Grading each NFL team at the halfway mark of the season

With about half of the NFL season in the books, the 2019 outlook for each team is clearer. We handed out grades for each team through eight weeks of the season. 1 of 32

Arizona Cardinals: C

Arizona made a splash in the offseason by hiring Kliff Kingsbury and drafting Kyler Murray first overall. The defense has spent most of the first eight weeks without Patrick Peterson due to a suspension and has allowed the second most points in the league, but the offense has shown some explosion, resulting in a 3-4-1 record, including a recent three-game win streak. It’s definitely progress. 2 of 32

Atlanta Falcons: F

The Falcons cleaned house in the offseason, getting rid of all three coordinators, but it’s apparent the problem was above them. Atlanta enters the bye week 1-7, allowing a staggering 31.3 points per game and underachieving on offense with only 20.6 points per game. Matt Ryan’s recent ankle injury has only added to their woes. Head coach Dan Quinn led the Falcons to the Super Bowl only three years ago, but now it’s clearly time for him to go. 3 of 32

Baltimore Ravens: B+

It was fair to expect regression from the Ravens after losing significant talent on defense during the offseason, but the team has made up for its defensive issues with an explosive offense led by Lamar Jackson. Baltimore ranks second in the league with 30.6 points per game and is coming off a huge win at Seattle. The Ravens host New England this week, which will be a measuring stick for both teams.

Buffalo Bills: B

While it’s hard to complain about a 5-2 record, especially given the recent history of the Bills, we still need to put their five wins in perspective. They all came against teams with a .500 or worse record, including two winless teams. The offense has struggled despite several notable offseason additions, with young quarterback Josh Allen showing inconsistency. A 31-13 home loss to a floundering Eagles squad in Week 8 is concerning. 5 of 32

Carolina Panthers: B

Considering Cam Newton’s foot injury and resulting five missed games, a 4-3 record is about as good as the Panthers could have expected. That said, they were blown out at San Francisco, 51-13, coming off a bye, which puts a stench on their start. After Kyle Allen’s poor play in that game, Newton’s return is probably coming sooner than later. The defense had played well up to that point, but now there are suddenly questions about it. 6 of 32

Chicago Bears: C-

The Bears have big problems, starting with third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He’s taken a big step back early this season, with a terrible 5.6 yards per attempt and a 81.4 passer rating. His poor play has resulted in consecutive home losses, and two missed field goals by Eddy Pineiro vs. the Chargers also raises questions about the kicking game, which was one of the top priorities in the offseason. At 3-4 in a tough division, Chicago’s prospects to return to the playoffs this year don’t look great.

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Cincinnati Bengals: F

The expectations for Cleveland were probably a bit too lofty after their big offseason moves, including the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. That said, the team is a disappointment at 2-5 for even the most pessimistic. Despite a bevy of weapons, the team ranks 25th in points per game, and Baker Mayfield has seen huge regression with 12 picks in seven games. The Browns have committed the most penalties in the league and have the second-most giveaways. That’s losing football, and it goes squarely on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. 9 of 32

Dallas Cowboys: B-

It’s been a first half of inconsistency for the Cowboys, who have a three-game winning streak and a three-game losing streak already. The good news is that their offensive line is finally healthy again, and it looks like their 24-22 loss at the Jets in Week 6 was a wake-up call. Dak Prescott remains an MVP candidate with a 102.6 passer rating, and the team is in the driver’s seat in the NFC East after a big win vs. Philadelphia. The Cowboys could do a lot of things better, but they’re in an enviable position in the standings.

10 of 32

Denver Broncos: D

Vic Fangio’s long-awaited chance to be a head coach hasn’t gone well, with a 2-6 start and an inept offense. The truth is that the Broncos roster has been in transition, with many new faces on defense and Joe Flacco at quarterback. Flacco has continued to prove he’s a below-average quarterback at this point in his career, with the team averaging only 15.6 points per game, and he could be out indefinitely with a neck injury. The team desperately needs to address the offensive line next offseason, but that’s something we’ve been saying for years. John Elway, are you listening? 11 of 32

Detroit Lions: C

Detroit went into its bye week 2-1-1, with a home loss vs. Kansas City as the only major blemish. Since then the team is 1-2, losing to division opponents Green Bay and Minnesota. Quarterback Matthew Stafford continues to play well under new coordinator Darrell Bevell, but running back Kerryon Johnson will miss significant time for the second straight year to injury, and the defense remains a disappointment, allowing 26.6 points per game. 12 of 32

Green Bay Packers: A

The ball has bounced Green Bay’s way during the first half of the season, most recently with favorable reffing vs. Detroit in Week 6 and the absence of Patrick Mahomes when the team visited Arrowhead Stadium in Week 8. Regardless, Green Bay is 7-1 through the first half of the season and has been without No. 1 wideout Davante Adams for most of the year. Aaron Rodgers is playing great football under new head coach Matt LaFleur, and running back Aaron Jones also looks like a potential MVP candidate with 11 touchdowns. Looking ahead, the team’s visit to San Francisco in Week 12 could have huge playoff positioning implications.

13 of 32

Houston Texans: B

The Texans are in good position in the AFC after a 5-3 start, and Deshaun Watson continues to play like an elite quarterback. However, the team has already spent much of its 2020 draft capital to help in the short term, and J.J. Watt is now out for the year. Anything short of a playoff run will be a disappointment, and missing the playoffs is still well within the range of possibilities with four division games remaining. 14 of 32

Indianapolis Colts: A-

With a 5-2 start to the year, Frank Reich has to be the current leader for Coach of the Year. Andrew Luck retired just before the start of the season, and the Colts have also had significant injuries, most notably T.Y. Hilton, Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard. Jacoby Brissett has been extremely efficient, which is a direct credit to Reich’s development, and the defense continues to play in the top half of the league despite the injuries. 15 of 32

Jacksonville Jaguars: B

If the Jaguars were told Nick Foles would suffer a fractured collarbone in Week 1 and Jalen Ramsey would appear in only three games, another disastrous season would probably be considered a foregone conclusion. However, rookie Gardner Minshew has done a great job filling in for Foles, and the Jags were able to get past the Ramsey distraction and net a great trade return from the Rams. Leonard Fournette is also playing the best football of his career. At 4-4, the Jags’ playoff hopes are still alive.

Kansas City Chiefs: B

Injuries have ravaged the Chiefs, including to Patrick Mahomes, three offensive linemen, their top two wideouts and top two defensive linemen. The team has also lost three home games already. However, Mahomes might miss only one or two games after what looked like a catastrophic knee injury in Week 7, and the defense has picked up the pace despite its missing pieces. The Chiefs remain in good position to not only win the AFC West again but to also possibly earn the coveted No. 2 seed in a thin AFC. 17 of 32

Los Angeles Chargers: D

With 2018 being a rare exception, the Chargers seem to have lived through the movie “Groundhog Day” for the last decade. They’ve had numerous major injuries, headlined by star safety Derwin James, lost games in ways no one would believe and continue to disappoint despite a talented roster. Through seven games, they already had more losses than last season. Philip Rivers has started to show his age at times this year, and the remainder of the schedule is brutal, including the Packers, Vikings and two games against the Chiefs. 18 of 32

Los Angeles Rams: B-

The Rams seemed to put their disappointing Super Bowl performance behind them by starting the season 3-0, but that was followed by three straight losses. They’ve righted the ship against the Falcons and Bengals and still have a good shot to make the playoffs. The offense ranks eighth in points per game, well behind what it did last year as Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have struggled, and the defense has been embarrassed on multiple occasions. The good news is that they seem to have received a boost after acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey two weeks ago.

19 of 32

Miami Dolphins: F

It appeared the Dolphins were tanking before the season began, and that speculation was realized prior to Week 1 when Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills were traded. The team has continued to make trades, most notably Minkah Fitzpatrick for Pittsburgh’s 2020 first-round pick. For all its struggles, Miami has gotten closer to a win recently with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. However, there’s no sugarcoating the fact that the Dolphins rank dead last in points scored and points allowed per game. 20 of 32

Minnesota Vikings: A-

Minnesota is doing a nice job bouncing back from a disappointing 2018 season, with a solid 6-2 start. Kirk Cousins has played some of the best ball of his career recently, while a healthy Dalvin Cook is on a 2,200 yards from scrimmage pace. The defense also looks better, allowing only 16.5 points per game. While both losses came in the division, they were also on the road. The Vikings remaining schedule is difficult, but an NFC North title and No. 2 seed in the NFC are still well within reach. 21 of 32

New England Patriots: A

There’s no debating that the Patriots’ schedule has been incredibly easy, but they’ve barely had a scare through eight games. The defense is on a historic pace, with only 7.6 points allowed per game, and the team also quietly leads the league with 31.3 points per game. Still, the schedule is about to get much tougher, and it remains to be seen if the offense has enough weapons for Tom Brady to stand up to the challenge, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per pass attempt despite that mediocre schedule.

By: Seth Trachtman

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Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 7 NFL action

The Baltimore Ravens went into Seattle and took out a red-hot Seahawks team in a statement win on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers remained the NFC’s only undefeated team with a shutout win over the Redskins in D.C.

On the other side of the ledger, the Atlanta Falcons’ season-long struggles continued while the Houston Texans put up a bummer of a performance against the Indianapolis Colts.

These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 7 NFL action.

Ravens make a major statement

Oct 20, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Baltimore defeated Seattle 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off ho-hum wins over the Steelers and Bengals, Baltimore headed to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. This was already being billed as a statement game for the Ravens. They did not disappoint.

The recently-acquired Marcus Peters made a personal statement early on with a pick-six of Russell Wilson . Lamar Jackson continued to dazzle, both through the air and on the ground in putting up 259 total yards. Baltimore then put the game away with a fumble return for a touchdown to ice things. Now at 5-2 following a 30-16 win over Seattle, these Ravens look like real threats in the AFC.

