1. There can be only one
The AFC West is now home to the only undefeated team in football, but it’s not the Denver Broncos. That honor belongs instead to the Kansas City Chiefs, who held off a stubborn Houston team in a 17-16 win to move to 7-0. Denver, meanwhile, was unable to finish a rally in a 39-33 loss to Indianapolis, as Peyton Manning’s old team handed his current one its first loss of the year.
Once again, Kansas City’s defense led the way for the Chiefs, sacking Texans quarterback Case Keenum five times, putting up a goal-line stand in the third quarter, and recovering a fumble in the last minute of the game to preserve the win. That the Chiefs were facing a depleted Houston squad — Keenum is the Texans’ third-string quarterback, and star running back Arian Foster left the game after just one touch with a hamstring injury — certainly helped. But Kansas City did just enough to come away with the win.
Denver, meanwhile, shot itself in the foot with countless mistakes, including a ball lost by Manning in the end zone for a safety and a fumble by Ronnie Hillman on the Indianapolis two yard line with 3:15 left in the game and the Broncos down nine. Manning also flung up a desperation heave halfway through the fourth quarter that landed in the hands of Colts linebacker Pat Angerer for another turnover, and his third interception in his last three games.
With games upcoming against Cleveland and Buffalo before a bye, Kansas City could possibly be at 9-0 before a decisive week 11 road matchup with the Broncos. Raise your hand if, before the year started, you saw an undefeated, first-place Chiefs team strolling into Denver that late into the season. Congratulations! You’re obviously insane.
2. What’s eating Tom Brady?
It’s been a rough season for New England’s superstar quarterback. Aside from a game-saving final drive against New Orleans, Brady has looked decidedly human this year. That continued Sunday against the Jets, as Brady completed just 22 of 46 passes for 228 yards and an interception in the Patriots’ 30-27 overtime loss. That interception was run back for a touchdown as well, the first time that’s happened to Brady since September 25, 2011, against Buffalo. All told, it was a bad day for a quarterback unaccustomed to this kind of struggle.
The season stats aren’t pretty either. Brady’s completion percentage on the season stands at 55.4 after Sunday’s game, which will be the worst mark of his career by a wide margin if it holds. He’s averaging a paltry 244 yards per game, after putting up just over 300 in 2012 and a staggering 327 in 2011. And on medium to deep balls, Brady is flat out missing his receivers: He’s hit just four of his 20 attempts past 10 yards this season.
There are plenty of outside reasons for Brady’s issues. The inexperience of his supporting cast has been frequently mentioned, and wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Julian Edelman have all dropped passes routinely. The Patriots’ offensive line, normally one of the team’s strong suits, hasn’t performed well, allowing 20 sacks through seven games, which puts Brady on pace for 50 sacks on the season. With better options on offense and a stronger offensive line, perhaps Brady’s season would look far better.
Like it or not, however, this is the hand Brady’s been dealt, and with a defense that is seemingly losing impact players every week and an offense lacking playmakers, the burden is squarely on his shoulders to lift the Patriots. It’s unlikely that Brady has already reached the end in such a sudden fashion. Having Rob Gronkowski back will help, as will the eventual returns of Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen. Regardless, it has to be concerning to the Patriots to see their two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl winner look so ordinary.
3. Has Chip Kelly tried turning his offense on and off again?
Remember, if you can, all the way back to week one: The grass was freshly cut, there was no chill in the air, and Greg Schiano was simply a bully with a bad haircut. That week, Chip Kelly made his NFL head coaching debut with Philadelphia, and unveiled an offense that made NFL fans lose their collective minds. In 60 breathtaking minutes, Kelly’s Eagles piled up yards and points on the Redskins, with each play taking roughly four seconds from start to finish. “Well, that settles it,” we all thought. “The Eagles are going to lead the known universe in points and be must-watch football from now on.”
Well, that was a bit premature. Since that week one shellacking of Washington (who, as it turns out, is really good at getting shellacked), Philadelphia’s offense has slowed down considerably, and in week seven against the Cowboys, the wheels came off completely. With a chance to grab first place in the NFC East, the Eagles managed just three points, 278 yards of offense, and three turnovers in a 17-3 loss to Dallas. It’s already the fourth time this season the Eagles have been held to 21 points or fewer.
It doesn’t help matters that, with Michael Vick hurt, Philadelphia’s quarterback is currently the ineptly inaccurate Nick Foles (or, at least, was; Foles was benched late in the Eagles’ loss, only for rookie Matt Barkley to come in and fire off three interceptions in a mere quarter). It also doesn’t help that the Eagles’ lone impact talents on offense are LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, as Philadelphia’s pass-catching corps is arguably one of the league’s worst. And it also doesn’t help that the Eagles’ defense is putrid, forcing Kelly to play catch-up instead of allowing him to set the tempo.
But it does seem like NFL defenses have adjusted to Kelly’s trickeration far quicker than most college teams ever did. This isn’t to say that Kelly’s offense can’t work at the professional level. But it’s clear that the lunatic speed and flair of week one shouldn’t be expected week in and week out in Philadelphia.
4. Second chance?
After an 0-4 start, many people (yours truly included) wrote off Pittsburgh, and with good reason. The offensive line was a mess, the team had no running game, and the defense looked like it had aged 20 years in a single offseason. But with two straight wins, the Steelers are showing some life in what had seemed like a lost season.
In week seven, Pittsburgh took another low-scoring, hard-fought, and, let’s be fair, kind-of-boring match with AFC North rival Baltimore, prevailing on a last-minute field goal. And though the Steelers didn’t look like world beaters in the process, there were some positive signs. An offensive line that had given up 18 sacks in its first five games limited Baltimore to three on the day. Pittsburgh committed only one turnover in the game, and has coughed up the ball just once in its last two games after turning it over 11 times in the first four. With rookie Le’Veon Bell as the starting running back (3.6 yards per carry in three games since returning from a foot injury), the Steelers have a semblance of a ground game, opening up the offense and allowing Ben Roethlisberger some room to operate.
That aforementioned 0-4 hole will be tough to get out of, especially with Cincinnati already at 5-2 atop the division (and with a 1-0 advantage over Pittsburgh on the year). But the Steelers’ schedule, while not a cakewalk, isn’t particularly brutal either. With four games left against the AFC North, including two against the once-again-hapless Browns, there’s still plenty of time for Pittsburgh to turn things around.