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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 9

NFL fans from across Germany and around the world gathered in Frankfurt on Sunday night and they provided a deafening, colourful and party-like atmosphere for the huge AFC showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins.

And, eventually, the Chiefs and Dolphins delivered a good game. Kansas City looked like they were almost over the hill and far away, leading 21-0 at the half. But, they couldn't get their offense firing in the second half and kept presenting the Dolphins with opportunities to get back into the game.

Miami did just that against a fast and aggressive Kansas City defense by pulling to within seven points late in the third period, but it was always hard work and it was not all that surprising that the game ended with a fourth down failure for the Dolphins on an errant snap with just over a minute on the clock.

This game was emblematic of the Chiefs' season. They have the best quarterback in the game and yet their offense continues to be stuck in second gear for long periods of time. They are having to win in different ways but, to their credit, that's what they keep doing… winning!

We have spent years focusing on Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and an offense that averaged more than 30 points per game for the five seasons leading into 2023. But now it's time to look at a defensive unit that is top five across the board in every major statistical category and give them their dues. The Chiefs are now nine games into their season and they have only twice allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points. We're not used to that kind of output in Kansas City.

Miami's defense held Mahomes to 185 passing yards and Kelce to just three catches for 14 yards. They held the Chiefs to just two offensive touchdowns and did not concede a single point in the second half. If you had offered that to the Dolphins before the game, they would have taken that particular scenario 100 times out of 100.

So, while the manner in which Kansas City fought their way to victory was impressive; this was also most definitely a game that the Dolphins lost. Tua Tagovailoa came into the game as the NFL's leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and quarterback rating. But he did not have his best outing. In fact, there were several throws he flat-out missed and would love to have back.

The Dolphins are now going to need to deal with the continued narrative that they cannot beat good teams. Their six wins have come against teams with losing records, while their three losses have come against what would be considered quality opposition in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

But Miami's defense is growing and improving and they were a play or two away from winning this game. Certainly, in the second half, they looked the team more likely to leave Frankfurt with a victory. The Dolphins have to move on in the knowledge that they were right there against the Chiefs in what turned out to be a very hostile environment.

These teams could very well meet in the playoffs. And on that front, for now, it's advantage Kansas City. The Chiefs certainly have work to be done on the offensive side of the ball, but they have the best record in the AFC and are very much in the mix to represent that conference in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years.

Who's Hot?

C.J. Stroud… We are only nine weeks into the 2023 NFL season and that is merely a blink of an eye when assessing an NFL player's career. But the Houston Texans have to be delighted that the Carolina Panthers took Bryce Young first overall in the NFL Draft this spring, leaving the path clear to grab C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State. Stroud had gone a little quiet in recent weeks after a strong start to the season, but he was back in a big way during Sunday's 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stroud threw for a rookie record 470 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. But it was the late game-winning drive that was so impressive. Stroud watched from the sideline as Baker Mayfield threw a touchdown pass to Cade Otton, giving Tampa a four-point lead with 46 seconds remaining. Stroud didn't blink. He connected with Dalton Schultz for 14 and six yards, Noah Brown for 14 yards, Tank Dell for 26 yards and then Dell again for the winning touchdown from 15 yards out with six seconds on the clock. Those 470 passing yards are notable, but quarterbacks are judged on delivering wins. Whichever way you look at it, Stroud has arrived as an exciting NFL star.

Josh Dobbs… Around the trade deadline at the end of October, there was a lot of talk about how quarterbacks are unlikely to move as it is near-impossible to pick up another team's playbook in mid-season. But after starting the first eight games of the year for the Arizona Cardinals, Josh Dobbs did indeed find himself on the move due to a desperate situation arising in Minnesota with Kirk Cousins tearing his Achilles and being gone for the year. Dobbs was with the Vikings for five days before Sunday's clash with the Atlanta Falcons, so rookie Jaren Hall got the nod at quarterback. When he went down with a first-quarter concussion, Dobbs came in to lead an injury-wrecked offense. And, incredibly, he played really well; leaning on every one of his seven years of NFL experience. Dobbs threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 66 yards and a score on seven scrambles. Like Stroud, he delivered a win from a seemingly-lost situation, capping a drive in which he made a key first down run with a six-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Powell with 22 seconds remaining. The Vikings, who are regularly in close battles, have somehow now won four in a row.

