Tag Archives: Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers vs Josh Allen Leads Super Wild Card Weekend

The NFL is in full playoff mode as everyone gears up for the first-ever “Super Wild Card” round. That just means that an extra team has been added to each conference’s playoff field, making it seven teams each from the AFC and NFC and 14 in total. But the additional entrants won’t be diluting the on-field product as we have a slew of great matchups ahead this weekend.

Previewing Super Wild Card Matchups

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

There’s a new sheriff running the AFC East and it’s the Buffalo Bills who won the division for the first time since 1995. Led by MVP-candidate Josh Allen at quarterback, the Bills unlocked their offense with the acquisition of Stefon Diggs in the offseason. Buffalo is second in points and yards this season; their highest marks since the 1992 season.

If “building from the trenches out” was a team, it would be the Indianapolis Colts. Aside from their heavy (and wise) investment in their offensive line, they also traded a first-round pick for DeForest Buckner to bolster their run defense. They then supplemented that with drafting players like Johnathan Taylor and Darius Leonard. Philip Rivers just has to take care of the football most of the time.

This is a matchup of the fourth (Buffalo) and 10th-ranked (Indianapolis) teams in DVOA, per Football Outsiders with Buffalo obviously having the edge. But the Colts defense, ranked seventh to the Bills 12th, could be the equalizer here. Buffalo is extremely reliant on the passing game and the Colts are top-10 in both pass and rush defense DVOA, with their pass defense ranking slightly higher. Meanwhile, Buffalo can check Rivers but could struggle with Taylor who ran for 253 yards in Week 17.

Prediction: Colts 24-21

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

It’s always a thriller when division opponents face off. Knowing your opponent well levels the playing field or completely making it no contest. It’s the former for these teams as the Los Angeles Rams have been playing Seattle tough since before they were a good team themselves. Now, after John Wolford got them into the playoffs in Jared Goff’s stead in Week 17, they get the chance to make it count for something.

The Seattle Seahawks are riding a heater. After starting the year 5-0, they hit a bump in the road, going 3-4 over their next seven and losing to two playoff teams in the process. But they’ve won four straight and will host this game, for whatever that’s worth with no fans in attendance. And the addition of Carlos Dunlap has added teeth to the pass rush that was led by safety Jamal Adams. They’ve also turned from letting Russell Wilson “cook” to a more balanced attack.

L.A. is the only team in the NFC West Wilson has a losing record against (8-10) which includes being 3-5 against the Sean McVay-led version. But Seattle won the last meeting between the two in Week 16 20-6, in Los Angeles. Perhaps they’ve figured something out between the added juice to the pass rush that neutralizes Goff. They’ll need to in order to come away with a win.

Prediction: Rams 31-27

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team

In our first “David vs Goliath” matchup of the weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Washington to face the team with no name. It’s Tampa’s first playoff berth since 2007 and, given where the differences between this year’s roster and last year’s, is in no small thanks to Tom Brady. Of course, adding Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin doesn’t hurt either.

The Washington Football Team shouldn’t be here, and that’s not in reference to them having a losing record. A team that has gone through four different starting quarterbacks and settled on the one that had 17 surgeries to his leg isn’t supposed to be in the playoffs. But, led by a defense ranked third in DVOA, they present an interesting challenge. Not in the secondary as the Bucs are loaded. But the Washington pass rush is third in Pass Rush Win Rate, per ESPN whereas Tampa is just 17th in Pass Block Win Rate, per ESPN.

As much as it would be a cool story for the Football Team to pull off the monumental upset, we have to be realistic. Tampa is far more talented and has much more leeway for the slow starts and mistakes that have plagued them throughout the year. But they need to remember what happened to the Steelers. Dawdling too long will see Washinton walk away victorious.

Prediction: Buccaneers 31-14

Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans

Sunday’s first game is a bit of a throwback. These are the first and second-ranked teams in rushing this season even though they go about it in a different way. The Baltimore Ravens focus in the ground game is quarterback Lamar Jackson who became the first quarterback in the NFL with multiple 1000-yard rushing seasons. Baltimore is having a “down” year compared to last, but they are still averaging 37-plus points per game over their last five.

This season, Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans became just the eighth person in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards. H also was the first to do so without a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. In a league that constantly reminds you why you don’t pay running backs, Henry is bucking the trend and proving you can still build around the position. You need a Ryan Tannehill to fill in the appropriate gaps, though, and the work the Titans have done there might be their best.

These teams met back in Week 11; a game the Titans won in overtime 30-24. Added to Jackson’s postseason struggles and it’s easy to see a path to a Titans win. Their biggest defensive weakness is also Jackson’s: the passing game. If they can manage to keep him in the pocket they can make short order of the Ravens. But the Tennessee pass rush is mediocre at best. If they are forced to rely on Tannehill this game will play right into Baltimore’s hands.

Prediction: Titans 31-28

Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints

Make no mistake about it, the Chicago Bears are a playoff team only because the NFL expanded the field. But that isn’t to say they haven’t done their best to rebound from a mid-season skid that saw them lose six straight games. They were 3-1 over the final of the season and were among the top-scoring teams in that span. In control of their own destiny entering Week 17, they failed to take out the “big brother” Green Bay Packers.

The New Orleans Saints are a powerhouse. So much so they went 3-1 in the four games Drew Brees missed with cracked ribs. And they’ve done it without Michael Thomas for most of the season. Thomas should rejoin the team for this one as the Saints look to give Brees the chance to go out on top if reports that this could be the last hurrah for the surefire Hall of Famer prove to be accurate.

