Ravens Rumors

Mark Andrews To Undergo Surgery; Ravens TE Has Outside Chance To Return In 2023

NOVEMBER 21: Andrews will end up undergoing surgery, with NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo indicating that operation will take place Tuesday in Charlotte. The sixth-year tight end missing the rest of the season remains the most likely scenario, though Garafolo adds he still may have an outside chance to come back if the Ravens make a deep playoff run.

NOVEMBER 20: Thursday night’s AFC North matchup cost the Bengals their quarterback and sidelined the Ravens’ top pass catcher as well. Baltimore, however, is not giving up on Mark Andrews playing again this season.

Although Andrews suffered ligament damage and a cracked fibula, John Harbaugh said Monday the injury is not as a bad as initially feared. Pointing to the damage being cleaner than expected, the 16th-year Ravens HC said (via The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec) an outside chance exists Andrews will be able to return this season.

An Andrews return would not be in play until the playoffs, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport adds a deep playoff run may be required for an Andrews comeback to commence. But Andrews having a potential reentry point represents positive news for the AFC North-leading team. Andrews will meet with foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson this week, per Harbaugh. That will provide more clarity on the potential return window. Until that appointment, however, Harbaugh is limiting optimism here, per ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley.

Andrews, 28, has never missed more than two games in a season. That run of relatively good health will test the Ravens in a different way moving forward. The team has second-year cog Isaiah Likely in place as its top pass-catching tight end beyond Andrews, but perhaps more importantly, its cadre of wide receivers is healthy as well. The team has seen Zay Flowers become an impact rookie, and Odell Beckham Jr. has showed improvement in recent weeks. Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor are available, with each scoring a touchdown in the Ravens’ Week 11 win over the Bengals. Lamar Jackson will likely need to lean on his deeper collection of wideouts during Andrews’ lengthy upcoming absence.

The 49ers found themselves in a similar situation last year, with Jimmy Garoppolo having an outside chance to come back from his early-December Jones fracture. The injuries are obviously not the same, but San Francisco did not move its then-starter to IR in an effort to keep that scenario on the table. Last year’s 49ers were in worse shape in terms of IR activations compared to these Ravens, who have five remaining. The team hopes David Ojabo will represent one such activation, but it should be expected Andrews will be placed on IR. A return would, then, require an activation.

Becoming a top-tier tight end early in his career, Andrews has been Jackson’s lead target for most of the former MVP’s run as the Ravens’ starter. The former third-round pick has a 1,300-yard season under his belt, and that came during a 2021 campaign in which Jackson did not finish. Even after Andrews missed Week 1 and went down early in Week 11, his 544 receiving yards per game are third among tight ends this season — behind only T.J. Hockenson and Travis Kelce. It is a near-certainty Andrews will not add to that total this season, but with more than two months until the divisional round, a door is open to playoff contributions taking place.

Poll: Who Will Win NFL MVP Award?

Through 11 weeks, this NFL season has not produced an MVP favorite. Oddsmakers have slotted a number of usual suspects as frontrunners, but the stretch run will be important to generating a lead candidate.

No non-quarterback has won this award since Adrian Peterson‘s 2,097-yard rushing season edged Peyton Manning‘s Broncos debut in 2012, though J.J. Watt did finish second in voting in 2014. A quarterback will be expected to claim the honors this season, but that player has not declared himself just yet.

Two of the favorites faced off Monday night, with Jalen Hurts‘ Eagles besting the Chiefs in a Super Bowl LVII rematch. The Chiefs stifled Hurts for much of Philadelphia’s 21-17 win, but the dual-threat passer came through late. He is also the quarterback on the NFL’s only one-loss team. Hurts would have represented a strong MVP challenger to Patrick Mahomes last year, but a late-season shoulder injury led to the Chiefs superstar pulling away. QBR ranks the Super Bowl LVII QBs fifth and sixth, respectively, with Mahomes slipping to No. 5 after Kansas City’s loss.

