Biggest Week 15 injury questions for all 32 NFL teams: Latest on Conner, JuJu, Parker and more

Biggest Week 15 injury questions for all 32 NFL teams: Latest on Conner, JuJu, Parker and more

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be getting two playmakers back this weekend, while New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones‘ chances of a return seem a little less certain.

Get caught up on all of the key injury questions for every NFL team heading into Week 15 here, including insights from inside all 32 locker rooms from our NFL Nation reporters.

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How much longer will the Bills be without Ty Nsekhe? The right tackle has missed the team’s past three games with an ankle injury, but the fact that he was not placed on injured reserve suggests the team expects him back at some point this season. He is yet to practice in even a limited fashion after sustaining the injury in Week 11, and that trend continued with Buffalo’s first practice of the week Wednesday. Cody Ford will continue to operate as the Bills’ primary right tackle in Nsekhe’s absence. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Wide receiver DeVante Parker suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Jets, but he made enough progress to be practicing in a non-contact red jersey Wednesday. Now in the fourth step of the concussion protocol, it appears Parker has a chance to suit up Sunday. We will know more by Friday if it he participates in a full-contact practice. It’s important to Parker, who hasn’t missed a game this season, to play all 16 contests and eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. — Cameron Wolfe

Wide receiver Julian Edelman is as tough as they come, but his absence from Wednesday’s practice is a reminder that he is fighting through multiple injuries, including a banged-up shoulder. Meanwhile, it would be significant if the Patriots could get center Ted Karras back in the lineup after he missed Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs with a knee injury. Karras hadn’t practiced all last week, but he was back on the field for parts of Wednesday’s’ practice. — Mike Reiss

Running back Le’Veon Bell returns after missing one game with the flu, but sidekick Bilal Powell (ankle) is out. Bell has regained most of the nine pounds he lost, but stamina could be an issue. The Jets also will be without reliable tight end Ryan Griffin (ankle), which means it could be a receiver-heavy passing attack Thursday at Baltimore. Safety Jamal Adams (ankle) is expected to miss his consecutive straight game, which hurts the Jets’ ability to contain Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. — Rich Cimini


Quarterback Lamar Jackson is listed as questionable, but he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and expects to play Thursday night against the Jets. “If I have to be out there all four quarters, that’s what it’s going to be,” Jackson said. “I’m not going in there thinking, ‘I should sit out a little bit.’ I’m trying to win the game, and that’s what we’re going into the Thursday night game looking at.” Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (concussion) is doubtful, which means James Hurst will protect Jackson’s blind side. Tight end Mark Andrews (knee), Jackson’s top target, is the biggest uncertainty. He’s been limited the past two practices and is questionable. — Jamison Hensley



Stephen A. Smith makes the case for sitting Lamar Jackson for the Ravens’ Thursday night game against the Jets.

Bengals wide receiver John Ross was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury. The Week 14 loss to the Browns was Ross’ first game since he spent eight weeks on IR with an injured sternoclavicular joint. Unless the condition worsens, Ross shouldn’t be in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s game against New England. — Ben Baby

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remains limited in practice — as he has been all season — with a hip and groin injury. Coach Freddie Kitchens says no consideration has been given to shutting OBJ down. So Beckham will be on the field Sunday. — Jake Trotter

This could be the first week we see the return of both James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Both are expected to participate in practice this week, and Smith-Schuster tweeted Tuesday that his goal was to play Sunday. Will both be available for the Sunday night showdown against Buffalo? How will the rest of the offense respond to their inclusion after a three-game absence? Coach Mike Tomlin said the offense needed the pair “a lot,” and it stands to reason they would be a huge boost against a strong Bills defense. — Brooke Pryor


Wide receiver Will Fuller didn’t play against the Broncos after he was limited in practice all week with a hamstring injury. Coach Bill O’Brien said he doesn’t know whether Fuller would play against Tennessee on Sunday, but that sitting Fuller in Week 14 was “the best decision for the team for that day.” — Sarah Barshop

Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has missed five of the past six games with a calf injury, isn’t ruling out the possibility of playing Monday at New Orleans even though there’s a chance he won’t practice before the game. Hilton was asked by ESPN why he wants to play still this season and risk further injury with the Colts having only a 2% chance of making the playoffs. “I would never quit on my team,” he said. “I signed up for 16 games. Some guys may shut it down and call it quits. I don’t do that.” — Mike Wells

Wid receiver DJ Chark, the Jaguars’ receiving yardage leader (956 yards, eight touchdowns), was still wearing a protective boot on his left foot Wednesday. He was no longer using the scooter and was able to walk with the boot, so that’s at least some progress toward playing Sunday at Oakland. Coach Doug Marrone said the swelling is down and the plan is to take Chark to California with the team Friday in case he improves enough to play. — Mike DiRocco



With DJ Chark week-to-week, Field Yates is hesitant to start any Jaguars wide receiver other than Dede Westbrook.

Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson missed his fourth consecutive practice due to a foot injury. The good news is it’s not the same foot on which Jackson had a procedure done during the offseason. Jackson is continuing to work his way back and staying conditioned by riding a stationary bike along with some treadmill work. He was ruled out of last weekend’s game against the Raiders, and there is no guarantee that he will be back this weekend. The Titans used reserve cornerback Tye Smith and newly acquired cornerback Tramaine Brock at left corner in place of Jackson. Additionally, running back Derrick Henry (hamstring) missed practice Wednesday but is likely to play Sunday. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remains in the concussion protocol. — Turron Davenport


Rookie tight end Noah Fant (hip, foot) was one of five Broncos players who did not practice Wednesday — Dre’Mont Jones, Ja’Wuan James, Adam Gotsis and Ron Leary were the others — and while coach Vic Fangio said the outlook for Fant this weekend was “positive,” Fangio also added, “no guarantees.” Fant, who had his second 100-yard receiving game of the season this past Sunday in Denver’s victory over Houston, is a key part of the Broncos’ offense against defenses that have been far more inclined to double-team wide receiver Courtland Sutton and take their chances with everyone else. Fant’s speed makes him a difficult matchup, and he has already shown himself to have a comfort level with rookie quarterback Drew Lock. — Jeff Legwold

The Chiefs are expecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes to be at his best Sunday against the Broncos, even after bruising his passing hand in last weekend’s win over the Patriots. X-rays on the hand were negative, and the swelling has been reduced. Mahomes took snaps Wednesday for the first time since the Patriots game and reported no problems. He also said Wednesday was the first time since the injury that he was able to drive the ball down the field to his satisfaction. The Chiefs have clinched the AFC West title, but have plenty to play for against Denver. They’re a game behind New England for the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed and the resulting first-round bye. — Adam Teicher

The Chargers are the healthiest they’ve been all season, with only three players listed on Wednesday’s injury report. However, wide receiver Mike Williams remains someone to monitor this week. The Clemson product once again showed up as limited due to a lingering knee issue. The Chargers have been trying to take care of Williams as much as possible during the week so he can be effective on games days. So the expectation is Williams will be available to play on Sunday when the Chargers host the Vikings. — Eric D. Williams

Rookie running back Josh Jacobs has been cleared to practice after missing Sunday’s loss to Tennessee with what Jacobs said was a fractured right shoulder, which he said was initially injured in Week 7. “Doesn’t mean he’s going to play, but I’m glad the reports are positive,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “Today, he’s made some improvement, but he still has to go there and move explosively tomorrow and Friday and do the things a running back has to do to play in this league, and protect himself in this league. So, we’ll see what happens in the next 48 hours.” Jacobs has rushed for a franchise-rookie-record 1,061 yards, on 218 carries, and seven touchdowns. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combined for 81 yards on 21 carries in his absence against the Titans, and the Raiders also signed Rod Smith on Tuesday. — Paul Gutierrez


There is no question quarterback Dak Prescott will play Sunday against the Rams, but he had tape on his right index finger from an injury he suffered in last week’s loss to Chicago. It did not affect his throwing in practice, and he is also dealing with a sprained left wrist. But again, he will play. Linebacker Sean Lee did not practice Wednesday because of pectoral and thigh injuries, but he went through a heavy rehab period and is also expected to play Sunday. If he has a setback, the Cowboys would be thin at linebacker with Leighton Vander Esch set to miss his fourth consecutive game with a neck injury. — Todd Archer

Daniel Jones is feeling “better.” The rookie quarterback was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, and appeared to be moving well. But the walking boot didn’t come off until Monday and Jones conceded his ankle wasn’t all the way there yet. It still seems unlikely Jones will be ready this weekend. In that case, Eli Manning would get one final home start in a Giants uniform. — Jordan Raanan

The knee injury that sidelined wide receiver Nelson Agholor for Monday’s game against the Giants continues to be an issue, putting his availability for this weekend’s game in Washington in doubt. Asked about his progress, Agholor used the term “stalemate” to describe the status of a knee injury he initially sustained Week 6 against the Vikings. With Alshon Jeffery (foot) expected to be out for the rest of the season, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward find themselves in primary roles. — Tim McManus



With Alshon Jeffery among the injured Eagles’ WRs, Field Yates voices his fantasy skepticism for any Philadelphia receivers in Week 15.

