NFL Week 14 game-by-game analysis, grades

In New Orleans, the 49ers claimed the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a wild win. At New England, the Chiefs snapped the Patriots’ 21-game home winning streak. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 14 whip-around: 1 of 17

Yardbarker’s NFL Week 14 game-by-game analysis, grades

In New Orleans, the 49ers claimed the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a wild win. Also, the Chiefs snapped the Patriots’ 21-game home winning streak. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 14 whip-around: 2 of 17

SAN FRANCISCO 48, NEW ORLEANS 46

49ERS (11-2): If San Francisco won over most doubters with its performance in defeat against Baltimore in Week 13, it silenced all remaining ones with this win. Surprisingly, it was fueled by the offense and not the defense, which was strafed by Drew Brees. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns, and the 49ers ran for 162 yards on a Saints team that came into the game having allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the league. Garoppolo’s performance was even more impressive because the Saints had allowed the fifth-fewest net yards per passing attempt in the league through Week 13. The 49ers control their own destiny; if they win out, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through San Francisco. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


SAINTS (10-3): Despite the loss, New Orleans must be thrilled with how its passing attack clicked against the top-ranked DVOA pass defense. Drew Brees was masterful, completing 29 of 40 passes for 349 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions (138.4 passer rating). TE Jared Cook, who entered the game averaging 72.8 yards receiving over his past four games, posted 38- and 26-yard touchdowns on his only two targets. This was a San Francisco defense that owned league-best marks of 5.5 yards per pass attempt allowed and an 11.3% sack rate; the 49ers did not sack Brees and allowed him to average 8.7 yards per attempt. If these teams meet again in the playoffs … whew. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Colts (Mon., Dec. 16)

— Michael Nania 3 of 17

KANSAS CITY 23, NEW ENGLAND 16

CHIEFS (9-4): Kansas City led the NFL with 52 sacks last season, but in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, the Dee Ford-Justin Houston group did not sack Tom Brady and hit him just once. The Chiefs overhauled their D-line this offseason, and while Frank Clark and Alex Okafor are well off Ford and Houston’s statistical pace, they produced pressure in a big spot. Clark, Okafor and Chris Jones each dropped Brady, and the Chiefs hit him six times. Clark added a critical tackle for loss – one of the Chiefs’ eight Sunday – on a James White red-zone run, forcing a field goal. Kansas City’s final-play blitz led to Bashaud Breeland’s pass breakup. After midseason struggles induced panic among the Chiefs’ fan base, Kansas City’s defense has strung together back-to-back strong efforts. That’s a key development considering K.C.’s offensive capabilities. With the win, the Chiefs clinched the AFC West.
GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


PATRIOTS (10-3): Seventy-two of New England’s 184 passing yards came on trick plays. Bill Belichick’s defensive wizardry has consistently given his offenses high margins for error, but this group fell through that safety net Sunday. Tom Brady’s pass-catching cast is obviously a cut below the norm, but the 42-year-old quarterback cannot be absolved after averaging fewer than five yards per attempt for the third time this season. He’s enjoyed historically great circumstances for most of the Pats’ dynasty – be it elite defenses, offensive lines or the most dominant tight end ever. Does the legend have enough left to produce when his weaponry isn’t optimal? Now 2-3 against winning teams, the Patriots have coasted on the easiest schedule they’ve played in a decade chock full of them. With Bengals and Dolphins games coming soon, they will still likely earn a playoff bye. But this loss provided a sign this operation will be more vulnerable in January than any Pats team since 2009. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson

4 of 17

LA RAMS 28, SEATTLE 12

SEAHAWKS (10-3): Until D.K. Metcalf’s 35-yard catch with less than 10 minutes left, the Seahawks didn’t have a play over 20 yards. After opening the game with a field goal, Seattle went scoreless on its next seven offensive possessions, before kicking another field goal midway through the fourth quarter. The Seahawks are only as good as Russell Wilson and the offense on a given day. That’s usually an acceptable recipe, because they entered Week 14 fifth in the league in points per game. RB Rashaad Penny’s knee injury throws some uncertainty into Seattle’s running attack, so Chris Carson might have to shoulder a heavier burden. What Seattle really needs is for Wilson to regain his MVP form. He has four straight games with a passer rating under 100, after opening the season topping that mark in eight of nine. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


RAMS (8-5): QB Jared Goff was mostly razor-sharp, and though he threw two interceptions early in the third quarter, it seemed that both were the fault of his wide receivers. Goff excelled when he wasn’t stationary; he was 7-of-7 for 134 yards and a touchdown when throwing from outside the pocket. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2018, Goff earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any NFC West quarterback when it came to passing outside the pocket, easily besting Russell Wilson, who finished second. Head coach Sean McVay and Goff are figuring things out, but whether they did so in time remains to be seen. To catch Minnesota for the final wild-card spot, Los Angeles likely must win out. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 5 of 17

TENNESSEE 42, OAKLAND 21

TITANS (8-5): Reports surfaced before Sunday’s game that Ryan Tannehill and the Titans were in discussions about a contract extension. It’s easy to understand why, as Tannehill has completely changed the trajectory of Tennessee’s season. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is playing like the league MVP in his seven starts. Tannehill has the highest yards per attempt in the league, at 9.8, and his 118.9 passer rating in the eight games in which he has actually attempted a pass is also tops in the league. Tannehill’s career history suggests that eventually he will regress, but the eye test shows a quarterback who appears to have put it all together, whose success isn’t fluky or unsustainable. If Tannehill’s play continues at this level, Tennessee will have to pony up a huge amount of money on a long-term contract, but considering that the Titans’ current ceiling looks like that of a Super Bowl contender, they’ll be more than happy to do so.GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


RAIDERS (6-7): After throwing the football-following world off the scent with a midseason win streak, Oakland’s three consecutive blowout losses restore the expected reality. The Raiders assembled some passable defensive outings and saw growth from select players (namely DE Maxx Crosby). But the franchise will fold up shop in Oakland after deploying below-average defenses in an astounding 17 straight seasons. Ryan Tannehill’s 391-yard showing during a game when the Titans finished 8-for-11 on third downs provided more evidence the Raiders need more help. Oakland’s secondary covered and tackled poorly, with Titans rookie wideout A.J. Brown joining RB Derrick Henry in shrugging off Raider defenders. The Khalil Mack trade gives the Raiders the Bears’ 2020 first- and third-round picks – although Chicago owns Oakland’s second-rounder from that deal. Beyond wide receiver, the Las Vegas-bound team needs reinforcements at cornerback, linebacker and on the defensive line. With his team projected to hold $73 million in 2020 cap space, expect Jon Gruden to land multiple veteran upgrades as well.  GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 6 of 17

LA CHARGERS 45, JACKSONVILLE 10

CHARGERS (5-8): The Chargers showed a glimmer of what could have been Sunday in Jacksonville. One contributor continues to hover above the rest. Austin Ekeler’s performances will represent the best Bolts memories from this season. The Chargers should initiate extension talks with their explosive passing-down back, who is a restricted free agent-to-be. Ekeler totaled 213 scrimmage yards (17.7 per touch), delivering a career-best 101 on the ground. Eighty-four of Ekeler’s yards came on a tunnel-screen touchdown. He became the second Charger to eclipse 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game, joining not LaDainian Tomlinson but Lionel James. James is one of three backs to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Ekeler leads 2019 backs with 830 and has a chance to reach 1,000. The Chargers can draft a between-the-tackles Melvin Gordon replacement, but the 24-year-old’s low mileage (404 touches in three seasons) makes him a good bet to maintain long-term value. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


JAGUARS (4-9): The Jaguars lost their fifth straight game by at least 17 points. Focusing on any individual player’s performance for Jacksonville is irrelevant. The real story is that Doug Marrone has very likely coached his final game for the Jaguars. The team certainly appears to have quit on him, and with another losing season guaranteed, owner Shad Khan needs to take a hard look at his franchise and decide what he wants it to be. A star-studded defense has imploded, battled with the front office and ultimately turned into a shell of its former self, and while rookie QB Gardner Minshew is a fun story, there are serious quarterback questions to answer. Firing Marrone is an obvious, easy move. Taking a long, honest look at what has ailed this franchise comes next, and that is the hard part. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

7 of 17

BALTIMORE 24, BUFFALO 17

RAVENS (11-2): Baltimore clinched a playoff berth in a difficult environment in Buffalo. But it also potentially exposed an area of concern: TE Mark Andrews left early with a right knee injury for a Ravens team short on quality receivers. Hayden Hurst (3 catches for 73 yards) played well in Andrews’ absence, but Ravens wideouts had a rough time gaining separation against a quality secondary. No one besides Hurst had more than 29 yards receiving. QB Lamar Jackson (145 yards passing and 40 rushing) did just enough. Another positive: With New England’s loss, the Ravens tightened their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Thurs.)

— Matt Williamson


BILLS (9-4): Buffalo allowed six sacks, managed 209 yards and converted 4 of 18 third- and fourth-down plays. But there was a silver lining: The Bills held the Ravens to a season-low 118 rushing yards. Considering the AFC favorites are on pace to (somehow in 2019) to break the NFL season rushing yardage record, this represents an achievement for any team – let alone a Bills defense that entered 22nd in run-defense DVOA. Lamar Jackson had a season-worst 185 yards, and Baltimore’s multifaceted ground attack averaged 3.6 yards per carry after coming into Sunday at 5.5. The Bills did not score a touchdown until seven minutes remained yet still had an opportunity at a tying score. This margin for error shows more development from Buffalo’s defense, strengthening the Bills’ chances for what would be their first playoff win in 24 years. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 8 of 17

DENVER 38, HOUSTON 24

BRONCOS (5-8): The bevy of non-Paxton Lynch Broncos quarterbacks between Peyton Manning and Drew Lock enjoyed moments, but Sunday’s game provides a stronger indicator about Denver’s future than productive games from Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum or Joe Flacco. Lock’s 22-for-27, 309-yard, three-touchdown pass showing in Houston gave Denver its best win this season. It marked a major improvement from Lock’s choppy debut in Week 13. Whereas Flacco and Brandon Allen squandered fourth-quarter leads, Lock’s effort built a big enough advantage that it would have taken an NFL-record collapse for the Broncos to lose it. The second-round rookie displayed his blend of arm strength – via the middle-of-the-field laser to TE Noah Fant for Denver’s first touchdown – mobility and patience on well-designed plays. The Broncos entered this game a candidate to use their 2020 first-round pick on a quarterback. Barring a significant Lock regression over the final three games, they can prepare to build around him next season. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


TEXANS (8-5): No team had a more embarrassing Week 14 than the Texans, who put their status as AFC South favorites in question. Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions and couldn’t get anything going until the game was out of reach, but Houston’s defense was its real issue. The Texans entered the game 28th in the league in pass defense and played down to that ranking and then some against rookie Drew Lock, who was making just his second NFL start. Lock picked apart Houston’s secondary despite not having much of a running game (90 yards). The game illustrated Houston’s chief vulnerability on defense and was an object lesson in how quickly things can go bad for the Texans if Watson and DeAndre Hopkins don’t deliver spectacular individual performances. A road date with the Titans for control of the AFC South looms, and the Texans can’t be feeling good about themselves. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 9 of 17

TAMPA BAY 38, INDIANAPOLIS 35

COLTS (6-7): Indianapolis’ playoff hopes are probably cooked because it was unable to dictate the terms of this game. Jameis Winston and the Bucs are accustomed to playing turnover- and point-filled track meets. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett did his best to keep up, and Indy’s defense scored points courtesy of a Darius Leonard interception return, but Indianapolis was gashed by Tampa Bay’s offense for 542 yards, the most it has allowed all season. The Colts couldn’t run the ball, lost badly in the time-of-possession battle and simply ran out of gas. Well, at least kicker Adam Vinatieri, who missed the game with a left knee injury, didn’t blow this one. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Saints (Mon., Dec. 16)

— Chris Mueller


BUCS (6-7): It’s not often we give a quarterback kudos when he throws three interceptions, but Jameis Winston was mostly stellar against the Colts’ 14th-ranked DVOA defense. He completed 33 of 45 passes for four touchdowns and 456 yards, 10.1 yards per attempt. Head coach Bruce Arians got everybody in on the party. No Buccaneer hit the 100-yard receiving mark, but nine different players collected at least 19 yards receiving and four different players hauled in touchdowns. Tampa Bay is red-hot, winning four of its past five games and averaging 29.6 points over that stretch. The Bucs’ playoff chances are minuscule, but they are building a foundation for 2020. GAME GRADE: B+  | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

10 of 17

PITTSBURGH 23, ARIZONA 17

STEELERS (8-5): In what was quasi-home game for the Steelers in Arizona, Devlin “Duck” Hodges threw for only 152 yards, but he was efficient. The star of this game, however, was rookie Diontae Johnson, a third-round pick out of Toledo. He scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown on a dynamic, 85-yard punt return. In the third quarter, Johnson again showed off his vision and explosion with the ball in his hands on a screen play in which he reversed fields and made something out of nothing. A few plays later, Johnson scored his second touchdown with a crisp, two-yard out route for a TD. He has great body control and the ability to explode out of his sharp breaks. But Johnson’s sharp route running is where he really thrives. Wow, the Steelers can find receivers. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


CARDINALS (3-9-1): Kyler Murray saw an unfortunate but predictable trend continue against the Steelers: Against the league’s better defenses, he usually struggles. Murray has two strong games against San Francisco on his resume, but against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Saints, he has been unable to make big plays with regularity. Part of that is a reflection of the Cardinals’ overall lack of talent, but some of it is on Murray. Pittsburgh harassed him all game, sacking him five times and intercepting three passes. Murray has five interceptions in his past four games, after going five straight contests without a turnover. Taking more chances is good for Murray in the long run, but as the Cardinals proved yet again, their road back to contention will be long and arduous and will require a major roster overhaul. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 11 of 17

ATLANTA 40, CAROLINA 20

PANTHERS (5-8): It’s like clockwork. Week after week, opponents shred the Panthers on the ground with ease. The Falcons, who entered Week 14 ranked 27th in rush offense DVOA, ran 32 times for 159 yards (5.0 per attempt) and two touchdowns on Carolina’s abysmal run defense. The Panthers have allowed league-worst marks of 5.3 yards per rush attempt and 24 rushing touchdowns. Significant resources must be invested in the defense in the offseason. With better run defense, the Panthers would have two or three more wins, despite their problems at quarterback. Carolina Kyle Allen again was poor (28-for-41, 293 yards, two interceptions). GAME GRADE: F |  NEXT: vs. Seahawks

— Michael Nania


FALCONS (4-9): The offense was strong, averaging 6.9 yards per play. Matt Ryan posted his second game with 300-plus yards on 9.0-plus yards per attempt against the Panthers in a four-week span. An unlikely hero helped break the game open for the Falcons: undrafted free agent Olamide Zaccheaus. He entered Week 14 having played just 32 offensive snaps; he did not have a target or a touch. Against the Panthers, Zaccheaus broke free for a 93-yard touchdown on the first grab of his NFL career and his only catch of the game. The Falcons wrapped up a five-game stretch against divisional opponents with a 3-2 record. Is that enough to save head coach Dan Quinn? GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 12 of 17

NY JETS 22, MIAMI 21

DOLPHINS (3-10): With the Giants and Bengals still on the Dolphins’ schedule, a team with one of the worst rosters in modern NFL history could finish 5-11. Were it not for an overturned pass-interference call that allowed the Jets to kick a winning field goal, the Dolphins would have possessed a six-win ceiling. That is borderline unfathomable, based on Miami’s offseason actions and the talent trades and injuries removed from the roster in-season. Brian Flores appears to be the right coach for this rebuild. He has gotten more from this roster than almost anyone envisioned. First-time offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea has also overseen the long-awaited, oft-doubted breakout by WR DeVante Parker. This resembles a semi-competent offense despite a replacement-level offensive line. The Dolphins have less talent than the 0-16 Browns of  2017, yet Flores has lapped Hue Jackson’s work. Even without the No. 1 overall pick, the Flores-led Dolphins are on the right track. And his 2020 roster will be much better. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


JETS (5-8): A recent trade candidate, Robby Anderson may be positioning himself for a long-term Jets extension. Or he could be one of the prizes in a thin wide receiver free-agent class. Sam Darnold located his most talented receiver seven times for 116 yards against the Dolphins, and the fourth-year deep threat found space across the field against Miami’s undermanned secondary. Anderson’s extra-effort touchdown helped the Jets win a meaningless game, but this stretch is more about evaluation than final scores. Dating to last season, the 26-year-old wideout has shown chemistry with Darnold. However, Anderson’s career has included inconsistency and off-field issues. If the Cowboys extend Dak Prescott and use their franchise tag on Amari Cooper, Anderson would be the top 20-something wideout on the market. It will take eight figures per year for the Jets to retain him, but without any young outside threats on the roster, GM Joe Douglas must consider an Anderson re-up. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Thurs.)

