- Eagles-Cowboys on Sunday Night Football is the equivalent of getting a king-sized candy bar for Halloween. Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott, first place in the NFC East on the line—what more could you ask for?
The NFL trade deadline arrives at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. So, who’s going to be on the move: Alshon Jeffrey? Sheldon Richardson? Joe Thomas?
Don’t hold your breath. As is the case just about every year, the speculation likely will outpace the action.
It’s not difficult to see why. Headed into Week 8, there are just four teams more than two games back of a playoff spot. So, that leaves at least 28 teams that still are dreaming playoff dreams, no matter how stacked against them the odds may be. And let’s not forget that the Chiefs just stormed back from 1–5 to reach the postseason last season, a trick the Panthers believe they can repeat in 2016.
The job security of every coach and GM in the league hinges on their ability to reach the playoffs, so it stands to reason they wouldn’t be quick to throw in the towel on a season if there’s any hope at all.
The NFL and NFLPA agreed back in 2012 to move the trade deadline from post-Week 6—a comically early cutoff—to the end of Week 8. That’s still not late enough in the season. Imagine if baseball’s trade deadline was in June, after around 81 games, or if the NHL and NBA drew a line in late January. There is no chance any of those league would see as much movement as they do, because it’d be way too soon for front offices to fold their hands.
Those few teams that are out of contention will dangle their trade chips before Tuesday’s deadline. Last year, the only move that came down in the final hours was Denver acquiring Vernon Davis from the 49ers, and he was but a role player in their Super Bowl run.
So far this week, the Patriots have been involved in the only two trades: They dealt A.J. Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick and then nabbed Kyle Van Noy from the Lions, in what amounted to someone grabbing that chair you were throwing away off the curb.
Bumping the deadline back even further is the natural solution, if the NFL wants to increase its in-season trade activity. The end of November makes a lot more sense, around the Week 12 aftermath. By then, the number of teams still realistically in the race would have dwindled by a significant margin.
The NFL’s competition committee would have to vote on such a change, then the NFLPA would have to accept it. The Players’ Association would figure to offer more resistance. A lot of players would appreciate the chance to move to a contender for a playoff run, but it could be a tough spot for impending free agents. What if they flop with their new teams? Or, if they get injured playing an extra two or three games in the postseason? There could be financial ramifications, for sure.
Cutting off trades after Week 8 more or less has the same problem as the former post-Week 6 deadline did, though. There are not enough teams ready to call it quits.
A quartet of players who could be key to this week’s matchups:
1. Su’a Cravens, LB, Redskins: The rookie saw limited snaps last week in his first game back from a concussion. Washington might crank up that number Sunday, because Cravens is a versatile defensive chip who can blitz or cover. The latter would come in handy against a Cincinnati offense that loves to feed its tight ends and backs via the passing game.
2. Jonathan Bademosi, CB, Detroit: The ex-Brown stepped into the lineup in Week 7 when Darius Slay left with a hamstring injury. He could have even more responsibility Sunday, because both Slay and No. 2 CB Nevin Lawson (foot) are questionable. That’s a tough setup with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller awaiting. Detroit gave Bademosi a healthy contract this off-season (two years, up to $6 million) because he is a standout special-teams player, but his responsibilities could grow Sunday.
3. Jordan Hicks, LB, Eagles: Fletcher Cox will challenge Dallas’s impressive O-line up the gut; Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin and others will bring the heat off the edge. But to stuff the Cowboys’ run game requires yeoman’s work from the linebacking corps, too. Hicks, as the Eagles’ man in the middle, has to bring it Sunday.
4. Brandon Tate, WR, Bills: Added by the Bills just prior to Week 1, Tate has been a valuable and consistent kick/punt returner—he’s posted 406 yards as a return man, with a 23.0 yards-per-kickoff average. He caught a couple of passes against the Dolphins last week, too, and the Bills may need more from him in that department Sunday with Marquise Goodwin’s status (concussion) in doubt. Tyrod Taylor is at his best when he can stretch the field. Can Tate provide him an option downfield?
