PFR Polls

Poll: Who Will Lead Steelers In QB Starts?

Bailing on their handpicked Ben Roethlisberger successor two years in, the Steelers put together one of the more interesting quarterback offseasons in recent NFL history. Two starters on other teams last season are now in the mix, with neither tied to a pricey deal nor a commitment beyond 2024.

The dominoes that led Kenny Pickett out of Pittsburgh began to fall before the team’s Russell Wilson signing, but that contract — a veteran-minimum deal agreed to before the Broncos officially designated Wilson a post-June 1 cut — led the way in driving Pickett to Philadelphia. After it looked like Wilson had a firm grip on the Steelers’ starting job, the team reached an agreement on a low-cost trade for Justin Fields. The final year of the ex-Bears first-rounder’s rookie contract is on the Steelers’ payroll — at the cost of merely a conditional sixth-round pick.

Mike Tomlin has said plenty to suggest Wilson will be his starter in 2024, but given the age gap between the two high-profile acquisitions and how the potential Hall of Famer’s Denver chapter unfolded, it would be a bit unusual if Fields was not mentioned as a candidate to step in at some point. The team has already been linked to pursuing potential deals with both QBs beyond 2024, though the club’s longstanding policy not to negotiate contracts in-season will put these efforts on hold. That seems unrealistic, given each’s starter background. For this year, however, the Steelers have assembled a unique depth chart — one that also includes UFA addition Kyle Allen.

An eight-asset package — headlined by two first-round picks — brought Wilson to Denver. The Broncos cut the cord on the Wilson contract before the extension years (on a five-year, $245MM deal) began. This will bring record-smashing dead money to Denver’s payroll, as the Steelers’ Wilson contract (one year, $1.2MM) barely ate into the $85MM dead cap coming the Broncos’ way through 2025. Wilson bounced back in 2023, but Sean Payton deeming him a bad fit represented another setback in a career that has veered off course.

After a shockingly poor 2022 season when paired with overmatched HC Nathaniel Hackett, Wilson rebounded — to a degree — under Payton by throwing 26 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. Slotting him 12 points higher than 2022, QBR ranked Wilson 21st last season. That settled in six spots behind Fields. It is arguable Wilson (six original-ballot Pro Bowl nods) disrupted his Hall of Fame path with the Broncos stay and needs a strong Steelers season to firmly reestablish himself as a Canton-bound player. Fields stands in the way of this reality, and Tomlin kept the door open — while still affirming Wilson will go into training camp as the starter — for the younger player to challenge for the job at some point.

While Wilson trails only Michael Vick and Cam Newton in career QB rushing yards and is the league’s only 40,000-5,000 player, Fields is certainly a better runner from the position. Joining Wilson with a propensity to take sacks, Fields both led the NFL in sacks taken and QB rushing yards in 2022. The Bears saw some improvement through the air last season, and QBR interestingly viewed the Ohio State product’s 2022 showing as superior to his 2023 slate. Fields also posted a worse yards-per-attempt number (6.9) compared to 2022 (7.1) and upped his passer rating by barely a point from the ’22 campaign.

Mentioned as a player expected to command at least a Day 2 pick in a trade, Fields bringing the trade value he did reflects a dim outlook around the league regarding his potential to improve significantly as a passer. The Steelers quickly declined Fields’ fifth-year option, joining the Broncos (Zach Wilson), Cowboys (Trey Lance) and Jaguars (Mac Jones) in passing on an extra year for a recently acquired QB. Pittsburgh will still attempt to finetune the former No. 11 overall pick, and it will be interesting to see how long they do so while keeping him in a backup role. If Fields plays at least 51% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps this season, the 2025 pick owed to the Bears vaults to a fourth-rounder.

The post-Killer B’s Steelers have been among the NFL’s most dependable teams, but the ceiling from the Roethlisberger-Antonio BrownLe’Veon Bell period dropped as Big Ben aged and then Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph stepped in. Improved Pittsburgh defenses have been unable to make the past three Steelers squads, even as two of them advanced to the postseason, Super Bowl-caliber operations. This season will be key to isolate some variables within the organization, as Pickett and since-booted OC Matt Canada are gone. After seeing QB play sink his Falcons tenure, OC Arthur Smith will be tasked with coaching two middling — at this point, at least — signal-callers.

The Steelers are banking that Smith and the Wilson-Fields duo will provide sufficient upgrades from their previous play-calling setup and what the QB group of the past two seasons offered. Who will be the quarterback that ends up as the team’s preferred option by the season’s stretch run? Who gives the Steelers the best chance to succeed? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this revamped setup in the comments section.

