The NFL is never short on drama but the twists of 2021 continue to make it one of the strangest NFL seasons in recent memory. BeerLife subscribers might not have been surprised to see the Vikings drop a critical contest to the Lions, as The Oracle picked the Lions’ money line this week, but it was a shock to many NFL fans and continued the utterly bizarre narrative around Kirk Cousins’ touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Top 12 NFL QBs in Passing TDs, sorted by TD: INT
|Quarterback||Team||Team Record||TD||INT||TD: INT|
It is fair to point out that Cousins lost the ball on a strip-sack Sunday, but in general, Cousins is posting excellent numbers, and while listing the current records of other leading passers is far from an in-depth study, NFL fans can generally agree that throwing touchdowns and not throwing interceptions should lead to wins, but Cousins and the Vikings are stuck in a bizarro version of the NFL.
Fortunately for Minnesota, San Francisco’s loss to Seattle kept the race for the 6th and 7th NFC seeds open to every team outside of Detroit, so there is time for the Vikings to shift their narrative in this NFL season. The Jets, Texans, and Jaguars are dead in the water in the AFC, but that race is as complicated as the one in the NFC. This article will seek to sort some of this out; odds are provided by DraftKings.
The Ravens Face a Daunting Stretch
After a fiery speech in which Lamar Jackson declared that he would cut the bad decisions out of his game, it was more of the same on Sunday as the Ravens lost to the Steelers on a failed two-point conversion. The game ended in a “win or go home” situation, but the Ravens might not have been in that spot were it not for Jackson’s utterly inexplicable interception into the endzone earlier in the contest.
Jackson does not have enough touchdown passes to qualify for the quarterback list in the intro, but while he augments his passing production with his legs, his current ratio of 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions is not good enough. The mark is way off the 36:6 and 26:9 ratios he posted in the 2019 and 2020 NFL seasons.
Baltimore still holds the AFC North lead and will be tied for the most wins in the AFC unless New England moves ahead of the rest of the conference with a win against Buffalo on Monday Night. Twelve weeks into the NFL season, Baltimore’s spot should be comfortable, but with a final stretch that includes games against the Browns (road), the Packers (home), the Bengals (road), the Rams (home), and the Steelers (home), the Ravens will have to work to make the playoffs.
The Ravens will have to do so without cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury and leaves Baltimore without both players in the elite corner tandem they fielded last season (Marcus Peters tore his ACL in training camp). They will need to find new ways to win, and it starts this week against Cleveland, who the Ravens beat 16-10 a few weeks ago. Perhaps the narrative changes, but with how the NFL season has gone for Jackson and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, there could be another low-scoring game in a matchup that could feature stiff wind off the lake in Cleveland.
Baltimore remains the AFC North favorite at -150 after Cincinnati lost to the Chargers by a lopsided score but the Bengals may be the more attractive pick at +225. Joe Burrow’s dislocated pinky is a concern, but despite some bumps in the road, Burrow is the only AFC North quarterback who has lived up to expectations this season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger brushed off the dirt being shoveled on him and lived to fight another week, but the end is near for the Pittsburgh legend, and Jackson and Mayfield have struggled as the obstacles have mounted.
What Tennessee Team comes out of the Bye?
In a season with so much parity, the strength of a team’s opponents will play a critical role in determining which NFL teams make the playoffs. San Francisco’s loss to Seattle this weekend is a useful example; the 49ers were caught in the unfortunate position of playing Seattle the week that quarterback Russell Wilson got back on track, while the Packers, Cardinals, and Football Team all played a lesser version of the Seahawks.
The Titans, like the Seahawks, have struggled to find their identity after injuries to running back Derrick Henry and receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Tennessee won games against the Rams and Saints after Henry’s injury, but Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s poor play was the critical factor in the win in Los Angeles and the Titans caught a Trevor Siemian-quarterbacked Saints team without Alvin Kamara. Since then, the Titans have lost to the Texans and gotten blown out by the Patriots; something dramatic will need to change coming out of the bye if this team is going to contend.
Never say never in 2021’s NFL, but the Titans are trending in the wrong direction. Their remaining schedule features the Jaguars (home), the Steelers (road), the 49ers (home), the Dolphins (home), and the Texans (road). It is a forgiving stretch of games, but if Tennessee adds a loss to the Jaguars to the games they have dropped against the Jets and Texans, all bets are off. It would be an epic collapse and an indictment on the contract they gave to quarterback Ryan Tannehill if that happens; hopefully, for the sake of Titans fans, head coach Mike Vrabel can get his team right coming out of the bye week.
DraftKings has Tennessee to make the playoffs at -5000 and to miss the playoffs at +1200; if you like the Steelers, 49ers, or Dolphins to make the playoffs this season, it might be worth putting a lessor amount down on Tennessee to miss the playoffs given the schedule. The +1200 is also an interesting alternative to the money line for NFL bettors looking to get action on the Texans to beat the Titans this week.
Who are the Contenders?
The theme of the NFL season has been chaos but a few teams appear to have separated themselves from the pack. This season’s results are a reminder that this could change quickly, but as it stands, DraftKings has Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Green Bay, Buffalo, Arizona, and New England as the six teams with odds shorter than +1000 to win the Super Bowl. The Cowboys and Rams, the next two teams, are priced at +1200.
It is tempting to say that NFL fans will learn a lot about the Bills and Patriots in their Monday Night showdown, though the potential for 25+ mph winds, rain, and cold could make it difficult to draw far-reaching conclusions from tonight’s action. Either way, the top six teams feature several of the usual suspects from the past few years: the Bucs, the Packers, the Chiefs, and the Patriots. Arizona and Buffalo have immensely talented quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Josh Allen who have a chance to shake up the status quo, but with the long track records that the other quarterbacks/organizations will bring to the tournament, it will be difficult for the new blood to break in.
Green Bay’s narrow loss to Minnesota three weeks ago is a reminder that nothing is set in stone, but as NFL fans prepare for as crowded a playoff race as we are ever likely to see, a few teams have distinguished themselves as a cut above the competition. They may not get as much of the spotlight in the weeks to come because of the drama in the race to fill the spots behind them, and several teams behind them have the talent to crash the party if they can play with more consistency, but these top six teams appear poised to be a factor come the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.