The Rams are making a move at the deadline. Los Angeles is shipping cornerback Aqib Talib off to Miami, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.
Since the Dolphins have to send something back, they’re giving up an unspecified future pick in return. It’ll presumably be a conditional late-rounder. This is a straight up salary dump and not a move Miami is making for the player. We heard just a couple of days ago that the Rams were open to moving Talib, so this isn’t too surprising. Los Angeles is reportedly looking to free up money in order to extend the recently acquired Jalen Ramsey.
It makes perfect sense for the Dolphins too, as they have plenty of cap space. Talib is currently on injured reserve, so he won’t be eligible to play for a while anyway. It’s quite possible, if not likely, that Talib never ends up playing a snap for the rebuilding Dolphins. The Rams picked up $4.2M in cap space by making the trade, tweets Jason Fitzgerald of Overthecap.com. It’s the latest in a growing trend of NBA-style salary dump trades to non-contending teams. Prior to a few years ago, these moves were virtually unheard of in the NFL.
Talib is 33 now, and he didn’t look his best before going on IR with a rib issue. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it’ll be very interesting to see what his market looks like. He’s obviously getting up there in age, but he should still receive some interest due to his pedigree. The former Buccaneer, Patriot and Bronco made five straight Pro Bowls from 2013-17.
This year’s NFL trade deadline was something else. Big trades have become the new normal around the league. No longer are blockbuster mid-season deals a rarity.
It started with the massive trade that sent Jalen Ramsey from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams. Meanwhile, the league’s two remaining undefeated teams added an upgrade at receiver.
We’re diving into those moves and more looking at the biggest winners and losers from the NFL trade deadline.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
Being able to acquire a second-round pick for your third-best receiver at the initial stages of a rebuild is something. That’s what the Falcons did when they dealt the 30-year-old Mohamed Sanu to New England earlier in October.
Sanu is good. However, he didn’t fit into Atlanta’s long-term plans. This trade also enables young stud Calvin Ridley to receive more targets moving forward. That’s a necessity for Matt Ryan and Co. This is the biggest key for a Falcons team that’s now going to rebuild on the fly. Sanu just didn’t fit into that model.
Loser: New York Giants
Giants general manager David Gettleman had a plan before he abandoned it by drafting Daniel Jones in April. He had another plan to build through the draft before abandoning it on Monday. So, we’re not exactly sure what the plan is in New Jersey. What we do know is that Giants yielded a third-round pick in 2020 and a fifth-rounder in 2021 to acquire impending free agent defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
The Giants already use two defensive tackles in that of stud rookie Dexter Lawrence (acquired in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade) and Dalvin Tomlinson. Where does Williams fit in? At 2-6, the Giants hopefully didn’t make this trade for the remainder of the 2019 season. Even then, there are no guarantees long term. It just didn’t make much sense.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
In desperate need of a proven pass catcher on the outside, San Francisco dealt a third- and fourth-round pick to the Broncos for two-time Pro Bowl WR Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick. Sanders paid off immediately, recording a touchdown on his initial possession as a member of the 49ers in last week’s blowout win over the Panthers.
Some will question whether yielding two mid-round picks for an impending free agent makes sense. That’s until we realize the fifth-rounder San Francisco got back in the deal is going to be a dozen picks or so lower than the fourth-rounder it dealt. Now at 7-0 on the season, the 49ers made a win-now move. That’s what needed to be done. Period.
Loser: Los Angeles Rams
Is Jalen Ramsey good? Yes. He’s one of the best cover guys in the NFL and is just 25 years old. Los Angeles swung for the fences in pulling off this trade after losing three consecutive games earlier in the season. However, there are many more layers to this deal.
The Rams dealt away two first-round picks and change for Ramsey, without him committing to a long-term deal. The team is already paying Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Aaron Donald top-end money. How can the Rams fit Ramsey in long term while keeping the depth that will be needed in an ultra-competitive NFC West? We have absolutely no idea. Adding more fuel to this, Los Angeles dealt a fifth-round pick to the Dolphins in order for Miami to take on Aqib Talib’s contract and had to move Marcus Peters to make room for Ramsey. That’s a huge price to pay.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
Led by general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders’ brass had no built-in relationship with cornerback Gareon Conley. The former first-round selection was former GM Reggie McKenzie’s pick. So it’s not a surprise that Oakland dealt the ineffective young cornerback away ahead of the deadline.
