1) The Vikings should be considered the second-best team in the NFL
Through Sunday, the 8-1 Vikings boast the NFL's second-best record, trailing only the undefeated Eagles. (UPDATE: Philadelphia suffered its first defeat of the season on Monday night, dropping to 8-1 with a 32-21 loss to Washington.) So ... is Minnesota the NFL's second-best team? Well, if this were the NFL Power Rankings, as opposed to the Schein Nine, I would indeed put the Vikes in the No. 2 spot. They fully deserve it following a thrilling overtime win in Buffalo. Thus, the above statement is factual.
I love Kevin O'Connell. I love his playbook and his positivity. He's a gem, a top-notch Coach of the Year candidate. Can't imagine many folks thought he'd take eight of his first nine games as a head coach, and this latest triumph was more than just another notch in the win column. We'd been waiting for Minnesota to provide a true statement victory. Sunday in Western New York, O'Connell's team erased a 17-point second-half deficit and knocked off Buffalo, my preseason Super Bowl pick. That'll do.
Minnesota survived -- and eventually thrived in -- the zaniest and best game of this season so far. Justin Jefferson offered up another masterpiece, catching 10 balls for 193 yards and a touchdown. His highlight reel from this game alone includes numerous jaw-dropping feats, but none greater than the 32-yard grab on fourth-and-18 where the 23-year-old used one hand to highpoint Kirk Cousins' heave and rip the ball away from Bills DB Cam Lewis before somehow maintaining possession on his descent to the turf. Simply amazing -- but also nothing new for No. 18. Jefferson has played 42 games in this league, and he already boasts 20 100-yard efforts. That's the most century-mark outings by any NFL player in his first three seasons, and the guy still has eight more games to add to the record! Credit is also due to Cousins, who bounced back from two ghastly interceptions to provide brilliant returns in the fourth quarter and overtime, where he notched his fifth game-winning drive of the season -- already a career high!
I know the Vikings have won seven straight games by one score. I know that if Josh Allen hadn't come apart down the stretch, we'd be having a different conversation. I know Sean McDermott fouled up not kicking the field goal in the fourth quarter that would've re-extended Buffalo's lead to 13 points. But the Vikings ran the ball with authority, as Dalvin Cook piled up 119 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries (8.5 yards a pop). They made clutch plays on defense, notching four takeaways, including two game-defining picks from Patrick Peterson. Jefferson did Jefferson things, and Cousins delivered down the stretch in a huge spot.
These Vikings, who already own a five-game lead over the rest of the NFC North in the loss column, are legit. Deal with it.
2) The Dolphins are the team to beat in the AFC East
The Browns went into their Week 9 bye fresh off a 32-13 beatdown of the Bengals on Monday Night Football. They came out of the rest week, traveled to Miami and ran right into a buzzsaw.
The Dolphins logged their fourth straight win in a 39-17 dismantling of the Browns. Mike McDaniel's offense looked special once again, with Tua Tagovailoa completing 25 of his 32 throws (78.1 percent) for 285 yards and three touchdowns. The man has three touchdown passes in each of his last three outings, completing 76.5 percent of his passes for 969 yards and a 137.7 quarterback rating in this span. Miami also had it going on the ground, with Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert combining for 184 yards and two scores on just 23 carries.
Suddenly, the 7-3 Dolphins sit alone atop the AFC East, with the Bills and Jets at 6-3 and the Patriots at 5-4. Buffalo is in a funk with two straight losses, but ... I still think the Bills are the best team in this division. They still have a chance to exact revenge for their Week 3 loss in Miami, with a home date against the Dolphins in Week 15. So, while I love McDaniel's offensive juggernaut, that statement is fiction. I still believe this division goes through Orchard Park.
3) Patrick Mahomes = MVP front-runner
That's a fact, Jack! Who's Jack? I don't know, but I bet he enjoyed watching No. 15 in red on Sunday.
Kansas City's rushing offense and scoring defense rank in the bottom half of the NFL. Tyreek Hill leads the league in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,148), but he's doing so in a Dolphins uniform. And yet, here the Chiefs are at 7-2, holding the AFC's coveted No. 1 seed. That's the Patrick Mahomes factor.
The league leader in passing yards (2,936) and touchdown passes (25) had his way with the Jaguars in a 27-17 win, throwing three first-half touchdowns to give K.C. a 20-0 lead, then added another scoring strike after the break. Here's an amazing note from the good folks over at NFL Research: Mahomes has thrown four-plus passing touchdowns in 22.2 percent of his career games (16 of 72); no other QB in NFL history has a mark over 15 percent (min. 60 career games). During the Chiefs' current three-game win streak, Mahomes has thrown for an even 1,200 yards, while also flashing his underrated legs in the past two games. Oh, and this cat's now won 24 straight contests in November/December, which is the longest win streak in any two-month span since QB wins began as a stat in 1950.
It's Mahomes' world right now, and we're all just living in it.
4) Mike McCarthy should've kicked the field goal in overtime
While some haters have made a sport of criticizing McCarthy over the years, I've always been a fan. He's a fine head coach with a Super Bowl ring to prove it. So it gives me no pleasure to pile on, but that assertion is factual, even if McCarthy continues to claim it was the right decision.
In the opening drive of OT, Dallas faced a fourth-and-3 at the Green Bay 35-yard line. With an experienced, reliable kicker in Brett Maher, the 'Boys should've gone for the three-point lead. No, a field goal would not have immediately ended the game, but it would've applied serious pressure on Aaron Rodgers and Co. in their ensuing drive.
