The Daily Briefing Thursday, November 8, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on the Bears:
FPI feels quite confident that the Lions, who have a 1.7 percent shot of winning the division, are out of the NFC North race. Otherwise, it’s open. The 5-3 Bears are unsurprisingly the FPI leaders, with a 46.1 percent shot, but the Vikings are right behind them at 37.0 percent, with the Packers lurking at 15.3 percent. There’s close to a 50 percent chance of this division sending two teams to the postseason, but the division title is still too close to call.
As someone who thought the Bears were among the most likely teams in football to improve even before the Khalil Mack trade, I’m not surprised to see Chicago taking a leap to the top of the division. The Bears have been better in close games. Their interception rate, the fourth lowest in the league a year ago, has spiked to the league’s second-best rate so far this season. Their offense has been healthier and flashed stretches of impressive play. The Bears are for real.
The problem is that they’re about to face a lot more real teams, too. The Bears faced FPI’s easiest schedule over the first nine weeks of the season. From here, they’ll face the 11th-toughest slate of opponents in football. Chicago gets a home-and-home with the Vikings, a rematch against the Packers, and a home game against the Rams. Their road schedule is otherwise pretty modest — trips to play the Lions, Giants, and 49ers — but the Bears have already lost to the Packers and Dolphins on the road, and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Cardinals in Arizona. Taking those three winnable road games and going .500 at home should be enough to push the Bears into the postseason.
Another injury for LB SEAN LEE. It’s a hamstring injury and he is expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks. Presumably the Cowboys would be carrying him as Inactive on the Active Roster (if that makes sense) for that period. More from David Moore of the Dallas Morning News:
Lee suffered the injury on the second play of the third quarter while chasing tight end Jonnu Smith on a 26-yard completion. He pulled up before making the tackle, was immediately taken to the locker room and missed the remainder of the game.
The linebacker missed three games earlier this year with a pulled left hamstring. Rookie Leighton Vander Esch, who started in Lee’s absence on the weak side and leads the team in tackles with 74, will again slide into the starting lineup.
Lee has already missed 13 games in his Cowboys career with hamstring injuries. Once he does return, hamstring injuries will have robbed the 32-year-old of more than one full season.
Bill Barnwell likes what the Redskins have done so far, but worries that injuries and a tougher schedule will keep them from bringing home the prize that is the NFC East title:
Washington’s three-game winning streak consisted of wins over the Panthers, Cowboys and Giants, each by seven points or fewer. (The Giants game wasn’t as close as it seems, but you get the idea.) Washington is 3-0 in one-score games this season. It has been outscored by opponents by 12 points, suggesting it should be slightly under .500 as opposed to one game over it. Its schedule also gets tougher, as FPI estimates its strength of schedule will go from 20th before Week 9 to eighth from here. Five of Washington’s final eight games are on the road, and it still has a home-and-home left with the Eagles.
Most disconcerting, though, has to be the injury issues. Washington’s season fell apart in 2017 once its offensive line was ripped apart by injuries. Bill Callahan’s line has been one of the best in football so far this season in terms of creating holes for Adrian Peterson, but injuries have taken a toll again. Guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff were put on injured reserve this week. Star left tackle Trent Williams is out for several more weeks, and right tackle Morgan Moses committed four penalties while trying to play through a knee injury last week and might not be able to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
They’re not the only ones on the offense, either. Wideout Paul Richardson also hit IR this week. Receiving back Chris Thompson missed the Falcons game because of an aggravation of his rib injury. Peterson’s playing on a shoulder he dislocated in Week 5. Jordan Reed is playing through a neck injury. Can a defense that has ranked 25th in DVOA this season carry Washington to the postseason if the offense slips?
Here’s how Bill Barnwell assesses the NFC South at the midway point:
Fortunately for New Orleans, it just swept the toughest part of its schedule by beating the Ravens and Vikings on the road and overcoming the Rams in arguably the Game of the Year last weekend. The Saints have a 96.4 percent shot of making the playoffs. Since the league went to its current divisional structure in 2002, only one 7-1 team — the 2012 Bears — failed to advance to the postseason.
