Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season closed with the San Francisco 49ers upsetting the Super Bowl contending Los Angeles Rams as Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller made their LA debuts. This is one of the strangest seasons in recent memory, and each week continues bringing new upsets as no team clearly stands atop the league.
Let’s see what we gleaned from another hectic weekend.
1. Here come the Patriots
Cutting Cam Newton and rolling with Mac Jones wasn’t a mistake for New England. Bill Belichick’s team is already one win off of last year’s total. They’re sitting at 6-4 after a massive 45-7 win over the Cleveland Browns in front of the New England faithful. Only one loss separates New England from the division-leading Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo hasn’t played New England yet this season, and the two teams clash twice in the span of four weeks in December. Those matchups will decide who wins the AFC East. Even if the Patriots can’t reclaim the division title they held for most of the past 20 years, they could still clinch one of the highest wild card seeds.
New England’s current four-game winning streak is thanks largely to the defense stifling opposing quarterbacks. The secondary has been especially active, intercepting eight passes during the current streak. The running game hasn’t taken any weeks off either, topping 140 yards in four consecutive games.
2. What’s up with the AFC North?
On paper, the AFC North is one of the most well-rounded divisions in football. Things didn’t look that way in Week 10. Cincinnati Bengals fans were spared a horrible weekend because of a bye week (even though they got blown out in Week 9). The other AFC North teams lost soul-crushing games that weren’t even entertaining to watch.
It all started on Thursday Night Football when Baltimore lost 22-10 to the previously 2-7 Miami Dolphins, who played a combination of Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa. Cleveland followed it up with a humiliating 45-7 loss to New England, and Pittsburgh gave the 0-8 Detroit Lions their first non-loss of the year in a 16-16 tie.
The North reflects the AFC as a whole. No one seems to want to win. Pittsburgh could’ve taken the division lead with a victory. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger came down with COVID-19, and the offense blew what should’ve been an easy win. Cleveland dropped to 5-5 and the North’s basement with their loss instead of jumping into second place.
The AFC North offenses in action this weekend combined for 33 points, which is eight fewer than the Browns scored last week alone.
3. There aren’t any great teams this year
Cleveland and Tampa Bay entered 2021 with the best rosters on paper. Well, the Browns are sitting at .500 while the reigning champs just lost to a hopeless Washington Football Team after their bye week. Arizona is the only team without a bad loss if you overlook their Week 10 collapse against Carolina since DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray didn’t play.
Seriously though, name another team that hasn’t looked completely overmatched in a game this year. Dallas lost to Denver, the Rams got bullied by Tennessee and San Francisco, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh upset Buffalo, Baltimore just lost to Miami, the Jets topped the Titans, and Green Bay got blown out by New Orleans.
Considering how long ago that loss was, the Packers probably have the best resume behind Arizona.
4. But the Titans are pretty good
Many fans were ready to declare Tennessee dead in the water after Derrick Henry got hurt, but the Titans are 2-0 without their MVP-caliber back. They barely snuck a win past New Orleans this week, but I’m just looking for teams to win consistently at this point. The Titans could win every game left on their schedule by two points, and I’d still feel good about them.
Tennessee’s defense is stepping up in the wake of losing Henry and placing Julio Jones on injured reserve. Kevin Byard, Harold Landry, and Jeffery Simmons are all having career years. Mike Vrabel finally has some defensive centerpieces to rely on as his offense evolves and adjusts to its changing personnel.
5. It’s a weak MVP year
I would’ve given Tom Brady the MVP going into Week 10, but the 44-year-old didn’t have a good outing. He passed for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions as Tampa Bay failed to score 20 points in a loss to the previously 2-6 Washington Football Team. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray didn’t play for the second straight week.
Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen (somehow) were the MVP frontrunners entering Week 9, but Stafford threw two picks in a loss to Tennessee. Allen struggled too, leading an offense that scored just six points against Jacksonville. He turned the ball over three times.
Allen somewhat rebounded in Week 10 while Stafford likely sunk his MVP campaign permanently. The Rams quarterback threw two interceptions and had multiple other intercept-able balls dropped by defensive backs as Los Angeles suffered its second significant loss in a row.
Derrick Henry might’ve saved us from this lackluster MVP debate if he was still healthy. The reigning Offensive Player of the Year had a ridiculous workload before suffering a foot injury that’ll likely keep him out for the season. He averaged 27.4 attempts and 117.1 rushing yards per game through Tennessee’s first eight matchups.
6. The Chiefs are in first, somehow
After all the noise and speculation, Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City sit atop the AFC West with a 6-4 record. I’m not ready to proclaim Andy Reid’s offense fixed and Super Bowl bound, but the unit looked promising on Sunday Night Football.
Mahomes got almost anything he wanted against Las Vegas, completing 35 of his 50 pass attempts for 406 yards and five touchdowns. The running game still wasn’t great, but it contributed 94 yards in the 41-14 smackdown. Travis Kelce looked healthy after speculation about his decline, and Tyreek Hill scored two touchdowns.
Kansas City’s offensive line played well in the win too. Backup right tackle Andrew Wylie took his lumps against Maxx Crosby, but the other starters held up well against a resilient pass rush. Las Vegas didn’t record a sack against an offensive line that only pitched one shutout through the first nine weeks.
However, the biggest plus for the Chiefs was Mahomes’ willingness to ditch the hero ball and big play hunting for more modest gains that eventually opened deeper routes. Kansas City went to Kelce early and often before getting Darrel Williams involved out of the backfield. Williams led the Chiefs with nine receptions (on nine targets).
Kansas City should maintain its grip on the AFC West as long as Mahomes duplicates the game script from Sunday night.