Another week of NFL football in the books, another edition of the Check-down Check-up to grade teams with. As a reminder, anything under four is a check down, anything above seven is a check up, and anything between those fours and sevens is a “check back next week.” So, who’s coming up? Who’s on their way down? Which team am I locking in with total confidence this week? Let’s find out.
I’ll be honest here. This week’s column is a bit late because I had to take a couple days to digest how I really feel about this game. First and foremost, I recognize it as one of the greatest football games I have ever seen, and though Cleveland came up just short, this one leaves no doubt: Baker Mayfield is their franchise quarterback going forward. The defense needs major work (and a reprieve from injuries) but Mayfield and this offense give the Browns a chance in each and every game. My only worry for Cleveland is that they could come out flat against the Giants. I’ve seen a few people complain that the Browns are, essentially, modifying their offense to accentuate Baker’s strengths and mask his weaknesses.
In the words of Chris Rock, “That’s what you’re supposed to do, you dumb [expletive].”
Verdict: 8.25/10, Check Up
At points during this game, this looked like a dominating win for Baltimore. Specifically the third quarter, before Lamar Jackson had to go out with “cramps,” if that’s what we’re calling it these days. But, Cleveland’s potent offense kept them in the game through the end, and fortunately for the Ravens, Justin Tucker was more than willing to save them in the final seconds. Baltimore is still fighting for their playoff lives, but this win makes it just a bit easier.
Verdict: 8.5/10, Check Up
Last week, I said, “Somebody get the Pittsburgh receivers on the JUGS machine. They need it.” I’m sticking with that here because man do the Steelers have a serious drops problem. Not to the point where it’s costing them games, but the Bills definitely took advantage of wide receiver butterfingers throughout the game on Sunday night. Pittsburgh has an easier matchup this week, taking on the far less feisty, Burrow-less Bengals. If the Steelers find a way to lose this one and drop three in a row? Pittsburgh, we have a problem.
Verdict: 8/10, Check Up
The Bengals finding themselves in a prime time game, without budding star quarterback Joe Burrow, is truly one of the NFL’s great shames this season. Burrow was a promising young prospect before his offensive line nearly actually did get him killed out there, and now the Bengals are the worst team in the league not named the New York Jets. Dallas just stomped a mud hole in them, and with Pittsburgh, Houston, and Baltimore left, I don’t trust them to win a game through the rest of the season.
Verdict: 1.5/10, Check Down
New England Patriots
Last week, I locked in Patriots to beat the Rams.
Maybe I should stop picking locks.
Verdict: 5/10, Check Back Next Week
The Dolphins held tough with the Chiefs until the very end, even coming back from a 30-10 deficit and making it a game in the late stages. That being said, I think we have to attribute their comeback, at least in part, to the sleepwalking the Chiefs have been doing all season. Either way, Miami is a legitimate contender, and their defense is stellar. If the offensive group can just stay afloat, they don’t even need to be spectacular, this team can really win some games.
Verdict: 8/10, Check Up
The Bills are 9-3, at the top of the AFC East, and look to be one of the best teams in the entire league. Josh Allen’s really been able to rein it in this season, and even if he does still make costly mistakes, they are much fewer and further between. The defense is solid, second only in the division to Miami’s, I think. They don’t control their own destiny, but with the schedule they have coming up, they could maybe make a run at that bye in the AFC. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.
Verdict: 8/10, Check Up
New York Jets
I’m still not filling out this part of the column until the Jets win a game.
But I have to put something here.
So… story time? Earlier this week I ordered Chipotle from Doordash and when the driver showed up, I’m pretty sure he was trying to booby trap my front door. I wonder if people realize that, when they leave the food at my door, I can’t get it if you prop it directly against my door. Because once I open my door, it’s just going to go everywhere. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all. The burrito was pretty good though.
Verdict: 0/10, Check Down
The Colts just made the Raiders’ playoff hopes all but nonexistent and as a closet Raiders fan, I can’t help but feel just a little bit sad about it. Sure, it helps me as a non-closet Browns fan, especially with the loss to Baltimore, but I feel just a little torn up about it. Back to the Colts. Indy will see the Texans this Sunday, before an all-important matchup with the Steelers. They finish at home against the Jaguars, who actually handed them a loss in week one. Anything can happen, but that feels like 2-1, maybe even 3-0 to me.
Verdict: 9/10, Check Up
The Texans are not a good team. This was supposed to be the revenge game for Deshaun Watson, make those Chicago Bears pay for not picking him No. 2 in 2017, and instead it turned into…the Mitch Trubisky show? That’s unusual. The Bears completely shellacked Houston, it’s really hard to find any positives here. There is nothing around Deshaun Watson, and though I firmly believe in him, I can’t help but think the Texans are doing their part to ruin his career.
Verdict: 2.5/10, Check Down
Another week, another step closer to Justin Fields. The Jaguars have inserted Gardner Minshew back into the starting lineup, presumably to try to win some games? I don’t know why they would want to do that, but hey, you do you. Even so, I don’t think the Jaguars win any of their next three. Maybe they make it a close game with Chicago? Still unlikely. Just keep on tanking, Jacksonville. You’re almost there.
Verdict: 0.5/10, Check Down
The Titans are in prime playoff position. At the top of the AFC South, Tennessee is exactly where they want to be right now. But maybe more interestingly, Derrick Henry is currently trying to do the impossible. He only needs 156 rushing yards per game to hit 2,000 on the year, a feat only accomplished by a select few. He almost certainly won’t win it, but 2,000 rushing yards might get Henry a few MVP votes for this year. Just a thought about one of the league’s best running backs.
Verdict: 7.5/10, Check Back Next Week
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs actually almost got caught here. Mahomes played his worst game of the year by a mile, throwing two touchdowns to a whopping three picks (more than he’s had during the rest of the season combined). But as it would happen, the Chiefs woke up just in time to put away the Dolphins and escape Hard Rock Stadium with a win. I like KC this week against the Saints, in what should be one of the games of the year, but they have got to wake up for the playoffs.
Verdict: 9.75/10, Check Up
The Broncos beat Carolina this week in what was the most surprisingly great game of the week. Heavy on offense but still some defensive flashes, Drew Lock threw four touchdowns in this one, and a final score of 32-27. This game was thoroughly entertaining, and it at least partially vindicates a lot of fans (including myself) who think Lock can be something in the NFL. That being said, I think the Bills crush Denver on Saturday.
Verdict: 3/10, Check Down
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers came away with a victory in the much-anticipated (for me, at least) “Choke Bowl” between them and the Falcons. Justin Herbert was good again, with nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception. Not to mention, the rookie completed over 81% of his passes. I don’t expect him to look nearly as good on Thursday night against Vegas. That being said, Herbert is surely the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and will likely smash the rookie passing touchdown record of 27, set by Baker Mayfield in 2018.
Verdict: 4.5/10, Check Back Next Week
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders dropped an all-important matchup with the Colts that they desperately needed to keep pace in the playoffs. This one hurts, but Gruden and Co. softened the blow at least a bit by firing their abysmally bad defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther. I think Vegas corrects themselves on Thursday night with a win over the Chargers, but it might be too little too late. If they can win out, they might have a shot, but they need some help.
Verdict: 6.5/10, Check Back Next Week