Week 7 of the NFL season has been full of impressive comebacks and huge performances by the tight end position. It has also served as a reminder that the elite remains elite, and the rest of the league can do nothing but try to keep up. In our Week 7 NFL Recap, we break down the top news and storylines from this weekend’s action, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Super Bowl outlook, the disastrous start to the Cowboys season, Studs ‘n’ Duds for Week 7, and playoff pretenders/contenders.
The Week 7 recap feels like the perfect time to prune the NFC playoff picture of pretenders! We’ll do it the same way for the AFC in the segment below: We’ll sift through the also-rans hanging around in the middle of the standings and eliminate any team that doesn’t really belong. We’ll skip the NFC East because they all stink like low tide, and we’ll also skip the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams because they play on Monday Night Football. But that still leaves us contemplating the fates of teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, and, yes, the mighty Detroit Lions.
Arizona Cardinals (5-2)
The good: They’re fun on a bun to watch. Every play on offense and defense looks like it was scratched out in playground dirt, and their explosive capability on both sides of the ball makes them a tough matchup for any opponent in the NFL.
The bad: Kyler Murray makes some brilliant plays with his arm and legs but has the accuracy of a garden hose on the “mist” setting. Kliff Kingsbury needs to scrap about half of his precious triple-stack formation screen concepts and play regular football. The defense, like the offense, too often lives and dies by the big play.
The skinny: This week’s NFL Recap will not be able to do their Week 7 game justice, as we will need a few weeks to process Sunday night’s 37-34 overtime mescaline vision quest over the Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals are good enough to beat any team in the NFL at their best and bad enough to lose to just about anyone at their worst, meaning that they could end up in a 9-7 cluster lump with a bunch of other NFC teams.
Unfortunately, they already have losses to the Panthers and Lions, two of the teams likely to be clustered with them, and the NFC West will do them zero favors. That made Sunday night’s wild win against the Seahawks crucial, allowing them to hang in the divisional race while giving them a conference win for Wild Card tiebreakers. The Cardinals looked like they would be “ELIMINATED” as of 11:30 PM when the Seahawks held a 10-point lead. As of the wee hours of the morning, they were not eliminated. Far from it, in fact.
Carolina Panthers (3-4)
The good: Teddy Bridgewater generally does a fine job distributing passes among weapons like D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel. The Panthers play everyone close.
The bad: The Panthers may have the worst tackling defense in the NFL. Their offense has gone from not missing Christian McCaffrey at all to missing him a lot as Mike Davis has returned to being just another running back. Matt Rhule tried to extend the game with a 65-yard field goal against the Saints, a welcome change from the weeks when he tried to win with three 21-yarders.
The skinny: The Panthers are a high-energy rebuilding team playing at the edge of their talent and starting to fade. The Chiefs and Buccaneers should deliver a 1-2 knockout blow in Weeks 9 and 10. ELIMINATED.
Detroit Lions (3-3)
The good: Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and some of the best defensive players the 2017 New England Patriots had to offer.
The bad: The Lions are just barely good enough to beat the Atlanta Falcons on the most unlikely series of end-of-game blunders since the last unlikely series of end-of-game Falcons blunders.
The skinny: The Lions face the Colts, Vikings, Washington, Panthers, and Texans. They’re likely to be at least 6-5 at the end of that stretch. A quality quarterback, a stud receiver, and enough sturdy veterans on both sides of the ball to beat the bottom feeders of the world can take a mediocre team with a soft schedule a long way. The Detroit Lions are that team. Not eliminated.
New Orleans Saints (4-2)
The good: Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, a fine offensive line, and lots of guys no one has ever heard of. Plus, Michael Thomas should soon return.
The bad: The Saints have won four games by a total of 11 points, three of them against middleweight-at-best competition. They have a unique gift for pass interference and unnecessary roughness penalties.
The skinny: The Saints have the pedigree and reputation of contenders but the stats and film of some wobbly also-ran like the Bears, and they share the NFC South with a Buccaneers team that would sell its soul to the devil for an extra victory (or already sold their souls and are just getting the tags and title transferred). The Saints remain very likely to reach the playoffs, but they are a far cry from the 13-3 Super Bowl contender we have come to take for granted. Not eliminated.
San Francisco 49ers (4-3)
The good: In a development which has stunned the football world, the 49ers are better when Jimmy Garoppolo is mostly healthy and has George Kittle and Deebo Samuel to throw to than they were when Nick Mullens was throwing to Ross Dwelley or Garoppolo was trying to face the Miami Dolphins while practically still on crutches.
The bad: Their defense and running back corps are still crippled by injuries. Opponents may soon figure out that half of their offense consists of screens and shovel passes.