Cornerback Quinton Dunbar did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, which sidelined him in the second half last weekend at Green Bay. Sunday’s opponent, Philadelphia, has struggled at receiver, but losing Dunbar would sting. He’s been Washington’s best corner this season. The Redskins could turn to Josh Norman, who has been benched. Interim coach Bill Callahan has been reluctant to play Norman, but the Redskins might not have a choice. Dunbar, though, has been consistent in part because of how well he prepares. Most of the coverage breakdowns in which guys are wide open happen on the other side. If he gets beaten, it’s more about losing one-on-one than a missed assignment. What also could hurt Washington: Three starting offensive linemen (tackles Donald Penn and Morgan Moses and guard Brandon Scherff) were limited. It’s hard to imagine any of them missing Sunday, but it’s also a sign they’re getting a bit beaten up. — John Keim


Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is expected to be activated off of injured reserve and play against the Packers on Sunday. Hicks — named to the Pro Bowl last season — suffered a gruesome dislocated elbow in Chicago’s loss to the Raiders in London back in October. “Akiem is a natural-born leader,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “I think it would be huge from an emotional standpoint to get him back.” Hicks said Monday that barring something unforeseen, he plans to take the field versus Green Bay. — Jeff Dickerson

The Lions’ offensive line is pretty beaten up. Guard Joe Dahl (back/knee) and right tackle Rick Wagner (knee) both were listed as “no practice” — although Detroit walked through instead of fully practicing Wednesday. Being down two offensive linemen against the Bucs would mean another start for Tyrell Crosby at right tackle and Kenny Wiggins on the interior. Linebacker is also an area of concern, with Jarrad Davis (ankle/knee) and Christian Jones (shoulder) both hurt. It could mean extra work for rookie Jahlani Tavai and veteran Jalen Reeves-Maybin. In all, Detroit had 14 of 53 players listed with some sort of ailment, which is not surprising this time of year. — Michael Rothstein

Starting cornerback Kevin King, who has a long history of shoulder injuries during his short career, returned to practice Wednesday, albeit on a limited basis. Last week, he was a full participant in the Friday practice (the final workout of the week) yet was inactive against Washington, so it might be hard to determine his availability for Sunday against the Bears based on practice participation. King leads the Packers with four interceptions this season. — Rob Demovsky

The Vikings are expecting to be at full strength with their offensive starters in Week 15. Barring a setback with his hamstring, wide receiver Adam Thielen will be available to play against the Chargers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That’s great news for Minnesota, who has been without the talented receiver for six weeks. Running back Dalvin Cook shouldered a full workload against Detroit despite dealing with a chest injury, and said his body “feels great” as the Vikings begin preparations for Los Angeles. The only player not participating in Wednesday’s practice was backup rusher Alexander Mattison. If all goes according to plan, this will be the first time since Week 7 that quarterback Kirk Cousins has all of his weapons available and healthy. — Courtney Cronin


Running back Devonta Freeman was held out of Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury. Coach Dan Quinn didn’t address Freeman’s status specifically during his Wednesday news conference, but Thursday’s practice should reveal more about Freeman going into Sunday’s game at San Francisco. He is fresh off a strong 17-rush, 84-yard performance in a victory over Carolina that included his first rushing touchdown since December 2017. Some have speculated about Freeman maybe not being a part of the Falcons’ future plans. If he doesn’t play this weekend, Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison would handle the load. — Vaughn McClure

Tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, another step in the protocol. He’s progressing, but whether the Panthers want to push him back into the lineup remains to be seen. Coach Perry Fewell said it was “fun” having Olsen back in practice after he missed a game. His presence on Sunday against Seattle would make Carolina’s offense more efficient. If he can’t go, look for Ian Thomas to be a primary target for quarterback Kyle Allen once again. — David Newton

The Saints were hit hard by injuries during their 48-46 loss to the 49ers. Starting defensive end Marcus Davenport will have season-ending foot surgery, a source confirmed. Starting defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins‘ suffered an ankle injury; both he and Davenport were placed on season-ending IR on Wednesday. And tight end Jared Cook‘s status is uncertain because of a concussion. When it comes to the defensive line, the Saints have better depth at DT than DE. It would also help if they could get starting linebackers A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso back from injuries soon to help fortify the front seven. We should know more about everyone’s status when the Saints hold their first practice of the week Thursday. — Mike Triplett

Quarterback Jameis Winston practiced Wednesday, but did only drills involving his lower body and did not grip or throw the football. His right hand is in a cast after he suffered a thumb fracture to his throwing hand against the Colts; Winston said they’re “taking it day by day.” Coach Bruce Arians does expect him to play Sunday. “That’s the plan,” Arians said. “We’ll see how it goes.” He added that Winston will throw before the team leaves for Detroit on Saturday. If he can’t play, backup Ryan Griffin, who took his first-ever regular-season snaps last weekend, will go. “He’s poised, he’s accurate, he knows what he’s doing with the ball, and gets it out of his hands quickly,” Arians said of Griffin. “I think we all have a ton of confidence in him.” — Jenna Laine


Two of the Cardinals’ five offensive linemen showed up on Wednesday’s injury report, raising concerns about the stability of the line Sunday. Right guard J.R. Sweezy missed practice with an illness and left guard Justin Pugh missed with a back injury. If either can’t go Sunday, Arizona might find itself in trouble with depth, since swing lineman Mason Cole also missed practice as he deals with a knee injury. — Josh Weinfuss

Tight end Gerald Everett is still considered “day to day,” Sean McVay said Wednesday. “His knee is making progress, but he’s not ready to get out there and practice with us yet,” the coach said. Everett has been “day to day” since suffering the knee injury Week 13. He did not play vs. the Cardinals or Seahawks. In his absence, starter Tyler Higbee has taken on an increased role in the passing game. Higbee has posted career bests in receiving yards the past two games. — Lindsey Thiry



Field Yates and Matthew Berry express confidence in Tyler Higbee after his productive fantasy performances.

The 49ers could be particularly short-handed in the secondary against Atlanta on Sunday. Coach Kyle Shanahan has already said cornerback Richard Sherman is expected to miss a couple of weeks, which makes the status of nickel corner K’Waun Williams (concussion) and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) even more important. There’s no guarantee either will be available, and they’ll be monitored as the week goes on. If they can’t go, the Niners would be without three of their five primary defensive backs with Julio Jones coming to town, only adding to the test on the heels of a difficult three-game stretch. — Nick Wagoner

Already dealing with a lingering core muscle injury, Jadeveon Clowney has now caught whatever illness has been going around the Seahawks’ locker room, and didn’t practice Wednesday. Coach Pete Carroll said Clowney is the only new player he knows of to have gotten sick. Ziggy Ansah is practicing Wednesday, and has a “real good chance” of playing Sunday at Carolina, per Carroll. However, Ansah practiced all last week with his neck injury and still didn’t have the requisite strength to play in the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who missed that game with a hamstring injury, is another question mark. He ran Tuesday and practiced Wednesday, but was limited. That means rookie Cody Barton, who’s dealing with ankle and knee injuries of his own, could get his second career start against the Panthers. — Brady Henderson

Published at Thu, 12 Dec 2019 00:09:15 +0000

Nuggets for all 32 teams: What you need to know

Nuggets for all 32 teams: What you need to know

There are three weeks left in the NFL regular season, which means the 2020 NFL draft is inching closer, and fan bases are starting to look ahead to the offseason.

The ESPN Football Power Index (FPI), which projects the 1-32 first-round order by simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times, has the Cincinnati Bengals as the overwhelming favorites to pick No. 1 overall, followed by the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, who have three picks in Round 1.

With ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay unveiling their early look at the 2020 class, we asked NFL Nation reporters to detail the most important things fans need to know about all 32 teams’ draft situations right now:

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Projected first-round pick: No. 23

Buffalo’s top three priorities for the offseason, in order: playmakers, playmakers and playmakers. Receiver John Brown infused life into the Bills’ passing game, but there remains a lack of dynamic playmakers at the skill positions. Luckily, this year’s receiver class is expected to be among the best ever, and there should be plenty of opportunities for Buffalo to add a difference-maker. Edge rusher and outside linebacker should also be addressed, though the Bills might have an easier time doing so via free agency. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Projected first-round picks: Nos. 4, 20, 24

The Dolphins have three (!) first-round picks and a projected 14 selections in total, making the draft a perfect opportunity to give this rebuilding roster a makeover. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier’s biggest decision will be how to address the quarterback position; it’s imperative for Miami to nab its quarterback of the future. But what if that QB isn’t available at No. 4, where the Dolphins are projected to pick? It’d be an extreme disappointment if Miami doesn’t draft a quarterback in the first round after the pains of the 2019 season, but offensive line and edge rusher are needs as well. — Cameron Wolfe

Projected first-round pick: No. 30

The Patriots are without a second-round pick after trading it to the Falcons for receiver Mohamed Sanu Sr., but they have no shortage of draft ammunition with a first-round pick, a third-rounder and two projected third-round compensatory picks. Arguably their best offensive lineman, left guard Joe Thuney, is scheduled for free agency, and if he isn’t back, that would further highlight the need to bolster this line. That has been the foundation for the struggles on offense this season. — Mike Reiss

Projected first-round pick: No. 8

The Jets have four picks in the first three rounds, and they should use at least two of them on offensive linemen. They haven’t picked a lineman in the first round since center Nick Mangold in 2006, which helps explain the current state of disrepair. Specifically, the Jets need a left tackle, as current starter Kelvin Beachum will be a free agent. With a likely pick in the top 10, they should be able to address the need. — Rich Cimini


Projected first-round pick: No. 32

Baltimore hasn’t selected a pass-rusher in the first round since Terrell Suggs in 2003. The defense lost Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency last offseason, and it was unable to get an impact pass-rusher in free agency (Justin Houston and Clay Matthews signed elsewhere) or the 2019 draft (Brian Burns was off the board by the time Baltimore selected in the first round). The Ravens have had to blitz more than any other team in the NFL to generate pressure on quarterbacks. Now getting a young edge rusher has to be a priority. — Jamison Hensley

Projected first-round pick: No. 1

Cincinnati’s anticipation for the 2020 draft started in October, when the Bengals began trending toward the No. 1 overall pick. All of the discussion surrounding the upcoming draft will focus on one position: quarterback. The Bengals will likely be in the market for a young QB to replace veteran Andy Dalton, who will be 32 when next season starts. LSU’s Joe Burrow is currently the top-ranked quarterback for ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert next in line. — Ben Baby



Adam Schefter breaks down the strengths that make Joe Burrow and Chase Young desirable NFL draft prospects.

