Thu Oct 17 2:10pm ET
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from the New York Giants in the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are still rolling right along with a high-powered offense and a stingy defense that has their record blemish-free.
The New York Jets look a bit different, though, from the team Bill Belichick's bunch beat 30-14 less than a month ago. And, it all starts at quarterback.
Luke Falk was under center then, making his first NFL start and looking overwhelmed and overmatched. Sam Darnold is back this time around, fully recovered from mononucleosis and coming off one of the best performances of his young career.
''He's a big, strong kid that can stand in the pocket and he's hard to tackle,'' Belichick said. ''He's not an easy guy to bring down. He's big, he can see and find guys under pressure.''
Darnold showed no signs of rust after missing three games because of his illness, going 23 of 32 for 338 yards and two TDs with an INT in a 24-22 win over Dallas and being selected the AFC's offensive player of the week.
It was a big boost for what had been a badly struggling Jets offense. Darnold's day was highlighted by his 92-yard touchdown throw to Robby Anderson, the longest offensive play in the NFL this season and the second-longest in franchise history.
Now, Darnold and the Jets hope to use that momentum to get something going against the Patriots' top-ranked defense at MetLife Stadium in a prime-time showdown.
''You've got to continue to grind,'' Darnold said. ''We know that after a good win, you've got to come right back in here because we got a tough one Monday night against the Pats. We know what our job is, we've just got to come in and get back to work.''
The Patriots are off to a 6-0 start for the fourth time in team history, with a chance to get to 7-0 for just the third time. They also have a chance to sweep the two-game regular-season series against the Jets for the fourth straight year.
Brady is 28-6 against the Jets in the regular season, including seven straight wins. He's also 16-7 in Monday night games, including 2-0 against New York. Meanwhile, Belichick is 18-8 on Monday nights - but just 9-7 in those games on the road.
''Monday night is always a high-energy game,'' Belichick said. ''We'll point to that and know it's always tough down there in New York. So, we need to have a good week here and be ready to go.''
Here are some other things to know for the latest Patriots-Jets showdown:
BEEN A WHILE
The Jets and Patriots play on a Monday night for the eighth time, and New York leads those matchups 4-3.
The previous time the AFC East rivals squared off on ''Monday Night Football'' was in 2010, when New England cruised to a 45-3 victory.
It's also the first time the Patriots are playing a Monday night game on the road against the Jets since 2005, when they won 31-21.
The Patriots entered Week 7 allowing a league-low eight points per game. One of the reasons is how stingy their defense has been on third down.
New England has held teams to an NFL-low 10 of 73 (13.7 percent) conversion rate in those situations. The fewest third downs allowed in a 16-game season is 49 by the 1991 New Orleans Saints.
In their Week 3 win over the Jets, the Patriots did not allow a third-down conversion, which is something New England has accomplished five times since 2000. Only five teams have not allowed a third down twice in the same season - the Packers (2005), Eagles (2009), Giants (2010), Dolphins (2011) and Saints (2018).
Le'Veon Bell hasn't had a breakout-type game for the Jets, but the fluid quarterback situation certainly hasn't helped.
With Darnold back and the offensive line improving the past few weeks, the star running back could start seeing some more opportunities to make plays. He has 256 yards rushing and a TD on 85 carries for a 3.0 average, and 28 catches for 169 yards and a score.
''Hopefully we can open it up a little bit for him,'' coach Adam Gase said. ''We've seen a lot of loaded boxes, he's had a lot of tough runs. He's made the most of what he's had and probably gotten us more than what we should have.''
WELCOME BACK, WATSON
Tight end Ben Watson is back for another stint with the Patriots and it's right on time for an offense looking for some stability and more production from the position.
The 38-year-old Watson was re-signed by New England on Wednesday, less than a week after being released. Belichick left the door open for Watson to return, saying he was cut simply because there wasn't an available roster spot once he returned from serving a four-game suspension for a positive banned substance test following last season.
Circumstances changed when Matt LaCosse injured his knee during the Patriots' win over the Giants on Thursday.
