Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action

Week 9 of the NFL season might have been light on elite-level matchups with the likes of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals on a bye week. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t some darn good games and stories on the ninth Sunday of the 2016 NFL regular season.

The Dallas Cowboys again proved their worth among the best teams in the NFL en route to a 35-10 dismantling of the winless Cleveland Browns. In doing so, both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had themselves tremendous games.

With Chuck Pagano’s job potentially on the line, the Indianapolis Colts went into Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon and came away with a much-needed win. On the same note, what is going on with Aaron Rodgers and the suddenly struggling Green Bay Packers?

On the flip side, not a single person can conclude that either the Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders are struggling. Tied for first place in the ultra competitive AFC West, these two squads took on one another in Northern California on Sunday night. In the end, Oakland came away with a double-digit win against the defending champs, proving its worth as a Super Bowl contender.

These are among the top-10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action.

1. The Dallas Cowboys are scary good

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

Now winners of seven consecutive games, the Dallas Cowboys have proven themselves to be the class of the NFC.  Not only is their current streak the longest for a Cowboys team since 2007, it’s pretty much been utter domination.

Sunday’s blowout win over the Cleveland Browns was no different. Dak Prescott completed 21-of-27 passes for 247 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. Meanwhile, MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott added two more touchdowns on the ground. All said, the Cowboys punted just once in their first six possessions, scoring touchdowns the other five times.

We know the Browns are bad. That much must be noted. But going on the road and blowing out an NFL team isn’t exactly commonplace in today’s league. It doesn’t matter what NFL team you’re taking on, they’re all still full of professionals.

Now 7-1 on the season, Dallas is averaging nearly 30 points during its seven-game winning streak. With games coming up against the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, there’s really no reason to believe this streak will end anytime soon. If so, we could be looking at home-field advantage for the Cowboys in the postseason.

All the while, talk of Tony Romo regaining his starting job should be muted. After all, Prescott has tallied an absurd 16 touchdowns compared to just two picks on the season. Think about that for a second. He’s a rookie mid-round pick absolutely dominating the landscape of the NFL just eight games into his career.

2. Carson Wentz’s struggles continue as Eagles drop another one

After starting the season with three consecutive wins, the Philadelphia Eagles have dropped four of five. Their latest loss can pretty much be put squarely on the throwing shoulder of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who threw zero touchdowns and two picks in a 28-23 loss to the division-rival New York Giants.

Both Wentz interceptions came early in the first quarter, each one directly leading to a Giants touchdown. He was picked off by Landon Collins with over 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Two plays and 31 yards later, the Giants took a 7-0 lead on an Eli Manning touchdown strike to Odell Beckham Jr.

Then on the very next possession, Wentz didn’t see a wide open Zach Ertz down the field. Instead, he threw in Dorial Green-Beckham’s direction — a pass that was picked off by Andrew Adams. Much like the first pick, New York wasted no time, scoring three plays later for a 14-0 lead.

You simply can’t spot the other team two touchdowns and expect to win in today’s NFL. Unfortunately for the rookie No. 2 pick, this has been happening far too often. Since starting the season with five scores and zero interceptions in his first three games, Wentz has now thrown four touchdowns and five picks in the past five games. It’s not a coincidence that Philly has lost four of those five.

Now at 4-4 on the season, the Eagles are three games behind the Dallas Cowboys and in last place in the NFC East. Short of Wentz performing better moving forward, these struggles are likely to continue.

3. The Raiders are legit Super Bowl contenders

Hell has frozen over. Frogs are dropping from the sky. “Magnolia” seems too real. Sharks are indeed popping up with two faces. Really. And it’s in this that the Oakland Raiders, long the doormat of the AFC West, are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Oakland took on the defending champion Denver Broncos at home on Sunday Night Football, coming away with a 30-20 win. It wasn’t the most fluid of games. Derek Carr struggled against the league’s top defense. Penalties continued to plague the Raiders a week after putting up the most penalties (23) in a single game in NFL history.

None of that really matters. Oakland did what it needed to do in front of a national audience, dismantling Trevor Siemian and the Broncos’ offense. It’s in this that the Raiders now look like a complete team. After all, their defense had proven to be a major Achilles’ heel earlier in the year.