Aaron Rodgers excelling in new offense

Oct 20, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass in the second quarter during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It took some time for the former NFL MVP to get into rhythm in first-year head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Rodgers had tallied just eight touchdowns in six games heading into Week 7. That changed big-time against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Rodgers completed 25-of-31 passes for 429 yards with six total touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 42-24 win. Statistically speaking, it was the best performance of his Hall of Fame-worthy career. It also led to Rodgers making history as he navigated his team to a 6-1 record heading into the midway point of the season. Things are going swimmingly for Mr. Rodgers and his Pack right now.

Kirk Cousins and Co. keep pace

Oct 20, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off the best two-game span of his Vikings career, Cousins busted out more of his new tricks against the division rival Lions in Detroit on Sunday. He led Minnesota to at least 38 points for the second consecutive game, throwing four touchdown pases and zero picks while tossing the ball around the field to the tune of 337 yards.

More than anything, Cousins’ ability to connect with Stefon Diggs loomed large in a 42-30 win. Diggs caught 7-of-8 targets for 142 yards. For his part, Cousins is completing 76% of his passes for nearly 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the past three games. He also now has Minnesota at 5-2 after the Vikings struggled to open the season.

Jaguars ride stout defense to much-needed win

Oct 20, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) talk with each other after the Jaguars defeated the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If the Jaguars were to have any say in the AFC South this season, they had to dispose of the winless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. That’s exactly what we saw from Jacksonville in a 27-17 win over the Bengals.

That included a pick-six of Andy Dalton with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. All said, Jacksonville’s defense forced four turnovers in a brilliant all-around performance. This defense also held the Bengals to -2 rushing yards in an all-time great first-half performance. Now 3-4 on the season, Jacksonville is not yet done.

Texans blow big opportunity

Oct 20, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) motions at the line of scrimmage in a game against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off an upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Bill O’Brien and the Texans had to be feeling good about themselves heading into Sunday’s AFC South outing against the Indianapolis Colts. But it did not go according to plan.

MVP candidate Deshaun Watson put up his worst performance of the season, throwing two key interceptions. Meanwhile, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett picked apart Houston’s defense to the tune of 326 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-23 win. The Texans had an opportunity to move two games ahead of Indy in the win column. Instead, Houston now finds itself in second place heading into Week 8.

Chargers find a new way to lose

Oct 20, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) and Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) after a Titans win at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles entered Sunday’s action at 2-4 on the season and in must-win mode against another pedestrian team in the Tennessee Titans. After making the game close late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers found yet another way to lose.

Down just 23-20 after overcoming a double-digit deficit, it looked like the Chargers were on the brink of a game-winning touchdown. They had second-and-goal from inside the one with mere seconds left. That’s when former holdout running back Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball, leading to yet another horrible loss for the Chargers. More so than Gordon’s fumble, the decision by head coach Anthony Lynn to go with him instead of Austin Ekeler will stand out. Ekeler had put up 125 total yards compared to Gordon’s 32 before that final snap. Ouch!

49ers defense is just stupid good

Oct 20, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) celebrates while leaving the field after the 49ersÕ game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The weather played a huge role for the NFC’s sole remaining undefeated team on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo and San Francisco’s offense managed just nine points and 282 total yards in Landover, Maryland against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. However, that’s not the story here. Instead, it’s all about what has now become an historically good defense.

San Francisco held Case Keenum to 50 net passing yards. It has now given up 98 net passing yards over the past two games. Heck, the 49ers have yielded 10 total points over their past three games. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are absolutely dominant up front. Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner might be the best linebacker tandem in the league. Meanwhile, the Richard Sherman-led secondary is freakishly good. Championship-caliber stuff.

Bills break out of early funk

Oct 20, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (10) celebrates his touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo found itself as a resounding 15.5-point home favorite against the winless Miami Dolphins on Sunday. It was certainly a trap game for a Bills squad that was looking to go 5-1 for the first time since 2008. At least initially, it looked like Buffalo was going to be a victim of one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season.

Miami held a 14-9 lead heading into the second half. That’s when the defense stepped up. Tre’Davious White intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick at the goal line with Miami driving for a potential two-score lead. Buffalo would ultimately score a touchdown on the ensuing possession. It also scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter after White forced a fumble to put the game away. It’s this ball-hawking and dominant defense that has Buffalo as a legit contender heading into the midway point of the season.

Yet another win for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

Oct 20, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

 When Arizona started the season out 0-3-1, it looked like much of the same for the long-downtrodden organization. Murray was in over his head as a rookie starting quarterback. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense had yet to click. That’s now changed altogether. Arizona entered Sunday’s matchup against the New York Giants having won two consecutive games and then took care of business against the Giants in Jersey.

This game did not feature the eye-opening numbers we’ve seen from Murray recently. He completed just 14 passes for 104 yards. However, it was the performance by Chase Edmunds (126 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and Arizona’s defense that made the difference in a 27-21 win. Now at 3-3-1 on the season, Arizona finds itself as a budding playoff contender. Crazy stuff.

Wheels completely off in Atlanta

Oct 20, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) grabs the facemark of Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) as defensive end Michael Brockers (90) and defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) are shown on the play in the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was Devonta Freeman’s frustration or an inability to even slow down what had been a struggling Rams offense, Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons were an absolute mess. When the clock struck zero in Atlanta, the Falcons were on the losing end of a 37-10 blowout loss.

The much-maligned Falcons defense allowed Jared Goff to throw for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Falcons, it didn’t get too much better on the other side of the ball. Former MVP Matt Ryan exited in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and was seen in a walking boot. With the Falcons now at 1-6 on the season, questions will continue to come up regarding Quinn’s status. It’s really bad in Hotlanta right now.

Bears need a quarterback

Oct 20, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not sure if it’s possible for the Bears to add a starter-caliber signal caller ahead of the Oct. 29 trade deadline. What we do know is that Mitchell Trubisky is not the answer under center in the Windy City. The third-year quarterback entered Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints having thrown three touchdowns in four games. He was downright dreadful throughout the afternoon, leading to Bears fans booing the former top-three pick.

Trubisky tallied 251 yards on a ridiculous 54 passing attempts, putting up most of his numbers in garbage time when the Bears found themselves down 36-10. Now at 3-3 on the season, one has to wonder if the Bears will look to make a move. The likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota and Nick Mullens might be available.

Cowboys get off the schneid

Oct 20, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) gives a way a towel after a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas entered Week 7 having lost each of its past three games. Head coach Jason Garrett was clearly on the hot seat . The time was now to come up with a win and salvage their season. That’s exactly what the Cowboys did at home against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night.

The Cowboys’ defense forced four turnovers of Carson Wentz and Philadelphia’s offense. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott completed 21-of-27 passes for 239 yards in a near-flawless performance. The end result was a dominating 37-10 win over Philadelphia and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Separation made in the NFC

Oct 20, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) and Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) meet after the game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

By virtue of their win Sunday night, the Cowboys have come out on top in all three of their divisional games to date. They are now one game ahead of Philadelphia with the Giants and Redskins riding up the rear. The New Orleans Saints’ blowout road win over the Chicago Bears changes the dynamics for both teams. New Orleans is now a full game ahead of Carolina in the NFC South. Chicago? Well it falls three games behind Green Bay in the win column.

Out west, the San Francisco 49ers’ shutout win coupled with Seattle’s loss has Kyle Shanahan’s squad two games ahead of the Seahawks in the loss column. Despite their win over Atlanta, the defending NFC champion Rams are three games behind San Francisco in the loss column. Yeah, these NFC teams have created separation heading into the midway point of the season.

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By: Vincent Frank

NFL Week 5 matchups: An insiders’ guide

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. 

THURSDAY

L.A. Rams (3-1) at Seattle (3-1), 8:20 p.m. ET

Inside Rams numbers: Wade Phillips’ secondary started the season red-hot, allowing the league’s third-lowest passer rating through three weeks (66.2). All that success went out the window in Week 4, as Jameis Winston shredded the Rams for 385 yards and four touchdowns, dropping Los Angeles to seventh in opponent passer rating (81). A return to form will be essential against Russell Wilson, who ranks second in passer rating (118.7), behind only Patrick Mahomes.

Inside Rams roster: Todd Gurley’s situation shows the importance of running backs signing extensions when first eligible (after Year 3). He has not looked like the near-MVP-level version of 2017 and most of ‘18, making his $45 million in guarantees more important. The 24-year-old back is on pace for fewer rushing yards than his disappointing 2016 season (885 yards) and, with 62 receiving yards, is well off his recent aerial pace as well. This murky knee injury will come up in future front office debates regarding running back payments; the Rams are tethered to Gurley through at least 2021.

Inside Seahawks numbers: Seattle’s pass rush picked up only one sack in Weeks 2-3, but it came back to life in Week 4 with four sacks against Arizona’s Kyler Murray. As Seattle aims to slow a Rams offense ranked sixth in scoring (29.3 ppg), the generation of that level of pressure is key. Jared Goff has stayed clean, taking a career-low sack rate of just 4.4 percent — the ninth-best mark in the league. 

Inside Seahawks roster: The insider trading charge Mychal Kendricks pleaded guilty to in 2018 has not led to a punishment yet, with the sentencing date pushed back multiple times. Not only is Kendricks a Seahawks starter, the team is using him as a near-full-time player. The Seahawks have played Kendricks 199 snaps -– not far behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright’s workloads -– and have deviated from the NFL norm by keeping their base set on the field in some nickel situations. The ex-Eagle has four tackles for loss and rates as a top-30 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.

Sep 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) attempts a pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

SUNDAY

Jacksonville (2-2) at Carolina (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Jaguars numbers: The legend of Gardner Minshew continues to grow. The Washington State product is the first rookie quarterback since 1988 to post a passer rating of 95.0 or better in each of his first three starts. His next test will be perhaps his greatest yet; the Panthers are fifth in pass defense EPA and allow the fewest passing yards per game (156.8). 

