AROUND THE NFL

If your default in your weekly picking contest is to pick the home team, you’re probably having a bad year (at least the DB is).  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Something strange is going on in the NFL this season: There’s a road-field advantage.

 

Through Sunday’s games, road teams are 63-56-1 this season, according to Judy Battista of the NFL. That’s the most road wins through Week Eight in NFL history. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, there’s never been a season in which road teams won more games than home teams.

 

What can explain that? It could just be random variation, which will correct itself in the long run. It also could be that crowd noise is less of an advantage as attendance declines along the NFL, or that teams are getting better at adjusting their travel plans so that the road is becoming an easier place to play.

 

Among the teams that have played better on the road than at home: The Bills are 3-0 on the road and 2-2 at home, the Browns are 2-2 on the road and 0-3 at home, the Chiefs are 4-0 on the road and 1-3 at home, the Seahawks are 4-0 on the road and 2-2 at home and the Panthers are 3-1 on the road and 1-2 at home.

 

Last season road teams went 101-153-2.

 

The possible reasons cited above by Smith would seem to be things that would have taken effect gradually.  And last year was 60.2% home teams. 

 

And as to lower attendance – we would not that the Bills, Browns, Chiefs and Seahawks  cited above for bad home records are all noted for the continued fervor of their home crowd.

– – –

If The Season Ended Today

 

In the AFC, the Colts move up from 4th to 2nd as the Chiefs go down to Green Bay.  And all four AFC South teams are in the top 8.

 

1          New England  East     8-0       1          6-0      

2          Indianapolis     South   5-2       1          3-2      

3          Baltimore         North   5-2       1          3-2

4          Kansas City     West    5-3       1          4-2      

5          Buffalo            WC      5-2       2          4-1

6          Houston           WC      5-3      2          4-1      

8          Jacksonville                4-4       3          4-2

9          Tennessee                  4-4       4          2-4

 

In the NFC

 

                                               Overall        Div           Conf

1          San Francisco   West     7-0                1          4-0

2          New Orleans     South    7-1                1          5-1

3          Green Bay        North    7-1               1           4-1

4          Dallas                East      4-3                1          3-2

5          Seattle               WC       6-2                2          3-1      

6          Minnesota         WC       6-2                2          5-2

8          LA Rams                        5-3                3          3-3

7          Carolina                          4-3                2          2-3      

 

– – –

Will Brinson of CBS Sports.com has a list of the first 10 picks of the 2019 draft.  The original tweet has emojis which don’t translate here.  We will try to convey:

 

 

Will Brinson

@WillBrinson

The 2015 NFL Draft top 10 turned out to be a real hot mess…

 

Jameis Winston             grimacing face

Marcus Mariota              sad face

Dante Fowler 🤝              shaking hands (trade)

Amari Cooper 🤝             shaking hands (trade)

Brandon Scherff             angel

Leonard Williams           shaking hands (trade)

Kevin White                   

Vic Beasley                     face with monocle (juries still out?)

Ereck Flowers                 

Todd Gurley –                  money bag, face with gauze around head

 

As to Scherff – Brinson explains –

 

@WillBrinson

That is not an insulting emoji for Scherff btw. More of a “the only good player was drafted by the Redskins and hasn’t been healthy the last two years” emoji.

 

It goes further tweets Kimberley Jones:

 

@KimJonesSports

Neither #NYJ nor #NYG have any draft picks remaining on their roster from 2015 draft class.

 

But one of Brinson’s followers has kudos for the Vikings:

 

@ClydeTheGlide28

Replying to

@WillBrinson

 

Meanwhile Vikings drafted

 

Trae Wayne’s

Eric Kendrick

Danielle Hunter

Stefon Diggs

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Peter King analyzes the thought process of Coach Matt Nagy:

 

Game: Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago, Sunday.

 

Situation: Fourth quarter, Chargers ahead 17-16. After a Mitchell Trubisky 11-yard scramble gave the Bears a first down at the Chargers’ 21-yard line, 43 seconds remained, and Chicago had one timeout left.

 

The decision: Instead of trying to get the ball closer to the goal line with a sideline pass to stop the clock, or a pass inbounds with plenty of time to stop the clock before a field-goal attempt, or instead of handing it to rookie back David Montgomery after he’d rushed for a career-high 135 yards on the day, Bears coach Matt Nagy called for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to kneel on first down, losing a yard. On second-and-11 at the Chargers’ 22, Nagy chose to let the clock run down to four seconds.

