NFL Week 7 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks


Week 7 of the 2021 NFL season saw the Titans keep the Chiefs out of the end zone all afternoon, yet another concerning performance for Kansas City. The Bengals also made a big AFC statement, defeating Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Baltimore behind a huge day from receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

The Packers got the job done in Washington with three Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes, and the Patriots hung 54 points on the Jets in a blowout win. The Giants pulled off a big win against the Panthers, and the Falcons hit a winning field goal in the final seconds to beat the Dolphins. And on Thursday night, the Browns snuck past the Broncos with Case Keenum under center.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
KC-TEN | CIN-BAL | WSH-GB | CAR-NYG
NYJ-NE | ATL-MIA | DEN-CLE | CHI-TB
HOU-ARI | DET-LAR | PHI-LV
| IND-SF

Colts

What to know: The Colts knew what was on the line before they took the field against the 49ers. The Titans, less than a week after beating Buffalo, beat Kansas City Sunday to maintain a comfortable lead in the AFC South. The Colts had to knock off the 49ers to keep their hopes alive to catch the Titans in the division. The Colts (3-4) battled through the rain-soaked conditions to beat San Francisco, which sets the stage for a big game between them and Tennessee in Week 8 at Indianapolis. A victory over the Titans will move the Colts to within a game of first place in the division and would keep Tennessee from earning the season sweep. — Mike Wells

Can the Colts get by defensively without a pass rush? The Colts are living dangerously in the pass-rush department. They’ll have to start getting some sacks or continue to force turnovers to shorten the field for the offense. The defense got one sack on 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to bring its season total to just 13. But the Colts also forced four more turnovers to give them 16 this season, and they scored 20 points off those turnovers. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.8. All three of the Colts’ victories have been against teams with a losing record. They’ll have a chance to get their first victory against a team with a winning record when they play the Titans in Week 8.

Next game: vs. Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


49ers

What to know: The 49ers’ season is slipping away quickly, and they’re running out of chances to get it back on track before it’s too late. It’s one thing to lose one-possession games to contenders like Green Bay and Arizona. It’s another to lay an egg at home in prime time against a Colts team that entered Sunday night 2-4. Yes, the relentless rain made it difficult, but the Colts had the same disadvantage and didn’t make as many mistakes. San Francisco travels to Chicago next week for a game that’s far from a gimme before a two-game stretch against the Cardinals and the Rams. At 2-4, the Niners’ margin for error is getting thin and the calls for rookie quarterback Trey Lance (when he returns from a sprained left knee) are only going to grow louder with every loss. — Nick Wagoner

Will teams continue to take advantage of the 49ers’ penchant for defensive pass interference? They should. The Niners entered Sunday night’s game behind only Tampa Bay for most accepted defensive pass interference penalties with eight. And the Bucs had played two more games. The Colts picked up on that trend and adopted a “when in doubt, air it out” approach, launching deep balls knowing the Niners would be flagged. Officials flagged San Francisco five times for defensive pass interference with three of those accepted for 97 yards. All three came before Colts touchdowns. At this point, the Niners have a reputation, and even borderline calls are going to go against them, which means future opponents will undoubtedly keep trying it so long as the flags keep coming. — Wagoner

Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.9, down from 5.8. This team looks increasingly undisciplined and, after six games, still doesn’t have an identity, which makes it hard to have much confidence this season is headed anywhere good.

