The Detroit Lions are the latest victim of questionable calls by officials that have seemingly become a regular part of every game
Detroit once led 13-0
Detroit was in position for a big NFC North road win
Detroit has won four in a row against Green Bay
The Packers and Lions enter Week 6 as the only two teams in the NFC North with one loss
Preparing to face the Packers Monday night in Green Bay
As we enter Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season, the injuries are really starting to pile up. From those dinged up in Week 5 to those who’ve been out longer than that, here’s the latest update from our 32 NFL Nation reporters:
What’s going on with the Bills’ right tackles? Ty Nsekhe missed last weekend’s game against the Titans with an ankle injury, and Cody Ford left early with a head injury. Ford will spend the bye week in concussion protocol — and one hopes, for the Bills’ sake, that’s all the time he’ll spend in it. With those two injured, Ryan Bates is the only healthy right tackle currently on the roster. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
The Dolphins look as healthy as they have all season coming out of the bye week, with no notable injured players missing practice Wednesday. That should mean the return of receiver Albert Wilson, who has been out since Week 1 with a calf injury. — Cameron Wolfe
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) has been ruled out for Thursday, which means more of the load falls on Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon as the top two targets, with undrafted Jakobi Meyers elevating to the No. 3 role. In addition, running back Rex Burkhead (foot) is in jeopardy of missing his second consecutive game, which means more of Sony Michel, James White and Brandon Bolden at running back. — Mike Reiss
Quarterback Sam Darnold (mono) is back and will start Sunday, but one of his favorite targets is not. Tight end Chris Herndon, eligible to play this weekend, injured a hamstring during his four-game suspension and is listed as week-to-week. He’s not expected to play Sunday. It could be a multiple-game injury, meaning the tight-end production is likely to remain negligible. Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin) is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game. — Rich Cimini
Tight end Mark Andrews missed his sixth practice in the past five weeks, but history says he’ll play Sunday. Andrews previously dealt with a foot injury. Now he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a handful of plays last game. Andrews could be in line for a big outing against the Bengals, who have allowed an NFL-worst 15.2 yards per catch to tight ends. — Jamison Hensley
The Bengals are already thin at left tackle, and Andre Smith‘s status for Sunday’s game is in question. The team’s third-string tackle, Smith is batting an right ankle injury. John Jerry is in the mix to start if Smith is out. If Smith doesn’t play, the Bengals’ next man up at the position could be Alex Redmond, who has very limited experience at the spot. — Ben Baby
Will starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams finally be ready to play after each missed the past three games with hamstring injuries? Both were limited participants in Wednesday’s practice, which is a positive sign. Cleveland will need all the help it can get Sunday against Seattle’s Russell Wilson. — Jake Trotter
Quarterback Mason Rudolph took a vicious hit that knocked him out of the Ravens loss, but he seems to be progressing quickly from Sunday’s concussion. He’s still in the protocol, but he was a limited participant in Wednesday’s padded practice. Coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t speculate about Rudolph’s availability for Sunday night’s tilt against the Chargers, but it’s not entirely out of the question that he plays. Much will depend on his response to Wednesday’s practice, and if he can’t go, undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges will make his first NFL start on the national stage. — Brooke Pryor
Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears and Jack Del Rio break down the adjustments the Steelers will have to make with Devlin Hodges at quarterback.
Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who has a hamstring and ankle injury, did not play in Week 5 against the Falcons. Coach Bill O’Brien said he will have a better idea Friday whether Stills will play at Kansas City. If he is inactive Sunday, expect slot receiver Keke Coutee to see more playing time again. — Sarah Barshop
The Colts hope their bye week will be enough time for their starting safeties to return from injuries. Clayton Geathers missed the Week 5 victory at Kansas City due to a concussion. He has to clear concussion protocol before he can return to playing. Malik Hooker, who is optimistic he’ll be back after the bye, has missed the past two games with a knee injury. — Mike Wells
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey (back) returned to practice Wednesday for the first time in three weeks, but it was on a limited basis, and he spent most of his time working with trainers off to the side. Coach Doug Marrone said the report from the back specialist Ramsey visited matched what the club’s medical team had determined, and the plan is to take things “step by step.” That’s an early indication that Ramsey is likely to miss his third game in a row when the Jaguars host New Orleans on Sunday. This will be the game where the Jaguars would miss him the most, because he would be shadowing Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who leads the NFL in receptions (45) and receiving yards (543). — Mike DiRocco
Dan Orlovsky and Marcus Spears react to Jalen Ramsey returning to practice for the Jaguars amid trade talks.
The biggest injury question this week surrounds outside linebacker Cameron Wake‘s hamstring. He didn’t practice at all last week and was ruled out against the Bills. The best thing for a hamstring injury is time. Wake missed practice once again Wednesday. He and tight end Delanie Walker (knee) rode stationary bikes during practice. The Titans got a boost from Reggie Gilbert (one sack vs. Bills) while Wake was out. — Turron Davenport
With cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who suffered a neck injury in the win over the Chargers, having been moved to injured reserve and cornerback Bryce Callahan still shelved with a foot injury (he hasn’t played this season), the Broncos are thin in the secondary. They would prefer Kareem Jackson to play safety — he’s had to play at nickel corner in three games this season because of the team’s injuries — but to do that, they’ll have to be confident Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris, who was signed just before the start of the regular season, can split the snaps Bausby was getting with the starting defense. Bausby had replaced Yiadom in the lineup, and Yiadom has been targeted plenty by opposing quarterbacks (he was called for two defensive holding penalties against the Chargers). — Jeff Legwold
The Chiefs could be without both starters on the left side of their offensive line in Sunday’s game against the Texans. Neither tackle Eric Fisher (core muscle injury) nor guard Andrew Wylie (ankle) practiced Wednesday. Newly signed veteran Stefen Wisniewski could be starting at guard against the Texans. Cam Erving has replaced Fisher since he left the lineup in Week 2, and had his worst game of the season in Week 5 against the Colts. This is a less-than-ideal scenario against Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt and the Texans. — Adam Teicher
The Chargers lost another starter due to injury when center Mike Pouncey was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a neck issue. That makes seven projected starters missing time for the Chargers so far this season with injuries. Pouncey had been the Bolts’ most reliable and experienced offensive lineman, with the co-captain serving as the team’s anchor up front. With Pouncey out, Dan Feeney will move from left guard to center, and Forrest Lamp will move into the starting lineup at left guard. — Eric D. Williams
With Oakland enjoying a 3-2 record after last weekend’s defeat of the Bears, Raiders coach Jon Gruden is hoping the bye week will see the return of right guard Gabe Jackson, who injured a knee in a training camp joint practice with the Rams. “I’ve been getting videos from the trainers while I’ve been in London and Indiana about Gabe’s progress and it’s exciting,” Gruden said this week. “This guy has clearly worked hard. He looks better, I think, than he’s ever looked. He’s really gotten himself in great shape. We’ll be smart about it. We hope if it’s not this coming game, hopefully it’s the next. He’s a valuable member of our team. Certainly he’ll give us a jolt when he comes back.” — Paul Gutierrez
The Cowboys aren’t sure they will have either starting offensive tackle, Tyron Smith or La’el Collins, against the Jets after both players missed Wednesday’s practice. Smith did some rehab work on the field for his high right ankle sprain, but Collins was not spotted. If neither can play, then Cameron Fleming will replace Smith and Brandon Knight will replace Collins. Facing a Gregg Williams defense that likes to attack, that could compromise the Cowboys’ ability to get the ball down the field. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch did not practice because of an illness, but that does not appear to be a long-term issue at the moment. — Todd Archer
Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) is out. He wanted to play Thursday night against the Patriots but didn’t get clearance. It’s probably the smart move for the Giants, as it gives Barkley another 10 days to heal. He’s still less than three weeks removed from suffering a high ankle sprain. — Jordan Raanan
