New England's offensive disarray against the Houston Texans partly led to the Patriots suffering their second loss and, more importantly, giving up possession of the top seed in the AFC playoffs to Baltimore. The struggles came from the start, as New England was held to just three points in the first half while averaging a measly 4.1 yards per play. The concerns with the Patriots' offense -- which I explored in this space a couple weeks ago -- are valid. The unit ranks in the bottom third of the league in points per game (18.0), rushing yards per game (98.5) and red zone offense (46.2 completion rate) since Week 9.
I'm not going to lie: I don't trust the Patriots' offense right now. And to be honest, I'm not sure Brady does, either.
Trust, or lack thereof, between a quarterback and his pass catchers is a huge part of an offense's success or failure. I know Brady trusts Julian Edelman, but he's not always going to be open. And that's what we saw on Sunday night, when the Texans did everything they could to erase Edelman as an option, forcing Brady to try and direct his young receivers, often resulting in incompletions or a turnover. It doesn't help that New England's run game has stalled this season. In all fairness, the Patriots lost three major components of their ground attack in 2019: Rob Gronkowski (retired), James Develin (injured reserve) and Trent Brown (signed with Oakland). We're really seeing the effect that Gronk had on this unit -- not only in the pass game, but also as a blocker. Not being able to count on the run game has required Brady to go win games with his arm. The veteran quarterback isn't "losing it"; he's simply playing with a new cast of characters -- including two rookies in N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers and no real threat at the tight end position.
So that's where the Patriots stand in the final month of the 2019 regular season. Even with the G.O.A.T. under center, it's hard to trust this offense. Looking at the rest of the teams currently holding a spot in the postseason, here are three other offenses (in alphabetical order) I don't trust heading into the final stretch.
BUFFALO BILLS: I'm sure Josh Allen and the Bills enjoyed every bite of turkey on their flight back to Buffalo after blowing past the floundering Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. I have to give the young passer credit because he has improved across the board from his rookie campaign -- and even within the past few weeks. He's played at a high level since Week 11 -- the Bills are 3-0 since then -- with eight total touchdowns (two rushing) and just one turnover. The reason the Bills are on my list: While Allen leads the league's third-best pass offense, he's is too much of a wild card. His style of play isn't super clean or efficient, and at times it looks like the Bills are playing too much backyard football, causing me to believe turnovers are still looming. And when I think about the receiving corps, while talented, I'm not sure there is any one player who really makes me nervous. Maybe Cole Beasley. Maybe. This is a young offense -- other than ol' Frank Gore -- that will be seriously tested down the stretch with games against the Ravens (10-2), Steelers (7-5) and Patriots (10-2) over the next three weeks. Hopefully Buffalo's offense continues to play well and proves me wrong.
DALLAS COWBOYS: The Cowboys have all the tools to be successful, but they lose to good teams and beat the bad teams. You're not going to get much done in January playing that way. I've noticed from a play-calling standpoint that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has leaned toward scheming up pass concepts instead of relying on Ezekiel Elliott to set up play action. The Cowboys are more of a dropback-pass offense right now, and I'm not convinced that's the best approach for this group. Dak Prescott's production is slightly better on play-action passes than on dropback passes, but I really think Dallas could put the kind of pressure Lamar Jackson's Ravens and Deshaun Watson's Texans put on defenses with their personnel. The other factor with this unit right now is toughness on the perimeter. As much as Amari Cooper carves defensive backs up with his route running, he often disappears when defenders get physical. Sitting at 6-6, the Cowboys can't afford another Week 12 Cooper situation (zero catches on two targets).
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: I don't want to take anything away from Devlin Hodges because he's winning games. He has the best win percentage (2-0 in starts), as well as the highest yards per pass attempt (8.4) and best passer rating (91.9) of the three Steelers starting quarterbacks this season. Simply put, he has given his playmakers chances. That said, he's not going to regularly transcend the offense. And I don't know if the Steelers have enough firepower on the offensive side of the ball. They are still without their top talents in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Even if those two are on the field, though, Pittsburgh doesn't have the goods to keep up with the high-powered offenses in the AFC.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 14 pecking order is below.
Even after making several miscues Monday night, including an interception that Wilson batted right into Anthony Harris' hands, the Seahawks quarterback still has Minnesota's number. With the win, Wilson improved to 6-0 against the Vikings in his career (including playoffs) and helped the Seahawks leapfrog the 49ers for the division lead. Guiding the Seahawks to prime-time glory has been Wilson's M.O. throughout his career, winning 82.3 percent of prime-time games since 2000 -- the top mark in the league among 22 quarterbacks with at least 20 prime-time starts. The Seahawksalways have a chance as long as Wilson's under center.
Jackson followed Week 12's impressive passing performance with a monster game on the ground with 101 rushing yards in soggy conditions Sunday. The MVP candidate, who needs 63 rush yards to pass Michael Vick's single-season rushing record, has passed test after test proving he can win against any team and in any circumstance. In helping the Ravens nip the 49ers on Sunday in what felt like a potential Super Bowl preview, Jackson improved to 2-0 this season against defenses that enter the game ranked in the top five overall ( New England in Week 9 is the other one). Congratulations, Lamar, you're reward is another meeting with a top-five defense this week in Sean McDermott's Buffalo Bills.
In a shocking defeat to Dwayne Haskins' Redskins, McCaffrey still managed to extend his streak of 100-yard scrimmage games to six -- longest active streak in the league. McCaffrey had several chances to get into the end zone in the final minutes but was again stalled. The loss felt like the dagger in the coffin for the Panthers' postseason hopes, but everyone should still pay close attention to McCaffrey's historic campaign.
Thomas continues to cruise as we head into December. He has 110 receptions through 12 games for an average of 9.2 catches a game. The reason he's having so much success is because he works tirelessly at his craft and doesn't accept mediocrity. In Thursday's game, Thomas dropped a pass in the third quarter, snapping a streak of 198 catches without a drop. His reaction to that drop said it all.
Cook's fumble and exit from the game in the third quarter against the Seahawks changed the course of the entire bout -- or that's how it felt. The Vikings weren't nearly as dynamic without their star running back, and he was sorely missed in Minnesota's late comeback effort. Looking ahead, the Vikings' postseason fate is in their own hands, so getting Cook back next week would be a big help.
The Texans needed a big performance from Watson to have a chance to take down the Patriots, and he delivered. Coming into Week 13, the Patriots' defense had allowed just four touchdown passes all season (that's an incredible stat). Then Sunday happened. In that game alone, the Patriots gave up four TD passes -- three to Watson and one to receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a trick play. Watson should have a ton of confidence heading down the home stretch of the regular season.
Remember when Jerry Jones voiced his frustration after Dallas lost to the Patriots? It felt like the owner's comments might light a fire in his Cowboys. Then they lost to the Bills on Thanksgiving Day in Jerry World. Yikes! Dallas underperformed in all three phases against Buffalo. The offense scored on its opening and final drives but did nothing in between. With 12 carries for 71 yards, Elliott has had fewer than 100 rush yards in four straight games. Even if the Cowboys do end up in the playoffs, they'll go one-and-done with the way they're playing.
Kelce led the Chiefs in receiving yards (90) in their win over the Raiders. Y'all know George Kittle is my favorite tight end by now because of what he does as a blocker in the run game, but there's no denying that Kelce presents the biggest mismatch in the pass game among tight ends. The Chiefs' TE1 is heating up as we head into colder weather and it couldn't come at a better time.
Kamara has been impressive since his return in Week 10, averaging 5.5 yards per carry over the last four games. The Saints have a huge clash with the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers*this weekend*, and even though Kamara hasn't had 25-plus touches since Week 3, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Sean Payton leans on him.
Brees played well against the Falcons, but wasn't the Saints' offensive star Thanksgiving night. Instead, do-it-all backup QB Taysom Hill delivered a historic performance with a rushing and receiving TD in the win over Atlanta. And with a big assist from the defense, which sacked Matt Ryan nine times, Brees and the Saints clinched their third straight NFC South title.
I didn't expect anything but a run-heavy contest between the Ravens and 49ers on a soggy Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. One thing I love about the 49ers' ground game is the major impact Kittle has as a blocker. My colleague Brian Baldinger broke down Kittle's incredible blocking performance right here. Just watch as Kittle removes defenders from the field. It's a thing of beauty and the thing is, Kittle does this every game. The dude's ridiculous.
When looking at Rodgers' four-TD performance Sunday in the box score, you would have thought the Packers-Giants game was played under sunny skies. Instead, they played in a winter wonderland that demanded constant shoveling -- a fitting way to ring in December. The Packers, who looked good on both sides of the ball, have to be pleased with the winning effort a week after getting destroyed by the 49ers.
As Henry goes, so do the Titans. The former Heisman Trophy winner has averaged 165.3 rush yards and totaled five touchdowns since Week 10, with Tennessee going 3-0 in that span. The Titans are in good position to make a playoff push, and following Henry's lead (with more solid play by Ryan Tannehill) might get them in.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings: With a chance to guide the Vikings to a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks, Cousins let it slip away. He is now 0-8 in games on Monday night for his career. While it wasn't all bad, these are the games the Vikings need to win. They're holding on to the sixth seed in the playoffs with the Rams hot on their heels.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: Hopkins hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 8, but he did earn the first touchdown PASS of his career against the Patriots on a trick play that he and teammate Deshaun Watson schemed up over the Texans' bye week. The best part about it was Hopkins' reaction to his execution of the play: "I would give myself a 10 maybe because I took a hit just to get it to him." Being a former NFL quarterback, I know first-hand that QBs are expected to execute plays no matter if they get hit or not. I don't think Hopkins could hack it under center based on his comment. Better stick with being one of the top wideouts in the league.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys: Prescott logged another 300-yard passing effort, but it doesn't do much good when you end up on the losing side of the final score. The young passer has played well in 2019, but he needs to the be the guy to get the Cowboys over the hump. They are 0-5 vs. teams entering the game above .500 this season. Fortunately, they have a favorable schedule to close out the season. What's unfortunate? The records of the other teams currently in the NFC playoff picture.
Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: It's been a rough few weeks for the Raiders and my younger bro. The back-to-back road losses were caused by a myriad of issues, including costly turnovers, the offense struggling to put points on the board and the defense struggling to keep points off it. With the Titans coming to Oakland in a pivotal Week 14 game, it's back to the drawing board for the Raiders.