I’m prepared to be hurt this weekend. Not hurt in the way Russell Wilson, Nick Chubb, DeVante Parker, Saquon Barkley, and a long list of others are going into Week 6. If a game this week doesn’t have a big name out with injury, then you can bet it has someone questionable with a real 50/50 shot to not suit up.
When you put those injury questions into consideration as well as a slate that isn’t too hot to begin with…
When you already suffer a gut punch on Thursday night with the way Philadelphia covered that 6.5 (or 7) point spread and Tom Brady’s rushing prop settled…
You just know it’s going to be a weird week with more blowouts, upsets, and general randomness. So, I’m going to bet conservatively and not lose my whole ass on a Sunday that just isn’t worth going all in for. There will be better weeks to come.
Dolphins at Jaguars: My apologies to Jets-Falcons since the NFL did find an even worse game to send to London. But yeah, I’m going to roll with the Jaguars ending their 20-game losing streak. I like James Robinson to find the end zone again too. Of course, I’m probably going to wake up and find the Jaguars down 20 points and read that Urban Meyer left at halftime to find the nearest pub or the first blonde that catches his eye.
Texans at Colts: How do the Colts respond after their epic blown lead in Baltimore on Monday night? My gut was to go big on Indy anyways, but then you remember that the Texans actually had a big offensive showing against the Patriots last week. Then there’s the fact that all 14 meetings since 2014 between these teams haven been decided by fewer than 10 points. Hell, all but one of them was decided by fewer than eight points. Even when the Colts played their best game this season in Miami, they won by 10 points. I’m going to hedge my pick with taking Houston to cover.
Packers at Bears: See my preview here. Just Year 30 of the Packers being much better off at QB than Chicago.
Chiefs at Washington: The Chiefs are due for an easy win, aren’t they? Maybe nothing is easy with this historically-bad defense (still minus Chris Jones too), and it doesn’t help that Tyreek Hill has a quad injury. My gut is to play Hill for a TD and a big game from Travis Kelce too. That Washington defense is the closest thing in the NFC to being as bad as the Chiefs. In his career, Patrick Mahomes is 17-2 SU and 9-10 ATS against defenses that finish in the bottom 12 in points per drive allowed. Washington is currently 30th thru Week 5.
Vikings at Panthers: I was burned badly by the Panthers a week ago. I think the Vikings are the better team but this should be one decided by single digits either way.
Chargers at Ravens: It’s the Game of the Week. We have been getting wild, high-scoring games between the top AFC teams this year, and this one should be no different. Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson are MVP candidates and they have led their teams to a league-high three fourth-quarter comeback wins already. Neither defense has been very good, but I still think the Ravens are doing better on that side of the ball, and their run game against the Chargers’ bottom-ranked run defense (32nd in yards and YPC) should get back to starting another streak of 100+ yards on the ground. Mike Williams being questionable is also worrisome. Sammy Watkins out is just par for the course for him. I’ll take the Ravens at home and am definitely looking forward to it.
Bengals at Lions: Hedging on the spread here. I don’t think we can trust the Bengals on the road just yet to win games like this. Detroit keeps getting closer to pulling one out for Dan Campbell. If the Bengals win, I can see it being by 3 points.
Rams at Giants: The Rams are clearly the better team and I like to fade a quarterback coming off a concussion like Daniel Jones in this case. They played a 17-9 game a season ago.
Cardinals at Browns: The No. 2 Game of the Week, but it’s losing some luster with Nick Chubb (calf) already ruled out as well as several members of the Arizona coaching staff, including head coach Kliff Kingsbury. This has me worried for the undefeated Cardinals, who may not be out of the woods with COVID before this one kicks off on Sunday. I’m going to trust the Browns as I think Kareem Hunt will be great in Chubb’s absence and I can see that defensive line frustrating Kyler Murray.
Raiders at Broncos: Of course I’m backing Ted the Spread against a team going through turmoil now. Broncos end their losing skid.
Cowboys at Patriots: I’ve watched the Cowboys go 0-5 against New England in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019. But this is the first time the Cowboys clearly have the better team and are playing better football. I’ll take Dallas.
Seahawks at Steelers: Read my preview here. I love “Steelers by 1-13” for this game, though it will be interesting to see the Seahawks without Russell Wilson for the first time since 2011.
Bills at Titans: Read my preview here. The Bills are on a historic roll right now. Four straight wins by 18+ points and four straight games scoring 35+ are proof of that. I like the revenge tour to continue here and hopefully the game won’t get moved to Tuesday like last year…
The NFL nailed Sunday Night Football in Week 5 with the Buffalo Bills looking to get their biggest win in the regular season in decades in Kansas City and drop the Chiefs to 2-3 in the process. If you look at the remaining schedules for both teams, it would seem highly improbable (but not impossible) for the Chiefs to catch Buffalo in the AFC standings if they lose this game.
Before getting to the picks, I wanted to take a moment to update some quarterback injury stats after a newsworthy Friday involving finger surgery for Russell Wilson.
Active Starting Quarterbacks: Career Injury History
Another one bites the dust. The dreaded Russell Wilson injury I feel like I’ve been warning about the last six seasons happened, and it happened in a way you’d least expect: in the pocket with an on-time throw. There was no scrambling. It was not a leg injury. It was his finger that contacted Aaron Donald on his follow through, and it’s frankly a miracle this doesn’t happen to a quarterback every season given the hundreds of opportunities. For Wilson, he threw almost 5,000 passes in his career before this unfortunate setback that will cost him at least a month and likely put his 10th season in spoiled territory with the Seahawks at 2-3 in a tough division.
So ends the fifth-longest starting streak in NFL history at quarterback. We are also down to just Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Justin Herbert as the non-rookie starters who have never missed a start to injury in the NFL. Baker is currently ailing with a torn labrum he suffered in Week 2, so his days on that small list could be numbered.
I’ve included three tables that highlight the injury history for today’s landscape of starters, including a few players who have been sent to the bench already this year in Drew Lock and Andy Dalton. But I had the data, so why not keep them there? The first table shows the quarterbacks who have had had 3+ injuries and missed the most games. The second table also has some multi-injured quarterbacks, and the last table has everyone with no injuries or a single injury situation.
NFL Week 5 Predictions
I had the Rams winning 29-23 in Seattle, so 26-17 did the trick for me on the spread, total and MOV (Rams by 1-13). Now if only Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp could have scored a touchdown, then it would have been a banner f’n night at the old Kacsmar residence.
Unless I can’t sleep like last Sunday, I won’t be setting an alarm for Jets-Falcons so I can watch Kyle Pitts not score a touchdown on a second continent. However, I will have a bet on him doing it anyway somewhere.
I don’t trust anything with the Saints and will be fading that game entirely. Ditto for Patriots-Texans. Crazy to think of an NFL where the Patriots and Saints scare you to bet on their games, but this is where I’m at right now with those teams. What really are those offenses at this point? Jakobi Meyers doesn’t catch touchdowns, Mac Jones doesn’t throw downfield, and the Saints would rather give Taysom Hill his touches than feed Alvin Kamara targets (anywhere) or carries in the red zone.
The worst common bet in the NFL is the 10-point spread. From 2001-2020, 10-point favorites covered only 43.9% of the time compared to 48.0% for 3-point favorites, 48.5% for 7-point favorites, and 54.5% for 9.5-point favorites. The only point spread with a lower cover rate (min. 100 games) in that time is 9-point favorites at 43.6%. It makes sense, mathematically. To cover a 10-point spread, you basically have to win by 14+ as teams rarely win with a differential of 11-13 points. If you’re in that range late in the game, you should be going for two to try to get it up to 14 to protect yourself from a collapse. Anyways, this is the long way to say that I don’t trust Kirk Cousins behind his offensive line to win by more than 10 this week. I know they’ve done it three years in a row at home against the Lions when they had Stafford, I know Cousins is 6-0 vs. Detroit with the Vikings and five of the wins were by 12+ points. But I’m just going with my gut here.
I have the Bears upsetting the Raiders as perhaps the Football Gods reward Matt Nagy for sticking with Justin Fields and punish the Raiders for Jon Gruden’s e-mails. Imagine the tweets starting around 7:30 P.M. EST on Sunday if that one comes true…
With Trey Lance starting for Jimmy Garoppolo, I’m going to give the 49ers a shot to cover and keep it close as Lance is such a wild card. He could be incredible or he could be terrible like the other rookies have mostly been this year. But I’m also used to seeing the 49ers lose close games under Kyle Shanahan, so I can live with this hedge. The Cardinals have been playing incredible but they aren’t going to score 31+ every week.
My detailed Steelers prediction: Now that Ben Roethlisberger has his 400th touchdown pass and moved past Dan Marino in yards, he’s hit the career milestones he was going to hit this year. I think he gives it one last go in front of the home crowd, and if they lose this one too to fall to 1-4, the Steelers will play up his injury and that will end his season and ultimately his career. So maybe the nostalgia in me is willing to give him one last home win, but I’m not really sure what to expect from Denver with Teddy Bridgewater coming off a concussion and Courtland Sutton getting injured in practice. It could be a 17-16 type of game where the Steelers can pull it out late. But these days, watching Roethlisberger is like watching your beloved pet struggle to walk in old age and you just know that day is coming where you have to take them to the vet and have them put down. It’s sad and it’s inevitable.
Finally, for Bills-Chiefs, part of me knows I should be taking the Bills to get over this KC hump with the way the Chiefs have turned the ball over and played terrible on defense. Home-field advantage just isn’t what it used to be either in this league. But I’m still rolling with the Chiefs (and will obviously have Buffalo bets too) because the offense is scoring at a historical rate and the Bills are a team they owned twice last year. I’m not sold on Buffalo’s defense, which was mediocre last year, being this great based on the competition so far. But we’ll see in what could be the game of the year in the AFC.
After September 2021 set a record for fastest month ever completed, we’re already into Week 4. Do we know anything other than the given that the Bears and Jets never know how to get things done at the quarterback position? Not really, but some games this week should help a lot in figuring out legit turnarounds versus frauds.
The hype for this Bucs-Pats game on Sunday night is pretty hilarious given that this has to be one of the least important non-conference games of the season. The Patriots (1-2) aren’t going anywhere this season and this punchless roster should not be able to handle the Bucs on Sunday night. Tampa Bay’s winning streak was snapped in Los Angeles, but this just means that Tom Brady is going to be extra angry as he looks to drop 40+ on Belichick in this one.
As if he wasn’t already in that mindset for this game. But the loss makes Tampa Bay covering my favorite pick of the week. I’m just mad that Rob Gronkowski, the real GOAT of the night, is unlikely to play with a rib injury.
But in that BMR preview, I looked into the idea of Angry Tom Brady with data. For many years it has been said that Brady is so tough to beat two weeks in a row, and the data will show that is true of course. We know the Patriots rarely endured losing streaks. But are his stats up in those games to suggest he is the one who steps his game up the most after a loss?
(Sarcasm) These results are going to shock you, but I found that Brady’s team has one of the best records after a loss, but his individual QB stats are more on the fringe of a top 10 QB rather than the most dominant in the league. Even if you only look at the last decade when Brady’s stats are up and the league-wide stats are up, his individual numbers actually have gone down in those games.
I’ll repeat the recap of the findings from my article here.
I looked at data on 66 quarterbacks from 2001-2020 in starts following a team loss and how they performed that next game. Here are the findings:
Brady is 55-16 SU (.775) after a loss, the second-best record behind only Russell Wilson (35-9, .795).
Brady is 49-22 ATS (.690) after a loss, the second-best record behind only Andrew Luck (24-9-1, .721).
Brady’s team has the highest scoring differential (10.3 points per game) following a loss, and only Wilson (9.1), Aaron Rodgers (8.2), and Luck (7.0) are even close.
Out of 66 quarterbacks, Brady ranks 21st in completion percentage (63.4%), 23rd in yards per attempt (7.26), 10th in passer rating (96.3), and 10th in adjusted net yards per attempt (6.95) after a loss.
If you only look at Brady’s post-loss games since 2011 when league passing stats have gone up, his passing stats all decrease but his team still wins 76.3% of games and covers 71.1% (27-11 ATS) of the time.
As it turns out, “Angry Bill Belichick” is likely more of a thing than Angry Tom Brady. I’ve included a chart of those 66 quarterbacks and looking at their win% vs. ANY/A after a loss. This looks very good for Russell Wilson, who again has never lost three games in a row in the same season with Seattle.
Something I did not look at was comparing how the QB played in the previous-game loss relative to his next-game performance. That could be a way of showing that Brady does step up from a loss better than anyone, but part of the issue there is that he’s just usually a bad QB when his team loses.
One thing’s for sure: if Brady loses to Belichick on Sunday night, he will break the record for calling people this:
NFL Week 4 Predictions
For the third time in four weeks, Thursday Night Football came down to a game-winning field goal. I was on the wrong side of that spread again too.
I’m about to start picking the opposite of what makes sense, because not much is making sense to me in this league this season so far.
I picked the Bears despite Detroit playing some spirited ball under Dan Campbell, because this feels like a spot where Matt Nagy is getting fired if he doesn’t deliver in this game, and he is 5-1 against the Lions in his career.
The Titans have me nervous with their top WRs (Julio Jones, A.J. Brown) out. The Jets beat the Browns last year when the Browns lost their WR room to COVID. Have to hope Derrick Henry pops some big ones there and Zach Wilson continues to be awful.
