Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 7 to Week 8.
The best game of this NFL season took place while the rest of the country was watching Landry Jones.
As the thinkpieces continue to pour in about declining TV ratings and low-quality play, I offer my NFL overlords one easy solution: Put the Chargers' episodic melodrama on national television every week. It's a guaranteed recipe to see prime talent on both sides of the ball and a wild ending -- or your money back. Throw the Falcons on as much as possible while you're at it.
Philip Rivers' 17-point comeback in Atlanta featured incredible throws under duress, electric running from both teams and far more defensive highlights than the 33-30 final indicates. It had roughly 27 "this game is over unless the Chargers convert" moments. It also included two teams that will matter by season's end.
The Chargers and Falcons have combined for a 7-7 record, yet I'm more convinced than ever that both teams will be major factors when the drama of late December plays out. Bill Parcells lied. In a league where the Texans and Bucs currently combine for a 7-6 mark, you aren't always what your record says you are.
Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and a running attack that looks like a choreographed dance aren't going anywhere. Despite their injuries, the Chargers still have a top-five quarterback, multiple breakout players (Denzel Perryman, Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams) and a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Joey Bosa. They also showed incredible heart Sunday.
Watch Rivers deliver strikes on third-and-long under intense pressure, or watch Perryman knife into the backfield, or watch Gordon bounce off tacklers, or watch Antonio Gates grab a game-saving pass on fourth down, and then challenge me about this group's mental toughness. They have played like a top-10 team all along that is finding its right level.
It's somehow fitting in this snakebit NFL season full of Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley in prime time that so few people watched Chargers-Falcons. The good football is out there; you just have to know where to look.
Storylines that deserve more attention
1)Chiefs return man/receiver extraordinaire Tyreek Hill is an indie Game Pass star who is ready to hit the pop charts after his long, left-handed touchdown grab Sunday against New Orleans. Hill makes at least one incredible play every week, which has me re-thinking those Dante Hall comparisons. Hill might never be that kind of return man (who is?), but he has a lot more potential than Hall did as an offensive piece. Football is a far different game now than it was in Hall's early-2000s heyday, and the Chiefs are going to use Hill's vertical skills and ability in space.
2) Here's a hot take written 11,000 meters above the Atlantic Ocean on the way back from London: Todd Gurley bears some responsibility for his lack of big plays. The Rams' running back has carried the ball 134 times without a single run over 16 yards this season. There have been some creases over the last two weeks and moments where Gurley gets to the second level of the defense, but the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year hasn't broken free.
This is not to say that the Rams' line and scheme aren't mostly at fault for Gurley's struggles. They are. But it can also be true that Gurley is not playing as well this season as he did in 2015, for whatever reason. Cardinals back David Johnson would have broken some of these runs -- and he would not have been on the sideline in the crucial drive of Sunday's game in favor of Benny Cunningham.
This week's biggest winners
1) Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles re-signed pass rusher Vinny Curry in the offseason to a deal much bigger than the one Graham earned in 2015. Curry now plays 20 defensive snaps per game, while Graham has been the best player on a Philadelphia defense that could have three to four Pro Bowlers. Graham's six-QB hit performance Sunday was another standout day in his breakout season.
2) Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: Your latest reminder that the NFL season is rather long. Available on fantasy football waiver wires for weeks afterArian Foster's injury, Ajayi is now seventh in the league in rushing after becoming only the fourth player in league history to top 200 rushing yards in consecutive games. It has been a joy to watch this bowling ball picking up speed, especially from Ajayi's native UK. Dolphins-Bills was the early national game in London in part because of Miami's enduring popularity from the 1980s -- and hopefully in part because of Ajayi. I expect to see a lot more Ajayi jerseys next time my bosses send me, which can't come soon enough. (But it might be never.)
3) The Indianapolis Colts: The only AFC South team to win this week knows that it still has the best quarterback -- by far -- in the division.
The real key to the Bizarro Giants
The Giants spent nearly $200 million this offseason, but the key to fixing their defense was already paid for. Landon Collins, second-year strong safety has been a striking departure from the rookie free safety who wore the same jersey a season ago.
Dubbed London Collins in the press room following the Giants' bruising victory in the "cathedral of rugby" on Sunday, Collins didn't need to author one of the plays of the season to be considered for midseason All-Pro teams. The play can't hurt, however, to bring attention to his incredible transformation, which mirrors that of his entire secondary.
Collins, who seemed out of place in space as a rookie, has been freed up in Year 2 to play closer to the line of scrimmage thanks to the improvement in personnel around him. That's usually where his punishing hits drew audible "Ohhhs!" from a Twickenham Stadium crowd that appreciated physical play.
"This is my game," Collins said in the afterglow Sunday. "I love the game, love the game of football."