After Hurts’ breakthrough 2022, the Eagles gave the fourth-year QB a then-record five-year, $255MM extension — one that set the market for Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow. Hurts has accounted for 24 touchdowns — nine on the ground, as he makes a case as the most unstoppable short-yardage QB rusher in NFL history — and has upped his completion percentage (68.5) from 2022.

Mahomes responded to the Tyreek Hill trade by notching the first MVP-Super Bowl MVP since Kurt Warner in 1999, and the Chiefs updated his contract to fall in line with the market Hurts helped set. Kansas City, however, has seen its oft-questioned wide receiver setup play a big role in both its home losses this year. Mahomes ranks 20th in yards per attempt, at 6.9; he cleared eight in each of his two MVP campaigns. With Travis Kelce in his age-34 season, will the seventh-year QB be able to overcome a suspect receiver setup?

Brock Purdy is leading the NFL (by a wide margin, at 9.7) in yards per attempt. After a midseason slump, Purdy has put together two strong games. He accomplished the 49ers’ first perfect passer rating in a game since 1989. Last year’s Mr. Irrelevant has been a revelation for the 49ers, who have his seventh-round contract on the books through 2025. Purdy also leads the league in QBR, providing an efficient season while blessed with an elite skill-position corps. Although this skill group could end up working against Purdy, he would become the most unlikely MVP since Warner.

No. 2 in QBR, Dak Prescott has put together a strong stretch since the Cowboys endured a blowout loss in San Francisco. After four straight one-touchdown showings, the eighth-year Cowboys starter has 13 TD tosses over his past four games. At this pace, the 30-year-old passer will be in position for another monster contract. With the franchise tag off the table and a $59MM cap hit awaiting in his 2024 contract year, Prescott is in one of the most player-friendly extension positions in league history.

Jackson sits ninth in QBR but has the Ravens perched as the AFC’s top seed for the time being. Given a $52MM-per-year deal that differed from his peers’ 2023 re-ups — in that it contains no extra years of control due to it coming after a Ravens franchise tag — Jackson is still operating a run-oriented offense. His 12 touchdown passes rank 16th, though his yards per attempt (8.1) and completion rate (69.5) figures are in the top six. Among this year’s contenders, Jackson joins Mahomes as the only former MVPs.

No rookie has claimed this award since Jim Brown in 1957, but this particular season does keep the door slightly ajar for C.J. Stroud. Almost no one expected the Texans to be in the playoff race, and the team sweeping the Jaguars would move an AFC South title closer to reality. Stroud has run away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, doing so despite numerous O-line injuries. The No. 2 overall pick’s 2,962 passing yards sit second, but QBR places the Ohio State product 12th. Stroud’s three-INT game against the Cardinals hurt his cause, but the Houston rookie still has some time to make a historic push.

While Jared Goff (seventh in QBR) was once the throw-in in a trade that keyed a Matthew Stafford-led Rams Super Bowl charge, the Lions are 8-2 for the first time in 61 years. Detroit is 1-2 against teams with winning records, but a favorable schedule down the stretch stands to allow Goff — in Year 2 with OC Ben Johnson running the show — to make a case. The Lions ending up with home-field advantage in the NFC would obviously strengthen the former No. 1 overall pick’s cause. Regardless, the 29-year-old QB has moved into position for a lucrative Lions extension.

How the AFC East plays out stands to produce a contender. Although Josh Allen‘s turnover issues helped lead the Bills to fire OC Ken Dorsey, the sixth-year superstar leads the NFL with 22 TD passes (while pacing the league with 12 picks) while adding seven more scores on the ground. Tua Tagovailoa ranks just 10th in QBR — six spots behind Allen — and the Dolphins have fallen short in matchups against the Bills, Chiefs and Eagles. That said, the Bills have five losses to the Dolphins’ three. Miami first-place scoring ranking will obviously benefit its ascending passer, though Tua could conceivably split votes with Hill.

