Week 13’s Top NFL Storylines: The Dolphins Keep Winning and the Patriots Are at a Crossroads
Five of the big stories to emerge this week, and whether we’re buying or selling 'em
With the Seahawks knocking off the Vikings 37-30 in Seattle on Monday Night Football, Week 13 of the NFL season is officially in the books and open for review. While we can’t get to everything — like Younghoe Koo mastering the art of the onside kick for the Falcons and free-agent wide receiver Terrell Pryor getting stabbed — here are five of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The 2-10 Giants are actually in pretty good shape
By losing to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Giants dropped into last place in the NFC East, falling behind the 3-9 Washington Redskins.
But, with the loss, the 2-10 Giants moved closer to the front of the pack in the race to secure the No. 1 overall draft pick and now trail only the 1-11 Cincinnatti Bengals in the battle for the worst record in the NFL.
For a team that has a franchise running back in Saquon Barkley, a young receiving corps featuring Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram, and a young quarterback who’s shown flashes of brilliance in Daniel Jones, that is not actually a bad spot to be in.
In 10 starts for the Giants this season, Jones has thrown 18 touchdowns compared to just 11 interceptions. Impressively, the first-year passer has tossed touchdowns in every one of his starts and has a pair of four-TD outings (against the Lions in Week 8 and Jets in Week 10) this season.
Though he has started two fewer games than No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, Jones has thrown more touchdown passes than Arizona’s quarterback (Murray has 14) and has nearly as many rushing scores (two to four).
He hasn’t been perfect — three interceptions on Sunday are proof — but Jones has done enough for the Giants to have a reasonable level of confidence he can be a competent starting quarterback in the NFL, if not more.
That confidence should free the Giants up to use their first-round pick on the best player available on the board or, perhaps even more likely, allow them to trade it to a quarterback-needy team for a slew of other assets.
Compare that to teams like the Dolphins and Redskins, who project to have worse picks and also still need quarterbacks, and the Giants’ situation doesn’t actually look that bad in spite of their horrible record.
Sell: The Patriots need to bring back Antonio Brown
In the midst of New England’s 28-22 loss to the Texans on Sunday Night Football, Antonio Brown began tweeting about a potential return to the Patriots.
Brown, never one to stay off of social media, continued tweeting on Tuesday.
The loss, combined with Brown’s tweets, led to rampant speculation on the internet and Boston sports radio that New England may actually consider bringing the 31-year-old receiver back into the fold in Foxboro.
There’s no doubt New England’s offense, which has scored less than 14 points on average over the Patriots’ last three games (including defensive scores), has been struggling and that Tom Brady could use another reliable target in the passing game.
But Brown, who only made it through one game with the team before being cut for a variety of reasons, has proven to be anything but reliable over the past two seasons.
Brady likely views Brown as an upgrade to veteran wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu and rookie wideouts Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry, all of whom played in Sunday’s loss and combined for eight catches.
He may be right, but the truth is that New England’s offense, which no longer has Rob Gronkowski but still has James White and Julian Edelman, has enough playmakers to perform better than it has.
Maybe that means running the ball more with Sony Michel, who was the focus of New England’s offense toward the end of last season. Maybe that means putting White — who caught two touchdowns on Sunday — in the slot and taking advantage of his hands. And maybe it just means getting back to basics and committing to the short passing game that used to be Brady’s bread and butter.
The Patriots are hurting right now, but they can heal themselves. If they try to use Brown as a Band-Aid, he’s more likely to be an infection than a cure.
Buy: At 3-9, Brian Flores has done a great coaching job
With the Dolphins in last place in the AFC East with a record of 3-9, Miami head coach Brian Flores will not be up for any coaching awards once the season comes to a close.
That said, the first-year coach has probably turned in one of the more impressive coaching jobs in 2019 thus far when you consider the dearth of talent on the roster he’s working with.
Though they wouldn’t admit it, the Dolphins started off this season with the intention of tanking and traded away some of their best assets — and players — in defensive back Minkat Fitzpatrick, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to do it.
With a roster filled with waiver wire claims and practice squad talent quarterbacked by inconsistent veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami predictably got off to a horrible start at 0-7.
But, the team won its first game in Week 8 at home against the pitiful Jets and followed that up with a victory on the road against the middle-of-the-pack Indianapolis Colts. Following losses to the Bills and Browns, Miami won again on Sunday against the Eagles, who were playing for their playoff lives.
In their third victory in five games, Miami racked up a season-high 37 points off a season-high 409 yards and even pulled off a trick play other teams may want to add to their playbooks.
The Dolphins — who have three winnable games (Jets, Giants, Bengals) coming up on their schedule — are playing hard for Flores even though they have nothing left to play for.
While that may end up hurting Miami’s draft options in April (three first-round selections in 2020), it’s a good sign for what Flores and the Dolphins will be able to do in the future with their draft picks and more than $100 million in cap space next offseason and beyond.
Flores, 38, has a five-year contract. So far, he’s earning his money.
Sell: Jared Goff and the Rams have righted the ship in L.A.
Following a 45-6 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football in Week 12, the Rams went on the road in Week 13 and decimated the Arizona Cardinals 34-7 in the desert.
Laughably bad against the Ravens, quarterback Jared Goff lit up the Cardinals for 424 yards and two touchdowns while completing 32-of-43 passes in the Rams’ blowout win.
Winners of four of their last six, the Rams are 7-5 on the season, good enough for third place in the NFC West. Unfortunately, the win over the Cardinals only improved LA’s playoff chances from 8.5 to 14.4 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Given how Goff has played and the Rams’ upcoming schedule, that number actually seems high.
In three November games prior to Sunday’s outburst on December 1, Goff had zero touchdowns, five interceptions and completed just 59-of-96 for 628 yards.
While Sunday’s outing was better for Goff, it came against a defense that has allowed an average of 415 yards and 28.8 points per game, worst in the NFL.
The sledding will get much tougher for the Rams over the next four weeks as they have dates with the Seahawks, Cowboys and 49ers on tap prior to ending their season with another game against the Cardinals.
To have a shot an catching the Seattle Seahawks (9-2) or Minnesota Vikings (8-3) for the final wildcard spot, the Rams will likely need to win at least three of those games and get some help.
Beating up on the Cardinals in Week 12 was great, but it likely doesn’t change where the Rams will be following Week 17 — out of the playoff picture.
Buy: The Bills have a shot at winning the AFC East
Though they no longer play in it, the Indianapolis Colts have actually won the AFC East (1999) more recently than the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo last won the division almost in 1995 and since then has seen the New England Patriots capture the AFC East crown 18 times, including 10 straight entering this season.
Now 8-3 following a convincing win over the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Bills have a real chance to reverse that curse and win the AFC East for the first time in nearly 25 years.
To do it, the Bills will have to win this week at home against the Baltimore Ravens and follow that up with a road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a tough ask but certainly within the realm of possibility.
From there, the Bills need to beat the Patriots when the two teams go head-to-head in Week 16 in New England as well as hope the Pats lose this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, which is certainly possible.
That would put the Bills at 12-3 and the Patriots at 11-4 entering Week 17, meaning Buffalo would capture the division by winning their final game of the season against the Jets regardless of what New England does in its season finale.
Is it likely? Maybe not. But this is the first time in years the Bills — who could also win the division via a slew of other, more complicated, scenarios— have been in contention for the division this late in the season.
Don’t sleep on the Bills …
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