Another week in the NFL, and as the London crowd finally got their thriller at Wembley.
Here's what was going on on the other side of the Atlantic...
Oakland Traders Plc.
The NFL’s trade window closes on 30 October, meaning teams have just a week left to add some talent to salvage their seasons, or else cut their losses and get rid of some, in exchange for more draft picks next year. This week’s most high-profile trade saw a marriage of the two approaches.
The Dallas Cowboys have the fourth-worst passing offense in the league, averaging just 183 yards per game, and even when you’ve got Ezekiel Elliot leading the run game, that’s not good enough. Sitting at 3-4, the Cowboys have taken a gamble, trading away their 2019 first round pick to bring in wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders.
Cooper was a Pro-Bowler with 1000+ yards in his first two seasons in the NFL, but has struggled for consistency ever since. Like I said, gamble.
At Oakland, all is not well. Having already traded away Khalil Mack this summer, it looks like head coach Jon Gruden is on a mission to clear the decks of some of the key men drafted under the previous regime and start afresh next season. Gruden, who is on a ten-year deal at the Raiders, now has five first rounders across the next two drafts, including three in 2019.
Before the season began, there were plenty of reasons to be excited about the Texans. QB Deshaun Watson was returning from injury, having thrown a record 19 touchdowns through the first seven games of his NFL career - think of the hype around Patrick Mahomes, who now has 22 through his first eight – and J.J. Watt, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, was also back in the game. Then they started 0-3, and all that optimism vanished.
Since then, they’ve won four on the spin, including key inter-divisional games against playoff rivals the Jaguars and Colts, and Watt in particular is back in business, with seven sacks in his last five games.
With Jacksonville struggling to replicate last season’s form, the AFC South is the most wide-open division in the conference, and the much-touted post-season run could be back on.
Speaking of turnarounds, you won’t see one much better than that orchestrated by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. Trailing 17-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles, heading into the fourth quarter, Newton led the Panthers to a 21-17 win. He now has more career fourth quarter comebacks than Aaron ‘Clutch-Comeback-King’ Rodgers.
Newton is regarded as a unique athlete for his position – for a man of six-foot-five and 111kg, he’s incredibly mobile and an absolute nightmare to stop in the run game. Indeed, no quarterback in NFL history has more rushing first downs. On Sunday, he even threw himself into a blocking role.
But what is sometimes forgotten with Cam, is that the guy can chuck the ball too. Against the Eagles, in the fourth quarter alone, he threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and his passing yardage per game so far this year is the best it’s been since the 2015 season, when he was MVP en route to a Super Bowl final defeat.
It’s early days, but at worst the Panthers look like serious wildcard contenders. At best, they look capable of pushing the in-form New Orleans Saints (who had a come-from-behind win of their own on Sunday) all the way in the NFC South.
The Blake Bortles conundrum
Few players define ‘inconsistency’ quite like Blake Bortles. This season, the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback has had three games of more than 370 yards and four of less than 180. He’s thrown for almost as many interceptions as he has touchdowns (eight versus nine) and on Sunday, against the Texans, he was unceremoniously benched after a couple of forced fumbles.
Head coach Doug Marrone has already come out and said Bortles will start at Wembley against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday – but what choice does he have?
Backup QB Cody Kessler started both of his previous NFL seasons at the third string at the then-hopeless Browns, and the Jaguars chose not to bring in any realistic competition for Bortles this summer (remember, Lamar Jackson was still available when they chose defensive tackle Taven Bryan with their first round pick).
When I asked Osi Umenyiora, of the BBC's NFL Show, whether the Jaguars could win a Super Bowl with Bortles under centre, he replied "anything is possible" - hardly a glowing endorsement.
Axing Bortles after he came within a single TD of riding that Jags defense to last season's Super Bowl would have been outrageously harsh. But unless things turn around quickly, they may have a big decision to make come the end of the season.