Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: Bills and Lions Highlight Early Season Surprises

After a month of play, it has become clear which football teams are going to be competing in the playoffs this winter and which teams are content with earning a high-draft pick.

The Patriots and the Chiefs are once again the top dogs in the American Football Conference and the Packers, the Saints and the Seahawks look like Super Bowl contenders in the National Football Conference.

There’s a lot of teams in the middle of the pack such as the Rams, the Eagles and the Colts, and of course there are the cellar-dwellers like the Miami Dolphins. It’s easy to put these teams into categories, but the Bills and Lions don’t seem to fit the bill because of how low expectations were going into the season.

Are the Bills for Real?

The Bills (4-1) fell to their arch-rival the New England Patriots last week but managed to force quarterback Tom Brady into one of the worst games of his career. The Bills flummoxed Brady and the Patriot offense throughout the entire game, holding Brady to only 150 yards and no touchdowns. 

Tom Brady had a dismal showing in Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, with zero touchdowns and only 150 yards. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Buffalo’s defense is a top three unit in the league, holding opponents to under 300 yards per game and keeps opponents under 16 points per game too, but this team has a fatal flaw and it happens to be their entire offense.

Can the Bills put together at least an average offense to compliment a Super Bowl level defense? QB Josh Allen shows flashes of being a franchise player at times, but then he performs like he did against the Patriots, throwing three terrible interceptions and 153 yards before being knocked out of the game by a helmet-to-helmet hit to start the fourth quarter. 

Allen is currently in the bottom third of QBs in the league when it comes to passer rating with a lowly 75.2 , which ranks above only one current starter. If the Bills had even an average quarterback they’d be Super Bowl contenders and it’s a shame that they will squander a phenomenal defensive effort due to poor QB play.

The Bills snuck into the playoffs a few years ago and could do it again this year, but it’s going to take a Herculean effort on defense to carry an anemic offense that cannot seem to get it going.

Is something big happening in Detroit?

Last season the Lions finished 6-10 under first year head coach Matt Patricia and generally looked bad all season despite upset wins over the Patriots and the Panthers.

This season looked like it was going to be a repeat after it started with a blown 18-point lead en route to a tie with the Arizona Cardinals, but back-to-back impressive wins over the LA Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles seemed to mark a change in the Lions’ hopes.

Last week the Lions faced offensive phenom Patrick Mahomes and held him almost completely in check. Detroit held Mahomes to 315 yards and no touchdowns, but in classic Lions fashion, lost the game in a heartbreaking way by giving up a one-yard rushing touchdown with 20 seconds left to play.

Despite the loss, the Lions have proved over the past few weeks that they can hang with anybody in the league. Detroit sits at 2-1-1, which isn’t the sexiest record, but they’ve played a tough schedule thus far.

Detroit had a bye this week and the next two weeks are must-win games against divisional opponents in Green Bay and at home against the Vikings. If the Lions take these two games then they are in a prime position to shock the league and take the division in a season where the Bears and Packers were both expected to contend for the playoffs.

In a league where consistent QB play is rare, Matt Stafford has been the anchor for Detroit. He’s a gunslinger and going to throw an interception or two but he’s going to throw for 300 yards and a few touchdowns almost every game.

The Lions rank in the top 10 in yards per game and also score at a similar rate with 24.3 points per game. Matt Patricia seems to be coming into his own as a head coach and this Lions team has as much potential as the Lions team from the 2014 season that fell in the NFC wild card.

The Rest of the Field

The Rams (3-2) have been one of the best teams in the NFC but they were upset at home last week by the lowly Buccaneers. LA’s vaunted defense gave up an outrageous 54 points to a Jameis Winston led offense which simply cannot happen. Winston almost had a career day in both yards and touchdowns with 385 yards and four touchdowns.

It’s strange to call a 500 yard passing game a bad one, but Rams QB Jared Goff threw three picks that the Bucs turned into points in another performance that makes his massive $134 million contract look progressively worse as the ink on it dries.

LA then followed it up with another tough loss, this time to Seattle on the road. Kicker Greg Zurelein missed a 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds on the clock which sealed the Rams’ fate and puts them at third place in the NFC West, a division the Rams were supposed to win with ease.

The legend of Gardner Minsher continues to grow. Minshew led the Jaguars back from a 17-6 deficit last week. He drove down the field in 90 seconds despite hobbling around on an injured ankle to set up Josh Lambo’s game-winning field goal as time expired.

More magic almost occurred this week as Minshew brought his team inside the Panthers’ 30 yard line, but a last-gasp pass was picked off by the Panthers. Minshew didn’t play his greatest game but the loveable QB continues to show why he was named the AFC rookie of the month.

The AFC South is wide open with all four teams being within a game of each other and the Jaguars could easily make a run for the division with this new-found energy from both the team and the fan base as they try to replicate their success from the 2017-18 season.

Super Bowl LI might have broken the Atlanta Falcons. “28-3” is always thrown around as a joke to Falcons fans but the franchise might really be cursed. Ever since that fateful night in Houston, the Falcons have not looked the same. Matt Ryan is a shell of his former self and the defense is terrible. 

The Falcons sit at 1-4 and might already be out of the race. Every team in the NFC South has started to play much better football since week three. The Saints are thriving without Drew Brees, Carolina is finding some success without Cam Newton, and the Buccaneers are still hanging around despite a loss to the Saints this week.

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