AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

LB ROQUAN SMITH’s mysterious “personal issues” seem to be clearing.

 

Roquan Smith has returned to practice and the star linebacker said he will play Sunday against the Raiders. Mitchell Trubisky, as expected, most likely will not be available.

 

Bears coach Matt Nagy announced Wednesday that Smith, Chicago’s standout linebacker who missed Week 4’s win against the Vikings for unspecified personal reasons, would be a full-go in practice. Trubisky, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder last Sunday, is unlikely to compete in Week 5.

 

When interviewed by the media, Smith said he will play against Oakland and followed his coach’s lead when it pertained to remaining mum on the reason for his absence.

 

“It was a personal reason and it’s behind us now,” Smith said, via the Chicago Sun-Times’ Jason Lieser.

 

Though Smith said he would play, Nagy had earlier mentioned that his linebacker’s return to practice did not exactly guarantee he would play. Nonetheless, it’s a positive turn of events for the Bears.

 

“That’s definitely a good thing,” Nagy said of Smith’s return.

 

As he has been all along regarding Smith, who was on the sideline against the Vikings, Nagy did not go into details about what the personal reasons were, even when pressed.

 

“I’m really not gonna get into it,” Nagy reiterated. “There’s some privacy to this and that’s all we’re asking.”

 

Though he is not expected to play, Trubisky will make the journey to London with the rest of his Bears brethren.

 

In Trubisky’s absence, Chase Daniel would get the start for the Bears (3-1).

 

 

MINNESOTA

QB KIRK COUSINS knows he’s not getting it done on his down the field throws.  Chris Tomasson in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

 

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins used his weekly radio show on Tuesday night to apologize to wide receiver Adam Thielen.

 

In Sunday’s 16-6 loss at Chicago, Cousins missed Thielen on several passes, including one that could have been a long touchdown completion, and he didn’t throw to him much. Thielen, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, had just two catches for six yards.

 

Cousins’ weekly radio show “Under Center” on KFAN with host Mark Rosen included an interview Cousins taped Monday alongside Thielen. The receiver had said after Sunday’s game that the Vikings “have to be able to hit deep balls.”

 

“I really want to apologize to him because there’s too many opportunities where we could have hit him on Sunday, and post game, when I talk to the media I always say, ‘Hey, until I watch the film, it’s hard for me to really give you a straight answer,’ ” Cousins said on the show. “Well, now … I’ve watched the film, and the reality is there were opportunities for him.”

 

Cousins pointed to a first-quarter play in which the Vikings (2-2) had the ball at the Chicago 47 and Thielen beat his man but the ball was overthrown when he reached the Bears’ 5.

 

“The one that’s most obvious is the third-and-10 at the beginning of the game,” Cousins said of that play. “We’re near midfield. That’s arguably seven points if you put the ball where it needs to be. He’s shown, No. 19’s shown, that he will make that play. And he’ll probably finish the play in the end zone and pull away from the defender.”

 

Cousins was under heavy pressure against the Bears, and was sacked six times. That played a role in him not throwing downfield much.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

WR MICHAEL GALLUP’s possible return is the biggest injury news in Dallas.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Cowboys missed Michael Gallup the past two games. They hope to have him back this week.

 

A day after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave the receiver a chance to play this week, Gallup returned to practice Wednesday.

 

“He’s done a great job with his rehab,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said before practice. “He might be limited, but he’s certainly done a good job, so we’ll see what he’s able to do.”

 

Gallup made 13 catches for 226 yards in the first two games before undergoing surgery on his meniscus. He was expected to miss a month.

 

“Michael’s just a really impactful player,” Garrett said. “We throw him the ball and good things happen. He’s demonstrated that he can win short, medium and deep, and when they cover him with one guy, there’s a good chance of him winning on that. He’s proven that fairly consistently over certainly the start of the season and the latter part of last season, so that’s a weapon. We feel good about the guys we’ve been playing in his absence, though. Obviously Devin Smith came up big, made some big plays for us when he’s had opportunities. Coop [Amari Cooper] has been really good week in, week out. Randall Cobb has been an impactful player. So we really like all those guys. But certainly Michael has done a lot of really good things for us. He’s made a lot of plays.”

 

Left tackle Tyron Smith‘s high-ankle sprain will keep him out of practice, and right tackle La’el Collins reported a back injury early this week, so he’s out Tuesday, too. That leaves Cam Fleming to practice at left tackle. Left guard Connor Williams will move out to right tackle, and Xavier Su’a-Filo will practice at left guard.

