NFL Week 13 Predictions: “Watt the Faulk?” Edition

Earlier this week I wrote about Frank Gore’s HOF case. For the first time in seven years I may actually start to take this blog seriously and post more content besides Saturday game picks. We’ll see what happens, but I am looking into it.

There are some good games to talk about this week, but before that I wanted to share some thoughts about the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

Watt the Faulk, Boomers?

I thought the NFL’s 100 All-Time Team could lead to a disappointing show once I saw some of the position breakdowns. More RB (12) than QB (10) for one. The other concern was a media panel largely consisting of people who grew up watching players in the 60s and 70s, because people are proven to favor nostalgia and tradition when it comes to things like this. Would they give the players of today a fair shake?

Through 38 player choices at running back and the front seven, it doesn’t appear so. The only players who started their careers after the 1994 salary cap are Ray Lewis (1996) and Derrick Brooks (1995). It’s not that there have been many snubs, but there have been some glaring ones so far.

I compiled my own list of the top 100 players of all time in August. I have yet to rank them together or post it anywhere, but I plan to soon. My list included 15 quarterbacks and seven running backs as opposed to the NFL’s breakdown of 10 QB and 12 RB. Of course, my sixth and seventh running backs just happened to be LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk. Neither managed to make the cut for the NFL 100 (while the likes of Dutch Clark, Marion Motley and Gale Sayers did), so that was already a bad first impression for me.

Then the front seven came out last night with 26 players. My list had 30 players (9 DE, 9 DT, 12 LB). I probably could have showed more love for the older eras, but I didn’t see a reason to include the likes of Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, or Lee Roy Selmon.

The biggest snubs here had to be J.J. Watt and Derrick Thomas. Unlike the RBs, it’s not so much they picked the wrong players or too many this time, but they just didn’t pick enough. They shouldn’t have had 12 RBs, period. That would have freed up spots for Watt and Thomas. I also saw mention of Von Miller on Twitter. He didn’t make my list, but he’s close to it.

This really goes back to the problem of people not able to evaluate a player’s career while he is still active. I can understand struggling with Aaron Donald, who I had on my list already, but that should not be the case with J.J. Watt. While injuries have clearly stripped him of all-time greatest discussion, just look at what he has accomplished when healthy. In six full seasons, he’s been named first-team All-Pro five times and Defensive Player of the Year three times. Most guys can play 10-15 years and never sniff those achievements. He’s had multiple 20-sack seasons and was ridiculously dominant at his peak. That’s the kind of player you need to put on such a list, but they didn’t, and the live reaction show afterwards just saw guys (from the 80s/90s) stand up for their old teammates and personal favorites. Watt wasn’t even mentioned in the snubs segment.

By the time the series is over, I’m sure there will be some support that they did enough justice for the last 25 years of football. They’ll likely include Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and quarterback will have Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (I bet you they snub Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers though). Ed Reed should show up at safety. I’m not sure they’ll do Joe Thomas at OT or Darrelle Revis at CB, but Adam Vinatieri could end up being the kicker. At WR, I’m not sure if they really have to do anything more modern than Randy Moss, but Larry Fitzgerald absolutely has an argument and I even have two other younger players than him on my list.

But so far there does seem to be a serious misjudgment of the worth of modern players, and an overvaluing of players from older eras where the job just wasn’t nearly as year-round or professional as it is today. Watching Bill Belichick analyze some 1930s-40s film with “You can see him block here” and thinking he’d take that player over Watt or Faulk, guys he had to develop gameplans to stop, is just comical, a farce.

Onto the games…

Browns at Steelers (+2.5)

Hopefully there won’t be a fight this time, but I can see why the NFL wants to bury this one on the schedule. I also wouldn’t be surprised if part of Mason Rudolph’s quick benching last week was to keep him out of this game in case the Browns look to retaliate. Sure, Rudolph was playing terrible football again, but that was a quick hook at halftime in a 7-3 game where he had one turnover on a tipped ball in the red zone. Anyways, I think the Steelers trust Devlin Hodges more and he doesn’t appear afraid to throw deep like Rudolph does. Of course Hodges could be terrible too in this game without JuJu Smith-Schuster available, but I felt like the Steelers defense contained Cleveland pretty well last meeting outside of giving up two big plays. This is an important game for both teams and I like the Steelers at home underdogs in this one.

Or maybe I just can’t wrap my mind around the thought of Cleveland sweeping Pittsburgh.

Titans at Colts (-1)

The Colts have Tennessee’s number for sure. Curious to see if Ryan Tannehill’s hot hand can keep up on the road in what is suddenly a big game for both teams. The Colts don’t have T.Y. Hilton available and Jacoby Brissett has been struggling. I think Tennessee is playing better right now, but like PIT-CLE, it’s hard for me to go against the history of one team owning the other for so long.

Raiders at Chiefs (-10.5)

Kansas City can gain some real breathing room in the division with a win here. The spread is big, but Oakland could have a chance here if the Chiefs continue their 2019 ways of making mistakes. I still feel like the offense can be the best in the league, but there are just too many mistakes this year. Penalties that kill drives, bad throws to open receivers, fumbles in scoring territory, not being aggressive enough on fourth down, weird run calls on 2nd-and-long. Last time out was also probably the worst game of Mahomes’ NFL career. In Week 2, he may have had the best quarter of his career in Oakland when he threw for almost 300 yards and 4 TD in the second quarter. But keep in mind the Chiefs didn’t score a point in any other quarter that day. That’s why I think Oakland has a chance in this one if Derek Carr brings his A game.

Patriots at Texans (+3.5)

I’m just going to leave this one here:

Vikings at Seahawks (-3)

This is one where I’ll hedge: Vikings ATS, Seahawks ML. Seattle has been winning a ton of close games this year. The Vikings have a better overall team, but I want to see Cousins in attack mode on the road. He was poor in a loss on MNF in Seattle last year. Hopefully this game will be better than that one.