Next game: at Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Buccaneers

What to know: Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes — three of them to Mike Evans — becoming the first QB in NFL history to throw for 600 TDs in his career. Leonard Fournette tacked on a fifth TD on the ground, while the Bucs’ defense sacked rookie quarterback Justin Fields four times and intercepted him three times to defeat the Chicago Bears and improve to 6-1, their best start in franchise history. The only gripe here, if there is one, is that the Bucs put up 35 points in the first half and managed to score only three in the second, and Bruce Arians has been adamant about not taking their foot off the gas. — Jenna Laine

Will anyone beat the Bucs again this season? The Bucs might not have any cornerbacks left by season’s end, as Dee Delaney left the game with an ankle injury and Jamel Dean left the game twice with an injury — but the Bucs’ schedule is very favorable from here on out, with the New Orleans Saints giving them possibly their biggest scare next week on the road. But after that, they have a bye, Washington, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Saints, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Panthers. So if they get past the Saints, Buffalo (4-2) would likely be their biggest hurdle. The Bucs’ remaining opponents are a combined 24-34. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, no change from 8. They survived another week despite a defensive backfield — without Richard Sherman, and losing both Delaney and Dean to injuries — that’s become the walking wounded, and held the Bears to three points. That’s about as good as they could do heading into next week.

Next game: at Saints (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


Bears

What to know: The Bears got thoroughly outclassed by the Buccaneers, who took whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Even by Bears standards, the effort on Sunday was embarrassing. At least the Bears kept the score somewhat close in the Cleveland debacle several weeks ago. The Bucs game was over in the first quarter, as Tampa scored three quick touchdowns to lead 21-0. The score ballooned to 35-3 at halftime. Blowout city. At 3-4, the Bears have some serious soul-searching to do after this nightmarish performance. — Jeff Dickerson

Can Justin Fields recover from this latest debacle? The Bucs hammered Fields, who lost multiple fumbles on strip-sacks. The rookie also threw a terrible interception in the first half (three picks in the game), and never seemed comfortable in the pocket. Fields bounced back immediately after the Browns game (nine sacks), but Sunday was his worst NFL experience to date. Fields is still building confidence, but Week 7 was a major step backward. The Bears — and Fields — cannot afford any more of these. — Dickerson

Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.6, down from 4.8. Did you watch the game?

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Cardinals

What to know: The Cardinals overcame a different type of adversity this week to still win and win big: bad football. Arizona didn’t score in the first quarter for the first time this season and looked totally and utterly discombobulated. The Cardinals rectified that to score 17 points in the second on their way to another big win, even with Kyler Murray getting sacked four times. Nothing Sunday seemed smooth and seamless like it did last week against Cleveland, but Arizona still dominated the Texans to remain undefeated. — Josh Weinfuss

How will a game like this affect the Cardinals on Thursday night against the Packers? It will depend on how sore Murray is all week. He was beaten up all game, getting sacked four times and taking a few hits to the head as well. If he can recover, Arizona should be fine. There will be a lot of eyes on Thursday night’s game, which is a critical NFC battle. This game could have home-field-advantage implications come the postseason. It’s one thing to try to get motivated for a 1-5 team like the Texans. It’s an entirely different animal to do that against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. If the Cardinals can get this game out of their heads as quickly as possible and Murray can recover, the Cardinals will be in good shape heading into Thursday night. — Weinfuss

Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 9.5, up from 9.4. A win is a win, and a win by 26 is a big win — even if it was ugly. The Cardinals remain the NFL’s only undefeated team.

Next game: vs. Packers (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)


Texans

What to know: The Texans aren’t just losing, they are not really even competing in games. Houston has been outscored 102-8 in its past three road games and hasn’t scored a touchdown on the road since Week 2. It has all gone downhill for Houston since it won its season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and at 1-6, the team now sits in last place in the AFC South. Really all that remains this season is seeing whether the young talent on this team will contribute in meaningful ways moving forward. — Sarah Barshop

Will the Texans trade Deshaun Watson before the Nov. 2 deadline? That’s right, the biggest question surrounding the team has nothing to do with the game that was played on Sunday. All season, Watson’s presence on the roster has been hovering over the franchise, after he was accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior in 22 active civil lawsuits. He also asked for a trade in January. The organization seems motivated to move him before the deadline, but whether the Texans will find an NFL team that wants to trade for him right now with the uncertainty around whether he’ll be allowed to play remains to be seen. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.8, down from 1. There’s not much lower to go with this rating, which has been steadily falling since Week 1. It’s hard to feel confident about things changing when the Texans host the 6-1 Rams in Week 8.

