NFL Week 5 matchups: An insiders’ guide

DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.

EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play. 

Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Passing yards per attempt adjusted for sack yardage. 

THURSDAY

L.A. Rams (3-1) at Seattle (3-1), 8:20 p.m. ET

Inside Rams numbers: Wade Phillips’ secondary started the season red-hot, allowing the league’s third-lowest passer rating through three weeks (66.2). All that success went out the window in Week 4, as Jameis Winston shredded the Rams for 385 yards and four touchdowns, dropping Los Angeles to seventh in opponent passer rating (81). A return to form will be essential against Russell Wilson, who ranks second in passer rating (118.7), behind only Patrick Mahomes.

Inside Rams roster: Todd Gurley’s situation shows the importance of running backs signing extensions when first eligible (after Year 3). He has not looked like the near-MVP-level version of 2017 and most of ‘18, making his $45 million in guarantees more important. The 24-year-old back is on pace for fewer rushing yards than his disappointing 2016 season (885 yards) and, with 62 receiving yards, is well off his recent aerial pace as well. This murky knee injury will come up in future front office debates regarding running back payments; the Rams are tethered to Gurley through at least 2021.

Inside Seahawks numbers: Seattle’s pass rush picked up only one sack in Weeks 2-3, but it came back to life in Week 4 with four sacks against Arizona’s Kyler Murray. As Seattle aims to slow a Rams offense ranked sixth in scoring (29.3 ppg), the generation of that level of pressure is key. Jared Goff has stayed clean, taking a career-low sack rate of just 4.4 percent — the ninth-best mark in the league. 

Inside Seahawks roster: The insider trading charge Mychal Kendricks pleaded guilty to in 2018 has not led to a punishment yet, with the sentencing date pushed back multiple times. Not only is Kendricks a Seahawks starter, the team is using him as a near-full-time player. The Seahawks have played Kendricks 199 snaps -– not far behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright’s workloads -– and have deviated from the NFL norm by keeping their base set on the field in some nickel situations. The ex-Eagle has four tackles for loss and rates as a top-30 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.

Sep 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) attempts a pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

SUNDAY

Jacksonville (2-2) at Carolina (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Jaguars numbers: The legend of Gardner Minshew continues to grow. The Washington State product is the first rookie quarterback since 1988 to post a passer rating of 95.0 or better in each of his first three starts. His next test will be perhaps his greatest yet; the Panthers are fifth in pass defense EPA and allow the fewest passing yards per game (156.8). 

Inside Jaguars roster: Minshew mania moved D.J. Chark to the top of Jacksonville’s aerial pecking order, but the team’s highest-paid wideout, Marqise Lee, has hovered well off the grid. He signed an $8.5 million-per-year deal in March 2018. After Lee missed last season with a knee injury, the Jags’ 2016 receiving leader has not cleared the 30 percent snap threshold in his three 2019 games. Lee has caught one pass since signing this contract, which counts $8.75M on Jacksonville’s 2019 cap sheet. This deal is on the sunk-cost precipice.

Inside Panthers numbers: Carolina’s defense is outstanding, allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.3) and fourth-fewest yards per game (287.5). It ranks ninth in fewest points allowed per drive (1.63) and 10th in total defensive EPA. A dominant pass rush is the driving force: The Panthers lead the NFL with a sack rate of 11.3 percent (with 18 sacks total). The Carolina front seven could tee off on Jacksonville, which allowed five sacks to a Denver defense that had none over the first three weeks.  

Inside Panthers roster: Carolina’s improved defense will not feature perhaps its second-best player; Kawann Short is out for the season. The mammoth defensive tackle has only missed four games since arriving as a 2013 fifth-round pick -– two in 2018 and the Panthers’ most recent two -– and this stands to lower Carolina’s defensive ceiling. However, the Panthers are oddly well-stocked to pick up the pieces, having signed Dontari Poe in 2018 and Gerald McCoy this year. Additionally, 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler –- a seldom-used talent –- may have a chance to shed the “bust” label in a contract year.

New England (4-0) at Washington (0-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Patriots numbers: New England’s opponents have thrown no touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Patriots are the first team since the 1961 Packers to allow no touchdowns and pick off at least 10 passes over their first four games of the season. The Redskins have nine turnovers and 18 points in the past two games. 

Inside Patriots roster: On the heels of one of the worst games of Tom Brady’s career, the legendary passer will have a deeper complement of weapons Sunday. Benjamin Watson returns from a four-game suspension and is set to become the first pure tight end in NFL history to play in an age-39 season. The Patriots have four receptions from tight ends this season. The 16th-year veteran was a decent auxiliary weapon for Drew Brees last season, catching 46 passes for 400 yards.

 Inside Redskins numbers: Jay Gruden forced Dwayne Haskins into his first NFL action as the team was getting blown out by the Giants, and predictably, the rookie struggled, tossing three picks on just 17 pass attempts. The Redskins must think twice before starting Haskins against the Patriots, whose defense ranks second in the league in quarterback hits (32) and has allowed the league’s lowest passer rating (41.0). A rookie quarterback has not defeated the Patriots since Geno Smith in October 2013.

Inside Redskins roster: Trent Williams is now the league’s lone holdout. With Washington almost certainly set for its first 0-5 record in 18 years, it would make sense to unload its disgruntled left tackle for draft compensation. Missing out on nearly $3 million in salary this season, the seven-time Pro Bowler has shown no signs of backing down. It would make sense if the Redskins made a deal soon, with Williams losing value the longer he sits out (thus limiting the number of games he can play with another team). Nearly $20M in non-guaranteed money remains on his through-2020 deal.

Sep 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws a pass under pressure from Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) during the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Blocking against Donald is Buccaneers offensive tackle Demar Dotson (69). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay (2-2) at New Orleans (3-1), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Buccaneers numbers: Jameis Winston is having a career renaissance under Bruce Arians, with career-highs in touchdown percentage (6.5 percent), yards per attempt (8.4), yards per game (291.8), and passer rating (95.8). A trip to the Superdome may not be as daunting as it seemed before the season. Winston, who entered 2019 with 12 consecutive road losses, is 2-0 away from Tampa under Arians, throwing five touchdowns and just one interception in those games.

Inside Buccaneers roster: Chris Godwin’s breakout has been as advertised so far; the Bucs’ No. 2 wideout’s yardage total (386) is third best in the league. Bruce Arians’ offense did not have this kind of weapon in Arizona; Michael Floyd and John Brown were not quite on this level. This not only raises the floor for Tampa Bay’s offense, it sets Godwin up for a payday. The third-year receiver becomes extension-eligible in January, and his 1,500-plus-yard pace would put the former third-round pick in line for WR1 money. With Mike Evans the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid wideout, this is an interesting situation/good problem for the Bucs.

