Skip to content

NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the AFC right now: It’s the Texans and everyone else.

The Texans are so much better than the rest of the AFC that only a string of major injuries to key players (like Houston had last year) can prevent them from clinching home field for the playoffs, probably with a couple games left in the regular season. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Houston.

Entering Sunday, the Texans and Ravens were tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and their meeting at Reliant Stadium looked like a possible AFC Championship preview. But on Sunday the Texans absolutely humiliated the Ravens, jumping out to a 29-3 halftime lead and coasting through the second half to win 43-13. If the Ravens are the second-best team in the AFC, then I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between the first and second-best teams in either conference in NFL history.

The Texans are such a complete team. They pass the ball well with Matt Schaub throwing to receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels. In Arian Foster they have one of the NFL’s best running backs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL right now. Johnathan Joseph has been slowed by a groin injury this season, but when he’s at full speed he’s among the NFL’s best cornerbacks — and he looked like he’s getting closer to full speed when he picked off Joe Flacco and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

All of that is half of the reason the Texans are so far ahead of the pack in the AFC. The other half is that every other team in the AFC is deeply flawed. Only the Texans, Ravens and Patriots have winning records, and it’s looking like a year when 8-8 may be enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. All those AFC teams hovering around .500 may look to some people like just the kind of parity everyone likes about the NFL, but it looks more like mediocrity to me.

The Texans’ loss to the Packers a week ago is a strong demonstration of how much better the NFC is than the AFC this season: If the Texans were in the other conference, they wouldn’t be the favorites to earn home-field advantage. But as the one and only really good team in a mediocre conference, the Texans have the clearest path to the Super Bowl of any team in the NFL.

Here are my other observations from the seventh Sunday of this NFL season:

Chris Johnson may be the most inconsistent player in NFL history. Johnson was absolutely sensational for the Titans in Sunday’s win over the Bills, carrying 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including one 83-yard run on which he looked like he could give Usain Bolt a competitive race. Johnson’s game-breaking ability is unmatched; previously in his NFL career Johnson has had touchdown runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards, and he’s the only player in NFL history with four career touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer. But for the Titans, it’s maddening that a player with the talent to run like that has so many absolutely terrible games. In the first six weeks of this season, Johnson had four different games in which he failed to gain even 25 yards. In those four games, Johnson’s total stat line is 48 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

Browns rookie defensive lineman Billy Wynn committed one of the dumbest penalties of the year. On a fourth down from the Colts’ own 22-yard line in the second quarter, the Indianapolis offense stayed on the field. Obviously, all they were going to do is try to draw the Browns’ defense offside: No NFL team ever goes for it on fourth down in that situation. Which obviously means that all the Browns had to do was not jump offside. And yet Wynn jumped offside, giving the Colts a free first down. Penalties don’t get much dumber than that.

Wynn’s penalty wasn’t even the Browns’ dumbest fourth-down decision. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made one of the bonehead calls of the year when he sent out his punter on fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 41-yard line while trailing 17-13 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a situation where you have to go for it. You simply cannot give the ball away because you don’t trust your offense to gain one yard with the game on the line. The Browns, of course, ended up losing by that same 17-13 score. Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.

We’re running out of superlatives for Robert Griffin III. Even in defeat, Griffin is doing amazing things as the Redskins’ quarterback. After Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 yards rushing, players on the Giants’ defense declared Griffin the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora described Griffin as “flat-out unbelievable.” It’s amazing how good this guy is, at just 22 years old.

Last year we were running out of superlatives for Cam Newton. If you want to make the case that no one should get too excited about Griffin, all you have to do is point to Newton. Last year Newton was doing many of the same things Griffin was doing, making plays with his arm and his feet in an unbelievable rookie season for the Panthers. But this year Newton just doesn’t appear to be the same player. It’s not that Newton has been terrible, but in games like Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, he just hasn’t been able to make plays when the Panthers need him. Becoming a great pro quarterback is a lot of work, and while Newton may achieve greatness eventually, he’s not there yet. Maybe a full year of film on Newton has better prepared NFL defenses to stop him, or maybe Newton let all the fame get to his head last year. But he’s not playing as well as he did in 2011.

The Jets aren’t going down without a fight. After they lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, to a season-ending knee injury and then lost their next game 34-0 to the 49ers, I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league the rest of the season. But I was wrong. The Jets are playing tough, competitive football. On Sunday in New England the Jets were (at least according to the Vegas lines) the biggest underdogs in the NFL. And yet they took the Patriots to overtime. Rex Ryan turns a lot of people off with all his bluster, but the guy is a damn good coach.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano had the biggest win of the day. Not because his team beat the Browns to improve to 3-3 and surpass last year’s win total, but because he was sent home after four weeks in the hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. For Pagano, that’s an important step to getting where he wants to be: Back to coaching his team.