The Baltimore Ravens… Joining the Chiefs with the best record in the AFC are the Baltimore Ravens, who moved to 7-2 with a 37-3 beatdown of the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9. That was Baltimore's fourth victory in a row as they sent out a Super Bowl contender message to the rest of the league. Lamar Jackson was able to have a relatively ordinary day through the air, throwing for just 187 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. That's because he was so well supported. Baltimore have three players rush for more than 50 yards as they combined for a team effort of 41 carries for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens' dominant defense also recorded four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. In what is looking to be a fiercely-competitive AFC playoff race, the Ravens are physical, classy and scary. Why not them?

Who's Not?

Bryce Young… I don't want to climb onto the 'they should have chosen C.J. Stroud' bandwagon because we're still dealing with a small career sample size but also because there is not much room. There are quite a few around the NFL already wondering if the Carolina Panthers made the wrong move at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft. During Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Young struggled to see the field and threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns by Kenny Moore II. The mistakes in Carolina are not Young's alone, but his are key errors for a team that is floundering at 1-7. It could be a challenging second half of the season for Young and he will need to show some real mettle between now and the end of the year.

The New England Patriots… New England fell to a 20-17 loss at home against the Washington Commanders on Sunday and that leaves them floundering with one of the worst records in the NFL at 2-7. I'll get a closer look at these Patriots in Frankfurt next weekend as they take on the Indianapolis Colts, but they've fallen pretty hard and fast. I know they were not quite the same proposition as soon as Tom Brady left, but they did make the playoffs in 2021 and were only knocked out of contention in 2022 with a Week 18 loss at Buffalo – a game they led in the second half. Their roster is questionable when it comes to talent and that poor front office work from the general manager has left head coach Bill Belichick on a warming seat. Oh, just to be clear, Belichick is also that general manager in question! The Patriots attempted to quash any talk of Belichick being in trouble with news of an offseason contract extension breaking a few weeks ago. But later reports suggest that new deal does not go beyond 2024 and would not save Belichick if this season went off the rails. It's not quite off the rails yet, but it's getting that way and the Patriots need to find their way to a victory in Germany next Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals… I understand that Kyler Murray is close to returning from his torn knee ligaments, but it feels like the Cardinals were prepared to take their lumps in trading away the aforementioned Dobbs. I can see why they did. They were losing even with Dobbs in the lineup, so why not take some picks – albeit late-round ones – if the Vikings were shopping for a quarterback? There was some logic but the immediate result was an embarrassing 27-0 loss to Cleveland on Sunday in which the Cardinals gained just 58 yards and saw half of their offensive plays go for zero or negative yards. Rookie Clayton Tune was sacked seven times, threw two interceptions and was out of his depth. The Cardinals have now lost six in a row, have a 1-8 record and are merely making up the numbers in today's NFL.

