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2018 NFL Power Rankings – Risers and fallers after free agency

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There has been no shortage of movement this offseason, and now it’s time to make some sense of it.

The ESPN power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how the NFL stacks up following the initial surge of free agency. (Hint: The league has shifted quite a bit since our way-too-early edition.)

Note: These are based on which teams would win head-to-head. Higher-ranked teams would be favored against lower-ranked teams. ESPN Stats & Information’s John McTigue contributed the following.

2017 record: 13-3
Way-too-early ranking: 2

One of the reigning champs’ biggest strengths was the defensive line, which featured a league-high seven players with at least 400 snaps last season. The Eagles lost two contributors, Beau Allen and Vinny Curry, but replaced them with two players with eight combined Pro Bowls: Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.

2017 record: 13-3
Way-too-early ranking: 1

One of the Patriots’ biggest weaknesses last season was their front seven, allowing the second-most yards per rush and the most time to throw on passes. They’ve traded for Danny Shelton and signed Adrian Clayborn, who had 9.5 sacks in 2017, to bolster the defensive front.

2017 record: 13-3
Way-too-early ranking: 4

The 2018 offseason will be defined by the signing of Kirk Cousins. Consider this for a moment: The Vikings have been around since 1961, and they’ve never had a quarterback throw for at least 20 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. Cousins has thrown at least 25 touchdown passes in three consecutive seasons.

2017 record: 11-5
Way-too-early ranking: 6

Drew Brees re-signing for two years is the best news for the Saints this offseason, but they’ve also added pieces to their resurgent defense. Demario Davis, Alex Okafor and Patrick Robinson all join a defense that allowed eight fewer points per game in 2017 than in 2016.

2017 record: 13-3
Way-too-early ranking: 3

The biggest question for the Steelers is whether they can work out a long-term deal with Le’Veon Bell, who was once again franchised. Bell has accounted for 75 percent of the Steelers’ rushing yards over the past two seasons, the only player to surpass 70 percent.

2017 record: 11-5
Way-too-early ranking: 9

The Rams had one of the biggest offensive turnarounds in NFL history last season. This offseason the Rams are adding 12 Pro Bowls between Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to a defense that already featured the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald.

2017 record: 10-6
Way-too-early ranking: 7

The Falcons filled a big need by signing guard Brandon Fusco to bulk up the interior of the offensive line. The defensive line has taken a hit, though, with Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn both signing elsewhere. The duo played the second- and third-most snaps along Atlanta’s defensive line last season.

2017 record: 10-6
Way-too-early ranking: 5

The Jaguars saw a huge turnaround in 2017 and are continuing to build on that success. No team ran more between the tackles in 2017, so they signed an All-Pro guard in Andrew Norwell to help. No team had fewer receptions at tight end last season, so they signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins to fix that.

2017 record: 7-9
Way-too-early ranking: 8

The splashy signing of Jimmy Graham will certainly shore up a tight end group that combined for two touchdowns last season, tied for fewest in the NFL. But that move didn’t come without sacrifice, and how will Aaron Rodgers react without his old favorite target? Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson in his career than any other player (65).

2017 record: 4-12
Way-too-early ranking: 15

The Texans allowed the most points in the NFL in 2017, so plugging gaps on the defense was crucial. Tyrann Mathieu, who leads all players in interceptions when lining up as a slot corner the past five seasons, and Aaron Colvin, who was the slot corner on the Jaguars’ stout defense last season, are good starts.

2017 record: 6-10
Way-too-early ranking: 14

Only the Packers allowed a higher Total QBR on passes to wide receivers than the Niners did last season, so the addition of Richard Sherman should pay immediate dividends. With a huge defensive need addressed and Jimmy Garoppolo locked in, San Francisco is in good shape heading into the draft.

2017 record: 11-5
Way-too-early ranking: 10

The Panthers were able to mitigate the loss of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei by bringing in Dontari Poe, but the Panthers haven’t done much to mitigate the loss of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell yet. The Panthers already ranked 24th in yards per rush between the tackles last season, so losing Norwell won’t help.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 11

The Seahawks ranked 13th in points allowed last season, the first time since 2011 they ranked outside the top three. With Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane all gone — and more changes potentially coming — it’s possible Seattle could slip even further.

