NFL Week 8 Predictions: Redemption Edition

As we near the midpoint of the 2019 season, some teams are in a desperate situation to get a win and get back on track before things fall apart and this becomes a lost season. We tend to forget the teams who start seasons poorly before going on a run later. We only remember them in their final form most of the time. For example, last year the Cowboys and Colts were 10-win teams with a playoff win, but Indy started 1-5 and Dallas was 3-5. There’s a chance some 3-4 team goes on a run starting this week and makes the playoffs. It works the other way too as some of those teams with the nice records now could be on the verge of a slide that leads to disappointment.

I probably didn’t pick the best week to talk about redemption, but I see Sunday as a very important day for several teams and specific players that I’ll highlight below.

It’s an odd week in that the average spread is about 8.1 points right now depending on what the number will be in the ARI-NO game given Drew Brees’ returning status. As I looked at earlier this week, this would be the fourth-largest spread of any week in the NFL regular season since 2001:

We already had a 17-point spread on TNF (WAS-MIN) and are looking at four more games above 11. There’s a bit more rot at the bottom than usual and it hasn’t been a good thing for the NFL. We also see that comebacks are down so once a team gets a lead this year, they usually hold it more often, which drives down the excitement late in games.

Let’s do some quick notes about redemption.

Seahawks at Falcons (+8)

Matt Ryan (ankle) will miss just the third start to injury in his career. That means 38-year-old Matt Schaub will face the team (Seahawks) that broke his confidence back in 2013 when he threw a late pick-6 to Richard Sherman when his team was nursing a 20-13 lead. Since that game, Schaub has gone 1-5 as a starter with his only win coming for Baltimore in a game won by a blocked FG returned for a touchdown.

This one is more about Seattle though, with Russell Wilson needing a rebound after one of the worst home games of his career last week against Baltimore. I think Atlanta is a perfect opponent for the Seahawks to get on track and win an easy game for a change. But it would be a nice little send-off for Schaub to play well in an upset win. At the very least, the Legion of Boom is long gone on that roster.

Chargers at Bears (-4)

While the Chargers are in full Chargering mode, the Bears really need to see something from Mitchell Trubisky. He’s in the danger zone right now with just 5.24 YPA this season.

Special shoutout to Troy Aikman: Trubisky’s yards per completion is also just 8.1, which would be the fourth-worst season (min. 100 passes) since 1970. When he’s not an inaccurate mess, he’s a worthless dink-and-dunker. He’s fortunate he doesn’t throw more interceptions or I think he would be benched already. Trubisky has to show something at home this week and I think the Bears will come through for him, possibly with considerable help from a Chargers team that can’t get out of its own way.

Giants at Lions (-6.5)

The Lions have lost three in a row and the referees haven’t been too kind in the process. I think the Giants present a perfect opportunity to get back in the win column with a turnover-prone rookie QB (Daniel Jones) and a secondary that looks lost at times. Matthew Stafford has been much more aggressive this season and is playing some of his best football. Detroit winning by at least a touchdown is a favorite pick of mine this week.

Jets at Jaguars (-6.5)

The Jets have played some absolutely putrid offensive football this season aside from the Dallas game, but I think the defense can keep them in this one. DJ Chark has been a big success for the Jaguars, but we’re starting to see more mistakes from rookie QB Gardner Minshew. I think after the “seeing ghosts” fiasco from Sam Darnold, he’ll play much better against this defense without Jalen Ramsey. I’m still on the Jags just because I think the Jets are closer to the terrible team rather than the one who beat Dallas, but this feels like a lock for a close 4Q finish.

Buccaneers at Titans (-2.5)

In 2015, the first NFL game for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota was against each other. Four years later, Winston is just hanging onto his starting job after six turnovers the last time out, and Mariota has been benched for Ryan Tannehill. How fun. I think Tannehill struggles more this week, Tampa Bay should contain Derrick Henry on the ground, and Winston does just enough to get a win.

Eagles at Bills (-2)

This could really be one of those games where a win sends one team on a run while a loss starts a slide for the loser. Based on what these teams have been doing this year, I’m obviously referring to the Eagles pulling out the road win despite growing turmoil in the locker room and shaky results on the field.

Look, there’s plenty I could say about how I think Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz are both overrated and owe a lot of their success to Nick Foles and some good fortune. I mean, if it wasn’t Foles starting in the Super Bowl that year, it would have been Case Keenum (MIN) in an NFC that didn’t even have the Seahawks or Packers in the tournament, Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games that year, and the Saints lost in spectacular fashion (again) in the divisional round. They won the title, but it wasn’t exactly the result of years of hard work or a track record that should make us believe there was more to come, especially without Foles at QB.