Poll: What Will Commanders Do At No. 2 Overall?

When Washington last held the No. 2 overall pick, players like Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert were not realistic targets. Although both have become successful in the pros, Washington had chosen Dwayne Haskins 15th overall in 2019. That tied Ron Rivera and Co. to the best non-QB available, which led to a Chase Young investment.

As another new regime takes over in Washington, the decks are clear for a quarterback. Dan Quinn effectively confirmed the team would leave this draft with one, and while the new HC did not guarantee that player would be chosen at No. 2, the Commanders have a clear opportunity — in what is believed to be a strong QB draft — to select their next starter without giving up assets to do so. The question that will form this draft’s path comes next.

Which signal-caller should the Commanders choose? Washington has been connected to three arms with the No. 2 choice. With a Caleb WilliamsKliff Kingsbury reunion obviously appealing to the NFC East team, that is almost definitely not an option. With the Bears all but set to start the draft with the USC standout, the Commanders have other options worthy of the No. 2 slot. Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye and the fast-rising J.J. McCarthy have been tied to Washington. Barring something unexpected, one of them will be the team’s long-term QB hopeful.

Maye came into last season near Williams’ level, but after a statistical step backward in 2023, the North Carolina-developed talent has generated questions. Suddenly, Maye appears a high-variance prospect. Still, Sam Howell‘s Tar Heels QB1 successor dazzled as a redshirt freshman, throwing 38 touchdown passes to seven interceptions. Maye accounted for 5,019 yards (698 rushing) in 14 games in 2022. While less prolific last year (24 TDs, nine INTs, 4,057 total yards — in 12 games), the 6-foot-4, 223-pound prospect still brings plus arm strength and upside. At 21, he is also more than two years younger than the other QB most frequently mocked to the Commanders.

Daniels, who will turn 24 before year’s end, dominated as a senior to rise up prospect rankings lists. The Arizona State transfer accounted for 4,946 yards (1,134 rushing) and finished with a 40-4 TD-INT ratio in his second and final LSU season. Daniels’ frame is a slight concern, as he weighed 210 pounds at the Combine. His playing weight may well check in south of that number. Daniels played five college seasons, capitalizing on his COVID year. Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board places Daniels second, while Daniel Jeremiah’s latest rankings tab him sixth. Maye checks in sixth and fifth on those lists, respectively, adding intrigue to this Commanders call.

Prior to his Heisman offering, Daniels was not expected to be an early-first-round pick. But McCarthy made a more surprising rise. Even in the days following Michigan’s national championship win, McCarthy was viewed as maybe a mid-first-round choice. That no longer looks possible. Despite not posting numbers that rivaled Maye’s or Daniels’ offerings, the national championship-winning QB wowed evaluators at his pro day. To go along with his accuracy in a pro-like system under Jim Harbaugh, McCarthy now seems likely to be a top-six pick.

Many mocks have the 21-year-old prospect rising to the No. 4 spot via trade. A player without a 3,000-yard passing season going that high would be quite rare, though McCarthy exited several games early last year due to Wolverines dominance. He also finished his two-year starter run with a 44-9 TD-INT ratio.

McCarthy surfaced as a candidate to go No. 2 overall last month, and a recent report lent support to the Michigan product’s rise reaching this point. Neither Kiper nor Jeremiah have placed that as likely yet, though their mocks disagree on the Maye-Daniels debate. The Commanders joined the Patriots in having the largest contingent at Maye’s pro day, while Daniels is coming to Washington for a “30” visit. As of late March, Daniels was believed to be in pole position to go second to Washington, and a recent poll of NFL executives revealed a 3-2 edge to the LSU alum in the Daniels-or-May debate. Several teams will obviously have vested interests in how the Commanders proceed, with the draft taking shape based on which direction the NFC East team goes.

Washington is rebuilding. They could stockpile considerable draft capital — likely two future first-round picks — by trading down. This would likely not apply to the Giants, as they would almost definitely need to find a different gateway into the top four, but a big offer could prompt a meeting. But the Commanders have a clear path to a top QB prospect now. Waiting could introduce future hurdles into their QB equation, one that has not been stable since Kirk Cousins‘ two-franchise tag exit. And even that brought numerous headlines due to the contractual breakdown.

How will Washington proceed at 2? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this pivotal decision in the comments section.

Poll: Which Team Made Best HC Hire?

