T for 3: Tom Brady, Steph Curry, and UFC 248
Tom Brady and The Hoodie talk. It didn’t go well.
Steph Curry is set to make his return from the broken hand.
UFC 248 is on Saturday with two titles up for grabs.
All of you “defense wins championships” folks will hate to read this but, the 2020 NFL off-season is just another dominated by quarterbacks. They’ve dominated the headlines and are the object around which NFL general managers formulate their off-season plans. Even the ones who are trying to build their defenses do so with the intent of negating opposing quarterbacks.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs just gave us our most recent example of this playing out. A stout San Francisco 49ers defense (2nd in yards per game allowed) couldn’t hold the third-year, former MVP down for an entire four quarters. In a league that has shifted so far towards favoring offenses, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Since the league went to 32 teams, the NFL has seen its average pass completions per game jump from 20.1 in 2002 to 22.1 in 2019. It should also be noted that the 2002 number was a relative outlier. The average was around 19.3 and lower the six years prior and four years after the ‘02 season. But all this proves is that teams are passing that much more, right?
Wrong! In this same period, pass attempts have gone from 33.8 18 years ago to 34.9 this past season. That’s an increase of nearly three completions per game but only 1.1 more attempts. Put simply, quarterbacks got more accurate as displayed in the average completion percentage rising nearly four points from 59.6 percent to 63.5 percent.
Any number of metrics can back this up, but we only need to look at the headlines to see the trend. Mahomes winning Super Bowl MVP aside, the next biggest talking point has been about where Tom Brady will play in 2020. He’s 42 years old and didn’t have his best season (statistically or via the eye test) but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning.
Among the many hypothesized destinations have been the newly-dubbed Las Vegas Raiders, the Los Angeles Chargers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition to the potential drawbacks to making a large commitment to a quarterback who is less than a decade away from AARP eligibility, all of these teams have quarterbacks either in place or in limbo.
Those incumbents have also been the subjects of trade rumors in their own rights. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers recently moved (a la Brady) to Florida turning up the volume on speculation he could be elsewhere in 2020. Cam Newton has been tabbed by speculators to replace him in L.A. after his Carolina Panthers hired a new head coach and general manager.
It isn’t just the big-name guys getting all the headlines either. Cincinnati Bengals free-agent quarterback Andy Dalton, an average starting quarterback by most metrics, has been spoken of as a possible savior for teams viewed by many as being a “quarterback away” from being true contenders. Even perceived busts like Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans have been given new life by the rumor mill.
The NFL Draft is in April and guess what position the presumed first pick, Joe Burrow, plays. Yep, quarterback. A draft that is thought to be strong at wide receiver and other skill positions could have five passers go in the first round. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is one of those prospects and he is recovering from a serious hip injury just to illustrate.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young at the top of a lot of big boards and the Bengals have a significant need for a pass rusher. But that is dwarfed by their need to upgrade the quarterback position. This illustrates the shift in ideology. Rather than build from the trenches, Cincinnati is set to pick Burrow based on one (historic) season.
Even supposed projects or guys missing something are getting first-round love. Justin Herbert was buzzing last year but needed the Senior Bowl to solidify his spot near the top of the draft. The Jacob Easons and Jordan Loves of the world, though, are first-rounders based more on potential than production.
This isn’t some earth-shattering revelation. The transition to a quarterback-driven league has been advertised and vocalized to the point that it’s almost fait accompli you’ll hear “it’s a quarterback-driven league” after a play. The announcers and pundits know it. The fans know it.
Even the league knows it. After revamping the protections on quarterbacks and receivers some years back, the NFL did so again recently. The most heavily debated being challenging pass interference. It’s a change that can and has aided defenses but was clearly developed with offenses in mind.
This might not even just apply to current and future quarterbacks either. It’s fair to wonder if the controversial Colin Kaepernick would be such a lightning rod if he played any other position. His very vocal supporter and former teammate Eric Reid did sign a multi-year deal last February.
Again, this isn’t exactly new or revolutionary, we’ve always idolized the quarterback position. But it has become more intentional along with the devaluation of the running back has been the elevation of the quarterback. Super Bowl Sunday was just a reminder that while defense wins (conference) championships, it is quarterbacks that win Super Bowls.
