Patriots Will Be Challenged by Cowboys

The New England Patriots were barely able to escape last week with a 25-22 win over the Houston Texans. After a 312 yard, two-touchdown performance from third-round pick quarterback Davis Mills, the Patriots completed a 13-point second-half comeback. With an offensive line made from the scrap heap, Mac Jones was only sacked once. The pass protection wasn’t the problem last weekend. Ball security and sloppy defense were. Damien Harris fumbled yet again, costing the Patriots a touchdown early. Defensively they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. They relied on Davis Mills falling apart to steal the victory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (not you, Matt Patricia) to figure out that they probably won’t get that lucky against the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott has been on an absolute tear to start the season, passing for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. Posting a 116.9 passer rating. He’s surrounded by a plethora of talent. Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper far outmatch the talent that Houston had last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense is vastly improved. They’re a top-five rushing defense and they rank first in scoring. Not a great matchup for a Pats offense that struggles to put points on the board as is.

It’s not all bad though. The Patriots are finally getting healthy again with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason returning to practice. It shouldn’t be long until they’re full strength. So without further ado, set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this one going.

Three Keys to The Game

How the Patriots offense will find success against the Cowboys - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Stuff The Run

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best backs in the NFL. Even if the production hasn’t been the same since his first year, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The Dallas offense still revolves heavily around their success with the run game. The Cowboys average 5.3 yards per rush and about 172 yards per game on the ground. Tony Pollard providing some support on the depth chart shouldn’t be overlooked either. He’s averaging 60 yards a game as well. The run game will be a huge factor in the possible rain in Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots can slow them down they’re already in great shape. We’re looking at you, Lawrence Guy, and Davon Godchaux. Do what you do best.

Key #2: Keep Up With The Recievers

It’s not just the ground game that New England has to keep up with. The Cowboys have an MVP caliber quarterback in Dak Prescott, passing to pro-bowl caliber receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Not to mention sneakily dynamic tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. You’d be hard-pressed to find an offense more talented than Dallas. I’m worried the Pats might not have the secondary to match.

Jalen Mills should be back this week to accompany J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones in taking on this tall task. But he’s no Stephon Gilmore. The Pats secondary will have to play infinitely better than they did last week if they want to be even semi-competitive against Dak Prescott. He’s not Davis Mills. Prescott will crush you if given the opportunity. If he’s given the windows that Mills was last week, he’ll make his case for MVP even stronger at our expense.

Key #3: Mac Jones Needs to Leap Forward

Listen, I’ve been just a big a fan of Mac Jones as the rest of the New England region. He’s been a nice change at the position by throwing the ball smartly, safely, and surprisingly accurate. At first, I thought the comparisons to 2001 Tom Brady were a bit reactionary. But I can sort of see it. And reports are from the ownership down, the Patriots organization absolutely loves what they have in Mac Jones. The confidence the organization has in him, and the confidence he has in himself are great. But the results need to start to come.

In the rookie’s first five starts, he’s been anything but flashy. He’s top 10 in total turnover-worthy plays for quarterbacks and his big-time throw rate sits with the likes of Daniel Jones and former Patriot Jacoby Brissett at 3.5 percent. It is possible that play-calling has hindered his ability to show what he has in store. But sooner or later he’s going to have to really hit his potential if the Patriots are to be contenders in 2021. The expectations are high, but that comes with being a first-round selection. He won’t get the pass that some late-round guys do for starting slow.

It’s almost mid-season, it’s put up or shut up time from now until the season’s close in Miami in 12 weeks. I’m sure that Bill Belichick intends on playing further into January as well. Let’s ease up on the training wheels and give Jones a chance to show off against a worthy opponent. Belichick didn’t sign Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor for no reason. Let’s see those big additions pay off in the biggest games, and I think this week against a Super Bowl contender certainly counts as one.

X-Factor: Jakobi Meyers

Patriots' Jakobi Meyers trying to carry on <a rel=

Did you know through three seasons in the NFL, Jakobi Meyers doesn’t have a single touchdown catch? He has a couple of throws to the endzone, but never a catch. Sure, he might’ve had one or two his rookie season if Tom Brady didn’t decide he hated rookies in his twilight in New England. But it’s unfathomable that despite being the Patriots’ best receiver last year and into this season, he’s been unable to find the endzone in his natural position.

If Jones is going to have the big day that he might just need to match up with Prescott, Meyers is going to have to break free from Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown, who has been electric to start this season. Diggs himself has put up a campaign similar to Stephon Gilmore in 2019 when he won defensive player of the year. If the passing game is to be the focus against the Cowboys, I wouldn’t be shocked if Meyers is the focal point of it and sees around 15 looks from Jones. Isn’t it about the time he’s found the endzone anyway? He’s only been the Patriots’ most reliable target since the conclusion of Julian Edelman‘s career. Which came about eight months before his official retirement announcement.

Closing Thoughts

3 Players Bill Belichick, Patriots Need to Get More Involved Immediately |  Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

I cannot begin to fathom how bad of a look it would be for the Patriots to lose four straight home games to open the season. The last time the Patriots had a .500 or lower record at home? The 2000 season, Belichick’s first with the team, and effectively Drew Bledsoe‘s last as the starter. Even Cam Newton was able to pull off the wins in Foxboro. I get the schedule hasn’t been easy, and if it wasn’t for a few plays going the wrong way, the Pats are a 4-1 team. But we don’t live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where “What If?” could be turned into something worthwhile. In the NFL, the win is all that matters.

I would be lying if I said I’m confident the Patriots can pull off a win, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. After keeping up with Tampa Bay’s offense at almost full strength, it isn’t impossible to picture Belichick being able to frustrate the Cowboys. We’ve seen the Patriots do far more with much less. It’s a common theme among various Patriots teams through the years.

The concern obviously lies with the Patriots’ offense making the most of their opportunities. Something they’ve failed on doing thus far into the season. Ranking 25th in total offense. Maybe Mrs. McDaniels can get Josh to finally start being a little more aggressive with the play calls, and let Mac Jones rip it a little. If they can produce at least three touchdowns worth of points on offense? I give the Patriots a real chance. So I’ll ride on the optimism train a little bit longer. Don’t let me down, Belichick!

Final Score: 27-23, New England (3-3)

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A Political and Football Look At Jon Gruden

I have to preface this article with a note that (a) the opinions and ideas written here are strictly that of the author and do not represent the entirety of Pro Football Press, and (b) this article will get political. If this is a bother to you, click away now. If not, let’s take a political and football look at the Jon Gruden situation.

Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. This move followed a report from The New York Times about the bigoted language he used in emails as recently as 2018. This new report follows an earlier report in which Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFLPA union president DeMaurice Smith, who is black. Gruden said in a statement, “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

Anytime we see someone who has past comments and beliefs exposed to the world, there are always two sides developed. One side impugns the person in question, criticizes them, and calls for them to face some sort of repercussion. The other side immediately runs to social media to call anyone who doesn’t like these comments/beliefs soft snowflakes and rage about cancel culture. And the cancel culture/culture war discourse is one that refuses to die down online.

So, I will not shy away from it, because I believe that Jon Gruden needed to go. And in this piece, I want to look at why Gruden isn’t a victim of being canceled for things he said years ago, as well as why Gruden needed to go from strictly a football point of view. Once again, if political discourse is something you wish to avoid, skip this piece. If it’s something that does not bother you, follow along with me.

A Political Examination

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri/AP

Jon Gruden is not a victim. The New York Times and the National Football League did not systematically single him out, and he is not a victim of this nefarious “cancel culture” that internet conservatives and centrists love to complain about. The only thing that Gruden could be a victim of currently is karma. This is a man who now has to live with the consequences of his own actions.

It seems like the most obvious and agreeable thing in the world. When someone says something racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, that person rightly deserves any backlash they receive. And yet we live in a world where a brigade of reactionary white knights will reflexively defend any sort of situation involving bigoted comments. Usually, this comes under the guise of being against cancel culture. There’s also a very popular argument that people can change. They’re not the same person now that they were back when those comments were made.

Honestly? I agree with that last sentiment. I’m a firm believer that people absolutely can change. I believe in reformative justice for everyone. However, my issue with this argument is that Jon Gruden hasn’t changed. There’s no evidence of this being a situation of Gruden saying something back then that he’s later changed his mind on. Again, he was using this type of language as recently as in 2018. That is rather recent. And while three years is definitely an amount of time in which a person can grow and change, let’s not pretend that the most old-school coach in the NFL before his resignation, bar maybe Detroit’s Dan Campbell, is secretly some huge liberal or progressive.

No Sympathy Warranted

I’m also not on the “Gruden was singled out” train. The investigation into the 650,000 emails had little to do with Gruden himself. It was an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct within the Washington Football Team. His language was discovered because the group he sent the emails to included Bruce Allen, a former executive with the Washington Football Team. After finding Gruden’s first email that included a racist trope, only then did more of his comments receive any extra scrutiny. This doesn’t feel like someone getting singled out by cancel culture. It feels like someone got caught doing something wrong, and further examination brought more wrongdoing to light.

Jon Gruden made his bed, and now he has to lie in it. For all the talk conservative media will make about how “cancel culture strikes again,” this one doesn’t fit. Leaving aside the fact that cancel culture is just a spooky buzzword these days, this isn’t the case of someone getting canceled for out-of-context comments or beliefs they no longer hold. Gruden is the same now as he was then, and it is for that reason that Jon Gruden is only a victim of himself. He now has to live with his actions, which have now recently cost him his enshrinement in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ring of honor.

A Football Purview

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Ben Liebenberg/AP

Online political discourse aside, Jon Gruden also needed to go from a sheer football point of view. He was coaching in a league where 70% of the players are black. He was coaching the first team in NFL history to field an openly gay player, defensive lineman Carl Nassib. There’s absolutely no way Gruden could have come back into that locker room knowing that their coach essentially puts on a mask in front of them that he takes off privately.

If you’re Carl Nassib, how do you reconcile the fact that your coach used homophobic slurs freely and without care? How do you reconcile him pushing for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to pressure the then-St. Louis Rams into not drafting an openly gay player, Michael Sam, in the 2014 NFL Draft? How do you trust a man who says one thing to your face but mocks you to his friends in private?

If you’re a black player on the Raiders, how do you reconcile his locker room behavior with his private use of racist tropes to describe another black man? If you’ve kneeled for the national anthem, how do you reconcile his private push for more punishments for those who take a knee? How do you reconcile his desire to see former 49ers and Panthers safety Eric Reid “fired” for his protests? If you’re an advocate for social justice causes, how could you trust a coach who wants to curtail NFL involvement in these sorts of issues?

There was just no way for Gruden to continue with this team. It would lead to much distraction, too much to reconcile, and too much distrust. The Raiders organization could no longer ignore it, not with the NFL waiting to see how the team would respond to these emails. Not with this being public knowledge like it is now. The NFL couldn’t ignore it, given their public drive to be more inclusive and diverse.

So, even removed from online political discourse, there was just no way for Gruden to keep this job.

Conclusion

Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Regardless of how you slice this, Jon Gruden had to go. The NFL couldn’t allow Gruden to continue, given their public desire to be more inclusive and diverse. The Raiders organization couldn’t allow it to continue. And it was in the players’ best interest for Gruden to step away from this organization.

Simply put, this is who Jon Gruden is. Even in his statement to the media following his resignation, there was no genuine remorse for his language. “I never meant to hurt anyone,” he said. And yet, he meant to hurt people. No one in Gruden’s position uses that kind of language without the intent to hurt someone. And even without the language, there’s still the fact that he actively pushed to prevent an openly gay player from being drafted.

That would be enough to know that he intended to hurt people. Add in that he was also against the NFL’s push to decrease concussions, and we can see that in a literal and figurative sense, Jon Gruden intended to hurt people. Or, at the very least, he was okay with people being hurt. Anything to take this game back to 1998, I suppose.

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Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/AP

Lamar Jackson just put the “M” in MVP

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws the ball under pressure from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Lamar Jackson. Have yourself a night, young man.

Down 22-3 late in the 3rd, after 3 quarters of sloppy play, the Baltimore Ravens seemed out of this game. The defense couldn’t get stops, the running game was going nowhere, and the Ravens had failed to convert any 3rd downs. The deficit itself was daunting enough, but the play up to that point made it feel even larger.

Worse still, the game had been dedicated to Haloti Ngata, a team legend. Ngata was forced to watch the depressing performance instead of celebrating a victory with his family on a night made for him.

And then Lamar Jackson happened.

The Comeback

After a short two minute drive, Lamar threw a 40 yard bomb to Marquise Brown. The score was now 22-9 with time left in the third and seemed to jolt the Ravens’ offense awake. When the Colts predictably drove down the field and made a field goal to make it 25-9, Lamar got right back to work in the 4th.

Circumstance forced him to drop back snap after snap, and he responded with darts across the field to Mark Andrews. He checked down when he had to, ran when he had to, and punished the Colts down the field. Another touchdown and 2-point conversion later, and this was suddenly a one-score game. 25-17. The drive only took two and a half minutes off the clock.

Then the Colts started driving again, this time into field goal range. The Ravens’ defense still had no answers for anything Indianapolis did on offense. However, a huge Calais Campbell blocked field goal meant the Colts got 0 points for their drive. The game was still winnable.

Just like that, the Ravens drove down the field again behind Lamar’s impeccable throwing. The Colts’ entire defense seemed exhausted at this point, understandable given they had to chase receivers and worry about Lamar running every single play. With barely any time left on the regulation clock, Lamar found Mark Andrews for their second touchdown connection. 25-23. The two-point conversion was successful, and the game had somehow gone to overtime.

Once the Ravens won the toss, everyone seemed to know the game was over. Lamar even said so himself. And everyone who thought that was proven right. The final drive of the game was methodical, featuring checkdowns to running backs. The final play came on a dart to Hollywood Brown just inside the endzone. 31-25.

Lamar MVP?

On a night where seemingly nothing was going the Ravens’ way, Lamar Jackson stepped up like few quarterbacks in the game can. In the second half and overtime alone, he was 29-32 for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a new career high in passing yards at 442. He accounted for all but 19 of the Ravens’ total offensive yards. The first QB to ever complete 85% of his passes in a 400 yard performance.

The list of records and mind-boggling statistics all point to one reality; Lamar Jackson delivered an all-time performance with his arm to bring a listless team back from the grave. His heroics also brought the Ravens to 4-1 on the year and atop the AFC North standings.

Such comebacks are the hallmark of franchise quarterbacks. In the truest sense of the title “Most Valuable Player,” Jackson stands out as an anomaly. No Quarterback in the game has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total offense. After games like last night’s, it’s also clear he can single-handedly win games for his team even when the rest of the team isn’t playing well. There is a compelling argument to be made that removing Lamar Jackson from the Ravens would hurt them more than removing any other player from any other roster.

Counterpoint

Despite his performance last night, there are also fair reasons why Lamar should not be the frontrunner in the MVP race. The largest factor is the way this Ravens team is 4-1.

While they’ve had an impressive win over the Chiefs, their remaining wins have come against less than stellar competition in the Lions, Broncos, and now Colts. With the Chiefs struggling, the Ravens’ victory over them looks less impressive by the week. Excluding the Broncos game, every win the Ravens have was nail-biting until the final snap. And when you factor in the improbabilities of their victories- a fumble from a running back that hadn’t fumbled since college, a missed delay of game, a 66-yard field goal- these wins look less and less definitive. Realistically, the Ravens could be 1-4.

Winning close games against poor competition is not what MVP quarterbacks do. To win the award, you need statement wins against good teams. Lamar himself benefitted from this during his first MVP season; his wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and undefeated Patriots on Monday Night Football catapulted him from breakout star to unanimous MVP. Thus far this year, Lamar lacks such a statement win.

The second largest factor is the other Quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady is ageless, Justin Herbert has been spectacular, Josh Allen has regained his 2020 form, and Kyler Murray is playing playground football on the NFL. All four of those Quarterbacks’ teams can match or exceed the Ravens’ team record, but their wins have been more decisive and against arguably better competition. While the Ravens squeaked by the Chiefs, the Bills dominated them. It’s telling that all four teams are above the Ravens in the latest NFL power rankings according to ESPN. The Ravens are also the lowest-ranked 4-1 team in the NFL in that poll.

So…is Lamar MVP or isn’t he?

The short answer is “yes, but no.” The long answer is “he’s probably the most valuable player in the NFL, but the award factors in more than that. It factors in team success, who a team beats, how they beat them, and even things like how “new” the player is. Lamar benefitted from being the “new” superstar in 2019; now, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert get the same benefit against him. And right now, when factoring in all of the common criteria for MVP, the league will likely give it to Kyler Murray for his breakout campaign”.

However, the NFL season is long. Longer than ever, actually. There’s still a lot of time for the MVP race to become solidified. If Lamar continues this level of play, he’ll remain on the voters’ radar all season. Even if he doesn’t, one thing is perfectly clear; Lamar Jackson put the “M” in “MVP” last night.

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What’s Next For The Detroit Lions?

The 2021 NFL season is about a quarter of the way through its grind, but for Detroit Lions fans, it has already felt like an eternity. The team has lost their first five games of the season, and it doesn’t seem like there is much light at the end of the tunnel. No one had any delusions of grandeur for this football team. However, even the most pessimistic Lions fan has to admit that they hadn’t expected this. Saying the offense has performed poorly would be a monumental understatement, the defense is still disastrous, and the team has committed mistakes that even junior varsity coaches would yell and scream over.

Now that some time has passed and we have a clearer picture of how the team will perform, I’d like to look at what has gone wrong with the team, what are some areas of positivity, how the rest of Detroit’s schedule looks, and how the rest of the season could play out for them. I also want to look at the team’s draft prospects, and in which direction they could go in with their two first-round picks. Without further ado, let’s get started.

What’s Gone Wrong?

Detroit Lions QB <a rel=
Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland/MLive.com
Offense

The glaring issue with this Detroit Lions team has been the offense. Quarterback Jared Goff, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the offseason, currently leads the NFL in fumbles. Goff added to this lead with a fumble on Sunday against the Vikings. The turnovers have become such an issue that head coach Dan Campbell is considering trimming the playbook. “That’ll certainly be something that we look at, ‘cause it has — it’s killed us a couple weeks in a row,” Campbell said during an emotional press conference after the heartbreaking loss in Minnesota. “We’ll look at everything with it, but it hurts us.”

The turnover issues shouldn’t be entirely surprising. Over his final two seasons in LA, Goff led all quarterbacks in turnovers. And according to Pro Football Focus, Goff has made five turnover-worthy plays, which puts him in the top 10 for most turnover-worthy plays. And it doesn’t help that Goff is one of the most conservative signal-callers in the league. Only 2.3% of Goff’s throws last season were big-time throws according to PFF. A big-time throw is considered “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and into a tighter window.” Goff also ranks 37th this season in average depth of target (seven yards).

Goff’s receivers have been of little help, to be fair. He is in the top 15 for most drops with seven dropped balls, which puts him in the company of San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Washington’s Taylor Heinicke. He still falls just outside of the top 20 in adjusted completion percentage. To say that Goff has underperformed is a colossal understatement, even with a skeleton crew at wide receiver.

Defense/Luck

The problems aren’t all on offense, however. The defense was historically bad last season, and it has been a little better this year. The Detroit Lions have the 23rd worst rush defense and PFF has them dead last in pass coverage. Safety Will Harris grades as the worst safety in the NFL out of safeties who have started at least four games. Julian and Romeo Okwara lead the team in missed tackle percentage. Linebacker Alex Anzalone has the highest total of missed tackles with six. Anzalone has been targeted twelve times in coverage and has allowed a catch every single time. He gives up an average of 10.3 yards per reception and a total of 57 yards after the catch.

Injuries have also been a nuisance. Romeo Okwara and cornerback Jeff Okudah have been ruled out for the rest of the season with Achilles injuries. They placed wideout Tyrell Williams on IR a couple of weeks ago due to a concussion. Wideout Quintez Cephus suffered a shoulder injury against the Vikings and will likely miss a significant amount of time. Tackle Taylor Decker has been on IR all season, and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow joined him not too long ago with a toe injury.

For all of this, there’s likely an argument to be made that the Lions could sit at 3-2 right now. However, the team has been painfully inconsistent this season. Against the 49ers, Detroit only truly showed up in the final two minutes of the game. In Lambeau, the Lions put together an entire half but imploded down the stretch against Green Bay. The Detroit Lions were a bit more consistent against Baltimore but failed to close the door. They were never truly in the game against Chicago, and the team again showed up late against the Vikings on Sunday. The Detroit Lions arguably could have picked up three wins, but have yet to put together a full four quarters of winning football.

What’s Gone Right?

Detroit Lions' OT <a rel=
Photo Credit: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press

Not much has gone right in the Motor City but it also hasn’t been entirely poor. There have been a few bright spots. Top draft pick Penei Sewell, while having his share of struggles, hasn’t been entirely bad. He grades in the top 10 for pass and run blocking among rookie offensive linemen that have played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps this season. Cephus had taken some big strides before his injury Sunday and was coming off a near-100 yard performance against the Bears. Undrafted corner AJ Parker, while not excellent, has been decent in coverage throughout these first five weeks of the season. Parker’s only truly poor performance came on Week 3 against the Ravens. Rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill has also been a bit of a bright spot, especially against the Bears.

The best thing I could probably say about the Lions right now is that they are a well-coached football team. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn have made impressive play calls this season, which is something we didn’t see a ton from the Matt Patricia regime. And this is, in part, a reason why the Detroit Lions have been close to winning a few times this season. The problem is not the coaching, it’s the execution, especially on offense. A few times the Lions have gone for it on fourth and short, and had a man open, only for Goff to go elsewhere with the ball.

The Lions have also shown a ton of heart and haven’t backed down from anyone. Despite their offensive woes, the Lions have been aggressive, leading the league in most fourth-down attempts. They’ve also kept pushing even when the game was all but over. This is clear from their Week 1 loss to the 49ers, where Detroit trailed 41-17 with two minutes left, only to bring the game within one score on their last drive. We also saw this type of fight against Baltimore, Chicago, and Minnesota to varying degrees. This team doesn’t quit, and with the lack of depth on this team, that is quite admirable.

What’s Next?

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Cambell.
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Rest of the Season

The Lions have 12 games remaining in their season. Seven of these upcoming games are against teams who are over .500 on the season. This includes meetings with the Matthew Stafford-led Rams (4-1), the Bears (3-2), the Cardinals (5-0), and the Packers (4-1). Realistically, there are about two games remaining that I could see this Lions team winning. Those games being the Eagles (2-3) on Halloween and the Falcons (2-3) on the day after Christmas. Remember, I base this view on what I know right now, and that this could obviously change as the season progresses.

And I believe this team will improve. Whether this improvement comes from trimming the playbook offensively, getting guys back from injury, players on defense stepping up, or a combination of these factors, I believe the Lions will improve and steal a game or two that we don’t expect. In terms of performance, the best-case scenario for the Lions in my mind is a 4-13 finish. The worst case is a straight 0-17 outing, and a middle-of-the-road prediction is 2-15. For draft order, flip the worst and best-case scenarios. Speaking of the draft…

The Draft

The Lions, barring a truly unforeseen surge, will undoubtedly have a top draft pick this season. And they have several needs to address. They could use a quarterback, wide receiver, pass rushers, corners, etc. The most valuable position would be quarterback, but the issue is that there isn’t a true franchise signal-caller in this upcoming draft. At the very least, one hasn’t emerged. Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, UNC’s Sam Howell, and USC’s Kedon Slovis have taken steps back this year and have seen their draft stock fall.

On the other side of the coin, Nevada’s Carson Strong, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder have climbed up draft boards. At wideout, Ohio State offers a pair of intriguing options in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. And on the defensive side, we see possibly the best prospects in the draft in Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., and Texas A&amp;M’s DeMarvin Leal.

Obviously, things will change between now and draft night. This is a way, way too early to look at the draft and how things will play out. However, it is something the Lions should keep in mind as their already bleak playoff hopes die right before their eyes. As of now, the Lions would have a top-two pick in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars, should they pick ahead of the Lions, do not need a QB. This affords Detroit the pick of the lot as far as available quarterbacks.

If Detroit goes QB early, Corral and Ridder are the likeliest options. If they decide to go elsewhere, look for them to target an edge rusher or possibly a safety. With the first-rounder Detroit acquired from the Rams, Detroit could go with Strong or Liberty’s Malik Willis at QB. If they’ve already taken one, Detroit could use this pick to shore up their defense or get a playmaking wideout.

I hope you all enjoyed this look at the Detroit Lions so far, and I can’t wait to revisit this article down the road once the season has progressed even further.

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Featured Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Patriots Regress in Win Versus Texans

Watching the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Houston, it’d be easy to forget that this is the same squadron that took on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and almost won. In a narrow 25-22 victory against the Texans, the Pats looked uninspired. Early on in the game, rookie quarterback Davis Mills was able to walk all over the Patriots D. He had a surprisingly impressive performance, tossing for 312 yards and 3 TDs. Give him credit, he played well. The best a rookie ever has versus Bill Belichick. But I blame the Patriots defense for being so weak more than I think Mills did anything amazing. The Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo unit just looked lost through the entirety of the first three quarters. After getting an 18-play, 10-minute long touchdown drive dropped on them in the first quarter, they simply rolled over.

Offensively, their ailments weren’t exactly what you’d expect out of a team down 4 of their starting 5 offensive linemen. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was only sacked once. The things that costed them were ghosts that have haunted them all season; ball security. This game all went sideways for the Patriots when running back Damien Harris, whose health and job security are now in jeopardy, fumbled a touchdown in the endzone to allow the Texans to start to pull away ahead of halftime. And following a brutal Jakobi Meyers drop that cost the Patriots a score, instead of going into halftime tied at 15, they were down 15-9 following a Nick Folk field goal. Then opened the third quarter down 22-9.

Why It’s So Troubling

Patriots: Damien Harris' fumbling issues put his status as bell cow back in  question

This is a Houston Texans team headed by players who probably wouldn’t make it as an everyday starter on other teams in the league. Some of whom are familiar to the fans of New England. A Texans team that is without their superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson, and their serviceable backup Tyrod Taylor. Yet they still almost let a third-round pick steal the game away. While on the opposite side, their first-round pick struggled to get anything noteworthy going.

It’s been a bit slow out of the gate for Mac Jones. The coaching staff hasn’t quite given him the opportunity to shine as fans had hoped. His biggest highlight so far is completing 19 consecutive throws against Tampa. Most of which, were easy check-downs and just making simple reads. Which have their worth, but the lack of explosiveness is a deep concern. A concern that lies at the feet of Josh McDaniels and his play calling.

Looking Ahead

Texans vs. Patriots: Everything we know about the 25-22 heartbreaker

Defensively it’s almost double the concern. If Davis Mills is able to walk all over New England with a sub-average level of talent around him, just imagine what the Dallas Cowboys will be capable of. With Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and a solid offensive line? Let’s just say they should hope for a gigantic return to their week four form next weekend.

It doesn’t get much easier for the Patriots moving forward. Following the Cowboys, the Patriots get the Jets at home, the Panthers in Carolina for a Stephon Gilmore revenge game, the Chargers in Los Angeles, and then the Browns in Gillette. You have to wonder at 2-3 if the Patriots can run the gauntlet necessary to get into the playoffs. If this were a Tom Brady team? I wouldn’t be hitting the panic button just yet. But it’s not. And that red button looks really tempting right about now. Let’s see how this team handles themselves fully healthy before we panic though. There’s still plenty of football left to go.

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Plank or Plunder: Week 4

Lavonte David, handing out the game balls he secured. Photo: Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers escaped a blustery Foxboro with a victory, but the margin of victory was as wide as an NFL goalpost. The offense had a difficult time slinging the rock in the on-again-off-again rain. Tom Brady had arguably his worst night in a Tampa uniform; the infamous week 9 Saints game is the only other time Tom has failed to score a TD while wearing a Tampa uniform. In this week’s Plank or Plunder, none of the usual offensive stars make an appearance. Instead, it’s the much-maligned defense that earned the team a victory.

Plunder: Richard Sherman, CB

Photo: Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Richard Sherman stepping onto the field on Sunday after being signed off the street on Wednesday is a miracle. That simply doesn’t happen in the NFL. Sherman, the former Seahawk all-pro, led the team in solo tackles (7) and recovered a fumble in the victory. Sherman did not play all-pro football, but anyone who expected him to is out of their mind.

Antonio Brown struggled mightily in his week 9 debut against the Saints last year, and he ended up just fine. Yes, a DB’s role is more complicated than a WR’s, but Sherman’s debut showed that he is not misplaced on an NFL field. We can expect more from him as he learns more about this defense and his role within it.

Plank: The rest of the Bucs’ Cornerbacks

The only other unit in the NFL with as many key injuries as the Bucs’ Cornerback unit is the Raven’s Running Back squad. Bill Belichick, noted Sith Lord and devoid of all emotion, took no pity upon the Bucs while making his game plan. The Patriots played assignment football all night. WRs were in tight bunch formations, pick plays were plentiful, and every snap featured a WR in motion to confuse the new faces in the Bucs’ secondary. This forced confusion created an open man for Mac Jones on nearly every pass play. Jones dinked and dunked his way through progressions on his way to completing over 75% of his passes. New England only ran the ball eight times, and they exited the game with negative rushing yards. The Bucs’ depleted CBs will certainly continue to be the focal point of opposing offenses until the three injured starters at the position are healthy.

Plunder: Antoine Winfield Jr., FS

photo: Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher has already become a fan favorite. In just his second season, Antoine Winfield Jr. is developing into a star NFL safety. In week 4, Winfield Jr. logged 5 solo tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception.

Winfield Jr. is a playmaker at the safety position, but he is not a liability to overextend either. Winfield Jr. can man the single high role, he can fill run gaps, and he excels at rushing the passer. This allows Todd Bowles to deploy him anywhere on the field knowing he has an intelligent ballplayer in that role.

Plank: Devin White, MLB

photo: Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Now, before we continue, put down the pitchforks. Devin White is the centerpiece of this defense, and he might even be the best player on the whole team. This week we just think he left a little meat on the bone.

The coaching staff has acknowledged that if Devin wants to continue on his path to being a premier defensive threat he will have to improve in pass coverage. White dropped what looked like a sure-fire pick-six that would’ve sealed the game. While White did register two QB hits, he missed a Mac Jones after screaming through the A-gap by being ole’d like a prized bullfighter. This week is far from a referendum on White’s performance, but he missed an opportunity to close out this game. Fortunately, the Buccaneers have more than one skilled linebacker.

Plunder: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, OLB

phot: Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Speaking of skilled linebackers, find one Buccaneer player or coach with anything bad to say about Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The rookie out of Washington has flashed speed and flexibility off the edge ever since his preseason debut. In week 4, with JPP still absent due to a shoulder injury, Tryon-Shoyinka was once again a starting pass rusher. Unlike in the Rams game, where he was held in check, Tryon-Shoyinka burst onto the scene with two sacks. Tryon-Shoyinka is a threatening pass rusher, but he doesn’t turn his motor off on run plays, either. He can be found chasing runners from behind on the rare occasion an RB breaks through the Bucs. imposing defensive line.

The 32nd overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft is making NFL GMs look foolish for passing on him. All indications are that Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has the talent to become a star in the NFL. It will be interesting to monitor how many snaps he is given week by week as he continues to grow into his role.

Plank: OJ Howard, TE

photo: Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you’ve been so keen as to notice, I enjoy exclusively using the photos of established Buccaneers.com professional photographers Tori Richman and Kyle Zedaker. They do an excellent job capturing the emotion and physicality of the game, and they recognize which key players and plays merit being published to the website.

OJ Howard was afforded one single target for zero yards. Gronk was absent from the game from injuries sustained last week. This should have been the game where Howard was able to prove his value. There is no photo of OJ from tonight because he did nothing that merited having his photo taken. This is a contract year, and it looks like OJ will hit the open market.

Plunder: Lavonte David, MLB

photo: Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lavonte David had a relatively quiet night, at least compared to his standards. With only 7 total tackles and only one TFL, Lavonte struggled to make an impact during the game. Belichick correctly identified the piecemeal secondary as the Bucs’ coverage weakness, so the Patriots didn’t need to test Lavonte in coverage. But, on the Buccaneers’ final defensive snap, a big-time player made a big-time play in a big-time situation.

Bucs’ fans were screaming Lavonte’s praises into the clouds for nearly a decade. Finally, the league is putting some respek on his name.

I cannot stress enough how huge of a play this was. If this pass is completed, which was all but guaranteed, the Bucs may have never even got the ball back. Nick Folk’s 56-yarder with 50 seconds left could’ve been reduced to a chip shot as time expired. Lavonte wasn’t even in coverage on this play. He was rushing the passer and made a heads-up play to swat the ball when he saw Jones’ release. David didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he made the play the Bucs needed when they needed it most.

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Patriots Need an Easy Win Versus Texans

I can’t remember a time in the last twenty seasons where this sentence has ever been so true for the New England Patriots outside of last season; they desperately need a victory this week. Despite looking impressive last week in a 19-17 loss versus Tampa, the Patriots are still 1-3. They don’t have a win at home despite three of their first four being at Gillette Stadium.

Sure, you could say that if it wasn’t for a Damien Harris fumble and a batted Mac Jones‘ pass the Pats would be sitting at 3-1. But the NFL isn’t huge on hypotheticals. The fact of the matter is the Patriots have put themselves in quite the predicament. Since 1990, only 14.2 percent of teams that start out of the gate 1-3 even make it to the playoffs. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, because nothing is with Bill Belichick. But if there was ever a time for the Patriots to put it together, it’s now.

This week the Patriots take on the also 1-3 Houston Texans. Last year the Texans shredded the Patriots’ defense, with Deshaun Watson passing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Houston, Watson has been under a whole lot of controversy this off-season, and probably won’t play at all for them this season, or maybe ever again. So the Texans are rolling out fellow rookie quarterback Davis Mills from Stanford. The 2021 third-round selection hasn’t been quite as good as his adversary Mac Jones or other fellow rookie quarterbacks. Mills has passed for just 357 yards and two touchdowns for a completion percentage of 56.7 with five interceptions. Leading the Texans to 0-2 in his starts.

If Tyrod Taylor wasn’t injured, maybe this team poses a better threat, but for New England, this is as easy as it gets for a little while. The uphill climb starts now. So let’s not delay any further. Set it up Bailey, and let’s get this one underway.

Three Keys to The Game

Patriots vs. Rams Monday injury report: <a rel=

Key #1: Offensive Line Flexability

It’s been a really tough week for the Patriots’ offensive line. A unit that’s already struggling may be without their starting left guard and left tackle in Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn, who were put on the COVID-19 reserve list on Wednesday. The other starting lineman were out of practice this week as well. I don’t imagine this would be a situation where the Patriots’ offensive line would be made up entirely of backups, but the Pats could very well be reaching into the bag for some new combinations across the line. Mac Jones could be in for another tough game. Where’s Dante Scarnecchia when you need him? Look for Yodny Cajuste and Ted Karras as fill-ins if necessary, and another week of Yasir Durant/Justin Herron at right tackle if Trent Brown still isn’t back. Where’s Dante Scarnecchia when you need him?

Key #2: Confuse Davis Mills

Bill Belichick was able to improve his record against rookie quarterbacks two weeks ago against Zach Wilson and the Jets. A similar game plan should do against the significantly less dynamic Mills. Wilson ended up panicking and throwing four picks to the Pats’ defense. With linebacker Jamie Collins returning and the Boogeymen being in full swing, maybe Mills can be the next kid to see ghosts.

Key #3: Mac Jones Picks up Where He Left Off

I wrote at length earlier this week about how impressive Mac Jones was versus Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. He completed 31 of 40 pass attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He also tied Brady’s record for consecutive completed passes at 19 in a row! Jones already looks like a pro in a whole lot of respects. Impressing a lot of people in his young career. It’s vital that he picks up right where he left off, and the run game has his back this time. Unlike last week where the team posted a total of -1 yards on the ground. Maybe Belichick can let Rhamondre Stevenson out of the doghouse this week?

X-Factor: Chase Winovich

Patriots: These Chase Winovich stats prove he needs a featured role in 2021

Edge rusher Chase Winovich has never been a favorite of mine. Personally, I never saw his ability worth the hype he gets around here in New England, but I can admit this; he’s by far the Pats’ most intense pass rusher. The key to flustering a young quarterback is knocking him around and getting in his face. Winovich has the motor to do just that and can absolutely give Mills a true “welcome to the NFL, rookie” moment. His snap count this season hasn’t been great, not crossing 20 total at all through four games. Give him an easy assignment against an underwhelming pass protection and maybe he can also get out of the Belichick doghouse. I could see the former Michigan Wolverine having a big game if given the opportunity,

Closing Thoughts

Report: Patriots and <a rel=

The New England Patriots said farewell to 2019 Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore this week. On a turbulent Wednesday, Gilmore was shipped to the Carolina Panthers for a 2023 sixth-round selection. Unfortunately, contract negotiations just never got going and Gilmore just wasn’t going to return. This was the best move for both parties, it’s just extremely unfortunate that the best Belichick could get was a sixth-round pick. Either way, Gilmore leaves Foxboro a Super Bowl champion, and in an elite class of corners who have come through New England and played at their highest level. I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a red jacket waiting for him at Patriot Place in a decade from now. He’ll get a shot to stick it to his former team week nine when the Pats travel to Charlotte.

As for the game at hand, I’ve predicted the Patriots would win every game but last week versus Tampa. Where I thought they’d get smoked. The Pats have let me and a whole lot of other columnists down to start the season (like Bill Belichick even remotely cares). But I would like to think even with a shaky offensive line situation, the Pats can pull it off. They almost did versus the elite pass rush of Tampa Bay. I think it’ll be close. More close than it probably should be. But the Patriots will pick up a huge tune-up win before coming home to face a scary Dallas Cowboys team on the rebound.

Final Score27-23, Patriots win (2-3)

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The GOAT Disappoints in Return to Foxborough

Most Anticipated Game Ever?

Sunday night was a quintessential cold and rainy fall night in Foxborough. But the nippy weather didn’t matter to the sixty-six thousand fans packed into a full Gillette Stadium; they were there for something bigger.

For four gripping hours, the entire sporting world stood still in wonder of, perhaps the most hyped up regular season game of all time. In the midst of the dreamlike night, an emotional New England crowd, arms wide open, welcomed back the man who had for so long been the source of their happiness. The GOAT.

But boy did Antonio Brown disappoint.

Despite a respectable box score of 7 catches on 11 targets for 63 yards, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Brown jealed for a good portion of the game.

Brown’s Middling Performance

Brown saw most of his initial production come on quick hitters while matched up against Jon Jones, the New England Patriots’ primary nickel corner. Despite Jones playing most of his career snaps lined up in the slot, he tracked Brown around the field on Sunday night in a direct man-to-man matchup.

Nearly half of Brown’s yardage came on a single 27-yard deep throw late in the first quarter, during which a perfectly placed back shoulder allowed Brown to separate at the last second from Jones.

After a few more quick throws, Brown had a chance to shine in the red zone before the end of the half. However, he dropped two (admittedly poorly placed) back shoulder bullets that forced the offense to settle for field goals.

On a big third down early in the third quarter, Brown finally made a big play on a 44 yard catch… only for it to be called back due to a hands-to-the-face penalty on the left tackle.

Brown’s return to New England was a filled with missed opportunities. His inability to convert in big moments became most evident on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ last offensive drive.

After a miscommunication on deep throw on second down in the red zone, Brown had a chance to redeem himself. On third down, quarterback Tom Brady (fun fact, Brady used to play for the Patriots) threw a deep strike that surgically hit Brown in the worst place possible: his hands. Of course, Brown dropped the dime, ruining what could’ve been his signature moment in his return home.

Though this will go down in the stats sheets as a routine game for the receiver, there’s no doubt that New England fans will be talking about the disappointment of Brown’s mediocre return for years to come.

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Soared and Floored: NFL Week 4 Fantasy Recap

Welcome to PFP’s weekly studs and duds fantasy recap for the 2021 football season! Here we take a look at some of the standout performances, both and good and bad, from Thursday’s and Sunday’s contests. These are more instant reactions rather than in-depth analyses, with things to keep in mind as the season progresses. Let’s see who took to the skies and who bottomed out in Week 3! You can check out Week 3 here.

Players Who Soared

Credit: USA Today

Quarterbacks

Sam Darnold: 26/39, 301 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 2 INTs, 6 rushes, 35 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs

Darnold has turned into Ryan Tannehill 2.0, escaping the clutches of Adam Gase and blossoming into the above-average to great QB he was perceived to be coming out of USC. Darnold has three consecutive games with over 300 passing yards along with five total rushing TDs. Joe Brady’s offensive playcalling has opened up Darnold’s playmaking ability and allows him to command this surprisingly competitive Panthers team even without Christian McCaffrey. He will once again be in the QB1 conversation when they host the Eagles next week.

Matt Ryan: 25/42, 283 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, 1 rush, 17 rushing yards

The 36-year-old Falcons quarterback shows he hasn’t quite fallen off the cliff yet, but his consistency is still very suspect. He made a couple of nice throws this game, including a beauty to Cordarrelle Patterson (more below) in the end zone early on, but he still looked a little shaky at times. Ryan is very much a matchup-dependent streaming option this year, with an intriguing matchup against the New York Jets next week. The Jets don’t typically give up a lot to the QB because they get eviscerated on the ground, but the Falcons may have to beat them through the air without a very confident running game.

Daniel Jones: 28/40, 402 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 1 INT, 4 rush, 27 rushing yards

See Jason Garrett? This is what happens when you start opening up the playbook. The Giants’ offense looked much better tonight compared to the beginning of the season, and that includes Jones who took huge steps forward (literally) fixing his pocket awareness and mobility in the backfield. It led to a fantastically managed game with some mistakes that weren’t too costly (the INT was on a last-second hail mary to close out the first half). With Dallas, the Rams, and Carolina next on the schedule, he’ll need to prove that he can maintain this progress through some tough matchups, but this Saints defense was a great litmus test for him as a player.

Others of Note
  • Patrick Mahomes: 24/30, 278 passing yards, 5 pass TDs, 1 INT, 5 rushes, 26 rushing yards
  • Taylor Heinicke: 23/33, 290 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, 5 rushes, 43 rushing yards
  • Jalen Hurts: 32/48, 387 passing yards, 2 pass TDs, 8 rushes, 47 rushing yards
Credit: USA Today

Running Backs

Cordarrelle Patterson: 6 rushes, 34 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 82 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs

The 30-year-old “running back” has been the Falcons’ secret weapon through the first four weeks of the season. His run after the catch abilities from his kick returning days has made him a dangerous weapon out of the backfield as a very reliable check-down receiver for Ryan. He even showed some great body control on one TD catch in the endzone as well. He’s averaging 7 targets and 70+ receiving yards a game and has already matched his career-high in receiving TDs in four weeks. If he starts siphoning more work away from Mike Davis (13 for 14 rushing, 2 for 12 with 1 TD receiving) he could be this year’s league winner off waivers.

Saquon Barkley: 13 rushes, 52 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 5 receptions, 74 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

The stat sheet for Barkley today would seem very uninspiring if it was cut off after the third quarter. Thankfully for the Giants, he came alive when it mattered most. He torched Marshon Lattimore for a 54-yard score to keep the game close, and then plowed his way forward for the overtime winner from the 6-yard line. Barkley has been looking more and more healthy as the weeks go on, as evidenced by his increasing snap counts. Unfortunately, he is still showing the boom-or-bust tendencies that have plagued him since joining the league. The Giants will need to get better at blocking upfront, otherwise, Barkley’s owners will continue to see highs and lows from this freakish athlete as the season continues.

James Robinson: 18 rushes, 78 rushing yards, 2 rush TDs, 1 reception, -2 receiving yards

For the second week in a row, Robinson made sure to show new head coach Urban Meyer why he had so much promise in his breakout rookie season last year. With Carlos Hyde being a healthy scratch before the start of the game, this is a huge indicator that they’re looking to feature Robinson more. A 95% snap count in a game that was competitive throughout is another huge check in that box as well. Owners who stuck with him through the iffy first couple of weeks are about to be rewarded for remaining faithful.

Others of Note
Credit: USA Today

Wide Receivers

Tyreek Hill: 11 receptions, 186 receiving yards, 3 receving TDs

After a couple of disappointing weeks, it was refreshing to see Hill return to his absolute blowout form. He had no trouble at all blowing the top off of the suspect Eagles secondary, with scoring plays of 6, 12, and 44 yards. His floor isn’t the most secure compared to other high-end receivers, but his ceiling is unquestioned in the Andy Reid & Mahomes offense. He’s a must-start WR1 every week to avoid missing out on these week-winning performances.

DJ Moore: 8 receptions, 113 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

The former first-round pick continues to improve on the one thing that held him back in his first three seasons; finding the endzone. The targets and yardage are nothing new for Moore, but now with Darnold at the helm, the offense has opened up enough to allow Moore to thrive. The absence of McCaffrey doesn’t hurt either, but Moore’s TDs are coming from outside the red zone, meaning even when the star running back returns Moore’s value won’t diminish. He has a high WR2 floor every week until further notice.

Randall Cobb: 5 receptions, 69 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

Similar to Emmanuel Sanders last week, Cobb is a sneaky weekly start if you need a high-upside flex play. Cobb also has the distinction of having previously rapport with his current QB that Sanders doesn’t have. This is all today that you shouldn’t expect this every week from Cobb, who had more targets today than the first three weeks combined. look for him to be more of a sneaky DFS play in plus matchups instead of consistent WR2-like production.

Others of Note
Credit: NFL.com

Tight Ends

C.J. Uzomah: 5 receptions, 95 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

Uzomah showed out on Thursday night with a huge night for the dozens of fantasy players who were brave enough to start him. By doubling his season totals in targets and receptions in a single night, he now enters the dreaded “touchdown flier” tier of tight ends. This particular performance was most likely helped out by Tee Higgins missing his second straight game, so once the second-year wideout returns, Uzomah’s floor gets just a little bit lower and a little bit riskier.

Dawson Knox: 5 receptions, 37 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

Knox has scored for the third week in a row and has been targeted more often as the Bills’ offense starts to solidify. As the team continues to find the answer at running back he becomes a very reliable weapon in the red zone for one of the league’s best offenses. This type of upside is hard to ignore at the tight end position as Knox makes his case as an every-week start.

Mo Alie-Cox: 3 receptions, 42 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs

This massive human being playing tight end for the Colts has been a popular pick as a sleeper tight end for fantasy for a couple of years now. Unfortunately for Cox, Indianapolis is one of the many NFL teams that employ multiple TEs in their schemes, having to fight Jack Doyle (1 for 24 receiving) for snaps on a week-to-week basis. Unless Cox starts to show a consistent presence in the game plan, with or without Doyle in the lineup, he’s nothing more than a touchdown-dependent dart throw.

Others of Note
  • Maxx Williams: 5 receptions, 66 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Dalton Schultz: 6 receptions, 58 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Mike Gesicki: 5 receptions, 57 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
  • Noah Fant: 6 receptions, 46 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Players That Got Floored

Credit: Chicago Sun-Times

Quarterbacks

Justin Fields: 11/17, 209 passing yards, 1 INT, 3 rushes, 9 rushing yards

Despite the second stinker in a row against a much worse defense, this was a much better game for Fields. He was only sacked once while enjoying a relatively clean pocket for most of the game, was able to hit Darnell Mooney (5 for 125 receiving) and Allen Robinson (3 for 63 receiving) on some quality throws, and managed the game well while the Bears were in constant control of the game. They leaned on their running game in the red zone which also took away some scoring opportunities for the young QB. Although there’s a good chance Andy Dalton starts next week if healthy, it was a promising look for the rookie after the dreadful outing last week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 26/40, 232 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT

Roethlisberger is currently producing some of the saddest QB play I’ve ever seen. He looks clumsy in the pocket, has even less mobility than normal, and is constantly under fire behind a shoddy offensive line that forces lots of check-downs and forced passes just to get the ball out quickly. The fact that he hasn’t thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game this season is extremely concerning and has limited upside even in plus matchups as the season continues.

Baker Mayfield: 15/33, 155 passing yards, 2 rushes, 11 rushing yards

Mayfield is lucky that he shares a division with Big Ben, or his disappointing outings this season would be garnering much more attention. Mayfield was once again erratic at best, missing wide-open receivers all afternoon and being unable to capitalize on big-play opportunities. The Browns have had success this season despite Mayfield, leaning on their elite tandem of Nick Chubb (21 for 100 rushing, 1 for 5 receiving) and Kareem Hunt (14 for 69 and 1 TD rushing, 2 for 17 receiving) out of the backfield. Mayfield’s game-managing tendencies need to improve as they head to face high power offenses in the Chargers and Cardinals the next two weeks.

Others of Note
Miles Gaskin was floored in week 4.
Credit: DraftKings

Running Backs

Myles Gaskin: 2 rushes, 3 rushing yards

Gaskin completely disappeared this game, ceding meaningful touches to Salvon Ahmed (3 for 1 rushing, 2 for 12 receiving) and Malcolm Brown (8 for 23 rushing, 1 for 4 receiving). Even more confusing is his lack of usage in the receiving game, where most of his upside lies. He was a fantasy draft darling this year but has not come close to his pre-season potential so far. Avoid Gaskin at all costs against the vaunted Tampa Bay running defense next week.

Mark Ingram: 6 rushes, 24 rushing yards

After some promising week 1 usage, Ingram has predictively fallen in productivity the last couple of weeks. As the early-down back, the negative game scripts Houston commonly faces are incompatible with his usage. There aren’t too many matchups to look forward to where you can confidently play Ingram in anything more than a desperation flex role.

Chris Carson: 13 rushes, 30 rushing yards, 1 reception, 1 receiving yard

Unlike Ingram above, the limited usage of Carson is not something you could foresee. He’s been given fewer snaps as the weeks go on and doesn’t appear to be nursing any injuries. They may be trying to manage his workload due to his injury history, especially on a short week facing the Rams on Thursday. The continued use of Alex Collins (10 for 44 with 1 TD rushing, 2 for 34 receiving) in this offense caps Carson’s ceiling, something to monitor as the season continues.

Others of Note
  • Dalvin Cook: 9 rushes, 34 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 10 receiving yards
  • Miles Sanders: 7 rushes, 13 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 34 receiving yards
  • Tony Pollard: 10 rushes, 67 rushing yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster was floored by Ben Roethlisberger more than his competition on the other sideline.
Credit: DraftKings

Wide Receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster: 2 receptions, 11 receiving yards

Coming off a rib injury last week, no one was expecting a huge stat line from the young wideout. However, we expected to see a little more from Smith-Schuster with Chase Claypool out and Diontae Johnson presumably covered by Jaire Alexander. What we got is a player trending downwards in receptions and yards week over week, and a risky play in a haphazard offense moving forward.

CeeDee Lamb: 2 receptions, 13 receiving yards

This was a very disappointing day for Lamb, but not from lack of trying. He had the second-highest targets on a day where Dak Prescott only attempted 22 passes. The Cowboys took an early lead and never let go, relying on their running game to keep possession and limit Carolina’s opportunities. Expect more of a shootout against the emerging Giants offense next week.

Odell Beckham: 2 receptions, 27 receiving yards

Beckham was the true victim of Mayfield’s accuracy issues this week. Finally healthy and presented with a great opportunity to produce, Mayfield missed Beckham on what would have been a long touchdown late in the game. The star wideout is hamstrung in Cleveland’s run-first offense, making missed opportunities like this all the more painful.

Others of Note
Will Dissly was floored in week 4 against the 49ers.
Credit: Field Gulls

Tight Ends

Will Dissly: 2 receptions, 5 receiving yards

Another case of missed opportunity with Gerald Everett missing this game due to injury. Dissly just didn’t see the targets needed to produce in fantasy this week. For those well versed in streaming the tight end position, this outcome should not be a surprise. If Everett is healthy, Dissly will fade into the background once again without much interest soon.

Robert Tonyan: 2 receptions, 8 receiving yards

This game was a step in the right direction for the much-maligned Tonyan. He saw his highest target share of the season, and just missed a touchdown opportunity when Aaron Rodgers overthrew him. His usage in the offense is taking a turn for the better, so look for better weeks to come for the sleeper tight end pick during draft season.

Others of Note

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Mac Jones Outshined Tom Brady in Thriller

Wow. Who would’ve thought this is how the game would play out. Not that Tom Brady and the Buccaneers would edge out Mac Jones and the Patriots in Foxboro by a score of 19-17. They were a touchdown favorite heading into it. But that the Patriots would keep up as well as they did. For every punch the Buccaneers offense had to offer, Mac Jones and the Patriots delivered right back. Early on in the game, one could say the Pats had full control. Maybe it was the emotions getting the best of the 44-year old quarterback. By no means was it easy for even the GOAT to walk into Gillette Stadium with that atmosphere and be poised. If it were anybody else, odds are the jitters would’ve lasted the entire night.

Tom Brady left Sunday night with a solid, not great, statline. TB12 went 22/43 for 269 yards and no score, enough to break Drew Brees‘s passing yards record (thanks for the botched celebration, referees). He leaves Gillette Stadium once more victorious. A feeling Brady knows all too well and always tends to end up a beneficiary of a win. But we can’t ignore the rookie on the other sideline. Mac Jones put up an amazingly unpredictable night. McCorkle simply just matched whatever Brady threw at him, going 31/40 for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns (nice to see Jonnu Smith rebound for a score). If anybody wasn’t sold on Mac Jones heading into this game, they likely are now after a strong showing against a strong Bucs team.

Mac Jones Was Beyond Impressive

Sure, we can argue that Tampa’s defense wasn’t at full strength. It seemed like every corner they had would drop like flies at the hint of contact. By the end of the night, the newly signed Richard Sherman was the only starting corner out there. For a while, I thought the Bucs might ask the Patriots to borrow Troy Brown for some snaps at corner. So maybe this is a reactionary piece, but I’m willing to accept the backlash. Mac Jones outplayed Tom Brady in the biggest game of this young NFL season. That’s the take you’ll be seeing among NFL media and being discussed for the next week or so.

Jones showed up to play, looking unphased by all the pressure of the big game. After being hit 12 times and facing the blitz on almost half of his snaps, McCorkle performed his best. Specifically against the blitz, Jones was 15/19 for 156 and a touchdown. Patriots fans have no reason to complain about the quarterback. It’s been a long while since fans could say that their quarterback was better than the opponents. It is only a shocker because the opponent was a seven-time Super Bowl champion.

Moving Forward

Mac Jones outplays Tom Brady as Patriots fall to Buccaneers in instant  classic (5 up, 5 down) - masslive.com

As Tom Brady says a likely farewell to the Patriots and their fans, Mac Jones makes his name household in New England. It may have been a passing of the torch moment. But one thing is for certain; if Bill Belichick is impressed by anybody in this game, my pick is #10 in navy blue. The Patriots may fall to 1-3, but their next three matchups are against the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, and the division rival New York Jets. All seemingly winnable games. If I’m New England, I don’t see any reason to not be confident moving forward. After going toe to toe with the defending champs? Anything is possible with this team. As future hall of fame wide receiver, Julian Edelman would say; “You gotta believe!”

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