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game with an abdominal strain. He’s hoping to return Week 7 at the Cowboys, but that will depend on how his rehab goes between now and then. The return window for Jackson is believed to be Week 7 and Week 9 against the Bears. — Tim McManus
Right guard Brandon Scherff, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, was limited Wednesday — but that’s a positive sign, as it is the first time he’s practiced since the injury. Tight end Vernon Davis, who missed last weekend with a concussion, was also limited. The Redskins could use his return, particularly with Jordan Reed still sidelined with his own concussion. Davis’ speed provides a mismatch down the seam and can result in big plays. The Redskins’ tight ends have combined for only 17 receptions this season, which partly explains Washington’s offensive struggles. — John Keim
The Bears released reserve quarterback Tyler Bray on Wednesday; a clear indication that starter Mitchell Trubisky (dislocated left shoulder/labrum tear) could possibly return following Chicago’s bye week. Head coach Matt Nagy sounded optimistic about Trubisky facing the Saints in Week 7 when he spoke to reporters in London the day after the Bears lost to the Raiders. “I felt like the last couple days he’s been in a good place,” Nagy said. “He’s been a part of all the meetings, a part of practice mentally. Because that’s just as important, staying involved mentally with your guys and with us. And now we’ll just kind of see here, again the bye comes at a unique time.” Look for Chicago to re-sign Bray to the practice squad and move Chase Daniel back to No. 2 to make room for Trubisky’s return. — Jeff Dickerson
The Lions won’t release their first official injury report until Thursday, but the fact that Damon Harrison was not at the media portion of practice Wednesday was intriguing and worth monitoring considering how much he means to Detroit attempting to stop the run. Tight end T.J. Hockenson appears to be close to recovered following a concussion against Kansas City, and practiced Wednesday. Another player to watch is safety Quandre Diggs, who didn’t do much Wednesday after injuring his hamstring against the Chiefs. If he can’t go Monday, the Lions will likely use a combination of Will Harris and Tavon Wilson to take his place in the lineup. — Michael Rothstein
Davante Adams couldn’t go last weekend against the Cowboys because of a turf toe injury. He didn’t even attempt to practice. We’ll see Thursday if Adams will try to do that as the Packers begin on-field preparation for the Monday night game against the Lions. Without Adams in Dallas, the Packers had just four catches by wide receivers. It was the Packers’ fewest receptions by WRs in a victory since 2001, and just the third time this season a team has won with so few catches by wideouts, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — Rob Demovsky
Nose tackle Linval Joseph missed practice Wednesday for non-football injury-related reasons, while a concussion kept linebacker Ben Gedeon on the sideline. One week after clearing concussion protocol, right guard Josh Kline did not practice, due to a foot injury. Three starters missing practice ahead of a pivotal matchup against the Eagles is concerning, but things appear to be heading in the right direction for cornerback Mackensie Alexander (elbow/groin), who was back practicing on a limited basis after sitting out the Week 5 victory over the Giants. — Courtney Cronin
Julio Jones was held out of Wednesday’s practice at Arizona State University, and was listed as having a hip injury. Whenever Jones is on the injury report, it’s a concern. Typically, the wide receiver fights through whatever is ailing him. And sometimes, he just needs a veteran’s day off. But Jones is the last person the 1-4 Falcons can afford to lose for any significant amount of time. — Vaughn McClure
Starting left tackle Greg Little missed the previous game with a concussion, but the rookie has progressed enough in the protocol that he’s traveling with the team to London. Whether he’ll play remains to be seen. If he can’t, look for rookie Dennis Daley to make his second consecutive start. That’ll be key because Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett had three sacks over the left tackle in a Week 2 win over Carolina. — David Newton
No. 3 receiver Tre’Quan Smith‘s status is in doubt again after he suffered another ankle injury when he returned to the lineup Sunday. Smith, who missed Weeks 3 and 4, did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. That should mean another heavy dose of Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., plus tight end Jared Cook and running back Alvin Kamara, in the passing game this weekend at Jacksonville. — Mike Triplett
The Bucs will have both starting inside linebacker Devin White (knee) and cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle) back this weekend after each missed the past three games. But coach Bruce Arians indicated that his team would be without starting right guard Alex Cappa (arm) and likely starting right tackle Demar Dotson (hamstring). “It’s ‘next man up,'” Arians said. “You can’t make excuses, so we’ll have a new right side of our line probably this week.” Earl Watford is expected to step in for Cappa and Josh Wells — assuming there are no issues with his wife having a baby, which forced him to miss Wednesday’s practice — will step in for Dotson. The Bucs leave for London on Thursday evening. — Jenna Laine
Will running back David Johnson‘s back will be healthy enough for him to play Sunday against Atlanta? The Cardinals planned on testing him Wednesday to see where he was. Coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t want to rush Johnson back, and will wait until after Wednesday’s practice to get a better read on Johnson’s health. “I like the progress he’s made, and hopefully that continues throughout the week,” Kingsbury said. — Josh Weinfuss
Stephania Bell provides an update on David Johnson’s ailing back as his playing status for Week 6 remains unclear.
Todd Gurley did not practice Wednesday because of a thigh contusion in his left quadriceps, and is considered day-to-day ahead of a Week 6 NFC West matchup against the 49ers, coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. When asked if he expected Gurley to be available Sunday against the undefeated 49ers, McVay responded: “It’s hard to say. He’d be better in tune to say exactly how he feels.” Gurley, who was sidelined for the final two regular-season games of 2018 because of a left knee issue, carried a majority of the load against the Seahawks, but otherwise has been periodically spelled throughout the season by backup Malcolm Brown.The Rams also have rookie backup Darrell Henderson to turn to if Gurley is unable to play.— Lindsey Thiry
The 49ers and Mike McGlinchey were taken aback Wednesday when they found out that the second-year right tackle would miss four to six weeks because of a right knee injury that requires arthroscopic surgery. McGlinchey’s is the latest in a string of injuries to 49ers starters that have been serious enough to force them to miss extended time but not to end their season. With McGlinchey joining left tackle Joe Staley (broken fibula) on the sideline for the time being, the Niners must turn to first-year offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill to step in on the right side. Brunskill and rookie Justin Skule are now the 49ers’ bookend tackles, and the duo charged with slowing the Rams’ pass rush and keeping the Niners’ running game rolling. It’s fair to expect veteran Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to test San Francisco’s unproven tackles early and often in a key NFC West showdown. — Nick Wagoner
Right guard D.J. Fluker suffered a hamstring injury last Thursday against the Rams that has his status for Sunday’s game at Cleveland in doubt. Pete Carroll said Wednesday that Fluker, who didn’t return to the Rams game, isn’t yet able to practice six days later. Jamarco Jones drew rave reviews from Carroll for the way he stepped and held his own against Aaron Donald, so there’s at least some evidence that the Seahawks can withstand Fluker’s absence. — Brady Henderson
Published at Thu, 10 Oct 2019 01:39:07 +0000
Week off for some R&R and to prepare for Packers
With four games of the NFL season in the books for most teams, it’s about time to get to the quarter-season awards. I hand these awards out every year for a few reasons. One is to serve as a good reminder of what we were thinking at the time; 12 months ago, as an example, Mike Vrabel was a reasonable Coach of the Year candidate.
To try to get a handle on who is currently winning the major award races, I went through several of the long-standing Associated Press awards and identified my top three candidates after Week 4. To be clear, in each case, I’m talking exclusively about how a player has performed over the first month of the season as opposed to their chances of winning it at the end of the season, although I’ll discuss the latter as I explain each pick. I’m also nominating the players I want as opposed to the players I think are the actual favorites to win.
In addition, I also came up with a few awards that aren’t yet official, including stuff like Acquisition and Miscalculation of the Year. I’ll finish with Most Valuable Player, but let’s start with rookies and go from there.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
This is an award in which there’s no clear favorite after four weeks. I could make the entire list out of edge rushers, though I only ended up using one of the three spots on a pass-rusher. Even among the players I ended up nominating, I could justify any order to myself. There’s a lot more differentiating to come.
