NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

I said in this weekend’s predictions that we would get some crucial breaking points to this season with the games on tap. Sure enough, the games were very competitive again. In fact, with Monday Night Football still to come, we again had 12 games with a comeback opportunity after 12 last week, the second-highest total in the last seven seasons:

Technically, I should say a 4QC/GWD opportunity since the Bills-Ravens game was not a 4QC opportunity for either. More on that semantics mess shortly.

Speaking of Buffalo, Sunday seemed to reroute the course to a place many were expecting it to go: Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Round III in the AFC playoffs, and that huge matchup in Week 6 at Arrowhead is looming.

Did we get much clarity on the MVP race? Not really, because annoying rain made the games in Baltimore and Philly sloppy for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts.

But we learned that Bailey Zappe is a real NFL player, Geno Smith might get an NFL MVP vote before Russell Wilson, the Mitch Trubisky era should be dead in Pittsburgh, and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs run it up on Tom Brady’s ass (in prime time too) like no other.

Now if only the Chiefs could have done this in the playoffs a couple times, then they’d be a dynasty instead of me asking if there’s still an elite team in the league. But let’s just enjoy the ride, and any Sunday is a nice one when you hit +13118.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Ravens: Most Valuable Pick of the Season

When I picked the Bills to win it all before the season, I pointed out that the schedule was going to make them so battle tested for the playoffs. Just the early lineup is incredible with Kansas City and Green Bay to come soon before the bye. But at Baltimore was a big test too, because we know the Ravens are usually tough to beat in that building with John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.

I also wanted to see how the Bills would react in a close game. They had lost the last 12 games they trailed in the fourth quarter of, and their last 20 regular-season wins were all by 10-plus points, tying the NFL record set by the 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

Well, one of those streaks was snapped on Sunday, and the Bills can thank Harbaugh and Jackson for that.

Blame it on the weather if you want, but the wet conditions were not as bad as 49ers-Bears in Week 1. The weather was not helpful, but the top two MVP candidates were also not doing their teams many favors on Sunday. Josh Allen was wide of the mark three snaps into the game and his interception set up a 4-yard touchdown drive for Jackson.

After Buffalo’s running backs put the ball on the ground and got stopped on a third-and-1, the Ravens were up 20-3 in the second quarter. We may have been looking at a blowout as the only comeback of more than 10 points in the Sean McDermott era was a 16-point comeback against the 2019 Jets on opening day.

But the front-running team ran into the team that blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. Baltimore mismanaged a pass-happy three-and-out late in the first half, and the Bills were able to put together a touchdown drive to make it 20-10. Something doable.

Third quarter started the same way with a false start and three failed passing plays by the Ravens, who were getting the running backs going early in the game for a change this year. Allen scrambles keyed a field goal drive, and then he tied the game up his next chance with his legs on an 11-yard run.

The Bills didn’t have starting safety Jordan Poyer in the Miami loss. They already lost Micah Hyde for the season too at safety. Poyer was back on Sunday and made his presence felt by running up to catch an interception by Jackson on a ball tipped at the line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But after the Bills went three-and-out, Jackson looked like he was going to shake off a rough passing day with a 95-yard touchdown drive. However, he and J.K. Dobbins were stopped short of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 2 with 4:09 left.

There is at least an argument for going for it in this spot, but given you haven’t scored all half, and the weather stinks, and your kicking unit is superb, I think you kick the field goal there. Make the front-running team that hasn’t come from behind to win in the fourth quarter in over two years put together a drive. The Bills are so overconfident at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would try a fourth-and-goal in a 23-20 game if it was within reason. And they might not get it like in Miami or against Tennessee last year.

I did not like the decision, but then again, I disagreed with most of Harbaugh’s close-game decisions last year when the Ravens kept blowing all these games. Sure enough, Jackson tried to force a pass after pressure got to him and only Poyer was there in the end zone to catch it for a second interception.

Jackson went from second in MVP odds to tied with Jalen Hurts (+550) for third place behind Allen (+300) and Mahomes (+500). I can’t say it’s not justified this week. Blame the defense all you want for the Miami meltdown, but in this game, the Ravens were scoreless on their final five drives with two fourth-quarter picks by Jackson. He passed for just 144 yards, and star tight end Mark Andrews also did not help shed his “big game choker” label with two catches for 15 yards.

On the other side, Allen was able to put the game-winning drive together this week, only needing a field goal. I didn’t love the angle on the big roughing the passer penalty that put them in field goal range, but it looked like an excessive takedown after he released the ball.

Singletary had some key gains on Sunday, and he put the ball inside the 3. The Bills were able to make the 21-yard field goal with no time left to get the 23-20 win.

This is a rare game that was tied to start the fourth quarter, and the only other score was a game-winning field goal on the final snap. You see maybe one of these a season, but we already have two this year with Bears-Texans and this. That’s also why it’s just a game-winning drive for Buffalo and technically not a 4QC.

That will just have to come later for the team, but this was a very important comeback win. The Bills will have that confidence now that they can come back if a game starts ugly like this one sure did.

But for the Ravens, I am not sure where their psyche is after blowing two 17-point leads at home in a couple of weeks. This is a franchise that had three such blown leads in 1996-2021, and two of those were in the early days of the bad defenses (1996-97). The only other one was in 2004 against the Bengals, a game that showed us the potential for Carson Palmer and his receivers.

Speaking of the Bengals, that’s Baltimore’s next opponent on Sunday night. It’s another front-running team with the quarterback and firepower to destroy this defense. This season could really turn on its head for Baltimore by Week 5 when it should be 4-0 and the talk of the AFC. Instead, here we are.

It’s a Bills vs. Chiefs conference until proven otherwise.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Old Man, Look at My Highlight

If only Super Bowl LV looked like this for Kansas City, but it was never going to happen with the rotated offensive line that night. The Chiefs really seemed to take this rematch personally and came out on fire with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff setting up a quick 7-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.

The Chiefs led by double digits for the final 49:01. This is only the seventh time in Tom Brady’s career where he trailed by double digits at the end of all four quarters. The only time the game felt in doubt was in the second quarter when the Chiefs were stopped for the first time after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped a wide-open fourth-and-1 pass. But on the very next play, the Kansas City defense, which was not outstanding on the night, saved its best disguised blitz for Brady to force a fumble and set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for another short-field score and 28-10 lead.

The Buccaneers allowed more points in the first half (28) than they did in the first three games combined (27). The Chiefs really seemed to save up some A+ plays on offense for this matchup, and Patrick Mahomes may have thrown his most creative touchdown pass yet.

The game really did remind me of when the 2005 Colts went into New England on a Monday night and just walloped them 40-21. If we got the Chiefs this prepared and fired up for every game, this team could go undefeated. They didn’t punt until the final minute when they were up 41-31.

This is now the eighth time in Brady’s career where his team allowed 40 points, and half of those games have been against Andy Reid’s Chiefs (all in prime time in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022). It is only the sixth time a team scored at least 40 offensive points on a Brady team. But no one has ever scored more than 42 on him, and Mahomes threw away that chance with an ill-advised pick with just under five minutes left. But even at 41-24, this one was over early. The Buccaneers finished with 53 passes to six runs (3 yards).

The Chiefs are never not interesting under Reid and Mahomes. They looked as good as ever against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but not so hot against the Chargers and Colts in between. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are not playing complimentary football and haven’t looked that good period this season. While the offense had its best game of 2022, the defense had its worst game in the last three years since Brady arrived.

This is the eighth time Brady has trailed by 17-plus points in a game with Tampa Bay since 2020. He had eight such games with New England in his final six seasons in 2014-19.

I thought the Bucs would split at home with Green Bay and the Chiefs, but they lost both games. I still would not panic unless Atlanta comes in there on Sunday and wins too. But something has looked off with this team all season.

Patriots at Packers: Green Bay Nearly Loses to Fallout’s Vault Boy

Bill Belichick’s Patriots pushing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers into overtime at Lambeau is a story you could have believed last week. If I said they’d get the fourth career pick-six of Rodgers before halftime, you might believe it less. If I said they’d start Brian Hoyer and lose 27-24 in overtime, you probably wouldn’t believe it. If I said they played most of the game with the Fallout Vault Boy turned Vault Man – someone named Bailey Zappe – you definitely would have said I was making up some Madden player.

But it all happened. If the Patriots had just a little more faith in Zappe, they may have pulled it off in overtime too after getting Rodgers to go three-and-out after the Packers won the coin toss and received. But even after getting the ball at their own 49, needing just a field goal to win, the Patriots ran twice, and Zappe threw incomplete on third-and-5 before a punt. He’d never see the ball again.

Rodgers started cooking with his wide receivers and set up a field goal as the final play. Mason Crosby was reliable from 31 yards out, and Matt LaFleur escaped breaking his 21-0 (now 22-0) mark as a favorite of at least six points.

Isn’t it something that the only game with a spread above 6.5 (Packers were -9.5) was the one game to go to overtime? Typical bizarro NFL.

For Rodgers, it is his 30th game-winning drive, becoming the 24th quarterback to have that many. It is also his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win, becoming the 35th quarterback to join that club. It is also notable that it took him 239 games to do it. Only former teammate Brett Favre (222) also needed over 200 games. Something about Green Bay…

But from a 3-19 4QC record to 20-45, that’s a respectable turnaround for Rodgers since the 2012 season. With the way the Packers are playing against injury-weakened teams, Rodgers may need more of these than any season before.

Jaguars at Eagles: Probably Not a Super Bowl Preview

Talking this up like it was some surprise Super Bowl preview, like the 1999 Rams playing the Titans on Halloween, was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just some early excitement for how these teams have started in 2022.

Even when the Jaguars took an early 14-0 lead, I saw no reason to panic about the Eagles. Jacksonville got a pick-six off a wildly tipped ball, then saved a second touchdown drive after recovering a fumble at the 3-yard line that was there for the taking.

The weather was not extreme, but the conditions were not helpful to offenses. The Eagles just happened to handle them better and converted three times on fourth down with Jalen Hurts being pretty unstoppable there. I did want to see how this team would react to an early deficit after cruising through games to start 3-0. They handled it well with A.J. Brown having another big game against a former division foe.

Trevor Lawrence handled the wet conditions about as well as the aliens in Signs would handle a dixie cup of water. He lost four fumbles, which apparently hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever by one player:

Even when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (RIP) set the NFL record with seven fumbles in a game in 1964, he appears to only have lost three out of seven. Going 4-for-4 is some cruel stuff, and the last one came in the final two minutes with the Jaguars trying to tie the game at 29 after getting it to 29-21.

But even that comeback opportunity was set up by a suspect decision from the Eagles to try a fourth-and-3 pass at the Jacksonville 21 at the two-minute warning. Apparently there was an injury situation to the kicker, which would be about the only good reason to not kick the 39-yard field goal and make this an 11-point game. Lawrence was always unlikely to drive for eight points, but it was still a gamble that could have gone wrong.

The Eagles are the last unbeaten team (4-0), and I am starting to wonder if 14-3 was not a crazy prediction as that was the number I had them at on my first run through the schedule for all 32 teams this year. There will be tougher tests ahead, but maybe not that many if things continue playing out as they have.

Jets at Steelers: Move, Mitch, Get Out the Way

This would be the typical Pittsburgh letdown loss at home to a bad opponent, but the fact is it’s not a letdown if you no longer have high expectations. The Jets and Steelers might as well be in the same tier, and had it not been for the Bengals twice failing to execute a short kick in Week 1, Pittsburgh would be the NFL’s only 0-4 team right now.

But while the Jets got their young quarterback, Zach Wilson, back in action today where he showed off some incredible athleticism, maybe Mike Tomlin had seen enough of Mitch Trubisky after another bad half with a couple really long field goals to show for it.

He made the only logical, inevitable move he could by starting the second half with rookie Kenny Pickett, and the only question is why didn’t he do it to start what was going to be the team’s most winnable game for many weeks?

The Steelers came out flat as ever and were down 10-0 to the Jets, but once Pickett entered a 10-6 game in the third quarter, you could see the offense looked like it got a shot in the arm. Sure, his first pass was technically intercepted, but it was an aggressive deep ball down the middle of the field, and Chase Claypool made a soft effort on it.

Sure, no one is going to get crazy about a quarterback sneak for a touchdown, but it’s nice to see the Steelers will let Pickett use that weapon in the playbook. But the 82-yard drive between the third and fourth quarters really showed why the Steelers had to make the move. Pickett looked decisive and he knew how to get George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth involved. He had some timing routes on intermediate throws to the sideline instead of just more go routes 30-plus yards down the field. He scrambled for a third-down conversion.

He looked pretty damn good, then he got a little greedy and was intercepted on a more dangerous throw that was again tipped with 3:34 left. The Jets, now down 20-17, got a fine drive out of Wilson, who showed a ton of escapability on the day. Maybe not the best decision maker yet, but he can really move around out there. It was another game where the Steelers dearly missed T.J. Watt.

Wilson was able to drive 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the staple to old home letdowns when the defense would blow it in the final seconds for a Roethlisberger-led team. Rookie back Breece Hall just reached over the end zone before fumbling for the score.

Pickett’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone on a Hail Mary in a 24-20 loss. He finished 10-of-13 for 120 yards with three picks, so all his passes were caught by someone even if they were two tipped picks and a Hail Mary pick. Frankly, it might be the most encouraging three-pick debut you’ve ever seen.

Pickens and Freiermuth had 187 of Pittsburgh’s 204 receiving yards. They’ll need to get Diontae Johnson more involved next time, but I actually have faith now that the offense will be better if they go forward with Pickett as the starter. I don’t know how you bench Trubisky and not have the move be permanent. You cannot be afraid to put Pickett in the game in Buffalo. He is a 24-year-old rookie. Let’s see how he stacks up against the favorite in the league on the road.

The bigger concern is that this defense is a waste without Watt available. With the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles coming up next, it is hard not to see the Steelers sitting at 2-6 or 1-7 going into the bye.

Are they the worst team in the league? Absolutely not. Can they still win about seven games if Pickett is named the starter, Watt returns after the bye, and that schedule lightens up a lot? Definitely. But they can’t put the clamps on Pickett and program him to be super conservative. The defense isn’t good enough to hold up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets.

The standard has changed in more ways than one.

Browns at Falcons: Thanks for Screwing Up My 26-Points Stat

One of my favorite facts for Week 4 was that Atlanta and Cleveland were the only two teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Of course, neither would get past 23 points in this game, but for the second week in a row, the Atlanta defense held at the end by intercepting a Jacoby Brissett pass in a three-point game.

Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes for 139 yards, and his running game hooked him up with 199 yards. The defense was also solid despite some decent totals for Nick Chubb. But twice in the first half, the Browns had the ball inside the 2-yard line and only came away with one field goal.

Mariota did not do much, but he at least hit a deep ball for 42 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 2:28 left. Things went downhill quickly for Cleveland’s answer drive, and on a third-and-23, Brissett’s desperation pass was intercepted with 55 seconds left to end the game.

Honestly, I am pissed that Brissett/Kevin Stefanski are this bad at comebacks, and not just because I had Over 47.5 points. But a field goal to make it 23-23 and bring up overtime meant it would have taken one of these teams to score 26-plus points to get the win, which would have been poetic given their starts to the season. Oh well.

The Falcons are suddenly 2-2 just like Tampa Bay and will battle them for first place next week. I say bet the farm that Brady doesn’t lose a third in a row at home to a team of this caliber, but I know what the most amusing outcome of Week 5 would be.

Saints vs. Vikings: Double Doink

I almost feel better about the Saints after this loss than I do about the Vikings after the win, the second week in a row they had to escape at the end over a team they were favored to beat.

For not having Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Andy Dalton did a solid job filling in for Jameis Winston in London. These teams were up and down the field for most of the second half, with the Saints even taking a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

The officiating definitely bailed out Minnesota on a 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty to wipe out a third-and-8 incompletion. There was DPI, but Adam Thielen also should have been penalized for shoving a player by the face. That was a big break, which the Vikings turned into an easy little 3-yard touchdown run for Justin Jefferson, who was un-guardable again this week (147 yards).

In typica Vikings fashion, they missed the extra point to keep it a 25-22 game after a lot of people had Vikings -3.5 bets. The Saints were able to answer with a 60-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who was then one-upped by Greg Joseph’s 47-yard field goal after the Vikings looked like they were going to screw themselves by settling for the long kick.

Dalton hit one deep ball to rookie Chris Olave, who then almost made a spectacular diving catch at the sideline to help make the field goal shorter. But he gave Lutz another chance to send it to overtime. Lutz had the distance from 61 yards, but he hit the left upright and the crossbar without getting the lucky bounce on either. Saints lost 28-25 and will be 1-3 with a slew of penalties, turnovers, and other sloppy play to blame.

But was it the kind of game that makes me think the Vikings will do just fine in a playoff setting against the Eagles or Rams or Packers or Buccaneers? Absolutely not.

Titans at Colts: Maybe Tennessee Is Still the Best AFC South Team?

The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 has been Tennessee. After turning to Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have controlled the division, one that the Colts have not won since 2014. Matt Ryan was supposed to make a difference this year, but things have not gotten off to a good start.

In fact, the Colts have trailed by at least 17 points in every game except the upset win over the Chiefs, which is probably going to look stranger over time.

Like last week, pass protection was an issue with Ryan getting blown up and losing the ball on a sack on the first drive of the game. Like last week, the Titans quickly rang up 24 points on a team before hanging on for dear life in the second half.

Like he did in Houston in Week 1, Ryan used his arm to lead a comeback attempt since Jonathan Taylor (20 carries, 42 yards) and the running game has disappeared behind the miserable line performance this season. I mean, the guy should have stayed in Atlanta if this is how the Colts are going to play around him.

But after turning a 24-3 deficit into a manageable 24-17 game, the Colts were scoreless on their last three drives. Nearly a second strip-sack of Ryan knocked the Colts out of scoring range going into the fourth quarter, a quarter where they would hit completions of 34 and 44 yards and score zero points on the two drives. Taylor lost a fumble with 8:40 left and just shy of the red zone.

Then Ryan’s third sack of the day was a killer in no man’s land with the Colts facing third-and-13 at the Tennessee 25. Not only did Ryan lose eight yards to bring up fourth-and-21, but the clock was running to the two-minute warning, losing that fourth clock stoppage after new kicker Chase McLaughlin’s 51-yard field goal was wide left with 1:58 left.

The Colts needed a three-and-out to get the ball back, but Tannehill converted a third-and-4 with a short pass to end the game at 24-17. Are the Titans still the best team in the division? I don’t know, but the upcoming schedule (@WAS, IND, @HOU) certainly gives them a shot to start 5-2 with three key AFC South wins.

Broncos at Raiders: Running with the Devil

A game between Derek Carr and Russell Wilson sounds made for a 4QC/GWD, but this was really a day for the running backs. Melvin Gordon had another brutal fumble that was returned for a huge touchdown, Javonte Williams may have suffered a season ending knee injury, and Josh Jacobs put the Las Vegas offense on his back 175 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing) and two touchdowns in a 32-23 win.

Carr only passed for 188 yards, but he did his best Wilson impersonation by running five times for 42 yards (kneeldowns excluded) and some of the biggest first downs in the game, including a 20-yard scramble before halftime to set up a field goal and a 9-yard scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter after Denver cut the lead to 25-23. Carr is usually one of the least valuable rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, so this game was uncharacteristically huge for him.

The fumble by Gordon and the no-show third quarter by the offense really hurt Denver, which is now 2-2. But the Raiders were finally able to put together a winning formula this season. Just don’t expect it to be a repeatable one, especially against the Chiefs next Monday night.