On the biggest surprise 3-0 teams, Panthers and Broncos, I am going with Dallas to put an end to this little run of Carolina never trailing with Sam Darnold playing his best ball in the NFL. I think Dallas had an impressive month and showed a lot even in the loss in Tampa Bay. Then I’m going with Denver to show that this team should be taken seriously with Teddy Bridgewater and the defense playing so well, and maybe things aren’t in great shape with Baltimore given the injuries and the fact that a 66-yard field goal was needed to escape the Lions.
I keep pointing out how the Chiefs have won one of their last 14 games by more than six points. But maybe this is the spot where they dominate again as the Eagles have not impressed the last two weeks. Jalen Hurts doesn’t seem to throw for many yards at home either in his career, so maybe the defense for Kansas City can actually step up for a change and the offense protects the ball better to get a much-needed win.
I’m going to be extremely pissed at the Steelers if they show up in Green Bay and get a win after losing home games by multiple scores to the Raiders and Bengals. Have you seen those teams play other weeks? Not that impressive with three overtime wins between them and a last-second field goal against Jacksonville. So if the Steelers won in Buffalo, who have looked dominant the other two weeks, and then in Green Bay, which still looks great offensively the last two games, I’m going to be pissed because that’s the same old “playing to the competition” bullshit they’ve done for years. But I really think the Pittsburgh offense is broken and Green Bay should cover.
In the NFC West, I like Seattle and the Rams in these first matchups of the year for that division. Sean McVay has owned the Cardinals in his career and now he has Stafford off to a great start. DeAndre Hopkins isn’t 100%. With the Seahawks, Wilson is having MVP first halves and the offense is disappearing in the second half. I think he can have a full game in this one and close out a Kyle Shanahan-coached team that consistently struggles to close games in the fourth quarter. I’m going to bet on Seattle to not lose three in a row.
I’m hedging with my picks on Monday night. I think the Chargers should win, but I can acknowledge the chance the Raiders get this one or only lose by a field goal.
Week 3 may have gotten off to a weak start with Panthers-Texans, but the NFL is really in danger of blowing its regular season wad before October. We may have just had the AFC Game of the Year with Chiefs-Ravens last Sunday night, and we could have the NFC Game of the Year on Sunday with Buccaneers at Rams, the biggest game of Matthew Stafford’s career as I covered on Friday in a mini preview.
But the other game I want to touch on in detail this week is Chargers at Chiefs as it has a chance to really crank up the drama in the AFC. The Chargers are a 7-point road underdog, but homefield still looks pretty weak and division games can always be a surprise despite the two teams knowing each other so well.
Chargers at Chiefs (-7)
The phrase “It’s only two games” is something I have to keep reminding myself here, but we are now on a 13-game stretch where the Chiefs have only managed to beat one team (Buffalo, 38-24) by more than six points. Patrick Mahomes has been stellar throughout this stretch, but the Chiefs are looking a lot like Peyton Manning’s old Colts teams where the passing offense is covering up the many flaws on the team while still winning most of the (close) games.
But last week was not a win in Baltimore after the Chiefs blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter as Lamar Jackson ran wild and took advantage of two turnovers from the offense, including an inexcusable first fumble by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire late in the game. It was the worst time yet for the “Obligatory Chiefs Fumble” as I used to call it in my keys to beating the Chiefs before I turned that into table form in January. This is now the 11th loss for Mahomes and the common trends are that the opponent better be a playoff team capable of piling up yards and points to beat him, and it certainly helps to deny him the ball late as Baltimore’s fourth-down conversion run did after the CEH fumble.
Now enter the division rival Chargers, who are 1-1 and lost a close one to Dallas that had a lot more offense than the final score (20-17) suggests. In fact, the Chargers are leading the NFL at 49.38 yards per drive while the Chiefs are No. 3 at 45.65 yards per drive. With these offenses having only 16-17 drives on the season between them, the two lowest amounts in the league, this could be a game that goes under the 54.5 Vegas total due to a lack of possessions with the teams going on long drives. The Chiefs are still the more explosive offense, but the Chargers are averaging a whopping 9.1 plays per drive this season. The next closest team is at 7.3 plays.
Oh yeah, these defenses aren’t stopping much either. The Chiefs are 31st in both yards per drive and points per drive to start the season. They have yet to stop anyone in the red zone from scoring a touchdown after being the worst red zone defense in 2020 too. The Chargers are 27th in yards per drive allowed, but at least they’re 15th in points.
I know this is Brandon Staley’s first season with the team and some other important things have changed from past years with the Chargers. But the truth is Mahomes has some of his worst stats against this team. Mahomes averages 231.4 passing yards per game against the Chargers, his lowest against any team he’s played (even including the teams he’s played once). Mahomes only has three games he’s finished in his career without passing for 200 yards and two of them came against the Chargers in 2019. In the five matchups with the Chargers, Mahomes has never won by more than 10 points, he only completes 61.2% of his passes, and he is barely over 7.0 YPA.
Baltimore finally wised up last week and only blitzed Mahomes four times. This is the way to do it for most teams. Don’t blitz and get your four rushers to play their asses off and chase him around. Joey Bosa has to deliver in this matchup for the Chargers. In the past, the Chargers have never blitzed Mahomes more than five times. They haven’t even done it four times in the last four matchups. Mahomes has 16 regular season games where he failed to gain a first down on at least 36% of his passes. Five of those 16 games are against the Chargers. Again, different coaching staff and some different players — safety Derwin James being back is a big plus — but the Chargers can say they defend Mahomes better than most.
In his first NFL start last year, Justin Herbert took Mahomes to overtime and lost 23-20 in a game with nearly 900 yards but not many points due to the long drives and struggles that Mahomes had in the first three quarters with the pass defense. The saving play that day was a 21-yard scramble by Mahomes on 3rd-and-20 in the final minutes. Herbert is better now and has rarely missed this season. He has been feasting on third down himself, especially on third-and-long, so this could be a really tough matchup for a KC defense that looks lost right now. Sure, the 1 TD to 3 INT ratio looks great for the defense, but I’d be far more concerned with the 72.2% completions and whopping 10.4 YPA allowed. The Chiefs only have three sacks too.
Kansas City is the sixth team in NFL history to start a season by allowing at least 29 points and 450 yards of offense in each of the first two games. The 1994 Patriots, 2016 Raiders, and 2017 Saints still made the playoffs, but they didn’t last very long.
As for the offense, again, I have to remind myself that it’s only been two games. But the revamped offensive line that was supposed to be the biggest addition to the roster this season? I’m not that impressed. Mahomes’ pass protection does not look any better than usual, and pressure on him drew a late sack in Cleveland that could have been costly, and he should have eaten the sack on third-and-12 in Baltimore instead of forcing that pick in the third quarter, about his only mistake so far this season. But the running game is not going anywhere behind this new line so far. The lone run for 10+ yards this year belongs to WR Tyreek Hill. Mecole Hardman also doesn’t look ready to step up as the new WR2 in replacing Sammy Watkins. It was Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle who came up with the big touchdowns in Baltimore. At least you can say they’re deep at receiver.
But the passing offense is going to be fine for the Chiefs. I’m just going to be worried that it’s the only thing this team is great at. Even in Week 1, all the Browns needed was one more drive to win the game. Baker Mayfield was intercepted. Lamar didn’t screw up this past week. Herbert may not screw up this week if given the chance.
With the way the Chiefs have been playing over the last 13 games, it’s hard not to see Los Angeles having a chance late. I’m going to hedge on this one with the Chargers covering. I don’t have it in me yet to pick them to hand Mahomes the third losing streak of his career, but if that does happen, then the AFC race is wide open again.
Final: Chiefs 29, Chargers 24
NFL Week 3 Predictions
I got a bit caught up on a stat on Thursday where QBs making their first start since 2001 were 15-3 ATS as an underdog of 8-9 points. I didn’t think the Texans would be that painfully conservative with Davis Mills at quarterback. Oh well.
Some gambling things I really like this week (last week: 4-for-10):
Courtland Sutton has the third-most receiving yards (177) without a touchdown this season. I like him to score his first (plus Broncos ML) since 2019 against the lowly Jets.
Kenny Golladay was screaming at Jason Garrett last week and hasn’t scored a TD yet this season. I like him to get one this week against an Atlanta defense that has already allowed five scores to WRs.
TB-LAR: McVay has gone pass crazy against the Bucs the last two years. Then with Antonio Brown testing positive for COVID, I think this is a Chris Godwin week. I like the over in receiving yards for Cooper Kupp (85.5), Robert Woods (63.5), and Godwin (71.5).
Other TD scorers I like: Justin Fields vs. CLE, Ty’Son Williams vs. DET, Miles Sanders vs. DAL
Maybe the Game of the Year in the NFC is coming to us quickly this Sunday in Los Angeles when the Rams host the Buccaneers. It could be the only major road challenge Tampa Bay, still a 1.5-point favorite, faces all year in this attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
It’s also the biggest game of Matthew Stafford’s career, which no one seems to be playing up like they should.
Forget playing on Wild Card Weekend three times as an underdog with the Lions in seasons they weren’t going anywhere. This is a huge chance in his third game with the Rams for Stafford to show that he can be trusted in a big spot like this one, a game that could go a long way in determining home-field advantage in January.
Well here you are, Matthew. There could be future opportunities in Green Bay (Week 12) and Baltimore (Week 17) to show what you’re made of on the road, but this is the defending champions in your building. It doesn’t get any bigger than that in the regular season.
The problem is Stafford played dozens of really good teams when he spent a dozen seasons in Detroit, and he didn’t come away with a dozen wins in those matchups.
The Incredible, Seemingly Impossible Matthew Stafford Record
Stafford is 8-68 (.105) as a starter in games against teams that finished the season with a winning record. It’s such a staggering record that I have to include the table (that barely fits on my screen anymore) of every game to prove that it’s legitimate.
Did Stafford play like an 8-68 quarterback in these games? Of course not. He had a few fine performances that still resulted in a loss because he was on the Detroit Lions and the other team was just better. However, some of those eight wins leave a lot to be desired too. Two were against teams that finished 8-7-1, including a 2013 Packers team that did not have Aaron Rodgers. He got a win over Rodgers in his 2014 MVP season, but it was a 19-7 game where Detroit’s defense carried the team. Stafford threw no touchdowns and two interceptions. His only other win against a team with 12+ wins was against the 2017 Vikings (13-3), and that too was a low-scoring game (14-7) where he failed to throw a touchdown.
While the problems Detroit had in the running game and defense were detrimental to Stafford having success in these games, it’s not like those problems hampered the team enough in every other game against non-winning teams. In fact, since 2001, Stafford joins just Teddy Bridgewater and Kirk Cousins as the only three quarterbacks to win over 70% of their starts against non-winning opponents and under 20% against winning opponents (min. 50 starts). That is plotted below with the trio chilling in the far left of the graph:
In going 8-68 against winning teams, Stafford has an 83.7 passer rating, 6.90 YPA, and 5.72 ANY/A, which factors in sacks. Those are not terrible numbers, but they are not that impressive for a franchise quarterback. I’ve plotted every quarterback’s win% against winning teams vs. their ANY/A in those games.
The fascinating part of this whole Stafford to Los Angeles experiment is to see if Sean McVay can get the best out of him and improve on what has been an eyesore of a resume in big games. Can you really get to a Super Bowl when you need to beat so many good teams along the way to finish with a seed high enough to make it realistic? Can you get through a Brady or Rodgers in January with this guy?
Stafford has never won more than one game against a winning team in the same season in his career, and he has never won consecutive games against winning teams in his career.
Stafford is 5-35 (.125) at home and 3-33 (.083) on the road against winning teams.
Stafford is 2-26 (.071) against teams that finished 12-4 or better.
Stafford is 0-48 when Detroit allowed more than 24 points against a winning opponent.
Stafford is 2-62 (.031) when Detroit allowed more than 17 points against a winning opponent.
Stafford is 39-51-1 (.434) at 4QC/GWD opportunities in his career, but that record drops to 2-34 (.056) against teams with a winning record.
How might this play out when Tampa Bay has won 10 games in a row and scored at least 26 points in all of them? At the very least, Stafford has notched a win over a Brady-led team that went on to win the Super Bowl (2018 Patriots), but the Buccaneers bring a lot more firepower to this matchup.
Stafford also comes armed with his best team. He is getting that McVay play-design boost with more YAC/completion than anyone not named Jimmy Garoppolo this season. For only the second time in his career, he has led his team to at least 27 points without throwing more than 30 passes in consecutive games. But people may be overstating just how great the Rams are. After all, Stafford did have Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate as his receivers with Ndamukong Suh leading the defense in an All-Pro season in 2014, the closest Stafford ever came to winning a playoff game (at Dallas). Now Suh is one of the cogs on Tampa Bay’s defensive line where Vita Vea has been dominant this season. The Bucs have not been scary good on defense yet, but they picked off Matt Ryan twice for touchdowns in the fourth quarter last week.
In Week 1 against the Bears, Stafford got off to a great start and had the first 150-plus passer rating game of his career. Practically a statement that this isn’t Detroit anymore, and he is going to feast on these play-action bombs. However, that Week 2 win in Indianapolis felt like a classic 1 P.M. Detroit win with Stafford. It was close, he had an interception, the special teams had a bad screw-up and gave up a touchdown to fall behind late, and Stafford got the job done and led a game-winning drive. Cooper Kupp was awesome on the day, but it’s not like the running backs (23 carries for 99 yards) were dominant or the defense destroyed Carson Wentz, who left injured and watched the backup throw the game away with an interception.
