We’ve officially hit the midpoint of the 2020 NFL season, and it was appropriately weird. Any chances of trying to hammer down what this year in football means was thrown out the window, rolled down a hill, and off a cliff into rocky waters below. The unpredictability of the league was on full display, and it was beautiful in a weird sort of way.
Teams entering Week 8 with the better record finished 5-5 when it was over, which doesn’t sound that unusual until you dive deeper into the oddities. Two games featured teams with split records, with the losing teams prevailing in both. The 1-5 Vikings beat the 5-1 Packers, while the 5-1 Titans lost to the 1-5-1 Bengals. Despite this, we also helped solidify who the NFL elite is, and spoiler: The Chiefs are really good, while the Seahawks and Steelers might be even better — blasphemy, I know.
Let’s dive in from the history making, to helmet punching, and everything in between.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have fast become the biggest success story nobody outside of western Pennsylvania is talking about. Coming off a crushing 8-8 record a year ago, everyone would be forgiven for not giving the Steelers much of a chance in 2020, especially in a division that contained the Ravens.
However, the last unbeaten team in the NFL made its biggest statement on Sunday by beating Baltimore on the back of a choking defense that forced three fumbles, intercepted Lamar Jackson twice, and came from behind to solidify the Steelers as the class of the division.
Pittsburgh is winning by returning to the team’s defensive roots. As the team transitioned from some of its retiring defensive stars there was a feeling this got lost. The revolving door of stellar offensive weapons and top-tier receivers made for exciting football, but didn’t always translate to wins. Now, the Steelers are back to leaning on the other side of the ball — and it comes at the perfect time to take pressure off an aging Ben Roethlisberger.
Whatever the team is doing on a micro level is working, and this team looks as dangerous as at any time during the Mike Tomlin era.
Loser: New York Jets.
I don’t mean to twist the knife, but the Jets are so bad they’re making history. For the second time in franchise history the Jets are 0-8, and Adam Gase is somehow still avoiding the ax.
Instead of a man terrified for his professional career, Gase is waxing poetic about what his team would look like with a full complement of receivers. As if more pass catchers would have stopped being blown out by 26 points.
Sam Darnold looks flustered throwing the ball, he was the team’s most effective rusher. It’s all a mess, and fans deserve much, much better than this disaster they’re subjected to week in, week out.
Winner: Joe Burrow.
Burrow is a phenom. It’s as simple as that. Sunday might not have been his most impressive game on paper, but beating the Titans showed everything the Bengals have been missing. Burrow doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he’s playing like a 10-year veteran less than 10 weeks into his career, and in Week 8 he showed he can he pushed by one of the best teams in the NFL and still come out on top.
This starts the clock for Cincinnati. They’ve struck gold with Burrow, and now they have to capitalize on it. This won’t be a case where the team is ready to compete in 2020, but with the right moves in the years to come the Bengals can become legitimate contenders in the NFL. That’s how talented their quarterback is, and what they have to build around from here.
Loser: NFL doctors giving players needles.
#Raiders OT Trent Brown was hospitalized today after a mishap with his pre-game IV that caused air to enter his bloodstream and required immediate medical attention, per me and @TomPelissero. Brown will stay overnight for further tests.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 1, 2020
Tyrod Taylor had his lung collapsed by the Chargers’ doctor earlier this year, now this. It really shouldn’t be this difficult for a multi-billion industry to have staff that can do basic medical procedures without risking people their lives — but here we are.
Winner: Dalvin Cook.
I’m intentionally singling out Cook here. The Vikings running back was absolutely incredible against the Packers, finishing with over 200 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, but the might not have been the best move for the team.
Beating Green Bay feels good for sure, but Cook just bought Mike Zimmer more time than he deserves. The Vikings won because they took as much out of Kirk Cousins’ hands as possible, but there is the lingering reality that despite a super human game from Cook, Minnesota still only won by six points.
That’s a testament to how mediocre this team remains, and now they’re further away from getting the early draft help they need, and getting rid of the coach holding them down. But still, Cook was incredible and deserves props.
Loser: Helmet punching.
Don’t punch a helmet.
Bears receiver Javon Wims was ejected on Sunday afternoon when he threw two punches, including a direct shot to a helmet. This isn’t just a dumb move that hurts your team, it’s a dumb move that hurts your hand.
This poor helmet did nothing wrong. It didn’t deserve to be hit. I know defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was fine, because he was wearing a helmet. That helmet had to take the brunt of the abuse. It’s just unfair.
Loser: All us of who subjected ourselves to Sunday Night Football.
Woof. Enough said.