I think Bush, for whom the Steelers traded up in April and drafted at No. 10 overall, could have a Derwin James-sort of rise as the season goes along and he grows more comfortable in his role. He has already improved over the first month of the year, as he followed an embarrassing game against the Seahawks in Week 2 with much better performances against the 49ers and Bengals. This story is admittedly easy to fall in love with; who doesn’t want to say they were behind the next great Steelers linebacker from the start?
Bush leads the league with three fumble recoveries, but I’d characterize that as something closer to a trick than a repeatable skill. For one, he didn’t recover any fumbles during his time in Michigan. Defenders who don’t force fumbles also rarely recover a significant amount of the fumbles other people create. He has those fumble recoveries without a single forced fumble; when you look back at linebackers over the past 20 years, no linebacker has recovered more than four fumbles he didn’t force himself in a single season.
There’s a lot to like about what we’ve seen from Savage through four games. It’s telling that the Packers have played Savage on every one of their defensive snaps and felt comfortable moving him around the defense to play in multiple roles. Even young players who have that skill set can struggle before their team places them in one role on a full-time basis, with Lamarcus Joyner‘s tenure with the Rams as an example. The Packers seem comfortable doing everything they do with Adrian Amos with Savage, too. That sort of versatility makes it easier for Pettine to mask his intentions.
Savage, the No. 21 pick, has shown some early signs of being a playmaker, with one pick and one forced fumble over the first month of the season. The interception was pretty, a diving grab of a pass Joe Flacco seemed to throw with a question mark and a shrug, but the forced fumble was the better play and indicator of what Savage can do. He started the snap threatening as a blitzer before dropping into coverage against Kyle Rudolph. When Kirk Cousins began to scramble out of the pocket, Savage shed Rudolph’s attempted block and managed to punch the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as he went to the ground. About the only thing Savage didn’t do was recover the fumble.
The defensive awards tend to go to pass-rushers, and with apologies to Chase Winovich, Josh Allen and a handful of other defenders, Burns has been the most disruptive pass-rusher from this rookie class through four weeks. The No. 16 overall pick has 2.5 sacks, but where he really stands out is with nine quarterback knockdowns, which is tied for second in the NFL behind Shaq Barrett. Pass-rushers usually turn about 45% of their knockdowns into sacks, and Burns’ aptitude in getting to the quarterback suggests his sack totals are likely to rise. He is the only defender in the league with at least two quarterback hits in each of his first four games.
Burns ranks 14th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate metric, which paces all rookie pass-rushers, although Allen is just behind him at 15th. Of Burns’ sacks, 1.5 would qualify as coverage sacks, but the other one is one of the filthiest sacks of the season, with Burns making Cardinals tackle Jordan Mills look like a grandfather. Burns is already showing off uncommon bend and flexibility as a pass-rusher. He’s already a problem for opposing offenses.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
The only running back taken in the first round, Jacobs has been the best back of the class so far. He’s also the only full-time starter of the bunch, but he has been efficient with his chances. The former Alabama back is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and ranks 13th in the NFL in success rate.
You might chalk up Jacobs’ success to an expensively assembled offensive line, but the No. 24 pick has yet to play a single game behind his full first-choice line. The Raiders are down to third-stringer Denzelle Good at right guard with Gabe Jackson sidelined by a torn MCL and Jordan Devey done for the year after tearing his pectoral muscle. Jacobs has also made his own opportunities, as he’s averaging 2.4 yards after first contact, which is third best in the league among backs with 50 carries or more.
Though McLaurin missed a Week 4 game against the Giants because of a hamstring injury, he has been the only bright spot for what has otherwise been a depressing Washington offense. McLaurin racked up 257 yards and three touchdowns over the first three games of the year, and those numbers would have been higher if Case Keenum hadn’t missed an open McLaurin on what should have been a 73-yard touchdown in the opener.
The No. 76 overall pick is averaging 2.2 yards for every route he runs this season. That’s 17th in the NFL and ahead of guys like Odell Beckham Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster and Julio Jones. I don’t expect McLaurin to keep that up over the course of the whole season, but it’s pretty clear that Washington has a legitimate starting receiver. I’m putting McLaurin ahead of Marquise Brown of the Ravens solely because nearly half of Brown’s receiving yardage and both of his touchdowns came against the Dolphins in Week 1.
I didn’t expect this one! One of the higher-drafted quarterbacks has a better shot of coming away with this award, but Daniel Jones has played only about 60% as many snaps as Minshew, and the Jaguars’ quarterback has significantly better numbers than Kyler Murray. Though the first overall pick led the Cardinals back for a dramatic tie against the Lions in Week 1, and Jones followed with a last-gasp victory over the Buccaneers in his first start, Minshew brought the Jaguars back twice in the fourth quarter to take and retake the lead against the Broncos.
He has also improved with more experience. He was mostly checking things down and playing conservative football over the first two weeks of the year, but in the wins over the Titans and Broncos, he has averaged an even 9 air yards per attempt. The book on Minshew coming out of Washington State was that he lacked an NFL-caliber arm, but on the final drive of the Broncos game, Minshew had no trouble hitting a 16-yard deep out to Dede Westbrook on the left sideline from what was nearly the opposite hashmark. The sixth-round pick’s size was supposed to be a problem, but it helped him duck away from pass pressure and scramble to convert a third-and-14.
When I wrote about Mason Rudolph a couple of weeks ago, I noted that it wasn’t a good sign the new Steelers starter had fallen to the third round. Rudolph is 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds. He’s a good athlete. If a quarterback with prototypical size has NFL skills, they go in the first round. (Several people brought up Tom Brady as a counter, which is like using a winning lottery ticket from 15 years ago as proof that it’s smart to play the lottery.)
If there was a late-round quarterback the scouts would miss on and underestimate, though, it would be someone like Minshew. The 23-year-old is just under 6-foot-1 and ranks in the sixth percentile of height for quarterbacks. He doesn’t have prototypical arm strength. He spent two years as an anonymous passer at East Carolina before transferring to Washington State, where he excelled in his lone season in Pullman. His coach there was Mike Leach, who runs the Air Raid and doesn’t think scouts are very smart.
Should the Jaguars tell Nick Foles he’s going to be a backup when he comes back? No. It has been only three starts for Minshew, and there have been long stretches in those games where the Jags haven’t been able to do anything on offense. They are also realistically committed to paying Foles at least $21.1 million after 2019, and Foles had thrown all of eight pass attempts as a Jaguars quarterback before breaking his collarbone. At the same time, the Jaguars clearly have something with Minshew. He’s the best quarterback Jacksonville has drafted during the David Caldwell era.
Coach of the Year
The most common Coach of the Year candidates are coaches who take over a new team and lead them to a much-improved season during their debut. Well, seven NFL teams hired coaches from outside their organization this offseason. LaFleur’s Packers are 3-1, and the other six teams are a combined 2-20-1. Welcome to the list, Matt!
I’m not sure I’d put LaFleur higher than third, though, because the offense he was brought in to revitalize is still struggling. The Packers are 16th in offensive DVOA after four weeks; it has been Mike Pettine’s seventh-ranked defense propelling the Packers toward the top of the NFC North. Offensive coaches can win Coach of the Year while riding their back of their defense — Matt Nagy won with the league’s best defense and its 20th-ranked offense by DVOA last season — but I want to see the offense take a step forward before I really get behind LaFleur as a candidate.
Matthew Berry expects Geronimo Allison to perform well in the Packers’ Week 5 matchup vs. the Cowboys, especially if Davante Adams is out.
The changes to the offense haven’t been quite as extreme as some might have expected. Rodgers has been under center more frequently in 2019, but after throwing 83.3% of his passes out of the pistol or shotgun in 2016-18, he has thrown passes out of similar spots 74.7% of the time so far. The former MVP has thrown downfield out of play-action from under center only 17 times through four games, and Rodgers has posted an 84.7 Total QBR on those throws.
I think we’ll see the offense produce longer drives in the weeks to come, although losing receiver Davante Adams for some spell of time with turf toe will hurt. The Packers have converted only 30.6% of their third and fourth downs through four games, which ranks 29th in the league. They might also very well be 4-0 if it weren’t for two drives against the Eagles stalling out inside the 5-yard line. LaFleur is the most likely of the new faces to win this award.
