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The NFL Watchability Rankings, Week 2: The World Needs a Brady-Bortles Rematch

Jacksonville is betting big on an inexpensive QB being the key to unlocking the rest of its roster. But has Bortles taken the team as far as it can go? Plus: Your NFL Week 2 viewing guide.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered this offseason with just one gaping hole on their roster: quarterback. Last season, Blake Bortles was good enough to guide the team to the AFC championship game, but Jacksonville was winning despite him, not because of him. The Jaguars were an obvious candidate to chase a passer in either the draft or free agency, and it seemed like the Good Place jokes would end up dying in the Jags’ quest to reach the NFL’s good place.

Despite that speculation, Jacksonville instead chose to give Bortles a three-year extension in February worth $26.5 million in guaranteed money. The team’s hand was somewhat forced, as Bortles’s fifth-year option would have been fully guaranteed if he couldn’t pass a physical, but the move also fit the Jaguars’ team-building strategy. Since Tom Coughlin arrived in Jacksonville in January 2017, the Jaguars have eschewed the widely-held belief that teams need a franchise quarterback to win—if anything, they’ve tried to redefine what a “franchise” quarterback is. They’re still building their roster around their QB, but they’re doing so because he’s an inexpensive passer who may be just OK enough to succeed with a high-priced, talented roster, not because they think he can carry the team himself.

With Bortles’s deal, the Jaguars have a QB who will cost less than 6 percent of the cap this season and just over 10 percent in 2019. This is by design: Bortles himself (jokingly) said he wanted to follow in Tom Brady’s footsteps and take less money so his team could put a better roster around him.

Bortles’s cap hit this season is just $10 million, the second-lowest in the league (behind Ryan Tannehill) for any starting QB not on a rookie contract. In 2019 that figure will jump to $21 million, which sounds like a lot, but is higher than only Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, and Jimmy Garoppolo among non-rookie-contract starters. That cheap deal has allowed the Jaguars to build the most expensive (and terrifying) defensive line in football, to throw $30 million guaranteed at guard Andrew Norwell to bolster their offensive line, and it may allow them to contend for an AFC championship.

Sunday’s game against the Patriots will be a good proving ground for the Jaguars’ strategy—and another chance for Bortles to go up against the guy he says he’s modeling himself after. Of course, we know how the last Jaguars-Patriots matchup went. Jacksonville held a 20-10 lead over New England in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game, but after four consecutive Jags drives ended in zero points, the Pats stole the game 24-20.

This Sunday afternoon rematch in Jacksonville is the most watchable game of the week, and it also serves up the most compelling story line: the team with the GOAT quarterback against the squad that is trying to win despite its passer. How the Jaguars fare against the class of the NFL will either help justify the team’s gamble on Bortles, or it’ll show us that last year’s AFC championship game is about as far as the Jags can go with him under center.

Let’s get to the watchability rankings. It was a wild week in the NFL (Hello, Bucs and Jets!), and the overall watchability scores are now weighted 80 percent from 2017’s numbers, and 20 percent from what we saw in Week 1. Incorporating last year’s figures is the reason the Bills aren’t dead last, and also why the Buccaneers aren’t in first. Here is Week 2’s watchability table by team (the individual category scores show only 2018 numbers):

