AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

It’s unclear who might quarterback the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News:

 

At his Tuesday press conference, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia advised the media that quarterback Jeff Driskel’s hamstring was “pretty sore”and he could not guarantee that Driskel will be able to suit up against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving.

 

Driskel was listed as “limited” for the Lions’ walkthrough.  With Matthew Stafford out for the foreseeable future with fractures in his back, Driskel has started the past three games and has played reasonably well.  His performance against the Washington Redskins this past Sunday, however, was by far his worst performance.  Much of Driskel’s value stems from his running ability and a sore hamstring coupled with the ferocious pass rush of the Bears sounds like a recipe for disaster on Turkey Day.

 

But things can always get worse.  If Driskel cannot suit up in two days, someone named David Blough would have to start against the Bears.  The 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Purdue has never thrown a regular season pass in the NFL and nothing in his college or pro career has given any indication that he can be a viable starter-or even backup.

 

The NFL’s official draft pronunciation guide says it is “like Plough” which is really no help.  Is it “plow” or “pluff” or “plo” or something else?  The answer – it rhymes with cow, or snow plow or owww.

 

We have always spelled the farm implement or snow clearer as a “plow.”  But we learned this –

 

Plow and plough are alternative spellings of the same word. As a noun, they mean a farm implement, and as a verb, they mean to till the earth.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com with a deep dive on QB DAK PRESCOTT’s contract situation:

 

Dak Prescott is changing the way we look at bet-on-yourself quarterback money. Not only did he pass on the Dallas Cowboys’ contract overtures this summer but he took ownership of a run-heavy offense on the way to a potential 5,000-yard passing season. He has ditched the middle-of-the-road label and makes a reasonable case for top-10 QB status, which deepens the intrigue on an already captivating negotiation.

 

He checks proverbial boxes NFL teams care about: toughness, mobility, leadership, touch, poise, durability, command of the huddle and line of scrimmage, marketability. Even in his worst statistical game of the season, Sunday’s 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots, Prescott might have been a few tripping calls and dropped passes from an MVP moment. The loss wasn’t all on him. He made several impressive throws.

 

All of these things cost exorbitant amounts that will force Dallas into some sort of concession eventually. But this negotiation is only beginning. Multiple sources told ESPN that the Cowboys are prepared to use the franchise tag on Prescott in the absence of a long-term deal they very well might not reach by season’s end.

 

Here’s where the intrigue deepens: The gap between the money Prescott’s leverage commands vs. what executives see as his real worth is fairly wide. With help from NFL executives, veteran agents and ESPN Stats & Information research, here’s how this saga could play out — and how the Cowboys might structure a long-term deal.

 

“He’s going to get a huge contract,” one league personnel evaluator said. “Everything is playing out perfectly for him. Timing is everything.”

 

Why will Dak get paid?

Because he has waited patiently while the Cowboys have prioritized paying other stars, most notably Ezekiel Elliott, who held out while Prescott was grinding out training camp reps.

 

Because he has played the team-first guy throughout the process and put wins above contract talks.

 

Because he has been playing on a comically cap-friendly $2 million salary as part of a rookie contract, while top draft picks from his 2016 class, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, already cashed in with massive four-year deals of $134 million and $128 million, respectively.

 

Because he led the NFL in passing yards per game through the first 11 weeks (322.1) despite the Cowboys dropping back to pass 59% of the time, the eighth-lowest clip in the league.

 

And because, during that span, he has added more points to his offense than Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes. Based on ESPN’s QB Points Added metric, which compares total production of a quarterback compared with an average quarterback (QBR of 50), Prescott was averaging 45.4 points added on the season entering the Patriots game. The closest was Jackson, who entered Week 12 at 39.0.

 

When will Dak get paid?

If Prescott will get paid isn’t the question. It’s widely assumed that Prescott will reset the market at some point. When that will actually happen is far less predictable. Despite the Cowboys’ persistent public optimism that a deal would be reached, multiple sources say momentum stalled once the season began. And Prescott himself doesn’t seem to be in a rush, saying earlier this month, “When it gets done, it gets done.”

