Week 9 was full of underwhelming performances by playoff hopefuls and statement wins from some of the league’s up and comers. Several teams appeared to have legitimized themselves as playoff contenders, while others continue to have their stock plummet (I’m looking at you, Chiefs and Falcons). Without further ado, here are the winners and losers of the NFL from Week 9.
The Los Angeles Rams are the biggest surprise of the NFL season thus far. Few people, including most Rams fans, expected them to have even a decent season, let alone sit atop the NFC West and hold one of the league’s best records. The Rams’ first year head coach, and the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, Sean McVay has managed to help Todd Gurley regain his rookie season dominance, turned Jared Goff into a valid option at quarterback, and refortified their defense.
In their Week 9 win over the abysmal Giants, the Rams’ offense posted 51 points, including four touchdowns from Goff, a career high, and two from Todd Gurley. The defense held the Giants to just 17 points, forced two fumbles, one interception, and totaled two sacks. The Ram’s defense has now allowed less than 21 points in four consecutive games, and six games total throughout the season.
The Ram’s remaining schedule is one of the toughest in the league, with games against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles, and Seahawks. Nonetheless, look for their offense to continue its explosiveness, led by Goff and Gurley, and for the Rams to make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
The New Orleans Saints are once again a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. They are riding a six-game winning streak, in which the offense has scored at least 20 points in every game and in which the defense has allowed more than 17 points just once. Drew Brees, now 38, has 13 touchdowns, 2,214 yards passing, and only four picks on the season, continuing to prove that father time has no effect on him. In addition to Brees’ stellar offensive play, the Saints defense has suddenly become one of the hungriest in the NFL, totaling 23 sacks, nine interceptions, and 10 forced fumbles on the season.
The Saints continued both their offensive and defensive dominance in a 30-10 victory over the Buccaneers. Brees threw for two touchdowns and 263 yards, while rookie running back Alvin Kamara ran for 68 yards and a touchdown. The defense was once again outstanding, holding the Bucs to just 113 passing yards and 87 rushing yards.
If the Saints continue playing at this caliber they are not only a sure lock for the playoffs, but a legitimate Super Bowl contender. However, look for them to possibly drop games against the Rams, Panthers, and Falcons.
The Philadelphia Eagles continue to roll through their schedule. Sitting at 8-1, the Eagles have the best record in football and show no signs of slowing down. Carson Wentz has emerged as the MVP front-runner, throwing for a league leading 25 touchdowns, 2,262 passing yards, and just five interceptions. The Eagles bolstered their already productive backfield with acquisition of Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins. Wentz now has one of the best one-two running back combos in Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount running for him, and solid but not outstanding defense.
In their Week 9 51-23 dismantling of the Broncos, the Eagles accumulated 419 yards of offense (222 through the air and 197 on the ground). Wentz was fantastic as usual, throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions. Ajayi immediately made his presence felt, rumbling for 77 yards and a touchdown in his Philadelphia debut.
Although the Eagles have enjoyed immense success thus far, their schedule has been extremely weak; the Carolina Panthers are the only team they have beaten that currently has a winning record. Philly’s mettle will be tested in the coming weeks with games against the Rams, Seahawks, and Cowboys. Even if the Eagles lose those games they will still likely make the playoffs. However, I doubt this will happen. Look for the Eagles to continue their success and for Carson Wentz to win MVP in only his second season.
As if blowing a double-digit lead in the Super Bowl wasn’t enough, the Falcons are now tormenting their fan base by dropping four of their last five games, including a blown lead against the Panthers. The offense has been stagnant all year following the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and their defense is nowhere close to its dominance from last year. Much of the team’s lack of success can be attributed to the subpar performance of Matt Ryan and the offense’s inability to get Julio Jones involved in the red zone. Ryan has 11 touchdowns and seven picks on the season, while Julio has one measly touchdown that came in the Falcons blowout loss to the Patriots.
Atlanta’s Week 9 loss was particularly tough to swallow considering they got out to an early lead and a wide-open Julio dropped what would have been the game winning touchdown. Ryan played well, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns, and Julio had a big game aside from his failure to secure the touchdown. Unfortunately, the rest of the Falcons team did not play as nearly as well. They managed only 53 rushing yards, and their invisible defense surrendered 201 rushing yards to a weak Panthers ground game.
If the Falcons can shake off their Super Bowl PTSD they have a chance to make the playoffs, although their remaining schedule is one of the toughest in the league. Out of their final eight games, six are against a team with a winning record (the Cowboys, Vikings, Seahawks, two against the Saints, and a rubber match against the Panthers to end the season). Unless Ryan and Julio manage to right the sinking ship, the Falcons will miss the playoffs.
What appeared to be the Chiefs’ breakthrough year has quickly turned into a scramble to stop the bleeding. After winning their first five games, the Chiefs have now dropped three of their last four. Kareem Hunt’s ridiculous rookie year is beginning to slow down. Hunt has only rushed for 191 yards in his past four games, compared to his 609 yards in the first five games of the season. His struggles have placed increased pressure on Alex Smith, who has continued to play well but not at the elite level with which he was performing earlier in the year. The biggest problem during the Chiefs’ skid has been their defense, allowing 19+ points in each of the Chiefs’ losses, and surprisingly allowing 19+ points in all of their games this season except for their Week 3 win over the Chargers.
In their Week 9 loss to the Cowboys, the Chiefs were held to just 68 rush yards, while they surrendered 131 rush yards. Alex Smith had another solid performance but it wasn’t enough to propel them to victory. In addition to Ezekiel Elliott running free over the Chiefs’ defense, they were also shredded by Dak Prescott, who threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite their recent slide the Chiefs will make the playoffs. They are still first in the AFC West and have a 6-3 record. Their remaining schedule is extremely weak, with only one game against a team with a winning record. However, their recent lack of a running game and defense does not bode well for them once in the playoffs.
Houston is without a doubt the biggest loser of the week. Star quarterback and potential MVP candidate Deshaun Watson went down with an ACL tear, and with him went any hopes of the Texans making the playoffs. Watson had been stellar in his rookie campaign, throwing for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns; however, a tragic non-contact ACL injury in practice abruptly cut his season short. In addition to Watson’s season ending injury, the Texans are also without star defensive lineman JJ Watt, who broke his leg a few weeks ago.
The Texans’ Week 9 loss is proof that losing Deshaun Watson is the straw that broke the camel’s back for their season. They lost 20-14 to the Colts, one of the league’s worst teams. The Texans offense was stagnant, managing only 288 total yards of offense against an extremely weak Colts defense. Much of their offensive woes stemmed from Tom Savage’s struggles to replace Watson, and complete a pass. Savage threw for 219 yards and finished the game with a QBR of 15.3. The running game also under performed on Sunday, accumulating just 94 yards.
The Texans are now third in the AFC South, which is quite possibly the worst division in the NFL. They lack a competent starting quarterback, they have a shaky running game, and their defense is barely staying afloat without Watt. In what appeared to be a promising year for the Texans, Deshaun Watson’s injury is too much for them to overcome. The Texans will miss the playoffs, but at least the city of Houston can savor their World Series win.
All statistics from ESPN.com
Photo: Matt Rourke/AP