This year’s HC cycle became the rare carousel to generate more attention around the coaches who did not land jobs than the ones hired. Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel being left out will assuredly generate stories ahead of the 2025 hiring period, and it will be worth monitoring if Pete Carroll is connected to another coaching job.

But eight teams — up from five in 2023 — made the decision to change coaches. Dan Quinn‘s hire filled the final vacancy. While the Commanders’ process generated extensive fallout, teams are now moving forward with staff assembly following their HC hires.

The Commanders look to have gone through a bit of back-and-forth about their interest in Lions OC Ben Johnson. Pushing back on the notion the two-year Detroit play-caller was their top choice all along, Washington will give Quinn a second chance. But the former Dallas DC may well have been Washington’s third choice; the team made an aggressive push to land Mike Macdonald as well. The Seahawks finished that 11th-hour competition by giving the young Ravens DC a six-year deal.

Only Seattle and Washington waited until after the conference championship games to hire their coaches. Macdonald, who is half Carroll’s age, becomes the NFL’s youngest HC (36). (New Patriots leader Jerod Mayo, 37, held that title for several days.) A Ravens defense that carried major questions in the pass-rushing department led the NFL in sacks while leading the league in scoring defense as well. Quinn re-established his value over three years in Dallas, restoring that unit as one of the game’s best. While Quinn has the Super Bowl LI collapse on his resume and went 0-for-3 in playoff berths over his final three seasons in Atlanta, Washington’s new ownership group will bet on the experienced staffer.

Although the Commanders’ search produced a number of headlines, the Falcons introduced this year’s top “what if?” storyline. The only team serious about hiring Belichick, interviewing him twice, the Falcons steered clear of the six-time Super Bowl-winning HC. While Arthur Blank went into the hiring period prepared to hire the 24-year Patriots leader, it appears other Falcons higher-ups — in an effort potentially connected to their own statuses — helped sway the owner toward the Raheem Morris hire.

Morris, whom Falcons CEO Rich McKay hired during his time as Bucs GM in the early 2000s, will make the historically rare move of returning to coach a team years after operating as its interim HC. Morris left Atlanta on good terms in 2021 and comes back after a successful run as the Rams’ DC. Though, Belichick will undoubtedly be tied to Morris during the latter’s second Atlanta stay.

It took a six-year contract for the Panthers to bring in Bucs OC Dave Canales, who parlayed his first coordinator season into a head coaching gig. The Panthers trading the No. 1 overall pick and David Tepper‘s reputation as an impulsive meddler played into Carolina’s search, but the team had long been connected — despite Frank Reich‘s struggles — to pursuing an offense-oriented leader. Carolina also pursued Johnson for a second year but did not wait to make an attempt to interview him in-person. Following his work with Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield, Canales will be charged with developing Bryce Young.

The Titans also went offense with their hire, adding five-year Bengals non-play-calling OC Brian Callahan to succeed Vrabel. Zac Taylor‘s longtime lieutenant probably would have landed a job earlier had he called plays in a Joe Burrow-piloted offense, but the Titans will turn to the 39-year-old candidate to develop Will Levis. Brian Callahan will also technically oversee his father this coming season, hiring well-regarded Browns O-line coach Bill Callahan to the same position. This will be the Callahans’ first time on the same staff.

Las Vegas and New England each went with in-house solutions. The Raiders became the first team in seven years to elevate an interim HC to the full-time position. Mark Davis listened to his players, after expressing regret about not removing Rich Bisaccia‘s interim tag in 2022. But the second-generation owner also passed on interviewing other viable candidates for the job, only going through with required interviews to comply with the Rooney Rule. While Pierce accounted himself well as a leader during the season’s second half, his experience level is quite thin compared to just about every other HC hire in modern NFL history.

Using a Rooney Rule workaround by including language in Mayo’s contract about succeeding Belichick, the Patriots also passed on a true search. Robert Kraft intervened last year, extending Mayo after the Panthers had sought a meeting, and will give the keys to the recent Patriots linebacker. Mayo’s time in coaching does not match Pierce’s, though the former has spent more time as an NFL assistant. The franchise is largely keeping the Patriot Way going, promoting from within to fill the HC position and elevating an in-house staffer (Eliot Wolf) to fill the de facto GM post, only with Belichick no longer involved.

The highest-profile hire came out of Los Angeles. The Chargers became the team to lure Jim Harbaugh back to the pros. The Bolts gave the accomplished HC a $16MM salary — over five years — and signed off on allowing final say. Harbaugh has won everywhere he has been and held leverage in the form of another Michigan extension offer and a second Falcons interview being scheduled. The Bolts did not let him leave for that meeting and gave Harbaugh significant input into Tom Telesco‘s GM replacement (Joe Hortiz). Harbaugh’s final NFL snaps came with the Chargers, and after hiring three first-time HCs under Telesco, the team will make a bigger bet to turn things around.

