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Best, worst quarterbacks of Week 7 NFL 2018 by Total QBR


Any given Sunday … every quarterback has a shot to sit atop the Total QBR leaderboard. While QBs are most often judged by wins and losses or touchdowns and interceptions, we like to rank them every week by the stat that measures their per-play contribution to their team’s cause.

An explainer of QBR can be found here, but the main idea is to capture more elements of a quarterback’s play than traditional methods consider. QBR includes the value (or lack thereof) of quarterback rushing, sacks, fumbles, relevant penalties, and — crucially — the down and distance of every play. QBR works on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 roughly average and 75 about Pro Bowl-caliber play.

Each Tuesday in this space, we’ll highlight the best and worst QBR performances from the NFL weekend and break down what made each quarterback perform at either extreme.

Which quarterbacks were the best and worst of Week 7?


Top three

Total QBR: 94.9

The Bills are like the NFL’s apothecary; they’ll heal whatever hurts. An ailing record, an ailing shoulder, whatever it is. Just play the Bills and none of it is much of a problem anymore.

As has been the case much of this season, Luck stuck to throwing short this weekend. He only needed 23 pass attempts in this one, thanks to an early big lead. When the Colts find themselves down and need points fast, it will be a lot more difficult for them to accept Luck’s 7.1 air yards per attempt (27th most in the league) thus far this season. But against the Bills, that ended up being just fine, as he and his receivers found efficiency with those short completions. — Walder

Total QBR: 94.5

The Dolphins entered Week 7 as the third-best team in NFL Next Gen’s pass rush win rate. You’d think they would have success getting to Stafford. But against four pass-rushers or fewer, Stafford was just sacked once and didn’t throw a single incompletion. He was perfect, completion percentage-wise, against non-blitzes for the first time in his career.

When the Dolphins did blitz Stafford, he threw three incompletions, but all of them were on first downs, so his QBR in that situation hardly suffered. — Walder

Total QBR: 92.6

Brees had his most efficient game of the season, posting a season-high 92.6 Total QBR against the Ravens on Sunday despite a season-low 212 passing yards. It was his second 90-plus game of the season, as well as the first 90-plus Total QBR the Ravens have allowed since Dak Prescott‘s 92.9 Total QBR in Week 11 of 2016.

Brees’ totals might not be as astonishing as some of his other games, but Total QBR is a measure of efficiency, not total production. He also did a good job of avoiding negative plays. He was sacked only once and didn’t turn the ball over. Plus, his three rushing yards on four carries might not look like much in the box score, but one attempt was a kneel to end the game, two converted a fourth down and one was a third-and-1 conversion.

Brees also was excellent when throwing underneath, completing 16 of 21 attempts on those throws with a pair of TD passes. — Gargiulo

Just missed: Case Keenum, Denver Broncos (91.9); Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (87.8)


Bottom three

Total QBR: 1.9

Things started bad and then just got worse for Rosen. His first attempt of the game was picked off and returned for a touchdown. A few plays later, the rookie threw his second pick-six to put the Cards down 21-3 and effectively seal the game before the first quarter was out.

Rosen also was under siege, taking six sacks throughout the game and spending most of the game with a QBR below 1.0. He did rally to move north of that number late, however, with a 14-yard scramble on a third-and-10 and a short touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. But it was too little too late.

Rosen’s 1.9 is the second-worst Total QBR of the 2018 season, behind only Nathan Peterman‘s 0.8 in Week 1. — Gargiulo

Total QBR: 7.6

Darnold has flashed his potential at times this season and given Jets fans hope for the future. But he also has played like the rookie he is at times. Against the Vikings, he did both.

He started hot, connecting on 6 of 9 pass attempts with a touchdown in the first quarter. All nine of his passes in the quarter were on target too.

But by the end of the contest, the former University of Southern California QB had thrown three picks for his third multi-interception game of the season and posted a 26 percent off-target rate, the third highest among QBs in Week 7. — Walder

Total QBR: 10.0

It was another long afternoon for the 49ers’ offense and the second-year signal caller. Beathard was sacked seven times on Sunday, including four by Aaron Donald, and he threw a pair of interceptions.

San Francisco also was unable to get the deep ball while working in the face of all that pressure. Beathard completed only one pass of 15 or more yards downfield, and that didn’t come until the fourth quarter with the outcome of the game clearly decided.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Beathard did lead a nice scoring drive as the first half ended and converted a third-and-10 with his legs. Without those plays, Beathard would have been threatening for the worst QBR of the week. — Gargiulo

Just missed: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (17.2); Derek Anderson, Buffalo Bills (25.2)



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2018 NFL Week 7 takeaways – What we learned from every team and what it means for next week


The Bears came up just a little short against the Patriots, the Panthers came all the way back against the Eagles, and the Jaguars are suddenly in disarray.

All that and more in Week 7’s biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:
CIN-KC |TEN-LAC | NE-CHI | CAR-PHI | HOU-JAX | MIN-NYJ
BUF-IND | CLE-TB | DET-MIA | NO-BAL | LAR-SF
DAL-WSH | DEN-ARI


The Chiefs will be difficult to beat if their defense continues to play as well as it did against the Bengals. The Chiefs have played well at times defensively in all of their games except a recent one against New England, but it’s possible they turned a corner with a consistent defensive showing against Cincinnati. — Adam Teicher

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0:41

Andy Reid expresses his emotions on getting his 200th win, including playoffs, in the NFL and says “everybody is involved” in this milestone.

Where has the Bengals’ defense gone? The Bengals have given up at least 480 yards in three of the past four games, and they couldn’t stop the Chiefs’ offense all night. That doesn’t bode well, as the Buccaneers and Saints are coming to town soon. The Bengals clearly don’t match up well against speedier offenses, and that’s going to be a problem moving forward if they don’t generate turnovers. — Katherine Terrell


Don’t look now, but the Chargers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, riding a four-game win streak into their bye week after edging the Titans in London. The break comes at a good time for the Chargers, with Melvin Gordon nursing a hamstring injury and defensive end Joey Bosa potentially playing for the first time this season against the Seahawks in Week 9 after missing time with a bruised left foot. “Was it our best game all around? Probably not,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But the name of the game is to score one more point than the other team, and we did that.” — Eric D. Williams

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1:39

The NFL Countdown crew breaks down why the Chargers are showing signs of positive growth.

The Titans’ offensive struggles were showcased in their third consecutive loss. They’ll have plenty of time to figure out what went wrong as their bye week comes at an opportune time. “We’re gonna get back to work and we’re going to improve the stuff we didn’t do very well and get better,” coach Mike Vrabel said. Time off will allow the Titans to work on their ineffective red zone offense. Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will get a chance to showcase his revised scheme Week 9 against the Cowboys. — Turron Davenport


The Patriots wanted to prove they can win on the road after opening 0-2 away from home. They showed mental toughness in overcoming several sudden changes in a win over the Bears. At the same time, three turnovers continues an alarming trend, as Tom Brady called them “frustrating” and an area that has to be corrected heading into Monday night’s road game against the Bills. So while the Patriots were pleased to win, they felt this was far from their best effort. — Mike Reiss

For the Bears to beat a quality opponent like New England, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has to play better. Trubisky had some good moments on Sunday, particularly in the run game, but he missed the mark on 24 pass attempts and tossed a pair of interceptions. Even with Trubisky’s last-second Hail Mary completion to Kevin White, the Bears’ starting quarterback still had a passer rating of below 70.0. Not having Khalil Mack at full strength hurt, but the Bears need better accuracy from their quarterback to win big games. They look to get back in the win column next week against the Jets. — Jeff Dickerson


Coach Ron Rivera called this a “statement” win. Indeed, the Panthers not only overcame a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit, but also did it on the road where they were 0-2 this season. With two home games coming up against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, the Panthers, 3-0 at Bank of America Stadium, have a chance to keep pace with the Saints in the NFC South. — David Newton

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1:09

Cam Newton notes Carolina’s persistence as the team kept battling to overcome a 17-point deficit.

There’s no excuse for a fourth-quarter collapse against the Panthers that drops the Eagles to 3-4 and sets up an uphill climb. The defense shut Cam Newton out for three quarters — a first for a Newton-led team — but couldn’t hold late. There are major questions to be answered with their London game against the Jaguars on deck. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the game: “Basically told ’em that, ‘Hey, pressure’s off of us. Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything, and the pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun and just relax.’ Lot of football ahead, too.” — Tim McManus


The Texans won their fourth consecutive contest and gained sole possession of first place in the AFC South, playing their best and most complete game of the season. Houston did it with another stellar effort from its defense and an improved running game, two areas the team needs to continue to have success with on Thursday night against the Dolphins as quarterback Deshaun Watson plays through ribs and lung injuries. — Sarah Barshop

Things are falling apart for the Jaguars. Players were heard yelling at each other in the locker room, and at one point, Calais Campbell was restraining Yannick Ngakoue. Jalen Ramsey said there’s no secret to what’s going on: It’s a mess right now. Coach Doug Marrone said the starting QB job is up for grabs after benching Blake Bortles along with pretty much every other spot on offense heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia in London. — Mike DiRocco


Even after failing to capitalize on great field position created by the special teams unit throughout the game, the Vikings’ offense still hung 37 points on the Jets in their third straight win. As long as Minnesota has Adam Thielen, who recorded his seventh consecutive game of 100 yards receiving, it’s going to be difficult for teams to contain the Vikings’ explosive passing attack. Now the Vikings face their biggest test of the season next Sunday night when they host the Saints in rematch of last year’s “miracle” finish in the divisional playoffs. — Courtney Cronin

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1:08

Harrison Smith praises Adam Thielen’s performance so far this season, saying “now you see kind of all the fruits of his labor.”

