Week 12 NFL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, plus each team’s most underrated player

Week 12 NFL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, plus each team’s most underrated player

The NFL Power Rankings are all about evaluating teams every week. Since we have to rank all 32, there aren’t teams that fall through the cracks. That’s not the case with individual players, though.

Some players, no matter what they do, don’t get the big headlines. Whether they are stars who aren’t fully appreciated or role players who defer the praise to their more celebrated teammates, our NFL Nation writers identified that guy on the team they cover who quietly gets the job done. Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

Week 11 ranking: 1

Most underrated player: Lawrence Guy, DT

Big, powerful defensive tackles who don’t put up weighty sack numbers aren’t often part of the postgame conversation, especially if they prefer to be under the radar with the media, such as the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Guy does. But a large part of the success of the Patriots’ defense, which is the backbone of this year’s team, is Guy’s unsung work at the line of scrimmage — particularly against the run. He also tallied his first career interception earlier this season on an exemplary play. — Mike Reiss

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Pat McAfee says Lamar Jackson is doing something that nobody else can do right now in the NFL.

Week 11 ranking: 3

Most underrated player: Nick Boyle, TE

Boyle often takes a backseat to the Ravens’ pass-catching tight ends — Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst — with fans. But Boyle is the NFL’s top blocking tight end and a major reason why Baltimore has rushed for 2,038 yards — the most by any team in its first 10 games of a season since the 1977 Bears. “We all know how valuable he is,” Andrews said. “He’s basically what makes this offense tick.” — Jamison Hensley


Week 11 ranking: 2

Most underrated player: K’Waun Williams, CB

The diminutive Williams is a favorite in the Niners locker room for playing much bigger than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame would suggest. Williams is one of just three defensive backs with at least one sack, two forced fumbles and two interceptions through the first 11 weeks. “We call him the Shark for a reason, because he’s just out there tearing everything up in sight,” Niners linebacker Fred Warner said. “He kind of is the whole package and an outstanding player for sure.” — Nick Wagoner


Week 11 ranking: 4

Most underrated player: Shaquill Griffin, CB

Of all the issues the Seahawks have had on defense, Griffin has not been one of them. His 11 pass breakups are tied for the league lead among defensive backs, per ESPN charting. He has allowed a passer rating of 75.9 when he has been the nearest defender in coverage, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s eighth best among DBs with at least 50 targets. Griffin will have a hard time making the Pro Bowl unless he starts picking off some passes, but he is otherwise playing at that level. — Brady Henderson


Week 11 ranking: 5

Most underrated player: Elgton Jenkins, LG

The second-round pick ranks fourth among all NFL linemen in ESPN’s pass block win rate at 97.3%, which also is second among all guards. The rookie trails NFL leader and fellow Packer Corey Linsley, who was probably second choice for this write-up. Jenkins took over as a starter in Week 3 after left guard Lane Taylor suffered a torn biceps but would’ve done so eventually even without an injury to Taylor. “There’s been so much good, both in the run and the pass,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “But what I love about Elgton is the consistency and the level of effort that he brings each and every day on every play.” — Rob Demovsky


Week 11 ranking: 6

Most underrated player: Demario Davis, LB

The eighth-year veteran has never made a Pro Bowl. But he is working on his third straight season of at least 110 tackles. Since he arrived as a free agent last year, the Saints have had the NFL’s No. 1 run defense (allowing just 82.2 rushing yards per game over the past two seasons). Throw in everything Davis does as a captain, emotional leader and signal-caller wearing the defensive headset and he might be the Saints’ best free-agent signing in a decade. — Mike Triplett


Week 11 ranking: 7

Most underrated player: Jayron Kearse, S

In back-to-back weeks, Kearse has been credited with making the final play of the game to seal victories. He picked off Dak Prescott‘s Hail Mary attempt last week and broke up a pass in the end zone as time expired on Sunday against the Broncos. Kearse’s playing time has fluctuated, and the return of Andrew Sendejo puts the 6-foot-4 safety’s role in question. Still, when Harrison Smith sustained a hamstring injury late against Denver, Vikings coaches trusted Kearse to cover tight end Noah Fant in the ultimate “got to have it” situation. Coming through in these moments cements Kearse’s importance in the secondary. — Courtney Cronin

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Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debate if Patrick Mahomes can lead the Chiefs’ potent offense on a Super Bowl run despite the team’s vulnerable defense.

Week 11 ranking: 9

Most underrated player: Anthony Sherman, FB

Sherman doesn’t play much on offense, but there’s a reason the Chiefs keep bringing him back. Sherman is now in his seventh season with the Chiefs because of his special-teams ability. He led the Chiefs in special-teams tackles with five heading into Monday night’s game against the Chargers. — Adam Teicher


Week 11 ranking: 10

Most underrated player: La’el Collins, RT

On an offensive line with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, it is easy to be overlooked, but Collins is having his best season. He came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent playing left guard and moved to right tackle in his third season. He has become comfortable in his techniques and has found the right blend between aggressiveness and patience, especially in pass protection. The only issue he has is a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee that he aggravated in Sunday’s win at Detroit. If he can’t play, then folks will see his value. — Todd Archer

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Ryan Clark explains that Dak Prescott is showing every week that he should be included in MVP conversations and that he deserves the contract he’s asking for.

