“We are down to 125 in Survivor,” Circa’s vice president of operations and VSiN host Mike Palm texted me late Monday night after the 8-point favorite Patriots were soundly beaten by the Chicago Bears 33-14.
The game wasn’t even that close as the Bears dominated the Patriots in all three phases, causing 175 of the 382 who survived into Week 7 to say goodbye. The day before, 70 bid farewell with the Bucs losing as a 13-point favorite to the Panthers. The Chargers and Jags each took away another five each and two decided to make no pick, thus leaving the total entering Week 8 at 125.
When Circa started its Survivor contest, there were 6,133 entrees, and after seven weeks, 2 percent remain. Are those 125 bettors that smart, able to forecast winners and stay away from upsets? Or has the league been turned upside down? My money is on the league being bad. In most areas and even before the Monday night game, my belief was there are only three consistently good teams: The Bills, Eagles and Chiefs. That belief was reinforced Monday night.
Besides the Eagles, are there any good teams in the NFC? I once thought the 49ers were a legitimate team, but after surrendering 44 points and more than 500 yards to the Chiefs, their injury-plagued defense might not be as good as I thought. As I wrote about last week, the 49ers look good on paper, but paper doesn’t matter in the fall. They need to play better starting this week. They need to get healthy as they went all in for the season — and if they fall short of getting to Glendale, Ariz., for the Super Bowl, all of their moves will prove fruitless.
Seattle is in first place in the NFC West, which is a shock to me and the other teams in that division. Seattle’s win total to start the season was tied for 29th with the Jets at 5.5, and both teams should easily hit the Over. The Falcons were 31st with five wins and after seven weeks, they already have three wins and are tied for first place in the NFC South. Carolina and New Orleans are both 2-5, and if they can win on Sunday will be in the thick of the race. Nothing is normal in the NFL and because of the abnormality, people who played Survivor can’t even make it through the first eight weeks.
The Giants have six wins, but does anyone believe they have a Super Bowl look to them? I bet of the 6,133 Survivor entries, using the Giants was not an option as they (even now) don’t look like a sure bet. The Giants fuel the “no one is good” belief because despite so many people in the contest now watching, handicappers and fans can evaluate great teams — and without a great quarterback or a great receiver, the Giants have never looked great. Respect their six wins, don’t trust them any week. They are a great story, demonstrating the value of experienced coaching, matching the talents of the players to the system and then being very good at situational football. They might not look pretty or explosive (their three leading receivers are all under 10 yards per catch), but they are hard to beat, particularly in the fourth quarter, which is when they have essentially won all six games.
Everyone (me included) keeps waiting for the Giants to stub their toe and remind all of us, they are not that talented. Yet each week, they continue to play their style of keeping the game close into the fourth and then watching the other team melt down. The Giants have outscored their opponents 58-22 in the fourth, which accounts for their plus-20 point differential. They are good at converting third downs, great at stopping their opponent on third down and forcing fumbles. The opponents have let the ball loose 16 times in the Giants’ seven games, more than two per game, and the Giants have recovered eight of them. They have only 30 passes defended all season, which is less than four per game and only one interception, yet they keep teams from scoring touchdowns as they have the fourth-best red zone defense and the sixth-best third-down defense. Situational football matters. Teams that don’t turn the ball over, don’t allow big plays, play well in the red zone and on third down will always be in games. Being proficient in these statistical areas allows them to keep it close and win the game in the fourth. Is this sustainable? Yes, based on the level of play in the league — as the Giants' formula for winning is time-tested.
In the AFC, the other New York team, the Jets, are hot, hot, hot. Since being a 3-point underdog in Pittsburgh, and trailing 20-10 into the fourth, the Jets have been unstoppable. They have borrowed the Giants' formula of avoiding losing and letting their defense carry the team. Since the second half of the Steelers game, the Jets have protected the football, been timely in their offensive output and allowed their defense to dominate. They have forced eight turnovers in four weeks and have allowed only 43 points in the last 13 quarters. Even though the score in the Dolphins game makes it look like a blowout, it wasn’t. The Fins missed a field goal to make the score 20-19, then the Jets reeled off 21 points for the blowout in the fourth. The two New York teams remind bettors and fans each week that the NFL is a fourth-quarter game, and both have excelled.
Can the Jets continue their winning ways? Yes, if they stay with their winning formula of not allowing quarterback Zach Wilson to make mistakes. Against the Packers and Broncos, the Jets offense converted four of 25 third-down attempts and have not thrown for more than 106 yards. How are they winning? They prevent their opponent from scoring, make a play here and there and do enough to win the game. Like the Giants, the Jets are not a trustworthy team in Survivor, so I am sure the 125 left still haven’t used them.
Winning Survivor is hard. Each week is filled with land mines, and those who avoid those mines can stay in the game. This season proves there are more land mines than ever. With only three consistently good teams, each week becomes harder and harder to find a sure winner. What Survivor has proved is that the league is at its lowest level of great teams and parity is running rampant.
Week 7 thoughts
>Tom Brady needs help. For most of his career, he has had a great slot receiver, a reliable tight end and a quality third-down back. Now, he has none of the above and trusts no one to be consistently in the right spot. For all the Bucs’ offensive struggles, their lack of run defense is what is making them perform so badly.
>Blame Aaron Rodgers if you want, but anyone who thinks that after losing Davante Adams, the Packers offense could continue to run the same schemes is delusional. For the first time in Rodgers’ career, he cannot carry the team or coach Matt LaFleur. LaFleur's liabilities as a head coach and offensive guru are known to most bettors, and now the mainstream media is finding out.
>Matt Ryan is done. He looks old and weak. As great as he played, the decline is clearly obvious, and the Colts had no choice but to move on. Will this make the Colts better? Yes, at least now with Sam Ehlinger they can move the pocket to avoid pressure. Ehlinger is a natural player, he is smart, instinctive and the only things that hold him back are his size and arm. He will give the Colts offense a little juice.
>The Ravens attempted only 16 passes all day against the Browns, completing nine, and still won the game. They dominated the time of possession as the Browns consistently got away from their best player, giving Nick Chubb only 16 carries in a one-score game. Chubb is their offense and the last two weeks he has been an afterthought.
>When the Bengals offense makes explosive plays, they are hard to slow down. In the first six weeks, they struggled to work the ball down the field. Not on Sunday. They had 10 plays of over 20 yards and three over 30. All of them for touchdowns. The Bengals cannot be consistent on offense and when they can make a chunk play, it allows them to hide their offensive line weaknesses.
>The Lions had the ball on the one-inch line against the Cowboys with 12:29 left in the game, trailing 10-6. Looks like an easy cover for anyone taking the Lions and the 7. Hold on, not so fast. Dan Campbell had other ideas. Instead of challenging the spot, Campbell, thinking he was going to outsmart someone, went tempo and the Lions fumbled the exchange. From there, the game went downhill. Unlike the Giants and Jets, who have played so well in the fourth, the Lions melted down, turning the ball over on every possession in the fourth — three fumbles and an interception — which led to the Boys covering the 7.
>Speaking of not covering, the Dolphins looked like an easy 7-point cover in the first quarter Sunday night gaining, 10 first downs and 13 points. But they didn’t kick the field goal to go up nine in the fourth quarter and held on for a six-point win. Tua Tagovailoa attempted to throw five picks, but the Steelers had brick hands and dropped each one, the last one at the end of the game, which might have given the Steelers the momentum to score. This week, the Dolphins play the Lions indoors, but from here on out, watch the forecast as Tua isn’t a weather-tested quarterback, and his mistakes and ill-timed throws will increase.
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