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.
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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.
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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.
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Chicago Bears: C-
The Bears have big problems, starting with third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He’s taken a big step back early this season, with a terrible 5.6 yards per attempt and a 81.4 passer rating. His poor play has resulted in consecutive home losses, and two missed field goals by Eddy Pineiro vs. the Chargers also raises questions about the kicking game, which was one of the top priorities in the offseason. At 3-4 in a tough division, Chicago’s prospects to return to the playoffs this year don’t look great.
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Cincinnati Bengals: F
The expectations for Cleveland were probably a bit too lofty after their big offseason moves, including the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. That said, the team is a disappointment at 2-5 for even the most pessimistic. Despite a bevy of weapons, the team ranks 25th in points per game, and Baker Mayfield has seen huge regression with 12 picks in seven games. The Browns have committed the most penalties in the league and have the second-most giveaways. That’s losing football, and it goes squarely on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. 9 of 32
Dallas Cowboys: B-
It’s been a first half of inconsistency for the Cowboys, who have a three-game winning streak and a three-game losing streak already. The good news is that their offensive line is finally healthy again, and it looks like their 24-22 loss at the Jets in Week 6 was a wake-up call. Dak Prescott remains an MVP candidate with a 102.6 passer rating, and the team is in the driver’s seat in the NFC East after a big win vs. Philadelphia. The Cowboys could do a lot of things better, but they’re in an enviable position in the standings.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
This year’s NFL trade deadline was something else. Big trades have become the new normal around the league. No longer are blockbuster mid-season deals a rarity.
It started with the massive trade that sent Jalen Ramsey from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams. Meanwhile, the league’s two remaining undefeated teams added an upgrade at receiver.
We’re diving into those moves and more looking at the biggest winners and losers from the NFL trade deadline.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
Being able to acquire a second-round pick for your third-best receiver at the initial stages of a rebuild is something. That’s what the Falcons did when they dealt the 30-year-old Mohamed Sanu to New England earlier in October.
Sanu is good. However, he didn’t fit into Atlanta’s long-term plans. This trade also enables young stud Calvin Ridley to receive more targets moving forward. That’s a necessity for Matt Ryan and Co. This is the biggest key for a Falcons team that’s now going to rebuild on the fly. Sanu just didn’t fit into that model.
Loser: New York Giants
Giants general manager David Gettleman had a plan before he abandoned it by drafting Daniel Jones in April. He had another plan to build through the draft before abandoning it on Monday. So, we’re not exactly sure what the plan is in New Jersey. What we do know is that Giants yielded a third-round pick in 2020 and a fifth-rounder in 2021 to acquire impending free agent defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
The Giants already use two defensive tackles in that of stud rookie Dexter Lawrence (acquired in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade) and Dalvin Tomlinson. Where does Williams fit in? At 2-6, the Giants hopefully didn’t make this trade for the remainder of the 2019 season. Even then, there are no guarantees long term. It just didn’t make much sense.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
In desperate need of a proven pass catcher on the outside, San Francisco dealt a third- and fourth-round pick to the Broncos for two-time Pro Bowl WR Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick. Sanders paid off immediately, recording a touchdown on his initial possession as a member of the 49ers in last week’s blowout win over the Panthers.
Some will question whether yielding two mid-round picks for an impending free agent makes sense. That’s until we realize the fifth-rounder San Francisco got back in the deal is going to be a dozen picks or so lower than the fourth-rounder it dealt. Now at 7-0 on the season, the 49ers made a win-now move. That’s what needed to be done. Period.
Loser: Los Angeles Rams
Is Jalen Ramsey good? Yes. He’s one of the best cover guys in the NFL and is just 25 years old. Los Angeles swung for the fences in pulling off this trade after losing three consecutive games earlier in the season. However, there are many more layers to this deal.
The Rams dealt away two first-round picks and change for Ramsey, without him committing to a long-term deal. The team is already paying Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Aaron Donald top-end money. How can the Rams fit Ramsey in long term while keeping the depth that will be needed in an ultra-competitive NFC West? We have absolutely no idea. Adding more fuel to this, Los Angeles dealt a fifth-round pick to the Dolphins in order for Miami to take on Aqib Talib’s contract and had to move Marcus Peters to make room for Ramsey. That’s a huge price to pay.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
Led by general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders’ brass had no built-in relationship with cornerback Gareon Conley. The former first-round selection was former GM Reggie McKenzie’s pick. So it’s not a surprise that Oakland dealt the ineffective young cornerback away ahead of the deadline.
We are surprised that the Raiders were able to net a third-round pick from the Houston Texans in the deal. Conley didn’t fit in Oakland. The team is high on young corners Trayvon Mullen and Isaiah Johnson. Nabbing a mid-round pick to add to their draft capital was an absolute win for the Raiders.