Week 11 ranking: 8

Most underrated player: Carlos Hyde, RB

Yes, Hyde is averaging 76.9 yards per game, nearly double what he averaged last season, but he is sometimes overlooked because he plays on an offense highlighted by quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Thanks to Hyde, the Texans rank fifth in the NFL in rushing. — Sarah Barshop


Week 11 ranking: 11

Most underrated player: Cory Littleton, LB

On a defense that packs plenty of star power with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Clay Matthews, Littleton often gets overlooked. But the fourth-year pro, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, often comes up with big-time plays. He has two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a team-best 82 tackles this season. Littleton, also a special-teams standout, is in the final season of his contract. — Lindsey Thiry


Week 11 ranking: 13

Most underrated player: Jordan Phillips, DT

Phillips is a known commodity among the Bills fan base, but the rest of the league likely will get to know him this coming offseason, as he has played himself into a sizable payday. Despite initially taking a backseat to 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver, the upcoming free agent trails only Aaron Donald in sacks among defensive tackles with seven and has been a much-needed presence in Buffalo’s interior pass rush. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Week 11 ranking: 14

Most underrated player: Zach Pascal, WR

Pascal has been the Colts’ best receiver not named T.Y. Hilton this season. Pascal, who was claimed off waivers from Tennessee in 2018, leads the Colts in receiving yards (364) despite being fifth (23) in receptions and third in targets (40). He’ll continue to be one of quarterback Jacoby Brissett‘s favorite targets at receiver until Hilton returns from his calf injury, which has cost Hilton four games this season. — Mike Wells


Week 11 ranking: 12

Most underrated player: Jalen Mills, CB

He isn’t the fastest or flashiest corner out there, but there’s no denying the value Mills brings to the Eagles’ secondary. The defense has looked much different since he returned to the lineup Week 7 following a lengthy absence due to a foot injury. Over the past three games, opposing quarterbacks have managed only two passing touchdowns while averaging 170 passing yards per game. That’s quite a shift from earlier in the season, when the Eagles were among the most giving pass defenses in the NFL. Mills’ swagger and steady, physical style have been a big part of the turnaround. — Tim McManus


Week 11 ranking: 17

Most underrated player: Trayvon Mullen, CB

Sure, the rookie was a second-round draft pick, but many observers wondered if the Raiders were too high on him when they traded away a former first-rounder in Gareon Conley midseason to elevate Mullen. Turns out, the Raiders’ instincts have been on the mark. Mullen still is growing into the role, no doubt, but while he has been a step or so short on a pair of pick-sixes over the past few weeks, he sealed the Raiders’ win against the Bengals on Sunday with a pick of Ryan Finley. — Paul Gutierrez


Week 11 ranking: 15

Most underrated player: Steven Nelson, CB

The Steelers’ corners haven’t been mentioned much with Minkah Fitzpatrick making highlight-reel plays every week, and that’s a good thing. Nelson didn’t have his best game against the Browns — he was covering Odell Beckham Jr. when the wideout made the 42-yard deep catch over the middle — but outside of that, Nelson has been solid. According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he has been targeted 13% of the time, and quarterbacks have completed 19 of 39 attempts for 259 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions when Nelson is the nearest defender. — Brooke Pryor


Week 11 ranking: 18

Most underrated player: Logan Ryan, CB

Ryan draws a tough assignment every week as the primary slot corner, along with lining up on the outside. In addition to his coverage, Ryan is asked to be a key player in run support, as evidenced by his 74 tackles — second most on the team. His versatility as a defensive back makes him an impactful pass-rusher from the nickel spot. No defensive back has more sacks than Ryan (7.5) dating back to 2018. Ryan’s 3.5 sacks this season also are second most on the team. His three interceptions are tied with safety Kevin Byard for the team lead. Ryan is a locker room leader, as well. — Turron Davenport


Week 11 ranking: 16

Most underrated player: DJ Moore, WR

He gets overlooked in the offense because running back Christian McCaffrey is on pace to break Chris Johnson’s NFL single-season record for total yards from scrimmage, but Moore quietly has become quite a weapon. He had eight receptions for 95 yards in Sunday’s loss, and over the past three games, he has 24 catches for 316 yards. With 779 receiving yards and six games remaining, he is easily on pace for a 1,000-yard season. He would become the youngest Carolina receiver to do so. — David Newton


Week 11 ranking: 19

Most underrated player: Derek Watt, FB

Although he has seen limited snaps at fullback, the Wisconsin product has been an impact player on special teams. Entering Monday’s contest against the Chiefs, Watt is leading the Chargers in special-teams tackles with 13. Watt also is 3-of-4 on converting third-and-1 rushes this season. — Eric D. Williams

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Ryan Clark, Tim Hasselbeck and Chris Mortensen agree that despite Mitchell Trubisky’s hip injury and poor play of late, the Bears will not give up on him as their quarterback.

Week 11 ranking: 20

Most underrated player: Nick Kwiatkoski, LB

All Kwiatkoski does is make plays when given the opportunity. The reserve linebacker has been pressed into action multiple times this season because of issues with Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, and Kwiatkoski has responded each time. A former fourth-round pick, Kwiatkoski had 10 total tackles, one sack and an interception in the Bears’ victory over the Lions in Week 10. Kwiatkoski also excels on special teams, where he made a huge tackle early in Sunday night’s loss to the Rams. — Jeff Dickerson


Week 11 ranking: 21

Most underrated player: Marvin Jones Jr., WR

It might sound weird that a known quantity would be underrated, but Jones has been a consistently strong presence since signing with Detroit in 2016. He is tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with eight and has had four or more catches in eight games this season. He has been playing under a reasonable contract and people know who he is, but his overall value to the Lions often goes unnoticed because of the presence of Kenny Golladay and the team’s collective struggles. — Michael Rothstein


Week 11 ranking: 25

Most underrated player: Joe Schobert, LB

Schobert quietly has had a fantastic season as a stabilizing force for a Browns defense that has desperately needed one. In the win over the Steelers on Thursday, Schobert had two picks, including one that set up the game-clinching TD. He leads the team with 67 tackles, more than double that of anybody else on the roster. His presence is going to be especially key as the Browns attempt to plug the dam while their top defensive player, DE Myles Garrett, sits the rest of the season with a suspension. — Jake Trotter

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Rex Ryan goes off on Myles Garrett for his fight with Mason Rudolph, calling it an assault and unacceptable.

