NFL Power Rankings 2018: Week 6

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1. Los Angeles Rams: 6-0 (Last Week: 1)
And then there was one. Just the Rams remain in the undefeated circle after the Chiefs fell on Sunday night. Los Angeles escaped Denver with a win, thanks in large part to MVP-candidate Todd Gurley. Los Angeles’ offense is explosive across the board, but the former Georgia running back leads the league in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. Even with Jared Goff struggling, Sean McVay knows he can rely on Gurley.

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2. New England Patriots: 4-2 (Last Week: 3)
It was a sight all opposing coaches hate to see. Tom Brady got the ball back with three minutes remaining in a tie ball game. Brady naturally torched the Chiefs defense to set up a chip shot for Stephen Gostkowski. Turns out Sony Michel is no joke as well. The defense failed to slow down Kansas City in the second half, but held Patrick Mahomes and company to just nine first half points. Not to mention, the Patriots came up with two interceptions. This team is well-solidified among the league’s elites once again with this victory.

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3. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-1 (Last Week: 2)
The Chiefs came so close to over coming a slow start and pulling off a stunning comeback. Tyreek Hill is still out running Patriot defenders. The issue continues to be the defense, which struggled all night long to deal with New England’s balanced attack. Kansas City still leads the AFC, but faces another tough test as the Bengals come to town.

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4. New Orleans Saints: 4-1 (Last Week: 4)
Odd stat of the day: the Saints lead the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. That is offset by allowing the third most passing yards per game and potentially a product of the offense’s ability to score. Still New Orleans has shown flashes of defensive talent. If it can find that consistently, this team will be extremely scary.

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5. Minnesota Vikings: 3-2-1 (Last Week 6)
It is time to start recognizing Adam Theilen as a great receiver. The Vikings wideout hauled in 11 balls for 123 yards and a touchdown. He and Stefon Diggs create one of the best receiving duos in the league. Minnesota finally got its pedestrian ground game going as well, which is more impressive because Dalvin Cook is still out with an injury. Mike Zimmer is finding ways to win despite missing both a starting safety, defensive end, left tackle and running back. Unfortunately, rookie stand out Mike Hughes is also done for the year with a torn ACL.

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6. Baltimore Ravens: 4-2 (Last Week: 10)
Talk about dominant defensive play. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and whoever else you want to throw in from the legendary Ravens’ defenses of the early 2000s would be proud of the effort Baltimore displayed in Tennessee. The defense allowed just 106 yards of offense and shutout the Titans. The offense was solid, if unspectacular. That is all it will need to be with the league’s top scoring defense running the show.

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7. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-3 (Last Week: 11)
Turns out the cure for a Super Bowl hangover is the play the Giants. Philadelphia demolished its long time rival to pick up the road win. It doesn’t completely alleviate the concerns surrounding the team, but Carson Wentz looked phenomenal in the victory. The Eagles had no answer for Saquon Barkley though. Not many teams have to this point, but he accounted for 229 yards of offense, which is never a good thing for the opposing team.

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8. Pittsburgh Steelers: 3-2-1 (Last Week: 12)
It proved to be a rather dramatic finish in Cincinnati, but the Steelers picked up a divisional road win. James Connor starred again and Ben Roethlisberger continues to have a career year. The unfortunate news is Le’Veon Bell seems to be continuing his hold out, despite previous reports he would return the team’s upcoming bye.

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9. Los Angeles Chargers: 4-2 (Last Week: 13)
While many thought the Chargers would struggle heading east for a matchup with the Browns, Los Angeles took care of business. The defense battered Baker Mayfield to the tune of five sacks. Melvin Gordon and Tyrell Williams had a field day against the Browns defense. Don’t look now, but the Chargers are just a game back of the Chiefs.

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10. Chicago Bears: 3-2 (Last Week: 5)
What happened to the Bears defense that dominated the rest of the NFL for the first four weeks of the season? Granted the game went into overtime, but Chicago surrendered 541 yards of offense and did not sack Brock Osweiler once. Mitch Trubisky threw a costly interception in the end zone to deprive the Bears of points. This is still a young team with a lot to prove.

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11. Carolina Panthers: 3-2 (Last Week: 8)
One of the easiest signs of the Panthers struggling is when Christian McCaffrey picks up only 20 yards on 8 attempts. Carolina’s lack of a run game hurt them in D.C. Cam Newton used his legs well, but this team works best when it is picking up tons of yards on the ground. The defense only allowed two touchdowns in the game. The Panthers offense has to do more to get the win.

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12. Cincinnati Bengals: 4-2 (Last Week: 9)
The team that seemed to always find a way to win in the fourth quarter suffered its first late-game let down of the season. Cincy out played Pittsburgh for much of the contest, but the Steelers high-powered offense proved to be too much. The fact is, the Bengals failed to lean on the running game when it should have, as Joe Mixon only had 11 carries. That number needs to be higher going forward.

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13. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-3 (Last Week: 7)
When you get blown out 40-7 against a team who had previously been averaging under 17 points per game on offense, you drop six spots in the rankings. Jacksonville looked outmatched in every aspect of the game. Blake Bortles is looking more and more like the quarterback all his critics made him out to be. Luckily for the Jaguars, they still hold a share of the division lead. This upcoming matchup with the Texans is crucial.