Seahawks at Lions: Coach an Campbell Cause He Ain’t Got No ‘D’

I am not sure which fact here is most surprising:

  • A team coached by Dan Campbell with Jared Goff at quarterback is playing in historic shootouts, including Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks with Geno Smith, and in a game where the Lions were without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and D.J. Chark.
  • The 2022 Lions have 281 combined points in their first four games, setting an NFL record for a team’s first four games.
  • This was the 13th game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 45 points, but it is the first one to end 48-45.
  • Goff has been the quarterback in two of the last three games this high scoring (54-51 against Mahomes and the 2018 Chiefs is obviously the other one).
  • Seattle is the first team in NFL history to have a wire-to-wire win with no ties after 0-0 despite allowing more than 42 points.
  • The 2009 Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in the wild card playoffs in a game they never trailed, but it was tied 38-38 and 45-45 in the fourth quarter before going to overtime.
  • The previous record for points allowed in a wire-to-wire, no ties after 0-0 win is 42 points, done by the 1998 Cardinals at Washington and the 2017 Jaguars at Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Both games ended 45-42.
  • The Seahawks (48) scored more points in Detroit than they had thru Week 3 (47) and more than the Broncos had (43) going into Sunday.
  • Geno Smith’s completion percentage (77.3%) is the highest in NFL history through four games of a season (min. 125 passes).

Pretty bonkers. Seattle was so good at answering scores with scores, that the last time Detroit had the ball while down by 1-to-8 points was when it was 17-9 in the middle of the second quarter. Still, the Seahawks had to recover an onside kick at 1:06 and run for one more first down to finally put the Lions away.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 4:

Commanders at Cowboys: Choose your Ginger! You knew I was backing Cooper Rush, who is now 4-0 as a starter and ranked No. 4 in QBR (74.0). It’s really not a quarterback controversy in Dallas unless Dak Prescott comes back and starts playing as poorly as he did in Week 1. It was nice to see Michael Gallup back for the Cowboys, catching a touchdown and drawing 65 yards on two pass interference penalties.

But Wentz really struggled again despite only taking two sacks this time. You have to wonder how short that leash is if Ron Rivera senses he might not be making it to 2023 in Washington if this keeps up. Most of the league is keeping it close in the fourth quarter right now. The Commanders have not in the last two weeks in two division losses.

Bears at Giants: Daniel Jones left with an ankle injury, but before he left, he still finished with the highest QBR (92.3) at ESPN for Week 4. How did he do it?

Exactly as you imagined. He ran for two touchdowns, or two more than what the Bears had after settling for four sub-40 yard field goals. You knew this would be a low-scoring battle of teams who don’t legitimately look like the 3-1 record they would have after a win. But given the Jones injury and backup Tyrod Taylor leaving with a concussion, the Giants may have to travel overseas to face the Packers with Davis Webb at quarterback.

Chargers at Texans: Austin Ekeler went from scoring no touchdowns in three games to three scores on Sunday. Play every running back against the Houston defense until further notice. It’s a gold mine right now. But good on Justin Herbert and the Chargers for not blowing another 21-point lead. There was some serious Chargering going on once the special teams fumbled a kick return, and Houston, only down 27-21, was 16 yards away from the lead. But the defense held up, and the offense put it away with a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that hinged on a fourth-down conversion at midfield to Ekeler. It was his day (finally).

Cardinals at Panthers: This game was such a mess that Arizona’s game-winning drive saw them face a third-and-goal from the Carolina 27 before kicking a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left. Then another Baker Mayfield pass was tipped by J.J. Watt for an interception and a 5-yard touchdown drive basically put the game out of reach because we know the Panthers aren’t coming back from 20-10. Not in the Matt Rhule era, which now boasts these numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-26 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-23 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-26 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I did not think Mayfield would be worse to start the season than Sam Darnold was last year, but it has happened.

Next week: Colts-Broncos on TNF might be good just because the teams are on an even playing field of disappointment. Will Kenny Pickett really make his first start in Buffalo against the Super Bowl favorite? Tomlin has no reason to declare it early in the week, but it needs to happen. Might as well see how he stacks up to a contender, because we know the defense is getting shredded if the weather is half decent. Bengals-Ravens could be cool on SNF. Another AFC North breaking point.

NFL Week 4 Predictions: Breaking Point No. 1 Edition

This week would normally conclude the first-quarter mark of the regular season with all teams playing four games, but thanks to the 17-game season, it’s slightly less than that.

But this Week 4 schedule does look like a pivotal one that I will call the first major breaking point of the season: a week where the outcomes of these games will have far-reaching impact on how the narrative of this 2022 season (and beyond) unfolds.

We’ve already seen this play out on Thursday night when the Dolphins sacrificed Tua Tagovailoa’s health and career by playing him four days after they let him go back into a game following what looked like a pretty obvious concussion. His decision making look compromised on Thursday night, and he took another hard hit that may have given him a second concussion in less than a week. Hopefully this will bring some changes to the concussion system going forward, but it was a terrible sight to see his fingers lock up like that in a game he really shouldn’t have been playing in.

But that was a big game since it could have led to Miami at 4-0 and the Bengals at 1-3. Instead, Teddy Bridgewater threw a pick late and the Bengals are back in the hunt at 2-2.

There should be a lot of these breaking point moments this week:

First, keep in mind that 14.9% of teams starting 1-3 since 1990 have made the playoffs, and 63.7% of teams starting 3-1 have made the playoffs. It hurts more to start 1-3 than it helps to start 3-1, but it’s a big week for teams in those positions.

The Vikings can drop the Saints to 1-3 with Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas sitting this one out, denying us a battle of the last two QBs (Winston and Kirk Cousins) in the NFL to throw a pick-six in overtime. I wrote an upset pick for the Saints earlier in the week, but I’d change my pick after that injury news dropped.

The Colts (1-1-1) have a big home game with the Titans (1-2) in the AFC South.

Dallas can get to 3-1 and drop Washington to 1-3 in the first game of the Cowboys-Commanders era, also known as The Battle of the Gingers (Carson Wentz and Cooper Rush)

Chargers-Texans is the No. 32 rushing offense vs. No. 32 rushing defense, but if the Chargers start 1-3 with losses to Jacksonville and Houston, you might as well forget this season for them.

One of the Giants-Bears should be 3-1 after tomorrow, but this isn’t a breaking point. Neither team is going to amount to anything this year.

Jaguars-Eagles is shockingly decent on paper, and it would be something if the Jaguars are for real this year and Doug Pederson got the win in Philadelphia.

If Mitch Trubisky sucks against the Jets at home, the Kenny Pickett era might be here now, or else the Steelers aren’t winning another game until after the bye.

Bills-Ravens is a huge game in both the MVP race and AFC playoff standings. I wrote about the intertwined careers of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who are both looking at the Five-Year Rule with their head coaches this season as they hope to win their first Super Bowl.

With Mac Jones down and Brian Hoyer starting, the Patriots are in real danger of falling to 1-3 in Green Bay where Matt LaFleur doesn’t lose to scrubs.

Remember when Josh McDaniels started 6-0 in Denver in 2009? He might be 0-5 to start his job with the Raiders if they don’t get the win over a struggling Denver team this week.

The Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl rematch (preview) is going to look a lot different, but it’s still about Todd Bowles’ defense, which is allowing 9.0 points per game this year. The Chiefs are a 1-point underdog for now, and if that holds, then Patrick Mahomes has to defend his 6-0-1 ATS record as an underdog.

Finally, the Rams can get to 3-1 and drop the 49ers to 1-3 on Monday night (prop picks), but we know Shanahan has gotten the best of McVay most of the time in that matchup.

For Week 4 prop picks, see here.

For a Week 4 parlay (+553 after last week’s +531 hit), see here.

For updated Super Bowl 57 winner odds and my best picks for the favorite, value pick, and dark horse, see here.

It should be a very important week in the NFL.

NFL Week 4 Predictions

TNF has been good to me this year even if it hasn’t been that good to watch. I also went 11-4-1 ATS last week and still felt like a total bum for the way the Chiefs and Bills lost.

To be honest, the Bengals winning on Thursday night was the second-highest confidence I felt in any pick this week. My only stronger pick is Green Bay taking care of New England. I can see the argument for every other side, including the Texans over the Chargers since they already upset them after Christmas last year.

Fun fact: Browns and Falcons are the only teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Now watch that game end 15-10, but it could be an entertaining shootout in the dome while some of these games may be affected by the weather thanks to this awful Hurricane Ian. I really am doing my best to not go nuts on SGPs for Ravens-Bills. Not after the huge disappointment that was 17-3 when they last met in the 2020 playoffs.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 3

I questioned on Saturday how a week with no games with a point spread of 7+ would go, especially this early in the season when we are trying to figure out what these teams really are.

As it turns out, this was only the fourth NFL week (regular season) since 2001 where no game had a spread larger than 6.5 points. We’ll see what Monday night brings with Cowboys-Giants, but so far, the four games with spreads of 1-2 points were all decided by 1-4 points. #VegasKnew

One of the most incredible stats so far is that the rookie head coaches are 9-1 this season at 4QC/GWD opportunities:

The only loss was when Nathaniel Hackett lost his mind and tried to do a 64-yard field goal in Seattle.

Some Week 3 games had a fake close finish this week (PIT-CLE on TNF, NO-CAR), but in the end, there have been 11 games with a comeback opportunity. If we get a 12th on MNF, that will be the most in any week since the 2016 season started with 13 close games.

But after seeing the Bills and Chiefs lose in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter, the Chargers lose at home by four touchdowns to the Jaguars, a 14-12 Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady game, and the unholy clusterfvck that was 49ers vs. Broncos on Sunday night, “Any Given Sunday” is still very much in effect.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Dolphins: Miami’s Rope-a-Dope

Before I piss off the Miami fans, I want to remind everyone that I picked Miami to make the playoffs and Mike McDaniel to win Coach of the Year. This game helps with both of those, but I think by Week 15 when the rematch is played on a December afternoon in Buffalo, this game is going to look like the New England 14-10 extreme winds game on Monday night last year.

The Bills dominated this game and only have themselves to blame for losing it. They literally melted in the Miami heat and wore themselves out while outgaining the Dolphins 497-212 in yards, 31-15 in first downs, and holding the ball for 40:20.

Yes, Josh Allen had some notable screwups in this one. He lost the ball on a strip-sack that led to a 6-yard touchdown drive for Miami. He had to do a fake spike before halftime after bobbling another snap, potentially costing the team another three points. He didn’t come through again on three straight plays from inside the 2-yard line after the two-minute warning. His final drive, with 85 seconds to get the winning field goal set up, was not the stuff of legends and does not help his MVP case as he couldn’t get the spike off to beat the buzzer.

But while Allen had a ridiculous 75 dropbacks, I am not sure how Tua Tagovailoa returned to the game after banging his head off the ground in the second quarter and looking wobbly. Instead of expecting the Bills to feast on Teddy Bridgewater, Tua was soon back in the game and ended up leading a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter keyed by big catches that Jaylen Waddle made (45 and 32 yards) that I doubt Bridgewater would have completed, even if the Bills were badly shorthanded in the secondary in this game.

But back to Allen, he had help in blowing this game. In the third quarter, the Bills had one full possession and Gabriel Davis dropped a sure touchdown on it. Almost a Lee Evans-Sterling Moore type of play if you know what I mean (2011 AFC Championship Game). The Bills had to settle for a field goal and 17-14 lead after a 9:22 drive.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Bills settled for another field goal and missed it from 38 yards out. What the hell? Miami took the lead, then it was another march of over eight minutes where the Bills came up empty at the goal line. Even after Miami’s butt-punt inside the end zone produced a safety and 21-19 score, Allen still couldn’t deliver the final game-winning drive.

Since 1970, teams with an edge of 275+ yards are 300-13-1 (.957), so come on, Buffalo. The last team to outgain an opponent by 275+ yards and lose was the 2020 Rams in Miami, Tua’s first start when Jared Goff imploded with turnovers. Those articles I wrote during the playoffs asking if Joe Burrow was the new Brady, did I have the wrong 2020 draft quarterback in mind?

But going back to last season, the Bills are now 1-7 in close games. Allen has not had a fourth-quarter comeback since the third game of the 2020 season against the Rams, a game where the refs bailed him out with a penalty to wipe out a fourth-down incompletion.

This team may have a big front-runner problem. I would still pick Buffalo in a rematch in a heartbeat, but they are going to have to win a game late at some point this year if they are going to win a Super Bowl or even get to one.

Chiefs at Colts: That Horseshoe Voodoo

Some franchises just seem snake-bitten against certain teams. Over the last 30 years, the Chiefs are 4-14 against the Colts, including a 1-4 record in playoff games. From Lin Elliott’s missed field goals in the 1995 playoffs to the no-punts playoff loss in Arrowhead in 2003 to the blown 28-point lead in 2013 AFC Wild Card to that weird 19-13 game in 2019, it’s just one heartbreak after another for the Chiefs.

But most of those games did not happen in the Patrick Mahomes era, and he even won his first playoff game – feels like a shock now – at home against the Colts in 2018, Andrew Luck’s final game.

But Mahomes and the Chiefs are 0-2 against the Colts ever since, and Sunday’s 20-17 loss ranks right up there with the 19-13 loss that was such a one-of-a-kind in Mahomes’ career.

We have 20-17 as a nice cousin to 19-13:

  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to an opponent that scored fewer than 26 points (45-2 record).
  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to a team with under 340 yards of offense (28-2 record) as the Colts had just 259 yards on Sunday.
  • 19-13 was the first time in 24 starts that Mahomes did not lead the Chiefs to at least 26 points.
  • 19-13 is the only game in Mahomes’ first 50 starts where the Chiefs did not score at least 22 points.
  • Pending on 2022 results, 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career to a team with fewer than eight wins (2019 Colts finished 7-9).
  • 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career when a team blitzes him at least 12 times (12-1 record). [Note: waiting for 20-17 data.]
  • Mahomes is 28-2 SU as a favorite of more than 7 points and 19-13 was the first loss.

How did this one happen? Special teams played a huge part in a variety of ways, making you wonder if the team should have bit the bullet and cut someone to add another kicker while Harrison Butker is injured.

  • First, rookie Skyy Moore muffed a punt that led to an easy 4-yard touchdown drive for the Colts.
  • A punt pinned Mahomes to his 1-yard line for Drive No. 2.
  • The Chiefs missed an extra point on their first touchdown.
  • Leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs tried a terrible fake field goal instead of trying a 42-yard kick.
  • Matt Ammendola missed a 34-yard field goal wide left with 8:38 left that would have had the game tied if the Colts still got the touchdown.

That was a brutal performance, but the offense also was not that great for the second week in a row as the Chargers and Colts have held this offense to 37 points.  Apparently, not every defense is as clueless as Arizona.

The defense had five sacks of Matt Ryan and made some good plays, but there was a fourth-and-1 sneak at the Indy 33 that could have been game-deciding if the Chiefs stopped Ryan. They didn’t. Worse, a sack to bring up fourth-and-14 with 5:08 left should have changed things dramatically, but Chris Jones was penalized for apparently saying some naughty words after the play, leading to an automatic first down. Ridiculous.

The Colts took a whopping 8:14 to drive for the winning touchdown with Ryan cashing in again to rookie Jelani Woods with 24 seconds left to take a 20-17 lead.

We know Mahomes doesn’t need a ton of time to get into field goal range, but what exactly is that without Butker and with a kicker who can’t make an extra point or kick from 34 yards out? After a 24-yard completion from Mahomes, who struggled to break 250 yards passing, he had 0:08 left at the Indy 46. Something quick over the middle for 10-15 yards and getting down to use a timeout would work well with Butker, but again, the kick was going to be a nightmare in this situation. But we never got to see one as Mahomes forced a pass that was intercepted, and the game was over. The Colts did it again to the Chiefs.

This game is exactly why I said it’d be so interesting if the Chiefs had to play the Colts in the 2020 or 2021 playoffs. They did this without their best defender (Shaquille Leonard) active, but Michael Pittman’s return was a huge boost to Ryan’s confidence despite the pressure he faced.

If we ignore Weeks 1-2, this game is exactly why I felt the Colts would be better without Wentz this year, and why I had the Chiefs taking a step back to 10-7. Time will tell if this was just some more Horseshoe Voodoo when these teams meet up, but if there’s a playoff rematch, I don’t blame any Kansas City fans having dread over the outcome.

The muffed punt to start the game was just the first sign of what was to come. The Chiefs have some issues to take care of in this post-Tyreek Hill era, and a trip to Tampa Bay (allowing 9.0 points per game) is unlikely to make things better.

The good news is the rest of the AFC West looks terrible right now.

Packers at Buccaneers: Okay, Boomers

Tom Brady had the 50th failed 4QC of his career on Sunday, and yet I felt nothing from this 14-12 odyssey that could be the final time he and Aaron Rodgers match up in the NFL.

Is it because this didn’t feel like the real version of the Buccaneers with Mike Evans suspended and Chris Godwin (hamstring) out? Sure, we can talk about Julio Jones being out for Tampa and Sammy Watkins being out for Green Bay, but that’s like talking about the sun coming up and going back down. It’s just assumed at this point.

But there’s the rub. The Packers are not going to get that much better talent-wise than what they had here, and they still got the 14-12 win despite not scoring on their final nine drives. Aaron Jones had another huge fumble in a game against Tampa when the Packers could have gone up 21-3.

But Tampa should get better soon with Evans coming back and Godwin probably in a couple more weeks. The Buccaneers didn’t run well at all in this game (35 yards for Leonard Fournette) and Brady was sacked three times. But he threw for 271 yards with Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman each losing fumbles.

The Tampa Bay defense is allowing 9.0 points per game this season to lead the NFL, but the offense is averaging one offensive touchdown per game. This defense gave the offense plenty of chances to win this, as did the Green Bay offense with a bad second half.

Brady had four drives in a 14-6 game and finally cashed in the last one for a touchdown. But just when you thought Fournette was going to run in the two-point conversion to force overtime, the Buccaneers were hit with a delay of game. They barely avoided one on the touchdown too. How do teams keep screwing this up this season?

Pushed 5 yards back, Brady’s pass was deflected and incomplete in the end zone. The Packers recovered the onside kick, and it was over at 14-12.

It’s a fun win for Green Bay, but would you trust this team in a playoff rematch with the Bucs having better receivers? No way I would.

49ers at Broncos: 11-10, Rockies Edge Out the Giants

Do I need to say much about the second 11-10 game in NFL history? You probably saw this mess on Sunday night. Along the way to those 21 points, we had a 55-yard field goal, a safety after Jimmy Garoppolo pulled a Dan Orlovsky and stepped out of bounds, and a 51-yard field goal on a drive without any first downs.

That set up the 10-5 score in the fourth quarter, which set the stage for Russell Wilson to have one good drive where the old magic showed up and the Broncos actually ran in a touchdown. But even with an 11-10 deficit, Garoppolo should be able to get a game-winning field goal, right? It’s the other bums that lose every close game for Kyle Shanahan.

Well, on a night where the crowd was again booing Denver’s boo-worthy offense, the 49ers weren’t much better. Without a great drive at the end, you could even say they were worse given the talent involved.

Garoppolo threw a terrible interception with 2:06 left. I have no idea what he saw there. But then Nathaniel Hackett put some gutless touches on the win. He called three straight runs and punted the ball back with 1:42 left in a 1-point game. Do you not understand that the 49ers had four clock stoppages? Did you forget why this team traded so much to get Wilson? That wasn’t Drew Lock out there, even if some Wilson’s accuracy looked like Lock’s on Sunday night.

