The Baltimore Ravens went into Seattle and took out a red-hot Seahawks team in a statement win on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers remained the NFC’s only undefeated team with a shutout win over the Redskins in D.C.
On the other side of the ledger, the Atlanta Falcons’ season-long struggles continued while the Houston Texans put up a bummer of a performance against the Indianapolis Colts.
These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 7 NFL action.
Ravens make a major statement
Fresh off ho-hum wins over the Steelers and Bengals, Baltimore headed to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. This was already being billed as a statement game for the Ravens. They did not disappoint.
The recently-acquired Marcus Peters made a personal statement early on with a pick-six of Russell Wilson . Lamar Jackson continued to dazzle, both through the air and on the ground in putting up 259 total yards. Baltimore then put the game away with a fumble return for a touchdown to ice things. Now at 5-2 following a 30-16 win over Seattle, these Ravens look like real threats in the AFC.
Aaron Rodgers excelling in new offense
It took some time for the former NFL MVP to get into rhythm in first-year head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Rodgers had tallied just eight touchdowns in six games heading into Week 7. That changed big-time against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Rodgers completed 25-of-31 passes for 429 yards with six total touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 42-24 win. Statistically speaking, it was the best performance of his Hall of Fame-worthy career. It also led to Rodgers making history as he navigated his team to a 6-1 record heading into the midway point of the season. Things are going swimmingly for Mr. Rodgers and his Pack right now.
Kirk Cousins and Co. keep pace
Fresh off the best two-game span of his Vikings career, Cousins busted out more of his new tricks against the division rival Lions in Detroit on Sunday. He led Minnesota to at least 38 points for the second consecutive game, throwing four touchdown pases and zero picks while tossing the ball around the field to the tune of 337 yards.
More than anything, Cousins’ ability to connect with Stefon Diggs loomed large in a 42-30 win. Diggs caught 7-of-8 targets for 142 yards. For his part, Cousins is completing 76% of his passes for nearly 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the past three games. He also now has Minnesota at 5-2 after the Vikings struggled to open the season.
Jaguars ride stout defense to much-needed win
If the Jaguars were to have any say in the AFC South this season, they had to dispose of the winless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. That’s exactly what we saw from Jacksonville in a 27-17 win over the Bengals.
That included a pick-six of Andy Dalton with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. All said, Jacksonville’s defense forced four turnovers in a brilliant all-around performance. This defense also held the Bengals to -2 rushing yards in an all-time great first-half performance. Now 3-4 on the season, Jacksonville is not yet done.
Texans blow big opportunity
Fresh off an upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Bill O’Brien and the Texans had to be feeling good about themselves heading into Sunday’s AFC South outing against the Indianapolis Colts. But it did not go according to plan.
MVP candidate Deshaun Watson put up his worst performance of the season, throwing two key interceptions. Meanwhile, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett picked apart Houston’s defense to the tune of 326 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-23 win. The Texans had an opportunity to move two games ahead of Indy in the win column. Instead, Houston now finds itself in second place heading into Week 8.
Chargers find a new way to lose
Los Angeles entered Sunday’s action at 2-4 on the season and in must-win mode against another pedestrian team in the Tennessee Titans. After making the game close late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers found yet another way to lose.
Down just 23-20 after overcoming a double-digit deficit, it looked like the Chargers were on the brink of a game-winning touchdown. They had second-and-goal from inside the one with mere seconds left. That’s when former holdout running back Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball, leading to yet another horrible loss for the Chargers. More so than Gordon’s fumble, the decision by head coach Anthony Lynn to go with him instead of Austin Ekeler will stand out. Ekeler had put up 125 total yards compared to Gordon’s 32 before that final snap. Ouch!
49ers defense is just stupid good
The weather played a huge role for the NFC’s sole remaining undefeated team on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo and San Francisco’s offense managed just nine points and 282 total yards in Landover, Maryland against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. However, that’s not the story here. Instead, it’s all about what has now become an historically good defense.
San Francisco held Case Keenum to 50 net passing yards. It has now given up 98 net passing yards over the past two games. Heck, the 49ers have yielded 10 total points over their past three games. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are absolutely dominant up front. Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner might be the best linebacker tandem in the league. Meanwhile, the Richard Sherman-led secondary is freakishly good. Championship-caliber stuff.
Bills break out of early funk
Buffalo found itself as a resounding 15.5-point home favorite against the winless Miami Dolphins on Sunday. It was certainly a trap game for a Bills squad that was looking to go 5-1 for the first time since 2008. At least initially, it looked like Buffalo was going to be a victim of one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season.
Miami held a 14-9 lead heading into the second half. That’s when the defense stepped up. Tre’Davious White intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick at the goal line with Miami driving for a potential two-score lead. Buffalo would ultimately score a touchdown on the ensuing possession. It also scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter after White forced a fumble to put the game away. It’s this ball-hawking and dominant defense that has Buffalo as a legit contender heading into the midway point of the season.
Yet another win for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals
When Arizona started the season out 0-3-1, it looked like much of the same for the long-downtrodden organization. Murray was in over his head as a rookie starting quarterback. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense had yet to click. That’s now changed altogether. Arizona entered Sunday’s matchup against the New York Giants having won two consecutive games and then took care of business against the Giants in Jersey.
This game did not feature the eye-opening numbers we’ve seen from Murray recently. He completed just 14 passes for 104 yards. However, it was the performance by Chase Edmunds (126 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and Arizona’s defense that made the difference in a 27-21 win. Now at 3-3-1 on the season, Arizona finds itself as a budding playoff contender. Crazy stuff.
Wheels completely off in Atlanta
Whether it was Devonta Freeman’s frustration or an inability to even slow down what had been a struggling Rams offense, Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons were an absolute mess. When the clock struck zero in Atlanta, the Falcons were on the losing end of a 37-10 blowout loss.
The much-maligned Falcons defense allowed Jared Goff to throw for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Falcons, it didn’t get too much better on the other side of the ball. Former MVP Matt Ryan exited in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and was seen in a walking boot. With the Falcons now at 1-6 on the season, questions will continue to come up regarding Quinn’s status. It’s really bad in Hotlanta right now.
Bears need a quarterback
We’re not sure if it’s possible for the Bears to add a starter-caliber signal caller ahead of the Oct. 29 trade deadline. What we do know is that Mitchell Trubisky is not the answer under center in the Windy City. The third-year quarterback entered Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints having thrown three touchdowns in four games. He was downright dreadful throughout the afternoon, leading to Bears fans booing the former top-three pick.
Trubisky tallied 251 yards on a ridiculous 54 passing attempts, putting up most of his numbers in garbage time when the Bears found themselves down 36-10. Now at 3-3 on the season, one has to wonder if the Bears will look to make a move. The likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota and Nick Mullens might be available.
Cowboys get off the schneid
Dallas entered Week 7 having lost each of its past three games. Head coach Jason Garrett was clearly on the hot seat . The time was now to come up with a win and salvage their season. That’s exactly what the Cowboys did at home against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night.
The Cowboys’ defense forced four turnovers of Carson Wentz and Philadelphia’s offense. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott completed 21-of-27 passes for 239 yards in a near-flawless performance. The end result was a dominating 37-10 win over Philadelphia and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Separation made in the NFC
By virtue of their win Sunday night, the Cowboys have come out on top in all three of their divisional games to date. They are now one game ahead of Philadelphia with the Giants and Redskins riding up the rear. The New Orleans Saints’ blowout road win over the Chicago Bears changes the dynamics for both teams. New Orleans is now a full game ahead of Carolina in the NFC South. Chicago? Well it falls three games behind Green Bay in the win column.
Out west, the San Francisco 49ers’ shutout win coupled with Seattle’s loss has Kyle Shanahan’s squad two games ahead of the Seahawks in the loss column. Despite their win over Atlanta, the defending NFC champion Rams are three games behind San Francisco in the loss column. Yeah, these NFC teams have created separation heading into the midway point of the season.
The Colts stunned the Chiefs in Kansas City. Green Bay built a big early lead on the road and held off the Cowboys. Wow, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey (237 scrimmage yards) is good. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 5 whip-around.
