Week 4 Recap: Bring on the Cardinals-Bills Super Bowl!
The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0. The Buffalo Bills have outscored their last three opponents 118-21. The NFL remains a delightfully unpredictable league.
Oh, the Bills' success was predictable enough, but some of us may have been sleeping on them since they were upset by the Steelers in the season opener. Since then, the Bills have been just about as great as a football team can be, with two shutouts in three weeks. Their strength of schedule is a little iffy, but Washington and the Dolphins entered the season as playoff hopefuls. When the Patriots of the 2010s started the season clobbering opponents by an average score of 39-7, even with an upset sprinkled in, we rarely quibbled about how many of those opponents were the Jets.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, smoked the Los Angeles Rams in a way that few saw coming in Sunday's 37-20 victory. We knew the Cardinals could generate explosive plays on offense and rack up sacks on defense. But who knew they could run effectively and sustain drives against a solid defense despite the absence of two of their starting offensive linemen? Who expected them to consistently make stops on third-and-medium against an offense that entered the week averaging 31.7 points per game?
Kyler Murray may have taken that Josh Allen third-year leap we have heard so much about. A.J. Green still has something left in the tank now that he has escaped Cincinnati. Byron Murphy is having a heckuva year at cornerback. Kliff Kingsbury appears to have outgrown last year's play-calling doldrums. There's a lot we're still learning about the 2021 Cardinals. But those oddly-shaped pieces they have been collecting over the last three years are falling into place, and the puzzle is starting to look like the picture on the box.
Walkthrough isn't sold on the Cardinals just yet. They have made too many long field goals, while opponents have missed too many short ones. Their conference and division are so competitive that they will have no margin for error. And the Cardinals may just need their paint to dry a little more. In some ways, they look a little like the Bills in 2019 or 2020: a team growing into an all-new role as contenders. In others ways, they look as though they are not put together for the long haul -- they have lots of veterans who will reach free agency next year, and not much 2022 cap space -- meaning they may need to catch lightning in a bottle right now.
The Bills, on the other hand, may have taken the final step toward the Super Bowl in a bunch of windy/rainy 1 p.m. games near the bottom of the satellite channel lineup. We'll know more about them when they face the Chiefs next week.
A Bills-Cardinals Super Bowl feels as likely now as a Chiefs-Buccaneers rematch or any other permutation which may have been popular when experts and casual fans alike were making their preseason projections. Of course there's a ton of football left to be played. But the fact that the Bills and Cardinals look like the best teams in their conferences right now is what makes watching and covering the NFL so damn much fun.
Walkthrough expected the Cardinals to cash a reality check in Week 4. Instead, they handed one to the Rams. Let's take a quick look at the three teams that went from 3-0 to 3-1 on Sunday.
Los Angeles Rams (lost 37-20 to Arizona Cardinals)
Matthew Stafford went back to being a solid/capable starting quarterback, not the second coming of Dan Marino we saw in the first three weeks. The Cardinals poked holes in the Rams' deficiencies at linebacker and at cornerback opposite Jalen Ramsey. Most importantly, the Rams generated just three plays over 20 yards and none longer than 35 yards while playing catchup in the second half.
None of the Rams' problems on Sunday are significant red flags just yet. But it was interesting to see them turn into the team Walkthrough entered the season thinking they would be, at least for one week.
The Good News: After the Rams get past the Seahawks, they have a Giants-Lions-Texans vacation scheduled. The Rams will be at least 6-2 entering November.
Carolina Panthers (lost 36-28 to Dallas Cowboys)
The Panthers defense didn't look quite so devastating against an opponent with real weapons and enough balance to slow their pass rush. Sam Darnold was able to extend drives and score touchdowns with his newfound scrambling ability, but he also took too many sacks and threw a pair of interceptions that would have looked mighty familiar to Jets fans. The Panthers appear to be much better than they were last year but are clearly not nearly as good as they looked when stomping through the daisies in September.
The Good News: The Panthers should be able to go at least 2-2, and probably 3-1, against the Eagles, Vikings, Giants, and Falcons (the first two games at home) over the next month,
Denver Broncos (lost 23-7 to Baltimore Ravens)
Everyone's injured, including Teddy Bridgewater, who left Sunday's loss with a concussion.
The Good News: Bridgewater could be back next week against the Steelers, who stink. That's about it for Broncos good news, really. They're incapable of moving the ball without receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler and are back to just being a second-quartile-at-best defense without Bradley Chubb, Ronald Darby, and others.