We are surprised that the Raiders were able to net a third-round pick from the Houston Texans in the deal. Conley didn’t fit in Oakland. The team is high on young corners Trayvon Mullen and Isaiah Johnson. Nabbing a mid-round pick to add to their draft capital was an absolute win for the Raiders.
Loser: Detroit Lions
Detroit found itself at 2-3-1 heading into Week 8’s action. The team still had legit playoff aspirations. After taking out the New York Giants on Sunday, Matt Patricia’s squad moved to .500. In between all of this, the Lions traded starting safety Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks. That deal included Detroit sending a 2021 seventh-round pick to Seattle in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Needless to say, members of the Lions were thrown for a loop by this trade. It seemed to be more financial than anything else, with Diggs having just signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension. Promptly, the Lions lost fellow safety Tracy Walker to injury this past week. This is not the type of move that inspires confidence in a team that’s still in the playoff race.
Winner: New York Jets
We have to give the Jets credit. It was noted a lot ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline that this one-win squad was going to be a seller. However, it didn’t seem like first-year general manager Joe Douglas had a lot to offer other teams.
That changed big time when New York traded embattled impending free-agent defensive tackle Leonard Williams to the Giants on Monday. This deal included the Jets acquiring a third-round pick in 2020 and a mid-round selection in 2021. Not a bad bounty for someone that was going to leave Jersey in free agency this coming March.
Loser: Houston Texans
This pretty much started ahead of Week 1, when the Texans dealt a bounty for left tackle Laremy Tunsil before giving away stud pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney for pennies on the dollar. It’s a symptom of the Texans not having a true general manager after firing Brian Gaine.
Though, the focus of this article is on deals that were made in October. That’s where Houston’s decision to acquire struggling young corner Gareon Conley from Oakland for a third-round pick comes into play. Sure these Texans have struggled against the pass. But yielding such a valuable pick when your war chest is already limited made no real sense.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
As noted above, Jalen Ramsey is one heck of a football player. It just became too much for the Jaguars’ brass to handle. The Pro Bowler did not get along with team president Tom Coughlin. Jacksonville was not about to choose the corner over its top front-office figure. In the end, moving Ramsey made the most sense.
The simple fact that these Jags were able to add two first-round pick and a mid-rounder for Ramsey is stunning. It sets the team up well moving forward as long as it draft well. It’s also important to note that the Jags have won two consecutive since trading Ramsey. It’s a clear indication that the corner wasn’t making a huge overall impact for the team. Sell high, and reap the rewards later. Jacksonville did just that.
Loser: Denver Broncos
Acquiring the equivalent of a third-round pick for Emmanuel Sanders was pretty solid for John Elway and Co. However, the team’s unwillingness to move fellow impending free agent Chris Harris Jr. ahead of the deadline made no real sense.
Elway seems to think his team is not in rebuild mode. That’s pretty much a pie in the sky mentality from the embattled general manager. Good organizations know when to sell. Unfortunately, the Broncos are going to remain in purgatory because of Mr. Elway.
