NFL

Cowboys take top-scoring offense to Arrowhead, Newton reunited with Rivera

By Sports Desk November 19, 2021

Will the NFL return to some form of normality this week? Maybe... or maybe not.

Even in this season of shock results without any clear Super Bowl favourite, Week 10 stood out for its sheer number of upsets.

The defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were stunned by the Washington Football Team, the Miami Dolphins overturned the Baltimore Ravens and the short-handed league-leading Arizona Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers.

When the San Francisco 49ers then beat NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams in Monday Night Football, it became the first week in NFL history in which four teams had won by double-digits having entered the week at least four wins behind their opponents.

Week 11 looks no easier to call, and there are plenty of intriguing matchups before even considering the potential for further setbacks for some favourites.

Dallas Cowboys (7-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

With Patrick Mahomes back on form, two of the best teams in the NFL should be set for a titanic tussle at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Mahomes, setting aside his shaky displays to that point, threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions against the Las Vegas Raiders last week, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have two games of 400-plus passing yards, five-plus TD passes and no picks in his career.

The 41-14 win represented the league-leading 10th time the Chiefs have scored 40 points in a game since the start of the 2018 season, yet they were topped by the Cowboys, whose 43-3 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons was their biggest since a 48-7 victory over Arizona in 2000.

The Cowboys have gone 5-2-1 all-time previously in games following a win of at least 40 points (including playoffs), but this was an unprecedented success. The team's 29 points in the second quarter in Week 10 were their most in a single quarter of any game in their history.

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) @ Buffalo Bills (6-3)

Neither the Chiefs nor the Cowboys can match the Bills' average winning margin of 26.3 points this year. That is the highest mark in the NFL, having been boosted by last week's 45-17 victory over the New York Jets, their NFL-leading sixth win by 15 or more points.

The Cowboys are ahead of the Bills in points per game, but Buffalo have given up the fewest points per game. The last team to lead on both offense and defense in this regard were the 2005 Colts.

The achievements of this year's Colts team have been rather more modest. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-34 (.261).

Still, Jonathan Taylor has excelled, scoring a rushing touchdown in seven straight games – the last NFL player to reach eight was DeAngelo Williams in 2008. In fact, there is rushing talent on both sides of the ball, with the Bills last week having four different players score rushing TDs for the first time in team history.

Arizona Cardinals (8-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

Another week, another big NFC West game. The Cardinals' form has tailed away a little since Kyler Murray's injury, but they are still unbeaten on the road and looking to start 6-0 away from home for only the second time in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have their starting QB back, but Russell Wilson did little to help their offense against the Green Bay Packers. He was shut out for the first time in his NFL career in his 166th start (including playoffs).

Seattle's problems on that side of the ball did not end there, though. They were held to under 100 rushing yards for a third consecutive game for the first time since the end of the 2016 season, while only twice in the 21st century have they seen such a streak extended to four games.

Whether or not the Seahawks recover this week, history suggests they are likely to be able to stick with the Cardinals. Six of the past 10 meetings between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer.

Elsewhere...

Cam Newton's Panthers face Ron Rivera's Washington, their first meeting since both left Carolina (Newton returned last week). This is the third time since 2010 a former MVP QB has faced the coach he won his award with, following Peyton Manning versus Jim Caldwell in 2015 and Tom Brady against Bill Belichick earlier this season.

The 49ers are now 4-1 when Jimmy Garoppolo's passer rating is above 100.0 this year (141.7 vs. the Rams) and 0-3 when it is not. He was helped last week by a season-high 156 rushing yards, keeping San Francisco's offense on the ball for just over 39 minutes. They should expect more of the same against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have failed to force a turnover in six games this season.

The Cincinnati Bengals need both of their former LSU stars to rediscover some form at the Raiders. Joe Burrow has thrown an interception in five straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL, while Ja'Marr Chase – surely not helped by his QB's struggles – has fallen short of 50 receiving yards in consecutive games after making that mark in his first seven appearances.

The Detroit Lions will hope to learn from next opponents the Cleveland Browns, who have returned to contention since in 2018 becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to end a losing streak of 10-plus games with a tie. Last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions became the second.