Chicago hasn’t beaten the Saints since 2008 and hasn’t won in the Superdome since 2002. They’ve played each of the last two seasons, including back in Week 8. New Orleans has won both meetings by an average of 31-24 and is fifth in scoring, offensively and defensively, this season. The Bears are also dealing with injuries to key players like Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson. Does Chicago have a chance to pull the upset? Yes, but it isn’t a good one.

Prediction: Saints 34-17

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and they got there by beating the team they’ll face in the Super Wild Card round; albeit with a bunch of backups playing. Their 11-5 record is their best since 1994, Bill Belichick’s second to last year at the helm. Nick Chubb will have to find whatever cracks he can in the defense because bad things tend to happen when they rely on Baker Mayfield.

Many people called the Pittsburgh Steelers the most fraudulent 11-0 in history. A three-game skid that began with a loss to the Football Team reinforced that notion. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a comeback victory in Week 16 over the Colts, at least pausing the doubters. But questions about this offense still remain. Such as, can they effectively run the football? Their rushing attack ranked 32nd in the regular season.

These two technically split their regular-season matchups but, as mentioned, the Steelers played backups in Week 17. Pittsburgh will need to come out of the gates fast or they could find themselves playing catchup on a team that specializes in ball control. The Steelers defense is first in DVOA and third in both points and yards. If they get the lead it’s almost certainly a wrap for this young Browns squad that ranked about average in counting stats and was 18th in DVOA. It’s just hard to see the former scenario playing out over the latter.

Prediction: Steelers 28-17

Super Wild Card Weekend Set to Excite

It’s a first in NFL history and there’s a chance this won’t be the only season with an expanded field. It was on the table well before COVID was a thing so that’s why it has staying power. They’ve avoided adding extra regular-season weeks (for now) and it’s hard to argue this is a bad thing when you look at some of the games we’re getting on Super Wild Card Weekend.

Week 12 Waiver Wire: In Gus We Truzz

The Week 12 waiver wire has a trash-talking quarterback, a pass-catching back, and a dirty bird receiver to fill out your roster. There’s just six weeks are left in the NFL regular season and playoff races are in full swing. The resurgence of the injury bug has taken its toll; both in real-life and fantasy football.

Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback and first-overall pick Joe Burrow suffered a gruesome knee injury that will end his season. Rex Burkhead seems likely to have suffered the same fate. Theirs were the most-significant injuries but not the only. Kyler Murray injured his shoulder way back on Thursday so some may have forgotten. We also saw Julio Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster both leave their respective games early yet again.

You likely need injury-replacements if anything, as we have a bye week from bye weeks. Still, while always disheartening especially for the individual players, just means more opportunities to work the waiver wire for us.

Big Truzz for Ravens RB in Week 12’s Waiver Wire

Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers

Indianapolis Colts

Through the first five games of the season Philip Rivers was the QB26 on the season; completing better than 70 percent of his passes, but throwing just four touchdowns to five interceptions, there was no scoring to offset his averaging just 245 yards on 30 attempts per game. Since then, he ranks a modest but improved 17th among fantasy quarterbacks averaging 291 yards on 39 attempts with 10 touchdowns to just three picks.

Rivers has been dealing lately

He’ll draw the Tennessee Titans for the second time in three week in Week 12, a team he just beat 34-17 to regain control over the AFC South. Rivers only threw one touchdown in that game but he did cross the 300-yard threshold for just the third time this season. For their part, the Titans have given up the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season and had given up at least 249 passing yards in six straight games before facing Lamar Jackson on Sunday.

Daniel Jones

New York Giants

As the old adage goes, “no risk it, no biscuit”. Starting Daniel Jones comes with an insane amount of risk baked in due to his propensity to turn the football over but he checks in a few spots higher than Rivers on the year as the QB23. The rollercoaster has been mostly down for him this season, as he’s had six games with fewer than 15 fantasy points, three games with single-digit outputs, and only two games with 20-plus points (depending on your league’s scoring format).

Sometimes, though, a squishy opponent can allay concerns. The Bengals fall just into that category, ranking 19th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Before facing the Washington Football team on Sunday, Cincinnati had allowed over 300 yards passing in three of its last four contests and four of its last six. The Bengals have also allowed the third-most passing touchdowns on the season. If Ryan Finley can at least keep the Bengals on the board, Jones should be able to deliver.

Running Backs

Gus Edwards

Baltimore Ravens

Okay we’re breaking a few rules on this one but the circumstances justify it. Typically, you won’t see a player repeated here if they were listed in a prior week as Gus Edwards was in Week 9’s edition. You also wouldn’t see a player who scored fewer than one point that week unless they were on a bye or something injury related. J.K Dobbins was the star in the Baltimore Ravens loss to the Titans on Sunday.

The Ravens Truzz Gus on the goal line

But he and fellow back Mark Ingram were placed on the COVID-restricted list on Monday, leaving Edwards and Justice Hill  as the only backs on a short week.the matchup is far from ideal. The Pittsburgh Steelers are third in fantasy points allowed to backs. Not that it matters much for Edwards, but they are equally as stingy through the air as they are on the ground too. Edwards got 16 carries in Ingram’s absence turning them into 87 yards and a touchdown when these teams met back in Week 8. With no Dobbins or Ingram this time around, it could be a big day for the big back.

James White

New England Patriots

Everybody, say it with me now, “you can’t trust a New England Patriots running back”. Great now that we’ve got the legal disclaimer out of the way, James White could be a very useful piece to your fantasy roster down the stretch. Just the RB46 on the year in PPR, White has just three games with double-digit fantasy points. He also missed two additional contests with the tragic loss of his father. White finished as the RB15 through Sunday.

