With the eighth edition of Monday Night Football concluding with the Steelers sneaking by the Dolphins, Week 8 of the NFL season is signed, sealed, delivered and open for review. While we can’t get to everything — like Bill Belichick entering rarefied air and J.J. Watt being lost for the season — here are five of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Cleveland Browns need to fire Freddie Kitchens
Despite having a roster that’s filled with talented players on both sides of the ball, the Cleveland Browns are now 2-5 on the season following a 27-13 loss to the Patriots, their third straight.
While the Browns don’t necessarily deserve criticism for losing to the undefeated Patriots in New England, the way they went about doing it certainly does.
In a game that was played in poor conditions, the Browns consistently shot themselves in the cleats: they had 13 penalties, three turnovers, two failed challenges and one particularly egregious play call courtesy of head coach Freddie Kitchens.
Trailing 27-10 with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter and facing 4th & 11 from his own 24-yard line, Kitchens sent his punt team onto the field. Then, Kitchens had the team deliberately false start so the clock would stop and he didn’t have to burn a timeout.
Sending the team back on the field after the five-yard penalty to attempt to convert on 4th & 16, Kitchens saw quarterback Baker Mayfield take a sack, effectively ending the game.
“I didn’t want to use the timeout and I wanted to go for it,” he said after the game. “We had half of our guys running off, half of our guys running on and I wasn’t giving up right then by punting the ball to them. The only chance that we had was to convert for a [first] down and then we didn’t. The defense’s job is to go out there and stop them and they did, so it gave us a chance. I was still trying to win the game.”
Though he may have been trying to win the game, almost every decision Kitchens made ensured that he wouldn’t and that sequence is basically the Kitchens era in a nutshell: undisciplined, illogical and resulting in a loss.
If the Browns want to turn things around, it’s time to get a new cook in the kitchen.
Sell: The 49ers will finish with the top seed in the NFC
At this point, there’s no denying that the San Francisco 49ers are a force to be reckoned with in both the NFC West and the conference as a whole.
Facing a Carolina team that was coming to San Fran with fresh legs after resting up during their bye week, the Niners dismantled the Panthers 51-13 in a game that was over by halftime.
On defense, the 49ers were able to trick second-year quarterback Kyle Allen, who had not thrown a pick in his four previous starts (all wins), into tossing three interceptions. To make matters worse, Allen was sacked seven times on the day — including three by Nick Bosa — and finished with a quarterback rating of 4.7.
Things were so bad for Allen that someone changed his Wikipedia page.
San Fran’s defense is legit, but their offense, in particular quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, still has much to prove.
Garoppolo threw two touchdowns on Sunday, but was also intercepted once and took three sacks. Were it not for the good field position they received from the defense disrupting Allen, San Fran’s offense would not have come close to clearing the 50-point barrier.
True, their running trio of Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert is legit, but the team will need Garoppolo to step up if they are going to continue winning games against tougher competition.
We’ll see if he can in two weeks against the Seahawks, and then again during a three-game stretch starting at the end of November where San Francisco will face the division-leading Packers, Ravens and Saints.
Here’s betting Garoppolo struggles in those four games and the 7-0 Niners drop three of four, simultaneously dropping them out of the NFC’s top spot.
Buy: Kirk Cousins just played himself into the MVP race
In a late-September loss to the Bears, the Vikings put up a measly six points as Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 233 yards with no touchdowns.
Sitting at 2-2, the Vikings were treading water in what was shaping up to be one of the better divisions in football. Then the calendar changed and so did the fortunes of the Vikings and their quarterback.
Undefeated in the month of October and now 6-2, the Vikings scored 127 points (an average of more than 30 per game) while going 4-0 with victories over the Giants, Eagles, Lions and Redskins. That’s hardly a murderers’ row, but it’s still impressive — just like the play of Cousins has been.
In October, the 31-year-old completed 91-of-116 passes (78.4 percent) for 1,262 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception, good enough for an eye-opening 137.1 passer rating.
With a defense that’s allowing 16.5 points per game (fifth in the NFL) and a top-five running back in Dalvin Cook, Cousins makes the Vikings a legit contender when he plays the way he did this month.
Next up for Cousins and the Vikings are back-to-back road games against the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.
Should Minnesota and Cousins make it through those games and start November the way they finished October, it may actually be time to start talking about them playing in February in Miami.
Sell: The Bears can win with Mitchell Trubisky at QB
Now sitting at 3-4 following a back-breaking loss to the Chargers on a missed field goal, the Chicago Bears have already lost as many regular-season games as they did in all of 2018.
From head coach Matt Nagy to placekicker Eddy Pineiro, there’s plenty of blame pie to go around for Chicago’s poor start, but the biggest slice belongs to third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
With a QBR of 35.8 on the season (28th in the NFL), Trubisky has yet to show why the Bears felt compelled to trade up and take him second overall in the 2017 draft. (Some names ahead of Trubisky on this year’s QBR list: Gardner Minshew II, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton.)
Trubisky has just five touchdowns compared to three interceptions on the year and has double the number of games without a touchdown pass (four) as he does with one (two).
In Sunday’s loss, Trubisky was 23-for-35 for just 253 yards, took four sacks, threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Thanks to a stout defense and an improved running game that managed 162 yards against the Chargers, the Bears don’t need Trubisky to be much more than a game manager for them to win games.
Thus far, he’s proven unable to do that, and the Bears now find themselves in the basement of the NFC North behind the Packers, Vikings and Lions. To dig themselves out of that hole, the Bears need to consider making a change at quarterback, possibly as soon as this week against the Eagles.
Backup Chase Daniel isn’t great, but he’s been better than Trubisky, with a QBR of 59.4 that would actually put him in the top 10 this season if he had enough reps to qualify.
Buy: The talented AFC South is completely up for grabs
There’s only one division in the NFL without a team with a losing record: the AFC South.
Home to the 5-3 Texans, 5-2 Colts, 4-4 Jaguars and 4-4 Titans, the AFC South is the most competitive division in the AFC and might be one of the best in football.
The Colts and Texans get all the love, but the Titans and Jaguars have both reeled off two wins in a row to even their records at .500 on the season.
For the Jags, rookie QB Gardner Minshew has been a revelation since taking over the job from an injured Nick Foles and has yet to let Jacksonville lose by more than a touchdown in a game he has started. With only two interceptions, Minshew has made it tough for the Jags to automatically go back to Foles once he is healthy, a good problem to have.
For the Titans, former Miami Dolphin Ryan Tannehill has found new life in Tennessee since taking over for longtime starter Marcus Mariota and has rejuvenated a passing attack that had grown painfully stagnant. Tannehill is no star, but he at least presents opposing defenses with something they need to gameplan against.
Point being, neither the Titans nor the Jags are pushovers and that will have a big impact on who eventually wins the AFC South, as every team in the division still has four intra-division games on its schedule.
With only eight weeks left to go, there’s still much that’s yet to be decided in the AFC South, which has quietly become the class of the conference.