Week 11 ranking: 22

Most underrated player: D.J. Hayden, CB

He is the Jaguars’ nickelback and has been good in coverage against slot receivers. When he is the nearest defender, slot receivers have caught just eight passes for 107 yards, and QBs targeting slot receivers against Hayden are completing only 44% of their attempts, per NextGen Stats. He also is the Jaguars’ best blitzer among defensive backs and has a career-high two sacks so far this season. — Mike DiRocco


Week 11 ranking: 24

Most underrated player: Chandler Jones, LB

It might sound crazy, but Jones doesn’t get the respect he deserves around the league, despite being arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL over the past five years. He leads the league in sacks yet again with 12.5, but Jones didn’t make the NFL Network’s Top 100 ranking. He is a game-changer every week who forces offensive lines to prepare accordingly for him, yet he is widely forgotten about outside the Cardinals locker room. — Josh Weinfuss


Week 11 ranking: 27

Most underrated player: Ricardo Allen, S

Allen isn’t known as a ball hawk, but he makes a tremendous impact with his football intelligence and ability to be a step ahead of the opponent. Allen is the best communicator on defense and has the versatility to play both safety spots as well as cornerback in a pinch. Allen had one of the team’s four interceptions in a win over Carolina after the Falcons had just four takeaways entering the game. “For me, I’m not a stat guy,” Allen said. “But I think we’re doing something now just stacking [wins] like we’ve done coming off the bye week.” — Vaughn McClure


Week 11 ranking: 23

Most underrated player: Lavonte David, LB

David continues to be not only the most underrated player on the Bucs but one of the most, if not the most, underrated players in the NFL. He has two All-Pro nods, but it’s just not enough. No other player has more solo tackles (689) or fumble recoveries (14) since 2012, and he is the only player aside from Brian Urlacher to record 800-plus tackles, 20-plus sacks and 10-plus interceptions through his first seven seasons. David showed that value against the Cardinals in Week 10, when he forced and recovered a David Johnson fumble. — Jenna Laine


Week 11 ranking: 26

Most underrated player: Justin Simmons, S

Since the start of the 2018 season, no defensive player has played more consecutive snaps than Simmons — 1,645 and counting as of Sunday’s game in Minnesota — so he certainly is known in-house for his efforts with the Broncos. But Simmons isn’t as routinely mentioned as some of the game’s better safeties. Simmons has taken well to coach Vic Fangio’s scheme, as the Broncos have spent much of the season in the league’s top 10 in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense (No. 4, No. 8 and No. 5, respectively, after 10 games.) — Jeff Legwold


Week 11 ranking: 29

Most underrated player: Ryan Griffin, TE

The Jets signed Griffin to a one-year, $1.1 million contract before training camp, thinking he would be a hold-the-fort player until Chris Herndon returned from his four-game suspension. Griffin has exceeded expectations, especially in the passing game. He leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and is coming off his first 100-yard game, the first 100-yard game by a Jets tight end since Dustin Keller in 2011. The Jets have tweaked Griffin’s role in recent weeks, moving him around the formation. He has earned the trust of QB Sam Darnold. This was a terrific free-agent pickup. — Rich Cimini

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Stephen A. Smith says he’d get rid of both Jets coach Adam Gase and Giants coach Pat Shurmur before Christmas.

Week 11 ranking: 28

Most underrated player: DeVante Parker, WR

Parker often has been admonished for not living up to his first-round expectations, but he is in the midst of a breakout season. He has 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns this season and is on pace for 966 yards, which would easily be a career high. With Preston Williams out for the season with a torn ACL, Parker has stepped up as the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver, and the offense has run through him. “He’s the most consistent guy that we have on our offense and has been all year long,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. Parker should get some love for that. — Cameron Wolfe


Week 11 ranking: 30

Most underrated player: Dalvin Tomlinson, DL

He plays on a line with first-round rookie Dexter Lawrence and newly acquired Leonard Williams, yet it is Tomlinson who leads all Giants defensive linemen with four tackles for a loss this season. He also is tied for second on the team with 2.5 sacks. Tomlinson might be the forgotten man, but he has played well this season, especially last week against the Jets, when he finished with nine tackles and a sack in his best game of the campaign. — Jordan Raanan


Week 11 ranking: 31

Most underrated player: Quinton Dunbar, CB

There is no quantifiable stat to measure why he is underrated, but it’s more the eye test. And it’s easy to get lost in the fact that the Redskins’ pass defense stinks, especially on third down, where they rank 32nd. Dunbar only has five passes defensed this season, which is a low number. But there’s a reason: Most of the issues stem from teams attacking elsewhere. Despite fewer chances, Dunbar does have a team-high three picks. He is a smart player who studies quite a bit and is worth keeping around. Dunbar is not the problem on defense. — John Keim


Week 11 ranking: 32

Most underrated player: Trey Hopkins, C

Hopkins won the starting job in the preseason, and he has been one of the few Bengals who has consistently played well this season. Hopkins has won 93.3% of his pass blocks (ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen). That’s good for 15th among all centers. Hopkins is on an offensive line that has struggled all season, but he has been one of the bright spots for Cincinnati. — Ben Baby

Published at Sun, 17 Nov 2019 22:21:25 +0000

Kap throws for 8 teams, tells NFL, ‘Stop running’

Kap throws for 8 teams, tells NFL, ‘Stop running’

RIVERDALE, Ga. — Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who completed a 40-minute workout in front of representatives from eight NFL teams on Saturday, said he’s ready for another opportunity and wants the league to “stop running” from him.