GOTW: 49ers at Ravens (-6)

Super Bowl preview? It’s pretty amazing to see a 10-1 team as a 6-point underdog, but the Ravens have gone from having a solid season to being historically great since the bye week. The Ravens have scored at least 23 points in every game this season, joining elite company:

We’ve already seen Lamar Jackson and the offense rip through the Patriots this year. Now they get the NFC’s best defense. The 49ers are the first defense since the 2000 Titans to hold five teams to 100 net passing yards. Even if Jackson struggles to pass for yards, he’s still a very effective runner and the Ravens are at home with a defense that has been getting better every week. I like them to keep rolling in this one with their unique attack and making Jimmy Garoppolo turn the ball over, but getting a great game here would be ideal.

Now you’ll have to excuse me as I try to figure out how the Steelers, with no offense, held 4Q leads against both the 49ers and Ravens this year.

NFL Week 13 Predictions

I figured some regression was coming after an 11-3 ATS week. Thanksgiving picks didn’t go too well, but we’ll see.

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It sounds like Drew Lock will be at QB for the Broncos this week. That was inevitable, but I’ll give the Chargers, who get Derwin James back, the benefit of the doubt here. I know, sweet regression here we come.

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Frank Gore: The Inconvenient Hall of Fame Case

On Sunday, Frank Gore passed Barry Sanders as the third-leading rusher in NFL history with 15,289 yards. The 36-year-old is often mentioned as a future Hall of Famer, and his placement in rushing yards alone is a pretty strong argument for that. Among the 15 other running backs to rush for at least 12,000 yards, 13 of them are in Canton. Adrian Peterson is still playing, but he should be a lock as the best back of his era. The only eligible player not in is Edgerrin James, who has been getting closer in recent years. It may only be a matter of time for him.

But what about Gore? I made a Twitter poll to ask if he should get in on the first ballot, get in eventually down the road, or not make it at all.

The results were surprising (to me at least) in showing that a higher percentage of people (22%) thought he was worthy of first ballot than to not get in at all (13%). I don’t drive in huge traffic from the fan bases of the 49ers and Bills, so tribalism isn’t really driving it.

I’ll quickly point out that I don’t write any of this to demean Gore, who has a great life story. He was a third-round pick in a top-heavy 2005 draft for backs, but he’s outlasted all of those guys with ease despite tearing his ACL multiple times at Miami. He’s not just about rushing yards as he’s also caught 464 balls in his career and rarely had great quarterback play. Notice no one said this week that Gore surpassed Marshall Faulk by one yard for fourth all time in yards from scrimmage (19,155), which is arguably more impressive than the rushing feat.

His durability will be the stuff of legends, but is the HOF really just about longevity and are we okay with compilers going in so easily?

Let me make my position clear:

1. I think Frank Gore will get into the Hall of Fame one day.

2. I don’t think he deserves to go in on the first ballot (and he won’t).

3. I won’t be disappointed if he never goes in because I think he has the weakest case of all the 12,000-yard rushers.

Let’s address each point with its own section.

Part I: Gore Will Get Into Canton One Day

Hall of Fame voters reminds us of their “ok boomer” status best when it comes to love for running backs, the position many of them grew up watching as the hero of the offense. Inclusion in Canton at RB has been a bit easier than any other main position. That’s why not only will you see more modern-era running backs (32) in the HOF than quarterbacks (26) and wide receivers (27), but also more than linebackers (30) and defensive backs (30) despite those units having different positions among them.

Twenty-three of those 32 backs got in within five years of eligibility, but there have been some other cases that took years of debate. One of my favorite pieces I ever did at Bleacher Report was on Paul Hornung being the least deserving member in Canton. Hornung didn’t get in until his 15th year (12th as a finalist). Voters have also let in senior nominees such as John Henry Johnson, Leroy Kelly, Doak Walker, and Floyd Little. So the bar has been set so low here that it looks kind of ridiculous any time one of those guys over 10,000 yards doesn’t get a bust too. Maybe it’s not a surprise that Fred Taylor and Ricky Watters are first-time semifinalists in 2020.

With Gore’s volume of numbers, it’s likely going to be too hard for voters not to scratch that running back itch again to get him in eventually. It will also help that he could reach 100 career touchdowns this season and help Buffalo to a playoff spot. There will come a day when the HOF voters are well-versed in the ways of Running Backs Don’t Matter, but in an era that isn’t going to feature many HOF cases for the position, there will be strong support for Gore.

Part II: Gore Is Not First Ballot Worthy

When it comes to first ballot, that should still be reserved for only the best of the best. Last year’s first-ballot class included Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed and Champ Bailey, a trio no one reputable would argue with. The last five backs to go first ballot were LaDainian Tomlinson (2017), Marshall Faulk (2011), Emmitt Smith (2010), Barry Sanders (2004), and Marcus Allen (2003). In total, 15 backs in the modern era have gone first ballot.

Gore falls way short of that standard. In fact, it can be argued that he falls short of many standards for RBs in the HOF. I looked at the 26 HOF backs with at least 1,000 carries since 1950 and compared them to Gore. Three problematic results come back for Gore’s HOF case:

1. Gore Has Never Led the NFL in Anything

The most glaring fact is that Gore has never led the NFL in ANY statistic for a season. When you look at his Pro Football Reference page, there is nothing in bold in his stats.

Among those 26 HOF running backs:

Fifteen won a coveted rushing title (number of rushing titles in parenthesis): Jim Brown (8), Emmitt Smith (4), Eric Dickerson (4), Barry Sanders (4), O.J. Simpson (4), Earl Campbell (3), Leroy Kelly (2), Joe Perry (2), LaDainian Tomlinson (2), Walter Payton (1), Marcus Allen (1), Curtis Martin (1), Jim Taylor (1), Floyd Little (1), and Terrell Davis (1).

Four players without a rushing title led the league in rushing touchdowns: Lenny Moore led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and twice in total touchdowns. Marshall Faulk was an MVP and twice led the league in both yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns. Franco Harris led the league in rushing touchdowns (1976), won Offensive Rookie of the Year, won four Super Bowls (1 MVP), and is on the scoring end of the most famous play in NFL history (The Immaculate Reception). John Riggins led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons (1983-84) after winning Super Bowl MVP in 1982.