Projected first-round pick: No. 16

The Browns desperately need help along the offensive line, especially at tackle. General manager John Dorsey is sure to take another run at trading for Washington’s Trent Williams in the offseason, but either way, drafting a tackle in the first round seems inevitable for a team that needs to protect franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield long term. Cleveland has an extra third-rounder from the Duke Johnson trade, which will allow the Browns to adequately address other needs (safety is another position to watch). — Jake Trotter

Projected first-round pick: None

The Steelers traded away their first-round pick for the first time since 1967, but given how quickly and how significantly safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has contributed this season, Pittsburgh is plenty fine with sitting out the first night. When their first pick of the draft comes up in the second round — projected to be in the 50s — the Steelers will need to target offensive skill players. The team has cobbled together skill players around Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph this season, but the Steelers need an NFL-ready receiver (or running back) who can make an impact immediately in what could be one of Ben Roethlisberger‘s final seasons. — Brooke Pryor


Projected first-round pick: None

For the second time in three years, the Texans won’t have a first-round pick, having used draft capital to instead make gains through trades. Nor will they have a third-round draft pick — unless they receive a compensatory pick for safety Tyrann Mathieu — after trading for LT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, RB Duke Johnson Jr. and CB Gareon Conley since cutdown day. — Sarah Barshop

Projected first-round pick: No. 14

The Colts used seven of 10 draft picks on defensive players in the 2019 draft, and now they need to shift to the offensive side of the ball. They are set at running back with Marlon Mack, who is on pace to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his three-year career, but the absence of T.Y. Hilton has shown the need for an upgrade at receiver to help Hilton and to step into the No. 1 role if Hilton is unavailable. The Colts have struggled to find a go-to player in the six games Hilton has missed this season. — Mike Wells

Projected first-round picks: Nos. 7, 21

Thanks to the Jalen Ramsey trade, the Jaguars have two first-round picks. That’s good because there are needs at nearly every position. Offensive line should be the top priority, followed closely by the interior defensive line and linebacker. The biggest unknown, however, is who will be in charge of making the picks. Owner Shad Khan might clean house after another disappointing season, potentially dumping executive VP Tom Coughlin, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone. — Mike DiRocco

Projected first-round pick: No. 22

The Titans might not find themselves in need of spending an early pick on a quarterback this season thanks to the rebirth of Ryan Tannehill. Given where they will likely be selecting, they probably wouldn’t be in position to take one of the top prospects anyway. Now they can turn their focus to the best player available, which should fit a variety of needs, considering that they have 23 pending free agents. Cornerback, outside linebacker, running back, tight end and offensive tackle all figure to be areas the team will need to address. — Turron Davenport


Projected first-round pick: No. 12

The Broncos project to have 12 picks in April’s draft, and it is one of the most important drafts of John Elway’s tenure as chief decision-maker. After stumbles in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, the Broncos have righted themselves in the previous two. One more quality run through April and an already young team could be poised to compete for a playoff spot. There were 12 players from the 2018 and 2019 drafts combined in uniform for Sunday’s win in Houston. The Broncos need to stick to the formula that has been best for them and lean toward multiyear starters in college, team captains and established résumés. — Jeff Legwold

Projected first-round pick: No. 28

Cornerback is a position to watch for the Chiefs in the draft. Three of their five — Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller and Mo Claiborne — are in the final seasons of their contracts. The Chiefs could be looking for a starter and perhaps a nickelback. — Adam Teicher

Projected first-round pick: No. 11

With quarterback Philip Rivers turning 38 last week and in the final year of his contract, the Chargers should be looking to select his eventual replacement early in the draft. The Bolts also have to replenish an aging offensive line that has been banged up this season, so QB and offensive tackle should be high on the list for L.A. in 2020. — Eric D. Williams

Projected first-round picks: Nos. 13, 17

The Raiders have two first-round picks next spring — their own and the Bears’ from the Khalil Mack trade — and have two glaring and specific needs: a true No. 1 receiver and a middle linebacker. Oakland thought it had a WR1 in Antonio Brown until his histrionics prompted his being cut, and Vontaze Burfict was the defense’s quarterback at middle linebacker until the league slapped him with a season-long suspension. Nailing those two positions in the draft would accelerate this rebuilding project in the franchise’s first year in Las Vegas. — Paul Gutierrez


Projected first-round pick: No. 19

At least the Cowboys will have a first-round pick in 2020. They were more than willing to sit out Day 1 in 2019 after giving up their top pick to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper. But they have received little production from their 2019 rookie class for a variety of reasons and need to make sure they hit on their first-rounder in April. The Cowboys contemplated giving up a first-round pick to the Jets for Jamal Adams but did not give in to the Jets’ wishes. Now the Cowboys’ pick could be a lot higher than many imagined at the start of the season — perhaps high enough for them to consider a top defensive tackle, safety or cornerback to help a defense that could see change through free agency. — Todd Archer

Projected first-round pick: No. 2

It’s likely that the Giants are going to pick in the top six for the third straight year. The previous two drafts landed them running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. This year, they need a defensive player, preferably a pass-rusher (maybe Ohio State defensive end Chase Young). The Giants are desperate for defensive playmakers, even if the need for offensive line help holds true for the eighth straight year. — Jordan Raanan

Projected first-round pick: No. 18

The Eagles will be on the hunt for a difference-making wide receiver. That has been a blind spot in recent seasons: Of the six receivers drafted since 2014 — Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside — only Agholor and Arcega-Whiteside remain, and they have a combined 464 receiving yards this season. With DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery in the twilight of their careers, Philadelphia needs to find some legit WR weapons to pair with Carson Wentz long term. — Tim McManus

Projected first-round pick: No. 3

The Redskins need help at multiple premium positions, including left tackle, with the likelihood of Trent Williams being dealt in the offseason, and cornerback, where Josh Norman probably will be cut. They also need help at skill spots on offense, from another pass-catching tight end to another top receiver talent. Washington probably will have eight draft picks, thanks to compensatory selections, but it doesn’t have a second-rounder. Trading Williams would bring back a good pick or two, but with so many needs, it’ll be tough for Washington to fill them all in one draft. — John Keim


Projected first-round pick: None

The Bears have to find a reliable pass-catching tight end to replace veteran Trey Burton, who is guaranteed $4 million of his 2020 base salary if he’s still on the roster by the third day of the upcoming league year. The odds of Burton and former second-round pick Adam Shaheen being on the roster next season are not promising. Both struggled to stay healthy or offer much production at important positions — the “U” and “Y” tight end spots — in Matt Nagy’s offense. The Bears are finally getting some decent play from tight ends J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted, but investing at least one draft pick on a higher-profile prospect at the position makes a lot of sense. — Jeff Dickerson

Projected first-round pick: No. 6

Somehow, despite having a need the past three seasons and giving Trey Flowers monster offseason money, the Lions still need a pass-rusher. Detroit is trending toward a top-five pick, which is good news in the chase for Chase Young. The Lions continue to have other holes to fill (cornerback and linebacker), but finding an edge rusher who can become a star needs to be priority No. 1. — Michael Rothstein

Projected first-round pick: No. 26

The Packers haven’t drafted a receiver in the first round since Javon Walker in 2002. It might be time to break that trend, given the dearth of playmakers at Aaron Rodgers‘ disposal. It is Davante Adams and a bunch of former undrafted free agents atop the depth chart. Former fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling has disappeared late in the season. GM Brian Gutekunst went all-in on defense last offseason. He’ll have to address the other side of the ball this time around. It’s time to get Rodgers some top-notch help. — Rob Demovsky

Projected first-round pick: No. 25

Remember Mike Zimmer’s “just one more” stance on cornerbacks? Given the uncertainty beyond this season for Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in Minnesota, the Vikings might opt to use a high draft pick on a cornerback to retool their secondary should any of the aforementioned names not be part of the team next season. Minnesota has drafted four cornerbacks in the first or second round since 2013, choosing to develop that position with homegrown talent over signing pricey defensive backs in free agency. — Courtney Cronin


Projected first-round pick: No. 9

The Falcons need to find pass-rush help immediately. Their ugly cap situation for 2020 means they probably won’t be able to lure a top-flight edge rusher in free agency. Although this draft class might lack dominant pass-rushers, the Falcons — and whoever is calling the shots next season — need to find a gem among the draftees. Vic Beasley Jr., the league leader in sacks in 2016, leads the team with six sacks, but he’s unlikely to be back next season, given his inconsistency. Former first-round pick Takk McKinley still needs some work. — Vaughn McClure

Projected first-round pick: No. 10

Much depends on what the Panthers decide to do with quarterback Cam Newton and how he recovers from foot surgery. If the Panthers release him, quarterback moves to the top of their board, despite their having used a third-round pick on Will Grier in 2019. Even if they keep Newton, they might want to use a first- or second-round pick on a signal-caller with Newton, 30, entering the last year of his deal. Carolina needs long-term insurance, and the new coach will want to build around his guy just as Ron Rivera did when he took Newton with the top pick in 2011. After that, the Panthers will look to rebuild the interior lines on both sides of the ball. The defensive front especially needs an overhaul, with several players at the end of deals and getting up there in age. — David Newton

Projected first-round pick: No. 29

The Saints will have only one pick in the top 90 or so because they traded away their second-rounder to move up for center Erik McCoy this year and should be picking late in every round. But they can always move up again, and you’d have to imagine that wide receiver will be a top target in a draft class that is supposed to be loaded with good ones. Michael Thomas has nearly 100 more receptions than any other receiver on the team. — Mike Triplett

Projected first-round pick: No. 15

Coach Bruce Arians said he’s more concerned about winning than draft position. But the Bucs’ wins will cost them valuable draft real estate. If they were 3-10 and hadn’t won their past three games, they’d hold a top-five pick. But because they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention, they can’t pick lower than 20th. — Jenna Laine


Projected first-round pick: No. 5

The Cardinals have their quarterback, so now it’s time to get Kyler Murray some help. Arizona’s approach to its first-round pick this year should focus on wide receiver, offensive line or defensive line. The Cardinals need a true No. 1 receiver who can take Larry Fitzgerald‘s place whenever he retires. They also need to add more athleticism on the offensive line to help execute Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo offense, and they need a high-impact defensive lineman who can take some pressure off Chandler Jones. — Josh Weinfuss

Projected first-round pick: None

The Rams traded their 2020 first-round pick, along with a 2021 first-round and 2021 fourth-round pick, to the Jaguars in October in exchange for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who now awaits what is expected to be an NFL-record payday. Unless the Rams trade into the first round, they will go five years without making a first-round selection. Look for them to try to find value in the middle rounds, especially on the offensive line, where depth is a concern. — Lindsey Thiry