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
4 of 16
NEW ENGLAND 16, BUFFALO 10
PATRIOTS (4-0): Fans of other AFC contenders likely expressed frustration after the Patriots eked out a victory in the toughest assignment on their annually soft AFC East docket. Cheer up: The defending Super Bowl champions looked a few cuts below their recent form. Their running game missed reliable fullback James Develin, who is on IR. Sony Michel entered Week 4 averaging 2.4 yards per carry and was a non-factor in the second half, when the Patriots needed his one-dimensional skill set to keep the Bills’ offense off the field. Michel finished with 63 yards on 17 carries but has looked good off his 2018 form. After posting 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs, the 2018 first-round investment is struggling. The Patriots, who are without offensive line starters Isaiah Wynn and David Andrews, may soon begin to reduce the run downs-only back’s role. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT GAME: at Redskins (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BILLS (3-1): As could be expected with a young quarterback facing a thriving Patriots defense, the Bills’ offense struggled. But Week 4 showed Buffalo’s defense can be an anchor as Josh Allen develops (and hopefully recovers swiftly from a concussion). The Patriots forced four Bills turnovers and scored 16 points, producing their lowest total yardage figure (224) in 10 years in the process. The Bills cooled a Patriots attack that ripped through its first three opponents, with Tom Brady’s 18-for-39, 150-yard day being one of the ugliest in his career. With help from a balanced defensive line, Buffalo’s secondary won the battle against higher-profile players. Tre’Davious White’s cornerback crew limited Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman to 76 combined receiving yards. Brady finished with 3.8 yards per attempt – his lowest in his NFL-record 211 starts that ended in wins. The Bills’ pass defense lacks name recognition (for now) but is a weapon that should keep Buffalo in the AFC playoff picture. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT GAME: at Titans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
5 of 16
LA CHARGERS 30, MIAMI 10
CHARGERS (2-2): Injuries early in recent seasons have restricted the Chargers, but this year’s outfit might be dealing with the most health-related trouble. Fortunately, the Bolts are catching a key break that should help them stay in the AFC contention mix. They entered Week 4 without safeties Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, offensive tackle Russell Okung, wideouts Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin, tight end Hunter Henry and kicker Michael Badgley. They lost upper-echelon defensive end Melvin Ingram to a pulled hamstring Sunday. Fortunately, they played the Dolphins, limiting the damage. The Bolts crossed the Dolphins’ 40-yard line on every drive and did not punt, ending an eight-game losing streak in Miami (against Dolphins teams a bit more committed to winning). The Chargers’ next two games – home against the Broncos and Steelers, who are 0-7 between them – should allow them to stay afloat amid this latest health crisis. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
DOLPHINS (0-4): It is difficult to evaluate the Dolphins’ Josh Rosen strategy. They have three 2020 first-round picks and are near-certain to use one of them on a quarterback. The franchise’s league-worst roster also makes evaluation difficult. But the 2018 first-round pick of the Cardinals gave Miami a promising stretch in a home loss. Rosen’s first drive went 75 yards. He completed 4 of 4 passes – the last of which a 34-yard TD strike to Devante Parker. He marched the NFL’s worst offense into field-goal range three more times in the half. Miami still missed two field goals, and Kalen Ballage dropped a would-be touchdown, but it’s incremental progress. Miami, outscored 81-0 this season in the second half, gained just 36 yards in the third and fourth quarters. But Rosen going 12-for-16 for 169 yards before the break is encouraging. He could be a trade asset or stopgap starter. GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT GAME: vs. Redskins (Sun., Oct. 13)
— Sam Robinson
6 of 16
KANSAS CITY 34, DETROIT 30
CHIEFS (4-0): Patrick Mahomes’ aerial displays in his first 20 starts established a stupefying pace. In start No. 21, the Chiefs’ centerpiece showed his sneaky-dangerous secondary skill. Mahomes threw for 315 yards and no touchdowns. The high standards he has set can reasonably paint it as an unremarkable performance. The reigning MVP flipped the script in his first NFL dome game, rushing for a career-high 54 yards. Mahomes vexed the Lions with scrambles on the Chiefs’ final two touchdown drives, converting a third-and-6 with a seven-yard sideline scurry and then saving his team’s effort with a 15-yard sprint up the middle on a fourth-and-8. After both escapes, the Chiefs notched go-ahead scores. No player other than Mahomes in the top 25 of the season passing yards list has cleared 210 rushing yards in a season. He amassed 272 in 2018. This in-case-of-emergency skill adds to the challenge the NFL faces in containing Kansas City’s superstar. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT GAME: vs. Colts (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
LIONS (2-1-1): There was a ton to take away from this game: huge plays on both sides of the ball and Matthew Stafford playing great (21-for-34, 291 yards, three TDs), distributing the ball to nine different pass-catchers. But Jeez I was super-impressed with RB Kerryon Johnson (26 carries, 125 yards). It couldn’t be clearer that Johnson is the true lead back and the Lions’ offense runs through the 5-foot-11, 212-pound former Auburn star. Without question, this is the right move for the Lions, who too often in the past put too much pressure on Stafford’s passing and on their defense to produce. Finally with a legit lead back, the Lions (18th in rushing last season) are much more balanced. Detroit didn’t win, but kudos to Matt Patricia for feeding the ball to Johnson. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT GAME: at Packers (Mon., Oct. 14)
