Monday Morning Digest: Can Anybody Challenge the NFL's Big 4?

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterNovember 5, 2018

Monday Morning Digest: Can Anybody Challenge the NFL's Big 4?

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Here's what is happening in this week's overstuffed midseason edition of Monday Morning Digest...

    • Julio Jones scores a touchdown!
    • Michael Thomas searches for his cellphone and finds the Rams' biggest weakness instead.
    • Julio Jones scores a touchdown!
    • Nathan Peterman and others provide unforgettable early-game moments that are better off forgotten.
    • Midseason awards and wagering trends.
    • Julio Jones scores a touchdown!
    • Patriots-Packers analysis.
    • Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton re-enact that Spider-Man clone meme in Broncos-Texans.
    • Julio Jones scores a touchdown!

    ...and much more, including a quest to find some team—any team—that can challenge the NFL's final four for supremacy.   


Panthers, Steelers and Other Challengers for the NFL's Final 4

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints are the NFL's four best teams at the midpoint of the season, without question.

    The Saints beat the Rams in a scorcher on Sunday. The Patriots held off the Packers on Sunday night. The Chiefs made short work of the Browns. The big four are a notch above the rest of the league, and it doesn't matter how you rank them: Unless some challenger emerges, the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints will settle things in the conference championship games and Super Bowl.

    But will a challenger emerge? Are there clear-cut fifth- or sixth-best teams in the NFL right now? And do they belong in the same conversation with the big four?

    We'll get to that Rams-Saints game and Patriots and Chiefs analysis a little later in Digest. Right now, let's scan the field in search of gate crashers who have what it takes to insert themselves into the Super Bowl conversation. 


    Carolina Panthers 6-2 (Defeated the Buccaneers 42-28)

    The Skinny: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is having a midlife crisis, but instead of buying a convertible and posting shirtless photos on Facebook, he scrapped the stodgy old Troy Aikman playbook he's been using for 25 years and started calling every reverse and double-screen he could think of. Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and others are thriving in the misdirection-filled offense. 

    Meanwhile, the defense is as stout as ever: Ignore the 28 points the Buccaneers scored when they switched into make-it-look-good mode.

    Potential Problems: The Panthers' season ends with a Saints-Falcons-Saints sandwich that could knock them to the bottom of the wild-card berths—or even out of the playoffs—if they cool off. 

    Are They Gate Crashers? The Panthers are the third-best team in the NFC: no more and no less. Their defense and the Cam factor will make them the team the Rams and Saints want to avoid in the postseason.


    Los Angeles Chargers: 6-2 (Defeated the Seahawks 25-17)

    The Skinny: The Chargers offense has enough weapons to rival the Chiefs, their offensive line is sound, their defense is full of impressive youngsters, they play an exciting style of football, and no one notices because they have no home fanbase and their games either start at 6:30 a.m. West Coast time or are completely upstaged by Rams games.

    Potential Problems: Kicker Caleb Sturgis missed two extra points and a field goal on Sunday, giving the Seahawks a chance to come back in the final moments. Chargers tragedies always begin with either a kicker meltdown, an injury plague, or both. 

    Are They Gate Crashers? Pencil the Chargers in as the wild-card team that upsets an overrated division winner (hello, Texans) in the first round of the playoffs, and circle their Week 15 visit to the Chiefs as a chance to be something more. 


    Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-2-1 (Defeated the Ravens 23-17)

    The Skinny: More on the Steelers later in Digest. For now, they're a team behind a single goal: proving they don't need Le'Veon Bell.

    Potential Problems: The second-half schedule features the Panthers, Patriots, Chargers and Saints. A loss to the Patriots, coupled with their early-season loss to the Chiefs, would tell us everything we need to know.

    Are They Gate Crashers? The Steelers are the AFC's third-best team, which would be great for most franchises, but the Steelers maneuver themselves into exactly this position just a little too often. 