For as fast as people wanted to move –and the Eagles have paid — Wentz to the top tier of QBs, the fact is he’s more in the Kirk Cousins/Matthew Stafford tier than he is the very top of the league.

The good news this week is that Buffalo is a very poor man’s version of the 2017 Eagles, right down to their draft selection of Josh Allen that they hope would be their Carson Wentz. Buffalo is a below-average scoring team, and the Eagles shouldn’t have to expect Wentz to throw a lot of passes against one of the best defenses to get this win. You could see this being a 21-17 type of game where the run game is leaned on more. While Allen has had more 4Q success than Wentz, I think the Eagles rise above all the negative noise and pull this one out against an unfamiliar opponent.

Browns at Patriots (-12.5)

I seem to remember when this was going to be a “challenge” for the Patriots, yet here we are with another double-digit spread. Obviously, the Browns have been turnover machines this year with a lot of picks by Baker Mayfield. Some were tipped balls and bad luck, but their sloppy play has not been all fluke. We know the Patriots capitalize on mistakes better than anyone and it’s a terrible matchup for the Browns right now.

However, nothing would get the bandwagon fired up again for Cleveland than a good showing here after the bye week. Keep in mind this team did drop 40 points in a win in Baltimore, a team that some may start saying is the 2nd best in this godforsaken conference. So between the talent level and the fact that the New England offense has not been that great, I could see this actually being a close game. The Patriots are the only offense that hasn’t had a 4QC/GWD opportunity this year because they’re always leading since no one can really score on them. The Browns have the weapons to do some damage. There’s no way in hell I’d pick Cleveland to win this one, but at least they could do something respectable here instead of another blowout.

Packers at Chiefs (+5)

Finally, we have SNF where the Chiefs are a home underdog to the Packers. There’s really no redemption angle here. I’m just disappointed we’re not going to see Patrick Mahomes vs. Aaron Rodgers and may never see it unless they’re both still starting for these teams in 2023 or meet in a Super Bowl. This would have been a great game with Mahomes up for it.

My gut this week has been that the Chiefs will win one of the next two (vs. GB, vs. MIN) without Mahomes despite most expecting them to lose to quality opponents. I said this because I trust that Andy Reid can get Matt Moore playing well. Reid’s backups often play well aside from the 2005 Eagles fiasco (Mike McMahon/Koy Detmer). Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are still fast as hell and Travis Kelce can make big plays too. Throw in some pass pressure for a strip-sack or two of Rodgers or Kirk Cousins and you can see the makings of an upset. Unfortunately, the Chiefs have so many other big injuries besides Mahomes that it just doesn’t seem like they’ll get the defensive help. Like who will rush the passer if Chris Jones and Frank Clark are both out? That’s bad, especially for a defense that gets gashed on the ground all the time too.

On the plus side, Mahomes was getting close to start this week and could be back for next week’s game. So maybe they won’t have to play two contenders without him, but they are this week and I’m going to go with the safe pick of the Packers covering.

NFL Week 8 Predictions

That was a lot more talk than I expected for a week that looks terrible on paper, but that just means the upsets could be spectacular. I had the Redskins covering on TNF and have to wonder how close that would have been if Case Keenum didn’t suffer a concussion.


If you look at Miami’s upcoming schedule, I would definitely take some chances on the Dolphins getting a win. Fitzpatrick gives them a much better shot than Josh Rosen. I’m surprised the spread is still 14 in Pittsburgh, but I can also understand why no sane person would even want to watch that game on Monday night. We need to start considering flex scheduling for Monday games next year.

Or just don’t pick as many games that look terrible on paper. That works too.



NFL Week 7 Predictions: Patrick Mahomes Panic Button Edition

I certainly wasn’t trying to conjure up an injury to Patrick Mahomes last week when I wrote that spoof that ended with him being the final piece of the Chiefs puzzle to disappear this year. Just a week earlier I said he was the most exciting part of the NFL right now and without this offense my interest in the league would be at its lowest point since 2000.

So are we there after Thursday night’s injury? Maybe not, but it was scary to see him unable to get off the field and reports of the cart coming out. Mahomes walked off after a dislocated kneecap and the thought is he may only miss 3-4 games before returning for the stretch run. It’s still a big risk to rush him back when the long-term outlook is more important than anything, and keep in mind he hasn’t received that monster payday yet.

But the fact that he’s not been ruled out for the season is great news for football fans and especially the AFC in general, which badly needs someone to stand up to the Patriots. More on that shortly.