That most definitely wasn’t the case Sunday night in Northern California. Oakland got to Siemian throughout the entire game, pretty much facializing him right in front of the black hole. All said, the first-year Broncos starter was sacked two times and hit a total of five times en route to completing  18-of-37 passes for 283 yards. Those yardage numbers are a bit misleading as they include a 69-yard catch and run from Kapri Bibbs in garbage time.

Now at 7-2 on the season, Oakland is in the driver’s seat in the AFC West and now boasts the second-best record in the conference. Think about that for a second. It does so heading into the bye week with a game against the Kansas City Chiefs looming in Week 11.

4. Indianapolis Colts avoid disaster, defeat Packers at Lambeau

Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports

In previewing the Week 9 action around the NFL, we pretty much concluded that the Colts needed to go into Lambeau and win in order for Chuck Pagano to keep his job. That’s exactly that they did en route to a surprising victory over the suddenly struggling Packers on the road.

Despite some late-game drama that seemingly made it look like the Colts were going to blow this one, Indy came out with a much-needed 31-26 win

Andrew Luck vastly outplayed Aaron Rodgers, completing 23-of-36 passes for 281 yards. And while Luck was picked off twice, Green Bay managed just one score on the two takeaways. It wasn’t a great performance from the Colts by any stretch of the imagination. The Packers tallied 25 first downs and over 400 yards of offense.

Though, Indy’s defense did well to hold the Pack out of the end zone. Of the eight possessions that ended the Colts side of the field, Green Bay ended up without a touchdown five times. That’s called bending but not breaking.

We have no idea how this win will translate to the second half of the season. But one thing is clear. Pagano’s job appears to be safe heading into the team’s bye. That couldn’t have been said if the Colts lost this one and boasted a 3-6 record after nine games.

5. Ben Roethlisberger still not 100 percent as Steelers offense stalls

It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers might have rushed Big Ben back. In his first game since tearing his meniscus, Roethlisberger looked nowhere near 100 percent. He was less mobile than we’ve seen in the past, struggled with mechanics and couldn’t put a whole heck of a lot on his passes.

All this led to a yet another bad offensive outing for Pittsburgh in a 21-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. All said, Roethlisberger completed just 23-of-45 passes with one touchdown and an interception. He missed several wide open receivers, displayed poor accuracy and failed to take advantage of what had been a substandard Ravens defense.

It’s an unfortunate scenario for Big Ben. Pittsburgh needed him back on the field after losing its past two games, but at what cost? Now at 4-4 on the season and with losses in three consecutive weeks, the Steelers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC Playoff race.

Also unfortunate here, there’s no telling if Big Ben will again be 100 percent for the remainder of the season. If that’s the case, the Steelers could be looking at an extremely disappointing end to a season that started with Super Bowl aspirations.

6. Case Keenum should cost Jeff Fisher his job

We know what Case Keenum is. He’s a career backup that shouldn’t sniff the NFL field as a starter. This has been the case since he entered the league from Houston back in 2012. Everyone outside of Jeff Fisher seems to know this, Rams fans included (more on that here).

Unfortunately, it appears that Fisher is willing to live and die with Keenum under center. All the while, No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff remains seated on the sidelines collecting dust.

Jeff Fisher

Listen. Los Angeles had an opportunity to defeat the Carolina Panthers at home on Sunday. Its defense stepped up big time, yielding just 13 points and getting to Cam Newton five times. Aaron Donald dominated the trenches as well. Any sort of capable quarterback play and the Rams might have been able to come away with a win.

The same thing can be said about the Rams’ last game against the New York Giants in London back in Week 7. That game saw the Rams lose 17-10 with both Giants touchdowns coming directly off Keenum interceptions, including this pick (watch here).

In Sunday’s loss, Keenum completed 27-0f-46 passes for nearly 300 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Not terrible numbers by any stretch of the imagination. The Rams’ offense, however, converted just 4-of-14 third-down opportunities and didn’t put up a touchdown until garbage time late in the fourth quarter of a 13-10 loss.

It’s not fair to other members of the Rams for Fisher to continue throwing Keenum out there. It’s not fair to Keenum either. Here’s a team that was 3-1 and riding high after wins against both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. Now losers of four consecutive, mediocrity is the name of the game once again in Los Angeles. And in reality, it should (but likely won’t) cost Fisher his job.

7. San Francisco 49ers continue to embarrass themselves

The 49ers’ defense couldn’t stop a drunk priest from fleeing the church after impregnating a nun. Yes folks, this is how bad that unit is. Now losers of seven consecutive games, San Francisco is right there with the Cleveland Browns as the worst team in the NFL. My, how the once mighty have fallen.

San Francisco’s latest embarrassment came at the hands of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints at home on Sunday afternoon. New Orleans dropped a 41 burger in an 18-point win over San Francisco. Including this Mark Ingram 75-yard touchdown run (watch here), the Saints put up 238 rushing yards and nearly 600 total yards. It’s the latest example of San Francisco’s defense showing itself to be among the most embarrassing units in the NFL.

We’re not too sure where San Francisco goes from here. Chip Kelly has nothing to work with. There’s not a lot of talent on offense in San Francisco. That much is known. Unfortunately, the team’s young defensive core has failed to step up this season. That’s the biggest problem, and it’s unlikely to get any better as the season progresses.

Consider this. Colin Kaepernick put up nearly 400 passing yards and the 49ers still found a way to lose by 18. That takes a lot of effort. Effort that itself is about as bad as Donald Trump attempting to reach out to female voters (literally).

8. Travis Kelce throws a hissy fit

Kelce and his Kansas City Chiefs had an otherwise good day ruined when the star tight end was tossed from the team’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Upset about what appeared to be a missed pass interference call against Jacksonville, Kelce absolutely lost his mind.

The Pro Bowler tossed his gloves at an official and was promptly tossed from the game himself.

This most definitely isn’t a good look for Kelce. And while it did look like the officials missed the call, there’s no room in the NFL for this type of childish behavior. It will be interesting to see if Kelce is penalized more for this dumb decision to go after a ref physically.

9. Minnesota Vikings blow another one

Up 16-13 with just 23 seconds remaining after a 13-play touchdown scoring drive, it sure looked like the Minnesota Vikings were on the verge of snapping their two-game losing streak. That’s until one of the strongest defenses in the game went soft against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.

Within just three plays, the Lions had moved the ball to the Vikings’ 40-yard line. At that point, Matt Prater nailed a 58-yard field goal to force overtime. Credit should definitely be given to Stafford for getting the ball down there in such a short period of time. Credit should also be given to Prater for hitting such a long field goal with the game on the line.

That’s all fine and dandy. But it’s hard to argue against the idea that the Vikings choked big time here. This was only magnified in overtime when the Lions drive 87 yards on 11 plays, culminating in a 28-yard game-winning touchdown from Stafford to Golden Tate (watch here).

Now at 5-3 on the season, Minnesota finds itself a half game up on Detroit and one game ahead of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. That scenario seemed mighty unlikely after the team’s 5-0 start to the season.

More than their defense going soft at the end of Sunday’s game, it’s rather obvious that the Vikings are losing the line of scrimmage battle. While Sam Bradford was hit “just” five times on Sunday, they were some vicious blows. Heck, he had to be checked for a concussion before returning to the game in the second half.

With Matt Kalil out for the season, the primary issue here is at left tackle. And in reality, its hard to imagine this changing moving forward. This could potentially cost Minnesota a division title and a spot in the playoffs altogether, especially if the team’s defense struggles to dominate on a consistent basis.

10. The Cleveland Browns are strikingly bad

Cody Kessler

The Cleveland Browns were manhandled at home by a streaking Dallas Cowboys team on Sunday. When all was said and done, Dallas sent Cleveland to its ninth consecutive loss to start the season by the score of 35-10. For the Browns, it was ugly. Really ugly.

Cleveland allowed a rookie quarterback to complete 21-of-27 passes with three touchdowns. Its run defense was torched again, this time to the tune of  168 yards on 42 attempts.

And in reality, that doesn’t even tell the entire story. Dallas tallied 29 first downs and held on to the ball a total of nearly 40 minutes while accumulating 423 total yards. It’s the fourth time in five games that the Browns have yielded 400-plus yards.

One might say this is par for the course or the new normal in Cleveland. Accepting that would be giving into the futility we’ve seen for the better part of the past two decades. Unfortunately, the Browns continue to embarrass themselves on the field. And there’s really no end in sight here.

We actually wouldn’t be surprised to see this squad go winless during the regular season. That’s just how bad Cleveland is. But hey, at least there’s still some fight in this team.