Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | By Larry Brown | Last updated 10/13/20
Marshon Lattimore sealed the New Orleans Saints’ 30-27 comeback win over the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime on Monday night with an incredible tackle.
The Saints, who had been down 20-3, were able to tie the game and send it to overtime. They kicked a field goal on the opening possession of the extra period, and needed a stop to get the win. They were able to get it thanks to Lattimore’s incredible effort.
The Chargers threw a slant pass to Mike Williams on 4th-and-6 from their 44. Williams had an angle for a first down, but Lattimore wrapped him up and tossed him down a yard short of the first-down marker.
What a crazy end to the NFL regular season on Sunday. It started with the New England Patriots shockingly losing to the Miami Dolphins to give away a first-round bye.
The Philadelphia Eagles earned the NFC East title with a win over the New York Giants later in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers put up one heck of a performance in a dramatic win over the Seahawks in Seattle to earn the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 17 NFL action.
49ers win game of the decade
We knew Sunday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks was among the biggest of the season. San Francisco would earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. Seattle would claim the NFC West and host Minnesota during the wild-card round.
The game itself was absolutely amazing with Russell Wilson leading Seattle to multiple second-half scoring drives. But in the end, a goal-line stand from the 49ers’ defense ultimately gave Kyle Shanahan and Co. the win.
This has to be considered the game of the decade in what was the final regular-season matchup of the 2010s. And it’s going to have wide-ranging ramifications in the playoffs. Just craziness.
Titans take care of business, will face the Patriots
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It was a simple scenario for Tennessee on Sunday. If the Titans were able to come out on top against a Houston Texans squad that was resting its starters, they would earn the No. 6 seed. Earlier in the day, New England’s loss to Miami guaranteed that any potential wild-card game for the Titans would be against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Riding the brilliant performances of Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry, Tennessee came out on top by the score of 35-14. It finished the regular season having won seven of Tannehill’s 10 starts and has to be seen as an upset waiting to happen against the defending champs next weekend.
That’s it for Oakland Raiders football
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Jon Gruden and the Raiders needed a whole lot to happen in order to sneak into the playoffs. That included them coming out on top over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. It also included a ton of other scenarios, including the Titans losing and Colts winning.
When it became apparent that neither scenario would play out, the end of Oakland Raiders football as we know it was in the cards. The Raiders lost to Denver by the score of 16-15 to finish their final season in Northern California at 7-9. It’s now on to Las Vegas for Gruden and the Raiders.
Jason Garrett’s tenure seemingly comes to an end
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The Dallas Cowboys needed to take out Washington with the Giants winning against Philadelphia in Jersey Sunday afternoon to earn the NFC East title. Dallas did its job with an 47-16 blowout of the Skins. Unfortunately, Dallas saw Philadelphia take out the Giants at about the same time.
The end result is an 8-8 record and Dallas shockingly missing out on the playoffs. This should pretty much spell the end of Garrett’s tenure in Dallas. His contract has now officially expired with the Cowboys already being linked to multiple big-name candidates to replace Garrett.
Chiefs are hitting their stride
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Winners of five consecutive heading into Sunday’s season finale against the last-place Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs started out slowly at Arrowhead. That’s until Patrick Mahomes went full Patrick Mahomes and Damien Williams brought the house down with this touchdown run.
When all was said and done, Kansas City came out on top by the score of 31-21 for its sixth consecutive win heading into the playoffs. This win, coupled with New England’s shocking loss to the Dolphins, has the Chiefs as the No. 2 seed in the AFC and enjoying a first-round bye. Watch out Ravens, another team is aiming for you.
No fight in these Panthers
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
The decision to fire head coach Ron Rivera after 12 games and nearly a decade in that role has backfired on the Panthers in a big way. They headed into Sunday’s meaningless game against the Saints losers of seven consecutive games. Most of those losses displayed a declawed Panthers squad that showed no fight.
That was once again the case at home against New Orleans. Carolina fell by the score of 42-10, embarrassing itself in the process. Regardless of what the future might hold at quarterback and head coach in Carolina, the ending of this season was an unmitigated disaster for the Panthers. Sunday’s blowout loss added another layer to this.
Patriots stumble into the playoffs
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Shocking. That has to be the best way to describe New England’s home loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. A win at Gillette Stadium would have given New England a first-round bye for the ninth consecutive season.
Instead, Tom Brady and Co. put up a dud of a performance in a 27-24 loss to the Dolphins (5-11). By virtue of this defeat and the Chiefs’ win in Kansas City, New England will be playing wild-card weekend for the first time since all the way back in 2010. It has to be a sickening feeling for Bill Belichick and his team. Just brutal.
Packers survive Lions
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
There’s no world in which Green Bay’s 23-20 win over the last-place Detroit Lions on Sunday can be seen as a good thing. By virtue of the victory, Aaron Rodgers and Co. earned a first-round bye.
Even then, a game-ending field goal from Mason Crosby to clinch Green Bay’s 13th win of the season was not great. Sure the Pack will host a divisional round game against one of four teams playing on wild-card weekend. In no way should the team feel good heading into the playoffs. If you can’t dominate an injury-plagued last-place team, there’s little hope for postseason success. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.
That’s it for Freddie Kitchens
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Reports indicated earlier on Sunday that the Browns were vetting potential replacements for first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. Cleveland entered Week 17 with a 6-9 record and taking on a one-win Bengals team.
What we saw transpire in Cincinnati put an end to Kitchens’ short tenure with the Browns. Cleveland fell in embarrassing fashion by the score of 33-23. It was yet another mistake-prone performance from the squad, and it led to Kitchens getting his walking papers on the eve of Black Monday. Back to the drawing board for the long-downtrodden Browns.
