AROUND THE NFL

Playoff Scenarios – we took out the ones that involved a tie.

 

AFC

 

CLINCHED:

 

Baltimore Ravens – AFC North division and homefield advantage throughout AFC playoffs

Houston Texans – AFC South division

Kansas City Chiefs – AFC West division

New England Patriots – AFC East division

Buffalo Bills – playoff berth

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4) (vs. L.A. Chargers (5-10), 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

 

Kansas City clinches a first-round bye with:  KC win + NE loss

 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-3) (vs. Miami (4-11); 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

 

New England clinches a first-round bye with:

 

NE win OR KC loss

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS (7-8) (at Denver (6-9); 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

 

Oakland clinches a playoff berth with:

 

OAK win + PIT loss + TEN loss + IND win + OAK clinches strength-of-victory tiebreaker over PIT*

 

*OAK clinches strength-of-victory tiebreaker over PIT if ONE of the following teams win or tie:

CHI, DET, LAC OR NE

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-7) (at Baltimore (13-2); 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

 

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff berth with:

 

PIT win + TEN loss OR TEN loss + IND win + OAK loss OR TEN loss + IND win + PIT ties OAK in strength-of-victory tiebreaker*

 

*PIT ties OAK in strength-of-victory tiebreaker if ALL of the following teams win:

MIN, GB, KC AND MIA

 

TENNESSEE TITANS (8-7) (at Houston (10-5); 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

 

Tennessee clinches a playoff berth with:

 

TEN win OR PIT loss + IND loss

 

NFC

 

CLINCHED:

 

Green Bay – NFC North division

New Orleans – NFC South division

Minnesota — playoff berth

San Francisco — playoff berth

Seattle — playoff berth

 

DALLAS COWBOYS (7-8) (vs. Washington (3-12); 4:25 PM ET, FOX)

 

Dallas clinches NFC East division with:

 

DAL win + PHI loss

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-3) (at Detroit (3-11-1); 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

 

Green Bay clinches a first-round bye with:

 

GB win OR NO loss

 

Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

 

GB win + SF loss

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-3) (at Carolina (5-10); 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

 

New Orleans clinches a first-round bye with:

 

NO win + GB loss OR NO win + SF loss OR SF loss + GB win

 

New Orleans clinches homefield advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

 

NO win + GB loss + SF loss

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (8-7) (at N.Y. Giants (4-11); 4:25 PM ET, FOX)

 

Philadelphia clinches NFC East division with:

 

PHI win OR DAL loss

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-3) (at Seattle (11-4); 8:20 PM ET, NBC)

 

San Francisco clinches NFC West division title with:

 

SF win

 

San Francisco clinches a first-round bye with:

 

SF win

 

San Francisco clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

 

SF win

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-4) (vs. San Francisco (12-3); 8:20 ET, NBC)

 

Seattle clinches NFC West division with:

 

SEA win

 

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:

 

SEA win + GB loss

 

Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

 

SEA win + GB loss + NO loss

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com says that drafting QB MITCH TRUBISKY ahead of QB PATRICK MAHOMES was not the only horrible decision involving a QB made by Bears GM Ryan Page in 2017.  Matt Nagy does not go unspared in this Tweet chain:

 

@MichaelDavSmith

This reminds me that in the same free agency period when Ryan Pace gave Mike Glennon a contract that ended up being $18.5 million for one year, Ryan Fitzpatrick signed for one year and $3 million. Much would be different if the Bears signed Fitz instead.

 

Matt (no longer) in Beantown

@matt_evon

 Better yet —- why not question the coaching prowess of one Matt Nagy? Think of this —- Brian Flores got more out of a washed up Ryan Fitzpatrick than the offense guru Matt Nagy got out of Trubisky. That alone should be telling…..bears caught lightning in a bottle last year.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com wonders if the “win ugly” Packers have what it takes.

 

No one talks about the Green Bay Packers, and it isn’t hard to understand why.

 

In a regular season dominated by young quarterbacks, the Packers have an old one who might have seen better days. In a year when we’ve seen the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints innovate dominant offenses, the Packers are boring and predictable and rank ninth in scoring among the 10 teams that have qualified for the playoffs.

 

The Packers dare you to sustain patience beyond any reasonable measure. I lost mine around midseason, when they fell flat against the Los Angeles Chargers, were blown out by the San Francisco 49ers and struggled to beat the likes of the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants and Washington Redskins.

 

But here they are. The Packers have made a season of winning “ugly” games. They’ve won 12 of them — as many as any NFL team this side of the Ravens has won — and it’s getting tougher to overlook them.

 

The Packers, after all, didn’t just clinch the NFC North title with a 23-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. They also put themselves in good position to earn a first-round playoff bye and have a decent chance — 30%, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index — to wind up with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

 

It isn’t out of the question that the path to the Super Bowl will go through Lambeau Field.

 

“There’s a lot of emphasis on looking pretty or dominating in the way that fits expectation,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But … it doesn’t matter how we get it done as long as we get it done.”

– – –

It’s one thing to find a way to beat the Panthers or Redskins or Giants — or even a Vikings team playing without one of its best players. But can the Packers really beat the 49ers, Saints or Seahawks in the playoffs?

 

Everyone has an opinion, and here’s mine: They can’t do it by following Monday’s formula. To wear out an opponent with the running game requires a defense that holds a high-end offense at bay. It’s true that the Packers held their past four opponents to 15 or fewer points per game, but those opponents included the No. 31-ranked scoring offense (Redskins), the No. 30 (Bears), the No. 19 (Giants) and the Vikings without Cook and Mattison.

 

To win playoff games, the Packers will need something from Rodgers that they haven’t gotten or even asked for: a performance that matches some of his singular playoff games, from the 2010 divisional playoff against the Atlanta Falcons to the 2016 divisional game against the Dallas Cowboys. That’ll get us all talking about the Packers again, not for aesthetic reasons but for competitive ones, instead of noting that Rodgers now ranks 21st in the NFL in QBR (52.2).

 

“I’ve always just tried to do what the team needed,” Rodgers said. “There have been times over the years when I needed to do some of those things I’ve done over the years. This year it’s different, based on the personnel we have and the scheme that we’re running. I’m trying to be opportunistic, but we’ve got a pretty good run game going.”

