NFL Monday Morning Madness: Chiefs pound Jags, Pats await

After a week full of passive-aggressive trash talk and strategic breakdowns, it was the undefeated home team that took home a win that really went ‘chalk,’ if you break it down.

The win didn’t come easy for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but the league’s No. 1 offense survived the Jaguars (and the No. 1 defense), 30-14 at home on Sunday. Despite being heavily unbalanced in terms of offensive-to-defensive ineptitude, the Chiefs proved to be the AFC’s best team by forcing Blake Bortles into three interceptions.

In fact, the ‘unstoppable’ Patrick Mahomes threw two interceptions of his own (with zero touchdown passes), and Tyreek Hill was held to 61 yards on four catches, while being covered mostly by the brash-talking Jalen Ramsey.

“I won the majority of my matchups today,” Ramsey told the media after the game.

Except it’s the variety and abundance of mismatch-creating weapons, combined with Andy Reid’s offensive scheme (and Mahomes) that make the Chiefs’ offense so dangerous.

Travis Kelce (five catches, 100 yards) and Sammy Watkins (six catches, 78 yards) took advantage of their matchups, and Kareem Hunt averaged 87 yards and a score on the ground, as Reid found other ways to move the ball downfield during a lesser game by Mahomes and Hill.

“No one is going to push us around, anywhere,” said Reid after the game.

Whether the Chiefs’ offense runs through Mahomes, Hunt, Kelce or the Super Mario-like Hill, Kansas City has enough offensive weapons to counter any pre-planned defensive attack.

Next up for the Chiefs is the NFL’s version of Bowser, the two-time defending AFC champion New England Patriots.

The road to Super Bowl LIII will likely involve a matchup with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, a tandem that has made seven straight AFC title games, and has reached the Super Bowl seven times in their last 17 full seasons together.

After a patented sluggish start, the Patriots are have slowly began rolling down the familiar season-long hill that usually ends with their momentous dash toward the place the Chiefs want to be.

The Patriots will be overmatched on defense, superior on offense, and with the advantage of prior big-game experience when the teams square off on NBC’s Sunday Nigh Football.

With the return of Julian Edelman, and the ongoing ascensions of Sony Michel and Josh Gordon — to pair with Rob Gronkowski and James White — the Patriots suddenly have an arsenal of formidable weapons.

The Chiefs have the best offensive weaponry in the NFL, and perhaps the game’s most experienced offensive guru calling the shots.

This game should be the first of two potential matchups between these two teams. An easy barometer for two Super Bowl LIII contenders. Up to Week 6, this is the NFL’s game of the year.

Vikings tread water, Eagles sink (momentarily)

At a combined 8-1, the Rams (5-0) and Saints (3-1) may already be too far ahead for the Vikings and Eagles to catch in the race for the NFC’s top two seeds. But that was far from the minds of two teams that now combine for 4-5-1 after Minnesota’s 23-21 fend-off victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.

The Vikings’ (2-2-1) situation was (and remains) slightly more dire, with both the young-and-talented Bears (3-1) and the dormant Aaron Rodgers-led Packers (2-2-1) both having their goals set on winning the NFC North. The Eagles (2-3) have no long-term (most likely) contenders in the NFC East, as even a 9-7 mark may grant them the division title and the NFC’s No. 4 seed.

Carson Wentz is clearly still easing back into form after his ACL tear last season, while the injury-riddled Eagles experience a hangover in general, which Super Bowl-winning teams are often susceptible to.

The Vikings are banged up as well, touting a below-average offensive line and and Everyon Griffen-less front seven. Kirk Cousins has been shaky, showing signs of greatness and ineptitude, while the team’s wide receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs (17 catches, 217 yards, one touchdown combined) is clearly the NFL’s best WR1/WR2 duo for the second consecutive season.

Thielen was especially potent versus an Eagles defense that lacks some in the cornerback department. Maybe this is why the Vikings opted to pay Cousins. Minnesota failed miserably offensively with Case Keenum at quarterback last January in a a 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia. Ironically, Nick Foles torched Minnesota’s defense in that game, while Wentz failed to get things going until it was virtually too late.

It’s way too early to make any definitive picks for the playoff field come January, but here is how I see the NFC’s playoff field playing out at this moment:

1) Rams

2) Saints

3) NFC North winner (Bears, Vikings, Packers) or Eagles

4) NFC North winner (Bears, Vikings, Packers) or Eagles

5) NFC North wild card (Bears, Vikings, Packers) or Panthers

6) NFC North wild card (Bears, Vikings, Packers) or Panthers

In a talent-heavy NFC, things are already starting to take shape.

Quick-hits

– Graham Gano set an NFL record with the longest walk-off, game-winning field goal (63 yards) in NFL history, to lift the Panthers over the Giants (1-4), and in turn keeping Carolina in position to pace with other NFC stalwarts. Ron Rivera’s silly gamble to run with Christian McCaffrey on 3rd-and-1 with no timeouts remaining (and 30-ish seconds left) was bailed out, as Cam Newton led Carolina on a game-winning drive that may serve as a tentpole to a great season in the works.

– Three other win-needy teams, the Bills (2-3), Browns (2-2-1) and Texans (2-3) also won on walk-off field goals to keep their season alive. The Bills have little shot at a playoff berth, but have to like what they’ve seen out of Josh Allen, who is 2-2 in four starts. The up-and-down Browns clearly have their QB of the future (and now) in Baker Mayfield, but they’re likely a year away from a postseason berth as well. The Texans host the Bills next week, with a good shot at winning their third straight contest to pull to 3-3. In a muddled and unclear AFC, as Deshaun Watson slowly returns to form after his ACL tear, so may the talented-Texans.

-Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen all pulled in close wins on Sunday to give the 2018 class of rookie QBs a 4-0 mark. It’s early, but this group may end up living up to the hype bestowed on them to supplant the 1983 and 2004 classes as the best ever. Allen and Rosen are dealing with deprived rosters in particular, so any wins that come their way in Year 1 will be impressive. Mayfield and Rosen are the two young QBs displaying the most moxie. Still waiting in the wings, is Lamar Jackson, who is probably two seasons away from starting. Again, it’s premature, but early grades on this group are better than expected this soon.

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