Eagles overcome injuries, win NFC East
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Eagles entered Sunday’s game against the Giants with an opportunity to win the NFC East. It did not start out swimmingly with star offensive players Brandon Brooks and Miles Sanders joining a plethora of other Eagles players on the sideline due to injury.
Despite that, Doug Pederson and Co. were able to will their way to a hard-fought win and the division title with a 34-17 victory. It really is a testament to the job Pederson has done this season. And regardless if the season ends at home next weekend against the Seahawks, it will be seen as a success in Philly.
NFL Playoff field set
The 49ers, Packers, Ravens and Chiefs will be watching next weekend to see who they take on in the divisional round. Meanwhile, eight teams will take the field for what promises to be a fun weekend of postseason action.
In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans will travel to New England to take on the defending champion Patriots. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills will be taking on the Texans in Houston.
The NFC is even crazier with the Minnesota Vikings heading to New Orleans to take on the Saints and the Seahawks traveling to Philadelphia to play the Eagles. Get your popcorn ready, this should be a blast.
By: Originally posted on Sportsnaut | By Vincent Frank | Last updated 12/30/19
In Philadelphia, the Eagles moved a massive step closer to clinching the NFC East title with a win over the Cowboys. In Nashville, the Titans fell to the Saints but can clinch the AFC’s No. 6 seed with a Week 17 win at Houston. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 16 whip-around:
1 of 16
PHILADELPHIA 17, DALLAS 9
COWBOYS (7-8): Dallas’ supposed stars didn’t play like stars:Dak Prescott threw for a season-low 6.0 yards per attempt; WR Amari Cooper had just 24 yards receiving, and TE Jason Witten collected only 14 (second-worst total of the season); and RB Ezekiel Elliott averaged just 3.6 yards per rush attempt (fourth-worst of season). The Cowboys have stacked up most of their production in blowouts against bad teams. Dallas has averaged 15.2 points in its six losses to teams that currently own a winning record. Good offenses can beat up on bad teams consistently. Great offenses come through with clutch performances in the biggest moments. The Cowboys simply aren’t capable. Overrated!GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: Vs. Redskins (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
EAGLES (8-7): With its offense missing five starters and the season on the line, Philadelphia needed a top-tier performance from its defense and it got it. The Eagles limited Dallas’ supposedly elite offense to a season-low-tying nine points and only 16 first downs (tied for second-fewest). Up front, Fletcher Cox blew up run plays and pressured Dak Prescott into errant throws. In the back end, Philadelphia’s shaky secondary played one of its best games. CB Sidney Jones came up with the play of the game, breaking up a potential touchdown on a fourth-down pass intended for Michael Gallup late in the fourth quarter. If the Eagles are going to win the NFC East and make a surprise playoff run, it’s the defense that must make it happen. If the Eagles beat the Giants in Week 17, they are in. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Giants (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
2 of 16
KANSAS CITY 26, CHICAGO 3
CHIEFS (11-4): Kansas City will almost certainly earn the AFC’s No. 3 seed. But this Chiefs edition is playing better than the 2018 iteration that had home-field advantage. Given a “Sunday Night Football” Week 16 road assignment last season, the Chiefs gave up 38 points in Seattle. Before that, they yielded 29 to the Chargers and 33 to the Raiders. The ’19 Chiefs’ past four games combined: 31 points. Steve Spagnuolo’s improved defense held Mitchell Trubisky to 120 pre-garbage-time yards, stopping the Chicago QB’s stretch-run surge. The Chiefs may have overpaid for safety Tyrann Mathieu, and the totality of DE Frank Clark’s season (seven sacks) pales in comparison to his 2018 Seahawks work. But both have become impact players. With a defense capable of complementing Patrick Mahomes in a way last year’s Bob Sutton-coordinated unit could not, these Chiefs are more dangerous than when their quarterback was the runaway MVP. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: Vs. Chargers (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
BEARS (7-8): Andy Reid’s team is at least a tier above where the Bears and his protege Matt Nagy reside. The problem for Chicago on Sunday night at Soldier Field chiefly was the offense, which had neither rhythm nor flow. Neither QB Mitchell Trubisky (18-for-34 for 157 yards) nor the running game (101 yards) provided any spark. The defense really held its own, per usual, against an elite offense, and DE Khalil Mack (one sack and TFL) was as outstanding as ever. Until the Bears get better, more consistent QB play, this will be Chicago’s fate against elite teams. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: At Vikings (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
3 of 16
OAKLAND 24, LA CHARGERS 17
RAIDERS (7-8): The Raiders reportedly are debating whether to end the Derek Carr era after six seasons, but the scrutinized quarterback helped Oakland avoid mathematical elimination with a strong performance. Carr completed 26 of 30 passes for 291 yards in Oakland’s “away” game in Los Angeles, firing mid-range throws that put Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams in position for 56- and 43-yard catch-and-runs, respectively. Jon Gruden’s reported dissatisfaction with Carr’s limited skill set is not without merit. Entering Sunday, Carr ranked last in the league in Next Gen Stats’ intended air yards metric. The Raiders might struggle, however, to upgrade on their mid-level starter next year. Would a team with several needs trade both of its mid-first-round picks to move up for the second- or third-best quarterback prospect? Gruden and Carr might have to coexist to start the Las Vegas years. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: At Broncos (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