Game Spotlight: Kansas City Chiefs 42, Philadelphia Eagles 30
What happened: In his return to Philly, in a successful bid to become the first NFL coach to win 100 games with two different franchises, Andy Reid chose to embrace … normalcy.
The Chiefs ran the ball 32 times for 200 yards, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushing for 102 yards. They stayed ahead of the sticks with a balanced, semi-conservative attack, going 9-of-10 on third downs. Their bend-but-don't-break defense did what it says on the label. It was touch-and-go for a while, but the Chiefs kept driving for touchdowns while forcing the Eagles to settle for field goals.
A Tyreek Hill bomb late in the fourth quarter punctuated an 11-186-3 afternoon for the Cheetah and a five-touchdown effort by Patrick Mahomes. Playing things a little safer didn't make the Chiefs any less explosive.
What it Means: Breathe easier, Chiefs. But not that much easier.
Jalen Hurts threw for 387 yards, and not much of that production came in true garbage time. The Eagles were able to drive into scoring position all afternoon. They nearly cut the Chiefs lead to 35-30 late in the fourth quarter, but DeVonta Smith stepped out of bounds before scoring an apparent touchdown. The Chiefs defense still has issues that better opponents will exploit, while Mahomes threw yet another tryin'-to-do-too-much interception. So despite the victory, the Chiefs have not solved all of their early-season problems.
Still, Reid's willingness to run the ball against depleted boxes and to be a little more traditional was an encouraging sign. Downshifting into ball-control mode can help the Chiefs make sure they win the games they're supposed to win this season. And there are lots of games on the upcoming schedule that they are supposed to win. Though not necessarily the next one.
What's Next: Brady-versus-New England was like New Year's Eve: amateur night for JV partiers. When the Chiefs host the Bills next week, it's gonna be Mardi Gras in October.
Also, the Eagles visit the Panthers.
Falling off the Back of the Chase
While the Chiefs improved to 2-2, some lesser would-be contenders fell to 1-3. They now risk falling off the back of a highly competitive chase for a wild-card spot.
Pittsburgh Steelers (lost 27-17 to Green Bay Packers)
No one in the Steelers organization wants to be the bad guy who benches Ben Roethlisberger. No one in the organization wanted to be the bad guy who sought a successor when one was clearly needed this offseason, either. The Steelers are what happens when a team doubles down on a bad decision. The Browns and Ravens are about to leave them in their wake.
Minnesota Vikings (lost 14-7 to the Cleveland Browns)
The Vikings went 5-of-16 on third downs, 1-of-3 on fourth downs. They settled for five three-and-outs while allowing 184 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per rush, so they rarely had the ball in the second or third quarters. They were in this game until the final drive, thanks in part to several Baker Mayfield misfires to open receivers, yet they felt strangely out of this game from the moment the Browns took an 8-7 lead.
The Vikings aren't really terrible at anything, but they are not very good at anything either. For their plan to blandly hover around .500 and earn the final wild-card berth to bear fruit this year, they needed to be at least 2-2 at this point. Now they may have fallen behind too many similar teams.
Miami Dolphins (lost 27-17 to Indianapolis Colts)
The Dolphins offense has no clue whatsoever what to do when it's behind the sticks: if they don't gain at least 6 yards on first down, they might as well punt on second down. The offense's inability to sustain drives means that the defense is on the field forever (37 minutes and 9 seconds on Sunday) and appears to be pressing to make too much happen.
Lieutenant Tua Tagovailoa (definitely not a captain) is expected back by Week 6 against the Jaguars. That might help, except: A) the Dolphins will lose to the Buccaneers next week; and B) there's no evidence that Tua is a significant upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, even though Brissett is playing a lot like the non-magic version of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Overrated Game of the Millennium Spotlight: Buccaneers 19, Patriots 17
What Happened: Tom Brady discovered that it's really hard for an opponent to win in Foxboro. The conditions are often miserable. The crowd noise is intense. Calls tend to tilt in the Patriots' favor.
Welcome to how the other half has lived for 20 years, big guy.
Brady and the Buccaneers offense never established any rhythm. Mac Jones stood in against nonstop Buccaneers blitzes and completed 19 straight passes at one point. Ultimately, Brady's final drive ended with a 48-yard Ryan Succop field goal, while the Patriots' final drive ended with Nick Folk doinking a 56 yarder off the left upright.
