Talking heads grace the media, airwaves, and print waxing about the latest insight from NFL. In our Believe it or Not Series, we will look for actionable intelligence to drive our handicapping moving forward. What is fact? What is fiction? Which teams do we fade? Which teams do we play? In this week's Believe it or Not, we answer those questions and more.
When Ben Roethlisberger went out with an elbow injury, Steelers' championship aspirations went out the window. When the Steelers went on to lose to the San Francisco 49ers and fall to a paltry 0-3, even the playoffs seemed out of reach. In between the two games, Pittsburgh traded their upcoming first round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Winless and without an inevitable top pick in the draft, by most accounts, the Steelers seemed destined for demise. But, then they hosted division rival Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night. After dismantling the Bengals by 24, they suddenly find themselves in more optimistic pastures. The AFC North division leaders, the Browns and Ravens, are only one game ahead of the Steel Curtain and Mason Rudolph looked like a functional, albeit, limited starting quarterback. With the first round pick in Miami, the Steelers literally have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a run for the playoffs. The front office made their decision. They are not tanking and they expect to win. Mike Tomlin has a tremendous history as the underdog and he has never been in that role more so than he is now. He has his team still believing and we are still believing in them.
In Week 3, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squandered an 18 point lead to Daniel Jones and the Giants. The Bucs had dominated the game early despite an impressive performance by the rookie quarterback. When the second half kicked off, the Giants took control of the game and never let up. The Bucs couldn't overcome fate even when they had the opportunity to win the game on a chip shot field goal at the end of regulation. Matt Gay, Tampa Bay's kicker, missed a few inches to the right. The loss would cripple most teams, perhaps, even derailing the season entirely. However, on Sunday afternoon, the Bucs went to Los Angeles and completely shocked the previously undefeated Rams. The Bucs defense, helmed by Todd Bowles, had Jared Goff guessing throughout the game. Despite the 40 points and a 500 yard performance, Goff didn't look right all afternoon. The Buccaneers went on to win the game 55-40. Any team that can overcome a loss like they did in Week 3 to dominate the class of the NFC the following week deserves attention and respect.
Its difficult not to get caught up in the fervor for Daniel Jones. He seems like a Eli Manning clone minus the "aw shucks" demeanor. The rookie has taken over for the aforementioned Giants legend and lead the team to two straight victories and back to a five-hundred record. Jones is literally doing things Eli Manning has never been able to do: he erased an 18 point deficit in a victory and he can run like he's not a newly born deer. You know the hysteria has reached a fever pitch when the man is nicknamed Danny Dimes. How could this incredible confluence of circumstances go wrong? The next two weeks, the Giants host an angry Vikings team off an embarrassing loss to their divisional rival and then travel to New England to face only the best quarterback and coach of all time. The curmudgeon Bill Belichick has feasted on inexperienced quarterback every season this century. Tom Brady, after years of success, hasn't shown his age or received a better nickname for that matter (the best we could come up with is Tom Terrific?). Ultimately, this was a fantastic run by Daniel Jones. He has proven his naysayers wrong. All those draft pundits that said the Giants were the laughstock of the draft owe GM Dave Gettlemen an apology, but the next two games will bring the bandwagon back from breakneck speed and that is totally ok. The Giants are in a good place with Daniel Jones. It just won't look that way over the next two games.
We are not buying the Oakland Raiders even after an impressive win in Indianapolis. Knock on wood if your with me. Jon Gruden did an amazing job motivating the Silver and Black to easily defeat Jacoby Brissett and the Colts. But moving forward, that does little to change the narrative around the Raiders. On deck, the Raiders travel to London, a home game only on paper, to play the Khalil Mack Chicago Bears. You may remember that Mack once played for the Raiders. After refusing to re-up his contract, Oakland traded him to the Windy City. Mack has had this game circled on the calendar all year and you better believe he has let his teammates know it. There may not be a more focused defense this year than the Bears will be this weekend. Derrick Carr may have looked functional against an injury-ridden Indianapolis Colts squad, but he will look anything but against the best defense the NFL has to offer.