NFL 2021 AFC Wild Card Previews

The AFC playoffs begin with three rematches of games that took place in Week 11 or later. Patriots-Bills is a third divisional matchup, but if you just consider the last meeting, then all three road teams this weekend are trying to avenge a loss by 12-plus points.

It’s a tall task, but not impossible as these fan bases should know from past experiences. Just last year, the Steelers beat Cleveland 38-7 at Heinz Field before losing 48-37 to the Browns in the playoffs. Tampa Bay was swept by New Orleans in the regular season, including a 38-3 bloodbath in Week 9, but the Buccaneers won 30-20 in the divisional round, the crucial turning point in last year’s championship run.

And of course I have to bring up how the 2010 Patriots once beat the Jets 45-3 in December, then lost 28-21 to Mark Sanchez a month later in the divisional round. That 49-point turnaround is the stuff of legends, but it would not be the craziest thing ever if the Raiders or Steelers pulled off wins this week.

But it’s not very likely. Double-digit underdogs, like Pittsburgh, in playoff rematches since 2002 are just 4-13 SU. Most of the closest games all happened in the 2007 playoffs with Philip Rivers tearing his ACL in Indy, playing on said injury in New England, and those 18-0 Patriots choking in the Super Bowl to the Giants. Other upsets include the Beastquake against the 2010 Saints and Jake Delhomme’s career imploding against the 2008 Cardinals.

Since 2002, the team winning the regular-season matchup by at least 12 points is 32-17 (.653) in the playoff rematch with an average margin of victory of 11.3 points. However, only 13 of the 49 teams were able to win the rematch by 12 or more points too. The record is 14-10 (.583) for the previous game winner when it’s a rematch from Week 11 or later.

The NFC previews will be posted on Friday.

Raiders at Bengals (-4.5)

See my early preview for this game at BMR.

The spread keeps moving towards the Raiders and I think I understand that. A large chunk of the world was not born yet when the Bengals last won a playoff game. Then again, the Raiders haven’t won one since the 2002 AFC Championship Game.

This one is interesting with both teams having almost no big-game experience (let alone success) to speak of, and I think the 32-13 win in Week 11 by the Bengals in Las Vegas is a misleading score.

Joe Burrow had a spectacular second season, leading the NFL in completion percentage (70.4%) and yards per attempt (8.9). However, he also took a league-high 51 sacks. The Raiders are about average at getting to the quarterback, but that might be more impressive than it sounds when you consider they send the lowest blitz rate (12.1%) by far according to Pro Football Reference. Burrow faced a season-low two blitzes against the Raiders in Week 11, but they still got him for three sacks and nine pressures. Maxx Crosby did not have a sack, but he has been a beast with pressures this year. The Raiders are 8-2 when Crosby has at least two pressures, so he needs to have a bigger game this time.

But if I’m a Cincinnati fan, I am worried that my big-play passing offense did not materialize in Week 11. Against the Raiders, Burrow had a season-low 148 yards with no play gaining more than 17 yards. He only threw 29 passes, but he also set season lows in YPA (5.1), air yards per completion (3.2), and completed air yards per attempt (2.2). The great wide receiver trio was held to 96 yards and a touchdown by Ja’Marr Chase, who was in the process of a seven-game slump where he only averaged 40.6 yards per game. The Bengals are 3-5 when Chase has under 60 yards compared to 7-2 when he goes over that number.

The only 20-yard play Cincinnati had against the Raiders was a 20-yard run by Joe Mixon, who shined that day with 30 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon ended the season with COVID, but he should be rested and ready for this one. The Raiders are nothing special at stopping the run.

Despite the 32-13 final, neither team cracked 300 yards in Week 11. It was a 16-13 game in the fourth quarter before the Bengals put it away with a 62-yard touchdown drive. A couple turnovers by Carr in the final minutes padded the score with 10 more points by Cincinnati.

Third down was a killer as the Raiders were 1-of-7 and the Bengals were 8-of-16. Those rates should be closer this time though the Bengals (39.6%; ranked 16th) are a little better than the Raiders (37.4%; ranked 23rd) this year. Both offenses have also scored 31 touchdowns in the red zone, and while the Raiders get there a little more often, they rank 26th in red zone touchdown percentage (51.7%).

The Bengals did get to rest key starters against the Browns on Sunday. The Raiders of course had to play a full fifth quarter to put away the Chargers on Sunday night to get in the tournament. That potential for some fatigue on Saturday may be offset by potential rust and jumpiness by the young Bengals to start the game. We have no idea how Burrow and company will react to the postseason setting.

Of course, betting on Derek Carr in the biggest game of his life (first playoff start in Year 8) is also an unknown. Is he going to turn into Andy Dalton or surprise us like a Nick Foles or Jeff Hostetler to reference a former Raider? You probably know I think the guy is not a legit franchise quarterback and relies on penalties to boost his admittedly impressive collection of game-winning drives. Carr has 30 game-winning drives in eight seasons, which trails only Russell Wilson (32) and Matt Ryan (31) for the most in a quarterback’s first eight seasons.