— Matt Williamson
7 of 16
CAROLINA 16, HOUSTON 10
PANTHERS (2-2): In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-7 deep in Carolina’s end, Kyle Allen connected with Christian McCaffrey in the flat. The back bobbled it a few times, caught it while stumbling, and slid for an incredible first down. The drive didn’t culminate in any points, but it ate up nearly six minutes and kept the Panthers from surrendering a short field. Carolina added another field goal in the fourth quarter to protect its one-score lead and evened its record with consecutive wins after starting 0-2. McCaffrey finished with 179 yards — 93 rushing and 86 receiving — and further solidified his push to become one of the top backs in the league.GAME GRADE: B – minus | NEXT GAME: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
TEXANS (2-2): Like many previous losses, the latest Texans defeat was defined by one word: sacks. Playing at home, Deshaun Watson was sacked six times, the last of which resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Carolina with just over four minutes left. The Panthers turned it into three points, and Houston, needing a touchdown, had virtually no chance. The offensive line usually gets most of the blame and it had its share of problems in this one, but Watson again held onto the ball too long and was the cause of some of his own issues, particularly a violent sack in the shadow of his own goalposts. Per Pro Football Focus, Houston’s pass-blocking grade coming into the game was 16th in the league. Bill O’Brien must figure how to find a happy medium between taking shots downfield and protecting his quarterback or Watson’s health, and Houston’s season, will be in peril.GAME GRADE: D | NEXT GAME: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
8 of 16
OAKLAND 31, INDIANAPOLIS 24
RAIDERS (2-2): Criticized inhis second Oakland stint for personnel decisions, Jon Gruden found an offense-changing weapon during the Raiders’ woeful 2018 stretch run. Signed off the Ravens’ practice squad in late November, Darren Waller has gone from perpetual suspension risk into the NFL record book. The fifth-year tight end snared seven passes for 53 yards against the Colts. In doing so, the converted wide receiver moved his catch total to 33. That ties Antonio Gates for the most by a tight end in NFL history through four games. To put Waller’s stunning emergence into perspective, he never topped 26 catches in a season while at run-oriented Georgia Tech. Waller’s 33 grabs trail only Keenan Allen (34) and lead the tight end pack by five. On Sunday, Waller contributed third-down conversions on each of Oakland’s two first-quarter touchdown drives and threw the block that finished off Trevor Davis’ 60-yard score. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT GAME: vs. Bears (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
COLTS (2-2): Indianapolis did just about everything right in the season’s first three weeks, save make its kicks. Against Oakland, it did nothing right. Indy was victimized by several drops, including three from tight end Eric Ebron. Coming into the game, Colts pass-catchers had only three drops, according to Pro Football Focus. While QB Jacoby Brissett is clearly improving, and much more capable than outsiders would have believed, he still needs his skill players to do their jobs, particularly in a game in which he was without T.Y. Hilton. Safety Malik Hooker’s absence was felt as well, as Oakland tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau combined for 10 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. The tight end assignment doesn’t get any easier in Week 5, with a prime-time date with Travis Kelce and the Chiefs. 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
It’s all over and done with. The 2018-19 NFL season came to a ho-hum conclusion with the New England Patriots defeating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday evening in Atlanta.
All of the excitement that came with a two-week wait for the big game culminated in one of the lowest-scoring first halves in Super Bowl history. Struggles by both Tom Brady and Jared Goff gave way to a 3-0 halftime score.
When all was said and done in Atlanta on Sunday evening, New England came out on top by the score of 13-3. It’s a game that saw Sean McVay struggle big time calling plays against Bill Belichick and Co. And on the other side of the ball, the Patriots struggled to score until the final quarter of action.
Here are your biggest takeaways from New England’s sixth Super Bowl championship under the wizardry of Brady and Belichick.
Patriots dynasty continues
It wasn’t pretty at times. Tom Brady struggled to get things going before helping his team to 10 fourth quarter points. The likes of Rob Gronkowski, James White and Sony Michel were largely held in check. But when all was said and done Sunday night in Atlanta, Mr. Brady earned a record sixth Super Bowl title.
More than anything, it was the performance we saw from Bill Belichick, Brian Flores and the Patriots’ defense that made the difference here. But we still can’t take away just how dominant this team has been under the leadership of Tom Brady. He just continues to win at a clip we’ve never seen in the modern history of the NFL.
Stage was too big for Jared Goff
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It’s something we focused on a ton in the lead up to Sunday’s big game. Was the stage in Atlanta going to be too big for this third-year quarterback? That question was answered early with the Rams putting up 57 total yards, two first downs and exactly zero points prior to halftime. For his part, Goff completed just 5-of-12 passes with 32 net passing yards in the first two quarters.