    Other Teams Worth Mentioning

    • The defending champion Eagles (4-4) were bye-week buyers, adding Golden Tate to the roster. If Tate can play wide receiver, running back and two cornerback positions simultaneously, the Eagles could return to 2018 form.
    • The Texans (6-3) are on a six-game winning streak against the Broncos, Dolphins and Jaguars of the world: great for solidifying a playoff berth, horrible for convincing anyone that they could keep the score within 20 at Arrowhead or Foxborough.
    • The Bears (5-3) are coming off back-to-back wins against the Jets and Bills and have some favorable matchups on the future schedule (Giants, 49ers). Let's temper our enthusiasm until they win another game or two against an opponent that at least tries to play offense. 
    • The Vikings are 5-3-1 after beating the Lions (with Jets, Cardinals and 49ers wins fluffing their portfolio) but have already lost to the Rams and Saints and will readily do so again if the opportunity arises.

Game Spotlight: Saints 45, Rams 35

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    What happened

    Short version: Michael Thomas lit Marcus Peters on fire and used him as one of those mountaintop signal beacons to tell the rest of the NFL just how to find and exploit the Rams' Achilles' heel.

    Long version: The Saints broke a 14-14 game open with 21 unanswered points before halftime, thanks in part to a failed Rams fake field goal (holder Johnny Hekker was knocked out of bounds inches from the sticks), a missed field goal and a Jared Goff interception.

    The Rams tied the game with an 18-point run after halftime, punctuated by a 41-yard Cooper Kupp catch-and-run. 

    A Wil Lutz field goal gave the Saints a 38-35 lead in the fourth quarter, and then Thomas raced past Peters for a 72-yard game-clinching touchdown. Thomas celebrated by pulling a cellphone from the goal post padding, Joe Horn-style. It was funny because Thomas couldn't find his phone at first and looked just like someone who can't find his cellphone. (Hey Drew, can you call me real quick so I can listen for it?)

    Thomas finished with 211 receiving yards on 12 catches. Peters was caught flat-footed on the final touchdown (he was still motioning to a safety when the ball was snapped), but that was no one-time miscue for Peters. He spent most of the game grabbing Thomas, missing tackles against Thomas and getting the ball ripped from his hands by Thomas.


    What it means

    Even the "long version" above cannot do this game's hurdling Alvin Kamara touchdowns, big plays by Aaron Donald, flea-flickers and other highlights justice. Neither team even punted until the middle of the third quarter. The Rams and Saints are the two best teams in the NFC, and they played like it.

    Peters has been struggling all season; Davante Adams picked on him in last week's narrow Rams victory over the Packers. The Rams cannot replace Peters—with Aqib Talib hurt, their secondary is already stretched thin—so their best bets are to try to put up 40 points and hope that Donald, newcomer Dante Fowler Jr. and the pass rush can get to quarterbacks before they get to Peters. Both scenarios remain plausible every week.

    The Saints cornerbacks will never be confused with Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, either. But they produced just enough stops this week to make it likely that any playoff rematch takes place in the Superdome instead of the Coliseum. 


    What's next

    Can we just schedule the rematch next week? And then another one every week for the rest of the year, or at least as replacements for upcoming Bills-Jets games? No? Sigh.

    The Saints visit the Bengals next week. The Rams continue their four-game Gauntlet of Worthiness by hosting the Seahawks, followed by—oh boy, Peters had better get a running start now—the Chiefs. 

Game Spotlight: Patriots 31, Packers 17

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    What happened

    For the second time in six days, the Patriots got a less-than-superlative performance from Tom Brady but pulled away late after keeping things too close for comfort for three quarters. This time, they needed a flea flicker, a sideline-to-sideline option screen pass by Julian Edelman and some rugged runs by receiver-turned-running back Cordarrelle Patterson to juice up their sluggish offense.

    The Packers tied the game in the third quarter and appeared to have the upper hand before an Aaron Jones fumble sucked the life out of their offense.

    You can insert the usual complaints about the Packers' play-calling here, or you can just wait until Aaron Rodgers does it for you with passive-aggressive barbs throughout the week.


    What it means

    Brady looked a little off in the Monday night victory over the Bills, and the uncharacteristic problems continued for much of Sunday night: off-target shorter throws, change-ups that needed to be fastballs. Nobody wants to mention it because nobody wants to dredge up the same Brady-is-starting-to-slip angle he has been swatting back in our faces since about 2012. Chalk the so-so performances up instead to the pair of deep secondaries he faced...for now.

