NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Aligning Pegs
by Dennis Ranahan

The Pittsburgh Steelers turned the ball over six times last week in Cleveland and didn’t lose the game to the Browns. They ended their encounter against the Browns with a minus five turnover ratio.

Only five teams in the history of the National Football League have avoided a loss when suffering a minus five turnover ratio … 132 teams with that discrepancy or worse in the turnover column have lost.

Does that mean the Steelers are good enough to overcome a severe lasp in protecting the football, or are they in trouble given they allowed that many turnovers? Does that mean the Cleveland Browns, who played Pittsburgh to a tie in last Sunday’s game, are vastly improved over the 1-31 record they had compiled during the past two seasons, or still really bad given they couldn’t win even with a plus five turnover mark?

This week, the Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid’s team got their ninth straight win over the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday on the road, 38-28, and their new starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, was very impressive in the win. Many thought, me included, that this was going to be a special year for the Chargers and yet they lost their home opener … not a good sign for a team with high aspirations.

If the Chargers are good, how special are the Chiefs to beat them on the road? But, if the Chargers are just off to their typical slow start, they lost their first four games last year and haven’t compiled a winning mark in September since 2014, is the Chiefs victory in Los Angeles just a triumph over an average football team?

Opening day results have to be weighed in relation to both the final scores and the strength of the opponent. Last year, the Oakland Raiders downed the eventual playoff bound Tennessee Titans on the road in the first weekend and then blew out the New York Jets in their home opener. The two wins boosted hopes in Oakland, but in fact, it was nothing more than a precursor to a 6-10 season.

Last week, was the Cincinnati Bengals road win over the Indianapolis Colts a sign of good things to come for Marvin Lewis’ team this year, or just a victory over a cellar dweller? We will know a lot more about the fate of the Bengals this year after we see their Thursday night performance against a Baltimore Ravens team that swept their five game preseason schedule and opened their regular campaign with a 47-3 trounching of the Buffalo Bills.

Are the Ravens that good, or are the Bills that bad?

The first few weeks of an NFL season are like the game Mastermind, where the formula is hidden in color pegs and the job of the challenger is to match the four pegs in both color and order. The first week is a clue, just like letting the challenger know if he has any right colors and any in the right position. If the Mastermind game is played to the max, the hidden formula can be ascertained in three or four turns.

If we allow the NFL season to come to us, in three or four weeks we will have a much clearer picture on whether the Steelers are in trouble or a power again, whether the Chiefs are a real threat in the league or on opening day simply took advantage of an overhyped Chargers squad. If the Ravens are for real, or the preseason record was just a reflection of John Harbaugh’s penchant for winning any game, meaningless or not, and the opening day victory can be chalked up to just how bad the Bills are.

Yet, after just one game, we can know this, the Chiefs have their quarterback of the future in Mahomes. They didn’t let Alex Smith out of town without a capable replacement, and nothing Mahomes has done on or off the field in his two years in Kansas City has dimmed the prospects of him being something special.

This week, Mahomes and his Chiefs are underdogs to a Pittsburgh team that appears to still be fixated on the absence of runningback Le'veon Bell. While Pittsburgh looks to sort out their problems, this appears a perfect spot for the road team to capture an upset win.

Qoxhi Picks: Kansas City Chiefs (+4) over Pittsburgh Steelers