PFR Polls

Poll: Who Will Be First Non-QB Selected?

Quarterbacks are dominating this year’s draft discussion even more than the NFL’s marquee position’s prospects usually do. With the possibility of four signal-callers going in the top five, it opens the door for a wide variety of scenarios.

But with this many passers projected to go high, teams that either do not need a quarterback (this would include the Browns at No. 4, if they keep their pick) — or franchises on the fence about selecting one in the top five (see: Giants, Broncos) — could find themselves in position to land an impact talent that may not have been available to them in another year.

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about the top non-QB in this draft, either. Players like Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson are high on draft boards. Denzel Ward may be as well, with Roquan Smith having visited teams holding top-10 picks. So, who goes first?

Chubb and Barkley have made the most noise here, with the latest coming out of the Big Apple aligning the Giants with the Penn State running back. Viewed as a superior talent when compared to recent No. 4 overall choices Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette, Barkley has been connected to the Giants at No. 2 and the Browns at No. 4. Although the Browns are not expected to bypass a quarterback at No. 1, Barkley’s name is the one mentioned as a possibility for Cleveland at No. 1 that isn’t a QB. And there may or may not be an issue with a Barkley-to-Cleveland scenario.

Viable running backs are obviously easier to obtain in later rounds than pass-rushing talent, and Chubb has visited the Giants and drawn praise from Hue Jackson as a possible No. 4 overall selection. James Bettcher doesn’t see a problem fitting the N.C. State defensive end into his 3-4 scheme at outside linebacker, and edge rushers are much more valuable commodities than running backs.

Nelson is reportedly a top-three player on the Giants’ board, and Dave Gettleman has not made it a secret he wants an offensive line metamorphosis to take place under his watch. Nelson’s been tabbed a prospect on the Zack Martin tier. Should a quarterback rush occur ahead of them, the Broncos are also in need of a guard. Buzz about a Broncos/Nelson union has emerged, with Ward — the latest high-end cornerback Ohio State has developed — on that level as of late as well.

The Notre Dame-trained blocker being the first non-passer selected would be a massive change of direction. This century, only one team — the 2015 Redskins — took a guard in the top five. And Brandon Scherff was viewed as a tackle prospect at the time. Ward would also represent a major upset as the first position player taken as well, but former Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa didn’t receive a ton of buzz to go No. 3 to the Chargers two years ago. And this program has produced some high-caliber corners in recent years, as Bradley Roby and Marshon Lattimore have shown.

Who will even make this pick? The Giants have visited with each of the top quarterbacks and have been mentioned as Sam Darnold fans for a while, so it’s not certain they’ll be making this pick. If the Browns take Josh Allen at No. 1 and trade their No. 4 pick to the Bills, the Broncos could be thrust into this role at No. 5.

So, which one of these prospects will hear his name called first? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Should Broncos Draft A QB At No. 5?

Having missed the playoffs the past two seasons largely because of quarterback play, the Broncos face one of the draft’s most interesting decisions. Do they attempt to use their rare top-five real estate to invest in the kind of quarterback not usually available to them, or do they try to help Case Keenum this season with a best-player-available choice?

While the 2016 Eagles and 2017 Bears used a top-five pick on a quarterback despite having authorized a starter-level contract earlier in those years, the Broncos are operating on a different timeline since the cornerstone players on their team are the veterans held over from their Super Bowl team three seasons ago.

It would help the Von Miller-, Chris Harris– and Demaryius Thomas-fronted contingent this season if Keenum’s breakout 2017 was legitimate and not a product of what he was working with in Minnesota. The Broncos receiving improved quarterback play and selecting an instant starter/early contributor at No. 5 overall would help their veteran group. But Keenum’s pre-Minnesota career makes it difficult to judge what the Broncos are getting.

Of the players potentially worthy of this pick, only Quenton Nelson would qualify as filling a dire Denver need, but Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley or even Denzel Ward would be an improvement for a team that could use additional talent to help climb back to AFC contention.

However, if Keenum is merely a modest upgrade from Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, thus a placeholder rather than a long-term answer, it may look bad if the Broncos bypassed Josh Rosen or possibly Baker Mayfield because they signed a journeyman quarterback instead. Previously pegged as Rosen fans earlier in this pre-draft process, the Broncos may now have eyes for Mayfield. But so do the Jets, it appears.