Six others led the NFL in something in a season. Jerome Bettis and Tony Dorsett each led the NFL in carries once and also won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Thurman Thomas led the NFL in yards from scrimmage four times in a row and won an MVP (1991). Ollie Matson didn’t lead in any scrimmage stats, but he did lead multiple times as a dynamic return specialist. Hugh McElhenny and Larry Csonka each led the league in yards per carry once. Csonka was also a driving force behind the 1972-73 Dolphins, a two-time Super Bowl winner and the only perfect 17-0 season in NFL history.

The only player among the 26 I didn’t mention is John Henry Johnson, which is fitting because he built the bulk of his case in his thirties and it took 16 years for voters to put him in. Johnson had only rushed for 2,196 yards through his age-30 season, but a move to Pittsburgh changed everything. He rushed for 4,607 yards the rest of his career. The only player to rush for more yards after age 31 than Johnson is…Frank Gore (5,322 yards and counting).

That’s interesting, but it gets even better, or I should say more problematic for Gore.

2. Gore Has Never Been Named First-Team All-Pro

Among these 26 HOF backs, 25 of them were named First-Team All-Pro by the AP at least once in their career. The only one who wasn’t was — you guessed it — John Henry Johnson. Gore has been to five Pro Bowls, but he too has never been an All-Pro. Of course, you might say “well if Johnson made it to Canton, then Gore has to, right?” Gore in his thirties was basically Johnson in his thirties, but he also was productive in his twenties. Sure, but the players in this era get held to higher standards.

So Gore has never led the league in anything and never been named an All-Pro. The third problem may be his biggest since it attacks the stat he’s known best for: his rushing yards

3. Gore Has One Top 5 Rushing Season in His Career

In his second season (2006), Gore broke out with 1,695 rushing yards, good for third in the NFL. He’d finish in the top 10 five more times in rushing yards in his career, but those finishes were 6th, 10th, and three times at ninth. Keep in mind the bulk of these were in recent years when the NFL has moved away from workhorses and gone to more committee approaches.

Still, just one season in the top five in rushing yards (his best stat) is not good for a HOF case. I looked at the 16 HOF backs with at least 2,000 carries so I can compare Gore to players with a lot of volume. The 16 HOFers averaged 4.8 seasons in the top 5 in rushing in their careers. John Riggins is the only one of the 16 to have just one top five rushing season in his career. But I already highlighted some of Riggins’ other accomplishments that make him look like a better candidate than Gore. Marcus Allen had two such seasons, but he was famously misused by Al Davis as part of their ongoing beef. Allen still won a rushing title, MVP, Super Bowl MVP, OROY and was twice voted All-Pro in his career. He’s also sixth all time in touchdowns (145) and not 25th like Gore (98).

No one is going to be in a rush to put a player into Canton who was never considered the best at his position and rarely in the running for top five in any given season.

Part III: Gore’s HOF Case: For Who, For What?

My third and final point was that you shouldn’t find it disappointing if Gore never makes the HOF, because he has the weakest case of any 12,000-yard rusher. You almost could argue he has the weakest case of any of the 31 backs with 10,000 rushing yards in NFL history.

  • Gore didn’t win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Gore was never a first-team All-Pro.
  • Gore never won an MVP (never received a vote)
  • Gore didn’t win a Super Bowl/MVP (played fine in one, but no game-winning touchdown).
  • Gore never won a rushing title.
  • Gore never led the league in any stat.
  • Gore had one season with double-digit rush/receiving touchdowns.
  • Gore rushed for more than 1,214 yards once in his career (26 backs since 2005 have done it at least twice).
  • Gore’s most memorable play is…help me out here.

It’s essentially the least accomplished career for a high-volume runner. When you try to find NFL records for Gore, you basically land on two that show his durability and longevity. He’s the only player with 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 12 seasons (all consecutive too) and he’s the only player to rush for 500 yards in 15 straight seasons.

That’s pretty good, but I know I would trade his last five years (three in Indy, one in Miami, now in Buffalo) for one season where he was MVP, or a 2,000-yard rushing season, or one with 30 touchdowns. Something really memorable rather than just cranking out yards at a sub-4.0 rate for bad offenses.

The only other record is something I alluded to earlier: Gore has the most rushing yards in NFL history for anyone in their thirties (6,450 and counting). That’s awesome, but it’s taken him 105 games to get to that point. Walter Payton only played 60 games in his thirties and he still had a better YPC (4.35) doing it than Gore (4.01) and scored four more rushing touchdowns (32 vs. 28). Had Payton hung around for three more years when he was no longer as effective, does that really make his legacy better? For Gore the answer seems to be yes, that’s elevating his case even if he’s no longer truly elevating a team. Rookie Devin Singletary has been the best lead back for the Bills this year.

By the way, Gore ranked 20th in rushing yards (8,839) in his twenties. That’s certainly good, but several of the players ranked ahead of him have had no HOF traction since their careers didn’t last as long as Gore’s has.

So when exactly did Gore become a HOFer? For some people it seems to be on Sunday when he passed Barry Sanders, who infamously retired after just 10 seasons. Sanders’ numbers would have been beyond reproach had he continued on while Gore’s numbers are only in the conversation because he refuses to stop playing.

Was Gore a HOFer after his 10 years in San Francisco (2005-2014) ended? He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl or played in a playoff game since. During those 10 years, he played in 148 games and had nice numbers: 11,073 rushing yards, 64 TD, 4.5 YPC, 13,956 yards from scrimmage, 75 touchdowns.

Nice, but had he stopped he would never get serious HOF consideration. Here are how other running backs (min. 10,000 rushing yards) stack up through 148 regular season games:

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Gore’s 11,073 rushing yards thru 148 games has him ranked 17th with only one HOFer (Franco Harris) behind him. Notice some of the names ahead of him. You have HOF semifinalists this year in James and Taylor, and also Corey Dillon and Steven Jackson. Someone like Dillon has an interesting case because he did have two top five rushing seasons, including a huge role on the 2004 Patriots, arguably their best title team. But Dillon was done after his age-32 season.

