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Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski leaves with back spasms after 5 plays in loss to New Orleans Saints

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The long-awaited return of Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was short-lived: He left after five plays due to back spasms in the Bucs’ 36-27 loss at the New Orleans Saints, a game that dropped the Bucs to 6-2 but still holding a half-game lead in the NFC South.

Coach Bruce Arians said after the game that Gronkowski and cornerback Richard Sherman, “probably shouldn’t have played” but that he’s hopeful the defending Super Bowl champions can get healthy in their bye week.

“He kept begging to get in there and re-injured himself,” Arians said of Gronkowski, who was active in his first game since suffering cracked ribs and a punctured lung against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3, which was the Bucs’ only loss of the season before Sunday.

Sherman, who was active for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6, did not play a snap, with reserve Pierre Desir getting the nod instead and playing 71 defensive snaps.

The Bucs’ third key piece returning from an injury, Lavonte David, played all 72 snaps and finished with eight combined tackles after being held out the last two week with an ankle sprain.

Gronkowski, who underwent three back surgeries from 2009 to 2016, finished with one target and no catches, while quarterback Tom Brady turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six by P.J. Williams with 1:36 to go on a pass intended for wide receiver Mike Evans.

“He telegraphed it a little bit,” Arians said of Brady, who missed out on his 42nd career come-from-behind win, which would have put him one shy of Peyton Manning for the all-time record of 42.

“I just threw it to the wrong guy,” Brady said. “I had Mike open. It cost us the game. “Tough to win that way when we turned the ball over like we did. I gotta not throw interceptions. That’s the key.”

It wasn’t just turnovers that cost the Bucs. They were flagged for 11 penalties — second-most of their season and six which resulted in first downs for the Saints. A horse collar penalty on inside linebacker Devin White on a tackle of quarterback Jameis Winston knocked Winston out of the game with a knee injury.

“They didn’t make it to first down. It was all 15-yard penalties for roughing the quarterback. And they were stupid,” said Arians, who expressed visible frustration after the game over the way his team played after an increased emphasis on cutting down on penalties.

“I thought that it was an embarrassing display of football. Of all the things that we talked about coming down here about what it takes to win, and to play like that — it starts with me,” Arians said. “Obviously, we weren’t ready to play, penalties, turnovers, you’re not beating anybody that way.”

Arians is hopeful the loss will create an increased sense of urgency in the second half of the season, especially with four one-loss teams leading the NFC heading into Sunday night in the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and Rams. Last year, the Bucs’ eight-game win streak to close out the regular season and through the playoffs started after their Week 13 bye.

“Hopefully it changes it a bunch. You drop down and start going on the road in the playoffs — it’s different. Every game is critical. Especially road games in your division. Road games, when you have it in your hand and you give it a way makes everything more difficult.”

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Why has the Dallas Cowboys’ run game come to a halt? – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t exactly breaking news when he talked about what makes the Dallas Cowboys‘ offense successful.

“Running the football has to be important to us,” the running back said. “I think it helps this offense. I think we’re a better football team when we can run it well.”

Elliott’s assessment came before the Thanksgiving Day game against the Las Vegas Raiders where the Cowboys gained 64 yards on 20 carries in the 36-33 overtime loss. That’s fewer yards than Elliott had by himself five times in the Cowboys’ six-game winning streak earlier this season.

The drop-off is stark from the winning streak to the Cowboys’ last four games.

Maybe some of it has to do with Elliott’s knee injury that could be more severe than he is letting on and has the Cowboys at least considering resting him a source told ESPN, although that suggestion has not reached the running back yet.

Elliott has totaled 149 rushing yards in the last four games, the lowest four-game total of his career, and it is the first time he has gone four straight games without topping 51 yards.

But it’s not like Tony Pollard‘s running has been that much different. Take away a 31-yard run against the Kansas City Chiefs out of a Wildcat formation, and he is averaging the same 3.5 yards per carry. A 30-yard run against the Raiders by Pollard was wiped out by penalty.