    The re-imagining of Patterson (11 carries, 61 yards, 1 TD) as a running back is the latest demonstration of just how innovative and open-minded the Patriots are. The Patriots are also getting Josh Gordon more involved each week (5-130-1; his 55-yard catch-and-run iced the game) and are digging deep into their reserve of role players: Dwayne Allen had a big catch and some important blocks late in the game. The creative use of personnel, mixed with all the gadgets and misdirection, allow the Patriots to do more, even when Brady is doing a little less.

    You'll notice that we listed all of the top playoff challengers earlier in Digest, but the Packers were not on the list. That was not an oversight. Their only quality win this season was against the Bears in the opener, and they needed Rodgers heroics just to pull that one off. Rodgers has weapons and a line, and the defense has manpower, but the Packers are less than the sum of their parts right now. 


    What's next

    The Patriots visit the Titans before a bye.

    The low-key hostility between Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will simmer all week. Then the Packers will beat the Dolphins, and everything will be better for a few days. Then they will travel to Seattle for more simmering.

Moments to (Mostly) Forget from the Early Games

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Sunday's early games were...let's call them less than spectacular. But Digest had to watch 'em, which means you have to read about them. Here's a pastiche of images from some of the early games. Think of it as impressionist painting, if the impressionist painters couldn't find any ballerinas and had to paint Nathan Peterman instead.


    Falcons 38, Redskins 14

    • So many Washington offensive linemen got hurt that defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis was almost forced to switch over as an emergency fill-in. At one point, guard Shawn Lauvao was seen getting pushed off in a wheelchair. A wheelchair? Is Dan Snyder skimping on motorized medical carts and stealing medical equipment from nursing homes?  
    • Alex Smith bounced a third-quarter pass off Adrian Peterson's butt. In fairness, he may have thought that Peterson could reach out with his butt cheeks, catch a football and somehow turn upfield for yardage.
    • Smith also slipped away from three defenders trying to sack him without violating one of the 1,768 subsections of the roughing-the-passer policy. Smith scrambled for a big gain only to get leveled by Brian Poole, because once a quarterback is a runner you can do whatever you want to him.


    Vikings 24, Lions 9

    • Matthew Stafford endured 10 sacks. It's as if the Lions replaced Golden Tate in their offense with a sack. 
    • Despite the 10 sacks, the Lions could have stayed in the game if Stafford didn't decide he was a 1970s Big 8 wishbone option quarterback and try to lateral to Kerryon Johnson while scrambling one yard past the line of scrimmage. Danielle Hunter scooped up the errant pitch to give the Vikings a commanding lead.
    • Chad Beebe, son of 1990s Bills fan favorite receiver Don Beebe, caught three passes for 21 yards. The Bills should trade for Beebe and sign Chad Kelly, add the kid who mows Bruce Smith's lawn or something, and create The '90s Bills: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart can play Marv Levy.


    Bears 41, Bills 9

    • Bills quarterback Vincent Adultman (oops...Nathan Peterman) threw three interceptions, but only one-and-a-half of them were his fault. Peterman now has 12 interceptions in 130 career passes. His career interception rate actually went down slightly on Sunday, which is...progress?
    • Peterman attempted a 4th-and-9 Hail Mary to Kelvin Benjamin. But Benjamin could not hold onto the ball, because he's Kelvin Benjamin and someone else in the vicinity also wanted the football. Also, this happened in the third quarter.
    • The Bills ran a draw play on 3rd-and-22. Chris Ivory gained 22 yards, but Jordan Mills was flagged for holding, making it 3rd-and-28 after half the distance to the goal was marked off. The Bills ran the same draw play, this time for six yards. It was that kind of game. 


    Dolphins 13, Jets 6

    • We actually have no idea what happened because every time we checked in, Sam Darnold was either getting sacked, throwing a pick or watching a shotgun snap whiz past his ear, or the Dolphins were punting. 
    • The Dolphins are 5-4 and have the Bills twice on their upcoming schedule. They're probably going to be a wild-card team. And they are just one short rung above terrible. 


