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.
- Heads are rolling…
Adam Gase. We knew this was happening. Dude couldn’t even tank correctly. Doug Marrone. The number one pick in the draft is a reward that very few coaches get to enjoy if they earn it. Who’s next? If you’re a regular reader, you know who I think should probably get the axe. But the Bears are in the playoffs, so we know how that goes, playoff games can negate a lot of bad coaching. What about the Lions? Are they really going to wait another year? What about the Bengals? Did Zac Taylor get a pass because of the injury to Joe Burrow? Does Philly reward Doug Pederson with another year for the not-so-subtle intentional loss in week seventeen? It seems like a bad precedent to set, given that the tank job in question effected the division championship and has fans and players crying foul. This year had a lot of tricky moving parts, from opt-outs, to Covid-related scheduling difficulties and facility closures for coaching staffs to navigate. Maybe, just maybe, owners (like the rest of us) should try to relax and see what 2021 brings.
- The Dolphins are outside looking in at 10-6
I’m not a Dolphin fan, despite spending some of my youth in Miami. That being said, I really feel for this fan base right about now. Imagine that the boogeyman finally leaves the division and you right the ship in the same season, and an exciting young quarterback gets you to 10-6. Now imagine that the Bills suddenly ascend the throne, take the division, then decide not to rest starters and blow you out by thirty in the season finale to knock you out of the playoffs while not one, not two, but three teams in the other conference are in at 10-6 or worse. Much worse. It’s brutal. Sorry, Miami. But it kinda makes up for your 1972 team’s surviving members gloating every year.
- The Bears are somehow in at 8-8
Make no mistake. Trubisky and the Bears deserve this slot. If Nagy didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken at 3-0, Chicago probably wins ten or eleven games. But it was a nail biter. If you’re into tiebreakers, the Bears are in over Arizona on the third tiebreak scenario, common opponents. There was no head-to-head between the two this season, and both went 6-6 in the conference, so there’s nothing to separate them. So, common opponents it is. Those teams are the Lions, Giants, Panthers and Rams. Not exactly a murderer’s row, save the Rams. The Cardinals had a weird year. They played up and down all season, and they played way down against this slate, going only 1-4 in the five games, beating only the Giants in week fourteen. Chicago fared much better for a middle of the road team, going 3-2 against the slate to win the final wildcard slot in the NFC.
- The Rams might have a new quarterback
O.K. He threw an interception on his first pass that led to the Cardinals only touchdown. But after he settled in, I really liked what I saw from John Wolford. He threw for 231 yards and carried the ball six times for 56 yards to lead the Rams in rushing yards. Jared Goff has looked flat out bad in his last two starts, twin losses, including the embarrassing home loss to the Jets. We know that the thumb injury is lingering after the surgery, and it’s essentially a coin flip going into wildcard weekend. I think we’ve seen that the Rams defense can keep them in games, so can the Rams win if Goff can’t go? Believe it or not, I think they can. When L.A. beat the Seahawks in week ten, Goff didn’t throw a touchdown.
- Jalen Hurts should be ready to move
Putting aside the tanking involved in benching the Eagles best player with the game on the line, the move to “See what Sudfeld can do…” late in the week seventeen matchup with Washington should have Jalen Hurts looking for a way out. The Eagles current regime could be described as dysfunctional, at best. After the benching, which apparently not everyone was on board with, a number of defensive players had to be stopped before they confronted Pederson. Offensive players had questions about the move as well, including Jason Kelce. Pro tip. If you’re planning on switching quarterbacks, you tell the offensive line, especially the center. Either way, Jalen Hurts has every reason to believe that his coach has quit on the team, or at least, on him. If I’m Jalen Hurts, I’m looking for an escape hatch.