 

 

MINNESOTA

Another Monday night, another abysmal night for QB KIRK COUSINS.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins now has a record of 0-9 on Monday Night Football. And no matter how hard folks like Booger McFarland try to pooh-pooh Cousins’ responsibility for that level of futility, the reality is that, under the bright lights of prime time, Cousins more often than not plays like poo-poo.

 

Some say wins are an appropriate quarterback stat. Others loudly and vehemently disagree.

 

The truth is in the middle. A quarterback contributes significantly to potential victory by making good pre-snap decisions, good post-snap decisions, accurate throws, and minimal blunders. The accountability he instills during the days and weeks and months between games helps ensure that teammates will do their jobs well, too. And the leadership he brings to each and every game — especially in key moments — helps the whole become greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer understandably wasn’t in the mood to entertain the broad, intangible connection between quarterback and wins/losses after Monday night’s loss to the Packers.

 

“I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing and all this stuff,” Zimmer told reporters after the 23-10 loss to the Packers, which relegated the Vikings to the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff field.

 

The question that prompted the response focused on whether Zimmer was surprised with Cousins’ performance, given what was on the line. It wasn’t about Monday night; it was about Cousins’ play (which was poor) in a game with very high stakes.

 

There were bigger problems than Cousins. The absence of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison kept the offense from committing to the run that way it usually does, and the lack of punch in the running game kept Cousins from dialing up significant opportunities via play-action and bootlegs.

 

“Offensively we didn’t play as well as we can play, I’ll say that,” Zimmer said. “And defensively we could have played the run better. So there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”

 

The defense didn’t play better because the defense spent most of the game on the field, with the Packers having a full 15-minute advantage in time of possession. And that happened because the offense, which had no rhythm or flow (remember that, folks, when putting offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on the short list of no-brainer head-coaching candidates for 2020), could do nothing — converting three gift-wrapped turnovers into 10 points and then scoring none through the more traditional process of acquiring possession of the ball.

 

There’s plenty to clean up, and fewer than two weeks to do it before the Vikings face seemingly inevitable (based on last night) elimination at Green Bay or New Orleans.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

This tweet from 506Sports –

 

@506sports

The Eagles game has playoff implications no matter what. The Cowboys game might not.

 

Guess which one Buck and Aikman are going to, and guess which one most of the country will be seeing.

– – –

Whether or not it is one game, or more, LB LEIGHTON VAN ESCH is done for the rest of the season with a neck injury.

– – –

Todd Archer of ESPN.com sees change ahead for Dallas.

 

 

Cowboys’ Unrestricted Free Agents (24)

OFFENSE

QB Dak Prescott | WR Tavon Austin

WR Randall Cobb| WR Amari Cooper

TE Jason Witten | C Joe Looney

G Xavier Su’a-Filo

 

DEFENSE

DL Michael Bennett | DT Maliek Collins

DT Christian Covington | DE Kerry Hyder

DE Robert Quinn | LB Malcolm Smith

LB Sean Lee | LB Justin March

LB Joe Thomas | CB Anthony Brown

S Kavon Frazier | CB C.J. Goodwin

S Jeff Heath | CB Byron Jones

S Darian Thompson

 

SPECIALISTS

K Kai Forbath | LS L.P. Ladouceur

 

There was a sense of despair in the locker room after the 17-9 loss to the Eagles on Sunday. Gone was the feeling of controlling their playoff fate. Gone was the thought of a fairy-tale Super Bowl run.

 

Instead, a sobering reality is setting in: Change is coming.

 

Jason Garrett’s job status has been an ongoing discussion since Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones opted not to offer the coach a contract extension after he directed Dallas out of a 3-5 hole and to the playoffs in 2018. Perhaps it would be symbolic if the Cowboys finish with an 8-8 record in Garrett’s final season, given that they opened his coaching tenure with three straight .500 finishes.

 

But the pending changes go beyond Garrett. Eighteen of the 25 assistant coaches, including passing game coordinator Kris Richard and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, have expiring contracts. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, offensive line coach Marc Colombo, quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna and receivers coach Sanjay Lal are among those signed at least through 2020, but there is no guarantee that they will return under a new head coach.

 

On the player side, the number is more alarming because up to 26 players could be unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Although roster turnover is a constant year to year, that is a staggering number.

 

Some of those players, such as quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, will not be going anywhere.

 

If there is not an extension of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys can use the franchise and transition tags on both players in 2020. If there is a new CBA before March, the Cowboys can use only one designation, and that would likely be the franchise tag on Prescott, which would cost $27 million to $37 million.

 

The goal, however, is to sign both Prescott and Cooper to multiyear deals. Of course, that was the Cowboys’ goal last offseason as well.

 

But what about Byron Jones, the Cowboys’ top cornerback? Although he has gone 39 games without an interception, he is a valuable asset because of his cover skills. Team sack leader Robert Quinn, who has 10.5 sacks and will turn 30 years old in May, will likely command more than the Cowboys can afford.

 

Linebacker Sean Lee has shown that he can still make plays if he is managed properly during the week of practice and in games. He could be a valuable contributor to a defense looking for veteran leadership. Defensive end Michael Bennett has committed too many penalties since his acquisition in a trade, but he can play multiple spots up front. There is a question as to whether Bennett, 34, wants to play another season.

 

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins is 24, but the thought has been that he will make more money elsewhere, even if he has not had the season some predicted. Folks have wanted to replace safety Jeff Heath the past few years, but the Cowboys’ defense has not been the same when he is off the field.

 

On offense, will tight end Jason Witten return, or does he want to return? He has been productive and played fewer snaps after his year off while in the ESPN analyst chair, but he will turn 38 in May, and Blake Jarwin, who will be a restricted free agent, has progressed.

 

No. 3 receiver Randall Cobb has been a valuable asset. Backup linemen Xavier Su’a-Filo, Joe Looney and Cameron Fleming have played valuable roles as spot starters the past two years. All three of them could be free agents if the Cowboys don’t exercise the 2020 option on Fleming’s contract. Fullback Jamize Olawale also has an option that would need to be exercised.