 

The thought process: Nagy, post-game, said he had “zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you’re running the football so you lose three, four yards … That wasn’t even in our processes … We were in field-goal range before the scramble and then we got the scramble so that didn’t even cross my mind … Throw the football? Throw the football right then and there? What happens if you lose the ball? … Zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football.” Obviously, Nagy is not going to say he didn’t trust Trubisky to get 10 or 15 extra yards safely there, but I can name 15 coaches in the league who trust their quarterbacks enough to let him try to get the ball closer, or to score a touchdown.

 

The analytics: PFF analyst Eric Eager said: “An additional five yards leads to, on average, five percentage points in favor of making the kick and hence an additional five percentage points in favor of winning the football game outright. While there is always a chance of a turnover or a loss of yards, the chances the Chargers defense would either play conservatively so as not to give up a chunk play, or be willing to let the Bears score so that they could get the ball back with enough time to score themselves were probably higher. Given how close the field goal was to slipping through the left upright, every yard counted, and the Bears mistakenly decided to surrender them.”

 

The result: Eddy Piniero kicked the 41-yard field-goal attempt barely wide left. The Chargers won, 17-16, dropping the Bears to 3-4, three-and-a-half games out of first place in the NFC North with nine games to play.

 

Nagy joins a long list of coaches the DB has seen who have lost after they sit on FG tires in the 40s to win the game rather than get closer.  Tony Dungy and Marty Schottenheimer are two we remember, but there have been others.  Under ordinary conditions a FG try of exactly 40 yards is good 85% of the time in the last decade.

 

If you can get that to 35 yards?  91%.

 

But that is a measurement of all FG tries.  We would think that if you factor in the pressure of a game-winner, add in the relative inexperience of Piniero and throw in the fact that it was an outdoor kick – we’re probably down to about 75%.

 

The DB would never think our work is done until we are inside the PAT distance of 33, maybe closer.

 

But Peter King offers a defense:

 

Can we admit that Matt Nagy is just a scared coach? In his presser, he admitted that he was not aggressive because he was scared of a fumble, scared of losing yards, scared of an interception, scared of a sack. I think it is time for us Bears fans to admit he just isn’t cut out to be a head coach in the current NFL, where aggression wins and you have enough confidence to act like mistakes never happened. Also, it is more obvious than ever that Andy Reid is a masterful coach who will never get enough credit due to coaching in the Belichick era. He actually won in spite of having Nagy on staff.”

 

That’s not fair. Nagy is a good coach, though the results this year don’t show it. Think if you’re Nagy—and I am going to do that right here, and pretend I’m him. I’ve watched Mitchell Trubisky all day, and he’s mirrored what he’s done all year. You hold your breath when he pulls his right arm back to throw. Now there’s 43 seconds left, and Nagy has to decide what to do: let the clock run down and take the 41-yard field goal try, which seems like a 65-percent shot; or either run it once or twice, or maybe throw one only if the receiver is clearly open, or to the sideline where only the intended receiver can catch it. I’d have at least tried a run and a sideline throw. I think almost every coach in the NFL would. Nagy with a C-plus quarterback probably would have too. But—and this is me reading Nagy here—Nagy had to feel paralyzed by the worst quarterback in football (at least now), and so he played it painfully safe. And his kicker didn’t bail him out.

 

More from Peter King:

 

A couple of things to remember. If the officials didn’t put a second back on the clock in Denver, Chicago would be 2-5 right now. And 3-4 doesn’t look so good when the next three weeks are at Philadelphia, Detroit at home, and at the Rams.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Jets dangled a big guy, and as is his nature Giants GM Dave Gettleman bit on DL LEONARD WILLIAMS.  NFL.com:

 

Despite sitting at 2-6, the New York Giants were a trade-deadline buyer.

 

Big Blue acquired former first-round pick Leonard Williams from the New York Jets in exchange for a third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-rounder, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday, per a source informed. The fifth-rounder could become a fourth if the Giants re-sign Williams before the start of the new league year, Rapoport added. The Jets will also eat $4 million of the balance of Williams’ contract this year.

 

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Williams is in the final year of his rookie contract.

 

The Jets had been dangling the 25-year-old defensive tackle, who the team had no plans to re-sign, as trade-bait ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. Gang Green finally found a buyer in its New York rivals.

 

Adding Williams gives Giants GM Dave Gettleman another big piece for the wall he’s been building since trading Damon “Snacks” Harrison at last year’s deadline. Williams joins 2019 first-round pick Dexter Lawrence, 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson, and 2018 third-round pick B.J. Hill on the Giants’ defensive front.