— Sam Robinson

13 of 17

MINNESOTA 20, DETROIT 7

LIONS (3-9-1): No one should expect David Blough to be Matthew Stafford. But this game was a massive step backward from his impressive showing in a loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving Day. He missed open throws and threw two interceptions, but what stood out most was how poorly he handled himself in the pocket. The Vikings have a very good pass-rush — DE Danielle Hunter in particular caused great problems for the Lions’ protection. But Blough is to blame more than Detroit’s pass blocking. He held the ball too long, didn’t feel the rush around him, and even when the Vikings were not bearing down on him, he perceived pressure that wasn’t there. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Bucs (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


VIKINGS (9-4): Minnesota’s cornerback situation (See Rhodes, Xavier) is problematic. But the Vikings, who won their fifth straight game, may have found something in one of their former first-round picks. Mike Hughes blanketed Marvin Jones (3 catches) much of the game, as the Vikings limited the Lions to only 161 yards passing. Coming into this game, the only advantage the Lions’ offense had on paper was the combination of WR Kenny Golladay, who is impressive, and Jones against Minnesota’s outside cornerbacks. Hughes may give head coach Mike Zimmer a possible answer to one of this team’s biggest questions as the Vikings head toward the playoffs. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: at LA Chargers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 14 of 17

GREEN BAY 20, WASHINGTON 15

REDSKINS (3-10): Washington’s defense did an admirable job in Green Bay keeping a high-octane offense in check. The Packers, who came into the week ranked seventh in points per drive (2.24), scored just 20 points, their lowest mark of the season at Lambeau Field. The Redskins got after Aaron Rodgers, sacking him four times and registering seven quarterback hits. It was a team effort, as four different players picked up a sack and seven different players picked up a hit. Rodgers passed for 195 yards, his worst mark in a fully played home game since Week 4 of 2017. The Redskins are doing some nice things to set the tone for their future. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


PACKERS (10-3): The Redskins ‘ offense has some decent, young pieces, but no one is going to confuse it with the 2019 Saints’ attack. Green Bay took care of business, limiting rookie QB to Dwayne Haskins to 170 yards passing. But the Packers’ run defense may be a weak link. Packers tackling was shoddy at times, and they weren’t disciplined controlling gaps. It wasn’t a horrible showing against the run but something to be mindful of in the playoffs. That’s when the defense won’t be able to stack the box against much more formidable passing teams. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Bears (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 15 of 17

CLEVELAND 27, CINCINNATI 19

BENGALS (1-12): RB Joe Mixon was easily Cincinnati’s best player in this game. Although his stats early in the season were poor, it wasn’t his fault. The line rarely opened holes. Now with cracks to slip through, Mixon looks like one of the best running backs in the league. Against the Browns, he ran with passion, burst and power (146 yards) and showed terrific change-of-direction ability against a defense geared to stop him. The Bengals even split Mixon out wide and threw him deep routes against linebacker coverage. (He had 40 yards receiving.) The Bengals’ offense, with OT Jonah Williams returning next year, isn’t as far off as many might think. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


BROWNS (6-7): Cleveland was far too pass-heavy in the first half, especially considering the Bengals rush the passer well but are horrendous against the run. In the second half, Cleveland’s offense went through RBs Nick Chubb (106 yards) and Kareem Hunt. (26 yards rushing and 40 receiving) Smart, smart move: The Browns’ pass protection is a liability, and QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham’s on-the-field relationship couldn’t be more disjointed. Perhaps the coaching staff will stick to the ground in the final three  games. (Psst: I don’t trust ’em.) Beckham (2 catches, 39 yards), reportedly dealing with a sports hernia injury, remains a disappointment. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

NY GIANTS AT PHILADELPHIA

GIANTS (2-10): Perhaps veteran QB Eli Manning  who hasn’t played since Week 2, can solve the Giants’ turnover woes. Rookie QB Daniel Jones, out with a high ankle sprain, has 21 turnovers this season. Manning is coming off of a 2018 season in which he posted a career-low interception rate of 1.9%, and he did a solid job at the beginning of 2019 with just two interceptions over 89 pass attempts (2.2%  rate, better than league average of 2.3%). Philadelphia has struggled a bit in taking the ball away as well as limiting the effectiveness of opposing quarterbacks, ranking 18th in takeaway rate (10.7%, below league average of 11.9%) and 19th in passer rating allowed (91.8). 

— Michael Nania


EAGLES (5-7): The defense must perform at a consistently dominant level, which it has the talent to do. The Eagles are 19th in points allowed per drive (1.99), after yielding a season-worst 37 points to the hapless Dolphins in Week 13. The Eagles, who stunningly could still win the terrible NFC East, are surprisingly mediocre against the pass. They are tied for 19th in net yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4 versus league average of 6.3) and are allowing the 10th-highest touchdown pass rate (5.2% versus league average of 4.5%). This unit has the talent to be substantially more reliable than that.  NEXT: at Redskins (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 17 of 17

CHICAGO 31, DALLAS 24

BEARS (7-6): Much maligned this season, QB Mitch Trubisky has played significantly better recently. Led by WR Allen Robinson (76 catches for 898 yards), he’s throwing to a better group of receivers than some may realize. The third-year QB’s passing prowess showed up again Thursday night (244 yards and three TDs). But in this game, we saw the running ability (10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown) that was so crucial for him in 2018, when he scampered for 421 yards. The Cowboys did a really poor job of tackling, but Trubisky was smart when he chose to run, avoiding taking punishment. Trubisky looks much healthier and more confident now than he did in the first half of the season and is making a strong push to be Chicago’s starter in 2020. Using his legs as a weapon (143 rushing yards in 2019) sure helps. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)

 — Matt Williamson


COWBOYS (6-7): The Cowboys’ struggles against strong competition continued in Chicago, as they fell to 0-6 in games against teams with a winning record. Dallas, somehow still in first in the NFC East, has been close, as the loss to the Bears marked its ‘ fourth loss by seven points or fewer out of those six games. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky carved up the struggling pass defense (which entered Week 14 ranked 23rd in DVOA), posting three touchdowns, a 115.5 passer rating and a season-best 80.6 QBR. Slot corner Jourdan Lewis was a primary culprit, yielding four catches on four targets for 64 yards and three first downs. One was an eight-yard touchdown to Allen Robinson. Lewis has given up 12 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at LA Rams (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_14_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30753680#slide_1

By: Yardbarker Staff

NFL Week 14 matchups: An insiders’ guide

Yardbarker’s Sam Robinson and Michael Nania go deep inside NFL games each week, focusing on key numbers and roster issues. 

GLOSSARY: 

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

Dallas (6-6) at Chicago (6-6), 8:20 p.m. ET

Inside Cowboys numbers: Dallas is 0-5 against teams that currently have a winning record. The Cowboys lost the turnover battle 10 to one in those games.  

Inside Cowboys roster: With Amari Cooper on pace to eclipse his season yardage high by nearly 150, Dallas’ decision to trade a first-round pick for him worked out. Despite Cooper wanting to stay in Dallas, it will probably come down to the team’s ability to extend Dak Prescott before the March 10 franchise tag deadline. Prescott will certainly take precedence if this extension saga moves to this point, forcing the Cowboys to tag him and thus sending Cooper to free agency. If the Cowboys cannot navigate this situation and keep an important player off the market, it will be an organizational failure.

Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s defense has overcome unfavorable circumstances to remain one of the league’s most dominant units, ranking fourth in scoring defense per drive (1.50) despite playing with the second-worst average starting field position (opponent’s 31-yard line). The Bears allow the fourth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.7) and seventh-fewest net yards per pass attempt (5.8). 

Inside Bears roster: Chicago has not featured a long-term receiver duo since its Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery tandem, but Anthony Miller has crept into the equation as a potential Allen Robinson complement. Despite a part-time role for half the season, the Bears’ second-year slot receiver surpassed his rookie-year receptions and yards total in Week 13 via his career-high nine-grab, 140-yard showing. Miller has exceeded 50 yards in six of his past eight games and is now a full-time player. Given Chicago’s issues at tight end, Miller’s development is critical for a Robinson-reliant passing attack.

SUNDAY

Carolina (5-7) at Atlanta (3-9), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Panthers numbers: Carolina’s 22 rush touchdowns allowed is the most through 12 games since the 2000 Cardinals. After taking on Atlanta’s 25th-ranked DVOA run game, the Panthers will play three teams ranked in the top-13 of rush offense DVOA (Seahawks, Colts, Saints), so more embarrassment could be on the way.

Inside Panthers roster: Despite Carolina’s struggles over the past two seasons, Ron Rivera should be a candidate elsewhere soon. But second-year owner David Tepper firing the two-time Coach of the Year was easy to anticipate, given his comments since arriving. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers stick with Cam Newton, as Kyle Allen has predictably shown he’s more a backup QB than a viable starter, given Newton’s relationship with Rivera. Tepper seeking a “modern” coach should point to the Panthers’ next leader having an offensive background.

Inside Falcons numbers: The offense is respectable, ranking 10th in EPA and 12th in points per drive (2.02). The Falcons are doing this despite a down season from QB Matt Ryan, who averages his fewest yards per attempt (7.3) since 2013 (6.9).

Inside Falcons roster: Some of the Falcons’ pass-protection issues in the Saints’ franchise-record-tying nine-sack performance stemmed from three offensive linemen being out, but backups Ty Sambrailo and Wes Schweitzer are ex-starters with several years’ experience. Atlanta’s line has underwhelmed throughout what’s been a wasted year for a veteran-laden roster. With the Falcons projected to be over the 2020 salary cap (without many cuts possible) and having used two first-round picks on linemen this year, the team will need to need to bargain shop for any upgrades it seeks for this unit.

Indianapolis (6-6) at Tampa Bay (5-7), 1 p.m. ET 

Inside Colts numbers: The Colts have stubbornly stuck with a washed-up Adam Vinatieri, and it has cost them dearly. Vinatieri has missed eight field goals (tied for league lead with Robbie Gould) and six extra points (most in the league). His 30 points worth of missed kicks is by far the highest total in the league.

Inside Colts roster: Indianapolis is in a dire place at wide receiver. In addition to T.Y. Hilton battling injuries throughout the season, would-be No. 2 wideout Devin Funchess will not come off IR as the team once expected he would. Third-round rookie Parris Campbell has 115 yards receiving  in five games and has not played since Week 9, and the Colts just placed auxiliary cog Chester Rogers on IR. QB Jacoby Brissett will have a difficult time keeping Indianapolis in the playoff race.

Inside Bucs numbers: Coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense has dealt with bad field position (sixth worst) due to an offense that owns the second-highest turnover rate (18.2 percent). But the group has prevailed with impressive situational football. The Bucs’ defense ranks 10th in takeaway rate (13.5 percent), and 14th in the red zone (54.3 percent). 

Inside Bucs roster: Now two sacks from Warren Sapp’s season Bucs record of 16.5, pass-rusher Shaq Barrett looks like an extension no-brainer. But with he, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib on expiring contracts, this current Bucs strength spot will be a need area soon. JPP being willing to accept a discount or an incentive-laden deal would help, given his history, but Tampa Bay may need to consider an early-round edge rusher pick due to its uncertainty here and a pricey Barrett extension likely on tap.

Miami (3-9) at N.Y. Jets (4-8), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Dolphins numbers: A dose of Fitzmagic has made the Dolphins surprisingly competitive. Fitzpatrick ranks 12th among qualified quarterbacks in QBR (60). Since Week 9, the Dolphins rank 11th in points per game (24.6), a feat nobody would have figured possible after Miami entered the bye week averaging 6.5 points.

Inside Dolphins roster: The only borderline name-brand player in Miami’s patchwork secondary, Eric Rowe signed a three-year extension this week. This move may well check off one of the Dolphins’ many needs with the ex-Patriots cornerback-turned-Dolphins safety signed through 2022 and 2018 extension recipient Bobby McCain due back from injury next year. While the Dolphins need help nearly everywhere, they appear content with their in-house safeties.

Inside Jets numbers: The run defense has allowed a league-low 2.89 yards per rush attempt, 1.4 yards below the 2019 league average of 4.29. If the Jets can maintain that mark, they would top the Super Bowl era (since 1966) record held by the 2000 Ravens (-1.39 differential, with 2.69 yards per rush allowed versus league average of 4.08). 

Inside Jets roster: C.J. Mosley’s top 2019 NFL contribution was changing the off-ball linebacker market, with his Jets deal representing a staggering $4.5 million-per-year markup from 2018’s top contract at the position. But a player who missed three games in five years with the Ravens is now on IR after missing most of the Jets’ 2019 snaps due to a nagging groin problem. The Jets will need a strong 2020 from Mosley to remotely justify this outlandish $17M-per-year price, because they cannot reasonably escape this contract until 2022.

San Francisco (10-2) at New Orleans (10-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside 49ers numbers: In Week 13, the 49ers held Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson to a career-low 4.6 yards per pass attempt; he entered the game averaging a 10.1 yards per attempt over his previous three games. San Francisco’s secondary leads the NFL in fewest yards per pass attempt allowed (5.5) despite having played games against Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. 

Inside 49ers roster: Although San Francisco needed Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s second-round pick Deebo Samuel pick looks like a decision that will benefit many future 49er offenses. The rookie has become the reliable target the franchise hoped 2018 Round 2 choice Dante Pettis would be, with 564 yards and a strong midseason surge aiding Jimmy Garoppolo in the team’s biggest games in six years. Pettis should not be discarded just yet, given his impressive finish to last season, but Samuel has helped the 49ers cover for the second-year wideout’s disappearance and will be a key figure for the revitalized franchise.

Inside Saints numbers: The Saints are excellent producing stops on third down, allowing the sixth-lowest conversion rate (34.4 percent). Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is a driving force behind that success, as he is tied for second among all players with seven passes defended on third down.

Inside Saints roster: New Orleans has never really replaced tight end Jimmy Graham since trading him in 2015, but Jared Cook – his Thanksgiving drops notwithstanding – has proven to be a worthwhile investment at two years and $15 million. Since Drew Brees’ return from injury, the veteran tight end has exceeded 70 yards in three of his four games and has scored twice. Despite being 32, Cook is averaging 45.9 yards per game – the third most of his career – and at least gives defenses more to worry about than Ben Watson, Coby Fleener or Josh Hill did.

Detroit (3-8-1) at Minnesota (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Lions numbers: Detroit struggles to score without injured QB Matthew Stafford, going 0-4 and averaging 19 points in four games without him after going 3-4-1 and averaging 23.8 offensive points over eight games with him. Jeff Driskel and David Blough are mediocre, combining to average 6.7 yards per attempt (league average 7.3).

Inside Lions roster: Detroit almost has Pittsburgh outflanked on December’s weirdest quarterback starter. While David Blough did go to a Division I-FBS school (Purdue), unlike Devlin Hodges, he spent his first NFL months with the Browns before being traded to the Lions in August. With Jeff Driskel now on IR, Blough has an unusual opportunity to audition to be Matthew Stafford’s backup next year. These final four Lions games may look irrelevant on the surface, but considering Stafford’s back issues the past two years, identifying a future backup will be important.

Inside Vikings numbers: The Vikings are average on the road, ranking 16th in win percentage (.429) and 13th in point differential (+9). Conversely, are dominant at home (5-0), ranking third in point differential (+68) and sitting with the Patriots as the only team yet to lose. 

Inside Vikings roster: Many of Minnesota’s recent-years extensions have benefited its defense – from Danielle Hunter to Everson Griffen to Eric Kendricks to Harrison Smith. But the Vikings’ Xavier Rhodes deal appears to have outlived its usefulness, with the $14 million-per-year cornerback exiting Week 13 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 109 player at this position. The Seahawks (badly) burned the former first-round pick and All-Pro for a 60-yard touchdown Monday. One of four first- or second-round corners on Minnesota’s roster, Rhodes, 29, runs the risk of being a trade or cut candidate next year.

Denver (4-8) at Houston (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s defense is tough to beat in the red zone, allowing the lowest touchdown rate in the league (39.4 percent). The secondary is particularly stout in the red area, allowing a first down or touchdown on a league-low 15.4 percent of red-zone pass plays.

Inside Broncos roster: Denver entered this season with each of its starting defensive linemen in a contract year, but frequent healthy scratch Adam Gotsis has faded out of the long-term picture and Derek Wolfe is now on IR. Wolfe and versatile defensive end Shelby Harris profile as extension candidates, and while a Justin Simmons re-up or a third Chris Harris deal may take precedence, the Broncos’ situation here should mean either Wolfe or Harris stays. Wolfe has said he wants a third Denver deal and made a case as a fit for head coach Vic Fangio, recording a career-high seven sacks pre-injury.

Inside Texans numbers: Deshaun Watson is enjoying unprecedented success to begin his career; he is on track to become the first quarterback in league history to post a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first three seasons. Watson is electric on third down, posting a 109.4 passer rating, helping Houston rank fourth in third- down conversion rate (45.8 percent). 

