With a loaded, 15-game schedule in Week 8, we were bound to see some movement in the standings and key outcomes unfold. We were not disappointed.
Namely, we learned more about the resiliency of teams that were approaching a make-or-break point. There’s a lot of season left, but it’s important to note which franchises made critical strides forward.
The Seattle Seahawks Aren’t Done Yet
It’s usually not a non-conference home game that would save or wreck a season for a given team — especially not in October — but the Seattle Seahawks were on the brink of burying themselves in the NFC playoff race. As it stands right now, they aren’t in any position to celebrate — at 3-5, the battle is still quite uphill — but 2-6 would have absolutely led to the end of the line for the 2021 Seahawks. The NFC West itself is too brutal, and the playoff picture would eventually become too crowded.
Now, Seattle can use the upcoming bye week to reset and plan how to attack the Cardinals and Packers in the two weeks that would follow.
More importantly, the Seahawks were able to extend their season and buy a little more time for quarterback Russell Wilson to heal. Maybe it’s too optimistic to think that he returns and carries the team to the playoffs, but it’s also worth remembering that he has never failed to produce a winning season in his career. I’m not counting out Wilson or Seattle just yet.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Won’t Go Away
Say what you will about offense being a necessity — I’m actually the one who argues for a team needing offense in today’s NFL — but the Pittsburgh Steelers just keep winning games without it. They are now 4-3, one game out of first place in the AFC North, and have scored no more than 17 points in four games already.
It’s no surprise how Pittsburgh wins games. It stays in nearly every single matchup by playing unbelievable defense. That, alone, always gives the team the chance to win. Once again, the Steelers are taking said “chance” and converting it to victories, and there’s no reason why that would suddenly stop. Pittsburgh will host the Bears and Lions in the next two weeks, who currently have a combined 3-13 record.
Not only are the Steelers not going away, but they are truly back in the mix of the division race — Cincinnati losing to the Jets certainly helped that as well.
The New Orleans Saints Can Win with Anyone Under Center
I should throw a few exceptions and caveats in here:
- This is not to disrespect the greatness that was Drew Brees for the past 15 years.
- This is not to suggest that truly anyone can take over the New Orleans Saints and lead them to the playoffs.
- This is not an endorsement of Trevor Siemian over Jameis Winston.
What we’ve really learned is that head coach Sean Payton simply does a masterful job rotating through players under center and, in specific situations, finding wins.
It is impractical to think that Siemian or even Taysom Hill — when he returns — will continue with the success that we’ve seen over the first half of the year for New Orleans, but it’s also dangerous to expect the team to crumble. The key is that the Saints are already 5-2, and they don’t give those wins back. If Payton can manage to find five more over the remaining ten games — which include matchups with teams like the Jets, Dolphins, and Eagles — then New Orleans will be in the heart of the playoff race.
I’d be cautious before buying in heavily — because, again, we are asking a lot of a team who is relying on some combination of Siemian and Hill if Winston’s injury is long-term — but the arrow is still pointing up for New Orleans.
The New England Patriots are Quietly Moving Up
I’ve written about this a few times in recent articles, but the 2021 season feels longer. Clearly, it is, as we will be getting 17 games of action for every team, but the additional matchup and the seven playoff teams from each conference is stretching out the period of time before a team needs to hit its stride.
And the New England Patriots are starting to take advantage.
Over the last four weeks, New England has three wins and an overtime loss to the Cowboys. The most recent of those wins was Sunday on the road against the Chargers — clearly one of the better teams in the sport.
Historically, the Patriots have absolutely dominated in December and, now that we are moving into November, we cannot overlook the franchise’s history with the new future unfolding in front of our eyes.
The Tennessee Titans have a Stranglehold on the AFC South
This may be a little more about the Indianapolis Colts than the Tennessee Titans, but the head-to-head matchup between the two resulted in AFC South sitting as the most lopsided division in the league. Tennessee now has a three-game lead on every team chasing it and has already swept the season series with the Colts. Unless the Texans or Jaguars miraculously learn how to win football games — I know, the hilarious idea there — the Titans may have a playoff berth locked up before the end of November.
What happens now?
The Titans had an absolutely brutal schedule to start the year and, while it gets easier, it’s not a complete cakewalk. We will have to carefully target Tennessee going forward, as the spreads and odds are probably going to overcompensate for how the Titans look in the standings. It’s not worth selling them completely — again, they are essentially in the playoffs already — but I wouldn’t be buying for the short-term.
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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola. He has also been one of the industry leaders in NFL against-the-spread picks over the last 7 years.