The Check-down Check-up (2020): Week Fifteen

Another week of NFL football in the books, another edition of the Check-down Check-up to grade teams with. As a reminder, anything under four is a check down, anything above seven is a check up, and anything between those fours and sevens is a “check back next week.” So, who’s coming up? Who’s on their way down? Which team am I locking in with total confidence this week? Let’s find out.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns

The Browns finally got what felt like their first true blowout win of the season, and their first “boring win” in years. Kevin Stefanski and Co. walked into MetLife Stadium, took care of their business, and left. Baker Mayfield looked great on a night where Cleveland’s vaunted rushing attack wasn’t looking quite as lethal. There’s not much else to say about this one. I’d expect them to beat the Jets this week, especially now that New York has that whole “winning a game” thing behind them. As a Browns fan I can tell you, going 0-16 is cool, you usually get the No. 1 pick out of it. Maybe you should try it sometime, New York.

Verdict: 8.75/10, Check Up

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore followed up their Monday night thriller in Cleveland with a dominating performance against the Jaguars. Little did the Ravens know that just three hours later, this win would hand the Jags the top pick in the draft, at least for a week. With games against the Giants and Bengals coming up, I find it hard to believe the Ravens won’t win out and get hot just in time for the playoffs. Then again, stranger things have happened, and anything can happen in the NFL.

Verdict: 9/10, Check Up

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh, we officially have a problem. The Steelers are known for playing down to their competition when they face an inferior team, but this is a new low. After starting 11-0, the Steelers have dropped three in a row, and at least two of those have been to inferior teams. And now with a Colts team desperate to make the playoffs coming up, Pittsburgh could be in for a dogfight. If they even show up. And if not, this one could get ugly for the Steelers.

Verdict: 6.75/10, Check Back Next Week

Cincinnati Bengals

Of course, I wrote here last week that I don’t expect Cincinnati to win a game for the rest of the season, and then by some miracle, they take down the 11-2 Steelers. Ryan Finley played the game of his life, Cincy’s defense looked sharp throughout, and Pittsburgh gift-wrapped the Bengals multiple opportunities to take this game, and they finally did. The Bengals also inadvertently kept Cleveland’s hopes alive to win the AFC North, and the Browns jumped to a 10% chance to win the division.

Verdict: 3.25/10, Check Down

AFC East

New England Patriots

It was only right that the Patriots got eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 2008 by a division rival. Instead of the division-winning Buffalo Bills, Cam Newton and the Pats fell to the Dolphins to seal their fate. These very same Dolphins will likely make the playoffs with a rookie quarterback and a defense that shuts opponents down on the weekly. 2020 sure is a weird year.4

Verdict: 4/10, Check Down

Miami Dolphins

Speaking of the Dolphins, what a performance to keep themselves in contention for the AFC Wild Card. The Patriots’ usual trick of “make the hot rookie quarterback look like garbage” didn’t come through for them this time. Tua didn’t look phenomenal against Bill Belichick’s defense, but Miami was able to tread water throughout the game and keep the Patriots offense bottled up. Now, the Dolphins will travel to Las Vegas for a matchup with the Raiders, who are fighting for their playoff lives.

Verdict: 8.5/10, Check Up

Buffalo Bills

The Bills followed up their fantastic performance against the (at the time) one-loss Steelers with an even more dominating display against the Denver Broncos. Josh Allen showed John Elway that he should’ve drafted him in 2018, rubbed it in his face, and left. And for their efforts, Allen and the Bills were rewarded with a prize they haven’t seen since the 1990s: a division title. Bills fans showed up at the airport to congratulate their team on a well-earned division title, which probably wasn’t social-distancing safe, but hey, you only live once, I guess.

Verdict: 9/10, Check Up

New York Jets

CONGRATULATIONS, NEW YORK!

You finally won yourself a game this year, bucking the trend of an 0-13 start, and successfully screwed yourself out of the best quarterback prospect to come out of the draft in 37 years! Not only were you rewarded with the hollow pride of a meaningless win in December, but you also lost out on a generational prospect in the form of Trevor Lawrence! You’ve impatiently traded in your season-long despair for the fleeting hope of just one week!

I can’t believe this happened. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

Verdict: 0/10, Check Down

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were once again able to laugh at the misery of the Texans this week. This time, the culprit was a fumble by Keke Coutee as Houston was marching towards the endzone in an attempt to tie the game. Indy needed this one to stay in the playoff race, and they’ll need it again in week sixteen as they face a free-falling Steelers team. The Colts have to win out, lest they (probably) lose their seat in the AFC playoff bracket, and Pittsburgh is their last big obstacle to doing so.

Verdict: 9.25/10, Check Up

Houston Texans

This Texans team makes me so sad.

I just explained what happened in the Colts’ part of the column and I don’t care to discuss it here. I feel for Deshaun Watson. Houston is one of the league’s greatest shames of the past few years.

Verdict: 2/10, Check Down

Jacksonville Jaguars

Another week, another step closer to TREVOR LAWRENCE. The Jaguars got shellacked by Baltimore, and just a few hours later, found out they could very easily be picking No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. The Jags are now just two games away from bringing the best quarterback prospect since John Elway to northern Florida. Congratulations, Jacksonville. Should it hold, you’ve really earned this one.

Verdict: 0.5/10, Check Down

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are in great playoff position, but they are not free from obstacles on their way there. This week, the Lions exposed a lot of what is wrong with Tennessee’s defense, namely their lack of pass rush. The Titans don’t have much in the way of getting to the quarterback, as shown in their week thirteen loss to the Browns. This week, Tennessee has to travel to Green Bay, and if Baker Mayfield and Matt Stafford picked them apart on defense, imagine what Aaron Rodgers might do.

Verdict: 8.25/10, Check Up

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City can wake up when they need to. Despite my complaints that they’ve been sleepwalking through this season and have been suffering a minor Super Bowl hangover in that area, it’s clear that Mahomes and Friends can show up when they have to. The Chiefs didn’t dominate New Orleans, but they took care of business, and returned home with a win they didn’t need, but it looks good on the resume. Despite the loss, I think this win puts the Chiefs back to a 10/10 on the confidence rating. What’s more is that I’ll be locking them in this week against Atlanta.

Verdict: 10/10, Check Up (LOCK)

Denver Broncos

I predicted Denver would fall hard at the hands of the Bills, and that’s about what I expected to happen. The Bills actually exceeded my expectations, but Denver’s pure lack of offensive firepower is what really surprised me in this one. Drew Lock has played well lately, but despite that, the Broncos simply could not move the ball on Buffalo’s defense. The mere fact that they mustered 19 points in the first place is a surprise, considering that watching the game, it looked like they could barely get a first down.

Verdict: 2.25/10, Check Down

Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert has tied the record for rookie passing touchdowns, set by Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield in 2018. He will almost certainly crush that record (I predict 31 touchdowns by season’s end). As an apology to the Browns, the Chargers were more than happy to give them help in clinching a playoff berth. The Raiders now need multiple miracles in order to make this year’s postseason, as this overtime loss to LA has likely ended their season. On the other side, the Chargers really, truly have something in Herbert.

Verdict: 5/10, Check Back Next Week

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders are skidding to a halt, despite starting the season 6-3. As just mentioned, this loss to the Chargers was a killer, and while their playoff hopes aren’t completely dead and buried just yet, it would take a late-season resurrection for the Raiders to make it in. Vegas has the Dolphins coming to town, and if they want to make it in, they need to start making their push here and now. Not to be too biased, but I also say this because it helps the Browns get into the playoffs.

Verdict: 4.75/10, Check Back Next Week

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