2019 NFL MVP favorites and odds

The NFL quarterbacks’ MVP dynasty

Two gifted running backs — Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson — won the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in consecutive seasons, 2005-2006. Since then, 11 of the past 12 MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 2018 top dog Patrick Mahomes who earned 41 of the 50 first-place votes. Fellow quarterback Drew Brees finished second. So Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season — less than a year removed from a torn ACL — remains the last time somebody other than an NFL quarterback hoisted the NFL MVP hardware.

Spoiler alert: Based on the favorites to win the 2019 MVP, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon.

Odds via Bovada 2 of 16

Cam Newton

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,395 pass yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs | 488 rush yards  and four TDs

A shoulder injury may have cost Newton the final two games on paper, but anybody who watched the Panthers quarterback grind out the 2018 season knows it cost the team much more. Carolina started the season 6-2 and in a prime position to reach the playoffs. However, the severity of Newton’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing balls down field and allowed defenses to cheat up and play the underneath routes. After the hot start, the Panthers lost seven of their last eight games. Newton had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, and he’s expected to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season. His MVP chances ride on improved play of DJ Moore, Jarius Wright and a healthy Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but when healthy he’s Cam’s most trusted target. If Olsen misses time, running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP odds could be just as high as Cam’s. 3 of 16

Philip Rivers

Odds: +2,000
2018 stats: 4,308 pass yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs

Rivers may be the NFL equivalent of MLB’s Cal Ripken. The Chargers ironman has not missed a game for 13 consecutive seasons. While the league has gone to great lengths to protect the quarterback, the fact Rivers hasn’t sustained a serious injury over the past 208 games is nothing short of a miracle. Led by Keenan Allen, his receiving corps remains intact and receives a slight upgrade with the full-time return of tight end Hunter Henry who missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. The one constant who is missing as of press time is Melvin Gordon. The Chargers starting running back is holding out in hopes of a new contract. If Gordon’s holdout lingers into the regular season, Rivers’ odds of winning the 2019 MVP should take a notable hit. 4 of 16

Jimmy Garoppolo

Odds: +3,300
2018 stats: 718 pass yards, five TDs and three INTs (in only three games due to torn ACL)

The saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and when it comes to Jimmy G. what we don’t  know outweighs his elite hype. Garoppolo has yet to play in more than six regular-season games and missed the final 13 games of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. So the 2019 season will be a fresh canvas on which to either paint a masterpiece and fill in those unknown gaps OR post pedestrian stats as he has through his first nine games as the 49ers quarterback: 12:8 TD:INT ratio. If you’re looking for a reason to back this long shot, Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes will benefit — not hurt — Jimmy G’s shot at the 2019 MVP. 5 of 16

Matt Ryan

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 4,924 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Ryan was one of only four quarterbacks last season to finish with more than 600 pass attempts. Aside from a pass-first offense, the primary reason his pass attempts reached a three-year high is due to a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which turned the secondary into Swiss-cheese city, and opponents racked up early leads. So Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (10 TDs as a rookie) and others spent most of the game in rally mode via the pass. If the defense can stay healthy, the Falcons are one of those squads that could flip the script and qualify for the playoffs one year after missing them. Ryan is as consistent as they come and despite turning 30 years old, Jones will go down as one of the top targets in NFL history. 6 of 16

Ben Roethlisberger

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 5,129 pass yards, 34 TDs and 16 INTs

Without Le’Veon Bell last season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions (career-high), attempts (career-high), passing yards (career-high) and pass yards per game. The loss of both Bell and Antonio Brown will no doubt change the Steelers’ offensive dynamic, but don’t sleep on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill Brown’s shoes as Big Ben’s primary receiver in addition to a healthy running game of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. While many believe the AFC North torch has been passed to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, an MVP season by Roethlisberger would mute any chance of that happening. 7 of 16

Deshaun Watson

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 4,165 pass yards, 26 TDs and nine INTs | 551 rush yards and five TDs

The good news for Watson is that he’ll probably compete for an NFL MVP one day. The bad news is that unless his offensive line play improves 1,000 percent, he won’t be among the 2019 MVP finalists. Remember: Despite mobility that rivals Russell Wilson, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. To be fair some of those sacks were no doubt Watson’s fault. However, as of early August, head coach Bill O’Brien admits he still doesn’t know who will start on the offensive line. How does this not get addressed in the offseason? Forget Watson’s MVP chances. The Texans could find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. 8 of 16