- Jalen Ramsey is better than you think
I mean. We know he’s good. He’s been a difference maker in the secondary since his days with Jacksonville. But this season with the Rams, he’s on a different planet. He’s allowing a career low 50.7% completion rate when targeted, per Pro Football Reference. He’s also posting his career best yards per completion and opponent passer rating. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed an average of twenty yards per game, playing in a division with Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray throwing footballs to D.K. Metcalf and Deandre Hopkins respectively. In two games against the Rams, Metcalf could manage only eight catches for 87 yards and no touchdowns. What about Hopkins? He fared only slightly better. Twelve catches, 87 yards and one TD in two games. Those two both rank well within the top ten in receiving yardage. I know that Ramsey is already making bank, but maybe he’s due for a raise?
- Baltimore is the best team in the AFC North
Yes, Cleveland went 11-5. Yes, Cleveland beat a Steelers team that rested starters in week seventeen. Yes, the Steelers still won the division. But if I’m an elite AFC contender (Chiefs & Bills), the Ravens are the AFC North team I’m looking to avoid. Cleveland is 11-5 but they have a tragic -11 point differential. A total illusion no matter how you slice it. The Steelers hot start won them the division, but they’ve lost four of their last five games, and they were trying in most of those. Baltimore has the biggest point differential in the division at +165, they’re riding a five-game win streak, and they’ve scored over thirty-seven points per game in those wins and allowed under eighteen. The Ravens have allowed the fewest points all season long in the AFC, while scoring the fourth-most. The Ravens are also the only team in the league to out-rush Derrick Henry and the Titans this season. It’s going to be ground and pound all day in Tennessee on wildcard Sunday. Fear the purple.
- Derrick Henry is headed for Canton
We’ve talked about Henry all season long. From huge games, to violent, borderline dangerous stiff arms, Derrick Henry is the baddest running back the league has seen in quite some time. With his 250-yard, two touchdown performance to clinch the AFC South for the Titans, Henry not only became the league’s eighth 2,000-yard rusher, but he also became only the second rusher to lead the league in yards, carries and TD’s back-to-back. It hasn’t happened since the sixties. The alarming part about this is that Henry is getting better and doing more every single year. Attempts, yards, average, touchdowns…all on the upswing. You’d think that this season would be the upper limit, but I’m just not convinced. Can anyone stop him in the playoffs? Can he do more in 2021?
- Tom Brady is…nice?
Brady haters are going to hate this. But Tom Brady did something pretty selfless in week seventeen. Antonio Brown came to Tampa Bay at Brady’s request, and when he was eleven receptions shy of a quarter-million-dollar bonus, Brady targeted him heavily in week seventeen. Through approximately fifty-eight minutes, Brown had eight catches and a TD, but he was still shy of the forty-five receptions he needed on the season to trigger the bonus. So, what did Brady do when the Buccaneers were looking to salt away the win? He hit Brown with three consecutive shuttle passes, which are glorified running plays, but actually count as forward passes…and thus…receptions. No. There is no chance that Bruce Arians just randomly called theses plays. It was Brady. It helps that Brown turned all three into decent gains, and the Buccaneers closed out the easy win. No word yet on whether Bruce Arians or the Tampa Bay brass are cool with Brady spending their money this way, but you’ve got to like the team-building aspect of Brady looking out for his teammates.
- It’s probably time to reconsider conference alignment in the playoffs
So, they expanded the playoffs. Great. What happened immediately? A 7-9 divisional champion (that came within one tank job of being a 6-10 division winner) and an 8-8 wildcard team from one conference. And a 10-6 snub in the other. Given that any differences between the two conferences are long gone, it’s probably time to forget about the whole NFC vs. AFC thing. Yes. I said it. If it keeps the old timers happy, let’s keep the conference and divisional names, even though they make no sense whatsoever. We can even keep the scheduling of six divisional games and four interconference tilts. But let’s reconsider how the playoffs are structured top to bottom to make sure the best teams are playing in January. This means removing the divisional winner’s automatic berth and seeding teams based solely on record. In this scenario, we would still have an 8-8 wildcard team, but the 10-6 Dolphins would be in the field instead of the 7-9 Washington Football Team. It makes so much sense that it’s almost scary.
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Image Source: Associated Press Images