 

“It would be a surprise if anything got done during the season,” a source has maintained throughout the process.

 

Since then, Prescott has posted 24 total touchdowns but has done it exclusively against teams outside of the top 10 in total defense (the Patriots and Saints held him without a TD). But December wins will only fuel earning power, and Prescott has a chance to become the Cowboys’ first-ever NFL yardage leader in a single season.

 

The Cowboys and Prescott don’t need to mess with negotiations when Dallas is trying to stiff-arm Philly for an NFC East crown. It’s probably too late for all that anyhow.

 

Prescott can play this out and entertain free agency, even if only to tease. Late February and early March is when this will heat back up, pressed against the Feb. 25 deadline to put the franchise tag on him.

 

What can Dak get in a best-case scenario?

Prescott’s Hail Mary contract ask this summer — not taking a cent less than Wentz and Goff, and aiming for anywhere from $34 to 40 million per year, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington — was too rich for Dallas.

 

That was then. With a shift in leverage, don’t be shocked if Prescott dusts off that old proposal. One veteran agent who has negotiated with the Cowboys many times says Prescott should do just that — because he might just get it.

 

“One hundred sixty [million] over four [years],” the agent said when asked what he would propose. “With five to 10 [million] more guaranteed than the highest.”

 

The highest would be Goff, who parlayed a Super Bowl appearance into $110 million in new guarantees. That looks like strained money as Goff gawkily navigates less-than-clean pockets this season.

 

While Goff’s QBR has fallen from 63.6 in 2018 to 39.5 through 10 games this season, Prescott (77.9) has improved his by nearly 25 points. In fact, many numbers say Prescott, despite going 133 picks after Goff and Wentz, is outplaying both since 2016:

 

Prescott has 38 career wins, and neither Goff nor Wentz has more than 30. He leads both QBs in yards per attempt (7.7) and QBR (69.9).

 

Prescott’s 109 total touchdowns far surpasses the totals for Wentz (91) and Goff (82).

 

To be sure, Goff and Wentz (four years, $128 million) were well positioned for quicker payouts. Both had two years left on their rookie deals with the fifth-year options, which allowed the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively, to restructure remaining money into the new deal. Goff’s contract, for example, is really six years at around $166 million of new and old money. Prescott doesn’t have that luxury. There’s not much to roll over, which challenges Dallas to come up with guarantees outside of the first-round structure.

 

Wentz and Goff have had their brilliant moments on the field, too. But both the Eagles and Rams effectively strapped them with $36 million cap hits before they were asked to truly carry the team.

 

The Cowboys weren’t willing to go quite that far. Instead, they risked inflation while watching Prescott handle a pressure-cooker season. It’s up to Prescott to make them pay for that.

 

What should the Cowboys be paying?

Many around the league believe that Prescott is a good player but not a market-setter, and that Dallas validated that belief with a starting negotiation point a little too close to Kirk Cousins’ $28 million per year in Minnesota.

 

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer reported Dallas got up to $30.5 million per year with an offer during training camp, to ensure Prescott is in the top five leaguewide. (There’s so much more to contracts than per-year averages, of course, and guaranteed money is the true metric for player victories. But annual pay is the easiest reference point here.)

 

Months later, an executive says he’d be willing to take Prescott close to Goff’s $33.5 million but not more than Wilson at $34 million per year.

 

“You could get him in Goff’s range with some creative bonuses, but I don’t see him in the class with Russell and Aaron [Rodgers],” the executive said.

 

And that’s the problem: Prescott is worth as much as he’s willing to take, and anything less than $30 million per year isn’t in his stratosphere anymore. But many teams still can’t stomach today’s quarterback money, even for the top guys. The value thresholds for Prescott are all over the place:

 

“Not sure how to structure something that is going to be so big and unruly,” one longtime exec said.

 

“I don’t want any part of that deal, real or make-believe, because I don’t think he’s worth more than $18 million,” another exec said.