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14. Green Bay Packers: 3-2-1 (Last Week: 14)
Well that was exciting. Aaron Rodgers went into All-Madden mode in the fourth quarter to lead a furious comeback against San Francisco. Green Bay should never have been in that spot in the first place. The defense has a ton to work on after allowing C.J. Beathard to torch them. The Packers have a sorely needed bye to get healthy before facing a gauntlet. The Rams and the Patriots await following the week off.

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15. Washington: 3-2 (Last Week: 16)
Washington bounced back well after a lackluster performance in New Orleans. Returning home helped. So did actually playing defense. Jay Gruden’s team still leads the NFC East, but with both the Cowboys and Eagles picking up big wins in week 6, Washington still has a lot of work to do. The division is wide open and stifling run defense like we saw this weekend could be key to winning it.

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16. Atlanta Falcons: 2-4 (Last Week: 15)
It was almost a catastrophic collapse, but Atlanta hung on for the win. The offense looks prolific. The defense looks prolifically bad. The Falcons rank 30th and 31st in total defense and scoring defense respectively. Luckily for them, the only team worse in both those categories is Tampa.

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17. Seattle Seahawks: 3-3 (Last Week: 21)
Oakland might be terrible, but Seattle did exactly what you are supposed to do to terrible teams. Russell Wilson was efficient. The defense played at an extremely high level. Knocking Amari Cooper out of the game certainly made stopping the Raiders offense easier, but Derek Carr had one of the worst games of his career. The Seahawks need to win these kind of games to have a shot at the wild card.

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18. Detroit Lions: 2-3 (Last Week: 18)
A week off for Detroit came at the right time. The Lions have played a number of close games in recent weeks, but have no consistently shown up on offense. This also gives Golden Tate a chance to get healthy. With the Bears losing, the Lions are now only one win behind everyone in the NFC North. Detroit has a date with Miami, who just knocked off Chicago.
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19. Miami Dolphins: 4-2 (Last Week: 24)
Turns out the solution to the Miami Dolphins late-game issues was Brock Osweiler. That was never a sentence I thought I would type. The former Broncos quarterback played well for his old offensive coordinator, tossing three touchdowns and 380 yards. The Dolphins are right back in the wild card hunt with a solid win over a great Bears defense.

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20. Dallas Cowboys: 3-3 (Last Week: 25)
Bring Connor McGregor to every Cowboys game going forward. Dallas found its swagger and blasted the Jaguars at home. Cole Beasley finally showed up. Dak Prescott looked comfortable shredding what was supposed to be one of the league’s top defenses. If the Cowboys can play anywhere close to this well on offense the rest of the year, Dallas has a real chance at winning the division.

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21. Tennessee Titans: 3-3 (Last Week: 17)
While defense can win championships, offense is a nice thing to have too. The Titans were embarrassed all over the field. For what is usually one of the better offensive lines in the league, Tennessee surrendered 11, the second most allowed in league history. Marcus Mariota is probably still in the ice bath.

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22. Houston Texans: 3-3 (Last Week: 23)
Remember when everyone was wondering where the supposedly vaunted Texans defense had disappeared to? Houston is looking like it has an elite defense once again. While Buffalo has a great defense of its own, Deshaun Watson has been way too turnover prone in recent weeks for the Texans to keep overcoming his errors. Watson needs to take care of the football and take the pressure off this defense.

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23. Denver Broncos: 2-4 (Last Week: 20)
This is the NFL. Moral victories don’t exist, but Vance Joseph has to feel a lot better about his team’s defense effort this week. Yes, the Broncos still allowed Todd Gurley to rumble for over 200 yards and two scores, but it also stifled the best passing offense in the league. Denver also mounted a fourth quarter comeback attempt. Joseph has his work cut out for him, but his team was much improved this week.

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24. Cleveland Browns: 2-3-1 (Last Week: 19)
Just when it seemed like it was finally time for the Browns to turn it around, Cleveland laid an egg against Los Angeles. For the first time this season, it is probably important to remember this is the youngest roster in the NFL. The Browns are in the middle of a massive rebuild, well another one at least. The result isn’t good, but when you have a rookie quarterback playing through a knee injury against a red hot team, sometimes this happens.

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25. New York Jets: 3-3 (Last Week: 26)
Turned out to be a great week to have Jason Myers as your fantasy kicker. He set a franchise record with seven made field goals. New York has a lot to be happy with as Sam Darnold played his best game so far in his rookie season. It will face a much stiffer challenge as Minnesota comes to town. How the Jets fare against the Vikings will let us know how close this team is to breaking into legitimate playoff contention.

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26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-3 (Last Week: 22)
Another week, another brutal loss for Tampa, and it cost defensive coordinator Mike Smith his job. This one was brutal in a different sense then the previous blowout to Chicago. The Buccaneers had a legitimate chance to win the game and came up about seven yards short of a winning touchdown as time expired. Jameis Winston played a lot like Ryan Fitzpatrick actually. He threw for 395 yards and four touchdowns, but tossed two early interceptions and fumbled twice. For the first time all season, Tampa showed signs of a running game, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

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27. New York Giants: 1-5 (Last Week: 27)
Don’t look now, but the Giants are turning themselves into one of the worst run franchises in football. This is a team dominating the back pages with all of the drama unfolding. Pat Schumur has no idea what to do. Eli Manning is being put in an impossible situation as an aging quarterback with an awful line. On the bright side, Saquon Barkley is running away with the rookie of the year award.

