One of the benefits of being an NFL fan, or one who writes and talks about the league, is knowing there’s no harm in making a weekly habit of hyping what looks like the “Game of the Year.” The anointment is part of the ritual, the warmup, the appetizer.
If you ask the coaches and players if they approve of this they will naturally say no. In most cases, what happens in the regular season is always survivable. You live to fight another day. What’s the sense of making a big deal out of a November game?
Well, you’ll excuse us if we give it another try. On Monday Night in Los Angeles, the Rams (9-1) play the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) in what may be a preview of the Super Bowl.
In other words, it’s the “Game of the Year.”
The game was originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City, but the playing field was deemed too dangerous after being trod upon by soccer players and concert goers. It’s good thing. It might have slowed down what promises to be a track meet between lethal offensive powerhouses.
Neither team has a stellar defense, but the Chiefs have made incremental improvement over the last few weeks. They must deal with a Ram offense that ranks first in net yards per pass attempt, first down efficiency, 10-yard plays and pass plays gaining 20 or more yards.
It might all come down to who has the ball last, Rams quarterback Jared Goff or Chiefs’ QB Pat Mahomes. By the way, Mahomes has a little more incentive than usual.
Heinz Ketchup, known for its “57 varieties” advertising slogan, has promised Mahomes (a renown lover of the condiment) a lifetime supply if he eventually breaks the single-season league record by throwing 57 touchdown passes.
Actually, he needs only 56 to break Peyton Manning’s record set in 2013. Mahomes has 31, already enough to set the Chiefs’ single-season record.
“I’m not opposed to it,” said Mahomes. “If it happens and I get ketchup for life, I’ll be sure to share it with some of the offensive linemen.”
Consider the following TMI (too much information): Mahomes puts ketchup on macaroni and cheese.
After one of his team’s practices, Rams coach Sean McVay said he’s borrowed from the playbook of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Smart move: The Chiefs average 35.3 points and 423 yards.
The Rams are averaging 448 yards and 33.5 points. Goff has 22 TD passes and halfback Todd Gurley averages 98.8 yards rushing and has scored 17 TDs.
Eagles Know The Time Is Now
All you need to know about the Philadelphia Eagles defense of their Super Bowl championship is their 4-5 record. Not good. That’s already two more losses than they had last season. And it has them squirming two games behind the Washington Redskins in the NFC East and acutely aware winning the division is likely the only path to the postseason.
You might agree with us: This might not be the most convenient time to play in New Orleans. The Saints (8-1) have won eight straight and have scored 126 points in last three.
In their defense, nothing has gone right for the Eagles. Injuries have hit them hard, pummeling their running game and rush defense, something plainly clear last week watching Zeke Elliott and the Dallas offensive line push them around. Their secondary has been substandard, as well.
So how can you expect the Eagles to deal with Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas?
Earlier this week, Eagles center Jason Kelce explained to ESPN what the difference seems to be.
“This isn’t just players, this is coaches, this is everybody,” said Kelce. “Everybody takes accountability in making sure that everybody is ready to go. From a players’ standpoint, it’s on you to make sure that you’re watching the film, you’re doing everything during the week necessary for you to improve, to make sure that you understand the finer coaching points, every little detail, so that when you’re in the middle of the game, you’re not playing slow or apprehensive, you know exactly what you have to do and you can go 100 percent and give great effort. And it’s also on the coaches to make sure everybody’s ready to go.”
Battle For NFC North Should Be A Bear
Just like it used to be in the good, old days, the Chicago Bears (6-3) and Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) will play a critical divisional game on Sunday at Soldier Field. All that will be missing is the snowstorm.
We all knew how explosive the Vikings offense was last season with Case Keenum running the show. It has now taken on another dimension with Kirk Cousins; not Chiefs, Saints, Buccaneers or Rams tough, but capable scoring from any distance at any time now that Dalvin Cook is back to take pressure off the passing game.
If there has been a problem with Minnesota’s attack, it’s been along the offensive line, Cousins has been dropped 24 times. And after watching how Khalil Mack, now healthy again, has been terrorizing QBs this season, you wonder how much time Cousins will have to operate.
Meanwhile, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky is on his way to single-season team records in passing yards (4,096) and passing touchdowns (33).And that is basically why the Bears are on a three-game winning streak. His passer rating is 101.6 with 19 TD passes.
Ravens, Bengals At Crossroads
A number of league teams are staring at becoming irrelevant this weekend. But the plight of Baltimore and Cincinnati has been particularly difficult to watch.
After coaching the Bengals since 2003, this might finally be it for Marvin Lewis. He fired his defensive coordinator after last week’s 51-7 to the Saints and brought back his buddy, deposed Browns coach Hue Jackson, to help with logistics while he tries to figure out what’s wrong.
Frankly, what’s right? The Bengals have allowed the most yards per game than any team in the league. And they are on pace to allow the most in one season in league history.
But the Ravens are in just as much trouble. They have lost four of five. And this could be the end of John Harbaugh’s time, as well.
During practice this week, QB Joe Flacco was nursing a hip injury, which led to speculation that rookie Lamar Jackson might get his first start. But Jackson was not at practice on Thursday because of stomach issues, which left it up to Robert Griffin III to work with the first unit.
Oh, boy. RGIII has not played in a league game since the last game of the 2016 regular season with the Cleveland Browns. As the Ravens’ third-stringer, he has also been inactive for every game this season. He is 15-25 as a starter since the Washington Redskins made him their second overall pick in 2012.
Playoff Contenders (Or Pretenders)
One way or another, we’ll find out how serious the Redskins and Houston Texans are about holding onto divisional leads.
The Texans (6-3) have revived themselves after an 0-3 start behind the offensive ingenuity of Deshaun Watson and the strength of a defensive line bolstered by the return of J.J. Watt. The Texans, the league’s top defense in 2016, have allowed an average of less than 93 yards rushing a game this season. And Watt already has nine sacks.
The Redskins (6-3) have won two straight, which pleases coach Jay Gruden, the best coach named Gruden in the league.
“We’re 6-3, in first place, that’s a heck of deal after nine games,” said Gruden. “But I’m also excited with the fact that we have not played our best yet and I think the best is yet to come. It’s our job as coaches to make sure we do the best we can to get it out of them.”
Washington’s offense, also hurt by injuries this season, is close to getting offensive tackle Trent Williams, receiver Jamison Crowder and back Chris Thompson back. But its has already benefitted from the renaissance of Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, 33, has run for 672 yards and four TDs on 155 carries. His 74.7 rushing average is eighth in the league. He hasn’t gained 1,000 yards in a season since 2015.