Broncos trade-down noise emerged this week, and that would give the franchise better odds at landing multiple 2018 starters in this draft. Denver’s only held a top-five pick twice in the past 35 years (2011 and 1991), and depending on how the Giants proceed at No. 2, the Broncos could have a chance to take the best or second-best non-QB in the draft. That would help a veteran team.

However, being the Bills’ or another team’s vehicle to trade into the top five could as well. Although, it’s possible teams will see the Giants’ pick or the Browns’ No. 4 spot as better trade-up targets rather than the Broncos’ slot. If the pre-draft buzz is an accurate indication, a team considering a trade-up decision may only have Rosen on the board to target by the time the Broncos pick. If just one quarterback is there at 5, Denver’s leverage shrinks.

Keenum’s contract guarantees him $25MM over the next two years. That’s $6MM more than the Bears guaranteed Mike Glennon but $1MM less than the Eagles guaranteed Sam Bradford. That wouldn’t necessarily stand to prohibit another quarterback addition, although the Broncos — with Paxton Lynch, who has made just four starts, still on the roster — would join a short list of teams to have selected a first-round passer twice in three years.

But with the Broncos’ core on the verge of the “aging” label, and the team coming off a 5-11 season, they need to come out of this draft much better than they entered it in order to maximize the latter portions of their championship nucleus’ primes.

So, is the best way to do that to select a quarterback at No. 5? Or is the Broncos’ $18MM-AAV investment in Keenum sufficient enough for them to take the best player available? Should John Elway be hoping a team calls with a viable trade offer? Which is the best route for the Broncos? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: What Should Giants Do At No. 2?

With the Browns likely to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft later this month, the attention is now firmly on what the Giants will do with the very next pick.

Just a year ago, the team entered the 2017 season as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII. With the acquisition of veteran pass catcher Brandon Marshall and the core of its standout defense in tact, the team seemed destined to at least challenge for a playoff spot. That, of course, was not the case. Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. suffered season-ending injuries, the defense was not what was expected and the team stumbled to an almost unthinkable 3-13 finish.

Down the stretch, the team even benched longtime quarterback Eli Manning to get a look at Geno Smith. That move seemed to mark the end of Manning’s time in New York, but he is now set to return for his 15th season in the Big Apple. Which puts the team in an interesting spot.

With the No. 2 pick in a draft full of quarterback prospects and a 37-year-old signal-caller at the helm, the logical move would be to snap up a Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield with the pick at let them learn behind a two-time Super Bowl winner.

But the team is hoping that last season was an aberration, and with a new general manager in the fold in Dave Gettleman, the Giants could be looking for a quick rebound in 2018. If that is the route, the team could pounce on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2, similar to how the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 in 2016, and field a formidable offense. 

With the Giants moving to a 3-4 defense in 2018, the team traded longtime defensive end and unlikely scheme fit Jason Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay in the offseason. That seemed to signal a move toward N.C. State pass rusher and near-unanimous top defensive player in the draft Bradley Chubb being the target. Chubb himself is more suited for the 4-3, however, and might not reach his full potential in the scheme.

New York could also look to protect Manning with Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, heralded by most draft pundits as a can’t-miss prospect. If that route came to fruition, Nelson could be the target if the team decided to trade back with another quarterback-hungry team craving the No. 2 spot.

So, what do you think? Should the Giants go after one of the top quarterbacks, take arguably the top player in the draft in Barkley, add a dynamic defender in Chubb, fortify their offensive line with Nelson or stockpile assets with a trade down? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Where Will Baker Mayfield End Up?

The class of quarterbacks for the upcoming draft is one of the most talented in recent memory, but perhaps no quarterback of the group is as polarizing as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

Among other things, Mayfield has been questioned due to some of his on-field conduct last season along, with his height at 6 feet. He was also arrested in February 2017 in Arkansas on charges of public intoxication and fleeing.

The Browns, Giants, Jets, Broncos and Bills will all possibly be looking for quarterback help early in the first round, with other teams who could certainly be added to that list. Mayfield has visits scheduled this month with the Browns, Bills, Chargers, Jets, Giants, Dolphins, Broncos, and Cardinals. It’s already been suggested that the Jets traded up to the No. 3 pick in the draft in order to be in a position to take Mayfield and that they’ll select him if USC’s Sam Darnold is off the board.