2017 record: 10-6
Way-too-early ranking: 12

The Chiefs made a big splash in acquiring Sammy Watkins for new starter Patrick Mahomes, but the defense has seen better days. Marcus Peters, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Ron Parker and Terrance Mitchell are all gone, and all have been big contributors in recent years.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 16

It had been a relatively quiet offseason for the Chargers, but they recently swooped in to secure three-time Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey after he was released by the Dolphins. Los Angeles ranked 27th in average rushing yards before contact last season.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 17

Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel is now the head coach. Former Patriots running back Dion Lewis and former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler are the highlight of Tennessee’s free-agent class. We’re noticing a trend here: The Titans are not sitting back idly after ending an eight-year playoff drought last season.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 13

Ultimately franchising DeMarcus Lawrence and tendering David Irving will likely be looked back on as the biggest moves for Dallas this offseason. The duo accounted for 57 percent of the Cowboys’ sacks last season, the third highest of any pair in the NFL.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 20

The Lions ranked 27th in total defense last season but there will be a lot of new faces on Detroit’s defense in 2018. Gone are Haloti Ngata, D.J. Hayden, Tahir Whitehead, and in are Sylvester Williams, DeShawn Shead and Christian Jones.

2017 record: 5-11
Way-too-early ranking: 23

The Broncos ranked 30th in team Total QBR last season, so they went out and got the quarterback who finished second among QBs in 2017. If Case Keenum can provide some stability to the position, Denver could find itself back in contention.

2017 record: 7-9
Way-too-early ranking: 22

Kirk Cousins is on to Minnesota and Alex Smith is in for Washington. Will there be much of a difference? Over the past three seasons they have near identical Total QBRs — 62 for Cousins and 61 for Smith. Cousins has thrown for 20 more touchdowns, but Smith has thrown 16 fewer interceptions over the same span.

2017 record: 6-10
Way-too-early ranking: 18

Jon Gruden and the Raiders have been keeping themselves busy this offseason, adding 14 free agents from other teams. The one Derek Carr might appreciate the most is Jordy Nelson, who has the fourth-most receiving touchdowns since 2011.

2017 record: 7-9
Way-too-early ranking: 28

The Bengals’ free-agent signings have included a punter, a backup quarterback and one-year deals for linebacker Preston Smith and tight end Tyler Eifert. They did acquire offensive tackle Cordy Glenn in a trade, but otherwise it has been a quiet offseason in Cincinnati.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 21

Tyrod Taylor helped end a 17-year playoff drought in Buffalo, so naturally the Bills made a switch at quarterback. After trading Taylor to the Browns, the Bills signed AJ McCarron and seem intent on drafting a quarterback in the first round.

2017 record: 9-7
Way-too-early ranking: 19

Baltimore’s wide receivers made little impact last season, catching 55 percent of targets (29th), dropping 5.6 percent (29th) and recording 2.9 yards after the catch (last). The Ravens brought in Michael Crabtree and John Brown to fix that, allowing last year’s top receivers — Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin — to walk.

2017 record: 5-11
Way-too-early ranking: 24

The Bucs’ defense had a lot of holes last season. They finished last in total defense, last on third down, last in sacks and pressure percentage and allowed the highest completion percentage to opposing wide receivers. They’ve already acquired Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein to help the pass rush, but more work needs to be done in the draft.

2017 record: 5-11
Way-too-early ranking: 29

The Jets have allowed 60 touchdown passes the past two seasons while intercepting only 19 balls, the second-worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL over that span. They threw big money at Trumaine Johnson this offseason — a self-described “game-changer” — and he’ll need to be to help fix the Jets’ defense.

2017 record: 3-13
Way-too-early ranking: 30

Nate Solder will bring much-needed stability to the Giants’ offensive line next season, and should help allow Eli Manning return to form. Because of the Giants’ offensive issues last season, Manning was forced to throw shorter and earlier than almost any other year of his career.

2017 record: 5-11
Way-too-early ranking: 31

The biggest need in Chicago was at wide receiver. No Bears wide receiver caught multiple touchdowns last season, and the group combined to rank 31st in receiving yards. The team addressed that need by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.

