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…
You know what this 2021 NFL season is missing? More close games that end in failure by one team, such as the Vikings’ failed comeback attempt in a 14-7 loss to the Browns. It was a shock to see The Kevin Stefanski Bowl end with 21 points on 22 drives, but Baker Mayfield was inaccurate, and the Browns got through Minnesota’s line with ease. But there was Kirk Cousins with a whopping five drive attempts in the fourth quarter, trying to get that elusive touchdown and never doing so.
There were only six games in Week 4 with a comeback opportunity, and one of them was in the Jacksonville-Cincinnati game on Thursday night. Joe Burrow left that one with the first fourth-quarter comeback win of his NFL career. Urban Meyer left for some college comforts at the bar.
But the funny thing is NFL teams are now 19-24 (.442) at comeback opportunities in 2021. In each of the last two seasons, that success rate was just about 30% like it usually is. Now we are seeing closer to a coin flip this season and I think part of the problem is a lack of close games overall as we’ve only had 28 through Week 4.
Some games have been quasi-close with the leading team having the ball in the fourth quarter before extending to a two-score lead or running out the clock. I do not specifically track that number of games weekly, but I might need to start if this keeps up.
Buccaneers at Patriots: Now We Can Get on with the Important Games
After hearing for a week how this was the most “anticipated game of the season” and to see more promos for it than any non-Super Bowl game, you just know I have to vent a bit now that it’s over.
Yes, the most over-hyped regular-season game in NFL history is behind us, but I have to give them credit for playing a competitive, 60-minute game. The low-scoring chess match between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick was at least compelling, and the rain and injuries evened the playing field a bit for an outmatched New England roster.
If only we could have seen the Patriots win a game despite rushing for minus-1 yard (franchise record) and being minus-two in turnovers. But Brady getting his 50th fourth-quarter comeback win at the expense of a coaching blunder and missed field goal in that stadium was all too familiar.
This was really just the fourth all-time matchup of a legendary quarterback returning to face his former team, but on paper it was the weakest one of them all with Brady (of course) having the biggest advantages.
Joe Montana (1994 Chiefs) had to overcome a 49ers team led by MVP Steve Young in a 24-17 game where he threw for two touchdowns and a 101.9 passer rating.
Brett Favre (2009 Vikings) returned to Lambeau Field to take on the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers in a 38-26 win where he threw four touchdowns and a 128.6 passer rating.
Peyton Manning (2013 Broncos) took his team into Indianapolis on SNF to take on Andrew Luck in a 39-33 loss where he still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns with a 96.1 passer rating.
Tom Brady, as only he can, got to celebrate a 19-17 homecoming win in New England against a team with rookie Mac Jones in a game where Brady had no touchdowns and a 70.8 passer rating.
Even in something as trivial as this, Manning takes the loss because the other quarterback was fantastic against his defense while Brady played the worst and still gets the only game-winning drive credit.
It never fails, does it? But I probably should have expected disappointment like this. I shouldn’t have expected Brady to throw for 300-plus yards and three or four touchdowns to his assortment of weapons. After all, Brady and Belichick have given us several of the lowest-scoring Super Bowls in NFL history, including 13-3 against the 2018 Rams. Brady just came off a 31-9 Super Bowl win. He’s the “we’re only going to score 17 points?” quarterback from Super Bowl 42 against the Giants, flopping hard on the big stage as he tried to throw deep and make memorable highlight plays to get to 19-0.
I saw some of that in this game as Brady’s deep ball was off. He was throwing high often. He had receivers open almost every play and adequate protection, but the rain and unprecedented emotions he was feeling about the situation probably played a bigger role than any specific game plan by Belichick. You could also tell Brady was missing Rob Gronkowski as the connection to Cameron Brate in particular looked out of sync. I’m not sure why Brady was throwing deep late to Antonio Brown other than to stick it to Belichick, because that was strategically the wrong move even if Brown had a good shot at making one of those throws a touchdown.
It was just not an impressive performance, and in hindsight, it makes those ridiculous props of Brady throwing for 555 yards or seven touchdowns look even funnier for this game.
You could easily argue that Mac Jones outplayed Brady on what was supposed to be his night. Jones even made a lot of classic Brady plays with the screens and play-action to a wide-open tight end to start the fourth quarter with a touchdown that put the Patriots on top. Jones even put the ball into danger multiple times on a go-ahead drive in the fourth, but the Buccaneers and their ravaged secondary did not make him pay. He completed 19 passes in a row at one point, tying Brady’s career-long streak. It’s too early for anyone to say if Jones is going to be the real deal, but you have to feel better with him after this game than you did a week ago when he played the Saints.
But Brady still gets the win after Belichick of all people mismanaged the final drive. The rain was coming down good at this point with New England down 19-17. Jones just had a pass knocked down to set up 4th-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 37 with 59 seconds left. The Buccaneers had a couple timeouts. You could try the 56-yard field goal, but that cannot be any better than a 50/50 shot, and it would leave Brady with nearly a minute (plus timeouts) to answer. That sounds bad. But if you can convert the fourth-and-3, that should be able to set up a last-second field goal from shorter distance.
That’s what I would have gone for, but Belichick reportedly did not even think about it. He sent out Nick Folk and the 56-yard field goal hit the left upright with 55 seconds left. Game over. Kickers are now 0-for-7 on clutch field goals of 50-plus yards against a Brady-led team. Folk has three of those seven misses, which only includes field goals in the final half of the fourth quarter or any time in overtime, tied or down 1-3 points). While this would have been a bigger miracle kick than most, it’s just something how Brady literally never ends up on the wrong side of these finishes.
In trying to find an old tweet, I stumbled on this research of mine that said the Patriots were 47-1 at home from 2001-2017 when a team threw 40 passes. That record was 53-1 a game into the 2019 season, but the Patriots have since gone 0-4 in these games, losing to Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Dolphins) with Brady at quarterback in 2019, and getting blown out by Josh Allen and the Bills (38-9) on Monday Night Football in 2020.
Now Brady did it to them last night on 43 throws, but he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. The record since 2001 for road teams that threw 40-plus passes without a touchdown and scoring fewer than 20 points was 8-174 (.044). Ho-hum.
With some better play in the red zone late in the game, the Patriots could easily be 3-1 right now. As I detailed in Week 1 when the Patriots lost to the Dolphins, Jones is quickly experiencing things it took years for Brady to see in New England, if he’s ever seen them at all in 22 years in the NFL. Let’s update a few of those that I said would be coming soon.
Mac Jones lost in his NFL debut with a 102.6 passer rating (29-of-39 for 281 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT).
It took Brady 79 starts and 18 losses to lose a game with a passer rating higher than 83.3. He was in his sixth season then.
Jones lost in his fourth NFL start vs. Tampa Bay with a 101.6 passer rating (31-of-40 for 275 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT).
It took Brady 137 starts and 30 losses to lose a second game with a passer rating higher than 100.0. He was in his 10th season then (it was 4th-and-2 Night).
It took Jones four starts to lose a game after a clutch field goal was missed.
It took Brady 183 starts to lose a game after a clutch field goal was missed (it’s happened once in 348 career starts).
It took Jones four starts to lose a game after leading in the fourth quarter.
It took Brady 66 starts to lose a game after leading in the fourth quarter. He threw four interceptions that night against the 2004 Dolphins, a 2-11 team.
A couple things I can say with certainty about Jones so far. He won’t melt in the rain like Davis Mills did for the Texans in Buffalo. But he’s also not destined to be the LOAT like Brady is. If he was, then he would have willed Folk to drill that kick followed by some random defender to intercept Brady to end the game.
This would have been a hell of a win for the Patriots, but now they can just focus on improving and getting back to winning important games in the AFC. Taking the division back from Buffalo. Frustrating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs better than most have. All the Brady stuff is in the past and the Patriots have to cope with mediocrity for now.
You can’t take a picture of this – it’s already gone.
Steelers at Packers: The Standard Is the Standard
What did the Steelers do differently this week in Green Bay compared to their last 10 games with a broken offense? They scored an opening-drive touchdown! Ben Roethlisberger threw a dime for 45 yards to Diontae Johnson to take an early 7-0 lead.
Unfortunately, this was not a sign of things to come as the normal broken offense returned for the rest of the game. The defense had another letdown before halftime for the fourth week in a row, and the Packers led 27-10 in the third quarter after Aaron Rodgers went on a hot five-drive scoring streak to put up all of Green Bay’s points.
Najee Harris scored a late touchdown for the Steelers to make it 27-17, but it was too little too late after a couple more horrible fourth-down throws short of the sticks. The only reason I can think of Roethlisberger turning into Alex Smith this season is that he doesn’t want to throw more interceptions, since those tend to get quarterbacks benched. But his quick throws on fourth down that lose yards are unheard of. He never had such a play in his whole career, but he now has such a completion in back-to-back games.
But maybe no play better symbolizes how broken this offense is than this 2-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster on 4th-and-5 where he extends the ball as far as he could and is still multiple yards short of the marker.
Not pictured: James Washington pointing like JuJu got the first down. Hilarious. Sad. Fvcked.
In eight of their last 10 games following last year’s 11-0 start, the Steelers have allowed 23-27 points. In seven of their last 10 games, the Pittsburgh offense has scored 10-17 points. This consistency of being so painfully below average on offense and also below average on defense is just ridiculous.
And yet I still say anyone who thinks benching the future Hall of Famer with a cap number just south of $26 million this year for Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins is crazy if they think that solves anything. It is broken and this coaching staff is not qualified to fix it.
NFC West: Tough Day for the McVay and Shanahan Fanboys
While I was busy hate-watching Steelers-Packers, the first two NFC West showdowns of the season took place. Both road dogs, the Seahawks and Cardinals, came through with big wins in games that were far from classics, but they could be seen as real turning points for these franchises in what has been the NFL’s most competitive division since 2012.
Los Angeles’ Sean McVay was 8-0 against Arizona and all but one of those games was won by double digits. He has Matthew Stafford now and they just had that outstanding win over Tampa Bay. I certainly let all of that play into my decision making for betting on this game, but I couldn’t have been more wrong on this one.
The Cardinals just went in there and kicked their ass in a 37-20 final that was never closer than 11 points in the second half. Arizona just may have built something special here as this is the high point of the Kliff Kingsbury era so far. The Cardinals have produced at least 31 points and 400 yards of offense in each of their first four games. That’s only been done by the 2007 Patriots, 2011 Patriots, and 2013 Broncos in NFL history. Two of those teams set the single-season scoring record and all three lost the Super Bowl.
Why not Arizona in the Super Bowl this season? This is what you draft a quarterback like Kyler Murray No. 1 overall for. Murray (80.4) finished sixth in QBR this week – his third top-six game in four weeks – while Stafford (50.2) was 17th in his weakest game yet for the Rams. The Los Angeles running game produced 17 carries for 100 yards, so you could argue it was their best running game of the season. Yet Stafford still had his worst passing game. The Rams were sitting on 13 points until a drive in garbage time. Robert Woods had 30 yards and a touchdown on that final drive but only 18 yards before it. He is averaging just 43 yards per game with Stafford this year, making it one of the least-productive months of his career. That connection has just not taken off yet, and even the Stafford-to-Cooper Kupp connection was off in this one. Cupp had 64 yards on 13 targets.
This will continue to be one of the more fascinating parts of 2021 as so far the running success seems to have no correlation with how Stafford is doing in that game each week. But the Rams were outclassed on both sides of the ball, and this team still has a ton of work to do before we think of it as the favorite in the division. That may have just transferred over to the Cardinals.
The Seahawks will still have their say in this division as long as Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are there. After beating the 49ers again 28-21, Wilson has still never lost three games in a row in the same season. This week had a different script though. In recent weeks, the Seahawks started fast before fading. On Sunday, they punted five times to start the game, scored four touchdowns over their next six drives, then just held on while the 49ers tried to mount a 15-point comeback with Trey Lance taking over the half for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo (calf).
Lance hit on a 76-yard touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel after a hideous blown coverage, but he showed why he is a raw rookie in need of reps. It sounds like he will be getting them with Garoppolo expected to be out some time. Will it be permanent? That depends on how well Lance plays, but he’ll have to do better than this game.
But with Samuel off to a dominant start and George Kittle still healthy, Kyle Shanahan is really lacking in the excuses department if this offense does not start to take off regardless if it’s Garoppolo or Lance at quarterback.
Ravens Stop Denver from Moving to 4-0, Panthers Finally Trail This Season
No 3-0 teams surprised people more than the Panthers and Broncos, but both had to deal with legitimate offenses in their biggest challenges yet this season.
I liked the Cowboys (-4) against Carolina, but it was a dogfight into the third quarter. But after Zane Gonzalez missed a 54-yard field goal, Dallas’ offense really took off with balance and big plays. Dallas led 36-14 in the fourth quarter before Sam Darnold, who rushed for two more touchdowns as he apparently wants to crush Cam Newton’s single-season record, led back-to-back touchdown drives to make it 36-28 with just over four minutes left. But when you think maybe this was another Mike McCarthy team collapsing with a lead, the Cowboys put the game away on offense and denied Darnold the game-tying drive opportunity.