That was pathetic and it should have lost Denver the game. But the 49ers had coach’s back with another sack and Jeff Wilson fumbled a catch to end it 11-10. The 49ers were 1-for-10 on third down.

The Broncos are 2-1 yet feel like an 0-3 team that has yet to score more than 16 points. On Sunday night, the Broncos went three-and-out nine times, the most ever for a Wilson start.

Since 1970, NFL teams with at least 10 punts and no more than 11 points are 16-162-4.

Can we unplug the 2022 Broncos and plug them back in? I don’t know what this team is doing, but I know I don’t like watching it, and they will be on TNF in Week 5 too against the Colts.

Ravens at Patriots: Lamar’s Season?

If not for one disastrous quarter against Miami, the Ravens would be the talk of the NFL going into their showdown with Buffalo next week. Maybe they still should be, and Lamar Jackson should be the new odds-on MVP favorite after another stellar game with 325 total yards and five total touchdowns in what was a surprisingly wild, high-scoring 37-26 win in New England.

Jackson rushed for over 100 yards again while throwing for four scores. It looked like the defense was going to blow another fourth-quarter lead (31-20) too after some spirited plays from a mobile Mac Jones, but Marlon Humphrey came through with a huge pick in the end zone in a 31-26 game.

Next, Nelson Agholor fumbled on a catch inside the Baltimore 40 as the Patriots were sloppy with four giveaways. Jackson turned that into a 73-yard touchdown drive that basically put the game away.

Jones then suffered some sort of leg injury on his third pick, which looked painful as he hobbled off the field. We’ll see what his status is but early reports seem to suggest sprain more than torn knee ligaments. So, hopefully his season won’t be over after the 2021 draft class already lost Trey Lance.

Jackson putting the Ravens on his back against a Buffalo defense that is suddenly vulnerable with injuries should make for an exciting Week 4. He is playing better now than when he won MVP in 2019.

Raiders at Titans: 0-3 Bowl

Going into Sunday, we expected someone to come out of this game 0-3, but just a few weeks ago, who would have imagined the Raiders would be the only 0-3 team in the NFL?

The Titans clearly took their embarrassing loss to Buffalo on Monday night to heart. Ryan Tannehill got Robert Woods (85 yards) involved, and not only did Derrick Henry look better on the ground, but he had five catches for 58 yards, easily one of the most productive receiving games of his career.

Tennessee led 24-10 at halftime, but this was a game I had lined up as a 4QC/GWD for Derek Carr. It didn’t seem like it would get there after Darren Waller, who had a terrible game, tipped a red-zone pass for a pick with 9:22 left. But the Raiders had the ball in a 24-16 game with 2:57 left. After Carr hit a deep ball to Mack Hollins to convert a fourth-and-15 at the two-minute warning, overtime was looking likely.

Carr even added to his legacy of getting bailed out of a fourth-down incompletion with a defensive holding penalty on the Titans to extend the game. You knew the touchdown was inevitable at that point, and Hollins caught that too as apparently Davante Adams isn’t allowed to hit 40 yards in this offense.

But when it came time for the game-tying two-point conversion with 1:14 left, Carr could not hook up with Waller in the end zone. The Titans recovered the onside kick and the game was over.

We knew the Raiders were a big regression candidate with their 4-0 overtime record and poor (-65) scoring differential to get to 10-7 last season. But the inability of head coach Josh McDaniels and Carr to figure out how to use the receivers in this offense has been stunning. Hollins, the leading receiver this season, had almost as many yards on Sunday as Adams has in three games combined. He had more Sunday than Waller in three games.

If the Raiders lose to the Broncos and Chiefs next to start 0-5, then this season is already cooked going into the Week 6 bye.

Lions at Vikings: I Like Dan Campbell But…

As someone who was on Lions +6/Vikings ML, it’s amusing that that was not the winning combo until the game’s last 45 seconds. Detroit blew leads of 14-0 in the first half and 24-14 in the fourth quarter to a team with Kirk Cousins getting 14 receiving yards out of Justin Jefferson. It doesn’t sound feasible, but then you remember it’s the Lions.

Detroit was just 3-of-16 on third down but made up for some of it by going 4-of-6 on fourth down as head coach Dan Campbell was aggressive again. I loved it when he bypassed a 48-yard field goal while leading 24-21 with 3:35 left, because a 6-point lead is not that helpful in that spot. Unfortunately, the running game was stuffed on fourth-and-1.

But the defense held, and soon Campbell was faced with another decision on fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 36 with 1:14 left. He decided to kick the 54-yard field goal, which was wide right. I think he should have gone for it to try ending the game with a first down. If you don’t get it, the Vikings will be down 24-21 and will have an incentive to only kick the field goal and go to overtime. Since it’s the Vikings, the game-tying field goal going in is far from a guarantee no matter what distance it is.

It’ s not like Detroit had Justin Tucker at kicker, so getting the three points was far from a given, and a miss put the Vikings at their own 44. Even if it was good, you are giving the Vikings over a minute to beat you with a touchdown. After going for it on fourth down so often in this game, I think Campbell made a mistake by not doing it once more.

Cousins only needed three throws to win the game. K.J. Osborn made a pair of 28-yard catches, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left. It took 25 seconds for the Vikings to score from midfield.

Jared Goff was in a tough spot and his Hail Mary was intercepted short of the end zone to end the game. I would say that is the toughest loss of Campbell’s career since this team would have felt great at 2-1 with Seattle up next and having made some history with a streak of 18 quarters scoring a touchdown. It is the second-longest streak since 1925. Who would have imagined the Goff-led Lions would be on that kind of list with the 1942 Packers (19 quarters)?

But instead, it’s the Vikings who are 2-1. Winning division games is something you can trust them to do. Anything else? Meh.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 3:

Eagles at Commanders: Do you think those Philadelphia defenders like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were ready for this one? They sacked Carson Wentz a career-high nine times, including three dropbacks in a row in the game’s first five minutes. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line Wentz has yet to achieve in his NFL career. The Eagles cruised to a 24-8 win with DeVonta Smith (8/169/1) and A.J. Brown (5/85/1) quickly turning into one of the most dangerous duos in the game. Isn’t it great to make the right move at quarterback, Eagles fans?

Side note: I swear the Eagles just had the two greatest offensive games back-to-back in which a team only scored 24 points and didn’t score in the second half. They scored all 24 of their points on Monday against the Vikings in the first half and all 24 points against Washington came in the second quarter. I don’t think the lack of second-half scoring is something to get worried about yet, but it has been an interesting two games with Hurts lighting it up and improving his MVP odds.

Bengals at Jets: This was one of the few games where I was really dialed in on how everything would play out. Joe Flacco threw the ball a ton, but no busted coverage meant no big plays and the Jets only scored 12 points. Joe Burrow didn’t have a dominant pass rusher to deal with, so he had his best game of the season (only two sacks) and took advantage of poor coverage for a long touchdown to Tyler Boyd. Bengals finally get a win this season but will have tough game with Miami on Thursday night.

Texans at Bears: So much for that under 40 points. The Texans cannot stop the run (281 yards), which is a good thing since the Bears still only threw 17 passes and took five sacks. But we may have seen another 20-20 tie for this Houston team if Davis Mills didn’t have a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Roquan Smith with 1:05 left. That set up a cheap game-winning drive that consisted of a 1-yard run and two kneeldowns by Justin Fields before a 30-yard field goal at the buzzer. It’s the kind of finish Lovie Smith would be proud of… if he was still on the other side.

Falcons at Seahawks: Can you believe the Falcons and the Browns are the only teams to score at least 26 points in all three games this season? I liked the Falcons in this one because of the way they have been competing and scoring this season, and the Seahawks are still too hard to trust for me. But this was one of the closest games of the week with a fourth quarter that featured more unauthorized drones flying over the stadium than points. But in the end, Geno Smith reminded us why he’s 3-14 (.176) at 4QC opportunities with a sack and interception in Atlanta territory. The Falcons finally closed a game.

Saints at Panthers: I knew Carolina wasn’t going to go 0-17, so a home game with the Saints after Jameis Winston imploded last week felt like an appropriate spot to give Matt Rhule his first win. It was also typical Rhule in that the Panthers led wire-to-wire thanks to scooping up an early Alvin Kamara fumble for a touchdown, and they only allowed 14 points. The Jameis turnovers came later, and he technically had a failed 4QC/GWD, but it was in just about the most impossible situation you can have: down 8, no timeouts, 18 seconds left at your own 1. Just time for another desperation pick.  

Rams at Cardinals: For the second week in a row, the Rams could have smoked a team in the fourth quarter, but Cam Akers fumbled at the 1-yard line in a 20-9 game. That spoiled what could have been a game with 27 points on eight drives. But the Rams are not the Raiders, and Kyler Murray’s long marches in the fourth only led to a field goal and 20-12 loss despite him throwing 58 passes.

On the bright side, the Cardinals held Cooper Kupp to 44 receiving yards on six targets and four catches. Since 2021, Kupp has had at least 90 yards in every game except for three, but all three have been against Arizona. This is the first time Kupp has been under 60 yards since 2020. He finishes with a 25-game streak of 60-plus receiving yards, which did edge out Antonio Brown (24) for a new record. He’ll just have to start another streak next week, but maybe these Cardinals are doing something right with him. Just ignore the tape of the 20-yard touchdown run he had on Sunday that looked too easy.

Jaguars at Chargers: I picked the Jaguars to win just because Justin Herbert seemed to be trending downward to play. I loved Jacksonville at +6.5 when the line went back up to that, but truthfully, I probably would have picked the Chargers to win on Saturday had that been the line when I posted my Week 3 picks. Still, it was shocking to see the way Jacksonville rolled this team in that building.

Most of the damage was done in the second and third quarters. I do not think Herbert’s ribs were physically limiting him too much, and he sure doesn’t play defense where Trevor Lawrence and company did what they wanted. Kudos to Doug Pederson for getting great early results out of an offense with Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram at tight end. I really did not think it would work, but for three games it has, and this team realistically could win the AFC South this year. Might even be upgrading to say they should win it in a few weeks if things keep up.

As for Chargers coach Brandon Staley, has a coach’s stock ever dropped so fast? His answer to keeping Herbert in a 38-10 game in the final five minutes was absurd. This team seems destined to waste one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

Next week: Bills-Ravens is a huge one, Dolphins-Bengals might be good on Thursday night, and of course I’ve already done a preview for Chiefs-Bucs before writing this. Even Jaguars-Eagles looks like a game to watch, which might be the best way to sum up September in this NFL season.

This season has to give us something more than Bills-Chiefs III meets Brady in the Super Bowl.

NFL Week 3 Predictions: The Truth Comes Out Edition

Not to sound like John Oliver, but I have time for just a quick recap of the week.

After talking about the big point spreads in Weeks 1-2, we seem to have the opposite in Week 3. There are currently zero games with a spread higher than 6.5. This is largely due to the Justin Herbert (ribs) injury situation as that line has come down from -9 to -7 to -3.5 as I currently see it with Herbert being a legit game-time decision. So, we’ll just have to see what the final line is.

But this would be the only non-strike season since 1978 where Week 3 didn’t have a single game with a spread of 7+ points.

Just as Week 2 is one of the hardest weeks to predict in a season, Week 3 ranks right up there. Because now the task is which week do I put more trust in?

Are the Packers a terrible offense without Davante Adams like they were in Week 1 in Minnesota, or are they going to be okay like we saw in Week 2? Tough task in Tampa Bay where neither team is coming in with healthy skill players.

Are the Jaguars actually good this year and ready to roll a limited Herbert or rough up Chase Daniel? Or are they going to get shredded like the defense that gave up a 4 touchdown/300-yard game to Carson Wentz in Week 1?

Can the Falcons continue playing competitive football against one of the worst teams on their schedule, or will the Seahawks look more like the offense that moved the ball well in Week 1 instead of the offense that was shut out in Week 2?

Are things any different in Minnesota this year, or did they just do their usual “beat Green Bay and shit the bed on a Monday night” thing under Kirk Cousins? I have a lot riding on Amon-Ra St. Brown to deliver for the Lions tomorrow.

Finally, the big game of the week is Bills at Dolphins, but is Miami a 42-point dynamic offense, or is it more like the offense that had 27 points in seven quarters before Tyreek Hill exploded on Sunday against a Baltimore defense that has allowed five 400-yard passers since 2021? I really like the Bills this week, though safety Micah Hyde going on IR (neck) is not good timing.

Again, I’d say some more but I’m working on a side project on weekends. Here’s a fun Colts-Chiefs preview, the first meeting between these teams since 2019

Here are some other articles I did this week:

NFL Week 3 Predictions

Going against the Steelers the last two weeks has proven to be a smart move. That team could be 1-5 in a few weeks. With the pressure already mounting on Mike Tomlin, I don’t see how he doesn’t make a major change soon.

Does the table look better this week? I finally learned how you can save Excel cells as a picture without using the Snipping tool.

Should be an interesting day with all these small spreads. The truth is going to start coming out about these teams.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 2

We still have a pretty good doubleheader to go on Monday night for Week 2, but this has already been one of the wildest weeks in NFL history. Sure, you probably hear that about 21 times a season, but this time it really does check out.

There was a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter by the Dolphins in Baltimore, making the Ravens the first team in NFL history to score 38 points with zero turnovers at home and lose in regulation.

There was a 13-point comeback in Cleveland completely manufactured by the Jets (!) after the two-minute warning.

There was a 16-point comeback in Las Vegas with Arizona pulling off the rare 8+8 to force overtime where it won a defensive fumble return for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the Cardinals were also down 20-0 at halftime, becoming the 15th team in NFL history to win after being shut out by at least 20 points at halftime.

The world may have ended if the Atlanta Falcons completed their comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Rams, but Marcus Mariota was intercepted in the end zone while trailing 31-25 with 1:07 left.

The week started goofy with the Chiefs kicking a game-tying field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, then winning on a pick-six against the Chargers because tight end Gerald Everett got tired, the team left him out there anyway, and they got properly burned for it.

It also was the saddest day in the history of the AFC North with all four teams losing for the eighth time since 2002. So, while it has happened more often than all but one division, it is hard to imagine any group of losses were more heartbreaking than the ones on Sunday. Here is the total of 0-4 weeks for each division since 2002:

  • NFC West (10)
  • AFC North (8)
  • NFC East (6)
  • AFC South (5)
  • NFC North (5)
  • NFC South (3)
  • AFC West (2)
  • AFC East (0)

With two games to go, we have already had 10 close games this week. Let’s look at some of them as well as quicker views of the embarrassing blowouts (Colts?)

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Ravens: Game of the Week (Month? Year?)

Did we witness the creation of a new power in the AFC, or will this game just be a fun footnote on the way to a Chiefs vs. Bills playoff rematch? A lot of weeks to go before that, but this fourth quarter was bananas.

After Lamar Jackson’s 79-yard touchdown run gave the Ravens a 35-14 lead going into the fourth quarter, this game reminded me of when Baltimore blew out the Chargers 34-6 last year. That really threw some cold water on the hype for the 4-1 Chargers under rookie coach Brandon Staley.

New Miami coach Mike McDaniel was not getting that hype just yet after one win over New England where the offense scored 13 points, but there were some high expectations for this year. I picked him for Coach of the Year. After this game, I think the bandwagon is about to grow, especially with Buffalo coming next week.

You win a game with Tua Tagovailoa throwing 50 times for 469 yards and six touchdowns in Baltimore? I know the defense is not anywhere close to what it used to be in Baltimore, but 469/6? Tua? Him?

But when Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill embarrass the defense with over 170 yards and two touchdowns each, that’s the scary potential of this offense. It was enough to spoil a special day by Lamar, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games with 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in his career (318/119). He did not take a sack and the Ravens had no turnovers.

He did get stopped on four consecutive plays while the Dolphins were quickly making their comeback, but he rebounded to lead a go-ahead field goal drive with 2:18 left. That’s an eternity given the way Miami was hitting chunk plays. Sure enough, Tua delivered to Waddle again for a 7-yard touchdown to take a 42-38 lead with 14 seconds left.

Jackson’s Hail Mary came up short to end it. By my count, this is the 10th fourth-quarter comeback win from a deficit of 21+ points in NFL history. The last was when the Eagles did it to the Giants in 2010, winning 38-31 on DeSean Jackson’s punt return touchdown.

Tagovailoa joins the odd company of Neil Lomax and Wade Wilson as the only three quarterbacks to cap off a 21+ point 4QC with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Troy Aikman threw one for Dallas in overtime against the 1999 Redskins in Week 1.

So, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tua is going to turn into Joe Montana, but this is really encouraging stuff from the quarterback position. One could say the kind of game that a Dan Marino fan would appreciate. Quick, someone come up with a good nickname for Waddle & Hill.

But when I said Hill is worth a couple wins to the Chiefs because of his rare talent, this is exactly the kind of game I’m talking about. This comeback probably does not take place with any other wide receiver. Now do the Chiefs still have that ability to pull out a tough game? We’ll see. They didn’t look great against the Chargers on Thursday. But if the Dolphins can keep this up and start games better, this is going to set up a very intriguing race in the AFC that goes beyond just the Bills and Chiefs.

God knows we need it with the way the Broncos, Colts, Bengals, and Raiders are shitting the bed so far this season.

Jets at Browns: Only in Cleveland

The Jets were my upset special this week, but even I was shocked to find out that they had won this game given the 30-17 deficit so late. I saw the Jets recover an onside kick, but I was still lost in the ending to Dolphins-Ravens and didn’t find out what Cleveland did until several minutes after the game ended.

It was a colossal choke that took all three phases of the team, but it’s also such a Cleveland thing to do. Since 2001, just three NFL teams have lost a game while leading by more than 10 points and the other team getting the ball back in the final three minutes.

All three of those losses belong to Cleveland (click pic to enlarge).

You can’t blame just one person, so let’s blame a few. Let’s start with Kareem Hunt, who twice ran out of bounds to stop the clock when he should have been trying to slide down in bounds. The second time was the most egregious because there was a hole to slide down for the first down that would have ended the game. The Jets were out of timeouts and the clock would have went to the two-minute warning. Game over. But Hunt didn’t do what he needed to and the clock stopped at 2:02.

On the very next play, Nick Chubb decided to run for his third touchdown, and if the Jets really just “allowed” him to do it, then they are geniuses. This was the only hope they had left. This is something else I’ll bitch about once or twice a season, and the Browns proved with the worst-case scenario possible exactly why I’m right and you shouldn’t risk this.

By scoring with 1:55 left, Chubb extended the game instead of ending it. I still think what Hunt did was equally bad if not worse, and Chubb does not deserve the brunt of the criticism. But he had no business scoring that touchdown, which set up an extra point that was missed to keep it a 30-17 game. Another reason you don’t score the touchdown as now you’re open to losing by a point. So now the special teams are in on the mess to come.

Next, it was the defense’s turn. The last thing you could do was give up a quick one, and we know Joe Flacco has some experience at throwing up a bomb in these spots. He hadn’t been able to get big plays in eight quarters, but somehow with the game still alive he caught corner Denzel Ward looking in the backfield and corked a wide-open 66-yard touchdown bomb to Corey Davis on a drive that took 33 seconds. Inexcusable.

You know the onside kick was coming next, and that’s where many of these comebacks stall since they are so hard to get. But the Jets got this one and suddenly Flacco had 80 seconds from midfield to win this game. He did exactly that with a good drive and a 15-yard strike to rookie Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds left.

The Jets led 31-30 after the extra point. The Cleveland offense had such a nice day with Jacoby Brissett showing better precision, Amari Cooper getting his first 100-yard game and touchdown, and the running game putting up big numbers for the second week in a row. And none of it mattered because they got greedy and botched their previous drive that should have ended the game. Then the special teams and defense screwed up multiple plays. Finally, Brissett’s desperate pass while out of timeouts was intercepted to end the game.