Burkhead vacates White’s old role as the pass-catching back in the Patriots backfield. That;s significant because neither Damien Harris nor they soon-to-return Sony Michel are utilized much if at all in the passing game. They face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. They’ve allowed three receiving touchdowns on the season, eighth-most. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Chargers, who they see in Week 13, have allowed the eighth-most receptions and 10th-most receiving touchdowns to backs.

Handcuffs

As mentioned in last weeks edition, and will be mentioned every week until the playoffs, pick up your running back’s handcuff if you have or can clear the bench space. Nothing is worse than being caught flat-footed in the middle of a playoff chase because you snoozed on a player that was always more valuable to you than others. This is a time to be proactive and not wait for injuries to happen. Every owner could use another starting back. Don’t get caught needing one for some fringe wideout you’d never play.

Wide Receivers

Cole Beasley

Buffalo Bills

Bye weeks can be very useful for fantasy managers. For one thing, when a player has a good game right before their bye, they often go overlooked on the waiver wire. Enter Cole Beasley, who had 11 catches (13 targets) for 109 yards and a touchdown in Week 10 before the Buffalo Bills went on hiatus. It was his first time hitting double-digit PPR fantasy points in three weeks but he’d hit the mark in six straight contests before that.

Beasley left all alone

John Brown looks like he could miss some time with an apparent ankle injury suffered in that Week 10 contest. Beasley has averaged the 16th-most fantasy points per game with Brown out of the lineup. Buffalo also returns to face the Chargers, a defense we told you about earlier. They allow the short passes by design so Beasley could be set up for success regardless of whether or not Brown plays.

Damiere Byrd

New England Patriots

After three weeks of being the number-one guy on the Patriots, Jakobi Meyers ceded the role to Damiere Byrd. Cam Newton’s former teammate with the Carolina Panthers delivered with 26.3 PPR fantasy points, good for WR4 through Sunday. It was a helluva bounceback for Byrd (six catches on seven targets for 132 yards and touchdown) after he was blanked in Week 10. He also carried once for 11 yards. It is a similar three game stretch to the one he had from Weeks 2-4.

The Cardinals roll into Foxboro for Week 12, meaning Meyers will likely see a good deal of Patrick Peterson. That means Byrd should see his fair share of Dre Kirkpatrick. He’s allowing nearly 77 percent of passes thrown at him to be completed at more than a first down per completion. Newton has looked *better* over these past few weeks and maybe that means this offense will start to click more down the stretch. Or at least produce two fantasy viable wideouts.

Olamide Zaccheaus

Atlanta Falcons

We’re breaking one of the rules we broke for Edwards yet again, this time for Atlanta Falcons wideout Olamide Zaccheaus. He only had one catch for 10 measly yards in the Falcons 24-9 whooping at the hands (and legs) of Taysom Hill and the New Orleans Saints. More disappointing that the situation being right, Julio Jones had to leave this one early. Worse yet is Zaccheaus was coming off 4/103/1 day against the Denver Broncos.

Jones’ injured hammy could be enough to keep him out by itself or due to an abundance of caution. Russell Gage had the better game this week, but it was Zaccheaus who stepped up when Jones re-aggravated the same hammy against Green Bay earlier in the year. Zaccheaus had eight catches for 86 yards in that one and looked like an explosive playmaker. The Las Vegas Raiders is 20th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Gage is probably an option too, but his role seems rather locked in.

Tight End

Jordan Akins

Houston Texans

In case you haven’t noticed, tight end is a wasteland for fantasy once again. So much so that we should rightfully be interested in anyone showing a pulse in the previous week as we are more often than not banking on a touchdown anyway. Well, Jordan Akins is your guy. The athletic Houston Texans tight end was the TE8 in Week 11 following his five-catch, 83-yard performance against the Patriots.

Be warned, this was just the second time all season Akins has produced double-digit fantasy points, and that’s in PPR. It was also just the second time he’s caught more than three passes or had more than 50 yards in a game all season. Again, anybody with a pulse. He’ll face a Detroit Lions team that is actually in the top-12 in tight end fantasy points allowed so, again, be warned. Just keep telling yourself, all it takes is a touchdown.

Week 10 Primetime Moneymakers: Smash-Mouth Football

Granted, we didn’t get a preseason. But this season is absolutely flying by. We’re already in Week 10 and the playoff picture is taking shape. Kansas City is once again looking like the class of the AFC and really the entire NFL. That’s because the NFC is a clouded mess. Three to four teams can make a legitimate claim for best in the conference.

Another 2-1 week brings us to 8-8 on the season. Still not great but it has been a climb from the sub-.500 basement we were in. We are still struggling to nail down these totals, but that is secondary to calling winners. As usual, there is more money to be made and if anyone is going to lay claim to it it might as well be us.

Smash-Mouth Football On Tap in Week 10 Primetime Moneymakers

Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (6-2)

Spread: Titans +1

O/U: 48.5

The Indianapolis Colts (4-4 ATS) come in allowing the fewest total yards (second in rushing and third in passing) in the NFL anchored by Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner. They are also third in defensive DVOA (second in run defense DVOA). Boasting superb line play on either side of the ball, they might struggle against Tennessee middling run defense but they should give Philip Rivers plenty of time in the pocket. He had seemingly regained his form, throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions in the two games before his dud in Baltimore in Week 9. Those other secondaries are closer to what the Titans have been.

