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2017 NFL Power Rankings: What do we know through eight weeks?

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: What do we know through eight weeks?

By Ryan Wormeli

Each team in the NFL has played either seven or eight games so far, marking the end of Week 8 as roughly the halfway point of the 2017 season. That makes it as good a time as any to look back on the first half and try to gauge what we actually know about the NFL.

Check out these takeaways and then head on over to see how Week 8 affected the 2017 power rankings by clicking any of the links below.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

1. Rookie(s) of the Year

It's impossible to discuss this season without mentioning the league's newcomers. Kareem Hunt set the world on fire on the first night of the season and has continued to find success in every subsequent game. Dalvin Cook (pre-injury) and Leonard Fournette were highly productive runners from the get-go. Deshaun Watson somehow entered the season as the backup, but took over halfway through Week 1 and has been a superstar ever since. Evan Engram might already be the best pass-catcher in New York (Non-Odell Division). And Redskins fans know Jonathan Allen was making a nice impact before he got hurt. 

With guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting older every year, the NFL needed a nice influx of young talent, and the 2017 draft gave us just that.

2. Philly Flying High

Brace yourself for this 'Skins fans, but the Eagles are legitimately good, and probably will be for a while. At 7-1, they have the best record in the NFL, a young quarterback breaking out in his 2nd season, and a really talented defense (when the secondary is healthy). There's a case to be made for Philadelphia as Super Bowl favorites, and with Wentz around for the foreseeable future, they aren't going away anytime soon. It looks like he and Prescott will be battling it out for NFC East supremacy over the next few years, putting even more emphasis on the Kirk Cousins question for the Redskins.

3. "Offensive" Line Play

Grading offensive lines can be difficult, even with the most advanced statistics available. Sack rate, yards per carry and other metrics that can highlight quality line play are also heavily influenced by skill position players. Still, it's fair to say O-lines around the NFL have taken a step back this season, with teams struggling more than ever to keep their quarterbacks upright and open holes for their running backs. Even the Cowboys, who had an all-time great offensive line in 2016, have fallen off greatly this season.

Head coaches are surely hoping the league sees more talent at the OT and G positions soon, as almost no teams are exempt from the current struggling state of the big uglies.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

4. Hue-ge Mistake? (Or, the Cleveland Browns are really, really bad at evaluating quarterbacks)

The Browns have long struggled to find their next (first) franchise quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999, starting a whopping 26 different QB's in that span. Despite a gaping hole at their most important position, head coach Hue Jackson passed on drafting Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in consecutive years, opting to take a flier on DeShone Kizer instead. Stunningly, it appears the Browns have made a poor decision, as Wentz and Watson are likely two of the five biggest favorites for this season's MVP, despite being so new to the league. Kizer, meanwhile, is completing just 52.1% of his passes and sporting an unsightly 3:11 TD to INT ratio.  

As noted above, Wentz has led the Eagles to the league's best record, and Watson has revitalized the Texans offense since taking over the starting job midway through his first game. Fans in Philadelphia and Houston are not only excited for the future, but are already cheering for winners in the present. Browns fans, as has been the case for so many years, are stuck imagining what it would be like to have a star under center. For that matter, they're still imagining what it would be like to see their team win a game this season.

5. Primed for Parity?

Coming into the season, some folks thought the Patriots could go 16-0. Instead, they're lucky to be 6-2. The Chiefs started out a dominant 5-0, and then lost back to back games. The Cowboys cruised to a 13-3 record last season, but stand at just 4-3 through seven games, and may be without Ezekiel Elliott for 6 games. The Packers are perennial playoff threats, but lost all-world QB Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone.

The point is, we really don't know who the Super Bowl favorites are. The Eagles have the league's best record, but you could make a strong case for any number of teams to make it to Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL prides itself on parity, and outside of a few terrible teams at the bottom, just about every team rightfully sees itself as a potential playoff squad. It makes for an exciting season, but also means it's hard for us to lock in on the best teams. The truth is we really don't know that much about this year's NFL, which makes it just like any other year. And that's why the second half will be such a fun ride.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

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As money skyrockets, don't expect Kirk Cousins to give discounts on open market

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As money skyrockets, don't expect Kirk Cousins to give discounts on open market

Kirk Cousins repeatedly said his free agent decision will not be just about money. Be clear, however, that money will be a huge factor in this decision. 