Sam Darnold suffered his worst game in part because the Jets’ pedestrian receiving group — down Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Terrelle Pryor (released/injured) — was exposed by the Vikings. Now the front office must weigh the pros and cons of acquiring a receiver before the trade deadline. The Jets could be hurting Darnold’s development if they stand pat. — Rich Cimini


The Colts rushed for 220 yards in their 32-point victory over the Bills. Sunday was the first time since the 2011 season that the Colts rushed for at least 200 yards on the ground. Second-year running back Marlon Mack‘s 126 yards marked just the fourth time in Andrew Luck‘s career that he had a player rush for at least 100 yards in a game. “It just gives you a feeling of physical power,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. The Colts could extend their winning streak next week against struggling Oakland team. — Mike Wells

Three interceptions and a lost fumble by Derek Anderson made it clear Buffalo is doomed whatever direction it turns at quarterback. Whether it’s raw rookie moments from Josh Allen, disastrous interceptions from Nathan Peterman or the expected flaws Anderson showed Sunday less than two weeks after being signed, the Bills (2-5) have little choice but to accept their situation at the position. Their defense’s performance Sunday proved it was too soon to call the unit elite and too optimistic to expect that side of the ball to bail out a bottom-feeding offense this season, especially next week against the Patriots. — Mike Rodak


The Bucs turned the ball over four times, but defensively, they were able to pressure the quarterback and their secondary didn’t have the coverage breakdowns we’ve seen much of this season, simplifying things on the back end. Losing linebackers Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy played a role in allowing the Browns back into the game, but this is a step in the right direction for the Bucs, who play at Cincinnati next Sunday. — Jenna Laine

Another slow start, another struggle in overtime. Coach Hue Jackson said he will have to get more involved in the Browns’ offense. “I got to jump in headfirst, all hands, feet, everything, and go figure it out,” Jackson said after his team fell to 2-4-1. Jackson will take the plunge just in time for the Steelers and the possible return of Le’Veon Bell next week. — Pat McManamon


It was the Lions’ best day running the ball since the Barry Sanders era, and that says something for their future. After gaining 248 rushing yards — Detroit’s best since Sanders had 216 yards against Indianapolis in 1997 — in a road win to get back to .500, the Lions appear to have a more diversified offense than at any time during Matthew Stafford‘s career. And that can make Detroit dangerous with a critical portion of its schedule upcoming with a home game against Seattle followed by road trips to Minnesota and Chicago. — Michael Rothstein

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0:24

Kerryon Johnson breaks through and takes off for a 71-yard run to set up a field goal for Detroit.

The Dolphins’ wide receiver room is getting extremely light after injuries to Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, the Dolphins’ two most productive receivers this season. To make matters stickier, DeVante Parker‘s agent called Adam Gase “incompetent” after his client was inactive once again. That situation seems volatile, but the Dolphins have to turn around and travel to Houston on Thursday with injuries that may force their hand into different personnel in another week of Brock Osweiler. — Cameron Wolfe


The Saints (5-1) won their most important game of the season to date, coming back from a 10-point deficit at Baltimore against the NFL’s No. 1 defense. As coach Sean Payton and his players preached Sunday, these are the types of games that build a team’s character. Mark Ingram II said they proved they are “road warriors.” The tests don’t stop, though. They’re at Minnesota next week, then they host the undefeated Rams. — Mike Triplett

The Ravens need to prove consistency before they can be stamped as a playoff contender. Baltimore has a bad habit of following up big wins with disappointing losses. Earlier this season, the Ravens lost at Cleveland after beating Pittsburgh. On Sunday, Baltimore fell to New Orleans after shutting out Tennessee on the road. Now, the Ravens will have to rebound at Carolina, where the Panthers have won eight in a row. There have been too many close losses over the past two years in September and October, costing the Ravens playoff trips. — Jamison Hensley


Aaron Donald sacked C.J. Beathard four times as the Rams put together their most dominant defensive effort and improved to 7-0. The defense forced a season-high four turnovers as Donald, Cory Littleton, Troy Hill and John Johnson III all had takeaways. “We are on a roll,” Johnson said. It’s perfect timing, as Rams prepare to host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. — Lindsey Thiry

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0:33

After a 4-turnover performance against the 49ers, Sean McVay tips his hat to the defense and looks forward to next week’s test against the Packers.

Even without Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have found themselves in the position to win games over the past few weeks, coming away with something to build on even if they didn’t win. But Sunday’s blowout loss to the Rams was an example of what happens when you pair an uber-talented opponent with the 49ers’ continued mistakes. The Niners are now a league-worst minus-15 in turnover margin, something no team can overcome. Even with “winnable” games coming against the Cardinals, Raiders and Giants, the Niners won’t return to the winner’s circle until they can forge some sort of turnover turnaround. — Nick Wagoner


The Redskins have found a formula that works, and it’s one they haven’t had for a while: strong defense and a run game. It’s why they’re 4-2, and it’s why they’re optimistic that they can continue to contend in the NFC East. Adrian Peterson has provided an attitude for the offense, while young linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have done so for the defense. They will need quarterback Alex Smith to play better if they want to be serious contenders, but for now their formula is working. — John Keim

The Cowboys enter the bye week at 3-4 in second place in the NFC East after a game-tying field goal attempt hit the upright on the final play. This team is searching for confidence, especially away from home. “You want to come up here and win this ballgame and do everything you can to scratch and claw and find a way to come out on top but unfortunately that did not happen,” coach Jason Garrett said. The Cowboys have five games remaining at AT&T Stadium, but their season could be decided with back-to-back road games against Philadelphia and Atlanta on Nov. 11 and 18. — Todd Archer

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0:51

Brett Maher misses a 52-yard field goal with a chance for the Cowboys to tie the game, giving the Redskins a 20-17 victory.


Broncos coach Vance Joseph said the team’s defense “got back to what we do best” on Thursday night, when the Broncos finished with six sacks, three interceptions — they returned two for touchdowns — and the kind of effort they’ve been waiting to see for four quarters. When cornerback Bradley Roby plays with discipline in coverage, the Broncos are better equipped to play man on the outside and rush five or more defenders. The Broncos were at their best defensively against the Cardinals, but will it continue next week against the high-powered Chiefs? — Jeff Legwold

The Cardinals came pretty close to rock bottom in this one. It was a bad enough offensive performance to get offensive coordinator Mike McCoy fired on Friday morning, and it’ll be up to quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, who replaced McCoy, to right a ship that’s severely off course. When Arizona gets back to work Monday, it’ll be a new dawn for Josh Rosen, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. — Josh Weinfuss



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Week 7 NFL betting nuggets to know for every game


Last week’s trends came through, with the Pittsburgh Steelers winning outright as an underdog in Cincinnati.

This week, the trends point to a couple of home underdogs — the Chicago Bears and New York Jets — continuing their success in this spot. The trends also call for a Dallas Cowboys upset win in Washington.

Here are the rest of the trends that should help you in betting the NFL this weekend.

All lines are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.


Tennessee Titans vs. Los Angeles Chargers (-7, 45.5) — 9:30 a.m. ET (London)

  • The Titans are 4-1 ATS with three outright wins in their past five games as an underdog of more than a field goal.

  • The Chargers are 6-16-1 ATS in their past 23 games as a favorite of more than a field goal.

New England Patriots (-3, 49) at Chicago Bears — 1 p.m. ET

  • The Bears are 8-2-1 ATS with five outright wins in their past 11 games as a home underdog.

  • The Bears are 4-1 ATS and 4-1 SU in their past five games against AFC teams.

  • The under is 15-5 in the Patriots’ past 20 road games.

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5, 50) — 1 p.m. ET

  • Jameis Winston is 3-9 ATS with seven outright losses in 12 career starts as a favorite.

  • The Browns are 4-1 ATS in their past five games as an underdog.

  • The over is 6-0 in the Buccaneers’ past six games.

Detroit Lions (-3, 46.5) at Miami Dolphins — 1 p.m. ET

  • The over is 12-3 in the Dolphins’ past 15 home games played in Miami.

  • The Dolphins are 7-3-1 ATS with seven outright wins in their past 11 games as a home underdog in Miami.

Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5, 45) — 1 p.m. ET

Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts (-7.5, 42.5) — 1 p.m. ET

  • This will mark the first time the Colts are favored by at least 7 points since 2014. Andrew Luck is 6-2 ATS in eight career starts when favored by at least a touchdown, including five straight covers.

Minnesota Vikings (-3.5, 46) at New York Jets — 1 p.m. ET

  • The Jets are 8-1-1 ATS with six outright wins in their past 10 games as a home underdog.

  • Kirk Cousins is 0-3 ATS with two outright losses and a tie in his three starts as a road favorite over the past two seasons.

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5, 41.5) — 1 p.m. ET

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5, 49.5) — 4:05 p.m. ET

  • The Ravens are 3-0-1 ATS and 4-0 SU in their past four home games as a favorite of 3 points or less. Baltimore has an average margin of victory of 18.3 PPG in those four wins.

  • The over is 7-2 ATS in the Saints’ past nine games as an underdog.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (-1.5, 41.5) — 4:25 p.m. ET

  • The Cowboys are 12-3 ATS with 11 outright wins in their past 15 games as an underdog against the Redskins.

