Wide Receivers: Fun Toys If You’re a Good Boy (Or QB)

I’ll post my Week 16 predictions a day earlier with the NFL having a good triple-header on Saturday. First, I wanted to rant about wide receiver value in relation to the Cowboys-Eagles showdown on Sunday. As the week wore on, I realized it can apply to so much more than that game.

You can tell the playoffs are close because people are spouting crazy quarterback legacy takes again. We still are several weeks away from a potential Chiefs-Ravens AFC title game where the outcome could set the course of the narratives for Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson for the rest of their careers (a la you know who in 2003). Let’s set that depressing thought aside today and focus on the damage done to the last 20 years of quarterback analysis.

The source of this week’s frustration was after Drew Brees broke more NFL records on Monday night. Patriots fans suddenly wanted to count playoff passing touchdowns with the regular season. Mike Florio and Chris Simms managed to post two horrible top 10 lists for quarterbacks:

Their blatant disrespect for Johnny Unitas aside, I couldn’t get over the appearance of John Elway twice in the top three. So I fired back with this to make sure my Tuesday would go to waste fighting off the same arguments I’ve battled for two decades now:

After reading the usual weak arguments in defense of Brady and Elway, I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that the quarterbacks I tend to defend have a long history of success with throwing to wide receivers. This would be the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Dan Marino, Andrew Luck, etc. Meanwhile, the quarterbacks I’ve call overrated tend to always get the “he doesn’t have good receivers or enough help!” excuse:

  • “Manning’s always had better receivers than Brady, who would throw deep more if he had those guys instead of slots and receiving backs!”
  • “Elway would have all the records if he played with the receivers Montana and Marino had! One-man show before Shannon Sharpe!”
  • “Switch Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott and Wentz would be 12-2 right now with those wide receivers!”
  • “Cam Newton’s only had Greg Olsen and recently CMC.15-1 with Ted Ginn!”
  • “Look what Donovan McNabb did as soon as he got Terrell Owens instead of Stinkston and Trash!”

You can probably throw Joe Flacco and Alex Smith in there as other past whipping boys of mine, but you get the point.

But when you get down to it, it’s the wide receivers that people are really complaining about when it comes to the lack of help. Let’s just take the trio of Manning, Brady and Brees for example:

  • Brady (Bill Belichick) and Brees (Sean Payton) have clearly had better coaching than Manning, who was the closest thing to an on-field coach in his era.
  • Brady (Rob Gronkowski) and Brees (Antonio Gates/Jimmy Graham) played with superior, game-changing tight ends than Manning (Dallas Clark) ever did.
  • Brady (Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, James White) and Brees (LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Alvin Kamara) played with better, specialized receiving backs than Manning (one year of Marshall Faulk and 38 games of pre-ACL Edgerrin James) ever did.
  • Brady and Brees had better high-end offensive line play and superior results in run blocking led to better rushing production than Manning had in his career.

Then you get to wide receivers and it’s a different tune. Brady had Randy Moss for two full years as his best weapon. Both had deep threat Brandin Cooks briefly. Brees’ best WR may be Michael Thomas, who is in his fourth year. Meanwhile, Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne for a long time in Indy, then Demaryius Thomas and some other talented players (Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders) in his Denver stint. So it’s not a debate that Manning had the better group of wide receivers.

There’s just one big problem with using this against a quarterback.

Wide receivers have the least independent value to a quarterback among his offensive teammates.

It’s 2019 so we’re just going to ignore the fullback position like most of the league has, but think about this before dismissing it as a controversial take. It should be common sense.

Offensive linemen have a lot of value because they have to block (run or pass) on every play. In the rare event a quarterback throws a block for a teammate, it’s usually a half-assed effort to not get hurt. The linemen’s blocking is especially crucial to the team’s ground game and screen game having success. While the quarterback does control his sack rate more than his line, they still play a vital role in his pass protection. A quarterback can make his line look better by getting rid of the ball quickly (and worse by holding it too long), but they still have to limit quick blown blocks or the offense will have a hard time doing anything.