After the Redskins traded with Kansas City to acquire Alex Smith before the Super Bowl, it became obvious Washington will move on from Cousins. Whether that means the quarterback simply walks away in free agency or the organization attempts a highly risky tag-and-trade scenario, regardless, Cousins will throw footballs for another franchise in 2018.

Cousins wants to choose where he will play via free agency, and might even file a grievance if the Redskins do deploy a third franchise tag to control his rights.

Assuming Cousins hits free agency, a new report out of New York suggests the Jets will pay "whatever it takes" to land the passer. That could even include a fully guaranteed contract, and will certainly get close to a $30 million a year price tag. 

A notion exists too that Cousins might take less to go to a winner, and many think that could be the Broncos. Denver won five games in 2017, same as the Jets, though the Broncos have a strong defense and have been getting particularly awful QB play. 

The important thing to remember for curious Redskins fans watching the Cousins saga unfold: Don't expect much, if any, discount. 

The quarterback himself made that clear. 

"There’s other quarterbacks that come after you and it would be almost a selfish move to hurt future quarterbacks who get in a position to have a contract," Cousins said last year on 106.7 the Fan.

The quotes came after the 2016 season but before the Redskins again used a franchise tag with Cousins for the 2017 season. Washington wanted to attempt a long-term deal with Cousins at that point, though the quarterback decided to not negotiate and instead play on the tag.

The point remains that Cousins, and his representatives, believe the quarterback has a duty to other players to maximize his earnings. 

"If you don’t take a deal that’s fair to you, then you’re also taking a deal that’s not fair to them and you’re setting them back as well. So there’s different reasons. You just do the best you can."

If he hits free agency, Cousins will likely sign the richest contract in NFL history. Those opportunities don't come around often, and the quarterback should take full advantage. 

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 19, 23 days before NFL free agency starts.

Monday musings

—One possible solution to the left guard spot is perhaps being overlooked. Ty Nsekhe played there some last year, starting the game in Dallas and playing there until Morgan Moses got injured, forcing him to move to right tackle. Nsekhe is slated to be a restricted free agent but his return is likely. In December I asked Jay Gruden if Nsekhe might move to guard in 2018. “I think Ty is a big man and a very good tackle, but in the offseason when we have more time, maybe we can feature him at some guard when we’ve got all our guys back,” he said. “Feature him some” doesn’t mean that they will make him a starter; perhaps they want him to be the top option to fill in at four of the five OL positions. But it’s something to keep an eye on if they don’t land a left guard solution in free agency or the draft.

—When I posted about Albert Breer’s report that Kirk Cousins would file a grievance if the Redskins put the franchise tag on him in an effort to trade him, I pulled up a copy of the CBA to see the language on which Cousins could base his case. I read through the Article 10, which deals with the franchise tag twice and I saw nothing of it. But Mike Florio found it in Article 4, the one that deals with player contracts. “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” Since the Redskins clearly have no intention of employing Cousins after the Alex Smith trade, this seems to be a fairly simple case. In reality, it never is.

—I tweeted this last week:

However, possible cap casualties from other teams are not included in that group. That won’t turn the pool of players who will become available to sign into a bunch of potential franchise changers. Still, there could be a number of players in whom the Redskins could be interested in like RB DeMarco Murray, WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Torrey Smith, edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, and DL Brandon Mebane. A plus to signing players who have been waived is that they don’t count in the formula that determines compensatory draft picks. The Redskins have never really paid attention to that in the past but with potential high comp picks at stake if they lose both Kirk Cousins and Bashaud Breeland, this could be a good year to start.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 10
—NFL Draft (4/26) 66
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 202

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