CHARGERS (5-10): Facing a Raiders team that ranked 26th in run-defense DVOA, the Bolts rushed for 19 yards – their worst regular-season total of the decade. Melvin Gordon gained 15 yards. The fifth-year Charger has one game remaining to avoid injury and move to free agency. He has only 566 yards rushing in 11 games this season. Le’Veon Bell needed a desperate Jets GM to salvage a big payday in March. Without Bell’s accolades, and partially because of the former Steeler’s failure in New York, Gordon will not see that kind of market in 2020. The Chargers have also failed to develop offensive linemen in recent years, and veteran acquisitions Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung missed much of the season with injuries. The center and left tackle will be 31 and 33 next year, respectively. It is safe to predict the Bolts will be targeting offensive linemen in free agency and the draft. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: At Chiefs (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
4 of 16
NY JETS 16, PITTSBURGH 10
STEELERS (8-7): What a nightmare for Pittsburgh, which somehow is still in the mix for the No. 6 seed. Undrafted rookie free agent Devlin Hodges started at QB but was rightfully pulled after two interceptions (six over his past two games) in favor of Mason Rudolph, who was knocked out with an injury. Mercifully, the Duck fluttered back in. The running back situation is a disaster. James Conner lasted a short stretch before he once again left a game with an injury. Outside of Conner, who can’t be counted on, none of Pittsburgh’s running backs is well-rounded enough to contribute in all phases. Pittsburgh rushed for only 75 yards (3.0 per carry), and its running backs’ inability in pass protection contributed to four sacks. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: At Ravens (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
JETS (6-9): Although Marcus Maye will be Robin to Jamal Adams’ Batman as long as the safety duo stays together, he did the most to deliver an upset win. Maye intercepted a Devlin Hodges second-quarter pass in the end zone, but his acrobatic fourth-quarter pass breakup of a would-be James Washington go-ahead touchdown was more impressive. Maye getting his left hand in between Washington’s grip may keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Adams and Maye become extension-eligible after Week 17. While the Jets will need to give their two-time Pro Bowler a much bigger contract, they must decide on Maye’s future first. No fifth-year option exists on the 2017 second-rounder’s deal, so 2020 will be Maye’s contract year. New York’s B-side safety was former GM Mike Maccagnan’s investment but he has played 15 games this season while battling injuries. A lack of Jets homegrown talent should prompt GM Joe Douglas to consider a Maye re-up. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: At Bills (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
5 of 16
NEW ORLEANS 38, TENNESSEE 28
SAINTS (12-3): The chemistry between Michael Thomas and Drew Brees makes New Orleans the most dangerous team in the NFC. Thomas shredded the Titans’ weak secondary and made history, reaching 145 receptions to set the NFL season record (surpassing Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002). Tennessee had no answer for Thomas, who grabbed 12 of 17 targets for 136 yards and a game-sealing touchdown reception with just over two minutes to go. He entered the game leading the NFL with 3.36 yards per route run out of the slot, giving him a mismatch against CB Logan Ryan, who entered the game with league-worst totals of 719 yards and five touchdowns allowed out of the slot. Thomas took full advantage of that edge throughout the game, destroying the Titans with a thousand paper cuts in the underneath game (as he does to most teams). GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: At Panthers (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
TITANS (8-7): Many have pondered when QB Ryan Tannehill would come back to Earth. With every passing week, however, the 31-year-old looks less like a fluke and more like a player who has blossomed, albeit later in his career than most quarterbacks. Tannehill’s season passer rating stands at 114.6 after he posted a 133.6 mark against New Orleans (League average was 91 entering Week 16.) He put up strong numbers (17-for-27, 272 yards, 3 TDs) against a strong pass rush (five sacks). Tannehill also showed he is capable of producing without the threat of RB Derrick Henry, who sat out with an injured hamstring. The Titans will make the playoffs if they can beat Houston in Week 17; if they do get in, Tannehill makes them a team no AFC opponent wants to see. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: At Texans (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
6 of 16
ARIZONA 27, SEATTLE 13
CARDINALS (5-9-1): RB Kenyan Drake continues to be a revelation. After shredding Seattle for 166 yards and two TDs, he has six touchdowns and 303 yards on just 46 carries over his past two games. Drake, a soon-to-be free agent, has three 100-yard games for the Cardinals, and is the catalyst for two straight wins. His season numbers are not eye-popping, which should keep his price down in free agency, but even if there are aggressive bidders, the Cardinals should aim to keep him. Kliff Kingsbury’s system might be all about the quarterback and receivers, but Arizona is not in a position to let talent get away. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Rams (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
SEAHAWKS (11-4): In addition to losing game, Seattle suffered significant personnel losses that could cripple the Seahawks in the playoffs. RBs Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise are done for the season with hip and arm injuries, respectively. LT Duane Brown needs knee surgery. Second-string RB Rashaad Penny was already done with an ACL injury. Suddenly Seattle is on its fourth-string running back. Yikes. Assuming they are unable to beat San Francisco and win the NFC West, the Seahawks may need Russell Wilson to be spectacular in the first round of the playoffs. Seattle’s entire season was spent on the edge, repeatedly scraping by in close games, mainly due to Wilson’s brilliance. Now, just winning a playoff game will be a major accomplishment. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: Vs. 49ers (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
7 of 16
INDIANAPOLIS 38, CAROLINA 6
PANTHERS (5-10): Christian McCaffrey caught all 15 of his targets in Indianapolis, setting a record for most targets without an incompletion (record was first tracked in 1992). In his starting debut, rookie Will Grier was 15-for-15 for 119 yards targeting McCaffrey (7.8 per attempt) and 12-for-29 for 105 yards (3.6 per attempt) with three interceptions when targeting any other player. The 15 targets tied a career-high for McCaffrey; the 15 receptions were a career-high, too. Few running backs in league history have showcased as much two-ability as McCaffrey; the ones who have are either in Canton or on their way.GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: Vs. Saints (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
