The Steelers’ run to an 8-5 record and wild-card playoff contention without Ben Roethlisberger may be the most improbable story of the 2019 season. Even more improbable is who led them to their past three wins: Devlin “Duck” Hodges, who took over for an ineffective Mason Rudolph in Week 12 against Cincinnati.
Hodges is the first undrafted rookie QB to win his first three NFL starts in a non-strike season. The Duck was a four-year starter at Samford, but he was hardly anonymous there -– he won the Walter Payton Award in 2018 as the most outstanding offensive player at the FCS level -– and set the FCS record for career passing yards (14,584). Hodges has thrown for just a touch over 15,000 yards in his collegiate and professional careers, so with that in mind, here are 15 things to know about the Steelers’ cult hero.
What’s in a (nick)name
Hodges earned his “Duck” moniker while at Samford, owing to his skill as a duck caller. He has receipts to back up his reputation, too. Hodges won the 2009 Junior World Duck Calling Contest at age 13 as well as the 2018 Alabama State Duck Calling Championship. Steelers fans have taken to Hodges like a duck … oh, never mind. Yes, many of them have brought their own duck calls into Heinz Field.
He almost played for Brett Favre’s alma mater
Hodges was not completely unknown when it came to his college recruitment. The self-described “gunslinger” nearly went to the same school, Southern Mississippi, as the NFL’s most famous gunslinger, before changing his commitment to Samford in Birmingham, Alabama. Believe it or not, Alabama, where five-star recruits roam, had off-and-on interest in Hodges.
He shredded the FCS with Samford
Hodges’ numbers in college were eye-popping: As a redshirt freshman, he threw for 2,230 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games. Then the Duck took flight, throwing for 12,354 yards and 99 touchdowns in his next three seasons. Hodges was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year three times.
His college offense? The Air Raid, of course
Gardner Minshew, now the Jaguars’ starting QB as a rookie, got all the Air Raid hype playing for Mike Leach at Washington State, but Hodges ran the same system at Samford. Hodges’ college coach, Chris Hatcher, was quarterbacks and wide receivers coach under Hal Mumme at Kentucky. Mumme, not Leach, is actually responsible for creating the Air Raid system.
He put up huge numbers on Florida State in 2018
Florida State isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still Florida State, and Samford is still Samford. That didn’t stop Hodges from going into Tallahassee and nearly springing a massive upset. He threw for 475 yards and two touchdowns against the Seminoles, including a 54-yard touchdown on Samford’s first play. His four interceptions were a major factor, though, in Florida State’s 36-26 win.
The NFL had virtually no use for him
Many late-round picks and undrafted free agents have gone on to have solid, and sometimes spectacular, careers (see Brady, Tom, sixth round 2000 NFL Draft). Hodges was so far off the NFL’s radar that the Steelers were the only team to show even marginal interest in him. Hodges impressed enough during rookie camp and training camp for the Steelers to keep him around. But he eventually was cut in favor of Josh Dobbs, Pittsburgh’s fourth-round pick in 2017.
The Jets nearly plucked him away from Pittsburgh
Hodges had a tryout scheduled with the Jets and was en route to the airport when he received a call that the Steelers had traded Dobbs to Jacksonville. They wanted Hodges to join their practice squad. It was fortuitous timing for the Steelers. Had Hodges made it to New York, perhaps the legend of Duck would never gotten off the ground.
He was a major bargain for the Steelers
How off the radar was Hodges? His signing bonus with Pittsburgh was $1,000. That’s about the price of 66 duck leg small plates at the Point Brugge Cafe in the Steel City. Hodges has since earned a contract that will pay him just over $1 million dollars for two seasons, but in a sport where signing bonuses are often eight figures, the Steelers are getting incredible bang for their buck(shot). Arrgh.
He has become fast friends with James Washington
Washington and Hodges have hooked up for several big plays so far this season, with their 79-yard scoring connection in Cincinnati possibly rescuing the Steelers’ season. They’re also hunting pals in their downtime, as Washington has accompanied Hodges on duck hunts. There is an awkward component to this friendship: Washington and Rudolph were college teammates at Oklahoma State but have displayed zero on-field chemistry in the NFL.
His legs are his secret weapon
Hodges isn’t particularly fast, a reason he probably was so far off the NFL’s radar. But he has proven to be a capable runner. Four of his 18 carries this season have gone for first downs, and he has two scrambles of over 20 yards.
Mike Tomlin wasn’t heaping praise on him … at first
When the Steelers’ head coach was asked about his expectations for Hodges heading into his second career start, against the Browns, he said, “I expect him to not kill us.” Whether Tomlin was really that leery about Hodges potential for disaster, or just playing possum, it was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Duck’s abilities.
He has a very famous fan
It probably comes as no surprise that a champion duck caller turning the NFL on its ear has caught the attention of a “Duck Dynasty” star. Silas “Uncle Si” Robertson of the former A&E hit took time to give Hodges a shout-out recently. “Hey, I used to be a Saints fan, but look, I heard the good news. The Steelers have got a duck for a quarterback. Go get em’ Duck!” he posted on Tweeter, er, Twitter.
He won over his teammates by torching them in training camp
Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree, among other Black and Gold defenders, was effusive in his praise of Hodges before his most recent victories, telling stories of Hodges strafing the first-team defense in training camp, and chirping –- OK, maybe quacking –- at them. Steelers players, in fact, praised Hodges’ abilities before his first start, way back in Week 6 against the Chargers.
He almost knocked off the Ravens
Baltimore could easily be a game worse and the Steelers still angling for an AFC North title thanks to Duck’s work in relief of a concussed Rudolph in Week 5. Hodges led the Steelers to a touchdown on his first NFL drive, hitting two passes for 27 yards. In overtime, Hodges had the Steelers driving and perhaps 20 yards away from a winning field goal, but JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled away their chance at victory. Overall, the Duck’s stats are impressive: 71.3 completion percentage, 682 yards passing and a 117.2 passer rating (league average is 91.2).
What he lacks in measurables, he makes up for in moxie
Here’s what Yardbarker’s Matt Williamson, a former NFL scout, told me about Hodges: “He’s not very gifted, especially as a thrower, but he is confident and believes in himself.” And how is he different from the man he replaced? “He’s making throws that Rudolph wasn’t pulling the trigger on against single coverage and hasn’t killed the team … yet.”
Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman clearly is not allowing loyalties to the organization temper his comments about Jerry Jones of late, and the FOX broadcaster recently doubled down on previous criticism of the Cowboys owner.
Interestingly, Aikman’s most recent unflattering remarks were inspired by questions concerning whether or not he would ever entertain joining the Cowboys’ front office.
“I doubt it. I think that’s a real long shot,” Aikman said during an interview Tuesday on KCTK/1310 AM “The Ticket” about taking a job with the Cowboys, as transcribed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I believe it’s unlikely that Jerry will ever bring anybody in that can help this football team in that regard just because he’s been real stubborn and steadfast in that he’s the one in charge. I think, in a lot of ways, until that changes this team is going to have some problems.”
Drama yet again abounds for the Cowboys. Mired in a three-game losing streak that has left the team at 6-7, Jones has been all over the place when it comes to the future of perpetually embattled head coach Jason Garrett.
From providing completely ambiguous comments about the situation to giving a lukewarm vote of confidence to Garrett, Jones appears to have no idea what he’s going to do with his longtime, much-maligned head coach.
Aikman believes Jones’ penchant for spotlight-seeking makes Garrett’s job that much tougher.
“There should be one voice and it should come from the head coach,” Aikman said. “The players should know that. The owner ultimately makes the decisions, we all know that. He’s the one who signs off. But I think there has to be one voice and one person the players answer to.”
Aikman arguably contends correctly that Jones, who of course also serves as Cowboys general manager, would never cede power to another person, which is certainly his prerogative.
That said, what ought to be most troubling to Jones at this point is that even Cowboys legends are starting to get fed up with the manner in which he runs the organization.
Odell Beckham Jr. has been in the news a lot on Sunday morning. We heard earlier in the day that the Browns wideout has been battling a hernia injury all season and may be headed for offseason surgery, and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk) later reported that OBJ wants out of Cleveland.
When he was asked about his future with the Browns several days ago, Beckham was non-committal.
“I couldn’t sit here and tell you whether I’m going to be here, want to be here, don’t want to be here,” he said. “This is exactly where I’m at now and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. God has a plan. In the offseason, everything will figure itself out. I feel like I’ve been here before, answering questions about the next team when I’m on a team already. That’s just something I’m going to tune out for right now. Catch me in the offseason and we’ll see what happens.”
But Glazer says Beckham has approached opposing players and coaches before (and even during) games this season and has told them, “come get me.” And considering that Glazer was the one who said the Giants would trade Beckham when everyone within the New York organization was saying they wouldn’t, that carries some weight.
“I don’t see that relationship ending well for [the Browns] after this year,” Glazer said.
Of course, trading Beckham would be a tough pill to swallow for the Browns, who gave up first- and third-round picks in the 2019 draft along with Jabrill Peppers and Kevin Zeitler to acquire the star receiver and Olivier Vernon. The fact that Beckham has had a disappointing year (by his standards, at least) and would have basically forced his way out of two organizations would obviously hurt his trade value.
In New Orleans, the 49ers claimed the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a wild win. At New England, the Chiefs snapped the Patriots’ 21-game home winning streak. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 14 whip-around:
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In New Orleans, the 49ers claimed the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a wild win. Also, the Chiefs snapped the Patriots’ 21-game home winning streak. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 14 whip-around:
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SAN FRANCISCO 48, NEW ORLEANS 46
49ERS (11-2): If San Francisco won over most doubters with its performance in defeat against Baltimore in Week 13, it silenced all remaining ones with this win. Surprisingly, it was fueled by the offense and not the defense, which was strafed by Drew Brees. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns, and the 49ers ran for 162 yards on a Saints team that came into the game having allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the league. Garoppolo’s performance was even more impressive because the Saints had allowed the fifth-fewest net yards per passing attempt in the league through Week 13. The 49ers control their own destiny; if they win out, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through San Francisco. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
SAINTS (10-3): Despite the loss, New Orleans must be thrilled with how its passing attack clicked against the top-ranked DVOA pass defense. Drew Brees was masterful, completing 29 of 40 passes for 349 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions (138.4 passer rating). TE Jared Cook, who entered the game averaging 72.8 yards receiving over his past four games, posted 38- and 26-yard touchdowns on his only two targets. This was a San Francisco defense that owned league-best marks of 5.5 yards per pass attempt allowed and an 11.3% sack rate; the 49ers did not sack Brees and allowed him to average 8.7 yards per attempt. If these teams meet again in the playoffs … whew. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Colts (Mon., Dec. 16)
— Michael Nania
3 of 17
KANSAS CITY 23, NEW ENGLAND 16
CHIEFS (9-4): Kansas City led the NFL with 52 sacks last season, but in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, the Dee Ford-Justin Houston group did not sack Tom Brady and hit him just once. The Chiefs overhauled their D-line this offseason, and while Frank Clark and Alex Okafor are well off Ford and Houston’s statistical pace, they produced pressure in a big spot. Clark, Okafor and Chris Jones each dropped Brady, and the Chiefs hit him six times. Clark added a critical tackle for loss – one of the Chiefs’ eight Sunday – on a James White red-zone run, forcing a field goal. Kansas City’s final-play blitz led to Bashaud Breeland’s pass breakup. After midseason struggles induced panic among the Chiefs’ fan base, Kansas City’s defense has strung together back-to-back strong efforts. That’s a key development considering K.C.’s offensive capabilities. With the win, the Chiefs clinched the AFC West. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
PATRIOTS (10-3): Seventy-two of New England’s 184 passing yards came on trick plays. Bill Belichick’s defensive wizardry has consistently given his offenses high margins for error, but this group fell through that safety net Sunday. Tom Brady’s pass-catching cast is obviously a cut below the norm, but the 42-year-old quarterback cannot be absolved after averaging fewer than five yards per attempt for the third time this season. He’s enjoyed historically great circumstances for most of the Pats’ dynasty – be it elite defenses, offensive lines or the most dominant tight end ever. Does the legend have enough left to produce when his weaponry isn’t optimal? Now 2-3 against winning teams, the Patriots have coasted on the easiest schedule they’ve played in a decade chock full of them. With Bengals and Dolphins games coming soon, they will still likely earn a playoff bye. But this loss provided a sign this operation will be more vulnerable in January than any Pats team since 2009. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
4 of 17
LA RAMS 28, SEATTLE 12
SEAHAWKS (10-3): Until D.K. Metcalf’s 35-yard catch with less than 10 minutes left, the Seahawks didn’t have a play over 20 yards. After opening the game with a field goal, Seattle went scoreless on its next seven offensive possessions, before kicking another field goal midway through the fourth quarter. The Seahawks are only as good as Russell Wilson and the offense on a given day. That’s usually an acceptable recipe, because they entered Week 14 fifth in the league in points per game. RB Rashaad Penny’s knee injury throws some uncertainty into Seattle’s running attack, so Chris Carson might have to shoulder a heavier burden. What Seattle really needs is for Wilson to regain his MVP form. He has four straight games with a passer rating under 100, after opening the season topping that mark in eight of nine. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
RAMS (8-5): QB Jared Goff was mostly razor-sharp, and though he threw two interceptions early in the third quarter, it seemed that both were the fault of his wide receivers. Goff excelled when he wasn’t stationary; he was 7-of-7 for 134 yards and a touchdown when throwing from outside the pocket. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2018, Goff earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any NFC West quarterback when it came to passing outside the pocket, easily besting Russell Wilson, who finished second. Head coach Sean McVay and Goff are figuring things out, but whether they did so in time remains to be seen. To catch Minnesota for the final wild-card spot, Los Angeles likely must win out. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
5 of 17
TENNESSEE 42, OAKLAND 21
TITANS (8-5): Reports surfaced before Sunday’s game that Ryan Tannehill and the Titans were in discussions about a contract extension. It’s easy to understand why, as Tannehill has completely changed the trajectory of Tennessee’s season. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is playing like the league MVP in his seven starts. Tannehill has the highest yards per attempt in the league, at 9.8, and his 118.9 passer rating in the eight games in which he has actually attempted a pass is also tops in the league. Tannehill’s career history suggests that eventually he will regress, but the eye test shows a quarterback who appears to have put it all together, whose success isn’t fluky or unsustainable. If Tannehill’s play continues at this level, Tennessee will have to pony up a huge amount of money on a long-term contract, but considering that the Titans’ current ceiling looks like that of a Super Bowl contender, they’ll be more than happy to do so.GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
RAIDERS (6-7): After throwing the football-following world off the scent with a midseason win streak, Oakland’s three consecutive blowout losses restore the expected reality. The Raiders assembled some passable defensive outings and saw growth from select players (namely DE Maxx Crosby). But the franchise will fold up shop in Oakland after deploying below-average defenses in an astounding 17 straight seasons. Ryan Tannehill’s 391-yard showing during a game when the Titans finished 8-for-11 on third downs provided more evidence the Raiders need more help. Oakland’s secondary covered and tackled poorly, with Titans rookie wideout A.J. Brown joining RB Derrick Henry in shrugging off Raider defenders. The Khalil Mack trade gives the Raiders the Bears’ 2020 first- and third-round picks – although Chicago owns Oakland’s second-rounder from that deal. Beyond wide receiver, the Las Vegas-bound team needs reinforcements at cornerback, linebacker and on the defensive line. With his team projected to hold $73 million in 2020 cap space, expect Jon Gruden to land multiple veteran upgrades as well. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
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LA CHARGERS 45, JACKSONVILLE 10
CHARGERS (5-8): The Chargers showed a glimmer of what could have been Sunday in Jacksonville. One contributor continues to hover above the rest. Austin Ekeler’s performances will represent the best Bolts memories from this season. The Chargers should initiate extension talks with their explosive passing-down back, who is a restricted free agent-to-be. Ekeler totaled 213 scrimmage yards (17.7 per touch), delivering a career-best 101 on the ground. Eighty-four of Ekeler’s yards came on a tunnel-screen touchdown. He became the second Charger to eclipse 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game, joining not LaDainian Tomlinson but Lionel James. James is one of three backs to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Ekeler leads 2019 backs with 830 and has a chance to reach 1,000. The Chargers can draft a between-the-tackles Melvin Gordon replacement, but the 24-year-old’s low mileage (404 touches in three seasons) makes him a good bet to maintain long-term value. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
JAGUARS (4-9): The Jaguars lost their fifth straight game by at least 17 points. Focusing on any individual player’s performance for Jacksonville is irrelevant. The real story is that Doug Marrone has very likely coached his final game for the Jaguars. The team certainly appears to have quit on him, and with another losing season guaranteed, owner Shad Khan needs to take a hard look at his franchise and decide what he wants it to be. A star-studded defense has imploded, battled with the front office and ultimately turned into a shell of its former self, and while rookie QB Gardner Minshew is a fun story, there are serious quarterback questions to answer. Firing Marrone is an obvious, easy move. Taking a long, honest look at what has ailed this franchise comes next, and that is the hard part. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
7 of 17
BALTIMORE 24, BUFFALO 17
RAVENS (11-2): Baltimore clinched a playoff berth in a difficult environment in Buffalo. But it also potentially exposed an area of concern: TE Mark Andrews left early with a right knee injury for a Ravens team short on quality receivers. Hayden Hurst (3 catches for 73 yards) played well in Andrews’ absence, but Ravens wideouts had a rough time gaining separation against a quality secondary. No one besides Hurst had more than 29 yards receiving. QB Lamar Jackson (145 yards passing and 40 rushing) did just enough. Another positive: With New England’s loss, the Ravens tightened their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Thurs.)
