AROUND THE NFL
Are MATT RYAN and MATTHEW STAFFORD Hall of Famers? Be careful before you say no. This Tweet from Scott Kacsmar:
Fewest games to 40,000 passing yards, NFL history
1. Matt Ryan – 151*
2. Drew Brees – 152
3. Dan Marino – 153
4. Peyton Manning – 154
4. Aaron Rodgers – 154
6. Philip Rivers – 160
6. Carson Palmer – 160
8. Tom Brady – 162
*Matthew Stafford (39,919) should get there in Game 147.
For the record – a loyal face of franchise for one team (not a team jumping mercenary), with a season MVP, a trip to the Super Bowl, a substantial winning record (this year notwithstanding) and all kinds of counting stats when his career is over, we think Ryan is a pretty clear Hall of Famer even if he never gets a Super Bowl ring.
We hadn’t thought that Stafford rose to the same level, but we would listen.
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If you like to bet home teams, this hasn’t been the year for you. Todd Fuhrman has a tweet:
NFL Year to Date Trends
Here are the four teams that have done the best against the spread so far this year:
NFL Team ATS Trends – All Games, 2019
San Francisco 4-1-0
Brad Gagnon of TheComeback.com breaks down more numbers:
Home teams have won 56 percent of the games played in modern NFL history, an era which dates back to the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Home teams have covered the spread 49.9 percent of the time, while road teams have covered in 50.1 percent of games.
Meanwhile, home teams that are favorites in Las Vegas have a .658 winning percentage since 1970, while they’re .467 against the spread.
But six weeks into this season, home teams have fared worse than in any other season this century, and by a significant margin. The 1983 and 1999 seasons were also bad for home teams early, but the 2019 campaign is right there in the same neighborhood.
Worst home team records through six weeks in NFL history
1983: 36-48 (.429)
2019: 41-50-1 (.451)
1972: 35-40-3 (.468)
1980: 41-42-1 (.494)
* 2018: 59-32-2 (.645)
Worst home team ATS records through six weeks in NFL history
1983: 28-51-5 (.354)
2019: 35-56-1 (.385)
1999: 32-50-4 (.390)
2000: 33-50-3 (.398)
* 2018: 50-41-2 (.549)
Worst home team records for favorites through six weeks in NFL history
1983: 29-30 (.492)
2019: 32-30 (.516)
1980: 31-27-1 (.534)
2017: 31-27 (.534)
* 2018: 47-18 (.723)
Worst home team ATS records for favorites through six weeks in NFL history
1999: 14-36-2 (.280)
2019: 20-41-1 (.328)
1983: 18-36-5 (.333)
2002: 19-34-2 (.358)
* 2018: 32-31-2 (.508)
Home teams have been outscored by an average of 1.3 points per game, even though they’ve been favored in 67 percent of the 92 games that have been played thus far. Only 30 percent of home teams favored by more than a field goal have covered the spread, and only four home teams favored by more than a touchdown have covered in 13 such games.
The Rams, Chiefs, and Chargers — all of whom were playoff teams last season — are just 3-7 at home. The hyped Browns and a Titans team that had a winning record last season are a combined 0-5 at home. And typically strong home teams Seattle, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Denver have a combined five home losses already.
Meanwhile, pleasant surprises Buffalo, San Francisco, Carolina, Green Bay, and Indianapolis are a combined 11-1 as road underdogs. Six teams are already 3-0 away from home, but only three teams are 3-0 at home.
Will the trend continue? Road teams are favored in six of 14 games in Week 7, while five of the eight home faves are laying a field goal or less. Only Green Bay, Buffalo, and Seattle are supposed to win by more than three points at home this weekend.
But that could give smart bettors something to take advantage of. Road teams will likely eventually regress to the mean. In 1983, home teams posted a .596 winning percentage after Week 6, covering 54 percent of spreads in the process. Home favorites were particularly strong the remainder of that campaign. And while home faves were historically bad at covering the spread during the first six weeks of the 1999 season, they went 80-25 straight-up and 60-43-2 against the spread the rest of the way.
It’s something to monitor closely in the weeks to come.
The Packers are very thin at WR at the moment. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Packers finished last Monday’s win over the Lions with two wide receivers out of action and Marquez Valdes-Scantling at less than 100 percent because of ankle and knee injuries.
The situation hasn’t improved over the last few days. Per multiple reports, Valdes-Scantling is not practicing on Thursday and the team is still without Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison as well.
Adams has missed the last two games with a turf toe injury. Allison suffered a concussion during the win over Detroit.
The injuries led the Packers to sign veteran Ryan Grant this week. Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd are the other healthy wideouts in Green Bay.
Safety Darnell Savage (ankle), tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) and defensive tackle Kenny Clark (calf) were also out of action at Thursday’s practice.
Howie Roseman is under fire from an anonymous source in the Eagles locker room who confides in ESPN’s Josina Anderson for not getting CB JALEN RAMSEY. Rob Tornoe in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Apparently Eagles fans and sports talk radio hosts weren’t the only ones upset over the team’s decision to pass on cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
One anonymous Eagles player voiced his frustration to ESPN NFL Insider Josina Anderson, saying he thought the Birds and general manager Howie Roseman “dropped the ball” by passing on the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, whom the Jaguars traded to the Rams for three draft picks, including two first rounders.
#Eagles player to me on Jalen Ramsey going to the #Rams: “We dropped the ball. I don’t even want to talk about that (!@#^). Everybody knew what it was going to take to get him. I could’ve told you that.”
This isn’t the first time an Eagles player has dished anonymously to Anderson. Last year, she reported on NFL Live that an unnamed player blamed the team’s struggles on a lack of chemistry, suggesting that Zach Ertz being targeted so much was “disrupting the rhythm with everyone else.”
‘Cup of Jo’ from an #Eagles source on their issues compared to last season thus far.
