During a week of high-point spreads and blowouts, the Bengals and Titans adjusted the AFC picture. The Colts also came through in a key spot, dropping the 49ers well off the scorching NFC West pace. Here are Week 7’s grades from around the NFL.
Week 7 byes: Bills, Chargers, Cowboys, Jaguars, Steelers, Vikings
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
If the Colts’ WR1 baton pass was not yet official, Pittman’s Bay Area outing cemented it. T.Y. Hilton, the player who succeeded Reggie Wayne in this role eight years ago, will complement Pittman for the rest of his Colts stay. Pittman’s 28-yard clincher, amid a downpour that led to endless drops and fumbles, gave the 6-foot-4 wideout his second 100-yard game of the season. The second-generation NFLer’s climb comes at a perfect time for the 3-4 Colts, who have not equipped Carson Wentz with tremendous skill-position depth — especially as Hilton battles injuries. Good momentum ahead of one of the more important October games in recent memory.
COLTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
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Shanahan’s doghouse including two would-be prominent contributors — Brandon Aiyuk, Trey Sermon — is less relevant than the quarterback situation he has created. Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2019 rocketed the 49ers out of the Shanahan-John Lynch duo’s two-year ramp-up period, but he no longer looks capable of taking this team to destinations of consequence. Neither does the unseasoned Trey Lance, at least not this year. The 49ers (2-4) being caught between QB eras, with the rest of their roster (save for pass interference-happy corners) ready to win now, would be a tough pill for Shanahan. The hotshot play-caller is already 3-for-4 in non-competitive teams as a head coach.
49ERS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
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Ja’Marr Chase’s nuclear pace ignites Bengals…again
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Chase is not only on pace to crush Justin Jefferson’s recently set rookie-year receiving record ; he is tracking toward one of the great receiving seasons in NFL history. While Harlon Hill’s otherworldly start for the 1954 Bears still leads all through-seven-games rookie totals (802 receiving yards), no other rookie is close to Chase’s through-seven-weeks mark: 754. With the Ravens up four in the third quarter, Chase’s 82-yard addition to his highlight reel keyed a four-TD Bengal binge that had the LSU-produced phenom at 201 yards Sunday. Chase has helped two-time teammate Joe Burrow rebound swiftly from his ACL tear and changed the 5-2 Bengals’ trajectory.
BENGALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
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A week after dominating the Chargers’ accomplished receivers, the Ravens’ top cornerback endured a humbling afternoon against an opponent that usually poses no threat. Humphrey gave up more than 200 receiving yards for the first time in his career, with Chase dominating their matchup and C.J. Uzomah using him as a National Tight End Day platform on the first of his two TDs. The Ravens (5-2) gave up 520 yards, reminding them of the Browns’ 530-yard day in Baltimore two years ago. This year, Marcus Peters will not be coming to the rescue, as he is out for the season. DC Don Martindale has work to do to push his usually sound corps back on track.
RAVENS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Nov. 7)
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Issues engulf Chiefs near midseason point
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Despite having Chris Jones and Frank Clark on the field together for the first time since Week 2, the Chiefs defense did little to deter an opponent’s aerial attack — per usual. Yet another team contained Tyreek Hill, and yet another team limited Kansas City’s offense. GM Brett Veach’s oft-hyped O-line fared poorly, with Orlando Brown’s pass-pro problems — which were not magnified in Baltimore — predictably becoming an issue for a team that bet big on him. The Titans hit Patrick Mahomes nine times and injured him while blitzing only once. The Chiefs (3-4) faced October trouble during their Super Bowl-winning season, but this situation is much worse.
CHIEFS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Giants (Mon.)
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Titans pass rush delivers statement in tough spot
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The Titans whiffed on big swings to fix their pass rush for years, and Monday’s Caleb Farley injury threatened to further expose a vulnerable pass defense. Instead, Tennessee (5-2) delivered defensive dominance and won without a superhero Derrick Henry effort. The Titans’ auxiliary D-line addition, Denico Autry, won his matchup with rookie guard Trey Smith en route to two sacks, and Tennessee edge constant Harold Landry kept his contract-year surge going with steady pressure and a sack to give him 7.5. Mahomes completed just 2 of 7 passes for 12 yards under pressure. This week showed the Titans are not just playing for the AFC South title; they are a true contender.