The Fast Five

  • I was so pleased to see Odell Beckham Jr. score his first touchdown of the season on Sunday, catching a six-yard pass from Tyler Huntley in Baltimore's big win over Seattle. It marked OBJ's first touchdown since the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati at the end of the 2021 campaign. Odell tore his knee ligaments in that game and missed the entire 2022 season, working for many gruelling months on his own to get back to the sport he loves. He deserved his moment in the spotlight in Week 9 and it came on his 31st birthday.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the AFC playoff race is heating up; in part because the Cincinnati Bengals have climbed back into relevance after their 1-3 start. Joe Burrow and the Bengals recorded a 24-18 Sunday Night Football win over the Buffalo Bills. It was their fourth win in a row. And Cincinnati's star quarterback is really heating up now as he threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns. With a much-healthier Burrow at the helm, these Bengals can get right back to where they've been in the last two years – in the AFC Championship Game.
  • It really did prove to be a game of inches on several key plays as the Philadelphia Eagles squeezed out a 28-23 win over the Dallas Cowboys. That's the sort of thing that separates and NFL leader like the Eagles and a team not quite there yet in the Cowboys – the really good teams find a way to get the job done. Like the Chiefs in Germany, the Eagles did the same kind of thing in Philly.
  • The Buffalo Bills – losers in that Sunday Night Football game in Cincinnati – remain one of the biggest disappointments of this season. The reason? They are supposed to have one of the game's best quarterbacks in Josh Allen. That should be a major bonus in a league where the likes of Clayton Tune, Tyson Bagent and Aidan O'Connell are starting at quarterback. But Allen had his fifth straight game throwing an interception on Sunday and the Bills are a disappointing 5-4.
  • It was only one game and it came against a very poor and injury-hit New York Giants team, but the Las Vegas Raiders had a nice amount of fire in their belly as they recorded a 30-6 win at home in Antonio Pierce's first game in charge as interim head coach. Aidan O'Connell is not going to be the long-term answer at QB and neither is Jimmy Garoppolo, so there is much work to be done. But that was a nice day for Pierce and his team.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this column I bring back a popular segment from our NFL Live stage shows. You start an NFL-related sentence, and I will finish them here. Let's get to it!

From Neil P (@generichash) Now that we're past the halfway point of the regular season, what has surprised me the most is… the dip in form of the Buffalo Bills. I covered it earlier in this column, but it is a real worry and they have fallen off the pace in the AFC. They could still beat the likes of Kansas City, Miami, Baltimore and Jacksonville on their day. But you'd better hope those games were being played in Buffalo because the Bills have struggled on the road, winning one contest all year. That's bad news as they have away days coming up against Philadelphia, Kansas City and Miami. Injuries and a lack of care when it comes to protecting the football have haunted what should be a very talented team.

From Richard Hulme (@RichardHulme7) A team that might just sneak into the playoff mix from nowhere is… the Houston Texans. And a large part of that reasoning is because of the play of C.J. Stroud. Mind you, on reflection, it's still going to be tough. Houston are 4-4 and not even in top spot in their division. There are four teams in the AFC North with at least five wins, Miami have six, Buffalo have five. The AFC playoff race is crowded. Even if they don't make it, the Texans look to have a good combination at quarterback (Stroud) and head coach (DeMeco Ryans). Another hiding in plain sight might be the Cleveland Browns, who have one of the best defenses in the league. In the NFC, somebody has to win the South Division and that would steer me towards the New Orleans Saints. When it comes to the wild card race, I would not rule out the Vikings, who have started to win some of those close thrillers once again.

Final Thought

I spent a good portion of time with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday morning and left excited about the future of the league on the international front. We chatted about how these are truly historic times for the NFL. When the story of the NFL is told 50 years from now, the period between the first London game in 2007 and wherever we end up by 2030 is going to be described as game-changing. We're not going to lose regular season games in London, let me start right there. The league has a deal to play two games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium through 2030. And the Jacksonville Jaguars have their own agreement to play at Wembley. So, that's three games for the UK. I cannot see things going backwards in Germany – the fans are just so passionate. But the NFL will play in a new market in 2024, either in Brazil or Spain. And what comes after that is going to come at us fast with the Commissioner preparing the groundwork for "expanding our regular season series pretty dramatically." This Formula 1 approach to the NFL is coming. Get ready for a calendar that could look like this… London, Frankfurt, Munich, Mexico, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Paris, Dublin. This is no dream. The NFL is making the global expansion of their league a reality. They're just going to do more and more around the world, primarily through but not limited to regular season games. Explosive and historic international growth is happening and it's happening faster than even the most optimistic among us could have imagined.