I’ll say “Running Backs Don’t Matter” but don’t misconstrue a comment on replacement value for one on responsibility. Whichever back is in the game, they do matter. Unless you’re Lamar Jackson, most quarterbacks don’t have a huge role in the team’s rushing offense, so it’s on the back to have good vision for lanes, follow his blockers, and create missed tackles. Backs can also be crucial in blitz pickups, throwing a key block to save the QB’s bacon. Backs also provide value in the passing game where they catch the highest rate of passes of any position and gain the most YAC because of how short the throws are on average. Whether it’s a screen, a pass to the flat, or a checkdown over the middle, RB passes are easy plays for quarterbacks to make.

Tight ends do a little bit of everything. They might be a key part of your run blocking, pass blocking, chip an edge rusher before going out to catch a pass, or they could be major receiving threats themselves, dominating matchups with smaller linebackers and safeties. They too catch a high rate of passes due to the distances and they can be deadly in the red zone especially.

Wide receivers, by and large, play at the mercy of their quarterbacks. Their success is more dependent on the quarterback than any other position. Good runs are always valuable. Good blocks are always valuable. A good route? It doesn’t mean a thing if the quarterback never looks in that receiver’s direction. The quarterback has to decide to throw to the receiver first. A good route and a target? Still might not mean a thing if the throw is so bad there’s no hope it ever gets completed. Some routes could open up the route for another player, but that’s just part of the play design. If as many as five eligible receivers are hoping to get the ball, the QB has to identify and deliver to them. It starts with the QB.

Only a small number of wideouts will ever get praise for their run blocking, but that’s not a significant part of their game now. They need to run good routes, get open, catch the ball and create YAC (or win contested catches). When we’re talking about outside receivers, those are the lowest-percentage throws because of the distance involved (wider and deeper than RB/TE/slot throws). In addition to the tougher throws, the top wideouts are more likely to draw double teams or the best cornerback matchup on a weekly basis too.

It’s never made sense to me how people penalize a QB for producing with the position he should be able to claim the most success for utilizing. Accuracy definitely comes into play here, and it’s no surprise to me that Elway, Newton, Wentz and McNabb are four quarterbacks with undisputable accuracy issues in their careers. Brady’s reputation is dink-and-dunk, so it’s the throws over 15 yards that you question there even in his prime.

The thought that adding a top-flight receiver is the only thing those quarterbacks needed doesn’t fly with me. Take McNabb for example. Sure, he had his best season ever in 2004 when they brought in Terrell Owens. His completion percentage shot up to a career-high 64.0%, but notice that he was down to 59.1% in 2005, a season where Owens’ antics helped bring the team down quickly. For the rest of his career McNabb was just a 59.6% passer. This is a case study in outliers and identifying cause and effect. McNabb didn’t suddenly shoot up to 64% because he was throwing to TO. Owens caught 61.1% of McNabb’s targets. That’s solid, but the big change was RB Brian Westbrook getting utilized more and catching 83.9% of his 87 targets from McNabb. That success didn’t continue as Westbrook only caught 73.8% of his targets in Philadelphia from 2005-09. McNabb didn’t sustain or repeat his level of 2004 play because that’s not the type of quarterback he usually was.

This isn’t to say a great wide receiver can’t have a huge impact on an offense. It’s just that very few players in the league qualify as a game-changing talent. Tyreek Hill is one of those players in Kansas City because of his unique speed. That’s not to say Patrick Mahomes still didn’t do great things without him earlier this year, but that’s because Mahomes is a unique talent himself.

Look at the Colts for a different example. T.Y. Hilton was quite a receiver when Andrew Luck was his quarterback, but if all we knew of him were his years without Luck (2017 and 2019) he would look like a marginal No. 1. So how does one justify holding it against Andrew Luck for having a 1,000-yard WR in Hilton when Hilton wouldn’t be a 1,000-yard WR if Jacoby Brissett was his QB? This is why the WEAPONZ arguments are always so bad when people talk about quarterbacks.

