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The Schein Nine

NFL's wacky Week 9 full of Sunday surprises: Browns good, Packers bad, Bills ugly

Super Bowl contenders no-showed. Road underdogs won huge divisional games. Shoot, Urban Meyer won a game on American soil!

The ninth Sunday of the 2021 NFL season was unpredictably wacky, with jarring highs and lows affecting teams across the league landscape.

So, it's time to assess the good, the bad and the ugly, Schein Nine style.


Cleveland Browns
5-4 · T-3rd in AFC North

Sunday's result: 41-16 win at Cincinnati Bengals

I've said it forever. The numbers back it up. So does the feel.

Baker Mayfield and the Browns are better without Odell Beckham Jr.

Sunday was just further proof of this fact, especially given the heightened importance of this version of the Battle of Ohio.

The Browns hit Cincinnati at .500, having lost three of their previous four games to fall into the AFC North cellar. They had just told OBJ to stay home while they figured out how to rid themselves of the three-time Pro Bowler. Sunday's game against an upstart division rival felt like a crucial hinge point for the franchise ... and Cleveland responded with its most complete effort of the season.

Perhaps Beckham's dad will post an Instagram cut-up of Mayfield rocking steady and strong, Donovan Peoples-Jones running a clean route on a 60-yard touchdown, Nick Chubb nearly averaging 10 yards a carry and Cleveland's defense turning over Joe Burrow and flummoxing Ja'Marr Chase.

Good for Kevin Stefanski. Good for Andrew Berry. Good for Baker. Great team win without Odell. Get used to it.

Arizona Cardinals
8-1 · 1st in NFC West

Sunday's result: 31-17 win at San Francisco 49ers

The Cardinals didn't have MVP candidate Kyler Murray. They didn't have their two leading receivers, DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. They already lost DE J.J. Watt to serious injury. They lost RB Chase Edmonds on the first offensive snap of the game. And yet ...

Arizona stormed Santa Clara and blew the 49ers out of their own building.

Colt McCoy was stellar as a replacement quarterback, completing 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards (a healthy 9.6 YPA) and a touchdown. RB James Conner scored three touchdowns to take the league lead in that department with 11 on the season. Christian Kirk caught all six of his targets for 91 yards and even threw a 33-yard gem to set up a short touchdown. The defense was superb, racking up three takeaways and five sacks. Kliff Kingsbury called a great game.

The Week 8 loss to Green Bay always felt like a blip, as opposed to a trend. But to turn the page so brilliantly -- without a number of stars -- was extremely impressive. The Cardinals are 8-1. Best record in the NFL.

Atlanta Falcons
4-4 · 3rd in NFC South

Sunday's result: 27-25 win at New Orleans Saints

The rules state that there must be seven teams in the NFC postseason. So why not Atlanta?

That was actually my take heading into Week 8, and then the Falcons lost to the Panthers in a dreadful game. But with this being the NFL -- the wildest week-to-week league in sports -- Atlanta turned around and knocked off the rival Saints in New Orleans. With the Saints having just upended the defending champion Buccaneers. I love this madness.

And I love watching Matt Ryan return to vintage form, completing 77 percent of his passes for a season-high 343 yards and logging his first rushing touchdown of the season. Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson continued to be one of the best playmakers of 2021, saving the day with a 64-yard catch late in the fourth-quarter to deny New Orleans' frantic comeback attempt.

Atlanta is 4-4 and very much in play for the playoffs.


Carolina Panthers
4-5 · 4th in NFC South

Sunday's result: 24-6 loss vs. New England Patriots

It's not that I expected the Panthers to beat the Patriots, because I didn't. In fact, I assumed they'd lose by multiple scores, which they did. So what are we doing here? Well, on a day filled with stunning upsets, in a conference with a No. 7 seed that's completely up for grabs, Carolina is simply incapable of inspiring. That's a hard truth, especially when I think back to how I felt about this team in the offseason.

My worst prediction for the 2021 campaign was that Sam Darnold would become great under Joe Brady in Carolina. Instead, Darnold has been absolutely horrible. And on Sunday, he saw ghosts against a Bill Belichick defense once again, chucking three gruesome picks in a ghastly performance. Robby Anderson's had enough -- and so have I.

Minnesota Vikings
3-5 · T-2nd in NFC North

Sunday's result: 34-31 overtime loss at Baltimore Ravens

They had it. And they blew it.

You don't beat the Ravens in Baltimore. You don't beat the Ravens when they're fresh off a bye week. And you don't beat John Harbaugh on special teams. And yet, it was all happening, as Minnesota held two separate 14-point leads. Unfortunately, these are the 2021 Vikings, who find new, gut-wrenching ways to lose on a near-weekly basis.