What can you say about Flacco? He had himself a day with 307 yards and four touchdown passes, and in the process, he picked up his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win. He is the 34th quarterback to do so, and it’s taken him the second-most games (195) to get there ahead of only Brett Favre.

But I will say Flacco has been involved in three really incredible comebacks from the 2012 AFC divisional win in Denver to the 2013 explosive ending in the snow against Minnesota to this one.

The fact that the two most incredible wins of the Zach Wilson era were started by Mike White (Bengals’ comeback last year) and Flacco here are not encouraging signs for him. But we have to see him this season. We know this team isn’t going anywhere with Flacco.

This was the type of absurd comeback you see maybe once every decade in the NFL.

But only against Cleveland. That’s the key.

Cardinals at Raiders: 8 + 8 + Too Much Grit

After the Cardinals failed to show up for the first half and trailed 20-0, I had no expectations for the second half. I figured Josh McDaniels would run Josh Jacobs a lot and the team would just cruise to a win to get to 1-1.

But this was in some ways the most shocking comeback of the day because of how little trust we’ve had in Arizona, and how many plays they had to string together to pull this off. When Kyler Murray threw incomplete on a 4th-and-1 at the Raiders 11 with 12:31 left in a 23-7 game, I decided to take out the trash. This didn’t look competitive anymore.

But McDaniels’ play-calling has been so suspect through two games, and the next drive that saw Derek Carr throw three incompletions and burn nine seconds should be getting crucified here. Do coaches not understand how important it is to burn clock anymore? Sometimes, even that three runs and a punt drive that takes two minutes is more valuable than whatever that was by the Raiders.

Maybe it wasn’t 28-9, but 23-7 is hard because few teams ever pull off 8+8 in this league. At least one of those two-point conversions usually fail, so they end up needing three possessions.

But to Murray’s credit, he hung in there on the first touchdown drive and capped it off with a scramble for the two-point conversion that maybe only he could do right now. The Raiders burned a little more time, but Murray had 4:43 to answer a 23-15 deficit.

As I seem to write a long rant about a couple times a season, the Cardinals were not in a super hurry to get the touchdown given the “information” that they were down eight points. It ended up being an insanely tough drive that had to overcome three fourth-down situations, and on the final play at the 3-yard line, Murray scrambled for another touchdown with no time left.

But even then, a secondo two-point conversion was needed just to go to overtime. Murray found A.J. Green in the end zone and the veteran held on for a great catch to tie the game. By my count, the Cardinals are just the fourth team in NFL history to win a game after erasing a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions:

  • 2004 49ers vs. Cardinals (trailed 28-12, won 31-28 in overtime)
  • 2016 Patriots vs. Falcons (first cut 28-9 to 28-12, then won 34-28 in overtime)
  • 2021 Ravens vs. Colts (trailed 25-9, won 31-25 in overtime)
  • 2022 Cardinals at Raiders (trailed 23-7, won 29-23 in overtime)

But even in overtime the Cardinals looked dead in the water after Murray threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 at the Las Vegas 37. Carr just needed a couple first downs for field-goal range, and Hunter Renfrow picked up a third down before fumbling. The team recovered it though. However, just two plays later, Renfrow fumbled again, and this time it was scooped up and returned 59 yards for a game-deciding touchdown. Unbelievable.

This was just the sixth time in NFL overtime history that a team won by returning a fumble for a touchdown. That includes the playoffs, as Arizona fans should enjoy (2009 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay).

Just a miraculous win from one of the teams you’d least expect to pick things up after a 20-0 first half. But both teams are guilty of bad coaching to start this season.

Falcons at Rams: The Most Dangerous Lead in the NFL

The Rams kept Matthew Stafford clean (one sack), got Allen Robinson much more involved with a touchdown, and kept rolling with Cooper Kupp on the way to a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

And yet, they almost blew what was once a 28-3 lead to the team that will take that score to their graves. Having a bet on Rams -10, I just knew bad things were coming once the Rams failed at the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter with a 28-10 lead. They settled for a field goal to make it 31-10, but no lead was truly safe on Sunday.

The Falcons got one touchdown drive, then blocked a punt in devastating fashion – that punter got crushed – and returned that for a touchdown. I liked the call to go for two, and Drake London really is showing why he was the first wideout off the board in the draft. His catch made it a 31-25 game, Kupp actually made a mistake and fumbled, and this shit was really going to happen a week after the Falcons blew a 26-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Two 21-point fourth-quarter leads blown by home teams expected to make the playoffs in the same day? Insane.

It is hard to say the Falcons hit us with a “they are who we thought they were!” since we thought this team was going to get crushed like it often did in 2021. But this team has been fighting the first two weeks and may eventually get some wins to show for it. It just wasn’t happening this time as Marcus Mariota threw an interception in the end zone to Jalen Ramsey with 1:07 left. D’oh.

The Rams still had to take an intentional safety after they wouldn’t dare punt again after the way the Falcons attacked the last one. That’s how it got to 31-27, but Mariota was sacked on the final play before he could try a Hail Mary, and Aaron Donald was there for a cheap fumble recovery.

We may be talking about the defense being the most unreliable part of this Los Angeles team, but it’d be nice to see them play a normal game that isn’t 31-10 in the fourth quarter first.

Buccaneers at Saints: I Hope Jameis’ Cousin in The Afghanistan Didn’t Watch This

No recent defense makes Tom Brady look so bad like Dennis Allen’s Saints since 2020, but too bad the offense always seems to be injured for these games. Beyond Alvin Kamara missing the game, Jameis Winston played with a bad back and it showed. While no stranger to mistakes, he really let it all hang out in the fourth quarter after a tight battle that saw the Saints shut out Brady for another half on the heels of last year’s 9-0 win in Tampa Bay.

But in a 3-3 game in the fourth quarter, things just started to crumble for Winston, who took six sacks and ended three straight drives with an interception, gift-wrapping the last 10 points to Tampa Bay in a 20-10 loss.

Had it not been for that last New Orleans touchdown, Todd Bowles’ defense would be sitting on two games of allowing six points and scoring seven with a pick-six in this one. Still, a net 6 points allowed in two games is really strong work. Now we’ll see if they can do that to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which would be a repeat of what they did to a far better Green Bay machine in 2020.

Also, I know it looks impossible for Brady to smile these days, but the amount of bitching he did on Sunday was worse than usual. I am getting a 2019 Patriots vibe already with this team. Once the defense stops playing at a historic level, expect mediocrity. We’ll see how long they can hold out with the Packers and Chiefs coming up next. But frankly, all three of those teams look weaker this season.

Patriots at Steelers: The Meh Bowl

Well, the good news is the Steelers had the most respectable loss in the AFC North on Sunday. But for as long as I have watched the NFL (mid-90s), Patriots vs. Steelers has always meant something in the AFC. You have to go back to 1991 to find the last meeting between the two where neither made the playoffs or had a winning record. Could these teams be headed that way this year? They are no longer the favorite or even second favorite in their divisions.

The game itself reflected a lot of that “meh” rebranding for these teams in the wake of recent departures of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks. But I will take Mac Jones over Mitch Trubisky in a heartbeat. Jones at least found his receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, down the field on multiple occasions. Agholor made a fantastic 44-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Trubisky was picked and could not move the ball well, leading the offense to 30 points in two games so far.

The Pittsburgh defense basically has to play perfect for this team to win, and that is asking for too much without T.J. Watt. But the sequence of the game was in the third quarter. The defense dropped a second Jones interception at midfield. That led to a punt, which was muffed by the Steelers, which led to a 10-yard touchdown drive for the Patriots and 17-6 lead.

Despite Trubisky leading the offense’s only touchdown drive of the game, he had no follow-up act in a 17-14 game. On a couple of third downs, he seemed determined to go to Najee Harris. Neither play worked. Neither play made much sense with the other weapons the Steelers have. The Patriots were able to run out the final six minutes on the clock and win the game.

I really think Mike Tomlin has to look at this Week 3 game in Cleveland on Thursday night as a final audition for Trubisky. He is not the future for this team. He is not shining to help them turn him for a draft pick if some other team’s starter is injured. Maybe Kenny Pickett won’t be any better. Maybe he’ll be worse. But I’d just like to see something happen there because Trubisky isn’t making it happen on the field. People wanted Ben Roethlisberger benched after last year’s slow start, but this is the same chickenshit offense being run by offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

We can make jokes about the Patriots using Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to run the offense with Josh McDaniels gone, but based on the way these units performed on Sunday, the real joke is that the Steelers won’t fix this broken offense.

Bengals at Cowboys: Another Backup Beats Cincinnati

I said all week Cooper Rush and the Cowboys would surprise people and the Bengals are overrated, but even I didn’t expect this upset, wire-to-wire win for Dallas. Hell, I thought Brett Maher missed that 50-yard field goal at the buzzer, but apparently it did sneak in there for the win. Bengals are now 0-2 after watching teams execute long field goals against them while they couldn’t get an extra point or 29-yard field goal to work. What a bummer.

But once again, Mike McCarthy deserves some credit for getting a backup quarterback ready to play. The Cowboys still have offensive talent despite the injuries, and we should just admit that Dak Prescott played poorly in Week 1. I am not surprised the offense gutted out 20 points at home against a defense that couldn’t stop Mitch Trubisky in overtime. Not to mention this team lost to Mike White last year. Why not get an adequate game from Cooper Rush with CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, and Noah Brown on his side?

Micah Parsons can do his best T.J. Watt impersonation and lead that defense to a good day to keep the score down and the game winnable. They did exactly that with six sacks of Joe Burrow, who became the 11th quarterback to start a season by taking at least six sacks in consecutive games. Russell Wilson was the last to do it in 2018, so it’s not something exclusive to bums, but it is not a good sign for the new offensive line or Burrow’s development. He is going to see plenty of good pass rushers this season and will need to do a better job of cutting down those sacks.

But hats off to the Cowboys for not giving up a single 20-yard play to the Bengals. They were good against Tampa Bay last week too. Now if they can just get Dak healthy and get someone like Michael Gallup back, then maybe we have something here. But the good news is Rush was able to lead a game-winning drive, his second in two NFL starts. He might be able to hold the fort until Prescott can return.

Texans at Broncos: Can Hackett Hack It in the NFL?

If the Texans had just a little more punch to their offense, they would be 2-0 right now with wins over what are apparently two slow starters in the Colts and Broncos. Maybe these teams just aren’t going to be as good as we thought they’d be with the quarterback changes.

But one thing I warned for both the Colts and Broncos is that Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are not taking over teams with as much elite talent like the 2009 Vikings (Brett Favre), 2012 Broncos (Peyton Manning), 2020 Buccaneers (Tom Brady), and 2021 Rams (Matthew Stafford). They would be improvements over the quarterbacks that were there, hopefully get good defensive support, and give them an edge in close games as they are two of the most prolific ever at accumulating comebacks and game-winning drives.

Well, Wilson got his first Denver comeback win, but he played one of his shittiest first three quarters to end up in that situation. But I will not blast him for this section. He threw the game-winning touchdown and got that done. Speaking of elite talent, the team lost wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and corner Patrick Surtain II during the game, which certainly hurts.

But it’s the coaching. Jesus Christ, Nathaniel Hackett has had a coaching start so uninspiring that I think I had more faith in Urban Meyer this time a year ago. The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team on record to have at least a dozen penalties in their first two games. It’s the procedure of getting the play in on time that is so jacked right now as the Broncos had two more delay of game penalties on kicks. It’s the horseshit calls on 3rd-and-1, like giving the ball to tight end Andrew Beck on an end around, or all the terrible passes and decisions inside the 2-yard line.

Like the Colts, the Broncos are doing this against Seattle and Houston, two teams projected to be among the worst in the NFL this year. We saw how well Seattle handled the 49ers on Sunday, a team they owned with Wilson.

Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We’ll see what happens. All I know is if you see someone bring up Peyton starting 1-2 in Denver in 2012, just shut them up quickly. That team lost to a 13-3 Atlanta team that was the No. 1 seed, and they lost to a 12-4 Houston team that started 11-1 and was leading the AFC into December. The Broncos also scored 46 points in those two games with rallies that came up a score short. It’s not the same.

It was never going to be that good. But this has been embarrassing so far for Hackett and frankly for Wilson too.

Panthers at Giants: Updating the Rhules

Oh, don’t mind me, just updating the pathetic Matt Rhule records in Carolina after another game was lost at the end. This time it was a 19-16 defeat against the 2-0 Giants:

  • 0-15 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-25 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-22 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-25 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I could be wrong on this, but I think this is the first time the Giants have won consecutive games after trailing by at least seven points in the second half since 1970 (Weeks 8-9). Imagine how many decades it would take Rhule to do that.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I would like to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other four games that were not close.

Colts at Jaguars: If the Colts aren’t going to bother showing up in Jacksonville, then I’m not going to bother giving them a deeper recap. I knew this game was trouble, and I may have changed my pick if I knew earlier that Michael Pittman was out. He’s the only reliable receiver for Matt Ryan at this moment. The Colts have started poorly under Frank Reich in the past, but I would be really alarmed that they were pushed around for all but one quarter so far by the Texans and Jaguars. What’s a team like the Colts going to do to them? Oh yeah, we’ll find out next week. Something tells me it won’t be 19-13 this time. As for Trevor Lawrence, apparently hosting the Colts is him in his element in the NFL. His two best games are arguably both Indy games at home.

Commanders at Lions: Maybe Amon-Ra St. Brown has some Antonio Brown in him. Hopefully just the good parts like how he racks up catches week after week.

He did it for an eighth game in a row with his best NFL game yet. Jared Goff threw four touchdowns against Jack Del Rio’s overrated defense filled with first-round picks. Carson Wentz made some plays after it was 22-0, but I feel like this one encapsulates Washington’s day the best:

Seahawks at 49ers: It was sad to see Trey Lance break his ankle just five quarters into his first season as the starting quarterback. When I wrote in my 49ers preview that him getting injured in September was on the table for how his season could go, I certainly did not want to see that happen. Hopefully he can come back strong without complications. It puts Jimmy Garoppolo right back in the QB1 role. He was the best backup in the league, but let’s see if he can make the third time the charm should this team get to the playoffs. As for Seattle, well shit. That’s the kind of pathetic performance – their only score was a blocked field goal for a touchdown – that I expected in these matchups when I said 5-12 at best. My confidence in Seattle keeping it close like usual against San Francisco was not rewarded. It’s the first time the Seahawks lost by double digits to the 49ers since the 2011 opener.

Bears at Packers: For the second year in a row, the Packers followed a brutal Week 1 loss with an easy Week 2 win at home against one of their NFC North stooges. As long as they can do that, then you can’t count them out from a high playoff seed. But a real test for this offense comes in Tampa Bay next week. As for Chicago, do they really trust Justin Fields if he has nine pass attempts (plus three sacks) almost 58 minutes into a game they were trailing 27-10? That was not a good look for him.

We survived another Bears-Packers game in prime time. Bring on Titans-Bills and Vikings-Eagles, because they should be much better than the Week 3 island game slate (Steelers-Browns, Broncos-49ers, Cowboys-Giants).

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Haves vs. Have Nots

It really feels like the NFL stacked this Week 2 schedule at the front (LAC/KC) and back (BUF/TEN, MIN/PHI) and forgot about Sunday.

Also, I have no idea why there is a doubleheader on Monday night in Week 2, and it’s not even a true doubleheader since the games will be going on simultaneously. But I wrote about how Justin Jefferson could follow Cooper Kupp’s lead last year to an Offensive Player of the Year award and maybe more if Kirk Cousins can pull off a Matthew Stafford.

But I really do think the Sunday schedule is lacking tomorrow. Part of that isn’t really the NFL’s fault as Bengals-Cowboys could have been a fun game based on last year, but we didn’t know the Cowboys would be this injured already, especially Dak Prescott again. But check the picks below as I think Cooper Rush can surprise some people.

The weird thing about this week is that five games already have a team favored by 9.5 points, or another way of saying favored to win by double digits.

That is a lot for Week 2, because the spreads usually grow later in the season once we see these teams separate from one another. For example, there were five Week 2 games in 2019-21 combined (three seasons) where a team was favored by double digits. We’re possibly matching that this week depending on where the lines close.

This hasn’t happened in a while. The 2007 and 2006 seasons both had five Week 2 games with a 9.5+ point spread. It usually happens once or twice a season since. If this holds, then 2022 will tie 2006 and 2007 for the most Week 2 games on record of having a spread this big.

In Week 1, we observed a lot of unusually high underdogs at home (5.5+ points) for an opener.

So, what is going on with this season from a betting perspective? Is it a case of the haves vs. have nots?

Maybe some of it is the preseason predictions still carrying too much weight, and teams like Denver and San Francisco may not be as good as we thought they’d be with new quarterbacks. At the same time, maybe teams expected to be among the very worst like Seattle and Atlanta may actually be halfway decent.

We know Week 2 can always be the toughest week of the season to predict because you’re trying to wrap your head around what was real and what was an outlier in the first game. But something I’m looking at for this week’s slate is division familiarity and motivation, and how those factors can change sharply from last week. Here are some examples:

Are the Rams really going to be that bad this year, or were they just playing the Super Bowl favorites from Buffalo who haven’t punted in four of their last six games now? Something tells me the Falcons won’t look that good this week as they did last week when they blew a 16-point lead to division rival New Orleans. Guess what happened last year? A bad Atlanta team blew an 18-point 4Q lead (in less time even than last week) to the Saints, but Matt Ryan got the ball back with enough time to get a FG and avoid the blown lead. I’m not worried about the Rams yet.

Speaking of Ryan, after that slow start in Houston, another division team that usually plays Indy close outside of 2021, I think he has a chance to do big things this week. Sure, the Colts have shit the bed in Jacksonville every year since 2015, but I think he’ll be okay in this game. Still, it’s not one I’d be betting good money on for ML or spread.

Meanwhile, is Houston going to look that decent in Denver? Are the Broncos really this badly coached, or was it just a tough debut in a loud place to play with everyone fired up to beat Russell Wilson? At the same time, will the Seahawks play that well in San Francisco? Oh, that is one I can believe. The 49ers haven’t beat Seattle by 10+ points since the 2011 opener. Kyle Shanahan without Jimmy Garoppolo should not be trusted. The evidence keeps growing by the week. That’s another game I’d avoid ML bets.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

Justin Herbert seriously went from a painful looking injury that prevented him from running for an easy first down on a third down to throwing the pass of the night on fourth-and-1. It led to a touchdown and late cover for the Chargers, who I picked to lose 28-21 on the night. At least the under hit.

I picked the Jets for an upset at first, but I think I’ll just stick with the cover. It seems like every year the Jets are a team I keep betting ATS early, thinking they can’t be this bad, but time and time again, they prove me wrong. They are this bad. But we’ll see against Cleveland.

I think Tom Brady gets his first regular-season win over the Saints with Tampa, but I’d be lying if I said I felt confident about it. Saints look as unpredictable as last year.

This might be the Steelers-Patriots game with the least impact on the AFC since they met in 1991 during bad seasons. Not used to this not being a big game, but I expect low scoring and close. Just can’t imagine Trubisky avoids the big turnovers again this week. The Patriots haven’t been getting takeaways, but all those recent games with 0s in that column were against the Bills and Dolphins. The AFC East has absolutely caught up to them (Jets aside). They won’t be able to beat the Steelers the way they used to, but Mac Jones can dink and dunk to a high completion percentage at least. No T.J. Watt was the deciding factor for me. This is the kind of game he could win on his own with splash plays.

