Urgent questions for the Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers and 6 different NFL contenders: Sando’s Choose Six

Cowl 7 | Monday A day by day NFL vacation spot that gives in-depth evaluation of soccer’s greatest tales. Every Monday, Mike Sando breaks down the six most impactful takeaways from the week.

The Athletic has reside protection of Chiefs vs Eagles in Monday Evening Soccer motion.

We had questions concerning the NFL’s finest groups greater than a month in the past. The previous 5 weeks have offered solutions.

The Choose Six column for Week 11 re-stacks Tremendous Bowl contenders, leveraging recent proof to see how properly — or how poorly — the very best groups are responding.

The Cincinnati Bengals are conspicuously absent. Their championship odds match these for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams following quarterback Joe Burrow’s season-ending damage. We’ve put aside a separate part for the 7-3 Cleveland Browns, whose Tremendous Bowl odds stay lengthy however who maintain successful with protection and now are welcoming 38-year-old Joe Flacco into the fold.

The complete Choose Six menu this week:

Re-stacking Tremendous Bowl contenders
C.J. Stroud joins elite firm
Reality about Brandon Staley’s protection
2023 Flacco takes on 2015 Peyton!
Panthers vs. each workforce within the NFL
Two-minute drill: Hip-drops and extra

1. An eventful month has handed since we requested key questions on NFL contenders. We’ve got some solutions now.

Earlier than revisiting contender questions and including a pair groups to the combination, right here’s a take a look at the newest Tremendous Bowl odds from BetMGM.

Now, let’s revisit the questions we requested of the contenders 5 weeks in the past.

Kansas Metropolis Chiefs: Is the explosive passing recreation gone for good?

Seven explosive go features towards the Chargers in Week 7 had been encouraging, however groups have averaged 6.4 of them towards Los Angeles this season. Inexperienced Bay had eight towards the Chargers on Sunday. The Dolphins had 14 towards them in Week 1. So, there’s an asterisk for any manufacturing towards that protection.

The Chiefs over their previous three video games had been league common in explosive go fee, a slight enchancment. However Travis Kelce is averaging 10.5 yards per reception, a profession low. His explosive reception fee is roughly half what it was final season and for his profession. That is nonetheless the No. 1 query going through Kansas Metropolis.

In the event you’re going to guess on anybody to determine a means, you’re going to guess on Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. They mounted the identical drawback in 2021, apart from a pair late video games towards Cincinnati, which ended the Chiefs’ season. This 12 months, the Kansas Metropolis protection is robust sufficient to develop the margin for error.

“The those that query the Chiefs are those who don’t need to play them,” an opposing coach mentioned. “They’ve the very best participant within the recreation (Mahomes) who is consistently looming, and now they’ve the protection that may maintain Miami to 14 factors on a impartial discipline. They may have a problem once they play a workforce that takes away Kelce, however their protection is de facto exhausting to play towards. That’s the equalizer this 12 months.”

San Francisco 49ers: What have they got in Brock Purdy?

It’s a very good time to ask, with Purdy posting an ideal passer score towards the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a primary for a 49ers quarterback since Joe Montana in 1989 (minimal 15 makes an attempt).

Purdy, who accomplished 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns within the 27-14 victory, is the twentieth NFL participant with a 158.3 passer score on a minimum of 25 makes an attempt, per Professional Soccer Reference. Tom Brady did it thrice. Geno Smith, Doug Flutie and Nick Foles are additionally on the checklist, however they didn’t produce as properly for so long as Purdy has produced on this San Francisco offense.

The 49ers are 2-2 since we requested the Purdy query. That span included losses to Minnesota and Cincinnati. However they lead the league by a large margin over that span in yards per go try (11.2) whereas rating third in EPA per go play and first by a large margin in explosive go fee. San Francisco ought to really feel higher about Purdy now than it did a month in the past.

Philadelphia Eagles: Has Jalen Hurts regressed? The place are the explosive go performs?

The Eagles are 3-0 since we raised that query. Their explosive go fee over that span (23.6 %) ranks third within the league. It’s greater than double what it was via the primary six video games. Let’s see what Monday evening brings towards Kansas Metropolis’s protection, however the present three-game stretch has produced eighth landing passes, one interception and 97 offensive factors.