The division, though, might still be vulnerable. The Panthers are only a game behind and still have a home-and-home to come over the final three weeks of the season. Carolina has rode its luck with some late-game heroics from Graham Gano, but the Panthers have a point differential within 21 points of the Saints and rank third in DVOA. Both teams face difficult schedules the rest of the way, with the Saints up against the league’s third-hardest slate and the Panthers just behind in fifth. There’s a reasonable chance that Week 17 will see a Panthers-Saints game that could both determine the division title and serve as Drew Brees’ final statement in the MVP race.
The Falcons probably can’t win the division, but they still have a 34.7 percent chance of making the postseason after winning their past three games. They could serve as a spoiler if the race comes down to record within the South. The Falcons beat the Panthers but narrowly lost to the Saints in Week 3, while the Saints’ only loss came at the hands of FitzMagic and the Bucs in Week 1.
Atlanta could ruin Thanksgiving and make playoff life more difficult for the Saints by beating them in New Orleans on Nov. 22. They’ll need to maneuver through a three-game stretch with the Saints, a home game against the Ravens, and a road trip to Lambeau in December against a Packers team who could loom as a wild-card rival.
– – –
WR DEZ BRYANT is indeed a member of the Saints. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com with an evaluation of the calculations involved:
Of course it feels like a risk, signing Dez Bryant in the middle of a seven-game win streak.
That whole “don’t upset the apple cart” idea.
But the New Orleans Saints are obviously going into this deal with eyes wide open — and they’re obviously willing to pull out all the stops while they feel this season’s Super Bowl is within their grasp.
They did the same thing last month when they traded for cornerback Eli Apple, despite some of Apple’s past chemistry concerns with the New York Giants.
And though backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t any type of character concern, the Saints were also aggressive when they traded for him late in the preseason to make sure they are filling roster holes that could potentially derail them.
Clearly, the Saints feel confident enough that their well-established locker room and leadership under head coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and others can be a good fit for Bryant — and that a Super Bowl run should offer him plenty of motivation to be at his best for three months.
When the Dallas Cowboys released Bryant in April, executive vice president Stephen Jones admitted that Bryant’s “fiery” personality and emotional outbursts on the sideline could be a “distraction.” And the Cowboys hinted that having a guy like Bryant in young quarterback Dak Prescott’s ear might have added pressure on Prescott while he was still developing.
But this is a different situation. The Saints don’t need to worry about Bryant putting any pressure on Brees, who is having one of the best seasons of his 18-year career. And they definitely don’t need Bryant to be a No. 1 receiver for them since Michael Thomas has that role on lock, with a staggering 70 catches for 880 yards and five touchdowns through the first eight games of the season.
Also, if Bryant, who just turned 30 on Sunday, doesn’t react well to playing a supporting role, this three-month contract is one the Saints could easily walk away from.
But there is no reason to think Bryant should have any problems — since he also is going into this deal with eyes wide open. He knows he won’t be a No. 1 in New Orleans. And since he reportedly turned down at least one opportunity this offseason with the Baltimore Ravens, he has apparently been looking for a situation such as this.
Bryant was never really considered a bad guy in Dallas, just an emotional or sometimes volatile one who lacked focus at times. And his former quarterback, Tony Romo, strongly vouched for Bryant this offseason, telling ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer, “Dez is a good teammate and I think sometimes that might get lost in the way that the emotional aspect of things [are viewed]. If I was talking to any of the GMs or coaches, I would tell them he’s not going to hurt the locker room in any possible way.”
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott gave a similar endorsement Wednesday, saying, “Ever since I got here, Dez was nothing but a help for me. Right when I got here, he took me under his wing. You’re getting a very passionate football player. You’re getting a very passionate individual. I think sometimes that’s looked at the wrong way. … I think he’s going to be a good veteran for that team.”
And here’s a reason why signing Bryant became more important. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Wednesday saw developments on a couple of fronts in the Saints wide receiver corps.
Dez Bryant agreed to join it on a one-year deal and Cameron Meredith sat out of practice with a knee injury. It was easy to connect the dots between those two things and it’s even easier with a Thursday report about Meredith’s condition.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Meredith is having arthroscopic surgery on his knee and will be placed on injured reserve. Meredith signed with the Saints as a free agent this offseason after missing all of last year with a torn ACL.