 

Two of the three specialists — LP Ladouceur and Kai Forbath — have expiring deals. Ladouceur passed Witten for the team record for consecutive games played in team history (236) against the Eagles and is likely to return on a one-year deal. Forbath has not missed a kick in his two games and could return for an offseason competition at the position.

 

Jones used the contract year of coaches and players as a motivational tactic, believing that he would get their best because they needed it.

 

That hasn’t happened, and the Cowboys are about to enter an offseason of major change.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Tim McManus of ESPN.com says TE ZACH ERTZ turned to the Conquistadors to inspire the Eagles to pillage the team from Tejas.

 

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was unavailable to speak with the media following Sunday’s 17-9 win against the Dallas Cowboys, a victory that put Philadelphia in the driver’s seat in the NFC East. He had injured his ribs in the game, and exited the locker room promptly to get treatment postgame.

 

No matter. His message had already been delivered the night before, during a speech at the hotel as the Eagles gathered for one final meeting before the biggest game of their season. Looking to get them in the right frame of mind, Ertz stood up in front of his peers and told the story of Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s.

 

“Cortes, when he was invading Mexico, man, told his soldiers to burn the ships behind them, the reason being, there is no Plan B. There’s only Plan A, and that’s to get the job done,” said guard Brandon Brooks.

 

“He gave the story, talking about burning the boats and having no choice but to compete and win. Either you survive or you go home,” added safety Malcolm Jenkins. “That’s the situation that we’re in.”

 

The Eagles, facing elimination against the Cowboys on Sunday, entered as 2 1/2-point underdogs. Carson Wentz (31-of-40, 319 yards, TD) played one of his best games in arguably the biggest start of his career while working alongside several players who were on the practice squad to start the season. The Eagles’ defense put the clamps on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (13 carries, 47 yards) and wide receiver Amari Cooper (4 catches, 24 yards), while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to three field goals.

 

Philadelphia has won three straight to salvage the season and set up a trip to the postseason — so long as they take care of business against the New York Giants on Sunday. This is nothing new. They bounced back from a 5-7 start last season and responded with four straight wins, including a wild-card victory over the Chicago Bears, before being narrowly defeated by the Saints in the divisional round.

 

“This is the team that when their back is against the wall, they come out swinging and fighting,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Whatever it takes. Sometimes it’s not pretty and it doesn’t have to be.”

 

Malcolm Jenkins didn’t seem to get the message of burning the ships – it is that you can’t go home.  But roll with it.

 

 

WASHINGTON

QB DWAYNE HASKINS will not make the start Sunday in Dallas.  Instead, Washington will counter with a pair of Texas-bred QBs.

 

Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins will not play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 because of an ankle injury, interim coach Bill Callahan announced Monday.

 

Haskins, selected 15th overall by the Redskins in this year’s draft, suffered the injury Sunday against the Giants on a sack on the first play of the second half and couldn’t complete the game, which the Redskins lost 41-35 in overtime. Callahan said he anticipated Haskins needing several weeks to heal.

 

This Sunday’s game is a meaningful one for the Cowboys, who will win the NFC East if they defeat Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles lose on the road to the New York Giants.

 

Veteran Case Keenum will start at quarterback for the Redskins with Haskins sidelined. Colt McCoy will be the backup.

 

Before leaving injured Sunday, Haskins completed 12 of 15 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He finishes his rookie season with a 58.6% completion rate for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games.

 

But, in the last three games combined, he posted a total QBR of 59.0 and a passer rating of 109.5. He threw for five touchdowns and only one interception in that span.

 

“He was making great progress,” Callahan said. “It was quite substantial and the start he had in the game yesterday was very impressive. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to finish the game. I thought he was getting hot. I thought that he had the great feel for the game, the right reads, he sped through the progression well, he found the openings very easily. I thought the game came to him very naturally.”

 

Callahan said Haskins improved going through his progressions and making quicker reads.

 

“His footwork and fundamentals have improved,” Callahan said. “Any time you are the starter, your attention to detail rises to a certain level and it gets higher and it gets heightened. That’s what I felt about his play in the last few weeks and you could see that across the field and on tape. You could see it in the building. Those are real positive traits going forward for him.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

David Tepper is taking another look at a man with Pittsburgh connections.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

The Carolina Panthers have interviewed former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy for their vacant head-coaching job, league sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The interview took place after the Panthers’ loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts, sources told Schefter.

 

The Panthers declined to publicly comment on their coaching search.

 

After firing longtime head coach Ron Rivera earlier this month, Panthers owner David Tepper indicated he was leaning toward offensive-minded candidates who are willing to use analytics.

 

Beyond Cam Newton, Panthers’ QB options no clearer after Will Grier’s debut

McCarthy, 56, was fired by the Packers on Dec. 2, 2018, after nearly 13 seasons as Green Bay’s head coach.

 

A former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, McCarthy was praised for his role in Aaron Rodgers’ development in Green Bay and coached the Packers to a Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season.

 

But toward the end of his tenure, McCarthy was criticized for his conservative and sometimes predictable offense in Green Bay.

 

In an interview published earlier this month by NFL.com, McCarthy said he has spent the past year studying newer offensive philosophies and steeping himself in analytics.

 

“I’ve looked at every team in the league and their commitment to analytics, and football technology and video,” McCarthy told NFL.com. “Because everybody has analytics, but it has to be part of your everyday operation to show up on Sundays.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Coach Bruce Arians pleads for his defense to be kept together.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has made it clear that he does not want to see linebacker Shaq Barrett leave the team as a free agent this offseason and Barrett isn’t the only player he hopes to see back on defense in 2020.

 

Tampa’s defense has been playing its best football over the last few weeks — 14 takeaways and 22 sacks in the last seven games — and Arians wants to see the same guys back to build on that next year.

 

“If we can keep this defense together, we can be really really good defensively for a long time,” Arians said, via Eduardo Encina of the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s a very young group, and the older guys are young. They’re guys who don’t age. It will be huge for us to keep them together and build off the way we’re finishing the last six, seven weeks, the growth in the secondary especially.”