Inside Texans roster: Overlooked amid one of the biggest wins in Texans history: a report indicating they plan to keep their GM-less setup in 2020. The Texans fired GM Brian Gaine in May, after barely a year on the job, and have used head coach Bill O’Brien as the new front office boss. O’Brien (50-42 as Texans HC) has not won enough to hold this job in non-emergency situations and has traded two first-round picks, a second-rounder, two third-rounders and Jadeveon Clowney since August. A GM-less blueprint is incredibly risky for the Texans, who were thought to make another run at Patriots exec Nick Caserio once his contract expires at season’s end.

Baltimore (10-2) at Buffalo (9-3), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Ravens numbers: Baltimore is on track to set Super Bowl-era records for yards per rush rush attempt (5.6) and total rushing yards (on pace for 3,325). All four of the Ravens’ remaining games are against teams ranked in the top half of defensive DVOA (Bills, Jets, Browns, Steelers).

Inside Ravens roster: Justin Tucker is the NFL’s highest-paid kicker, making $5 million annually. That fits nicely into the kicker price range, but with the salary barely $200,000 per year more than the second-highest-paid kicker, the Ravens have an incredible bargain. The most accurate kicker in NFL history just made perhaps the season’s most important field goal – his 49-yarder in the rain to beat the 49ers – and is on his way to what would be a record (for pure kickers) fourth first-team All-Pro honor. In a year featuring widespread kicker unreliability, the Ravens’ Tucker contract has never been more important.

Inside Bills numbers: The defense is superb, ranking third in fewest points allowed per drive (1.25). The secondary and pass rush have worked together beautifully, as the Bills are tied for second in passes defended (69) and eighth in sack rate (8.1 percent). That combination has Buffalo ranked third in opponent passer rating (78.5) and net yards per pass attempt (5.1). 

Inside Bills roster: Josh Allen has accounted for 16 touchdowns and has thrown one interception since Week 7, and Buffalo’s offseason additions have undeniably aided his development. John Brown leads the Bills in receiving, and Cole Beasley has given the improving quarterback a consistent target. Signed for barely $7 million per year, Beasley is averaging a career-best 52.9 yards per game. Brown and Beasley’s combined salaries match ex-Bill Sammy Watkins’, and the lower-profile new tandem is on pace to give the Bills two 800-yard receivers for the first time since 2003.

Cincinnati (1-11) at Cleveland (5-7), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Bengals numbers: Defensive strides are being made in Cincinnati, as the Bengals have allowed just 13 points per game over the past three weeks. Improved pass defense is the key, as the Bengals have yielded a passer rating of just 82.8 over the last three weeks, after giving up a mark of 107.4 over their first nine games. 

Inside Bengals roster: Cincinnati has gotten little from its past three first-round picks this season, with Jonah Williams (2019) out all season and John Ross (2017) missing much of it. Hope remains for each, however. But the Bengals’ 2018 first-rounder, center-guard Billy Price, is on the verge of “bust” status. The Bengals benched the ex-Ohio State standout again Sunday, replacing him at right guard with fourth-round rookie Michael Jordan. This came a week after Price was set to be replaced at guard by the now-injured Alex Redmond and months after he lost his center job in training camp.

Inside Browns numbers: Baker Mayfield has dipped significantly in his second season, ranking last among qualifiers in passer rating (79.9). He has struggled mightily to get on the same page with WR Odell Beckham, who is posting career-lows in receiving yards per game (67.1), receiving touchdowns per game (0.17), and catch rate (55.3 percent).

Inside Browns roster: An overmatched Freddie Kitchens and a regressing Mayfield are essentially wasting a year of Beckham prime. A player who once carried the 2016 Giants to the playoffs and may still be the game’s most talented receiver ranks 29th in the league, trailing four tight ends, in yards per game. The Browns owe Beckham a non-guaranteed $14 million salary next year, and while that setup makes him a valuable trade asset, Cleveland’s next play-caller must get more from the 27-year-old star.

Washington (3-9) at Green Bay (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Redskins numbers: Washington would like to see more flashes from rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, who has thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions. He has averaged only 6.0 yards per attempt over his 133 pass attempts. Better protection would go a long way, as Haskins has taken a high sack rate of 14.2 percent (22 sacks total).

Inside Redskins roster: It’s safe to say Quinton Dunbar has outplayed his contract. The Redskins did well to extend him at $3.4 million average annual value on New Year’s Day 2018 – the first day the former UDFA was extension-eligible – and have seen the fifth-year defender spend most of the season rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 cornerback. Head coach Bill Callahan benched $15M-per-year corner Josh Norman, a surefire cut candidate after this season, and the Redskins have won two straight games with Dunbar and Fabian Moreau working as their boundary corners. Expect Dunbar, whose contract runs through 2020, to seek a raise soon.

Inside Packers numbers: Green Bay’s passing attack is disappointingly average outside of the red zone, ranking 15th in yards per pass play (7.5) and 19th in passing first-down rate (32.2 percent). Inside the red zone has been a different story, as the Packers rank second in touchdown rate (70 percent) and eighth in passing conversion rate (36.8 percent).

Inside Packers roster: Even though Allen Lazard caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s snow game in East Rutherford, N.J.,, Green Bay does not have a reliable pass-catcher beyond Davante Adams. The Packers let Randall Cobb defect to the Cowboys in free agency, and he’s outplayed each of Green Bay’s younger auxiliary wideouts. With Jimmy Graham also a shell of his Pro Bowl self, GM Brian Gutekunst must address the team’s pass-catching situation in 2020 after ignoring it this year.

L.A. Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville (4-8), 4:05 p.m. ET

Inside Chargers numbers: L.A. has a 2-8 record in games decided by seven points or less, with three consecutive one-score losses entering Week 14. Los Angeles’ total of eight losses by seven points or less is tied for the most through a team’s first 12 games in NFL history (along with the 1993 Patriots and 2001 Lions).

Inside Chargers roster: Not much has gone well around him, but 15th-year linebacker Thomas Davis has shown he can still play. Signed to a two-year, $10.5 million deal in advance of his age-36 season, Davis has 96 tackles – 35 more than any other Charger. After considering retirement while still in Carolina, it is entirely possible he will be kept on Los Angeles’ payroll through the 2020 season. Not many off-ball ‘backers have been starters at age 37; London Fletcher in 2013 serves as the most recent example.

Inside Jaguars numbers: Nick Foles was highly ineffective after returning from injury, averaging 5.1 net yards per attempt and tossing just two touchdowns over 109 attempts (1.8 percent touchdown rate). Rookie Gardner Minshew, who remains 16th in net yards per attempt (6.1) and 17th in passer rating (91.1), should provide a boost as he makes his final pitch to become Jacksonville’s quarterback of the future. 

Inside Jaguars roster: Going back to Minshew does not necessarily doom Foles in Jacksonville, but signing off on the Foles deal a year after authorizing the Blake Bortles extension does not look good for the Jaguars. The bizarre Bortles reinvestment tagged the franchise with $16.5 million in 2019 dead money, which forced cap-casualty cuts of starting defenders, and the Jags proceeded to give Foles $50M guaranteed despite perhaps bidding against themselves. Head coach Doug Marrone might not be the only scapegoat for the past two years; GM David Caldwell’s job could be in jeopardy. 

Pittsburgh (7-5) at Arizona (3-8-1), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Steelers numbers: The Steelers’ pass rush is almost unstoppable in Pittsburgh, leading the NFL with 5.0 sacks per game and a 12.7 percent sack rate. The record for sacks at home in a season is 41, held by the 1985 Los Angeles Raiders. Conversely, the pass rush ranks 29th in sacks per game on the road (1.6).

Inside Steelers roster: Though they are winning games with a rookie UDFA from Division I-FCS Samford at quarterback, the Steelers still need their running game more than most contenders. James Conner has now missed seven games since becoming the starter last season, and he remains questionable going into Week 14. While he’s fared worse than his Pro Bowl 2018, Conner still represents an upgrade on the Benny Snell-Jaylen Samuels tandem. Conner’s injuries will affect his value when it comes time to see if the Steelers are up for negotiating an extension with Le’Veon Bell’s successor next year.

Inside Cardinals numbers: Arizona must get Kyler Murray back on track. He has averaged a minuscule 4.7 yards per attempt over his past two games (finishing with under 5.0 yards per attempt in each game). Getting Christian Kirk more involved needs to be a focal point. Kirk has averaged just 4.5 catches for 32 yards over his last two games, following a six-catch, 138-yard, three-touchdown breakout in Tampa Bay four weeks ago. 

Inside Cardinals roster: The Cardinals, who have the NFL’s worst pass defense, allowed embattled Rams QB Jared Goff to throw for 424 yards in three quarters in Week 13. The secondary’s leader, Patrick Peterson, has struggled since his return from a six-game PED suspension but recently spoke of a desire for another Cardinals extension. Do the Cards want to pay top dollar for Peterson’s early 30s? By resisting trade interest the past two years, it would seem they would have to negotiate with the signed-through-2020 cornerback next year. Regardless of how this process goes, Arizona needs plenty of secondary help.

Tennessee (7-5) at Oakland (6-6), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Titans numbers: The Titans are 5-1 with an average of 29.7 points per game under Ryan Tannehill, versus 2-4 with an average of 14.7 points per game under Marcus Mariota. Tannehill leads qualified quarterbacks in passer rating (113.9) and yards per attempt (9.1) 

Inside Titans roster: Tennessee interestingly did not pick up Jack Conklin’s fifth-year option in May, putting him on track for 2020 free agency. The right tackle who missed time in 2018 because two knee injuries has been a key part of Tennessee’s bludgeoning ground attack, helping Derrick Henry become a Pro Bowl candidate. The 2016 first-round pick (Pro Football Focus’ No. 16 overall tackle) resides in good position, after Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and Lane Johnson transformed the right tackle market this year. With Henry also a free agent next year, the Titans have some major decisions forthcoming.

Inside Raiders numbers: The Raiders will be thrilled to return home, where their 5-1 record is tied for third best in the league. Derek Carr, who posted a 62.7 passer rating over Oakland’s two-game road trip, will be looking to continue the success he had in the team’s three-game homestand from Weeks 9 to 11 (3-0 record, 109.2 passer rating, one interception over 92 passes). 

Inside Raiders roster: Despite his strong debut that produced a win in Indianapolis, Trevor Davis received his walking papers barely two months after the Raiders traded for him. The return man/supporting cast wide receiver is now a Dolphin after a waiver claim. The Raiders have shuffled their receiver group many times this season and will enter the offseason with a glaring need. Fortunately, Oakland has two first-round picks in a draft expected to feature one of the best receiver talent pools in many years.

Full article here https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/nfl_week_14_matchups_an_insiders_guide/s1_13132_30712250

By: Michael Nania and Sam Robinson

NFL Week 13 game-by-game analysis, grades

In the AFC, the Ravens —  who defeated the 49ers– took the lead in the race for No. 1 seed when the Patriots fell to the Texans in the Sunday night game. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 13 whip-around: 1 of 16

HOUSTON 28, NEW ENGLAND 22

PATRIOTS (10-2): From owner Robert Kraft hoping to lure Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, to the rumblings of Tom Brady being against the Antonio Brown release, signs of Patriots unease with their aerial weaponry have persisted. New England’s offensive woes, James White’s garbage-time routine notwithstanding, continued in Houston. The Patriots’ weeks-long concern about their receiving situation manifested itself in a discombobulated effort. From 2007-18, the Pats featured at least two reliable receivers (in addition to White). Although both Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett returned to action Sunday, the Patriots’ current optimal lineup appears to contain one. The Texans gave Julian Edelman deserved attention and frequently forced Brady into awkward pocket shuffling. Brady (24-for-47, sub-7.0 yards per attempt for a fourth straight game) struggled against the Texans’ No. 26 DVOA pass defense. When the Pats’ defense runs into a high-caliber offense, as it did Sunday and will against the Chiefs, can Brady’s limited air support (and suddenly average rushing complement) keep up?  GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


TEXANS (8-4): The Texans’ superior individual talent overwhelmed New England for the majority of the game. Most encouraging for Houston was the way Deshaun Watson performed against the Patriots’ vaunted pass defense. Watson repeatedly exploited New England’s linebackers in pass coverage, and when he had chances to take deep shots, he was able to hit them. The Patriots had allowed just four passing touchdowns entering the game, but Watson had three, and caught one from DeAndre Hopkins, to boot. Perhaps most striking was Bill O’Brien’s level of trust in his quarterback. The Texans didn’t attempt their 20th carry of the game until late in the fourth quarter, despite the stats suggesting New England’s run defense was its weakness. Watson rewarded O’Brien’s faith with the best game of his season, accounting for quality of opponent. If he continues playing this way, the Texans can beat anyone in the NFL.GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 2 of 16

BALTIMORE 20, SAN FRANCISCO 17

49ERS (10-2): In defeat, San Francisco may have done more to solidify itself as the class of the NFC than it did in any of its victories. The 49ers, who had a chance to win until the waning minutes, made QB Lamar Jackson (101 yards rushing) and Baltimore earn every yard. More impressive was San Francisco’s ability to move the ball on the Ravens; RB Raheem Mostert churned out 146 yards rushing, and despite terrible weather conditions, QB Jimmy Garoppolo was efficient (15-for-21, 165 yards), although his fumble did translate into a Ravens touchdown. Considering the degree to which Baltimore was throttling quality opponents, and the conditions favoring the Ravens’ running game and misdirection tendencies, San Francisco’s defensive performance, particularly in the second half, was encouraging. The Niners are primed for the Week 14 showdown against the Saints (10-2). GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: at Saints (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


RAVENS (10-2): Credit kicker Justin Tucker and the Ravens for persevering in terrible, rainy conditions. Tucker, who has missed only one field goal this season, booted the winning, 49-yard field goal as time expired. The 49ers’ excellent secondary took away Lamar Jackson’s deep passing, and San Francisco focused on stopping the Ravens’ running backs (77 rushing yards) more than it did the second-year QB, who was superb with his ball handling and play fakes. Jackson’s legs were the cheat code, as he led Baltimore in rushing (101 yards) by a wide margin. (He has rushed for more than 100 yards four times this season.) San Francisco’s defense played well, but no team can take away all the Ravens’ high-powered, multidimensional offense. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 3 of 16

PITTSBURGH 20, CLEVELAND 13

BROWNS (5-7): Minus defensive end Myles Garrett, suspended indefinitely for his role in the brawl the last time these teams played, Cleveland generated little pass rush. End Olivier Vernon’s limited role also cost the Browns, who dealt with other, lesser injuries on the D-line, as well as injuries in the secondary. As this game progressed, the Steelers exploited these weaknesses with deep passing and then eventually with a power running game that took its toll on a depleted unit. After being held to two yards in the first quarter, the Steelers racked up 321 in the final three quarters. Garrett’s absence may have cost the Browns a win. Cleveland’s playoff hopes are on life support. How embarrassing is it to lose to third-string rookie QB “Duck” Hodges. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


STEELERS (7-5): Lacking playmakers nearly all season, the Steelers may finally have found one in wide receiver James Washington, who went duck hunting last week with his quarterback, Delvin “Duck” Hodges. Heading into the rematch with the Browns, Washington had caught three or more balls in each of his last four games, accumulating 306 receiving yards in that stretch. Against the Browns, Washington led the Steelers with 111 yards receiving. He ran free deep late in the game, but Hodges didn’t see him. Washington is built almost like a running back, but with long legs and a high waistline. He builds up speed downfield and shows great ball skills, finding the football from tough body positions. As usual, the Steelers — one of the best teams in the league at drafting receivers — are developing their wideout talent. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

4 of 16

LA RAMS 34, ARIZONA 7

RAMS (7-5): Los Angeles has waited for this version of QB Jared Goff (424 yards passing) to show up, and as impressive as he was, it may be too little, too late. The Rams must hope division rival Seattle helps them out by handing Minnesota a loss Monday night, or else the Rams will remain two games back for the final wild-card spot with four games to play. Goff was well-protected all game, with the Cardinals sacking him just once. Protection was one element the Rams have missed all season, and a productive Todd Gurley was the other. Gurley was sharp, with 95 yards on just 19 carries, and Los Angeles was able to run the ball almost at will against Arizona, which came into the game 23rd in the league in yards allowed. The Rams still have a difficult road, but they at least showed that the dominant offense that carried them to a Super Bowl appearance isn’t completely gone. GAME GRADE: A + | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


CARDINALS (3-8-1): Arizona might be tempted to use the 2020 draft to surround QB Kyler Murray with weapons, but it really needs help on defense above all else. During their current five-game losing streak, the Cardinals have allowed 31.8 points and 473.8 yards per game. The secondary is dreadful, as it entered the Rams game last in the NFL in yards and touchdowns allowed. Yet somehow it performed even worse than its normal standard against LA.; Jared Goff threw for 424 yards. Arizona is powerless to stop tight ends: Rams TE Tyler Higbee had seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. While wins and losses aren’t paramount, this loss represents a major step backward in the Cardinals’ development. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 5 of 16