Baltimore Ravens: Are they higher off shifting to extra of a pass-oriented offense?

The Ravens are 4-1 since we raised the query. They rank third in offensive EPA per play over that span. However they misplaced tight finish Mark Andrews to a season-ending damage. Their passing recreation faltered towards Cleveland.

Greater image, leaning into the go a bit of extra has not stopped Baltimore from operating successfully. Lamar Jackson is operating with the ball 8.5 instances per recreation, about the identical as final season. The distinction is that Jackson is scrambling extra, with fewer designed runs. Will we see extra designed runs for Jackson now that Andrews is out?

Miami Dolphins: Has Tua Tagovailoa confirmed he’s constructed to final?

The Dolphins have some points, however their quarterback’s sturdiness has not been one among them. Tagovailoa made his tenth consecutive begin Sunday. That’s his longest beginning streak inside a season because the Dolphins drafted him. His earlier streaks coated 9, 4, seven, three, two, 5 and 4 video games. These streaks didn’t all finish due to damage, however this season suggests Tagovailoa can have a long-term future within the recreation. That appeared unlikely coming into the season.

“They’ve carried out a very good job defending him by getting the ball out quick, taking the ball out of his fingers on a few of the sneaks, these types of issues,” an exec mentioned. “Tua has actually found out when to surrender on a play.”

Dallas Cowboys: Is that this workforce any higher than earlier Dallas groups that fell brief?

The Cowboys are 3-1 since we requested that query. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb are producing exponentially higher over that stretch. Beating the Rams, Giants and Panthers isn’t going to idiot us into pondering this uptick will switch into the postseason. Let’s see how the Cowboys fare once they face Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami and Detroit over a four-week stretch starting in Week 13.

Detroit Lions: Have they mounted their protection?

Um, no. The Lions rank thirty second in defensive EPA per play over the four-game stretch since we requested the query. They received three of these video games anyway as a result of they had been going through the Raiders, Chargers and Bears. The Ravens and Chargers posted their finest offensive EPA video games of the season towards Detroit up to now 4 video games. Earlier than that, Seattle had its finest offensive recreation of the season towards the Lions (Week 2). Carolina had its second-best offensive recreation towards Detroit (Week 5).

Jacksonville Jaguars: Are they prepared for prime time?

They’re 3-1 since we raised the query, however dropping 34-3 at dwelling to San Francisco popping out of a bye speaks louder than these three victories. The Jaguars face Cleveland on the highway and Baltimore at dwelling consecutively in Weeks 14 and 15. These video games will inform a fuller story. For extra on the place the Jaguars’ offense stands, see the fourth merchandise of the Choose Six, which surprisingly places Jacksonville inside putting distance of Cleveland amongst 7-3 groups overly reliant on their defenses.

Buffalo Payments: Are the defensive accidents an excessive amount of to beat?

Buffalo’s 3-2 document since our final check-in doesn’t start to inform the story of the previous 5 weeks. Beating up on the New York Jets’ abysmal offense Sunday lifted the Payments from twenty seventh to sixteenth in defensive EPA per play over that five-game span. The Payments in all probability are too injured on protection to beat all that has gone unsuitable this season, particularly with journeys to Philadelphia and Kansas Metropolis subsequent on the schedule.

2. The Houston Texans are 6-4 with a rookie quarterback and a top-10 offense after successful 11 video games over the earlier three seasons. That places C.J. Stroud on a powerful brief checklist with Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. Right here’s how these 4 stand aside.

Stroud was intercepted thrice and left the Texans’ 21-16 victory towards the Arizona Cardinals for one play after absorbing a jarring hit within the third quarter.

The rookie first-round decide endured to gather his sixth victory in 10 begins. To say he was unfazed could be an understatement.

“Steph Curry don’t ever cease capturing,” Stroud mentioned after the sport, “so I’m gonna maintain letting it journey.”

For the season, Stroud ranks third in yards per try (8.3), sixth in EPA per go play (0.15) and first in go completions gaining greater than 15 yards (70). Seven different quarterbacks since 2000 have accomplished greater than 70 explosive go performs via the primary 10 video games of a season, per TruMedia. Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers headline that checklist. Stroud’s 31 explosive go completions over his final three video games are greater than the Steelers (29) and Panthers (26) have totaled all season.