A great statistical season for a quarterback almost certainly means he was able to get production from multiple receivers. A great statistical season for a wide receiver means he played great, but chances are his teammates, including the QB sometimes, did not fare so well. What do you think is more helpful for scoring points and winning games in this league? It sounds nice in theory to get an increase in production for your best receiver, but success in the NFL comes easiest when your best player is actually the quarterback and he’s finding the right matchups all over the field instead of keying in on one guy.

In this era we think of 4,000 yards as a bare minimum for a prolific passing season, efficiency aside. No receiver has ever had a 2,000-yard receiving season, so it’s not like we see one player responsible for over 50 percent of the production in the passing game in this league. Among the 46 players with 1,500 yards in a season, Lance Alworth was the closest with 47.4% of San Diego’s yards in 1965. His team lost 23-0 in the AFL Championship Game.

Super Bowl winners certainly haven’t needed prolific receiving numbers from one player. Steve Smith’s incredible year for the 2005 Panthers where he accounted for 44.8% of the team’s gross passing yardage led to two playoff wins. Out of the 40 seasons where the 1,500-yard receiver had at least a third of his team’s passing yardage, only Smith and 1995 Michael Irvin (Cowboys) played for teams with multiple playoff wins. Antonio Brown (2015) is the only receiver this century to win a playoff game after a 1,600-yard regular season. Jerry Rice, the GOAT, set the single-season record with 1,848 yards in 1995 and it was 38.7% of the 49ers’ total. When Calvin Johnson set the current record with 1,964 yards in 2012, the Lions finished 4-12 and 17th in scoring. No other Detroit player had 600 receiving yards even though Matthew Stafford set a record with 727 attempts (No. 2 all time is 691, Drew Bledsoe).

You’ll hear a lot now about Michael Thomas set to break Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 receptions. When Harrison did that with Peyton Manning in 2002, it led to 41 percent of the Colts’ passing yardage, but that was also the second-worst scoring offense (ranked 15th in points per drive) of Manning’s career. Only two guys playing pitch-and-catch while RB Edgerrin James had a slow return from an ACL injury apparently does not lead to a great offense. Brandon Marshall had arguably his best year ever when he reunited with Jay Cutler on the 2012 Bears, but the offense finished 22nd in scoring. Julio Jones had 1,871 yards in 2015, which ranks second in NFL history. It’s also the second-worst scoring offense (ranked 16th) in Matt Ryan’s career. Josh Gordon (2013 Browns), Isaac Bruce (1995 Rams), Rob Moore (1997 Cardinals), and David Boston (2001 Cardinals) are four more examples of career-peak seasons for offenses that still didn’t rank higher than 22nd in points per drive.

Too much from a great player can actually be problematic when it creates an imbalance on the offense and the ability to create plays from multiple options.

Nothing I’ve said here — I want to make it clear this was a late-night rant more than a deep dive — disputes the idea that an offense with two (or three) really good wide receivers would be very beneficial to a quarterback. That way he wouldn’t have to lean on one player and they could attack from different angles. Look at the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and it’s no coincidence that their best statistical seasons likely came with their strongest supporting casts.

However, I think people tend to overlook the importance of consistent accuracy, and they love to exaggerate just how good (or bad) one quarterback’s supporting cast really is. It’s not like Kirk Cousins’ season fell apart when Adam Thielen was injured this year. It’s not like Stafford’s efficiency numbers haven’t shot up since Calvin Johnson retired and he’s changed his playing style to accommodate. (It’s a shame we didn’t get a full season from Stafford in 2019 as he was playing arguably his best football.) Even Derek Carr is setting career highs in 2019 without Amari Cooper (or Antonio Brown). Baker Mayfield did better as a rookie without Odell Beckham Jr. on his team. Jameis Winston just stacked historic games of 450 yards and 4 TD with Mike Evans only having a 61-yard TD catch in those games.