We saw a stingy Chicago Bears defense take Derrick Henry away last week and the Titans (3-5 ATS) still came away victorious. Ryan Tannehill got the job done, throwing two touchdowns with no picks. That brings him to 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Henry was held to just 68 yards on 21 carries last week and 75 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers three weeks ago. An ominous sign with him facing his toughest test. Tennessee only has 10 sacks on the season so they’ll need Malcolm Butler, trade deadline-acquisition Desmond King, and the recently-activated Adoree’ Jackson to tighten things up on the back end.

This is a battle for AFC South supremacy but it’s only the first act. These two teams will face each other in two weeks so this one could put the Titans in the driver seat of the division. The Colts only victory over a team with a winning record was against the Bears. The Titans have two such wins, but one of them was also the Bears. That makes this essentially uncharted territory for both teams with a slight edge going to the Titans. Is their victory of the inconsistent Buffalo Bills convincing enough? They also almost knocked off the Steelers. Take the home team getting no respect from Vegas. Also (reluctantly) take the under as both offenses could struggle.

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at New England Patriots (3-5)

Spread: Patriots +7

O/U: 43.5

What a matchup this would be if it were 2018. As it stands, the Baltimore Ravens (4-4 ATS) should be looking at this as a tune-up. The Ravens have been highly-scrutinized for their offensive struggles despite having the exact same record through six games as last year. That’s because they’ve fallen from having the top-ranked offense in DVOA in 2019 to 23rd here in 2020. Both phases have regressed but it’s Lamar Jackson’s passing that’s suffered the most. His touchdown rate came down from the unsustainable level of last season while he’s throwing picks at the highest rate of his career.

You’d have to go all the way back to 1994 to find a New England Patriots (3-5 ATS) team that was 3-5 through eight games. Cam Newton has regressed as the season has gone on, though he had somewhat of a bounceback against the lowly New York Jets a week ago in primetime. This is easily the stiffest challenge of Newton’s tenure in New England. His offense is already 24th in DVOA and 28th in passing DVOA. 

New England was hit the hardest of any team by COVID opt-outs; mostly on defense. It has shown. They rank 10th in yards thanks to ranking fifth against the pass. They’re 21st against the run. Sounds like the perfect recipe for Jackson and Co. to get things back on track, which is strange to type about a Bill Belichick-led Patriots team. Jackson has always given the Patriots defense some issues anyway. But in this state, a Baltimore win feels inevitable. Take the Ravens and the points. The under is also tempting but having been burned on several matchups like this, hard pass

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4)

Spread: Bears +2.5

O/U: 43

It hasn’t been the season most envisioned for the Minnesota Vikings (5-3 ATS) but they haven’t given up. They’ve won two games in a row, have an offense ranked seventh in DVOA, and have the league’s leading rusher in Dalvin Cook toting the rock. The Vikings have rightfully limited Kirk Cousins’ exposure. They’ll need to jump out to an early lead if they are to keep this all up. Cousins is 0-3 against the Bears as a member of the Vikings.

Chicago (5-4 ATS) is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. If they are going to avoid their second losing streak in as many seasons (and protect their streak against the Vikings) they will need a few things. First, figure out the ground attack as Minnesota is slightly worse at defending the run. They were already struggling to run and David Montgomery is out this week with a concussion. Could we see a Cordarrelle Patterson revenge game? Second, figure out how to protect Nick Foles. Minnesota was already vulnerable to the pass and is set to be down Cameron Dantzler at corner. 

Matt Nagy is 4-0 as a head coach against Mike Zimmer. His team has a better record too. Still, the dam feels about ready to burst. Despite all of that, the pick is the Bears plus the points. It’s not all sentimentality (admitted Bears fan here). Cook has struggled against the Bears as much as Cousins has. A one-game reprieve from the recent doldrums right before the bye is a very Bears thing to do. The under is, again, the reluctant play. Chicago suppresses their own offense even better than they do opponents. Hard to see Lazor fixing it all in one week.

Cam Newton to the New England Patriots is Perfect

It almost makes too much sense. Cam Newton, Superman, is a New England Patriot. And in the year 2020, this is exactly the kind of move we should have expected. Many did, and yet it still felt like such a longshot. Clash of cults of personality aside, there was always a strictly football-related reason for this to happen. The fact that the actual deal is good for both sides is just an added bonus.

New England Patriots Signing Cam Newton is Perfectly 2020

How Did We Get Here?

What an offseason it has been! We’ve seen a quarter of the league’s projected starters entering 2019 change teams, including a wild four-team swap with New England and 75% of the NFC South. Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the shockwave of the off-season; if only slightly edging the Houston Texans swindling themselves out of DeAndre Hopkins.

Jameis Winston is now backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans and Teddy Bridgewater (Winston’s predecessor) will start in Carolina. Even Philip Rivers going to the Indianapolis Colts doesn’t compare.

Tampa Tommy is like the prodigal son going to the Darkside (which would have worked so much better had he joined the Las Vegas Raiders). Newton to the Pats is like, well T’Challa taking over for Steve Rogers. Yes, it’s on the nose, but it’s so very accurate. How else do you describe the expressive Newton heading to the most buttoned-up operation in the NFL?

What’s even better is it is two polarizing entities of opposite ends joining into one. The Patriots have been the bully on the block for much of the past 20 years. This, and a generous helping of sketchy deeds, has led to a buildup of resentment from those on the outside.

Newton, for all his charitable deeds, is more known for his scarves and attitude after losing Super Bowl 50.

Neither man is perfect. Brady was directly indicated in his fair share of the scandals during his time in New England. And, if we’re being honest, the worst Newton has done was his interaction with a female reporter a few years back. He laughed at the depth of her question and said it was “funny” a question like that came from a woman.

