While the NFL Power Rankings prefer to look at the league through a positive lens, sometimes we have to go to Negative Town. That’s where we are this week, as we asked our NFL Nation writers to pick the weakest aspect of their team through eight weeks.
Of course, some teams have more problem areas to choose from than others, and some of those issues are a bit more detrimental to winning games. So while teams such as the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions and the residents of New York City had quite a few more ailments than the relatively minor problems of the NFC’s Fab Five (or six if you ask the New Orleans Saints), every team has wrinkles to iron out. The entire game experience is covered this week, from not being able to rush the passer to not converting on third down to not being able to defend onside kicks (Los Angeles Rams fans know that pain). So here’s what your team, and every other team, is bad at midway through the 2021 season.
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 ranking: 4
Biggest Achilles’ heel: The red zone
The Packers were one of the best red zone teams last season on both sides of the ball. They led the NFL in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 80% of their trips inside the opponents’ 20. This season, they’re tied for 20th at 57.6%. On defense in 2020, they were eighth, allowing opponent touchdowns on 57.7% of their red zone possessions. This season, they’re 30th at 78.3%. They had the awful run of 15 straight touchdowns allowed on opponent red zone possessions. That finally ended in Week 7, when punchless Washington went 0-for-4. But the same issues recurred Thursday against the Cardinals, who went 3-for-4. The one stop, however, was Rasul Douglas‘ game-clinching interception in the end zone in the final seconds. — Rob Demovsky
Previous ranking: 1
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Run defense
As the world saw Thursday night, when the Packers ran for 151 yards, if a team can eat the clock on the ground, the Cardinals become vulnerable. Their run defense has been suspect throughout the season, giving up an average of 120.1 yards per game but 4.88 yards per carry, which is the second most in the NFL. Arizona has given up more than 100 rushing yards in five of its eight games. Running against Arizona has become a team’s best defense against quarterback Kyler Murray, who sits on the sideline as teams pound the ground for yards and clock. — Josh Weinfuss
Sam Acho explains what LB Von Miller brings to the Rams’ already impressive defense.
Previous ranking: 3
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Special teams
The Rams have been unable to settle on a consistent kick and punt returner, leaning instead on sure-handed receiver Cooper Kupp, which makes it difficult not to hold your breath when such duty is required of the NFL’s leading receiver. Rookies Jake Funk, Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek have also tried their hand at returning, but Funk suffered a season-ending injury, and neither Atwell nor Skowronek has proved capable of handling the full-time job. And it’s not just the Rams’ return game that’s in question. In a Week 7 win over the Lions, the Rams allowed an early onside kick and watched as two fake punts were converted into first downs. — Lindsey Thiry
Previous ranking: 2
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Penalties
If the secondary was the Bucs’ Achilles’ heel last season, penalties are this season. The Bucs’ 59 penalties this season are one shy of the league high of 60 by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bucs’ 580 yards in penalties are also the most in the league. Their 11 penalties for 99 yards were a key culprit in the Saints’ advancing the ball despite losing Jameis Winston in the Bucs’ 36-27 loss Sunday. — Jenna Laine
Previous ranking: 6
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Big plays allowed
To a degree this feels like a nitpick because the Cowboys’ defense has outperformed expectations so far entering the season. But when they play better quarterbacks down the stretch — and potentially in the playoffs — they can’t have these types of lapses. They have allowed 31 plays of at least 20 yards in the first seven games. They allowed the same amount through the first seven games a season ago. The difference is this season they are getting takeaways and coming up with stops. This was a focus of the coaches during the bye week, but the Cowboys allowed four more big plays against the Vikings. It has not hurt them yet, but it could later. — Todd Archer
Previous ranking: 5
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Special-teams inconsistency
Buffalo doesn’t punt often (third fewest in the NFL with 21). But when Matt Haack has been needed, he has been inconsistent, averaging a net of 36.1 yards (second lowest of any team). Only 28.6% of his punts have been taken over inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Tyler Bass has been solid for the Bills this season, and defensive back Siran Neal has been dynamic in kick coverage, but returner Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt vs. the Dolphins in Week 8 and was bailed out by Jake Kumerow. The inconsistencies on special teams have put the Bills in some dangerous situations. — Alaina Getzenberg
Previous ranking: 8
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Tackling
Lamar Jackson can produce big plays, but he can’t stop them. In Baltimore’s two losses, the Ravens’ pass defense has allowed 15 completions over 20 yards. It’s not because receivers are getting behind the defense. It’s the inability of Baltimore to get receivers on the ground. The Ravens’ poor tackling has led to 1,200 yards allowed after the catch — worst in the NFL. “Until we get that [tackling problem] fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense,” coach John Harbaugh said. — Jamison Hensley
Rex Ryan and Ryan Clark explain how crucial of a loss Derrick Henry’s injury is to the Titans’ season.