Inside Jaguars roster: Minshew mania moved D.J. Chark to the top of Jacksonville’s aerial pecking order, but the team’s highest-paid wideout, Marqise Lee, has hovered well off the grid. He signed an $8.5 million-per-year deal in March 2018. After Lee missed last season with a knee injury, the Jags’ 2016 receiving leader has not cleared the 30 percent snap threshold in his three 2019 games. Lee has caught one pass since signing this contract, which counts $8.75M on Jacksonville’s 2019 cap sheet. This deal is on the sunk-cost precipice.

Inside Panthers numbers: Carolina’s defense is outstanding, allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.3) and fourth-fewest yards per game (287.5). It ranks ninth in fewest points allowed per drive (1.63) and 10th in total defensive EPA. A dominant pass rush is the driving force: The Panthers lead the NFL with a sack rate of 11.3 percent (with 18 sacks total). The Carolina front seven could tee off on Jacksonville, which allowed five sacks to a Denver defense that had none over the first three weeks.  

Inside Panthers roster: Carolina’s improved defense will not feature perhaps its second-best player; Kawann Short is out for the season. The mammoth defensive tackle has only missed four games since arriving as a 2013 fifth-round pick -– two in 2018 and the Panthers’ most recent two -– and this stands to lower Carolina’s defensive ceiling. However, the Panthers are oddly well-stocked to pick up the pieces, having signed Dontari Poe in 2018 and Gerald McCoy this year. Additionally, 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler –- a seldom-used talent –- may have a chance to shed the “bust” label in a contract year.

New England (4-0) at Washington (0-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Patriots numbers: New England’s opponents have thrown no touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Patriots are the first team since the 1961 Packers to allow no touchdowns and pick off at least 10 passes over their first four games of the season. The Redskins have nine turnovers and 18 points in the past two games. 

Inside Patriots roster: On the heels of one of the worst games of Tom Brady’s career, the legendary passer will have a deeper complement of weapons Sunday. Benjamin Watson returns from a four-game suspension and is set to become the first pure tight end in NFL history to play in an age-39 season. The Patriots have four receptions from tight ends this season. The 16th-year veteran was a decent auxiliary weapon for Drew Brees last season, catching 46 passes for 400 yards.

 Inside Redskins numbers: Jay Gruden forced Dwayne Haskins into his first NFL action as the team was getting blown out by the Giants, and predictably, the rookie struggled, tossing three picks on just 17 pass attempts. The Redskins must think twice before starting Haskins against the Patriots, whose defense ranks second in the league in quarterback hits (32) and has allowed the league’s lowest passer rating (41.0). A rookie quarterback has not defeated the Patriots since Geno Smith in October 2013.

Inside Redskins roster: Trent Williams is now the league’s lone holdout. With Washington almost certainly set for its first 0-5 record in 18 years, it would make sense to unload its disgruntled left tackle for draft compensation. Missing out on nearly $3 million in salary this season, the seven-time Pro Bowler has shown no signs of backing down. It would make sense if the Redskins made a deal soon, with Williams losing value the longer he sits out (thus limiting the number of games he can play with another team). Nearly $20M in non-guaranteed money remains on his through-2020 deal.

Sep 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws a pass under pressure from Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) during the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Blocking against Donald is Buccaneers offensive tackle Demar Dotson (69). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay (2-2) at New Orleans (3-1), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Buccaneers numbers: Jameis Winston is having a career renaissance under Bruce Arians, with career-highs in touchdown percentage (6.5 percent), yards per attempt (8.4), yards per game (291.8), and passer rating (95.8). A trip to the Superdome may not be as daunting as it seemed before the season. Winston, who entered 2019 with 12 consecutive road losses, is 2-0 away from Tampa under Arians, throwing five touchdowns and just one interception in those games.

Inside Buccaneers roster: Chris Godwin’s breakout has been as advertised so far; the Bucs’ No. 2 wideout’s yardage total (386) is third best in the league. Bruce Arians’ offense did not have this kind of weapon in Arizona; Michael Floyd and John Brown were not quite on this level. This not only raises the floor for Tampa Bay’s offense, it sets Godwin up for a payday. The third-year receiver becomes extension-eligible in January, and his 1,500-plus-yard pace would put the former third-round pick in line for WR1 money. With Mike Evans the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid wideout, this is an interesting situation/good problem for the Bucs.

Inside Saints numbers: New Orleans needs more downfield playmaking from Teddy Bridgewater. His average completed pass has traveled only 3.7 yards, 33rd out of 34 qualifiers (ahead of only Mason Rudolph). This may not be the week it happens, as Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett could prevent Bridgewater from getting enough time to push the ball downfield. His nine sacks ties the league record for the most through four games.  

Inside Saints roster: Only two players remain from the Saints’ 2016 starting defense, defensive end Cam Jordan and safety Vonn Bell. That unit was the last of New Orleans’ three awful defenses, which ranked either 32nd or 31st from 2014-16. The Saints’ win over the Cowboys showed how far this reconstruction effort has come, with this defensive cast thus far stabilizing the Saints while Drew Brees rehabs. This bevy of rookie contracts (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Marcus Davenport), trades (Eli Apple, Kiko Alonso) and free- agency adds (Demario Davis) assembled since 2017 represents one of the better defensive overhauls in modern NFL history.

Minnesota (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Vikings numbers: Kirk Cousins continues to struggle against quality competition since his arrival in Minnesota. His loss to the Bears dropped him to 1-8 against teams with a winning record as a member of the Vikings. A less intimidating Giants team could be less of a problem, as Cousins tends to get the job done against lesser teams. With Minnesota, Cousins owns a 9-1-1 record against teams without a winning record, posting an average passer rating of 108.1 in those games. 

Inside Vikings roster: Scrutiny has rightfully been applied to Minnesota’s passing game, the focus being on Cousins and his highly paid receivers. But the Vikings’ decision to add a Kyle Rudolph extension to their ultra-expensive roster, after drafting Irv Smith Jr. in Round 2, looks even more puzzling now. Through five games, the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid tight end ($9 million per year) has five receptions for 32 yards. Rudolph is on pace to post 506 fewer yards than he had last season.

Inside Giants numbers: The Giants had one of their best defensive performances in ages in Week 4. They held the Redskins to 176 yards and forced four turnovers, the first time since 2008 New York has held an opponent to under 200 yards and taken the ball away four times or more. The unit’s opponent in Week 5, Cousins, is 1-5 in his past six road starts. 

Inside Giants roster: New York’s passing game has frequently featured suboptimal balance. Tight end stability proved elusive between Jeremy Shockey and Evan Engram and wide receiver unavailability has persisted over the past two-plus years. Golden Tate is set to debut in Week 5 after his four-game PED suspension, giving Daniel Jones a better-rounded aerial cast. For the 31-year-old Tate, these will be a pivotal 12 games. Although he signed for four years and $37.5M, the PED ban voided his 2020 guarantee ($7.97M).  

Chicago (3-1) vs. Oakland (2-2) in LONDON, 1 p.m. ET

Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s defense is back on the mountaintop in the NFC, leading the conference in fewest points allowed per drive (1.09). Khalil Mack continues to be the driving force, as he is tied with Danielle Hunter for the NFL lead in total pressures (27). Oakland’s tackle duo will provide a strong challenge for Mack. Left tackle Trent Brown and right tackle Kolton Miller have combined to allow only 13 pressures this season, an average of 3.3 per game between the pair. 

Inside Bears roster: Shrugging off four-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s exit, the No. 2-ranked Chicago defense has Pro Bowl-caliber talent on all three levels. It is worth wondering if lower-ceiling, game manager-type backup Chase Daniel, who is in line to start in England, complements this menacing unit better than the more erratic Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have seen a volatile starter hold a stacked defense back, as Rex Grossman once did, and their latest look with Daniel may be more important to the big picture.  

Inside Raiders numbers: Rookie Josh Jacobs ranks 10th in the league in rush attempts (62) and ninth in rushing yards (307). He’s done it efficiently, averaging five yards per attempt. Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are the only other backs averaging 5.0-plus yards per attempt on at least 60 carries. Chicago’s ground defense will be a major test for Jacobs, as the Bears are ranked second in fewest yards allowed per rush attempt (3.0) and third in rush defense EPA.

Inside Raiders roster: Oakland gave two veteran linebackers mid-level deals this offseason, but Brandon Marshall failed to make the team and Vontaze Burfict may have exhausted his final opportunity. Burfict’s rest-of-season suspension comes after the Raiders placed backup middle linebacker Marquel Lee on IR. The rest of Oakland’s contingent consists of outside linebackers, though starting outside ‘backer Tahir Whitehead has played in the middle before. More importantly, Burfict’s loss leaves the Raiders with a host of lower-level players –- one of whom set to join Whitehead in sub-packages.

N.Y. Jets (0-3) at Philadelphia (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Jets numbers: Adam Gase’s injury-plagued offense is historically inept. For the first time in franchise history, the Jets have only one offensive touchdown through the first three games of the season. Their average of 3.67 net yards per pass attempt is the worst mark through three games since the 2006 Raiders (who finished 2-14). Things do not get easier in Week 5, as the Jets hit the road to take on the only franchise they have never beaten (0-10 all time vs. Philadelphia). 

Inside Jets roster: With Joe Douglas addition Ryan Kalil struggling, and Mike Maccagnan trade acquisition Kelechi Osemele battling a knee issue that limited him last season, a full-scale Jets offensive line overhaul may be months away. Returning starters Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell are again scuffling, after being part of one of the league’s worst lines in 2018. Three starters (Kalil, Beachum and Shell) are due for free agency, and Winters’ contract would cost the Jets $0 to shed.

Inside Eagles numbers: In its two wins, Philadelphia has zero turnovers. In its two losses, it has five combined. The Jets are good at forcing turnovers. They have three non-offensive touchdowns and a safety, and have forced a turnover on 15.8 percent of defensive drives. 

Inside Eagles roster: One team reportedly offered the Jaguars two first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey, and it wouldn’t be out of character for Eagles GM Howie Roseman to swing big. If the Jaguars prefer to keep that contentious relationship alive, would the Eagles consider calling the 0-4 Broncos about contract-year standout Chris Harris? Either way, this is a problem the Eagles may need to address. Philadelphia ranks last in pass defense (323.8 yards allowed per game), winding up there after Roseman made big investments to strengthen stronger positions in the offseason.