Dallas has been impressive this season. When the offense is balanced like this – Prescott had four touchdown passes and only 188 yards passing while the backs rushed for 210 yards – they are going to be a challenge for anyone in the league. Clearly, the Carolina defense boosted its stats against cupcakes in the first three weeks. But I wouldn’t just write off the Panthers this season. They do look legitimately improved and D.J. Moore is a legit No. 1 wide receiver. They probably missed the greatness of Christian McCaffrey as an outlet receiver to deal with the pass rush better in this one. Darnold was sacked five times.
I saw very little of Ravens-Broncos, but it doesn’t seem like there was much there. Both teams have a lot of injuries, but the Ravens still have better players to make up for it. Teddy Bridgewater left with a concussion and Drew Lock was no match for Baltimore’s defense.
Lamar Jackson had just his third 300-yard passing game in the NFL and he has thrown for at least 235 yards in all four games this season. The only other time he’s done that in his career was his four-game start to his 2019 MVP season. Marquise Brown held on this week and finished with 91 yards and a touchdown.
Like Carolina, the Broncos were abusing bad, inexperienced quarterbacks to beef up their stats, but Jackson took it to them in one of the most pass-centric games the Ravens have had with him. His 37 pass attempts are tied for his third-highest amount in a game.
The Ravens were actually in danger of not rushing for 100 yards in this game, something they had done in 38 straight games (including playoffs). But after getting the ball back with three seconds left and an insurmountable 23-7 lead, John Harbaugh had the team run Lamar for a 5-yard gain instead of taking a knee like anyone else would. That gave the Ravens 102 yards and a new record of 39 straight 100-yard games, beating out the 1973-76 Bills. This does end their record streak of 38 games with at least 110 rushing yards.
But when coaches tell you they don’t care about numbers or records, there’s a decent chance they are lying. Extending the record, which is ultimately meaningless like most things in life, by having your star quarterback run with three seconds left is the definition of cheap.
Maybe the Ravens get there easier if they could figure out their running back rotation better. Latavius Murray led the way with 18 carries while Le’Veon Bell (4 for 11 yards) and Devonta Freeman (one 4-yard run) also saw action with Ty’Son Williams a healthy scratch. Maybe they’re saving him? Either way, it would be a good thing for the Ravens to continue developing this passing game.
Chiefs at Eagles: Let’s Not Take This for Granted
The Chiefs ended their two-game slide with a commanding 42-30 win, or only their second win by more than six points since the middle of last season. The bad news: the 2021 Chiefs are now the 14th team in NFL history to allow more than 28 points in each of their first four games. The good news: a dozen of those teams started 0-4 and the other (2012 Titans) was 1-3. The Chiefs (2-2) are now back to .500 after nearly having a perfect game on offense that should not be taken for granted.
The Chiefs were 9-of-10 on third down and scored a touchdown on six of their seven drives. Every touchdown drive was at least 65 yards and all but one of them was 75-plus yards. Literally the only mistake all day was a Patrick Mahomes interception forced under pressure on a third down, the only third-down stop of the day for the Eagles.
The Chiefs did it differently by rushing for 200 yards while Tyreek Hill had 186 receiving yards and three touchdowns. No other Kansas City receiver had more than 23 yards through the air. Travis Kelce hadn’t been held to that little yardage and kept out of the end zone in a game with Mahomes since their first start together in 2018 against the Chargers.
But the Chiefs were spectacular on that side of the ball and still left something to be desired on defense. Granted, they limited the Eagles to three field goals in the first three quarters, and Philadelphia’s last touchdown was a garbage-time score with four seconds left.
We’ll see just how ready the Chiefs are for a real test when they get the Bills next Sunday night in another potential AFC Game of the Year. But six touchdowns on seven drives is insane production in the NFL.
Giants at Saints: Seriously, WTF?
No team has puzzled me more on a weekly basis in 2021 than the Saints. They killed Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 1, which looks like we can safely call it a fluke. They were embarrassed 26-7 by the Panthers in Week 2, which looks like a combo of division familiarity, an improved Carolina team, and some injuries and COVID problems in the coaching staff. They picked off Mac Jones three times in New England last week and took advantage of the rookie and limited offense there.
But then this 27-21 overtime loss to the Giants happened in the Superdome with a full crowd on hand, and I am more confused than ever. At least Jameis Winston passed for over 200 yards in regulation this week, but how the hell does a team throw 26 passes and not have one go to Alvin Kamara? He had 26 carries for 120 yards but no touchdowns since Taysom Hill, the touchdown vulture who threw a pick, hijinks happened, and it was the first game in Kamara’s career with no targets.
That is inexcusable, especially with the given lack of weapons in the passing game. But speaking of weapons, how do you let Daniel Jones pass for 402 yards and make only the second fourth-quarter comeback of his career (he was 1-13) on a day where Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton were inactive? It does not make sense. Jones had failed to pass for more than 280 yards in every start with Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator since 2020. Yet here he was getting two huge plays for 50-plus yard touchdowns out of John Ross and Saquon Barkley. Both players also delivered in overtime with Barkley taking in the game-winning score from 6 yards out on the only drive of overtime.
This is New Orleans’ 19th loss as a favorite of more than seven points since Sean Payton came to coach the team in 2006. The Saints are 39-19 SU (.672) as a favorite of more than seven points since 2006. Only Washington (6-4) has a worse winning percentage in such games.
I really thought the Saints would play better at home on offense. In some ways, they definitely did. But there were some key misses in this game like Kamara only getting two yards on a 4th-and-3 run, settling for a 58-yard field goal that was missed and led to the Ross touchdown, the Hill interception right after a long Winston touchdown pass was negated by penalty, and not closing out in the fourth quarter.
If this is what the Saints are post-Brees, then I’m out. I want nothing to do with Kamara’s prop bets anymore and I can’t even trust them to beat the Giants in the Superdome. Granted, Payton has lost in this spot more than you’d like to see in his career, but this was a really bad loss for the team. Daniel Jones is only supposed to do this shit against the Washington franchise.
Titans and Lions: Extend the Game vs. End the Game
Finally, I just wanted to highlight two coaching decisions on Sunday. Last week, I was happy when Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel went for two with a seven-point lead. He has been a bit of a renegade in breaking norms on two-point conversions. So, it kind of shocked me when he did not have his Titans go for the win against the lowly Jets after getting a touchdown with 16 seconds left in the game.
The timing was excellent with the Jets out of timeouts. This is the ideal spot to do it in and it’s not like the Jets were doing a great job of stopping Derrick Henry in the game. Ryan Tannehill also found his rhythm late after playing the game without Julio Jones and A.J. Brown available.
If you’re playing a lousy team on the road and the offense is the strength of your team, why not go for the win? That extra point surprised me. The Jets almost ended this one immediately in overtime, but eventually did settle for a field goal and 27-24 lead. The Titans had a rough time answering, needing to convert two fourth downs, but they eventually got into field goal range. It looks like we were about to have a damn tie, but fortunately, Randy Bullock is a bum kicker. From 49 yards out, he was wide left in the final 20 seconds to end the game.
The Jets had their first win in the Robert Saleh era. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson had his first 4QC/GWD and it is one he can feel good about after a rough first three weeks. Wide receiver Corey Davis (111 yards and a touchdown) had a sweet revenge game on his former team.
While I wanted the Titans to end the game on one play, the Detroit Lions made a mistake of not extending the game. It was a rough afternoon in Chicago for the Lions, but they were down 24-14 in the fourth quarter with the ball. The Jared Goff-led drive stalled, setting up a 4th-and-1 at the Chicago 8 with 4:19 left. I get that it’s tempting to go for it there, but you have to realize you are still down 10 points (two scores) and time is a factor. Even if you go for it and get it, there is still no guarantee you are getting a touchdown here. In three more snaps, you could be kicking a field goal anyway if there’s a bad snap – oh, they had one of THOSE on Sunday – or a sack. Kick the field goal, use your three clock stoppages to get the ball back, and then get a touchdown and go for two or play for overtime.
But the Lions went for it, Goff’s pass was incomplete, and the Bears ran out the final 4:15 on the clock thanks to the Lions being offsides on a punt. Incredibly, the Lions had five drives inside the Chicago 8, and they only scored one touchdown on them, turning the ball over twice on fumbles and twice on downs.
Again, it was a lousy performance for the Lions against a Chicago team that seemed to be on the brink of collapse. But the Bears turned things around and got their second win of the season while the Lions remain 0-4.
In Week 4, the NFC West takes center stage with two standout matchups in the late afternoon slot: Cardinals/Rams and Seahawks/49ers. These are the first division games of the year in what is shaping up to be the best division race in the league just like we expected coming into 2021.
But the Seahawks (1-2), winners of last year’s race, are in danger of slipping to 1-3 for the first time in the Russell Wilson era. While Wilson has some impressive stats again this season, he has the lowest QBR ranking – 55.6 is only good for 15th – of the four quarterbacks in the NFC West, and the Seahawks (15th) are the only NFC West offense not ranked in the top eight in points per drive through three games.
Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray both have their teams at 3-0, top four in points, and both are top five in QBR with Stafford (82.6) leading the whole NFL so far. If they keep this up, we might see multiple quarterbacks in the NFC West get MVP votes before Wilson ever gets one in his career.
It’s almost like Wilson is becoming the forgotten man in the division that he has been the top star of for a decade now.
But this is nothing new for Wilson. Ever since his rookie year in 2012, he has had to share the spotlight with several quarterbacks in his division as they led their teams to great success too. This has made Wilson’s path to the Hall of Fame a bumpier ride than most of his great peers.
Russell Wilson vs. His Peers vs. Their Division Rivals
It would be wrong to say that Russell Wilson is the only top quarterback to face a real challenger from every team in his division in the last decade.
Ben Roethlisberger faced the Ravens (2014), Bengals (2015), and Browns (2020) in wild card playoff games in the last seven seasons, losing two of them at home. Aaron Rodgers had his toughest division competition early in his career when the 2009 Vikings had Brett Favre and the 2010 Bears gave Jay Cutler a great defense. But in the last decade, he has seen playoff seasons from the Lions with Matthew Stafford, Mike Zimmer’s Vikings with Teddy Bridgewater/Case Keenum’s one-year wonder/Kirk Cousins, and a couple Chicago seasons when Mitchell Trubisky managed Matt Nagy’s offense to something better than 1 net passing yard.
In the NFC South, Drew Brees watched Cam Newton (2015 Panthers) and Matt Ryan (2016 Falcons) win MVP and lose the Super Bowl, while the Saints lost to Tom Brady and the 2020 Buccaneers in the final game of Brees’ career, a pivotal divisional round game that launched Tampa Bay on the path to a Super Bowl win.
However, Wilson has experienced multiple runs and at least one elite season from his NFC West counterparts in addition to some strong quarterback seasons and some of the most successful new coaching hires in the NFL in the last decade.
San Francisco: The 49ers were in the middle of a three-year run to the NFC Championship Game under head coach Jim Harbaugh when Wilson joined the division in 2012. Led by the dynamic Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers lost the Super Bowl that year and lost a tight game to Wilson’s Seahawks in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Things were bad after that, but after hiring Kyle Shanahan and acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots, the 49ers rebounded with a great 13-3 season in 2019, clinching the No. 1 seed in the season finale after stopping Wilson’s Seahawks at the 1-yard line. The 49ers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.
Arizona: The least successful team in the division, but the Cardinals won at least 10 games in every season from 2013 to 2015 under head coach Bruce Arians. He had a good thing going when Carson Palmer was healthy, and in 2015, Palmer had what I will always say was an MVP season, leading the Cardinals to a 14-4 record and the NFC Championship Game where they lost to Carolina. Things declined after, but now with Kliff Kingsbury and 2019 No. 1 pick Kyler Murray, the Cardinals could be heading back to the playoffs as long as Murray stays healthy. He had a great start to 2020 before his health diminished his play in the second half.
Los Angeles: The Rams were in rough shape with Jeff Fisher as the coach when Wilson joined the league, but they started acquiring talent like the best defender in the game, Aaron Donald. Once they drafted Jared Goff No. 1 overall and hired Sean McVay as the head coach, the team immediately took off. McVay has never had a losing record and is looking to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Goff had great seasons in 2017-18 and the Rams were in the Super Bowl in 2018 before losing 13-3 to the Patriots. They leaned on their defense last year to make the playoffs and beat Wilson’s Seahawks in Seattle in the wild card round. Now they have the top-ranked offense with Matthew Stafford poised to have a career year. It’s just another huge challenge for Seattle.
Outside of 2016 when the Seahawks won the NFC West with ease, Wilson has always had to deal with at least another 10-win team in his division. Outside of 2016 and last year when the Rams finished 10-6 thanks to a late loss to the Seahawks, Wilson has always had to deal with an 11-win team or better.