Dolphins-Ravens is potentially the best game on Sunday. We’ll see if the Ravens can protect Lamar Jackson this time. Miami roughed him up good on Thursday night last year. I like Tyreek Hill to score his first touchdown of the season.

I am giving the Cowboys a shot at covering against the Bengals. Maybe Cooper Rush can put on his best Mike White impression. The difference is Rush has a start and 300-yard game and win under his belt over Minnesota last year. Cowboys were beyond bad on offense last week, but maybe Micah Parsons can harass Joe Burrow into more turnovers and sacks. The defense has to get the job done for Dallas now.

On Monday, I think the Bills get some revenge on Tennessee for losses the last two years, but I’m not ready to count out the Titans from keeping it close.

Vikings-Eagles really might be the game of the week as Chargers-Chiefs didn’t quite deliver on expectations. If both of these teams are going to win 10+ games and win division titles, it will be interesting to see how they perform Monday as those are the opponents that both have been losing to for years. The Eagles are 1-15 against playoff teams since drafting Jalen Hurts. The Vikings usually never beat a good team not named the Packers. Looking forward to this one and I think I may end up watching more of it than the Buffalo game.

Why I have to choose at all between two games on a Monday in Week 2? Damned if I knew…

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 1

Ain’t that a kick in the head?

The first Sunday of the 2022 NFL season delivered on the drama, even if it unexpectedly came from the low-scoring early slate. But that fabled “Witching Hour” as RedZone’s Scott Hanson calls the 3:00-4:00 ET window extended well past that time with nearly two AFC games ending in 20-20 ties.

Yep, kickers were on their bullshit again, but only certain ones. You can’t trash the whole position on Sunday as kickers helped win games for Cleveland, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh. But they also did their part to dramatically not win games for Cincinnati, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and to some extent Atlanta. There also was some near Chargering going on in LA, but more on that later.

All I know is it’s good to be back talking about the oddities of the NFL.

Upsets and Unusual Suspects Winning Close Games

We’ll see what final number the lines close at, but Week 1 could have as many as seven games where the home team was an underdog of at least 5.5 points. The previous high was four games in 1978. You knew some upsets would happen, and so far, the 49ers lost in Chicago, and the Colts (-7.5) only got a tie in Houston. On the flip side, the Bengals and Titans lost at home as favorites of at least 5.5 points.

This week has had eight games with a comeback opportunity, which is almost average heading into MNF. But something that really stood out to me was that a lot of the quarterbacks and coaches known for losing close games came out winners on Sunday.

Of the five blown leads in the fourth quarter this week, four were against Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett, Jameis Winston, and Daniel Jones. See the bottom cluster here if you want to be surprised by that list. Brissett’s came against Mayfield’s team, which is probably fitting.

Meanwhile, rookie head coaches Matt Eberflus (Bears) and Brian Daboll (Giants) had big double-digit comeback wins with their teams in the first games of their careers. That means they’ve had a winning record in the NFL before Kyle Shanahan ever has. But take note of who is on the bottom here:

Eight of the nine coaches with a win percentage under 32% in 4QC/GWD opportunities were at it in close ones on Sunday. They finished a respectable 3-4-1. Let’s see how they did it.

Steelers at Bengals: When Pyrrhic Meets Pathetic

Where do I even start? I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a game go from:

  • ~95% Steelers win (after fourth-down stop at 1:51) to
  • ~99% Bengals win (after Ja’Marr Chase TD at 0:02) to
  • ~50/50 for either team to win (start of OT) to
  • ~99% Bengals win again (before 29-yard field goal attempt) to
  • ~70% Steelers win (before Boswell’s 55-yd FG hits upright) to
  • ~80% Bengals win (before sack knocks Cincy out of field goal range) to
  • ~90% ending in tie to
  • ~75% Steelers win (before Boswell’s 53-yd FG at 0:05) to
  • ~100% Steelers win (after he made it at 0:00)

Joe Burrow had maybe the wildest example of a Week 1 Super Bowl hangover game of all time. Four turnovers in the first half, finished with four interceptions, a pick-six, seven sacks, and two fumbles (one lost). Truly a sight to behold for the 21st century of NFL quarterback play.

And he probably should have won this game because the Steelers ran their same chickenshit offense they’ve been running since 2020. For 2.5 quarters, the Steelers basically had one trick play to their tight end as their only offensive credit. The immediately-stopped runs and immediately-tackled short throws were all still there. Mitch Trubisky couldn’t get the wide receivers involved.

Once the Bengals pulled to within 17-14, we had to see more of a real offensive approach from the Steelers. Not just relying on a pick-six, short field, and that one awesome trick play to Pat Freiermuth. Predictably, this meant a quarterback wearing #10, running for his life, and making inaccurate incompletions. My Kordell Stewart PTSD was triggered.

Meanwhile, CBS’ Charles Davis, who is usually solid, was calling the game. He said he’d rather have the quarterback who starts 17/42, but goes 6-of-6 on the last drive to win the game, then said Burrow is proven in the fourth quarter. For one, the quarterback who starts 17/42 is likely going 6/6 on a drive when he’s down 21 points in garbage time.

And Burrow is not proven in the fourth quarter. In fact, he’s now 2-10 (.167) at 4QC opportunities, the worst record among active starters. He’s thrown big picks against the Bears, Packers, Jets, and now Steelers in those spots the last two years. This is what happens when you conflate an AFC Championship Game comeback, where the Bengals never trailed in the fourth quarter, with success late in games of coming back to win.

Not even Burrow’s fifth pick or a fourth-and-goal at the 2 stop with 1:51 left could ice this one for Pittsburgh. Without Ben Roethlisberger, not only does the team miss his two-minute offense, but they miss his four-minute offense to ice games. The Steelers lost a timeout after an injured run by Najee Harris, then Trubisky threw a dangerous incompletion to stop the clock again, botching the situation.

Burrow had almost 90 seconds to drive 60 yards for the win. He did his part with Chase making a 6-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left. It looks like the Steelers blew another 14-point lead to the Bengals, one of the only teams to get them in that spot since the Bill Cowher era.

But with a shakeup at long snapper, the timing of the extra point was off, and Minkah Fitzpatrick came in for a huge blocked kick to send the game into overtime. Unbelievable.

Even when the Bengals had a 29-yard field goal attempt in overtime to win the game, you didn’t think it could happen again. But the snap by Mitchell Wilcox, the emergency snapper, was high this time, and the kick was wide left. For a team that had made a 59-yard field goal in the first half that was as straight and awesome as any 59-yard kick I’ve ever seen, this game highlighted just how important the snap and hold are to the kicking process. This loss wasn’t kicker Evan McPherson’s fault.

Fully expecting a tie with 56 seconds to go when the Steelers got the ball back, I was surprised to see Trubisky step up with two big completions to Freiermuth to set up Boswell again. This time, Boswell was good from 53 yards to seal the unbelievable 23-20 win.

Few games in Week 1 will seemingly define a team’s season as much as this one could for both of these teams. And frankly, I don’t think either team should feel good after this. Burrow was terrible and full of mistakes, but he still had them in position to win. Tee Higgins going down with a concussion wasn’t good either. He’ll be back soon most likely.

But what about T.J. Watt and Najee Harris? Both left this game for Pittsburgh, and a torn pec is the fear with Watt. He’s so dominant when he is healthy, but that is becoming increasingly rare like his older brother post-2014. It would be a huge blow to lose someone capable of winning Defensive Player of the Year again.

The Steelers can’t live on takeaways like this. I know they somehow average 0.7 more takeaways per game (and rising) in games without Roethlisberger, but they were an extra point away from losing despite a 5-0 edge in turnovers.

Experiencing this game was insane. But in the end, I think it just makes me glad I picked Baltimore to win the AFC North this year.

Raiders at Chargers: McDaniels Not Starting 6-0 This Time

If this is the Derek Carr that’s going to show up in big AFC West games this season, then I am glad I picked them to finish last. Carr tied his career high with three interceptions and took five sacks, including a strip-sack by former Raider Khalil Mack with 1:52 left on a huge fourth down.

Carr was locked on so much to Davante Adams (10/17 for 141 yards, TD) that he seemed to forget Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow existed for the first three quarters. Josh McDaniels also did not show out well in this debut with a trick play that saw Adams get sacked by Joey Bosa. Save that cutesy stuff when you’re trying to win with the talent the Patriots had since their last Super Bowl win. The Raiders have a hell of a trio that you can create mismatches with, and Carr only seemed interested in getting the ball to Adams.

Meanwhile, Justin Herbert was razor sharp and played great, spreading the ball around to nine receivers with multiple receptions. But without much on the ground and too many drives stalling for field goals, this got into the danger zone for the Chargers late.

It did not help that the Chargers missed a 49-yard field goal not long after the Raiders made one from 55 yards. That led to a 24-19 game, and Carr was getting the ball back with 3:30 left.

If Carr could play like ass for 57 minutes, then hog all the glory for a penalty flag-aided game-winning drive after his team kept him in it, then McDaniels truly can make him his Brady.

But it was not to be this time. Last year, the Chargers blew numerous games just like this one. But this time, they had Mack on defense and he delivered in the big spot, getting to Carr on fourth down for the sack and loose ball.

Sony Michel ended up icing the game with a 3-yard run on a third-and-2. No blowing a 14-point lead at home, and the Chargers even covered the 3.5-point spread. Herbert finally seeing some of the defensive help he needed the last two years.

Now we will see how the Chargers fare in a huge road test on a short week in Kansas City. They won there last September in another wild game. The Week 15 rematch was my No. 1 game of the 2021 regular season. High expectations here.

Chiefs at Cardinals: I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes…

Do I bring back the weekly segment? The Chiefs came out on fire to start another season. No Tyreek Hill? No problem if Arizona is going to blitz so much when the smart move should have been to double Travis Kelce and drop 7-8 into coverage. They never even sacked Patrick Mahomes for all that trouble.

Kelce had 121 yards and the first of six touchdowns for the offense. Even with JuJu Smith-Schuster committing the obligatory Chiefs fumble, he looked good and useful in his debut with 79 yards.

On nine drives, Patrick Mahomes led six touchdowns, one field goal to close the first half, the aforementioned JuJu fumble, and just one punt forced by Arizona. He threw five touchdown passes, already doing so for the eighth time in his career, which only trails the big three you could guess.

I really thought Arizona would take this as an opportunity to show us something more after a bad finish to 2021 and an embarrassing offseason. But Kyler Murray was nothing special, and something called Greg Dortch kept getting all the targets. The offense isn’t whole with Rondale Moore injured and DeAndre Hopkins suspended, but that’s still no excuse to see Murray throw a pass away on a fourth down.

I’d say I already hate my Arizona playoff pick, but the whole NFC West looks pretty bad at the moment. Arizona just seems to have the worst coaching of all the teams.

As for the Chiefs, we already get one of the best games on the schedule with the Chargers coming to town this Thursday. Can’t wait for that one.

Buccaneers at Cowboys: Spare Us Anymore Sequels

On the plus side, we’ll probably never have to see Tom Brady play America’s Team again, especially not in prime-time setting. This was a great game to open the 2021 season, but it was easy to see this was going to be a rough one with Dallas losing Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson Jr., La’el Collins, Tyron Smith, James Washington, and Michael Gallup.

This was never going to be the same offense this year. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers were a bit different too without Rob Gronkowski and Ali Marpet, but they still have Mike Evans, who caught the game’s only touchdown, and Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 127 yards. Even Julio Jones showed up and made a spectacular 48-yard catch for the game’s only 25-yard play.

It figures, the Cowboys step up on defense and hold Brady to one touchdown while sacking him twice and limiting Tampa to numerous field goal attempts. And it did not matter one bit as the offense was as inept as we’ve seen in the Prescott era in the 19-3 loss.

Worse, Prescott left the game with a thumb injury that could keep him out 6-8 weeks. This suddenly looks like a team that could start 0-6. I knew things were going to be disappointing for Dallas, but this was far worse to watch. And it’s about to get bleaker.

Packers at Vikings: Green Bay Should Just Forfeit Week 1 Next Year

Remember when the Packers were blown out 38-3 in Week 1 last year against the Saints, and we just chalked it up to playing in Jacksonville unexpectedly, and joked that aging Aaron Rodgers does poorly in Florida? That game really did not matter in the end.

Well, they did something similarly lifeless in Minnesota on Sunday, and this time it may be a lingering issue. What better game to showcase how an elite wide receiver talent can help an offense? Justin Jefferson was arguably at his best with a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns. He did half that damage from the slot, half from outside the numbers, and he can challenge for the first 2,000-yard season if Kevin O’Connell is going to use him like Cooper Kupp last year.

It also will happen if defenses leave him all alone as no Packer was within 10 yards on Jefferson’s 64-yard grab. But the fact is Jefferson had two long gains in this game that gained 100 yards and a touchdown. Two plays. Meanwhile, the Packers struggled without Davante Adams, finishing with one 25-yard pass play: a meaningless 25-yard completion from backup Jordan Love to rookie Christian Watson, who dropped a would-be 75-yard touchdown on the first offensive snap of the day.

I know there’s some “if Watson catches that ball, it’s a different day” energy with that one, but the fact is second-round rookies are not expected to be stars in Week 1 for good reason. Maybe by the rematch Watson is a big factor, but the Packers did not have the answers in Week 1. Only running back A.J. Dillon (46 yards), who got stopped cold at the goal line on a fourth-down stand, broke 40 receiving yards for Green Bay.

We have gotten so used to Minnesota splitting with Green Bay that this was not a surprise, but 23-7? It was 34-31 last year and 28-22 in 2020. Kirk Cousins is now 5-4-1 against the Packers with Rodgers at quarterback. Maybe he’ll do his .500 thing and blow the rematch, but this just might be the first move in Minnesota taking the NFC North from Green Bay.

Colts at Texans: Just Missing the Rosencopter

Nothing says throwback to the late 00s like the Texans blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Colts. How great would that storyline have been? On a day where his old team blows a 16-point lead at home in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan leads 17-point rally in Indy debut.

And it all was set up to happen if kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was worth his roster spot. He missed the game-winning kick against the Ravens last season, and he contributed to a tie in this one after missing from 42 yards out in overtime with 1:57 left. The Texans basically wimped out and played for the tie, as new coach Lovie Smith confirmed.

But I will say, Blankenship and moreso head coach Frank Reich, who has had some brutal Week 1s, deserve some credit for the game getting this far. While I did not read any actual criticism on Twitter as I was too busy following Steelers-Bengals, I imagine some took offense to Reich kicking a field goal from the 4-yard line while the Colts were down 20-3 with 10:47 left.

There always seems to be this disconnect with crunching numbers to win the game vs. what NFL teams actually do in this spot and what makes logical sense. Teams down 17 are thinking about the tie before the win. If you are down 17 and crunched for time, a field goal is going to factor in at some point. After three straight incompletions by Ryan from the 4, you may as well get your high % three now or else the game is already over with 10:44 left since you’d need to manufacture three more scoring drives after getting the ball back.

Kick the field goal, extend the game, because teams in this league do crazy, dumb shit. Just two plays later, Davis Mills took a strip-sack and the Colts were 20 yards away from a touchdown. Shades of 2008.

It is definitely worrisome that it took the Colts that long to get their first touchdown against Houston on a short field, but Ryan delivered later with the game-tying drive. But I will also say Reich did his kicker no favors in overtime with a 3-yard loss on a Jonathan Taylor run and a 5-yard sack taken by Ryan. After a Taylor run on first down put the ball at the Houston 16, it is easy to say just kick the 34-yard field goal and end this. But there is a counter argument to burning more clock and leaving Houston less time if the kick is no good. I see that argument, but we’re talking about a 34-yard field goal. That should be 95% at least.

The Colts only coming away with a 20-20 tie is disappointing as many tougher games wait on the schedule. I knew that -7.5 spread was a trap in Week 1, and division games are often tough, but I would have liked to see something better out of a team I have winning 11 games this year.

49ers at Bears: Jimmy G Would Have At Least…

Is it too soon to point out that Kyle Shanahan is 8-29 when he starts a quarterback not named Jimmy Garoppolo? The one excuse I really don’t want to hear about this game is that George Kittle didn’t play. He didn’t play last year, and the 49ers shredded Chicago, which looks no better on defense going into this season.

Now, the wet conditions from the weather and the in-game injury to running back Elijah Mitchell are a bit different. That had an impact on the offense, but this is now three starts where Trey Lance just hasn’t efficiently led the team to many points. You have to have concerns here.

That proper balance between Deebo Samuel being a runner (8-52-1) and a receiver (2-of-8 for 14 yards) was totally off this week. Lance’s 13 runs only produced 54 yards. He was outplayed by Justin Fields, who had less to work with but threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

I said Lance was the league’s big wild card this season, with getting benched for Garoppolo in October as his lowest limit. Keep playing like this and it might happen.

Saints at Falcons: On Brand

The very first Falcons game in the post-Matt Ryan era sees them blow a 16-point fourth-quarter lead at home to the hated Saints. You can’t make this stuff up, but that’s Atlanta and the art of losing.

Even if division games are tough, this was shaping up to be one of the wildest outcomes of the week. I had Atlanta finishing 3-14 this year. But this team was running wild (201 yards) on the New Orleans defense and Marcus Mariota was playing adequately with rookie WR Drake London his only dominant target on the day.

The Saints had minus-2 net passing yards at halftime. What has this team become? Maybe the second half will wake Dennis Allen and Jameis Winston up and remind them that they can still be an offense that throws for 250 yards a week.

A Mariota fumble late in the third quarter when the Falcons could have gone up three touchdowns was a big turning point, but even then the Falcons still led 26-10 with 12:41 left. Winston does not have many comebacks on his resume, but this will go down as the best I imagine. He thew two touchdowns to Michael Thomas (welcome back), but the game-tying two-point conversion failed with 3:38 left.

But the Falcons screwed up when they just needed 1 yard to ice the game. Mariota had trouble with the snap and nearly fumbled. The Falcons punted and Winston had 48 seconds to get a go-ahead field goal.

I needed to see the next sequence with my own eyes, because the play-by-play made no damn sense. After Jarvis Landry made a great catch (terrible DB play) for 40 yards, Winston got to the line and spiked the ball. But he was penalized for intentional grounding since the clock wasn’t running when he spiked it. Odd moment. Then after another completion brought up third-and-3 with the clock moving under 25 seconds, Winston hurried the offense to the line for another spike to bring up fourth down with 23 seconds left.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees would never fuck this up so badly. This incompetence will come back to bite this team, but Atlanta is just snakebitten as a franchise. Sure enough, Wil Lutz was good on the 51-yard field goal, but it left Mariota 19 seconds and three timeouts. We know what can be achieved in 13 seconds…

With the help of a 15-yard penalty by Marshon Lattimore tacked on to the end of a catch, the Falcons had a shot at 63-yard field goal with Younghoe Koo. It would have been one of the longest field goals of all time, so he knew he had to hit it low. But it was blocked and the Falcons add another classic choke to their collection.

But remember, last season the Falcons blew a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter to these Saints. Matt Ryan was still there to right the ship and get the offense down the field for a game-winning field goal. No such luck this year.

While it’s going to be a long season for Atlanta, I do not see much to get excited about with these Saints. This was a bad performance against what could be the worst team in the NFL.

Browns at Panthers: Sour Revenge

On one hand, you can say Baker Mayfield’s hyped revenge game against Cleveland was a failure. He lost, he threw a pick, took four sacks, and he had to recover four of his own fumbles (or at least that’s the early statistical credit).