Hell, Carr has a better record at 4QC/GWD opportunities (30-33, .476) than he has as a starter in general (57-70, .449). That’s not supposed to happen in the NFL.

The problem has been keeping the game close enough to win it late. If we’re being honest, the Raiders were an afterthought at 6-7 following a 1-5 stretch where they only beat Dallas on Thanksgiving thanks to an absurd number of crucial penalties. But then the Raiders drew the Browns in a COVID crunch, having to start Nick Mullens at quarterback. They won it 16-14 on a 48-yard field goal. They got Drew Lock, another lousy backup quarterback in Denver, and won 17-13. They beat the Colts on a last-second field goal despite Carr throwing two interceptions. But it sure is good to play Carson Wentz (coming off COVID to boot). Then the epic against the Chargers where Justin Herbert refused to die, but a lot of Chargering ensued. How about a run for a first down on 3rd-and-23, or a bullshit 41-yard DPI flag on an uncatchable pass on the same drive for a crucial touchdown before halftime?

Carr led the Raiders on six game-winning drives this year to get to 10-7, which covers up the fact that they were outscored by 65 points. Before you say no big deal, consider that the 2021 Raiders are the only 10-win team in NFL history to be outscored by more than 30 points.

Likewise, the 2021 Raiders are only the fourth playoff team in NFL history to be outscored by at least 65 points. The 2004 Rams (-73) managed to beat the rival Seahawks before losing badly in Atlanta. The 2010 Seahawks (-97) were 7-9, but had home-field advantage and beat the Saints 41-36 after Marshawn Lynch’s crazy run. The 2011 Broncos (-81) were 8-8 but got to host a 12-4 Pittsburgh team that was missing its safety (Ryan Clark) because of the altitude’s effect on his sickle cell issue. Tebow 3:16 happened, Demaryius Thomas (RIP) one play into overtime happened, and the rest is history. Well, including the fact that they got their shit pushed in 45-10 in New England the following week.

But the pattern there is two teams that got to play at home and one that got to play a division rival it pretty much owned. The Raiders do not have those advantages this week. The 1989 Steelers, 1998 Cardinals, and 2004 Rams are the only teams in NFL history to win their first playoff game on the road after being outscored by at least 40 points in the regular season.

The Raiders feel like they’re either going to pull off a close win or get blown out. A close win is possible given their season, and the fact that it’s not an area where the Bengals have been strong under Zac Taylor and Burrow. They didn’t close this year in losses to the Bears, Packers, Jets, and 49ers. Burrow is 3-8-1 (.292) at GWD opportunities.

But I do want to point out something significant with penalties. The Raiders have the most penalty yards (1,119) and the Bengals have the fewest (620) this season. Cincinnati is plus-44 in penalty differential, the best in the league. Las Vegas is minus-25 in penalty count differential, tied for the worst in the league. Jerome Boger was the referee in Week 11 when the Bengals had one penalty for 5 yards and the Raiders had seven penalties for 77 yards. Boger will be the referee on Saturday too, so maybe the Raiders won’t be getting much help from the zebras.

For my pick, I’m willing to hedge on the Raiders covering, Bengals winning the game. But this is the best chance I’ve ever seen the Bengals have to finally win a playoff game.

Final: Bengals 24, Raiders 20

Patriots at Bills (-4)

Plain and simple: Buffalo has a better roster than New England, and the biggest advantage is at quarterback. The only issue is the weather can negate that advantage as it did in Week 13 when the Patriots won 14-10 despite throwing three passes.

Guess what? Saturday night in Buffalo might be around zero degrees, the coldest playoff game since we saw the 2015 Seahawks win 10-9 in Minnesota. You remember the Blair Walsh game, right?

The over/under for this game is 44 points. Pro Football Reference shows 12 playoff games with a temperature under 10 degrees, and only one of those games hit 44 points. The 1993 Bills beat the Raiders 29-23, but I’d be stunned to see that kind of offensive prowess on Saturday night.

When the teams met in more normal conditions in Week 16, Josh Allen was fantastic in the 33-21 win. Allen was the 57th quarterback to throw at least 45 passes against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, but he is the only one to escape that game with zero sacks or interceptions. Meanwhile, rookie Mac Jones has struggled down the stretch. In his last five games, Jones has six touchdowns to five interceptions with 6.79 YPA. He was completing 70.3% of his passes in Weeks 1-12, but that fell to 60.0% in the last five games. The Patriots do not have a dominant enough passing game or receiver to take advantage of the Bills losing corner Tre’Davious White to a torn ACL.

These defenses are another reason to bet the under. The Bills (289 points allowed) were the only team to allow fewer than 300 points this season, but right behind them was New England (303). The Bills also allowed nearly 600 fewer yards than the next closest defense. The Bills (4.6) were the only defense to allow under 5.0 yards per play this year. The Bills and Patriots both had 30 takeaways, which ranks third in 2021.

