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NFL Week 9 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks

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Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season brought us some shocking upsets. The Cowboys’ offense couldn’t find any traction in a big huge loss to the Broncos, and the Bills couldn’t score a single touchdown in a wild loss to the Jaguars. The Falcons and Giants also surprised, pulling off victories against the Saints and Raiders, respectively. The Patriots had a big defensive day against the Panthers, and the Dolphins finally got their second win by defeating the Texans.

Meanwhile, the Browns made a statement in the AFC North with a convincing win over the Bengals. Cleveland scored 41 points without Odell Beckham Jr, who it plans to put on waivers on Monday. Baltimore took Minnesota to overtime after a back-and-forth game, and the Ravens moved to 6-2 after a Justin Tucker game-winner.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
DEN-DAL | MIN-BAL | CLE-CIN
BUF-JAX | NE-CAR | ATL-NO
LV-NYG | HOU-MIA | NYJ-IND

Ravens

What to know: Lamar Jackson has become the NFL’s new comeback king. The narrative used to be that Jackson couldn’t lead a team when trailing by large deficits. He’s now doing this on a weekly basis this season. Down by 14 points early in the second half, Jackson rallied the Ravens with his arm and legs, throwing three touchdown passes and rushing for over 100 yards. Jackson is the first quarterback this season to win three games in which he trailed by double digits. Jackson had entered this season with an 0-6 record as a starter when trailing by double digits, including playoffs. — Jamison Hensley

Why does Baltimore always start so slow? The Ravens found themselves in an all too familiar spot, trailing 24-10 early in the second half. In half of the Ravens’ games this season, Baltimore has fallen behind by double digits after halftime. A big reason has been the sluggish starts by Jackson and the Ravens. In the first quarter this season, Baltimore has scored a total of 24 points and has reached the end zone only once in the last six games. — Hensley

Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8. The Ravens showed grit to come back against the Vikings, especially after getting embarrassed by the Bengals before the bye. This isn’t the most talented team under coach John Harbaugh. But this might be the most resilient by how the Ravens continually beat the odds, whether by overcoming injuries or second-half deficits.

Next game: at Miami (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


Vikings

What to know: Mike Zimmer implored the Vikings’ offense to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers after an embarrassing loss to Dallas. That’s exactly what offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak did in the first quarter with a 50-yard TD pass to Justin Jefferson and 90 first-half rushing yards for Dalvin Cook. For the first time all season, Minnesota scored on its first two possessions. Then the offense predictably fell apart. Minnesota’s defense was absolutely gassed by the time overtime rolled around, having been on the field for nearly 45 minutes, and it couldn’t get a stop once the Ravens got the ball back.The same excuses the Vikings have used throughout the season to scapegoat their shortcomings are no longer valid. This is who they are. They have hit their ceiling. — Courtney Cronin

Why aren’t the Vikings playing their rookies more? The Vikings started fourth-round safety Cam Bynum in place of Harrison Smith after the five-time Pro Bowler was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list moments before inactives came out. Bynum is still learning how to play the position after four years spent at cornerback in college, but he came away with a diving interception he returned 27 yards to set up the Vikings’ offense inside Baltimore’s red zone late in the first half. Fellow fourth-rounder Kene Nwangwu ignited Minnesota’s special teams by returning the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and picking up a first down on a fake punt. Minnesota could benefit from Nwangwu’s speed and quickness on offense and needs to prioritize getting him touches moving forward. — Cronin

Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, no change from 4. Minnesota goes from the east coast to the west coast this week to face the Los Angeles Chargers. It feels like this same story with the Vikings offense sputtering and defense failing to get stops at critical times is bound to repeat itself.