Meredith did not play the first two weeks of the season, but has seen action in the last six games. He caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in his first three appearances and has not caught a pass in the last three weeks.
Meredith saw action on 126 snaps in his six appearances. Some of that work could be headed Bryant’s way over the second half of the season.
The Buccaneers have turned every quarterback into DREW BREES says Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com:
This isn’t an advanced statistic, but it’s worth mentioning. If you’re looking for a league MVP, you can probably choose between Drew Brees or whichever quarterback is lucky enough to face the Buccaneers, since their numbers have been virtually identical through the first half:
PASSER CMP ATT CMP% YDS Y/ATT TD INT RATING
Drew Brees 213 279 76.3% 2336 8.4 18 1 120.6
QBs vs. TB 215 291 73.9% 2457 8.4 22 1 124.3
Tampa has also thrown in six pass interference penalties for an additional 83 yards. Over the next three weeks, the Bucs get to face Alex Smith without three-fifths of an offensive line, Eli Manning, and Nick Mullens. If they’re ever going to look like an NFL defense, now is the time.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com thinks the 49ers have played better than their 2-7 record indicates:
Let’s start on the bright side. It’s always dangerous to project improvement for teams either down to unplayable backups or decaying statesmen under center, because when the numbers that normally help predict performance don’t work, there’s usually replacement-level quarterback play to blame. There’s a chance teams down toward the bottom of the NFL standings simply don’t resemble the units of the first half as organizations try out young talent or tune out lame-duck coaches. With that being said, there are some obvious candidates for teams that have outplayed their record so far this season, though they have little hope of turning things around into meaningful campaigns.
The injury-riddled 49ers are 2-7 heading into Monday Night Football, but their point differential suggests that Kyle Shanahan’s team should be something closer to a 3.6-win team so far. The Niners have been competitive even after losing Jimmy Garoppolo and narrowly lost to the Cardinals, Chargers and Packers on the road despite leading each of those games in the fourth quarter. Their turnover margin — minus-13 — is likely to improve, given that the defense has forced only five takeaways in nine games. The 49ers get to play the Giants and Buccaneers over the next two weeks, two of the more generous offenses in the league.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on how the Ravens got to 4-5 and whether or not they can salvage their season:
The Ravens are the most obvious example of a team whose record doesn’t match up with their underlying level of play. Baltimore is 4-5 with the point differential of a 6-3 team. Much of that comes thanks to a 44-point victory over the Bills in Week 1, but again, history suggests that blowing out bad teams is a good indicator of future success.
The Ravens also beat an underrated Broncos team and the division-rival Steelers by double digits, and shut out the Titans. Their losses include a single-point defeat to the Saints and an overtime loss to the Browns in a game in which Justin Tucker had a field goal attempt blocked, and Joe Flacco threw an interception inside the 5-yard line. They lost to the Steelers on Sunday in a game in which five of their eight meaningful drives made it onto Pittsburgh’s side of the field, only for Baltimore to come away with a mere 16 points.
Even with much of the same personnel, this team has played differently than the one we saw last season. The 2017 Ravens ranked first in special teams DVOA and third in defensive DVOA, but with dismal wideout play and an offensive line ruined by injuries, Baltimore ranked 21st in offensive DVOA. This season, the Ravens are 13th in offensive and special teams DVOA and only 10th in the league on defense.
Don Martindale’s defense is still playing well, but something’s missing. The Ravens forced a league-high 34 takeaways on defense last season, including 10 over the first two games of the season. This season, Baltimore has forced only seven takeaways in nine games, which is the fifth-lowest rate in football. After recovering 12 of the 22 fumbles it forced on defense last year, Baltimore has picked up only two of nine so far this season. It would be unfair to expect the Ravens to force 11 takeaways over their next three games, as the 2017 team did after its own Week 10 bye, but this unit is too talented to come up with fewer than one turnover per game.
Coach John Harbaugh said he intended to stick with Flacco coming out of Baltimore’s bye. If the Ravens go on a run over the next few weeks, Harbaugh might look like a genius without getting materially better play out of his passer. Through nine games, the Ravens have played the 12th-hardest slate of opposing defenses in the NFL by DVOA.