While certain measurables don’t favor Mayfield when it comes to a quarterback class that includes Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, none of them really matched the decorated career Mayfield put together at Oklahoma.

So, where do you think the Oklahoma standout is destined to end up in the NFL? Will the Browns go all-in on Mayfield and take him at No. 1, will he be headed to New York with either the Jets, Giants or Bills or might the Broncos make him their quarterback of the future. Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Poll: What Should Browns Do At No. 1?

With Cleveland decision-makers confirming what’s long been rumored this week about the team’s intentions to draft a quarterback with its top pick, it appears relatively safe to assume one of four passing prospects will end up in northeast Ohio next season.

After the Browns traded out of draft slots that ended up sending Carson Wentz to the Eagles and Deshaun Watson to the Texans the past two years, they appear committed to finalizing this extensive research project in the coming weeks. But which of the top QBs should be Cleveland-bound?

Sam Darnold‘s probably been the player most linked to the Browns with their top pick, but Josh Allen continues to lurk as well. And the team’s interest in Baker Mayfield persists. While Josh Rosen has become the member of this quartet least linked to Cleveland, the UCLA talent remains in relative contention here and appears a safe bet to be chosen in the top 10 — if not in the top five.

Darnold did not throw at the Combine but impressed at a rainy pro day in Los Angeles. Although some scouts would prefer he work on a slightly elongated throwing motion, the USC product does not plan to adjust it. He’s long been rumored to go in this draft slot, even before the Browns acquired it, and was much more diplomatic about being sent to Ohio than Rosen.

Hue Jackson mentioned he would prefer the Browns landing a prospect with some mobility to work in the offense alongside Tyrod Taylor. However, John Dorsey wasn’t as committed to that. Rosen would not be a great fit if the Browns sought a mobile passer, and in being viewed as perhaps the readiest pro, sitting for a full season — as the Browns would like the rookie-to-be to do as Taylor starts — may not match up with his timeline either.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has mocked Allen to Cleveland for months, and Jackson said the Wyoming talent “looks the part.” The Mountain West Conference-honed prodigy also wowed at the Combine with this blend of athleticism and arm strength, and he’s viewed as raw enough that a de facto redshirt season might behoove his development. He seemed intrigued about bucking the trend of bad QB investments in Cleveland.

Not initially viewed to be on the same tier as the other three members of this quartet, Mayfield has seen his stock climb steadily this offseason. The Heisman Trophy recipient, amid fighting off Johnny Manziel comparisons, is coming off a “great” workout with the Browns recently. He’s been linked to Cleveland consistently, particularly with Browns consultant Scot McCloughan being a staunch Mayfield proponent, but could also be available if the Browns decide to take an unconventional route and hold off their quarterback pick until No. 4.

While that’s not expected, Jackson has offered effusive Bradley Chubb praise. And it’s not certain the N.C. State pass rusher will make it past the Giants at No. 2. Saquon Barkley is listed atop many prospect lists, but no running back has gone No. 1 since Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. And the Browns just signed Carlos Hyde. It’s not out of the question Cleveland trades the No. 1 pick, but after what’s transpired the past two years regarding this franchise and quarterbacks, that seems unlikely.

So, which one of the passers should soon expect to look for Ohio real estate? Is Allen’s upside too tantalizing to ignore? Does the apparent clubhouse leader Darnold represent the best combination of talent and intangibles to go No. 1? Is Mayfield worthy of this pick? Or is it possible the Browns are ready to pull another unexpected maneuver and either trade the pick or select a non-quarterback? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Will Sign Kirk Cousins?

With less than a month until free agency begins, Kirk Cousins looks to be — barring an 11th-hour Redskins franchise tag he would fight — close to signing a long-term contract with the team of his choice.

It’s an incredibly unique situation, and teams with disparate profiles figure to make runs at signing the 29-year-old quarterback. Rebuilding teams, contending teams and operations that would seemingly be contenders if supplied a quarterback are going to pursue Cousins. So, where will he go?

The Jets and Browns are going to have the most money to chase Cousins, and the former makes sense as a destination. New York surprised many last season by winning five games and finishing well off the pace for the No. 1 pick, which many predicted the rebuilding team would secure. The Jets could have more than $90MM in cap space after a few sensible roster moves, and despite their troubles in recent years, could make a case they are a young team who could build a long-term foundation around Cousins.