Loser: Detroit Lions
Detroit found itself at 2-3-1 heading into Week 8’s action. The team still had legit playoff aspirations. After taking out the New York Giants on Sunday, Matt Patricia’s squad moved to .500. In between all of this, the Lions traded starting safety Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks. That deal included Detroit sending a 2021 seventh-round pick to Seattle in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Needless to say, members of the Lions were thrown for a loop by this trade. It seemed to be more financial than anything else, with Diggs having just signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension. Promptly, the Lions lost fellow safety Tracy Walker to injury this past week. This is not the type of move that inspires confidence in a team that’s still in the playoff race.
Winner: New York Jets
We have to give the Jets credit. It was noted a lot ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline that this one-win squad was going to be a seller. However, it didn’t seem like first-year general manager Joe Douglas had a lot to offer other teams.
That changed big time when New York traded embattled impending free-agent defensive tackle Leonard Williams to the Giants on Monday. This deal included the Jets acquiring a third-round pick in 2020 and a mid-round selection in 2021. Not a bad bounty for someone that was going to leave Jersey in free agency this coming March.
Loser: Houston Texans
This pretty much started ahead of Week 1, when the Texans dealt a bounty for left tackle Laremy Tunsil before giving away stud pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney for pennies on the dollar. It’s a symptom of the Texans not having a true general manager after firing Brian Gaine.
Though, the focus of this article is on deals that were made in October. That’s where Houston’s decision to acquire struggling young corner Gareon Conley from Oakland for a third-round pick comes into play. Sure these Texans have struggled against the pass. But yielding such a valuable pick when your war chest is already limited made no real sense.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
As noted above, Jalen Ramsey is one heck of a football player. It just became too much for the Jaguars’ brass to handle. The Pro Bowler did not get along with team president Tom Coughlin. Jacksonville was not about to choose the corner over its top front-office figure. In the end, moving Ramsey made the most sense.
The simple fact that these Jags were able to add two first-round pick and a mid-rounder for Ramsey is stunning. It sets the team up well moving forward as long as it draft well. It’s also important to note that the Jags have won two consecutive since trading Ramsey. It’s a clear indication that the corner wasn’t making a huge overall impact for the team. Sell high, and reap the rewards later. Jacksonville did just that.
Loser: Denver Broncos
Acquiring the equivalent of a third-round pick for Emmanuel Sanders was pretty solid for John Elway and Co. However, the team’s unwillingness to move fellow impending free agent Chris Harris Jr. ahead of the deadline made no real sense.
Elway seems to think his team is not in rebuild mode. That’s pretty much a pie in the sky mentality from the embattled general manager. Good organizations know when to sell. Unfortunately, the Broncos are going to remain in purgatory because of Mr. Elway.
The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 29, and if recent seasons are any indication, there could be plenty of wheeling and dealing. These 25 players are top trade candidates as we get closer to the deadline.
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Adrian Clayborn, DE, Falcons
The Falcons defense has been a dumpster fire through six games, and head coach Dan Quinn’s job could be in jeopardy. After leaving Atlanta for New England last year, Clayborn has returned to the Falcons but the stats haven’t followed (one sack). As a pending free agent, Clayborn could be made available if there’s any market for him at age 31.
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Vernon Davis, TE, Redskins
Davis is the de facto starting tight end in Washington with Jordan Reed suffering from a concussion, but Davis has had concussion issues of his own. He’s missed the last two games, though his play in recent years shows he can still help in his mid-30s. Washington has nothing to play for after a 1-5 start to the season. 3 of 25
Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings
Diggs seemed unsatisfied in Minnesota earlier this season, getting fined for missing team activities. Things might have changed after a spectacular game vs. Philly, with 167 yards and three touchdowns, but the market for his services should be lively if the Vikings do opt to trade their star wideout.
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Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins
Drake is seeing part-time snaps on the NFL’s worst team and has 60 touches through five games. Now in his fourth season, the versatile back is being wasted on the Dolphins and would likely fetch some draft capital for a team that’s tanking.
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Bud Dupree, OLB, Steelers
Trading their first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick would indicate that the Steelers aren’t yet throwing in the towel after Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, but they still have reason to consider moving Dupree. They should be able to find decent value for the pending free agent, as he already has three sacks in six games, and the Steelers would be trading from an area of strength. 6 of 25
Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals
Eifert has been extremely injury prone during his career and is no longer the red-zone threat that he was early on, but he’s still a gifted pass catcher. Now in his seventh season, Eifert is doing little for an 0-6 Bengals squad and would make a nice addition for a team like New England, which is craving tight end help.
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A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Green is nearing a return from his ankle injury, but the Bengals haven’t won without him. Now a pending free agent, he’s one of the faces of the franchise but has been a problem recently, missing significant time in three of the last four seasons. When healthy, Green remains an elite wideout, so the Bengals should be able to find nice value for him as they likely go into a rebuild.
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Chris Harris, CB, Broncos
Harris didn’t seem enthused with the Broncos franchise in the offseason and has been the subject of trade speculation already. The four-time Pro Bowler remains a solid cover corner at age 30 and will be a free agent after this season. There are plenty of teams that could use his services down the stretch with the Broncos in poor position to make the playoffs.
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Xavien Howard, CB, Dolphins
Howard had a league-leading seven interceptions in his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign, and he remains a capable cover corner. Miami has been willing to trade anything that’s not tacked down early this season, and Howard is certainly a candidate to be moved despite missing Week 6 with a knee injury.