Also take notice of LeSean McCoy ranked close to Gore, but he has more touchdowns and catches. McCoy was a first-team All-Pro in 2011 when he scored 20 touchdowns and again in 2013 when he won a rushing title. He’s still chugging along at 31 with the Chiefs. Would hanging around for four more years and getting over 17,000 yards from scrimmage and 100 TD make McCoy a HOFer? What if he wins a ring with Patrick Mahomes as his QB? Then we also have the cases of Watters, Marshawn Lynch, Eddie George, and not even pictured are the likes of Tiki Barber, Shaun Alexander, Warrick Dunn, Chris Johnson, etc.

That’s really my sticking point with Gore. He didn’t lock up a HOF spot in San Francisco, so what is it about the last five years that changed that status? Since 2015, Gore’s teams have gone 35-38 (.479) with him and only Buffalo this year may make the playoffs. He’s rushed for 4,216 yards and 15 touchdowns at 3.91 YPC in that time. He’s had six 100-yard rushing games, which ties him for 24th since 2015, and his teams were just 3-3 in those games (those are usually wins in the NFL).

Is it okay to accept someone compiling numbers as the final stamp of approval on a HOF case? That generally feels wrong to me, but it seems to be what’s accepted in the case of Gore, because I sure don’t think he distances himself from his worthy peers on value or really fits in with the standards set by the Gold Jacket members he’ll likely join one day.

The good news is he’s not finished yet. Maybe Gore rushes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs to shock the Patriots in a major upset. (Note: I swear on my life I picked that yardage at random before seeing that he already rushed for 109 yards in the Week 4 loss vs. New England). Maybe that becomes his shining moment.

The cherry on top to a career that has stood the test of time. That would get my endorsement, but for now, I just see myself picking five names of modern players year after year who were more deserving than Gore.

I think the voters will too for some time.

NFL Week 12 Predictions: RC Cola Popping Edition

So last week kind of sucked in the NFL, which was my concern going into last Sunday. The early afternoon slate was especially low on drama. A total of six teams won by at least 17 points in Week 11, the most since Week 17 last year. Some teams clearly mailed in their performance to end that season, so this was especially one-sided.

When I look at the 1 P.M. slate for Week 12, I see very little to get excited for. My preference would be to just watch Seahawks-Eagles with some RedZone sprinkled in, because it’s one of the closest games of the season by many projection models. Could be a true pick ’em with a Seattle team that’s been scraping by all the close ones against an Eagles team that can stop the run and should be desperately playing to hang onto division title hopes.

But instead I’ll probably be focusing on the Steelers looking to continue their mastery in Cincinnati, or perhaps add another soul-crushing loss to a terrible team to Mike Tomlin’s resume.

Steelers at Bengals (+6.5): Don’t Bet on 0-16

It’s a safe bet to pick a team to NOT go 0-16 in the NFL. Only the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns have done it. Meanwhile, 10 teams have finished 1-15 and 32 teams have finished 2-14 since 1978. The 0-10 Bengals have a favorable schedule coming up for a win, but none may be sweeter than this opportunity against Pittsburgh (5-5).

I’ve probably been writing about this for a decade now,  but Mike Tomlin’s Steelers love to come up small in the small games, especially on the road against teams they’re expected to beat. Losing to the 0-10 Bengals as a 6.5 point underdog would certainly fit that bill. Since 2007, the Steelers are 16-9 (.640) straight up and 8-17 (.320) against the spread on the road as a 6+ point favorite.

It’s a bit surprising the Steelers remain a 6.5 point favorite. They beat the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field earlier this season, but they won’t have QB1 (Ben Roethlisberger), RB1 (James Conner), or WR1 (JuJu Smith-Schuster) for this game. You’d have to go back to 1999, if not further, to find a Pittsburgh offense this devoid of talent, and I’m saying that even with the consideration of the RB and WR returning soon. Oh, not to mention the center is suspended.

Yes, Mason Rudolph has already won a game against the Bengals, but he is coming off one of the worst QB performances of the season. There’s also obviously some controversy surrounding him from his role in the Myles Garrett incident. There’s no Maurkice Pouncey at center because of his suspension from the fight. The Steelers are going to rely heavily on defense to win this game, which it can do with the way it has gotten turnovers this year. Andy Dalton was also sacked a career-high 8 times in the last meeting. Ryan Finley has taken over and done nothing to really impress anyone. He’s not afraid to scramble though. The Bengals have been competitive at times with 3 blown fourth quarter leads, and the running game has gone for over 150 yards in consecutive weeks. It’s likely to be a game decided by turnovers.

One of the most stunning stats I’ve ever seen in the NFL is this one: ex-Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis was 2-16 at home against the Steelers. Rookie head coach Zac Taylor has done practically nothing to establish a name for himself this season, but reversing that home trend and pulling off an upset win over the Steelers would easily be the team’s highlight this year.

With the Steelers lacking so much talent on offense, I feel like this is a great upset to pick. Keep the RC Cola bottles ready, Detroit and Cleveland. Your 0-16 club may be closing up membership for at least another year very soon.

GOTW: Cowboys at Patriots (-3)

It sure would be nice if this turns out to be a great game seeing as how Jags-Titans is the only other game scheduled for the late afternoon. I’m not sure how that happened, but clearly the NFL wants to milk what should be Brady/Belichick vs. Dallas for the last time.

Standing in the Cowboys’ way is The Clapper (Jason Garrett). The thought of him outsmarting Belichick is why I have no issue picking the Patriots in this one, but there are reasons to be optimistic about Dallas’ chances. Concern is do they run Zeke too much and put Dak Prescott in tough third-and-long situations. It could be tempting to run if you look at the success Cleveland and Baltimore had doing so against New England this year. If it’s working you really can’t knock it, but Dallas will have to be careful to not fall into the trap of continuing to slam Elliott into the line on so many early downs.