“I’ve been ready for three years,” Kaepernick said. “I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we’re waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.

“We’re out here. We’re ready to play. We’re ready to go anywhere. My agent, Jeff Nalley, is ready to talk [to] any team. I’ll interview with any team at any time. I’ve been ready.”

Kaepernick saluted about 250 fans and signed autographs before addressing the media after his workout, which was moved about 60 miles from the Atlanta Falcons‘ facility in Flowery Branch to Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale.

The change in venue interrupted schedules for many of the 25 teams that were scheduled to watch Kaepernick at the original site, but Kaepernick still threw in front of representatives from eight teams, according to Nalley, among them the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans.

Kaepernick, who once quarterbacked the 49ers to the Super Bowl, protested police brutality and social injustice by kneeling during the national anthem and has been out of football since 2016.

The 32-year-old showed that he still has an arm by completing deep balls to former NFL receivers Brice Butler, Bruce Ellington, Jordan Veasy, and Ari Wertz. Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, who supported Kaepernick going back to their days with the 49ers, was at the beginning of the workout but had to leave to prepare for a game against the Falcons on Sunday.

Veasy said he found out about the workout Friday morning and worked out with Kaepernick at Georgia Tech before Saturday’s session. He was asked what sort of message Kaepernick sent with the workout.

“A good one, one that’s definitely going to help himself,” Veasy said. “I don’t think that’s the question with Kap — skill and ability.”

Asked about the hurdle of getting Kaepernick through NFL ownership if ability isn’t the issue, Nalley responded, “Look, that’s up to them. Roger Goodell represents the 32 owners, right? And he asked for this workout. Maybe this is Roger’s first step into talking an owner into signing him. Hopefully, that’s the case.”

Kaepernick looked stronger up top than he was when he was with the 49ers and appeared to impress with his accuracy, completing all but seven of his 60 scripted throws, though not all his throws were perfect. It was a solid throwing session overall, particularly given the circumstances.

The NFL originally scheduled the workout to take place at the Falcons’ facility, but Kaepernick’s camp switched venues following a disagreement between the two sides on the quarterback’s liability waiver and media availability, among other factors.

In a statement, the NFL said it was “disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout.”

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Colin Kaepernick declares that he has been ready to play for three years, and the ball is in the NFL and Roger Goodell’s court.

The league said the waiver it sent Kaepernick’s representatives was based on those “used by National Invitational Camp at all NFL Combines and by NFL clubs when trying out free agent players.” An NFL source told ESPN that the waiver said the tryout isn’t a guarantee of employment, “to prevent a player from claiming entitlement to worker’s compensation if there was an injury.”

A statement from Nalley and Kaepernick’s attorney, Ben Meiselas, called that waiver “unusual” and said they proposed a “standard” liability waiver. The NFL called that proposed waiver “completely rewritten and insufficient.”

The NFL also said it declined requests made by Kaepernick’s camp in the 24 hours preceding the workout to have an additional camera crew record the workout and to open the session to media.

Nalley said it made no sense for the NFL to prevent Kaepernick’s crew from filming their own workout. Nalley also said he spoke to a half-dozen general managers who were equally confused about the workout and the setup.

“The NFL was given a chance to have it at the Falcons’ facility if they allowed y’all to watch the process and film it and have an independent camera crew, and they said ‘No,'” Nalley said. “To me, it should be an open process. What’s secretive about this?”

Nalley said the league called Tuesday morning and said the venue had to be in Atlanta. Nalley also said he asked for accommodations — day and location — that made more sense to allow general managers and head coaches to attend, and the NFL denied the request. The major issue wasn’t the location but holding the workout on a day such as Tuesday, when a decision-maker could be in attendance. There were no head coaches or general managers among the representatives at Saturday’s workout. The most noticeable person of influence was Andrew Berry, the Eagles’ vice president of football operations.

“I asked for a list of the NFL personnel that were going to be there three times on Tuesday,” Nalley said. “They told me three times on Tuesday they would [send a list]. And then on Thursday morning, they said, ‘We never agreed to that.'”

Nalley said the league floated the idea that Kaepernick’s workout was more about being signed for next season, so Nalley wondered why the workout couldn’t take place at the NFL owners meetings Dec. 12 in Las Colinas, Texas. Nalley said he also suggested having the workout at the NFL Combine in February, but Kaepernick said he didn’t want to take away from the players preparing for the draft.

Kaepernick’s agent said he still had questions about the league’s involvement in the workout.

“I think, myself, I think all of you all had questions about it all week,” Nalley said. “Something didn’t smell right. Again, nothing like this has ever happened. Roger Goodell said that the league does not get involved in player workouts, team decisions. So why did they do this? So I think from the beginning it seemed odd. And so that’s why we had to protect him in this whole process.”

When asked if he expected Kaepernick to receive an opportunity to sign with a team anytime soon, Nalley seemed skeptical.

“I hope so, but I don’t know,” Nalley said. “I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit pessimistic because I’ve talked to all 32 teams. I’ve reached out to them recently, and none of them have had any interest. I’ll tell you this: No team asked for this workout. The league office asked for this workout.

“And, I’ve got to tell you what, I’ve got to hand it to Colin. He stepped up, showed he’s in shape. I talked to the NFL people out here today. They said his arm talent is elite, that it’s the same as when he came out of college. I even asked them: ‘If you want to get him on a scale, see what he weighs.’ They said, ‘We don’t need to. He looks ripped. He looks in great shape.'”

Published at Sat, 16 Nov 2019 23:54:42 +0000

Barnwell: Picking who will improve, decline and score more TDs this season

Barnwell: Picking who will improve, decline and score more TDs this season

It’s easy to have a short memory in the NFL. When the 2019 season started, the most promising young quarterback in the AFC North was Baker Mayfield. The dominant team in the NFC West was supposed to be the Los Angeles Rams. The New York Jets were a hot sleeper pick to sneak into the playoffs in the AFC. Mitchell Trubisky‘s odds of winning league MVP (22-1) were virtually identical to those of Russell Wilson (20-1).

