Remember when a bye week used to be a good thing?
Teams are now 3-9 coming off of byes. And it would’ve been 2-10 had it not been for Denver’s crazy comeback in Miami. With a fortnight to prepare, the Seahawks and Titans combined to score a total of 10 points on Sunday.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are now required to give players four consecutive days off during bye weeks. So you wonder if, at least early in the season, teams are losing momentum and accumulating rust on their off weeks. Or maybe the early results are just a fluke. Next week, we’ll keep a close eye on the Bills (vs. the Redskins), Bengals (at Seattle), Patriots (at Pittsburgh), Giants (vs. the Dolphins), Eagles (vs. the Cowboys) and 49ers (vs. the Browns). All six of those teams are early Vegas favorites.
But before we get ahead of ourselves on Week 8, 23 leftover thoughts from Week 7:
1. Jay Cutler’s been sacked twice in as many games. And it’s no coincidence that a) Matt Forte is getting significantly more touches than in the first four games, and b) the Bears are 2-0 in that stretch.
2. Speaking of Forte. Guy’s got 685 yards from scrimmage over the last four games, which works out to 171 yards per week. Some think he should be part of the MVP conversations now. That’s ridiculous, but he’s been the best running back in football, at least when you consider the impact he makes as a runner and a receiver. He should be considered an offensive player of the year frontrunner, alongside Aaron Rodgers, Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson.
3. And yet Chris Johnson’s the guy making the big money. Johnson was smothered again on Sunday, and now the $13 Million Man is on pace to rack up a grand total of 714 rushing yards this season (but he’s not the issue). And yet Forte is the one who can’t get a new deal. Fortunately for Matt, he’s having one of the best contract years in the history of professional sports.
4. Kudos to the Texans pass defense. One year after sucking at a historic level, the Houston secondary isn’t just better, it’s really good. The Texans held a rested Tennessee offense to 95 passing yards Sunday, which is even more impressive when you consider that they’re without top pass rusher Mario Williams. No big-name 2011 free agent has been as good as Johnathan Joseph, who has flourished under Wade Phillips.
5. Inconsistent Bucs could be in trouble. Win, loss, win, loss. They needed to be better than 4-3 with five home games already under their belt heading into the Week 8 bye. After that, it’s New Orleans, Houston, Green Bay, Tennessee (and three of those games are on the road). They had to win that game at Wembley.
6. The obvious: Aaron Rodgers is ridiculous. Like, I’d bet almost anything that he’s the MVP in a landslide. It’s not even close right now. Rodgers is the best player in football. He was almost perfect Sunday, with a 146.5 passer rating as the Packers moved to 7-0. Rodgers had six incomplete passes on 30 attempts, but three of those were dropped passes and one was a spike. He’s on pace to throw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions while breaking the single-season passing yards record. Machine-like.
7. What’s with good teams struggling against the run? Pittsburgh and Chicago smartened up Sunday, but they’ve been awful against the run. Same with the Saints, Chargers, Jets, Lions, Bills and Raiders. San Diego can’t let Shonn Greene and the Jets run wild. The Lions were killed by Michael Turner, while the Raiders were worked over by Jackie Battle.
8. In Oakland’s defense: The Raiders were without their top three offensive cogs on Sunday. Not having Sebastian Janikowski probably wasn’t a back-breaker, but Michael Bush isn’t Darren McFadden. And while Carson Palmer is probably better than Jason Campbell, consider that Palmer, who played less than a half, said after the game that he probably knew about 10 percent of the offense. It’ll be a work in progress, which is why it’s a perfect time for a bye week.
9. And, of course, Vikings fans are wondering…How many wins would we have had Christian Ponder started from the get-go? You’d figure more than one, right? The mediocre numbers don’t do Ponder’s first start justice. He led two impressive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to give his team a legit shot against the best team in the league. How much further along would Ponder be had he started in Week 1? We’ll never know, but his play might remove the Vikes from the #Suck4Luck sweepstakes. Looking forward to seeing the Ponder-Newton battle in Carolina next Sunday.
10. If only the Vikings could, um, remember to cover Greg Jennings…
11. Turning point for Atlanta? Back-to-back wins heading into the bye. Potentially a season-saving run against Carolina and Detroit (who they gain a tiebreaker over, which could come in handy in December). After Indianapolis in Week 9, it’s a crucial matchup with the Saints at home in Week 10. The Falcons are only getting better now.
12. But luck plays a role. It always does in this league, which is controlled by injuries. Matt Ryan is lucky to have his left foot after having his ankle stepped on in gory fashion Sunday, and Michael Turner was also hurt. Both got lucky, dodged major injury and returned. A different angle or degree of pressure on that Ryan play could have ended Atlanta’s season (for all intents and purposes). Instead, he’s fine and the Falcons are cruising. The Lions can only hope they’re as lucky with Matthew Stafford.
13. I continue to believe the Colts would still be pretty bad with Peyton Manning. They were destined to fall off a cliff this year, and that defense just got owned again. They’ve actually been running better this year than they did last year — Delone Carter was solid on the ground against the Saints, but no one else was.
14. This is all I have to say about the Saints…
15. What happened to the Redskins? The bye week killed them more than anyone. They were the hottest team in the NFC East and playing lights-out defense. Since taking Week 5 off, they’ve delivered two flat-as-a-board performances against two teams that had a victory apiece prior to playing them. Now it gets really tough with Buffalo and San Francisco on deck and Santana Moss out indefinitely.
16. I’d be lamenting the loss of Beanie Wells, but it really doesn’t make a difference. Arizona is a very bad football team, with or without Wells. Kevin Kolb sucks, so does the defense. Larry Fitzgerald is on an island. And now three of their next four games are on the road, in Baltimore, Philadelphia and San Francisco. That has me wondering: If the Cardinals keep losing (their only win came in tighter-than-expected fashion Week 1 against Carolina) and Kolb keeps struggling, do they consider Andrew Luck?
17. Here’s why NFC West teams will have trouble landing Luck: They all suck, besides San Francisco. Inevitably, Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona will have to beat each other a little bit, which might cause them to eliminate each other from the Luck sweepstakes.
18. I still think it comes down to Indy or Miami. I can’t see either winning more than two games. Everyone else should. The Rams have an outside shot at the top pick, but they’d probably trade it to the Colts or Dolphins anyway.
19. Nice to see Pittsburgh get a home game in Arizona. And I hope Denver enjoyed its home-field advantage in Miami.
20. Another sign that the Lions are in trouble: 1-for-12 on third down against the worst third down defense in football. Defenses are beginning to figure out how to control a one-dimensional offense and its lone weapon.
21. Another sign that we’re all going to have to eat crow on Cam Newton: 8-for-8 in the second half against a supposedly good defense. He also scored two more touchdowns (he’s already tied a rookie record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback) and went without a turnover. Newton had just five incomplete passes against the Redskins. The dude was supposed to be a long-term project, and instead he’s killing it immediately.
22. How convincing can Ronde Barber be? Because if anyone’s going to sign Tiki, it’ll be his twin brother’s team, which lost another running back on Sunday.
23. Yup, everyone knew it was DeMarco Murray’s turn to shine. We all knew the 23-year-old third-round rookie would have the ninth-best rushing day in NFL history in his first chance to take the backfield reins in Dallas. We all did, in hindsight. Felix Jones is about to get Wally Pipped.
(Packers-Vikes screenshot via Timothy Burke)