GREEN BAY 31, NY GIANTS 13

PACKERS (9-3): The book for beating the Giants’ defense — which is solid against the run — is to attack it through the air. But the ugly, snowy conditions in East Rutherford, N.J., figured to play to New York’s advantage. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, however, showed off his veteran guile, dealing superbly with the poor weather (four TD passes). “I admit I was a little worried that it might be more rain than snow,” he told reporters after the game. “When those big flakes were falling down, I felt pretty good about our chances.” There is an art to throwing the ball in wind, cold and precipitation, and clearly Rodgers understands this. But there is also value in having immense arm talent, which Rodgers still has to rival just about any passer in the game. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Redskins (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


GIANTS (2-10): Daniel Jones, who tossed three interceptions, continues to be a turnover machine. The rookie QB has 21 turnovers in 11 games, 10 fumbles lost and 11 interceptions. Jones also recorded his league-leading 15th fumble, but the Giants recovered it. His effectiveness has also dwindled, as Jones is averaging 6.0 yards per attempt over his past eight starts (in which the Giants are 0-8) after posting an impressive mark of 8.4 over his first two starts (in which the Giants went 2-0). Three of New York’s final four games are against teams ranked in the bottom half of takeaway rate. Jones must secure the football to build some hope surrounding his potential going into 2020.For those counting, this is the third straight season the Giants have lost 10 or more games.GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Eagles (Mon., Dec. 9)

— Michael Nania 6 of 16

MIAMI 37, PHILADELPHIA 31

EAGLES (5-7): Philadelphia’s solid pass defense, which entered Week 13 ranked 10th in DVOA, was surprisingly torched by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR DeVante Parker. Fitzpatrick threw for 365 yards on 39 pass attempts, averaging an impressive 9.4 yards per attempt. Parker had a dominant performance, making highlight grab after highlight grab (seven catches for career-best 159 yards) and scoring two touchdowns. The Eagles’ pass rush did its part, racking up 11 quarterback hits, but the secondary failed to take advantage, consistently losing in contested catch situations. Three of Philadelphia’s final four games are against the Giants (twice) and Redskins (once), so there is no excuse for the pass-defending struggles to continue against bad competition. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Giants (Mon., Dec. 9)

— Michael Nania


DOLPHINS (3-9): During a season designed to be one of the worst in franchise history, the Dolphins have observed a breakout from a player they hoped would produce years ago. Once in danger of being traded or cut, DeVante Parker has become the consistent wide receiver the franchise’s previous front office envisioned. Parker’s seven-catch, 159-yard, two-touchdown game elevated the Dolphins to their season’s best win and further solidified the 2015 first-round pick’s status as a dependable target. Parker out-jumped Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby for two chunk plays – the first such sequence including some careful sideline steps on a 43-yard touchdown – and made a contested touchdown catch against Jalen Mills in a major upset. Dolphins GM Chris Grier gave Parker a two-year, $13 million deal this offseason; he’s outplayed that contract. The ex-doghouse occupant now has a career-most 854 receiving yards. Still just 26, Parker now profiles as a cornerstone player for a team lacking them. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 7 of 16

KANSAS CITY 40, OAKLAND 9

RAIDERS (6-6): Facing a Chiefs defense that counts cornerback as its lowest-profile spot, investment-wise, the Raiders completed a grand total of four passes (for 34 yards) to wide receivers. While Oakland’s receiving corps was supposed to include Antonio Brown and just lost Hunter Renfrow, such an outing is unacceptable for an NFL offense. Nominal No. 1 wideout Tyrell Williams has caught three passes for 27 yards over the past two games. Williams must produce if the Raiders are to have a shot at reviving their playoff hopes. The ex-Charger wideout’s four-year contract contains no fully guaranteed money after 2019. If Williams cannot help Derek Carr’s Darren Waller-dependent aerial corps down the stretch, the Raiders will balk at his $11 million base salary next season. The Antonio Brown trade deterred Jon Gruden and Co. from targeting a receiver early in the draft, hurting this year’s team. Gruden and GM Mike Mayock will be prepared to draft one early in 2020. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


CHIEFS (8-4): Kansas City employed one of this decade’s premier safeties for years, but Eric Berry’s injuries proved costly. Daniel Sorensen and a hobbled Berry started last season’s AFC Championship Game, but the Chiefs could not stop Tom Brady in crunch time. The Chiefs threw key resources at the problem this offseason, adding Tyrann Mathieu on a position-record-tying $14 million-per-year contract and drafting Juan Thornhill in the second round. Mathieu and Thornhill justified the investments Sunday, forcing the Raiders to play catch-up. Each intercepted a pass; both picks led to touchdowns. Mathieu’s coverage fooled Derek Carr and set up Darrel Williams’ first-quarter score, and Thornhill took a Carr pass back for a 46-yard second-quarter TD. None of Thornhill’s 13 INTs at Virginia went for touchdowns. His second NFL pick helped compensate for the Chiefs’ 259 yards Sunday and highlighted the potential the franchise sees in a Mathieu-Thornhill long-term tandem. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 8 of 16

DENVER 23, LA CHARGERS 20

CHARGERS (4-8): What a way to squander a game. The Bolts allowed the Broncos to kick a walk-off field goal after a one-play drive that began at Denver’s 28-yard line. After the Chargers tied the score, cornerback Casey Hayward barreled into Courtland Sutton to give a listless Broncos offense 37 yards. While the call was questionable, the Bolts’ penchant for unique losses is not. Facing a Broncos team also excellent at crafting final-minute defeat blueprints, the Chargers did their best to help their opponent by mismanaging the clock and committing two false-start penalties on a late fourth down. The Chargers are closing out a largely wasted decade – one featuring numerous endings such as Sunday’s in Denver – and with QB Philip Rivers near the end of his NFL career, the perennial underachievers will enter the 2020s with far less certainty. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BRONCOS (4-8): Trading Pro Bowl wideouts in each of the past two Octobers, Denver depleted its pass-catching situation considerably. Courtland Sutton has helped compensate, the 2018 second-round pick joining Phillip Lindsay as a cornerstone piece on an offense largely lacking them. Propping up Drew Lock like he did Brandon Allen in his debut, Sutton has now produced with three quarterbacks this season. His first-half work – highlighted by one of this season’s premier catches – saved a Broncos offense that (again) accomplished little after halftime. Lock averaged a Paxton Lynch-ian 4.8 yards per attempt; 74 of the rookie’s 134 yards went to his 6-foot-4 weapon. Sutton’s deft tumble to draw a game-deciding pass interference penalty also halted the Broncos’ trend of late-game collapses. While not on Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders’ levels yet, Sutton is on his way. The jump-ball maven is on pace to eclipse 1,200 yards and makes for a stealth Pro Bowl candidate in a down season for AFC receivers. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 9 of 16

TAMPA BAY 28, JACKSONVILLE 11

BUCS (5-7): Tampa Bay’s defense was dominant, forcing QB Nick Foles and his four-year, $88 million contract to the bench in just his third start since returning from injury. The Buccaneers racked up five sacks and 10 quarterback hits. Leading the unit was OLB Shaquil Barrett, who picked up two sacks to bring his total to a league-leading 14.5. Barrett had four quarterback hits, giving him nine over his past two games. The Buccaneers also lived up to their No. 1 ranking in run defense DVOA, holding Jacksonville to 47 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per attempt. Head coach Bruce Arians’ team has a nearly even point differential at -6 and is 5-7 despite a 2-4 record in close games (decided by seven points or fewer). He has the Bucs playing around an average level, a step up from where they were the previous two seasons. GAME GRADE: A NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


JAGUARS (4-8): Nick Foles was abysmal against a Buccaneers defense that entered the game second-worst in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Foles threw an interception, lost two fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and was completely ineffective before giving way to Gardner Minshew to start the second half. Foles got $88 million from the Jaguars, including $50.125 million guaranteed, but Minshew has looked like the better, more effective player this season. Foles isn’t going anywhere, because he has a $33.875 million dead cap hit for 2020, but while the Jaguars don’t have much to play for as a team the rest of this season, Foles needs to finish strongly to prove that Jacksonville made a smart investment. If Foles fails to inspire, Jacksonville will have to consider making the starting quarterback job an open competition next season. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

10 of 16

CINCINNATI 22, NEW YORK JETS 6

JETS (4-8): On a day when the Jets’ mini-resurgence died, their offensive line showed why GM Joe Douglas will conduct an offseason overhaul. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap dominated Jets right tackle Brandon Shell, a former starter back in the lineup due to injuries. Dunlap registered three sacks; Sam Hubbard beat guard Tom Compton for another. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum committed three of the O-line’s seven penalties, including a holding infraction that resulted in a safety. Le’Veon Bell’s dreadful 2019 continued with a 10-carry, 32-yard day against Cincinnati’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Beachum had played better in recent weeks but joins Shell as a free agent-to-be, and no guaranteed money remains on injured right guard Brian Winters’ deal. All five of the Jets’ Week 1 O-line starters are good bets to be elsewhere next season. A 16-point loss to an 0-11 team should accelerate Douglas’ long-anticipated revamp of the perennially poor unit.
GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BENGALS (1-11): This downtrodden franchise has plenty of needs. Defensive line might not be one of them. Against the Jets, end Carlos Dunlap demonstrated he can abuse lesser offensive tackles. Tackle Geno Atkins may have lost a slight step, but he remains a potent interior disruptor. Andrew Billings is a nice complement on early downs to Atkins, excelling against the run with his great strength and power. Hubbard and Carl Lawson are young up-and-comers off the edge. With Cincinnati’s first win, the pressure may be off for the Bengals, who can focus now on securing the No. 1 overall pick. Kidding. (I think.) GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 11 of 16

TENNESSEE 31, INDIANAPOLIS 17

TITANS (7-5): Tennessee showed off its new-found resilience and offensive explosiveness under QB Ryan Tannehill. Despite a 17-7 deficit and lots of pressure (six sacks), Tannehill did not blink. The Titans’ offensive prowess was most on display after Tennessee intercepted Jacoby Brissett while up 24-17. Tannehill then hit Kalif Raymond for a 40-yard touchdown to effectively ice the game. That the Titans went for it all on 3rd-and-6 instead of playing conservatively shows how much faith they have in their quarterback, who replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota in Week 7. Tennessee is still out of playoff position, but should it get in, the Titans will be dangerous because of their offense. Imagine that. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


COLTS (6-6): Another game, another kicking disaster for the Colts. Adam Vinatieri was already 1-for-3 on field goals when he lined up for a 46-yarder that would have put Indianapolis ahead 20-17. But the kick was blocked — why, of course — and returned for a touchdown. Indianapolis’ efforts to come back were further hampered by a Jacoby Brissett interception. Head coach Frank Reich’s loyalty to Vinatieri has cost the Colts multiple games; if Indianapolis got even slightly better than league average kicking, it would be at least two and possibly three or four games better in the standings. The Colts probably will miss the playoffs; they have no one to blame but themselves. GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Bucs (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 12 of 16

WASHINGTON 29, CAROLINA 21

REDSKINS (3-9): Washington took full advantage of Carolina’s 31st-ranked DVOA run defense. The Redskins racked up 248 yards on 30 rush attempts, averaging a 8.3 yards per rush. They rushed for three touchdowns, two by Derrius Guice and one by Adrian Peterson. Guice picked up 129 yards on 10 carries, finally breaking out after averaging 24.7 yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry over his first three career games. The run game bailed out rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, who was extremely ineffective (3.8 net yards per pass attempt). At least he didn’t take a selfie with a fan during this game. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


PANTHERS (5-7): Ron Rivera’s defense continues to be embarrassed against the run. Carolina, which entered Week 13 ranked 31st in both run defense EPA and DVOA, was shredded on the ground by a Redskins offense ranked 30th in rush offense DVOA. Washington ran for 248 yards, more than 100 yards greater than their previous season-best. The Panthers have yielded a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns and have given up at least 100 yards on the ground in all but two games. Each of Carolina’s final three games will be against teams that currently rank in the top half of rush offense DVOA. More humiliating efforts in run defense could be on the way, potentially sending Rivera out the door. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

13 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 26, ATLANTA 18

SAINTS (10-2): The pass rush went berserk on Thanksgiving, taking down Matt Ryan for nine sacks (tying his career-high). That total also tied the Saints’ franchise record, set in 2001 (at Falcons) and 1985 (vs. Rams). End Cameron Jordan led the charge with a career-best four sacks, bringing his season total to a career-high 13.5. Through games played Thursday, New Orleans was tied for third in quarterback hits per game (7.0) and ranked eighth in sack rate (8.0 percent). The Saints’ dominant pass rush will be tested down the stretch as New Orleans seeks the NFC’s top seed. Two solid offensive lines await in the next two games (49ers and Colts). GAME GRADE: B |  NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


FALCONS (3-9): Against New Orleans, Matt Ryan averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt over 50 passes and threw two interceptions. While not entirely his fault, Ryan is playing some of the most ineffective football of his career, posting a 77.8 passer rating (league average 91.2 through Thursday) and averaging 5.0 net yards per attempt (league average 6.3) over his past five games. On the season, Ryan has averaged 5.9 adjusted net yards per attempt (which adjusts for sacks, touchdowns and interceptions), slightly below the league average of 6.2. It is the worst season mark compared to league average that Ryan has posted in his career. Perhaps Atlanta should bench him and keep him healthy for 2020. GAME GRADE: C– | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 14 of 16

CHICAGO 24, DETROIT 20

BEARS (6-6): Don’t celebrate yet, Bears fans, but QB Mitch Trubisky is playing better. In the first eight games, he mostly dinked and dunked. Over the past month, he has thrown deeper downfield. Trubisky was especially effective working the intermediate portions of the field against the Lions, who dared him to beat them downfield by playing mostly man coverage. Oddly, the Lions rarely sent added pressure. Trubisky’s lone interception, to CB Darius Slay early in the second half, was a poorly placed throw against tight man coverage. But other than that, Trubisky was solid, with several impressive throws to Anthony Miller (nine catches for 140 yards), who abused cornerback Justin Coleman. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Thurs.)

— Matt Williamson


LIONS (3-8-1): There were several positives for the Lions. Their wideouts owned Chicago’s cornerbacks in the first half, and the pass protection — it was a smart move to double up against Khalil Mack — was solid for rookie QB David Blough, who made his first career start. Blough stood strong in the pocket, allowing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones time to set up the Bears corners. Blough’s poise was noteworthy and his accuracy (22-for-38 for 280 yards) stood out. He often looked for TJ Hockenson (11 targets), a smart move, although the rookie tight end had only six catches for 18 yards. Detroit’s offense dried up in the second half after Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano made adjustments to help Chicago’s cornerbacks and Mack came to life. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson  15 of 16

BUFFALO 26, DALLAS 15

BILLS (9-3): After using Ed Oliver on most of their defensive snaps during the season’s first half, the Bills demoted their first-round pick entering November. Oliver’s resurgence over the past three weeks showed why Buffalo used the ninth overall pick on him. Despite coming off the bench for the fifth straight game, the rookie defensive tackle unveiled a ceiling few Bills have possessed this century. The compact interior rusher sacked Dak Prescott twice – the first featuring a game-changing strip – and registered a tackle for loss. After going nine games without sacking a quarterback, the ex-Houston Cougars tackles-for-loss dynamo has four in Buffalo’s past three games. Rarely given nationally televised opportunities, the Bills made the most of this one. Oliver’s dominance of Cowboys backup left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo helped change the narrative of the Bills being a product of weak competition and served notice that they won’t be a wild-card pushover. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun)

— Sam Robinson


COWBOYS (6-6): Dallas continued its struggles against elite competition, falling to 0-5 in games against teams that currently have a winning record. The same issue that plagued Jason Garrett’s squad in previous games against strong opponents was evident against Buffalo: turnovers. The Cowboys coughed up the football twice in the first half, setting up Buffalo with a lead it would not relinquish. Dallas failed to take the ball away from Josh Allen’s offense. In its five games against winning teams, Dallas has lost the turnover battle 10 to one. Good news for the Cowboys: Three of Dallas’ final four games are against .500 or worse teams — the lone exception is the Rams (7-5). GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Chicago (Thurs.)