 

Right guard Zack Martin is expected to get limited work with his back issue still bothering him.

 

Garrett said if DeMarcus Lawrence practices, the defensive end won’t have a full practice, but Garrett did not indicate what Lawrence’s injury is.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Another concussion for a Redskins TE.  Ben Standig of The Athletic:

 

Let’s not suggest bad luck alone explains the Washington Redskins’ dreadful 0-4 start.

 

From third-down defense to penalties to individual struggles, Washington’s list of woes grows seemingly by the day as coach Jay Gruden and the players try determining the needed fixes amid the thickening fog. Like a person trending toward hoarder status while believing one good cleanup session clears up space.

 

Unfortunately, expect more boxes of ugh piling up in Ashburn this week as thoughts of the next NFL offseason become inevitable.

 

But Washington’s luck continues to trend downward because, sources tell The Athletic, tight end Vernon Davis entered the NFL’s concussion protocol program following Washington’s 24-3 loss at the New York Giants Sunday.

 

It’s unclear when the injury occurred. Davis was the intended target on rookie quarterback’s Dwayne Haskins’ third interception, which doubled as the Redskins’ final offensive play. The ball bounced off the veteran’s hands and into the arms of New York cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

 

Davis’ injury occurs as Washington enters its sixth week without Jordan Reed. The Redskins’ top tight end suffered his seventh reported concussion Aug. 22 at Atlanta in the team’s third preseason game.

 

Washington signed Jerome Cunningham last week to give Gruden’s offense a third available TE if needed along with Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle. Now another addition may be required should Davis, 34, miss time. Specifically, Sunday’s looming challenge at FedEx Field against the visiting New England Patriots.

– – –

Coach Jay Gruden does not have a plan at QB for the Patriots on Sunday.  Jenna West at TheMMQB.com:

 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden doesn’t know which quarterback will start on Sunday against the Patriots.

 

When asked on Wednesday, Gruden was honest with the media and admitted that he currently has no starting quarterback plan.

 

“We don’t have one right now,” he said, per The Boston Globe’s Nora Princiotti.

 

The 0–4 Redskins host the Patriots (4–0) on Sunday and have to pick a starter between veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy or rookie Dwayne Haskins. Keenum has started every game for Washington so far this season. He threw for five touchdowns with no interceptions in the first two games this year, but he racked up four picks with only two scores in his last two contests.

 

On Sunday, Gruden benched Keenum for Haskins in the second quarter of Washington’s 24–3 loss to the Giants. Haskins, who the team selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, struggled in his debut and finished 9 of 17 with 107 yards, three interceptions and no scores.

 

 

McCoy has been with the team since 2014 but has dealt with a string of injuries throughout his career, including a broken leg that cut his 2018 season short. The Redskins acquired Keenum in a trade with the Broncos during the offseson, and Gruden said on Monday he pulled his starter over the weekend because Keenum was dealing with a foot injury.

 

While Gruden couldn’t provide any clarity on Wednesday on the starting quarterback battle, he could wait as long as possible to find a resolution. Gruden told reporters that the decision might not come “until 1 p.m. on Sunday.”

 

The Redskins host the Patriots at FedExField, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. ET on CBS.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

After getting dismantled by the Titans, the Falcons and head coach Dan Quinn are looking at everything.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com implies in the final paragraph that the focus can’t help but be on Quinn himself at this point.

 

Falcons fans in Atlanta, fed up watching their team struggle at home once again, rained down boos upon their disappointing team that was being blown out by the Tennessee Titans.

 

The Falcons dropped to 1-3 for the season, one of just three teams in the NFC with a losing record through the first month of the season, joining Washington and Arizona. The difference between those three teams is that expectations for the Cardinals and Redskins weren’t that high entering the season. The Falcons, however, expected a turnaround campaign in 2019. Thus far it’s been a dud.

 

After coach Dan Quinn fired all his coordinators during the offseason, he was asked after Sunday’s loss whether drastic changes needed to be made.

 

“When you’re not performing well, you look at everything,” Quinn said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Whether that’s role or featuring players or however you need to address it, you do. You can’t have the one-offs… ‘except for, other than this play, in between the 20,’ all those things are just excuses to me.”

 

The Falcons got bullied by the Titans Sunday, giving up big plays on defense, and failing to punch it in on offense. After a first-quarter touchdown run by Ito Smith, the Atlanta offense scored three points on their final nine drives of the game as the Titans pulled away.