2017 record: 8-8
Way-too-early ranking: 26

The Cardinals entered the offseason with no quarterbacks signed for 2018, and now they have two: Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. There’s a good chance Arizona will need both this season, too. Bradford has missed 48 games in his career, and has played all 16 games just twice in eight NFL seasons.

2017 record: 0-16
Way-too-early ranking: 32

The Browns went winless last season, so it’s no surprise that they’ve tried to overhaul some of the roster. If there’s one thing for sure that we know about the 2018 Browns, it’s that they are young. Punter Britton Colquitt and tight end Darren Fells are currently the only players aged 30 or older on the roster.

2017 record: 4-12
Way-too-early ranking: 26

For a team that ranked 30th in points allowed and yards allowed last season, the Colts really haven’t done much to address the defense. The only outside defensive free agent they’ve brought in since the start of the league year is defensive end Denico Autry, who has 10.5 career sacks in four NFL seasons.

2017 record: 6-10
Way-too-early ranking: 27

Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, Jermon Bushrod, Julius Thomas and Lawrence Timmons are among the Dolphins’ losses this offseason. That’s a lot of talent departing. But they have added some players, too — just older ones. The incoming include Frank Gore (34), Danny Amendola (32) and Josh Sitton (31).

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Follow live: Wentz guides Eagles to second TD of game

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Ex-49er Dana Stubblefield sentenced to 15 years to life for rape of disabled woman

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Former San Francisco 49er Dana Stubblefield was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison Thursday for raping a developmentally disabled woman who prosecutors said he lured to his home with the promise of a babysitting job.

The sentence was issued by a judge in San Jose after denying a defense motion for a new trial, the Mercury News reported. Last week, the Sixth District Court of Appeal denied a related petition filed on behalf of Stubblefield by his attorneys.

A jury in July found Stubblefield, 49, guilty of raping the woman with the threat of a gun. He was also convicted of forcible oral copulation and false imprisonment. He has been held in the Santa Clara County Main Jail since the verdict.

Stubblefield began his 11-year lineman career in the NFL with the 49ers in 1993 as the league’s defensive rookie of the year. He later won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1997 before leaving the team to play for Washington. He returned to the Bay Area to finish his career, playing with the 49ers in 2000-01 and the Raiders in 2003.

A day before the April 2015 assault, Stubblefield contacted the then 31-year-old woman on a baby-sitting website and arranged an interview, prosecutors said.

According to a report by the Morgan Hill Police Department, the interview lasted about 20 minutes. She later received a text from Stubblefield saying he wanted to pay her for her time that day, and she went back to the house.

After raping her, Stubblefield gave her $80 and let her go, according to the report. The woman immediately went to police and reported the rape. DNA evidence matched that of Stubblefield, the report said.

Defense attorneys argued that there was no rape and that the woman consented to sex.

Allen Sawyer, one of Stubblefield’s trial attorneys, said the defense team was precluded from showing the jury strong evidence that would have supported the contention.

After the sentencing Thursday, Sawyer emphasized that the jury rejected two felony charges alleging that Stubblefield exploited a woman who was mentally incapable of providing consent to sex.

“We proved it, and the jury found that was not true,” Sawyer said. “That false narrative corrupted this trial from start to finish.”

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Daniel Jones drops 39-yard TD to Golden Tate to put Giants on scoreboard

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It took the New York Giants all of one play with good field position to tie Thursday night’s game at 7-7 in the first quarter at the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants did it with a tough, contested catch by Golden Tate down the seam that turned into a 39-yard touchdown.

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones gave his receiver a chance to make a play. He saw Tate, working out of the slot, matched against Eagles cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc and let it fly despite 0.39 yards of separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

But Tate, who is also known as the YAC (yards after the catch) King, leapt over LeBlanc on the play to make the grab. LeBlanc didn’t turn his head and was unable to make the tackle after the catch.

Tate ran the final 16 yards into the end zone. It evened the score with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter. It was Tate’s first receiving touchdown of the season and Jones’ fourth touchdown pass this season.

It was Jones’ eighth “dime” throw for a TD since the start of last season, the most by any QB in the league. NFL Next Gen Stats defines a “dime” as a pass with 30-plus yards of air distance that was thrown into a tight window (less than one yard of separation).



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