The mix of particular person manufacturing, workforce success and year-over-year workforce enchancment places Stroud on a brief checklist of rookies. Prescott (2016), Ryan (2008) and Luck (2012) additionally match the profile. Right here’s how I narrowed down the checklist from 35 preliminary candidates:

Beginning straight away: Stroud is one among 35 rookie quarterbacks to start out the primary 10 video games of an NFL season, per Professional Soccer Reference.

Successful straight away: Of these 35 rookie starters, Stroud is one among 9 whose workforce had a successful document after 10 video games. Prescott (9-1), Kyle Orton (7-2), Mac Jones (6-4), Russell Wilson (6-4), Joe Flacco (6-4), Andy Dalton (6-4), Luck (6-4) and Ryan (6-4) additionally met this standards.

Main workforce turnaround: Of the remaining 9, Stroud is one among seven whose workforce in its first 10 video games exceeded its win complete from the earlier full season. Wilson and Jones fell from the checklist.

High 10 offense: Prescott’s Cowboys (fifth), Ryan’s Falcons (eighth), Stroud’s Texans (ninth) and Luck’s Colts (tenth) ranked among the many high 10 in offensive EPA per play via 10 video games. This requirement eradicated from consideration Dalton with the Bengals (twentieth), Flacco with the Ravens (twenty second) and Orton with the Bears (twenty ninth).

The desk beneath stacks the ultimate seven by the place they ranked in EPA per go play 10 video games into their rookie seasons. The road separates the ultimate 4.

QB (Yr) W-L OFF Rnk EPA/PP Rnk

Dak Prescott (2016)




C.J. Stroud (2023)




Matt Ryan (2008)




Andrew Luck (2012)




Andy Dalton (2011)




Joe Flacco (2008)




Kyle Orton (2005)




Remaining order: Sorting the ultimate 4 by their groups’ preseason Vegas win totals leaves Ryan (4.5), Luck (5.5), Stroud (6.5) and Prescott (8.5). If you wish to type them by EPA per go play, the order would change to Prescott (second), Stroud (sixth), Ryan (seventh) and Luck (twelfth).

It’s one method to stability private and workforce accomplishments for rookies taking part in an important place.

Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t seem right here as a result of he didn’t begin the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two video games in 2004. Pittsburgh began 9-1 that season after ending the earlier season 6-10. The Steelers, with a 7.5 preseason Vegas win complete, had been thirteenth in offensive EPA per play via 10 video games.

3. Brandon Staley snapped after his Chargers dropped to 4-6 by dropping at Inexperienced Bay. Does his protection actually let each opposing offense take pleasure in one among its finest days? Sure and no.

At one level throughout Staley’s contentious postgame information convention Sunday, a reporter steered nearly each Chargers opponent enjoys one among its finest days on offense, together with Packers quarterback Jordan Love, who topped 300 yards passing in a recreation for the primary time.

The desk beneath reveals this was true towards Kansas Metropolis and Detroit. These groups’ offenses loved their finest complete EPA days of the season towards the Chargers. The Dolphins and Packers loved their second-best offensive EPA video games towards Staley’s protection.

Tennessee loved its third-best recreation.

The Cowboys, Bears, Raiders and Jets didn’t have their higher video games towards the Chargers.

Taking part in your worst towards the very best and your finest towards the worst is not any method to distinguish oneself on protection. The Chargers confronted the Bears with Tyson Bagent, the Raiders with Aidan O’Connell and the Jets with Zach Wilson.

“These will not be simply unhealthy offenses,” a veteran coach mentioned. “These had been non-functioning offenses that in a pair instances had nearly no reps with their beginning quarterbacks.”

The truth that Inexperienced Bay loved its second-best day on offense stung Sunday and certainly contributed to Staley reaching his breaking level.

Staley, confronted with one other week of pointed postgame questions on his protection, together with whether or not he would relinquish play calling, turned visibly aggravated. The third-year coach couldn’t take it any longer when it was steered the Chargers fan base would possibly see a disconnect between poor defensive efficiency and Staley’s expression of confidence in his teaching.

“I’m not right here to speak to the fan base,” Staley interrupted. “I’m right here to speak to my gamers, the locker room. I do know that we give ourselves an opportunity to win each single week with the sport plans that now we have, OK. And now we have carried out it right here. You guys act like we’ve by no means performed good protection. That’s not the reality. You act like now we have not made any enhancements. Right this moment within the run recreation, we performed excellent. We’re speeding the quarterback properly. What now we have to do a greater job of is within the passing recreation.”

Staley saved going, at one level saying “it definitely wasn’t our protection” that misplaced the sport.

The numbers disagree. The Chargers’ offense (plus-2.9) and particular groups (plus-3.6) had been each above common, regardless of some key adverse performs on offense. The protection was unhealthy (minus-9.3). Solely 4 groups had been worse on protection in Week 11: Carolina, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Tennessee.

Subsequent up for the Chargers’ protection: Lamar Jackson and the 8-3 Baltimore Ravens, who rank eighth in offensive EPA per play between No. 7 Detroit and No. 9 Kansas Metropolis. Shedding high Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa to damage towards the Packers isn’t going to assist.

4. The Browns are 7-3 after outlasting the Steelers 13-10. That places them in elite non-elite firm. Joe Flacco to the rescue?

The Browns signed Joe Flacco to their apply squad and can in all probability want him, the way in which this season goes.

A considerably comical however not completely unserious query: Would 2023 Joe Flacco be worse than 2015 Peyton Manning? A Tremendous Bowl might journey on the reply.

“Peyton was simply such a commanding presence who might nonetheless run the play clock down, nonetheless get the protection to leap, nonetheless carry a ton of swag,” an exec mentioned. “They examine in mobility. They don’t examine answerable for the sport, management, that stuff. And I’m not even positive how properly Joe can throw the ball at this level.”

Manning received a Tremendous Bowl with Denver in his last season regardless of being so diminished bodily, he struggled throwing the ball. Manning completed 2015 with 11 landing passes, 18 interceptions and a 69.5 passer score, counting playoffs. He ranked decrease than Ryan Mallett and Blaine Gabbert in EPA per go play. Solely Nick Foles, then with the pre-Sean McVay Rams, ranked decrease than Manning that season.

Cleveland ranks final in offensive EPA per recreation since 2000 amongst groups that had been 7-3 or higher via 10 video games. On common, their offense places them in a 10-point gap each recreation. It’s taken unimaginable defensive manufacturing to beat groups resembling San Francisco and Baltimore. How far can this protection take the Ravens in a season with out nice groups?

Under we see the worst offensive groups with information of 7-3 or higher via 10 video games since 2000. These 2015 Broncos are shaded blue as a result of they received the Tremendous Bowl, notching playoff victories towards Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and MVP Cam Newton.

It’s a bit of stunning to see the 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars on that checklist. They’ve been statistically above common on offense twice in 10 video games: Sunday throughout a 34-14 victory towards Tennessee, and towards Buffalo in Week 5.

5. The Panthers fell to 1-8 and have scored 51 factors of their previous 4 video games. The wage information right here suggests we shouldn’t be shocked.

In sizing up the Browns following Watson’s season-ending damage, I noticed Cleveland employed a league-high 11 gamers incomes a minimum of $12 million per season. There may be nothing magical concerning the $12 million cutoff. We might cut back that to $10 million and even $8 million when evaluating the place groups would possibly stand of their roster-building life cycles.

The desk beneath makes use of the $12 million cutoff. There’s an enormous hole between the groups on the high and Carolina, which has just one such participant on its roster (deal with Taylor Moton). Two gamers the Panthers traded up to now 12 months or so — Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore — earn greater than $12 million per season.

The exhausting half for the Panthers lies in Houston’s relative success this season regardless of having solely two such gamers on its roster, whereas additionally beginning a rookie quarterback.

Gamers Incomes At Least $12M Per Yr

Observe that Kansas Metropolis has 5 such gamers after going younger on protection with nice success. That’s half the entire of NFC powers Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Lowering the cutoff to $10 million per 12 months nonetheless leaves Carolina on the backside with solely two such gamers, 10 fewer than the league-leading Eagles and half as many as every other workforce.

Lowering the cutoff to $8 million per 12 months leaves Carolina tied with Arizona for the fewest within the league with 5 apiece. The New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars soar right into a tie with San Francisco and Philadelphia for the league lead at 12 apiece.

Carolina is on the backside irrespective of how we break it down.

6. Two-minute drill: If and when the NFL bans the hip-drop deal with, will officiating sustain?

The push for banning hip-drop tackles is gaining momentum the way in which guidelines adjustments acquire momentum within the NFL: when highly effective sufficient individuals are affected negatively sufficient.

Final season, the Dallas Cowboys misplaced operating again Tony Pollard to a damaged leg induced when Jimmie Ward landed on the again of Pollard’s legs throughout a playoff recreation. Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ govt vp, CEO and director of participant personnel, sits on the NFL’s rules-making competitors committee, placing him in place to advocate for change.

The Ravens’ John Harbaugh, a former member of the competitors committee and the NFL’s third-longest-tenured head coach, added his identify to the dialog after a hip-drop deal with knocked out his star tight finish, Mark Andrews, with a season-ending leg damage Thursday evening.

“It was undoubtedly a hip-drop deal with,” Harbaugh mentioned. “It’s being mentioned. It’s a tricky deal with. Is it even essential in that scenario?”

Nobody is sort of positive how guidelines could be re-written, how officers would implement mentioned guidelines or how defenders might plausibly keep away from touchdown on runners’ legs when tackling them from behind. The NFL Gamers Affiliation has opposed banning hip-drop tackles for these causes.

Cross-rushers have in recent times discovered the way to hit quarterbacks with out inserting full physique weight on them. Can tacklers be taught to carry down runners with out falling on their legs? It could be useful to know what number of performs per recreation could be affected. Is it two? 4? Six? Ten?



My Soccer GM Podcast co-host Randy Mueller likes to say “Hope shouldn’t be a plan” for NFL organizations. The saying involves thoughts concerning the Jets. Whereas injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers continued to counsel he would return in December towards all precedent, ESPN reported the workforce would make one other run at buying Rodgers’ former teammate, Davante Adams, from the Raiders within the coming offseason. The chance of both occurring appears distant. The offseason buying and selling interval is 4 months away. What’s the level past instilling hope?

The ultimate minutes of the Rams’ victory towards the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t seem prone to discover its means into NFL casebooks for correct recreation administration. The Rams throwing incomplete whereas driving towards the go-ahead rating within the last two minutes saved a timeout for Seattle. The Seahawks handing off for a 2-yard acquire to arrange an unsuccessful 55-yard discipline aim additionally appeared curious.

The 2 quarterbacks’ toughness was essentially the most redeeming part of this recreation. Geno Smith returned to guide the ultimate drive for Seattle after Aaron Donald hammered him, injuring Smith’s throwing arm. Matthew Stafford absorbed a full-force shot to the midsection and stayed within the recreation.

Former Bears tight finish Martellus Bennett made attention-grabbing factors in criticizing the group Sunday. Bennett, who spent three seasons with Chicago, claimed Bears possession lacks imaginative and prescient for the longer term and as an alternative retains promoting the previous. The Steelers have been doing that for many years and haven’t had a dropping season since 2003.

How did the Washington Commanders permit 9 explosive performs to the New York Giants not simply Sunday, but in addition when the groups met earlier within the season? It’s a thriller that may go unsolved.

Denver beating Minnesota 21-20 regardless of gaining solely 13 first downs and changing twice in a dozen third-down possibilities shouldn’t be how the Broncos’ Sean Payton or any offensive play-calling head coach desires to win the video games, nevertheless it’s the way in which the workforce must win proper now. That’s a optimistic reflection on Payton, who’s doing now what most anticipated he would do from the beginning of the season. He’ll need to do it once more towards Cleveland’s league-leading protection subsequent week.

(Photograph: Ezra Shaw / Getty Photos)

“The Soccer 100,” the definitive rating of the NFL’s finest 100 gamers of all time, is on sale now. Order it right here.

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