Next game: vs. Rams (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Rams

What to know: The Rams aren’t winning any style points lately, but the bottom line is coach Sean McVay’s Super Bowl-hopeful squad continues to win. The Rams improved to 6-1 Sunday with a 28-19 victory over revenge-seeking former quarterback Jared Goff and the 0-7 Lions. Before kickoff, the Rams closed as a 16.5-point favorite, but the game was far from a rout after several special teams snafus and momentary lapses on defense. However, like the Rams did with ugly wins over the Colts and Seahawks, they pulled it together with game-changing plays in the fourth quarter — a 5-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Cooper Kupp to go ahead and then an interception by cornerback Jalen Ramsey with 4:53 left to seal it. — Lindsey Thiry

What’s wrong with the special teams? Special teams is largely a game within the game that’s dependent on situations. The Joe DeCamillis-led unit has played inconsistently throughout the coordinator’s first season, but on Sunday the group was outcoached and unprepared for many situations that were semi-predictable from a Lions team looking for a jump-start. The Lions caught the Rams off-guard by recovering an onside kick after scoring a touchdown on the opening series. They also converted twice on fourth down with two fake punts that went for a 17-yard completion and a 28-yard run, respectively. The Rams are lucky that special teams did not cost them a game against a team with an inferior offense and defense. — Thiry

Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, down from 8.4. A victory and a drop in confidence? Yes, because this win over the struggling Lions wasn’t exactly inspiring. The Rams were huge favorites and boast a much stronger roster than the rebuilding Lions, but they allowed the winless team to not only hang around but also be the aggressor for a sizable portion of the game. Along with the special teams breakdowns, the defense was inconsistent and allowed several long gains.

Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Lions

What to know: Another week. Another loss. Although the Lions remain winless, dropping to 0-7, it isn’t for lack of effort. They’ve dropped two games this season on last-second, 50-plus-yard field goals and have now lost after playing close with a tough Rams team on the road after leading 19-17 in the third quarter. This latest defeat has Lions fans wondering when will they win a game. But first-year coach Dan Campbell continues to get the most out of his players with aggression, trick plays and a strong performance by running back D’Andre Swift. The Lions continued to build for the future in a tough loss to a Super Bowl contender. — Eric Woodyard

Should the Lions implement more trick plays going forward? Yes. Entering SoFi Stadium as heavy underdogs, the Lions pulled out all the tricks with a pair of fake punts, which they were able to convert to extend drives, along with a first-quarter surprise onside-kick recovery. Campbell said he would evaluate everything after the Week 6 loss to Cincinnati, and they made some changes against the Rams, although they did fall to 0-7. Obviously, these trick plays won’t work all the time, but they should definitely consider implementing such plays from time to time. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as this team is struggling to get its first win. — Woodyard

Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2.5. Obviously, you can’t cash in moral victories in the NFL, but for a winless Lions team to enter SoFi Stadium against the red-hot Rams and take a 10-0 first-quarter lead, then keep it competitive throughout, shows that they haven’t quit on the season. You have to give them some credit for continuing to fight and not giving up on the year despite the heartbreak they’ve faced.

Next game: vs. Eagles (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Raiders

What to know: It’s been less than two weeks since the Raiders endured the sudden shock of losing Jon Gruden as coach … and they’ve played their best football since. You’d think Las Vegas, which improved to 5-2 and jumped into first place in the AFC West with a 33-22 win over the visiting Eagles on Sunday, would want to keep playing rather than enjoy the upcoming bye week. But the bye comes at a perfect time. Because if the Raiders have been playing on pure emotion and adrenaline the past two weeks, they need a break. And if it’s scheme, the bye allows interim coach Rich Bisaccia to get even more in tune with new offensive playcaller Greg Olson and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Especially with a winnable game at the Giants after the bye. — Paul Gutierrez

