It’s pretty much impossible to argue that the NFC West isn’t the league’s best division, even with the fading 49ers plagued by injuries. Two of its powers face off Sunday when the first-place Seahawks visit the runner-up Rams.
These teams have been a bit schizophrenic in 2020. Seattle (6-2) can outscore most opponents, and it needs to weekly because it has the worst pass defense in the league, giving up 362.1 yards per game. Three quarterbacks have thrown for more than 400 yards against Seattle this season.
“We just have to keep coming together and get this thing really cleaned up,” coach Pete Carroll says. “Unfortunately, the continuity has not been a positive factor for us yet. Hopefully we can find a way to fit together and get our new guys in there and get them playing really well and error-free, to their nature, and utilize their talents and all that, and we’ll see a turn.
“This is the halfway point and this is a marker. I would really like to see us turn it. You’ve seen us already adjust some in how we’re doing calls and stuff. We’re just trying to fit it together to maximize our guys.”
While the Rams (5-3) have been solid on defense, with tackle Aaron Donald the NFL’s most dominant player on that side of the ball, their offense has been inconsistent. They are 21st in the NFL with 24.1 points per game — only Chicago has a winning record and scores less often.
Regardless, this is a top-drawer matchup.
“We love these opportunities,” says Rams coach Sean McVay. “These are great competitive opportunities, but every single game is like this. Because you play them twice a year, we have some more familiarity with just some of their schemes, because they have had some continuity at the coordinator spots on offense and defense. And they’re still doing a lot of similar stuff, special teams-wise, even though there’s been some changes.
“It’s been great games and we’re looking forward to another one.”
The action began with Indianapolis moving into a tie with Tennessee atop the AFC South with a 34-17 victory Thursday night featuring a blocked punt for a touchdown. The Colts outscored the Titans 21-0 in the second half. Both teams are 6-3, with Indy currently holding the division tiebreaker thanks to the win.
Off this week are Dallas (2-7), Atlanta (3-6), Kansas City (8-1) and the New York Jets (0-9).
Buffalo (7-2) at Arizona (5-3)
A shootout in the Valley of the Sun is highly likely.
Arizona’s top-ranked offense is averaging 422 total yards and has had at least 400 yards six times. It’s defense has been filled with holes, though.
Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Buffalo’s Josh Allen are the only two quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 15 touchdowns and run for at least five touchdowns this season.
“Well, I mean, Arizona, they present their own problems,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier says. “They’ve got a terrific young quarterback as well, and an offense that is ranked No. 1 in the league. So we’re gonna have our hands full with what they do on offense.”
Los Angeles Chargers (2-6) at Miami (5-3)
Another enticing Kid QB matchup: LA’s Justin Herbert, who went sixth in the April draft, one spot after Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Herbert has thrown for 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions in three road starts and has multiple touchdown passes and more than 250 yards in his past five games. But the Chargers can’t hold leads; their defeats are by a combined 24 points.
Tagovailoa has won both of his starts since replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick. Miami has won four in a row, and for the first time since 1977 has scored at least 21 points in the first half of four consecutive games. Miami also has now scored at least 21 points seven successive weeks, the team’s longest such streak since 2001-02.
Baltimore (6-2) at New England (3-5)
The Ravens, who have never won a regular-season game in Gillette Stadium, have won 10 straight road games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Baltimore is allowing a league-low 17.8 points per game, has forced a turnover in 21 consecutive games, and has reached 100 yards rushing in 31 straight outings the third-longest streak in NFL history.
Baltimore also has scored at least 20 points in an NFL-record 31 consecutive games.
New England eked out a victory Monday night at the winless Jets to snap a four-game slide.
Cincinnati (2-5-1) at Pittsburgh (8-0)
The main question here is the availability of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the 100th regular-season meeting. The Steelers have dominated the series in recent years, winning 10 straight meetings and 13 out of 14, including playoffs.
But Big Ben is one of the players the Steelers placed on the COVID-19 list after tight end Vance McDonald tested positive following a victory over Dallas. Roethlisberger was required to self-quarantine after contact tracing and could not practice with the team all week.