1 of 16
INDIANAPOLIS 19, KANSAS CITY 13
COLTS: (3-2): Indianapolis’ defense turned in a heroic performance against PATRICK MAHOMES and the Chiefs. The D-line played the biggest part. Indy was without Malik Hooker, Darius Leonard and Clayton Geathers, but Justin Houston, Grover Stewart and the rest of Indy’s front-seven owned the line of scrimmage. The Colts harassed Mahomes and, in particular, suffocated Kansas City’s running game. It was an impressive and surprising effort; Indianapolis allowed three of its first four opponents to rush for at least 100 yards, and Oakland dominated them on the ground in Week 4. The Colts now get a much-needed bye week to get healthy, before they host Houston in a game that could shape the AFC South race. If the Colts win that one, they could easily be 7-2 by the time a mid-November divisional crucible begins. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Texans (Sun., Oct. 20)
— Chris Mueller
CHIEFS: (4-1): The first of many national showcases for this Chiefs team illuminated an uncomfortable reality. They may not be sufficiently improved defensively to capitalize on Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance. When the reigning MVP is compromised or is missing enough key players, the Chiefs’ foundation becomes shaky. The Chiefs entered Sunday night’s game 31st in run defense, and the Colts turned the clock back to expose it. Kansas City used considerable capital on defensive augmentations this offseason but had no answer for Indianapolis’ rushing onslaught. The Chiefs, who did lose key defensive tackle Chris Jones, gave up 180 rushing yards – the third straight game in which they have allowed at least 180. Considering the Chiefs are also below average on pass defense and rush offense, they are again asking Mahomes to walk a tightrope. For a team carrying the NFL’s best contract, its defense still being one of the league’s worst is troubling.GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
2 of 16
GREEN BAY 34, DALLAS 24
PACKERS (4-1): It’s about time the coaching staff trusted AARON JONES enough to feed him touches. It took Jamaal Williams (concussion) going down, but hey, maybe everyone can now see he is far and away the best running back option. After the Packers took a big early lead, Jones got a little breather here and there in the second half, but still finished with 182 total yards against an excellent defense. He has natural running skills and is developing as a pass-catcher. This game also showcased Jones’ improvement as a route runner, and he’s getting better in pass protection. Without Devante Adams (turf toe), Aaron Rodgers spread the ball around, with nine Packers catching at least one pass. It’s telling that Jones not only led the Packers in rushing but also was Green Bay’s leading receiver (seven catches for 75 yards) by a significant margin. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Lions
— Matt Williamson
COWBOYS (3-2): With Dak Prescott’s contract looming, it’s impossible for his performance not to be the focus. Although he made this game interesting down the stretch, he finished with three interceptions, the 10th multi-interception game of his career, now early in his fourth season. Prescott threw for 463 yards, 226 to Amari Cooper. But much of that yardage came in the second half, when the Packers’ defense seemed to let up. Green Bay’s defense was especially impressive in blanking the Cowboys in the first half. Cooper, the former Raiders receiver, has been a wise investment for Dallas, but whether he’s enough to help turn Dak into a top-line starter remains to be seen. Two weeks in a row against considerable competition, Dallas was found lacking. Are the Cowboys willing to settle for “just OK”? GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Jets
— Mike Tunison
3 of 16
CAROLINA 34, JACKSONVILLE 27
JAGUARS (2-3): Jacksonville’s run defense had been trending in the right direction the past two weeks, holding the Titans and Broncos to a combined 159 yards in two wins. But the Jags’ run D was a no-show against Carolina. CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY gouged Jacksonville, especially on an 84-yard gallop that saw more than half the defense over-commit to a fake. Even McCaffrey’s backup, Reggie Bonnafon, hit for a 59-yard TD. Jacksonville’s aggressiveness was its problem on that play, too. Multiple members of the front-seven over-pursued because of an end-around fake; the Jaguars’ secondary had no chance to catch him because all the players took a bad angle. Gardner Minshew (374 yards passing) played well enough, but if the Jaguars are going to win the AFC South, they must get more from the defense. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
PANTHERS (3-2): Christian McCaffrey continues to add reasons why he’s an elite back and in the discussion for the best in the game. Sunday’s performance was historic in many ways. The third of his three touchdowns was an 84-yard run, the longest in franchise history. (According to NextGen Stats, he reached a max speed of 21.95 mph on the TD run, his fastest touch since 2018.) McCaffrey’s performance was one of only 18 since 2000 by a running back that resulted in at least 237 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. That means you’re talking about a roughly once-a-year type of outing, usually done by only the best of the best. The only downside was a sequence in the red zone in the fourth quarter when the Panthers tried to get him a passing touchdown (he had one in his career before Sunday) on third down and it didn’t work out. Then McCaffrey was stuffed on a fourth-down attempt. Carolina held on, but it slightly marred an otherwise excellent game. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Bucs (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
4 of 16
BALTIMORE 26, PITTSBURGH 23 (OT)
RAVENS (3-2): In an overtime game, the Ravens had the ball 13 minutes, 26 seconds longer and ran the ball 40 times. Despite being the much fresher unit, Baltimore’s defense was far from impressive. This is more than just an isolated incident for the once-exceptional unit, as it has been abused four weeks in a row. Pittsburgh’s offensive box score isn’t telling (269 yards), because the unit still seeks an identity. It lost MASON RUDOLPH (concussion) to a vicious hit by Earl Thomas, which put third-stringer Devlin Hodges at the offense’s controls. Yet the Steelers still averaged 5.3 yards per play, a yard and a half more than Baltimore. The run defense is a problem without question, but the area of most concern is Baltimore’s pass rush. This is a blitz-heavy scheme, but the Ravens’ secondary is uncharacteristically poor, and the lack of pure pass-rushers hurts. Terrell Suggs, where are you? GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: vs., Bengals (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
STEELERS (1-4): Going back to 2017, Pittsburgh has rushed the passer as well as or better than almost every defense. The Steelers had 52 sacks last season, 56 in 2017. It’s what Pittsburgh (19 sacks) does best this season, too. The Steelers’ rush (five sacks) on Lamar Jackson was superb. But what stood out in Week 5 was their pass-rushing plan. Not only did the Steelers push the pocket really well, but for the most part, they kept Jackson bottled up by staying in their rush lanes. We didn’t see a lot of games or stunting. Jackson (14 carries for 70 yards) got loose here and there. The execution of a pass-rush plan, an underrated important aspect of playing great defense, was impressive. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
5 of 16
NEW ENGLAND 33, WASHINGTON 7
PATRIOTS (5-0): Jamie Collins went from athletic Patriots linebacker to a freelancing player deemed unnecessary during the team’s Super Bowl LII run; the Pats traded him to the Browns in 2016. Cleveland soon gave the outside linebacker a position-record $12.5 million-per-year contract that he did not live up to. Now back in New England on an incentive-laden deal and counting only $3 million against the cap, he has become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Against Washington, Collins continued his resurgence by recovering a second-quarter fumble and forcing another on an impressive inside rush that resulted in a fourth-quarter sack of Colt McCoy. A player the Browns cut has been one of the NFL’s best this season, finishing Week 5 with 4.5 sacks (an NFL-high for off-ball ‘backers) and a career-high three interceptions. For a Patriots team coming off perhaps the Super Bowl’s greatest defensive showing, Collins looks like a frightening luxury. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Giants (Thurs.)