How much fun is Greg Olson having as the offensive playcaller? How about a lot? This isn’t Olson’s first rodeo with the Raiders; he was the team’s coordinator/playcaller in 2013-14 — the latter year being QB Derek Carr‘s rookie season. Olson has much more talent at his disposal now, and he’s not afraid to spread the ball around. And Carr is responding in kind, as his career-best completion percentage of 91.2% (31-of-34) for 323 yards with 2 TDs and an INT showed. And the Raiders did this without Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller, after he injured his ankle in practice Friday, and after losing Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs with a chest injury. Fun times for Olson, indeed. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 7.5. When the offense is playing with so much fun, the defense is dominating at a rate not seen here in years, and the team is in first place in the AFC West, something is going right. And as mentioned above, the bye comes at the perfect time, especially with so many injuries.

Next game: at Giants (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 7)


Eagles

What to know: This is the type of loss that can torpedo a season and get players to second-guess their coaching staff. The Eagles had several days of extra rest after playing on Thursday night in Week 6 and supposedly used that time to self-scout and make improvements on both sides of the ball. Yet the product on Sunday was the worst it’s been. The defense continues to play passively — it was pitch-and-catch underneath all day for Carr — while the Eagles’ offense stuck to a run-heavy game plan until late in the game despite trailing by a significant margin for much of the day. Coach Nick Sirianni & Co. appear overmatched, and the Eagles look broken. — Tim McManus

Will the Eagles shift into full-out sellers mode before the Nov. 2 trade deadline? Tight end Zach Ertz has already been dealt, and at this point, all illusions about the Eagles (2-5) making a run at the postseason have vanished. There’s reason to expect the Eagles will be burning up the phone lines over the next week. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.1, down from 3.9. There are winnable games coming up, starting Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but the Eagles look awfully shaky at the moment.

Next game: at Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Packers

What to know: Now the real fun begins. The Packers got through perhaps the easiest part of their schedule — a stretch that included wins over Chicago and now Washington. It’s time to find out how good the Packers are going to be. And it’s not a long wait with the quick turnaround to Thursday night’s game at Arizona, which entered Sunday’s action as the NFL’s only unbeaten team. The Packers haven’t faced a quarterback as dynamic as Murray this season. In fact, they’ve faced a steady stream of mediocre quarterbacks (Jameis Winston, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo), ones with potential but not there yet (Joe Burrow, who is surging, Justin Fields and Taylor Heinicke) and one who may be washed up (Ben Roethlisberger). Murray is an MVP front-runner. After that, it’s Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. — Rob Demovsky

Do the Packers have their red zone defense fixed? That’s debatable. Yes, they got four stops in a row — their first four of the season after allowing 15 touchdowns on 15 possessions inside the 20. They were the first team in at least the past 40 years that hadn’t made a red zone stop (even a field goal would have counted) through the first six games of an NFL season. On Sunday, they allowed three points — a field goal with 2:25 left in the game — on those four drives. But they got their first two stops against Washington by the thinnest of margins, and one of those needed a replay review. It looked like Heinicke scored on a third-and-goal scramble, but replay showed he was down at the 1. The Packers needed a fourth-down incompletion to come up with their second red zone stop. The third came thanks to an interception in the end zone by Chandon Sullivan in the fourth quarter. — Demovsky

Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from last week. As long as the Packers (6-1) keep winning, it’s hard to say all of their injuries are going to cost them. But at some point, they’ll have to start getting players back, especially on defense. In addition to the two defensive stars on injured reserve (Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander), the Packers played without cornerback Kevin King and outside linebacker Preston Smith on Sunday. Smith missed a game for the first time in his pro career, ending a streak of 102 straight, because of an oblique injury, while King missed a second straight game because of a shoulder injury. On offense, they’re not likely to get left tackle David Bakhtiari back for at least another week, and the same could be true for receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Next game: at Cardinals (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)