Which team ended up doing the best with its 2024 hire? Why did Belichick fail to land a job? Will he and Vrabel be back in 2025? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this year’s HC market in the comments.

Poll: Who Will Win Super Bowl LVIII?

One week remains until Super Bowl LVIII, which represents a rematch of the title contest from four years ago. Kansas City earned a come-from-behind victory in that instance, but the team enters Sunday’s game as slight underdogs.

Encountering offensive consistency issues not seen before during the Patrick Mahomes era, the defending champions still managed to post a strong record while searching for a rhythm in the passing game. Kansas City won the AFC West for the eighth straight season while leaning on one of the league’s best defenses. That resulted in a home postseason game in the wild-card round (a comfortable win over the Dolphins in frigid conditions), but it required road trips for the first time in Mahomes’ postseason career.

One-score victories in Buffalo and Baltimore saw the Chiefs continue to display a strong pass defense in particular coupled with a more balanced attack than earlier in the campaign. Having cleared a slightly new challenge in terms of winning on the road in January, Kansas City has arrived at a fourth Super Bowl in the past five years. A third win in that span would further cement the legacies of Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid and others.

By contrast, many members of the 49ers’ roster and coaching/front office staff are seeking their first title. Having come up short – due in large part to a late collapse – in the first Chiefs matchup, redemption will be a goal for San Francisco’s veterans. Of course, quarterback Brock Purdy headlines the list of players who did not take part in the loss four years ago. The former Mr. Irrelevant was firmly in the MVP conversation throughout much of the 2023 season, his first as a full-time starter. Fellow finalist Christian McCaffrey has proven to be the two-way offensive focal point San Francisco envisioned he would be when trading for him.

After securing the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the 49ers appeared poised for a relatively smooth journey back to the Super Bowl. The team’s two home wins (against the Packers and Lions) did not go according to plan especially in the early going, however. San Francisco trailed in the fourth quarter of both games, and a run of 27 consecutive second half points was needed against Detroit to ensure the victory. Having allowed 772 combined yards in two postseason contests, the 49ers’ defense will be a unit worth watching closely next week.

Purdy’s injury in last year’s NFC title game played a large role in San Francisco falling short of the Super Bowl, which delayed the upcoming contest by one season. Now that it has arrived, he – like much of the team’s nucleus along with head coach Kyle Shanahan – will aim for a first career championship. Mahomes, meanwhile, can become the fifth starting quarterback in history to win three Super Bowls and Reid the fourth coach to do so.

Who will win it all this year? Vote in the poll below and have your say in the comments section:

Poll: Which Team Will Claim NFC’s No. 1 Seed?

Given the NFL’s recent switch to a seven-team playoff format, claiming the No. 1 seed in each conference (and with it the lone bye in the wild-card round) carries particular significance. In the case of the NFC, a shortlist of teams will compete for the top spot over the final four weeks of the season.

Three of them – the 49ers, Cowboys and Eagles – entered Sunday at 10-3, though one member of the latter pair will be saddled with the No. 5 seed after finishing as the runner-up in the NFC East. The 49ers’ win over the Cardinals and Cowboys’ loss to the Bills separates San Francisco for the time being. The Lions, meanwhile, improved to 10-4 after their impressive showing on Saturday. Detroit will have work to do to overtake the conference’s other three heavyweights, but changes atop the standings could take place over the following month.

San Francisco currently leads the way, and owning the head-to-head tiebreaker against both Philadelphia and Dallas (by virtue of blowout victories) will help down the stretch. The 49ers’ commitment to Brock Purdy under center has proven to be sound, as last year’s Mr. Irrelevant has improved on his rookie output. Purdy leads the NFL not only in completion percentage (70.2%) but also yards per attempt (9.9) and passer rating (116.9) while playing with arguably the league’s top skill-position group.

The 49ers’ offense (led by Purdy and fellow MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey) has shown itself to be an elite unit, as expected, this season. The team’s defense has also recovered from a downturn during their three-game losing streak. The trade deadline acquisition of Chase Young added to San Francisco’s front seven, but injuries in the secondary have left the 49ers in need of other in-season additions. A reunion with Jason Verrett and the signing of Logan Ryan has given San Francisco a pair of veteran defensive backs to at least serve as depth on the backend. Only the 49ers’ Christmas Day game against the Ravens will see them face an opponent currently over .500 the rest of the way.

