Welcome to The Forward Pass. This piece offers a few notes from Week 14 and makes forward-looking statements about Week 15 and beyond.
1. Eagles Lose in 43-35 Victory
Trailing 28-24 at the 4:01 mark of the third quarter, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rushed for a touchdown . . . or so he thought. The score was nullified by a holding penalty on right tackle Lane Johnson, and to add insult to injury Rams linebacker Mark Barron delivered a leg-bending hit on Wentz that sent him to the locker room — but only after Wentz toughed out four more plays and got the Eagles into the end zone with his fourth touchdown pass of the day. Once Wentz was in the locker room the news wasn’t good: The Eagles fear Wentz has a torn ACL. With their victory, the Eagles are the first team in the league to lock up their division, and they lead the NFL in scoring with 31.08 points per game (PPG), but their odds of making a deep postseason run without Wentz are dramatically reduced.
Against the Giants, though, the Eagles could still produce in Week 15. Backup Nick Foles had 7.7 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) in his first three years with the Eagles and an 8.5 AY/A last year with the Chiefs. His only horrible season was in 2015, with the Jeff Fisher-polluted Rams. It’s possible daily fantasy players will downgrade the Eagles offense too much this week.
2. The Browns Are Getting Better One Loss at a Time
After their 27-21 overtime loss to the Packers, the Browns are oh-so-close to clinching the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Browns are horrible at 0-13, and rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer hasn’t looked like a potential franchise quarterback, but former Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown has gifted an extra first-rounder and two extra second-rounders on top of a young and underappreciated roster to new general manager John Dorsey. The Browns have three tough defensive matchups against the Ravens, Bears, and Steelers to close out the year, but head coach Hue Jackson is coaching to avoid a winless season, and the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon has given the Browns offense some extra juice.
Next year Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield will look good in a Browns uniform. Till then, sharp bettors are likely to keep backing Cleveland, and Gordon will continue to have high ownership until his salary dramatically increases.
3. The Return of Aaron Rodgers?
Thanks to two straight overtime wins, the Packers are 7-6 and in position to make a postseason run. They have a tough schedule against the Panthers (9-4), Vikings (10-3), and Lions (7-6), but after a shutout loss in Week 10 the Packers have averaged 27 PPG, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (shoulder) is eligible to return from Injured Reserve in Week 15. He’s reportedly looked good in practice, and he’s expected to play if everything checks out with his next CT scan. Wide receiver Davante Adams has been a stud in his eight games with Brett Hundley as the primary quarterback (46/543/5), but Jordy Nelson has been horrendous (28/213/0).
This week DraftKings and FanDuel have aggressively priced Nelson as the WR12 and WR13 presumably under the assumption that he has a chance to revert to his prior form with the return of Rodgers. Based on his recent production and elevated acquisition cost, Nelson could have low ownership even if Rodgers starts.
4. Wild Wild West
Not just the name of a bad movie and song from 1999, the wild wild west is an apt description for the NFC West. After hard-fought losses in Week 14, the Rams (9-4) and Seahawks (8-5) will face off in Seattle this week. The winner will lead the division with two games remaining, and the loser will be in a fight to make the playoffs as a wild card. The game opened as a pick’em but has quickly moved to Seattle -1 with 75 percent of the early spread tickets coming on the home team. Even though the Rams are second in the league with 30.46 PPG and expected to get back wide receiver Robert Woods (shoulder), they could be a contrarian team to stack.
5. Wild Wild West, Again
After starting the year 0-4, the Chargers have won seven of their past nine games and charged into the AFC West race. They’ve had some help from the Chiefs, who have won just two of their past eight after five straight victories to open the season, but since giving play-calling duties to Matt Nagy in Week 13 the Chiefs have scored 32 PPG. Their offense will be put to the test this week as they face the Chargers defense in a special Saturday night contest: The Chargers have held opponents below their implied Vegas totals in a league-high 10 games. Both teams are 7-6, and the winner will have sole possession of the division. The game has opened as a pick’em with 56 percent of the early spread bets being placed on the visiting Chargers, who have held opponents to just 14.67 PPG over the last two months. Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce will have especially tough matchups against a secondary whose five starters all have Pro Football Focus grades above 80.0.