 

Extremes aside, here’s where the Cowboys can win: with a high per-year average well into the $30 millions, but with rolling guarantees in the middle-to-late years of the deal that don’t kick in until June 1. By waiting a few months after the league year starts in March, the team creates its own flexibility.

 

“By having the ‘vesting’ of the guarantee not occurring until later … you give yourself more time to make a decision on the QB before his money becomes truly guaranteed,” said one NFL source with experience on the team salary cap and agent sides. “In years where there is no guaranteed money, from a club perspective, perhaps you put in option bonuses whereby if you choose to decline the option to terminate the contract, you get credit in the comp pick formula.”

 

How the franchise tag alters the situation

A league source says the 2020 franchise tag value for quarterbacks will easily surpass $30 million, which gives Prescott a stellar baseline number to navigate. Once designated with the tag, he can follow the Cousins blueprint and rush to The Star to sign that thing before dawn.

 

Cousins’ situation was far different. He was getting bum offers from Washington for two years. It treated him like a glorified backup. So Cousins dunked on the system, earning $44 million over back-to-back tags before Eurostepping his way into an $84 million guaranteed deal that the Minnesota Vikings grudgingly handed over, given their obvious need.

 

Prescott has more organizational clout in Dallas than Cousins ever had in Washington because the Cowboys have been on record multiple times that they will pay Prescott. They seem intent on pulling this off at all costs, even if public comments might affect leverage.

 

“We’re just optimistic eventually we’ll get something done,” said executive vice president Stephen Jones, via ESPN Cowboys reporter Archer. “I mean, Dak’s a class act. We love Dak. It’s not like we’re not willing to pay Dak a lot of money. We’re just kind of arguing over some details here that at some point I think we’ll work out.”

 

Prescott can afford to wait on that signing, at least until the summer. Hold the leverage until a deal is done.

 

And if the Le’Veon Bell Franchise Tag Handbook taught us anything, it’s that nothing is off the table if that mid-July deadline passes without a new contract; not training camp holdouts, not collective bargaining agreement loopholes, not Prescott playing pickup basketball at a local LA Fitness while his team plays games.

 

Most players hate the tag, but its use gives them a certain cachet. Even Trumaine Johnson, who couldn’t cover a drag route this season in New York, once parlayed two tags into $72 million with the Jets. Franchise-tagged players inherit a healthy market before taking the field.

 

The problem with the tag is teams use it to taint negotiations well before they start. As soon as high-profile players submit that counteroffer, teams hit them with the “We’ll tag you” threat. Many around the league believe that’s already happened with Prescott and Dallas. Here’s betting Prescott has been cool with that all along, because the pressure of a contract year clearly suits his game.

 

Prescott’s top target, Amari Cooper, has employed a similar strategy. He knows the wide receiver franchise tag should reach $20 million, and as he’s aiming for a 1,500-yard season, he’s forcing the Cowboys into another choice: Sign him or Dak first.

 

As our Dan Graziano highlighted, the “Final League Year” of the current collective bargaining agreement allows teams to use franchise and transition tags, so if they apply tags to Prescott and Cooper in a few months, last offseason’s drama will pale in comparison to the one upcoming.

 

The Cowboys might not be able to do this in 2021 under a new CBA, but they can now.

 

What about the cap implications?

The Cowboys’ $58.983 million in 2020 cap space will deflate quickly thanks to a loaded 2020 free-agent class.

 

Let’s say the Cowboys hand Prescott and Cooper about 60-65% of that space. That leaves limited resources to bring back corner Byron Jones, pass-rusher Robert Quinn, wide receiver Randall Cobb, defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Maliek Collins and make any potential free-agent additions.

 

The usage rate of the Cowboys’ upcoming free-agency class is strong: Six players have ranked in the top 50 in snaps played at their position, including top-30 turns from Prescott (ninth), Jason Witten (seventh) and Collins (29th). Despite a lack of turnovers (two interceptions in five years), Jones might be the most difficult to keep.

 

“He might be the player they have to let go,” one personnel man said. “You can only keep so many stars sometimes, and he should get a big payday elsewhere. Big, athletic corners like that don’t stay unpaid long.”