Since 2002’s divisional realignment, the NFC West is the only division where every team has won at least 13 games in a season. That is thanks to the Seahawks (2013), Cardinals (2015), Rams (2018), and 49ers (2019) all finishing 13-3. The Lions, Bengals, Jets, Buccaneers, Texans, and Browns (AAFC excluded) have never won 13 games in their franchise’s history, so it never could have happened for the two North divisions, the two South divisions, or any version of the AFC East. That also disqualifies the defunct AFC and NFC Central divisions. It technically has happened for the original NFC West (49ers/Rams/Falcons/Saints), but the Saints didn’t hit 13 wins until the Brees era (2009), or well after realignment and long after Joe Montana and Steve Young retired.
In fact, the only other divisions that can say all four of their teams have won 13 games before are the AFC West and NFC East. Given that the Raiders haven’t done it since 1976 and the Chiefs didn’t do it until 1995, no one has a career that spanned that long to say they were in a division where all four did it. The Seahawks also used to be part of that AFC West and didn’t win 13 games until 2005 in the NFC West.
As for the NFC East, it hasn’t happened for the Giants since 1990 and for Washington since 1991. Dallas first won 13 games in 1992, so you might think, hey, this probably happened to a young Troy Aikman or an old Phil Simms. Nope, because the Eagles never won 13 games until 2004, or after they were long retired.
This puts Wilson and his division in unprecedented territory as it confirms he is the only quarterback in NFL history to play in a division where every team actively won 13 games in a season. Goff and Garoppolo weren’t in the NFC West prior to 2016 when Seattle and Arizona did it, and Palmer was retired before the Rams and 49ers did it. So there you have it. History.
If Only Wilson Had Tom Brady’s Division Luck…
Now compare this to Tom Brady, the LOAT. His first full season as a starter happened to coincide with realignment in 2002 when the Patriots were put in a revamped AFC East with the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills, or as I like to call them, The Three Stooges. From 2002 to 2019, The Three Stooges managed just two 11-5 seasons to challenge Brady in the division. One was by the 2008 Dolphins, a team that shocked the Patriots with the Wildcat in the year Brady tore his ACL in Week 1. The other was the 2010 Jets, who beat Brady in the regular season to get one of their 11 wins, and then shocked him at home in the playoffs in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
But for two decades, the best The Three Stooges could do was 11-5, the best they could do at quarterback was Even-Years Chad Pennington, and the best they could do at head coach was probably Rex Ryan. Flash forward to Brady joining the 2020 NFC South. The Falcons and Panthers had two of the worst seasons in NFL history in close games. The Saints with Brees were a worthy foe and they swept Brady to finish 12-4, the first time Brady was ever swept by a division rival. This also means of the only two 11+ win teams Brady’s ever had in his division, he was complicit in them winning that many games. Compare this to Peyton Manning, who swept the 2003 Titans (12-4), 2005 Jaguars (12-4), 2007 Jaguars (11-5), and 2013 Chiefs (11-5) but still watched them win 11-12 games. Wilson was able to hang one loss on the 2015 Cardinals and 2019 49ers. He was swept by the 2018 Rams despite scoring 31 points in both games. Let’s just say not anyone could beat the 2018 Rams by a final of 13-3.
Brady’s division now consists of an Atlanta team that lost all its offensive mojo after hiring Arthur Smith. Matt Ryan has gotten off to the worst start of his career in 2021. With Brees retired, the Saints are weirdly leaning on defense with Jameis Winston throwing for 387 yards in three full games. The Panthers are 3-0 and have never trailed this season, but only time will tell if Sam Darnold, an old foe from The Three Stooges, will turn back to a pumpkin. Go figure, the AFC East only got another elite passer (Josh Allen) the second Brady moved to the other conference.
Wilson and Brady are certainly on two different ends of the spectrum for division rivals. What if Brady had to deal with this NFC West that Wilson has been in since 2012? He is only 5-6 as a starter against those teams in the Wilson era, including playoffs and including Sunday’s loss to the Rams. I plotted every quarterback with at least five starts against Wilson’s NFC West since 2012 through 2020, looking at their win percentage and their Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (ANY/A).
Wilson has a better winning percentage (.598) against his division than Rodgers (.440), Brees (.474), Brady (.500), and Peyton (.400). Wilson (6.26) and Brady (6.24) are almost identical in ANY/A, though Wilson is not that great statistically here compared to his other top peers. Of course, he’s played 56 division games against teams who know him well compared to 25 for Rodgers, 19 for Brees, 10 for Brady, and five each for Manning and Mahomes. On the other hand, Wilson never has to play his own defense, which has been the strongest of the bunch in this division since 2012, which also explains why the other quarterbacks have lesser records and stats. But it’s an amusing chart.
I have better, including this look at how quarterbacks have done against Brady’s Three Stooges in the AFC East from 2002 to 2019. Can you notice anyone who stands out?
Yep, that’s Russell Wilson (8.16) and Alex Smith (7.58) as the only quarterbacks with an ANY/A above 7.5. Brady’s record is 81-21 (.794), but are we really going to pretend his top peers couldn’t replicate that in this division or even improve on it given those ugly upset losses in Miami? The guy once lost 21-0 to Joey Harrington.
I am proud of these next two charts since they visualize what I have been saying for years about these divisions. This looks at 2002-2020 for Wilson, Brady, Peyton, Rodgers, Brees, and Roethlisberger while excluding the full year those quarterbacks missed for injury. The entry that is their full name is every game that quarterback played in 2002-2020. The other entries show what the starting quarterbacks for each division rival cumulatively did in every game while the quarterback was in that division, so that would be the AFC South teams for Peyton in 2002-10 and the AFC West teams in 2012-15. The x-axis is win% and the y-axis is ANY/A.
That cluster of The Three Stooges as losing teams with bad quarterback play that only the Browns 2.0 can rival is perfect.
Finally, here is a similar chart that sums up each quarterback’s division rivals into one entry.
As I have been saying for years, no quarterback has had a bigger advantage over his division rivals than Brady, and it’s due to a lack of competition rather than his play being that much better. Brady ranks third in ANY/A here and is only 0.01 above Brees in fourth, and Brady’s division has the worst win rate (.435) and ANY/A (5.24). Wilson’s division has the best record (.496) and second-highest ANY/A (5.88) behind only Brees (6.05).
You cannot deny that the careers of Wilson and Brady will forever be linked. Super Bowl XLIX was the most pivotal game in the NFL in the last dozen years. The Seahawks were a yard away from repeating and possibly being the next dynasty, while bringing the ring count to 3-2 for Brady vs. Wilson and dropping the Patriots to 3-3 in Super Bowls under Belichick and Brady. Then a call for a pass came in and the rest is history. Brady has won three more Super Bowls since and the Seahawks have not even been back to the NFC Championship Game.
In the lonesome crowded NFC West, Russell Wilson is starting to sound like Cowboy Dan.
I got mine but I want more.
With the way the NFC West is developing, and the Seahawks are decaying under Pete Carroll, we may never see Wilson past the second round of the playoffs again, or at least not with Seattle. Maybe he can replace Rodgers in Green Bay some day, a return to Wisconsin.
Also, I didn’t even mention the potential of Trey Lance in San Francisco.
In the NFL, sometimes Week 17 is great drama, and sometimes you just want to get it over with as quickly as possible to get to the playoffs.
Last year was more on the drama side with the Patriots getting upset by the Dolphins to lose out on a bye and the No. 2 seed to the Chiefs, who rode that to a Super Bowl win. The regular season concluded with a good game between the 49ers and Seahawks that came down to the 1-yard line to decide the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
This year looks to be more on the get it over with side of things, especially during a pandemic and another situation (Saints’ running backs) where a team’s whole position group is being wiped out by protocol.
Despite half of the 14 playoff spots still not clinched, this Sunday lacks that game for both teams that has a “win or go home” pressure to it. Plus with the new system only giving out one bye week in a year where being at home doesn’t even matter, there’s not much of an incentive to improve your seeding if you’re Pittsburgh or Buffalo.
It is shocking to think that the AFC could have eight teams with at least 11 wins if all five of the 10-5 teams win on Sunday. Four of the 10-5 teams are favored by at least a touchdown too with only Miami (+2) at Buffalo as an underdog.
Chances are at least one of them will slip up and lose, but which one?
The Colts should be able to avenge that Week 1 loss to the Jaguars with a win. The Ravens should feel good about the way they’ve been rolling, only needing to beat the Bengals (no 2017, 4th-and-12 vs. Andy Dalton repeat). Deshaun Watson absolutely could give the Titans a game, but I think Tennessee scores a lot there. Still, that might be the best game of the day for SGP.
Pittsburgh is basically throwing in the towel on Week 17 and the No. 2 seed, inviting the Browns to suffer an embarrassing loss to Mason Rudolph. The Steelers also won’t have Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Maurkice Pouncey for rest, or Joe Haden and Eric Ebron for COVID reasons. This sets up nicely for a Cleveland win, but pure hell if they lose. I still think the Steelers can cover this one as they rarely lose by more than 10 points and will want to make this as hard as possible on Cleveland even without their best players active.
MIA-BUF is an interesting one because how much Josh Allen will we see? Cole Beasley is already out for the Bills, who really don’t need this one like Miami does. If the Dolphins need a comeback, they can’t go to the bench for Ryan Fitzpatrick either because he has COVID. So it’s all on Tua at QB, but he may only need to outscore Matt Barkley for a half or so. Again, not a game I’d want to bet any money on.
Finally, the Chiefs have the No. 1 seed wrapped up and won’t play Patrick Mahomes among several other starters. That makes the Chargers a 4.5 point favorite in Arrowhead and leaves a few great Chiefs streaks in jeopardy.
Yeah, I’m not a fan of Week 17 and I don’t think eliminating a bye was a good idea. That would have at the very least made the Steelers and Bills go all out tomorrow.
I think the top three seeds (GB/NO/SEA) are all going to win, making Green Bay the coveted No. 1 this year. I however wouldn’t overlook the Saints dropping a game to the Panthers. Last time it was a 27-24 final and the Saints are down Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Plus, aren’t the Panthers due to at least win one close game? That should be the most interesting of the three games there.
I just don’t believe in Chicago or Mitchell Trubisky, though I will say the Bears at least beat Tampa Bay this year. And if beating the Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars doesn’t impress you, well, that’s eight of Green Bay’s wins this season too.
The NFC East is still open to a 6-10 division winner if it’s the Giants, but I think Dallas takes that one to get to 7-9. Then it’s all about SNF and the no-name team against Philadelphia. It appears Alex Smith is starting, but that’s really a marginal improvement over the recently released Dwayne Haskins these days. Still, the Eagles are good for disappointment this year and Washington has been a tough opponent for them the last few years. So I guess based on my picks I still have Washington taking this one at 7-9 thanks to a sweep of Dallas this year.
And to think this could have been Dak Prescott’s division at 8-8…
That leaves probably the closest thing we have to a Week 17 de facto playoff game for both teams between the Rams and Cardinals. I hate betting on the Rams to begin with, but now we’re talking about unknown John Wolford starting at quarterback for an injured Jared Goff. Running back Cam Akers is also still out for the Rams. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray was also banged up at the end of Week 16’s game, so this might not be an offensive showcase.
I’m going to trust my gut and go with Sean McVay in this one as he has owned the Cardinals in his career. If his system and mind are so great, then he should be able to get production out of Wolford in a big spot. The star defenders (Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald) need to show up too. The Rams are a 3-point underdog, but I just don’t trust Kliff Kingsbury, especially not after that brutal performance to the 49ers last Saturday.
NFL Week 17 Predictions
Here are the picks for every game:
During the week I’ll have Stat Oddity for Week 17, a close game summary of 2020, a look at the historic offensive marks achieved this season, and wild card previews. Maybe some other things if I’m feeling that energetic.
If last Sunday in the NFL was boring, then this week more than made up for it. Even though the “Game of the Year” (Chiefs-Saints) wasn’t even the best game played in the last seven days (Ravens-Browns), this was a Sunday filled with memorable action.
Favorites were 11-4 SU, but the Rams christened SoFi Stadium with one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history.
Rams Lose, Jets Lose Out, Only Trevor Lawrence Wins
It is not hyperbole to say that the course of NFL history for the next two decades could have just been drastically altered on Sunday when the 0-13 Jets beat the Rams 23-20 for their first win of the season.
For a franchise familiar with low points, the 2020 season may have taken the Jets to a new low under head coach Adam Gase. Some people have been calling the Chiefs “inevitable” this year, but the most inevitable thing felt like the Jets cruising to 0-16. That is a horrific season, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns already do this. In fact, the biggest surprise would be that the Jets weren’t already in the club (the 1996 team finished 1-15).
The reward at the end of such a terrible season was supposed to be a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft, undoubtedly, to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Gase will now likely go down as one of the most hated coaches in NFL history as he could not even finish 0-16 properly. The Jaguars are now in the driver’s seat for Lawrence in the draft, and if he is as generational as advertised – a mobile, long-haired Peyton Manning – then it is sure to be a move that has massive ripple effects around the league for years to come.
