Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 7 to Week 8.
If you loved the original Trade Tsunami last offseason, you'll love this month's hastily made sequel, "Trade Tsunami 2: Desperate Times."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones apparently couldn't bear to watch another week with Allen Hurns playing nearly every snap, sending a 2019 first-round pick to Oakland in exchange for Raiders wideout Amari Cooper. It's a fascinating price for a receiver who has struggled to produce for the last 20 games (3.5 catches and 48 receiving yards per game in that span, with eight total touchdowns) and comes with a big price tag attached to the fifth-year option of his rookie deal next year. The Cowboys are backing themselves into a corner. They need to sign Cooper to a long-term contract, or the pick they traded away will have truly been wasted. The move is intended to boost the fortunes of a Cowboys team that is 3-4 despite ranking second in points allowed. It's yet another lifeline for coach Jason Garrett to keep his job and break out of the win, loss, win, loss Garrett-ian pattern the Cowboys have been stuck in for 10 games.
Dallas has bet on high-profile wideout talent like Roy Williams and Terrell Owens before, with mixed results. But the Jones family is clearly convinced they can turn around the career of Cooper, who was chosen fourth overall by Oakland in 2015. While the Cowboys paid too high a price, headline-making trades involving wideouts like Brandin Cooks, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and Kelvin Benjamin have become commonplace over the last year.
This is not just a passing fad: The NFL is becoming more like the NBA and Major League Baseball. And with the Oct. 30 trade deadline approaching, there could be plenty left to come. The Jaguars kicked off the fun by acquiring Browns running back Carlos Hydefor a fifth-round pick last week. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson wants to be dealt, according to a report by ESPN, even if coach Steve Wilks told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo a trade is "out of the question" and Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport last week a trade wouldn't happen.
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas appears more likely to get dealt and is already talking like a former Bronco. Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker, Bills running back LeSean McCoy, Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon are all logical trade targets, and it's worth remembering how last year's trade deadline caught the league flat-footed. No one was talking about a Jimmy Garoppolo or Jay Ajayi deal until they happened. Duane Brown and Marcell Dareus also changed teams.
The increase in trade activity is one quantifiable change in a league where it's often tough to separate what we know from what we don't on a week-to-week basis. After a wild Week 7 (with "Monday Night Football" still to go, obviously), here's my attempt to sort it all out.
THINGS WE KNOW AFTER WEEK 7
Adrian Peterson is the offensive centerpiece of a 4-2 team in the year 2018. This is getting surprisingly little attention, considering the 33-year-old Peterson's pedigree, but this is hardly a case of an aging back piling up yardage because of volume. He's fifth in the NFL in forcing missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, bounding up, down and through defenders each week like a man thrilled to do what he was born to do.
In an NFC East matchup straight out of 1988, it was Peterson's Redskins -- and not Ezekiel Elliott's Cowboys -- who controlled the game on the ground. (Give the Redskins' defensive line and their immortal coach, Jim Tomsula, a lot of credit for that.) In a season with returns to health of so many NFL superstars like J.J. Watt and Carson Wentz, Peterson should not be overlooked as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Again.
Time will tell if the Saints have to win outdoors in the playoffs this season, but Sunday's stirring 24-23 victory should ease concerns that their style of play doesn't travel outside of the dome they call home. It doesn't get much better than coming back from 17-6 down on the road against the best pass defense in football. This was Drew Brees' finest moment in a season already full of them.
The Patriots were two games back of the Dolphins in the AFC East after three weeks. After Week 7, New England is back in sole possession of first place. The Steelers entered their Week 6 game in Cincinnati in last place in the AFC North. Two weeks and just one game later for Pittsburgh, the Steelers are in first place.
White is under the radar for a guy with a game-tying and game-winning run in the freaking Super Bowl. Even as this season approached, he was a relative afterthought in the Patriots' backfield, behind Rex Burkhead and first-round pick Sony Michel. After Michel's knee injury Sunday, White's already significant role is only going to increase.
White finished with 97 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 19 touches in Chicago, including eight straight runs with two first downs to help kill the clock late in the fourth quarter. White is already a team captain and was called by Tom Brady "one of the best teammates" he's ever had. After the Patriots' ugly first three games, Brady personally stumped for White to have a bigger role in this offense. Now White is the team's leader in yards from scrimmage (569) and touchdowns (seven) on the season. He's passed Danny Woodhead in the Patriots pantheon and is in the early stages of a career that could look like Kevin Faulk's or Troy Brown's before it's all done.
At 5-2 heading into their bye week with a mostly favorable November schedule ahead, the Chargers are going to be fixtures in the AFC's playoff picture for the rest of the season. They still need to clean up aspects of their defense and coach Anthony Lynn's game management, but Philip Rivers' dream season remains very much alive after four straight wins.
Calling the Colts the best two-win team in football sounds like damning with faint praise, but it's true. They have a positive scoring differential after their home blowout against the Bills, and they look like a different team with Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton back on the field. Mack is absolutely an improved runner in his second season, and the team's banged-up defense is slowing getting healthier, too.
The presence of Andrew Luck, combined with the rest of the AFC South's struggles, gives the Colts a chance to climb back into the mix, especially with a trip to the Raiders up next before three straight home games. While blowing out the Bills doesn't sound like a feat, the Colts' 246 yards of first-half offense against the quality Buffalo defense should open some eyes.
Teams change throughout the course of a season, and no team's offense has already morphed more than the Lions'. It's jarring to see a Detroit team rush for 248 yards and score 32 points in a game in whichMatthew Stafford only needed to attempt 22 passes. At 3-3, the Lions have already climbed out of the cellar of an NFC North so tight that the Bears fell from first place to last in seven days. I have no idea if Matt Patricia's squad is a playoff team, but they've demonstrated they win playing different styles of offense, depending on the opponent. That's already a big change from a year ago.
The coverage of the Eagles in the Philadelphia newspapers Monday morning was almost universally negative, and coach Doug Pederson was testy with the media the day after the defending champions' 17-point fourth-quarter collapse against the Panthers. The analysis in Carolina was mostly sunny, with an optimistic week of coverage on tap.
I would expect nothing else after the Panthers' stirring comeback, but it's strange to imagine how different every article would be if Cam Newton hadn't escaped Brandon Graham's grasp on fourth-and-10, or if Julius Peppers hadn't leapt to block Carson Wentz's view on Philadelphia's final offensive play.
It's cliche to say that NFL games come down to a single play or two, but it's a cliche because it's true. I don't think any differently about the Panthers and Eagles after Sunday's game. They look like two roughly even, rugged NFC teams with defined strengths who have the goods to improve their weaknesses and make a playoff run with a little fortune. Similarly, little separated the Bucs and Browns, the Chargers and Titans, the Saints and Ravens and the Cowboys and Redskins on Sunday, but there will be grand postgame conclusions and meaning drawn, blame and credit assigned until we do it again next week.
There is something unsatisfying and uncomfortable about recognizing what a massive, perhaps dominant role randomness plays every NFL Sunday in determining the latest standings. It's as if we want this sport that we invest so much time in to make more sense than it really does, to apply some order after the fact where it doesn't. I choose to embrace the chaos, accept that many teams are roughly equal, and try to separate the trends with staying power from the things we can't possibly know ahead of time. Which is most everything.
THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
It feels like the Bruce Arians era was so long ago. The Cardinals appear strident about holding on to a vestige of that long-ago time by retaining Peterson, but the cornerback's trade request should inspire some aggressive offers from around football. Will general manager Steve Keim listen if a first-round pick (or two) gets involved?
The Chiefs make the most sense for Peterson for a variety of reasons, but it could get complicated to fit his salary-cap number into Kansas City's plans. Don't assume only contenders will come calling for Peterson. Teams like the Colts and Browns also make sense, partly because they can afford to swing big.
Parker's agent blasted coach Adam Gase as "incompetent" in a fairly transparent move to get Parker shipped out of town, like running back Jay Ajayi once was. After receiver Albert Wilson's hip injury -- which is being called "significant" -- the Dolphins may not want to act rashly.
Wilson would be my pick as Miami's offensive MVP through seven weeks of the season, and his injury feels decisive for a team that has lost three of four games. They will need to replace his production, and Parker is a better option than anyone they can find on the waiver wire, especially with veteran Kenny Stillsrequiring an MRI for a groin strain.
In a league where teams gain 400 yards of offense just by getting off the bus, the Bengals have failed to top 275 yards in back-to-back games against the Steelersand Chiefs. Andy Dalton and friends have become slump-busters for struggling defenses, just in time for everyone to notice that the Cincinnati defense has taken a significant step back this season following the departure of coordinator Paul Guenther for Oakland. At 4-3 with a home game against the Bucs on tap, the Bengals have time to steady the ship. But they are beginning to resemble most Marvin Lewis teams: on the edge of the playoffs as the third-best team in the division, without real growth.
No team runs more on first downs than the Titans, a strategy that, as the stats and Tennessee's game film both indicate, is incredibly counterproductive. But the Titans stuck with the approach on Sunday, demonstrating a commitment to a smashmouth philosophy that appeared to finally pay off in Dion Lewis' stirring fourth-quarter performance in London. So why did they choose to pass on three straight plays from the goal line with the game on the line?
The first play worked. Tight end Luke Stocker made a nice leaping catch to cut the Chargers' lead to 20-19 with 35 seconds left. The Titans went for the two-point conversion, a call that might sound as if it was based partly on analytics -- until you see the play call.
Running in short-yardage situations is the percentage play. Of course, that doesn't always mean it's the right call, but it was surprising to see the ground-and-pound Titans set up in a shotgun formation with four receivers on their two-point attempt. After a penalty on the Chargers bailed them out, they went with an empty backfield and failed again. It's a passing league, but it's still shocking to see how often we see coaches prefer tossing jump balls to Luke Stocker over trying to run the ball forward 2 yards. Especially when it's the Titans.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said the quarterback position was "open" after benching Blake Bortles following eight turnovers in three games, but it didn't take long for Marrone to announce Monday the team is sticking with Bortles as the team's starter. Even benching Bortles was a remarkable admission after Jacksonville's brass -- led by Marrone and Tom Coughlin -- refused to consider bringing in competition for him in the offseason.
Cody Kessler took over for Bortles during Jacksonville's third straight loss Sunday, but it's not a surprise the team isn't turning to him. Kessler was not impressive in his five drives, leading the Jaguars to seven points with an interception thrown in. He appeared allergic to pushing the ball down the field, even with a big deficit. This benching is similar to when Marrone benched Bortles in the third week of the preseason last year, which turned out to be more about sending a message. The Jaguars' brass sent a stronger message in the offseason when they did everything to back Bortles and accept mediocrity at the position.
The Jaguars, now 3-4, could theoretically still give the Browns a call to see how much Tyrod Taylor would cost in a trade. But that would be admitting they made a mistake by sticking with Bortles, a problem this franchise has made repeatedly since before Coughlin showed up.