There’s some random NFL for you. But what’s not random is a great quarterback finding a way to complete passes with the players he has around him. Maybe that’s a three tight end approach like these historic Ravens, or it’s dominating with your wideouts in 11 personnel like Manning’s Colts used to. There is no one right way to build an offense, because you have to shape it around the skillset of your quarterback.

So when I see Eagles fans wish for Wentz to get his own Amari Cooper for Christmas to make all the difference in the NFC East, I just laugh. If he’s not fumbling in the pocket after four seconds, then it’s still a matter of hitting the mark too.

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NFL Week 11 Predictions: Wentz and The Crown Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Shit.

GOTW: Patriots at Eagles (+4.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 11 Predictions

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

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

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NFL Week 11 Predictions: Shootout of the Year Edition

I really like the Week 11 schedule. The Steelers should always be on an upset alert against Jacksonville. They’ve only beaten the Jaguars by more than five points one time in the last 11 meetings. CIN-BAL could be interesting with Joe Flacco likely out. Houston at Washington means a team most people don’t view as good is going to be 7-3, barring a tie. Tennessee at Indianapolis is arguably the biggest Colts game since the 2014 AFC Championship Game. In a first-place division battle, I picked the Vikings to upset the Bears on the road Sunday night in this week’s Upset Watch, which I filled in for at ESPN Insider.

I also want to focus on two other games I’ll be watching closely, including Monday night’s shootout in LA.

Eagles at Saints (-9)

The Eagles are underdogs — biggest since 2009 for a defending champion in fact — for the first time since the playoffs, a role that suited them quite well. In continuing this week’s analysis in Clutch Encounters on the Eagles, this team looks like the team you would have expected to come in between 2016’s inexperience and 2017’s championship triumph. The Eagles have struggled to turn fancier stats into points this year with drives stalling out at the worst times as Carson Wentz’s play in the red zone and on third down has slipped to mediocrity after being No. 1 last year. Wentz also has five of the Eagles’ nine lost fumbles. The 2017 Eagles were a great front-running team last season, but they haven’t been dominant enough this year to ever jump out to big leads early.

Check this split for the 2016 and 2018 Eagles: 11-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points, 0-14 when allowing 21+ points.

For his career, Wentz is 1-11 when the Eagles allow 25+ points. The only win came in Los Angeles last year (43-35) in a game that Nick Foles had to finish in the fourth quarter after Wentz tore his ACL. Foles also won starts for the Eagles last year with final scores of 34-29 (Giants) and 41-33 (Super Bowl LII). Teams are averaging 24.1 PPG this season, yet the Eagles have surpassed 24 points just one time. Even Buffalo has done it twice.

This is bad news when you have to go to New Orleans, a red-hot team that’s won eight in a row and has scored 40+ in three home games this season. They also scored a season-low 21 points against Cleveland at home, so there’s some hope to slowing them down. It just makes it harder when you have such an injured secondary like Philadelphia right now. The good news is that the Saints aren’t deep at WR, but Michael Thomas just catches (90% of) everything. If they can focus on Thomas and limit Alvin Kamara’s YAC, then maybe the Eagles can keep this offense under 35 points, but it’s going to take quite the effort.

It also means the offense has to be on point, using long drives to minimize Brees’ chances and make him play perfect to keep up. If Doug Pederson wants credit for leading the fourth down revolution, maybe this is the game he takes a lot of chances there to pull off an upset. Settling for field goals just won’t work here.

