The Daily Briefing Monday, November 12, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
If The Season Ended Today in the AFC:
Pittsburgh jumps New England after the Patriots fail to show up in Nashville. That would be huge if it stands up. The last time the Patriots did not get a bye and appeared on Wild Card weekend (to lose at home to Baltimore) was 2009.
Put another way, since the 2006 season, the Patriots have played 16 postseason games in Foxborough, two on the road and five neutral site Super Bowls. They lost both of the road games – to Peyton Manning-QB’d Broncos teams in Denver. If the Steelers can stay ahead of New England, the Patriots path to the Super Bowl would be something like home against the second Wild Card team (more on that in a moment), Pittsburgh and Kansas City (assuming Patrick Mahomes can win a home playoff game for Andy Reid which Alex Smith could not).
And as for the second Wild Card team, how can it be possible that the Bengals are still north of the playoff line? That may be the case at the moment, but Tennessee and Indianapolis (a newcomer to If The Season Ended Today this week) would seem to have more of a pulse.
Kansas City West 9-1 3-0 7-1
Pittsburgh North 6-2-1 3-1-1 3-2-1
New England East 7-3 2-0 5-2
Houston South 6-3 2-1 5-2
LA Chargers WC 7-2 2-1 5-1
Cincinnati WC 5-4 1-1 3-2
Tennessee 5-4 2-0 3-4
Miami 5-5 2-1 4-3
Baltimore 4-5 1-3 4-3
Indianapolis 4-5 1-1 3-4
And we might as well do the NFC, since tonight’s game between the Giants and 49ers is irrelevant. In the NFC in Week 10, all four division leaders won, but the Wild Card situation tightened with losses by Carolina, Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta and wins by two of the NFL’s biggest brands, Green Bay and Dallas. We note that either Chicago or Minnesota should pick up a 4th loss Sunday night at Soldier Field.
NFC Div Conf
Los Angeles Rams West 9-1 4-0 6-1
New Orleans South 8-1 1-1 5-1
Chicago North 6-3 1-1 4-1
Washington East 6-3 2-0 6-2
Carolina WC 6-3 1-1 4-2
Minnesota WC 5-3-1 1-0-1 4-2-1
Green Bay 4-4-1 1-1-1 2-3-1
Atlanta 4-5 2-1 4-2
Seattle 4-5 1-2 3-3
Dallas 4-5 2-1 3-3
Philadelphia 4-5 1-1 2-4
– – –
Pittsburgh – win, 6 straight
Chargers – win, 6 straight
Houston – bye, 6 straight
The Watt family of TJ, Derek and JJ has still not lost a game since September.
After two sacks on Sunday, KHALIL MACK has seven sacks in seven games.
Out in Oakland, the Raiders as a team have seven sacks in nine games.
The Packers are the first team looking in for the NFC playoffs at the moment – and in order to make a jump they have to play better on the road. Rob Demovsky on two critical games coming up next:
Unbeaten at home (with a tie). Winless on the road.
That’s not exactly the formula the Green Bay Packers like to follow.
But perhaps the plan they used Sunday to beat the Miami Dolphins — a whole lot of speedy running back Aaron Jones — will be the one they take with them when they hop on a plane to Seattle almost exactly 48 hours after they wrapped up their 31-12 victory at Lambeau Field.
“We’re pretty tough to beat at home right now, I think,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “And as the weather continues to turn in our favor, meaning the colder the better, I like our chances at home, but we’ve got to win some road games or we’re going to be at home in January — for good.”
For years, Rodgers has said his goal is to go 8-0 at home and at least split on the road to go 12-4. Instead, the Packers are 4-0-1 at Lambeau and 0-4 away from it. And their next two games are Thursday at Seattle, where they’re 1-4 since CenturyLink Field opened in 2002; and at Minnesota, where they’re 0-2 since U.S. Bank Stadium debuted in 2016.
If they lose both, they’ll have to win their final five games just to finish 9-6-1, which might not be good enough for a playoff spot.
Jones isn’t going to run for 145 yards every game like he did against the Dolphins, and Davante Adams isn’t going to catch two touchdowns every game like he did. But if the Packers can continue to play off each other like they did against Miami, then maybe the playoffs aren’t out of the question.
The Vikings think they have bettered themselves by taking a castoff Lions running back. Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:
Ameer Abdullah chipped away at emptying the two large boxes situated in front of his locker Monday afternoon, unpacking items from his old life while getting set up in his new one.
In between practice and meetings, several players stopped by to strike up a conversation with their newest teammate, from backup quarterback Trevor Siemian to defensive end Stephen Weatherly, both located within an earshot of the running back’s locker.
Abdullah was cut by the Detroit Lions last Tuesday, the team that spent a second-round pick to draft him in 2015. The following afternoon, the running back found out he was heading to a division rival after being claimed by the Minnesota Vikings.
While the rest of his new teammates found time to unwind during the Vikings’ Week 10 bye, Abdullah was in the process of transitioning to his new life. The whirlwind finally started to subside at the start of the week as Minnesota began preparations for its Sunday night showdown in Chicago.
“I try not to get surprised by anything because that’s what life is about,” Abdullah said. “Life is a process. It’s always going to change. You can wake up one day and be healthy, wake up the next day and not be healthy. I think that’s what I really love about life — the unpredictability about it. It really challenges you. Challenges you to bring the same attitude each and every day, to live with integrity and never be divided. That’s what this process has taught me and I love it. It’s like a new beginning for me and I’m excited.”
