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.
Saints ready to welcome back Brees
The applause for Teddy Bridgewater has resonated throughout the New Orleans Saints organization this week.
The young backup quarterback stepped in for an injured Drew Brees in Week 2 and was undefeated in five games as the team’s starter. That the Saints still lead the NFC South despite the absence of Brees is due to Bridgewater’s poise and performance.
But the time has come for the transition back to normalcy. When the Saints play the Arizona Cardinals this weekend, it appears Brees will be back, his injured thumb healed well enough to allow him to play.
“That’s the plan,” said Brees earlier this week.
Saints coach Sean Payton is taking a more conservative tact. During his weekly conference call with Cardinals reporters on Wednesday, he said he’d likely wait until Sunday before making the final decision.
“We kind of go by the medical reports and the trainers, and if he’s 100 percent ready to play, then he’s back in the lineup,” said Payton.
Brees has been throwing the ball for the last two weeks and is telling everyone that he feels fine.
“I’ll tell Sean (how he feels) and he’ll believe me,” said Brees.
Bears have taken a pass on the run
It’s crisis time in Chicago. The prevailing opinion is the Bears offense will remain stagnant as long as Mitchell Trubisky is at quarterback, and since the team really has no other option, coach Matt Nagy is going to have to think on his feet this weekend against the slumping Chargers.
What the Bears want to do – what they need to do – is establish the running game to take some of the heat off Trubisky. And to this point, that part of their offense has also been struggling.
Last week against the Saints, the Bears ran the ball just five times in the first half and just seven times in the game (for 17 yards). According to the NFL, the seven rushes are the fewest carries in a game in Bears history.
“I know we need to run the ball more. I’m not an idiot,” said Nagy. “I realize that. … I totally understand that. We need to (run the ball). I never go into a game saying I want to throw the ball 54 times. I would love to go into a game and say I want to run the ball 54 times, but … that just hasn’t happened, so this is what I have to answer to.”
Nagy explained his reluctance to run the ball was simply the result of the ineffectiveness his ball carriers had early. Trubisky threw 54 times.
“Now how do you, get it going a little bit,” said Nagy. “Let’s maybe pass to open up the run game. And so, before you know it we didn’t have a whole lot of plays in the first half, there weren’t a lot of runs, and then we get behind in the second half. But to have seven rushes and two fumbles that’s not good either.”
Chiefs have Moore to look forward to
It’s been interesting to follow the progression of the news surrounding Patrick Mahomes knee injury eight days ago against the Broncos.
Initially, the fear was he’d be lost for the season. Then when an MRI showed no ligament damage, the estimation was he’d miss three to six weeks. But this week he was back to practice and some were speculating he might even be able to play Sunday night against the Packers.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has done his best to squelch the rumors Mahomes is ready to return. What he has been doing is making sure veteran Matt Moore is properly prepared for his first NFL start since 2017.
Moore is a veteran who started 30 games in his career with the Dolphins and Panthers. Many teams are much worse off than the Chiefs when it comes to a backup quarterback.
“He’s been full steam ahead and that’s how he does everything,” said Reid.
What worries folks is Moore was completely out of football, working as an NFL scout and assistant high school football coach, when the Chiefs coaxed him out of retirement when Chad Henne was lost for the season.
“Once I got here, I was like, ‘Holy smoke — no camp, no OTAs, no nothing,’” said Moore. “There’s always that potential case where you have to play (too) soon (in case of an injury). That was always in my mind the first couple weeks. I just relied on the history and experience I’ve had in this league.”
In place of Mahomes, Moore completed nine of 16 pass attempts after halftime for 116 passing yards, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
“There were a couple of nice rhythm throws before (the touchdown) that got it going a little bit,” Moore said. “I went in the huddle and got some inspiration from the guys, which was good stuff. That’s a great part of the game. I told them, ‘Let’s work together and help me out.’ I showed confidence, and I think you’ve got to show it at a moment like that. They all fired back at me.”
Panthers seek national recognition
Perhaps the most interesting game this weekend will pit the undefeated 49ers against the resurgent Panthers, who have won four straight since Kyle Allen replaced Cam Newton at quarterback.
While the Panthers were off on their bye after beating the Buccaneers in London, the buzz about the team was more about Allen’s status than it was about its legitimacy as a playoff contender.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said earlier this week he noticed how little respect his team had received from the national media.
It’s a certainty Rivera will try to use that to inspire his team against the only undefeated team in the NFC.
“They’re 6-0 for a reason,” said Rivera of the 49ers.
Both teams have played great defense. The Panthers are on pace to break the league’s single-season sack record. The 49ers are second overall in total defense
San Francisco has allowed 223.5 yard per game, which is more than 100 fewer than any other team in the NFC. They also have held each of their last three opponents to under 200 net years of offense.
If the 49ers can do that again, they would be just the sixth team to allow fewer than 200 net yards in four consecutive weeks since 1970. Three of the previous five won the Super Bowl.
Of course, that will mean putting their thumb on the elusive Christian McCaffrey. He has scored a rushing and receiving touchdown in each of his last two games. If does that again, he’ll tie Pete Johnson (1981 Bengals) for the longest streak of at least one rushing and one passing touchdown in league history.
Can Browns pierce Patriots defense?
There is little question the Patriots are the best team in the league. Their 33-0 thrashing of the Jets was comprehensive. It laid bare how unequipped New York was trying to deal with the ferocity of New England’s defense.
Entering this week, the Pats lead the league in both points per game (31.6) and points against (6.9). Against the Browns on Sunday, they can become the first team to average more than 30 points per game – and allow less than 10 – through eight games since the 1962 Packers.
There’s more: New England’s point differential (+175) is the second-highest at this point of a season in NFL history, trailing only the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans (+218).
This should all be a matter of great concern for the Browns, who have been a turnover machine this season. Baker Mayfield leads the league in interceptions and has either thrown an INT, fumbled or been sacked on 13.7 percent of his snaps this season.
With 22 takeaways, the Patriots are on pace for 50, which would place them ahead of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2007 San Diego Chargers for the best mark of this generation.