Goff did have his Rams driving late in the fourth quarter to potentially tie the game up. That’s when the young quarterback made a rookie mistake. He floated the ball up to Brandin Cooks in double coverage. All-Pro Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore intercepted it — pretty much ending the game in the process. Just a horrible all-around performance from Goff in the biggest game of his career.
Pats struggle to get James White involved
The AFC Championship Game saw this veteran running back come up with third-down conversation after third-down conversion on the ground. He also dominated to the tune of 15 catches for 97 yards in the AFC Divisional Playoffs win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Whether it was the Rams’ solid defensive scheme or something completely different, this didn’t take hold in the Super Bowl.
White caught just one pass out of the backfield and added four rushing yards in a surprisingly ineffective performance for the birthday boy. New England focused more on Julian Edelman creating mismatches underneath against the Rams’ defense. Even then, it was pretty surprising to see how little White was involved in this one.
Wade Phillips dials up amazing scheme
One of the most underrated stories heading into Super Bowl LIII was the brilliance of Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. His scheme worked perfectly against Dak Prescott in the divisional round, forcing the quarterback to beat his defense. Then, in the NFC Championship Game, Los Angeles’ defense pretty much shut down the Drew Brees and Michael Thomas connection.
What was apparent Sunday in Atlanta was that Phillips would force Tom Brady to dink-and-dunk his way down the field. Whether it was bracket coverage or taking away the boundary, Brady had a heck of a time driving the ball down the field. Los Angeles also dialed up a ton of pressure against a quarterback that had not been sacked in the postseason heading into Sunday’s game. Despite the loss, Phillips’ scheme proved extremely effective in this one.
It was just a bad football game
After two weeks of anticipation and story after story about the game, both the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots disappointed us at every turn. As noted above, Jared Goff was downright horrible for the Rams. Equally as shocking, Tom Brady might have put up the worst performance of his playoff career. Dropped passes, penalties and missed opportunities defined the majority of the game.
When all was said and done, New England came out on top in one of the most brutal offensive showings in Super Bowl history. Sure we can say the defenses played well. They did. Both coordinators did their thing. Even then, the game itself might have been the most disappointing in NFL Playoff history. Can fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium get a refund? We’re asking for tens of thousands of fans.
Todd Gurley was a complete non-factor
A lot was made of Sean McVay’s lack of usage of the All-Pro running back in the conference championship game. Was Gurley still battling a knee injury that cost him the final two regular season games? If not, was something else going on? We still don’t have a complete answer to these two questions. What we do know is that Gurley was a non-factor in Super Bowl LIII.
After seeing one touch in the Rams’ first possession, Gurley didn’t see the ball until late in the second quarter. All said, the dynamic back put up 10 yards on three attempts in the first three quarters. He didn’t see a whole lot more action as the game progressed — tallying 35 yards on 10 attempts. We’re sure to find out here soon exactly what was going on behind the scenes with Gurley. But one thing is clear. His inability to make any real impact cost the Rams big time.
Where was Brandin Cooks?
It goes without saying that Cooks wanted to exact revenge against the team that traded him to the Rams less than a calendar year ago. That just didn’t come to fruition. Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore played like the All-Pro that he is — holding Cooks to all of two catches in the first half alone.
It goes without saying that Cooks wanted to exact revenge against the team that traded him to the Rams less than a calendar year ago. That just didn’t come to fruition. Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore played like the All-Pro that he is — holding Cooks to all of two catches in the first half alone.
One of the Rams’ most expensive players came up absolutely small in the game’s grandest of stages. Two weeks after tallying 107 yards on seven catches against another former team, Cooks caught just 8-of-13 targets for 120 yards in the Rams’ loss. Most of that came with the game decided late in the final stanza. Prior to that, Cooks dropped what would have been a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Just brutal.
Tom Brady did not play well, period!
When it counted the most Sunday night, Mr. Brady came up big time en route to earning his record sixth Lombardi Trophy. But prior to the game-winning 60-yard touchdown drive in the four quarter, the future Hall of Famer struggled big time. It will be lost in the narrative because the Patriots came out on top. In no way does this mean it should be ignored.