 

The secondary is young, which makes it easier to keep the group together than the front seven. Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh join Barrett as impending free agents, so keeping the entire band together may be difficult given the need to sort out their quarterback plans and other spots on the field.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks turn to two blasts from the past to man the running back spot as they face the Niners for the division title.  Brady Henderson of ESPN.com:

 

Running back Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks agreed to a deal on Monday, Lynch’s agent announced.

 

Lynch’s contract is for this season only — Week 17 against the San Francisco 49ers and the postseason, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The Seahawks also signed Robert Turbin, who spent his first three NFL seasons with the Seahawks. Lynch and Turbin fill backfield spots that opened Sunday when Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise suffered season-ending injuries.

 

Lynch, who was in Seattle on Monday to take a physical, spent parts of six seasons with the Seahawks from 2010 to 2015. The five-time Pro Bowler came out of a one-year retirement to play for his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders, in 2017 and 2018.

 

Marshawn Lynch will give Seahawks a jolt — and maybe some production, too

 

Lynch, 33, hasn’t played this season but didn’t file retirement paperwork with the league.

 

In an interview posted by Beast Mode Productions on YouTube on Monday night — the caption says the chat took place “a few days ago” — Lynch was asked about a new opportunity and why he’d consider returning to Seattle. He responded: “We got history there. We got unfinished business.”

 

The Seahawks (11-4) were desperate for help at running back as they prepare for their showdown Sunday night against the 49ers (12-3) in a game that will determine the NFC West champion.

 

Coach Pete Carroll confirmed Monday that Carson suffered a season-ending hip fracture during a loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Seattle also is without backups Prosise (arm) and Rashaad Penny (knee), both of whom are out for the rest of the season.

 

Lynch rushed for 376 yards and three touchdowns in six games with the Raiders last season. He eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing in four consecutive seasons with the Seahawks from 2011 to 2014 and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2013 and 2014.

 

“He’s had plenty of time to be working and get ready in case something came up, and I’m anxious to see him when we get him here,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle earlier on Monday. “There’s a lot of history here that’s great history. There was nobody that ever amplified the kind of mentality and toughness that we like to play with, so if we get a chance to get the Beast back on the field, we’ll see how that works out.”

 

The 30-year-old Turbin was a fourth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2012, part of the famed draft class that also included Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. He rushed for 928 yards on 231 attempts (4.00 average) in 48 games with Seattle while serving as Lynch’s primary backup. That included a career-high 310 yards in 2014.

 

Turbin spent three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts from 2016 to 2018, averaging 3.1 yards per carry over 23 games. He last played in Week 6 of the 2018 season.

 

Turbin and Wilson were roommates on road trips and became close friends during the running back’s three seasons in Seattle. He was part of Wilson’s wedding party when the quarterback married singer Ciara in 2016.

 

Turbin posted to Instagram a picture from inside the Seahawks’ locker room Monday evening, indicating he had returned to the team.

 

Also Monday, Carroll said he expects Jadeveon Clowney to play against the 49ers after missing the Cardinals game with a core-muscle injury he’s been dealing with since Week 10. That was the first meeting against San Francisco and Clowney’s best game of the season.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens and Orioles both last lost on the same day – September 29th.

 

And the Orioles 5-4 defeat at Boston that day went final at 6:27 pm while the Ravens loss to, of all teams, Cleveland, came to a halt at 4:08 pm.  So the Orioles have lost more recently than the Ravens.

 

The next loss for the Ravens may come around 7:30 pm on December 29, three months to the day.  That’s because they are resting all their key players with the Steelers coming to town needing a win to stay alive.

 

Clifton Brown of BaltimoreRavens.com:

 

We won’t see Lamar Jackson in action again until the playoffs.

 

Head Coach John Harbaugh announced Monday that Jackson, Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas III, Mark Ingram and Brandon Williams won’t play during Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

The Ravens have locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and will use the final regular season game to rest key veterans as they prepare for the postseason.

 

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens would still play to win, but with a different lineup. The Ravens can’t rest all their starters because they don’t have enough backups on the roster, but even those who do suit up may not go the entire game. Playing time will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Harbaugh said.

 

“It will be an opportunity for some guys to play who have been inactive,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s the Steelers. They have everything to play for. We recognize that and we’ll be looking to put our absolute best foot forward.”

 

Harbaugh said both Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorley could see action at quarterback. If McSorley plays, it will be his first regular-season action.

 

Resting Jackson in Week 17 eliminates the danger of him suffering an injury before the playoffs. However, it also raises the possibility that Jackson may feel a little rusty by the time Baltimore opens the playoffs either Jan. 11 or 12 following a bye week. The Ravens also want to keep the momentum they have built during their 11-game winning streak.

 

Harbaugh made the decision not to play Jackson, knowing that the highly-competitive Jackson always wants to play.

 

“Yeah, he wants to play, I saw the press conference,” Harbaugh said smiling. “I appreciate it. But one thing about Lamar, and all of our guys, they’ll be 100 percent behind the guys who are playing. And they’ll be doing everything they can do to get those guys prepared to play in this game and win the football game.”

 

Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien said Monday that he won’t rest his starters in Week 17, even though the Texans have already clinched the AFC South and are locked into the No. 4 seed. But after weighing the issue (and praying on it), Harbaugh decided that resting some starters was the best option for the Ravens.

 

 

“I think it’s a solid decision,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if it’s easy. It’s a strong case to be made either way. I recognize the other side of it. It’s two good choices. We’re going to have to practice really well. The guys who aren’t playing are going to have to practice. We want to win this game. After that, we want to be the very best team we can be coming into the divisional game.”

 

Carr’s Consecutive Game Streak Likely to Continue

 

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr is not planning to sit out Week 17, according to Harbaugh.

 

Carr’s streak of 191 consecutive starts is the longest among active NFL defensive players, and the Ravens plan for Carr to take his usual place in the starting lineup against Pittsburgh.

 

“Right now, Brandon’s on my list to play,” Harbaugh said. “If something changes with that, it will change. Brandon wants to play.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

QB MASON RUDOLPH is done – for 2019 at least.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Steelers are going to fly as far as Duck takes them.

 

The team announced Tuesday that quarterback Mason Rudolph was being placed on injured reserve, with last week’s shoulder injury ending his season.