Instead, Dak Prescott took the snap, dropped back and had the pocket cave in on him. A desperation flick to Tony Pollard while Prescott was being taken to the ground fell incomplete. Rodgers, only needing a field goal for the win, promptly marched the Packers into chip-shot range in four plays, allowing Mason Crosby to ice a thriller in front of the Lambeau faithful.
Giving Green Bay its first win since the outset of October, 6-3 Dallas dropped to third in the NFC East. And McCarthy, who was back on the sideline in Green Bay for the first time since his firing, left town with a painful loss.
5) Jeff Saturday proved Jim Irsay right
Slow down. Fiction. Personally, I like Jeff Saturday a lot, but I still don't understand how Jim Irsay pulled the trigger on this illogical hire. Prior to getting this job, Saturday had zero coaching experience at the college or pro level. No NFL team had made such a hire since the expansion Vikings tabbed a recently retired Norm Van Brocklin as their first head coach back in 1961. In related news, Van Brocklin went on to coach for 13 seasons -- six with the Vikings, seven with the Falcons -- and managed just three winning campaigns, failing to ever hit the postseason. I'm with Joe Thomas and Bill Cowher: This was an outrageously irresponsible move by Irsay. No wonder Colts execs tried to talk Irsay out of it, as NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported on Sunday.
Yes, Saturday won his debut, with the Colts beating the moribund Raiders, 25-20. To me, though, that was more about the coach on the other sideline. Josh McDaniels lost a home contest to a man coaching his first game above the high school level. That's a staggering embarrassment to a head coach who, once again, looks in above his head with a 2-7 team. This was just the latest insult in McDaniels' second stint in the big chair. In Week 8, the Raiders were shut out 24-0 by the sub-.500 Saints. In Week 9, they lost their third game of the season in which they'd held a lead of 17-plus points, this one to the rebuilding Jaguars. And on Sunday, McDaniels lost to Saturday. Just a horrendous three-game stretch in a lost season that began with such high hopes for the Silver and Black.
6) The 49ers are back!
Sunday night's 22-16 win over the injury-riddled Chargers was far from transcendent, but it's still a fact. With all due respect to the surprising Seahawks, who currently lead the NFC West, these 49ers are going to win the division. Kyle Shanahan has a crazy wealth of offensive riches; once this group gets more time together, look out. Especially if Jimmy Garoppolo keeps playing within himself -- SEE: zero giveaways over the past two games -- and simply distributing the ball to his dynamic pack of catch-and-run playmakers. Meanwhile, the defense has now allowed fewer than 20 points in seven of its nine games this season.
And here's another thing ... Look at the Niners remaining regular season opponents:
How many more games will San Francisco lose in that cake walk? This 5-4 team is about to take off.
7) The Buccaneers are back!
Fiction. Now, credit Tampa Bay for rolling past a strong Seattle team in Germany, 21-16. The Seahawks scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes of play to make the game appear closer than it actually was. Color me shocked, too: This might have been Tom Brady's best game in the worst season of his career. The man clearly enjoys playing overseas, as evidenced by his 4-0 career record in international games.
With the Bucs' win coming in the wake of the Falcons' bad loss at Carolina last Thursday, Tampa Bay now sits alone atop the NFC South. So that's good. Here's the rub, though: The Bucs are still just 5-5 and don't look at all like a team poised to make a postseason run. Obviously, it's stupid to ever completely dismiss a TB12-led group, but I don't view this team in the same stratosphere as the Eagles, Vikings or 49ers on the NFC side.
8) The Giants must pay Saquon Barkley
This is a fact. And they will. NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported on Sunday morning that the Giants talked to Barkley's representatives about a new deal during New York's Week 9 bye. Super smart and predictable. Barkley is a prime Comeback Player of the Year candidate, looking back to his majestic Penn State/rookie-season form. He gashed the hapless Texans for 152 rushing yards, fueling the Giants' 24-16 win. Barkley leads the NFL in rushing with 931 yards. Not coincidentally, the G-Men are sitting at 7-2. The last time they won seven games? Back in 2016, when they finished 11-5 and made their most recent playoff appearance.
Credit Brian Daboll, obviously. This team is so supremely coached and buttoned up. All seven of New York's wins have come by one score. That is something for a rookie head coach. The Giants don't have much star power beyond the guy in the No. 26 jersey, but what a star he is. And he's still just 25 years old!
Saquon is back and better than ever. No way Daboll and savvy GM Joe Schoen let him walk after this season.
9) The Bears have a quarterback
This is an absolute fact. And I know Fields threw a crippling, fourth-quarter pick-six in Sunday's 31-30 loss to the Lions. But he instantly bounced back with a 67-yard lightning-strike rushing score. Fields' numbers in the game were fantastic, as the Bears quarterback stuffed the stat sheet with 167 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 147 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and a partridge in a pear tree. His 555 rushing yards since Week 6 are the most by a quarterback in any five-game span in the Super Bowl era.
But beyond the mind-bending statistics -- and I could cite many more -- the feel is off the charts. Fields has the "it" factor with the ball in his hands. He has you on the edge of your seat with every Bears possession. And the rapport with third-year tight end Cole Kmet (five touchdown catches in the past three weeks) is on fire and inspiring.
Chicago (3-7) lost to Detroit because the kicker missed an extra point, the defense got gashed and the Bears had some rather dense penalties. Don't let those things fool you, though: Chicago has something special at quarterback. For real. The Bears finally have a difference-maker at the game's most important position. Congratulations, Windy City.