The 2018 season has been a blast in Los Angeles and Kansas City. Bengals fans are riding high. Bears fans are having flashbacks to 1985 with their dominant defense. Browns fans are drinking free Bud Lights.
But this season hasn’t been peachy for everyone. Cardinals fans are already looking ahead to 2019. Raiders fans are looking ahead to 2020. A lot of 49ers fans lost interest when Jimmy Garoppolo tore his knee. Colts fans are just glad that Andrew Luck’s arm hasn’t fallen off.
But those teams were expected to be bad. Let’s take a look at the league’s most disappointing teams, and what has gone wrong so far:
1. Giants (1-5, last place, NFC East).
The same problems that plagued the Giants last year under Ben McAdoo have cropped up again this year under Pat Shurmur — Eli Manning stinks, and the locker room is a three-ring circus. Shurmur’s first year could not have gotten off to a worse start, with his Giants struggling on the field and his players showing little respect for their coach.
Football-wise, the Giants are struggling on both sides of the ball. They’re scoring just 19.6 points per game (28th in the NFL), and allowing 27.0 (25th). The offensive line hasn’t gotten any better with Nate Solder in the mix, allowing 20 sacks through six games. The defense has just seven sacks and five takeaways, both the second fewest in the league.
Manning is a mess, throwing three interceptions over the past two weeks, including two bad ones in the fourth quarter against Carolina. Shurmur looked visibly frustrated in Thursday night’s blowout loss to the Eagles at Manning’s constant checking down and refusal to push the ball deep. The Giants went 15 straight third downs without a conversion between last week’s Panthers game and the first half of Thursday night. Saquon Barkley looks great, but the best running back in the world can’t help much if his team keeps falling behind as the Giants have.
Off the field, the Giants are even more dysfunctional, with Odell Beckham Jr. as the ringleader. Beckham ripped Manning and the team’s heart and energy in an interview with ESPN. He also left the field before halftime in each of the last two games, which the Giants claim is just a case of Beckham needing an IV. He throws temper tantrums on the sideline. His teammates also have been openly whining about the officiating. Shurmur is getting testy with the New York media.
The Giants reportedly fined Beckham for his divisive comments. That’s not exactly the leadership the Giants were hoping for when they gave Beckham $65 million in guarantees last offseason.
With Manning struggling and Beckham creating a circus, the real question with the Giants is which decision will they regret more: not drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick last April, or giving Beckham that big contract?
2. Broncos (2-3, third place, AFC West).
Coach Vance Joseph was lucky not to go one-and-done after a disastrous 5-11 season last year, but he might not be so lucky in year 2. The Broncos have lost three in a row, their once-vaunted defense got steamrolled by the Jets for 323 rushing yards last week, and Case Keenum has reverted to his journeyman backup form after signing for $25 million fully guaranteed this offseason.
There’s just not much to like about either side of the football. The Broncos’ offense is 27th in points, 26th on third down, and 20th in big plays (20 yards or more). Keenum has more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (five), and has turned over the ball three times inside the red zone. The defense is 30th against the run, allowing 5.2 yards per carry, and tied for 19th with just 11 sacks.
Broncos CEO Joe Ellis gave Joseph the dreaded vote of confidence last week, and you can hear the warning signs in his words.
“They know the deal. They experienced last year,” he told reporters last week. “Last week was very disappointing but you move forward from it. You have no choice. I think our players, coaches, and staff understand that.’’
Keenum clearly isn’t the answer, and John Elway will once again be searching for a quarterback next offseason. Like the Giants, the Broncos will probably regret passing on all of the quarterbacks in last April’s draft.
3. Falcons (1-4, fourth place, NFC South).
Next man up? Not in Atlanta, where the Falcons’ defense has fallen apart because of injuries. Granted, these are big injuries. Linebacker Deion Jones, who is a candidate to return off injured reserve in Week 10, had three interceptions last year and led the Falcons in tackles. Safety Keanu Neal, out for the year with a torn ACL, was their second-leading tackler and had three forced fumbles. Safety Ricardo Allen, out for the year with a torn Achilles’, started 15 games and is the team’s center fielder.
But the Falcons didn’t build enough depth on their defense, because it is getting ripped apart. The Falcons’ defense is 31st in points allowed (32.6), 32nd on third down (55 percent conversions), and 30th in the red zone (touchdowns on 17 of 21 drives). And their blitz is getting torn apart (fifth-worst 123.4 passer rating allowed, with two sacks and three touchdowns). And it’s not getting any better — now disruptive defensive tackle Grady Jarrett should be out a few weeks with a sprained ankle.
The defense has been so bad that two weeks ago the Falcons told their DJ to lower the volume at practice so the defense could work on its communication. Matt Ryan and the offense are putting up some big numbers, but the defense can’t make a stop.
If the Falcons lose to the Buccaneers on Sunday to drop to 1-5, will they try to trade for some defensive talent, or punt on the season and work on developing young guys?
“I recognize the question of if we have enough firepower with some of the injuries there,” coach Dan Quinn said last Sunday. “But by no stretch is our entire team decimated and by no stretch are the guys we have playing not up and capable for the job. I stand by who we are and the talent that we have to play well.”
Edelman’s a key for Gronkowski
A handful of Patriots-related notes:
■ How badly does Rob Gronkowski need Julian Edelman to open up the field? Gronk is averaging a career-low 3.35 yards after the catch this season, ranking 78th among 93 NFL receivers (minimum 15 catches). Gronk averaged 5.26 yards last year, 9.36 in an injury-shortened 2016, and has been above 4.90 for every other season of his career. Gronkowski has received consistent double teams this year and has had little room to run.
■ Finally got a look at a physical copy of Tom Brady’s new contract, and three things stand out:
1. It does not contain any language pertaining to Alex Guerrero’s access. Whatever deal was struck about Guerrero had to be a handshake agreement.
2. His incentives are actually broken down into 10 categories, worth $1 million each. The first five are his statistical incentives — top five in the NFL in passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, and passing yards (minimum 224 attempts). The other five incentives are the same benchmarks, but with “and club wins Super Bowl LIII” tacked on.
But the incentives are capped at $5 million, so if Brady hits all five benchmarks and wins the Super Bowl, he still only earns $5 million. If he hits two benchmarks and wins the Super Bowl, he earns $4 million. If he hits no benchmarks and wins the Super Bowl, he gets nothing. Whatever he earns will be paid on Feb. 15.
3. Brady’s $10 million signing bonus had $5 million deferred to Oct. 31.
■ For what it’s worth, Eric Decker could have earned $600,000 in incentives had he made the team: $100,000 each for 30 and 40 catches, and $200,000 each for 50 and 60 catches.
■ A couple of interesting stats about the Patriots’ offense, showing their boom or bust nature. The Patriots are tied for sixth in the NFL in 10-play drives (10 out of 58) but tied for fifth with the most three-and-outs (15 out of 58). Some more consistency is in order.
■ Through five weeks the Patriots have been shut out of the Player of the Week awards, given to the top offensive, defensive, and special teams players in both the AFC and NFC.
Brady won three last year, while Dion Lewis won two (offensive and special teams) and Stephen Gostkowski and Gronkowski one each. Brady has the most in NFL history with 30, followed by Peyton Manning (27).
The Patriots haven’t fared well with the Defensive Player of the Week award over the last decade. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Patriots have only won it four times — Brandon Meriweather (Week 7 of 2009), Andre Carter (Week 10 of 2011), Chandler Jones (Week 2 of 2014), and Dont’a Hightower (Week 6 of 2016).
■ The Patriots are one of eight teams that have yet to commit a roughing the passer penalty this year. The others are Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, and Tennessee.
TOP OF THE HEAP
Brees surpasses Manning’s record
Drew Brees set an NFL record last week for career passing yards, surpassing Peyton Manning and now sitting with 72,103 yards and counting.
What’s most amazing about Brees’s record is that he really didn’t get going until arriving in New Orleans in 2006 at age 27. He has thrown for 55,795 yards in 13 years with the Saints (306.4 per game). The NFL has seen nine 5,000-yard seasons, and Brees has five of them.
But the NFL is a pass-happy league now. Can anyone catch him? It’s obviously too early to tell on youngsters such as Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff. And Tom Brady could potentially catch Brees if he plays an extra season or two, as he trails Brees by 4,685 yards.
Brees, who will turn 40 in January, still looks pretty good, so he might surpass 80,000. But even if he were to quit today and end with 72,103, he would be tough to surpass.
The one guy who has a chance is Matthew Stafford. At 30 years old, Stafford has 36,134 yards.
Brees at age 30 had only 30,646. Stafford is halfway to Brees’s current total. If Brees quit today, it still would take Stafford until 2026, when he’s 38 years old, to match his total — and that’s if he doesn’t miss a game.
The other candidate is Matt Ryan, who has 43,397 yards at age 33. If Ryan doesn’t miss a game and continues his career average of 266 yards per game, Ryan would catch Brees’s current total in 2025, when he’s 40.
It’s possible that 5,000-yard seasons soon become the norm, and some of these young quarterbacks start approaching 6,000 yards. But Brees’s record looks safe for at least the next decade — unless Brady does it.
No flexing for Patriots-Bears
Why did Patriots-Bears not get flexed to “Sunday Night Football” next week? The hunch here is the NFL did the Patriots a favor, as moving that game to the night slot would give the Patriots five consecutive night games on the schedule.
Why not flex the Bears-Patriots game to the national 4:25 slot? CBS is already committed to Cowboys-Redskins at that time, and the Cowboys have drawn the two biggest TV ratings this year (and five of the top 12). Even though Bears-Patriots is clearly the better game, CBS is sending the No. 1 team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo to Dallas.
And with Chiefs-Bengals getting flexed to next Sunday night, that gives the Chiefs six scheduled national TV games this year.
The old rule was that a team could have no more than five, but the NFL’s flexing rules now allow teams to have a sixth night game. And a league spokesman said the Week 17 “SNF” game hasn’t been decided yet, so a team could get a seventh national TV game.
Saints’ Thomas a great catch
The most incredible stat of the year so far comes courtesy of Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who has been human Velcro this year. Thomas has caught 46 of 49 passes thrown his way, a whopping 94 percent catch rate. It’s not only the highest catch rate in the NFL this season, but would be the highest in NFL history, per STATS Inc. Dating to the start of the 1995 season, only three non-running backs have topped even 80 percent: Austin Collie (81.7 percent for the 2010 Colts), Ike Hilliard (81.0 percent for the 2008 Buccaneers), and TE Irv Smith (81.8 percent for the 1995 Buccaneers). Larry Fitzgerald, the modern-day standard among wide receivers, has topped 70 percent just twice in 14 seasons.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan can deny it all he wants, but there sure is a lot of smoke about his team looking into a move to London. The Jaguars already play one game a year in London, and Khan recently purchased Wembley Stadium. Now the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reports that Khan is examining how the team can limit the tax implications of games that are held in London. Per the report, the Jaguars would like to remain based in Jacksonville but play home games in London, which could be tricky. A solution of perhaps four of the Jaguars’ eight home games in London seems more realistic . . . The Eagles created $6.55 million in salary cap space for this year, and $10.1 million for next year, by converting base salary to bonuses. The question, though: What exactly are the Eagles gearing up for? The move has fueled speculation that they are going to make a run at disgruntled Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell . . . If someone asks you who leads the league in sacks, just say, “Watt,” and you’ll be safe. The Texans’ J.J. Watt and younger brother T.J. Watt of the Steelers each have six, along with the Bengals’ Geno Atkins. “We used to beat up on each other in the backyard, and now we get to see our names at the top of the NFL sack charts,” J.J. told ESPN . . . Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who last week became the first player in NFL history to go for 100 receiving yards in each of his first five games: “That’s why it’s so important to get out in OTAs and give it everything you’ve got. That’s where you gain the confidence of your quarterback, and vice versa.”