Jeff McLane reported in Tuesday’s Early Birds newsletter (sign up here) it was unclear how serious Roseman was about acquiring Ramsey, who drew interest from multiple teams. Here’s what McLane wrote about the Eagles’ decision to pass on Ramsey, who will also be a free agent at the end of the season:
The Rams surrendered a lot of draft commodities for one player. The Eagles have one of the NFL’s oldest rosters, and with quarterback Carson Wentz’s expanding contract, they need to hit on more draft picks… Ramsey is also going to command a massive contract extension, with significant leverage after the Rams forfeited their future. Mr. Brinks Truck will likely become the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.
Daniel Jeremiah with a basketball analogy on the plight of the 2015 QBs:
Marcus Mariota misses too many layups and Jameis Winston attempts too many 3’s.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com on the arrival of CB JALEN RAMSEY to Hollywood:
Jalen Ramsey got his wish.
Ramsey requested a trade when he had a problem with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ front office. The Jaguars’ owner said he didn’t want to trade Ramsey, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, but perhaps the Jaguars felt forced into a move when Ramsey missed multiple games with a curiously timed back injury.
The Rams acquired Ramsey in a trade this week for a hefty price, but they’re clearly getting one of the NFL’s most talented players. And it sounds like they’re getting a happy player too.
Jalen Ramsey feels ‘free’
In an interview with Rams’ in-house reporter Sarina Morales, Ramsey said he is “super excited” to be a part of the Rams.
“I just feel free,” Ramsey said. “I feel free. I feel like I can be myself. A fresh start with a team who values who I am, obviously, with what they gave up to get me. And I truly respect that. I’m ready to do what I can to help this team win.”
Ramsey is outspoken, and that’s not going to be a good fit with every team. As Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson wrote, trading Ramsey was practically choosing vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin over Ramsey and not shaking up the front office for one player. Ramsey once famously attacked just about every quarterback, including calling Rams quarterback Jared Goff “average to above average.”
“In relation to what he was calling a lot of people, that wasn’t half bad,” Goff said, according to ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry.
Hopefully for the Rams, Ramsey’s swagger will fit right in.
Will Ramsey play on Sunday?
Now, for the back injury. Just because Ramsey’s back injury came shortly after his trade demand doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate injury.
Rams coach Sean McVay said he hopes Ramsey can play Sunday at the Atlanta Falcons.
“The goal is to be able to do that, but we’ll be smart about it,” McVay said, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Thiry reported Ramsey was expected to participate in the Rams’ practice on Thursday.
If Ramsey plays on Sunday, there will be some angry folks in Jacksonville. But Ramsey’s Jaguars days are officially in his past.
Despite all the denials, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com builds a case as to why EDGE VON MILLER could be traded.
Who’s the biggest name that could move before this year’s deadline? The answer seems to be Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, who has 2.5 sacks in six games.
No other potential trade target has a Super Bowl MVP award (unless you think Eli Manning is getting traded, which I don’t). Miller is only 30 years old, and he’s already in the top 30 in league history in sacks (100.5). His 14.5 sacks in 2018 represented the second-highest single-season total of his career. He had at least 10 sacks in seven of his first eight years in the league. This is his ninth. He’s a likely Hall of Famer in the prime of his career playing a position so valuable that players who play it almost never become available. If the Broncos decided to trade Miller, he’d be a hotter-than-the-sun trade target.
After calling around and surveying agents and league executives on the topic, here’s what we came up with regarding this idea:
Would the Broncos trade Miller?
As of now, interested teams are being told no. It was a “no” two weeks ago when the Broncos were 0-4, and it’s a “no” now that they’ve won their past two games. Miller is a franchise icon and a still-productive player on an affordable contract, and teams keep players like that. Broncos team president John Elway said recently when asked about the possibility of trading veterans such as Miller, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Chris Harris Jr.: “We’re trying to win football games. No one from our side is on the trading block. We’re going to try to continue to win football games.” And if you want to believe there’s no chance the Broncos are trading Miller, that’s the quote to which you’ll cling.
However … team executives always fib about this stuff in public, and even if they’re telling the truth, they often change their minds. The Jaguars were telling teams as recently as Saturday that Ramsey wasn’t available, and by Tuesday night he was on the Rams. It’s not an apples-to-apples situation, since Miller isn’t asking to be traded as Ramsey was, but the point is that things can change, and there are people around the league who believe the Broncos would at least listen if the offers were good enough.
Miller has two years left on his contract, and Denver has a second-year star pass-rusher in Bradley Chubb — on injured reserve for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL — who’ll need to be paid within the next two or three years. It happens, but it’s not overly common for teams to pay top-of-market money for two players who play the same position. If the Broncos survey the next couple of years and decide they might have to move on from Miller eventually, it’s not outlandish to think they could try to get something of value in return now, while his value is high.
Should the Broncos trade Miller?
Can you ask me again Friday morning? The Broncos play the Chiefs on Thursday night, and while they’re heavy underdogs, anything can happen. A victory over Kansas City would improve Denver to 3-4 and one game out of first place. It’s tough to trade a difference-making superstar when you’re in the race.
A loss would drop the Broncos to 2-5 and put them three games out of first place and could result in a different outlook — one that could harden with a Week 8 loss in Indianapolis two days before the trade deadline. If they’re 2-6 after that game, they could face some tough choices. A critical part of team management is accurate self-assessment, and if the Broncos aren’t 2019 contenders — which not many expected them to be — then concern for the 2020 season and beyond has to assume a more prominent place on their priority list. Miller could surely help them in 2020, but if they don’t plan on giving him another long-term contract, now might be the sweet spot for getting something that makes it worth trading him. Stating the obvious, it’s easier to trade a guy when he’s 30 than when he’s 31 or 32.