Projected first-round pick: No. 31

After trading premium picks for defensive end Dee Ford and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Niners are slated to pick in the first round and not again until Round 5. That’s a long wait for a team that has used the middle rounds to find starters such as Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel and Ahkello Witherspoon in recent years. As it stands, San Francisco has six picks in the 2020 draft, with only one of those in the first two days. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Niners move down or out of the first round to add more capital for Rounds 2-4. — Nick Wagoner

Projected first-round pick: No. 27

Eight of the 16 Seahawks who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents are either starters or regular contributors along the offensive and defensive lines. The team agreed to not use the franchise tag on perhaps the most important of those players, Jadeveon Clowney, which will complicate efforts to re-sign him. Assuming some of those eight will be lost to free agency, it could be a lineman-heavy draft for the Seahawks. It’s a good thing they won’t be strapped for picks like they were last year, when they had a league-low four of them before trading Frank Clark the week of the draft. — Brady Henderson

Published at Tue, 10 Dec 2019 12:29:21 +0000

Week 14 NFL takeaways: What’s next for the Saints, Bills after crushing losses

Week 14 NFL takeaways: What’s next for the Saints, Bills after crushing losses

In a 94-point offensive duel between two NFC teams with double-digit wins, the 49ers edged the Saints. The showdown headlined a strong lineup of Week 14 matchups. The Ravens clinched a playoff bid with a victory over the Bills, quarterback Drew Lock impressed in a Broncos win over the Texans, and the Buccaneers kept their playoff aspirations alive with a victory against the Colts.

In the afternoon, the Chiefs clinched the AFC West by topping conference foe New England. And the Jaguars and Raiders continued their slides.

Here are Week 14’s biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:

Count the Rams out of the playoffs? Don’t do it — at least not yet — after they stunned the Seahawks on Sunday night. Jared Goff passed for 293 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. The defense sacked Russell Wilson five times, and the Rams appear capable of — don’t laugh — winning their next three games, which include road contests against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers and a regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams are one game behind the Minnesota Vikings for a wild-card spot. — Lindsey Thiry

Next game: at Dallas (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

The only good thing you can say about the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams? It might not matter all that much. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Seattle still has a 99% chance to make the playoffs, a 31% chance to win the NFC West, a 21% chance to earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a 30% chance to earn one of the top two seeds. Everything is still within the Seahawks’ reach with three games left, but there were enough issues Sunday — pass protection, drops and a lack of explosiveness on offense, a lack of pressure and four long touchdown drives on defense — to wonder if this team is really built to make a deep run in the playoffs once it gets there. — Brady Henderson

Next game: at Carolina (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The 49ers have what it takes to win in the most difficult environments, including in the loud Superdome. Sunday’s 48-46 victory against the Saints showed a Niners team that has leaned on its defense most of this season can win a shootout against another top contender. In the process, the Niners remained in control of their destiny in the NFC playoff race. “It’s going to come down to the last week with a number of teams in the NFC, and we are looking forward to next week,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. — Nick Wagoner

Next game: vs. Atlanta (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Saints got the offensive outburst they’ve been waiting for but squandered it with their worst defensive performance of the season. The Saints (10-3) can still potentially wind up as the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But now they might need losses by the 49ers, Seahawks and Packers to make it happen. — Mike Triplett

Next game: vs. Indianapolis (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 16)

The Ravens clinched a playoff bid in Buffalo, but there wasn’t much celebrating. “I tried to make a big deal about it in the locker room, and the guys kind of gave me a smattering of applause,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They expected that; I think they’ve earned the right to expect that.” Winners of nine consecutive games, the Ravens (11-2) are looking to secure the top seed in the AFC for the first time in franchise history. — Jamison Hensley

Next game: vs. New York Jets (8:20 p.m. ET Thursday)

Regardless of how well the defense plays, 209 yards of offense is not going to cut it. Neither will 146 yards on 17-of-39 passing. The Bills and quarterback Josh Allen figured it out the hard way in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Are the Bills the team that averaged 401 yards in its previous three games, or the one that relies on its defense to bail it out until its offense heroically puts points on the board? We’ll find out against the Steelers in Week 15. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: at Pittsburgh (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Bucs overcame the loss of Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans to a hamstring injury, a broken thumb for quarterback Jameis Winston and four turnovers for their third straight win. Winston tossed three interceptions — including an 80-yard pick-six from Darius Leonard — yet also threw for a career-high 456 passing yards and four touchdowns with a fifth score on the ground. “It’s a damn good thing I’m a young cub. Coaching the nicest team in the league is tough. We just love spotting 17 points to the other team, then come back and winning,” coach Bruce Arians joked. “I don’t think I have blood pressure anymore.” — Jenna Laine

Next game: at Detroit (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Colts came unraveled in the second half for the second consecutive game, and their playoff hopes are basically on life support after they gave up 542 total yards. The Colts have allowed the final 17 points in each of their past two games, contests they were in position to win. Indianapolis has lost five of its past six games after having a 5-2 record and being in first place in the AFC South. — Mike Wells

Next game: at New Orleans (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 16)

It might be viewed as a “bounce-back” performance by the Vikings’ defense, but the way this unit played against a third-string rookie quarterback was expected. The Vikings opened the final quarter of the season by getting some mojo back against an overmatched opponent, sacking Lions quarterback David Blough five times with their fourth-lowest pressure rate of the season (11 of Blough’s 45 dropbacks) and watching their newfound cornerback rotation take shape. “It’s important we get a chip back on our shoulder, and I thought we kind of did that,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We need to keep going and keep doing that. That’s why I wish we wouldn’t have let them score.” — Courtney Cronin

Next game: at Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)



Mike Zimmer praises the Vikings’ overall efficiency, but expresses his frustration that his defense let the Lions score a late touchdown.

The good news for the Lions in their sixth consecutive loss is the team continues to move up in the 2020 draft. Atlanta’s defeat of Carolina moved Detroit into the No. 5 draft position, just behind the Bengals, Redskins, Giants and Dolphins. Considering some of those teams still play each other, it’s entirely possible that three more losses could put Detroit in even better position to land a top pick in the spring. — Michael Rothstein

Next game: vs. Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Broncos have won both of Drew Lock‘s starts, his first two games since coming off injured reserve. The quarterback was 22-of-27 passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns Sunday in a game the Broncos led by 35 points in the third quarter. Lock joins John Elway and Marlin Briscoe as the only first-year players in Broncos history with 300 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in a single game, per ESPN Stats & Information research. His teammates have lauded his composure, and Lock said Sunday his challenge is to take “it day by day … and not get too far ahead of ourselves.” — Jeff Legwold

Next game: at Kansas City (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

A week after the Texans beat the Patriots, Houston struggled against the Broncos at home. All three Texans touchdowns came after they were already trailing 38-3. Coach Bill O’Brien took the blame for the loss, saying, “I don’t think there was anything very good” in the game. At 8-5, Houston still has an opportunity to win the AFC South with two games in three weeks against the Titans. But Sunday’s loss ended any hope of a first-round bye. — Sarah Barshop

Next game: at Tennessee (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Winning ugly might work against teams like the Giants and Redskins, but at 10-3, the Packers probably can’t expect a performance like Sunday’s to be good enough for a long playoff run. Or maybe it can? While quarterback Aaron Rodgers said there is frustration at times with the inconsistent performance on offense, he added that “it might be ugly to some folks … [but] I wouldn’t mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl.” — Rob Demovsky

Next game: vs. Chicago (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Redskins are not a good team, but they are a tough-minded one. There’s no reason they should have been within a score of Green Bay late, not given their talent level and several injuries during the game. They’ve proved resilient the past couple of weeks, but they keep falling behind (14-0 deficits in each of the past two games). The Redskins are not equipped offensively to consistently handle such deficits. Despite a bad record, they have developed a good mindset. — John Keim

Next game: vs. Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Falcons looked better along the offensive line with rookie Chris Lindstrom back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right foot in the season opener. Lindstrom started at right guard and was in a rotation with another young, inexperienced player in Matt Gono. But when Lindstrom drove Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler to the ground, it showed how much the Falcons had missed his play. Atlanta ran the ball better, with a season-high 159 rushing yards and Devonta Freeman‘s first rushing touchdown since December 2017. Plus, quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked one time on a day when he surpassed 50,000 passing yards for his career. — Vaughn McClure

Next game: at San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Interim coach Perry Fewell said it best after Carolina’s fifth consecutive loss after a 5-3 start: “We’re all fighting for our jobs.” The losses already cost coach Ron Rivera his job. Sunday’s sloppy performance (four turnovers) didn’t help Fewell’s chances of being a serious candidate to replace him. The five-game losing streak gives the Panthers a 1-12 record in the second half of the season over the past two years. Last season’s team started 6-2 and lost seven straight before winning its finale. This team could be headed for a complete overhaul by owner David Tepper. — David Newton

Next game: vs. Seattle (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Browns defeated the Bengals once they remembered they boast the NFL’s leading rusher and were facing the league’s worst run defense. After getting only three carries in the first half Sunday, Nick Chubb powered the Browns with his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season, the most by a Cleveland runner since 1968. Yet even as the Browns landed their fourth victory in five games, speculation surrounding Odell Beckham Jr.‘s health and future in Cleveland seemed to overshadow the game itself. Last week, Beckham was vague about his future in Cleveland beyond this season. Then after Sunday’s game, when asked about a pregame Fox report that he’s been telling opposing coaches and players to “come get me” out of Cleveland, Beckham would say only that he wouldn’t be answering questions “about any offseason stuff that’s going on.” That nondenial will surely fuel even more speculation about his future as they prepare to meet Arizona in a must-win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. — Jake Trotter

Next game: at Arizona (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)



Baker Mayfield says the Browns’ training room mishandled Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury situation before the season even started.

