As we approach the halfway point and the trade deadline of the season, let’s look at who’s setting themselves up for a playoff berth.
1. The Bears aren’t pretenders or contenders
People have been calling the Bears pretenders for weeks. At 5-1, they had a chance to prove the haters wrong on primetime. Instead, they laid an egg, losing 24-10 to the Rams. The offense was putrid, with the lone TD for the Bears coming from the defense. The line is bad, the QB play is bad, the running back play is atrocious, and the coaching is indefensible. However, this defense can keep this team close to being contenders, maybe even sneaking the seven seed. All they need is average (hell, even below average) play from the offense. And even the best defense won’t hold up forever when the offense is constantly going three and out.
2. Justin Herbert is legit
I and many experts weren’t high on Justin Herbert heading into the draft. While he showed flashes of greatness and has incredible raw talent, he was also wildly inconsistent and his leadership was in question. However, each and every week, he silences the haters. He makes great decisions, he pushes the ball downfield, he’s been accurate, he runs well, and he looks better each and every week. Joe Burrow has been the best rookie QB but if Burrow is QB1, then Herbert is QB1A. If he keeps this up, the Chargers and Herbert have a bright future ahead of them.
3. The Cowboys aren’t just bad, they are downright awful
Before the season, I was hoping the Cowboys would be bad (because who doesn’t like to hate “America’s Team”). However, with all the weapons they had, I figured it was nearly impossible for them to be bad. My best guess was that their floor was 8-8. However, that hasn’t been the case. The line has been bad, the play-calling has been bad, and the defense has been among the worst in football. While some would point out that the Cowboys’ offense was solid with Dak, they still only had one win and most of their huge stats were in garbage time. It’s clear that this Mike McCarthy hiring was a huge mistake and that his success in Green Bay was because of Aaron Rodgers, not McCarthy. Unfortunately for Dallas fans, Jerry Jones is a very stubborn man, so the team might be stuck being bad for a while.
4. Despite winning, the Bills continue to struggle
Fortunately for the Bills, they got to play the Jets this past weekend. If they had played any other team, they probably would’ve lost. The Jets jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead before the Bills scored 18 unanswered to win 18-10. The offense just couldn’t quite put it all together, mustering 6 field goals for their 18 points. Josh Allen had a fine day, going 30-43 for 307 yards and tacking on 61 rush yards. However, the fact that this team couldn’t get into the end zone against the lowly Jets is concerning. The Bills are 5-2 but have a tough schedule coming up. These next six weeks against the Patriots, Seahawks, Cardinals, Chargers, Niners, and Steelers will really test whether this team is any good.
5. Baker might be better without Odell
Baker’s sophomore season was not a good encore to his rookie one. Some blame Freddie Kitchens while others blame it on the fact that Baker liked to force the ball to Odell, even when he wasn’t open. That analysis may indeed be correct. On Sunday, Mayfield started 0/5 with an interception. On the interception, Odell tore his ACL while making a tackle. After that, Baker went on a tear, finishing the game 22/28 for 297 yards, 5 TDs, and that lone interception. When Baker was forced to scan the whole field and not just lock in on Beckham, he dazzled. If the Browns get this Baker for the rest of the year, they could make some noise in the playoffs.
6. The Steeler are the final unbeaten team
There were three unbeaten teams heading into Sunday: the Steelers, Titans, and Seahawks. With two of those teams playing each other, there would be at most, two remaining. The Seahawks managed to lose the Cardinals, despite being up 10 with the ball late in the game. Russell Wilson uncharacteristically threw 3 ints and Kyler Murray bounced back and played well, leading the Cardinals to an improbable 37-34 win in OT. As for the Steelers and Titans, the Steelers jumped out to an early lead, leading 27-7 in the third quarter. However, the Titans came storming back and had a field goal to force OT. Unfortunately for Titans’ fans, Gostkowski missed the field goal, and the Steelers took the crown of the last undefeated team. For me, the big takeaway is that both of these teams are legit and that both will be tough to beat come playoff time.
7. Trevor Lawrence might look to avoid the Jets
When asked about whether he would stay another year in college, Trevor Lawrence gave a very non-answer of basically, you never know what can happen. The one bright spot for Jets’ fans is that their likely to get the number 1 pick, meaning they’ll get the most highly regarded prospect of the century. However, even Trevor Lawrence sees how dysfunctional this organization is. I’m sure he doesn’t mind going to a bad team. That’s a given considering his draft stock. However, the Jets have a reputation for bad management, bad coaching, and bad player development. Lawrence knows that being drafted by the Jets could ruin his career (much like they’ve done to Sam Darnold). If the Jets want to entice Lawrence to their team, they might need to do a huge overhaul of personnel from top to bottom to show that they are looking to change from being a laughing stock to a contender.