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Janoris Jenkins, CB, Giants
Jenkins signed a monstrous five-year deal with the Giants in 2016, and he hasn’t played as well as hoped. Still, the almost-31-year-old corner has proved to be a decent player at times and a willing tackler. He’s signed through 2020 but could be moved with teams hungry for secondary help and New York struggling for wins.
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Trumaine Johnson, CB, Jets
Johnson signed a five-year deal with the Jets under a different front office and coaching regime. Injuries have been a storyline early in his contract, and the Jets are already effectively out of the playoff race this year. If anyone is willing to take on Johnson’s contract, the Jets should happily oblige.
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Reshad Jones, S, Dolphins
The relationship between Jones and the Dolphins hasn’t been harmonious recently, but he remains on the roster. He missed time early this year with an ankle injury but remains one of the only quality players on a tanking squad. If Miami can find anyone to take on his salary, it’s probably time to move on.
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Markus Golden, OLB, Giants
Golden is doing a great job reviving his value after some injuries late in his tenure with the Cardinals. Through six starts, Golden has five sacks and a scoop-and-score. Signed for a low price this year, he should be an attractive trade candidate unless the Giants opt to sign him long term.
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Josh Norman, CB, Redskins
Norman has never lived up to the hype after Washington gave him an outlandish five-year, $75 million contract in 2016. To Norman’s credit, he has been relatively durable. He has one full year remaining on the deal after 2019 but could make a nice addition for a contending team with cap space.
15 of 25
DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
A former first-round pick with a world of talent, Parker simply hasn’t put it all together in the NFL. He’s now in his fifth season with Miami, and the results have been predictably disappointing. Still, there are plenty of contending teams in need of receiver help, and a change of scenery certainly couldn’t hurt with Parker’s contract expiring after this year.
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Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins
Like last season, Peterson has become Washington’s starting running back due to Derrius Guice’s injury. However, the 34-year-old is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and clearly has no future on a 1-5 Washington team. It’s unclear how he really helps the team significantly over a younger option, aside from being a veteran leader.
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Brian Poole, CB, Jets
Poole came over from Atlanta in the offseason, now in the final season of his contract. He’s seen regular snaps at safety, but the Jets have all but fallen out of contention already.
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.
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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)
Sunday’s NFL action represented the first full slate of the season as 14 games took place around the league. It did not disappoint.
The early games included tremendous performances from NFC rivals taking on hostile road crowds. That included the Dallas Cowboys doing their thing in D.C., and the San Francisco 49ers showing that the NFC West might be more competitive than originally thought.
Over in the AFC, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated a horrible Miami Dolphins team while the Pittsburgh Steelers proved that they are a shell of their former selves.
It’s in this that we look at the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action.
Broncos offense is a hot mess
We knew that Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears was going to be a low-scoring affair. Both the Broncos and Bears boast tremendous defenses with questionable offense. We didn’t realize just how bad the Joe Flacco-led Broncos offense was going to be. Was Week 1 against the Raiders an exception to the rule? Sunday’s game proved that it wasn’t.
Denver tallied a total of six points through the first 59 minutes of the game before converting on a touchdown and two-point conversion to take the lead before blowing it on defense en route to a 16-14 loss. All said, the Broncos’ offense converted on 3-of-14 third-down opportunities in the loss. That’s just not going to get it done. Now 0-2 on the season and averaging 15 points per game, it’s time to start talking about the Broncos’ offense as one of the worst in the NFL.
Houston, we have a problem
It’s simple. The Texans need to do a better job protecting Deshaun Watson. We can use all the excuses available to mankind. That’s fine. But unless Watson stays upright on a more consistent basis, he’s not going to last this season. The third-year quarterback was hit 11 times and sacked six times against the Saints last week. Despite coming out on top 13-12 against a hapless Jaguars team on Sunday, Watson was hit seven times and sacked another four times.
The backdrop is real. Houston lost recently acquired starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil to an ankle injury. He was added ahead of Week 1 to help rebuild a devastated and talent-stricken Texans offensive line. No matter the severity of Tunsil’s injury, these Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. It’s that simple.
This just in: Kyler Murray is good
For the first time since Cam Newton back in 2011, a quarterback has accounted for 300-plus passing yards in each of his first two NFL starts. Shockingly, Murray has accomplished this feat in consecutive road starts to begin his career.
It might not have been good enough to come out on top against the Ravens on Sunday, but Murray continues to prove that the NFL game is not too big for him. The reigning Heisman winner completed 25-of-40 passes for 349 yards without an interception. Since struggling through the first two quarters last week, Murray has been on fire. It’s going to be fun watching him play moving forward on the season.
Chargers blow a chance at 2-0
Following a win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, most figured that the Chargers would not have an issue on the road against the Lions on Sunday. Almost immediately, that proved not to be the case. Philip Rivers and Co. scored a grand total of 10 points in a three-point loss that was capped off by this game-winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay.