 

The Cowboys smartly rebuilt their offense through the offensive line, which constitutes 56% of the team’s salary cap on offense ($52.853 million). The next closest is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at $42.645 million.

 

Next year, that number jumps to $58.416 million for Dallas, which has most of its core locked up until at least 2021. Paying Prescott would push the offense’s total cap hit well above $100 million, which means the Cowboys will have to hit on defensive draft picks on Days 1 and 2 of April’s draft.

 

They need more cheap rookie deals on that side of the ball.

 

Until they have to pay Leighton Vander Esch, that is.

 

In Dallas, the headlines — and the money — never stop flowing.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

The Falcons hope to bounce back from Sunday’s disappointment against the Buccaneers on Thursday night against New Orleans.  But the health of WR JULIO JONES is a concern.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons got one key offensive player back on the field Tuesday, but were missing a bigger one.

 

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was not on the practice field Tuesday as they prepare for their Thursday night game against the Saints.

 

Jones was in and out of last week’s game with a shoulder injury, and though he was able to finish the game. He was listed as out on yesterday’s estimated practice report.

 

The Falcons did have running back Devonta Freeman back on the field, after he’s missed the last two games with a foot problem.

 

TE AUSTIN HOOPER also remains out.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

They may have to re-name the AFC Offensive Player of the Week Award the Lamar Jackson Award.  Daniel Oyefusi in the Baltimore Sun:

 

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has been named Week 12 AFC Offensive Player of the Week, the NFL announced Wednesday.

 

It’s the fourth time Jackson has received the weekly honor this season and third time in the month of November.

 

Jackson completed 15 of 20 passes for 169 yards and five touchdowns in his “Monday Night Football” debut, as the Ravens blew out the Los Angeles Rams, 45-6, for their seventh straight victory. Jackson also rushed eight times for 95 yards.

 

Now the front-runner to win NFL Most Valuable Player, Jackson is the first player to win four or more Player of the Week awards in a single season since Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in 2015.

 

Newton and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (2007) hold the record for most Player of the Week awards in a single season, receiving the honor five times. Both players were named AP NFL MVP for their respective seasons.

 

Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert was named AFC Defensive Player and the Patriots’ Matthew Slater was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

 

So Jackson can set the record with two more weekly awards in the final five games.

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with another crazy Ravens stat – partly because of Jackson and partly because John Harbaugh really hates to punt:

 

The Ravens have a good punter in Sam Koch, but they hardly ever use him.

 

In fact, the Ravens have punted just 22 times in 11 games, putting them on pace to punt 32 times this season. That would be the fewest in NFL history for a 16-game season.

 

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the only season when any team punted less than 32 times was in the nine-game 1982 season, which was shortened by a players’ strike.

 

The Ravens are punting rarely both because their offense is outstanding and because they’re aggressive on fourth downs. Baltimore has converted 13 of 17 fourth down attempts this season, which is both the most successful fourth down conversions and the highest conversion percentage in the league.

 

The Ravens’ last 24 drives with Lamar Jackson at quarterback have ended like this: touchdown, touchdown, kneeldown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, kneeldown, touchdown, touchdown, missed field goal, downs, touchdown, touchdown, kneeldown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. Not a punt to be found.

 

It looks like the 16-game record for fewest punts belongs to the 1990 Houston Oilers (Warren Moon) who punted 34 times.  Then you go to the 1971 Lions who punted 41 times.

 

The Ravens have not punted more than three times in a game this season.  They have punted twice total in the last three games.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

AL RIVERON

With Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY, Mike Pereira offers a defense of Al Riveron:

 

It’s open season on Al Riveron, the accidental fall guy for the NFL’s latest officiating mess.

 

Every week, it’s always something.

 

You can’t blame the Cowboys for fuming about the two tripping penalties they drew in Foxborough on Sunday, including the phantom call on Travis Frederick that severely hindered the late drive that could have won the game. Two tripping penalties in the same game? Heading into last weekend, there were just seven tripping penalties throughout the rest of the season. Bad officiating happens. Tough luck.

