We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
- The league has no real “policy” regarding Covid-19, the ramifications could be wild
This week is a mess. The league’s response isn’t helping. The Broncos – Saints game went forward as scheduled, despite Denver’s entire quarterback room being unavailable to play, while the Ravens- Steelers Thanksgiving game will happen on Wednesday, December 2nd. Probably. Maybe. This is already the longest “week” in NFL history, but the next step is a doozy. If the game can’t go off Wednesday, it has to be cancelled, resulting in an uneven number of competitions across the league. “What happens then?” you might ask. That’s where it gets really, really weird. If we lose any competitions to Covid, the playoff field is expanded yet again, from seven per conference to eight, with the result being the elimination of the first round bye, and, very interestingly, the elimination of the divisional winners hosting a home game. In this emergency expansion scenario, the seeds are constructed by winning percentage, so while the NFC East would still have the winner in the playoffs, that team is exceptionally likely to be the eighth seed in the NFC and face an early exit on the road to either New Orleans or maybe Green Bay. The question I have is why is the league moving some games and not others when faced with similar scenarios? Is Baltimore-Pittsburgh “important” while Denver-New Orleans isn’t?
- Armchair QB’s can officially be silent
Speaking of Denver, everyone in the “I could have done better” crowd can and should officially be quiet after seeing what happened when Denver was forced to rely on an emergency QB in a real-life NFL game. With their entire quarterback group on the Covid/close contact list, Denver first tried to get the league to sign off on them activating offensive quality control coach Rob Calabrese. The league wouldn’t budge. So, Denver turned to practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton, who played quarterback early in his college career for Wake Forest before becoming a wide receiver. We all know that this did not end well for Hinton or for Denver against the best team in the NFC, so I’ll spare you the stats. They aren’t good. But the point is that Kendall Hinton is an elite athlete who did play quarterback at a high level, and when he faced an NFL defense in a boyhood dream scenario, he got absolutely rocked. Give the man respect for doing the absolute best he could in an impossible scenario, and never say “Even I could have made that pass…” ever again.
- D.K. Metcalf is a real-life superhero
Jim Schwartz probably wasn’t trying to insult D.K. Metcalf before the game. But you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Whatever back-handed compliment about Megatron Schwartz was trying to give to Metcalf didn’t land right, and it ended up badly for Philly. In a game that was somehow in reach for the Eagles, Metcalf went off, catching ten passes for 177 of Seattle’s 225 passing yards. It was a big enough effort for the Seahawks to avoid an untimely upset in a week when the Rams and Cardinals both lost to sub-.500 teams. Metcalf leads all receivers with 1039 yards on the year, and also leads the league in big plays (40+ yards) with five. All this while being only the league’s fifteenth-most targeted wideout…he’s barely inside the top twenty in receptions, for perspective. Superman doing super-human things. So, don’t make him angry.
- But he wasn’t even the best wideout this week
As great as Metcalf was, another receiver has a more solid claim to being the most dominant weapon in the league: Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill. Hill’s early success as a special teams weapon and gradual evolution into the league’s most electric receiving threat has managed to keep Tyreek under the radar, sort of. For some reason, he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as top receivers like Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins and Michael Thomas. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve been guilty of overlooking him in the past as well. I’ve seen him as a speed demon that relies more on yardage after the catch than coming down with contested balls and running super clean routes. While I stand by that analysis from his early career, he’s not that guy anymore. His hands and route running are very much improved, and the addition of Mecole Hardman has underscored Hill’s elevation to the top tier of NFL receivers. Hill is the deadliest weapon in Patrick Mahomes’ arsenal and it wasn’t even close on Sunday. Against the Buccaneers much improved defense, Hill put up over two hundred yards and two touchdowns…in the first quarter. Feel free to reread that, but you read it right. At the end of the night, Hill had 269 yards on thirteen catches and three receiving touchdowns. The TD catches weren’t dink and dunk affairs, either. The shortest one was a twenty yarder. The others went for forty-four and seventy-five yards. In case you’re keeping score, Tyreek Hill had 139 yards worth of touchdowns alone. Put some respect on the man’s name.
- Coming behind against Tennessee is more or less impossible
It should go without saying, but when playing against the team with the best running back in the league, don’t fall behind. All respect to Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, but the man that earned it last year is Derrick Henry and he doesn’t look interested in giving up the rushing title just yet. The Colts have been better than expected this season. Some would say a lot better, mostly on the strength of their defense. But when Tennessee scored five touchdowns before halftime, there was no coming back. Honestly, Indy didn’t look terrible either. The Colts found the end zone on their first two series, but couldn’t keep pace with their AFC South rivals as Derrick Henry just bludgeoned them, earning 178 yards on 27 carries (6.6 YPC) to go along with three rushing TDs. Indy played a clean game, winning the penalty battle 9-6, but Tennessee dominated the time of possession with Henry on the ground, controlling the ball for a full ten minutes more than Indy. Tennessee now holds a one game advantage in the division, but despite the 45-26 beatdown, Indy still has the better point differential (49-39), and a prime position for a wildcard slot.