Over their next five contests, though, things get quite easy. They face defenses that rank 23rd (Bengals), 27th (Chiefs), 30th (Falcons), 31st (Raiders), and 32nd (Buccaneers) in DVOA. How Flacco performs in that five-game run against weak defenses could end up drastically shifting the future of this franchise, including whether he and Harbaugh will be wearing purple in 2019.
The biggest problem for Flacco has been making plays downfield. When his passes have traveled 16 or more yards in the air this season, the Ravens’ starter has posted a Total QBR of just 50.9, which ranks 29th among 32 qualifying passers. Lack of receivers might have been an excuse in years past, but the presence of John Brown should give Flacco a viable deep threat. Even if the Ravens don’t plan on turning things over to Lamar Jackson this season, adding a deep shot to his run-heavy package could unlock a sorely needed big play.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is adamant that ownership has “officially” turned over the next Browns coaching search to GM John Dorsey.
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have officially turned their fourth coaching search over to general manager John Dorsey, a league source told cleveland.com.
Contrary to conflicting information about Dorsey’s role, he’ll lead the charge and will have full authority to conduct it any way he wants — and make his first career coaching hire.
It remains to be seen if he’ll enlist the services of a search firm, but he has a strong team around him that includes Assistant General Manager Eliot Wolf and Vice President of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith, who both worked with Dorsey in Green Bay. He’ll also receive input from others in the organization, including Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and Vice President of Player Personnel Andrew Berry.
The Haslams will have input in the collaborative process, but Dorsey will drive the decision.
Does this mean that the Haslams will have the new head coach report directly to Dorsey instead of JImmy Haslam? That has yet to be determined, but the fact they’re letting him lead the search is a good sign.
Dorsey, if he so chooses, could get input from his former boss Ron Wolf, the Pro Football Hall of Fame executive (and Eliot’s father). He also has a longstanding relationship with former Browns general manager Ernie Accorsi, who’s been a consultant for several NFL teams.
The Haslams, who used the search firm of Korn Ferry to hire Hue Jackson, selected Dorsey to conduct the search because of his array of contacts at the college and NFL level throughout his 26 years’ experience in the NFL. As a longtime NFL scout with the Packers, he developed strong relationships not only with college coaches and assistants, but with athletic directors and other team officials that can help him with due diligence on candidates.
During his 21 years with the Packers, one year with the Seahawks and four years as GM of the Chiefs, Dorsey has gotten to know most of the other NFL head coaches and assistants in the NFL over the years, and has earned a reputation as a premiere talent evaluator and team executive.
The fact that Dorsey is conducting the search makes the job more attractive to some candidates leery of a job in which the last five head coaches have lasted 2 1/2 years or less, with one, Rob Chudzinski, getting only a year, one NFL coach told cleveland.com. In his 26 seasons, Dorsey has been involved in 19 playoff teams, 11 divisional titles, three conference championships and two Super Bowl victories.
The job is also enticing to some because of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who’s showing strong signs of being the Browns’ long-awaited franchise quarterback.
There could be half-dozen head coaching vacancies this offseason, which will make competition for candidates fierce. Dorsey will look to the college ranks, where two of the biggest names are Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, and he’ll look hard at the NFL, where he’s undoubtedly compiled a short list over the years.
Candidates will likely come from places he’s worked, such as Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy. His old associate Mike McCarthy, the Packers head coach, could be on the hot seat, as could Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Jimmy Haslam also said on the day they fired Jackson that interim coach Gregg Williams would be a candidate if they conducted a full-scale search.
If you like to read a good rip, here’s Doug Lemarises of the Plain Dealer (from a week or so ago) taking apart Hue Jackson:
In the long, dysfunctional history of the Browns, what Jackson perpetrated on this city for 40 games, 36 losses and 33 months was an abomination.
A few months ago I sat in Jackson’s office and he vowed the Browns would win. I told him I’d write it when it happened. He promised I’d be writing it.
Instead, we’re here.
Hue Jackson has been fired. No coach has ever deserved it more.
Note this now, because soon enough Jackson will find a friendly writer and his take on what went wrong in Cleveland will come out. With Jackson, it always does.
He’ll take direct shots at the front office, the media and parts of the roster. He’ll take veiled shots at ownership and maybe even the fans. He’ll claim no coach could have done any better than 3-36-1 with what he was handed, just like he declared no coach could have avoided 1-31.