  • The underdog is 12-4 ATS in the past 16 meetings between these NFC East rivals.

  • Dak Prescott is 3-1 ATS and 4-0 SU in four career starts against the Redskins.

  • The over is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings between these rivals.

Los Angeles Rams (-9.5, 52) at San Francisco 49ers — 4:25 p.m. ET

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5, 58.5) — 8:20 p.m. ET

  • Over the past 30 seasons, there have been 13 games that closed with an over/under of at least 58. The over is 9-3-1 in those 13 games.

  • The Bengals are 7-2 ATS with five outright wins in their past nine games as an underdog.

New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons (-4, 54) — 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday)

  • The over is 16-6 in the Falcons’ past 22 home games, including 4-0 this season.

  • The over is 9-2 in the 11 games with an over/under above 52 this season.



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2019 NFL draft order projections


Six weeks into the NFL season, teams are beginning to break away from the pack — for the playoff race, and for the 2019 NFL draft. The 49ers, Cardinals, Colts, Giants and Raiders are all clumped together at 1-5 and headed for lost seasons. If we went by tiebreakers to determine which team would have the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft right now, it’d go to the 49ers.

But we don’t want to know the order right now. We want to know what the order would look like at the end of the season. That’s why we use ESPN’s Football Power Index, a prediction system that leverages expected points added per play and other factors, to project how every team will finish the season.

FPI projects Arizona to have the NFL’s worst record, giving the Cardinals a 33.7 percent chance to get the No. 1 overall pick. Here are FPI’s projections for the top 10 picks, using average projected draft position, with offseason needs from each from our NFL Nation writers:


Chances for No. 1 pick: 33.7 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 96.8 percent

Top offseason needs: WR, OL, CB

At some point, Larry Fitzgerald will hang up his cleats and the clock for his Hall of Fame induction will begin. But the Cardinals can’t wait for that to happen to address the void the 35-year-old will leave, even if it’s not with an early draft pick. With left tackle D.J. Humphries heading into his option season in 2019 and right tackle Andre Smith plagued by injuries, the Cardinals could strengthen the position. Another priority is finding a cornerback who could complement perennial Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson and give the Cardinals one of the NFL’s best secondaries. — Josh Weinfuss

Chances for No. 1 pick: 20.7 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 92.2 percent

Top offseason needs: DE, DB, QB

The irony was as thick as the late Al Davis’ Brooklyn accent when Jon Gruden said earlier this season that elite pass-rushers were hard to find — after he traded away Khalil Mack. Same with Gruden saying he liked Derwin James, but Oakland had already used top picks on safeties the previous two seasons. And what if Derek Carr simply cannot survive, let alone thrive, in Gruden’s system? Yeah, we’re going full scorched Earth here, but drastic times call for drastic measures, with pass rush being the priority. Might the Nov. 1 game at the 49ers actually be an early preview of the Nick Bosa Bowl? The former Ohio State pass-rusher is No. 1 on both early draft boards of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. — Paul Gutierrez

Chances for No. 1 pick: 7.7 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 84.8 percent

Top offseason needs: WR, LB, CB

The good news for the Browns is that this is the first time this century they won’t have to worry about drafting a quarterback. That’s assuming Baker Mayfield keeps progressing. What they need is to give Mayfield more talented pass-catchers. Defensively, the linebacker position could use reinforcements and depth. Jamie Collins Sr.’s up-and-down play remains a concern, and Cleveland could easily free itself from his contract if it releases him this offseason. As for cornerback, adding another premier corner to go with Denzel Ward, whose three interceptions are tied for the league lead, would be a major boost. — Pat McManamon

Chances for No. 1 pick: 11.4 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 82.4 percent

Top offseason needs: QB, Edge, OT

The Giants’ needs begin and end at quarterback. If they don’t find a solution to that position, all their young, talented playmakers — including Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley — will go to waste. Eli Manning has thrown only six touchdown passes in six games this season, and it would seem to be a longshot that fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta is the answer. They can’t possibly pass on quarterback if they’re in the top 10 again after taking Barkley at No. 2 this year over Sam Darnold and other strong options. But that’s not it. The Giants need help at premier positions such as edge rusher and offensive line, specifically right tackle. Nobody would argue they could use an infusion of talent at either of those spots, with New York tied for last in the NFL with seven sacks, and right tackle Chad Wheeler with the worst pass block win rate (54 percent) among offensive tackles with at least 100 pass blocks this season. — Jordan Raanan

Chances for No. 1 pick: 10.4 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 82.0 percent

Top offseason needs: DE, WR, CB

The 49ers’ edge rush has been almost nonexistent in recent years as they haven’t had a player exceed 6.5 sacks since 2013 or reach double digits since 2012. San Francisco is in desperate need of a dominant “LEO” defensive end to complement tackle DeForest Buckner. At wideout, Pierre Garcon is under contract for 2019, but his $8.4 million cap number for next season might be untenable, and the Niners could move on. Either way, the offense could still use a reliable top target for Jimmy Garoppolo. Richard Sherman has been a strong addition at corner, but the Niners haven’t gotten the step forward they had hoped from Ahkello Witherspoon, and Jimmie Ward continues to struggle with injuries and is a free agent in 2019. The 49ers could use a starting-caliber corner to pair with Sherman and potentially replace him some day at the team’s No. 1. — Nick Wagoner

Chances for No. 1 pick: 3.2 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 64.7 percent

Top offseason needs: CB, QB, OT

This is going to depend on how quarterback Case Keenum finishes the season. The Broncos gave him a prove-it two-year deal when he signed in March, and they were also scouting the top quarterbacks in the 2018 draft. They didn’t elect to pick one, but general manager John Elway and three other members of the team’s personnel staff have already scouted potential Class of 2019 quarterbacks in the Oregon-Washington game this month. If Keenum can help the Broncos snap out of the current doldrums, they might be inclined to have him start next season and mentor a young quarterback. The Broncos’ other two most immediate needs are at cornerback, where the talent level has dropped off from previous years, and offensive tackle, where the play has been shaky the past two seasons. — Jeff Legwold

Chances for No. 1 pick: 2.5 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 62.4 percent

Top offseason needs: WR, CB, OL

Bills wide receivers have averaged 78 receiving yards per game this season, the second-worst mark of any NFL team since at least 2001. With Kelvin Benjamin in the final year of his contract and doing little to justify an extension, the Bills could use as many as three new wide receivers in 2019. Their cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White has also been a revolving door this season between Phillip Gaines, Ryan Lewis and briefly Vontae Davis. The offensive line, which has contributed to a league-worst sack-per-drop back rate of 11.2 percent, could also use upgrades at every position except left tackle. — Mike Rodak

Chances for No. 1 pick: 3.9 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 62.3 percent

Top offseason needs: WR, DE, CB

The Colts shied away last offseason from addressing a No. 2 receiver to play alongside T.Y. Hilton. They’ve realized what it’s like to not have a threat without Hilton (hamstring) the past two games. The Colts have 13 drops over the past three games. They have managed to get by without a legitimate pass-rushing threat so far this season — their 19 sacks are tied for third most in the league — but they don’t have a player who causes opposing quarterbacks to look for them at the line of scrimmage. And just like with receiver, the Colts shied away from dealing with cornerback after Rashaan Melvin signed with Oakland last spring. They lack a clear-cut No. 1 cornerback on the roster. — Mike Wells

Chances for No. 1 pick: 2.0 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 52.5 percent

Top offseason needs: Edge, DT, TE

Ezekiel Ansah‘s pending free agency (and continued injury issues) make finding a quality edge rusher paramount. It was also a need last year … and the year before that, too. If Ansah departs, however, Detroit has no established edge rushers, with linebacker Devon Kennard the only player under contract for 2019 showing promise. The Lions’ run defense issues scream needing an addition on the interior of the defensive line as well. If the Lions can find an interior pass-rusher in the draft who is good against the run, it could solve two issues with one prospect. But with the Lions’ skill positions in good shape on offense, and a bunch already invested in the offensive line, focusing on the defense is something Detroit must do no matter where it picks in Round 1. — Michael Rothstein

Chances for No. 1 pick: 1.1 percent
Chances for top-10 pick: 45.1 percent

Top offseason needs: Edge, OL, WR

The Jets have been looking for a premier edge rusher for more than a decade; a pass-rushing outside linebacker is the major weakness in their 3-4 front. After failing in their bid to trade for Khalil Mack, it now becomes their No. 1 priority this offseason. They will need a left guard to replace James Carpenter, free agent after the season, and their receiving corps might need an overhaul, with Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor set to hit free agency. — Rich Cimini



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Week 7 NFL score predictions – Guide to best games, fantasy outlook, more


We’re previewing the Week 7 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what to watch for in fantasy, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information and much more.

Thursday Night Football result: DEN 45, ARI 10
Teams with byes in Week 7: GB, OAK, PIT, SEA

Jump to a matchup:
TEN-LAC | NE-CHI | CAR-PHI | HOU-JAX | MIN-NYJ
BUF-IND | CLE-TB | DET-MIA | NO-BAL | LAR-SF
DAL-WSH | CIN-KC | NYG-ATL


SUNDAY’S GAMES

Point spread: LAC -6.5 | Matchup quality: 55.9 (of 100)

Turron Davenport’s pick: The Chargers’ offense is too explosive in both the running and passing game. The balanced attack is averaging 412.5 yards per game. Philip Rivers will take shots at Malcolm Butler, leading to at least one explosive play. After not scoring a touchdown in two consecutive weeks, Marcus Mariota will have a bounce-back game, but it won’t be enough to end their losing skid. Chargers 27, Titans 24

Eric D. Williams’ pick: The Bolts are playing better on defense and facing a Tennessee offensive line that allowed 11 sacks of Mariota in a loss to the Ravens last week. However, the Titans have been stingy on defense, giving up just 17.8 points per game, so this one likely will be a low-scoring affair. The Chargers have won nine of their past 10 games against Tennessee. Chargers 24, Titans 17

FPI win projection: LAC, 71.9 percent. Mariota’s 11 sacks last week pushed him to a 14.5 Total QBR, his lowest in a game in more than two years. This week’s opponent won’t be much easier, as the Chargers are allowing a 48.3 Total QBR in 2018, third lowest in the league.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Chargers D/ST could extend its double-digit point scoring streak to three games, and that makes them one of the best streamer D/ST options in Week 7. Read more.

In case you missed it: Rivers’ focus on accuracy resulting in career seasonIs Mariota to blame for Titans’ woes? It’s complicatedChargers figuring out how to get pass rush without Bosa


Point spread: NE -2.5 | Matchup quality: 72.4 (of 100)

Mike Reiss’ pick: This is a good spot for the Bears to possibly pull the upset, with the Patriots coming off an emotional Sunday night victory, but two things have me sticking with the Patriots: Khalil Mack isn’t 100 percent with a right ankle injury; and the Tom Brady-led offense has scored 38, 38 and 43 points in its past three games and has even left points on the field. The New England defense will tighten up against the big play for the team to get its first road win of the season. Patriots 27, Bears 20

Jeff Dickerson’s pick: The Bears are catching the Patriots at the wrong time. Mack’s ankle injury, while not believed to be serious, is likely to limit his effectiveness versus Brady and the New England offense on Sunday. The Bears probably will put up a good fight, but in the end, New England’s firepower on offense will be too much for Chicago to overcome. Patriots 27, Bears 21

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson see the Patriots taking out the Bears in Chicago after a huge Week 6 walk-off win vs. the Chiefs.

FPI win projection: CHI, 50.8 percent. The Bears are slight favorites at home, one of just two remaining games in which the Patriots are an underdog, according to FPI (Week 15 at PIT). Brady is 4-0 against the Bears in his career, but he faces a defense ranked second in defensive efficiency and first in takeaways per game (2.8) and points off turnovers per game (8.8) this season.

What to watch for in fantasy: Taylor Gabriel is arguably the most underrated asset in fantasy. Available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, he should be scooped up and considered a fringe WR3 option against New England. Read more.

In case you missed it: Gordon elevates near top of Patriots’ WR depth chartTrubisky looks forward to first meeting with BradyBrady to Gronk: A connection at its best in crunch time


Point spread: PHI -5 | Matchup quality: 58.8 (of 100)

David Newton’s pick: Philadelphia’s secondary is banged up, but the Panthers haven’t taken advantage of any secondary with deep passes. They have just two receptions for 20-plus yards, a league low. The Eagles are second against the run defensively, so look for them to put pressure on Cam Newton to beat the Panthers. Newton threw three interceptions in a loss to the Eagles last year, and that was at home. This one is on the road, and Philadelphia is coming off arguably its best game yet. Eagles 24, Panthers 17

Tim McManus’ pick: The Eagles own the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL (79.8 yards per game), which will come in handy against a Carolina squad that averages five yards per carry. Carson Wentz is looking like his old self, and the swagger is back on offense. It should be a good day at the office for the Eagles, who have won 13 of their past 15 home games. Eagles 30, Panthers 24

FPI win projection: PHI, 69.8 percent. The Panthers enter the week with a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FPI. A win would propel their chances to 51 percent, while a loss would drop them down to 29 percent. That’s the biggest potential swing for any NFC South team in Week 7.

What to watch for in fantasy: Greg Olsen will probably see at least five targets, but the Eagles’ defense has given tight ends a lot of trouble this season. Read more.

In case you missed it: Gronk? Kelce? Right now, NFL’s top tight end may be Ertz ... Panthers, Eagles still searching for identity in inconsistent NFCEagles borrow another Patriots play — and convert it into another TDPanthers need Moore to bounce back from two costly fumbles


Point spread: JAX -5 | Matchup quality: 45.6 (of 100)

Sarah Barshop’s pick: How each quarterback is able to hold up against the opposing pass rush will likely be the story of the game. Deshaun Watson has been under pressure on 41.5 percent of his dropbacks this season, which is the second-highest rate behind Tyrod Taylor, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Jaguars lead the league with a 35.3 percent pressure rate, which will lead to a long day for Watson and the Texans’ offense. Jaguars 17, Texans 14

Mike DiRocco’s pick: The Jaguars swept the Texans last season and outscored them 74-14, but Watson only played the second half of the first game and none of the second game. The Jaguars’ defense over the past two weeks has given up 63 points, 802 yards and 49 first downs. One of the constants in those losses? Mobile quarterbacks really hurt the Jaguars when they got outside the pocket. Watson has that ability too. With the severe limitations on offense and the uncertainty of which Blake Bortles is going to show up, the Texans might only need 14 points to win. Texans 17, Jaguars 6

FPI win projection: JAX, 60.7 percent. This game has the biggest swing in terms of chances to make the playoffs and win the division of any game in Week 7. The Texans would have a 63 percent chance to win the division with a win and a 30 percent chance with a loss. The Jaguars would have a 43 percent chance to win the division with a victory and a 13-percent chance in defeat, according to FPI.

What to watch for in fantasy: It might be unfair to call Watson’s stock “falling” if he struggles again in Jacksonville, but that is what would happen. Read more.

In case you missed it: Defensive star power defines Jacksonville-Houston matchupAfter 0-3 start, Texans now ‘back to where we want to be’Jaguars’ problems go far beyond injuries and Bortles


Point spread: MIN -3.5 | Matchup quality: 40.5 (of 100)

Courtney Cronin’s pick: Like the Jets, the Vikings feel pretty good after winning their past two games, but it’s still too early to determine whether everything’s back on track. Minnesota might struggle against the run if Linval Joseph isn’t healthy enough to play; and offensively, Kirk Cousins has to be extra cognizant of ball security against a defense that thrives off creating turnovers. Cousins can beat the Jets’ pressure by relying on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and that might be easier to do, given the injuries in New York’s secondary. Vikings 27, Jets 19

Rich Cimini’s pick: The Jets are confident after two straight wins, but confidence can’t cover Thielen. Without Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine, rookie Parry Nickerson will draw Thielen in the slot. Thielen could go for 200 yards against the Jets’ beat-up secondary. Offensively, the Jets will struggle because the Vikings play excellent situational football, as Minnesota is No. 1 in third-down defense and No. 2 in the red zone. Vikings 28, Jets 17

FPI win projection: MIN, 55.5 percent. At 67.1, the Jets are a top-five team in terms of defensive efficiency, according to FPI, and that number increases to 77.3 in home games. Intriguingly, Cousins has performed better away from home this season, posting a 83.1 Total QBR in road games compared with 43.8 at home.

What to watch for in fantasy: Thielen aligns in the slot 60 percent of the time, and he’s a terrific bet to continue his outstanding early-season success this weekend. Read more.

In case you missed it: Cousins proving to be ‘real deal’ as new leader of VikingsHow the Cousins rejection changed everything for the JetsCousins, Thielen emerge as NFL’s top QB-WR duo

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson explain their picks for the Week 7 matchup between the Jets and Vikings.


Point spread: IND -7.5 | Matchup quality: 32.7 (of 100)

Mike Rodak’s pick: This game has the potential to be sloppy between two teams that rank in the top six in turnovers lost and in the top nine in turnovers forced. It seems reasonable to lean in the direction of Andrew Luck over Derek Anderson and in favor of the home team. But one bounce the Bills’ way could change the outcome. Colts 17, Bills 14

Mike Wells’ pick: The Colts are off to their worst start since the 2011 season. The only positive outside of Luck’s play this season is that they could have receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) back for the first time since Week 4. Hilton’s return will help a group that has 13 drops in the past three games. Scoring will be tough, as Buffalo is ranked 10th in total defense. Colts 17, Bills 10

FPI win projection: IND, 79.5 percent. The Colts are the biggest favorite of the week, according to FPI, but they might not put up points on offense the way they have over the past few weeks. Luck’s three-game streak of 300-plus yards and three touchdown passes could come to an end, as the Bills’ under-the-radar defense ranks fourth in defensive efficiency.

What to watch for in fantasy: LeSean McCoy has had 45 touches over the past two weeks, a big bump from the 29 touches he saw in his first three games combined. The Colts are allowing the fourth-most RB completions per game (6.83), so his floor could be elevated this week. Read more.

In case you missed it: Colts’ alarming rate of drops is past the point of being a ‘fluke’Bills to start QB Anderson against Colts


Point spread: TB -3.5 | Matchup quality: 32.3 (of 100)

Pat McManamon’s pick: The Browns’ defense has given up 45, 9 and 38 points over the past three games, with two losses. It now gets to face the NFL’s top passing offense without two of its top-three corners. The Browns have to find big plays and points to win this game. The offense did that in Oakland, and it will do it again against a weak defense. Browns 34, Buccaneers 31

Jenna Laine’s pick: After dropping three straight games and firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith, this game is must-win for Tampa Bay. It’ll be facing an offense that is averaging a little over 21 points a game, but it could possibly be without Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry, which would be significant. If Jameis Winston can manage to have production somewhat near last week’s four touchdowns and eliminate the turnovers, I like the Bucs’ chances here. Buccaneers 30, Browns 21

FPI win projection: TB, 74.1 percent. Will this game be Baker Mayfield‘s breakout? The Buccaneers are last in defensive efficiency, according to FPI, and have allowed an 80.2 Total QBR. There’s a long way to go, but the highest Total QBR allowed in a full season in our dataset (since 2006) is 66.1 by the 2009 Giants.

What to watch for in fantasy: Things seem to be aligned nicely enough for Mayfield to have a chance at a top-10 week. Read more.

In case you missed it: How the Browns’ wide receiver plans fell apartMayfield’s next challenge: Rebounding from worst loss everDuffner brings passion to Bucs’ defensive coordinator role

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson explain their game picks for the Week 7 matchup between the Browns and Buccaneers.


Point spread: DET -3 | Matchup quality: 20.2 (of 100)

Michael Rothstein’s pick: Miami might be good at home, but don’t be fooled. This matchup actually plays pretty well for Detroit. The Dolphins aren’t good at reaching the quarterback (4.7 sack percentage), and if you give Matthew Stafford time to throw, he’ll beat you. As long as the line continues to hold up — and the potential return of T.J. Lang should help — Stafford could have a monster day. The Lions’ run defense is suspect, but it’s an overall favorable matchup for the Lions, particularly since Brock Osweiler has only completed 56 percent of his passes against Matt Patricia defenses in his career and hasn’t had a game against Patricia with over 60 percent passing. Lions 27, Dolphins 20

Cameron Wolfe’s pick: It’s tough to get a peg on this Dolphins team so far this season. They’re 4-2 with a backup quarterback likely leading them through the rest of October. The Miami heat and their stadium represent one of the best home-field advantages in the first two months of the season. The Dolphins are 3-0 at Hard Rock Stadium this season. Will the Osweiler revival continue against a stingy Lions pass defense? Probably not, but this seems like a prime game for Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake to bully the Lions’ 30th-ranked rushing defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Dolphins 24, Lions 23

FPI win projection: MIA, 50.9 percent. The Dolphins will be without Ryan Tannehill for a second straight week, but the switch to Osweiler doesn’t change their chances to win, according to FPI. The Dolphins would have a 51 percent chance to win with either quarterback under center.

What to watch for in fantasy: The platoon setup Miami has adopted for Drake and Gore does place a cap on the upside value of their Week 7 blocking advantage over Detroit, but placing either of them into an RB2 or flex starting role is a high-percentage play with notable upside potential. Read more.

In case you missed it: Baker, McMillan extend Buckeye brotherhoodLions make case for NFL’s best receiver trio


Point spread: BAL -2.5 | Matchup quality: 80.9 (of 100)

Mike Triplett’s pick: I’m tempted to pick a loss here for the Saints since they’re on the road and facing the NFL’s No. 1 defense. But I can’t bet against Drew Brees accomplishing something he wants to add to his career bucket list in felling the Ravens, the only team he has never beaten in his 18-year career. And the Saints actually have been very good outdoors lately, with a 5-2 record over the past two years. Expect Brees to lean on his RB duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to get this one done. Saints 25, Ravens 22

Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens are coming off a franchise-record 11 sacks, but they’ll be hard-pressed to get to Brees. He gets rid of the ball quicker than anyone in the league, which creates a big problem for Baltimore. Since the start of the 2015 season, the Ravens are 11-17 (.392) when recording two or fewer sacks in a game. Saints 30, Ravens 27

FPI win projection: BAL, 60.4 percent. Brees is second in the league with a 79.2 Total QBR this season, but he goes on the road to face a Ravens defense that has allowed the lowest Total QBR in the league (44.2). The Ravens lead the league in defensive efficiency and are allowing an NFL-best 8.5 points per game at home.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Saints have the seventh-lowest pressure rate this season, while Joe Flacco sports a stellar 8-to-1 TD-INT rate with 7.3 yards per dropback from a clean, unpressured pocket. Read more.

In case you missed it: Brees’ next historic hurdle: Beating Ravens for first timeIn league of its own, Ravens’ defense is now ‘chasing history’What to expect from Kamara, Ingram going forward

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Steve Young previews Sunday’s matchup between the Saints’ high-powered offense and the Ravens’ stifling defense.


Point spread: LAR -10 | Matchup quality: 68.0 (of 100)

Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams feature the top-ranked offense, and Todd Gurley is coming off a 208-yard rushing performance, which will make it difficult for the 49ers to decide whether to focus on stopping the run or the pass? The Rams’ defense is still looking to put together a complete performance over the last few weeks after a dominant start, but the unit solved its run-game issues against the Broncos, a trend they expect to continue. Rams 34, 49ers 21

Nick Wagoner’s pick: After losing Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have been in position to win every game they’ve played, but they haven’t been able to win any of them. The difference is a lack of top-end playmakers as compared to many of their opponents. That should again be the case on Sunday, when the star-studded Rams come to town riding the wave of a six-game winning streak against the Niners, who have lost four in a row and 12 straight October games. Kyle Shanahan’s familiarity with the Rams and their staff could make it closer than expected, but the Rams’ star power will provide enough for the win. Rams 34, 49ers 24

FPI win projection: LAR, 73.3 percent. One reason for the Rams’ success has been their domination on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Rams lead the league in ESPN’s pass block win rate and ESPN’s pass rush win rate, according to tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats.

What to watch for in fantasy: This week, Cooper Kupp will be out, leaving a 27.1 percent share of the Rams’ red zone targets to be distributed. Robert Woods is the main candidate to see a massive bump. Read more.

In case you missed it: McVay’s quest for playcalling perfectionIt’s problems with the basics and much more with 49ers’ suspect secondaryGet beat, move on: Just part of Peters’ success syndrome


Point spread: WSH -1.5 | Matchup quality: 50.5 (of 100)

Todd Archer’s pick: The road has been unkind to the Cowboys this season, as they are averaging just 12.3 points, 276 yards and 16 first downs in their three losses away from home. That might be a poor forecast for Sunday’s game at Washington, but the Cowboys have found FedEx Field a friendly place as of late. The Cowboys have won five games in a row in Landover, Maryland. In those five victories, the Cowboys have averaged 29.4 points. They won’t score that many this time, but they will improve to 2-0 in the NFC East this season. Cowboys 24, Redskins 17

John Keim’s pick: The Redskins are 9-16 after a win over the past three years under coach Jay Gruden, so they’ve had a lot of trouble handling any sort of success. In their three wins this season, they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 38 points; in their two losses, they’ve been outscored by 36. They’ve been the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team. Dallas stopped Washington’s run game last year, but in the first meeting, the Redskins’ line had only one regular starter. The Redskins are 12th in yards per carry allowed and have faced four offenses with better quarterbacks. Redskins 21, Cowboys 20

FPI win projection: DAL, 51.9 percent. This game will have a big impact on whether these teams make the playoffs from the NFC East: The Cowboys would have a 61 percent chance with a win and 34 percent with a loss, while the Redskins would be at 36 percent with a win and 14 percent with a loss, according to FPI. It should be a close game; FPI has Dallas at 52 percent to win, while Vegas has the Redskins as a two-point favorite.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Redskins’ Paul Richardson is a deep sleeper this week against Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) or Anthony Brown. Read more.

In case you missed it: Beasley knew a big day was coming; can Cowboys keep it going?Norman smoothed over issues with team, then came through


Point spread: KC -6 | Matchup quality: 62.9 (of 100)

Katherine Terrell’s pick: The Bengals’ defense had trouble stopping the Steelers in the last minute of a loss last week, and now it is potentially down three defensive starters. Combine that with the Chiefs’ high-scoring offense and an offensive line that has only allowed six sacks and it doesn’t make for a good matchup for Cincinnati in a primetime game on the road. The Bengals’ offense would need to keep pace with the Chiefs to be able to stick around. Chiefs 33, Bengals 24

Adam Teicher’s pick: Each team could look in the mirror and almost see Sunday’s opponent. Both have high-scoring offenses (Chiefs 35.8 points per game, Bengals 29.0) but yield scores almost as fast (Kansas City 28.7, Cincinnati 26.3). The significant differences come in the kicking game, where the Chiefs rank in the top five in every key statistical category while the Bengals are near the bottom in many. Look for Tyreek Hill or Tremon Smith to make the difference with a big kick return. Chiefs 37, Bengals 33

FPI win projection: KC, 69.9 percent. This game has the largest impact on a first-round postseason bye of any Week 7 matchup. The Chiefs would have a 71 percent chance at a bye with a win, according to FPI and a 46 percent chance with a loss. The Bengals would have a 21 percent chance at a bye with a win and a 6 percent chance with a loss.

What to watch for in fantasy: Consider tight end C.J. Uzomah. Andy Dalton claims the league’s seventh-highest rate in yards per dropback (9.2) and fifth-highest completion clip (81 percent) targeting tight ends. The Chiefs have allowed 91.7 yards per game and the third-most fantasy points (16.8) to the position this season. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bengals game might be the most important of Chiefs’ seasonBengals have to flip script quickly after yet another loss to Steelers

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson predict that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will outduel Andy Dalton and the Bengals on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.


MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Point spread: ATL -5 | Matchup quality: 44.6 (of 100)

Jordan Raanan’s pick: Finally a matchup that might favor the sputtering Giants offense. The Giants play a decimated Falcons defense that is allowing 32.0 points per game. With 11 days between games, the Giants should have plenty of time to exploit Atlanta’s weaknesses, which include stopping opposing running backs from catching the ball out of the backfield. And Saquon Barkley just so happens to lead all running backs in receptions. This is the week the Giants pull the upset. Giants 26, Falcons 23

Vaughn McClure’s pick: The Falcons average 34.5 points per game at home and are 14-of-16 in scoring in the red zone at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Matt Ryan has thrown 13 touchdowns with one interception there, so scoring points in the Monday night matchup shouldn’t be a problem, even if Ryan is missing an offensive weapon or two. Yes, the Falcons’ defense has given up an average of 33.3 points per game at home, but the Giants average just 19.5 points per game. Falcons 35, Giants 17

FPI win projection: ATL, 69.7 percent. Look for Ryan to have another big game at home. He has an 83.3 Total QBR at home this season as compared with 31.2 on the road. Thanks in large part to that, the Falcons have an offensive efficiency of 90.8 at home, second only to the Rams.

What to watch for in fantasy: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will see struggling Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple on most of their Week 7 routes. Receivers facing Jenkins have scored 96 fantasy points this season, which is third highest in the league. Read more.

In case you missed it: Has Darnold made Jets kings of New York over Manning, Giants?Smith aims to ignite Falcons’ run game with Freeman outLauletta showing his stuff as Giants’ scout-team quarterback‘Nobody wants to miss tackles’: Falcons rely on video, D-coordinator for help



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Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, suspended 3 games NFL substance abuse


FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams has been suspended three games without pay for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.



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NFL owners discuss viability of Chargers in Los Angeles according to sources


NEW YORK — It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Chargers have struggled to gain a foothold with fans since moving from San Diego last year, and the problems are hitting them on the bottom line.

Sources told ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that the viability of the Chargers in Los Angeles was a topic of discussion at the owners meetings here Tuesday and Wednesday. Multiple owners, who requested anonymity, said Wednesday that the topic was not brought up formally in the meetings but that there has been a lot of discussion on the side about the extent to which the Chargers are struggling to build a fan base in Los Angeles.

The Chargers are currently playing in the StubHub Center in Carson, California. The venue seats about 30,000 people, which makes it about half as big as even the smallest NFL stadiums. Their plan is to move into the new stadium the Rams are building in Inglewood in 2020 and to function as a sort of “tenant” of the Rams rather than an equal partner in the venture.

Sources told Wickersham, however, that the Chargers are expected to revise their initial Inglewood revenue goal from $400 million down to $150 million.

Part of the lowered revenue projection could be tied to lower ticket prices in the new stadium. The Chargers on Wednesday announced prices for about 75 percent of their tickets for the new stadium when it opens in 2020, and they are advertising “more than 26,000 seats priced between $50 and $90 per seat, per game with an associated Stadium Seat License payment of only $100 for each seat.”

“Each decision throughout this process has been made with the fan in mind, and we think the pricing announced today reflects this fact,” A.G. Spanos, the team’s president of business operations, said in the news release.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, when asked about what the league could do to help the Chargers, opened his response by singing the praises of the still-under-construction Inglewood project and said he expected the excitement over the new stadium to build as its opening gets closer.

“Lots of football, lots of building still to do,” Goodell said. “And frankly, we were out of the market for a long time, and we have to earn our way back with our fans. We have to build that relationship back with our fans and make sure that we do it right. Both teams are committed to that.

“It will be something that we have to work at over a period of time. They both have very exciting young teams, and I think that will be helpful also. But I think all of those things will come together over the next two years. That’s the work that needs to be done.”



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NFL had ‘targeted intervention’ with teams due to preseason concussions


NEW YORK — The NFL is attacking the concussion issue on a team-by-team basis.

At the owners meetings in New York on Tuesday, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league identified seven teams in 2017 that had a higher incidence of preseason concussions than the others and “did a targeted intervention with those clubs.” Sills said that process involved wide-ranging discussions with the football operations staffs of the teams that involved the design of practice drills and which helmets players were wearing.

“In six of those seven clubs, the numbers did go down,” Sills said. “Those seven clubs had 23 practice concussions as a whole in 2017, down to nine in 2018.”

Overall, the league said, preseason concussions were down from 91 in 2017 to 79 this year, and that there were zero on kickoff plays. The NFL modified its kickoff rules this year to make the play safer, as it traditionally has featured a significantly higher rate of concussions than other plays.

“We are cautiously optimistic about that result,” Sills said of the preseason concussion numbers. “We are pleased to see that number go down, but we still have a lot of work to do. We are continuing a more in-depth analysis of the concussions that did happen during the preseason. Doing some of the same work we’ve been doing during the regular season, looking at video and seeing what the practice environment is — seeing who was injured in what role. We are going to be doing more of a deep dive into that.”

Sills and Jeff Miller, the NFL’s vice president of player health and safety, said the league is also pleased about the results of its helmet rating system and is seeing more players change helmets to those the league rates as safest. The league handed out a flyer in the preseason ranking helmets on a green-to-red scale it developed in conjunction with the NFLPA, with green being good and red being bad.

Helmets that fall into the red category are being prohibited starting this year for new players and next year for players who were already in the league, giving them a “grandfather” year to find a helmet that works for them and still falls into the approved category.

Miller said the number of players wearing red-rated helmets was down from 230 last year to 40 as of Week 3 of this season.



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Fantasy football — Fantasy intel for all 32 NFL teams ahead of Week 7


The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league’s 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.

Note that data from Monday Night Football may not be reflected in charts in the article until Tuesday afternoon.

The infirmary

Falcons WRs Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) both left Sunday’s game with injuries. Justin Hardy was the biggest benefactor, drawing seven targets on 24 of a possible 42 pass routes in the game. If one of Ridley or Sanu is out this week, Hardy is safe to ignore, but if both are out, Hardy will certainly jump into the flex discussion, especially with Janoris Jenkins likely to shadow Julio Jones.

Jets WR Quincy Enunwa went down with a right ankle injury on Sunday and is expected to miss some time. Enunwa had been handling a hefty target share, but it was starting to dip a bit with Jermaine Kearse healthy and taking over as the team’s primary slot receiver. Kearse led the Jets’ passing attack on Sunday with nine catches and 94 yards on 10 targets (four more than any other Jet). Kearse, fantasy’s No. 26 wideout in 2017, had only registered 71 yards on seven catches during his first four games, but an expanded role — coupled with Enunwa’s absence — puts him in the flex discussion in 12-team leagues. Robby Anderson (five targets on Sunday) and Terrelle Pryor Sr. (six) are too risky to start.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper went down with a concussion after only nine snaps and only hours after trade rumors began to circulate. In Cooper’s absence, Jordy Nelson (36 of 37 possible routes) and Martavis Bryant (29) worked the perimeter with Seth Roberts (31) in the slot. Oakland is headed to its bye, but if Cooper misses time or is traded, Nelson’s stock will rise enough to place him in the WR3 discussion most weeks. Bryant’s playing time would increase significantly and his downfield ability would be enough to land him in the flex discussion. Roberts is only worth a look in deep PPR leagues.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp‘s knee injury doesn’t appear to be serious considering he returned (albeit briefly) to Sunday’s game. However, should he miss time, Josh Reynolds needs to be on your radar in an offense that ranks third in touchdowns per game (3.5) and first in three-plus wide receiver sets when passing (98 percent). Reynolds was held to two targets on Sunday, but was on the field for 20 of the team’s 33 pass plays (Kupp ran 13 routes and was targeted once). Reynolds, a 2017 fourth-round pick, showed flashes as a rookie and Kupp’s absence would bump him into the flex discussion. Gerald Everett — who doubled up Tyler Higbee in pass routes on Sunday — would join the TE2 mix.

Jaguars TE Niles Paul went down with a leg injury on Sunday just one week after Jacksonville lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the season. Paul went down on his fourth snap, which led to James O’Shaughnessy running 24 of 29 possible routes. Unless the Jaguars make an impact acquisition, this is a situation to ignore except in the deepest of two tight end leagues.

Opportunity alert

Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OFP” and “OTD.” OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. “OFP” is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s opportunity to score fantasy points, or his “expected” fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. “OTD” works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it’s touchdowns.

That said, here is the Week 6 OFP Leaderboard:

*Complete positional leaderboards will be posted at ESPN+ this week

Vikings WR Adam Thielen‘s record-setting early-season pace is likely unsustainable, but OFP tells us that he can afford a drop-off in efficiency and still manage elite numbers. Thielen’s full-season FORP sits at 31, meaning his 31 fantasy points above his expected total. Still, his 123 OFP is second highest, behind only DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. Thielen is a legitimate top-5 fantasy wide receiver moving forward and you shouldn’t feel the need to try and trade him at his ceiling.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston entered his first 2018 start as a solid QB1 play and that’s how you should view him moving forward. Granted it was a light matchup against Atlanta’s injury-plagued defense, but Winston delivered … and then some. He completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 31 yards with his legs. Remember, Winston posted a top-10 fantasy week in 46 percent of his starts last season, which was ninth best at the position. Surrounded by a terrific group of skill position players, Winston should be in lineups against Cleveland on Sunday and most weeks going forward.

Falcons WR Julio Jones has yet to score a touchdown this season, but his 116 fantasy points are actually higher than his 113 OFP. Jones is no longer getting much work near the goal line (one end zone target during his past five games), but he’s still seeing so much volume that he’s fantasy’s No. 5 scoring wide receiver.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco sits 20th at quarterback with 100 fantasy points, but his 111 OFP ranks fifth at the position and suggests better days could be ahead. Flacco hasn’t posted a top-10 fantasy outing since Week 1, but the Ravens’ offense is averaging 75.8 plays per game (most) and 2.8 touchdowns per game (10th). An abnormal number of those scores have been of the rushing variety (47 percent, which is fifth highest), so we should expect more passing touchdowns from Flacco going forward. Flacco is an outstanding streaming option at home against the Saints this week and is a strong QB2 going forward.

FORP

FORP is the difference between a player’s actual fantasy point total and his OFP (or expected fantasy point total).

First, here are the players who have fallen short of their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a rise in fantasy production moving forward, assuming they see a similar workload:

Browns WR Jarvis Landry is handling a career-high 29.2 percent target share, which is impressive considering he’s cleared 27.5 percent each of the past three seasons. He’s averaging a career-best 12.6 yards per reception, but a 47 percent catch rate and one touchdown have him sitting 27th at wide receiver in fantasy points. Landry ranks eighth at the position in OFP, which tells us better days are likely ahead. Teammate Antonio Callaway‘s inefficiencies seem to have him destined for a demotion, but as long as he’s in his current situation, a big play or three is inevitable.

Texans TE Ryan Griffin has flirted with occasional fantasy value during his career, which makes his brutal 2018 efficiency a bit surprising. Griffin has been targeted 25 times, but has only 10 catches for 140 yards and zero scores to show. He’s 37th at the position in fantasy points, but 10th (seriously) in OFP. The gap between his touchdown total (0) and 3.3 OTD is largest in the league. Houston’s offense has underachieved against some tough defenses the past two weeks, but an upcoming slate including Jacksonville, Miami and Denver means it may be a bit before we see a major rebound. Nonetheless, FORP suggests Griffin and his quarterback are headed for better days. Both Griffin and Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman, who is handling a 15 percent target share over the past three weeks, are TE2 options.

Jaguars WR Donte Moncrief sits 26th at wide receiver in OFP, but is 58th in fantasy points. Moncrief’s 2.5 OTD ranks 18th at the position and he’s seen four end zone targets. He’s too risky to throw into lineups right now, but Moncrief’s role should allow more production going forward, especially in the Jaguars’ pass-heavy offense.

And these players have exceeded their OFP by the largest margin and are thus candidates to see a dip in fantasy production moving forward:

Will Falcons QB Matt Ryan repeat his incredible 2016 season? He’s certainly well on his way. In 2016, Ryan posted a ridiculous 124 FORP (430 fantasy points, 306 OFP). Through Week 6 this season, he’s “on pace” for a 120 FORP (403 points, 283 FORP). Obviously we can’t count on this level of efficiency moving forward, but even with a return to earth statistically, Ryan’s OFP ranks sixth at the position. Fantasy’s No. 2 scoring quarterback can afford some regression to the mean and will still carry QB1 value.

Dolphins WR Albert Wilson is fantasy’s No. 20 scoring wide receiver despite seeing the field on only 61 percent of the Dolphins’ pass plays this season. His OFP ranks 52nd at the position. As boom or bust as they come, Wilson has finished 37th or worse in four of six outings (50th or worse in three), but top-10 in the other two games. He has four touchdowns, but a 0.7 OTD (that 3.3 gap is fourth-largest in the league). Wilson’s receiving touchdowns have required post-catch runs of 24, 43, 72 and 78 yards, which is as hard to believe as it is unsustainable. The total OTD on those three plays was … 0.03. Incredibly, he’s seen one target inside the opponent’s 13-yard line. This is one of the easiest regression-to-the-mean calls in a decade, though Wilson will be on the flex radar if the Dolphins trade DeVante Parker.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett is another wide receiver unlikely to come close to sustaining his current production. Lockett sits 56th at wide receiver in OFP, but five touchdowns have him sitting 19th in fantasy points. The 3.4 gap between his touchdown total and OTD (1.6) is third largest in the league. Lockett has hauled in all three of his end zone targets, but has seen only one additional target inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. His other scores required runs of 10 and 25 yards. Lockett entered 2018 with a grand total of 10 offensive touchdowns in three NFL seasons, including four the past two seasons. The No. 2 target in an extremely run-heavy offense who is limited to a 19 percent target share, Lockett is a player to try to trade this week.

Deep dive

Bears WR Taylor Gabriel was discussed in this column prior to Chicago’s Week 5 bye, but this past Sunday is yet further evidence that he’s arguably the most underrated asset in fantasy. Gabriel cleared 100 receiving yards for the second consecutive game and is now handling a 22 percent target share for the season (7.0 per game). Mitchell Trubisky‘s No. 2 target has at least five targets and four receptions in each of Chicago’s five games. Available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, he should be scooped up and considered a fringe WR3 option against New England.

Colts RB Marlon Mack was finally healthy for a full game on Sunday and that was enough to allow him to easily lead the Indianapolis backfield in carries (and efficiency). Mack carried the rock 12 times for 89 yards and was targeted twice. Mack’s strong effort figures to solidify his role as the top ball carrier in an offense averaging a very strong 3.0 touchdowns per game this season. Note that while Nyheim Hines was limited to three carries and three targets, he did out-snap Mack 29 to 23 and will continue to play a sizable role in passing situations. Mack is available in 74 percent of ESPN leagues. Scoop him up and consider him a flex option against the Bills this week and going forward.

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley broke out for nine catches, 101 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets against Jacksonville in Week 6. QB Dak Prescott admitted after the game that the team planned to attack Jaguars’ slot CB Tyler Patmon and the plan obviously worked. Despite the strong effort, Beasley shouldn’t be considered a reliable weekly starter just yet. He totaled 17 catches for 193 yards and no scores on 24 targets during Weeks 1-5, which was barely off a 2017 target pace that led to 36 catches on 62 targets for 314 yards and four scores in 15 games.

Needless to say, the Redskins’ passing game has been a disappointment. Alex Smith posted an 11th-place fantasy outing in Week 1, but hasn’t notched a finish better than 16th in four games since. Paul Richardson (best weekly finish is 38th), Jamison Crowder (33rd) and Josh Doctson (67th) have all been busts. Backs Chris Thompson and Adrian Peterson and tight end Jordan Reed are the only players from this offense worth considering for your lineup most weeks.

Snap attack

Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny registered nine carries and two targets on Sunday, but only played 13 snaps. His upside makes him a worthwhile bench stash, but nothing more with Chris Carson (24 snaps) and Mike Davis (23 snaps) more involved.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen was on the field for 58 of the Panthers’ 59 offensive snaps against Washington in Week 6. It was Olsen’s first action since he went down with a leg injury on his 14th snap of the season back in Week 1. Olsen’s massive role and his seven-target effort put him right back in the mix as a midpack TE1.

Browns WR Damion Ratley stepped up with six catches and 82 yards on eight targets on Sunday. Injuries ahead of him on the depth chart helped the 2018 sixth-round pick to a career-high 62 snaps against the Chargers. He was on the field for 45 of the team’s 50 pass plays. With Rashard Higgins expected to miss more time and Rod Streater done for the year, Ratley is expected to work as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary this week. He’s a sneaky play in deep leagues.

Patriots WR Josh Gordon has been unleashed. The former Brown (they could really use him these days) was on the field for 35 of New England’s 37 pass plays on Sunday night, registering nine targets in the game. The production wasn’t great (five catches, 42 yards), but better days are ahead with Gordon now playing a full complement of snaps in one of the league’s best offenses. He’s a WR3 against Chicago this week.

Eagles running backs: Week 6 marked the Eagles first game with Jay Ajayi on injured reserve. Corey Clement was limited but still played 25 snaps, handling 11 carries and three targets. Wendell Smallwood led the unit with 42 snaps and 18 carries, adding a pair of targets. Josh Adams was active but did not play a snap. We should expect a similar dynamic moving forward, though Clement figures to take on more work when healthy and Darren Sproles will chip in significantly in passing situations once he returns from a hamstring injury. Smallwood and Clement are flex options against Carolina this week.

Bengals WR Tyler Boyd has been on the field for 84 percent of the Bengals’ snaps, including 88 percent of the pass plays this season. He’s handling a 23 percent target share and sits 19th at the wide receiver position in OFP (79) and 12th in actual fantasy points (107). Boyd is enjoying a third-year breakout and should be locked into weekly lineups.

Lions RB Kerryon Johnson has been on the field for 40 percent of Detroit’s snaps, has run a route on 29 percent of the team’s pass plays, is handling 45 percent of the carries and has accrued a seven percent target share. Johnson entered the Week 6 bye 35th at the position in OFP. The rookie remains in a rotation in Detroit and is no more than a shaky flex until he takes on a larger role.

Saints WR Cameron Meredith was on the field for a season-high 59 percent of the Saints’ pass plays and also hit a season-best with five targets when the Saints were last on the field against Washington in Week 5. Meredith has emerged as the team’s top slot target, but needs a bit more playing time and target volume to make him a consistent flex option. Nonetheless, he should be on benches.

Burning questions

Can I start either Titans’ running back with confidence right now? No — the Titans’ offense is a mess. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined for an atrocious 40 scrimmage yards on 15 touches against Baltimore on Sunday. Henry has yet to produce a top-40 fantasy week and Lewis has two in six tries. Lewis’ 15 percent target share keeps him in the flex discussion, but he’s a shaky play with the Titans’ offense averaging an almost-unbelievable and league-worst 1.0 touchdowns per game. Henry is trailing Lewis in carries and is a non-factor as a receiver, which means he’s barely worth a roster spot in 10-team leagues.

Is 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin a weekly fantasy starter? I’d consider the matchup, but yes. QB C.J. Beathard is an obvious downgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo, but the second-year passer has been better than expected. The Packers’ secondary has struggled, but Goodwin proved healthy on Monday night, seeing the field on 95 percent of the team’s snaps while also using his world-class speed to break loose for several big gains, including a pair of touchdowns. His big-play ability and Beathard’s competent play position Goodwin as a weekly flex option.

Is Falcons TE Austin Hooper now a TE1? If not, he’s close. Hooper has caught nine passes in back-to-back games, handling 22 targets during the span. He’s turned the heavy workload into a pair of 70-plus receiving yard efforts and one touchdown. Granted, both Ridley and Sanu were injured in Sunday’s game, but considering how injury-plagued the tight end position has been, Hooper is on a short list of players you can feel somewhat confident in right now. He’s a fringe top-10 play against the Giants in Week 7.

Has Cardinals WR Christian Kirk worked his way into the WR3 discussion? Despite some strong efforts as of late, I wouldn’t go that far. Kirk has cleared 76 receiving yards during three of his past four games and is fantasy’s No. 31 scoring wideout during the span. The problem is that the Arizona offense is struggling badly and Kirk’s average of 6.0 targets per game isn’t enough to allow consistent fantasy numbers when touchdown opportunities are so far and few between.

Is Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling worth rostering through the bye? Outside of dynasty leagues, no. The fifth-round rookie has been impressive, but Packers NFL Nation reporter Rob Demovsky agrees that he will return to fourth on the depth chart once Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison return from injury (likely in Week 8). Valdes-Scantling has 10 catches for 171 yards and a score on 16 targets over the past two games, but is no more than the rare notable handcuff at the wide receiver position.



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What we learned in Week 6 of 2018 NFL season


I got a flat tire on the way home from LaGuardia on Monday and it got me thinking. First, I thought, “This isn’t going to help me make deadline on this week’s What We Learned column.” Then I thought, “Unless I use this experience in the column lead!”

Maybe it’s a stretch and maybe it’s too meta, but when you’re changing a tire in a rainy parking lot in Mamaroneck, New York, on your way home from rainy Cleveland, you’ve got to find some way to make it work for you.

So what I want to look at here is a couple of teams who were sitting on the side of the road with flat tires in September but now, for one reason or another, find themselves with a chance to make something of their seasons — teams we may have felt like abandoning on the side of the road after the first few weeks but who have roared (or crawled, or lucked) back into contention by mid-October. A 16-game season sounds short, but it’s amazing how much time you actually have to turn things around in this NFL. Unless you’re the Raiders.

This is the weirdest one, because the Texans have rebounded from an 0-3 start with three straight wins for which they seem to have been only partially responsible.

They beat the Colts in overtime after Indy coach Frank Reich went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. They beat the Cowboys in overtime after Jason Garrett didn’t go for it on fourth down. And they beat the Bills after Josh Allen got hurt and Buffalo had to put Nathan Intercepterman in the game at quarterback.

The Texans are three funny bounces away from being 0-6. They’re the Giants’ only win, which obviously doesn’t scream “playoff contender.” But 3-3 is good enough to be tied for first in the moribund AFC South. They were a preseason favorite in that division for a reason. J.J. Watt looks totally rejuvenated. And Houston’s remaining schedule rates among the easiest in the league. The Texans are in this thing.

Seattle started 0-2 with road losses at Denver and Chicago but has won three of its past four and lost by only two to the undefeated Rams. Now, that’s no small loss, since the Rams sit three games ahead of the Seahawks in their own division. But at 3-3, Seattle’s in a midpack NFC jumble out of which two wild-card teams must eventually emerge. The Seahawks sacked Derek Carr six times Sunday in London, and if the Frank Clark-led pass rush can dominate like that, it will allow the young Legion of Boom replacements in the secondary some time to develop.

On offense, Seattle appears determined to sit out the NFL’s high-octane passing-game revolution. But the Seahawks have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of their past four games, which is how they want to play it. Could Pete Carroll’s bunch bore the rest of the NFC wild-card field into submission?

I wrote about the Chargers on Sunday off their victory in Cleveland, so I’ll keep this short. They were 1-2 and have won three in a row to move within a game of Kansas City, and they don’t play a team that currently has a winning record until their Steelers/Bengals/Chiefs/Ravens gantlet to open December. They could have Joey Bosa back by then.

Another preseason darling, Minnesota was 1-2-1 after a Week 4 loss to the Rams. The Vikings rebounded with a signature Week 5 victory in Philadelphia, avenging their NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champs, then beat the Cardinals on Sunday to move within a half-game of the first-place Bears.

Kirk Cousins is red-hot to start the season, completing 71.2 percent of his passes while ranking fourth in the league in passing yards with 12 touchdown throws against just three interceptions. No one is playing the receiver position better than Adam Thielen, the ground game finally got going in Week 6, and the defense appears to be putting it together after a rough start. Minnesota’s Nov. 25 rematch with the Packers could loom large, as the winner (if there is one!) will hold a tiebreaker edge over the loser. Of course, that’ll matter only if the Bears drop a few more puzzlers like they did Sunday in Miami.

When our man Jeremy Fowler reported two weeks ago that Le’Veon Bell was planning to report to the Steelers after the bye, we suggested in this space that the Steelers could easily lose to Atlanta and Cincinnati and be 1-4-1 by the time that happened. Instead, they drubbed the Falcons and broke the Bengals’ hearts as usual, so they sit a half-game out of the Cincinnati/Baltimore first-place tie.

James Conner already has three games this season with 100 or more rushing yards and two or more touchdowns. Bell has had only three such games in his career. So when/if Bell does return, Pittsburgh will either be stacked at running back or be able to trade Bell for a helpful defensive player and/or nice draft pick. The Ravens’ AFC-leading plus-76 point differential is daunting, and until the final minute Sunday the Bengals had played as well as any AFC team this side of Kansas City. But Pittsburgh knows what it’s like to turn it on in the second half, and the Steelers are sure to be heard from before this is all over.

What? They’ve won two in a row after a 1-3 start. And their plus-26 point differential is only two worse than New England’s. I’m not saying the Jets are a threat to steal the division from the Patriots, but they sure don’t look like a lot of fun to play. Sam Darnold completed EIGHTY percent of his passes in Sunday’s victory over the Colts. Now, the Jets were 3-3 last year and finished 5-11. So let’s see them navigate this upcoming Vikings/Bears/Dolphins stretch before believing. But if the 3-3 Seahawks are on this list, the 3-3 Jets have to be on it, too.

Come on. You weren’t REALLY worried about them at 1-2, were you? We’ve seen this movie before.

Couple of other things we learned in Week 6:

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Baker Mayfield reflects on the Browns’ 38-14 loss to the Chargers, saying their execution was poor and admits that he is “at fault for the majority of it.”

Progress is hardly ever smooth, and what the Browns are doing takes time

Cleveland was bummed after Sunday’s 38-14 loss to the Chargers. It was the first game this season the Browns didn’t have a real chance to win, and it dropped them to 2-3-1. Grouchy players left the locker room without doing their postgame interviews. The sense was that it was especially disappointing to be noncompetitive because the Browns consider themselves a team ready to take the next step. When I spoke with wideout Jarvis Landry before the game, he said the first five games were exciting but also resulted in a “want for more.”

It’s easy to look at this year’s Browns and believe more is on the way. Baker Mayfield is an exciting young quarterback. Myles Garrett is a superstar edge rusher. Neither fit those descriptions Sunday, but there are days like that. This year, the difference is that the Browns have had days opposite of that. They are a competitive team, after a long stretch of not being one. They probably are not yet a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not pointing that way.

I believe they will win more games this year, and ideally build on the positive experiences and spin them into next year as they work their way toward legitimate contender status. Everyone may want the overnight turnaround the Rams made last year, but the reality is that, when you’re coming from where the Browns are coming from, it usually takes time. The Bears went through a similar wake-up call Sunday, losing to Miami with a dud of a defensive effort that reminded their fans that maybe they’re not ready to go from doormat to juggernaut after just one offseason. Chicago’s further along than Cleveland, but both of those results Sunday served notice that building a winner takes time, and that progress is very rarely a smooth line in the upward direction.

The ugly time of the year is upon us

Some years it starts earlier than others. Remember the Bengals firing their offensive coordinator last season after two games? This year, it took a little while longer, but the Buccaneers let go of defensive coordinator Mike Smith on Monday after another noncompetitive defensive effort against Atlanta.

Two years ago, when the Bucs were 9-7, Smith’s defense was one of the hot second-half stories in the league and he was interviewing for head-coaching jobs. Things can turn around quickly in Smith’s chosen profession, as he well knows, and sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. The Buccaneers’ secondary isn’t exactly teeming with potential solutions to a coordinator’s problems this year.

Smith’s mid-October firing is a signal to coaches and coordinators of underachieving units that the time has arrived. Teams that expected more than they’re seeing in the standings right now (the Broncos jump to mind as an example) aren’t going to be shy about making changes to try to get things moving back in the right direction before it’s too late. More often than not, those changes involve coaches, and in-season that usually means coordinators. Smith was the first to go this year, but he’s not likely to be the last.



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