But on the football field, both of these men have set records.

Why It Will Work

Brady has the edge in accolades, sure. But even he has conceded it is at least equal parts situation as it is his given talent, effort, preparation, etc. Newton, if healthy, offers the total opposite. A supremely gifted athlete, he reached the edge of the mountain top without the level of coach and system he will have around him next year.

That isn’t a knock on what the Ron Rivera Panthers did either, they ran a system they felt gave them the best chance to win. The issue was they operated like Newton was a rookie for too long, not surrounding him with enough talent at receiver and/or a proper offensive line. His development seemed to stall as the Panthers found their formula.

One thing we know about the Patriots, they know the formula changes from year to year. No team has been better at adapting to their personnel.

Josh McDaniels is a very underrated part of why this will work. He was able to get seven wins out of a second-year Tim Tebow back in 2011. That was ten years ago. But Newton, a former MVP, is far and away a better passer than Tebow ever was.

People also forget the year Newton was having before he got injured in 2018. Carolina was 6-2 with Newton completing 67.3% of his passes for 1893 yards, 15 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He added another 342 yards and four scores on the ground. He over 68 percent of his passes in his remaining six games, but only threw nine touchdowns to nine picks and the Panthers went winless.

What’s The Problem?

That depends on what you thought of Brady last season. He started the season completing 64% of his passes for 2251 yards, 13 scores, and four interceptions over the first eight games. But he finished throwing for 1806 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 more picks while completing just 56.9% of his passes. The Patriots went 4-4 over those final eight.

Was that all Brady? He is, after all, in his 40s and has played over two and a half regular season’s worth of playoff games. It’s perfectly reasonable his abilities are in decline.

But New England lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement then lost Antonio Brown (one game) and Josh Gordon (six games) to personal issues. Julian Edelman was still around, but there aren’t many quarterbacks who can overcome that kind of talent drain before and during the season.

Newton’s health will be the biggest deterrent to any success. But he’s been out since September last year and has been seen working with Odell Beckham. Keeping him that way is paramount and dependant upon them either finding upgrades or guys like N’Keal Harry and free-agent addition Marquise Lee stepping up. Edelman and Mohamed Sanu will serve as the vets but the big hole is at tight end.

The offensive line is the bigger concern. Brady took 17 of his 27 sacks over the back half of the year. That line lost center Ted Karras and didn’t add anyone in free agency or the draft until the sixth round. They kept Joe Thuney, though.

The defense underwent a facelift but should be a smoother transition than anything the offense will go through. New England took defensive players with their first three picks and all are expected to contribute early. That’s good with the losses New England suffered at linebacker. Boasting one of the best secondaries in the NFL, though, they should be just fine.

Superman is a Patriot

Cam Newton has had to carry his offenses for much of his career, literally. In New England, he will get a chance to be a part of the machine. They will cater the offense to him week-to-week. His athleticism gives them an added dimension they didn’t have (or need) with Brady. He would also be the first non-Patriots draft pick to start for the team since Scott Secules in 1993.

Doubters will point to Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer and say Newton isn’t a lock to start. But as long as he’s healthy, neither the second-year Stidham nor the journeyman Hoyer is beating him out. The Patriots don’t need the publicity this brought (even with the penalties handed down) but Belichick would love the prestige winning with Newton would bring. We know what’s really on the line here.

Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC West

We are 75 percent of the way through our trip around the NFL judging the best and worst from the free agency period. We arrive at our final two divisions, the Wests. As we have done with our other installments, we will go over the AFC West first. This is the division of the world champs whose grip on it shouldn’t be expected to loosen any time soon.

AFC: North | South | East

NFC: North | South | East

Best and Worst of Free Agency: AFC West

Denver Broncos

Best Move: Landing a Workhorse

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is a defensive-minded coach. Those types almost always build their offenses around strong running games. So it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to see Denver be in on one of the most versatile runners in the NFL today, even with local-son Phillip Lindsay in tow.

Lindsay has amassed 2048 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons. But at 5’8” and under 200 lbs, the Broncos have been reluctant to ride him. Melvin Gordon (6’1”, 215 lbs) doesn’t carry the same worries. Gordon is also a better weapon out of the backfield with 490 receiving yards in 2018 (his last full year) to 437 for Lindsay in his career.

Worst Move: None

This is another where it may seem like a cop-out. But the reality is Denver is smack dab in the middle of a rebuild. Expecting them to be major players in free agency is flawed. Sure, they could have been and could have used the available talent. But building through the draft and making smart free-agent acquisitions is never the wrong choice.

We could certainly nitpick and say they didn’t do enough to upgrade their pass protection or that replacing Chris Harris with A.J. Bouye isn’t a safe bet. We could say they should move Von Miller (they shouldn’t) to cash in on his name while his value is still high. But they have a nice mix of veterans and young guys right now. It’s a good blend.

Next Move: Find WR2

Courtland Sutton has the looks of a stud wide receiver. He turned 124 targets into 72 catches for 1112 yards and six scores with poor quarterback play. But after him, Denver is less than thin. Their second-leading receiver was Emmanuel Sanders who was traded midway through the season, with 30 catches for 367 yards.

The Broncos picked a good time to need a receiver. This draft is believed to be deep enough to produce starter-quality options well into the second day of selections. With their top option at receiver, workhorse and scat backs, and their quarterback of the future, all Denver needs is a receiver to take the top off the defense. That is if you think the offensive line play will hold up.