Why are the Jets always the ones botching history? They could have drafted generational passer Dan Marino in 1983 but chose Ken O’Brien instead. They drafted wide receiver Al Toon over all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. They drafted running back Blair Thomas over all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith in 1990. Maybe none of those picks lead to Super Bowls for the Jets, but they absolutely changed the course of the league at that time. Imagine the Dolphins without Marino and Don Shula. Imagine the 49ers’ dynasty without Rice. Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams may have been the dynasty of the 1980s instead. Likewise, Emmitt is probably not the all-time leading rusher if he started with the Jets instead of the dynastic Cowboys in the 90s.
Maybe Lawrence is better off if he doesn’t go to the Jets. In 1997, the Jets thought they could cash that 1-15 season in for Peyton Manning at the top of the draft, but Manning returned to Tennessee for another year and ended up going No. 1 to the rival Colts in 1998. Good move, but also a massive one for the league’s next two decades.
Oh, and never forget the Jets are more responsible for the New England dynasty than anyone after botching the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000 and injuring Drew Bledsoe in 2001, leading to the rise of Tom Brady.
Never has a win felt like such a loss for a team than this one. The fact that Frank Gore put the game away with two first downs is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Jacksonville fans will for sure be pushing Gore for Canton now.
And how about these Rams? So much for the new hyped “best team” in the NFC. I’m going to remember Sean McVay as the photographic memory wunderkind coach who lost a Super Bowl 13-3 and lost to the 0-13 Jets.
There has just been something about Game 14 where perfect seasons go to die. As I pointed out in my preview for this one, the 10 teams to start 0-13 are now 5-5 SU in Game 14. That means these teams went from a combined 0-130 to 5-5 in that 14th game. Interestingly enough, four of the eight 13-0 teams in NFL history also lost their first game in Game 14 (1998 Broncos, 2005 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers).
This is not quite the biggest upset in NFL history. You only have to go back to Week 17 last year to find a worse loss by the point spread when the 17.5-point favorite Patriots lost at home to the Dolphins to lose out on a first-round bye. However, this is only the fifth time since 1978 that a 17-point favorite lost outright.
But this is almost surely the most embarrassing loss a team has ever had to a team 0-13 or worse that notched its first win. The Rams lost this game wire-to-wire, meaning the Jets led the whole way, including a 20-3 lead. Only the 1962 Patriots can say they lost wire-to-wire to an 0-13 (or worse) team after they fell 20-0 to the Oakland Raiders to end the 1962 AFL season.
This was not some December game in trash weather at MetLife Stadium with a full, roaring crowd where Jared Goff melted down and threw a pick parade. The Rams only had one turnover (and one blocked punt) in the game, played in new SoFI Stadium. This was not a blown lead by the Rams. This was not a game where the Rams missed any field goals. The only fumble (on a Sam Darnold sack) went out of bounds.
The Rams were just outplayed by an inferior team. The Jets were able to convert 7-of-17 on third down while the Rams were only 2-of-11. Show up on a few more of those plays and this outcome is likely different, but the Jets deserved this win.
They just had no business actually pulling it off, putting the future of the franchise in doubt again.
The final magnitude of this loss for me personally remains to be seen after the Steelers play on Monday night. I was hot on my bets this weekend, but one game I needed was for the Rams to win and Cam Akers to score a touchdown. That seemed simple enough after Akers’ breakout game last week and the mismatch here, but neither part came through. I also liked Robert Woods scoring (he did), but still would have been screwed by the moneyline. I’ll scowl over this day forever that Akers’ 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was called back for a holding penalty if Diontae Johnson and the Steelers come through. I stood to win more than $36,000 on a series of round robin parlays that only cost $105.
I’m sad. Rams fans are sad. Jets fans are sad. Only Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville fans are probably happy right now. And just think, if the Jets finish on a winning streak, they just may bring Gase and Darnold back for 2021…
I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 50: Week 15 at Saints
Despite holding 14-point leads early and late, the Chiefs had to grind out another close win, 32-29, in the four-minute offense to knock off the Saints in Drew Brees’ return. The big matchup had some really strange plays, Brees got off to the slowest/worst start to a game in his 300th career start, and it technically never had a game-winning drive opportunity, but it was a decent game in the end.
How did New Orleans fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Not good as the only achievement was #6 as the Saints racked up four sacks, getting some of the best pressure any defense ever has (without blitzing too) on Mahomes, which was to be expected with the offensive line situation there.
The 29 points were not bad, but the Saints absolutely hurt themselves before halftime by not recovering the obligatory fumble on a ridiculous punt fielded by Demarcus Robinson with only seconds left in the half. The Saints had a great chance to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but Alex Anzalone botched that play and the Saints only got a safety out of it. Those five points were a huge miss.
You know the standard for Mahomes is getting ridiculous when people scoff at putting up 32 points and 34 first downs on what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Saints had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since doing it four games in a row in Weeks 2-5, but the Chiefs were able to do that in this one, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Saints down.
Much like the 26-17 win in Buffalo, the Chiefs were able to mix the pass and run in moving the ball effectively. This team’s success on the road is historic this season even if it could be asterisk worthy given the pandemic impact with limited or no crowds.
Still, the 2020 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win five road games in a season against teams with a winning record. This is set in stone with the Bills (11-3), Saints (10-4), Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), and Buccaneers (9-5) all guaranteed to have a winning record this season. The only mystery is if the Chiefs will pick up a sixth win if the Raiders (7-7) finish 9-7.
The Chiefs just had the seventh game in NFL history where they put up 32 points and 34 first downs on the road in regulation. That’s impressive when you also consider that they have the sixth such game this season when they did it in Las Vegas.
Now 50 starts into his career, I am still waiting to see what a legitimately bad game from Mahomes looks like. His consistency is unmatched. The 2020 Chiefs are now the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 22 points in each of their first 14 games in a season. The other teams on that list are the 1983 Redskins, 1998 Vikings, and 2018 Chiefs, so they have already done it twice here. Only that 2019 Colts game (19-13 loss) is stopping it from being 50-for-50 for Mahomes in scoring 22+ points as a team.
Sunday is the 33rd time Mahomes has led the Chiefs to at least 30 points in one of his starts. If he does it again next week against Atlanta, then that will be 34 times over his last 50 starts. That would match the best 50-game stretch of the careers of Manning and Brady. I included a chart that shows how the count of 30-point starts over those quarterback’s last 50 starts progressed over time, as well as the same data for Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Brees.
Like Mahomes, Marino got off to that super-fast start to the point where his best 50-game stretch was the first 50 games when he led the Dolphins to 30+ points 26 times. Marino and Mahomes are the only two listed to top 20 games in their first 50 starts (this includes playoffs). Some of this is about league trends as scoring went up in the later stages of these careers (think Manning in Denver or Brees in the Michael Thomas-Alvin Kamara years), but you can see where the peaks and valleys are.
These are just team points, but Mahomes has plenty of other superlatives through 50 games that we could go on about. Sunday was his 24th game with at least three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history for a quarterback through 50 starts (including playoffs). Marino had 22 such games that early.
It can still be debated if Mahomes is the best 50-game stretch of quarterback play in NFL history, but there is no debate if this is the best 50-game start to any quarterback’s career.
Eagles at Cardinals: The Jalen Hurts Era Is for Real
Carson Wentz may understandably not like it, but the rest of us are better with the Eagles moving forward with Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. Hurts impressed again in a fun 33-26 shootout with Kyler Murray in Arizona. Sure, the Eagles lost after playing in their 23rd straight game that was within one score in the fourth quarter, but Hurts showed so much poise and promise for a rookie.
Hurts passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 63 yards and another score. That 401 yards of total offense in Hurts’ second start is more than Wentz ever had in 69 career starts. Had Dallas Goedert been able to pull in a dagger of a throw from Hurts in the end zone late to tie the game, Hurts may have finished with over 365 passing yards, which also would top Wentz’s career high.
Look, I have said these things well before Hurts was drafted. Doug Pederson’s offense works best when his quarterback is NOT Carson Wentz. With Nick Foles, the Eagles could actually win high-scoring games, beat good teams, win without much rushing support, and come through in the clutch. Hurts still has plenty of room to grow but he is only a second-round pick with three games of relevance under his belt.
The fact that this was such an exciting game between two young, mobile quarterbacks who could run and throw is a great sign for the future of the NFC. Let Wentz go do his thing in Indianapolis where he thinks Frank Reich is the answer to all his problems.
The Eagles are in a better place now, and likely would still be in position to win this terrible division had Wentz been benched sooner. You can talk about heart and leadership if you want, but there’s just something about Wentz where things don’t all click with this coach and team when he’s the quarterback.
Bucs at Falcons: The Most Predictable 17-Point Comeback in NFL History
You could say Tom Brady holds a psychological edge on the Falcons after 28-3, but it could just be as simple as the Falcons are a joke of a franchise and blowing leads is what they do best. We have already seen it this year with the losses against Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit.
In fact, I even wrote in my preview for this one that Atlanta would blow a double-digit lead to the Bucs. Not even at 24-7 in the third quarter did this feel in doubt. Sure enough, the Atlanta offense folded while Tampa Bay scored on five straight drives. Antonio Brown made by far his biggest play for the team yet with a 46-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 6:19 left. Matt Ryan is still gunning for the only season of his career without a 4QC or GWD.
Tampa Bay scored 31 points in the second half. Something like that hasn’t happened in the NFL since… well, when the Falcons allowed 30 in the second half to the Cowboys this year.
Tampa Bay is now 4-3 when falling behind double digits this season. Doing that in half your games seems like a bad formula for the playoffs where you absolutely will not see a team as dumb as Atlanta. These slow starts are a problem, but the talent on this roster is still a lot to deal with as well. Don’t rule out Tampa lucking into a No. 2 seed with the way the other NFC teams are playing down the stretch. I still ultimately think the Saints will beat Carolina in Week 17 to secure the division if it’s not done on Christmas, but there is a chance here after this comeback for Tampa Bay to move up the standings.
In a crazy year, here is something that at least feels right: Falcons and Chargers lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Browns-Giants: What a Change from 2016
Sunday Night Football may not have been the most exciting game, a 20-6 win by Cleveland over the Giants, but consider where these teams were four years ago. The 0-11 Browns lost 27-13 to the offensively challenged Giants in a game with 17 punts and four turnovers. Gross.
Four years later, the Browns actually have a fun offense and won their 10th game last night. The Giants are still offensively challenged but did better than the 20-6 score shows. They just failed on too many fourth downs.
In fact, this is one of the most offensive-driven 20-6 games you’ll ever see in the NFL. This game only had 14 total possessions with five punts, no turnovers, and three stops on fourth down. The Browns scored 20 points (another Cody Parkey missed extra point) on their first five drives before staying understandably conservative with the big lead. The “Browns only scored 20” crowd seems to have overlooked just how few drives were in this game.
In the last three games, Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 900 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. These were marquee games for the Browns too, including two in prime time and a big matchup in Tennessee. Winning two of these three games and only losing 47-42 to the Ravens is huge progress for this franchise. I’m not going to say the Browns have what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run this year, but this team has definitely improved and so has the quarterback. I’m not sure what more he should be doing in the last month to silence the critics, but I’m coming around on him with this recent performance.
It’s weird to talk about the Browns offense being worth a damn, but it’s 2020. All bets are off. Hell, even the Chicago Bears have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 1995. If the Bears can do that, the Bills can win the division, then why not see Cleveland win 11 games and make the playoffs?
Patriots Done (For How Long?)
New England has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season after a 22-12 loss in Miami. The Dolphins will have a winning record this year while the Bills (11-3) have already won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Jets were also in position to get Trevor Lawrence, but you know what happened there.
It leaves the Patriots in a tricky position with quite arguably the worst long-term quarterback situation in the division depending what the Jets do. Cam Newton is not the answer but there is also not much of a roster here.
This last-gasp effort in Miami, a familiar losing venue for New England in December, showed some signs of life early that the Patriots could pull one out and stay alive another week. They were playing a Miami team missing its top wideouts and tight end. In classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Patriots turned a 95-yard, 9:11 drive by the Dolphins into an interception after making Tua throw under pressure. Then Newton got away with a would-be 86-yard fumble return because the ball just grazed a Miami defender who was out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Patriots scored a field goal to lead 6-0. Miami finished off the half with a missed 52-yard field goal, because again, this is what the Patriots do.
But the second half was a different story. The Dolphins continued to put together long drives and finished them off this time while Newton and the limited offense couldn’t answer. Tua was credited with his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the defense shut things down with a fourth-down sack of Newton with 1:08 left.
It was the first time all season the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead, but this team was never in much of a position to do any damage in 2020 between the loss of Brady, the COVID opt-outs, the losses on defense, Julian Edelman’s surgery, and just general roster flaws like not having a tight end.