    Chiefs 37, Browns 21

    • Patrick Mahomes got called for intentional grounding for trying to spike the ball to stop the clock when the clock was already stopped. Shouldn't unnecessarily losing a down be its own punishment? There's no corner of the rulebook where the NFL cannot cram a random, illogical and persnickety little foul.
    • Two Browns defenders crashed into each other while trying to block an extra point, and a punt protector nearly got pushed back into Britton Colquitt on a blocked punt. But special teams coach Amos Jones' job is safe because if the Browns fire any more coaches, there won't be enough guys for poker night.
    • Nick Chubb was a bright spot for the Browns: 85 rushing yards and a touchdown, with lots of broken tackles. If you are wondering who to blame for Chubb's lack of early-season playing time, ask Hue Jackson, who will blame Todd Haley, Sashi Brown and the Deep State, which, of course, means it's Jackson's fault.

Game Spotlight: Steelers 23, Ravens 16

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    What happened

    Oh, just your typical Steelers-Ravens stuff.

    • Ben Roethlisberger landed hard after getting dragged down by Za'Darius Smith on a scramble and suffered what looked like a season-ending, career-threatening shoulder injury. Roethlisberger left the game for one play and then returned and threw a 51-yard pass as if nothing had happened. 
    • Lamar Jackson lined up at wide receiver near the goal line with no Steelers defender covering him, then motioned across the formation with no Steelers defender covering him and then jogged into the end zone frantically waving his hand with no Steelers defender noticing him. Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass to John Brown, and the Ravens settled for a field goal.
    • James Conner ran for 107 yards and caught five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown, because this autumn has been all about the slow narrative progression from "Pay Le'Veon Bell!" to "What Does Le'Veon Bell Think He's Doing?" to "Let's Roast Le'Veon About Jet-Skiing While He Loses Both His Job and His Credibility."
    • Roethlisberger pooch-punted on 4th-and-6 early in the game, but the (terrible) strategy backfired when Eric Weddle spotted the trickery, dropped back, hauled in the 27-yard punt and ran it back 18 yards. That's right, folks: The Ravens offense played so poorly that it lost to a team that was fiddling around with 1920s tactics.


    What it means

    The Steelers have reclaimed their traditional spot atop the AFC North and among the front-runners for the conference title. Their defense has tightened up after a rough September, and they now look like they usually do, right down to the Roethlisberger injury scares.

    The Ravens started the season 3-1, and Flacco looked primed for a rebound year. Remember that? Old Flacco was back Sunday, standing immobile in the pocket and mixing hope-for-pass-interference bombs with bouncers at his receivers' feet.

    Ian Rapoport of reported Sunday morning that there are John Harbaugh hot seat rumors in Baltimore. It's more likely that Marty Mornhinweg and his stale offense will be sacrificed during this week's bye instead.

    Either way, the Lamar Jackson era at quarterback needs to start soon.


    What's next

    A firing-and-benching watch during the bye in Baltimore. Cam Newton's first-ever visit to Pittsburgh when the Steelers host the Panthers on Thursday. 

Breaking News: Julio Jones Scores a Touchdown!

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    What happened

    Jones, one of the most talented, prolific and respected wide receivers in the NFL, caught his first regular-season touchdown pass since November 26 on Sunday, taking a screen pass from Matt Ryan upfield and dragging defender Ha Ha Clinton-Dix across the goal line at the end of a 38-14 Falcons rout of the Redskins.

    Teammates swarmed. Twitter erupted as if someone had thrown a sex toy onto the field. Rumor has it that some dogs cocked their heads sideways as if reacting to a far-off earthquake. 

    Other than finally doing something his peers do about three times per month, it was just a typically busy day for Jones, who finished with seven catches for 121 yards and drew a pass interference penalty when he beat Josh Norman so badly that the cornerback gave up and just tackled him.


    What it means

    Jones had gone so long without a touchdown that it had lite beer promotion potential. Imagine locked fridges in taverns all over Atlanta programmed to open only when Jones finally scored. 