This is the best pass defense Prescott has seen in his NFL career. He’s playing better than ever this season, but he’ll definitely have to bring his A game to succeed in this one. If the Patriots want to take Amari Cooper away with Stephon Gilmore, then I think Dallas is still fine in this matchup. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are healthy and playing well. The tight ends can contribute as well. Cooper only had 38 yards in Detroit last week, but Dak still threw for 444. Dallas (52.1%) is the only offense in the league converting more than 50% on third down in 2019. That’s helped this offense lead the league in yards per game, yards per play and first downs per game thru Week 11. This offense has evolved thanks to the progression of a young QB and new OC Kellen Moore.

I just worry about this coaching staff preparing for a team they only see once every four years. The Cowboys have another game like that on Thanksgiving against Buffalo, so a lot of eyes will be on them this week. It’s the type of week that could launch Dak on an MVP path, or sink this team’s season if the Eagles can go on a run too.

The Patriots have really only played four teams of note this season: PIT, BUF, BAL, PHI. Everyone else has a losing record. If you look at the expected points added breakdown on Pro Football Reference, their three worst games on offense were against PHI/BAL/BUF. Their four worst games on defense were against BUF/PIT/PHI/BUF. Dallas has played a similarly weak schedule (plays the AFC East and NFC East), but this is one of the best challenges the Patriots will see all year. Dallas doesn’t have a great defense, but it has been respectable most weeks.

I don’t want to belabor the point about NE’s mediocre offense, because it should be obvious at this point. They basically peaked in the first two weeks of the season when they played a Pittsburgh defense they always murder at home and a Miami team that was completely lost. Since then the offense has rarely been good. Brady’s TD% is a career low 3.5% right now. Replacing Rob Gronkowski with an ancient Ben Watson isn’t doing a whole lot. They’ve already gone through Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. It’s basically Julian Edelman moving the chains and their big plays are coming down to James White turning a screen pass into 30+ yards.

Only the Patriots can trade a 2nd-round pick for a 30-year-old WR who was averaging a career-low in yards per catch and have people think it’s a great move. That’s Mohamed Sanu and now he’s injured and may not even be active. Oh and the Patriots stink at running the ball this year to boot. I’d love to see Dallas just double up on Edelman and shrink the field, forcing Brady to beat them deep.

New England basically loses one home game a year and blow one 4Q lead a year, so if there’s a game on the schedule where that’s most likely to happen this season, it’s probably this one. However, keep in mind that Dallas is 0-3 at 4QC opportunities this season as we knew regression was going to come in that area for them. Still, you can trust Dak on a game-winning drive opportunity. The Patriots offense has yet to have one this season since the defense always has them ahead, and they couldn’t do any better than trail by 10 in their lone loss in Baltimore.

I think this one goes down to the final drive, but I’m still going to take Belichick over Garrett every time.

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I had Houston by 6 points on TNF, but of course they wouldn’t kick a late FG and only won by 3. I should probably feel lucky that the Texans even won that game.

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The Bengals are not my only upset pick this week. I think the Jets take care of Oakland in the early game after showing some life offensively last week. I also have the Buccaneers beating Atlanta for no good reason other than the NFC South doesn’t make sense right now, but I still don’t believe the Falcons have magically fixed their defense the last two weeks.

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NFL Week 11 Predictions: Wentz and The Crown Edition

I said this about the NFL’s 100th season two months ago today:

I’m not sure things have gotten that much better, but Week 10 was without question the best week of this season. Eleven of the 13 games had a 4QC opportunity, the first week with a double-digit number of such games this season. Three underdogs of more than 6 points won straight up — there was one in Weeks 1-3 and zero in Weeks 7-9. The single best hour of the sports week, roughly 3:15 to 4:15 P.M. EST, finally delivered late-game drama in multiple cities at the same time. Thursday night was a comical Philip Rivers/Chargers loss. Sunday night was a good MIN/DAL game. Monday night was the Game of the Week on paper, and while it was sloppily played, SEA-SF delivered a memorable one that went down to the final snap of overtime.

That’s the NFL we crave and eagerly wait seven months for each year. Now that every team has a loss, perhaps we’re in store for a great second half.

Then Thursday night happened. The Steelers laid an egg in Cleveland with Mason Rudolph turning in one of the worst QB performances of the season. Then the absurd brawl happened at the end of the game and we weren’t even talking about Cleveland’s win over its chief rival anymore. It was about the ugliness from Myles Garrett going after Rudolph with his own helmet.

I’m not interested in a hot take or in-depth analysis of that moment. You saw it. Punishments were handed out quickly and look fair to me. There’s no place for that in the NFL. Fortunately, Garrett and Maurkice Pouncey won’t be on the field when these teams meet again in a couple of weeks. Rudolph probably shouldn’t be either, but only because I think he’s worthy of being benched for playing terrible football.

If only there was another readily available QB the Steelers could bring in to try salvaging this season…

From one shitshow to another, the league took the bizarre move to host a workout for Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta on Saturday. Again, not a story I feel like recapping all the details of while I try to squeeze this out on a Saturday evening before watching a bunch of TV. But it was indeed a shitshow with the venue being moved at the last moment and Hue Jackson, who was set to run it, opting to head back to the airport. Add another loss to his career total. The workout eventually took place at a high school field, though it appears barely a handful of the 24 expected teams actually attended it.

Hopefully Sunday won’t be the type of shitshow this week has been so far for the NFL. So rather than talk about Garrett and Kaepernick, I’m going to keep my blood pressure down and talk about…Brady-Wentz I.

…Shit.

GOTW: Patriots at Eagles (+4.5)

It’s rare to see two teams meeting after a bye week and it’s not the Super Bowl. Clearly the NFL thought highly of this Super Bowl 52 rematch. One problem is the Eagles come in at just 5-4 without an overly impressive offense or defense this season. The Patriots (8-1), coming off their first loss in Baltimore, still have the top defense, but the offense is in contention for the worst in the Brady-Belichick era. Brady and Carson Wentz come in not even ranked in the top 12 in DVOA or the top 18 in YPA this season.