Washington

What to know: In many ways, Washington played as well as it could. It outgained Green Bay by 126 yards and the defense applied consistent pressure with three sacks. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen was terrific, and at times, the coverage made Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hesitate enough to allow the rush to be effective. The defense allowed a season-low 304 yards. But the offense had six trips inside the 25 that resulted in three points — a sign of its lack of firepower. Green Bay had allowed 15 touchdowns in 15 red zone trips before this game. For once, the defense can build off a strong game, but the offense remains an issue. And that will be harder to get right. — John Keim

Is there an end to their misery in sight? Washington plays at Denver, which is also struggling, next week with a chance to end a three-game skid. It should get tight end Logan Thomas back soon, perhaps after the Week 9 bye. But its original starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, remains on injured reserve with a hip injury, and there’s still no firm date for his return. That means Washington will have to live with Heinicke. He created with his legs on Sunday, but he couldn’t finish drives and threw a pick in the end zone. But until they get more help outside — receiver Curtis Samuel‘s season-long groin issue continues to hurt the offense — it will be difficult to turn this around. — Keim

Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, up from 3.7. Washington can feel better about its defense, but after a combined 23 points the past two games, it’s hard to feel the same about the offense.

Next game: at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Falcons

What to know: The Falcons took a two-possession lead and watched it fade away. They trailed at the two-minute warning, and it looked bleak. But perhaps these Falcons have discovered some resiliency. Matt Ryan, whose fumble eventually led to Miami’s go-ahead score, got the ball with 2:27 left and methodically marched down the field with a combination of throws to tight end Kyle Pitts and runs to set up a game-winning field goal. It’s the second time Atlanta has come from behind to win this season, showing some gumption even when it blew a substantial lead. Yes, it came against a bad Dolphins team, but Atlanta is beating the teams it should beat and putting itself in position to at least be relevant for a while longer. — Michael Rothstein

Can you fully trust first-round pick Kyle Pitts now? Pitts had his second straight 100-plus-yard day Sunday against the Dolphins after a 119-yard game against the Jets in Week 5. He’s the first rookie tight end since the Raiders’ Raymond Chester in 1970 to have back-to-back 100-yard games. Chester’s back-to-back 100-yard games, like Pitts’, came in the fifth and sixth games of his team’s season. Pitts’ 163 yards of work Sunday came in large chunks, including an incredible 39-yard reception on a deep route in which Miami safety Eric Rowe interfered with Pitts by grabbing his right arm. Pitts didn’t care — sticking out his left arm to make a one-handed grab. He also had a 26-yard catch to open the second half that set up a deep touchdown from Ryan to Russell Gage. There’s no question about Pitts’ talent. But Falcons coach Arthur Smith has fully unleashed his potential on the NFL, and he has become one of the team’s most valuable players. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.1, up from 5. As long as the Falcons have Younghoe Koo available to make a kick to win the game, Atlanta has a chance.

Next game: vs. Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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0:19

Matt Ryan connects with Calvin Ridley for a 5-yard touchdown to put the Falcons up over the Dolphins.


Dolphins

What to know: This season is over. The Dolphins are playing for pride from here on out because they certainly won’t be making the playoffs. Sunday marked their sixth straight loss, and a matchup with the AFC East’s resident bully, the Buffalo Bills, looms. Tua Tagovailoa played one of the best games of his career but threw two backbreaking interceptions. Miami’s defense forced two turnovers but was carved up by Matt Ryan and Kyle Pitts. The Dolphins thought they’d be a playoff team this year after winning 10 games last season. Now, coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier might be the consensus picks as the first to lose their jobs this season. Did I mention the Bills are coming off a bye and will be fully rested? Seems relevant. Desperation is about to set in for the Dolphins, which might set off one of the most polarizing moves in NFL history. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Will Grier and Flores’ desperation force their hand in a trade for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson? Not even Watson, who played like an MVP candidate last season, can save Miami’s season, but if he is cleared to play in 2022 (suspension or not), Grier and Flores likely will stick around to see the experiment through for at least another season. Of course, Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits for alleged sexual assault and inappropriate conduct and is under a grand jury investigation — so it’s unclear what his future holds until an indictment is either levied or off the table. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 1, down from 2. I am confident the Dolphins can make it to the field next week. I am not confident they’ll do much else against a Bills team that’s outscored them 91-26 in their past two meetings.