 

The same was said of the Bucs last month when they were robbed of a touchdown after their fumble return for a touchdown off a fake field goal was called back. Tough luck. The play was blown dead by a quick whistle, and Tampa Bay wound by losing by 4. The Saints had similar misfortune on a fumble return for a would-be TD in a Week 2 loss at the Rams.

 

Earlier this month, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey bear-hugged DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone and it was worse than tough luck because unlike the quick whistles and tripping, it could have been corrected with the instant replay challenge from Texans coach Bill O’Brien.

 

Instead, the non-call stood – and Hopkins later took a shot at Riveron on Twitter, demanding that “someone new” needs to make the replay calls from the NFL’s command center in New York.

 

The sentiment is just one voice in a growing chorus.

 

Saints coach Sean Payton is publicly suggesting that the NFL install a three-person panel to handle replay reviews rather than leave the duty solely to Riveron, the league’s director of officiating. A non-call on an obvious pass interference in the NFC title game in January, of course, likely cost Payton’s team a trip to Super Bowl LIII – the controversy that led to this expansion of replay challenges this year to include pass interference.

 

Payton, a member of the league’s competition committee, told USA TODAY Sports this week, “Part of it is not fixed.”

 

NFL power rankings:How do Week 12 losses affect Cowboys, Packers?

 

Payton is expressing what many coaches in the league are feeling – and in many cases unwilling to say, given the threat of fines for being openly critical – about the state of the officiating.

 

As one NFL head coach told USA TODAY Sports this week under the condition of anonymity, due to the possibility of drawing NFL discipline, “It’s awful.”

 

NFL, you have a crisis on your hands. Again.

 

When coaches, players, fans and broadcasters can’t tell you what constitutes pass interference, or are so often mystified by the rulings after instant replay, it underscores a major confidence issue with respect to the integrity of the games.

 

“It’s a significant crisis brought on by this pass interference rule,” Mike Pereira, the rules analyst for Fox Sports, told USA TODAY Sports. “It set up Al Riveron for failure. They’re trying to use a different standard for replays versus what is actually the standard on the field. What is gray is even more gray.”

 

Controversy over pass interference follows issues in recent years that include helmet-to-helmet infractions and the catch rule. The NFL was aggressive in trying to legislate the prevention of another debacle like the NFC title game case, but the unintended consequences are blowing up in its face.

 

Riveron, maintaining that the PI calls won’t be reversed unless they are “clear and obvious,” has reversed only a small percentage (19.4%) of the reviews. Prior to Monday night’s game, there were 15 reversals of 77 pass interference reviews. Now, some coaches often refuse to challenge plays they otherwise might.

 

As Payton put it, “Throw a (challenge) flag at your own peril.”

 

Beyond that, the lack of consistency with the rulings after the reviews intensifies the controversy. Your “clear and obvious” isn’t always my “clear and obvious.” Pereira, who served as the league’s director of officiating before joining Fox in 2010, said that some PI infractions have been ignored merely because they didn’t rise to the level of what happened in the NFC title game.

 

Pereira, incidentally, thought Humphrey should have been flagged for the end-zone mugging of Hopkins. And he agrees with Payton that a defensive pass interference issued on review against Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on Sunday didn’t meet the “clear and obvious” standard.

 

Yet Pereira stops short of blaming Riveron for all of the officiating woes.

 

“I feel badly for Al,” Pereira said. “This (pass interference rule) has made his job tougher than my job ever was. And it’s tougher than it ever was for Dean Blandino, Carl Johnson, Jerry Seeman or Art McNally.”

 

In other words, no one has been in that hot-seat job with as much pressure as Riveron. This pass interference tweak was the solution NFL owners came up with last spring after weeks of haggling and brainstorming with coaches and the competition committee. And it’s not working, raising more credibility questions and setting the stage for more the potential of more controversial drama down the stretch run on the road to Super Bowl LIV.

 

Perfection is unreasonable, but Riveron hasn’t helped himself with so many iffy rulings.