Mark Sunday’s loss to the Browns as another game the Bengals should have won. Cincinnati outgained Cleveland, won the turnover margin and had five red zone possessions. However, the Bengals were unable to score more than one touchdown. The loss at Cleveland and the season-opening defeat at Seattle could be reasons the Bengals have the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. “It was a game we felt like we had good control over,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We just didn’t execute in those key situations.” — Ben Baby

Next game: vs. New England (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Jets overcame a lot to beat the Dolphins, including no Le’Veon Bell, no Jamal Adams and no consistency on offense. And let’s not forget about a late deficit. The talent might not be there, and a lot of key players weren’t available because of injuries, but the team showed mental toughness after last weekend’s no-show. — Rich Cimini

Next game: at Baltimore (8:20 p.m. ET Thursday)

The Dolphins haven’t lacked in fight or emotion, but talent upgrades are needed at just about every position as they look toward 2020. Almost every week since its Week 5 bye, Miami has been competitive and in position to win. That fight is admirable but shouldn’t hide the dearth of talent, most notably at offensive line, edge rusher and defensive back, that will make this offseason so important. — Cameron Wolfe

Next game: at New York Giants (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Playing on his 38th birthday, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers showed he can still make plays. Rivers was efficient, completing 16 of 22 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. In doing so, he eclipsed 3,500 passing yards for a 12th consecutive season, the third-longest streak in NFL history. “It was a fun day,” Rivers said. “We’ve shown spurts of this this year. I’ve thrown the ball this same way this year. I’ve just had some critical turnovers and some other misses. But we’ve shown spurts of this. We were just more consistent today.” — Eric D. Williams

Next game: vs. Minnesota (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Jaguars lost their fifth consecutive game. And Sunday was worse than the 28-point loss in Seattle in 2013, the 34-point loss in New England in 2015 and the embarrassment on national TV in Tennessee in 2016. Those Jaguars teams didn’t have much talent. But there are three Pro Bowlers on this defense. Leonard Fournette entered the game third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. DJ Chark is one of the best young receivers in the league. There has been a lot of money spent on free agents and extensions, including a big-money deal to land now-backup quarterback Nick Foles. Yet this team is 4-9 and hasn’t been competitive since October. It’s hard to imagine owner Shad Khan holding off until the season ends to fire coach Doug Marrone. There’s one more home game (Dec. 29), and Khan surely doesn’t want to watch his franchise get even lower. — Mike DiRocco

Next game: at Oakland (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Chiefs clinched their fourth consecutive AFC West championship but have plenty to play for. At 9-4, they are a game behind the 10-3 Patriots in the race for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, so they’d need to gain a game for a first-round bye. But by virtue of Sunday’s victory, the Chiefs would have the tiebreaker. — Adam Teicher

Next game: vs. Denver (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Patriots were on the wrong end of two crucial calls by the officials, contributing to their comeback falling short. But while that was disappointing, equally so was the fact they were in a position to need a comeback after an extended stretch of offensive ineptitude. Coach Bill Belichick credited the team’s resolve, saying it would serve the Patriots well going forward, which was a silver lining as they are now “on to Cincinnati.” — Mike Reiss

Next game: at Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Titans exploded for 552 total yards and scored 30 or more points for the fourth consecutive game. The offense is finding balance with running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill leading the way. Henry rushed 103 yards, giving him four consecutive games with at least 100. Tannehill finished with 391 yards and three touchdowns. The balanced attack paired with the defense bodes well for the Titans as they return home to host the Texans for a showdown that will have heavy AFC South title ramifications. — Turron Davenport

Next game: vs. Houston (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Well, that should be a wrap. The Raiders’ run to a playoff spot, as unlikely as it seemed at the start of the season, is all but done, courtesy of a loss to the Titans in the penultimate game at the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders, who lost their third straight game, fell to 6-7. The Titans, one of two teams the Raiders were chasing for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, improved to 8-5. The Raiders were a feel-good story when they sat at 6-4 and rode a three-game winning streak in this latest rebuilding season, but injuries and ineffectiveness the past month have turned the tide. “We did put ourselves in position to make a run and we didn’t do it,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “It’s just as simple as that, right?” Right. — Paul Gutierrez

Next game: vs. Jacksonville (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Steelers keep finding ways to win. This time, receiver Diontae Johnson powered his team to a victory with two scores — including Pittsburgh’s first punt return touchdown since 2015 — and cornerback Joe Haden sealed the game with an interception on the final drive. “Just keep playing complementary football,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “Offense puts up the points, defense keeps ’em off the scoreboard. Special teams came through today.” With the win, the Steelers continue to hold the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race and have guaranteed the team won’t have a losing record in the regular season, something that seemed a long way off when it started 1-3 and lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. — Brooke Pryor

Next game: vs. Buffalo (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

Another game, another loss for the Cardinals. They have three more chances to avoid finishing the season on a nine-game losing streak — a feat not even former coach Steve Wilks accomplished before getting fired after going 3-13 last season. There are major issues for Arizona on both sides of the ball, and they likely won’t be fixed by season’s end. At this point, the Cardinals are hoping to get out of each game with a victory and make strides toward 2020. — Josh Weinfuss

Next game: vs. Cleveland (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is playing like a top-five pick. It’s impossible to ignore the fact Trubisky struggled mightily at times this season, but it all came together against the Cowboys. Trubisky not only passed for 244 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but he also ran for 63 yards and a score. That’s important because he entered the game with 80 rushing yards for the season. The Bears need Trubisky to be multidimensional, which he was in Chicago’s victory over the fading Cowboys. Trubisky can’t erase what happened earlier in the season, but he appears to be ending it on a high note. — Jeff Dickerson

Next game: at Green Bay (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

With 10 days off between games, maybe the Cowboys can use the time to gather themselves after their third consecutive defeat. Emotions are edgy from owner and general manager Jerry Jones to the players. They know what they have to do — play better football — they just don’t know how to get it done. The Cowboys can still win the division, thanks to Philadelphia’s issues, but this was a team that was viewed as a Super Bowl contender. Having lost seven of their past 10 games, the Cowboys lack confidence and belief to fight through the adversities of the game. — Todd Archer

Next game: vs. Los Angeles Rams (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Published at Sun, 08 Dec 2019 23:43:04 +0000

The next wave of NFL head coaches: Names and trends to know for 2020

The next wave of NFL head coaches: Names and trends to know for 2020

A month from now, fans of six or so NFL teams will be refreshing their browsers and checking their phones for news about a coaching search. Who’s interviewing where? Which teams have asked permission to interview whom? Who are the leading candidates? When can coaches whose teams are in the playoffs interview, exactly?

It is the NFL’s early-January rite, and we all got a reminder of its proximity this week when the Panthers dismissed coach Ron Rivera. There are now two head-coach openings in the league — in Carolina and Washington, where Jay Gruden was let go earlier this season — and more to come, either before or right after the season.

NFL industry sources who track these things are following the situations with the Falcons, Jaguars, Cowboys, Browns, Lions and Giants as potential teams that could make a coaching change. There’s nothing decided yet, of course, and with one-quarter of the season to go — for all but the two teams that played Thursday night — there’s still time for situations to improve or worsen in a couple of places.

History tells us to expect six-to-eight openings (even though history also tells us teams don’t help themselves by turning over coaches so frequently), and so the attention of fans in places where the coach is on thin ice turns to, “Who can we get?”

Last year was all about fresh faces. NFL people couldn’t believe the level of inexperience teams were willing to accept in their new coaches. Kliff Kingsbury got the Arizona job mere weeks after Texas Tech fired him. The Packers hired Matt LaFleur after he’d spent one year as a playcaller. Zac Taylor rose from a relatively obscure place in the Rams’ coaching hierarchy to coach of the Bengals. Brian Flores got the Dolphins job after one year as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator (and without the title!). The Browns promoted Freddie Kitchens after a half-season as their offensive coordinator.

There were a couple of exceptions. Vic Fangio paid decades worth of dues and got rewarded with the Broncos job. Tampa Bay brought back former Arizona coach Bruce Arians. And the Jets hired Adam Gase weeks after the Dolphins had fired him. For the most part, though, teams overlooked experience for potential, and we wondered if that might start a trend.

It could, of course. Multiple sources interviewed for this story said teams are still likely to lean toward offensive-minded coaches in their January searches. Team owners and general managers want fresh ideas on how to score more and more points, and those who have guided this year’s successful offenses likely will get looks. Offensive coordinators such as Greg Roman (Ravens), Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), Kevin Stefanski (Vikings), Nick Sirianni (Colts) and mercurial favorite Josh McDaniels (Patriots) are expected to get phone calls and interest and likely interviews.

Dan Campbell, the Saints’ tight ends coach who was once an interim coach of the Dolphins, is on some teams’ list of interesting candidates. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll could parlay his Year 2 success with Josh Allen into some interviews. Teams might want to pick the brains of 49ers run game coordinator Mike McDaniel or passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur (yes, Matt’s brother). Could the way the Seahawks’ run game looks right now mean interest in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? It might be too soon for Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, but he’s well-regarded as a long-term candidate, and again… last year a lot of guys got massive promotions.

On the defensive side, sources say to pay attention to guys like Dennis Allen, the Saints’ defensive coordinator and former Raiders coach, as well as Robert Saleh (49ers), Matt Eberflus (Colts), George Edwards (Vikings) and Kris Richard (Cowboys). Allen isn’t the only former NFL head coach running a defense right now, and strong finishes and/or playoff runs in places like Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City could put coordinators like Leslie Frazier, Jim Schwartz and Steve Spagnuolo back on radar screens.

Out-of-work former head coaches Rivera and Mike McCarthy should get attention from some teams and possibly jobs from teams that want experience. Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge is held in high esteem inside and outside of that building. And of course, there will be the annual list of college coaches, such as Baylor’s Matt Rhule, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Florida’s Dan Mullen. Of that group, Rhule, who was a finalist for the Jets job a year ago, is thought to be the most likely to make the jump.

So that’s the list as it stands, and it’s likely longer than the actual list of guys who’ll get interviews. But you get the sense of what’s out there. The group surely has some future stars and some future flops, and good luck to the teams trying to figure out which is which. The NFL’s head-coach-hiring process is too fast and too frenzied. Too often, teams make major, franchise-altering decisions after spending four or five hours with a candidate and feeling they have to hurry to get their guy in place. Too often, the decision is governed by the wrong priorities — we need a defensive guy or we need an offensive guy or we need a guy who’s Facebook friends with Sean McVay.

Here, then, is my annual plea to teams in search of a new coach: Don’t hire a guy because you like his playbook. Hire a guy because he’s a leader. Do your digging and find out how players and assistant coaches and trainers and equipment managers respond to your candidate. Does he inspire? Can he unite disparate groups of people behind a common purpose? Can he hold people together when things get difficult?

McVay’s offensive ingenuity isn’t the sole reason — even the main reason — he has been successful in Los Angeles. His command of the building is. Players, coaches and everyone else there responds to him because he commands a reassuring authority. He makes sure the trains run on time. He makes sure people are in the best possible position to succeed — and that they know they are, and that they know why.

Andy Reid’s scheme creativity isn’t the reason he’s about to go to the playoffs for the 15th time in 21 seasons. Bill Belichick’s defensive genius isn’t the reason the Patriots have dominated the league for nearly two decades. Pete Carroll knows his X’s and O’s, of course, but he wins in Seattle because he knows his people.

Those guys are hard to find, yes, but it’s important that teams go into this process looking for the right things. I remember asking Packers GM Brian Gutekunst in training camp what he liked about Matt LaFleur, and the first thing he said was, “Based on the people I talked to that have worked with him, I really thought he’d be a really good match, not only short-term with Aaron [Rodgers], but kind of long-term with developing quarterbacks.” Quarterback might be a narrow focus, but it’s certainly an important one, and Gutekunst’s answer reveals a long-term focus as opposed to a fix-it-now mentality. I don’t know if LaFleur will work out for the Packers long-term (though the early returns are clearly encouraging). But it’s important that Green Bay was viewing him as something more than just a former McVay assistant.

So keep it in mind, fan of team making a coaching change. Watch the process. See what you can glean from the decision-makers’ comments on what they liked about the guy they ended up hiring. See what kind of overall leadership vibe he gives off in his early days. Don’t worry about whether his scheme or his background fits the personnel you have in place, because if he’s a good coach he’ll adjust his thinking to fit his players and if he doesn’t do that he won’t be there long anyway. Watch to see how he gets his people to respond and perform and unify. That’s when you’ll know what you really have.

Some other stuff I’ve found to be of interest around the NFL this week:

Watch for front-office changes, too

Seems as if the past couple of years have seen a bunch of coaches fired, but not a lot of turnover at the general manager level. The front-office landscape could shift a bit this offseason, however. Panthers owner David Tepper already has said he plans to hire an assistant GM and a vice president of football operations, which could mean a shift in role and/or responsibilities for current GM Marty Hurney.

Some of the places where coaches are on the hot seat could find GMs and/or other front-office execs on the hot seat as well, most notably Atlanta, Jacksonville, Washington and the Giants. And there remains the situation in Houston, where the Texans last offseason fired GM Brian Gaine and tried to hire away player personnel director Nick Caserio from the Patriots only to be accused by the Patriots of tampering. Houston withdrew its pursuit of Caserio, but multiple sources expect that pursuit to pick up again this offseason.

Caserio’s contract expires this offseason, which would allow Houston, Carolina or other interested teams free rein in pursuing him. Like most front-office contracts, his doesn’t expire until after the draft, so it’s possible things could continue to be sticky if New England tried to make it so. But if the Pats know he wants out and has a chance to be a GM or VP somewhere else, they probably wouldn’t want him hanging around their draft room anyway.

Caserio has a New England connection with Houston coach Bill O’Brien, who has the decision-making authority in the organization since Gaine’s firing, along with Texans Executive VP of Team Development Jack Easterby. There also are those who believe Caserio could go somewhere as a package deal with McDaniels as head coach, though that obviously would rule out Houston, where O’Brien is surely safe.

Could Eli Manning leave behind Big Blue?

The “very likely” Monday Night Football start by Manning for the Giants as a result of Daniel Jones‘ injury could throw a new name onto an offseason quarterback market that we’ve previously detailed as very interesting.

If Manning starts all four of the Giants’ final four games and plays well, he could make a case for a job somewhere else in 2020. It’s difficult to know Manning’s mindset on the topic of whether he’d want to go play elsewhere after 16 years and two Super Bowl titles with the Giants. But if Manning, who turns 39 in January, wants to keep playing, he’d have to go to a team that offered him at least the potential for a starting job. He could end up in a place like Chicago and be next year’s Ryan Tannehill to Mitchell Trubisky‘s Marcus Mariota. He could play for his hometown Saints if Drew Brees decided to retire. Wouldn’t it be ironic to see him in New England if Tom Brady left? And the Chargers could be looking … oh wait. Never mind on that one.



Victor Cruz predicts a well-rested Eli Manning will lead the Giants past the Eagles on Monday Night Football.

It’s not clear if Manning could be a viable quarterback for a team in need in 2020. He wasn’t playing well before the Giants benched him for Jones. He hasn’t played especially well in about four years. But if he starts the next four games and rekindles some of his old magic, it’s not crazy to think teams might take a look.

A non-update update on the CBA

We’ve tried in this space to keep you apprised of what’s going on in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between owners and players. We haven’t done that in a while, and the main reason is that not much is going on. Sources close to the situation say there have been some staff-level conversations but no actual, face-to-face owner/player negotiations since the beginning of October. It seems as if each side is reluctant to take the next major step toward the other. The NFLPA hasn’t felt urgency to get to the negotiating table all along, but the owners’ side appeared to feel some earlier this year and now, for some reason, no longer does.

Now, you might hear chatter about a deal being “close,” but this is semantics. My sources tell me that once the two sides agree on the 17-game season and the adjusted revenue split that goes along with it, a deal could come together quickly. Enough work has been done on other issues that the framework of a new CBA is largely in place. The problem is, those two pieces — the expanded regular season and the revenue split between players and owners — are the most major pieces, and agreement on those could take a long time. Owners haven’t shown much willingness to move toward the players on the revenue split, and the players haven’t shown interest in agreeing to lengthen the season without some sort of significant financial concession that would make it worth exposing their bodies to more punishment.

Discussions could pick up any time, of course, and if the owners give the players what they want on the revenue split, it’s possible there could be a deal struck before the end of the current league year. At the moment, though, there are no discussions taking place that would push a deal any closer to completion than it was two months ago, and there are no such discussions scheduled either.

The current CBA expires at the end of the 2020 season, but this offseason could be a weird one if there’s no new deal in place before it. As the “Final League Year,” it would carry special rules, such as no post-June 1 designations on released players and the ability of teams to use the franchise tag on one player and the transition tag on another. Both sides would prefer, in an ideal world, to have a new deal in place by March to avoid such weirdness and take advantage of the things they’ve negotiated in the new deal. But the new league year is a little more than three months away, and that’s not a lot of time.

Published at Fri, 06 Dec 2019 18:00:26 +0000

Picks, schedule guide, playoff scenarios and more

Picks, schedule guide, playoff scenarios and more

The Week 14 NFL slate 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 predictions.

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 Mackenzie Kraemer 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 14 schedule, including a Patrick MahomesTom Brady showdown in New England.

Jump to a matchup:

Thursday: CHI 31, DAL 24

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 90.8 | Spread: NO -2.5 (44.5)

What to watch for: How rare is this matchup between the 10-2 Saints and 10-2 49ers? It’s the first time since 2005 that two teams with two or fewer losses have met this late in the season, and only the fifth time in the past 35 years. It doesn’t get much better than Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara facing one of the league’s top-ranked defenses. And on the flip side, San Francisco’s No. 2 rushing offense will have its hands full with New Orleans’ No. 3 rush defense. The Niners will be seeking a playoff berth clinch with a win and a Rams loss later in the day. — Mike Triplett

Bold prediction: The 49ers will sack Brees at least four times. The Saints have allowed only 21 sacks this season, sixth in the NFL, but they are dealing with injuries to left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat. The Niners, meanwhile, have 45 sacks, second most in the NFL, and should be looking forward to getting after a quarterback who isn’t as mobile as Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: According to ESPN’s pass coverage metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, the 49ers use zone defense more than any other team, doing so on 69% of opposition dropbacks. And Brees has completed 80% of his pass attempts when faced with zone coverage this season, the best rate in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks. But he has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions against that scheme.

What to know for fantasy: The 49ers are top-three in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and kickers. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: San Francisco is 4-0 against the spread (ATS) and 3-1 outright as an underdog this season. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is 7-3 outright and 8-2 ATS as an underdog in his career (6-3 outright and 7-2 ATS with San Francisco). Read more.

Wagoner’s pick: 49ers 27, Saints 20
Triplett’s pick: Saints 19, 49ers 17
FPI prediction: NO, 53.7% (by an average of 1.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: DE Jordan’s sack surge has Saints believing ’20 is attainable’49ers’ Mostert proves he’s more than a special-teams dynamoLB Warner’s cerebral approach at the heart of 49ers’ defense

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 84.3 | Spread: BAL -6 (44)

What to watch for: Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards (977 yards), while Bills QB Josh Allen leads all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns (eight). Combined, the signal-callers’ 1,405 rushing yards entering Sunday’s game marks the most by opposing quarterbacks in NFL history. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Bold prediction: Mark Ingram II, not Jackson, will lead the Ravens in rushing. Since Week 8, Buffalo has allowed the NFL’s fourth-most rushing yards in between the tackles (530), and Baltimore has gained the most (718). Ingram does most of his damage with physical running inside. — Jamison Hensley

Stat to know: As it stands, the Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots for the top spot in the conference and hold a 69% chance to earn the AFC’s No. 1 seed, per FPI. The Ravens would clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday, and they could even lock up the AFC North with a win and a Steelers loss. The Bills, meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a trio of losses from the Raiders, Texans and Colts.

What to know for fantasy: Jackson’s athleticism generates the highlights, but he is leading the league in fantasy points per pass attempt this season. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Jackson is 7-1-1 ATS on the road in his career, including 3-0-1 as a favorite. Read more.

