The NFL season is at its midpoint, which makes it officially time to start the "[insert team here] is a [insert division/conference/Super Bowl here] contender" on a week-to-week basis. Consider the Eagles our starting point, because, buddy, they look like a team that can win it all after dropping a 50-burger on the Broncos' vaunted defense.
They weren't alone in piling up points on the scoreboard, as the Rams also lobbed a 50-spot up on the Giants defense, a humiliating home loss. In those games, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, both threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions. They are the first pair of quarterbacks in NFL history taken first and second overall to do so on the same day. Wild stuff -- go ahead and circle their matchup in Week 14 as must-see TV.
Philly moved to 8-1, the fourth time it's been there as a franchise. In the previous four times, the Eagles appeared in the title game (1949, 1960, 1980 and 2004, previously). And they could do it again this year. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris -- he wasn't being sarcastic, and he wasn't insulting what Wentz and Co. are doing. The Eagles' offense is terrifying.
They can run the option:
Wentz can just rip gassers when he needs to:
And they have read-pass options that are just borderline difficult to prepare for -- Aqib Talib got roasted here, but the only real way to beat this is to be decisive about what Wentz does:
Talib was watching this play to stop the run when Wentz pulled the ball and ran to the sideline.
At this point, Alshon Jeffery is moving down the field and it's going to be a chunk play -- it's just about how much. Wentz put a perfect amount of touch on his pass and it was over. Jeffery strolled into the end zone untouched.
"It's hard to come up with words. He's elevating the play around him. That's what great quarterbacks do," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the game when asked about Wentz.
He's not wrong: Wentz is a worthy MVP candidate. He's playing lights out and he's executing this offense at a very high level.
Wentz is not alone in that regard. Jared Goff, who got a dead dog defense in the Giants on Sunday, is playing extremely well too. Sean McVay deserves credit for whispering sweet nothings into Goff's ear and getting his quarterback going, but Goff is showing why he was the No. 1 pick.
Look at the frozen rope he put on Sammy Watkins in the second quarter for a 67-yard touchdown:
Goff would end up averaging over 14 yards per pass attempt en route to setting a career high in passing touchdowns against the Giants. New York stinks, but they're a professional football team playing at home coming off the bye. There was no reason to believe Goff would completely blowtorch them.
He did. It's possible the Rams and Eagles are going to be battling again in the playoffs. Deep in the playoffs even.
Philadelphia is legit. The "1" in the L column makes that clear, but they are operating with something sustainable -- a strong front seven on defense and elite quarterback play -- and just added another dimension to their running game.
Jay Ajayi's addition this past week is a massive boost to a running game that's been effective but erratic. Ajayi ripped off a long touchdown run (much to the dismay of everyone who didn't start him in Fantasy today, as well as Adam Gase and all Dolphins fans) on just his fifth carry as an Eagles player, after managing zero touchdowns on 138 carries with the Dolphins.
The loss of Jason Peters could still rear its ugly head, but the Eagles are a well-balanced team. They can rush the passer, the back end of the defense is holding up and they can torch you through the air or ground. They are not going away. We could see them in February.
The Rams feel a little less likely to make a deep run, maybe? But that's a little foolish: they have Goff playing exceptional football, and Todd Gurley is running as well as any running back in the NFL (he's fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and first in touchdowns). They have tons of weapons on offense (Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Watkins are underrated and emerging) and the defense has been playing really well the last few weeks. Wade Phillips is once again in his first year with a team.
The Rams are now the 11th team in NFL history to beat an opponent by 30 points or more three times in their first eight games -- seven of the other 10 teams on that list went to the Super Bowl. The Rams could get better on defense, keep evolving on offense and end up being a major problem for someone(s) in the playoffs.
Speaking of contenders, how about the Cowboys starting to really ramp things up? Dallas won its third straight game, another convincing victory, this time over a team in the Chiefs that was, at one point, the best in the NFL (Kansas City has lost three of four and is heading the other way; the Chiefs are fine but it warrants mentioning).
Dallas is in a weird spot now, though. The Cowboys are 5-3. They are two games back of Philadelphia at this point, but they get to play the Eagles twice between now and Week 17. That's good and bad news -- if you lose to the Eagles, the division is done and the wild card becomes difficult as well.
Plus, they might be staring down some attrition. Ezekiel Elliott's status is wide open. He could play the rest of the season, or he could start a suspension this week. Or maybe the next week. No one really knows, not even the judges who will eventually hear the latest iteration of his lawsuit against the NFL.