I’ve gushed about the Bills’ defense repeatedly in recent weeks, and the duo of McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier deserves tons of credit for molding a defense without big names into arguably the league’s best.
The Bills didn’t come up with a victory over the Patriots in Week 4, but they were the most competitive team against New England this season by a significant margin. They’re 3-1 with 36-year-old Frank Gore as their primary offensive weapon, with the future Hall of Famer responsible for more than 30% of the touches on offense.
Even after last weekend’s loss to the Patriots, the Bills have a 54.1% chance of making it back to the postseason for the second time in three years under McDermott, according to the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI). I have big-picture concerns about second-year quarterback Josh Allen, but the Bills have built a good enough team to win without competent quarterback play.
Has there been a week over the past 15 years where anybody doubted Belichick was the best coach in football? Virtually every person who works inside the NFL or watches it closely would pick him as the league’s best coach, and with that knowledge, he has won this award … three times. It took 14-2 seasons in 2003 and 2010 and that famous 16-0 campaign from 2007 to earn Belichick this nod. Consider that 14-2 seasons weren’t enough for him to win this award in 2004 (when it went to Marty Schottenheimer and the 12-4 Chargers) or 2016 (Jason Garrett’s 13-3 season with the Cowboys).
Guess who’s back? Even after a narrow victory over the Bills, the Patriots finished the first quarter of the season with the third-best point differential of any team since the 1970 merger at plus-95. It’s coincidentally the best mark any team has posted since 2007, and you can probably guess who pulled off that feat. The Pats also face the league’s easiest schedule over the remainder of the season. FPI projects the Patriots to win 13.1 games; if they top that total, I think it’s about time for Belichick to win this award again.
Coordinator of the Year
Did anybody expect the Ravens to be third in offensive DVOA after the first month of the season? While a chunk of their performance is driven by their 59-point outburst against the Dolphins in Week 1, it’s worth noting that the three other offenses that played the league’s worst team all scored between 29 and 31 points. The Ravens doubled that mark, and that’s with Lamar Jackson sitting out the fourth quarter and Baltimore choosing to kneel on the Miami 5-yard line late in the game.
The speculation that Jackson was going to be exposed to start the 2019 season is gone. The 2018 edition of Jackson, who averaged 17 rushes per start, was going to be difficult to sustain. This version is averaging a much more sustainable nine carries per game. He’s also completing nearly 65% of his passes despite throwing his average pass 9.7 yards in the air, the fifth-longest average distance in the league. Jackson turned the ball over twice in September. Take running out of the equation and he’s still the eighth-best passer in the league by Total QBR through the first month of the season.
Roman, who built offenses around Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and then around Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, was the ideal fit for Jackson in Baltimore. This is one of just 10 offenses since the merger to average 7.5 yards per pass attempt and 5.5 yards per rush attempt. Five of the other nine teams finished in the top six in points scored at the end of the season. Strangely, defense is the thing to be worried about in Baltimore.
Do you remember how bad the Bucs were on defense last season? They finished last in the league in DVOA. They allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 110.9, the same figure Russell Wilson posted on the other side of the ball. The Bucs posted the second-worst red zone defense since 2001. Oh, and star pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul went down during the offseason with a neck injury and hasn’t played in 2019.
By points allowed, the Bucs haven’t been significantly better, given that they rank 30th in points allowed per game. DVOA, though, pegs them as the seventh-best defense in the league. How does that work? For one, Jameis Winston has thrown three pick-sixes, which amounts to 21 points that have nothing to do with the defense. Tampa’s defense has scored twice on its own and created nine takeaways, fourth in the league and more than half of its season-long total from 2018. The Bucs also have faced 46 drives through four games, the seventh most in the league, giving opposing offenses more chances to score.
I’m not sure this is going to be the seventh-best defense in football over the remainder of the season, but Bowles has managed to coax some upside out of this unit. Unsurprisingly from a Bowles defense, Tampa is blitzing a ton — 41.8% of the time — and allowing the league’s 12th-fewest yards per dropback when it does. Tampa also leads the league in rush defense DVOA and yards per carry against.
It has to be Moore, right? Even after a rough night against the Saints in New Orleans, the Cowboys rank second in offensive DVOA and are virtually right in line with the Chiefs. This same core — sans returning center Travis Frederick — ranked 24th in offensive DVOA a year ago. As much as Ezekiel Elliott‘s role in the offense has been fetishized, his carries per game and yards per carry are both down. The offense has gotten significantly better as Elliott has played a smaller part.
Moore has been able to take Dak Prescott to a new level, and while Prescott has played his tail off through four weeks, the Cowboys have made it easier for their star quarterback to succeed. Dallas was 11th in play-action rate last season; this season, it is all the way up to third, and Prescott has a league-best 97.6 Total QBR on play-action passes. Of course, the fourth-year quarterback is a lowly second-best in the league when the Cowboys don’t use play-action, too. We still have to see the Cowboys excel as their schedule gets tougher, but Moore is an easy pick here.
Comeback Player of the Year
The track record of healthy tight ends making an impact during their age-35 seasons isn’t exactly lengthy, as only six tight ends in league history have finished that year with 500 receiving yards or more. Things got more complicated when Walker went down in the opening week of 2018 because of a severe ankle injury, costing the former 49ers tight end the remainder of the season.
What did Walker do to announce his return? He caught two touchdown passes in a blowout victory over the Browns, of course. Walker is on pace for 68 catches and 648 receiving yards while playing just under half of Tennessee’s offensive snaps. He has struggled at times because of a nagging knee issue, but for Walker to get back on the field — let alone look like the tight end we saw before the injury — is impressive.
Kupp suffered a pair of injuries to his knee in 2018, first tearing his MCL on a horse-collar tackle before tearing his ACL one month later. In his final four healthy, complete games during the 2018 season, he racked up 24 catches for 412 yards and five touchdowns. Over the first four weeks of the 2019 season, a returning Kupp has grabbed 32 passes for 388 yards and three scores.
There’s not yet a 70-yard touchdown in the mix for Kupp like there was against the Vikings a year ago, but he has become a more integral part of the offense as the Rams move away from huge doses of Todd Gurley. Over 2017 and 2018, Kupp was targeted on 22.1% of his pass routes. So far in 2019, that’s up to 28.4%, which ranks seventh among receivers with 100 or more routes run. Kupp, one of the few Rams’ skill-position players still on a rookie deal, is in line to get a massive extension this offseason.
I don’t think it’s realistic to pick anybody else. Frederick’s recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome didn’t have the familiar time frames and rehab markers that players can rely upon in recovering from broken bones and muscle tears. While athletes in other sports have suffered from the rare disorder, Frederick was the first prominent player to suffer from the ailment during an NFL career. The Cowboys initially believed he could come back quickly after being diagnosed last summer, but their star center ended up missing the entire season.
Thankfully, Frederick made his way back to the team and has been something close to his usual self during Dallas excellent start to the season. His pass block win rate is at 88.4%, which isn’t far off from the 92.6% mark he posted during his last healthy season in 2017. The Cowboys’ pivot also hasn’t committed a penalty during the first four games.
Acquisition of the Year
It just so happens that all three of the acquisitions here are front-seven pieces. The Patriots seemed ready to wash their hands of Collins when they traded him to the Browns in 2016, with rumors suggesting he had a habit of freelancing to try and make plays. You can imagine that wouldn’t go over well with the guy whose team motto is “Do Your Job.” Collins signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Browns, but he was playing as a strong-side linebacker and part-time player before the Browns cut him in March.
The Patriots signed Collins to a one-year, $2 million deal in May and found a motivated, talented player. He has been all over the place for the Patriots, but he has been most noticeable as a blitzer. The Pats have sent 39 blitzes this season, and Collins has been on the field for 30 of them. Belichick’s defense hasn’t pressured the opposing quarterback once across those other nine blitzes. He gives the Patriots an athletic linebacker at a fraction of his previous contract with the Browns.