Abdullah was the leading rusher for Jim Caldwell’s Lions in 2017. But with the arrival of rookie RB KERRYON JOHNSON, he only had three touches all year before he was cut last week.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com on the buzzards circling in the smoky Santa Clara sky tonight.
Eli Manning has done it before. He has shut out the noise, defied the doubters and accomplished the improbable. He has two blingy rings and a pair of Super Bowl MVP trophies in his closet as proof. The New York Giants quarterback may one day add one of those gold jackets awarded to Hall of Famers to that wardrobe.
Manning and the Giants have been on a wild ride filled with some really high highs and some ugly lows that appears to be nearing its conclusion. Manning is currently stuck in one of those downturns, with this one having stretched over several years. He has eight touchdown passes in 315 pass attempts in eight games this season as the Giants (1-7) are again struggling to score points.
At 37 years old, Manning is running out of time to turn it around. Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers could be make or break, his last chance to make one of those thread-the-needle throws down the sideline (See: Mario Manningham) or miracle heaves (See: David Tyree). If there is one more football miracle left in Manning, the time is now.
The situation: Manning needs to perform well or there is no guarantee there will be another start. This for a man who has started 222 of the team’s past 223 games, with the only break being a coach’s decision in favor of Geno Smith. That was last year when the Manning era appeared as if it were coming to a close.
The Giants are pretty much back in the same spot one year later. Manning is struggling behind a bad offensive line. His immobility and deteriorating skills behind that group form a toxic mix. Manning has been pressured on 30 percent of his dropbacks this year, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He’s been sacked on 9 percent of those plays and averaged 1.03 yards on the 109 dropbacks he was pressured. Manning has the same number of passing touchdowns under pressure as star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr: One.
It’s this and more that has the new coach, Pat Shurmur, only guaranteeing that Manning would start this week against San Francisco. Clearly change could be on the horizon.
“I spoke to Eli a couple times this weekend, and I explained to Eli that he’s going to start Monday,” Shurmur answered last week when asked if Manning would definitely be the starter the remainder of the season. “I also explained to Eli that everybody needs to play better, and as we go through this, it’s important that we’re not ‘almost’ in these games; we do what we have to do to get it over the top and win football games. We’ll just take it from there. But I spoke to the team about that, and then I also spoke to Eli about that specifically.”
The options: The Giants want to get a look at fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta and maybe even the mysterious veteran Alex Tanney this year. Their actions — trading two defensive starters in exchange for draft capital — indicate they’re in rebuild mode. They would benefit from having game tape on their other quarterbacks going into a crucial offseason that will include seriously addressing the position.
Tanney appears to be the in-game option. He’s served as the backup for every game this season with Lauletta inactive. That’s not likely to change on Monday night. Manning worked with the first-team offense at practice throughout this week. Tanney was next in line while Lauletta’s primary responsibility was the scout team.
If the Giants’ offense looks incompetent in the first half against the 49ers or the score is lopsided either way late in the contest, don’t be surprised to see Tanney. Or if Manning gets injured. Tanney is on the roster for these reasons.
“He’s a fast thinker, he’s got a great demeanor,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said of his backup quarterback. “He hasn’t done it like some of the other guys have done around here, but he seems like a guy that can go in and play without a lot of reps and be on point. He’s shown that in practice, and he’s got some experience.”
Well, Tanney’s one game of experience is at least more than Lauletta, a rookie out of Richmond who played in the Football Subdivision last year. Lauletta was arrested last week for various motor vehicle and related disorderly person offenses. He was late to work and admittedly showed a lack of judgment. He was remorseful for his actions, but the Giants weren’t happy with the incident, especially his decision-making — which is a crucial skill for a quarterback. If they were going to contemplate making Lauletta the starter during the bye week — Shurmur had left the possibility open several days earlier — that was squashed by the incident.
It still shouldn’t affect Lauletta much moving forward. If the Giants were to bench Manning and had a full week to prepare, Lauletta would likely get the start. The Giants are high on the rookie because of his instincts and the belief that he has that “it” factor. If he does enter the lineup, it would be with an eye on the future and providing him game experience and the opportunity to learn.
The expectations on Lauletta, however, should be realistic. He would be a fourth-round rookie playing behind a shaky offensive line. That rarely equals instant success.
A note from Scott Kacsmar:
This is the highest scoring season in NFL history, yet the Eagles have scored more than 24 points once.
This from the DB
GAMES SCORING MORE THAN 25 POINTS
2017 (16 games) 2018 (9 games)
Eagles 12 1
Colts 2 5
Can anyone identify a possible cause?
Peter King has the Saints at or near the top of his personal list of the best teams:
There isn’t a better team than New Orleans right now. This is easily the Saints’ best team since the 2009 Super Bowl champion. That year, the Saints won their first 13 games and scored 35 or more points in seven of them. This year, the Saints have won eight of their first nine and eclipsed 35 points five times. Stunningly, Drew Brees seems significantly better. Think how great Brees was in the Saints’ Super Bowl run. This year, he’s 7 percent more accurate, has a passer rating 14 points higher, and with seven games left might be in the driver’s seat for his first MVP award. I think he’s got a better back, Alvin Kamara, than he had in 2009, and a better and more explosive receiver in Mike Thomas than the Saints had in 2009. Plus, the marriage between Brees and Sean Payton is so strong. Payton knows what to call. Brees knows what to ask for during the week. As Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels can finish each other’s sentences, so too can Brees anticipate Payton’s play calls and moods.
