Are the NFL's strongest teams getting stronger?
The timing couldn't be better for a depleted Green Bay squad that played without three key defensive players on Sunday. With two weeks to heal, Aaron Rodgers' offensive attack has a chance to start clicking on all cylinders again if Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery can shake their ankle injuries.
Denver is expected to welcomeDeMarcus Ware back during the bye week after the All Pro pass rusher missed Sunday's game with a back strain. Ware's return takes on more importance with rookie linebacker Shane Ray out 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain. In an ideal world, Peyton Manning will also use the break to jumpstart an offense that went 27 consecutive possessions without a touchdown.
Having avoided major injuries thus far, Cincinnati's roster might just be the most loaded in the entire league. While the offense has stolen the spotlight, the defense could get a Pro Bowl-level boost in the second half of the season. Hard-hitting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the tone-setter and leading tackler when healthy, is eligible to be activated from the reserve/PUP list for the Bengals' next game.
The first half of the season is about figuring out optimum playing style and grinding out wins. Once the best teams find their identities, they use November and December to separate from the pack and fine-tune for a postseason run.
- Newton has enjoyed some great moments in his young career. He helped beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football in 2013, and had a game-winning drive to win the NFC South that year. But we believe his back-to-back touchdown drives to steal this game in Seattle qualifies as the most impressive moment of his career. He delivered dart after dart with 162 yards in the fourth quarter, often slicing through tight coverage with heaters through the seams of the Seahawks defense.
The book is out on this great Seahawks secondary. You are going to beat this single high defense up the middle or you won't beat them at all. They are vulnerable to high-level tight ends. Thomas hasn't enjoyed his best season.
- At 2-4, the Seahawks have some serious ground to make up, but they have a lot to build off offensively from this game. Marshawn Lynch looked like his old despite only rushing for 54 yards, and Jimmy Graham easily had his best day in Seattle, showing off all his athleticism for 140 yards and a score. Note to Panthers: Stop trying to cover Graham with Roman Harper.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- For all of the offseason hype over the Dallas Cowboys' vaunted offensive line, Cincinnati boasts the best blocking unit in the league. Dalton went untouched against Rex Ryan's talent-laden defensive line, picking apart an above-average secondary en route to a 118.6 passer rating. The Bills are known for taking away No. 1 receivers, so Dalton turned to Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard for big plays with physical cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby tying up A.J. Green. Led by Dalton's pick-your-poison offense, the Bengals are 6-0 for the third time in franchise history (1975, 1988). They have never started a season with seven consecutive wins.
- A well-placed Bills source told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport that EJ Manuelcould push an injured Tyrod Taylor for the starting quarterback job with an impressive performance on Sunday. Even if the coaching staff is frustrated that Taylor isn't tall enough to consistently find Sammy Watkins in the middle of the field, Manuel's performance served as a useful reminder that he simply isn't a starting-caliber quarterback. His ball placement and field vision are among the league's worst. After an opening-drive touchdown, Manuel tossed an interception and oversaw three three-and-outs while Dalton ran away with the game.
- For an alleged No. 1 receiver publicly campaigning for more targets, Watkins pulls too many disappearing acts -- whether that's due to injury, subpar quarterback play or shaky route running. While beating blown coverage for a 22-yard touchdown just before halftime, Watkins suffered a sprained ankle that landed him on crutches for the second half. The Bills might be without Taylor and Watkins for next week's game at Jacksonville.
-- Chris Wesseling
- This was Manning's worst game of the season despite hitting some throws downfield. He was picked off three times, with two being mental errors. He's telegraphing passes and defenders are sitting on the short stuff. Manning ended 27 straight drives without an offensive touchdown on a great throw to Emmanuel Sanders, but he wasted that play with only one first down and an ugly overtime interception in the next four drives. Feel free to mock anyone this week who says Manning is "doing enough to win."
- This was the full Josh McCown Experience and it was mostly ugly. He randomly put together two touchdown drives full of contested catches, but the game was mostly filled with three-and-outs and off-target throws. The Browns were past midfield with under a minute left and he throw one of the worst picks of the year under pressure. He said he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds, but it didn't get there. The Browns were given the ball nearly in field goal range early in overtime, and the offense moved 18 yards backwards after McCown took two sacks.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- Matthew Stafford played a fantastic first half after being benched last week, throwing three touchdowns. Finally getting protection, Stafford looked comfortable and at his best playing playground football. For the first time in weeks, he didn't stare at the pass rush and made throws under pressure. The signal-caller began to crumble in the second half as the Lions reverted to their obnoxious horizontal offense, including a horrific flip pass for an interception. Stafford's big throws late in the fourth quarter and on the game-winning drive were reminiscent of his end-game magic from in 2014.
- The Bears used three second-half turnovers to put up 18 points. Jay Cutler continues to look comfortable in Adam Gase's offense. His mobility in the pocket flashes each week. In Detroit, he elluded multiple rushes for big plays down field. Still, it was a sloppy game for Chicago's offense. Cutler threw a terrible end zone pick and long drives continually stalled in the red zone. Chicago left a ton of points on the field.