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Dolphins

What to know: It was one of their sloppiest games of the season, but the Dolphins did enough to beat a hapless Texans team — even without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Be proud of yourself if you made it all the way through this game because Miami gave you every reason in the world to turn it off. Five turnovers, including three fumbles, brought half of Miami’s possessions to a sudden halt and to be frank, the Dolphins only won this game because Houston was somehow worse. In a spot start, Jacoby Brissett mostly just managed the game — in part because he didn’t have much time to allow downfield routes to develop. Miami’s run game once again struggled to get going, as it recorded fewer than 100 rushing yards for the seventh time this season. But a win is a win, right? The Dolphins freefall mercifully ended, and they get a much-needed victory ahead of a Thursday night game against the Ravens. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Will Tua Tagovailoa be available against the Ravens? After being limited in practice throughout the week with a fractured finger on his throwing hand, Tagovailoa was relegated to the Dolphins’ emergency quarterback Sunday. Who knows whether he would’ve made this offense look any better, but this performance will not fly against the Ravens. He reportedly wanted to play in Week 9, so it seems likely he will be ready to go with a few extra days of rest. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, up from 3.5. They were good enough to beat the Texans, but I’m not sure how many other teams Miami would’ve beaten today. The good news is this marks consecutive impressive performances from this defense, which forced four turnovers.

Next game: vs. Ravens (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

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Mike Gesicki snares the ball with his right hand and hangs on for a pair of nice catches.


Texans

What to know: It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback, this Texans’ offense is not good enough. Tyrod Taylor returned after missing six games with a left hamstring injury, but absolutely struggled against the Dolphins. Taylor completed 22 of 39 passes for 228 yards and had three interceptions for a passer rating of 41.3. Houston was 0-4 in the red zone and still has not scored a touchdown on the road since Week 2 in Cleveland. One of the reasons rookie quarterback Davis Mills struggled in relief during Taylor’s absence was because he had trouble protecting the football, but Taylor had the same problem Sunday. — Sarah Barshop

How long is Taylor’s leash? Early on when Taylor was on injured reserve, coach David Culley said when Taylor was healthy, he would be Houston’s starting quarterback. Culley said he doesn’t believe in a player losing his job to injury and that Taylor gave the Texans the best chance to win. It was only one game — and Mills struggled at times in his six starts — but will Culley stick with the veteran quarterback if he no longer feels like he gives Houston the best chance to win? Taylor likely has at least a few games after the bye before Culley would put Mills back in. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, down from 0.6. How can you feel confident about a team who lost to the Dolphins, who came into the game with one win and was without their starting quarterback?

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m. ET)

Falcons

What to know: It looked like something so familiar to the Atlanta Falcons over the years: Take a big lead, have some dominance, then slowly yet swiftly, it starts to be ripped away. And it looked like they were on the way again to blowing another three-possession lead Sunday. But Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has been trying to show this team is different. Sunday, they displayed that change clearly. Atlanta got the ball back with 1:01 left, and Matt Ryan connected with the team’s best offensive weapon, Cordarrelle Patterson, for 64 yards, and Younghoe Koo kicked the game-winning field goal, giving Atlanta a 27-25 win over New Orleans. It doesn’t look pretty all the time. It doesn’t look convincing all the time. But it is this year’s Atlanta Falcons. Don’t count them out. – Michael Rothstein — Michael Rothstein

Can they sustain this type of cardiac play? Honestly, no idea. Sometimes it becomes the identity of a team — and after three games like this so far this season — denoting three-quarters of the team’s wins this season, it just might be. And considering what the team’s past has largely been known for, perhaps that’s not a bad start for Atlanta, as it tries to reconstruct the culture of the Falcons. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, up from 4. Never turn a Falcons game off until the end because — good or bad — you never know what you’re going to see.