Miller’s contract is eminently tradable. After this year, it consists of a pair of $17.5 million team options for 2020 and 2021. The team — be it the Broncos or any acquiring team — has until the second week of March in each of those years to decide on the option. The salary is high but reasonable for a pass-rusher of Miller’s talent and résumé.
What would happen if the Broncos traded Miller?
Denver would save the remainder of his $17 million 2019 salary — so, $9 million if they dealt him on deadline day. They’d carry dead-money charges of $7.625 million on this year’s cap and again next year. The acquiring team would then inherit the $17.5 million team options for 2020 and 2021.
So if that team decided it didn’t want to keep Miller, it could decide by early March not to exercise the option, and he would become an unrestricted free agent. Obviously, if that team paid a significant price to get Miller, it presumably would want to keep him beyond the end of this year, which means any team that acquired him probably would engage his agent in contract extension talks, if only to get an idea of what he’d be looking for so that it could budget for the next couple of years.
What would happen if the Broncos didn’t trade Miller?
The Broncos would then become the team in the above example, having to decide by the second week in March whether to accept or decline the option and, potentially, engage Miller in contract extension talks.
Who would be interested in Miller if the Broncos decided to trade him?
More or less every team. Pass-rusher might be the toughest position other than quarterback to find on the market. Almost every team needs pass-rushers, and contending teams could see him as the type of difference-maker that could put them over the top and launch a Super Bowl run this year.
The Eagles stand out as a team that could use the pass-rush help (or the help on defense in general). The Raiders are a surprise contender that has been looking for pass-rush help since trading Khalil Mack last September (though the Broncos probably wouldn’t want to trade him to a division rival). Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis … maybe the Rams? Kansas City? New England? The Broncos would encounter a robust market.
What could the Broncos expect to receive in return?
The consensus among those to whom I spoke was that it’s not inconceivable for Denver to get a first-round pick and something else in return if it puts Miller on the market.
The Rams gave the Jaguars a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Fowler at last year’s deadline, and while he was only 24 at the time, he was also a disappointing player who’d fallen out of favor in Jacksonville. L.A. was taking a flier on his talent, and it worked out.
Miller’s experience, accomplishments and status as a certain down-the-stretch difference-maker would make him worth much more — as would the likelihood that multiple teams would be bidding.
Will Miller be traded?
This is just based on my own informal polling of a few knowledgeable people around the league, but I would say about 30%-40% of the people with whom I spoke think Denver will end up moving Miller.
“He’s still good, and he means a lot to them. In the end, I don’t see them pulling the trigger,” one team executive told me.
Another said they thought the offers would get to the point in which Elway would be tempted. I wouldn’t bet on it happening, but I can’t completely rule it out. The NFL trade deadline is a lot crazier than it used to be.
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalks.com sums up the various reports:
Until Patrick Mahomes emerges from an MRI tube today and doctors read the results, we’re limited to the impressions of others.
And that picture’s something far less than optimistic right now.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, a source said of Mahomes’ right knee: “If there’s no damage, the best case would be around three weeks.”
Of course, if that’s the best-case scenario, that means it can also be much worse.
Early reports of a dislocated right kneecap emerged quickly last night, and Mahomes himself tried to tweet out an upbeat message.
The Chiefs have four more weeks before their Week 12 bye, with games against the Packers, Vikings, and Titans falling within that best-case window.
Those could be in the hands of backup Matt Moore, though any absence would require them to find another quarterback since they only had two.
This from Curtis Crabtree:
While there is still more to learn about the extent of Patrick Mahomes‘ knee injury, the Kansas City Chiefs and Mahomes himself seem about as optimistic as possible about his prognosis.
“Awesome team win! Love my brothers! Thank you for all the prayers! Everything looking good so far! #GodisGood #ChiefsKingdom,” Mahomes said on his Twitter account after the game.
Mahomes left Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter after his right kneecap became dislocated on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1. Mahomes was helped to the sideline after the injury was addressed on the field and ultimately left the field under his own power.
Reports on the injury soon afterward said there is no fracture. That would certainly seem to be as positive a return as the team could have hoped to see at this point until an MRI can show the full extent of the damage the dislocation caused. Until that’s known, Mahomes and the Chiefs will just have to hope they dodged a big blow to their 2019 aspirations.
Dislocations can look the worst. Adam Teicher of ESPN.com:
Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is a medical school graduate but didn’t need any particular knowledge to immediately realize the severity of Patrick Mahomes’ right knee injury.
“Everybody could have known something was wrong,” Duvernay-Tardif said.
Mahomes dislocated his right kneecap in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos. It was quickly massaged back into place by members of the Chiefs’ medical staff, but the quarterback left the game at that point and didn’t return.
Tight end Travis Kelce said, “His knee didn’t even look like a knee. It was all out of whack. I couldn’t even describe it.”
The length of the absence for Mahomes, the NFL’s reigning MVP, was unclear. Until he’s back, the Chiefs will be quarterbacked by 35-year-old Matt Moore, who finished the team’s 30-6 victory.
Mahomes was injured on a fourth-down quarterback sneak. Afterward, coach Andy Reid defended the playcall.
“Not too many people get hurt on a sneak,” Reid said. “It’s a freak thing and it happens.”
In the moments after the play, Chiefs center Austin Reiter found himself in a bad position, with Mahomes lying on top of him.
“I think I was just yelling, ‘Get off me,’ but I didn’t realize it was him. And everybody’s telling me, I’m hearing from the refs, ‘Just stay still, stay still.’ And I’m just laying on my stomach face down. I just had to listen to the refs and not move. As soon as I realized it was his voice, I was like, all right, I’m not moving an inch.”
A cart came onto the field to take away Mahomes.
“He refused to get into the cart,” Reid said.
He was instead helped off the field by a couple of trainers. Players from both teams came by to offer encouragement.
Mahomes soon left for the locker room, at first helped by trainers and later walking under his own power but with a limp.