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28. Indianapolis Colts: 1-5 (Last Week: 28)
It was a wild game in New York, but the Colts made way to many mistakes to win. Andrew Luck toss three picks, although the first one was not his fault. Robert Turbin also lost a fumble. Indianapolis’ defense gave up a ton of points to a rookie quarterback as well. The positive spin is despite consistently having good starting field position, Indy forced the Jets to attempt seven field goals in the game.

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29. Buffalo Bills: 2-4 (Last Week: 29)
For the second straight week, the defense almost found a way to win it for Buffalo. Unfortunately, who else but Nathan Peterman got in the way, throwing two back-breaking interceptions in the final two minutes. Allen left with an injury midway through the game. Peterman is making a case to be one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history. He has thrown an interception on 11.4 percent of his passes in his career and a completion percentage of 44.3. For reference, JaMarcus Russell completed 52.1 percent of his passes and only threw an interception on 3.4 percent of his passes. The Bills need a new backup quarterback.

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30. Oakland Raiders: 1-5 (Last Week: 30)
The Raiders are officially in free fall. Oakland got rocked across the pond by Seattle in a 27-3 drubbing. Reportedly, the Raiders are also shopping their top wide receiver Amari Cooper and 2016 first round pick Karl Joseph. The fire sale is on in Oakland. Apparently Jon Gruden does not want any good players on the roster by the time the team moves to Las Vegas.

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31. Arizona Cardinals: 1-5 (Last Week: 31)
Unfortunately for Arizona, the rebuild is going to take some time. There were some positives from this game, like producing two turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown. The downside is the Cardinals allowed one of the worst running teams in the league to pick up 195 yards on the ground. Josh Rosen looked rather average, but not outmatched against a good Vikings defense. Steve Wilks needs to find a way to get David Johnson going.

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32. San Francisco 49ers: 1-5 (Last Week: 32)
Few expected it, but San Francisco put on an offensive show in Green Bay on Monday Night Football. C.J. Beathard was nothing short of masterful and the running game accounted for 174 yards. However, the 49ers still came up short as Beathard threw a late-game interception to set up the Packers’ winning drive. Kyle Shannahan is clearly not interested in tanking the rest of the way.

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The Yankees Should Have Kept Girardi

Aaron Bleeping Boone. The Red Sox dubbed him that after his game 7 walkoff in the ’03 ALCS. 15 years later, Boone is largely responsible for Boston moving onto the ALCS.

The former infielder was wildly successful during his rookie campaign as the Yankee manager. New York won 100 games in the regular season and won the AL Wildcard game to set up the ALDS matchup with the Red Sox.

However, if this series showed anything, it’s that Boone is not experienced enough to make the necessary moves to win in the postseason yet. His mishandling of the starting pitching, questionable insertion of relief pitchers and overall unwillingness to trust his instincts indicate Boone has a lot to learn before he is going to be the manager to take this team to a World Series.

This is not say the players do not deserve some blame. Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia lacked control in their game 3 and game 4 starts. Lance Lynn struggled to find a rhythm coming on in relief for Severino in game 3. Andrew McCutcheon and Giancarlo Stanton might have well as been spectators for how infrequently they managed get on base.

Joe Girardi
Girardi was 938-734 in his time with Yankees, including the postseason. (Wikimedia Commons)

The issue I have with Boone in all of this was he should never have been in charge this season. The Yankees should never have let Joe Girardi leave given the roster they had heading into the 2018 season. New York did not have Stanton on the roster when they hired Boone to be the manager, as the former NL MVP joined the team via trade a week later. Still, the mentality building a team to win this season. For me, that has to include the manager.

I know things were rocky between the front office and Girardi by the end of last season. However, Girardi was a proven winner. He had gotten the Yanks to the postseason two of the previous three years with admittedly much less talented teams than what New York put together this season. He wasn’t perfect, seeing as the Yankees went five years without winning playoff game before last year. However, he won a World Series in 2009 and had plenty of postseason experience. Girardi has the 13th most wins by a manager in postseason history. He is now interviewing to be the next Texas Rangers manager.

Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge was one of the only Yankees to show up consistently in the postseason, batting .421 with three homeruns in five games. (Wikimedia Commons)

Down the line, Boone would have been a great fit for the Yankees. He is a former Yankee himself who understands the winning culture necessary to be great in the major leagues. He had no experience though whatsoever as a manager or even a coach in baseball.

That was on full display as he left Severino in during game 3 and elected to replace him with Lynn of all the options he had in his bullpen. He waited too long to turn to his bullpen in game 4 as well. The media has been feasting on this idea of Boone relying too heavily on analytics. What else did you want him to rely on? Prior experience? He didn’t have any of that. Based on how close games 1 and 4 were for the Yankees, I truly believe that Joe Girardi would have found a way to win this series for New York. There is also no chance the Yanks lose 16-1 at Yankee Stadium is it was Girardi sitting on the bench.