Mitch Trubisky

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 3,223 pass yards, 24 TDs and 12 INTs

The Chicago Bears 2018 defense ranked first in points allowed and against the rush, third in turnover differential (+12) and seventh against the pass. Its pass offense ranked outside the top 20. So the obvious question becomes where can Trubisky improve in his third year when the top three receiving targets remain the same and the Bears front office elected to shake up the running back depth chart after averaging 121 rush yards per game last season (11 th)? It’s a loaded question. Despite an above-average arm and 421 rush yards and three rush TDs last season, it’s hard to fathom Trubisky making enough of a statistical leap toward MVP when the most valuable players — plural — on the team likely reside on the defensive side of the ball. 9 of 16

Russell Wilson

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,448 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Because the Seahawks averaged a league-leading 160 yards per game last season, Wilson’s passing totals were the lowest since 2014. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl run, the offense needs to find a consistent passing game aside from Wilson running for his life on third and long. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season, but that total could have been higher if not for his elite mobility out of the pocket. So the offensive line play must improve, and Pete Carroll needs to find lighting in a bottle with second-round draft pick DK Metcalf. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver out of Ole Miss is a polarizing brand, but Wilson has no choice but to embrace the rookie because without Doug Baldwin, No. 3’s primary target is 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster Tyler Lockett. 10 of 16

Carson Wentz

Odds: +1,200
2018 Stats: 3,074 pass yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs (11 games)

Wentz’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL tear, and he missed the final three games of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his back. The knock of Wentz is that these annual ailments date back to high school. However, when you place the injury history on the back burner and assess a potential 16-game campaign for the Eagles quarterback, it’s evident he has the talent and players around him to make a run at an MVP and Super Bowl title. One guy who will help him reach those goals is DeSean Jackson. The speedy, downfield receiver returns to Philadelphia at age 32 and should allow for Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to enjoy softer coverages this season. Also, the arrival of Jordan Howard should improve the Eagles 28 th-ranked running game of a season ago, which should also boost Wentz’s MVP odds.

By: Ryan Fowler

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/2019_nfl_mvp_favorites_and_odds/s1__29673998#slide_1

NFL stars looking to rebound from a rough 2018

Whether it was due to injury, age or just subpar play, many NFL players are looking to rebound after disappointing 2018 seasons. Here’s a look at 25 players hoping to bounce back.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, free agent

Ansah had an injury-plagued year in 2018, likely his last in Detroit. He played only seven games, recording four sacks, and he struggled to find a market as a free agent this offseason due to a shoulder injury.

Vic Beasley, DE, Falcons

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but that production looks more like a fluke after his last two seasons. He had only five sacks in each of the last two seasons and also had just 20 tackles last year as a situational pass rusher. Atlanta desperately needs a rebound from him this year.

Randall Cobb, WR, Cowboys

At one time Cobb was Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver, but he’s struggled in Green Bay over the last three years. After playing only nine games due to injuries last season, he signed with the Cowboys to replace Cole Beasley as the team’s slot receiver.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

Dalton’s last winning season as a starter was 2015. Last year he went 5-6 in 11 starts before a season-ending thumb injury. He also threw 11 interceptions during his time on the field. Bengals fans hope new head coach Zac Taylor can help Dalton take a step forward.

Joe Flacco, QB, Broncos

The writing was on the wall for Flacco in Baltimore after the team drafted Lamar Jackson. Despite adding several new receivers, Flacco went 4-5 as a starter with just 12 touchdown passes before giving way to Jackson due to a hip injury. Denver traded for Flacco in the offseason, but he’s in a similar situation after the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s return for selecting Fournette fourth overall in the 2017 draft hasn’t been great thus far. He had more than 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season but averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Last season was worse, as he played only eight games mostly due to injuries and had a terrible 3.3 yards per rush attempt. Fournette also had minor legal issues during the offseason.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

Freeman has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons and played only two games last year due to foot and groin injuries. He’s still young enough to rebound going into his age 27 season, and the Falcons need him to be healthy after Tevin Coleman left in free agency.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers

Green Bay expected big things from Graham after signing him last offseason, but he was a relative disappointment with only 636 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Graham deserves credit for gutting out a thumb injury late in the year, but the expectation that he’d replace Jordy Nelson’s production didn’t come to fruition.

