interceptions and three fumbles in his three starts. The offense isn’t improving no matter who the quarterback is. 

New York Giants

Saquon Barkley still has 100 yards on a quiet day: Barkley has his highlight-reel plays each week, but the league’s second-leading rusher racked up 110 yards on 24 carries without a big play on his resume. Barkley’s third 100-yard rushing game was about moving the chains and wearing down Jacksonville’s defense, as he had 72 of those yards in a fourth quarter the Giants controlled. 

The Giants erase deficits because of Barkley’s explosiveness, but this time he methodically wore a defense down. That’s even more dangerous. 

New York Jets

The Breece Hall loss is devastating: What Hall was able to do for a stagnant offense this season was extraordinary. Hall was averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 11.5 yards per catch, the first player since Alvin Kamara in 2017 to average 5.5 yards per carry and 10 yards per reception in his rookie season. 

Basically, there is no replacing Hall. James Robinson was a nice pickup and Michael Carter can move the chains, but neither have the explosiveness of Hall. Zach Wilson will have to play better in Hall’s absence as the QB’s deficiencies won’t be masked. 

What happened to Najee Harris?: There hasn’t been a game where Harris had 100 scrimmage yards this season, which is a significant problem. Harris has just 329 rushing yards and a touchdown (3.3 yards per carry) along with 18 catches for just 86 yards and two touchdowns (4.8 yards per catch).

Why is Harris ineffective? Is it the play calling of Matt Canada? Is it the poor run blocking of the offensive line? Or both? 

Harris is too good of a player to be a non-factor in the game, which is on Canada to fix. The Steelers need him to make Kenny Pickett’s life easier. 

San Francisco 49ers

Christian McCaffrey already making an impact on the offense: Three days after getting traded to the 49ers, McCaffrey had 10 touches for 60 yards in a limited package of plays — and the 49ers put up a season-high 444 yards of offense. 

That can’t be a coincidence. The 49ers racked up 343 passing yard as McCaffrey adds to the strong pass catching group of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle. The 49ers will be strong in the run game once McCaffrey gets situated in the offense, but the passing game has an opportunity to be lethal. 

Kenneth Walker is the next star running back: Walker has just two starts under his belt and is already a star in the league. Running in the Seahawks offense has immense benefits, and Walker cashed the checks with 23 carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns to lead a Seattle offense that rushed for 214 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. 

Walker has 44 carries for 265 yards and three rushing touchdowns in his two starts, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. This is just the beginning of what Walker can accomplish, as he can lead Seattle to the NFC West title. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No run offense: To find the source of Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles, look no further than the inefficient running game. The Buccaneers are 32nd in the NFL in rushing (64.4 yards per game), 32nd in yards per carry (3.0), and 31st in rushing touchdowns (two). 

Over the last six games, the Buccaneers are averaging 49.8 rushing yards per game — failing to get over 75 yards in any of those games. Leonard Fournette is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and Rachaad White is at 2.7. There’s no depth at the position and no playmaker that can reverse the fortunes of the ground game. 

The Buccaneers run offense is bad. The good news — the run game can’t get worse. 

Stick with the tried-and-true formula: How does Tennessee control the AFC South? They ride the horse that is Derrick Henry, who had 30 carries for 128 yards in an hard-fought 19-10 victory. Tennessee is 15-3 in games when Henry runs for 100 yards over the last three years, riding one of the best backs in the game when the offense doesn’t have much else. 

The Titans have won their last three games and Henry has rushed for 100 yards. With Kansas City coming up in two weeks — after the Chiefs have their bye — the Titans’ best shot at winning is Henry getting 25-plus carries. 

Offense was more efficient under Taylor Heinicke: There was something about Heinicke that the Commanders players bought into throughout the course of the game against Green Bay, and the results showed in the second half. Heinicke went 13 of 16 for 162 yards and a touchdown in the second half, leading the Commanders to 13 points on four second half possessions. 

Terry McLaurin looked more efficient with his old quarterback and the passing game appeared more in sync. The sample size is small, but Heinicke gets a few weeks to get Washington back in the playoff race. Getting 364 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per play is a solid start. 

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