Week 7 Previews: The Curse of Matthew Stafford
Storyline of the Week (???): Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
(At the Rock of Eternity, just outside Pontiac, Michigan)
GHOST OF BOBBY LAYNE: Cleave unto me, oh fellow Spectres of Lions Misery! For behold: one doth dare circumvent my curse of the franchise which forsook me by achieving success outside of Detroit.
MEGATRON: Unacceptable! All-time Lions greats must be remembered for their suffering, not their success.
BARRY SANDERS: They must retire suddenly and disappear for years from the public eye.
MEGATRON: They must hold lingering grudges against the organization.
LAYNE: Fools! I know the holy writ of Lions misery, for I am the one who writ it. What I do not know is how we can punish this "Matthew Stafford" for his impudence.
MEGATRON: Perhaps we can deny him touchdowns according to some strange reinterpretation of the rulebook. For instance, any completion to Cooper Kupp could be construed as a form of taunting.
LAYNE: Fool! That will only slow this Stafford down, not properly curse him.
BUBBA BAKER: I sent forth a mighty avatar to clobber him, but it didn't work.
NDAMUKONG SUH: Yeah, he even beat Tommy and I. That will be $12 million, you weirdos.
LAYNE: Fool! The inclusion of pre-1982 sack statistics in the Pro Football Reference database has rendered you slothful and sated with newfound fame. If sacks could stop Stafford it would have happened already. He spent a decade with the Lions, after all.
JASON HANSON, EDDIE MURRAY, AND MATT PRATER: Watch as the Coven of Long-Suffering Kickers casts a spell upon the Rams, that they may never hit another field goal!
LAYNE: Fools! Your spells keep backfiring against the Lions. No, I must take this matter into my own hands. Watch as I mix within my infernal cauldron the DNA of orcs, hobgoblins, and Bill Parcells wannabes.
SANDERS: Hey Bobby? Bad idea. That's a martini shaker, not a cauldron. And you have been drinking since lunchtime.
LAYNE: Fool! I conjure better when I'm drinking. Behold: My dark apprentice!
DAN CAMPBELL: (Slobbering, grunting, crying, acting completely normal by his standards) Grrr … Bite kneecaps … Eat spleens … Destroy Stafford.
MEGATRON: I'm not sure how this guy is supposed to stop Stafford. All he's going to do is make the Lions even more ridiculous.
LAYNE: Fool! Have you not learned that my curse works in mysterious ways? That was a misdirect. Coach Toasterhead is not my dark apprentice at all! I have conjured someone far more dangerous to Stafford. Someone who truly channels the Spirit of Bobby Layne!
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Ring-a-ding-ding, Brohemians. Just spent a week vibin' at the hookup pad, drinking some quarantine-and-tonics. Now I'm totally stoked to go 7-0 and send the Rams packing to Green Bay in January as a wild-card team.
Rams 34, Lions 19.
Game of the Week: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Bengals are either an emerging playoff contender with a stingy defense and an explosive offense or merely the sum total of their opponent adjustments and other distortions. Either way, they're likely to linger in the wild-card chase but unlikely to beat the Ravens on Sunday. Still, they're worth taking a closer look at, because it's either that or try to write about Falcons-Dolphins.
The Bengals rank a surprising fifth in defensive DVOA. They have also faced the Jaguars, Bears, Steelers, and Lions in four of their six games this season. Opponent adjustments work very well, but they are a moving target. The Bengals caught the Bears at the very start of the Andy Dalton/Justin Fields transition, the Steelers before they stabilized a bit offensively, and the Lions when they finally bricked. The Bengals' defensive metrics are so strong against the board—against the run, deep pass, short pass, top receivers, secondary receivers, etc.—that they are downright suspicious. Either the Bengals created an airtight defense with a few free-agent signings after ranking 24th or lower every year since 2017 or they haven't been tested enough yet and the paint is still drying on the opponent adjustments.
On offense, the Bengals allow too many sacks and commit too many turnovers. Opponents have missed four extra points and three field goals inside 50 yards. The Bengals have also benefited from a 105-yard net penalty differential, the third-highest in the NFL behind the Panthers and Dolphins. Their penalty advantage helped them beat the Vikings and overcome a slow start against the Lions.
Wait. Timeout. Not to drift off topic, but the Dolphins have benefitted from a 125-yard net penalty differential and still can't beat the Colts or Jaguars? Imagine what will happen if their penalties even out. But that's OK because they're gonna mortgage the ranch in a trade for The Phantom of the Opera and all their problems will go away.
OK, back to the Bengals. They appear poised to occupy the "pesky young team" niche in the AFC ecosystem. But they aren't ready to beat the Ravens for the first time since the pre-Lamar Jackson era. The Ravens have won the last three meetings by a combined 114-19 final score. This game won't be a blowout. But it will be a reminder that it takes more than wins over the Lions and Jaguars to get included among the AFC powerhouses. Ravens 27, Bengals 21.
Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Titans did to the Bills on Monday night what the Jets did to the Titans in Week 4. The Bills dominated the first quarter but settled for a pair of field goals. They lost two touchdowns to penalties, one of which was a kickoff return that could have won the game. The Titans did a lot of things very well besides hand off to Derrick Henry on Monday night—the Jets did a lot of things very well in Week 4—but they would not have been in the game except for a handful of Bills blunders, right down to Josh Allen's slip-and-fall in the final seconds.
In other words, Walkthrough is not buying what the Titans are selling. The returns of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones mean they aren't limited to an early-1980s Big Ten offense anymore, but their defense and special teams remain weak. Injuries to young cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Caleb Farley are only making them weaker. The Chiefs still have their issues with defensive lapses and turnovers, but they are still a notch above midmajor powerhouses coming off fluke upsets.
That said, Henry may rush for a billion yards in this game. Draft Kings is offering one of their loopy specials: Patrick Mahomes and Derrick Henry combined over 449.5 passing and rushing yards at +100. Walkthrough likes it better than the sky-high over of 57.5—no fears of red zone Chiefs turnovers or Titans kicker stuff—so we're gonna play it and root for utter chaos. Chiefs 37, Titans 27.
Washington Football Team at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 1 p.m.
It's that time of year again: time to acknowledge that the Packers are one of the NFL's best teams, but it's impossible to get really excited about them.
Aaron Rodgers is playing within his usual parameters. He's acting like the sort of person who calls out baristas by name in scathing Yelp reviews for not pumping the correct amount of caramel into his latte, which is also within his usual parameters.
The Packers defense is bleh and their kicking game is meh. Aaron Jones and Davante Adams are spectacular, but everyone else is just an extra to fill out the background. Injuries are mounting at key positions; Whitney Mercilus' arrival will boost the pass rush, but the Packers are still thin at cornerback and falling apart on the interior offensive line. There are lots of little indicators that the Packers offense just won't be up to snuff come January: they rank 20th in red zone DVOA, 15th in fourth-quarter DVOA, 18th on first downs. It's the perfect recipe for settling for field goals and being unable to come back in a playoff game after their defense buckles, which is what we expect the Packers to do every year anyway.
If Washington were the team we expected them to be entering the season, this would be a dangerous matchup for the Packers' injury-riddled offensive line. But Washington isn't very good at anything. Still, the Packers will allow them to linger just a little too long before pulling away as a reminder to anyone playing close attention that nothing has really changed, even the things that should. Packers 27, Washington 16.
Philadelphia Eagles at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Walkthrough wrote about the Eagles offense in great detail on Thursday. NFL narrative structure dictates that the Raiders win one more game so everyone can file their "Maybe Rich Bisaccia is the Long-Term Answer'' takes (The players have bought in! He hung posters on the weightroom wall that said "Be on time!") before their bye. Raiders 26, Eagles 21.
Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Walkthrough covered the Dolphins in Wednesday's Tank Watch. The Falcons were on a bye last week, and no one noticed or complained. Dolphins 16, Falcons 14.
New York Jets at New England Patriots, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Patriots are 7-point favorites despite a 2-4 record. That feels like an accurate line,but this is just the eighth time since 2002 that a 2-4 team has been favored by a touchdown or more:
- 2019 Steelers vs. 0-6 Miami (-14)
- 2017 Bengals vs. 2-5 Indianapolis (-10.5)
- 2016 Bengals vs. 0-6 Cleveland (-11.5)
- 2010 Broncos vs. 2-4 Oakland (-7)
- 2008 Texans vs. 0-7 Cincinnati (-9)
- 2006 Steelers at 1-5 Oakland (+9)
- 2002 Browns vs. 1-4 Houston (-8.5)
The Jets and their opponents have combined for 51 and 47 points in their last two games, while the Patriots and their opponents have combined for 47 and 64 points in their last two games. Those figures suggest that the Jets offense is getting perkier and the Patriots defense a little leakier. (Remember: one of those Patriots opponents was the Texans.) So Walkthrough is throwing Week 2's 25-6 Patriots victory in the garbage and flushing common sense down the hopper with some Same-Game Parlay Madness: Patriots Straight Up AND Final Score Over 42.5 at +150.
There's a chance that the Seahawks-and-Over parlay we somehow hit on Sunday night made us a little reckless. Patriots 24, Jets 20.
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Panthers are the Giants with less media scrutiny, friendlier coaches, and an easier early schedule. Observe:
- Quarterback: Fading first-round prospect capable of making intermittent splash plays but too turnover-prone and inconsistent to be more than a stopgap.
