Week 7’s Top NFL Storylines: Ja’Marr Chase, Jimmy Garoppolo and a Wide Open AFC
Also, there's AFC team Bill Belichick owes a huge debt to — and it ain't the Patriots
With Monday Night Football between the Saints and Seahawks in the can, Week 7 of the NFL’s first 17-game season is in the past. While we can’t get to everything — like the NFL’s decision about whether to let Deshaun Watson play if he is traded by the Texans — here are four of the top storylines to emerge with the season’s seventh week in the books, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: Ja’Marr Chase will be Offensive Rookie of the Year
With 201 receiving yards in Baltimore on Sunday in Cincinnati’s blowout win over the Ravens, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase became the only player in NFL history to have more than 700 receiving yards in the first seven games of his career.
With 754 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the season, Chase is the second-leading receiver in the NFL this season behind only Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams (who has 809 and an absurd nine TDs).
Along with the steady play of second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and a much-improved defense, Chase is the reason the Bengals (5-2) are now tied with the Ravens (5-2) at the top of the AFC North. Taken fifth overall in the draft, the 21-year-old wideout is proving to be worthy of being selected so early in the first round.
On his way to becoming one of the best receivers in the game, Chase is the fifth rookie since the AFL-NFL merger to have multiple games with at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown. The other names on that list: Ken Burrow (1971), Randy Moss (1998), Torrey Smith (2011) and Justin Jefferson (2020). Jefferson holds the single-season rookie record of 1,400 receiving yards and Chase (who has the benefit of playing in a 17-game regular season) is well on his way to smashing that mark.
Shaping up to be the first rookie first-team All-Pro receiver since Randy Moss in 1998, the LSU product is also well on his way to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year, the same award Hall-of-Famer Moss won after his first season in the pros.
If Chase keeps catching passes the way he has thus far, he’s going to be catching Moss and many others in the NFL record books. “They’re making it look easy,” Moss said of Chase and Burrow. “When you look at the chemistry of 1-2 punches of Montana-Rice, myself-Brady, Manning-Marvin Harrison, that’s the type of company those guys can be in. They had success early before they got to this level and if they really want to zone in and continue to have success and start honing in on their offseasons and their camps and their training camps, the sky’s the limit for this offense and guys like that.”
Sell: The 49ers disagree with Martellus Bennett on Jimmy Garoppolo
Appearing on the Double Coverage podcast with former New England teammates Jason and Devin McCourty, former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett ripped into ex-Pat and current 49er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for being soft in 2016 when he was forced into action with Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension for DeflateGate.
“Bro, we lost two games [in 2016],” Bennett told the McCourtys. “One of them was because Jimmy Garoppolo was being a bitch. He decided not to play right before the game. Jacoby [Brissett] came out and played with a f–ed up thumb and played his heart out, but Jimmy was just being a bitch about it all. You can’t win with a bitch for a quarterback, first of all. That was the whole thing with him.”
Based on what he had to say after losing at home on Sunday Night Football to fall to 2-4 on the season, San Franciso coach Kyle Shanahan (who is now 31-39 overall as a head coach in the regular season), probably wouldn’t disagree.
“I would guess so,” Shanahan said when asked if Jimmy G, who finished 16-of-27 passing for 181 yards with one TD and two interceptions on Sunday, would remain the starter in San Fran. “I’m going to watch this tape and see if guys are healthy first of all. I don’t even know where our guys are at. It was good for Jimmy to be able to get healthy enough to play in this game today.”
While that reads as somewhat of a compliment, it was definitely a dig from Shanahan, who is probably desperate to move on from Garoppolo and made that painfully obvious when he and general manager John Lynch traded up to select project quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Garoppolo, who has a 24-11 regular-season record when he is the starter but has gone 5-6 in games he started since losing in the Super Bowl to Chiefs two seasons ago, is not the future in San Franciso, and one of the biggest reasons is because he constantly misses games due to injury or being unable (or unwilling) to play through pain.