These teams are front-runners. Each team had a four-game streak of winning games by 18+ points, the only teams to have such a streak in the last four seasons. The Patriots (3-4) and Bills (1-5) were the only playoff teams this year to have losing records in close games (within one score in fourth quarter/OT). The Bills were 0-5 at GWD opportunities despite Allen’s gaudy fourth-quarter statistics overall. Jones’ only game-winning drive was against Houston.

The Bills have not won a game by fewer than 10 points since opening last year’s postseason with a 27-24 win over the Colts. I expect fewer points this time, but there is no denying that if the weather is brutal, it helps the Patriots more. New England is going to want to run Damien Harris and company, but the Bills just need to limit the big play. They very well could have won the first meeting if Harris didn’t break that 64-yard touchdown run.

New England had 11 first downs and was 2-of-12 on third down in the infamous Week 13 win. I’m pretty sure the Bills would gladly sign up for those numbers again. It was not a good offensive strategy to attempt just three passes, but the Bills couldn’t get it done offensively that night. Ever since that game, the Patriots have come out of the bye and gone 1-3 with ugly performances in Indy and Miami to go along with the Buffalo loss at home. This team might just be a paper tiger not yet ready to compete for the Lombardi again.

The Patriots have not done a good job of taking away Stefon Diggs in these meetings. He had 85 yards and a touchdown in Week 16. In that game, Cole Beasley was out with COVID, and the Bills used a wrinkle of throwing a bunch of short passes to Isaiah McKenzie, who caught 11-of-12 targets for 125 yards and a touchdown. McKenzie has nine catches in all other games this season combined. That likely won’t be the plan again this time, but Beasley is back, and the Bills have gotten Devin Singletary going on the ground in the last month. The Patriots held him to 39 yards in Week 16, but Allen was dynamic with 12 runs for 64 yards to go along with his 314 passing yards.

Rookie quarterbacks are hard to trust in the playoffs. The Patriots are 1-6 in games where Jones is pressured at least 20% of the time, and yes, I refuse to count his three-attempt game in that statistic.

It’s the playoffs. I think Allen should run more in this game and just take what the defense gives him. I see the Patriots having to lean on Jones for more than three passes and him not delivering against what’s been one of the stingiest defenses this season. Allen may have ugly numbers in this one, but I’m trusting the Bills to get the job done.

Final: Bills 23, Patriots 13

Steelers at Chiefs (-12.5)

On Sunday night, the Steelers return to the site of their last playoff win almost five years to the date. It was an 18-16 divisional round win in Kansas City, shocking the Chiefs with six field goals. It likely was the inciting incident for the Chiefs to pull the trigger on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft and begin a new era of dominance in the AFC.

Now Mahomes can help end an era with Ben Roethlisberger heading into retirement in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have not been this big of an underdog in any game since Super Bowl XXX against Dallas. This is the first wild card game of the Mahomes era, but the Chiefs are a deserving heavy favorite over a Pittsburgh team that snuck into the playoffs after the Jaguars beat the Colts and the Raiders and Chargers narrowly avoided a tie.

This would be a massive upset for Pittsburgh. Not only do the Chiefs have a great pedigree with back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, but that Week 16 win (36-10) was so lopsided. Even without Travis Kelce, the Chiefs scored 36 points with ease and let up in the fourth quarter. Tyreek Hill only had two catches for 19 yards. The Chiefs are going to have to get Hill and Kelce, who were both banged up last week, going at a high level again, but they’ve been doing well as of late without them producing huge numbers aside from the Chargers win in Week 15.

Mahomes and the offense did what it wanted, including rushing for 127 yards against a Pittsburgh run defense that has been horrific this year. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward can only do so much.

Roethlisberger had one of his least effective games of the season as the Steelers trailed 17-0 very quickly. Even Chris Boswell missed a 36-yard field goal in that half as Kansas City led 23-0. Diontae Johnson fumbled a ball without even being contacted. It was an all-around no-show performance by the Steelers.

Did you see above where I said the Raiders are one of the worst playoff teams in history based on scoring differential? Pittsburgh’s in that mix too at minus-55. The Steelers needed seven game-winning drives and a tie against Detroit to get to 9-7-1, and even then, help from other teams was needed.

It’s been an emotional few weeks for Roethlisberger. He had his last home game in prime time where his family attended, and it was one of the least effective games of his career despite the win. He had to go into Sunday’s game in Baltimore expecting that was it, and maybe after seeing what the Colts were doing in Jacksonville, that sparked him to some more late-game magic with one of the best game-winning drives of his career. Then he had to sweat out the Chargers-Raiders tie that almost ended his career.

What more can he have left for this one, a game where he is the biggest underdog of his career? Pittsburgh’s only hope is that they get a classic Andy Reid performance with bad clock management, a completely one-dimensional attack instead of running on this terrible defense, and some of the usual favors from the Chiefs in tipped balls turning into interceptions, the obligatory fumble, or the stupid drive-extending penalty. None of which the Chiefs are above doing, and Kansas City has blown three fourth-quarter leads this season. But Pittsburgh has eons to go to close the gap from 36-10.