That Indianapolis game basically led me to believe that this is not going to be a super team with Stafford a la what Peyton Manning brought to the Broncos or Brett Favre to the Vikings in 2009. And yes, what Brady did with Tampa Bay last year, though his two-game start there was inferior to what Stafford has done so far. We have to remind ourselves that this is only two games, and there is no better chance for the Rams to make a statement about their contender status than with a great showing on Sunday.
This would be the kind of win that could reshape the whole outlook on the season.
The Goff Comparison
Of course, the other fascinating part to this matchup and the Stafford experiment is Jared Goff. With McVay as his coach, Goff was 17-16 (.515) against teams with a winning record and he was even 5-12 (.294) against winning teams that scored more than 24 points. Not 0-48.
But the game that really stands out this week was the 27-24 upset win in Tampa Bay last season. Goff led an 80-yard touchdown drive on the road to start it, fell behind 14-7, fought back to a halftime lead, then broke the tie twice in the second half, including a game-winning drive for a field goal. The defense finished off Brady, who was picked twice.
Goff also had two picks on an imperfect night, but McVay put the offense on his shoulders. Goff was 39-of-51 for 376 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, and he took no sacks while the running game provided just 19 carries for 37 yards. Can Stafford do this against the Bucs this week? Stafford is 1-12 in his career when he throws at least 50 passes. Against teams that won exactly 10 games, Stafford was 1-17, beating the Packers in 2015 after Mason Crosby missed a game-winning field goal. That game is worth highlighting since it is the only time in his career that Stafford beat a winning team despite the Lions not rushing for at least 84 yards. Otherwise, the Lions were 0-46 in such games.
When Goff and McVay met the Bucs in 2019, it was a wild and sloppy 55-40 game with Goff turning it over four times. He threw 68 passes and the Rams ran the ball 11 times for 28 yards. The Bucs are really good at stopping the run and have been for a while now. With Darrell Henderson banged up, it is very likely (even if Henderson was healthy) that the Rams are going to get stopped cold in the running game on Sunday.
So it is going to be on Stafford to outduel Brady, the LOAT. He might catch a break with Antonio Brown testing positive for COVID, but Tampa Bay still has three outstanding receivers to work with and plenty more depth to use as well. Brady and Stafford are two of the least pressured quarterbacks this season, so it could be a passing fest and we’ll see who blinks first.
As much as I’d love to see Stafford destroy a Brady-led team like he did in 2018, I’m just not ready to trust him. I need to see it first, and then maybe I’ll believe he can do it again. But regardless of what happens on Sunday, Stafford is going to have to have big games against top teams in a way he never has in his NFL career if this trade is going to work out for the Rams. The NFC West is shaping up to be the toughest division in the NFL too, but right now the real litmus test in the NFC is facing Stafford and the Rams in the face on Sunday.
The 2021 NFL season has gotten off to another strange start. Favorites are only 4-13 ATS and a shocking 8-9 SU. It was the first Week 1 where favorites had a losing record outright (7-9) since 1983. That was Dan Marino’s rookie season, so 5,000-yard passing seasons and the 1985 Bears didn’t even exist yet.
This is only the sixth time in the 32-team era where favorites had a losing record in a week where all 32 were in action. How did favorites fare the next week? They always won at least 10 games, including a 13-3 record in the Week 17 finale of the 2008 season. So that’s something to keep in mind this week.
We almost saw favorites start 7-10, but on Thursday night, Washington got a fortunate offsides penalty on a missed field goal against the Giants and won by one point on the retry. Now if Ron Rivera can just keep Taylor Heinicke away from today’s pathetic January 6th rally in D.C….
The only favorites who were able to cover so far were the Rams, Seahawks, Panthers, and Broncos. I think three of them have a pretty good shot at doing it again this week, though Titans-Seahawks could be a nail-biter and shootout if the 2019-20 Titans still exist inside this 2021 iteration of the team.
Finally, I looked at how unusual it is for a team like Green Bay to lose by 35 points and still be favored by 12 the next week. Hint: very unusual.
NFL Week 2 Predictions
I always think Week 2 can be the hardest week of the season to predict. You’re still trying to balance your preseason predictions with the one data point you got from Week 1. What’s real at this point? Is Matthew Stafford going to race Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes to 50 touchdown passes and break up the Super Bowl rematch? Is Jalen Hurts going to leap ahead of Justin Herbert as the top 2nd-year QB? Are all the AFC East offenses ass now instead of the usual 75% quota? Is Teddy Bridgewater going to have a great year in Denver, or did he beat up on a Giants defense that Taylor Heinicke just threw for 300 yards against? Are the Jaguars really that horrible that they lost to a Houston team that is now a 13.5-point underdog in Cleveland? I mean, f’n Cleveland is favored by two touchdowns in the 21st century?
So, when I saw that I picked favorites to go 12-4 ATS this week, I had to erase all my picks and create a new table image. In the last 10 years, Week 2 favorites have always won 6-8 games ATS, landing on seven wins 60% of the time. Even when favorites were 14-2 SU in Week 2 last year, they were only 7-9 ATS. I ended up changing things to where I had six underdogs covering. That’s probably still too low, and that’s even with half of them being the teams favored by two touchdowns. But we’ll just see how it goes.
Some gambling things I really like this week:
Nick Chubb TD/Browns ML parlay.
Mecole Hardman over 40 yards and a touchdown (he has hit Baltimore for a long touchdown in each of the last two years).
Antonio Brown over 69.5 yards and a touchdown (Falcons were the only defense he broke 70 yards against last year and he did it twice with 93 and 138 and 3 TD in those games).
Melvin Gordon touchdown run vs. Jaguars but not the ML since I’m not ready to commit to Urban Meyer pulling a Bobby Petrino before October.
Austin Ekeler touchdown run vs. Dallas in a game that could be the shootout of the day.
I’m willing to let Davante Adams and GB hurt me again this week when his TD/ML parlay comes up on FanDuel.
I’m also holding out hope that my Hail Mary hits as the parts I still need are only about +2200 since I hedged on MNF spread.
While the Buccaneers looked far from flawless on Thursday night against Dallas, they won again, getting off to a good start as the team I picked to repeat and beat the Chiefs again in February.
After writing those predictions and my mini-novel about the top 100 quarterbacks of the 21st century, I had no room left for my awards picks. I really struggle getting these right in September and my only hit last year was Chase Young for Defensive Rookie of the Year. I had Nick Bosa for DPOY and he tore his ACL in Week 2. I had Joe Burrow for OROY and injury (and Justin Herbert’s superior play) did him in as well. Injury also totally derailed my MVP/coach pick of Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy in Dallas. I went back to the drawing board, though I did not erase Dalvin Cook for OPOY and Bosa for DPOY. I’m sticking with my gut on those two. I think people picking Aaron Donald is getting old and if the 49ers are supposed to have this great year, projected to do better than the Browns (Myles Garrett) and Steelers (T.J. Watt), then Bosa is probably going to be the star there.
Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Coach of the Year: Brandon Staley, Chargers
Assistant Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Washington
Offensive Player of the Year: Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Bosa, 49ers
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Pitts, Falcons
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jamin Davis, Washington
Comeback Player of the Year: Dak Prescott, Cowboys
MVP: Last year I picked the Bucs to finish 11-5 and be the No. 5 seed, which came true. This time I picked Tampa Bay to finish 15-2, or two games ahead of any other team. I also picked the Chargers to make the playoffs with 10 wins, which is why I think you’ll see Brandon Staley get the coach award since it often goes to a newcomer who takes a losing team to the playoffs. Bruce Arians has already won the award twice, and besides, we know Brady gets all the credit for everything on his team. The “he’s 44!” line is going to be used every single game no matter how he plays.
But I’m not using Thursday night as a cheat code to make this pick after Brady threw four touchdowns. I’m sure this season I’ll show off the $200 ticket I got on Brady winning MVP (at +1200) that I made Wednesday night out of disgust for the season I saw coming. He finished last year on a high note. He has the most loaded receiving corps in the league as you can already see that Gronk is still a beast and Antonio Brown is going to milk this opportunity he doesn’t deserve for all it’s worth.
I already sense people take Patrick Mahomes for granted, and I do have some concerns that the Chiefs may not be as explosive or efficient on offense this year unless Mecole Hardman pulls his head out of his ass and has a breakout season. Where I think they can improve most is running the ball with the revamped line, but that should not bolster Mahomes’ MVP case. I just think he’ll have lesser stats than 2018 and a worse record than 2020.
I see Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers taking a step back statistically in 2021. Rodgers has never gone MVP back-to-back. I think the 1-yard touchdowns are cut down and he won’t lead the league again in that stat or have such a high passer rating in a season that should feature more defense with the crowd backs. Maybe someone like Herbert or Dak (he could throw for 6,000 yards) is a darkhorse, but I felt confident with the Brady pick.
Enough to where I might as well win some money out of this crap.
NFL Week 1 Predictions
I started the year with a win as I changed my pick from Buccaneers -7.5 to Cowboys +9.5 as I saw the line move to that on Thursday. My final score was 31-23 TB, so I got the over as well. After updating my database in recent weeks so that I now have over 200 columns of data on every game in the last 20 seasons, I am ready to share some more interesting stats this season that you will find here and certainly on Twitter and in the articles I write.
I also discovered just how hard it is to write a Week 1 preview when we just don’t have any new data yet. Plus we are now seeing so many quarterbacks switch teams and new head coaches that it really is hard to say a lot about these games until we start seeing what these teams look like in 2021. But over at BMR I did write previews for Chargers-Washington, Bears-Rams, and Ravens-Raiders.
We have my first stat second-guessing of the season in Detroit where the 49ers are up to 8.5 as they try to spoil the Dan Campbell debut. I really want to stay away from that game after seeing that road favorites of 8.5+ in Week 1 are 0-6 ATS since 2001. Jared Goff is very familiar with them and while he is only 3-5 against the 49ers, only one of those games was a loss by more than eight points.
For Steelers-Bills, it is rare territory for the Steelers to be 6.5-point underdogs like this. It is only the ninth time that will happen for a game with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. He is 1-7 SU (beat the 2005 Colts in the playoffs) and 3-4-1 ATS. I would say a Josh Allen rushing TD is a good prop bet after Keith Butler talked up treating him like a RB on runs this week. I also like Najee Harris to find the end zone in that one. In fact, I like several rookies to score touchdowns this weekend, including Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts. Seven rookies scored in their Week 1 debut last year, including Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and J.K. Dobbins. We’ve seen A.J. Green, Randall Cobb, and Tyler Lockett do it too as part of 64 rookies since 2011 who scored touchdowns in Week 1. Don’t be afraid to bet on these guys this weekend to make a good first impression.
I’ll be focusing on Steelers-Bills at 1 PM and Browns-Chiefs at 4:30 PM, so it won’t be much of a RedZone Sunday for me. Still very excited for Sunday and seeing these games play out. I’m also glad to see there is no MNF double-header as I always felt so drained by the time that second game came on in past years. Good move, NFL.
But it’s here. We get to see if some of these teams are for real, and if Carson Wentz can suck ass against the Seahawks with two different franchises.
This is the 10th season of posting my NFL predictions here. In seven of the last nine years, I managed to predict one Super Bowl finalist, but somehow I had the wrong Super Bowl result for them all seven times. In the last two years, I had the Chiefs losing and then winning last year. It was the other way around, of course.
For that reason, we still are in the longest drought ever without a repeat champion. But could we be in store for a repeat Super Bowl between Tampa Bay and Kansas City? It has only happened one time in NFL history when the Cowboys beat the Bills in 1992-93. That was a case of Dallas putting together a dynasty run, and the Bills also had an incredible run of four straight Super Bowls with a core of Hall of Famers. Unfortunately, they lost all four games as Scott Norwood should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell*.
*That’s a well-executed reference to Ace Ventura, so I will not be doing a Brian Kelly and apologizing if you didn’t get the joke.
Predicting a rematch can often be the trendy pick that year, but I really think these teams are uniquely qualified for it. The Chiefs have hosted the AFC Championship Game three years in a row, have been money against their main competition (Ravens/Bills), and have the best player in the league right now in Patrick Mahomes. The Buccaneers have brought back every starter, including the 44-year-old King of Kings, most of their depth from last year, they are loaded on both sides of the ball, and they get a boost in the division with Drew Brees retiring. Are you really going to trust Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick joining the Rams and Washington to put up a fight with Tom Brady, the Luckiest Quarterback of All Time?
While I may have a familiar Super Bowl prediction for you, the rest of this preview is going to look different from past years. In the last four years I ended up writing over 16,000 words each time. I didn’t break 10,000 this time since I already wrote full previews (2,000-4,500 words each) on all 32 teams at Bookmakers Review (BMR) this summer. I have included the BMR links for each team in their section below and I promise they have all the stats and thoughts you’re used to seeing from me.
Don’t forget to check out the eight-part series I just finished on The Top 100 Quarterbacks of the 21st Century. The final part on the top five quarterbacks has the links at the top to the first seven parts.
What I’m Watching for in 2021
Before getting into the teams, I want to share some thoughts on what I’m watching for this season, the first 17-game season in NFL history.
First of all, I hate the 17 games and we haven’t even started. It’s going to screw up the stats and my databases, all the counting records, and end the longest, most consistent scheduling we’ve had in NFL history. I think 32 teams, 16 games, 12 playoff teams, and eight divisions was the perfect setup, but they killed it out of greed. Having an odd number of games also makes no sense as you get an unequal number of home and road games with the AFC teams getting a ninth home game this year while they’ll alternate next year. I just hate it. No more .500 teams unless you finish 8-8-1, which I’m sure Kirk Cousins is fucking stoked for. But it’s definitely a transition period in NFL history.
