Between the trade deadline and the firing of a first-season head coach, it’s easy to forget just how exciting Sunday’s slate can be. At least three games — Miami Dolphins–Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys–Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills–Cincinnati Bengals — feel like blocks waiting to happen.
How does it manifest? The athleticsNFL writers Kalin Kahler, Jeff Howe and Mike Sandow break down the week’s events and weekend matchups in our new roundtable.
In Germany, the Dolphins meet the Chiefs after a disappointing loss to the Broncos. What are you looking at in this game?
Shirt: It’s another chance to evaluate the Dolphins against a real contender. They lost by a combined 42 points in their only games against rivals this season, falling to Buffalo 48-20 and Philadelphia 31-17. Can you make the bosses work for victory? Can you pull the trigger? It’s another good measuring stick game for Miami.
Kahler: Miami needs to win this game to silence all the haters and doubters who think a good team can’t win. Sandow pointed out that the Dolphins haven’t done it yet this year, and until they do, they won’t be considered the top team in the AFC. As for Kansas City, they must fix an offense that turned the ball over five times and held it to a season-low nine points and 275 yards in last week’s embarrassing loss to Denver. The Chiefs seem to have a wide receiver problem this season.
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Haw: Ever the entertainer, Tyreek Hill thinks he has something in store for his former team and a global audience. He’s motivated to have another big day. Patrick Mahomes played through the flu against the Broncos and the offense got one pass, but the Chiefs defense looked tireless. That defense is too good for that type of performance, so the Chiefs will be on alert for this high-octane Dolphins offense as they try to claw back.
Which wide receiver is more impressive right now – the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb or the Eagles’ AJ Brown?
Shirt: In terms of productivity, you have to go with Brown. Brown is on pace for 1,995 yards and twice on the perimeter. Lamb is on pace for 1,537 yards.
Kahler: brown. I could see Lamb passing Brown as the season goes on, but Dallas’ offense is just starting to turn a real corner, and Lamb has back-to-back 100 yard games. His production was inconsistent at the start of the season, so he publicly addressed his issues with the offense’s lack of identity.
Haw: Lamb finally got the ball as much as he wanted and showed why. There’s no denying the talent out there. But Brown is playing at an MVP level. He’s being understandably athletic on this historic run, and he’s doing it in clutch situations because the Eagles have had so many close games. It was amazing to watch a receiver beat his team almost every week.
Two AFC rivals, the Bills and Bengals, met again. Which team needs this game more?
Shirt: It seems like the Bills need more psychologically, but the Bengals are already 0-3 in the AFC, so the stakes are high for Cincinnati. Now that Joe Burrow looks healthy, I’ll just trust the Bengals as the season progresses.
Kahler: I think the Bengals need more in order to get back to the top of the AFC and start getting conference wins.
Haw: Internally, I think this game means more to the Bengals because they felt they were wronged by the league with their playoff seeding in last season’s voided game against Buffalo. This will be a game of interpretation in their minds. And if they can string together back-to-back wins against the Seahawks, 49ers and Bills, it will cement the Bengals in the top tier of Super Bowl contenders. On the outside, though, the Bills need to prove they can shut down quality opponents. While the Dolphins have been criticized (rightfully so) for not winning with quality, the Bills’ only win over a rival came in that Miami game. They have also had problems during their season. The Bills play the Eagles, Chiefs and Cowboys over a 12-to-15 week period to show their Super Bowl competitiveness, but if they can take down the Bengals, it will do a lot to their name.
Seahawks-Ravens goes in as the best game of the week. What will be the difference between the two teams in this match?
Shirt: Seattle’s defensive scheme appears to be a key variable. Preparing Lamar Jackson was always difficult; It’s probably one of the reasons Jackson has a 17-1 record against NFC teams, which he’s not familiar with. The changes Baltimore has made on offense this offseason add to that wrinkle. Detroit dared Jackson to pass, and it paid off. Seattle has the better coverage specialists but needs to have the right plan early in the game.