On the other hand, you could say he led a spirited rally from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run, a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson, and a go-ahead field goal drive with 1:13 left.

The Panthers just had to stop Jacoby Brissett from getting into field-goal range without a timeout in the last minute. Instead, they started the drive with a roughing the passer penalty, which ended up being Cleveland’s longest gain on the drive.

After the second-worst spike on a third down on Sunday afternoon, the best Cleveland could do was a 58-yard field goal attempt. But fourth-round rookie kicker Cade York, who was three years old the last time the Browns won an opener in 2004, delivered a memorable debut with a successful kick. The Panthers did not have enough time to answer in the 26-24 loss.

Matt Rhule’s Panthers are now 0-14 at 4QC/GWD opportunities and 1-24 when allowing 17 or more points in a game.

Patriots at Dolphins: Tua Is 4-0 vs. Belichick

Talk about a stat worth a literal LOL: Tua Tagovailoa just joined John Elway as the only quarterbacks to start 4-0 against Bill Belichick as a head coach. Elway beat the Browns four years in a row in 1991-94. Tua is the first quarterback to beat Belichick’s Patriots four games in a row at any time.

This may have been his best game of the four, which might not sound like much when the Miami offense scored 13 points. A strip-sack recovered for a touchdown early set the tone for this one, another meltdown by the Patriots in the Miami heat.

But that scoring number is a bit misleading. The Dolphins only had eight drives, and they spent their eighth one running out the final five minutes of their 20-7 wire-to-wire win. They reached the New England 11 on that last drive, so if they had finished it with a touchdown, that would be 20 points on eight drives, or 2.5 points per drive. That is a top 8-10 type of number for a season, which you’d be more than content with from this offense.

The Dolphins avoided any turnovers and five of their eight drives netted at least 45 yards. Tyreek Hill was heavily involved with eight catches for 94 yards, and Jaylen Waddle made his presence felt with a 42-yard touchdown. The run game never really took off, but it should come eventually.

Mike McDaniel’s debut won’t blow the doors off the NFL or even shock the way the Dolphins shocked New England with the Wildcat in 2008, but this was a solid win. And how can you not adore a coach who gets a 42-yard touchdown (Waddle play) against Belichick by going for it on a 4th-an-7 before halftime?

Finally, the AFC East has some teeth to it.

Giants at Titans: Daboll-Do

You might as well give Brian Daboll the Coach of the Year award right now if he’s going to unlock Daniel Jones (115.9 PR) and Saquon Barkley (168 rushing yards) in the NFL.

Jokes aside, this was a tough game to evaluate. On the one hand, the Giants were down 13-0 at halftime, something Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, or Joe Judge could have done easily. But Barkley hit that 68-yard run on the first offensive snap out of halftime and the comeback was on. Jones took five sacks and had plenty of big mistakes, but he also completed 17-of-21 passes, scrambled for a game-deciding 4th down in the red zone, and threw the go-ahead passes for the touchdown and two-point conversion.

Remember, this was the quarterback who was 2-14 at 4QC opportunities before Sunday. And this one wouldn’t have been his fault (much) if they lost like they probably should have, because I did not love Daboll’s decision to go for two and the 21-20 lead.

This came with 1:06 left and the Titans having a timeout, or plenty of time to drive for the game-wining field goal that you just forced them into by converting. I like to see that clock under 20 seconds when you go for two and the late lead. Maybe 30 seconds if they are out of timeouts. Sixty-six seconds is a lot, and it should have been enough for Tennessee.

Ryan Tannehill avoided interceptions on the day and delivered a great pass to the 27 that put the team in field-goal range with 18 seconds left. But having to burn the final timeout was bad, and the decision to kneel and spike and lose a couple more yards was not great either.

Randy Bullock can make a 47-yard field goal, but no one is going to convince the guy for Adam Vinatieri or Justin Tucker. His kick was wide left, and the Titans lost by a single point at home.

Kicker has been a problem for this team under Mike Vrabel. But allowing the Giants to have two 65-yard plays in the same half is inexcusable. Good for Daboll to get the first win, but I’d bet against this being your strategy for wins going forward.

Eagles at Lions: Behold, Nick Sirianni’s Decision

Last season, Dan Campbell’s Lions were down 24 points in the final minutes of Week 1 against the 49ers before rallying to a 41-33 deficit. They were inside the 30 and two scoring plays away from overtime before losing. It was a wild, unexpected rally attempt against a clearly superior team.

On Sunday, the Lions did something similar against the Eagles after trailing 38-21 to start the fourth quarter. Jared Goff shook off a horrific start to lead a touchdown drive that pulled the team to within 38-35 with 3:51 left. This was a game again despite the brilliant 155-yard debut by A.J. Brown, but the Eagles executed their run game for a couple key first downs to ice the game.

We need to highlight the fourth-and-1 decision. The ball was at the Detroit 40 with 1:06 left in a 38-35 game. The Lions were out of timeouts, so a first down ices the game. But a stop, and Detroit is nearly at midfield in a 3-point game with a minute left. That’s a huge moment.

As far as I can tell, Philadelphia is just the second team since 1994 to go for a fourth down with its offense in the final 90 seconds, leading by 1-to-3 points, and with the ball no deeper than the opponent 40. This excludes any plays with seconds left where a team just threw the ball deep and out of bounds to run out the clock.

The Ravens did this last year against the Chiefs in a more dire situation. Baltimore was ahead 36-35 with 1:05 left at their own 43. But Lamar Jackson converted with a 2-yard run and the Ravens beat the Chiefs.

Like the Ravens, the Eagles kept the ball in Jalen Hurts’ hands, and he ran for a yard to end the game. You like to see the Eagles hold onto that big lead and not have it come down to this, but good call to wrap it up and start 1-0.

Between the Pistons and Lions, Detroit is getting very good at fielding underdog teams who can cover a spread but not win the game.

Jaguars at Commanders: New Name, New Identity?

I owe someone in this game an apology. I have ridiculed this player for years. I said he was not a legit franchise star or leader. He didn’t deserve his big contract. He’s just going to disappoint you in the end. Then all he did was ball out in Week 1, perhaps showing he is ready to step up to a higher tier.

So, Christian Kirk, I am sorry for not believing in you getting this big opportunity in Jacksonville. You had 117 yards and might be a legit No. 1 this year.

But in all seriousness, this was going to be an excellent game to showcase the full Carson Wentz experience. Two fourth-quarter interceptions turned a 14-12 lead into a 22-14 deficit for Washington. Just when you thought Wentz would further fall apart, he has one of the best fourth quarters of his career with two touchdown drives covering 168 yards.

Trevor Lawrence was intercepted with 1:10 left in a 28-22 loss. An improvement over where he was Week 1 last year, but still not good enough. The Jaguars have lost 36 straight games when allowing more than 20 points.

Maybe Wentz feels a little personal revenge was achieved against the Jaguars for sending him out of Indy, and for Doug Pederson preferring Nick Foles in his offense. Maybe this is the best he’ll play all year as Jacksonville, masters of the double-digit loss season, still looks like a work in progress.

But for at least one Sunday, I can’t say Wentz failed.

Ravens at Jets: The Flacco Revenge Game That Wasn’t

Why should Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson have all the headlines for revenge games? Joe Flacco’s first game against Baltimore went about as expected. He rejoined this list for having the fewest passing yards (307) on exactly 37 completions in NFL history.

Baltimore led 24-3 late before a little garbage-time score to make it 24-9, but I’m more interested that Lamar Jackson spread the ball around to three different 50-yard receivers, and the Ravens only ran the ball 21 times for 63 yards, including six runs for 17 yards by Jackson. That’s not a typical Baltimore result, but you take the comfortable win any time you can get it after last year’s heartbreak.

NFL Week 1 Predictions: 2022 Awards Edition

The Buffalo Bills kicked off the 2022 NFL season with a convincing win over the Rams that has me feeling great about my prediction for the Bills to win the Super Bowl this year. But not so great about my prediction to make the Rams the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But there’s 284 games to go.

It’s that time again: Saturday night before the first NFL Sunday of the season, and I’m burned the hell out from the week. All I have left in the tank before I enjoy the couch all day tomorrow are my award predictions and Week 1 picks. You’ve probably seen me write clues or outright pick winners for these awards in other articles as I’m freelancing with several different places this year. But I always like to put this together in a list on my blog.

  • Most Valuable Player: Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • Coach of the Year: Mike McDaniel, Dolphins
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Leslie Frazier, Bills
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt, Steelers
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dameon Pierce, Texans
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aidan Hutchinson, Lions
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

I already detailed my Herbert MVP case here. Not expecting another WR or RB to go off like Cooper Kupp and Jonathan Taylor did last year, I doubled up with OPOY for Herbert.

Another one I’ve been hinting at is Mike McDaniel for COTY in Miami. I think he gets the edge for bringing his system to Miami and making Tua better. While I have the Chargers with the division win, I think Herbert’s MVP season detracts from Brandon Staley. While I have the Vikings going 10-7 and making the playoffs under Kevin O’Connell, I think people will say he took over a team loaded with offensive stars who just needed to finish games better by literally not fumbling in OT or missing a short FG. Nathaniel Hackett in Denver is going to get passed over for Russell Wilson getting the credit for a turnaround. McDaniel is going to get the lion’s share of credit for turning around Miami, so that’s my pick.

I have to cop to some cheating on Assistant Coach of the Year. Obviously, in picking the Bills to go 17-4 and win it all while praising their defense, I expected great things. This is a hard award to predict, and I notice every winner has been on a team with 11+ wins. Not liking a lot of the options out there, I just went with Frazier in Buffalo after that dominant performance we saw in LA. Von Miller is going to pay off so well.

Not loving the DPOY options, but I went with T.J. Watt over Myles Garrett just because I think Watt is better at stripping the ball and creating more splash plays. If he plays a full 17 games, that sack record could belong solely to him. The Steelers also need to play ugly games this year to get by. Defense must step up.

For OROY, it’s wild to think this is the first season since 2007 where no rookie QB is starting Week 1. Kenny Pickett had the best shot, but Mitch Trubisky won the job. I just don’t see Tomlin pulling Trubisky for the rookie until after the bye at the earliest. That makes it too hard for Pickett to win the award. There are a shitload of wide receivers to choose from, but none are in that great of a situation. Ideally, you want someone with a high pedigree (high draft pick) who will start right away and has a great shot to be the leading receiver on a team with a decent quarterback. That’s how you get an Odell Beckham, Justin Jefferson, or Ja’Marr Chase kind of season, but even Jefferson lost the award to Herbert in 2020.

QB shouldn’t be in the mix this time, but I don’t see the George Pickens love. FanDuel is +700 on Pickens as the leader. He’s stuck in a Trubisky-led offense with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris getting balls too. As great as the Steelers are at scouting WRs, none of them have ever had a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. I just don’t see a WR2 (at best) in Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger getting it done.

So, I ended up picking Dameon Pierce, the Texans starting back. The offense might be surprisingly decent, and he is scheduled to start the season as RB1. I wanted to go Kenneth Walker in Seattle, but his hernia worries me. But Pete Carroll trying to run without Wilson makes sense, and Penny always gets hurt. I also think Isaiah Likely is a huge darkhorse in Baltimore, but he’s not even the best tight end on his team, and no tight end (or OL) has ever won the award.

Should be an interesting class to follow, and the depth of the WR class (13 taken in top 54 picks) is going to lead to so much shit-talking between fans about how that draft turned out.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

Started the year off with a win as I was on the Bills and the under on Thursday night. Just thought it’d be a much closer game than 31-10.

Week 1 and Joe Flacco, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Geno Smith are starting games. Is it 2015 again?

The Colts have been hard to trust in Week 1 under Frank Reich, so I am hedging with Houston. Almost wanted to do the exact same thing with the Saints in Atlanta, but man, that Atlanta team looks terrible.

I’m all in on the Baker Mayfield Revenge Game. He won’t go off, but he’ll get to hold a win over them.

Jaguars demand to schedule Carson Wentz every week.

Really looking forward to the Chargers-Raiders and Chiefs-Cardinals games in the late-afternoon window. These West races are going to be incredible. I think the Cardinals can surprise some people tomorrow if the Chiefs struggle on defense like they did to start 2021.

We waited seven months for this. Feels good to be back.

2022 NFL Predictions

Last season I had a different process where I ended up writing an in-depth preview of all 32 teams over the span of a month. In past years, I would usually get assigned a handful of teams that I’d study the hell out of to write my essays, then I would whip together about 15,000 words here for my final predictions.

We’ll see if taking more time on each team is paying off, or if last year was just a fluke because I had way more accurate predictions than I did for 2013-20:

Twenty-eight teams within two games? I might never see that again. I’m willing to believe 2021 had some fluke to it given no AFC team won more than 12 games and we had the first Super Bowl ever without a top-three seed. The Rams and Bengals were only No. 4 seeds.

This makes it very easy for me to not predict a Super Bowl rematch like I did last year:

Still, I think I very well could have continued my tradition of getting one Super Bowl team right (Chiefs) but with the wrong outcome, had it not been for Patrick Mahomes playing the worst half of his career against the Bengals.

Unlike the last few years, I do not see the Chiefs as the center of the NFL story for this 2022 season. Don’t get me wrong, they are a major character again, but the AFC and particularly the AFC West is so deep that I think it’s hard to focus on any one team.

But I have figured out my narrative for this year’s predictions.

What I’m Watching for in 2022

Like last year, my team write-ups are much shorter here than in past years because I already did previews in the 2,000-4,000 word range for each team on BMR, which are linked below.

I always tend to write these hours before kickoff of the season opener on Thursday, and this year I am extra burned out from work to get to this day. I just want to shoot from the hip my final thoughts on these teams. All the structured analysis can be found in the BMR previews.

Having said that, this introduction is becoming the most important part of the preview because I like to share the things I’m looking for in the new season. We’ve had crazy quarterback movement and COVID causing empty stadiums to deal with the last couple years.

But this is the year of the No. 1 wide receiver experiments.

Historic Wide Receiver Movement

Imagine going back a year to September 2021 and listening to two football fans have this fanciful, Madden-logic conversation about the league.

Fan 1: Man, what if Derek Carr had Davante Adams instead of Henry Ruggs to throw to?

Fan 2: Still mid. Who does Aaron Rodgers get?

Fan 1: Just some non-first round picks. Let’s snatch Tyreek Hill away from Patrick Mahomes too and give him to Tua in Miami.

Fan 2: Sounds too bizarre. Can we take Gronk away from Brady for good?

Fan 1: Sure, they’ll probably both retire after this season. He still has Antonio Brown though…Speaking of Brown, what if A.J. went to Philadelphia with Jalen Hurts, and Hollywood went to Arizona to reunite with Kyler?

Fan 2: Why would they do that?

Fan 1: So the Jaguars can give Christian Kirk $80 million.

Fan 2: Bro… the fuck?

Fan 1: The Browns are going to get Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper. And for good measure, we’re going to trade Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson to the AFC, bring back Geno Smith and Marcus Mariota as Week 1 starters, send Baker Mayfield to Carolina, and ship Carson Wentz back to the NFC East to the Washington Commanders.

Fan 2: Comman-co-co-come on, man, this shit is beyond silly.

Fan 1: Falcons taking the first wide receiver off the draft board after Calvin Ridley gets suspended the whole year for making a parlay on a game he ain’t even play in..

Fan 2: Now I know you’re just dreaming.

But this became reality, setting up an unusual number of QB-WR experiments with many players still in their prime. This will be very interesting to watch as it’s not like the Packers and Chiefs replaced Adams and Hill with a legitimate No. 1.

Adams and Hill also went to two of the best situations possible with two new head coaches, Josh McDaniels and Mike McDaniel (no relation), who should know how to use them.

The Dolphins and Raiders could be much improved this year, and it still may not show up in the win-loss record that much because of how insanely deep the AFC is, which leads me to the other big story going into Week 1.

The AFC Looks Insanely More Competitive Than the NFC (LOAT Warning)

The Buffalo Bills are the favorites to win it all this year, but any team that comes out of this AFC deserves a round of applause. This division could easily be 11 teams deep for contention with only seven playoff spots available. This is even discounting the Steelers and Browns because of their quarterback situations and ignoring the chance that a second-year quarterback (Trevor Lawrence, Davis Mills, Zach Wilson) could vastly improve.

A team like Cincinnati could go from the Super Bowl to 9-10 wins and no playoffs at this rate. It is going to be something to behold, and of course some teams will end up disappointing and injuries will take out a couple more. But if teams live up to what they look like on paper, this should be an incredible AFC race.

Who does this tight AFC race and the offseason talent shift benefit the most?

Tom Brady, of course. You would end your retirement after 40 days too if you saw this easy of a path open to the Super Bowl between the state of your conference and the Buccaneers’ schedule:

  • Week 1: A Dallas team that already lost Tyron Smith, had a million takeaways last year, beat up on the NFC East, and still hasn’t been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season.
  • Weeks 2 & 13: Sean Payton retired in New Orleans, the team that is 4-0 against Brady the last two regular seasons and the only real division competition. Payton was replaced by a coach who is 8-28.
  • Weeks 3-4: Packers and Chiefs trade away Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill while replacing them with slight upgrades to Joe Rogan and Jackson Mahomes. Tampa Bay hosts these teams in Weeks 3-4, and they also get to host the Ravens and Rams in Weeks 8-9 and the Bengals in Week 15.
  • Week 5 & 18: Matt Ryan left for Indy, leaving Marcus Mariota with a coach he already failed with in Tennessee.
  • Week 6: A Pittsburgh team with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger retired.
  • Weeks 7 & 17: A Carolina team that settled for Baker Mayfield, though Sam Darnold could be available for one of these games too.
  • Week 10: Russell Wilson left Seattle for Denver, leaving Geno Smith and Drew Lock in his place for a team that is unrecognizable.
  • Week 12: Guess which game is the final one of Deshaun Watson’s suspension in Cleveland? Yep, it’s TB.
  • Week 16: Once the World Series is over, Kyler Murray acts like football season is over. Guess which day Tampa plays in Arizona? Hint: Bah humbug.

What else is in the NFC?

  • A Minnesota team with Kirk Cousins that can’t stray too far from .500 or the world will rotate off its axis
  • Washington thinks Carson Wentz is “the one.”
  • Philadelphia should have a good season, but it was 0-7 against playoff teams last year, including 0-2 against the Bucs.
  • The Giants, co-owners with the Jets for the worst record in the NFL since 2017.
  • A San Francisco team that only seems to win when their quarterback is absurdly handsome. Would you even trust Kyle Shanahan with another 19-point 4Q lead against Brady? Or anyone in the playoffs?

At the very least, what keeps this interesting is that Tampa doesn’t look loaded up for 2022. Also, the biggest kryptonite is Sean McVay’s Rams, the defending champs and winners of three straight over Tampa. If Brady somehow avoids the Rams in the playoffs, then we could be talking about him winning every other Super Bowl since 2014. If he can’t get past the Rams, then he may be setting them up as the firs team to repeat since his Patriots in 2003-04.

Needless to say, I absolutely understand why Bills vs. Buccaneers is the preseason favorite pick for Super Bowl 57. But is it my pick? Let’s find out.

One last note: I predicted over/under on each team’s win total at BMR. What I predicted in those articles since late July may be different from my final W-L prediction in September after sitting down with the schedule grid Wednesday night to make these final predictions.

AFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Chargers (12-5)

BMR Preview: This division race being anything but incredible would be so disappointing. The Chargers missing the playoffs again would be the most disappointing of any team in the league.