“Obviously something that we certainly would hope that would be better right now,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “Something we got to look at in many different ways, schematically first, personnel wise.”

The Cowboys are entering Week 13 with Thursday’s game at the New Orleans Saints (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) — without several coaches due to COVID-19, including head coach Mike McCarthy — so there is no reinvention at this point.

“We’re not going to run the triple option all of sudden or anything like that,” Moore joked, “but I think it’s something that you find what kind of little tweaks and adjustments we can make. They may be subtle but I think they can be very effective if we find the right pieces and make our adjustments necessary to progress this thing the right way.”

Opposing defenses have adjusted to the Cowboys’ scheme. In the loss to the Raiders, McCarthy said it “was more about some individual breakdowns. I think it was almost across the board. We need to take a hard look at that.”

“When you have the success — we’ve obviously been very successful running the football in the first part of the season — people are gearing up for it,” McCarthy said. “We need to stay on top of our self-scout because I think just like anything at this point in the year people are locked in to your formations and your run tendencies and when we run and how we run. That’s all part of the chess match.”

McCarthy believes offensive line continuity plays a huge part in a team’s success. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed three games with an ankle injury, which moved Terence Steele to left tackle. Connor McGovern replaced Connor Williams at left guard two games ago after the coaches had enough with Williams’ penalties (13). Upon Smith’s return, the Cowboys went with Steele over La’el Collins.

Against the Raiders, the Cowboys used Collins and Williams for one series for Steele and McGovern. The Cowboys went three and out.

This week, Collins will go back to right tackle with Steele on the COVID list. And the Cowboys won’t have either offensive line coach with Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko in COVID protocols.

“I think you’ve got to look first and foremost at our room,” Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said. “We take a lot of pride in that run game and over the last few weeks it hasn’t been what we want it to be, so we’ve just got to get back to basics.”

Elliott said defensive line movement and run blitzing have caused issues, but Martin said the line has seen it all in the past.

“That’s the first thing a defense will do if it’s in there getting blown off the ball,” Martin said. “They’re going to start moving the line and you just have to be on top of it to react and kind of change some of your combination blocks on the fly.”

The rub this week is the Saints’ run defense uses a lot of line movement and is stellar whenever it doesn’t face the Philadelphia Eagles. In their last 72 games, New Orleans has allowed two 100-yard rushers — both Eagles (quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders last year). Two games ago, the Eagles ran 50 times for 242 yards with three scores from Hurts in a 40-29 win against the Saints.

This might not be the week to try to pound it out.

“We’ve got to make sure we stay within the plan of what we need to do to be successful against these guys,” McCarthy said. “But I think there are fundamental situations we can learn from and do a better job.”

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Tom Brady on top; Josh Allen still worth a buy

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As the calendar turns to December, the NFL MVP race is usually trimmed to a couple top candidates. Last year, it was Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers separating themselves from the pack. However, this year’s race still feels extremely wide open with a different candidate each week seemingly taking over the role of betting favorite. So how much more shifting will we see between now and the playoffs? It’s time to buy and sell the main candidates.


MVP watch

Tom Brady (+275)

Brady is understandably the favorite, but this is far from a runaway. He leads the NFL with 30 passing touchdowns and is just 11 passing yards behind that category’s leader. He has been so solid, and with an 8-3 record Tampa Bay is contending for the NFC’s top seed. Also, the Bucs have five of their final six games against teams currently with losing records. The other is a home showdown with the Bills, and perhaps that will determine the MVP. I do think Brady is likely to win this award, but I cannot recommend a wager at +250.

Aaron Rodgers (+550)

Finally we are seeing the betting market respond to the reigning MVP and even Green Bay in the futures market. It has been slow to react, but a convincing win over the Rams now has the Pack drawing some buzz. Green Bay is 9-3, and if 9-2 Arizona slips up, the Pack could land the one-seed, given their win over the Cardinals. I expect the Packers to win out, but I wouldn’t be shocked with losses at Baltimore, home to Cleveland or home to Minnesota. Given his offseason hoopla and the COVID-19 misrepresentation, Rodgers will probably lose some key votes. I am selling this because voters will find another elite QB.