It would actually be a lot more enjoyable to see this team struggle if only they were recognizable as the Patriots, but they never really were such a team this season. Now they’re just another team, and it’s only fitting that the Bills and Dolphins have gotten some decisive licks in on them.
Can the Jets do it too? They almost beat them last time in a 30-27 game, and this may be one where Belichick decides to just let the Jets win to make sure Trevor Lawrence doesn’t find his way to the Jets after all.
I mean, there’s always a plan with Belichick. Just not much of one this year as far as a contender goes.
Cruel Close Game Regression: Texas Edition
My goodness, I know I said Houston could be in trouble in close games this year after Deshaun Watson led five game-winning drives in both 2018 and 2019, but this is ridiculous. For the second time this season, Watson had the Texans knocking on the door of a tying or go-ahead touchdown against the Colts. Last time it was a bad snap that led to a game-ending fumble in a 26-20 loss.
This time, down 27-20, Watson converted a 4th-and-5, but Keke Coutee went from looking like he was about to score to fumbling the ball into the end zone where the Colts recovered with 19 seconds left to end the game. Watson had some huge numbers again with 373 yards, but his teammates found another way to blow a game even without Bill O’Brien involved.
Houston is now 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season.
Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys had a minor upset of the 49ers in a 41-33 final that was filled with big plays and turnovers. Nick Mullens had three turnovers himself, including an interception that set up Andy Dalton for the lamest game-winning drive of the year: three incomplete passes and a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
In a game that would never end, the final 43 seconds saw a field goal, an onside kick returned for a touchdown, and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown with no time left. Well, not entirely meaningless. Someone (not me) won or lost money on that bullshit.
So we will have a new NFC champion with San Francisco eliminated after an injury-ravaged, disappointing season. The 49ers are now 1-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season, which has always been a problem during the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco outside of some Jimmy Garoppolo starts.
But last year with a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were 4-2 at GWD opportunities and only blew one fourth-quarter lead in the regular season. However, we know this team was struggling late in the year with that against Atlanta (lost), New Orleans (offense had to bail them out), and the Seattle game in Week 17 came down to the final stop at the 1-yard line. Then we of course know what happened with a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Stung by the Wasp.
The 49ers started this season with blown leads to the Cardinals and Eagles before the injuries and a tough schedule just seemed to be too much for this team to overcome. Will 2019 be a one-year wonder in the NFC again? We’ll need to see next year to verify, but it’s not a bad bet to say it was.
That is why every opportunity in this league must be taken seriously. You never know if things will come together at the right time again. You know, like when you’re going to finish 0-16 and draft a generational talent quarterback, but oh fuck, that’s enough about the Jets and Rams.
Here is an obvious sign the Week 13 NFL slate isn’t quite up to par: the big CBS game at 4:25 is Eagles-Packers.
Now it’s not the NFL’s fault that Drew Brees has been injured for both NO-ATL games, or that we’ll be lucky to see even half of the intended QB battles between Dak-Lamar and Burrow-Tua.
One game that has surprisingly turned out to be a big one is Cleveland at Tennessee, two 8-3 teams and almost the only two teams in the league with a good argument for building their offense around the run.
We are finally getting the first Rams-Cardinals game this season, though it has lost some luster after both had disappointing losses in Week 12. Sean McVay is 14-7 against the NFC West, an impressive mark given the teams in that division since 2017. McVay is 6-0 against the Cardinals and has five wins of 16+ points against them. His smallest margin of victory is 7 points over Arizona. The Rams are very hard to predict from week to week, but I took that into consideration when I made my pick for that game.
Another game that interests me is Monday night where the Bills are a 1.5-point underdog in San Francisco despite having the better record (8-3 vs. 5-6). It’s only the sixth time in the last 20 seasons where an 8-3 team is an underdog to a 5-6 team. The last time was in 2008 when Carolina was a 3-point dog to the Packers in Lambeau in Aaron Rodgers’ first season as a starter. The Panthers won 35-31 with a fourth-quarter comeback. The 8-3 team is 5-0 against the 5-6 team. With the way Buffalo’s defense handled the Chargers last week, I think they’ll be adequate against Nick Mullens and an offense that has lost George Kittle for the season.
Finally, there’s the Steelers-Washington game on Monday. The line was about PIT -10 before Wednesday’s ugly win over Baltimore, but is now down to PIT -7.5. I have to say I really like the Steelers in this one, as they are still 8-3 ATS this season, a record as good as anyone in the league in 2020. I think they’ll put that weird game on Wednesday behind them quickly and play sharper on offense without all the dropped passes. An Alex Smith-led offense reliant on one wideout in the passing game is unlikely to do much damage to this defense.
We also have to put Washington’s recent performance in the context of the worst division in NFL history. Washington started the season 1-4 with all the losses by 14+ points. Then in their last six games they’re 3-3, but they’ve played four games against NFC East teams, the Bengals in a game Joe Burrow was injured (W 20-9), and a 30-27 loss in Detroit where they trailed 24-3 before making a game of it (typical Matt Patricia).
Put this team on the road against the Steelers and I’m very confident the home team will win by 8+ points. That’s my favorite spread pick this week, and yes, I don’t think it will be a pleasant game to watch again. Probably something in the 24-13 range of final scores.
NFL Week 13 Predictions
The full slate (at least every team has a QB, or someone posing as one this week):
I really wanted to pick Atlanta to beat the Saints again, but they screwed me over last time, and several of the skill players are on the injury report for the Falcons. I’m just going to stay away from that one. I hope I’ve learned a lesson there. But the Saints really need Drew Brees back ASAP.
We came into Thanksgiving with one 41-25 final in NFL history, and left Sunday with two more of them in four days. Houston’s 41-25 win over Detroit ended Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, and it also vaulted Deshaun Watson into No. 1 all-time in passer rating.
Sunday night was a 41-25 victory by the Packers and former record holder Aaron Rodgers over the Bears. It was a bumpy ride in between, with the Broncos literally having no quarterback to face the Saints, and we are still waiting to see if Ravens-Steelers is really happening this week.
Oh yeah, some guy named Patrick Mahomes hit 1,500 career attempts and now officially qualifies for rate statistics.
I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes: Week 12 at Buccaneers
Forget the GOAT. What about the perfect quarterback?
The perfect quarterback would be one without a weakness who never has a bad game. This would sound asinine to bring up a couple years ago, but through 47 games of his career, Patrick Mahomes has shown no weakness and he has never had a legitimately bad game.
On Sunday, he had one of his best games yet.
The marquee game of Week 12 was Kansas City at Tampa Bay, and wow, did the Chiefs fire the cannons early. The Mahomes to Tyreek Hill connection has never been better than it was in this game. In the first quarter alone, Hill had 7 catches, 203 yards, 2 TD. The Chiefs led 17-0 and only some issues in the red zone (strip-sack, three straight throwaways) prevented them from scoring 30 in the first half.
On 15 targets, Hill finished with 13 catches, 269 yards and 3 TD. In NFL history, only two other receivers ever hit all three of those marks in a game. Jerry Rice had 14/289/3 for the 49ers against the 1995 Vikings. Jimmy Smith had 15/291/3 for the Jaguars against the vaunted 2000 Ravens.
The 2020 Buccaneers have had a rough month on defense, but this was dynamic stuff from the Chiefs. The Buccaneers and Ravens have been labeled as Super Bowl contenders this year, but in both games on the road, the Chiefs went in there and piled up over 500 yards of offense on each of them in wins.
It actually feels like a disappointment that the Chiefs only scored 27 points given the 543 yards, including 490 total yards from Mahomes. But again, they had the red zone problems in the first half and then three straight punts in the second half, including a would-be 89-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman that the receiver dropped after it was just a little behind him. The Chiefs also punted on drives after Le’Veon Bell was stuffed on two runs (including 3rd-and-2), and on a fourth-quarter drive that was plagued by so many penalties it ended when Mahomes almost fit in a ball on 3rd-and-27 that would have at least set up an important field goal.
You basically have to hope this offense beats itself to have a chance.
However, even after the Buccaneers made it 27-24, Mahomes delivered in the four-minute offense again, draining the final 4:10 on the clock by gaining three first downs (two via his legs, one final third-down dagger to Hill). Mahomes and the Chiefs have been money in the four-minute offense going back to late last season:
You would have expected more from Tom Brady seeing as how CBS commentator Tony Romo deflated his balls for three hours in a way he hasn’t enjoyed since probably his New England days.
Honestly, if Romo never does another Brady game, it would be a gift to the football world. He could not find any fault with anything Brady has been doing this season, or even in this game where he started by sailing several passes nowhere close to a receiver. Romo saw drops when there was only inaccuracy, he saw miscommunication when balls flew over open receiver’s heads, and he thought a checkdown to Leonard Fournette that lost yards was “awesome” before basically blaming Brady missing an open receiver on the Bucs not running this play enough.
Not even John Madden would have stooped to this level of ass-sucking for Brett Favre during his 2005-06 rough patch in Green Bay. It was that atrocious to listen to.
Meanwhile, the player in this game who actually looks like he could be the greatest to ever play it, adds another memorable game to his growing list. This is the first time Mahomes has won a game in regulation in which he threw more than 45 passes (49).
Now that he has 1,500 career attempts, all those records like highest passer rating, most passing yards per game, and most passing touchdowns per game officially are in Mahomes’ name.
Romo still believes this is going to be the Super Bowl matchup in Tampa in February. After seeing Tampa Bay as of late, that doesn’t seem too likely. However, it does seem more than likely that we’ll watch the Buccaneers in the Wild Card round, and after falling behind by double digits, the TV analyst will remind us that Brady didn’t have a preseason with this team and they’re still figuring things out. You know, very normal things you would bring up about a team in their 17th game of the season.
Modern NFL audiences don’t really know how to handle the best team having the legitimately best quarterback at the same time.
As long as Peyton Manning was around, Tom Brady was not the best QB when the Patriots were the best team.
Troy Aikman in Dallas was never the best QB in the league; not when Brett Favre and Steve Young were around.
Yes, Joe Montana with the 49ers. For a brief period in 1989-90 this dynamic existed, but keep in mind the dynasty of the 80s was a toss-up until the 49ers repeated and won their fourth in 1989. Don’t just forget about the brutal period of 1985-87 where they lost three playoff games in a row and Montana was almost replaced permanently by Young. Montana won MVP in 1989 and 1990, but the three-peat was not to be after Montana was injured and Roger Craig fumbled against the Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. Earlier in the decade when Montana had two rings and uneven playoff performances, the Redskins beat them to three rings and Dan Marino was the dominant, record-setting quarterback for 1983-87. Montana really didn’t get back on top until that 1988 playoff run led into a historic 1989 season.
I’ll always be fond of the Steelers and can admit this was before my time, but I have little doubt that Roger Staubach – not Terry Bradshaw – was the best quarterback in the 1970s. Just like how I’d say the same about Johnny Unitas when Bart Starr (reality: Vince Lombardi) was leading the Packers to five championships in the 60s.
It would be a massive disappointment if this Chiefs team did not have a dynasty run, or at least end this historic drought of a repeat champion. This is different than the 2009-10 Saints or 2010-11 Packers or 2013-14 Seahawks. They’re different mostly because of Mahomes.
He’s Perfect Pat, or Patrick “Mr. Perfect” Mahomes. Are those good nicknames? Beats me. How do people say Tom Terrific and not feel their soul melt? All I know is in 15 years, I hope I’m still here to see Mahomes playing great, and that Tony Romo will be there giving him fellatio for a full broadcast.
Saints at Broncos: Fake Diesel vs. Fake Razor Ramon
It is still hard to believe this game happened the way it did in Denver. The Broncos had all four quarterbacks sidelined with COVID-19 due to Jeff Driskel’s positive test and the failure of the rest of the crew to wear masks. I get that they did wrong, but you’re going to tell me you can delay games a week (like Patriots-Broncos), or several days in Baltimore’s case, but not push this one back a day or two so the Broncos could develop some sort of offensive game plan? They had not even 24 hours before it was ruled on Saturday that those quarterbacks were ineligible to play. The point spread went from Denver +6 to Denver +17, and even that proved to be too generous.
It’s bad enough Taysom Hill was pretending to be a starting quarterback in place of Drew Brees, but now this? Imagine if the WWF in 1994 scheduled Diesel vs. Razor Ramon as the main event on Monday Night Raw, then put fake Diesel and fake Razor out there and acted like everything was legit. That was this game.
Clearly, the integrity of the game was sacrificed by letting this game happen on Sunday. The Broncos lost 31-3, completed 1-of-9 passes for 13 yards with two interceptions, and took one sack as they started running back Phillip Lindsay in the Wildcat before using practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton as the “quarterback” for the game.
The teams combined for 75 net passing yards, the fewest in an NFL game since the 2009 Jets-Bengals finished with 63 in a season finale NBC was stuck televising since it pushed Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan’s Jets into the playoffs. The Bengals just wanted to rest Carson Palmer and company before losing to the Jets in the Wild Card the next week too.