• Last week: 10-4-1 overall (69-38-1 season), 10–5 vs. the spread (57-49-2 season).
• Best pick in Week 7: Redskins 27, Eagles 21 (actual score: Redskins 27–21).
• Worst pick in Week 7: Steelers 28, Dolphins 24 (actual score: Dolphins 30–15).
Washington has topped 400 yards of offense in more than half its games, including a combined 910 yards against Philadelphia and Detroit the past two weeks. Normally, one might expect that to stop against Cincinnati. This year ... ? The Bengals have been average at best defensively, and they’ve had particular trouble against teams like Dallas and New England that could hurt them without really having to test the waters downfield. Kirk Cousins only throws about 20% of his passes deeper than 10 yards, and he only hits a tad under 50% of those attempts. Jordan Reed is Cousins’s favorite target, with a knack for attacking the intermediate areas. Cincinnati’s chances to counter lie with its stout run game against the Redskins’ 26th-ranked rush defense. Let’s hope Josh Norman (concussion) is a go, because a showdown with A.J. Green looms.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Three Musketeers. Far from the worst option, but also a ways from being the best. And you certainly don’t want one at 9:30 in the morning.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start for the Jets. Josh McCown will start for the Browns. And ceaseless despair will continue for fans of both clubs. The Dawg Pound knew its team was in for a lengthy rebuild under Hue Jackson, and there have been a handful of very encouraging signs: Terrelle Pryor’s rapid development, Emmanuel Ogbah’s Defensive Rookie of the Year case. The Jets are struggling to find their silver linings—it’s tougher when you were expected to contend for the playoffs. Fitzpatrick could enjoy a field day against Cleveland’s secondary ... or he could turn it over four times and trip on his own beard. Such is Fitzmagic. But McCown’s presence usually means good things for Browns tight end Gary Barnidge, and it could do the same for Pryor. The Jets’ secondary remains vulnerable, thanks in part to the line’s inconsistent ability to generate pressure.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Apples, or a bag of pennies. Please, just give us the candy.
It’s safe to say the Seahawks will score more than six points Sunday. The Saints’ three previous home games this season (Raiders, Falcons, Giants) produced an average of 75 points, with no team scoring fewer than 34. If the Seahawks’ offense is going to find its stride, this is the week. That is, provided new left tackle George Fant—who played one year of college football as a tight end for Western Kentucky—can stymie a Cam Jordan-led pass rush. Russell Wilson still doesn’t have his usual giddy-up escaping the pocket. It would ease the burden on Wilson and Fant dramatically if the Seahawks’ defense plays as it did at Arizona, not like the week before in a win over Atlanta. Drew Brees is every bit as capable of capitalizing on miscommunication in the secondary as Matt Ryan, although the Saints do not have any pass-catching RBs who will keep Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard up at night.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Butterfinger. Now we’re talking. As with any game at the Superdome, the likelihood of a shootout is high.
A rematch of the 2013 wild-card game, when the Colts rallied from 28 down and everyone assumed Andrew Luck would be winning Super Bowls in short order. Luck’s wait on title No. 1 will continue until Indianapolis can find a defense. We know Luck can light up the scoreboard, these days mainly with help from T.Y. Hilton or new favorite Jack Doyle. Frank Gore’s also on pace to top 1,000 yards for like the 35th time in his career. Hilton faces a stiff test in Kansas City corner Marcus Peters, who leads the league with five interceptions. The Chiefs would love to follow their script from Week 6’s win at Oakland—they rushed for 183 yards and held the ball for upwards of 36 minutes. If Alex Smith distributes the ball well on top of that, it’s hard to see the Colts delivering many stops.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Dots. This is one that could go either way. I’m a fan, but I understand if you’re not.