The real difference, though, is that the Saints finally are stout up front on defense. They’re almost a yard better against the run than in 2009 (2018: 3.7 yards per carry; 2009: 4.5 yards), and if you’ve got the opposition in second-and-eight far more than second-and-four, it sets the stage for the kind of aggressive defense that coordinator Dennis Allen likes to use.
With 4-5 Philadelphia coming to New Orleans this week and prepping its final Hail Mary for the 2018 playoffs, Payton won’t have to worry about his team sleeping on the Eagles. And then the Saints just have to hope that Kansas City can beat the Rams and give New Orleans some breathing room for NFC home-field.
– – –
With WR DEZ BRYANT done before he played a game, the Saints have turned to WR BRANDON MARSHALL to play the role once filled by TED GINN, Jr.
Veteran WR Brandon Marshall is signing a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, per source. In his 13-year NFL career, Marshall never has played in a playoff game; his chance now awaits.
The Buccaneers gained more than 500 yards on Sunday – and scored three lousy points. It boggles the mind.
This from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Buccaneers are threatening an old and ugly NFL record.
Tampa Bay is -19 in turnover margin this season, which is not only the worst in the NFL but on pace for the worst in NFL history. If the Buccaneers continue their current pace through 16 games, they’ll finish with a turnover margin of -34. The all-time record is -30, set by the Steelers in 1965.
“Well, turnovers are killing us right now,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “We’re minus-19, we’re last in the league, 13 in the last four games, 13 turnovers and no takeaways. That’s by far the number-one thing that’s hurting our team. [We] have talked about it many times – every turnover has its own story. If there was one thing to it, it would be easy to fix. As a team, we’re turning it over too much and not getting any takeaways on the other side.”
The Buccaneers’ turnover differential is almost entirely attributable to interceptions: Their offense has thrown 19 interceptions, while their defense has only intercepted one pass all season. Fumbles have been close to a wash, with their offense losing six fumbles and their defense recovering five.
However, with Ryan Fitzpatrick remaining the starting quarterback, the Buccaneers are unlikely to break the record. Fitzpatrick has thrown interceptions on 4 percent of his passes this season. Jameis Winston has thrown interceptions on 7 percent of his passes this season. So the Bucs would be more likely to keep the interceptions going if Winston were the starter. (Winston also fumbles more often than Fitzpatrick.)
Turnovers are often inconsistent, and the Bucs are more likely to regress toward the mean for the rest of the season than they are to continue losing the turnover margin at a pace of -2 a game. But if they do keep this pace, they’ll be the worst team ever at giveaways and takeaways.
The DB would point out that the Buccaneers are also on their way to set a more positive record.
The NFL record for passing yards in a season is 5,444 by the 2013 Peyton Manning Broncos. The 2018 Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jameis Winston Buccaneers have thrown for 3,251 yards through 9 games which is a pace for 5,780. That’s 336 yards ahead of the record. Heck, the Buccaneers are on a pace to challenge it at the 15-game mark.
The Buccaneers are averaging 361 pass yards per game. They would need to average only 313 in the final seven contests to surpass the Broncos mark.
As far as other contenders this year, no one is within 60 yards per game of the Buccaneers.
And how about this – at the nine-game mark, RYAN FITZPATRICK has already tied the NFL record for 400-yard passing games with his 406-yard performance yesterday:
MOST 400-YARD PASSING GAMES IN A SEASON
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2018 TAM 4
Peyton Manning 2013 DEN 4
Dan Marino* 1984 MIA 4
And while the Buccaneers have played nine games, Fitzpatrick has only started six and completed five.
He is historically productive, alongside Hall of Famers, ready to shatter their records – and yet the media in Tampa Bay (or at least Martin Fennelly writing in the Tampa Bay Times) is calling for his benching, even as Dirk Koetter sticks with him:
Move along. Nothing to see here.
Here at the booby hatch, the Bucs are so far gone that they’re going back to Ryan Fitzpatrick this Sunday in New York.
Who can blame them?
That fourth win is so close they can taste it.
For a moment Sunday, I thought the Bucs’ 16-3 loss to Washington had served the greater good, ending all delusions and what ifs.
It was time to put Jameis Winston, and all his faults, back in and leave him there, starting this Sunday at the Giants. It was time to nail-gun Winston to the starting job to finish this lost season.
Someone forgot to tell the Bucs.
“We’re going to with Fitz this week, that’s how it’s going to be,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “Until we change. A guy could get hurt at any time. I don’t know when. I just think (Fitzpatrick) still gives us the best opportunity right now.”
Got all that?
There is no good reason to keep playing Fitzpatrick, who threw for 400 yards Sunday but who blew up just the same, with two bad interceptions and a fumble. Winston could throw two picks and fumble in his sleep. But what was this season all about, anyway?
Due diligence on the quarterback.
Instead, the Bucs are performing due diligence on … the kicker.
If there’s a six percent chance of Winston catching fire, I’d take it. It beats zero percent chance of Fitzpatrick being the long-term answer here. Really, what good does he do you next season?
This is pointless, directionless.
In other words, it’s the Bucs.
Does winning seven games instead of six, or six instead of five, really matter that much?
It does tell you something: What do the Bucs really think of Winston if they won’t put him back in after Sunday, when Fitz faltered badly, when the team added a dubious mark to its history book, the first NFL team to have at least 500 yards of offense and score three points or less?
In Koetter’s defense, no man should be asked to go down with the ship without having his hands on deck. It’s not a coach’s job to think about the long-term future, especially if he has none.