Without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots haven't gotten a ton of production in the pass game from their tight ends. LaCosse and Ryan Izzo have combined for only nine catches for 169 yards.
Michael Bennett will be missing from the Patriots' defensive huddle on Monday night.
The defensive end was suspended for what he said in a statement to ESPN was a ''philosophical disagreement'' with defensive line coach Bret Bielema. Bennett also offered an apology for any distraction it might have created.
Belichick declined to comment when asked about the suspension this week.
The Patriots traded for the 11-year veteran in March, but his usage has steadily decreased over New England's first six games. Bennett has started just once and played a season-low 11 snaps in the Patriots' win over the Giants in Week 6.
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt told reporters on Wednesday that he expects a big bounce-back season from tight end David Njoku in 2020. Van Pelt elaborated by stating that Njoku has been great during meetings in the team's virtual program this offseason. Njoku fell out of favor with former head coach Freddie Kitchens in 2019 while also missing most of the season with a fractured wrist. The athletic tight end has also struggled with inconsistency and drops during his three-year career but he can still be a difference-maker at the position if he's able to put it all together. That being said, he will have to fight for targets in a crowded tight end corps that includes top free-agent signing Austin Hooper.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has been impressed by star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason. In a press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Van Pelt said that OBJ is "all in" and has been a "model guy" during the team's virtual offseason program. Drama tends to follow Beckham wherever he goes, so it is good news that he is getting along well with his new offensive coordinator. Beckham struggled in 2019, his first season with the Browns. He dealt with an injury during training camp and had a hard time developing chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Beckham is still rehabbing after having core muscle surgery back in January but is fully expected to be ready for the start of the 2020 season. He can be treated as an upside WR2 in fantasy drafts this summer.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season and was a key piece of the team's attack down the stretch, but offensive coordinator Arthur Smith says that Henry's 2020 workload will "depend [on] how games go." Smith went on to add that the team wants to make sure other guys get touches as well. It makes sense to reduce Henry's workload some to keep him healthy and rested for the stretch run, as last season he led the NFL in rushing attempts. He's still a fantasy RB1 -- and has the potential to be the overall RB1 in standard-scoring leagues by the end of the year -- but his ceiling could be limited somewhat if Darrynton Evans gets a larger percentage of the touches than Dion Lewis did last season.
Denver Broncos outside linebacker/edge rusher Von Miller had his first single-digit sack season since 2013 and only had 46 tackles last year, but while he wasn't as dominant, he still made an impact in his 791 defensive snaps with a disruption rate of 14.4 percent. His 52 quarterback pressures were 29 more than his next closest teammate in Derek Wolfe. The eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro is still the man in Denver, and the 31-year-old can still be one of the most effective pass disruptors in the game. Miller's 235 QB pressures since 2016 lead all edge defenders and are second only to Aaron Donald. His QB pressure rate of 14 percent during that span ranks first across the NFL. Having Bradley Chubb healthy across from Miller could make a world of difference in 2020 and get Miller back into double-digit sacks.
Cleveland Browns defensive end Adrian Clayborn had more sacks in one game in 2017 with the Falcons than he did in all of last year (four), but he was still very effective and made the most of his pass-rushing opportunities (282) in 2019. Clayborn tallied 35 quarterback pressures on his 282 chances, and he added 24 hurries for a disruption rate of 14.5 percent and a sack rate of 1.4 percent. Entering his age-32 season, Clayborn has never had a double-digit sack season (career high of 9.5 in 2017) and recorded only 18 combined tackles in 15 games (one start) last year. He's a situational pass-rusher who could become more effective working alongside Myles Garrett, but Clayborn can be ignored in IDP leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett, 2019's NFL sack leader with 19.5, had 5.5 more sacks in his first year with Tampa than he did in 61 games with the Broncos. He had 78 total disruptions last season and capitalized on his opportunities more often than anyone else. Barrett also played a ton of snaps (836, including 508 pass rushes), which caused his disruption rate of 15.4 percent to fall a little compared to some of the other top pass-rushers. His huge season earned him the franchise tag from the Bucs. Barrett also had 45 solo tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 37 QB hits, an interception and six forced fumbles. But can he do it again? Most IDP owners won't make him an every-week starter right off the bat in 2020 unless he shows the same kind of pass-rushing force early on.