COLTS (7-8): The Colts won’t make the playoffs, but they didn’t quit on Frank Reich, throttling Carolina and giving Panthers quarterback Will Grier a rude welcome in his first NFL start. QB Jacoby Brissett didn’t do much but didn’t have to, as Indianapolis’ running game dominated, and Nyheim Hines became just the fifth player this century and 15th since 1950 to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game. The big question facing the Colts as they approach Week 17 and look toward 2020 is: What’s the ceiling for Brissett? Indianapolis has one of the more balanced rosters in the NFL, but unseating the Texans atop the division will take star power at the most important position on the field. The Colts seem to think Brissett possesses it, but his career passer rating (85.6, below league average) suggests otherwise. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Jaguars (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
8 of 16
ATLANTA 24, JACKSONVILLE 12
JAGUARS (5-10): Another week, another listless performance. What will become of head coach Doug Marrone? Jacksonville gave up 518 yards, and, aside from a drive-killing Matt Ryan interception, did not stop an Atlanta march in fewer than six plays. Rookie Gardner Minshew did nothing to suggest he should be the starting quarterback next season. With one game left, Jacksonville has major questions under center. It sounds like a full housecleaning is in order, but NFL.com reported owner Shad Khan may prefer keeping Marrone and GM David Caldwell. Executive VP Tom Coughlin was fired last week in the wake of the NFLPA’s letter to its members warning them about signing with the Jaguars. What a mess. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: Vs. Colts (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
FALCONS (6-9): Falcons players are playing hard for head coach Dan Quinn, whom they want to return. Quinn’s defense has been particularly impressive. It dismantled Jacksonville, holding the Jaguars to 4.9 yards per play and only 3-for-14 on third down. The secondary was excellent, racking up five pass deflections and holding Gardner Minshew to a 72.1 passer rating and 4.9 net yards per attempt (both season-worsts on the road). Going into its Week 9 bye, Atlanta was one of the league’s worst on defense, allowing 31.3 points a game in its 1-7 start. Since then, the Falcons have allowed just 18.1 points as they have gone 5-2. It’s clear the players respect the coach. Will it matter when ownership evaluates Quinn? GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: At Bucs (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
9 of 16
DENVER 27, DETROIT 17
LIONS (3-11-1): Clearly, this team needs to play better defense. Hello, head coach Matt Patricia? This is your area of expertise, correct? And, as usual lately, the Lions struggled to run (96 yards on 21 carries). Detroit was crushed in the time-of-possession battle (36:08 to 23:52). The Lions allowed four consecutive drives of nine plays or more as Denver took control late in the first quarter. The Broncos got to the second and third levels of Detroit’s defense far too easily. Four Lions recorded eight or more tackles — three of them were defensive backs. Not good. Denver doesn’t feature a particularly dynamic offense and are led by a rookie quarterback, but the Lions were simply too soft. GAME GRADE: D+ | NEXT: Vs. Packers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
BRONCOS (6-9): Despite Denver drafting Royce Freeman in the 2018 third round and subsequently signing Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent, the latter keeps revealing a massive talent disparity between the sophomore backs. Lindsay runs do not resemble those of most ball-carriers, with the Colorado product’s blend of straight-line speed and frenetic style creating one of the league’s most interesting skill sets. Late in a 109-yard rushing day, Lindsay zoomed through traffic for a game-clinching 27-yard touchdown run. He did so behind blocks from the Broncos’ backup fullback, backup right guard and third-string right tackle. Lindsay is 42 yards from his second 1,000-yard season; he would be the first UDFA to start 2-for-2 in 1,000-yard seasons. While 2018 draftees are not extension-eligible until 2021, Lindsay is next week because he was undrafted. The Broncos can control him via exclusive-rights free agency and restricted free agency through 2021, but with Lindsay having far outplayed his contract, expect 2020 extension discussions. GAMEGRADE: B+ | NEXT: Vs. Raiders (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
10 of 16
MIAMI 38, CINCINNATI 35 (OT)
BENGALS (1-14): Congratulations, Bengals fans. Your team is on the clock for the No. 1 overall pick. If LSU QB Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the starter next season, the Ohio native may want to bring a running game with him. RB Joe Mixon was fighting a stomach ailment in this game, and the Bengals got almost nowhere on the ground (59 yards, 2.36 yards a carry). But at least Cincinnati showed spunk. Late in the fourth quarter, Tyler Boyd caught what looked like a meaningless touchdown pass. Then the Bengals recovered the onside kick and found Tyler Eifert on a Hail Mary pass for another amazing touchdown, making the score 35-33. QB Andy Dalton took the two-point conversion into the end zone to take this heart-stopper to overtime. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: Vs. Browns (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
DOLPHINS (4-11): Miami’s defense threatened to undercut Ryan Fitzpatrick’s nearly game-long brilliance with a borderline unfathomable end-of-regulation collapse. The 37-year-old quarterback threw for a career-high 419 yards and a season-high four touchdown passes. While the bearded veteran’s presence looks strange on one of the 21st century’s least talented teams, Fitzpatrick has undeniably helped DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and other developing Dolphins. The fifth-year wideout and second-year tight end combined for 11 receptions, 193 yards and three touchdowns against Cincinnati. They are better positioned for the future. With the Dolphins signing Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal, he will likely have an open invitation to return and mentor whichever quarterback the team selects in the 2020 first round. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: At New England (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
11 of 16
BALTIMORE 31, CLEVELAND 15