Week 2 Watchability Rankings

Rank Team TDs Score Big Plays Score Punts Score TOs Score Sacks Score Takeaways Score 2017 Total 2018 Total TOTAL SCORE
Rank Team TDs Score Big Plays Score Punts Score TOs Score Sacks Score Takeaways Score 2017 Total 2018 Total TOTAL SCORE
1 New Orleans Saints 1.47 1.05 0.87 -0.02 -1.35 -1.48 6.80 0.54 5.55
2 Los Angeles Rams 0.18 0.10 1.34 1.48 -0.81 0.77 5.49 3.06 5.00
3 New England Patriots 0.18 -0.37 -0.54 -0.77 0.27 0.02 5.05 -1.21 3.80
4 Kansas City Chiefs 1.47 1.53 -0.07 1.48 -0.81 0.02 3.56 3.62 3.57
5 Los Angeles Chargers 0.18 2.00 0.87 -0.02 -0.81 -1.48 4.08 0.74 3.41
6 Philadelphia Eagles -0.46 -1.32 -0.54 -0.02 0.81 -0.73 4.37 -2.27 3.04
7 Pittsburgh Steelers 0.18 0.58 -1.01 -3.03 2.43 -0.73 3.98 -1.57 2.87
8 Jacksonville Jaguars -0.46 -0.37 -1.01 0.73 -0.27 0.02 3.55 -1.37 2.57
9 Green Bay Packers 0.18 0.10 0.40 -0.02 0.81 -0.73 2.73 0.74 2.33
10 Detroit Lions -0.46 0.58 0.87 -2.28 -0.27 0.02 3.23 -1.54 2.28
11 Baltimore Ravens 2.12 0.58 -0.07 0.73 1.89 0.02 0.97 5.27 1.83
12 Minnesota Vikings 0.18 -0.85 -0.54 0.73 0.27 1.53 1.89 1.32 1.78
13 San Francisco 49ers -1.11 0.10 0.40 -1.53 0.27 -0.73 2.54 -2.59 1.51
14 Atlanta Falcons -1.11 0.58 -0.54 0.73 -0.27 0.02 1.58 -0.59 1.15
15 Seattle Seahawks 0.18 0.58 -0.54 -0.77 -0.81 0.77 1.52 -0.59 1.10
16 Carolina Panthers -0.46 -1.32 -0.54 0.73 1.89 -0.73 1.33 -0.44 0.98
17 Washington Redskins 0.18 -0.37 0.40 0.73 -0.27 0.02 -0.45 0.69 -0.22
18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2.12 2.48 1.81 1.48 -0.81 0.02 -2.12 7.09 -0.28
19 Dallas Cowboys -1.11 -1.32 -0.54 0.73 0.27 -0.73 -0.37 -2.70 -0.84
20 Houston Texans -0.46 -0.85 -0.54 -0.02 -0.27 0.77 -0.80 -1.37 -0.91
21 Tennessee Titans -0.46 -0.85 0.40 -0.77 -0.81 0.02 -1.33 -2.48 -1.56
22 Buffalo Bills -1.75 -1.32 -1.48 -0.02 -0.27 -0.73 -1.35 -5.58 -2.20
23 Chicago Bears -0.46 -0.85 0.40 0.73 0.81 0.02 -3.16 0.65 -2.40
24 New York Jets 2.12 0.10 0.87 -0.02 -1.35 2.28 -4.18 3.99 -2.55
25 Denver Broncos 0.18 1.53 -0.54 -0.77 1.89 0.77 -4.18 3.06 -2.73
26 Arizona Cardinals -1.11 -0.85 -0.07 -0.02 0.27 -0.73 -2.96 -2.51 -2.87
27 Cincinnati Bengals 0.83 0.10 1.34 -0.02 -0.27 0.02 -4.41 2.00 -3.13
28 Oakland Raiders -1.11 0.10 0.40 -0.77 -0.81 -1.48 -3.37 -3.67 -3.43
29 Indianapolis Colts -0.46 -1.32 1.34 -0.02 -0.27 0.02 -4.63 -0.72 -3.85
30 Miami Dolphins 0.18 -0.37 0.40 -0.02 -1.35 0.77 -5.67 -0.39 -4.61
31 Cleveland Browns 0.18 0.58 -3.36 0.73 0.81 3.03 -7.09 1.96 -5.28
32 New York Giants -1.11 -0.37 -0.07 -0.02 -0.81 -0.73 -6.59 -3.12 -5.90

For the full methodology behind the rankings, check out last week’s post. Now, here’s how this week’s games score in watchability:

NFL Watchability Game Scores, Week 2

Rank Away Team Score Home Team Score Day Time (ET) Home Line GAME SCORE
Rank Away Team Score Home Team Score Day Time (ET) Home Line GAME SCORE
1 New England Patriots 3.8 Jacksonville Jaguars 2.57 Sun 4:25 PM 0 9.47
2 Minnesota Vikings 1.78 Green Bay Packers 2.33 Sun 1:00 PM 0 7.22
3 Kansas City Chiefs 3.57 Pittsburgh Steelers 2.87 Sun 1:00 PM -5 6.38
4 Philadelphia Eagles 3.04 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -0.28 Sun 1:00 PM 3 3.97
5 Detroit Lions 2.28 San Francisco 49ers 1.51 Sun 4:05 PM -6 3.09
6 Carolina Panthers 0.98 Atlanta Falcons 1.15 Sun 1:00 PM -5.5 1.74
7 Baltimore Ravens 1.83 Cincinnati Bengals -3.13 Thu 8:20 PM 1 1.18
8 Seattle Seahawks 1.1 Chicago Bears -2.4 Mon 8:15 PM -3.5 -0.41
9 Los Angeles Chargers 3.41 Buffalo Bills -2.2 Sun 1:00 PM 7.5 -0.43
10 Houston Texans -0.91 Tennessee Titans -1.56 Sun 1:00 PM 2 -0.63
11 Cleveland Browns -5.28 New Orleans Saints 5.55 Sun 1:00 PM -9 -2.33
12 Arizona Cardinals -2.87 Los Angeles Rams 5 Sun 4:05 PM -13 -3.00
13 Indianapolis Colts -3.85 Washington Redskins -0.22 Sun 1:00 PM -6 -4.77
14 New York Giants -5.9 Dallas Cowboys -0.84 Sun 8:20 PM -3 -5.53
15 Miami Dolphins -4.61 New York Jets -2.55 Sun 1:00 PM -3 -5.95
16 Oakland Raiders -3.43 Denver Broncos -2.73 Sun 4:25 PM -6 -6.86

With this data in mind, let’s look at Sunday’s matchups, ordered by watchability score:

The Battle for the NFC North: Vikings at Packers (Plus-7.22)

Let’s all hope Aaron Rodgers is healthy enough to play in this game, not just because he’s the most fun player in the entire league, but also because this game could be an early indicator of who’ll finish atop the NFC North. In the division, the Lions are DOA, and the Bears still look like they’re a few years away from contention. The Vikings and the Packers are the clear favorites, and they won’t play each other again until after Thanksgiving.

Rodgers is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered in last week’s 24-23 win over the Bears, and coach Mike McCarthy has described his status as “day-to-day”—though Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer offered what may be a more realistic evaluation on Thursday, given the player they’re talking about:

“He walks on water,” Zimmer said. “So I’m sure he’s going to play.”

Even if Rodgers is on the field, this game will be a grind for Green Bay. The Vikings defense is stacked at virtually every position, and that unit made life a nightmare for the Niners and Jimmy Garoppolo last Sunday. But as Rodgers proved against Chicago, he’s up to any challenge.

The Highest Chance for Offensive Fireworks: Chiefs at Steelers (Plus-6.38)

While the Steelers may have sputtered to a tie against the Browns in Week 1, they still have Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and an impressively effective James Conner. Oh, and Ben Roethlisberger always performs dramatically better at home.

Pittsburgh is certainly a watchable team, though it boasts a roster that fans are very familiar with. On the other sideline this week lurks an offense that feels both exciting and new.

The Chiefs fielded the most electric offense in the league in Week 1, with Patrick Mahomes II flinging the ball deep at every opportunity. And with Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce, they have a skill-position group that may already be more talented than that of the Steelers—at least the Steelers without Le’Veon Bell. Kansas City torched the Chargers for 38 points last week, and that unit could be even better on Sunday.

Can Fitzmagic Pull Another Rabbit From His Hat?: Eagles at Buccaneers (Plus-3.97)

Ryan Fitzpatrick torched the Saints defense last week to the tune of 417 yards and four touchdowns, and now the question is: Can that last?