The Chiefs understood the severity of the injury right away. They declared Mahomes out for the rest of the game almost immediately.
“He was saying, ‘It’s out, it’s out,'” Duvernay-Tardif said. “Nobody really understood what he meant at that time and then we saw it. … That’s when we started panicking. Not panicking but seeing that he was not all right.”
Mahomes was in good spirits in the locker room and on Twitter after the game. TV cameras caught Mahomes leading a postgame cheer in the Chiefs’ locker room while wearing a sleeve on his right leg.
Off camera, he gave a shoutout to his replacement, who might have to hold the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes together until Mahomes can return.
“[He said,] ‘How about my guy?'” Moore said. “Guys cheered.”
Terez Paylor, who is neither a physician nor athlete, offers this advice, with a little history, at YahooSports.com:
Even if the MRI dispels the terrifying worst-case scenario — that there was enough damage done to require immediate surgery — the Chiefs and Mahomes may still find themselves with the following difficult choice:
Do they push for a return in a matter of weeks and keep his season alive but risk another shot on his injured knee that will likely need eventual surgical attention?
Or do they sideline him now and essentially punt on this season, but ensure the best weapon in football returns for 2020 at full strength?
The Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford returned from the same injury in four weeks in 2009, and went on to play six straight games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was in and out of the lineup in 2017 until he ultimately relented and had the surgery, ending his season with two weeks left.
If Mahomes indeed returns, he may have to wear a knee brace, one that could affect his Houdini-like mobility. This is in addition to the left ankle sprain that Mahomes has heroically gutted through with multiple aggravations since Week 1.
So from this vantage point, the choice is clear: err on the side of caution and rest him for as long as it takes. Go overboard on it if necessary.
And if the damage is severe enough that there’s a chance Mahomes can suffer more damage by taking the wrong hit — one that could fundamentally change who he is as a quarterbacking magician — when he returns to the field, it would be prudent to have the surgery now and sit him for good in 2019, no questions asked.
That won’t be an easy decision for anyone involved. The Chiefs would be flushing the season down the drain, and Mahomes, who prides himself on being a warrior just as much as Stafford, will almost surely want to put off any surgery for as long as possible and return for his teammates. He even refused to get carted off the field, presumably because he didn’t want them to see him like that.
This decision is bigger than Mahomes’ competitiveness, and even the Chiefs’ 2019 season. He’s not just the franchise player, he’s also a generational talent who will be a torch-bearer for the NFL for the next decade-plus, someone fans will abandon their home setups, complete with their massive big screens and comfy couches, to come to the stadium and see.
Franchises can go half a century without a player like that, let alone one who plays the most important position. That type of player is worth his weight in gold, which is even more reason to err on the side of caution.
Prior to the Chiefs’ fantastic defensive performance Thursday against a moribund Denver offense, there was a significant question about whether the now 5-2 Chiefs had the supporting cast to win a Super Bowl, even with a full-strength Mahomes. A win over a 2-5 Denver team that has players who should now be planning their offseason vacations to Acapulco doesn’t change that.
Or at least, it shouldn’t.
DC Paul Guenther hasn’t moved past the NFL’s suspension of LB VONTAZE BURFICT. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther railed Thursday against the NFL upholding its season-long suspension of middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, calling it a “witch hunt” that might have ended Burfict’s career.
An incensed Guenther, who has been a father figure to Burfict from their days together with the Cincinnati Bengals, also said the Raiders did not know Burfict was one infraction away from being banned and that the team would be keeping tabs on the rest of the league to make sure other players are held to the same standard as Burfict for similar hits.
“I think it was a witch hunt from the beginning, quite honestly,” Guenther said. “Somebody in the league didn’t want him playing football and they got what they wanted.
NFL playoff risers: Barnwell on six surprising teams, and what’s next
“Does it make any sense to sign a guy that after one infraction, he’s going to get thrown out of the league for a year? No, it doesn’t. So, I think it’s very unfair. It’s unfair to our team. It’s unfair to Vontaze.”
Burfict, who has led the NFL with 23 personal fouls and 15 flags for unnecessary roughness since 2012 while getting fined $469,119 for on-field violations and forfeiting approximately $3.7 million in game checks due to suspensions and on-field violations, was initially flagged for unnecessary roughness for his hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle’s head in Week 4. After a review by the game official in New York, Burfict was ejected. A day later, the NFL announced it had suspended Burfict for the remainder of the season.
Burfict appealed, but last week appeals officer Derrick Brooks — who played for Raiders coach Jon Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ended Rich Gannon’s career on a then-legal helmet-to-helmet hit in 2004 — upheld the suspension.
“Losing Burfict is big,” Gruden said Wednesday. “I’m still not happy about it. I’m just not happy about it. We believe in player safety, I’ll say that. We coach it, we believe in it and we really stress it. But 12 games, I’m not happy about that. But it is what it is.”
And while NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote in his initial announcement of the suspension that Burfict, 29, had been warned repeatedly that “future violations would result in escalated accountability measures,” Guenther was aghast.
“There’s no standard, and that’s the issue,” Guenther said. “There’s nothing [that says], ‘Hey, next time you do this, you’re gone for the year. Maybe your career.’ I think that’s unfair. You can warn a guy, but put that in writing — the next time this happens, you’re done. … It’s unfair to all the players around the league to not know.
“And now, they’ve opened a whole can of worms, as far as the next guy who’s going to do it. So, we’ve got to make sure, if we’re going to do it to this one guy, this one guy driving 38 mph in a 30 mph zone for the cop looking for one guy doing it, that all the players are held to the same standard. To me, that’s where I have the issue.”
Raiders linebacker Tahir Whitehead said Burfict was trying to change his image.
“Obviously, you lose a great player, leader of the team, captain on the team, it’s rough,” Whitehead said. “It just sucks because I believe there’s been a target on his back. Getting to know him and how he was trying to approach this year and be a different man and not be that same guy that people [have] known him for. It was a bang-bang play.
“OK, he has history and all that, but this whole season he hadn’t had a penalty yet. You’re talking about a guy that’s helping guys up. He plays the game hard, but this year you just saw a difference in not getting into altercations and everything like he has in the past. Right there, that says growth.”
Guenther was asked how Burfict, who signed a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.15 million this spring with the Raiders, was handling the suspension.
“How would you deal with it if you basically got your career taken away, like that?” Guenther said. “And not really know that that’s what’s going to happen. He may not play football again. And that’s a tough thing. … All of a sudden, it’s done and, what team, now that they know the next infraction you’re going to be done for the year, that’s a tough pill to swallow, without knowing that was going to be the consequence. To me, that’s not right.”
Like the Redskins, the Bengals have a dispute with a tackle over medical issues. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
On Wednesday, Bengals tackle Cordy Glenn was cleared to return from a concussion that he suffered in the preseason. But that hardly resolved the situation.
Per multiple sources, the Bengals and Glenn have been at odds regarding the concussion, its symptoms, whether he’s able to return, the need for second opinions, and how the player feels. At some point, the situation prompted the Bengals to fine Glenn $200,000 for conduct detrimental to the team.
As one source explained it to PFT, things got heated on Wednesday. Glenn and a member of the Bengals’ coaching staff argued (a witness thought at one point that it was going to turn physical), and Glenn eventually told coach Zac Taylor to just cut him.
Glenn was upset because he believes that the team rushed him back from his concussion.
A second-round pick of the Bills in 2012, the Bengals traded for Glenn in 2018. Last year, he started 13 of 16 regular-season games.
NEW YORK JETS
QB SAM DARNOLD has the Jets thinking big. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, not known for bold statements, stepped out of character on Thursday, setting huge expectations for his offense.
“Right now, we’re just missing Chris [Herndon]. Once all the guys are back together, I think we’re unstoppable as an offense — or we can be,” he said, referencing the injured tight end.
“It’s just up to us and how we execute. It’s really up to us how many points we score, I think. I think we’re capable of so many points. With our offensive line, too, the way they played last game, with the way we’ve been running the ball and the way they’ve been protecting, sky’s the limit for us.”
Darnold’s return last week ignited the previously dormant offense. He passed for 338 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Before that, though, the Jets were historically bad. With Darnold sidelined for three games with mononucleosis, they managed only one offensive touchdown. All told, the Jets have five touchdowns from scrimmage through six weeks, the fewest in franchise history. They rank last in nearly every offensive category.
On Monday night, the Jets (1-4) face the New England Patriots (6-0), who lead the NFL in most defensive categories. Herndon (hamstring) is unlikely to play, but he could return the following week.
Highly-paid LB C.J. MOSLEY says he will be back for the Patriots after missing four games with a groin injury.
“I’m playing Monday night,” Mosley said Thursday after practice. “Unless I get hurt or something, I’m playing.”
Mosley’s statement took the Jets by surprise, considering he still hasn’t participated in a practice since the injury. He was on the field Thursday, but was limited to individual drills, no team periods. Earlier in the day, coach Adam Gase was cautious, characterizing Mosley as day-to-day.
But the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker left no doubt about his intention, saying it twice for reporters: “I’m playing Monday night.”
THIS AND THAT
Roger Goodell hints that the NFLPA has agreed in principle to the idea of a 17-game schedule.
Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed for reporters on Wednesday that talks between the NFL and NFL Players Association have occurred regarding an expansion of the regular season from 16 games to 17. And, to no surprise, Goodell is justifying the expanded regular season by pointing to steps over the past decade to make the game safer.
“We’ve had very fruitful discussion on it, discussing the positives and negatives, and the changes to the game that we’ve made over the last 10 years, which I think are really important as it relates to the safety of the game and how we’re preparing and practicing, and training our players,” Goodell said, via Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily. “I think those changes have made a significant impact in a positive way, and so that is something we’ll continue to discuss.”
Amid renewed talk of 18 games in July, including reports that management actually had broached the concept of 18 games with a limit of 16 games per player, Packers CEO Mark Murphy advocated for 17 games as a compromise, with the preseason dropping to either three or two games.
A seventh regular-season game gives the NFL a whopping 16 games that would be played in London and other non-NFL cities, with every team having eight true home games, eight true road games, and one neutral-site game.
Goodell also said that the season would continue to start the weekend after Labor Day, which means that 17 games would push completion of the season one week deeper into February, which in turn could make for some awkward scheduling for future Super Bowls with firm dates for the game and associated activites in the week preceding it, if the change comes before the 2023 season. Indeed, each of the next five Super Bowls has a firm date associated with it.
But, as usual, listen to the money talk. The NFL will take the extra week of regular-season games as soon as it can, and it probably already has contingency plans in place for Super Bowl LV and beyond, in the event the money talks a 17-game season into existence.
It’s not quite the DB’s plan yet, because we advocate each team getting a second bye week for 17 games in 19 weeks with the season jumping up into Labor Day as well.
We’d go with a two-game preseason with a week off before the start of the regular season.
TEAMS ON THE RISE
Last week, we had Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com looking at six unlucky teams. Now, here is the flip side, six “surprising” teams and what is next. Edited below, full thing here
I want to focus on the six teams whose playoff chances have improved the most since the regular season began, as measured by ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). There’s still a lot of football to go, but in a league in which we should expect four to six new playoff teams each season, the teams on this list represent several of the top candidates for new blood this coming January. For one final season, it starts and ends in the Bay Area:
San Francisco 49ers
Preseason playoff chances: 30.8%
Current playoff chances: 94.1%
Playoff chances improvement: +63.3%
The 49ers already have made themselves nearly surefire bets to make the playoffs. FPI thinks they can go even further. Before the season, the 49ers were just above 30% to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Now, FPI gives the 49ers better odds of making it to the Super Bowl, as their 33.9% odds trail only the Patriots.
Even with the Seahawks at 5-1 and the Rams still lurking at 3-3, the 5-0 49ers have a 79.2% chance of winning the NFC West, owing to a combination of strength of schedule and quality of victories. The Seahawks have outscored teams by an average of just over 3 points per game and have the league’s seventh-toughest schedule moving forward, per FPI. The 49ers have outscored their opponents by more than 16 points per game and have the league’s 12th-easiest slate from here.
When I wrote in August that the 49ers were among the most likely teams in the league to improve, I pointed out a few things that were almost sure to improve. The most obvious — and easiest to predict — was that the 49ers would top their record-low total of two interceptions last season. It didn’t take long; they took two Jameis Winston interceptions to the house for pick-sixes in the opener and have the league’s second-highest interception rate at 4.6%. I wouldn’t count on them intercepting passes this frequently as the season goes along, but they won’t be going two months without a pick, either.
The interceptions have helped fuel a change in San Francisco’s turnover margin. The Niners were a league-worst minus-25 last season, a figure that almost never repeats the following year. Through five games, they are at plus-two. There’s even room for improvement there, given that they have recovered only seven of the 18 fumbles in their games, or just under 39%.
The 49ers also have been much healthier on defense after ranking 24th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost statistic a year ago. Though players have worked through injuries, the 49ers’ 11 expected starters have missed a total of only five games so far, with three coming from oft-injured safety Jimmie Ward and two from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. The offense hasn’t been so lucky, as it has already lost both starting tackles in Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, running back Jerick McKinnon and wideouts Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd to significant injuries. For a team that has ranked 24th, 32nd and 26th in defensive AGL over the past three years, though, a healthy start is a pleasant surprise.
That defense, perhaps surprisingly, is what has been propelling this team to dominant victories. Few first-time coordinators change their scheme in the middle of their tenure, but after two disappointing years and adding personnel, Robert Saleh went away from the Seattle-style defenses he ran after coming over from the Jaguars and relied more on using his defensive ends in wide-nine techniques. He has asked his safeties to play both free and strong safety throughout the season and they’ve responded. Jaquiski Tartt has played at a Pro Bowl level. Ward stepped in to break up consecutive key passes against the Rams on third and fourth down last week. Kwon Alexander is the big name at linebacker, but Fred Warner has taken a step forward and looks like a 10-year veteran. The 49ers look great at every level.
After years of inconsistent returns from an expensively assembled defensive line, though, the 49ers finally look like a team to be reckoned with in the trenches. The win over the Rams had to feel like validation for an organization that has four first-round picks along the defensive line to go with newly acquired end Dee Ford. They beat up the Rams at the line of scrimmage, and it only got worse as the game went along.
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On offense, things are still a work in progress. The 49ers have been the most run-heavy team in the league, even after accounting for their leads. On drives that started while each team had between a 20% and an 80% chance of winning, per ESPN’s win expectancy model, teams have typically thrown the ball just over 58% of the time. The 49ers have instead thrown the ball just over 49% of the time in those situations, which is the third-highest run rate in the league. Only the Ravens and Colts have been more run-heavy in those situations.
While the stories about Jimmy Garoppolo looking awful in the preseason and throwing five consecutive interceptions in practice have faded, the former Patriots backup hasn’t been a difference-maker yet this season. He is completing 69.9% of his passes, but coach Kyle Shanahan has made it relatively easy; according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo’s expected completion percentage given his throws is 68.5%, the second-highest expectation in the league behind Oakland’s Derek Carr.
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The 49ers probably aren’t going to continue outscoring teams by 16 points per game. Their defense will give up more than one third-down conversion every two weeks. Even if it settles, though, they have the sort of defense that can carry them through bad games by Garoppolo. It also wouldn’t shock me if the passing game improved during the second half of the season once Staley and McGlinchey return from injuries, especially given that Garoppolo is throwing to one of the youngest receiving corps in the league.
After years in the wilderness, one of the league’s proudest franchises is finally relevant again.
Preseason playoff chances: 18.2%
Current playoff chances: 77.3%
Playoff chances improvement: +59.1%
The Bills are in about as good of a shape as any team with little shot of winning its division can be after six weeks. Although they lost to the Patriots in a 16-10 nail-biter, they are the only one-loss team in the AFC. Their wins have come against teams that are a combined 5-18, and three of those four victories were by seven points or fewer, but the Bills are also about to play the Dolphins at home. They probably will start 5-1, and since the league went to its current structure in 2002, teams that have started the season 5-1 have made the playoffs nearly 79% of the time.
If you look at the record I mentioned for vanquished Bills foes, you might expect Buffalo’s schedule to get harder. FPI thinks otherwise. Buffalo has played the league’s sixth-easiest slate so far and will face its second-easiest run of opponents over the remaining 11 games. It still has two games against the Dolphins, and home games against Denver, Washington and the Jets. It still has six home games to go, and one of the road games comes against the Steelers, who are already down to their third-string quarterback. The Bills won’t win all of those games, but they have a friendlier path to 10 wins than any other team in the wild-card picture.
The Bills also have the sort of defense that will help them steal more competitive games too. They nearly took one from the Patriots, given that the margin of victory was a blocked punt the Pats returned for a touchdown. The Bills rank second in the league behind the Patriots in points allowed per drive (0.92), percentage of drives ending in a score (15%) and yards allowed per pass attempt (5.5).
The Patriots and 49ers have built their great defenses with dominant pass rushes, which have virtually no correlation between the first half of the season and the second, but the Bills rank 16th in sack rate and 13th in pressure rate. I still think these will end up as three of the best defenses in football, but it seems likely that New England and San Francisco will decline as their pass rush regresses toward the mean in the second half. If anything, the Bills might improve. Given how well this defense has performed since the start of 2018, it’s not fading anytime soon.
Getting the offense to cooperate might be another story. The Bills rank 27th in offensive DVOA after six weeks, and while they’re eighth in the running game, Josh Allen and the passing attack rank 29th. Allen is 28th in Total QBR (36.8) and 30th in passer rating (75.2) in what was supposed to be a breakout season.
Judging his possible progress from week to week can be exhausting. When I wrote about Allen in Week 1, I noted that the second-year passer was mostly competent, albeit with several crushing mistakes that should have cost Buffalo the game. He did cost the Bills the game against the Patriots with a brutal three-interception performance before leaving because of a concussion, but the 2018 first-rounder then responded with a better start against Tennessee.
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The hope, of course, is that Allen gets better as he grows into the role and gains more rapport with a rebuilt receiving corps. He already has unearthed one surprising option in rookie Dawson Knox, who might even keep his role in the starting lineup after Tyler Kroft returns from injury. If the defense stays healthy and continues at its current level, the Bills should have little trouble going 5-6, and that probably will get them into the playoffs. If Allen takes a sustained leap forward, the defense is good enough to immediately vault the Bills into 2018 Bears territory.
Preseason playoff chances: 48.2%
Current playoff chances: 90.4%
Playoff chances improvement: +42.2%
The simplest explanation for why the Texans stand atop the AFC South and have a 76.4% chance of winning the division is at quarterback. Indianapolis unexpectedly had to replace a retiring Andrew Luck with Jacoby Brissett. Jacksonville lost Nick Foles to a broken collarbone after two possessions. The Titans just benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill in an attempt to spark the offense, which is a nice way of saying they don’t know how to fix what’s wrong.
The Texans are the only team in the division starting the same quarterback they expected to start all offseason. This offense is still seemingly prone to games in which it can’t get going, often without any warning or precedent, but Deshaun Watson gives them a quarterback capable of beating anyone when he gets hot.
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I wrote about Watson and the rest of the offense earlier this week, so I might shift this toward what has happened on defense. It’s naive to suggest that the Texans needed to trade Jadeveon Clowney to unlock Whitney Mercilus, but the former Illinois standout is having a career season in a contract year. Mercilus already has five sacks and four forced fumbles in six games, although his seven quarterback knockdowns suggest that the sack rate probably won’t sustain itself as the season goes along. J.J. Watt continues to chug along in quarterbacks’ nightmares, as the future Hall of Famer has four sacks, 14 knockdowns and three tackles for loss. The knockdown figure ties Watt for the league lead with … his brother, T.J.
Concerns about the secondary after it was torched by the Saints in the opener have faded. The move to cut Aaron Colvin might go down as addition by subtraction, with rookie second-round pick Lonnie Johnson making his way into the lineup and holding his own.
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The good news for the Texans is that after beating the Chiefs, they don’t have too many difficult games left on their schedule. They have only two games remaining against teams that rank in the top 10 in DVOA over the final 11 weeks of the year: a trip to Baltimore in Week 11 and a home game against the Patriots two weeks later. And over the next three weeks, they get three games against the Colts, Raiders and Jaguars. Wins in those games will matter in both the divisional and conference tiebreakers.
If Houston can get to its Week 10 bye at 6-3 — with a 5-1 record in the AFC and a 2-1 record in the AFC South — it should be all but able to punch its ticket for the postseason.
Green Bay Packers
Preseason playoff chances: 43.9%
Current playoff chances: 80.1%
Playoff chances improvement: +36.2%
My initial instinct was to write about how rare it is that the Packers have been equally propelled to the top of the NFC North by their offense and their defense, given that they rank eighth in both categories. As it turns out, this isn’t anything new. Aaron Rodgers has been healthy or almost healthy for eight seasons as Green Bay’s starter. In four of those years — 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2015 — the defense has either been about as good or better than the offense. Three of the other years showed a heavy offensive advantage, including the 15-1 season in 2011 and the most recent seasons in 2016 and 2017. (The offense was slightly better than the defense in 2012.)
I was wrong about the offensive bent about the Packers during the Rodgers era. Something else I was wrong about? The Smiths have turned around this pass rush overnight. If you had told me that Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith would combine for 13 sacks and 25 knockdowns in 2019, I wouldn’t have been particularly surprised. The two edge rushers — who aren’t related — have instead hit those numbers in six games, and I don’t see anything from how the Packers have played suggesting the pass rush is suddenly about to fall off. Pass rushes on the whole are inconsistent over the course of a full season, but the Packers are ninth in sack rate and 12th in pressure rate despite blitzing just 23.1% of the time. (The league average is 26%.)
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has unsurprisingly been creative in how he uses his two new weapons. He has lined them both up as traditional edge rushers. They have ended up on the same side and twisted to create rush lanes. He has used one of the Smiths as an interior rusher to get first-round pick Rashan Gary onto the field. Wildly underrated interior lineman Kenny Clark has helped too; take a look at this sack of Dak Prescott, where Za’Darius Smith gets credit for the sack, but Clark helps create the pressure by pushing Zack Martin backward with his bull rush and taking away Prescott’s lane to step up in the pocket. That’s arguably the best guard in football Clark is manhandling!
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The offense has been more of a work in progress, although things seemed better on Monday, even without top receiver Davante Adams on the field. While the Packers were bailed out by at least one questionable call, the Lions also were lucky that two Packers receivers turned easy touchdowns into one drop and one interception. Total QBR has been underwhelmed by Rodgers’ work in the offense this year, as his 51.2 mark places him 15th in the league, squeezed between Kyle Allen and Kirk Cousins.