It has been incumbent on Bucs GM Jason Licht to decide what’s best for this franchise’s future, but Licht passed on that decision a while back, which should mean he isn’t at all part of the future here — and that was before he sat on his hands at the trade deadline.
Put Winston back in, admit you swallowed the bait that is Fitzpatrick, not once, but twice.
The Bucs already don’t have anything to play for the rest of the season. I blame the win over the Browns, that fool’s gold. This team should have been circling who to keep (like Evans, Godwin, Howard, Marpet, Alexander, David) and dumping the rest at the trade deadline. And it didn’t.
Sunday could have been a cleansing moment, but it wasn’t.
Aren’t there 21 million reasons not to play Winston? This from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com last June:
Here’s the risk for the Bucs, if they choose to kick the can until after the 2018 season and to decide on whether to keep Winston before his $20.9 million base salary for 2019 becomes fully guaranteed in March. Because the money is guaranteed for injury in 2018, and because the guarantees applicable to the fifth-year option don’t evaporate due to a suspension, the Bucs will be on the hook for the full $20.9 million if Winston suffers an injury during the 2018 season that keeps him from passing a physical before the amount becomes fully guaranteed in March.
So maybe the highest level of Buccaneers management has decided they don’t want Winston around in 2019, that he is too toxic.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Even before the fires made L.A. smoky, the Rams were planning on skipping town this week. Peter King:
The Rams are scheduled to work in Colorado Springs, at altitude, for a week beginning Tuesday, because Mexico City is 1.3 miles above sea level. The Chiefs studied that and chose to stay in Kansas City for the week before making the 3.5-hour flight Sunday. Coach Andy Reid told me, “The elevation’s the elevation. I’m sure the Rams are gonna work at elevation. We’re not. I don’t think it becomes an issue. We did our homework on that this past offseason. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the parking lot of the CVS.”
The over-under for the big game opened at 64 which may be the highest ever, but is certainly the highest since at least 1986.
– – –
One Rams who won’t be going to Mexico City is WR COOPER KUPP. Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com:
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is out for the season after tearing his ACL during Sunday’s 36-31 win over the Seattle Seahawks, coach Sean McVay confirmed Monday.
Kupp suffered the injury in the fourth quarter on a play away from the ball. He was running a route, jostled a bit with the defender, then went to the ground and grabbed his knee. Kupp walked off the field with assistance from the training staff.
“It’s a huge loss for our football team, he’s such an important part of what we do and a great football player, a great person, and it’s tough, but fortunately we’ve got guys that are ready to step up,” McVay said.
Robert Woods is expected to play a larger role in the slot and Josh Reynolds is expected to return to the starting lineup. He started in place of Kupp when he was sidelined because of the earlier knee sprain.
If the idea was to tear down the Raiders in order to build them up, the tear down part of it has gone remarkably well. Barry Petchesky in Deadspin:
After a 20-6 loss to the Chargers, in a performance dispirited even for the Raiders, head coach Jon Gruden provided the quote that ought to be slapped onto the season-in-review DVDs, before those DVDs are immediately buried in a depleted copper mine, the mine entrance sealed off with concrete and the site irradiated from space:
“This will be a year that a lot of us will never forget,” Gruden said. “It’s painful. It is hard. It will be hard to sleep again, hard to get up in the morning.”
The 2018 Oakland Raiders: It will be hard to sleep again.
There was more to the quote, some typical coachspeak pap about how these tough times will fuel the mental toughness that this franchise will rely upon to turn things around, but this is my blog, and the Raiders are just so downright awful that I deem it more spiritually accurate to cut the quote off there, before any optimism creeps in.
The Raiders are 1-8. They have not scored a touchdown in their last nine quarters. They have been outscored 75-9 over that stretch, by three teams with a combined record under .500. They were booed off the field by their home fans, who, come 2020, won’t be their home fans any more. Any optimism is misplaced.
The quarterback appears broken. Derek Carr called a failed jet sweep on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the game’s first drive “gut-wrenching,” and broke it down with the tragic, weary hopelessness of someone stuck in a Gogol story:
“We’ve seen multiple teams score on that play,” Carr said. “They had trouble at first lining up to it, just like we saw on film. And as I’m sitting there, I’m like, ‘This is going to walk in.’ And then it didn’t.”
Bookending that crusher was Carr firing the football into the turf on a must-complete fourth-quarter fourth down:
And in between?
“We had no clue what we were doing,” Carr said. “Speaking for myself, I had no idea what I was getting into. You just hope that it’s not like this forever.”
The good news is that it’s not going to be like this forever, not for anyone wearing the silver and black now. This is a hell from which there is an escape. Khalil Mack escaped the Raiders by being too talented. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie escaped the Raiders by quitting football forever. Bruce Irvin, released by Oakland and signed by an actual good team, celebrating by yelling at the top of his lungs, “I’m free! I’m free!”
You see, there are ways out.
Here is where I’d normally say something encouraging, like things will get better because they cannot get worse, but that’s not actually true for Oakland fans. For them, it will get worse: The team is leaving. If it makes the most of its myriad high draft picks and becomes a contender again, it will do so in another city. This is a black hole of misery and the event horizon has been crossed. It does not get any better from here; this is it, just one kick in the dick after another, until the end of all things.
And, at the death of the Oakland Raiders, there will still be Gruden.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Following the victory in Oakland, Andrew Siciliano reminds us:
Chargers have now won 13 of their last 15 regular season games dating back to last November.
