RETURN OF THE MACK
Khalil Mack had a performance to remember against the bad Panthers offensive line, snagging this interception and running it back for a touchdown, and also registering the game-winning forced fumble, which he recovered. Cam Newton will have nightmares about Mack all week … and so will Tyrod Taylor, who comes to the Black Hole next Sunday.
Mack had a quiet start to the season, but in the last four games he has six sacks and two forced fumbles and the pick-six. The Raiders defense still has major issues and it is the biggest thing that could keep them from a Super Bowl, but if they add Aldon Smith to pair with Bruce Irvin and Mack, I like Oakland’s chances in the playoffs, regardless of opponent.
COLIN KAEPERNICK IS HAVING A REBOUND SEASON
Colin Kaepernick bet on himself a few weeks ago, and so far, it’s working out quite well. He’s played well in his last four games – 8 TDs, 2 INTs – and was at his best Sunday in Miami, rushing for 113 yards and throwing for 296 yards in a narrow loss to the Dolphins.
Take away Kaepernick’s off-the-field … stuff … and he’s suddenly an intriguing free agent QB. In fact, Kaepernick’s been so good, you have to wonder if the 1-10 49ers might pass on drafting a QB that high and instead ride with a guy who just three years ago got San Francisco to the Super Bowl.
Of course, his off-field political stances may be what has the 49ers pass on him (though they’ve got to decide about a general manager, 1st). And then you’ve got to ask yourself: What teams might be interested in bringing in Kaepernick on a free agent deal? If he can finish the season strong, Kaepernick’s offseason might come in 3rd behind Tony Romo and Kirk Cousins.
THE JAGS ARE GOOD-BAD AGAIN
Jacksonville keeps losing close games, but at least they’re doing so in an impressive fashion … unlike, say, the Browns. Jacksonville is getting the best of both worlds: The team is improving defensively as the season progresses, and will once again get a Top 5 draft pick.
We usually hammer Jacksonville in this space, but look, a positive mention! For the first time in 25 games (14 months!), the Jacksonville Jaguars scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game!
I’m not sure if that says more about the Buffalo Bills defense, or Jacksonville’s offense, but either way, it’s something. It was actually another box score win for the Jags – 8-of-15 on 3rd down, rushed for more yards than the Bills, no turnovers, and 2-for-2 in the red zone. But ultimately, a 28-21 defeat. Next year!
TARGETING THE BACKUP
According to Las Vegas, the most important player to point spreads it the quarterback. Defensively, it is said that no player matters at all to the point spread – not JJ Watt, not Richard Sherman, not Von Miller, nobody. I’d just like to point this out, as a guy who had the Chiefs +3.5: I thought Dee Ford missing the Broncos game would make a difference. He didn’t. KC still had five sacks of Trevor Siemian, with Justin Houston healthy again and registering three.
But also on the injury report: #2 cornerback Steven Nelson. His replacement? Phillip Gaines, a 3rd year player who was a 3rd round pick out of Rice. He’s played all season, but he was particularly bad Sunday night starting against Denver: He was targeted eight times in regulation, and gave up six completions for – wait for it – 206 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos were 0-for-2 throwing at Gaines in overtime, and the Chiefs offensive bailed him out – with a little help from a bad Gary Kubiak decision to attempt a 62-yard field goal – for a thrilling 30-27 overtime win.
The Bears dropped an NFL-high 10 passes Sunday, with the last one by Marquess Wilson in the end zone costing them the game. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for Matt Barkley, who got the start for the Bears and was intercepted twice, but also totally let down by his receivers.
With Alshon Jeffery out (suspension) and Kevin White hurt, Barkley was throwing to guys like Deonte Thompson (undrafted from Florida); Josh Bellamy (undrafted from Louisville) and Ben Braunecker (undrafted from Harvard).
Still, if Wilson catches a wide open pass in the end zone in the final two minutes, the Bears pull off one of the most impressive upsets of the season.
Remember four weeks ago when Marcus Mariota had a 4th quarter meltdown in San Diego? After a tremendous three quarters, Mariota fumbled – it was run back of a score – and then threw an interception – also, run back for a touchdown – and the Titans lost to the Chargers.
Here’s how Mariota has rebounded from that nightmare quarter? After another flawless performance in a win agains the Bears, here are Mariota’s last three games:
For my money, the best young QB in the league is Andrew Luck. After that, it’s a tossup between Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr. Yes, I’d take either of them right now over Cam Newton, and I’m aware Newton won the MVP last year.
TYREEK, THE FREAK
If you’ve seen any Chiefs games this season, you know their best playmaker isn’t a running back, or a wide receiver, and definitely not QB Alex Smith. It’s a diminutive rookie who does a little bit of everything. Tyreek Hill is only 5-foot-10, but he was the most dominant offensive player on the field Sunday night in Denver, becoming the 1st player since Gale Sayers (1965!) to score on a kick return, a reception and a rush in one game.