Score: Ravens 23, Bengals 16
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills
Jacksonville played Detroit and Kansas City close, but sooner or later playing tough and having nothing to show for it catches up to a team. Buffalo is 5-5 and showed me something the past two weeks with the way it played in Seattle and in Cincy. The Bills have a real shot to make the playoffs, something they haven’t done this century (last trip was 1999). LeSean McCoy is banged up and Sammy Watkins might play sparingly, but I’m not sure it matters in this one. Buffalo starts its playoff push.
Score: Bills 24, Jaguars 14
Minnesota had what appeared to be a deep offensive line heading into the season, but that depth quickly disappeared. Former starters John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt failed to recover from injuries which cost them their 2015 seasons, and neither made it to the active roster. Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith were both done for the season with their own injuries by Week 4. On Thursday, the Vikings lost two more linemen during the game, as center Joe Berger suffered a concussion before right tackle Jeremiah Sirles went down with a hip injury. Berger was the only lineman on the team to play even 90 percent of the offensive snaps before Thursday.
You can’t blame the Vikings for having Bradford throw ridiculously short passes with that sort of line trouble, but other quarterbacks have made it through similarly horrific offensive line problems and managed to maintain something resembling a useful level of downfield production. (Philip Rivers comes to mind.)
Do the injuries invalidate criticism of the Bradford trade?
Yes and no.
The original argument back when the Vikings traded two draft picks for Bradford was they had a Super Bowl-caliber team built around a 31-year-old running back. Trading for Bradford kept their window open; failing to acquire him would have shut the door on any championship aspirations the Vikings had for 2016. The hole in that argument is what we’ve seen happen this season. It assumes that everything else for the Vikings is going to go right; namely, that the team would avoid the sort of injuries that could sink even the sturdiest NFL battleship.