When the 2010 Jets, who I mentioned in the intro, shocked the Patriots, at least we can point to their win over the Patriots earlier in the season as precedent. For that matter, the 2007 Giants winning Super Bowl 42 can be traced back to how well they played New England in Week 17. The Steelers just don’t have much to tip their hat to in this matchup. Anyone trying to compare this team to 2005 (sixth seed winning it all) should not be talking seriously about football. That team was one of the best in the league and lost two games in overtime with their third-string quarterback playing terribly. The 2021 Steelers are a legitimately bad football team held together by a ton of close wins led by the Defensive Player of the Year and a quarterback who is making sure he fires every last bullet in the chamber before he goes out.

Mahomes is 42-1 when the Chiefs allow fewer than 27 points. I just do not see Pittsburgh scoring enough to get this done. I think it will be closer than 36-10, but that’s not saying much. You have to respect how the Steelers play up to the competition. They’ve already defeated Buffalo and Tennessee and lost by 10 in Green Bay despite playing poorly. This is a big spread for the Chiefs to cover.

Confession: Prior to writing this, I knew I was going to choose 27-17 as my final score. I had no idea the Steelers had not been a 13-point underdog since Super Bowl XXX, which also ended 27-17. So, that symmetry just reinforces my pick here. As a Roethlisberger fan since Day 1, I just hope he doesn’t lose 62-7 like Dan Marino did in his last game. At least give us a respectable, if not dramatic ending on Sunday night.

Final: Chiefs 27, Steelers 17

I’ll be back Friday with the NFC previews and a prediction on how this tournament shakes out. Do I still go with my preseason pick of a Super Bowl rematch between the Chiefs and Buccaneers?

NFL Week 8 Predictions: AFC Gone Wild Edition

After the Packers stunned Arizona on Thursday night, both teams still hold the best record in the NFL at 7-1 to start Week 8. In fact, the NFC has the top five records in the NFL this year with Tampa Bay, (6-1), Los Angeles Rams (6-1), and Dallas (5-1) all with one loss through Week 7.

This makes the 2021 NFC the first conference since the 1970 merger to hold the five best records in the league through Week 7. This is history. Once you get past those five teams, there’s not much going on in the NFC right now.

But in the AFC, there’s a staggering amount of competition now that the Chiefs have lost to almost every contender except the Browns while the Titans beat the Bills, who blew a 10-0 lead to the Steelers, but Tennessee also lost in overtime to the Jets, and while the Raiders beat the Ravens in overtime and lost badly to the Chargers, those Chargers lost 34-6 to the Ravens, who promptly lost big to the Bengals. Something something the Raiders and Bengals have also lost to the Bears, so everyone is flawed here.

Got it?

This start is also producing some history in the eight-division era. The 2021 AFC is the first conference since 2002 where the top six records through Week 7 are all teams with two losses: Bengals (5-2), Ravens (5-2), Titans (5-2), Bills (4-2), and Chargers (4-2).

This is only the third time where a conference did not have a team with zero or one losses through Week 7. The other times were the 2010 NFC (ultimately won by No. 1 seed Atlanta, then Green Bay in the playoffs) and the 2017 AFC (ultimately won by New England thanks to Jesse James and the stupid NFL catch rule). But even in those years, there were teams with three losses in the top six.

Competition is a great thing. While I still expect the NFC to meltdown and let Tampa Bay back to the Super Bowl, the AFC has a lot of options for a change this year.

NFL Week 8 Predictions

I backed a lot of dogs last week and it did not go so well. This week, I found it hard to pick any, even ATS.

I’m so done with the Eagles for now. Give me Dan Campbell over the Fertilizer Guy this week for Detroit’s first win.

I’m not sure why the spread has changed so much in Indy. I know Julio Jones is out, but he’s not worth 2 points himself. But I’m used to the Colts beating the Titans, so I’m predicting the split on the season here.

NE-LAC: Had to hedge with the spread here. The Chargers see Bill Belichick on the sideline and immediately shit their pants. If you think it was because of Tom Brady, then you must have missed last year when they had that special teams debacle and lost 45-0 to a New England team that threw for 126 net yards.

WAS-DEN: Gotta back Ted the Spread against a bad QB/terrible defense at Mile High. That’s him in his element. If not, then Drew Lock is going to get back on the field and Vic Fangio is getting fired soon. Denver has to win that one.

DAL-MIN: A potentially great shootout could go away if Dak Prescott can’t go. The spread has already swung from Dallas -2.5 to Minnesota -3 given the Dak news with his calf. That would be unfortunate, though Andy Dalton did get a win over the Vikings a year ago. Cooper Rush would be the QB this time for Dallas.

NYG-KC: See my preview here at BMR on MNF. The Chiefs still move the ball at an elite level, but so does the opposing offense on their defense that ranks 32nd in yards and points per drive. The Chiefs are also on pace to have the highest turnover rate of any offense since at least 1993.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

Sunday in the NFL lasted just over 15 hours from the first snap in London to the last snap in Kansas City after a weather delay. If that wasn’t the longest day of action in NFL history, then I don’t know what else could be.

