NFL Week 9 Predictions: QB Tiers Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Goes A-1, 2, 3

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

Texans at JaguarsĀ (+1.5)

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

Colts at Steelers (+1)

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

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

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

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

Patriots at Ravens (+3.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 9 Predictions

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

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

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