I’m seeing the Eagles as a 4.5-point underdog, which is exactly what they were in SB 52 when they won 41-33 behind an MVP performance by Nick Foles. Those teams were very different that night than what they are right now, and it’s not just about the QB difference. The Eagles were much stronger on both sides of the ball while the Patriots are playing better defense now (but definitely a big decline offensively). I certainly wouldn’t expect a repeat of the game with the most total yardage in NFL history.

Head coach Doug Pederson is 3-5 straight up as an underdog of more than 4 points, but that’s 3-1 with Foles and 0-4 with Wentz as his QB.

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Sunday is Wentz’s 50th NFL game. Given that he still hasn’t started a playoff game, you could say a win here would be the biggest achievement of Wentz’s NFL career.

It’s fitting that Wentz resembles Prince Harry. Both receive massive media coverage and the respect of royalty despite not really accomplishing much of anything. Harry is sixth in line to the British throne. Wentz is maybe sixth in line to the throne of the best QB in the NFL. I’ll spare you any King of Kings talk for Brady, because this one is about Wentz.

I’ve been sitting on that comparison for months and it just so happens to work perfectly on a weekend where Wentz is playing a big game and The Crown Season 3 is on Netflix. It’s absolutely true though. Wentz was hailed as a god just three games into his career in 2016. Remember the “pre-snap Peyton, post-snap Rodgers” takes? It’s not just Philly media either. This season I’ve seen national voices (Colin Cowherd and Dan Orlovsky) praise Wentz after managerial wins over the Packers and Bills. When the numbers don’t back it up, just stick with the eye test and you can’t lose that argument. You just know you’re seeing something special even if there isn’t tangible proof of it.

Fortunately, people don’t wait too long on quarterbacks before moving on to shiny, new things. I mentioned Wentz being sixth in line to the throne. Well, this season has had a clear top five in QB performances:

The top 5 in QBR all happen to be African-American quarterbacks doing outstanding things in 2019. Russell Wilson has been a known commodity and is having the most MVP caliber season of his career. Patrick Mahomes hit superstar status last year with his MVP season and has still been great this year in spite of the rest of his team. Lamar Jackson just handed the Patriots a loss in prime time and could have a very historic season with what he’s doing as a true dual-threat with his passing and rushing. Deshaun Watson is reminding people that he was going to have the best rookie QB season ever until he tore his ACL in 2017. Dak Prescott still doesn’t get as much respect as he deserves, but people are coming around to just how good he is in Dallas. I’ve repeatedly said his 2016 was the best rookie QB season ever.

We’re getting close to that point where the old guard is going to enter retirement. That’s Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Eli, Rivers. We’ve already lost Andrew Luck at a surprisingly young age. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are getting up there, but could still play well into the next decade.

There’s going to be that transition period where the young quarterbacks become the best in the game. Perhaps we’re already there in the NFL’s 100th season. Wentz was expected to be right in that group, but I don’t think he’s as good as that group of five. I’m not even convinced he’s better than Kirk Cousins.

Since the Eagles and Patriots only meet once every four years, this could very well be the first and only meeting between Wentz and Brady/Belichick. If you know me well enough, you know I won’t just accept an Eagles win as a great Wentz accomplishment or an Eagles loss as a Wentz failure. I’m going to watch this game closely to see if he plays well against a top-tier defense/secondary. While I think the Eagles have a shaky secondary, I don’t think they’ll be embarrassed this week and the game should be within reach late.

I want to see Wentz play really well. I want to see him accomplish something with this performance. It’s also a pretty big game since Philadelphia is in such a tight race for the NFC East with Dallas. If the Eagles can win this one at home, that gives them an advantage over Dallas, which has to go to NE (Week 12) and we know how tough it is to win there. This could propel a run for the Eagles with Wentz instead of Foles this time.

Even if it’s just for one day, I want to see what others think they see with Wentz. While no crowns or rings get handed out in Week 11, I think it’d be a big one for him.

NFL Week 11 Predictions

I had the Steelers on TNF, and yeah, that didn’t go so well. Got the under at least.

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My big upset pick this week is Arizona against the 49ers. I just think a 5-quarter, emotional game on MNF and the injury report for the 49ers looks favorable for an Arizona team that played them well a couple weeks ago. Might regret the SU pick, but that would be my big upset for Week 11.

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NFL Week 10 Predictions: Midseason MVP Edition

Now that we are past the halfway point of the 2019 season, this is a good time to talk about the MVP candidates, especially since my pick is playing in the Game of the Week.

Through nine weeks, Russell Wilson is the clear choice for MVP if we had to award it today. He leads the NFL in touchdown passes (22), TD% (7.5%), INT% (0.3%), passer rating (118.2) and QBR (78.6). He’s the main reason Seattle, with a pretty weak defense, is 7-2 and has also led four 4QC/GWD (also leads the league).

Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson have also done great things this year — wow, Bill Polian might have a stroke — but Wilson has been the most consistently spectacular. I don’t think this is a tough choice as of right now, but things could change in a hurry.

The Seahawks are scheduled to play five straight games against winning teams, including four straight in prime time. This could either lock the MVP up for Wilson on big stages, or see his campaign go down in flames should Seattle falter and miss the playoffs.

While the close wins to overcome the defense have been strong evidence for Wilson’s MVP campaign, the upcoming schedule should definitely give some pause to whether or not they can sustain this success. The Seahawks are just +18 in scoring differential this season. That makes them the 9th team since 1940 to start 7-2 or better with a scoring differential no greater than 20 points:

I will point out that all of those teams made the playoffs. Some reached conference title games and the Super Bowl (1976 OAK even won it all), but this isn’t done often. The NFC is very competitive with what looks like nine teams fighting for six playoff spots. The 49ers (8-0) are the last undefeated team and could force the Seahawks into a Wild Card berth at best. Should Seattle slip in these head-to-head games with their direct competition for those wild cards (Vikings/Eagles/Rams/Panthers all come to mind), then you could see a scenario where a 10-6 Seattle team is left out of the playoffs. Even if Wilson still has the stellar numbers, I can’t imagine anyone voting for a MVP on a non-playoff team. I wouldn’t outside of extreme circumstances, which I don’t think will be present this year since the other QBs are going to have their own cases.