Josh Allen (+550)

I think this is a live ticket. Allen and the Bills host the NFL’s hottest team on Monday Night Football next week, and I think it’s a good spot for Buffalo to win and cover. Allen then travels to Tampa Bay for an MVP showdown with Brady and the Bucs before hosting the Pats two weeks later. He will have the spotlight and he certainly has the skill. If you believe in the Bills, +550 is good value.

Patrick Mahomes (+800)

How do we feel about the Chiefs? Kansas City has won four straight and has a manageable remaining schedule. The Chiefs can certainly win out, but they’ve also laid some eggs, so how much can we trust them at the Chargers and Bengals? With Buffalo having a tough remaining schedule, Baltimore being shaky and Tennessee without Derrick Henry, the Chiefs might finish with the AFC’s top seed. The +800 is certainly enticing for a guy who can dominate games, but I am still not sold on the Chiefs. It just doesn’t feel right with K.C.

Dak Prescott (+1200)

He is in contention, but it would take a lot for him to land this award. Dallas would need to finish with one of the top two seeds, and that could certainly happen, but can the defense maintain its strong play long enough? Only one of the Cowboys’ remaining six games is against a team currently with a winning record. At 12-1, Prescott is viable but not something I would support.

Kyler Murray (+1200)

He was the betting favorite, but missing three games essentially prevents him from winning the award, particularly because Arizona went 2-1 in those games and Rodgers also outdueled him in a marquee prime time game. I need more than 12-1, but he is electric and Arizona has a good chance to land the NFC’s top seed.

Lamar Jackson (+1400)

This is a tough one. The narrative is there, and Baltimore could land the AFC’s top seed. With home games against the Packers, Rams and Steelers, in addition to road games against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati, the Ravens have too many landmines for an inconsistent team. If Jackson thrives and leads them to several wins, then maybe that does the trick. I just need more than 14-1 for him right now.

Joe Burrow (+4000)

I cannot blame anyone for a wager at 40-1. Burrow’s numbers are not overwhelming and his 12 interceptions are only one behind the leader, but Cincy has a chance to make a run. Burrow can win over voters with back-to-back home games against the Ravens and Chiefs, in addition to hosting the Chargers this weekend and traveling to Denver and Cleveland. If the Bengals win the competitive AFC North, Burrow could conceivably be the MVP. It’s not all that far-fetched.

Derek Carr (+7500)

I do not anticipate this ticket cashing, but 75-1 has my interest. Carr leads the NFL in passing and could gain steam if the Raiders make a legitimate playoff run and perhaps win the AFC West. It’s unlikely because they are so inconsistent, but it’s doable. Perhaps the narrative of a roller-coaster season strengthens his chances, but it would take quite a bit of things to break their way. I am not biting, but I at least thought about it.

MVP futures

Brady +275
Rodgers +550
Allen +550
Mahomes +800
Prescott +1200
Murray +1200
Jackson +1400
Matthew Stafford +1600
Jonathan Taylor +2000
Justin Herbert +2000


Other awards to watch

AFC champion

The Indianapolis Colts blew a double-digit lead Sunday, but I still believe in them. At 25-1 odds, Indy is worth a play to win the AFC. The defense is top notch and the offense is capable. It would be a difficult run, given they are currently out of the playoffs with a 6-6 record, but the AFC is wide open. At 25-1 to reach the postseason and win three playoff games? Sign me up.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is now +230 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is the favorite at -300. That feels off. Unlike the MVP, this award is not earmarked for quarterbacks. Chase is regarded as one of the league’s top wide receivers, and his stats are pretty impressive. If the Pats falter, then Chase will emerge. Also, even if the Pats continue this current run, Bill Belichick and the defense will command most of the credit. Jones has weak road numbers, and I do see a path for Chase.