I also wanted to post a chart here I wanted to include in Tuesday’s article. I talked about the hollow stat lines Wentz has had in his four losses this year:

“While the stat lines for Wentz in his four losses this year look good, they have only led to 17 to 23 points in those games, which usually isn’t enough to win in the NFL. In each 2018 loss, Wentz has passed for over 300 yards with multiple touchdowns, no more than one interception, and completed at least 65 percent of his passes. Let’s call that stat line a 2018 Wentz. When you express it that way, it sounds really good and that he has been unlucky, but that’s the problem with using the bare minimums he’s usually close to. Quarterbacks who have posted a 2018 Wentz have averaged 32.8 points in the 403 games that qualify since 2010. Only 56 of the games (13.9 percent) saw that quarterback’s team score fewer than 24 points, including all four of Wentz’s games.”

Here is a graph of all 403 games considered a 2018 Wentz since 2010. I plotted the points the quarterback’s team scored against his QBR that day. You can see Wentz’s four 2018 losses are clustered together in low-scoring territory.

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As you can see, when a quarterback hits those minimum qualifiers, he usually leads his team to more points and a better QBR than what Wentz has done this year. He’ll probably need to have his best game of the season to get this win, which I’m not going to go as far as to give them. I will however pick them to cover the spread since I think they can pressure Drew Brees enough and score enough points to do that. But this is absolutely an underdog situation and I’m curious to see if they embrace that again or fall to 4-6.

Final: Saints 34, Eagles 28

Chiefs at Rams (-3.5)

I’m going through this quickly since Windows Update sucks and my PC is back to running out of memory all the time when using Chrome.

I like the Chiefs straight up in this one. I think this game is another like Super Bowl LII or KC-NE (43-40) or LAR-NO (45-35) this year where both offenses go crazy and you want to have the ball last or get the last defensive stop. I don’t think either defense will have a good night and the game should hit the record over of 64. I don’t think playing it in LA as opposed to Mexico City is that big of a home-field advantage for the Rams yet. Maybe in a few years, but not in 2018. I also think injuries favor the Chiefs with slot machine Cooper Kupp out for the year. The Chiefs have more flexibility at attacking with different weapons than the Rams, who will need a huge night from Todd Gurley I think to shrink possessions for Patrick Mahomes, who you just hope forces a pick or two. In the end, I just like Mahomes more than Jared Goff, and I think Andy Reid has a lot of big-game experience while Sean McVay is learning quickly.

My only big concern with the Chiefs is the way they gave up 5 sacks last week to Arizona, but that seemed to be mostly edge pressure whereas the Rams are dominant up the middle with Aaron Donald. Again, I’m not concerned about the road. The Chiefs have already scored 38 in LA (Chargers), 42 in Pittsburgh and 40 in Kansas City. The defense will just have to make a couple of timely stops on the night, but the same can be said for the Rams, who have already allowed 27+ in close calls to teams with Russell Wilson (twice), Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers at QB. Mahomes is playing better than all of them, so give me the Chiefs here.

A neutral field would have been nice for this one, since it is like a midseason Super Bowl between two great teams from different conferences going at it on a national stage. The NFL had the right idea here, but should have been keeping a better eye on the field conditions. At least we won’t see an injury on a horrible field come out of this matchup, but I am looking forward to watching the scoring here.

Final: Chiefs 38, Rams 34

NFL Week 11 Predictions

A push on Thursday night, but I liked Seattle all the way to beat Green Bay. I’m hoping to rebound from a brutal 3-10-1 ATS week, but with this lineup and my love for underdogs this week, it could be another bloodbath.

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Again, I would be very cautious of trusting the Steelers this week if you’re doing a parlay. I think an underdog-heavy teaser makes a lot of sense this week. With Detroit (+4.5), consider that this is the first time Matthew Stafford has ever lost three games in a row by double digits. Would you bet on a fourth from a Carolina team that got killed in Pittsburgh and had to beat the lowly Giants 31-30 with a 63-yard FG? I’m not saying to pick Detroit straight up, but I’d be surprised if they aren’t closer this week.