Kahler: Not only is Jackson playing at a 2019 MVP level, but the Ravens defense leads the league in allowing just 15.1 points per game and getting the most sacks (31). Baltimore has a clear edge in this matchup.
Haw: Both teams have the best defenses, with Baltimore giving up the fewest points in the NFL. So the Seahawks need Kenneth Walker and the ground game to speed up the offense because Geno Smith has been decent this season. Keep Smith on a schedule, and he’ll have a chance. We know the Ravens have trouble closing games, so the Seahawks need to play a full four quarters. Conversely, if Jackson is the best player on the field, the Ravens should be fine. Otherwise, the Ravens’ 12th-ranked run defense will have to step up to put pressure on Smith.
Which non-Chase youngster trade deadline acquisition excites you the most?
Shirt: Russell Douglas from Green Bay to Buffalo. The move gives the Bills a lot of leverage to do something at the deadline, but I don’t think Buffalo did enough. Leonard Williams was a great addition to the Giants and the team’s front-office matchup was logical. But he was injured in Seattle. I’m not sure what fun it would be for the Packers to cut a good player at a valuable position without getting anything to help the team this offseason.
Kahler: Montez Lab to Chicago. The Bears were the only team below .500 to trade for a player at the deadline, and the move didn’t make much sense to me. General manager Ryan Pauls traded a second-round pick last year, also for Chase Claypool, and even though it didn’t work out, that made more sense at the time because he needed — and still needs — to get a proper evaluation of his quarterback, Justin Fields. At this point, Labb will quickly improve the Bears’ nonexistent pass rush, but what’s the point of a team that’s going nowhere this offseason and at least sees the coaching staff rotate? To win a few more games and therefore have worse draft picks?
NFL trade deadline winners and losers: Vikings get QB. Why did the Bears sweat Montez?
Haw: It was the best of the day for the commanders to return in sweat. But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of reason to be excited about the (potential) 35th pick in the draft on Halloween if you roll home and find candy corn. So let’s look at Leonard Williams going to the Seahawks. They were looking for a 3-technique and still found a good player for the locker room at the major level, and the Seahawks plan to keep him well beyond this two-month rental. Assuming they can reach a deal, Williams should be a nice fit in Seattle in the coming years.
The robbers will start trying to pick up the pieces on Sunday. What is the best case scenario for how the rest of the season plays out? What qualities should they look for in their next coach?
Shirt: The best-case scenario is for interim coach Antonio Pierce and rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell to emerge as stars at the two most important positions for any NFL franchise. If those things don’t happen, the Raiders will need someone other than Mark Davis or one of his late father’s former teammates to find a coach with the smarts, organizational strength, and leadership. The best candidate may or may not be one of the hot coordinators of the game teams. It can be a first time trainer or an experienced one. Ultimately, I think they need a head coach or GM to have previous experience as a head coach or team building.
Kahler: Mark Davis will need to structure this recruiting search differently than the last one, which was led by Ken Herrock, a longtime Raiders player and executive. Herrock is 82 years old and told Vic Tafur that he didn’t ask Josh McDaniel anything about his first head coaching experience in Denver. It’s not a bad thing to fail, but it would be very instructive not to ask McDaniels what he can learn from that experience. Davis in 2010
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Haw: At this point, the best-case scenario for any team with one of the 10 worst records in the league is to finish with two top-two picks. Caleb Williams and Drake Maye look like the real deal as franchise quarterbacks. That makes this job very desirable. The next coach must build a relationship of trust with his players. That was missing under McDaniel, and the players weren’t overly shy about discussing it. A guy like Frank Smith, who has a natural ability to connect with players who seem to genuinely enjoy him, would welcome a change of pace in that locker room.
(Photos of Aidan O’Connell, CeeDee Lamb and AJ Brown: Cooper Neal, Ron Jenkins and Michael Owens / Getty Images)