Last year I talked a lot about COVID and uncertainty here. This is going to be Pandemic Season No. 2, and I do fear that we could see more screwy things than last year just because of how more contagious the Delta variant is. We have triple the number of cases in the United States on Labor Day this year than we did one year ago. That’s scary.
To the NFL’s credit, they got every game in last year even though there were a few shams like the Ravens and Steelers playing on a Wednesday and the Broncos not having a quarterback to play the Saints. As it turns out in the news today, Denver was being properly punished for breaking protocol that week. So, hopefully teams are more professional about following rules this year, though a few teams like the Bills and Colts have projected vocal vomit about their anti-vaccine stances. I’d take a shot at Cole Beasley specifically, but he’d just run away. See what happens when you give a guy a completely unearned All-Pro vote?
But the crowds are back for now, so it will be very interesting to see what happens to the offensive stats after 2020 was the highest-scoring season in NFL history at 24.8 points per game, a full 1.4 points above the previous record (2013). Yards per play (5.6) were never higher and turnovers per game (1.3) were never lower. We had more first downs per game (21.7) than ever before as teams completed the most passes per game (23.0) at the highest completion percentage (65.2%) ever recorded. That led to the highest passer rating (93.6) for a season and the record for most touchdown passes (871 or 27.2 per team).
We only have complete data for third downs back to 1991, but 2020 saw offenses convert 41.6% of the time on third down, a new record. The only other season over 40% was 1995 (40.1%).
Likewise, I have red zone data going back to the 1999 season. Last season, offenses had more opportunities (1,750), touchdowns (1,071) and the highest red zone touchdown percentage (61.2%) since 1999. It was the first season with over 1,000 red zone touchdowns scored. I added the trend line here, so you can see this has been going up over the years likely due to teams finally going for more fourth downs in the red zone. But things were never better in the red zone for offenses than last year.
From not having a preseason to the quiet sounds of crowd-less stadiums, I definitely believe the pandemic helped produce these record-setting numbers last year. I would expect some regression to the mean in this department, so that could be something to keep in mind when you’re betting on over/unders this September, or on something I’m very interested in researching more: touchdown scorers. Last year, it seemed like Alvin Kamara, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill were good for a touchdown almost every week.
Passing yards cooled down a bit in the second half of the season after such a historic pace to start the year. I would keep that in mind for the rookies (Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, WR Justin Jefferson) from last year, or Dak Prescott’s insane average in Dallas for five games, or the way Russell Wilson started the season, and even the numbers Aaron Rodgers had in his MVP season after years of not playing like that.
Things should get a little more defensive this season, but the game is still undeniably trending towards more offense. The only real hiccup to that could be if a lot of these young quarterbacks fail to pan out while the last few remaining legends soon retire.
One last note: I predicted over/under on each team’s win total at BMR. What I predicted in those articles in July/August may be different from my final W-L prediction in September after sitting down Monday night and going through the schedule like I always do to come up with these final predictions.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
BMR Preview: “The Avengers have a Hulk, Vin Diesel has a family, and the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes.” This was the first team preview I did back in July. I like the preview I wrote here but it contains an error in the very first paragraph that I don’t know how I made. The Chiefs are trying to become the FOURTH team to follow a Super Bowl loss with a Super Bowl win. I had the 71-72 Dolphins and 17-18 Patriots, but I somehow skipped right over the 70-71 Cowboys, who beat those Dolphins before they went on a repeat run.
I covered how the Chiefs did a great job addressing the weakness with the offensive line. It will be interesting to see if that means they run more (and better) this year or not. I also chose Mecole Hardman as the real X-factor in the offense. If he can have a breakout year in replacing Sammy Watkins’ role as the WR2, then this offense could soar to a new level. But given how mistake prone Hardman is, and how he looked at times with Mahomes in the preseason, I’m not confident about that. So, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are going to have to stay healthy for sure.
I also covered how no team has ever won 14 games and then won more the next year in NFL history. Now the Chiefs get a bonus 17th game to try, but I still don’t think they win more than 13 in the regular season.
I went over Kansas City’s historic streak of winning seven straight games by fewer than seven points. The Chiefs finished 9-0 (including playoffs) in games decided by 1-7 points, the best record in the last 20 years.
Usually, those teams regress. Now it’s been pointed out that the teams with the great quarterbacks were fine, and that’s true. But this is also the second year in a row where the Chiefs had a lot of unusual wins. Remember, their whole Super Bowl run in 2019 saw them trail by double digits in every game before winning them all by double digits. Since 2019, the Chiefs are 9-3 when trailing by multiple scores. That is insane and not sustainable, no matter how great Mahomes is.
But as I was saying about this being more than one year, look at the Colts example with Peyton Manning. He led a ton of close wins in 2008 and 2009, which is why he deserved those MVP awards. He had seven comebacks in 2009, an NFL record. But in 2010, he had no comeback wins and the Colts were bounced by the Jets in the wild card round after blowing a late lead. The regression caught up to them.
Keep in mind that the Chiefs were only 10-8 (.556) in these close outcomes in 2018-19, and 10-9 including the playoffs. Going from 10-9 to 9-0 is a huge leap. The Chiefs were one of three teams to not blow a fourth-quarter lead last year. They almost certainly will blow one or more this year. Maybe they play fewer close games overall and win more in dominant fashion. But I don’t think you will see the same close game success for this team this year.
This is the first team in the preview you’re reading but the 32nd recap I’m writing. I wanted to finish up by touching on some things I said over the summer about this team. Some Chiefs fans got all riled up over what I was tweeting in July, but they just don’t understand that I have been very pro-Kansas City in recent years. I make no bones about being a huge fan of Mahomes, who I just ranked as the No. 2 quarterback of the 21st century. I wanted to see them win the Super Bowl again. You’re not going to get me to root against him because you misunderstood my tweets.
But 31-9 was a gut punch, one of the worst Super Bowls I’ve ever seen after the worst postseason I ever covered. Those four weeks soured me so much on football that I basically ignored it for five months as I covered the NBA for the first time in my career. And hey, I somehow went over 60% ATS at picking NBA games. Way better than I am at football. It was a nice escape before I got back into doing football in July.
I hope I’m wrong, but I think the potential for a dynasty for this team may have closed with 31-9. The common link between every NFL dynasty is that they don’t lose games like Super Bowl LV. You don’t lose the game where you can collect your second trophy and then go on to win several more. It just doesn’t happen that way.
The 1961-67 Packers were 5-0 in championship games. The 1970s Steelers and 1980s 49ers were 4-0 in the Super Bowl. The 1992-95 Cowboys and 2001-04 Patriots were 3-0 in the Super Bowl.
You know who loses their shot at a second ring? It’s the teams at the bottom of this table I’ve been keeping to myself since July, which has all the teams who won multiple rings in a five-year window on top. But the bottom includes those famous teams who lost their second shot and never got back like the 1997 Packers with Brett Favre, 2001 Rams with Kurt Warner, 2009 Colts with Peyton Manning, and 2014 Seahawks with Russell Wilson.
Being some of those teams on the bottom is not the worst thing in the world. Joe Gibbs did rebound to win three rings in Washington after that crushing 38-9 Super Bowl loss (sound familiar?) to the Raiders in 1983. But he had to wait until 1987 to get his second, and after the 49ers won back-to-back in 1988-89, it was clear that San Francisco was the team of the decade and not Washington, which is not traditionally thought of as a dynasty for winning with three different quarterbacks from 1982-91.
Now, the counterpoint to all of this is obvious. We’ve only had 55 seasons where a team could win the Super Bowl, a small sample size. There are plenty of firsts to come. Just look at Tampa Bay last year. The Bucs are the first team to trail by 17+ points in five games in a season and still win a Super Bowl. Someone will be the first No. 7 seed to win a Super Bowl. Someone will be the first rookie quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Some day we could even see a team finish 8-9 and win the Super Bowl since that’s possible now. Maybe the standard for a dynasty is changing, and we just finished a decade (2010s) where the same team (New England) remained on top since no one took the throne. And those Patriots went nine seasons (2005-13) without winning a Super Bowl, a period I want to call football heaven now.
However, if I’m just basing things on the NFL history we know, I have a bad feeling about the Chiefs’ future in big games after 31-9. When you consider that Super Bowl LIV is likely a loss too without WASP, you are reminded of just how difficult these championships are to win. The margin is so tiny between doing it and not.
But I’m just following everyone’s lead as expectations are high for Mahomes and the Chiefs to win multiple championships. Not just two either as polls I’ve seen on Twitter have said. People are expecting three or more. That’s the Brady effect, I’d say. The bar has been raised.
In Kansas City’s case, this team is heads and shoulders above the rest of the AFC. The Bills couldn’t beat Kansas City twice last year. The Ravens are 0-3 with Lamar Jackson against them. Those are the main challengers now. With an incredible youth movement going on at quarterback, the league is in a transition period. We are waiting for new powers to rise. The Chiefs have things figured out. They have the best player and one of the best coaches. This is their time to stack Super Bowls before these other teams catch up.
So when you blow a chance like last year, it feels extra worse. You don’t know if you’ll ever get back in this league. Ask Dan Marino, Drew Brees, and yeah, Aaron Rodgers. I think Mahomes will get back pretty soon (see the bottom for prediction). But any invincibility he built up is gone after 31-9. Now we’ll see how he and this team respond after that setback.
I hope it’s the revenge tour of the year.
2. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
BMR Preview: I am on the Justin Herbert bandwagon after what he did as a rookie last year. Dak Prescott (2016), Jared Goff (2017), Carson Wentz (2017), Patrick Mahomes (2018), Deshaun Watson (2018), Mitchell Trubisky (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019), and Josh Allen (2019) have all led their teams to double-digit wins and the playoffs in their first or second season since 2016. I have Herbert adding his name to the list, though with the Chiefs in the division, it is still hard to pick the Chargers to go too far this year. Plus, we’re talking about the Chargers. You just know there will be crippling injuries and shocking close losses to fill up a new BINGO card in the Herbert era.
By just the sixth game of the Herbert era, the Chargers blew as many 17-point leads (three) as they did in the entire Drew Brees (2001-05) and Philip Rivers (2006-19) eras. Hopefully with a new coach (Brandon Staley) and fresh eyes along the coaching staff, we’ll see better results this year and get a good season from the Chargers.
3. Denver Broncos (7-10)
BMR Preview: You wish this was Aaron Rodgers, but at least it will be Teddy Bridgewater instead of Drew Lock at quarterback for the Broncos to start the season. That’s what I thought would happen when I wrote this preview, one of the earliest teams I covered.
“Bridgewater gives the Broncos a different style of play. He is often conservative and will take plenty of checkdowns, which will at least cut down on the interceptions after Denver led the league with 23 of them last year. But in three seasons where he was a primary starter, Bridgewater never threw more than 15 touchdowns, which is unheard of in this era. In fact, Bridgewater is one of eight quarterbacks in NFL history to have three seasons with at least 400 pass attempts and no more than 15 touchdown passes. The last quarterback before Bridgewater to do that was Chad Henne.
Finally, the most amusing stat in this competition comes courtesy of Pro Football Reference. In 2020, Lock led all starting quarterbacks with a bad throw on 22.9% of his passes while Bridgewater had the lowest rate of bad throws at 13.0%. The stat is based on poorly aimed throws, excluding spikes and throwaways. If Lock is still reckless with the ball, then the Broncos have a pretty clear choice to make here. Go with the guy who can let the playmakers do the work and not put the defense in bad positions.”
Last year I was off by three games on Denver (8-8 vs. 5-11), the first time I slipped by more than a game on this team. I think with some better health luck and quarterback play, they’ll be in that 7-8 win range at least this year. Teddy did some good things with the Carolina wideouts last year, so it should be nice to see Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy play together.
Also, I am one of the people who thinks the team should have just drafted Justin Fields in April. I’m sure some Denver fans have not been this interested in watching a Bears season since Jay Cutler was shipped there in 2009.
4. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11)
BMR Preview: Head coach Jon Gruden has still not taken a team to the postseason since 2007, and his 57-55 (.509) record in the regular season with the Raiders is the same mediocre record he had as the coach of Tampa Bay (2002-08).You know I’ve never been a fan of Derek Carr, but he had an argument that 2020 was his best season or certainly a top-two season for him along with 2016. The offense should be decent, but the defense still looks weak to me and that’s why I found it hard to find more wins for them on the schedule. Not when I see two playoff-caliber teams in the division, a better Denver team, and the Raiders also have to play the AFC North.
1. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
BMR Preview: I think it’s cute that Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford are excited that people found stats that show Stafford is very good after throwing an interception in a game. But I’m not sure it really matters how he bounces back from a first-quarter pick when he’s playing a team that is about to finish with five wins on the season. The data I’m interested in with Stafford is that he’s 8-68 (.105) against teams that finish the season with a winning record. He never won multiple games against winning teams in the same season in 12 years with Detroit.
Stafford is 2-62 (.031) when a winning opponent scores more than 17 points against him. Even Jared Goff (12-16 record) has three playoff wins with the Rams when the team allowed at least 20 points. I go over these stats in the BMR preview.