Inside Saints numbers: New Orleans needs more downfield playmaking from Teddy Bridgewater. His average completed pass has traveled only 3.7 yards, 33rd out of 34 qualifiers (ahead of only Mason Rudolph). This may not be the week it happens, as Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett could prevent Bridgewater from getting enough time to push the ball downfield. His nine sacks ties the league record for the most through four games.  

Inside Saints roster: Only two players remain from the Saints’ 2016 starting defense, defensive end Cam Jordan and safety Vonn Bell. That unit was the last of New Orleans’ three awful defenses, which ranked either 32nd or 31st from 2014-16. The Saints’ win over the Cowboys showed how far this reconstruction effort has come, with this defensive cast thus far stabilizing the Saints while Drew Brees rehabs. This bevy of rookie contracts (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Marcus Davenport), trades (Eli Apple, Kiko Alonso) and free- agency adds (Demario Davis) assembled since 2017 represents one of the better defensive overhauls in modern NFL history.

Minnesota (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Vikings numbers: Kirk Cousins continues to struggle against quality competition since his arrival in Minnesota. His loss to the Bears dropped him to 1-8 against teams with a winning record as a member of the Vikings. A less intimidating Giants team could be less of a problem, as Cousins tends to get the job done against lesser teams. With Minnesota, Cousins owns a 9-1-1 record against teams without a winning record, posting an average passer rating of 108.1 in those games. 

Inside Vikings roster: Scrutiny has rightfully been applied to Minnesota’s passing game, the focus being on Cousins and his highly paid receivers. But the Vikings’ decision to add a Kyle Rudolph extension to their ultra-expensive roster, after drafting Irv Smith Jr. in Round 2, looks even more puzzling now. Through five games, the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid tight end ($9 million per year) has five receptions for 32 yards. Rudolph is on pace to post 506 fewer yards than he had last season.

Inside Giants numbers: The Giants had one of their best defensive performances in ages in Week 4. They held the Redskins to 176 yards and forced four turnovers, the first time since 2008 New York has held an opponent to under 200 yards and taken the ball away four times or more. The unit’s opponent in Week 5, Cousins, is 1-5 in his past six road starts. 

Inside Giants roster: New York’s passing game has frequently featured suboptimal balance. Tight end stability proved elusive between Jeremy Shockey and Evan Engram and wide receiver unavailability has persisted over the past two-plus years. Golden Tate is set to debut in Week 5 after his four-game PED suspension, giving Daniel Jones a better-rounded aerial cast. For the 31-year-old Tate, these will be a pivotal 12 games. Although he signed for four years and $37.5M, the PED ban voided his 2020 guarantee ($7.97M).  

Chicago (3-1) vs. Oakland (2-2) in LONDON, 1 p.m. ET

Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s defense is back on the mountaintop in the NFC, leading the conference in fewest points allowed per drive (1.09). Khalil Mack continues to be the driving force, as he is tied with Danielle Hunter for the NFL lead in total pressures (27). Oakland’s tackle duo will provide a strong challenge for Mack. Left tackle Trent Brown and right tackle Kolton Miller have combined to allow only 13 pressures this season, an average of 3.3 per game between the pair. 

Inside Bears roster: Shrugging off four-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s exit, the No. 2-ranked Chicago defense has Pro Bowl-caliber talent on all three levels. It is worth wondering if lower-ceiling, game manager-type backup Chase Daniel, who is in line to start in England, complements this menacing unit better than the more erratic Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have seen a volatile starter hold a stacked defense back, as Rex Grossman once did, and their latest look with Daniel may be more important to the big picture.  

Inside Raiders numbers: Rookie Josh Jacobs ranks 10th in the league in rush attempts (62) and ninth in rushing yards (307). He’s done it efficiently, averaging five yards per attempt. Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are the only other backs averaging 5.0-plus yards per attempt on at least 60 carries. Chicago’s ground defense will be a major test for Jacobs, as the Bears are ranked second in fewest yards allowed per rush attempt (3.0) and third in rush defense EPA.

Inside Raiders roster: Oakland gave two veteran linebackers mid-level deals this offseason, but Brandon Marshall failed to make the team and Vontaze Burfict may have exhausted his final opportunity. Burfict’s rest-of-season suspension comes after the Raiders placed backup middle linebacker Marquel Lee on IR. The rest of Oakland’s contingent consists of outside linebackers, though starting outside ‘backer Tahir Whitehead has played in the middle before. More importantly, Burfict’s loss leaves the Raiders with a host of lower-level players –- one of whom set to join Whitehead in sub-packages.

N.Y. Jets (0-3) at Philadelphia (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Jets numbers: Adam Gase’s injury-plagued offense is historically inept. For the first time in franchise history, the Jets have only one offensive touchdown through the first three games of the season. Their average of 3.67 net yards per pass attempt is the worst mark through three games since the 2006 Raiders (who finished 2-14). Things do not get easier in Week 5, as the Jets hit the road to take on the only franchise they have never beaten (0-10 all time vs. Philadelphia). 

Inside Jets roster: With Joe Douglas addition Ryan Kalil struggling, and Mike Maccagnan trade acquisition Kelechi Osemele battling a knee issue that limited him last season, a full-scale Jets offensive line overhaul may be months away. Returning starters Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell are again scuffling, after being part of one of the league’s worst lines in 2018. Three starters (Kalil, Beachum and Shell) are due for free agency, and Winters’ contract would cost the Jets $0 to shed.

Inside Eagles numbers: In its two wins, Philadelphia has zero turnovers. In its two losses, it has five combined. The Jets are good at forcing turnovers. They have three non-offensive touchdowns and a safety, and have forced a turnover on 15.8 percent of defensive drives. 

Inside Eagles roster: One team reportedly offered the Jaguars two first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey, and it wouldn’t be out of character for Eagles GM Howie Roseman to swing big. If the Jaguars prefer to keep that contentious relationship alive, would the Eagles consider calling the 0-4 Broncos about contract-year standout Chris Harris? Either way, this is a problem the Eagles may need to address. Philadelphia ranks last in pass defense (323.8 yards allowed per game), winding up there after Roseman made big investments to strengthen stronger positions in the offseason.

Sep 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) celebrates his 100th career sack at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Denver (0-4) at L.A. Chargers (2-2), 4:05 p.m. ET

Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s run defense is atrocious, allowing the third-most yards per attempt (5.1) and yards per game (149.3). The loss of Bradley Chubb for the season will not help, as he was leading the team with 15 tackles short of the sticks in the run game. Melvin Gordon may return to his bell-cow role for Los Angeles, but the Broncos have held him to 3.7 yards per carry over six matchups. 

