Welcome to the latest edition of The Sunday Recap, a weekly column dedicated to thoughts on the previous day’s NFL action! Here are my top takeaways from yesterday’s games.
The end is near for Ben Roethlisberger
Sunday’s most surprising result undoubtedly occurred in Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions in a surprising Steelers loss to Jacksonville.
Credit the Jaguars defense for making life so miserable for Roethlisberger and company. This talented unit is clearly coming together far faster than anyone expected, as recent draft picks like safety Jalen Ramsey have helped morph Jacksonville into arguably the league’s most intimidating secondary. And I would be remiss to mention how the Jaguars were able to maintain possession–and thus put more pressure on the Steelers’ offense–thanks to dominant rookie running back Leonard Fournette, whose 28 carries for 181 yards easily registered as the day’s best rushing performance.
But the real story is obviously Roethlisberger, whose five interceptions came as a shock, particularly given how prolific Pittsburgh’s offense usually is at home. There’s no need for an impulsive reaction suggesting that the Steelers are no longer a threat to win the AFC, but looking beyond this year, Pittsburgh has serious concerns at the quarterback position. The main reason why has less to do with Roethlisberger’s recent struggles: it has to do with how he considered retirement after last season. Given his age (35), past health concerns, and now a recent downturn in performance, there’s definitely reason to believe this year will be Big Ben’s last — and the fact that Pittsburgh hasn’t thought of a contingency plan in the event their franchise quarterback retires is concerning.
However, perhaps it is best for Pittsburgh if Roethlisberger opts to call it a career. Here are the facts: Pittsburgh ranks 23rd in yards per play and 19th in points per game this season. How is that possible when you have arguably the best running back and best receiver in football, as well as an above-average offensive line? There’s no clear answer…but maybe Roethlisberger is the problem.
To be clear, it would be foolish to write off the Steelers based on one horrific performance. They still have the potential to win the AFC. My ultimate takeaway, therefore, is that Roethlisberger’s egregious day against Jacksonville says less about Pittsburgh’s prospects in 2017, but calls into question its long-term plan–if the Steelers brass has one–concerning the game’s most important position.
After losing Beckham, the Giants now need to tank
One moment summarizes it all: a crying, broken Odell Beckham Jr–one of the NFL’s most dynamic and promising players–being carted off the field injured, with the hopes of competing again in 2017 lost.
In short, the knockout blow was officially delivered to the New York Giants’ season yesterday. The fact that they are 0-5 is only part of the story: the Giants lost not only Beckham, but receivers Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepherd, and Dwayne Harris as well during their loss to the Chargers. That’s literally their entire receiving corps! How Eli Manning will be able to move the ball now–particularly since the Giants don’t have a competent running game, either–is beyond me.
New York faces only one choice now: tanking. Granted, with upcoming tilts against the Broncos and Seahawks before their Week 8 bye, the Giants really don’t have to make a concerted effort to lose. But with so many holes on its roster, New York’s top priority should be to position themselves as favorably as possible for the 2018 draft.
Here’s the main reason why. Not only does something need to be done about their putrid offensive line, non-existent running game, and surprisingly average pass defense, but the Giants need to make a crucial decision at quarterback. After all, it’s clear that the 36-year-old Eli Manning is no longer capable of taking New York to great heights. After ranking 27th out of 30 qualified quarterbacks in Total QBR last season, Manning has been just as poor in 2017, as he currently ranks just 20th in this category through five weeks. Don’t expect him to turn it around, either. He’s simply too old and doesn’t have nearly enough help around him.
The Giants drafted former California quarterback Davis Webb in the 3rd round of last year’s draft as a potential replacement for Manning. But they should set their sights on an even bigger name. The top of next year’s draft should include a couple of potential franchise quarterbacks, like USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
New York’s potential with Manning at quarterback moving forward is limited. If they’re smart, the Giants will use the rest of this season to phase him out in favor of finding a top quarterback in next year’s draft to eventually replace the two-time Super Bowl champion.
The Eagles are the NFL’s most dangerous team that no one is talking about
Philadelphia had its most impressive performance of the season in a 34-7 win over Arizona yesterday. The Eagles, now 4-1, are quietly a definitive Super Bowl contender based on what I’ve seen through five weeks. Here are the main reasons why.
Let’s start in the trenches. Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles’ o-line number one in the NFL entering the season, and this unit has clearly been living up to the hype, as evidenced by how Philly has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the its past four games. The Eagles also have one of the best defensive lines in football. Led by probable Pro Bowlers like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, Philadelphia currently ranks 2nd in run defense, according to Football Outsiders.
This kind of dominance up front has allowed the Eagles’ offense, in particular, to perform extremely well. The main beneficiary, of course, has been Carson Wentz, who turned in another star-making performance on Sunday by throwing for a career-high four touchdowns. The number two overall pick in last year’s draft now has the third-highest Total QBR in the league this season. And if he continues to perform this well with the help of his stellar offensive line, don’t sleep on Philadelphia emerging among a wide-open NFC field to represent the conference in Super Bowl LII.
- Aaron Rodgers took the lead in the NFL’s MVP race after his game-winning drive to beat the Cowboys…Green Bay has successfully staved off multiple key injuries and remains tied atop the NFC with Philadelphia and Carolina…Rodgers has been the main reason why…he was unbelievably clutch throughout the Packers’ final drive to top Dallas…he also now has 13 touchdown passes (most in the NFL)…Rodgers is clearly the MVP favorite through five weeks.
- You gotta catch that Cooper Kupp…The Rams’ rookie receiver had the potential game-winning touchdown in his hands, but couldn’t hang on…despite its 16-10 loss to Seattle, Los Angeles still showed it is a potential playoff team…the offense, which was leading the NFL in scoring entering the week, definitely came back down to earth against the most difficult defense it has faced thus far, though.
- Are the Texans still a contender after losing J.J. Watt?…I know they made the playoffs without him last season, but losing a future Hall of Famer is always a significant loss…the Texans’ defense hasn’t been nearly as stingy as it was last season, so there’s no reason to think things will get any better without Watt…coupled with Jacksonville’s emergence, Houston will probably need to fight until Week 17 to win the AFC South.
Monday Night Prediction
Minnesota Vikings (2-2) vs Chicago Bears (1-3)
Spread: MIN -3.5 Over/Under: 40.5
DVOA: MIN (12) > CHI (28)
Public Betting: MIN 70%
I’m moving all of my chips into the Mitchell Trubisky pot. The Bears’ number two overall pick, who will make his first career start this Monday night, is mobile and possesses a strong arm. I think his assets are perfect for a Chicago offense that feeds off Jordan Howard and its strong running game. So even though Sam Bradford projects to return for Minnesota, I’ll side with a Bears team that will receive a boost from its franchise quarterback.
CHICAGO 27, Minnesota 20