Tag Archives: Ben Roethlisberger

Philip Rivers vs Josh Allen Leads Super Wild Card Weekend

The NFL is in full playoff mode as everyone gears up for the first-ever “Super Wild Card” round. That just means that an extra team has been added to each conference’s playoff field, making it seven teams each from the AFC and NFC and 14 in total. But the additional entrants won’t be diluting the on-field product as we have a slew of great matchups ahead this weekend.

Previewing Super Wild Card Matchups

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

There’s a new sheriff running the AFC East and it’s the Buffalo Bills who won the division for the first time since 1995. Led by MVP-candidate Josh Allen at quarterback, the Bills unlocked their offense with the acquisition of Stefon Diggs in the offseason. Buffalo is second in points and yards this season; their highest marks since the 1992 season.

If “building from the trenches out” was a team, it would be the Indianapolis Colts. Aside from their heavy (and wise) investment in their offensive line, they also traded a first-round pick for DeForest Buckner to bolster their run defense. They then supplemented that with drafting players like Johnathan Taylor and Darius Leonard. Philip Rivers just has to take care of the football most of the time.

This is a matchup of the fourth (Buffalo) and 10th-ranked (Indianapolis) teams in DVOA, per Football Outsiders with Buffalo obviously having the edge. But the Colts defense, ranked seventh to the Bills 12th, could be the equalizer here. Buffalo is extremely reliant on the passing game and the Colts are top-10 in both pass and rush defense DVOA, with their pass defense ranking slightly higher. Meanwhile, Buffalo can check Rivers but could struggle with Taylor who ran for 253 yards in Week 17.

Prediction: Colts 24-21

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

It’s always a thriller when division opponents face off. Knowing your opponent well levels the playing field or completely making it no contest. It’s the former for these teams as the Los Angeles Rams have been playing Seattle tough since before they were a good team themselves. Now, after John Wolford got them into the playoffs in Jared Goff’s stead in Week 17, they get the chance to make it count for something.

The Seattle Seahawks are riding a heater. After starting the year 5-0, they hit a bump in the road, going 3-4 over their next seven and losing to two playoff teams in the process. But they’ve won four straight and will host this game, for whatever that’s worth with no fans in attendance. And the addition of Carlos Dunlap has added teeth to the pass rush that was led by safety Jamal Adams. They’ve also turned from letting Russell Wilson “cook” to a more balanced attack.

L.A. is the only team in the NFC West Wilson has a losing record against (8-10) which includes being 3-5 against the Sean McVay-led version. But Seattle won the last meeting between the two in Week 16 20-6, in Los Angeles. Perhaps they’ve figured something out between the added juice to the pass rush that neutralizes Goff. They’ll need to in order to come away with a win.

Prediction: Rams 31-27

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team

In our first “David vs Goliath” matchup of the weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Washington to face the team with no name. It’s Tampa’s first playoff berth since 2007 and, given where the differences between this year’s roster and last year’s, is in no small thanks to Tom Brady. Of course, adding Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin doesn’t hurt either.

The Washington Football Team shouldn’t be here, and that’s not in reference to them having a losing record. A team that has gone through four different starting quarterbacks and settled on the one that had 17 surgeries to his leg isn’t supposed to be in the playoffs. But, led by a defense ranked third in DVOA, they present an interesting challenge. Not in the secondary as the Bucs are loaded. But the Washington pass rush is third in Pass Rush Win Rate, per ESPN whereas Tampa is just 17th in Pass Block Win Rate, per ESPN.

As much as it would be a cool story for the Football Team to pull off the monumental upset, we have to be realistic. Tampa is far more talented and has much more leeway for the slow starts and mistakes that have plagued them throughout the year. But they need to remember what happened to the Steelers. Dawdling too long will see Washinton walk away victorious.

Prediction: Buccaneers 31-14

Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans

Sunday’s first game is a bit of a throwback. These are the first and second-ranked teams in rushing this season even though they go about it in a different way. The Baltimore Ravens focus in the ground game is quarterback Lamar Jackson who became the first quarterback in the NFL with multiple 1000-yard rushing seasons. Baltimore is having a “down” year compared to last, but they are still averaging 37-plus points per game over their last five.

This season, Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans became just the eighth person in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards. H also was the first to do so without a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. In a league that constantly reminds you why you don’t pay running backs, Henry is bucking the trend and proving you can still build around the position. You need a Ryan Tannehill to fill in the appropriate gaps, though, and the work the Titans have done there might be their best.