Next game: at Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Saints

What to know: A crushing loss for the Saints after they rallied back from a 24-6 deficit over the final 10 minutes to take a brief lead – only to squander it in the final minute by allowing a 64-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. The Saints (5-3) have shown enough resilience this season to prove they can stay in playoff contention. And new QB Trevor Siemian made some big-time plays during that rally. But the offense was way too flat for the first 50 minutes, with too many dropped passes, penalties and a sack-fumble — proving life will never be easy with both quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Michael Thomas out for the season. And the defense gave up an uncharacteristic amount of big passing plays. — Mike Triplett

Will Saints consider switching to Taysom Hill (or trying to sign Odell Beckham Jr.?) All options have to be on the table after the events of the past week. Siemian probably did enough in the fourth quarter to prove he’s worthy of an extended look in the role. (And his pass-catchers were the bigger problem earlier in the game.) But the Saints need to get Taysom Hill more involved in a package of plays, at the very least, after he provided a spark during a small sample in the fourth quarter. As for Beckham, the Saints will almost certainly pursue him if he becomes a free agent. But they can’t offer much in terms of money or a proven passing offense. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.7, down from 7.2. This is a new low for the season. The week started with crushing injury news on Winston and Thomas. Then it ended with both the offense and defense showing some warts on the field – though they did make things awfully exciting in the end.

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Browns

What to know: Odell who? In their first game since Odell Beckham Jr. forced his way out, the Browns delivered their best offensive — and overall — performance of the season. Baker Mayfield looked especially freed. He still held a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 in the third quarter as the Browns became the first team since 2012 with three touchdown plays of 60 yards or more. Minus OBJ, Cleveland finally resembled the team that made the playoffs last season. — Jake Trotter

Can the Browns rekindle their 2020 formula? This time last year in the same stadium, Cleveland turned its season around almost immediately after Beckham was lost for the year with a knee injury. Doing it again won’t be easy. The remaining schedule is tougher. And Sunday, after all, was just one game. Still, the chemistry Cleveland flashed was strikingly similar to last year, when the Browns surged into the playoffs with opportunistic defense, an overpowering running game and the best version of Mayfield. — Trotter

Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, up from 5.8. The drama of this week could’ve galvanized the Browns – or sent them spiraling. Sunday’s impressive performance suggests it will be the former.

Next game: at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Joe Burrow gets picked off by Denzel Ward, who sprints 99 yards to the house for a Browns score.


Bengals

What to know: In the span of four quarters, the Cincinnati Bengals undid seven weeks of progress that had them looking like a playoff team. The Bengals committed two first-half turnovers and the defense allowed scores on all three of the Browns’ possessions in the opening half. It continued a rough stretch that started in Week 8 against the New York Jets, when Cincinnati surrendered points on the Jets’ final five possessions. Offensive miscues combined with the poor defense means Cincinnati lost all the momentum it had following the Week 7 win at Baltimore. — Ben Baby

Can the Bengals recover and still be a playoff team? Yes. Cincinnati played too well through the first seven weeks and showed it is a playoff-caliber team. While things have looked awful lately, with Cincinnati entering the off week, the Bengals still have eight games to figure things out. The AFC North may also be weaker than usual, which leaves the division race wide open. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6.5. The mistakes the Bengals got away with early in the season are starting to flare up in the worst way.

Next game: at Raiders (Sunday, Nov. 21, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Jaguars

What to know: Beating the top team in the AFC despite missing left tackle Cam Robinson and running back James Robinson — especially after playing so poorly last week in Seattle — is a major step forward in the rebuild for a franchise that can’t seem to get out of its own way. The Jaguars didn’t play great football – they had four drops, including one in the end zone, and kicker Matt Wright missed three field goals (two voided by penalty) — but they made enough plays to get the upset. It should be a major confidence builder for a young franchise. — Mike DiRocco

Was this Josh Allen‘s breakout performance? Without a doubt. Allen had his best season as a rookie (10.5 sacks), but that came with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the roster to absorb most of the attention. He had a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery to go along with eight tackles against the Bills and led a defense that held the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (31.7 points per game entering the weekend) to two field goals. — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 1.9. That’s a big jump, but the Jaguars were without RB James Robinson and LT Cam Robinson and QB Trevor Lawrence left the game for a big with an ankle injury, yet they were able to somehow beat the best team in the AFC.

Next game: at Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Bills

What to know: The Bills have major offensive issues that need to be fixed. The problems on display in the first half against Miami last week reappeared against a Jaguars defense that averaged 29 points allowed coming into the game. Without two starting linemen — right tackle Spencer Brown and guard Jon Feliciano — quarterback Josh Allen struggled under pressure. Going into the fourth quarter, Allen had been pressured on 14-of-38 dropbacks (37%) and went 2-of-9 passing for nine yards, one interception, three sacks and two scrambles. Allen threw two interceptions, his first multi-interception game of the season. Scoring points was not a problem for the Bills offense prior to the bye, with 30-plus points in all but one game. In the last two games, however, Buffalo has averaged 16 points. The Bills offense is missing its magic from last season, and it needs to corrected quickly. — Alaina Getzenberg

Can the penalty issues be corrected? The defense had a fine day overall, holding the Jaguars to nine points and allowing quarterback Trevor Lawrence to convert 2 of 12 third downs. Jacksonville, however, was able to extend its drives thanks to the many penalties on the Bills defense. Buffalo finished the game with 12 penalties for 118 yards. The Jaguars had six first downs come courtesy of penalty, more than through the air or on the ground. The Bills were called for four personal foul penalties in the first half alone. Overall, Buffalo has bigger issues to correct going forward, but the lack of composure from a Sean McDermott team is unusual. It shouldn’t be a long-term problem, but it cost the Bills a major loss. — Getzenberg

Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 7.7. The Bills lost to the 1-6 Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the league. The offense is officially an issue going forward.

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Broncos

What to know: Did the thousands of Broncos fans who invaded AT&T Stadium have a feeling? Denver showed the potential general manager George Paton practically demanded to see when he traded linebacker Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams last Monday. At the time Paton kept repeating the Broncos could get “into the thick of it” and that trading the franchise’s most decorated and tenured player was not a “white flag move.” And surprise of surprises, the Broncos actually played that way. The team that beat the Cowboys Sunday fought off a long list of in-game injuries — including an ankle injury to guard Graham Glasgow and a knee injury to TE Albert Okwuegbunam — to play the kind of grind-it-out game they’re equipped to play, especially on offense. The bottom line is they didn’t waste an elite effort from their defense and still find themselves at the back end of the playoff conversation. — Jeff Legwold

With two more offensive linemen injured, can they protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? Glasgow suffered his injury on the last play of the first half. Since medical personnel immediately put an air cast on his lower left leg, he could face a major injury. Right tackle Bobby Massie also left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. The Broncos were already struggling mightily to protect Bridgewater almost any time they’ve opened the formation — this will only make that more difficult, especially if left tackle Garett Bolles, who missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, misses significant time. Plus, there’s Okwuegbunam’s injury to contend with. The Broncos will have get the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands more quickly, more often and do their best to keep him out of harm’s way, — Legwold

Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 5. OK, two wins in a row with this one on the road over the Dallas Cowboys shows this team has some grit. And with yet another long list of injuries as their reward, they’re going to need it.

Next game: vs. Eagles (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

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Teddy Bridgewater lets it fly to Tim Patrick, who beats out the Cowboys’ defense and grabs a touchdown pass while falling into the end zone.


Cowboys

What to know: All of the good feelings the Cowboys generated in their six-game winning streak disappeared in their 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys avoided their first home shutout in AT&T Stadium with a touchdown with 4:08 remaining. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s return from a three-week absence due to a calf injury could not have gone much worse. He was intercepted once but did throw two touchdown passes to Malik Turner — though the touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the outcome had already been decided. But Prescott was as inaccurate as he has ever been after entering Sunday with the NFL’s best completion percentage (73.1%). The Cowboys had won their first four home games by an average of 17.3 points. Before their first scoring drive, they converted just once third down and failed on three fourth-down tries. This loss was as unexpected as last week’s win at Minnesota with Cooper Rush at quarterback. Is it just a blip or the start of a trend? — Todd Archer

Is there a long-term concern about the run defense? Simply, the Cowboys were schooled by the Broncos. They entered the game with the sixth-ranked run defense, allowing just 88.3 yards per game. The Broncos had more than that in the first half and finished with 192 yards, by far a season-high. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon looked like the best running back tandem in the NFL. The previous high was 120 yards against New England three weeks ago. The Cowboys have to play complementary football for the defense to succeed. When the offense struggles, they don’t have a knock-them-out defense. It is easier to play with a multi-score lead that forces opponents to throw the ball. Sunday was a day of what could go wrong did go wrong. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, down from 9.6. Maybe later in the season when the Cowboys are enjoying a long playoff ride, they will look back at this game as an anomaly. They will put a brave face on it that their confidence is not shook by such a bad loss, but that will depend on how they play next week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Giants

What to know: This was the Giants’ best win of the season and a good way to enter their bye week. Amazingly, at 3-6, this is their best record through nine games since 2016. Progress, however slow it may be. The defense (16 points allowed) is playing better and scored its first touchdown of the season on the first of safety Xavier McKinney’s two interceptions. They’ve now allowed 20 points or less in three straight games. The running game has awoken with Devontae Booker (99 yards on 21 carries) as the feature back. And, maybe most importantly for the future of the franchise, quarterback Daniel Jones is doing what is necessary under adverse conditions to win games. Maybe this team has enough in them to make some sort of run in the second half of the season. — Jordan Raanan

How healthy will this team be coming out of the bye week? Wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (thumb/ankle) seemed to come out of this game unscathed. There was optimism late last week that running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (quad) could be back relatively soon. Prior to the false positive COVID-19 test, Barkley was believed to have a chance to get back vs. the Raiders. Is it possible for them all to be healthy post-bye? It would give the Giants a much better opportunity to truly evaluate Daniel Jones, even if the offensive line has its deficiencies. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.2, up from 2.8. A little optimism entering the bye week, especially with some reinforcements on the way.

Next game: at Buccaneers (Monday, Nov. 22, 8:15 p.m. ET)


Raiders

What to know: Derek Carr said it was going to be hard to compartmentalize, given the week of emotions the Raiders experienced with former receiver Henry Ruggs III cut and facing felony DUI and reckless driving charges after his car crash killed a woman and her dog. Not to minimize anything, but Carr was right. Carr, who threw a pair of interceptions that included a pick-6 and lost a fumble at the Giants’ 20-yard line with 37 seconds to go, played as if in a fog and the Raiders continued their post-bye blahs, losing for the 16th time in such games in the past 19 years. — Paul Gutierrez

Are the Raiders done? Recent history would seem to suggest so. In 2019, a 6-4 start ended with a 7-9 finish. Last year, Las Vegas started 6-3 and finished 8-8. After a pre-bye 5-2 start, the Raiders play host to the potentially resurgent Kansas City Chiefs in a Sunday night game in Las Vegas. This can go south in a hurry and it will feel familiar if the Raiders let it. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 9. Yes, the Raiders should get a pass, perhaps, for all of the off-field issues of late. And again, not to minimize anything, but we’ve all seen this movie before, a blah post-bye game and late-season collapse.

Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Patriots

What to know: Defense leads the way. With rookie quarterback Mac Jones still growing on the job, sometimes it takes the other side of the ball to carry more of the load. The defense did that against an underwhelming Panthers offense that has to be questioning if QB Sam Darnold is the long-term answer. Most impressive from the Patriots’ defense — which opened in a base 3-4 — was how it stopped the run and bottled up running back Christian McCaffrey in his return from injured reserve. Once the Panthers were forced to pass, Darnold looked overmatched. It’s a winning formula for the Patriots, and a timely one to highlight because another good running team, the Browns, is next on the schedule. — Mike Reiss

Does N’Keal Harry‘s knee injury lead the Patriots to pursue Odell Beckham Jr.? With No. 4 receiver N’Keal Harry inactive because of a knee injury, and the Patriots elevating Kristian Wilkerson from the practice squad, it highlights how the team has a need for more depth. Naturally, that sparks a thought on whether Odell Beckham Jr. might be a consideration. It seems unlikely the Patriots would claim Beckham on waivers due to his salary, but if Beckham clears and becomes a free agent at a lower cost, they should at least explore the possibility. The Patriots had limited production from their receivers against the Panthers, with CB Stephon Gilmore effectively limiting Jakobi Meyers. Add someone like Beckham to the mix, and the passing game becomes that much tougher to defend. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.3, up from 5.2. Three consecutive wins, which has sparked rising confidence among players … and this reporter covering the team.

Next game: vs. Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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J.C. Jackson intercepts an errant Sam Darnold pass and takes it all the way back for a Patriots touchdown.


Panthers

What to know: Sam Darnold is not the long-term, or even short-term, answer for the Panthers. Even with Christian McCaffrey back limited, the quarterback continued to make the kind of poor decisions that lose games. His three interceptions in Sunday’s loss gave him 10 in the last six games. It’s time for Carolina (4-5) to admit it was a mistake making this trade with the Jets. Now they are stuck with Darnold and his fifth-year option ($18.8 million) in 2022. — David Newton

Should the Panthers turn to backup QB P.J. Walker the rest of the season? They should, but it spokes volumes about what they think of Walker by starting Darnold on Sunday after he was limited all week in practice (concussion/shoulder). Walker, in his one start last year, threw two red zone interceptions in the win. He takes too many chances to get playing time. It’s really a no-win situation for Carolina, which likely will be looking to revamp the quarterback room during the offseason. — Newton

Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, down from 5.3. The schedule gets tougher moving forward, beginning with Arizona next week and a tough four-game finish that includes trips to Buffalo and New Orleans and two games against Tampa Bay.

Next game: at Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Colts

What to know: Jonathan Taylor is continuing to show he’s the second best running back in the NFL, behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry. No matter the opponent, notching 172 rushing yards and 260 yards total is impressive. The Colts have yet to beat a team with winning record this season. They’ll have several opportunities to do it because Buffalo and Tampa are their opponents in two of the next three games. With the defense struggling, the Colts may have to rely even more on the running game to keep the opposing offense on the sideline. — Mike Wells

Can the defense stop anybody? The Colts gave up 30 points, 486 total yards, including 317 passing yards to a 35-year-old journeyman third-string quarterback. So the answer is no. That’s a major reason for concern. That’s not supposed to happen against a team like the Jets. Imagine what Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Kyler Murray could do against a Colts defense that continues to rely more forcing turnovers than getting off the field on third down. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 4.4. Yes, the Colts dropped down confidence wise. You can’t say the Colts are turning the corner when they couldn’t dominate the Jets from start to finish. The Colts are still looking for that “killer instinct” they talked about earlier this season.

Next game: vs. Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Jets

What to know: The Jets might be the most unpredictable team in the league. From week to week, you never know what you’re going get, which is a symptom of having such a young roster. But one trend is becoming clear: The defense, exposed in Thursday night’s 45-30 loss to the Colts, is light years away from being a winning unit. The Jets are yielding 31.4 points and 408 yards per game, both franchise worsts. It might be time for defensive-minded coach Robert Saleh to take a bigger role on that side of the ball. — Rich Cimini

Who do the Jets start at quarterback in Week 10? Fan favorite Mike White (right forearm) and starter Zach Wilson (knee) are expected to practice, presenting coach Robert Saleh with a choice: Does he go back to Wilson, whose development is paramount for the organization, or does he ride with the hot White? He should stick with White, giving Wilson an extra week to heal before facing the Bills’ top-ranked defense. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. The offense looks good, the defense looks horrendous.

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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NFL

Notable Bets – November among worst months ever for betting public

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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.

NFL notables

• 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.



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Suzann Pettersen to captain European team at 2023 Solheim Cup

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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.

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Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020

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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.”

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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