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.
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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. GAMEGRADE: 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.)
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
The NFL Draft is when the league meets its newest young stars. As for those already established, some of them may find new homes too.
Here are 12 veterans who could be traded during the 2019 NFL Draft:
Most of the signs point to the Raiders keeping their young quarterback. For one, the team staged Antonio Brown meeting the signal-caller at Carr’s house. That would be all for not if Oakland now deals Carr. Every other move this offseason — signing Tyrell Williams and Trent Brown — has also been made under the assumption the Raiders already have their quarterback in place. But Raiders general manager Mike Mayock is sending mixed signals. He said, “we love Derek (Carr)” and yet has also repeated that the Raiders will “do all of our due diligence” at quarterback like every other position. It sounds like if the quarterback Mayock and Jon Gruden really like in the draft is available to them, Carr could be gone.
Trade rumors were circling the third-year running back in January after executive vice president Tom Coughlin criticized Fournette for his actions on the team’s sideline during the season finale. The two sides appeared to make up, but then on April 11 police arrested Fournette for speeding and “knowingly driving with a suspended license.” Coach Doug Marrone told the media on April 16 that Fournette will not face team discipline for the arrest. Apparently, he’s ready to let the incident blow over, but will the front office feel the same way if a team offers the Jaguars an interesting deal for Fournette at the draft?
Similar to Fournette, Hill is facing off-the-field problems this offseason that could jeopardize his tenure with his current team. Hill’s situation, though, is a lot more dire. Police are currently investigating Hill’s connection with two incidents of suspected child abuse. This is an extremely complicated situation because even if Hill isn’t charged with a crime, he could face a suspension. The Chiefs didn’t waste any time dumping Kareem Hunt last fall, and it’s worth wondering if they might garner a trade for the speedster at the draft. The Athletic’s Jay Glazer reported that Hill was at the center of trade talks during the NFL combine, but if a trade is done now, Kansas City would be getting pennies on the dollar for Hill, who, in addition to possibly facing a suspension, wants a new contract.
The Seahawks placed the franchise tag on Clark this offseason, but despite the possibility of making some $17 million in 2019, Clark has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a long-term agreement. No team wants a Le’Veon Bell situation, and the Seahawks would like to avoid the Earl Thomas distraction they had last year too. This could lead to Clark getting traded at the draft, although as of April 14 Jay Glazer reported trade talks for Clark had “died down.”
The Colts tight end posted career bests in 2017, recording 80 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns. But then with the arrival of Eric Ebron in 2018, Doyle saw his targets decrease from 7.2 per game to 5.5 each contest. Doyle also missed 10 games because of injury, which led to him catching only 26 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. If the Colts are comfortable with Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox at tight end, they could shop Doyle at the draft.
Although technically not a star yet, Rosen qualifies for our list because he was the No. 10 overall pick a year ago. Rosen threw for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while averaging 5.8 yards per attempt as a rookie in 2018. As of right now, there’s no telling whether Rosen is truly going to develop into a star or not because he had little help with the Cardinals last year. It might not matter, though, as Arizona is rumored to be selecting quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall. If that happens, Rosen will be one of the hottest topics during the first round of the draft.
The Browns seemed to like the idea of three strong backs on the depth chart after they signed Kareem Hunt, but Johnson apparently wants no part of it. On April 8 Johnson requested to be traded, according to cleveland.com. Johnson has also refused to show up to the beginning of Cleveland’s offseason program. The best time for the Browns to address this issue is during the draft with a trade.
Trading Green would almost guarantee the Bengals will finish in the AFC North cellar, but with Cincinnati seemingly in rebuilding mode, dealing the seven-time Pro Bowler is not the worst idea. Green turns 31 this summer and hasn’t been able to finish two of the last three years because of injuries. In 2018 he recorded 46 catches for 694 yards and six touchdowns in nine games. Because of the injuries, his value is already on the downswing. It might be wise to embrace a full rebuild and see what value Green has on the trade market.
Five Super Bowls ago, the dominant pregame storyline centered around whether Peyton Manning was poised to become the greatest quarterback of all time.
Tom Brady’s preposterous stretch since then, including four more Super Bowl bids, two huge fourth-quarter comebacks and one MVP award all but settled that particular debate. Returning to the big game with this particular Patriots team almost feels like running up the score.
Brady’s place atop the quarterback mountain stands in stark contrast to the stature of his Super Bowl LIII counterpart, Jared Goff, who will be a few months younger than Brady was back in February of 2002, when the Patriots dynasty was born against the Rams. But where does Goff stack up against other Super Bowl starters overall?