Permalink 56 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Rumor Mill, Top Stories
yo

Siemian solid before giving way to Lynch

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20:  Quarterback Trevor Siemian of the Denver Broncos throws as he warms up before a preseason NFL game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 20, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

Trevor Siemian got his second straight start Saturday night in his bid to win the Broncos’ starting quarterback job.

Siemian led one touchdown drive, one field goal drive and threw an interception. A 43-yard pass from Siemian to Demaryius Thomas set up a field goal that gave the Broncos a 10-9 halftime lead over the Rams.

As expected, rookie first-round pick Paxton Lynch was next and replaced Siemian to start the second half.

Siemian was 10-of-17 passing for 122 yards. His touchdown drive covered 67 yards in seven plays and was capped by a 1-yard pass to tight end Victor Green.

Three straight Siemian completions jumpstarted the touchdown drive, and two C.J. Anderson runs set the Broncos up with a first and goal situation.

Mark Sanchez started the first preseason game, but Siemian — who’s never thrown a pass in a regular season game — has since taken the lead in the camp battle. The Broncos want to bring Lynch along slowly, so as of now it appears Siemian will start when the Broncos host the Panthers to open the season.

On the Broncos’ broadcast, general manager John Elway said Siemian “got off to a slow start tonight but then had a good second quarter. It’s been a good battle…we’re in a good spot.”

Later, Elway said the team has “seen a lot of positives” from Lynch, who’s “getting better every day. We think the ceiling is really, really high.”

Permalink 1 Comment Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Mewhort has torn ACL, will miss season

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 21: Calvin Pace #97 of the New York Jets rushes against Jack Mewhort #75 of the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 21, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts guard Jack Mewhort suffered a torn ACL during Saturday night’s preseason game vs. the Eagles, NFL Network reported.

Mewhort will miss the entire 2016 season if further examination confirms a torn ACL and the Colts, already thin on the offensive line, will have to scramble to try to replace one of their better players.

A tackle during his Ohio State career, Mewhort has played both guard and tackle in each of his seasons with the Colts. The Colts hoped to end their offensive line shuffle this season and hoped Mewhort would both elevate his game and help rookie center Ryan Kelly.

Instead, they’re now searching for help at both cornerback and on the offensive line with the season opener two weeks away.

Permalink 5 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Stork tweets that he’s excited to report to Redskins

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Bryan Stork is apparently going to officially be new Redskins center Bryan Stork fairly soon.

Stork tweeted Saturday night that he’s anxious to get the next chapter of his career started.

“I will forever have nothing but great memories at [the Patriots],” Stork tweeted. “Looking forward to making more [with the Redskins].”

The Patriots traded Stork to the Redskins this week. Stork had contemplated retirement, according to reports, and Redskins Coach Jay Gruden told reporters that Stork still had to make “a final decision.”

Stork started 11 games for the Patriots as a rookie in 2014 and six last season. He’s battled concussion issues, but the Redskins see him as a solid insurance policy after their longtime center, Kory Lichtensteiger, was limited to five games last season.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Offenses sharp in Titans-Raiders game

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 20:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans stands under center during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Preseason results don’t mean much and are usually quickly forgotten. In Oakland Saturday night, it’s fair to say the offenses beat the defenses.

The Titans got the ball first and scored immediately. A 60-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to rookie Tajae Sharpe set up a short touchdown run by DeMarco Murray. The Raiders came right back and scored on a 6-yard pass from Derek Carr to rookie DeAndre Washington.

Sharpe has been really good throughout camp and has probably won a spot in the opening day starting lineup.

Carr threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper later in the first half, and Derrick Henry ran for another Titans touchdown. The Titans led 20-14 at halftime when Mariota was removed from the game. He was 9-of-16 for 170 yards and looked sharp commanding an offense that mixed in some option plays and plenty of rollout passes.

Veteran Andre Johnson caught three passes for 65 yards for the Titans. Cooper had three catches for 52 yards including the 29-yard touchdown.

Carr threw one pass in the second half before being removed from the game. He finished 12-of-18 for 169 yards.

Permalink 4 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

David Harris suffers shoulder injury

Denver Broncos v New York Jets Getty Images

Veteran Jets linebacker David Harris suffered a shoulder injury and has been declared out of Saturday night’s Jets-Giants preseason game.

Harris suffered the injury late in the first half. He probably wasn’t going to return to Saturday night’s game anyway, but he’s a key player in the Jets’ defense and the Jets hope he won’t miss any real time.

Harris, 32, is entering his 10th NFL season. He hasn’t missed a start since 2008.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Mewhort leaves game with knee injury

Wild Card Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Colts guard Jack Mewhort suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of Saturday night’s preseason game vs. the Eagles. Mewhort is one of the Colts’ best offensive linemen, and if Mewhort suffered a significant injury it would be a significant blow to the Colts.