NFL rushing TD leader

Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is -150 to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns. He is the current overall leader with 14, and James Connor has 12 with one more game than Taylor left on his schedule. Given their offenses, I think Taylor is a strong play. He still gets to face the Texans, Jaguars and Raiders. Connor faces the Bears, Colts, Rams, Cowboys and Seahawks. None of those defenses are pushovers, and I just trust Indy’s commitment to its running back more than I do Arizona’s.


Super Bowl odds

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +525
Kansas City Chiefs +700
Green Bay Packers +750
Buffalo Bills +800
Arizona Cardinals +900
Baltimore Ravens +1100
New England Patriots +1100
Los Angeles Rams +1200
Dallas Cowboys +1300
Tennessee Titans +2500

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NFL Power Rankings Week 13

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Confidence and the NFL Power Rankings go hand in hand. While we’re confident (mostly) about how we rank teams each week, we’ve decided to go further at NFL Nation and give weekly confidence ratings to let the fans know how we’re feeling about each team after every game. And with two-thirds of the season gone, it’s time to check on the evolution of each reporter’s confidence rankings.

We first did this six weeks ago, with the reporters tackling a “how it started vs. how it’s going” theme, and we have even more information now (though not nearly as convenient of a meme). So, we’re looking back at how reporters rated their teams after Week 6 and seeing how they compare to how confident they are about them now. Some are feeling pretty good about how the season has evolved (take notice, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs fans), and some aren’t feeling too great about the teams they cover (sorry, New Orleans Saints fans). Some others even have similar confidence to what they had six weeks ago but massive variations in between (Raider Nation, we feel ya).

How we rank our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Previous ranking: 2

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.5
How it’s going now: 8.0

As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgerseven with a broken toe — they’re going to be the favorites on most days. The offense has closely resembled the 2020 version that led the NFL in scoring. The Packers have scored over 30 points in each of the past two weeks, and they now have a bye week to get a little healthier for a stretch run that includes only two more road games — one of which is at winless Detroit. — Rob Demovsky


play

1:45

Mike Golic Jr. is very skeptical that Kliff Kingsbury would leave the Arizona Cardinals for the Oklahoma Sooners.

Previous ranking: 1

Week 6 confidence rating: 9.4
How it’s going now: 8.5

Losing two out of three games will cause confidence in a team to take a hit, but Arizona regained a lot of that confidence lost by beating the 49ers and Seahawks with backup quarterback Colt McCoy. However, the Cardinals’ loss to the Packers in Week 8 is a definite cause for concern considering there’s a good chance Arizona could see Green Bay at some point in the playoffs. — Josh Weinfuss


Previous ranking: 6

Week 6 confidence rating: 8.0
How it’s going now: 8.0

The Bucs keep finding ways to win games despite being absolutely decimated by injuries and struggling on the road. On one hand, injuries are bound to happen on a team with several aging veterans. But the experience of players such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette and Lavonte David can’t be overstated when it comes to come-from-behind wins in double-digit deficits like the one they climbed out of Sunday at the Colts. — Jenna Laine


Previous ranking: 8

Week 6 confidence rating: 9.0
How it’s going now: 8.0

The Ravens boast the best record in the AFC, but they haven’t looked their best in climbing to the top spot. Over the past five games, Baltimore suffered its largest margin of defeat with Lamar Jackson as its starter (a 24-point loss to the Bengals at home) and produced its two lowest point totals under Jackson (10 points in Miami and 16 points against the Browns). With an improving defense and reliable kicker Justin Tucker, the Ravens could become a dangerous team down the stretch if Jackson gets back on track. — Jamison Hensley

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2:14

Stephen A. Smith wants to see Lamar Jackson’s performance in the postseason before he can fully trust him.