 

Matt Ryan put up a hollow 397 yards passing, completing 35-of-53 attempts with no TDs, took five sacks and lost a fumble. The quarterback heard the boos cascade down from the home fans.

 

“That’s part of it when you’re playing poorly,” Ryan said. “You are not giving them much to cheer about. You get it.

 

“We want to give them something to get loud about. To make those plays to get this place rocking. We didn’t do that (Sunday). We’ve got to find a way to make plays to get the energy in the building going.”

 

Whether more changes are in store for Atlanta remains to be seen. After all the coordinators were jettisoned in the offseason, the finger of blame has only so many more places it can land if things continue to slide south in Atlanta.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Another longtime NFL owner has passed away.  Judy Bautista of NFL.com:

 

Bill Bidwill, whose association with the Cardinals football franchise spanned eight decades, passed away at the age of 88, the Arizona Cardinals announced on Wednesday.

 

“Our dad passed away today the same way he lived his life: peacefully, with grace, dignity and surrounded by family and loved ones,” said Cardinals president Michael Bidwill in a statement. “We are overwhelmed by the support our family has received, not only now but throughout the latest chapter of his life. We are especially grateful to the nurses, doctors and other caregivers whose endless kindness and compassion in recent years have made our dad’s life so meaningful. Above all else, we will remember him as a man devoted to the three central pillars of his life – his immense faith, his love for his family and his life-long passion for the Cardinals and the sport of football.”

 

The consensus of those who knew him was that Mr. B was genuinely a good guy on a personal level, albeit his acumen as an owner was oft discussed. 

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Offensive re-enforcements for the Chiefs.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill appears to be inching closer to a return to the Chiefs lineup.

 

Hill has been out since injuring his clavicle in the first game of the season, but he’s progressed enough to make it back to the practice field. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid didn’t say how much work Hill would do in practice, but any work with the rest of the team is a positive development for the Kansas City offense.

 

That’s also true for running back Damien Williams, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury. Darrel Williams and LeSean McCoy have kept the offense going with Williams out of the lineup, but would likely see their playing time drop if he gets the green light to play against the Colts.

 

Reid didn’t comment on the likelihood that Williams or Hill will make their return to game action this weekend, but the injury reports issued over the next few days should provide some hints about how things play out come Sunday.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

An injury report from London.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Raiders are in London preparing for Sunday’s game against the Bears and that means they wrapped up their Wednesday practice well ahead of the rest of the league’s teams.

 

There were a couple of players missing from the field during that practice session. Neither defensive end Clelin Ferrell nor wide receiver Tyrell Williams took part in the session.

 

Ferrell is recovering from a concussion. The fourth-overall pick of this year’s draft has 10 tackles and a sack through his first four NFL games.

 

Williams is dealing with a foot injury. He’s gotten off to a strong start this season by catching a touchdown in each of the team’s four games. He has 17 catches for 216 yards overall.

 

Jon Gruden and QB DEREK CARR are miffed that the NFL lowered the boom on LB VONTAZE BURFICT.”  Great Gordon of NFL.com:

 

Vontaze Burfict has departed from England and has arrived home in the aftermath of his suspension for the remainder of the season due to a helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle on Sunday.

 

Burfict’s suspension came down Monday, but on Wednesday, with the Raiders in London to face the Bears in Week 5, Oakland coach Jon Gruden expressed his displeasure with the league’s ruling — which Burfict will reportedly appeal.

 

“I’m not really gonna say anything,” Gruden said during Wednesday’s press conference. “I’ve talked to [NFL vice president of football operations Jon] Runyon and the league office, he knows how I feel. It hurts our team really bad. I’m anxious to see what the appeal says. I’m not happy about it — at all. I don’t want to say anything else, I’m obviously upset about it.”

 

Burfict was four games into his first season with the Raiders on Sunday when he delivered his hit on Doyle across the middle of the field. Doyle caught a pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett on one knee and was rising when Burfict lowered his helmet and his angle of contact, bringing the crown of his helmet into Doyle’s. Initially flagged for the hit, Burfict was eventually ejected after game officials conferred.

 

Prior to joining the Raiders, Burfict played seven seasons with the Bengals and was fined 11 times and suspended three times for a combined 10 games.

 

With his past indiscretions, Burfict drew a lofty penalty, but Gruden and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr disagree with the ruling.

