His two exceptional attributes are his catch radius and his ability to make contested plays. The latter has never been Cam Newton’s style. The Panthers quarterback is at his best when seeing a man open, not when he has to place a ball toward a receiver’s leverage when locked up with a defensive back. Benjamin’s separation ability was always lacking and it’s why the offense not only didn’t miss a beat, but also got exponentially better without him in 2015. To get picks in return for him was huge.
This is by far the biggest winner of the trade deadline. Wilson will be able to sleep far easier at night with Duane Brown at left tackle. Over their last 16 games, the left tackle position in Seattle has yielded 76 total pressures. Over Brown’s last 16 games, his given up exactly half as many. That’s over two pass plays a game where Wilson won’t have a defensive end barreling down on him.
That streak was finally snapped — after 154 snaps — with a two-yard run by Rod Smith. Dallas failed to convert its ensuing two-point attempt.
The Chargers were also in a pickle in the kicking game because Nick Novak injured his back in the first quarter when he missed a 35-yard attempt.
The Cowboys’ fortunes could hinge on the availability of running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is in a court battle over a six-game suspension. Elliott has 783 rushing yards — the second-most in the NFL this season — with a share of the league lead for rushing touchdowns (seven). The game charters at Pro Football Focus rate him as this year’s fourth-best back, illustrating how integral he is to the Cowboys’ chances. However, Dallas has already faced the tough part of its season in terms of rush defenses, so — should he ultimately be suspended — that could help offset the decline in talent from Elliott to backups Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith.
It’s true that the Steelers have been handicapped in their past two losses to the Patriots, losing Le’Veon Bell early in last year’s AFC title game and Antonio Brown during this season’s meeting. The Steelers also outplayed New England until the zany sequence at the end of their regular season game. Still, the Steelers coming into New England is a movie we have seen before, and we know how it ends.