— Michael Nania 16 of 16

MONDAY: MINNESOTA AT SEATTLE

VIKINGS (8-3): The offensive line is far better than it was in 2018, but it is still inconsistent, and it will face a Seattle defense boosted by the returns of end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Jarran Reed, Seattle’s two best defensive linemen. This game sets up well for Kirk Cousins, who is light years better than most seem to realize (2,756 yards passing, 70.6 percent complete percentage). Wide receivers and tight ends have put up a lot of production against Seattle, so look for a big game from Cousins if his O-line can deliver a solid game. NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


SEAHAWKS (9-2): Although he has only three sacks, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, returning from an injury, will be a welcome addition. Per Pro Football Reference, Clowney ranks eighth in the league with 14 hurries, despite being sent on a designed blitz just once all season, and nine quarterback knockdowns (11th in the NFL). The Vikings have balance on offense, but their resurgence after a slow start is largely connected to Kirk Cousins’ improved play. Clowney’s ability to disrupt the pocket against Minnesota – even if he can’t generate sacks – is integral to Seattle’s defense holding up. Clowney might not be filling the stat sheet with traditional counting stats, but there is no denying that his return gives an otherwise mediocre Seahawks defense (21st in the league entering Week 13) some teeth. NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_13_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30690191#slide_16

NFL Week 12 game-by-game analysis, grades

The Browns showed signs of life. Frank Gore passed Barry and the Bengals all-but-clinched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 12 whip-around.  1 of 18

HOUSTON 20, INDIANAPOLIS 17

Deshaun Watson continues to play at an MVP level. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

COLTS (6-5): The Colts are still very much alive, but once again, their inability to get the details just right, something that propelled them to a 5-2 start, did them in against Houston. This time head coach Frank Reich was at fault, as he burned a timeout to set up a pivotal fourth-down play with just under three minutes left and his team trailing by three. Instead of having a decisive call ready, Indianapolis decided to talk things over despite the clock already being stopped. That ended up costing the Colts dearly, as the Texans, who otherwise would have had to give Indy the ball back with at least some time to spare, instead were able to run out the clock. The Colts know they have little margin for error; all but one of their games this season has been decided by seven points or fewer. That makes Reich’s blunder all the more unforgivable. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT:  vs. Titans (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


TEXANS (7-4): Deshaun Watson restored some semblance of order to the AFC South proceedings. A month after Jacoby Brissett outdueled him in Indianapolis, Watson got a major measure of revenge, thoroughly outplaying his counterpart and rallying the Texans to a win. The game was a case study in what Houston is all about. The Colts got a more balanced effort, and did enough to win, but spectacular star-level production from Watson and DeAndre Hopkins carried the day. Star power won in this instance, but the Texans have proved fallible enough that even though they have the best quarterback and best wide receiver in the division, success is not guaranteed. If they want to have a better chance at putting a stranglehold on things, they could start by fixing a run defense that has given up 431 yards in the last two games. The Patriots have a terrible rushing attack, so stifling them next week would be a good step in that direction. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 2 of 18

BUFFALO 20, DENVER 3

BRONCOS (3-8) : Denver’s near-four-year offensive lull has sunk the franchise to its lowest place in the NFL hierarchy since the early 1970s. Sunday in Buffalo represented the post-Peyton Manning basement. The Broncos completed 10 passes and gave Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman a combined 15 carries, ending with 134 total yards. That is the third-lowest NFL figure this season – behind only two Sam Darnold-less Jets outings – and the 12th-lowest Denver output in the Broncos’ 60-year history. This was the Broncos’ worst yardage day in 27 years. Considering Brandon Allen’s inexperience, his 10-for-25, 82-yard showing should not be too surprising. Still, this game illuminated better than any other one during the franchise’s post-2015 tailspin just how lost the Broncos are. It is time to bring Drew Lock off IR. Even if circumstances are not favorable for the rookie, Vic Fangio is wrong. It is vital the second-round pick debuts this year, because the Broncos need to know if they have to consider a 2020 first-round quarterback. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BILLS (8-3): Although Frank Gore surpassing Barry Sanders for third on the all-time rushing list was Sunday’s statistical takeaway from Buffalo, the outing doubled as one this NFL season’s best defensive performances. Buffalo held Denver to 134 total yards; and Tre’Davious White continued his Pro Bowl push in the process. Courtland Sutton has produced despite Denver’s myriad offensive issues this season, authoring a quiet breakout while working with an on-his-way-out-of-the-league Joe Flacco and first-time starter Brandon Allen. White led the way in shutting down the Broncos’ top weapon Sunday. Sutton finished with one catch for a season-low 27 yards, and White’s interception on a miscommunication between Allen and the 6-foot-4 wideout stopped a prime Broncos scoring chance. White also matched his season high with four passes defensed. The third-year defender represents the Bills’ best defensive chess piece for when this top-end pass defense encounters better offenses, and he will become the Bills’ first Pro Bowl corner since Nate Clements in 2004. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Cowboys (Thurs.)

— Sam Robinson 3 of 18

TAMPA BAY 35, ATLANTA 22

BUCS (4-7): Tampa Bay’s run defense, which entered Week 12 ranked No. 1 in DVOA, continues to be dominant . In Atlanta, the Buccaneers held the Falcons to just 57 rushing yards on 19 carries, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt. The Falcons’ running backs combined for only 34 yards on 17 totes (2.0 per attempt). The impact of new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been strongly felt in run defense. He can be a positive presence as the season progresses, and Tampa Bay should look to keep him around. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


FALCONS (3-8): On their own field against the Buccaneers’ 30th-ranked pass defense (according to DVOA), the Falcons simply could not get anything going in the passing game . Matt Ryan tossed 55 passes but managed just 271 yards and took six sacks. Ryan finished the game averaging 4.3 net yards per attempt, and his 59.3 passer rating was his worst at home since Week 14 of 2017. At 3-8, the Falcons should consider shutting down Ryan and keeping him fresh for 2020.  GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Saints (Thurs.)

— Michael Nania

4 of 18

CLEVELAND 41, MIAMI 24

DOLPHINS (2-9) : Considering the Bengals have surprisingly outflanked the Dolphins to the No. 1 overall pick position, and with Tua Tagovailoa having suffered a stock-altering injury, it would behoove Miami to try Josh Rosen again. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick keeping him benched throughout Sunday’s loss in Cleveland points is telling. It points to a scenario in which the Dolphins ditch Rosen and keep Fitzpatrick next year. Despite being nearly 37 and playing behind a horrid offensive line, Fitzpatrick has made Miami’s passing attack look competent – a better developmental situation. The Dolphins could use their 2020 draft haul to load up on best-available talent to strengthen their roster for a possible Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields pick in 2021. However, too much improvement would hinder those plans. Miami’s best chance to land a quarterback without sacrificing a lot in draft-night trades would be selecting one next year, and Fitz would make a strong mentor-caretaker starter in the event the team goes quarterback next year. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BROWNS (5-6): Maybe it is too late, maybe not, but the Browns at 5-6 are really starting to turn it on in November. Baker Mayfield looks better every week, and it looks as though he is finally developing chemistry and timing with Odell Beckham. Kareem Hunt has been a very welcome addition without eating into Nick Chubb’s output. But this day was about former Dolphin Jarvis Landry, who is easy to overlook amongst all of Cleveland’s offensive star power. A sharp and powerful route runner, Landry proved again to be Mayfield’s most trusted target and found the end zone twice while catching 10 passes for 148 yards as the Browns scored 41 points. Landry plays the game with passion and aggression and didn’t hide that this was a “Revenge Game” against Miami. That passion and great play rubbed off on his young teammates, and now they head to Pittsburgh in a game that will not be short on emotion. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 5 of 18

CHICAGO 19, NY GIANTS 14

GIANTS (2-9): Big Blue’s young offensive centerpieces had a rough day at the office in Chicago . Saquon Barkley continued his poor stretch, rushing for just 59 yards on 17 carries (3.5 per attempt). Daniel Jones was flustered on the road against Chicago’s tough defense, averaging a paltry 3.6 net yards per attempt (league average: 6.3). The road ahead doesn’t get any easier, as the Packers and Eagles await next. New York needs its young stars to step up against the tougher competition.  GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


BEARS (5-6) : Hey, Mitch Trubisky certainly wasn’t great in this win, but can we at least concede that he is playing better than he was early in the season? Last year, he was very inconsistent. He missed too many easy throws but made up for it to some degree with a handful of big throws per game and some dynamic runs. Chicago’s defense was better in 2018 than it is now, but Trubisky is getting back to the formula he showed last year of late rather than the inability to complete passes that we saw to begin the year. Trubisky made several highly impressive throws downfield against the Giants and quickly realized that New York had no one who could cover Allen Robinson. Trubisky also showed toughness and athletic ability as a runner. Today, we saw the 2018 version of Trubisky, which is good enough and without question, he was the best quarterback on that field on Sunday. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Lions (Thurs.)

— Matt Williamson 6 of 18

WASHINGTON 19, DETROIT 16

LIONS (3-7-1) : The Lions are 3-7-1, without their starting quarterback and just lost to the Redskins. Matthew Stafford’s replacement, Jeff Driskel, is a good athlete, but he was under a ton of pressure in this contest. Driskel was sacked six times (it could have been more) and threw three interceptions as a result of the pressure more often than not. While it is often overlooked, Washington does have a very good defensive front. But this constant pressure was alarming when considering how much Detroit has invested in its offensive line. The Lions have shown to have a very good downfield passing game, but they simply couldn’t protect long enough on the road to go downfield with any regularity. Also, the revolving door at the running back position has clearly been problematic in protection, not only with execution of blocks but also with communication and knowing which pass-rushers to even block. GAME GRADE: D+ | NEXT: vs. Bears (Thurs.)

— Matt Williamson


REDSKINS (2-9): Dwayne Haskins picked up his first win, but the Redskins still need to see more from him down the stretch . Haskins missed numerous throws and was helped out by some monster catches from Terry McLaurin. Haskins finished with only 4.5 net yards per pass attempt and a 47.5 passer rating at home against Detroit’s 26th-ranked DVOA defense. The Redskins can do a better job helping him out, but Haskins needs to start showing signs of potential more frequently.  GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

7 of 18

NEW ORLEANS 34, CAROLINA 31

PANTHERS (5-6): Despite the loss, Carolina has to be thrilled with the performances of its young offensive stars on the road against New Orleans’ 5th-ranked DVOA defense . After four games with a sub-90 passer rating, Kyle Allen tossed three touchdown passes and no picks as he earned a 112.7 rating, his best since Week 1. D.J. Moore went for 126 receiving yards, his fourth straight game with 95-plus yards. Christian McCaffrey caught for 69 yards and ran for 64, scoring once in each phase. The present is bleak, but more wins should come for Carolina if its offensive stars continue to play like this. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Redskins (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


SAINTS (9-2): Michael Thomas, who entered Week 12 with an 83.2 percent catch rate, continues to be incredibly reliable. Against the Panthers, Thomas caught 10 of 11 targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. That extended his streak of 100-yard games to five straight, his career-best. Until somebody proves they can stop Thomas, the Saints offense looks like it cannot be halted. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: at Falcons (Thurs.)

— Michael Nania 8 of 18

NY JETS 34, OAKLAND 3

RAIDERS (6-5): Considering what the Raiders’ offense had accomplished this month, and the personnel they faced in New Jersey, Sunday’s letdown has the potential to be season-altering. Oakland’s offensive line possessed a clear trench advantage, and its pass catchers were facing a Jets cornerback corps that’s among the league’s worst. The result: key drops, zero red zone appearances and a third-quarter Derek Carr benching a week away from the biggest game of the Raiders’ second Jon Gruden era to date. No Raider wide receiver eclipsed 31 yards. Against a makeshift Jets boundary cornerback contingent, Raiders outside receivers combined for four receptions for 23 yards. Arrowhead Stadium is far more imposing than MetLife’s Raider-friendlier atmosphere, and the Chiefs possess a significant talent edge on the Jets. Gruden’s bunch looking like this ventures beyond the trap-game parameters. With Andy Reid posing as a Bill Walsh-Paul Brown hybrid after bye weeks, the Raiders’ playoff hopes took a major hit Sunday. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


JETS (4-7): Entering Sunday with the NFL’s three worst yardage performances this season, the Jets have now scored 34 points in three straight games – doing so for the first time since the Brett Favre-piloted 2008 season. After preying on the Giants’ and Redskins’ low-end defenses, the Jets shredded a Raiders unit that had played well recently. Adam Gase’s game plan was on point. Five Jets – Robby Anderson, Braxton Berrios, Le’Veon Bell, Vyncint Smith and Demaryius Thomas – posted at least one 20-yard reception, and Sam Darnold’s fourth career 300-plus-yard day included completions to nine targets. Gase’s play-calling on the second half’s first possession besieged the Raiders. A slick bunch-formation route concept allowed Berrios to break loose on a 69-yard gain, and Gase’s delayed tight end screen to Ryan Griffin for a 1-yard touchdown was one of the better goal-line play designs executed this season. With the Bengals and Dolphins on tap, this bounce-back run could get weird quickly. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 9 of 18

SEATTLE 17, PHILADELPHIA 9

SEAHAWKS (9-2) : A major storyline of the Seahawks’ season is that they’ve not been particularly good on defense, but Russell Wilson has bailed them out at almost every turn. That tendency had some doubting their staying power in the NFC, but Seattle’s complementary pieces had their day in a sloppy, hard-fought win over the Eagles. Rashaad Penny and a defense that was without Jadeveon Clowney carried the day for Seattle, overcoming a mediocre performance by Wilson in conditions that were worse than any they’ll likely face in the playoffs, unless the road to the NFC Championship Game runs through Seattle. The Seahawks will still go as far as Wilson takes them, but winning a game without him at his best is a major confidence boost moving forward. More than confidence-boosting, Penny’s emergence gives Seattle another potential offensive weapon to utilize in the postseason. GAME GRADE: A- | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Mon.)

— Chris Mueller


EAGLES (5-6): Philadelphia’s offense, averaging 9.5 points per game since the bye week, has gone ice cold . With numerous injuries to the offensive line and wide receiver corps, Carson Wentz struggled at home against Seattle’s 21st-ranked DVOA defense, averaging 5.0 net yards per pass attempt and posting a 75.8 passer rating (league average: 91.5). With the Dolphins, Redskins and Giants next, there is no excuse for Wentz to continue his stretch of mediocrity.  GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

10 of 18

PITTSBURGH 16, CINCINNATI 10

STEELERS (6-5): Mike Tomlin had no choice but to pull Mason Rudolph from this game in favor of Devlin Hodges. The Steelers offense was going nowhere against possibly the league’s worst defense with Rudolph at quarterback. Rudolph was also coming off his worst game as a pro in Cleveland’s last game. His accuracy was poor in Cincinnati, as was his timing. But what was probably most concerning was Rudolph’s pocket presence. He looked like a very unconfident player in the pocket. Not that Hodges was great, but confidence isn’t an issue with this young man. Hodges is playing with house money and he knows it. He provided a least a small spark to Pittsburgh’s ailing offense. But who to start next week at home in the rematch against the Browns? That is a more difficult decision. GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


BENGALS (0-11) : If Cincinnati would have played Andy Dalton rather than Ryan Finley in this game, they would have won. Sure, the Bengals are playing for tomorrow and want to see what they have in their rookie quarterback, but this is a little ridiculous. After going 7-of-10 in the first half, Finley completed just five more passes. His lack of arm strength is alarming, and he really has a tough time getting the ball in tight spaces. As the weather continues to worsen, this will be exposed more and more. The Bengals are not a good football team, but aside from quarterback, they are showing signs of life. Against constantly stacked boxes, Joe Mixon was very impressive in this game, and with a little more of a passing threat, he could have really lit up the scoreboard with the way he was running. Tyler Boyd had a crucial late fumble, but he also made a couple outstanding plays that bailed out Finley. Cincinnati’s pass rush features quite a few above-average players and showed up big against the Steelers. Finley wasn’t the only reason the Bengals couldn’t get their first win, but a professional signal caller such as Dalton would have been enough to win this ugly football game.  GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Jets (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 11 of 18

TENNESSEE 42, JACKSONVILLE 20

JAGUARS (4-7) : Jacksonville’s rush defense let the Jaguars down, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering they entered the game last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, at 5.3. What was somewhat surprising about their failure was how suddenly it happened. Derrick Henry gouged Jacksonville for 159 yards and two touchdowns, nearly one year after scorching them for 238 yards and four scores. The problem for the Jaguars was a familiar one; they couldn’t tackle at all, and it did them in. Multiple Jacksonville defenders had a chance to tackle Henry on his 74-yard touchdown run, but none was able to do so. That sort of sloppiness and lack of attention to detail have kept the Jaguars’ defense from greatness all season, and it likely snuffed out any faint hopes Jacksonville  had of contending for a playoff spot. The Gardner Minshew story was fun, but 2019 looks as if it will be another lost season for Jacksonville. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Bucs (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


TITANS (6-5) : The Titans still have an uphill climb for a playoff spot, but they’ve undergone a metamorphosis since Ryan Tannehill took over. Tennessee is 4-1 in Tannehill’s five starts, and even though they have not asked him to throw the ball often – just 27 attempts in his starts, on average – he has made the most of his chances, throwing for 10 touchdowns and posting a 120.4 passer rating. It isn’t just that Tannehill’s play in and of itself has transformed the Titans, it’s that his mere presence has opened up other avenues for their offense. Tennessee has scored 29.4 points per game in Tannehill’s starts, compared to 16.3 in games started by Marcus Mariota. If the Titans can keep creating big plays, they’ll become that much more dangerous, and with four division games left, including two with Houston, they can still dream big. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 12 of 18

NEW ENGLAND 13, DALLAS 9

COWBOYS (6-5): Dallas continues to fall short against the elite competition, dropping to 0-4 in games against teams that currently have a winning record . The turnover margin has been a huge issue for the Cowboys in those games, as across those four contests, they have turned the ball over eight times while taking the ball away just once. The Cowboys have a good opportunity to break this streak on Thanksgiving, as they take on a tough, but beatable Buffalo Bills team at home. Dallas may still have a great shot at making the playoffs, but they have a long way to go until they can be considered anything near a Super Bowl contender.  GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Bills (Thurs.)

