Picturing the New Orleans Saints without Brees, the New England Patriots without Brady or the Los Angeles Chargers without Rivers just feels wrong, doesn't it? Now, it's possible these veterans will decide to step away from the game at the end of this season, although none of them have revealed any such intentions. I don't pretend to have a crystal ball as to how contract negotiations would work out, but I believe each player would be welcomed back to his respective team in 2020 if he wants to continue playing.
Carolina Panthers:Cam Newton, who has been sidelined by a foot injury since Week 2, was placed on injured reserve last week and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the 2015 league MVP is now considering surgery to repair the injury. While the Panthers won't address Newton's future with the team, I feel it's unlikely that he'll be a Panther in 2020. Due $18.6 million in 2020, along with a $2 million option bonus, Newton could be made available in trade talks -- similar to the Ravens' handling of Joe Flacco last offseason.
There's no denying that Kyle Allen has played well in place of Newton, going 5-2 as the starter. The second-year quarterback has an interesting contract situation. To put it simply, the Panthers can extend Allen's contract at any point and if it's not extended, he'll be a bargain as an exclusive rights free agent in 2020 and 2021 before becoming a restricted free agent in 2022.
If the Panthers do ultimately decide to part with Newton, they would be wise to keep Allen around. I wrote back in September that Allen is a better fit for offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system than Newton, and the young passer has proven as much. But is Allen the QB1 this team should build around? I think he's a fantastic backup, but, personally, I'd be looking for an upgrade in the offseason. Having Allen on the roster gives the Panthers a solid Plan B (they also have 2019 third-round pick Will Grier to develop) and the freedom to go after their guy, who should be LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow. His skill set fits perfectly in Turner's scheme, but there's a big problem with that idea. Given how well he's playing, Burrow might be long gone before the Panthers are on the clock. The more realistic approach will probably be to make a strong play for Teddy Bridgewater, should the Saints not re-sign him before he becomes a free agent. Bridgewater had success with Turner in Minnesota, and I think he'd be a clear step up from Allen (and Newton) in Carolina's system. Of course, if the Panthers fall apart down the stretch like they did last season, Rivera and Turner could be seeking employment elsewhere next season, but for now, I'm sticking to the plan of reuniting Teddy B with Norv.
Chicago Bears: There are questions about whether Mitchell Trubisky is the answer in Chicago, and to be honest, I don't think he is. Even though Trubisky -- and the entire Bears offense -- saw improvement in Week 10, there are better options. Heck, backup Chase Daniel outplayed Trubisky, whom the Bears traded up one spot to draft second overall in 2017. Daniel hits the market in March, while the Bears will have to decide whether to pick up Trubisky's 2021 (fifth-year) option this offseason. It would be a surprise if Trubisky's not on the roster in 2020, but I'd love to see Cam Newton in Chicago. He's a great option for what Matt Nagy wants to do offensively as a more dynamic runner (once that foot is healed) and passer. I could see impending free agent Marcus Mariota being a good fit, as well, although he is very similar to Trubisky. And we know how that's working out.
Cincinnati Bengals: After getting benched for rookie Ryan Finleythree hours before the trade deadline, Andy Dalton said when asked if he'd push for a change of scenery after the season: "Obviously there's a lot to come in the next eight weeks and beyond after this year. I want to have an opportunity to play. I want to have an opportunity to be somewhere where I'm wanted. If that's here, great. If it's not, we'll see. Right now, that's not my focus. My focus is just playing my role on this team."
Dalton is signed through the 2020 campaign, but the Bengals won't take a cap hit if they choose to release the veteran after this season. I think Dalton will get a fresh start elsewhere this offseason, which leaves the Bengals with Finley, who struggled in his first career start last week against the Ravens. The fourth-round draft pick's production was worse than Dalton's 2019 numbers across the board. We shouldn't make all the decisions based on one start -- especially one against a top defense -- but it really comes down to this: The Bengals are holding the No. 1 overall pick right now, and likely will be in position to have their choice of QBs in the 2020 draft. It's hard to imagine they'd pass up a chance to land a franchise QB.
Miami Dolphins: After signing Ryan Fitzpatrick and trading for Josh Rosen last offseason, the Dolphins are still searching for their franchise quarterback. Fitzpatrick started the first two games of the season, Rosen started the next three, then Brian Flores made the switch back to Fitzpatrick. It's apparent that Rosen isn't the guy, and Fitzpatrick is simply a placeholder. The Dolphins hold three first-round selections in next year's draft, and you can count on one of those being spent on a quarterback who will enter next season as the new face of the franchise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Impending free agent Jameis Winston might be starting to convince Bruce Arians and the Bucs that he's deserving of a new deal, but he's not fooling me. Though he has posted some impressive numbers this season -- he's averaging a career-high 307.2 pass yards per game in 2019 (would be most in Tampa Bay history) -- Winston is a turnover machine. He has thrown 17 TD passes yet he's committed 18 turnovers (14 picks, four fumbles lost). This is not a recipe for success. It's time that the Bucs realize Winston isn't the future, and go hard after Teddy Bridgewater or Andy Dalton this offseason. There's a chance the Saints won't let Teddy, who went 5-0 as a starter this season, hit the market but if they let him walk and he doesn't end up in Carolina (as I suggested earlier in this piece), he is an ideal fit for Bruce Arians and the Bucs' offensive weapons. If Teddy isn't available, Dalton, who soon could see a fresh start outside of Cincinnati, would be an upgrade. He has a similar skill set to Winston but is a better decision-maker.
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 11 pecking order is below.
Wilson continued his bid for MVP on Monday evening when he improved to 24-5-1 in prime time. That career record doesn't bode well for some of his upcoming opponents -- the Vikings in Week 13 and Rams in Week 14 -- as both will be prime-time tilts. Monday's big win over the 49ers didn't come without mistakes but Wilson kept his composure and came up with big-time plays late in the game to put the Seahawks in position to win. He brings this effort and jaw-dropping playmaking ability to the table every week.
Carolina's RB1 posted his seventh game this season with 130-plus scrimmage yards (108 rushing, 33 receiving vs. Green Bay), and is still producing at a rate that's in line with the last two running backs to win MVP, Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Before Sunday night's Vikings- Cowboys game even started, it felt like it would be decided by whichever running back had the bigger performance. Cook certainly won this contest vs. Zeke with 183 scrimmage yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) and a go-ahead TD run to end the third quarter. Cook is the best player on the offense and Kevin Stefanski did a great job of sticking with the game plan.
This conversation between coach John Harbaugh and his quarterback during Sunday's game sums up the phenomenon that is Lamar Jackson. We saw flashes of greatness in his rookie season, but he is combining his rare skill set with good decision-making in Year 2 to put him smack dab in the middle of the MVP race. Jackson's picking up momentum by the week and had arguably his best outing of the year against the Bengals, completing 15 of 17 pass attempts for 223 yards, three TDs and a 158.3 passer rating and rushing for 65 yards and a score on seven carries.
Despite having two different starting QBs this season, Thomas has continued to produce at his usual record-setting pace. With 13 catches for 152 yards on Sunday, Thomas is the first player this season to crack the 1,000-yard receiving mark as he sits at 1,027 yards with eight games left. (He could make a real push for 2,000.) He also has reached 400 career receptions faster than anyone else in NFL history, and joins Mike Evans, A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only players with 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first four NFL seasons.
Did Mahomes even take time off? He really impressed in his first game back since dislocating his kneecap in throwing for a season-high 446 yards, three TDs and a 119.2 passer rating. It felt like he was trying to get back in that MVP race after missing the last two games.
He had increased his rush yards in each of this last four games entering Sunday's contest with Minnesota. That trend came to a screeching halt, as Mike Zimmer's defense held Zeke to 47 yards on 20 carries (2.4 ypc), marking his second game this season with fewer than 3.0 yards per carry.
Every time I looked at the TV during Chiefs- Titans, Hill had the ball in his hands and made defenders miss left and right. In Patrick Mahomes' first game back from his knee injury, it's safe to say that his connection with Hill didn't lose any juice as Hill finished with 11 receptions for 157 yards and a TD in the loss.
Derek is playing some of his best football right now -- 69.4 completion percentage, 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 110.1 passer rating since Week 4 -- and has helped put the Raiders (5-4) within striking distance of the top team in the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs, who fell to 6-4 after losing to Tennessee. In Thursday's prime-time win over the Chargers, Derek registered his 18th game-winning drive since 2015, which leads all active quarterbacks during that span.
With 75 receiving yards against the Titans, Kelce (5,977) surpassed Jason Witten (5,965) for the fourth-most receiving yards by a tight end in a player's first sevens seasons. It doesn't seem like such an amazing feat until you realize that Kelce had zero receiving yards in his rookie season. He needs just 304 yards to pass Jimmy Graham at the top of the record board.
Kupp was held to zero receiving yards (on four targets) one game after recording 220 yards. The Rams' offense couldn't find its rhythm against an improved Steelers defense, but Kupp remains in the top five in receiving yards. He can't afford another game like this, though. Neither can the Rams if they want to continue their season after Week 17.
Evans has played well over the last month in averaging 139 receiving yards per game, and he's climbed his way up to second in receiving yards (924) this season.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Nick Chubb, RB, Browns: Chubb was phenomenal when outside the red zone against the Bills, rushing for 120 yards on 13 carries for a whopping 9.2 yards per carry. It was a different story inside the red zone, as the AFC's leading rusher was held to -4 rush yards on seven attempts. Cleveland and Chubb must be able to convert when given the opportunity.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints: Given the way Sunday's game went, I would've thought that this was Brees' first game back from his thumb injury. The veteran had zero TD passes in a home game for the first time since Week 8 of 2017. The Falcons' defense had a lot to do with that as Brees was sacked six times.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: While the Falcons looked like a completely different team coming out of the bye week, Jones looked like the same effective WR1 he's been all along. He had 79 receiving yards on three receptions, including a 54-yarder in the second quarter that tied for his longest of the season and helped the offense extend its drive.