Another negative: Dez Bryant suffered an injury on Sunday, as did Terrence Williams. Dak Prescott has been tremendous -- seriously, he deserves some MVP chatter too -- but losing his top two receiving weapons and his No. 1 running back would put the Cowboys up against it. Oh, and by the way Prescott is also from the 2016 NFL Draft class. We've got three of the top 15 quarterbacks in their second year part of that class. Pretty good class. Really good class.
Vegas might see a suspension coming too, as Dallas is currently a 3.5-point underdog to the Falcons in Atlanta next week. That's a bizarre line for a public team like the Cowboys.
For the sake of seeing this offense keep playing, here's hoping that is not the case. Dallas losing a lot of guys will slow their roll down and they're playing too well right now. We want these Philly-Dallas games to have the proper juice.
If Dallas can get Elliott cleared and the wide receivers stay healthy, they are going to wreck some people in the coming weeks.
Trainwreck in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a whole lot of trouble. A sleeper playoff team before the season, Tampa snookered us with an excellent season of "Hard Knocks" into believing they could make a leap after going 9-7 last season. Instead, the Bucs looked poised to tumble back into a top-five pick in the NFL Draft after another humiliating loss against the Saints on Sunday afternoon.
Give the team a little bit of a pass, maybe, for Jameis Winston's injury; he's not playing well at the moment, and he's not healthy. Winston has completed less than 55 percent of his passes the last two weeks and was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick at halftime due to an injury.
Even Winston's pregame speeches are a disaster, with him out on the field talking with teammates about "eating Ws." Baxter, I don't speak Spanish.
Making matters worse for the Buccaneers was the way in which they lost the game and the sideline shenanigans that unfolded during the blowout in New Orleans. At one point, Winston came onto the field and started poking Marshon Lattimore's helmet, which is a pretty inadvisable move for a quarterback dealing with a shoulder injury. Some words were exchanged, so Mike Evans came flying in to tackle Lattimore and started punching him (more on that below).
Naturally, more fighting broke out in the middle of this and, rather surprisingly, Dirk Koetter just didn't seem to care.
The Bucs haven't been particularly lucky with injuries, but they've also been just horrible on both sides of the ball. They are averaging less than 20 points per game despite having Evans (who has disappeared) and DeSean Jackson (who Winston has not found a rapport with) on the roster. They have a negative-40 point differential and are 2-6 -- if the season ended today, they would have a top-five pick.
Tampa has to be careful too, because pushing Winston onto the field with his shoulder injury will draw major red flags after the issues the Colts are facing with Andrew Luck. It wouldn't be shocking to see Ryan Fitzpatrick this weekend and maybe longer.
Tampa is four games back of the Saints in the division, with a clear pack of contenders emerging. Everyone in that organization should be nervous with rumors about Jon Gruden swirling and ownership's tendency to have an itchy trigger finger.
Far too often in this spot, I find myself pointing out that there are major inconsistencies when it comes to how the NFL handles officiating. This is not new and should not be surprising; there have been different refs working different games for literally decades and there are bound to be different results. But 2017 is not 1977 or even 1997 or even 2007 -- we have so many angles and videos and immediate access to every single play that it becomes much easier to compare subjective decisions that happen in the course of the game.
The NFL has attempted to smooth out the bumps via centralized replay, but it hasn't worked very well. Another example popped up on Sunday, when a pair of elite NFL receivers -- A.J. Green of the Bengals and Mike Evans of the Buccaneers -- threw punches in their respective games and saw different results.
That's going to get you tossed, and it did, with Green and Ramsey both earning ejections from the game. Ramsey didn't do anything exceptionally physical there, but according to Green after the game his frustration was a result of an "accumulation" of things from Ramsey.
A.J. Green insists his blow up was an accumulation of cheap shots from Jalen Ramsey.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) November 5, 2017
Compare this with the Evans situation (see: above) and it's hard to fathom how the officials could decide that one action by a star receiver is worthy of an ejection, but a similar on-field action by a different star receiver is not worth an ejection. How many punches have to be thrown by Evans following a cheap to qualify for ejection?
Different games have different issues, but there's no way you can look at these situations and see a major difference. One team suffered a significantly bigger consequence than a different team. It's a weird competitive disadvantage to have refs so wildly inconsistent.