To figure that out, I combed through the resumes of all 61 Super Bowl starting quarterbacks, including Goff. It’s important to note that for players like Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr, who started Super Bowls but whose peak years came before the Super Bowl era, I considered their entire careers, not just what they did from 1966 onward. I ranked all quarterbacks based on career achievements, with regular-season excellence, All-Pro/Pro Bowl appearances and seasons as top-five and top-10 players at the position carrying more weight than just Super Bowl success. (Spoiler: Jim Plunkett did not have a better career than Dan Marino. Sorry.)
The good news for Goff: He’s already ahead of a few Super Bowl starters. At 24 years old with the biggest game of his life ahead, he has a long runway to improve his resume.
To the rankings!
1) Tom Brady (Super Bowl record: 5-3 with Patriots)
2) Johnny Unitas (1-0 with Colts)
3) Joe Montana (4-0 with 49ers)
4) Peyton Manning (1-1 with Colts; 1-1 with Broncos)
5) Dan Marino (0-1 with Dolphins)
6) Brett Favre (1-1 with Packers)
These are the six men who could conceivably have an argument as being the greatest ever, although the breadth of Brady’s career now makes it difficult for the rest of the group. The first nine seasons of Brady’s career — which included three titles and an undefeated regular season — now look like an appetizer to Brady’s dominant Gronk-era peak.
It’s impossible to truly compare across eras because the game has changed so much, but Unitas (who played from 1956 to 1973) edges out Montana (1979-1994) and Manning (1998-2015) for the No. 2 spot because Johnny U was so clearly the best of his era and a transformative figure for the sport. Unitas collected three MVPs and five first-team All-Pro nods, and he displayed a sneaky statistical dominance compared to his competition.
Manning ultimately overwhelms Marino and Favre with individual honors and consistency. He was so rarely outside the league’s top-three quarterbacks during a career that included five MVPs. Marino is probably the best pure passer of this group. He was never supported with a top-10 running game, and he rarely played with a good defense. He shouldn’t suffer too much, historically speaking, just because of Don Shula’s personnel decisions. Favre has perhaps the strangest resume. He combines a brilliant peak with three consecutive MVPs and a career famous for its durability with some lesser efficiency stats than the rest of the tier. Still, there’s not that much separating any of these guys.
The best second tier ever
7) Steve Young (1-0 with 49ers)
8) Aaron Rodgers (1-0 with Packers)
9) John Elway (2-3 with Broncos)
10) Roger Staubach (2-2 with Cowboys)
11) Drew Brees (1-0 with Saints)
12) Bart Starr (2-0 with Packers)
It’s wild how similar the resumes of Young and Rodgers look. They both had to wait before taking over for all-time greats who just happen to be in the tier above. They each have two MVPs. They were both as athletic as any top quarterback who has ever played. Young’s teams went 94-49 in his starts, from 1985 to 1999. Rodgers’ teams have gone 100-57-1. Young gets the slight edge for now because his seven-year peak ranks with that of any quarterback who has ever played, but it’s only a matter of time before Rodgers moves up.
Elway was a physical marvel, won an MVP and earned three second-team All-Pro nods in his career (1983-1998), but his passing numbers (3,217 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 picks per year), when adjusted for his era, don’t stack up with the rest of the top 10. Staubach is a great “What if?” because he didn’t become a full-time starter until he was 29 years old. He’s still the consensus best quarterback of the 1970s and led the league in passer rating four times. He probably gets downgraded too much for the era he played in. Starr, who has a reputation for being a “winner” of the ’60s and early Super Bowl era without generating great stats actually has … pretty great stats. So does Brees, who just turned 40 — and just completed one of his best NFL seasons.