– – –
QB PHILIP RIVERS speaks with Peter King about his commute:
On his 160-mile round-trip from home in San Diego to the Charger practice facility in Orange County, in a van outfitted with a video system so he wouldn’t have wasted time on his commute: “I did some research on it. I drove it a few times. I really wanted to exhaust it, not just make a hasty decision. It has … exceeded expectations, how smooth it’s worked out. [The van] is an extended quarterback room. Because 5 to 6:30 p.m., whatever it is, I’d be sitting in that QB room. Now it’s the same, I just happen to be on the I-5 South. Get home about the same time. I’ve been able to keep my same work routine. I used to get in at 6 a.m. Now I leave at 6 a.m. because I’m getting in the quarterback room in my driveway. If I was in year seven or eight, would we have done it this way? Probably not. But when you spent 14 years in a community and your family and your children are a little older, it just makes sense. I’m thankful that it’s worked out the way it has.”
Peter King (and those he talks to) say that RB Le’VEON BELL will never get back the money he could have made in 2018 (this is presuming he does not show up by Tuesday at 4 p.m.)
This seems like a bad decision to me. There is this take out there that if Bell gets a contract with at least $45 million in guarantees that—because the Steelers’ last offer included a reported $30-million guaranteed—Bell would be justified in giving up this year’s money. Wrong. Most guaranteed money in Bell’s contract would likely be in the first two years of his next deal. Because a team is extremely unlikely to sign a guy to a gigantic contract and then cut him after one year, the guarantee is mostly a formality unless huge money is included in year three or after. So if Bell gets $45 million guaranteed and, say, $40 million is guaranteed in the first two years, did he really win by surrendering $14.5 million this year? Put another way: How much money could Bell have made in 2018, 2019 and 2020, which I would call his prime earning years (26, 27 and 28 years old)?
By not playing this year: Zero this year, plus about $45 million in his next two years. Total: $45 million, unless of course Bell were to find a desperate team with huge cap room (Jets? Colts?) to overpay for the player and the position.
By playing with the franchise tag, then becoming a free agent in 2019: $14.5 million this year, plus about $45 million in his next two years, assuming he would have exited this year healthy. (Which must be factored.) Total: $59.5 million.
Bell could argue that because he is the best receiving back in football, he should be paid like a receiver. Faulty. Average rushes per NFL game: 19.8. Average receptions: 5.0.
Even if he loses that argument, Bell would argue, I am sure, that by not getting beat up this year, he’ll be better positioned to make that money back in 2021 (at 29) and beyond. Maybe he will. And maybe in three years he’ll be able to say, “I told you so.” He’ll point to Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore as evidence that you can still play productively after 30. True, but those guys are playing, basically, for the minimum at 33 (Peterson) and 35 (Gore) this year. It’s a big gamble. And we haven’t even talked about the market for running backs. Should a team desperate for a great back pay one $18 million a year? Or just draft one? In 2017, the eventual NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara, was picked 67th overall, and the 2017 NFL rushing champ, Kareem Hunt, was picked 86th overall. So there’s a lot of gambling being done here.
I’m not optimistic for Bell. Someone who has experience in negotiating major NFL contracts, whose opinion I trust implicitly in contract matters, told me Sunday: “He can’t ever get back $14.5 million. We’re not talking a couple million. That’s some serious, life-changing money.”
And King sings the praises of Mike Tomlin:
Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh. On the occasion of Tomlin’s 200th game as Steelers head coach (regular and postseason games included) Thursday night, a 52-21 victory over Carolina, it is worth noting that:
• Tomlin is 6-2-1 while battling the ghost and weekly will-he-show-up-or-won’t-he distraction of Le’Veon Bell, and making sure it doesn’t disrupt his team. It hasn’t.
• Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season in his 11 full seasons, and Pittsburgh needs only two wins in the last seven games to ensure making that 12-for-12.
• The Steelers, of course, have had three coaches in the last 49 seasons. The winning percentages of each: Chuck Noll .572 (in 366 games), Bill Cowher .619 (in 261 games), Tomlin .656 (in 200 games).
• In regular-season games since 2016, only Bill Belichick has a better record than Tomlin. Belichick is 35-7 since opening day 2016. Tomlin is 30-10-1. Andy Reid is 31-11. No NFC coach has more than 26 wins in that span.
The DB is old enough to remember when the Colts offensive line couldn’t block anyone. This tweet from Mike Wells:
This eye-opening tweet is courtesy of @ESPNStatsInfo: Andrew Luck has gone 4 straight games without a sack, the longest streak by any starting QB in a season since Eli Manning in 2010 (5 straight)
I always found Matt Barkley to be an earnest team guy, not quite good enough to hang onto an NFL roster spot. And if he never has another day like Sunday—the 41-10 rout of the Jets that left him grinning from ear to ear 45 minutes after the game—they can never take away from him the fact that he started in a big-league game and won decisively under ridiculous circumstances.
Those circumstances: Barkley had been a Bill for only 11 days before Sunday, and hadn’t played in the league for almost two calendar years. “I knew that I can play in this league,” Barkley said. “I feel like I was made to play football and this was just an example of doing what I was made to do.”
Buffalo has its bye this week. There’s no reason to hurry Josh Allen back from his elbow injury in this lost (3-7) season. I’d see if Barkley has one more gem in him when the Bills return home in 13 days to play Jacksonville. Buffalo fans would shower love on Barkley if he starts.