What it Means: Despite being loaded with receiving weapons, the Buccaneers missed Rob Gronkowski, who is expected to miss several games with a rib injury. The loss of Carlton Davis (quad) left the Bucs thin at cornerback, and Richard Sherman doesn't appear to be fully integrated into the defense just yet. Long story short: the Bucs are coping with injuries, something they avoided last year, and it's making them look somewhat mortal. They remain top contenders, of course, but they are in a pack with the Packers, Cardinals, Rams, and Cowboys, not at the front of that pack.
Jones did a fine job reading blitzes, standing in under the rush, and extending drives. The Patriots defense remains stout. Foxboro remains a tough place to play, in part because the refs remain a little loose when calling pass interference against Patriots opponents and forgiving when a Patriots tackle flinches in his stance late in the fourth quarter. That said, 1-3 speaks for itself, and the Patriots look more like an upgraded version of the Dolphins than a team ready to challenge the top AFC contenders.
What's Next: We all spend 24 hours thinking about what Brady's victory over the Patriots really means for us as a 21st century society. Then the Buccaneers face the Dolphins (Patriots Lite) while the Patriots visit the Texans (Patriots Extra Skunked).
Upset Spotlight: New York Giants 27, New Orleans Saints 21 (OT)
What Happened: The Giants were noodling along, minding their own business, settling for field goal attempts inside the 20 and searching for a way to lose another dreary game. They were trailing 20-7 in the fourth quarter when the Saints suddenly began malfunctioning on both sides of the ball. Saquon Barkley's 53-yard touchdown bomb from Daniel Jones cut the Saints lead, a crisp 59-yard two-minute drill to set up a Graham Gano field goal erased it, and the Giants overcame a near-disaster (a Barkley fumble that turned into a circus scrum) to march 75 yards for a game-winning Barkley touchdown in overtime.
What it Means: If Dave Gettleman, Joe Judge, Jones, and Barkley are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy together on a podium two Februaries from now, Giants fans will point to this game as the moment that the championship team finally started to come together.
Hahahahahahahahaha! Of course nothing like that is going to happen! The Giants merely proved on Sunday that if everything breaks right—if Barkley has a throwback performance, John Ross emerges from four years of meditation in the Himalayas for some big receptions, and the opponent is a welterweight that makes all sorts of mistakes—they can pull out a win in overtime. It's a strategy well-suited to winning the NFC East in 2020. All it will do in 2021 is possibly save Judge's job and lead to contract extensions for Jones and/or Barkley. Walkthrough readers know how to feel about that.
Jameis Winston threw a bomb to help the Saints take a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter, then had an apparent touchdown bomb called back for holding on the next drive. So Sean Payton inserted Taysom Hill at quarterback on first-and-20. Any Hill pass more than 25 yards downfield is guaranteed to be underthrown by 5 yards. Sure enough, he tossed a shallow fly ball to left field for a drive-killing interception.
Taysom rushed for two touchdowns, including one where he looked like Christian Okoye, so we shouldn't rip him too hard. But Winston doesn't have enough big-play weapons, while Payton either has too little faith in Winston or too much faith in The Lovechild. The Saints offense can only function properly when their defense provides turnovers and lots of good field position. That didn't happen on Sunday.
Bottom line: if you are wondering whether the Saints or the Panthers are the more likely wild-card team from the NFC South, the correct answer is "three NFC West teams."
What's Next: Judge will spend the week condescending to the press about how brilliant his play calling and culture-building have suddenly become, then the Giants will get the crap kicked out of them in Dallas next Sunday.
The Saints travel to Washington to face an opponent which, like themselves, relies a little too heavily on its defensive front and a sleight-of-hand offense.
Basically a long setup for some short Urban Meyer gags this week.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar to Perform at Super Bowl Halftime Show.
They should also take over as the Steelers offensive line.
Rob Gronkowski out Indefinitely with Broken Ribs.
First Buccaneers fan to complain about bad injury luck will be sentenced to five years as a Chargers fan.
City of St. Louis Files for Sanctions Against Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, and John Mara in the Ongoing Rams Relocation Litigation.
Walkthrough has no idea what's going on here at all, but those four owners on the lam from a 1950s chain gang would make one helluva Netflix series.
Viral Video Allegedly Shows Urban Meyer Canoodling in a Bar with a Woman Who is Not His Wife.