Quarterback moves like this rarely happen, and I am excited to see Stafford out of Detroit and on a team with a coach who is supposed to be great, and a couple of top-tier players sprinkled along some scrub types. The offensive line is going to need a revamping and they’ve already lost Cam Akers (Achilles) in the backfield, so maybe Stafford is just cursed to have a running game. But this really needs to work right away with the team trading away two more first-round picks to get him here.
I think it works enough for a division title in a tough division, and I obviously am predicting Stafford to get multiple wins against winning teams. I just don’t think you can trust him to get three or four in a row in the playoffs, plus the few he’s going to need just to get a good record like 12-5. But that Week 3 game, Buccaneers at Rams, is the one to circle. No team could make a bigger statement this September than the Rams if they win that and get to 3-0. What better way to measure where this team is at than with the defending champions? They beat them last year in Tampa Bay too with Goff throwing over 50 times.
This will be interesting.
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-6)
BMR Preview: I think this is a huge year for Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo to show that 2019 was not a one-year fluke. The San Francisco 49ers have the dubious honor of being the first team in NFL history to sandwich a Super Bowl appearance (2019) in between two seasons with double-digit losses. They can get a pass for 2018 when Garoppolo tore his ACL in the third game. They can get a pass for last year after one of the most injury-plagued seasons on record. But this year we need to see something, and I would still start Garoppolo as I think he has very interesting numbers that they need to explore to see if he can stay healthy and sustain it. Trey Lance is exciting and will be the future of the team after the big move to get him, but he is so raw and has that high bust potential given his inexperience and caliber of competition faced in college. Garoppolo will probably be hurt before Halloween anyway, so it’s a good chance we see Lance in 2021 regardless. But I’m all for starting the season with the veteran and seeing what happens. If they can keep George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk healthy, then that can be an awesome trio for this offense.
3. Seattle Seahawks (11-6)
BMR Preview: Since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012, the Seahawks are the 19th team in NFL history to have at least nine straight winning seasons. Ten of those first 18 teams extended their streak to 10 seasons or more. Eight teams fell off in Year 10, but those were usually the end of eras.
Maybe the end of the Pete Carroll-Wilson era is afoot, but they’re still together with another new offensive coordinator this year. Russ might still cook, but I keep banging the drum that in Year 10, it’s time for Wilson to start making that change in playing style and take fewer sacks. He has taken over 40 sacks in eight straight seasons, an NFL record. Remarkably, he has never missed a game yet. If Ben Roethlisberger can tone down the sandlot ball and morph into a quarterback who gets rid of the ball super-fast, then I think Wilson has it in him to improve in that area too.
I still love the wide receiver duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and things may be a little deeper this year in that unit. The defense no longer is a threat, but the Seahawks had a very strange season. They went from allowing the third-most points through eight games to the fewest in the last eight. However, a lot of it was schedule based. They couldn’t figure out the Rams either, and with Stafford in town, that could be a tougher team to beat.
The close-game regression is always a worry with this team since I swear Wilson and Carroll get off on playing a close game. The Seahawks went from 29-29 in games decided by 1-to-7 points in Wilson’s first seven seasons to 16-5 in the last two seasons. Which one looks like an outlier to you?
I’ll always trust Wilson, but this team’s act has gotten a bit stale as it still hasn’t advanced to the NFC Championship Game since 2014. That is why, despite a really nice record, I still have them finishing in third place in a tightly contested division. But would it shock me if Stafford and Shanahan disappoint again and the Seahawks still win the NFC West? Not one bit.
4. Arizona Cardinals (9-8)
BMR Preview: This tweet sums it up best the way I find it alarming that the offense did not take a bigger leap in Year 2 after adding DeAndre Hopkins, who played very well.
I am not big on Arizona adding J.J. Watt and A.J. Green as the 2011 draft was a decade ago. Green especially could be problematic if he commands a decent target share and doesn’t play much better than he did last year with the Bengals. But Kyler Murray is a unique talent and I think his health late in the season brought the offense down and caused Arizona to miss the playoffs. Let’s see him stay healthy and improve in his third season. The defense is not bad and getting Chandler Jones back is a big plus, as is getting Matt Prater as the new kicker. They had some big misses in that department last year.
I’m not really loving this team or Kliff Kingsbury as a coach in a tough division race, but I found myself giving them nine wins in the end. Was it enough for the playoffs? See below.
1. Buffalo Bills (12-5)
BMR Preview: The Bills unleashed Josh Allen last year and he rewarded them with a staggeringly great season that will force us to entertain every crappy young quarterback still having a chance to break out in Year 3 because Allen did it in 2020. Thanks, Josh. I hope you got your vaccine because we know your second-best wideout didn’t.
Still, shouldn’t there be some concern for regression here? We know very few teams win 13 games or score 500 points in back-to-back years. A 17th game helps there, but then there’s also this fact with the context that 2020 was a record-breaking year for offenses during the pandemic:
“Ouch, not J.P. But I have good news, Bills fans. I don’t think this is going to be a flash in the pan like 2015 Cam Newton, 2016 Derek Carr, or 2017 Carson Wentz. What makes me a believer in Buffalo’s offense is the way it consistently moved the ball all season. The Bills tied the Chiefs for the NFL lead in first downs (397) and joined the 2012 Patriots as the only two teams in NFL history to have at least 20 first downs in all 16 regular-season games. Buffalo had the fewest punts per drive and the third-lowest rate in three-and-out drives (13.8%).
The Bills converted 49.7% of their third downs to lead the NFL. In the playoffs, the Bills were only 30.6% on third down, so that was disappointing. Still, teams that go on great offensive runs tend to rank highly on third downs each year. With that said, it would not be surprising to see the Bills drop a few spots in third down success.”
Basically, I think the offense will still be one of the best in the league, but you may see the individual numbers go down for Allen and Stefon Diggs as a guy like Gabriel Davis eats more. What concerns me is a middling defense didn’t add much. That could hurt in getting over the Kansas City hump, but they also have to watch out for the Patriots who should be better, and maybe Baltimore will find more of a passing game this year.
Mahomes needs that worthy rival in the AFC or else this is going to get pretty one sided like it did with the Patriots for years. Allen and the Bills could be that team to challenge them, but it’s only going to be a rivalry if they start playing better in those games. Still, this is refreshing as hell to be talking about the Bills and an exciting offense with actual Super Bowl aspirations.
2. New England Patriots (10-7)
BMR Preview: The saddest thing about the 2020 Patriots was that they were too unrecognizable to still hate. One of the main things I wanted to stress in my BMR preview was that the team was not just the 2019 Patriots minus Tom Brady. They were the team most affected by COVID and they lost a ton of snaps and players on both sides of the ball. Here are the stats and a chart I didn’t get to share in that article showing that.
The top 16 players in offensive snaps on the 2019 Patriots played a combined 11,114 snaps for the team that year.
Those same 16 players contributed 3,842 snaps to the 2020 Patriots with nine players not playing a single snap for the team.
The top 16 players in defensive snaps on the 2019 Patriots played a combined 9,855 snaps for the team that year.
Those same 16 players contributed 6,726 snaps to the 2020 Patriots with six of the top 11 players not playing a single snap for the team.
Now with a retooled group of skill players and a rookie QB with insane college stats in Mac Jones, this team could be very competitive again. But I still think Buffalo is the class of the division, which feels so nice to say. I never thought the day would come.
3. Miami Dolphins (8-9)
BMR Preview: Well, I hope the Deshaun Watson trade rumors were always just rumors, because how tone deaf could a team be to entertain that right now? Beyond the trouble Watson could cause in a city like Miami, what about Tua? I’m not a big fan of him either so far, but let’s at least give him this season to see if he can be a franchise player or not.
But given the way the Dolphins relied on turnovers on defense and Ryan Fitzpatrick saving the day a few times, I think this is one of the easiest picks for teams that take a few steps back this year.
Stats to consider: Last year, the Dolphins had some unusual numbers that can largely be explained by turnovers. Miami’s offense finished 22nd in yards, yet the Dolphins finished 15th in points scored. Miami’s defense finished 20th in yards allowed, yet the Dolphins finished sixth in points allowed. If you sum the difference in those rankings of yards and points, the Dolphins finished 21 spots above expectations. That makes the 2020 Dolphins the 18th team since 2002 to finish at least 20 spots above expectations between yards and points. Twelve of those 17 teams won fewer games the following season.
4. New York Jets (4-13)
BMR Preview: I recapped how the Tank for Trevor campaign went awry. You have to appreciate that Adam Gase found a way to win two games and it probably made the team worse for years to come. I am not overly confident with the additions of Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson. Part of that is because it’s the Jets making these moves, but maybe these are the guys who change it all there.
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-6)
BMR Preview: Finally, the Cowboys will be worth watching again. That’s assuming Dak Prescott’s health is fine. He hasn’t had the easiest training camp so far. He was so prolific last year, but again, I wonder how much of that was just the pandemic and defenses being so far behind. I highly doubt he’s going to smash the passing yards per game record, but then again, he did throw for nearly 5,000 yards in 2019. I think CeeDee Lamb will be ready to explode with him in this offense and it’s still going to have to be the offense that carries the team.
Included are some very interesting stats (to me at least) about how Dallas always has to score 30 to win the last two years. There’s never been another team like this for two years.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-9)
BMR Preview: I am optimistic about Jalen Hurts, though 8-9 is definitely a hedge on just how much. I’m not ready to buy in like I am with Justin Herbert and the Chargers. The accuracy in limited action last season is worrisome for sure. He only threw 148 passes, but according to Pro Football Reference, Hurts had the highest rate of bad passes (26.7%) by anyone with at least 125 attempts. The next closest quarterback was his new backup, Joe Flacco (23.4%). Worse, only 60.7% of Hurts’ throws were charted as being on-target passes, easily the lowest rate in the league.
Great, just what the Eagles need. An athletic quarterback with questionable accuracy but one hell of a highlight reel. Still, it beats whatever Carson Wentz was doing last year.
3. Washington Football Team (7-10)
BMR Preview: There is a lot to like but little to love with this Washington roster. Ryan Fitzpatrick should be an upgrade at quarterback as no playoff team had worse quarterback play than Washington last year. It also was far from a traditional playoff season at 7-9 in the worst division race in modern history. That schedule had a lot to do with the defense looking as good as it did statistically. The division games should be tougher. The overall schedule should be tougher. With Fitzpatrick’s career struggles in close games – Ron Rivera is no peach there either – I just don’t see this coming together for a winning season and certainly not a playoff trip. Remember, Fitzpatrick has never made the playoffs and Rivera has a losing record in 70% of his seasons.
4. New York Giants (4-13)
BMR Preview: The Giants have a lot of first-round picks on offense but are they legitimately good? That’s a big part of this preview. Seriously, if anyone can explain how Evan Engram made the Pro Bowl at tight end last year, I’d love to hear it.
If Daniel Jones doesn’t take a big step forward (without tripping over himself) in his third season, then it’s time to look for a new quarterback. They could have the worst situation in the division if he doesn’t pan out this year. I also think like Washington, the defense took advantage of a soft schedule.
1. Tennessee Titans (10-7)
BMR Preview: This team has regression red flags everywhere from all the close wins last season to Derrick Henry’s huge workload to the red zone offense efficiency after adding a receiver (Julio Jones) who never catches touchdowns to the defense being horrifically bad on third down. Actually, that last one should be positive regression as it can’t get worse than allowing 51.9% on third down, the only defense over 50% since 1991.
But it’s great to play in the AFC South right now. Houston and Jacksonville alone could be good for four wins. Plus, this is the first season in a long time where you can say the Titans are going in with the best quarterback. Oddly enough, Ryan Tannehill is maybe my most trusted asset on the Titans right now.
2. Indianapolis Colts (8-9)
BMR Preview: As you may expect, I wrote a scathing but factual account of Carson Wentz’s time in Philadelphia and how it got Doug Pederson fired. Now, he reunites with Frank Reich, his coordinator in 2017 and the guy who was allegedly the brains of the operation that year for the Super Bowl-winning Eagles. If he can’t fix Wentz, then no one can. Even I was surprised at how bad last season went for him.
I think Reich, who has had a different QB1 every year, will find a way to get better play out of Wentz. They’ll lean on Jonathan Taylor for sure. But a lot of injuries and some COVID nonsense with this team going into Week 1. I think playing in this division is their best hope of having a shot at the playoffs.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-13)
BMR Preview: I’m already a bit worried about Urban Meyer wasting Trevor Lawrence on his rookie contract. This regime just feels like it will reek of nonsensical, nepotism-inspired moves. At least Meyer has shown he’ll cut ties quickly if you make him look bad as his strength & conditioning coach did as well as Tim Tebow’s performance as a “blocking tight end” in the preseason. But this team is still down bad and I don’t see much happening this year.
4. Houston Texans (3-14)
BMR Preview: Well, I didn’t hold back on Deshaun Watson in that preview or on here when I ranked him as the 22nd-best quarterback of the 21st century. Twenty-two, one point for each of his accusers of sexual assault. As a fan, I’m really frustrated about this development in his career, which could have been Hall of Fame bound, and the league’s slow response to it all. He can’t possibly play this year, can he? I hope we hear his side of the story some day and he takes accountability.
Even with Watson, this team went 4-12 last year. There was never a ton of hope for something great with Watson. Now with Tyrod Taylor, I think three wins is looking like a lot. I was more optimistic when I wrote the BMR preview. This team just has nothing to be excited about anymore. DeAndre Hopkins is gone. J.J. Watt is gone. Watson might be done. David Culley is just being set up for failure, and that might be the only reason they hired someone so old and underwhelming.
It’s just sad.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-2)
BMR Preview: I detail the story of how the Buccaneers went from a 7-5 underachiever to a playoff overachiever to what should be the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champion. It is remarkable to see a team return every starter from a Super Bowl winning roster. Most of the depth is back as well, and we know this team had one of the deepest receiving corps in recent years. The Bucs were the most balanced of the final four teams last year and that’s why they won the Super Bowl. They could defend and get turnovers and set up Tom Brady on short fields at a rate we haven’t seen in the playoffs all these years.
Then the masterclass coaching job in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes could play 300 games and that may be the only time he gets beat 31-9 and doesn’t score a touchdown. The Bucs also brought back both coordinators, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, as well.
The biggest weakness this team has is that the quarterback is 44 years old, and the cliff could be there any week for him to walk off. Guys like Vinny Testaverde and Warren Moon played at that age, but it was a few games. This is a 20 or 21-game season the Bucs expect to have Brady for. But if he stays healthy again, they are absolutely loaded and should challenge for the best offense this year. Still, we know the best chance of repeating lies in staying balanced and having one of the best defenses too.
As disgusting as it sounds, I wouldn’t rule out a 20-0 season for this team. You know Brady is still sour over 2007 and a perfect season is about the only thing his resume can’t show. They should be favored in every game except maybe the Week 3 game in Los Angeles against the Rams.
Wait, a Matthew Stafford-led team is going to derail this team? Please. That’s exactly why I’m so on board with Tampa marching right back to the Super Bowl. You think Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterbacks who are a combined 17-122-1 against teams with a winning record, are going to help the Rams and Washington beat this team in a big game? I mean, just look at this:
That’s a quarter of the NFC now. Green Bay always gets smacked around by teams like this and hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl in a decade. Seattle can’t even get back to the NFC Championship Game since Malcolm Butler happened. No more Drew Brees in New Orleans. The Falcons, only if we could STOP THE COUNT before the fourth quarter. Where’s the threat? A Dallas team with Mike McCarthy and no defense? We’ll see that litmus test Thursday night.
I think it has to be an AFC team that knocks them out. If not the Chiefs, then it’s on Buffalo or Baltimore. We’ll see Bills at Buccaneers in Week 14.
The NFC is usually a surprise team at the top every year, but while this Tampa Bay run is not going to be a long one, it sure looks like it’s going to continue this year.
2. New Orleans Saints (8-9)
BMR Preview: I’m glad Sean Payton is giving Jameis Winston a chance to start. We’ll still see Taysom Hill of course, but Winston deserves this. It’s a huge opportunity for him to carve out a decent career after a stint in Tampa Bay that did not work out as planned. He is talented and obviously can move the ball at a high level, but turnovers have always been the problem. Now he has a better team around him, but I think it’s still a given there will be more sacks and turnovers in this offense without Drew Brees.
Time and time again, we see teams falter after losing such a great quarterback. Maybe the Saints won’t go all the way back to their 7-9 days with horrible defense, but until I see that Winston is the real deal in Payton’s offense, I am going with a step back to 8-9. This is a big opportunity for Payton too to show that Brees wasn’t the real offensive genius in New Orleans all those years. Winston is no slouch, but he needs to play more disciplined than he did in Tampa Bay. I’m excited to see this experiment.
3. Atlanta Falcons (8-9)
BMR Preview: No more Dan Quinn jokes, but no one can say he didn’t make history in his time in Atlanta. Fired after five games last year, but what a gem they were with two blown leads of 15+ points in the fourth quarter in back-to-back weeks. The 2020 Falcons were only outscored by 18 points on the season, the best scoring differential in NFL history for a team that finished 4-12 or worse.
I have higher hopes in Arthur Smith than most of the rookie coaches this year. I think he’ll be good for Matt Ryan and the offense, which is going to miss Julio Jones. But Calvin Ridley is a legit No. 1 receiver. Kyle Pitts is the highest drafted tight end ever. I have some good stats in the BMR preview about how hard it has been for rookie tight ends to dominate. He will try to join Mike Ditka as only the second one to break 1,000 yards as a rookie. He is in a great situation to do it.
4. Carolina Panthers (4-13)
BMR Preview: The Panthers were 0-9 at game-winning drive opportunities last year, tying the 2008 Lions for the worst record in the last 20 years. This sounds like a good chance for regression, but the Panthers have replaced Teddy Bridgewater with Sam Darnold, who I don’t believe in. I think the team is going to get worse despite Christian McCaffrey coming back.
1. Baltimore Ravens (12-5)
BMR Preview: I feel like I’m higher on Baltimore than most, but I just think this team is unique and built to beat most teams in the NFL. We know which ones they struggle with, namely the Chiefs. But they’ll have another shot at them in Week 2 at home. That’s the biggest one of the season as far as I’m concerned. We need to see something more from Lamar Jackson in that game. Even if he doesn’t win it, at least go toe to toe with Mahomes for a few quarters. The Ravens have gone from losing 27-24 in overtime, to 33-28 in Arrowhead, to 34-20 at home last year as the gap between Jackson and Mahomes grows in those games.
I keep pointing out how Jackson has led the Ravens to their lowest scoring total of the season in three straight postseasons, something you just don’t see from a great quarterback that often. That will need to change, but let’s get through this regular season first and worry about that later. The Ravens are losing running backs left and right, but I still think the running game is going to be successful and the defense will be good. The main thing is on Jackson to take this passing offense to the next level.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8)
BMR Preview: All the expectations are for the Steelers to fall apart this year, but I still don’t see it. I think people overlook the struggle the schedule changes caused last year. The Steelers weren’t supposed to have a Week 4 bye, but the Titans had a COVID problem. They ended up playing the COVID Ravens on a Wednesday afternoon in a game that needed multiple reschedules, and then they played five days later on a Monday against Washington, their first loss of the season after an 11-0 start. Then they had to go to Buffalo that Sunday night. It was three games over 12 days for a team that had an early bye.
Then when you have maybe the most one-dimensional offense in modern NFL history, those excessive number of throws are going to bother a 38-year-old quarterback who had elbow surgery a year earlier. I think the Steelers were just tired in December, they had flaws they never addressed, and they played horrible football for a few weeks.
But the comeback win against the Colts was vintage Roethlisberger. The playoff game against Cleveland was the worst first quarter start by a team in playoff history, down 28-0. I wrote all about the playoff failures of this team in this era here after the game. Same old Steelers.
Najee Harris should give the offense more balance. The offensive line can’t be any worse than it was last year, and it is all new. Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball so fast now that it can negate that weakness. I actually hope he holds onto the ball a little longer this year so they can get back to some big plays. The constant short throws and drag routes on 3rd-and-7 just have to go. But I think that’s still going to be an issue. At least the defense should be adequate as long as T.J. Watt gets his contract and doesn’t hold out.
The schedule looks tough, but I’m going to trust that the team that hasn’t had a losing season in 17 years still stays one game ahead of that mark. It could be the swansong for Roethlisberger, who won’t want to go out on a losing note.
3. Cleveland Browns (9-8)
BMR Preview: The 2020 Browns are only the second team after the 2012 Colts to win 11 games with a negative scoring differential. Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski felt his impact in his first year as Baker Mayfield and the offense powered the team forward to their best season since the days of Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar.
Yet, it still feels shaky to trust them to do it again or get better. I think the Browns will be competitive on a weekly basis, but the defense still looks too flawed to slow down teams like the Chiefs, Bills, and Ravens, or the teams you have to beat to get far in the playoffs right now. Plus Mayfield still has to prove he has consistency, and he has yet to develop a great connection with Odell Beckham Jr., who missed most of last year’s success. Myles Garrett is great on defense but I’d just like to see them have more there.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (6-11)
BMR Preview: It would be hard to pick head coach Zac Taylor out of a lineup of Costco cashiers, let alone pin down the identity of his football team. Last year, Joe Burrow threw the ball a ton. I picked up some Sam Bradford vibes from it all, but he looked better than Bradford did to me. Still, I’m a bit worried about him in this offense after he tore his ACL and the offensive line continues to look bad. I’m hoping to see more big plays from him this year after they upgraded the receivers. A.J. Green just didn’t have it anymore last year.
But with Taylor, it’s hard to see this team winning. Predicting them to win six games with a coach who is 6-25-1 feels generous to me.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-5)
BMR Preview: No team in NFL history has won 13 games in three straight seasons. The Packers are on the doorstep after going 13-3 in each of Matt LaFleur’s first two seasons. Both ended in a loss in the NFC Championship Game, but they were different paths to get there. Last year, Prime Aaron Rodgers returned and won his third MVP. It was unexpected since we hadn’t seen that guy for an extended period since 2014, and it’s not like the Packers added a ton of different talent on offense. I don’t remember anyone saying Jimmy Graham was holding them back in 2019 and tight end Robert Tonyan would be the answer. So, I would caution some regression there on offense.
As for defense, the Packers have a new coordinator (Joe Barry) with a bad track record and they brought back 14 of the 15 defenders who played at least 340 snaps, including playoff scapegoat Kevin King. I always say it’s the same thing every year for the Packers, but this is a little too on the nose. They even brought back slot receiver Randall Cobb to the offense in getting ready for Rodgers’ Last Dance.
The Packers have been swept out of the playoffs seven times since 2012, including each of the last two years by the 2019 49ers and 2020 Buccaneers. The good news? Tampa Bay isn’t on the schedule this year. But Green Bay is probably going to have to step up and beat a team like that if it wants to get back to another Super Bowl in this closing Rodgers window.
2. Minnesota Vikings (9-8)
BMR Preview: This was one of my favorite paragraphs in any of these previews this year:
“Kirk Cousins is an absolutely fitting 51-51-2 as a starter in the regular season (plus 1-2 in the playoffs). Since 2015, his records have been 9-7, 8-7-1, 7-9, 8-7-1, 10-5, and 7-9. It is as if he is incapable of straying more than a game from .500 or the Earth will spin off its axis. The one time he did in 2019, the world was thrown into a global pandemic. That is just the facts.”
I have a lot of good Cousins stats in here. The team really does seem like it can not stray too far from .500 with him. Last year, the Vikings had a lot of defensive injuries, leading to a horrible unit. Of all the teams in the league that have a shot at vastly improving their defense, I’d put Minnesota at No. 1 on the list given how many different and better players will take the field this year. The offense still obviously has some weapons, though I would caution that Justin Jefferson may not be able to improve on such a sensational rookie season with 1,400 yards. Plus, if Jefferson or Adam Thielen gets hurt, I’m not sure what this team will do at receiver. It’s not deep at all and even Kyle Rudolph is gone at tight end and Irv Smith was lost to injury.
But I came up with 9-8 in the end. Is that enough for the playoffs as a No. 7 seed? See below.
3. Chicago Bears (8-9)
BMR Preview: Nothing like dangling Justin Fields in the preseason and giving us Andy Dalton in prime time against Aaron Donald in Week 1. The Ginger Snaps won’t last past Week 3, right? That’s my thought on when we see Fields take over, which will definitely happen this year. I’m not sure why Matt Nagy is delaying the inevitable, but that’s why he’s not considered a top-tier coach despite not having a losing record yet. But I didn’t think Chicago did enough to make the defense better after a subpar year for that unit. The schedule is also really tough, so 8-9 is a gut pick that they’ll just be a mediocre team who won’t hog up a No. 7 seed this year.
4. Detroit Lions (4-13)
BMR Preview: While Matt Patricia always looked like a coach for a fictional New England football team on Family Guy, Dan Campbell enters with his own cartoonish vibe – somewhere between South Park’s PC Principal and a jock in Revenge of the Nerds.
I don’t know how long the Campbell era will last, but it sure could be hilarious. I probably give Jared Goff more credit than most, but I don’t think this is a good fit for him. Moving on from Matthew Stafford after a dozen years of trying to make it work was definitely the right move. The draft picks should help the Lions in their search for their next quarterback.
1. Kansas City (13-4)
2. Buffalo (12-5)
3. Baltimore (12-5)
4. Tennessee (10-7)
5. New England (10-7)
6. Los Angeles (10-7)
7. Pittsburgh (9-8)
Wild Card Saturday games decided by three points could become a Josh Allen tradition at this rate. The Steelers barely edged out Cleveland for the final wild card spot, but they drop another one in Buffalo. The Ravens get some revenge for 2018 by beating the Chargers while Mike Vrabel improves to 2-0 vs. Bill Belichick in the playoffs. But as the AFC rarely likes to change, we again see the Chiefs beat the Titans and the Bills beat the Ravens, setting up a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Once again, it’s Mahomes over Allen, sending the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for a third year in a row.
1. Tampa Bay (15-2)
2. Green Bay (12-5)
3. Los Angeles (12-5)
4. Dallas (11-6)
5. San Francisco (11-6)
6. Seattle (11-6)
7. Arizona (9-8)
Wow, it really worked out to get all four NFC West teams in the tournament. I do not feel confident about that, but I had 9-8 Arizona and 9-8 Minnesota, and since I have Arizona beating the Vikings in Week 2, that’s the tie-breaker. Let’s roll with it. I have Arizona losing in Green Bay, Rams beating Seattle again for Stafford’s first playoff win (fitting since his first big win of career was vs. Seattle), and I’ll take Dallas over the 49ers. Then it’s the opener rematch with Dallas losing again in Tampa Bay. Rams lose again in Green Bay. The Packers can’t solve Tampa again on the road in a game not even as close as last year’s finish. That sets up our rematch.