Mahomes’ expedited return is already drawing comparisons to RG3 rushing back in Washington, a scary thought for such a promising player’s potential if he comes back too soon. I also thought about the cases of Daunte Culpepper, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck, and that despite modern medicine’s best efforts, sometimes health can derail a player’s career. When it’s someone like Mahomes who has shown the potential to be the best to ever play the position, it’s a situation where decisions must not be made in haste.

Do You Push the Button?

So let’s talk about a hasty hypothetical decision that I saw on Twitter that has continued to fascinate me as this Chiefs season unfolds. Carrington Harrison initially posted the poll on October 3:

You have a button where if you push it, you lock Mahomes into what is essentially the 13-year run Peyton Manning had with the Colts (1998-2010). That means 11 seasons with 10+ wins, 11 trips to the playoffs, a 1-1 Super Bowl record, a SB MVP, and four regular season MVPs. It’s the type of career very few achieve as even Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have not gotten to more than one Super Bowl yet and they combine for half as many MVPs as Manning won in Indy.

I voted Yes to lock it in. I was a little surprised that only 52% went for the lock, but since Harrison is Kansas City-based, I figured he might attract more votes from the local fans who are more interested in ring counting than their QB’s legacy.

Then a funny thing happened. Just a couple days later, Mahomes had the first “bad game” of his career against the Colts when they only scored 13 points, snapping a historic streak of scoring 26+ in every start. Mahomes also twice was visibly injured and limped slowly off the field. I almost thought about re-running the poll again myself after that game, which showed Mahomes is in fact mortal.

Then the Texans came to town and after some weird sequences where Mahomes lost a fumble before the half and threw his first interception of the season after a DPI flag was picked up, the Chiefs lost another home game and didn’t score 26 points again. The defense looked horrible — worse than the box score since multiple TD were dropped by the Texans — and couldn’t get Mahomes the ball in the second half. If that’s how they’re going to handle semi-contenders like Indy and Houston, how does this team have any hope at going to New England and winning this year?

Finally, Thursday night happened. Mahomes looked sharp early in Denver, but a simple QB sneak was the play he injured his kneecap on. It’s a freak accident and you almost never see that on hundreds and hundreds of sneaks that I’ve personally studied over the years. Maybe they shouldn’t have been calling that with his ankle already compromised, but it is generally a safe play.

So after two losses and major injury concerns, I ran the poll again myself. Do you push the button?

As of Saturday afternoon, 52% are saying No to my poll. I figured my followers would have less interest in the Chiefs’ success and care more about Mahomes’ potential legacy. I also thought after the events of the last three games more would be willing to lock this in, so that definitely surprised me. I will note that some were confused that the 1 Super Bowl MVP means a ring, which I thought was obvious, but never assume on Twitter. So I don’t know how many votes that would swing if it said RING in caps, but I digress.

I’m not going to break into a 5000-word analysis over this one, but I want to talk about the prevailing thought that the potential landscape of the AFC going forward are reasons enough to vote No and to let things play out Mahomes’ own way. If Mahomes is going to be the premiere QB of the next decade, then why not better than a 1-1 SB record in a league where the Patriots should fall off soon, Andrew Luck already retired, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are nearing the end, the 2018 QBs (Baker/Darnold/Allen/Rosen/Lamar) aren’t leaps and bounds better this year, the AFC West looks like a mess, and the NFC never seems to have a consistently dominant team?

I’ve definitely considered all of that.

However, this is the NFL, a league where we can barely predict what will happen next week, let alone 10, five, or even three years from now. For all we know the Bengals could land Tua and Cincinnati can have a dynastic run in the 2020s. Don’t laugh; at least Marvin Lewis is gone.

The AFC’s Great Decline

One thing I mentioned two weeks ago was that Peyton Manning had to deal with a much stronger AFC during his Indy days before it fell off in his Denver days, so that could definitely be an advantage for Mahomes. Of course, a Patriots fan had to butt in with this:

So here we are on to the topic that I should probably write a book about at this point: the decline of the AFC. I don’t know how anyone could follow the NFL in the 21st century and not see what’s happened to this conference. Typically in the NFL you’ll see challengers come and go while only a couple of teams hang on as consistent winners. Think about the NFC West this decade. The Seahawks have been the consistent winner since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012. The 49ers had that three-year run of NFC-CG (2011-13) when Jim Harbaugh took over. The Cardinals had a three-year run of 10-win seasons with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer (2013-15). The Rams have won the division the last two years and been to a SB since Sean McVay took over as head coach. That’s just one division.