A lot has changed, but all we’ve seen are nine to 10 games from each team. That’s a couple of weeks of action in baseball or about three weeks of a typical NBA season. There was a 16-game stretch early in the MLB season in which the Washington Nationals went 4-12. In a 162-game season, that didn’t mean much; they were otherwise 89-57, made it to the playoffs and won the World Series. In the NFL, teams only get those 16 chances to show what they can do.

As a result, we often draw hasty conclusions from what we see over a small sample. Players and teams do something that’s unsustainable over a significant length of time, but in a league in which they play only once per week, those performances feel more meaningful than they actually are. If you apply some historical context to what the NFL has looked like over the first half of the season, you can see elements of the game that probably aren’t going to recur over the remainder of the 2019 campaign.

I’ve gone through the data and found a handful of relevant pieces of information surrounding some of the league’s most notable players and teams. Let’s see what history says about the rest of their seasons to come:

Jump to a section:
SEA’s issue | CLE’s outside chance
The DAL mystery | Two rising teams
RBs to improve | WRs to improve
Improving offenses | Declining defenses

1. It’s going to be tough for Christian McCaffrey to keep this up

Let’s start with the best running back in football. McCaffrey came within a few inches on Sunday of his fifth multi-touchdown game of the season, as the Packers stopped McCaffrey at the goal line to secure a 24-16 victory. McCaffrey did rack up 100 rushing yards for the sixth time in nine tries, more than any other running back.

One of the ways he has consistently topped 100 yards? Long touchdown runs. He already has scoring runs of 40, 58, 76, and 84 yards. There are a lot of great runners in the NFL right now, but nobody else has more than one touchdown rush of 40-plus yards this season, so McCaffrey is way ahead of the pack.

When you look at history, it’s clear he is in rare company. McCaffrey already has become the 21st back in league history to produce four or more touchdowns of 40-plus yards in a season, a group Saquon Barkley joined in his rookie season. Just three backs have run for five such scores in a single season: Barry Sanders (1997), Chris Johnson (2009) and Jim Brown (1963). The legendary Browns back also is the only runner in NFL history to score six such touchdowns in a single season, hitting that mark in 1958.

Remember: Those backs took an entire season to get to four, five and six. McCaffrey ran for his fourth such score by his eighth game of the season when he scampered 58 yards to the house against the Titans. If he were to keep this up and hit seven or more such scores by the end of season, it would be the first time any back would have racked up that many lengthy touchdown runs in NFL history.

I wouldn’t count on McCaffrey adding many more 40-plus-yard touchdown runs to his total. (Barkley, it should be noted, doesn’t have any this season.) It’s true that McCaffrey does offer more than just about any other back as a receiver, which makes it possible he could add a long receiving score or two to the ledger. But it would be an upset if he kept taking long scores to the end zone over the remainder of the campaign.


2. The Seahawks aren’t home free (yet)

Monday night’s win over the 49ers was huge for the Seahawks. You don’t need me to tell you that. What might be surprising to Seahawks fans, though, is that a loss against the 49ers would have left their favorite team as underdogs to make it back to the postseason, even given that a loss would have dropped Seattle to a still-impressive 7-3. Now at 8-2, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) still thinks the Seahawks miss the postseason about one out of every five times.

With the league favorite for MVP at quarterback and one of the best home-field advantages in all of football, why is FPI relatively pessimistic about the Seahawks? It starts with strength of schedule. Even after traveling to play the 49ers in San Francisco, the Seahawks still have what FPI figures as the third-toughest slate in all of football over the remainder of the season. After the bye, five of Seattle’s final six games come against teams with a winning record. On the schedule are road trips to face the Eagles, Rams and Panthers, along with home games against the Vikings, Cardinals and 49ers — in a season-ending rematch.

The other blemish on the Seahawks’ résumé is that they’ve played virtually an entire season of close games and won almost every one of them. They are 7-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and many of those games have come down to last-minute success. They already have won four games in which they trailed at one point during the fourth quarter, including hard-fought victories over underwhelming teams such as the Bengals, Browns and Buccaneers. They needed both Rams star kicker Greg Zuerlein and rookie 49ers kicker Chase McLaughlin to miss game-winning field goal attempts, which they both did.

The Seahawks have outscored their opponents by just 21 points over 10 games, which we typically associate with a team that should win about 55% of their games. The Seahawks are instead 8-2, and while those wins are already in the bank and count just as much as blowout victories, the evidence suggests that this team is closer to good than great. They’ve likely already done enough to make it to the postseason, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the Seahawks struggled over the remainder of the season.

The Saints also could struggle to keep up their level of success, after having gone 5-0 in one-score games, but they’ve been more dominant than that number indicates. In the Saints’ win over Seattle, for example, the Seahawks only made it a one-score game by scoring with literally :00 left on the clock. The Buccaneers made it 31-24 by scoring with 19 seconds left. Even the 11-point win over the Bears seemed closer than it actually was by virtue of two Chicago touchdowns in the final three minutes.


3. Don’t count out the Browns (yet)

When I wrote this column last year, I went searching for a team to go on an unexpected playoff run. I found the Colts. Indy was 3-5, but statistical indicators suggested that it was better than that, and the Colts had an easy schedule going forward. They promptly finished 7-1 and won a wild-card berth in the final game of the regular season.