- Running Back: Injury-prone collegiate superstar destined to achieve his early-career potential about three times per season, at premium prices.
- Receivers: Exciting playmakers who let you down when you need them the most.
- Offensive Line: Bad, but capable of fooling you when they face the Jets or Falcons.
- Defense: Enough scattered top-tier talent and solid veterans to not be the team's problem.
- Rebuilding storyline: We're supposed to trust Matt Rhule because the Panthers started 3-0 against 66.7% patsies and he had some success in college with mid-majors (and networking). We're supposed to trust Joe Judge because the Giants almost made the playoffs last year (LOL) and because he said so.
The Giants went into Quitzilla mode against the Rams last week and are too injury-ravaged to put up much of a fight. Despite their own injury rash, the Panthers aren't there yet, because Rhule is more of a "forget to install the red zone package" type of coach than a "make the cafeteria staff run laps for oversalted plantain chips" type of coach.
Matchups like this will keep the Panthers quasi-competitive and content for a while. We'll check back in December when the Buccaneers visit. Panthers 23, Giants 13.
Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals. Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
The days of the J.J. Watt/DeAndre Hopkins/Bill O'Brien Texans feel like a half-forgotten fever dream, don't they? Well guess what, folks: O'Brien was fired roughly this time LAST YEAR. The Texans won a playoff game—against the Bills, no less—in January of 2020! Jack Easterby was an unknown name on an unvisited corner of the org chart. All the bonkers stuff that has transformed the Texans from a somewhat successful football team into a vanity project/Ponzi scheme/personality cult has taken place in less time than it takes to use up a jumbo pack of coffee filters.
Anyway, Walkthrough did a bit about the Texans on Wednesday. We're not touching that 17.5-point spread, but the Texans have outscored opponents 65-63 in first halves, so we're taking them +10.5 at halftime at -110, cashing in when they only trail 16-6, and not watching the second half. Cardinals 34, Texans 17.
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Geno Smith still has ball-security issues, places his short passes poorly (receivers end up drifting backwards to catch simple tosses into the flats), no longer runs all that well, and doesn't appear to have gotten much better at seeing the whole field during his extended clipboard tenure. The Seahawks' offense against the Steelers consisted of runs between the tackles and some empty-backfield underneath passing; the Steelers had the whole game plan snuffed out by the fourth quarter.
While the final score may be somewhat close—the Saints offense is all sleight-of-hand right now—this game will likely be over after Russell Wilson poses and preens through his pregame warmups. Saints 23, Seahawks 14.
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
NICK FOLES: Boo.
TOM BRADY: You don't scare me.
FOLES: Yes I do. Remember Super Bowl LII? Remember how I out-dueled you in Week 5 last year?
BRADY: You're a third-stringer behind an unprepared rookie and even creakier journeyman on a terrible team. Go away.
FOLES: I'm not going anywhere. In fact, Imma imbue Justin Fields with my Brady-Killer magic.
BRADY: That's not a thing you can do. That's not a thing at all.
FOLES: C'mere, Justin! You want some Philly Philly? Bippity-boppity-boo!
BRADY: Look, you beat me last year in a Thursday night game when I came out flat and the Bears defense played an outstanding game. My flat Thursday night performance for this season came last week, and we still won easily. And while your defense can still scare most opponents, my front seven is going to crush your offense like a soda can.
AARON RODGERS: Excuse me. You cannot talk about the Chicago Bears that way. I own them.
BRADY: Sigh. I don't think I can stand another 10 years of this nonsense. Buccaneers 26, Bears 10.
Indianapolis Colts at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
That's right, dear friends: it's time for another installment of the Jimmy Garoppolo Victimization Index!
Wait … wut?
- Well, well, well, it looks like Trey Lance really wasn't ready to replace me just yet, no matter how much Twitter howled for him in the preseason. 5%
- Also, I didn't curl up into a little ball of interceptions and insecurities the first time a rookie threatened my job, unlike someone we all know. 5%
- Oh, and you'll never hear me crying about how weak my receiving corps is. I'll be throwing to Ross Dwelley and handing off to Trenton Cannon this week, but will anyone say "Gosh, that Jimmy G. would be just fine if he had better playmakers?" Nope. 10%
- You think dealing with the Philly media was tough? Imagine getting locked in the basement of a TB12 facility with nothing to eat but wheat germ-and-plant collagen protein bars until you promise to never refer to yourself as the "Patriots starter" again. 5%
- NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT A CURSE IT IS TO BE AS HANDSOME AS ME. 20%
Total victimization: 45%
We have no idea what any of this means. We're also not putting a dime on this game unless someone offers a prop on the number of times Cris Collinsworth praises an overpaid quarterback for a routine pass. 49ers 23, Colts 20.