 

To fill his roster spot, they promoted center J.C. Hassenauer from the practice squad as cover for Maurkice Pouncey‘s injury.

 

Rudolph came into last week’s game after Devlin Hodges was pulled, but wasn’t able to finish. He started eight games for them this year, winning five of them. He threw 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but went through an ineffective stretch that saw the former third-round pick replaced by Hodges, an undrafted rookie.

 

That leaves Hodges and Paxton Lynch as the only quarterbacks on the roster for the finale, as the Steelers are playing for the final wild card spot.

 

They need a win and a Titans loss or tie, or a tie and a Titans loss, or losses by them and the Titans and a win by the Colts and a Raiders loss or tie.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

LB J.J. WATT appears set to make a return for the playoffs.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Maybe the reason Bill O’Brien didn’t want to talk about J.J. Watt yesterday was because he knew he was going to today.

 

According to NFL Network, the Texans are designating the three-time defensive player of the year to return from injured reserve today.

 

Watt suffered a torn pectoral on Oct. 27, and has been rehabbing diligently to get back on the field this year.

 

The Texans adding a player of his caliber for the postseason is obviously a boost, so long as Watt hasn’t rushed himself and created risk for the future.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

LOSERS LAMENT

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com on why six teams came up short.  As usual with his voluminous stuff, we edit.  The whole thing is here

 

Let’s go through six NFL teams that disappointed their fans and most onlookers in 2019, identify what went wrong and figure out how/whether those organizations might fix their woes in 2020. The other five teams have all been eliminated from postseason contention, but because the Cowboys still have a glimmer of hope, let’s start with them:

 

Dallas Cowboys (7-8)

1. The defense simply wasn’t good. The Cowboys were 22nd in defensive DVOA heading into Sunday’s loss, and while they held Philadelphia to 17 points, they allowed an Eagles team that was down to Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders and practice-squad guys as weapons at times during this contest to rack up 431 yards and hold the ball for more than 36 minutes.

 

Should the Cowboys have seen this coming? They were overly optimistic about their secondary, which was 16th in defensive DVOA in 2018 with great seasons from the stars in the front seven and an unexpected leap from Byron Jones, who played like a No. 1 corner for stretches of the season. Jones hasn’t been that sort of player this season, and while the Cowboys might have counted on guys like Awuzie to take a leap forward in their third seasons, having a fallback plan would have been nice.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: Dallas could hire a defensive-minded coach in the hopes of improving on that side of the ball, especially given that the offense ranked as one of the best in football by advanced metrics. Addressing the secondary with one of its top two picks would make sense, although the massive deals likely coming to Dak Prescott and Cooper make a big free-agent splash less likely. Could the Cowboys rekindle the Adams trade talks this offseason?

 

2. The luck ran out. The Cowboys were a fortunate team in 2018. They went 8-2 in one-score games last season, with six of the seven wins that launched them to the postseason during their second-half surge coming by seven points or fewer. They outscored their opposition by less than a point per game and finished 21st in overall DVOA. They were an average team that benefited from a middling division and a bunch of close victories. Typically, teams win about half of their close games from year to year.

 

This season, the Cowboys were actually a better team from snap to snap, but their luck was worse. They ranked eighth in DVOA heading into the Eagles loss, with a huge gap between them and the Packers in ninth. Despite their 7-8 record, they have outscored their opponents by 82 points. Typically, we would expect a team with their underlying numbers to win about 9.6 out of every 15 games. The Cowboys would have already clinched a playoff spot if that were the case.

 

Instead, this team is now 0-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. It didn’t regress to the mean. It drove all the way past it.

 

3. Their coaching wasn’t good. I probably don’t need to run through what has been years of frustration surrounding Garrett’s late-game decision-making, a problem that popped up again while the Cowboys were dealing with subpar kicking from Brett Maher for most of 2019. Garrett seemed to take the blame for some questionable playcalling on key drives during the season, but given that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was the playcaller this season, it seems odd to pin that on the head coach.

 

I might also be the only one defending the Cowboys for their decision to run a play on fourth down late in the fourth quarter without taking a timeout to get Cooper and Randall Cobb back on the field. The Cowboys framed the issue as Cooper rotating out of the game as a load management concern, which quickly seemed like a laughable excuse.

 

I can see a couple of defenses here. For one, while I might have wanted Cobb on the field, Cooper clearly wasn’t effective in this game. He was averaging 2 yards per target. The former Alabama star doesn’t look 100% healthy, and given how the weakness in the Eagles secondary is getting burned by speed on the edges, I can understand preferring Tavon Austin to a compromised Cooper on fourth down.

 

The Cowboys also needed to hold on to those three timeouts to try to get an extra possession if they failed.

 

Chicago Bears (7-8)

1. Mitchell Trubisky declined. With Bears fans, the organization and Trubisky himself expecting the young quarterback to take a leap forward in his third season, Trubisky instead struggled mightily. His numbers fell across the board. After averaging 7.4 yards per pass attempt a year ago, he has dropped all the way down to 6.3 yards per attempt, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

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It’s tough to give up on Trubisky, who is still an excellent athlete and capable of making top-level throws, but the Bears run the risk of making the same mistakes the Jaguars made with a similarly tantalizing, often-frustrating quarterback in Blake Bortles. Trubisky pieced together what appeared to be back-to-back impressive starts in wins over the Lions and Cowboys, but the Lions game came against the league’s 29th-ranked pass defense by DVOA, and the Cowboys victory saw Trubisky’s average completion travel just 3.8 yards in the air. Treating those games as confirmation that the quarterback the Bears want to see is buried somewhere underneath bad press or subpar coaching is desperate.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: General manager Ryan Pace needs to bring in meaningful, significant competition for Trubisky in 2020. I’ve floated Marcus Mariota as a logical option given his experience working with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon. It’s too early for the Bears to give up on Trubisky altogether if they thought he was a potential superstar heading into the season, but the organization can’t rubber-stamp his starting spot in 2020 and just write this season off as a bad dream.

 

2. The defense regressed. While the Bears still sport one of the league’s better defenses, they’ve declined in exactly the way we would have expected heading into the season. In 2018, they forced turnovers on 19.1% of drives and picked off 4.4% of opposing pass attempts, with both marks leading in the NFL. There’s also virtually no track record of teams keeping that up year after year, especially in a league in which interception rates have been falling.