The 2019 NFL Draft is today! By this point we are all mocked out. So, of course that means it is time for another. This is my take on how the first round will shake out Thursday. One note: I am merely operating from the standpoint of what I would do if I were making the call for these teams. Very little of this mock is based on the “latest” reports and there will be (almost) no trades made or considered. What there will be, in addition to the individual team picks, is an alternative option that the team could pivot to. That is enough rules for this exercise, let’s get right to it.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray – Quarterback – Oklahoma
The stars have been aligning for this to be the case for quite some time. So much so that Murray is the expected pick regardless of whether or not the Cardinals are the team making the selection. With a new coaching staff not married to the current QB (who was himself a first-rounder just last year) and an organization in need of a facelift. Alternate pick: Nick Bosa
San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa – EDGE – Ohio State
A prime candidate to trade back with a team looking for a QB (especially if Murray is not taken first), John Lynch opts for the top pass-rusher in the draft. His presence would give a lift to the 22nd-ranked team in terms of sacks. This pick also fits in with the overhaul of the pass-rush that has included the addition of Dee Ford. Alternate pick: Quinnen Williams
New York Jets: Josh Allen – EDGE – Kentucky
If for some reason Bosa makes it this far, he would be the choice. In this scenario, though, the Jets happily take the second-ranked EDGE player and add him to what should be a surprisingly feisty group next season. The position is one that has honestly been a bugaboo for the Jets since Calvin Pace. Yeah. They have other needs they could address, but need meets value here. Alternate pick: Jawaan Taylor
Oakland Raiders: Quinnen Williams – Defensive Lineman – Alabama
It is tempting to think of Jon Gruden packaging this pick with one from later in the first round and sending them to the Cardinals for the chance to take Murray. Instead, in this scenario the Raiders take a player that seems almost tailor-made for the Silver and Black. He has the makings of a 10-year mainstay for the Raiders in the trenches. Alternate pick: Ed Oliver
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jawaan Taylor – Offensive Lineman – Florida
Tampa will be hoping Josh Allen falls to them here or they could be seriously looking to move back. Should they stay put, attempting to solidify their offensive line makes a ton of sense. The Bucs are supposedly all in on Jameis Winston, at least for now, so it would behoove them to beef up his protection. If they move on from Jameis next year, they would already have a blindside protector for the next guy. Alternate pick: Greedy Williams
New York Giants: Dwayne Haskins – Quarterback – Ohio State
If we are to believe reports coming out of the Meadowlands, Eli Manning has found the fountain of youth and is set for his best season yet. Luckily, as stated above, no such reports exist here. The G-Men find the heir-apparent to Eli in the form of a rocket-armed, 6-3 pocket passer from THE Ohio State University. Haskins, in turn, gets to sit and watch from a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Alternate: D.K. Metcalf
Jacksonville Jaguars: Ed Oliver – Defensive Lineman – Houston
Injuries in 2018 hurt his stock, but as teams and scouts have gone back to his 2017 tape he has regained some of that buzz. It was really really tempting to put D.K. Metcalf’s name here and they should strongly consider adding a tackle as well. But getting Oliver down to Duval adds more teeth to that defense whose bite didn’t match its bark last season. Alternate pick: Jonah Williams
Detroit Lions: Montez Sweat – EDGE – Mississippi St.
GM Bob Quin hinted that the Lions could be looking to move back if a team wants to move up for a QB. And they ponied up to bring in Trey Flowers from New England, so perhaps they don’t view this as an option. But Flowers has never had more than the 7.5 sacks that he had last year and he is really the only threat off the edge for Detroit. Alternate pick: Rashan Gary
Buffalo Bills: Devin White – Linebacker – LSU
Once again, the temptation to place D.K. Metcalf here was very strong. But let’s assume Cole Beasley and John Brown are enough around Zay Jones (they aren’t). Another thing the Bills could do in this spot is take an offensive lineman to protect Josh Allen. But in this scenario, Sean McDermott gets the quarterback of his defense in the top-rated linebacker. Alternate pick: Rashan Gary
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock – Quarterback – Missouri
John Elway has to get this right. It is almost a comedy of errors that, aside from the gift of Peyton Manning, the QB spot has been the bane of Elway’s (a Hall of Fame QB) existence. Joe Flacco ain’t it despite the rhetoric coming out of the Mile High City. If they decide to pass (sorry, couldn’t help myself) on QB, maybe they go for the defensive equivalent. Alternate pick: Devin Bush
Cincinnati Bengals: Devin Bush – Linebacker – Michigan
No one will be hoping Denver takes a QB at 10, perhaps, then the Bengals if things follow the layout presented here. Assuming things fall this way, the Bengals fill one of their myriad of needs. This could be a pivot point if Washington decides it wants to jump Miami for a shot at a passer. Or, Cincinnati could look to add to either of their lines. Alternate pick: Rashan Gary
Green Bay Packers: Rashan Gary – Defensive Lineman – Michigan
Stick with me here. Green Bay already has Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels on the line. They also just signed Preston and Za’Darius Smith to boost the pass rush. So why Gary? Well, Daniels’ contract is up after this season, Mo Wilkerson is gone, and their only other pass-rusher with any juice is Kyler Fackrell. This would be an unorthodox move, but so was their head coaching hire. Alternate pick: T.J. Hockenson
Miami Dolphins: Jonah Williams – Offensive Lineman – Alabama
This was the toughest selection to peg. Miami needs a new everything so they could go with the ‘best player available’ model. They also are prime candidates to trade back with a contender (*cough* Houston *cough*) to recoup extra picks because, you know, they need everything. Whenever they make their choice, it should be in the trenches. Alternate pick: Brian Burns
Atlanta Falcons: Greedy Williams – Cornerback – LSU
The Falcons would do well to think long and hard about taking one of the Clemson interior d-lineman. But aside from the state of their linebacking group, which was decimated by injury, no other group needs reinforcements like their secondary. Williams gives them a long, rangy, physical corner to pair with Desmond Trufant. Alternate pick: Dexter Lawrence
Washington Redskins: Daniel Jones – Quarterback – Duke
Everything. That is what the ‘Skins need so there is really no wrong answer here, including trading down. Case Keenum will be under center after the gruesome injury to Alex Smith and we all saw how he performed with a better supporting cast in Denver. Enter Jones who, at least in some ways from working under the tutelage of QB-guru David Cutcliffe. Alternate pick: Brian Burns
Carolina Panthers: Brian Burns – EDGE – Florida St.