Meanwhile in the AFC, you basically have had the same couple of teams rule the conference for 2010-19 that ruled it in 2000-09. That’s practically unheard of. That’s New England, Pittsburgh, the team with Peyton Manning (IND/DEN), and Baltimore. The Chargers fell off and the Titans fell even further this decade. Also, the Steelers were stronger circa 2004-2011 when they had a great defense, and the Colts were stronger with Manning than without him despite Luck’s potential. Denver has been an also-ran since Manning retired too, though that 4-year run (2012-15) was a great challenge to the Patriots. The only other team the AFC has built up this decade is Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City since 2013, now bolstered by the addition of Mahomes.

Those three stooges in the AFC East (MIA/BUF/NYJ)? Losers for two decades. The Browns and Raiders? Terrible for two decades. Even the Bengals are back to being under .500 since 2010 despite five straight playoff trips at one point.

I talked about three-year runs in the NFC West this decade. We can’t do that in the AFC. “Hey, remember when Marcus Mariota had the Titans in the playoffs two years in a row?” Nope, didn’t happen. “Hey, remember that awesome Jacksonville defense helping Bortles to back-to-back AFC title games?” Oh, you mean the team for one season that took advantage of Luck and Watson (rookie sensation cut down by non-contact injury) being out in 2017? I liked it better when they were called the 2009-10 Jets with Mark Sanchez, the last time New York did anything worth a damn and actually knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs.

It’s not just the AFC East that New England has taken advantage of. It’s the whole conference this decade that has been a disappointment. As I always point out, the reason the 49ers didn’t continue to make a bunch of Super Bowls in the 90s (despite great regular seasons) is because they actually had legit competition from the Cowboys and Packers. The Patriots had one of those foes for four years (Denver), but nothing else has really materialized in the AFC.

It’s too early to know if Mahomes is someone capable of sustaining this incredible offensive play for years to come, leading to 12-win season after 12-win season. That’s what Manning did in his career. The Chiefs are 5-2 right now, and even if Mahomes was 100 percent healthy, they still may win 10 or 11 games instead of 12. However, with the shape of the AFC right now, don’t be shocked if 11-5 doesn’t get a first-round bye again. It happened for New England last year.

You knew there’d be a table eventually and it’s a wordy one. My theory was that Manning had a tougher AFC to navigate in his Indy days than in his Denver time and the current AFC. So I used 12 wins as the litmus test to see just where that would have gotten Manning each year since 2002 realignment, and I did the same thing for Brady and the Patriots. I also looked at the Chiefs since 2016 since they have basically taken the mantle from Denver in the AFC West as NE’s best challenger. I know very well that neither Manning nor Mahomes was in the NFL in 2016, but just go with it. I also looked at the best-case scenario for what 12 wins would have done for these teams without getting crazy into tie-breakers and not changing the game results for any head-to-head meetings that would have gone into that.



My main findings:

1. On four occasions (2003-04, 2006, 2008), Manning led the Colts to 12 actual wins and that was still not enough for a first-round bye. One year (2008) it even led to a No. 5 Wild Card and road playoff game. That happened just once in 17 years to the Patriots in 2006 when they were the No. 4 seed at 12-4.

2. That would be unheard of in the AFC these days. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time 12 wins wouldn’t have given the Patriots a bye. In six of the last seven seasons, 12 wins would have given the AFC West winner a bye. Not pictured here, but the Patriots could have won 11 games in six of the last nine seasons and still received a first-round bye six times and a No. 3 seed three times. Those days of a 15-1 Pittsburgh or 14-2 San Diego or a random 13-3 Tennessee are long gone.

3. The 2018 Patriots are the first AFC team since the 2002 Raiders/Titans to get a first-round bye with 11 wins. No one won 12 games in 2002. If you look at the way the AFC is trending this year, the No. 2 seed may not win 12 games again. Also note that the 2001 Patriots, the beginning of the dynasty, had a No. 2 seed with an 11-5 record, but this is only looking at since realignment.

4. Despite the IND/DEN/KC teams having inferior defenses/ST/coaching, they won at least 12 games in 13 of the 17 seasons compared to 12-of-17 for the Patriots. However, the Patriots did have seven seasons in excess of 12 wins (13+) compared to five for the other side. That’s still pretty respectable when you consider the defenses Indy had in the old days or KC last year.

There are many different ways one can take this Mahomes button decision. I’m not going to rehash the playoff struggles the Colts had in the Manning era here, but let’s not forget that the Chiefs have a long history of losing at home in the playoffs, including three straight seasons of doing exactly that. The defense doesn’t exactly look ready for a dynasty run. If you can lock in a ring with a lot of exciting seasons to watch, I think that’s too hard to pass up. While I understand the AFC horizon looks tempting, just remember that you’ll be watching with bated breath the next time Mahomes takes a hit. Maybe every time from now on. Also don’t forget that Dan Marino got to the Super Bowl in 1984 and never returned. He never won another MVP. He only had two more 12-win seasons after 1984 as well. Marino is about the only QB who compares to Mahomes through 26 games.

You just never know how things are going to turn out in this league. All I know is we’ve been looking for greatness to step up in the AFC for many years now. The AFC has tried to sell us on many franchise changers, including Adam Gase, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano, Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Jadeveon Clowney, Baker Mayfield, Hue Jackson, Josh Allen, Sammy Watkins, Luke Joeckel, Sam Darnold, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Justin Blackmon, Corey Davis, Doug Marrone, Bill O’Brien, Leonard Fournette, Andy Dalton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and the list goes on. Even Jalen Ramsey jumped ship to the NFC (Rams) this week.

Mahomes is the one who actually looks like he can be the face of the league for the next decade. One name I left out was Deshaun Watson, who also looked to set the record books on fire before tearing his ACL as a rookie. Could Mahomes vs. Watson be the 2020’s version of Manning vs. Brady?

That would certainly beat what the AFC has turned into since 2016: Brady vs. the field & Father Time. That’s why the sentiment around Thursday night was “this would be terrible for the league if Mahomes is seriously injured” and not just for the Chiefs.

So do I press the button and lock in a first-ballot HOF career for Mahomes that I know I’ll enjoy watching for the next decade? Damn right I do.

NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had the Chiefs covering on TNF, and lost in all the Mahomes injury talk was a horrific performance by Joe Flacco and the Denver offense.


I’m laughing at the thought of Josh Allen being favored by 17 in an NFL game. Yes, Miami is truly terrible, but I think Ryan Fitzpatrick gives them a better chance than Josh Rosen did. So even if it’s done in garbage time, I think he can cover that one.


NFL Week 6 Predictions: I Did Not Speak Out Edition

Last week I did not say much about the actual games in Week 5, and I regret not going into detail on why I thought the Colts had a shot at upsetting the Chiefs. When you get as many predictions wrong as I have this season — though apparently the sites I’ve worked for before are doing just as bad against the spread — it’s nice to look right from time to time. This has been a lopsided season and I will even briefly hit on the Super Toilet Bowl this week in Miami.

But first, let’s start with a game that could be the (Early) Game of the Year that Ravens-Chiefs was not.

Texans at Chiefs (-4.5)

First they came for Kareem Hunt
And I did not speak out
Because running backs don’t matter

Then they came for Tyreek Hill
And I did not speak out
Because I believe in karma

Then they came for Eric Fisher and Sammy Watkins
And I did not speak out
Because I never thought they lived up to their draft expectations

Then they came for me, Patrick Mahomes
And there was no one left to run this historic offense

It took 24 games, but it finally happened. The Chiefs lost a game in the Mahomes era primarily because the offense didn’t perform or produce. While the Colts deserve credit for pressuring Mahomes (four sacks like they had in January’s playoff loss) and making some big plays, I find any talks of a “blueprint” existing to stifle this offense are way overblown. Most of the pivotal mistakes in KC’s 19-13 demise last Sunday night were self inflicted.

You can’t plan as a defense for things like that to happen every week. The Chiefs played a sloppy, penalty-filled game, and we haven’t even gotten into the injury side of it. You had to figure at some point the loss of a left tackle, top two wide receivers and the QB limping around during the game would catch up to the Chiefs. You could even argue this offense has been hemorrhaging talent since the team made the right move of cutting problematic RB Kareem Hunt last December. About the only player who has consistently remained healthy is Travis Kelce. A QB on a bad ankle, which Mahomes first injured in Week 1 against the Jaguars, can by itself explain why some of the deep throws in recent weeks have been just off despite an open receiver. In the last 23 games, the Chiefs have had four scoreless first quarters: the 2018 AFC Championship Game and three games this season. They fell behind 10-0 to both Oakland and Detroit this year. Things have been a little more scattershot despite the prolific start.

“Play more man coverage” is a bit simplistic of a plan to slow this offense down. It’s also easier to do when  you’re defending DeMarcus Robinson and someone named Pringle than Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill. So I think the Chiefs offense will be stronger as the season goes on and players come back, but this is a particularly interesting part of the schedule where they could really fall off the chase for the top seed with New England blazing through one of the most disgusting schedules you’ll ever see an NFL team gifted. The Chiefs now have to host a dangerous Houston team before going to Denver on Thursday night, and the Broncos have held Mahomes under 30 points in all three meetings. The Packers and Vikings soon follow too, so it’s not a good time to have injuries like this for Kansas City.

When Deshaun Watson brings his A game, he is absolutely on the level of what Mahomes can do offensively. He brought it against Atlanta last week for his third career game with 5 TD passes. He also tossed five against the Chiefs in 2017. The only issue is Watson has been up and down the last two seasons and takes too many sacks, but the Chiefs are more than vulnerable on defense for him to have a huge day and put a lot of pressure on Mahomes in what could be a fun shootout.

If these teams play up to their potential, this could only be the first meeting of two this year as they are quite arguably the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the AFC.

Redskins at Dolphins (+3.5)

You know things are bad when the 0-5 road team that just fired its coach is a 3.5-point favorite. My thoughts on Jay Gruden are that he struggled to establish an identity for his team, the firing was inevitable this year, but he probably deserves a second chance somewhere after dealing with a ton of bad injury luck. He usually kept the team around .500 despite all of the shortcomings in Washington.

Now you enter Bill Callahan in the job, who famously lost the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay after Jon Gruden knew what the Raiders were running on offense. Callahan also had a doozy of a media conference this week when he glorified rushing attempts, so don’t be surprised if Adrian Peterson is a name you hear a lot this week.

As for the Dolphins, the nicest thing you can say is that the margin of defeat has shrunk each week and they had a bye. Josh Rosen isn’t better right now than Washington starter Case Keenum, so that gives me pause to giving the Dolphins their first win, but if it’s going to happen this year, a home game with Washington’s putrid defense is a great opportunity.

This may not even be the worst matchup of the season as the Dolphins host the currently winless Bengals in Week 16, but by virtue of these games, we shouldn’t have multiple 0-16 teams this year.

Steelers at Chargers (-7)

I’m assuming NBC thought the Steelers looked competent enough against Cincinnati two weeks ago that they didn’t need to flex this one. They couldn’t have predicted that Mason Rudolph would go down with a concussion on Sunday against Baltimore. That was probably the scariest looking concussion I’ve ever seen a football player suffer with the way his body went limp, so I’m not surprised he is inactive this week.

It’s just a stunning development that the Steelers are now starting UDFA Devlin Hodges out of Samford. We’re talking an August preseason arm starting in prime time before Halloween for a flagship NFL franchise. To his credit, Hodges looked good off the bench against the Ravens. It’s not his fault that JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal for Baltimore. I liked that Hodges wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on intermediate passes and he has some mobility as well. My biggest concern would be that after a week of “getting coached up” by one of the league’s most suspect coaching staffs that he’ll turtle in this big opportunity and they’ll try to hide him with the Wildcat and other gadget plays.

I don’t think the Chargers have been playing good football this year and it is a winnable game. I even recall the Chargers losing a prime-time game to the 2015 Steelers with Michael Vick at QB barely contributing any completions. The Steelers are better than their 1-4 record, giving Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore all they could handle in losses.

I wouldn’t count on an upset, but I think the Steelers keep it close enough to where it’s not a disaster they didn’t get the flex option.

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Patriots barely covering against the Giants on Thursday, which proved to be the case.


I am also interested in the Seahawks-Browns game. Seattle has already won three games by 1-2 points. The Browns have mostly looked terrible, though did drop 40 points in Baltimore in a win. The top of the NFC West has been beating up on the disappointing AFC North so far, but let’s see if the Browns can get on track this week before a bye and trip to New England.


NFL Week 5 Predictions: Sports Illustrated Edition

I was thinking about a theme this week in lieu of focusing on a Week 5 slate that may have shot its best shot on Thursday night (LAR-SEA). We could talk about Russell Wilson’s increasingly strong place in history, or I could dig into the dominance of road teams this season. Or I could bash the snot out of that awful 100 Greatest Games list from NFL Films, but I think I’ve already done enough of that on Twitter.

I could also talk about a 2003 parallel, the year I really got into football stats. That was when I found myself gaining much more interest in the Colts and Peyton Manning (especially after that Tampa Bay comeback) during a down year for the Steelers. It feels similar to me right now where the Steelers aren’t must-see TV and the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes absolutely are. I’m glad they’re on SNF tomorrow, because frankly there is nothing more exciting in this game right now than watching that offense operate. Without the Chiefs, my interest in football would be at its lowest since 2000 for sure.

So I ultimately landed on recapping where my interests in football analysis began and where they are now after a Red Wedding week for a former flagship franchise in sports journalism (Sports Illustrated).