Inside Broncos roster: Von Miller already sees a steady volume of double-teams and chip blocks; Chubb’s ACL tear will make the All-Pro a marked man. The Broncos let longtime rotational rushers Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray sign elsewhere, though Ray is again a free agent, and have no notable veteran replacements. Undrafted rookie Malik Reed is the next man up for a Broncos team that entered Week 4 without a sack. Denver did add journeyman Jerry Attaochu this week but is in danger of its pass rush becoming more one-dimensional than it has at any point in Miller’s tenure. 

Inside Chargers numbers: Philip Rivers continues to engineer a top-notch passing attack, as the Chargers rank fourth in net yards per pass attempt (7.6) and sixth in pass offense EPA. While this is not the Broncos defense of old, Rivers has not played his best football against Denver. His 88.8 passer rating against the Broncos is his sixth-worst mark against a franchise. 

Inside Chargers roster: If the Bolts’ all-fronts injury issues were not noticeable enough, their punter is now less than 100 percent. Ty Long, a CFL import asked to kick and punt in his initial NFL season because of kicker Michael Badgley’s injury, hurt his foot on a kickoff. The Chargers signed rookie Chase McLaughlin this week, sending Long to the punter-only role for which he was signed. McLaughlin will be the Bolts’ eighth kicker since the start of the 2017 season.  

Green Bay (3-1) at Dallas (3-1), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Packers numbers: In Week 4,Green Bay scored only three touchdowns on seven red zone trips in the loss to the Eagles. It was a reversion to the mean for Matt LaFleur’s offense, which had scored touchdowns on six of its first seven red zone trips. The Packers must get back on track against Dallas, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest red-zone touchdown rate (35.7 percent). 

Inside Packers roster: Set for one of their toughest-looking assignments this season, the Packers may be forced to find out more about Davante Adams’ young assortment of sidekicks. Adams’ turf toe places him in jeopardy of missing this Cowboys matchup, leaving Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison set to lead what would be the least experienced group of receivers with which Aaron Rodgers has been equipped as a Packer. Neither of Valdes-Scantling’s 2018 draft classmates, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, are on the active roster.

Inside Cowboys numbers: In Week 4, the Saints stifled Ezekiel Elliott, as he ran for just 35 yards (third-lowest total of career) and 1.9 yards per attempt (second lowest). Elliott has been successful against Green Bay, averaging 136.5 rushing yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry in his last two games against the Packers. Green Bay ranks 30th in rush defense EPA and has allowed the fourth-most yards per rush attempt (5.0).

Inside Cowboys roster: One of several veteran defensive ends who left Miami this offseason, Robert Quinn has made an immediate impression on his third NFL team. The trade acquisition who missed the Cowboys’ first two games due to suspension has a team-high three sacks, two against upper-echelon tackle Terron Armstead. Quinn did not live up to the Rams extension he signed in 2014, a contract that’s since been traded twice, but the ninth-year veteran is only 29. DeMarcus Lawrence should soon benefit from a talented veteran opposite him.

 Indianapolis (2-2) at Kansas City (4-0), 8:20 p.m. ET 

Inside Colts numbers: The Colts’ defense is disappointing, ranking 29th in points allowed per drive (2.53). Its pass rush has collected only 18 quarterback hits, tied for 23rd in the league. More was expected from Justin Houston, who has just one sack and three hits heading into a matchup against his former team. A Chiefs offense allowing a league-low sack rate of 1.9 percent makes this a daunting matchup for Indianapolis.

Inside Colts roster: After the franchise’s worst performance since the early part of 2018, Indianapolis’ defense ranks last in run-stoppage DVOA. The Colts finished last season fourth in this metric. Last season, Indianapolis enjoyed strong play from bargain-buy defensive linemen Denico Autry and Margus Hunt. A former first-round pick, Hunt has disappointed so far, grading as PFF’s No. 102 interior defender. Three of the Colts’ seven second-round picks over the past two years have gone to the D-line as well, but this is an issue the team must address this week and during its Week 6 bye.

Inside Chiefs numbers: The Chiefs continue to get clutch rushing production no matter who is taking the handoff. Since Damien Williams went down, LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams have combined for five touchdowns, including all three scored by the offense in Week 4. The duo could tee off on a Colts defense allowing the second-most yards per rush attempt (5.5). 

Inside Chiefs roster: Cris Collinsworth may take issue with some of Sunday night’s run defense. The Chiefs’ issues are more troublesome than the Colts’, having gone from 32nd in 2017 run-defense DVOA to 32nd in 2018 to 31st this season. Kansas City made a surprising defensive coordinator hire in Steve Spagnuolo, who has seen four of his past five defenses rank 31st or 32nd in yards allowed. Considering where the Patriots are defensively, the Chiefs’ Bob Sutton-to-Spagnuolo switch producing these results so far is rather alarming.

Sep 22, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) makes a reception against the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

MONDAY

Cleveland (2-2) at San Francisco (3-0), 8:15 p.m. ET

Inside Browns numbers: In Week 4 against Baltimore, Odell Beckham had a career-low 20 yards receiving, but the Browns’ offense finally broke out with 40 points.  To repeat their success, the Browns will likely need more from their superstar against the 49ers’ lockdown secondary, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest passer rating (72.7).

Inside Browns roster: After a rough start, Baker Mayfield will have a better chance to continue his rejuvenation. The Browns will have suspended wideout Antonio Callaway back, and their other second-stringer, Rashard Higgins, has a chance to play as well after missing three games with an ankle ailment. Both players cleared 500 yards on last season’s Jarvis Landry-led receiving corps. 

Inside 49ers numbers: Jimmy Garoppolo is 11-2 as a starter, joining Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott as the only quarterbacks over the past decade to win 11 of their first 13 career starts. Garoppolo’s offense is off to a hot start, ranking ninth in points per drive (2.25). After facing two struggling defenses (Bengals and Steelers), Garoppolo should get a good test from the Browns’ pass defense. Cleveland ranks eighth in fewest passing yards allowed per game (215.3) and pass defense EPA. 

Inside 49ers roster: Ahkello Witherspoon’s bounce-back play has been essential for San Francisco’s rebounding secondary. Richard Sherman’s running mate was given PFF’s worst cornerback grade in 2018 but stands in the top 15 through three games. Unfortunately, a foot injury will keep Witherspoon out Monday night and potentially blunt the third-year defender’s momentum. Second-year undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley, the likely starter opposite Sherman,  will be in line to defend Beckham at times.

By: Michael Nania and Sam Robinson

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/nfl_week_5_matchups_an_insiders_guide/s1_13132_30150824

Winners, losers from ‘Monday Night Football’ doubleheader in Week 1

To celebrate the first week of the season, fans were treated to a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader that featured plenty of fireworks.

Early, it was the Houston Texans visiting the New Orleans Saints. This one proved to be an entertaining, see-saw battle all game long. It wasn’t until the last second ticked off the clock that we knew which team would win, as New Orleans eked out a 30-28 victory.

