Not once have I, nor did I ever think I would, say aloud, “That man looks like a fighter jet.” But I did, explicitly, say this at my television less than one week ago, when agog and stunned by D.K. Metcalf’s breakneck speed.
As the supermassive 1-4 cut through every blocker, glided past and nearly horizoned every teammate before hustling down the entire length of the field to prevent Wilson’s interception from becoming a guaranteed pick-6, Metcalf looked almost exactly as menacing as the USAF; like he was intercepting exorbitantly swift enemy aircraft before the hulking, hot pink-haired wideout finally wrangled then brought down – what in-game sound would reveal later was clearly – a baffled and astonished Budda Baker inside the five-yard line.
Metcalf’s magnificent acrobatics and moxie lingered in my memory long after the near equally as astonishing, and just seconds later, third such epic Seahawks fourth down stand this short season. The first two were against the Patriots and the Vikings. Against Arizona, though, the Hawks found the right scheme to perfectly defended their endzone while pressuring Kyler Murray, to complete their second humongous fourth down stand where the Seattle defense showed a mighty though rare moment of precision and pluck; though one close but not one so equally as wild as their 4th and Goal stuff on the one yard line when time expired to seal their Week 3 win triumph at home when the Patriots were at full strength, before Cam Newton was later sidelined with a positive Covid-19 test.
This Seattle Seahawks defensive disappearing act is one of unintentional drama. Without question, the NFL has also been subjected to astronomical levels of drama, and every team has had major setbacks. Something wild and baffling seems to happen every week. Metcalf’s latest alarming brilliance is my favorite of many such sterling feats, and the best spectacularly brutal and blistering and fluid type of kinetic eruption I feel best encapsulates the on-field eloquence we know there’s a chance we witness; the locomoting magic; all of this perhaps inspired first by talent; and then second by the surreal factors and dangerous features of the league’s, and all of our strange new normal; in which, this much is clear: not one play will definitively win a game, though it still can, define a season. We could all just hypothetically just, again, ask Metcalf about six points missing via his actions – this other time against Dallas – near the goal line.
Nothing is guaranteed. We’re not even halfway through the season. It’s been excruciating, enticing, mystifying.
And I love it. Who doesn’t? This is how it should be.
Apart from the Jets, nearly every NFL team has a real chance at making a run into the playoffs. Maybe I’m exaggerating – apart from the Jets – but it feels real when I claim that should any team get hot at the right time, nothing is impossible, nothing cannot happen, nor break one way or another and it’s primarily because home-field advantage doesn’t exist anymore. Despite what all of us recall when we imagine the amplified fervor they’ve imposed on games played previously, there are exactly no true crowds involved in any game the NFL has scheduled this year. So far, the word is twenty percent capacity for the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
And now as we barrel into Week 8, when the third best in the league in passing but 1-6 Falcons take on – a wonderfully kind yet ruthlessly competitive man I once sold a pair of jeans to in the Twin Cities (I’m actually not kidding) – Teddy Bridgewater, and his banged up but rascally new and scrappy Panthers. It seems anything is possible; especially with the NFL’s new expanded playoff format, including the fact that the super stacked, and nationally praised, wild NFC West has a chance to send all four teams into the postseason for the first time in league history.
Maybe another prelude to the alarming and thrilling drama still yet to unfold, one of the most unpredictable, unreliable, and yet wildly talented, and valuably mercurial wide receivers in the NFL’s history, Antonio Brown, just this week signed with Tampa Bay. No beef reported with the team’s helmet padding style, Brown now joins a Bruce Arians run and Tom Brady led offense that also features a rejuvenated and crafty – and finally fully healthy? – Rob Gronkowski.
And so, to go along with Wilson’s gorgeous, moonshot-deep TD passes, with Mahomes and Jackson reinventing the very definition of the field commander, all while the game reinvents itself on the fly to accommodate the threat of the pandemic, I expect every single week we’ll continue to see more wonderful, exemplary and perfectly elating, unexpected passes of – sticking with our fighter jet and flight theme – exotic dogfighters thriving at the quarterback position, dropping bombshells, and launching rockets, and pulling out all the stops as we head toward the second half of an exhilarating season conclusion we’ve never seen before, and one we will most likely never see again, though we might just sense or feel the vibrations of this juggernaut coming over the horizon, closing in on us – something excruciating, enticing, mystifying.
On that note, let’s fire away and subjectively rank the top ten powers that be. Onward!
1. Kansas City Chiefs: This is a no-brainer. They pummeled the Ravens in prime time during Week 4. Mahomes was his usual level of superb in the game, but the defense made the strongest impression on me. They held reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson, under one hundred yards passing for only the second time in his young yet wildly successful career. Heading into their game against the Jets, ESPN gives KC a staggeringly heavy 94.1% chance of winning. And 5’8” RB, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is second in rushing in the league. The only part of this team that doesn’t pass the eye-test is Andy Reid’s forever steamy-cloudy face shield. Just wear a mask, man.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Wow did they get lucky last week in Nashville. Big Ben is not exactly throwing dimes, with a miserable QBR good for only 23rd best in the league. But the Steelers remain undefeated in a league where everyone else already has at least one loss. The defense is nowhere near as intimidating as the Steel Curtain, or when Troy Polamalu stalked the box like a jungle cat and patrolled the secondary like a Thunderbird. Yet they still lead the league in sacks, with 26, and they’re also allowing a league low and best average 286 yards per game. All of this is more than solid enough to give them a shot at the number one seed in the AFC. However, no rest for the weary – nor triumphant, I suppose. Pittsburgh’s biggest test will come this Sunday in Baltimore.