Kansas City Chiefs

Best Move: Retaining Dominant D-Lineman

Chris Jones is a dominant force for the Kansas City Chiefs. A Pro Bowler last year, Jones had a better season in 2018 than in 2019. He finished fifth in pressures that season and while that number fell in 2019, he still made an impact. Jones was credited with three pass deflections in Super Bowl LIV. He also missed three games explaining at least some of the drop from 15.5 sacks to nine (still a good total).

Slapping Jones with the franchise tag is far from solving the problem. Jones wants, deserves, and will get paid. Whether or not Kansas City is the organization to pony up remains to be seen. Rumors of potential trades have swirled since before he signed is tender. But that is a worry for another day. For now, the Chiefs did well to keep him in town.

Worst Move: Missing the Flash Sale

This one might take some convincing, but the Chiefs missed the boat letting the Broncos poach Gordon from the Los Angeles Chargers. Now, if you are done laughing yes, the Chiefs just won the Super Bowl with Damien Williams and all of his 498 regular-season rushing yards and 213 receiving yards.

Kansas City doesn’t need Gordon, that much is true. But the potential of this offense and Patrick Mahomes with Gordon’s dual-threat abilities is scary high. Kansas City had their way with much of the league with Williams and the ghost of LeSean McCoy. Adding Gordon would have made the Chiefs prohibitive favorites to win the whole thing again.

Next Move: Find Another Sammy

Sammy Watkins returning to the Chiefs is a win for Mahomes. Tyreek Hill is the top option, but Watkins has performed like a number one receiver on more than one occasion. Kansas City restructured Watson’s contract to keep the band together but they shouldn’t rest on their laurels just yet.

Watkins has had a problem staying healthy in his relatively short career, only appearing in a full 16 games just once; his rookie season. That injury history is a large part of why the Chiefs were ever able to get him. Had he stayed healthy he might still be in Buffalo catching passes from Josh Allen. Instead, the Chiefs need to remember his body of work and not just his 2019.

Las Vegas Raiders

Best Move: Physically Moving

The Raiders last winning season came in 2016. Before that, it was 2002. That’s one winning season in 17 years. That kind of awful streak is sure to breed apathy among a fan base. So, despite the decrying from nostalgia nuts, the move from Oakland to Las Vegas is not only welcome but long overdue.

Waning attendance and (the bigger issue) a contract dispute over the Coliseum led to this and no one should be upset. If fans in Oakland are, they should be with their elected officials, any deal that they want to be done typically gets done. But the rest of us should indulge in this. In the imagery of the team with the pirate logo and colorful past now reside in Sin City. Glorius.

Worst Move: Spending on MLB

This is splitting hairs a bit. Las Vegas needed a middle linebacker anyway, but especially after letting Tahir Whitehead walk in free agency. They remedied that by signing former Chicago Bears reserve Nick Kwiatkoski to a three-year, $21 million deal. It’s not a large deal but there are definitely risks coming with it.

Kwiatkoski made for a nice fill-in player for the Bears. At different points, he has either come off the bench or started in place of starters Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. But he has never been tasked with starting more than half a season. That’s plenty of tape to draw a conclusion, but that’s not the issue. Kwiatkoski is limited (the logic for Chicago choosing Trevathan) and Oakland needs a dynamic playmaker in the worst way.

Next Move: Keep Trucking

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have taken plenty of flack for their decisions (drafting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall comes to mind) and for just being them. But they have a clear vision for the type of players they want and what they want this franchise to be on the football field. Realizing that vision is always a matter of chance. But Gruden and Mayock have been far more competent than we initially gave them credit for.

In that vein, the Raiders need to keep doing what they have been doing (didn’t think you’d get to read that when Gruden got hired, did ya?). Continue to build through the draft and even the reclamation projects like Marcus Mariota are smart. That one, in particular, is one to watch. It’s no secret that Gruden and starting quarterback Derek Carr have been anything but a match made in Heaven.

Los Angeles Chargers

Best Move: The Patriot Way

No, this isn’t  insanity, the Patriot Way definitely made its way West. Philip Rivers leaves the Chargers the all-time leader in passing yards on franchise history. He also leaves retaining every bit of the gunslinger mentality that fans undoubtedly came to both love and loathe at times.

Rivers averaged just over 28 touchdowns per season in 14 seasons as the full-time starter. He had 23 last season and 32 in 2018. He averaged a little over 14 interceptions in that same span and had 20 in 2019 and 12 in 2018. So, it would seem, his 2018 when the Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in five years, was the outlier. Smart move, Los Angeles.

Worst Move: Falling For It

Earlier in this piece, the Broncos received praise for giving a running back a new contract. On their side were the short length and relatively-small dollar mount (two years, $16 million with $13 million guaranteed. Los Angeles handing Austin Ekeler four years for $24.5 million and $15 million in guarantees. That’s a risky proposition for a player with no more than eight starts in any given season.

Next Move: Finding QB1

Naturally, after Rivers moved on to the Indianapolis Colts, and really even before, names were getting linked to the Chargers for 2020. From Jameis Winston to Cam Newton to Tom Brady, Los Angeles was viewed as a top landing spot. They settled on Tyrod Taylor, even announcing as much. But he is, at best, a stop-gap option.

With the NFL Draft just a few days away and an older (and average) starter in place, it makes sense for the Chargers to be looking at one of the top passers coming in. Do they trade up for Tua Tagovailoa whose game is like Taylor’s on steroids or maybe Jalen Hurts who might be somewhere in between those two, or Justin Herbert who is more like the departed Rivers?

Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC South

Our fifth stop on our tour squaring the best and worst moves in NFL free agency, the AFC South. We’ve already gone through both the AFC and NFC North. Likewise for the AFC and NFC East. The AFC South was arguably the toughest division in football just a couple of seasons ago. Now, it is a division mostly in transition but one that should still be a dog fight.