Previous ranking: 9
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Kickoff return
Entering training camp, the Titans were excited about having Darrynton Evans make an impact as a kick returner. That never happened as Evans suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve before the season even started. Evans was activated and added to the 53-man roster last month only to end up on injured reserve once again, which ended his season. Chester Rogers, Marcus Johnson, Cameron Batson, Jeremy McNichols and Evans have all gotten a shot to return kicks. Through eight games, the Titans are averaging 17.3 yards per kick return, tying the Dolphins for the worst in the NFL. — Turron Davenport
Previous ranking: 7
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offensive inconsistency
Cincinnati’s boom-or-bust offense is a problem. The Bengals rank 31st in plays per drive and have the second-highest three-and-out percentage in the league. And yet, Cincinnati is still fourth in touchdowns. But the inability to sustain drives has proved to be a problem, as evidenced by the minus-71 play differential, which is also the second highest in the league. If that trend continues, it will continue to place significant pressure on the defense and leave that side of the ball weary in December, which is when the Bengals are hoping to secure their first playoff berth since 2015. — Ben Baby
Previous ranking: 13
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Passing game
Quarterback is the obvious choice in the wake of Jameis Winston‘s knee injury. But even when he was healthy, the Saints’ lack of proven WR and TE targets was a glaring problem. They rank 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game (180.9) and completion percentage (58.8) — and dead last in receptions by WRs (7.9 per game) and receptions by TEs (2.4 per game). Needless to say, they’re eagerly awaiting Michael Thomas‘ return from an ankle injury. — Mike Triplett
Previous ranking: 11
Biggest Achilles’ heel: The constantly reshuffled offensive line
Derek Carr‘s personal protectors of LT Kolton Miller, LG John Simpson, C Andre James, RG Alex Leatherwood and RT Brandon Parker have kept the Raiders QB upright and clean without a sack the past six quarters. But the reshuffled O-line is just that — constantly in flux and a work in progress. The bye week should have helped with nagging injuries, and veteran left guard Richie Incognito, who has not practiced since injuring his right calf in a joint practice with the Rams on Aug. 19, could potentially start practicing this week. — Paul Gutierrez
Previous ranking: 10
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Lack of consistency on offense
Never thought I’d write this, not with Justin Herbert at QB and the number of top receivers the Chargers have, but they have struggled at times, especially this past Sunday against the Patriots. Herbert threw two interceptions against the Pats (one of which was returned for a pick-six), which gives him six on the year. He had just 10 as a rookie. He hasn’t been helped by his receivers, because of either drops (running back Austin Ekeler) or running the wrong routes (tight end Jared Cook). Worse yet, the Chargers have put themselves in tough third-down situations due to inconsistent play on first and second down. — Shelley Smith
Ryan Clark breaks down Mac Jones’ play in the Patriots Week 8 win over the Chargers.