Mahomes still has the best shot in my view, especially if he helps KC run the table (that would mean a win in NE in Week 14). I don’t think missing essentially 2.75 games will detract voters enough, and if they care to dig into the numbers a little deeper, Matt Moore’s QBR (57.7) is nearly 20 points below Mahomes’ (77.2).

Back to the NFC West, the 49ers had one of their best challenges this year in Arizona last time out. Now they will host Wilson and the Seahawks on Monday night. I was not buying into the hype of the SF defense based on the schedule it started the season with — similar to the Patriots’ first eight games compared to what the Ravens brought to the table last week. With the 49ers, there have been great resources poured into the DL over the years. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander (injured reserve) were big additions this year. It is the third year for Kyle Shanahan/Robert Saleh as a HC//DC duo. But I still think the schedule has been very advantageous and the 49ers will have to prove their success when they play Seattle (2x), Green Bay, Baltimore, New Orleans and the Rams again. The schedule is about to get a lot tougher and we’ve seen (a la 2013 Chiefs) how that can expose a paper tiger.

Now if Wilson can pull off this road win, then that’s just going to be another pro argument for his MVP case. He has rarely produced big numbers against the 49ers in his career. While he’s 12-3 against them, he’s never thrown for more than 260 yards in any of those games. The 49ers also have an offense that can score this year with a much better QB, so this probably isn’t going to be a game Seattle can win with < 21 points (Note: do have to monitor if George Kittle will play or not). The 49ers aren’t as stout against the run (20th in DVOA compared to No. 1 vs. pass), so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Seahawks revert to their run-heavy approach this week, putting the onus on Wilson to make things happen on 3rd downs and in the 4Q.

Monday is a very important game for both of these teams. The rematch isn’t until Week 17 where the 49ers could possibly be locked into a bye and could rest starters. Hey, maybe that helps the Seahawks make the playoffs in the end, but as long as the division title is still up for grabs, it would be a real MVP move for Wilson to ball out and get the win on Monday night.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, so expect this to be a topic again down the road.

NFL Week 10 Predictions

I had the Raiders winning 27-23 on TNF and they won 26-24.

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I’m glad to see Mahomes back. Need everything you can get to spice up a Tennessee game. I think the Browns can beat Buffalo, but at this point I’m just not going to trust them and roll with the better defense. I like Arians to hang a good number on his old team. I actually think the Jets step up in the terrible New York battle. I have no idea what to expect from Cincinnati QB Ryan Finley. Can he get a backdoor cover like Dalton did against Baltimore? I’m just going to lean on the Ravens to keep rolling. Doing stupid things like trusting the Jets and Bears is probably why I haven’t done so well this year at picking games, but here I am again going with Chicago after reading some shaky reports on Stafford’s health. I think the Steelers can slow down McVay’s offense, but I don’t trust Mason Rudolph against a defense with elite players when he might not have a healthy JuJu available (James Conner already out).

Finally, I noted that Kirk Cousins (0-25) and Dak Prescott (3-13) are a combined 3-38 in their careers when their passer rating is under 85.0. That’s the biggest disparity from record in games above 85.0 among active QBs. So it would be surprising to see one of them win without playing modestly well Sunday night. I figure a Kirk Cousins team on the road against a good pass rush and team that can score sounds like a Vikings loss to me, but we’ll see.

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NFL Week 9 Predictions: QB Tiers Edition

This week I posted an update to the “QB Tiers in My Eyes” which isn’t necessarily a ranking of the QBs in the league, but the groupings in which I view them right now with a big emphasis on track records.

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I just wanted to include 32 entries, but you could easily put Eli Manning in the “So Long, Farewell” section with Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton. You could also create a “Tall, White, Named Allen” tier for Josh, Kyle and Brandon if you want. I’m not sure where the league keeps finding these guys but three of them are starting this weekend. I really couldn’t tell you anything about Brandon Allen, so good job, John Elway. Dwayne Haskins also seems to be taking over in Washington, so you could add him to the rookie tier (I made this on Wednesday).

My biggest takeaway from this is that people need to chill with lumping in everyone as great or terrible. That’s why the “Not Great, Not Terrible” tier is the biggest with 10 QBs. These are all guys fighting for that top 10 status, and in some weeks they absolutely look that part, and in other weeks they’re very disappointing to watch. They’re just not consistent enough to get into a better tier for now.

For the first ballot HOF locks, it’s not that I think those are the four best QBs in the league right now, but they are the most proven and deserve the most trust. “The Holy Trinity” is more in line with the best right now in 2019, but I also grouped them together because I see Mahomes, Wilson and Watson as possibly the top trio of QBs for the 2020s as well. Those are the guys you really want to watch on a weekly basis.

Matt Ryan is someone I generally would rank in a top two tier, but I don’t think he’s a lock for the HOF (certainly not a first ballot), and he didn’t fit in with the “trinity” vibe I was going for in the other group. But it’s not a coincidence that he’s at the very top of my next tier. The tiers are almost in order of best to worst, but not exactly.

If anything, the Carson Wentz fanboys need to just cool it and realize their guy isn’t showing us anything that a lot of other active QBs haven’t already achieved in this league. And don’t forget about Nick Foles, the Unicorn. I find him impossible to rank on something like this, but hopefully he’ll come back soon.

It Goes A-1, 2, 3

I just want to highlight the three games I’ll be watching at length on Sunday.

Texans at Jaguars (+1.5)

If they’re going to put a London game I wouldn’t mind watching on at 9:30 AM EST, then at least they’re doing it after I get an extra hour tonight for the end of daylight-saving time. I’m just not sure if the game will be worth watching until the second half anyway since the Texans tend to start slowly. I want to take this Houston team seriously, but with the injuries mounting up (J.J. Watt to IR again) it’s getting harder to buy this team as a real contender. It’s good for Deshaun Watson’s MVP candidacy, but they expect him to deliver so much on a weekly basis and I think the Jaguars are game enough to steal this one.