Peter King on the Patriots’ loss:
Do not judge the wounded Patriots on this one week. It’s not odd for a Belichick disciple to beat the master at his own games, as I’ll show you. But the Tennessee rout is worrisome for New England because without Rob Gronkowski and without a strong running game, it can be grim. If Gronk stays wounded for a few more weeks, New England could suffer a pretty ignominious event, and that is losing the first-round bye that they’ve enjoyed for an NFL record eight straight Januaries.
I found it interesting that Tennessee didn’t just beat the Pats. They dominated them. Similar storylines of Belichick disciples who left the nest (after playing or coaching for him), and their first games coaching against him:
Oct. 11, 2009: Denver (and Josh McDaniels) 20, New England 17.
Sept. 23, 2018: Detroit (and Matt Patricia) 26, New England 10.
Nov. 11, 2018: Tennessee (and Mike Vrabel) 34, New England 10.
NEW YORK JETS
Rex Ryan is among the many ripping the Jets.
Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan is not impressed with what he’s seeing from the current crop of Jets.
Ryan, who was fired at the end of the 2014 season, said on ESPN he’s seen no signs of progress through four years of rebuilding. And Ryan said he’s been particularly unimpressed with the offensive staff’s work with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
“He’s supposed to get better and ascend, right? Who the hell’s coaching him? He’s not ascending,” Ryan said of Darnold. “And part of it is play calling.”
Ryan called the Johnson family that owns the Jets “unbelievable people” and said they were willing to be patient with coach Todd Bowles and General Manager Mike Maccagnan. But Ryan believes that patience has worn out.
“We all know he’s gone. Todd knows he’s gone. But so is the GM,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that in Sunday’s loss to the Bills, he saw only “one or two guys playing with any frickin’ fire.” And Ryan said this offseason he expects a total rebuild.
“They’re gonna blow it up,” Ryan said. “I hope they get it right.”
THIS AND THAT
Here is Peter King’s list. We can very much see DREW BREES getting a lifetime achievement MVP – not that he wouldn’t deserve it.
New leader in my MVP clubhouse after 10 weeks. The race as I see it:
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Last week: 2. On pace for a 37-touchdown, two-pick season, and for the best passer rating of all time (123.8), and for the most accurate (.773) season a passer has ever had. Put up 45 and 51 points the last two weeks against winning teams. Saints have won eight straight. I don’t demote Mahomes lightly. He could still win it, as others could too. But it’s beginning to look a lot like Brees’ first MVP year.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City. Last week: 1. A meh game in the 26-14 win over the Cards. Mahomes, in his 10th game, broke the Chiefs’ record for touchdown passes in a season. Might not be an exaggeration to say next week’s game against the Rams in Mexico could tilt the MVP race for good. A great game by Mahomes against the best team left on the Chiefs’ schedule will put him right back with Brees, 1 and 1a, for MVP.
3. Philip Rivers, QB, L.A. Chargers. Last week: 4. Joey Bosa hasn’t played a snap and the Chargers are 7-2. QB is the biggest reason.
4. Todd Gurley, RB, L.A. Rams. Last week: 3. He has a touchdown in 13 straight games. That seems good.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. Last week: Not ranked. MVPs won by the veterans on this list: Brees 0, Rivers 0, Roethlisberger 0. End of the schneid coming?
The Cowboys (and the Eagles) provided ratings gold for NBC on Sunday night compared to 2017. Of course, next week the year-to-year gain may go away because in Week 11 last year Sunday night also had Dallas and Philadelphia. Phillip Bupp of AwfulAnnouncing.com:
NFL ratings have increased nearly across the board over the 2018 season, and NBC’s Sunday Night Football package is no exception to the rule. Prior to Week 10, ratings have been up seven times over the past eight weeks. This week made it eight in nine, as the Veterans Day game between the Cowboys and Eagles saw double digit gains over 2017.
NBC Sports announced that the game drew a 13.3 overnight rating, up 16 percent over last year’s Week 10 game (Patriots-Broncos, which drew an 11.5). Considering the matchup, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The Cowboys are ratings gold, no matter how what their record may be. Combine their involvement with a matchup against the Eagles, a divisional rival and the reigning Super Bowl champions, and another strong overnight seemed to be in the cards.
The top 10 highest rated markets consisted of various Texas cities (and Albuquerque), Philadelphia, New Orleans, Washington DC, and a pair of Virginia markets in Richmond and Norfolk.
Next week, NBC has another rivalry game, featuring the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears in an NFC North clash. Originally, NBC was to broadcast Steelers-Jaguars, but the AFC playoff rematch got flexed out because of Jacksonville’s struggles this season. While the Vikings-Bears matchup will pit the top two teams in the NFC North against one another in a rivalry game, a ratings increase from Week 11 of 2017 could be difficult to imagine. Last year, NBC showed Eagles-Cowboys, and while that ended in a blowout win for the Eagles, it’s still the Cowboys and Eagles, and Sunday showed that matchup is a formidable foe to complete against.
QB TIER MOVEMENT
Mike Sando of ESPN.com does an annual ranking of QBs by Tiers. He gives us a midseason look at who is heading up and down:
Ten general managers, five head coaches, 10 coordinators, 10 senior personnel executives, five QB coaches and 10 other coaches/execs comprised the 50-man panel. I re-polled five voters in recent days to see which quarterbacks were rising, falling or simply the most interesting in their eyes. Results and insights follow, but first, a quick refresher on each tier.
Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. He expertly handles pure passing situations.
Tier 2: Can carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.