Sep 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) celebrates his 100th career sack at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Denver (0-4) at L.A. Chargers (2-2), 4:05 p.m. ET

Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s run defense is atrocious, allowing the third-most yards per attempt (5.1) and yards per game (149.3). The loss of Bradley Chubb for the season will not help, as he was leading the team with 15 tackles short of the sticks in the run game. Melvin Gordon may return to his bell-cow role for Los Angeles, but the Broncos have held him to 3.7 yards per carry over six matchups. 

Inside Broncos roster: Von Miller already sees a steady volume of double-teams and chip blocks; Chubb’s ACL tear will make the All-Pro a marked man. The Broncos let longtime rotational rushers Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray sign elsewhere, though Ray is again a free agent, and have no notable veteran replacements. Undrafted rookie Malik Reed is the next man up for a Broncos team that entered Week 4 without a sack. Denver did add journeyman Jerry Attaochu this week but is in danger of its pass rush becoming more one-dimensional than it has at any point in Miller’s tenure. 

Inside Chargers numbers: Philip Rivers continues to engineer a top-notch passing attack, as the Chargers rank fourth in net yards per pass attempt (7.6) and sixth in pass offense EPA. While this is not the Broncos defense of old, Rivers has not played his best football against Denver. His 88.8 passer rating against the Broncos is his sixth-worst mark against a franchise. 

Inside Chargers roster: If the Bolts’ all-fronts injury issues were not noticeable enough, their punter is now less than 100 percent. Ty Long, a CFL import asked to kick and punt in his initial NFL season because of kicker Michael Badgley’s injury, hurt his foot on a kickoff. The Chargers signed rookie Chase McLaughlin this week, sending Long to the punter-only role for which he was signed. McLaughlin will be the Bolts’ eighth kicker since the start of the 2017 season.  

Green Bay (3-1) at Dallas (3-1), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Packers numbers: In Week 4,Green Bay scored only three touchdowns on seven red zone trips in the loss to the Eagles. It was a reversion to the mean for Matt LaFleur’s offense, which had scored touchdowns on six of its first seven red zone trips. The Packers must get back on track against Dallas, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest red-zone touchdown rate (35.7 percent). 

Inside Packers roster: Set for one of their toughest-looking assignments this season, the Packers may be forced to find out more about Davante Adams’ young assortment of sidekicks. Adams’ turf toe places him in jeopardy of missing this Cowboys matchup, leaving Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison set to lead what would be the least experienced group of receivers with which Aaron Rodgers has been equipped as a Packer. Neither of Valdes-Scantling’s 2018 draft classmates, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, are on the active roster.

Inside Cowboys numbers: In Week 4, the Saints stifled Ezekiel Elliott, as he ran for just 35 yards (third-lowest total of career) and 1.9 yards per attempt (second lowest). Elliott has been successful against Green Bay, averaging 136.5 rushing yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry in his last two games against the Packers. Green Bay ranks 30th in rush defense EPA and has allowed the fourth-most yards per rush attempt (5.0).

Inside Cowboys roster: One of several veteran defensive ends who left Miami this offseason, Robert Quinn has made an immediate impression on his third NFL team. The trade acquisition who missed the Cowboys’ first two games due to suspension has a team-high three sacks, two against upper-echelon tackle Terron Armstead. Quinn did not live up to the Rams extension he signed in 2014, a contract that’s since been traded twice, but the ninth-year veteran is only 29. DeMarcus Lawrence should soon benefit from a talented veteran opposite him.

 Indianapolis (2-2) at Kansas City (4-0), 8:20 p.m. ET 

Inside Colts numbers: The Colts’ defense is disappointing, ranking 29th in points allowed per drive (2.53). Its pass rush has collected only 18 quarterback hits, tied for 23rd in the league. More was expected from Justin Houston, who has just one sack and three hits heading into a matchup against his former team. A Chiefs offense allowing a league-low sack rate of 1.9 percent makes this a daunting matchup for Indianapolis.

Inside Colts roster: After the franchise’s worst performance since the early part of 2018, Indianapolis’ defense ranks last in run-stoppage DVOA. The Colts finished last season fourth in this metric. Last season, Indianapolis enjoyed strong play from bargain-buy defensive linemen Denico Autry and Margus Hunt. A former first-round pick, Hunt has disappointed so far, grading as PFF’s No. 102 interior defender. Three of the Colts’ seven second-round picks over the past two years have gone to the D-line as well, but this is an issue the team must address this week and during its Week 6 bye.

Inside Chiefs numbers: The Chiefs continue to get clutch rushing production no matter who is taking the handoff. Since Damien Williams went down, LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams have combined for five touchdowns, including all three scored by the offense in Week 4. The duo could tee off on a Colts defense allowing the second-most yards per rush attempt (5.5). 

Inside Chiefs roster: Cris Collinsworth may take issue with some of Sunday night’s run defense. The Chiefs’ issues are more troublesome than the Colts’, having gone from 32nd in 2017 run-defense DVOA to 32nd in 2018 to 31st this season. Kansas City made a surprising defensive coordinator hire in Steve Spagnuolo, who has seen four of his past five defenses rank 31st or 32nd in yards allowed. Considering where the Patriots are defensively, the Chiefs’ Bob Sutton-to-Spagnuolo switch producing these results so far is rather alarming.

Sep 22, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) makes a reception against the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

MONDAY

Cleveland (2-2) at San Francisco (3-0), 8:15 p.m. ET

Inside Browns numbers: In Week 4 against Baltimore, Odell Beckham had a career-low 20 yards receiving, but the Browns’ offense finally broke out with 40 points.  To repeat their success, the Browns will likely need more from their superstar against the 49ers’ lockdown secondary, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest passer rating (72.7).

Inside Browns roster: After a rough start, Baker Mayfield will have a better chance to continue his rejuvenation. The Browns will have suspended wideout Antonio Callaway back, and their other second-stringer, Rashard Higgins, has a chance to play as well after missing three games with an ankle ailment. Both players cleared 500 yards on last season’s Jarvis Landry-led receiving corps. 

Inside 49ers numbers: Jimmy Garoppolo is 11-2 as a starter, joining Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott as the only quarterbacks over the past decade to win 11 of their first 13 career starts. Garoppolo’s offense is off to a hot start, ranking ninth in points per drive (2.25). After facing two struggling defenses (Bengals and Steelers), Garoppolo should get a good test from the Browns’ pass defense. Cleveland ranks eighth in fewest passing yards allowed per game (215.3) and pass defense EPA. 

Inside 49ers roster: Ahkello Witherspoon’s bounce-back play has been essential for San Francisco’s rebounding secondary. Richard Sherman’s running mate was given PFF’s worst cornerback grade in 2018 but stands in the top 15 through three games. Unfortunately, a foot injury will keep Witherspoon out Monday night and potentially blunt the third-year defender’s momentum. Second-year undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley, the likely starter opposite Sherman,  will be in line to defend Beckham at times.

By: Michael Nania and Sam Robinson

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/nfl_week_5_matchups_an_insiders_guide/s1_13132_30150824

Yardbarker’s Week 4 NFL picks, game previews

PHILA. (1-2) AT GREEN BAY (3-0), Thur., 8:20 p.m. ET

TV: NFL NETWORK     LINE: Green Bay -4.5


What you need to know: In Week 3, fumbles by Miles Sanders and Nelson Agholor hurt the Eagles. In fact, those plays led to six Lions points and provided the difference in a surprising home loss for Philadelphia. With the Cowboys looking strong and Giants revived by Daniel Jones’ winning debut, the Eagles must win to keep from falling out of the race early. Green Bay hasn’t started 4-0 since 2015, when it won its first six games before losing four of its next five. That the Packers are unbeaten is testament to their balance, as Aaron Rodgers’ play has not been scintillating. Green Bay boasts the league’s No. 2 scoring defense, and its eight takeaways are best in the league. The pass rush (12 sacks) is getting after it, too. The rush defense, however, ranks 25th.

On the spot: Eagles RB Miles Sanders. Sanders has not proven himself ready for the role of feature back, but the Eagles need him to hold up his end of the bargain in a partnership with Jordan Howard. 

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: An opportunistic defense is arguably most responsible for Green Bay’s fast start, so Rodgers must pick up his game to keep the Packers atop what appears to be the best division.

The pick: Packers 30 Eagles 24 2 of 15

TENNESSEE (1-2) AT ATLANTA (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: Atlanta -3.5


What you need to know: Tennessee had a chance to make a major statement against the Jaguars in Week 3 but flopped, and its dominant season-opening win over Cleveland feels like long ago. As in Week 2, offense was the problem for the Titans, with Marcus Mariota failing to sustain many drives. He was sacked nine times. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has six picks in three games. 

On the spot: Titans WR A.J. Brown. After Adam Humphries and Delanie Walker, Brown got the most targets against Jacksonville, with five. He was taken out of the game by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and needs to be much better to give Mariota more downfield options.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Everyone else is doing his part. Ryan can light up the scoreboard, but in a pass-happy league, he must be superb more often than not, and he hasn’t been.

The pick: Falcons 24 Titans 16 3 of 15

LA CHARGERS (1-2) AT MIAMI (0-3), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: Los Angeles -16.5


What you need to know: In Week 3,the Chargers couldn’t get to Deshaun Watson like the last several Texans opponents did, and it cost them dearly. Watson made big plays, including a 53-yard touchdown pass on a broken play, to beat Los Angeles. The Chargers have only four sacks, something that must change in a hurry, particularly with safety Derwin James out for at least half the season and the Chiefs already two games ahead in the AFC West. In Week 3, Miami was competitive with Dallas for 30 minutes, but couldn’t take advantage of three first-half red-zone trips. The Dolphins’ pass defense wasn’t gashed by Dak Prescott, but it had no answers for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard (combined for 228 yards on 32 carries).