Colts at Steelers (+1)

The only thing more surprising than how rarely these AFC teams meet — this is the 10th time since 2002 — is how rarely they have their star quarterback in the lineup when they do. Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning (Indy days) only met three times, including that playoff game in 2005. They had a fourth meeting scheduled for 2011, but Manning missed that entire season for his neck surgeries. Roethlisberger vs. Andrew Luck has technically been scheduled five times, but only the first game (2014) actually had both in the lineup. It was quite the offensive show with Pittsburgh winning 51-34 with Ben having one of the best passing games in NFL history. In 2015, Luck was absent with a lacerated kidney. In 2016, Luck only missed one game, but it was the Thanksgiving one against Pittsburgh. Luck then missed all of 2017 while both quarterbacks are out of the picture this weekend with Luck’s retirement and Ben’s elbow surgery.

So that leaves Jacoby Brissett, Mason Rudolph, and a lot to be desired. This game also won’t have T.Y. Hilton and it doesn’t sound like James Conner will go for Pittsburgh. I will point out that all three of Pittsburgh’s wins were in prime time against really incompetent teams (CIN/LAC/MIA), but they also have three losses where they played SEA/SF/BAL very tough so it’s hard to figure this team out right now. Just like the Colts had a tougher time with the Broncos and Raiders at home as they did with the Chiefs and Texans in wins.

It could easily be another ugly game, which the Colts have won their fair share of already this season. The Steelers have been feasting on turnovers and could get after Brissett in this matchup. I think if Rudolph is trusted more to take shots to his wide receivers then the Steelers will be able to score enough for another win over Indy. They’re 7-2 against the Colts since 2002.

It’s just that most of these games weren’t what they were expected to be when the schedules were made.

Patriots at Ravens (+3.5)

Finally, the Patriots are done with their Division III schedule and the season can really begin. I’m inclined to believe any team who is 40 yards away from losing to Matt Barkley is not going to go 19-0, such as the Patriots were in Buffalo earlier this season. I actually think the Browns outplayed them the final three quarters last week, but Cleveland had that horrific three turnovers in a row stretch that no team could recover from in New England.

I don’t think the 2019 Patriots are the greatest team ever and any claims of that are going to look absurd by season’s end. I don’t even think it’s the first or second best 8-0 run by these Patriots this century. I posted that earlier this week on Twitter when you look at their 8-0 start in 2007 and their 8-0 finish in the 2010 regular season. The latter is always overlooked because of how that team imploded in the first playoff game against the Jets, a team they beat 45-3 in December.

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The Patriots have fattened their record and gaudy defensive stats against a schedule likely to feature seven teams with a losing record by season’s end. Buffalo is the best team they played and Buffalo is statistically one of the worst 5-2 teams ever. You can’t throw the games away because they happened, but you also can’t tell me you can take the numbers at face value when the competition is this bad.

The Steelers are the only team the Patriots throttled in a way no one else has this year so far, but think about that matchup logically. First, we’ve seen New England’s offense do that to Pittsburgh’s defense at home for two decades now. Notice how the NE offense, which has been pretty mediocre this year, peaked in that Week 1 game. The difference was on offense, and that was the least talented offense the Steelers have fielded in arguably two decades. No Antonio Brown. No Le’Veon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger with an elbow injury, tossing a 40-yard bomb for a pick while down huge in the 4Q. Oh and way too much Donte Moncrief (released this weekend), who dropped a fourth down and dropped a touchdown in a game where the Steelers couldn’t call a good play in short-yardage situations. And despite all of that, NE’s defensive EPA was a season low +9.50 in that game according to Pro Football Reference.

Now enter Baltimore for what is low-key a No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense matchup. The Ravens are second to the Patriots in scoring, but that’s because of the surplus in return scores by NE this year. The Ravens are actually No. 1 in the league in yards per drive and points per drive (the Patriots are 20th and 14th in those categories). They’re also No. 1 in plays per drive and time of possession per drive, keyed by their No. 1 rushing offense led by Lamar Jackson, the quarterback.

This is far from a normal BAL-NE matchup, which has often gone well for head coach John Harbaugh in his career, at least relative to how the rest of the league plays New England. The Ravens won’t be intimidated by this team. Despite the fact that Baltimore hasn’t beaten NE since that 2012 sweep, the Ravens offer a different challenge from the rest of the NFL that could prove to be the toughest game the Patriots have this regular season. While the defense is not up to usual Baltimore standards — it’s mediocre at best at keeping the score down and even weaker at generation turnovers — it did limit Russell Wilson to one of his worst home games ever in the last outing. With Jackson resting on the bye week, he can use his legs with reckless abandon on Sunday night, though I think scrambles will be the way to go over the designed runs they like to use too. The Patriots aren’t their usual offensive selves this year, so I don’t think he’ll have to score a ton to win this game and the Ravens can shrink the number of possessions by controlling the clock through their run-heavy attack.

This is only Jackson’s 16th start and Bill Belichick will certainly hope to confuse him to make some mistakes with his arm against that veteran secondary. That’s why I don’t think the Ravens need to go away from their run-heavy approach because it would just be playing right into NE’s hands. Jackson has to be cautious early and avoid the turnovers that put Cleveland and the Jets in such quick, huge holes the last two weeks against the Patriots.

I still believe that experience matters in beating the Patriots, so Jackson’s first look could be a rough one here, but if it serves him better come playoff time then so be it. I’m just glad to see the Patriots are getting an opponent who shouldn’t crap its pants before the first quarter is over.

Also, the Patriots don’t have a good kicker anymore while the Ravens have maybe the best one ever in Justin Tucker. So if it’s a really tight game, that could be crucial. No Billy Cundiff here.

NFL Week 9 Predictions

I felt alright about the 49ers covering on Thursday night, but the Cardinals were very competitive once again against Kyle Shanahan’s team. Just weren’t able to get the ball back late.

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I’ll update the picks on Twitter on Sunday when we find out if Patrick Mahomes is playing for the Chiefs. I like KC if he is, but we’ll see how that one shakes out.

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