Sports Illustrated –> Sports Informative

I’ve let this cat out of the bag a few times before, but my main motivation for getting into NFL analysis was to prove ex-jocks on TV wrong and to provide better, factual information to fans who deserved more than cliches and myths. That 2003 season in particular was a tough one to stomach when I’d turn on ESPN after school and listen to someone like Sean Salisbury spout nonsense about the likes of the Patriots, Colts and some of the other offense-driven teams at that time (Rams, Vikings, Chiefs). This was just about to begin an era of “The Patriot Way” and ring counting and “he’s so clutch!” taking over sports analysis. Maybe there was some of that in the 90s as well, but that was before my time frame of interest in the league.

The 2003 AFC Championship Game especially left a mark on me. Yes, Peyton Manning stunk in that game and threw four interceptions in snowy New England. It’s one of the worst games of his career and was especially disappointing after the way he played the position flawlessly the previous two weeks in the playoffs. But when the credit kept going to Tom Brady for the win, I wondered if I had watched the same game as everyone else. I saw Brady try to match Manning pick for pick only to see the Colts fail to complete those plays, or a Patriot receiver to break up a should-be interception. Both quarterbacks sucked that day, but as I came to learn, the mainstream narrative demands that the winner gets the praise while the loser choked. I mean, just watch this:

Never mind the fact that the NFL admitted to missing multiple calls on the Patriots’ defense for holding receivers on the final drive, the whole outcome and critique of that game just felt wrong to me. The Panthers also got pretty physical with the Eagles’ receivers later that day, prompting the league to remind officials that illegal contact has been a thing since 1978.

This was my senior year of high school and I’d soon be going to Pitt in 2004, a huge year for so many quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year for the Steelers, Drew Brees’ breakout in San Diego, and Manning’s record-breaking year in Indy. The game was changing again after a weird transition period in 1999-2003 when quarterbacks were coming out of grocery stores, Canada, NFL Europe and the XFL to lead playoff victories while some legendary defenses really soared to Super Bowls. We were entering a new golden age of quarterback play, which even before statistical analysis I knew was the most important position because I was conditioned by Bill Cowher’s quarterbacks letting his team down in the postseason year after year. Thanks for getting me on the right path so early, Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart.

I needed better analysis to complement my growing love of the game, and my own Excel sheets of game logs I started putting together in 2003 just weren’t cutting it. Fortunately, I began finding places like Pro Football Reference (and its blog), Football Outsiders, Cold Hard Football Facts, Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats, and also Sports Illustrated’s website where I would read the likes of Peter King, Dr. Z (RIP) and Don Banks (RIP) while I was in college. My introduction to efficiency metrics (EPA, DVOA, WinProb) and better coverage of the game transformed my hobby into something significant while at school I was learning about linear regression and decision models.

I was now collecting more data, especially thanks to PFR, and in 2005 I began to chronicle all the 4QC and GWD attempts that eventually led to getting my foot in the door of this industry. I started recording games on VCR tape in 2005, bought a DVD recorder in 2006 to switch to DVD-Rs, and started downloading games via torrents in 2006 as well. I was amassing a large collection of data and video to analyze the game the way I knew it deserved, but alas I was just one person who only had time during school to closely examine a few teams (Steelers, Colts and Patriots in particular) each week. It also helped that I watched from 2005-2008 the Steelers win two Super Bowls, the Colts win one, and the undefeated Patriots lose one in spectacular fashion. That four-year stretch will probably never be topped in my life as far as fandom goes.

Late 2007 was when I was initially approached by PFR to sell data on QB starts that I had mentioned on a blog post that I was researching. This stuff just didn’t exist on the internet back then, but I started putting that together along with a database of coordinators and eventually traced all the comebacks and GWDs back to 1940 and sold that data to PFR where I also began to write blog posts in 2009. I made important contacts at that time and would get emails from writers from various big-name establishments (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NY Times) to inquire about my comebacks data.

Around this time I had some pretty big dreams about how the future of NFL analysis should look with an emphasis on advanced stats created from game charting. In the early 2000s I would argue on message boards about things like air yards and passing under pressure, collecting whatever data I could find from SI’s website (usually provided by STATS LLC) on those splits. People thought I was crazy for caring about how far a pass was thrown, but I knew that was important information to differentiate performance. Now of course today we see it all the time with PFF, Next Gen Stats and the other innovations that have come along, many of which were things I talked about years ago like tracking time to throw, how long linemen hold their blocks, receiver separation, throws into tight windows, route types, etc.