But I think they are ready to take that next big step in Justin Herbert’s third season and Brandon Staley’s second. Last year, the Chargers were 9-8 despite losing three games to playoff teams on the final snap. Herbert led a game-tying or go-ahead drive in all three of those games. As a rookie, he was 7-9 but the team blew three leads of 17+ points in his first six starts.

The kid just needs a defense. He’s already the only quarterback in history to throw 30 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. He has the second-most yards thru 32 starts behind only Mahomes. Just find him some defense.

I wrote why I think Justin Herbert will win MVP this year.

I think Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson are going to help enough. Herbert takes his game to another level and gets the MVP on the strength of coming out on top of this insanely difficult division.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-7)

BMR Preview: The Chiefs are trying to become the third team in NFL history to win their division at least seven years in a row. That is a long stretch of dominance, but the competition has never been stronger in the AFC West than it is this year.

I also think there’s high probability this is the weakest team of the Mahomes era so far. Think Peyton Manning’s 2002 Colts when it was just him playing catch with Marvin Harrison (143 times). That was still good enough for 10 wins, and Mahomes is like that too as I expect he’ll still lead a top 5 offense here if Travis Kelce doesn’t get hurt.

But you can’t lose Tyreek Hill and replace him with JuJu Smith-Schuster/Skyy Moore/Marquez Valdes-Scantling and act like it’s the same offense. I said after the Buffalo playoff win that Hill has to have the best clutch play highlight reel of any player in the last five years. When Mahomes needed someone to save a game, Hill was that guy. Think of the fourth down against the Ravens in 2018, the long touchdowns against the Chargers in 2020 and 2021, the plays late in the Buffalo win, and of course, third-and-15 in the Super Bowl. You know, the only play that prevents the Chiefs from being the biggest disappointment in the NFL’s last decade. Hill has to be worth 1-2 wins a season for this team with that rare speed.

I don’t like losing Tyrann Mathieu on defense either as another player who could make the turnovers in big moments. The Chiefs just don’t look as scary anymore. The tipped-ball turnovers shouldn’t be so bad this year, but if you’re game-planning for this offense without Hill, how do you not double Kelce and drop 7-to-8 defenders into coverage and make Mahomes hold the ball like he did in the second half against Cincinnati’s three-man rush when he had the worst half of his career?

After the Super Bowl 55 loss, it was KC figuring out the two-man safety looks that team showed them in 2021. They eventually did that. I don’t think a three-man rush is a sustainable defensive strategy, but I think teams are going to try it. Just make sure Kelce gets doubled or you’re  missing the point of it all. Take away the best receiver on the field and make these new guys, who are mistake prone (MVS, I’m looking your way) beat you.

3. Denver Broncos (10-7)

BMR Preview: Finally, we can look forward to watching Denver games again. I think Russell Wilson is going to have a fine season and no quarterback is better equipped to handle a ridiculously loaded division.

But at the same time, the division is why I think he’ll have a harder time taking this team the distance than what Peyton Manning did when he arrived in Denver a decade ago. This should land somewhere between what Jake Plummer and Peyton did as a Denver reference. I think Wilson is downgrading at his top WR duo, but he’ll make Jerry Jeudy a better player. Tim Patrick was a big loss for this team you won’t hear a lot about this year, but he was the red-zone target and a good third receiver who would start on a lot of teams.

But you bring in Wilson to give a rookie coach like Nathaniel Hackett an instant reason to compete. We haven’t seen Wilson play in the preseason so it’s a mystery what this will look like, but I think it’s going to be a good offense

Funny enough, because of the division makeup, Denver could still have the worst offense and best defense in the AFC West this year. But I think this is going to end in 10 wins and Wilson will end Denver’s 13-game losing streak to the Chiefs. He outplayed Mahomes in their only meeting in 2018, and that’s exactly why you need this kind of quarterback if you are going to compete with Mahomes and Herbert the next decade.

4. Las Vegas Raiders (9-8)

BMR Preview: The Raiders were one of my four biggest misses last year (6-11 to 10-7), and I wanted to somehow fit the team into 10 wins again, which still might miss the playoffs because of these other AFC West teams.

In a normal year, you would look at the Raiders scoring differential (-65) last year and the fact they tied the record by going 4-0 in overtime games and predict regression. It was a fluke, they’ll play better but have a worse record in 2022. Simple.

But then they hired Josh McDaniels as head coach, and while I’m not a big fan, I can’t deny the body of work and that he gave Kyle Orton a glow-up in Denver in 2009. It lasted about six games for success, but this might be the best Raiders roster since the 2002 Super Bowl team when you add Davante Adams and Chandler Jones.

In the end, I only gave the Raiders nine wins, but it’s hard to expect your fourth-ranked team to do more than that in a division. But I will say this…

The season to win is now, Raiders fans. Derek Carr has everything he needs to have the best season of his career. Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow is the best receiving trio in the league, and if McDaniels can use Renfrow the way he used Wes Welker in 2007-12, you might even see him catch more balls than Davante this year. This offense could be incredible, but it’s only going to work if Carr elevates his game in Year 9, which was a peak year of play for Peyton Manning (2006), Drew Brees (2009), and Matt Ryan (2016). You know I don’t think Carr is on that level, but he needs to show us something more this year.

Take the AFC West now before the Chiefs find Mahomes another top-tier weapon, before Herbert ascends to God mode, and before Wilson and Hackett figure things out in Denver. This might be the best chance McDaniels gets in Vegas, so carpe diem.

NFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

BMR Preview: I keep having to say it every year, but we are in the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion (2003-04 Patriots the last). This was one of my first and favorite previews to write this season, because I get into how we’re going to learn if this team is still hungry for more, or if last year was the culmination of a five-year journey for Sean McVay and even longer for Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald.

Does this give a new sense of confidence for Stafford now that he has a ring, or are we going to see that going 9-1 in close games and becoming the first team in history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points is a once in a career fever dream? I also think losing Von Miller and Andrew Whitworth hurts, and I don’t like Allen Robinson more than Robert Woods/Odell.

But ultimately, I see an easier division than what the Rams faced last year, and I still have them with 12 wins. Is it enough for the top seed and another Super Bowl run? That will likely be determined by how this team plays Tampa Bay. They have beat them all three times in the Brady era, and they will likely have to continue that mastery if they want to get to the Super Bowl again.

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)

BMR Preview: This is a tough one because Trey Lance is the wild card of this NFL season. I can see anything from getting benched in October for Jimmy Garoppolo (still there, still handsome) to winning Super Bowl MVP in February. His athletic skills are impressive and we know the vaunted Kyle Shanahan system can boost his passing numbers. It also doesn’t hurt that no one can tackle Deebo Samuel and George Kittle on the first try.

But then I remember the fact that Shanahan is 35-16 (.686) with Garoppolo as his quarterback and 8-28 (.222) with everyone else. It’s a stunning split, the kind you’d expect to see for a team starting one of the best quarterbacks of all time and going to trash as backups. But no one would dare characterize Garoppolo that way despite him having the highest YPA (8.4) of any quarterback born since WWII.

I found myself at the last minute trying to knock them down another win, but let’s just roll with it as Lance is truly a wild card.

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-7)

BMR Preview: Honestly, I didn’t check the tiebreaker between Arizona and San Francisco, so it’s possible these standings should be switched. But anyway, you are probably surprised I still have the Cardinals making the playoffs after going 4-7 down the stretch last year and making plenty of bad headlines surrounding Kyler Murray in the offseason.

But what if last year’s last unbeaten team (7-0) is still good, is still getting better, and what if it doesn’t have injuries to Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt again? Most importantly, what if Kyler bumps up his study time and has his best season yet with what should be a huge chip on his shoulder?

I know it’s a gamble and I should probably give this record to a more deserving team, but I oddly feel good about Arizona having some success this year after a taste of the playoffs in 2021.

Do I think they have a shot in the playoffs to make it three straight years of a team hosting the Super Bowl in their own building? Scroll to the bottom to find out.

4. Seattle Seahawks (5-12)

BMR Preview: Pete Carroll hasn’t won fewer than seven games in the NFL since he was a rookie coaching the 1994 Jets (6-10). But now he’s in his 70s and he’s coaching two Jets rejects in Geno Smith and Jamal Adams, so he might as well be back in Jersey.

Look, this is a rebuilding team with a terrible quarterback situation. They also have 10 games against the AFC West and NFC West where I basically just declared all seven teams are playoff caliber.

5-12 might be generous.

AFC EAST

1. Buffalo Bills (13-4)

BMR Preview: Not long after Buffalo’s 13-second meltdown in Kansas City, I thought this team would be my Super Bowl pick next year. It seems many agree as the Bills have consistently had the best odds for the Super Bowl and #1 seed all offseason.

This is what happens when you combine a super talented quarterback with a defense that should get Tre’Davious White back soon and added Von Miller to the pass rush. That is a Super Bowl formula.

The only real concern is the offense lost coordinator Brian Daboll, but great quarterbacks overcome those changes all the time. They get their OCs hired; bad quarterbacks get the OC fired.

With Allen, the regular season was not what it could have been after his dazzling 2020, but that playoff performance is why everyone is so high on this team. He led a perfect game in single-digit temps against Bill Belichick’s defense in a wild card game. The Bills scored seven touchdowns on seven possessions. Then we saw him put the team ahead with 13 seconds left in Kansas City, but we know what happened the rest of the way.

Still, 12 touchdowns in 16 drives in the playoffs. Insane stuff that could have put Allen on the path to having the best postseason ever, yet the Bills were bounced in the second round. It can’t happen again.

At least it can’t happen if Sean McDermott wants to win a Super Bowl in Buffalo with Allen. Remember my Five-Year Rule? No team has ever won its first championship by starting the same quarterback under the same head coach for more than five seasons.

This is Year 5 for Allen/McDermott. It also happens to be Year 5 for Lamar Jackson/John Harbaugh in Baltimore. Maybe we’ll get a playoff rematch from two years ago between these two.

2. Miami Dolphins (10-7)

BMR Preview: You know my usual talking points on the Dolphins. Boring, irrelevant, one of the Three Stooges, even when they have a winning record it means nothing, and some quip about still trying to replace Dan Marino.

Some of that may still be true, but that linked preview is probably the most optimistic thing I’ve ever written about this franchise. I’m all in on Mike McDaniel bringing the Shanahan system to South Beach with Tyreek Hill adding the speed to a receiving corps that couldn’t separate the last few years.

Am I believer in Tua Tagovailoa? Eh, not really. But we have seen this offense inflate the numbers of Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Even some extent for Nick Mullens and that best Matt Ryan season ever in 2016 when Shanahan was in Atlanta. It just works, and the Dolphins are bringing talent with the scheme.

The Dolphins have had winning records in consecutive seasons but still missed the playoffs both times. That hasn’t happened since the Dolphins did it in 2002-03. Can it happen for a third year in a row? That would be the most Miami thing ever, but I think we are going to see better results from this team. If Tua can’t get the job done, then someone else will next year.

3. New England Patriots (9-8)

BMR Preview: Feels good to no longer just hand the Patriots 10+ wins and the division title. We know Buffalo surpassed them in 2020 once Josh Allen exploded, and now the Dolphins have won all three meetings started by Tua. It’s not like he was great in those games, but he avoided the big mistakes.

But the Patriots are looking rather ordinary in a stacked AFC. Bill Belichick turned 70 and he lost Josh McDaniels to the Raiders and hired back Joe Judge to share duties with Matt Patricia. That is discouraging for this team building on last year where Mac Jones was the best rookie quarterback.

That doesn’t mean he will remain that way for his class. I think they are going to miss McDaniels and there’s still not a great receiving corps here. The defense also lost pick magnet J.C. Jackson to the Chargers and we know defensive back is a position they have their problems evaluating.

I trust Belichick enough to get a winning record, but 8-9 wouldn’t surprise me either.

4. New York Jets (5-12)

BMR Preview: Is this team going to have any left tackles healthy for the season? I already had low expectations, and I think 5-12 is generous enough. Robert Saleh was supposed to be a defensive guru and the defense was arguably worse than the offense last year weighed for expectations. I also think it’s troubling that little known Mike White had the best game and moment of the season for the team instead of Zach Wilson last year.

Believe it or not, but when the Jets miss the playoffs for a 12th year in a row, that will set the new franchise record for longest playoff drought.

NFC EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-6)

BMR Preview: No one has won the NFC East in consecutive years since the Eagles did it in 2001-04. I think that streak continues, and the Eagles take it from Dallas this year. The addition of A.J. Brown should work out great, but the team will have to show more willingness to throw with Jalen Hurts this year.

The Eagles were also 0-7 against playoff teams last year. But with a favorable schedule in 2022, I think 11 wins and a home playoff game is in their future. Just be warned that come January, I’ll be here pointing out said schedule and asking if we can trust this team to do anything in the tournament.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-8)

BMR Preview: The night I finished my Dallas preview and predicted under 10 wins, I saw the tweets about three hours later that Tyron Smith could miss months, if not the whole season with a serious injury. I wasn’t going to bother sending an email to change anything as I’m already down on Dallas this year. That just reinforces the pick for me.

Weakened the receiving corps and offensive line while the defense relied on way too many takeaways last year. If you look at Dan Quinn’s history, his defenses are almost always below average in turnovers except for 2013 (Seattle) and last year. Trevon Diggs gave up a lot of completions last year on his way to all those picks.

Of course, I think Dak Prescott is legit enough to have a winning record again, but I don’t see the team around him being good enough to get back to the playoffs. The Cowboys were 6-0 against the division and 6-6 out of it last year. They really beat up the 2021 NFC East, but I think the other three teams are improved while Dallas is taking steps backwards.

3. New York Giants (6-11)

BMR Preview: Brian Daboll was my favorite head coach hire in this year’s deep cycle. But I have to throw some cold water on any hopes that he’s going to turn 2022 Daniel Jones into 2020 Josh Allen. Jones throws some nice deep balls and can run, but he’s not the same caliber of quarterback. Kenny Golladay was also a mess last year, Saquon Barkley always disappoints, and it looks like Kadarius Toney might be earning a “candybone” nickname as he always gets hurt.

I wanted to give the Giants a seventh win because of how easy the schedule looks, but they became a go-to team when I was going through the schedule and trying to find wins for some of the worst teams in football.

Remember, the Giants are tied with the Jets for the worst record in the NFL since 2017. It is going to take some time for Daboll to fix this. I’d expect Jones to look his best in 2022, but it still won’t be enough to satisfy fans.

4. Washington Commanders (6-11)

BMR Preview: New name, same game. I dropped plenty of great Wentz diss tracks in this one, so check it out.

He’s not “the one” and Ron Rivera will find out the hard way as Doug Pederson and Frank Reich did.

AFC SOUTH

1. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)

BMR Preview: Can you believe the Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014? I like it to happen this year as Matt Ryan should be a welcome addition after Carson Wentz last year. This team does need to stop blowing leads though, and I don’t expect as many takeaways as they had last year. But I think you get much steadier quarterback play, and Ryan will have his best running game, offensive line, and defensive support in years. Ditto for coaching with Frank Reich having to adjust to a new starting quarterback in all five seasons.

I also expect the Colts to get back to beating Tennessee, which is why they should leap ahead to a division title. Looking forward to seeing this team play the Chiefs after that upset win 2019 was such an outlier for the Chiefs at the time.

The Colts might have the right stuff to go on their deepest playoff run since 2014 too, but I think expectations should be tempered There is not enough elite talent on this team at the right positions to win a Super Bowl this season.

2. Tennessee Titans (8-9)

BMR Preview: Frankly, I was jumping off the Tennessee bandwagon before the A.J. Brown trade on draft night, and before the news that Harold Landry tore his ACL, leaving the Titans without their leading receiver and best pass rusher. I also soured on Ryan Tannehill after his playoff implosion, spoiling a No. 1 seed that was earned with a record eight wins over teams with winning records.

Good luck repeating that success against a tough schedule in 2022. I know the Titans haven’t won fewer than nine games since 2015, and Mike Vrabel is one of the better coaches, but I just couldn’t find more than eight wins this year. I think they blew their golden opportunity last year with the top seed and everyone coming back healthy for the playoffs.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)

BMR Preview: I am interested more than most to get more data on Doug Pederson in games without Carson Wentz as his quarterback. I like this hire for the team, but man, I do not like paying Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, and Zay Jones as the supporting cast. The Jaguars are not doing Trevor Lawrence any favors. There’s no Ja’Marr Chase to the rescue here, so I do not see a second-year surge like you might bet on with a talented, young quarterback getting a Super Bowl-winning head coach.

Or even just a coach you can confidently say won’t be grinding on a college girl’s ass in a bar after your team loses another game.

Also, tough year to hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, but I really think they should have picked Aidan Hutchinson. We’ll see how this shakes out but I don’t expect much from Travon Walker, who can push Eric Fisher as the most anonymous No. 1 pick in the 21st century.

4. Houston Texans (5-12)

BMR Preview: The Texans are a good example of the difference in trying to judge a team’s over/under win total and then go through the schedule for everyone and actually hand out said wins and losses with it needing to add up to 272.

Just a day ago, I wrote that Texans over 4.5 was the best bet in the AFC South this year. Then when I went through the schedule last night, it was so hard to find them wins. But I eventually landed on 5-12 as I think Davis Mills will be better than his rookie year, which was surprisingly impressive in a way if you read the linked preview.

But promoting Lovie Smith after his defense was so bad last year? It’s the most uninspiring coaching hire in years. We’ll see if they keep him beyond this year.

NFC SOUTH

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5)

BMR Preview: If you skipped the intro, you should read that too as I really highlighted there why Tampa Bay is the betting favorite in the NFC for a Super Bowl again. But I do think there is a good chance this is the weakest of the three Tom Brady teams in Tampa.

Ali Marpet, Rob Gronkowski, and Bruce Arians retired. Chris Godwin is already back, but that first year off a torn ACL can be underwhelming. We know Antonio Brown’s crazy ass won’t be back in Tampa.

Throw in the 45-year-old quarterback who took a 40-day retirement and is in the tabloids because his wife is pissed about his return. I don’t know what’s true there or why he dipped on the team for 11 days in August, but I get the sense even Gisele is getting sick of him playing football.

Join the club.

But Brady’s won the Super Bowl every other year since 2014, and things could be setting up again for another one in 2022. If that’s what it takes to send him away for good, then so be it. I am just beyond ready to see an NFL without him, but I said even when he retired that I refuse to believe it until it’s Week 1 and he’s not there.

Same applies next year.

2. New Orleans Saints (8-9)

BMR Preview: This preview did a good job of covering just how bizarre the 2021 Saints were. Now we have to see this team without Sean Payton? I’m not sold on them having a winning record with Jameis Winston and Dennis Allen. In fact, Allen’s 8-28 (.222) record with Oakland makes him the coach with the worst winning percentage to get a second job in the Super Bowl era. This preview explains why that usually does not lead to a successful second shot.

Would I enjoy seeing Jameis send Brady into retirement with another sweep and actually win this division? Sure, but let’s be realistic about things. That’s never going to happen.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-10)

BMR Preview: Matt Rhule has yet to figure out how to win games when his team is down in the fourth quarter or allows more than 17 points. Enter Baker Mayfield, who had the same problem in 2021 with Cleveland. But I do like the return of Christian McCaffrey, and Baker is an upgrade over Sam Darnold, and he is going to at least get a 1-0 start by beating Cleveland in a legit revenge game.

But seven wins is the rosiest of predictions for this team.

4. Atlanta Falcons (3-14)

BMR Preview: Based on scoring differential, the Falcons went from the best 4-win team ever in 2020 to the worst 7-win team ever in 2021. A fitting way to end the Matt Ryan era. But I have the Falcons finishing with the worst record in football this year with Marcus Mariota taking over an offense with a coach (Arthur Smith) he failed to have success with in Tennessee in 2019. He was benched for Ryan Tannehill because he turned into a sack machine. Then you take away Calvin Ridley for the whole year for a stupid gambling punishment he doesn’t deserve, and it is hard to see this offense, which struggled more than ever under Ryan in 2021, doing much to improve.