Cincinnati has no worries about its young QB. Top overall draft pick Joe Burrow’s 221 completions are the most by a rookie over the first half of a season. Protection of Burrow will be a key against the sacks-happy Steelers: He’s been sacked once in Cincinnati’s two victories compared to 27 sacks in the other six games. The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks (32) and have at least one sack in 65 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
San Francisco (4-5) at New Orleans (6-2)
New Orleans has won five straight and leads the NFC South, which it has won each of the past three seasons. Saints receiver Emmanuel Sanders helped the 49ers get to the Super Bowl last season, and had seven catches for 157 yards and a touchdown, plus throwing a 35-yard TD pass against New Orleans. Sanders had his third TD receiving last week after missing the Saints’ previous two games on the COVID-19 reserve list.
The battered Niners did discover a new playmaker in a loss to Green Bay: Richie James Jr. had three catches for at least 40 yards in that game, the first player since Tyreek Hill in 2017 to do that, and the first 49er since some guy named Jerry Rice in 1995.
Tampa Bay (6-3) at Carolina (3-6)
Tampa Bay’s defense is ranked No. 1 against the run, allowing 75.3 yards a game. The Bucs also lead the NFL with 16 takeaways and are second with 29 sacks and 101 quarterback pressures.
That doesn’t bode well for Teddy Bridgewater as the Panthers try to snap a four-game slide. They won’t have star running back Christian McCaffrey, who returned last week from a high ankle sprain that cost him six games, but hurt his shoulder late in a close loss at Kansas City.
Denver (3-5) at Las Vegas (5-3)
Strangely — well, maybe not in 2020, when road teams have an overall winning record — the Raiders are 1-2 at home, but 4-1 away from the desert. They have won their first two division games, both on the road, for the first time since sweeping the AFC West in 2010.
“We like where we are,” running back Josh Jacobs says. “We’re not satisfied though. We’re nowhere near our peak. We have to cut out a lot of things we’re doing that are beating ourselves and come out and execute definitively.”
Broncos RB Melvin Gordon has scored a touchdown against the Raiders the past four times he’s faced them.
Jacksonville (1-7) at Green Bay (6-2)
The top and the bottom.
The Packers, who lead the league in ball control (33:19 time of possession average) are 6-2 after going 7-1 through their first eight games last year. It’s the first time the Packers have started 6-2 or better in back-to-back seasons since 2001-02.
Jacksonville started rookies at quarterback (Jake Luton), running back (James Robinson) and receiver (Laviska Shenault Jr.) in a loss to Houston. Jacksonville is the only NFL team to do that this season.
Talk about rebuilds.
Houston (2-6) at Cleveland (5-3)
Folks in Cleveland remember Romeo Crennel, now Houston’s interim head coach. He was Cleveland’s coach from 2005-08 and guided the Browns to a 10-6 record in 2007, the team’s best mark since 1999. The Texans have won five straight in the series, with the last loss in 2007 to Crennel’s Browns.
Cleveland is expected to have running back Nick Chubb after he missed four games with a sprained right knee. Cleveland’s rushing offense led the NFL before Chubb got hurt.
Philadelphia (3-4-1) at New York Giants (2-7)
Philly gets a bit healthy after a bye and has won eight consecutive games against the Giants, and 12 of the previous 13 in the series. The defense seems to be coming around for the Eagles, who lead — yes, lead — the NFC East.
Receiver Golden Tate could return after being benched for comments about not having enough passes thrown his way. He had a TD catch against the Eagles last month.
Washington (2-6) at Detroit (3-5)
Alex Smith’s courageous comeback continues when he makes his first NFL start since breaking his right tibia and fibula on Nov. 18, 2018. Smith has made two relief appearances this season because of injuries to starter Kyle Allen.
Detroit has scored 19 more points than opponents in the first period and has been outscored by 62 points over the next three quarters.
Minnesota (3-5) at Chicago (5-4)
The Bears have won four straight over the Vikings, but it’s Minnesota that is on the rise. Running back Dalvin Cook has 478 yards and six TDs from scrimmage over the past two weeks, both wins. He leads the NFL with 858 rushing yards despite missing a game to a groin injury.
Minnesota will need him, considering quarterback Kirk Cousins is 0-3 against the Bears since joining the Vikings and 0-9 in Monday night games. Chicago’s standout linebacker Khalil Mack will be zeroed in: Mack has five sacks and four forced fumbles in five career Monday night games.