It’s games like these the Chargers can’t afford to lose in an AFC West headed by the Kansas City Chiefs. And in reality, it was the offense that failed to step up. In fact, the Chargers’ defense was game against Detroit. It just wasn’t to be. And this loss could come back to haunt Los Angeles moving forward on the season.
Kirk Cousins continues to be a joke
Minnesota was able to win last week against the Falcons despite seeing Cousins attempt 10 passes. That was in no way going to be the case against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and Co. opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. While Minnesota’s defense picked it up and held the Packers scoreless the rest of the way, Cousins was absolutely atrocious under center.
The high-priced quarterback completed 14-of-32 passes for 230 yards. He threw two interceptions, including a pick in the end zone with Minnesota driving for the potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
It’s getting to the point that Minnesota can’t rely on Cousins to be anything more than a game manager. Sunday’s loss to the Packers magnified this to a T. Defenses know if they put the game in Cousins’ hands, the quarterback will not be up to the task.
Julio Jones saves Falcons’ season
Teams that start the season 0-2 since 2007 have made the playoffs just 11 percent of the time. That’s what the Falcons were facing at home Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Taking on an injury-depleted squad, Atlanta almost gave this game away. That included a 13-play, 73-yard touchdown drive by Philadelphia to take the lead with just over three minutes left.
All looked lost for Atlanta. It was facing a fourth-and-three with the game on the line. That’s when Jones stepped up and hauled in a 54-yard game-winning touchdown to help Atlanta pull it out by the score of 24-20. He had put up another tremendous catch earlier in the game, too, finishing with 106 yards on five receptions. Jones saved Atlanta’s season Sunday night. It’s that simple.
No shame in Pats’, Antonio Brown’s game
Not only did Antonio Brown make his Patriots debut Sunday against the Dolphins, the team featured him early. That included Brown making multiple catches on the first drive and coming away with a touchdown in the first half. All said, Brown caught 4-of-8 targets for 56 yards with a touchdown.
The backdrop here is interesting, to say the least. It was just last week that Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming multiple instances of sexual assault. Given these accusations, the Patriots’ decision to have Brown active for Week 2 tells us exactly where they stand on the situation. Only time will tell regarding the team’s stance moving forward. For now, Brown promises to play a huge role on offense in New England as the season progresses.
Cowboys have no problems with Redskins
It started out slowly for Dallas against the Redskins in D.C. Sunday. For the second consecutive game, the Cowboys found themselves trailing early against a lesser opponent. But much like what we saw last week against the Giants, Dak Prescott and Co. picked it up big time from that point on.
Prescott followed up a flawless opener by completing 26-of-30 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. He added to a rushing attack that went for 213 yards. Meanwhile, Dallas bottled up the Redskins running game to the tune of 47 yards on 17 attempts. It led to another lopsided win for Dallas. This time, by the score of 31-21. Could this team now be the class of the NFC? The Cowboys are certainly looking like it right now.
To celebrate the first week of the season, fans were treated to a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader that featured plenty of fireworks.
Early, it was the Houston Texans visiting the New Orleans Saints. This one proved to be an entertaining, see-saw battle all game long. It wasn’t until the last second ticked off the clock that we knew which team would win, as New Orleans eked out a 30-28 victory.
Late in the evening, the AFC West was on display with a rivalry game featuring the Denver Broncos visiting the famed Black Hole and the Oakland Raiders. To the delight of the home crowd, the Raiders dominated, winning 24-16.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the season-opening “Monday Night Football” doubleheader.
Winner: The Hyde/Johnson duo is pretty dynamic
When the Texans lost Lamar Miller for the season with an ACL injury, it was easy to panic about their ability to run the ball consistently. Then, Houston pulled off a trade for Carlos Hyde. That proved to be a savvy move, as the power back was huge in Week 1.
Hyde rushed for 83 yards on 10 carries, providing the thunder in Houston’s offense. Former Cleveland Browns back Duke Johnson provided the lightning with 57 yards on the ground. He also provided a spark in the passing game with four catches for 33 yards. The duo combined on 175 yards from scrimmage and appears to be a solid tandem the Texans can count on this season.
Loser: J.J. Watt was practically invisible
When Houston traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for a pauper’s bounty, many wondered if the Texans could remain dominant up front without him. It was only one game, but on Monday it was pretty clear they won’t be the same.
In particular, star defensive end J.J. Watt was unbelievably unproductive. In fact, Watt didn’t register a single stat. Not one tackle. Not one quarterback hit. Not one pass defended. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Watt is too good to struggle like this all season. But perhaps he benefited from Clowney more than anyone realized. We’ll soon find out.
Winner: Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara — still pretty darn good
Last season, Saints receiver Michael Thomas had one of the most impressive statistical seasons any wideout has ever had in the NFL. He caught an absurd 85% of the passes that came his way to the tune of 125 catches for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. On Monday night, Thomas picked up right where he left off. Catching 10 passes on 13 targets, he racked up 123 yards and was the main weapon in Drew Brees’ arsenal all game long. He’s already living up to the monster contract he signed this summer.