 

It will be interesting to see the lengths Gettleman goes to attempt to re-sign Williams after giving up picks that could be high in their respective rounds.

 

The rare New York-New York swap is the first of its kind since 1983, per NFL Research. In that deal the Giants traded offensive lineman Chris Foote to the Jets for a conditional draft pick. The Jets later waived Foote, nullifying the draft pick, but the deal still officially counts.

 

Trading away a top-10 pick for two mid-round selections isn’t what anyone imagined the night Williams was drafted. However, general manager Joe Douglas got what he could for a player who wasn’t in the team’s future plans. The Jets could have gotten a third-round compensatory pick in 2021 had Williams signed a big deal elsewhere in free agency. Instead, Douglas got the third-round pick a year early and added a sweetener in the future five.

 

 

WASHINGTON

We’ll see what happens by tomorrow, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com is saying that the Redskins, at long last, are ready to trade T TRENT WILLIAMS.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

As is Dirk Koetter’s style – he dialed up some big numbers in defeat Sunday with unlikely weapon MATT SCHAUB.  Peter King:

 

I’m not big on giving awards to guys for gaudy stats only, so the fact that Schaub, who’s been a backup for most of the past six years, threw for 460 yards against Seattle isn’t the only reason why he’s in here today—after a 27-20 Atlanta loss. But in his first start since 2015, Schaub led the Falcons from a 24-0 halftime deficit to the brink of a stunning comeback. He led scoring drives of 75, 34, 75 and 67 yards in the second half, and Seattle needed an onside kick recovery with 1:17 left to hang on. It was the biggest passing day for Schaub since Nov. 18, 2012.

 

Heck, it was Schaub’s only passing “day” since 2015 with Baltimore when he put up 308 in a loss to Miami in his last start before Sunday.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The 2019 Buccaneers seem to have little use for TE O.J. HOWARD.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Buccaneers said as recently as two weeks ago that O.J. Howard was unavailable. Now, they are 2-5 and perhaps open at least to listening.

 

Jeanna Laine of ESPN reports that the Bucs would consider trading the tight end for a “substantial offer.” Multiple teams have inquired.

 

The Patriots certainly could use a tight end with Benjamin Watson and Eric Tomlinson having recently joined Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse on the depth chart. Rob Gronkowski has said he’s not coming back this year.

 

Howard, the 19th overall choice in 2017, has gotten lost in the Bucs offense. He has only 13 receptions for 176 yards in six games this season, having missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

 

After Sunday’s loss to the Titans, Bucs coach Bruce Arians was asked about the possibility of the team changing its strategy at the trade deadline by becoming sellers.

 

“No. I don’t play for next year,” Arians said, via a transcript from pewterreport.com. “Are you guaranteed next year? I’m not. I’m trying to win every damn game we play so I don’t give a s— about next year and you can write that anywhere you want, but I don’t give a s— about trades. I’m trying to beat Seattle.”

 

The question is: Will Arians have Howard when the Bucs try to beat Seattle on Sunday?

 

In Tampa, they are talking about the crew of Adrian Hill.

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Buccaneers were on the wrong end of a bad call on Sunday against the Titans, losing what should have been a fumble return for a touchdown because an official blew the whistle before the fumble recovery. Bucs coach Bruce Arians is understandably not happy about that.

 

Arians said the NFL should fire underperforming officials just like everyone else is fired for underperforming. But Arians doubts it will ever happen, especially after the league and its officials just came to a new labor agreement.

 

“Everybody except one guy saw the ball out, blew a quick whistle,” Arians said. “My biggest thing is referees aren’t held accountable. Coaches get fired, General Managers get fired, players get cut. Referees aren’t accountable. And it’s a shame. It’s been there 40 years and now we’ve got a new agreement and it’ll be that way for 40 more years.”

 

Arians believes the 2-5 Buccaneers would be viewed very differently if the apparent touchdown late in the fourth quarter hadn’t been waved off.

 

“If we had those last three minutes and some change with a three-point lead and win the game, I think everybody is writing different stories, talking different things,” Arians said.

 

Arians is right about that: His team got a raw deal.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals pay a relatively small price for RB KENYAN DRAKE.  Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com:

 

With their top two running backs injured, the Arizona Cardinals have acquired Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake for a conditional 2020 draft pick.

 

Miami will receive a 2020 sixth-round pick that can become a fifth-round pick, sources told ESPN.