A.J. Green, WR, Bengals

Green has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons, sitting out seven games last year due to a toe injury. For the second straight year, Green’s production when he did play was also down significantly with only 77 receiving yards per game after averaging at least 80 yards from 2012-2016.

Full 25

By: Seth Trachtman

 

The Best & Worst Quarterback in Each NFL Team’s History

Best: Arizona Cardinals – Jim Hart

The Arizona Cardinals franchise has been around for almost an entire century, at least in some capacity. But over that time, the team has had only six quarterbacks ever selected to the Pro Bowl, and only one of them who was selected to the NFL’s All-Star game more than twice.

That would be Jim Hart, who was the team’s full-time starter between 1967 through 1981. Hart threw 209 touchdowns in that span, which is over 70 touchdown passes more than any other quarterback in franchise history.

Worst: Arizona Cardinals – Ryan Lindley

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals have probably blocked out as much of the Ryan Lindley experience from their collective minds as possible. In his first season in Arizona, Lindley finished the year with a 46.7 passer rating, having thrown seven interceptions and no touchdowns.

After entering the NFL in 2012, Lindley didn’t throw his first official touchdown pass until 2014, when he rejoined the Cardinals after a one-year stint on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers. In four seasons of professional football, including one season in the Canadian Football League, Lindley threw 4 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Best: Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan

The Atlanta Falcons have had a few good-to-very good quarterbacks since the start of the 1990’s, ranging from guys like Chris Miller (a former Pro Bowl selection) to Michael Vick (once the most exciting player in the NFL). But none of those guys could hold a candle to what Matt Ryan has done for the Falcons’ franchise.

Worst: Atlanta Falcons – Randy Johnson

Long before a near-7-foot baseball pitcher made the name famous, Randy Johnson was a starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons back in the late 1960’s…. And he was a terrible one to boot.

After winning only three games in his rookie year in 1966 (out of 11 starts), he actually managed to win even less games the following four years in Atlanta, winning a grand total of 5 times in 26 starts in the ensuing four years he was the starter.

Best: Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco

Even though the Baltimore Ravens were really the reincarnation of the relocated Cleveland Browns, since the Browns were awarded a new franchise with the same name, we’re treating the Ravens as a separate franchise in and of its own.

Given that the Ravens haven’t really had an illustrious history at the quarterback position, it’s hard to give this designation to anyone other than Joe Flacco.

Flacco is the only quarterback in team history to play in more than 53 games for the franchise, and no other quarterback in team history has come close to his total career touchdown passes, passing yards, and total wins as a starter.

Worst: Baltimore Ravens – Elvis Grbac

A year after the Baltimore Ravens dumped quarterback Trent Dilfer after taking the team to the Super Bowl, they qualified for the postseason once again with Elvis Grbac under center. Prior to that, Grbac had spent four season nas the starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he never won more than nine games as a starter.

Grback and the Ravens defeated the Miami Dolphins by a 20-3 score in the Wild Card roung of the playoffs, before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. The Ravens released Grbac in a salary cap move after he refused to renegotiate his contract, and Grbac retired after being released.

Best: Buffalo Bills – Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly might be tied for third place in most Super Bowl appearances by an NFL quarterback, and he might be one of only seven quarterbacks in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl four times, but no quarterback in the history of the game has led his team to the Super Bowl four straight years. None, that is, except Jim Kelly.

The maestro of the Buffalo Bills’ “K-Gun” offense terrorized opposing defenses from 1989 and 1992, perennially leading the Bills to the highest offensive ranks each year. He finished his career with over 35,000 passing yards, currently sitting in 25th place all time. But for all those Super Bowl appearances and all those passing yards, Kelly will never have a ring to show for them.

Worst: Buffalo Bills – Alex Van Pelt

Despite the fact that Alex Van Pelt left the University of Pittsburgh having broken many records established by some guy named Dan Marino, Alex Van Pelt started his career as a backup quarterback, but took over as the starter of the Buffalo Bills in 1994 after Jim Kelly would suffer a major knee injury.

But that would be one of the only times that Van Pelt actually started; in nine years in Buffalo, Van Pelt started 11 games, finishing with a career 3-8 record in those starts.

Best: Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton

Unless you happen to be relative of Kerry Collins or Jake Delhomme, it’s hard to believe anyone could think this designation would belong to anyone other than Cam Newton. The #1 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton is the only quarterback in franchise history to be named to an All-Pro team (2015) and be selected to the Pro Bowl multiple times.

In 2015, Newton ran roughshod through the NFL, throwing 35 touchdowns and running for 10 more, leading the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, and being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

Worst: Carolina Panthers – Jimmy Clausen

Never in history has there been a player for with the combination of breathtaking hype and incredible failure like Jimmy Clausen. The most over-recruited player in NCAA history to date, Clausen’s lackluster career at Notre Dame led him to fall to the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Carolina Panthers, who selected him, decided to throw him to the proverbial wolves in his rookie year, and Clausen got eaten alive: three touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 games as a starter. He had a huge hand in the Panthers finishing with a 2-14 record, and Carolina saw enough of him in that one year to decide to draft his replacement — Cam Newton — just one year after taking Clausen.

Best: Chicago Bears – Sid Luckman

Though the Chicago Bears franchise has had some of the most iconic names in NFL history on its roster, including Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary, they haven’t had anything close to that at the quarterback position. The franchise forever known for its “Monsters of the Midway” defense haven’t boasted a truly elite NFL quarterback since Sid Luckman played under center for them in the 1940’s, under legendary coach George Halas.

Though Luckman’s passing yardage and touchdown pass totals were eventually surpassed by Jay Cutler, the latter is not — and will never be — a five-time All-Pro selection and Hall of Fame inductee like Luckman.

Worst: Chicago Bears – Bob Avellini

For all the glory the Chicago Bears have had on the defensive side of the football (and at the running back position), that hasn’t been shared at the quarterback spot. The history of the Bears franchise is filled with guys like Bob Avellini, who had one winning season during his first four years in the NFL.

Avellini finished his nine-year career in Chicago with more than a 2:1 ratio of interceptions to touchdowns (throwing 69 interceptions to only 33 touchdowns).

Best: Cincinnati Bengals – Ken Anderson

Most people might associate Boomer Esiason or Carson Palmer when thinking of the best quarterback in Cincinnati Bengals history, but that honor quite certainly belongs to Ken Anderson, the team’s starting quarterback from 1972 through 1984. Anderson has thrown for more yards and passing touchdowns than any quarterback in team history, and has 24 more wins than any other quarterback as well.

During the 1981 season, Anderson had a career-best 3,754 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Bengals to a 12-4 record and their first-ever Super Bowl appearance (when they’d lose to the San Francisco 49ers).

Worst: Cincinnati Bengals – Akili Smith

A one-year wonder who parlayed that brief success into the #3 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, Smith’s NFL career was an unmitigated disaster. First, the Bengals turned down the “Godfather” offer from the New Orleans Saints; Mike Ditka was selling the farm to move up to grab Ricky Williams, allegedly offering the Bengals a whopping nine draft picks (Cincinnati turned down the offer). He started off his tenure in Cincinnati completely on the wrong foot, missing a substantial portion of the team’s training camp, which many believed irreparably stunted his development in the NFL.

Of course, once he did sign, his off-the-field habits didn’t help either. Smith was later quoted as having given in to the temptations of his high draft selection, flying back and forth between Cincinnati and San Diego to party with his friends and multiple women regularly; he’s called himself “a complete embarrassment off the field.” Smith played in 22 NFL games and posted a career passer rating of 52.8. In one year at Oregon, he threw for 30 touchdown passes; in four seasons in the NFL, he threw for a total of five.

Full List

By: Raj nanavati

Winners and losers from NFL Week 11

From thrilling last-second wins by teams that are fighting to stay in contention to a horrifying injury that could shape the NFC playoff race, NFL Week 11 had it all.

A six-game winning streak was snapped in agonizing fashion. A team many thought would contend for the title suffered a sixth-straight loss. A team many thought was out of contention is right back in it thanks to a second-straight road win.

Those are among the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 11.

Winner: Captain Andrew Luck has Colts on a roll

© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts lost five of their first six games this season. It looked like Andrew Luck’s redemption tour was going to be delayed by a year, at least, despite some solid play from him early. But since that awful start, both Luck and the Colts have started playing some outstanding ball.