 

That’s why Payton wants a panel for reviews. The Saints coach mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court structure in his argument for multiple sets of eyes for reviews. And he alludes to tapping input from his coaching staff while devising game-plans.

 

“I’d be stir-crazy if it was just me,” Payton said.

 

Pereira scoffs at Payton’s suggestion.

 

“Numbers only add to confusion,” Pereira said.

 

As it stands now, Riveron likely can consult with others, such as replay director Russell Yurk, who handles the administration of replay reviews, before issuing his final rulings. Pereira is wary of a panel and cited issues with Major League Baseball’s replay system, with multiple umpires weighing in.

 

“Too many opinions can create other problems,” Pereira said. “What if there were five guys and two say one thing and three have the opposite view?”

 

Bottom line: the NFL needs another officiating fix that must be driven by incorporating common sense for the structure of the specific role for Riveron and others.

 

It’s such a mess now that Pereira maintains that if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called offering a huge financial package for him to return to his former job – “And he wouldn’t,” Pereira added – he would decline.

 

“No way would I want to do it,” he said.

 

The old job allowed for the director of officiating to handle development, quality control and to be a buffer between the league and teams – an area representing another knock on Riveron. Yet for Riveron, those duties are seemingly complicated by the additional responsibility as arbiter for all reviews.

 

“He’s a good man,” Pereira said, “that’s been put in an impossible situation.”

 

A situation that has Riveron constantly feeling the fire.

 

Hard to believe it has been nine years for Pereira with FOX.

 

 

PLAYOFF PROJECTIONS

No real surprises here from John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

It’s Thanksgiving week, which means now is probably a good time to list all the teams in the NFL that should be feeling extra thankful this week, starting with the Steelers. After missing out on the postseason in last week’s projection, the Steelers are now being projected as the final wild-card team in the AFC. Minnesota also made a move this week: For the first time all year, the Vikings are being projected to win the NFC North, which means they could potentially be hosting a playoff game in January.

 

Another team that should be thankful this week is the Cowboys, who are still projected to win the NFC East despite their loss to New England on Sunday. Of course, that’s only three teams, to find out where the other 29 teams fit into all of this, let’s get to the Week 13 playoff projections.

 

As always, these projections will be based on data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com. Each week, Oh plugs some numbers into his SportsLine computer, and that computer simulates the rest of the NFL season. Using those numbers, we’re going to let you know the playoff chances for all 32 teams, and how the computer sees the 12-team playoff field shaking out.

 

If you feel like your team probably isn’t going to make the playoffs this year — I’m looking at you Bengals, Dolphins, Falcons, Giants and Redskins fans — here’s a mock draft that you can read. I feel like you’ll enjoy that more.

 

Alright, let’s get to the projections.

 

Note: Remember, this is a projection based on how we think the rest of the regular season will play out. If you want to see the current playoff standings, click here to see Will Brinson’s thorough breakdown of what the playoff race looks like as we head into Week 13.

 

AFC Playoff Projection

 

1. PATRIOTS (AFC East champion)       

According to SportsLine’s projections, the season will likely end with the Patriots finishing 14-2 and the Ravens finishing 13-3, which means the Patriots don’t have much room for error, and that’s because if the two teams end up with identical records, the Ravens would win any tiebreakers due to their head-to-head victory over New England in Week 9.

 

2.  RAVENS (AFC North champion)        

The computer was absolutely astonished by what the Ravens did to the Rams on Monday night. Although Baltimore is still projected to finish as the second seed in the AFC, the computer did bump them up in a much more important category: The Ravens are now being given the best chance to win the Super Bowl out of any team in the NFL. According to SportsLine, the Ravens have a 27.1% chance of winning the Lombardi Trophy, which puts them ahead of the Patriots, who have a 22.89% chance of winning it all. No other team in the NFL is being given more than a 17% chance.

 

3. CHIEFS (AFC West champion)          

The Chiefs didn’t even play in Week 12 and somehow, they still came out as one of the biggest winners of the week in the NFL. The reason it was a good week for the Chiefs — their main competition in the AFC West (The Raiders) fell flat on their face in a loss to the Jets. Due to that loss, the Chiefs now have a 92.8% chance of winning the division, which will go up to nearly 99.9% if Kansas City beats Oakland on Sunday. 