 

“I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man,” Carr said of Burfict’s hit on Doyle. “The man was going down. You see it all the time, there’s flags flying everywhere. If we think about football, the guy caught it here and he’s already going to hit him and he’s starting to go down, obviously you’re going to hit him a little higher than you expected. We see other people choking people out and they’re going to play this Sunday. We see other people hitting people in the helmets and they’re going to play this Sunday. And Vontaze Burfict won’t play the rest of the year, I think that’s a little excessive if you ask me. I don’t think it’s fair.

 

“He’s a great person, his heart is broken because he’s not playing football. The guy just wants to play football.”

 

It should be clear that Doyle was still an active player, getting up after going to the ground untouched to catch a pass.  So it was not as if Burfict hit a sliding QB or other player in the process of giving themselves up.  Clearly punishable, but for 12 games?

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Andrew Brandt is a rare voice defending the Dolphins and their plan to bypass 2019.

 

The Dolphins traded a couple of their star players, Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, for future draft picks, and have lost games handily in the first month of the season. Thus the narrative of their “tanking” in 2019, intentionally losing games presumably to be in position to draft Tua Tuagolova or Justin Herbert or whoever will lead them to a special place. What’s unsaid is that they are now being quarterbacked by one of those formerly much-hyped prospects, Josh Rosen who—according to the tanking narrative—is merely keeping the seat warm for someone a year or two younger than he is.

 

Let’s examine what exactly this “tanking” philosophy is and whether it makes organizational sense. I believe we definitely need a better word for this philosophy. And I know just the word:

 

“Processing”

 

Tanking implies that the entire organization embraces losing on purpose. Of course, that is not true. Players are still blocking, tackling, running; coaches are still working on game plans and schemes. So let’s be clear: This concept clearly does not apply to the active participants. Where the line becomes much less clear is with the management, although it is a philosophy long used in business and even sports.

 

Businesses regularly sacrifice short-term success for a more stable long-term future. Jeff Bezos has said that if Amazon has a good quarter (it has had a few), it is because of work and decision-making done three to five years ago. This certainly applies to sports. Successful teams in 2019 formed their roots in 2015-2018.

 

Unbeknownst to me, I was neighbors with former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie for several years. When I saw him at a conference a few years ago—we had never met—he came right up to me and said: “You’re fast!” “Excuse me?” “We lived down the street from you; I used to see you run by our house all the time. You’re fast!” I’ll take it.

 

I have talked to Hinkie about the philosophy he brought to the NBA. He had learned through research and analysis that playing on the fringes of the playoffs amounted to being on a never-ending treadmill, your team going nowhere fast. Thus, the Hinkie strategy: tear down the structure and create a new foundation, mortgage present assets for potentially more valuable future assets, and create an opportunity to onboard transcendent players. And after several years working on an extreme makeover, the 76ers are now—without Hinkie—a legitimate championship contender with two transcendent pieces (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons) flanked by talented veterans eager to play with the young stars. Hinkie made the phrase “Trust the Process” famous and gives us a better word than tanking: processing.

 

Accepted philosophy

 

Although no NFL owners or general managers have been completely open in their “processing” philosophies, leadership in other sports has been more transparent. Mark Cuban admitted one year that once his Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs, coaches opted for younger players over veterans. And the Houston Astros, now a model Major League Baseball franchise with sustained success, were honest about their years of “processing” towards their now-sustained success. The process is being trusted throughout team sports.

 

In my sports law class, I teach about a case, Finley v. Kuhn, in which MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn successfully vetoed purported “tanking” (although that word was not part of the sports lexicon back in 1972) by Oakland A’s owner Charles Finley. Fresh off a couple of championships, the A’s attempted to sell off three star players to the Red Sox and Yankees (some things never change). And in 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern disallowed a trade of Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) to the Lakers, although Stern said he was acting as the Hornets owner rather than commissioner, as the team was being run by the NBA while in receivership.

 

Despite the examples above, leagues now consistently allow “processing” throughout team sports. It is understood that there are various accepted ways to build a roster; the idea of Roger Goodell—or anyone else—intervening in Dolphins management, even after it traded away Tunsil and Fitzpatrick, is one that we don’t even contemplate.

 

We accept, as the league office does, that NFL teams are built in different ways, some with older and expensive rosters trying to “win now” and some in various stages of processing. The problem is that some of those “win now” rosters don’t win and have delayed roster development to be back to where they started, which is … mediocrity.

 

Every successful veteran player was once an inexperienced young player, sometimes only given an opportunity due to an injury to someone ahead of him. Successful front offices (such as the one I worked in for nine years in Green Bay) almost universally prioritize developing young talent. It is not only part of but often the most integral part of an organizational philosophy to achieve sustained success.