Hensley’s pick: Ravens 24, Bills 16
Louis-Jacques’ pick: Bills 21, Ravens 17
FPI prediction: BAL, 71.7% (by an average of 7.7 points)

Matchup must-reads: Greg Roman’s wisecracking rise from high school coach to Ravens’ offensive guruWhere there’s ‘Smoke’: John Brown bringing fire to Bills’ offensePope Francis gifted custom Ravens jersey signed by Lamar Jackson

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 56.4 | Spread: TB -3 (47.5)

What to watch for: With the Buccaneers and Colts featuring two of the better run-stopping defenses in the league, this game will likely boil down to who can sling it better: Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston or Indy’s Jacoby Brissett. — Jenna Laine

Bold prediction: The Colts will rush for more than 160 yards for the sixth time this season despite Tampa being second in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run (76.3 yards allowed per game). Running the football gives Indianapolis its best chance to end a two-game losing streak, because it doesn’t have the offensive weapons to go toe-to-toe with a Tampa offense that’s averaging 28.3 points per game. — Mike Wells

Stat to know: The Colts had a 73% chance to make the playoffs coming off their Week 8 win over the Broncos, per FPI. But they have since lost four of their past five games and now have a 12% chance. They have committed 11 turnovers during this span — tied with the Buccaneers for most in the NFL — and Brissett has posted a 40.9 QBR, which ranks 27th out of 34 qualified quarterbacks since Week 8.

What to know for fantasy: Winston leads the league in points per completion this season and faces the fourth-worst defense in terms of opponent completion percentage this week. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Tampa Bay is 0-5 ATS at home this season (1-4 outright), and its past four home games went over the total. And last week snapped a streak of nine straight Tampa Bay games going over the total, regardless of location. Read more.



Victor Cruz says the firepower of Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton will lead the Colts over the Buccaneers.

Wells’ pick: Buccaneers 28, Colts 27
Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 28, Colts 24
FPI prediction: TB, 59.1% (by an average of 3.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Brissett hasn’t been able to overcome Colts’ injury dilemmaArians noncommittal on Winston as Buccaneers’ QB after 2019Keeping DE Barrett will be pricey, but Bucs can’t afford to let him go

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 52.4 | Spread: MIN -13 (43.5)

What to watch for: Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook says he’ll be ready to go despite dealing with a chest injury he aggravated twice in Seattle. But if Cook is ruled out or is on a pitch count, expect a breakout game from rookie Alexander Mattison, who has shown he’s fully capable and ready to shoulder a starter’s workload. — Courtney Cronin

Bold prediction: Lions quarterback David Blough is sacked seven times Sunday, bringing back memories of last year when the Vikings sacked Matthew Stafford 10 times. Blough was fun to watch on Thanksgiving, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows how to scheme against quarterbacks, and the Lions. — Michael Rothstein

Stat to know: Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes has allowed the highest percent of completions among defensive backs when he is the nearest defender this season (84%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. Oakland’s Lamarcus Joyner is the second-worst at 73%, more than 10 percentage points better.

What to know for fantasy: Lions receiver Kenny Golladay has scored five times in his past six games and leads the NFL with 112.8 fantasy points scored on deep throws. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Minnesota is 34-14 ATS as a single-digit favorite under Mike Zimmer, including 24-7 ATS at home. Read more.

Rothstein’s pick: Vikings 31, Lions 17
Cronin’s pick: Vikings 37, Lions 20
FPI prediction: MIN, 83.3% (by an average of 12.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Vikings need to find a fix or be doomed for early playoff exitEx-Lion questions whether players want to fight for coach Matt PatriciaUnfazed by back injury, Lions’ Stafford eyes ‘long’ career

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 51.4 | Spread: HOU -9.5 (43)

What to watch for: Can Drew Lock beat the Texans? Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is 11-1 with Houston against rookie quarterbacks, the only loss coming to then-Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett. If Lock wins, he will be the first Broncos quarterback to win his first two career starts with the team since Trevor Siemian in 2016. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: The Broncos will run the ball more than 30 times and top 150 yards doing it. Since Houston defensive end J.J. Watt went on injured reserve Oct. 30, the Texans have surrendered at least 145 yards rushing in three of their past four games. — Jeff Legwold

Stat to know: Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has five receptions in 15 consecutive games, the longest such streak in Texans history.

What to know for fantasy: In Lock’s NFL debut, Denver receiver Courtland Sutton led all players (minimum five targets) in points per target (4.7). See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Lock is making his second career start for Denver after covering last week. Quarterbacks within their first two career starts are 15-4 ATS this season (7-2 ATS in second start). Read more.

Legwold’s pick: Texans 24, Broncos 16
Barshop’s pick: Texans 27, Broncos 13
FPI prediction: HOU, 80.2% (by an average of 11.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Drewcember? Lock needs to develop, earn title of Broncos’ QB of futureTexans’ second-chance secondary jelling just in time for playoff runBroncos: 19K no-shows and the cruel side of history on the horizonInside the Texans’ trick play that helped beat the Patriots

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 46.5 | Spread: GB -13 (41.5)

What to watch for: If the Packers’ defense can’t get right against the Redskins, then there’s real trouble in Green Bay. The Packers have allowed the most plays of 40-plus yards (16 total, 14 passes and two runs) this season, while the Redskins’ offense has just six such plays (tied for 22nd in the league). — Rob Demovsky

Bold prediction: Redskins running back Derrius Guice will top 100 yards for a second consecutive game vs. a defense that allows 4.7 yards per rush — but the Packers will apply heat on rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Their various looks up front will cause problems and result in ex-Redskin Preston Smith recording two more sacks and Haskins throwing an interception. — John Keim

Stat to know: With some help from Guice, the Redskins have averaged 121.9 rushing yards per game under Bill Callahan from Weeks 6-13 (10th in the NFL) after averaging 68.8 under Jay Gruden from Weeks 1-5 (27th).

What to know for fantasy: Since hanging 41.6 fantasy points on the Chiefs in Week 8, Packers running back Aaron Jones has totaled just 42.1 fantasy points. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Washington has won back-to-back games outright as an underdog, including last week as a 10.5-point underdog against Carolina. Since 2000, teams coming off a win as a double-digit underdog are 28-47-3 ATS. Read more.

Keim’s pick: Packers 28, Redskins 16
Demovsky’s pick: Packers 30, Redskins 17
FPI prediction: GB, 90.3% (by an average of 17.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Rodgers sees 18th hole of career around the bendGuice provides Redskins glimpse of future, and some hope

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 39.9 | Spread: ATL -3 (47)

What to watch for: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan stands just 34 passing yards away from becoming the 10th quarterback to reach 50,000 passing yards. It would be nice if he reaches that with a pass to Julio Jones, who needs just 50 yards for his sixth-consecutive 1,000-yard season. — Vaughn McClure

Bold prediction: Panthers QB Kyle Allen, who had four interceptions in a 29-3 loss to the Falcons in Charlotte, will not have a turnover and will throw three touchdown passes in Carolina’s first game since firing head coach Ron Rivera. — David Newton

Stat to know: Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey has six straight games with 100 scrimmage yards, tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history with DeAngelo Williams (McCaffrey had an eight-game streak last season). But the Panthers’ run defense hasn’t been as stellar. Their 5.3 yards per rush allowed this season are the second most through 12 games since the 1970 merger (1976 Chiefs, 5.4).

What to know for fantasy: The Falcons have won the past four games against the Panthers in Atlanta, and Ryan has averaged 24.7 fantasy points in those games. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Atlanta is 7-1 ATS and outright in the past eight meetings, including winning and covering four straight. Ryan is 9-2 ATS at home against Carolina in his career. Read more.



Rob Ninkovich is going with Matt Ryan and the Falcons against the Panthers.

Newton’s pick: Falcons 31, Panthers 27
McClure’s pick: Falcons 24, Panthers 21
FPI prediction: ATL, 67.8% (by an average of 6.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Fixing the Falcons starts with protecting, sacking the quarterbackPanthers players feel like they lost more than a coach in RiveraFired Panthers coach Rivera says he ‘absolutely’ plans to coach again

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 33.4 | Spread: CLE -7.5 (41.5)

What to watch for: How motivated will the Browns be coming off the devastating loss to Pittsburgh, which destroyed their playoff chances? The home crowd won’t be patient if Cleveland shows up sleepwalking against an inferior opponent. — Jake Trotter

Bold prediction: Cleveland receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will have 150 combined receiving yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati’s emphasis on stopping the run should allow Cleveland’s passing attack a chance to have a good day. — Ben Baby

Stat to know: Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is 2-0 with seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 94 Total QBR in his career against the Bengals. But not to be outdone, Bengals again-starter Andy Dalton has won four straight games in Cleveland (eight scores, one interception in those games).

What to know for fantasy: Receiver John Ross III was activated this week for Cincinnati and brings with him a wide range of outcomes. In his first two games this season, he racked up 56 fantasy points. In his other two games? 8.8 fantasy points. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Over the past 15 seasons, teams 1-6 or worse coming off their first wins of the season are 14-5 ATS. Earlier this season, 1-7 Miami upset Indianapolis outright as an 11-point underdog one week after its first win. Read more.

Baby’s pick: Browns 24, Bengals 21
Trotter’s pick: Browns 24, Bengals 20
FPI prediction: CLE, 77.3% (by an average of 10.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: Browns shift from salvaging this season to saving this eraBengals’ 2020 QB picture: Dalton decision, Joe Burrow up next?

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 12.0 | Spread: NYJ -5 (46)

What to watch for: The Dolphins have allowed 109 points in their past three games, so the Jets should be able to rebound from last week’s disaster. New York’s secondary, likely without safety Jamal Adams (ankle), will have to figure out a way to cool off Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, though. The Jets have dropped four straight to Miami, sparking “revenge” talk in their locker room. — Rich Cimini

Bold prediction: Fitzpatrick will throw for more than 300 yards for the second consecutive game. Fitzpatrick is coming off his best game of the season vs. Philadelphia, and he gets a Jets defense that could be without three of their top five defensive backs, including Adams. — Cameron Wolfe

Stat to know: Since taking over as starter in Week 7, Fitzpatrick has the third-most passing yards in the NFL (1,831) and fourth-best QBR (68.9). And he has won his past three starts against the Jets.