This should probably be an offensive lineman. I have personally stumped for the team to get Cam Newton better protection since he was drafted. But when your top two pass-rushers are 31, you need an injection of youth in the immediate future. Burns had ten sacks for the Seminoles last season. That’s one more than Mario Addison, who led the Panthers in 2018. Alternate pick: Andre Dillard
New York Giants: D.K. Metcalf – Wide Receiver – Ole Miss
Regardless of how the Giants’ quarterback situation actually shakes out, they have a gaping hole at wide receiver. Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate are very good in complementary roles but neither are lead dogs. Fitting New York lands its next top wideout with the pick gained from trading their last one. Of course, some will argue he wasn’t even the top guy on his college team. Alternate Pick: Clelin Ferrell
Minnesota Vikings: Cody Ford – Offensive Line – Oklahoma
I tried to convince myself that the Vikings should replace Sheldon Richardson with this pick. But perhaps the wiser play would be to protect the $84 million man, Kirk Cousins. Adding Ford’s size should also do wonders for a ground game that underwhelmed last season. But this is about Cousins and keeping defensive lineman out of his lap. Alternate pick: Christian Wilkins
Tennessee Titans: Clelin Ferrell – EDGE – Clemson
Neither of the Titans leading pass-rushers from 2018 remain on the roster. They have Harold Landry (4.5 sacks) but Jayon Brown actually led the linebackers with six. Landry needs a running mate and, for our purposes, they land one who had 21 sacks over his final two seasons in college. This could also be a spot where one of the premier tight ends go; Delanie walker is 34 and Jonnu Smith seems like just a guy. Alternate pick: T.J. Hockenson
Pittsburgh Steelers: Byron Murphy – Cornerback – Washington
There will be audible sighs in the Steeler war room if Greedy Williams is indeed selected before now. But in Murphy they get a good athlete and cover man. He is also capable of sticking his nose in the muck on run plays. Most important for Pittsburgh, he and Artie Burns give them a pair of bookends on the edges once they move on from Joe Haden. Alternate pick: A.J. Brown
Seattle Seahawks: T.J. Hockenson – Tight End – Iowa
Russell Wilson just got paid. The Seahawks now need to make sure they provide him with improved weaponry after their run-heavy approach got them bounced quickly from the postseason. They would have liked to replace Frank Clark here, but none of the remaining EDGE defenders offer the upside and value that the former Hawkeye tight end does at this spot. Alternate pick: Garrett Bradbury
Baltimore Ravens: A.J. Brown – Wide Receiver – Ole Miss
Some in NFL circles feel that Brown is actually the better of the two Rebel wideouts in this draft. The Ravens will covet his experience in the slot and as a lead dog when Metcalf went down. His ability to find soft spots in the zone and his run after catch ability will be huge with a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who will likely lean on the short passing game in his first full season starting. Alternate pick: Dexter Lawrence
Houston Texans: Andre Dillard – Offensive Lineman – Washington St.
Protect. Deshaun. Watson. That has to be the top priority for the Texans and if Dillard falls this far, they will run the pick to the podium. They spent money this offseason on Matt Kalil, and while he is not a long-term solution (ask Carolina), he will bide Dillard time to get acclimated to the League both physically and mentally. This pick was dangerously close to being Josh Jacobs. Alternate pick: Josh Jacobs
Oakland Raiders: Josh Jacobs – Running Back – Alabama
Gruden like his veterans on offense; that much we know. But we also know that running back is a young man’s position. After taking Williams with their first pick, Oakland goes back to the Crimson Tide pipeline and takes his workhorse. That is, of course, if they haven’t already sent this pick elsewhere to obtain a new signal caller. Alternate pick: Hollywood Brown
Philadelphia Eagles: Kaleb McGary – Offensive Lineman – Washington
To be clear, if they do not trade up, and there are no pass-rushers that fall this far, this pick is very likely to be traded. If the stay put, taking McGary gives them more insurance should Jason Peters show signs of aging or should anything happen to Lane Johnson. Current fill-in tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, did an alright job when Peters went down in 2017 but is capped out as a backup. Alternate pick: Garrett Bradbury
Indianapolis Colts: Christian Wilkins – Defensive Lineman – Clemson
That sound you hear is the raucous celebration from the Colts war room. The two years, Indy (finally) invested in the protection of Andrew Luck. This time they get some much needed reinforcements along a defensive line that was, unitl now, comprised of cast-offs. Wilkins should have (and likely will be) long gone by now. But if he is still available, this is a no-brainer. Alternate pick: Dexter Lawrence
Oakland Raiders: Chris Lindstrom – Offensive Lineman – Boston College
Having found their defensive trench leader and workhorse tailback, Oakland now finds someone to open up holes for said tailback. Lindstrom has also been described as having tackle feet, something to note if Oakland decides like San Francisco that Trent Brown is not the answer. This is all for naught if this is the pick that ultimately gets packaged with another to move up for Murray. Alternate pick: Dalton Risner
Los Angeles Chargers: Dexter Lawrence – Defensive Lineman – Clemson
After watching his teammate go two picks earlier, Lawrence hears his name called by the Chargers. He will likely start as the backup to Brandon Mebane, but has the size and ability to be more than just a space-eater. He gets his hands in passing windows and even showed the athleticism to drop into coverage (in college). Alternate pick: Dalton Risner
Seattle Seahawks: Dalton Risner – Offensive Lineman – Kansas St.
Duane Brown will be 34 when the season starts. George Fant has been all right, but Germain Ifedi is a backup at best. Risner gives the Seahawks improved protection for their newly minted quarterback. He may even help immediately having displayed the versatility to play anywhere along the line. This pick could be a pass-rusher, though the expectation is that they would trade down if that is the target. Alternate pick: Jeffery Simmons
Green Bay Packers: Noah Fant – Tight End – Iowa
The Pack went defensive trenches with their first selection and could go offensive line here. They could go either line with either pick to be honest, but here they find a seam-ripping tight end. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had a weapon like Fant at the position since Jermichael Finley. Jimmy Graham was the closest and he is a shell of his former goalpost-dunking days with the Saints. Alternate pick: Garrett Bradbury
Los Angeles Rams: Garrett Bradbury – Offensive Lineman – N. Carolina St.
The Rams, as a Super Bowl contestant, don’t have many gaping holes. Their line also struggled to open many holes when they really needed them. In comes Bradbury to enrich their interior. Where he plays (guard or center) remains to be seen, but L.A. needs help at both positions. Picks this late are always at risk of being traded for more capital. Alternate Pick: Nasir Adderly
Arizona Cardinals: N’Keal Harry – Wide Receiver – Arizona St.
Surprise! You didn’t think this mock would really have no hypothetical trades? Ha! After taking their real QB of the future, the Cards get their first-round pick bounty from the Patriots and take their new signal caller’s new favorite target. He’ll get to grow with Murray while being mentored by one of the game’s greats. Alternate pick: Jerry Tillery
Mocking the Draft
The excitement to see what happens during the draft is palpable. With luck the majority of my picks will be accurate. Otherwise, disregard this entire piece as the ramblings of someone who told you from the beginning that this was based on nothing. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call ‘covering your…tail’.
If you listen closely, you can probably still hear the reverberations of the goal post at Soldier Field. After Cody Parkey’s 43-yard potential game-winning kick hit both the upright and the crossbar, that goal post might not even exist anymore. Sure, the kick was tipped. That does little to numb the pain of eight years of missing the playoffs, only to have your season ended in that fashion. Now, the Chicago Bears have to do some soul searching. Despite the success this year, the loss exposed several issues.
All year long Head Coach Matt Nagy has lived by the motto “be you”. Sunday, though, he may have shown that he is who we thought he was. Flashback to the 2017 AFC Wild Card game, and you see a Kansas City Chiefs offense looking suspiciously like the Bears did Sunday night. Chicago looked stagnant and boring for three and a half quarters. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was off kilter most of that time, while his coach did little by way of play-calling to help him.
Typically the Bears offense has a lot of motion and formations to it; designed to create chunk gains by springing receivers open on all three levels. That does not work when you are not challenging down the field. Instead, Chicago seemed to take the what the Eagles gave them almost to a fault in the first half. A quick scoring drive gave them a 6-3 lead at halftime. They should have taken note. Trubisky was his usual erratic self, but he looked better when playing a faster, freer-flowing pace.
In the second half, it was more of the same, although Trubisky did play much better when let off the leash. It was troubling to see him struggle early and the play-calling not adjust sooner to get him into a rhythm. Perhaps even more disturbing is the Bears running backs only totaled 13 carries the entire game; two more than K.C. rushers in their Wild Card loss last year. Play-calling cost the Chiefs when Nagy was OC. It cost him again Sunday, this time with the Bears.
Their biggest improvements will come from within. When faced with someone who knew him well, Nagy blinked. Perhaps these last two playoff exits will compel him to come out firing and keep his foot on the gas for 60 minutes. His scheme works and his quartback showed he can thrive in it when given the opportunity. Another offseason in this offense bodes well for the young signal-caller. They cannot rest on their laurels. Both must be more consistent; Nagy with aggressiveness, Trubisky with accuracy.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson showed why the Bears paid him. Hopefully, he can be healthier next year. Same for tight end Trey Burton. Also, Taylor Gabriel is not a number two receiver. That may be Anthony Miller, but his fit in the slot seems ideal. Running back is interesting because the Bears were more explosive when Tarik Cohen was featured but struggled closing out games. When Jordan Howard was featured they struggled to put up points. Either keep both involved or find a three-down back.
The defense faces the possibility of losing coordinator Vic Fangio. That would be a massive blow, but some of the names thrown out should he leave are promising. The personnel — namely linebacker Khalil Mack and lineman Akiem Hicks — will remain largely intact and safety Eddie Jackson will return from injury; his absence was felt Sunday. They need to add more pass rushers, as do most teams. Maybe Kylie Fitts steps up in his second year. It will also be a key year for former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who has two career sacks.
Too many second half let downs defensively needs to be resolved regardless of if Fangio stays or goes. For all the well deserved praise, there were several penalties by the defense that walked the Philadelphia Eagle down the field. Bryce Callahan’s absence went largely unnoticed until the final Eagles score. Having ten men in the field and giving up a touchdown in a playoff game is unacceptable. Sure Jackson would have helped, but the late game breakdowns hurt this team all season.
Special teams has not been a strength for the Bears since Dave Toub left. Busted coverage and poor returns were overshadowed by the kicker’s affinity for goal posts. It will all need to be corrected if the Bears are to truly contend for a title. Punting was also hit or miss. Punter Pat O’Donnell doesn’t have the strongest leg, which can be problematic in Chicago. He does do a decent job of pinning opponents when drives still near midfield, but touchbacks are an issue. If not for Parkey, this is a bigger story.
Chicago will almost certainly waive the embattled kicker – who missed seven field goals and three PATs in 2018 – eating the remaining three years and north of three million dollars in the process. His contract makes the Mike Glennon deal seem smart. The Bears stuck with Parkey despite his career-worst season, but a return is unlikely. Even before Robbie Gould was cut the Bears have been dealing with kicking issues. Simply put, it has been an issue longer than it has mattered, but one that will be a priority this offseason.
Overall, the roster is young and should be stable for the next few years. Save for safety Adrian Amos, nickel corner Callahan, and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, the rest of the impending free agents are replaceable. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie is a candidate to return, but the position could also use an upgrade; perhaps through the draft.
The hope has to be that the offense takes a leap forward; closer to the echelon of the defense, alleviating that burden. There is a good chance this team is nowhere near as healthy next year, and the rest of the division should not be as injured. They have to get better. The offseason rhetoric is bound to promise improvement. The proof will have to wait until next season. This is of course after a season that ended heartbreak, but was better than anyone saw coming.
No picks this week. Not to avoid being wrong, just because there are way too many variables to make decisions confidently in many of this week’s contests. Instead, this will be a different exercise. One where I own up to things I was wrong about prior to the start of the season. A ‘mea culpa’ of sorts to go into the new year with a fresh slate.
My expectations for this week are:
• Patrick Mahomes is good…like really good: Before the season I was not of the mindset that the second-year pro would be an MVP candidate leading the Chiefs’ explosive attack. Taking over for Alex Smith, Mahomes has seemingly taken Kansas City to another level; though postseason victories are needed for certainty.
• The Bears would be 7-9, 8-8 at best: This one hurts to admit as a Bears’ fan. I sold the team short, underestimating the impact of Head Coach Matt Nagy would have. Now the team is 11-4, NFC North champs, and still vying for a first-round bye. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is far from a guarantee to be a star, but he and the team are in great hands.
• Jacksonville Jaguars will repeat as AFC South champs: This had nothing to do with the disaster that is a Blake Bortles-led offense. It had everything to do with the Jaguars supposedly having the best defense in the division and the other teams’ quarterbacks all having their own issues. Instead cornerback Jalen Ramsey‘s off-season jawing was aimed in the wrong direction.
• Le’Veon Bell will lead the league in scrimmage yards: Talk about failure to launch. With Bell not reporting due to a contract dispute, the Steelers had to move on. His replacement, James Conner is currently in the top-12 in scrimmage yards even after missing the past three contests.
•2018 will be Pete Carroll’s last with Seattle Seahawks: Fueled by the departures of many key pieces from the franchises most successful era, the thought was that the Seahawks would be closer to rebuilding than contending. Credit Carroll for keeping things together; rededicating the team to the run and getting the defense to be respectable.
• Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South: Cam Newton began the season playing his most complete ball under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Unfortunately, Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder became an issue once again. The team lost six straight, resulting in the Panthers shutting the QB down once eliminated from contention.
• The Cleveland Browns blew both first-round picks: When Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward were selected first and fourth, respectively, the thought was, “typical”. Shaped largely by the previous doings of the organization, the opinion was based on past performance; usually a good indicator of future success. The Browns nailed both picks, especially Mayfield.
• Andrew Luck would not be the same: Another quarterback with shoulder worries, Luck missed a season and a half trying to make it back. In fairness – to me – it took a few games for the Colts QB to look all the way like himself, and he may never have the same arm strength, but Luck’s return along with a ground game and improved protection have Indy thinking playoffs.
• The New York Giants will win the NFC East: While I thought the G-Men should have taken a quarterback second-overall, they appeared poised to make noise with running back Saquon Barkley. That was before Eli Manning was more inconsistent than ever to start the year. Typically a slow-starter and postseason maven, Manning took too long to find his groove in 2018.
• Josh Rosen will be the most successful rookie QB: Supporting cast and coaching had a ton to do with this, but wrong is wrong. Rosen’s lack of mobility was on full display as the Arizona Cardinals failed to protect him. A lack of weapons – aside from the oft-forgotten David Johnson and aging Larry Fitzgerald – and competent coaching kept optimism in check this season.
Those are my confessions if poor prognosticating in 2018. I would love to hear your worst preseason takes, sound off here or tweet it @JoshLWOS.
Week 16 Picks are live! 8-8 in week 15, hopefully better this week.
Lock: Atlanta over Carolina
Upset: Arizona over L.A.
Redskins @ Titans: Both of these teams are still alive in the playoff race, but both need help to make it. Tennessee (8-6) has a better shot by virtue of having their actual starting quarterback – Marcus Mariota — under center. Derrick Henry is on a heater but faces a stiff test in a Washington (7-7) front featuring fellow Alabama alum, Jonathan Allen. New Redskins starting quarterback Josh Johnson, threw his first passes since 2011 and won in Jacksonville last week. Still, injuries have to catch up at some point right? Prediction: 21-14 Titans
Final Score: 25-16 Titans
Notes: Tennesse outlasted Washington in what turned out to be a battle of the backups. Derrick Henry is still going strong as the Titans control their playoff destiny.
Ravens @ Chargers: Two teams, getting it done in different ways, meet with divisional crowns still in play. Los Angeles’ (11-3) attack is helmed by quarterback Philip Rivers. In the midst of an MVP-caliber season, Rivers’ load will be lessened by the return the of the running back, Melvin Gordon from injury. They will take on Baltimore’s (8-6) top-ranked defense, led by Pro Bowlers C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle. On offense, an option-heavy attack has quarterback Lamar Jackson in position to lead the Ravens to the postseason; provided he can continue making enough plays with his arm. Prediction: 21-20 Ravens
Final Score: 22-10 Ravens
Notes: Baltimore took a major step towards actually winning the division — Pittsburgh losing also helps. For what, exactly, remains to be seen as they are still relying on Lamar Jackson’s legs and the defense, though his arm was plenty effective this week.
Bengals @ Browns: Cleveland (6-7-1) still has an outside chance at the playoffs. That alone is an accomplishment but this team has made it clear they will fight until the end. Led by quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, the Browns have employed a run-oriented attack that keeps them in games most weeks. As the defense has been leakier in the second half of the season, expect the ground game to again be the focus. Cincinnati (6-8) has endured a brutal season. Victims of injuries – as well as poor play and coaching — expect changes in the Queen City. Prediction: 27-10 Browns
Final Score: 26-18 Browns
Notes: The Browns continued their climb from obscurity. Unfortunately, they are no longer playoff eligible. Still, this franchise has come a long way and has a bright future with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. The Bengals likely won’t get a much-needed change of staff.
Buccaneers @ Cowboys: Coming off a dud of a performance, expect Dallas (8-6) to get back on track against Tampa Bay (5-9) team in disarray. Look for another heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott, who showed no lingering effects of a reported neck injury. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper should get back on track against the Bucs; who lack any semblance of a defense. It could be another bad performance for quarterback Jameis Winston and crew in this week. DeMarcus Lawrence leads a sneaky-good pass rush and Byron Jones matches up well with stud receiver, Mike Evans. Prediction 27-24 Cowboys
Final Score: 27-20 Cowboys
Notes: Dallas managed to pull this one out as the final margin was decided by a Tampa fumble. They did lock up the division with the victory. Jameis Winston is not long for the Bucs.
Vikings @ Lions: Neither of these teams saw themselves in their respective positions when the season began. Minnesota (7-6-1) came in with championship aspirations but now faces the prospect of missing the playoffs altogether. Kirk Cousins’ play has elevated receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but not the team. They face a Lions team that has done more damage to themselves than any opponent. Aside from an odd trade of Golden Tate, injuries sunk Matthew Stafford and this team; especially the loss of Marvin Jones. The Detroit (5-9) defense will be without Ezekiel Ansah, leaving Darius Slay as the lone playmaker. Prediction: 24-10 Vikings
Final Score: 27-9 Vikings
Notes: The Vikings took care of the Lions on the road. Next, they prepare to host the division champion Bears in Minnesota, in a game where Chicago may not play their starters for the duration. Detroit has already begun soul-searching.
Giants @ Colts: Fresh off a convincing win over the Cowboys, Indianapolis (8-6) is making a push for the playoffs behind quarterback Andrew Luck and a newfound ground game headed by Marlon Mack. The defense has played much better than anticipated with the NFL’s leading tackler, Darius Leonard. New York (5-9) is playing the last games of a disappointing season. They will be without Odell Beckham Jr yet again, and it probably makes sense to shut him down for the remainder of the year. Running back Saquon Barkley has not been enough to mask Eli Manning‘s uneven play under center. Prediction: 28-14 Colts
Final Score: 28-27 Colts
Notes: The Colts got the win, and travel to take on the Titans in a win-and-get-in situation. Andre Luck will have to outduel Blaine Gabbert if Marcus Mariota can’t make it back from yet another injury. Derrick Henry and Marlon Mack might be the more entertaining matchup.
Jaguars @ Dolphins: There honestly is not much to look for in this one; neither team has a shot at the playoffs. That is an exceptionally poor outlook for Jacksonville (4-10) after they won the division last season. Leonard Fournette has missed chunks of time for the second year in a row, Blake Bortles is good as gone, and Jalen Ramsey has not exactly endeared himself. Miami (7-7) started the season hot only to fade drastically as injuries to Ryan Tannehill had Brock Osweiler under center. The defense – toothless late in the season – will be without top corner, Xavien Howard. Prediction: 14-10 Jaguars
Final Score: 17-7 Jaguars
Notes: Not much to take away from this game between two lost franchises. It will be interesting to see who goes on either side with big names like Leonard Fournette and Jalen Ramsey being discussed in Jacksonville. Washington already cut D.J. Swearinger.
Bills @ Patriots: Normally, this is when New England (9-5) is getting into gear for a deep playoff run. This year they approach the second season with more questions than answers. Aside from the surprise exit of receiver Josh Gordon, rumors have come out that Tom Brady may be playing with a strained MCL. Buffalo (5-9) is far from a playoff team. They will need to provide quarterback Josh Allen with more weapons than Zay Jones and LeSean McCoy; who was subject of trade rumors. Perhaps a deal gets done in the offseason, but there will be a lot of new faces next season. Prediction: 34-10 Patriots
Final Score: 24-12 Patriots
Notes: New England secured their tenth straight division title. Take that as you will but Tom Brady and friends have been dominant in an era of parody. For Buffalo, get Josh Allen some help.
Packers @ Jets: With players auditioning for next season, conventional wisdom says Green Bay should sit Aaron Rodgers for the remainder of the year. He came out this week and shot that idea down. Davante Adams is having his best year during one of the Pack’s worst. Jamaal Williams takes over for the injured Aaron Jones. New York is similar to the Bills in that they march towards the offseason needing to infuse the roster with more talent. Quarterback Sam Darnold and safety Jamal Adams are the only true building blocks on this team, though suspended linebacker Darron Lee has potential if he can stay clean. Prediction: Packers 27-14
Final Score: 44-38 Packers
Notes: Green Bay needed over time with the Jets’ offense clicking and the Packer defense failing again. Aaron Rodgers outlasted Sam Darnold in the end.
Texans @ Eagles: Deshaun Watson‘s return has Houston (10-4) leading their division. His top target, DeAndre Hopkins will have to continue being the standout he has been his entire career, the rest of the cast is extremely unreliable. J.J. Watt will take his dominant act on the road; a big test for the Eagle o-line. Philadelphia (7-7) will try to recapture the magic of last season and make a playoff push; Nick Foles gets another start at quarterback for the injured Carson Wentz. Look for big games from Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffrey, the Texan defense ranks well, but their competition has been suspect. Prediction: 27-24 Eagles
Final Score: 32-30 Eagles
Notes: Philly is channeling their inner-selves with Nick Foles looking right at home in this offense. Houston’s defensive woes came to fruition as anticipated. An issue in conjunction with their protection of Deshaun Watson.
Falcons @ Panthers: A couple of NFC South also-rans, this matchup looked better when the schedule came out than it does now. Taylor Heinicke takes over at quarterback after Carolina (6-8) finally shut down Cam Newton. Christian McCaffrey will have to carry even more of the load. Atlanta (5-9) will count this year as a wash after injuries decimated their defense. Tevin Coleman has not come close to Devonta Freeman‘s production. Julio Jones’ third 100-catch season will be for naught. The hope has to be that 2019 should bring more health, and thus more success. Prediction: 28-10 Falcons
Final Score: 24-14
Notes: Atlanta just had too much firepower for Carolina sans Cam Newton. Another year of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ primes have gone to waste. Next can’t come soon enough for either team.
Rams @ Cardinals: In need of a confidence boost – and momentum before the playoffs – Los Angeles (11-3) goes on the road following back-to-back losses. They may be without the services of Todd Gurley as he nurses a knee injury, possibly forcing the newly-signed C.J. Anderson into duty. Jared Goff‘s outlook is murky after recent struggles. Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones lead Arizona’s (3-11) defense; quietly top-10 on a per-play basis. If the Cards can protect rookie Josh Rosen – a lot to ask facing Aaron Donald – and feed David Johnson they could conceivably be competitive. Prediction: 17-14 Cardinals
Final Score: 31-9 Rams
Notes: This week’s upset pick was a major dud, but the Rams got a much-needed victory. They’ll wrap up the regular season against the 49ers. Arizona will likely have a new coaching staff and possibly GM in place next year. Maybe they will use David Johnson correctly.
Bears @ 49ers: This game has “trap” written all over it. Chicago (10-4) is riding high after back-to-back wins and clinching the division. Mitchell Trubisky played better last week, but will likely need to string together a few of those performances if the Bears are going to go far in the playoffs. More Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen plus a Khalil Mack-led defense mean Trubisky just needs to play smart. San Francisco (4-10) hurt their draft pick but got the upset last week. George Kittle and Nick Mullens have a strong rapport, look for them to try exploiting Eddie Jackson‘s potential absence. Prediction: 28-17 Bears
Final Score: 14-9
Notes: Chicago avoided the dreaded trap game to keep their hopes for a first-round bye alive. The health of Eddie Jackson and Allen Robinson will need to be monitored. The Niners, for their part, never give up but have been outmatched most of the season.
Steelers @ Saints: Pittsburgh (8-5-1) ended a three-game skid with a stunning win over an old-looking Patriots at home. This week they go into New Orleans (12-1) looking to stay ahead of the Ravens in the division. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are going to give the top-seeded Saints’ resurgent defense fits; assuming the latter suits up. Drew Brees is usually lights out at home further implicating a shootout. The three-headed monster that is Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram all have tough matchups so it will be imperative that one of a myriad of role players step up. Prediction: 34-31 Steelers
Final Score: 31-28 Saints
Notes: This game delivered on the hype as it came down to the last drive. Juju Smith-Schuster will be down on himself, but there were also a few questionable calls that did not help. Drew Brees jumps right back into the lead for MVP.
Chiefs @ Seahawks: Yet another game with significant playoff implications for both sides, Seattle (8-6), likely looking ahead, letdown last week. Russell Wilson will need to be at his best, though he would likely be content to just give the ball to Chris Carson 25-plus times. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are both capable of going off as well if needed. Kansas City (11-3) lost on a heart-breaking two-point conversion. Patrick Mahomes is on his way to becoming the youngest MVP in league history. He will try to ride Tarvis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to the award, but more importantly a win in a hostile environment. Prediction: 27-24 Seahawks
Final Score: 38-31 Seahawks
Notes: Russell Wilson has to be on the MVP shortlist this has been an impeccably efficient season. No one wants to see the Seahawks right now. The Chiefs are another team whose defensive woes came to the forefront. They will have to figure something out ahead of the playoffs
Broncos @ Raiders: Not much to see here folks. Denver (6-8) is rumored to be heading towards a coaching change. Phillip Lindsay is the best thing about the Broncos offense and he will look to get back in track against a hapless Oakland (3-11) team. Derek Carr and the Raiders may be headed for a divorce in the offseason. It is not out of the question this ends up as the lowest-rated Monday night game of the season, if not history. Prediction: 21-14 Broncos
Final Score: 27-14
Notes: Oakland has won two of their last three games for some reason. Jon Gruden keeps hurting his own cause as the picks acquired have already been guaranteed to at least be in the 20s or higher. Denver is headed toward a divorce with Vance Joseph, but Phillip Lindsay has been one of the best stories in football.
• James Harden goes 50-10-10; has 19 free throws as Rockets topple Lakers 126 – 111
• Spurs find defense; blow out Clips 125 – 87
• Bulls lose to Orlando 97 – 91; reportedly bench Parker
• T.J. Warren’s 30 points vs Mavs help Suns snap skid; overshadow Dirk’s return
• Philip Rivers, Chargers exorcise demons on TNF; stun Chiefs at Arrowhead
• Keenan Allen goes down with hip injury
• OBJ out again with quad injury vs Titans
• Carson Wentz to possibly be shut down for rest of season
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO — Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky returned to action Sunday night after missing the previous two contests with a shoulder injury. He finished 16 of 30 for 110 yards and three interceptions. Bad interceptions.
Whether the injury or rust was the cause of his erratic play last night remains to be seen. To clarify: Trubisky has been perhaps the most erratic quarterback in the NFL this year. It goes deeper than game-to-game or even series-to-series. Trubisky will look like two completely different quarterbacks from one play to the next. It is a major flaw, but is something he had done better with before getting injured.
Prior to Sunday night, Trubisky had not completed less than 60 percent of his passes since week eight against the hapless Jets; a game he finished with two touchdowns and zero intercepts. In fact, this was only the third game of the season with a completion percentage in the 50s.
Look, Mitch still makes too many bad throws, period. His reads are usually correct however. He has also shown the ability to make every throw, and we know about his running ability. Where he lacks is consistency, but that will come as he continues building chemistry with his surrounding cast.
The Green Bay Packers come to the lakefront next week. They just embarrassed Matt Ryan and the Falcons for a 34-20 victory. It was not nearly as close as the final score suggests.
Surely they would love nothing more than to hang a loss on the Bears in defiance of any changing-of-the-guard narrative. A Bears win not only locks up the first playoff appearance since 2010, it would also put a nice little bow on what has been fascinating season to follow.
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO — Well then. There are a number of superlatives that could be thrown out to describe what happened. ‘Lockdown’ seems to be the most fitting for a game the Bears won 16-5. That was the Chicago Bears defense on a night when quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was…awful.
Missing high and long all night, Trubisky showed every bit of a two week layoff; finishing 16 of 30 for 110 yards one touchdown and three bad interceptions. It is not a new issue, but it is one he had done better with before getting injured against Minnesota. He will need to be better, but not much if the Bears defense manhandles opponents like it did Los Angeles.
The running game was a different story. Jordan Howard (19 runs for yards) and Tarik Cohen (9-69) gave the Bears what they had been missing for weeks: consistent positive yardage on the ground. It was especially nice to see Howard, a focal point the past two years, get rolling. With the playoffs drawing nearer, having a 230 pound sledgehammer to wear down defenses is going to pay dividends.
If Trubisky was awful, Goff can only be described as putrid. Yes he finished with more yardage — going 20 of 44 for 180 yards — but he threw four interceptions of his own and absorbed three sacks, one of which was a safety. Some will say that two of the picks were “fluky”, but the Chicago front seven had Goff under duress the entire night.
His supporting cast did not fair much better. One of Jukes & Jumpers keys to victory, the Bears took the NFLs leading rusher completely out of the game. Todd Gurley finished with 11 carries for 28 yards; tacking on 30 yards by way of three receptions. Every time Gurley touched the ball, there was a defender hot in pursuit. Typically one of the most explosive runners in the game, Gurley was repeatedly kept to two- and three-yard carries; with a long of 12 yards.
With Goff being off his game, his receivers were not able to do much. Robert Woods was the only one to have an impact; catching seven passes for 61 yards. Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds combined for six catches and 58 yards. Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are playing great football right now; while Bryce Callahan is also having an under-the-radar good year, though he did leave the game with an injury.
The Bears defense came in to the night in the discussion for best defense in the League. They made their claim in front of a raucous crowd Sunday night. Perhaps the most satisfying part was the sound tackling and pressure late in the game. Both issues have haunted the Bears most of the season
Next up, an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and avenge a tough loss next week; when the Packers (5-7-1) come to Soldier Field. The latest meeting in a long and storied rivalry, the circumstances are quite different this time around.
CHICAGO — As the Bears prepare for their toughest test to date, here are the keys to a Bears Victory:
1) Get Mitch, offense in a rhythm early: There should be a LOT of points scored in this one, so Matt Nagy needs to get Mitch Trubisky going quickly. Mitch will undoubtedly be rusty, having missed two weeks with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Why not call some quick hitting plays? Get the ball out of Mitch’s hands and into one of those playmakers; let them do the heavy lifting.
2) Control the clock: It has been an issue all season, but against the League’s second ranked offense, it would behoove the Bears to establish a consistent ground game. The Rams are actually middle of the pack against the run. The issue is teams typically do not get the chance to stack carries. The Bears need run it early and often, and not abandon it if unsuccessful early.
3) Stop Todd Gurley: Perhaps this should say ‘slow Gurley’ but the idea is the same. Make the Rams one dimensional, something the Bears have done all season. It should be mentioned that Gurley is also a threat in the passing game. Which brings us to the final key…
4) Get after the quarterback: Jared Goff is having a wonderful season. He has even been mentioned in MVP discussions. But the Bears have a player who specializes in terrorizing his position. Vic Fangio needs to get Khalil Mack back in early season form. Not that his impact has not been felt recently, but he was sacking quarterbacks and taking the ball away at a blistering pace to start the campaign. The Bears hope to see that version tonight on the lakefront.
Show up in the fourth quarter defensively: For all the well-deserved praise the Bears defense has gotten, this is one thing that certainly sticks in players, coaches and fans craw. The Bears have given up far too many points and yards in the final frame. The biggest reason has been poor tackling allowing insane amounts of yards after catch. The Bears must be technically sound and bring down the Rams explosive weapons when they have the chance.