There’s no candidate quite as obvious this time around. The 4-6 Chargers are 2-6 in one-score games and about to get back Derwin James, but after facing the league’s sixth-easiest schedule through Week 10, Philip Rivers & Co. face the toughest schedule in football over the remainder of the season. Things are similarly frustrating for the Bears, who will go from the league’s eighth-easiest schedule to its second-toughest over the remainder of the season.

As frustrating as the Browns have been over the course of 2019, there’s at least some reason to think they could still feature in the postseason. Their case isn’t anywhere near as obvious as last year’s Colts, but by beating the Bills on Sunday, the 3-6 Browns gained a key tiebreaker over a team who should also figure in the wild-card race. They also hold a win over the division-leading Ravens, although they’re still four games behind Baltimore in the win column.

What makes this work for the Browns is their schedule. To this point, Cleveland has faced the league’s fourth-toughest schedule. Over the next seven games, though, the Browns face what is projected to be the league’s easiest slate. Five of Cleveland’s final seven games are against teams that have already made a quarterback change (or two) this season, with a game against the Dolphins and home-and-homes against the Bengals and Steelers. Matchups with the Cardinals and Ravens finish out a beatable schedule for Cleveland.

The Browns certainly aren’t favorites to make the playoffs. They’re not even likely. FPI pegs Cleveland’s chances of making an unexpected run to the playoffs at 11.9%. I would probably put them in the 15% to 20% range. It’s more likely that they end up salvaging their season into something that augurs hope for 2020 with a respectable finish than it is that Cleveland actually makes it into January football. In a tier with teams such as the Rams (17% chance of making it to the playoffs), Jaguars (15.7%), Titans (13.6%) and Panthers (10.9%), the Browns are the most compelling option.


4. The Eagles and Steelers are on the rise

Among teams at the next tier of playoff contenders who have a good shot of exceeding expectations, I look toward Pennsylvania. The Eagles’ pass defense has been a mess, and they face the Patriots this week, but even including that matchup, Doug Pederson’s team faces the third-easiest schedule in football over the remainder of the season. After matchups against the Patriots and Seahawks, the Eagles finish with two games against the Giants, road trips to face Miami and Washington and a rematch with the Cowboys. FPI has the Eagles as slight underdogs to win the NFC East versus the Cowboys, but I think Philly is in better shape.

When I suggested the Steelers were the most likely 0-2 team to make it to the postseason even after losing Ben Roethlisberger, my argument was simple: The defense was too good to give up on after two weeks. The Steelers ended up starting 0-3, but their losses came to teams who are a combined 24-4 in the Patriots, Seahawks and 49ers.

From Week 3 on, the Steelers rank third in QBR allowed (21.5), seventh in yards per carry allowed (3.8), fourth in sack rate (9.7%) and first in takeaway rate. They have forced takeaways on 27.7% of opposing drives, which is more than double the league average of 12.3%. The only other team to top 20% over that time frame is New England, which is at 22.0%.

You can’t count on the Steelers forcing as many takeaways from here on out. They lead the league in both fumbles forced (21) and recovered (12) on defense, and both figures raise an eyebrow. Consider that the 2018 leader in fumbles recovered on defense after 10 weeks was the Browns, who had recovered an identical 12 fumbles on 21 tries. Over the remainder of the season, they recovered only two fumbles.

Minkah Fitzpatrick has figured into many of those takeaways. He has had an immediate and undeniable impact on the defense, although his effects may be slightly overstated. Last week, he had a fumble bounce into his hands and an interception tipped to him by a great play from Joe Haden in a play where he was the deep safety on that side in what appeared to be Cover 6. It’s tempting to chalk that up to Fitzpatrick being in the right place at the right time, but given how rarely even the best safeties recover fumbles or catch tipped interceptions, it’s more likely piling a bit of randomness onto the pile amid a great season.

I was skeptical of the Fitzpatrick trade when it happened. While I liked Fitzpatrick, dealing a first-round pick for the Dolphins defensive back seemed naive from a Pittsburgh team that was going to spend the rest of the year with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. The most likely outcome for the Steelers was going to be a disappointing season, and by trading away their first-round pick, they were dealing away their best shot at drafting a quarterback who could step in and replace Roethlisberger.

Well, the Steelers’ season is back on track. Pittsburgh has won four straight games to get to 5-4, and it faces the league’s sixth-easiest schedule over the remainder of the season. After Week 10, FPI makes the Steelers slight favorites to make it to the postseason at 51.3%. It would take a significant collapse (or an injury to Lamar Jackson) for the Ravens to fall out of first place in the AFC North, but the Steelers are at the top of a crowded AFC wild-card race with seven weeks to go.

That Pittsburgh pick in the 2020 draft likely won’t be high enough for the Steelers to miss out on drafting a top quarterback, so that part of my argument against the trade no longer applies. At the same time, though, one of the reasons the Steelers reportedly made this deal was because they felt like they wouldn’t drop off much from Roethlisberger with Rudolph.

It’s still too early to draw any long-term conclusions about Rudolph’s future, and he certainly has shown an ability to hit receivers downfield, but it would be naive to pretend that the Steelers are as effective on offense with Rudolph as they were with the future Hall of Famer. Rudolph has a 41.8 Total QBR, which ranks 26th in the league. Roethlisberger had a 69.6 Total QBR in 2018, the fourth-best mark in football. It’s fair to say the training wheels are still on the rookie, who has thrown an even 34% of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, the highest rate in football. As a result, even though Rudolph’s completion percentage is right around league average, he’s averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt, 31st among starting quarterbacks.

There’s nothing wrong with slowly integrating a new quarterback into a scheme, but it’s at odds with what the Steelers suggested was the short-term benefit of making the Fitzpatrick trade. Rudolph hasn’t been good enough for the Steelers to make a serious playoff run, even if they get there. If the defensive turnovers subside, Pittsburgh will need that easy schedule and some improvement from its second-year quarterback to make it to the postseason.