Lamar Jackson caught fire and Baltimore won late in overtime. The Ravens ultimately set a franchise record with 36 first downs, putting up an even 500 yards in the process -- the highest total yielded by the Vikings this season. Minnesota excels at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. You wonder how many more of these kinds of losses Mike Zimmer can afford ...

Green Bay Packers
7-2 · 1st in NFC North

Sunday's result: 13-7 loss at Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs simply aren't that good right now, so the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers had their chances. But their special teams were brutal, with a missed field goal, a blocked field goal and a muffed punt -- all in the first half, gifting Kansas City a two-score lead by the break.

OK, let's stop beating around the bush: Jordan Love's first NFL start was a failure. The stat line was forgettable -- 19-for-34 for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception -- but his actual play was much worse. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo begged Love to beat him, relentlessly blitzing the second-year pro in a clear sign of disrespect. But Love couldn't make Kansas City pay, routinely looking overwhelmed by the moment. Nothing was cooking for the controversial 2020 first-rounder.

I hated Green Bay's approach in the 2020 NFL Draft -- trading up for a project quarterback instead of snagging a receiver like Michael Pittman or Tee Higgins was always an ill-conceived plan. Easiest first guess ever. Now the franchise has to smooth things over with its best player, so that he'll be open to staying around beyond this year. Because if Sunday's spot start was any indication, Love ain't it.


Buffalo Bills
5-3 · 1st in AFC East

Sunday's result: 9-6 loss at Jacksonville Jaguars

I don't want to hear about the refs, despite the fact that, yes, they were consistently inconsistent all day. Bottom line: The Bills went south and laid an egg.

It was gross. Josh Allen posted his worse passer rating (62.7) since 2019, giving the ball away three times. Meanwhile, the Jaguars' Josh Allen was a one-man wrecking crew. Josh Allen picked off Josh Allen. Josh Allen sacked Josh Allen. Josh Allen recovered a Josh Allen fumble. Yep, it was that kind of insane and wacky day.

Buffalo's inability to run was alarming. The Bills are my Super Bowl pick. They should've smelled blood for the AFC going through lovely Western New York in the wake of the Derrick Henry injury. Instead, it was Buffalo that stunk. Losing to the Jaguars with James Robinson injured is the epitome of ugliness.

Dallas Cowboys
6-2 · 1st in NFC East

Sunday's result: 30-16 loss vs. Denver Broncos

I thought the 2021 Cowboys were above this. Shame on me. Shame on them.

The Broncos -- fresh off trading one of the greatest players in franchise history, Von Miller -- went on the road and straight up punched Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in the face. That final score doesn't do this beatdown justice, as Denver led 30-0 halfway through the fourth quarter.

After missing Dallas' Week 8 win in Minnesota due to a calf strain, Dak retook the reins from Cooper Rush ... and looked awful. Having entered this game with a pristine completion rate of 73.2 percent, Prescott was only able to connect on 19 of his 39 throws. Inherently, this is what the Cowboys' first eight possessions produced: four punts, three turnovers on downs and one interception. Meanwhile, Dan Quinn's defense gave up a season-worst 190 rushing yards, with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon taking turns gashing the 'Boys.

With the Packers and Rams losing on Sunday, Dallas could have established itself as the biggest threat to top-seeded Arizona in the race for the first-round bye. But after the loss, the Cowboys hold the lowest slot of the division leaders at No. 4. These weren't supposed to be the same old Cowboys. They had been playing well in every phase during a six-game win streak. But Mike McCarthy's group just didn't show up to Jerry World on Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams
7-2 · 2nd in NFC West

Sunday's result: 28-16 loss vs. Tennessee Titans

In their first game without offensive engine Derrick Henry, the Titans marched into SoFi Stadium in prime time and clobbered the Rams on national television. Mike Vrabel's defense made Matthew Stafford look like he was back with the Lions, sacking the quarterback five times and picking him off twice on consecutive throws, with the latter returned for a touchdown. (In his first eight games as a Ram, Stafford took seven sacks and threw four INTs total.) Sean McVay's high-powered offense didn't score a touchdown until there were 24 seconds left in the game. And the Rams continually shot themselves in the foot, with 12 penalties for 115 yards -- the sloppiest effort of the McVay era.

The Rams are my pick in the NFC. Yep, I have them enjoying a home-field advantage on Super Bowl Sunday. But that certainly won't be the case if they replicate Sunday's lackluster effort.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter.

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