Late in the evening, the AFC West was on display with a rivalry game featuring the Denver Broncos visiting the famed Black Hole and the Oakland Raiders. To the delight of the home crowd, the Raiders dominated, winning 24-16.

These were the biggest winners and losers from the season-opening “Monday Night Football” doubleheader.

Winner: The Hyde/Johnson duo is pretty dynamic

When the Texans lost Lamar Miller for the season with an ACL injury, it was easy to panic about their ability to run the ball consistently. Then, Houston pulled off a trade for Carlos Hyde. That proved to be a savvy move, as the power back was huge in Week 1.

Hyde rushed for 83 yards on 10 carries, providing the thunder in Houston’s offense. Former Cleveland Browns back Duke Johnson provided the lightning with 57 yards on the ground. He also provided a spark in the passing game with four catches for 33 yards. The duo combined on 175 yards from scrimmage and appears to be a solid tandem the Texans can count on this season.

Loser: J.J. Watt was practically invisible

Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) blocks Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When Houston traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for a pauper’s bounty, many wondered if the Texans could remain dominant up front without him. It was only one game, but on Monday it was pretty clear they won’t be the same.

In particular, star defensive end J.J. Watt was unbelievably unproductive. In fact, Watt didn’t register a single stat. Not one tackle. Not one quarterback hit. Not one pass defended. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Watt is too good to struggle like this all season. But perhaps he benefited from Clowney more than anyone realized. We’ll soon find out.

Winner: Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara — still pretty darn good

Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates with fans after a win against the Houston Texans during the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Saints receiver Michael Thomas had one of the most impressive statistical seasons any wideout has ever had in the NFL. He caught an absurd 85% of the passes that came his way to the tune of 125 catches for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. On Monday night, Thomas picked up right where he left off. Catching 10 passes on 13 targets, he racked up 123 yards and was the main weapon in Drew Brees’ arsenal all game long. He’s already living up to the monster contract he signed this summer.

Fantasy football players also once again rejoiced at the production of Alvin Kamara on Monday night. He’s such a dynamic weapon, and he’s among the best the NFL has to offer in terms of bang for your buck. That was on display against Houston as Kamara racked up the yardage. He piled up 97 yards on just 13 carries and another 72 yards on seven receptions. That’s an average of 8.45 yards per touch.

Loser: Houston’s offensive line is still a huge problem

Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) reacts after a touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-leading 62 times last year and hit 125 times, and not surprisingly he got banged up quite a bit in the process. The Texans tried to fix this issue in the draft and then by trading for Laremy Tunsil right before the season began. But based on what transpired in Week 1 against New Orleans, this problem isn’t going away any time soon.

Hopkins was pummeled by the Saints. From the opening drive until the end, he took big hits in the pocket (and outside of it as well). Houston’s offensive line allowed six sacks and gave up 11 quarterback hits.

That puts Watson on pace to be sacked 96 times this year, and absorb 176 hits in the pocket. That’s not sustainable. And it’s going to get this young man hurt badly at some point.

Winner: Wil Lutz called game

Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz (3) (behind) is mobbed by teammates after his game winning, 58-yard field goal against the Houston Texans in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The final minute of the Texans-Saints game was insanely fun to watch for anyone who is not a Houston fan. It was also one of the best things we’ve seen in sports for some time now.

Deshaun Watson made two of the best throws under pressure you’ll ever see and tied the game on a touchdown pass to Kenny Stills. Then, Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point, only to get a second chance due to a penalty. He made the kick, putting the Texans up by one point with just 37 seconds remaining in the game.

That’s when Drew Brees marched the Saints 35 yards down the field in 35 seconds, setting up a potential game-winner from 58 yards out.

Wil Lutz stepped onto the field, took a deep breath, and then called game.

Loser: Broncos struggled in the red zone

September 9, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) passes the football against the Oakland Raiders during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos made a few nice pushes into to enemy territory against Oakland Monday night. They just couldn’t do much once they got into the red zone.

Four times, Joe Flacco had Denver in a position to score touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. Three times, the Broncos came up short. The only successful trip came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already practically over.

Rookie offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello struggled with the game plan. Flacco struggled to avoid pressure in key situations. The Broncos had one touchdown go right through their hands (literally), which we’ll get to in more detail later. Just an awful performance by Denver’s offense when it mattered most.

Winner: Darren Waller, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs give Raiders some juice

Sep 9, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) carries the ball against Denver Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom (26) during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

No Antonio Brown? No problem. The Raiders have plenty of offensive firepower, thanks to the emergence of ‘Hard Knocks’ star, tight end Darren Waller, free-agent acquisition Tyrell Williams and rookie running back Josh Jacobs.

Waller was a tremendous go-to option for Derek Carr in the middle of the field. He came through with seven catches for 70 yards and appears to be a centerpiece on this offense.

Williams did for Oakland what he’s been doing for the Chargers the past few years — make big plays down the field. He hauled in a gorgeous 43-yard pass and scored a touchdown, finishing with six catches for 105 yards.

Jacobs did an incredible job on the ground, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 28 yards through the air.

This trio looks really good.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/winners_losers_from_monday_night_football_doubleheader_in_week_1/s1_12680_29957384

By: Jesse Reed

2019 NFL MVP favorites and odds

The NFL quarterbacks’ MVP dynasty

Two gifted running backs — Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson — won the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in consecutive seasons, 2005-2006. Since then, 11 of the past 12 MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 2018 top dog Patrick Mahomes who earned 41 of the 50 first-place votes. Fellow quarterback Drew Brees finished second. So Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season — less than a year removed from a torn ACL — remains the last time somebody other than an NFL quarterback hoisted the NFL MVP hardware.

Spoiler alert: Based on the favorites to win the 2019 MVP, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon.

Odds via Bovada 2 of 16

Cam Newton

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,395 pass yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs | 488 rush yards  and four TDs

A shoulder injury may have cost Newton the final two games on paper, but anybody who watched the Panthers quarterback grind out the 2018 season knows it cost the team much more. Carolina started the season 6-2 and in a prime position to reach the playoffs. However, the severity of Newton’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing balls down field and allowed defenses to cheat up and play the underneath routes. After the hot start, the Panthers lost seven of their last eight games. Newton had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, and he’s expected to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season. His MVP chances ride on improved play of DJ Moore, Jarius Wright and a healthy Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but when healthy he’s Cam’s most trusted target. If Olsen misses time, running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP odds could be just as high as Cam’s. 3 of 16

Philip Rivers

Odds: +2,000
2018 stats: 4,308 pass yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs

Rivers may be the NFL equivalent of MLB’s Cal Ripken. The Chargers ironman has not missed a game for 13 consecutive seasons. While the league has gone to great lengths to protect the quarterback, the fact Rivers hasn’t sustained a serious injury over the past 208 games is nothing short of a miracle. Led by Keenan Allen, his receiving corps remains intact and receives a slight upgrade with the full-time return of tight end Hunter Henry who missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. The one constant who is missing as of press time is Melvin Gordon. The Chargers starting running back is holding out in hopes of a new contract. If Gordon’s holdout lingers into the regular season, Rivers’ odds of winning the 2019 MVP should take a notable hit. 4 of 16

Jimmy Garoppolo

Odds: +3,300
2018 stats: 718 pass yards, five TDs and three INTs (in only three games due to torn ACL)

The saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and when it comes to Jimmy G. what we don’t  know outweighs his elite hype. Garoppolo has yet to play in more than six regular-season games and missed the final 13 games of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. So the 2019 season will be a fresh canvas on which to either paint a masterpiece and fill in those unknown gaps OR post pedestrian stats as he has through his first nine games as the 49ers quarterback: 12:8 TD:INT ratio. If you’re looking for a reason to back this long shot, Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes will benefit — not hurt — Jimmy G’s shot at the 2019 MVP. 5 of 16

Matt Ryan

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 4,924 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Ryan was one of only four quarterbacks last season to finish with more than 600 pass attempts. Aside from a pass-first offense, the primary reason his pass attempts reached a three-year high is due to a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which turned the secondary into Swiss-cheese city, and opponents racked up early leads. So Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (10 TDs as a rookie) and others spent most of the game in rally mode via the pass. If the defense can stay healthy, the Falcons are one of those squads that could flip the script and qualify for the playoffs one year after missing them. Ryan is as consistent as they come and despite turning 30 years old, Jones will go down as one of the top targets in NFL history. 6 of 16

Ben Roethlisberger

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 5,129 pass yards, 34 TDs and 16 INTs

Without Le’Veon Bell last season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions (career-high), attempts (career-high), passing yards (career-high) and pass yards per game. The loss of both Bell and Antonio Brown will no doubt change the Steelers’ offensive dynamic, but don’t sleep on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill Brown’s shoes as Big Ben’s primary receiver in addition to a healthy running game of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. While many believe the AFC North torch has been passed to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, an MVP season by Roethlisberger would mute any chance of that happening. 7 of 16

Deshaun Watson

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 4,165 pass yards, 26 TDs and nine INTs | 551 rush yards and five TDs

The good news for Watson is that he’ll probably compete for an NFL MVP one day. The bad news is that unless his offensive line play improves 1,000 percent, he won’t be among the 2019 MVP finalists. Remember: Despite mobility that rivals Russell Wilson, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. To be fair some of those sacks were no doubt Watson’s fault. However, as of early August, head coach Bill O’Brien admits he still doesn’t know who will start on the offensive line. How does this not get addressed in the offseason? Forget Watson’s MVP chances. The Texans could find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. 8 of 16

Mitch Trubisky

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 3,223 pass yards, 24 TDs and 12 INTs

The Chicago Bears 2018 defense ranked first in points allowed and against the rush, third in turnover differential (+12) and seventh against the pass. Its pass offense ranked outside the top 20. So the obvious question becomes where can Trubisky improve in his third year when the top three receiving targets remain the same and the Bears front office elected to shake up the running back depth chart after averaging 121 rush yards per game last season (11 th)? It’s a loaded question. Despite an above-average arm and 421 rush yards and three rush TDs last season, it’s hard to fathom Trubisky making enough of a statistical leap toward MVP when the most valuable players — plural — on the team likely reside on the defensive side of the ball. 9 of 16

Russell Wilson

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,448 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Because the Seahawks averaged a league-leading 160 yards per game last season, Wilson’s passing totals were the lowest since 2014. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl run, the offense needs to find a consistent passing game aside from Wilson running for his life on third and long. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season, but that total could have been higher if not for his elite mobility out of the pocket. So the offensive line play must improve, and Pete Carroll needs to find lighting in a bottle with second-round draft pick DK Metcalf. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver out of Ole Miss is a polarizing brand, but Wilson has no choice but to embrace the rookie because without Doug Baldwin, No. 3’s primary target is 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster Tyler Lockett. 10 of 16

Carson Wentz

Odds: +1,200
2018 Stats: 3,074 pass yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs (11 games)

Wentz’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL tear, and he missed the final three games of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his back. The knock of Wentz is that these annual ailments date back to high school. However, when you place the injury history on the back burner and assess a potential 16-game campaign for the Eagles quarterback, it’s evident he has the talent and players around him to make a run at an MVP and Super Bowl title. One guy who will help him reach those goals is DeSean Jackson. The speedy, downfield receiver returns to Philadelphia at age 32 and should allow for Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to enjoy softer coverages this season. Also, the arrival of Jordan Howard should improve the Eagles 28 th-ranked running game of a season ago, which should also boost Wentz’s MVP odds.

By: Ryan Fowler

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/2019_nfl_mvp_favorites_and_odds/s1__29673998#slide_1

Why 2019 is so crucial for Panthers’ Cam Newton

The lengthening of superstar NFL quarterback careers in recent years has thrown out of whack the perspective that once informed where QB are in their arc, and how much time they have left.

In 2019, two NFL starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) will be over 40, and at least eight of them — 25 percent of the league’s presumptive Week 1 starters — will be at least 34 years old. Of those, only Eli Manning appears to show signs of decline or readiness to retire.

Once upon a time, a quarterback turning 30, as Cam Newton did last month, might have seemed like a significant milestone. Nowadays, however, it more than likely only means that a passer has another decade left of his career. Obviously, injuries and a few other factors can play a hand, especially for a quarterback who takes so much contact. But short of something catastrophic, there’s little reason to assume Newton should think his days are numbered.

Newton, coming off shoulder surgery in late January, is scheduled to throw in quarterback drills, though on a pitch count and aiming at stationary targets, when the Panthers open mini-camp Tuesday. This isn’t the first time Newton has thrown a football since undergoing the procedure, as the world found out earlier this month when a fan’s video of Newton throwing on a practice field made waves online, much to the dismay of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

After eight seasons, it’s fair to presume that Cam is right about at the midpoint of his career. Sadly, he’s beginning the second half returning from a serious injury, one that derailed what had been something of a comeback season for the quarterback. While Newton is among the league’s biggest stars, and has put together moments and short stretches of greatness, he has struggled to produce at the elite level on a year-to-year basis in the NFL.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season, albeit one where he fell just short of a championship, seemed to be a realization of the early career progression. He had reached the zenith and appeared at the time there to stay, until he wasn’t. Newton regressed considerably the following year, and didn’t return to dominating form again until 2018, even if the second half of last season was marred by struggle through injury. That dip in performance wasn’t entirely Newton’s fault, as Carolina has been frustratingly unable to surround its star quarterback with comparable talent in the receiving corps. The hire of Norv Turner last year, as mocked as it was at the time, inoculated life into play-calling that had become stagnant in Carolina.