The Cowboys split the season series with the Eagles, allowing them to own the tiebreaker for the time being. A more daunting path awaits Dallas to close out the campaign, however, with road games against the Bills and Dolphins followed by a crucial matchup against the Lions. The Cowboys’ offense especially has proven to be one of the league’s best units this season, however, led by Dak Prescott. In line for an extension this offseason, the 30-year-old leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes, and his passer rating sits at a career-high 107.5.

While those figures have Prescott in the MVP conversation and in line for a raise on his next pact, judgement of the Cowboys will of course depend on their postseason showing. The fate of head coach Mike McCarthy has been a talking point for some time now, owing in large part to the team’s inability to break through in the playoffs during his tenure. He could be in store for a new contract, however, especially if 2023 were to produce a deep run toward a Super Bowl. Given Dallas’ impressive home winning streak, securing the top seed could be imperative in that effort.

The Eagles enjoyed a strong start to the campaign, but consecutive losses have led to questions on the defensive side of the ball in particular (and now prompted a signficant change on the sidelines, with Matt Patricia assuming play-calling duties). That unit was affected more than the offense in the offseason exodus of talent following Philadelphia’s run to the Super Bowl, and the inside linebacker spot has drawn attention recently. The Eagles won out the competition to add Shaquille Leonard after his sudden Colts departure, giving them a former All-Pro in the second level.  

Leonard played sparingly in his Philadelphia debut (which fittingly came in Dallas after the Cowboys finished as the runners-up in the pursuit to sign him). Regardless of the role he plays down the stretch, Philadelphia could be in line for a rebound from the team’s recent showing. The Eagles play the Giants twice in the season’s final three weeks, and despite New York’s current winning streak, Philadelphia’s upcoming Monday night game against the 6-7 Seahawks will likely prove to be the strongest remaining challenge.

After a strong late-season run to close out the 2022 campaign, the Lions entered this season with the team’s highest expectations in years. For the most part, Detroit has lived up to the hype so far. Impressive performances from a number of contributors (including rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta) on offense has confirmed OC Ben Johnson’ status as one of the hottest head coach candidates for the upcoming hiring cycle. The 37-year-old drew interest last year before committing to a second campaign in the Motor City, but he has already been linked to multiple current vacancies.

Of course, the Lions’ offensive success has the chance of complicating quarterback Jared Goff’s future with the team. The former No. 1 pick has one year (and no guaranteed salary) remaining on his deal and Detroit drafted a potential successor this April in the form of Hendon Hooker. Goff leads the league in passing yards (3,727) entering Sunday’s action, however, and he could be playing his way into a new contract. The Lions, like the Eagles, will likely need to rely on their offense to overcome defensive shortcomings down the stretch. Games against the division-rival Vikings await the NFC North leaders with the aforementioned Cowboys contest in between.

One notable free agent who could help tip the scales is Zach Ertz. The veteran tight end asked for and was granted his Cardinals release, leaving him free to join a contender. Several teams could stand to add the three-time Pro Bowler, and the 49ers are believed to be interested in making him part of an already deep pass-catching corps. To no surprise, a reunion with the Eagles could also be in store. Both San Francisco and Philadelphia will have competition (from each conference) to land Ertz, however.

With the 49ers, Cowboys and Eagles set to play their respective Week 15 matchups today and tomorrow, how do you see the race to the No. 1 seed playing out? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below:

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 Brett Favre (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.

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.

Poll: Who Fared Best At Trade Deadline

A week removed from this year’s trade deadline, every team will soon have its acquired talent in uniform. The 49ers, Lions and Jaguars made trades while in bye weeks; Chase Young, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ezra Cleveland will suit up for their new teams soon.

On this note, it is time to gauge the position every notable buyer and seller landed in following the deals. This year’s deadline featured two second-round picks being moved, though the teams that made those moves (Chicago, Seattle) have different timelines in place.

We have to start with the Commanders, who scrapped their yearslong Young-Montez Sweat partnership by making the surprise decision to move both defensive ends hours before the deadline. Although the team was listening to offers on both, it was widely assumed they would only part with one, thus saving a contract offer or a 2024 franchise tag for the other alongside well-paid D-tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. New owner Josh Harris looks to have made his bigger-picture plan clear, however, pressing upon the Commanders’ football-ops department to explore moving both.

Washington collected a second-rounder that likely will land in the 30s in exchange for Sweat, who was in a contract year at the time. It only obtained a compensatory third for Young, who drew interest from other teams (including the Ravens). For the first time in the common draft era, Washington holds five picks in the first three rounds. It cannot be assumed Ron Rivera and GM Martin Mayhew will be making those picks, but Harris has effectively forced his hot-seat staffers to make do this season without Young and Sweat, who have combined for 11.5 sacks this year.

The initial team to pounce on the Commanders’ sale made a buyer’s move despite being in a seller’s position for the second straight year. After trading what became the No. 32 overall pick for Chase Claypool, GM Ryan Poles signed off on the Sweat pickup. The Bears have struggled to rush the passer under Matt Eberflus, having traded Khalil Mack in March 2022 and Robert Quinn last October. While acquiring a veteran in a contract year injects risk into the equation, Poles had the franchise tag at his disposal. But the Bears made good use of their newfound negotiating rights with Sweat, extending him on a four-year, $98MM pact. Despite no Pro Bowls or double-digit sack seasons, Sweat is now the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid edge rusher. Though, the Bears’ long-term edge outlook appears rosier compared to its pre-Halloween view.

Mayhew, Robert Saleh and Mike McDaniel have provided third-round compensatory picks for the 49ers, who have been the NFL’s chief beneficiary of the Rooney Rule tweak that awards third-round picks to teams who see minority coaches or execs become HCs or GMs. The team has more picks coming after the Ran Carthon and DeMeco Ryans hires. Using one to acquire Young seems like a low-risk move, given the former Defensive Rookie of the Year’s talent. Young has made strides toward recapturing the form he showed before his severe 2021 knee injury, and he is on pace for a career high in sacks.

The 49ers, who won last year’s trade deadline by landing Christian McCaffrey, will deploy Young alongside ex-college teammate Nick Bosa and the rest of their high-priced D-line contingent. The team will have a decision to make on Young soon; the free agent-to-be is not eyeing in-season extension talks, either. San Francisco could at least be in position to nab a midround compensatory pick, should Young leave in 2024.

The Young move came a day after the Seahawks obtained Leonard Williams from the Giants. That move cost Seattle second- and fifth-round picks. Williams is also in a contract year, but with the Giants picking up most of the tab, Seattle has the veteran D-tackle on its cap sheet at $647K. The former Jets top-10 pick has shown consistent ability to provide inside pressure, and the USC alum’s best work came in his previous contract year (2020). Gunning for another big payday, Williams joins Dre’Mont Jones in what is probably the best interior D-line duo of the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll era.

Seattle still surrendered a second-round pick for a player who could be a rental. Williams cannot realistically be franchise-tagged in 2024, with the Giants tagging him in 2020 and ’21, and he is not yet on Seattle’s extension radar. The Giants have already paid Dexter Lawrence and were planning on letting Williams walk. They passed on a comp pick for the trade haul, effectively buying a second-round pick in the way the Broncos did in the 2021 Von Miller trade. The Giants, who suddenly could be in the market for a 2024 QB addition, now have an additional second-rounder at their disposal.

While they made their move a week before the deadline, the Eagles landed the most accomplished player of this year’s in-season trade crop. Kevin Byard is a two-time first-team All-Pro safety, and although he is in his age-30 season, the former third-round pick is signed through 2024. The Eagles sent the Titans fifth- and sixth-round picks (and Terrell Edmunds) for Byard, a Philadelphia native, marking the team’s second splash trade for a safety in two years. Philly’s C.J. Gardner-Johnson swap turned out well, and Byard not being a pure rental could make this a better move.

Rather than turning to a fifth-round rookie, the Vikings acquired Josh Dobbs in a pick swap involving sixth- and/or seventh-rounders and saw the move translate to a surprising Week 9 win. Dobbs following in Baker Mayfield‘s footsteps as a trade acquisition-turned-immediate starter also made him the rare QB to see extensive action for two teams in two weeks; Mayfield was inactive in his final game as a Panther. The well-traveled Dobbs could give the Vikings a better chance to stay afloat in the NFC playoff race.

The Lions (Peoples-Jones), Jaguars (Cleveland) and Bills (Rasul Douglas) also made buyer’s moves at the deadline. The Bills gave the Packers a third-round pick, collecting a fifth in the pick-swap deal, for Douglas. They will hope the Green Bay starter can help stabilize their cornerback corps after Tre’Davious White‘s second major injury.

Who ended up faring the best at this year’s deadline? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this year’s moves in the comments section.

Poll: Which Jets QB Will End Season With Most Starts?

Aaron Rodgers‘ Achilles tear four plays into his Jets tenure doubles as one of the most crushing injuries a team has sustained in many years. The Jets have gone from a team with Super Bowl aspirations to one trapped in the kind of situation that caused the all-out Rodgers push.

The team has turned back to Zach Wilson, the former No. 2 overall pick who was twice benched last season. Robert Saleh has encountered some scrutiny for his unwavering support of the 2021 draftee, but after the Jets did not make a strong effort to acquire a veteran backup behind Rodgers, they are sticking with the struggling BYU alum.

Wilson, 24, has made 24 career starts. He sports a career 54.9% completion rate and ranked in the bottom five in Total QBR in each of his first two seasons. Through three games this year, Wilson is ahead of only Justin Fields — the same placement the 2021 season brought. Wilson’s status created issues in the Jets’ locker room last year, leading to Mike White‘s promotion. While buzz about White staying briefly circulated this offseason, the Jets instead parked Wilson — rumored to be on the outs late last season — behind Rodgers. That has thus far proven to be a mistake, one that certainly could threaten the jobs of Saleh and GM Joe Douglas.

The Jets have been connected to a few outside options, attempting to add Colt McCoy and ex-Nathaniel Hackett charge Chad Henne. They also looked into poaching fellow ex-Hackett pupil Brett Rypien off the Rams’ practice squad, but Los Angeles promoted the ex-Broncos backup instead. Two years after the Jets took heat for not backstopping Wilson — a plan former OC Mike LaFleur called a mistake — the team has not attempted to chase a veteran who would unseat him.

Citing the Jets’ $276MM in cash spent — a number that trails only the Ravens and Browns — a Thursday report indicated a top-down Jets directive has led the team to prefer to have a QB rise through the practice squad route. This, and the team’s desire to avoid a Wilson QB controversy, has led to the current depth chart forming. As such, Trevor Siemian represents the top option to take over if Wilson continues to struggle. Although the recently added arm has not been a regular starter since 2017, the ex-Peyton Manning Denver successor has made 30 career starts.

Siemian, 31, is 0-6 over his past six starts. Prior to losing four games leading a depleted Saints roster, Siemian did pilot the Saints past the then-defending champion Buccaneers in his first appearance with the team. Siemian also started a Jets Week 2 game in 2019, a contest that featured the then-Sam Darnold backup going down with a season-ending ankle injury. But the seven-team journeyman is back in town. Although he is not coming off the practice squad this week, an elevation figures to take place soon after.

Current backup Tim Boyle has thrown 106 career passes, residing as a Rodgers and Jared Goff backup during his career. Boyle’s most notable work came when he started three games for an injured Goff in 2021. A rebuilding Lions team lost all three of those games. Boyle, who played at UConn and Eastern Kentucky, served as Rodgers’ top backup at points in Green Bay. The Jordan Love pick changed his standing with the organization.

The Jets cannot trade their first- or second-round picks, with those selections in escrow since they are part of the Rodgers trade package. But will the Jets attempt to use a mid-round choice to trade for a better option? The team still boasts an upper-echelon defense that is again tied to a bottom-tier QB situation. Teams will not be eager to unload a proven backup, but decent draft compensation could change that equation. The Texans’ backups have generated trade interest, and either Case Keenum or Davis Mills could potentially be pried away. Would they move the needle much for the Jets?

Douglas was in place when the Eagles traded up for Wentz in 2016, and the fifth-year Jets GM was present when the former No. 2 overall pick soared to the MVP favorite before an ACL tear ended his 2017 season. Wentz’s stock has tanked since that outlier year, but he is just 30 and would be an upgrade on Wilson. Matt Ryan is 38 is coming off a dreadful Colts season. While Ryan indicated he is happy at CBS, both free agents are believed to have reached out to the Jets. Although Colin Kaepernick wrote Douglas a letter campaigning for a P-squad opportunity, the Jets are not interested in a player out of the league for the past seven seasons.

Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill loom as longshots that have not come up in legitimate trade rumors, but both are on expiring contracts — albeit pricey expiring deals — and playing for teams with sub-.500 records. The Titans, who drafted Will Levis in Round 2, would likely need to eat some of Tannehill’s money. The 12th-year veteran is on a $27MM base salary; the Jets hold barely $8MM in cap space. Cousins carries a no-trade clause. Both 35-year-old passers have void years at the end of their contracts, with the Vikings starter’s void number checking in at a whopping $28.5MM for 2024.

Will the Jets aim higher via Wentz or a trade? Or will Siemian represent Wilson’s top competition for the rest of the season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Win AFC East?

Offseason additions will make the AFC East perhaps the league’s most captivating divisional race. The Bills have won this division three years running, recovering from a 17-year playoff drought by advancing to five postseasons in six years of the Sean McDermottBrandon Beane era. But the Jets and Dolphins took big swings to narrow the gap. And the Patriots present an annually high floor, having the most accomplished HC (by a rather wide margin) in the division.

Buffalo did not exactly stand pat this offseason, prioritizing a first-round trade-up for Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid. This year’s top tight end draftee is expected to play a regular role as a slot performer for the Bills, who will have Stefon Diggs (assuming he is on the same page with the organization), Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox back. Buffalo also beefed up its offensive line, signing Connor McGovern — to give the division both Connor McGoverns — to go with second-round guard O’Cyrus Torrence. Signed to a low-cost deal, ex-Rams starter David Edwards also has extensive starting experience. The Bills also added former Patriots starter Damien Harris, he of 15 rushing touchdowns in 2021, to just a one-year deal worth $1.77MM.

Defensively, the Bills’ top addition came via the June Leonard Floyd signing. Buffalo guaranteed the ex-Von Miller Los Angeles teammate $7MM to both help the team while Miller recovers from his second ACL tear — if the future Hall of Famer needs regular-season recovery time like Tre’Davious White did last year — and provide a high-end complementary edge presence to help Miller and a young edge-rushing crew. Floyd has racked up 29 sacks over the past three seasons.

Last year’s second-place finishers took aim at the Bills by adding two major defensive pieces. Miami made Vic Fangio the league’s highest-paid defensive coordinator, hiring the ex-Denver HC for more than $4.5MM per year to work with Mike McDaniel. DVOA rated the Dolphins’ defense 15th last season; the team now has Jalen Ramsey in place opposite Xavien Howard. The Dolphins pried Ramsey from the suddenly cost-conscious Rams for only a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long, though it took a contract adjustment as well. Ramsey earned first-team All-Pro honors in two of his three full seasons with the Rams.

The Dolphins let Mike Gesicki walk and have not made a notable tight end addition, and they re-signed their top three running backs from last season. In addition to re-upping Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, the Dolphins drafted Devon Achane in Round 3. They are also believed to be the clubhouse leaders to add Dalvin Cook as a hired gun of sorts. Cook is a Miami native who has mentioned the Dolphins as a “perfect fit.”

Most discussions of this division’s outlook will begin with the Jets’ top addition. It took far more than the Brett Favre trade required, but Gang Green landed Aaron Rodgers. It cost the team a first-round pick swap and a second-round choice this year, and the Packers will likely — barring injury — obtain the Jets’ 2024 first-rounder. But the upgrade the Jets will make in going from Zach Wilson to Rodgers is difficult to overstate. The four-time MVP attended the Jets’ OTA sessions, after skipping the Packers’ voluntary workouts in 2021 and ’22, and brought ex-Packers Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and tackle Billy Turner with him. The Jets are gambling that Nathaniel Hackett can shake off a woeful stay as the Broncos’ play-caller, and the team does have big questions at tackle, with both Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton coming off injuries.

Another ex-Packer, Adrian Amos, arrived in town to help the Jets cover for one of their other additions, Chuck Clark, tearing an ACL. First-round defensive end Will McDonald — believed to be, by most, an emergency option after the Steelers took Broderick Jones — also led off the Jets’ draft. Not many holes existed for Robert Saleh‘s vastly improved defense.

An assistant hire profiles as the Patriots’ top move. After a strange effort to give defensive coach Matt Patricia offensive play-calling duties predictably backfired, the Pats rehired Bill O’Brien as OC. The former Texans HC already has the offense headed in a better direction, and he is believed to be on the same page with free agent target DeAndre Hopkins despite pulling the trigger on the 2020 Houston-Arizona trade. The Pats also gave Mac Jones a weapon in J.J. Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs’ top 2022 wideout who will be tasked with replacing Jakobi Meyers.

The Patriots have failed to form a top-11 scoring defense exactly once in the past 15 years, and Bill Belichick‘s unit now has first- and second-round picks Christian Gonzalez and Keion White. The team re-signed Jonathan Jones and is prepared to move the secondary staple back inside, but a big question mark now looms with emerging boundary defender Jack Jones, who faces potential prison time for gun charges.

Have the Jets and Dolphins done enough to topple the Bills? Are the Patriots — a 2021 playoff team that took a big step back on offense under Patricia and Joe Judge — being slept on? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this division in the comments section.