Week 9 of the NFL season didn't disappoint with the four huge games that controlled the Sunday slate, showcasing which teams are contenders at the halfway point and which are pretenders. The Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys still can't win a big game. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens had statement victories, while the Kansas City Chiefs proved they are the defending champs for a reason.
All four teams in the AFC North are over .500 at the halfway point and and every playoff team is currently over. 500. The Buffalo Bills aren't even in the playoffs right now! After a 1-4 start, the Minnesota Vikings are back over .500 and in the playoffs at the halfway point.
With the Week 9 slate of games at a close, what did we learn from each team that played this week?
Time to see what Kyler Murray can do: The Cardinals have been patient in regards to Murray's return, as they really had nothing to play for this year. They moved on from Joshua Dobbs and gave Clayton Tune a chance to start, but the offense generated just 58 yards -- as Tune went 11 of 20 for 58 yards with two interceptions and a 20.8 passer rating. Outside of Tune, the Cardinals rushed 16 times for 13 yards. If Murray's healthy, this team needs to play him which is the plan for this week.
They have the classic two-quarterback problem: As the old saying goes, when a team has two quarterbacks -- that team has none. Taylor Heinicke wasn't any better than Desmond Ridder Sunday, as he went 21 of 31 for 268 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Heinicke had one turnover, but the same problems persisted as the Falcons struggled to get the ball in the end zone. The offense has an Arthur Smith problem, along with not having a franchise quarterback. Heinicke will get another start, but he's not the solution either.
The running game is still elite: This is a Gus Edwards appreciation post, as he scored two touchdowns on Sunday to give him six in his last three games. Edwards has taken the role as lead back, notching 196 yards and six touchdowns in his last three games (5.2 yards per carry). The Ravens rushed for 298 yards and 7.3 yards per carry Sunday, as Keaton Mitchell led the way with 138 yards and a score (15.3 yards per carry). The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing (160.3 yards per game) and rushing touchdowns (17). Even in Todd Monken's offense, they still run the ball better than anyone.
The takeaways just aren't coming: While there are a lot of problems with the Bills right now, the defense just isn't generating takeaways like it did early in the year. Buffalo has just one takeaway in its last four games after having 13 in the first five. Injuries to Tre'Davious White, Kaiir Elam and Micah Hyde have played a role in the lack of takeaways -- and now Christian Benford has a right leg injury. The Bills are fifth in points allowed per game, but the lack of takeaways isn't helping an already inconsistent offense.
Miles Sanders needs the football: Would have been crazy to think this heading into Sunday's game, but Sanders may have been the only player on offense who could get anything going. Sanders had six carries for 39 yards as the No. 2 running back to Chuba Hubbard, yet he got the Panthers' lone touchdown drive going with three carries for 31 yards and two catches for 19 yards. If Sanders is healthy, it's time to give him the football more and make him a featured part of the offense again. The Panthers need to help Bryce Young out as much as they can at this point.
D.J. Moore needs Justin Fields back: Moore hasn't been efficient catching the ball since his 230-yard performance in Week 5, although the numbers have been skewed due to Justin Fields and his thumb injury. Moore has 20 catches for 204 yards over the last four games, three of which Fields missed and the fourth was the game he left with the thumb injury. The connection just isn't there with Tyson Bagent. Moore will be more than pleased if Fields can return Thursday.
The tight ends got involved in the offense: After trade speculation regarding the Bengals potentially upgrading at tight end, the ones on their roster responded in a big way. Tanner Hudson had four catches for 45 yards, Drew Sample had three for 30 and Irv Smith Jr. finished with three for 26. Sample and Smith each scored. That's 10 catches for 101 yards between the trio, significantly better production than what Cincinnati had been getting from the position all year. The Bengals offense will be even more dangerous if it features the tight ends more.
Nice to see Amari Cooper return to form: The Browns saw the Cooper of old in Sunday's win over the Cardinals, as the veteran receiver finished with five catches for 139 yards and a touchdown -- an average of 27.8 yards per catch. Cooper has recorded three 100-yard games this year, but he's becoming the big-play receiver he was with the Raiders and Cowboys. Cooper is averaging 17.6 yards per catch this year (a career high) and is averaging 15.7 yards per catch in his career with the Browns. The touchdown numbers aren't there yet, but the Browns are getting big plays out of Cooper. He still can play at a high level.
Situational football still eludes them: The Cowboys had every opportunity to beat the Eagles on Sunday, outgaining Philadelphia 163-14 in the fourth quarter. Not only did the Eagles go three-and-out on all three offensive possessions, but all four of Dallas' four possessions in the fourth quarter were inside the Eagles' 30-yard line. The Cowboys scored once and failed to get the two-point conversion after the touchdown. On the three other possessions inside the 30-yard line, Dallas turned the ball over on downs twice and failed to score the winning touchdown on the final drive despite having a first-and-goal on the Eagles' 6-yard line with 27 seconds left. Two penalties, a sack, and an incomplete pass led to Dallas on the Eagles' 27 with five seconds left. That's how teams lose football games. Dallas found a way to lose with the win in hand.
Jordan Love actually was proficient on passes over 10 yards: Love hasn't been good on passes that have traveled 10-plus air yards for the majority of the season. That changed on Sunday as he went 6 of 8 for 118 yards with a 116.7 rating. Love completed just 31 of 83 passes prior to Sunday (37.3%) with two touchdowns and five interceptions on throws of 10-plus air yards. For one week, the Packers had some efficiency from Love on those types of passes, which even eluded him earlier in the season (went 6 of 20 on those passes over first two games).
C.J. Stroud may take this team to the playoffs: Stroud is the best quarterback in the 2023 draft class, evidenced by his historic performance in Sunday's thrilling win over the Buccaneers. Stroud threw for an NFL rookie-record 470 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in the win, including the game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds left. He's just the third player with 470 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a game. Stroud has 2,270 passing yards with 14 touchdowns to one interception, having Houston in striking distance of a playoff berth -- one game out of the No. 7 seed. They are a factor in the playoff race with Stroud at quarterback.
Kenny Moore should be Defensive Player of the Week: Moore had a dominant afternoon for the Colts, having two interceptions returned for touchdowns and being responsible for 12 points on his own. Even after a slow start, Moore was responsible for putting the game away with his two pick-sixes -- both backbreaking for Bryce Young and the Panthers offense. Young went 4 of 6 targeting Moore, having just 21 yards and a 30.6 passer rating. Moore looked like the player who was deemed the best slot cornerback in football a few years ago.
Travis Kelce was shut down, and they still won: Kelce had just three catches for 14 yards in the win over the Dolphins, not exactly close to the four-game stretch that saw him snag 37 passes for 428 yards. The Chiefs offense typically sputters when Kelce is shut down, and the unit did have only 267 yards of offense. Patrick Mahomes still threw for two touchdowns and had a 105.6 rating while nine players caught a pass. The Chiefs run through Kelce, but they can still win games if he's shut down.
Maxx Crosby doesn't get enough credit for how good he is: Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons are in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. There's Crosby wondering what he has to do to get noticed. Facing the Giants' horrific offensive line, Crosby finished with six pressures, three sacks, and three quarterback hits in Sunday's win. He leads the NFL with 53 pressures and is tied for second with 9.5 sacks. Because Crosby plays for the Raiders, he doesn't get the credit he deserves for being one of the best pass rushers in the game. He certainly is the most underrated.
Pass rush had a monster night: The Chargers' pass rush is second in the NFL in sacks with 31, eight of which came against the Jets on Monday. Joey Bosa's toe is getting better by the week as he finished with 2.5 sacks, while Khalil Mack and Tuli Tuipulotu each added two sacks in the win. Los Angeles has only 102 pressures (26th in NFL), but the pass rush is finishing when it gets to the quarterback. The Chargers only had 12 pressures, eight of which ended up as sacks.
The bye week is coming at a perfect time: The Rams offense was abysmal without Matthew Stafford at quarterback, as Los Angeles gained just 187 yards of offense and averaged 3.4 yards per play. They didn't score a touchdown as Brett Rypien completed 13 of 28 passes with an interception and the running game averaged 2.6 yards per carry (26 carries for 68 yards). Not even Cooper Kupp or Puka Nacua could help. The week off may be enough to get Stafford back. The Rams need him to compete.
Offense struggles against teams over .500: The Dolphins did have an opportunity to change the narrative, as Mike McDaniel pointed out, but were unable to accomplish the task. The offense is the biggest culprit toward Miami not being able to beat the good teams. In the three games the Dolphins faced teams with winning records, the offense averaged just 17 points per game and didn't score over 20 points in any game. It averaged only 309.7 yards per game against those teams. Miami entered Week 9 with the No. 1 offense in points and yards per game, averaging 33.9 points and 453.2 yards. The Dolphins haven't come close to any of those numbers against teams with winning records.
Joshua Dobbs brings different dynamic as Vikings QB: What Dobbs did to lead the Vikings to a victory five days after he joined the team is incredible, yet there was a valuable aspect he provided to the Vikings offense that went largely unnoticed. Dobbs ran seven times for 66 yards and a touchdown in the comeback win, but the biggest run was when he scrambled for 22 yards on fourth-and-7 on the Falcons' 34 with 52 seconds left. The Vikings need Dobbs' mobility with what little they are getting from the running game. Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers had 24 carries for 69 yards Sunday, and Akers is lost for the season. Minnesota needs Dobbs to help out the running game.
Third-down offense got even worse: The Patriots were already horrible on third downs this season, yet found a way to be even worse. New England was 3 of 12 on third down in Sunday's loss to the Commanders, including 1 of 7 in a second half in which the Patriots punted four times and had an interception on the final five possessions. The Patriots are 27th in the NFL with a 33.1% conversion rate on third down. This is part of the reason why the offense has trouble scoring points.
What happened to the run defense?: The Saints allowed 156 rushing yards to the Bears on Sunday, letting Tyson Bagent scramble at will as he rushed for 70 yards. This is a disturbing trend for the Saints, as they let Trevor Lawrence run wild on a knee brace three weeks ago. Over the last four games, the Saints have allowed 138.3 rushing yards per game -- including 161.0 over the last two weeks. This isn't the same run defense that allowed 91.6 rushing yards per game over the first five games. Good news? The Saints have committed a takeaway in every game and are second in the league with 18 on the year.
Andrew Thomas was a much-needed welcome on the offensive line: Thomas was back at left tackle, which allowed the Giants to slide Justin Pugh back over to left guard. This was the best version of the Giants offensive line all year, as Saquon Barkley finished with 16 carries for 90 yards (5.6 yards per carry). New York still allowed five sacks and 16 pressures, but the running game did muster 123 yards and 4.9 yards per carry. The offensive line is still bad, but Thomas should at least help in the second half of the year.
Offense continues to be ineffective: Every week the Jets offense finds ways to sputter, which is the result of a team that was built around Aaron Rodgers. The Jets failed to score an offensive touchdown again in a blowout loss to the Chargers on Monday night and have just one game with multiple offensive touchdowns since Rodgers was lost for the season in Week 1 (seven games since). The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play and Zach Wilson had only 3.6 yards per attempt, while getting sacked all night. The Jets offense is what it is at this point.
The knee injury isn't bothering Jalen Hurts throwing the ball: Given the circumstance regarding Hurts' knee injury and his inability to run the football and extend the play, Hurts has been playing excellent football since the loss to the New York Jets in Week 6. In the three games since, Hurts is 69 of 92 (75%) for 805 yards with eight touchdowns to one interception and a 125.5 passer rating. Hurts is third in the NFL in completion percentage, first in passing touchdowns, and first in passer rating in that span. He only has 63 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in that span, clearly limited in mobility. Hurts is throwing the football like an MVP quarterback, which is the level he's played at over the last three games.
Can this offense sustain in the second half?: The Steelers have been outgained in each of their first eight games, yet are the only team in NFL history with a winning record in that stretch. Of course the Steelers did this same thing last season -- and ended up with a winning record! Pittsburgh is 30th in points per game, 29th in yards per game, 30th in points per possession, and 30th in yards per possession. They are also 27th in red zone conversion rate as well. How the Steelers are winning is hard to explain, but so are Mike Tomlin teams. Hard to bet against him based on the track record.
Offensive line let Geno Smith down: Smith had arguably his worst game as the Seahawks starter on Sunday (13 of 28, 157 yards, one interception), but the offensive line was even worse. The Seahawks allowed 17 pressures and three sacks, as Smith was under duress all day against the Ravens. Smith was 5 of 11 for 78 yards under pressure, as he was pressured on 16 of his 30 dropbacks. Jason Peters had two penalties, Charles Cross had a false start, and Evan Brown had a holding call. Just wasn't a good day for the offensive line.
The defense may cost Todd Bowles his job: Of course Bowles is responsible for how the Buccaneers defense performs, yet Sunday's performance was embarrassing. Not only did the Buccaneers blow a second-half lead, but Houston started 11 of its 12 drives on its own 25 or worse. The Texans scored on six of them (not counting the end of the half). This is also a Texans team that had just 53 rushing yards and averaged 3.1 yards per carry with a rookie quarterback, and the Buccaneers defense allowed 496 yards anyway. This could be the beginning of the end of the Bowles era.
Andre Dillard appears to be a bad free agent signing: The Titans signed Dillard to a three-year, $29 million deal this offseason, but the contract hasn't paid dividends. Dillard allowed two sacks and seven pressures in 44 pass-blocking snaps at left tackle, his second start there with Tennessee. Dillard has started seven games and has allowed nine sacks and 32 pressures in 240 pass-blocking snaps, allowing a pressure rate per dropback of 13.3% this year. Dillard has allowed the most sacks and pressures in the NFL this season, not helping an already poor Titans offensive line ravaged by injury.
Going to Jahan Dotson is a good thing: One of the reasons why Sam Howell has been playing well over the last two games has been his frequent targeting of Dotson, who had four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win. Dotson has been targeted 18 times over the last two games and has 12 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the stretch (he had 183 yards in the first seven games). Howell may be the long-term quarterback because he's targeting Dotson more. The numbers are showing it.