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 game-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 major 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.
What to know: Now the real fun begins. The Packers got through perhaps the easiest part of their schedule — a three-week stretch that included wins over an improving Cincinnati team, 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 Kyler Murray yet this season. In fact, they’ve faced a steady stream of either mediocre quarterbacks (Jameis Winston, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo), ones with potential but aren’t there yet (Joe Burrow, Justin Fields and Taylor Heinicke) and a washed-up one (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 last 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 only 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, where the Packers stopped his sneak. 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 7.5. 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’re going to 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 still 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 (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
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 Jon Allen was terrific and, at times, the coverage made 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 snap 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 Taylor Heinicke. He created with his legs 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 season 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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Falcons took a two-possession lead and watched it fall 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 they put themselves in a bad position. Yes, it came against a bad Dolphins team, but Atlanta is beating the teams it should be 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 where 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 Matt Ryan to Russell Gage. There’s no question about Pitts’ talent. But Falcons coach Arthur Smith has fully unleashed his possibility on the NFL, and he’s become one of the most valuable Falcons 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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Matt Ryan connects with Calvin Ridley for a 5-yard touchdown to put the Falcons up over the Dolphins.
What to know: This season is over. The Dolphins are playing for pride from here on out because they certainly aren’t making the playoffs. Sunday marked their sixth straight loss with a matchup with the AFC East’s resident bully, the Buffalo Bills, looming. 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 may be the odds-on favorites as 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 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. I am not confident they’ll do much else against a Bills team that’s outscored them 91-26 over their past two meetings.
Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
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 the game they needed to show they could play. 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 of action. So while the Jets are not a good football team, the Patriots hadn’t proven 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, TE Jonnu Smith (shoulder) and safety Devin McCourty (abdomen) were ruled out of Sunday’s game early in the second half. In the event they aren’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 TE role for the first time this season. He’s 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 depth-wise. Veteran Adrian Phillips would be the next man up — fitting against his former team, the Chargers — but the team would likely need to consider a DB addition from the practice squad (e.g. Elijah Benton, Sean Davis, D’Angelo Ross) or 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 Sunday.
Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Joe Burrow shows out with three touchdown passes, leading the Bengals to a huge win over the 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 Lamar Jackson could make up for any deficiencies on the team. But 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 Joe 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 that 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, much less the AFC North. 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 (Sunday, Nov. 7, 1 p.m. ET)
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, and another indication that 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 the game on the interior, combining for 1.5 sacks and six total tackles. That is what the Giants needed. The next test to see whether this was a real resurgence 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 (Monday, Nov. 1, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: 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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
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 harrassed Chiefs quarterback Patrick 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 just 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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Derrick Henry takes a direct snap, fakes a run and passes to MyCole Pruitt for a touchdown.
What to know: The Chiefs can no longer count on scoring a large number of points behind quarterback Patrick 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 Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Derek 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): 3, 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 (Monday, Nov. 1, 8:15 p.m. ET)
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 shoulder, but Keenum showed that the Browns have another quarterback who can deliver. — Jake Trotter
Will when Baker Mayfield return? Despite disclosing that he also has a fracture on top of the torn labrum to his non-throwing left shoulder, Mayfield is still 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 too 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 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
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 percent of the time, the Broncos have had more big plays and moved the ball more effectively. He was in the shotgun just 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 (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)