- Lions fans wanted to see Calvin Johnson targeted deep more. They finally got their wish Sunday with Megatron seeing multiple deep shots, including a 57-yarder in overtime to set up the win. There is no excuse for Detroit not to give Johnson chances to make big plays downfield. It was Megatron's first 100-yard game of the season (six catches for 166 yards, TD)
-- Kevin Patra
- This game featured two of the NFL's most acrobatic catch-point receivers in Hopkins and Jacksonville's Allen Robinson. It was Hopkins who stole the show as the best player on the field, pulling off a series of circus plays including a 32-yard "helmet" catch that set up his own 9-yard touchdown. With 15 more targets, Hopkins now has 89, more at this point in the season than any wide receiver since 1991. "Nuk" is now on pace for a mind-boggling 139 receptions, 1,936 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.
- Speaking of impressive numbers, Blake Bortles already has more touchdown passes (13) in six games than he had in the entirety of his rookie season (11). He's on pace for 4,350 yards, 35 touchdowns and 19 interceptions with the Jaguars' offense moving the ball more efficiently than they have since 2007. Although it's evident that Bortles has made strides in accuracy, reading defenses and working through progressions, his back-breaking mistakes are killing his team in the win column. Bortles tossed an interception at the goal-line just before halftime, uncorked his sixth pick-six in 19 career games and missed at least two receivers running free for potential game-altering plays.
- It's fair to point out that Brian Hoyer had the advantage of Arian Foster helping him move the chains against an underwhelming defense, but he's simply a better quarterback than Ryan Mallett. He's more accurate, has much better touch and makes better decisions. Hoyer's 119.3 passer rating for Sunday's game is the second-best of his career and the highest of any Texans quarterback since Ryan Fitzpatrick's six-touchdown performance generated a 147.5 rating last November.
-- Chris Wesseling
- The Chiefs, as expected, are in serious trouble on offense with Jamaal Charles. The team went over four quarters of game time across two weeks before scoring their first points without their star running back on the field. Neither Charcandrick West (3.7 YPC) or Knile Davis (2.6 YPC) established themselves as an efficient next man up. West's fourth-quarter fumble was a momentum slayer.
-- Dan Hanzus
- How much patience can Jay Gruden have in Kirk Cousins? The quarterback threw two ugly interceptions and averaged less than five yards per attempt (i.e. life in the dreaded Gabbert Zone). Playing without playmakers and DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed doesn't help matters, but Washington's offense could use a spark. Do they dare take RGIII out of bubblewrap?
-- Dan Hanzus
- The Mike Vick experiment might be over in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were outgained 279 yards to 59 in the first half, with the Steelers backup quarterback operating as a three-and-out machine for an offense that generated just one passing yard over the first two quarters. Vick was examined for a head injury in the first half and sidelined with a hamstring injury in the second, thrusting Landry Jones into action. The third-stringer threw a quick, 8-yard touchdown strike to Martavis Bryant before guiding Pittsburgh to five straight scores. After watching Jones (8-of-12 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns) use more of the playbook and wake up this sleepy attack, it's fair to wonder if he'll get the start over Vick next week.
- What a weird outing for the Cardinals' offense. Carson Palmer piled up 421 yards passing, but Arizona struggled to translate real estate into points. The Cardinals had plenty of chances to pull away from the Steelers, but fell victim to three costly turnovers and more than a few errant passes from Palmer. We saw Arizona's big-play ability with completions of 18, 32, 44 and 45 yards, but Palmer killed the team with a disastrous lob into double coverage that wound up in the arms of Steelers safety Mike Mitchell.
- With Vick flailing, Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher stacked the box to shut down Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers back looked mortal against seven-man boxes, but that changed with Jones in the game. With the newbie passer testing the Cardinals downfield and making better use of Antonio Brown, Bell came to life for 88 yards, most all off it coming in the second half.
-- Marc Sessler
- Rivers was surgical, carving up Football Outsiders' top-ranked pass defense with Steve Johnson inactive. He and Keenan Allen made beautiful music together for three quarters, putting the Bolts' No. 1 wideout on the doorstep of Kellen Winslow's franchise record for receptions before a hip injury forced Allen to miss the fourth quarter. Rivers drove the length of the field in a picture-perfect two-minute drill only to be denied on four consecutive tries from inside Green Bay's 3-yard line. Rookie Damarious Randall deflected a fourth-down pylon pass for Danny Woodhead to preserve the victory.
- The bye week is coming at the ideal time for the Packers, 6-0 for just the second time in the Super Bowl era. The defense suffered without key players in B.J. Raji, Morgan Burnett and Nick Perry. Just days after Aaron Rodgers conceded that his offense is struggling, it was evident that his skill-position surrounding talent is simply too banged up.
It's simplistic to point to Jordy Nelson's absence as a lethal deep threat and boundary receiver. Also missing breakout candidateDavante Adams and tight end Andrew Quarless, Rodgers saw Ty Montgomery go down with an ankle sprain in the first quarter. At one point in the first half, Rodgers' red-zone weapons included Jared Abbrederis and Justin Perillo, a duo which had combined for one career snap entering the game. With James Jones and Randall Cobb playing through injuries, Richard Rodgers unable to make big plays in tight spaces and Jeff Janis unable to provide the back-shoulder magic to which he's accustomed, Rodgers went 20 minutes without a first down across the second and third quarters.