The Broncos are the first team to complete one pass in a game since the legendary Cody Pickett performance in 2005 for the 49ers against the Bears.
Maybe the most depressing stat: despite trailing by 14-28 points the whole second half, the Broncos attempted just three pass plays after halftime. They wanted to get this embarrassment over with. The game finished in a speedy 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Saints won 31-3 despite Taysom Hill completing 9 passes for 78 yards with three sacks. Last week, Alvin Kamara had the first game of his career with zero catches. This week, he had one catch, but for -2 yards.
What a mess. To be honest, I wish the Broncos would have tried some more trick plays. You basically had a free week to do anything you wanted without any real criticism. It’s an outright shame that Hinton was the only Denver player to throw a pass. Jerry Jeudy should have thrown one. They should have done a fake punt. Lindsay could have thrown a pass to Hinton, who is a wide receiver after all. He’s just never played in the NFL before Sunday, and that was the big problem.
At least if this happened in past years to a team like Pittsburgh, they could have put Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle El in the emergency QB spot. They not only had college QB experience, but they knew the playbook well from playing receiver. Hinton is a nobody from the practice squad. That’s also likely why we didn’t see much from Denver as there just was not enough time to get him ready to run plays. Still, drawing up a few things in the dirt on the sideline during the game should have happened to make this a bit more fun to watch.
Instead it will just go down as one of the saddest game experiences in NFL history.
Old-School New England Win
This might sound familiar. The undermanned Patriots, hosting a playoff-hopeful team from Arizona, picked up a 20-17 win on a long, clutch, last-second field goal after the Patriots’ quarterback had a lousy game (but got benefit of the doubt on a controversial penalty), the defense made a red-zone stop on fourth down before halftime, and the opposing kicker blew a go-ahead field goal with 1:47 left.
Just like how you used to draw them up, right Billy Boy?
I picked the Patriots to win this game, because I thought Kliff Kingsbury would shit his pants in his first game against Belichick. I think it’s fair to say he did just that. Kingsbury decided to go for a 4th-and-1 at the NE 1 to end the first half, leading 10-7. It’s really not a bad decision, but you lose the benefit of putting New England in poor field position if it doesn’t work, because this was to end the half. So you’re basically passing on three free points while also getting the ball first in the third quarter. Also, the Cardinals were getting solid pressure on Cam Newton and already hit him to force an interception. He didn’t look capable of leading a big offensive output in this one. I take my 13-7 lead into halftime and prepare my double score on the next drive.
But Kenyan Drake was stuffed, adding another memorable goal-line stand to a defense that has the most of anyone in the last two decades. The Cardinals also didn’t score for several more drives, and Kyler Murray’s interception set up a short field that Newton took advantage of for a go-ahead touchdown.
Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth quarter on a drive that took forever and was aided by multiple penalties on the Patriots. Newton’s second pick with 4:27 left seemed like it would prove costly, but Kingsbury screwed up again. Remember that big boy aggression he showed before halftime? He faced 4th-and-1 at the NE 27 with 1:52 left after the Patriots used their final timeout. That means he had a chance to convert and set up the game-winning field goal as the final play of the game. Kicking here, with your obviously shaky kicker, means you’re banking on a 45-yard field goal and your defense to stop Newton in four-down mode with almost two full minutes.
I know it would sound sacrilegious even 5-10 years
ago to bypass a field goal here, but the game has changed. Even bad offenses can get into field goal range quickly enough now given four downs, a heavy reliance on passing, mobile quarterbacks, and a lot of kickers can make from 50-plus now.
Kingsbury cowered again, and for the third time this year, Zane Gonzalez missed a clutch field goal. The Patriots almost went three-and-out, but Newton was able to scramble for 14 yards on 3rd-and-13, plus 15 more yards for a high hit that was however in bounds. That call was shaky and basically put New England in field goal range. Nick Folk hit from 50 yards out and the Patriots are now 5-6.
The three worst QBR games in a win this season have all happened in this stadium.
Lowest ESPN QBR in a win, 2020
1. Cam Newton vs. Cardinals – 6.6
2. Drew Lock at Patriots – 13.8
3. Cam Newton vs. Raiders – 21.2
Maybe it’s a good thing fans aren’t there to watch this.
It was just in Week 9 against Miami when Gonzalez missed a 49-yard game-tying field goal with 1:53 left in a 34-31 loss where Murray was outstanding. Murray was far from outstanding in this game, but he played better than the winning QB, Newton.
This also means that in November 2020 alone, Kyler Murray (two) has lost more games after his kicker missed a clutch field goal than Tom Brady (one) has had in his 338-game career.
Interestingly enough, Brady’s lone loss was in 2012 against the Cardinals when Stephen Gostkowski missed from 42 yards out in a 20-18 loss. Before you say luck evens out, not so fast. When these teams met in 2016, Arizona lost 23-21 after Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in a game Jimmy Garoppolo started for a suspended Brady.
Two decades of the best clutch kicking skill (and luck) for New England.
Justin Herbert’s First Bad Game
Well, it was fun while it lasted to say that, like Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert doesn’t have bad games. The rookie had seven straight games with multiple touchdown passes, but only threw one in Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Buffalo. Herbert had a bad interception that set up Buffalo’s final field goal and the two-score margin. It is also only the second time Herbert was held under 20 points as a starter. The last time was his second start against Carolina, a game where he still threw for 330 yards and would have had a game-winning touchdown pass if a beautiful lateral pitch was not dropped by Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler returned to action on Sunday with mixed results. He only rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries, and Herbert seemed to rely on him too much in the passing game, completing 11-of-16 targets for 85 yards.
Herbert failed to get any completion of over 15 yards against a shaky Buffalo defense until he threw a 55-yard Hail Mary on 4th-and-27 in the closing minute, down 10 points. That could have saved the spread (+4.5), the over, and given him another multi-touchdown pass and 24+ point start, but the Chargers bungled the situation in the most Charger way possible. Instead of running up to spike the ball or throw another pass with 25 seconds left, the Chargers ran Ekeler for a yard to the 1-yard line. By the time the Chargers ran another play there were only 8 seconds left. Keep in mind they clearly needed a quick touchdown, then an onside kick recovery with enough time to set up a field goal. The run call was just inexcusable in that situation.
Earlier in the quarter, head coach Anthony Lynn called a timeout before still kicking a field goal on 4th-and-4. The field goal was fine. The problem was burning the timeout, and he didn’t even burn it quickly to save clock. Also, he went for a 4th-and-1 at the Buffalo 25 to start the quarter when the Chargers were down 10 when he should have been kicking then. That way he could go for it on fourth down next time, down a touchdown.
Oh yeah, Lynn also flirted with a fourth down before halftime at midfield before calling a timeout at 21 seconds before punting. Why not just go for it? If not, why use a timeout? Make Buffalo use a timeout to get the ball back.
Joey Bosa (3.0 sacks and fumble recovery) was amazing, Herbert was disappointing, and Buffalo’s offense was a bummer too to be honest. But Lynn was also a real sore spot for the Chargers, now 3-8, and I think that’s why we will see a change at head coach for the Chargers in 2021.
Adios, Matt Patricia (Who’s Next?)
With the Matt Patricia era over in Detroit, I must point out just how laughably bad he was in managing close games. Patricia’s Lions were 3-15-1 (.184) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 5-16-1 (.250) in all game-winning drive opportunities. Here is how that stacks up to the other 31 current coaches:
You can see Patricia had the worst record of anyone in at least their third season. Of the coaches below him, you have Matt Rhule at 0-7 with Carolina. He is safe as a first-year coach, but there is no denying that offense has been a big disappointment with Teddy Bridgewater and company when it comes to closing out games. On Sunday, they blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Vikings, not known for many comebacks with Kirk Cousins. Rhule committed the deadly sin of kicking a field goal to take a 6-point lead with nearly a full two minutes left. He did it facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3 too. Cousins marched down for the game-winning touchdown while the Panthers in return missed on a 54-yard field goal to end the game.
Meanwhile, Zac Taylor and Joe Judge met in likely the only game they’ll ever meet in the NFL (as head coaches at least) as the Giants beat the Bengals 19-17. Taylor (0-12-1) and Judge (0-5) have a combined 0-17-1 record at game-winning drive opportunities. The Giants were up 19-10 with under four minutes to play despite having to finish the game with Colt McCoy after Daniel Jones was injured. The Bengals were in this one with Brandon Allen at QB and even got the ball back at the 50 with 57 seconds to go, only needing a field goal. That’s a great situation to be in, and it likely sets up a field goal if Joe Burrow was still the quarterback. However, on the very first play Allen took a sack and fumbled to end the game.
Taylor is 0-22-1 when the Bengals trail after the 12:00 mark of the third quarter.
Do you know who else got a pass for losing his quarterback for half the season in his second year? Matt Patricia (2019). Maybe the Bengals ought to be thinking about “two-and-done” in this case. That’s still an improvement over what one-and-done usually means in Cincinnati.
The 2020 NFL season has its signature play now. “The Hail Murray” may be a bit on the nose, but it’s a great way to describe the amazing job Kyler Murray did to get a pass off to DeAndre Hopkins that he managed to catch over three defenders for a 43-yard touchdown to beat the Bills with two seconds left.
I’ll cover that play and more from a week that felt closer than it was. Margins were fairly tight, but there were actually as many fourth-quarter lead changes in the final 39 seconds of Bills-Cardinals as there were in the rest of Week 10 combined.
For the 10th week in a row, we had at least two games won after a team trailed by double digits. This time it was New Orleans climbing out an early 10-0 hole against San Francisco and the aforementioned classic between the Bills and Cardinals saw Buffalo blow a 23-9 lead in the second half.
That is 31 with the home stretch still to come. We are not in record territory yet, but any season over 40 would be right up there.
The Hail Murray: Bills at Cardinals
Well that was an exciting display between two of the NFL’s youngest and most athletic quarterbacks, Kyler Murray and Josh Allen. Neither had a traditionally great passing day, but Allen caught a 12-yard touchdown to start the game for Buffalo, and Murray scampered around for another 61 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. Murray is up to 10 rushing touchdowns this season while Cam Newton has nine for New England. Newton still holds the single-season record for quarterbacks with 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011, but Murray could top that unless Newton breaks his own record first.
This 32-30 win by Arizona was also a showcase for how adding a great wide receiver can change an offense. It does not always work out (see: Antonio Brown in Oakland/New England, Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland), but there is no denying that Stefon Diggs (Bills) and DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals) have connected with their young quarterbacks in a way that has these teams feeling like contenders this year because of their ability to score.
Diggs caught a 21-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left that looked to be the game winner, but as we see more each year, offenses can answer in quick time. The Cardinals luckily had two timeouts left as well, but driving 75 yards was never going to be easy. They didn’t make it look easy either with Murray holding onto the ball long and having to create, but one throw from midfield decided the game after Hopkins managed to come down with this ball:
How rare is it to see a team take over in the final 35 seconds and drive for a game-winning touchdown? This is only the 10th time it has happened since 1981. There were two other occasions where a team tied a game with a touchdown and won in overtime.
Most of these should ring a bell, and the Cardinals are actually the first team to win twice this way in the last 40 years. These are the kind of plays fans will always remember, and for Hopkins, it becomes the signature play of his career.
Now we’ll just see if Arizona (6-3) has any more special moments this season.
Ravens Wash Out, But Lamar Didn’t Melt Away
Baltimore had a surprising 23-17 loss in New England on Sunday night. Normally, losing in that building would be expected, but the Ravens were a touchdown favorite against a Patriots team lacking in talent. However, the Patriots played a strong first half, took a 13-10 lead into the locker room, expanded it to 20-10, and never looked back. The loss ends Baltimore’s regular-season record streak of 31 straight games scoring at least 20 points, the first time they failed to do so in Lamar Jackson’s career.
I have written plenty this season about Jackson’s front-running tendencies. He is now 0-6 when trailing by at least 9 points in the second half, and the Ravens haven’t actually won a game after trailing by multiple scores at any time in the game since early in 2016 against Cleveland, two years before Jackson was drafted.
Fortunately, we are still talking about six games. Aaron Rodgers infamously started his career 0-26 when trailing by two scores in the second half.
Jackson has a long way to go to catch up to that mark, but in a league where Patrick Mahomes is a respectable 3-6 and the rival Steelers are 2-0 this season alone in the same situation, that comes off as something to be bothered by.
However, the good news is Jackson was not the issue this night. He passed for 249 yards, something he hasn’t done since Week 1, in a game with pouring rain that was at its worst when he had the ball in the final minute. That would have been an amazing game-winning drive, but it only moved 4 yards.
The wet conditions wreaked some havoc with the Ravens’ offense. There were dropped passes and bad snaps. More notable than the final drive was the penultimate drive. A bad snap with 6:01 to play turned a new set of downs into a 2nd-and-26, a tough spot for anyone in this league.