I feel good about four new division winners and five new playoff teams, but damn if these games playing out so much like last year doesn’t bug me. I have six playoff rematches from last year in here (BAL-BUF, BUF-KC, SEA-LAR, LAR-GB, GB-TB, KC-TB).
SUPER BOWL LVI
Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 27
At least this one won’t be played in Tampa Bay and the Chiefs shouldn’t have a ravaged offensive line this time.
Can he finally just retire after this one? Eight Is Enough was a TV show that debuted in 1977, the year Tom Brady was born. I hope that’s the universe’s sign telling him to take a f’n hint.
Super Bowl LV is not about Tom Brady “passing the torch” to Patrick Mahomes. It is a battle to see if Mahomes can pull the lucky horseshoe out of Brady’s ass and end the longest drought without a repeat champion in NFL history.
It’s the possible real GOAT against the LOAT (Luckiest of All Time).
I have already written around 10,000 words on this game (links below), but the general theme is the same: Kansas City should win, but if the Buccaneers are to pull it off, it will take some fortunate breaks. That is the high standard for beating the Chiefs with Mahomes these days. This team moved on quickly from the “amazing offense, poor defense” team we saw in 2018 that Brady’s Patriots slipped by twice playing keep-away with the ball from Mahomes at the end. This defense is not great, but it is good enough under Steve Spagnuolo, who has a track record of success against Brady-led offenses.
Five-Piece Super Bowl Preview Links
This will not be one of my extra long blog previews for the Super Bowl since I have spent the last two weeks already doing five articles on the game for Sportsbook Review. These are companion pieces going over different aspects of the matchup with very little overlap other than me repeating that the Chiefs won 27-24 in Tampa Bay in Week 12, it’s the first time a team is playing the Super Bowl in its home stadium, the Chiefs can end the longest drought without a repeat champion in NFL history (2003-04 Patriots the last), the Eric Fisher injury is a wild card, and that 16 of the last 17 Super Bowls have been within one score in the fourth quarter. Also, we are looking for our first true fourth quarter lead change this postseason, something every postseason since 2006 has had.
Why the Chiefs Can Beat the Buccaneers– “Few champions have ever repeated with as much style and consistency, but the pairing of Reid and Mahomes has been heaven for Kansas City and hell for the rest of the NFL.” This first piece looks at the incredible lengths a team must go to beat the Chiefs, who are often their own worst enemy. This also takes on the Eric Fisher injury and some Week 12 recap.
Why the Buccaneers Can Beat the Chiefs – “It is hard to bet against the Chiefs, but it may be even harder to bet against Brady’s unrivaled luck and team success in big games like this one.” This one looks at how the Buccaneers actually scored more points this season than the Chiefs, the impact Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones need to have, reasons to trust the Tampa Bay defense this time, and some of Brady’s luck in Super Bowls alone.
Matchup Analysis: Chiefs Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense – “The Chiefs already had a season-high 543 yards of offense in Tampa Bay in Week 12’s 27-24 win, but it was far from their most efficient scoring output this year. Now without left tackle Eric Fisher, can the Chiefs repeat their passing success, or will the Tampa Bay defense slow down a third straight legendary quarterback this postseason?” Fourth straight if you count Taylor Heinicke. This one looks at some stats on how the Chiefs are their own worst enemy (more on this below), a detailed recap of this matchup from Week 12, what might look different on Sunday, and how it all comes down to the four-minute offense.
Matchup Analysis: Buccaneers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense– “If the Buccaneers can get this game into the fourth quarter within reach, then they have done a great job of finishing this year. The 2020 Buccaneers have a plus-90 scoring differential in the fourth quarter, the highest for any team, including playoffs, since the 2013 Patriots (plus-103). The 2020 Chiefs are the only team in the last two seasons to allow over 40% of their opponent’s points in the fourth quarter. The 2020 Buccaneers have allowed 17.2% of their points in the fourth quarter, the lowest percentage in the NFL in the last five seasons.” This looks at the way Tampa Bay starts too many games slowly, needs to call more than just bad runs on first down, and how the offense has feasted on short fields this postseason. Also a Week 12 recap against the Chiefs, how things might look different this time, and the way the Chiefs do not fear blitzing Brady.
Super Bowl Game Pick and Prediction – “Can the Buccaneers replicate those breaks on top of playing great on both sides of the ball? Maybe the Chiefs will get cute with play-calling at the 1-yard line and have Kelce try to throw a touchdown to Mahomes before Reid shockingly settles for a field goal. Maybe Hardman will drop an 89-yard touchdown pass with no one around him. Maybe the defense can recover a Mahomes fumble in the red zone. Maybe the Chiefs will get called for offensive holding three times on one drive in the fourth quarter, leading to a punt after a dropped pass on third-and-27.
Oh wait, all those things already happened in Week 12 for the Buccaneers and they still lost to the Chiefs.”
This was my general prediction piece that touches on the Fisher injury, Tampa Bay’s likelihood of repeating the Raiders’ blueprint for beating the Chiefs, special teams mistakes by the Chiefs, and some very interesting notes on head referee Carl Cheffers and defensive pass interference, a penalty the 2020 Buccaneers have benefited from more than any team in the last 12 years (and perhaps all of NFL history).
But wait, there’s more…
How Do You Stop the Chiefs? (And the 2020 Packers for That Matter?)
Frankly, I am tired. I wish it were gameday instead of Friday. This is the last section I am writing before Sunday night. Originally, this was going to be research I used for what I hoped was a Chiefs-Packers Super Bowl where I can talk about the MVP award between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Of course, Green Bay didn’t get here again, so now I’m left with charting data I spent a good number of hours in late December compiling.
Like I said, I’m tired, and I know it’s not like me to turn in something incomplete, but including any data on Green Bay at all feels like a gift anyway. So the following data is for the Chiefs’ whole season, but only the regular season is included for Green Bay. Only drives started by Aaron Rodgers or Mahomes are included, and kneeldown-only drives are excluded as always.
How do you stop these offenses? Well, they both scored more times than they didn’t this year, but here’s a look at what I found when charting what ended the non-touchdown drives.
I fully expect Aaron Rodgers to win the MVP, and I get it, I really do. Personally, I voted for Mahomes on my PFWA ballot and thought he had the more valuable season, and some of my argument for that would have been reflected in these stats. Let’s not make this a big MVP debate, but let’s go through some of these numbers.
Both offenses were fantastic, but I felt like Rodgers had a bit more help from his teammates than Mahomes did. The first section that highlights teammate mistakes on non-touchdown drives shows an extra four lost fumbles by Mahomes’ teammates, five extra failures in short-yardage situations (those are mostly runs), two more touchdowns wiped out by penalty, and more missed kicks by Kansas City. There were a similar number of drops, but the Chiefs lost three more probable touchdowns and had more come on third or fourth down plays.
The section titled “OTHER THIRD DOWN STOPS” are the drives where the defense really stepped up and earned the stop of these offenses, usually on third down. The numbers there are similar though the Chiefs had considerably more passes defensed or batted at the line or Mahomes hit in motion.
As for QB turnovers, again, I thought it was silly how Mahomes having eight turnovers (one in one loss) to Rodgers having seven (five in three losses) was supposed to be a positive for Rodgers. It never was. Mahomes’ only “failure” on fourth down was a play against the Ravens where he just chucked up a pass in the final 30 seconds with a 34-20 lead. No biggie.
The final section, CLOCK & MISC., are drives that were not even really defensive stops, but the offenses were up against the time crunch late in the half or were just working the clock. It also makes note of the playoff drive against Cleveland where Mahomes was knocked out with his injury.
Finally for some more context, here are the reasons why the Chiefs settled for 32 field goal attempts this season:
This kind of analysis was something I have always wanted to do. To answer the question of “what caused the drive to end?” to see if I can figure out how much a great offense was stopped versus how often they stopped themselves.
In the case of the Chiefs, I do think they are their own worst enemy a lot of the times, and the numbers here support this to a degree when you consider they are scoring more than they aren’t.
Also, Marques Valdes-Scantling is frustrating as hell with his consistency, and he was responsible for several of the Green Bay mistakes this year, but obviously he played very well in the NFC Championship Game. Just a shame we are not talking about a Chiefs-Packers game so we could see who gets the Super Bowl MVP between Rodgers and Mahomes in their first ever matchup while both had such great seasons.
But of course, we get the potential real GOAT vs. the LOAT.
Here are some research tweets I have made in the leadup to the big game:
“I have seen some concerns that this could be a Seahawks-Broncos sized blowout with the 49ers’ physical defense attacking a “finesse” Kansas City offense, but I really don’t buy that narrative. Yes, pass-happy teams have a rather poor history in title games against tough defenses, but some teams are just different.”
Yes, the Chiefs are just different, but this year the story is looking similar. Replace the 49ers with the Buccaneers, add some extra tension over the offensive line shortcomings, and I am seeing the same things said this week. I even have someone in my Twitter mentions taking bets with people that the Chiefs won’t score more than 14 points.
I don’t want to make a “they’re only going to score 14 points?” remark, because I’ve already seen enough comparisons between the 2007 Giants and 2020 Buccaneers. It started with beating the Saints in the divisional round after getting swept by them in the regular season, something we’ve only seen the 2007 Giants do to Dallas. Then both won a one-score game in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Both teams have three road wins to reach the Super Bowl. Both teams have won three games this postseason despite allowing at least a 50% conversion rate on third down, which is the most wins in a playoff run since 1991.
While the Chiefs aren’t undefeated, it’s pretty close with Mahomes having won 25 of his last 26 starts. To be safe, I threw a couple bucks on a Tampa Bay 17-14 win, but I’d hold my breath on that one from cashing. This is arguably the most skill player firepower in Super Bowl history and I expect both teams to score at least 20 points. Every Tampa Bay opponent has scored at least 20 this postseason.
But I will say I was watching some of Chiefs-49ers the other day and that was a grind for Kansas City’s offense. I don’t think the Tampa Bay defense is as good as the 49ers, but if JPP and Shaq Barrett go nuts against that line, well, pressure is pressure, and it makes any offense look bad. It was wild to remember that the Chiefs had 10 points halfway through the fourth quarter, and you can argue it’s the least impressive playoff start of the Mahomes era. That 31-20 final may be the most misleading in Super Bowl history for how that game actually played out. It was not an easy win for the Chiefs, but you still have to stop them for 60 minutes, not 53.
Tyreek Hill Dud Incoming?
Finally, one last piece of research I was interested in this week that could be telling in how this game plays out, or at the very least could have use for people placing bets (especially SGP) is what happens in a playoff rematch after a receiver torches a defense in the regular season?
Hill had 269 yards and three touchdowns in Tampa Bay in Week 12, making Carlton Davis look like Carlton Banks. Obviously, that won’t happen again on Sunday, but should we expect Hill to put up 60 yards, 120 yards, 20 yards, or what? He went from 20 yards against Buffalo in Week 6 to 172 yards in the AFC Championship Game, so you just never know. This is the reverse situation though. Hill had 66 yards in the final three quarters in Week 12 after that absurd 203 yards in the first quarter alone.
For my approach to finding similar examples, I did not want to limit it to 200-yard days, since those are rare. I also did not want to go down to 150 and dig through a lot of game logs, so I capped it at 175 yards and found that this will be the 19th time since 1970 that a receiver is getting a playoff rematch with a defense he torched for 175+ yards in the regular season. This does not include what would have been another example when Antonio Brown had 189 yards against the 2015 Broncos, but was unavailable for the playoff rematch after getting knocked out by Vontaze Burfict in Cincinnati.
Here are the results sorted by the biggest declines in receiving yards in the playoffs.
This is not a ton of examples in 50 years, and Hill may be the most dangerous receiver on the list, but this is not an encouraging sign for him going off again. The average receiver declined by almost 140 yards in the playoffs and only two of the 18 (Tim Brown and Michael Haynes) were able to hit 100 yards again. Touchdowns also dropped from 28 to six. There were also four extra losses in the playoffs, and the only Super Bowl on the list saw Charlie Brown’s 1983 Washington team get blown out 38-9.
I thought Washington’s Gary Clark (-241 yards) in the 1986 NFC Championship Game may have been injured early, but I checked the gamebook and it looks like he caught zero balls on 13 targets with four drops. Ouch. Don Beebe going off for 220 yards against the 49ers in 1996 is pretty damn amusing as well. It’s not that big of a surprise he only had 2 yards in the playoffs.
My gut is on Travis Kelce taking over as the leading receiver for the Chiefs this week. No one has been able to effectively shut Hill and Kelce down in the same game outside of maybe Denver in the snow. They held them to 86 yards and one touchdown.
Hill going off for 200 yards again in the Super Bowl would be legendary, but I’m putting my money more on Kelce, and if I do include Hill in my parlays, I’m likely taking the under 94.5.
I put a $25 bet on Bucs 31-27 (+13000), basically repeating the Week 12 game script, except for an ending where Tampa Bay gets the ball back and scores a game-winning touchdown late. No, I still wouldn’t be happy if I nailed it. Last year, I had the Chiefs winning by four, which was in the bank until Darrel Williams took that last run 38 yards for a touchdown.
If you’ve followed me for a little or a long time, you know it’s S.O.P. for me to pick the Brady-led team in these things. It stems back to how I’d often pick against the Patriots and they would still win, so I stopped doing it for the 2006 AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis, which the Colts came back to win. So I automatically pick Brady as a reverse jinx. You basically have to ignore my final prediction and read what I wrote in the preview to gauge if I think his team is going to win or not.
