Scully’s NFL notebook: Steelers only unbeaten team left
No major upsets occurred in Week 7 — Arizona (+3.5) was the biggest underdog to win straight up — but favorites endured another losing week, with a 6-8 record against the spread.
Compelling matchups in Week 8 include Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore, San Francisco vs. Seattle, and New England vs. Buffalo. We'll also see the probably biggest mismatch of the season, as Kansas City has opened as a 21-point home favorite over the New York Jets.
Here are my three takeaways from Week 7.
Super Bowl stat favors unbeaten Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh nearly blew a 20-point lead, but the Steelers escaped Tennessee after Stephen Gostkowski missed a 45-yard field goal at the buzzer. The Steelers are the NFL’s only unbeaten team.
For the fifth time in the Super Bowl era, undefeated teams met in Week 7 or later. Every previous winner has advanced to the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh has started 6-0 for the first time since the glory days of the Steel Curtain in 1978.
This team is built for a Super Bowl run. Pittsburgh ranks first in defensive efficiency (DVOA) according to Football Outsiders. The Steelers also lead the league in sacks (26) and rank second in points and yards allowed. The schedule will get tougher in the coming weeks, but Pittsburgh’s fast and physical defense has the necessary components.
Despite a few interceptions against Tennessee, Ben Roethlisberger has shown no signs of decline, after he was sidelined last year by an elbow injury. He has outstanding depth at wide receiver and tight end and is aided by an improved James Conner in the backfield.
The one thing Pittsburgh lacked was being battle-tested, and Tennessee provided a valuable experience. The Titans earned four of their first five wins by rallying in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime.
Tennessee scored 17 straight points to roar back in Week 7. Down three points on their final drive, the Titans had a chance to win, when Ryan Tannehill completed a 21-yard pass to A.J. Brown at the Pittsburgh 21-yard line with 1:05 remaining, but Pittsburgh’s defense responded. It forced Tannehill into an intentional-grounding penalty on the next play.
The defensive pressure resulted in a long field-goal attempt, which drifted wide right.
49ers find their groove, Garoppolo key moving forward
San Francisco is starting to resemble last year’s Super Bowl squad. The formula has been the same — running the ball and defense — as the 49ers have turned things around with back-to-back dominant wins.
It was remarkable to see San Francisco lay waste to New England in Week 7, when it jumped out to a 23-3 advantage by gaining 301 yards and holding an 18-4 edge in first downs during the first half. Even as a road underdog, San Francisco completely outclassed its opponent.
Jimmy Garoppolo looked sharp for the first time this season. He completed 20 of his 25 passes for 278 yards.
Injury woes were severe early in the season. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were lost in Week 2, and San Francisco could not recover for a few weeks. Garoppolo was also hobbled by an ankle injury, as San Francisco lost consecutive home games to Philadelphia and Miami.
Now 4-3, San Francisco has its sights set on the playoffs. The Niners can still frustrate opposing quarterbacks, and I like their chances.
Garoppolo tailed off at the end of last season. San Francisco didn’t allow him to throw 10 passes in the NFC Championship Game, after a dreadful performance against Minnesota in the divisional round, and he played poorly in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
However, the book isn’t written yet on Garoppolo. He can elevate his game. He threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns in a win over New Orleans last year, and Week 7 provided much needed confidence.
Defense and the ground game are constants for San Francisco, and the 49ers will become more dangerous if the passing game continues to improve.
Improbable Detroit comeback dooms Atlanta
Atlanta fans feel cursed. The Falcons once again seized defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday, when they blew it against Detroit by scoring too soon.
Down 16-14, Atlanta was in position to run the clock down for a last-second field goal inside Detroit’s 10-yard line. The Lions were trying to let Atlanta score, and Todd Gurley obliged. Gurley realized too late that he needed to go down before the goal line and couldn’t stop his momentum as the ball crossed the plane.
Detroit then drove 75 yards in 64 seconds for a game-winning touchdown, and the loss dropped Atlanta to 1-6. It was the third winnable game the Falcons let slip away this season.
Some will say it’s just “Atlanta being Atlanta,” but the misery remains constant any way you slice it.