5. Some awful offenses should get better

With apologies to the Browns and Rams, the most disappointing offense of 2019 has to belong to Matt Nagy in Chicago. As recently as August, the Bears coach insisted that Mitchell Trubisky was way ahead in terms of reading defenses from where he was in 2018. I don’t need to tell you things have gone poorly. Trubisky showed signs of life in throwing three touchdown passes during Sunday’s win over the Lions, but even the most hard-core of Bears fans would have to admit that this has been a wildly disappointing season from the Chicago offense.

Inflated expectations are partly to blame. Even last season, the Bears were just 20th in offensive DVOA, behind teams such as the Giants, Broncos and Bengals. One other problem, though, has been what Trubisky’s receivers have done with the ball in their hands. Chicago is averaging just 3.93 yards after catch this season, which comfortably ranks last in the league. Over the past decade, just seven teams have averaged fewer than 4.0 yards after their receptions; the Bears have enough weapons to make me think that number won’t become eight.

If you’re someone who owns Joe Mixon or Tyler Boyd in fantasy football, you’ve also probably been wondering where the touchdowns have gone. The Bengals have been a mess across the board this season, but their red zone performance is on a different level. Cincinnati has failed to score on eight of its 27 red zone possessions, which is incredible for a team that has spent so much of its year in garbage time. The Bengals have nearly as many zeros in the red zone (eight) as they do touchdowns (nine), which is about as bad as an offense can get.

ESPN has red zone data going back through 2001, and over that time frame, only four teams — the 2006 Raiders, 2009 Rams, 2010 Panthers and 2012 Chiefs — have turned the ball over without scoring in the red zone more frequently than they’ve punched the ball in for touchdowns. Cincinnati is averaging just 3.43 points per red zone trip, which is nearly a half-point worse than the 31st-ranked Washington offense. Even with a porous offensive line and rookie quarterback Ryan Finley taking over for Andy Dalton, this red zone offense should be better by sheer chance over the remainder of the season.

Washington is also likely to be better inside the 20 on offense, as should the Air Raid attack of Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona. Those are the only three offenses in the league averaging fewer than four points per red zone trip on offense so far this season, and red zone performance is inconsistent over any length of time.

On the flip side, another reason to worry about the Seahawks is their performance inside the 20. Russell Wilson & Co. have averaged a league-best 5.44 points per red zone trip this season, turning more than two-thirds of their red zone trips into touchdowns. (Only the Packers, Bills and Titans have scored touchdowns more frequently.) It would make sense that a Wilson-led offense would excel inside the 20, but the Seahawks averaged a far more reasonable 4.88 points per red zone trip from 2016-18.

Even if the line is better now than it was during those past few years, it’s tough to imagine that the Seahawks will hover far above five points over the remainder of the season.


6. The Cowboys could go in any direction

No team is dealing with more mixed signals than the Cowboys. You can make a case that they’re better than their current record. You can make a case that they’re not as good as their record. I’m not sure which is more persuasive.

After going 8-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer last season, the Cowboys are 0-3 in those same games in 2019. Those losses include a 24-22 loss to the Jets in which the Cowboys failed to convert a 2-pointer to tie the score in the final minute and last week’s 28-24 loss to the Vikings, when Dak Prescott marched the Cowboys downfield and Dallas inexplicably decided to run the ball twice once it got there. The Cowboys weren’t going to go 8-2 in those games again in 2019, but they should win about half of their close games going forward.

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Dan Orlovsky reacts to the Cowboys losing to the Vikings and doesn’t think they should be considered playoff contenders.

Prescott also could get some help from his receivers. Dallas receivers are dropping 4.4% of his passes this season, the fifth-highest rate in the league. When you consider that Prescott is completing 68.3% of his passes — 7.1% more than his expected completion rate by NFL Next Gen Stats, the largest positive gap for any full-time starter this season — the difference between a typical season of drops and what Prescott has dealt with might be keeping him from serious MVP consideration.

There are some elements of Dallas’ offense that are unlikely to be quite as fruitful from here on out, though. It has converted an even 50% of its third- and fourth-down tries, which is second behind the Ravens. The Dallas defense, meanwhile, has stopped opposing teams from moving the chains on two-thirds of its third downs, the third-best mark in football. Both of those figures are tough to keep up over an entire season.

While the Cowboys’ schedule isn’t tough, the competition is going to get tougher. They had the league’s third-easiest schedule through the first 10 weeks, but they’re right around league average from Weeks 11-17, with the 15th-toughest slate. Five of their games have come against teams that would pick in the top five of the draft if the season ended today, with the Cowboys going 4-1 in those contests. Just one of their remaining games — the Week 17 contest against Washington — comes against a team with one of the 10 worst records in football.


7. The league’s best defenses probably won’t be this good

There’s a two-team race for the best defense in football. The Patriots and 49ers are first and second in DVOA, and there’s a chasm between them and the pack. The third-placed Steelers are closer to the 25th-placed Lions than they are to the 49ers. Realistically, these two defenses are so far ahead that it’s difficult to see any team catching up.

Asking the Patriots and 49ers to keep their current level of play up, though, might be too much. Even after the Pats put up their worst performance of the season against the Ravens in Week 9, they still have to expect some regression on third down. They are allowing opposing offenses to convert on just 18.9% of their third-down attempts this season. No other team is under 30%, and the modern record for any defense is the 25.2% mark posted by the Vikings in 2017. It’s almost impossible to imagine New England finishing the season with a sub-20% conversion rate.

Richard Sherman & Co., meanwhile, can’t expect to be this good in the red zone. The 49ers have allowed opposing offenses to average only 3.35 points per trip inside the 20. The Patriots (3.70 points per red zone trip) and Broncos (3.8) are the only other teams allowing fewer than 4.0 points per red zone opportunity on defense. The 49ers are excellent at keeping teams out of the red zone to begin with, but it’s almost impossible to be this good at holding them to field goals and missed opportunities once they get there for an entire season.