Clearly, the relationship between Girardi and the Yankee front office didn’t like each other. The thing is, you don’t have to like each other to win. The New England Patriots continue to prove that year in and year out. It was a massive failure by the Yankee front office to not bring Joe Girardi back to New York. The Yankees went all in on their roster but failed to go all in on their manager.

It is hard to tell if the Yankees will be this talented again next year as well. Brett Gardner (team option), C.C. Sabathia, Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker, Adeiny Hechavarria, J.A. Happ, David Robertson, Zach Britton and Lynn are all free agents now. Sonny Gray, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are all entering their final year of arbitration as well. Not to mention, Jacoby Ellsbury is still making $21 million a year through 2020. It is unlikely New York brings back all of that same talent for next season. This is not the same Yankee team anymore who just tries to throw money at its problems in hopes they solve them. New York has a lot of tough decisions to make regarding key players this offseason.

Obviously, it is a lot easier for me to sit here after the fact and rip the Yankees for hiring Boone. I realized early on in the season that his lack of experience was going to be an issue for the Yankees and with a true championship contender, hiring a rookie manager seemed like an astronomically high risk.

A lot of credit has to go to the Red Sox, who are easily one of the best teams in the history of the sport. However, the blame has to rest with Boone. He was not prepared to manage at that kind of level and clearly had no idea how to manage in the postseason. The truth is, he likely won’t make those mistakes again. He will be a better manager in the future and has shown a lot of potential. The bottom line is that he was not the right fit for the Yankees this season.

Trade a Bell? How the Le’Veon Drama Can (and Should) End

In case you have not heard, Le’Veon Bell has not played an NFL snap this season.

Oh, who am I kidding? If you are a Steelers fan, follow an NFL-related social media account, or made the mistake of drafting him in fantasy and hoping for the best (guilty as charged), you know the whole story. Considered by many as the top running back in the league, Bell put up strong numbers again in 2017, getting over 400 touches and putting up a combined 1,946 years and 11 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Steelers, getting voted first team All-Pro for the second time in the process.

However, for the second straight year, the Steelers put the franchise tag on Bell, refusing to give him the long-term contract he believed he deserved. While I would easily jump at the opportunity to play ball for $14.5 million, the cash-strapped Steelers, who had given Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million-dollar extension weeks before, decided to balk at giving the same money to Bell. Obviously taking offense, Bell very publicly bashed the franchise and demanded money worth his play. Pittsburgh did eventually make Bell an offer in July, willing to pony up $70 million over five years, but Bell turned down the offer, not wanting to play for less than his tag on an annual basis.

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Bell has told the Steelers he will return during the team’s week 7 bye. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairly so, might I add – Bell was well within his rights to turn down such a gargantuan payday, because he might be worth more. At 26, Bell is still in his prime and will continue to perform at very high levels before even being considered an old running back. Not to mention that Bell is far more than his position on the depth chart – he has been the engine that makes the Steeler offense run for the last few years. He caught 85 passes last year for over 650 yards. Bell is rare breed. Very few receivers can keep up with those numbers, and definitely not while shouldering almost 1,300 yards rushing on top of it.

One of the few other players capable of putting up numbers like that is Todd Gurley. He has done it just once, in 2017, and luckily it was a contract year for him. The upstart Los Angeles Rams did pay their man, giving Gurley $15 million a year for his services. When healthy, Bell has put up those kinds of numbers ever since he came into the league – he deserves as much if not more than Gurley. Top flight receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr., have been getting paid recently, too, getting $16.5 and $19 million a year respectively to go along with Antonio Brown’s aforementioned $17 million. For Le’Veon’s talents, he feels his contract should be in that stratosphere to play football.

However, Pittsburgh refuses to pay it, so they turned to the second-year player, cancer survivor and hometown hero from the University of Pittsburgh in James Conner, to take the reins in the backfield. While his hairstyle might be questionable (like a mop glued to the back of his shaven head), his play has been anything but. Project his numbers through five weeks for the entire season, and Conner, currently averaging over four yards a carry and almost 11 yards per catch, would get over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers Pittsburgh would be happy to get from Bell, but instead of paying over $15 million for them, they only give Conner $578,000, and they have him under control for another two seasons after this one.

So could Bell play again with the Steelers this season? Maybe. Having both Conner and Bell on the field could give opposing defenses fits in game planning, especially since Bell is capable of lining up out wide and taking screens. The issue is Conner and Bell still play very similar games. Bell might be a bit more explosive, and Conner may pack a bit of a stronger punch at the point of attack, but both have shown that they can be factors in the running and passing games, all the while making defenses adjust and opening holes for Ben Roethlisberger to find the likes of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster downfield. However, it would be hard to justify paying Bell for the rest of the season when he may not add significant value over just having Conner. Realistically, he should not stay in Pittsburgh.

Likewise, if Bell is going to leave in the offseason when the tag expires and officially become a free agent, the Steelers would be remiss not to get something back for him, and more than the third round compensatory pick Pittsburgh will likely get if he signs elsewhere. The problem about trading Bell this season, however, is the salary cap hit that comes with him. Bell is not officially under contract at the moment, but his franchise tag cap number would be about $10.3 million. There are not a ton of teams that have that much free space right now. The team looking to trade for him would likely need to sign him to a long-term deal to justify the trade as well.