Even though Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald ranked sixth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 pass disruptors of 2019, the five-time All-Pro is still one of the best all-around pass-rushers in the league. He played more total snaps (882) than anyone else on the list, which is why his 15.7 percent disruption rate is a little lower. Donald's 267 quarterback pressures since 2016 are the most in the NFL in that span. His 69 QB pressures were second-most in 2019, and his pressure percentage (13.5) was the highest among interior linemen with a minimum of 300 pass rushes. The 29-year-old has made the Pro Bowl in each of his six seasons and has 72 sacks so far in his career. He's the real deal and is an elite IDP defensive lineman.
Jacksonville Jaguars edge-rushing linebacker Josh Allen had an incredible rookie season in 2019, being selected to the Pro Bowl with 54 total disruptions and 10.5 sacks. He had a disruption rate of 16.2 percent and a sack rate of 3.1 percent, but how much of his success had to do with fellow pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue? Campbell is now playing in Baltimore after a trade and Ngakoue is disgruntled and wants to be traded. If Ngakoue leaves, too, Allen will have a tougher time putting up those kind of numbers in his second season. The 22-year-old seventh overall pick should still be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, but he might not be a weekly starter in IDP leagues just yet.
Chicago Bears defensive end Robert Quinn earned his five-year deal on the free-agent market with an excellent season in 2019 with the Cowboys. Working opposite of DeMarcus Lawrence, Quinn pressured the quarterback on 14 percent of pass rushes, the third-highest rate in the NFL with a minimum of 250 pass rushes. He had 49 QB pressures last year, which is the same number that Bears pass-rusher Khalil Mack had, but Quinn accomplished it on 116 fewer pass rushes. If Quinn can maintain that level of play, the Bears Defense could be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Before 2019, though, Quinn didn't have a double-digit sack season since 2014, so many IDP owners will be skeptical that he can produce those numbers again in a new environment. In his career, the 30-year-old has 80.5 sacks in nine seasons, including four seasons with double-digit QB takedowns.
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa made the Pro Bowl and was named the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year while racking up the fourth-most quarterback pressures in the NFL (60) while finishing with a pressure percentage of 13.9, good for fourth-best in the league. The younger brother of Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa, Nick is just 22 years old and had nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 25 QB hits in his first season. He might have to shoulder a bigger load in San Fran with DeForest Buckner now in Indy, but Bosa will likely be up to the task as one of the best young pass-rushers in football. He's an easy top-10 defensive line target in IDP setups.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said on NFL Network's Total Access on Tuesday that playing with quarterback Drew Brees will be similar to his days with Peyton Manning in Denver. "Like I said in '14, that's wide receiver heaven. To be back in the situation with another Hall of Fame quarterback and trying to do something special and win a Super Bowl, I'm all in. Truthfully, I'm blessed to be in this position that I'm in right now," Sanders said. He had 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in his first year with Manning in Denver, and he had over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons with the Broncos. He might not return to those glory days, but Sanders can be a reliable and cheap WR3 for fantasy owners in the Big Easy if he can stay healthy.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Trent Taylor (foot) has been sprinting, cutting and catching passes from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo while the team waits for the green light to return to their practice facilities. Taylor missed all of 2019 with a foot injury, but he's been part of a group of receivers running routes for Garoppolo in the Bay Area in recent weeks. Others include Jalen Hurd, Shawn Poindexter, Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. Despite missing all of last year, Taylor could be the team's slot man if he proves his health this summer. While he might not be quite ready for football action at the moment, there's still time for him to get up to speed. He'll be a post-injury sleeper late in deep PPR leagues.
The New York Giants have fewer concerns on the offensive line than most teams but will enter training camp with one glaring question mark, the man snapping to franchise quarterbackDaniel Jones. Experience favors 27-year-old Spencer Pulley, who has started 26 NFL games, including nine with New York in 2018. Other candidates include the 6-foot-6, 318-pound Nick Gates and rookie Shane Lemieux. Gates has the size but has mostly played tackle in his career, and Lemieux was exclusively a left guard at Oregon. Given that Jones is learning a new offense, it would make sense not to stick the sophomore QB behind an inexperienced center, but the players will battle for the job in training camp. Whoever wins the job will join one of the better guard tandems in the NFL along with fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas and veteran Nate Solder. The center position could make or break a line that has the potential to be great for Jones and running backSaquon Barkley.
Tennessee Titans linebackers coach Shane Bowen said that linebacker Harold Landry played too many snaps last season and that he needs to do a better job of watching Landry's snap count in 2020 in order to get the biggest bang for the buck. A second-round pick by the Titans in 2018, Landry has 13.5 sacks, 112 tackles (67 solo), one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 31 games. He's been plenty productive, but it sounds like the Titans would prefer to use him less often, which could actually make him even more productive when he is on the field. The soon-to-be 24-year-old won't be on the IDP radar, but he's an outside linebacker to keep an eye on.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner isn't worried about how many carries he gets heading into the 2020 season. Head coach Mike Tomlin has historically leaned heavily on a single back during his time in Pittsburgh but there have been some questions as to whether he will do so in 2020 considering Conner's injury history. Conner told reporters that he expects the Steelers to run the ball better this upcoming season. "We need to establish our run game first and foremost," he told reporters. Conner will open the season as the team's No. 1 running back and he could wind up as a value in fantasy drafts if he's able to turn in a full 16-game season.
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith provided immediate returns after the Packers signed him to a lucrative free-agent deal before the 2019 season. He pressured the quarterback on 19.4 percent of pass rushes when lined up on the interior, which was the highest rate among all defenders rushing from the interior with a minimum of 100 interior pass rushes. Smith finished second overall in pressure percentage at 14.8 percent, trailing only Myles Garrett. Smith and defensive tackle Kenny Clark combined for 120 QB pressures in 2019, the most by any pass-rushing duo in the league. He had a career-high 13.5 sacks last year and 8.5 the year before, but he leaves a lot to be desired from an IDP standpoint because he's not as strong against the run and doesn't rack up many tackles.
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett played in just 10 games last year because of a suspension, but when he was on the field he was the league's most efficient disruptor with a league-high disruption rate of 18.5 percent. The Browns had a 32.9 percent pressure rate with Garrett on the field, but without him, that number dropped to 21.5 percent. He had a pressure on 17.1 percent of dropbacks in 2019, which was the highest percentage since 2016. Garrett is one of just three players (Aaron Donald and Von Miller are the others) to post a pressure rate of 12 percent or higher in each of the last three years. The former No. 1 overall pick is a top-five IDP target at the defensive line position.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons under two different offensive coordinators, thinks new coordinator Pat Shurmur's offense fits him even better. "I just think that it's what fits my style, and I've been able to adapt to every style, but I think that this style right here is something that is going to fit me, kind of like how my rookie year was. I'm excited about that," Lindsay said. However, the Broncos added Melvin Gordon III in free agency and believe that he also fits their offensive scheme very well. Lindsay had offseason wrist surgery but said is fully healthy. He'll be motivated whenever the team is allowed to practice together. He'll have a role in this offense as a 1B to Gordon's 1A, but his fantasy stock has fallen because of Gordon's addition. Target Lindsay as a low-end RB3/flex.
Former Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly is considering a role in the Panthers' front office as a professional scout.
Free-agent defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had reached an agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Houston Texans, but the two sides have agreed to part ways and Jernigan is not expected to sign with the team, according to sources informed of the situation. Jernigan didn't take a physical with the Texans and isn't expected to do so. He was previously cleared by spinal specialist Robert Watkins after playing in just 13 games in the last two seasons due to neck and foot injuries. A second-round pick of the Ravens in 2014, the 27-year-old had his best season in Baltimore in 2016, recording five sacks, 31 combined tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. He'll look for another one-year deal on the open market now that he's parted ways with Houston.