One other reason to expect the 49ers to fade, at least a tiny bit: their pass rush. Research I’ve conducted has pointed out that there’s virtually no relationship or predictive value between a team’s pass rush over the first half of the season and the second half of that same campaign. So while the 49ers have racked up a league-high sack rate of 11.4% through Week 10, history suggests that their second-half sack rate is totally up in the air.

The same concerns would expect the Panthers (9.5%), Patriots (9.5%), and Steelers (9%) to be less effective rushing the passer over the rest of the season. On the flip side, the Bengals, Falcons, Dolphins, Ravens and Seahawks all have sack rates under 5%. Several of them should improve over the remainder of the season.


8. Joe Mixon leads the list of running backs likely to score more TDs

The Bengals have been a mess in the red zone. Mixon bizarrely has three touchdowns on 21 catches this season, but not one of his 131 carries has resulted in a touchdown. The average back scores on about 40% of his carries inside the 5-yard line. Mixon has eight carries inside the 5 without scoring, which is hard to do on purpose.

If you watched the Browns game last week, you also could have guessed Nick Chubb was below expectations; his 11 carries inside the 5 have yielded minus-6 yards and just two touchdowns. Saquon Barkley isn’t 100%, but he has failed to score once on five carries inside the 5-yard line.

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Matthew Berry isn’t sure fantasy mangers have many options with Saquon Barkley other than managing their expectations.

In the big picture, backs typically turn about one out of every 33 runs into touchdowns. By that measure, we would expect more out of Leonard Fournette, who has scored just once on 174 rushing attempts over the first nine games of the season. He has three runs of 65 yards or more that didn’t result in touchdowns. Each of the six other runs that have gone for 65 yards or more this season have resulted in touchdowns. As a back capable of breaking big plays who also gets goal-line work, Fournette should score more over the second half of the Jags’ season.

On the flip side, the obvious candidate for touchdown regression is Aaron Jones. The Packers standout has 14 touchdowns on 181 touches, or just under one score for every 13 touches. That’s better than LaDainian Tomlinson’s touchdown rate when he set the single-season record with 31 in 2006. The only back in NFL history to touch the ball 200 times and average fewer than 13 touches per touchdown is Marshall Faulk in his 2000 campaign.

It’s hard to believe Jones will keep up this scoring rate. McCaffrey’s touchdown rate also is out of line with running back norms. In looking at run-heavy profiles, Mark Ingram has eight scores on 123 touches, including seven scores on 12 tries inside the 5-yard line. As good as the Baltimore running game has been, even Lamar Jackson hasn’t produced that sort of scoring rate in short-yardage situations.


9. Michael Thomas and the receivers who will likely score more TDs

Thomas is a viable Offensive Player of the Year candidate, but to beat out the likes of McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, he’s going to need to score more. Thomas has 86 catches, and the average wideout will typically turn about one out of every 13 catches into a touchdown. (That mark obviously gets influenced by where and when they catch passes, which is why you should look toward Mike Clay’s OTD statistic for a more contextualized analysis. That 1-in-13 rate is a good starting point.)

Somehow, Thomas has just four touchdowns. The 1-in-13 rate would expect him to produce about 6.6 scores on 86 catches. Before 2019, he had 23 touchdowns on 321 receptions, which is about one for every 14.5 receptions. If his target share keeps up, his touchdown rate should increase.

Three receivers have a gap of three or more touchdowns between their expected total and actual total. Rams wideout Robert Woods leads the pack, as the former Bills starter has yet to catch a touchdown pass across 45 receptions this season. (Bizarrely, he does have a rushing score.) Tyler Boyd has one touchdown on 57 receptions as Cincinnati’s primary target, while Carolina’s DJ Moore has scored once in 54 catches. All three should score more frequently over the final seven weeks of the season.

The touchdown machine at wideout, meanwhile, has been the Lions’ Kenny Golladay. The third-year star has turned 38 receptions into eight touchdowns, when the 1-in-13 rate would project him at 2.9 scores. His 6-foot-4 frame makes him a natural target in the red zone, but four of his touchdowns have come from at least 30 yards out. As gifted as Golladay is, it’s tough to project that sort of touchdown volume moving forward.

This isn’t necessarily a size thing. There are three other wideouts who have caught three more touchdowns than their reception totals would suggest, and they’re three very different players: 6-foot-4 downfield threat Tyrell Williams, 6-foot-2 slot weapon Adam Thielen, and 5-foot-10 speed demon Mecole Hardman. They’ve combined to catch 74 passes and score 16 touchdowns. That’s not sustainable.


10. Kickers are a disaster … against the Chargers?

If you can’t beat them, join them? The Chargers have struggled with disastrously bad kickers for most of the past few years, and while Michael Badgley seemed to solidify the position last season, the Money Badger missed the first eight games of the season with a groin injury. In his absence, the duo of Ty Long and Chase McLaughlin went 13-of-18 on field goals. Long went back to his duties as the team’s full-time punter, while McLaughlin just spent one fateful week as the 49ers’ place-kicker.

What is truly strange, though, is the line for opposing kickers against the Chargers. In 10 games against L.A., opposing kickers have gone just 12-of-22 (54.5%) on field goals and 16-for-21 (76.2%) on extra points. Missed kicks by Adam Vinatieri and Eddy Pineiro led to two of the Chargers’ four victories this season. Why are kickers struggling in the friendly weather of Los Angeles when the Chargers play half of their games in a soccer stadium? That’s a mystery to me, too.

Published at Thu, 14 Nov 2019 01:42:13 +0000