The skinny: The 49ers face the Seahawks, Packers, and Saints in their next three games. So while they have been playing gutsy football that would easily win the NFC East and are a better team when injury-ravaged than the Lions are when relatively healthy, they are likely to fall off the playoff pace. It’s not fair, but it may be inevitable. Until it actually happens, however, the 49ers are not eliminated.
It’s time for NFL Week 7 Recap to prune the AFC playoff picture of pretenders! The rules are simple: We’ll sift through the also-rans hanging around in the middle of the standings and eliminate any team that doesn’t really belong. Since it’s only Week 7, we’ll be lenient and only eliminate one team. However, we’ll still cast a critical eye on teams like the Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders, and (yes) Buffalo Bills, who keep flunking opportunities to separate themselves from the pack.
Buffalo Bills (5-2)
The good: If the NFL awarded trophies for winning September, the Bills would have something to display in the lobby of headquarters. There’s plenty of talent all over the roster. Josh Allen is less like a roller coaster and more like some science fiction vessel that can burst from the ocean floor into low orbit and then crash down again at a moment’s notice; at least the highs are starting to be worth the lows.
The bad: The defense is soft and gets carried away with the bend-don’t-break tactics. The team takes too many foolish penalties on both sides of the ball. If the New York Jets figured out how to defend Allen on Sunday (it looked like a lot of Man-1 coverage with pass rushers staying in their lanes to prevent scrambles), it means that everyone has figured out how to defend Allen.
The verdict: The Bills are the best team in the AFC East. That’s not as bad as being the best team in the NFC East, so it will probably end with a 9-7 record and a loss in a home playoff game. Not Eliminated.
Cleveland Browns (5-2)
The good: When everything is clicking, they’re balanced and efficient on offense and can get after the quarterback on defense.
The bad: They look like castoffs from the Mid-American Conference when facing true contenders.
The verdict: The Browns face the Raiders before their bye, then face the Texans, Eagles, and Jaguars. They’ll probably be 7-4 or 8-3 after that stretch if they play like they did in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Their wins may look like MAC-tion, but they still count in the NFL standings. Not Eliminated.
Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
The good: A strong offensive line, a play-making secondary, and clever Frank Reich game plans that keep Philip Rivers from morphing into Grampy Turnovers in most games.
The bad: A schedule full of opponents like the Jets and Bengals has hidden a few weaknesses. Losses to the Jaguars and Browns make it hard to get too excited about the Colts. And Grampy Turnovers is always just a late-game comeback attempt away.
The verdict. There’s a Ravens-Titans-Packers-Titans patch of the schedule starting in two weeks. Let’s let the Colts have their fun until then. Not Eliminated.
Las Vegas Raiders (3-3)
The good: Derek Carr has deep, diverse weapons on offense, and Jon Gruden is still capable of designing game plans that can surprise the Chiefs and Saints and somehow turn Nelson Agholor into a human highlight reel.
The bad: The Raiders’ defense can only stop opponents that stop themselves.
The verdict: The Raiders offense will make them a tough out and potential spoiler all season long, and they’ve got lots of Chargers, Falcons, and Jets on their upcoming schedule. Despite a thorough beating from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, look for them to linger in the playoff picture for a while. Not Eliminated.
Miami Dolphins (3-3)
The good: Tua is coming! Tua is coming!
The bad: The closest thing the Dolphins have to a quality win came against a 49ers team that tossed Jimmy Garoppolo onto the field to play quarterback on one leg.
The skinny: The Dolphins have played most opponents tough this year, do a lot of little things well (special teams, avoiding penalties), and should get a boost from Tua Tagovailoa taking over at quarterback. Weaker teams than this have made the AFC playoffs in recent years. And the AFC East isn’t all that tough. The Dolphins will probably come up short this year, but the fact that they are still worth mentioning as November approaches is a sign of progress. Not Eliminated.
New England Patriots (2-4)
The good: There’s still plenty of talent on defense.
The bad: They’re the Jets on offense.
The verdict: The Patriots are the 2016 Carolina Panthers dressed as an all-time sports dynasty for Halloween. ELIMINATED.
Baker Mayfield bounced back. Todd Gurley and the Atlanta Falcons went Medieval. And the New England Patriots coaching staff proved that it wasn’t so smart. The Week 7 edition of NFL Recap’s Studs ‘n’ Duds has something for history buffs, martial arts film lovers, and anyone who loves their NFL action with a hefty helping of strangeness.