It was a day of ugly field goal kicking, yet the Vikings somehow pulled off a 54-yard game-winning kick. Of course, Detroit helped by making its incredible 10-point comeback (helped by an Alexander Mattison fumble) a 1-point lead by going for two with 37 seconds left. That was too much time with the Vikings having two timeouts. I know Kirk Cousins kind of sucks at comebacks and his kickers are not reliable, but that was a bad decision to go for two there. Play for overtime after holding down the Vikings from scoring much all day. Instead, the Vikings got a drive together because they had to and won the game on a 54-yard field goal that Greg Joseph actually made despite being an employee of the Vikings. At least it gave us this moment:

It was a day of close games as we had 10 comeback opportunities in Week 5, outdoing the previous high of any week this season (eight). Let’s quickly hit on three of them since I need to wrap this up after getting a late start.

49ers at Cardinals: Trey Lance made his starting debut, but he couldn’t keep the rocket launcher under wraps when the 49ers just needed a simple scoring drive in a 17-10 loss to the now 5-0 Cardinals, who apparently are not going to score 31-plus every week this season. Kyle Shanahan loses another close game? Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle out with injuries again? Who could have imagined?

Patriots at Texans: The Patriots came through with a comeback win over the Houston Texans after Davis Mills had maybe the most absurd stat line yet for a rookie against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. Mills just had an early contender for worst game of the decade against Buffalo last week, but now he has the ninth game on record where a QB lost with a passer rating of at least 140.0 (min. 25 passes). I guess the Patriots can still win games where their quarterback was not the best one on the field.

Bears at Raiders: Finally, Jon Gruden’s Raiders had their “but his emails” loss at home to the Bears. Maybe it was too much of a distraction, and maybe he just showed his true colors. All I know is once you blow some smoke up his ass, this is the kind of performance you can count on in the next game. The last two sentences are about Derek Carr, by the way.

But the only game that came close to pulling off instant classic status came in the late afternoon slate instead of the prime-time matchup between the Bills and Chiefs. Browns-Chargers was the Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon Ladder Match in WrestleMania X of Week 5 in the NFL, but I have to start with the perception-changing game that played out in Kansas City.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: About That Dynasty…

About the last thing I want to do is write an obituary for the 2021 Chiefs after Week 5 and after a ridiculously tough schedule where the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, and now Bills all gave them their best shot. But there is no denying that the Chiefs failed three of those tests from their key AFC challengers and barely escaped the Browns in Arrowhead in Week 1. The offense has too many turnovers and the defense is going for historic levels of suck. The 2021 Chiefs are the fourth team in NFL history to allow more than 28 points in each of the first five games, joining the 1954 Cardinals, 2012 Titans, and 2013 Giants. It’s like watching the 2000 Rams, the forgotten little defense-less brother to the 1999 and 2001 Super Bowl teams in St. Louis.

But through four weeks, the defense could be excused to a point as the offense was scoring a touchdown on 50% of its drives and converting on third down at a record rate. If not for a fumble in Baltimore, this team could easily be 3-1.

But that took a hit Sunday night as the Bills came in to avenge their two losses from 2020 and wiped the floor with the Chiefs, 38-20, despite a long weather delay at halftime. Getting blown out at home is just another layer of invincibility ripped away from the Chiefs in the Patrick Mahomes era. While the stakes were not as high, the 18-point loss looked worse than the team’s 31-9 loss in Super Bowl 55 to Tampa Bay. At least on that night the reshuffled offensive line was a built-in excuse for the poor pass protection. The Chiefs just couldn’t come down with any of Mahomes’ miracle passes and the defense was stumped by simple play-action throws.

This was more of a beatdown. Mahomes played the first truly awful game of his NFL career, missing often on throws regardless of pressure or an open receiver. He completed 33-of-54 passes for 272 yards and had three turnovers, including a pick-six, a red-zone pick after another tipped ball, and a fumbled snap in the rain to end things. The bounces? They’re no longer going Kansas City’s way and that was predictable.

But this was not another blown lead in the fourth quarter like Baltimore and Los Angeles. The Chiefs led 10-7 early in the second quarter and never led again. The best they could do was make it 31-20 in the fourth quarter. But after Josh Allen seemingly threw an interception from his own end zone, the Chiefs were flagged for roughing the passer. It was a weak call, but it was also in a series of calls on both teams that made me question what roughing the passer and pass interference are in this league anymore. The refs had a bad night, but they didn’t decide this game.

That roughing call stands out the most just because it killed any chance for an exciting finish. Allen was still at his own 23 after that call. The Chiefs could have stopped the Bills, but instead they watched them march 77 more yards for a game-clinching touchdown to go up 38-20.