Hopefully that means Newton can establish some consistency in the years to come. As Turner tells it, Cam has displayed urgency in his effort to be back on the field in time for the start of this coming season. “He’s really attacked this rehab, and he’s done everything he could possibly do physically to get back to where he is with the shoulder,” Turner told SI. “It’s been good for him to concentrate on the mental part of it. There’s only so much he can do, without throwing. And he’s really grown there, without being able to throw.”

That’s a significant leap from initial fears in January that Newton might have to miss a season to recover. Owner David Tepper tried to put a positive spin on it at the time, saying the wait would be worth it to get their franchise quarterback back to 100 percent. But there’s no denying that it would be a frustrating setback to Newton and those who want to see him realize his potential.

With the younger weapons in the Panthers’ offense starting to reach maturation,  there’s reason to believe Newton can make strides again this season if his health cooperates. Receiver D.J. Moore aims to build off an encouraging rookie season and Christian McCaffrey in 2018 proved himself worthy of the first-round pick the Panthers spent on him the year before.

This may not be a make-or-break season for Newton, but assuming he’s fortunate enough not to have his health be a deterrent for the second straight year, it can be pivotal and set him up for a back half of a career that might place him among the greats.

By: Michael Tunison

Original Article

One-on-One: If Troy Aikman’s in HOF, Donovan McNabb should be, too. Right?

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Does Donovan McNabb have a compelling case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Mueller: There exists an old saying in sports talk radio that, on a slow news day, all a host must do, in any city, is say, “Pete Rose, Hall of Fame, yes or no?” Then watch as the callers flood in, taking care of several hours of airtime in one fell swoop.

We love to debate whether or not Player X does or doesn’t belong in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame because anyone good enough to be on the cusp can have a compelling case made for either side.

Typically, fans or media are the ones who bring up these arguments, but Donovan McNabb decided to cut out the middleman recently and make his case. That he used three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman as his foil made things interesting, and even a little spicy.

Here’s the thing, though — if individual numbers matter, then he should be in over Aikman every day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, if the story compelled you, like me, to look up Aikman’s stats, you were probably shocked by how pedestrian they are. I grew up as a kid in the early 1990s thinking that Aikman was great, but maybe he was more along for the ride than anything.


                 Comp.- Att.  |   Yds.  |   Pct.  |   TDs   

McNabb   3170-5374       37,276     59.0      234

Aikman    2898-4715       32,942     61.5      165


Three Super Bowls is three Super Bowls, but McNabb didn’t have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and an offensive line that dominated virtually every defense it came across. McNabb had Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins, both in the Hall of Fame, and … Freddie Mitchell. Give him the former group, and something tells me he would have found a way to get over the hump.

So sue me, I think McNabb is right. It looks uncool to advocate for your own worthiness, yes, but the man still has a point.

The bigger discussion is also relevant here. What exactly is the best criteria for evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy? Do stats matter more than titles? And when one player at a position is clearly superior to another, but the man with inferior stats got to the top of the mountain three times, how much should that matter?

Mar 13, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles former quarterback Donovan McNabb in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: I do feel for McNabb, even after his multiple DUIs and post-career propensity to be a social media irritant. He was a good to very good quarterback. What he truly excelled at, however, was making the right enemies, whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling him overrated as a result of the media’s desire for black quarterbacks to do well, or Eagles fans never quite embracing him or just being outright hostile to McNabb.

And, yeah, his numbers were better than Aikman’s. So what? The Hall has always been desirous of star players from dynasties. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann’s career numbers kind of suck (336 receptions, 5,462 receiving yards, 68 TDs), but he won four Super Bowls and made some exciting plays in them. It would ridiculous to claim championships don’t play a role in voters’ decision-making. I’m not saying it’s right. It just fits into several fairly arbitrary things that can decide borderline cases.

McNabb was certainly good enough to win a championship, and came awfully close once. What gets remembered about that Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, though? T.O. playing through injury and having a great game, and McNabb allegedly throwing up and moving the ball too slowly in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because 2004 was by far McNabb’s best season (300-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs), and his only MVP-caliber one.

That McNabb’s numbers were on the whole better than Aikman’s has to also be put in the context that McNabb started his career just as Aikman’s ended, and offenses in the 2000s were opening up more than those of the ’90s. Awareness of concussions was still only burgeoning, but there were efforts by the league during McNabb’s playing days to make it harder for defensive backs to jam receivers.

Finally, here’s a good example to posit: Carson Palmer has comparable career numbers — see here —  to Donovan McNabb. Do you want  Palmer in the Hall of Fame?

Mueller: McNabb being a target of some of the worst people around never made me feel any sympathy toward him, probably because I was attending Penn State during his prime years, and had to deal with that obnoxious E-A-G-L-E-S chant because the team was very good.

If anything, I feel like reconsidering his Hall of Fame credentials is a mea culpa on my part, because I used to just make fun of him for throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet too often, and never winning the big one. If I overestimated Aikman’s greatness, I underestimated McNabb’s.

Oh, and he could run, too, especially early in his career. That feels pretty relevant to his candidacy, given that he piled up 3,459 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. He was so dangerous as a passer that he never got slapped with the “running quarterback” label applied to any black quarterback who moved faster than a statue.

The Super Bowl is obviously important, and making huge plays on the way to victory should count for something, but not everything. The list of quarterbacks with similar careers to McNabb has a pretty striking line of Hall of Fame demarcation — if you won at least one title, congratulations, you’re in. If you didn’t, sorry, you’re not. Unless you’re Jim Kelly, in which case smashing into the same wall four straight times earns you a sort of lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps if McNabb had better NFC title game luck, or if he hadn’t very literally puked in the biggest moment of his career, he’d already be in. Neither factor should keep him out any longer.

Do I want Palmer in? No. He was a compiler, and ran the show for a handful of very good teams, but some truly mediocre to awful ones. Most of all, he doesn’t pass my most basic Hall of Fame worthiness test; did I watch him and say, “This man is one of the all-time greats?”

During his playing career, McNabb didn’t pass that test either. Unlike Palmer, I’m now ready to admit the error of my ways.

Tunison: Don’t feel too bad. After all, neither of us are actually HOF voters. I’m sure Canton will ask me  once I get 30 years’ experience happily granting NFL GMs anonymity to say nasty things about their players. 

Original Article

NFL stars looking to rebound from a rough 2018

Whether it was due to injury, age or just subpar play, many NFL players are looking to rebound after disappointing 2018 seasons. Here’s a look at 25 players hoping to bounce back.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, free agent

Ansah had an injury-plagued year in 2018, likely his last in Detroit. He played only seven games, recording four sacks, and he struggled to find a market as a free agent this offseason due to a shoulder injury.