In (or should be in) the Hall of Fame
13) Fran Tarkenton (0-3 with Vikings)
14) Ben Roethlisberger (2-1 with Steelers)
15) Troy Aikman (3-0 with Cowboys)
16) Terry Bradshaw (4-0 with Steelers)
17) Joe Namath (1-0 with Jets)
18) Bob Griese (2-1 with Dolphins)
19) Len Dawson (1-1 with Chiefs)
20) Jim Kelly (0-4 with Bills)
21) Kurt Warner (1-1 with Rams; 0-1 with Cardinals)
22) Ken Anderson (0-1 with Bengals)
23) Ken Stabler (1-0 with Raiders)
Like Brees, Tarkenton was an undersized, undervalued but consistent star with an incredibly long run of statistical dominance. Roethlisberger has been a top-five quarterback for the better part of his career, especially after his second Super Bowl triumph (following the 2008 season). Aikman’s peak (1991-96) was impressive, but unfortunately too short. Bradshaw wasn’t great in the seasons preceding his first two Super Bowl triumphs (1975 and ’76), but he wound up being a league MVP and finishing in the top five in yards per attempt five times. Namath gets extra credit for his impact on the game, although it’s worth noting Griese had three more Pro Bowl appearances (eight to Namath’s five), one more All-Pro nod (two to one) and far more seasons in the top five in yards per attempt. The offensive line and running game help, but Griese deserves some legacy love!
Dawson was the best passer in a pass-happy league, leading the AFL in passer rating for five straight years (1964-68). Kelly, like Aikman, had a brilliant peak that wasn’t quite as long as that of some others listed here. Warner had a singular career, starting late before winning two MVPs and leading two different teams to the Super Bowl. Anderson still should be considered for the Hall of Fame, as he was the rare player to win MVP, Comeback Player of the Year and the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He led the league in passer rating four times and earned a first-team All-Pro selection and two second-team nods, which is more than plenty of the names above him. Stabler finally got into the Hall in 2016, unfortunately after his passing.
Fun to watch
24) Donovan McNabb (0-1 with Eagles)
25) Boomer Esiason (0-1 with Bengals)
26) Daryle Lamonica (0-1 with Raiders)
27) Matt Ryan (0-1 with Falcons)
28) Earl Morrall (0-1 with Colts)
29) Eli Manning (2-0 with Giants)
30) Steve McNair (0-1 with Titans)
31) Russell Wilson (1-1 with Seahawks)
32) Rich Gannon (0-1 with Raiders)
McNabb was a top-10 quarterback for nearly all of his career, very often in the top five. I’m surprised he doesn’t get more Hall of Fame consideration. Esiason won an MVP (1988) and led the league in yards per attempt in that season and 1986. Lamonica was someone I didn’t fully appreciate until this exercise. While he was fattening up on a soft AFL, he made five Pro Bowls and nabbed two AFL Player of the Year awards. He finished his career 66-16-6 as a starter! Ryan has a number of seasons as a top-10 quarterback, although his MVP campaign of 2016 stands out as an anomaly.
An upset alert shouldn’t be necessary to make the top-seeded teams in the NFL playoffs aware of the imminent threat facing them this weekend.
Three of the four outfits that advanced from last week’s wild-card round, after all, did so on the road. And only once this decade (in 2015) have the top two seeds on each side advanced to the conference championship games.
But while this weekend’s traveling teams collectively posted a 18-14 mark as visitors this season, the foursome of teams hosting after a first-round bye (the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams) combined for a 28-4 record at home.
In light of that, we asked our NFL experts: Which team coming off a first-round bye is at the biggest risk of falling in a divisional-round upset?
I love Patrick Mahomes and everything he’s done for the Chiefs this season, and would like to think he’s going to be the one to end Kansas City’s long, long, long history of playoff heartbreak. Especially against the Indianapolis Colts. But until it actually happens, I can’t ignore the karma. Kansas City has lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games – that one victory came against Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans – and is 0-4 against Indianapolis in the postseason. That includes the most crushing loss of all, the 2013 wild-card game in which Kansas City blew a 28-point lead and lost 45-44. Mahomes and Andy Reid have said all the right things this week, but I’m going to have to see it to believe it.
The Chiefs. After watching all three quarterbacks who made their playoff debuts last weekend lose, that’s not a good omen for projected MVP Patrick Mahomes. No, the NFL-record 6 consecutive playoff home losses by KC isn’t on Mahomes…who wasn’t even born the last time the home team won in the playoffs at Arrowhead. But there’s just something spooky about that. Add Capt. Andrew Luck maybe carving up a suspect Chiefs defense, and I think we might see this No. 1 seed bite the dust. Of course, Mr. 50 Touchdowns has spent an entire season proving doubters wrong. And on a personal note, Andy Reid has made me look foolish multiple times when picking against him. But to borrow phrasing from my former colleague, Gordon Forbes, I just can’t shake the feeling KC’s season is about to be BBQ’d.