— Matt Williamson
BILLS (9-4): Buffalo allowed six sacks, managed 209 yards and converted 4 of 18 third- and fourth-down plays. But there was a silver lining: The Bills held the Ravens to a season-low 118 rushing yards. Considering the AFC favorites are on pace to (somehow in 2019) to break the NFL season rushing yardage record, this represents an achievement for any team – let alone a Bills defense that entered 22nd in run-defense DVOA. Lamar Jackson had a season-worst 185 yards, and Baltimore’s multifaceted ground attack averaged 3.6 yards per carry after coming into Sunday at 5.5. The Bills did not score a touchdown until seven minutes remained yet still had an opportunity at a tying score. This margin for error shows more development from Buffalo’s defense, strengthening the Bills’ chances for what would be their first playoff win in 24 years. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
8 of 17
DENVER 38, HOUSTON 24
BRONCOS (5-8): The bevy of non-Paxton Lynch Broncos quarterbacks between Peyton Manning and Drew Lock enjoyed moments, but Sunday’s game provides a stronger indicator about Denver’s future than productive games from Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum or Joe Flacco. Lock’s 22-for-27, 309-yard, three-touchdown pass showing in Houston gave Denver its best win this season. It marked a major improvement from Lock’s choppy debut in Week 13. Whereas Flacco and Brandon Allen squandered fourth-quarter leads, Lock’s effort built a big enough advantage that it would have taken an NFL-record collapse for the Broncos to lose it. The second-round rookie displayed his blend of arm strength – via the middle-of-the-field laser to TE Noah Fant for Denver’s first touchdown – mobility and patience on well-designed plays. The Broncos entered this game a candidate to use their 2020 first-round pick on a quarterback. Barring a significant Lock regression over the final three games, they can prepare to build around him next season. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
TEXANS (8-5): No team had a more embarrassing Week 14 than the Texans, who put their status as AFC South favorites in question. Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions and couldn’t get anything going until the game was out of reach, but Houston’s defense was its real issue. The Texans entered the game 28th in the league in pass defense and played down to that ranking and then some against rookie Drew Lock, who was making just his second NFL start. Lock picked apart Houston’s secondary despite not having much of a running game (90 yards). The game illustrated Houston’s chief vulnerability on defense and was an object lesson in how quickly things can go bad for the Texans if Watson and DeAndre Hopkins don’t deliver spectacular individual performances. A road date with the Titans for control of the AFC South looms, and the Texans can’t be feeling good about themselves. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
9 of 17
TAMPA BAY 38, INDIANAPOLIS 35
COLTS (6-7): Indianapolis’ playoff hopes are probably cooked because it was unable to dictate the terms of this game. Jameis Winston and the Bucs are accustomed to playing turnover- and point-filled track meets. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett did his best to keep up, and Indy’s defense scored points courtesy of a Darius Leonard interception return, but Indianapolis was gashed by Tampa Bay’s offense for 542 yards, the most it has allowed all season. The Colts couldn’t run the ball, lost badly in the time-of-possession battle and simply ran out of gas. Well, at least kicker Adam Vinatieri, who missed the game with a left knee injury, didn’t blow this one. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Saints (Mon., Dec. 16)
— Chris Mueller
BUCS (6-7): It’s not often we give a quarterback kudos when he throws three interceptions, but Jameis Winston was mostly stellar against the Colts’ 14th-ranked DVOA defense. He completed 33 of 45 passes for four touchdowns and 456 yards, 10.1 yards per attempt. Head coach Bruce Arians got everybody in on the party. No Buccaneer hit the 100-yard receiving mark, but nine different players collected at least 19 yards receiving and four different players hauled in touchdowns. Tampa Bay is red-hot, winning four of its past five games and averaging 29.6 points over that stretch. The Bucs’ playoff chances are minuscule, but they are building a foundation for 2020. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
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PITTSBURGH 23, ARIZONA 17
STEELERS (8-5): In what was quasi-home game for the Steelers in Arizona, Devlin “Duck” Hodges threw for only 152 yards, but he was efficient. The star of this game, however, was rookie Diontae Johnson, a third-round pick out of Toledo. He scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown on a dynamic, 85-yard punt return. In the third quarter, Johnson again showed off his vision and explosion with the ball in his hands on a screen play in which he reversed fields and made something out of nothing. A few plays later, Johnson scored his second touchdown with a crisp, two-yard out route for a TD. He has great body control and the ability to explode out of his sharp breaks. But Johnson’s sharp route running is where he really thrives. Wow, the Steelers can find receivers. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
CARDINALS (3-9-1): Kyler Murray saw an unfortunate but predictable trend continue against the Steelers: Against the league’s better defenses, he usually struggles. Murray has two strong games against San Francisco on his resume, but against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Saints, he has been unable to make big plays with regularity. Part of that is a reflection of the Cardinals’ overall lack of talent, but some of it is on Murray. Pittsburgh harassed him all game, sacking him five times and intercepting three passes. Murray has five interceptions in his past four games, after going five straight contests without a turnover. Taking more chances is good for Murray in the long run, but as the Cardinals proved yet again, their road back to contention will be long and arduous and will require a major roster overhaul. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
11 of 17
ATLANTA 40, CAROLINA 20
PANTHERS (5-8): It’s like clockwork. Week after week, opponents shred the Panthers on the ground with ease. The Falcons, who entered Week 14 ranked 27th in rush offense DVOA, ran 32 times for 159 yards (5.0 per attempt) and two touchdowns on Carolina’s abysmal run defense. The Panthers have allowed league-worst marks of 5.3 yards per rush attempt and 24 rushing touchdowns. Significant resources must be invested in the defense in the offseason. With better run defense, the Panthers would have two or three more wins, despite their problems at quarterback. Carolina Kyle Allen again was poor (28-for-41, 293 yards, two interceptions). GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Seahawks
— Michael Nania
FALCONS (4-9): The offense was strong, averaging 6.9 yards per play. Matt Ryan posted his second game with 300-plus yards on 9.0-plus yards per attempt against the Panthers in a four-week span. An unlikely hero helped break the game open for the Falcons: undrafted free agent Olamide Zaccheaus. He entered Week 14 having played just 32 offensive snaps; he did not have a target or a touch. Against the Panthers, Zaccheaus broke free for a 93-yard touchdown on the first grab of his NFL career and his only catch of the game. The Falcons wrapped up a five-game stretch against divisional opponents with a 3-2 record. Is that enough to save head coach Dan Quinn? GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
12 of 17
NY JETS 22, MIAMI 21
DOLPHINS (3-10): With the Giants and Bengals still on the Dolphins’ schedule, a team with one of the worst rosters in modern NFL history could finish 5-11. Were it not for an overturned pass-interference call that allowed the Jets to kick a winning field goal, the Dolphins would have possessed a six-win ceiling. That is borderline unfathomable, based on Miami’s offseason actions and the talent trades and injuries removed from the roster in-season. Brian Flores appears to be the right coach for this rebuild. He has gotten more from this roster than almost anyone envisioned. First-time offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea has also overseen the long-awaited, oft-doubted breakout by WR DeVante Parker. This resembles a semi-competent offense despite a replacement-level offensive line. The Dolphins have less talent than the 0-16 Browns of 2017, yet Flores has lapped Hue Jackson’s work. Even without the No. 1 overall pick, the Flores-led Dolphins are on the right track. And his 2020 roster will be much better. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
JETS (5-8): A recent trade candidate, Robby Anderson may be positioning himself for a long-term Jets extension. Or he could be one of the prizes in a thin wide receiver free-agent class. Sam Darnold located his most talented receiver seven times for 116 yards against the Dolphins, and the fourth-year deep threat found space across the field against Miami’s undermanned secondary. Anderson’s extra-effort touchdown helped the Jets win a meaningless game, but this stretch is more about evaluation than final scores. Dating to last season, the 26-year-old wideout has shown chemistry with Darnold. However, Anderson’s career has included inconsistency and off-field issues. If the Cowboys extend Dak Prescott and use their franchise tag on Amari Cooper, Anderson would be the top 20-something wideout on the market. It will take eight figures per year for the Jets to retain him, but without any young outside threats on the roster, GM Joe Douglas must consider an Anderson re-up. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Thurs.)
— Sam Robinson
13 of 17
MINNESOTA 20, DETROIT 7
LIONS (3-9-1): No one should expect David Blough to be Matthew Stafford. But this game was a massive step backward from his impressive showing in a loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving Day. He missed open throws and threw two interceptions, but what stood out most was how poorly he handled himself in the pocket. The Vikings have a very good pass-rush — DE Danielle Hunter in particular caused great problems for the Lions’ protection. But Blough is to blame more than Detroit’s pass blocking. He held the ball too long, didn’t feel the rush around him, and even when the Vikings were not bearing down on him, he perceived pressure that wasn’t there. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Bucs (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
VIKINGS (9-4): Minnesota’s cornerback situation (See Rhodes, Xavier) is problematic. But the Vikings, who won their fifth straight game, may have found something in one of their former first-round picks. Mike Hughes blanketed Marvin Jones (3 catches) much of the game, as the Vikings limited the Lions to only 161 yards passing. Coming into this game, the only advantage the Lions’ offense had on paper was the combination of WR Kenny Golladay, who is impressive, and Jones against Minnesota’s outside cornerbacks. Hughes may give head coach Mike Zimmer a possible answer to one of this team’s biggest questions as the Vikings head toward the playoffs. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: at LA Chargers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
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GREEN BAY 20, WASHINGTON 15
REDSKINS (3-10): Washington’s defense did an admirable job in Green Bay keeping a high-octane offense in check. The Packers, who came into the week ranked seventh in points per drive (2.24), scored just 20 points, their lowest mark of the season at Lambeau Field. The Redskins got after Aaron Rodgers, sacking him four times and registering seven quarterback hits. It was a team effort, as four different players picked up a sack and seven different players picked up a hit. Rodgers passed for 195 yards, his worst mark in a fully played home game since Week 4 of 2017. The Redskins are doing some nice things to set the tone for their future. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
PACKERS (10-3): The Redskins ‘ offense has some decent, young pieces, but no one is going to confuse it with the 2019 Saints’ attack. Green Bay took care of business, limiting rookie QB to Dwayne Haskins to 170 yards passing. But the Packers’ run defense may be a weak link. Packers tackling was shoddy at times, and they weren’t disciplined controlling gaps. It wasn’t a horrible showing against the run but something to be mindful of in the playoffs. That’s when the defense won’t be able to stack the box against much more formidable passing teams. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Bears (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
15 of 17
CLEVELAND 27, CINCINNATI 19
BENGALS (1-12): RB Joe Mixon was easily Cincinnati’s best player in this game. Although his stats early in the season were poor, it wasn’t his fault. The line rarely opened holes. Now with cracks to slip through, Mixon looks like one of the best running backs in the league. Against the Browns, he ran with passion, burst and power (146 yards) and showed terrific change-of-direction ability against a defense geared to stop him. The Bengals even split Mixon out wide and threw him deep routes against linebacker coverage. (He had 40 yards receiving.) The Bengals’ offense, with OT Jonah Williams returning next year, isn’t as far off as many might think. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
BROWNS (6-7): Cleveland was far too pass-heavy in the first half, especially considering the Bengals rush the passer well but are horrendous against the run. In the second half, Cleveland’s offense went through RBs Nick Chubb (106 yards) and Kareem Hunt. (26 yards rushing and 40 receiving) Smart, smart move: The Browns’ pass protection is a liability, and QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham’s on-the-field relationship couldn’t be more disjointed. Perhaps the coaching staff will stick to the ground in the final three games. (Psst: I don’t trust ’em.) Beckham (2 catches, 39 yards), reportedly dealing with a sports hernia injury, remains a disappointment. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
NY GIANTS AT PHILADELPHIA
GIANTS (2-10): Perhaps veteran QB Eli Manning who hasn’t played since Week 2, can solve the Giants’ turnover woes. Rookie QB Daniel Jones, out with a high ankle sprain, has 21 turnovers this season. Manning is coming off of a 2018 season in which he posted a career-low interception rate of 1.9%, and he did a solid job at the beginning of 2019 with just two interceptions over 89 pass attempts (2.2% rate, better than league average of 2.3%). Philadelphia has struggled a bit in taking the ball away as well as limiting the effectiveness of opposing quarterbacks, ranking 18th in takeaway rate (10.7%, below league average of 11.9%) and 19th in passer rating allowed (91.8).