TITANS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
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Lions, at least, have blossoming RB talent
Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
After first-rounder Jahvid Best‘s career was cut short, the Lions (0-7) took four swings on second-round backs from 2011-20. After Mikel Leshoure, Ameer Abdullah and Kerryon Johnson stumbled, D’Andre Swift looks set to snap this investment slump. Dan Campbell’s onside kick and two fake punts aided the Lions, and Swift did the damage by totaling a career-high 144 scrimmage yards — highlighted by a 63-yard TD just before trick play No. 1. While the versatile effort did not end up leading Detroit to a win, Swift has shown Alvin Kamara- or Aaron Jones-like traits. A promising sign for 2022 and beyond.
LIONS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
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Matthew Stafford’s polite revenge
Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
This new Lions regime did right by Stafford by honoring his trade request. As expected, the 13th-year veteran outplayed Jared Goff and beat his former team — as various Lions fans showed support from road spectator-accommodating SoFi Stadium. The Rams (6-1) converted 9 of 13 third downs and punted just once. And Stafford’s mission to make Cooper Kupp an unlikely All-Pro stayed on course. Stafford’s 334-yard day included two Kupp TDs and 156 yards. Ja’Marr Chase accolades aside, Kupp leads the NFL with 809 receiving yards and nine TDs. Stafford is turning the ex-Goff support staffer into a star.
RAMS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
9 of 24
Bears offense has sunk below Trubisky level
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A confluence of factors led the Bears (3-4) to this point, but the result represented another backward step for Justin Fields. The rookie became the first quarterback since Sam Darnold’s 2019 “ghosts” game to commit five turnovers, with emergency right tackle replacement Lachavious Simmons allowing two strip-sacks. Chicago’s 38-3 loss was the Bears’ worst since the Marc Trestman era, and Fields looks woeful in Nagy’s offense. The Bears rank last offensively and have already changed play-callers. No passer has come to save Allen Robinson or Chicago’s defense, whose window is nearly shut.
BEARS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)
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Bucs edge rush helping besieged CBs
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
After the Buccaneers pass rush stumbled through its first three games, Shaq Barrett has quietly recorded a sack in the past four. Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul took over Sunday’s game, turning a backup right tackle — quite similar to Super Bowl LV on the same field — into a turnstile to set up Mike Evans’ first-half romp. Both Barrett and JPP blew by Simmons to force fumbles, and the 12th-year vet added a fourth-down sack. Tom Brady turned two of these sacks into quick TD drives. While the Bucs (6-1) search for answers at cornerback, their edge rushers present a quality safety net.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Saints (Sun.)
11 of 24
Former first-rounder steps up for needy defense
Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/USA TODAY NETWORK
The Packers played another game without their top two defensive principals — Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander — but saw one of their many edge investments come through. The rare non-bust first-rounder to spend most of his first two seasons on the bench, Rashan Gary recorded two sacks against Washington — including a second-quarter strip that buried the visitors. Gary beat veteran left tackle Charles Leno, setting up the Aaron Rodgers-to-Robert Tonyan strike that proved too much for Washington. The Packers (6-1) now roster Gary, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Whitney Mercilus. Should Za’Darius return late this year, this is quite the stable.
PACKERS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Thu.)
12 of 24
Washington folds in red zone, continues descent
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK
Washington’s defense elevated its play in Green Bay, to some degree, but saw that become irrelevant thanks to an increasingly inefficient offense. The defending NFC East champs somehow turned the ball over on downs four times inside the Packers’ 30-yard line and had a field goal blocked. Overall, the team finished with no points on four red-zone trips. This even included ex-Packer-fan Taylor Heinicke Lambeau Leaping after a non-touchdown. A rough day for a sinking WFT squad (2-5), which is still dependent on Terry McLaurin despite several offseason skill-spot investments.