 

Arizona will need Drake’s contributions in a hurry since David Johnson (ankle) and Chase Edmonds (hamstring) are dealing with injuries that will likely hold them out for at least Thursday night’s game against San Francisco.

 

Drake, the Dolphins’ leading rusher, did not travel with the team for it’s Monday night contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers in anticipation of a trade. Multiple teams had called the Dolphins about Drake ahead of Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, sources told Schefter.

 

The speedy 25-year-old running back adds playmaking and dual-threat ability for a Cardinals team that’s 3-4-1 and hoping to stay in the playoff picture.

 

For the Dolphins (0-6), the move is about continuing to stockpile 2020 picks for what is expected to be an aggressive offseason for general manager Chris Grier.

 

Miami now has 13 picks in the 2020 draft, including three first-round picks, two second-round picks and two expected compensatory selections. Their own selection, which could be used to select a franchise quarterback, is projected to be first overall.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

A tweet from Eric Branch:

 

@Eric_Branch

The #49ers have held four straight opponents to 100 or fewer net passing yards. That hasn’t happened in NFL since 1977.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Sam Farmer of the LA Times notes a significant milestone for T ANDREW WHITWORTH:

 

Andrew Whitworth is a left tackle with nobody left.

 

He now has a piece of NFL history as the 12th starter in the modern era with victories over all 32 teams.

 

Whitworth checked his last box with Sunday’s 24-10 win over Cincinnati, the place where he spent the bulk of his career. So it all ended where he started.

 

“It’s unbelievable,” the 37-year-old tackle said of the synchronicity of it all. “It’s one of those things you’re really proud of, and realize the longevity and success you’ve had in your career.”

 

The 14-year veteran the mark of astounding durability in a position that’s especially brutal on the body.

 

Acquiring Whitworth to button down the left side of the offensive line and protect the blind side of Jared Goff was one of the first moves the Rams made after hiring coach Sean McVay in 2017. Although Todd Gurley was the team’s most valuable player that season, Whitworth was at least in that conversation.

 

“In my opinion, Whit’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer just because of how long he’s been doing it and the level he’s been doing it at,” Rams right guard Austin Blythe said. “He brought stability to a position that the Rams were struggling at in previous years, and also brought that veteran leadership that he had in Cincinnati.”

 

 “He’s been one of the most important people in our locker room since he got here,” Goff said. “Just the way he conducts himself daily, you’re able to feed off that. I think anytime you see a guy in the NFL as long as he is, going as hard as he does in practice, you look around and go, ‘Man, if he’s doing that, I’d better be doing that.’ He sets the standard and the tempo for us.”

 

And, in a way, Sunday felt like practice for Whitworth.

 

“A little bit in the beginning of the game, it was kind of surreal,” he said of playing against his old team. “And as the game kept going, it kind of felt like I was in training camp playing against the guys that I’ve played against forever. It was good to see everybody.”

 

A father of four, Whitworth brought his wife, Melissa, and their kids on this trip. They all stayed at the team hotel over the weekend, and at least one of his elementary school-aged sons was in the locker room after the game.

 

“When this game came out, we knew it was going to be special,” Whitworth said. “The day we signed with the Rams, we never went back. So for them, they hadn’t been back to Cincinnati. We look forward to that when I retire, but as of now we haven’t gone back. So it was good for them. They were so excited when this game was on the schedule. Wherever it was, they wanted to be there.”

 

Whitworth played on multiple Cincinnati teams that reached the postseason, but he didn’t win in the playoffs for the first time until the Rams beat Dallas last January. They then went to Louisiana, his home state, and beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game. That’s among his favorite memories, he said, but there are a lot he cherishes.

 

“Winning the NFC championship and getting to the Super Bowl were great,” he said. “But really I think about all the wars in the AFC North against Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and then coming over here and how good the NFC West has gotten. Going to Seattle and beating them the way we have, and San Fran now being a better football team. The camaraderie of those division games and what it means, it’s always so much fun.”

 

Now, having been a part of wins over all 32 teams, he has more reasons to look back fondly on this trip to the United Kingdom.

 

“This is my third time, and I enjoyed every moment of it,” he said of playing in London. “The fans are great. The trip’s tough on you, but once you catch up on sleep, it’s great. Especially at my point, 14 years in, every experience I’ve gotten to have in the NFL reminds you of how special this game is.”

 

We tried to find out who the other 11 might be. 

 

We see that DREW BREES, BRETT FAVRE and PEYTON MANNING are the 3 QBs who did it. 