— Michael Nania
EAGLES (5-7): The defense must perform at a consistently dominant level, which it has the talent to do. The Eagles are 19th in points allowed per drive (1.99), after yielding a season-worst 37 points to the hapless Dolphins in Week 13. The Eagles, who stunningly could still win the terrible NFC East, are surprisingly mediocre against the pass. They are tied for 19th in net yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4 versus league average of 6.3) and are allowing the 10th-highest touchdown pass rate (5.2% versus league average of 4.5%). This unit has the talent to be substantially more reliable than that. NEXT: at Redskins (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
17 of 17
CHICAGO 31, DALLAS 24
BEARS (7-6): Much maligned this season, QB Mitch Trubisky has played significantly better recently. Led by WR Allen Robinson (76 catches for 898 yards), he’s throwing to a better group of receivers than some may realize. The third-year QB’s passing prowess showed up again Thursday night (244 yards and three TDs). But in this game, we saw the running ability (10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown) that was so crucial for him in 2018, when he scampered for 421 yards. The Cowboys did a really poor job of tackling, but Trubisky was smart when he chose to run, avoiding taking punishment. Trubisky looks much healthier and more confident now than he did in the first half of the season and is making a strong push to be Chicago’s starter in 2020. Using his legs as a weapon (143 rushing yards in 2019) sure helps. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
COWBOYS (6-7): The Cowboys’ struggles against strong competition continued in Chicago, as they fell to 0-6 in games against teams with a winning record. Dallas, somehow still in first in the NFC East, has been close, as the loss to the Bears marked its ‘ fourth loss by seven points or fewer out of those six games. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky carved up the struggling pass defense (which entered Week 14 ranked 23rd in DVOA), posting three touchdowns, a 115.5 passer rating and a season-best 80.6 QBR. Slot corner Jourdan Lewis was a primary culprit, yielding four catches on four targets for 64 yards and three first downs. One was an eight-yard touchdown to Allen Robinson. Lewis has given up 12 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at LA Rams (Sun.)
Yardbarker’s Sam Robinson and Michael Nania go deep inside NFL games each week, focusing on key numbers and roster issues.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Passing yards per attempt adjusted for sack yardage.
Dallas (6-6) at Chicago (6-6), 8:20 p.m. ET
Inside Cowboys numbers: Dallas is 0-5 against teams that currently have a winning record. The Cowboys lost the turnover battle 10 to one in those games.
Inside Cowboys roster: With Amari Cooper on pace to eclipse his season yardage high by nearly 150, Dallas’ decision to trade a first-round pick for him worked out. Despite Cooper wanting to stay in Dallas, it will probably come down to the team’s ability to extend Dak Prescott before the March 10 franchise tag deadline. Prescott will certainly take precedence if this extension saga moves to this point, forcing the Cowboys to tag him and thus sending Cooper to free agency. If the Cowboys cannot navigate this situation and keep an important player off the market, it will be an organizational failure.
Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s defense has overcome unfavorable circumstances to remain one of the league’s most dominant units, ranking fourth in scoring defense per drive (1.50) despite playing with the second-worst average starting field position (opponent’s 31-yard line). The Bears allow the fourth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.7) and seventh-fewest net yards per pass attempt (5.8).
Inside Bears roster: Chicago has not featured a long-term receiver duo since its Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery tandem, but Anthony Miller has crept into the equation as a potential Allen Robinson complement. Despite a part-time role for half the season, the Bears’ second-year slot receiver surpassed his rookie-year receptions and yards total in Week 13 via his career-high nine-grab, 140-yard showing. Miller has exceeded 50 yards in six of his past eight games and is now a full-time player. Given Chicago’s issues at tight end, Miller’s development is critical for a Robinson-reliant passing attack.
Carolina (5-7) at Atlanta (3-9), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Panthers numbers: Carolina’s 22 rush touchdowns allowed is the most through 12 games since the 2000 Cardinals. After taking on Atlanta’s 25th-ranked DVOA run game, the Panthers will play three teams ranked in the top-13 of rush offense DVOA (Seahawks, Colts, Saints), so more embarrassment could be on the way.
Inside Panthers roster: Despite Carolina’s struggles over the past two seasons, Ron Rivera should be a candidate elsewhere soon. But second-year owner David Tepper firing the two-time Coach of the Year was easy to anticipate, given his comments since arriving. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers stick with Cam Newton, as Kyle Allen has predictably shown he’s more a backup QB than a viable starter, given Newton’s relationship with Rivera. Tepper seeking a “modern” coach should point to the Panthers’ next leader having an offensive background.
Inside Falcons numbers: The offense is respectable, ranking 10th in EPA and 12th in points per drive (2.02). The Falcons are doing this despite a down season from QB Matt Ryan, who averages his fewest yards per attempt (7.3) since 2013 (6.9).
Inside Falcons roster: Some of the Falcons’ pass-protection issues in the Saints’ franchise-record-tying nine-sack performance stemmed from three offensive linemen being out, but backups Ty Sambrailo and Wes Schweitzer are ex-starters with several years’ experience. Atlanta’s line has underwhelmed throughout what’s been a wasted year for a veteran-laden roster. With the Falcons projected to be over the 2020 salary cap (without many cuts possible) and having used two first-round picks on linemen this year, the team will need to need to bargain shop for any upgrades it seeks for this unit.
Indianapolis (6-6) at Tampa Bay (5-7), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Colts numbers: The Colts have stubbornly stuck with a washed-up Adam Vinatieri, and it has cost them dearly. Vinatieri has missed eight field goals (tied for league lead with Robbie Gould) and six extra points (most in the league). His 30 points worth of missed kicks is by far the highest total in the league.
Inside Colts roster: Indianapolis is in a dire place at wide receiver. In addition to T.Y. Hilton battling injuries throughout the season, would-be No. 2 wideout Devin Funchess will not come off IR as the team once expected he would. Third-round rookie Parris Campbell has 115 yards receiving in five games and has not played since Week 9, and the Colts just placed auxiliary cog Chester Rogers on IR. QB Jacoby Brissett will have a difficult time keeping Indianapolis in the playoff race.
Inside Bucs numbers: Coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense has dealt with bad field position (sixth worst) due to an offense that owns the second-highest turnover rate (18.2 percent). But the group has prevailed with impressive situational football. The Bucs’ defense ranks 10th in takeaway rate (13.5 percent), and 14th in the red zone (54.3 percent).
Inside Bucs roster: Now two sacks from Warren Sapp’s season Bucs record of 16.5, pass-rusher Shaq Barrett looks like an extension no-brainer. But with he, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib on expiring contracts, this current Bucs strength spot will be a need area soon. JPP being willing to accept a discount or an incentive-laden deal would help, given his history, but Tampa Bay may need to consider an early-round edge rusher pick due to its uncertainty here and a pricey Barrett extension likely on tap.
Miami (3-9) at N.Y. Jets (4-8), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Dolphins numbers: A dose of Fitzmagic has made the Dolphins surprisingly competitive. Fitzpatrick ranks 12th among qualified quarterbacks in QBR (60). Since Week 9, the Dolphins rank 11th in points per game (24.6), a feat nobody would have figured possible after Miami entered the bye week averaging 6.5 points.
Inside Dolphins roster: The only borderline name-brand player in Miami’s patchwork secondary, Eric Rowe signed a three-year extension this week. This move may well check off one of the Dolphins’ many needs with the ex-Patriots cornerback-turned-Dolphins safety signed through 2022 and 2018 extension recipient Bobby McCain due back from injury next year. While the Dolphins need help nearly everywhere, they appear content with their in-house safeties.
Inside Jets numbers: The run defense has allowed a league-low 2.89 yards per rush attempt, 1.4 yards below the 2019 league average of 4.29. If the Jets can maintain that mark, they would top the Super Bowl era (since 1966) record held by the 2000 Ravens (-1.39 differential, with 2.69 yards per rush allowed versus league average of 4.08).
Inside Jets roster: C.J. Mosley’s top 2019 NFL contribution was changing the off-ball linebacker market, with his Jets deal representing a staggering $4.5 million-per-year markup from 2018’s top contract at the position. But a player who missed three games in five years with the Ravens is now on IR after missing most of the Jets’ 2019 snaps due to a nagging groin problem. The Jets will need a strong 2020 from Mosley to remotely justify this outlandish $17M-per-year price, because they cannot reasonably escape this contract until 2022.
San Francisco (10-2) at New Orleans (10-2), 1 p.m. ET
Inside 49ers numbers: In Week 13, the 49ers held Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson to a career-low 4.6 yards per pass attempt; he entered the game averaging a 10.1 yards per attempt over his previous three games. San Francisco’s secondary leads the NFL in fewest yards per pass attempt allowed (5.5) despite having played games against Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers.
Inside 49ers roster: Although San Francisco needed Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s second-round pick Deebo Samuel pick looks like a decision that will benefit many future 49er offenses. The rookie has become the reliable target the franchise hoped 2018 Round 2 choice Dante Pettis would be, with 564 yards and a strong midseason surge aiding Jimmy Garoppolo in the team’s biggest games in six years. Pettis should not be discarded just yet, given his impressive finish to last season, but Samuel has helped the 49ers cover for the second-year wideout’s disappearance and will be a key figure for the revitalized franchise.
Inside Saints numbers: The Saints are excellent producing stops on third down, allowing the sixth-lowest conversion rate (34.4 percent). Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is a driving force behind that success, as he is tied for second among all players with seven passes defended on third down.
Inside Saints roster: New Orleans has never really replaced tight end Jimmy Graham since trading him in 2015, but Jared Cook – his Thanksgiving drops notwithstanding – has proven to be a worthwhile investment at two years and $15 million. Since Drew Brees’ return from injury, the veteran tight end has exceeded 70 yards in three of his four games and has scored twice. Despite being 32, Cook is averaging 45.9 yards per game – the third most of his career – and at least gives defenses more to worry about than Ben Watson, Coby Fleener or Josh Hill did.
Detroit (3-8-1) at Minnesota (8-4), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Lions numbers: Detroit struggles to score without injured QB Matthew Stafford, going 0-4 and averaging 19 points in four games without him after going 3-4-1 and averaging 23.8 offensive points over eight games with him. Jeff Driskel and David Blough are mediocre, combining to average 6.7 yards per attempt (league average 7.3).
Inside Lions roster: Detroit almost has Pittsburgh outflanked on December’s weirdest quarterback starter. While David Blough did go to a Division I-FBS school (Purdue), unlike Devlin Hodges, he spent his first NFL months with the Browns before being traded to the Lions in August. With Jeff Driskel now on IR, Blough has an unusual opportunity to audition to be Matthew Stafford’s backup next year. These final four Lions games may look irrelevant on the surface, but considering Stafford’s back issues the past two years, identifying a future backup will be important.
Inside Vikings numbers: The Vikings are average on the road, ranking 16th in win percentage (.429) and 13th in point differential (+9). Conversely, are dominant at home (5-0), ranking third in point differential (+68) and sitting with the Patriots as the only team yet to lose.
Inside Vikings roster: Many of Minnesota’s recent-years extensions have benefited its defense – from Danielle Hunter to Everson Griffen to Eric Kendricks to Harrison Smith. But the Vikings’ Xavier Rhodes deal appears to have outlived its usefulness, with the $14 million-per-year cornerback exiting Week 13 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 109 player at this position. The Seahawks (badly) burned the former first-round pick and All-Pro for a 60-yard touchdown Monday. One of four first- or second-round corners on Minnesota’s roster, Rhodes, 29, runs the risk of being a trade or cut candidate next year.
Denver (4-8) at Houston (8-4), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s defense is tough to beat in the red zone, allowing the lowest touchdown rate in the league (39.4 percent). The secondary is particularly stout in the red area, allowing a first down or touchdown on a league-low 15.4 percent of red-zone pass plays.
Inside Broncos roster: Denver entered this season with each of its starting defensive linemen in a contract year, but frequent healthy scratch Adam Gotsis has faded out of the long-term picture and Derek Wolfe is now on IR. Wolfe and versatile defensive end Shelby Harris profile as extension candidates, and while a Justin Simmons re-up or a third Chris Harris deal may take precedence, the Broncos’ situation here should mean either Wolfe or Harris stays. Wolfe has said he wants a third Denver deal and made a case as a fit for head coach Vic Fangio, recording a career-high seven sacks pre-injury.
Inside Texans numbers: Deshaun Watson is enjoying unprecedented success to begin his career; he is on track to become the first quarterback in league history to post a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first three seasons. Watson is electric on third down, posting a 109.4 passer rating, helping Houston rank fourth in third- down conversion rate (45.8 percent).