Here’s the pre-emptive response:
Anyone could have done better.
For the 2016 season, the Haslams adopted a plan to try something different, to tear down and rebuild, and from the start Jackson was more interested in saving himself than doing what was best for this team. There were mistakes along the way, there always are, but Jackson couldn’t tolerate the missteps of others — Sashi Brown, DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler — while piling his own gaffes on top of each other.
Jackson, surely, will take this attack as personal. He was always concerned with the idea of lines being crossed, wanting to differentiate the coach from the person and bristling whenever he believed his character was questioned.
When it comes to Jackson the person, it’s not personal. Why would anyone have anything against Jackson on that level?
But in a city like Cleveland, with fans as loyal and as beaten down as Browns fans, of course it’s personal when it comes to his job. Jackson wasn’t just a leader of the locker room, he was the leader of a nation of Browns backers hoping and praying this would be different than the coaching failures of the past, of two years of Eric Mangini and two years of Pat Shurmur and a year of Rob Chudzinski and two years of Mike Pettine.
It was different. It was worse than all of them.
Jackson didn’t have a winning roster for his first two seasons. But he didn’t have a 1-31 team. As I said before, he took a losing team and made it historically awful. He took a difficult job and made it impossible.
Now, with a competitive team, he was doing the same — underachieving again.
There are problems in Cleveland. Ownership is a problem. The receivers are a problem. The offensive tackles are a problem. The game plan from the coordinators are problems.
Every single problem Jackson faced for 2 1/2 seasons, he took and made worse.
Without an answer at quarterback, he overhyped his options and then benched them.
After wiping out basically his entire coaching staff, he hired veteran coordinators in Todd Haley and Gregg Williams and then couldn’t work with them.
Facing a long and taxing rebuild, he panicked last season when he didn’t need to, nearly gave away draft assets in a desperate QB move for AJ McCarron and then led the Haslams to dump Brown, the GM he couldn’t work with.
Brown, who has plenty of detractors, at least always took a long-term view that he believed was the best chance for the Browns to win. Jackson never worried about more than what could get Hue Jackson through the day, no matter the cost to the team.
With the Browns taking the longview, Jackson had built-in job security that he never realized he had. No one, including the Haslams, held 1-31 against him. In the face of failure, there was a greater goal in mind.
But Jackson couldn’t avoid making everything worse. It wasn’t just 1-31. It was how Jackson handled 1-31.
Every news conference was a chance for Jackson to stake an unnecessary claim or pledge an unneeded promise. He chose bold words, and never backed them with actions.
It’s why the man wound up in a lake. That will be a lasting memory from this dark time in Cleveland football history.
But Jackson’s greatest legacy will be his everyday failings, the time after time he sat before a microphone and spouted platitudes no one bought.
Browns fans had to watch their team lose on Sunday. And then they had to watch Jackson explain it and excuse himself on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
I thought letting Jackson finish this season was fine, as long as he wasn’t hurting Baker Mayfield. Fears that he was thwarting the development of the rookie QB played into this call.
Bill Barnwell tags the Colts as a team that will make a run:
The outsider team that could go on a run to the AFC playoffs is in the AFC South …
… but it’s not the Jaguars, who FPI pegs with just a 5.8 percent shot of making the playoffs. If I had to run through the teams with a sub-20 percent chance of sneaking into January, I think I’d go with the 3-5 Colts. To start, they’ve been better than their record; Indy has outscored opponents by 18 points in eight games, which is something close to a 4.4-win pace over eight games. DVOA has the Colts 15th in the league, just ahead of the Vikings.
The Colts have played an easy schedule, but FPI expects their schedule to stay easy. Indy has been up against the league’s seventh-easiest slate, but over the final eight games, it will actually face the fourth-easiest run of opponents in the NFL. The Colts’ only games outside the AFC South over the remainder of the season come against the Cowboys, Dolphins and Giants, all at home. Five of their final eight contests come in Indianapolis.
As I mentioned on Monday, their offense is also getting better with Andrew Luck working his way back into game shape and his offensive line finally coalescing with the return of Anthony Castonzo. Luck has been sacked only once in the past four games. Indy’s offense has averaged a league-high 34.3 points since the end of September.