WASHINGTON GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)
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Post-Gruden, Carr keeping rebound effort on track
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
After the 2017 and ’18 seasons dropped Carr well off the MVP-level tier on which he resided in 2016, Jon Gruden steadily rebuilt the Raiders quarterback. Post-Gruden, Carr keeps producing. Despite playing under OC Greg Olson, who had not called plays since the Jaguars fired him in 2016, Carr shredded a veteran Eagles defense at a 31-for-34 clip. His 323-yard day included a 10-play, 96-yard first-half drive in which the Raiders (5-2) did not face a third down. This marks two straight strong outings from Carr, who had flatlined in Gruden’s final two games. With the Chiefs’ mystique absent, the Raiders keep strengthening their position.
RAIDERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Nov. 7)
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Eagles slogging through awkward transition year
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
An Eagles D-line flush with talent managed two hits on Carr, who followed Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady’s lead by scorching a defense that still houses Super Bowl LII starters. Fletcher Cox, Rodney McLeod, and Co. suddenly remind of the post-Super Bowl 50 Broncos, who drained Von Miller and Chris Harris’ primes in the late 2010s without a QB answer. Fantasy success notwithstanding, Jalen Hurts’ real-life QB stock is falling — despite rare Eagles receiver health — ahead of what is not looking like a good signal-caller draft class. Three first-round picks may well await, but for now, the Eagles (2-5) are stuck.
EAGLES GRADE: D | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
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Purpose of Jets’ 2021 season on hold
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Wilson‘s knee injury is almost certain to sideline him for some time going forward, pressing pause on the relevant portion of this increasingly irrelevant season. The Jets did not acquire a veteran backup, and their offense under Mike White could look like a version of the two ghastly Luke Falk-led squads of 2019. That would obviously hinder the development of some of the offense’s young prospects. A more seasoned backup would have both helped Wilson’s NFL acclimation and protected the Jets (1-5) in this situation. Alas, a bleaker Jets stretch than what is already transpiring seems likely.
JETS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
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Pats RBs blister Jets, aid Mac Jones‘ progression
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots’ 12th straight win over the Jets featured the team’s most yards (553) since September 2017 and the most points Gang Green has allowed since 1979 (also to the Patriots ). Leading the way: an unorthodox backfield setup. Instead of first-rounder Sony Michel and James White, the Pats are rolling with a third-rounder who missed almost all of his rookie season ( Damien Harris) and a veteran special-teamer who opted out in 2020 ( Brandon Bolden). New England’s strictly defined run-pass duo combined for 192 scrimmage yards and three TDs, storming a Jets defense that had not allowed more than 27 points previously. The Pats (3-4) remain a fringe AFC factor.
PATRIOTS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)
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Texans prepared to punt on 2022 bidding war?
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In lieu of discussing largely inconsequential 2021 Texans on-field action, focus shifts to their historically unusual trade talks. Enough steam has emerged from the depressing Deshaun Watson sweepstakes to indicate he will be a Dolphin or a Panther soon. The return will be quite interesting, especially since Houston (1-6) could seemingly obtain more in the offseason by dangling a potentially less toxic Watson for more suitors. This move will define Nick Caserio’s GM tenure for a while. After the last regime’s DeAndre Hopkins fiasco, this one cannot accept a dimes-on-the-dollar deal. Confidence in the rebuild hinges on this trade.
TEXANS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)
18 of 24
Zach Ertz poised to snap generational TE swoon?
Michael Chow/The Republic/USA TODAY NETWORK
The Cardinals’ futile tight end history since they relocated to Arizona is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets . Arizona cycled through numerous second- and third-round picks and free agents at this spot since 1988, yet no Cards tight end has topped 600 receiving yards since the St. Louis relocation. Ertz may get there in 11 games. The ex-Eagle was one of many tight ends to shine on this manufactured holiday, snaring a 47-yard TD to sink the Texans. In a year, the Cards (7-0) have gone from Hopkins and little else to maybe the NFL’s deepest aerial crew — a Hopkins-Ertz-A.J. Green-Christian Kirk-Rondale Moore-Chase Edmonds array that has changed the NFC.
CARDINALS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Packers (Thu.)