Inside Texans roster: Overlooked amid one of the biggest wins in Texans history: a report indicating they plan to keep their GM-less setup in 2020. The Texans fired GM Brian Gaine in May, after barely a year on the job, and have used head coach Bill O’Brien as the new front office boss. O’Brien (50-42 as Texans HC) has not won enough to hold this job in non-emergency situations and has traded two first-round picks, a second-rounder, two third-rounders and Jadeveon Clowney since August. A GM-less blueprint is incredibly risky for the Texans, who were thought to make another run at Patriots exec Nick Caserio once his contract expires at season’s end.
Baltimore (10-2) at Buffalo (9-3), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Ravens numbers: Baltimore is on track to set Super Bowl-era records for yards per rush rush attempt (5.6) and total rushing yards (on pace for 3,325). All four of the Ravens’ remaining games are against teams ranked in the top half of defensive DVOA (Bills, Jets, Browns, Steelers).
Inside Ravens roster: Justin Tucker is the NFL’s highest-paid kicker, making $5 million annually. That fits nicely into the kicker price range, but with the salary barely $200,000 per year more than the second-highest-paid kicker, the Ravens have an incredible bargain. The most accurate kicker in NFL history just made perhaps the season’s most important field goal – his 49-yarder in the rain to beat the 49ers – and is on his way to what would be a record (for pure kickers) fourth first-team All-Pro honor. In a year featuring widespread kicker unreliability, the Ravens’ Tucker contract has never been more important.
Inside Bills numbers: The defense is superb, ranking third in fewest points allowed per drive (1.25). The secondary and pass rush have worked together beautifully, as the Bills are tied for second in passes defended (69) and eighth in sack rate (8.1 percent). That combination has Buffalo ranked third in opponent passer rating (78.5) and net yards per pass attempt (5.1).
Inside Bills roster: Josh Allen has accounted for 16 touchdowns and has thrown one interception since Week 7, and Buffalo’s offseason additions have undeniably aided his development. John Brown leads the Bills in receiving, and Cole Beasley has given the improving quarterback a consistent target. Signed for barely $7 million per year, Beasley is averaging a career-best 52.9 yards per game. Brown and Beasley’s combined salaries match ex-Bill Sammy Watkins’, and the lower-profile new tandem is on pace to give the Bills two 800-yard receivers for the first time since 2003.
Cincinnati (1-11) at Cleveland (5-7), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Bengals numbers: Defensive strides are being made in Cincinnati, as the Bengals have allowed just 13 points per game over the past three weeks. Improved pass defense is the key, as the Bengals have yielded a passer rating of just 82.8 over the last three weeks, after giving up a mark of 107.4 over their first nine games.
Inside Bengals roster: Cincinnati has gotten little from its past three first-round picks this season, with Jonah Williams (2019) out all season and John Ross (2017) missing much of it. Hope remains for each, however. But the Bengals’ 2018 first-rounder, center-guard Billy Price, is on the verge of “bust” status. The Bengals benched the ex-Ohio State standout again Sunday, replacing him at right guard with fourth-round rookie Michael Jordan. This came a week after Price was set to be replaced at guard by the now-injured Alex Redmond and months after he lost his center job in training camp.
Inside Browns numbers: Baker Mayfield has dipped significantly in his second season, ranking last among qualifiers in passer rating (79.9). He has struggled mightily to get on the same page with WR Odell Beckham, who is posting career-lows in receiving yards per game (67.1), receiving touchdowns per game (0.17), and catch rate (55.3 percent).
Inside Browns roster: An overmatched Freddie Kitchens and a regressing Mayfield are essentially wasting a year of Beckham prime. A player who once carried the 2016 Giants to the playoffs and may still be the game’s most talented receiver ranks 29th in the league, trailing four tight ends, in yards per game. The Browns owe Beckham a non-guaranteed $14 million salary next year, and while that setup makes him a valuable trade asset, Cleveland’s next play-caller must get more from the 27-year-old star.
Washington (3-9) at Green Bay (8-4), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Redskins numbers: Washington would like to see more flashes from rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, who has thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions. He has averaged only 6.0 yards per attempt over his 133 pass attempts. Better protection would go a long way, as Haskins has taken a high sack rate of 14.2 percent (22 sacks total).
Inside Redskins roster: It’s safe to say Quinton Dunbar has outplayed his contract. The Redskins did well to extend him at $3.4 million average annual value on New Year’s Day 2018 – the first day the former UDFA was extension-eligible – and have seen the fifth-year defender spend most of the season rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 cornerback. Head coach Bill Callahan benched $15M-per-year corner Josh Norman, a surefire cut candidate after this season, and the Redskins have won two straight games with Dunbar and Fabian Moreau working as their boundary corners. Expect Dunbar, whose contract runs through 2020, to seek a raise soon.
Inside Packers numbers: Green Bay’s passing attack is disappointingly average outside of the red zone, ranking 15th in yards per pass play (7.5) and 19th in passing first-down rate (32.2 percent). Inside the red zone has been a different story, as the Packers rank second in touchdown rate (70 percent) and eighth in passing conversion rate (36.8 percent).
Inside Packers roster: Even though Allen Lazard caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s snow game in East Rutherford, N.J.,, Green Bay does not have a reliable pass-catcher beyond Davante Adams. The Packers let Randall Cobb defect to the Cowboys in free agency, and he’s outplayed each of Green Bay’s younger auxiliary wideouts. With Jimmy Graham also a shell of his Pro Bowl self, GM Brian Gutekunst must address the team’s pass-catching situation in 2020 after ignoring it this year.
L.A. Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville (4-8), 4:05 p.m. ET
Inside Chargers numbers: L.A. has a 2-8 record in games decided by seven points or less, with three consecutive one-score losses entering Week 14. Los Angeles’ total of eight losses by seven points or less is tied for the most through a team’s first 12 games in NFL history (along with the 1993 Patriots and 2001 Lions).
Inside Chargers roster: Not much has gone well around him, but 15th-year linebacker Thomas Davis has shown he can still play. Signed to a two-year, $10.5 million deal in advance of his age-36 season, Davis has 96 tackles – 35 more than any other Charger. After considering retirement while still in Carolina, it is entirely possible he will be kept on Los Angeles’ payroll through the 2020 season. Not many off-ball ‘backers have been starters at age 37; London Fletcher in 2013 serves as the most recent example.
Inside Jaguars numbers: Nick Foles was highly ineffective after returning from injury, averaging 5.1 net yards per attempt and tossing just two touchdowns over 109 attempts (1.8 percent touchdown rate). Rookie Gardner Minshew, who remains 16th in net yards per attempt (6.1) and 17th in passer rating (91.1), should provide a boost as he makes his final pitch to become Jacksonville’s quarterback of the future.
Inside Jaguars roster: Going back to Minshew does not necessarily doom Foles in Jacksonville, but signing off on the Foles deal a year after authorizing the Blake Bortles extension does not look good for the Jaguars. The bizarre Bortles reinvestment tagged the franchise with $16.5 million in 2019 dead money, which forced cap-casualty cuts of starting defenders, and the Jags proceeded to give Foles $50M guaranteed despite perhaps bidding against themselves. Head coach Doug Marrone might not be the only scapegoat for the past two years; GM David Caldwell’s job could be in jeopardy.
Pittsburgh (7-5) at Arizona (3-8-1), 4:25 p.m. ET
Inside Steelers numbers: The Steelers’ pass rush is almost unstoppable in Pittsburgh, leading the NFL with 5.0 sacks per game and a 12.7 percent sack rate. The record for sacks at home in a season is 41, held by the 1985 Los Angeles Raiders. Conversely, the pass rush ranks 29th in sacks per game on the road (1.6).
Inside Steelers roster: Though they are winning games with a rookie UDFA from Division I-FCS Samford at quarterback, the Steelers still need their running game more than most contenders. James Conner has now missed seven games since becoming the starter last season, and he remains questionable going into Week 14. While he’s fared worse than his Pro Bowl 2018, Conner still represents an upgrade on the Benny Snell-Jaylen Samuels tandem. Conner’s injuries will affect his value when it comes time to see if the Steelers are up for negotiating an extension with Le’Veon Bell’s successor next year.
Inside Cardinals numbers: Arizona must get Kyler Murray back on track. He has averaged a minuscule 4.7 yards per attempt over his past two games (finishing with under 5.0 yards per attempt in each game). Getting Christian Kirk more involved needs to be a focal point. Kirk has averaged just 4.5 catches for 32 yards over his last two games, following a six-catch, 138-yard, three-touchdown breakout in Tampa Bay four weeks ago.
Inside Cardinals roster: The Cardinals, who have the NFL’s worst pass defense, allowed embattled Rams QB Jared Goff to throw for 424 yards in three quarters in Week 13. The secondary’s leader, Patrick Peterson, has struggled since his return from a six-game PED suspension but recently spoke of a desire for another Cardinals extension. Do the Cards want to pay top dollar for Peterson’s early 30s? By resisting trade interest the past two years, it would seem they would have to negotiate with the signed-through-2020 cornerback next year. Regardless of how this process goes, Arizona needs plenty of secondary help.
Tennessee (7-5) at Oakland (6-6), 4:25 p.m. ET
Inside Titans numbers: The Titans are 5-1 with an average of 29.7 points per game under Ryan Tannehill, versus 2-4 with an average of 14.7 points per game under Marcus Mariota. Tannehill leads qualified quarterbacks in passer rating (113.9) and yards per attempt (9.1)
Inside Titans roster: Tennessee interestingly did not pick up Jack Conklin’s fifth-year option in May, putting him on track for 2020 free agency. The right tackle who missed time in 2018 because two knee injuries has been a key part of Tennessee’s bludgeoning ground attack, helping Derrick Henry become a Pro Bowl candidate. The 2016 first-round pick (Pro Football Focus’ No. 16 overall tackle) resides in good position, after Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and Lane Johnson transformed the right tackle market this year. With Henry also a free agent next year, the Titans have some major decisions forthcoming.
Inside Raiders numbers: The Raiders will be thrilled to return home, where their 5-1 record is tied for third best in the league. Derek Carr, who posted a 62.7 passer rating over Oakland’s two-game road trip, will be looking to continue the success he had in the team’s three-game homestand from Weeks 9 to 11 (3-0 record, 109.2 passer rating, one interception over 92 passes).
Inside Raiders roster: Despite his strong debut that produced a win in Indianapolis, Trevor Davis received his walking papers barely two months after the Raiders traded for him. The return man/supporting cast wide receiver is now a Dolphin after a waiver claim. The Raiders have shuffled their receiver group many times this season and will enter the offseason with a glaring need. Fortunately, Oakland has two first-round picks in a draft expected to feature one of the best receiver talent pools in many years.
One of the issues Colin Kaepernick’s camp had with the workout set up by the NFL for the free-agent quarterback is they were informed on such short notice, and it will likely irritate Kaepernick and his people to hear how long the league spent planning the event.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent months working through details of a potential workout for Kaepernick and discussing the idea with some team owners, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. Initial discussions about Kaepernick began before the start of the regular season, and the idea to host a workout for Kaepernick was reportedly Goodell’s.
Goodell is said to have proposed the idea not long after the NFL announced a partnership with Jay-Z and his company, Roc Nation. Jay-Z reportedly pushed the NFL to hold the workout, but a source insisted to La Canfora it was Goodell who wanted to “do the right thing.”
“He really did a lot of this on his own, keeping everything very quiet,” the source told La Confora. “He probably spoke to 10 owners, at least. … He really wanted to do the right thing here, and I understand if some people will say that something should have happened sooner and it took too long, but you have to allow that there can be a course correction and Roger really did invest himself in this process.”
Kaepernick would likely argue Goodell should have involved him and his people in the planning process if their intentions were pure, but Goodell apparently wanted to wait to be sure he had support from at least 20 teams. We laid out previously how we believe the NFL was trying to protect itself against a second lawsuit from Kaepernick after his representatives issued a press release in October.
Of course, the information all depends on the sources. NFL sources are motivated to make it seem as though the Kaepernick workout was not a publicity stunt, while many believe Kaepernick doesn’t truly want to play football again and would rather further the narrative that he has been blacklisted by the league.
Kaepernick ended up holding his own private workout due to supposed issues over media access and a waiver the NFL asked him to sign. Around a handful of teams attended, but it does not sound like he is any closer to being signed than he was before the showcase.