Previous ranking: 18
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Cornerback
After trading Stephon Gilmore and placing top slot Jonathan Jones on injured reserve, the Patriots are thin at cornerback. J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills are the starters — with opponents often attacking Mills, as the Chargers did on their late TD on Sunday — and practice-squad call-up Myles Bryant is the top slot option. Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade are next on the CB depth chart. Chargers coach Brandon Staley made the point that the Patriots played more zone than man Sunday, in part because of their short-handed situation. — Mike Reiss
Previous ranking: 15
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Vertical passing attack
The Steelers are slowly developing into a balanced offense as their run game emerges, but their biggest weakness is obvious: the vertical passing attack, particularly over the middle. Against the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger attempted just three passes of more than 20 air yards and only one between the numbers. Each fell incomplete. Roethlisberger has completed just 25.5% of deep passes since 2020, down from 30.5% between 2016 and 2019, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Relying too heavily on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage risks a one-dimensional attack. A bolstered run game and offensive line will divert just enough to attention to open up more efficient, vertical options — especially in crunch time. — Brooke Pryor
Previous ranking: 14
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass rush
The Chiefs had a league-low eight sacks and a feeble pass rush win rate of 35.2% heading into Monday night’s game against the Giants. There’s no mystery why opposing quarterbacks had a 61.4 QBR against them. It’s difficult to see any hope that the defense will make significant improvement unless these numbers improve. The Chiefs were getting little from Chris Jones and Frank Clark, two of the highest-paid players on their roster. The two combined for two sacks, with Clark contributing zero going into the Giants game. — Adam Teicher
Previous ranking: 12
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Passing attack
The Browns’ passing attack has fallen off a cliff, and it’s not just due to the injuries — even if they have been a major factor. Baker Mayfield, battling the torn labrum to his non-throwing shoulder, has been up and down, but he isn’t getting much help from his highly paid star receivers, either. Jarvis Landry had multiple drops late in the fourth quarter in the loss to Pittsburgh, along with a key fumble. Odell Beckham Jr., meanwhile, has become a total nonfactor. Cleveland’s passing game last season gradually got better. This season, it seems to be getting worse. — Jake Trotter
Previous ranking: 20
Biggest Achilles’ heel: The turnover battle
There are plenty of things we could discuss here, but let’s keep it simple: The Niners are minus-6 in turnover differential, which is fourth worst in the NFL through the first eight weeks. This is actually the perfect choice because it points to deficiencies on both sides of the ball and it’s the single stat that most correlates to winning. The offense has 11 giveaways, the defense has just five takeaways and the Niners have been on the positive side of this stat just once in seven games. Given that, it’s no surprise that San Francisco sits at 3-4 right now. — Nick Wagoner
Previous ranking: 21
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offense
The Broncos currently reside in a points-scoring neighborhood where they’ve spent the past six seasons. They are one of 10 teams averaging fewer than 20 points per game this season, and of those 10 teams, only the Broncos (4-4) and the Steelers (4-3) do not have losing records. In short, that’s not where a legitimate playoff hopeful finds itself. The Broncos haven’t averaged more than 21 points a game in any of the previous four years and haven’t averaged more than 23 points per game since 2014. — Jeff Legwold
Previous ranking: 17
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offense
A seven-game sample size reveals the Vikings’ offense is not cut out for the modern NFL. Minnesota has routinely come out of the gates swinging and scoring on its first possession, but the offense has disappeared after that to the tune of no second-half touchdowns in five of seven games. In a loss to Dallas, the game plan turned quarterback Kirk Cousins into a predictable checkdown machine whose average depth of target was 4.5 yards and totaled a measly 184 yards passing. This unit went from explosive to dull and conservative in a year’s time and has evolved into Minnesota’s chief downfall this season. — Courtney Cronin
Previous ranking: 24
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass protection
The offensive line proved it could run block, paving the way for Carolina to rush for a season-high 203 yards on 47 attempts in Sunday’s win at Atlanta. That kept the Falcons from loading up against the pass as teams did the past four weeks, collecting 15 sacks against Sam Darnold during that span. But teams will load the box and force the Panthers to pass, and the line remains vulnerable. — David Newton
Previous ranking: 23
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Not having QB Russell Wilson
On Sunday, Geno Smith played his best game since Wilson went down in Week 5 with his finger injury. But when Smith replaced Wilson in that game and in his next two starts, Seattle’s offense only functioned in spurts and didn’t have the finishing touch it has under Wilson. Smith and the Seahawks were dominant against the one-win Jaguars, but with tougher games ahead — at Green Bay following this week’s bye, then at home vs. Arizona — the Seahawks will have to be better finishers than they’ve been so far. And with no guarantee that Wilson will be back for the Packers game, they might need Smith at quarterback. — Brady Henderson
Stephen A. Smith is fed up with Carson Wentz and says that he is holding back the Colts.
