The Daily Briefing Tuesday, October 23, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The consensus is that WR AMARI COOPER is not worth the first round pick (likely to be in the teens) that the Cowboys sent to the Raiders.  Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com:

 

It has become routine week after week for the Dallas Cowboys: stud running back Ezekiel Elliott goes out on the field, ducking and darting his way against stacked boxes, all because defenses have zero respect for the Cowboys’ passing attack.

 

And in today’s pass-happy NFL, Dallas’ heavy reliance on the run game and complete inability to throw the ball dynamically — which is a little like driving a 2004 Ford Explorer in 2018 — was a sight the Cowboys got so sick of through seven games that on Monday, they reportedly sent a 2019 first-round pick to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper.

 

Reviews of the trade came in fast and furious, with many inside the league and out saying the Cowboys gave up too much.

 

“I wouldn’t do that,” one NFL personnel man told Yahoo Sports on Monday, “but he is very talented.”

 

The latter, however, is what matters most to a Dallas team that is not, and will never be, keen on rebuilding as long as team owner Jerry Jones is around. And while Jones’ refusal to orchestrate a complete rebuild has led to much consternation among Cowboys fans over the past 20 years — a group that has largely seen America’s Team stuck in perpetual mediocrity — this is one case where the Cowboys’ lack of patience works.

 

Let me explain.

 

Cooper is not a perfect player. His tendency to drop passes can be maddening — he finished third in the NFL with nine drops last year, according to Football Outsiders — and his production in 2017 wasn’t great, as he caught only 48 passes for 680 yards and seven touchdowns as he missed two games due to a concussion and high ankle sprain.

 

But when Cooper is at his best, there’s no doubting his ability to serve as a No. 1 receiver. His route running has always been advanced, even dating back to his time as a freshman starter at Alabama, and Cooper’s first two years in the NFL — when he totaled 155 catches for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns — are more indicative of the former No. 4 overall pick’s talent.

 

“If I felt I was competing for a championship,” another NFL personnel man said Monday, “then he’s worth it.”

 

The Cowboys, who are perpetually in “win now” mode, always believe they’re on the cusp of doing so. And regardless of how you feel about that, the truth is that Dallas — which fell to 3-4 with a 20-17 loss to Washington on Sunday — remains only a game and a half behind the NFC East-leading Redskins (4-2).

 

Instead of waiting until the offseason to fix its receiver problem, Dallas decided to pay a stiff price for an immediate upgrade to one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL, one that hasn’t had an elite threat since Dez Bryant was outrunning and outmuscling cornerbacks and throwing up the “X” in 2014.

 

Now, that’s not to say the unit is completely devoid of talent. Cole Beasley is a good player, a strong route-runner who hurts teams over the middle, and rookie third-rounder Michael Gallup is undeniably gifted. But Gallup is still mastering the offense, free-agent signees Allen Hurns (13 catches, 158 yards) and Tavon Austin (seven catches, 130 yards) have been busts, and none of them have the deep-ball juice and physical gifts the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Cooper does.

 

The Cowboys’ problems on their 29th-ranked offense (total yards) go deeper than receiver, of course. Players have quietly griped about the lack of offensive creativity, league sources tell Yahoo Sports, and when you add in the deep-ball issues of quarterback Dak Prescott — who has completed only 16 throws of 20 yards or longer (27th in the league) — and consider the offensive line isn’t anywhere close to its prime 2016 form, the fact that Elliott has averaged 4.7 yards per carry is a minor miracle.

 

Cooper’s numbers are depressed at the moment, as he has 22 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown under new coach Jon Gruden. But when he’s right — and being used properly, as he was in Oakland in 2015 and 2016 — rival executives believe Cooper will likely (and finally) give defenses someone they’ll have to account for outside when they face the Cowboys, regardless of the price tag.

 

“He opens it up and gives them a threat,” one executive told Yahoo Sports.

 

“Gives them a receiver with the talent to win 1-on-1,” another added.

 

Most importantly, there’s a significant chance the Cowboys get a nice return on their investment here, and that can’t be understated. Cooper won’t turn 25 until June, meaning they stand to have him through the bulk of his physical prime. And next season will be the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, meaning Cooper will be playing for a new contract in 2019. The contract year is undefeated, and best of all for the Cowboys, if he earns a new deal he’ll be young enough to actually make good on it.

 

“Too much based on where the pick will be,” another NFL exec said, when asked if the Cowboys gave the Raiders too much. “But they secured a real player who is young.”

