Every week we say how weird the week was and how strange this NFL season has been. But yeah, both of those things apply to this week. Underdogs were 9-4 this week, straight up. Here’s some things you might have missed while you were waiting all day for Sunday Night:
A game-changing injury
It feels like each week that passes, we’re talking about about another major injury to one of the league’s best players. These are injuries that shift the entire landscape of the league. Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone certainly qualifies under both of those categories. On a seemingly normal hit in the first quarter, Rodgers went down on his side and was forced to leave the game. It was later announced he suffered a broken collarbone on his right side, the opposite one he broke back in 2013.
However long Rodgers is out, the Packers appear fine going with Brett Hundley as the starter. Hundley struggled when forced into the lineup on Sunday: 18-of-38 for 157 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Take QBR for what you will, but rarely does a 9.5 performance indicate much good. Luckily for Hundley, he’ll get a full week of preparation before facing the defense of the New Orleans Saints and then a bye. That should give the Packers an idea of what Hundley could be with Rodgers sidelined.
Rodgers could be out for the remainder of the season, which dramatically shifts what the NFC playoff picture looks like. Per Brian Burke of ESPN Stats and Info, the Packers’ chances of winning the Super Bowl drop nearly eight percent, their chances of winning the division is more than cut in half, and chances making the playoffs fall to merely 50-50.
With ARodgers starting all rem gms:— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) October 15, 2017
win SB: 9.6%
win div: 53.0%
make POs: 79.6%
With AR out:
win SB: 1.7%
win div: 25.1%
make POs: 50.2%
Obviously with the Packers’ chances dropping that leaves an opportunity for someone else.
Who steps up?
The NFC could now be wide open. The Philadelphia Eagles currently have the best record (5-1) and the best point differential (plus-43) in the conference. They’ve looked dominant against Washington and Arizona, but have been close in every other game. Then there’s four 4-2 teams behind them, which include the Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, and Carolina Panthers -- none of whom looked particularly great in Week 6.
There are four other 3-2 teams because of byes: New Orleans, Washington, Atlanta, and Seattle. That’s nine teams currently over .500 in the conference, while the AFC has six.
Each NFC division has at least two teams over .500 with only two such cases in the AFC. The season is nearing the midway point and there’s been little determined for which teams have the advantage over the competition in the NFC and the hierarchy might be even cloudier now than what we thought at the beginning of the season.
It’s hard to stay undefeated
From the second quarter of the first game of the regular season, the Kansas City Chiefs have looked like the clear team to beat in the NFL. They were finally beaten this week by the Pittsburgh Steelers, they of losses to the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. Losing to the Steelers doesn’t mean much for the Chiefs, only that it’s really hard to be undefeated in the NFL -- just ask the Patriots.
Kansas CIty still has a 1.5-game lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC West and a game lead over Pittsburgh and New England for the best record in the conference. What this game really proved is the Steelers match up pretty well with the Chiefs, about the same way the Chiefs match up pretty well against the Patriots. If these are the three top contenders in the conference -- sorry, AFC South -- the most important variable might be who plays who and where. The Patriots and Steelers still face each other during Week 15 in Pittsburgh, where there will be a much clearer playoff picture formed. Maybe.
Dumbest enforcement of dumbest rule
There’s a lot of silly rules in the NFL, but the silliest might be the how a fumble out of the opponent’s end zone results in a touchback for the opposition. The silliest interpretation of this silly rule cost the New York Jets a touchdown against New England on Sunday.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored what was ruled a touchdown on the field, but after a review the call was changed to a fumble and a touchback for the Patriots. This shot here was enough to prove a “fumble” occurred, even though the ball never hit the ground or really left Seferian-Jenkins’s possession:
But referee Tony Corrente explained the decision after the game in a pool report:
The final shot that we saw was from the end zone that showed the New York Jets’ runner, we’ll call him a runner at that point, with the football starting to go toward the ground. He lost the ball. It came out of his control as he was almost to the ground. Now he re-grasps the ball and by rule, now he has to complete the process of a recovery, which means he has to survive the ground again. So in recovering it, he recovered, hit the knee, started to roll and the ball came out a second time. So the ball started to move in his hands this way, he’s now out of bounds in the end zone, which now created a touchback. So he didn’t survive the recovery and didn’t survive the ground during the recovery is what happened here.
That doesn’t really make it any better. The rule in general creates the oddest turnover in football. Any other place on the field, outside of its own end zone, if the offense fumbles out of bounds they keep possession. There’s little reason a fumble out of the other end zone should be a turnover, just give the offense the ball on the one for the next down.
Browns gonna Brown
The Cleveland Browns have been going through a lot these past couple weeks, but that doesn’t include winning football games. That should be OK, though, because the main goal for this Browns rebuild was not to win a lot of football games -- at least not yet. But the Browns have lost in a way that even makes their controlled losing look painful. Cleveland drafted DeShone Kizer in the second-round and said they’d ride with him through the entire season. But after Kizer struggled through the first five weeks, head coach Hue Jackson made a chance to Kevin Hogan. In a 33-17 loss to the Houston Texans, Hogan was just as bad or worse than Kizer (3.8 yards per attempt, one touchdown, and three interceptions) and Jackson said after the game he might go back to Kizer next week.
At least with Kizer on the field, there was the upside of big plays along with the rookie mistakes. Hogan brought none of the upside on Sunday, though that shouldn’t be a surprise. Jackson’s switch to Hogan hints at a disconnect between the coach and the front office. His belief that Hogan could be a spark is a more troubling decision than any of the losing that’s been done in Cleveland for the past year and a half.
It already looked like Jackson was going to follow the fate of Bo Porter with the Houston Astros -- a coach brought in to oversee an analytics-based rebuild but eventually felt differently about management and player development than the front office. Porter lasted just under two years before the Astros hired A.J. Hinch, who now has the Astros in the ALCS.
Jackson already looks like he’s preparing for his next stop, with leaks about how he has little say over the roster and stories about how he told quarterback Deshaun Watson to be ready for Cleveland’s call on draft day.
But unlike the Astros, it appears Browns ownership might be souring on the rebuild, too. There was a report on Sunday that Cleveland has been reaching out to potential football executives to join the front office. There might not be a lot of winning in Cleveland, but rarely are things uninteresting.