I wouldn’t expect the Colts to make a run to the top of the AFC South. The Texans have been massively unlucky in the red zone on both sides of the ball and face an even easier schedule over the final eight weeks of the season than the Colts. FPI gives the 6-3 Texans a 76.5 percent shot of winning the South. Barring a serious injury to Deshaun Watson, Houston should be able to close up shop and host a playoff game in January.
As for the 4-4 Titans, well, even the numbers don’t know what to make of Tennessee. They’ve been outscored by eight points, so they’re essentially a .500 team by point differential. Mike Vrabel’s team is 22nd in DVOA. The Titans have posted the league’s best red zone defense so far this season, giving up only 3.4 points per trip while creating six stuffs (no points allowed) in 22 tries. Those stuffs include a failed fourth-and-1, a bad snap on a field goal try, a Malcolm Butler interception, and three red zone failures by the Cowboys on Monday night. FPI essentially has them in a dead heat with the Colts for the playoffs at 18.9 percent, but I prefer Indy’s chances.
Even with NATHAN PETERMAN at quarterback, and especially if he is replaced, Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com makes the case that the Bills will win some of their remaining games:
It’s a dangerous game to play when you’re talking about a team possibly quarterbacked for multiple starts by Nathan Peterman, but the Bills also should be more competitive over the second half. Their defense has been left in compromising situations defending short fields week after week, but quietly, Sean McDermott’s unit ranks second in DVOA. Buffalo has recovered only 40.5 percent of the fumbles in its games, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. The Bills have forced a league-high 23 fumbles but recovered only seven, which is sheer randomness.
Those fumble recoveries should gift the offense a few more short fields, which would help given just how bad the Bills have been during the first half. Going back through the 1970 merger, there have been 1,445 teams to complete nine games. If we use standardized score to compare each team’s points scored through those nine games to the league average, the 2018 Bills are in 1,430th place. It’s almost impossible for an offense to stay that bad, as recent examples such as the 2009 Browns, 2013 Jaguars and 2015 49ers — each of whom were worse on offense through nine games after normalizing scores than this year’s Bills — were all able to improve over the final seven contests. Josh Allen and Derek Anderson haven’t been good, but even they would be a massive upgrade over Peterman.
The Bills also were forced to endure the league’s toughest schedule through nine weeks per FPI, which seems quite unfair. The good news is they’ll face the league’s easiest slate going forward, with two games against the Dolphins and Jets, along with tilts against the Jaguars and Lions. The Patriots are the one current playoff team the Bills are set to play over the final seven games.
We’re not exactly sure what the NFL deems the Dolphins to have done wrong with QB RYAN TANNEHILL, they and coach Adam Gase get fined. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The NFL currently isn’t looking the other way (as it usually does) when teams violate the letter and/or the spirit of the injury reporting rules.
According to Albert Breer of SI.com, the league fined the Miami Dolphins $30,000 and coach Adam Gase $15,000 for the handling of the Week Six injury report regarding quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The fine came from the team’s listing of Tannehill as a full participant in practice on a Thursday, even though Tannehill missed some of the first-team reps.
Per Breer, the Dolphins and Gase weren’t fined for failing to downgrade Tannehill from questionable to doubtful due to a shoulder injury, in advance of the team’s decision to make him inactive for the game against the Bears. That would seem to the the more obvious — and problematic — violation of the rules.
The league recently fined the Raiders $20,000 for failing to downgrade guard Kelechi Osemele from questionable to out when he didn’t travel to L.A. for a game against the Chargers. The league also could be looking into whether the Cardinals violated the rules by failing to list former quarterback Sam Bradford on the injury report, given an ESPN report that he didn’t practice for five weeks due to a bone-on-bone condition in his knee.
Remember, Tannehill’s injury is an odd one that the Dolphins did not have handle on at the time. We truly think he was “questionable” in the standard usage of the word, but in the NFL when questionables don’t play it is cause for alarm.
NEW YORK JETS
And its official – QB SAM DARNOLD is out of the still-winnable game with the Bills this Sunday with a foot sprain. QB JOSH McCOWN will start for the Jets.
THIS AND THAT
Dan Graziano gives us the opinion of ESPN’s anonymous board of experts on how the races for the NFL’s various awards stand at the halfway pole:
Who’s the Most Valuable Player of the league so far? Who has been the best defensive player? Who’s doing the best coaching job? With full acknowledgement that any or all of this could change over the season’s second half, we’re going to tell you who we think would take home the big NFL awards if the season ended right now.
We start with the big one.
Most Valuable Player
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Fairly easy call, even as brilliant as the next couple of names on this list have been. Mahomes leads the league in passing yards, touchdown passes, Total QBR, miracle left-handed throws on the run and dazzling, highlight-reel jaw-droppers. Taking over a Kansas City offense that was one of the best in the league last season under Alex Smith and making it even better? Yeah, MVP to this point. Slam dunk.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams. Gurley remains a yards-from-scrimmage monster, with a league-leading 16 touchdowns and 1,230 total yards for the 8-1 Rams. He does everything they need him to do in the run game and the passing game, and while the Rams feature multiple MVP candidates, Gurley’s the one who makes it all go.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. Do you realize he’s never won this award? Crazy for a guy who’s authored five of the nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in league history and belongs on the all-time Mount Rushmore of NFL QBs. The Saints just knocked off the Rams and have won seven in a row with Brees looking as good as ever at 39.
4. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams. Two MVP candidates in the top four? That’s the kind of offense the Rams are running right now. Goff is fifth in Total QBR, second in yards per attempt and has 20 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Gurley’s candidacy is really the only thing holding Goff back.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers. Something in the Pacific Ocean water, we guess, as both L.A. quarterbacks crack the top five at the midpoint. Rivers is fourth in yards per attempt, third in passer rating, third in Total QBR behind only Mahomes and Brees and has 19 touchdown passes to three interceptions. He’s got the Chargers’ offense humming and thinking about an all-L.A. Super Bowl.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH 5TH TOTAL
Patrick Mahomes 8 1 44
Todd Gurley 1 3 1 1 21
Drew Brees 2 4 20
Jared Goff 1 2 4 1 19
Philip Rivers 2 1 1 2 15
Tom Brady 1 3 5
Aaron Donald 1 2
Matt Ryan 1 2
Aaron Rodgers 1 2
Russell Wilson 1 1
Cam Newton 1 1
Coach of the Year
1. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams. Last season’s winner of this award was the last coach in the league to lose a game this season. He grabbed six of our nine first-place votes to edge out the big guy in red who follows, who was McVay when McVay was still in high school.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs. Big Red grabbed two of the other three first-place votes and six seconds. He’s really the Coach of the Past Season and a Half, when you factor in how well his overall plan for transition at quarterback from Smith to Mahomes has gone.
3. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints. The only guy to beat McVay so far this season. Payton’s team has won seven in a row since its opening loss to the Ryan Fitzpatrick Express. He and Brees could end up pulling off a coach/QB double in this race and the MVP race, especially if the Saints don’t lose again!
Coach Of The Year
COACH 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Sean McVay 6 1 2 22
Andy Reid 2 6 18
Sean Payton 1 1 3 8
Ron Rivera 1 1 3
Bill Belichick 2 2
Jay Gruden 1 1
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams. It stands to reason that the running back who ranks second in the MVP balloting would sit atop the “non-QB MVP” award voting. Gurley’s abridged résumé can be found in the MVP section of this article.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Honestly, it seems like this award only exists to find an award to give an MVP-worthy running back or wide receiver when a quarterback wins MVP. But when you’re doing what Mahomes is doing statistically, your team is 8-1 and you’re the leading MVP candidate, why can’t you win both?
3. Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings. A new name! Thielen had at least 100 receiving yards in each of his first eight games of the season. Even with that streak over, he leads the league with 947 receiving yards and is tied for second with seven touchdown catches. He’s quickly become Kirk Cousins’ favorite and most reliable target, and has entered the conversation about Best Receiver in the League.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Todd Gurley 7 2 25
Patrick Mahomes 2 3 2 14
Adam Thielen 4 1 9
Jared Goff 2 2
DeAndre Hopkins 1 1
James Conner 1 1
Saquon Barkley 1 1
Tyreek Hill 1 1
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams. Unanimous. You rack up 10 sacks in your first eight games of the season from the defensive tackle position, you have to win this award. Donald’s just doing things no one else in the league is doing. He won the award last season and is currently favored to repeat.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans. What a bounce-back season for Watt off of two years’ worth of devastating injuries. He’s got nine sacks for a Houston team that’s won six in a row after an 0-3 start, and the defense is clicking the way the Texans always hoped it would.
3. Khalil Mack, DE, Chicago Bears. If we’d done this exercise at the end of September, Mack likely would have run away with this award. Even after injuries sapped his production a bit over the past few weeks, he’s held onto third place. There’s no doubting the impact his acquisition just before the start of the season has had on the Bears and the NFC playoff race.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Aaron Donald 9 27
J.J. Watt 5 1 11
Khalil Mack 1 2 4
Tre’Davious White 1 2
Myles Garrett 2 2
Bobby Wagner 1 2
Danielle Hunter 1 2
Budda Baker 1 1
Dee Ford 1 1
Von Miller 1 1
Cameron Jordan 1 1
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants. One of the few bright spots in another lost Giants season, Barkley is third in the league in yards from scrimmage behind only Gurley and Pittsburgh’s James Conner. He’s tied for eighth in the league in receptions — not among running backs, but among all NFL players.
2. Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos. What a story. Undrafted Lindsay wasn’t even supposed to be the best rookie running back on the Broncos, who took Royce Freeman in the third round. But Lindsay beat out Freeman for playing time, and currently ranks sixth in the league in rushing yards and sixth with a robust 5.4 yards per attempt.
3. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons. While Julio Jones has famously not been catching touchdowns (he just got his first one in Week 9), his fellow former Alabama receiver and current teammate has been doing nothing but. Ridley has seven touchdown catches already, putting him in a tie for second in the league behind only Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Saquon Barkley 5 3 21
Phillip Lindsay 1 1 2 7
Calvin Ridley 2 3 7
Baker Mayfield 1 1 4
Kerryon Johnson 1 1 4
Quenton Nelson 2 4
Sony Michel 1 1
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers. James has been a factor on the back end of the defense, as the Chargers expected him to be right away. But where he’s made a major difference is in blitz packages, where the Chargers have had to get creative in the absence of star pass-rusher Joey Bosa. James had three sacks in the first four games of the season while the Los Angeles defense was getting its legs under it.
2. Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts. The second-round rookie out of South Carolina State leads the league in tackles with 88, and has four sacks for a Colts defense that’s outplayed expectations and advanced far more quickly than anyone expected it to advance. Leonard is in the middle of it all.
3. Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns. Cleveland surprised everyone by taking Ward fourth overall with Bradley Chubb still on the board, but so far he’s been everything the Browns imagined he could be. A legit cover corner who can press and brings toughness to a defense where he’s expected to be a long-range cornerstone.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Derwin James 5 2 1 20
Darius Leonard 3 1 11
Denzel Ward 2 4 8
Bradley Chubb 3 1 7
Jaire Alexander 1 1
Marcus Davenport 1 1
Comeback Player of the Year
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts. “Will he ever play again?” “Can he be the player he used to be?” “Why isn’t he throwing a regulation-size ball yet?” The offseason questions about Luck after a season lost to shoulder issues have been washed away by 23 touchdown passes. The Colts are protecting Luck better than they ever have, and he’s thriving.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans. We went over Watt in the Defensive Player of the Year section, which tells you everything about how he’s put his 2016 and 2017 injury issues behind him.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers. His return hasn’t made the Packers a clear Super Bowl contender, as they and many others believed it would. But Rodgers is all the way back from his season-ending 2017 injury (not to mention his Week 1 2018 knee injury) and averaging 318 passing yards per game with 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
PLAYER 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL
Andrew Luck 4 4 20
J.J. Watt 4 3 1 19
Aaron Rodgers 1 1 5
Adrian Peterson 1 2 4
Deshaun Watson 3 3
Odell Beckham Jr. 2 2
Carson Wentz 1 1
It would not shock the DB that when the season is over the actual voters will find a way to give the MVP Award to Brees as sort of a lifetime achievement award. And the DB would be fine with that.