Even before Matthews hit the market, I suggested that the Rams should make a move for Matthews. It was too good of a story, given that Matthews grew up in Southern California and walked on to the USC football team, where he played at the Coliseum. The Rams, of course, now play on the same field.
I wasn’t surprised when Matthews signed a two-year, $9.3 million deal with the Rams. What has surprised me, though, is just how effective he has been since joining the team. In four games, he already has more sacks (five) than he did over the entirety of 2018 (3.5). One of those sacks was admittedly a play against the Panthers where Carolina just decided not to block him. My favorite play from his season so far actually wasn’t a sack.
When the Browns were facing fourth-and-the-game against the Rams in Week 3, I thought Matthews’ decisions on the edge were a reminder of his football IQ. Baker Mayfield had been bailing to the right under pressure throughout the game, so with Matthews lined up outside of the right tackle, it was going to be his job to contain. Watch the play and you’ll see Matthews barely engage the right tackle, clearly waiting for Mayfield to bail. When the quarterback does, Matthews is in perfect position to chase him down and force a panicked throw, which ended up intercepted. Matthews struck the perfect balance between pass-rusher and spy on the play, and it helped the Rams to a road win.
I’m going to write about Barrett in the Defensive Player of the Year section. In short, the Bucs gave Barrett a one-year, $4 million deal and would have been thrilled if he responded with nine sacks and three forced fumbles. He has done that with 12 games to go.
Miscalculation of the Year
I was in favor of this deal. The Jets needed to surround Sam Darnold with all the help he could get, and after adding guard Kelechi Osemele to their line on a salary dump from the Raiders, coaxing Kalil out of retirement made sense. New York gave the long-time Panthers standout a one-year, $8.4 million deal to end his brief retirement and immediately installed the 34-year-old as the starting center.
As is the case with most things related to the Jets this season, Kalil’s tenure in green hasn’t gone well. He has two penalties in three games after never topping three in a 16-game season. The Jets benched Kalil for a period during the Week 2 loss to the Browns. Coach Adam Gase has suggested that the Jets might make changes to their offensive line after returning from the bye, and while it’s probably too early to give up on the five-time Pro Bowler, Kalil certainly hasn’t helped what has been a dismal offensive line.
Mike Clay asserts that Chargers RBs Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon can both have high fantasy value against the Broncos’ poor run defense.
If Gordon was trying to prove his value to the Chargers by expecting them to struggle in his absence, it didn’t work. The Chargers went 2-2 without the running back in the lineup, and while Austin Ekeler averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, he was efficient and productive while shouldering a much larger workload. The relatively low yards per carry mark comes from Ekeler not breaking anything longer than a 19-yard run on his 56 carries; despite missing the team’s best lineman in left tackle Russell Okung, Ekeler is posting a 52% success rate, which is 16th in the league. In 2018, Gordon’s only season with above-average efficiency as a pro, he posted a success rate of … 53%.
The evidence that the Chargers suffer with Gordon out of the lineup isn’t really there. Since the start of his career, the Chargers have gone 26-29 (.472) and averaged 23.7 points on offense with him on the field. Without Gordon, meanwhile, they’re 6-7 (.462) while averaging 22.9 points. He is a talented, versatile player, and you can understand why he wants to get paid. The difference between him and Ekeler, though, isn’t worth the $11 million or so between Ekeler’s contract and what Gordon reportedly wants as an average salary on a long-term deal.
This was all a big waste of time. The Steelers lost the least, since they ended up with two draft picks, but they were still stuck with $21.1 million in dead money on their cap for Brown in 2019. The Raiders paid a $1 million signing bonus for a player who didn’t want to be in Oakland, although they probably made some of that money back in jersey sales. The Patriots paid about $100,000 for Brown’s one game with the team, but given that it came against the Dolphins, I suspect they could have made do without the mercurial wideout.
The guy who lost the most, though, was AB himself. He forced his way out of his professional home in Pittsburgh. He did just enough to void $30 million in guaranteed money to leave the Raiders, and when it all seemed as if Brown had managed to end up in a better situation and had a shot at making more money with the Patriots, he cost himself that opportunity by sending threatening text messages to a woman who accused Brown of sexual assault. It’s difficult to see a future in the league for Brown given his behavior on and off the field.
Defensive Player of the Year
Best cornerback in football is always going to be an inexact science, but you can make a strong case for Tennessee’s top corner through four weeks. Ryan has filled up the stat sheet, with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, two interceptions and six pass deflections, with the latter figure tying for the league lead. With Ryan as its lead corner in the slot, Tennessee has allowed a passer rating of just 62.8 to slot targets this season, the second-best figure in the league.
Advanced metrics also love Ryan’s play. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats project that targets thrown at Ryan should have been completed 61.8% of the time. Instead, those passes have been completed just 46.2% of the time; the resulting 15.6% difference is the third best in football among corners with 100 snaps in coverage or more. There are plenty of corners who deserve recognition — we’ve seen great quarter-seasons from the likes of Jaire Alexander, James Bradberry and Tre’Davious White — but Ryan narrowly sneaks onto the list here.
The Patriots remain far enough ahead of the pack on defense that it seems impossible to leave their starters off this list entirely. Thankfully, there’s one obvious candidate to sneak on — the elder of New England’s McCourty twins. The longtime Patriots stalwart has an interception in each of his first four games, making him the first player to pick off a pass in four straight games since the 2016 season.
I don’t think McCourty is going to continue to intercept one pass per game — his career record is seven, set when he was a cornerback in 2010 — but he’s still playing lights-out football even beyond the interceptions. It’s impressive when you have more interceptions than catches allowed through one month of the season, and the Next Gen Stats peg McCourty as allowing three catches on eight targets for 40 yards through one month.
He’s also second in the league among safeties in Ballhawk Rate — which measures the percentage of snaps where a player deflects or intercepts a pass as the closest defender in coverage — at 62.5%. The long-underrated McCourty has made just one Pro Bowl since that impressive rookie campaign. He should be in line for another nod.
Where on earth did this come from? Barrett, an undrafted free agent in 2014, was a breakout candidate years ago in Denver across from Von Miller, but when he got his chance to start in 2017 with Shane Ray going down, Barrett flopped. He racked up four sacks on 12 knockdowns while playing two-thirds of Denver’s snaps, and the Broncos closed his path to the starting lineup by drafting Bradley Chubb after the season.
The Bucs signed Barrett to a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason. His numbers so far are unreal. He has nine sacks, three forced fumbles, seven tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception of Jared Goff. To put that in context, since the league started counting sacks as an official stat, no player in history has topped nine sacks over his first four games. Barrett is tied with Mark Gastineau (who finished his season with 22 sacks), Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (13.5), and Kevin Greene (15).
Those three totals tell you Barrett is probably not going to stay on this pace and end up with 36 sacks. The 26-year-old only has 10 quarterback hits, which we would typically associate with a sack total somewhere closer to half of his actual output. He has racked up a couple of coverage sacks and had one in which the 49ers essentially decided not to block him and paid the price almost immediately.
You know what, though? Every pass-rusher has sacks like that, and Barrett has come across the majority of them by beating opposing tackles. He’s hardly a one-trick pony, either; watch the spin move he put on Rob Havenstein to set up Ndamukong Suh‘s game-sealing touchdown against the Rams. Barrett’s four sacks against the Giants all came in different ways.
Let’s say he retreats to his old self and his previously established level of play from Denver over the remaining 12 games of the season. He would finish the year with 11.5 sacks and 17 knockdowns, numbers the Buccaneers would have been delighted to see for how much they paid. That sort of production also would get him a big deal in free agency (or the minimum of a franchise tag) next offseason.
There’s little on the tape to suggest Barrett is supremely lucky or a gimmick, either. He might not get the same level of production over the remainder of the season, but he’s playing like a superstar. He’s the biggest reason the Bucs have finally looked competent on defense for the first time in years.
Offensive Player of the Year
The NFL seems to oscillate between using this award to honor the best non-quarterback and to reiterate its support for the quarterback who ends up winning MVP. It’s more interesting to use it as the former, so I’ll do that here.