It wasn't even the best performance I watched from Collins last week. Turn on the Coaches Film on Game Pass for his Week 6 game against Baltimore, as I did, and you'll see that it looks like there are two Collins on every play. His instincts, range and zeal were on full display as he notched 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
With Janoris Jenkins performing like a true No. 1 cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not too far behind and rookie Eli Apple back in the mix, this Giants' secondary ranks among the best in football. The unit has carried an ugly New York offense to a 4-3 record in a turnaround just as drastic as the one made by Collins.
This week's biggest losers
1) The Giants' running game:Giants coach Ben McAdoo has the same amount of confidence in his running game as I do in Ben McAdoo's barber. McAdoo called his team "tough and physical" after Sunday's win, but they are the opposite on offense. The Giants have run for 117 yards in their last three games COMBINED.
I could come up with a million stats about how insane that is, so let's just pick one. How about ... There have been 15 single-game performances by running backs over the last three weeks that exceed the entire Giants' team output over that span, including one by Jacquizz Rodgers. The Giants have failed so often in short-yardage situations that third-and-1 is now a passing down. It's hard to watch.
2) Buffalo's AFC East hopes: They kept their heads up through an avalanche of injuries, but the Bills learned Sunday that running back LeSean McCoy is the one player they can't live without. Now they might have to win without him against the Patriotsin Week 8 -- or fall three games back in the division at midseason.
3) Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans:Monday was the night when doubt had to start truly creeping in for the Texans and Osweiler about whether they both made a big mistake. With boos raining down and completions rarely surpassing 5 yards, we wouldn't blame Osweiler for wondering how well he might be doing if he just took John Elway's aggressive offer to stay in Denver's QB-friendly confines.
Coach Bill O'Brien's offense is far worse this season with more talent and there's no doubt the quarterback is the primary reason why. It's worth noting that Osweiler's four-year, "72 million" contract is essentially a two-year, $37 million deal. The Texans will get out of it after 2018 if this continues. It's also worth noting O'Brien's hand-picked, second-year pro Tom Savage looked good in the preseason.
Narratives that were busted
1) This is shaping up to be the Saints offense that doesn't wither on the road. The historical home/road splits are dramatic -- even with Sunday's 463-yard offensive output in Kansas City factored in, New Orleans has scored 9.2 fewer points and gained 61.2 fewer yards per game on the road than at home since 2013 -- but this Saints offense is quietly improving each week. Drew Brees' protection has stabilized, and the line got impressive push in Arrowhead despite the offense mounting just 10 drives. After New Orleans failed to crack the top seven in scoring the past two seasons, don't be shocked if the 2016 Saints -- who currently rank third in the NFL -- lead the league.
Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead form one of the best wide receiver trios in football, and perhaps the best one Brees has ever played with. It's safe to stop calling Cooks the team's "No. 1 receiver" when all three players, who are all 24 or younger, have such diverse skill sets and significant talent. If anything, Thomas might pass Cooks in the pecking order before long.
2) So much for the Chiefs transitioning to a running attack led by a newly healthy Jamaal Charles. Charles -- being eased back into action after tearing his ACL last October -- asked for his "training wheels" to come off two weeks ago, but then the Chiefs became concerned with some knee swelling heading into the matchup with the Saints. The NFL's all-time leading running back in yards per carry was the third Chiefs running back off the bench against New Orleans, recording just one carry. Spencer Ware has earned the workhorse role and Charcandrick West is a fine third-down back, but something clearly isn't right with Charles. The crazy part, just like when Ware and West stepped up in his absence a year ago, is that the Chiefs don't particularly need him.
Really big issues for really good teams
1) Minnesota's tackles:Sam Bradford managing to win despite terrible pass protection is only a cool story if the pass protection eventually improves. Instead, it looks like it's getting worse after Bradford was hit 16 (!) times in a loss to Philadelphia's blitz-happy group. There are no easy answers here -- except for those to be found by opposing defensive coordinators looking to follow Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's model.
2) The Eagles' passing game: It's hard not to notice the Eagles have combined for 283 passing yards the last two weeks. Yards can be overrated, but the Eaglesrank 28th in total offense. The offensive line hasn't been the same since suspended tackleLane Johnson left. Jason Peters and Jason Kelce haven't been the same this season, period. Throw in a lackluster wideout group, and it's a lot for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to deal with.
3) Pittsburgh's race against time: Any win the Steelers can get with Landry Jones at quarterback will count double. Jones showed Sunday he's capable of pulling it off if the team plays well around him. The Week 9 showdown with the Ravens will help shape the AFC North race.
4) Arizona's upcoming schedule: Six of Arizona's final nine games are on the road, and none of them are cakewalks. The 3-3-1 Cardinals didn't take advantage of their early home-heavy schedule.