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    The New York Jets and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief after an MRI on Zach Wilson's right knee showed a healthy ACL, avoiding the worst-case scenario.

    The scans showed that the second-year quarterback is dealing with a bone bruise and torn meniscus, according to multiple media reports. Wilson will undergo arthroscopic surgery and is expected to miss the rest of the preseason.

    His status for the Jets' season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on September 11 is in question, but there is some optimism that he could suit up.

    Wilson suffered the injury Friday night while scrambling in the Jets' preseason opener against the Eagles.

    Wilson made an awkward cut during the 7-yard rush and fell to the turf. Given the non-contact nature of the injury, Jets fans and pundits feared he had torn his ACL, which would have ended his season.

    The second overall pick in the 2021 draft, Wilson went 3-10 as a starter in his rookie campaign, throwing for nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

  • Baker Mayfield to take first-team snaps in Panthers' preseason opener Baker Mayfield to take first-team snaps in Panthers' preseason opener

    Baker Mayfield will be the Carolina Panthers' first quarterback to take the field when they open their preseason schedule against the Washington Commanders, the team confirmed.

    Mayfield and Sam Darnold continue to battle for the starting job in Carolina.

    The pair are each expected to play one series on Saturday before turning over the bulk of the game to P.J. Walker and rookie Matt Corral. 

    Mayfield getting the first chance on Saturday could be an indication that he has the inside track to the starting job, but the competition remains open. 

    Head coach Matt Rhule has called the quarterback competition an "ongoing process", and it would be no surprise if the Panthers used the entire preseason to evaluate before naming a starter. 

    "When we know, we know," Rhule said. "If we knew for sure, we would say it and just move on with it. When we, we know.

    "Every day brings new evidence. Every day brings new insights. 

    "But at the same time, they're both competitors. If one guy has a strong day, the next guy fights back the next day.

    "I think it's been healthy for our team. It's been healthy for the staff. I think it's been done the right way. I'm pleased with where it's at."

    The Panthers open the regular season on September 11 against the Cleveland Browns, Mayfield's former team. 

    The two signal-callers will be forever linked as the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft, with Mayfield going first overall and Darnold being chosen third. 

    Darnold spent three seasons with the New York Jets before being traded to the Panthers for draft picks last April. He won his first three starts with Carolina last season before finishing 4-7 with nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. 

    Mayfield started 59 career games for the Browns, and his efficient play in 2020 helped lead Cleveland to their first playoff victory since the 1994 season. 

    Mayfield's injury-marred 2021 campaign was a letdown, however, and the Browns chose to pursue Deshaun Watson in the trade market. 

  • 'Work to do' for Watson but Stefanski says uncertainty not to blame for debut display 'Work to do' for Watson but Stefanski says uncertainty not to blame for debut display

    Deshaun Watson "understands there's work to do" following his Cleveland Browns preseason debut, according to head coach Kevin Stefanski.

    Watson has not played a competitive game since January 2021 and is set to see that wait extended at least into October.

    The Browns quarterback is facing a six-game suspension following a disciplinary hearing, although the NFL has appealed for a longer ban after sexual assault and misconduct allegations.

    Watson, who faced 24 civil lawsuits, was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, but he apologised "to all of the women that I have impacted" ahead of Friday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    When the game got underway, Watson was clearly rusty, with his first pass in a Browns uniform an awful overthrow.

    Although the Browns won 24-13 – having trailed 13-0 – Stefanski acknowledged Watson's debut might not have gone exactly as he planned, but the coach was asked if the uncertainty around his suspension had contributed to the shaky performance and replied: "I don't think so, I don't."

    Stefanski said: "I think he probably wants some throws back.

    "Obviously playing football for the first time in a while, it was important for him to get out there, with his team-mates, in this scheme, hearing a different voice in the helmet, those kind of things.

    "I'm sure he had the butterflies and the jitters early, but I think he understands there's work to do."

    While Watson's status has been unclear for some time, Stefanski explained the team had been working towards giving him his bow in preseason.

    "It's been something we've been talking about throughout the last months and weeks, trying to figure out what the best path forward was not just for our quarterbacks but for our entire team," he said.

    "We just thought getting him some time out there in a game setting made sense in this preseason."

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