By Sterling Pingree
Philadelphia at Jacksonville (In London)
Blake Bortles was benched last week for Cody Kessler. Cody freakin Kessler. Jags head coach Doug Marrone came out this week and said that Bortles is his guy and why did he do this? Because Blake Bortles is great in London. I’m pretty sure he was knighted right after Paul McCartney and before Patrick Stewart. It’s inexplicable, but imagine you’re a fan in London and the team you annually see is the Jacksonville Jaguars, with the way the Jags play in England, they probably imagine that they’re an NFL dynasty and Blake Bortles is Joe Montana. It’s like your cousin at Thanksgiving who only watches football on that one day and assumes that Dallas hasn’t slowed down since the Jimmy Johnson days and that they’re still America’s team. Perception is such a weird thing. Please watch more football England. Sorry for sending the Raiders.
Denver at Kansas City
Is anybody but the Patriots going to slow down the Chiefs? Mahomes is making crazy throws across his body every week, Tyreek Hill is a scumbag and also the fastest player I’ve ever seen on the football field. It’s disgusting, but he is. I’m really interested in this game, because the Broncos defense was able to throw speed bumps in front of the Chiefs offense at Mile High, but can they do it on the road? Probably not, but Von Miller had his ears pinned back last week at Arizona and if they stay pinned (is that a thing?) this week, he could disrupt Andy Reid’s air show. Disrupt, not stop, because the frustrating thing about trying to get off the field against the Chiefs is how improvisational it is when plays break down. They’re the school yard team where all the 8th graders join forces and hold court against the rest of the school.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Talk about a rivalry. Week 1, these two teams tied 21-21 and now the AFC North seems to have to been righted: the Browns have dropped a couple straight, the Steelers beat the Bengals again and appear ready to take hold of the division. What is Le’Veon Bell doing? Is he going to come back in week 10? Will that help Pittsburgh? It’s not getting as much attention because the team has won a couple in a row, but that doesn’t mean that the Steeler’s problems have vanished.
Washington at NY Giants
Washington is playing like an Alex Smith team and one of the things that an Alex Smith team does is win games against teams like the Giants. The Giants took their shot last Monday against Atlanta and came up short against a ghastly defense. The Redskins don’t do any one thing at an elite level, but they’re steady in all areas. In a volatile NFC East, that could be enough to win the division at 9-7.
Seattle at Detroit
Both teams are 3-3, but the Seahawks are a soft 3-3 beating up on the Raiders, Cardinals and Cowboys but actually their three losses are more impressive than their three wins. Their losses are 27-24 at Denver, 24-17 at Chicago and 33-31 at home vs the undefeated Rams. So why do I feel like the Seahawks are going to fall in Detroit? Because Detroit is the opposite, their wins are really impressive and their losses are disgusting. The Lions have beaten New England, Green Bay and Miami while losing to the Jets, Cowboys and 49ers. Huh? How does that make sense at all, but teams are 3-3 but they’re both the wrong 3-3. Kind of like how Mitchell Trubisky threw two interceptions last week against New England, but the two that he threw, weren’t the two that he deserved. Gilmore and Roberts dropped picks in the end zone, yet JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones made incredible plays to pick passes off. It all evens out eventually.
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati
The Bengals are doing what the Bengals do: get off to a hot start, lose to Pittsburgh and then try to sneak into a wild card spot. Oh and Vontaze Burfict has tried to maim people and is already injured after coming off of suspension. That’s essentially the proud tradition of the Cincinnati Bengals.
NY Jets at Chicago
Mitchell Trubisky is probably fun to watch. I say probably because last week against the Patriots he wasn’t fun to watch, he was frustrating in that Blake Bortles type of “he can’t really throw the ball accurately, but he can run just enough to pick up annoying third downs.” You know which quarterback I’d also put in this same category? Dak Prescott. Prescott, since his emergence in 2016 has regressed to this same style of quarterback. I’m not sure if this is the wave of the future, but I surely hope that it isn’t, though the games stay interesting when the QB slings it around like your uncle at the family picnic who brought an 18-pack for himself and was “second team all-district 1981”.