One of the rare trendy breakout picks before a season who actually proceeds to live up to lofty expectations, Godwin has become a critical component of a surprisingly effective Bucs offense. The third-year wideout is third in the league in receiving yards and ninth in yards per target, and has turned nearly 70% of his touches into first downs or touchdowns, which leads all receivers who have run 100 or more routes.
His scores have been hugely important, too; Godwin racked up one of only two touchdowns in Tampa’s 20-14 win over the Panthers in Week 2, then added two more in the 55-40 shootout victory over the Rams. The last little improvement: Godwin hasn’t fumbled once after fumbling four times last season. He’s in the discussion for best slot receiver in football alongside a fellow 2017 third-rounder, Cooper Kupp.
Mike Clay categorizes Chris Godwin as a bit of a “boom-bust” through four weeks, but expects him to give fantasy managers good WR2 numbers vs. the Saints.
Keep in mind what has happened around Allen this season. Melvin Gordon held out. Mike Williams has been less than 100 percent and missed Week 4, as did Travis Benjamin. Dontrelle Inman just hit injured reserve. Hunter Henry went down with a knee injury in the opener. Russell Okung hasn’t played as a result of blood clots. This offense has mostly been Philip Rivers, Austin Ekeler and Allen.
The league’s leading receiver by nearly 70 yards, Allen has kept the Chargers afloat single-handedly at times. It would be one thing if he had inflated his statistics with a huge game against the Dolphins last week, but after racking up 404 yards and three touchdowns over the first three weeks, Allen took it easy with five catches and 48 yards against Miami. The Chargers would be absolutely lost without him.
Can you imagine, though, what the Panthers would look like without their star halfback? McCaffrey’s backups are fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett and 2018 practice-squadder Reggie Bonnafon, who have combined for a total of two career touches. McCaffrey has played every one of Carolina’s offensive snaps this season and has logged 111 touches, 19 more than any other player through four weeks.
McCaffrey has been more of a home run hitter as a runner — he’s 28th out of 36 qualifying backs in success rate as a rusher this season — but he has been efficient while maintaining a significant workload as a receiver. McCaffrey already has 31 targets, which puts him on pace to become the first back in NFL history with 120-plus targets in consecutive seasons. McCaffrey is 11th in receiving DVOA among backs, suggesting that he’s creating value even while assuming his workload. He also leads the league in first downs, landing one ahead of Ekeler.
Most Valuable Player
Realistically, there are two tiers of MVP candidates right now. I see two guys at the top and a drop-off before a group of three quarterbacks in the second tier. Wilson is the best option in that second tier, just ahead of Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady. I’d consider Shaq Barrett given just how far ahead he is of the league’s other pass-rushers in sacks, but I still think these quarterbacks have had a larger impact on their team’s success than any pass-rusher.
Wilson is doing what he typically does: excel despite little help from anybody around him. He is the fifth-most pressured quarterback in football at 32.2%. His offensive coordinator’s obsession with running the football on early downs has left Wilson needing an average of 8.9 yards to convert when he throws on third down, the eighth-longest distance in the league. His primary receivers are Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Will Dissly and Jaron Brown. It’s never easy for Wilson.
And yet, he’s excelling. NFL Next Gen Stats say that Wilson’s range of passes should have resulted in a completion percentage of 62.9%. Wilson instead leads the league with a 72.9% completion rate, and the even gap of 10% between his expected completion rate and his actual rate is the largest for any quarterback with 100 pass attempts or more. Prescott is at 9.2%, and no other quarterback is even 5% above his expectation. Wilson hasn’t thrown an interception in 133 attempts and has lost just one fumble, with that coming on an aborted snap.
The only reason I wouldn’t put Wilson higher is context. His most productive game of the season came against the Saints, when he threw for 406 yards and two touchdowns and then added two more scores on the ground. Most of that production came in the fourth quarter with the Seahawks down multiple scores. Wilson went 16-of-25 for 213 yards with two rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown, and while the final score was 33-27, it took a touchdown with all zeros on the clock to get the Seahawks within a TD. It’s going to be a tragedy if we don’t get to see a season in which the Seahawks actually unleash Wilson as a passer and runner while he’s still in his prime.
I had Prescott as my MVP pick after three weeks, but a 22-for-33, 223-yard performance in his first game against a competent defense soured me a bit on nominating Prescott as my top choice. Some of Dallas’ issues against the Saints weren’t Dak’s fault, notably the two fumbles, but the Cowboys weren’t able to strike for a big play against a defense that has historically been susceptible to throws downfield.
I mentioned how Prescott has blown away his expected completion percentage, and it’s staggering, actually. Prescott is averaging just over 10 air yards per pass attempt this season, which is third most in the NFL behind Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston. Over the past decade, we’ve seen 19 instances of a starting quarterback averaging 10 or more air yards per pass in a season. Only one of those passers — Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 — has completed more than 65% of his passes in such an offense. Prescott is at 72.4%.
The difference between Prescott and the quarterback at the top of this list is turnovers. Prescott has three interceptions, although he hasn’t fumbled after leading the league with 12 fumbles a year ago. The guy in first place has zero interceptions, which makes him hard to top given his ability to do just about whatever he wants on a football field.
No, MVPs do not often repeat. Just three players have won back-to-back MVP awards: Joe Montana, Brett Favre and most recently Peyton Manning, who took home his third and fourth nods for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Mahomes might be the natural successor to Montana and Favre, so a second consecutive award isn’t out of his range.
The best MVP candidates have a winning record and are the best fantasy player at their position. Mahomes’ Chiefs are 4-0 after their star quarterback led them on a 13-play drive with 2:20 to go to take the lead over the Lions last week. The previous week, with the Ravens breathing down Kansas City’s neck down 33-28 with two minutes to go, Mahomes calmly took the ball and picked up a third-and-9 to Darrel Williams to end the game.
His numbers are predictably gaudy. Mahomes is completing nearly 68% of his passes while throwing the ball 9.2 yards in the air. He has a great set of weapons when healthy, but thanks to injuries, Mahomes has been forced to complete passes to 14 different receivers in 2019, which is tied for the league lead. He has become virtually unsackable, as he has been taken down on just 1.6% of his dropbacks. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Mahomes hasn’t taken a huge leap forward in 2019, but given that his baseline in 2018 was the best player in football, improving at all is unbelievable.
Mahomes is on pace for the first 6,000-yard season in NFL history. If he gets there, I don’t see any way to vote against him as a repeat MVP. Even if he doesn’t, Mahomes is a viable option given his team’s desire to throw. Over his past 16 starts, Mahomes has completed nearly 67% of his passes, topped 9 yards per attempt and thrown for 54 touchdowns against 12 picks. He’s redefining our expectations of what’s possible from an NFL quarterback. It’s only fair that he simultaneously redefines our established historical preferences for who wins MVP.
Published at Wed, 02 Oct 2019 17:16:02 +0000
Now that most teams are a quarter of the way through the season, the NFL Power Rankings decided to take a look at what each team needs to do better to increase its postseason chances. To do this, we used Football Power Index figures provided by our friends on the ESPN Analytics team to look at where each team stands and where they could possibly go moving forward.
The FPI figures are updated through Sunday’s games and illustrate a couple of teams (Patriots and Chiefs) that already are virtual locks and a few others (Cardinals, Redskins and Dolphins) that are a Hail Mary or two away from being in the conversation. Everyone else? It’s up for grabs.
How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.
Week 4 ranking: 1
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 99.7%
How to increase their playoff chances: Based on the FPI projection, this is like finding a fault in a Picasso. Given how high the bar has been raised by the Patriots in recent years, it isn’t so much about qualifying for the playoffs as positioning themselves for a deep postseason run. And the offense has plenty to improve upon — starting with a more consistent running game. — Mike Reiss
Chris Berman and Tom Jackson are surprised to see the Chiefs’ defense still letting up big points heading into Week 5. To watch NFL PrimeTime, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/.