— Sam Robinson
REDSKINS (0-5): In a game the Patriots were bound to win in a laugher, especially amid the swirling rumors of JAY GRUDEN’S impending dismissal, the Washington defense put on a better performance than anyone had a right to expect, even if the final score doesn’t indicate as much. Washington limited Tom Brady to completing three of his first seven attempts en route to taking an early lead, the Pats’ first deficit of the season. A fourth-down stop and a red-zone interception by Montae Nicholson, after the Washington offense had just turned the ball over on its own side of the field, kept the game competitive longer than perhaps it should have been. Think Washington fans are disenchanted? Asked by the Washington Post what he thought about the predominately New England crowd at FedEx Field, Brady said, “I thought it was pretty amazing. That felt like a home game.” Gruden, as expected, was canned early Monday morning. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
BUFFALO 14, TENNESSEE 7
BILLS (4-1): With Miami on tap after a Week 6 bye, Buffalo is firmly in contention. The Bills again received spotty offense but have become a matchup nightmare for opposing aerial attacks. After stifling Tom Brady in one of the worst games of his career, Buffalo smothered Marcus Mariota. The Bills’ front seven did not sack Brady but dropped Mariota five times, four by inside rushers. Defensive tackle JORDAN PHILLIPS had a three-sack first half. Buffalo recently lost promising D-tackle Harrison Phillips (torn ACL) for the season. On Sunday, defensive end Trent Murphy (head) and linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring) left with injuries in the second half. Yet Buffalo still held the Titans to 4-for-14 on third downs. The Bills are headed in the right direction in Sean McDermott’s third season. This is a better team than their fluky 2017 playoff squad. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Dolphins (Sun., Oct. 20)
— Sam Robinson
TITANS (2-3): It was reasonable to assume that a matchup of two of the league’s top-five scoring defenses would produce a low-scoring game. But the Titans must be kicking themselves because of their kicker. Cairo Santos missed all four of his field goals — 50- and 53-yarders, a 36-yarder, and a 33-yarder that was blocked — and those misses were the difference. Santos came into the game 41-for-44 from 30-39 yards and 8-for-15 from 50-plus yards for his career. Titans coach Mike Vrabel says he still has confidence in him. Santos’ difficulties obscured the fact that Marcus Mariota and the offense were sloppy, had touchdowns nullified by penalties and several drives stifled by sacks. The Titans were penalized eight times for 60 yards and allowed five sacks, despite left tackle Taylor Lewan’s return from a four-game PED suspension. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
7 of 16
DENVER 20, LA CHARGERS 13
BRONCOS (1-4): Denver could not curtail the Jaguars’ momentum in Week 4 but managed to stop the Chargers from stealing the win. Los Angeles, however, would have operated differently in the second half had cornerback Kareem Jackson, a former Texan, not provided Denver’s defensive play of the year. Jackson derailed the Bolts’ fourth-and-goal play by forcing an Austin Ekeler fumble near the pylon in the second quarter. This ensured the Broncos carried a 17-0 lead into halftime. Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 cornerback entering Sunday, Jackson made a Broncos-high 10 tackles and helped a Bradley Chubb-less defense hold PHILIP RIVERS to 4.4 yards per attempt. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
CHARGERS (2-3): Despite having Mike Williams and Melvin Gordon back in the lineup, the Bolts could not produce enough against a Broncos team down Bradley Chubb, starting linebacker Josey Jewell and would-be starting cornerback Bryce Callahan. Los Angeles totaled 246 yards – 120 fewer than any output of their previous 2019 outings – and were outrushed 191-35. A week after the Jaguars erased a 14-point Broncos lead largely with Leonard Fournette’s 225-yard day, the Chargers were not patient enough with the run. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions. Keenan Allen, the NFL’s receiving leader after Week 4, caught four passes for 18 yards. This profiled as a non-threatening spot for the injury-plagued team, but the Chargers are plagued by inconsistency. LA, which played at home before a big Denver contingent, is in trouble amid a crowded AFC middle tier. GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
8 of 16
ARIZONA 26, CINCINNATI 23
CARDINALS: (1-3-1): KYLER MURRAY and Kliff Kingsbury each got their first win in the NFL, and it isn’t hard to pinpoint why. Arizona’s offensive line kept Murray upright almost the entire game. The Cardinals allowed only one sack despite coming in having surrendered 20, most in the league through four games. Murray did his part, too, managing to get rid of the football under pressure. The lack of negative plays was a major factor in helping the Cardinals establish rhythm and consistency. He was also more decisive as a playmaker, and he led a 266-yard team rushing effort with 93 on his own. Arizona piled up 514 yards, and while Cincinnati is one of the league’s worst defenses, it was still a big step forward for Murray and Kingsbury. Notable: Arizona prevented a score by a tight end for the first time this season. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
BENGALS (0-5): It’s clear the Cardinals are the better of these two poor teams. Here’s the deal with Cincinnati: Its offense has only two players! Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd; that’s it. Andy Dalton is a professional quarterback, and tight end Tyler Eifert can occasionally make plays, but this team has a putrid offensive line, and every defense the Bengals face (at least until injured A.J.Green returns) is going to make life extremely difficult on Mixon and Boyd. These two touched the ball 30 times, accounting for 232 of Cincinnati’s 370 yards. The offense is far too dependent on them. Hey, I thought head coach Zac Taylor’s forte was offense. GAME GRADE: D+ | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
9 of 16
HOUSTON 53, ATLANTA 32
FALCONS (1-4): Atlanta’s secondary will be having nightmares about Will Fuller for weeks to come. Part of the Texans receiver’s monster day had to do with several miscommunications in coverage by the Falcons, including both of his first-half touchdowns. Fuller didn’t just reap the benefit of broken plays, he also just straight-up smoked an overmatched Atlanta secondary when defenders had the right idea about where they needed to be. Fuller had 14 catches on 16 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a day that looks almost effortlessly easy; Atlanta’s listless coverage helped make it that way. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
TEXANS (3-2): If this is what life is like for DESHAUN WATSON with a clean pocket, his offensive line should be the most motivated group on the planet. After an opening three and out, the Texans piled up six touchdowns and two field goals, with only the end of the first half stopping another drive. Watson finished with five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, consistently shredding the Falcons’ defense with deep shots downfield. This came one week after the Texans didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards in a loss to Carolina. Watson’s performance and the line’s protection were by far the most encouraging aspects of the game for Houston, but Will Fuller’s career day was close behind. If he can function as a truly dangerous second option behind DeAndre Hopkins, Houston will be the team to beat in the AFC South. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
— Chris Mueller
10 of 16
NEW ORLEANS 31, TAMPA BAY 24
BUCS (2-3): Coming off a 55-point outing in a win over the Rams, the Buccaneers must have figured they wouldn’t need quite that many offensive fireworks to top a Brees-less Saints team, although obviously one would like to keep the offense humming regardless. It can be hard to be effective to that degree when your top receiver, Mike Evans, finishes the game with no catches on three targets. Perhaps that’s a credit to Marshon Lattimore, but wideouts considered among the game’s best don’t usually pull disappearing acts such as that. GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
SAINTS (4-1): The idea during Drew Brees’ absence is that the Saints were hoping for just good enough quarterback play to tread water and eke out a few wins. That has been the case for the most part. New Orleans got good QB play and then some against the Buccaneers, as Teddy Bridgewater threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns. One of the knocks against Bridgewater is that he tends to play the short game and not get a lot of air under the ball. Against the Bucs, he had an impressive strike for 33 yards to Ted Ginn for a score and another to Josh Hill on a 26-yard play. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
11 of 16
MINNESOTA 28, NY GIANTS 10
VIKINGS (3-2): The Vikings have one of the league’s best running games, making play-action rollouts a highly effective tactic by KIRK COUSINS. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 184 rushing yards on 28 attempts against New York. Cousins isn’t a great athlete, but he does move well and certainly can throw effectively on the run. Designed quarterback movement off play action played to Cousins’ strengths and put the Giants’ suspect linebackers in compromised positions. This game plan had assistant coach Gary Kubiak written all over it — keep an eye on this the rest of the season. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
— Matt Williamson
GIANTS (2-3): There are plenty of takes to be had about Daniel Jones coming back to earth following his excellent first outing two weeks ago in Tampa. Sunday’s loss makes it clear there are plenty of issues with the roster even if the Giants get a serviceable performance from their starting quarterback. Before Week 5, Kirk Cousins hadn’t thrown for more than 233 yards in a game. He had that before the end of the first half against the Giants. New York’s secondary was ripe for the picking all game, and it shows in the nearly flawless performances that Cousins (306 yards passing) and Adam Thielen (seven catches and 130 yards) put up in a one-sided game. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Patriots (Thur.)