Next game: at Bills (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Patriots

What to know: The Patriots had played up and down to the level of their competition entering Week 7, so this was the type of game they needed to show what they can do. They got on the Jets early and ran away with it. While some might be inclined to say, “Yeah, but it’s the Jets,” the Patriots hadn’t shown they were capable of burying any team this season. Remember Week 5 against the Texans? The Patriots barely escaped in a 25-22 win in which they didn’t lead until the final 15 seconds. While the Jets are not a good football team, the Patriots hadn’t proved to be a good one up to this point. Maybe this gives them some confidence as they look ahead to what should be a much tougher test next Sunday against the Chargers. — Mike Reiss

Who steps up if Devin McCourty and Jonnu Smith miss time? In what could be an ominous sign, tight end Smith (shoulder) and safety McCourty (abdomen) were ruled out of Sunday’s game early in the second half. In the event Smith isn’t ready to go next Sunday on the road against the Chargers, it would likely thrust 2019 third-round pick Devin Asiasi into the No. 2 tight end role for the first time this season. He has been a healthy scratch all year. The team also has veteran Matt LaCosse on the practice squad. Meanwhile, McCourty’s void hits at a spot that is thin already. Veteran Adrian Phillips would be the next man up — against his former team, the Chargers — but the team would likely need to consider a DB addition from the practice squad (Elijah Benton, Sean Davis, D’Angelo Ross) or the open market. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.2, up from 5. The secondary still shows some vulnerability against the pass, which could sting when going against quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers.

Next game: at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Jets

What to know: Quarterback Zach Wilson‘s knee injury, if significant, would be a major setback for the Jets’ roster rebuild — aka The Wilson Plan. This season is all about Wilson’s development, and now there’s a chance he will miss out on much-needed game experience. The No. 2 overall pick has a ton of talent, but he’s extremely raw. He needs game reps. He didn’t commit any turnovers on Sunday against the Patriots (he played only three series), but it was yet another jittery start. The Jets were trailing 17-0 when the injury occurred. A long-term injury is the nightmare scenario for the Jets, who seem like a cursed franchise. — Rich Cimini

Will the Jets regret not having a veteran backup QB? Yes, absolutely. Backup Mike White isn’t going to steady the ship, that’s for sure. White, who replaced the injured Wilson in the second quarter, threw a touchdown on his first NFL pass — and it went south from there. He threw two interceptions, looking every bit like a QB neophyte. The Jets stubbornly refused to add an experienced backup as their QB2, and now they could pay the price. It hurts the entire offense because there will be no growth under White; there will be regression because it’s back to square one if White has to start. This could be a repeat of the Luke Falk Debacle in 2019. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 3. What did the Jets do on their bye week, work on their Halloween costumes? It doesn’t look like they worked on football — they regressed in every way imaginable.

Next game: vs. Bengals (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Bengals

What to know: The transformation is complete. The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t just playoff contenders, they are the front-runners to win the AFC North. The NFL’s worst team in 2019 went on the road in Baltimore and soundly beat the Ravens. This was arguably the biggest game to date of Zac Taylor’s coaching tenure. And in Year 3, this team is at the top of the division. — Ben Baby

Can the Bengals sustain this start? Yes. It’s not even a start anymore. At this point in the season, and given this type of victory over Baltimore, the Bengals are certifiably a good team. Cincinnati’s defense flummoxed Baltimore and quarterback Lamar Jackson. Offensively, Cincinnati methodically picked the Ravens apart for the biggest yardage day of Taylor’s coaching tenure. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, up from 7. There’s no shading the Bengals after this one — this looks like the best Cincinnati team in six years.

Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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Joe Burrow shows out with three touchdown passes, leading the Bengals to a huge win over the Ravens.


Ravens

What to know: The Ravens aren’t running away with the AFC North. Baltimore was a touchdown favorite against Cincinnati and had the opportunity to go two games up in the division. But the Ravens relinquished first place because their secondary and run game failed to show up once again. There was a growing feeling that Jackson could make up for any deficiencies. But quarterback Joe Burrow and the upstart Bengals showed they can go toe-to-toe with Jackson as far as big plays. These aren’t the same Bengals that were 0-5 against Jackson. — Jamison Hensley

What’s going on with the Ravens secondary? When the Ravens pass defense is bad, it’s really, really bad. A week after shutting down Justin Herbert, Baltimore had no answers for Burrow, who threw for over 400 yards. The Ravens are now the third team all-time to allow three 400-yard passers in the first seven games of a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey said this week Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has made transitioning to the NFL look easy. Humphrey and the Baltimore defense made it easier by not tackling. On Chase’s 82-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, 72 yards came after first contact. That’s the tied for the third most yards after catch on a touchdown reception since ESPN began tracking it in 2009. — Hensley

Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, down from 9. The Ravens don’t look like the best team in the AFC North, much less the AFC. Baltimore limps into the bye but it has a chance to go on another run with games against the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears next month.

Next game: vs. Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 7)

Giants

What to know: Chalk up last week as one bad game for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. He was brilliant Sunday against the Panthers despite playing with a decimated supporting cast that was missing his top four playmakers, all sidelined by injury. Jones completed 22 of 33 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown, ran for 28 more yards and even made a diving, one-handed catch to add to his highlight reel. He also didn’t commit a turnover. To do it all without seven of his Week 1 starters made this all the more impressive, another indication he might be the franchise quarterback to build around. — Jordan Raanan

Is the Giants’ defense back? This was by far the defense’s best and most complete effort this season. The unit allowed 173 yards and three points and produced six sacks. And for the first time this season, it looked like the unit that finished in the top half of the league last season. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the highest-paid player on the roster, played like it for the second consecutive week. Williams and fellow defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence dominated on the interior, combining for 1.5 sacks and six total tackles. That is what the Giants needed. The next test comes in a Monday night matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.1, up from 1.8. At least you feel much better about the defense and the quarterback after poor performances last week.

Next game: at Chiefs (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 1)


Panthers

What to know: Coach Matt Rhule shouldn’t have been “bought in” on quarterback Sam Darnold, as he said this past week. Darnold was making too many mistakes prior to Sunday, and that continued in this loss, which led to him being benched in favor of P.J. Walker. Darnold had an intentional grounding from the end zone that resulted in a safety and an interception near the New York goal line throwing off his back foot. He has thrown seven interceptions in the past four games. He’s a wreck. It might be time for a permanent change. — David Newton

Can the Panthers (3-4) salvage this season after their fourth straight loss? They’ve already lost three in a row to teams with losing records and they have a potential quarterback controversy with Darnold being benched. The schedule still is somewhat favorable the next couple of weeks with games against Atlanta and New England. And they could get running back Christian McCaffrey back in a few weeks, not to mention Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore next week. But this appears to be a team in disarray, and the back end of the schedule could be overwhelming. — Newton

Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 5. Four straight losses, continued poor play by Darnold, a struggling offensive line and a defense that couldn’t stop a depleted Giants offense does not inspire confidence.