    The Jones touchdown was also a big victory for brothers-in-law in fantasy leagues all over the world who set their lineups by default at the start of the season and then forget that they are even in a league. (By the way, guys: may want to get Leonard Fournette out of the lineup at least.)

    As for the Falcons, they were a fringe wild-card team when Jones wasn't scoring and remain a fringe wild-card team now. The Jones touchdown, momentous and inspiring as it was, had little impact on an easy victory on Sunday. 


    What happens next

    Instead of dwelling on why Jones can't score touchdowns during a gimme against the Browns next week, we can all dwell on whether we'll ever see Devonta Freeman in a Falcons uniform again.

Inside the Numbers

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    This week's Inside the Numbers spotlights new starting quarterbacks and trade deadline newsmakers. 


    Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers: 24-of-40, 243 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs

    Fitzpatrick threw an early interception and failed to move the offense for most of the first half as the Panthers mounted a 35-7 lead. He then got just hot enough to keep things interesting and make his stat line look better for the next round of free agency.

    Fitzpatrick has now thrown more twice as many touchdowns while his team is trailing (106) than leading (52) for his career. Comedians used to ask why whole airplanes aren't built out of the materials used for the black box. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the quarterback whose entire career is built out of garbage-time production.


    Dalvin Cook, Vikings: 10 carries for 89 yards; 5 catches for 20 yards. 

    Most of Cook's production came on one 70-yard run that led to a Vikings touchdown. His other "highlight" was a fumbled pitch that was officially credited to Kirk Cousins, even though it bounced off Cook's shoulder. Backfield mate Latavius Murray also fumbled at the goal line, but Kyle Rudolph pounced on it for a touchdown. Sometimes it feels like this year's Vikings are just searching for ways to self-destruct.  


    Demaryius Thomas, Texans: 3 catches on 3 targets for 61 yards

    Thomas, acquired from the Broncos earlier in the week, took a screen pass 31 yards, caught a laser for 18 yards and added a 12-yarder.

    Thomas also went in motion on one play in the second half, slowed from a jog to a wander, began looking around in confusion and signaled for a timeout before trying to guess his way through a play he clearly had not mastered yet. Hey, it's hard to just jump right in when you've only been with a team for a few days! 


    Courtland Sutton, Broncos: 3 catches on 5 targets for 57 yards

    Sutton replaced Thomas in the Broncos offense after the trade. He must have taken the "replace" part seriously: Sutton not only put up a stat line almost identical to Thomas', but some of their highlights matched up eerily. Sutton rumbled 24 yards after a shallow cross and hauled in a pass along the sideline that looked a bit like Thomas' 18-yarder.

    Sutton, like Thomas, is a tall receiver who specializes in leaping and reaching for hard-to-catch passes. Trading Thomas in the name of rebuilding made sense for the Broncos, but as long as Case Keenum is their quarterback, they should be looking for more Sutton-Thomas types instead of fewer of them.


    Ty Montgomery, Ravens: Did Not Play

    Montgomery was inactive after coming over to the Ravens from the Packers at about the same time Thomas left the Broncos for the Texans. Because while a receiver can learn complex Bill O'Brien terminology well enough to provide a few big plays (and one silly mistake), it would be much harder for Montgomery to learn how to…um...return kickoffs?

    Buck Allen was limited this week, and the Ravens could have used Montgomery to rotate with Alex Collins to keep Marty Mornhinweg from calling passing plays 70 percent of the time. Oh, who are we kidding: Nothing stops Mornhinweg from calling passing plays 70 percent of the time. 

Digest Sportsbook

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    This week's Sportsbook looks back on some year-to-date trends to determine whether they'll continue into the second half of the season.


    Kansas City Chiefs: 8-1 ATS

    The Chiefs easily covered -8.5 against the Browns on Sunday (the public appears to have been wary of a trap game against a team that just fired everyone, hence the single-digit spread) and are built to avoid backdoor covers against the Raiders and Cardinals littering their late schedule.

    That said, the Chiefs opened -16.5 against the Cardinals at home. If you like wagering on two-touchdown-plus spreads, that's between you and your stomach ulcers.  