Stud: Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
Mayfield shook off a slow start to throw for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-34 Browns victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Mayfield completed 21 straight passes at one point, despite the absences of tight end Austin Hooper and (for most of the game) wide receiver Odell Beckham, which forced him to spread the ball among targets like rookie tight end Harrison Bryant and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Gosh, NFL Week 7 Recap sure is glad we didn’t spend the last week on the Internet posting videos dunking on Mayfield’s every flaw and demanding that he get benched after his rough outing (while playing through a rib injury) against the vicious Pittsburgh Steelers defense in Week 6.
Mayfield is better than he was in Week 6 and not as good as he looked against a weak defense on Sunday. Quarterbacks have ups and downs, folks. You’ll drive yourselves nutty if you spend every week on the roller coaster.
Duds: Jon Bostic, LB Washington Football Team
Bostic earned an ejection for nearly decapitating Andy Dalton. There’s absolutely no excuse for a defender lowering his helmet and diving at a quarterback who is clearly sliding.
Stud: Marquez Callaway, WR, New Orleans Saints
There are low-level prospects, and then there’s a guy who ended his college career as the third-best receiver on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Saints presumably signed Callaway as an undrafted rookie because of his punt return chops. However, Callaway found his way onto the field with Emmanuel Sanders unavailable, and Michael Thomas still nursing injuries and/or grudges. Callaway caught eight passes for 75 yards for the Saints in their 27-24 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Somewhere on a streaming service, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson are doing their “Heidy-heidy-heidy-hi” routine, a 30-year old joke based on a 90-year old reference. And it’s still kinda funny.
Dud: Jarrett Stidham, QB, New England Patriots
We’re not going to harp too much on Stidham, who replaced an ineffective Cam Newton in the 33-6 Patriots loss to the 49ers and ended up looking like Nathan Peterman’s baby brother. Instead, let’s harp on the fact that super-geniuses Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels kept this glorified towel boy on the roster for two seasons and risked sparking the kind of quarterback controversy that Facebook will mistake for foreign propaganda by tossing him onto the field on Sunday. Hubris has struck down one half of the Belichick-Tom Brady divorce, and it’s licking its chops to get to the other half.
Stud: Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Godwin returned from injury to catch nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs 45-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. It will be the last time for a while that Godwin can have a big day without a fellow receiver writing it down in his burn book and biding his time until he throws a practice-field tantrum about his target total.
Dud: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins
Sure, losing your high-profile gig stinks, especially when you feel you have been doing the job pretty darn well; lots and lots and lots of us can relate. But there is something to be said about acting like a professional, especially when you are being paid $10.5 million specifically to teach Tua Tagovailoa deep insights into how to act like a professional instead of pouting to the media about getting benched.
Seriously: can you imagine if Fitzpatrick, mentor extraordinaire, were the sensei in a martial arts movie?
FITZPATRICK: Remove the pebble from my palm, Grasshopper.
TUA: (swiping pebble) I did it! I am now ready to begin my hero’s journey!
FITZPATRICK: Not so fast there, padawan. I’m still pretty spry. You stay here and bring water from the well up the mountainside for a few more months. I will avenge your family’s death for you.
TUA: What? No! It’s my destiny to be the hero. Haven’t you read the prophecies?
FITZPATRICK: Prophecies, shmophercies. I read the script. I only appear two more times in this movie, once as a flashback and once as a Force Ghost. The heck with that. This is now the tragedy of a charming beardo who was cast aside too soon. Whenever you make a mistake, you impudent little upstart, the camera will cut to me on the sideline, looking eager to rush onto the field to save the day so I can make both you and the Dolphins look foolish.
TUA: Is this some clever final lesson? Are you teaching me exactly how not to behave if I hope to be a leader and the public face of a franchise?
FITZPATRICK: Yeah, sure, whatever. Now hush while I contact my agent and set up a role as Trevor Lawrence’s mentor next year.
And with that, let’s move onto the Week 7 Awards …
Defender of the Week
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Devin White recorded three sacks, including one where he swiped Derek Carr to the ground with one hand like a grizzly bear swatting a salmon, and another to halt Carr short of a first down on a critical fourth-down bootleg.
Offensive Line of the Week
The San Francisco 49ers offensive line of Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Hroniss Grasu, Daniel Brunskill, and Mike McGlinchey helped a cast of irregulars at running back rush for 197 yards and four touchdowns (three of them by Jeff Wilson) while holding the New England Patriots to just one sack.
Special Teamer of the Week
Byron Pringle broke the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Denver Broncos open in the second quarter with a 102-yard kickoff return on a snow-dusted field.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight
There’s a tale from the First Crusade in the 11th century about Crusaders who were using a battering ram to break down a city’s main gate. The Ottoman defenders desperately poured flaming pitch down on the battering ram so it would catch fire and splinter, while the crusaders rushed around with water to douse the flames.