 

We learned that JAKE SCOTT (not the Dolphins DB from before there were 32 teams) is the only other offensive lineman to do it.  He played mainly for the Peyton Manning Colts, then the Titans and Eagles.

– – –

This from Peter King:

 

Cooper Kupp, coming off his 220-yard day in London to beat the Bengals, is on pace for 116 catches, 1,584 yards and 10 touchdown receptions. Stunningly, he’s become the Rams’ most valuable receiver.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Peter King:

 

Changing times in Denver. The Broncos are 2-10 in their last 12 games dating back to last year, and the cleanout began last week. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who’d been increasingly unhappy and was starting to demonstrate it, got shipped to San Francisco. There’s a cadre of young players, I’m told, led by Phillip Lindsay, Bradley Chubb and a couple of others chafing against the unhappiness of some vets left over from the Super Bowl team of 2015. That didn’t have anything to do with Flacco bitching about punting on fourth-and-five with 1:55 left and needing a first down to run out the clock; the Colts drove to the game-winning field goal after Denver punted. Flacco just wanted to take a shot, figuring there was little to lose. But he’s played mediocre football in his first half-season in Denver, leading most to think it makes sense for John Elway to continue to stockpile picks because Elway might want to be in the quarterback market. Again. (Denver has five picks in the first three rounds next April.) If the Broncos could get a sixth pick in the first three rounds next year for 30-year-old corner Chris Harris Jr., they should do it.

 

Flacco won’t be playing this week.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Joe Flacco won’t have to complain about the play-calling this week.

 

Broncos coach Vic Fangio just told reporters that Flacco wouldn’t play this week because of a herniated disc in his neck.

 

Fangio said that backup Brandon Allen would start Sunday’s game against the 2-5 Browns, and that a decision on the backup would be made later this week.

 

They could either activate rookie Drew Lock (who General Manager John Elway declared not ready to play) from injured reserve, or promote Brett Rypien from the practice squad.

 

Flacco’s injury could cost him multiple weeks, and Fangio didn’t rule out the possibility of him going on injured reserve.

 

Flacco was frustrated with the team’s less-than-aggressive approach yesterday, and now the 34-year-old quarterback will have a different perspective.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

The DB thought Andy Reid blew it with a timid punt late in the game.  Only three yards to go for a fourth down – or trust his defense, not very good to start and looking winded, to make a stop.  He punted and never ran another play.  And afterwards, he sort of admitted his critics might be on to something.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Andy Reid had called a masterful game to coax 337 yards, 21 first downs and 24 points from backup quarterback Matt Moore, who a year ago was out of the league.

 

His final decision, however, ultimately backfired.

 

The Chiefs, trailing the Green Bay Packers 31-24 with 5:18 left in the contest, faced a fourth-and-3 from their own 40. Reid elected to punt instead of going for it.

 

K.C.’s offense never got the ball back.

 

Dustin Colquitt pinned Green Bay at the 2-yard-line, but it mattered not as Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and the Packers’ offense picked up three first downs to ice the tilt.

 

After the home loss, Reid didn’t question his decision to punt it back to an offense that the Chiefs allowed to score on its previous three possessions.

 

“Some of it is feel. Some of it is momentum and all those things that you look at,” Reid said, via the team’s official website. “It was a phenomenal punt. We backed them up. Our defense had been playing well throughout the night. I had confidence in them that we’d get the ball back in good field position. Listen, it didn’t work out. It could be questioned either way. I chose to do what I did there and thought it was the right thing to do at that time. It didn’t necessarily pay off the way I was hoping.”

 

The Chiefs did a good job against Rodgers and Co. in the second quarter, but outside of that, the Packers moved the ball, including 17 points on their previous three drives before the fateful punt.

 

With three timeouts, Reid thought he’d get another shot with the ball. He miscalculated.

 

Let’s run through the options –

 

Go for it – Probably about 60-70% to keep the ball with plenty of time and three timeouts.  Don’t make it, hope for a stop and a missed long field goal.  Not likely, but about the same odds as

 

Punt – Hope for a stop, preferably on the first series, but the second one too would give you the ball back needing to go the length of the field in under two minutes with no timeouts.

 

To repeat, we think the chance you get the first down is about 65%, and if you do you have time and timeouts to go all the way for a TD.