— Mike Tunison
12 of 16
OAKLAND 24, CHICAGO 21 (LONDON)
BEARS (3-2): Allen Robinson, who had seven catches on eight targets for 97 yards and two touchdowns, is easily Chicago’s best offensive player. That showed in a big way in Week 5. For the better part of this game, the Bears surprisingly lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. Chicago was also hampered by penalties, poor blocking, a lackluster running game and less-than-stellar defense. But Robinson was spectacular. Rarely is he mentioned as an upper-echelon wide receiver, but he excels at all levels of the field, is good after the catch and often dominant at the catch point. He has bailed out Chicago QBs all season. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Saints (Sun, Oct. 20)
— Matt Williamson
RAIDERS (3-2): With the Raiders producing one winning season since 2003, the bulk of their drives in this era have not been particularly consequential. A drive in London may go down as a season-changing march. Jon Gruden pulling the trigger on a fake punt on a fourth-and-1 from his own 27-yard line ignited a Raiders team on the verge of blowing a 17-point lead. The direct snap to safety Erik Harris doubled as a turning point, with the Raiders then piecing together a 13-play, 97-yard, go-ahead drive against the Bears’ top-tier defense. DEREK CARR, No. 22 in QBR through four games, led the drive without hitting Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller. Oakland rookie tight end Foster Moreau contributed 41 yards on the possession, including a diving grab to set up Josh Jacobs’ game-winner. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: Week 6 bye, at Packers (Sun., Oct. 20)
— Sam Robinson
13 of 16
PHILADELPHIA 31, NY JETS 6
JETS (0-4): Their offensive line struggles in recent years having bled into 2019, the Jets made changes before Week 5. Despite the two new starters – left guard Alex Lewis and right tackle Chuma Edoga – the Jets gave up 10 sacks to the Eagles. For a team that has seen two quarterbacks go down, this made a third consecutive Jets game nearly unwatchable. One of those sacks resulted in a touchdown, with Eagles in-season cornerback acquisition Orlando Scandrick ripping the ball from Luke Falk and sprinting for a touchdown. The Jets last allowed 10-plus sacks in a 2012 game against the Chargers, when another backup quarterback – Greg McElroy – was concussed. Falk made it through this game but again finished with a dreadful stat line – 15-for-26, 120 yards, two interceptions. The Jets cannot be properly evaluated until Sam Darnold returns, but their stretch without him exposed plenty of flaws that stand to hinder the starter’s development when he comes back. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)
— Sam Robinson
EAGLES (3-2): Philly was more or less on autopilot in what was always an expected win. The offense (446 yards) plowed through New York with a run-heavy opening drive to take a touchdown lead. From there, the Eagles’ defense forced the turnovers, including a 52-yard pick-six by linebacker NATE GERRY on the ensuing Jets possession, that have been missing in their early season struggles. Still, a big part of being a playoff team is taking care of business when you have the opportunity, so that’s an encouraging sign for an Eagles team that has been erratic and faces a difficult six-week stretch ahead (at Vikings, at Cowboys, at Bills, vs. Bears, vs. Patriots, vs. Seahawks). GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)
— Mike Tunison
14 of 16
MONDAY: CLEVELAND AT SAN FRANCISCO
BROWNS (2-2): Cleveland got a huge win in Week 4 at Baltimore, but the Ravens no longer have a strong pass-rushing defense. The Browns’ troubled offensive line is going to face a far stiffer challenge on the road against the Niners, who are coming off a bye. It isn’t getting the national credit, but San Francisco’s defensive front is among the best in football. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa has just one sack, but he is stout. Keeping BAKER MAYFIELD clean should prove to be the most challenging aspect of this game for the Browns. The second-year QB is much more effective when he gets rid of the ball quickly. | NEXT: vs. Seattle (Sun., Oct. 13)
— Matt Williamson
49ERS (3-0): San Francisco comes off an early bye week with a chance to start asserting itself as the team to beat in the NFC West. There will be no worries about looking past the Browns, even with a road showdown with the Rams looming in Week 6. The Niners’ defensive front has been a major strength so far this season, with the team ranking fifth in the league against the run and fourth in yards per carry allowed. It will face their toughest test of the season in the form of Nick Chubb and the Browns, who found their stride against Baltimore in Week 4. Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have been productive in terms of generating tackles for loss, and have consistently forced opponents to play from behind the sticks. NEXT: at Los Angeles Rams (Sun., Oct. 13)
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Passing yards per attempt adjusted for sack yardage.
L.A. Rams (3-1) at Seattle (3-1), 8:20 p.m. ET
Inside Rams numbers: Wade Phillips’ secondary started the season red-hot, allowing the league’s third-lowest passer rating through three weeks (66.2). All that success went out the window in Week 4, as Jameis Winston shredded the Rams for 385 yards and four touchdowns, dropping Los Angeles to seventh in opponent passer rating (81). A return to form will be essential against Russell Wilson, who ranks second in passer rating (118.7), behind only Patrick Mahomes.
Inside Rams roster: Todd Gurley’s situation shows the importance of running backs signing extensions when first eligible (after Year 3). He has not looked like the near-MVP-level version of 2017 and most of ‘18, making his $45 million in guarantees more important. The 24-year-old back is on pace for fewer rushing yards than his disappointing 2016 season (885 yards) and, with 62 receiving yards, is well off his recent aerial pace as well. This murky knee injury will come up in future front office debates regarding running back payments; the Rams are tethered to Gurley through at least 2021.
Inside Seahawks numbers: Seattle’s pass rush picked up only one sack in Weeks 2-3, but it came back to life in Week 4 with four sacks against Arizona’s Kyler Murray. As Seattle aims to slow a Rams offense ranked sixth in scoring (29.3 ppg), the generation of that level of pressure is key. Jared Goff has stayed clean, taking a career-low sack rate of just 4.4 percent — the ninth-best mark in the league.
Inside Seahawks roster: The insider trading charge Mychal Kendricks pleaded guilty to in 2018 has not led to a punishment yet, with the sentencing date pushed back multiple times. Not only is Kendricks a Seahawks starter, the team is using him as a near-full-time player. The Seahawks have played Kendricks 199 snaps -– not far behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright’s workloads -– and have deviated from the NFL norm by keeping their base set on the field in some nickel situations. The ex-Eagle has four tackles for loss and rates as a top-30 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.
Jacksonville (2-2) at Carolina (2-2), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Jaguars numbers: The legend of Gardner Minshew continues to grow. The Washington State product is the first rookie quarterback since 1988 to post a passer rating of 95.0 or better in each of his first three starts. His next test will be perhaps his greatest yet; the Panthers are fifth in pass defense EPA and allow the fewest passing yards per game (156.8).
Inside Jaguars roster: Minshew mania moved D.J. Chark to the top of Jacksonville’s aerial pecking order, but the team’s highest-paid wideout, Marqise Lee, has hovered well off the grid. He signed an $8.5 million-per-year deal in March 2018. After Lee missed last season with a knee injury, the Jags’ 2016 receiving leader has not cleared the 30 percent snap threshold in his three 2019 games. Lee has caught one pass since signing this contract, which counts $8.75M on Jacksonville’s 2019 cap sheet. This deal is on the sunk-cost precipice.
Inside Panthers numbers: Carolina’s defense is outstanding, allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.3) and fourth-fewest yards per game (287.5). It ranks ninth in fewest points allowed per drive (1.63) and 10th in total defensive EPA. A dominant pass rush is the driving force: The Panthers lead the NFL with a sack rate of 11.3 percent (with 18 sacks total). The Carolina front seven could tee off on Jacksonville, which allowed five sacks to a Denver defense that had none over the first three weeks.
Inside Panthers roster: Carolina’s improved defense will not feature perhaps its second-best player; Kawann Short is out for the season. The mammoth defensive tackle has only missed four games since arriving as a 2013 fifth-round pick -– two in 2018 and the Panthers’ most recent two -– and this stands to lower Carolina’s defensive ceiling. However, the Panthers are oddly well-stocked to pick up the pieces, having signed Dontari Poe in 2018 and Gerald McCoy this year. Additionally, 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler –- a seldom-used talent –- may have a chance to shed the “bust” label in a contract year.
New England (4-0) at Washington (0-4), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Patriots numbers: New England’s opponents have thrown no touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Patriots are the first team since the 1961 Packers to allow no touchdowns and pick off at least 10 passes over their first four games of the season. The Redskins have nine turnovers and 18 points in the past two games.
Inside Patriots roster: On the heels of one of the worst games of Tom Brady’s career, the legendary passer will have a deeper complement of weapons Sunday. Benjamin Watson returns from a four-game suspension and is set to become the first pure tight end in NFL history to play in an age-39 season. The Patriots have four receptions from tight ends this season. The 16th-year veteran was a decent auxiliary weapon for Drew Brees last season, catching 46 passes for 400 yards.
Inside Redskins numbers: Jay Gruden forced Dwayne Haskins into his first NFL action as the team was getting blown out by the Giants, and predictably, the rookie struggled, tossing three picks on just 17 pass attempts. The Redskins must think twice before starting Haskins against the Patriots, whose defense ranks second in the league in quarterback hits (32) and has allowed the league’s lowest passer rating (41.0). A rookie quarterback has not defeated the Patriots since Geno Smith in October 2013.
Inside Redskins roster: Trent Williams is now the league’s lone holdout. With Washington almost certainly set for its first 0-5 record in 18 years, it would make sense to unload its disgruntled left tackle for draft compensation. Missing out on nearly $3 million in salary this season, the seven-time Pro Bowler has shown no signs of backing down. It would make sense if the Redskins made a deal soon, with Williams losing value the longer he sits out (thus limiting the number of games he can play with another team). Nearly $20M in non-guaranteed money remains on his through-2020 deal.
Tampa Bay (2-2) at New Orleans (3-1), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Buccaneers numbers: Jameis Winston is having a career renaissance under Bruce Arians, with career-highs in touchdown percentage (6.5 percent), yards per attempt (8.4), yards per game (291.8), and passer rating (95.8). A trip to the Superdome may not be as daunting as it seemed before the season. Winston, who entered 2019 with 12 consecutive road losses, is 2-0 away from Tampa under Arians, throwing five touchdowns and just one interception in those games.
Inside Buccaneers roster: Chris Godwin’s breakout has been as advertised so far; the Bucs’ No. 2 wideout’s yardage total (386) is third best in the league. Bruce Arians’ offense did not have this kind of weapon in Arizona; Michael Floyd and John Brown were not quite on this level. This not only raises the floor for Tampa Bay’s offense, it sets Godwin up for a payday. The third-year receiver becomes extension-eligible in January, and his 1,500-plus-yard pace would put the former third-round pick in line for WR1 money. With Mike Evans the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid wideout, this is an interesting situation/good problem for the Bucs.