3. Seattle Seahawks: The team with the best offense in the league is also second in passing. Carlos Hyde is solid. Let’s simplify this: when it’s going good for the Hawks, it’s electrifying, unparalleled, and it’s almost too easy to score. So now we can say for certain: Russel Wilson will finally receive his very first MVP vote. Shocking it’s taken this long. Chris Collinsworth said he was sorry it hadn’t already taken place. The current front-runner, Wilson might just get the next best monkey off his back and win the MVP award because he’s already thrown a whopping 22 touchdowns. Frankly, the accolades and hardware are long overdue. That much we know for certain. Additionally, the current offensive math argues this wide receiver core has not been quite so good, nor this profoundly flush, talented, and deep since the ’05 squad that went to the team’s first Super Bowl. So that much we also know. Now, if I’m to next try on something of a cool head, and to pardon the explicit ferocity of my very subjective and obnoxiously rabid fandom, I can and will now proclaim without flinching, this team is all parts amazing, and maybe the single best Seahawks team with the highest ceiling I’ve ever seen play, except for the defense. Oh. My. God. Last Sunday was all the front office and fans needed to see to know how bad it is. It’s a gut punch for Hawks nation every time the bend-but-don’t-break schemes are, well, splinterized, atomized, crushed. But there was a silver lining of a new development this week when the Hawks traded for a once well known and perhaps once again, elite edge-rusher, and North Charleston, South Carolina native, Carlos Dunlap. They face their reviled division rival 49ers at home this Sunday.
4. Tennessee Titans: They have the best turnover ratio in the NFL. Recently, the fifth best offense in football came roaring back after doing nothing much, and barring a kick soaring outside and beyond the wrong half of the goal post near the end of regulation, they should’ve taken the Steelers into overtime. Late bloomer alert? After a mediocre start to his career, and bouncing around the league, journeyman, Ryan Tannehill, is finally on the verge of becoming an elite QB. He has the NFL’s fourth best QBR. Furthermore, Derrick Henry is the league’s leading rusher. Mike Vrabel’s squad will have a shot at the number one seed in the AFC if they stay hot because the Steelers have to play Baltimore twice before the postseason.
5. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers never plays well in Tampa Bay. So it was no great surprise when they were eviscerated by Tom Brady and a Bucs defense that managed to hand Green Bay their first loss by 28 points. Commentators throughout the league often remark that Rodgers plays his best when he’s angry about something. After the team’s front office drafted his replacement – in almost an identical move to the one that brought Rodgers in to replace Brett Farve – instead of more weapons at the wideout position, the chip on Rodgers’ shoulder seems more like a molten meteorite’s steaming crater many miles wide. He’s only thrown two interceptions and he’s first in the league in QBR, plus third in touchdowns behind Wilson and Brady.
6. Baltimore Ravens: We all know what this team can do when it’s going well, but they’re sixth because I have not forgotten the number of playoff wins under Lamar Jackson’s belt: zero. This year, they’ve only lost to Mahomes and the superlative Chiefs when it was pouring the entire game. The rest of the season, the Ravens have soared. They’re first in the league in rushing, third in turnover ratio. And they have 12 players with at least one recorded sack.
7. Arizona Cardinals: I must admit, I did not see this coming at the start of the season. Cliff Kingsbury is a schematic genius, but Kyler Murray is the most phenomenal piece for the red birds. Did anyone else spot – of course you did, it was trending on Twitter sports until after Wednesday – that gargantuan grin plastered across Murray’s baby face, under his face mask’s shield seconds before hurling a gem to Deandre Hopkins for six near the end of the first quarter? Plus, they picked off Russel Wilson three times, doubling his interception total for the year. After their win against Seattle, the Cardinals have put the rest of the league on notice. Despite losses to the Lions and Panthers, the Cards have the same number of points scored as the Seahawks, 203.
8. Los Angeles Rams: LA is back in a big, bad way. Did you see the jet-sweeps they ran against the Bears? They used that and more to crush Chicago on Monday Night Football. The Rams defense, led by Jalen Ramsey, who was also compared to LeBron James during Monday’s Bears game because he is a dynamo in coverage, tackling, blitzing and creating turnovers from deep inside the Rams’ secondary compliments extremely well with Aaron Donald’s steamroller pass rush; one that will never not require a double team or three blockers to prevent a near guaranteed sack on every play. So far, the Rams have allowed a shocking 17.7 points a game.
9. San Francisco 49ers: They are by far the best three-loss team in the league. Garoppolo is just now, literally, getting his legs back. The Niners are on this list because they crushed New England on both sides of the ball last week. And they have a win against the Rams. Their losses are largely the byproduct of injury woes. Plus I expect they’ll get better as the season goes on, unless of course, the powerhouse NFC West sabotages the defending NFC champions’ record and some other seven loss team sneaks into the post season ahead of San-Fran. They have an extremely tough test on the road, perhaps their most challenging and the game that will define their entire year, when they face Seattle this Sunday.
10. Buffalo Bills: So far they’ve defeated the Rams and Raiders, and both are very good teams. And their two losses have come from teams higher up on this list, KC and the Titans. The only bonafide knock against this team is, well, their good fortune, and what actually may allow them to more or less coast in a little more than half of their remaining games: the AFC East is a subpar division. The Jets are abysmal and the Patriots are bad too. Only the Dolphins left? Division champions right here. Josh Allen, a gunslinger with mobility, is starting to resemble John Elway.
* Bonus rankings – the next best five throughout the rest of the league.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. New Orleans Saints
13. Cleveland Browns
14. Oakland Raiders
15. Chicago Bears