    Atlanta Falcons: 3-5 ATS, 6-2 going over

    Digest's favorite parlay play—the Falcons opponent and the over—has run its course now that the Falcons aren't finding ways to lose each week. The Falcons have covered in two of their last three games.

    The over is safer in Falcons games, especially when it hovers around 46.5 like it did Sunday, but beware of over/unders in the mid-50s: The Falcons defense is playing better.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-1 going over

    The Buccaneers and Panthers cleared 56 easily on Sunday. As long as Ryan Fitzpatrick is allowed to dig deep holes for himself to nearly escape from, taking the over in Bucs games is both relatively safe and a lot of fun: You get to root for both the interceptions and the touchdowns! Next week's over/under of 51.5 against Washington looks like a cinch, but check to make sure Washington has five healthy linemen to rub together. 


    Buffalo Bills: 3-6 going over

    The Bills went over for the first time since Week 2 on Sunday by spotting the Bears 14 points off turnovers and finding other ways to let them rack up 41 points to clear the over (38) all by themselves.

    Beware of sub-40 over/unders late in the year, starting when the Bills face the Jets next week (it opened at 36.5). Teams can only limbo so low before they start clearing the over just by trading pick-sixes. 


    New York Jets: 1-5 ATS as underdogs

    The Jets were good dogs last year (8-5-1 ATS) but tend to tail away from stronger opponents late in the game, which make them bad bets to cover against the Patriots and Packers on their upcoming schedule. Sunday proved that their offense is so hapless that they can even submarine under the Brock Osweiler-led Dolphins.

    If you are looking for backdoor covers or potential upsets, look elsewhere until Sam Darnold finds rock bottom and begins to bounce back. 


    Monday night action: Tennessee Titans (+4) at Dallas Cowboys

    The Titans haven't played the Cowboys since 2014 and haven't traveled to Dallas since Vince Young was their quarterback in 2010. You either love the Cowboys at home off a bye with a new offensive weapon (Amari Cooper) in the fold against a team that has lost three straight and averages 15.1 points per game, or you just hate the Cowboys. (Which is fine; just don't wager on the Titans in this one.) 

    The over in this game quietly dropped from 42 to around 40 at most books. As offensively challenged as these two teams often are, they should be able to climb past the over on field goals and scramble touchdowns. 


    All trends and splits courtesy of; point spreads and over/unders from OddsShark.

Midseason Awards Digest

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Any NFL feature can award a midseason MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and so on. Only Digest can put its own spin on midseason awards. Except for the "defensive player" part; we totally start with that one. 


    Defensive Player of the Midseason

    Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald entered Sunday leading the NFL in sacks (10), tackles for loss (12), quarterback hits (17) and offenses tying their protection schemes in knots to keep Donald and the rest of the Rams line from smashing their quarterback like a rotting pumpkin. (Defensive Player of the Week: Danielle Hunter, Vikings, 3.5 sacks and a touchdown.)


    Offensive Line of the Midseason

    The Steelers offensive line has allowed just 11 sacks this season and has helped James Conner rush for 706 Le'Veon-shaming yards and nine touchdowns. Let's hear it for Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Matt Feiler. (Offensive Line of the Week: Carolina Panthers.)  


    Special Teamer of the Midseason

    Cory Littleton has blocked two punts for the Rams in the first half of the season and has blocked four punts in the last two years. If the Rams' offense and defense don't get you, their special teams will. (Special Teamer of the Week: Dolphins punter Matt Haack, with seven punts inside the 20.)


    Mystery Touch Maestro of the Midseason: Taysom Hill, Saints

    He runs fake punts. He replaces Drew Brees for Wildcat plays. He returns kickoffs and tackles opposing kickoff returners. Hill is either a one-of-a-kind gimmick player or the future of the NFL. The only force that will keep the NFL from flooding with copycats next year is the lack of creativity of most head coaches. Which is a pretty powerful force. (Mystery Touch of the Week: Tavon Wilson, Lions, who picked up a first down on a fake punt.) 