Week 4 ranking: 2
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 99.1%
How to increase their playoff chances: Improved defensive efficiency. The Chiefs have allowed opponents to score on 43% of their possessions, which is 25th in the league. The Chiefs are 4-0 despite this, so they’re going to make the playoffs regardless. But cutting down on opponent scoring drives will give them more margin for error. — Adam Teicher
Week 4 ranking: 7
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 64.4%
How to increase their playoff chances: Wake up the offensive line. With or without Drew Brees at quarterback, the offensive line was the one unit you figured you could count on the most in New Orleans — with four starters who either were second-team All-Pro or made the Pro Bowl last year. Instead, the O-line might be the most inconsistent unit on the team, thanks in large part to a barrage of penalties. It needs to be much better for backup QB Teddy Bridgewater to find a groove while Brees is sidelined. — Mike Triplett
Week 4 ranking: 3
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 71.7%
How to increase their playoff chances: Fix the offense. Yes, you read that correctly. Sean McVay is an offensive mastermind who has directed a top offense over the past two seasons. But through a 3-1 start, it has been apparent that something just isn’t right. Jared Goff has passed for six touchdowns and six interceptions. Todd Gurley II has vanished in the running game and has hardly been a threat in the passing game. The Rams have lost their rhythm and they must find it again, quickly. Otherwise, it could be a tough road ahead — especially as they open division play Thursday night in Seattle. — Lindsey Thiry
Week 4 ranking: 4
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 78.3%
How to increase their playoff chances: The Cowboys’ season is not just about making the playoffs. It’s about doing something in January, either an NFC Championship Game or a Super Bowl appearance. For the Cowboys to make that step, they must have an attacking offense, which was not the case in Sunday’s loss to the Saints. The Cowboys were predictable on first down, which was surprising after the first three games. The competition will get more difficult as the year goes on, and coordinator Kellen Moore will have to make sure the Cowboys rely on more than Ezekiel Elliott on the road. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs, then there are sure to be plenty of changes on the coaching staff. — Todd Archer
Week 4 ranking: 5
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 56.3%
How to increase their playoff chances: Stop getting gashed on the ground. From Dalvin Cook‘s 75-yard run to Phillip Lindsay‘s two touchdowns to the Eagles putting up more yards on the ground (176) than through the air (160), the Packers need to find a way to stop the bleeding. Their pass rush is for real, but they need the run defense to match. — Rob Demovsky
Week 4 ranking: 9
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 31.7%
How to increase their playoff chances: Beat the Rams on Thursday, for starters. With the 49ers at 3-0 and the Rams at 3-1, a win over L.A. could have the Seahawks in first place in the NFC West with a game in hand over the team that still seems like their biggest threat. They’ll have to stay out of their own way like they did at Arizona on Sunday, when they went through the first half without a penalty, got a fumble-free performance from Chris Carson and had no breakdowns on the back end of their defense. Those were issues that plagued the Seahawks over their first three games and things they have to put behind them. — Brady Henderson
Week 4 ranking: 11
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 74.8%
How to increase their playoff chances: Cut down on turnovers. The 49ers will get their chance to prove themselves against some of the league’s best teams, and as they do, taking better care of the ball will become paramount. The Niners were fortunate to escape against Pittsburgh in Week 3 after coughing up the ball five times, and their eight total giveaways were tied for worst in the NFL through the first three weeks. The defense has enjoyed a positive turnaround in takeaways so far, but as the competition gets tougher, the offense must uphold its end of the bargain when it comes to the game’s most important statistic. — Nick Wagoner
Ryan Clark is confident that Chase Daniel will keep the Bears competitive while Mitchell Trubisky is injured.
Week 4 ranking: 14
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 49.8%
How to increase their playoff chances: Continued offensive efficiency. The Bears have a Super Bowl defense and a fairly reliable kicker in Eddy Pineiro (8-of-9 on field goal attempts), but the offense is the biggest question mark. Chicago’s offense — despite being without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for all but six plays — played well against the Vikings and dominated time of possession (35:27 to 24:33). The Bears will be postseason-bound if the offense plays smart, turnover-free football as it did versus Minnesota. — Jeff Dickerson
Week 4 ranking: 6
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 55.9%
How to increase their playoff chances: Fix the defense. Last season, the Ravens’ defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL and helped lead Baltimore to its first division title since 2012. Now, this defense looks confused, lost and fractured. Receivers are running wide-open and running backs are reaching the end zone untouched. The Ravens have given up 500 yards in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. Baltimore is missing some core leaders — Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle — who left in free agency. Someone needs to step up to get this defense back on track. — Jamison Hensley
Week 4 ranking: 15
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 45.8%
How to increase their playoff chances: Stabilize in the secondary. Hit hard by injuries at cornerback, the Eagles are yielding a league-high 324 passing yards per game. At this point, they need to seriously consider importing talent to fix the issue. Anybody know of any elite corners who would like to be traded? — Tim McManus
Week 4 ranking: 12
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 56.0%
How to increase their playoff chances: Continue to win the games they’re supposed to and stop turning the ball over. The Bills are tied for third in the NFL with eight takeaways, but their offense’s 10 turnovers leads the league. This defense is good enough to win games nearly by itself, but it’s incredibly hard to win when an offense turns the ball over 2.5 times a game. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Tim Hasselbeck believes Deshaun Watson’s playmaking ability is sometimes a detriment to the Texans’ offensive line.
Week 4 ranking: 10
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 50.7%
How to increase their playoff chances: Do a better job of protecting Deshaun Watson. That was their top priority this offseason, and despite trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil right before the season, Houston has not been able to do that. After four games, Watson has been sacked 18 times, which is tied for second most in the NFL. If the Texans want to improve their chance of making the playoffs, they need to give Watson more time to throw, as they did in Week 3, when he was sacked only twice and he threw for 351 yards. — Sarah Barshop
Week 4 ranking: 8
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 41.4%
How to increase their playoff chances: Be more aggressive in the passing game. The Vikings have made it clear that their offensive identity is centered around the run, but at some point they’re going to have to win a game with Kirk Cousins airing it out. That means not settling for quick checkdowns and using play-action to generate explosive pass plays. This new scheme isn’t exactly helping Cousins under pressure, either. His pressure rate jumped from 29% in 2018 to 34% in the first four games this season, the third-highest rate, behind Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen. The Vikings need to remedy that element of this offense before things get out of hand. — Courtney Cronin
Week 4 ranking: 13
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 22.2%
How to increase their playoff chances: Fixing the pass rush. One of Detroit’s biggest perceived strengths entering the season was its defensive line — a group that has been hurt by injuries (Da’Shawn Hand, Mike Daniels) and that has three sacks combined. Some of the pressure is instead coming from linebackers, as Devon Kennard has three sacks, but the Lions need more pressure up front. With a secondary that might be among the league’s best when healthy and an offense creeping toward balance, a pass rush could make Detroit one of the tougher teams in the NFC and vault it to a playoff berth in the league’s most difficult division. — Michael Rothstein
Week 4 ranking: 16
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 29.5%
How to increase their playoff chances: Get healthy. Entering Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, the Chargers had six projected starters from before the season out due to injury. The Bolts had another four players leave the game after suffering injuries: defensive end Melvin Ingram III (hamstring), linebacker Denzel Perryman (head), tight end Sean Culkin (Achilles) and receiver Dontrelle Inman (quad). Culkin is out for the year due to a torn Achilles tendon. If Anthony Lynn wants to make the playoffs for a second straight year, he has to figure out how to keep his team healthy. — Eric D. Williams
Pat McAfee applauds Freddie Kitchens’ strategy and use of Odell Beckham Jr. in the Browns’ win over the Ravens.