Inside Saints numbers: New Orleans needs more downfield playmaking from Teddy Bridgewater. His average completed pass has traveled only 3.7 yards, 33rd out of 34 qualifiers (ahead of only Mason Rudolph). This may not be the week it happens, as Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett could prevent Bridgewater from getting enough time to push the ball downfield. His nine sacks ties the league record for the most through four games.
Inside Saints roster: Only two players remain from the Saints’ 2016 starting defense, defensive end Cam Jordan and safety Vonn Bell. That unit was the last of New Orleans’ three awful defenses, which ranked either 32nd or 31st from 2014-16. The Saints’ win over the Cowboys showed how far this reconstruction effort has come, with this defensive cast thus far stabilizing the Saints while Drew Brees rehabs. This bevy of rookie contracts (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Marcus Davenport), trades (Eli Apple, Kiko Alonso) and free- agency adds (Demario Davis) assembled since 2017 represents one of the better defensive overhauls in modern NFL history.
Minnesota (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (2-2), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Vikings numbers: Kirk Cousins continues to struggle against quality competition since his arrival in Minnesota. His loss to the Bears dropped him to 1-8 against teams with a winning record as a member of the Vikings. A less intimidating Giants team could be less of a problem, as Cousins tends to get the job done against lesser teams. With Minnesota, Cousins owns a 9-1-1 record against teams without a winning record, posting an average passer rating of 108.1 in those games.
Inside Vikings roster: Scrutiny has rightfully been applied to Minnesota’s passing game, the focus being on Cousins and his highly paid receivers. But the Vikings’ decision to add a Kyle Rudolph extension to their ultra-expensive roster, after drafting Irv Smith Jr. in Round 2, looks even more puzzling now. Through five games, the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid tight end ($9 million per year) has five receptions for 32 yards. Rudolph is on pace to post 506 fewer yards than he had last season.
Inside Giants numbers: The Giants had one of their best defensive performances in ages in Week 4. They held the Redskins to 176 yards and forced four turnovers, the first time since 2008 New York has held an opponent to under 200 yards and taken the ball away four times or more. The unit’s opponent in Week 5, Cousins, is 1-5 in his past six road starts.
Inside Giants roster: New York’s passing game has frequently featured suboptimal balance. Tight end stability proved elusive between Jeremy Shockey and Evan Engram and wide receiver unavailability has persisted over the past two-plus years. Golden Tate is set to debut in Week 5 after his four-game PED suspension, giving Daniel Jones a better-rounded aerial cast. For the 31-year-old Tate, these will be a pivotal 12 games. Although he signed for four years and $37.5M, the PED ban voided his 2020 guarantee ($7.97M).
Chicago (3-1) vs. Oakland (2-2) in LONDON, 1 p.m. ET
Inside Bears numbers: Chicago’s defense is back on the mountaintop in the NFC, leading the conference in fewest points allowed per drive (1.09). Khalil Mack continues to be the driving force, as he is tied with Danielle Hunter for the NFL lead in total pressures (27). Oakland’s tackle duo will provide a strong challenge for Mack. Left tackle Trent Brown and right tackle Kolton Miller have combined to allow only 13 pressures this season, an average of 3.3 per game between the pair.
Inside Bears roster: Shrugging off four-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s exit, the No. 2-ranked Chicago defense has Pro Bowl-caliber talent on all three levels. It is worth wondering if lower-ceiling, game manager-type backup Chase Daniel, who is in line to start in England, complements this menacing unit better than the more erratic Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have seen a volatile starter hold a stacked defense back, as Rex Grossman once did, and their latest look with Daniel may be more important to the big picture.
Inside Raiders numbers: Rookie Josh Jacobs ranks 10th in the league in rush attempts (62) and ninth in rushing yards (307). He’s done it efficiently, averaging five yards per attempt. Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are the only other backs averaging 5.0-plus yards per attempt on at least 60 carries. Chicago’s ground defense will be a major test for Jacobs, as the Bears are ranked second in fewest yards allowed per rush attempt (3.0) and third in rush defense EPA.
Inside Raiders roster: Oakland gave two veteran linebackers mid-level deals this offseason, but Brandon Marshall failed to make the team and Vontaze Burfict may have exhausted his final opportunity. Burfict’s rest-of-season suspension comes after the Raiders placed backup middle linebacker Marquel Lee on IR. The rest of Oakland’s contingent consists of outside linebackers, though starting outside ‘backer Tahir Whitehead has played in the middle before. More importantly, Burfict’s loss leaves the Raiders with a host of lower-level players –- one of whom set to join Whitehead in sub-packages.
N.Y. Jets (0-3) at Philadelphia (2-2), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Jets numbers: Adam Gase’s injury-plagued offense is historically inept. For the first time in franchise history, the Jets have only one offensive touchdown through the first three games of the season. Their average of 3.67 net yards per pass attempt is the worst mark through three games since the 2006 Raiders (who finished 2-14). Things do not get easier in Week 5, as the Jets hit the road to take on the only franchise they have never beaten (0-10 all time vs. Philadelphia).
Inside Jets roster: With Joe Douglas addition Ryan Kalil struggling, and Mike Maccagnan trade acquisition Kelechi Osemele battling a knee issue that limited him last season, a full-scale Jets offensive line overhaul may be months away. Returning starters Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell are again scuffling, after being part of one of the league’s worst lines in 2018. Three starters (Kalil, Beachum and Shell) are due for free agency, and Winters’ contract would cost the Jets $0 to shed.
Inside Eagles numbers: In its two wins, Philadelphia has zero turnovers. In its two losses, it has five combined. The Jets are good at forcing turnovers. They have three non-offensive touchdowns and a safety, and have forced a turnover on 15.8 percent of defensive drives.
Inside Eagles roster: One team reportedly offered the Jaguars two first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey, and it wouldn’t be out of character for Eagles GM Howie Roseman to swing big. If the Jaguars prefer to keep that contentious relationship alive, would the Eagles consider calling the 0-4 Broncos about contract-year standout Chris Harris? Either way, this is a problem the Eagles may need to address. Philadelphia ranks last in pass defense (323.8 yards allowed per game), winding up there after Roseman made big investments to strengthen stronger positions in the offseason.
Denver (0-4) at L.A. Chargers (2-2), 4:05 p.m. ET
Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s run defense is atrocious, allowing the third-most yards per attempt (5.1) and yards per game (149.3). The loss of Bradley Chubb for the season will not help, as he was leading the team with 15 tackles short of the sticks in the run game. Melvin Gordon may return to his bell-cow role for Los Angeles, but the Broncos have held him to 3.7 yards per carry over six matchups.
Inside Broncos roster: Von Miller already sees a steady volume of double-teams and chip blocks; Chubb’s ACL tear will make the All-Pro a marked man. The Broncos let longtime rotational rushers Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray sign elsewhere, though Ray is again a free agent, and have no notable veteran replacements. Undrafted rookie Malik Reed is the next man up for a Broncos team that entered Week 4 without a sack. Denver did add journeyman Jerry Attaochu this week but is in danger of its pass rush becoming more one-dimensional than it has at any point in Miller’s tenure.
Inside Chargers numbers: Philip Rivers continues to engineer a top-notch passing attack, as the Chargers rank fourth in net yards per pass attempt (7.6) and sixth in pass offense EPA. While this is not the Broncos defense of old, Rivers has not played his best football against Denver. His 88.8 passer rating against the Broncos is his sixth-worst mark against a franchise.
Inside Chargers roster: If the Bolts’ all-fronts injury issues were not noticeable enough, their punter is now less than 100 percent. Ty Long, a CFL import asked to kick and punt in his initial NFL season because of kicker Michael Badgley’s injury, hurt his foot on a kickoff. The Chargers signed rookie Chase McLaughlin this week, sending Long to the punter-only role for which he was signed. McLaughlin will be the Bolts’ eighth kicker since the start of the 2017 season.
Green Bay (3-1) at Dallas (3-1), 4:25 p.m. ET
Inside Packers numbers: In Week 4,Green Bay scored only three touchdowns on seven red zone trips in the loss to the Eagles. It was a reversion to the mean for Matt LaFleur’s offense, which had scored touchdowns on six of its first seven red zone trips. The Packers must get back on track against Dallas, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest red-zone touchdown rate (35.7 percent).
Inside Packers roster: Set for one of their toughest-looking assignments this season, the Packers may be forced to find out more about Davante Adams’ young assortment of sidekicks. Adams’ turf toe places him in jeopardy of missing this Cowboys matchup, leaving Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison set to lead what would be the least experienced group of receivers with which Aaron Rodgers has been equipped as a Packer. Neither of Valdes-Scantling’s 2018 draft classmates, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, are on the active roster.