 

Guess what has happened in 2019? The Bears are forcing turnovers on 9.4% of opposing possessions, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. Their interception rate has fallen all the way to 1.5%, which is 29th in the league.

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The Bears were also extremely healthy on defense in 2018, and there just isn’t any way to count on that occurring year after year. Last season, their 11 primary defensive starters missed a total of just eight games. Star defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has missed nine games on his own this season, while starting inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith have both hit injured reserve. In January, I compared the post-Fangio Bears to the post-Kyle Shanahan Falcons in that they were likely to decline for reasons almost entirely out of their new coach’s control. Chuck Pagano has done a very good job with these Bears, but even if they had brought back Fangio and the same 11 starters from 2018, it would have been tough to expect last year’s results.

 

Cleveland Browns (6-9)

1. The team lacked discipline. The Browns have committed 148 penalties this season, the second most of any team in football behind the Jaguars. That included a 20-penalty opener in the 43-13 loss to the Titans, the first time a team has hit the 20-penalty mark in a game since the Dolphins did it in 2017. The Myles Garrett incident cost the Browns their top defensive player for the second half. I’m not sure how much this really matters, but when compared to the Patriots, the Browns’ sideline looked a little like 2 p.m. at the main stage of a summer music festival.

 

On a less tangible level, the Browns don’t look like they’re well-drilled. Baker Mayfield spent most of the first half playing hero ball, repeatedly drifting to the right to try to make a frantic throw under any pretense of pressure without correcting the problem until late in the season. Mayfield, who was ninth in passer rating under pressure a year ago, was 28th in the same category through the first half of 2019 before improving in recent weeks. Good offensive coaches nip that in the bud in days, not weeks.

 

Mayfield also picked unnecessary battles in the media with everyone from Duke Johnson to Daniel Jones. I’ll give the Browns the benefit of the doubt and assume that star wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry haven’t asked other teams to “come get them,” but this was supposed to be the season in which the Browns shined in the spotlight. Instead, it felt like the same old Browns.

 

Should the Browns have seen this coming? Nobody could have anticipated Garrett smacking Mason Rudolph in the head with a helmet, but otherwise, there were reasons to be concerned. Freddie Kitchens hadn’t ever been a coordinator at any level before the second half of 2018, let alone a head coach. Asking a first-time coach to manage a room full of egos when the minimum expectation is a playoff berth is a lot. Kitchens also refused to lighten his load by giving up playcalling duties to former Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken. You can understand why they wanted to keep coaching continuity for Mayfield after his excellent second half as a rookie, but that argument doesn’t seem quite as pressing in 2019.

 

The Browns committed only 43 penalties over the second half of the season in 2018, but they were willing to entertain players who had a penalty history. One obvious candidate was left tackle Greg Robinson, who was brought back on a one-year deal after going 463 offensive snaps without allowing a sack last season. That’s an impressive feat, but he racked up nine holding penalties over the second half of 2018 and drew 31 holding calls from 2014-17, 10 more than any other lineman. Robinson, who was ejected from the opener and benched briefly during the season, has 11 penalties in 14 games this season, including five holding calls.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: The Browns probably need to move on from Kitchens. I don’t know that coaches can demonstrably inhibit penalties from year to year, but bringing in someone with a greater attention to detail and experience dealing with a noisy locker room seems to make sense. Likewise, they have to upgrade the weakest spots on their roster by moving on from guys like Robinson, even if they were better than the guys they replaced.

 

2. They didn’t get 16 productive games out of many of their stars. Few teams came into the season with a core as exciting as Cleveland’s. Just about every one of Cleveland’s stars or would-be stars didn’t live up to expectations:

 

Mayfield had a wildly disappointing season, declining in virtually every statistical category.

 

Beckham battled through a sports hernia and averaged just 63.6 receiving yards per game, down from 92.8 yards per game during his time with the Giants.

 

David Njoku missed three months with a wrist injury and has been a healthy scratch in each of the past two weeks.

 

Olivier Vernon suffered a knee injury in Week 9 and has played just 10 snaps since.

 

Garrett racked up 10 sacks in his first seven games, but he was suspended for the final six games of the year and indefinitely thereafter for the incident with Rudolph.

 

Damarious Randall missed five games and Denzel Ward missed four as part of an early-season stretch in which the Browns were occasionally down all four of their starting defensive backs.

 

Christian Kirksey missed the final 14 games of the year with a torn pectoral muscle.

 

There were exceptions — Landry, Nick Chubb, Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson have generally been healthy and effective — but many of the players who were supposed to be difference-makers for this team haven’t been this season.

 

Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

1. They ignored the preponderance of evidence and believed their defense would be good. While the Falcons’ defense was good during the 2016 and 2017 postseasons, Dan Quinn’s unit ranked 26th, 22nd and 31st over the three seasons prior to 2019. The Falcons evidently wrote off 2018 as an injury-riddled, wasted season and essentially ran things back in 2019 with the same core of talent. General manager Thomas Dimitroff used two first-round picks on offensive linemen and didn’t make any major additions on defense beyond defensive end Allen Bailey, who was signed in late July.

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The Falcons got about every step of this defense’s offseason wrong. They let pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. play out his fifth-year option at $12.8 million despite the fact that his 15.5-sack season from 2016 looms as an obvious, unsustainable outlier on his career. A run of 6.5 sacks in his past seven games, three of which have come against widely sacked Panthers starter Kyle Allen, have pushed Beasley’s 2019 total to eight. That’s now his second-highest full-season total as a pro.

 

Dimitroff devoted most of his resources this offseason to fixing the offensive line, first by signing Jamon Brown, James Carpenter and Ty Sambrailo, then by using two first-round picks on Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The trade for McGary cost Atlanta its second- and third-round picks, and it didn’t use a selection on a defensive back until drafting Kendall Sheffield with the 111th pick. While the Falcons had holes on their line, this was a spot in which they had already spent serious money on retaining Jake Matthews and signing Alex Mack. It’s certainly fair to think that the Falcons signed those free agents not knowing they would get Lindstrom, but trading up for McGary with so many needs on defense was probably too aggressive, regardless of how McGary turns out as a player.

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How to avoid making the same mistake: Wholesale changes, which include replacing Quinn as coach. The Falcons have to let Beasley leave, late-season run be damned, and invest in improving their pass rush. They have their own first- and second-round picks and an extra second-rounder from the Patriots as part of the Mohamed Sanu deal; those selections need to go toward the pass defense.

 

2. Dirk Koetter didn’t fix the offense. The Falcons seemed exhausted of Steve Sarkisian when they fired the former Washington head coach after last season. The offense took a step backward after the Falcons hired Sarkisian to replace Kyle Shanahan, and Falcons fans were certainly intrigued when Atlanta replaced Sarkisian with Dirk Koetter. The former Bucs coach had previously spent three seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator from 2012 to ’14, with the 2012 offense finishing seventh in points per game and coming within one trip of making it to the Super Bowl. With Shanahan unavailable, Koetter might have been the next-best option.

 

The most frustrating spot for the Falcons after Shanahan left was their performance in the red zone. After the 2016 Falcons averaged 5.2 points per red zone trip, the Sarkisian-led offenses failed to live up to that standard. The 2017 offense was a mess at 4.5 points per red zone possession and ended its season by failing at the goal line against the Eagles in the playoffs. When the same offense failed at the same spot in the season opener against the Eagles in 2018, the die had been cast. Even though Sarkisian’s red zone offense went on a lengthy touchdown streak shortly thereafter and eventually averaged 5.0 points per red zone possession, Falcons fans wanted to see the Shanahan red zone offense make its return with Koetter in the fold.

 

That simply hasn’t happened. The Falcons have averaged 4.8 points per red zone possession this season, slightly worse than the Sarkisian offense we saw a year ago. They’ve done that with Devonta Freeman on the roster for a much larger portion of the season than he was in 2018, when Freeman played only 67 offensive snaps. And while injuries have hit the offensive line, Dimitroff’s offseason investments have left the Falcons with a much deeper line than the one they used in 2018. Even so, the offense has been closer to good than great in the red zone.

 

The hidden truth is that Shanahan’s genius isn’t really in the red zone, where performance is random from year to year. The 49ers, for one, had one of the worst red zone offenses in football under Shanahan a year ago. The San Francisco coach really makes his mark on first downs. The Falcons averaged 7.6 yards per play on first down in 2016, nearly a yard more than any other team in the league and the best first-down performance I was able to find going back through the mid-1990s. There’s a good chance the 2016 Falcons were the best first-down offense in NFL history.

 

Guess who leads the league in yards per play on first down in 2019? It’s Shanahan’s 49ers, who are averaging 6.6 yards per play. Under Sarkisian, the Falcons weren’t able to keep up with that historical outlier of a season, but they averaged 6.4 yards per first-down play in both 2017 and 2018, ranking in the top five for offenses in both years. Koetter’s 2019 offense is averaging 5.7 yards per play on first down, which ranks 11th. The Falcons fired Sarkisian after his offense finished eighth in DVOA last season, and Koetter’s offense subsequently ranked 16th in DVOA this season through Week 15.

 

Should the Falcons have seen this coming? Maybe? We know the ceiling for this offense is astronomical based on 2016, but the Falcons were very good on offense last season! They ranked 10th in points per game, but that was a product of their defense giving up long, methodical drives. They racked up only 165 meaningful possessions on offense, the fifth fewest in football, and inherited the league’s third-worst average starting field position. The Falcons were sixth in points per drive and eighth in DVOA. If you assume that the offensive line improvements would have plugged the biggest holes in the offense, I can see a scenario where they do have a top-three offense, but just about everything has to go right for your offense to get there.

 

Los Angeles Chargers (5-10)

1. They were beset by injuries. It was Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry last season. This year, the Chargers have had just eight starters start all 15 games. While that list thankfully includes key contributors such as Bosa, Keenan Allen and Casey Hayward Jr., just about every other member of this team’s core has missed action.

 

The biggest injury was to star safety Derwin James, who broke his foot during the preseason and missed the first 11 games of the season.

 

Should the Chargers have seen this coming? Yes, they’re the Chargers. The top 10 spots on their roster are as talented as any group in football, and the chances of those 10 players all playing on the field together for any length of time are remarkably slim.

 

I’m not kidding. The Chargers’ top four players on defense are Hayward, James, Bosa and Ingram, who would be every-down players when healthy for any defense in football. The defense has faced 1,851 snaps since the start of 2018. Those four defenders have been on the field together for 446 of those snaps, or just over 24% of the possible opportunities.

 

Likewise, the key players around Philip Rivers on offense are Allen, Henry, Okung and Melvin Gordon. Those four guys have been on the field for a mere 90 of the 1,866 offensive snaps the Chargers have run since the start of 2018, less than 5% of Los Angeles’ offensive plays. Matt Schaub has taken more offensive snaps for the Falcons since the start of 2018 than those four stars have together.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: Move back to San Diego? Apologize to whomever the Chargers wronged in a former life? This has been an annual problem for the league’s most frustrating team, and with little control over injuries, the Chargers just have to hope they find a year when they get everyone or close to everyone healthy for a long stretch of time. Maybe moving out of Carson will help.

 

2. They reverted back to their 2015-17 form in close games. After going 7-20 in games decided by seven points or fewer between 2015 and 2017, the Chargers bounced back in close games and went 5-1 in those games a year ago. History tells us that remarkably good or bad performances in close games tend to bounce back the following year, but after four years of extremely polarizing performances in one-score contests, the hope was that the Chargers would just win half of their close games without having to resort to dramatics.

 

Instead, the Chargers are 2-9 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

 

Should the Chargers have seen this coming? They should have expected to win fewer of their close games in 2019, but I don’t think the Chargers should have expected to go from winning 83% of their one-score tilts to winning 18% of them, no.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: Even the Chargers improved in one-score games after going 1-8 in 2016, so as long as the Chargers show up for all 16 games in 2020, they should do better in the close ones.