Previous ranking: 9

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 6.6

New England has won six straight games. Bill Belichick often says that no stat correlates more to winning than turnovers, so consider this: After Week 6, when the Patriots were 2-4, they were minus-3 in the turnover differential; now, they are plus-10 on the season — the second best in the NFL. That’s a good place to start when considering how the Patriots have turned their season around and why my confidence rating has gone up. — Mike Reiss


Previous ranking: 7

Week 6 confidence rating: 6.0
How it’s going now: 9.0

The Chiefs are winning games with their defense by allowing fewer than 12 points per contest over the past four. Earlier this season, it looked as if it would be years before the Chiefs would be competitive on defense; but if this keeps up, every game they play the rest of the way is winnable. It is troublesome that the offense has one game in the past five with more than 20 points; one bad day for the defense could blow up all the Chiefs’ plans if that continues. — Adam Teicher


Previous ranking: 12

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.8
How it’s going now: 7.9

Well, the rating hasn’t changed that much because the Bills haven’t defeated a big-time opponent, outside of a Week 5 win versus the Chiefs. Since the Week 6 loss to the Titans, the Bills have been up and down, losing to the Jaguars and Colts (in blowout fashion) while beating the Dolphins, Jets and Saints.

Buffalo has not been able to stack wins since the beginning of October. The offense needs to establish more of its identity and show that it can be effective game after game. Two upcoming matchups against the Patriots and a contest in Tampa will be telling. — Alaina Getzenberg


Previous ranking: 3

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.5
How it’s going now: 7.5

The major change for the Titans has obviously been injuries. They’ve now rostered 86 players this season, which is an NFL record. The “next man up” approach can only go so far. The past two weeks have been brutal. Zero takeaways paired with nine turnovers are a recipe for back-to-back losses. However, there is still reason to be confident because of how well the Titans ran for 270 yards against the Patriots. Even without Derrick Henry, Tennessee’s foundation is running the ball. And getting wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones back down the line will help in a major way. Also, the defense has shown it can be game-changing, even more so once Bud Dupree returns. — Turron Davenport


Previous ranking: 13

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.0
How it’s going now: 6.7

Cincinnati went from one of the hottest teams in the AFC to one with big question marks again after an upset loss to the Jets and a blowout defeat delivered by the Browns. It was a legitimate wobble for a team with playoff aspirations. But after an off week, Cincinnati has cobbled together back-to-back wins and has seemingly found its early-season form again. Coach Zac Taylor recognizes exactly that: “We’ve kind of got that momentum back that we had earlier in the season that we knew we could have. We had that little stumble, but these guys have a ton of confidence.” — Ben Baby


Previous ranking: 5

Week 6 confidence rating: 9.1
How it’s going now: 7.9

The confidence drop is what happens when you lose three of four games. Good thing the Cowboys don’t play in the AFC West, with losses to Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas. The offense has stagnated, especially the ground game. Defenses have interrupted the pass game with aggressive play outside, which has led to Dak Prescott holding the ball longer.

The Cowboys’ defense has given up too many big plays all season, but now, it can’t come up with key stops and has too many penalties. Greg Zuerlein missed a PAT versus the Raiders, and a 59-yard field goal attempt hit the upright. He needs to be more consistent. All of the good feelings coming out of a Halloween win at Minnesota without Prescott has slowly leaked out of the balloon. — Todd Archer


Previous ranking: 4

Week 6 confidence rating: 8.4
How it’s going now: 7.0

The Rams are 1-4 against teams with winning records and 6-0 against everyone else. They’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak for the second time in Sean McVay’s five seasons as coach. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown three passes that have been intercepted and returned for touchdowns in the losing streak and has committed six turnovers in that same span. On defense, opponents have schemed their way to avoiding any Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd rush while also keeping plays away from cornerback Jalen Ramsey. And special teams continues its season-long streak of underwhelming, if not costly, play. A roster built for a Super Bowl is without question trending in the wrong direction with six games remaining. — Lindsey Thiry


Previous ranking: 14

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.8
How it’s going now: 6.5

The 49ers hit rock bottom against Arizona in Week 9, but that loss is now long forgotten. The Niners have won three in a row and four of their past five, and they now sit at the No. 6 spot in the NFC playoff picture. Given their schedule and the way things are breaking around them, it would be a surprise if they don’t make the postseason, which means this confidence rating should only continue to rise. — Nick Wagoner


Previous ranking: 10

Week 6 confidence rating: 4.8
How it’s going now: 3.7

Give the Colts a team with a losing record and they likely won’t have a difficult time winning. Have them face a team with a winning mark and things are drastically different. Five of the Colts’ six victories have been against teams with a losing record. Buffalo is the only team with a winning record that Indianapolis has beaten this season. The Colts have blown double-digit leads against Baltimore, Tennessee and, most recently, Tampa Bay. Making the playoffs is becoming less and less likely as the weeks pass, especially since three of the Colts’ final five games are against teams with a winning record. — Mike Wells


Previous ranking: 20

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.5
How it’s going now: 7.0

Sure, the Raiders are coming off a feel-good Thanksgiving win at Dallas — a game in which QB Derek Carr seemed to emerge from a post-bye funk, as he was more aggressive in attacking the Cowboys’ defense. But while the NFL season truly is a week-by-week proposition, Carr and the Raiders, who looked more and more lost as their three-game losing streak grew, need to string together a few more positive weeks to get the confidence level up again. Washington should provide that opportunity next. Again, should. — Paul Gutierrez


Previous ranking: 22

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.5
How it’s going now: 5.5

The Broncos were 3-3 after Week 6, headed for 3-4 in Week 7. They are now 6-5 after winning three of their past four. Whether this team keeps itself in the playoff mix now depends on if they continue to keep the quarterback under center close to half of the time, use more play-action and commit to the run game. Their win Sunday over the Chargers was just another example.

The Broncos are now 6-0 when the quarterbacks are under center 50-50 as compared to the shotgun — as well as average just over 30 rushing attempts. They also have all of their pass completions of at least 40 yards on the season in those games. The team is 0-5 when they line up in the shotgun most of the time and run the ball an average of 18 times a game. — Jeff Legwold


Previous ranking: 11

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.7
How it’s going now: 5.5

The up-and-down Chargers can’t string together wins. One week they’re great; the next week they’re awful. They beat Philadelphia 27-24, then they lost to Minnesota 27-20, then they beat Pittsburgh 41-37, and then they lost Sunday to the Broncos 28-13. One need that is apparent is someone to step up at running back. When Austin Ekeler was in the concussion protocol, there was nobody to fill in. On the season, Justin Jackson has 14 carries for 103 yards, and Larry Rountree III has 36 carries for 87 yards. QB Justin Herbert is their second-best rusher with 243 yards. He need options. They might make the playoffs, but it is iffy for them to go far. — Shelley Smith


Previous ranking: 15

Week 6 confidence rating: 6.0
How it’s going now: 4.9

The offense has fallen off a cliff. From Week 6 on, the Browns’ offense ranks 24th in efficiency, 25th in expected points added (EPA), 19th in yards per play, 24th in third-down conversion rate and 26th in first downs per game. Baker Mayfield’s injuries have clearly impacted his performance all season. Now, the running game is beginning to sputter, as well. Cleveland, mathematically, is still alive in the playoff race. But the way this offense is playing, it’s difficult to see the Browns making a serious push. — Jake Trotter


Previous ranking: 16

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 6.0

Minnesota’s 34-26 loss at San Francisco dropped its playoff chances from 78% to 40%, according to ESPN’s FPI. My confidence rating in Week 12 is a point higher than it was in Week 6 because the Vikings have surpassed the hardest stretch of their schedule and are in good position for the No. 7 seed — with games left against the Lions, a downward-sliding Steelers team and two meetings with the Bears. But even with a manageable stretch to close out the schedule, nothing feels completely stable with a team whose narrative flip flops from playoff contender to a group in need of a complete overhaul with every win and loss, respectively. — Courtney Cronin


play

3:10

Stephen A. Smith shares his reasoning why Ben Roethlisberger should hang it up.

Previous ranking: 17

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 2.5

The Steelers’ flaws dominated the Week 12 blowout loss to Cincinnati. They can’t run the ball, and they can’t stop the run. The Steelers weren’t stopping the run well in Week 6, but they still found a way to beat the Seahawks, thanks to a big game from running back Najee Harris. Since holding the Browns to 96 rushing yards in Week 8, the Steelers have given up an average of 180 yards per game to their next four opponents. The Steelers’ own run game is disappearing too. They have the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league and the third-worst yard per carry average. With six tough games left — including two against the division-leading Ravens — there’s not much confidence they can turn it around. — Brooke Pryor


Previous ranking: 18

Week 6 confidence rating: 7.0
How it’s going now: 4.5

Silly me, I thought the Saints had survived the toughest stretch of their season at this point. And they did climb to 5-2 with a win over the Buccaneers. But then New Orleans lost Jameis Winston to a season-ending ACL tear, found out Michael Thomas wouldn’t be coming back all year from an ankle injury, lost Alvin Kamara for three games and suffered several other key injuries that led to their current four-game losing streak. The one constant all season has been a lackluster passing attack (27th in the NFL). However, the roster is getting healthier, and the schedule isn’t too daunting down the stretch — so there is still a glimmer of hope. — Mike Triplett


Previous ranking: 25

Week 6 confidence rating: 4.0
How it’s going now: 8.0

Look at what a four-game winning streak does. Tua Tagovailoa said after the Dolphins’ dominant victory over Carolina that they’re finally looking like the team they expected to be. After allowing the most yards in the NFL during its seven-game losing streak, Miami has rebounded into one of the league’s elite defenses. It is second in the NFL in defensive EPA over the past four weeks, trailing only New England. The Dolphins will likely need some help to make the playoffs, but they should handle the Giants and Jets over their next two games. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Previous ranking: 23

Week 6 confidence rating: 3.7
How it’s going now: 5.9

The run game and the defense showed up. Neither was consistent early in the season, and the defense was just plain awful. But Washington has won three straight by using a formula of strong defense and a physical run game. In fact, the defense has held each of the past four opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense. And in the past two weeks, the run game has compiled 334 yards. Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke has done a good job managing the game during this stretch, as well. The confidence level is growing. — John Keim


Previous ranking: 21

Week 6 confidence rating: 3.9
How it’s going now: 4.1

The Eagles have discovered an offensive identity since the last check-in, based largely around a dominant rushing attack. They have racked up 1,078 yards on the ground since Week 8, by far the most in the NFL. (The Colts are second with 841.) The Eagles had won three of four using that formula before a costly 13-7 loss to the Giants on Sunday in which Jalen Hurts threw a career-high three interceptions. Philadelphia’s playoff chances dipped to 26% with the defeat, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. But the Eagles have the easiest closing schedule in the NFL, and they should have more good Sundays than bad to finish the regular season — so long as they can keep the turnovers down. — Tim McManus


Previous ranking: 19

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 4.4

The Panthers are 2-4 since Week 6 despite getting key players such as RB Christian McCaffrey and LB Shaq Thompson back. The biggest issue — among many — has been poor quarterback play. First it was Sam Darnold, who had no touchdown passes and four interceptions during a three-game span before going on injured reserve. And he was looking shaky before that. Then Cam Newton entered the equation. After a solid start, his game fell apart on Sunday at Miami. Until that position stabilizes, the confidence level will continue to drop. — David Newton


Previous ranking: 24

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 3.6

The Falcons continue to hang around .500 and the wild-card race, but much of that has been because of whom Atlanta has beaten. The Falcons’ five wins have all come against teams currently with records of under .500 — including two that would be drafting in the top 5 if the season ended today. Consistency has been a problem, and when Atlanta plays good teams, it has led to bad results. Plus, the schedule the rest of the way is not very kind, with games against Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Buffalo among the final six. — Michael Rothstein


Previous ranking: 26

Week 6 confidence rating: 1.8
How it’s going now: 4.0

Hey, the Giants have won three of five games, with victories over the Panthers, Raiders and Eagles. That’s not bad, even if it hasn’t been pretty. The Giants’ only two losses since Week 6 have come on Monday nights in Tampa Bay and Kansas City. How? They have the second-highest defensive EPA, at 36.96, during that time. — Jordan Raanan


Previous ranking: 27

Week 6 confidence rating: 4.8
How it’s going now: 3.5

As you can see, my confidence rating for the Bears is rather low. The Bears are 4-7 and mathematically still alive for the playoffs, but they rank 14th out of 16 NFC teams when you factor in tiebreakers. I would give the Bears a slight bump whenever they won, but based on the quality of opponent (or lack thereof), the Bears never received a high number on the weekly confidence ratings. Am I supposed to throw a parade for the Bears barely beating winless Detroit? — Jeff Dickerson


Previous ranking: 28

Week 6 confidence rating: 5.0
How it’s going now: 2.0

At 3-8 with a broken offense and a 1% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, not much is inspiring confidence with the Seahawks. They couldn’t finish on offense against the Rams when Geno Smith replaced an injured Russell Wilson, then the same thing happened in their two losses with Smith as starter. The thought then was how much they were missing Wilson, one of the NFL’s best closers. But their offense has been just as bad since his return from finger surgery, scoring only 28 combined points in three straight losses. Wilson said his finger is fine and there’s no rust, but he is missing throws he usually doesn’t miss. Their defense is playing well, but that’s not enough to rescue this lost season. — Brady Henderson


Previous ranking: 31

Week 6 confidence rating: 3.0
How it’s going now: 4.0

The Jets have made strides on offense, going from 31st to 21st in total yards. But the problem is, rookie QB Zach Wilson — who missed four games during this window — had nothing to do with the improvement. They have to get him up to speed, simply because he is their future. On the downside, the defense dropped from 22nd to 32nd, which included a historically bad funk of four games. The defense took a couple of baby steps in the 21-14 win at the Texans on Sunday, but it has a long way to go. — Rich Cimini


Previous ranking: 30

Week 6 confidence rating: 3.0
How it’s going now: 1.5

The Jaguars’ offense has gotten significantly worse — and it wasn’t great in the first six weeks, either. The Jaguars are averaging a league-worst 11.4 points per game and have managed just 283 yards (176 passing) in their past five games. Rookie QB Trevor Lawrence has thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions with a QBR of 25.6 (second worst) over that span. — Mike DiRocco


Previous ranking: 29

Week 6 confidence rating: 1.0
How it’s going now: 0.8

Not much has changed for a Texans team that has only won one game since Week 6 and that already had a low confidence rating. Houston got a surprise win in Nashville in Week 11 but couldn’t build on it Sunday, losing by a touchdown to the Jets. Now, the biggest question remaining for the Texans is where they pick in the draft, after having just one first-round pick since 2018. Houston is currently projected by ESPN’s FPI to have an average draft position of 2.6 and has a 97.3% chance of having a top-5 pick. — Sarah Barshop


Previous ranking: 32

Week 6 confidence rating: 2.5
How it’s going now: 2.0

I honestly don’t have much confidence at all in this team. Winning a single game is still a question mark. It has a lot to do with the offensive playcalling since coach Dan Campbell has taken over and just the overall talent on the roster. The Lions continue to play hard, even being 0-10-1, but I don’t trust them to close out a game. Even quarterback Jared Goff acknowledged after the Thanksgiving Day loss to Chicago that this team has to “learn how not to lose,” with self-inflicted mistakes and penalties in crucial moments. — Eric Woodyard

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