I’m not saying I created modern analytics in the NFL, but I definitely knew what could be tracked with the right technology and big enough workforce to handle charting every play. Those days of blaming a QB’s OL for his tendency to hold the ball and take sacks should be over, but that’s a topic for another day.

Eventually in July 2011 I decided to take a chance writing about the NFL full time. Ten months later, I had an article that was featured on the front page of the SI website. No, it wasn’t in the print edition, but this was still a huge deal to me. In fact I still have a screenshot of the site with my article featured in a frame. Getting on SI seemed like the ultimate high in sports writing to me. I’m sad that the link no longer works, but I did find it on a web archive here. I’ll also add that SI paid over $500 for this piece, so I thought that was incredible for one article at a time when I was lucky to see $50 for my articles. When you just start out in this business, you know it’s hard to make anything and writing for free is common.

Of course, I probably should have known better than to enter an industry where Skip Bayless is paid more to yell hot takes than what some sites pay their writing staffs combined. It only seems to be getting worse too as countless sites have had to stop print media and have tried to pivot towards video or have dreaded “influencers” promote their brand. Yes, let’s hire someone who couldn’t get a role on a CW show to film a 90 second hot take to put on the ‘Gram instead of publishing a thoughtful piece people have to actually read. Is that really the future of sports journalism?

When news broke this week that, under new management, SI callously cut a large chunk of the full-time staff, I saw another nail in the coffin for the industry. I felt it personally too as SI was a place where I had someone put in a word for me this summer, but I never heard back. You can see why when they were in the process of selling and cutting jobs.

Sadly, from a financial standpoint I can see why companies are doing this. Why pay someone tens of thousands of dollars in salary when you can contract a few freelancers for peanuts to produce the same amount of content for a fraction of the cost? Is the work going to be as good? Probably not, but if it’s close enough and they promote it with a click-bait headline, then it’s probably going to work out just fine for the company. With so many people wanting a foot in the door, some freelancers are okay with peanuts as long as they’re being sold on “great chance for exposure” and “future opportunities available” along with that check that might pay their phone bill for one month.

I feel sick for even typing that paragraph as some executive vulture would likely nod in agreement as they see the dollars saved there.

This can be a brutal industry, and I am honestly reconsidering if I can stay involved with it. I’m already at a disadvantage because I want a job that is very specific and in very low supply:

  • I’m not a beat reporter or news breaker
  • I don’t live and breath fantasy football
  • I’m not a draft scout and spend very little time paying attention to college prospects
  • I want to cover the whole NFL rather than just one team
  • I want to write long, informative pieces and I may need to include a table or graphic that looks good on your mobile site

I also want to be able to work from home like I always have and I don’t want to move to CA, NY or CT (the most likely destinations). I recently asked about living in CA on a $75,000 salary and the results were overwhelmingly negative and that it would be too difficult. That was related to a screenwriting position. From my experience, sports media jobs aren’t paying $75k, so it would be even less than that, if not considerably less.

This summer I reached out to two big companies I’ve done well with before about a full-time position and I heard the same thing from both. The roster was filled for 2019, but I can pitch some one-off ideas to them. So you may see something from me on that front this season if things work out as I do have some studies I’ve been working on that I would love to complete.

But as far as full-time writing goes, that seems to be a position that is a dying breed. Companies always want content, but the willingness to pay the creators these days just isn’t what it used to be.

I would love to get a job where I have access to this new charting data and to try making sense of what that’s telling us, or to properly put into context just how ridiculous Patrick Mahomes has been through 22 games. But busting your ass on an article to make peanuts isn’t a sustainable way of life. So if you’re asking me what I’m writing this season, just keep following me on Twitter and what I decide to write here. Otherwise I truly don’t know what the future holds.

Maybe I need to go into business for myself and write books. If anyone has advice on that, I’d be glad to talk about it.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

Going all in on gambling sure doesn’t seem like a good option for me. I would have turned a profit last season going all in on my weekly bets, but this year has been off to a pretty brutal start. When the Raiders jumped up 14-0 on the Colts last week, I remarked that we must be insane to put real money on this league. Hockey seems like the smarter bet from my experience with its limited scoring.


I almost wanted to pick Tampa Bay to win outright since it has had success in the Superdome before, but something about trusting Jameis Winston for a third straight week to play really well feels scary to me. I do know Teddy Bridgewater needs to show more than he has as the Saints try to win with such a limited offense.

Thankfully the Dolphins are on a bye, but the Jets return so we could have already eight games this season with a spread of at least 11 points thru Week 5. There were nine such games from 2015-2018 combined. This is not a good thing for the league.