Maybe that Buffalo defense is for real as this was not a matter of beating up on a wounded offense like in the first four weeks of the season. They smacked the Chiefs around in Arrowhead. I asked in the offseason what really changed to improve this Buffalo defense from the mediocre unit it was a year ago that had no real hope of winning a Super Bowl? Well, one name I underestimated was first-round pick Gregory Roussea. The defensive end did his best J.J. Watt impersonation and tipped a Mahomes pass at the line to himself for a big red-zone pick in the third quarter. The Bills reportedly did not even blitz Mahomes once in this game, choosing to rush four and play Cover 2 to take away the big plays.

The Chiefs had just two plays that gained more than 17 yards in the game, a shockingly low figure for this offense. One was a 23-yard scramble by Mahomes too. This was a big difference in the meetings last year when the Chiefs did what they wanted, and Allen’s offense couldn’t get anything big. On Sunday night, the Bills had seven plays of 20-plus yards, including four completions of 35-plus yards (two for touchdowns).

Allen had 315 yards on 15 completions. Other than a slow third quarter after the 70-plus minute halftime delay, the Bills were just about unstoppable on offense. Combine that with a defense capable of playing the Chiefs like this and it’s a championship combination. The Bills may only be an underdog one more time this season when they play in Tampa Bay. It seems rather likely that this team will be the favorite for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Chiefs may be fortunate just to get a wild card at this point if things don’t tighten up on both sides of the ball but especially on defense.

With the Bills and Ravens stepping up this season against the Chiefs as well as the two teams I’m writing about next (Browns and Chargers), the AFC might be just fine going forward as a super competitive conference where any one of these teams can advance each year. It’s not going to be a runaway for Mahomes and the Chiefs to keep hosting AFC Championship Games and going to the Super Bowl. They had that window for three years and turned it into one championship while the rest of the teams were figuring themselves out.

If 2021 is any indication, those teams have figured out the Chiefs too.

Browns at Chargers: 47-42 Part Deux

What a whacky, fun game with huge plays, terrible tackling, six fourth down attempts (and then some negated by penalty), and 41 points in the fourth quarter alone. Of course, the Browns ended up on the wrong side of history again.

We may need to start calling Baker Mayfield the “Score 42 and Lose” QB after it happened to him for a third time. He lost his first career start, 45-42, to the Raiders in 2018. He lost 47-42 to the Ravens last year after Lamar Jackson returned from taking a shit. Now he’s lost 47-42 again to the Chargers in the second 47-42 game in NFL history. Mayfield is somehow 2-3 when he leads his team to at least 42 points while the rest of the NFL is 69-2 since 2018. The Browns (four times) have broken their tie with Washington and the Chiefs (three each) for the most losses in NFL history after scoring at least 42 points.

None of this is to say that Mayfield is the reason Cleveland loses these games. He was great on Sunday at playing through a torn labrum after some struggles in recent weeks. The offense was fantastic, but it is hard to win on the road when you allow five touchdowns on six second-half drives like the Browns did.

This thing was back and forth and not even a failed game-tying extra point by the Chargers with 3:15 left could derail it. That actually ended up helping the Chargers since the Browns did not go all out in a tied 42-42 game. Instead with a 42-41 lead, they ran on first down and on third-and-9 and let the Chargers get the ball back with plenty of time. Justin Herbert only needed one pass to get into field-goal range. After Austin Ekeler slid down at the Cleveland 3 with 1:38 left, the Browns called their final timeout. That slide tells me the Chargers were content with kicking the field goal to win 44-42 at the buzzer. A smart move even if you are shaky about it given the team’s historic struggles on special teams in crunch time.

So, why wouldn’t Herbert just take a series of knees to bleed the clock and kick the field goal? Head coach Brandon Staley is getting a ton of buzz for his embrace of analytics despite being a defensive coach, but he bungled the end of the Chiefs game by scoring a touchdown and giving Mahomes a shot to answer, and it happened again here. Ekeler got the carry and while he tried to not score, the Browns did the smart thing and pulled his ass into the end zone for the score with 91 seconds left.

Wow, just typing “91 seconds” really sells how much of a mistake this was. They gave a hot offense they couldn’t stop all day plenty of time to answer. It could have been an even more delicious addition to Chargers BINGO given the offense came up short on the two-point conversion and only led 47-42. Now the Browns could win it with a touchdown in regulation.

But it took 50 seconds for Mayfield to move the offense 11 yards as he only made short throws. That was piss-poor execution in that moment. After getting to the Cleveland 46, the Browns could not gain another yard and Mayfield’s Hail Mary fell incomplete with players bumping into each other.

Behind Staley and Herbert, the CHARGERS are leading the league with three game-winning drives. The CHARGERS are 4-1 in close games and lead the league with four defensive holds of a one-score lead.

Staley is far from perfect. His defense just gave up 42 points to a team that scored 14 last week. He’s mismanaged two of the last three finishes. He’s inherited an incredible young quarterback in Herbert who is making strides in his second season. But there is no denying that Staley is pushing this team to aggressively get leads and hold onto them once they have them. The Chargers of old would never be 4-1 right now and that is a credit to this new coach.