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NFL Week 4 Predictions: Pump the Brakes Edition

I’m going to fire off a rant here, so if you don’t know the backstory, let me quickly catch you up: Shocking, but after three games, I don’t think Carson Wentz is the greatest rookie QB to ever live. I pointed out that Wentz has thrown the third-shortest passes through three weeks, and naturally, this turned the Eagles fan base into an angry mob. I was even getting criticized for pointing out an argument in my mentions between a Cowboys fan and Eagles fan. This was all fueled even more by one of the most cherry-picked articles you’ll ever see by one of their writers. Apparently picking out 12% of specific plays beats a statistical analysis of all 100% these days. Straw men were created at record rates, including things I never said such as Wentz is bad, Wentz never throws deep because he can’t, that I hate Wentz, and insert any other thing you want that’s unfounded. I never said if Wentz’s play has been good, bad or indifferent. I just did what I’ve always done for six years: told people to pump the brakes on unjustified hype, but when you try to knock a player down a few pegs, people automatically assume you hate that player. Welcome to the 2010s, I guess, where being rational isn’t as good as calling a guy “pre-snap Peyton, post-snap Rodgers” after three games.

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I had an exciting idea for a post today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the timing was not right. While I’ll almost inevitably want to write it within the month, I’m going to take the high road today, or at least a medium road.

Sure, it was easy in 2012 to absolutely shred a random internet dude after he questioned the effort of my work online. But that’s because I was mostly just a random internet dude myself at the time. There are more eyes on what I do now, including current (and perhaps future) employers. When there aren’t that many full-time jobs in this business, a thought I try to repress 24/7, I cannot afford to blow mine by eviscerating someone that’s completely not worth the time. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I very rarely block people, and probably put up with more crap than the average user does. I’m not afraid to use the Mute button, but I haven’t thrown many Block parties in my 5-plus years.

This week, I had an epiphany, and I guess you could say it took the rabid Eagles fanbase to help me get there. I’ve written negative things about the Eagles before, and was proven right by the way (Michael Vick contract was a joke and the good starts in 2012-14 were fool’s gold), but I think people have gotten extra sensitive in recent years. Then with a 3-0 start for a team that, let’s be honest, has been barely relevant for the better part of a decade, I suppose optimism is really high right now. You have a young generation of Eagles fans that don’t really know what it’s like to experience disappointment after expectations.

So when one of their leading voices defends the flag, that awful Twitter herd mentality takes over and you get mobbed by a bunch of people united with the same beliefs. Homerism at its finest (and worst). That’s the difference with what I do. I can raise the flag or burn it down for all 32 teams any time I want, so I don’t really unite any one fanbase behind me. I can at least gather an intelligent following to laugh at some of the ridiculous mentions I get, but I’m realizing I probably give those people more time than they deserve.

My epiphany was quite simple. You don’t block someone just because of what they said; you block them so you don’t have to see what they say next. I’m not going to keep the line of communication open if I know what type of slop is coming out the other end. If you can’t engage in a civilized way, or you’re clearly just another sheep in the herd, I shouldn’t respond, and I should just take a course of action that guarantees we won’t butt heads any time down the road as well.

So I started blocking these people — 71 in all this week. A few may actually have been at a quasi-professional level, or more than just a rabid fan, but if they’re just going to subtweet and create straw man arguments with the best of them, then I don’t have time for them either. If you want to say something, @ me.

Twitter is not always the greatest place for debate due to the 140-character limit, but some people could do much better. Thinking purely as a fan, I would have no problem in tweeting at writers I disagree with, but my motivation would be to actually show where they were wrong or what my disagreement was. I wouldn’t just resort to a petty insult or ride the coattails of what another writer tried to say about them.

