Almost all of Week 8 is in the books, and the midpoint of the season is nearly here. That’s a good time to debunk some storylines that have been lobbed around regarding a few NFL teams.
We have enough games, enough data, and enough knowledge, especially after this weekend, to know who these teams really are.
Myth No. 1: The 49ers are only good because they’ve played an easy schedule
This storyline is officially dead on arrival now. If anyone starts to bring this up, you just shut it down. While it’s true the 49ers haven’t played the toughest schedule, they are still kicking the crap out of teams. That’s exactly what the great teams do.
The Niners entered Sunday ranked second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which takes into account every team’s schedule. They ended up with a 51-13 victory over a once surging Panthers team that was coming off a bye. The 49ers’ play designer, Kyle Shanahan, is a freaking wizard. They ran every screen imaginable. They ran deep routes, used play-action pass, and ran the ball well. They even busted out some old wing-T plays for a touchdown:
Even though I think it’s still OK to ask if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is “elite,” he doesn’t have to be in this offense. He just needs to execute what Shanahan is calling, and he clearly does that well enough. Against a Panthers defense that entered Week 8 third in DVOA, Garoppolo was a routine 18-of-22 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. The Niners averaged 6.2 yards a play and completed 50 percent of their third-down attempts. They look efficient, even without both starting tackles and their fullback.
On the other hand, the San Francisco defense was dominant. The 49ers completely shut down the Panthers’ offense and Christian McCaffrey, while also adding some of their own fireworks. They forced three interceptions and sacked Kyle Allen seven times. Nick Bosa continued his tear, adding three more sacks (plus an interception) to his Defensive Rookie of the Year resume.
When teams can rush the passer, they can play against everyone. And the 49ers will need that pass rush, as the other great NFL teams have strong offensive lines. Pair that with their secondary — which might be the most improved single unit in the NFL — and you have a Niners team that is the real deal.
Myth: The Bills are 5-2, so they are clearly a contender
The Bills are probably making the playoffs because of their schedule, but make no mistake, they aren’t a good team at the moment. They’ve won five games, but those came against the Jets, Giants, Bengals, Titans, and Dolphins. The DVOA rankings of those teams: 26, 27, 30, 31, 32.
And outside of their win over the Giants, the Bills didn’t look particularly impressive in any of them. Most of their games have been close until the end, including last weekend when the Dolphins were winning in the second half in Buffalo. Their two losses were against the Patriots and the Eagles, who looked like a Super Bowl team against the Bills.
So to recap: two good teams = two losses, while five terrible teams = five wins.
The Bills are terrific on defense, even with their subpar performance Sunday. That’s how they will win most of these games. I trust that side of the ball. The other side, I don’t.
In those two losses, the Buffalo offense scored 10 and 13 points. The Bills already entered the game 23rd in points per possession and they should have moved the ball against a poor Eagles defense. Instead, they averaged 4.4 yards per play and didn’t trust Josh Allen down the stretch. They called a bunch of short screen passes and nothing too often that pushed the ball down the field, which Allen isn’t even that great at, to be honest.
The Bills weren’t very capable offensively in the first place. Now that they’ve played two decent opponents, it’s shown.
Myth No. 3: We shouldn’t give the Patriots credit because they haven’t played anyone
I hate to tell y’all this, but the Patriots are good, even great, especially on defense. The Browns got yards against them, but still didn’t break 13 points. And yes, they had turnover issues, but it just seems like the Patriots are always in the right place at the right time. Funny how that happens.
They pressured Baker Mayfield all game and the Browns were one 3-of-12 on third down. It just so happens this defense that plays weak competition keeps being elite. Weird.
The Bills’ defense, facing an Eagles squad that seemed dead, sure got eaten alive Sunday. The Panthers allowed a 50 burger. And here are the Pats, continuing to not let teams score. How strange.
That said, I think there’s some work to be on offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots added another piece, maybe at the tight end position, before the trade deadline. Rookie receiver N’Keal Harry should also be off injured reserve soon, which will help bolster their pass-catching unit.
But as always, it’s the Patriots. Whenever we count them out, they make us look stupid. I’m always going to be on the side of thinking the Patriots are great until proven otherwise.
Myth No. 4: Kyle Allen should remain the starter in Carolina even when Cam Newton is healthy
I’m not sure how many people truly believed this, but it was floating around the last few weeks as the Panthers kept winning games that Allen started. They had won four in a row until the Niners sent them back to the East Coast with a 51-13 loss.
A healthy Cam Newton is better than anything Kyle Allen can give them, which makes the inevitable decision to turn the offense back to Newton easy.
I will say that if Allen had gone 2-2 as the starter, the Panthers might have attempted to play Newton earlier. It felt like playing with some house money. In the end, they avoided Newton rushing back too soon and despite the loss Sunday, they can feel good about Newton coming back whenever he’s ready to play. They know (a healthy) Newton and Ron Rivera have been outstanding in the final months of almost every season.