Vic Beasley, DE, Falcons

Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but that production looks more like a fluke after his last two seasons. He had only five sacks in each of the last two seasons and also had just 20 tackles last year as a situational pass rusher. Atlanta desperately needs a rebound from him this year.

Randall Cobb, WR, Cowboys

At one time Cobb was Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver, but he’s struggled in Green Bay over the last three years. After playing only nine games due to injuries last season, he signed with the Cowboys to replace Cole Beasley as the team’s slot receiver.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

Dalton’s last winning season as a starter was 2015. Last year he went 5-6 in 11 starts before a season-ending thumb injury. He also threw 11 interceptions during his time on the field. Bengals fans hope new head coach Zac Taylor can help Dalton take a step forward.

Joe Flacco, QB, Broncos

The writing was on the wall for Flacco in Baltimore after the team drafted Lamar Jackson. Despite adding several new receivers, Flacco went 4-5 as a starter with just 12 touchdown passes before giving way to Jackson due to a hip injury. Denver traded for Flacco in the offseason, but he’s in a similar situation after the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

Jacksonville’s return for selecting Fournette fourth overall in the 2017 draft hasn’t been great thus far. He had more than 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season but averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Last season was worse, as he played only eight games mostly due to injuries and had a terrible 3.3 yards per rush attempt. Fournette also had minor legal issues during the offseason.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

Freeman has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons and played only two games last year due to foot and groin injuries. He’s still young enough to rebound going into his age 27 season, and the Falcons need him to be healthy after Tevin Coleman left in free agency.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Packers

Green Bay expected big things from Graham after signing him last offseason, but he was a relative disappointment with only 636 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Graham deserves credit for gutting out a thumb injury late in the year, but the expectation that he’d replace Jordy Nelson’s production didn’t come to fruition.

A.J. Green, WR, Bengals

Green has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons, sitting out seven games last year due to a toe injury. For the second straight year, Green’s production when he did play was also down significantly with only 77 receiving yards per game after averaging at least 80 yards from 2012-2016.

Full 25

By: Seth Trachtman

 

Why the Bills — yes, the Bills! — are a stealth playoff contender

Overlooking the Bills is usually easy. As one of American professional sports’ smallest markets, Buffalo has struggled to receive national media attention in the post-Doug Flutie years. In 15 of the past 17 seasons, the Bills have won from six to nine games, cementing their off-the-grid status.

Even Buffalo’s flashy quarterback maneuver last year came in a season when four other teams made major investments in rookie passers. With Lamar Jackson piloting a Ravens division title, Baker Mayfield mounting an offensive rookie of the year pursuit in Cleveland, the Jets’ market producing frequent attention and Josh Rosen spending this off-season in several NFL news cycles, Josh Allen is by far the least discussed member of 2018’s five-QB first round.

A post-draft Super Bowl odds list slotted the Bills in the John Mellencamp Oscar likelihood realm – the 10,000-to-1 figure better than only two franchises’ May outlooks – and only three AFC teams have worse playoff odds entering OTAs. Given the many high-profile off-season moves elsewhere and the Bills’ 21st-century M.O., this makes sense.

But the Bills won six games with a woefully understaffed offense last season. Football Outsiders graded Buffalo’s 2018 offense as the third-worst DVOA attack of the past five years –- better than only the 2018 Cardinals and 2016 Rams.

Considering the free agency and draft capital the Bills allocated to repairing their offense, and Ed Oliver joining a defense that finished second in yards allowed and DVOA last season, the Bills look like a 2019 deep sleeper.

Skepticism is obviously appropriate. The Bills beat no playoff teams in 2018 and finished with a minus-105 point differential. But they went 5-5 in contests in which Allen played throughout.

Although Allen outperformed Rosen, Jackson and Sam Darnold in Total QBR (52.2, 24th – one spot behind Mayfield), the project passer completed just 53 percent of his throws and was inconsistent as a rookie. How could he not be? Equipped with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL and a bottom-tier offensive line, Allen cannot be properly evaluated yet. That will be easier to do this season.

The John Brown and Cole Beasley arrivals did not move the needle like Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams did in Oakland, but they give the Bills competence at wide receiver and bring complementary skill sets. Adding a reliable slot target and deep threat, along with mid-level tight end investments in Tyler Kroft and third-rounder Dawson Knox, will be critical to Allen’s development.

Three of Allen’s top four targets last season were either undrafted (Robert Foster and Jason Croom) or currently unemployed (Kelvin Benjamin).

John Brown is an injury risk but played 16 games last season. The Ravens’ switch to Jackson harpooned Brown’s effectiveness. On pace for more than 1,100 receiving yards after nine games, the speed merchant went from 66.8 yards per game with Joe Flacco to 16.2 with Jackson. Brown will make Allen’s deep-ball affinity more fun than it was last year.

Brown, Beasley, Foster and Zay Jones represent a more reasonable aerial crew for Allen. Buffalo’s new offensive line will help, too.

The Bills led the NFL in rushing by a substantial margin in 2016; their offensive line deteriorated into one of the league’s worst by the end of last season. After deploying Pro Football Focus’ No. 26-rated line, the Bills signed six offensive linemen and drafted Cody Ford in Round 2. Ford compiled quality marks as a run- and pass-blocking right tackle at Oklahoma last season and should be a Week 1 starter at right tackle or right guard. Placing him next to new center Mitch Morse would allow dependable ex-Washington swing tackle Ty Nsekhe into the lineup over a trending-down Spencer Long.

By: Sam Robinson

Full Article

Treated unfairly with Cardinals, Rosen must quickly deliver for Dolphins

The world of pro football hasn’t been exceedingly kind to Josh Rosen in the year and change he has spent in its confines. A new beginning has presented itself in Miami, yet for a quarterback, such constant upheaval early in a career often has dire results.

Rosen may not have been the only quarterback in the 2018 class to be unfairly maligned coming into the draft — Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson can attest to that. The knocks on Rosen, however, were the sort of things that show that the league’s media apparatus saw him as unlikable from the get-go.

Rosen was said to be too much of an independent thinker who didn’t possess the single-minded obsession with the game that football culture has come to not only revere but demand of its quarterbacks. It didn’t help that his former college coach, Jim Mora, made comments almost tailor-made to alienate Rosen from the NFL fandom, which tends to skew older and more culturally conservative than other major sports leagues.

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why,” Mora said last spring. “Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

Those weren’t meant to be entirely damning words. Yet in the mind of football people, who often view a detail-obsessed micro-manager like Peyton Manning as the be-all, end-all of quarterbacking, they certainly seemed like it. Obviously, a pro team doesn’t — and shouldn’t — want its most important player to be a complete scatterbrain who can’t focus, but it’s probably not great for anyone to insist that a player not care about anything other than his sport and have no outside interests.