What to know for fantasy: Jets receiver Robby Anderson is one of just four players to have seen an end zone target in each of the past three weeks. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: New York is 1-5 ATS and outright as a favorite over the past two seasons, including 0-3 this season. Read more.

Wolfe’s pick: Dolphins 26, Jets 24
Cimini’s pick: Jets 31, Dolphins 27
FPI prediction: NYJ, 71.7% (by an average of 7.6 points)

Matchup must-reads: How WR Parker is erasing ‘bust’ talk, rewriting his Dolphins storyThe Big Hurt: Jets’ roster, salary cap crushed by injuriesJets put Mosley on IR; linebacker to have surgery

4:05 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 32.2 | Spread: LAC -3 (43)

What to watch for: The Jaguars did a solid job against the run last week against the Buccaneers, but Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler present a much tougher test for a defense giving up 137 yards per game on the ground (28th in the NFL). Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has destroyed the Jaguars in his career, but he’s struggling a bit this season. — Mike DiRocco

Bold prediction: Chargers receiver Mike Williams will score a touchdown Sunday. After reaching the end zone 11 times last season, Williams has yet to score in 2019. However, he’s made some amazing, clutch catches in late-game situations for the Chargers, and he currently leads the league with an average of 20.5 yards per catch. — Eric D. Williams

Stat to know: Los Angeles is seeking to avoid its first four-game losing streak since the 2017 season, when it started the season 0-4. All eight of the Chargers’ losses this season have come by seven or fewer points. But the Jaguars are amid their own four-game losing streak, during which their offense ranks last in the NFL at 11.8 points per game.

What to know for fantasy: Jags receiver Keelan Cole led the team and posted season highs in catches (five) and receiving yards (80) in Gardner Minshew II‘s last start. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Los Angeles is 1-5 outright as a single-digit favorite this season (0-5-1 ATS), including 0-2 outright as a road favorite. Read more.



Victor Cruz and Rob Ninkovich expect Philip Rivers to have a big game to lift the Chargers over the Jaguars.

Williams’ pick: Jaguars 20, Chargers 18
DiRocco’s pick: Chargers 28, Jaguars 24
FPI prediction: LAC, 53.6% (by an average of 1.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Minshew auditions to be Jaguars’ starter in 2020The art of losing: Chargers finding new ways to drop close gamesJaguars place LB Jack on IR with knee injury

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 96.3 | Spread: NE -3 (48.5)

What to watch for: After running for 176 yards in last season’s AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, which came after rushing for 173 yards against them in the 2018 regular season, the Patriots could lean again toward more of a ground-based approach — even though the Chiefs have a completely different defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The Pats would clinch a playoff berth with a win, while the Chiefs can lock up the AFC West with a win and a Raiders loss. — Mike Reiss

Bold prediction: The Chiefs will intercept Tom Brady twice. Kansas City has six interceptions in its past two games, albeit against struggling quarterbacks in Philip Rivers and Derek Carr. Brady is an upgrade in competition, but the Chiefs are on a roll defensively. — Adam Teicher

Stat to know: In his past two games, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has completed 56% of his passes, well below the percentage an average QB would have completed (68%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. He’ll need to right the ship fast with the Patriots’ defense on deck; it has allowed a completion percentage of just 55% this season, the best in the NFL and the best by any team through 12 games since 2012 (three teams).

What to know for fantasy: Patriots running back James White doubled his season touchdown total in Week 13 and has scored over 11 points in nine of his 11 games this season. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: New England is 1-4 ATS against teams that entered with winning records this season. New England did not score more than 22 points in any of those games. Read more.

Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 27, Patriots 24
Reiss’ pick: Patriots 27, Chiefs 24
FPI prediction: NE, 59.7% (by an average of 3.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Chiefs know legacies are built by beating the PatriotsBelichick, Brady, big wins and bigger expectations: Inside the Patriot WayOn the verge of history, Travis Kelce is the one constant for the ChiefsPatriots-Chiefs rematch evokes best victories of New England’s dynastyRunning game might again be the key for Patriots vs. Chiefs

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 38.5 | Spread: TEN -3 (47)

What to watch for: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is 3-0 against Tennessee, passing for 841 yards with five touchdowns and one interception while completing 64.4% of his passes. All of those games have been in Nashville, so the friendly confines of the Black Hole should also serve as a boost for Carr against the Titans. — Paul Gutierrez

Bold prediction: Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill will finish with 300 passing yards against the Raiders’ pass defense, which allows 258.2 yards per game. Tannehill’s arm will be the deciding factor for the Titans in their road win. — Turron Davenport

Stat to know: Since Week 7, the Raiders have allowed 23 offensive touchdowns (second worst in the NFL) and 162 first downs (worst). And the Titans are tied for second in red zone efficiency during their current three-game winning streak.

What to know for fantasy: Tennessee running back Derrick Henry has 13 rushing touchdowns and six runs of 30-plus yards over his past eight November/December games (168 carries). Over that same stretch, the preseason “Big Four” running backs (Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott) have 13 rushing scores and six runs of 30-plus yards (507 carries). See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: All six of Tannehill’s starts have gone over the total. He is 4-1-1 ATS this season. Read more.

Davenport’s pick: Titans 24, Raiders 17
Gutierrez’s pick: Raiders 23, Titans 21
FPI prediction: TEN, 53.4% (by an average of 1.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Tannehill playing his way into Titans’ long-term QB considerationsCan Raiders right themselves at the quarter-pole after consecutive blowouts?Raiders RB Jacobs playing through shoulder fracture

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 22.7 | Spread: PIT -2.5 (43.5)

What to watch for: The Cardinals will be playing what could feel like a road game in their own stadium because of how many Steelers fans live in Arizona or will travel for the game. That will play a major factor Sunday and likely cause the Cardinals to go with a silent count and struggle. — Josh Weinfuss

Bold prediction: The Steelers’ tight ends will outscore the Cardinals. Arizona is notoriously bad at defending tight ends, making this a prime game for both Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: The Cardinals have lost five straight games, but quarterback Kyler Murray has been a bright spot. He has four games this season with 300 passing yards. One more such game would give him the second most by a rookie since the 1970 merger.

What to know for fantasy: Pittsburgh’s James Washington is the 10th-best receiver in fantasy over the past four weeks and is averaging 21.8 yards per catch over that stretch. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, Pittsburgh is 6-2-2 ATS, and the under is 8-2 in those games. Read more.

Pryor’s pick: Steelers 27, Cardinals 13
Weinfuss’ pick: Steelers 24, Cardinals 21
FPI prediction: ARI, 53.3% (by an average of 1.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Steelers QB Hodges, WR Washington translate hunting friendship to on-field connectionQB Murray ‘disgusted’ by blowout loss to RamsOT Villanueva supports special forces for ‘My Cause My Cleats’How will Murray rebound from worst defeat of his life?

8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating: 75.7 | Spread: LAR -1 (46.5)

What to watch for: When these teams met in Week 5, the Seahawks won 30-29. The Seahawks are 9-1 in one-score games this season, and Sunday’s game is likely to be another thriller, with the Seahawks trying to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and the Rams needing a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. A win for Seattle secures a playoff berth. — Lindsey Thiry

Bold prediction: Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny will find the end zone again. No longer buried behind Chris Carson the way he was for most of his first season and a half, Penny has seen a near-even split in playing time with Carson over the past two weeks. — Brady Henderson

Stat to know: Rams quarterback Jared Goff and the Rams aren’t using the play-action pass much this season. They’ve used it on 28% of their plays after leading the league at 36% last year.

What to know for fantasy: Penny is RB4 over the past two weeks, just 0.3 points behind Saquon Barkley and Todd Gurley II combined over that stretch. See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is 30-15-1 ATS in his career against teams that entered with winning records, including 15-4-1 ATS on the road. Read more.



Victor Cruz and Rob Ninkovich expect the Seahawks to have no issues against the Rams on Sunday night.

Henderson’s pick: Seahawks 24, Rams 23
Thiry’s pick: Seahawks 21, Rams 17
FPI prediction: LAR, 57.2% (by an average of 2.5 points)

Matchup must-reads: How Rams’ McVay is handling his biggest challenge yetSeahawks in first place in the NFC West after latest white-knuckle winRams’ resilience must be proved over tough four-game span

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN/ESPN App
Matchup rating: 38.9 | Spread: PHI -10 (45.5)

What to watch for: The Eagles are 0-3 since losing Jordan Howard in Week 9 to a shoulder stinger, and he has still not been cleared for contact. Coach Doug Pederson hasn’t been as trusting of his ground game in Howard’s absence, though Miles Sanders‘ clear development as a runner in recent weeks should change that. Expect a heavy dose of the rookie on Monday night. — Tim McManus

Bold prediction: Sanders out rushes his close friend and former Penn State teammate Saquon Barkley. Sanders is coming off a career-best 83 yards rushing and 17 carries against the Dolphins. Barkley also had 83 yards rushing last week against the Packers, but the Giants have struggled to run the ball, and it was his best output since Week 2. — Jordan Raanan

Stat to know: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has a 15-game streak with a passing touchdown, tied for the longest active streak in the NFL with Russell Wilson. And Wentz has a 4-1 record against Eli Manning, with four being his most wins vs. another starting QB.

What to know for fantasy: Barkley does not have a rush gaining more than 27 yards since ripping off a 59-yarder in Week 1. The top overall pick in fantasy drafts this summer has failed to score in four straight games and is averaging just 4.0 yards per carry this season (5.0 as a rookie). See Week 14 rankings.

Betting nugget: Road teams are 19-11-1 ATS on Monday Night Football in the past two seasons, including covering seven of the past eight. Read more.

Raanan’s pick: Eagles 33, Giants 18
McManus’ pick: Eagles 24, Giants 20
FPI prediction: PHI, 83.4% (by an average of 12.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Friday Night Flights: 24 hours with Eagles QB/high school coach McCownMaking the case for Shurmur after latest Giants loss

Published at Fri, 06 Dec 2019 12:45:12 +0000