The defense is still bad too. Maybe I’ll regret not going to five or six wins, but I’ll be shocked if the Falcons have a decent season this year.

AFC NORTH

1. Baltimore Ravens (12-5)

BMR Preview: My confidence in Baltimore to win 12 games last year despite a bunch of preseason injuries was not rewarded. But the fact that an 8-3 start turned into an 8-9 finish was shocking. The close wins at the beginning of the season turned into close losses late as the Ravens were losing by a single point to the Packers (top seed) and Rams (eventual champs) with their backup quarterback.

But this is why I keep saying the Ravens are (positive) regression darlings for 2022. Injuries and close games. Way too many of both last year, and Lamar Jackson is back and looking for that huge, second contract while working as his own agent.

The Five-Year Rule was referenced in the Buffalo section. No team has won its first championship by starting the same quarterback for the same coach for more than five years. This is technically the fifth year for Jackson and Harbaugh in Baltimore. Lamar didn’t start the opener in 2018, but he was the guy in the playoffs that season.

It took Harbaugh five seasons with Joe Flacco (2012) to get to that elusive Super Bowl, and he hasn’t been back to an AFC Championship Game since. The Ravens still bring that unique offensive attack with Jackson’s rushing ability and the defense should be much improved. I still like what this team has to offer and expect big things.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-8)

BMR Preview: This one was tough because I had the Bengals winning some really key matchups down the stretch of the schedule, but in the end, I only came up with a 9-8 record. The AFC is just too deep, and schedules aside, can you honestly say the Bengals stand out that much from the pack of the AFC West teams, Buffalo, Baltimore, Indy, or even New England?

Most people would have said it’d be crazy not to have the 2019 Rams or 2020 49ers in the playoffs or double-digit wins again after they lost the Super Bowl, but it happened to both. It happens to the Super Bowl loser frequently.

Plus, the Bengals were one of the rare Super Bowl teams to come out of nowhere, not having a winning season since 2015. We know Chase had a big impact on Joe Burrow’s breakout season, but is it sustainable when the conference is so loaded?

In 2021, the Bengals skipped many steps at once. I think they fall back this year.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-10)

BMR Preview: When you consider that the Steelers won eight games in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Nagy won at least eight games multiple times with Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, then it is not at all crazy for Mike Tomlin to get eight wins (in 17 games) with Trubisky in Pittsburgh.

But in the end, the best thing I could do for the Steelers is have them sweep Cleveland, finishing ahead of the Browns in every season since 1990.

Whether it’s 7-10 or 8-9 to decide a perfectly set over/under by the bookies, I think this is the first losing season for Tomlin in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger at his worst is still better than Trubisky, who is 1-18 in his career when he’s trailing by more than a field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers were 9-2-1 last year in close games, leading the league in 4QC (6) and GWD (7). Roethlisberger had as many game-winning drives in 2021 as Trubisky has his whole career. The close games are not going to go Pittsburgh’s way this year.

And the defense is still going to get blown at times out despite the efforts of T.J. Watt, who could break the sack record if he stays healthy for 17 games.

With Kenny Pickett on the bench, this is the first NFL season since 2007 where we won’t have a rookie quarterback starting in Week 1. If the Steelers get off to a really bad start, I could see Pickett starting after the bye in Week 10.

But I would not bet on him for Offensive Rookie of the Year. This offensive line is going to be badly exposed this year when the quarterback isn’t getting rid of the ball in record time.

4. Cleveland Browns (6-11)

BMR Preview: I guess we’ll find out what the price of shame is in 2023 for Cleveland, assuming Deshaun Watson can stay out of the DMs.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (10-7)

BMR Preview: It’s not that I think Davante Adams is worth three wins to the Packers. I just think this is the closest situation to 2015 for Aaron Rodgers, which is the season where he started 6-0 before falling apart after that Denver game and going into his weird odyssey before we saw the return of Peak Rodgers in 2020. But there won’t be a three-peat MVP for him, and the division is better this year.

2. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)

BMR Preview: I enjoyed writing this preview just because I got to take shots at Mike Zimmer’s nepotism and Kirk Cousins’ fondness of staying around .500. Granted, I am nervous about this pick for that latter reason, but I think Kevin O’Connell is going to be a good hire that will make proper use of the skill players here. The defense can’t be any worse than it was the last two years. Minnesota was high on the list of “losing teams who should have had a winning record” last year, but that’s what you’ve come to expect from a Cousins-led team. Silly me, I expect something more along the lines of 2019 when they won 10 games and a playoff game.

But with O’Connell coming from the Rams, don’t discount him looking at this as a last-chance season for Cousins akin to the Jared Goff situation when the Rams moved on to acquire Stafford. The league is kind of running out of proven quarterbacks to move for 2023, though if Mr. Rodgers wanted to follow in Brett Favre’s footsteps to the Purple Team next year…

3. Detroit Lions (6-11)

BMR Preview: The Lions could have easily won six games last season if long field goals went their way against the Ravens, Vikings, and Steelers. This team will compete hard under Dan Campbell, but it’s still hard to see them eating many W’s in 2022. Aidan Hutchinson falling into their laps with the No. 2 pick was pretty convenient though in a draft without quarterbacks. Now we’ll see if Jared Goff could show more or if they will just move on next season.

4. Chicago Bears (5-12)

BMR Preview: I ended up changing this win total three times before writing this as the final team of 2022, including a last-second flip with Detroit in the division. I’m just not sold on Matt Eberflus coming over from Indy, nor do I like the receivers, or losing Allen Robinson, Khalil Mack, and Akiem Hicks.

The cards are stacked against Justin Fields breaking out this year, but we’ll see what happens.

Ending on a personal note: It’s wild to think that when I was in 10th grade computer class, I shared a corner with a senior and the best athlete in our school, and 20 years later, he is the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. I wish Luke Getsy well, but I really wish I could go back in time and joke to him that his football future will involve trying to turn around the offense of an NFL team that had better quarterback play before 1950 than anything we’ve seen since.

PLAYOFFS

Truth be told, my first run through of the schedule had Cleveland at 4-12, Philadelphia at 14-3, and all four AFC West Teams with 10+ wins. Things didn’t finish that way, but we’ll see how it goes.

AFC

  • 1. Buffalo (13-4)
  • 2. LA Chargers (12-5)
  • 3. Baltimore (12-5)
  • 4. Indianapolis (11-6)
  • 5. Kansas City (10-7)
  • 6. Denver (10-7)
  • 7. Miami (10-7)

This looks exciting with five new playoff teams, no? The Chargers did come out on the winning end of two memorable playoff games with Miami in 1980 and 1994. Maybe they’ll do it again here. I’d pick Baltimore to win at home against Wilson’s Broncos. Chiefs at Colts brings back more playoff memories for sure. Lousy ones for KC fans, but I can see Mahomes winning there, and it’d be in the best interest to set up the Bills rematch people probably want most from this postseason.

Look, I get it. Bills-Chiefs could be the best rivalry going if they keep meeting in big games, and last year was unbelievable drama. But I have it in the second round here, and I think the Bills will love not seeing Tyreek in that one. Allen is also 3-0 in home playoff games and 0-3 on the road. Ravens at Chargers is a big one. It was 34-6 when they met last year. Feels like a close loss for the Chargers coming there at home. But a great year nonetheless.

Ravens at Bills for the AFC Championship Game. Rematch from two playoffs ago. Both Allen and Lamar trying to adhere to the Five-Year Rule and get the Super Bowl ring this year. I have Bills Super Bowl futures bets from right after Super Bowl 56 ended. They were the team I was all for, and I’m a little annoyed to see them enjoy the best odds all summer and going into Week 1. Teams like that do sometimes win it all as the 2018 and 2016 Patriots prove, but it is hard to be the favorite all year long in the cap era and deliver.

Either way, you’re getting your fifth-year QB narrative here. It’s either going to be Allen taking that next step or Lamar betting on himself, almost like Joe Flacco in 2012, and getting Harbaugh to another Super Bowl.

Since I have to make a pick, I’m going to stick with Buffalo, but you can see the hedge I have on Baltimore here. They both make so much sense to me, but Allen’s playoff highs are too hard to ignore while Jackson has struggled in January. Von was a great addition too.

NFC

  • 1. LA Rams (12-5)
  • 2. Tampa Bay (12-5)
  • 3. Philadelphia (11-6)
  • 4. Green Bay (10-7)
  • 5. Minnesota (10-7)
  • 6. San Francisco (10-7)
  • 7. Arizona (10-7)

Of course, I fought to get Arizona in the playoffs only to lose right away in Tampa Bay, another No. 2 seed after losing the tie-breaker to the Rams. I think the Eagles can beat the 49ers at home, and Rodgers would probably love seeing Minnesota in Green Bay in January.

Philly loses in Tampa Bay for the second year in a row. Packers at Rams is a good one in the second round we thought we’d see last year. I like the Rams at home. Then look at that: Buccaneers at Rams rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Like Bills-Chiefs, maybe this is just the best matchup anyway and the one fans want to see the most.

Brady is taking this one after Stafford has his worst playoff game ever.

SUPER BOWL LVII

Buffalo 45, Tampa Bay 17

We’re only going to score 17 points?

No reverse jinx this time. No Scott Norwood bullshit. Josh Allen cements his legacy by putting an end to New England’s run in the AFC East and Brady’s run in the NFL by dropping 45 points on the 45-year-old quarterback’s team.

Buffalo, you are finally Super Bowl champs. Enjoy it.

TL;DR version: I will stan any AFC quarterback, even if it’s Derek Carr, as long as they don’t let Brady win one more.

Best 15 New TV Shows of 2021

That’s not a typo. While 2022 is almost halfway over (!), I am only now getting to my top new TV series that debuted in 2021. I wanted to match the effort I put in last year with my top 12 series of 2020, but I just never got around to doing this until this week, the start of a dead zone for me with no NFL or NBA games.

After starting accounts with Disney+, Paramount+, and Apple TV for the first time in the last year, there are more shows than ever to watch. I watched 81 new series that started in 2021, but I was able to break that down into a top 15 I feel good about. Are there some series I still missed? Of course.

I’m not going to share the full list I broke down, but chances are if one of your favorites didn’t make the cut, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. Station Eleven (HBO Max) is likely one big example of that. I really loved the parts that focused on Jeevan, but anything with the Traveling Symphony in the future fell flat for me. Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) reminded me of how people enjoy Martin Short and Steve Martin way more than I ever have or likely will.

Note: limited series and anime are included; all documentary series are excluded.

I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but no promises…

15. Dexter: New Blood (Showtime)

This may have snuck in at No. 15 just so I could talk about it. Technically a new series, this does do some justice to make up for the horrific original series finale that Dexter gave us in 2013. A fucking lumberjack? Fortunately, New Blood is better than the last four seasons of the original series, but it still is not up to par with the best of that series. Still, it was cool to see Dexter back with Deb as his new dark passenger, and Clancy Brown did a more than respectable job as the villain. The kid playing teenage Harrison did not bother me, though I have no interest in seeing a spin-off with him. Just let this thing die.

As for that ending, it was poorly received again, but I actually thought it made sense and was necessary. Would I have shot the scene differently to make it more dramatic? Of course, but I really cannot complain with the story choice they made this time.

14. Scenes from a Marriage (HBO)

This modern take on the Ingmar Bergman classic was a showcase for the acting chops of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, two actors I’ve taken an increased liking to in the last year or two. They both shine here, but dialogue-heavy series must be in your wheelhouse if you are going to enjoy this one. I’m happy to say they took an existing IP and made it their own thing instead of a straight remake.

13. WandaVision (Disney+)

Spoiler alert: this is the only Marvel show on my list for 2021. It was the first one I watched, and I thought it was the best one. 2021 really was the year of spoofing the classic sitcom, laugh track and all, but unlike with AMC’s Kevin Can Fuck Himself, we got a pretty clear answer of why this was done in WandaVision. Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen are great together, but one season is the right length for this unique idea.

12. Midnight Mass (Netflix)

Our first Netflix entry may have been slept on, but this was a really strong take on grief and loss combined with a more typical horror storyline. But Hamish Linklater was fantastic as the priest, and the ending was something you’ll never forget. I got a bit emotional during this one a couple times.

11. Yellowjackets (Showtime)

Between the Fear Street movie trilogy on Netflix, Cruel Summer, and this show, there was a lot of 90s nostalgia in 2021. This show did a great job of balancing multiple timelines with the plane crash survivors as teenagers and the current-day survivors navigating a new mystery. Christina Ricci is supposed to be the “ugly” one of the bunch, but she still looks pretty damn good and it was nice to see her in a big role again. I look forward to the second season and where they can take this one. The first season did not take all the predictable routes you may have expected from a story about a plane crash.

10. Tear Along the Dotted Line (Netflix)

This is probably my most obscure choice for the year, but it’s an animated series from an Italian, and it does a shockingly effective job of covering depression, anxiety, and a lost love. I’d probably have it higher if it was a little longer, but this was well done and should be watched on Netflix by those having BoJack withdrawal.

9. To Your Eternity (watched on HBO Max)

I wanted to watch some great, new animes as that was missing from my 2020 collection. This one delivered with good animation, interesting characters, a few shocking and emotional moments, and the second half really gripped me with the storyline. I was mad when I finished it because I wanted more, but fortunately a second season is on the way.

8. The White Lotus (HBO Max)

I was a fan of Mike White’s Enlightened series with Laura Dern on HBO, so it was cool to see him get another chance with The White Lotus, a high-caliber dramedy. You get the clue right away that someone on this island is going to die before the trip is over, but that mystery takes a backseat to the drama these characters get into, and the rhythmic music and sounds keep a steady pace over the six episodes that fly by when you watch them. Murray Bartlett (Armond) and Jennifer Coolidge (Tanya) are highlights, and you can never go wrong with seeing more Sydney Sweeney as the generations clash in this one. I’m a bit worried of using this as an anthology series with different characters, but if they have more stories to tell, I’ll watch them.

7. It’s a Sin (HBO Max)

I watched several movies about the early days of AIDS last year, but this British series from Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) was the best, most touching, and scariest of them all. It does a great job of showing the impact this virus had on a close-knit group of gay friends in the 80s. After later watching Years and Years (2019), which I would highly recommend, there’s a raw honesty in Davies’ work that I just don’t see as much in a lot of American works, especially those that deal with LGBT stories as we tend to make them too preachy in this country. Davies’ approach is much more authentic as he’s not afraid to show us the flaws in these characters, but honoring them with respect is still the goal.

6. Invincible (Amazon Prime)

Went in cold to this franchise. I remember watching the pilot and thinking this felt pretty tame and aimed towards younger kids. Then that scene happened. Holy shit. I was hooked from there, and an impressive voice cast (J.K. Simmons, Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, Walton Goggins, etc.) sure helps bring the violence and story to life. I can’t wait for the second season.

5. Hacks (HBO Max)

I know I’m late to this 2021 party when I’ve already finished the second season of this show. But I love it. Jean Smart should win all the awards, the actress playing Ava is a delightful find for the industry, and the chemistry between Jimmy and nepotism Kayla is always fun. It’s also the only legitimate live-action comedy that made it to my top 25 finalists as I think comedy is so hard to do these days with the way people get offended, real or not, by everything. If you can make a show that’s funny without having to be animated – so not Big Mouth – then you are well ahead of the curve these days.

Since this is about the 2021 series, I tried to not let my viewing of season two influence my ranking. Season two is really just as solid as the first season, though I love to watch the world building at the start of a show, so seeing Ava have to win Deborah over in season one probably edges it out over season two. The way it ended in season two, they really could have called it a series, but I am happy to see they’re bringing it back for a third season.

Like I said, there is a real comedy drought these days, so let’s keep every good one we can find.

4. Dopesick (Hulu)

This series is almost like The Wire for the opioid crisis. I am not saying the character work is as strong as that HBO classic, but the writing and presentation is on par with how David Simon does things in his series. You get perspectives from everyone: doctors, patients, addicts, pharmacists, sales reps, the criminal Sackler family, lawyers, the DEA, and whistleblowers. Michael Keaton gets top billing, but he might not even be on screen as often as Will Poulter (a conflicted sales rep) or Michael Stuhlbarg (Richard Sackler).

No series on my list is as important as this one, because it does expose just how criminally negligent this family was in making sure Oxycontin was being pushed to people in pain without any care for the addiction to come. This show should make you furious, but it is absolutely required viewing and it is so well done it hurts.

3. Mare of Easttown (HBO)

Guess I am still a sucker for a great whodunit murder mystery with an excellent lead actress (Kate Winslet) and a jaw-dropping scene that paid homage to Silence of the Lambs. You’ll know it when you see it. I also was not able to predict the killer until the very end, so good job on that with the usual red herrings and dead ends. I hope they just leave it as a limited series, though I won’t object to seeing more Mare on my TV.

2. Maid (Netflix)

Can it still be underrated if it has glowing reviews and 77,000 votes on IMDb? But that’s still half the ratings of Mare of Easttown, and I still feel like Maid doesn’t get talked about enough as the best limited series of 2021. Margaret Qualley delivers what should be a star-turning performance in the lead, and while I usually shit on nepotism, her performance and the casting of her real-life mom (Andie MacDowell) as her mother took this series to the highest level.

Like Dopesick, it’s a series that makes you angry about the way our systems continuously fail the people who need help the most in this country. It just never seems like she is going to carve out a good life for her child and keep her away from her abusive ex. But you keep watching with optimism and the show does not disappoint.

1. Squid Game (Netflix)

I’m the guy who hounded Criterion for years to put Memories of Murder on Blu-ray. Of course I was all over this quirky, original South Korean series that took the world by storm last fall.

I watched Alice in Borderland a year earlier, which was a similar series about people having to pass games that could kill them. That’s definitely worth watching too, but Squid Game really amps up the emotional punch with a more diverse cast (ages and backgrounds) of characters.

It’s crazy, it’s intense, it’s sad, and there’s a big twist at the end. This is also why I really worry that season two will not deliver, because no matter how many unique, new games they can come up with, nothing will beat seeing this for the first time. Watching a sympathetic character get betrayed (Ali) or a smug prick meet his demise (toilet sex having Jang Deok-su) will always make you think of season one. Been there, done that.

But what a ride it was for nine episodes.

With my top two picks this year, I guess Netflix is proof that if you fire enough bullets, you’re bound to hit something. Now if only I could have thought of a non-gun reference to not sound like such a typical American.

Honorable Mentions/Fun Binges

  • Arcane (unique visual style, but I wished I loved the story more)
  • Chucky (this had every right to suck but it was a lot of fun; declines a bit after Jennifer Tilly appears)
  • Cruel Summer (90s nostalgia in a teen whodunit)
  • Halston (must see for Ewan McGregor fans as he kills it)
  • Heels (indie wrestling show done right)
  • Inside Job (good year for animated series with this conspiracy theory workplace comedy)
  • Lupin (hard to believe one guy can pull all these cons off, but it’s entertaining)
  • My Name (solid South Korean action series on Netflix)
  • Super Crooks (another interesting take on baddies with superpowers)
  • Tokyo Revengers (solid time-travel anime with more to come)

Finally, here are the previous lists from past years. These would all change a little based on shows I was slow to get to or only discovered later.

Happy binging, and remember I am always tweeting about shows on Twitter. I already see strong competition for my best of 2022, which hopefully will be finished well before June of 2023.