Inside Cowboys numbers: In Week 4, the Saints stifled Ezekiel Elliott, as he ran for just 35 yards (third-lowest total of career) and 1.9 yards per attempt (second lowest). Elliott has been successful against Green Bay, averaging 136.5 rushing yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry in his last two games against the Packers. Green Bay ranks 30th in rush defense EPA and has allowed the fourth-most yards per rush attempt (5.0).
Inside Cowboys roster: One of several veteran defensive ends who left Miami this offseason, Robert Quinn has made an immediate impression on his third NFL team. The trade acquisition who missed the Cowboys’ first two games due to suspension has a team-high three sacks, two against upper-echelon tackle Terron Armstead. Quinn did not live up to the Rams extension he signed in 2014, a contract that’s since been traded twice, but the ninth-year veteran is only 29. DeMarcus Lawrence should soon benefit from a talented veteran opposite him.
Indianapolis (2-2) at Kansas City (4-0), 8:20 p.m. ET
Inside Colts numbers: The Colts’ defense is disappointing, ranking 29th in points allowed per drive (2.53). Its pass rush has collected only 18 quarterback hits, tied for 23rd in the league. More was expected from Justin Houston, who has just one sack and three hits heading into a matchup against his former team. A Chiefs offense allowing a league-low sack rate of 1.9 percent makes this a daunting matchup for Indianapolis.
Inside Colts roster: After the franchise’s worst performance since the early part of 2018, Indianapolis’ defense ranks last in run-stoppage DVOA. The Colts finished last season fourth in this metric. Last season, Indianapolis enjoyed strong play from bargain-buy defensive linemen Denico Autry and Margus Hunt. A former first-round pick, Hunt has disappointed so far, grading as PFF’s No. 102 interior defender. Three of the Colts’ seven second-round picks over the past two years have gone to the D-line as well, but this is an issue the team must address this week and during its Week 6 bye.
Inside Chiefs numbers: The Chiefs continue to get clutch rushing production no matter who is taking the handoff. Since Damien Williams went down, LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams have combined for five touchdowns, including all three scored by the offense in Week 4. The duo could tee off on a Colts defense allowing the second-most yards per rush attempt (5.5).
Inside Chiefs roster: Cris Collinsworth may take issue with some of Sunday night’s run defense. The Chiefs’ issues are more troublesome than the Colts’, having gone from 32nd in 2017 run-defense DVOA to 32nd in 2018 to 31st this season. Kansas City made a surprising defensive coordinator hire in Steve Spagnuolo, who has seen four of his past five defenses rank 31st or 32nd in yards allowed. Considering where the Patriots are defensively, the Chiefs’ Bob Sutton-to-Spagnuolo switch producing these results so far is rather alarming.
Cleveland (2-2) at San Francisco (3-0), 8:15 p.m. ET
Inside Browns numbers: In Week 4 against Baltimore, Odell Beckham had a career-low 20 yards receiving, but the Browns’ offense finally broke out with 40 points. To repeat their success, the Browns will likely need more from their superstar against the 49ers’ lockdown secondary, which has allowed the league’s third-lowest passer rating (72.7).
Inside Browns roster: After a rough start, Baker Mayfield will have a better chance to continue his rejuvenation. The Browns will have suspended wideout Antonio Callaway back, and their other second-stringer, Rashard Higgins, has a chance to play as well after missing three games with an ankle ailment. Both players cleared 500 yards on last season’s Jarvis Landry-led receiving corps.
Inside 49ers numbers: Jimmy Garoppolo is 11-2 as a starter, joining Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott as the only quarterbacks over the past decade to win 11 of their first 13 career starts. Garoppolo’s offense is off to a hot start, ranking ninth in points per drive (2.25). After facing two struggling defenses (Bengals and Steelers), Garoppolo should get a good test from the Browns’ pass defense. Cleveland ranks eighth in fewest passing yards allowed per game (215.3) and pass defense EPA.
Inside 49ers roster: Ahkello Witherspoon’s bounce-back play has been essential for San Francisco’s rebounding secondary. Richard Sherman’s running mate was given PFF’s worst cornerback grade in 2018 but stands in the top 15 through three games. Unfortunately, a foot injury will keep Witherspoon out Monday night and potentially blunt the third-year defender’s momentum. Second-year undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley, the likely starter opposite Sherman, will be in line to defend Beckham at times.
PHILA. (1-2) AT GREEN BAY (3-0), Thur., 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL NETWORK LINE: Green Bay -4.5
What you need to know: In Week 3, fumbles by Miles Sanders and Nelson Agholor hurt the Eagles. In fact, those plays led to six Lions points and provided the difference in a surprising home loss for Philadelphia. With the Cowboys looking strong and Giants revived by Daniel Jones’ winning debut, the Eagles must win to keep from falling out of the race early. Green Bay hasn’t started 4-0 since 2015, when it won its first six games before losing four of its next five. That the Packers are unbeaten is testament to their balance, as Aaron Rodgers’ play has not been scintillating. Green Bay boasts the league’s No. 2 scoring defense, and its eight takeaways are best in the league. The pass rush (12 sacks) is getting after it, too. The rush defense, however, ranks 25th.
On the spot: Eagles RB Miles Sanders. Sanders has not proven himself ready for the role of feature back, but the Eagles need him to hold up his end of the bargain in a partnership with Jordan Howard.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: An opportunistic defense is arguably most responsible for Green Bay’s fast start, so Rodgers must pick up his game to keep the Packers atop what appears to be the best division.
The pick: Packers 30 Eagles 24
2 of 15
TENNESSEE (1-2) AT ATLANTA (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: Atlanta -3.5
What you need to know: Tennessee had a chance to make a major statement against the Jaguars in Week 3 but flopped, and its dominant season-opening win over Cleveland feels like long ago. As in Week 2, offense was the problem for the Titans, with Marcus Mariota failing to sustain many drives. He was sacked nine times. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has six picks in three games.
On the spot: Titans WR A.J. Brown. After Adam Humphries and Delanie Walker, Brown got the most targets against Jacksonville, with five. He was taken out of the game by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and needs to be much better to give Mariota more downfield options.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Everyone else is doing his part. Ryan can light up the scoreboard, but in a pass-happy league, he must be superb more often than not, and he hasn’t been.
The pick: Falcons 24 Titans 16
3 of 15
LA CHARGERS (1-2) AT MIAMI (0-3), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: Los Angeles -16.5
What you need to know: In Week 3,the Chargers couldn’t get to Deshaun Watson like the last several Texans opponents did, and it cost them dearly. Watson made big plays, including a 53-yard touchdown pass on a broken play, to beat Los Angeles. The Chargers have only four sacks, something that must change in a hurry, particularly with safety Derwin James out for at least half the season and the Chiefs already two games ahead in the AFC West. In Week 3, Miami was competitive with Dallas for 30 minutes, but couldn’t take advantage of three first-half red-zone trips. The Dolphins’ pass defense wasn’t gashed by Dak Prescott, but it had no answers for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard (combined for 228 yards on 32 carries).
On the spot: Chargers DE Melvin Ingram. Ingram has just one sack. Pro Football Focus’ grading is more kind to him, crediting him with six hurries. He must be better to help the Chargers’ so-so secondary.
Dolphins WR Preston Williams: Against Dallas, Williams dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Josh Rosen that would have gone for a touchdown. He finished with a team-leading 12 targets, but only four catches for 68 yards. Williams (6-5, 218) has prototype size for the position, and Rosen will continue to look his way.
The pick: Chargers 30 Dolphins 17
4 of 15
OAKLAND (1-2) AT INDIANAPOLIS (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: Indianapolis -6.5
What you need to know: In Week 3, Oakland made things much too easy for the Vikings. QB Kirk Cousins barely broke a sweat, and RB Dalvin Cook dominated. One of the Raiders’ two scores came on a trick play. In Indy in Week 3, Jacoby Brissett completed his first three passes as the Colts jumped to a 20-3 halftime lead in a win over Atlanta. More good news for Frank Reich’s team: Adam Vinatieri was perfect, including a 49-yard field goal.
On the spot: Raiders RB Josh Jacobs. Oakland needs a complementary piece in the passing game to go with Waller and Tyrell Williams, and Jon Gruden seems to want that piece to be Jacobs. He has been effective as a runner (228 yards), but has only one catch for 28 yards.
Colts S Khari Willis: Malik Hooker will be out roughly a month and a half with a torn meniscus, and the burden of replacing him falls to Willis, a rookie fourth-rounder. Hooker was in the midst of another solid season, so Willis has big shoes to fill.
