Gridiron Digest: Who's to Blame for the Browns?

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 14, 2019

Gridiron Digest: Who's to Blame for the Browns?

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns are the NFL's most fascinating losers, and this week's Gridiron Digest kicks off with an effort to figure out who's most at fault for Sunday's heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks and the team's 2-4 start.

    After rubbernecking at the Browns, we'll go all around the NFL to cover Sunday's hot topics, including:

    • Sam Darnold's triumphant return from mono (which may be history's first "triumphant" return from an illness associated with the party after a ninth-grade dance).
    • Another contagious ailment that was cured on Sunday: Minshew Mania.
    • The developing quarterback controversy in Carolina and how the Panthers should handle it.
    • Why the Patriots won the Texans-Chiefs game.
    • How society lost the Dolphins-Skins Tank Bowl.

    And much, much more!


Plenty of Blame to Go Around for the NFL's Most Fascinating Failures

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    It's time once again to assign blame for the latest Browns stumble, a 32-28 loss to the Seahawks in which they coughed up an early 20-6 lead, committed four turnovers and fell to 2-4 during what was supposed to be the team's breakthrough season. 

    There's so much blame to go around, however, that you may not have the time and energy to parse out just who is responsible for which problem or blunder. That's why Gridiron Digest created the following handy Browns Blame-o-Meter for the NFL fan on the go. Simply roll a standard six-sided die, consult the following table and let us customize a Browns opinion for you! 

    • If you roll a one, blame Baker Mayfield. He threw three more interceptions on Sunday, giving him a league-high 11 for the year. He's also cocky and arrogant, according to angry old dudes like your typical midday sports-talk radio host or Richard Sherman.
    • If you roll a two, blame Freddie Kitchens and his bosses. The Browns allowed a blocked punt on Sunday. They committed too many penalties and have been penalized an unacceptable 57 times for 506 yards this season. Maybe promoting the lowly assistant who survived the Hue Jackson-Todd Haley double power-struggle TKO all the way to head coach on the basis of a few fun game plans wasn't such a swell idea.
    • If you roll a three, blame the referees. They made some suspect calls in Sunday's loss. Referees make suspect calls in every game nowadays, but that's not the sort of thing to worry about when assigning blame. Mayfield called out the refs after Sunday's game, which may give you the urge to re-roll and see if you can get a one.
    • If you roll a four, blame either the offensive line (they make easy scapegoats), the receivers who keep tipping end-zone passes into the hands of defenders or the injuries at cornerback.
    • If you roll a five, blame the expectations. The Browns are still rebuilding! They weren't supposed to be good this year! This is exactly what everyone expected when we all talked nonstop about the Browns for six straight months! 
    • If you roll a six, blame Odell Beckham Jr., who dropped a key pass Sunday and got crossed up with his defender on one of Mayfield's interceptions. 

    The reason the Blame-o-Meter works so well is that all those options truly are to blame to some degree.

    Mayfield is playing poorly, in part because he appears to be poorly coached in the fundamentals, in part because his protection isn't great and in part because his receivers turn slightly errant throws into deflected interceptions. Beckham hasn't been much of a difference-maker, and no one in the organization seems to be handling the limelight very well, which only intensifies the limelight because guys like Mayfield and Beckham can't help but call attention to themselves. 

    Doug Lesmerises of called the Browns "a dumbfounding collection of talent and strangeness that can look like three different teams in the span of a half" in his postgame column.

    All Gridiron Digest can add to that brilliant summary is that the Browns are also the most NFL's fascinating losers. It's more compelling to watch them lose than to watch the 49ers or Seahawks win: each victory a short-lived vindication, each loss a cautionary tale of the dangers of crowning a champion based on potential.

    And the only way the Browns will get better is if they become a little less interesting.

    The Browns are entering their bye, and they need it to be a quiet week. Then they face the Patriots, who will likely dump them to 2-5, which should remove them from the national radar and firmly quiet expectations.

    The Browns can use the quiet time to focus on fundamentals and find ways to accentuate the many things they do well. Maybe they can still mount a playoff run in a few weeks. If not, they can at least learn to play together and start to build a true foundation for the future, steps this young team and coaching staff tried to skip this season.

    If nothing else, the Browns could benefit from a few weeks in which assigning blame for their losses is not the most interesting NFL topic of the week. Because if they can't turn things around after that, they won't have to worry about attention or high expectations anymore.