Brock Osweiler has to play well in this game, for the Texans’ sanity. If he doesn’t, Bill O’Brien faces a bye week filled with questions about Osweiler’s viability as a franchise QB. The Lions again will be without linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder), and star cornerback Darius Slay (hamstring) again could join him on the shelf. Slay’s absence opens the door for Osweiler to force feed DeAndre Hopkins, who has been limited to 390 yards this season. As mentioned in the latest Power Rankings, QBs are hitting on a staggering 74.2% of their passes against the Lions. Matthew Stafford’s at a 68% clip himself—a number elevated, as completion rates usually are, by Detroit’s focus on quick passes and yards after the catch. Houston has the league’s second-best defense waiting ... but the league’s 29th-ranked run D. With Theo Riddick (ankle) expected back, Detroit could adjust a bit this week.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Tootsie Rolls. No one rings the doorbell hoping for these, but they’re a decent change of pace once the preferred options are gone.
Two reasons to toss out Buffalo’s Week 4 win over New England when breaking down the rematch: 1) Tom Brady did not play in that game (nor did Jimmy Garoppolo); 2) LeSean McCoy did play. Brady, three starts back from suspension, already is in the MVP conversation with 1,000 yards and eight TDs. Marcell Dareus’s return gives Buffalo a shot to stifle LeGarrette Blount and to pressure Brady up the middle, but the Bills still have to solve the Rob Gronkowski-Martellus Bennett puzzle that no one’s yet cracked. Worse yet, their offense gets neutered when McCoy isn’t in a starring role. Last week, a hobbled McCoy managed just 11 yards on eight carries in a loss to Miami—the Bills netted 267 yards total (worst since Week 1), 75 of those coming on a late drive with the Dolphins in control. Maybe Mike Gillislee or Reggie Bush breaks a long one, but Bill Belichick should break out all the stops to force Tyrod Taylor to the air.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Laffy Taffy. While I’ll go to bat for this candy, there’s no way you are eating one without pieces of it being stuck in your teeth for approximately a fortnight. Perfect for a rivalry that involves Rex Ryan.
Oakland has to lose a road game at some point, right? I mean, I guess not technically—it’s not like the NFL has a rule against going 8–0 away from home, unless you celebrate that streak with an end-zone celebration, in which case your franchise is shut down. Asking the Raiders to maintain their current pace outside of Oakland, though, is a lofty request. And back-to-back games in Florida is doubly difficult, even though Jack Del Rio kept his team on the East Coast this week. The Raiders’ league-worst pass defense on Sunday draws Mike Evans, arguably the best receiver in football aged 23 or younger. Cameron Brate is the other name to remember, due to Oakland’s issues covering the tight end. There’s also the surprising Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa’s fill-in running back who has 255 yards rushing his past two games. Derek Carr may have to steal this one for the Raiders. To do so, he’ll need Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to win their battles against Tampa Bay’s small but talented cornerbacks.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Nestlé Crunch. Simple, solid.
What is likely Carolina’s last stand comes, somehow, before the calendar flips to November. The defending NFC champs have recent history upon which to draw here, like their blowout victory over Arizona last playoff season. Carson Palmer unraveled in that game, to the tune of six turnovers. He will find a friendlier Carolina defense this time around, so at minimum Larry Fitzgerald could have a day. Arizona probably will maintain its (highly recommended) lean-on-David Johnson strategy nonetheless. The Panthers’ offense was on cruise control in that postseason meeting, too. Cam Newton threw for 335 yards and a TD and rushed for two more scores. He’s coming off a 322-yard outing against the Saints two weeks ago, not coincidentally with Jonathan Stewart healthy and back at his side.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Almond Joy. Kind of sounds like it should be good—chocolate, coconut and almonds all work on their own. Never lives up to the hope. (The coconut texture doesn’t help, but we’re getting in too deep on the candy reviews now.)