The pick: Colts 28 Raiders 13
5 of 15
NEW ENGLAND (3-0) AT BUFFALO (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: New England -7
What you need to know: The Pats’ defense still hasn’t allowed a touchdown, as both Jets scores last week came from their defense. New England is scary good on both sides of the ball. The Patriots’ defense is best in the league in points and yards allowed, and their offense is the second highest scoring. The only area where they’ve been even somewhat deficient is rushing offense, but when Tom Brady is running the show, that hardly matters. Josh Allen has been on a roller coaster ride, but he has made enough plays to complement a top-five Bills defense and rally the team to two fourth-quarter, comeback wins.
On the spot: Patriots RB Sony Michel. Michel averages less than 2.5 yards per carry. Although the Pats look unstoppable now, chances are they’ll need Michel soon, certainly in the postseason, if they are going to successfully defend their Super Bowl title.
Bills RB Frank Gore. Devin Singletary’s status is uncertain, so the task of churning out first downs and chewing up clock might fall to the ageless Gore, who has rushed for 164 yards (3.7 a carry).
The pick: Patriots 31 Bills 14
6 of 15
CLEVELAND (1-2) AT BALTIMORE (2-1), Sun., 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: Baltimore -7
What you need to know: Cleveland is a mess offensively, and most of it is Baker Mayfield’s fault. The quarterback looks jittery in the pocket, holds the ball too long and runs himself into trouble when standing pat and making a throw would be more prudent. Freddie Kitchens takes much of the blame, but if his QB doesn’t snap out of his funk, the Browns’ hyped season will be on life support a mere quarter of the way in. In Week 3, the Ravens lost in Kansas City, and Lamar Jackson’s play was spotty. The Ravens are good, and certainly better than many thought they would be, but the K.C. loss proved that Jackson is not a finished product and Baltimore needs to do some work defensively.
On the spot: Browns QB Baker Mayfield. He courted the hype, the attention and the haters, and now Mayfield isn’t holding up his end (56.9 completion %, 805 yards passing, 70.3 QB rating).
Ravens S Earl Thomas: With Mayfield holding onto the ball too long, Thomas could have a field day baiting him into traps. That said, his past two games have not been great, per Pro Football Focus grading, so Mayfield may end up going right at him.
The pick: Browns 26 Ravens 23
7 of 15
WASHINGTON (0-3) AT NY GIANTS (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX LINE: New York -3
What you need to know: In Week 3, Washington was sloppy, careless and non-competitive at home on MNF against Chicago. Case Keenum was ineffective; coupled with a winless start, that might compel Daniel Snyder to fire Jay Gruden. Or perhaps he will pressure the head coach to start rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. Gruden still thinks the season can be salvaged, so he’s resisting — for now. Speaking of throwing a rookie out there to see what he can do, Daniel Jones made GM Dave Gettleman look brilliant. Jones was a revelation, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more in his Giants debut, a win over the Bucs. He’s the talk of New York, but now comes the hard part: doing it twice in a row.
On the spot: Redskins QB Case Keenum. Keenum was good in Washington’s first two games, but he struggled against the Bears, throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. If he doesn’t bounce back, Haskins-mania will reach a fever pitch.
Giants QB Daniel Jones: Jones instantly energized the Giants, and it seemed like he brought pieces of the offense into play that Eli Manning could not. Jones will try to keep the good times rolling without his most dynamic weapon. RB Saquon Barkley is out 4-8 weeks. Your move, Wayne Gallman.
The pick: Giants 24 Redskins 20
8 of 15
CAROLINA (1-2) AT HOUSTON (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX LINE: Houston -4
What you need to know: This game figured to be a great matchup when fans thought it would be Cam Newton versus Deshaun Watson, but Newton’s absence might make for an even better shootout. In Week 3, Newton replacement Kyle Allen lit up the Cardinals. Christian McCaffrey backed Allen with 153 yards rushing, and TE Greg Olsen had two touchdown catches. Carolina looked like a different — and much better — team with Allen. In Week 3 against the Chargers, the Texans finally protected Watson, as he was sacked fewer than four times in a game for the first time in eight regular-season contests. He was rarely pressured outside of those two sacks, and made the Chargers pay. Despite taking a beating, Watson still has a 108.6 passer rating.
On the spot: Panthers QB Kyle Allen. Can Allen do it two weeks in a row? Houston’s defense is second best in the NFL. One more star turn by Allen might cause a quarterback controversy in Charlotte.
Texans WR Will Fuller: The slow-starting Fuller doesn’t have a touchdown catch and has only 160 yards receiving through three games. The Texans need a legitimate second option when DeAndre Hopkins is covered, and Fuller is still best-suited for the job.
The pick: Texans 30 Panthers 21
9 of 15
KANSAS CITY (3-0) AT DETROIT (2-0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX LINE: Kansas City -6
What you need to know: In Week 3, the Chiefs passed their test against Baltimore, and now they get another interesting one in the Lions. Kansas City’s running back situation isn’t ideal, but it feels like it almost doesn’t matter with the way Patrick Mahomes is playing. Incredibly enough, Mahomes is ahead of his 2018 pace for yards passing and TD passes. If he keeps it up, the MVP race will be a formality. Detroit is technically an unbeaten, but its come-from-ahead tie against the Cardinals feels like a loss. Still, the Lions have gutted out a win against the Chargers, and shocked Philadelphia on the road. No one is talking much about Matt Patricia’s team as a threat in the NFC North, but if it wins this game, everyone will be.
On the spot: Chiefs RB Darrel Williams. He rushed for 62 yards on nine carries in Week 3, and figures to get calls again this week. If banged-up LeSean McCoy is limited again, the burden of giving K.C. at least the threat of the run will fall to Williams.
Lions S Tracy Walker: Walker’s Pro Football Focus coverage grade through three weeks is 75.6, which is good to very good. But he’ll need to be fantastic, because if Earl Thomas was targeted by Mahomes and Andy Reid last week, they’ll likely go after Walker this week.
The pick: Chiefs 38 Lions 20
10 of 15
TAMPA BAY (1-2) AT LA RAMS (3-0), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: FOX LINE: Los Angeles -10
What you need to know: Shaq Barrett’s first season as a full-time starter is a smashing success; the linebacker leads the NFL with eight sacks in three games. The Buccaneers’ defense ranks in the top half of the league in yards allowed. It is particularly stingy against the run, giving up only three yards per carry, third best in the league. The Bucs are only 22nd in points allowed, however, owing partly to Jameis Winston, who has thrown two pick-sixes. In Week 3, Cooper Kupp helped the Rams overcome a game defensive effort from the Browns as LA won in Cleveland. Kupp consistently exploited coverage mismatches, and he and Jared Goff were on the same page all game. Kupp leads the Rams in catches (23) and touchdowns (2).
On the spot: Bucs QB Jameis Winston. In Week 3, Winston and Mike Evans finally got going against the Giants, with Evans racking up 190 yards and three touchdowns. If the Bucs steal a win against the Rams, it may help coach Bruce Arians decide if Winston is worth a long-term investment.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp: The Bucs are stingy against the run game, so it might fall again to Kupp to spark the offense. He might be Los Angeles’ best overall receiver; he certainly played like it against the Browns. Tampa’s pass defense is suspect, so Kupp could have a big day.
The pick: Rams 27 Buccaneers 23
11 of 15
SEATTLE (2-1) AT ARIZONA (0-2-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: FOX LINE: Seattle -5
What you need to know: Seattle could easily be unbeaten, but sloppy play on special teams, and another fumble by Chris Carson, conspired to cost them in Week 3 against the Saints, who were outgained 515-265. Russell Wilson has been nearly flawless (seven touchdowns and no interceptions). The Seahawks might lean on him even more if Carson’s fumbling problems persist. The Cardinals’ run defense is abysmal. Only two teams in the league are worse — the Bengals and Dolphins. Arizona has yet to hold an opponent under 100 yards on the ground. On the plus side, WR Christian Kirk is developing into a nice weapon for Kyler Murray.
On the spot: Seahawks RB Chris Carson. Pete Carroll gave Carson a vote of confidence, but his three lost fumbles in three games are alarming. He lost only two in his first 18 games as a pro. Rashaad Penny should be back this week, so Carson’s margin for error is minimal.
Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks: Hicks has dropped into coverage more than any other Cardinals linebacker, per Pro Football Focus, but he hasn’t done a good job in that regard. Arizona has been shredded by tight ends each of the first three weeks, and Hicks is part of the issue.
The pick: Seahawks 30 Cardinals 28
12 of 15
MINNESOTA (2-1) AT CHICAGO (2-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
TV: CBS LINE: Chicago -2.5
What you need to know: The NFC North may be football’s best division, which means that this battle of 2-1 teams could determine who eventually resides in the cellar. Minnesota is tough to beat when Dalvin Cook is running well; his 375 yards lead the league, as does his 6.6 yards per carry. He’ll have a tough test against a Bears defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run. In Week 3, Chicago got a laugher of a win against Washington, and Mitchell Trubisky finally had an easy, productive night. Much of that was due to Matt Nagy’s play-calling, which consistently had receivers, specifically Taylor Gabriel, running open. Can Chicago sustain that momentum?