These teams met back in Week 11; a game the Titans won in overtime 30-24. Added to Jackson’s postseason struggles and it’s easy to see a path to a Titans win. Their biggest defensive weakness is also Jackson’s: the passing game. If they can manage to keep him in the pocket they can make short order of the Ravens. But the Tennessee pass rush is mediocre at best. If they are forced to rely on Tannehill this game will play right into Baltimore’s hands.

Prediction: Titans 31-28

Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints

Make no mistake about it, the Chicago Bears are a playoff team only because the NFL expanded the field. But that isn’t to say they haven’t done their best to rebound from a mid-season skid that saw them lose six straight games. They were 3-1 over the final of the season and were among the top-scoring teams in that span. In control of their own destiny entering Week 17, they failed to take out the “big brother” Green Bay Packers.

The New Orleans Saints are a powerhouse. So much so they went 3-1 in the four games Drew Brees missed with cracked ribs. And they’ve done it without Michael Thomas for most of the season. Thomas should rejoin the team for this one as the Saints look to give Brees the chance to go out on top if reports that this could be the last hurrah for the surefire Hall of Famer prove to be accurate.

Chicago hasn’t beaten the Saints since 2008 and hasn’t won in the Superdome since 2002. They’ve played each of the last two seasons, including back in Week 8. New Orleans has won both meetings by an average of 31-24 and is fifth in scoring, offensively and defensively, this season. The Bears are also dealing with injuries to key players like Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson. Does Chicago have a chance to pull the upset? Yes, but it isn’t a good one.

Prediction: Saints 34-17

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and they got there by beating the team they’ll face in the Super Wild Card round; albeit with a bunch of backups playing. Their 11-5 record is their best since 1994, Bill Belichick’s second to last year at the helm. Nick Chubb will have to find whatever cracks he can in the defense because bad things tend to happen when they rely on Baker Mayfield.

Many people called the Pittsburgh Steelers the most fraudulent 11-0 in history. A three-game skid that began with a loss to the Football Team reinforced that notion. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a comeback victory in Week 16 over the Colts, at least pausing the doubters. But questions about this offense still remain. Such as, can they effectively run the football? Their rushing attack ranked 32nd in the regular season.

These two technically split their regular-season matchups but, as mentioned, the Steelers played backups in Week 17. Pittsburgh will need to come out of the gates fast or they could find themselves playing catchup on a team that specializes in ball control. The Steelers defense is first in DVOA and third in both points and yards. If they get the lead it’s almost certainly a wrap for this young Browns squad that ranked about average in counting stats and was 18th in DVOA. It’s just hard to see the former scenario playing out over the latter.

Prediction: Steelers 28-17

Super Wild Card Weekend Set to Excite

It’s a first in NFL history and there’s a chance this won’t be the only season with an expanded field. It was on the table well before COVID was a thing so that’s why it has staying power. They’ve avoided adding extra regular-season weeks (for now) and it’s hard to argue this is a bad thing when you look at some of the games we’re getting on Super Wild Card Weekend.

Week 15 Primetime Moneymakers: An AFL Throwback

Entering Week 15 we must remember that every NFL season is full of “flukey” moments, sure. But this year has stood out for its wackiness. From the lack of a training camp and then preseason to the expansion of rosters and rescheduling of games. Nothing is as it usually is in the NFL and that has made picking games especially difficult. We had no baseline and just when we started to get a handle on things, coaching staffs across the league have made their typical adjustments. We just have to get back one step ahead.

If you listen closely, you can hear the fantasy gods stomping a mudhole in our ticket from last week. 0-3 is obviously as bad as gets but to have the Browns blow it for us in the fashion they did was just brutal. So much so that many sportsbooks refunded bets or gave site credit to the many bettors who almost had it. Nonetheless, there is still money to be won and if anybody is going to win it, it should be us. Fingers crossed, sheesh!

A Classic AFL Clash Leads Week 15 Primetime Moneymakers

Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas (7-6)

Spread: Raiders -3

O/U: 53

It’s been an interesting season for the Los Angeles Chargers (6-7 ATS). They’ve had seven games decided by one score (eight points or less). They’ve only won two of those games. Such is life with a rookie quarterback as Justin Herbert has thrown an interception in all but three of his starts. And if it weren’t for a late field goal against the implosion specialist Atlanta Falcons they would be in the midst of another three-game skid. It was much needed after they were shutout 45-0 by the New England Patriots at home a couple of weeks ago.

The Las Vegas Raiders (7-6 ATS) are having a successful inaugural season in Sin City. But they’ve gone 1-3 over the last month with a 46-3 loss on the road to the Atlanta Falcons sticking out. Their lone win was a 31-28 edging of the winless New York Jets. Kansas City bottled up Josh Jacobs who hurt his ankle the following week against Atlanta and the running game has subsequently failed to hit the 100-yard mark in a month. Rushing stats are usually an indicator of winning. For the Raiders it the other way around. If they won it’s likely because they ran.

Neither of these teams has been a safe bet these last four weeks. L.A. hadn’t covered since Week 3 before last week. Vegas hasn’t covered since Nov 22. The specter of a possible coaching change for the Chargers can manifest in any number of ways, such as their late-game rally in Week 14. Las Vegas won this matchup last time thanks to an overturned touchdown call. It’s hard to sweep an opponent but taking the Raiders (minus the points) still feels like the smart call given the Chargers propensity for late-game collapses. Also going over here just because.

Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)

Spread: Giants +4.5

O/U: 45

Even with all the hype they received in the preseason, this matchup looked like a snoozer in the preseason. Now, the Cleveland Browns (5-8 ATS) are in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Their harrowing defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens last Monday night snapped a four-game winning streak. That streak included a 41-35 manhandling of the Tennessee Titans. Cleveland is third in the NFL in rushing and 25th in passing, but Baker Mayfield has completed over 66 percent of his passes for 935 yards with eight touchdowns to just one interception over the last three weeks.

The New York Giants (8-5 ATS) had a four-game winning streak ended last week too. Theirs was a 26-7 drubbing at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals but was due in no small part to quarterback Daniel Jones trying to play on a bad hamstring. That means Colt McCoy, who got the start and a win in Week 13, could be back under center. Still, their victory and defensive dominance over the Seattle Seahawks highlighted what has been a tremendous mid-season turnaround after they started the season 1-4.

Back-to-back big games are usually a recipe for a letdown the following week. Especially against a battered opponent. But the way the game ended last week can’t sit well with the Browns. It’s hard to see any way they let this team beat them. It has also been a safer bet to take the Giants to cover. But we cannot ignore Jones’ injury and what it does in a spot where New York would be an underdog regardless. Browns laying the points it is as the Giants have covered a spread of fewer than five points just once. We are also riding the under, but only if Jones sits.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)

Spread: Bengals +13

O/U: 40.5

For weeks many talking heads have been pointing out the fluke nature of the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5 ATS) record. Over the last two weeks, the rest of us have seen that all bear out. Dropping back-to-back games is bad enough. But one of those came against a team from the feeble NFC East at Heinz Field. Last week’s loss to the Bills is more understandable except for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense’s struggles. Pittsburgh is still first in defense DVOA but they are dragging along the 20th-ranked offense. Perhaps they try to get the ground game going this week.

If we are being completely honest, this is the season the Cincinnati Bengals (7-6 ATS) needed as a franchise. Despite the season-ending knee injury, they appear to have their franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow. Now, they’ll be able to keep putting top-tier talent around him thanks to having a putrid record. Cincinnati is 31st in total DVOA (30th in offense, 29th in defense) and 30th in scoring offense. They are 22nd in scoring defense, though, for whatever that’s worth. This one could get ugly and that would be totally acceptable.

They should bring relegation to the NFL should Pittsburgh lose this game. Beating up on weak teams then losing to the sneakily competitive Washington Football team is one thing. A loss to these Bengals would be catastrophic. Pittsburgh needs to get their offense back in order and this looks like a get-right spot. But 13 points is a big number. The Steelers haven’t had, let alone covered, a spread that large this season while the Bengals have lost by double-digits six times this year. Just two of those were by more than 12 points. Pittsburgh will win but by how much? The under might be the safest play.

All line information courtesy of Covers.com

2020 Fantasy Football Regular Season Awards

Finally, we are through the grueling fantasy football regular season. Well, not in leagues everywhere. But most of them for sure. If you were skilled enough (and had the right amount of luck) to make the playoffs, congratulations! Now the real, work begins.

But before we do that, we should take a look back at this season and recognize the players that got us where we are today. For some, that means appreciation. In regards to others, though, it will be a show of contempt for the disappointment.

Awards for 2020 Fantasy Football Standouts

Most Valuable Player

Kyler Murray

2020 has been a bit up-and-down for Kyler Murray; our preseason pick for league MVP. In his sophomore season, the diminutive passer has improved his completion percentage, touchdown rate, and is on pace to shatter his passing yardage total from last season. He’s even upped his rushing production.

What matters most for our purposes is that he went from 10th in overall fantasy scoring to first in a year. The QB5 with an ADP of 56 in the preseason, Murray gave you MVP-level production with an emphasis on the ‘value’.

We cannot do this without acknowledging the players who came closest to winning this. Patrick Mahomes, who missed out by five points, stands out as obvious, as would most any other top quarterback named. But of the four players to round out the top-10, none was a quarterback.

Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams outscored the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, and many others this year. Kamara has been without Drew Brees for the last three weeks while Cook and Adams both missed at least one game.

Bust of the Year

Saquon Barkley

Now the “winner” may be Saquon Barkley, but this one could have gone any number of ways. Some might consider Dak Prescott since he was the league’s leading passer when he went down in Week 5. Or maybe you say it’s his teammate, Ezekiel Elliott. He hasn’t missed a game but is the RB7 after being drafted as the RB3 with an ADP of third-overall. Or is it Christian McCaffrey?

No, it’s Barkley who lasted one full week before going down with just four touches in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears. Much was expected from the former second-overall pick. It’s the second year in a row he’s failed to come close to his ADP. Last year he was the first overall pick and finished as the RB17 (82nd overall). He was drafted second overall on average this season. Oof.

Rookie of the Year

Justins

Ok, so we’re breaking the rules a bit here and, no, that isn’t an error in the heading. Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers is the easy choice. A quarterback and the highest-scoring rookie in the NFL. But we don’t do ‘easy’ around here and so we have co-Rookies of the Year in Herbert and fellow-Justin, Justin Jefferson, wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.

The latter has made a strong case for winning the award in real life too. Herbert’s case would be stronger with more winning and fewer critical turnovers. Still, he is the QB9 after going undrafted due to starting the year as a backup. Jefferson, drafted as the WR48 only to finish the regular schedule as the WR7. A tip of the cap, rooks.

Waiver Add of the Year

James Robinson

Herbert could have qualified for this award since he was a hot commodity on waiver wires after Tyrod Taylor was injured. But it’s another player that walks away with this esteemed distinction. The waiver wire is critical to any successful season and missing out on your preferred target is a different kind of pain. You probably didn’t have that problem with James Robinson.

After Jacksonville cut Leonard Fournette the discussion around this backfield was simple: Avoid. Most wrote that any potential production was negligible. Most of that was because without a preseason we didn’t know who the backup was or how they would perform. All Robinson did was finish the regular season eighth among non-quarterbacks and 20th overall in fantasy points. The undrafted rookie out of Illinois State is third in the NFL in rushing attempts and yards.

Comeback Player of the Year

Ben Roethlisberger

One of the beautifully weird things about fantasy football is how different the perception of a player may be compared to real life. Ben Roethlisberger is having a good season by most standards; over 66 percent completion and 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. But he’s just 12th in passing yards and his interception last week against the Washington Football Team proved to be costly.

Yet, after missing all but two games last year with an elbow injury, and contemplating retirement, Roethlisberger sits 16 overall in fantasy points and is the QB11 (better than his QB14 ADP). Imagine if he was operating a typical Steelers offense.

Most Improved Player

Davante Adams

Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate thanks in no small part to stellar wideout Davante Adams. The former Fresno State Bulldog is fourth in catches, sixth in yards, but is tied for first with 13 receiving touchdowns. Mind you, he’s missed two full games and part of a third this season. He missed four games last season and had 83 grabs for 997 yards and five scores.

All of those numbers, racked up in 12 games, are fewer than Adams has compiled through 10. Being in the second year of the offensive system has helped all of the Green Bay Packers and the connection between Rodgers and Adams appears stronger than ever. Adams was the WR32 and 87th player overall last year. He is 2020’s WR2 and 10th overall player through the regular season.

DST of the Year

Miami Dolphins

In real life, we acknowledge the best player on defense with the Defensive Player of the Year award. In most cases, fantasy football only has entire units. As such, we have to bestow this great honor to the Miami Dolphins. Yup, we’re breaking the rules again. It’s actually the Pittsburgh Steelers DST that leads the way in scoring.

With an ADP as the DST2, their production is only “mildly” impressive. Miami, however, was ranked dead last on average in the preseason. Now? They are ranked second. That’s a stunning turnaround from a unit that finished last season just as they were projected before this one.

All rankings and ADP information courtesy of Fantasypros.com

Picturing Perfect NFL Playoffs Payoffs

You go through an entire sports season (in this case a 16-game, 17 week NFL slate) and get amped up for a thrilling match just to get something with no appeal. Oh, you thought this was about quality of play? Nah. More than likely, if a team is in the NFL playoffs the game will be good. Often the least expected matchups wind up being the most entertaining.

But that does nothing for the personal investment of a storyline that really piqued your interest never coming to fruition. For years the quintessential matchup was Tom Brady and the New England Patriots taking on Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Or Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Well, Manning is retired now and the other three now reside in the same conference with Brady’s move to Tampa.

Ideal Payoffs For a Long Road to the Playoffs

For the Nostalgia

Some combination of Rodgers versus Brady versus Brees is still very much a possibility. Rodgers is a legitimate MVP candidate. He has 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions and completing passes at his highest rate since becoming a full-time starter. Brees’ top-seeded Saints are 2-0 with him on the mend from 11 cracked ribs. Brady is bringing up the rear for the trio. His Bucs are still 7-5 with the seventh-ranked scoring offense and the second-highest DVOA of the three defenses, per Football Outsiders.

It wouldn’t matter what leg of the postseason. If any two of these three were to meet it would be must-see tv. Brees-Brady has the most extensive history, despite being in different conferences. Brees owns a decisive 5-2 edge in their head-to-head matchups, including a sweep of the season series this year. Next is Brees-Rodgers, where the Packers passer holds a 3-2 lead after winning in Week 3 this year. Brady-Rodgers have faced off three times as starters and had taken one apiece before Brady’s Bucs stomped a mudhole in Rodgers’ Packers in Week 6.

Again, all would be great matchups but, given the comparative rare nature of a Brady-Rodgers matchup that might be ideal to some. But if we are going off of the current performance of the principles, Brees-Rodgers 6 would be the one. Both quarterbacks are playing at an extremely high level (or were in Brees’ case). Brady’s team might be the most talented. But the cohesion hasn’t been there and Brady has committed many uncharacteristic mental errors this year.

Air Forces

Conference Championship week has often been referred to as the best round of the playoffs. The two teams are the best of their respective conferences but tend to have a level of familiarity that adds both to the strategery of the game as well as the personal investment. Losing is bad enough, losing to a “rival” is unfathomable. In that vein, is there a more exciting potential meeting than the seemingly inevitable one of the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs?

It’s really a matchup of Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes, though they will never be on the field at the same time save for possibly the coin-toss and the post-game handshake. Still, Roethlisberger versus Mahomes is must-see programming at its finest. Mahomes has thrown 30 touchdowns to just two picks with 3497 yards to go with that. Roethlisberger, with his 26 touchdowns and six interceptions, hasn’t generated the same kind of buzz because his team is so well rounded. But he is still throwing touchdowns at his highest rate since 2012 and throwing interceptions at his lowest rate since 2010.

Home field advantage could play a significant part in this one; both locales are notoriously tough for visitors. That’s with fans though. With empty stadiums, the bigger deciding factor could be the defenses. This is where the Steelers could prove to be the kryptonite to Mahomes and the Chiefs’ Superman. Pittsburgh’s defense is first in DVOA, sacks, and scoring. Kansas City ranks 17th in DVOA and 23rd in sacks. They are sixth in scoring, though, so maybe that squares it.

Micro Machines

Remember those fun, tiny little toy cars where the spokesman in the commercial talked like he was hooked up to a caffeine drip? This is kind of like that. Unconventional as they may be, the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson and the Arizona Cardinals Kyler Murray have proven they can hang with the big boys. Both of these players spent time as the MVP favorite this season. Wilson, who has never even received a first-place vote for the award, had a case for longer than Murray, but the latter was a popular preseason pick for MVP.

The season has been filled with ups and downs for both quarterbacks and franchises. Neither escaped the rash of severe injuries that hit the NFL so hard this season with Seattle losing their top-four running backs for different stretches of the season and Arizona losing stud pass-rusher Chandler Jones. The quarterbacks both had hands in their own undoing, with both having three-interception games at one point or another.

These two have split the series both seasons since Murray entered the league, with Seattle taking the most recent duel in primetime. Playing in what might be the toughest division in professional football, these teams have spent much of the season beating up on each other and that has led to many taking both to task for their flaws. But the NFC is wide open and both of these offenses can hang points on you in a hurry. Seattle is third in scoring and Arizona is eighth.

Picture Perfect NFL Playoffs Payoffs

There are just some of the potential NFL playoffs matchups that would be worth the price of admission. A playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins would be a throwback to the ’80s and ’90s. If they were healthy, seeing the San Francisco 49ers take on the Tennessee Titans might not be the Super Bowl the league wants. But seeing the game’s greatest rushing system and its greatest runner go at it for the ultimate glory just feels like an ode to its origins. At any rate, we’ll get to see the actual NFL playoffs pairings in just a few weeks. Hopefully, the payoff is worth it.

Week 13 Primetime Moneymakers: Four the Win

A week after having the NFL primetime schedule extended into Wednesday we will do so again in Week 13. It’s an attempt to get back on track. Week 12’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens took so long to be played that their matchups this week have been pushed back in response. Pittsburgh will play the Washington Football Team on Monday at 5:00 PM ET; technically not in primetime but the unique time lands it on the list. Baltimore will face the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday at 8:05 PM ET.

Sitting at 9-14 after a pair of brutal weeks, we finally hit it big going 3-0. We nailed Bears-Packers outright but only got Seahawks-Eagles and Steelers-Ravens covers because the spread changed. So what, we’ll take it at this point. The record now sits at 12-14 with a chance to go above .500 on the year for the first time. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster of bad beats but there’s still money to be made. If anyone is going to make it, it might as well be us!

Picking Four to Win in Week 13 Primetime Moneymakers

Denver Broncos (4-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)

Spread: Chiefs -14

O/U: 51

Drew Lock should be back under center for the Denver Broncos (6-5 ATS). They had to face the New Orleans Saints with practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton, a converted college quarterback. It did not go well as they lost 31-3. The Broncos average 22.7 PPG in Lock’s seven starts this season. They’ll need every bit of it with their opponent this week. Defensively they rank 10th in DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and seventh in sacks. That’s a testament to the job head coach Vic Fangio has done without Von Miller this season.

If ‘unbothered’ was a person, that person would be Patrick Mahomes. Undaunted by the reputation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense (which was largely overblown anyway), he and the Kansas City Chiefs (6-5 ATS) put up 27 fairly easy points on them. They held off a late rally to reach double-digit wins for the sixth season in a row and seventh in eight years under Andy Reid (they won nine games the other year).

Perhaps in some alternate universe Lock is developed enough. And Miller and Courtland Sutton are healthy so the Broncos can keep up with the Chiefs. In this reality, though, he and the rest of the offense aren’t equipped to take advantage. The Chiefs defense ranks 17th in DVOA and has just 20 sacks on the season. Good luck to that secondary containing Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman. No secondary is that deep. Take the Chiefs but just moneyline. For some reason, 14 points feel like too many to lay against a divisional opponent even with such a lopsided matchup.

Washington Football Team (4-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0)

Spread: Steelers -10

O/U: 42.5

The Washington Football Team (6-5 ATS) have had a surprisingly competitive season. And that’s not just because they play in the worst division in professional football which means they still have a chance to host a playoff game. It’s also because their defense is ranked fifth in DVOA despite the offense being 27th and 24th in scoring. Alex Smith has led the Football Team to back-to-back wins but has just three touchdowns to five interceptions.

By now the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3 ATS) have to be tired of COVID as much as anyone. On top of having their own problems with the virus, they have had their games moved twice already due to their opponents handling of it. Still, they are undefeated and coming off a disappointing win (per Mike Tomlin) against a depleted division rival. Can their offense (sixth in scoring, 15th in DVOA) take a break and ride the defense (first in scoring and DVOA) to another win?

Some might be questioning the validity of Pittsburgh’s record after watching Ben Roethlisberger and co. struggle against Baltimore but that’s just how those games go. Washington will need them to play as sloppily as they did in Week 12 to have a shot because a shootout guarantees a Steelers victory. Barring that this will make it 12 wins for Tomlin’s team but maybe not by the double-digit margin predicted. The quick turnaround might lead the Steelers to run more with guys still missing in action and that would be just fine with the Football Team. Steelers moneyline seems best as does the under.

Buffalo Bills (8-3) at San Francisco 49ers (5-6)

Spread: 49ers +1

O/U: 48

If it seems like the Buffalo Bills (6-5 ATS) aren’t losing much lately it’s because they aren’t. Since back-to-back losses to the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs they have gone 4-1 with a huge win over the Seattle Seahawks included. Buffalo, led by Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, is 10th in scoring offense and eighth in offense DVOA despite not having a ground game worth mentioning. Being so one-dimensional can be detrimental to any team, especially when your defense is 16th in DVOA and 18th in scoring.

Don’t look now, but the San Francisco 49ers (5-6 ATS) find themselve very much in the playoff hunt despite all of the games they’ve lost to injury this year. They’ve gotten some key players back in recent weeks including Richard Sherman and Raheem Mostert so maybe they can start stringing wins together. They still rank ninth in defense DVOA but are just 19th offensively. Jimmy Garoppolo (and likely George Kittle) won’t be walking through that door and Nick Mullens caps this team’s ceiling.

Location, location, location. The 49ers might appreciate the change of venue for this one since they’ve allowed 15 touchdowns at home compared to just 10 on the road. Their offense has also scored more on the road. Buffalo sees a drop in their offensive scoring, mostly in rushing scores. But their defense actually improves away from Bills Stadium. Additionally, even though it’s a small spread it’s worth mentioning the 49ers haven’t covered the spread in any game they haven’t won outright this season and that isn’t to be expected here. Take Buffalo and don’t be shocked to see over hit even with San Francisco so undermanned.

Dallas Cowboys (3-8) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Check back soon once the line is set for this game to get the pick!

Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC North

Free agency opened in the NFL with the legal tampering period and the deals came in furiously. Most teams had a pretty clear idea of who they wanted and at what price. Of course, not all activity is created equal. Some of the teams did very well on paper. Others, however, were not so fortunate.

So who’s who? Well, that is the fun part. Adding talent isn’t a shoo-in way to a passing mark. Some teams would have been better off embracing the chance to rebuild and others passed on the chance at that one difference-maker. Others still seemed to be operating in a different world.

First up, the AFC North…

Best and Worst from the AFC North Free Agency

Baltimore Ravens

Best Move: Trading for Calais Campbell (and Signing Michael Brockers)

Yes, we are beginning by breaking the rules slightly. This is, obviously, a pair of additions to the perennial fearsome Baltimore Ravens front. But they’ll need both to make up for the loss of Michael Pierce, the mammoth defensive tackle who left for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Michael Brockers (6-5, 305 lbs) and Calais Campbell (6-8, 300 lbs) are bringing the beef.

One might have been enough, but after giving up 195 rushing yards to Derrick Henry in the playoffs, bringing in both is probably a good idea. What gives the addition of Campbell the edge? The fact that Baltimore was able to take advantage of the Jacksonville Jaguars and steal the massive run stuffer for a 5th-round pick; the same cost the Washington Redskins paid to the Carolina Panthers for Kyle Allen.

Worst Move: Marshal Yanda Retiring

This one is obviously not in the Ravens control. Marshal Yanda has been one of the most consistent guards in all of football over the last decade-plus. Initially drafted by Baltimore in the third round (86th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft, Yanda started no fewer than 12 games in 10 out of his 13 seasons.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and a Super Bowl champion. Careers don’t get much more decorated than Yanda’s. It cannot be understated what he meant to the top-ranked rushing attack of the Ravens. And keeping pressure out of 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson’s lap. They placed a second-round tender on center Matt Skura, maintaining some continuity inside. But he’s no Yanda.

Next Move: Signing Matt Judon Long-Term

This move is really pending on where Matt Judon is playing next season. Baltimore slapped him with the franchise tag and the thought was “duh”. He led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks without much of a compliment and is just entering his prime. But rumors are swirling that he could be moved with the Ravens cap situation getting tight after landing Campbell, Brockers, et al.

16.5 sacks over two years aren’t eye-popping numbers. But he also has 67 pressures and 27 quarterback knockdowns over that same span. After Baltimore lost Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs last offseason, the next best pass-rushing “threat” of the last two years was Patrick Onwuasor. He has a whopping eight sacks over that time and was outplayed by Tyus Bowser last year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best Move: Signing D.J. Reader to replace Andrew Billings

Usually, when teams lose a rotation player (as Andrew Billings was for the Cincinnati Bengals), they replace them with a cheap option later in free agency or via the draft. The Bengals went above and beyond by replacing Billings with a far superior version of himself in Houston Texans defensive lineman, D.J. Reader.

You might not know much about Reader because he plays defensive end in an odd (3-4) defensive front. He is mostly there to take up blockers and allow the pass-rush to get home. But he, conversely to Billings has seen his sack totals rise each of the last three seasons (to a lustrous 2.5) and increase his pressures from seven to 12.

Worst Move: Tagging A.J. Green

It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is for the Bengals next season. Andy Dalton or a rookie (sup, Joe Burrow?) will need weapons to throw to. And for much of the last nine years, A.J. Green has been the best to wear the stripes. Still, tagging him at $18 million seems a bit misguided. Nobody is trading for him at that number.

Green now narrowly edges Dalton for the highest cap hit on the team. That’s doubly bad because Dalton should be on his way out. Keeping a veteran receiver around to ease the burden on a rookie quarterback isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But when that receiver has only played nine games in the last two years, including zero last year, it’s fair to question the move.

Next Move: Draft a Cornerback

You won’t hear many suggesting this as a must for Cincinnati. After all, they just signed a pair of former Vikings corners in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Waynes especially will be viewed as addressing the secondary simply by virtue of his three-year, $42 million ($15 million in guarantees) contract. That would be a mistake.

Waynes (75 percent) and Alexander (65 percent) gave up too many catches with the Vikings. They also both allowed passer ratings over 84 with Waynes allowing a healthy 107.9 rating. Luckily for the Bengals, neither has to be a shutdown corner. That responsibility falls on William Jackson… Draft a corner, Cincy.

Cleveland Browns

Best Move: Signing Jack Conklin

Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield has been on the wrong side of a few statistical categories the past two seasons. Thanks to Jameis Winston’s record-setting 2019, not much attention was paid to Mayfield being second in interceptions with 21. He’s second (to Winston) over the last two seasons with 35 picks thrown.

So why is adding Jack Conklin (three-years, $42 million) a great move? At least part of what ailed Mayfield was having to be on the run much of the time. Greg Robinson is worried about the wrong kind of blocks at the moment, but Conklin is leaps and bounds above both he and Chris Hubbard. They still need to add at least one more lineman in the draft. But Conklin is a nice place to start.

Worst Move: Making Austin Hooper the Highest-Paid TE

This is less about the talent level of Austin Hooper than it is a reality check to the Browns that throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. They were already loaded with high-end weapons in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver as well as a talented backfield duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Regardless of Hooper’s ability, there’s still just one football.

David Njoku, Cleveland’s first-round pick just two seasons ago, hasn’t developed as they wanted. But, in his defense, young tight ends tend to take a while to get acclimated to the NFL. Head coach Kevin Stefanski orchestrated a Vikings offense that was among the heaviest in two tight end usage. Still, if your quarterback needs all this, you might need a quarterback.

Next Move: Draft a Bookend for Myles Garrett

Myles Garrett fell short of his sack total from the previous year but arguably had a better year. His 10 sacks indeed fell short of the 13.5 he put up in 2018. But he did that with a full, 16-game schedule. Due to his own recklessness, he missed six games last season. That means he was averaging a sack a game before getting suspended. But he was almost literally a one-man show.

The next best pass-rusher in Cleveland was Larry Ogunjobi. His 5.5 sacks are respectable for an interior lineman. But they absolutely stink as the complement to such a dominant force like Garrett. Cleveland should address this early in the draft. With needs along the offensive line and at linebacker, though, they may have to rely on a rotation of players.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Move: Tagging Bud Dupree

It’s simple really. If you aren’t spending money on a quarterback or someone to protect him, targeting someone to make opposing passers uneasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers have that in Bud Dupree. Actually, they have two when you include T.J. Watt. But Dupree was far from a hit to begin his career as his running mate was.

Dupree had 11.5 sacks total the previous two seasons so it isn’t a surprise that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly beating down his door with a long-term extension. Detractors will rightfully point out that Watt’s presence cannot be overstated. That may be the case, but Dupree still had to get home and he did. Now he just has to do it again

Worst Move: Losing Javon Hargrave

Folks don’t usually stump for nose tackles but here we are. When the Steelers lost Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles, they lost more than just a space-eater. After all, nose tackles aren’t supposed to sack quarterbacks. Hargrave has 10.5 sacks over the last two years; that’s notable with him playing alongside Watt, Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt.

Granted, there was no way Pittsburgh could afford him at the price Philly paid. As much of an impact as he had, it’s not worth handing him the sixth-richest contract for a defensive tackle in terms of the average value. The saddest part of all of this is that Hargrave won’t be a Steeler for life like his predecessor in the Steel City, Casey Hampton.

Next Move: Draft Big Ben’s Heir Apparent

Pittsburgh found ways to win after Ben Roethlisberger went down. They did it with defense, though, because their trio of backup quarterbacks fell short of making up for the loss of Roethlisberger. They got eight starts out of Mason Rudolph, who went 5-3. They also got six starts out of Devlin Hodges; an undrafted rookie free agent who went 3-3. Neither is an option.

Unfortunately, the Steelers are without their first-round (Minkah Fitzpatrick) this year but they likely weren’t in the market for a top-tier passer anyway. But would they spend their second-round? Roethlisberger is 38 and has openly considered retirement in the past. He’s reportedly all in now, but Pittsburgh should be proactive here or risk repeating last year.