Next game: at Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Titans

What to know: The Titans’ defense showed it is capable of dominating. Their front four package with Denico Autry and Bud Dupree on the outside surrounding Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry on the interior harassed Mahomes all game. Mahomes was sacked four times and intercepted once. Titans safety Kevin Byard forced Mahomes to fumble on a scramble to give Tennessee two turnovers. Kansas City converted 4 of 11 third-down opportunities. The Titans held the Chiefs to three points in a dominating performance — the first time that’s happened to a Mahomes-led Chiefs offense during the regular season. — Turron Davenport

Can the offensive line continue to withstand the injury bug? The Titans’ offensive line continues to suffer from injuries. Taylor Lewan was already out of the game with a concussion. Backup left tackle Kendall Lamm was knocked out of the game because of an ankle injury and replaced by Bobby Hart. Rodger Saffold missed a few snaps because of a thigh injury. Tennessee has managed to patch a unit together each week. But at some point that is going to catch up with them. Could it be next week going against the Colts and 2020 first-team All-Pro defensive lineman DeForest Buckner? — Davenport

Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, up from 7.5. The Titans handled their business in all facets against the Chiefs and look like they can compete with any team in the AFC.

Next game: at Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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0:27

Derrick Henry takes a direct snap, fakes a run and passes to MyCole Pruitt for a touchdown.


Chiefs

What to know: The Chiefs can no longer count on scoring a large number of points behind Mahomes each week. That illusion was shattered against the Titans, who shut out the Chiefs in the first half and allowed only a field goal in the third quarter. The Chiefs have committed at least two turnovers in five of their past six games. — Adam Teicher

Can things get much worse on defense? The Chiefs should be afraid to find out. Among their next four opponents are Rodgers and the Packers, Carr and the Raiders (who scored 71 points in two games against the Chiefs last season) and Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, who entered the week leading the league in scoring. — Teicher

Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. The Chiefs look cooked. Their defensive problems have been with them almost all season, while their offense in Tennessee was a mess.

Next game: vs. Giants (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 1)

Browns

What to know: The Browns didn’t just sign Case Keenum to be a mentor for starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. They brought in Keenum believing he could keep Cleveland’s season afloat if called upon. That’s exactly what Keenum did Thursday, as the Browns toppled Denver to end a two-game skid. It’s unclear when Mayfield might be able to return with his ailing non-throwing shoulder, but Keenum showed the Browns have another quarterback who can deliver. — Jake Trotter

Will when Baker Mayfield return? Despite disclosing he also has a fracture on top of the torn labrum to his left shoulder, Mayfield is aiming to return for Cleveland’s next game on Oct. 31 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said it’s too soon to know if that’s ambitious. But Mayfield’s status going forward will be a prevailing discussion point in Cleveland. — Trotter

Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.7, up from 6. The Browns steadied the ship with a solid effort to stay in the hunt in the AFC North.

Next game: vs. Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Broncos

What to know: Four games, four losses, four times the Broncos didn’t consistently win the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. Defensively, the Broncos could not prevent the Browns from controlling the tempo, and when Denver finally got enough offense going to make it a game, the defense couldn’t get the one stop it needed to have a chance to escape with a win. And offensively, the Broncos have drifted away from what worked for them in their three wins. When quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is under center more, as in nearly 50% of the time, the Broncos have had more big plays and moved the ball more effectively. He was in the shotgun eight snaps more than under center in their three wins, but starting with the loss to the Ravens, he’s been in the shotgun far more. (He had 45 more snaps in the shotgun than under center in their Week 5 loss to the Steelers.) There’s no reason a quarterback can’t be under center when down by one score, especially when he’s proved to be more effective on those plays. — Jeff Legwold

Will getting Jerry Jeudy back help at least some? Definitely, as defenses have cheated toward the line of scrimmage to sell out against the run because they don’t fear getting beat by the deep ball. Much of the Broncos’ speed on offense has been on injured reserve with Jeudy, wide receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam all out of the lineup. But Jeudy is trending to be back in the lineup Oct. 31 against Washington, which will force an adjustment from opposing defenses that could give the Broncos a little more room to work in their play-action passing game. — Legwold

Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 5.5. They now have seven linebackers on injured reserve, their quarterback is battered and they are consistently losing the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Next game: vs. Washington (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)



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