The first game of this season series just happened two weeks ago, and it launched The Great Chargers Resurgence of 2016. San Diego’s defense led the way in a 21–13 win, limiting the Broncos to 304 yards of offense. (Of course, 300 yards converts to 800 yards on the Thursday-to-Sunday stat chart.) Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon paced the Chargers’ offense—Henry with 83 yards and a TD receiving; Gordon with 94 yards rushing. That night actually was about as ineffective as Philip Rivers has been this season distributing the ball, as no Charger other than Henry hit 30 yards through the air. Can Denver limit Rivers again? If so, the outcome could depend on how new starting running back Devontae Booker fares against San Diego’s stout run defense. Everything the Broncos want to do on offense comes from establishing their ground attack.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Starburst. You’ve had ’em a million times before; you won’t mind getting ’em a million times again.
Sam Shields is on injured reserve, Damarious Randall just had groin surgery and Quinten Rollins has been dealing with his own groin injury. So, uh, who’s covering Julio Jones? For that matter, who is covering Mohamed Sanu or anyone else the Falcons opt to move out of the backfield? A lot stands to fall on Green Bay’s safeties (Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde), both because someone will have to provide over-the-top help against Jones and because of what the Falcons RBs can do to linebackers in coverage. Pressuring Matt Ryan is the only surefire way to disrupt Atlanta’s offense. On the flip side, San Diego handed out the blueprint for carving up the Falcons’ defense: short passes and routes to the flat. Ty Montgomery’s recent emergence means Green Bay has a weapon who can exploit those areas. Will there be anything bigger available if Aaron Rodgers winds up in a shootout with Ryan?
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Snickers. Maybe Kit Kat. Personal preference on the candy comparison here. Bottom line: An excellent haul.
The game the NFC East has been waiting for all season. Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott (and all of their teammates, too!), in a prime-time battle for first place. The obvious starting point is wondering which Wentz will show up. He’s slumped the past couple weeks, with three turnovers to his credit last Sunday. As Green Bay found out the hard way, Dallas is content to play bend-but-don’t-break defense and wait for the opposition to make a mistake. Can Wentz avoid those? A little help from the run game would be welcome. Dak Prescott doesn’t have that problem—he knows Ezekiel Elliott will be there to churn out yards. Dallas is running the most plays per possession in the league (6.88) and gaining better than 40 yards each time it has the ball. The Eagles’ best defensive moments this season have come when they can tee off on a quarterback, so the Cowboys will get the ball out of Prescott’s hands as quickly as possible, via handoff or those quick routes. Don’t be surprised if Philadelphia uses Malcolm Jenkins on Cole Beasley. The shifty Dallas receiver is Prescott’s No. 1 option through the air.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Reese’s peanut butter cups. Shy of getting a full-sized candy bar (or, in the NFL’s case, a matchup of like New England-Dallas), this is the mother lode.
Mercifully, this is the last of Chicago’s four national-TV games this season, barring a flexed contest (for some reason). The Bears have averaged 13.7 points in their previous three prime-time showcases, and that number might be more than they can muster against Minnesota. Jay Cutler did account for four touchdowns against Mike Zimmer’s defense last season, but he lost twice. The Vikings have to reestablish ... something ... on offense, be it their run game or a steady-if-unspectacular passing game. The Bears have allowed a league-high 120 receptions to opposing receivers this season, so Sam Bradford has a bounce-back chance.
Watchability index (trick-or-treat scale): Circus peanuts. Hard pass.
Surprise star of Week 8: Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons. The depleted Packers have almost no choice but to overcommit to Jones, so Ryan will have tasty matchups elsewhere. Hooper’s rookie season is still shy a breakthrough performance.
Upset of the week: Browns (+3) over Jets. Cleveland is better than an 0–16 team, but on paper this is its best shot for a win this season.
College upset of the week: Texas (+3) over Baylor. Longhorns coach Charlie Strong has kind of made a habit of being walked to the edge of the firing plank, then pulling an upset to save himself. He did so against Baylor last season, too.