Sam Darnold's Return Sends the Jets Soaring

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    What happened

    Sam Darnold returned from a bout of mono, and Jets fans got to see something they have not seen at all this year: a real offense.

    Darnold completed 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 24-22 upset of the Cowboys. Many of his throws were crisp downfield passes, including a 92-yard bomb to speedy Robby Anderson. Once the downfield game opened up, Darnold was also able to work underneath, and Le'Veon Bell (14-50-1) could touch the football without six defenders immediately converging on him.

    After averaging just 179.5 yards per game through their first four outings, the Jets racked up 382 yards while handing the Cowboys their third straight loss.

    What it means

    This is the first day of the rest of the Jets' season, as well as their future with Darnold and head coach Adam Gase.

    No one knew what was coming on Sunday—not even the Cowboys—because the Jets barely even tried to mount an offense under third-stringer Luke Falk, making all their film after the season opener useless.

    Darnold's return doesn't make the Jets playoff contenders, but it moves them up a notch from the Bengals, Dolphins and Redskins at the bottom of the NFL's barrel. There are fun Sundays to come, and Gase now has a chance of putting his stamp on the offense and the team after a month in survival mode.

    What's next

    The Patriots will face an opponent with hope? That will not do. Bill Belichick will spend the week trying to infect Darnold with pink eye or something.

Game Spotlight: Texans 31, Chiefs 24

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    What happened

    The Chiefs took a 17-3 lead with the help of the Tyreek Hill highlight-reel touchdown to end all Tyreek Hill highlight-reel touchdowns and a fumble by Texans running back Carlos Hyde. The Texans then thoroughly outplayed the Chiefs for the next three quarters.

    The Texans possessed the football for nearly 40 minutes (39:48 to be precise), executing six drives of 10 or more plays. The Chiefs were porous on defense and mistake- and penalty-prone on offense, but they stayed close thanks to three would-be-touchdown drops by Texans receiver Will Fuller V and a pair of end-zone interceptions against Deshaun Watson. 

    It was a messy game with too many penalties and turnovers, plus some weirder-than-usual officiating. But by the end, it was clear the Texans were the better team.

    What it means

    It's time to take the Texans very seriously. As much as they may have overpaid for Laremy Tunsil, he has upgraded their offensive line from "Watson won't survive to see his second contract" to "Watson sometimes has time to throw, and also the running game works."

    Despite Fuller's ups and downs, Watson has plenty of weapons. With the rest of the AFC South in its usual state of confusion, the Texans are good enough to run away with the division if they keep playing the way they have for the last two weeks.

    As for the Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes looks gimpy and out of sync, Hill's return didn't provide as much of a turbocharge as the team hoped, and the defense gives up too many easy yards to make up for them with turnovers. Even if the Chiefs find solutions for these problems, every loss takes them further from contention for home-field advantage in the playoffs, which means a likely AFC Championship Game in Foxborough, and you know exactly what that means.

    The moral of the story: No matter who wins in the AFC, it's the Patriots who ultimately win.

    What's next

    Both teams face pesky divisional rivals on the road: The Chiefs visit the Broncos on Thursday night; the Texans visit the Colts. 

Hey Jaguars: Don't Get Carried Away by Minshew Mania

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    James Gilbert/Getty Images

    What happened

    It was Minshew Mania Day, both for Jaguars fans (who were given fake Gardner Minshew II mustaches at the gate) and the Fox telecast (which featured groovy graphics and cutaway shots of beach beauties waving to the camera wearing—you guessed it—Minshew mustaches).

    A football game was also scheduled as part of the festivities. The Saints won that game 13-6 because they are a playoff-caliber team with quality veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, while the Jaguars are a mediocre team whose quarterback, the focus of all the hysteria, is Case Keenum 2.0 dressed as a Blue Oyster Cult roadie.

    Minshew was 14-of-29 for 163 yards and an interception, and he didn't play as well as the stats indicate. Cameron Jordan summed up the performance when he celebrated one of his two sacks by waxing an imaginary mustache.

    What it means

    Minshew Mania has been more about the cosplay than the results since the moment Minshew replaced injured Nick Foles in the season opener.

    Minshew has never looked like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold or Lamar Jackson looked when they were hotshot rookies last season. The "mania" has been built around reduced expectations: keeping losses to tough opponents close, delivering a highlight-reel throw or two to DJ Chark Jr. per week, looking like a '70s cop chasing a perp through an alley in slow motion while scrambling and so forth. 