Meyer probably thought he was bringing the suave, sophisticated, older-man energy to his little lap dance. In fact, he looked like the drunken uncle at the bachelor party who's about to get kicked out of the strip joint for being a little too "handsy."
Anyway, it was just some awkward half-hearted grinding; nothing really sexy or satisfying. Just like the Jaguars this year.
Walkthrough Week 4 Awards
Time once again to hand out the most coveted awards in all of football.
Offensive Line of the Week
The Cardinals were playing without starters Justin Murray and Kelvin Beachum on the right side of the line. But D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Max Garcia, and Josh Jones helped the Cardinals rush for 216 yards (101 in the first half) and gave Kyler Murray plenty of time in the pocket for most of the afternoon.
Defender of the Week
Trevon Diggs intercepted Sam Darnold twice in the third quarter, helping the Cowboys pull away in a 36-28 victory over the Panthers. Diggs now has an interception in every game and an NFL-high five interceptions this year.
The fact that Diggs looked absolutely lost and hapless as a rookie in 2020 should be brought up every time former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan applies for a job, even as a bank manager or short-order cook.
Special Teamer of the Week
Check out DeAndre Carter's speed on his 100-yard kickoff return touchdown for Washington. Also, check out the Falcons' complete lack of speed on special teams. More on the Falcons' lack of roster-wide athleticism in a few moments. For now, Carter gave Washington the lead to start the third quarter and helped them win a game they really, really tried to lose a few times.
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
It's great to see John Ross playing football. It's a totally new experience. Be honest: you never watched him at the University of Washington, and you blinked and missed all of his appearances with the Bengals. Ross exists to most of us as a 40-yard dash at a long-ago Combine and a line on an injury report.
Anyway: Ross caught a 52-yard pass but lost the football while crossing the goal line:
John Ross goes TURBO SPEED & gets the TD ⚡️
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 3, 2021
Saints defenders Paulson Adebo and Marcus Williams share this week's BSASEH for their reactions as Ross alertly pounced on the ball to secure a touchdown.
ADEBO: "Drat. I was beaten for a long gain. And there is the football rolling around in the end zone. But I am too busy expressing disappointment with myself to do anything about it.
WILLIAMS: "Behold: the ball is rolling about the end zone! Perchance someone might retrieve it! But not I. For lo, all I can do is sit here on my rump and gesture at it."
Honorable mention goes to Travis Kelce for his "Golly Patrick, I honestly have NO IDEA what play we are running!" pantomime before Patrick Mahomes' shovel-pass touchdown to Joe Fortson. If Kelce was being honest and actually didn't know the play, then he must be like my Uncle Lum, who talks with his hands an awful lot.
Mahomes' three TD passes today:
3. Shovel Pass
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
Bonus honorable mention to Vita Vea for obliterating a pair of blockers on a stunt so Joe Tryon-Shoyinka could pick up a third-quarter sack on Mac Jones. Although, since Vea ended up getting top billing on the NFL.com highlight, he isn't technically a "supporting actor."
— NFL (@NFL) October 4, 2021
Burn This Play!
The Atlanta Falcons now have a Wildcat package for—we're not making this up—backup quarterback Feleipe Franks. Franks entered the loss to Washington on first down during the opening Falcons drive, rushed for 3 yards on a keeper, then disappeared, never to be seen again.
hm. it appears that they took kyle pitts off the field for feleipe franks. i'm ok. this is fine. pic.twitter.com/eMEWtC4hey
— charles (redzone 4-0) mcdonald (@FourVerts) October 4, 2021
Franks is reasonably mobile but will never be mistaken for Lamar Jackson. Furthermore, there is no sense twaddling with a Wildcat wrinkle unless you plan to use it more than once per game, especially when you are leading for much of the second half and need ways to stay balanced and unpredictable offensively.
Walkthrough's guess is that Arthur Smith is already a broken man after a month with the Falcons and is inserting undrafted rookie quarterbacks on random plays as a cry for help. Maybe he should go clubbing with Urban Meyer. That'll fix him right up. [Editor's note: clubbing with Urban Meyer is not recommended for anyone in a satisfactory romantic relationship and/or anyone with a shred of dignity.]
Burn This Active List!
Walkthrough got this tidbit courtesy Justin Melo of Music City Miracles and elsewhere: with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones hurt, the Titans decided to activate two fullbacks. Those fullbacks combined for five snaps. Did the Titans plan to thump the ball with Derrick Henry behind 22 personnel against the Jets (not a ridiculous strategy under the circumstances), then change their minds for no reason? Do they not even have a practice squad wide receiver more likely to contribute than a backup fullback? The answer to all of these questions remains: the Titans play in the Sun Belt Conference, so they'll make the playoffs no matter how many dumb things they do.