Fantasy football players also once again rejoiced at the production of Alvin Kamara on Monday night. He’s such a dynamic weapon, and he’s among the best the NFL has to offer in terms of bang for your buck. That was on display against Houston as Kamara racked up the yardage. He piled up 97 yards on just 13 carries and another 72 yards on seven receptions. That’s an average of 8.45 yards per touch.
Loser: Houston’s offensive line is still a huge problem
Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-leading 62 times last year and hit 125 times, and not surprisingly he got banged up quite a bit in the process. The Texans tried to fix this issue in the draft and then by trading for Laremy Tunsil right before the season began. But based on what transpired in Week 1 against New Orleans, this problem isn’t going away any time soon.
Hopkins was pummeled by the Saints. From the opening drive until the end, he took big hits in the pocket (and outside of it as well). Houston’s offensive line allowed six sacks and gave up 11 quarterback hits.
That puts Watson on pace to be sacked 96 times this year, and absorb 176 hits in the pocket. That’s not sustainable. And it’s going to get this young man hurt badly at some point.
Winner: Wil Lutz called game
The final minute of the Texans-Saints game was insanely fun to watch for anyone who is not a Houston fan. It was also one of the best things we’ve seen in sports for some time now.
Deshaun Watson made two of the best throws under pressure you’ll ever see and tied the game on a touchdown pass to Kenny Stills. Then, Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point, only to get a second chance due to a penalty. He made the kick, putting the Texans up by one point with just 37 seconds remaining in the game.
That’s when Drew Brees marched the Saints 35 yards down the field in 35 seconds, setting up a potential game-winner from 58 yards out.
Wil Lutz stepped onto the field, took a deep breath, and then called game.
Loser: Broncos struggled in the red zone
The Broncos made a few nice pushes into to enemy territory against Oakland Monday night. They just couldn’t do much once they got into the red zone.
Four times, Joe Flacco had Denver in a position to score touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. Three times, the Broncos came up short. The only successful trip came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already practically over.
Rookie offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello struggled with the game plan. Flacco struggled to avoid pressure in key situations. The Broncos had one touchdown go right through their hands (literally), which we’ll get to in more detail later. Just an awful performance by Denver’s offense when it mattered most.
Winner: Darren Waller, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs give Raiders some juice
No Antonio Brown? No problem. The Raiders have plenty of offensive firepower, thanks to the emergence of ‘Hard Knocks’ star, tight end Darren Waller, free-agent acquisition Tyrell Williams and rookie running back Josh Jacobs.
Waller was a tremendous go-to option for Derek Carr in the middle of the field. He came through with seven catches for 70 yards and appears to be a centerpiece on this offense.
Williams did for Oakland what he’s been doing for the Chargers the past few years — make big plays down the field. He hauled in a gorgeous 43-yard pass and scored a touchdown, finishing with six catches for 105 yards.
Jacobs did an incredible job on the ground, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 28 yards through the air.
Why they will: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, and Kyler Murray is one of the best athletes the quarterback position has ever seen. The sky is the limit on offense if the stars align.
Why they won’t: The offensive line still looks bad despite some improvements on the right side, and the defense has serious talent deficiencies, especially early in the year without Patrick Peterson. Murray can be expected to help only so much as a rookie.
Why they will: Atlanta has elite offensive talent with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. and addressed the offensive line issues in the draft. The defense is healthy entering the year, which was an issue for most of last season.
Why they won’t: Pass rush has been an issue for the Falcons, and they didn’t do much to address that area in the offseason. The team also has secondary issues and allowed 423 points last year, fourth-most in the NFC.
Why each team will or will not win the Super Bowl
Slide 3 of 32: Why they will: Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a starter during the regular season last year and could make a second-year leap with improved offensive talent around him, led by Mark Ingram. Last year’s defense was also No. 2 in points allowed.Why they won’t: Jackson had multiple small injuries that should be worrisome over a full season, and the defense has lost significant talent, including Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, C.J Mosley and Za’Darius Smith.Previous SlideNext Slide
Why they will: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, and Kyler Murray is one of the best athletes the quarterback position has ever seen. The sky is the limit on offense if the stars align.
Why they will: Atlanta has elite offensive talent with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. and addressed the offensive line issues in the draft. The defense is healthy entering the year, which was an issue for most of last season.
Why they will: Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a starter during the regular season last year and could make a second-year leap with improved offensive talent around him, led by Mark Ingram. Last year’s defense was also No. 2 in points allowed.
Why they won’t: Jackson had multiple small injuries that should be worrisome over a full season, and the defense has lost significant talent, including Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, C.J Mosley and Za’Darius Smith.
Why they will: Buffalo added significant and impactful offensive talent in the offseason to complement second-year quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills also ranked second-worst in giveaways last season (32), a number that’s bound to improve with more stable quarterback play.
Why they won’t: Allen was still erratic last year, throwing 12 picks in 12 games and gaining only 6.5 yards per pass attempt. The offensive line has improved with new additions like center Mitch Morse, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough to help an offense that ranked 30th in points scored last season.
Why they will: Cam Newton fixed his shoulder in the offseason and has an impressive set of young weapons around him, including Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.
Why they won’t: Carolina’s defense has regressed considerably, ranking only 25th in sack rate and 20th in points allowed last year. They’ve addressed that issue with the additions of Gerald McCoy and Brian Burns, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough. Newton is also becoming increasingly fragile, with a shoulder injury last season and foot injury during the preseason.
Why they will: Chicago returns a talented, young team that allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season and made huge strides on offense, led by Mitchell Trubisky. Rookie running back David Montgomery gives them another strong weapon.
Why they won’t: The Bears have lost defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and remain in a tough NFC North division. Trubisky was solid but inconsistent in his second season, and last year’s kicker issues could remain with the inexperienced Eddy Pineiro replacing Cody Parkey.
Why they will: Cincinnati has plenty of talent at the skill positions on offense with Joe Mixon, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. Andy Dalton remains capable when healthy, and the defensive line is a strength with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and young Sam Hubbard.
Why they won’t: The offensive line remains a major issue, and the defense didn’t do much in the offseason despite allowing the most yards in the NFL during 2018. It could be a long year for first-year head coach Zac Taylor.
Why they will: The Browns won five of their last seven games last season with Baker Mayfield under center and were the talk of the offseason after adding Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. They have blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball, and their path in the division is seemingly easier after the Steelers and Ravens lost talent in the offseason.
Why they won’t: The Browns have major questions on the offensive line, and it’s impossible to know what to expect from new head coach Freddie Kitchens. There’s optimism Mayfield will take a step forward in his second season, but he still broke the 30-point threshold as a starter only twice last year.
Why they will: Dallas developed an elite defense last year, with top players at all three levels. The Cowboys won eight of their final 10 games with the help of wideout Amari Cooper. The Cowboys also still have a great running game, with Ezekiel Elliott ending his holdout before Week 1, and Dak Prescott does a great job taking care of the ball.
Why they won’t: Cooper is also fighting a foot injury that probably won’t heal significantly during the season. The offense ranked 21st in points last season and had issues moving the ball before he was acquired. If Cooper isn’t the same or has other offensive challenges, the Cowboys will have a tough time keeping up with the rival Eagles and other top NFC offenses.
Why they will: Most of the defensive strength remains intact, led by pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, and it could get even better with defensive mastermind Vic Fangio taking over as head coach. The running game was elite last season with the young duo of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Joe Flacco has Super Bowl experience under center.
Why they won’t: Flacco has been mediocre in recent seasons with Baltimore, and the talent around him in Denver isn’t better than what he had in Baltimore. While he could be an improvement over Case Keenum, Denver is asking a lot of a quarterback who has averaged a terrible 6.2 yards per pass attempt over the last three seasons. The AFC West also remains rough with the Chiefs and Chargers at the top.
Why they will: Head coach Matt Patricia is finally getting his players into the system, signing Trey Flowers for big money and adding corners Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman. The offense has underrated talent with Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson and strong wideouts.
Why they won’t: Despite the offensive talent, the Lions ranked 25th in points last season. There are still major questions at linebacker, and the NFC North is arguably the toughest division in football with the Packers, Bears and Vikings all having a real shot at making the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers
Why they will: Anything is possible with Aaron Rodgers, and he seems happy for the first time in a while after the team hired Matt LaFleur to run the team. Green Bay also addressed its pass rush issues in the offseason with the additions of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary. Rookie safety Darnell Savage Jr. could also add a spark.
Why they won’t: The recent offensive issues have been blamed on Mike McCarthy, but maybe the problem was the talent on the field? Green Bay has seen some major turnover at receiver, and going into the year only Davante Adams can be considered reliable. The defense allowed the 11th-most points last year and still has big questions at all three levels.
Why they will: Houston has built elite offensive talent led by Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans got a nice jolt before the season started by acquiring Duke Johnson, Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. The defense rebounded last year to rank fifth in points allowed, with J.J. Watt showing up as an elite player again.
Why they won’t: The offensive line still has major issues despite Tunsil’s addition, and the defense is less potent after losing Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu. Cornerback could also be an issue with several new faces. The AFC South is wide open after Andrew Luck’s retirement, but it also won’t be an easy road with all four teams having a viable shot entering the year.
After a wild NFL offseason, the impact of team transactions is already becoming clearer as teams settle into the preseason.
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Best: Bills sign John Brown
Young Bills quarterback Josh Allen has perhaps the strongest arm in the NFL, but the Bills were lacking a true speed receiver going into the offseason. That changed when they signed Brown to a three-year, $27 million contract. While Brown has struggled with injuries recently, he managed to stay on the field in Baltimore last year and averaged 17.0 yards per reception. He gives Buffalo the deep option it desperately needed.
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Worst: Bengals re-sign Bobby Hart
Despite his struggles at tackle last year, the Bengals still re-signed Hart to a three-year, $21 million deal. That was much to the chagrin of Bengals fans who watched him struggle last year on what continues to be one of the league’s weakest offensive lines.
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Best: Browns acquire Odell Beckham Jr.