 

Regardless, I like the risk Dallas is taking, although I’m sure Cowboys fans probably feel a nauseating sense of déjà vu if they’ve been around long enough to remember in 2008 when the Cowboys shipped a 2009 first-round pick to Detroit for former Longhorns star receiver Roy Williams.

 

Williams never fully became the star they hoped, as he totaled 75 catches, 1,126 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns from 2009-2010. The Cowboys actually gave up more for Williams than Cooper — a first-, third- and sixth-round pick.

 

I understand the rush to rip what the Cowboys gave up, but from Dallas’ perspective, I get it. In the Cowboys’ mind, they’re getting the young receiver with blue-chip ability they desperately need, only six months earlier than critics would have preferred for them to do so — the 2019 NFL draft.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

On Monday, the Giants lost again.  On Tuesday, they traded Eli.  No, not that Eli, the other one.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After a problematic season on and off the field in 2017, the Giants gave cornerback Eli Apple a fresh start this year.

 

It lasted seven games. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Giants are trading Apple to the Saints. The Giants will get a a 2019 fourth-round pick and a 2020 seventh-round pick in return.

 

Apple was a 2016 first-round pick and showed promise as a rookie before things went awry last season. He has 23 tackles and a forced fumble in five starts last season.

 

The Giants are now left with B.W. Webb, Antonio Hamilton, Grant Haley and Michael Jordan (not that one or that one) at corner to go with starter Janoris Jenkins.

 

The Saints have been discussed as a possible landing spot for Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has reportedly asked for a trade out of Arizona. This deal may take them out of that market.

 

Apple will find some familiar faces waiting for him in the New Orleans secondary. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Vonn Bell were also his teammates at Ohio State. Safety Kurt Coleman also played college ball in Columbus, but predated the rest of the Buckeyes.

– – –

When you are down 14 points and score the smart guys have discovered that mathematically your best chance of winning (assuming the other team scores nothing) is clearly to go for two.  It took 50 years to figure it out, but the math is unassailable.

 

Pat Shurmur paid attention and went for two down 14 last night.  The media (and some old school commentators) still went crazy.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur had no regrets about his decision to go for a two-point conversion down eight points late in Monday night’s 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons or two straight failed quarterback sneak calls that cost them valuable seconds in the final minute.

 

The decision to go for two was a situation Shurmur said they discussed internally prior to the game. He went with the same approach used by Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings.

 

“I just felt like, we’d discussed internally the math on that,” Shurmur said. “I felt like we had a good play, and I liked our two-point play selections, and we just didn’t quite get it done.”

 

Shurmur came into his postgame news conference ready to defend his decision. Pederson was also criticized after the Eagles lost to the Vikings but said the decision was backed by analytics.

 

The math backs up Pat Shurmur’s decision to go for two down eight points with less than five minutes to go. Going for it then gives Shurmur an informational advantage. If the Giants convert, then on their next touchdown they know they only need to kick a PAT to take the lead (assuming no other scores). If they fail, which they did, they have an opportunity to go for it again to tie. The long and short of it: converting once is much more likely than failing twice.

 

The Giants ended up failing on the first two-point conversion attempt and converting the second. It proved irrelevant because the Falcons kicked a field goal in between.

 

“I think it’s an aggressive approach,” Shurmur said. “I’m going to take myself back to the one game where we didn’t use timeouts before the halftime. I told you I’d never do that again and I think from a head coaching perspective I want to be aggressive for our guys.”

 

That’s what the players seemed to like. They had no problem with the decision.

 

Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dropped the difficult two-point conversion catch with 4:52 remaining.

 

“I like the call. I love being aggressive,” Beckham said. “I don’t know if I can be a coach because I’m going for it on fourth. We’re going for two. That’s why I’m not a coach. I like the call. I’m always going to ride with him. Wish I could’ve came up with it.”

 

There are analytics that backed up Shurmur’s decision.

 

“You increase your chances by 50 percent if you go for it and make it there, so that’s what you do,” Shurmur said. “Because then if you score a touchdown, we just kick the extra point and win. I felt good about the two-point play. You guys saw that, I think we got the ball in there, right? And we just didn’t connect on it.”

 

Maybe the more costly late-game decisions came with less than a minute left to play. Down 23-12, they had the ball at the Atlanta 1-yard line with 45 seconds remaining. That’s when Eli Manning ran a quarterback sneak and was stuffed on first down. Second down was a repeat as valuable time ticked off the clock.

 

The Giants were finally forced to throw on third down, when Manning connected with Odell Beckham for a touchdown with five seconds remaining. They converted the two-point conversion to make it 23-20, but without much time left.

 

“We got to get them in, right? We got to sneak it from the 1,” Shurmur said. “I don’t … again I just saw a mush pile there, so I don’t know why it didn’t work. But from the 1-yard line there, we got to get it in.”

 

Shurmur wouldn’t have preferred a pass in that situation to protect from getting stuffed and the clock ticking.

 

Assuming 50-50 on 2 PT conversion, 95% on PAT, no points by other team in regulation, 50-50 chance in overtime.

 

Kick the points – 90% chance of overtime, 50% chance there – chance of winning 45%

 

Go for two – make it? 95% chance of winning or 47% total.

                    Miss it? 50% chance of still getting overtime (25% total), 50% chance of            winning for 12% in that scenario, 69% chance of winning, not 45%

 

It’s a parlor trick on the law of probability that was hiding there in plain sight.  But once you see it, you can never just kick the point.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Winning the Super Bowl usually requires good luck with injuries.  The 2018 Eagles are not having the success in that area that the 2017 club did.  There defense takes a hit this week as they head to England.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Eagles have reportedly lost one of their defensive linemen for the rest of the season.

 

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that defensive end Derek Barnett will miss the rest of the year after having shoulder surgery. Barnett has been dealing with shoulder problems and missed their Week Five game against the Vikings as a result of the issue.

 

The 2017 first-round pick has started the other six games that the Eagles have played this season. He had 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks after recording 21 tackles and five sacks during his rookie season.

 

Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett and Chris Long will likely be the lead options at defensive end with Barnett out of the mix. The Eagles could also take a look at 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat, although he has not played since Week Three.

 

 

WASHINGTON

The bad call against the Cowboys longsnapper came about because the clever Redskins planted a seed of doubt in the officials.  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

Game officials didn’t suddenly notice Dallas Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur’s habit of adjusting the ball before he snaps it, and call a controversial penalty.

 

The Washington Redskins tipped the officials off.

 

It’s a pretty fascinating little story that shows how detail-oriented NFL coaches are. According to longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder, Washington special teams coach Ben Kotwica noticed during the team’s preparation for Sunday’s game that Ladouceur moved the ball, and that could be a penalty. Werder said Kotwica told Jay Gruden, who “alerted game officials and encouraged them to watch for it.”

 

Then, with the Cowboys lining up for a game-tying field goal in the final minute, that little detail became a very big deal.

 

Redskins jumped offsides when snapper moved the ball

Ladouceur adjusted the ball to get ready for the snap and Washington players jumped offsides. That clearly seemed to be an attempt to force officials into a call. They waited for a big moment too; Ladouceur had done something similar before other snaps in the game but the Redskins hadn’t moved to cause a penalty flag to be thrown.

 

The officials called Ladouceur for a snap infraction, a 5-yard penalty. A 47-yard attempt was suddenly a 52-yard attempt, and Cowboys kicker Brett Maher hit the upright. Ladouceur said after the game he couldn’t believe the penalty was called, and that through his 14-year career he’d done the “exact same thing.” He said he had never been called for a penalty.

 

“I just adjust it down so I can put my hands on the bottom of it so I can snap it in the right direction,” he said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years.”

 

And this time, an incredibly rare penalty was called. Maybe Maher would have missed anyway, but the penalty couldn’t have helped. It looked like a genius stroke from the Redskins coaches.

 

Stories of NFL coaches working 80 or 100 hours in a week are common. But they work that long to try to find the one small thing that could change a game.

 

This particular situation seems very rare. Coaches might find a tendency for an opponent to not to as well if he’s forced to move right or left, but how many times do they find a habit that could produce a potential penalty in all that film study?

 

Kotwica had to spot Ladouceur adjusting the ball on film, and think about how intently you’d need to watch film to find that. He had to know it was a potential penalty. Then Washington presumably taught its players what to watch for and how to react to it if they saw it, and which situation to execute it.

 

Maybe that miss changes the playoff picture too. The difference in winning or losing a divisional game is enormous. Give the Redskins’ coaches credit for helping their team get a big win Sunday.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Trouble found QB CHAD KELLY in college – and now it has found him in Denver.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.cm:

 

Broncos backup quarterback Chad Kelly is in trouble with the law.

 

Kelly was charged early this morning with first-degree criminal trespassing in Englewood, Colorado, according to local police. He was taken to the county jail. It is unclear where he is now.

 

Police say Kelly went into a residence without permission, was chased out of the residence, and was later pursued by police.

 

The 24-year-old Kelly has a history of off-field issues, which is one of the reasons he lasted until the final pick of the 2017 NFL draft. He was kicked off the team at Clemson in April of 2014, and eight months later he was arrested after a bar fight in Buffalo, where his uncle Jim Kelly was a Hall of Fame quarterback. He later transferred to East Mississippi Community College (of Last Chance U fame) and then transferred to Ole Miss.

