The NFL made a wise move a few years ago by pushing the trade deadline back a few weeks. By the middle of the season most teams have an idea if they figure to factor into the playoff race. This season has made it easy with plenty of haves and have-nots that are easily identifiable. The Patriots currently find themselves in the middle, which will make the next few weeks crucial.
The annual NFL trade deadline is fast approaching on Nov. 3, and the idea of the Patriots picking up some much-needed help has been discussed frequently in recent days. Most of the suggestions have featured receiving help, both at wideout and tight end. There also has been talk of adding to a front seven that lacks depth and struggles at times to stop the run. Tight end Zach Ertz, wideouts Golden Tate, Kenny Stills, John Ross, A.J. Green and even Julio Jones have been thrown around, and it's clear Cam Newton could use help from any and all of these options. Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio are always active at this time of year, including 2019 when they sent a second-round pick to Atlanta for Mohamed Sanu. More often than not, though, deadline deals don't involve significant resources like the ones that would likely be needed to add significant pieces. Forgetting about cap implications for a second, would you'd be willing to ship a first-round pick to the Falcons for Jones? His talent is obvious – he's been among the best in the game for a long time – but I'm not sure he would cure all that ails the Patriots offense.
Ertz looks like he's on the way out in Philly over contract demands, but he wouldn't come cheap either. (He's now dealing with an ankle injury that reportedly will keep him out for a few weeks). And he appears to be on the downswing, averaging just 7 yards per catch this season. He would certainly help, but again, Ertz isn't putting this offense over the top. All of this is a long way of saying the Patriots should steer clear of major moves that would strip the team of important pieces for the future. I'd prefer Belichick and Caserio stick to their normal course and find some underutilized players that might fit well in the Patriots system. There are a lot of teams that should be sellers (the Jets are already moving players) and one is Jacksonville. With young receivers D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault filling big roles, perhaps little-used players such as Dede Westbrook or Chris Conley would make sense for conditional late-round picks. Westbrook is a slot type who might provide another option underneath, and the Jags have made him inactive more often than not this season. Again, these options won't put the Patriots offense over the top, but help doesn't have to cost the team a significant future asset. Unless things change dramatically over the next week or so, doing so makes little sense.
Sometimes watching games from afar, ie checking out highlights and snippets on Red Zone, can be misleading. Sometimes we are deceived into thinking these small windows provide the context of how a team is playing. But from afar it sure looks like the Ravens offense – particularly the running game – is struggling to duplicate its record-setting performance from 2019. Lamar Jackson appears to be as explosive as ever. He topped the 100-yard mark in Sunday's win over the Eagles, and still averages nearly 7 yards a carry. And Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins all average at least 4.5 per carry.
But the explosive production seems to be lacking, as does late-game execution when the Ravens are looking to burn clock to protect leads. The Eagles rallied Sunday largely because the offense couldn't sustain any drives while protecting a 30-14 lead in the fourth quarter. That's precisely the situation Baltimore should feast on, yet the Ravens couldn't put the game away. They managed just 2 yards before kicking a field goal following a fourth-down stop at the Eagles 30, then after a Philly touchdown and two-point conversion applied some game pressure, Baltimore went three-and-out due to a holding penalty. The lack of production was evident in the Week 5 win over the Bengals as well, and perhaps it's an indication that teams are figuring out how to deal with Jackson's unique running ability but still largely unrefined passing game. The Ravens remain quite formidable, but they don't appear as unstoppable as they did a year ago. At least from afar.
End of the Line
At the start of the season I mentioned the Colts as a team that could become a surprise contender. Six weeks in I feel largely the same way, but Philip Rivers may be holding the team back. It's strange to mention this with Rivers coming off a strong effort in Sunday's comeback win over the Bengals. But the veteran seems to be running on fumes at this point, missing several open throws in recent weeks while his lack of mobility requires exceptional pass protection at all times.
The Colts have some nice pieces on offense with receivers T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal as well as several capable tight ends. The running game is solid with impressive rookie Jonathan Taylor filling in well for the injured Marlon Mack. But Rivers has thrown seven touchdowns and six picks, and his miscues are making life difficult for the team. Jacoby Brissett was the starter a year ago and suffered through some inconsistencies but it might be time for Frank Reich to see if the former Patriot has improved with experience. The Colts can compete with anyone in the AFC, but not with Rivers constantly living on the edge.
You Are What Your Record Says You Are
Bill Parcells' famous phrase still gets plenty of play, and it may be time to admit the Chicago Bears just might be a pretty good team. Few took their start seriously, but with Nick Foles now at the controls the Bears posted solid wins over Tampa and Carolina and now sit at 5-1 alongside Green Bay atop the NFC North (technically a half-game ahead). The defense, led up front by Khalil Mack, is stout and while the offense remains inconsistent it has benefitted from Foles. His presence has steadied things in Chicago, and he impressed with his postgame comments following the Panthers win when he explained how the group is coming together.
So, while many (including me) dismissed the Bears early victories, perhaps Matt Nagy's club is still improving and is capable to playing better moving forward, and with five wins already in the bank it's possible that Chicago is establishing itself as a solid playoff team. It's not like Foles hasn't enjoyed periods of success in the past.
Tanking for Trevor Rankings
Quick question: Why is it the race to acquire the No. 1 pick only seems to involve the winless teams? Entering Week 6, the Jets, Giants and Falcons all were searching for win No. 1 – and everyone was focused on those three for the No. 1 pick and the rights to draft Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. The Giants and Falcons won, leaving just the Jets at 0-6. But there are now eight teams with just one win, so the sweepstakes involves more than just the Jets. Jacksonville certainly could use Lawrence's services at 1-5 with the gritty but limited Gardner Minshew at the helm. Same goes for Washington. But there's one team that never gets mentioned in the Tanking for Trevor conversations and that's the Minnesota Vikings. A playoff team a year ago the Vikings dropped to 1-5 on the season and Kirk Cousins leads the league in picks with 10. Yet no one seems to discuss the Vikings as a potential landing spot for Lawrence. That could change with another loss or two in the coming weeks.
Speaking of Washington's quarterback situation, MMQB's Albert Breer tossed out an interesting theory on NBC Sports Boston over the weekend involving Newton. His former coach, Ron Rivera, is now in charge in Washington and already has moved away from second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. If he's not in position to land Lawrence, perhaps he could take a run at Newton if he becomes a free agent in the offseason. The Patriots could obviously use the franchise tag to limit the quarterback's flexibility, but a Newton-Rivera reunion wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility if that doesn't come to pass. … The two-point conversion analytics crowd had a busy day on Sunday, and as usual there was debate on both sides. Much like Dallas earlier in the season, Belichick opted to go for two trailing by nine with less than nine minutes left. It failed and left the Patriots still in need of two possessions to win the game. As usual, the unconventional decision was embraced by analytics, who somehow feel knowing you still need two scores at that juncture is better than only needing one. The theory is a potential touchdown down eight would come later in the game, likely making the two-point conversion do or die. Instead, the theory prefers to hope for an additional possession in order to win. I'm not sure why additional possessions at that stage are more likely down nine rather than eight, but that's the theory. Of course, it almost worked when Broncos coach Vic Fangio thought first-and-10 with 3:23 left was a good time to have Drew Lock air it out and then watched his quarterback throw picks on consecutive passes while trying to protect the lead. Not a great day for either coach on Sunday. … In Tennessee, not as many analytics experts were embracing Romeo Crennel's choice to go for the win with a two-pointer in the final minutes of the Texans overtime loss to the Titans. Houston led 36-29 and could have kicked the PAT to force the Titans to score and make a two-point conversion to force OT. Instead he wanted to end it there, and missed. The Titans eventually won in overtime behind Derrick Henry's monster performance. The number-crunchers say Crennel didn't substantially increase his team's chances of winning by passing up the kick, claiming it went from 98 to 99 if the conversion was successful. It was unconventional to be sure, but I completely understand Crennel's thinking – much more so than the idea that knowing you need two scores with eight minutes left is a good thing. Crennel went for the win, not unlike Rivera choosing to go for two when his team scored a potential tying TD in the closing seconds against the Giants. In both cases a successful conversion spelled victory, but Crennel is getting hammered for his choice while "Riverboat Ron" is applauded for having the guts to go for it. I've watched teams drive the length of the field for a touchdown in the last minute countless times, so the fact that Houston had a 98 percent chance of winning up eight at that point is of little relevance. What the Titans did was clutch but by no means was it miraculous. And would anyone believe the Texans would have stopped Henry on a two-point conversion to avoid OT had Crennel kicked the PAT? Strange and gusty decisions all around, which makes the games more fun, and allows for plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking.
As we make our way through the second leg of the season I feel there are still more questions than answers even among the "elite" teams. Things should settle in a couple of weeks though.
- Pittsburgh – (5-0, 5th last week) – The Steelers own the Browns so maybe this is an overreaction, and Devin Bush's torn ACL hurts a great defense.
- Seattle – (5-0, 4th last week) – The Seahawks move up without playing … largely because of the Packers dud in Tampa.
- Kansas City (5-1, 2nd last week) – The Chiefs responded to their first loss with a physically dominant win at Buffalo.
- Green Bay (4-1, 1st last week) – Aaron Rodgers was awful in Tampa and looked rattled. For now I'll chalk it up as an aberration.
- Baltimore (5-1, 3rd last week) – There's still something missing with these Ravens, but the wins keep piling up.