In this one, I think it’s clear I believe the Chiefs should win, but I just know how close to the vest they play it and how that could easily backfire against Tampa. Especially when you are at a disadvantage in the trenches. Especially when you are facing the LOAT. Especially when Arians has the magic beans that shit out close wins as well as any active coach in the NFL.
But like Mahomes said after the Buffalo win, he trusts his guys over anybody, and I trust him (and Reid and Kelce and Mathieu, etc.). I trust this team so much that I am going to pick the Chiefs straight up to win the whole damn thing again.
(But you know damn well I am hedging like crazy in bets on Tampa Bay winning just in case, and Tampa Bay +3.5 is legitimately a good pick in my opinion)
Final: Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 28 (MVP: Patrick Mahomes)
Few games in the NFL actually amount to a legacy game, but this is absolutely one for Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That’s a scary thought when most will focus on the result instead of how each actually plays, but this is undoubtedly a big opportunity for the No. 12 in green. Rodgers did not reach the Super Bowl in his first two MVP seasons, and this is looking like the third opportunity, but it is also his first NFC Championship Game at home after playing four of them on the road. He is still looking for that first signature performance in this round of the playoffs, a round that has also seen a lot of subpar Brady performances. But can the Packers capitalize on any mistakes unlike the Saints defense on Sunday?
Say what you will about the lack of homefield advantage this year, but Green Bay just doesn’t seem to turn the ball over at Lambeau Field like it does elsewhere. Seven of Green Bay’s league-low 11 giveaways were on the road this year. Rodgers has thrown one interception in seven home playoff games and that happened nine years ago. Rodgers has had 14 of his 19 multi-interception games on the road, including three in Tampa Bay where he’s also had half of his four career games with three interceptions.
He damn near threw four picks in Tampa Bay in Week 6 this year, the 38-10 loss that will either prove to be the harbinger of Green Bay’s undoing or the true anomaly of a Super Bowl season. The Packers scored at least 22 points in every other game this season.
If you are wondering why the title says Part II, that is partially a reference to this being a Week 6 rematch as both Conference Championship Games are this weekend, but also because I already wrote a preview for this game at Sportsbook Review. You should read that for details on what led to 38-10 and the individual matchups this weekend. I’m using this space for more of my personal opinions on this game’s place in history.
First, some quick notes on Conference Championship Games that were rematches from the regular season since 1978 that can apply to both games on Sunday:
The playoff record for the team that won the last meeting is 34-24 (.586) as the 49ers swept the Packers last year, but the Chiefs came back to beat the Titans.
The home team in the playoffs is 39-19 (.672).
Teams like Kansas City who played the last matchup on the road and are at home in the title game are 20-8 (.714).
Teams like Kansas City who won the last matchup on the road and are at home in the title game are 12-2 (.857), but the two losers were Andy Reid’s 2003 Eagles (vs. Panthers) and the 2007 Packers (vs. Giants).
The playoff record for a road loser switching venues in the playoffs like Green Bay this week is 8-6 (.571) as the Chiefs were able to beat the Titans that way last year but lost to Tom Brady’s Patriots at home the previous year.
The team who was at least a 3-point favorite in both matchups (2020 Chiefs and Packers apply) is 21-10 (.677) ATS and 24-7 (.774) SU in the title game.
Buccaneers at Packers (-3.5)
Well, we are basically where I expected we would be. Your move, Aaron.
With the roster Tampa Bay has, you would have expected a better record than 11-5 this year. But some spotty performances and getting owned twice by the Saints led to a No. 5 seed in the tournament. That’s not so bad when you get to open with the worst division winner in NFL history and Drew Brees on his last legs in a quiet Superdome.
The highlight of the season has always been that 38-10 demolition of Rodgers and the Packers, which was actually a preview of how the Bucs ended up finally beating the Saints in the playoffs last week. The defense pounced on interceptions and set up multiple touchdowns for Tampa Bay while Brady didn’t throw for 200 yards again, just like in Week 6. The difference on Sunday from Week 6 is that the Buccaneers didn’t have a touchdown drive over 40 yards. Even Bill Belichick’s girlfriend can see the defense won that game.
I cannot see it happening again that way. Rodgers came up a tackle at the 2-yard line short of throwing back-to-back pick-sixes, or plays he had twice in his entire career. That seemed to mentally break him that day, and then the physical beatdown came with the Tampa defense getting good pressure and four sacks on him. Green Bay’s had the best pass protection all year, but that day it was Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense getting the upper hand.
I was already reviewing this game in December in anticipation we’d see the playoff rematch, and it was then I remembered just why I was so disgusted by Rodgers and Green Bay’s performance. It looked like so many old Green Bay losses where the team goes on the road, gets punched in the mouth, and just crumbles. The way Rodgers started missing open receivers and nearly having two more interceptions that Tampa Bay dropped, it was a pure meltdown and it felt like he gave up in the second half. That game was the main reason I was so against giving him the MVP for this season, but it does remain his only poor performance of 2020 so far.
Rodgers now must overcome that defense to get to the Super Bowl. That is only fair in my book. This is the matchup we deserve with the way the Saints and Seahawks limped across the finish line. It’s like the opposite of 1996 when Brett Favre avoided the Cowboys, a team he always struggled with, in the playoffs. Dallas beat Green Bay 21-6 in Week 12, but Favre never had to beat them in the playoffs to get his only Super Bowl win. It would not feel right for Rodgers to avoid Tampa Bay this season.
This is a game where the home quarterback needs to hold serve. When Peyton Manning and Brady met five times in the playoffs, the home team won all five games with the last three AFC title games going to Manning’s teams. Brees just blew his only shot at Brady in the playoffs. Rodgers cannot have a second stinker, but go figure, the only defense that has shown the ability to shut him down this year comes attached with Brady, who has the only defense playing this Sunday with the defensive profile you’d expect from a Super Bowl champion with the other three units being pretty mediocre.
Throw in the Super Bowl being in Tampa with a trash Florida governor cocky enough to allow that stadium to fill with fans, and yeah, you can see where this is going. (Note: attendance may end up capped at 20%, but do not underestimate corporate greed).
Unless Tampa starts slowly again and Rodgers dunks on them early, this is going to be a tough one. Remember, before the collapse in Week 6 the Packers were leading 10-0 in the second quarter and had the ball.
It seems for over a decade, many people picked a Rodgers vs Brady Super Bowl before the season even starts, only for it to never happen. This is the closest we’ll get to it now with them sharing the conference, but there were some close calls before. It probably should have happened in 2010 or 2011, but each team experienced a major upset at home in the divisional round those years: New England to the 2010 Jets, Green Bay to the 2011 Giants.
Then there was the 2014 season. They met for the first time in the regular season and Rodgers pulled out a solid 26-21 game that was a breakout moment for a rookie named Davante Adams (121 yards). We could have had this again in the Super Bowl, but the Packers blew a 16-0 lead in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, most notably failing to recover an onside kick that probably sets up a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl.
The more I think about that postseason now, the more I’ve come to realize in hindsight that the 2014 Seahawks are my most hated team of the last decade. There is nothing I personally object to with that team. I am generally pro-Russell Wilson, pro-Pete Carroll, and Seattle was the team I picked to become the NFL’s next dynasty before the 2013 season started.
But the path that 2014 Seattle team set the league on aggravates me so much. They took their injured Legion of Boom secondary from that game into the Super Bowl, teased us with a good start against the Patriots, then blew a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter in one of the worst ways possible. Yes, Malcolm Butler’s interception at the 1-yard line is the costliest interception in NFL history. This also makes for one of the most annoying comparisons ever when people compare the 2013 Broncos’ performance in the Super Bowl against the best Seattle team to New England’s in 2014 when Seattle was not the same.
Seriously, I might hate Brandon Bostick more than I hate Hank Baskett. (If you know your botched onside kick recoveries, good for you).
Seattle has yet to have much postseason success since that game, the same one that helped end a nine-year drought of titles for the Patriots and led to winning two more. In hindsight, I would have much rather seen Rodgers and the Packers get their shot in Super Bowl XLIX than Seattle’s choke job. Rodgers was not fully healthy late in that season after Ndamukong Suh, another old foe he’ll have to deal with this Sunday, cheaply stepped on him with Detroit.
Maybe Rodgers has an ineffective Super Bowl against one of Belichick’s best pass defenses, and Brady gets the win anyway. All I know is the chance for Rodgers to win that game could have made the ring count 3-2 at the time, and we know it’s the easiest thing in the world to discount Brady’s first ring. Maybe “Prime Aaron Rodgers” doesn’t fall off in 2015 if he’s coming off a second Super Bowl MVP season.
That postseason was a huge turning point for the league. This one can be too, but a lot of that depends on Patrick Mahomes’ health and the Chiefs. For more on that game, click here.
Now six years later, Rodgers is still searching for that second Super Bowl appearance. Brees was in a similar boat with his own history of playoff disappointment. It should have been him instead of Jared Goff and the Rams challenging the Patriots in 2018, but that’s what happens when you get the worst no-call in NFL history to go against you. Still, Brees had another shot on Sunday and played his first terrible playoff game and maybe the worst game he’s had in a Saints uniform. Sadly, it will likely be his final NFL game as he retires at 42.
But Rodgers isn’t nearing the end yet. He’s playing at a very high level and this is a complete offense with a running game they’ll need to continue getting huge production from, especially against a tough Buccaneers defense. There may also be considerable snow in this game with the Packers already impressing in those conditions with a 40-14 win over Tennessee in December.
Historically, home teams do very well in freezing temperatures at home in the playoffs against teams not used to those conditions, though Green Bay has had a few high-profile losses over the years (2002 Falcons, 2004 Vikings, 2013 49ers).
38-10 aside, I am fairly confident in Rodgers playing well in this game. Justin Herbert did a great job against this Tampa Bay defense before the Chargers did their usual act of blowing a 17-point lead. Ditto for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who twice scored 27 points late in the season on Tampa. Taylor Heinicke didn’t even know he was going to start until late in the week and threw for over 300 yards in a playoff game for one of the worst offenses in the league. I know Brees just had that brutal game, but before this Tampa defense broke his ribs, he embarrassed them that night in Week 9’s 38-3 win. Even Daniel Jones had many open receivers against this defense and should have been able to win that game, a 25-23 loss on Monday night.
I really want to pick the Packers to answer 38-10 in a huge way here. For once, let’s see Brady play a historic offense without Bill Belichick figuring out a way to make them look impotent, but instead for them to run up the score to 44 or more. You know, something that’s happened three times to Rodgers in the playoffs and not once to Brady in 342 career starts, which is unheard of.
But then I think about how defeated Rodgers looked in Week 6, and how his last six playoff exits have all been to teams he lost to in the regular season. How Matt LaFleur was not impressive at all in playing the 49ers a second time in last year’s NFC Championship Game, a 37-20 loss. How this defense is unlikely to defend all these receivers as well as the Saints did. How Ronald Jones rushed for over 100 yards in Week 6 and looked very good, along with Leonard Fournette, in New Orleans on Sunday. How no one is even covering Cameron Brate this postseason. How Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are likely to make much bigger impacts this week. Maybe Antonio Brown too if he’s healthy.
Then I just think about the general fortune of Rodgers-led teams in the playoffs compared to Brady-led teams, and I have a bad feeling about this one.
Like as if my claims of Rodgers folding when a team makes it tough on him come true again, or that his stat-padding from the 1-yard line means the game is going to end after he throws four straight incompletions from the 1. No, not a Malcolm Butler interception repeat, but just four straight misses after leading one of the most effective red zone offenses this century. Or Mason Crosby misses several kicks after getting shaken up last week. Or Marques Valdes-Scantling drops three drive-extending passes on third down – that might be the most realistic one.
I think this season deserves a Packers-Chiefs Super Bowl, a rematch of Super Bowl I. This would be between the two No. 1 seeds and the first (if not last) meeting between the two best quarterbacks in the game right now. But I can’t help but think the events of last Sunday were the football gods throwing up the middle finger at me again.
I’ll save the rants for Sunday night if necessary, but one thing I feel like I can count on is that it is unlikely Rodgers and Brady will both play great on Sunday.
Remember when Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes in Week 3 was going to be the Game of the Year? Whoops, only one MVP showed up. Look at the other matchups of note. A high-quality quarterback duel didn’t happen in Week 6 for Rodgers-Brady or even for Allen-Mahomes. It didn’t happen when Rodgers and Brady met in 2018. It didn’t happen three times this year between Brady and Brees. It never happened in five playoff games between Manning and Brady. It didn’t happen in the Super Bowl when Joe Montana faced two Cincinnati MVP winners (Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason) or Hall of Famers Dan Marino or John Elway. Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger had one of the great ones, but it was a regular season game in 2009 and not Super Bowl XLV the following year.
The only playoff game in NFL history where both quarterbacks passed for 400 yards happened in 1981 and it involved Don Strock, who didn’t even start the game. There is a reason 2009 Matthew Stafford vs. Brady Quinn once ranked in the top 10 for a show about the greatest quarterback duels in NFL history.
Maybe I’m selling Rodgers short though. After all, he is part of one of the six duels in playoff history where both quarterbacks threw at least three touchdowns and had a 100+ passer rating. He and Kurt Warner in 2009 are the only pair that will be in the Hall of Fame too.
Games like this are expected to be shootouts or well-played classics, but one guy usually blows the other away before halftime and we’re left watching a dud, or neither quarterback plays well and the other players become the determining factor of who wins and who loses, like we saw with Bucs-Saints on Sunday.