 

And if you punt, the chance you stop the Packers is less than the chance you get the first down.  Maybe 50-50 at best.  And when you do get the ball back, your timeouts are gone, there isn’t much time you probably have at least the 60 yards you had to go previously.  All you have is a full set of downs…

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

History for QB ANDY DALTON.  Andrew Siciliano:

 

@AndrewSiciliano

If the Bengals lose, Andy Dalton would become the the first QB in

@NFL history to open seasons both 0-8 AND 8-0 (2015).

 

 

CLEVELAND

When you’ve lost Joe Posnanski, you’ve lost Cleveland.  Peter King:

 

@JPosnanski

I want to like Freddie Kitchens. I really do. I have not yet seen him do a single thing that gives me confidence he can be a successful head coach.

 

Joe Posnanski, Cleveland native and veteran sportswriter, was named National Sportswriter of the Year in 2012.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The week’s big injury belonged to DE J.J. WATT.  Peter King:

 

For the third time in four years, J.J. Watt will finish the year on injured-reserve. He tweeted that he tore his pectoral muscle in Sunday’s win over Oakland. Surgery’s likely Tuesday.

 

@JJWatt

This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to finish the season with my guys and give the fans what they deserve. I truly love this game and can’t stand letting you guys down. Thank you for all of the thoughts & well-wishes.

 

Watt, 30, had been Pro Football Focus’s leading 4-3 end in disrupting the passer this year, with 52 sacks/hits/significant pressures in the first half of the season. Watt missed 13 games in 2016, 11 in 2017 and he’ll miss eight this year. So over the past four years, he’ll miss exactly half of Houston’s regular-season games: 32 of 64. The injuries are all different: a herniated disc, a severe leg fracture and now a torn pectoral. As great a player as he is, the Texans can’t count on him to be the centerpiece of their defense, as he has been. He’s due $33 million over the last two years of his contract in 2020 and ’21, with no guaranteed money, so you wonder if the Texans will talk to him about either a pay cut or moving some of his cash into a guarantee to lessen the cap hit. After Watt played so well in 2018 and being so disruptive in the first half of this year, the contract’s not something anyone figured would be a Watt issue. And maybe it won’t be. But you can’t count on Watt to be an ironman anymore.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

The DB thinks what the Jaguars staff did to Jets QB SAM DARNOLD was funny.

 

To be a successful quarterback in the NFL, they often say you need to have a short memory. After a bad throw, a bad drive or even a bad game, a good QB washes himself of his sins and gets back out there ready with the same level of confidence he had before his struggles.

 

But sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially when the opposing team won’t stop reminding you of your prior issues. Such was the case for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold on Sunday in Jacksonville.

 

Coming off an absolutely atrocious performance in which he admitted to “seeing ghosts” against the New England Patriots last Monday night, Darnold was hoping to put that game — and now viral quote — behind him and bounce back with a solid performance against the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon. But the Jags weren’t so eager to help let him put ghosts to rest.

 

Jacksonville’s team mascot, Jaxson de Ville, partook in his usual pregame antics while in ghost costume.

 

Above the stadium, a plane flyover carried the message “Gardner Minshew ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

 

And during the the game, the Jags cut a montage of bad plays from Darnold, set it to the “Ghostbusters” theme and played it on the jumbotron during a break in the action.

 

Overall, it was another pretty rough day for Darnold and the Jets. Perhaps getting mercilessly trolled by the Jaguars took a toll on his psyche, but the Jets quarterback threw three interceptions to the Jags’ defense in a 29-15 loss.

 

Not surprisingly, there weren’t anyway self-deprecating quotes about spirits this time around. That being said, he saw at least one ghost again this Sunday, even if it was wearing sunglasses and a bedsheet. 

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

This from Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

 

@MarkMaske

Patriots scored the final 21 points against the Giants, all 33 points in the shutout win over the Jets and the first 17 points against the Browns. That was a 71-0 scoring run.

 

This from Peter King:

 

“[Tom Brady] is either staying in New England, he’s retiring or he’s going to play somewhere else … Staying in New England, to me, would seem like the least likely option of the three.” – Adam Schefter

 

– – –

Peter King on where Bill Belichick can go from his 300th career win:

 

Mount Halas and Mount Shula, namely. After reaching his 300th win (regular season and playoffs), two men are in his way on the all-time victories list: George Halas with 324 and Don Shula with 347. It’s easy to calculate the numbers and figure he could pass Halas in 2021 and Shula in 2023 or ‘24, but a few notes about that.

 

One: Belichick is 67; if he’s still coaching in 2023, he’ll be a 71-year-old man. Though he could pass for 55 today, age is age, so we’ll see.