As much as I’d love to believe in Fitzmagic, we are talking about a 35-year-old who is a known commodity as a player—it’s highly unlikely he became a god-like passer overnight. Before Sunday, Fitzpatrick had seven total games in his career in which he threw for at least 350 yards. In the games immediately following those outings, his average statline is 187.9 passing yards, 0.7 touchdowns, and 1.3 interceptions. In other words: He usually comes crashing back to earth. Plus, the Eagles have one of the best defenses in football, so this game will present a serious challenge.

That said, the Bucs were more explosive on offense than any other team in Week 1, and if they move the ball against Philly’s defense, it would send shockwaves through the NFL. We can rationalize the win over the Saints as a fluke. But Tampa Bay beating Philly could turn the NFC upside down.

A Desperate Chess Match Between Former Pats: Lions at 49ers (Plus-3.09)

Jimmy Garoppolo’s statline against the Vikings (15-for-33 with one touchdown and three interceptions) makes his performance seem a lot worse than it was. Minnesota’s defense was dominant, breaking up some of Garoppolo’s best passes and making virtually every play a battle. But those three interceptions, all of which came on off-target throws, loom large for a player who threw five picks in five starts with the Niners last year.

Luckily for Garoppolo, this week he’s playing a team that offers the perfect opportunity for a bounce-back performance. The Lions were awful in every phase of Monday night’s 48-17 loss to the Jets, and the team’s one highlight came on a horrible Sam Darnold throw—one that Garoppolo isn’t likely to make.

Maybe Lions coach Matt Patricia knows something about Garoppolo’s tendencies from their time together in New England that can help put his team back on track. Then again, the same could be said about Garoppolo. There will undoubtedly be some serious mind games going on when the Niners are on offense and the Lions are on defense.

The NFC South Is Up for Grabs … Again: Panthers at Falcons (Plus-1.74)

The NFC South is always wide-open. In the division’s 16-season history, its reigning champ has successfully defended its title just twice: Both times it was the Panthers, and both instances came within the past five years. The division looks to be competitive again this year as the favored Saints took a stunning tumble against the Bucs last week, and the Panthers and Falcons are the teams best positioned to capitalize.

Of course, Atlanta is 0-1 after stumbling against Philly, while the Panthers are 1-0 after they outlasted the Cowboys 16-8—but knowing how this division works, the Saints will probably win this week, the Bucs will lose, and the Falcons will take this matchup, so every team will be 1-1 heading into Week 3. That’d be appropriate.

A Rookie Quarterback Gets His Chance: Chargers at Bills (Minus-0.43)

I’m livid that Nathan Peterman won’t get the opportunity to avenge his infamous five-interception half this week. Peterman starting would have held incredible potential: either for more hilarity, or for retribution. Instead, Josh Allen will be under center against L.A. Allen is in an interesting position himself—he’s just the second rookie quarterback to earn a start this year, and he comes in with equal parts hype and skepticism.

Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott is between a rock and a hard place. When the Bills started Peterman to begin the season, it seemed like a tactical decision to protect their rookie from an early slate of ferocious defenses. But Peterman was so awful in Week 1—his passer rating against the Ravens was zero, and he’s off to the worst start for any quarterback since the 1970s—that McDermott couldn’t possibly continue to play him with a straight face. So now Allen is getting thrown to the wolves. Luckily, Allen has two things going for him: (1) that Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa is likely out with a foot injury, and (2) that he can’t possibly be any worse than Peterman was in his first start against this very same squad.

Two Young Passers in Need of a Rebound: Texans at Titans (Minus-0.63)

It’s way too early to sound the alarm bells for either of these teams, but fans of the Texans and Titans must be concerned about how their young quarterbacks performed in Week 1. Deshaun Watson threw for 176 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against the Patriots, looking nothing like the player who set the league on fire for half of 2017. Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota went 9-for-16 with zero touchdowns and two picks against the Dolphins.

For Texans fans, just having Watson on the field again is reason enough to celebrate—at least for now.

But Mariota’s position is a little more complicated. Mariota left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with an injury to his right arm. He returned to the game for the next series, but then he threw two ugly interceptions (on consecutive pass attempts!), and left for good. Mariota said after the game that he “couldn’t feel my fingers, couldn’t feel my hand,” and that he was unable to grip the ball. Mariota has been limited in practice this week, but head coach Mike Vrabel sounds optimistic that he’ll start on Sunday.