On the spot: Chargers DE Melvin Ingram. Ingram has just one sack. Pro Football Focus’ grading is more kind to him, crediting him with six hurries. He must be better to help the Chargers’ so-so secondary.

Dolphins WR Preston Williams: Against Dallas, Williams dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Josh Rosen that would have gone for a touchdown. He finished with a team-leading 12 targets, but only four catches for 68 yards. Williams (6-5, 218) has prototype size for the position, and Rosen will continue to look his way. 

The pick: Chargers 30 Dolphins 17 4 of 15

OAKLAND (1-2) AT INDIANAPOLIS (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: Indianapolis -6.5


What you need to know: In Week 3, Oakland made things much too easy for the Vikings. QB Kirk Cousins barely broke a sweat, and RB Dalvin Cook dominated. One of the Raiders’ two scores came on a trick play. In Indy in Week 3, Jacoby Brissett completed his first three passes as the Colts jumped to a 20-3 halftime lead in a win over Atlanta. More good news for Frank Reich’s team: Adam Vinatieri was perfect, including a 49-yard field goal.

On the spot: Raiders RB Josh Jacobs. Oakland needs a complementary piece in the passing game to go with Waller and Tyrell Williams, and Jon Gruden seems to want that piece to be Jacobs. He has been effective as a runner (228 yards), but has only one catch for 28 yards.

Colts S Khari Willis: Malik Hooker will be out roughly a month and a half with a torn meniscus, and the burden of replacing him falls to Willis, a rookie fourth-rounder. Hooker was in the midst of another solid season, so Willis has big shoes to fill.

The pick: Colts 28 Raiders 13 5 of 15

NEW ENGLAND (3-0) AT BUFFALO (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: New England -7


What you need to know: The Pats’ defense still hasn’t allowed a touchdown, as both Jets scores last week came from their defense. New England is scary good on both sides of the ball. The Patriots’ defense is best in the league in points and yards allowed, and their offense is the second highest scoring. The only area where they’ve been even somewhat deficient is rushing offense, but when Tom Brady is running the show, that hardly matters. Josh Allen has been on a roller coaster ride, but he has made enough plays to complement a top-five Bills defense and rally the team to two fourth-quarter, comeback wins.

On the spot: Patriots RB Sony Michel. Michel averages less than 2.5 yards per carry. Although the Pats look unstoppable now, chances are they’ll need Michel soon, certainly in the postseason, if they are going to successfully defend their Super Bowl title.

Bills RB Frank Gore. Devin Singletary’s status is uncertain, so the task of churning out first downs and chewing up clock might fall to the ageless Gore, who has rushed for 164 yards (3.7 a carry). 

The pick: Patriots 31 Bills 14 6 of 15

CLEVELAND (1-2) AT BALTIMORE (2-1), Sun., 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: Baltimore -7


What you need to know: Cleveland is a mess offensively, and most of it is Baker Mayfield’s fault. The quarterback looks jittery in the pocket, holds the ball too long and runs himself into trouble when standing pat and making a throw would be more prudent. Freddie Kitchens takes much of the blame, but if his QB doesn’t snap out of his funk, the Browns’ hyped season will be on life support a mere quarter of the way in. In Week 3, the Ravens lost in Kansas City, and Lamar Jackson’s play was spotty. The Ravens are good, and certainly better than many thought they would be, but the K.C. loss proved that Jackson is not a finished product and Baltimore needs to do some work defensively. 

On the spot: Browns QB Baker Mayfield. He courted the hype, the attention and the haters, and now Mayfield isn’t holding up his end (56.9 completion %, 805 yards passing, 70.3 QB rating). 

Ravens S Earl Thomas: With Mayfield holding onto the ball too long, Thomas could have a field day baiting him into traps. That said, his past two games have not been great, per Pro Football Focus grading, so Mayfield may end up going right at him.

The pick: Browns 26 Ravens 23 7 of 15

WASHINGTON (0-3) AT NY GIANTS (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX  LINE: New York -3


What you need to know: In Week 3, Washington was sloppy, careless and non-competitive at home on MNF against Chicago. Case Keenum was ineffective; coupled with a winless start, that might compel Daniel Snyder to fire Jay Gruden. Or perhaps he will pressure the head coach to start rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. Gruden still thinks the season can be salvaged, so he’s resisting — for now. Speaking of throwing a rookie out there to see what he can do, Daniel Jones made GM Dave Gettleman look brilliant. Jones was a revelation, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more in his Giants debut, a win over the Bucs. He’s the talk of New York, but now comes the hard part: doing it twice in a row.

On the spot: Redskins QB Case Keenum. Keenum was good in Washington’s first two games, but he struggled against the Bears, throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. If he doesn’t bounce back, Haskins-mania will reach a fever pitch.

Giants QB Daniel Jones: Jones instantly energized the Giants, and it seemed like he brought pieces of the offense into play that Eli Manning could not. Jones will try to keep the good times rolling without his most dynamic weapon. RB Saquon Barkley is out 4-8 weeks. Your move, Wayne Gallman.

The pick: Giants 24 Redskins 20 8 of 15

CAROLINA (1-2) AT HOUSTON (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX  LINE: Houston -4


What you need to know: This game figured to be a great matchup when fans thought it would be Cam Newton versus Deshaun Watson, but Newton’s absence might make for an even better shootout. In Week 3, Newton replacement Kyle Allen lit up the Cardinals. Christian McCaffrey backed Allen with 153 yards rushing, and TE Greg Olsen had two touchdown catches. Carolina looked like a different — and much better — team with Allen. In Week 3 against the Chargers, the Texans finally protected Watson, as he was sacked fewer than four times in a game for the first time in eight regular-season contests. He was rarely pressured outside of those two sacks, and made the Chargers pay. Despite taking a beating, Watson still has a 108.6 passer rating.

On the spot: Panthers QB Kyle Allen. Can Allen do it two weeks in a row? Houston’s defense is second best in the NFL. One more star turn by Allen might cause a quarterback controversy in Charlotte.

Texans WR Will Fuller: The slow-starting Fuller doesn’t have a touchdown catch and has only 160 yards receiving through three games. The Texans need a legitimate second option when DeAndre Hopkins is covered, and Fuller is still best-suited for the job.

The pick: Texans 30 Panthers 21 9 of 15

KANSAS CITY (3-0) AT DETROIT (2-0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX  LINE: Kansas City -6


What you need to know: In Week 3, the Chiefs passed their test against Baltimore, and now they get another interesting one in the Lions. Kansas City’s running back situation isn’t ideal, but it feels like it almost doesn’t matter with the way Patrick Mahomes is playing. Incredibly enough, Mahomes is ahead of his 2018 pace for yards passing and TD passes. If he keeps it up, the MVP race will be a formality. Detroit is technically an unbeaten, but its come-from-ahead tie against the Cardinals feels like a loss. Still, the Lions have gutted out a win against the Chargers, and shocked Philadelphia on the road. No one is talking much about Matt Patricia’s team as a threat in the NFC North, but if it wins this game, everyone will be.

On the spot: Chiefs RB Darrel Williams. He rushed for 62 yards on nine carries in Week 3, and figures to get calls again this week. If banged-up LeSean McCoy is limited again, the burden of giving K.C. at least the threat of the run will fall to Williams.

Lions S Tracy Walker: Walker’s Pro Football Focus coverage grade through three weeks is 75.6, which is good to very good. But he’ll need to be fantastic, because if Earl Thomas was targeted by Mahomes and Andy Reid last week, they’ll likely go after Walker this week.

The pick: Chiefs 38 Lions 20 10 of 15

TAMPA BAY (1-2) AT LA RAMS (3-0), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

TV: FOX  LINE: Los Angeles -10


What you need to know: Shaq Barrett’s first season as a full-time starter is a smashing success; the linebacker leads the NFL with eight sacks in three games. The Buccaneers’ defense ranks in the top half of the league in yards allowed. It is particularly stingy against the run, giving up only three yards per carry, third best in the league. The Bucs are only 22nd in points allowed, however, owing partly to Jameis Winston, who has thrown two pick-sixes. In Week 3, Cooper Kupp helped the Rams overcome a game defensive effort from the Browns as LA won in Cleveland. Kupp consistently exploited coverage mismatches, and he and Jared Goff were on the same page all game. Kupp leads the Rams in catches (23) and touchdowns (2). 

On the spot: Bucs QB Jameis Winston. In Week 3, Winston and Mike Evans finally got going against the Giants, with Evans racking up 190 yards and three touchdowns. If the Bucs steal a win against the Rams, it may help coach Bruce Arians decide if Winston is worth a long-term investment.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp: The Bucs are stingy against the run game, so it might fall again to Kupp to spark the offense. He might be Los Angeles’ best overall receiver; he certainly played like it against the Browns. Tampa’s pass defense is suspect, so Kupp could have a big day.

The pick: Rams 27 Buccaneers 23 11 of 15

SEATTLE (2-1) AT ARIZONA (0-2-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

TV: FOX  LINE: Seattle -5


What you need to know: Seattle could easily be unbeaten, but sloppy play on special teams, and another fumble by Chris Carson, conspired to cost them in Week 3 against the Saints, who were outgained 515-265. Russell Wilson has been nearly flawless (seven touchdowns and no interceptions). The Seahawks might lean on him even more if Carson’s fumbling problems persist. The Cardinals’ run defense is abysmal. Only two teams in the league are worse — the Bengals and Dolphins. Arizona has yet to hold an opponent under 100 yards on the ground. On the plus side, WR Christian Kirk is developing into a nice weapon for Kyler Murray.

On the spot: Seahawks RB Chris Carson. Pete Carroll gave Carson a vote of confidence, but his three lost fumbles in three games are alarming. He lost only two in his first 18 games as a pro. Rashaad Penny should be back this week, so Carson’s margin for error is minimal.

Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks: Hicks has dropped into coverage more than any other Cardinals linebacker, per Pro Football Focus, but he hasn’t done a good job in that regard. Arizona has been shredded by tight ends each of the first three weeks, and Hicks is part of the issue.