    Minshew is destined to have a Keenum-like career, and that's a good thing. Keenum, who left college as an undersized third-tier prospect with great stats (just like Minshew), has had an eight-year career and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game three years ago.

    Minshew can also be a capable backup and spot starter for a long time. But he's not a franchise-caliber quarterback, and the Jaguars could make a big mistake if they get swept up in the feel-good vibes. Sunday's loss may well have been a blessing in disguise for that often confused organization.

    Hey, this week's Jaguars segment sounds a lot like this week's Panthers segment! It's a good thing Kyle Allen doesn't have a cool mustache, or else Twitter would have traded Cam Newton to the XFL by now.


    What's next

    The Jaguars visit the Bengals. Minshew will probably look pretty good. And that's far out, man. Just don't get too carried away by it. 

Awards Digest

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Defender of the Week

    Steelers rookie Devin Bush came through when his team needed him most, returning a fumbled Chargers snap for a touchdown and setting up a second touchdown with an interception of Philip Rivers. Bush’s early-game heroics provided plenty of breathing room so Steelers rookie third-string quarterback Delvin Hodges could manage a 24-17 victory over the Chargers. 


    Offensive Line of the Week

    The much-maligned Texans line helped Carlos Hyde and others combine for 192 rushing yards and held the Chiefs defense without a sack. So let's hear it for Laremy Tunsil, rookie Max Scharping, Nick Martin, Zach Fulton, rookie Tytus Howard (who suffered a potentially serious knee injury) and Roderick Johnson. 


    Special Teamer of the Week

    David Moore's blocked punt breathed new life into the Seahawks at a point when they trailed 20-9 and couldn't accomplish much on either side of the ball.


    Mystery Touch of the Week

    The Eagles were clawing their way back into the game against the Vikings when they lined up for a field goal that would cut their deficit to 24-13 before halftime. But being back in Minneapolis put Doug Pederson in a Philly Special-style state of mind. Kicker Jake Elliott took a direct snap and looked for Dallas Goedert sneaking through the Vikings defense. Unfortunately, the Vikings covered Goedert, so Elliott pumped, scrambled and heaved a blooper-reel interception to Everson Griffen. 

    No one will be erecting a statue commemorating that trick play outside the Eagles' stadium. 


    Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight

    Christian McCaffrey's early-game touchdown would look great under any circumstances, but Vernon Hargreaves made it look even better by slipping and falling at the mere sight of McCaffrey's juke move. Linebacker Devin White deserves honorable mention for crumpling so beautifully beneath McCaffrey's stiff arm.


    Pass Interference Mystery of the Week

    Officials threw a flag on a Patrick Mahomes interception by Tashaun Gipson with no Chiefs receiver anywhere near the throw. The foul appeared to be pass interference against the defender who grabbed Travis Kelce.

    But officials picked up the flag, with referee Shawn Hochuli issuing the following explanation, per Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star: "After discussion, the contact that was potentially a hold was while the ball was in the air. It is not pass interference because it was not on the receiver that caught the ball."

    Mahomes explained after the game that Kelce was the intended receiver on the throw; the reason he was nowhere near the ball was because, you know, he was interfered with. And while Hochuli said Kelce was "potentially" held, no one bothered to call defensive holding. And defensive holding cannot be challenged, so there was nothing Andy Reid could do but watch a potential first down turn into a turnover. 

    Can't wait for a conference championship game to be decided by plays that are "potentially" penalties but also might not be.

    Referee Overkill of the Week

    The officials called six straight penalties during the Cowboys' final fourth-quarter drive against the Jets. The calls went both ways, some where obvious and some were ticky-tack, but the officiating called attention to itself and turned what should have been a thrilling Cowboys effort to nearly tie the game (they failed on the two-point conversion attempt) into a series of random outcomes that had little to do with whether either team made a good or bad play. No one understands the rulebook or trusts the judgment of the officials anymore, anyway, so the refs should just tuck away their whistles, hockey-style, and let everyone play late in close games.


    Kicker Fail of the Week

    The Falcons have disappointed their fans in myriad ways since the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI, but they haven't been a "miss a game-tying extra point late" kind of team. Matt Bryant fixed that oversight by sailing a kick wide left to help the Cardinals preserve a 34-33 win.

    Bryant came out of retirement this offseason to help the Falcons find new ways to be heartbreakingly awful. That's commitment.

The Panthers Shouldn't Be Fooled into Sticking with Kyle Allen

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    Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    What happened

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported before Saturday morning's Panthers-Buccaneers game in London that the Panthers could stick with Kyle Allen as their starting quarterback even after Cam Newton is ready to return from his foot injury.

    NFL Network personality Willie McGinest said during the pregame broadcast that the Panthers were "Kyle Allen's team" now and that he believes the team will move on from Newton.

    Allen then played reasonably well in a 37-26 victory, completing 20 of 32 passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions or fumbles.

    Allen made some fine throws after a slow start, and he didn't get much help from a receiving corps that dropped some catchable third-down passes.

    On the other hand, Allen got vast amounts of help from his defense, Jameis Winston (whose six turnovers resulted in 17 Panthers points) and Christian McCaffrey (who was bottled up as a rusher but strung together juke and stiff-arm moves to turn a flat pass into a 25-yard touchdown).

    It was Allen's fourth straight win this year and fifth overall, counting a meaningless Week 17 appearance last season. It was also the fourth (or fifth) straight Panthers win that had much more to do with McCaffrey, the opponent and the circumstances than anything Allen did particularly well.


    What it means

    Rapoport called Allen's emergence a "turn few saw coming," when in fact it was a turn nearly everyone could see coming.

    Newton is a battered veteran who has never been popular with a segment of the fanbase and is coming off a poor year. Allen "looks the part" (note how subtly we are handling the racial semiotics) and happened to arrive just when the running game and defense were clicking for the Panthers.

    This is a tale as old as Beauty and the Beast, folks, and the Panthers can't afford to get swept up either in the storytelling or the short-term results. 

    Newton remains far more likely to be a franchise-caliber quarterback in December, in 2020 and beyond than Allen. There are other factors to consider—Newton's long-term health, his contract status, rookie quarterback Will Grier—but that's the point: Handing the reins to Allen because he throws pretty screen passes to McCaffrey ignores all those factors in favor of go-with-the-gut magical thinking.

    If they are not careful, the Panthers may end up making a long-term quarterback decision based on what Winston and other quarterbacks did against them, not on what their own quarterbacks can do. 

    What happens next

    The Panthers are on a bye next week. Newton may be close to returning when they face the 49ers in Week 8. They will soon have a big decision to make. They shouldn't let the circumstances make it for them.

Whiparound Week 6 Coverage: Big Teams, Big Victories

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Gridiron Digest has so much to talk about this week that we were in danger of giving some of Sunday's big winners the short shrift in our rush to cover Tank Bowls and Minshew Mania. Let's rectify that with a quick look at some of Sunday's big winners.


    Seahawks 32, Browns 28

    We kicked off Gridiron Digest by harping on the Browns while ignoring the team that rose to 5-1 by beating them. Sorry about that. The Seahawks do more each week than wait for their opponents to make mistakes and hope Russell Wilson can single-handedly carry them to victory. But not much more.

    49ers 20, Rams 7

    The 49ers are 5-0 after two wins in seven days, but their Monday night victory over the Browns was overshadowed by a handshake controversy, and this no-big-deal victory over the defending NFC champs Sunday afternoon was upstaged by the Jets upsetting the Cowboys.

    The 49ers didn't run the ball well on Sunday (their three-headed backfield is supposed to be their calling card), they didn't do a great job containing Aaron Donald (two sacks, lots of time in the 49ers backfield), and Jimmy Garoppolo coughed up a pair of turnovers. Yet they possessed the football for 38 minutes and 52 seconds because Jared Goff turned into a $134 million pumpkin and the Rams went 0-of-13 on third-down and fourth-down conversions. 

    The 49ers look like a Wild Card-caliber rushing-and-defense team that's 5-0 because they caught some opponents off-guard or knocked their starting quarterbacks out of the game. But that's still a heck of a lot better than most folks thought they would be. 


    Vikings 38, Eagles 20

    Stephon Diggs (pictured; 7-167-3) got so wide open so often against the banged-up Eagles secondary that he made life easy for Kirk Cousins, who is at his best when others are making life easy for him. The Vikings defense also clamped down after allowing a mid-game Eagles surge.

    The Vikings are quietly 4-2, making next week's meeting with the Lions in Detroit a very big game. You can finish this paragraph with your own Cousins "big game" joke, but he came through in a pretty big game Sunday.


    Ravens 23, Bengals 17

    The Ravens rise to 4-2 as Lamar Jackson demonstrates once again what he can do with his arm (21-of-33 passing) and legs (19-152-1 rushing!) against an inferior opponent.

    We're still figuring out what Jackson can do against quality opponents, and so is Jackson. But with the Bengals flatlining, the Browns melting in the spotlight and the Steelers hard to count on, being able to stomp weaklings may be enough to let the Ravens coast into the playoffs. 

TANK BOWL I Digest: Redskins 17, Dolphins 16

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    What happened

    The team that built a terrible roster more or less on purpose (the Dolphins) hosted the team that built one through pure stubborn incompetence (Washington) in a battle for the inside track to earn the first overall pick in next year's draft. Here's a more complete recap than you really need or want:

    First quarter: Dolphins win the toss and defer (of course). Washington punts. The Dolphins punt. Washington punts. The Dolphins punt. Washington punts. The Dolphins convert a fourth down on a fake punt, then they punt. 

    Second quarter: Case Keenum, starting for Washington because no one in the organization has faith in rookie Dwayne Haskins and only recently fired head coach Jay Gruden really believed in Colt McCoy, delivers a strike to rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, whose defender (fellow rookie Ken Webster) falls down as the ball arrives.

    McLaurin tosses the ball to a pigtailed little fan in a Dolphins jersey, as if to say, "Sorry you have to watch this, but maybe when you grow up your team will be good." Then a Josh Rosen interception, a Washington punt, a Dolphins field-goal drive in which the highlight was a roughing-the-passer penalty and some kneeling to mercifully get to halftime.

    Third quarter: Keenum finds McLaurin (who should have been airlifted to a better game) for a second touchdown. Rosen throws an interception, which leads to a Washington field goal. That's pretty much all that happened.

    Fourth quarter: Rosen, who was given the starting job according to midweek reports, is benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who leads a short touchdown drive. Washington punts. The Dolphins punt. Washington punts. The Dolphins punt. Washington punts. It's almost as if no one wants to win.

    But then it's time for FitzMagic, because why not pretend it's 2015 again? Fitzpatrick caps a two-minute drill with a touchdown pass to DeVante Parker. Overtime? Oh please, oh please, no. The Dolphins attempt a two-point conversion, but Kenyan Drake drops a wide receiver screen. He would have gotten walloped anyway.


    What it means

    "Tanking" is fun to talk about among fans who enjoy reading 2020 mock drafts on autumn Tuesday mornings and discussing the philosophical underpinnings of roster construction. For fans who want to purchase tickets, tailgate and build their Sundays around watching fun and competitive athletic events, tanking is a nightmare.

    This was bush-league—full of plays on which Rosen got sacked before he completed his dropback, Keenum tried to scramble like he was Lamar Jackson and shotgun snaps rolled up to Fitzpatrick's feet.

    But it will all be worth it once the Dolphins invest all their draft picks and cap space on superstars, right?

    Well, things aren't so rosy for the tanktastic Browns right now. Furthermore, a team that cannot even stick with its plan to give Rosen a season-long audition for four quarters probably doesn't have the long-range vision to build a brilliant offseason strategy atop the wreckage of this season.

    The Dolphins have dug a really deep hole. Maybe if they at least had someone like McLaurin, it would be easier to pretend there was some sort of foundation.

    As for Washington...oh, the heck with Washington. We spent too much time thinking about them when they fired Gruden last week.


    What's next

    Washington hosts the Niners. The Dolphins visit the Bills. Both teams face the Bengals later in the year, so check local listings for future Tank Bowl events.  


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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    1. Richard Sherman claims Baker Mayfield didn't shake his hand during the Monday Night Football coin toss. An epic midweek drama ensues.

    POINT: Here, on frame 374 of my reconstructed footage of the coin toss, taken from the security camera in front of a beer vendor on the concourse, Mayfield appears to only make contact with Sherman's hand with the ring and index fingers while looking away from Sherman. This is indisputable evidence that these are two days of my life I will someday regret having squandered thinking about this nonsense.

    COUNTERPOINT: This whole league needs a few hours roleplaying with Mr. Frond's sock puppets in the middle school guidance office. 


    2. The Jaguars give out 35,000 mustaches to fans and Gardner Minshew II jerseys to 10 fans who cut their jeans into jorts as part of "Minshew Mania."

    POINT: In Jacksonville, there should really be an incentive in place to prevent folks from cutting their jeans into jorts.

    COUNTERPOINT: There's no truth to the rumor that all 35,000 mustaches were made from the hair of team owner Shad Khan's mustache

    3. Pope Francis uses the hashtag #Saints in a tweet to Roman Catholics, which makes it look like he has a favorite in Sunday's Saints-Jaguars game.

    POINT: Come to think of it, Minshew does look a little like the devil disguised as a pushy older boyfriend in a Southern Gothic story. 

    COUNTERPOINT: If the pope really cared about the New Orleans Saints, he would have excommunicated the officials from last season's NFC Championship Game.

    4. Rob Gronkowski says during his Thursday Night Football broadcasting debut that he remains open to the idea of returning to the Patriots.

    POINT: Gronk also came across on camera as a fraternity brother trying to give a presentation on a book he didn't read after shotgunning six Red Bulls. But that's probably the vibe he's going for.

    COUNTERPOINT: The way that Giants-Patriots game started, he's lucky Bill Belichick didn't slap a helmet on him at halftime.

    5. Colin Kaepernick's agent releases a document rebutting many of the prevailing claims about his client's status.

    POINT: Yeah, but my father-in-law posted "Nuh-uh" as a rebuttal on his Facebook page. Gotta hear both sides.

    COUNTERPOINT: The NFL should take its cues on social justice from the NBA, a league which...clicks an NBA news tab for the first time this month...oh, dear lord, never mind. 

Digest Sportsbook

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Gridiron Digest crew thought we would liven up some of Sunday's less scintillating matchups by spreading some action across the "B," "C," and "OMG who on Earth wants to watch Ttitans-Broncos?" games. Let's see how lucky we got. Lines via Caesars.


    Bengals (+11) at Ravens

    Rationale: The Bengals stink, but the Ravens have been untrustworthy as more than four-point favorites, and this is a huge spread for a divisional matchup.

    Result: The Ravens held a 20-10 lead for much of the fourth quarter, which was scary because Justin Tucker is always lurking in the wings to mess with the Ravens' spread. Sure enough, he hit a short field goal to put the cover in jeopardy. But Andy Dalton became the hero of backdoor-cover lovers everywhere by running in a late touchdown to cut the score to 23-17 in the waning seconds. Win.


    Eagles (+3.5) at Vikings

    Rationale: This was actually a pretty big game compared to the others on our slip, but that's the point: The bigger the game, the more disappointing Kirk Cousins gets.

    Result: What was most painful about this result—and this 38-20 Vikings win in general—for Eagles fans was that Philadelphia kept getting close enough to make things interesting before self-destructing with a fake field goal or fumble after a big completion. Loss.


    Cowboys (-7) at Jets

    Rationale: Despite Sam Darnold's return, the Jets are injury-riddled and coached by Mister Micropass. This line looked like a public overreaction to the news cycle (Darnold, two straight Cowboys losses), rather than the quality of the teams.

    Result: A 24-22 Jets upset with an edge-of-the-seat finish isn't nearly so much fun when it becomes clear early in the fourth quarter that the best you can hope for is a push. Sometimes, the house is smarter than all of us. Loss. 


    Titans at Broncos: Over 41

    Rationale: We were just rooting (hoping, wishing) for something interesting to happen in this one.

    Result: The Broncos led 6-0 at halftime en route to a 16-0 victory. The under was safe the moment Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota, though really, it was pretty safe at kickoff. Loss.


    Falcons (-2.5) at Cardinals

    Rationale: Yes, we wagered on the Falcons. No, we don't have a short-term memory disorder or crippling self-hatred. It's a team full of veteran stars that went to the Super Bowl a few years ago against a Big-12 All Star team, and we were laying less than a field goal.

    Result: The Falcons defense is so terrible that 11 parking-lot tailgaters could take a 27-13 lead on them, forcing their offense to score a bunch of points late in the game to make the final 34-33 defeat look close. We should have taken the over of 52.5, but Gridiron Digest has an unhealthy codependent relationship with the Falcons, and it is starting to affect our judgment. Loss.

    You probably don't want our Monday night pick after that 1-4 fiasco of a Sunday. Unfortunately, it's not up to you.

    Monday Night Action:  Lions (+4) at Green Bay Packers

    It's hard to bet against the Lambeau mystique, but the Packers are just 5-5 against the spread as home favorites since last year.

    The Lions' tough defensive line and secondary present tough matchups for the Packers' depleted receiving corps and Aaron Jones-fueled running game. If you like the Lions, forget the points and take the +180 moneyline to get more bang for your buck. They're good enough to win this game outright.