Morphing time for NFL teams

Nov 24, 2015 3:10 AM

It’s Week 12 already. Thanksgiving is upon us, with the holiday season right behind it.

All the NFL bye weeks are in the rear view mirror now, with every team still having exactly six games remaining in the regular season. We’re seeing numerous “morphs” around the league; teams that have changed their stripes rather dramatically over the course of the last month.

Some of those morphs are duly noted by the betting markets. For example, the 3-7 Cowboys with a healthy Tony Romo are favored over the 10-0 Panthers on Thanksgiving Day. The betting markets are reacting to the Cowboys’ positive showing with Romo back behind center this past Sunday. The markets certainly aren’t sleeping on Dallas right now!

What about the Lions, winners of two straight since their woeful 1-7 start? How about the Falcons, now just 1-4 in their last five games and struggling on both sides of the football!

The Jets aren’t the same team now that they were a month ago, especially if the injuries to shutdown corner Darrelle Revis and pro bowl caliber center Nick Mangold don’t heal quickly.

Should we believe in the trio of suddenly surging 5-5 teams – the Buccaneers, the Chiefs and the Houston Texans, now tied for first place following a three game winning streak?

Is Cincy primed for a skid following back-2-back losses?

This week I will be focusing on key Notes & Quotes from around the NFL. These tidbits are intentionally short; a quick hitter tour around some of the key morphers as we enter the stretch run of this compelling NFL campaign.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are winners of two straight and just a single game out of first place in the AFC South. Success has come, at least in part, due to Blake Bortles leading game winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. In fact, Bortles leads the NFL, with four such drives this season – one more than Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that Bortles entered last week’s game with a 47% completion rate in the fourth quarter and OT, ranked dead last in the NFL among quarterbacks with enough pass attempts to qualify.

Bortles has thrown at least one interception in each of his last six games and he’s only thrown one pass of 40 yards or longer in his last five starts; unable to stretch opposing defenses. That fourth quarter/OT stat is not a sign that he has developed into an upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Meanwhile, head coach Gus Bradley is concerned that the Jags are going to be overconfident following their two game win streak. “I guess we’ll wait and see. That will be the talk. They’re sure saying the right things and acting the right way. In the locker room, in our talk, [a] couple of players said some things to the team that I thought were spot on… I have great faith in them, but that’s something we’ll watch as a team and make sure that we’re keeping it tight and going in the right direction.”

Detroit Lions

The Lions did two very impressive things in their win over the Raiders on Sunday. Detroit shut down David Carr and the Raiders potent passing game, holding Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper to a combined season low 54 receiving yards. And, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Lions were able to run out the clock with an impressive 13 play drive that lasted more than seven and a half minutes.

Detroit is now 3-0 when they run the ball at least 20 times.

Offensive tackle Riley Reiff: “It’s a great feeling for the offensive line when everyone, including the Raiders, knew we were going to run and we were still able to do it.” Of course, longtime Lions fans aren’t looking for a late season transformation, with Detroit morphing back to the playoff caliber team they were last year. Any sort of late season run will probably take the Lions out of contention for a Top 5 draft pick next spring.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers entered Week 11 with a +0.5 yards per play differential; ranked right between NFL elites Carolina and Cincinnati in that key statistical category. Then the Bucs proceeded to outgain the Eagles 7.2 to 5.3 yards per play in a blowout road win, behind five TD passes from rookie quarterback Jameis Winston (to five different receivers!), producing their highest point total since 2001.

Winston: “I ain’t going to cry, but this is a dream come true for me. I always wanted to play here, ever since I was a little boy. I always wanted to be an Eagle. I was even singing the fight song on the sideline. It was a special day for me.”

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans: “We are watching a young quarterback grow before our eyes.”

Head coach Lovie Smith: “We’ve talked a lot about being relevant again. Well, we’re relevant again.”

Meanwhile, this quote is worthy of note from Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator Bill Davis after his D was gashed for 283 yards on the ground and 238 through the air. “A game like this will shake your confidence and that’s our biggest enemy because it can destroy you.”

Green Bay Packers

The Packers snapped a three game skid with a blowout win at Minnesota. Their defense came up strong, notching six sacks, and Eddie Lacy enjoyed a rare 100 yard rushing effort, taking some of the pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. That being said, Rodgers still completed fewer than half of his pass attempts. And his much maligned receiving corps didn’t offer him many easy targets with only James Jones gaining more than 40 yards through the air.

Still, the postgame comments from Rodgers were very positive. “Maybe we’ll get you guys off our back for a couple days. We’ve been taking it on the chin, rightfully so, the last three weeks after a couple real poor performances. This was an important week for us. We really stuck together… I think sometimes we play a little better when we start to get questioned.”

Denver Broncos

The Broncos snapped a two game skid of their own, with Brock Osweiler getting his first career start in place of Peyton Manning at quarterback. He completed 20-27 pass attempts for 250 yards without an interception.

Broncos QB Osweiler: “I don’t know if anybody believed me, but I really was telling the truth – I have not wasted a single day sitting behind Peyton. I fully recognize that he might be the greatest quarterback to ever play, if not one of the greatest. I wasn’t going to let one of those days go by where I didn’t learn something. I’ve been very appreciative for my situation… I was comfortable from the very first snap.”

Broncos LB Von Miller: “He does this all of the time in practice, in preseason. I kind of came out here and expected it. What he did is what I expected him to do.”

Head coach Gary Kubiak: “Brock can do everything. He’s a very composed young man and the more he plays, I think, the better he’s going to get… He’s a sharp young man. He has a lot of confidence in himself and he should obviously gain some more through this experience.”

Find Teddy at and Twitter @teddy_covers. Email: [email protected].