Best and Worst of NFL Free Agency: AFC South

Houston Texans

Best Move: None

Yea. This isn’t a cop-out or laziness. The Houston Texans have had one of the weirdest offseasons in recent memory. After giving away arguably the best wide receiver in the game, Houston (led by head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien) did well just to not trade away the franchise in Deshaun Watson, though it’s hard to believe they’re building trust either.

There does appear to be a method to the madness or at least a strategy for navigating what is sure to be an adjustment period for Watson. They added Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb to a group that will still return Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee. Fuller and Coutee have struggled to stay healthy (as has Cooks) and Stills has always been a complementary option.

Worst Move: Swapping Receivers

This is a little bit of piggybacking. Taking on David Johnson’s contract certainly qualifies. But this deserves its own section. Let’s go to the tape: Hopkins is a three-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler, and has 315 catches for 4115 yards with 31 touchdowns over the last three seasons. Cooks has none of the accolades and caught 187 balls for 2869 yards and 14 scores.

Production on the field is dependant upon being on the field; something Cooks has struggled with. Nuk has missed all of two games in one more NFL season than Cooks, who has missed time with numerous injuries, not the least of which being multiple concussions. Aside from a change philosophically (and an out in Cooks’ contract in 2021), the benefits are hard to find.

Next Move: Protect the Franchise

Watson is second in the NFL in sacks taken over the last three seasons, trailing only Russell Wilson. This is especially notable because the former Clemson Tiger missed more than half of his rookie season with a torn ACL and is only in second place by 17 sacks. He even led the league in the category in 2018.

When the Texans traded for Laremy Tunsil, the seemed to be moving towards correcting a fatal flaw. Trading away Watson’s top weapon isn’t doing any favors and Tunsil wound up leading the NFL in penalties. Houston still needs an infusion of talent and should look to do so in a draft rife with interior line talent. For what it’s worth, it’s also full of talented wide receivers.

Indianapolis Colts

Best Move: Old Man Rivers

Any time a team adds a Hall of Fame quarterback to their roster it has to set the bar for grading their free-agent class. The Indianapolis Colts courting and subsequent signing of Philip Rivers is no different. They tried to make do with Jacoby Brissett following Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement, even giving the former New England Patriot a short extension.

Brissett is no Luck and he isn’t Rivers either so the upgrade is obvious. It is a shift in philosophies for Indy and head coach Frank Reich. They have largely been a ball-control offense, playing at their pace and fielding a solid defense. Rivers is the definition of a gunslinger and a talkative one at that. It will be interesting to watch this marriage in 2020.

Worst Move: Missing Out on Diggs

In stark contrast to their division mates in Texas, it is rather difficult to find a flaw in the offseason the Colts have had. They got a new field general, kept their offensive line together, and traded for a solidifying presence along their defensive line. The one thing they “failed” (quotes because it’s subjective) to do is give Rivers ample weapons as he enjoyed with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Stefon Diggs would have made a perfect option. His versatility would have allowed him to be the short-area weapon a la Keenan Allen but he is also explosive enough to be the downfield threat that Mike Williams was. Instead, Rivers will lean on T.Y. Hilton who dealt with injuries last season and is somehow already 30 years old. There weren’t many misses for Indy but this opportunity might be one.

Next Move: Find Another Corner

Indy signed former Minnesota Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes in free agency to replace the departed Pierre Desir alongside Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore. The problem is Rhodes, who will be 30 when the season starts, allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete over 80 percent of their passes in his direction.

Minnesota’s defense was once among the best in the game but they have slipped of late, falling from third in passing yards allowed in 2018 to 15th  in 2019. Indy finished the season ranked 23rd so expecting Rhodes to be a stabilizing presence is probably a stretch at best and a recipe for disaster at worst.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best Move: Moving Foles

When the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract the thought was they overpaid for an average quarterback who had a magical run. After one season and Gardner Minshew, that thought has largely remained the same. What has changed is who will be paying Foles going forward.

Jacksonville managed to extract a draft pick from the Chicago Bears for the journeyman quarterback, reuniting him a veritable who’s who of his former coaches including John DeFilippo who was the Jags offensive coordinator last season. Kudos to general manager David Caldwell for actually getting something for Foles, let alone a fairly valuable mid-round pick.

Worst Move: Sticking with Marrone

Making coaching changes for the sake of changing coaches is never the way to go. But the fact of the matter is coaches have been fired who have accomplished much more than Doug Marrone has. Our first section dedicated to a coach, this is not advocating for anyone to lose their job. But when assessing offseasons, it’s fair to question if Jacksonville should’ve moved on.

Marrone is 21-27 in three full seasons down in Duval. This is on-brand for him; he went 15-17 in his two seasons at the helm for the Buffalo Bills. Jacksonville ranked 31st and 26th in points the past two seasons and his once stout defense has been parted out because of cap and culture issues. Loyalty to Marrone could keep the Jaguars in neutral in 2020.

Next Move: Replenish the Cupboard

With 12 selections in the 2020 NFL Draft and a team seemingly stuck in place, Jacksonville needs to get back to what got them the buzz they had a couple of seasons ago. They have to get some talent back on the roster, namely on that defense. And to be even more specific they need to get their secondary at least close to what it was when Jalen Ramsey was still in town.

Jacksonville brought in Rashaan Melvin to replace the departed A.J. Bouye who bolted for the Denver Broncos. That is really a lateral move and not a particularly good one. This draft has got some talent at the top at the position so it would be wise for Caldwell and Co. to get back to what got them to this point.