 

There’s been talk that Kelly could replace the struggling starter Case Keenum in Denver, but questions about Kelly’s maturity have been among the reasons the Broncos preferred an older veteran. This latest incident will do nothing to erase those questions.

 

More details emerge of the incident which is shocking for its drunken (apparently) randomness in the aftermath of a team event.  ESPN.com:

 

Broncos backup quarterback Chad Kelly was arrested early Tuesday on suspicion of criminal trespass after a couple reported he came into their suburban house uninvited and sat down on their couch “mumbling incoherently,” according to court records.

 

The 24-year-old Kelly posted $2,500 bond and was released later Tuesday.

 

According to court records, a man and a woman told police that a stranger came into their Englewood home after 1 a.m. The intruder sat down on the couch next to the woman, who was holding the couple’s young child, and was “mumbling incoherently,” according to the records.

 

The man yelled at the intruder to get out and hit him in the back with a vacuum tube. The homeowners showed police surveillance video of a man wearing dark pants, a white long sleeve shirt with a brown vest and a red scarf around his neck entering the front door.

 

Kelly appears to have been at a team Halloween party hosted by teammate Von Miller.

 

“We are very very disappointed in Chad,” president of football operations/general manager John Elway told Broncos radio station Orange and Blue 760. “When the team has a get-together, that’s always a good thing. And the camaraderie that goes along with being a team … One person put a dent in it. We are going to look into this. The charges are very, very serious.”

 

The homeowner told police he thought the door was locked but police found no signs that someone had forced their way inside.

 

Police said they found Kelly sitting inside a black SUV parked about a block from the couple’s home. Kelly matched the couple’s description and the man later identified him as the person who came into the house, according to court documents.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Presumably, Jon Gruden has planned a year of turmoil with a bad record as the Raiders are ushered out of Oakland, the better and faster to build a Vegas worthy team.  But in the here and now, it doesn’t look good.

 

Marcus Thompson of The Athletic says QB DEREK CARR, the face of the franchise not that long ago, is in disfavor because he broke the “there’s no crying in football rule.”  Tom Ley at Deadspin.com:

 

Derek Carr, like the Raiders’ season, is well and ruined. The 27-year-old quarterback, who just two seasons ago looked like he would be the steady hand guiding the Raiders’ offense for the next decade or so, is now a lame duck. Khalil Mack is gone, Amari Cooper is gone, the Gruden-designed rebuild is officially on, and Carr has reportedly lost the confidence of his teammates.

 

That last bit comes from The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, who cites team sources describing Carr’s relationship with the rest of the Raiders as “fractured.” And what’s the reason for this fracturing? Thompson cites waning confidence in Carr’s ability, then reaches a bit for a second explanation, but we’ll allow it:

 

Raiders headquarters is not the best space for Carr. The belief in him has deteriorated, perhaps to irreparable levels. Team sources describe a fractured relationship between Carr and his teammates, mostly because confidence in him has waned. It certainly didn’t help when film showed what looked like him crying after being sacked and injuring his arm. They saw his face. They heard his whimper. They witnessed him explain on the sidelines. They assuredly watched it again in film session. It’s hard to see how Carr can lead this team again.

 

You almost have to admire Jon Gruden’s ability for destruction. Gutting a roster and engineering a very embarrassing and perhaps unintentional tanking campaign is one thing, but an NFL season isn’t a true disaster until the quarterback has been reduced to a blubbering mess whom nobody likes. And it’s only Week 7! Imagine what more awaits.

 

Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

With Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders restacking the deck after trades of first-round picks Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the question is what happens with quarterback Derek Carr.

 

Amid swirling rumors that the struggling quarterback might be the next player Gruden jettisons, Carr took to Twitter to respond to critics and to say he’s not ready to give up on his career in Black and Silver.

 

@derekcarrqb

 I’m a Raider. It’s not a “popular” thing to be a Raider right now, but I am and I love it. I love the struggle of trying to fight back for our city when not a lot of people believe in us. People can try all they want to tear us apart, but it’s not happening to the real ones. 💀

 

The Raiders could get out of Carr’s contract after the season with just $7.5 million in dead money while saving $15 million on the salary cap. The dichotomy could lead to a trade, if a suitor comes calling before the Oct. 30 deadline, or the QB getting cut next offseason.

 

Carr’s comment wasn’t his first Tuesday responding to critics.