— Michael Nania

PATRIOTS (10-1): The path to another AFC team taking home-field advantage is narrowing, with ESPN’s FPI giving the Pats a 78% chance to earn that slot for the sixth time this decade. Bill Belichick’s defenses care little for yards yielded. Of the eight top-10 scoring defenses the Pats have deployed this decade, only two of them ranked top 10 in total defense. Belichick’s latest bend-but-don’t-break charges smothered the Cowboys repeatedly, forcing Brett Maher to attempt five field goals. The Pats held the No. 1-ranked Cowboys’ offense to nine points and did it without sacking Dak Prescott, limiting Dallas to 2-for-13 on third downs. This masked the Patriots’ 3-for-14 third-down showing. The Pats’ offense is well off its MVP-level Tom Brady (feat. Rob Gronkowski) days, but it will improve to some degree, per its late-season usual. And with an even stronger defensive safety net backing Brady’s crew, derailing the Patriots in Foxborough will require a near-perfect effort. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson

13 of 18

SAN FRANCISCO 37, GREEN BAY 8

PACKERS (8-3): This game was a glaring example of where the Packers and 49ers, teams constructed from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree, are respectively in their overall development. San Francisco has had this system instituted for longer and wow, does it show. The Packers may have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and some great individual players, but the 49ers have a great team that feeds off and complements each side of the ball about as well as any team in the NFL right now. The Packers have pieces. The 49ers are whole. The scheme in San Francisco is very much in place on offense and defense and everyone is bought in. Not so much yet in Green Bay. Who is to say if LaFleur will ever have a complete team or not in Green Bay, but clearly the process is further along with the 49ers. In some ways, that should be encouraging. In other ways, it shows that this team has a lot more holes and problems than their counterpart tonight and who is to say if Green Bay will ever reach such heights in team building. GAME GRADE: C- | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

49ERS (10-1): San Francisco’s defense turned in another stunning performance, laying waste to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ passing attack in a showdown of two NFC powers. Rodgers threw for just 104 yards, the second-lowest total in a game this season for a quarterback with at least 30 attempts. The 49ers sacked Rodgers five times, but it wasn’t just their pass rush that was dynamic; their secondary also made plenty of plays on the football when Rodgers did have time to throw. Green Bay looked disjointed and had no answers for Robert Saleh’s defense, and the truth of the matter is, unless teams can run the ball right at San Francisco and have consistent success, they won’t do much offensively. If the Niners can slightly improve their current pace, they’ll challenge the single-season record for fewest passing yards allowed in a 16-game season. Make no mistake: the 49ers delivered a major statement with this win. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 14 of 18

MONDAY: BALTIMORE AT LA RAMS

RAVENS (8-2): Week 12 concludes with the Ravens heading to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. This will be a real test for Baltimore’s outstanding and unique offense. Expect Jalen Ramsey to follow Marquise Brown and get very physical with him at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage much of the time. That will allow Wade Philips to bracket Mark Andrews with a steady combination of safeties and linebackers. The Rams are an excellent run defense and while they haven’t seen the likes of Lamar Jackson, Baltimore hasn’t had to deal with a disruptive force like Aaron Donald. The Ravens running game is diverse, but Donald can destroy it like no one else in the league. Jackson had better be careful at the mesh point of Baltimore’s read-option game or he could get a face full of Donald. NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


RAMS (6-4): It looks like Los Angeles will have Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods back for their showdown with Baltimore, and perhaps their presence will be enough to jump start an offense that has averaged under 20 points per game over its last five contests. Los Angeles’ passing offense struggled mightily against Pittsburgh and Chicago, and Jared Goff was terrible against Pittsburgh, and only marginally better against Chicago. The Rams still have the Cardinals twice, as well as a revenge game at home against the Seahawks. They likely need to go 4-2 and possibly 5-1 over their last six games to have a realistic chance at a playoff spot. That would make a win over the Ravens a necessity, as they still have road trips to Dallas and San Francisco remaining. With his stable of skill talent full again, the pressure is squarely on Goff to deliver results, regardless of who Los Angeles is facing. NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 15 of 18

BYE: ARIZONA

CARDINALS (3-7-1): Does David Johnson still have a role with the Cardinals? Kliff Kingsbury insists that he does, despite Johnson not getting a single touch and only being on the field for nine snaps against San Francisco. Johnson is owed over $13 million next season, and carries a dead cap hit of $16.2 million. He’s not going anywhere unless Arizona finds a trade partner, which seems unlikely. Bruce Arians was at the helm for the Cards when Johnson had a monster 2016, but it’s highly unlikely that a reunion in Tampa will be arranged. So what will Arizona do? Kingsbury has an extra week to either tinker with ways to get Johnson more involved, or further bury him on the depth chart. It stands to reason that Johnson, if healthy, would be a big boon to Kyler Murray’s development and Arizona’s offensive production moving forward. If he’s completely phased out, the Cardinals will be paying a lot of money for nothing.  NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

16 of 18

BYE: KANSAS CITY

CHIEFS (7-4): Two years ago, Kareem Hunt won the rushing title in 15 games and one play. The 2017 third-round pick was better last year, averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards per game. The Chiefs have not replaced him effectively and lack ground-attack consistency. Damien Williams’ plug-and-play production of last season has not carried over; his 91-yard touchdown run against the Vikings represents nearly a third of his season-long rushing total (309 yards; 3.7 per carry). As a once-undrafted former Dolphins third-stringer, Williams should not have been expected to replace Hunt. LeSean McCoy has shown flashes of his old self, but his three fumbles (one shy of his single-season high) make him an unstable asset. The Chiefs rank 22nd in rushing (94.4 YPG), and Williams is now nursing a rib injury. The Chiefs must hope their renewed offensive line health can stabilize a suddenly shaky patchwork backfield, because with the slim margin for error their defense allows, they cannot afford to be vulnerable anywhere on offense. NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 17 of 18

BYE: LA CHARGERS

CHARGERS (4-7): Last week, Philip Rivers undercut his 353-yard performance with four more nationally televised interceptions, drawing attention to his 2019 regression. But the player who accounted for nearly a third of those aerial yards remains on a historic pace. Austin Ekeler has been one of the Chargers’ few bright spots, and his work in Los Angeles’ final five games will be a key reason to follow the NFL’s least-followed team. Ekeler’s 108-yard receiving performance against the Chiefs lifted him to 667, leaving him on pace for 970 for the season. Ekeler’s two goal-line fumbles notwithstanding, he has outplayed Melvin Gordon this season. Letting Gordon walk for a higher-end compensatory pick and attempting to extend their undrafted success story next year would be a prudent strategy for the Bolts. NEXT: at Broncos

— Sam Robinson 18 of 18

BYE: MINNESOTA

VIKINGS (8-3): The Vikings should be in a real good position coming out of their bye week. Over the past two months, Kirk Cousins is playing as well as just about any quarterback in this league. And that was mostly without Adam Thielen, who is set to return after the week off. With Thielen out, tight ends Irv Smith and Kyle Rudolph really stepped up while Stefon Diggs remained a dominant player even with more coverage attention during that stretch. Smith has a very bright future in this league. Dalvin Cook is a huge force in the passing game and with the punishment he has sustained this year, the week off comes at a great time for Cook. The Vikings offense has a chance to one of the very best in football to finish the regular season and presumably beyond. NEXT: at Seahawks (Mon.)

— Matt Williamson

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_12_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30633026#slide_18

By: Yardbarker Staff

Why 2017 NFL running back class holds key to position’s future

The running back position’s prestige peak occurred decades ago in the NFL. Most teams have steadily devoted fewer resources to acquiring starters at the position, leading to the job’s plummeting value, but major recent investments have thrust running backs into a strange place.

From July 2018-September 2019, contracts given to Todd Gurley (Rams), David Johnson (Cardinals), Le’Veon Bell (Jets) and Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) transformed a stagnant running back market. Those deals, for the most part, have not benefited the teams. Injuries altered the trajectories of Gurley and Johnson, and Bell has predictably struggled behind a terrible offensive line.

But the next wave of impact talents took the baton; many of this season’s premier backs came from the 2017 draft class. Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) and Dalvin Cook (Vikings) are surging toward All-Pro status, and Aaron Jones (Packers) is not far behind. Pro Bowl rosters will include them and Leonard Fournette (Jaguars), with Alvin Kamara (Saints), Marlon Mack (Colts) and former undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler (Chargers) vying for invites. Add Chris Carson (Seahawks), Joe Mixon (Bengals) and former rushing champion Kareem Hunt (Browns), and that 2017 running back class looks like one of the deepest in the common-draft era (1967-present).

That group has produced this season’s top three in yards from scrimmage, four of the top six touchdown scorers and five of the top seven in rushing yards per game. Despite some previous big-ticket backs’ stocks dropping, the position remains in good hands.

With Bell and Elliott waging memorable contract standoffs, next year promises to be one of the most interesting offseasons involving a single position in modern NFL history. All 2017 draftees become extension-eligible in January. The flood of re-up candidates set the stage for a macro reassessment of the modern running back, following a grim decade for the position. But it wasn’t always like that.

In the 1990s, 35 running backs became first-round picks. Teams’ thinking did not change much in the 2000s, when 32 backs were first-rounders. This decade’s final tally? 16, with none going in the 2013 or ’14 first rounds. Despite the impressive work the 2017 draft class has shown this season, the contract-seeking backs’ signing windows will open in the worst era for such investments.

Elite running backs’ salaries once comprised bigger chunks of teams’ payrolls. Terrell Davis signed for $7.8 million per year with Denver in July 1998, when the salary cap was barely $52 million. That salary would have ranked top five among running backs in July 2018, when the cap stood at $177 million. The needle did not move too far until the summer of 2011, when Chris Johnson signed a $13.5 million-per-year deal with Tennessee, and Adrian Peterson broke through with a $14.2 million-AAV pact with Minnesota. Those contracts soon became relics.

Peterson’s six-year, $85.3 million contract topped the market for years. Teams stopped rewarding ball-carriers on that level, as prices for other positions — including offensive linemen, who have longer shelf lives than the players they block for -– steadily rose. When Peterson’s contract came off the Vikings’ books, the highest-paid running back salary stood at barely $8 million.

Select franchises have taken renewed interest in the position, with Elliott, Fournette and Saquon Barkley (Giants) going in the top five from 2016-18. But the injuries to Gurley and David Johnson, and Bell’s $13.25 million-per-year Jets deal generating 3.1 yards per carry through nine games surely have franchises reevaluating running backs’ worth. How they proceed in 2020 will be telling.

The Panthers and Saints, respectively, rely on the versatility McCaffrey and Kamara provide. They are the modern prototypes, working as premier aerial weapons as well as between-the-tackles runners. McCaffrey is on pace to threaten Chris Johnson’s season scrimmage yards record (2,509); Kamara has made two Pro Bowls and joins Michael Thomas in a dual-engine Saints offense. Although Fournette has a throwback skill set, he drives the Jaguars’ offense. 

Expect extension talks to commence between these three and their respective South division teams next year, with McCaffrey and Kamara possessing intriguing leverage for big-money deals. The others’ negotiating positions — including that of Cook, who plays in a system notorious for running back turnover — are not as powerful.

Elliott holding out after three years and landing a record $15 million-per-year extension should provide a blueprint for McCaffrey and Kamara. Although McCaffrey can be controlled through 2021 via the fifth-year option, he should strongly consider holding out in 2020 rather than risk greater mileage and/or an injury decreasing his value. Fournette’s deal also has a fifth-year option, but because he has not demonstrated McCaffrey-like value, the Jaguars should have more time to consider their options.

The Cook-Kamara-Jones-Mack-Mixon-Carson contingent will enter 2020 on expiring contracts, forcing their teams to make decisions. The uncharted territory between the top tier (north of $13 million annually) and the stratum of Atlanta’s  Devonta Freeman (approximately $8 million AAV) figures to be explored. It would behoove teams seeking to retain their backs long term to strike early, with the prospect of the next CBA changing the landscape.

As the cap keeps spiking by around $10 million each year, the gulf between the Tier 1 and Tier 2 running back salary spectrum will represent better value than it did during the mid-2010s.  However, organizations may play hardball with their backs because of the position’s replaceability, short lifespan and the fallout from the mistakes of the Rams, Cardinals and Jets. Some of these players will then advance to free agency in 2021, making that market unusually interesting.

On the field, this class is on track to push that of 2008 — which produced Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart and Ray Rice — as the 21st century’s best. With nearly a third of next year’s depth charts likely to have a 2017 draftee or UDFA in first-string running back slots, the 15 months between January 2020 and March 2021 will bring major developments for one of the NFL’s most recognizable positions. 

And the latest rising talents will play pivotal roles in how the NFL views the running back position in the 2020s.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/why_2017_nfl_running_back_class_holds_key_to_positions_future/s1_13132_30590156

By: Sam Robinson

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.

7 of 32

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

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/grading_each_nfl_team_at_the_halfway_mark_of_the_season/s1__30392639#slide_1

NFL Week 5 game-by-game analysis, grades

The Colts stunned the Chiefs in Kansas City. Green Bay built a big early lead on the road and held off the Cowboys. Wow, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey (237 scrimmage yards) is good. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 5 whip-around. 1 of 16

INDIANAPOLIS 19, KANSAS CITY 13

COLTS: (3-2):  Indianapolis’ defense turned in a heroic performance against PATRICK MAHOMES and the Chiefs. The D-line played the biggest part. Indy was without Malik Hooker, Darius Leonard and Clayton Geathers, but Justin Houston, Grover Stewart and the rest of Indy’s front-seven owned the line of scrimmage. The Colts harassed Mahomes and, in particular, suffocated Kansas City’s running game. It was an impressive and surprising effort; Indianapolis allowed three of its first four opponents to rush for at least 100 yards, and Oakland dominated them on the ground in Week 4. The Colts now get a much-needed bye week to get healthy, before they host Houston in a game that could shape the AFC South race. If the Colts win that one, they could easily be 7-2 by the time a mid-November divisional crucible begins. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Texans (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Chris Mueller


CHIEFS: (4-1): The first of many national showcases for this Chiefs team illuminated an uncomfortable reality. They may not be sufficiently improved defensively to  capitalize on Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance. When the reigning MVP is compromised or is missing enough key players, the Chiefs’ foundation becomes shaky. The Chiefs entered Sunday night’s game 31st in run defense, and the Colts turned the clock back to expose it. Kansas City used considerable capital on defensive augmentations this offseason but had no answer for Indianapolis’ rushing onslaught. The Chiefs, who did lose key defensive tackle Chris Jones, gave up 180 rushing yards – the third straight game in which they have allowed at least 180. Considering the Chiefs are also below average on pass defense and rush offense, they are again asking Mahomes to walk a tightrope. For a team carrying the NFL’s best contract, its defense still being one of the league’s worst is troubling.GAME GRADE:  D + | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 2 of 16

GREEN BAY 34, DALLAS 24

PACKERS (4-1):  It’s about time the coaching staff trusted AARON JONES enough to feed him touches. It took Jamaal Williams (concussion) going down, but hey, maybe everyone can now see he is far and away the best running back option. After the Packers took a big early lead, Jones got a little breather here and there in the second half, but still finished with 182 total yards against an excellent defense. He has natural running skills and is developing as a pass-catcher. This game also showcased Jones’ improvement as a route runner, and he’s getting better in pass protection. Without Devante Adams (turf toe), Aaron Rodgers spread the ball around, with nine Packers catching at least one pass. It’s telling that Jones not only led the Packers in rushing but also was Green Bay’s leading receiver (seven catches for 75 yards) by a significant margin. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: vs. Lions

— Matt Williamson


COWBOYS (3-2): With Dak Prescott’s contract looming, it’s impossible for his performance not to be the focus. Although he made this game interesting down the stretch, he finished with three interceptions, the 10th multi-interception game of his career, now early in his fourth season. Prescott threw for 463 yards, 226 to Amari Cooper. But much of that yardage came in the second half, when the Packers’ defense seemed to let up. Green Bay’s defense was especially impressive in blanking the Cowboys in the first half. Cooper, the former Raiders receiver, has been a wise investment for Dallas, but whether he’s enough to help turn Dak into a top-line starter remains to be seen. Two weeks in a row against considerable competition, Dallas was found lacking. Are the Cowboys willing to settle for “just OK”? GAME GRADE:  C | NEXT: at Jets

— Mike Tunison 3 of 16

CAROLINA 34, JACKSONVILLE 27

JAGUARS (2-3): Jacksonville’s run defense had been trending in the right direction the past two weeks, holding the Titans and Broncos to a combined 159 yards in two wins. But the Jags’ run D was a no-show against Carolina. CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY gouged Jacksonville, especially on an 84-yard gallop that saw more than half the defense over-commit to a fake. Even McCaffrey’s backup, Reggie Bonnafon, hit for a 59-yard TD. Jacksonville’s aggressiveness was its problem on that play, too. Multiple members of the front-seven over-pursued because of an end-around fake; the Jaguars’ secondary had no chance to catch him because all the players took a bad angle. Gardner Minshew (374 yards passing) played well enough, but if the Jaguars are going to win the AFC South, they must get more from the defense. GAME GRADE:  C-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


PANTHERS (3-2):  Christian McCaffrey continues to add reasons why he’s an elite back and in the discussion for the best in the game. Sunday’s performance was historic in many ways. The third of his three touchdowns was an 84-yard run, the longest in franchise history. (According to NextGen Stats, he reached a max speed of 21.95 mph on the TD run, his fastest touch since 2018.) McCaffrey’s performance was one of only 18 since 2000 by a running back that resulted in at least 237 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. That means you’re talking about a roughly once-a-year type of outing, usually done by only the best of the best. The only downside was a sequence in the red zone in the fourth quarter when the Panthers tried to get him a passing touchdown (he had one in his career before Sunday) on third down and it didn’t work out. Then McCaffrey was stuffed on a fourth-down attempt. Carolina held on, but it slightly marred an otherwise excellent game. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Bucs (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 4 of 16

BALTIMORE 26, PITTSBURGH 23 (OT)

RAVENS (3-2): In an overtime game, the Ravens had the ball 13 minutes, 26 seconds longer and ran the ball 40 times. Despite being the much fresher unit, Baltimore’s defense was far from impressive. This is more than just an isolated incident for the once-exceptional unit, as it has been abused four weeks in a row. Pittsburgh’s offensive box score isn’t telling (269 yards), because the unit still seeks an identity. It lost MASON RUDOLPH (concussion) to a vicious hit by Earl Thomas, which put third-stringer Devlin Hodges at the offense’s controls. Yet the Steelers still averaged 5.3 yards per play, a yard and a half more than Baltimore. The run defense is a problem without question, but the area of most concern is Baltimore’s pass rush. This is a blitz-heavy scheme, but the Ravens’ secondary is uncharacteristically poor, and the lack of pure pass-rushers hurts. Terrell Suggs, where are you? GAME GRADE:  C+ | NEXT: vs., Bengals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


STEELERS (1-4): Going back to 2017, Pittsburgh has rushed the passer as well as or better than almost every defense. The Steelers had 52 sacks last season, 56 in 2017. It’s what Pittsburgh (19 sacks) does best this season, too. The Steelers’ rush (five sacks) on Lamar Jackson was superb. But what stood out in Week 5 was their pass-rushing plan. Not only did the Steelers push the pocket really well, but for the most part, they kept Jackson bottled up by staying in their rush lanes. We didn’t see a lot of games or stunting. Jackson (14 carries for 70 yards) got loose here and there. The execution of a pass-rush plan, an underrated important aspect of playing great defense, was impressive. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 5 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 33, WASHINGTON 7

PATRIOTS (5-0): Jamie Collins went from athletic Patriots linebacker to a freelancing player deemed unnecessary during the team’s Super Bowl LII run; the Pats traded him to the Browns in 2016. Cleveland soon gave the outside linebacker a position-record $12.5 million-per-year contract that he did not live up to. Now back in New England on an incentive-laden deal and counting only $3 million against the cap, he has become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Against Washington, Collins continued his resurgence by recovering a second-quarter fumble and forcing another on an impressive inside rush that resulted in a fourth-quarter sack of Colt McCoy. A player the Browns cut has been one of the NFL’s best this season, finishing Week 5 with 4.5 sacks (an NFL-high for off-ball ‘backers) and a career-high three interceptions. For a Patriots team coming off perhaps the Super Bowl’s greatest defensive showing, Collins looks like a frightening luxury. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Giants (Thurs.)

— Sam Robinson


REDSKINS (0-5): In a game the Patriots were bound to win in a laugher, especially amid the swirling rumors of JAY GRUDEN’S impending dismissal, the Washington defense put on a better performance than anyone had a right to expect, even if the final score doesn’t indicate as much. Washington limited Tom Brady to completing three of his first seven attempts en route to taking an early lead, the Pats’ first deficit of the season. A fourth-down stop and a red-zone interception by Montae Nicholson, after the Washington offense had just turned the ball over on its own side of the field, kept the game competitive longer than perhaps it should have been. Think Washington fans are disenchanted? Asked by the Washington Post what he thought about the predominately New England crowd at FedEx Field, Brady said, “I thought it was pretty amazing. That felt like a home game.” Gruden, as expected, was canned early Monday morning. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison

BUFFALO 14, TENNESSEE 7

BILLS (4-1): With Miami on tap after a Week 6 bye, Buffalo is firmly in contention. The Bills again received spotty offense but have become a matchup nightmare for opposing aerial attacks. After stifling Tom Brady in one of the worst games of his career, Buffalo smothered Marcus Mariota. The Bills’ front seven did not sack Brady but dropped Mariota five times, four by inside rushers. Defensive tackle JORDAN PHILLIPS had a three-sack first half. Buffalo recently lost promising D-tackle Harrison Phillips (torn ACL) for the season. On Sunday, defensive end Trent Murphy (head) and linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring) left with injuries in the second half. Yet Buffalo still held the Titans to 4-for-14 on third downs. The Bills are headed in the right direction in Sean McDermott’s third season. This is a better team than their fluky 2017 playoff squad. GAME GRADE:  B + | NEXT:  Week 6 bye, vs. Dolphins (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Sam Robinson


TITANS (2-3): It was reasonable to assume that a matchup of two of the league’s top-five scoring defenses would produce a low-scoring game. But the Titans must be kicking themselves because of their kicker. Cairo Santos missed all four of his field goals — 50- and 53-yarders, a 36-yarder, and a 33-yarder that was blocked — and those misses were the difference. Santos came into the game 41-for-44 from 30-39 yards and 8-for-15 from 50-plus yards for his career. Titans coach Mike Vrabel says he still has confidence in him. Santos’ difficulties obscured the fact that Marcus Mariota and the offense were sloppy, had touchdowns nullified by penalties and several drives stifled by sacks. The Titans were penalized eight times for 60 yards and allowed five sacks, despite left tackle Taylor Lewan’s return from a four-game PED suspension. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 7 of 16

DENVER 20, LA CHARGERS 13

BRONCOS (1-4): Denver could not curtail the Jaguars’ momentum in Week 4 but managed to stop the Chargers from stealing the win. Los Angeles, however, would have operated differently in the second half had cornerback Kareem Jackson, a former Texan, not provided Denver’s defensive play of the year. Jackson derailed the Bolts’ fourth-and-goal play by forcing an Austin Ekeler fumble near the pylon in the second quarter. This ensured the Broncos carried a 17-0 lead into halftime. Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 cornerback entering Sunday, Jackson made a Broncos-high 10 tackles and helped a Bradley Chubb-less defense hold PHILIP RIVERS to 4.4 yards per attempt. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


CHARGERS (2-3): Despite having Mike Williams and Melvin Gordon back in the lineup, the Bolts could not produce enough against a Broncos team down Bradley Chubb, starting linebacker Josey Jewell and would-be starting cornerback Bryce Callahan. Los Angeles totaled 246 yards – 120 fewer than any output of their previous 2019 outings – and were outrushed 191-35. A week after the Jaguars erased a 14-point Broncos lead largely with Leonard Fournette’s 225-yard day, the Chargers were not patient enough with the run. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions. Keenan Allen, the NFL’s receiving leader after Week 4, caught four passes for 18 yards. This profiled as a non-threatening spot for the injury-plagued team, but the Chargers are plagued by inconsistency. LA, which played at home before a big Denver contingent, is in trouble amid a crowded AFC middle tier. GAME GRADE:  D + | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 8 of 16

ARIZONA 26, CINCINNATI 23

CARDINALS: (1-3-1): KYLER MURRAY and Kliff Kingsbury each got their first win in the NFL, and it isn’t hard to pinpoint why. Arizona’s offensive line kept Murray upright almost the entire game. The Cardinals allowed only one sack despite coming in having surrendered 20, most in the league through four games. Murray did his part, too, managing to get rid of the football under pressure. The lack of negative plays was a major factor in helping the Cardinals establish rhythm and consistency. He was also more decisive as a playmaker, and he led a 266-yard team rushing effort with 93 on his own. Arizona piled up 514 yards, and while Cincinnati is one of the league’s worst defenses, it was still a big step forward for Murray and Kingsbury. Notable: Arizona prevented a score by a tight end for the first time this season. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


BENGALS (0-5): It’s clear the Cardinals are the better of these two poor teams. Here’s the deal with Cincinnati: Its offense has only two players! Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd; that’s it. Andy Dalton is a professional quarterback, and tight end Tyler Eifert can occasionally make plays, but this team has a putrid offensive line, and every defense the Bengals face (at least until injured A.J.Green returns) is going to make life extremely difficult on Mixon and Boyd. These two touched the ball 30 times, accounting for 232 of Cincinnati’s 370 yards. The offense is far too dependent on them. Hey, I thought head coach Zac Taylor’s forte was offense. GAME GRADE:  D+ | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 9 of 16

HOUSTON 53, ATLANTA 32

FALCONS (1-4): Atlanta’s secondary will be having nightmares about Will Fuller for weeks to come. Part of the Texans receiver’s monster day had to do with several miscommunications in coverage by the Falcons, including both of his first-half touchdowns. Fuller didn’t just reap the benefit of broken plays, he also just straight-up smoked an overmatched Atlanta secondary when defenders had the right idea about where they needed to be. Fuller had 14 catches on 16 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a day that looks almost effortlessly easy; Atlanta’s listless coverage helped make it that way.  GAME GRADE:  D-minus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


TEXANS (3-2): If this is what life is like for DESHAUN WATSON with a clean pocket, his offensive line should be the most motivated group on the planet. After an opening three and out, the Texans piled up six touchdowns and two field goals, with only the end of the first half stopping another drive. Watson finished with five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, consistently shredding the Falcons’ defense with deep shots downfield. This came one week after the Texans didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards in a loss to Carolina. Watson’s performance and the line’s protection were by far the most encouraging aspects of the game for Houston, but Will Fuller’s career day was close behind. If he can function as a truly dangerous second option behind DeAndre Hopkins, Houston will be the team to beat in the AFC South. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 10 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 31, TAMPA BAY 24

BUCS (2-3): Coming off a 55-point outing in a win over the Rams, the Buccaneers must have figured they wouldn’t need quite that many offensive fireworks to top a Brees-less Saints team, although obviously one would like to keep the offense humming regardless. It can be hard to be effective to that degree when your top receiver, Mike Evans, finishes the game with no catches on three targets. Perhaps that’s a credit to Marshon Lattimore, but wideouts considered among the game’s best don’t usually pull disappearing acts such as that. GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


SAINTS (4-1): The idea during Drew Brees’ absence is that the Saints were hoping for just good enough quarterback play to tread water and eke out a few wins. That has been the case for the most part. New Orleans got good QB play and then some against the Buccaneers, as Teddy Bridgewater threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns. One of the knocks against Bridgewater is that he tends to play the short game and not get a lot of air under the ball. Against the Bucs, he had an impressive strike for 33 yards to Ted Ginn for a score and another to Josh Hill on a 26-yard play. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 11 of 16

MINNESOTA 28, NY GIANTS 10

VIKINGS (3-2): The Vikings have one of the league’s best running games, making play-action rollouts a highly effective tactic by KIRK COUSINS. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 184 rushing yards on 28 attempts against New York. Cousins isn’t a great athlete, but he does move well and certainly can throw effectively on the run. Designed quarterback movement off play action played to Cousins’ strengths and put the Giants’ suspect linebackers in compromised positions. This game plan had assistant coach Gary Kubiak written all over it — keep an eye on this the rest of the season. GAME GRADE:  B | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


GIANTS (2-3): There are plenty of takes to be had about Daniel Jones coming back to earth following his excellent first outing two weeks ago in Tampa. Sunday’s loss makes it clear there are plenty of issues with the roster even if the Giants get a serviceable performance from their starting quarterback. Before Week 5, Kirk Cousins hadn’t thrown for more than 233 yards in a game. He had that before the end of the first half against the Giants. New York’s secondary was ripe for the picking all game, and it shows in the nearly flawless performances that Cousins (306 yards passing) and Adam Thielen (seven catches and 130 yards) put up in a one-sided game. GAME GRADE:  D | NEXT: at Patriots (Thur.)

— Mike Tunison 12 of 16

OAKLAND 24, CHICAGO 21 (LONDON)

BEARS (3-2): Allen Robinson, who had seven catches on eight targets for 97 yards and two touchdowns, is easily Chicago’s best offensive player. That showed in a big way in Week 5. For the better part of this game, the Bears surprisingly lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. Chicago was also hampered by penalties, poor blocking, a lackluster running game and less-than-stellar defense. But Robinson was spectacular. Rarely is he mentioned as an upper-echelon wide receiver, but he excels at all levels of the field, is good after the catch and often dominant at the catch point. He has bailed out Chicago QBs all season. GAME GRADE:  C | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Saints (Sun, Oct. 20)

— Matt Williamson


RAIDERS (3-2):  With the Raiders producing one winning season since 2003, the bulk of their drives in this era have not been particularly consequential. A drive in London may go down as a season-changing march. Jon Gruden pulling the trigger on a fake punt on a fourth-and-1 from his own 27-yard line ignited a Raiders team on the verge of blowing a 17-point lead. The direct snap to safety Erik Harris doubled as a turning point, with the Raiders then piecing together a 13-play, 97-yard, go-ahead drive against the Bears’ top-tier defense. DEREK CARR, No. 22 in QBR through four games, led the drive without hitting Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller. Oakland rookie tight end Foster Moreau contributed 41 yards on the possession, including a diving grab to set up Josh Jacobs’ game-winner. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: Week 6 bye, at Packers (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Sam Robinson 13 of 16

PHILADELPHIA 31, NY JETS 6

JETS (0-4): Their offensive line struggles in recent years having bled into 2019, the Jets made changes before Week 5. Despite the two new starters – left guard Alex Lewis and right tackle Chuma Edoga – the Jets gave up 10 sacks to the Eagles. For a team that has seen two quarterbacks go down, this made a third consecutive Jets game nearly unwatchable. One of those sacks resulted in a touchdown, with Eagles in-season
cornerback acquisition Orlando Scandrick ripping the ball from Luke Falk and sprinting for a touchdown. The Jets last allowed 10-plus sacks in a 2012 game against the Chargers, when another backup quarterback – Greg McElroy – was concussed. Falk made it through this game but again finished with a dreadful stat line – 15-for-26, 120 yards, two interceptions. The Jets cannot be properly evaluated until Sam Darnold returns, but their stretch without him exposed plenty of flaws that stand to hinder the starter’s development when he comes back. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


EAGLES (3-2): Philly was more or less on autopilot in what was always an expected win. The offense (446 yards) plowed through New York with a run-heavy opening drive to take a touchdown lead. From there, the Eagles’ defense forced the turnovers, including a 52-yard pick-six by linebacker NATE GERRY on the ensuing Jets possession, that have been missing in their early season struggles. Still, a big part of being a playoff team is taking care of business when you have the opportunity, so that’s an encouraging sign for an Eagles team that has been erratic and faces a difficult six-week stretch ahead (at Vikings, at Cowboys, at Bills, vs. Bears, vs. Patriots, vs. Seahawks).  GAME GRADE:  A | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 14 of 16

MONDAY: CLEVELAND AT SAN FRANCISCO

BROWNS (2-2): Cleveland got a huge win in Week 4 at Baltimore, but the Ravens no longer have a strong pass-rushing defense. The Browns’ troubled offensive line is going to face a far stiffer challenge on the road against the Niners, who are coming off a bye. It isn’t getting the national credit, but San Francisco’s defensive front is among the best in football. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa has just one sack, but he is stout. Keeping BAKER MAYFIELD clean should prove to be the most challenging aspect of this game for the Browns. The second-year QB is much more effective when he gets rid of the ball quickly.  | NEXT: vs. Seattle (Sun., Oct. 13)

— Matt Williamson


49ERS (3-0): San Francisco comes off an early bye week with a chance to start asserting itself as the team to beat in the NFC West. There will be no worries about looking past the Browns, even with a road showdown with the Rams looming in Week 6. The Niners’ defensive front has been a major strength so far this season, with the team ranking fifth in the league against the run and fourth in yards per carry allowed. It will face their toughest test of the season in the form of Nick Chubb and the Browns, who found their stride against Baltimore in Week 4.  Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have been productive in terms of generating tackles for loss, and have consistently forced opponents to play from behind the sticks. NEXT: at Los Angeles Rams   (Sun., Oct. 13)

— Chris Mueller

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_5_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30191483#slide_14

By: Yardbarker staff

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

NFL Week 4 game-by-game analysis, grades

“Overrated” Baker Mayfield passed for 342 yards in Cleveland’s win. Tom Brady struggled in Buffalo, but the Patriots’ defense rose to the occasion (again). And the Bucs — yes, the Bucs! — beat the Rams in LA in a wild one. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 4 whip-around. 1 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 12, DALLAS 10

“Overrated” Baker Mayfield passed for 342 yards in Cleveland’s win. Tom Brady struggled in Buffalo, but the Patriots’ defense rose to the occasion (again). And the Bucs — yes, the Bucs! — beat the Rams in LA in a wild one. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 4 whip-around. 1 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 12, DALLAS 10

BUCS (2-2): Tampa Bay had to pour on the points to have any chance against the high-octane Rams. Jameis Winston rose to the challenge, throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns. Most importantly, Winston limited turnovers. He threw a pick, one of only two turnovers he has had in the past three games. (He had three interceptions in Week 1.) It indicates that Bruce Arians just might work the magic with him that he did with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Facing a third and goal with three and a half minutes left that might have iced the game, Winston checked down and settled for the field goal. Los Angeles had a chance to tie, but then Ndamukong Suh got revenge against his former team with a 37-yard fumble return to ice the win.GAME GRADE: A | NEXT GAME: at Saints (Sun.) 