Brady had issues getting the ball downfield to his receivers on a consistent basis. He struggled with the interior pressure Los Angeles was providing. In the end, the game’s best quarterback completed 21-of-35 passes for 262 yards without a touchdown in a ho-hum overall performance. Sure the Pats came out on top, but that had more to do with the team’s performance on defense.
The drama and intrigue we were missing from the divisional round showed up in a big way during NFL Championship Sunday.
It started with the Los Angeles Rams winning in controversial fashion against the Saints in New Orleans. Jared Goff and the Rams might have come back from a two-score deficit, but it’s the officials who became the story in the Bayou.
Once the Rams punched their ticket to Atlanta, the New England Patriots did battle with the Chiefs in Kansas City. In a game that saw Tom Brady’s squad dominate early, the Chiefs came out like gangbusters in the second half. In the end, New England won by the score of 37-31 in another overtime affair and will now match wits with the Rams in next month’s Super Bowl.
Here are the top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday.
Jared Goff proves skeptics wrong at every turn
Taking on a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, he had to go tit-for-tat with one of the game’s best on the road in the biggest moment of his life.
Goff came up absolutely huge at the end — leading the Rams on three consecutive scoring drives to help the team to an overtime win. That span saw him complete 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards. New Orleans gained a total of 63 yards during this stretch of action.
It wasn’t just that Goff put up the numbers. He made crucial throw after crucial throw, including a bomb to tight end Gerald Everett with pretty much everything on the line.
Sunday represented a coming-out party for this former No. 1 pick, and many were left eating crow
Josh McDaniels’ game plan was perfection defined
McDaniels and the Patriots knew that going into Arrowhead in January would be a tough task for their offense. This unit is limited by a lack of elite play makers on the outside. Whether it’s statistically or on tape, Tom Brady has regressed to an extent this season. New England needed to change things up on offense after showing tremendous balance last week against the Chargers.
That’s exactly what we saw early and often Sunday against the Chiefs. We saw New England run multiple times on 3rd-and-3-plus — picking up a first down with James White on a consistent basis. New England also utilized the passing game as an extension of the run throughout this game. That is to say, relatively easy throws from Brady out on the flat.
The end result was a workmanlike performance from an offense that converted on 13-of-19 third-down opportunities in New England’s narrow overtime win over the Chiefs. Despite the perception some might have of of McDaniels, there’s a reason he continues to be a hot head-coaching commodity.
Officials created a mess in New Orleans
It was pretty apparent throughout the NFC Championship Game that officials were going to let the defenses body their counterparts. We saw this come to fruition multiple times in the first half alone, but it was this non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that left everyone in New Orleans stunned.
It was third down with New Orleans driving for a potential go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. If this had been called, the Saints would’ve been able to run down the clock and kick said field goal with no time left. Instead, this gave the ball back to Los Angeles for an opportunity to tie the game. Once that happened, the Rams came out on top in overtime.
We’re not going to sit back here and say that officiating cost the home-standing Saints a shot at the Super Bowl, but they certainly did not help. That was about the most blatant pass interference we’ve seen go uncalled in a long time.
Patrick Mahomes is now a steady veteran?
One of the major stories heading into the AFC Championship Game was Mahomes taking on the GOAT Tom Brady. Would experience win out in this one or was it time for this second-year signal caller to announce his presence on the larger NFL stage?
It didn’t go too swimmingly for the Chiefs early on. They put up less than 50 total yards of offense in the first half alone. This is when Mahomes proved he’s not a wide-eyed young quarterback that crumbles under the pressure.
Instead, Mahomes went tit-for-tat with Brady in the second half — tallying 250-plus passing yards in leading Kansas City into a close game after falling down 14-0 at the half. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an opportunity to touch the ball in overtime. That doesn’t take away from what he did as a sophomore this season.
The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.
Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.
The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.
On Sunday, the Patriots had no problems running around and through the Chargers, winning 41-28 to lock down their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game.
The Saints turned aside the Eagles, sinking their hope of a Super Bowl repeat with a 20-14 win in New Orleans. The Saints will host the Rams there next weekend.
Winner: Michael Thomas
The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.
He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.
Loser: Nick Foles’ magic
You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.
With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.
Winner: Time of possession
It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.
It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 10-14, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.
Winner: The Patriots defense
Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.
Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy
He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.
The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.
Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns … in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.
The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.
Winner: C.J. Anderson
The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.
Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.
Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this:
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.