Here are my thoughts on pending NFL storylines just before the halfway point in the season.
Mind you, my micro-predictions (weekly selection of games) haven’t worked out too well lately. But, I do now have some firm beliefs on who will be there in late January and early February.
Let's go to today and the storylines worth following closely:
1. Eagles made right move
Other than Joe Namath about 50 years ago, players that make predictions in the NFL usually are wrong.
The Eagles, I believed a few weeks ago, would figure it out and be the last team standing in January.
That win in Green Bay seemed special and I loved their aggressiveness, especially on defense.
But then Eagles linebacker Zach Brown says last week, heading into a game with the Vikings: “You want the ball in Kirk Cousins’ hands ... He’s the weakest link on offense.”
Lo and behold, Cousins had his best game as a Viking (22 for 29, 333 yds., 4 TDs, 1 int.) in a huge win, 38-20, over the Eagles.
The Eagles cut Brown on Tuesday. That’s how you send a message.
2. Rams are Wild Card-bound
Despite the addition of superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey (more on him later), the Rams are finished.
Who can blame them. Teams not named the Patriots are part of a trend. When they lose a Super Bowl, they disappear in “Wild Card Obscurity.”
The Rams are a mess right now, emanating from the running back position, “former” superstar, Todd Gurley. He has averaged 50 yards per game over his last 10 games, including last year and the playoffs, while the Rams are 5-5.
They have lost three straight and have looked pretty bad doing it.
Only break for them is their schedule, which is Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Ramsey will help, but Gurley’s failures have hurt quarterback Jared Goff, who has thrown 9 TDs versus 14 interceptions in those “bad” games by Gurley.
3. Rodgers isn’t all-in yet
The early winner for NFL Quote of the Year came from Aaron Rodgers on Monday night after the Packers crazy, last-second win over the Lions, 23-22.
“Today didn’t feel like a win... until the end,” said Rodgers on national TV while still on the field.
What does that mean?
Let me explain it to: Rodgers is used to carrying the team on his shoulders. He’s used to saving the day with his arm and athleticism. He’s used to 35 pass attempts, 300 yards and 3 TDs in the stat sheet.
He’s not used to ball control on offense or his defense being the strength of the team.
You can see it in his body language when he chats with his youngin’ head coach, Matt LaFleur.
This is what Brady has done for most of his career, particularly now. He’s not doing it alone. And he’s still winning at a great clip.
4. Gilmore over Ramsey
Who would you take if you were starting a team, Stephon Gilmore or Jalen Ramsey?
New Englanders are not objective. They’ve not only fell in love with this quiet, unassuming star cornerbacker of the Patriots, they’ve probably heard about PFF’s analytics, which rates Gilmore as the best in the NFL.
But let’s be honest, Ramsey is as good as it gets. I would argue, talent-wise, he is a tad better than Gilmore. He’s a little stronger and amazing when on an island.
But Ramsey is a problem. He just talks a little too much and hasn’t been able to back it up, at least when it comes to the win-loss column.
Gilmore is a classic Patriot. He “balls” and he goes back to the huddle.
When it comes to winning, Gilmore is the pick ... easily.
5. Who’s No. 2 in AFC?
I don’t know. I believe it’s the Houston Texans. But it might be the Kansas City Chiefs. Or, as crazy as this sounds, the Buffalo Bills.
Here’s a quick reason why each team could claim the title as Week 6 silver medalist:
Texans -- DeShaun Watson is heading toward being a star and is able to make up for deficiencies running the ball and defensively.
Chiefs -- Going through a tough stretch, but Patrick Mahomes will figure it out in a big way.
Bills -- Defense competes for championships. In a down conference, this defense can beat anybody outside of Patriots.
6. Jaguars re-build begins
I was in Jacksonville last year, the same weak the gas explosions hit Lawrence, North Andover and Andover. The defending AFC Championship finalist Jaguars buried the Patriots in Week 2, 31-20, and I swore I just saw a Super Bowl team.
I did. I just didn’t know it was the Patriots. Anyway, the Jaguars have been 5-15 since then. A big problem during that bad run was Ramsey, who started the season off with a bad bang after his magazine story trashing about a dozen NFL stars, including Rob Gronkowski.
Well, Ramsey is gone and the Jaguars got two first round picks, which is good news. The better news, at least for now, is they appear to have a potential “franchise” quarterback in Gardner Minshew.
In the AFC, which is weaker than weak, they actually could contend for a Wild Card berth.
I’m guessing under Tom Coughlin’s “guidance” in the front office, the Jags trend upward again.
7. Titans fall from grace
Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel has a distraught look on his face when facing the media recently. He basically decided the Marcus Mariota Experiment is over. After four-plus seasons, he is average at best, probably below average.
His athleticism, once a mainstay as a collegian at Oregon, is non-existent in the NFL.
A year ago the Titans buried the Cowboys (28-14) and Patriots (34-10) on back to back weeks, appearing to turn the corner. Then they got buried in consecutive games to Indianapolis (38-10) and Houston (34-17).
When your quarterback is not a franchise quarterback, you can’t compete over the long haul. Jacksonville found that out with Blake Bortles last year.
Ryan Tannehill takes over, but he is slightly better than Mariota.
The Titans defense is pretty good -- 8th in yards allowed (321.8), 5th in points allowed (15.3) -- but not good enough to overcome the offense’s rank in yards (27th) and passing (29th).
8. The Bridgewater bridge
This is how you get to a Super Bowl. You hire people like New Orleans hired Teddy Bridgewater, an expensive backup quarterback at $7.2 million (one year), to keep the ship in order, just in case.
Well, just-in-case happened and the Saints are in position to be that No. 1 team in the NFC, right now, with the San Francisco 49ers.
Bridgewater hasn’t been great, but he’s been good enough. The Saints defense ranks 10th in yards allowed (340.5) and 11th in points allowed (20.2), which allowed the Saints some wiggle room in terms of not asking too much from their quarterbacks.
Drew Brees is expected to return within two weeks and if the Saints can beat the Chicago Bears in Chicago on Sunday with Bridgewater, I believe they are the team to beat.
The Saints do host the 49ers, the only undefeated team in the NFC, in Week 14 on Dec. 8, a game that will probably be moved from 1 p.m. to 8:20 p.m.
9. Jets D the key
The Patriots will have a tough game Monday night. The Jets, winners of just one game, are on top of the world.
They showed a lot of moxie beating up the Cowboys on Sunday and there will be a carryover after an abysmal performance against the Patriots in Week 3.
Sam Darnold’s return from mono shows the importance of the position, injecting life into the entire franchise. Darnold was outstanding against the Cowboys and inspired the defense to keeping Dak Prescott in check and not allowing Ezekiel Elliott a big play over 15 yards.
This Monday night tilt will be treated extra special in the Gotham City area, and the Patriots will have to earn it.
10. Eagles must-win vs. Buffalo
It’s early, right, to say we are at season-defining games, right? Nope.
The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles will have, what I believe, will be a season-defining game in Orchard Park on Oct. 27.
If the Bills win, and they will be favored, they will jump to 6-1 and be headed toward an 11-win season, which makes them a playoff contender. The Eagles have more at stake, at 3-3 and headed to Dallas this weekend. The Eagles must win at least one of the road games the next two weeks, which will not be an easy feat. They then face the Bears, Patriots and Seahawks, all in Philadelphia.
There is no room for error after a disappointing start at 3-3. The Eagles’ loss to Atlanta in Week 2, 24-20, may have been a sign of their team.