— Mike Tunison


RAMS (3-1): It would be easy to point to the Rams’ defense as the primary culprit in their loss, and it certainly bore a major share of the blame, giving up 48 of the Buccaneers’ 55 points. The real problem was that Los Angeles had no balance offensively. The Rams entered the game with the league’s seventh-best rushing attack, but they achieved those numbers against the 24th-strongest schedule of run defenses. Todd Gurley couldn’t get going against Tampa’s second-ranked rush defense, and the Rams finished with 28 yards on 11 carries. Part of that was a byproduct of Tampa jumping out to a 21-0 lead, but the end result — Jared Goff dropping back to pass 70 times and attempting 68 passes — was likely eye-opening for Sean McVay. This was an ugly loss for Los Angeles, one that might cost the Rams in the race for NFC playoff positioning. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT GAME: at Seahawks (Thur.) 

— Chris Mueller 3 of 16

CLEVELAND 40, BALTIMORE 25

BROWNS (2-2): What do you think of Baker Mayfield now, Rex Ryan? Called overrated earlier in the week by the former NFL coach, Mayfield (342 yards passing) looked far more comfortable than he had in the season’s first three weeks. And that’s mostly without Odell Beckham (two catches, 20 yards), who was taken out of the game by Marlon Humphrey. Jarvis Landry, who apparently didn’t really concern Baltimore’s defense, stood out (eight catches, 167 yards) in this huge road win for Cleveland. What impressed me most was the Browns’ continual feeding of Nick Chubb (20 rushes, 165 yards, three touchdowns). Sheesh, he looked fast on his 88-yard touchdown run, the NFL’s longest rushing score this season. In a game the Browns absolutely had to get, this was a dominating offensive performance. And guess what? The Browns are in first in the AFC North. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT GAME: at 49ers (Mon., Oct. 7)

— Matt Williamson


RAVENS (2-2): With weaklings Miami and Arizona in the rear-view mirror, Baltimore has little room for error against a quality opponent. Kansas City waxed the Ravens’ defense in Week 3 with 503 total yards. The Browns did the waxing in Baltimore in Week 4, piling up 530 yards. According to my math, that’s 1,033 yards. Yikes, what’s happened to the vaunted Ravens defense? Even with Lamar Jackson’s emergence, Baltimore has little margin for error. Going into this game, the Ravens had zero turnovers. Against the Browns, they turned it over three times (two Jackson picks and a Mark Ingram fumble).  GAME GRADE: C | NEXT GAME: at Steelers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 4 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 16, BUFFALO 10

PATRIOTS (4-0): Fans of other AFC contenders likely expressed frustration after the Patriots eked out a victory in the toughest assignment on their annually soft AFC East docket. Cheer up: The defending Super Bowl champions looked a few cuts below their recent form. Their running game missed reliable fullback James Develin, who is on IR. Sony Michel entered Week 4 averaging 2.4 yards per carry and was a non-factor in the second half, when the Patriots needed his one-dimensional skill set to keep the Bills’ offense off the field. Michel finished with 63 yards on 17 carries but has looked good off his 2018 form. After posting 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs, the 2018 first-round investment is struggling. The Patriots, who are without offensive line starters Isaiah Wynn and David Andrews, may soon begin to reduce the run downs-only back’s role. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT GAME: at Redskins (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BILLS (3-1): As could be expected with a young quarterback facing a thriving Patriots defense, the Bills’ offense struggled. But Week 4 showed Buffalo’s defense can be an anchor as Josh Allen develops (and hopefully recovers swiftly from a concussion). The Patriots forced four Bills turnovers and scored 16 points, producing their lowest total yardage figure (224) in 10 years in the process. The Bills cooled a Patriots attack that ripped through its first three opponents, with Tom Brady’s 18-for-39, 150-yard day being one of the ugliest in his career. With help from a balanced defensive line, Buffalo’s secondary won the battle against higher-profile players. Tre’Davious White’s cornerback crew limited Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman to 76 combined receiving yards. Brady finished with 3.8 yards per attempt – his lowest in his NFL-record 211 starts that ended in wins. The Bills’ pass defense lacks name recognition (for now) but is a weapon that should keep Buffalo in the AFC playoff picture. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT GAME: at Titans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 5 of 16

LA CHARGERS 30, MIAMI 10

CHARGERS (2-2): Injuries early in recent seasons have restricted the Chargers, but this year’s outfit might be dealing with the most health-related trouble. Fortunately, the Bolts are catching a key break that should help them stay in the AFC contention mix. They entered Week 4 without safeties Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, offensive tackle Russell Okung, wideouts Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin, tight end Hunter Henry and kicker Michael Badgley. They lost upper-echelon defensive end Melvin Ingram to a pulled hamstring Sunday. Fortunately, they played the Dolphins, limiting the damage. The Bolts crossed the Dolphins’ 40-yard line on every drive and did not punt, ending an eight-game losing streak in Miami (against Dolphins teams a bit more committed to winning). The Chargers’ next two games – home against the Broncos and Steelers, who are 0-7 between them – should allow them to stay afloat amid this latest health crisis. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Broncos (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


DOLPHINS (0-4): It is difficult to evaluate the Dolphins’ Josh Rosen strategy. They have three 2020 first-round picks and are near-certain to use one of them on a quarterback. The franchise’s league-worst roster also makes evaluation difficult. But the 2018 first-round pick of the Cardinals gave Miami a promising stretch in a home loss. Rosen’s first drive went 75 yards. He completed 4 of 4 passes – the last of which a 34-yard TD strike to Devante Parker. He marched the NFL’s worst offense into field-goal range three more times in the half. Miami still missed two field goals, and Kalen Ballage dropped a would-be touchdown, but it’s incremental progress. Miami, outscored 81-0 this season in the second half, gained just 36 yards in the third and fourth quarters. But Rosen going 12-for-16 for 169 yards before the break is encouraging. He could be a trade asset or stopgap starter. GAME GRADE: D +  | NEXT GAME: vs. Redskins (Sun., Oct. 13)

— Sam Robinson 6 of 16

KANSAS CITY 34, DETROIT 30

CHIEFS (4-0): Patrick Mahomes’ aerial displays in his first 20 starts established a stupefying pace. In start No. 21, the Chiefs’ centerpiece showed his sneaky-dangerous secondary skill. Mahomes threw for 315 yards and no touchdowns. The high standards he has set can reasonably paint it as an unremarkable performance. The reigning MVP flipped the script in his first NFL dome game, rushing for a career-high 54 yards. Mahomes vexed the Lions with scrambles on the Chiefs’ final two touchdown drives, converting a third-and-6 with a seven-yard sideline scurry and then saving his team’s effort with a 15-yard sprint up the middle on a fourth-and-8. After both escapes, the Chiefs notched go-ahead scores. No player other than Mahomes in the top 25 of the season passing yards list has cleared 210 rushing yards in a season. He amassed 272 in 2018. This in-case-of-emergency skill adds to the challenge the NFL faces in containing Kansas City’s superstar. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT GAME: vs. Colts (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


LIONS (2-1-1): There was a ton to take away from this game: huge plays on both sides of the ball and Matthew Stafford playing great (21-for-34, 291 yards, three TDs), distributing the ball to nine different pass-catchers. But Jeez I was super-impressed with RB Kerryon Johnson (26 carries, 125 yards). It couldn’t be clearer that Johnson is the true lead back and the Lions’ offense runs through the 5-foot-11, 212-pound former Auburn star. Without question, this is the right move for the Lions, who too often in the past put too much pressure on Stafford’s passing and on their defense to produce. Finally with a legit lead back, the Lions (18th in rushing last season) are much more balanced. Detroit didn’t win, but kudos to Matt Patricia for feeding the ball to Johnson. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT GAME: at Packers (Mon., Oct. 14)

— Matt Williamson 7 of 16

CAROLINA 16, HOUSTON 10

PANTHERS (2-2): In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-7 deep in Carolina’s end, Kyle Allen connected with Christian McCaffrey in the flat. The back bobbled it a few times, caught it while stumbling, and slid for an incredible first down. The drive didn’t culminate in any points, but it ate up nearly six minutes and kept the Panthers from surrendering a short field. Carolina added another field goal in the fourth quarter to protect its one-score lead and evened its record with consecutive wins after starting 0-2. McCaffrey finished with 179 yards — 93 rushing and 86 receiving — and further solidified his push to become one of the top backs in the league.GAME GRADE: B – minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


TEXANS (2-2): Like many previous losses, the latest Texans defeat was defined by one word: sacks. Playing at home, Deshaun Watson was sacked six times, the last of which resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Carolina with just over four minutes left. The Panthers turned it into three points, and Houston, needing a touchdown, had virtually no chance. The offensive line usually gets most of the blame and it had its share of problems in this one, but Watson again held onto the ball too long and was the cause of some of his own issues, particularly a violent sack in the shadow of his own goalposts. Per Pro Football Focus, Houston’s pass-blocking grade coming into the game was 16th in the league. Bill O’Brien must figure how to find a happy medium between taking shots downfield and protecting his quarterback or Watson’s health, and Houston’s season, will be in peril.  GAME GRADE: D | NEXT GAME: vs. Falcons (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 8 of 16

OAKLAND 31, INDIANAPOLIS 24

RAIDERS (2-2): Criticized inhis second Oakland stint for personnel decisions, Jon Gruden found an offense-changing weapon during the Raiders’ woeful 2018 stretch run. Signed off the Ravens’ practice squad in late November, Darren Waller has gone from perpetual suspension risk into the NFL record book. The fifth-year tight end snared seven passes for 53 yards against the Colts. In doing so, the converted wide receiver moved his catch total to 33. That ties Antonio Gates for the most by a tight end in NFL history through four games. To put Waller’s stunning emergence into perspective, he never topped 26 catches in a season while at run-oriented Georgia Tech. Waller’s 33 grabs trail only Keenan Allen (34) and lead the tight end pack by five. On Sunday, Waller contributed third-down conversions on each of Oakland’s two first-quarter touchdown drives and threw the block that finished off Trevor Davis’ 60-yard score. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT GAME: vs. Bears (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


COLTS (2-2):  Indianapolis did just about everything right in the season’s first three weeks, save make its kicks. Against Oakland, it did nothing right. Indy was victimized by several drops, including three from tight end Eric Ebron. Coming into the game, Colts pass-catchers had only three drops, according to Pro Football Focus. While QB Jacoby Brissett is clearly improving, and much more capable than outsiders would have believed, he still needs his skill players to do their jobs, particularly in a game in which he was without T.Y. Hilton. Safety Malik Hooker’s absence was felt as well, as Oakland tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau combined for 10 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. The tight end assignment doesn’t get any easier in Week 5, with a prime-time date with Travis Kelce and the Chiefs. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Kansas City (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 9 of 16

NY GIANTS 24, WASHINGTON 3

REDSKINS (0-4): After weeks of questions, Case Keenum was dreadful enough (6-for-11, 37 yards, one pick) to give way to rookie Dwayne Haskins. Washington’s presumptive franchise quarterback of the future had a debut to forget, including a pick-six among three interceptions. He finished 9-for-17 for 107 yards. Haskins had a few flashes of ability, but there was little to excite any Washington fan in this game at New York. Interceptions went off receivers’ hands, long returns were called back by penalty. “Surely an 0-3 team can come back from the depths of 0-3 and put on a nine-, 10-game streak and win 10 of their last 13 games. It’s not that big of a deal, right?” Redskins coach Jay Gruden  (35-48-1 in Washington) told the Washington Post earlier in the week. Now we wonder how long Daniel Snyder will stick with him. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Patriots (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


GIANTS (2-2): Rookie Daniel Jones (23-for-31, 225 yards, two picks) was bound to come back to earth somewhat in his second start and indeed he did, although the main concern was how the Giants would compensate for the loss of Saquon Barkley in the first game following his injury. Wayne Gallman stepped up to the plate with 118 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. It was fairly evenly split between rushing (63) and receiving yards (55), giving the Giants flexibility on offense in the month or so that Barkley will be out. In the meantime, New York continues to roll and not only is its season saved, but Big Blue might be a threat in December. Now who would have thought THAT after Week 2? GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Minnesota (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 10 of 16

TENNESSEE 24, ATLANTA 10

TITANS (2-2):  While the Texans and Colts were stubbing their collective toes at home against 1-2 opponents, Tennessee was handling business on the road in Atlanta. The win could best be described as a return on investment for general manager Jon Robinson. A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, after combining for 10 catches and 111 yards in Weeks 2 and 3 combined, teamed for eight catches, 185 yards and three touchdowns. Brown’s 55-yard catch and run to open the scoring was his first NFL touchdown, and a classic example of an elite skill player turning a ho-hum completion into a big play. Davis (fifth overall in the 2017 draft) and Brown (the 51st overall pick this year) represent an organizational effort to surround Marcus Mariota with high-caliber talent, and explosive games such as this are what the Titans’ brass envisioned. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT GAME: vs. Bills (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


FALCONS (1-3): Desmond Trufant had a heck of a time with rookie A.J. Brown, who had two touchdowns in the first quarter. The Titans’ second-round pick had an amazing catch-and-run in which he eluded most of the Atlanta defense en route to a score. For the second, he hauled in a lofted throw over Trufant to put Tennessee up 14-7 at the half. The cornerback earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015, and at the time seemed like an ascendant talent. He has been scattershot, at best, since and might never make the leap to shutdown corner. On the other end, Atlanta once again struggled to get its offense going, with Matt Ryan committing a critical fumble at the end of the first quarter. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT GAME: at Texans (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 11 of 16

CHICAGO 16, MINNESOTA 6

VIKINGS (2-2): It’s obvious Minnesota goes as its running game goes. With Dalvin Cook tearing it up, the Vikings are highly competitive. But when the Vikings run into a great defense such as Chicago’s, Kirk Cousins eventually has to make throws. Of course he is capable, but when Minnesota doesn’t have balance in its attack, its quarterback and work-in-progress offensive line are exposed. That makes Minnesota one of the most transparent teams in the league. In Week 4, Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for just 40 rushing yards. Even with Stefon Diggs (seven catches for 108 yards) thriving, the Vikings once again showed us what they truly are. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT GAME: at Giants (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


BEARS (3-1): Sometimes there’s such thing as a good injury. That’s a brutal thing to say about Mitch Trubisky, but Chicago’s offense is better without him in the lineup. Chase Daniel (22-for-30, 195 yards, 1 TD) took over early in the first quarter, when Trubisky was ruled out with a left shoulder injury. Daniel is never going to wow us. He won’t make difficult throws like Trubisky can. He won’t make big plays with his legs like Trubisky can. But he can play winning football with this supporting cast because he is smart and efficient. In a nasty defensive struggle, Daniel’s ball placement and decision making (especially compared to Trubisky’s) really stood out in a positive light.GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT GAME: at Raiders (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_4_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30130289#slide_1

By: Yardbarker Staff

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