- If the aerial attack is limping into the bye week, Eddie Lacy is stumbling. Thoroughly outplayed by James Starks on Sunday, Lacy continues to look sluggish and ineffective. We know that he's an excellent football player when he's healthy and in shape. Whether it's the tender ankle or too much weight on his frame, Lacy has to get right over the next 12-13 days with road trips versus fellow undefeated squads such as Denver and Carolina on the horizon in Weeks 8 and 9.
-- Chris Wesseling
- The constant, seemingly unconscious switch between the loud, boisterous head coach and the quiet, cerebral head coach rolls on for yet another turn. The fiery Dan Campbell had the Dolphins' defense thumping this week with five first-half sacks, including four for Cameron Wake. If nothing else, it's clear that there was a rift among the defensive coaches inside the building in regard to how Miami should utilize its pass rushers. Playing an injured Marcus Mariota during the same week when the Titans' starting center breaks his leg and the right tackle gets himself benched also helps.
- Speaking of Mariota, there is a fine line between asking a player to gut through an injury and putting a quarterback in danger of a long-term issue. This is not on par with the Robert Griffin III playoff decision. Not even close. But at what point do you think twice about the scenario Mariota was in? Kudos to the No. 2 overall pick who was swarmed -- in his first 22 dropbacks, he was sacked five times and hit eight -- but still completed some big passes flat-footed. His effort, especially a scoring drive to end the third quarter, was downright heroic. Zach Mettenberger ended up playing the final two minutes, but by then, the Titans were lucky it was just by choice.
- On the technical side, Campbell made some rookie coaching mistakes, but nothing that drastically changed the outcome of the game. He and his special teams coordinator called a panicked timeout toward the end of the first half just to set up a faux fourth-down conversion attempt in which they tried to draw the Titans offsides. This is a minor touch of gray here, as Campbell's presence has, at least in the short term, invigorated the players and galvanized the defense. Also, Ken Whisenhunt challenged a non-reviewable play and he's been a head coach for quite some time.
-- Conor Orr
- The Patriots never did make it up to the 60 points that Tom Sr. was hoping for, but they did subdue the Colts, thanks to an all-around dominant second-half performance. Tom Brady didn't take the Colts defense out to slaughter, but he did splice their coverage thoroughly, completing on-the-nose balls to his most reliable receivers at the right time. The turning point in the game came right after halftime with the Patriots down one point. With Colts safety Mike Adams, who had troubled Brady earlier in the game, out with an injury, Brady immediately threw in the direction of Rob Gronkowski, whom Adams had been shadowing. Gronkowski, who hadn't caught a ball in the first half, split the Colts defense twice for 35 yards on the drive and scored the eventual go-ahead touchdown. New England never looked back and remained undefeated.
- Andrew Luck's return from a shoulder injury proved to be a seamless transition toward normalcy for the Colts...for one half. Luck came firing out of the gate, starting 7-for-7 on a perfect opening scoring drive. However, after that, the effects of his injury became apparent. Luck frequently overthrew receivers in the middle of the field, even sailing the ball past Patriots safeties. Luck finished with pretty numbers -- 30-for-50, 312 yards, three TDs -- but missed many opportunities to convert because of his poor accuracy. Consider Sunday night a step in the right direction for the All-Pro, and only that.
- LeGarrette Blount is the new Jonas Gray, just like Jonas Gray was once the new LeGarrette Blount. Running backs in New England, like fashion and the seasons, are endlessly cyclical -- they replace each other over and again until they are indistinguishable. With Dion Lewis nowhere to be found in the running game, Blount took most of the carries and finished with another banner day -- 93 yards, two total TDs. The Hoodie's running back game plan is a chameleon, changing color and form to fit each coming opponent, so there's no saying whether Blount will be the work horse from here on out. Just look what happened to Gray, if you can find him.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Leave it to Baltimore's secondary to turn Colin Kaepernick into a functional quarterback. After throwing for less than 170 yards in three games this season, Kaepernick lit up the Ravens with a 76-yard touchdown strike to Torrey Smith and helped fullback Bruce Miller to a single-game career-best 89 yards off three grabs. Kaepernick (16-of-27 passing for 340 yards with two scores) still fails to see the entire field, but he made plays against the blitz and wasn't afraid to take chances against a generous defensive backfield.
- It feels like the same thing every week for Baltimore's offense. After the defense puts them in a hole, Joe Flacco is forced to unleash a rash of passes in hopes of keeping up. The Ravens quarterback guided a flat attack in the first half before opening the third quarter with an ugly pick thrown off his back foot. The resilient Flacco rebounded with a beautiful 34-yard touchdown strike to Steve Smith and nearly brought the Ravens back, but Sunday was another reminder of how depleted this offense is. Outside of Smith, not a single receiver had more than 40 yards on the day. The team could only watch as former Baltimore targets Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin piled up 198 combined yards for the Niners.
-- Marc Sessler