The headlining move of the entire offseason was general manager John Dorsey’s trade for Beckham. Often a distraction in New York, Beckham is still undeniably one of the top wideouts in the league and now has a promising young quarterback in Baker Mayfield throwing him the ball. Cleveland is all in for the 2019 season, and Beckham is capable of bringing the Browns to the next level.
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Worst: Broncos acquire Joe Flacco
There’s nothing that sets an NFL organization back more than investing in the wrong quarterback. Flacco’s experience is attractive, but he’s been one of the league’s worst starters over the last few years in Baltimore. Since 2015, Flacco is 24-27 as a starter with a mediocre 82.7 Quarterback Rating. It could just be that Flacco is a stopgap for second-round pick Drew Lock, but it looks like he will start most, if not all, of the 2019 season. 5 of 24
Best: Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury
Cardinals fans have reason to be excited about the near future even if the team doesn’t win many games this season. Kingsbury was regarded as an offensive genius at Texas Tech, and he has some interesting weapons to work with in Arizona, led by No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Arizona’s defense could be a nightmare, much like Kingsbury’s defenses were with the Red Raiders, as Patrick Peterson is suspended to start the year and No. 2 corner Robert Alford is injured. Still, there should be plenty of scoring, with the hope that Arizona can get the personnel to develop a defense later. 6 of 24
Worst: 49ers sign Tevin Coleman
San Francisco had one of the league’s most potent running attacks last season, even without Jerick McKinnon, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert proved that they earned more playing time, but that’s unlikely to happen after the 49ers signed Coleman. He has a history with head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, but he has never seen 200 touches in an NFL season and seems replaceable for the two-year, $8.5 million price tag. 7 of 24
Best: Chiefs sign Tyrann Mathieu
The Chiefs defense lost Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Eric Berry in the offseason. Without those key veterans, they clearly needed new veteran leadership for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, and Mathieu is set to take on that role. He’s coming off one of his best seasons in Houston despite six years in the league and still just 27 years old. Mathieu’s versatility to play safety or corner is perfect for his new system and the Chiefs’ dire needs in the secondary. 8 of 24
With draft success sparse in Denver between 2013-17, the Broncos finally appear to have formed a young core capable of supplementing their handful of Super Bowl 50 holdovers. The Broncos’ projected starting lineup is probably the franchise’s most talented since its 2015 championship campaign.
The 2018 draft class and undrafted free-agent RB Phillip Lindsay give the four Super Bowl-era starters left –- Von Miller, Chris Harris, Emmanuel Sanders and Derek Wolfe –- reason for optimism after the past two seasons shoved the Broncos off the national radar. Rookie head coach Vic Fangio’s credentials dwarf Vance Joseph’s, new offensive line coach Mike Munchak is one of the NFL’s premier assistants and additions Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan help form one of the league’s better-looking secondaries.
Potential enhancements notwithstanding, the Broncos’ years-long headliner issue remains. As such, it is difficult to see them escaping the lower rungs of the NFL’s middle class. The absolute best-case scenario? A Joe Flacco-fronted wild-card season. The more realistic outcome? Something closer to the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning slates, when the Broncos went 9-7, 5-11 and 6-10.
Denver’s 2019 operation looks to feature a low ceiling for a few key reasons, the most visible being Flacco’s track record. And the Broncos’ longer-term route back to relevance involves notable impediments.
In nine years running the team, general manager John Elway has invested in four veteran quarterbacks and four rookies, with the intentions of one day starting them or reluctantly having to do so. Brock Osweiler (a 2012 second-round pick and 2017 free-agency addition) counts twice. This era’s non-Manning QBs -– Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum and Paxton Lynch -– and several non-quarterback draft misfires threw the Broncos off course, with the decision to take Lynch at No. 26 overall in 2016 doubling as one of the bigger turning points in franchise history.
Elway’s Flacco-Drew Lock combination approach, in theory, stabilizes the Broncos in the short term while providing future upside. This formula obviously could work. But it has a better chance to fall short of helping the Broncos capitalize on their somewhat promising roster.
The Broncos are, with straight faces, counting on Flacco to recapture his age-29 form . He is now 34. In 2014, under then-Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Flacco started two playoff games after compiling a career-best 68.2 QBR figure (ninth that season) in the future Broncos head coach’s system. New Denver OC Rich Scangarello’s offense is derived from Kubiak’s. This plan’s rather notable caveats? Flacco, since recording his quarterback-record seventh road playoff win in 2014, has suffered a torn ACL (2015), dealt with back (2017) and hip (2018) problems, has not cleared seven yards per attempt in a season or posted a QBR figure higher than 19th.
This latest Elway swing connecting would represent an incredible comeback and make Scangarello (two years as an NFL position coach, three seasons of Division I-FBS work) an unusual head coaching candidate. Elway attributed some of Flacco’s recent woes to the Ravens’ lack of offensive weaponry. That is not a flawed theory, but the Broncos’ skill-position group may limit Elway’s latest stopgap passer.
