Guide to every Week 7 NFL game: Picks, matchup nuggets, more

Guide to every Week 7 NFL game: Picks, matchup nuggets, more

The Week 7 NFL schedule is stacked with great matchups. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and final score picks.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a stat to know for each game, and the Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN Fantasy‘s Kyle Soppe and ESPN Chalk‘s Dave Bearman hand out helpful nuggets as well. It’s all here to help get you ready for a loaded weekend of NFL football.

Let’s get into the full Week 7 slate, including a battle of AFC undefeated teams.

Jump to a matchup:
PIT-TEN | CAR-NO | GB-HOU
DET-ATL | BUF-NYJ | CLE-CIN
DAL-WSH | TB-LV | KC-DEN
SF-NE | JAX-LAC | SEA-ARI
CHI-LAR

Thursday: PHI 22, NYG 21
Bye: IND, MIA, MIN, BAL

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
72.5 | Spread: PIT -1.5 (50.5)

What to watch for: Tennessee running back Derrick Henry‘s 588 yards on the ground leads all rushers. The Steelers’ run defense is second in the NFL, allowing 66 yards per game despite rarely loading the box to stop the run. Tennessee’s play-action passing game has produced big plays this season, so the difference will come down to how well quarterback Ryan Tannehill can keep the Titans’ offense on schedule against a Pittsburgh defense blitzing 60% of the time when teams use play-action against it. — Turron Davenport

Bold prediction: Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will have two touchdowns. Smith-Schuster has been quiet the past two games with even distribution in the passing game. But with Chase Claypool breaking out and defenses taking notice, that could free up some room for Smith-Schuster to get free and score for the first time since Week 3. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: The Titans’ offense has used play-action at the second-highest rate in the NFL since the start of 2019, and an NFL-high 47% of its passing yards in that span have come on play-action. Since Tannehill became the Titans’ starter in Week 7 last season, his 92.1 QBR and 12.2 yards per attempt on play-action lead all NFL QBs, and his 15 TDs is tied with Kirk Cousins for the most in the NFL. But Pittsburgh’s defense has been exceptional defending play-action, allowing the lowest QBR (38.9) and completion rate (57%) since the start of last season.

Injuries: Steelers | Titans

What to know for fantasy: Henry, fresh off 212 rushing yards against the Texans, faces a Steelers defense that has yet to allow more than 80 rushing yards to any single player and is allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to RBs this season (16.5). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: In the Super Bowl era, when teams that are 4-0 or better square off, the underdog is 10-4 against the spread (ATS). Read more.

Pryor’s pick: Steelers 27, Titans 24
Davenport’s pick: Titans 28, Steelers 24
FPI prediction: PIT, 52.0% (by an average of 0.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Steelers’ Spillane gets chance to show he belongs against former teamSteelers’ Roethlisberger, Titans’ Tannehill silence doubters by winningTitans’ offense cruising behind Henry, but Steelers pose challengeSource: Titans face fine as NFL ends virus audit


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
57.9 | Spread: NO -7.5 (51)

What to watch for: No one expected this veteran Saints team to be just a half-game up on a Panthers squad that was overhauled from top to bottom this offseason. So as much as the Saints love seeing their old friend Teddy Bridgewater succeed, they would love to flex their muscles on him by finally playing their most complete game of the season. The Saints are hoping to reboot after the bye — and it would help greatly if wide receiver Michael Thomas is able to return from ankle and hamstring injuries (he didn’t practice on Thursday). — Mike Triplett

Bold prediction: Bridgewater throws for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns against his old mates. Opposing quarterbacks have passed for 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions against the porous New Orleans defense, and Bridgewater knows that defense inside and out after spending the past two seasons with the Saints. — David Newton

Stat to know: Saints running back Alvin Kamara has four straight games of 100-plus scrimmage yards, the longest active streak in the NFL. He also leads all running backs in receiving yards this season with 395, 186 more than any other RB. Since 1950, there have been only three backs with 450-plus receiving yards in a team’s first six games of a season: Timmy Brown in 1965 (510), Paul Hofer in 1980 (467) and Marshall Faulk in 2000 (462).

Injuries: Panthers | Saints

What to know for fantasy: Saints quarterback Drew Brees was a top-eight quarterback in both matchups with the Panthers last season, amassing 564 passing yards and six touchdowns in the process. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Bridgewater is 18-4 ATS and 12-10 outright in his career as an underdog, including 2-2 straight up and ATS this season. Bridgewater is also 14-2 ATS as a road ‘dog in his career. Read more.

Newton’s pick: Panthers 33, Saints 30
Triplett’s pick: Saints 30, Panthers 23
FPI prediction: NO, 69.9% (by an average of 7.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Brown finally showing why Panthers made him seventh overall pickSaints need more from Lattimore, JordanPanthers place K Slye on reserve/COVID-19 listSaints end Thomas’ discipline; can play if healthyBridgewater becoming to Panthers what Brees is to SaintsSaints given go-ahead to have fans starting Sunday


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
56.3 | Spread: GB -3.5 (57)

What to watch for: Can the Texans’ run defense rebound from a terrible performance against Derrick Henry and the Titans? Packers running back Aaron Jones has scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games, which is tied for the longest active streak in the NFL, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: Jones’ streak of consecutive games with a touchdown will end at five, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers will more than make up for it. It won’t be a six-TD game like his only previous career start in Houston (in 2012), but look for Rodgers to get back on track after the abysmal showing at Tampa Bay last weekend. — Rob Demovsky

Stat to know: Texans running back David Johnson has 350 rushing yards and three rushing scores this season, more than he had in all of the 2019 season. But he is still currently sitting at 25 straight games without a 100-yard rushing outing.

Injuries: Packers | Texans

What to know for fantasy: Jones has been a top-15 running back in all five of his games this season, and after the Henry experience last weekend, the Texans are allowing the third-most points to fantasy running backs this season. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Green Bay has covered five consecutive games following a loss (3-0 ATS under coach Matt LaFleur). Read more.

Demovsky’s pick: Packers 31, Texans 24
Barshop’s pick: Packers 35, Texans 31
FPI prediction: GB, 57.9% (by an average of 2.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Karaoke, trivia and frat parties: Tales of Rodgers’ inner weirdnessFor Texans to win in 2020, it likely will have to be a shootoutBarnes, Love continue their role reversals with Packers“One out of five” dud games doesn’t define 4-1 Packers to Rodgers


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
36.8 | Spread: ATL -2 (55)

What to watch for: Which Todd Gurley will the Falcons get this weekend: the Week 5 version, when he had 121 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Panthers, or the Week 6 version, when he averaged 2.4 yards per carry against the Vikings? The Lions are allowing 145 rushing yards per game (the fourth most in the NFL), which according to ESPN Stats & Information research is the team’s most since allowing 172.1 when it went 0-16 in 2008. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: In a game between two teams that have spent most of the season losing fourth-quarter leads, both squads will end up doing it again, with wild swings during the final 15 minutes and a last-second, game-winning field goal. Would you expect anything less from Atlanta and Detroit? Their two most recent matchups ended with a 10-second runoff and then a delay of game penalty that allowed Matt Prater to take a second attempt at a field goal. — Michael Rothstein

Stat to know: Lions running back D’Andre Swift has 6.9 yards per touch this season, best among rookie backs. He also leads the Lions with four touchdowns from scrimmage.