The Colts just don’t have much depth across their offensive line, a unit that struggled again vs. the Eagles. At halftime, Colts coach Chuck Pagano said his linemen had “to man up and block their guys.”

The team announced only that Mewhort would not return to Saturday’s game. Earlier in the game the Colts lost cornerback Darius Butler to an ankle injury, a further blow to another already thin position group.

A second-round pick in 2014, Mewhort has played both guard and tackle in each of his previous two NFL seasons.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Forte gets involved quickly in Jets debut

New York Giants' Olivier Vernon (54) tackles New York Jets' Matt Forte (22) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

The Jets were patient with running back Matt Forte over the last several weeks. But when Forte made his preseason debut in Saturday night’s game vs. the Giants, the Jets kept Forte busy.

Forte got five touches on the game’s first drive, three by run and two on receptions from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets lined up Forte in the backfield and also as a slot receiver to both sides in different personnel groupings.

He played 11 of 20 snaps in the first quarter and touched the ball on eight of those 11. He ended up carrying 10 times for 28 yards and catching two passes for nine yards before being taken out of the game in the second quarter.

Forte, 30, figures to be the team’s starting running back and a key contributor. He only missed eight games in eight seasons with the Bears, but the Jets know he has some mileage and obviously want to keep him fresh and on the field. A hamstring injury suffered just before camp sidelined Forte, and he’s been eased back into practices over the last two weeks.

Veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall was held out of the game, so the Jets still have not played with their whole complement of offensive weapons this preseason.

The Jets led 7-0 at halftime with the only score coming on a Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to Eric Decker. The Giants managed just 47 yards of offense in the first half.

Permalink 4 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Leon Hall suffers concussion

Dre Kirkpatrick, Leon Hall AP

Veteran Giants cornerback Leon Hall suffered a concussion during the first quarter of Saturday night’s Jets-Giants preseason game.

Hall signed with the Giants earlier this month. He previously played exclusively for the Bengals, who drafted him in the first round in 2007.

The Giants also announced that rookie linebacker B.J. Goodson was being evaluated for a concussion.

The Jets scored first on a Ryan Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker touchdown pass with 5:20 left in the second quarter. A Darrelle Revis interception set up the 30-yard scoring drive.

Permalink 1 Comment Feed for comments Back to top

Miserable first half for Luck, Colts

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 07:  quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts speaks with head coach Chuck Pagano prior to a preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on August 7, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Andrew Luck; Chuck Pagano Getty Images

The Colts got shoved around in the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game by the Eagles, who took a 17-3 lead into halftime.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 13-of-18 passes for 134 yards but was sacked three times. The Colts were able to move the ball but couldn’t sustain drives and scored only in a short-field situation, settling for three points after a Darius Butler interception.

“We didn’t do the job we should have done protecting our quarterback,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on the team’s preseason broadcast. “Guys have to man up and block their guys.”

The Colts ran the ball nine times for just 13 yards. The Eagles scored on a Josh Huff run and a Sam Bradford fade to Dorial Green-Beckham, who’s playing his first game for the Eagles after being acquired in a trade with the Titans.

The Colts also didn’t score a touchdown with Luck and the starters in last week’s preseason game vs. the Ravens.

Permalink 22 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rams announce Tavon Austin extension

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 17: Tavon Austin #11 of the St. Louis Rams adjusts his helmet prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome on December 17, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the Tavon Austin extension official, a debate already has begun regarding whether the Rams are paying the 2013 first-rounder too much.

“Tavon has been an integral part of our offense and special teams since we drafted him in 2013,” coach Jeff Fisher said in the press release announcing the deal. “It is important to our organization to retain players we’ve drafted and invested in, and Tavon is an example of that. We’re excited for him to continue his career with the Rams.

The release points out that Austin and running back Todd Gurley each had 10 touchdowns last year, the first time two members of the Rams have landed in double digits since running back Steven Jackson and receiver Torry Holt in 2006. Austin has 19 touchdowns for his career: nine receiving, seven rushing, and three on punt returns.

The release doesn’t mention Austin’s other stats, possibly because it’s harder to justify a four-year, $42 million extension by pointing to them. He had 473 receiving yards in 2015, 242 in 2014, and 418 in 2013, along with rushing yards of 434 in 2015, 224 in 2014, and 151 in 2013.

That’s an average of 377 receiving yards per season and 269 rushing yards per season. Throwing in 313 average punt-return yards and 144 average kickoff-return yards, Austin has averaged 1,103 all-purpose yards per year in his career. Still, he has only 646 yards from scrimmage each year, on average.

Does that add up to a four-year, $42 million contact? Maybe not, based on the raw numbers. But considering that Austin hasn’t had much help — and that he definitely hasn’t had high-quality quarterback play — the Rams apparently think that the best days are coming for Austin, and that getting him for $10.5 million per year in new money is a lot cheaper than what it would have cost in 2018.

Permalink 10 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Another Colts cornerback suffers injury

Darius Butler, Greg Toler AP

Colts cornerback Darius Butler intercepted Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford on the first Eagles possession of Saturday night’s preseason game.

By the second drive, Butler was out with an ankle injury.

Two weeks from the season opener, it’s bad timing for Butler and worse for the Colts. They’re already without starting cornerback Vontae Davis until at least October, and fellow starter Patrick Robinson has been dealing with a groin injury. Butler was one of just four Colts cornerbacks who suited up for Saturday night’s preseason game.

The team announced that Butler is done for the game. There likely won’t be another update on his status until at least later tonight.

Earlier this week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano called his team’s cornerback situation “scary.” The Colts signed veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie this week but he didn’t play vs. the Eagles.

Permalink 3 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Ravens lose Ben Watson for season

Ben Watson AP

Veteran Ravens tight end Ben Watson suffered a torn Achilles tendon on the first play of the Ravens-Lions preseason game Saturday night and will miss the 2016 season.

The Ravens signed Watson in March. He played the last three seasons with the Saints and had a career-best 74 receptions last season.

The team announced the injury not long after Watson was taken to the locker room.

Watson, 35, is a veteran of 12 NFL seasons. He’s also played for the Browns and Patriots, who drafted him with the final pick of the first round in 2004.

The Ravens had hoped Watson would catch a bunch of passes once he developed chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco, who made his preseason debut Saturday night. Flacco is recovering from a torn ACL.

Though Watson was the most experienced and durable tight end on the roster — Watson only missed one game the last four seasons — the Ravens are deep at the position with Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Kelly: Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated doesn’t affect football matters

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick passes warms up for the team's preseason NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) AP

49ers coach Chip Kelly told reporters Saturday that quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem does not affect Kaepernick’s place on the depth chart or any other football matters.

Kelly said Kaepernick, who started Friday night’s preseason game, remains in competition with Blaine Gabbert for the team’s starting quarterback job.

Kelly knew questions about Kaepernick were coming when he talked with reporters Saturday. Earlier in the day, Kaepernick told NFL Network he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.”

If Kaepernick wants to continue to not stand for the anthem, Kelly won’t try to change his mind.

It’s not my right to tell him not to do something,” Kelly said.

Kaepernick also didn’t stand for the anthem during prior preseason games, and Kelly said “he has the right to express his feelings.”

Permalink 115 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

NFL hands out $18,231 fines for roughing the passer in preseason

Houston Texans outside linebacker John Simon runs with the ball for a touchdown on a 41-yard fumble recovery during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) AP

The NFL starts handing out real fines before the players are receiving real paychecks.

The league office has confirmed to PFT two players who have already received $18,231 fines for roughing the passer in the preseason: Kerry Hyder of the Lions and John Simon of the Texans.

Players are paid their base salaries in 17 installments during the regular season, so it’s not until Week One that the money will be taken out of their paychecks.

In the case of Hyder, whose salary this year is $450,000, the fine would represent almost 70 percent of his per-game salary. However, the NFL has an appeals process that allows players to cap any fine at 25 percent of weekly salary. So if Hyder makes the Lions’ roster, his actual fine will be $6,617, which is 25 percent of his weekly salary.

Simon’s base salary is $1.67 million, so he’ll be on the hook for the full fine.

Permalink 2 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rams extend Tavon Austin’s contract by four years

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 20:  Tavon Austin #11 (C) of the Los Angeles Rams runs out of the tunnel before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams don’t have many offensive weapons. One of the few they have will be sticking around for a while.

PFT has confirmed that receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, has agreed to terms on a four-year extension.

It’s a four-year extension, worth $42 million. Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, Austin’s true guarantee if he’s on the roster next March will be $25 million.

He was due to make $2.14 million this year and $12.2 million next year, under the fifth-year first-round option. In all, it’s a six-year deal worth more than $56 million.

The deal also includes an incentive package that will pay Austin significantly more, if/when he generates the kind of numbers over the course of a full season that he has generated in flashes through his first three seasons.

Can he generate big numbers over the course of a full season? If running back Todd Gurley continues to improve and quarterback Jared Goff is the real deal, it will be easier for the Rams to get more out of Austin. At times last year, the offense consisted primarily of pushing the ball forward with Gurley and finding ways to get the ball in Austin’s hands in space with a collection of average-at-best quarterbacks.

Permalink 15 Comments Feed for comments Back to top