Cousins has said repeatedly that after making more than $44MM the past two years he wants to play for a contending team. The Browns, though, have a staggering amount of cap space at $110MM-plus. They could sell a free agent QB on their ability to construct a foundation, but their past does not inspire much confidence. And this, by just about every indication to this point, seems like the year they draft a quarterback.

The Bills made a surprise run to the playoffs last season, but Brandon Beane said upon being hired he doesn’t plan to make many high-cost free agent signings. Considering this figures to be the most expensive free agent in NFL history, it’s difficult to envision a Bills push for Cousins. And Tyrod Taylor may not be completely out of the picture yet.

The Broncos and Cardinals are in similar positions as recent contenders who have fallen off the pace a bit, and neither will have the cap space to outflank the Jets or Browns. Both saw quarterback play lower their ceilings last season, and the Cardinals saw their longtime starter retire and his backups’ contracts expire. Denver has both Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian under contract but has made no secret about wanting to upgrade — via free agency or the draft — with that desire presumably being centered around complementing the core players remaining from the Super Bowl season.

Both the Broncos and Jets are rumored to be gearing up for entrances into the Cousins sweepstakes, and the Bovada sports book has these two as the early frontrunners. However, both the Vikings and Jaguars fit the profile of franchises that could use Cousins as a possible springboard to a Super Bowl. How serious are they about this, though?

The Jaguars may have complications because of Blake Bortles‘ wrist surgery. The embattled starter not being able to pass a physical come mid-March will guarantee his $19MM fifth-year option salary and cloud a potential Cousins pursuit. Jacksonville’s current plan is to keep Bortles, but is a chance at Cousins too tempting to avoid?

The Vikings would make sense as well but may opt to stick with Case Keenum via franchise tag. However, Cousins has proven more than Keenum, and although he would make for a costlier expense, Minnesota being on the doorstep of its first Super Bowl berth in 40-plus years may make ditching their 2017 setup for Cousins a worthwhile gamble. The Vikings do have several core players entering contract years, which could make a near-$30MM-AAV Cousins accord complicated. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter are four who fit that profile. How much will that factor into a Cousins push?

So, where does Cousins end up?

Does he stick to his winning-situation statements and avoid teams who have struggled in recent years, or can the Browns or Jets submit an offer he can’t refuse? Can the Broncos make a sales pitch that their history surrounding a UFA QB with championship-caliber talent would be worth sacrificing a bit of cash, or is their nucleus’ window closing to the point Cousins looks elsewhere? How serious are the Cardinals and Bills in this derby? And how much would the Vikings or Jaguars entering the fray change the outlook of this high-stakes process? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Where Will Case Keenum Play In 2018?

Case Keenum was one of the best stories of the 2017 season. Stepping in for the injured Sam Bradford, Keenum performed at a very high level throughout much of the regular season and guided Minnesota to the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. In the NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Saints, Keenum made up one-half of the Minnesota Miracle that catapulted the Vikings to the NFC title game against the Eagles.

Case Keenum (vertical)

But outside of that remarkable play, which was largely aided by a defensive lapse on the part of the New Orleans secondary, Keenum struggled in the playoffs, and he could not generate any momentum in the team’s 38-7 loss to Philadelphia last week. So, even though we heard just last Sunday that it would be shocking if the Vikings did not put the franchise tag on Keenum this offseason, it may not be so simple.

Indeed, while Keenum could certainly be a late bloomer who finally got a real chance to show what he could do in 2017, the fact remains that he is a career journeyman who will turn 30 in just a couple of weeks. And, since he did put up a couple of clunkers in the regular season to go along with his disappointing playoff performance, it may be hard to convince Minnesota to put the ~$23.3MM tag on him this offseason, let alone sign him to a long-term deal.

On the other hand, there are plenty of teams who are looking for a competent signal-caller, so Keenum could have a number of suitors. The Browns always need a quarterback, and they are loaded with plenty of cap space. Of course, they also have two of the top four picks in the draft, and they are widely expected to use one of those picks on one of this year’s top collegiate quarterbacks.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a talented roster and could be just a QB away from competing in 2018. Arizona just saw Carson Palmer retire, and they could realistically make a play for Keenum. The Jaguars came heart-wrenchingly close to advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history last week, and it has been rumored for months that they will be in the QB market in 2018. Keenum could certainly be a fit there, though Jacksonville could simply opt to bring back Blake Bortles, who was decent in the regular season and who played well in the team’s last two playoff contests. The Jags have also been connected to more established signal-callers like Alex Smith, who could be traded from Kansas City this offseason.

The Bills were interested in Keenum last year, and they could certainly be interested again this year, as Tyrod Taylor is far from a sure thing. But they will need to ask themselves whether Keenum would be a significant upgrade over Taylor, which is not an easy question. And Buffalo’s divisional rival, the Jets, are in need of a QB, but they, too, could look to fill that need in the draft. New York has also been connected to Smith in recent trade rumors.

More landing spots could become available as the offseason goes on. For instance, if the Redskins cannot agree to terms with Kirk Cousins, or if they choose not to franchise tag him for the third straight year, then they could take a look at Keenum.

The Vikings, though, also have a lot of cap room, so they could put the franchise tag on Keenum and still have enough space to address other needs. But they will also need to determine what to do with Teddy Bridgewater, whom they drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft and who has gamely battled back from a horrific ACL injury. Bridgewater is also an unrestricted free agent, and it’s not out of the question that Minnesota could bring back both him and Keenum.

It’s hard to believe that we’re even having this discussion, but here we are. Where do you think Keenum will play next season? He has expressed a desire to stay in Minnesota, but will he get that chance, or will he wind up elsewhere? Let us know in the poll below, and feel free to elaborate in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: What Will Be The Super Bowl LII Matchup?

It’s almost here! Super Bowl LII is just a few weeks away, and by Sunday night, we will know what teams will get the chance to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Championship weekend is headlined by a team that everyone thought would be here and three others that have overcome the odds for their opportunity to play under the brightest of lights on February 4. But what will that matchup be come when all is set and done on Sunday? Here are the breakdowns of all four teams that are now a win away from appearing in the Super Bowl.

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New England Patriots (14-3)

The defending Super Bowl champs will play in their seventh straight AFC championship game. They’ve won two of the past three Super Bowls and have the greatest coach-quarterback combo in the history of football. However, even entering the playoffs as the favorite, New England has still faced some challenges in the last few weeks. The organization had to deal with a bombshell report that cited major drama between the three most powerful people in the Pats franchise. Despite the story, the team made easy work of the Titans in the divisional round. They’ll face a much tougher test on Sunday against the Jaguars, and they will have to win with Tom Brady dealing with a thumb injury. The five-time Super Bowl winner will almost assuredly be playing this weekend, but it could put more pressure on the team’s stable of running backs to make plays in the rushing and passing game. The Pats defense took a big step up in terms of pressuring Marcus Mariota and a repeat performance in that aspect will go a long way in the Pats getting to their second straight Super Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6)

The Jags were expected to beat the Bills in the Wild Card round, but pulled off an upset of the Steelers in the Divisional round. Blake Bortles and the offense picked up the pace last Sunday, and they’ll need to continue that type of production in order to keep up with the Patriots in the AFC Championship. The team is still led by a fast and opportunistic defense that can cause turnovers at any time. If they can get pressure on Brady, especially with an injured thumb, they may be able to provide their offense with some breathing room throughout the game. The formula remains the same if the Jags are to pull an even bigger shocker on Sunday. They must run the ball, control the clock, play stellar defense and mix in some big plays if they hope to play in their first Super Bowl about two weeks from now.

Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

The Eagles were a rare underdog as a number one seed in the second round of the playoffs. However, Nick Foles and the offense were just productive enough for the defense to hold the Falcons out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia is going to need a better effort against a better Vikings team that is possibly the most complete team in football. The Eagles ran the ball a ton last Saturday and found a nice rhythm offensively when Doug Pederson allowed Foles to have options to either pass or run later in the game. They’ll likely do this again to help their quarterback think less and find Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and others for first downs. The Eagles defense led by the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry and Timmy Jernigan need to force mistakes and give the offense some short fields so they can put enough points o the board to win the game and advance to the team’s second-ever Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings (14-3)

Mike Zimmer‘s squad doesn’t seem to have a weakness on their roster. They can run the ball with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. They have an explosive passing game that can work in the redzone or down the field with weapons like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. The defense has playmakers in every unit as well, so it’s tough for the opposing offense to exploit a certain area when on the field. Nevertheless, the team needed the “Minnesota Miracle” at the end of the game against the Saints in order to advance further into the postseason. They’ll face a different type of team in the Eagles who are more based of their pass rush and controlling the clock. The Vikings will be favored on Sunday because of the way Case Keenum is playing compared to Foles. But the Eagles won’t likely roll over because of the great front seven and the mistakes that they can create on passing downs. Minnesota’s offensive line could be the key to a victory because it would allow Keenum to find his playmakers on the outside to help put up points and force the Eagles to take their chances on Foles’ arm to win the game.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who’s The Super Bowl Favorite?

The playoff picture is starting to come into fruition with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. But is there a clear favorite for who will be holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy come the conclusion of Super Bowl 52?

"<strongThe defending champion Patriots are coming off a dramatic road win over the Steelers, but have shown clear weaknesses. Pittsburgh will also be getting Antonio Brown back during the postseason, so the matchup could be more evenly matched should they meet for a second time in January.

However, while New England and Pittsburgh are the clear front runners in the AFC, the NFC has a number of teams that could be considered the “favorite” entering postseason play. Although the Eagles don’t have star second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, the team will likely have home field advantage with a very well rounded roster. The Vikings, Saints and Rams have all had their moments where they look like the team to beat as well. You can also see the defending NFC champ Falcons, Panthers and even the the Cowboys advancing now that they have Zeke back in the fold.

Here’s further breakdowns of the likely Super Bowl favorites with the end of the regular season inching ever closer:

New England Patriots: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are simply the best coach-quarterback duo that this league has ever seen. The pair is set up perfectly to go to their seventh straight AFC championship game after beating the Steelers in Week 15. Both haven’t let age slow them down either. At 40 years old, Brady is the front runner for NFL MVP once again and his team is clicking late in the season. The Pats has a ton of weapons on offense and their defense is improving as the year goes along, which is typical of Belichick coached squads. This team isn’t unbeatable as they do have a few bad losses in 2017, but playoffs and New England have gone side-by-side since the team won their first Super Bowl back in 2002.

Pittsburgh Steelers: If Jesse James would have held onto the ball during the final drive in last Sunday’s instant classic matchup, then the Steelers would be 13-2 and have a very clear path to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way for Mike Tomlin and Co., so they will likely have to win on the road in January in order to secure the AFC Championship. Nevertheless, Ben Roethlisberger is playing his best football of the season right now and Le’Veon Bell may be the best overall offensive weapon in the game at the moment. Although, the loss of middle linebacker Ryan Shazier certainly does put the defense in a bit of a hole. But the offense with the expected return of their star wideout can score with anyone and will give the Steelers a chance in any game.

Philadelphia Egales: If Carson Wentz was healthy, the Eagles would clearly the best team in football. Now with Nick Foles at the helm, they are clearly still a good team, but just not even close to as dominant as they were with their second-year signal caller on the field. Still, as you could see in the their Week 15 victory over the Giants, Philadelphia found a way to win thanks to the overall quality of their roster. Without Wentz, the defense will have to shoulder more of the load, but the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Nigel Bradham and others should be up to the task. The trade for Jay Ajayi also seems much more crucial now as there will likely be more of an emphasis on the running game. Foles is serviceable quarterback, but the Eagles will have to elevate in other areas in order to even win a postseason game in the difficult NFC.

Minnesota Vikings: Case Keenum was not the name you expected to see when talking about which quarterback led his team to a first round bye. However, that is the case and he’s been playing like it will translate to postseason football. The journeyman signal caller has been excellent this season, but his weapons have really risen to the occasion as well. Wide receiver Adam Thielen has solidified himself as one of the league’s best, Stefon Diggs is as talented as ever and Kyle Rudolph has been a touchdown machine. Even without Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have performed very well with increased workloads. The defense remains one of the best that the NFL has to offer led by the likes of Everson Griffen, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. This team lacks real star power, but doesn’t have a noticeable weakness, which will make them very dangerous come playoff time.

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams have been a nice story all year long, but it wasn’t until their beatdown of the Seahawks on the road that you can see them advancing deep into the postseason. Head coach Sean McVay is the clear front runner for Coach of the Year and he has his team clicking on all cylinders at the moment. Todd Gurley has a case as the top offensive player in football and Jared Goff has made incredible strides after how he performed just a season ago. Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp lead a solid group of receivers. Plus when you have Aaron Donald on defense, it’s easy to get pressure on opposing QB’s. This team has many ways to beat you and is very well coached. That’s something that very much converts in January football.

New Orleans Saints: Foles, Keenum, Goff and Drew Brees. Only one of those is a Super Bowl winner. While the top three teams according to record in the NFC all have their strengths, there’s something to be said for experience, and New Orleans has that at head coach and behind center. But while Brees has been very good this year, the team is actually led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara coming out of the backfield. They can ground and pound better than any team in the league, which is something that can help them control the clock in a postseason contest. The defense has also been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year as they can take the ball away at any moment. The Saints control the game offensively and can force mistakes defensively, which is a formula that has worked for postseason success in the past and should continue to bring positive results in the future.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Where Will Eli Manning Play In 2018?

The status of Eli Manning no doubt played a part in the Giants firing Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo, and their departures opened the door for the 14th-year quarterback to be reinstalled as Big Blue’s starter for Week 14.

But Manning’s future remains cloudy regardless of him being given his job back. Two years remain on the soon-to-be 37-year-old passer’s contract, but with base salaries of $10.5MM and $11.5MM in 2018 and ’19, Manning should receive some interest if the Giants are indeed keen on moving on without him.

With a month left to play, the Giants stand to hold the No. 2 pick behind the Browns. That is certainly quarterback territory, with Josh Rosen expected to come out and Sam Darnold a reasonable bet to follow suit. Wyoming’s Josh Allen is also viewed as a first-round prospect, and he’s expected to declare early as well. John Mara instructed his front office to ramp up quarterback evaluations as this season began to go south, and given the sequence of events that led the franchise to be in position to acquire Manning in the first place, the Giants turning its first awful season since that seminal 2003 campaign into another first-round quarterback wouldn’t be shocking.

However, if the Giants don’t finish with a bad enough record to land in quarterback territory — or if the next GM believes enough talent is present to keep Manning and the veteran-laden defense that booked a 2016 playoff berth together — that could change things. Manning threw 35 touchdown passes two years. His play’s dropped off a bit since, but Big Blue’s had severe offensive line issues the past two seasons.

There figures to be interest if Manning does leave. He plans to play next season, and GMs told CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora a reunion with Tom Coughlin makes too much sense not to happen. Coughlin spoke up in his former charge’s defense after he was benched.

The Jaguars can shed Blake Bortles‘ contract free of charge after the season, and their work this fall has shown what the defensively powered team is capable of with a bottom-tier quarterback. That could be attractive to Manning, the Jags’ lack of a comparable football tradition or similar media market (compared to his current team) notwithstanding. Although, both Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are pending UFAs, leaving the pass-catching crew uncertain. But Manning could certainly improve their chances at pushing for a Super Bowl berth compared to Bortles.

The other presumptive suitor may trail the Jaguars, since it’s not known if the Broncos would consider it. But Denver’s two primary passers this season are Pro Football Focus’ two lowest-graded players at sports’ premier position. The Broncos’ pass defense has fallen off its otherworldly perch of the past two years, but thanks to improved run-stoppage ability, the unit overall ranks fifth. And with Paxton Lynch having shown little before and during an injury-marred 2017, the Broncos — who have the core of their Super Bowl defense still under contract through 2018, with most signed through at least ’19 — could be back in the mix with better quarterback play.

While the Broncos obviously had immense success with Peyton Manning, they did not opt to pull the trigger on Tony Romo in a similar situation this offseason. One of the most durable players in NFL history, Eli Manning would not bring the health issues those two icons did. But the Broncos appear to be behind the Jaguars in this figurative derby to this point due to the Jags having a less complicated route to acquiring him, and Coughlin’s presence figures to make a big impact if Manning does opt to waive his no-trade clause in the event of a Giants rebuild.

The Dolphins are not believed to be interested. Neither are the Cardinals. The Vikings have three passers on expiring deals and a loaded defense, but it would stand to reason they’d rather retain one of them than pursue an older quarterback.

So, who gets Manning next season? Does the Giants’ about-face point him back to New York for a 15th season, or does their 2-10 record lead the franchise to fully embrace a rebuild? Is the Jaguars connection too obvious not to occur, or would John Elway consider a second Manning to elevate his franchise?

Or does Manning take the Romo route and retire as a Giant, having been one of the most important players in franchise history and having guided the historic operation to two Super Bowl titles? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.