The ram soon breached the gate but then got jammed into the entrance in the same way the sofa always gets jammed in a doorway when you are helping a friend move into a new apartment, making it impossible for the Crusaders to storm the city. So both sides switched jobs: the Crusaders rushed to get some flaming pitch so the ram would catch fire and splinter, while the Ottomans desperately poured water to douse the flames.
If you don’t understand what this story has to do with NFL Week 7, you did not watch the end of the Detroit Lions/Atlanta Falcons game, in which the Lions hoped to allow Todd Gurley to score quickly so they could get the ball back, while the Falcons hoped Gurley would be stopped so they could milk the clock before a game-winning field goal.
As always happens at the end of a Falcons game, they screwed it up, with Gurley remembering not to score at the one-inch line but still crossing the plane, setting up the team’s regularly-scheduled gut punch to their few remaining fans.
Anyway, this week’s BACSEH award goes to Lions safety Will Harris, who made a fine show of wrapping up Gurley, getting dragged a yard or two, and then letting go like a Hollywood stuntman letting go of the rear fender of a Fast & Furious Lamborghini.
It looked as though Harris, like Gurley, forgot what he was supposed to do until the last second. But any medieval Ottoman city defender will tell you that this stuff can get confusing.
With their closer-than-it-should-have-been 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now the NFL’s only undefeated team. But is a narrow win against a tough challenger enough to push the Steelers past the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens and make them Super Bowl favorites? NFL Recap breaks down both a revealing Week 7 victory and the reasons why the Steelers are currently the best team in the AFC.
Steelers-Titans Week 7 NFL Recap
The Steelers took a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter with the help of two Diontae Johnson touchdown catches. They then held on for dear life in a game where their offense mixed brilliant plays with too many critical blunders (turnovers, stalled drives after starting with great field position, penalties that wiped out critical first down conversions) while the Titans mixed some solid execution with more than their share of lucky breaks (tip-drill receptions, a Ryan Tannehill strip-sack pounced upon by offensive linemen, a fumbled punt snap that didn’t lead to disaster).
The Titans had a chance to win or force overtime following Ben Roethlisberger throwing his second interception in the end zone of the game at the two-minute warning. But a spirited drive ended when Stephen Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left like a curveball that got away from a veteran pitcher.
Why the 6-0 Steelers should be considered Super Bowl favorites
The Steelers may have more offensive weapons than the Chiefs right now. Roethlisberger benefitted on Sunday from several elusive catch-and-run plays from Johnson (who suffered a late-game injury which is believed to be minor), a shoestring catch on third-and-12, some rugged YAC rumbles by Juju Smith-Schuster (who isn’t known for being all that rugged), a leaping third-and-14 catch from Eric Ebron, and a typically solid all-purpose game from James Conner.
Throw in Chase Claypool, Benny Snell, receiver/return ace Ray-Ray McCloud, and others, and the Steelers pose more matchup headaches than Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and company. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is better than Roethlisberger, but the Steelers also have a much healthier offensive line than the Chiefs, and it’s not like Roethlisberger is going to wilt in a big-game spotlight or anything.
Meanwhile, the Steelers defense is far superior to the Chiefs’ defense. It entered Week 7 as the best defense in the AFC per Football Outsiders and played better than Sunday’s final stats and score indicated. The Ravens defense may be better now that Yannick Ngakoue joins them after the bye, but the Ravens are also trying to quietly hide the fact that Lamar Jackson and their offense is not nearly as dominant as it was last year.
Yes, Sunday’s win was too close for comfort and sloppy at times. It was also a win against the only other team in the AFC that entered Week 7 undefeated. The Chiefs have their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and a close call against the Los Angeles Chargers in their portfolio. The Ravens have lost to the Chiefs and have not looked all that unbeatable against their NFC East opponents.
As for the rest of the conference: The Titans are a Wild Card team that doesn’t know it yet, the Buffalo Bills struggled to beat the New York Jets, and the New England Patriots are a zombie shambling around on sheer reputation and Bill Belichick willpower.
After Sunday’s action, the AFC Super Bowl conversation clearly comes down to Chiefs/Ravens/Steelers, then everyone else. How we rank those top three teams mostly comes down to personal taste and how much weight we put on past accomplishments. NFL Week 7 Recap is putting the Steelers first right now. But that ranking is subject to change in one week.