RAVENS (13-2): An overeliance on tight end Mark Andrews and rookie WR Marquise Brown has been worrisome. Against the Browns, however, other receivers got involved for MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, a promising sign for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. In all, 10 Ravens were targeted, with Andrews leading the way (shock!) with six catches (on nine targets) for 93 yards. Other than Andrews and Brown, Hayden Hurst and Justice Hill show the most promise; All three young players have excellent speed. WR Miles Boykin (6-4, 220) and TE Hurst (6-4, 260) have great size. Jackson might not throw to any receivers in a game for three weeks. Expect him to sit against the Steelers in Week 17; then the top-seeded Ravens will enjoy their playoff bye and prepare for a division round game at home. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: Vs. Steelers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
BROWNS (6-9): The Browns have had far too many stretches of poor play this season, but none was worse than one to end the first half against Baltimore. As it did in beating the Ravens 40-25 in Week 4, Cleveland bottled up Lamar Jackson & Co. early. Then the Browns imploded. During a one-minute-and-18-second stretch in the second quarter, Baltimore scored two touchdowns and accumulated 138 yards. On the Ravens’ first possession in the second half, Cleveland allowed another TD. And the Browns, harboring ever-so-slight playoff chances entering the game, were done for 2019. Cleveland has been inconsistent and undisciplined this season. Blame head coach Freddie Kitchens, who could be done in Cleveland. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: At Bengals (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
12 of 16
NY GIANTS 41, WASHINGTON 35 (OT)
GIANTS (4-11): Although they crushed their chances at the No. 2 overall pick and the potential opportunity to select Ohio State stud D-lineman Chase Young, the Giants got a glimpse at their future in Washington. Saquon Barkley was dominant, rushing for 189 yards on 22 attempts (8.6 per carry). He added four catches for 90 yards. He scored once through the air, once on the ground. Barkley has battled injuries all season, but he looked healthy, cutting with gusto and making defenders miss consistently. Daniel Jones was surgical against the Redskins’ makeshift secondary, becoming the first rookie in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to pass for 350+ yards, five or more touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: Vs. Eagles (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
REDSKINS (3-12): What matters most for Washington is the development of rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. On the positive side, he was outstanding when he was on the field. Haskins completed 12 of 15 passes for 133 yards (8.9 per attempt), threw for two touchdowns (and no interceptions) and earned a 143.2 passer rating (season-best for the second consecutive week). Haskins made one of the best plays of his pro career, as he scrambled to the left on a broken play and found Steven Sims for a touchdown on a third-down play in the red zone. On the down side, Haskins did not finish the game; he was carted off with an ankle injury early in the second half. (X-rays were negative.) Unless Haskins is 100%, Washington should sit him for Week 17. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: At Cowboys (Sun.)
— Michael Nania
13 of 16
NEW ENGLAND 24, BUFFALO 17
BILLS (10-5): Facing the staunchest road assignment the modern NFL presents young quarterbacks, Josh Allen showed why he is best positioned to take the reins from Tom Brady as the AFC East’s top quarterback. The dual threat signal-caller remains erratic, and some of his overthrows on a 13-for-26 passing day proved costly in Foxborough. But against far and away DVOA’s top pass defense, Allen displayed flashes of what he could become with more seasoning. The deft drop-in to Dawson Knox and perfect strike to John Brown despite front-side pressure stunned a Gillette Stadium crowd unaccustomed to seeing competent Bills efforts. Allen’s mid-range work with Cole Beasley, particularly on a 25-yard off-balance laser, illustrated the improvement the polarizing prospect has made since a shaky rookie season. Buffalo’s conservative play-calling showed the coaching staff’s lack of complete trust in its passer, but if Allen makes a similar leap in 2020, a (gasp) Bills Super Bowl window will open. GAME GRADE: B | Vs. Jets. (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
PATRIOTS (12-3): New England’s nominal third-string running back, Rex Burkhead does not possess the defined role that James White or Sony Michel does. But the Patriots use the ex-Bengals back as a sporadic spark, and Burkhead’s versatility is needed more now than at any point in his three-year New England career. Burkhead did not lead the Pats in yards from scrimmage Saturday, with Michel besting him at 101, but the 29-year-old reserve sparked a team that possesses less firepower than it has had in many years. While Burkhead’s bulldozing 1-yard run gave the Pats the lead, his team-high (and career-best) 77 receiving yards helped Tom Brady against one of the league’s premier defenses. Bill Belichick sticking with Burkhead, whose receiving talents could be labeled redundant alongside White, proved pivotal — after his first-quarter fumble — in the Pats cementing their 11th straight AFC East title. This diverse backfield functioning as it did against the Bills could save the Pats come January. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: Vs. Dolphins (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
14 of 16
SAN FRANCISCO 34, LA RAMS 31
RAMS (8-7): Although Los Angeles lost, its offense looked dangerous all game Saturday. Sean McVay schemed and scripted effectively, and his ability to get Jared Goff (323 passing yards) on the move and out of the pocket largely neutralized the 49ers’ pass rush. Although he had only 48 yards rushing, Todd Gurley looked like the back who keyed most of the Rams’ success last season. He was explosive and quick, particularly on a touchdown run in which he left Richard Sherman gasping for air. The Rams’ frustration came courtesy of their defense, which surrendered a pivotal first down on a third-and-16 because of a blown coverage by safety Taylor Rapp. That sort of missed assignment, coupled with other poor efforts, could spell trouble for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. GAME GRADE: C NEXT: Vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