If those criticisms set some fans on edge, they didn’t hurt Rosen’s draft position much. He was taken 10th overall by Arizona, the fourth of five QBs selected in the first round last year. Rosen ended up having a lousy rookie season, posting atrocious figures in critical categories such as completion percentage (55.2), yards per attempt (5.8), and passer rating (66.7), yet one would have a hard time arguing he wasn’t set up for failure. His first offensive coordinator in the pros, Mike McCoy, was fired at mid-season. Arizona’s offensive line was rated the worst pass-blocking unit in the league by Pro Football Focus. His best and most productive weapon was a 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, who put up career-worst yardage numbers (734) as retirement creeps closer.

Even if Rosen had stayed in Arizona, he was going to have to learn a new offensive system and deal with new coaches in 2019. So in that sense, going to a new team isn’t that much of a departure. How it happened, though, was a disaster that is likely to unfairly dog Rosen. Just as the Giants recently made assurances they wouldn’t trade Odell Beckham before doing exactly that, Arizona earlier this year brushed off talk of dealing Rosen, which the Cardinals ended up doing 2 1/2 months later.

Much was made of the fact that Rosen unfollowed the Cardinals on various social media platforms after the team made quarterback Kyler Murray the first overall pick in this year’s draft. In terms of pettiness, it’s relatively minor and passive-aggressive, and you could easily argue deserved on the part of Arizona. Yet it was enough in the content-starved expanse of the NFL off-season to become a controversy. NFL Network’s Steve Smith, no stranger to public outbursts in his playing days, lambasted Rosen during live draft coverage about what the former receiver saw as immaturity and a lack of desire to compete.

Full Article

By: Michael Tunison

 

NFL stars who could be traded during the 2019 draft

The NFL Draft is when the league meets its newest young stars. As for those already established, some of them may find new homes too.

Here are 12 veterans who could be traded during the 2019 NFL Draft:

Derek Carr

Most of the signs point to the Raiders keeping their young quarterback. For one, the team staged Antonio Brown meeting the signal-caller at Carr’s house. That would be all for not if Oakland now deals Carr. Every other move this offseason — signing Tyrell Williams and Trent Brown — has also been made under the assumption the Raiders already have their quarterback in place. But Raiders general manager Mike Mayock is sending mixed signals. He said, “we love Derek (Carr)” and yet has also repeated that the Raiders will “do all of our due diligence” at quarterback like every other position. It sounds like if the quarterback Mayock and Jon Gruden really like in the draft is available to them, Carr could be gone.

Leonard Fournette

Trade rumors were circling the third-year running back in January after executive vice president Tom Coughlin criticized Fournette for his actions on the team’s sideline during the season finale. The two sides appeared to make up, but then on April 11 police arrested Fournette for speeding and “knowingly driving with a suspended license.” Coach Doug Marrone told the media on April 16 that Fournette will not face team discipline for the arrest. Apparently, he’s ready to let the incident blow over, but will the front office feel the same way if a team offers the Jaguars an interesting deal for Fournette at the draft?

Tyreek Hill

Similar to Fournette, Hill is facing off-the-field problems this offseason that could jeopardize his tenure with his current team. Hill’s situation, though, is a lot more dire. Police are currently investigating Hill’s connection with two incidents of suspected child abuse. This is an extremely complicated situation because even if Hill isn’t charged with a crime, he could face a suspension.  The Chiefs didn’t waste any time dumping Kareem Hunt last fall, and it’s worth wondering if they might garner a trade for the speedster at the draft. The Athletic’s Jay Glazer reported that Hill was at the center of trade talks during the NFL combine, but if a trade is done now, Kansas City would be getting pennies on the dollar for Hill, who, in addition to possibly facing a suspension, wants a new contract.

Frank Clark

The Seahawks placed the franchise tag on Clark this offseason, but despite the possibility of making some $17 million in 2019, Clark has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a long-term agreement. No team wants a Le’Veon Bell situation, and the Seahawks would like to avoid the Earl Thomas distraction they had last year too. This could lead to Clark getting traded at the draft, although as of April 14 Jay Glazer reported trade talks for Clark had “died down.”

Jack Doyle

The Colts tight end posted career bests in 2017, recording 80 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns. But then with the arrival of Eric Ebron in 2018, Doyle saw his targets decrease from 7.2 per game to 5.5 each contest. Doyle also missed 10 games because of injury, which led to him catching only 26 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. If the Colts are comfortable with Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox at tight end, they could shop Doyle at the draft.

Josh Rosen

Although technically not a star yet, Rosen qualifies for our list because he was the No. 10 overall pick a year ago. Rosen threw for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while averaging 5.8 yards per attempt as a rookie in 2018. As of right now, there’s no telling whether Rosen is truly going to develop into a star or not because he had little help with the Cardinals last year. It might not matter, though, as Arizona is rumored to be selecting quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall. If that happens, Rosen will be one of the hottest topics during the first round of the draft.

Duke Johnson

The Browns seemed to like the idea of three strong backs on the depth chart after they signed Kareem Hunt, but Johnson apparently wants no part of it. On April 8 Johnson requested to be traded, according to cleveland.com. Johnson has also refused to show up to the beginning of Cleveland’s offseason program. The best time for the Browns to address this issue is during the draft with a trade.

A.J. Green

Trading Green would almost guarantee the Bengals will finish in the AFC North cellar, but with Cincinnati seemingly in rebuilding mode, dealing the seven-time Pro Bowler is not the worst idea. Green turns 31 this summer and hasn’t been able to finish two of the last three years because of injuries. In 2018 he recorded 46 catches for 694 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.  Because of the injuries, his value is already on the downswing. It might be wise to embrace a full rebuild and see what value Green has on the trade market.

Full List

By: Dave Holcomb

Johnny Manziel set to get another shot at the NFL?

Johnny Manziel hasn’t been on an NFL roster the past three seasons, but he could be getting a second chance to play in the league heading into the 2019 campaign.

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report wrote in his weekly 10-point stance column that “the sense I get from people in the NFL is that Manziel may well get another chance to play on football’s main stage.”

Because the NFL is so talent poor at the quarterback position, Freeman added, “if he can show even a modicum of skill, someone will have him in for a tryout or on a training camp roster.”

Most recently, Manziel appeared in two games for the AAF’s Memphis Express. He had an electric first game with the club before suffering a concussion in his second game. Then, of course, the league shut down to the surprise of many.

Prior to his quick stint in the AAF, Manziel spent a season in Canada playing for the Montreal Alouettes. He did little to impress, passing for 1,290 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Once a first-round pick by Cleveland, Manziel’s off-field issues derailed his career in short order. Since that time, he seemingly has cleaned up his life and remains committed to making his way back into the NFL.

But if that doesn’t pan out, he has an alternate set of plans to remain connected to the sport he loves.

Original Article

By: Jesse Reed