 

Two: Soon, maybe starting in 2020, Belichick will have to win without Tom Brady, who will be 43 in the 2020 season. The Patriots did win 11 games in the only season Brady missed due to injury, but Belichick has basically had the best quarterback of all time—arguably—for 18 of his 20 New England seasons, and 244 of his 300 wins. Can he win without him? As competitive as Belichick is, he has to feel what many around the league wonder in whispers.

 

Three: Maybe the guy just wants to do something else. We just don’t know that.

 

Four: Lots of times people retire because of stress in the job, but those who know Belichick best say he’s done this for so long in part because nothing football-related provides his stress; he’s had such great role models (starting with his flatliner brilliant dad, the late Steve Belichick) and realizes all he can do is prepare the best he knows how and whatever happens happens.

 

This year’s Patriots team would be 8-0 with a bunch of other QBs at the helm, not that TOM BRADY isn’t doing Tom Brady stuff.

 

In 2016, the Patriots had Brady, JIMMY GAROPPOLO and JACOBY BRISSETT as their three Belichick-drafted QBs.  Today, that trio is a combined 20-2.

 

We didn’t know about a Facebook post that Brady put up in 2017 – but he said then that he has an unbreakable bond with his former teammates.

 

For the uninitiated, Brady borrowed from Alan’s famous “wolf pack” speech from “The Hangover” when posting the following picture to his Instagram account in January of 2017.

 

“You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when the Patriots brought Jimmy in, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack – it grew by one, so where there two – there were two of us in the wolf pack. I was alone first in the pack and then Jimmy joined in later. And nine months ago, when the Patriots introduced me to Jacoby, I thought ‘Wait a second, could it be?’ And I knew for sure- I just added another guy to my wolf pack. So today, I make a toast! Blood brothers!”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CONTENDERS OR PRETENDERS

Adam Schein of NFL.com divides nine middle of the road NFL teams into contenders or pretenders:

 

Another NFL Sunday where the Patriots, 49ers, Packers and Saints prove they’re at the head of the class. But there’s a rather large middle class in the league this season.

 

Oh sure, the Seahawks and Ravens have earned trust. The Chiefs will get Patrick Mahomes back soon, which makes that offense a huge problem for the rest of the NFL. (Though kudos to Matt Moore for a rock-solid, professionally quarterbacked game on Sunday night. Can’t say enough about the former retiree’s effort, even though it came in a loss.) And the Vikings are sitting pretty with six wins, none of which they have to give back. But the beauty of a parity-driven NFL is how often teams rally from midseason mediocrity to forge an inspiring playoff push.

 

So, at the midway point, eight weeks into the 2019 campaign, which teams have the potential to emerge from the fat middle and make noise this winter? And which are doomed to irrelevancy? It’s time to separate contenders from pretenders, Schein Nine style.

 

CONTENDERS

 

1) Houston Texans (5-3)

Houston is a half-game back in the AFC South, though the first-place Colts currently hold the tiebreaker, having beaten the Texans back in Week 7. The bad news: The iconic J.J. Watt tore his pec in Sunday’s win over the Raiders and is done for the year. This is sobering news, as Houston’s roster is top-heavy, with Watt being one of the great representatives of that star power. The depth is shaky. So is the coaching.

 

But at this point, I refuse to bet against the great Deshaun Watson. He’s a magician. He’s special. He’s the kind of quarterback who can carry a flawed team to unforeseen heights.

 

2) Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

I loved the Rams’ aggressive trade for Jalen Ramsey. And since the deal, Sean McVay’s team has won two “get right” games against the lowly Falcons and Bengals to put a three-game skid in the rearview. Did the Rams get their mojo back? I think so. Still love this team, and can you imagine how different the narrative would be if “Greg the Leg” did his job at the end of the Seahawks game?

 

L.A. has a favorable schedule in the second half, with four of eight games against teams with losing records. The Rams have great player (did you see Cooper Kupp’s 220-yard outing on Sunday?) and exceptional coaching. Don’t sleep on the NFC’s reigning champs.

 

3) Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

Drama, failed guarantees, injuries, winning games nobody expects you to win. Philadelphia has earned, for better or worse, every single ounce of its 4-4 record. And although this .500 mark is disappointing for a team many touted as a bona fide Super Bowl threat back in August, the Eagles still sit right in the thick of the NFC East race. And Carson Wentz remains excellent, routinely making tough, clutch, huge plays with his arm, legs and brain.