What’s next for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
The Steelers visit the Ravens with the balance of power in the AFC North, the conference, and perhaps the NFL on the line. And that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
Are the 2020 Dallas Cowboys the worst team in franchise history? Maybe not, but their 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team was one of the ugliest performances NFL Recap has ever seen from a bunch of guys with blue stars on their helmets. And Andy Dalton’s injury threatens to make them even worse. So let’s round out the Week 7 NFL Recap answering some tough questions about head coach Mike McCarthy and the quarterback situation as we break down the state of the Cowboys past, present, and future.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Football Team Week 7 NFL Recap
Landon Collins strip-sacked Andy Dalton for a safety on the first Cowboys possession of the game. Then, the Cowboys found ways to make things worse.
Dalton left the game in the third quarter after a wicked helmet-to-helmet blow from linebacker Jon Bostic, but by then, he had already thrown a red-zone interception before halftime and missed a wide-open receiver on a fourth-down conversion, in addition to that strip-sack. Seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci replaced Dalton and didn’t appear certain of the proper technique for fielding a shotgun snap (he one-hands them) or executing a routine pitch play (he sent one sailing past Ezekiel Elliott).
DiNucci aside, the Cowboys committed enough comical bloopers in this game to make Daniel Jones’ Thursday night stumble look like a Bo Jackson highlight. Cornerback Trevon Diggs got toasted like a bridegroom on a Terry McLaurin touchdown one play after trying to start a scuffle.
Washington quarterback Kyle Allen, who will never be confused with Josh Allen as a runner, shook off defenders Aldon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch for a first down on a third-and-long scramble. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called loopy plays — a slow-developing third-and-4 swing pass to CeeDee Lamb leaps to mind — and had no plan for protecting the Red Rifle or the Italian Scallion.
When Tank Lawrence jumped offsides on fourth-and-1 to give Washington a first down in the fourth quarter, it was almost a positive play for the Cowboys: better to let Washington handoff and munch the clock than send the sorry offense back onto the field.
So why isn’t this the worst Dallas Cowboys team ever?
First of all, it’s only Week 7. Secondly, the Cowboys were 0-11-1 in their inaugural season in 1960, with losses by scores of 48-7 and 45-7. If you don’t like going back to the Eisenhower administration, NFL Recap remembers the 1988-89 teams that went 4-28 over two years as Jimmy Johnson used the Herschel Walker trade and some amazing draft classes to completely rebuild the team. Even in recent times, the 4-12 Cowboys of 2015 were a lot like this team: high expectations, early-season quarterback injury, roster-wide pratfall.
But while they may not be the worst, this may be the most frustrating and disappointing Cowboys team in history. The 2015 Cowboys looked fine until Tony Romo got hurt. These Cowboys were bad with Dak Prescott and will only get worse as they begin combing practice squads and entering trade talks for quarterbacks.
Should Mike McCarthy be fired?
Yellow flags have been popping up around McCarthy since the moment he admitted that his year-long sabbatical wasn’t really the film-grinding think tank his press clippings made it out to be. These Cowboys struggle with the basics of blocking, tackling, coverage, and snap-handling, which is a major indictment of the entire coaching staff.
But despite midweek rumblings which will likely grow louder in the days ahead, McCarthy won’t be fired, in large part because Jerry Jones won’t admit his mistake so quickly. McCarthy may be forced to sacrifice defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to the volcano god of Jerry’s ego. And that’s just fine.
Should the Cowboys trade for a quarterback?
Dalton’s status for Week 8 and beyond was unknown at NFL Recap press time, which clouds an already foggy picture at quarterback.
A trade deadline deal is certainly plausible and might be necessary if Dalton misses significant time. Ryan Fitzpatrick would be an incremental upgrade over a healthy Dalton; Jones should definitely consider Fitzpatrick if he wants to trade a mid-round pick (at least) for one or two twinkle-eyed self-promoting press conferences after narrow divisional wins. (Fitzpatrick and McCarthy would be perfect for each other).
Only an absolute ghoul would want to see Alex Smith playing behind the current Cowboys line. And Sam Darnold is a pipe dream, not a realistic option. That leaves failed prospects from the bargain bin, like Josh Rosen or Dwayne Haskins. If Dalton misses significant time, the Cowboys should invest a (very) late-round draft pick in an extended audition for someone with a higher ceiling than DiNucci.
What the Cowboys should NOT do is twist their roster in knots to try to win the NFC East at 7-9. Spending resources that could help the team in 2021 on this salvage operation would just spread this team’s pain over multiple seasons.
What’s next for the Cowboys?
The Cowboys visit the 2-4-1 Eagles next week in the pre-election Sunday Night Football game America deserves. The Eagles offense may be down to Carson Wentz and 10 guys who mention “former college athlete” on their Linkedin profiles. And they open as 3.5-point favorites.