CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns came back from a 15-point deficit to stun the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday, 33-31. But there was more going on around the NFL than just what was going on in this AFC North showdown.
Each week we’ll be reviewing the biggest storylines and examining potential narratives from around the NFL.
To help us examine these storylines and narratives, we’re following in the footsteps of the ’90s show “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction,” which you may know best from host Jonathan Frakes’ memes.
Just like Frakes, each week we’ll decide whether several of the hottest storylines from around the league are fact or fiction. Here are the six top stories of the week.
1. The Browns can win the AFC North with the way Deshaun Watson helped beat the Ravens
Deshaun Watson had a terrible start in Baltimore, throwing six picks on the second play of scrimmage and starting 1 of 9 passes. But in the second half, Watson had his first real signing moment that showed why the Browns gave up six draft picks and paid $230 million to bring him to Cleveland.
Watson was 14 of 14 in the second half for 134 yards and a touchdown to help the Browns come back and beat the Ravens. He finished 20 of 34 for 213 yards, a TD and an INT.
With the comeback win, the Browns are now 6-3, just a half-game behind the Ravens for first place in the AFC North. They also split the season series, removing that potential tiebreaker from the board.
The Browns have been under a lot of pressure to acquire Watson for most of the first season and a half since the trade. But in this game, Watson looked like Houston itself against an elite opponent. Despite not making his first three tackles and after a poor start, Watson led his team on two touchdowns as well as the game-winning drive at the end of the game.
This is the Watson they’ve been waiting for. And that Watson could give the Browns a legitimate chance to win the AFC North. According to the New York Times playoff simulation, The Browns now have a 31% chance to win the AFC North.
The focus suddenly turns to a home game against the Steelers in Week 11. A win not only eliminates another head-to-head tiebreaker, but ensures a record of at least .500 in the division.
They win games thanks to their defense and, at times, despite the presence of a quarterback. On Sunday, they won largely due to the play of their quarterback.
The next step is for Watson to build on it. He wasn’t able to build his game against the Giants because that’s when he injured his right rotator cuff. But the second half on Sunday was Watson’s best moment since coming to Cleveland.
It’s the type of elite quarterback play that allows a team to win a game like Brown did in Baltimore. If the Browns keep that up, they could do what they haven’t done in 34 years and win the very tough AFC North Championship.
2. Thursday night’s game against the Bengals is the biggest of the Ravens’ season
Narratives in the NFL can change on a dime. A week ago, the Ravens looked like the best team in football, and the Bengals looked like they were going to go on a long winning streak like they did a year ago.
But with the Ravens losing at home to the Browns and the Bengals falling to a suddenly hot Texans team, emotions in Baltimore and Cincinnati are more up-and-down than they were a week ago.
The only good news for both teams is that they have a chance to redeem themselves when they meet Thursday night in Baltimore. However, it looks like this could be a crucial game for the Ravens.
Their lead atop the AFC North is slim at just half the game with the Steelers and Browns down. The loss means the Browns and Steelers are playing Cleveland for first place in the AFC North.
It doesn’t help that the Ravens are challenged to finish the season to say the least. They will travel to take on the Chargers in Week 12 before the bye week.
After hosting the Rams, they have to go to Jacksonville and San Francisco before hosting the Dolphins and Steelers in the final four weeks.
That’s why Thursday night’s game could define Baltimore’s season. The Ravens need the division title more than the Bengals. Cincinnati could enter the playoffs as a wild card and still go to the Super Bowl because of Joe Burrow and what he’s done the last two seasons.
At this point, it would be shocking if the Ravens missed the playoffs. But after blowing a 15-point lead against the Browns, they’ll have to turn things around quickly against the Bengals on Thursday night. Otherwise, their season might take a different turn.
3. Joshua Dobbs makes Kirk Cousins expendable in Minnesota
Joshua Dobbs’ story in Minnesota quickly became a fairy tale. Dobbs came off the bench a week ago to lead the Vikings to victory just five days after being dealt to Minnesota.
On Sunday, he had another impressive day as he led the Vikings to a 27-19 victory over the Saints. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed eight times for 44 yards and another TD.
With the win, the Vikings remain in great position to make the playoffs at 6-4, which is impressive considering they started the season 1-4 and lost Kirk Cousins to a torn Achilles tendon.
However, what Dobbs is doing now does not mean that the era of Cousins is over. Cousins is a free agent after the season, but he could easily return, especially if the Vikings aren’t in a position to select a top-tier quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft.
The Vikings still have to play the Lions twice and head to Cincinnati. But with what Dobbs did, the Vikings should easily make it back to the playoffs.
It’s not a long-term solution. But it’s a great story and a perfect fit for a trip in Minnesota.
4. The Patriots should move away from Bill Belichick
This would have been an unimaginable outcome even a year ago. But the Patriots have actually regressed this season, largely due to poor quarterback play. The Patriots are now just 2-8 after losing to the Colts, 10-6, in Frankfurt, Germany.
Mac Jones threw an interception in the red zone with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter, and Billy Zappe, who immediately replaced Jones on the ensuing drive, also threw one on a fake spike.
The Patriots now stare at the rebuilding process head-on. What they likely need is a new face to lead the operation.
Bill Belichick may be the greatest coach in modern NFL history. However, nothing lasts forever, and it may be time for the Patriots to find a new coach and general manager to lead this rebuild.
5. The Texans will keep the Bills and Bengals out of the playoffs
Don’t look now, but the Houston Texans are in a playoff spot heading into Week 11. Imagine saying that at the end of last season when their Week 18 win in Indianapolis cost them the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But the second overall pick was the best thing that could have happened because he got CJ Stroud, who was special. After leading a stunning comeback against the Buccaneers a week ago, Stroud was the hero once again, despite holding a 10-point lead in the final minutes against the Bengals. Stroud led another game-winning drive in a 30-27 win in Cincinnati.
Stroud was 23 of 39 passing for 356 yards, a touchdown and his second interception of the season. He also rushed to get the result.
As it stands, they’ll be in the playoffs at the expense of both the Bills and Bengals, who have been to the AFC Championship Game the past three seasons.
However, with eight weeks left in the season, I don’t see that situation existing now.
The NFL is a different world when you’re the hunter versus the pursued. The Texans are no longer sneaking up on anyone and it will be amazing how they adapt.
They have some solid defense waiting for them as they still play the Jaguars, Jets, and Browns. What they also have is a quarterback they believe in.
This cannot be underestimated.
But so do the Bills and Bengals. They were there too, which is important.
Although the Texans will certainly be in the playoff mix until the end, it looks like either the Bills or Bengals will get hot in these final eight weeks and get back into the playoffs. Houston won’t be able to put both teams away.
6. The 49ers are back to normal
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the San Francisco 49ers. They have lost three straight games after starting 5-0.
But with a week off to get healthy, the 49ers looked like the 5-0 version of themselves as they absolutely dominated the Jaguars in Jacksonville, 34-3.
The offense gained 437 yards as Brock Purdy threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns. The defense also made life miserable for Jacksonville, picking off Trevor Lawrence twice, sacking him five times and forcing turnovers four times.
Deebo Samuel returned and made an impact with a quick TD.
The 49ers are now 6-3, and after a week off, they look like the same team they started the season with.
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