- Cleveland squeaked out another one
Is there a bigger illusion in the league than the Browns? After a 27-25 squeaker over the (now) 1-10 Jaguars, I doubt it. In week one, Jacksonville bested Indy. Since then, they’ve lost ten straight with the Cleveland game being the closest they’ve come to getting over the hump. This is not a playoff caliber team that Cleveland dueled to the end. This is a team that could potentially draft first overall if the Jets don’t keep their eyes on the “prize”. The Browns, for their part kept it simple, going with a ground and pound approach against their overmatched opponents, with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combining for 208 yards on the ground. You’re not going to lose a lot of games in which you rush for 200+ yards in this league, but the Browns made Jags replacement starter Mike Glennon look like the Mike Glennon of old (or young, depending on your point of view), as he kept pace with Baker Mayfield. Am I saying that Cleveland is a hoax? Not really. They do some things well and have avoided losing to bad and even mediocre teams, but they’ve played against four winning teams thus far, including the equally questionable Raiders, and are 1-3 in those contests. Just saying don’t bet the farm on a super deep playoff run…
- It turns out that you do need defense to win in the NFL, just ask Las Vegas
Prior to week eleven, the league was perplexed when Las Vegas had to play against Kansas City when roughly all of their starting defense was on the Covid list. Everyone got more perplexed when the Raiders gave Mahomes and crew a legit run for their money, eventually losing 35-31. It sure looked like a week twelve tilt with Atlanta was just what the doctor ordered for Gruden and his crew. Pump. The. Brakes. Until this week, only Brady’s Buccaneers and Belichick’s Pats had scored more than 35 against Las Vegas. Atlanta, without Julio Jones, said “Hold my beer”. Matt Ryan threw for fewer than 200 passing yards for the first time this season, and Ito Smith led Falcons rushers with 65 yards and a TD, but Younghoe Koo was there almost every time a drive stalled, connecting on five for five field goals and four extra points in four tries. The stats just don’t scream blowout, but here we are, with Las Vegas losing by thirty-seven points on the road against a very beatable team because they just couldn’t get off the field.
- It’s a bad year to be a head coach in the league
Another week, another firing and another round of “Who’s seat is the hottest?” (My bet is on Adam Gase, but after a certain point, you have to wonder if maybe the Jets brass just isn’t paying attention.) This week it was Lions head coach Matt Patricia that was relieved of his duties mid-season, which of course leads us to another round of “Why don’t Belichick disciples make it as head coaches in the NFL?” My guess is that the “do your job” philosophy in New England doesn’t lend itself to collaborative thinking. It keeps the coach in a very specific silo, so when asked to take responsibility in other areas, the deficiencies become increasingly obvious over time, especially when they can’t just fill their staff with others who are accustomed to working that way. But all this swirling dialogue about who’s next and why Belichick’s coaching tree has some broken branches distracts from a more important question: “Why are teams firing coaches sooner every year?” It used to be all about Black Monday, after the final games of the non-playoff qualifying teams when the vast majority of firings would happen. This year we’ve seen three dismissals already, and at least two more are likely to go down before we reach a merciful end to the season. Gase, as I mentioned above, is probably gone and Doug Marrone in Jacksonville has more than overstayed his welcome. Matt Nagy clearly isn’t turning Trubisky into an elite talent and Vic Fangio is clear a better DC than head coach. Were expectations too high in a lot of towns heading into 2020? Or do teams feel that there is a dearth of available head coaching talent, so the race is on to lock down their guy for next season? I just don’t get it, and feel pretty strongly that for everyone’s sake, the league should establish some guidelines for hiring and firing timelines. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No interviewing coaches, coordinators, etc. while they are active in the playoffs!! You can find your next coach after the Super Bowl, not before. This way, everyone knows what opportunities and candidates are in the mix.
- There’s trouble in Tom-pa Bay
The Buccaneers chipped away and made it look close in this one, but we need to admit that something’s wrong with the Tampa Bay Bradys, err…Buccaneers. A few weeks ago, everyone wondered if this was the best team in the NFC. Now, not so much. Tampa Bay has lost three of their last four games to drop to 7-5, and they’ve only beaten two winning teams all year (Las Vegas and Green Bay). Tom Brady had his fourth multi-interception game of the season, and he’s on pace for the highest interception total of his career. Am I a noodle arm conspiracy theorist? No. I’m not. Brady still belongs in this league and can certainly get the Bucs into the playoffs and beyond. I do, however hate the offensive play calling in Tampa Bay right now. Too many big shots, not enough common sense. They need to get back to basics and avoid the temptation to try and out bomb Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill because sorry, Arians and GOAT, it ain’t going to happen in 2020.
- The Cowboys might have some regrets
Yes. Jerry Jones just came out and defended his running back’s new six-year, $90 million contract. But the injury to Dak Prescott and the team’s subsequent collapse has brought into sharp relief exactly what Dallas has, and doesn’t have, in the league’s second-highest paid running back. To put it bluntly, Ezekiel Elliot hasn’t delivered on that contract yet. Through eleven games, Elliot has only one one-hundred-yard rushing performance, he had seven in 2019. He’s averaging under four yards per carry for the first time in his career, and he’s already fumbled five times, his career high in any season before this was six in 2018. To say that he hasn’t brought the same explosiveness would be fair as well, as Elliot only has one run over twenty yards all season long and only five touchdowns thus far, down from twelve last year. Paying Elliot to retain his services was smart, but with the Cowboys mired in last place in the woeful NFC East and a horrific -108 point differential after a week twelve blowout loss to Washington, it’s a safe bet that there’s at least a little bit of buyer’s remorse in Dallas.
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Image Source: Associated Press Images