NFL Winners and Losers: Are the Chiefs even a playoff team this season?

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The Kansas City Chiefs were having an awful day well before Patrick Mahomes was being helped off after a vicious fourth-down hit. 

It wasn't a shootout loss, or a late turnover that went against the Chiefs in a close game. They were horrendous in a 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Even the offense was rough, and against a poor Titans defense. A game like Sunday's against the Titans was not supposed to happen for the Chiefs, not with a Hall of Fame coach and an already legendary quarterback. 

But here's the truth of the 2021 Chiefs: If we strip away the preseason expectations and the reputations based on past success, they're a 3-4 team that is deeply flawed and might not be going anywhere. We have to start wondering if the Chiefs, who were favored to win the Super Bowl before the season started, are even a playoff team. 

There was never much mystery about how the Chiefs wanted to win. They are an offense-first team that spent its offseason resources rebuilding the line, while hoping the defense would be good enough. Nothing has gone to plan. The defense isn't good enough; it might be the worst in the NFL. The offense is top heavy, and lacking any options outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. And even Mahomes, the one thing the Chiefs should have been able to count on without worry, is struggling with turnovers. The Chiefs have 16 turnovers this season, tying their mark from all of last season, according to ESPN's Bill Barnwell

It all looked bad against Tennessee. Mahomes threw an interception on a forced pass rolling to his left and was stripped from behind for a fumble. 

The defense was awful. A.J. Brown got whatever he wanted. Ryan Tannehill rarely missed. The Titans led 27-0 at halftime and it was every bit as ugly as the score indicated. It was the Chiefs' first time not scoring in the first half since Oct. 2, 2016, snapping an 82-game streak that was the longest in the NFL. They were outgained 277-67 in the first half. 

Then came the worst blow. Mahomes was trying to force a pass on fourth down in the fourth quarter when he was going down and caught a knee to the head. He stayed down for a long time and needed to be helped off. He stayed on the sideline, which indicated he wasn't diagnosed with a concussion, but it was a scary hit regardless. 

We've rarely seen the Chiefs look this bad. A 3-4 start for a team that was 38-8 in Mahomes' starts before this season seemed impossible. The idea that the Chiefs might not be a playoff team because of performance and not a brutal run of injuries was laughable. But here we are. 

The Chiefs could get on a run but there are warning signs and it's clear this is nowhere near the team of the past few seasons. The offense has been good but it's clear Mahomes is pressing. The defense is bad and there haven't been any signs of that turning around. Reid is a great coach, Mahomes is a great quarterback, but the Chiefs are not a good team through seven games. They're far from finished, of course, but we are looking at the possibility the Chiefs could be on the wrong side of the wild-card race at the end of the season. A couple of months ago, nobody would have ever guessed that. 

Bud Dupree of the Tennessee Titans forces a fumble by Patrick Mahomes. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Bud Dupree of the Tennessee Titans forces a fumble by Patrick Mahomes. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 7 of the NFL season: 

WINNERS

The undefeated Arizona Cardinals: Part of being a really good NFL team is handling business against bad teams without any drama.

There wasn’t a lot of drama on Sunday in Arizona as the Cardinals beat the hapless Houston Texans 31-5 (hey, scorigami!). There were some nervous moments, mostly when Kyler Murray was taking some big hits. But overall the Cardinals defense did its job and Murray made enough plays to make sure they were never threatened.

The 7-0 Cardinals got their pseudo bye week out of the way. Next up is a great matchup against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.

Tom Brady’s record quest: Brady is going to make a run at some records this season. The 17th game could help.

Brady, who led the NFL with 2,064 passing yards and also had 17 touchdowns before Sunday, added 211 more yards and four more touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ easy 38-3 win over the Chicago Bears. Brady’s second touchdown was the 600th of his career.

The single-season records are 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both set by Peyton Manning in 2013. Brady is on pace for 5,525 yards and 51 touchdowns. He’ll be close by the end of the season, especially since big scoring plays are coming so easy for him and the Buccaneers offense.

Bengals' decision to draft Ja'Marr Chase: When the Cincinnati Bengals took Ja'Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick, it was controversial to some. Historians will look at those takes and chuckle. 

For those who thought the Bengals would be better off with offensive tackle Penei Sweell at that pick, there will be some backtracking. Chase made another step toward a possible rookie of the year award on Sunday. His huge 82-yard touchdown catch and run, after he broke through some bad tackle attempts by the Baltimore Ravens, was the key play in the Bengals' dominant 41-17 upset win at the Baltimore Ravens. It looks like a breakthrough season for the Bengals, who are 5-2 and in first place in the AFC North due to the tiebreaker. Joe Burrow had 416 yards passing, 201 of which went to Chase. 