In the AFC, the Ravens — who defeated the 49ers– took the lead in the race for No. 1 seed when the Patriots fell to the Texans in the Sunday night game. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 13 whip-around:
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HOUSTON 28, NEW ENGLAND 22
PATRIOTS (10-2): From owner Robert Kraft hoping to lure Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, to the rumblings of Tom Brady being against the Antonio Brown release, signs of Patriots unease with their aerial weaponry have persisted. New England’s offensive woes, James White’s garbage-time routine notwithstanding, continued in Houston. The Patriots’ weeks-long concern about their receiving situation manifested itself in a discombobulated effort. From 2007-18, the Pats featured at least two reliable receivers (in addition to White). Although both Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett returned to action Sunday, the Patriots’ current optimal lineup appears to contain one. The Texans gave Julian Edelman deserved attention and frequently forced Brady into awkward pocket shuffling. Brady (24-for-47, sub-7.0 yards per attempt for a fourth straight game) struggled against the Texans’ No. 26 DVOA pass defense. When the Pats’ defense runs into a high-caliber offense, as it did Sunday and will against the Chiefs, can Brady’s limited air support (and suddenly average rushing complement) keep up? GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
TEXANS (8-4): The Texans’ superior individual talent overwhelmed New England for the majority of the game. Most encouraging for Houston was the way Deshaun Watson performed against the Patriots’ vaunted pass defense. Watson repeatedly exploited New England’s linebackers in pass coverage, and when he had chances to take deep shots, he was able to hit them. The Patriots had allowed just four passing touchdowns entering the game, but Watson had three, and caught one from DeAndre Hopkins, to boot. Perhaps most striking was Bill O’Brien’s level of trust in his quarterback. The Texans didn’t attempt their 20th carry of the game until late in the fourth quarter, despite the stats suggesting New England’s run defense was its weakness. Watson rewarded O’Brien’s faith with the best game of his season, accounting for quality of opponent. If he continues playing this way, the Texans can beat anyone in the NFL.GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
2 of 16
BALTIMORE 20, SAN FRANCISCO 17
49ERS (10-2): In defeat, San Francisco may have done more to solidify itself as the class of the NFC than it did in any of its victories. The 49ers, who had a chance to win until the waning minutes, made QB Lamar Jackson (101 yards rushing) and Baltimore earn every yard. More impressive was San Francisco’s ability to move the ball on the Ravens; RB Raheem Mostert churned out 146 yards rushing, and despite terrible weather conditions, QB Jimmy Garoppolo was efficient (15-for-21, 165 yards), although his fumble did translate into a Ravens touchdown. Considering the degree to which Baltimore was throttling quality opponents, and the conditions favoring the Ravens’ running game and misdirection tendencies, San Francisco’s defensive performance, particularly in the second half, was encouraging. The Niners are primed for the Week 14 showdown against the Saints (10-2). GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: at Saints (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
RAVENS (10-2): Credit kicker Justin Tucker and the Ravens for persevering in terrible, rainy conditions. Tucker, who has missed only one field goal this season, booted the winning, 49-yard field goal as time expired. The 49ers’ excellent secondary took away Lamar Jackson’s deep passing, and San Francisco focused on stopping the Ravens’ running backs (77 rushing yards) more than it did the second-year QB, who was superb with his ball handling and play fakes. Jackson’s legs were the cheat code, as he led Baltimore in rushing (101 yards) by a wide margin. (He has rushed for more than 100 yards four times this season.) San Francisco’s defense played well, but no team can take away all the Ravens’ high-powered, multidimensional offense. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
3 of 16
PITTSBURGH 20, CLEVELAND 13
BROWNS (5-7): Minus defensive end Myles Garrett, suspended indefinitely for his role in the brawl the last time these teams played, Cleveland generated little pass rush. End Olivier Vernon’s limited role also cost the Browns, who dealt with other, lesser injuries on the D-line, as well as injuries in the secondary. As this game progressed, the Steelers exploited these weaknesses with deep passing and then eventually with a power running game that took its toll on a depleted unit. After being held to two yards in the first quarter, the Steelers racked up 321 in the final three quarters. Garrett’s absence may have cost the Browns a win. Cleveland’s playoff hopes are on life support. How embarrassing is it to lose to third-string rookie QB “Duck” Hodges. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
STEELERS (7-5): Lacking playmakers nearly all season, the Steelers may finally have found one in wide receiver James Washington, who went duck hunting last week with his quarterback, Delvin “Duck” Hodges. Heading into the rematch with the Browns, Washington had caught three or more balls in each of his last four games, accumulating 306 receiving yards in that stretch. Against the Browns, Washington led the Steelers with 111 yards receiving. He ran free deep late in the game, but Hodges didn’t see him. Washington is built almost like a running back, but with long legs and a high waistline. He builds up speed downfield and shows great ball skills, finding the football from tough body positions. As usual, the Steelers — one of the best teams in the league at drafting receivers — are developing their wideout talent. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
4 of 16
LA RAMS 34, ARIZONA 7
RAMS (7-5): Los Angeles has waited for this version of QB Jared Goff (424 yards passing) to show up, and as impressive as he was, it may be too little, too late. The Rams must hope division rival Seattle helps them out by handing Minnesota a loss Monday night, or else the Rams will remain two games back for the final wild-card spot with four games to play. Goff was well-protected all game, with the Cardinals sacking him just once. Protection was one element the Rams have missed all season, and a productive Todd Gurley was the other. Gurley was sharp, with 95 yards on just 19 carries, and Los Angeles was able to run the ball almost at will against Arizona, which came into the game 23rd in the league in yards allowed. The Rams still have a difficult road, but they at least showed that the dominant offense that carried them to a Super Bowl appearance isn’t completely gone. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
CARDINALS (3-8-1): Arizona might be tempted to use the 2020 draft to surround QB Kyler Murray with weapons, but it really needs help on defense above all else. During their current five-game losing streak, the Cardinals have allowed 31.8 points and 473.8 yards per game. The secondary is dreadful, as it entered the Rams game last in the NFL in yards and touchdowns allowed. Yet somehow it performed even worse than its normal standard against LA.; Jared Goff threw for 424 yards. Arizona is powerless to stop tight ends: Rams TE Tyler Higbee had seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. While wins and losses aren’t paramount, this loss represents a major step backward in the Cardinals’ development. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
5 of 16
GREEN BAY 31, NY GIANTS 13
PACKERS (9-3): The book for beating the Giants’ defense — which is solid against the run — is to attack it through the air. But the ugly, snowy conditions in East Rutherford, N.J., figured to play to New York’s advantage. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, however, showed off his veteran guile, dealing superbly with the poor weather (four TD passes). “I admit I was a little worried that it might be more rain than snow,” he told reporters after the game. “When those big flakes were falling down, I felt pretty good about our chances.” There is an art to throwing the ball in wind, cold and precipitation, and clearly Rodgers understands this. But there is also value in having immense arm talent, which Rodgers still has to rival just about any passer in the game. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Redskins (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
GIANTS (2-10): Daniel Jones, who tossed three interceptions, continues to be a turnover machine. The rookie QB has 21 turnovers in 11 games, 10 fumbles lost and 11 interceptions. Jones also recorded his league-leading 15th fumble, but the Giants recovered it. His effectiveness has also dwindled, as Jones is averaging 6.0 yards per attempt over his past eight starts (in which the Giants are 0-8) after posting an impressive mark of 8.4 over his first two starts (in which the Giants went 2-0). Three of New York’s final four games are against teams ranked in the bottom half of takeaway rate. Jones must secure the football to build some hope surrounding his potential going into 2020.For those counting, this is the third straight season the Giants have lost 10 or more games.GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Eagles (Mon., Dec. 9)
— Michael Nania
6 of 16
MIAMI 37, PHILADELPHIA 31
EAGLES (5-7): Philadelphia’s solid pass defense, which entered Week 13 ranked 10th in DVOA, was surprisingly torched by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR DeVante Parker. Fitzpatrick threw for 365 yards on 39 pass attempts, averaging an impressive 9.4 yards per attempt. Parker had a dominant performance, making highlight grab after highlight grab (seven catches for career-best 159 yards) and scoring two touchdowns. The Eagles’ pass rush did its part, racking up 11 quarterback hits, but the secondary failed to take advantage, consistently losing in contested catch situations. Three of Philadelphia’s final four games are against the Giants (twice) and Redskins (once), so there is no excuse for the pass-defending struggles to continue against bad competition. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Giants (Mon., Dec. 9)
— Michael Nania
DOLPHINS (3-9): During a season designed to be one of the worst in franchise history, the Dolphins have observed a breakout from a player they hoped would produce years ago. Once in danger of being traded or cut, DeVante Parker has become the consistent wide receiver the franchise’s previous front office envisioned. Parker’s seven-catch, 159-yard, two-touchdown game elevated the Dolphins to their season’s best win and further solidified the 2015 first-round pick’s status as a dependable target. Parker out-jumped Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby for two chunk plays – the first such sequence including some careful sideline steps on a 43-yard touchdown – and made a contested touchdown catch against Jalen Mills in a major upset. Dolphins GM Chris Grier gave Parker a two-year, $13 million deal this offseason; he’s outplayed that contract. The ex-doghouse occupant now has a career-most 854 receiving yards. Still just 26, Parker now profiles as a cornerstone player for a team lacking them. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
7 of 16
KANSAS CITY 40, OAKLAND 9
RAIDERS (6-6): Facing a Chiefs defense that counts cornerback as its lowest-profile spot, investment-wise, the Raiders completed a grand total of four passes (for 34 yards) to wide receivers. While Oakland’s receiving corps was supposed to include Antonio Brown and just lost Hunter Renfrow, such an outing is unacceptable for an NFL offense. Nominal No. 1 wideout Tyrell Williams has caught three passes for 27 yards over the past two games. Williams must produce if the Raiders are to have a shot at reviving their playoff hopes. The ex-Charger wideout’s four-year contract contains no fully guaranteed money after 2019. If Williams cannot help Derek Carr’s Darren Waller-dependent aerial corps down the stretch, the Raiders will balk at his $11 million base salary next season. The Antonio Brown trade deterred Jon Gruden and Co. from targeting a receiver early in the draft, hurting this year’s team. Gruden and GM Mike Mayock will be prepared to draft one early in 2020. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
CHIEFS (8-4): Kansas City employed one of this decade’s premier safeties for years, but Eric Berry’s injuries proved costly. Daniel Sorensen and a hobbled Berry started last season’s AFC Championship Game, but the Chiefs could not stop Tom Brady in crunch time. The Chiefs threw key resources at the problem this offseason, adding Tyrann Mathieu on a position-record-tying $14 million-per-year contract and drafting Juan Thornhill in the second round. Mathieu and Thornhill justified the investments Sunday, forcing the Raiders to play catch-up. Each intercepted a pass; both picks led to touchdowns. Mathieu’s coverage fooled Derek Carr and set up Darrel Williams’ first-quarter score, and Thornhill took a Carr pass back for a 46-yard second-quarter TD. None of Thornhill’s 13 INTs at Virginia went for touchdowns. His second NFL pick helped compensate for the Chiefs’ 259 yards Sunday and highlighted the potential the franchise sees in a Mathieu-Thornhill long-term tandem. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
8 of 16
DENVER 23, LA CHARGERS 20
CHARGERS (4-8): What a way to squander a game. The Bolts allowed the Broncos to kick a walk-off field goal after a one-play drive that began at Denver’s 28-yard line. After the Chargers tied the score, cornerback Casey Hayward barreled into Courtland Sutton to give a listless Broncos offense 37 yards. While the call was questionable, the Bolts’ penchant for unique losses is not. Facing a Broncos team also excellent at crafting final-minute defeat blueprints, the Chargers did their best to help their opponent by mismanaging the clock and committing two false-start penalties on a late fourth down. The Chargers are closing out a largely wasted decade – one featuring numerous endings such as Sunday’s in Denver – and with QB Philip Rivers near the end of his NFL career, the perennial underachievers will enter the 2020s with far less certainty. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BRONCOS (4-8): Trading Pro Bowl wideouts in each of the past two Octobers, Denver depleted its pass-catching situation considerably. Courtland Sutton has helped compensate, the 2018 second-round pick joining Phillip Lindsay as a cornerstone piece on an offense largely lacking them. Propping up Drew Lock like he did Brandon Allen in his debut, Sutton has now produced with three quarterbacks this season. His first-half work – highlighted by one of this season’s premier catches – saved a Broncos offense that (again) accomplished little after halftime. Lock averaged a Paxton Lynch-ian 4.8 yards per attempt; 74 of the rookie’s 134 yards went to his 6-foot-4 weapon. Sutton’s deft tumble to draw a game-deciding pass interference penalty also halted the Broncos’ trend of late-game collapses. While not on Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders’ levels yet, Sutton is on his way. The jump-ball maven is on pace to eclipse 1,200 yards and makes for a stealth Pro Bowl candidate in a down season for AFC receivers. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
9 of 16
TAMPA BAY 28, JACKSONVILLE 11
BUCS (5-7): Tampa Bay’s defense was dominant, forcing QB Nick Foles and his four-year, $88 million contract to the bench in just his third start since returning from injury. The Buccaneers racked up five sacks and 10 quarterback hits. Leading the unit was OLB Shaquil Barrett, who picked up two sacks to bring his total to a league-leading 14.5. Barrett had four quarterback hits, giving him nine over his past two games. The Buccaneers also lived up to their No. 1 ranking in run defense DVOA, holding Jacksonville to 47 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per attempt. Head coach Bruce Arians’ team has a nearly even point differential at -6 and is 5-7 despite a 2-4 record in close games (decided by seven points or fewer). He has the Bucs playing around an average level, a step up from where they were the previous two seasons. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
JAGUARS (4-8): Nick Foles was abysmal against a Buccaneers defense that entered the game second-worst in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Foles threw an interception, lost two fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and was completely ineffective before giving way to Gardner Minshew to start the second half. Foles got $88 million from the Jaguars, including $50.125 million guaranteed, but Minshew has looked like the better, more effective player this season. Foles isn’t going anywhere, because he has a $33.875 million dead cap hit for 2020, but while the Jaguars don’t have much to play for as a team the rest of this season, Foles needs to finish strongly to prove that Jacksonville made a smart investment. If Foles fails to inspire, Jacksonville will have to consider making the starting quarterback job an open competition next season. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
10 of 16
CINCINNATI 22, NEW YORK JETS 6
JETS (4-8): On a day when the Jets’ mini-resurgence died, their offensive line showed why GM Joe Douglas will conduct an offseason overhaul. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap dominated Jets right tackle Brandon Shell, a former starter back in the lineup due to injuries. Dunlap registered three sacks; Sam Hubbard beat guard Tom Compton for another. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum committed three of the O-line’s seven penalties, including a holding infraction that resulted in a safety. Le’Veon Bell’s dreadful 2019 continued with a 10-carry, 32-yard day against Cincinnati’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Beachum had played better in recent weeks but joins Shell as a free agent-to-be, and no guaranteed money remains on injured right guard Brian Winters’ deal. All five of the Jets’ Week 1 O-line starters are good bets to be elsewhere next season. A 16-point loss to an 0-11 team should accelerate Douglas’ long-anticipated revamp of the perennially poor unit. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BENGALS (1-11): This downtrodden franchise has plenty of needs. Defensive line might not be one of them. Against the Jets, end Carlos Dunlap demonstrated he can abuse lesser offensive tackles. Tackle Geno Atkins may have lost a slight step, but he remains a potent interior disruptor. Andrew Billings is a nice complement on early downs to Atkins, excelling against the run with his great strength and power. Hubbard and Carl Lawson are young up-and-comers off the edge. With Cincinnati’s first win, the pressure may be off for the Bengals, who can focus now on securing the No. 1 overall pick. Kidding. (I think.) GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
11 of 16
TENNESSEE 31, INDIANAPOLIS 17
TITANS (7-5): Tennessee showed off its new-found resilience and offensive explosiveness under QB Ryan Tannehill. Despite a 17-7 deficit and lots of pressure (six sacks), Tannehill did not blink. The Titans’ offensive prowess was most on display after Tennessee intercepted Jacoby Brissett while up 24-17. Tannehill then hit Kalif Raymond for a 40-yard touchdown to effectively ice the game. That the Titans went for it all on 3rd-and-6 instead of playing conservatively shows how much faith they have in their quarterback, who replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota in Week 7. Tennessee is still out of playoff position, but should it get in, the Titans will be dangerous because of their offense. Imagine that. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
COLTS (6-6): Another game, another kicking disaster for the Colts. Adam Vinatieri was already 1-for-3 on field goals when he lined up for a 46-yarder that would have put Indianapolis ahead 20-17. But the kick was blocked — why, of course — and returned for a touchdown. Indianapolis’ efforts to come back were further hampered by a Jacoby Brissett interception. Head coach Frank Reich’s loyalty to Vinatieri has cost the Colts multiple games; if Indianapolis got even slightly better than league average kicking, it would be at least two and possibly three or four games better in the standings. The Colts probably will miss the playoffs; they have no one to blame but themselves. GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Bucs (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
12 of 16
WASHINGTON 29, CAROLINA 21
REDSKINS (3-9): Washington took full advantage of Carolina’s 31st-ranked DVOA run defense. The Redskins racked up 248 yards on 30 rush attempts, averaging a 8.3 yards per rush. They rushed for three touchdowns, two by Derrius Guice and one by Adrian Peterson. Guice picked up 129 yards on 10 carries, finally breaking out after averaging 24.7 yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry over his first three career games. The run game bailed out rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, who was extremely ineffective (3.8 net yards per pass attempt). At least he didn’t take a selfie with a fan during this game. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
PANTHERS (5-7): Ron Rivera’s defense continues to be embarrassed against the run. Carolina, which entered Week 13 ranked 31st in both run defense EPA and DVOA, was shredded on the ground by a Redskins offense ranked 30th in rush offense DVOA. Washington ran for 248 yards, more than 100 yards greater than their previous season-best. The Panthers have yielded a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns and have given up at least 100 yards on the ground in all but two games. Each of Carolina’s final three games will be against teams that currently rank in the top half of rush offense DVOA. More humiliating efforts in run defense could be on the way, potentially sending Rivera out the door. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
13 of 16
NEW ORLEANS 26, ATLANTA 18
SAINTS (10-2): The pass rush went berserk on Thanksgiving, taking down Matt Ryan for nine sacks (tying his career-high). That total also tied the Saints’ franchise record, set in 2001 (at Falcons) and 1985 (vs. Rams). End Cameron Jordan led the charge with a career-best four sacks, bringing his season total to a career-high 13.5. Through games played Thursday, New Orleans was tied for third in quarterback hits per game (7.0) and ranked eighth in sack rate (8.0 percent). The Saints’ dominant pass rush will be tested down the stretch as New Orleans seeks the NFC’s top seed. Two solid offensive lines await in the next two games (49ers and Colts). GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
FALCONS (3-9): Against New Orleans, Matt Ryan averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt over 50 passes and threw two interceptions. While not entirely his fault, Ryan is playing some of the most ineffective football of his career, posting a 77.8 passer rating (league average 91.2 through Thursday) and averaging 5.0 net yards per attempt (league average 6.3) over his past five games. On the season, Ryan has averaged 5.9 adjusted net yards per attempt (which adjusts for sacks, touchdowns and interceptions), slightly below the league average of 6.2. It is the worst season mark compared to league average that Ryan has posted in his career. Perhaps Atlanta should bench him and keep him healthy for 2020. GAME GRADE: C– | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
14 of 16
CHICAGO 24, DETROIT 20
BEARS (6-6): Don’t celebrate yet, Bears fans, but QB Mitch Trubisky is playing better. In the first eight games, he mostly dinked and dunked. Over the past month, he has thrown deeper downfield. Trubisky was especially effective working the intermediate portions of the field against the Lions, who dared him to beat them downfield by playing mostly man coverage. Oddly, the Lions rarely sent added pressure. Trubisky’s lone interception, to CB Darius Slay early in the second half, was a poorly placed throw against tight man coverage. But other than that, Trubisky was solid, with several impressive throws to Anthony Miller (nine catches for 140 yards), who abused cornerback Justin Coleman. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Thurs.)