Injuries: Lions | Falcons

What to know for fantasy: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is averaging 28 fantasy points per game this season when he has a fully healthy Julio Jones, up from 10.3 when his star wide receiver was hampered/inactive. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Atlanta is 5-10 ATS as a home favorite since the start of the 2018 season. Read more.

Rothstein’s pick: Lions 31, Falcons 30
Barshop’s pick: Falcons 30, Lions 27
FPI prediction: ATL, 59.1% (by an average of 3.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Life bonds started from football: Ryan and Stafford’s friendshipFalcons’ Morris is auditioning to earn another head-coaching jobSwift had a breakout against Jacksonville — and the rookie needs more of it

play

1:30

Mike Clay expects Marvin Jones Jr. to have a good day against Atlanta, which has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
28.7 | Spread: BUF -12 (45)

What to watch for: The Jets hope to have their full complement of wide receivers on the field for the first time, as rookie Denzel Mims is poised to make his NFL debut. Quarterback Sam Darnold is a question mark because of a shoulder injury. But if he starts, he will have plenty of speed on the outside with Mims and Breshad Perriman. — Rich Cimini

Bold prediction: The Bills won’t call this a “get right” game, but I will. Not only does quarterback Josh Allen eclipse 320 passing yards, but Buffalo’s defense will hold the Jets under 250 yards of total offense. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Stat to know: The Jets’ minus-110 point differential is the second worst in franchise history through six games of a season (minus-122 in 1976). The team’s worst mark through seven games also came in ’76, when New York was outscored by 142. Will Buffalo surpass 32 points in this one?

Injuries: Bills | Jets

What to know for fantasy: Allen was QB3 in Week 1 when these teams first met but is coming off his worst performance of the season on Monday night (QB17). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The Jets are 0-6 ATS this season. That’s two short of the longest winless streak to start a season against the spread over the past 20 seasons. The 2003 Raiders failed to cover in each of their first eight games of the season. Read more.

Louis-Jacques’ pick: Bills 28, Jets 10
Cimini’s pick: Bills 24, Jets 9
FPI prediction: BUF, 74.6% (by an average of 9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bills’ Allen vs. winning teams: “Staying patient” is keyJets’ Darnold practices with hopes QB can startBills release former starting guard SpainBlast from past: ’96 Jets (1-15) say current team “shouldn’t be this bad”Projected 2021 NFL draft order: Jets are favorite for No. 1


1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 27.3 | Spread: CLE -3 (50.5)

What to watch for: The Browns were dominant in the first meeting between these teams, though they came away with only a five-point win. While the Bengals have improved since then, especially in run defense, the Browns still have the top rushing attack in the NFL, even without running back Nick Chubb. — Ben Baby

Bold prediction: Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett will sack Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and force him to fumble for a second time this season, once again setting up a crucial late Browns touchdown. — Jake Trotter

Stat to know: Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is averaging career lows in targets per game (6.7), catches per game (3.8), receiving yards (53.2), yards after the catch per reception (1.96) and percentage of routes targeted (23.5%). And his yards after the catch per reception ranks 86th out of 92 qualified wide receivers this season.

Injuries: Browns | Bengals

What to know for fantasy: Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt is averaging 19 fantasy points in victories this season (including 24.1 in the Week 2 win over Cincinnati), way up from 9.9 in losses. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Cincinnati is 4-0 ATS in its past four games following a loss, dating back to last season. Read more.

Trotter’s pick: Browns 30, Bengals 28
Baby’s pick: Browns 27, Bengals 21
FPI prediction: CLE, 55.1% (by an average of 1.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Stefanski: If healthy, Mayfield is Browns’ starterBengals’ Green happy to “feel like my old self again”Why Burrow’s deep struggles shouldn’t be concern for Bengals


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
15.5 | Spread: WSH -1 (46)

What to watch for: It will be all eyes on Washington’s defensive line versus Dallas’ offensive line. The Cowboys might have backups across the board, depending on guard Zack Martin‘s health. And Washington’s strength remains its line, though after combining for seven sacks in the opener, this group has recorded only six in the past five weeks. Sunday is a chance for it to get healthy. And with Dallas likely paying close attention to edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, the interior could have a bigger day. — John Keim

Bold prediction: The Cowboys will intercept a Kyle Allen pass. He has been intercepted at least once in nine of his past 11 starts after not getting picked off in the first five starts of his career. So far this season, the Cowboys have one interception — Chidobe Awuzie intercepted Jared Goff in the third quarter of the season opener. They have gone 158 pass attempts since without a pick. That has to change, and Allen has shown the tendency to throw it to the other team. — Todd Archer

Stat to know: Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin has 56 targets this season, tied for fifth in the league. And he has accounted for 37% of Washington’s receiving yards, the second-highest mark in the NFL after DeAndre Hopkins (40%).

Injuries: Cowboys | Washington

What to know for fantasy: Very quietly, Washington running back J.D. McKissic has improved his weekly positional rank each week this season and was the 12th-best running back in Week 6. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Since the start of the 2017 season, Dallas is 15-4 ATS against the NFC East. Read more.

Archer’s pick: Cowboys 12, Washington 9
Keim’s pick: Washington 21, Cowboys 20
FPI prediction: WSH, 58.2% (by an average of 2.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Six games in, McCarthy facing key juncture of Cowboys’ tenureRivera gambling his moves will pay off for WashingtonCowboys’ Elliott says there’s no one thing that will fix fumbling woes“Pretty good chance” Washington Football Team remains in 2021, says team presidentA four-win NFC East champ? How it could happen, plus predictions from our staffWashington’s Allen shows flashes, but must shake inconsistency


4:05 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
79.1 | Spread: TB -4 (51.5)

What to watch for: Who, exactly, will be playing offensive line for the Raiders, whose entire starting O-line is on the COVID-19 list after right tackle Trent Brown tested positive this week? If it’s a bunch of backups, pity Raiders quarterback Derek Carr against Tampa Bay, which has the second-most sacks in the NFL with 22. Yeah, this has the makings of a familiar disaster for the Raiders — think Super Bowl XXXVII. — Paul Gutierrez

Bold prediction: Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones will have 100 yards rushing, and the offense as a whole will score four times. The Bucs have scored the second-most points in the NFL this season and face a Raiders defense that has given up 30 or more points in four of five games. With almost all of Tom Brady‘s receiving weapons returning to health — most notably Chris Godwin — these numbers aren’t too much to ask from this group, although the Tampa Bay defense, like last weekend, will likely be the real difference-maker. — Jenna Laine

Stat to know: The Buccaneers allow a league-low 282.0 yards per game, have the best pass-rush win rate (55%) in the NFL, blitz at the second-highest rate (41%) and give up the fewest rush yards per game (64.3).

Injuries: Buccaneers | Raiders

What to know for fantasy: Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans has a total of four catches and 14 yards in the three games in which Godwin has been active. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The over is 5-0 in Las Vegas games this season. Read more.

Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 38, Raiders 28
Gutierrez’s pick: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
FPI prediction: TB, 56.2% (by an average of 2.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: What Brady’s jerseys have meant to him and lessons he’s learned along the wayRaiders’ Jacobs becoming better all-around back under Allen’s tutelageCarr, MVP candidate? A Raiders bye-week progress report


4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
74.3 | Spread: KC -10 (46)

What to watch for: Will the Broncos make rushing yards matter? The best, and perhaps only, defense against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is keeping the ball away from him. The idea that you can pound away to win can be a tough sell, but the Chiefs have not defended the run well much of the season. They’ve allowed at least 144 rushing yards four times and over 180 yards twice — but have lost just one of those games. Snow could be in the forecast, and the Broncos’ best chance to win will be a run game paired with some play-action shots down the field. — Jeff Legwold

Bold prediction: The Broncos will score multiple touchdowns. OK, that might not sound like a bold prediction, but they haven’t scored even one in their past seven quarters against the Chiefs. — Adam Teicher

Stat to know: Mahomes has had multiple passing touchdowns in each of the first six games of the season, making him the first Chief in history to do so.

Injuries: Chiefs | Broncos

What to know for fantasy: What will Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell‘s impact be? Clyde Edwards-Helaire is RB16 on a per-game basis thus far, and if he loses 20% of his value to Bell, he’d fall to RB26. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Denver is 4-1 ATS as an underdog this season. Read more.

Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 31, Broncos 23
Legwold’s pick: Chiefs 27, Broncos 22
FPI prediction: KC, 75.9% (by an average of 9.6 points)

Matchup must-reads: Chiefs can’t wait to add Bell to a loaded offensive lineupWhy Broncos’ Lock needs to learn to play it safe sometimesWhy have the Chiefs pumped the brakes on Hardman?Much-maligned Broncos tackle Bolles is … good now?

play

1:12

Marcus Spears breaks down the best defensive strategy for a chance at shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
72.9 | Spread: NE -1.5 (44)

What to watch for: The Patriots have turned the ball over seven times in their past two games, both losses. The 49ers have created just six takeaways all season. If the Patriots continue to be sloppy with the football, they could be looking at back-to-back regular-season home losses for the first time since the 2008 season. — Mike Reiss

Bold prediction: New England quarterback Cam Newton will rush for 90-plus yards. Believe it or not, Newton has only four such games in his career and hasn’t hit the 90-yard mark since 2017. But the 49ers have struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks, allowing 231 rushing yards to QBs so far this season, most in the NFL. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is averaging 7.4 yards per attempt this season (18th in the NFL), down from 8.4 in 2019 (third).

Injuries: 49ers | Patriots

What to know for fantasy: Is Julian Edelman overrated in fantasy? The most recent time the Pats wideout finished as a top-60 wide receiver was Week 2. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: New England is 41-16 ATS following a loss since the start of the 2003 season and is 52-27 ATS after a loss under coach Bill Belichick. Read more.

Wagoner’s pick: Patriots 24, 49ers 20
Reiss’ pick: Patriots 23, 49ers 20
FPI prediction: NE, 50.3% (by an average of 0.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Garoppolo has questions to answer three years after tradeAnalytics supported Belichick going for 2 in Patriots’ defeatBelichick effusive in praise for “great” TE KittlePatriots QB Newton says “no need to press the panic button” after loss to Broncos


4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
25.3 | Spread: LAC -7.5 (49)

What to watch for: It’s Justin Herbert vs. Gardner Minshew — if Minshew plays, that is. He might be benched in favor of Mike Glennon. Herbert recalled facing Minshew in college, when he was at Oregon and Minshew was under center for Washington State. It’s an interesting battle of rookie QBs. Per research by the Elias Sports Bureau, Herbert needs 285 passing yards to have the fifth most in a player’s first five career games. And Minshew is coming off five consecutive games with 40-plus pass attempts, the longest streak in Jaguars history. — Shelley Smith

Bold prediction: The Jaguars will tie an NFL record by allowing the Chargers to score 30-plus points. That would mark the sixth consecutive game in a single season in which they’ve allowed 30 points. The Chargers have scored 58 points in their past two games, and as Herbert gets more comfortable, he’ll thrive against a Jaguars defense that struggles to rush the passer. — Mike DiRocco

Stat to know: Jacksonville running back James Robinson has 569 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage this season, both second among rookies (TDs is tied for second).

Injuries: Jaguars | Chargers

What to know for fantasy: Dak Prescott was the only quarterback to outscore Herbert in Weeks 4-5 (the Chargers were on bye last weekend). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Anthony Lynn is 5-14-1 ATS as a home favorite since becoming the Chargers’ coach in 2017. Read more.

DiRocco’s pick: Chargers 35, Jaguars 18
Smith’s pick: Chargers 27, Jaguars 14
FPI prediction: LAC, 71.7% (by an average of 7.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Jaguars’ Marrone won’t rule out sitting MinshewYoung Chargers hope bye week helps them blast off under HerbertMarrone: No plans to fire DC WashBye week shift might be a (rare) good break for the ChargersAaron Lynch ending retirement to join Jaguars


8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
78 | Spread: SEA -3.5 (56)

What to watch for: Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck didn’t have a sack last weekend after posting two in Week 5 in his defensive debut. Watch for him to be a consistent presence in the Cardinals’ pass rush and get a sack of Seattle’s Russell Wilson. — Josh Weinfuss

Bold prediction: Something ridiculous will happen. It usually does when the Seahawks play at State Farm Stadium. There was the inexplicable 6-6 tie in 2016, the Thursday night game in 2017 in which the Legion of Boom came undone with injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and then the 2018 game in which Earl Thomas flipped the bird as he was carted off. Oh yeah, it’s also where Malcolm Butler picked off Wilson to rip a second straight Super Bowl out of the Seahawks’ hands. So what’s next? How about Wilson leading another game-winning drive and hitting No. 3 tight end Jacob Hollister for the decisive touchdown? — Brady Henderson

Stat to know: Wilson’s 19 passing TDs are second most for a player through a team’s first five games in NFL history. He needs three to tie the record for the most through a team’s first six games (Peyton Manning, 22 in 2013). On the other side, Arizona QB Kyler Murray has five games this season with a passing TD and a rushing TD, the most by any player through the first six games of a season in NFL history. He would be the first player ever with six such games through a team’s first seven games of a season.

Injuries: Seahawks | Cardinals

What to know for fantasy: Don’t forget how much potential these Seattle wide receivers have. In each of the first three weeks this season, both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were top-20 performers at the position. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The Cardinals are the only team to have every game go under this season. Read more.

Henderson’s pick: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 27
Weinfuss’ pick: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 21
FPI prediction: SEA, 58.0% (by an average of 2.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Seahawks OC Schottenheimer getting bird’s-eye view of Wilson’s brillianceDrake motivated by momDefense leaking, Wilson cooking: Five numbers on Seahawks’ 5-0 startWhy Cardinals’ Hopkins honors Vesey on his helmet

play

1:42

Mike Clay notes that Arizona had DK Metcalf’s number in his rookie season and speculates that CB Patrick Peterson could shadow Metcalf this Sunday.

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN
Matchup rating:
60.9 | Spread: LAR -6 (45)

What to watch for: The Rams have defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Bears have edge rusher Khalil Mack. So it should come as no surprise that these teams each boast a stout defense, with the Rams allowing an average of 19 points per game to the Bears’ 19.3. However, the Rams have an edge on offense, scoring an average of four more points per game than the Bears. — Lindsey Thiry

Bold prediction: Donald will sack Bears quarterback Nick Foles three times. The interior of the Bears’ offensive line is suspect, especially after starting left guard James Daniels went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Last weekend, Foles took some big hits because of faulty protection but managed to get rid of the football. The 31-year-old veteran quarterback will not be as lucky on Monday night versus Donald, who is the league’s premier defensive lineman. — Jeff Dickerson

Stat to know: This is the fifth time in the past 30 years that the Bears have started 5-1 or better (2012, 2006, 2001 and 1990). They made the playoffs in all but one of those seasons (2012).

Injuries: Bears | Rams

What to know for fantasy: Chicago running back David Montgomery has 11 catches in the two games following Tarik Cohen’s injury. He had nine in four games with Cohen in the mix. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Chicago is 4-1 both straight up and ATS as an underdog this season. With another upset victory this weekend, Chicago could join the 2004 Jaguars and 1999 Lions as the only teams with five upset victories within their first seven games of a season in the Super Bowl era. Read more.

Dickerson’s pick: Rams 20, Bears 18
Thiry’s pick: Rams 21, Bears 14
FPI prediction: LAR, 70.0% (by an average of 7.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Nagy’s 5-1 Bears are “fired up” — like it or notRams out to prove Week 6 clunker was a fluke versus Bears

Published at Sun, 25 Oct 2020 04:48:10 +0000

‘It’s time for the shield to protect us’: NFL players want team owners to take action — now

‘It’s time for the shield to protect us’: NFL players want team owners to take action — now

If you think what happened in the NBA on Wednesday can’t happen in the NFL, you don’t know what year this is.

Old rules are out the window in 2020. Long-held expectations are outdated. The Detroit Lions canceled practice Tuesday so they could stand outside of their team facility and talk about police brutality in front of reporters. Nine NFL teams canceled their practices Thursday so they could discuss larger societal issues among themselves.

Ostensibly, this week’s sports protests sprouted in response to an incident in which Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But if you’ve been listening and paying attention for the past several months, you’re well aware that this is about much more than just the latest police shooting of a Black man. Players aren’t simply outraged that this happened, they’re outraged that it keeps happening. And they want us to know they aren’t going to just keep playing basketball or baseball or football or soccer on our televisions as if it’s not.

The NFL is well aware of this. Thursday morning, two weeks before the scheduled season opener between the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans, one of the highest-ranking officials at the league’s Park Avenue offices appeared on ESPN Radio in tears and said of NBA-style boycotts happening in the NFL, “If we’re not expecting this is going to happen, then we’re not living in reality.”

“They’re already happening,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said on the Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin Show. “We saw the young men in Detroit and Seattle and today in Washington. … We’ve just got so much work to do.”

The emotion in Vincent’s voice was a striking reminder of the irrelevance of the old rules and boundaries that used to surround our sports. Vincent is a powerful league executive with a vested interest in making sure the NFL season is as smooth and successful as possible, but he’s also a worried Black father who spoke about trying to prevent his three sons from “being hunted.” The significance of the latter role has pushed the former one well to the side. Co-host Keyshawn Johnson asked Vincent how difficult it was to have these conversations with the NFL’s 32 team owners, who are Vincent’s bosses.

“Many are there, Key, and I must say in full transparency, many are not, because they think it’s a disruption of the business,” Vincent said. “We’re not asking — the players, we as Black men — we’re not asking for anything that you’re not looking for for your children, your families. It can’t be any clearer. When you watch the video of eight minutes and 46 seconds of a knee on somebody’s neck who’s handcuffed, that should not be a dispute.”

That reference was to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis three months ago, not the shooting of Blake this week, but it served to underline Vincent’s point that this is a much broader issue.

“Now, how do we address this together? We need your influence as an owner,” Vincent continued. “We need you to bridge the gap for us. We need you to talk to the DA. We need you to have conversations with your local and state officials. We need you to address police reform. … We’re just asking them to be in this fight with us. We love our game. We love the game that we play. But our communities are under siege and we can’t have a blind eye to it.”

Vincent has been talking to players, and he’s amplifying what they’ve told him — that they want team owners not only to allow the player protests they tried to eliminate two years ago but to stand with them this time. The players are crying out for help while also offering a road map for internal NFL peace. As of this writing, no NFL team owner had commented publicly on the issues surrounding this week’s practice cancellations. For those concerned about disruption, broadcasting to the world that you’re on the players’ side could potentially have the dual effect of saving your season and actually doing something helpful.

“The challenge is now on these owners,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said Thursday. “We want them to speak out on a lot of these issues that exist, for their players. Just as much as we’re held accountable and we represent each organization a certain way when we leave this building, we expect them to now stand up and speak out on these issues to protect us as Black men. And I think that is the message that we as players should really enforce is that these owners come together and not only support us privately but step up and support us publicly as well.”

The players do have answers for those who would decry the boycotts and ask what they’re actually doing. Cleveland Browns pass-rusher Myles Garrett started a petition that would lead to the criminalization of hate speech. The Tennessee Titans, in their team meetings Thursday, talked about voter registration initiatives, community outreach and setting up meetings with elected officials. Players such as Malcolm Jenkins and Doug Baldwin have been actively working for the past couple of years to get legislation passed to address issues such as prison reform, and in some cases the laws they’ve supported have been enacted.

There are plenty more examples of concrete ideas and real action behind the words and symbols. The protests and the threat of boycotts are designed, at least in part, to get the attention of those who can help the players deliver the change. If the NFL’s owners are concerned about a disruption of their business, then forcing them to confront that disruption is a great way to get their attention.

play

6:36

An emotional Troy Vincent goes in depth on the racial inequalities in the U.S. and how change needs to happen.

“We’re just trying to figure out what we can do to not only bring light to the situation and how it’s wrong, just with police brutality,” Lions safety Duron Harmon told reporters Tuesday after the team’s demonstration, “but how can we, as a team, create change not only amongst ourselves but amongst the community so when things like this happen, we’re speaking on it and putting the pressure on officials to do the right thing and prosecute these officers to the fullest extent.”

In early June, when protests were erupting around the country following the police killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, several high-profile NFL players, including star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, recorded a video calling out the league for inattention to the issues behind the protests. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recorded his own video the following day, saying a number of the things the players in the first video wanted to hear from the league. Goodell followed that with a series of conversations with the players in the video and other players around the league about off-field issues that were important to them. When the NFL announced in June that it was establishing a new voter education and registration initiative, Goodell said it grew out of those conversations, in which players stressed voting as a key cause they wanted the league’s help in supporting.

That’s just one example — or else, it had better be just one example if the NFL wants to keep its players happy in the ways that are meaningful to them beyond their paychecks and playing time. NFL players want to know that their league and their teams are behind the causes and issues that they care about. They want support and assistance from their deep-pocketed team owners in helping push the legislative and community reforms they support. They know that pressure from a billionaire team owner might resonate differently with a state legislator or a U.S. senator than even a plea from a star quarterback does, and they feel these issues need all the help they can get.

“We’ve been protecting the shield,” Jets running back Le’Veon Bell tweeted Thursday. “It’s time for the shield to protect us.”

play

1:30

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy says it’s difficult to talk about football with everything going on in the country. He also offers his support to the Bucks for protesting by not playing.

It didn’t go unnoticed among NFL players that the Milwaukee Bucks spent a portion of Wednesday night talking to Wisconsin state legislators and executives about what could be done to address police reform. That’s the kind of thing NFL players have been doing since four years ago Wednesday, when Colin Kaepernick first sat on the bench during the national anthem in protest of these very same issues. It’s the kind of thing they want to continue to do so that symbolic protests and bottom-line-rattling boycotts don’t represent the extent of their actions on the root issues.

“Are we going to change the world? No, not at all,” New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said Thursday. “This system has been built over hundreds of years, and it’s not going to be a few guys on the Patriots that play football that’s going to embark a change on a system that’s automatically going to go to being equal and fair to everybody. But I do feel like we’ve been blessed and we’ve been placed in the situations we’re in to make a difference. That’s not just chasing Super Bowls. It’s bigger than that. When you realize that, it allows you to continue to move forward and continue to fight for what you feel is right.”

This is the current mindset of the NFL player angry over a repetitive news cycle of police violence against Black people. It’s the same mindset that drove a player-led boycott of NBA playoff games Wednesday. McLeod cited the NBA’s player boycott and indicated that NFL players could “possibly take extreme measures.” So if you don’t think the same thing that happened in the NBA this week can happen in the NFL two weeks from now or two months from now or the week the playoffs are supposed to start, you’re not paying attention. And if the league’s 32 team owners want to make sure it doesn’t, then the best thing they can do is make sure the players and the public know that they are.

Published at Thu, 27 Aug 2020 21:42:18 +0000

Down, but never out: Why Colts’ Frank Reich is king of comebacks

Down, but never out: Why Colts’ Frank Reich is king of comebacks

INDIANAPOLIS — It was the only type of reaction you’d expect from Frank Reich.

Andrew Luck, the franchise quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, had just delivered the biggest blow to the organization in a decade when, during a private meeting at the team complex on Aug. 20, 2019, he told his head coach, owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard that he planned to retire.

A decision like that, especially coming two weeks before the start of the regular season, caused panic and a lot of uneasiness in the quarterback-driven NFL.

Some fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium the night of Luck’s retirement on Aug. 24, 2019, snapped pictures of the quarterback one final time as he stood on the sideline in Colts shorts and T-shirt after ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news. Others, clearly angry over his decision, booed as he walked off the field.

But Reich?

He did what he often does best: He didn’t flinch.

“He’s always been that guy that has gotten his team through it,” said Boomer Esiason, a teammate of Reich’s at the University of Maryland. “Buffalo, Maryland. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been in big situations where he’s had to be the guy himself. He knows that feeling of having to overcome things on the field and off of it.”

Reich isn’t one who wavers. He talks with the same conviction and walks with the same confidence that he has carried no matter what he has encountered along the way.

To not being able to ever really become a full-time starting quarterback in college or the NFL. To stepping in as a backup quarterback and leading teams at the University of Maryland and Buffalo Bills to the largest comebacks in college football and NFL history. To putting a promising coaching career on hold to pursue a career as a minister. To not being the first choice as head coach of the Colts and overcoming a 1-5 start and leading them to the playoffs in 2018.

To losing Luck.

There should be a picture of Reich’s face next to the word “comeback” when you look it up.

“Can you believe everything he’s had to deal with?” said former Bills coach Marv Levy, who turned 95 this month. “I’m not surprised one bit how he’s handled it with the best of them. He’s unique, high character, self-demanding of himself. He’s not a guy who is panicking and slamming the tables. He’s studying, he’s preparing. He’s not being phony about anything. He never tried to be somebody he wasn’t in doing it.”

Reich’s biggest challenge is now taking place. He has the responsibility of preparing a team — like the other 31 in the league — that didn’t have any field work during the offseason session because of the coronavirus. Reich and his staff have been cramming what would typically be months of work into six weeks.

That’s fine with Reich. He doesn’t get worked up about it. He’s embracing the moment and going with it.

“My dad modeled it. I saw him model it,” Reich said. “Not just as a coach, but that was his demeanor and his poise in all situations. In life. When our house was ravaged by a flood and we lost everything, how he handled that. He was a leader, not with our home, but in the neighborhood helping other people.

“Both of my parents were school teachers. I’d hear all the stories about the classroom experiences. From a leadership standpoint, a competition standpoint, really, my parents modeled it for me.”

The good boy

The laugh was the same, even though they were nearly 600 miles apart talking about Reich at two different times.

Brian Baker was a teammate at the University of Maryland and now is the Colts’ defensive line coach. He was thinking the same thing as Esiason, a former quarterback at Maryland before becoming an All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Reich was a football nerd in college. He studied the game, preparing to be called upon at any moment, and became an incredible teammate.

“Frank and I ran in different circles. I was doing crazy stuff back then and Frank wasn’t. He was being responsible,” Baker said. “But we always had a friendship. It was strange because there was no reason why we should have been friends. The thing that’s exactly the same about Frank back then and still today is that he’s genuine and consistent. That’s all you can ask from a person.”

Reich didn’t get a lot of playing time at Maryland. He appeared in a total of 18 games and threw for barely 1,700 yards. His claim to fame was coming off the bench to replace Stan Gelbaugh and leading the Terrapins from a 31-0 halftime deficit to beat the University of Miami 42-40 in 1984. It was the largest comeback in NCAA history at the time.

The majority of Reich’s time at Maryland was spent on the sideline and in the meeting room, thinking and analyzing the game as if he were a coach.

“Frank was the studious one, without question, when we lived together,” said Esiason, who started at Maryland for three years with Reich as a backup. “If you asked our coaches how to describe the two of us, they would say I was the rebellious one. He was the one that was easy to get along with. I was probably a little more distracted, if you know what I mean.”

Just knew it

The Bills of the late 1980s and early 1990s, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, put a heavy emphasis on running the no-huddle offense, which kept defenses off balance and played a part in them reaching the Super Bowl for four consecutive years — all losses — from 1991-94.

Reich was right there in the preparation of the offense that gave defenses fits. He and Kelly would meet almost daily by themselves well before the rest of the offensive coaching staff arrived, going over plays they believed would work in the game plan. Reich often would tell Kelly that if he didn’t believe in a play, don’t run it because he’d need to believe in it to have a chance for it to be successful.

Did Kelly always listen to Reich on what plays to run?

Of course not. But he listened more times than not during their eight seasons as teammates with the Bills.

“When people talk about giving their two cents, that wasn’t Frank,” Kelly said. “When Frank spoke it was dollars, it was paper money. It wasn’t pennies. It was something you take to heart and I always did. Every time Frank spoke, I always took it to heart. I listened to what he had to say and it always helped.”

The biggest moment of Reich’s NFL career came on Jan. 3, 1993, when Reich, playing for the injured Kelly, led Buffalo back from a 32-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime in an AFC wild-card game. It remains the largest comeback victory in NFL history.

“When Frank was doing that comeback, I knew to stay away. He had that mindset; I knew not to say much,” Kelly said. “Frank was always that way. He was a coach in meetings and we spoke a lot. I owe him a lot for the success I had. I don’t think I would have been as good of a quarterback if Frank was not a part of my life on the field and off the field.”

Former Colts general manager Bill Polian was general manager of the Bills when they dominated the AFC, and he knew Reich had the intangibles to be a coach. That’s why Polian, who was in Indianapolis at the time, reached out to Reich to be the team quarterbacks coach shortly after the Colts selected Peyton Manning as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Reich had just retired after a 14-year playing career with the Bills, Panthers, Jets and Lions.

“He has an outstanding and broad understanding of the game, which translates to vision,” Polian said. “He can look at a team, a player, a system and say it’ll work in this situation. Not everybody can do that. He’s a great communicator, so he gets the message across and the players respect him and listen and learn.

“When he was a player, he was exactly that way and so how did I know he had a chance to be a successful head coach? I guess you just know. When you’ve been around the game long enough, you were able to say, ‘Look at this guy. I think he’ll make a terrific coach. He has all the attributes.’ You can see that as a player.”

As flattering as it was for Polian to reach out and trust him enough to work with a No. 1 overall pick, Reich declined, choosing instead to get involved in the seminary and become a pastor.

Being a minister, in a different kind of way, helped Reich prepare to be a coach because he never knew what would be thrown his way on a daily basis.

“There are a lot of similarities but the one that comes to mind most of all is a growth mindset, right? You want to grow. You want to help people grow,” he said. “So, whether it was as a minister or as a coach, you’re trying to encourage, push people to grow in important matters in their life that they are interested in — that they want to grow in.”

Reich couldn’t stay away from the game, however. He became a volunteer assistant coach on his younger brother Joe’s staff at Wingate (N.C.) University, a NCAA Division II program.

Reich finally took up Polian on his offer in 2006 and joined the Colts staff as a coaching intern.

“He worked closely with me when he was an intern and it didn’t take very long to see he had a great connection and understanding of the position,” said Jim Caldwell, who was the Colts quarterbacks coach in 2006. “He played the position, but not every person who played the position can coach the position. I think that’s quite evident by looking around. He’s an excellent teacher. No. 1, because he can communicate effectively. No. 2, he has empathy for the position and he speaks in a language for those guys to understand. He doesn’t make it real complicated.”

Caldwell knew what he had in Reich and that’s why he named him quarterbacks coach when Caldwell replaced Tony Dungy as coach of the team in 2009.

That meant Reich finally was going to be Manning’s position coach, 11 years after Polian approached him about the job. But it wasn’t an easy task for Reich because Manning already had won a Super Bowl, been selected to nine Pro Bowls and been named league MVP twice.

And that still wasn’t enough for Manning. He wanted to be tested, pushed and challenged to become an even better player.

“I’ll never forget this: I remember saying to Frank that he had the easiest job in football because he was coaching Peyton Manning,” Esiason said. “He goes, ‘You think it’s easy coaching Peyton Manning? This is hard. He asks more questions than anybody. I have to be more prepared for Peyton than anybody else.’

“He learned how to become an NFL head coach by coaching one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The preparedness was always one of his best attributes. And what’s crazy is who knows if he would be a head coach today if Josh McDaniels didn’t change his mind.”

Being second … again

Everybody in Indianapolis knows the Josh McDaniels saga.

The Colts thought they had Chuck Pagano’s replacement as coach perfectly lined up when they believed they had plucked offensive guru Josh McDaniels out of New England to pair with Luck. They sent out a news release on Feb. 6, 2018, announcing that McDaniels had agreed to be coach and there would be a news conference the following afternoon.

Or so they thought. McDaniels called Ballard that night and told him he had decided to stay as the offensive coordinator in New England.

Reich, who was coming off a Super Bowl victory as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, had strong backing from people such as Levy and Polian and blew away the Colts during the interview process, especially by not once asking about the health of Luck, who had missed the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury.

“The backup role has suited me well in my career,” Reich said during his introductory news conference.

Esiason described it was one of the greatest lines of “all time.”

As calm and as confident as Reich was when he made that comment on that cold February afternoon, he showed the same composure seven months later, when he told Luck and the offense to stay on the field when they went for it — and failed — on fourth down in their own territory in an overtime loss to Houston in Week 4 of the 2018 season. The gutsy play call didn’t work, but it won over the locker room for the first-time head coach.

It’s the same composure Reich displayed when he could have become rattled after a 1-5 start to his rookie season as coach. The Colts won nine of their final 10 games to make the playoffs.

And it’s the same composure Reich had when he sat next to Ballard and Irsay that Saturday night a year ago at Lucas Oil Stadium after what was supposed to be just another preseason game when the sports world was rocked following Luck’s retirement announcement in August 2019.

But that’s Reich. He exudes confidence. Esiason, already laughing before telling the story, recalled approaching Reich on the field a few hours before the start of Super Bowl LII against the Patriots and asked how he was feeling about the game.

“He said, ‘We feel good. We’re going to rip these guys,'” Esiason said. “He wasn’t saying it to insult the Patriots. It was more about the confidence in the game plan, the plays they had in mind. And the way they felt really good about going after the Patriots.”

The Eagles, highlighted by the Philly Special play, beat heavily favored New England 41-33.

As far as trash-talking goes, commenting that he planned to “rip” the Patriots is the extent of it for Reich … unless he’s on the golf course.

“Even when he’s taken money from me on the golf course, it’s not like he’s insulting me,” Esiason said. “Those of us who have known Frank for the longest time, it’s like when you lose to him, you just say I’m going to get you the next time. That’s the only way I can look at it. There’s no F-bombs or cursing. I have so many friends I golf with who are F-bombing me left and right that it’s like a vacation when I play with Frank.”

Reich doesn’t swear; he’s not a screamer, either. But if you listen to the way he talks, or the confidence he has when he enters a stadium wearing oversized headphones, you realize he has firm belief that he has what it takes to outcoach and outprepare an opponent.

“His demeanor is a result of his psyche and his personality, which is essentially low key, highly competitive and cerebral,” Polian said. “He’s able to weather those ups and downs because he understands where they fit in the larger scheme of things.”

Dealing with another obstacle

The Colts — on paper at least — have the best overall roster they’ve had in Reich’s three seasons as coach.

But what he’s about to endure this season is bigger than the 32-point second-half deficit he faced in Buffalo. It’ll be much more difficult because of COVID-19.

Reich and the rest of the organization have to find a way to stay healthy beyond a torn hamstring or knee injury. They have to do their best not to test positive for the virus. And if they do test positive, how well can the organization adjust?

There will be plenty of tests coming Reich’s way on and off the field. His focus is the same as it was in early March before COVID-19 took hold: Have his team mentally and physically ready for this season.

“Frank is a lot like I am,” Ballard said. “There is no panic in him and when your leader doesn’t panic, everybody else feels this sense of calm. So, that’s one. There’s never an excuse. I think both of us are good at this, but Frank especially. He never makes an excuse. ‘Whoever we got, we got. Let’s go. It’s our job to find a way to win.’ … At the end of the day, that’s what coaches are: They’re teachers.

“They are great teachers and it was great to watch each one of them really find ways to teach the material. They were all creative. That was a beautiful thing to watch. None of them flinched. I think they know being around here, ‘No bulls—ing, no complaining. Let’s find answers.’… Frank, he’s not going to flinch now no matter what.”

Published at Wed, 26 Aug 2020 11:58:27 +0000

Ultimate Madden NFL 21 preview: Best players, rookies, teams and more

Ultimate Madden NFL 21 preview: Best players, rookies, teams and more

It is, in some ways, the final game of one era and the start of another one. Madden NFL 21 will begin on PlayStation 4 and XBox One. It eventually will be one of the first games to appear on the next generation of consoles, PlayStation 5 and XBox Series X, too. The game will release to the public on Friday, with people who made preorders able to access the game Tuesday.

Which means eventually — potentially next year — there could be massive changes to the game. But this year, there are still things that will look and feel different when the game is officially released later this week. The “skill stick” will allow for more dynamic controlling of players and potentially sharper moves and cuts. A new career mode, called “Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame,” taking a career from high school to the pros, replaces the quarterback-based storyline from last year. And the game is also adding a playground version of football called “The Yard.”

The mainstays are there, too — from the second year of superstars and X-factors to longstanding modes such as franchise and Ultimate Team. But as it always does, so much of Madden comes back to the players and how they are rated. To which, this guide will help:

Players to know in Madden NFL 21

The 99 Club

Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams
Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Fun facts: By now, Donald is a mainstay. The future Hall of Famer is a 99 for the fourth time and is joined by a bunch of new faces. Mahomes becomes the first quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees to earn a launch 99 rating since Peyton Manning in Madden 11. McCaffrey and Thomas were 99s by the last update of last season, and Gilmore is the game’s best corner.

Whither the reign of a 99 linebacker, as the position is not represented as a 99 for the first time since Madden 16 — ending a stint during which Luke Kuechly, Von Miller and Bobby Wagner all earned the top rating for at least one season. The world of long-snappers — listed as tight ends — again take up the bottom of the rankings with Tampa Bay’s Zach Triner (23), Indianapolis’ Luke Rhodes (24), Las Vegas’ Trent Sieg (24) and Jacksonville’s Matt Orzech (25) the worst in the game.


Young leads the youngsters

Here are the ratings for the top 10 picks in the 2020 NFL draft:

1. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (76)
2. Chase Young, RE, Washington Football Team (80)
3. Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions (76)
4. Andrew Thomas, RT, New York Giants (78)
5. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (73)
6. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (70)
7. Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers (78)
8. Isaiah Simmons, SS, Arizona Cardinals (78)
9. CJ Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars (76)
10. Jedrick Wills Jr., LT, Cleveland Browns (73)

Fun facts: So the rookies might not look all that strong. Chase Young, at an 80, matches what the game did last year with Quinnen Williams, and there’s a reason why the rookies don’t have massive numbers yet. First is one of the philosophies the game’s ratings creators have: Make the rookies earn it. They have no problem jumping a rookie up quickly if he plays well. For instance, Oakland running back Josh Jacobs started last season as a 74. This season, he’ll begin the year as an 88. Defensive end Nick Bosa was a 78 to start last year. This year? He’s an 89.

As far as this year’s group, it’s not surprising to see Herbert as the lowest rated in the top 10. Some of that has to do with positional spread and also the reality of it being much harder to come in as a rookie quarterback and succeed. Burrow is tied with Jared Goff and Jameis Winston, Tagovailoa with Sam Darnold and Herbert with Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins and Gardner Minshew II. It takes time to make progress as a quarterback — Kyler Murray is a 77 to start this year, for example — but once you step up a level, it shows in the game. Same with cornerback, which is why despite the praise Okudah has received, he’s still a 76, which is on the level of a D.J. Hayden, Josh Norman and Charvarius Ward. He’ll have a chance to move up quickly if he can lock down receivers.


Speed, please

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (99)
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders (98)
Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Marquise Goodwin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles*
Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (97)

Fun facts: Is it any surprise at this point that Hill is a 99 speed? It shouldn’t be for the man dubbed “Cheetah.” The more interesting addition is the rookie Ruggs. There’s no questioning his speed coming out of Alabama, with his 4.27-second 40-yard dash. It’s the second straight year a rookie has been second in speed — last year it was Brown, who had and continues to have a 97. The Chiefs, as you’d think, will be a handful on offense with the 99-rated Mahomes throwing to the 99-speed Hill and the 97-speed Hardman. If you like running go routes, Kansas City might be the team for you. Once again, Baltimore right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is the game’s slowest player with a 50 rating. He has company in the low 50s from some offensive linemen and one defensive player, Detroit Lions tackle Danny Shelton. As far as non-linemen, Tom Brady may be good at many things, but speed is not one of them. He and Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby have the lowest non-lineman speed at 60.

* Goodwin opted out of the 2020 season but is still on the Eagles’ roster.


Most/least aware

Most aware: Donald, Thomas, Gilmore, J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans, Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons, Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts, Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers (99)

Least aware: Jonathan Woodard, RE, Buffalo Bills (43); Beau Brinkley, TE, Tennessee Titans (44)

What does this actually mean: Let’s be clear here: This doesn’t mean anything in real life. But it basically helps the game decide how often a player is in the right place. And the 99 grouping here all have a knack for almost always being exactly where they are supposed to be. Watt, Donald and Sherman return from being 99s here last year, but the Madden raters dropped from 13 players with 99 awareness to seven. And some of these players — particularly newcomers Thomas and Nelson — should be here for years to come.


Strong vs. weak

Strongest: Donald (99); Linval Joseph, DT, Los Angeles Chargers, Matthew Ioannidis, DT, Washington Football Team (98); J.J. Watt, Quenton Nelson, Ndamukong Suh, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vita Vea, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (97)

Weakest: Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers (25); Aldrick Rosas, K, New York Giants (30)

All hail The Donald: Donald, to the surprise of zero people who have seen him in person, remains the strongest player in Madden. The Bucs remain the three-lettered defensive line you don’t want to mess with, with Suh and Vea each rated at 97 (a drop of one point for Suh from last season). Ioannidis is the lone newcomer of the top-rated strength guys, and considering he’s only 26, he could be here for a bit. Gould takes over as the weakest player in the game — the era of Phil Dawson is over — followed up again by Aldrick Rosas, who will be on the Giants at launch but is also no longer on the Giants. 49ers receiver Travis Benjamin once again is the weakest non-kicker or punter in the game and the only non-kicker or punter below 40 with a 38 rating.


Arms race

Strongest: Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (99); Mahomes (97); Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers, Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (94)

Least strong: Logan Woodside, Tennessee Titans (75); Garrett Gilbert, Cleveland Browns (76); Matt Schaub, Atlanta Falcons, Ryan Griffin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (77)

Fun facts: These ratings have largely stayed the same — minus Tyree Jackson and his 95 throw power from last season. It made sense from his arm strength, but he’s currently out of the league and the game. Mahomes got a one-point jump, but remember anything over a 90 is really, really good here because of last year’s stretch of throw power ratings to make quarterbacks feel more realistic. Twenty quarterbacks have throw power of 90 or greater at launch, up from 18 a year ago and down from 53 two years ago, pre-stretch. The bottom of the throw-power ratings for quarterbacks this year is better than last season, where Logan Woodside and his 75 rating — unchanged from last year — is at the bottom. Matt Schaub actually improved by four from a season ago.


The good, and not-so-good, hands people

Best: Thomas (99); DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals, George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (98); Austin Hooper, TE, Cleveland Browns, Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (97)

Worst: Ben Bredeson, G, Baltimore Ravens, Bradley Bozeman, G, Baltimore Ravens, Wes Schweitzer, G, Washington Football Team (12); Jamil Demby, G, Los Angeles Rams (13)

Fun facts: If you’re looking for a future star in this game — and in real life — Chris Godwin may be the way to go. He’s 24 years old and should continue to ascend in both the actual NFL and the virtual Madden world. Having Tom Brady throwing to him can only help. His hands, though, are already on point. The rest of the crew shouldn’t be a surprise, highlighted by Thomas and Hopkins, who have four of the best hands in the entire NFL. The Ravens have some players with truly putrid catch ratings, and they should as offensive linemen.


Man or zone? It’s your call

Best in man: Gilmore (99), Jalen Ramsey CB, Los Angeles Rams (95); Jaire Alexander, CB, Green Bay Packers (93); Casey Hayward Jr., Los Angeles Chargers (92), Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills (91)

Best in zone: Sherman (98); Gilmore (97); Ramsey (95), Eddie Jackson, S, Chicago Bears (94), Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots, Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans (93)

Fun facts: Do you like to play more Cover 2 or Cover 2 man? What’s your preference? If you’re looking at the elite corners, either the 99-rated Gilmore or the 95-in-man-and-zone Ramsey should be your choice. That Sherman remains a zone elite player after all these years continues to make sense — he was dominant last season — and the fact that some safeties are involved in zone offers some flexibility, too, when crafting your team and just one more thing to think about.

The best and worst teams in Madden NFL 21

Overall

Best: New Orleans Saints (93); San Francisco 49ers (89); Kansas City Chiefs (88)

Worst: Washington Football Team (74), Jacksonville Jaguars (74), Cincinnati Bengals (75), New York Jets (75)

Fun facts: No surprises here, unless you think New Orleans shouldn’t be the top team in the game. But then you look at the Saints’ high-powered offense led by Brees and Thomas and a defense anchored by pass-rush extraordinaire Cameron Jordan and it’s easy to see why the Saints are getting that attention. Kansas City’s defense is the main concern, even with Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones, knocking them from a likely first spot as Super Bowl champs down to third. San Francisco continues to have a ton of balance and a potentially dominant defense. As far as the worst teams, Washington’s quarterback situation is in question and the club is in a large rebuild with a new coach. Jacksonville’s talent level is just not great. Cincinnati could be sneakily better as the season goes along, but the Bengals did have the No. 1 pick last year for a reason. And the Jets, well, the Jets are a team bereft of established talent after the trade of Jamal Adams to Seattle. So it all makes sense.


Offenses

Best: New Orleans Saints (96); Kansas City Chiefs (92); Baltimore Ravens (89); Green Bay Packers (89)

Worst: Washington Football Team (66); New York Jets (67); Denver Broncos (69); Miami Dolphins (69)

Fun facts: It’s not a good thing if your overall unit rating is under a 70. Only one team (Miami) had that a season ago. The Dolphins haven’t improved in the game, but there’s hope for the future with Tua Tagovailoa on the roster. But rookies in Madden have to prove it, and until he does, the rating will remain. Washington’s offense is questionable other than Terry McLaurin. Denver has potential: Drew Lock is still very young, but the receiving combination of Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton could impress. Why are we talking about the worst? Mostly because there’s little to say about the best. The Saints are incredibly potent and were already mentioned. The Chiefs have so much speed and skill they are almost unfair to play with. Lamar Jackson is the Madden cover athlete in Baltimore and the Ravens have speed and talent across the offense with Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and more. And the Packers, who might be the most curious inclusion, still have Rodgers.


Defenses

Best: Chicago Bears (88); San Francisco 49ers (87); Baltimore Ravens (86); New Orleans Saints (86)

Worst: Jacksonville Jaguars (72); Carolina Panthers (72); Atlanta Falcons (72)

Fun facts: The Bears, even in a down year, still have such a formidable front. Khalil Mack remains one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers and Akiem Hicks is a problem in the middle. Eddie Jackson is one of the game’s top safeties over the top. The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last year largely due to their defensive prowess led by Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Sherman. The Jaguars’ talent is questionable outside of rookie K’Lavon Chaisson and linebackers Josh Allen and Myles Jack. Similar issues in Carolina outside of Kawann Short, Brian Burns and Derrick Brown. But a lot of questions for the entire unit.

Published at Tue, 25 Aug 2020 16:32:53 +0000