 

On Sunday, the Eagles offered up their best performance in weeks, storming Buffalo and routing the Bills, 31-13. Maybe all of the nonsense galvanized them. Maybe Doug Pederson realized he needs to run the football (SEE: Philly’s season-best 218 ground yards). Maybe winning in a tough venue against Sean McDermott’s upstart Bills will be a springboard. I just know that, despite the team’s issues, I cannot quit the Eagles yet.

 

4) Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4)

I love Doug Marrone. And I love how Jacksonville has dealt with adversity and injury and the Jalen Ramsey nonsense. Gardner Minshew has something, with another stellar effort (279 yards passing, three touchdowns, zero interceptions) in Sunday’s 29-15 win over the Jets. Leonard Fournette has been terrific, boasting a career-best average of 4.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Jags’ defense keeps making plays and performing admirably while dealing with injuries. Josh Allen (seven sacks, two forced fumbles) has been terrific as a rookie.

 

I think the Patriots, Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, Colts and Texans will make the playoffs in the AFC, but the Jaguars are in the conversation for that last slot. And they have a favorable schedule in the second half to contend.

 

5) Carolina Panthers (4-3)

The NFC is unreal. Just looking at the 49ers, Packers, Saints, Seahawks, Vikings, Cowboys and Rams, that’s seven teams vying for six playoff spots. And Carolina can be in that mix, too, if they keep Kyle Allen at quarterback. Don’t downgrade him because of the 51-13 beatdown at the hands of the Niners. San Francisco, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, is that amazing. But at this point, Christian McCaffrey makes a compelling case for Offensive Player of the Year. The do-it-all playmaker is an absolute nightmare to defend. While I am always concerned about Ron Rivera holding the team back, Allen has been a breath of fresh air as a leader and steady thrower.

 

Honestly, I think the Panthers are right on the borderline here, which is why I have them listed last among contenders. If Carolina goes back to Cam, they could definitely spiral down into the pretenders. Speaking of whom …

 

PRETENDERS

 

6) Chicago Bears (3-4)

Last week in this space, I directed (earned) criticism at both Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky. On Sunday, it got worse. Nagy was too cute all game in the red zone, and his overall game management was deplorable. Trailing by a point with 43 seconds left and a timeout in hand … Nagy kneels the ball to settle for a 41-yard field goal?! Does he remember his team’s kicking situation? (You know, the one he obsessed over all offseason.) Nagy’s arrogance and ignorance at the postgame press conference after the crushing 17-16 loss took this decision from bad to worse. Meanwhile, Trubisky once again looked nothing like an NFL quarterback, much less a former No. 2 overall pick. No one has any idea where the ball is going once it leaves Mitch’s hands — Mitch included.

 

Nagy and Trubisky are costing Chicago games and wasting a fantastically talented defense. With NFC North foes Green Bay and Minnesota way out in front of (and far more complete than) the Bears, this season is cooked. I predicted Chicago would miss the playoffs back in August. I didn’t think it would be over before Halloween. It’s on the coach and the quarterback.

 

7) Tennessee Titans (4-4)

Yes, Ryan Tannehill has proven to be better than Marcus Mariota. But he’s also Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback who was consistently stuck in the middle with the Miami Dolphins. And that’s where this 4-4 Titans team feels destined to end up.

 

Mike Vrabel’s defense is stout, ranking fourth in points allowed and ninth in total D. But the offense remains disjointed, with the receiving corps lacking defined roles across the board. This team belongs in the league’s fat middle.

 

8) Detroit Lions (3-3-1)

The shame of it is that the officials truly cost Detroit a victory in Green Bay, something that would’ve really reshaped the Lions’ season. Then Detroit’s defense fell apart in the loss to Minnesota and the Lions traded team captain Quandre Diggs to Seattle — a move that did NOT go over well in the locker room.

 

Sure, Detroit got back to .500 by beating the hapless Giants on Sunday. But the NFC is loaded. The NFC North is beyond tough. While Matthew Stafford is enjoying a fine season, I just can’t see Detroit making a sustained run.

 

9) Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)

Joey Bosa just rocked the Bears’ offensive line in Sunday’s 17-16 win, and this pass rush is great. It’s a big part of the reason why I — like many others — thought the Bolts could be a major contender back in August. But that’s just not the case with this snake-bitten franchise.

 

The Chargers have been plagued with injuries. Again. And prior to Sunday’s win, they had a three-week span that included mind-numbing losses to the Broncos, Steelers and that “only the Chargers” finish in Tennessee. As I have many times in recent seasons, I feel for you, Chargers fans.