I’ve found this is how most people expose themselves as being worthy of a block. When someone who has likely just stumbled upon you for the first time starts with this “you don’t watch the games” crap, just block that person. First of all, would it really be that hard to fathom that a full-time NFL writer would watch Week 2 Monday Night Football, or that someone from Pittsburgh would watch the Week 3 Steelers-Eagles game? Is that really that hard to believe? Are they only showing Eagles games on limited edition VHS tapes these days? Are they that obscure now? Never mind the fact that I have countless tweets in my history from live-tweeting those two Eagles games. Never mind the fact that I do a weekly column that recaps games, albeit the Eagles have yet to appear in it yet this season. Never mind the fact that I’m always ripping NFL Game Pass so much that I just got an email on Friday to speak to members of that product to talk about how it can be improved. What do you think I use Game Pass for, to masturbate to Cris Collinsworth’s face? I watch games every week, I watch them in the offseason, and I have a collection of over 1,200 on DVD. If you knew anything about my work, you wouldn’t bring up such nonsense.

Then there’s the typical “numbers are for nerds” crap. Block those people too. Numbers aren’t just for nerds. You need to understand numbers to some degree just to get through life as an adult. I was shocked at how many people failed to understand the concept of air yards this week. They kept confusing them with yards per attempt or yards per completion. You don’t know how many times I had to hear about some dropped passes in September by the Eagles this week. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard about any drops more than these. And if common sense prevailed, they would understand that whether or not a pass is caught has nothing to do with how far it was actually thrown. Now I understand why there are so many concerns about education in this country.

The people who try to connect my Wentz tweets to a Pittsburgh loss or some pre-draft evaluation are beyond clueless. Do you know how many times I’ve read “well he must not like Tom Brady’s style of dink and dunk either.” Uhh, yeah, I’ve been downgrading him for that since I was in high school. Again, if you knew anything about my work, you would know I’m just being consistent in my analysis of the game, highlighting the things I find to be important and applying them to what’s gone on so far this season. As for “Draft Twitter”, I’m not a part of that. I don’t study the college players like those people do. I made many tweets about Wentz in the offseason leading up to the draft, but I was pointing out things about his role that might be a red flag for the NFL. Why in the world should I go back on a tweet where I said he’d need to have great insulation to succeed? We’re three weeks into the season, and this kid has the No. 1 defense, the best starting field position, the third-shortest throws, the third-most YAC, the second-lowest pressure rate, and has played virtually with the lead almost all season long against very suspect defensive competition. Go ahead, try naming a DB in Chicago. On what planet would I not be calling these things out for another QB? That’s heavy insulation. He’s played better than I expected, but he’s had a great situation, and they haven’t had to ask him to carry the team yet. That doesn’t mean he can’t, or that he won’t when given the chance, but it hasn’t happened yet. So why would I go back on something that, through three weeks, has been proven right? Why would I completely change my mind on how I’ve always viewed short-passing games? Go figure that Wentz is dead last in ALEX (-2.2) for all downs this year, but allegedly that just shows my bias too. Sure, a stat I created in 2015 when no one outside of North Dakota knew who Wentz was has him dead last among QBs at attacking the sticks through three games in 2016. I must have hated this dude before he was even born too, right?

I’ll give Wentz more credit when I believe he’s earned it, just as I would for any player. My knowledge of NFL history and use of statistics prevent me from making foolish claims that he’s the best ever after three games. Sorry, that’s just how I do things. You can always find another source to tell you things are better than they are. If you can’t see my future opinions because you’ve been blocked, then maybe you’ll reevaluate how you approach someone for the first time about their work.

/ENDRANT

Week 4’s Key Games

We do actually have some good games this week, so here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Carolina at Atlanta

I think this is the most interesting game of the week, and also a very important one in the NFC. Are the Panthers still a contender, and are the Falcons one this year after they should have did better in 2015? After Monday night, I realized I couldn’t wait to see these teams match up, and was very pleased to see it was happening this Sunday. For as good as Atlanta’s offense has been, we have to keep in mind the opponents have been the Bucs, Raiders and Saints, or three lousy defenses. The Panthers still bring it on that side of the ball, so this is a great chance for Atlanta to show if year two of the Kyle Shanahan offense is really this legit with the bigger emphasis on the running game. On the other side of the ball, some shaky starts by the Panthers this year even with Kelvin Benjamin back. The lack of production for him and Devin Funchess last week was pretty alarming against the Vikings. Atlanta has some good corners and just shut Brandin Cooks down on Monday night. Again, an all-around huge opportunity for Atlanta to take a nice lead in the NFC South at 3-1 while dropping the Panthers to 1-3. I know it just feels wrong to pick that, and a strong front seven against Matt Ryan combined with a less than 100% Julio Jones and Atlanta’s weak run defense feels like a Carolina win, but I think I’ll go with the home team here.