 

3. Rivers faded overnight. I covered Rivers’ sudden decline in my piece on NFL surprises last week. Facing a porous Raiders pass defense on Sunday, Rivers went 27-of-39 for 279 yards, with a significant chunk of that production coming down two scores in the fourth quarter. He had to spend much of the game operating with a silent snap count by virtue of the Raiders fans taking over what was supposed to be a home finale for the Chargers in Carson. With a matchup that the old Rivers would have relished destroying, Sunday felt like another sign that Rivers’ time in the league might be drawing to a close.

 

How to avoid making the same mistake: The Chargers can move on from Rivers when his contract expires this offseason. Tyrod Taylor and rookie fifth-round pick Easton Stick are both under contract for 2020, and the Chargers could address the quarterback position with their cap space or draft picks.

 

Los Angeles Rams (8-7)

1. The offensive line collapsed. When I wrote about the reasons the Rams were likely to decline in 2019, I mentioned the offensive line as my biggest concern with the roster. They were replacing veterans Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan with untested second-year linemen Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen.

 

For a team whose offensive line had been both extremely effective and remarkably healthy in Sean McVay’s first two seasons, it was an obvious point of weakness. And the line has been a mess, although not necessarily in the ways we might have expected. Noteboom tore his ACL in Week 6. Allen looked like he belonged as a starter before suffering a season-ending MCL injury in Week 10.

 

More disconcertingly, the expected strength of the line — the tackles — has been a disaster. Right tackle Rob Havenstein, who committed only two penalties last season, committed eight in nine games before suffering his own knee injury. Andrew Whitworth hit the wall at age 38, as the superstar left tackle has clearly lost a step. Whitworth has committed a career-high eight holding penalties, tied for second most in the league behind Denver’s Garett Bolles. The Rams will likely need to replace Whitworth in their lineup next season without the benefit of their first-round pick, which went to the Jags in the Jalen Ramsey deal.

 

Should the Rams have seen this coming? They should have expected their offensive line to decline in 2019. Counting on Whitworth to stay at a Pro Bowl level this late in his career was always a big ask, given that just four tackles in league history have started anything close to a full age-38 season. I don’t think they could have expected Havenstein to decline.

 

2. They’ve been hit by injuries. I was concerned about the Rams dealing with more injuries, especially on offense. McVay’s team had the league’s fewest adjusted games lost on offense in 2017 and its second fewest in 2018. For an offense that loved to run the same offensive personnel for more than 90% of the snaps when everyone is healthy, it’s tough to imagine that keeping up into 2019.

 

In addition to the three offensive linemen I mentioned, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee and Todd Gurley have all missed time with injuries. On defense, the Rams lost safety John Johnson to injured reserve with a shoulder injury and Aqib Talib (before he was traded) with a rib ailment, while Clay Matthews was out for three games after breaking his jaw against the Seahawks. Rookie Taylor Rapp, who took over in the starting lineup for Johnson, appeared to blow the coverage on the third-and-16 conversion that set up San Francisco’s winning field goal on Saturday.

 

3. The offense lost its identity. I figured McVay would have an antidote to the 6-1 fronts that the Lions showed and the Bears and Patriots emulated last season in limiting what had been a wildly productive Rams offense. For most of the year, McVay hasn’t. Just about every team the Rams have faced has used those six-man fronts at least part of the time, and it has slowed down the outside zone and killed Jared Goff’s effectiveness on play-action. Goff ranks 31st in the league in passer rating on play-action in 2019.

 

What has been strange is just how McVay has handled the whole thing. The Rams eventually moved to a heavier dose of toss plays and duo runs to try to defeat teams that were cheating toward the edge, but those haven’t been quite as effective. Early in the year, the Rams were conservative with Gurley and framed that as a coach’s decision. In recent weeks, they’ve focused the passing game around Higbee and begun to keep Gurley on the field for virtually every play, even late into blowouts, with McVay saying he had been an “idiot” to keep Gurley on the sideline earlier in the year.

 

I would put a larger portion of the blame on Goff, because McVay’s offense is still creating makeable passes. Goff’s expected completion percentage is 66.5%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He is instead completing 62.8% of his throws. The only quarterbacks with 200 attempts or more who have a larger negative gap between their completion percentage and expected completion percentage than Goff are rookies Gardner Minshew and Dwayne Haskins.

 

4. The unsustainable stuff wasn’t sustainable. In my preseason column, I noted that the Rams had gone 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, which has historically been almost impossible to keep up. The Rams are 2-3 in those same games this season, including a loss to the Seahawks where reliable kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal with 15 seconds to go in a 30-29 defeat.

 

 

2020 DRAFT

From ESPN, what we know about the draft order after Cincinnati which can Burrow in on a QB.  We put teams with multiple draft picks in bold.

 

The one-win Cincinnati Bengals have locked up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The order after Cincinnati isn’t as clear, with the projections by the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) giving the Washington Redskins the best chance to pick No. 2.

 

1. Cincinnati Bengals (1-14)

 

2. Washington Redskins (3-12)

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 100%

 

3. Detroit Lions (3-11-1)

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 100%

 

4. New York Giants (4-11)

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 100%

 

5. Miami Dolphins (4-11)

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 98.5%

 

6. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 1.5%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 100%

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers (5-10)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 100%

 

8. Carolina Panthers (5-10)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 90.6%

 

9. Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 82.9%

 

10. New York Jets (6-9)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 80.7%

 

11. Denver Broncos (6-9)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 20.7%

 

12. Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 11.2%

 

13. Cleveland Browns (6-9)

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 14%

 

14. Oakland Raiders (7-8)

 

15. Oakland Raiders (from 7-8 CHI)

 

16. Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

 

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)

 

18. Dallas Cowboys (7-8)

 

19. Miami Dolphins (from 8-7 PIT)

 

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from 8-7 LAR)

 

21. Tennessee Titans (8-7)

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)

 

23. Buffalo Bills (10-5)

 

24. Minnesota Vikings (10-5)

 

25. Miami Dolphins (from 10-5 HOU)

 

26. Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

 

28. Green Bay Packers (12-3)

 

29. San Francisco 49ers (12-3)

 

30. New England Patriots (12-3)

 

31. New Orleans Saints (12-3)

 

32. Baltimore Ravens (13-2)