Mariota has been a relative disappointment since being selected no. 2 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, and last year was his worst season yet, as he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13). But considering the injury—and the awkward situation of playing a game over the course of seven hours—Mariota deserves a pass on his Sunday performance. But like Watson, that’s just for now. Both of these passers could use a breakout game in Week 2.

Flash, Savior of Cleveland?: Browns at Saints (Minus-2.33)

You’ve already heard the jokes: The Browns didn’t lose Sunday. But a tie was only the second-most hilariously appropriate thing to come out of Cleveland last week. Before the game, coach Hue Jackson said that wide receiver Josh Gordon wouldn’t start. Come game time, Gordon started:

Though the Browns were at the bottom of 2017’s watchability rankings, they’re above average at every category this season, save one: punts. Cleveland punted an incredible 12 times against the Steelers. Gordon could play a huge role in getting the Browns offense moving, and so could the Saints defense, which let the Buccaneers walk all over them last week. Then again, Jackson said that Gordon should see more targets Sunday, so look for him to get none whatsoever, given the coach’s track record so far this season.

An NFC West Showdown That May Be Over by Halftime: Cardinals at Rams (Minus-3.00)

Any game featuring the Rams could turn into an offensive show, and last week Sean McVay’s former team made the Cardinals look silly as Washington handily won the contest 24-6. While there’s potential for Arizona running back David Johnson to find success against L.A.’s lacking linebacker corps, the Cardinals as a whole appear to be in rebuilding mode. Most Rams matchups will be watchable this season, but this one should be safe to skip.

A Superstar Is Quietly Getting His Career Back on Track: Colts at Redskins (Minus-4.77)

It would have made sense for the Colts to slowly ease their superstar quarterback back into the game after he took all of 2017 off with a shoulder injury, yet Andrew Luck led the league in passing attempts last week with 53 throws against the Bengals. Luck was sacked twice and hit nine times—and he took one particularly scary shot to the head, which resulted in Bengals safety Shawn Williams being ejected from the game. How’d Luck feel the next day?

“I’ve never been in a serious car wreck, but you get a little of that feeling,” he said.

That comment may have been a bit tongue-in-cheek, as he said it with a smile, but it underscores an important point: The Colts have to figure out a way to protect their franchise passer. To that end, running back Marlon Mack is set to return to the team after missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury. Getting him going (Indianapolis picked up just 75 total rushing yards last week) could help keep defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (who has recorded double-digit sack totals in the past two seasons) and the rest of Washington’s pass rush away from Luck.

Can the Rookie Magic Last?: Dolphins at Jets (Minus-5.95)

In an AFC East that is almost certainly going to be won by the Patriots, this game has only one narrative that stands out: Sam Darnold.

While Jets coach Todd Bowles says he’ll wait 100 games before he passes judgement on Darnold, fans are probably going to be a little less patient. Hell, some Jets supporters were seeing ghosts of Mark Sanchez Past after Darnold’s first throw:

Darnold finished Monday’s game 16-for-21 with 198 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The question now is whether the Jets are great, or the Lions are just awful. The Dolphins aren’t exactly the class of the NFL, but they had a solid outing against the Titans and are ninth in DVOA, though it’s way too early to give much credence to that number. Still, this should be a better test of how NFL-ready Darnold is than whatever happened in Detroit on Monday.

A Punter’s Quest for Revenge: Raiders at Broncos (Minus-6.86)

Both of these teams are a little lower in the watchability rankings than you might expect. Despite a strong opening game against Seattle, the Broncos are still being held down by a 25th-ranked finish in watchability in 2017. Oakland was also lower in watchability last year, and its rough second half against the Rams last week—in which the team scored zero points—has lowered this season’s score too.

But if there’s one reason to watch this game, it’s to see a player try to punt his way to revenge. The Raiders cut Marquette King in April—despite the fact that he was one of the better punters in the league last season—and he quickly signed in Denver so he could see his old team twice a year. He already appears to be looking forward to this matchup: