2022 NFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend was rarely competitive in the NFC. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles easily won their games. San Francisco provided audiences with the best and closest game capped with a dramatic finish. The remaining four (the Green Bay Packers had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with a battered 49ers team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot at making the next round.

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #1 Green Bay Packers

Despite another MVP season from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers clinched the one seed because defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s made the defense much better, rounding out Green Bay to playing as a complete team.

Another fun playoff rivalry involving the 49ers. They’ve manhandled Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers three times since last decade. However a lot’s different since the 2020 conference championship in Santa Clara.

The Packers are a more complete team with defensive coordinator Joe Barry calling plays. Under Barry’s defense, Green Bay surrenders under 22 points per game. They’ve been good at stopping the run and getting after opposing quarterbacks. This presents a unique problem to San Francisco; running the ball 30 times knowing Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers could turn the game against them early or trusting an inexperienced Trey Lance or injured Jimmy Garappolo behind center.

Those aren’t good options for a four quarter playoff game. Rodgers is getting receiver Randall Cobb back this Saturday and left tackle David Bakhtiari is 100%. San Francisco’s best pass rusher Nick Bosa is still recovering from the concussion he suffered Sunday. At their best the 49ers can keep the game close and at worst Green Bay can run away with the score by halftime.

Prediction: Packers win 30-20

#4 Los Angeles Rams v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Rams have a chance at advancing to the NFC conference championship, the defensive pairing of Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will be a reason why. Both are red hot by stopping the run and terrorizing quarterbacks.

Another rematch from earlier this season features two teams on the cusp of history. The Rams have a chance of being the first football team to win a championship based in Los Angeles and the second straight team to host a super bowl while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to be the first team to repeat title wins since the Patriots in the mid-2000s.

For Tampa to win Sunday, they have to run the football consistently. Offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen will play hurt and that means making room for runningbacks is the best option to keep both in the game without additional flare-ups. The combination of Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Ronald Jones II and Ke’Shawn Vaughn is enough to keep the Rams front seven off-balance. The Bucs have to stick to the gameplan and not deviate, otherwise it’ll be open season on quarterback Tom Brady.

The Los Angeles offense may be in a tricky situation. Runningback Cam Akers is back and it creates more balance and less pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Tampa’s defense isn’t good to run against. The Buccaneers have most of their secondary in Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead back. Outside of four big play receivers, the Rams don’t have enough depth to take on a Tampa secondary at full health. Combined with Stafford’s ability to throw an interception returned for a touchdown every other week, it’s hard to see how this offense can be consistent in a stadium many teams struggled in this season.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 20-16

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109

2022 AFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend wasn’t competitive in the AFC. Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati controlled their games and won with few scares. The remaining four (the Tennessee Titans had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with an inexperienced Bengals team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot of making the next round.

#4 Cincinnati Bengals v. #1 Tennessee Titans

Combined with Mike Vrabel’s coaching, the receiving duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, exceptional play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the return of the best runningback in the NFL Derrick Henry (22, white), the Titans are the team to beat in the AFC.

Cincinnati again plays the opener of the playoff round, this time on the road in Nashville. Thankfully their defensive front stays intact as Josh Tupou and Trey Hendrickson return from last Saturday’s injuries. Tennessee gets their top offensive player Derrick Henry back after a foot injury ended his regular season on Halloween.

These teams mirror each other. Both have excellent receivers, a solid running game, shaky offensive lines, but better defenses that have stepped up when needed. Eli Apple has been a good number one cornerback for Cincinnati while Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are a good safety tandem on Tennessee.

This game comes down to who wins up front on the defensive and offensive lines. The Bengals may play the line of scrimmage more with two hurting defensive linemen starting. That means Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill can set Henry up to create more options. The passing game opens and Cincinnati’s offense could get baited into making mistakes. The Bengals and coach Zac Taylor have a lot to be proud and thankful for this year, but a more experienced playoff team ends their season playing a more complete game.

Prediction: Titans win 27-23

#3 Buffalo Bills v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

The Bills defensive line made life miserable for quarterback Patrick Mahomes (red, center) in their regular season matchup. That might not change Sunday night.

When the Bills last saw Kansas City, the Chiefs offense was anemic and dependent on big plays to score. Those days seem over as Kansas City has adapted and extended possessions. There are still issues on defense and an up and down running game, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight-end Travis Kelce still find ways to score.

The Buffalo offense has been up and down since their Sunday night regular season matchup. There were struggles running the ball without quarterback Josh Allen, becoming one dimensional. The winter season has brought a shift, with the Bills winning every important game from clinching a division title to a home-field thrashing of the rival Patriots last Saturday night.

The biggest factors are how physical both defenses can play and Tyreek Hill’s health. Referee John Hussey calls fair games and penalties when needed. Therefore, the Bills defense can play bully ball like they did in the regular season, giving time for Jerry Hughes, Greg Rousseau and the remaining front seven more time to get to Mahomes. If Hill isn’t feeling 100% with his ankle, it could be a while before the Chiefs offense finds rhythm.

Prediction: Bills win 35-27

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109

2022 NFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the NFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Sunday.

#7 Philadelphia Eagles v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The first conference playoff game on Sunday, this matchup shouldn’t be overlooked. Philadelphia started the season at 2-5, but won seven of their last ten. The incumbent champion Buccaneers have been injury and drama plagued all season.

Tampa’s list of injuries helps the Eagles keep this game close. No Lavonte David ensures Philadelphia will run the ball until the Buccaneers stop it or trail late. No Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown or Leonard Fournette might be a problem if the score is close. Regardless, Tom Brady excels in the playoffs…even if his weakness is playing another NFC East opponent.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 30-28

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #3 Dallas Cowboys

One of if not the best playoff rivalry returns Sunday afternoon. Both teams have great defenses, strong running games and better offensive lines. San Francisco Dallas could be the best game of wildcard weekend, highlighted by coaches who have turned their teams around.

One of the quiet success stories this season has been San Francisco’s offensive line play. Despite playing multiple games with backups at both guard positions, the 49ers have shut down blitzes from some of the best teams in the NFL, including their division rival Rams twice.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been the right hire. He’s fixed an atrocious secondary and brought the best out of Dallas’ young linebacking core. Micah Parsons is in the defensive rookie and defensive player of the year conversations. DeMarcus Lawrence has improved on the right end and Trevon Diggs is a turnover machine. Despite the success, Dallas hasn’t played up to their competition at times and faces a head coach in Kyle Shanahan who’s gone through lows and turned things around.

One of the best gems pointed out this week by 49er fan Nick Gamulo was Dallas’ defense under Dan Quinn playing more of a cover three. San Francisco starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo succeeds when playing against this type of defense, completing 73% of his passes. Dallas’ front seven is ranked 24th against the run, while 49er runningback Elijah Mitchell averages almost five yards a carry. Watch for both of these to play a pivotal role.

San Francisco’s use of receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk factor into how the Cowboys defense defends at the line of scrimmage. Expect Shanahan to take advantage of weaknesses Diggs has in one on one coverage and run up the middle versus a weaker defensive front.

Upset prediction of the week: 49ers win 30-20

#5 Arizona Cardinals v. #4 Los Angeles Rams

The first Monday night playoff game to be played this century, part three of Cardinals Rams should end wildcard weekend with style. Both franchises split in the regular season, winning their games on the road. Both teams are in different directions; Arizona faltering after 10-1 start, and Los Angeles rising at the best time despite a loss Sunday to San Francisco.

Matthew Stafford’s favorite target, Cooper Kupp was shy of Calvin Johnson’s all-time receiving record by less than 20 yards. He’ll be a focus of defenses this postseason.

Both teams get critical players back. J.J. Watt returns for Arizona’s front seven. The Cardinal pass rush hasn’t been the same since Watt was injured, gradually becoming a non-factor. The Rams get runningback Cam Akers back at full health. This helps take pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford and not having an unbalanced passing attack every time coach Sean McVay’s offense goes on the field.

The deciding factor is Sean McVay’s record v. Arizona and head coach Kliff Kingsbury overall. McVay lost his first game to the Cardinals this season, beating them every time before and since. Arizona can improve in the offseason knowing they’re a better team that just needed the playoff experience.

Prediction: Rams win 27-17

Week 18 Picks: 9-7

Season record: 163-109

2022 AFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the AFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Saturday.

#5 Las Vegas Raiders v. #4 Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow (right) has Cincinnati poised to win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. To put that in perspective, the first cellphone came out in 1992, and no one has texted about Cincinnati winning a playoff game in real time. This year could be different. Sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow is playing some of the best football regarding accuracy, impressive numbers and determination. Coach Zac Taylor pushed all the right buttons in the regular season. Despite a young roster, the Bengals approach every week like a veteran team.

Las Vegas won a meaningless overtime game and has to start the playoffs on a Saturday afternoon with an interim head coach who may or may not keep his job. If the Raiders played for a tie or somehow still won with backups versus Los Angeles, they would have the edge. It doesn’t help this is quarterback Derek Carr’s debut and it comes against a top tier defense.

Prediction: Bengals win 27-17

#6 New England Patriots v. #3 Buffalo Bills

The second of the Saturday and AFC playoff games, part three of the Patriots-Bills rivalry will again feature winter weather conditions. Hopefully it won’t be similar to the terrible conditions in Buffalo the first time where rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw three total passes and Josh Allen looked like his rookie self.

Coach Sean McDermott is on the verge of getting his team back to the championship game. However he has to defeat the best coach to grace the football field in order to return.

Both teams are on a different trajectory. Since that first game in Buffalo, Jones and the Patriots offense don’t look threatening. In fact, the rookie had the worst game of his career last Sunday in what was Brian Flores’ last win as Dolphins head coach. Defense keeps New England in the game, but the passing game has to be better against a top tier Bills defense.

Quarterback Josh Allen has played better, but Buffalo isn’t wow-ing anyone like most expected. Still, Allen has more experience in the playoffs over rookie Mac Jones, and coach Sean McDermott not just counters the best coach in the NFL, but has home field advantage to get the results.

Prediction: Bills win 16-6

#7 Pittsburgh Steelers v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

One of the most lopsided playoff games on paper, Steelers Chiefs part two may not have a different result. The retirement party for Ben Roethlisberger could be this Sunday with a Chiefs offense facing a a Steeler defense they picked apart in December.

Unless Najee Harris performs like a vintage Adrian Peterson, Pittsburgh’s offense will have a problem stretching the passing game and countering a rejuvenated Kansas City pass rush. On the other end, Mahomes and company will have a lot of looks and plays called against the Steeler secondary.

Prediction: Chiefs win 37-17

Week 18 picks record: 9-7

Season picks record: 163-109

NFL Week 15 Winners and Losers

For the first time this season, teams are clinching playoff berths. Those teams secured their divisions and have chances at top seeding. Even more exciting are the teams that had chances to clinch and couldn’t, setting historical marks falling short. Time to see who or what else stood out after week 15 ended.

Winners: Amon-Ra St. Brown

The rookie mid-round pick could wind up being a star receiver in Detroit’s offensive rebuild. St. Brown gained fame in the sports world for his game winning touchdown catch a few weeks ago in a home win against the Minnesota Vikings. St. Brown was the best receiver in Ford Field on Sunday catching eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Whenever quarterback Jared Goff needed a completion or a third down conversion, the rookie came through catching all but three passes thrown his way.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a lot to fix on offense and while he won’t have the number one pick heading into the 2022 draft, there’s relief knowing he made the right trades, coaching hires and picks in his first draft in Detroit. Amon-Ra St. Brown works well with his feet near the out of bounds markers and can break away from defenders. He may not have the career former Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson did but he’ll be a key player for whoever’s quarterback going forward.

Duke Johnson

Credit to the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh for going through an awful year in his first season as head coach. Jets Dolphins was one of the few entertaining early games, and second overall pick Zach Wilson at times looked like Russell Wilson in some first half plays. The best player on the field was veteran runningback Duke Johnson, who took over in the second quarter and is a factor in Miami’s rebound to .500.

During the broadcast it was said Johnson’s playing on the team he wanted to win with as a child and he’s showing it in a resurgent season. His two touchdowns got Miami three points within a tie, and then a tied score in the third quarter. His 22 runs for 107 yards was a reason the Dolphins dominated time of possession in the second half. Coach Brian Flores realized his team started slow and made the right adjustments, giving the best players available more time to take control.

In order for Miami to clinch a playoff spot, the running game has to gain traction for more than just one half. It’s perfect timing since most playoff bound teams start balancing their running and passing games before January.

Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints

Dennis Allen’s first stint as head coach with the Oakland Raiders from 2012 to not even mid 2014 was Lane Kiffin-level bad. The 2013 Raiders defense was one of the worst the NFL’s seen this century. After the firing, Allen went to New Orleans to re-tool and learn how to overcome those failures. Sunday night’s shutout over the current Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will give Allen another chance to be a head coach somewhere after the season.

ESPN reported Sunday night was the first time an opponent shut out a Tom Brady offense without scoring a touchdown. It’s also the first time Brady’s been shutout at home, snapping a 175 game streak. The last time the 44 year old quarterback didn’t score was against the Nick Saban led Dolphins in 2006. What’s more impressive is the Saints did it without head coach Sean Payton on the sideline (Payton’s battling a second bout of COVID-19).

That promoted assistant and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach for one game. Allen’s defense intercepted Brady once, injured his top three receivers/play makers, and forced and recovered a fumble after Brady ran for a first down try. They made the headline MVP candidate look like a backup.

It’s possible this is what current Raiders owner Mark Davis saw in Allen when he hired him in 2012. Some of the most successful coaches in NFL history succeeded with one team but were horrendous with others. Allen might have a better tenure the second time if a team hires him this offseason.

Losers: Todd Downing and the hapless Tennessee Titans offensive line

The second half collapse from the Titans’ offense will be blamed on turnovers and poor play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (because that’s how people think if/when quarterbacks play poorly). The causes of the turnovers and inept play starts with Tennessee’s offensive line, which is terrible in many ways.

There is some leniency with no Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown starting but it doesn’t excuse why the five men up front play like sieves. Tannehill was sacked four times and intercepted once due to poor pass protection and constant pressure seconds after starting plays. His lost fumble after a run happened because of the offensive line caving in earlier than expected.

What’s worse was the second half gameplan offensive coordinator Todd Downing drew up. Runningback D’Onta Foreman almost averaged five yards a carry on 22 runs. He had a 100 yard game and could’ve been one of the highlighted players of the week. Foreman didn’t turn the ball over or face pressures. He did help the offensive line gain confidence in moving the defense backwards and taking pressure off Tannehill on long drives. Downing wanted a pass heavy second half, steering away from what worked to how the Titans could have an aerial advantage.

Tennessee is one game up on the Indianapolis Colts for first place but any chance at the number one seed and a bye week is done. They also keep Pittsburgh in the AFC North race. The Steelers aren’t in the playoff talks if D’Onta Foreman closes out the second half rather than turnovers three straight possessions.

The career of Mike Glennon

Some quarterbacks are bad because they aren’t given time or talent to succeed. A good number are and become backups for good reasons. Yet some are just bad and shouldn’t be on a field no matter the condition.

Glennon is a good example. Giants starter Daniel Jones could miss the rest of the season and that means someone has to start in New York. Unfortunately, Dallas’ defense is one of the league’s best and Glennon had no idea who was in open coverage or who his receivers were. He threw for 99 yards and three interceptions in three and a half quarters of play.

His career started by tanking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the first pick of the 2014 draft and has gotten worse. Every team Mike Glennon played for moved on quickly, including the 2017 Chicago Bears. In four games with the Giants he’s thrown three touchdowns, seven interceptions and just over 50% of his passes.

Sunday’s performance was so bad that coach Joe Judge has named Jake Fromm, an openly racist quarterback the Buffalo Bills cut just after the 2020 draft, to start the remaining games of the season. It’s been stated how bad the New York Giants have been for the last five years, but this is a new low after another failed season.

John Harbaugh’s addiction for two point conversions

Harbaugh is one of the league’s most respected and tenured coaches. It’s why Baltimore’s three game losing streak is shouldered on him for the inability to make smart decisions. Sunday was the second of those three losses to fall on a failed two point conversion.

Two point conversions after touchdowns are risky when a team is trailing especially late in a game. While backup Tyler Huntley wasn’t the preferred starter, the Ravens turned the tide in the fourth quarter. They stifled Green Bay’s offense and scored at will. It’s why the decision to go for a two point conversion with 47 seconds left baffled many.

Keep in mind Baltimore’s kicker Justin Tucker broke the field goal record this year. Not using a kicker to tie a game could demoralize that asset over time. Plus there’s no guarantee Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could win the game anyway. Poor decision making has Baltimore in third place and it falls on a coach who put faith in analytics and not smart football.

Note: The writer, editor and publisher will be extended break after this is published. Winners and Losers will return for the NFL’s regular season finale January 10th. There will be an additional publishing before New Years in either professional basketball, ice hockey or the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

NFL Week 14 Winners and Losers

The fourteenth week of the regular season eliminated teams from playoff contention and solidified division leaders. The playoffs are a month away and most teams are getting ready for free agency/offseason, or vying for home-field advantage. Time to break down who’s closer to the Super Bowl and who’s ready for a top five position in the draft.

Winners: Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Derrick Gore

Kansas City’s offense hasn’t been the unstoppable force many expected or wanted not just because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ play, but also an anemic running game. Sunday showed how great the offense can be if the starting runningbacks have good games.

Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s faced valid criticism on his play. He’s a late first round pick both Mahomes and general manager Brett Veach thought could add flexibility to the offense. While he’s struggled in the starting role this season, Sunday was a step in the right direction.

Edwards-Helaire ran for two of the three touchdowns Kansas City scored in the second quarter of a home rout of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs had the biggest blowout against the Raiders in their franchise’s historic rivalry.

Backup Derrick Gore deserves credit too. The undrafted rookie had the longest run of his season for 51 yards and his second career touchdown. The game was out of reach but he needs to see the field more in order to improve his vision and efficiency.

If the running game improves the last four weeks of the season, it’s possible Kansas City winds up as the top team to beat in the playoffs. In an up-and-down AFC, the Chiefs have the leverage until someone beats them.

The Cleveland Browns after the bye

Cleveland was fortunate to play the same opponent back-to-back with an off week in between. Regardless of an injury to Baltimore Ravens franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Browns were the better all-around team.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield looked better after a week off. While he threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, Mayfield made it known this was the best he felt all season. Cleveland’s offensive line has been hit or miss, but they played well and protected Mayfield when the play-calling went pass heavy.

The defense continues improvement from last season especially in the secondary. Part of that is due to another year of chemistry on the front seven and the increased pressures on opposing offenses. The Browns defense forced and recovered two fumbles while sacking Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley four times.

The AFC North race is tight but Cleveland can come out on top if the offense steps up and gets hot at the right time. Runningbacks Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb can add potency in their returns from injury.

Javonte Williams and the Denver Broncos

Denver’s been a hard team to figure out. They look good some weeks and awful in others. One positive is runningback Javonte Williams, who’s giving the offense ways to win and extend drives.

It’s known the Detroit Lions keep most of their games close, and they did the first half in the Mile High City. The Broncos dominated in the second half thanks to Williams’ touchdown catch and Melvin Gordon III running for a score.

Javonte Williams has the potential to be a dual purpose runningback, and Denver’s starting to realize that. His rushing stats are higher because of increased usage the past three weeks but he’s also a good receiver averaging almost nine yards a catch, three touchdowns and almost 300 yards. If he can keep the fumbles to a minimum, there’s no reason he can’t be a top five runningback in the league.

Also, applause to Tim Patrick, Cortland Sutton, the fans and the Broncos organization for honoring and memorializing Demaryius Thomas, who passed away last week. What Denver, Detroit and referee John Hussey did in the opening makes all of them winners.

The race for the number one seed in the NFC

Since the NFL expanded to a seven team playoff format, many wondered when competition for the top seed’s lone bye would make playoff caliber teams perform better and stay closer with their winning records. It’s happened in year two of the format.

Arizona (pending the Monday night result) is best in the NFL with two losses, but Green Bay and Tampa Bay are close behind with three. The Dallas Cowboys have four. Dallas and Arizona play week 17 and the result of that game could rearrange the top four order in the conference.

Outside of that matchup, each team has at least one difficult game. Tampa Bay hasn’t beaten New Orleans in the regular season since Tom Brady’s arrival. Green Bay lost to Minnesota earlier in the year and could struggle with Baltimore and Cleveland. Arizona plays both Indianapolis and Seattle, teams playing desperate football despite injuries. You couldn’t ask for a more exciting finish in a more competitive NFC.

Losers: Urban Meyer’s First Season in Jacksonville

The Urban Meyer experiment peaked at the hiring and has been downhill since. Before Sunday, news sources ranging from Yahoo Sports to USA Today reported brutal treatment to coaches and staff and how ruling with impunity caused franchise stars such as number one pick Trevor Lawrence to openly say certain players need to play more instead of being benched. Then came Sunday.

Lawrence was sacked three times and knocked down at least double. He threw four interceptions on 40 passing attempts. The Jaguars were shutout against a Tennessee Titans squad who’s best player outside of quarterback Ryan Tannehill is replacement runningback D’Onta Foreman.

The press conference sunk them lower. On a question regarding assistant coaches speaking out against Urban Meyer’s stubbornness and terrible running of the team, the head coach said anyone who leaked information from within to the press would be fired. No head coach can either say this publicly or make the move without the general manager’s approval.

The worst part is Jacksonville owner Shad Khan may not be able to fire Meyer because of the contract in place. Five years remain under the current contract broken down in this published article by Charles Robinson earlier today.

The Jaguars have issues with crowd attendance since re-building and while this is the most pivotal point in the franchise, it’s led by a coach who has no business in the NFL. Meyer’s capable of ruining the team top to bottom, again opening the idea of the Jaguars moving to another market. It’s not that far off with how bad the team’s been since 2008.

Cincinnati Bengals

There wasn’t a worse loss for a playoff caliber team than Cincinnati’s on Sunday. Despite turnovers, penalties and a slow start, the Bengals led by three and lost in overtime because no one could cover a tight-end.

From fumbles on offense by rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase to fumbles on punt returns, Cincinnati couldn’t hold onto the ball in the first half against the 49ers. Despite the blunders, San Francisco lead 20-6 after the third quarter.

The Bengals played their one good quarter of football in the fourth. The game went to overtime after a Robbie Gould missed field goal, and the Bengals responded by making theirs. It was their only lead. The defense had no answer for George Kittle who had his second 150 yard game in two weeks on 13 catches. The touchdown from Jimmy Garappolo to Brandon Aiyuk gave San Francisco the win.

The worst part is Cincinnati’s playoff positioning. Baltimore lost in the early afternoon, so the Bengals had an opportunity to jump to first place and further knock the Ravens off the playoff standings (especially after Lamar Jackson’s injuries and terrible play). Pittsburgh would also have little chance of winning the division since they lost both divisional games decisively. The Bengals drop to third place in the AFC North and are in ninth place, two spots outside the final playoff berth.

Buffalo Bills

Ever since the Sunday night dominance over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills have played like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their wins after that Sunday night are against what was the one win Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Trevor Siemian-led New Orleans Saints. That’s a poor list considering this team made the conference championship last year and were touted as one of the league’s best teams.

On offense, quarterback Josh Allen looks more like what people say Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is: a thrower who either forces passes to his top three targets or a runner who is the main runningback on the team. The offensive line has regressed and none of the runningbacks are trusted for critical yardage gains.

On defense, a unit that many said was the best in the league was again picked apart by nemesis Tom Brady. What was accidentally funny and shocking was a Brady pass on 3rd on 3 in overtime where CBS commentator Tony Romo said something along the lines of, “This is it. This is the play of the game. If Buffalo wants to win, they have to get the offense off the field or in a position to punt.” 15 seconds later, Brady threw his 700th career touchdown to a receiver who hadn’t caught a pass all game.

While Buffalo finishes with a softer schedule compared to teams like Indianapolis and Cleveland, they aren’t a team who can go far in the playoffs or even win a game. This is after playing like the best team in their conference up to week seven. It doesn’t more disappointing than that.

The NFL and NBC’s terrible decision of making audiences watch Bears-Packers

Journalists are supposed to be objective in criticism and I think this particular criticism in flexing games is valid especially when commissioner Roger Goodell flexed two games to be played this upcoming Saturday and not on their Sunday dates. The last Sunday night games have been terrible for audiences wanting to watch good football.

Last week was how you don’t flex a divisional matchup that is entertaining and can pull an audience from a specific area of the country. The logic the NFL and NBC used to flex week 13’s Seattle-San Francisco matchup wasn’t there in a skewed Chicago-Green Bay game. Green Bay has “owned” the Chicago Bears since 1992, and while the Bears put up a good fight for one half, the coverage was awful. Here’s a list of terrible and disrespectful things on the Sunday night show.

  • When making picks for Sunday night’s game, the SNF poll reported 95% of the audience expected Green Bay to win. Instead of everyone saying who they had winning the game, show host Mike Tirico said, “there’s no need, you all know who we have winning tonight.” Everyone picked the home team Packers.
  • Cris Collinsworth wouldn’t shut up about how Aaron Rodgers is, “a great guy. He doesn’t care. Have you seen a guy, and in particular this year, be more honest about everything. You may not agree with everything he says, but we have heard from the beginning of this entire season exactly what he thinks about everything.” This from the quarterback who said he was immunized, believed in Joe Rogan’s “science-filled” podcasts and took Ivermectin. Sure Cris.
  • Jokes, roasting, blatant disrespect and ignoring the Chicago Bears outside of Matt Nagy praise in the first half (for who knows what). The last ten minutes of the game both Al Michaels and Collinsworth made it known they wanted to talk about Rodgers and doing one-liners when the Bears were the focus. What’s important is how they’re not the only broadcasting crew on a network airing football to do this. Fans, including those in Chicago would like for the Bears not to be watched on national television because of how bad they are.
  • Must we be reminded of how terrible the Bears are since their one Super Bowl win? Again?
  • When the Bears are on offense but bearded doppelgänger of Aaron Rodgers is more important.

The worst was on ESPN’s Sportscenter when Scott Van Pelt said the best thing he saw Sunday was the thrilling win by the 2021 Canadian Football League champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their Grey Cup overtime win. Most of that game was aired during the Bears-Packers game.

If the NFL wanted to flex a divisional matchup, Dallas and Washington would’ve been a great game in terms of audience, revenue and a close finish. Tom Brady facing the Buffalo Bills has a lot to work with and spin. Even Baltimore and Cleveland part two would’ve been a more fun watch. The NFL has to choose which games deserve flexing and be consistent on why.

NFL Week 13 Winners and Losers

The first weekend of December featured division rivalries, upsets, and high-scoring games. The closer we are to the playoffs, the clearer the playoff picture regarding who can make a deep run and who may be one and done. Time to break down the best and worst from week 13.

Winners: Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions

Despite a winless record until Sunday, the Lions played all but two games close at some point. There’s been improvement almost every week. The defense is better than their last win before Sunday (almost a year to the day) and quarterback Jared Goff is playing better than his predecessor Matthew Stafford (despite some turnovers).

Without Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, Detroit led against Minnesota most of the game until late in the fourth quarter with less than a minute remaining. Goff found a wide open Amon-Ra St. Brown for the game winning score. Ford Field erupted in celebration. Coach Campbell and his players congratulated each other.

What’s equally important was the press conference where both Campbell and Goff didn’t want to talk about the win, but honor the Oxford high school shooting victims, dedicating the game winning ball to them and those affected. On a day the head coach should be elated by the first win in his career, it was the opposite, focusing on life outside sports.

Where many of us want the best teams to stand out, the Lions are the first and best winners of the week. Dan Campbell was the right hire and it’s shown by how the team rallies around him and buys in to his leadership.

Tom Brady’s Case for 2021 MVP

For some people, it gets old hearing about how a 44 year old man in Florida keeps impressing each week. It can’t be overlooked how once-in-a-lifetime this is. Brady’s thrown 34 touchdowns and ten interceptions with five weeks remaining to break his personal best 50 touchdown record.

Brady finally passed the 200 interception mark Sunday (which was returned for a touchdown). He’d already thrown over 600 touchdowns. No quarterback in NFL history achieved that specific order.

The Buccaneers swept Atlanta for the second straight year. The Falcons are winless in ten tries facing the most decorated quarterback in NFL history. He threw four touchdowns; three in the first half and the fourth to seal a ten point lead in the third quarter.

Two final things to consider for Brady winning MVP: he has more total touchdowns (35) than 17 teams after Week 13. Two are Super Bowl hopefuls in Green Bay and Baltimore. Sunday was also the sixth game he’s thrown four or more touchdowns, a career high. As referenced by Scott Van Pelt, the six other quarterbacks who’ve accomplished this stat-line all won MVP.

Matt Eberflus and the Indianapolis Colts defense

After a devastating home loss against Tampa Bay to end November, the Indianapolis Colts defense rebounded, shutting out the Houston Texans. According to ESPN, this is the first shutout for the Colts on the road since 1992.

The Texans offense couldn’t do anything right against defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense. Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched in the third quarter after completing six passes, including one to Indianapolis defender Kenny Moore II. It didn’t help Taylor may need time off with an injury to his left hand.

Houston mustered less than 200 yards of offense. Their best receiver had 38 yards. These are hard stats to come across in the 2020s NFL. The defense added two turnovers and four sacks to a perfect game.

Eberflus has been a candidate for a head-coaching job since 2019. It’s strange he hasn’t been hired by a team wanting a fresh mindset. That could change this offseason.

Adrian Peterson

Peterson is probably the best generational athlete the NFL has witnessed outside the quarterback position in the last 20 years. The durability and productivity is unmatched outside of two players. So when he scored Sunday to cut San Francisco’s lead to three, it was a special moment for not just Seattle, but his career.

Peterson becomes the first runningback in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown with six different teams. His 126 touchdowns now tie him with the great Jim Brown at tenth all-time.

120 of those touchdowns have been running, and that puts him three behind Marcus Allen for third all time for runningbacks. All he needs now is that elusive Super Bowl victory.

Losers: New York Giants

Early in the season on Pro Talk, Wesley and I discussed who we thought the worst team in the NFL could be. Wesley made the case of the New York Giants while I talked on the Atlanta Falcons (more on them in a bit). I’d personally say after Sunday that Wesley might be right.

It’s possible the Giants are the worst of the two football teams playing in New Jersey. While starting quarterback Daniel Jones didn’t play, backup Mike Glennon shouldn’t be on an active roster. His 44 passing attempts for under 200 yards has to be one of the worst stat-lines this season.

Former first round pick Saquon Barkley ran eleven times for 55 yards. Despite the five yards per carry, Barkley doesn’t look like a building block to move the franchise forward. Despite the injuries, he’s been a non-factor and at times the team’s worse with him on the field. One has to wonder if he’d thrive somewhere else or if anyone pays half the contract extension he desires.

Then there’s head coach Joe Judge. Down 20-9 late in the fourth, Judge sent out the field goal unit to attempt a 56 yard kick instead of going for a touchdown. Even if it was good, New York would be down eight with nine seconds in the game. Graham Gano was in a losing situation. He missed the kick.

Outside of a few playoff berths since their last Super Bowl win, the Giants are now an irrelevant team. Terrible drafting and development of players, bad coaching hires and failure to address issues in management have resulted in the franchise alone in last place within the NFC East. It’s possible we won’t see improvement until fans burn season tickets and chant for ownership change again.

Atlanta Falcons offensive line

The argument was made after this year’s draft that Cincinnati made a mistake passing over the best offensive lineman for a wide receiver, especially when their star quarterback was out the remainder of the 2020-21 season an ACL tear. While it’ll be debated in future seasons, the Atlanta Falcons did the same thing, and it’s shown how bad that miscue was.

Atlanta was over the salary cap and had to deal one of their franchise stars. It’s possible they made a mistake trading Julio Jones and not quarterback Matt Ryan. The 36 year old captain is in the twilight of his career. He’s also sacked and hit more than any quarterback in the league except Russell Wilson.

Sunday was more of the same. Tampa’s defensive line recorded five sacks on Ryan, and all were by the defensive interior. They smothered Atlanta the second half and ensured a win by middle fourth quarter.

The Falcons used their first round pick on tight end Kyle Pitts. Coach Arthur Smith is undecided on how to use him depending on the month. Though maybe he’d be used more if Ryan had time to read a field.

John Harbaugh

It’s a rare thing when the Harbaugh brother in the NFL is having a worse week than his brother in college football but these things happen occasionally. While there’s heavy blame on Lamar Jackson’s play in Pittsburgh, a lot of it goes on coach Harbaugh for not preparing his quarterback better.

It’s obvious Jackson struggles against a cover-zero defense. Opposition has played the Ravens offense in this scheme since a Thursday night loss in Miami. It’s shocking this is the fourth game Baltimore’s scored less than 20 points. You can’t say it’s just the quarterback.

The Ravens are playing too many close games and have more comebacks than a team wanting a playoff spot should. Playing catch-up comes back to bite usually near postseason, and it’s bit the Ravens into a four-way tie for first in their conference.

Coach Harbaugh has to critically analyze the staff and how the team’s played since that key Thursday night loss and make changes. Otherwise, it’ll be a quick exit in January.

NBC’s Week 13 Flexed Game Decision

A few weeks ago NBC (at the urging of the NFL) flexed week 13’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers v. Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos v. Kansas City Chiefs. While some criticized the game chosen in the flex, it’s obvious NBC made a mistake in substituting a game that had no chance of being entertaining.

The NFC West matchup was a longer played game but started off in wild fashion. Not even ten seconds into game time a player was carted off the field. The first quarter after that injury had this:

  • Seattle fake-punt run for a touchdown, first in at least two years.
  • Seattle fumble recovered by San Francisco, leading to a 49er touchdown the next play.
  • Quarterback Jimmy Garappolo intercepted by Bobby Wagner.
  • Field goal miss plays after interception.
  • 49ers take a seven point lead next possession.

There were three more quarters of fun football that included Adrian Peterson’s record setting score, rookie Dee Eskridge catching his first touchdown, a safety on Garappolo, Tyler Lockett’s game winning touchdown catch, Gerald Everett’s lost fumbles in two different endzones, a goal-line stand, and more interceptions from both quarterbacks.

Even for new or learning fans, that’s a lot taking place in one game. It would probably be the most talked about game today if it retained the primetime spot. What NBC broadcast instead wasn’t a rivalry but another embarrassing performance by Denver. The Broncos haven’t beaten Kansas City since legendary quarterback Peyton Manning retired. Manning got into the Hall of Fame faster than Denver splitting a series with the Chiefs.

Let’s not shy away from Kansas City’s offense either. Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw under 200 yards and an interception. The defenses on both teams played well but the only memorable thing was Denver having 20 offensive plays on one drive and scoring zero points. The network can’t get upset if someone turned the t.v. off after watching that.

NFL Week 12 Winners and Losers

The last Sunday of November had fewer games but as much entertainment compared to prior weeks. Upsets, injuries and comebacks led headlines and will be the focus before December starts. The playoff picture never looked more crowded. It’s time to break down who or what stood out most; positively or negatively.

Winners: Zach Wilson

I personally believe New York Jets rookie quarterback and number two overall pick Zach Wilson shouldn’t be playing the rest of this season, and a leg injury Sunday in Houston warrants that belief. Regardless, his return was everything the Jets wanted and needed.

Wilson’s stats weren’t pretty. He completed 14 passes for 145 yards and an interception. Yet Wilson ran for a touchdown that wound up giving New York the lead. The rookie led critical drives and a double digit comeback after Houston scored two straight touchdowns.

Some weekends the stats are ugly. However, if there’s notable improvement coming back from injuries, quality of play matters more. The Jets don’t have much quality at the quarterback position since a Mike White performance versus Cincinnati but they can feel good when their first round pick has time and isn’t hurt/hit to make the right plays and earn wins.

Tampa Bay’s running game led by Leonard Fournette

It’s easy for fans and analysts to label first round picks either as busts or studs on teams that drafted them. In the case of Leonard Fournette many fans thought the Jacksonville Jaguars jumped early when they drafted him fourth overall in 2017. Labeled as a bust by Jacksonville he was cut in 2020 and then signed to Tampa Bay. He’s been a key piece in the Buccaneer offense and it showed Sunday in Indianapolis.

Fournette scored three touchdowns on 17 carries for 100 yards. Two of the three running touchdowns gave Tampa Bay leads (one at the beginning and the other a game winner). He also caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the second quarter around the two minute mark, giving the Bucs a brief cushion before the Colts offense scored again.

Fournette solidified his reputation as someone who plays their best in the postseason last year. Discussion after revolved on how he could play better in the regular season. He’s on track for a career high in rushing yards (over half-way to his career high 1,152), has a career high rushing average in a season and is two touchdowns back of his career high (seven, career high is nine).

Throw in Ronald Jones II averaging five yards a run on seven carries and it’s easier to understand why the Colts defense struggled in the second half Sunday. Sometimes Tampa’s offense forces pass plays and forgets the runningback duo on the team solidifies wins in critical games. If coach Bruce Arians wants better play from both offense and defense, giving both Fournette and Jones II more carries is a good start.

Kendrick Bourne

The former 49ers wide receiver needed a fresh start after a less than stellar tenure in the Bay area. When New England signed him last offseason, it was a gamble he could play better than both the team’s wideouts and better than his time on the west coast. That gamble’s paying off.

In Sunday’s home game versus Tennessee, Bourne caught five passes for two touchdowns and 61 yards. Only one pass didn’t reach him, a gradual improvement compared to his high number of dropped passes in San Francisco. His scores either gave New England a lead or cemented a win to rise to the number two seed in the AFC playoff picture.

A few weeks ago yours truly gave Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels notable praise for how he’s developed the Patriots offense this season. Many will say rookie quarterback Mac Jones has benefitted most, but it’s surprisingly Kendrick Bourne, who’s gone from gaffe-prone and a butterfingers joke to a possible number one wideout on a first place team in the AFC East and behind only the Baltimore Ravens in the conference.

Kyle Shanahan

Keeping the topic on San Francisco, coach Kyle Shanahan’s reversed fortune by calling plays on offense and the roster’s getting healthier. The 49ers might salvage their season and clinch a berth in a contested playoff race.

The Minnesota Vikings led early in Santa Clara, CA. but choked away a double digit lead and failed to score at pivotal times in the second half. On offense, quarterback Jimmy Garappolo played his best in the second and third quarters, helping score 27 of the 34 game points. An eye opening performance from depth running back Eli Mitchell eased pressure off Garappolo during those important drives. Mitchell ran for 133 yards averaging almost five yards a carry. The receiver tandem of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel frustrated Minnesota’s defense. Receiver Jauan Jennings (who was in that fight in Jacksonville on the 21st) scored the game tying touchdown before halftime.

What’s different the last few weeks is coach Shanahan’s play-calling. There aren’t many risks. San Francisco is running the ball, getting Garappolo to throw in easier situations, and using better clock management to tire opposing defenses. A lot of the injured players San Francisco had on injured reserve are easing back into the lineup. From a timeframe of a month and a half, Shanahan’s gone from having a hot seat and conversations on when he’ll be fired to the 49ers possibly stealing second place from their division rival Los Angeles Rams (more on them later). Regardless, San Francisco won’t need a new coach before 2023.


Tennessee Titans Defense

If one was told the Titans defense would give up more than 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and 36 points (after giving up 59 the past three weeks), there would be surprised looks. That’s what happened Sunday in New England.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was almost perfect in a pivotal game deciding who would rise in conference standings. Tennessee’s issues before Sunday were on offense due to injuries, but the defense played better. In New England, the defense couldn’t stop anything.

Jones had all but nine passes complete to whoever was targeted. The Patriots offense scored on all but one possession in the first half (the one was a missed field goal) and punted once late in the third quarter. Tennessee struggled to pressure Jones, sacking the rookie twice. A lack of pass rush combined with multiple turnovers from quarterback Ryan Tannehill gassed out an already exhausted defense.

The Titans now have a bye week. While coach Mike Vrabel has to be relieved the team can catch their breath, it couldn’t be at a worse time when injuries and losses caught up and might doom a chance at a first round bye.

Jalen Reagor

Above in the winners is a player many thought was a bust but wasn’t because coaches didn’t know how to work and develop him to the best of not just his abilities, but the team’s. Outside Fournette’s case, most players wind up busts because they don’t have a chance to turn things around or are scarred from previous failures. They’re considered tragic cases. Yet in some decades/eras, some players are true, no doubt, 100% busts. That’s because they’re awful no matter the coaching or technique. The best case right now is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor.

It’s rare someone in their second NFL season outside the quarterback position can play terribly every week. The Eagles drafted Reagor over receivers Justin Jefferson (check out last week’s winners and losers), Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. While two of the three will finish the season with better numbers, one must also ask what happens if Ruggs has better people around him in Philadelphia than in Las Vegas. Perhaps he isn’t in court on manslaughter and DUI charges.

As for Reagor’s on-field play, he’s a solid run-blocker. However he wasn’t drafted for that to be his specialty. On Sunday at the New York Giants down six, Hurts threw two well thrown passes at the sophomore second rounder and he dropped both of them wide open to tie or win the game. Hurts and the offense hadn’t played well in all but three possessions but most would forget if Reagor caught a touchdown. Those drops makes one wonder what Philadelphia saw to draft him in the second round.

Los Angeles Chargers defense

Last week the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense won a shootout against what many thought was a good Pittsburgh Steelers team. Quarterback Justin Herbert did everything possible to secure the win. Some days that won’t happen and the defense has to play better. Coach Brandon Staley’s unit failed Sunday.

Cancelling out the Pat Surtain II’s touchdown return from an interception, you’d think the defense did good limiting the Denver Broncos to 21 points. There were concerns. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was injured after the Broncos scored first with a lower leg injury. While he finished the game, he came back to throw for one touchdown after that first score. Derwin James’ interception was off Drew Lock who played a couple of possessions, and Bridgewater was sacked once despite a talented Los Angeles front seven. Former Charger runningback Melvin Gordon III averaged almost five yards a carry and also scored.

Los Angeles hasn’t done enough to change a game or take advantage of mistakes opposing offenses make unless Herbert and company play well. Coach Staley is defensive oriented who has to do more with the unit. It looked worse earlier when Pittsburgh scored ten points against a young upcoming Cincinnati Bengals defense, seven of which were in garbage time.

The Les Snead-Sean McVay duo

A general manager who prioritized trading for blockbuster players after having a number one pick in 2015 and a head coach touted as “an offensive guru” have become the heads of football’s version of Bozo’s Circus. That’s the best way to describe the Rams’ November.

The offense is a disaster. While it’s possible quarterback Matthew Stafford is dealing with an injury, both he and McVay are handling this poorly. Stafford threw his fifth interception in three games, resulting in a touchdown returned by Green Bay’s defense. The bootleg snaps and rollouts McVay wanted Stafford to throw from has moved to shotgun snaps and under center, killing offensive efficiency. If that’s because of injury, then Stafford isn’t their best chance to win against playoff caliber opponents heading into December.

The offensive line has weaknesses in the middle and gave up two sacks without the Packers blitzing. Only six receivers were targeted by Stafford. Then the trade for Odell Beckham Jr. has added to the problems by disrupting chemistry, probably jeopardizing any chance of a deep run in the playoffs.

The Rams defense was exposed this month in every game. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn’t want to tackle receivers on fourth down. “Game changer” Aaron Donald was neutralized by offensive linemen to the point he choked one Sunday in front of a referee. Stars don’t do that especially when their unit is exposed.

Los Angeles lost a good player in John Johnson, who’s bolstered the Cleveland Browns secondary. This is where Snead’s trades cost the team. In order to win a championship, there must be development on all sides of the ball. Right now the Rams are desperate for more depth because it’s been traded away for star players who can’t play when it matters most or let go because of a low salary cap. Don’t be surprised if this team not only falls behind San Francisco but fizzles out in the playoffs.

NFL Week Eleven Winners and Losers

The eleventh week of the NFL season was as chaotic, strange and confounding as possible. The upsets shocked not just the football world but the playoff picture in both conferences. There’s still a lot to process and breakdown because most fans and analysts didn’t expect so many highlights. Time to break down the best and worst of week eleven.

Winners: Indianapolis Colts

Since a close loss to the Tennessee Titans where Derrick Henry suffered a season ending injury, everything’s swung in the Colts’ favor. Sunday opened eyes to the possibility of a different team winning the AFC South. Both the Buffalo Bills offense and defense are touted as top tier and Indianapolis dominated them.

Outside of quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo’s offense lacks a strong running game and the Colts used that weakness to their advantage. Allen barely threw 200 yards with two scores and two interceptions. While he was sacked once, Allen had a hard time finding receivers downfield and was under duress until a Colts victory was imminent.

Indianapolis’ offense was all anyone could talk about Sunday until the Los Angeles Chargers played (more on them later). Runningback Jonathan Taylor ran for four touchdowns and caught an additional score. Taylor’s first two touchdowns gave the Colts a double-digit lead early. It’s the first time in both franchise and league history anyone scored on the road five times.

Coach Frank Reich and his team had excuses to surrender after a brutal early season start. The defense is playing to last year’s levels. Despite an injury to guard Quinton Nelson, quarterback Carson Wentz eased more into the offense thanks to Taylor’s workload and the return of receivers Mo Alie-Cox and T.Y. Hilton. Finally, Indianapolis is over .500 for the first time this season and have a good chance at the division title because…

David Culley, Tyrod Taylor and the Houston Texans using the bye week to their advantage

…the one win Houston Texans stunned the football world by pummeling the Tennessee Titans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was under pressure the whole game. He threw four interceptions and was sacked twice. The lone touchdown thrown was near the end of the third quarter, and Houston’s defense smothered any chance of momentum after.

Most fans and analysts will say Tennessee choked and overlooked competition, but there was a good chance the Texans could win this game. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith didn’t have to worry about a running game with no Derrick Henry. The Titans average two and a half yards a carry since Henry’s season ending injury. Wide out Julio Jones wasn’t in the lineup. That meant Houston’s secondary could double cover A.J. Brown and Anthony Firkser.

On offense credit goes to coach David Culley and quarterback Tyrod Taylor using last week’s bye to fix parts of the game plan. Taylor played poor in a loss to Miami before the bye and said he could do better with more practice and easing back into schemes. While the offense was ok, it built confidence. Coach Culley needed this to keep his job and make sure his influence and coaching style grows with the team.

Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson

The Green Bay-Minnesota game was fun to watch, especially the second half. The highlights of round one in the divisional matchup featured two of the league’s best receivers.

Davante Adams caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns averaging 16 yards per catch. Adams’ play was a major reason the Packer offense briefly took a lead before Minnesota’s last possession. He’s the league’s best receiver despite constant double coverage and no solid number two wideout getting more attention.

Sophomore receiver Justin Jefferson had as good if not a better game than Adams. Jefferson’s eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns (both in the second half) gave the Vikings a comfortable lead and the ability to do anything against one of the league’s best defenses. Like Adams, Jefferson is one of the league’s best receivers and on the verge of breaking franchise records the great Randy Moss once held. Green Bay-Minnesota round two in Lambeau Field should be just as exciting on January second.

Jalen Hurts

The sophomore Eagles quarterback is progressing because coach Nick Sirianni wants the ball run more. It’s helped Hurts deliver on throws without constant pressure. He’s also a mobile quarterback who contributes in the running game, and on some Sundays that’s be better than when he passes.

Sunday’s home game against New Orleans is an example. Hurts scored 12 of 14 points on Philadelphia’s first two drives. He ran for a 24 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cement a double digit win.

A lot of fans and analysts lavish praise on the other sophomore quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert for good reasons, but Hurts is growing at a steady rate on a team still in re-build mode. He could be the most successful of the 2020 class if the Eagles continue to let him learn naturally without forcing him to throw.

The Los Angeles Chargers offense

Sunday night could be a pivotal turn in Chargers franchise history. Usually known as perenial losers in epic fashion, Los Angeles won a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers where they went from double digit lead to losing because of turnovers. The offense led by quarterback Justin Herbert sparked a comeback late in the fourth quarter.

Herbert became the first quarterback to throw over 350 yards, run for 90 yards and post a win. Austin Ekeler tried to match Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown performance, running for two scores and catching two of Herbert’s three touchdown passes. The game ball goes to Los Angeles’ offensive line that allowed two sacks to a battered Steeler defensive line but helped Herbert read the field especially on man coverage.

Last but not least, the Chargers receivers expanded Herbert’s use of the offensive playbook. Keenan Allen had a 100 yard game on 13 targets and Mike Williams had the game winning touchdown and final lead change. Coach Brandon Staley still needs to work on the defense but he’s maximizing potential with Los Angeles’ offense.

Losers: Rookie quarterbacks not named Mac Jones

The 2021 quarterback class may wind up being one of the best after this season. However none of the rookies outside of New England’s Mac Jones will have happy memories.

Zac Wilson and Justin Fields took too many hits and wound up with multiple injuries. The general managers of the New York Jets and Chicago Bears chose not to build offensive lines to protect their most valuable assets. It doesn’t help that coaches Robert Saleh and Matt Nagy gave the rookies the green light to start early in the season to take beatings while playing in poor offensive systems. One has to wonder if both quarterbacks develop terrible habits when they return. Here’s hoping both have a resurgence in year two.

Trey Lance and Davis Mills may not see the field the rest of the season unless it’s fourth quarter action where a lopsided win or loss is inevitable. The 49ers are back at .500 because Jimmy Garappolo is playing better and throwing accurate passes to at least three excellent receivers returning from injury or benching. San Francisco won’t start Lance if they’re in the playoff hunt. On the opposite end, Mills had a chance to prove he’s a starter Houston can turn to when Tyrod Taylor’s contract expires and DeShaun Watson is traded. Mills lost every game played and his stats aren’t starting worthy. He may be a backup the rest of his career.

Then there’s number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who probably wants to forget about his rookie season despite it not finishing. No one can blame him either. Coach Urban Meyer is still struggling to adjust to Jacksonville’s talent. While Lawrence could wind up as the best quarterback of the class with the most potential, it’s his first season with this many losses in any phase of his football career. He’s a true starter not getting whacked every other play. The Jaguars just have to add more to get back to playoff contention.

Rashawn Jenkins

Speaking of the Jacksonville Jaguars, they won’t win many games if their players pick fights against opposing teams.

Fourth year safety Rashawn Jenkins got frustrated early and decided to fight receiver Jauan Jennings. Jenkins’ dismissal hurt the Jaguars, and the defense gave up 30 points to a team coming off a Monday night home game traveling three different timezones.

Coach Meyer has a lot to clean up and work with but the issues earlier this season on the new coach setting a good example and not being careless comes into play. That’s important when veteran players make the same reckless decisions.

That blockbuster Khalil Mack trade between the Bears and Raiders

Back in 2018 when coach Jon Gruden decided to re-make the Oakland Raiders roster, he committed what many thought to be one of the most lopsided trades in contemporary NFL history involving pass rusher Khalil Mack going to the Chicago Bears for draft picks.

It’s a trade that when we look back three years later nobody won. The Bears gave up an astounding four draft picks (two first rounders included) while receiving two back (highest was a second rounder) in addition to Mack. Two of the picks Oakland/Las Vegas received aren’t on the team and one’s starting in place of a star receiver headed to prison. On the other end, Chicago’s second round pick in the trade Cole Kmet is rarely used by an inept offensive staff.

The Raiders’ best asset received from the trade is runningback Josh Jacobs, who hasn’t played well since a return from an upper body injury. Las Vegas started undefeated heading into October and is now at .500 after week eleven. This will be the third midseason collapse the team’s had, possibly missing the playoffs because the defense fell apart combined with drama off the field and a stagnant offense.

Meanwhile the Bears defense can’t stop 90 yard winning touchdown drives dating back to 2019 with or without Khalil Mack. Mack’s numbers have gradually gone down and it could be argued he hasn’t been the best player on Chicago’s defense after 2018. With little draft capital because of the trade, Chicago didn’t have a first rounder until this year, when they traded up with the New York Giants for Justin Fields (we know how that went, see above). The Bears are close to a total rebuild…and that requires trading Khalil Mack.

Russell Wilson

It’s beginning to look like Wilson hurried his recovery and came back earlier than he should have. Despite a 300 yard game from backup quarterback Colt McCoy, Wilson’s poor reading of the Arizona Cardinals defense is why Seattle walked away with their seventh loss of the season.

Two of Seattle’s first half drives resulted in Jason Myers field goals, and the Seahawks trailed at half-time 16-6. Those drives should’ve ended in touchdowns. After D.K. Metcalf bobbled a sure score, Wilson underthrew Freddy Swain at the one yard line. Swain had room to dive or reach the ball over the endzone line to tie the game at seven. Later on, Wilson couldn’t finish reads on second and third down, missing a wide-open DeeJay Dallas underneath for first and goal and taking more time off the clock to keep Arizona’s offense off the field. He threw into the endzone all three plays, and the third down pass flew out of bounds.

By the time Seattle scored a touchdown the Seahawks defense was exhausted with both starting cornerbacks injured. The Cardinal offense faced little resistance at the end.

The big question is what Seattle does with Wilson the rest of the season. The Seahawks have little chance of making the playoffs, but their franchise quarterback needs to start reading a field better and help Seattle not fully sink. We should have answers before Christmas.

Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboy offensive gameplan

Many analysts and fans will hype the Kansas City Chiefs’ return to being the best team in the AFC after Sunday’s home win against Dallas. There were good things Kansas City did on defense, notably Chris Jones’ three and a half sacks and the secondary intercepting quarterback Dak Prescott twice.

It’s easy to want that exciting Kansas City team back, but both teams were ugly on offense. The worst part was offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s gameplan. It was well known number one team receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t going to play. Dallas has the best runningback tandem in their conference and didn’t use them. When Ezekiel Elliott left with an injury, Tony Pollard took over and averaged seven yards a carry. The Chiefs’ run defense is the worst the league has seen in some time and yet Moore insisted Prescott throw the ball 43 times.

It got worse when sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb left with a concussion in the second half. That doesn’t happen if Dallas establishes a strong and dominant running game behind an offensive line needing confidence with left tackle Tyron Smith not playing. It would’ve cut down Dallas’ turnovers, mistakes on the Chiefs’ side of the field and force more errors or turnovers from Kansas City. Even if the Cowboys wanted to save their best in a re-match, they cost themselves a chance to lower the Chiefs in the AFC standings.

NFL Week Ten Winners and Losers

Week ten followed up last week’s wackiness and unpredictable results with another headline filled day and more inconsistency from teams heading towards playoff berths. It’s been a year since there was a tie. Combined with a shutout for Seattle/Russell Wilson, and the Cleveland Browns losing by 38, there were a lot of firsts. Time to break down the winners and losers.

Winners: Josh McDaniels and the New England Patriots offense

The Patriots spent over $100 million to rise in the standings and get back to the playoffs. Their plan is working well before Thanksgiving.

Quarterbacks Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer combined for four total touchdowns. New starting runningback Rhamondre Stevenson ran 20 times for 100 yards and two scores. Free agent addition Kendrick Bourne almost had 100 yards receiving to go with one touchdown.

The offense gets better every week and credit goes to coordinator Josh McDaniels. He’s not just calling the plays, he’s finding ways to acclimate players to improve gameplans and help everyone figure out better roles.

A great example was discussed Sunday night when Tim Hasselbeck told sports analyst Scott Van Pelt the main concern for the Patriots offense is perimeter play, or simply, wide receivers consistently beating cornerbacks when running routes. Bourne was the receiver who played best and scored one of the touchdowns Jones threw. Yet he struggled to get open and not drop passes in San Francisco. McDaniels and his staff are shaping players like Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry (who scored twice and is having a career year) into premier threats defenses have to take serious in coverage. Expect teams to attract Josh McDaniels next offseason for head coaching jobs with the work he’s done.

Taylor Heinecke

Is Heinecke the new kryptonite against Tom Brady? A week many thought (including yours truly) Tampa Bay would steamroll the Washington Football Team after a bye week, Heinecke played one of his best games of the season. While he threw for under 200 yards and one touchdown, only six passes were incomplete and his passer rating was 110.4. Three of these four categories were better than Brady’s.

The defense is the main reason Washington has three wins, but Heinecke is doing his best to keep them in the playoff race. He has the same number of wins Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garappolo and Daniel Jones do. He’s also played quality teams in the AFC North, NFC South and AFC East week after week. While the 28 year old isn’t the best quarterback in the NFC East, he isn’t bad. Remember that if the Football Team stays in the playoff race by December.

Cam Newton’s Return for Carolina

The Arizona Cardinals had little chance of winning against Carolina without De’Andre Hopkins and Kyler Murray. Yet no one knew how big the return of Newton for the Panthers was especially when he was cleared to play.

Newton scored the first 12 of 14 points for Carolina en route to their lopsided victory against the top team in the NFL. He completed three of four passes in a sample size of how he’ll ease back into play.

The Panthers need every bit of help possible. If they need the first ever player who went to a super bowl, went to other teams, came back and scored throwing and running the ball in NFL history to sneak into the playoffs, so be it. It’ll be a fun topic to follow.

Losers: Anyone stuck with the Detroit-Pittsburgh game

Any market stuck with the 16-16 tie at Heinz Field Sunday probably received complaints the last 24 hours. While ties are rare, they’re long games and show both teams can’t win despite glaring mistakes by the opposition.

Whatever we think of near retirement Ben Roethlisberger, he’s still better than backup Mason Rudolph. Rudolph showed he won’t be an NFL starter outside of Pittsburgh. Despite his inept play, turnovers on offense and the loss of star defender T.J. Watt, the winless Detroit Lions couldn’t take advantage. Quarterback Jared Goff played hurt and Dan Campbell’s play-calling of running the football instead of key passing situations doomed any effort for a win. Kicker Ryan Santoso missed an extra point and what could’ve been the game winning field goal.

Detroit doesn’t play many teams under .500 the rest of the season. They’ve lost to two of the remaining four (who are division rivals). Seattle and Atlanta are the remaining two who have credible offenses. If they play spoiler to a hopeful playoff team like Cleveland, they have a chance. On the other end, the Steelers wish for Roethlisberger’s return from COVID-19 couldn’t come faster.

All highlighted afternoon and evening games

Matter of fact, throw the prime time and supposed noteworthy afternoon games into this category. Most of the country was either stuck with Cleveland-New England or Atlanta-Dallas for the early afternoon games. The former was so bad CBS pulled it for the second half of “the Backup Bowl” between New Orleans and Tennessee. Dallas lead by 33 after two quarters. Few audiences would find that second half entertaining.

The hyped matchup between Seattle and Green Bay featured terrible quarterback play and a total of three points before the Packers decided to run the ball and scored two touchdowns. Seattle was shutout for the first time in over a decade. The highlights were snowfalls in Lambeau Field and receiver DK Metcalf punching a defender after taunting. Not the game people wanted nor expected.

Last but not least, the Kansas City Chiefs tore a hapless Las Vegas Raiders team apart. DeSean Jackson’s fumble and Maxx Crosby’s unnecessary roughness ended any chance the Raiders had at a win. When the fourth quarter started, fans probably tuned in to Chris Rose on the NFL Network before heading to bed early.

Saints backup quarterbacks

While New Orleans lost by a combined four points the last two games, those who’ve watched their offense know that’s misleading. A battered Titans team pulled ahead by double digits after quarterback Trevor Siemian hit the 100 yard passing mark.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was without two important players who can open the offense and put up similar numbers. He barely passed concussion protocol. Siemian has neither of these issues. Coach Sean Payton doesn’t trust Taysom Hill to start, even against an Atlanta Falcons team he won both games against last year.

Jameis Winston’s season ending injury means New Orleans is thinner on offense. They’re already second to last in passing yards. It could get worse with Buffalo coming into town Thanksgiving night.