 

The NFL waiver wires in February and March are full of veterans who have been released to make room for younger players; are these teams releasing older players—to be presumably replaced by younger ones—tanking? Of course not, it’s simply the very short cycle of life for NFL players. My point is that we often dismiss “processing” in favor of other organizational strategies, such as signing a bunch of free agents, but “processing” is more common than you may know.

 

Dolphins vs. other “non-tanking” teams

 

Next year the Dolphins will have more than $100 million in cap room to go along with three first-round picks, two second-round picks, one third-round pick and 14 picks in total. And in 2021 they now have two first=round picks and two second-round picks.

 

The Jets went on a spending spree this offseason, paying “retail” for free agents such as LeVeon Bell, C.J. Mosley, Kelechi Osemele, Jamison Crowder and others. The Bengals have been a study in mediocrity with no heir apparent to quarterback Andy Dalton, currently in the last year of his contract. Washington’s roster has two veteran quarterbacks, a rookie quarterback now playing and an incumbent injured quarterback accounting for more than $21 million on their cap. And their best player, Trent Williams, refuses to show up to work. All of these teams are currently winless. Certainly an argument can be made that the “processing” Dolphins are better off than any of these non-processing teams.

 

The Dolphins have traversed various strategic models of team building over the past decade, often with big swings with free-agent signings such as Mike Wallace and Ndamokung Suh. Now, with a new coach and general manager plucked from the same system (the Patriots), they appear committed to avoiding quick fixes. Rather, they are “processing” to — as the plan goes — put them in position for long term success. And, to observers of the Dolphins failed strategies over the past decade, why not?

 

 As with everything, time will tell. Trust the, well, you know…

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The Patriots are looking for a new kicker.  Grant Gordon of NFL.com:

 

Stephen Gostkowski was noticeably absent from Patriots practice on Wednesday.

 

The longtime New England kicker will be missing a great deal more time as he is being placed on injured reserve, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

 

New England was working out kickers on Wednesday in search of his replacement, Rapoport added.

 

The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride first reported the news.

 

Gostkowski, 35, has been a fixture on the Patriots since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2006. Since then, he’s won three Super Bowls and been selected to four Pro Bowls with a pair of All-Pro selections.

 

The man who replaced Adam Vinatieri in New England has come up clutch more times than not and has been a constant, having missed eight games in 2010 but no more time before or after that season until now.

 

A groundswell of concern had grown in regards to Gostkowski’s efficiency this season. Though Gostkowski was seven of eight on field goals through the Patriots’ 4-0 start, he was a troubling 11-for-15 on extra points; having missed at least one PAT in three straight games.

 

Shortly before the season began, the Patriots released punter Ryan Allen, who had been in New England for six seasons and three Super Bowl championships, in favor of rookie Jake Bailey.

 

Now, the Patriots must replace another formidable foot with no immediate replacement in place.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

A hopeful sign for mono’d QB SAM DARNOLD and the Jets.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

While Jets quarterback Sam Darnold waits for his spleen to tell him what it’s going to do, he might as well practice.

 

Via Brian Costello of the New York Post, Darnold returned to the practice field Wednesday, and coach Adam Gase said they would “see how it goes.”

 

Gase said they were considering Darnold day-to-day, and would potentially push the decision until Sunday, just before their game against the Eagles. He hasn’t been cleared for contact yet.

 

Darnold will undergo more tests with actual doctors Friday, which will probably be a more realistic time frame for knowing whether he’s going to be able to return, after missing the last two games after coming down with mononucleosis.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTONIO

NFL Justice wasted no time talking to Britnee Taylor, spending 10 hours with the former gymnast going over her contention that she suffered a sexual assault by WR ANTONIO BROWN. 

 

But so far, crickets from the NFL as far as talking with Brown. Jesse Reed of Sportsnaut.com:

 

As the NFL continues to investigate the sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations against Antonio Brown, one key person has not been interviewed.

 

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported Tuesday evening that Brown still has not been interviewed by the league over these allegations. He also notes that “With Brown’s status as a free agent, it’s unclear how cooperative he plans or needs to be.”

 

The league is currently investigating two women’s allegations against Brown.

 

The first, Britney Taylor, is a former trainer who accused Brown of multiple instances of sexual assault and has a civil case against him.

 

The second woman was hired by Brown to paint a mural in his home and alleges he attempted sexual advances and approached her with nothing more than a small cloth covering his genitals.