The vaunted Baltimore rushing attack? It only contributed 17 carries for 60 yards despite the return of Mark Ingram to the backfield. That’s not good enough in the rain where Jackson led the team with 55 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Damien Harris rushed for 121 yards for the Patriots, who only needed 118 passing yards from Cam Newton to get the win. The Patriots also had a trick play with wideout Jakobi Meyers throwing a 24-yard touchdown in the first half.
The Patriots (4-5) are still in 10th place in the AFC, sitting behind a logjam of six teams with 6-3 records, not to mention the division-leading Bills at 7-3. Go figure, Tom Brady bounced the year before the AFC had arguably the strongest opening 10 weeks to a season since the merger:
Speaking of Brady, here are some interesting numbers:
Tom Brady finished 4-5 in his last 9 starts with the Patriots (11 total touchdowns)
Cam Newton is 4-4 in his first 8 starts with the Patriots (12 total touchdowns)
Sure, we can laugh at Newton for only having three touchdown passes this year, but he has already rushed for nine scores. Those still count for six points too. We can also enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing New England struggle to win games, but the fact is this has been going on there ever since the Ravens took it to them on Sunday Night Football a year ago. If Newton can beat the struggling Texans next week, he’ll have a better record in nine games than Brady had in his last nine here, and the talent supply has clearly depleted in New England.
So, the hole may be too big for the Patriots to climb out of to make the playoffs, but if this big win triggers a run to a No. 7 seed, then things could get very interesting for that opponent. It could even be the Chiefs, who were in a close game with the Patriots earlier this year without Newton available.
Bucs, Rams Set for Week 11 Showdown
When Tampa Bay isn’t playing New Orleans this year, you could argue this is the best team in the NFC. The Buccaneers completed a season sweep of Carolina with a 46-23 victory that did get a little inflated with short fields in the second half, but this was one of the most dominant games of the season after the Buccaneers were thoroughly dominated by New Orleans a week ago.
Tampa Bay outgained Carolina 544-187, a difference of 357 yards. That is the third-largest difference in a game since 2015, only topped by 2019 Ravens-Dolphins (+443) and 2015 Broncos-Packers (+360). That’s very good company; Denver won the Super Bowl and Baltimore was the No. 1 seed last year.
But sweeping the 2020 Panthers isn’t exactly adding to an impressive resume for the Buccaneers (7-3), still living off that season highlight of demolishing Green Bay 38-10 in Week 6. Fortunately, the schedule makers have come through. Next Monday night, the Bucs will host the Rams and a week later it’s Mahomes and the Chiefs. We’ll learn so much more about where these teams stand after those games.
The Rams got to 6-3 with their biggest win of the season, knocking the Seahawks down a peg, 23-16. Sean McVay is now 5-2 against the Seahawks, and Russell Wilson turned the ball over three times as Seattle scored a season-low 16 points. It’s a little disappointing the Rams didn’t score more and lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a torn MCL, but the defense was impressive against a non-NFC East or Bears offense for a change.
You never know what you’re going to get from the Rams these days, but a good showing in Tampa, combined with the uncertainty over Drew Brees’ ribs in New Orleans, could lead to more guesswork on how the NFC will play out this season.
Any one of the Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals could be capable of going on a run to the Super Bowl this season.
Undefeated Update: Steelers Cruise to 9-0
It was about time the Steelers played a game that did not come down to the final snap. Pittsburgh built a 22-7 halftime lead, did not surrender another touchdown, and Ben Roethlisberger finished with 333 yards and four touchdown passes. Pittsburgh did everything well except for run the football. The Cincinnati rushing offense looks strong on paper (21 carries, 139 yards), but 88 of those yards came in the fourth quarter after they were down 36-7, including a 39-yard fake punt, so judge that according to its worth (hint: it’s nothing).
The 2020 Steelers are the 12th team in NFL history to score at least 24 points in each of their first nine games.
The offense continues to produce, but the defense did something notable in this game too. The Bengals finished 0-for-13 on third down, only the eighth time since 1991 that has happened. It’s the first time since the record holder happened: the Ryan Lindley-led Cardinals were 0-for-15 on third down against the Jets in 2012 in a game that threatened to set offense back decades. The 2009 Jets also held Tampa Bay to 0-for-14 on third down. The other six games were all 0-for-13.
The time will likely come soon enough when the Bengals enter this rivalry with the better quarterback in Joe Burrow, but on Sunday, the rookie was no match for what Roethlisberger and this young cast of receivers have been doing this season.
As a bonus, thanks to the comfortable Pittsburgh win, I was able to flip over to the full ending of Bills-Cardinals, the finish of the year so far.
The Steelers and Seahawks were the NFL’s last two undefeated teams, and both continued their hot scoring streaks by racing out to 27 points before Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both tossed three interceptions. One team still prevailed after a kicker missed, and the other team almost prevailed after a kicker missed (but didn’t miss twice).
The Seahawks went into a prime-time game on the road against a division foe for their biggest test of the season as Russell Wilson was leading the MVP race. Wilson had a mixture of highlights and struggles, but led the Seahawks to a late 3-point lead, which was answered by a game-tying field goal and overtime. Wilson threw an inexplicable interception in the extra period, but Seattle still looked poised to win after the opponent missed a game-winning field goal.
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because it wasn’t just last night in Arizona, but it’s basically the same script the Seahawks followed in their 27-24 Monday night win in San Francisco last November. The difference is Wilson’s interception this time was too much to overcome, and Arizona didn’t miss a game-winning field goal twice, downing the 5-0 Seahawks by a 37-34 final.
Look, we know Seattle loves to play dangerously close to the vest, and even on a night where the offense compiled 377 yards in the first half, the lead was never greater than 13 and the offense went cold in the second half (three punts, two interceptions, and a 45-yard touchdown drive). It sounds weird to say since the Cardinals never led outside of kicking the game-winning field goal late in overtime, but Arizona deserved to win this game for making fewer mistakes.
It’s the signature win so far for the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era, but it wasn’t perfect of course. Murray saw a terrible interception from Wilson in the fourth quarter and immediately raised him one of his own on the next play. Still, it’s the first game in NFL history where both quarterbacks passed for over 300 yards and rushed for over 50 yards. For that matter they were both over 360/65, but we’ll footnote that one.
The worst part was in overtime when the Cardinals had the Seahawks on the ropes, but Murray lost 5 yards on a weird first-down play that looked like he was trying to center the ball. Kingsbury somehow was okay with kicking a 41-yard field goal on 2nd-and-15 instead of using the downs (and clock in case of a miss) to get closer. That’s when Zane Gonzalez was wide left on the game-winning kick after he made a warm-up try. That’s when you thought Seattle might pull this one out again, but after D.K. Metcalf had a game-winning touchdown taken away because of a correctly called holding penalty, Wilson threw his worst interception in quite some time as there was no receiver in the area. That set up redemption for Gonzalez in the form of a 48-yard field goal, and thankfully he made it to avoid the dreaded tie.
It was a classic Seattle letdown in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks led 34-24 with 6:44 left, but the Cardinals were able to slow roll their way to a touchdown, force a punt after five snaps using their four clock stoppages, and Murray delivered a last-minute field goal drive like a veteran.
It was classic Pete Carroll prevent in calling three-man rushes and even allowing the Cardinals to work in many run plays to complete the comeback. Murray even had a 15-yard QB draw on the game-tying field goal drive.
With the loss, the Seahawks broke a streak of posting a 59-0 record in the Wilson era (2012-20) when leading at halftime by at least 4 points. Now I’m not a big fan of such stats when we know this team blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. We know in 2015 that Andy Dalton led a 17-point 4QC against the Seahawks and Cam Newton led the Panthers back from a 9-point deficit. Games like that tell me more about your ability to close teams out than some quirky stat about the score at halftime.
Of course, we used to see this often for Seattle. In Wilson’s first four years, they blew 15 fourth-quarter leads. That number has gone down in the four-plus seasons since to eight while Wilson has been leading a very similar share of close wins.
2012-2015: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 15 4QC wins for opponents
2016-2020: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 8 4QC wins for opponents
If you look at Wilson’s career compared to other great, successful quarterbacks, you’ll see he really stands out in just how many of his games come down to late theatrics like on Sunday night (or Sunday night against Minnesota, or Sunday night against the Patriots, or Sunday night against the 49ers in Week 17 last year, etc.)
The table is sorted by highest percentage of losses where the opponent had a 4QC win, and Wilson has a staggering rate now as 47.4% of his losses have been comebacks against Seattle. The other quarterbacks are all more than 15 percentage points behind him. Wilson is also the only quarterback listed to win more than 25% of his games via 4QC. Finally, Wilson has the highest rate of his starts that are a 4QC for his team (17.4%) and a 4QC against his team (15.4%).
Drew Brees has the most losses by a QB in NFL history after leading in the fourth quarter (39), but if Wilson plays as long as Brees has, he’ll be around 45 such games at this current pace.
Sunday was just the latest case where the ball bounced the opponent’s way too often, but it is also one where Wilson was largely at fault for the outcome. He’s still leading the MVP race in my eyes, but if he has more moments like this in the upcoming stretch of three division games out of the next four, then things are going to get interesting again.
However, when is it not interesting with Wilson and the Seahawks? Put them on SNF next week too against the 49ers. Spare us your Dallas-Philadelphia horseshit, NFL.
Steelers Win Big Road Game, But Are the Titans a Playoff Team?
The shocking stat I pulled out for my Steelers-Titans preview was that the Steelers had lost 36 of their last 37 road games to playoff teams when allowing more than 21 points. Well, either the Titans aren’t making the playoffs this year after a 5-0 start, or the Steelers just picked up their second such win in the last 38 tries.
Pittsburgh improved to 6-0, all alone with the best record in the NFL for the first time since 2004, by beating the Titans 27-24, but it sure wasn’t easy. They overcame an uneven game from Ben Roethlisberger, who was masterful on third down (Steelers: 13/18) and in building a 27-7 lead, but he also threw three interceptions. The Steelers only managed a field goal on their final six possessions.
The Titans hung in there to the end, but a rough day from Ryan Tannehill culminated with a huge intentional grounding penalty that led to a game-tying field goal attempt. Stephen Gostkowski has some great career numbers, but the reason he was never revered in New England like Adam Vinatieri is the lack of huge clutch kicks on his resume. It’s not that he was terrible at them, but he just wasn’t put in that position often. The Titans put him there from 45 yards away with 19 seconds left, but he pulled the kick wide right to end the game. He only lost one game in similar fashion for the Patriots back in 2012 against Arizona.
This was definitely as good as any road win the Steelers have had since knocking off the 5-0 Chiefs at Arrowhead in 2017. The second half gives me some pause, but this team can prove a lot of naysayers wrong next week with another win at Baltimore, the ultimate test of the season. If the Steelers can win that game, then it’s not a stretch to say they can be 10-0 when the teams meet again in Week 12 given the upcoming schedule (DAL, CIN, JAX).
The 2020 Steelers, along with this year’s Seahawks, remain very consistent scorers. They are the 11th and 12th teams since 1940 to score at least 26 points in each of their first six games:
Several of the best offenses of all time are in that list, and all of the teams in the Super Bowl era finished no worse than third in scoring and seven out of nine made it to at least a Conference Championship Game.
I’m not saying to pencil in a Super Bowl XL rematch by any means, but this has been good so far.
Denver’s Demoralizing Day
You know, it must suck to lose a game 43-16, but it must suck even more to do it when it’s snowing and the temperature is in the teens. The first snow game this season unsurprisingly took place in Denver, but it showed just how far behind the Broncos are not only to the Chiefs, but how they’re also falling behind the rest of the division with Justin Herbert looking like a stud for the Chargers.
Drew Lock, I’m not sure how he pissed off the football gods to draw Patrick Mahomes twice in the snow already, but Lock was the bigger story on Sunday for all the wrong reasons. Lock continuously missed throws, bypassed easier plays, and just looked lost out there even after the snow eased up. Sure, injuries have been horrible for Denver this season, but aside from Courtland Sutton, he had most of the intended offense out there around him on Sunday. Denver’s running game was quite good with the two main backs combining for 147 yards on 26 carries, but it didn’t matter. The defense did a more than respectable job on the Chiefs, holding Mahomes to 200 passing yards and the Chiefs were 0-for-8 on third down.
Do you know how hard it is to make a team go 0-8 on third down and still lose 43-16?
The Chiefs are the 98th team since 1991 to have zero third down conversions on at least eight attempts, but they’re the first team out of the 98 to win the game by more than 22 points. That’s what two return touchdowns can do for you, but it still capped off another big scoring day for a team that is so used to walking into the building with at least 23 points on the board.
That’s right, the Chiefs had a record-long streak of scoring 23+ points (including playoffs), had it stopped in a 19-13 loss to the Colts last year, and immediately continued on the second-longest streak in history that should replace the old one with the Jets and Panthers up next. Amazing stuff.
Denver has not beaten the Chiefs since a beaten down Peyton Manning had the worst game of his professional career in 2015. But it’s not a coincidence that the Broncos haven’t been relevant ever since Manning retired following that Super Bowl season, and it’s not looking good so far for Lock being the answer at the most important position on the team.