 

The Raiders quarterback first replied to his brother, Darren, who was defending Derek from a report that there is a fractured relationship between the signal-caller and teammates, due in part because of the perception that Derek cried after being injured.

 

Replying to @ProFootballTalk

Hit 16 times in that game

Broken Pinky Finger (Throwing Hand)

Sprained Thumb (Throwing Hand)

Knee Sprain MCL Grade 2

High Ankle Sprain Grade 3

Concussion Grade 1

Chest / Ribs Bruised

3 Broken Bones in his Back

Broken Fibula Bone in Leg

 

2 Missed Games (because they made him)

 

@derekcarrqb

Don’t even waste your time with this big bro. On the ground I yelled get me up get me. Then I got to the sideline and yelled again. Not one tear. Not one time. There is the Truth. People will click on it because it sounds crazy. But stop playing with me.

 

Carr had tweeted just twice since the Mack trade on Sept. 1, yet the Raiders QB felt the need to defend himself and his team on social media with all the tumult surrounding the organization.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

John Harbaugh won a challenge early in Sunday’s game and then he tried another and was turned down by the Men of Al Riveron.  Then, when another call was missed, he was without the means to rectify things.  Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun:

 

John Harbaugh’s bid to win every coach’s challenge this season ended in the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. But the circumstances regarding his second challenge left the coach grousing about the NFL’s system for reviewing plays.

 

Under current NFL rules, coaches are permitted two challenges per game with a third awarded if the first two challenges are successful. Harbaugh’s decision to challenge the officials’ ruling that New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara was down by contact after an 8-yard rush instead of awarding the ball to middle linebacker C.J. Mosley for wrestling it away from Kamara was denied. And because that was his second challenge of the game, Harbaugh was out of challenges for the final 53 minutes of the game.

 

Harbaugh unloaded on the policy during his Monday news conference.

 

“First of all, we’ve talked about that rule. The rule should be changed,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to win both challenges to get another challenge back. That’s been talked about, and that’s been just dismissed by the powers that be. Who knows why? Maybe they could explain it to you in some way that makes sense. But the other thing is, we never challenge unless we think we’re going to win it clearly.

 

“When we looked at the replay, both points of the ball were moving. It wasn’t like one point was moving. It doesn’t have to be the ball just moving to lose control. But when both points of the ball were moving, that’s loss of control. We still feel strongly that we were right in challenging that, and that would have given us another challenge back.”

 

Harbaugh said he would have used a third challenge when officials awarded the Saints a first down after quarterback Drew Brees leaped over the offensive line for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 18-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. (New Orleans eventually scored a touchdown on that drive to go up 21-17.)

 

“I mean, you’ve got to at least get close to the line of scrimmage,” he said. “And you know, it’s not like you put the ball across the plane or goal line. You can’t put the ball across the plane for the first-down marker; it’s got to be forward progress. And absolutely we’d challenge that one. … But you know, another thing, you’d like for them to get it right the first time. That would be the ideal thing.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

The DB is surprised that the 2-5 Colts are sitting 8th in the latest Aikman Combined Ratings after thrashing the lowly Bills (who now have the same record) on Sunday.

 

The we saw this from Andrew Aziz at StampedeBlue.com written before Sunday’s win.

 

The Colts aren’t out of the playoff picture, not even close. In the AFC South, all things are possible.

 

To explain how the Colts have a very good chance of winning the division, we need to break things down into three different parts:

 

The current state of the team

The current state of the division

The remaining schedule and the important games

 

Current State of the Team

The Colts have been battered and beaten with injuries this season. The Colts currently have the following key players on injured reserve:

 

Joe Haeg

Matthias Farley

Matt Slauson

 

Marcus Johnson and Deon Cain are two young depth players also on injured reserve. So while a lot of players have been injured, there aren’t many important key players who are out for the season. That’s reason number one to be optimistic.

 

We’ll use the point differential formula to calculate the “true” level of play of each team. This formula is used in all sports by bettors and analysts to determine how good a team really is. The point differential formula is:

 

(Points Scored)^2 / ((Points Scored)^2 + (Points Allowed)^2)

 

As it stands right now, the Colts are playing like a team that should have 2.5 wins (according to the point differential formula); this means that on paper, they are a 7-9 football team based on their play through the first 6 games. A 7-9 football team would come relatively close to a playoff spot in this division.

 

The Colts are losing 4.7 points per game. If the Colts were to finish the season as a 9-7 team, which means finishing the season 8-2, they would need to continue scoring 25 points a game (which is what they do now), but allow 12 to 13 fewer points per game. The Colts are allowing 30 points per game right now and in order to get to 9-7, they’ll need to allow only 17 to 18 points per game (average) in the final 10 games. The 8 remaining teams they will face are only averaging 18 points per game, so on paper, the Colts allowing only 18 points per game is very doable.

 

If we completely ignore the numbers, there are few things that are obvious:

 

Andrew Luck has not been great through the first 6 games and I believe that’s due to rust and still adjusting to the NFL game after a very long layoff. As the season goes on, I believe he’ll only get stronger and his production will improve as he gets more and more comfortable.

 

The Colts have had to play the last few games without their top two receivers, TY Hilton and Jack Doyle; having them back will only help the flow of the passing game and not put a reliance on average and below average receivers like Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal.

 

The play of the offensive line has improved the last few games. Braden Smith has been serviceable and Anthony Castonzo’s return has added stability. With those two on the line, on top of a healthy Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson, the Colts should be just fine up front moving forward. Like Luck but in a different way, the two rookies, Smith and Nelson, are still adjusting to the NFL game, its speed and the very high quality of play. As the season goes on, they’ll get more comfortable and more accustomed to life in the NFL.

 

The Colts have a very young defense, with most of their starters being 25 or younger. Considering it’s a completely new coaching staff and many new faces, things not being perfect at the beginning of the season isn’t a surprise to anyone. However, the talent level is obvious, with Darius Leonard looking like a potential rookie of the year candidate and Malik Hooker playing at a high level. Hooker is a good example of a player who has not shined on paper, but has shined on film. As the season goes along, this team should gel well.

 

The Current State of the Division

It’s bad.

 

The Titans, Texans and Jaguars are all 3-3 with a slew of different issues. All three teams have negative point differentials and two teams (Titans and Jaguars) are dealing with several injuries to key players.

 

The Titans don’t have a healthy offensive line and Marcus Mariota has been banged up all season and clearly isn’t 100%. The Titans are also missing two key starters for the entire season with Delanie Walker and Jon Cyprien on injured reserve. They’re only averaging 14.5 points per game and they have only scored more than 20 points once this season. Their offense is having major issues.

 

The Jaguars are also having injury issues. Leonard Fournette has barely played this season and his timetable to return is still unknown. They are also missing a few starters on offense with Cam Robinson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Marqise Lee all being on injured reserve. Their supposedly stout defense has also been picked apart in recent weeks, allowing 70 points in the last 2 games, which indicates that they might not be as strong on defense as people might think.

 

The Texans, in my opinion, are the most dangerous team to the Colts. They’re on a three-game win streak and while they have a slightly tougher remaining schedule than the Colts, it is still relatively easy. The biggest game of the season might be the Week 14 matchup in Houston. Their biggest issue has been inconsistency. Their three wins came in one score games and they could’ve easily lost all three games. Their first win came against the Colts in overtime. The second came against the Cowboys in overtime. Both of those wins essentially came because of coaching decisions from their opponents. Their last win came against the lowly Bills and they only won because of an ugly interception from the spectacularly terrible Nathan Peterman. To say that they are a strong team is a stretch.

 

As it stands, according to the point differential formula:

 

The Texans are playing like an 8-8 team.

The Jaguars are playing like a 7-9 team.

The Titans are playing like a 6-10 team.

 

There is a very strong chance that none of the three AFC South opponents finish with a winning record.

 

Remaining Schedule + Important Games

The season isn’t half over, so the Colts can still make up plenty of ground in the remaining 10 games. Of the remaining 8 teams the Colts play, only one has a winning record: the Miami Dolphins. Seven of the eight teams have negative point differentials, with only the Dallas Cowboys having a positive point differential. There is a very good chance that the 8 teams the Colts play in the final 10 games will not have winning records come season’s end. To sum that all up, the Colts will have an easy schedule for the rest of the season.

 

The important games are obvious, they have five remaining divisional games and in order to win the division they’ll need to win at least 4 of them. Three of those five games will be on the road, so winning those two home games are musts. As mentioned earlier, the Week 14 matchup against the Texans in Houston will be the biggest game of the season for the Colts. That will be a must-win game. If they can win both divisional home games, the Week 14 Texans matchup and one of the other two road divisional games, the Colts will seriously be in business.

 

The Colts are 20-1 underdogs to win the division, according to Vegas, so while the chances of winning the division aren’t likely (according to them), they certainly aren’t impossible and the cards seem to be stacking up properly. The Colts are playing many below average teams and with not-so-strong offenses. I believe if the Colts get to 9-7, they will win the division outright, because I don’t believe the other AFC South teams, based on their schedule and the state of their teams are strong enough to post winning records to finish the season.

 

The numbers suggest that the Colts are not far behind in the division and making it to the playoffs is still a very real possibility based on the state of their team, the AFC South and their remaining schedule. I believe strongly in the Colts pulling through, to the point that I even made a $15 bet on the Colts to win the division.

 

Here is that Colts schedule:

 

OCT 28                  AT OAKLAND

BYE WEEK

NOV 11                 JACKSONVILLE

NOV 18                 TENNESSEE

NOV 25                 MIAMI

DEC 2                   AT JACKSONVILLE

DEC 9                   AT HOUSTON

DEC 16                DALLAS

DEC 23                NEW YORK GIANTS

DEC 30                AT TENNESSEE

 

Is there any one game there that the Colts would not be favored to win other than December 9 at Houston?  Maybe very narrow underdogs at Jacksonville and Tennessee in the final game.  We seriously could see a 7-2 finish that would get them to 9-7 and the playoff line.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are expected to activate RB ELIJAH McGUIRE in the near future.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

New York Jets running back Elijah McGuire returned to practice on Wednesday as the team designated him as one of their two candidates to return from injured reserve this season.

 

McGuire was placed on injured reserve after the 53-man roster was set due to a foot injury that kept him out of all four of the team’s preseason games. Players eligible to return from injured reserve must miss a minimum of eight weeks, but can return to practice after six.

 

McGuire rushed for 315 yards and a touchdown on 88 carries as a rookie with the Jets last season. He also caught 17 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown.

 

They also have signed veteran WR RISHARD MATTHEWS, recently found unwanted in Tennessee.  Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:

 

Battling injuries at wide receiver, the New York Jets signed veteran free agent Rishard Matthews on Tuesday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Matthews, 29, was out of work for four games after being released by the Tennessee Titans — a move he requested. He was unhappy with his role in the offense and complained to management after catching only three passes for 11 yards in the first three games.

 

The Jets (3-4) needed a body because leading receiver Quincy Enunwa (high ankle sprain), who didn’t play last week, is expected to miss a few more games. Terrelle Pryor suffered a groin injury and was released, although there’s a chance he could return when healthy. That, of course, could depend on how Matthews fares.

 

The Jets explored the possibility of trading for Amari Cooper, who wound up being dealt to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick. Matthews worked out for the Jets last week.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

AIKMAN RATINGS Thru Week 7

The undefeated Rams have also advanced to the top spot in the 2018 Aikman Combined Ratings compiled by Sports Radar.  The Rams were third last week before the Ravens and Bears suffered defeats and fell behind them.

 

The Chiefs continue atop Aikman Offense as they bid to become the first team to top the 100 mark in that category.  But with a defense that lags, they are only 4th in Aikman Combined.  Kansas City actually has the worst defense in the NFL’s yards-only ranking.  They are 27th in Aikman Defense.

 

The Ravens survived their meeting with the Saints strong offense to stay atop Aikman Defense.

 

One team to keep an eye on – the Indianapolis Colts who surged to 8th from 17th in the tightly-bunched middle of the ratings with their thrashing of the Bills.  The Colts are only 2-5, but every game has been close this year except for last Sunday’s big win.

2018 Aikman Combined Ratings Through Week 7

————–

Aikman

————–

————–

NFL

————–

Rank

Record

Team

Comb

Off

Def

Off

Def

Comb

1

7-0-0

Los Angeles Rams

169.1

98.2

70.9

2

7

9

2

4-3-0

Baltimore Ravens

168.1

89.2

78.9

9

1

10

3

3-3-0

Chicago Bears

166.6

88.7

77.9

11

12

23

4

6-1-0

Kansas City Chiefs

161.4

102.3

59.0

3

32

35

5

3-3-0

Seattle Seahawks

159.8

87.3

72.5

28

6

34

6

5-2-0

Los Angeles Chargers

159.5

90.9

68.6

7

16

23

7

4-2-1

Minnesota Vikings

158.1

81.1

77.0

13

11

24

8

2-5-0

Indianapolis Colts

157.4

87.7

69.8

17

21

38

9

3-4-0

Dallas Cowboys

156.9

81.3

75.6

29

3

32

10

3-4-0

Philadelphia Eagles

156.1

82.5

73.7

19

14

33

11

5-1-0

New Orleans Saints

155.0

97.0

58.0

6

17

23

12

5-2-0

New England Patriots

154.6

90.2

64.4

10

25

35

13

3-2-1

Pittsburgh Steelers

154.0

89.7

64.3

5

23

28

14

4-2-0

Carolina Panthers

153.2

86.6

66.6

18

13

31

15

3-2-1

Green Bay Packers

152.7

85.2

67.4

4

8

12

16

4-2-0

Washington Redskins

152.3

82.2

70.0

24

5

29

17

3-3-0

Detroit Lions

151.3

87.8

63.5

12

15

27

18

2-4-1

Cleveland Browns

150.3

78.7

71.6

22

28

50

19

3-4-0

Denver Broncos

147.1

81.3

65.8

14

22

36

20

3-4-0

Tennessee Titans

146.6

72.7

73.9

30

10

40

21

4-3-0

Miami Dolphins

145.9

75.4

70.6

27

27

54

22

4-3-0

Houston Texans

145.2

76.9

68.3

16

9

25

23

3-4-0

Atlanta Falcons

144.9

94.4

50.5

8

30

38

24

3-4-0

New York Jets

144.6

70.5

74.1

26

20

46

25

1-6-0

New York Giants

143.4

78.8

64.6

20

18

38

26

4-3-0

Cincinnati Bengals

141.4

87.9

53.5

25

31

56

27

3-4-0

Jacksonville Jaguars

139.0

69.7

69.3

23

2

25

28

3-3-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

138.2

86.1

52.2

1

29

30

29

1-6-0

San Francisco 49ers

137.2

78.3

58.9

21

19

40

30

1-5-0

Oakland Raiders

133.9

74.4

59.5

15

26

41

31

2-5-0

Buffalo Bills

126.5

62.0

64.5

31

4

35

32

1-6-0

Arizona Cardinals

125.5

62.2

63.3

32

24

56

NFL Average:

149.9

83.0

66.8

 

Aikman Offense Ratings Through Week 7, 2018

Aikman

NFL

Team

AER

1

3

Kansas City Chiefs

102.3

2

2

Los Angeles Rams

98.2

3

6

New Orleans Saints

97.0

4

8

Atlanta Falcons

94.4

5

7

Los Angeles Chargers

90.9

6

10

New England Patriots

90.2

7

5

Pittsburgh Steelers

89.7

8

9

Baltimore Ravens

89.2

9

11

Chicago Bears

88.7

10

25

Cincinnati Bengals

87.9

11

12

Detroit Lions

87.8

12

17

Indianapolis Colts

87.7

13

28

Seattle Seahawks

87.3

14

18

Carolina Panthers

86.6

15

1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

86.1

16

4

Green Bay Packers

85.2

17

19

Philadelphia Eagles

82.5

18

24

Washington Redskins

82.2

19

14

Denver Broncos

81.3

20

29

Dallas Cowboys

81.3

21

13

Minnesota Vikings

81.1

22

20

New York Giants

78.8

23

22

Cleveland Browns

78.7

24

21

San Francisco 49ers

78.3

25

16

Houston Texans

76.9

26

27

Miami Dolphins

75.4

27

15

Oakland Raiders

74.4

28

30

Tennessee Titans

72.7

29

26

New York Jets

70.5

30

23

Jacksonville Jaguars

69.7

31

32

Arizona Cardinals

62.2

32

31

Buffalo Bills

62.0

NFL Average:

83.0

 

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 7, 2018

Aikman

NFL

Team

AER

1

1

Baltimore Ravens

78.9

2

12

Chicago Bears

77.9

3

11

Minnesota Vikings

77.0

4

3

Dallas Cowboys

75.6

5

20

New York Jets

74.1

6

10

Tennessee Titans

73.9

7

14

Philadelphia Eagles

73.7

8

6

Seattle Seahawks

72.5

9

28

Cleveland Browns

71.6

10

7

Los Angeles Rams

70.9

11

27

Miami Dolphins

70.6

12

5

Washington Redskins

70.0

13

21

Indianapolis Colts

69.8

14

2

Jacksonville Jaguars

69.3

15

16

Los Angeles Chargers

68.6

16

9

Houston Texans

68.3

17

8

Green Bay Packers

67.4

18

13

Carolina Panthers

66.6

19

22

Denver Broncos

65.8

20

18

New York Giants

64.6

21

4

Buffalo Bills

64.5

22

25

New England Patriots

64.4

23

23

Pittsburgh Steelers

64.3

24

15

Detroit Lions

63.5

25

24

Arizona Cardinals

63.3

26

26

Oakland Raiders

59.5

27

32

Kansas City Chiefs

59.0

28

19

San Francisco 49ers

58.9

29

17

New Orleans Saints

58.0

30

31

Cincinnati Bengals

53.5

31

29

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

52.2

32

30

Atlanta Falcons

50.5

NFL Average:

66.8