With 297 yards and three passing touchdowns Sunday in a 38-10 blowout win over the Tennessee Titans, Luck extended his streak of at least three passing touchdowns to seven consecutive games.

His Colts have now rattled off four wins in a row and are in second place in the AFC South, knocking at the door to get into the playoffs. Should they complete the comeback and make the postseason, then Luck deserves to be included in the MVP conversation, along with Comeback Player of the Year.

Loser: Washington suffers déjà vu in worst possible way

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after breaking his leg in the second half against the Houston Texans during the second half at FedEx Field. 

Thirty-three years ago to the day, the Washington Redskins were issued a staggering gut punch. Joe Theismann suffered a horrifying broken leg that is still to this day considered among the most gruesome in professional sports.

On Sunday, Washington lost Alex Smith in the same exact manner. He broke his right tibia and fibula while being dragged to the ground on a sack. He was carted off, taken to the hospital in an ambulance and required immediate surgery. To nobody’s surprise, he will miss the rest of the season, head coach Jay Gruden announced after the game.

Washington also lost Sunday’s game in heartbreaking fashion — falling to 6-4 on the season. The team will be bringing in a bunch of veterans on Monday to see who might back up Colt McCoy.

Barring some crazy developments, it’s hard to see this team finishing off the season strong without Smith. Though it still leads the NFC East, Washington will be hard pressed to hold that lead. On the season, it is minus-one in point differential and closes out the campaign with four of its last six games on the road.

Winner: Cowboys rising 

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Dallas couldn’t win on the road earlier this year and entered Week 9 with a 3-5 record. It looked like the ‘Boys were headed for another disappointing season. But the past two weeks have seen this team come together for two straight road wins, and Sunday’s victory in Atlanta was very impressive.

Ezekiel Elliott and the big guys up front are getting back to dominating folks at the line of scrimmage. The dynamic dual-threat running back followed up Week 10’s 187-yard game with an incredible 201-yard showing against the Falcons.

Now just one game behind Washington in the NFC East, featuring an offense that’s starting to click and a defense that can really get after folks — and with four of their final six games at home — Dallas is in great shape to win the division.

Loser: Jags are toast

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Jon Bostic (51) brings down Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) during the second half at TIAA Bank Field.

The Jacksonville Jaguars gave it their all on Sunday. For a while it appeared they had Big Ben Roethlisberger and Co. in the palm of their hands, as the Pittsburgh Steelers could do next to nothing in the first half.

Despite a monster game from Leonard Fournette. Despite two Jalen Ramsey interceptions against Big Ben, and three interceptions overall. Despite the best showing Jacksonville has put up in weeks. The Jags lost. They lost their sixth game in a row. They’re now 3-7 on the season. Oh, by the way, Blake Bortles is still not the guy.

This team is done. A franchise many pegged to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII is unofficially out of the playoff chase, and it is officially the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season.

All the Winner and Losers

By: Jesse Reed

Top matchup for each Week 6 NFL game

During this week’s slate of NFL games, a ton of individual matchups will take center stage as 30 of the league’s 32 teams take to the field.

Can Denzel Ward continue his great rookie season in route to leading the Browns to a winning record against Keenan Allen and the equally hot Los Angeles Chargers? Patrick Peterson will look to continue his excellent play in hopes of stopping a Vikings receiver in Adam Thielen who is on pace to break the single-season catch mark. And in Kansas City, the Patriots must contend with the league’s best offense, Tyreek Hill included.

These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 6 NFL game.

Projecting the first loss of every NFL team

Which NFC Playoff Team is the Strongest?

Written by Marc Sessler, Around the NFL Writer

We’ve arrived at the doorstep of the games that matter most.

The playoffs are here, and this year’s flock of NFC contenders are a glorious gaggle of powerful teams dotted with watchable stars. Each of these clubs are laced with positive traits, but also quirks that render them vulnerable.

In a conference tournament that’s truly up for grabs, let’s take a look at what makes these playoff teams tick, shall we? Teams below are arranged according to how they’re seeded.

NOTE: Be sure to check back Thursday for a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each playoff team in the AFC.

1) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

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Strength: The offense is compromised by the loss of quarterback Carson Wentz, but the Eagles held their own on defense over the past two weeks after giving up 434 yards passing to Eli Manning in Week 15. No team this season generated a higher disruption rate (the combination of pressures and run stuffs divided by defensive snaps), and no defense was stingier against the run. Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Chris Long anchor a front line with the power to wreck game plans and rattle quarterbacks. The Eagles will need this side of the ball to play pristine football week after week for any shot at the Super Bowl.

Weakness: Philly’s weakness? It’s what used to be the club’s unquestioned core power: the quarterback position. Losing Wentz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 14 stripped the Eagles of their beating heart and one of the game’s most promising young stars. Backup Nick Foles was exposed on Christmas against Oakland and was downright awful last Sunday against the Cowboys before giving way to third-stringer Nate Sudfeld. It really shows in Philly’s vertical air game, too, with Foles sporting a 2.1 passer rating on deep throws — small sample size noted — while Wentz produced a 94.9 mark before the injury. Eagles fans went from watching Wentz operate as a cannon-armed, pre-snap magician with next-level mobility and Brett Favre-level derring-do to wondering if the postseason might be a one-and-done affair with Foles at the controls.

2) Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

Strength: Where do we begin? You can point to the team’s star-studded offense, Minnesota’s ability to overcome key injuries or the franchise’s rock-solid, slump-proof and resourceful coaching staff, led by Mike Zimmer. It all starts with the defense, though, which has held teams to under 20 points in a whopping 12 games. If the pass rush hasn’t quite been itself over the past two weeks, the Vikings still have reliable, Pro Bowl-level talent at every level. Beyond the team’s nasty front seven, the back end of this unit — led by cover man Xavier Rhodes and sensational safety Harrison Smith — has the raw power to frustrate a high-flying team like the Rams in January.

Weakness: I don’t see an overt weakness on this roster. Don’t tell me this year’s Case Keenum isn’t a Super Bowl quarterback, either, because he’s done nothing but magnify the play of his skill-position players. When Keenum ran into trouble in a Week 14 loss to the Panthers, his six sacks charted back to a banged-up offensive line currently missing left guard Nick Easton, who went on injured reserve on Dec. 26. The line can’t suffer any more setbacks. I’d also be concerned that tight end Kyle Rudolph came out of Sunday’s win over Chicago in a walking boot. Finally, we need to see Everson Griffen return to his pass-rushing heights from a couple of months ago, but chalk this up as nitpicking. This is the NFL’s most complete team, with a roster that thrashed the Rams in November.

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Falcons Beat Bucs On Back Of Devonta Freeman To Move to 9-5

Written by Chris Wesseling at NFL.com

Devonta Freeman overcame a pair of fumbles to pound out a season-high 194 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, leading the Atlanta Falcons (9-5) to a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers(4-10) in Week 15. The Falcons held on for the win after Patrick Murray missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. Here’s what we learned from Monday night’s action:

1. The final two weeks of the NFC South’s season set up as a round-robin tournament to establish playoff seeding among three contenders. Due to tie-breaker advantages, the Falcons will succeed in defending their division crown if they win out. If they lose next week at New Orleans, however, they will have to beat the Panthers at home in the regular-season finale to prevent the Lions, Cowboys or Seahawks from sneaking in via a late-season winning streak.

2. Atlanta’s victory officially eliminates Green Bay from the playoff picture, which leaves the Packers with little incentive to risk re-injury to Aaron Rodgers’ surgically repaired throwing shoulder going forward. Re-signing No. 3 quarterback Joe Callahan on Monday, coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that Rodgers is “sore” after taking too many hits in Sunday’s return to game action. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” McCarthy added. Monday night’s result is going to bring ill tidings in McCarthy’s Christmas stocking.

3. Freeman was the Falcons’ leading rusher and top receiver. Channeling Le’Veon Bell, he made defensive backs pay at the tackle point, lowering his shoulder and driving for extra yardage. After staking his team to a 10-point lead via a 32-yard touchdown scamper in the middle of the fourth quarter, he also came through with a crucial third-down conversion just before the two-minute warning.