Lock may have rushed for a touchdown on Sunday, but even that was matched by Chad Henne in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter.
Don’t Bury Brees and the Saints Yet
New Orleans (4-2) won a third game in a row, taking down Carolina 27-24 after one of the best third-down performances on offense on record. The Saints finished 12 of 14 on third down (85.7%). The only better performance since 1991 (min. 8 attempts) belongs to Drew Brees and the Saints as well. They were 11 of 12 (91.7%) on third down against the Lions in a 42-7 win in 2008.
I really do wonder if the lack of a big crowd is helping some of these ridiculous third-down performances this year, though this game was in New Orleans. The Steelers were in Tennessee and the Eagles were in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago as examples of road teams feasting on third down. It’s something to keep an eye on in 2020.
We’ll learn plenty about the 2020 Saints as they travel to Chicago and Tampa Bay the next two weeks but going almost perfect on third down without your top two wideouts (Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) is impressive to me.
Games involving the Saints have been high scoring this year with both teams scoring at least 23 points in all six games. That’s only been done by two other teams in NFL history: 2002 Bills and 2012 Saints (go figure). The difference is the Saints were 2-4 in 2012 when they did that versus 4-2 this year. (Note: The 2020 Seahawks have also done this.)
If Thomas and Sanders can return for these upcoming games, then we’ll finally get a sense of what the offense can be at “full strength” this season.
F*** the Falcons
If you’re wondering why I’m not going over how the Falcons imploded this time against Detroit, it’s because I don’t feel like giving public attention to my abusers. I’m hurt and I’m tired of it.
Just take two knees, kick a field goal and the game should be won. Don’t even let Todd Gurley make a mistake by scoring a touchdown he had no business scoring, or that ridiculous defense taking the field on the final drive.
After observing an odd day of NFL action and listening to David Bowie, on the spur of the moment I came up with an idea that might become a weekly column for me to share unique research and thoughts from that day’s games.
Welcome to NFL Stat Oddity, where just like Star Wars we begin with Episode IV of a story already long in progress.
2020: Defense Does Not Exist
Heading into the Monday night double-header, NFL games in Week 4 have averaged 54.2 combined points. If this average holds, it would be the NFL’s highest single week in the regular season since at least 2001.
In Week 14 of the 2013 season, teams averaged 53.7 combined points, including a trio of memorable snow games (Vikings-Ravens, Steelers-Dolphins, and Lions-Eagles). The Patriots also pulled off a late 12-point comeback (after an onside kick) to beat the Browns 27-26, and the Broncos waxed the Titans 51-28. The week ended with the peak of the Marc Trestman era in Chicago as the Bears defeated Dallas 45-28 with Josh McCown having himself a day on Monday Night Football.
With the Chiefs and Packers still set to host the Patriots and Falcons, this looks like a pretty safe bet to hold up the average in what is trending to be the highest-scoring season in NFL history with passing numbers once again exploding. After a most unusual offseason and no preseason games, pass defenses have been very slow out the gates to keep up with the offenses.
Dak Prescott/Mike McCarthy and Tony Romo/Jason Garrett: The Spider-Man Meme
The biggest spectacle on Sunday was in Dallas where the Browns ripped off 34 straight points to take a commanding 41-14 lead before Dak Prescott nearly got a crack at leading the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.
It was only the fifth game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 38 points while gaining at least 500 yards. The Cowboys and Browns have both been there before.
Cleveland defeated the Bengals 51-45 in 2007 in what has been the best offensive game for the 2.0 Browns since returning in 1999, though Sunday gives it some competition at least. Cleveland’s 307 rushing yards were the most ever allowed by Dallas. The Cowboys lost 51-48 to Peyton Manning’s Broncos in 2013 in a game I consider the ultimate Tony Romo experience. He passed for 506 yards, but threw a late interception that set up Denver’s game-winning field goal.
In those five shootouts of 38 points/500 yards, the home team was 3-2 with Dallas suffering both losses. Much like Romo against Denver, Dak Prescott passed for just over 500 yards before ending his day with an interception. Amari Cooper admitted to not seeing the route through well enough, but the game already felt decided by that point. How many improbable onside kick recoveries can one team get in a month anyway? Still, it’s a loss that puts Dallas at 1-3 and looks pretty similar to a lot of the high-scoring losses the Cowboys had in the Romo/Garrett era.
Prescott passed for 502 yards, the 24th 500-yard game in NFL history (including playoffs). After passing for 450 yards against Atlanta and 472 yards against Seattle in the previous two weeks, Prescott has stamped his name in several places in the record books. First, his 1,424 passing yards are the most in any three-game span in NFL history. He’s the first quarterback to pass for 450 yards in three straight games. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only other quarterback to ever hit 400 yards in three straight games, and he didn’t even surpass 420 in any of those games in 2018 with Tampa Bay. Prescott’s 1,657 passing yards in 2020 are also the most ever through the first four games of a season in NFL history.
Yet the Cowboys are 1-3 and frankly should be 0-4 if Atlanta would just recover that onside kick. It’s been a frustrating season for Prescott, my preseason MVP pick, but there’s always a chance when you play in the NFC East, a division currently led by the Eagles with a 1-2-1 record. Now if only the defense would show up for a game. Had Prescott been able to get the ball back one more time after cutting the score to 41-38 with 3:42 left, we may have seen the largest fourth-quarter comeback (27 points) in NFL history. But Odell Beckham Jr. avoided a loss in the backfield and rushed 50 yards for a touchdown to ice this one. The Dallas offense is potent, but lost fumbles continue to be a major problem with two more on Sunday.
Prescott betting on himself has looked brilliant so far, but he may need to turn down Jerry Jones’ money and find a better team if he’s to avoid the fate of Romo: remembered best for big numbers and the games he lost instead of anything he won.
Rookie QBs Make History, But with an Asterisk?
Remember when the pandemic and lack of a preseason was going to really hurt the rookie quarterbacks in 2020? Well, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow just completed his third-straight 300-yard passing game, a record streak for any rookie in NFL history. It led to his first win too, 33-25 over the Jaguars.
Burrow almost had company immediately with Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, who came up 10 yards shy of his third-straight 300-yard passing game. Herbert’s 931 passing yards trail only Cam Newton (1,012 yards) for the second most in NFL history through a player’s first three games. He even surpassed the former No. 2, Patrick Mahomes (866 yards). After taking Mahomes to overtime in his first game and holding a 17-point lead against Tampa Bay and Tom Brady before losing, Herbert could be a special one for years to come.
Then again, consider that record start by Newton in 2011, the year of the lockout. Newton passed for at least 374 yards in three of his first four games. He was going to crush the record books too, right? Not quite. Over his next 122 regular season games and seven playoff games, Newton never passed for more than 357 yards. It wasn’t until Week 2 in Seattle this year, now the COVID-19 season, where he passed for 397 yards with the Patriots. That means his four most prolific passing games have all come in years where there was a lockout or pandemic that messed with the offseason.
When you consider the record numbers, especially in regards to passing yards, from Dak Prescott, Burrow, and Herbert this season, it certainly feels like 2011 all over again when defenses started off so poorly. That season was the peak one for Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. It was also easily one of Tom Brady’s best years and his only 5,000-yard passing season.
We’ll see if 2020 continues to play out this way, but if it does and numbers return to normal once the world hopefully does, then we’ll have to say that there was stat inflation this year much like we should still point out every time 2011 comes up.
Of Course the Chargers Blew It Against Tom Brady
We’ll eventually find out how good the 2020 Buccaneers are, but the fact that Tom Brady gets to play the Chargers and two games against the NFC version of the Chargers (Atlanta) this year doesn’t seem fair.
Brady should retire with a nine-game winning streak against the Chargers, a team that has found every way imaginable to lose to him since the 2006 playoff game where they fumbled his third interception back to him in the fourth quarter. Sure, this time the Chargers returned his interception for a touchdown and led 24-7 in the first half, but even if you take Philip Rivers and New England out of the equation, the Chargers still found a way to go Chargering against a Brady-led team.
Everything was going fine until the final minute of the first half. The Chargers were up 24-7 with 47 seconds left at their own 9. Tampa Bay was down to one timeout and with the Chargers getting the ball to start the second half, there was no need to get aggressive. In fact, in that situation the best play is to take two knees, especially with your rookie quarterback (Herbert) and rookie backup running back (Joshua Kelley) in after starter Austin Ekeler left with an injury.
But the Chargers just had to hand off the ball to Kelley, who promptly fumbled on first down. Now Brady was only 6 yards away from the end zone and cashed in the golden opportunity with a touchdown to Mike Evans on third down. Suddenly the game was much different at 24-14 and the Buccaneers went on to roll the Chargers in the second half of a 38-31 win.
This is just the latest example of why I refer to Brady as the luckiest QB in NFL history.
The shocking fumble completely changed the game for Brady and Tampa. From the pick-six to the Evans touchdown, Brady had a play success rate of 3-of-19 (15.8%). That’s horrible. But from the Evans touchdown thru the end of the game, Brady was unstoppable with a success rate of 88.9% (16-of-18), a top candidate for his strongest stretch of play in any game since 2019. He finished with 369 yards and five touchdown passes in the record 60th win decided in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career (fourth comeback against the Chargers).
It was classic Brady in the sense that he was playing poorly, the opponent did something stupid, one of his teammates made a play, and he got an extra chance to get back in the game. While he deserves credit for making the most of his opportunity, it’s the fact that he always seems to get these opportunities — through none of his own doing — that most quarterbacks don’t is the reason I call it luck.
How often do you see a team try to run the clock out deep in their own end and they fumble before the half? Well, since 1994 this is only the second time it’s happened in the last 27 seasons. To be specific, we’re talking about a leading team starting a conservative drive (i.e. no quarterback dropbacks) in the final 60 seconds of the second quarter and fumbling on a running play inside their own 20.
In 2010, the Cowboys had a 7-3 lead against Detroit and had the ball with 48 seconds left at their own 4. Felix Jones fumbled on first down and the Lions turned that into a touchdown. The only other comparable situation in the last 27 years was a 2016 game between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Arizona led 14-0 and had a drive that started with 1:11 left (so outside of 1:00) at its own 8. David Johnson carried for 3 yards before fumbling on a second-down play that started with 37 seconds left. Seattle turned that into a field goal after Russell Wilson threw three incompletions from the 9. Arizona still won the game 34-31 on a last-second field goal.
These end-of-half fumbles just don’t happen in the NFL, but when you combine the conflicting karmic forces of Brady and the Chargers, odd shit tends to be the result. At least Sunday should be the last time we have to see it.
Matt Patricia Is Who I Thought He Was
Teams that lead by double digits tend to win in the NFL, but as the kids like to say these days, Matt Patricia is just DIFFERENT. According to ESPN and my no-stat-crediting nemesis the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lions are riding the longest losing streak in NFL history (six games) in games where they held a double-digit lead.
After taking a 14-0 lead on banged-up New Orleans, the Lions fell behind 35-14 and only put up a mild rally late to fall 35-29. This season alone, the Lions have blown a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to Chicago, an early 11-point lead to Green Bay, and now this early 14-point lead to the Saints. It’s the fifth time Patricia has blown a lead of at least 11 points, something former coach Jim Caldwell did six times in his four seasons with the team (2014-17).
I roasted Patricia in 2018 when the Lions hired him:
That tweet didn’t go over well with Detroit fans, but after a 10-25-1 start and a 2-15-1 record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, I think they’ve all come around to realize this is the next coach to fire in the NFL.
Kyler Murray: Deja Ew
Rest in peace to the Kyler Murray 2020 MVP Campaign:
Died 10/4/2020 (9/27/2020 Also Appropriate)
Arizona’s second straight loss, 31-21 in Carolina, led to another shocking stat line for Murray. He completed 24 passes for only 133 yards, the fewest yards in NFL history for anyone with 24 completions. Worse, Murray already had a game last year against the 49ers where he had the fourth-fewest yards on 24 completions:
That’s not a good look to show up twice there, but it gets worse. Here’s the updated look at the fewest passing yards for each completion mark from 24 through 40 in games since 1950. Murray shows up twice for his games against the Panthers:
Out of the 17 games on the list, Murray has the two with the lowest yards per completion (YPC) figures, not even breaking 5.8 YPC against what have not been good Carolina defenses. Now maybe Carolina has this offense’s number, but like I said, Murray has been flirting with these low averages before. It’s something to watch and will require a deeper dive at some point, but the screen-heavy Cardinals passing game that Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury have put together isn’t the most effective at moving the ball. Murray would really be lost if he wasn’t such a good runner as he did have 78 yards on the ground on Sunday. However, the Cardinals were out of the game early and are looking like they’re still the bottom team in the NFC West this year.
While Murray’s counterpart on Sunday, Teddy Bridgewater, has the reputation of being a dink-and-dunker, it’s safe to say that title better suits Murray through 20 games of his NFL career.