Tier 3: A legitimate starter but needs a heavier running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier.
Tier 4: Could be an unproven player with some upside or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup.
Tier 5: Should not start under any circumstances.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2018 Tier: 4
Projected 2019 Tier: 1-2
When I asked one QB Tiers voters to update his offseason ballot, he sent back a screenshot of our conversation from the summer.
“I need to reiterate,” this message from June emphasized, “I really wanted to make Mahomes a 2, but by criteria, he is a 4.”
The fourth tier has been reserved for quarterbacks who either shouldn’t be starting for a full season or haven’t played enough for anyone to realistically evaluate them. Mahomes had made only one start, so voters placed him into the fourth tier as a matter of procedure. I probably should have excluded him from the survey to avoid confusion, but we wanted to have every team in the league represented.
Some voters thought before the season that Mahomes would produce at a high level, but no one predicted he would have anything close to 29 touchdown passes, a 9.2-yard average per attempt, a 116.7 passer rating and 85.1 Total QBR through nine games. Even voters who loved Mahomes thought he might throw too many interceptions this season. One said he thought Kansas City would initially miss having steady veteran Alex Smith. Not the case, obviously.
“You always want to see more,” a voter said over the weekend, “but you go to his game at New England and you see more. You see him trading score for score with one of the greatest players to ever play. Not bad. He makes plays on schedule, makes plays off schedule, commands the offense. He just has to keep doing it, and he has to have the comeback wins.”
Mahomes led a comeback victory at Denver. He has played so well to this point that Kansas City hasn’t needed many comebacks.
“He is playing like a one,” another voter said. “I knew he was going to be great, but I didn’t know he was going to be this great this early. He is pretty special. I think he is Aaron Rodgers with a [warmer] personality. He makes the same throws. There are only a couple guys that can do it with accuracy and velocity from any arm slot.”
Just as there is the Sean McVay factor with Goff, there is the Andy Reid factor with Mahomes. And the Kareem Hunt factor, the Tyreek Hill factor, the Sammy Watkins factor, the Travis Kelce factor, etc.
“Reid’s offense is quarterback-friendly, and they get a good visual before letting it go,” another voter said. “When [Donovan] McNabb left him, McNabb all of a sudden couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL. You know what, though? You can go ahead and make Mahomes a one. I think he’s like [Brett] Favre. They have that mentality, the short memory. The other thing I really like about Mahomes — and obviously they are 8-1 [now 9-1], so that helps — the guy is having fun. The kid is spinning it all over the field, and he has a big smile on his face.”
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
2018 Tier: 3
Projected 2019 Tier: 2
Goff has picked up where he left off last season, which is what some QB Tiers voters wanted to see before pushing him into the second tier.
“I don’t want to compare him to Hall of Fame guys, but sometimes you see him Joe Montana-ish with his placement, accuracy and just putting the ball where it needs to go,” one evaluator said. “For the Rams, it is all tied in with the coach, the runner playing as well as he is playing and then having that accurate quarterback.”
Evaluating Goff as a rookie in 2016 required adjusting for a worst-case scenario in terms of all-around support. Evaluating Goff now requires adjusting for the perfect situation. How would he perform if everything around him were average? The Rams have no way of knowing, and no plans to find out, although rewarding quarterbacks with expensive second contracts is usually a sure way to find out, given the drain it puts on other resources.
For now, Goff will be making the best of a great situation.
“Their run game ties to their pass game, so when he is making these throws, they are very accurate, but he is getting them with some big windows because of that run game,” another voter said.
All agreed that next frontier for Goff is demonstrating over time an ability to thrive on third down and when the Rams are trailing.
“It is a perfect marriage between quarterback and playcaller,” another voter said. “That is the most important relationship in any NFL building. It is even more powerful when the playcaller is the head coach. You can put Goff as a solid two. I have not seen enough come-from-behind work. It is a process. You work on that area, you have a chance to become a one.”
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
2018 Tier: bottom of 2
Projected 2019 Tier: middle of 2
Voters placed Watson at the very bottom of the second tier heading into the season (he and Jimmy Garoppolo got more votes in the second tier than any other, but their overall averages were more in line with upper reaches of the third tier).
Voters liked what they saw from Watson as a rookie, but they wanted to see how he bounced back from a torn ACL. They weren’t sure he could hold up for a full season while playing behind a weak offensive line and inviting punishment with his playing style.
Some also thought Watson’s interceptions might spike based on how willingly he threw passes into coverage. Watson’s interception rate has actually fallen this season.
“The guy is just a playmaker,” an evaluator who placed Watson in the second tier said. “He can look bad, and then when they need a play made, he will make one. He is dangerous out of the pocket — he is looking to throw, not run, and he is accurate when he is outside the pocket. The problem is he takes too many hits. He could wear down.”
Watson’s numbers through nine games this season are in line with his numbers in the six-plus games he played last season. His completion percentage is a little higher. His yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating are about the same. His adjusted net yards per attempt is identical. His QBR is lower because he has added less value as a rusher while taking costlier sacks.
Another voter placed Watson in the fourth tier heading into the season not as a slight, but because he didn’t think there was enough information. This voter also stressed after watching Watson in multiple games that the quarterback gets hit too frequently. ESPN charting shows Watson’s contact rate above 20 percent, behind only Josh Allen and Marcus Mariota this season. Those QBs have already missed time.