Chase got a lot of bad publicity in August for drops, but that was overblown. He has been one of the best receivers in the NFL and might set some rookie records. Sewell should have a good career too, but the Bengals clearly have no regrets. 

Tua Tagovailoa: Tagovailoa might never be great, but he might not be as bad as many want to say either. 

The Miami Dolphins quarterback made another positive step on Sunday, albeit in a 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Tagovailoa was not spectacular but efficient. At the end, when the Dolphins trailed 27-21, he put together a long drive that included a third-and-15 completion to Mike Gesicki and a nice touchdown to Mack Hollins to give the Dolphins the lead. Tagovailoa also threw a touchdown to Myles Gaskin earlier in the fourth quarter to get the Dolphins back in the game. He finished 32-of-40 for 291 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. If the Dolphins defense could have gotten a stop at the end, we'd be talking about Tagovailoa's big fourth quarter leading the Dolphins' comeback. 

The Dolphins made a pretty clear mistake taking Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert. But that doesn't mean Tagovailoa can't be a viable quarterback for the Dolphins. That is, if the Dolphins decide to keep him and not trade for Deshaun Watson. 

LOSERS

The winless Detroit Lions: The Lions hit a huge touchdown to D’Andre Swift early. They got a surprise onside. They had two successful fake punts.

The Lions threw everything they could have at the Los Angeles Rams and threw a scare into them, but ultimately it was just another loss. The Lions had a shot near the end, trailing 25-19, but Jalen Ramsey picked off Jared Goff when Goff tried the end zone. The Rams were able to run some clock after that and hit a field goal to ice the game. The Lions are 0-7 after the 28-19 loss. 

At some point the Lions are going to break through. They’ve been agonizingly close a few times this Eason. But Sunday had to be incredibly frustrating, because the Lions played as well as they could and it still didn’t matter.

Derek Carr haters: Carr, who everyone has tried to replace as Las Vegas Raiders quarterback for years, keeps rolling on.

Carr had another big day and the Raiders improved to 5-2 with a blowout 33-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carr was without Darren Waller and it didn’t matter. He got Waller’s backup Foster Moreau involved, throwing an early touchdown to him. He spread the ball around and torched the Eagles defense. Carr was 31-of-34 for 323 yards and two touchdowns. 

Carr is never going to get a lot of respect, but he has been fantastic this season. He might even take the Raiders to the playoffs.

Panthers' decision to trade for Sam Darnold: It wasn't too long ago that the Carolina Panthers felt good about their trade for Darnold.

Then, before Week 7 was even over, the Panthers turned to PJ Walker at quarterback.

Darnold was benched in the middle of another awful performance, with the Panthers trailing the New York Giants 15-3. Darnold was 16-of-25 for 111 yards through three quarters. He threw a miserable interception that went right to Giants cornerback James Bradberry. Darnold also had an intentional-grounding penalty in the end zone that gave the Giants a safety. The Giants won easily, 25-3. 

The Panthers traded a sixth-round pick this year and second- and fourth-rounders next year for Darnold. He'll probably be the starter next week, despite this awful slump. But after a few promising games to start the season, it's becoming more clear that Darnold isn't going to be the answer for Carolina. The Panthers paid a good amount to find out what the New York Jets already knew.

New York Jets: At least the Jets got one win this season. There might not be many more. 

New York was dreadful on Sunday in a 54-13 loss. The New England Patriots' six possessions in the first half resulted in touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. After a punt, the Patriots' next three drives resulted in three touchdowns. The Jets gave up 300 yards in the first half alone. The Jets haven't given up that many points in a game since 1979. For Jets coach Robert Saleh, a fantastic defensive coordinator with the 49ers, that had to be embarrassing. 

Even worse, the Jets saw Zach Wilson go down with a knee injury. The No. 2 overall pick has struggled this season, but he's still the Jets' best hope to get out of this malaise and end the rebuilding process. 

The Jets might be in the mix for another top-two pick in next year's draft. That's good, because there's a lot to fix. 

Taylor Heinicke giving himself up: If there's one play that sums up the bumbling Washington Football Team through seven weeks, it was Heinicke diving before the goal line, giving himself up in the eyes of the officials, and having a sure touchdown ruled down at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Heinicke was stopped short on fourth-and-goal. It was a big sequence in a 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. 

There can be an argument over whether Heinicke should have been considered to be giving himself up on the play, but it was a sloppy mistake. All he had to do was run in. Heinicke had plenty of mistakes on Sunday. His time as Washington's quarterback started well but has mostly fizzled out. Ryan Fitzpatrick seems likely to get his job back when he's healthy. Not that it'll matter much for Washington's season. 

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