Emmanuel Sanders, eight months post-Achilles tear, is now 32. The former Pro Bowler likely will not return completely to his pre-injury version. Denver’s 2018 offense cratered (13.3 points per game) without Sanders in its final four games (all losses). This one is counting on a bevy of second-year cogs –- running backs Lindsay and Royce Freeman and wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton — elevating Flacco. The Broncos selected Noah Fant in the first round, but tight ends are notoriously slow developers. Just one (Evan Engram) exceeded 575 receiving yards as a rookie this decade. Elway’s assessment of his own skill corps may be off. Envisioning Flacco success without prolific chain-moving help is difficult.
Another troublesome component of Denver’s potential road back: the timeline issue Lock creates. Fangio’s early Lock analysis underscores how committed the team is to Flacco. Lock sitting throughout 2019, as the Broncos hope he will, would be atypical. Of the 36 quarterbacks selected in the first or second rounds from 2010-18, only seven have failed to start at least two games as rookies. Given Flacco’s trajectory, Lock probably joins the majority of his 2010s predecessors.
Barring a Johnny Manziel- or Christian Hackenberg-esque rookie year, Lock will also likely deter the Broncos from drafting one of the highly touted QBs expected to be available in 2020. The Broncos, then, stand to be tethered to an injury-prone passer on the way out and a No. 42 overall pick. For a franchise that saw the Lynch mistake accelerate this descent and prevent Elway from making a play for Patrick Mahomes a year later, bypassing a higher-touted QB class because of Lock (56.9 completion percentage at Missouri) is a gamble.
Since 2000, 21 quarterbacks have been chosen in Round 2 . Drew Brees became an all-time great. The rest of the viable-starter list includes Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. Based on the Broncos’ run of miscalculations at this position, would you bet on Lock joining this group or the larger one that includes Osweiler, Brian Brohm, Quincy Carter and Co.?
Elway’s attempts to prop up his long-productive defense with passable QBs failed, and that unit’s cornerstones (Miller and Harris) are now north of 30. The Broncos’ past three-plus years look a lot like the pre-Deshaun Watson Texans, who trotted out four below-average starting QBs from 2013-16. It took a first-round quarterback investment to (sort of) revitalize the Texans. But Houston’s Osweiler- and Brian Hoyer-piloted playoff teams benefited from poor AFC South competition. The Chiefs and Chargers give the Broncos a vicious divisional docket — a primary reason this latest reboot could be inconsequential.
Elway earned the job security he has enjoyed, but he should be about out of chances to fix this. If the Flacco-to-Lock baton pass unfolds like Elway’s other attempts to install a Manning successor, the Hall of Fame quarterback’s eye for QB talent should raise concerns. History shows the odds being against this latest solution reviving the Broncos.
1. Arizona Cardinals: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Still the consensus top player on the board, Bosa would make quite the bookend opposite Chandler Jones in Arizona. More likely, the Cardinals will trade down to a quarterback-needy team, and Bosa’s draft spot will fall as a result.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
The 49ers are hoping to finish developing a dominant defensive line with former first-round picks DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, and Williams could be the final piece. The youthful defensive tackle has jumped up draft boards after finishing with eight sacks and 71 tackles in his sophomore season at Alabama.
3. New York Jets: Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky
The Jets are encouraged by Sam Darnold’s rookie development, but the value in this spot is on defense. Allen put himself in the conversation as the top pick in the draft after recording 17 sacks in his final season with the Wildcats.
4. Oakland Raiders: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
The Raiders are in a position to take the best player available, and that very well could be Oliver. His stock has dropped slightly after missing time last season with a knee injury, but he still has dominant pass-rushing potential after recording 13.5 sacks and 53 tackles for loss in three seasons for the Cougars.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Devin White, LB, LSU
Bruce Arians has been hired to fix Jameis Winston, and wide receiver could be a path if DeSean Jackson isn’t back for 2019. However, the value here is better on defense, and White could potentially replace Kwon Alexander, who suffered a torn ACL last season and is set for free agency.
6. New York Giants: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Haskins still looks like the top quarterback on the board, but he probably won’t fall this far if recent history of teams trading up for signal-callers in the draft is any indication. If the Giants see Haskins as Eli Manning’s replacement, there are plenty of trade-up possibilities.
Jaguars could be in the market for a quarterback, but more likely they’ll be looking at the available veterans (Nick Foles, Joe Flacco) with a roster just one year removed from an AFC championship appearance. If that does happen, protecting the investment will be the priority, and Williams could join former Alabama teammate Cam Robinson to give Jacksonville two solid, young tackles in Jacksonville.
8. Detroit Lions: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
It looks like the Lions could be a full rebuild with the way they’ve been trending under head coach Matt Patricia over the last year. Detroit acquired Damon Harrison last year, and Gary would further shore up Patricia’s defense after recording 9.5 sacks in 22 games over the last two seasons.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
The retirement of Kyle Williams leaves big shoes to fill in Buffalo. Simmons has the skills to fit well next to run-stuffer Star Lotulelei in the 4-3, with seven sacks and 30 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.
10. Denver Broncos: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Denver has been connected so much to Lock that it’s almost creepy, and at this point they could be required to use significant draft capital to trade up for him, with the possibility that another team could trade up in the top 10 to get him. Lock made nice progress at Mizzou last season, but his accuracy on short throws is still a question mark.