Baltimore at Carolina
One of the best defenses in the league against the Panthers. What can you say about the Panthers? That isn’t a rhetorical question, I really mean it: what is there to say about the Carolina Panthers? I think they’ll make the playoffs as a wild card, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what their betting line would be in the first round against any team.
Indianapolis at Oakland
The Raiders as a dumpster fire and getting worse. Kevin Clark this week on the Ringer NFL podcast compared Jon Gruden being in charge of personnel to John Mulaney’s joke about a horse being loose in a hospital. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever it is you’re pretty sure it’s bad. Also, you’re checking Twitter every few minutes to see what the horse is doing in the hospital because it is such a curiosity. Gruden is the same way since he donned again the “Silver and Black”. Trade Khalil Mack? Sure. Question why your team doesn’t have a pass rush two weeks later, forgetting that you traded the best pass rusher in the league? Of course. Dealing Amari Cooper, that one was actually smart. I can’t believe the Cowboys gave up a 1st rounder for Amari freakin Cooper. (By the way, this is how the Patriots will eventually get the #1 pick in the draft two years from now and select Tom Brady’s replacement: Tua Tagovailoa. I told that idea to my buddy Earnest this week and he almost strangled me and hasn’t spoken to me since. Earnest isn’t a Patriots fan.)
San Francisco at Arizona
These teams just played and Arizona topped the 9ers in the post-Jimmy era. Since that game however, CJ Beathard almost beat the Packers on Monday night and the Cardinals gave the ugliest performance in the history of the NFL. (Don’t look that up.) Josh Rosen couldn’t hang onto the football, and when he did get passes off, he was leading Broncos corners like they were the ones running routes. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Green Bay at LA Rams
The biggest point spread that Aaron Rodgers has ever faced is this week at Los Angeles. The Packers defense is one of the worst in the league and against Sean McVey’s offense, this one really could get out of hand. What a stretch this is for the Packers: at LA this week, at New England for Sunday Night Football next week, then it is home for Miami and then at Seattle and then at Minnesota. We’ll learn a lot about the Packers in the next 5 weeks. The NFC North is the most interesting division in the NFL, you could convince me that any of these four teams could win the division and that they could finish last.
New Orleans at Minnesota
Back to the scene of the crime for New Orleans and the Saints look like the second best team in the NFC but much like last year, the Vikings will have something to about that. On paper, the Vikings should be better than last year’s team and at times have played like it, consistency has been their biggest issue, plus that loss to Buffalo at home might as well be a scarlet letter on their purple uniforms.
New England at Buffalo
I’ll be honest, before the season, I was nervous about this game. On the road, at Buffalo on a Monday night, you know the Bills Mafia is going to start their tailgates on Saturday and the Patriots pilgrimage to Orchard Park might as well be called the Buffalo Super Bowl. The Bills haven’t played a Monday nighter at home since 2008, these are rare occasions. But I don’t know what’s happened to the Bills, maybe I was just more nervous about the AJ McCarron signing or maybe I was nervous about what Sean McDermott was building there but I thought this was for certain the weird prime time divisional game that the Patriots would lose. (Turns out that was likely the Detroit game in week 3.) Sony Michel and Gronk have practiced this week, not sure which is more surprising. I asked Christopher Price on Friday’s edition of The Drive who he thought would play first and he said Gronk, who has been dealing with back spasms. If I’m Bill Belichick, I sit both guys out this week and make sure that the offense is healthy for the next two games: home for Green Bay and at Tennessee week 10. I’m ready for a lot of Kenjon Barner and probably 12 catches from James White. The Bills offense has had the worst 7 games to start a season in NFL history, this is exactly the type of team that the Patriots D needs to face to try and get its mojo going as we turn out calendars to November.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.