— Matt Williamson
LIONS (3-8-1): There were several positives for the Lions. Their wideouts owned Chicago’s cornerbacks in the first half, and the pass protection — it was a smart move to double up against Khalil Mack — was solid for rookie QB David Blough, who made his first career start. Blough stood strong in the pocket, allowing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones time to set up the Bears corners. Blough’s poise was noteworthy and his accuracy (22-for-38 for 280 yards) stood out. He often looked for TJ Hockenson (11 targets), a smart move, although the rookie tight end had only six catches for 18 yards. Detroit’s offense dried up in the second half after Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano made adjustments to help Chicago’s cornerbacks and Mack came to life. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
15 of 16
BUFFALO 26, DALLAS 15
BILLS (9-3): After using Ed Oliver on most of their defensive snaps during the season’s first half, the Bills demoted their first-round pick entering November. Oliver’s resurgence over the past three weeks showed why Buffalo used the ninth overall pick on him. Despite coming off the bench for the fifth straight game, the rookie defensive tackle unveiled a ceiling few Bills have possessed this century. The compact interior rusher sacked Dak Prescott twice – the first featuring a game-changing strip – and registered a tackle for loss. After going nine games without sacking a quarterback, the ex-Houston Cougars tackles-for-loss dynamo has four in Buffalo’s past three games. Rarely given nationally televised opportunities, the Bills made the most of this one. Oliver’s dominance of Cowboys backup left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo helped change the narrative of the Bills being a product of weak competition and served notice that they won’t be a wild-card pushover. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun)
— Sam Robinson
COWBOYS (6-6): Dallas continued its struggles against elite competition, falling to 0-5 in games against teams that currently have a winning record. The same issue that plagued Jason Garrett’s squad in previous games against strong opponents was evident against Buffalo: turnovers. The Cowboys coughed up the football twice in the first half, setting up Buffalo with a lead it would not relinquish. Dallas failed to take the ball away from Josh Allen’s offense. In its five games against winning teams, Dallas has lost the turnover battle 10 to one. Good news for the Cowboys: Three of Dallas’ final four games are against .500 or worse teams — the lone exception is the Rams (7-5). GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Chicago (Thurs.)
— Michael Nania
16 of 16
MONDAY: MINNESOTA AT SEATTLE
VIKINGS (8-3): The offensive line is far better than it was in 2018, but it is still inconsistent, and it will face a Seattle defense boosted by the returns of end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Jarran Reed, Seattle’s two best defensive linemen. This game sets up well for Kirk Cousins, who is light years better than most seem to realize (2,756 yards passing, 70.6 percent complete percentage). Wide receivers and tight ends have put up a lot of production against Seattle, so look for a big game from Cousins if his O-line can deliver a solid game. NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
SEAHAWKS (9-2): Although he has only three sacks, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, returning from an injury, will be a welcome addition. Per Pro Football Reference, Clowney ranks eighth in the league with 14 hurries, despite being sent on a designed blitz just once all season, and nine quarterback knockdowns (11th in the NFL). The Vikings have balance on offense, but their resurgence after a slow start is largely connected to Kirk Cousins’ improved play. Clowney’s ability to disrupt the pocket against Minnesota – even if he can’t generate sacks – is integral to Seattle’s defense holding up. Clowney might not be filling the stat sheet with traditional counting stats, but there is no denying that his return gives an otherwise mediocre Seahawks defense (21st in the league entering Week 13) some teeth. NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
In most circumstances, the Eagles’ uninspired loss at home to the Seahawks would have spelled the end of their season. It marked the second week in a row they failed a test against one of the league’s contenders, this time to drop them a game under .500, putting them three back in the NFC wild-card race with five to play.
Were it not for the happenstance of being in 2019’s weakest division, Philly couldn’t be blamed too severely for packing it in and just going through the motions the rest of the way. Thankfully for the team’s sake, the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys have proved just as inept against the top tier of the NFL. They too failed in their bid to upset New England, as Philly did the week before, meaning the Cowboys only have a single-game lead for what promises to be the division’s only playoff berth.
Whereas Dallas appears to be hamstrung by clueless coaching, the entire offense is out of sorts for the Eagles. The line’s performance has dropped off, especially with the absence of Lane Johnson, whose rookie backup had to be benched at halftime. Guard Brandon Brooks, arguably one of the best interior linemen in the league, also had to leave in the first quarter with an illness due to his anxiety disorder. The receivers have been riddled by drops, and that’s even when they’re at full strength, which they weren’t on Sunday. The league’s official count puts them in the top 10 in drops with 14, though by a local reporter’s account, it was actually 23 going into Sunday.
Against Seattle, Carson Wentz had one of the worst outings of his career, and this is facing a far cry from the peak years of Seahawks’ defensive dominance under Pete Carroll. Wentz missed open looks while staring down other receivers. He was off target on screens, including a drive-killing overthrow to Miles Sanders to limit what might have been an early touchdown drive to a field goal. Wentz’s overall completion numbers on the day look respectable, but that’s mostly because, with the quarterback’s confidence shaken and his hand hurt, the play-callers limited him to short if ineffective dump passes. On the day, Wentz only compiled 256 yards on 45 throws, yielding an anemic 5.7-yard average per attempt.
Wentz dinged his hand attempting to recover one of his two lost fumbles, part of a four-turnover day. Reporters observed him leaving the training room with his throwing hand wrapped in ice and a huge bandage after the game. X-rays were conducted on the hand during the game, and the results were negative, though further tests Monday did reveal a bone bruise. Last year’s back injury, originally diagnosed as fine, has to cause concern for anyone wanting to casually wave off an injury scare for Wentz. Even if it isn’t a debilitating issue, it provides the Eagles an opportunity to give him a breather, let him recover physically and gather his nerves.
There might be mitigating circumstances for some of Wentz’s problems — bad weather, depleted supporting cast — but this is the NFL, so disproportionate blame for losses comes with the territory every bit as much as effulgent praise accompanies triumph for the quarterback. Hordes of Eagles fans spent Sunday afternoon lamenting the team allowing Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles escape to Jacksonville, though he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire there, and keeping Wentz on account of the draft capital the team used on him in 2016.
As little as Eagles fans want to have Dallas used as an example for their team, Dak Prescott offers a teachable lesson within the division. Quarterback progression is not always linear. Some quarterbacks go through periods of regression within their development before hitting their peak. Prescott has emerged out of the other end of a slump period when he looked like he might be middling at best. Wentz has had a down season after what had mostly been upward trajectory through his first three years, though injuries might have delayed this cycle of development by costing him time and reps.
Normally, the best course of action would be to ride it out. Sometimes quarterbacks just have to work through the tough times and smooth out mechanical or mental errors with the lessons learned by mistakes. But the fact that the Eagles remain in contention despite their poor record, and the fact that Wentz has at least something of a medical issue, allows them to be bold in this instance. Turning to the 40-year-old Josh McCown would be the move only if they wanted to wave the white flag on 2019. No, the Eagles should be the team that brings Colin Kaepernick back into the NFL.
After all, the Eagles were one of the eight teams to attend Kaepernick’s rescheduled workout last week. Philly has long been identified as one of the more likely landing spots for Kaepernick if he did return, as the team has been more receptive than most to players committed to social justice issues. What’s more, bringing in Kaepernick now allows Philly to be proactive about its QB situation. McCown already retired before joining the Eagles for a backup job this year. It’s unlikely a veteran of that age would be worth such a potentially significant role. Kaepernick easily upgrades the Eagles at potential backup, and if he does well enough down the stretch, he could potentially serve as competition for the starting role with Wentz next season. Depending on how ownership circles really feel, the league might have a measure of gratitude to the Eagles for bearing the brunt of the media circus likely to accompany his return — and for defanging one of the more damaging critiques of the league in recent years.
This cycle of speculation has played out over and over since Kaepernick was last employed, though the league has only itself to blame for keeping it going in this case. Even if the unilaterally scheduled workout was a bad-faith effort at showing an attempt to get Kaepernick a job, it did bring him back into the headlines, in a context that reinforces his readiness for action. The Eagles as an organization aren’t obligated to bail out the NFL by any stretch, but they can do themselves and the league at large a lot of good by taking the plunge.
The Browns showed signs of life. Frank Gore passed Barry and the Bengals all-but-clinched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 12 whip-around. 1 of 18
HOUSTON 20, INDIANAPOLIS 17
Deshaun Watson continues to play at an MVP level.
Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
COLTS (6-5): The Colts are still very much alive, but once again, their inability to get the details just right, something that propelled them to a 5-2 start, did them in against Houston. This time head coach Frank Reich was at fault, as he burned a timeout to set up a pivotal fourth-down play with just under three minutes left and his team trailing by three. Instead of having a decisive call ready, Indianapolis decided to talk things over despite the clock already being stopped. That ended up costing the Colts dearly, as the Texans, who otherwise would have had to give Indy the ball back with at least some time to spare, instead were able to run out the clock. The Colts know they have little margin for error; all but one of their games this season has been decided by seven points or fewer. That makes Reich’s blunder all the more unforgivable. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
TEXANS (7-4): Deshaun Watson restored some semblance of order to the AFC South proceedings. A month after Jacoby Brissett outdueled him in Indianapolis, Watson got a major measure of revenge, thoroughly outplaying his counterpart and rallying the Texans to a win. The game was a case study in what Houston is all about. The Colts got a more balanced effort, and did enough to win, but spectacular star-level production from Watson and DeAndre Hopkins carried the day. Star power won in this instance, but the Texans have proved fallible enough that even though they have the best quarterback and best wide receiver in the division, success is not guaranteed. If they want to have a better chance at putting a stranglehold on things, they could start by fixing a run defense that has given up 431 yards in the last two games. The Patriots have a terrible rushing attack, so stifling them next week would be a good step in that direction. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
2 of 18
BUFFALO 20, DENVER 3
BRONCOS (3-8) : Denver’s near-four-year offensive lull has sunk the franchise to its lowest place in the NFL hierarchy since the early 1970s. Sunday in Buffalo represented the post-Peyton Manning basement. The Broncos completed 10 passes and gave Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman a combined 15 carries, ending with 134 total yards. That is the third-lowest NFL figure this season – behind only two Sam Darnold-less Jets outings – and the 12th-lowest Denver output in the Broncos’ 60-year history. This was the Broncos’ worst yardage day in 27 years. Considering Brandon Allen’s inexperience, his 10-for-25, 82-yard showing should not be too surprising. Still, this game illuminated better than any other one during the franchise’s post-2015 tailspin just how lost the Broncos are. It is time to bring Drew Lock off IR. Even if circumstances are not favorable for the rookie, Vic Fangio is wrong. It is vital the second-round pick debuts this year, because the Broncos need to know if they have to consider a 2020 first-round quarterback. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BILLS (8-3): Although Frank Gore surpassing Barry Sanders for third on the all-time rushing list was Sunday’s statistical takeaway from Buffalo, the outing doubled as one this NFL season’s best defensive performances. Buffalo held Denver to 134 total yards; and Tre’Davious White continued his Pro Bowl push in the process. Courtland Sutton has produced despite Denver’s myriad offensive issues this season, authoring a quiet breakout while working with an on-his-way-out-of-the-league Joe Flacco and first-time starter Brandon Allen. White led the way in shutting down the Broncos’ top weapon Sunday. Sutton finished with one catch for a season-low 27 yards, and White’s interception on a miscommunication between Allen and the 6-foot-4 wideout stopped a prime Broncos scoring chance. White also matched his season high with four passes defensed. The third-year defender represents the Bills’ best defensive chess piece for when this top-end pass defense encounters better offenses, and he will become the Bills’ first Pro Bowl corner since Nate Clements in 2004. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Cowboys (Thurs.)
— Sam Robinson
3 of 18
TAMPA BAY 35, ATLANTA 22
BUCS (4-7): Tampa Bay’s run defense, which entered Week 12 ranked No. 1 in DVOA, continues to be dominant . In Atlanta, the Buccaneers held the Falcons to just 57 rushing yards on 19 carries, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt. The Falcons’ running backs combined for only 34 yards on 17 totes (2.0 per attempt). The impact of new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been strongly felt in run defense. He can be a positive presence as the season progresses, and Tampa Bay should look to keep him around. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
FALCONS (3-8): On their own field against the Buccaneers’ 30th-ranked pass defense (according to DVOA), the Falcons simply could not get anything going in the passing game . Matt Ryan tossed 55 passes but managed just 271 yards and took six sacks. Ryan finished the game averaging 4.3 net yards per attempt, and his 59.3 passer rating was his worst at home since Week 14 of 2017. At 3-8, the Falcons should consider shutting down Ryan and keeping him fresh for 2020. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Saints (Thurs.)
— Michael Nania
4 of 18
CLEVELAND 41, MIAMI 24
DOLPHINS (2-9) : Considering the Bengals have surprisingly outflanked the Dolphins to the No. 1 overall pick position, and with Tua Tagovailoa having suffered a stock-altering injury, it would behoove Miami to try Josh Rosen again. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick keeping him benched throughout Sunday’s loss in Cleveland points is telling. It points to a scenario in which the Dolphins ditch Rosen and keep Fitzpatrick next year. Despite being nearly 37 and playing behind a horrid offensive line, Fitzpatrick has made Miami’s passing attack look competent – a better developmental situation. The Dolphins could use their 2020 draft haul to load up on best-available talent to strengthen their roster for a possible Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields pick in 2021. However, too much improvement would hinder those plans. Miami’s best chance to land a quarterback without sacrificing a lot in draft-night trades would be selecting one next year, and Fitz would make a strong mentor-caretaker starter in the event the team goes quarterback next year. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BROWNS (5-6): Maybe it is too late, maybe not, but the Browns at 5-6 are really starting to turn it on in November. Baker Mayfield looks better every week, and it looks as though he is finally developing chemistry and timing with Odell Beckham. Kareem Hunt has been a very welcome addition without eating into Nick Chubb’s output. But this day was about former Dolphin Jarvis Landry, who is easy to overlook amongst all of Cleveland’s offensive star power. A sharp and powerful route runner, Landry proved again to be Mayfield’s most trusted target and found the end zone twice while catching 10 passes for 148 yards as the Browns scored 41 points. Landry plays the game with passion and aggression and didn’t hide that this was a “Revenge Game” against Miami. That passion and great play rubbed off on his young teammates, and now they head to Pittsburgh in a game that will not be short on emotion. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
5 of 18
CHICAGO 19, NY GIANTS 14
GIANTS (2-9): Big Blue’s young offensive centerpieces had a rough day at the office in Chicago . Saquon Barkley continued his poor stretch, rushing for just 59 yards on 17 carries (3.5 per attempt). Daniel Jones was flustered on the road against Chicago’s tough defense, averaging a paltry 3.6 net yards per attempt (league average: 6.3). The road ahead doesn’t get any easier, as the Packers and Eagles await next. New York needs its young stars to step up against the tougher competition. GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
BEARS (5-6) : Hey, Mitch Trubisky certainly wasn’t great in this win, but can we at least concede that he is playing better than he was early in the season? Last year, he was very inconsistent. He missed too many easy throws but made up for it to some degree with a handful of big throws per game and some dynamic runs. Chicago’s defense was better in 2018 than it is now, but Trubisky is getting back to the formula he showed last year of late rather than the inability to complete passes that we saw to begin the year. Trubisky made several highly impressive throws downfield against the Giants and quickly realized that New York had no one who could cover Allen Robinson. Trubisky also showed toughness and athletic ability as a runner. Today, we saw the 2018 version of Trubisky, which is good enough and without question, he was the best quarterback on that field on Sunday. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Lions (Thurs.)
— Matt Williamson
6 of 18
WASHINGTON 19, DETROIT 16
LIONS (3-7-1) : The Lions are 3-7-1, without their starting quarterback and just lost to the Redskins. Matthew Stafford’s replacement, Jeff Driskel, is a good athlete, but he was under a ton of pressure in this contest. Driskel was sacked six times (it could have been more) and threw three interceptions as a result of the pressure more often than not. While it is often overlooked, Washington does have a very good defensive front. But this constant pressure was alarming when considering how much Detroit has invested in its offensive line. The Lions have shown to have a very good downfield passing game, but they simply couldn’t protect long enough on the road to go downfield with any regularity. Also, the revolving door at the running back position has clearly been problematic in protection, not only with execution of blocks but also with communication and knowing which pass-rushers to even block. GAME GRADE: D+ | NEXT: vs. Bears (Thurs.)
— Matt Williamson
REDSKINS (2-9): Dwayne Haskins picked up his first win, but the Redskins still need to see more from him down the stretch . Haskins missed numerous throws and was helped out by some monster catches from Terry McLaurin. Haskins finished with only 4.5 net yards per pass attempt and a 47.5 passer rating at home against Detroit’s 26th-ranked DVOA defense. The Redskins can do a better job helping him out, but Haskins needs to start showing signs of potential more frequently. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
7 of 18
NEW ORLEANS 34, CAROLINA 31
PANTHERS (5-6): Despite the loss, Carolina has to be thrilled with the performances of its young offensive stars on the road against New Orleans’ 5th-ranked DVOA defense . After four games with a sub-90 passer rating, Kyle Allen tossed three touchdown passes and no picks as he earned a 112.7 rating, his best since Week 1. D.J. Moore went for 126 receiving yards, his fourth straight game with 95-plus yards. Christian McCaffrey caught for 69 yards and ran for 64, scoring once in each phase. The present is bleak, but more wins should come for Carolina if its offensive stars continue to play like this. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Redskins (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
SAINTS (9-2): Michael Thomas, who entered Week 12 with an 83.2 percent catch rate, continues to be incredibly reliable. Against the Panthers, Thomas caught 10 of 11 targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. That extended his streak of 100-yard games to five straight, his career-best. Until somebody proves they can stop Thomas, the Saints offense looks like it cannot be halted. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Falcons (Thurs.)
— Michael Nania
8 of 18
NY JETS 34, OAKLAND 3
RAIDERS (6-5): Considering what the Raiders’ offense had accomplished this month, and the personnel they faced in New Jersey, Sunday’s letdown has the potential to be season-altering. Oakland’s offensive line possessed a clear trench advantage, and its pass catchers were facing a Jets cornerback corps that’s among the league’s worst. The result: key drops, zero red zone appearances and a third-quarter Derek Carr benching a week away from the biggest game of the Raiders’ second Jon Gruden era to date. No Raider wide receiver eclipsed 31 yards. Against a makeshift Jets boundary cornerback contingent, Raiders outside receivers combined for four receptions for 23 yards. Arrowhead Stadium is far more imposing than MetLife’s Raider-friendlier atmosphere, and the Chiefs possess a significant talent edge on the Jets. Gruden’s bunch looking like this ventures beyond the trap-game parameters. With Andy Reid posing as a Bill Walsh-Paul Brown hybrid after bye weeks, the Raiders’ playoff hopes took a major hit Sunday. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
JETS (4-7): Entering Sunday with the NFL’s three worst yardage performances this season, the Jets have now scored 34 points in three straight games – doing so for the first time since the Brett Favre-piloted 2008 season. After preying on the Giants’ and Redskins’ low-end defenses, the Jets shredded a Raiders unit that had played well recently. Adam Gase’s game plan was on point. Five Jets – Robby Anderson, Braxton Berrios, Le’Veon Bell, Vyncint Smith and Demaryius Thomas – posted at least one 20-yard reception, and Sam Darnold’s fourth career 300-plus-yard day included completions to nine targets. Gase’s play-calling on the second half’s first possession besieged the Raiders. A slick bunch-formation route concept allowed Berrios to break loose on a 69-yard gain, and Gase’s delayed tight end screen to Ryan Griffin for a 1-yard touchdown was one of the better goal-line play designs executed this season. With the Bengals and Dolphins on tap, this bounce-back run could get weird quickly. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
9 of 18
SEATTLE 17, PHILADELPHIA 9
SEAHAWKS (9-2) : A major storyline of the Seahawks’ season is that they’ve not been particularly good on defense, but Russell Wilson has bailed them out at almost every turn. That tendency had some doubting their staying power in the NFC, but Seattle’s complementary pieces had their day in a sloppy, hard-fought win over the Eagles. Rashaad Penny and a defense that was without Jadeveon Clowney carried the day for Seattle, overcoming a mediocre performance by Wilson in conditions that were worse than any they’ll likely face in the playoffs, unless the road to the NFC Championship Game runs through Seattle. The Seahawks will still go as far as Wilson takes them, but winning a game without him at his best is a major confidence boost moving forward. More than confidence-boosting, Penny’s emergence gives Seattle another potential offensive weapon to utilize in the postseason. GAME GRADE: A- | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Mon.)
— Chris Mueller
EAGLES (5-6): Philadelphia’s offense, averaging 9.5 points per game since the bye week, has gone ice cold . With numerous injuries to the offensive line and wide receiver corps, Carson Wentz struggled at home against Seattle’s 21st-ranked DVOA defense, averaging 5.0 net yards per pass attempt and posting a 75.8 passer rating (league average: 91.5). With the Dolphins, Redskins and Giants next, there is no excuse for Wentz to continue his stretch of mediocrity. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
10 of 18
PITTSBURGH 16, CINCINNATI 10
STEELERS (6-5): Mike Tomlin had no choice but to pull Mason Rudolph from this game in favor of Devlin Hodges. The Steelers offense was going nowhere against possibly the league’s worst defense with Rudolph at quarterback. Rudolph was also coming off his worst game as a pro in Cleveland’s last game. His accuracy was poor in Cincinnati, as was his timing. But what was probably most concerning was Rudolph’s pocket presence. He looked like a very unconfident player in the pocket. Not that Hodges was great, but confidence isn’t an issue with this young man. Hodges is playing with house money and he knows it. He provided a least a small spark to Pittsburgh’s ailing offense. But who to start next week at home in the rematch against the Browns? That is a more difficult decision. GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
BENGALS (0-11) : If Cincinnati would have played Andy Dalton rather than Ryan Finley in this game, they would have won. Sure, the Bengals are playing for tomorrow and want to see what they have in their rookie quarterback, but this is a little ridiculous. After going 7-of-10 in the first half, Finley completed just five more passes. His lack of arm strength is alarming, and he really has a tough time getting the ball in tight spaces. As the weather continues to worsen, this will be exposed more and more. The Bengals are not a good football team, but aside from quarterback, they are showing signs of life. Against constantly stacked boxes, Joe Mixon was very impressive in this game, and with a little more of a passing threat, he could have really lit up the scoreboard with the way he was running. Tyler Boyd had a crucial late fumble, but he also made a couple outstanding plays that bailed out Finley. Cincinnati’s pass rush features quite a few above-average players and showed up big against the Steelers. Finley wasn’t the only reason the Bengals couldn’t get their first win, but a professional signal caller such as Dalton would have been enough to win this ugly football game. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Jets (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
11 of 18
TENNESSEE 42, JACKSONVILLE 20
JAGUARS (4-7) : Jacksonville’s rush defense let the Jaguars down, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering they entered the game last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, at 5.3. What was somewhat surprising about their failure was how suddenly it happened. Derrick Henry gouged Jacksonville for 159 yards and two touchdowns, nearly one year after scorching them for 238 yards and four scores. The problem for the Jaguars was a familiar one; they couldn’t tackle at all, and it did them in. Multiple Jacksonville defenders had a chance to tackle Henry on his 74-yard touchdown run, but none was able to do so. That sort of sloppiness and lack of attention to detail have kept the Jaguars’ defense from greatness all season, and it likely snuffed out any faint hopes Jacksonville had of contending for a playoff spot. The Gardner Minshew story was fun, but 2019 looks as if it will be another lost season for Jacksonville. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Bucs (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
TITANS (6-5) : The Titans still have an uphill climb for a playoff spot, but they’ve undergone a metamorphosis since Ryan Tannehill took over. Tennessee is 4-1 in Tannehill’s five starts, and even though they have not asked him to throw the ball often – just 27 attempts in his starts, on average – he has made the most of his chances, throwing for 10 touchdowns and posting a 120.4 passer rating. It isn’t just that Tannehill’s play in and of itself has transformed the Titans, it’s that his mere presence has opened up other avenues for their offense. Tennessee has scored 29.4 points per game in Tannehill’s starts, compared to 16.3 in games started by Marcus Mariota. If the Titans can keep creating big plays, they’ll become that much more dangerous, and with four division games left, including two with Houston, they can still dream big. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
12 of 18
NEW ENGLAND 13, DALLAS 9
COWBOYS (6-5): Dallas continues to fall short against the elite competition, dropping to 0-4 in games against teams that currently have a winning record . The turnover margin has been a huge issue for the Cowboys in those games, as across those four contests, they have turned the ball over eight times while taking the ball away just once. The Cowboys have a good opportunity to break this streak on Thanksgiving, as they take on a tough, but beatable Buffalo Bills team at home. Dallas may still have a great shot at making the playoffs, but they have a long way to go until they can be considered anything near a Super Bowl contender. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Bills (Thurs.)