Tennessee Titans

Best Move: Not Overcommitting to Henry

The sentiment around paying top dollar for a running back (giving them a second contract) is well documented. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would say that’s a good idea. So the Tennessee Titans slapping the franchise tag on Derrick Henry almost makes too much sense. After all, his 300 carries, 1500 yards, and 16 scores all led the league. He’s still a runningback.

Christian McCaffrey just finagled the Carolina Panthers for a record-setting contract. Yes, he became the first player to have 2500 yards rushing and receiving in his first three years, that hasn’t helped the Panthers win much. Tennessee rode Henry’s legs far more than their quarterback’s arm. But they still had the wherewithal to not overpay for diminishing returns.

Worst Move: Overcommitting to Tannehill

No one can deny the impact switching from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill had on the Titans. For example, Henry averaged 3.68 yards per tote with Mariota under. That number jumped to 5.92 with Tannehill, no small feat. Tennessee looked beyond his raw stats and rewarded him with a lucrative, averaging just under $30 million per year.

If Tennessee had looked at Tannehill’s raw stats, at least those from Miami, they might not have been so generous. First, he dealt with injuries in his last three years, an issue Tennessee had with Mariota. But his career even before then could be described as mediocre with even his best of seasons leading to a .500 record. The Titans get great marks for their handling of Henry. Not so much with Tannehill.

Next Move: Repeat Success

This section was close to suggesting Tennessee go hunting for their next franchise passer; sort of a Brett FavreAaron Rodgers situation. Instead, in much broader terms, they need to recapture their 2019 magic. That won’t be easy despite the simplistic appearance of their attack.

Henry isn’t likely to have the stretch he had from Week 7 on and the returns on backs who had 300-plus touches the season before is also ugly (take note, Panthers fans). Teams are going to focus on putting more on Tannehill’s plate. He had flashes of being able to answer the call last season, but consistency hasn’t been his forte. Titans fans better hope that has changed.

Quarterbacks (Unsurprisingly) Dominating Off-Season Headlines

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.

Quarterback Talk Will Dominate Headlines Again

Background

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.

Pro-Style

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.

Incoming

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.

Face Facts

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.

Headlines Were Made for Quarterbacks

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.

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs About More Than Thursday

Week 15 in the NFL wastes little time getting time before serving up one of the most intriguing matchups of the week. Rife with playoff implications, the contest pits the 10-3 Los Angeles Chargers against the 11-2 Chiefs; in Kansas City. That last part is important as the Chiefs already hold the advantage. That is the result of the Chiefs opening night victory over the Chargers in L.A.

Huge Implications When Chargers Face Chiefs

Young Gunner

Patrick Mahomes is not only in the MVP conversation, he is the current favorite. In his first year as the starter, no less, following a rookie season that saw him sit behind Alex Smith. Mahomes decided to trade with Washington look good a long time ago, but the award would make it look genius. More important than the likelihood of who wins what individual awards, the Chiefs priority is to finally make it to a conference championship game for the first time since 1993. In their 10 postseason appearances since then, the Chiefs have gone one-and-done nine times. The lone exception coming in 2012 when they beat the Brian Hoyer led Texans 30-0.

First, they have to take on a Chargers team that ranks eighth in yard-per-game and seventh in scoring. That would be a damper for a normal quarterback, and Baltimore had him stumped initially last week, but Patrick Mahomes has proven up to the task. Kareem Hunt replacement — who Hunt actually replaced last year — Spencer Ware looks unlikely to suit up with a hamstring injury. That means Chiefs retread Charcandrick West and Miami Dolphin-castoff, Damien Williams. Dynamic weapon Tyreek Hill is dealing with wrist and heel injuries but appears healthy enough to play. He and Travis Kelce, who has been on a tear, give Mahomes plenty to work with.

Old Man Rivers

The Chargers also have injury woes. Starting tailback Melvin Gordon is questionable to start the week. He has missed the last two contests, both wins, and three games overall. His usual understudy, Austin Ekeler, has already been ruled out with nerve damage in his neck on top of a concussion. This means Los Angeles could be down to their third or even fourth-string running backs tonight. Luckily Keenan Allen has repeated 2016 and is on another late-season heater. He should be in for a heavy workload against a Chiefs secondary that plays better than perceived; especially in the noise of Arrowhead.

Quietly in the MVP race himself, Philip Rivers sets out to exercise some demons; his Chargers are on a nine-game skid against their division rival. Looking to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2013 – just five appearances since 2004 – Los Angeles has quite the obstacle in their immediate path. Playing defense might be close to optional in this one, though both teams are better in that regard than one might think. It is week 15 so no team is completely healthy – just ask Washington – but the injuries at running back for both teams will almost certainly put the game on the shoulders of these two stud signal-callers.

Chargers v. Chiefs About Playoffs

Still, Thursday games can be lackluster slugfests. Luckily, Kansas City safety Eric Berry making his 2018 debut should add some extra buzz to the atmosphere. Los Angeles edge rusher Joey Bosa returned to the Chargers defense a couple of weeks ago and seems to be back to himself as well. Despite the excitement those two bring, this game is about these two offenses and their prolific quarterbacks. One looking to cement his legacy, the other just building his. The Chargers have struggled to sell out home games but look like a tough out in the playoffs. Kansas City seems to have finally found an offense that will not disappear in the playoffs. Get your popcorn ready; this should be fun.
Prediction: Philip Rivers struggles early, rallies, but falls short. Chiefs roll on.

Final Score: 33-30 Chiefs