 

Brown was recently released by the New England Patriots less than two weeks after being released by the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots released Brown after “intimidating” text messages he sent to the second accuser were made public.

 

The free agent is said to be lining up an NFL-record nine grievances and appeals as he attempts to recoup up to $61 million from Oakland and New England.

 

 

 

POWER RANKINGS

Various writers and editors vote and Lindsay Jones writes about these Week 4 NFL Power Rankings from The Athletic:

 

32. Miami Dolphins (0-4; Last week: 32)

It took until Week 4, but the Miami Dolphins finally led a game for the first time this season. Sure, the score was 7-3 at the time of that first lead, but it was a lead, nonetheless. But never fear, FishTank fans, that was about good as it would get for the Dolphins, who remain our bottom team.

 

31. Washington Redskins (0-4; Last week: 29)

In the name of transparency, I, Lindsay Jones, ranked Washington last on my ballot. I had initially put them at 31 after that really ugly, lopsided loss to the New York Giants. But then Washington Post political reporter David Farenthold sent me this tweet:

 

@Fahrenthold

I was in the grocery store yesterday around 3p. Lots of people in Redskins jerseys. The pre-game rush! Looked at my phone to see when the game would start.

 

It had started at 1. These fans had bailed so early that they were already in the produce section in the 3rd quarter.

 

And how could I put anyone but Washington last after that sort of anecdotal evidence of how much the fanbase has checked out, even with first-round pick Dwayne Haskins taking his first snaps?

 

30. Cincinnati Bengals (0-4; Last week: 30)

The best thing we could say about the Bengals through the first three weeks was that at least they were in close games (well, not counting the Week 2 loss to San Francisco, that is). No more. That Monday Night Football loss to the previously winless Steelers was an embarrassing look for Zac Taylor’s team.

 

29. New York Jets (0-3; Last week: 31)

The best part of Week 4 was not having to watch the Jets, and we’re not sorry for saying it. They gained two spots this week simply because they didn’t have a chance to be awful, and other teams did. Here’s hoping Sam Darnold’s spleen also benefited from the week off.

 

28. Denver Broncos (0-4; Last week: 28)

As if an 0-4 start weren’t bad enough (including two brutal home losses, both on last-second field goals by the opponent), here comes news on Monday that second-year pass rusher Bradley Chubb partially tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Sure, it wasn’t like the Broncos were going to realistically rally and make the playoffs, but Chubb was one of few bright spots and now Vic Fangio’s job just got much more difficult.

 

27. Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1; Last week: 27)

We didn’t pick the word depressing to describe the Cardinals after four weeks. Larry Fitzgerald did. And while we’d love to spend this space talking about how fun the Air Raid offense is and how much Kyler Murray is developing, Fitzgerald is right. It’s just depressing to realize just how far the Cardinals have to go to be competitive with the Seahawks and the other teams in their division.

 

26. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3; Last week: 26)

Can a dominant win against division rival Cincinnati salvage the Steelers’ season? We still want to see more out of Pittsburgh’s passing game and backup quarterback Mason Rudolph before we’ll believe that Pittsburgh will get back into the division race with Cleveland and Baltimore, but with the Ravens suddenly coming off of two straight losses, now at least the Steelers have a shot.

 

25. Atlanta Falcons (1-3; Last week: 18)

The Falcons ping-ponged around the rankings earlier this season, but now it feels like this downward trajectory is going to stick, especially if the offense can’t get on track next week against Arizona. But our biggest questions right now are about a defense that made Marcus Mariota look like a Pro Bowler on Sunday and has consistently gotten pushed around by opposing running backs.

 

24. Oakland Raiders (2-2; Last week: 23)

So, sometimes quirky things happen with the rankings. Like the Raiders travel to the eastern time zone for an early kickoff and beat a team that was in our Top 10 last week and still fall a spot. We can’t really explain it other than to say that our panel seems to believe Week 4 was a fluky loss for the Colts more than a telling win for the Raiders. Next up for the Raiders: The Bears at Tottenham Stadium in London.

 

23. New York Giants (2-2; Last week: 24)

Are we overly excited about the Giants? Possibly. But let us have this. Daniel Jones winning his first two starts — one with an 18-point road comeback, the other in a game played without Saquon Barkley — is certainly worthy of another (albeit small) climb in the rankings, up one more spot after a seven-spot jump last week.

 

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2; Last week: 25)

Welcome back, Good Jameis. It’s been a while. And dare we say, maybe this was the best Jameis Winston has ever looked? Four touchdowns, 385 passing yards (and yes, one interception, but we’ll give him a pass on that this week) in a 55-40 win against the Rams. The Bucs have a major decision to make on Winston after this year, and if he has more games like this, Winston will make it an easy one.

 

21. Tennessee Titans (2-2; Last week: 22)

No overreacting here from our panel after the Titans’ convincing win over the Falcons. We’ve been burned by the Titans before, but we’ll just say we’re encouraged by a strong performance from Marcus Mariota — three touchdowns, no picks, no sacks — and if he can repeat that performance in consecutive weeks, we’ll move the Titans back up into the Top 20.

 

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2; Last week: 21)

Minshew Madness is real, you guys. I saw it first hand.

 

While the Jags still try to figure out what to do with Jalen Ramsey (he was inactive Sunday against Denver because of a sore back, and it was obvious they missed him), at least they don’t have to worry about the quarterback situation for the next few weeks. The big question will come in a month or so, if Gardner Minshew is still playing well and Nick Foles is ready to return from his broken collarbone injury.

 

19. Houston Texans (2-2; Last week: 13)

The Texans’ offense continues to be a mystery. They should be good, but so often, and like they were on Sunday against Carolina, they’re just infuriating, especially in the red zone (where they scored just one touchdown in three tries against the Panthers).

 

18. Carolina Panthers (2-2; Last week: 20)

We had been waiting for a really dominant performance from the revamped Carolina defense, and now we’ve seen it, with six sacks of Deshaun Watson in the Panthers’ 16-10 win at Houston. That’s exactly what the Panthers need, as well as more perfect 10 catches-on-10 target days from Christian McCaffrey, as they continue to play without Cam Newton. Next up on Kyle Allen’s schedule: a quarterback duel with Gardner Minshew, a Week 5 match-up we all totally would have predicted a month ago.

 

17. Minnesota Vikings (2-2; Last week: 7)

This might be the biggest overreaction to a Sunday loss, with the Vikings plummeting after struggling to do much of anything in a loss to the Bears. And that includes rushing — Dalvin Cook had just 35 yards on 14 carries — and that’s a problem, when a team’s offensive identity is so one-dimensional.

 

16. Indianapolis Colts (2-2; Last week: 10)

Can’t blame this one on the kicking game. Nope, the Colts just didn’t look good in a 31-24 home loss to the Raiders. Now Indianapolis better hope that the offensive line struggles and costly drops were just an aberration.

 

15. Cleveland Browns (2-2; Last week: 19)

If we were predicting a breakout offensive player for the Browns in the preseason, Nick Chubb would have been a ways down the list, given the star power and big names at other skill positions. But there was Chubb on Sunday in Baltimore, nearly out-rushing the entire Ravens’ offense on his own. (Chubb finished with 165 rushing yards, just eight fewer than Baltimore’s team total, and also scored three touchdowns.)

 

Oh, and did we mention the Browns are now in first place in the AFC North?

 

14. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2; Last week: 17)

When a game is as lopsided in the second half as the Chargers’ win against the Dolphins was, you start thinking about special teams, and you find out from Chargers beat writer Dan Popper that the Chargers’ emergency placekicker is fullback Derek Watt, while receiver Dontrell Inman is the emergency kicker. Not going to lie, we’d kind of like to see a Watt brother attempt PATs.

 

Anyway.

 

The bottom line for the Chargers is they got a much-needed win to join the crowded field of teams at 2-2, and now the Chargers can work on really getting Melvin Gordon ready to take his first carries of 2019 next week against Denver.

 

13. Detroit Lions (2-1-1; Last week: 14)

The Lions lost Sunday, 34-30 to Kansas City, and yet, our panel was impressed enough in the way the Lions’ defense slowed down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. So while Lions players say they aren’t counting any moral victories, our panel obviously is, because even after the loss the Lions have moved up. (And they’ve also passed the Vikings in these rankings.) After a bye next week, they’ll face the Packers at Green Bay and the Vikings, a stretch that’ll tell us quite a bit more about Detroit’s chances in that division.

 

12. Buffalo Bills (3-1; Last week: 11)

There was plenty to like about the Bills’ defensive performance against New England, and I’m actually surprised the Bills didn’t actually stand pat or rise a bit in the rankings after coming close to pulling off an upset. And yet, for as good as the Bills defense is proving to be week after week, if Buffalo is going to truly emerge as a worthy challenger to New England, it’ll be because they finally get more out of the offense. And on Sunday, Josh Allen just wasn’t there yet (and not just because of the brutal helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him from the game in the fourth quarter.)

 

11. Baltimore Ravens (2-2; Last week: 6)

If we weren’t really worried about the Ravens after they lost last week to the Chiefs, we’re officially worried now. Are these defensive problems fixable through improved communication and just more time together? Or are there fundamental roster deficiencies after an offseason of massive turnover?

 

10. Seattle Seahawks (3-1; Last week: 15)

Seattle rebounded from last week’s disappointing loss to New Orleans by beating up on the Arizona Cardinals, a game we might as well consider a tuneup for Thursday’s game against the Rams. And Sunday was indeed a confidence-builder, for running back Chris Carson, who broke 100 yards and didn’t fumble, and a defense that recorded four sacks and a pick-six off Kyler Murray.

 

9. Chicago Bears (3-1; Last week: 12)

The good news: The Bears proved they have one of the NFL’s best backup quarterback situations, when Chase Daniel was able to step in and seamlessly lead the offense to a touchdown drive (on the way to a 16-6 win over Minnesota.)

 

The bad news: What does it say about the the Bears, and specifically about former No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, that the offense looks just as good, if not better, with Daniel under center?

 

8. San Francisco 49ers (3-0; Last week: 9)

Nice little bye week for the 49ers, who return to play this week (on Monday night vs. Cleveland) in first place in their division and as the only undefeated team left in the NFC.

 

7. Green Bay Packers (3-1; Last week: 5)

The Packers’ stay in our Top 5 was a brief one, but at least they didn’t fall far after the Thursday night loss to Philadelphia. Still, we have our first questions of the season about the Green Bay defense, and how the front seven can hold up against better offensive lines. We’ll find out this week, when the Packers travel to Dallas, if the struggles against Philly’s O-line are a major flaw.

 

6. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2; Last week: 16)

Last week, the Eagles were our biggest faller. And now they’re our biggest climber, up 10 spots after beating the Packers. It must be because expectations were so high for the Eagles, which made the two-game losing streak that much more confusing. Now it feels like order has been restored, for one week at least.

 

5. Los Angeles Rams (3-1; Last week: 3)

It was hard to know exactly what to make of the Rams’ ugly loss on Sunday, which started out as a blowout by the Bucs (the Rams trailed 21-0 early) and turned into a shootout that ended 55-40 in Tampa’s favor. We don’t think it means the Rams are a bad team, it just means that like everyone else in the NFC, they’re vulnerable, especially on days when Jared Goff isn’t sharp (three interceptions and one lost fumble.)

 

4. Dallas Cowboys (3-1; Last week: 4)

A prime-time loss would normally cause a team to tumble even a little bit, but our panel still seems to believe in the Cowboys, even after a disappointing offensive showing in the 12-10 loss to the Saints. The stats are pretty ugly, just 45 rushing yards (and only 35 for Ezekiel Elliott) and no touchdown passes for Dak Prescott. That means the next challenge for Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is to figure out how to counter when a team like New Orleans is able to neutralize Elliott. They’ll get an idea next week in Dallas, against the Packers’ stout defense.

 

3. New Orleans Saints (3-1; Last week: 8)

The Saints are among the biggest climbers this week, thanks to a home win over the Cowboys. We loved the shots of an anxious Drew Brees on the sideline, and are encouraged at how the Saints have managed to beat two 2018 playoff teams in the two weeks since Brees injured his right thumb. The NFC South is far from settled, but the Saints have to remain the favorites, especially with such an impressive performance from their unrelenting defense that completely stunted what was a hot Dallas offense.

 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0; Last week: 2)

So much for all the pre-game speculation that Patrick Mahomes would throw for 500+ yards in his first game in a dome, right? Credit the Lions’ defense for giving the Chiefs their first real challenge of the season, but credit Mahomes for finding a way to keep the Chiefs undefeated on a difficult day for the offense (and when Mahomes didn’t throw a touchdown.) Are we sleeping on the Chiefs’ defense? Maybe.

 

1. New England Patriots (4-0; Last week: 1)

Offensively, the Pats’ win over Buffalo wasn’t pretty. But we have no issue keeping the Pats here in the top spot, especially when so many other supposedly good teams couldn’t even manage to win ugly. We also think that with upcoming games against Washington, the Jets and Giants, there will be plenty of chances for Tom Brady and Co. to show off.