Walkthrough Week 4 Same-Game Parlay and Prop-a-Palooza!!!
We enjoyed so much success with last week's tapas platter of strange props and same-game parlays that we decided to press our luck!
And boy, did we ever press our luck.
Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys first quarter Over 10 at +100
Rationale: The Cowboys offense entered the game ranking second in first-quarter DVOA. The Panthers ranked fourth. Yes, the Panthers' defensive first-quarter DVOA also ranked second, but we liked our multiple paths to victory (or at least a push) on this wager.
Result: Walkthrough was a little nervous when both teams went three-and-out on their opening drives, but three quick touchdowns gave us an easy win before 2 p.m. It was all downhill from there. WIN.
Titans Moneyline versus New York Jets AND Under 44.5 at +165
Rationale: Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were hurt, so Walkthrough anticipated a low-scoring game, and we didn't trust the Titans to cover in the -7 range.
Result: Walkthrough was riding high when Tennessee took a 9-0 lead but down in the dumps by the time the Jets upset the Titans 27-24 in overtime. The design of this parlay insulated us against either Jets competence or Titans incompetence. But not both. LOSS.
Houston Texans (+17.5) at Buffalo Bills AND Over 42.5 (teased) at +285
Rationale: We couldn't resist the Texans at that spread. The listed Over of 47 didn't thrill us—Walkthrough was eyeballing a backdoor cover in the 31-14 range—so we teased the number down enough to provide some breathing room while keeping the payout zesty.
Result: At least we tried. Which is more than can be said of the Texans. LOSS.
New York Giants (+7.5) at New Orleans Saints AND Under 42.5 +225
Rationale: Biggest risk of the week. We knew the Saints offense was worse than advertised, while the Giants can move the ball well, so we were banking on a field-goal festival.
Result: Another game that was on cruise control until the Great New York Football Renaissance of Roughly 3:15 Eastern Time. We had the right idea with the Giants but betrayed our own principles by playing an under that was so low. Rest assured that we are atoning financially for our sins. LOSS.
Baltimore Ravens AND Denver Broncos over 125.5 combined field goal yardage -110.
Rationale: Speaking of field goal festivals, this DraftKings special was Waltkthrough flypaper. Ravens-Broncos just sounds like a game with a 22-19 final score either way. Throw in the chance to cash on some Justin Tucker and/or Brandon McManus 60-plus-yarders and we couldn't throw our virtual money on the table fast enough.
Result: Teddy Bridgewater got knocked out of the game. Drew Lock replaced him, and the Broncos didn't even cross midfield after an early second-quarter drive. Tucker kicked three field goals, but Tucker cannot do everything by himself! LOSS.
Final Tally: Let's just say Walkthrough lost a little money. Let's win it back!
Monday Night Action: Las Vegas Raiders (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers
Football Outsiders' metrics really like the Raiders. Walkthrough hates 'em, and it's Walkthrough's money on the line. But we don't trust the Chargers to cover, either: their favorite play at the goal line is the illegal shift. So we're not touching the final score of a game between two teams who have been thriving on close victories.
Walkthrough does like the Chargers (-1) in the first quarter against an opponent that has been outscored 21-5 in first quarters this season. A pair of longest reception props (more Walkthrough catnip!) also caught our eyes: Henry Ruggs at 21.5 and Bryan Edwards at 19.5. Both Ruggs and Edwards have five catches of 20-plus yards through three weeks. So Walkthrough played them both. If the Raiders win, it will likely be because Derek Carr was able to push the ball downfield. And if they lose, Carr may spend the fourth quarter pushing the ball downfield to play catchup.
And Finally ...
Per Patrick Everson at Props.com, some high roller placed a $500,000 bet on the Bills when they were -16.5 late in the week. A risky wager, but a winning one! That bettor is now a millionaire. Of course, they were probably a millionaire before the bet. At least we hope so. Because otherwise, risking a half-mil on a two-touchdown favorite would be utterly bananapants.
Someone else dropped $95,000 on the Bills moneyline, which was around -900 for most of the week. The payout on that low-risk, extra-extra-low reward gamble? Just $4,750.
Every mafia, including the #BillsMafia, has a Fredo.