The Browns may still be the “good enough to get beat close” team in the AFC, which is still a huge step up from the pre-Mayfield era. But for a change, the Chargers just may have the potential to be closers and real contenders this season. That sounds like the setup for an incoming beatdown in Baltimore next Sunday, but what if this team is just finally different?

Packers at Bengals: Kicking Woes

Weird things always happen when Aaron Rodgers plays the Bengals, but this game takes the cake. If you wanted to script an overtime tie, apparently you have to get the Packers or Bengals involved. I thought for sure this one was headed there after the two kickers combined to miss five go-ahead field goals in a span of six drives.

Fortunately, we got a winner. Fortunately, it was the right winner too as Green Bay should have put this game away multiple times in the fourth quarter and again to start overtime.

Would I have been happy if Rodgers got credit for a game-winning drive after Aaron Jones ripped off a 57-yard run and he threw two incomplete passes? No, but Mason Crosby has to hit that 36-yard field goal after a streak of 27 straight makes. Would I have said Rodgers was unlucky had he lost after his kicker missed from 36 and Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson hit from 57? Yes, absolutely. But the Bengals called a run on third-and-2 instead of letting Joe Burrow deliver a dagger throw to set up a higher-percentage kick. Shame on them.

Would I have been fine with Rodgers getting a game-winning drive after a 20-yard pass to Davante Adams, who shined with 206 yards, to set up Crosby from 51? Sure, that’s another one-minute drill for him this season. But Crosby was wide left to set up overtime.

Would I have been amused had Rodgers lost another overtime game without touching the ball? Probably. But Burrow seemed to erase any chance of that with an instant pick to start overtime.

Would I have been pissed if Rodgers got credit for a game-winning drive in overtime for losing 5 yards on two Jones runs and watching Crosby hit from 40? Damn right. But the kicker missed again. At least it spared us a crap game-winning drive.

Burrow hit a pass for 21 yards to the Green Bay 41 again, but did they learn anything from the previous mistake? No, they ran the ball three times again and settled for a 49-yard field goal by a no-name kicker. He missed wide left too.

Finally, Rodgers hit passes of 20 and 15 yards to put this one to an end after Crosby finally connected from 49 yards out with 1:55 left. I am content with that being the game-winning drive in this one.

At least it had a winner, because I can’t remember ever seeing a clutch kicking display this bad.

Broncos at Steelers: The Standard Improved?

Last week in Green Bay, the Steelers showed they can score an opening-drive touchdown, and they did it again on Sunday after a beautiful 50-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson again gave the Steelers the early lead. Last week, the Steelers showed some offensive line improvement and a running game that actually could get gains of 3-4 yards instead of seeing Najee Harris get hit in the backfield immediately. This continued against Denver with Harris rushing for 122 yards to finally snap the team’s 11-game streak of not rushing for 90 yards.

Dare I say, the Steelers showed offensive improvement for the second week in a row? The other problem last week was inaccuracy from Roethlisberger. He was sharp in this game, especially early and especially on third down where the Steelers finished 7/12 compared to Denver going 2/12 on third down (but ¾ on fourth down). One week after a concussion, I was not impressed with Teddy Bridgewater or this Denver offense at all until he started to mount a 24-6 comeback in the fourth quarter. The game got a bit tight at 27-19, but he eventually struggled in the red zone again and threw an interception in the final seconds to end it.

While far from dominant, this was much closer to a classic game from the Steelers where both units played well for much of the game and they were able to win at home. Can they stack another one against the Geno Smith-led Seahawks next week? We’ll see, but if this offense shows up in prime time against that Seattle defense, then it may not be such an ugly display of football from Pittsburgh like in recent times. I was not surprised by the win, but that says more about my thoughts on how legit Denver was. But I can see actual improvement from the Pittsburgh offense in the last two weeks compared to the first three.

Eagles at Panthers: Pumpkins and Pretenders

What the fvck were these teams doing?

Jalen Hurts had nine failed completions in the first half, but none in the second as the offense finally started making plays that gained more than 10 yards. He also got his legs involved as the passing in this game was just atrocious for both teams. At least the Panthers got Chuba Hubbard to rush for 101 yards in Christian McCaffrey’s absence. The Eagles once again barely handed the ball off to their backs until very late in the game.

Sam Darnold had three interceptions and may have turned back into a pumpkin just in time for Halloween. But it was a blocked punt that set the Eagles up at the Carolina 27 for their game-winning drive. Darnold then threw his third pick and the Eagles ran out the clock.

Obviously, the transitive property never has and never will mean a thing in the NFL. If you just judged Carolina and Philadelphia by how they played against the Cowboys, then you wouldn’t have expected the Panthers to blow this one. But they did after leading 15-3 early.

Is either team going anywhere this season? I doubt it, but this was some low-key horrific offensive football.

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Reshuffling the AFC

It’s kind of crazy how we’ll know so much about the AFC by Week 8. As I’m about to show you, so many of the key games will be played in the first eight weeks (pandemic willing).