No wide receiver has ever won MVP acclaim, and Hill’s off-field history will not help his case. But his impact on the Dolphins has been undeniable. The former Chiefs speed merchant has changed Tagovailoa’s career trajectory, and the eighth-year wideout leads the NFL with 1,222 receiving yards — in front by 209 — despite the Dolphins already resting during a bye week. While Jerry Rice and Calvin Johnson could not parlay their receiving yardage records into MVP honors — respectively losing out to Emmitt Smith (1995) and Peterson (2012) — this QB pace persisting would stand to keep Hill going. Christian McCaffrey also makes sense as a candidate. His midseason 2022 arrival catalyzed the 49ers, and despite missing a game, the ex-Panthers extension recipient leads the NFL with 825 rushing yards. No other RB has posted more than 700, and this would obviously be an interesting year to see a running back emerge as a true MVP candidate.

Could this be the year a defender sneaks through? Only Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor have done so, but with no QB residing as a clear frontrunner, is a door ajar for Myles Garrett or T.J. Watt powering offensively limited teams? Is there an off-grid player who shapes up as a late-season threat? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on the race in the comments section.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/20/23

Today’s practice squad moves:

Atlanta Falcons

  • Activated from IR: TE Parker Hesse
  • Placed on IR: RB Jacob Saylors

Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Signed: QB Drew Plitt
  • Placed on IR: G Jaxson Kirkland

Cleveland Browns

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

New Orleans Saints

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

With Mark Andrews sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Ravens have added some tight end depth. The team ended up opting for Scotty Washington, who got into one game with the Patriots as a rookie in 2022. The Wake Forest product was one of several tight ends to work out for Baltimore today, with the group also featuring O.J. Howard, Connor Davis, and Chris Myarick (per Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 in Houston).

While Michael Thomas recovers from a knee injury, the Saints are turning to a familiar face. Marquez Callaway is back with the Saints after bouncing around the NFL in 2023. The wideout wasn’t re-signed by the Saints following the 2022 campaign, and he’s since spent time with the Broncos and Raiders. The former UDFA spent the first three seasons of his career in New Orleans, hauling in 83 catches for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns.

Eric Rowe has found a new home after getting cut by the Panthers practice squad back in September. Rowe earned a pair of Super Bowl rings during his three-year stint in New England, and he followed that up with a three-year stint in Miami. Rowe got into 14 games (six starts) for the Dolphins in 2022, finishing with 56 tackles and two sacks.

Ravens Not Expecting Mark Andrews To Return This Season

2:48pm: An MRI has revealed a cracked fibula in addition to the ankle ligament damage, Rapoport tweets. With a slightly clearer picture, Andrews is still unlikely to play again in 2023, though further information will be gathered soon. Rapoport adds the Ravens will meet with Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte next week to devise a firm course of action. More will likely be known then regarding a recovery timeline.

8:21am: The early-game injury Mark Andrews sustained Thursday night is expected to result in the Pro Bowl tight end missing the rest of the season, according to John Harbaugh.

Andrews is believed to have suffered a high ankle sprain and more damage, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (video link). This will be new territory for the Ravens, who have relied on Andrews throughout the Lamar Jackson era. The former third-round pick has never previously missed more than two games in a season.

A hip-drop tackle from Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson left Andrews in pain after a first-quarter reception. The Ravens quickly ruled Andrews out during a game that featured high-profile injuries. The extent of Joe Burrow‘s wrist injury is not fully known, while Jackson returned to action after a Wilson tackle led him into the medical tent. Despite the Ravens pulling away against a Jake Browning-dependent Bengals outfit, they came out of the Week 11 divisional matchup worse off.

Andrews is set for an MRI on Friday morning. This purely being a high ankle sprain would not stand to end Andrews’ season, but the potential ligament damage here resides as the chief concern. Andrews is not currently leading the Ravens in receiving yards, which marks a change from the norm. Zay Flowers exited Week 11 with 588, but Andrews (544, six TDs) has proven indispensable during Jackson’s tenure. As the team has struggled to identify steady receiving talent in recent years, Andrews morphing from a No. 86 overall pick into one of the NFL’s best tight ends has been pivotal for Jackson’s growth as a passer.

The Ravens have Isaiah Likely and fellow 2022 fourth-rounder Charlie Kolar as Andrews backups. Andrews, 28, is attached to a four-year, $56MM extension he signed during his dominant 2021 season. That deal runs through 2025. Flashing immediate potential, Likely finished with 36 receptions for 373 receiving yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. The Coastal Carolina alum is poised to step in as the Ravens’ lead receiving tight end moving forward.

Choosing Andrews two rounds after picking Hayden Hurst in 2018, the Ravens quickly determined the Oklahoma product had considerable potential. The Ravens later traded Hurst to the Falcons, but Andrews had already taken off as the team’s top option by that point. Breaking through with a 10-touchdown campaign during Jackson’s superstar turn in 2019, Andrews has three Pro Bowls on his resume. He led all tight ends with 1,361 yards in 2021, doing so despite Jackson missing a chunk of that season.

Andrews has not always led the Ravens in receiving yardage during his career, with Marquise Brown doing so twice, but there has not been any doubt as to the team’s most important pass catcher. The Ravens have chosen three first-round wideouts since drafting Andrews while throwing free agency resources at the position. Jackson has shown a steady rapport with Andrews, with the standout QB’s immediate dejection upon seeing the sixth-year tight end go down an ominous sign of the ensuing fallout. Baltimore’s wide receivers will now become a bigger part of the division-leading team’s equation.

The Ravens have assembled a deeper receiving corps compared to recent years, signing both Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor and then using their first-round pick on Flowers. The Boston College product appears to be a hit, and the team still has 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman available. Bateman has battled injuries throughout his career and was on the shelf with a season-ending foot injury at this time last year. All four of Baltimore’s top wideouts are healthy at this point; that will be critical in the Ravens’ quest to win their first division title since 2019.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/16/23

Here are Thursday’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Waived from reserve/retired list: LB Myles Jack
  • Waived from reserve/suspended list: T Bernard Williams

The Bengals are without Tee Higgins for a second straight game. They added two wideouts to their active roster and are using their first injury activation this season, bringing Jones back after an IR stay. Cincinnati placed Jones on IR in late September due to a thumb injury. A fourth-round rookie who played at three Division I-FBS schools (Buffalo, Iowa, Purdue), Jones worked as the Bengals’ punt returner early this season. The Day 3 rookie made an early impact, already notching a return touchdown in his three-game work sample.

Chicago added Evans in October, doing so just after Khalil Herbert sustained an injury that required an IR stint. With Roschon Johnson also missing two games due to a concussion, Evans saw increased work behind D’Onta Foreman in the Bears’ depleted backfield. With Johnson back, Evans has seen just six offensive snaps in each of the past two games. This cut looks to lay the groundwork for the Bears activating Herbert soon. On IR due to a high ankle sprain, Herbert would represent the Bears’ final injury activation this season. They would be the first team this year to use all eight.

A productive player in Jacksonville, Jack spent last season in Pittsburgh before being released in March. The Eagles took a flier on the former second-round pick during training camp, signing both he and Zach Cunningham. While Cunningham has managed to move from a months-long free agency stay to a Philadelphia starter, Jack opted to retire in August. Were the UCLA alum to continue his career, the Eagles no longer hold his rights.

In a strange bookkeeping transaction, the Eagles also removed their 1994 first-round pick from the reserve/suspended list. Philly used Williams as a 16-game starter in 1994, when he protected QBs Randall Cunningham and Rodney Peete in Rich Kotite‘s final season as HC. A 1995 drug suspension led to Williams’ career ending.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/14/23

Today’s practice squad transactions:

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Denver Broncos

  • Released: CB Reese Taylor

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

  • Signed: LB Austin Ajiake

Houston Texans

Los Angeles Chargers

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ravens Sign OL Josh Wells To Practice Squad

It initially appeared Josh Wells‘ gateway to a 10th NFL season would be in Jacksonville. The veteran offensive lineman signed with his initial NFL team back in April, but that partnership did not last too far beyond training camp.

The Jaguars placed Wells on IR in August, preventing him from suiting up for them this season. But a September injury settlement led Wells off Jacksonville’s IR list and back into free agency. On Tuesday, he agreed to terms with the Ravens on a practice squad deal. This came after a workout, KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson tweets.

The Ravens have dealt with some injury trouble on the offensive line as of late. Right tackle Morgan Moses has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, though he logged a full practice Monday. Ronnie Stanley left the Ravens-Browns matchup with a knee injury and did not return. The longtime left tackle did not practice Monday. Considering Stanley’s history with knee trouble and the Ravens readying for a Thursday-night Bengals tilt, they are bringing in a veteran reinforcement.

Wells, 32, has primarily worked as a swing tackle throughout his career. The James Madison alum spent the past four seasons backing up Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs in Tampa. Wells made 15 starts with the Buccaneers, including seven last season. He started in the Bucs’ 2021 divisional-round matchup against the Rams, filling in for an injured Wirfs at right tackle. A 2014 Jags UDFA, Wells made nine starts with his first NFL employer before moving on and joining the Bucs in Bruce Arians’ first offseason in Tampa.

To make room on the practice squad, the Ravens released veteran tight end Eric Tomlinson. Spending parts of the 2020 and ’21 seasons in Baltimore, Tomlinson rejoined the team this offseason. After playing regularly in Denver last season, the seven-year vet has not seen action this season.

Week 14 Injured Reserve Return Tracker

After a 2022 rule change, teams can activate up to eight players from injured reserve. That has reintroduced some strategy into how franchises proceed with their activations, and teams will again need to be cognizant of their activation counts in 2023.

The NFL had reintroduced IR-return options in the 2010s, after a period in which an IR move meant a player’s season was over. But the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the league to loosen restrictions on IR from 2020-21. Teams were permitted to use unlimited activations to start the decade, but roster math is again a consideration.

Players who land on IR after cutdown day must miss at least four games. Once a team designates a player for return, the activation clock starts. Clubs have 21 days from a player’s return-to-practice date to activate that player. If no activation commences in that window, the player reverts to season-ending IR.

Here is how the NFL’s IR situations look for Week 14:

Arizona Cardinals

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Atlanta Falcons

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 8

Baltimore Ravens

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Buffalo Bills

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 7

Carolina Panthers

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 3

Chicago Bears

Activations remaining: 0

Cincinnati Bengals

Eligible for activation: none

Activations remaining: 6

Cleveland Browns

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Dallas Cowboys

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 7

Denver Broncos

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Detroit Lions

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Green Bay Packers

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation: 

Activations remaining: 7

Houston Texans

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 1

Indianapolis Colts

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 8

Jacksonville Jaguars

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Kansas City Chiefs

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 7

Las Vegas Raiders

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Los Angeles Chargers

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 8

Los Angeles Rams

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 2

Miami Dolphins

Designated for return: 

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 2

Minnesota Vikings

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 4

New England Patriots

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

New Orleans Saints

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

New York Giants

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

New York Jets

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 4

Philadelphia Eagles

Reverted to season-ending IR:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Pittsburgh Steelers

Eligible for activation: none

Activations remaining: 4

San Francisco 49ers

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Seattle Seahawks

Designated for return:

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eligible for activation: none

Activations remaining: 7

Tennessee Titans

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 6

Washington Commanders

Eligible for activation:

Activations remaining: 5

Poll: Who Will Win AFC North?

Divisions have produced four playoff teams previously. The 1994 NFC Central sent every team but the Buccaneers to the postseason, while the 1998 AFC East moved every team but the Colts — in Peyton Manning‘s rookie season — into that year’s playoff field. (The NFC Central also accomplished this in 1982, but eight teams made each conference’s field due to the strike-induced format change.) The NFL realigning its divisions, killing the five-team divisional setup, in 2002 made it impossible for four teams in one quartet to venture to the playoffs. The 2020 expansion to a 14-team postseason field, however, reopened that door.

Entering Week 10, the AFC’s seven-team “if the season ended today” field would consist of the division-leading Chiefs, Jaguars and Dolphins, along with the fourth North-division clubs. No other division features more than two teams with winning records; the AFC North carries four. This is shaping up to be one of the most interesting divisional stretch runs in modern NFL history.

The Ravens lead the way at 7-2 and hold a runaway DVOA lead on the rest of the NFL. Baltimore’s defense leads the league in points allowed and paces the NFL in sacks — by four — with 35. The Ravens’ summer additions of Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy have paid dividends. Clowney’s 11 QB hits trail only Justin Madubuike‘s 14, while Van Noy now has at least five sacks in six of the past seven seasons. The veteran linebacker has managed to get there despite being signed in late September. Van Noy, 32, is on a one-year, $1.6MM deal; Clowney, 30, signed for one year and $2.5MM. The team’s $20MM-per-year Roquan Smith extension is paying off early; Pro Football Focus ranks the ex-Bears top-10 pick fourth among off-ball linebackers.

QBR slots Lamar Jackson 11th, and the Ravens remain a run-oriented team. Though, Jackson is operating efficiently in Todd Monken‘s offense. The team’s remaining schedule resides as the NFL’s second-toughest — in part because of the AFC North games remaining — though the squad with the hardest slate remaining may be the Ravens’ top competitor for this hotly contested crown.

Joe Burrow‘s return to full strength has reinvigorated the Bengals, who made the fourth-year passer the NFL’s highest-paid player. After the Ravens and Chargers incrementally moved the AAV bar following the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts extension, the Bengals slid it to $55MM for Burrow. The superstar passer is back in form, leading Cincinnati to four straight wins. The Bengals (5-3) have now downed the 49ers and Bills on the road, but Tankathon slots their remaining schedule as by far the most difficult. Trips to Kansas City and Jacksonville remain, but the two-time reigning AFC North champs are surging at midseason, aiming to turn another 0-2 start into a playoff home game.

Moving forward without Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, the Bengals have not seen their safety setup match Bates’ Falcons work. Then again, the team was not exactly expecting that, given Bates’ talent and $16MM-per-year price tag. Cincinnati keeping its linebacker tandem (Logan WilsonGermaine Pratt) together has provided considerable help, though the team continues to run into injury trouble on offense. The Bengals faced the Ravens during Burrow’s early-season health issue, losing at home and raising the stakes for the sides’ Thursday-night tilt in Week 11.

The most notable improvement by an AFC North unit comes in Cleveland, where the Jim Schwartz DC hire is looking like one of the best assistant additions in recent memory. The Browns have gone from a miscommunication-plagued defense to one that is producing dominant efforts. The Browns held the Cardinals to 57 total yards, the team’s fewest since 1955, and has seen Myles Garrett (9.5 sacks) become a Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner (and surefire candidate for a market-setting second extension). Offseason adds Za’Darius Smith and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo have boosted the Browns as well, and Cleveland’s elite pass defense led to the 5-3 mark amid the Deshaun Watson shoulder saga.

The highly paid quarterback returned in Week 9 but has still not closely resembled his Houston version, with the off-field issues that produced a historic hiatus still impacting the former Pro Bowler’s trajectory. As the Browns’ defense leads the NFL in DVOA, its offense ranks 28th. Watson’s rotator cuff issue will be a key divisional subplot, and the team seeing both tackles join Nick Chubb on IR will make matters tougher. But Cleveland’s defense is providing a strong safety net thus far.

Also 5-3, the Steelers rank 14th in DVOA. Punching-bag OC Matt Canada continues to draw heat, with Pittsburgh’s defense also carrying an inconsistent offense. The Steelers have notched home wins over the Browns and Ravens — even as their streak without 400 total yards has reached 56 games. Kenny Pickett sits 27th in QBR, but the team has been without Pat Freiermuth and Diontae Johnson for chunks of the season. That has not stopped calls for Canada’s ouster, as the 2022 first-round QB’s work down the stretch will help determine how the Steelers see the Pitt product in the long term.

T.J. Watt has stayed healthy this season, and the Watt-Alex Highsmith duo remains one of the NFL’s best. The now-well-paid pair, with Highsmith signed to a $17MM-AAV extension, has combined for 14 sacks and 31 QB hits. PFF does rate 33-year-old Patrick Peterson and holdover Levi Wallace outside the top 90 among cornerbacks, with Joey Porter Jr. sitting 25th despite not starting for the season’s first six games. Cole Holcomb‘s season-ending injury, and Minkah Fitzpatrick‘s hamstring trouble stand to be issues to monitor for this defense, however.

Who will end up winning this captivating race? The Bengals and Steelers still have four divisional games left, the Browns and Ravens three. How many playoff teams will this division produce? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Updated 2024 NFL Draft Order

Yesterday’s Panthers-Bears game carried signficant draft implications, as many noted in the build-up to the primetime matchup. With Carolina having dealt its 2024 first-round pick to Chicago as part of the deal involving last year’s No. 1 selection, the Bears were able to boost their chances of picking first in April with a win.

Owning the top selection in a draft touted for having multiple high-end options at the quarterback spot would of course add further to the speculation surrounding Justin Fields. The Bears gave the 24-year-old a vote of confidence last spring by trading out of the No. 1 slot, but he has yet to develop as hoped this season. Chicago could opt for a fresh start under center (particularly if they declined Fields’ fifth-year option) this spring while also having the opportunity to add help elsewhere on the roster with their own first-rounder, which seems destined to fall within the top 10 or perhaps even top five selections.

Of course, teams like the Giants, Cardinals and Patriots have experienced signficant troubles of their own this year. A continuation of their first half performances could leave them in pole position for the Caleb WilliamsDrake Maye sweepstakes. All three teams face potential uncertainty with respect to their current passers’ futures, despite each having term remaining on their respective contracts.

For non-playoff teams, the draft order will be determined by the inverted 2024 standings — plus a series of tiebreakers, starting with strength of schedule — with playoff squads being slotted by their postseason outcome and regular-season record. With plenty still to be sorted out over the coming months, here is an early look at the current draft order:

  1. Chicago Bears (via Panthers)
  2. Arizona Cardinals: 1-8
  3. New York Giants: 2-7
  4. New England Patriots: 2-7
  5. Chicago Bears: 3-7
  6. Los Angeles Rams: 3-6
  7. Green Bay Packers: 3-5
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3-5
  9. Denver Broncos: 3-5
  10. Tennessee Titans: 3-5
  11. Atlanta Falcons: 4-5
  12. Washington Commanders: 4-5
  13. Indianapolis Colts: 4-5
  14. Las Vegas Raiders: 4-5
  15. Arizona Cardinals (via Texans)
  16. New York Jets: 4-4
  17. Los Angeles Chargers: 4-4
  18. Buffalo Bills: 5-4
  19. New Orleans Saints: 5-4
  20. Minnesota Vikings: 5-4
  21. Dallas Cowboys: 5-3
  22. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-3
  23. Houston Texans (via Browns)
  24. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-3
  25. Seattle Seahawks: 5-3
  26. San Francisco 49ers: 5-3
  27. Miami Dolphins: 6-3
  28. Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-2
  29. Detroit Lions: 6-2
  30. Baltimore Ravens: 7-2
  31. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-2
  32. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-1