Maybe the question for the bye week playoff teams should be, “Who’s not at risk?” All of them feel fairly vulnerable to me with the exception of New Orleans. But maybe the Rams are in the most jeopardy. Their “home” game threatens to be overrun by Cowboys fans and a team that seems well-equipped to pull off the upset at the L.A. Coliseum, where the Rams lost their wild-card contest to the Falcons a year ago. Dallas just locked down Seattle’s top-ranked ground game and will next face Todd Gurley, who’s probably going to be less than 100% after a knee issue forced him to miss two games. More worrisome, as much talent as the Rams defense has, it surrendered a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry … and is now tasked with slowing league rushing champ Zeke Elliott and highly mobile QB Dak Prescott? Gulp.
The Rams. The Cowboys’ top-5 run D is riding momentum after holding the Seahawks – 160 yards per game in the regular season – to 73 in a wildcard win. Rams all-pro running back Todd Gurley, on the other hand, is returning from nearly a month on the sideline with knee inflammation and soreness. Dallas will have its hand full containing an offense that’s averaged 37.1 points at their home Coliseum. Dak Prescott, too, must take care not to turn over the ball. But if the team follows the blueprint it used to hold the ball 9:40 more than the Seahawks last week, Ezekiel Elliott can capitalize on a Rams defense allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry. Add in the star-studded Cowboys fans expected to line the Coliseum? Dallas upsets a young L.A. offense to reach its first NFC Championship Game in 23 years.
From thrilling last-second wins by teams that are fighting to stay in contention to a horrifying injury that could shape the NFC playoff race, NFL Week 11 had it all.
A six-game winning streak was snapped in agonizing fashion. A team many thought would contend for the title suffered a sixth-straight loss. A team many thought was out of contention is right back in it thanks to a second-straight road win.
Those are among the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 11.
The Indianapolis Colts lost five of their first six games this season. It looked like Andrew Luck’s redemption tour was going to be delayed by a year, at least, despite some solid play from him early. But since that awful start, both Luck and the Colts have started playing some outstanding ball.
With 297 yards and three passing touchdowns Sunday in a 38-10 blowout win over the Tennessee Titans, Luck extended his streak of at least three passing touchdowns to seven consecutive games.
His Colts have now rattled off four wins in a row and are in second place in the AFC South, knocking at the door to get into the playoffs. Should they complete the comeback and make the postseason, then Luck deserves to be included in the MVP conversation, along with Comeback Player of the Year.
Loser: Washington suffers déjà vu in worst possible way
Thirty-three years ago to the day, the Washington Redskins were issued a staggering gut punch. Joe Theismann suffered a horrifying broken leg that is still to this day considered among the most gruesome in professional sports.
On Sunday, Washington lost Alex Smith in the same exact manner. He broke his right tibia and fibula while being dragged to the ground on a sack. He was carted off, taken to the hospital in an ambulance and required immediate surgery. To nobody’s surprise, he will miss the rest of the season, head coach Jay Gruden announced after the game.
Washington also lost Sunday’s game in heartbreaking fashion — falling to 6-4 on the season. The team will be bringing in a bunch of veterans on Monday to see who might back up Colt McCoy.
Barring some crazy developments, it’s hard to see this team finishing off the season strong without Smith. Though it still leads the NFC East, Washington will be hard pressed to hold that lead. On the season, it is minus-one in point differential and closes out the campaign with four of its last six games on the road.
Dallas couldn’t win on the road earlier this year and entered Week 9 with a 3-5 record. It looked like the ‘Boys were headed for another disappointing season. But the past two weeks have seen this team come together for two straight road wins, and Sunday’s victory in Atlanta was very impressive.
Ezekiel Elliott and the big guys up front are getting back to dominating folks at the line of scrimmage. The dynamic dual-threat running back followed up Week 10’s 187-yard game with an incredible 201-yard showing against the Falcons.
Now just one game behind Washington in the NFC East, featuring an offense that’s starting to click and a defense that can really get after folks — and with four of their final six games at home — Dallas is in great shape to win the division.
The Jacksonville Jaguars gave it their all on Sunday. For a while it appeared they had Big Ben Roethlisberger and Co. in the palm of their hands, as the Pittsburgh Steelers could do next to nothing in the first half.
Despite a monster game from Leonard Fournette. Despite two Jalen Ramsey interceptions against Big Ben, and three interceptions overall. Despite the best showing Jacksonville has put up in weeks. The Jags lost. They lost their sixth game in a row. They’re now 3-7 on the season. Oh, by the way, Blake Bortles is still not the guy.
This team is done. A franchise many pegged to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII is unofficially out of the playoff chase, and it is officially the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season.