So who can meet Bell’s demands? Here are the teams that could afford him for this season:

Team Salary Cap Remaining Current RBs
San Francisco 49ers $87.6 million Jerick McKinnon*, Matt Breida
Cleveland Browns $54.6 million Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson
Indianapolis Colts $52.5 million Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
Denver Broncos $34.4 million Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay
Tennessee Titans $23.1 million Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry
Houston Texans $20.7 million Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue
New York Jets $19.1 million Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell
Philadelphia Eagles $11.3 million Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
Cincinnati Bengals $10.7 million Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard
Buffalo Bills $10.6 million LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory

An interesting crew, to say the least, but unfortunately not too many places make sense. In fact, four of these teams signed new starting running backs this past offseason. The Browns, Titans, and Jets should be pleased with their new additions for now, so consider them out. The 49ers caught a bad break when their new guy, Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in the preseason, but Matt Breida has been a suitable replacement, and the 1-4 start would not justify making a brash decision when the division leader is 5-0 right now.

Let’s address the obvious ones, too. There is no way Pittsburgh deals Bell to Cincy. It would be insane to move him within the division. Denver has two rookie running backs it really likes in Freeman and Lindsay. The Bills would be a fascinating place for Bell to land, but that team is way more than just one piece away and likely not interesting in pursuing Bell anyway, especially since they are trying to shop their star running back already.

Philly has been heavily linked with this deal after restructuring Fletcher Cox’s deal to open up more cap room. However, the Eagles are also rumored to be pursuing a reunion with LeSean McCoy. McCoy fits more of what Philadelphia needs, which is a one-year rental that is at least somewhat familiar with the system. The assumption is that at 30 years old, McCoy will cost a lot less for the Eagles to acquire as well.

The Colts and Texans make some interesting suitors. Both live in the AFC South, where the Jaguars and Titans are both tied rather unconvincingly to the division lead at 3-2. At 2-3, the Texans are still very much so in the hunt. However, Deshaun Watson does not look as explosive this season in his return from a knee injury of his own, struggling to keep possession with nine turnovers on the season. Lamar Miller was injured in Week 5 and has been unconvincing in a Texans uniform otherwise. Alfred Blue provided a decent target out of the backfield in his stead, but neither is a kind of bell cow you can hand or dump the ball off to and let the magic happen. $16 million is a large sum to pay when Miller is still on the books through the end of next season, but Bell could add some relief to the Houston offense and open up their playbook a bit.

Andrew Luck
Adding Bell would take a ton of pressure off Andrew Luck. (Wikimedia Commons)

As for Indy, take everything I just said and amplify it. Sure, the Colts are off to a 1-4 start, but they are only two games back with well over half the season to go. The offense may look like its purring, but take deeper look into the stats and you will see there is room for improvement. Andrew Luck is averaging almost 50 pass attempts per game, but has under 1,500 passing yards for the season. His 6.09 yards/attempt ratio is 32nd in the NFL right now, only ahead of the magnanimous crew of Tyrod Taylor, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford, all of whom have since been benched. Meanwhile, not a single Colts running back is averaging more than 35 yards per game. 35!!! Le’Veon Bell could vastly improve the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league, as well as provide a dynamic safety blanket for the oft-pressured Luck. Those two together could single (double?)-handedly carry Indianapolis to the postseason. Maybe them playing defense could help, too, because I doubt it would hurt.

Another interesting tidbit is that the Texans and Colts have the same assets to offer back to Pittsburgh as well. In 2019, both teams are sitting on two second round picks after making moves in last year’s draft. With the Colts getting the Jets’ pick in the Sam Darnold trade, and the Texans shipping Duane Brown to Seattle for their 2nd rounder, the Steelers may be willing to part with their formerly-beloved star in exchange for that pick maybe paired with another player or a lower round pick.

Personally, I think it make a lot of sense for the Colts to go after Bell. They can offer him whatever contract he wants basically with their ample cap space. Their offense is already fairly strong and adding Bell would only make it more threatening. Plus, Bell is an excellent pass blocker, which coupled with his mere presence in the backfield will protect Luck from opposing rushers. Even with two rookie running backs, Indy could add a franchise player for well under his usual trade value. If the Colts think they still have a shot this season, do not be surprised if they make a play for one of the best players in the NFL before the deadline in Week 8.

Until then, I’ll dangle Bell on my own fantasy trading block and hope someone bites.

The Flaw in Each Heisman Contender

This past weekend in college football was wild. Lots of top 25 teams fell and some Heisman hopefuls suffered major blows.

Just a week ago, I profiled the shallow group that makes up this Heisman race. This time around, I’m back to break down why each of the true contenders won’t win this years award. These are the front runners for the award and while it is still early, we are starting to see the full picture on the candidates. Let’s be clear, all of these players have had phenomenal seasons so far. This is explaining why they still might not win the Heisman.

Oklahoma LogoKyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Flaw: Offensive System
This might seem a bit unfair to Murray, as it isn’t his fault Lincoln Riley is a great head coach, but Oklahoma also produced Baker Mayfield last year. When you compare the two, Murray is putting up comparable numbers. Mayfield averaged 330 yards passing per game with three touchdowns and a completion percentage of 70.5 in 14 games. Murray is averaging 294 yards with 3.5 touchdowns and a 71.1 completion percentage. Murray produces more with his legs as he accounts for 62.8 yards per game rushing compared to Mayfield’s 22 yards per game during his Heisman season.

Riley is an offensive mastermind and playing in the wide open Big 12, this system is amplified an extra step. It is hard not to wonder if Murray is simply benefiting from the same system that turned Mayfield into a landslide Heisman winner. Voters will be wary of voting in a different player at the same position from the same school as they did the year before. Only once in the history of the award has a school had back-to-back winners. It happened back in 1945-46 when Army produced two different Heisman winners in as many years. These are all things Murray cannot control, but that does not mean they will not come into play when it comes time to vote.

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Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Flaw: Importance to team
When was the last time it felt like a team could still win the national championship without its Heisman candidate? Alabama is dominating everyone who steps on the field with them. The Crimson Tide is outscoring opponent’s by an average margin of 40 points per contest. After years of being known as a defense team, Nick Saban is boasting an offense to match it. At the center of it is Tua Tagovailoa. He is putting up incredible numbers, putting up video-game-like numbers. He has completed 75 percent of his passes, averaging 14.8 yards per attempt and has the highest passer rating in the country at 258.4.

However, he barely has to play when it matters, because it often doesn’t for Alabama. He has attempted more than 20 passes in a game only once. Tagovailoa has not taken a single snap in the fourth quarter of a football game this season. By that point, the Tide has been up by enough that his services are no longer needed. ‘Bama is far and away the best team in the country and Tagovailoa might be the best quarterback in the country, but this team seems like it would easily make it back to the playoff if it was only relying on Jalen Hurts. In limited playing time, Hurts has completed 71 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception. If the system issue for Kyler Murray was bad, this seems almost worse in Alabama where there is another quarterback performing well in the same season. It is difficult to poke holes in Tagovailoa’s campaign, but equally hard to say he should be the Heisman winner when it feels like the team would be fine without him.

West Virginia logoWill Grier, QB, West Virginia:
Flaw: Gunslinger
Will Grier has had one heck of a year so far. He has thrown for at least 330 yards in every game. He is completing 71 percent of his passes. He is also averaging a ridiculous 4.2 touchdowns passes per game. Grier has proven he can toss it all over the yard. He has West Virginia up to number six in the polls, its highest ranking since 2012. While the level of competition the Mountaineers have faced is certainly a concern, they have yet to play another ranked team and likely won’t until November, the much bigger concern is Grier’s playing style.

Much like Kyler Murray, Grier plays in the wide open Big 12. It serves up opportunities for tons of passing yards and weak secondaries to feast on. Heading into the game, he had only thrown three interceptions. Against Kansas, Grier tossed three more. Throwing three interceptions in a game is not a good thing. Throwing three interceptions against Kansas. The Jayhawks are 2-4 this season, including a loss to Nicholls State, an FCS team. Grier’s now six interceptions rank him tied for sixth most in the country. That is not an awful thing, but when you compare him to the other Heisman candidates, it is a bad look. Haskins has four, Murray has two and Tagovailoa has yet to throw one. Each of those three has played one more game than Grier as well. It begs the question of how Grier will fare when faced with top tier teams like Texas and Oklahoma, both of whom West Virginia will play next month. If Grier turns it over against those teams, not only will it likely cost his team the game, it will certainly cost him the Heisman.

Ohio State LogoDwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Flaw: Starting slow
If there is anyone in college football who is putting up the kind of number Tua Tagovailoa has, it is Dwayne Haskins. He has completed 71 percent of his passes en route to averaging 320 yards per game through the air. Haskins also leads the nation in touchdown passes through six games with 25. Looking at Ohio State’s schedule, it should relatively smooth sailing for them heading into their final game of the year against Michigan.

In the last two games for the Buckeyes though, the team has started rather sluggishly. Against Penn State, Haskins threw an early interception which lead to a field goal. Ohio State went down 13-0 and it probably would have been that score at halftime if not for a costly fumble from the Nittany Lions. Haskins played very well in the second half to lead Ohio State to a victory. Essentially the same script played out again at home against Indiana. Haskins threw a second quarter interception to kill the drive and set up a Hoosier touchdown, which put Indiana ahead at that point. He played lights out in the second half, but the lack of a complete game is troubling. The Big 10 is a tough conference to compete in and Ohio State has road games with Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland left. None of those poise serious threats, but going down early in games is not sustainable for any team. I guess if Haskins continues to do it, you could label as clutch, but it raises a red flag for me indicating he takes a little while to settle into a game.

Clemson LogoTravis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Flaw: Pass Catching
I said Etienne was getting close after his dominant performance against Syracuse. After thrashing Wake Forrest, Etienne earns himself the title of Heisman contender. He is fourth in the nation with 761 yards rushing, third for his yards per carry average of 9.2 and tied for fourth with 11 rushing touchdowns. His value cannot be overstated for a Clemson team that had its former starter Kelly Bryant transfer and now starts a true freshman under center. Against Wake Forrest, Etienne racked up 167 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. He is an explosive playmaker on a top team in the country.

The one major concern Heisman voters will have with Etienne is he doesn’t fit the bill of a true Heisman back. He is not a powerful runner in the way that Mark Ingram or Derrick Henry, the last two running backs to win, were at Alabama. Much like Tua Tagovailoa, he is not a heavy usage player running the football as he has eclipsed 16 carries just once. We’ve seen plenty of running backs add to their candidacy by featuring as pass catchers out of the backfield on swings, screens and wheel routes downfield. On the season he has just five receptions for 27 yards and one receiving touchdown. It is not a requirement to be a good receiving back to win the award, Henry finished his winning season with just 11 grabs, but with Etienne not putting up nearly the same numbers running the ball as those that came before him, it is going to be difficult to outshine any of these quarterbacks without making an impact in the passing game.

Profiling the USMNT 2018 October Roster

The real work begins for the US Men’s national team to start figuring out how it will avoid the disappointments of a year ago the next time World Cup Qualification roles around. The USMNT have two friendlies this month against Columbia (Thursday 7:30 PM on FS1) and Peru (Tuesday 7:30 PM on ESPN2). Interim Coach Dave Sarachan has bucked the youth trend a little and called in some familiar names for better or worse. Also some minor injuries to big players sour the mood going into this one. I’m going to run through the roster and give you my thoughts and then give you the Starting XI I would like to see.

The below roster information is from ussoccer.com’s official roster announcement

DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 58/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

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Guzan is one of the veteran leaders in this camp at 34 years old.

As far as I am concerned the race for the No. 1 shirt is between incumbent Brad Guzan and challenger Zac Steffen. The third goalkeeper called in for this camp, and likely future camps, might as well be a dart throw.

Since last year’s World Cup Qualifying snafu, Zac Steffen has been the presumed top option as the best young goalkeeper for the U.S. Tim Howard is essentially taking a victory lap in 2019 with the Colorado Rapids, which really only leaves Guzan when it comes to older keepers with national team experience. Over the long term, I expect Steffen to takeover fully, but I would not mind Guzan being the starter for the next year or so, especially if he’s one of only a few veterans to stick around.

DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 34/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 5/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 9/1), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 4/0), Ben Sweat (New York City FC; 0/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 54/0)

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Miazga is on loan from Chelsea to Nantes and developing into a fiery presences on the US team. (Wikimedia Commons)

Everyone should be happy Miazga and Brooks are both getting called in again. I think they are the clear starters going forward, and that they need to build chemistry. Meaningless friendlies are a good place for that. As a Red Bulls fan its nice to see Aaron Long get called back in and I hope he gets his first cap. As for Cameron Carter-Vickers, it seems that he is a favorite of Sarachan’s. I think he’s in the mix to be a back-up behind Brooks and Miazga, but I would not mind if other prospects got opportunities.

Similar to Brooks and Miazga, I think most of us agree that Yedlin and Robinson are the starting fullbacks for the time being. Yedlin is more solidified than Robinson but Robinson is younger so he has more time to develop. Again, friendlies are a great time for this entire back line to build chemistry. The backup fullbacks are both new to the national team. I think Reggie Cannon has definitely deserved his call-up, starting all season for FC Dallas at 20 years old. Ben Sweat is NYCFC’s starter but he’s older (27), and so I do not fully understand his inclusion over Jorge Villafana who’s the same age but was the USMNT starter this time last year. The friendlies are being played in Tampa and Sweat is a Tampa native so maybe its to help the attendance? Either way, there’s no use in crying over who our back-up left back is in a friendly under an interim head coach.

MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 19/1), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Jonathan Amon (Nordsjælland/DEN; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 140/17), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 12/4), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 2/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; 5/1), Fafa Picault (Philadelphia Union; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC; 2/0).

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The expectations on Wil Trapp are much higher with Pulisic, Adams and McKinnie all missing due to injury. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is where stuff gets interesting, especially with recent injuries to Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic. Honestly, those are the only three midfielders whose names I had written in pen on the team sheet. Their absences totally changes how I view this camp. Marky Delgado and Fafa Picault were brought in as replacements. Similarly to what I said above about Brooks and Miazga, I wanted to see Adams and McKennie get more reps together to build chemistry. Its unfortunate we won’t get to see that this time.

I was also really excited for Pulisic to be rolled into this young core. We’ve all had him there in our heads but he hasn’t been in camp with everyone else yet. He can elevate this group from “giving people hope” to “getting people excited.” I cannot wait to see him Adams, and McKennie all on the field together and now I’ll have to wait at least one more month.

Green, Acosta, and Delgado have been called in before by Sarachan and I think all of them will figure into the national team in the current World Cup cycle. However, I do not know how prominently any of them will figure. If Adams, McKennie, Pulisic, Miazga, and Brooks were a first tier of players, where I want/expect them to start as many games as possible, Green and Acosta would be in the second tier. Delgado hasn’t played as much and is probably just behind them for minutes. All three should be in the rotation for now but I won’t be upset if any of them don’t start. Perhaps they can elevate themselves into that first tier, or perhaps they will set the floor for our national team.

After that we have some new additions for Sarachan including Jonathan Amon, Kenny Saief, and now Picault. Saief has been injured since the 2017 Gold Cup. He’s a starter for the Belgian giants Anderlecht and is one of our few left wing options. If he stays healthy, he could be a dangerous attacking piece. Jonathan Amon is coming in for his first ever camp and he’s definitely earned it, scoring half a dozen goals so far in the Danish League. Similar to Saief, Amon is a left winger. However, Saief is a more technical player with good passes, a nice touch, and he can curl a nice cross. Amon, on the other hand, uses his speed to get past defenders. It works in the Danish League, we’ll see if he can make it work at a higher level. Picault is a starter for a Philadelphia Union team that is having it’s best season ever. He is 27 so he could play a role over the next few years. I think he sets a nice floor for us on the wing.

Lastly, there is the inclusion of Michael Bradley. When I saw his name on the roster my gut reaction was negative. I’m trying to go into these friendlies with an open-mind but there are two main reasons I don’t like that he’s on the roster.

  1. There have been recent reports that his personality can be toxic in the locker room. That link will take you to former USMNTer Jimmy Conrad dropping some truths on everyone, calling Bradley “a super alpha male know-it-all.” There was also Bradley’s recent interaction with Zlatan on the field. Afterwards Zlatan said “[Bradley] thinks he is the philosopher of football”. Then there was the scrum outside the Toronto FC locker rooms in the 2017 playoffs where Bradley and Jesse Marsch exchanged some heated words (around the 30 second mark of that video, you can see Bradley, number 4, pushing Marsch away from the scrum). Overall, the common thread is Michael Bradley. I don’t want his toxic personality to infect the young core who have both thoroughly enjoyed these camps and played with some mental toughness up to this point. 
  2. Bradley has been bad in MLS this year. To be fair he’s been played out of position for much of the season in order to cover for injuries, but he is giving the other team the ball waaaayyy too often. To put it simply, he’s lost a step. There are other MLS defensive midfielders who could have been called in who are playing better than him right now (e.g. Russell Canouse of DC United).

Like I said though, I’m going in with an open mind. I hope he provides some veteran leadership in some way. This is admittedly more needed now that many of the natural leaders (Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic) are out injured.

FORWARDS (3): Andrija Novakovich (Fortuna Sittard/NED; 2/0), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 3/1), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 41/12)

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Wood needs to make an impact for a group of forwards that have struggled to find the back of the net with consistency. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nice to see Novakovich back again as he’s youngish (22) and still scoring in the Dutch league. I’d put him in that second tier with the likes of Green and Acosta: he’s been called-up frequently, but hasn’t wowed us yet. One could argue the same for Bobby Wood. He’s older (25), but he’s getting starting minutes in the Bundesliga for Hannover and scored two goals last week. Both goals were headers in the box. Watching those goals confirmed by opinions on Wood: he’s a good player when he has the service. I would not expect him to create many opportunities on his own. But when we have a player like Pulisic on the field, he won’t have to.

I’m glad Sargent is here too. Still in his teens, he has yet to breakthrough into Werder Bremen’s game day plans. Despite that, he’s likely to get minutes at some point this year and he has the highest ceiling of these three forwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started, but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if he came off the bench.

It’s worth noting Sarachan’s comments that Jozy Altidore would have been in camp if it were not for recent injury concerns (leaving his last two game early with muscle strains). I feel more comfortable with Jozy returning than Bradley in terms of his personality (although it is worth noting that Jozy was the one who ended up with a red card at the end of the above-linked Toronto-New York scrum; he also had en epic stare down with Tyler Adams in that game). Additionally, Bradley is currently 31 years old, and Jozy about to turn 29 in November. Therefore, I’d expect Jozy to be more useful for this team over the next few years, especially since we don’t have a clear first choice striker right now. Meanwhile Adams and McKennie look ready to man the midfield in place of Bradley.

My Starting XI: 4-2-2

Steffen/Guzan

Yedlin – Miazga – Brooks – Robinson

Picault – Trapp – Acosta – Saief

Weah – Wood

Subs I would bring on: Sargent for Wood, Green on for Picault, Amon for Saief, Cannon on for Yedlin, Delgado for Acosta

Steffen/Guzan is really a coin-flip at this point. I hope one starts the first game and the other starts the second. The defensive four name themselves. The midfield is weird without Adams and McKennie, you could talk me into something else. I’d prefer if Bradley didn’t take minutes away from Acosta. The real question mark in attack is who plays well with Pulisic, but we can’t answer that with this lineup. We haven’t see Weah as a true striker yet so I’m curious if he and Wood could play off of each other well. As for Saief, I think he’s the most skilled of the left wing options, but I could see Amon getting the start over him as well.

Worth noting: this is the line-up I would LIKE to see, not necessarily the roster I EXPECT to see. Honestly, I’d be okay with most any line-up Sarachan throws out there, because these friendlies are still close to meaningless. Again, I just don’t want to see Bradley out there. We can’t and shouldn’t be relying on him any more. He should be appearing in a cameo role at most.

Fingers crossed this is Sarachan’s last month in charge and the rumors are true that the USMNT will have a full time head coach come November! You all know my pick, only time will tell if I am right.