The NFL’s first six weeks were marked by confusion and uncertainty. Are the Browns/Chargers/Dolphins actually good? Are the Eagles/Vikings/Jaguars actually bad? But Week 7’s slate seems to have solved some of the puzzle, with no major upsets or complete surprises. We’ll see how long this peace lasts.
The top of the AFC is becoming less and less of an unknown. The Bengals had their shot to leap into the discussion with a win on the road against Kansas City in prime time but came up woefully short, losing 45-10.
Unfortunately, Marvin Lewis’ team was on the receiving end of what happens when the best offense in the league finally gets a competent showing from its defense. KC was able to consistently pressure Andy Dalton, as linebacker Dee Ford continues a career year.
Despite surrendering the highest yards per game in the NFL, Kansas City somehow remains one of the best third-down defenses after allowing only four out of 11 conversions to the Bengals offense. With All-Pro safety Eric Berry set to return from injury in the coming weeks, the Chiefs are only looking more dangerous as the year continues.
The other AFC teams in the mix for a first-round playoff bye (Patriots, Chargers) took care of business against clearly worse teams in Week 7. New England rallied back from a 17-7 hole created by two early fumbles to eventually hold a two-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter.
It took all 60 minutes for Los Angeles to put away its opponents in London, defending a 20-19 lead as Tennessee attempted a 2-point try for the win in the waning seconds of the fourth. The Rams just have to thank their lucky stars that Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had never heard of a quarterback read-option.
Meanwhile, in the NFC, the Panthers and the Saints earned hard-fought victories and proved their mettle on the road against legitimately tough opponents.
Carolina entered the fourth quarter down 17-0 and completed the franchise’s best comeback in history to win 21-17 in Philadelphia with three impressive touchdown drives, each 69 yards or longer. Quarterback Cam Newton came alive in the fourth as a pocket passer, which is something that the Panthers will need moving forward.
Drew Brees threw his 500th career touchdown pass in a 24-23 win over the Ravens that featured some of the NFL’s trademark kicker drama. Quarterback Joe Flacco continued his above-average play through the first six weeks, completing a successful two-minute drill while down seven to seemingly tie the game.
But, stunningly, the most reliable kicker in the game could not come through. Justin Tucker, the kicker who had not missed an extra point in either his NFL or college career, struck the attempt that seemed on track to go straight down the uprights but magically veered right at the very end.
Fortunately for the Ravens, there is not a clear-cut first-place team in the AFC North. All three of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh could win the division, and the second-place team will be in strong position for a wild-card spot.
Dev Navani writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].