Week 4 ranking: 20
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 59.4%
How to increase their playoff chances: Survive the next three games. If the Browns can just get to 3-4, the back half of the schedule opens up for them, with seven games against opponents that have, as of Sunday, not yet won a game. Cleveland can easily outdo the 3-4 threshold if it keeps playing the way it did on Sunday. But at the very least, if the Browns win just one out of the next three, the chances of securing a playoff spot should go up exponentially. — Jake Trotter
Week 4 ranking: 19
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 57.4%
How to increase their playoff chances: Make the offense Marcus Mariota-friendly. Mariota is at his best when he is forced to be more decisive. The Titans’ offense must employ plays that get the ball out his hands quickly, allowing the playmakers to do the bulk of the work. Their stingy defense is always going to keep the Titans in games. If Tennessee can play complementary football, it can beat anyone in the AFC South. — Turron Davenport
Week 4 ranking: 17
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 30.0%
How to increase their playoff chances: It’s not as simple as getting receiver T.Y. Hilton (quadriceps) and linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion) back. Will both players help? Definitely. But arguably the biggest issue the Colts face is trying to get a defense that finished 11th in the NFL last season back on track. They’re giving up 363 yards per game, which is nearly 24 yards more than they gave up last season. Getting to the quarterback will help too. The Colts have only two sacks in the past two games, after recording eight in the first two weeks of the season. — Mike Wells
Week 4 ranking: 21
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 17.1%
How to increase their playoff chances: Get Cam Newton completely healthy. Nothing against Kyle Allen, who is 2-0 as a starter this season and 3-0 in his career. He has proved he belongs in the NFL and that he can win. But can he make plays consistently to make this a playoff-caliber team? The Panthers won on Sunday despite Allen, who had three fumbles on strip sacks. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass. If Newton’s left foot Lisfranc injury heals to the point he once again can be a viable threat as a runner and passer, it’ll make the Carolina offense that much more dangerous. The defense already looks solid enough to advance into the playoffs. — David Newton
Week 4 ranking: 23
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 31.9%
How to increase their playoff chances: Consistency. The Bucs are a very up-and-down team. They lost games they should have won at home versus the Giants and 49ers and pulled upsets on the road against the Panthers and Rams. Now that they’re finding ways to win, they need to string together consecutive winning performances. A big part of that is Jameis Winston, whose career up until this point has been very erratic. Can Bruce Arians be the steadying force Winston needs? He has thrown seven touchdowns passes over the past two weeks. — Jenna Laine
Week 4 ranking: 22
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 28.6%
How to increase their playoff chances: Run the ball like they did against Denver. It’s unreasonable to expect 200-plus yards from Leonard Fournette every week, but the ground game needs to be more like what we saw Sunday than what it had been the previous three weeks. The O-line finally opened some creases, and Fournette took advantage. The Jaguars gave Ryquell Armstead some work too. QB Gardner Minshew has been very good, but the Jaguars can’t realistically ask him to carry the offense every week. More production out of the running game will help significantly. — Mike DiRocco
Week 4 ranking: 18
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 11.6%
How to increase their playoff chances: Score. The Falcons can’t be in the bottom seven in scoring, as they are right now at just 17.5 points per game. Remember, the Falcons led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game in 2016. Sure, they don’t have Kyle Shanahan calling the plays anymore, but they have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. That should be good enough for at least three touchdowns per game, no matter which defense they face. Ryan has eight touchdown passes and seven turnovers, which is never a good ratio. — Vaughn McClure
Mike Greenberg says that the NFL should throw Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict out of the league after his illegal hit on Jack Doyle.
Week 4 ranking: 24
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 13.6%
How to increase their playoff chances: Finding a middle linebacker who is adept at defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme — in the wake of Vontaze Burfict‘s season-long suspension for dirty play — would be a start. The thing is, the only MLB in Oakland who knows the system, Marquel Lee, is on injured reserve. Entering the Colts game, the Raiders had no one listed behind Burfict on the depth chart. No. One. Here’s an idea, for continuity’s sake: Move Tahir Whitehead inside permanently, and re-sign Brandon Marshall — who already knows the defense from spending the entire offseason and training camp with the team — to play outside. — Paul Gutierrez
Week 4 ranking: 26
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 3.0%
How to increase their playoff chances: Keep trending in the right direction. Daniel Jones has done wonders for the Giants’ offense. He now gets Golden Tate back this week and Saquon Barkley in the not-too-distant future. The offense, which has averaged 24.5 points per game in Jones’ two starts, is going to need to steal them some games. It’s not anywhere near as crazy as it sounded a couple of weeks back, especially with the defense allowing only six points in the past six quarters. — Jordan Raanan
Week 4 ranking: 25
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 12.0%
How to increase their playoff chances: It all comes down to the run. RB James Conner, who averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per carry before Monday’s game, needs to get it going on offense. The only way to get a green quarterback comfortable is to find more balance in the offense, and right now, the Steelers’ No. 31-ranked rushing offense isn’t getting it done. If Conner can’t be effective, then it might be time for the team to look at other options — including rookie Benny Snell Jr. or second-year back Jaylen Samuels — to avoid missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. — Brooke Pryor
Week 4 ranking: 27
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 1.7%
How to increase their playoff chances: The Broncos have to find some kind of balance on defense. Free-agent cornerback Bryce Callahan has not played in a game for the Broncos, and the team doesn’t know if he’ll be able to at all this season. Toss in Kareem Jackson‘s hamstring injury and the Broncos are giving significant snaps in coverage to De’Vante Bausby, who was in the AAF last season, and Duke Dawson. Mix in struggles in the middle of the D-line and you have a defense built to create turnovers and get sacks that is doing neither at the moment. — Jeff Legwold
Week 4 ranking: 28
FPI chance to make the playoffs: less than 1%
How to increase their playoff chances: Run. The. Table. There’s really no other choice for the Cardinals if they want to even sniff the postseason. They have the third-lowest odds of making the playoffs as it is already. But going undefeated in their final 12 games is about as unlikely as them making the playoffs at the moment. There are ways the Cardinals can get better and win games, especially when it comes to their red zone production, but nothing at this point will, realistically, get them to the playoffs. — Josh Weinfuss
Week 4 ranking: 30
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 3.4%
How to increase their playoff chances: The Bengals need to start putting together wins — quickly — to even be in the playoff discussion. Cincinnati must find a balance between the air and ground attacks and be consistent for an entire game. The team has played well in spurts but has lacked quality over 60 minutes. Coming into Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh, the Bengals were giving up an average of 6.42 yards per play, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL. — Ben Baby
Week 4 ranking: 31
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 3.0%
How to increase their playoff chances: Real simple: Score. The Jets have only one touchdown from scrimmage in their first three games — a franchise first. The possible return this week of QB Sam Darnold (mono) and next week’s return of TE Chris Herndon (suspension) will help, but the problems run deeper than two players. The offensive line has been a huge disappointment, starting with C Ryan Kalil, who came out of retirement. There have been too many scheme breakdowns and blown assignments, and it’s on coach Adam Gase to get it fixed. There will be no excuses when Darnold is back in the lineup. — Rich Cimini
Stephen A. Smith expects Redskins head coach Jay Gruden will be fired soon after the team’s 0-4 start.
Week 4 ranking: 29
FPI chance to make the playoffs: less than 1%
How to increase their playoff chances: For those who believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, here’s what the Redskins need to do: Quit underachieving defensively, start hitting open throws, reduce the penalties and stay healthy. Quarterback Case Keenum failed and rookie Dwayne Haskins isn’t ready, so their hope would lie with Colt McCoy returning and then playing at a higher level than he has ever reached. And they must win a few games over the next five weeks before getting running back Derrius Guice back from injury. The Redskins started 0-5 in 2001 and won eight of their next 11, and they did so in 1981 as well. It might be one in a million, but yes, we’re saying there’s a chance. — John Keim
Week 4 ranking: 32
FPI chance to make the playoffs: less than 1%
How to increase their playoff chances: Root for 10 other AFC teams to forfeit the season. Playoffs?!? FPI is right on the money here: There is zero chance Miami makes the playoffs. The goal right now is setting up the team so it can be a playoff contender in 2020 or 2021. The Dolphins have been outscored 163-26 through four games, but the more alarming number is their 81-0 deficit in the second half. The first big step toward winning a game is making better second-half improvements. — Cameron Wolfe
Published at Sun, 29 Sep 2019 20:31:32 +0000