Seattle at NY Jets

Much like the Rams game in Week 2, this feels like another road game with a hobbled Russell Wilson against a strong defensive line where I should be picking Seattle to lose. Not to mention it’s a long trip and early start time. But then I think of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6-pick game last week, and the suspect health of his top receivers, and I think it’s going to be an all-around struggle. I still like Seattle to win, though if the 91-game no blowout streak was ever in jeopardy, it could be this game that does it in should Wilson turn it over a few times.

NY Giants at Minnesota

This was a rout last year in a game Odell Beckham was suspended for. I’d like to see a closer game this time, and that shouldn’t be hard to pull off. The main thing is can Minnesota score points on offense? They’re at 15.5 PPG in the two Sam Bradford starts. You can’t rely on D/ST scores every week, though they’ve come through twice now for Minnesota. That secondary should get a great test against NY’s 3-WR attack, but I still like the Vikings to force some Eli mistakes in this one.

Buffalo at New England

It’s almost impossible to lure the Patriots into a trap game, especially after 10 days’ rest, but I have a weird feeling about this one. Yeah, Buffalo always loses to NE, Rex has stunk against Bill since 2011, they lost Sammy Watkins, and everything sounds pretty bad, but don’t things almost sound too rosy for the Patriots? “Oh, they can win with any QB.” Well, what if it’s an injured QB, and which one is it going to be? That seems like a pretty big deal to me. I think a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo makes this a no-brainer, but if he’s still injured or if it’s Jacoby Brissett, then I could see Tyrod Taylor outdueling them in this one with a refocused running game led by LeSean McCoy. I’m still obviously picking New England, but keep this one as an upset alert.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh

Great game on paper, and another important one in the AFC. The main thing to watch is if the Chiefs try to exploit a lot of the horizontal passing the Eagles, a very similar offense, succeeded with a week ago against the Steelers in one of the worst games I’ve ever seen this team play. Granted, a lot of injuries to the middle of the defense during the game didn’t help, but Ryan Shazier is out while the Chiefs get Jamaal Charles back. I doubt Charles is up to his usual effectiveness, but that should be a lift of some sorts for the team. I don’t think Roethlisberger will fear any Marcus Peters-Antonio Brown matchup, but Peters does have incredible ball skills. Le’Veon Bell’s return is another huge story, but it’s not going to be that good if the offensive line doesn’t open up more room than it has in the last two games. But more than anything, can the Steelers get some sacks? They have one in three games, and it was after Andy Dalton held the ball for 7 seconds and tried to scramble for a 0-yard loss. That’s pretty pathetic, but we know Alex Smith is open to taking sacks, so I think the Steelers will collect several at home in this one and score enough for the win.

2016 Week 4 Predictions

I had the Bengals on TNF, but didn’t it look like the Dolphins were ready to show something after that TD bomb to open the game? Then…nothing. It’s as if Joe Philbin has never stopped coaching that team.

 Winners in bold:

  • Colts at Jaguars
  • Browns at Redskins
  • Lions at Bears
  • Bills at Patriots
  • Titans at Texans
  • Panthers at Falcons
  • Seahawks at Jets
  • Raiders at Ravens
  • Broncos at Buccaneers
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Saints at Chargers
  • Cowboys at 49ers
  • Chiefs at Steelers
  • Giants at Vikings

Yes, I picked the Broncos to lose in Tampa Bay. I’ve also shown I have no clue what I’m doing at picking Buccaneer games since 2015.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Season: 25-23