KC-BAL in Week 3 was supposed to be the Game of the Year, and it still might prove to be the game between the AFC’s two best. It was just very one sided.

KC-BUF in Week 6 was the new Game of the Year, thought to take place on a Thursday night before some COVID rescheduling pushed it to Monday night. It’s also no longer a game between undefeated teams as both the Chiefs and Bills lost this past week.

Yes, any thoughts Buffalo fans had of taking over the AFC from the Chiefs lasted two days after a poor showing in Tennessee on Tuesday night vaulted the Titans to 4-0 and in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top seed.

The only other undefeated AFC team is Pittsburgh (4-0), which was supposed to play the Titans in Week 4 before Tennessee’s virus outbreak started moving the schedule around. These teams are set to meet in Week 7 in what could be a battle of 5-0 teams (instead of 3-0 as originally scheduled) if both take care of business against division rivals this week from Cleveland and Houston. This is some old-school AFC Central shit right here.

When the Chiefs play the Bills this week, that’s quite arguably the biggest AFC game left on their schedule unless the Raiders go on an unexpected run after last week’s upset. The Steelers play their first Baltimore game in Week 8, so that could be another big swing in the standings as its arguably Baltimore’s biggest game left this year (and Pittsburgh’s toughest). The Steelers really need to nip Cleveland’s confidence in the bud this week before that tough road slate of going to Tennessee and Baltimore in Weeks 7-8.

The Titans don’t meet the Ravens until Week 11 and Steelers-Bills happens in Week 14, but otherwise we really are going to see almost every significant AFC matchup this year by November 1. Even the first Patriots-Bills game is set for November 1, because yes, I can’t mention the AFC and completely ignore the Patriots just yet.

Josh Allen: Let’s Pump the Brakes

The KC-BUF game lost a bit of shine this week after the way the teams performed in Week 5, but I wanted to highlight this one for the play of Josh Allen. He had that 4-0 start with great numbers and the Buffalo offense was humming along just fine for a change. Maybe he really did turn the corner this year after two rough seasons to start his career.

However, even before the Tennessee game crashed this coming out party, I was still a bit skeptical about Allen. I’m sold enough that he’s playing better this year, but I don’t know if I’m sold that he’s now a great quarterback who you can trust to perform at a high level on any consistent basis.

Basically, I feel like there’s still a reckless nature to his game where he’s going to have to get lucky, especially against good opponents, or the defense is going to have to play much better for the Bills to finally overtake the Patriots in the division and do some damage in the playoffs.

In Week 2 against Miami, the Bills were leading 24-20 with just over three minutes left. Allen, after double-clutching, threw a deep ball to John Brown that easily could have been intercepted. Maybe he thought the receiver was going to keep going full speed for the ball, but maybe his hesitation made the receiver hesitate too. It was a dangerous play that could have set up the Dolphins for a game-winning drive opportunity. On the very next play, Allen again went deep to Brown with a better pass and this time it was successful for a 46-yard touchdown that basically iced the game. So he went from a near disaster pick to a 46-yard touchdown in one play.

The next week against the Rams, Allen was great in building a 28-3 lead, but then he had some mistakes in the second half and the Rams got back into it, forcing him to need a game-winning drive. He was moving the ball, but that pass interference call on fourth down with the game on the line was total rubbish to me. You just don’t call such minimal contact in that spot, so it gave Allen another chance he didn’t deserve after that bad throw. He cashed it in with a touchdown and the Bills won the game. Again, that’s lucky to me.

Tuesday night was my first live Bills game of 2020 and it was a big disappointment after seeing so many great numbers from this offense in the first four weeks. The Titans are obviously a contender too, so it’s another big game the Bills have not won in the McDermott/Allen era.

They get another chance with the Chiefs this week, but I’m backing Kansas City all the way. I don’t see Patrick Mahomes missing that many throws again this week and the Bills have absolutely declined on defense this year. The Bills have already had three games this season where they allowed at least 28 points after doing it one time in 17 games in 2019. If this is going to be a shootout, then I’m trusting Mahomes over Allen. That’s not saying a whole lot, but the fact is I’m still trusting Lamar Jackson, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger over Allen as well in a big game.

That’s the kind of competition the Bills will have to beat this year, and until it starts happening, I’m not all in on Allen and this team.

NFL Week 6 Predictions

Let’s hope all these games are played on time this week.

Starting this week, I now have articles of the preview/pick variety on Sportsbook Review. My first piece was Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady fighting over control of the Spice Melange. I also covered how the Jets will attempt to avoid being the third team in the last 20 years (2011 Rams, 2011 Dolphins) to start 0-6 and 0-6 against the spread. Finally, I looked at SNF between the Rams and 49ers.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Patrick Mahomes Panic Button Edition

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

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

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

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

Do You Push the Button?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve definitely considered all of that.

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

The AFC’s Great Decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

afc12w

My main findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 7 Predictions

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

2019Wk7

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

2019Wk1-6