On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.
It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.
Jackson close to catching Vick
In this case, the play on words is appropriate: Lamar Jackson is running his way to NFL history.
During his short NFL career, Jackson has made it clear his childhood idol was Michael Vick, a guy who made things happen with his arm and legs, who made defenses dizzy with indecision.
Well, on Sunday in Buffalo, Jackson has a chance to surpass Vick’s league record for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback.
“It’d be an honor,” Jackson told the media earlier this week. “Mike Vick’s my favorite player. For me to do such a thing is incredible. He had that record for a long time. It would be pretty cool, but I’m focused on the win regardless.”
Jackson is smart to keep his focus. The Ravens (10-2) and Bills (9-3) play a game that could have a major impact on home field in the AFC playoffs.
Jackson needs 63 yards rushing to pass Vick, who ran for 1,039 yards in 2006. It could very easily happen – Jackson is averaging 81.4 yards rushing through 12 games.
“I’ll be honest: I didn’t think it would ever be broken,” Vick told Fox Sports. “I didn’t think a guy would come along and play between the tight hashes and do the things that I’ve done, but it’s just a pleasure for me to watch and see another guy just emulating that style — and doing it better.”
Of course, the thing that makes Jackson even more dangerous, that has placed him ahead of the field in MVP talk, is he’s second in the league with 25 touchdown passes and fourth with a 109.6 passer rating.
And get this: Jackson’s 977 rushing yards are more than Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell have this season.
Saints, 49ers battle for NFC home field
Coming off their loss to the Ravens last week in the rain in Baltimore, the 49ers travel to New Orleans in a game of huge significance in terms of securing home field in the NFC playoffs.
The Saints, 49ers and Seahawks all sit at 10-2, one game ahead of the Packers in the race for the No. 1 seed. Even though the 49ers are currently a wild card team, seeded fifth, if they win the remainder of the games, they will be at home for duration of the playoffs.
“The sense of urgency is huge,” 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said this week. “It’s playoff football around here … Obviously, we want the No. 1 seed. At the end of the day, we want to make the playoffs, and we definitely have got a tough schedule. If you look around the league, we’ve got the Saints, we’ve got the Seahawks, they’re right there for the No. 1 seed.
“The time is now. I was just telling guys it’s time to cut out all the extracurricular activities and just hone in on the season for the next hopefully two-and-a-half months and see if we can do something special around here.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Niners are the first team in the Super Bowl era to play three consecutive teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late. You’ll recall the 49ers started the run with a 37-8 home win over the Packers.
Eli Manning returns
One of things that made Eli Manning special was he never was injured during a career that began in 2004. He took every hit and got up every time.
So you’d have to admit its somehow ironic that he would return as the starting quarterback of the New York Giants this week because of an ankle injury sustained by rookie Daniel Jones.
Manning lost his job to Jones in Week 3 and has sat ever since while the Giants have suffered through a 2-10 season. But with the team on an eight-game losing streak he will make his return Monday night at Philadelphia.
“Obviously we’ll see what happens Monday,” Manning said this week. “But business as usual in a sense get the game plan, start prepping for Philly. Going against a good defense, but also a defense we faced a number of years. Know ’em well. Just get back into the mix with the offensive line and receivers. Make sure the timing is where it needs to be.”
Jones injured the ankle during a quarterback sneak against the Packers last week at MetLife Stadium. It’s likely he’ll miss at least three weeks, which could dvelop into the remainder of the season.
Either way, this is it for Manning with the Giants, with whom he won two Super Bowls. His contract is up after the season and there is no chance of an extension.
“Just take it one week at a time. You never want to make decisions about the future while you’re living in the present and don’t know the circumstance of what can happen,” Manning said. “Just have to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants if I’m asked to do that. I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”
If Brady is hurt, will the Patriots run?
Mystery has surrounded the last few days of practice for the Patriots, who are coming off their loss in Houston last week. Tom Brady was limited during practice on Thursday amid fears he might be dealing with injuries to his right elbow and a toe.
“That might be the first time my toe’s ever been on the injury report. You know us Patriots. We’re pretty diligent about listing everything, so I guess we have to make mention of my toe now as well,” Brady told Westwood One Sports on Thursday.
“Isn’t there some HIPAA violation or something like that, when I start talking about all my injuries? I’m doing pretty good. At this time of the year, I’ll take it. I’ll take anything if I’m still able to go out there and feel like I can play my best. I’m feeling really good, really positive about this week. We have a really great challenge ahead of us.”
Of course, Brady’s status is very crucial because the Patriots (10-2) host the Chiefs (8-4) Sunday in New England.
If there truly is a problem with Brady, you would suspect the Patriots will rely more on their running game against the Chiefs. If so, that’s something the team is very accustomed to doing.
In last season’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, the Patriots ran the ball 48 times for 176 yards and four touchdowns. In their Week 6 game in 2018, the Patriots carried 38 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
A sustained ground attack would also limit the time Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs offense will have to work. And that’s always a good concept.
Rebounding without Rivera
The Panthers play at Atlanta on Sunday, a game of little consequence because of the struggles of both teams.
But it will be interesting to see how the Panthers react to the firing of Ron Rivera earlier this week. Rivera might have had his struggles as a coach, but he was apparently beloved by his players who seemed genuinely saddened by his dismissal.
“We all love Ron,” said Perry Fewell, the Panthers interim head coach. “Ron brought family, brought a sense of family, and brought culture to this organization. His wife was available around the players, and his daughter was available around the players. He taught each and every man in that room how to treat their wives and how to treat their daughters, and how to be men. I can only aspire to do that.”
The Panthers have lost four straight, including last Sunday’s disappointing 29-21 home loss to the lowly Redskins.
“There’s been numerous situations where you’ll go around this locker room and talk to guys about what Coach Rivera’s meant to you, and a lot of the best stories are gonna be what he’s done as a person,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said.