 

4. TEXANS (AFC South champion)        

According to the computer, the AFC South is the only division in the AFC that’s still up for grabs. With five weeks left in the season, the computer is giving the Texans a 53.6% chance of winning the division, which is almost double the number being given to the Colts, who have a 27.1% chance of winning the division. Of course, let’s not forget about the Titans, who are being given a 19.2% chance of winning the division. Although the Texans won in Week 12, their chances of winning the division actually went down from 60% to 54%, because of how impressed the computer was with the Titans. The Titans and Texans still play each other twice, which means Tennessee controls its own fate. If the Titans win out, they’ll take home the AFC South crown.

 

5. BILLS (Wild Card 1)  

With the Bills now holding a two-game lead over any team that could potentially knock them out of a wild-card spot, the computer is inching closer and closer to chalking up Buffalo as a lock for the postseason. As things currently stand, the Bills have an 83.1% chance of making the playoffs, which is nearly 45% higher than any other wild-card contender. 

 

6. STEELERS (Wild Card 2)      

Although the Steelers are in this spot right now, the Browns can steal it from them with a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The computer basically views Browns-Steelers this week as an elimination game for both teams. The Steelers currently have a 38.5% chance of making the playoffs, a number that will shoot up to 54% if they win. However, if they lose to Cleveland, the Steelers’ playoff chances will tumble down to 16%. As for the Browns, their chances will jump up from 17.7% to 31% with a win, but if they lose, their playoff chances will drop to 4%, which is the computer’s way of saying they’ll have no shot at the playoffs if they don’t win on Sunday. The Colts-Titans game is also big, but the computer doesn’t think a loss will kill either team’s playoff chances since both could potentially still win the AFC South.

 

Just missed: Colts (36.7% chance of getting into the playoffs), Titans (30.9%), Browns (17.7%), Raiders (17.1%)

 

Here’s a list of all the other AFC teams (their percentage chances of getting into the playoffs is listed next to them in parentheses): Chargers (1.3%), Jaguars (1.0%), Jets (0.2%), Broncos (0.0%), Dolphins (0.0%), Bengals (0.0%).

 

NFC Playoff Projection

 

1. 49ers (NFC West champion)  

The 49ers handed the Packers such a vicious beatdown that the computer has now decided to jump on their bandwagon. Thanks to the dominating win, not only are the 49ers once again projected to get the top seed in the NFC, but their chances of winning the Super Bowl shot up from 9.7% to 13.86%. As much as the computer likes the 49ers, it’s still giving the Saints the best chance of winning the Super Bowl out of the NFC (16.26% chance). 

 

2. SAINTS (NFC South champion)         

The Saints are the only team in the NFL this week that can clinch a playoff spot without getting any help from any other team. If New Orleans can knock off the Falcons in Atlanta on Thanksgiving night, that will officially clinch the NFC South crown for the Saints. Of course, the computer knew this day was coming a long time ago, as it projected the Saints to win the title back in our first projection of the 2019 season.    

 

3. VIKINGS (NFC North champion)         

The Vikings bye week couldn’t have gone any better for them, and that’s because they got to sit at home and watch one of their division rivals get pounded. The Packers’ loss was so bad the computer is now convinced that the Vikings are going to win the division. According to SportsLine, the Vikings have a 55.4% chance of winning the NFC North, which is exactly 10% higher than the chances being given to the Packers. The Vikings are also being given a 98.4% chance of making the playoffs as either a wild-card or division winner, which basically means the computer views Minnesota as a lock for the postseason.

 

4. COWBOYS (NFC East champion)      

This is the one division in NFL where it seems like no one actually wants to win it. With the Cowboys and Eagles both losing on Sunday, the computer had to do some major calculations to figure out who’s going to win the NFC East. Despite the fact that the Eagles have a much easier schedule, the computer still likes the Cowboys to take home the division title. According to SportsLine, the Cowboys have a 68.9% chance of winning the division, while the Eagles chances are floundering at just 31.1%. 

 

5. SEAHAWKS (Wild Card 1)    

Although the Seahawks keep winning, the computer hasn’t been impressed enough to move them ahead of the 49ers in the projection for who wins the NFC West. As things currently stand, the Seahawks are being given a 37.3% chance of winning the division, which is way lower than the 62.5% chance that the computer is giving the 49ers. The one fascinating thing about these two teams is that they play each other in Week 17, and when that happens, the winner will likely get a week off thanks to a first-round bye, while the loser will likely have to play the very next week in the wild-card round.

 

6. PACKERS (Wild Card 2)        

Like most of America, the computer was not impressed with the Packers’ performance on Sunday night against the 49ers. After watching the Packers get destroyed 37-8, the computer no longer feels that Green Bay is going to win the division. However, the good news for the Packers is that the computer still feels like they have a great chance of getting into the playoffs. According to SportsLine, the Packers have an 81.2% chance of getting in the postseason, which is much higher than the Eagles, who are the only team that’s even remotely being given a chance of stealing the final wild card spot out of the NFC.

 

Just missed: Eagles (32.2% of making the playoffs), Rams (19.8%)

 

Here’s a list of all the other NFC teams (their percentage chances of getting into the playoffs is listed next to them in parentheses): Bears (2.8%), Panthers (0.6%), Lions (0.1%), Buccaneers (0.1%), Cardinals (0.0%), Falcons (0.0%), Giants (0.0%), Redskins (0.0%).

 

Wild-card round projection

AFC

 

(6) Steelers at (3) Chiefs

 

(5) Bills at (4) Texans

 

Byes: Patriots, Ravens

 

NFC

 

(6) Packers at (3) Vikings

 

(5) Seahawks at (4) Cowboys

 

Byes: 49ers, Saints

 

 

RBs BETTER THAN EXPECTED

Maurice Jones-Drew, writing at NFL.com, lists two RBs who have exceeded his projections in 2019, and one who has fallen short.

 

At the start of the summer, I ranked all 32 RB1s heading into the 2019 NFL regular season.

 

With just over a quarter of this year’s campaign remaining, I decided to review those rankings to see how I did. As expected, I crushed it with some players … and whiffed on others. As much as I like to celebrate my wins, for this week, I’m holding myself accountable for three guys I was wrong about (excluding players who have missed significant time to injury). All right, here we go:

 

» Mark Ingram (offseason ranking: No. 26): For starters, let me note that I was spot on in my analysis but was off on Ingram’s ranking. Back in June, I said that I expected John Harbaugh to use a committee of backs and that the Ravens’ rushing attack would feature quarterback Lamar Jackson. Well, the Ravens boast the best rushing offense in the league, have four players with more than 35 carries and are led by Jackson (124 attempts, 876 rush yards, six TDs) and Ingram (151 carries, 778 rush yards, 9 TDs). This offense is far more explosive than I initially thought, with Jackson and Ingram benefiting from each other.

 

» Josh Jacobs (offseason ranking: No. 21): My offseason analysis stated that Oakland would use the rookie running back mainly at the goal line and short-yardage situations. My apologies, young man. Jon Gruden is using Jacobs every which way he can, making him the focal point of the Raiders’ offense. The first-year back ranks fifth in rushing yards (957), tied for sixth in rush TDs (7) and has broken several franchise rookie records. Jacobs’ running ability is one of the reasons why Derek Carr is having a Pro Bowl-caliber year and the Raiders have a shot at the postseason. The Alabama product is definitely a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year but will need a strong final month to edge out Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

 

» Sony Michel (offseason ranking: No. 11): Apparently, I gave Michel too much credit after his historic postseason run with the Patriots. He is the feature back of a rushing attack that ranks 23rd in the league, which would be OK if Tom Brady was having a career year, but he’s not. Michel is averaging 3.4 yards per carry and has yet to register 100 rush yards in a game this season. He’s nowhere near cracking my top 15 list below, which is saying something.