    Fantasy Leech of the Midseason

    Javorius "Buck" Allen is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch, making him one of the NFL's least effective regulars on a per-touch basis. But Allen's three rushing and two receiving touchdowns, while not enough to make him worth starting in fantasy, are just enough to siphon value from Alex Collins and Baltimore's receivers. Serves you right for relying on the Ravens in fantasy, though. (Leech of the Week: Panthers fullback Alex Armah, also the runner-up Leech of the Midseason.)


    Rookie Class of the Midseason

    Two Colts have already earned Rookie of the Month honors: Quenton Nelson for October (the first guard ever to earn recognition for Offensive Rookie of the Month or just about anything else) and linebacker Darius Leonard in September. Running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins both made major contributions, and edge-rusher Kemoko Turay has three sacks. That will teach us for doubting general manager Chris Ballard just because, um, he was kind of a disaster in 2017. (Speaking of draft-related disasters in 2017, 2016, 2015, etc., the Broncos win Runner-Up Rookie Class of the Midseason.)  


    Third-String Quarterback of the Midseason

    Hello, Nick Mullens! Thanks for giving us something to get excited about Thursday night. Two more games like that and John Elway will be paying you $18 million per year when you are 30! 

How to Tell When a Football Coach Is Lying

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Several current, former and interim coaches made outlandish public comments this week. If you had trouble fact-checking their self-serving and sometimes reality-warping statements, Digest has you covered with this handy-dandy breakdown of how to tell if a football coachor anyone else—is telling you a little fib.


    Hue Jackson claims—among other thingsthat he wanted to draft Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes but was denied the opportunity by the Browns.

    The "Tell": Overcompensation.

    Jackson might have convinced us that the Moneyballers who ran the Browns for two years kept him from selecting Wentz or Watson or Mahomes in their quest for the analytically pure quarterback specimen. Alas, like Bart Simpson trying to turn the F's on his report card into A's, Jackson overplayed his hand by floating this whopper about being a quarterback Nostradamus.

    C'mon, Hue: An F turns into a B so easily. There was no need to get greedy.


    Matt Patricia slams a reporter for bad posture and lack of "professionalism" and "respect for the process" during a press conference.

    The "Tell": Defensiveness.

    Patricia didn't technically lie. He was just caught off guard by a question about the Golden Tate trade, so he mixed a little Angry Pink Floyd Schoolmaster with Sweaty Embezzler Cornered by 60 Minutes and turned a simple question into a conflict.

    Patricia, the Belichick-mentored master tactician, probably should have anticipated Tate questions and composed bland coachspeak responses. Then again, there's no problem so small these days that it can't be solved by slamming a journalist, even if the person giving the professionalism lectures dresses like slacker film director Kevin Smith.


    Gregg Williams claims he received 11 letters offering him interviews for head coaching jobs in the last 15 years, and four jobs were offered with no interview required.

    The "Tell": Logic errors.

    Williams hasn't been a viable head coaching candidate since he failed to convince Washington owner Dan Snyder (a man who can be distracted by a laser pointer that isn't even turned on) that he was the right man to replace Joe Gibbs 11 years ago. Left to guess what the hiring process is like for those who don't just old-boy their way to coordinator jobs over scotch during the scouting combine, he cobbled together a scenario out of his early-'80s resume-sending experience and some stuff he saw on old sitcoms.

    Note that even if this tale is true, Williams is bragging about receiving 11 opportunities to interview over 15 years. Josh McDaniels has probably turned down twice as many requests in the last three years alone. McDaniels also doesn't get his offers on parchment via carrier pigeon.


    Jon Gruden claims to Fox Sports' Howie Long that he gets phone calls all the time from players "dying" to join the Raiders.

    The "Tell": Over-specificity.

    Gruden started his comments by saying, "I got a cellphone just like you and everybody else." That's an obvious example of someone trying to keep a story straight in their minds by blurting out unnecessary details, like a teenager lying to parents. Well, Mom and Dad, you see, Timmyyou know how strict his parents are, right?won that playing Skee-Ball on the boardwalk in August but had no idea it was a waterbong…

    At least Gruden, unlike Williams, knows that 21st-century business is done via cellphone. Gruden would have gone so far to claim that he texts with players except a) that's hard to do on his flip phone and b) he's not 100 percent sure that texting isn't just some sex thing.