B/R Staff NFL Week 14 Report Card: Did John Elway Hit a Home Run with Drew Lock?

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 9, 2019

B/R Staff NFL Week 14 Report Card: Did John Elway Hit a Home Run with Drew Lock?

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    As temperatures decrease around the nation, NFL action heats up. Teams can't leave anything on the field for the postseason to become a reality.

    Granted, not all teams are preparing for a potential playoff run after early-season failures. Still, even those squads have plenty to achieve or questions to answer.

    Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers banded together to grade how each of the situations below and more are progressing:

    • The San Francisco 49ers may be the team to beat in the NFC.

    • The New England Patriots look vulnerable.

    • The Buffalo Bills don't appear as ready for the postseason as their 9-4 record indicates.

    • Once again, the Cleveland Browns find themselves mired in drama as they attempt a late-season push.

Patriots' Super Bowl Chances

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    Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

    The yearly debate rages: Is this the year the New England Patriots' dynasty finally crumbles?

    The Patriots aren't nearly as effective on offense as they've been in previous seasons. Also, they've struggled against top competition. New England is now 2-3 against teams with winning records and 8-0 against losing squads. The Patriots have also lost their last two games.

    "We have three big games to go, and we have to get back to winning football," quarterback Tom Brady told reporters after Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

    How favorable are the Patriots' Super Bowl chances in what looks like the end of the Brady-Bill Belichick championship window?

         

    Ty Dunne: B

    This defense can still travel anywhere and beat any QB. The officials robbed New England on Sunday too. But make no mistake: the offense's issues are real. Outside of Julian Edelman, the Patriots need someone...anyone...to consistently win one-on-one. Right now, it doesn't look like that player exists. (Brady, 42, isn't getting any younger, either. Shh...)

    Mike Freeman: B

    I'm still not counting Brady out. Not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe trick again. Neither should you. This is still a Super Bowl-caliber team.

    Mike Tanier: C

    The scariest thing about Sunday's loss is the Foxborough mystique wasn't enough to bail the Patriots out when the Chiefs began fumbling and getting punts blocked. If the Patriots cannot count on their home-field advantage and cannot count on Brady magic, what can they count on?

    Brent Sobleski: C

    The Patriots aren't well-equipped to offset the issues they're experiencing. Brady can't carry the unit. Rob Gronkowski isn't walking through the door. Outside of Edelman, they don't have a threat among the receivers. The offensive line isn't as good as last year, either. The defense can lead the way, but only so far.

    Brad Gagnon: C

    Since the start of November, they're 2-3 with a minus-19 scoring margin. If not for a comically soft schedule in September and October, we wouldn't even be putting them in the same echelon as the Ravens or Chiefs. You can never count them out for obvious reasons, especially in the weaker of the two conferences, but this doesn't feel like their year.

    Gary Davenport: D

    You can't overlook the Patriots, but they lost back-to-back games for the first time in a year and lost at home in December for the first time since 2015. The New England offense isn't scaring anyone right now…except Patriots fans.

49ers as NFC's Best Team

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints provided the most thrilling game of the 2019 campaign when the Niners claimed a last-second 48-46 victory.

    They proved they can win in a shootout and don't need to rely on their No. 1 overall defense at all times. Also, Kyle Shanahan's crew went into hostile territory and took down a top team.

    At 11-2, San Francisco now owns the NFC's best record, but are the Niners the conference's best team?

         

    Ty Dunne: A+

    Absolutely. The 49ers have proved they can win any way they damn well please, dragging the Green Bay Packers into a dark alley and then taking down the Saints, on the road, in a good ole' fashioned Superdome shootout. Jimmy Garoppolo can carry the offense, and don't worry about that defense. It's just fine.

    Mike Freeman: A+

    What the 49ers consistently show, even in their losses but especially in their victory against New Orleans, is mental toughness. It runs through every pore of the organization. It starts with the mental toughness of the quarterback, who is cutting down on his mistakes and improving on his deep ball accuracy. This is a dangerous team.

    Mike Tanier: A

    They are the best team in the NFC, and I look forward to seeing them in Philly against the division-winning 7-9 Eagles in the first round of the playoffs because the Seattle Seahawks hold the tiebreaker.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    How quickly everyone forgets. The Niners lost to the rival Seahawks a month ago. Their rematch in Week 17 will likely determine which NFC West squad has the edge.

    Brad Gagnon: A

    I would have given them a D here before they beat the Saints. That win means a lot, but Seattle's loss is just as critical because San Francisco has regained the edge in the divisional race. The NFC's best team can't be in a wild-card spot.

    Gary Davenport: A-

    The Niners have been winning this year with defense, but on a day where that defense got lit up, the Niners still got a victory on the road against a very good Saints team thanks to a 516-yard, 48-point explosion from the offense. The Niners are a complete team more than capable of not only repping the NFC in Miami but also of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

Drew Lock as the Broncos' Franchise QB

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos appear to have something in second-round quarterback Drew Lock after multiple failed attempts to address the game's most important position.

    In his first two starts, the rookie completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 443 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Lock sliced and diced the Houston Texans defense during Sunday's 38-24 victory with 309 passing yards and three scores.

    "Incredible," Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller told reporters of the quarterback's latest performance. "That f--king guy's a rock star."

    More importantly, Denver won its last two games.

    Have the Broncos found their franchise quarterback?

             

    Ty Dunne: B-

    He sure was on fire Sunday. This was as potent as the Broncos offense has looked in ages. "Franchise QB" seems a bit much right now, but Lock was absolutely dynamite...on the road...against a team that just knocked out the defending champs. That shouldn't be overlooked.

    Mike Freeman: B+

    This was impressive, and Lock has looked the part for two weeks. It's too early to tell just how good he is, but he sure is demonstrating a strong feel for the game, accuracy in his throws and toughness. He's shown more promise than any quarterback John Elway has ever drafted.

    Mike Tanier: B+

    I liked him coming out of college and liked him better Sunday than last week. And what alternative do the Broncos have: Elway calling Tom Brady and offering him $40 million and personnel control over the receiving corps? No wait, Elway, that was meant as a joke, not a suggestion. STOP, ELWAY, STOP!

    Brent Sobleski: B+

    The Broncos organization and its fanbase should be excited. Lock looks like the quarterback he projected to be during his junior year at Missouri—which was a potential No. 1 overall pick. And he has three more games to build on his early success with Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders defenses on the docket (none ranked in the top half of the league).

    Brad Gagnon: B

    Two starts into his career, Kyle Allen had four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 133.5. Since then, he has as many picks as touchdowns (12 apiece) and a sub-80 rating. When the element of surprise disappears, it becomes a lot harder to fool opposing defenses. So while Lock has done a nice job on limited big-time pass attempts thus far, I can't give him a top grade here yet.

    Gary Davenport: B-

    Two starts is an awfully small sample size, and the Houston secondary is bad—bad enough that I'm not about to go all Dennis Green and start crowning…things. But there's no denying Lock played well against the Texans, and the defenses he faces the rest of the way aren't exactly the '85 Bears.

Odell Beckham Jr.'s Chances to Stay in Cleveland Next Year

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Win or lose, the Cleveland Browns are always relevant, because the drama never stops.

    They earned a 27-19 victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals to keep their playoff hopes alive. But the team couldn't entirely enjoy the win, because questions once again arose regarding Odell Beckham Jr.'s happiness in The Land.

    Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported: "Throughout this year, Odell Beckham has actually told other players and coaches, before games, during games, 'Come get me, come get me outta here.' ... I don't see that relationship ending well for them after this year."

    What are the odds OBJ remains a member of the Browns beyond this season?

           

    Ty Dunne: C

    Maybe cooler heads will prevail, but all of the reports coming out of Cleveland are troubling. Maybe the most telling of all came from Baker Mayfield on how the training staff handled Beckham's hernia. Not good!

    Mike Freeman: F

    At this point, it would be a shock if Beckham was a Brown next year. If he were a Patriot? Not a shock.

    Mike Tanier: B

    He will stay in Cleveland and then get traded before the 2020 deadline, after Freddie Kitchens and John Dorsey are fired.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    Three reasons will likely keep OBJ in Cleveland next season. First, the Browns have him under contract through 2023. Second, the Browns still have a solid structure in place with Jarvis Landry and wide receivers coach Adam Henry as Beckham's support system. Finally, ownership is desperate to prove the Browns are a contender and will go all-in (again) next season to make that happen.

    Brad Gagnon: C

    The storm clouds are really freakin' dark right now, and he caught just two passes Sunday. I can see this spiraling out of control, and I can see the Browns parting ways with both Beckham and head coach Freddie Kitchens this offseason.

    Gary Davenport: B

    Beckham's first season in Cleveland hasn't gone like anyone hoped, and we can't go a day without a story either saying he wants out of Cleveland or another refuting it. It can't be ruled out that he'll be one-and-done with the Browns, but I still think it's unlikely.

Josh Allen's Ability to Lead Buffalo into the Playoffs (and Perform Well)

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    At 9-4, the Buffalo Bills appear to be locked in as one of the AFC's playoff representatives. Is that good enough, though?

    The Bills benefited from a favorable schedule, but they are just 1-2 against teams with winning records. The latest loss came Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens captured a 24-17 victory in Buffalo.

    Josh Allen hasn't played well against the league's better squads, and the second-year QB completed only 43.6 percent of his passes against the Ravens' stout secondary. He didn't add much as a runner, either, with only two carries for nine yards.

    In fact, Allen has a 53 completion percentage with a three-to-four touchdown-to-interception ratio against the three teams Buffalo faced with records above .500.

    How likely is it he can lead the Bills into the postseason and compete against the league's best?

           

    Ty Dunne: C

    The Bills defense is legit. It has carried the team all year versus a soft schedule and just may carry this team into the playoffs. But Allen's accuracy problems are as problematic as ever. Completing 43.6 percent of your passes at home against any team is abysmal. If the Bills are looking to contend any time soon, that has to improve.

    Mike Freeman: B

    This team is still talented and no question capable of making the playoffs. The Bills are losing to some excellent teams. In the end, what will propel the Bills isn't Allen. It will be that underrated defense.

    Mike Tanier: B

    The car is out of gas, but they are only 50 feet from the finish line.

    Brent Sobleski: C

    Like any young quarterback, Allen is a work in progress. It should come as no surprise he struggles against better competition. At the same time, the Bills have taken care of business against teams they should beat. Buffalo may only make a brief postseason appearance, but the organization and its quarterback are trending in the right direction.

    Brad Gagnon: D

    I don't trust Allen, who was almost completely ineffective as both a passer and a runner in a critical home game Sunday. That defense will almost always keep the Bills in games, but Allen is unlikely to be a difference-maker in January.

    Gary Davenport: B

    Even after losing to the Ravens, the Bills are still in excellent shape to make the playoffs at 9-4. The bigger question is whether they'll do anything once they get there. Buffalo might be able to go on the road and beat the AFC South champion, but they aren't winning in Baltimore or New England.

Is Derrick Henry the NFL's Best RB Right Now?

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    No running back has been more productive than the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry has over the last four weeks of play. Henry amassed 599 yards during that span, and he's done so while battling a leg injury.

    "My leg would have to be halfway off for me to stop," Henry told reporters after Sunday's 42-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

    Even so, he's worked his way into second place behind the Cleveland Browns' Nick Chubb with 1,243 rushing yards. Henry is also tied for the league lead with 13 rushing touchdowns, which begs the question: Is he now the game's best running back?

           

    Ty Dunne: A

    Yes. The numbers don't lie. He is steamrolling defenders, sprinting past guys and dominating in every way a back can. Nobody wants to play the Titans right now—and with two games against the Texans still on tap, the AFC South is up for grabs.

    Mike Freeman: F

    It's still Christian McCaffrey. Henry is benefitting from the excellent play of Ryan Tannehill. (Did I just write that?) McCaffrey is suffering from the awful play of his quarterback. Henry, though, is making the argument tougher.

    Mike Tanier: B

    Henry is the most important running back in the NFL right now, which is not quite the same as being the best running back. McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook are better players, but Cook is banged up, and the wheels have fallen off the Panthers.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    This argument comes down to preference. Do you prefer true workhorse backs who will gobble up 300 carries and pound opponents into oblivion, or is versatility more valuable? Other backs are more versatile in their particular schemes. And, yes, Henry is a true workhorse putting in the work, but Chubb does the same with slightly more overall production.

    Brad Gagnon: A

    This changes frequently because of the nature of the running back position, but it's hard to deny a guy averaging 7.0 yards per carry and 150 yards per game in the last month. It helps that Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley have struggled, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette have cooled off and Marlon Mack and Josh Jacobs haven't been healthy of late.

    Gary Davenport: B-

    I don't know that I'd call Henry the NFL's best back, or even the AFC's best. But he's been on quite the roll of late. As it turns out, all the Titans had to do was, you know, give him the ball. Who knew?

Diontae Johnson as the Steelers' Complement to JuJu

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have found a new dynamic weapon, as rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson provided a breakthrough performance Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

    This year's initial third-round pick scored twice. First, he dazzled with an 85-yard punt return for the Steelers' opening touchdown. He also led the team with six receptions for 60 yards, including a two-yard touchdown reception.

    JuJu Smith-Schuster continues to deal with a knee injury, but he'll be the Steelers' No. 1 target upon his return. Did Johnson's latest contributions cement his status as the ideal complement to Smith-Schuster?

            

    Ty Dunne: B+

    He turned a corner in a big, big way Sunday. This team is incredible. Every week, somebody new makes one or two massive plays needed to win. Last week, it was James Washington. This week, it was Johnson, and Johnson has the skills to last.

    Mike Freeman: B

    He represents this frisky Steelers team: young and not full of big names, but talented with a bunch of fighters. Sure, he can be a factor and a complement to Smith-Schuster. But the Steelers' biggest story is Mike Tomlin and how he's closing in on Coach of the Year.

    Mike Tanier: C-

    No offense to Johnson, but you guys keep misspelling "James Washington."

    Brent Sobleski: B+

    A silver lining emerged to all of the injuries the Steelers suffered this year: The team is finding young players who can contribute now and for years to come. Johnson adds to a rapidly developing wide receiver corps that could be potent down the road.

    Brad Gagnon: B

    There's a path there, but he still has to prove he can produce consistently. More stability at quarterback should help. Regardless, he looks to have an edge over Washington.

    Gary Davenport: C

    Much like Washington, Johnson has had his moments this year. But also like Washington, he's been inconsistent. I think the bigger takeaway is that Pittsburgh's depth at wideout is better than most folks thought.