— Michael Nania
PATRIOTS (10-1): The path to another AFC team taking home-field advantage is narrowing, with ESPN’s FPI giving the Pats a 78% chance to earn that slot for the sixth time this decade. Bill Belichick’s defenses care little for yards yielded. Of the eight top-10 scoring defenses the Pats have deployed this decade, only two of them ranked top 10 in total defense. Belichick’s latest bend-but-don’t-break charges smothered the Cowboys repeatedly, forcing Brett Maher to attempt five field goals. The Pats held the No. 1-ranked Cowboys’ offense to nine points and did it without sacking Dak Prescott, limiting Dallas to 2-for-13 on third downs. This masked the Patriots’ 3-for-14 third-down showing. The Pats’ offense is well off its MVP-level Tom Brady (feat. Rob Gronkowski) days, but it will improve to some degree, per its late-season usual. And with an even stronger defensive safety net backing Brady’s crew, derailing the Patriots in Foxborough will require a near-perfect effort. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
13 of 18
SAN FRANCISCO 37, GREEN BAY 8
PACKERS (8-3): This game was a glaring example of where the Packers and 49ers, teams constructed from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree, are respectively in their overall development. San Francisco has had this system instituted for longer and wow, does it show. The Packers may have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and some great individual players, but the 49ers have a great team that feeds off and complements each side of the ball about as well as any team in the NFL right now. The Packers have pieces. The 49ers are whole. The scheme in San Francisco is very much in place on offense and defense and everyone is bought in. Not so much yet in Green Bay. Who is to say if LaFleur will ever have a complete team or not in Green Bay, but clearly the process is further along with the 49ers. In some ways, that should be encouraging. In other ways, it shows that this team has a lot more holes and problems than their counterpart tonight and who is to say if Green Bay will ever reach such heights in team building. GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
49ERS (10-1): San Francisco’s defense turned in another stunning performance, laying waste to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ passing attack in a showdown of two NFC powers. Rodgers threw for just 104 yards, the second-lowest total in a game this season for a quarterback with at least 30 attempts. The 49ers sacked Rodgers five times, but it wasn’t just their pass rush that was dynamic; their secondary also made plenty of plays on the football when Rodgers did have time to throw. Green Bay looked disjointed and had no answers for Robert Saleh’s defense, and the truth of the matter is, unless teams can run the ball right at San Francisco and have consistent success, they won’t do much offensively. If the Niners can slightly improve their current pace, they’ll challenge the single-season record for fewest passing yards allowed in a 16-game season. Make no mistake: the 49ers delivered a major statement with this win. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
14 of 18
MONDAY: BALTIMORE AT LA RAMS
RAVENS (8-2): Week 12 concludes with the Ravens heading to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. This will be a real test for Baltimore’s outstanding and unique offense. Expect Jalen Ramsey to follow Marquise Brown and get very physical with him at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage much of the time. That will allow Wade Philips to bracket Mark Andrews with a steady combination of safeties and linebackers. The Rams are an excellent run defense and while they haven’t seen the likes of Lamar Jackson, Baltimore hasn’t had to deal with a disruptive force like Aaron Donald. The Ravens running game is diverse, but Donald can destroy it like no one else in the league. Jackson had better be careful at the mesh point of Baltimore’s read-option game or he could get a face full of Donald. NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
RAMS (6-4): It looks like Los Angeles will have Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods back for their showdown with Baltimore, and perhaps their presence will be enough to jump start an offense that has averaged under 20 points per game over its last five contests. Los Angeles’ passing offense struggled mightily against Pittsburgh and Chicago, and Jared Goff was terrible against Pittsburgh, and only marginally better against Chicago. The Rams still have the Cardinals twice, as well as a revenge game at home against the Seahawks. They likely need to go 4-2 and possibly 5-1 over their last six games to have a realistic chance at a playoff spot. That would make a win over the Ravens a necessity, as they still have road trips to Dallas and San Francisco remaining. With his stable of skill talent full again, the pressure is squarely on Goff to deliver results, regardless of who Los Angeles is facing. NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
15 of 18
CARDINALS (3-7-1): Does David Johnson still have a role with the Cardinals? Kliff Kingsbury insists that he does, despite Johnson not getting a single touch and only being on the field for nine snaps against San Francisco. Johnson is owed over $13 million next season, and carries a dead cap hit of $16.2 million. He’s not going anywhere unless Arizona finds a trade partner, which seems unlikely. Bruce Arians was at the helm for the Cards when Johnson had a monster 2016, but it’s highly unlikely that a reunion in Tampa will be arranged. So what will Arizona do? Kingsbury has an extra week to either tinker with ways to get Johnson more involved, or further bury him on the depth chart. It stands to reason that Johnson, if healthy, would be a big boon to Kyler Murray’s development and Arizona’s offensive production moving forward. If he’s completely phased out, the Cardinals will be paying a lot of money for nothing. NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
16 of 18
BYE: KANSAS CITY
CHIEFS (7-4): Two years ago, Kareem Hunt won the rushing title in 15 games and one play. The 2017 third-round pick was better last year, averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards per game. The Chiefs have not replaced him effectively and lack ground-attack consistency. Damien Williams’ plug-and-play production of last season has not carried over; his 91-yard touchdown run against the Vikings represents nearly a third of his season-long rushing total (309 yards; 3.7 per carry). As a once-undrafted former Dolphins third-stringer, Williams should not have been expected to replace Hunt. LeSean McCoy has shown flashes of his old self, but his three fumbles (one shy of his single-season high) make him an unstable asset. The Chiefs rank 22nd in rushing (94.4 YPG), and Williams is now nursing a rib injury. The Chiefs must hope their renewed offensive line health can stabilize a suddenly shaky patchwork backfield, because with the slim margin for error their defense allows, they cannot afford to be vulnerable anywhere on offense. NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
17 of 18
BYE: LA CHARGERS
CHARGERS (4-7): Last week, Philip Rivers undercut his 353-yard performance with four more nationally televised interceptions, drawing attention to his 2019 regression. But the player who accounted for nearly a third of those aerial yards remains on a historic pace. Austin Ekeler has been one of the Chargers’ few bright spots, and his work in Los Angeles’ final five games will be a key reason to follow the NFL’s least-followed team. Ekeler’s 108-yard receiving performance against the Chiefs lifted him to 667, leaving him on pace for 970 for the season. Ekeler’s two goal-line fumbles notwithstanding, he has outplayed Melvin Gordon this season. Letting Gordon walk for a higher-end compensatory pick and attempting to extend their undrafted success story next year would be a prudent strategy for the Bolts. NEXT: at Broncos
— Sam Robinson
18 of 18
VIKINGS (8-3): The Vikings should be in a real good position coming out of their bye week. Over the past two months, Kirk Cousins is playing as well as just about any quarterback in this league. And that was mostly without Adam Thielen, who is set to return after the week off. With Thielen out, tight ends Irv Smith and Kyle Rudolph really stepped up while Stefon Diggs remained a dominant player even with more coverage attention during that stretch. Smith has a very bright future in this league. Dalvin Cook is a huge force in the passing game and with the punishment he has sustained this year, the week off comes at a great time for Cook. The Vikings offense has a chance to one of the very best in football to finish the regular season and presumably beyond. NEXT: at Seahawks (Mon.)
Yardbarker’s Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches each week during the NFL season.
Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt vs. Bengals RT Bobby Hart
Why Hart is overmatched: Among tackles, he is tied for sixth in penalties (nine) and has allowed the eighth-most pressures (30). Hart ranks a more respectable 33rd of 61 qualified tackles in pass blocking efficiency, as he has played the fifth-most pass-block snaps among tackles (438). But his struggles are a major reason why the Bengals’ offensive line is among the league’s worst. Cincinnati ranks 25th in sack rate allowed (8.3 percent) and 26th in rush offense DVOA.
In Week 4 against the Steelers, Hart had his worst game of the season. He was beaten for a season-high two sacks and seven pressures, and was penalized twice. The Bengals also were unsuccessful running in Hart’s direction, gaining just 25 yards on nine carries (2.8 per attempt) to the right side.
Why Watt will dominate: He is in the midst of a tremendous season as a pass rusher, ranking third in sacks (10.5) and sixth in pressures (53). He comes into Week 12 on fire, leading the NFL in pressures over the past four weeks with 26. He has registered a sack in seven consecutive games, and at least five pressures in five consecutive games.
Watt is one of the league’s most dominant rushers from the left side of the defense. He has rushed from the left side 98.4 percent of the time; each of his 53 pressures have come from that side. Only Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter (69 pressures) has created more pressure rushing from the left side.
Fantasy impact: The Bengals’ passing game has been a fantasy non-factor since rookie Ryan Finley took over at QB. Expect that to continue. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor should lean heavily on running back Joe Mixon, who has averaged 24 touches and 127 yards from scrimmage over his past two games. Perhaps there’s a fantasy play there. How Watt does it: Watt took advantage of Hart in the teams’ previous meeting, a 27-3 Steelers win, collecting 1.5 sacks, six pressures, and a fumble recovery. On the play below, Watt beats Hart for a half-sack (shared with Cameron Heyward). Watt gives a subtle inside fake, chops down Hart’s outside punch, and rips underneath to get home.
Bears WR Allen Robinson vs. Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker
Why Baker is overmatched: Over the first 10 games of his rookie season, the Georgia product is one of the league’s worst cornerbacks. He has allowed 629 yards on throws into his coverage, third most in the league. Quarterbacks throwing Baker’s way have picked up six touchdowns and averaged 12.3 yards per attempt, all without tossing an interception. Among qualified cornerbacks, Baker has allowed the highest passer rating (149.9) and second-most yards per cover snap (1.89).
To prevent getting beat recently, Baker resorted to pass interference and holding penalties. He was called for two penalties in each of his past two games, against the Cowboys and Jets. Those four penalties yielded a combined 69 yards. Three of them resulted in third-down conversions.
Why Robinson will dominate: Despite Chicago’s brutal results in the passing game, Robinson is in the midst of a strong season. His average of 63.3 receiving yards per game is his best since 2015. He has more than twice as many receptions (57, for 633 yards) as any other Bears wide receiver, and nearly 300 more receiving yards than any other player on the roster. With its season on the line, Chicago is certain to force-feed the ball to its best offensive player.
Robinson is fantastic at Soldier Field, where they Bears will face the Giants, averaging 82.8 yards per game versus just 43.8 on the road. In each of his five home games, Robinson has posted at least five catches and 62 yards. He is also productive against poor pass defenses, averaging 81 yards in three games against teams ranked bottom-10 in pass defense DVOA. The Giants come into Week 12 ranked 28th. Fantasy impact: Robinson has been up and down lately, but his production has correlated closely with both opponent quality and game location. The Giants stink. This game is at Soldier Field. Do the math.
How Robinson does it: At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he uses his size and length to win off the line with physicality and to position himself to grab contested balls. Here, Robinson evades the jab of Detroit cornerback Darius Slay at the line, and wins position over the top as he buys himself room with the extension of his left arm. QB Mitchell Trubisky drops in a rare accurate pass, and Robinson shows off his elite tracking ability as he makes a diving over-the-shoulder grab.
Saints RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray vs. Panthers run defense
Why Panthers are overmatched: Carolina, which fields the league’s worst run defense, is ranked 27th in rushing yards per game allowed (128.4) and 29th in yards per attempt (5.1). It also ranks last in rush defense DVOA and has allowed the most rushing touchdowns (18).
The Panthers’ run defense is at its worst in the most important situations. In the red zone, it has yielded a first down or touchdown on 54.7 percent of rush attempts, a rate 13.5 percent higher than any other team. On third or fourth down with three yards or less to go, Carolina has allowed a conversion 80 percent of the time, third worst in the league.
Why Saints will dominate: The duo of Kamara and Murray is highly effective, leading the Saints to sixth in rushing DVOA. Each back has showcased superb elusiveness, as Kamara leads the league in broken tackle frequency (one per 4.9 rush attempts) and Murray ranks 14th of 47 qualifiers (one per 11.9). Kamara and Murray rank fifth and fourth among running backs in DVOA, respectively. They are the only pair of teammates in the top 15.
New Orleans’ productive running game is powered by an offensive line ranked third by Pro Football Focus for run blocking. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, right guard Larry Warford, and center Erik McCoy are each among Pro Football Focus’ top-25 graded run blocking offensive linemen. Fantasy impact: The Panthers have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Their run defense is especially bad on the road, where it has allowed 2.2 touchdowns and 138.8 yards per game on 5.6 yards per attempt. Kamara is positioned for a strong outing, especially considering he is overdue for touchdowns after scoring just two in his first eight games. Murray may sneak in a handful of big plays, possibly a short-yardage touchdown. How Saints do it: This play is a great example of how Kamara works in tandem with a great offensive line to create one of the league’s most effective rushing attacks. On this inside zone run, Ramczyk (#71, right tackle) and Warford (#67, right guard) create a ton of room in the right C-gap with a dominant combo block on the 3-technique defensive tackle. However, Jared Cook (#87, tight end) allows penetration to Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney, who has a shot to stop Kamara for a modest gain. At this point, the offensive line has already created enough room for a decent gain of three to five yards, but it’s up to Kamara to make one man miss for this run to hit the next level. He does the job, shaking off Clowney and rumbling for a 16-yard gain.