The NFL is rapidly approaching the fourth quarter of the season.
Every game matters as division races tighten up.
Here’s a look at some of the top stories from the weekend.
49ERS STRIKE GOLD
New San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan got his first career win by defeating the New York Giants 31-21. These two teams played epic NFC Championship games in 1990 and 2011, but this game was far from epic. The 49ers climbed to 1-9, while the Giants fell to 1-8. Reports of Giants’ players quitting on head coach Ben McAdoo appear to be true, as the defense was tuned up by rookie quarterback CJ Beathard and a pedestrian offense. The 49ers won their first home game since the season opener last year, and notched their first win on a Sunday since 2015. San Francisco has a bye next week, and fans will get to speculate if newly-acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will get to see the field once the team returns to action.
VIKINGS SACK D.C.
Despite losing quarterback Sam Bradford (and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is still rehabbing from a gruesome knee injury last year) and promising first-round runningback selection Dalvin Cook, the Minnesota Vikings sit atop the NFC North standings at 7-2. The latest victory came at the expense of the Washington Redskins, a maddeningly inconsistent team. The Redskins fell 38-30 in their second straight home loss, and in the home game prior to those two, they narrowly escaped defeat against the San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings are winning with third-string journeyman Case Keenum, and the Redskins are wrestling with the notion of paying Kirk Cousins top dollar. Signs seem to point toward a divorce in the off-season, but that would very likely trigger a rebuild.
JAGUARS PROWLING AROUND FIRST PLACE
Don’t look now, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are tied for first in the AFC South after defeating the LA Chargers 20-17. Coming into the season, there were serious questions about head coach Doug Marrone and starting quarterback Blake Bortles. The results haven’t necessarily been pretty, but the tenuous coach-quarterback duo have gotten the job done thus far. The team is leaning on prized rookie first-round draft pick Leonard Fournette and a stingy defense that’s one of the top units versus the pass. With the season-ending injuries to the Texans’ Deshaun Watson and the Colts’ Andrew Luck, the South is a two-team race between Jacksonville and Tennessee. The two teams meet the last game of the season in Nashville in a game that could decide the division.
SAINTS MARCH THROUGH BUFFALO
New Orleans is quietly the hottest team in the league, winners of seven straight games. After two ugly losses to open the season, it seemed unfathomable that the Saints could be the best team in the NFC, but they are very much in that conversation now. The Saints racked up their seventh consecutive win by destroying the Bills 47-10 in Buffalo. The Bills are a rugged team that’s difficult to beat at home, but the Saints must not have gotten the memo. The team known for its finesse passing game ran for 298 yards against the Bills. Due to injuries, suspensions, and team implosions, the NFC is wide open, and the Saints are as much a threat to win the conference as anyone.
COWBOYS BUCKED IN ATLANTA
Speaking of suspensions, Dallas Cowboys star runningback Ezekiel Elliott began serving his six-game suspension, and the early returns for his team are not good. The Cowboys’ offense looked anemic in a 27-7 loss in Atlanta; they were only able to muster 235 total yards and surrendered eight sacks. Dallas’s next five games are against Philadelphia, LA Chargers, Washington, @New York Giants, and @Oakland. With the exception of the Giants (who have apparently quit), none of those games are slam dunks. The Eagles are pulling away in the NFC East, so wild card positioning is paramount for Dallas. If they can’t scrape together three wins in Elliott’s absence, the playoffs are highly unlikely.
Here’s the coup de grâce of Atlanta’s sack party:
Atlanta Falcons on Twitter
Adrian Clayborn, you are a MONSTER. A franchise-record SIX sacks in one game! https://t.co/YlBIrNmCYh