Who Fed It And Who Ate It: Week 10
This is the point in the schedule where top line teams continue to exert their dominance, bottom feeders are left relegated to obscurity & spoiling others' playoff aspirations, and a whole lot of teams in the middle who are trying to pick up momentum to make a run into January. We'll examine a couple of feeders and eaters.
Feeder: Indianapolis Colts, who have won 3 games straight and have eyes on challenging for the AFC South crown. How in the world did this happen? Andrew Luck was returning from a year away due to injury, the roster was still being rebuilt by second year general manager Chris Ballard, and the Colts were transitioning with new head coach Frank Reich. And given how Indy started, no one was surprised with their stumbling start. However, due to Luck's offensive line keeping him clean for the last two games, the defense generating turnovers, and tight end Eric Ebron has put up a career season thus far, the Colts find themselves only two games behind the Houston Texans (6-3). What's more, Indianapolis has a crucial five game stretch with four divisional opponents coming up that will determine their fate in 2018. Many, including your humble scribe, considered the Colts at least a year away from returning to the postseason. If they play ball the next month like they have the past three weeks, expect the Colts to headline many surprise team lists.
Eater: Oakland Raiders. Holy hell, from Super Bowl contenders to league laughingstock in 18 months flat. Nearly two years ago, the Raiders looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Quarterback Derek Carr led a dynamic offense whose receiving tandem of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were raising the ghosts of the Raiders past. The defense, headlined by linebacker Khalil Mack, were a unit on the rise. Head coach Jack Del Rio, affectionately known as One Eyed Jack by Raider Nation, was primed to reach the heights of the likes of John Madden and Tom Flores. After Carr suffered a broken leg that ended his 2016 season, the Pride and Poise Boys never recovered. A humiliating playoff loss and a subsequent 6-10 season led to sudden dismissal of Del Rio. Raiders owner Mark Davis made the curious decision to bring back former head coach Jon Gruden under an unprecedented contract of 10 years for $100 million. Since then, the Raiders' roster has been radically changed. In line with Gruden's preference of veteran players, Oakland has the oldest roster in the league. According to Davis in a recent ESPN interview, Mack and Cooper had become intransigent regarding their contract situations, with the defender threatening to hold out and the wideout unreceptive to an extension. Over the course of the early portion of the season, both Mack and Cooper were traded, with the Raiders netting three first round draft picks for those once projected franchise cornerstones for the Silver and Black. With this much turmoil, it's a natural conclusion that the Raiders have fallen to 1-8. With questions abound about the Raiders' venue for 2019 and the pending relocation to Las Vegas, this is the last thing this franchise needs to negotiate. Then again, given the history of franchises who relocate, perhaps this is the best time to rebuild a roster. The chaotic nature of the process makes full focus and concentration near impossible. Since that is the case, why not retool while expectations are essentially nonexistent? Let's see what happens from here.
Feeders: New Orleans Saints, who handed the Cincinnati Bengals their collective hats in a 51-14 result that has put the rest of the NFL on notice. This particular series of articles does not make it habit to cover a single team in successive weeks, but the 2018 Saints are proving to be worthy of breaking such precedence. This domination was so demoralizing for the Queen City Cats that Bengals head coach has fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and re-hired former associate coach Hue Jackson(?!). While Cincy has been rendered to wondering about their near future, the Saints have been on a roll. Winners of 8 straight (including knocking off the previously undefeated LA Rams), New Orleans looks like a force to reckoned with. Everything starts with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who has been on fire even for his lofty standards. While Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City has garnered support for this year's league MVP, Brees is in a class unto himself. Take this white hot version of this QB, combine that with the plethora of offensive playmakers (from running backs Alvin Kamara & Mark Ingram to WR Michael Thomas to Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill) and the creativity of head coach Sean Payton, and makes for a team that every other team in the league should rightly fear. Just to be sure it's stated, things can be very quickly. One key injury or performance slump can change the Saints' season trajectory. But today, fear the Fleur De Lis.
Eaters: Us! We keep getting suckered into Thursday Night Football, only to watch nothing but stiffs and routs. For those uninitiated to this format, The Gridiron Eye has been a staunch critic of Thursday night football games on a weekly basis. Dilution of the television product, as this asks the NFL fan to sacrifice most Sundays and two weeknights to fully engage in the league's schedule. What has also happened is the number of memorable games dwarf the number of those which were either sub-par contests to watch or the result determined well before the final gun. This past week, as an example, was a compelling, relevant interconference match between the Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. What transpired was a lopsided 52-21 affair that could have ended in the third quarter to reduce the risk of players being exposed to injury. We have learned that over the twelve (12!) years when we have been subjected to Thursday Night Football, it ultimately picks up ratings simply because many viewers would prefer to watch a live NFL game than a scripted show that can be watched on different media platforms. If we as fans truly want to see pro football retract that particular programming, we need to stop watching. As long as advertisers and sponsors keep getting eyeballs on their products, they'll keep spending top dollar with networks to put NFL games on the air. And given how we are (your scribe in particular), Thursday Night Football isn't going anywhere.