Previous ranking: 16
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass rush
For as good as Colts GM Chris Ballard has been in selecting some talent in the draft — RB Jonathan Taylor, WR Michael Pittman Jr., LB Darius Leonard and G Quenton Nelson — he has struggled mightily in finding pass-rushers. The Colts are tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks with 17. To put things in perspective, the Colts are tied for the league lead in takeaways with 18. — Mike Wells
Previous ranking: 22
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offense
The Bears’ defense collapsed in last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, but Chicago’s offense has been its biggest Achilles’ heel throughout the season. The Bears rank at the bottom or near the bottom of almost every major offensive category, including points per game and yards per game. It really says something when scoring 22 points — as the Bears did versus San Francisco — is considered an offensive explosion. The Bears’ offense played a little better in Week 8, but it’s nowhere close to good enough. — Jeff Dickerson
Previous ranking: 25
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Inexperience
Nick Sirianni is a first-year head coach surrounded by the youngest coaching staff in the NFL. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has started 12 games in the NFL and doesn’t have a primary wide receiver over 23 years old. The result is inconsistency in both game plan and performance. The Eagles have beaten a pair of teams by 26-plus points and have also been manhandled at times. You never know what you’re going to get. — Tim McManus
Previous ranking: 19
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass rush
There are a lot of issues with the Falcons at the moment, but the team has had very little pass rush throughout the season — particularly with Dante Fowler Jr. on injured reserve. No Falcons player has more than two sacks (Fowler, Deion Jones and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner) and more critical, only two Falcons have more than five quarterback hits — Grady Jarrett with six and Foyesade Oluokun with five. Pressure is sometimes worth sending only if the players can get there, and that’s been a problem for Atlanta, but it also alters the entirety of what the Falcons can and can’t do on defense. — Michael Rothstein
Previous ranking: 27
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass rush
Forget about sacks. The Giants’ defense can’t even get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks without a high-end edge rusher. The team entered Monday night 24th in the NFL with a 25.2% pressure rate, per NFL Next Gen Stats. It has prevented this defense from repeating its success from last season and is the Giants’ biggest weakness. — Jordan Raanan
Previous ranking: 26
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass coverage
Washington is tied for 29th in the NFL with seven passing touchdowns of 20 or more yards, and most of those stem from a secondary not in synch with its reads, leading to blown coverages. It ranks 26th in yards allowed per pass attempt and last in the NFL in third-down conversions at 56.5% — a lot of which is the result of opposing quarterbacks having completed 70.6% of their passes vs. Washington on third down. No defense has allowed a worse number. This isn’t just on the secondary, though. The corners have not played as well as anticipated, and the linebackers have blown their share of assignments, too. And the pass rush must be better. — John Keim
Previous ranking: 30
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Quarterback inexperience
It might seem like an odd time to single this out, considering Mike White just passed for 405 yards and three touchdowns, but it doesn’t change the fact that White and Zach Wilson have only seven combined starts in their careers. The Jets have a league-high 13 interceptions, in large part because of their inexperience. There will be good days and bad days, depending on the quality of the opponent and style of defense. There’s nothing the Jets can do to change it; they just have to ride this out, hoping it pays long-term dividends. — Rich Cimini
Previous ranking: 29
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Pass defense
The Jaguars have given up more than 300 yards passing four times in seven games (Teddy Bridgewater, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa) and they’re allowing opposing QBs to complete 74% of their passes — the second-highest completion percentage in the league. QBs are also averaging 8.94 yards per attempt against Jacksonville (the second-highest mark) and have a Total QBR of 64.2, the highest in the NFL. — Mike DiRocco
Previous ranking: 28
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offensive inefficiency
This is a question with about a dozen different answers, but Miami’s struggles on offense stand out. The Dolphins rank 30th in yards per game, 31st in yards per play and 28th in scoring. In almost unbelievable fashion, Miami attempts the fourth-most passes per game yet still ranks 25th in passing yards. As Sunday’s loss to the Bills proved, Miami is still capable of playing good defense — but without an offense that can carry its own weight, the Dolphins won’t win many more games. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Previous ranking: 31
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Running game
It’s hard to pick just one category for a 1-7 team, but one area the Texans have struggled in all season — and not because of injury — is running the ball. Houston ranks dead last in Football Outsider‘s rush DVOA and is averaging 76.1 rushing yards per game. Now that Houston has traded lead back Mark Ingram II, it has four running backs: veterans David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead and second-year pro Scottie Phillips. After Ingram was traded, it was Burkhead who led the way in Sunday’s loss to the Rams — but the group was still held to 44 yards on 14 carries. — Sarah Barshop
Previous ranking: 32
Biggest Achilles’ heel: Offense
Following a 44-6 loss to the Eagles on Halloween, the Lions fell to 0-8 for the first time since the infamous 0-16 season. Coach Dan Campbell acknowledged that the offense looked “very anemic,” which has been the case all season. The Lions rank near the bottom of nearly every offensive category, notably offensive efficiency and points scored. Jared Goff has suffered 11 consecutive losses, including the playoffs, which is the longest active streak for any quarterback. Tight end T.J. Hockenson feels that the offense hasn’t been able to overcome self-inflicted wounds such as penalties and mistakes in critical moments. “That’s what good offenses do is be able to keep moving the ball and overcome mistakes that you make on yourself,” Hockenson said. — Eric Woodyard
Notable Bets – November among worst months ever for betting public
The proud and confident American betting public just turned in the worst month of NFL gambling that veteran bookmakers can remember.
Entering Monday Night Football, underdogs have covered the spread nearly 60% of games in November. Twenty-three underdogs pulled outright upsets during the month, and heavily-bet primetime favorites seemed to go down on a weekly basis.
“From week to week, things appear to change dramatically,” Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos, said. “Dominant teams earlier in the year have come down to earth, and dogs have been covering at a much higher clip. There are 24 teams that are still fighting for playoff spots.”
Public bettors have struggled to figure it out and got crushed in November.
“There was one week where the players had only one game that they won, and another week they only won two games,” Jeff Stoneback, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas bookmaker, who oversees BetMGM’s sportsbook in Nevada, said. “We did have big wins, yes, but the number of wins, percentage-wise for us, was unbelievable. I was shocked.”
Sportsbooks’ net profit or loss on bets is known as the “hold,” as in the amount of money that bookmakers hold onto after everything is settled. Over the last three decades, Nevada sportsbooks on average have held around 5.5% of the money bet. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas was on pace to hold around 6.25% this November.
“It looks like it will wind up being one of our best hold months in Nevada on record,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.
For the betting public, the unfortunate November came directly after a hot streak. In October, sportsbooks endured three consecutive losing Sundays. But all that did was plumpen bankrolls in time for a bookmakers’ Thanksgiving feast.
Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, said Week 9 was when the season turned against bettors, pointing to the Jaguars’ upset of the Bills as two-touchdown underdogs as “especially notable” for his book.
Murray said Nov. 7, the Sunday featuring the Jags’ upset of the Bills, was the SuperBook’s best day of the season by far.
“There were some terrible Sundays for NFL favorites this month and that meant great returns for the house,” Murray said.
November also brought a string of heavily-bet favorites losing in primetime. The Titans and 49ers each beat the Rams on primetime in consecutive weeks, and the Dolphins upset the Ravens on a Thursday night, producing books’ biggest wins in November.
“It’s been an excellent November so far for the book,” Croucher added.
• Home teams are 77-101-1 against the spread) this season, which is on pace to the worst ATS mark in the Super Bowl era.
• Underdogs are 99-77-1 against the spread, which is on pace to be the best mark since 1980.
• With fewer games, betting handle on Sunday was lighter than in previous weeks, and there not many big decisions. Multiple bookmakers described Sunday’s results as “insignificant.”
• BetMGM offered a proposition wager on the Bears-Lions game on Thanksgiving: “Will both teams score 40 or more points?” A bettor placed a $227,026 bet on the “No” at -10,000 odds and won a net $2,270, with the Bears’ 16-14 win.
• Biggest reported bets at Caesars Sportsbook:
$445,000 on Packers money-line +115 vs. Rams (Win)
$402,500 on 49ers -3 (-115) vs. Vikings (Win)
$385,000 on Browns +3.5 vs. Ravens $220,000 on Titans +7.5 vs. Patriots (Loss)
College football notables
• Sunday opening conference championship game lines at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports:
Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. Texas-San Antonio PK, 71.5
Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah -2, 59.5
Big 12: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State -5, 46.5
MAC: Kent State -3, 72 vs. Northern Illinois
MWC: Utah State vs. San Diego State -5, 51.5
Sun Belt: Appalachian State -3, 53.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
AAC: Houston vs. Cincinnati -12, 54.5
SEC: Georgia -6, 49.5 vs. Alabama
ACC: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh -3, 72.5
Big Ten: Iowa vs. Michigan -11, 41.5
• Georgia was around a 4-point favorite over Alabama before the weekend’s games. But after the Crimson Tide struggled to pull out a win against Auburn, the SuperBook reopened Georgia a 6.5-point favorites. The early action on the game was relatively even, with 56% of the money bet on the game as of Sunday on the favored Bulldogs.
• Michigan’s upset of Ohio State on Saturday produced the biggest win of the college football season to date for PointsBet.
What were the odds?
30-1: Alabama’s odds to beat Auburn late in the fourth quarter, trailing 10-3. The Crimson Tide would tie the score on a late Bryce Young touchdown pass and win the game in the fourth overtime. [odds via Caesars Sportsbook]
-200: Bryce Young’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Young is the odds-on favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (4-1) and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (15-1). Hutchinson was not listed last week, but caught the attention of oddsmakers-and bettors-after his three-sack performance in the Wolverines’ upset of Ohio State on Saturday. He now has the third-best odds.
-9: Duke closed as a 9-point underdog to Gonzaga in their college basketball showdown on Friday. It’s the first game the Blue Devils were more than a 7.5-point underdog, when ranked in the top 5, since at least the 1993-94 season. Duke won 84-81.
+14: The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Utah Jazz 98-97 as 14-point underdogs on Friday. It’s the largest upset, point spread-wise, of the NBA season so far.
Q&A with a bettor
Cal Spears is a Tennessee-based entrepreneur in the fantasy sports and betting space, who hit a $1,000, six-leg same-game parlay on the Raiders-Cowboys game on Thursday that paid $266,566.27. Talk about a fulfilling Thanksgiving!
The six legs were:
•DeSean Jackson any time touchdown scorer
•Ezekiel Elliott over 19.5 receiving yards
•Josh Jacobs over 19.5 receiving yards
•Michael Gallup over 100 receiving yards (alternate line)
•Tony Pollard over 16.5 receiving yards
•Elliott any time touchdown scorer
Spears communicated with ESPN’s David Purdum this week about his improbable win. The interview has been organized and edited for clarity.
Q: Take us through your process when creating this parlay. What was the thinking behind it?
While looking at late swaps for my DFS lineups during the Bears game it dawned on me Desean Jackson’s chances of catching a bomb were underestimated. I opened Fanduel to check his yardage prop and they didn’t even offer one. So I bet him to score a TD at +700 and then added on the other legs I liked. I actually hit another parlay that didn’t include the Zeke TD and the Pollard Over for $91,000.
Q: Were you at Thanksgiving dinner when it all played out?
My girlfriend and I had plans to do Thanksgiving with my family in Madisonville, Kentucky, but we both came down with colds. We got negative COVID tests on Wednesday but still did not feel well Thursday morning. So we scrapped our plans and ended up laying on the couch all Thanksgiving watching football. I would not have made this bet if we made the trip to Kentucky; betting is not yet legal there.
Q: Takes us through the sweat, please.
The sweat couldn’t have started any better with a DeSean touchdown just a few minutes into the game. Three quarters later it looked completely dead then Gallup came to life with catches of 41, 32, and 17 to cross 100 yards. Going into overtime I just needed one catch each from Zeke and Jacobs. I watched in disbelief as things fell exactly how I needed and then triple sanity checked stats to make sure.
Q: How did you celebrate and what will you do with the winnings?
The endorphins kicked in immediately and I was ready to celebrate but then I remembered it was Thanksgiving night and I had a cold. A proper celebration is pending.
The first thing I did on Friday morning was donate $10,000 each to five non-profits that make an impact locally here in Nashville. I was unbelievably lucky to hit this and am very happy to share my good fortune. Not sure what we will do with the rest but there will definitely be a big Christmas for friends and family.
Suzann Pettersen to captain European team at 2023 Solheim Cup
FINCA CORTESIN, Spain — Suzann Pettersen, who won the Solheim Cup for Europe in 2019 with the last shot of her career, will captain the team four years later for its second straight title defense.
The Norwegian’s 7-foot putt for birdie at the final hole at Gleneagles saw Europe reclaim the biggest prize in women’s team golf and she retired immediately afterward.
Pettersen was vice captain when the Europeans retained the title at the Inverness Club in Ohio in September, also under Catriona Matthew, and now she has taken over as captain.
“This is the biggest honor of my career,” Pettersen said.
The next edition of the Solheim Cup will be played at Finca Cortesín in Andalucía from Sept. 18-24, 2023.
Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020
ASHBURN, Va. — When Kemberly Gamble watched the 2021 NFL draft at the urging of her son, one thought raced through her mind: My baby should be there. Instead, her baby, Chris Oats, was beside her in their two-bedroom apartment, fighting to regain full control of his body after a stroke he suffered in 2020.
And it was Oats’ University of Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis hearing his name called in the first round instead of Oats. Davis had replaced his close friend and teammate in the lineup and turned himself into the 19th overall pick by the Washington Football Team.
As Oats works to do things like walk, talk and regain the use of his left side, Davis works to become a quality starter in the NFL for Washington, which plays the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“The only thing Jamin could have done wrong,” Gamble said, “is messed it up. You don’t have to honor my son, just please remember him. That’s what Jamin stands for. He doesn’t owe my son anything. All he has to do is keep working. This is an opportunity that can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”
Nobody knows that better than Oats. Nobody feels that responsibility more than Davis. They are tied together by friendship and the opportunity created by Oats’ misfortune.
“The way the situation unfolded is just heartbreaking,” Davis said.
In truth, Davis would have received an opportunity for more playing time his junior season after finishing strong as a sophomore. In his final three games of the 2019 regular season, he finished with a combined 19 tackles, including two for a loss. He’s been steadily developing as a rookie starter for Washington.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said, “especially when it comes to keying and diagnosing and trusting his keys and responding quickly to what he knows. … He’s headed in the right direction. Very accountable; wants to be really, really good, has good work habits.”
Dreaming of the NFL
Oats, a four-star recruit out of high school, was outstanding at times in his second season at Kentucky and the clear leader for one of two starting jobs available for the 2020 season. Oats’ and Davis’ close friend, DeAndre Square, was expected to win the other starting job. In one three-play sequence at the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech at the end of the 2019 season, Oats shot through the line for consecutive tackles for a loss and then made an open-field tackle on third down.
“You’re like, OK, this kid is about to take off,” said Jon Sumrall, Kentucky’s inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “Chris was uniquely gifted. He’s long, rangy, could run really well. In coverage, he did some stuff very easily because of his length and athleticism.”
Said Davis: “We can talk for hours about how good a player Chris was. I remember the Belk Bowl. … It was like, man, this mofo is going to the league.”
That was Oats’ dream since he was young, he said via text. In fact, Davis said he, Oats and Square — a senior at Kentucky — used to discuss becoming first-round picks. Right before the 2020 draft, the three were on a group text vowing to have their name called in future years.
Sumrall called them the three amigos.
“I wasn’t out at the bars and partying or anything like that, so when I came across someone extremely similar to me in a lot of ways, I instantly clicked with Chris,” Davis said.
They would talk, play video games (Fortnite, Madden and NBA 2K) and go to Buffalo Wild Wings once a week. Davis would order the boneless wings with barbecue sauce, mostly to provide more choices to the table. Oats would order barbecued chicken and potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Square opted for the garlic parmesan.
“I get memories on my Snapchat all the time,” Davis said, “from when we were sitting in the locker room laughing or playing videos of Square dancing and me and Chris making fun of him. Outside of ball, all just going over to his house and playing video games or watching film together. Things like that made us closer.”
Which made their next chapter more difficult.
Making Oats proud
The stroke occurred two days before Mother’s Day in 2020, while Kentucky’s players were at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sumrall informed his players, dispensing whatever information he could that Gamble OK’d. Players eventually realized the severity of the situation.
“I thought it was a sick joke,” Davis said. “Then my thought was, ‘Is he OK? Is there any way we can see him?'”
Sumrall noticed an almost immediate change in Davis when they returned to campus. His practice effort was never in question, but he started watching more film — sometimes arriving a half-hour or 45 minutes early before meetings.
“It became like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Sumrall said. “Every day he came into the meeting room with more intentional focus than ever before.”
Davis felt it, too.
“It was like a reality check,” he said. “Going forward we knew [Oats] wouldn’t want us to sit around bummed out about the situation and feel pity or anything like that. So in my mind it’s like you’ve got to step up and make him proud.”
Square told Davis: It’s your time now.
“He knew what he had to do,” Square said. “We all knew Jamin was probably the best linebacker on the team. He had freakish athletic ability. We always said if he mentally gets the plays down, he’ll probably start over any of us. We were just waiting for him to show it.
“He was ready for the moment.”
Last season, Kentucky would rotate having a defensive player wear Oats’ No. 22. Before a game against Mississippi State, Davis saw the 22 jersey in his locker. He looked to the locker next to him — Oats’ old nook that contained a picture of Chris.
“I said, ‘I’ll do my best to represent you tonight,'” Davis said.
He finished with 11 tackles and an interception.
Kentucky discontinued that practice this season — it became difficult for the Oats family to see the No. 22 on the field. Instead, the team breaks down every practice with a “22!” Everyone has Oats Strong T-shirts made by Gamble; they’re selling hoodies now, too.
Davis wears a 22 Oats Strong band on his wrist, leaving it on for some games. Sumrall said when Oats attends games, he takes the freshmen over to see him; he wants them to know someone who he said “will forever be a Wildcat.”
‘This is not your end’
While it’s a constant battle for Oats, he isn’t jealous of his friend. He watches Washington’s games when he can and seeks out YouTube highlights. He will text Davis reminders to play fast, play smart. They text weekly; sometimes Davis checks in with Gamble. Oats said Davis’ effort is there and “he just needs more time on that level.”
“I’m not the selfish type,” Oats said. “He got there because he is a freak athlete and his talent, and what I’ve learned during this hard time is that I will get there. It will just take time.”
Oats was the one who pressed his family to watch the draft. They wanted to support Davis.
“We talked to Jamin before the draft,” Gamble said. “We’ve always been supportive of everything, so [Chris] never felt, ‘Man, that should have been me.’ When Chris was able to talk after his stroke, or text, he told him, ‘Go out and ball, this is your time.'”
But there is a definite understanding of his own situation.
“He knows where he could have been to change all our lives,” Gamble said. “But I explained to him: As a mom, you being here and being able to touch you and not being six feet under — because we’ve lost so many people this year — that’s all I need. He’s an awesome kid; never in trouble. He went to school, got his scholarship and went to class and to be a year away from your dream and something like this happens, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong for this to happen to him. That’s where we encourage him and let him know, ‘This is not your end; you have a bigger testimonial in your life.'”
Oats has 100% control of his right side and has increased his left side to 50% — it was 40% just a month ago. He’s able to stand on his own and they’re working on strengthening his core to help him walk again. For now, he’s doing occupational therapy twice a week, allowing him to slowly regain independence. They would like to get him into a physical therapy facility that deals mostly with athletes, key for his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame.
He attended Kentucky’s home games this season and saw the Wildcats play Georgia last year. His mom found it too tough to attend last year, but has gone this season. She reads her son for clues as to his emotions.
“I make sure I pay attention to his eyes and facial expressions,” she said. “I can tell when it’s too much. He does this thing with his eyes, they get real big and he bites on his fingernails. He’s been like that since he was a kid. That hasn’t changed since the stroke. When he’s getting ready to tear up or holding back tears, his eyes get big.”
He’s constantly watching games, whether of Kentucky or other teams, and he attends high school games on Friday nights. Oats said he tries not to cry while watching games, “but I do get in my thoughts.”
When that happens, he said he turns to a prayer from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
He needed that prayer the first time he watched an NFL game after the stroke. He told his mom: “I should be playing.” She said: “Just get healthy; it’s a blessing you’re alive. Football is just a job; it’s not who you are.”
The simple things
Gamble needed to quit her $11-an-hour florist job to take care of her son full time. She also moved the family into a larger apartment, though that increased her rent by $400. Her 26-year-old daughter, KeAirra, also helps, and Davis has chipped in. Insurance pays some of Oats’ medical costs and a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000 that helps with living expenses and allows them to buy a custom-made van.
Gamble proudly says they live within their means. But she does splurge for him once a year when it comes to sneakers. She would take some of her tax return money and buy him a pair of size 15 LeBrons, something she did again this past spring for $189. Though he’s still on scholarship and gets shoes from Kentucky, he uses these in therapy.
“I don’t spoil him or give everything he wants,” she said, “but the simple things that people take for granted is joy for him.”
This was the best birthday smile ever pic.twitter.com/j0EqhP8Uci
— Kcoats22 (@kcoats22) November 10, 2021
Oats wants to become an announcer or a coach; he wants to stay around the game. He wants to get back to himself.
“Football is his first love, and it hurts,” Gamble said. “I tell him to talk it out. He has anxiety over things. It was rough. This is a rough season for us, but he’s making it.”
Last month, Oats posted a picture on Twitter of himself, Square and Davis from a practice. Oats is sitting on the ground, his boys on either side. They are smiling. Sometimes he posts photos of the past; sometimes it’s of the present.
But Davis said he doesn’t need the photos to remember Oats’ impact. He thinks of Oats, whether it’s at practice or even on game day: “All the time; literally, it’s all the time.”
“It’s a constant reminder that this could be taken at any given moment,” Davis said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and play like every snap will be your last. You should be early to meetings, doing whatever you can to go out and play ball and have fun. … The only thing you can do in this situation is make him and his family proud. We’ll always be close.”
Oats said football remains a part of him. Right now, though, his proudest moments aren’t about his tackles but rather something basic yet profound: “That I will be able to walk and talk again.”
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