4. Twenty is the magic number for Dan Quinn’s club. The Falcons are now 9-0 when they score at least 20 points as opposed to 0-5 when they fail to reach that mark. That said, winning five of the past six has obscured some troubling signs for Matt Ryan’s aerial attack. Entering Week 11, the 2016 MVP had thrown for at least 224 yards in 50 consecutive games. He has now been held under that threshold five times since mid-November. The Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection that was the NFL’s most productive last season has generated a paltry passer rating of 31.4 over the past three weeks, the worst stretch of Jones’ career. As we pointed out last week, Ryan is too often forced to squeeze the ball into tight windows in Steve Sarkisian’s offense whereas Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant scheming frequently led to wide open targets for an offense that averaged 11 more points a year ago.

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Saints Loss To Falcons Changes NFC Playoff Picture

Written by Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com

Eleven yards away from burying his biggest rival in the NFC South race, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass that might haunt him until he faces the Falcons again. Luckily for him and NFL fans, that rematch is only two weeks away.

Falcons cornerback Deion Jones’ interception was one of those plays that can change the shape of an entire season in an instant. Here are a few of the quick playoff picture ramifications from Atlanta’s 20-17 victory:

The No. 1 seed in the NFC is all but out for New Orleans: A win over Atlanta on Thursday night would have put the Saints in truly commanding position to win the NFC South, considering they have already swept the Carolina Panthers. The Saintscould have started to set their sights on home-field advantage in the NFC or a playoff bye. That’s going to be a lot more difficult now with four losses, two more than the Vikings and Eagles. A head-to-head loss to the Rams also could hurt the Saints in seeding.

Even if the Saints do still win the division, it’s likely now they will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The NFC South could come down to the Falcons-Saints rematch: Now 8-5, Falcons go on the road to Tampa in Week 15. If they can win that game, Atlanta will head to New Orleans for a pivotal Week 16 matchup with a chance to take over first place in the NFC South. The team started 7-5 last season, so they know how a hot finish can translate to playoff success. Thursday night’s win over New Orleans, at the very least, gives the Falcons some breathing room in the wild-card race. Speaking of which …

The road for the Packers, Cowboys and Lions just got tougher: The three pack of 6-6 NFC wild-card hopefuls need the Falcons, Panthers or Seahawks to slip up down the stretch. It’s still quite possible that happens because of the difficult schedule all three teams face, but this win by Atlanta makes the path less likely.

The Panthers should be smiling too: Carolina has plenty of issues to worry about with their inconsistent passing game and the visiting Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. But the Panthers now join the Falcons and Saints in the “control their fate” NFC South party. The Falcons-Panthers game in Week 17 is going to be ripe with playoff implications. All three teams in the best division in football can win the division if they just win out. Deion Jones made sure of it.

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Falcons Get Good Win Over Seahawks On MNF

Written by Brady Henderson at ESPN.com

Russell Wilson was awful at the start. He was incredible after that. Ultimately, he wasn’t enough.

Wilson was picked off on his second pass attempt and lost a second-quarter fumble that was returned for an Atlanta Falcons touchdown, which contributed to a brutal start for the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson rallied Seattle back with two passing touchdowns, a rushing score and some of his signature elusiveness — showing that the Seahawks are never out of any game as long as No. 3 is at quarterback — but they needed more than Wilson’s magic on Monday night.

They needed a much cleaner performance, they needed to get off the field on third down and they needed to put a whole lot more pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan than they ever got in their 34-31 loss. They also needed Blair Walshto come through at the end to push the game into overtime, but his 52-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds left came up short to seal Atlanta’s victory.

“Unfortunately, the turnovers really gave them a great opportunity, and they took advantage of it,” coach Pete Carroll said. “So we were playing from behind all night.”

The loss snaps the Seahawks’ 11-game win streak on Monday Night Football, and much more importantly, it further narrows their margin for error in the NFC playoff race.

What it means: The Seahawks wasted an opportunity to move into first place in the NFC West over the Los Angeles Rams, who dropped to 7-3 with a loss on Sunday (the Seahawks own a tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head win). Seattle’s playoff chances took a big hit. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, a win against Atlanta would have given the Seahawks an 85 percent chance of reaching the postseason. A loss drops that down to 58 percent. The Seahawks’ chances of playing in January for a sixth straight season are looking iffy, especially with a banged-up defense and a tough remaining schedule. Among other things, they’ll need the Rams to keep coming back down to Earth like they did in their loss to Minnesota on Sunday.

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