49ERS (12-3): Although San Fran’s defense was flummoxed much of the game by Los Angeles’ scheme, LB Fred Warner’s pick-six showed how dangerous the 49ers can be. Most noteworthy: the faith head coach Kyle Shanahan showed in QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who did not have a good game statistically (two picks, one TD pass). On a third-and-16 with the score tied, Shanahan trusted Garoppolo to take a shot downfield, and it paid off. Los Angeles blew its coverage, and Garoppolo hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 46-yard gain that all but decided the game. The 49ers’ victory means that their season-ending showdown with Seattle will decide the NFC West. A Niners win will give them the NFC’s top seed. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: At Seahawks (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
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HOUSTON 23, TAMPA BAY 20
TEXANS (10-5): Thanks to its defense and the generosity of turnover machine Jameis Winston (four picks), Houston clinched the AFC South. As good as the Texans’ defense was, their quiet offensive day is cause for concern. The Buccaneers stifled the run, which is what they do better than almost every team in the league, but Deshaun Watson (184 yards passing) was unable to take advantage of a porous pass defense. It’s also fair to wonder whether the outcome would have been different had the Buccaneers had first-time Pro Bowler Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Mike Evans (hamstring), their top receiving targets. Houston is still alive for the third seed in the AFC, but with Tennessee looking like a strong potential sixth seed, it might be best for the Texans if they draw the Bills in the first round. GRADE: C + | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
BUCS (7-8): Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers’ passing attack faced a tall order with receivers Chris Godwin (second in NFL with 1,333 yards) and Mike Evans (fifth with 1,157) out with hamstring injuries. The results were mixed from the young corps of pass-catchers who replaced them. Breshad Perriman, Tampa Bay’s third-leading receiver entering Week 16 (511 yards), was excellent. He led the way with team-highs of seven catches and 102 yards, logging his second consecutive 100-yard game. When targeting wide receivers other than Perriman, Winston went 10-for-19 for 138 yards, picking up just five first downs. Odd stat: Winston has 32 TD passes … and 28 interceptions. GRADE: C | NEXT: Vs. Falcons (Sun.)
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.
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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JACKSONVILLE (1-2) AT DENVER (0-3), Sun., 4:25 p.m. ET
Sunday’s NFL action represented the first full slate of the season as 14 games took place around the league. It did not disappoint.
The early games included tremendous performances from NFC rivals taking on hostile road crowds. That included the Dallas Cowboys doing their thing in D.C., and the San Francisco 49ers showing that the NFC West might be more competitive than originally thought.
Over in the AFC, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated a horrible Miami Dolphins team while the Pittsburgh Steelers proved that they are a shell of their former selves.
It’s in this that we look at the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action.
Broncos offense is a hot mess
We knew that Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears was going to be a low-scoring affair. Both the Broncos and Bears boast tremendous defenses with questionable offense. We didn’t realize just how bad the Joe Flacco-led Broncos offense was going to be. Was Week 1 against the Raiders an exception to the rule? Sunday’s game proved that it wasn’t.
Denver tallied a total of six points through the first 59 minutes of the game before converting on a touchdown and two-point conversion to take the lead before blowing it on defense en route to a 16-14 loss. All said, the Broncos’ offense converted on 3-of-14 third-down opportunities in the loss. That’s just not going to get it done. Now 0-2 on the season and averaging 15 points per game, it’s time to start talking about the Broncos’ offense as one of the worst in the NFL.
Houston, we have a problem
It’s simple. The Texans need to do a better job protecting Deshaun Watson. We can use all the excuses available to mankind. That’s fine. But unless Watson stays upright on a more consistent basis, he’s not going to last this season. The third-year quarterback was hit 11 times and sacked six times against the Saints last week. Despite coming out on top 13-12 against a hapless Jaguars team on Sunday, Watson was hit seven times and sacked another four times.
The backdrop is real. Houston lost recently acquired starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil to an ankle injury. He was added ahead of Week 1 to help rebuild a devastated and talent-stricken Texans offensive line. No matter the severity of Tunsil’s injury, these Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. It’s that simple.
This just in: Kyler Murray is good
For the first time since Cam Newton back in 2011, a quarterback has accounted for 300-plus passing yards in each of his first two NFL starts. Shockingly, Murray has accomplished this feat in consecutive road starts to begin his career.
It might not have been good enough to come out on top against the Ravens on Sunday, but Murray continues to prove that the NFL game is not too big for him. The reigning Heisman winner completed 25-of-40 passes for 349 yards without an interception. Since struggling through the first two quarters last week, Murray has been on fire. It’s going to be fun watching him play moving forward on the season.
Chargers blow a chance at 2-0
Following a win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, most figured that the Chargers would not have an issue on the road against the Lions on Sunday. Almost immediately, that proved not to be the case. Philip Rivers and Co. scored a grand total of 10 points in a three-point loss that was capped off by this game-winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay.
It’s games like these the Chargers can’t afford to lose in an AFC West headed by the Kansas City Chiefs. And in reality, it was the offense that failed to step up. In fact, the Chargers’ defense was game against Detroit. It just wasn’t to be. And this loss could come back to haunt Los Angeles moving forward on the season.
Kirk Cousins continues to be a joke
Minnesota was able to win last week against the Falcons despite seeing Cousins attempt 10 passes. That was in no way going to be the case against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and Co. opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. While Minnesota’s defense picked it up and held the Packers scoreless the rest of the way, Cousins was absolutely atrocious under center.
The high-priced quarterback completed 14-of-32 passes for 230 yards. He threw two interceptions, including a pick in the end zone with Minnesota driving for the potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
It’s getting to the point that Minnesota can’t rely on Cousins to be anything more than a game manager. Sunday’s loss to the Packers magnified this to a T. Defenses know if they put the game in Cousins’ hands, the quarterback will not be up to the task.
Julio Jones saves Falcons’ season
Teams that start the season 0-2 since 2007 have made the playoffs just 11 percent of the time. That’s what the Falcons were facing at home Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Taking on an injury-depleted squad, Atlanta almost gave this game away. That included a 13-play, 73-yard touchdown drive by Philadelphia to take the lead with just over three minutes left.
All looked lost for Atlanta. It was facing a fourth-and-three with the game on the line. That’s when Jones stepped up and hauled in a 54-yard game-winning touchdown to help Atlanta pull it out by the score of 24-20. He had put up another tremendous catch earlier in the game, too, finishing with 106 yards on five receptions. Jones saved Atlanta’s season Sunday night. It’s that simple.
No shame in Pats’, Antonio Brown’s game
Not only did Antonio Brown make his Patriots debut Sunday against the Dolphins, the team featured him early. That included Brown making multiple catches on the first drive and coming away with a touchdown in the first half. All said, Brown caught 4-of-8 targets for 56 yards with a touchdown.
The backdrop here is interesting, to say the least. It was just last week that Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming multiple instances of sexual assault. Given these accusations, the Patriots’ decision to have Brown active for Week 2 tells us exactly where they stand on the situation. Only time will tell regarding the team’s stance moving forward. For now, Brown promises to play a huge role on offense in New England as the season progresses.
Cowboys have no problems with Redskins
It started out slowly for Dallas against the Redskins in D.C. Sunday. For the second consecutive game, the Cowboys found themselves trailing early against a lesser opponent. But much like what we saw last week against the Giants, Dak Prescott and Co. picked it up big time from that point on.
Prescott followed up a flawless opener by completing 26-of-30 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. He added to a rushing attack that went for 213 yards. Meanwhile, Dallas bottled up the Redskins running game to the tune of 47 yards on 17 attempts. It led to another lopsided win for Dallas. This time, by the score of 31-21. Could this team now be the class of the NFC? The Cowboys are certainly looking like it right now.
The 32 things we learned heading into the 2018 NFL playoff divisional round:
1. If it seemed the wild-card round was chock full of fresh faces and teams, well, it was. None of the eight clubs competing in the opening round was in action for last season’s wild-card games, and only the Eagles (a No. 1 seed with a bye in 2017) even reached the playoff field a year ago.
1a. But you’ll see largely familiar characters in the divisional round with Philadelphia returning along with the four teams on bye — the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints, all postseason entries last year, too.
1b. The last team to advance to the Super Bowl after playing on wild-card weekend was the 2012 Ravens, who won Super Bowl XLVII. The next 10 conference champs have all had first-round byes.
2. Gen X-er Philip Rivers, 37, has to be the sentimental favorite to win it all, right? No quarterback in league history has thrown for more yards (54,656) or more touchdowns (374) yet never played on Super Sunday.
2a. And how great (and entertaining) would it be to see Rivers’ Chargers take on the Saints … and former Bolts QB Drew Brees, who kept Philly Riv on the bench for two years?
3. But if you’re into unminted Millennial passers, Patrick Mahomes (23), Jared Goff (24), Dak Prescott (25) and, most certainly, Andrew Luck (29) could ride great story lines all the way to Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII.
4. Three quarterbacks made their playoff debuts during wild-card weekend. Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Mitchell Trubisky all lost.
5. Welp, Matt Nagy, guess you shoulda laid down for the Vikings in Week 17 rather than invite a matchup with the Iggles and your old buddy Doug Pederson.
6. Did anyone else want Eagles-Bears go into overtime (maybe double OT) just to see how NBC would handle its Golden Globes coverage, which began minutes after Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth wrapped?
7. Rough night for Chicago’s Cody Parkey, whose would-be, game-winning field goal attempt from 43 yards hit the upright then the crossbar before caroming into the end zone. No good. Parkey drilled the Soldier Field uprights four times Nov. 1. Uncanny.
8. But if I’ve learned anything this season, it’s that Parkey is about to get a flood of support from kickers throughout the league as he copes with this unfortunate bounce. Bounces.
9. Nick Foles was picked off twice in Sunday’s win over the Bears. The last time he threw multiple INTs in an Eagles uniform, Oct. 26, 2014, Chip Kelly was their coach and Foles had yet to play for the Rams or Chiefs.
9a. The last time Philadelphia played the Saints in postseason, the 2013 wild-card round, Foles was also the quarterback (in a losing effort) — Kelly’s only NFL playoff appearance.
10. Congrats to Eagles WR Golden Tate, who scored the game-winning TD at Chicago, instantly justifying the scrutinized trade deadline deal for him — which cost Philly a third-round pick that appeared awfully expensive given the struggles to integrate Tate into the offense.
10a. Congrats to Eagles LT Jason Peters, RB/KR Darren Sproles and LB Jordan Hicks, who all missed the 2017 Super Bowl run with injuries but tasted a playoff victory Sunday.
10b. Feel for you, Wentz.
11. Was wild-card weekend’s MVP Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley? His unit was on the short end of a 22-10 loss to Baltimore two weeks ago. Sunday, it showed the rest of the league how to contain Jackson — essentially deploying a defense comprised of linemen and defensive backs to shadow, flummox and confuse the rookie.
12. Jackson, who turns 22 on Monday, became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in NFL history. He looked like it. Make no mistake, the Ravens don’t win the AFC North without Jackson’s heroics in the second half of the season, when he went 6-1 as the starter. But Bradley and the Bolts provided a blueprint to stopping him and a fresh reminder that, though Jackson remains an elite athlete and highly effective with the ball in open space, he’s got a long, long way to go to be a fully-formed pro quarterback. He was sacked seven times, picked off once and fumbled thrice, losing the ball on his team’s final possession.
13. Who figured on Chargers rookie K Mike Badgley outperforming Ravens all-pro Justin Tucker? Badgley set a Bolts’ postseason record with five made field goals, while Tucker was 1-for-2 on three-point tries. Tucker missed five FGs this season, three against L.A.
14. Who figured on Chargers FB Derek Watt making a longer playoff run this season than brothers J.J. and T.J.?
15. The Chargers haven’t beaten Tom Brady since 2005. Rivers is 0-7 head-to-head against TB12, including two losses in postseason.
15a. But Sunday, the Chargers became the only team in the league to win eight times on the road this season. A visit to Foxborough, daunting as it is, won’t phase them.
16. The last time Rivers appeared in a playoff game at Gillette Stadium, the 2007 AFC Championship Game, he played on a torn ACL.
17. Baltimore’s second-ranked run game, which had averaged nearly 230 yards in Jackson’s seven regular-season starts, was limited to 90.
There was a ton of really weird stuff going on around the league during NFL Week 15, both positive and negative, as teams battled for a playoff berth.
One of the hottest teams in the NFL was shut out in stunning style. With a convincing win over the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears won the NFC North. The Cleveland Browns — of all teams — are still alive for postseason play, for crying out loud.
Heck, one player forgot which team he played for and facilitated a touchdown for the opposing team.
These are the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 15.
Winner: Philip Rivers has ice water running through his veins
Thursday night’s game in Kansas City seemed to portend doom for Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. He threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game, severely under throwing Tyrell Williams.
It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to build up a 14-0 lead. Then in the second half, they went up by two touchdowns once more midway through the fourth quarter. It appeared Patrick Mahomes and Co. were on their way to an easy win. Then, Rivers woke up.
The veteran quarterback led two consecutive touchdown-scoring drives in the final eight minutes of the game, capping it all off with a gutty two-point conversion to Mike Williams (watch here), who had a monster game while Keenan Allen watched due to an injury.
Now at 11-3, the Chargers have a chance to claim the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the final weeks.
Loser: Vance Joseph has got to go
Situational awareness is a critical element to being a good head coach in the NFL — or really any level of play. Vance Joseph does not have a healthy dose of that. He proved it once more on Saturday at home against the Cleveland Browns.
Down by four points, with just over four minutes left in the game, his offense on Cleveland’s six-yard line on a 4th-and-1, Joseph called for a field goal. He was booed heartily by the home crowd in Denver, and social media was brutal in its assessment of his awful decision.
Not surprisingly, the move backfired. Cleveland won the game by one point. In a must-win situation, Joseph retreated into his shell and cost his team the victory. There’s no way John Elway can keep him now. He’s got to go.
Winner: Josh Allen came up big
The Buffalo Bills were down their two top running backs before Sunday’s game against Detroit even began. Both LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory were ruled out, leading many to wonder just where any offense was going to come from.
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen — whose play is always an adventure — answered the call. His shockingly nifty touchdown run in the first half (watch here) put the Bills up by a point. Then, in the fourth quarter, his 42-yard laser strike to Robert Foster proved to be the game-winner.
Loser: Oakland managed to make Cincinnati look good
We’ve been harping on how bad the Oakland Raiders are all year. One lucky win against an unmotivated Pittsburgh Steelers team in Week 14 did nothing to change that, as everyone found out just one week later in Cincinnati.
The Bengals dominated Sunday’s game. Oakland’s defense had no answer for Joe Mixon, and, despite a poor outing from backup Jeff Driskel, the Raiders just couldn’t make key stops when they needed it.
Derek Carr had a rough outing throwing the ball, and both he and Jalen Richard lost fumbles — the second of which led to the first score of the game for Cincinnati.
The bottom line is this: When you’re making the Bengals look good, you’ve hit rock bottom.
Winner: Tremendous team effort nets Pittsburgh a huge win
From the moment Tom Brady stepped onto the field for warm-ups in Pittsburgh, he faced adversity. When the game tipped off, it was clear that the Steelers were not going to let him connect with Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon. They did just that, as the two top New England playmakers combined for just three catches for 40 yards.
The coup de grace for Pittsburgh’s defense came in the fourth quarter when Joe Haden made a tremendous leaping interception with two Patriots draped over him for what proved to be the win-sealing play (watch here).
Big Ben Roethlisberger had a rough night with two bad interceptions but was buoyed by the rest of his offense. Jaylen Samuels did his best Le’Veon Bell and James Conner impersonation by racking up 172 yards on 21 touches, and the Steelers walked out with a 17-10 win over the mighty Patriots to remain atop the AFC North.
During this week’s slate of NFL games, a ton of individual matchups will take center stage as 30 of the league’s 32 teams take to the field.
Can Denzel Ward continue his great rookie season in route to leading the Browns to a winning record against Keenan Allen and the equally hot Los Angeles Chargers? Patrick Peterson will look to continue his excellent play in hopes of stopping a Vikings receiver in Adam Thielen who is on pace to break the single-season catch mark. And in Kansas City, the Patriots must contend with the league’s best offense, Tyreek Hill included.
These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 6 NFL game.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr. vs Ronald Darby
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