Week 9’s Top NFL Storylines: Dalvin Cook, Davante Adams and Parity in the NFC

The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them

November 10, 2020 8:22 am
Week 9’s Top NFL Storylines: Dalvin Cook, Davante Adams and Parity in the NFC
Dalvin Cook of the Vikings runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Lions.
Getty Images

Following the New England Patriots and New York Jets playing a dumpster fire of a game on Monday Night Football, Week 9 of the 2020 NFL season is, mercifully, done. While we can’t get to everything — like Tom Brady and the Bucs getting embarrassed 38-3 by the Saints on Sunday night — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 9, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: Davante Adams might be the best receiver in the NFL

After catching 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown on Thursday Night Football against a 49ers defense whose primary game plan was to slow him down, Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams was asked if he thinks he’s the best receiver in the NFL.

“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say,” the 27-year-old wideout said after Green Bay’s 34-17 win over San Fran. “I think that’s not being conceited. That’s just confident.”

He might be right.

After Thursday’s effort against the overmatched 49ers, Adams is the first and only player in NFL history to have three games with 10 catches for at least 150 receiving yards in his team’s first eight games of a season. Impressive, right? Now consider that Adams did it while playing in just six of them and leaving early in one of those six.

On the season, Adams has 53 catches, 675 yards and eight touchdowns, with 30 of those catches, 422 of those yards and six of those touchdowns coming in just the last three weeks.

Averaging 12.7 yards per catch (the second-highest mark of his career) and leading the NFL in average receiving yards per game at 112.5, Adams is on pace for more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards on the season, a feat he has accomplished just once before in his seven-year career.

The big difference between 2020 and Adams’s previous career year in 2018 is that the Packers, now at 6-2 and at first place in the NFC North, are winning; in ’18 the Packers went 6-9-1 and fired coach Mike McCarthy in the middle of the season.

Now once again putting up numbers for a good Packers team that is looking to contend for a Super Bowl, Adams looks like a lock to make his fourth straight Pro Bowl and may even get the All-Pro nod that has thus far escaped him. Now halfway through the season, it looks like he deserves it.

Sell: The 3-6 Carolina Panthers are a bad football team

Unlike his protege Bill Belichick, former NFL coach Bill Parcells was one of the more quotable people in the league when he addressed the media. One of his best lines? “You are what your record says you are.”

Applying that to the 2020 Carolina Panthers and their 3-6 record, the obvious conclusion would be that first-year coach Matt Rhule’s squad is a bad football team. Well, in the opinion of your humble correspondent, that actually isn’t the case.

True, the Panthers have lost four in a row. And sure, they are in last place in the NFC. But they are also coming off a Week 9 game against the Kansas City Chiefs that they lost by just two points after coming in as double-digit underdogs.

That narrow loss to the defending Super Bowl champs is in line with what the Panthers were able to accomplish in games against the Saints and Bears, contests they lost by a combined 10 points despite playing without their best player in running back Christian McCaffrey.

Even without McCaffrey, who returned from an ankle injury for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but hurt his shoulder and is now day-to-day, the Panthers have been fiercely competitive, posting a -16 point differential on the season, a better mark than teams like the Eagles, Browns, Vikings and Patriots.

They may not be great, but the Panthers are a pair of missed field goals away from winning against the Chiefs and taking the Saints to overtime and should be very pleased with how first-year Panther Teddy Bridgewater, who finished Sunday’s loss with 310 passing yards and two passing touchdowns in addition to a score on the ground, has performed this season.

“With a game like this you come up short, it’s like man you are able to, yeah, measure yourself next to the defending champs but at the same time you don’t want to be satisfied with just coming up short,” Bridgewater said on Sunday. “We play this game to win. We can easily say we fought, we played tough, that’s what we did, but we didn’t come up with the victory.”

If the Panthers keep playing as hard as they have, they’ll start coming up with those victories soon.

Buy: Dalvin Cook could carry the Vikings into the playoffs

Two weeks ago with a record of 1-5, the Minnesota Vikings looked dead in the water heading into a matchup with the division-leading Green Bay Packers. But the Vikings were able to pull off the upset in Week 8 and escape Green Bay with a 28-22 win and then followed that up with a 34-20 win over the Lions in Minnesota in Week 9.

Of the 62 points that the Vikings have scored over their two-game winning streak while getting to 3-5 on the season, 36 of them have been scored by star running back Dalvin Cook, who has 478 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns in the past two weeks.

Despite only playing seven games this season, the Viking workhorse leads the NFL in rushing yards (858) and touchdowns (12) and is currently on pace for a ridiculous 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season.

While Cook likely won’t hit those numbers, there is a decent chance he will be able to lead the Vikings, who have only one win over a team with a better than .500 record, to the playoffs.

Currently 10th in the NFC standings but only needing to advance to seventh place thanks to the expanded playoff field this season, the Vikings still have three extremely winnable games at home against the Panthers, Jaguars and Cowboys to play. Assuming they are able to make it a clean sweep in those three, Minnesota probably only has to win three — or even just two — of five games against the Saints, Bucs, Lions and Bears (twice) to get to 9-7 or 8-8.

If Cook keeps running the way he has of late — his rushing totals in his past four fully healthy games are 181, 130, 163 and 206 yards — the Vikings, who have a 22 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2020 per the prediction model from FiveThirtyEight, should be able to beat the odds and sneak into the postseason.

Sell: There’s a clear-cut favorite to win the NFC and earn a bye week

In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0) and Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) are clear-cut favorites to earn the top seed in the playoffs and the bye week that comes along with it. But following some surprise losses by a number of NFC teams in Week 9, the top of the conference is now much more crowded, with a number of teams within one game of the No. 1 spot.

With losses by the Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, there are now six teams that are within one game of the best record (6-2) in the conference (the Saints, Rams and Packers are the others).

While the Rams and Cardinals seem like outliers in this group, the Saints, Packers, Seahawks and Buccaneers have all looked dominant at times this season and could end up as the top seed in their respective division. (It will be a little tougher for Tampa Bay after losing to New Orleans for the second time on Monday night.)

As for which one will earn the overall top seed in the NFC and the bye week, Tampa Bay, Seattle and New Orleans are all tied for the best odds (+333), just slightly ahead of the Packers (+400), according to Bovada. Our pick? The Saints. Are we confident? Not in the slightest, as this second half is looking like it is going to be tight as well as entertaining.

It’s worth mentioning that one of the biggest reasons for the parity atop the NFC could be that home-field advantage, which may have been enough to boost one of these teams ahead of the pack, doesn’t really exist this season into NFL.

Heading into last night’s game, home teams were 65-66-1 on the season, a tick below .500 and substantially lower than the .518 mark for home teams last season, which itself was the lowest home-field success rate since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002.

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