We’re at the end of the first quarter in the AFC and we have a few surprises and a few predictions that were dead on.
Who would have thought the Texans would be so bad? Did you really expect Josh Allen to be a MVP candidate or the next Mitchell Trubisky? Could the Cleveland Browns actually be good? Most importantly, could you have ever guessed that Ryan Fitzpatrick and Gardner Minshew would battle for facial hair supremacy?
Continuing in our mini-series, here is part two of our NFL Grades at the quarter mark of the season featuring the AFC:
BUFFALO BILLS (4-0) FIRST IN AFC NORTH
Josh Allen’s immense improvement (+12.1 completion percentage and +37.4 passer rating from 2019) in Brian Daboll’s architecture, Buffalo’s continuity and high-level results from the O-line, along with the addition of Stefon Diggs, have resulted in the third-year quarterback boasting a sparkling touchdown-to-interception ratio (12:1) and the second-highest yards-per-attempt rate (9.0) in the NFL. This offense also ranks third in big plays (passes of 20-plus yards + runs of 10-plus yards), another metric of success that, if the trend holds, will be a big factor for the Bills beyond the regular season.
In all seriousness, Allen is on pace for an INSANE 5,300 yards, 48 TD’s 4 INT’s, 350 yards rushing and 12 rushing TD’s. He’s had big help from his new receiver Stefon Diggs who is tied for first in the NFL with 403 yards and has been worth every penny. The Bills look like a good bet to dethrone the Patriot. GRADE: A
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2) SECOND IN AFC EAST
Are we going to finally learn our lesson about Bill Belichick? Despite having a league high eight players opt out due to COVID-19, the Pats are 2-2. Belichick has tweaked his offense to fit Quarterback Cam Newton’s strengths as a player, most notably in the red zone (4 rushing TD’s). It stinks we couldn’t see Cam vs. Kansas City, but they proved they were legit in their close loss at Seattle. Should Patriot fans be afraid of finally losing the division? Not necessarily. Buffalo has won all four of their games against teams with a combined 6-10 record while the Patriots two losses have come against teams’ with a combined 8-0 record. GRADE: B+
MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-3) THIRD IN AFC EAST
Did you know that the Dolphins three losses have been to teams that are currently 10-2? Against Seattle, their defense held Russell Wilson to only 17 points up to the mid fourth Quarter. The problem? Five field goals in five red zone trips. So, while starter Ryan Fitzpatrick has done well (69% completion percentage, 994 yards), the team lacks the big play with none over 40 yards. Is it time to bring in rookie Tua Tagovailoa? GRADE: C
NEW YORK JETS (0-4) FOURTH IN AFC EAST
What is there to talk about? This team is an abysmal dumpster fire and the laughing stock of the league. It all starts with the worst coach in football: Adam Gase. How bad does it have to get for the Jets to fire him? Well, according to the Ringer.com they are the worst in the NFL on both offense and defense. Quarterback Sam Darnold is possibly ruined and is now a timid, pick six throwing (two in week 3) Quarterback who falls down without being touched. If I was Trevor Lawrence, I would seriously considering staying at Clemson if the Jets land the #1 pick. GRADE: F
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-0) FIRST IN AFC NORTH
Are we seeing “Blitzburg” version 2.0 this year? At 3-0 the Steelers lead the NFL with with 15 sacks, 29 quarterback hits and 39 quarterback pressures led by the dominant, AFC Defensive player of the month, T.J Watt. Their two biggest offense weapons in MVP Candidate Ben Roethlisberger (777 yards, 7 TD’s and 1 INT) and running back James Conner (100 yard rushing games in a row) finally are healthy and excelling. Barring injuries, this may be the team to slow down Kansas City or Baltimore in the playoffs. GRADE: A
BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-1) TIED FOR SECOND IN AFC NORTH
Everyone yelled that the Ravens were overrated when they lost 34-20 in primetime against the Chiefs. It’s true- they choked at home. Lets take a step back. Baltimore is 3 and 1. Breathe. Lamar Jackson is still really good, Their defense has All-Pro’s on all levels, they have a 3-headed running back room they are still sorting out, and have two rookies making huge contributions in Patrick Queen (On pace for 133 tackles) and Devin Duvernay (Kickoff return for TD). The Ravens are positioning themselves for the postseason and the Chiefs game will matter later on. GRADE: B
CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-1) TIED FOR SECOND IN AFC NORTH
The Browns are 3-1. Somebody sound the alarm- THE BROWNS ARE 3-1 FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2001. The Browns brought in head coach Kevin Stefanski and his run-first philosophy from Minnesota in the offseason and the results have been magnificent. Led by a terrific offensive line, highlighted by Pro Football focus‘ fifth (Wyatt Teller) and third ranked guards (Joel Bitoni), Stefanski has unleashed Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. He has molded Baker Mayfield, in the process, into a dependable game manager. There is a lot to be excited about in Cleveland. GRADE: A-
CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-2-1) FOURTH IN AFC NORTH
Lets cut to the chase and talk about rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. Did you know that before he ever stepped onto an NFL field, Burrow was voted a team captain? Also, did you know that he already has NFL rookie records for three straight 300 yard passing games and 91 completions? Even more impressive?
Crazy. With Burrow, the Bengals finally have HOPE. GRADE: B (For Burrow)
TENNESSEE TITANS (3-0) FIRST IN AFC SOUTH
The Titans are 3-0 and that’s good. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (12-4 since he took over as starter) has revived his career and is the team leader. What’s not good? The Titans had the league’s first COVID-19 outbreak with 21 positive tests since September 29th. There have been “several incidents” reported where the team may have broken protocols outside of team facilities. These outbreaks are threatening both the NFL schedule and season. The Titans should have severe consequences including forfeits and loss of draft picks if it continues. GRADE: F
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-1) SECOND IN AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis’ 19-11 win Sunday at Chicago opened several people’s eyes on how great this team’s defense is:
After Sunday’s games, the Colts still are No. 1 in total yards per game (236.3), yards passing (159.3) and fewest points (14.0). They also lead the league in interceptions (seven), are fourth in yards rushing (77.0), tied for eighth in sacks (10) and have scored 18 points
On offense, the Colts have one of the best offensive lines led by all-pro Quenton Nelson paving a way for bell cow rookie running back Jonathan Taylor. Veteran QB Phillip Rivers is quietly on pace to pass for over 4,000 yards too. Question is: can the defense will them to a deep playoff run? We will find out against the high powered Browns this weekend. GRADE: A-
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-3) THIRD IN AFC SOUTH
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the Jaguars season was referenced in a prior Turf article by the awesome Tyler Williams. Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jaguars Quarterback Gardner Minshew “Engaged in a war of words over facial hair.” Fitzpatrick said that the beard is a “cooler look” and that guys who “grow mustaches a lot of times have patchy sides for their beards”. In response, Minshew sparred back defending his choice of facial hair and promised that he is “going to have respect for my elders. Especially when they’re much, much older.”
All kidding aside (and maybe too much is being said on the Jaguars), Minshew has looked great in year two, as most evident in his near perfect game against the Colts. We have to mention rookies James Robinson (two 90-yard rushing games) and Laviska Shenault Jr. as important contributors. Why are they 0-3? They have given up 13 sacks in 4 games and have a subpar defense. The Jags have to decide if Minshew is the future moving forward. GRADE: C
HOUSTON TEXANS (0-4) FOURTH IN AFC SOUTH
Houston is the biggest disappointment of the 2020 NFL season.
There is hope! On Monday, the team finally fired Head Coach/General Manager Bill O’Brien. The last straw was an altercation between Star J.J. Watt and O’Brien which included O’Brien arguing with defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver. It’s awesome that he is gone. But who will want to GM or coach a team without a 1st or 2nd round pick next year? Bill O’Brien left this franchise in a bad place moving forward. Imagine being Deshaun Watson right now… are you regretting signing that huge extension? GRADE: A (for firing O’Brien)/ F (on the field)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-0) FIRST IN AFC WEST
It’s the Chiefs world and everyone else is a part of it. They mopped the floor with the Texans. The Chiefs dominated the team that was supposed to be their top competition (Baltimore). They proved they could turn it on when needed to against the Chargers and then showed resiliency in pulling away from the Patriots in a defensive slugfest. They are really good. GRADE: A+
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (2-2) SECOND IN AFC WEST
The Raiders are a hard team to peg. They had a defining week two win vs. the Saints but couldn’t hang in tough in-conference losses (Bills and Patriots) putting them in an early tie-breaking playoff disadvantage. Quarterback Derek Carr has been very solid (8 TD, 0 INT) on the season. It’s obvious, however, that Jon Gruden doesn’t believe in him so we can expect Marcus Mariota (And his 17.6 Million contract) to come off the bench if the Raiders struggle. Gruden’s job may be on the line this year and I’m sure he will fight like hell to draft HIS Quarterback this offseason. GRADE: C+
DENVER BRONCOS (1-3) TIED FOR THIRD IN AFC WEST
The Broncos are living the tough life- their leader, Von Miller tore his ACL in season opener followed by promising Quarterback Drew Lock’s shoulder injury. It gets worse- Denver lost their star receiver (Courtland Sutton), top corner (AJ Bouye), top running back (Phillip Lindsay) and top defensive tackle (Jurrell Casey) to injuries for all or part of the season. A positive? Their first three losses were against teams with a combined 8-1 record. Oh wait- they travel to New England next weekend. Coach Vic Fangio vows: “I’m not going to let anything emotionally hijack me.” GRADE: INCOMPLETE
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (1-3) TIED FOR THIRD IN AFC WEST
Lets face it- this team isn’t going to the playoffs. So, like Cincinnati, I want to talk Quarterbacks. The Chargers started the season with Tyrod Taylor at QB. Taylor broke a few ribs while leading the team to victory over the Bengals. Since he is a fierce competitor, Tyrod decided to get a pain killer shot to play in week two. The problem? The doctor punctured his lung while doing so. In comes the rook:
Most people expected him to be terrible (See above). In his three starts, Justin Herbert is changing the narrative. Herbert has a long completion of 72 yards, an average (In three starts) of 310.3 yards per game, and his team almost beat the Chiefs! Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians had some huge words about Herbert: “I told Anthony (Chargers coach) after the game, You’ve got a great one”. It certainly looks that way. GRADE: B
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