On the spot: Vikings FS Harrison Smith. Smith is one of the league’s better safeties, and he’ll have the task of confusing Trubisky and baiting him into risky throws. If he wins the chess match, the Vikings have a good chance to win.
Bears WR Allen Robinson: Gabriel got all the love for his three-touchdown outburst against Washington, but Robinson is Chicago’s best receiving threat. Nagy was able to scheme Gabriel open — he needs to do the same for Robinson.
The pick: Vikings 20 Bears 13
13 of 15
JACKSONVILLE (1-2) AT DENVER (0-3), Sun., 4:25 p.m. ET
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
NFL free agency does not officially open for 10 days, but the market for the top quarterback appears to be settled.
According to Les Bowen of philly.com, the Jacksonville Jaguars are essentially the only suitor for Nick Foles, and expect to sign him when the free-agent period opens March 13. The Jaguars have already begun to set up the structure of a contract, according to the report.
Other potential quarterback-needy teams do not appear interested in Foles. The New York Giants are sticking with Eli Manning as their starter in 2019, and there has been no indication that the Washington Redskins or Miami Dolphins are set to launch a pursuit of Foles.
Jacksonville has been the first and only team consistently linked to Foles, and the Jags have been considered the favorite to sign him. Foles should provide the Jags with stability at quarterback after years of issues at the position.
Sports Illustrated once called Phil Simms the most underrated NFL quarterback of all time, and it’s a fair argument. Even with the career of Eli Manning, who has broken nearly all of Simms’ team records, many still consider him the greatest passer in New York Giants history.
Simms led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins but only went to two Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection just once. Even if his yearly stats weren’t too astounding — he only topped 4,000 passing yards once and never surpassed 22 touchdowns — his performance in 1987’s Super Bowl XXI is the stuff of legend. He completed 88 percent of his passes (22 of 25) and had a passer rating of 150.9, arguably the best performance by any QB in Super Bowl history.
29. Randall Cunningham
A true revolutionary at the quarterback position, Randall Cunningham could basically do it all.
In terms of passing, his career numbers are right there with some Hall of Famers from the same era in the ’80s and ’90s but it was with his legs that Cunningham separated himself from the pack. He broke virtually every record for rushing at the quarterback position and averaged 30.6 rushing yards per game, which is still second all-time among QBs.
His postseason record is suspect but he also didn’t have the luxury of getting much protection up front, as only two other NFL players were ever sacked more times than Cunningham.
28. Troy Aikman
If winning big games was everything, Troy Aikman would be much higher on this list. He won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, never losing once in the title game. Aikman was also a six-time Pro Bowler, but was an All-Pro only once, which is the higher honor. Aikman was arguably the quarterback of the ’90s, playing from 1989 to 2000 and racking up 90 wins in that decade, which was more than any other QB.
Aikman earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his ability to lead a great team but his individual statistics were never too impressive, as he never topped 3,445 yards and only threw for more than 20 touchdowns one time.
27. Sid Luckman
One of the first great quarterbacks in pro football history, Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships from 1939 to 1950.
He also led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating three times, being named a first team All-Pro five times. Luckman revolutionized the throwing game, passing for seven touchdowns in a game once, a record that still hasn’t been topped even in today’s pass-heavy league — and he was the first guy to ever throw for 400 yards in a game.
Nearly 70 years after he played his final NFL snap, Luckman still ranks second all-time in yards per pass attempt.
26. Ken Anderson
Before legendary coach Bill Walsh went on to make Joe Montana into an icon with his West Coast Offense in San Francisco, Walsh ran it with quarterback Ken Anderson in Cincinnati.
Anderson spent 16 seasons in the NFL, all with the Bengals, and put up some spectacular numbers along the way, including four seasons where he led the league in passer rating. His accuracy was also never questioned, as he posted a career 59.3 completion percentage and retired in 1986 with the records for single-season completion percentage and single-game completion percentage.
Anderson has largely been overlooked in these discussions because he played in a small market and never won a Super Bowl but he was a successful guinea pig for a system that would launch several star QBs.
25. Terry Bradshaw
Pittsburgh Steelers lifer Terry Bradshaw benefited greatly from being surrounded by Hall-of-Fame offensive skill players and one of the greatest defenses in history. He never led the league in passing yards or passer rating — and his career total for both of those stats won’t blow you away — but he never lost in the big games. He guided the Steelers to four Super Bowls and won every one of them.
You can knock Bradshaw for throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in his career, but with that defense backing him up, who can blame him for taking some risks?
24. Tony Romo
It might shock you to know that, among all retired NFL quarterbacks, Tony Romo has the highest career passer rating. It’s also the highest career passer rating for any QB who never played in a Super Bowl, which is the part of Romo’s legacy that may keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
He never had much luck in the playoffs but his career numbers in statistics like yards per pass attempt and completion percentage — he ties Peyton Manning in the latter category — are among the best ever. In roughly the same number of seasons, Romo’s numbers are better than fellow Cowboys great Troy Aikman, but he had the misfortune of playing without the Hall of Famers his predecessor did.
23. Jim Kelly
For eight out of 11 of his NFL seasons, Jim Kelly passed for at least 3,000 yards and averaged about 3,200 yards per season for his career. He also led the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl four times, which means he made it to the big game in more than one-third of all the seasons he played. Of course, the Bills lost all four times and Kelly didn’t play at his best in them, but he clearly had a gift for winning in the regular season and playoffs.
22. Warren Moon
After unequaled success in the Canadian Football League, where he won five championships, Warren Moon went on to have a great career in the NFL despite having virtually no playoff success.
Moon threw for more than 3,000 yards every time he played a 16-game season and topped the 4,000-yard mark four times. Moon’s gun-slinging style led to a fair share of interceptions and an average career passer rating but he was extremely popular, being named to nine Pro Bowls. Moon currently sits at 10th all-time in NFL career passing yards and 10th all-time in game-winning drives led.
If he hadn’t spent six years playing in the CFL, it’s scary to think what his final NFL totals would’ve been.
21. Sonny Jurgensen
Arguably the league’s earliest long-ball passer, Jurgensen was a legend with the Eagles and Redskins who posted a career losing record as a starter but was still a marvel. He led the league in passing yardage five times, topping 3,000 yards in all those seasons, and was a touchdown machine. His 255 career passing touchdowns total still put him at 19th all-time, despite playing during the so-called “dead-ball era,” when running backs ruled the league.
While with the Eagles in 1960, he won his lone NFL championship, handing Vince Lombardi’s Packers their only playoff loss ever.
20. Donovan McNabb
Severely overlooked because he never won the big game, Eagles legend Donovan McNabb is one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to collect 30,000 passing yards, 200 passing touchdowns, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns — and all of them are on this list.
He’s tied with Jim Kelly as the QB with the most playoff wins with no ring and finished his career with more passing yards and a better passer rating than that Hall of Famer. In 2004, McNabb had one of the greatest seasons a quarterback has ever had, becoming the first ever to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions. For some reason, he’s still not in the Hall.
For the second consecutive year, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery put his body on the line and played through extensive pain in the playoffs.
While it didn’t have a fairy tale ending this time, as Jeffery’s drop turned into a game-sealing interception, the veteran showed how much he is willing to put on the line for his teammates.
Jeffery hung around immediately after the game to answer questions from reporters about his huge drop on the final drive. What he didn’t reveal was a diagnosis from earlier in the week that he has several cracked ribs.
It’s no wonder Jeffery’s teammates quickly went to bat for him after the game. He played a deciding role in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots last season with a torn rotator cuff.
The 28-year-old is clearly one of the most respected and beloved players in Philadelphia’s locker room. Even after a crushing loss with a missed opportunity he’ll never forget, Jeffery should remain beloved by the team, city and fan base as a true representation of everything Philadelphia represents.
The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.
Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.
The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.
On Sunday, the Patriots had no problems running around and through the Chargers, winning 41-28 to lock down their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game.
The Saints turned aside the Eagles, sinking their hope of a Super Bowl repeat with a 20-14 win in New Orleans. The Saints will host the Rams there next weekend.
Winner: Michael Thomas
The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.
He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.
Loser: Nick Foles’ magic
You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.
With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.
Winner: Time of possession
It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.
It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 10-14, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.
Winner: The Patriots defense
Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.
Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy
He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.
The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.
Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns … in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.
The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.
Winner: C.J. Anderson
The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.
Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.
Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this: