NFL News & Analysis

NFL Sources Buy or Sell: Joe Burrow's rebound, Christian McCaffrey trade, Packers' struggles

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

• Packers' woes through seven weeks: Green Bay lost its third straight game, a demoralizing defeat to a Washington Commanders team using its backup quarterback.

• Joe Burrow lighting it up: Burrow and the Bengals have been back to their winning ways in recent weeks. Is it for real?

• Christian McCaffrey's trade to 49ers: San Francisco let go of a significant draft pick haul to acquire the running back, but was it worth it?

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins


NFC analytics exec: Buy

The Packers lost their third straight game and have yet to put together a truly convincing win this season. 

They lost to the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, then strung together three straight wins over the 2-4 Chicago Bears, 3-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 3-3 New England Patriots. But the Patriots took Green Bay to overtime in rookie Bailey Zappe’s first-ever action after he subbed in for a concussed Brian Hoyer. Now the Packers have dropped games against the upstart New York Giants and New York Jets and had their lowest moment Sunday when they lost to the 3-4 Washington Commanders, who were starting Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. 

Green Bay couldn’t capitalize on Heinicke’s many mistakes — including five turnover-worthy plays en route to a 33.0 PFF passing grade.

The Packers’ offense now ranks 26th in expected points added (EPA) per play, 27th in EPA per passing play and 19th in EPA per run play. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 73.2 overall PFF grade is at its lowest in his starting career.

One AFC analytics executive sees this could be a long-term issue if Green Bay doesn’t make a move to acquire more receiving help before the NFL’s Nov. 1 trade deadline since their wide receivers have trouble getting open against man coverage.

“(Rodgers’) EPA/play on possession downs is worse than it's ever been,” the analytics executive said.

The Packers are currently dead last in EPA per passing play on third and fourth down.

The analytics executive believes it’s a good year for the Packers to make a move “with how unimpressive the NFC is.”

It could also help Rodgers’ attitude. Looking from afar, another source we spoke to said it appears Rodgers’ “whole demeanor has changed in a negative way.”

Two Patriots wide receivers — Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor — have been involved in trade rumors, but they’re currently banged up with toe and hamstring injuries, respectively. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool has also been involved in trade rumors. The New York Jets have two wide receivers — Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims — who have requested trades.

An AFC scout believes Rodgers’ mobility has decreased.

“That hurts his ability to go off-script,” he said.

In March, the Packers signed Rodgers to a three-year, $150 million contract extension with $101.4 million in full guarantees that locks him up through the 2026 season.


NFC scout: Buy

It appeared that the NFL had figured out the Cincinnati Bengals after the early portion of the 2022 season, when Cincinnati ranked 21st in EPA per play through the first three weeks in a Super Bowl hangover. Now, suddenly, they rank seventh in EPA per play through seven weeks of the season and rank second from Week 5 to Week 7. They currently look more promising than the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams after back-to-back wins over the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons in which Cincinnati put up 30-plus points.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns in Week 6 with a 78.1 PFF grade. He was 34-of-42 for 481 yards with three touchdowns with a 91.8 PFF grade in Week 7.

One problem point Burrow and the Bengals appear to have fixed in recent weeks is their issues against split-safety coverage shells. Only the Los Angeles Chargers have faced more MOFO (middle of field open) safety position on passing plays this season. Through the first five games of the season, Burrow had a 54.2 passing grade against MOFO safety position and a 73.4 passing grade against MOFC (middle of field closed) safety position. Over the past two games, that gap has narrowed, and Burrow has an 89.1 passing grade against MOFC and an 80.1 passing grade against MOFO.

On Sunday, he recorded an 87.5 passing grade against MOFC and an 83.4 passing grade against MOFO.

“They had answers to everything,” an NFC scout said. “Against man, they won their 1-on-1 matchups. Against zone, they picked the Falcons apart. When they brought pressure, Burrow got it out quick.”

Burrow had an 87.4 passing grade against man and an 85.1 passing grade against zone. He was 5-of-7 for 51 yards while under pressure and 3-of-5 for 33 yards when the Falcons blitzed.

The Bengals’ offensive line has also stabilized under the leadership of center and captain Ted Karras. Cincinnati has the lowest pressure rate allowed over the past three weeks of the season, at 19.4%. They ranked 20th through the first four weeks of the season.


NFC analytics exec: Sell

Running back Christian McCaffrey did an impressive job learning the San Francisco 49ers’ offense in less than three days after being dealt from the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. McCaffrey played 22 snaps, earned a 70.9 grade, carried the ball eight times for 38 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards in a 44-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 49ers traded 2023 second-, third- and fourth-round picks plus a 2024 fifth-round pick to the Panthers for McCaffrey. An NFC analytics executive didn’t love the value.

“For sure feels like an overpay and weird considering how much San Francisco has already invested at RB,” he said. “In a weak NFC, I can understand justifying any trade that improves a roster that is already in playoff contention. I just think this particular move made little sense for San Francisco to make. I would have understood it more for (the Los Angeles Rams).”

The 49ers spent a third-round pick on running back Trey Sermon in the 2021 NFL Draft, gave him 41 carries last season and waived him this summer. Then they used another third-round pick on running back Tyrion Davis-Price this spring. He has carried the ball only 16 times for 37 yards through seven weeks as a rookie. The 49ers have instead leaned on 2021 sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell and veteran Jeff Wilson Jr. over the past two seasons. Now they’ve used two more Day 2 picks and two more Day 3 picks to acquire McCaffrey.

The NFC is not strong, however, which has been a theme of this entire piece. The Philadelphia Eagles are 6-0 and lead the NFC East, and the Minnesota Vikings are a surprise 5-1 atop the NFC North. But the NFC South is currently led by the 3-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Seattle Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West at 4-3. There are 10 teams with two or three wins still in the hunt for playoff contention, including the 3-4 49ers. San Francisco obviously felt McCaffrey would push the team over the edge. He wasn’t enough Sunday in a limited role, but look for that to expand as the season goes on.


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