19 of 24
Historic prospect changing Falcons’ fortunes
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Ready and willing to blow late leads in diverse fashion, the 2020 Falcons’ ineptitude as closers led them to Kyle Pitts. The rookie tight end helped prevent a collapse by this Atlanta team (3-3) in Miami, and he built on the credentials he showed in London. The Dolphins could not derail Pitts throughout his seven-catch, 163-yard day, and the rapidly ascending weapon’s final two grabs set up Younghoe Koo’s game-winner. Primarily lining up as a large wide receiver, Pitts totaled more yards by a rookie tight end than anyone since Mark Bavaro in 1985. His 471 yards through six games are the most by a rookie through six games in NFL history.
FALCONS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
20 of 24
Dolphins prepared for ugly abandonment?
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After one season, the Cardinals sent top-10 pick Josh Rosen to the rebuilding Dolphins. He did not show what Tua Tagovailoa did in college or as a young pro, and the Dolphins acquired Rosen after passing on 2019 rookies in part because Tua loomed in 2020. The Alabama prospect’s injury and Justin Herbert’s rise ruined #TankforTua. The inconsistent southpaw threw two bad INTs Sunday but also made some quality plays to give Miami (1-6) a late lead. Trading significant draft capital for an embattled Deshaun Watson — and potentially slotting Tua as the “QB during Watson’s suspension” — would be a staggering about-face and cast further doubt on the Dolphins’ decision-makers.
DOLPHINS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
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Matt Rhule’s tenure trending downard
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A Giants team missing its top three offensive playmakers dominated the Panthers, whose offense did next to nothing against a struggling New York defense. Rhule benched Sam Darnold, to whom the Panthers (3-4) have committed fifth-year option money ($18.9 million) for 2022. Carolina moved from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater to Darnold in a year and is now re-entering the unusual and optically challenged Watson derby. The Panthers appeared ready to sell the farm for Watson before his off-field controversies. Will a franchise not long removed from the Jerry Richardson sexual harassment scandal take this PR plunge?
PANTHERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)
22 of 24
Giants pass rush triggers rebound
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GM Dave Gettleman has made many mistakes as Giants GM, but his then-confusing 2019 trade for Leonard Williams was not one of them. Williams has continued to show his 2020 season was not a contract-year fluke; the interior pass rusher wrecked Carolina’s offense with 1.5 sacks, three hits, and a forced safety on ex-teammate Darnold. Rookie Azeez Ojulari may be snapping the Giants’ run of outside linebacker struggles as well. The second-round rookie posted 2.5 sacks and now has 5.5 — tying for the most by a rookie in the sack era (1982-present). This outing marks a definitive response by the 2-5 team after its listless Rams outing.
GIANTS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Chiefs (Mon.)
23 of 24
Battered Broncos nearly out of chances
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
While Von Miller avoided another serious injury, the Broncos became the rare team to finish a game without all four starting linebackers. Their inside ‘backers (Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell) are done for 2021, and Bradley Chubb’s ankle surgeries have defanged Denver’s pass rush. The Broncos also lost nose tackle Mike Purcell during D’Ernest Johnson’s Thursday rampage. Purcell and Johnson invigorated Denver’s run defense two Octobers ago. Now, the Broncos (3-4) are even missing backup linebackers ahead of a must-win spot with Vic Fangio on the hot seat. Injuries have not relented during Fangio’s tenure.
BRONCOS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Washington (Sun.)
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Browns O-line a much-needed weapon now
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
As news keeps trickling out about Baker Mayfield‘s shoulder injury, it looks like Case Keenum will need to play a bigger role than anticipated. Fortunately, the Browns (4-3) have perhaps the NFL’s best offensive line. At worst, this is a top-three unit. It turned D’Ernest Johnson into a fantasy hero. Even without high-end right tackle Jack Conklin, Cleveland’s front five — featuring elite interior blockers Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, and J.C. Tretter, and first-round left tackle Jedrick Wills — protected Keenum and kept the offense afloat without Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Andrew Berry’s 2020 O-line rebuild still does not receive sufficient praise.
BROWNS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)