The pick: Seahawks 30 Cardinals 28 12 of 15

MINNESOTA (2-1) AT CHICAGO (2-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

TV: CBS  LINE: Chicago -2.5


What you need to know: The NFC North may be football’s best division, which means that this battle of 2-1 teams could determine who eventually resides in the cellar. Minnesota is tough to beat when Dalvin Cook is running well; his 375 yards lead the league, as does his 6.6 yards per carry. He’ll have a tough test against a Bears defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run. In Week 3, Chicago got a laugher of a win against Washington, and Mitchell Trubisky finally had an easy, productive night. Much of that was due to Matt Nagy’s play-calling, which consistently had receivers, specifically Taylor Gabriel, running open. Can Chicago sustain that momentum?

On the spot: Vikings FS Harrison Smith. Smith is one of the league’s better safeties, and he’ll have the task of confusing Trubisky and baiting him into risky throws. If he wins the chess match, the Vikings have a good chance to win.

Bears WR Allen Robinson: Gabriel got all the love for his three-touchdown outburst against Washington, but Robinson is Chicago’s best receiving threat. Nagy was able to scheme Gabriel open — he needs to do the same for Robinson.

The pick: Vikings 20 Bears 13 13 of 15

JACKSONVILLE (1-2) AT DENVER (0-3), Sun., 4:25 p.m. ET

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_week_4_nfl_picks_game_previews/s1__30090275#slide_1

By: Chris Mueller

Cardinals’ Kyler Murray quickly proves he belongs

BALTIMORE — Kyler Murray sat at his cubby in the cramped visitors’ locker room of M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon holding tight his newest prized possession — a game-worn jersey, fresh from the back of his former Oklahoma teammate and now Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown. Murray clutched it briefly, appearing for a moment to think, “What a long, strange journey it’s been.”

Minutes after his first loss as a professional quarterback — and fully aware that if not for his heroics in salvaging a Week 1 tie against Detroit that it would’ve been his second loss — the new face of the Arizona Cardinals was dejected but not depressed. There was a sense among the Cardinals that they had let one slip away, that they’d lost to a good Baltimore Ravens team but had not succumbed. This was not the 3-13 team from last season that collapsed so easily.

Murray jovially chatted with his locker-room neighbor, practice-squad quarterback Kyle Sloter, and he cleaned himself up a bit before heading to the post-game podium, picking small pieces of debris from his hair.

“(Am I) feeling good about where are right now, coming off of last season?” Murray said. “Last season is last season. This is a new one, and for me, personally, I’m not cool with losing. We played hard, lost by six, and we had a chance to win it and we came up short.”

This was particularly true of the team’s red-zone woes, as the Cardinals had three drives stall inside the 4-yard line, resulting in three Zane Gonzalez field goals.

That was the main topic of conversation on a day when Murray’s counterpart — Baltimore’s young star quarterback, Lamar Jackson — had no such issues. The Ravens had touchdown drives of 94 and 85 yards in the first half, and Jackson helped Baltimore move to 2-0 with 392 yards from scrimmage (120 rushing) and two touchdowns.

Facing a hostile, purple-clad crowd, Murray held up for the most part, but he admitted after the game that he had his bad moments. “It just got loud as hell,” he said. “We’ve got to be better, plain and simple. It’s a loud environment, a great environment to be in, and it kind of just got to us.”

If he did buckle, he didn’t show it.

According to the Cardinals, that is a familiar trait for the stoic top pick. In interviews and in the locker room, Murray plays it pretty close to the vest. At the podium Sunday, he was cordial but not overly revelatory. He did not throw his offensive line under the bus, even if, with eight sacks in two games, it has at times deserved it.

“They’re a team that likes to bring a lot of pressure,” Murray said of the Ravens. “They got back there a little bit today. I thought we handled it well for the most part.”

The Cardinals have come to expect such leadership from Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Murray began to earn their trust early in the offseason, said Cardinals backup quarterback Brett Hundley, no stranger to backing up great leaders. Hundley was drafted by Green Bay in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of UCLA to serve as Aaron Rodgers protégé. After three rocky years with the Packers, Hundley moved to Seattle last season, where he backed up Russell Wilson. He knows a good quarterback when he sees one, and he sees one in Murray.

“You’ve got a lot of pressure on you as the No. 1 pick, as a quarterback for the team that was the worst in the league last year,” he said. “To come in and say ‘I’m going to help this team win games,’ when you’re not expected to? That’s a really hard task. Everybody puts pressure on him. That’s a lot, especially for a young cat. But nothing seems like it fazes him.”

Hundley said Murray has been humble in his approach, and “very teachable.”

“Even after bad days, he’d come in the next day and do his thing,” Hundley said. “He’s very consistent. It took me years to get to that point, to feel that. To see him come in and be able to handle this? The NFL is hard for everybody, but he isn’t showing that.”

There are steps, though, and Murray must take a big one soon.

With Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and Wilson and the Seahawks coming to Arizona the next two weeks, Murray’s first win might not come until Week 5 at Cincinnati, or perhaps two weeks later at the New York Giants.

Salvaging a tie in Week 1 was nice. Standing firm against a solid Ravens squad was a positive.

In two games, Murray has passed for 657 yards, the second most for a player in his first two starts. Newton holds the record, set in 2011. But with eight sacks taken and just 17 rushing yards on six carries, Murray hasn’t yet shown the dual-threat versatility that scouts raved about.

It’ll come, that seems to be sure. And so will a win. Soon, he hopes.

For now, it’s a good start.

“I’m not where I want to be five years from now,” Murray said. “But as far as being comfortable, I feel pretty good right now.”

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/cardinals_kyler_murray_quickly_proves_he_belongs/s1_13132_30013007

By: Jon Gold

Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action

Sunday’s NFL action represented the first full slate of the season as 14 games took place around the league. It did not disappoint.

The early games included tremendous performances from NFC rivals taking on hostile road crowds. That included the Dallas Cowboys doing their thing in D.C., and the San Francisco 49ers showing that the NFC West might be more competitive than originally thought.

Over in the AFC, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated a horrible Miami Dolphins team while the Pittsburgh Steelers proved that they are a shell of their former selves.

It’s in this that we look at the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action.

Broncos offense is a hot mess

Sep 15, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) attempts a pass under pressure from Chicago Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman (91) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We knew that Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears was going to be a low-scoring affair. Both the Broncos and Bears boast tremendous defenses with questionable offense. We didn’t realize just how bad the Joe Flacco-led Broncos offense was going to be. Was Week 1 against the Raiders an exception to the rule? Sunday’s game proved that it wasn’t.

Denver tallied a total of six points through the first 59 minutes of the game before converting on a touchdown and two-point conversion to take the lead before blowing it on defense en route to a 16-14 loss. All said, the Broncos’ offense converted on 3-of-14 third-down opportunities in the loss. That’s just not going to get it done. Now 0-2 on the season and averaging 15 points per game, it’s time to start talking about the Broncos’ offense as one of the worst in the NFL.

Houston, we have a problem

Sep 15, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs during the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s simple. The Texans need to do a better job protecting Deshaun Watson. We can use all the excuses available to mankind. That’s fine. But unless Watson stays upright on a more consistent basis, he’s not going to last this season. The third-year quarterback was hit 11 times and sacked six times against the Saints last week. Despite coming out on top 13-12 against a hapless Jaguars team on Sunday, Watson was hit seven times and sacked another four times.

The backdrop is real. Houston lost recently acquired starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil to an ankle injury. He was added ahead of Week 1 to help rebuild a devastated and talent-stricken Texans offensive line. No matter the severity of Tunsil’s injury, these Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. It’s that simple.

This just in: Kyler Murray is good

Sep 15, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws to tight end Charles Clay (85) as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon (99) applies pressure during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since Cam Newton back in 2011, a quarterback has accounted for 300-plus passing yards in each of his first two NFL starts. Shockingly, Murray has accomplished this feat in consecutive road starts to begin his career.

It might not have been good enough to come out on top against the Ravens on Sunday, but Murray continues to prove that the NFL game is not too big for him. The reigning Heisman winner completed 25-of-40 passes for 349 yards without an interception. Since struggling through the first two quarters last week, Murray has been on fire. It’s going to be fun watching him play moving forward on the season.

Chargers blow a chance at 2-0

Following a win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, most figured that the Chargers would not have an issue on the road against the Lions on Sunday. Almost immediately, that proved not to be the case. Philip Rivers and Co. scored a grand total of 10 points in a three-point loss that was capped off by this game-winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay.

It’s games like these the Chargers can’t afford to lose in an AFC West headed by the Kansas City Chiefs. And in reality, it was the offense that failed to step up. In fact, the Chargers’ defense was game against Detroit. It just wasn’t to be. And this loss could come back to haunt Los Angeles moving forward on the season.

Kirk Cousins continues to be a joke

Sep 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) fumbles the football while tackled by Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark (97) during the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota was able to win last week against the Falcons despite seeing Cousins attempt 10 passes. That was in no way going to be the case against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and Co. opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. While Minnesota’s defense picked it up and held the Packers scoreless the rest of the way, Cousins was absolutely atrocious under center.

The high-priced quarterback completed 14-of-32 passes for 230 yards. He threw two interceptions, including a pick in the end zone with Minnesota driving for the potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

https://twitter.com/packers/status/1173326891689758720

It’s getting to the point that Minnesota can’t rely on Cousins to be anything more than a game manager. Sunday’s loss to the Packers magnified this to a T. Defenses know if they put the game in Cousins’ hands, the quarterback will not be up to the task.

Julio Jones saves Falcons’ season

Sep 15, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a pass against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby (21) in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

 

Teams that start the season 0-2 since 2007 have made the playoffs just 11 percent of the time. That’s what the Falcons were facing at home Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Taking on an injury-depleted squad, Atlanta almost gave this game away. That included a 13-play, 73-yard touchdown drive by Philadelphia to take the lead with just over three minutes left.

All looked lost for Atlanta. It was facing a fourth-and-three with the game on the line. That’s when Jones stepped up and hauled in a 54-yard game-winning touchdown to help Atlanta pull it out by the score of 24-20. He had put up another tremendous catch earlier in the game, too, finishing with 106 yards on five receptions. Jones saved Atlanta’s season Sunday night. It’s that simple.

No shame in Pats’, Antonio Brown’s game

Not only did Antonio Brown make his Patriots debut Sunday against the Dolphins, the team featured him early. That included Brown making multiple catches on the first drive and coming away with a touchdown in the first half. All said, Brown caught 4-of-8 targets for 56 yards with a touchdown.

The backdrop here is interesting, to say the least. It was just last week that Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming multiple instances of sexual assault. Given these accusations, the Patriots’ decision to have Brown active for Week 2 tells us exactly where they stand on the situation. Only time will tell regarding the team’s stance moving forward. For now, Brown promises to play a huge role on offense in New England as the season progresses.

Cowboys have no problems with Redskins 

Sep 15, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries the ball to score a touchdown past Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson (52) in the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It started out slowly for Dallas against the Redskins in D.C. Sunday. For the second consecutive game, the Cowboys found themselves trailing early against a lesser opponent. But much like what we saw last week against the Giants, Dak Prescott and Co. picked it up big time from that point on.

Prescott followed up a flawless opener by completing 26-of-30 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. He added to a rushing attack that went for 213 yards. Meanwhile, Dallas bottled up the Redskins running game to the tune of 47 yards on 17 attempts. It led to another lopsided win for Dallas. This time, by the score of 31-21. Could this team now be the class of the NFC? The Cowboys are certainly looking like it right now.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/top_takeaways_from_sundays_week_2_nfl_action/s1_12680_30009140

By: Vincent Frank

Why each team will or will not win the Super Bowl

Arizona Cardinals

Why they will: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, and Kyler Murray is one of the best athletes the quarterback position has ever seen. The sky is the limit on offense if the stars align.

Why they won’t: The offensive line still looks bad despite some improvements on the right side, and the defense has serious talent deficiencies, especially early in the year without Patrick Peterson. Murray can be expected to help only so much as a rookie.

Atlanta Falcons

Why they will: Atlanta has elite offensive talent with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. and addressed the offensive line issues in the draft. The defense is healthy entering the year, which was an issue for most of last season.

Why they won’t: Pass rush has been an issue for the Falcons, and they didn’t do much to address that area in the offseason. The team also has secondary issues and allowed 423 points last year, fourth-most in the NFC.

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Why each team will or will not win the Super Bowl

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Slide 3 of 32: Why they will: Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a starter during the regular season last year and could make a second-year leap with improved offensive talent around him, led by Mark Ingram. Last year’s defense was also No. 2 in points allowed.Why they won’t: Jackson had multiple small injuries that should be worrisome over a full season, and the defense has lost significant talent, including Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, C.J Mosley and Za’Darius Smith.Previous SlideNext Slide

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Arizona Cardinals

Why they will: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, and Kyler Murray is one of the best athletes the quarterback position has ever seen. The sky is the limit on offense if the stars align.

Why they won’t: The offensive line still looks bad despite some improvements on the right side, and the defense has serious talent deficiencies, especially early in the year without Patrick Peterson. Murray can be expected to help only so much as a rookie. Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article. 2/32 SLIDES© Dale Zanine / USA Today Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons

Why they will: Atlanta has elite offensive talent with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. and addressed the offensive line issues in the draft. The defense is healthy entering the year, which was an issue for most of last season.

Why they won’t: Pass rush has been an issue for the Falcons, and they didn’t do much to address that area in the offseason. The team also has secondary issues and allowed 423 points last year, fourth-most in the NFC. Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article. 3/32 SLIDES © Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports Images

Baltimore Ravens

Why they will: Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a starter during the regular season last year and could make a second-year leap with improved offensive talent around him, led by Mark Ingram. Last year’s defense was also No. 2 in points allowed.

Why they won’t: Jackson had multiple small injuries that should be worrisome over a full season, and the defense has lost significant talent, including Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, C.J Mosley and Za’Darius Smith.

Buffalo Bills

Why they will: Buffalo added significant and impactful offensive talent in the offseason to complement second-year quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills also ranked second-worst in giveaways last season (32), a number that’s bound to improve with more stable quarterback play.

Why they won’t: Allen was still erratic last year, throwing 12 picks in 12 games and gaining only 6.5 yards per pass attempt. The offensive line has improved with new additions like center Mitch Morse, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough to help an offense that ranked 30th in points scored last season.

Carolina Panthers

Why they will: Cam Newton fixed his shoulder in the offseason and has an impressive set of young weapons around him, including Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.

Why they won’t: Carolina’s defense has regressed considerably, ranking only 25th in sack rate and 20th in points allowed last year. They’ve addressed that issue with the additions of Gerald McCoy and Brian Burns, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough. Newton is also becoming increasingly fragile, with a shoulder injury last season and foot injury during the preseason.

Chicago Bears

Why they will: Chicago returns a talented, young team that allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season and made huge strides on offense, led by Mitchell Trubisky. Rookie running back David Montgomery gives them another strong weapon.

Why they won’t: The Bears have lost defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and remain in a tough NFC North division. Trubisky was solid but inconsistent in his second season, and last year’s kicker issues could remain with the inexperienced Eddy Pineiro replacing Cody Parkey.

Cincinnati Bengals

Why they will: Cincinnati has plenty of talent at the skill positions on offense with Joe Mixon, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. Andy Dalton remains capable when healthy, and the defensive line is a strength with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and young Sam Hubbard.

Why they won’t: The offensive line remains a major issue, and the defense didn’t do much in the offseason despite allowing the most yards in the NFL during 2018. It could be a long year for first-year head coach Zac Taylor.

Cleveland Browns

Why they will: The Browns won five of their last seven games last season with Baker Mayfield under center and were the talk of the offseason after adding Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. They have blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball, and their path in the division is seemingly easier after the Steelers and Ravens lost talent in the offseason.

Why they won’t: The Browns have major questions on the offensive line, and it’s impossible to know what to expect from new head coach Freddie Kitchens. There’s optimism Mayfield will take a step forward in his second season, but he still broke the 30-point threshold as a starter only twice last year.

Dallas Cowboys

Why they will: Dallas developed an elite defense last year, with top players at all three levels. The Cowboys won eight of their final 10 games with the help of wideout Amari Cooper. The Cowboys also still have a great running game, with Ezekiel Elliott ending his holdout before Week 1, and Dak Prescott does a great job taking care of the ball. 

Why they won’t: Cooper is also fighting a foot injury that probably won’t heal significantly during the season. The offense ranked 21st in points last season and had issues moving the ball before he was acquired. If Cooper isn’t the same or has other offensive challenges, the Cowboys will have a tough time keeping up with the rival Eagles and other top NFC offenses.

Denver Broncos

Why they will: Most of the defensive strength remains intact, led by pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, and it could get even better with defensive mastermind Vic Fangio taking over as head coach. The running game was elite last season with the young duo of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Joe Flacco has Super Bowl experience under center.

Why they won’t: Flacco has been mediocre in recent seasons with Baltimore, and the talent around him in Denver isn’t better than what he had in Baltimore. While he could be an improvement over Case Keenum, Denver is asking a lot of a quarterback who has averaged a terrible 6.2 yards per pass attempt over the last three seasons. The AFC West also remains rough with the Chiefs and Chargers at the top.

Detroit Lions

Why they will: Head coach Matt Patricia is finally getting his players into the system, signing Trey Flowers for big money and adding corners Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman. The offense has underrated talent with Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson and strong wideouts.

Why they won’t: Despite the offensive talent, the Lions ranked 25th in points last season. There are still major questions at linebacker, and the NFC North is arguably the toughest division in football with the Packers, Bears and Vikings all having a real shot at making the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

Why they will: Anything is possible with Aaron Rodgers, and he seems happy for the first time in a while after the team hired Matt LaFleur to run the team. Green Bay also addressed its pass rush issues in the offseason with the additions of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary. Rookie safety Darnell Savage Jr. could also add a spark.

Why they won’t: The recent offensive issues have been blamed on Mike McCarthy, but maybe the problem was the talent on the field? Green Bay has seen some major turnover at receiver, and going into the year only Davante Adams can be considered reliable. The defense allowed the 11th-most points last year and still has big questions at all three levels.

Houston Texans

Why they will: Houston has built elite offensive talent led by Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans got a nice jolt before the season started by acquiring Duke Johnson, Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. The defense rebounded last year to rank fifth in points allowed, with J.J. Watt showing up as an elite player again.

Why they won’t: The offensive line still has major issues despite Tunsil’s addition, and the defense is less potent after losing Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu. Cornerback could also be an issue with several new faces. The AFC South is wide open after Andrew Luck’s retirement, but it also won’t be an easy road with all four teams having a viable shot entering the year.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/why-each-team-will-or-will-not-win-the-super-bowl/ss-AAGOise?ocid=spartanntp#image=13

By: Seth Trachtman

The best and worst moves of the NFL offseason

After a wild NFL offseason, the impact of team transactions is already becoming clearer as teams settle into the preseason.  1 of 24

Best: Bills sign John Brown

Young Bills quarterback Josh Allen has perhaps the strongest arm in the NFL, but the Bills were lacking a true speed receiver going into the offseason. That changed when they signed Brown to a three-year, $27 million contract. While Brown has struggled with injuries recently, he managed to stay on the field in Baltimore last year and averaged 17.0 yards per reception. He gives Buffalo the deep option it desperately needed. 2 of 24

Worst: Bengals re-sign Bobby Hart

Despite his struggles at tackle last year, the Bengals still re-signed Hart to a three-year, $21 million deal. That was much to the chagrin of Bengals fans who watched him struggle last year on what continues to be one of the league’s weakest offensive lines. 3 of 24

Best: Browns acquire Odell Beckham Jr.

The headlining move of the entire offseason was general manager John Dorsey’s trade for Beckham. Often a distraction in New York, Beckham is still undeniably one of the top wideouts in the league and now has a promising young quarterback in Baker Mayfield throwing him the ball. Cleveland is all in for the 2019 season, and Beckham is capable of bringing the Browns to the next level. 4 of 24

Worst: Broncos acquire Joe Flacco

There’s nothing that sets an NFL organization back more than investing in the wrong quarterback. Flacco’s experience is attractive, but he’s been one of the league’s worst starters over the last few years in Baltimore. Since 2015, Flacco is 24-27 as a starter with a mediocre 82.7 Quarterback Rating. It could just be that Flacco is a stopgap for second-round pick Drew Lock, but it looks like he will start most, if not all, of the 2019 season. 5 of 24

Best: Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury

Cardinals fans have reason to be excited about the near future even if the team doesn’t win many games this season. Kingsbury was regarded as an offensive genius at Texas Tech, and he has some interesting weapons to work with in Arizona, led by No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Arizona’s defense could be a nightmare, much like Kingsbury’s defenses were with the Red Raiders, as Patrick Peterson is suspended to start the year and No. 2 corner Robert Alford is injured. Still, there should be plenty of scoring, with the hope that Arizona can get the personnel to develop a defense later. 6 of 24

Worst: 49ers sign Tevin Coleman

San Francisco had one of the league’s most potent running attacks last season, even without Jerick McKinnon, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert proved that they earned more playing time, but that’s unlikely to happen after the 49ers signed Coleman. He has a history with head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, but he has never seen 200 touches in an NFL season and seems replaceable for the two-year, $8.5 million price tag. 7 of 24

Best: Chiefs sign Tyrann Mathieu

The Chiefs defense lost Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Eric Berry in the offseason. Without those key veterans, they clearly needed new veteran leadership for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, and Mathieu is set to take on that role. He’s coming off one of his best seasons in Houston despite six years in the league and still just 27 years old. Mathieu’s versatility to play safety or corner is perfect for his new system and the Chiefs’ dire needs in the secondary. 8 of 24

Worst: Giants draft Daniel Jones

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/the_best_and_worst_moves_of_the_nfl_offseason/s1__29808668#slide_1

By: Seth Trachtman

Treated unfairly with Cardinals, Rosen must quickly deliver for Dolphins

The world of pro football hasn’t been exceedingly kind to Josh Rosen in the year and change he has spent in its confines. A new beginning has presented itself in Miami, yet for a quarterback, such constant upheaval early in a career often has dire results.

Rosen may not have been the only quarterback in the 2018 class to be unfairly maligned coming into the draft — Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson can attest to that. The knocks on Rosen, however, were the sort of things that show that the league’s media apparatus saw him as unlikable from the get-go.

Rosen was said to be too much of an independent thinker who didn’t possess the single-minded obsession with the game that football culture has come to not only revere but demand of its quarterbacks. It didn’t help that his former college coach, Jim Mora, made comments almost tailor-made to alienate Rosen from the NFL fandom, which tends to skew older and more culturally conservative than other major sports leagues.

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why,” Mora said last spring. “Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

Those weren’t meant to be entirely damning words. Yet in the mind of football people, who often view a detail-obsessed micro-manager like Peyton Manning as the be-all, end-all of quarterbacking, they certainly seemed like it. Obviously, a pro team doesn’t — and shouldn’t — want its most important player to be a complete scatterbrain who can’t focus, but it’s probably not great for anyone to insist that a player not care about anything other than his sport and have no outside interests.

If those criticisms set some fans on edge, they didn’t hurt Rosen’s draft position much. He was taken 10th overall by Arizona, the fourth of five QBs selected in the first round last year. Rosen ended up having a lousy rookie season, posting atrocious figures in critical categories such as completion percentage (55.2), yards per attempt (5.8), and passer rating (66.7), yet one would have a hard time arguing he wasn’t set up for failure. His first offensive coordinator in the pros, Mike McCoy, was fired at mid-season. Arizona’s offensive line was rated the worst pass-blocking unit in the league by Pro Football Focus. His best and most productive weapon was a 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, who put up career-worst yardage numbers (734) as retirement creeps closer.

Even if Rosen had stayed in Arizona, he was going to have to learn a new offensive system and deal with new coaches in 2019. So in that sense, going to a new team isn’t that much of a departure. How it happened, though, was a disaster that is likely to unfairly dog Rosen. Just as the Giants recently made assurances they wouldn’t trade Odell Beckham before doing exactly that, Arizona earlier this year brushed off talk of dealing Rosen, which the Cardinals ended up doing 2 1/2 months later.

Much was made of the fact that Rosen unfollowed the Cardinals on various social media platforms after the team made quarterback Kyler Murray the first overall pick in this year’s draft. In terms of pettiness, it’s relatively minor and passive-aggressive, and you could easily argue deserved on the part of Arizona. Yet it was enough in the content-starved expanse of the NFL off-season to become a controversy. NFL Network’s Steve Smith, no stranger to public outbursts in his playing days, lambasted Rosen during live draft coverage about what the former receiver saw as immaturity and a lack of desire to compete.

Full Article

By: Michael Tunison

 

Top takeaways from first round of 2019 NFL Draft

The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft offered us a ton of surprises. Did the New York Giants really take Daniel Jones with the sixth pick? Their division rivals in the NFC East, the Washington Redskins, seemed to hit a home run with fellow quarterback Dwayne Haskins at the midway point of Round 1.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders went in different directions along the defensive line — one getting a true stud and the other reaching big time.

It seems like Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim admitted his mistake from a year ago by taking Kyler Murray at No. 1. And remaining in the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers added the draft’s best player.

These are among the top takeaways from the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Matt Patricia turning Lions into Patriots 2.0 

We’re not going to sit back and say this is a bad thing. It isn’t. After signing former Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers to a massive contract last month, Patricia and the Lions went back to the well again on Thursday. The former Patriots assistant selected Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. Hockenson was the consensus No. 1 tight end in the draft and is seen as a freak of nature.

It’s rather clear that Detroit is trying to provide Matthew Stafford with the same type of weapons we’ve seen Tom Brady excel with in New England. In this case, it’s almost a carbon copy of Rob Gronkowksi. It should do wonders for Stafford and Co.

Raiders’ drama seemed to be real 

Jon Gruden and Co. were apparently looking to move up for either defensive tackle Quinnen Williams or edge-rusher Nick Bosa. The target area was the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2 overall. Instead, Oakland stood pat with the fourth pick and selected Clemson edge-rusher Clelin Ferrell.

While seen as a first-round prospect, Ferrell was nowhere near projected to go within the top 10, let alone the top five. In fact, Oakland selected him over fellow pass-rusher Josh Allen. It was a major reach at an area in the draft that teams must avoid reaches. It also lends credence to the idea that predraft drama in Oakland’s war room was real. Oakland then went running back Josh Jacobs with the second of its first-round picks before adding safety Johnathan Abram to close out Day 1. All three of these picks were reaches.

Bills get a real steal in Ed Oliver 

After seeing Oakland reach with Ferrell and the New York Giants come out of left field with their selection of Daniel Jones, Buffalo was able to add an elite player at a need position. A dominant figure at Houston, Oliver came under scrutiny leading up the draft. In no way does this mean the defensive tackle isn’t an elite-level talent.

It really seems that teams analyzed Oliver’s game too much. He proved to be overwhelming for college competition. He could be an instant Pro Bowl performer. After rumors persisted that Buffalo might move into the top three for fellow defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, the team added a value pick a nine.

Washington quiets critics for now 

It was being reported in the lead-up to the draft that Washington was potentially looking to trade up for Daniel Jones. In fact, there seemed to be some disagreement between members of the front office. Had owner Daniel Snyder taken over the big board? Apparently not. Standing pat at 15 overall, Washington was able to land the consensus No. 2 quarterback in the draft in the form of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.

This represents a major coup for Washington, especially given the injury issues this team is facing in the quarterback room. The Skins didn’t have to move up for Haskins. Instead, they saw him fall right on to their lap. That’s just great for a much-maligned front office.

49ers building a bully 

Most fans in Northern California were pleading for general manager John Lynch and Co. not to overthink this. Selecting No. 2 overall, San Francisco was in position to land the draft’s best overall player. Once the Cardinals picked Kyler Murray at one, this became a reality.

In the end, these 49ers nabbed Ohio State edge-rusher Nick Bosa to team up with recently acquired Pro Bowler Dee Ford on the outside. Add in another Pro Bowler in that of DeForest Buckner at defensive tackle, and this front seven is absolutely stacked. That’s a good thing with Murray, Russell Wilson and Jared Goff in the NFC West.

Panthers ignore glaring offensive tackle need

Florida State edge-rusher Brian Burns could very well be a dynamo at the next level. In no way does this mean that continuing to ignore pass protection in front of often-hobbled former NFL MVP Cam Newton is a recipe for success.

Alabama’s Jonah Williams was off the board when Carolina selected 16th overall. Even then, two other offensive tackles were selected almost immediately after the Panthers’ pick. It just make no real sense for Carolina to continue ignoring pass protection in front of Newton. It’s that simple.

We’re not sure what the Giants are doing

New York wasn’t interested in drafting a quarterback until it was. David Gettleman and Co. didn’t show much confidence in Haskins or Murray before meeting with them. In the end, these Giants made the most eye-opening move of the first round in selecting Duke’s quarterback Daniel Jones No. 6 overall.

It even led to Haskins laughing in the green room. Jones is seen as a major project and likely won’t be ready to start for two more seasons. Then with the 17th pick — acquired in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade — New York went defensive tackle in the form of Dexter Lawrence. That’s one way to get help for Jones and reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley on offense. Ouch!

Some curious moves from the Packers

Former Michigan standout pass-rusher Rashan Gary didn’t seem to be need for Green Bay after the team added edge-rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency. Add in injury concerns to Gary, and it was a surprise at No. 12 overall.

With their second pick of Day 1 — acquired in a trade with the Saints last year — the Packers picked up a fast-rising safety in the form of Darnell Savage. This was also a curious move from general manager Brian Gutekunst and Co. It’s obviously too early to draw conclusions here. But the Packers went with two boom-or-bust prospects.

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