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The Packers already find themselves in great shape in the NFC North, as they’re now 3-0 against their divisional brethren. Having already beaten the Broncos, Matt LaFleur’s team now gets three consecutive games against the AFC West, highlighted by a road trip to face the Chiefs in Week 8. A game against the suddenly surging Panthers finishes things up before a Week 11 bye, but four of Green Bay’s final six games afterward are on the road, including trips to face the 49ers, Vikings and Lions. The former could end up as very meaningful in the competition for a first-round bye. The latter two may end up deciding if the Packers get a home game (or a postseason berth) at all.
Preseason playoff chances: 45.9%
Current playoff chances: 71.5%
Playoff chances improvement: +25.6%
If you thought Lamar Jackson wasn’t capable of running a viable NFL offense, well, you appear to be wrong. The former Heisman Trophy winner has taken huge strides in his second year as a starter. He is now completing just north of 65% of his passes, which is impressive for a quarterback whose average throw still travels 8.8 yards in the air, the seventh-longest average pass in the league. His completion percentage is right in line with his expected completion rate of 64.9%.
In addition, while other mobile quarterbacks from recent draft classes (such as Josh Allen and Mitchell Trubisky) haven’t kept up their success or frequency as runners in 2019, Jackson continues to make a steady impact with his feet. The Louisville product has the league’s highest rushing average (6.7 yards per carry) and first-down rate (34.8%) among players with a minimum of 10 carries per game. He has contributed 18.6 expected points with his feet, five points more than the second-placed quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Jackson also has fumbled only twice across 85 combined sacks and carries after fumbling 12 times in 163 opportunities a year ago.
The Jackson we saw in 2018 wasn’t going to be sustainable in terms of rushing workload. He was on pace to carry the ball 272 times over a full 16-game season as a starter, which would be a huge workload for a modern running back, let alone a quarterback. He’s now averaging just under 14 carries per game, which would still be a record pace for a modern quarterback. It’s difficult to imagine a 212-pound quarterback getting tackled 14 times per game and getting up over and over again.
For a quarterback who runs as frequently as Jackson does, though, he has become a wizard at not getting hit. Take his 69 runs. Ten of them aren’t actually running plays at all; they’re kneel-downs, bad snaps and bad handoffs, all of which get credited as quarterback runs. Of the other 59 runs, Jackson was brought down by an opposing player only 32 times. He either dove forward, scored a touchdown standing up or ran out of bounds without going down on nearly 46% of his runs.
He is a master at getting out of bounds in perilous situations.
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The Ravens have been closer to good than great this season, but at 4-2 and with a two-game lead on the rest of the AFC North, they’re comfortably division favorites. They’re already 2-1 in the North, although the next three weeks will be tough, as they travel to face the Seahawks and then have a home game against the still-undefeated Patriots coming after their bye. After a respite against the Bengals, the Ravens then get the Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills before things quiet down over the final few weeks of the year.
Baltimore beat the Dolphins by 49 points, but their three other wins are by no more than six points. I’m not skeptical of Jackson, but I’m still questioning whether the defense can live up to lofty expectations. If it doesn’t, the Ravens will leave the door cracked open for the Browns and even the Steelers in the division.
Preseason playoff chances: 7.7%
Current playoff chances: 28.3%
Playoff chances improvement: +20.6%
The league is more fun when the Raiders are competitive. I’m not quite sure whether to believe in this team, given that it has been outscored by 20 points over five games and is really getting pushed up the charts by the collapse of the Chargers, but there’s a logical, coherent plan here. If Jon Gruden can continue to develop the young players on his roster and some of them break out during the second half, the Raiders could surprise and sneak into the postseason.
On offense, Gruden knows exactly what he wants to do. He spent the past two years acquiring mammoth offensive linemen and then drafted Josh Jacobs in the first round to run behind them. It’s telling that the Raiders were able to physically overpower one of the league’s toughest defenses when they ran for 169 yards on 39 carries against the Bears in London. The Bears lost Akiem Hicks to a nasty elbow injury early in that contest, but Chicago was without Hicks or Roquan Smith altogether the prior week against the Vikings, and proceeded to stifle a wildly expensive Minnesota offense. Gruden’s horses were able to run over the Bears, and they did so without star guard Gabe Jackson, who hasn’t played this season after suffering a knee injury in August.
You might figure that this would lead to a passing game built off play-action and relying on that offensive line to hold up under pressure, but that hasn’t been the case. Gruden has designed this offense to get the ball out of Derek Carr’s hands. Quickly. Carr is averaging just 2.52 seconds before throwing the ball, which is the third-fastest rate in the NFL behind Jimmy Garoppolo and Andy Dalton. Unsurprisingly, the only quarterback throwing shorter passes than Carr is Teddy Bridgewater.
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A young Oakland secondary has benefited from the arrival of Lamarcus Joyner at slot cornerback, although it would have been fun to see a full season from first-round pick Johnathan Abram, who went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener. Both Joyner and Daryl Worley are going to be used in hybrid roles around the defense, although Joyner’s history with the Rams suggests he’s best left in one spot, which was then free safety. I’d like to see this secondary with a more functional pass rush in front of them.
While the Raiders are just a half-game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West, Kansas City already comfortably beat Oakland and claimed the temporary tiebreaker between the two. The Chiefs are understandably favorites to win the division, and unless Patrick Mahomes is forced off the field for multiple weeks, you probably don’t need me to explain why.
The Raiders’ chances of sneaking in as a wild-card team likely depend upon whether they can foster a vicious atmosphere at home in what will be their final season by the Bay. They have road games against the Packers and Texans over the next two weeks, but five of their next seven games afterward are at home. All of those matchups — the Lions, Chargers, Bengals, Titans and Jaguars — are theoretically winnable. If they win four of those five to get to seven wins, the Raiders would likely just need to win two of their six remaining road games to make it to the postseason at 9-7.