A new weekly look at the best games, playoff implications, and stat spotlights that the NFL has to offer.
By Gavin Byrnes
Game Of The Week:
Los Angeles Rams (9-4) at Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
This Sunday features an intense divisional match-up between two of the best teams in the league. The Los Angeles Rams, despite a level of fan enthusiasm that might described as “needing to pay people,” have ridden the strong performance of last-year’s-punchline-this-year’s-hero Jared Goff to a 9-4 record. They are one of only two teams (along with the Philadelphia Eagles) to rank in the top 5 in the NFL in both offensive and defensive DVOA as measured by Football Outsiders. They boast one of the most effective running backs in the league in Todd “Hurdy Gurdy” Gurley and a diversified passing attack that should benefit from getting Robert Woods back from a shoulder injury, but have to be concerned with their defense after giving up 43 points to the Eagles in last week’s thrilling loss. LA’s defense has run hot and cold this season, giving up 30 or more points three times and 10 or fewer points three times.
On the other side of the field sits the person who most fits the description “one man team,” the wily Rustly Wustly Wilson. Seattle’s endlessly improvisational quarterback accounts for a staggering amount of his team’s offensive production; not only does Seattle get over 70% of its offense from the passing game, Wilson’s 482 rushing yards are more than double the total of the next highest Seahawk. The Seahawks’ calling card in most years has been the vaunted Legion of Boom, the punishing secondary comprised of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and a rotating cast of other fast and hard-hitting characters. Unfortunately, both Sherman and Chancellor are out with injuries and Seattle’s pass defense has been more pedestrian this season (only 15th in DVOA).
While Seattle beat LA earlier in the season 16-10, the Rams appear to be the team in better shape at the moment. That said, winning a road game in Seattle is never easy, and it certainly has not been this year; the Seahawks are 4-2 at home, with both losses coming by a field goal.
Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)
After four games of the 2017 NFL season, the Chargers were a laughingstock. 0-4, playing in a soccer stadium, resented by their old fans in San Diego but not embraced by any new ones in Los Angeles. If they were worth a thought at all, it was only for angry Philip Rivers face memes and the incredulous realization that Antonio Gates is still playing in the (Jon Gruden voice) National Football League – and he is! Still!
Cut to the present day however, and the Chargers are electrified! As the Chiefs cooled off from a hot start, the Bolts recovered to go 3-4, then dropped two straight, and now ride a 4-game winning streak into their last three games at the Chiefs, at home against the Jets, and at the Raiders. Not only are they winning, they’re winning by large margins, beating their last four opponents by 30, 22, 9, and 17 points (Oddly enough, that 9 point victory was against the consistently amusingly terrible Cleveland Browns). They now sit in 10th place in both offensive and defensive DVOA, and will probably be favorites in their last three games.
On the other hand, having already lost to the Chiefs means that they’d be in a tiebreaker hole with a loss this weekend, and the Chiefs for all that they have slid recently are still a very talented team playing at home. Not to go all ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY on you, but the Jets and Raiders can’t be treated as pushovers either; the Raiders, at 6-7, could theoretically still win the division as well. What do you think: will the Chargers make the playoffs?
Who Will Have The Most Yards From Scrimmage by a non-QB in the New England-Pittsburgh game?
This week, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers play in a matchup of two of the most high-powered and well-known offenses. The Steelers have possibly the best running back AND wide receiver in the league in LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown; Brown in particular is coming off a stretch of four straight games with over 100 yards receiving. The Patriots spread the ball around a bit more, but Tom Brady has always liked targeting Rob Gronkowski, easily (when healthy and, uh, not suspended) the most talented and prolific tight end in the league. Their backfield rotation is always crowded, but hybrid back Dion Lewis has had a particularly effective stretch, tallying an average of 90 yards from scrimmage in his last four games. Which of these skill players will have the biggest impact on Sunday? Or will it perhaps be someone else? The wonderfully named JuJu Smith-Schuster or Rex Burkhead? A mysteriously resurrected Julian Edelman? Someone Bill Belichick found standing by the road? Pick here: