Ten biggest surprises of the NFL season … and what happens next: Sando’s Pick Six – The Athletic

The Pick Six column for Week 9 unveils my 10 biggest surprises of this NFL season so far, with a look ahead at what’s next for all the teams involved. Geno Smith outplaying Russell Wilson for a Seattle Seahawks team that is 6-3 and leading the NFC West might be the surprise of surprises, but there are so many others — some less sustainable than others. I’ll also explain my midseason picks for MVP, offensive and defensive players of the year, coach of the year, exec of the year and more.

The full menu this week:

NFL’s biggest surprises and what’s next
Midseason awards: MVP, COY and more
Josh Allen’s unsustainable edge
Bears better late than never on Fields
Packers’ laughable push for trade
Two-minute drill: Brady’s heroics

1. The 10 biggest surprises in the NFL this season … and what happens next.

• Geno Smith vastly outplaying Russell Wilson: Going into the season with Smith and Drew Lock as your quarterbacks after trading Wilson had people in the league thinking Seattle was a leading candidate to turn over its leadership in 2023. Smith had started five games over the previous six seasons, with his teams averaging 19 points per game on offense in those starts. Lock had ranked 34th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks in expected points added (EPA) per pass play over the previous three seasons.

Midway through the 2022 season, all evidence suggests Wilson was holding back Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron from implementing the full scheme he brought to Seattle from the Los Angeles Rams in 2021, counter to popular narratives suggesting coach Pete Carroll was holding back Wilson. Seattle has upgraded at offensive tackle and running back, but that cannot explain away the stark difference in performance between Wilson, who recently signed a contract worth $245 million, and Smith, who is playing on a deal worth $3.5 million.

Seattle is 6-3, with Smith ranking among the NFL’s top 10 qualified passers in completion percentage (first), yards per attempt (seventh), touchdown passes (fourth), passer rating (fourth) and expected points added per pass attempt (eighth) and EPA per pass play (ninth). Denver is 3-5, with Wilson ranking outside the top 10 (and as low as 31st) in those categories.

What’s next: Continued success for Seattle if Smith can manage his body effectively over a full season and get some luck with injuries. He hasn’t been asked to play a full season since 2014, when he started 13 games. There’s a different mindset required for full-season starters than for backups. That is an important transition for Smith to manage.

“They have talent, they have speed, and their division is not what it used to be,” a former head coach, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in predicting Seattle would outpace some other upstart teams, including the Giants, over the remainder of the season.

There’s less reason to worry about Smith suddenly being exposed as a fraud from a performance standpoint. Smith has demonstrated consistent passing accuracy. His decision making with the football seems good enough (he has an unremarkable rate of turnover-worthy plays, as determined by Pro Football Focus, but did throw a pick-six in a 31-21 victory at Arizona on Sunday). Smith has also shown good pre-snap acumen, such as when he checked to a run play for a touchdown on a third-and-long against Detroit. Beyond those factors, Seattle has a good scheme, two good receivers, viable tight ends, an elite running back, a solid offensive line and a head coach who is enhancing his credentials for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The placement. 👏
The toe tapping. 👏@GenoSmith3 ➡️ @dkm14 pic.twitter.com/ftaOXlfZhX

— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) November 6, 2022

Packers and Buccaneers both below .500: It has felt this season like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady outstayed the rosters built to maximize their success. The Packers’ weaponry has dipped below baseline levels required to support even top quarterbacks. The Buccaneers’ interior offensive line has been unable to support an immobile quarterback. What’s so notable is how frustrated both quarterbacks have appeared, with Rodgers entering Jeff George territory Sunday while tossing pick after pouty pick in a 15-9 defeat at Detroit, the Packers’ fifth successive defeat.

What’s next: The comeback victory Brady led against the Rams on Sunday suggests the Buccaneers can hang around long enough in a depressed NFC South to possibly factor for the division title, with only an outside shot at making a deep playoff run. The Packers’ extreme lack of weaponry and the Vikings’ four-game lead in the division paint a bleaker picture for Green Bay. Brady and Rodgers must be part of any solution this season. Are they part of the problem to any extent? Rodgers was Sunday. Are they a smaller part of the solution than they could be? These are difficult questions to answer, but fair ones to raise under the circumstances. The Bucs can at least benefit as Chris Godwin continues to work his way back from injury.

Aaron Rodgers is not happy on the sideline after his last throw was tipped and picked in the end zone.

— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 6, 2022

• Jets start 6-3 despite rough offense: The Jets finished last season ranked 32nd in combined EPA on defense and special teams. If this reflected poorly on defensive-minded head coach Robert Saleh, the team’s reversal this season reflects very well on him. The Jets rank No. 2 through Week 9 this season and just notched a signature 20-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills. The transformation has given the Jets a formula by which they can win: on defense and special teams, as long as the offense doesn’t screw up things. This is progress.

What’s next: Taking the next step from competitive/feisty will happen when the Jets know they can count on getting level-headed play from the quarterback position with greater consistency. Sunday marked a step in that direction for Zach Wilson, who lost a fumble when Von Miller sacked him but otherwise suffered no turnovers.

When the Jets announced entering Week 9 that Mike White would supplant Joe Flacco as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, the spin held that White had earned the promotion. This is also the type of move teams make when they are thinking about benching their starters. For example, the Colts promoted Sam Ehlinger to the No. 2 role shortly before naming him the starter over Matt Ryan. Perhaps Wilson got the message and will protect the football sufficiently for the Jets to win games this way in the future. The faster he can move beyond that, the higher the Jets’ ceiling will climb.

make sure y’all get everything right in that new stadium pic.twitter.com/eihhaoFBex

— New York Jets (@nyjets) November 6, 2022

• Rams field one of NFL’s worst offenses: The Rams claimed the NFL’s fifth-best offense by EPA per game last season. They have the fifth-worst offense by that measure this season. The loss of 11.0 EPA per game is the NFL’s second-largest year-over-year drop behind only the 13.2-point loss for Indianapolis, which has benched its quarterback, fired its coordinator and converted zero third downs in losing Sunday.

The reasons for the Rams’ decline are easily identifiable but not easily fixable. The personnel is different and lesser, especially on the offensive line. Matthew Stafford’s sack rate has spiked to a career-worst 8.9 percent. His 28 sacks are a career-high for him through eight games and only two shy of his total for 17 games last season. That’s alarming given all the lost years he spent in Detroit.

What’s next: The Cardinals in Week 10, which has been a good matchup for the Rams, including this season (20-12 victory in Week 3). But it’s looking like Stafford will have four playoff victories and a Super Bowl ring to show for his first two seasons in Los Angeles. Bringing back Odell Beckham Jr. might help, but it isn’t going to upgrade the line, which is what needs upgrading the most.

“Two teams have really struggled replacing key players,” an exec said from another team said. “Green Bay with Davante Adams, and the Rams with their left tackle (Andrew Whitworth). One of the biggest mistakes teams make is mis-evaluating their own.”

Whitworth retiring and successor Joseph Noteboom suffering a season-ending injury set back a line that has rotated through centers as well. There might not be an easy fix this season.

• NFL’s highest-paid OL leads Colts’ offensive death spiral: An NFL exec forecast trouble for the Colts’ line when asked before the season what Indy should worry most about entering this season, but Indianapolis has moved well past the “trouble” stage into a disaster zone. The line seems to be the common denominator for Matt Ryan and 2021 rushing champ Jonathan Taylor suddenly becoming far less effective than they’d been previously. Indy is paying linemen Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Ryan Kelly between $12.4 million and $20.2 million per year, but the line is now a liability.

What’s next: A victory against the Raiders’ next week? It’s possible, given Las Vegas’ season so far, but if owner Jim Irsay was irate enough last offseason to trade and trash Carson Wentz, imagine what’s coming if the carnage continues this season. Indy averaged 3.6 yards per pass attempt and took nine sacks in its 26-3 defeat at New England on Sunday. The Colts finished this game with minus-34.8 EPA on offense, worst for the Colts in any of their 389 total games since 2000. That is the 24th-worst out of 12,026 total team games since 2000. These are the sorts of defeats that cost coaches their jobs (Update: The Colts fired Frank Reich on Monday).

Browns field a top-five offense minus Deshaun Watson, and still go 3-5: The Browns reached their bye ranked fourth in offensive EPA per game. Cleveland was one of two teams this season to finish seven of its first eight games with positive EPA on offense. Kansas City was the other. The Browns’ ability to do this despite getting only so-so play from Jacoby Brissett while awaiting Watson’s return from suspension is a surprise.

But with Cleveland floundering on defense, the Browns have struggled to win. They are 0-2 in their two most productive offensive games, losing 31-30 to the Jets despite producing 19.9 EPA on offense, and losing 30-28 to the Chargers with 14.1 EPA on offense. Teams since 2000 are 644-168-3 (.792) when finishing games with 14-20 EPA on offense, the equivalent of faring 2-3 touchdowns better than an average offense might fare. The Browns are now 8-8 in these games since 2000. Every other team has a winning record in them.

What’s next: Three more starts with Brissett (Miami, Buffalo, Tampa Bay) before Watson takes over for finishing games against Houston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, New Orleans, Washington and Pittsburgh. If the Browns are 4-7 when Watson takes over, do they get to 9-8? That seems realistic.

• Titans start 5-3 without A.J. Brown and much of their payroll: On second thought, the Titans outperforming expectations is no surprise at all. Since Mike Vrabel became coach in 2018, the Titans are the only team to outperform their preseason Vegas win total every season. The Titans are simply Titansing, and never better than against the Chiefs. They took Kansas City to overtime despite converting just one time in 11 chances on third down and completing 5 of 16 passes for 80 yards with rookie Malik Willis making his second start. The Chiefs held a 29-9 lead in first downs and a 91-48 lead in offensive plays run.

The Titans have won games this season without quarterback Ryan Tannehill, pass-rusher Harold Landry and left tackle Taylor Lewan. Those three rank first, second and fifth on the team in average annual salary.

What is the key for the Titans? They know who they are, they have Vrabel, they have Derrick Henry and their defensive coaching is under-appreciated. They also have done a good job under Vrabel maximizing situational opportunities in creative ways, including by incurring penalties to manipulate the clock and by drawing false-start penalties on opponents through pre-snap movement.

What’s next: Vegas set the Titans’ preseason win total at 9.5. The Titans are now on pace for 10.6 victories over the 17-game schedule, which would hit the “over” again. This is what we should expect in the absence of additional key injuries, or maybe even if those do occur. For a sense of how Vrabel connects with his team, check out the video former Titans linebacker Will Compton posted recently, showing Compton parodying Vrabel during a team meeting Vrabel attended (headphones recommended in the office).

Oh wow.

This is leaked footage of the team meeting back in 2018 with Tennessee Titans HC Mike Vrabel that eventually led to 2 divisional titles and an AFC Championship birth in 2019. pic.twitter.com/8pQu1AQUkB

— Will Compton (@_willcompton) November 3, 2022

Cowboys go 4-1 without Dak Prescott: Dallas seemed doomed when the Cowboys learned after their 19-3 opening defeat to Tampa Bay that Prescott would miss a month or more with a thumb injury. They won their next four without him thanks to a defense that proved it could thrive without unusual turnover reliance. The 2021 Cowboys averaged 9.2 EPA per game from opponent turnovers, which led the league and ranked 38th out of 734 defenses since 2000. That figure has receded to 5.2 per game this season. Despite the drop, Dallas’ overall defensive EPA per game has improved slightly.

What’s next: This Dallas team should be more solid and less volatile than the 2021 version, which finished 12-5 and lost in the wild-card round. But if Philly wins the division, the Cowboys would be on the road for the playoffs, increasing the chances for another one-and-done playoffs.

Twelve teams over the previous five seasons fit Dallas’ EPA profile on defense/special teams. Five of those teams were also above average on offense. The list, in order from best to worst on offense, begins with the 2017 Vikings (13-3, reached NFC Championship Game) and 2020 Saints (12-4, lost in divisional round to eventual Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay). It also includes the 2021 Cowboys (12-5) and two other teams that lost in the wild-card round (2017 Rams and 2018 Texans, who were both 11-5).

The question is whether Prescott and the Cowboys’ weaponry will let Dallas push toward the upper range of those teams. There isn’t enough evidence yet to bet on that happening.

• Giants start 6-2 under new coach Brian Daboll: The Giants last met or exceeded their preseason Vegas win total in 2016. They now need only two victories over their final nine games to beat the 7.5 total set for them by oddsmakers entering this season. They have gotten here by making the NFL’s largest year-over-year EPA improvement on offense (11.1 per game), without major personnel upgrades, while the defense has been roughly the same by this measure.

Playing to the strengths of your personnel can sometimes feel more like the exception than the norm in the NFL. The Giants have done that expertly on offense, helped by Saquon Barkley’s return to dominant form. They have diminished their reliance on Daniel Jones’ passing, especially downfield, while accentuating his running ability.

What’s next: Some regression in the win column. The Giants still face the Eagles twice, plus the Vikings and Cowboys. They are 6-1 in one-score games. While that reflects well on them, it’s not a sustainable win rate in close games. No team since at least 2000 has prevailed in more one-score games than the Giants during the first eight games of a season. Only four others have won as many, including our next team on this list.

• Vikings start 7-1 under new coach Kevin O’Connell: The Vikings, like the Giants, were ripe for a cultural reset as they sought new coaching leadership. Both teams hired offensive-minded head coaches. Both head coaches embraced the quarterbacks they inherited when outsiders questioned those quarterbacks to varying degrees. Both head coaches hired experienced defensive coordinators (Wink Martindale for the Giants, Ed Donatell for the Vikings).

The Vikings are 6-0 in one-score games. Like the Giants, they rank among the five most-improved teams from last season in offensive and defensive EPA in fourth quarters of one-score games. The Vikings are also No. 1 in year-over-year improvement on special-teams EPA in those situations.

What’s next: Some regression, for sure, but with a four-game lead on Green Bay and Chicago in the NFC North, and with home victories over those teams already, the Vikings are in great shape to win the division. The Vikings have one of the NFL’s oldest starting lineups on defense with some solid veterans. Could injuries be a greater risk late in the season? For now, some of those veterans are producing when it matters most. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith have combined for 24 fourth-quarter pressures (both rank in the NFL’s top five).

2. Tis the season for midseason awards. Here are my choices through nearly all of Week 9.

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs. I’ll give him the edge over the Bills’ Allen for a few reasons. The Chiefs’ offense has been more productive. Allen’s decision making has suffered recently. Mahomes also has gotten far less support from his defense and special teams, making his contributions more valuable. Erasing that eight-point lead in the final minutes against Tennessee on Sunday night shifted the edge further toward Mahomes. Mahomes attempted 68 passes, two short of Drew Bledsoe’s league record. I was on the phone with an exec from an NFC team when Kansas City called timeout before that pivotal fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 45 with 5:17 left in overtime and the score tied.

“Mahomes doesn’t have a hint of a running game, and they have to rest his arm like he’s an MLB pitcher — damn near 70 throws and he’s out there running around and it doesn’t even look stressful,” the exec said. “It’s not one yard to go, either. It’s a yard-and-a-half. They take a timeout. Mahomes walks over. I believe the purpose of the timeout is, it takes 45 seconds to have everyone tell everyone what their three favorite pass plays are. It is Andy Reid, (Eric) Bieniemy and Mahomes. ‘Hey, how about that one? Let’s do quick game. Nah, roll right. What about the dropback?’ Kids in a candy store. Literally, they could spin the bottle and say, ‘You won that one.’ ”

The Chiefs led the NFL in offensive EPA per game last season, before trading Tyreek Hill. Not only do they rank first after sweating out a 20-17 overtime victory against Tennessee in Week 9, but they also rank eighth in largest year-over-year improvement. The seven teams ahead of them in that regard — the Browns, Saints, Dolphins, Falcons, Bears, Jaguars and Giants — all ranked 20th or lower last season.

QB1 does it AGAIN!!! pic.twitter.com/u1EO2qZrqg

— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 7, 2022

Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll, Seahawks. Carroll has pulled into the lead after beating Daboll’s Giants in Week 8 and then improving to 6-3 by finishing the sweep of Arizona. What separates Carroll from other candidates is, he bet his career on the decision to trade Wilson and now is winning that bet in a shocking way, with a young team that is succeeding in his vision, which critics had called outdated. The first half of this season stands as career validation for a career that should not have needed any. Daboll, Vrabel and the Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell are not far behind.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill, Dolphins. Hill is averaging 122.7 yards receiving per game, which puts him in elite company. Wes Chandler holds the NFL record (129.0). Chandler played eight of nine possible games in the strike-shortened 1982 season and caught 49 passes for 1,032 yards, more yardage than Hill had through eight games. Chandler played with Dan Fouts in the Chargers’ Air Coryell offense. Hill has had backup quarterbacks throwing to him for portions of this season. His production could spike if Tua Tagovailoa can remain in the lineup. Hill has 1,104 yards and is on pace for 2,085 this season. Tagovailoa’s accuracy has been a big plus, but the quarterback’s inability to command the deep ball has cost Hill at times.

Defensive Player of the Year: Quinnen Williams, Jets. There are many good choices here, from Micah Parsons to Jeffery Simmons to Myles Garrett and beyond. Williams compares favorably with all of them, for one of the NFL’s most improved defenses.

Comeback Player of the Year: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins. The Dolphins would have landed a spot among the 10 biggest surprises of the season if Tagovailoa hadn’t missed two-plus games to injury. He’s my comeback player not only for coming back from the concussion he suffered this season, but for coming back from all the injuries he’s suffered in the past, and overcoming all he’s had to fight through before the Dolphins finally put him in position to succeed this season. He leads the league in EPA per pass play this season after ranking 23rd among 37 qualifying passers over the previous two seasons combined. Mahomes is second, with Allen third and Jalen Hurts fourth. Let’s see if he can stay on the field from here.

Exec of the Year: Howie Roseman, Eagles. The Eagles made a series of moves, some aggressive and others subtle, in building a roster that ranks among the best in the game. Philly’s 8-0 record provides the validation.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kenneth Walker III, Seahawks. Let’s not forget what Dameon Pierce is doing for the Texans, as he leads Walker by 108 yards on 27 additional carries this season. But Walker has taken over games in fourth quarters and has a 15-10 lead in explosive rushes (12 yards or longer). Walker ranks second to Nick Chubb in explosive rushing rate (14.7 percent) among 21 players with at least 100 carries this season.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ahmad Gardner, Jets. He picked off Allen in the Jets’ upset victory against the Bills. The Seahawks’ Tariq Woolen is right there with him after what appeared to be another strong game Sunday, including against the Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins.

3. Josh Allen was putting up impressive numbers this season when under pressure. What happened Sunday in the Bills’ 20-17 loss to the Jets might have shown this to be unsustainable.

The Bills have enjoyed enough success to write off their upset defeat to the Jets as the sort of thing that happens over the course of a 17-game season. But with Allen risking the football with greater frequency in recent weeks, as reflected in his four interceptions over the past two games, this might be a good time for Allen to recalibrate for the season’s second half.

Heading into Week 9, Allen was averaging 9.6 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and one interception and a 107.7 passer rating on plays when PFF considered him to be under pressure. This worked out to 0.21 EPA per pass play, which was 3.5 times better than any quarterback over a full season since 2019. Lamar Jackson, Mahomes and Drew Brees are the only quarterbacks over that stretch to produce even marginally positive EPA over a full season on these more difficult plays.

The table below shows Allen’s stats on these plays in 2019, 2020 and 2021, followed by his numbers for Weeks 1-8 and Week 9 this season. What happened Sunday against the Jets cut in half Allen’s EPA per pass play for the season when under pressure.

Josh Allen When Pressured
Season TD-INT Yds/Att EPA/Pass Play
2022 (Wk 1-8)
2022 (Wk 9)

4. Designed rushes for Justin Fields seem like a pretty good idea. The Bears’ shift is stark.

The Justin Fields Show has finally arrived in Chicago.

What took the Bears so long?

Fields’s 178-yard rushing day in the Bears’ 35-32 home loss to the Miami Dolphins set an NFL single-game record for quarterbacks and included a magical scramble for a 61-yard touchdown.


— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 6, 2022

It’s been interesting to watch Chicago finally build its offense around Fields’ rushing ability over his 17th, 18th and 19th starts, after barely tapping into his talent previously.

Justin Fields Rushing Per Game
Fields Starts Starts 1-16 Starts 17-19
Designed Rushes
Rush Yds

Fields had 26 carries on designed rushes in his first 16 career starts. That ranked 17th among quarterbacks who entered the NFL over the 15-year period from 2007 through 2021. The San Francisco 49ers’ Trey Lance had more than that (30) through four career starts. Lamar Jackson had 145 in his first 16 starts. Tim Tebow had 95, Jalen Hurts had 88, Robert Griffin III had 70, Cam Newton had 70 and Kyler Murray had 52. Even Geno Smith had more (27).

Fields has 21 carries on designed rushes in his past three starts. Only Jackson had more (26) across his 17th, 18th and 19th starts among all those quarterbacks who entered the league from 2007-2021.

Good for Fields. Good for the Bears.

This game was perfect for the Bears’ short- and long-term goals. It was perfect in the short term because Fields was so much fun to watch, leading an offense that rushed for 252 yards and converted 10 of 16 times on third down. There is hope in the future when Fields is put in position to do these things. The game was also perfect in the long term because the Bears actually improved their 2023 draft standing, which isn’t the priority, but is a nice side benefit, as long as Fields’ stock is rising and the team is competitive.

5. It’s difficult keeping a straight face while considering reports the Packers tried hard to acquire Darren Waller, Chase Claypool or anyone else. They never give up anything for anyone at the deadline.

After-the-fact reports suggesting Green Bay tried to acquire Darren Waller, Chase Claypool or anyone else at the trade deadline feel the same as after-the-fact reports that a player who performed poorly in a game was dealing with a minor injury that didn’t really affect performance much. These types of reports, even when true, serve to explain away poor performance.

In the Packers’ case, there’s a huge difference between inquiring about players and actually acquiring players. Can you name the last time the Packers made such an acquisition?

Pro Football Reference lists the time in October 2016 when the Packers sent a 2018 conditional draft choice to Kansas City for backup running back Knile Davis.

When that move was made, longtime Packers reporter Tom Silverstein called Davis the first Green Bay veteran player trade acquisition since 2010, when the team acquired backup safety Anthony Smith from Jacksonville, also for a conditional draft choice near the deadline.

Those players combined to play six games for the Packers, with zero starts. In both cases, the Packers never had to part with any kind of compensation because the players did not contribute enough to meet conditions of the trades.

Before those two deadline deals, I can’t find another October player acquisition the Packers made since at least 1994, the earliest year for which data is available through Pro Football Reference.

Unless there is some other deal that isn’t coming to mind or isn’t showing up on Pro Football Reference, the Packers over the past 29 trade deadlines have traded away exactly nothing, while receiving in return two backups who combined for zero starts.

And we are supposed to believe the Packers were pushing hard to make a deal this year?

6. Two-minute drill: Final thoughts

Pretty fascinating ending to the Buccaneers’ 16-13 victory against the Rams. Tampa Bay trailed by four and had one timeout remaining when facing fourth-and-goal from the Los Angeles 6. The Bucs failed on fourth down, then burned their final timeout before forcing the Rams to punt from the Los Angeles 13 with 0:54 left.

This was only the seventh time since 2000 that a team failed on fourth-and-goal from the 10 or closer while trailing by four points in the final two minutes of regulation. The other six teams lost, including Buffalo against Miami in Week 3 this season.

A coach who saw the Bucs-Rams ending on TV thought it looked like the Rams were protecting a 14-point lead by letting Tampa Bay get out of bounds repeatedly while the Bucs moved 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds of game clock to spare.

Whatever the case, Tom Brady and the Bucs got a victory they needed badly before heading to Germany for a game against the resurgent Seahawks.

— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 7, 2022

The double fumble late in the Chargers’ 20-17 victory against the Falcons recalled the January 2007 playoff game the Chargers lost to New England after Marlon McCree picked off Tom Brady, only to have Troy Brown force a fumble that the Patriots recovered. For all the Falcons have done well this season, they’ve botched some end-of-game situations with careless ballhandling. That included during the late going against New Orleans in Week 1 and again Sunday against the Chargers, when Ta’Quon Graham simply dropped the ball while returning a ball Austin Ekeler fumbled moments earlier.


Fumble recovery, to another fumble recovery, this Falcons-Chargers game is WILD 🤯pic.twitter.com/CQ6Cr26wwH

The Vikings rank second to Green Bay in cash spending on quarterbacks since signing Kirk Cousins from Washington before the 2018 season. Amazingly, the Commanders rank sixth in cash spending on the position since then, even though Taylor Heinicke is the only Washington quarterback with more than 16 starts for the team since then.

Big investments in Alex Smith and the late Dwayne Haskins account for much of the Commanders’ QB outlays. Minnesota ranks 11th and Washington ranks 31st in offensive EPA per game since Cousins switched teams.

A rough game for Cousins ended well for him Sunday in his first game back at Washington. He celebrated exactly the way you’d expect Kirk Cousins to celebrate a 20-17 homecoming victory.

What is happening pic.twitter.com/VEY6z8NBeE

— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) November 7, 2022

You already know what @KirkCousins8 was doing postgame. pic.twitter.com/yqa0hj1w2g

— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 6, 2022

Despite a rough game against Cleveland last week, the Cincinnati Bengals lead the league in offensive EPA per game and offensive points per game since Week 6, a span of four games. They’ve done it against the Falcons, Saints and Panthers. Joe Mixon’s 211 yards from scrimmage against Carolina was the second-highest total in the league this season, behind Henry’s 228 for Tennessee against Houston last week. …

No idea what to make of the Las Vegas Raiders. NFL teams are 45-5-1 this season in games they’ve led by at least 17 points. The Raiders are 1-3 in those games, which means they’ve played well enough to lead by at least 17 in half their games. Undefeated Philadelphia is the only team to lead by 17-plus points in more than four games this season. Buffalo and the Raiders are the only teams to do it more than three times this season. The Giants are 6-2 without leading by that many points even once.

(Top illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photo: Michael Owens / Getty Images)

This content was originally published here.

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