“Can Watson win playing like that? [Cam] Newton proves he can, if he can hold up,” this voter said. “You can go back to Steve Young or Brett Favre and a bunch of guys who do a lot of things off-schedule early in their careers. They don’t yet have an appreciation for timing and how fast the NFL defenders are.”
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
2018 Tier: 3
Projected 2019 Tier: 3
Two of the five voters moved up Dalton one tier. One of those voters elevated him into the second. The other moved him from the fourth into the third.
There has been no fundamental shift in how coaches and evaluators view Dalton, however. Voters either think he belongs in the lower second or upper third tier as a quarterback who produces at a second-tier level when the supporting cast around him is strong enough.
“They have lost games because of their defense, not because of him,” one voter said before the Bengals’ 51-14 defeat Sunday. “He is seeing things, trusting and delivering it pretty accurately. Now we are in November, and the weather is going to change. If he finishes as a two, they will go to the playoffs. If he reverts to a three, they will not.”
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 Tier: 3
Projected 2019 Tier: 3-4
All five voters dropped Winston into the fourth tier, which means they see him as someone best suited as a backup. The Buccaneers agreed when they benched Winston.
“He loves to throw it to the other team,” one voter said. “That doesn’t work in this league at any level. He is obviously frustrating his head coach.”
Winston’s 10 interceptions on 148 attempts this season equates to a 6.8 interception rate. That is the highest single-season rate for a player with at least 148 attempts since Gus Frerotte had 12 picks on 167 attempts (7.2 percent) in 2007.
“From the crab-legs incident in college to the Uber incident in the NFL, can he come back from that?” another voter said. “He should sign with someone like Kansas City. Come be Mahomes’ backup and see if Andy Reid can revive him and then trade him for a pick.”
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
2018 Tier: 3
Projected 2019 Tier: 3
Three of the five voters dropped Prescott by one tier, but their new votes produced an average basically in line with the average for the full contingent of 50 voters this past summer.
“He is playing like a four,” one of the voters said. “I’ve studied him, and he is not accurate enough from the pocket. He needs play-action throws with big windows. The offense right now doesn’t fit him. They are trying to make him a pure pocket passer.”
Prescott reached the season’s midpoint with a QBR just below 50, which represents average.
“Is it him or having no weapons?” another voter asked. “He has no center, he lost his already struggling rookie guard and their weapons were so bad, they gave up a first-round pick for Amari Cooper.”
I asked this voter whether the criticisms about accuracy from the pocket were fair.
“Yes, I think that’s fair, so probably off this year, he is a three,” this voter said. “I don’t think he can ever become a one, but I think he can be a two.”
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
2018 Tier: 2
Projected 2019 Tier: 3, with a chance to go lower
Two years ago, when a sizable chunk of voters saw Carr as a talented young player with a shot at ascending toward the top tier, a small group of detractors steadfastly contended he would always wilt under pressure. That was the knock on Carr coming out of college: He wouldn’t stand tough in the pocket against the rush, some said — and that is the knock on him now. One voter said he saw Carr “flinching” late in a recent game against Indianapolis.
“He gets the ball with three minutes left [against Indy] and goes checkdown, checkdown, checkdown, and then on fourth down, he throws a corner route 8 yards out of bounds,” a different voter said. “There are a lot of ways to lead as a quarterback, and you don’t have to be vocal. Part of it is the linemen see the physical toughness in the quarterback and how he responds. Derek Carr can throw the ball as pretty as anyone, but so could Jeff George.”
There are, of course, huge mitigating factors. Carr is adjusting to a new offensive scheme without anything close to the supporting casts that have helped Goff and Mahomes light up scoreboards. Carr’s head coach has dismantled the roster. His aging offensive line has fallen apart. Running back Marshawn Lynch is out. The Raiders’ defense is terrible.
“No one says it’s easy to play for Jon Gruden, including the guys who played for him,” another voter said. “You can plausibly understand where this young man is probably being handled in a more strict and directive way. It takes some adjustment.”
This voter watched the end of the Indy game and wasn’t as alarmed as some others.
“I got to look at that San Francisco game last week,” this voter said. “Carr is climbing the pocket and getting immediately sacked. When the tackle is beat cleanly and you step up and your guards get driven back and the world closes in on you and you are pinched like a piece of ham in a sandwich, I’m pretty sure about 29 of 32 quarterbacks go down.”
One of the five voters initially left Carr in the second tier.
“I might be late to react,” he explained, “but a guy rarely falls from grace like that without some sort of external catastrophe.”
This voter then called back after watching Carr throw the ball away on fourth down in the late going against Indy. It was enough for him to drop Carr into the third tier for now.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
2018 Tier: 3
Projected 2019 Tier: 4
Four of the five voters dropped Manning by one tier. Their overall criticisms were not as pointed as I was anticipating.
“I’ve seen him throw some go routes where you are like, ‘Damn, that is like the old Eli, not Old Eli,'” this voter said. “I do think he needs to be replaced there, but I think he can be a three on another team.”
Manning’s 39.8 QBR is his lowest through eight games since 2006, the first year QBR data was available. His yards per attempt (7.6) is his highest through eight games since 2012. His passes have gained more than 15 yards on 15.9 percent of attempts, his highest eight-game rate since 2011. But his 2.5 percent rate of touchdowns is by far his lowest.
“He is playing like a four right now,” another voter said. “I am not as down on him as some. I think it is a combination of a lot of things. The protection is awful, and it is showing up. Eli will never be a two again, but I do think he can be a three, and I think you can still win with him. I was watching their offense the other day and a lot of their problems are up front.”