“We’ll see if Trey can (play) next week, we’re still not sure yet, but I got a lot of things to figure out,” Shanahan said.
Whether he agrees with Bennett ain’t one of ’em.
Buy: Bill Belichick should thank God for the New York Jets
When Tom Brady “retired” to Florida to play for the Buccaneers after two decades in New England, it was widely assumed that the Patriots would take a step back, but would also still be somewhat competitive thanks to head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick went 7-9 last season with Cam Newton as his quarterback and is off to a 3-4 start this year with rookie QB Mac Jones, who New England selected at No. 15 overall in the draft, under center. Add it up and the 69-year-old coach has gone a not-so-nice 10-13 overall since Brady departed for Tampa Bay.
As poor as that record is, it looks even worse when you factor in that four of Belichick’s 10 wins over the past two seasons have come against the pathetic New York Jets. Winners of just two games last season, the Jets have only won once in this season’s first seven weeks and are well on their way to the franchise’s sixth straight losing campaign.
Were it not for the pitiful Jets, Belichick would be in real trouble this season, as the Patriots have already beaten them twice, including Sunday’s 54-13 smackdown in New England.
Belichick, who was 36-44 in five seasons with the Cleveland Browns, is now 28-32 with the Patriots in games that Brady didn’t start. His winning percentage in New England without No. 12 is .457, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
Without Brady as his starting quarterback, Belichick’s record is one of a coach looking for a new job, and if it wasn’t for the Jets helping him out by handing out wins like Halloween candy, it is well within the realm of possibility that he would have been.
There’s still time for things to change, but without Brady, Belichick (who is 34-10 against New York during his time in New England) is a losing coach.
Sell: There’s a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite in the AFC
With the Kansas City Chiefs and star quarterback suffering a 27-3 beatdown at the hands of the Titans on Sunday, the AFC representatives in the Super Bowl for the last two seasons are now 3-4 and sit in last place in their division.
Mahomes, who threw a pick for the sixth straight game and left in the fourth quarter after taking a knee to the head, does not look himself thus far, and is rapidly running out of time to shake off the apparent Super Bowl hangover he, and by extension Kansas City’s offense, is currently struggling through.
That being the case, the preseason favorites to return to the Super Bowl should no longer be considered a pick to play in the NFL’s final game for the third straight year — and nor should any other team in the AFC.
Unlike the NFC, which is home to the NFL’s lone unbeaten team in the 7-0 Arizona Cardinals and four other teams with just one loss (the Buccaneers, Packers, Rams and Cowboys), the AFC has more pretenders than contenders, and does not have a clear-cut favorite to make it to the Super Bowl.
Through seven weeks of play, the best teams in the conference by record are the 5-2 Bengals, Raiders, Ravens and Titans followed by the 4-2 Bills and Chargers. As an example of just how weak the conference has become, the only other team in the AFC with a winning record is the Browns (4-3).
Of the above teams, the Bills may actually have the best chance to make it to the Super Bowl: they were a game away last season and have the advantage of playing against the one-win Dolphins and Jets and the aforementioned Patriots in the AFC East. But as we saw in Buffalo’s Week 6 loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football and Week 1 upset defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills are more than capable of choking or playing down to an opponent. The same can be said for the Chargers, Bengals, Raiders, Ravens and Titans, all teams that have good wins as well as ugly losses this year.
With 10 weeks left to play, it would not be a shock to see the Chiefs right the ship and get back into contention in the AFC playoff race. But Kansas City may have already lost too many games to secure one of the conference’s top seeds and will likely have to play postseason games on the road instead of hosting them in the cozy confines of Arrowhead Stadium. That may not stop the Chiefs from winning, but it certainly will make it tougher for them to advance, especially if matched up with a veteran team like the Bills, Ravens or Titans.
Dominated by KC for the past two seasons after mostly being the property of the Patriots for a decade, the top seed and the inside track to the Super Bowl is very much up for grabs at this point. We’ll see which team seizes it over the next 11 weeks.
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