The OCHO: Week 12
Thankfully, they weren't all Thanksgiving day games
Let’s do this before Anthony Moore gets another PI.
Surprise Number One: We didn’t end up being that thankful for Thanksgiving football.
We joyously rang in the holiday season this year with a VERY forgettable day of football. The first game (Lions/Bears) was simply bad football, played by bad players and coached by bad coaches. I have no idea what the Lions were doing at the end of the game, but just by admitting I watched the end I am acknowledging more than I would like about this game. The Bills/Saints game was simply a one sided blowout. At no point did the Saints look like they might win. The most discussed game of the day was Raiders/Cowboys where the referees took over the game with a display of flagsmanship (the red wiggle line under this word says no, but I say yes) my local color guard would be impressed by. Here is the thing no one really wants to admit though. A lot of those flags… were deserved. The Cowboys played with little to no discipline. The Raiders weren’t much better. Neither team ever really got in a rhythm. The Raiders won because they found a way to move the ball, repeatedly targeting the same player who seemed to completely forget how to cover deep passes. At no point were any of the three games really enjoyable. But, hey, you gotta have something on so relatives don’t talk about politics.
Surprise Number Two: Tom Brady is going to be MVP
The conversation is pretty much over, barring a total collapse from Brady. Tom will be the MVP. This week, the matchup between Brady’s Buccaneers and Jonathan Taylor’s Indianapolis Colts was an elimination game of sorts in this regard. Ignore that it wasn’t really a fair matchup. The Bucs excel at stopping the run, and the Colts DO NOT excel at stopping the pass. It doesn’t really matter to surface level voting for MVP. Brady delivered the win on the road to put the Bucs on a smooth path to the post season. The Colts are still by no means a lock to get in. Meanwhile, all of the other QBs have sabotaged their cause, and Derrick Henry got hurt. Cooper Kupp deserves recognition too, but he will not win. It’s clearly Brady’s to lose at this point, which is simply incredible. Beyond being 44, he simply did not look that good at the end of his time with the Pats. His resurgence has mirrored that of Aaron Rodgers last year, when Rodgers came out of what appeared to be a decline to win MVP. A player’s growth and decline are simply not linear, and Brady and Rodgers are clear proof of that.
Surprise Number Three: The 7th wild card spot is going to save the playoff chase in both conferences.
The top 6 teams in both conferences feel relatively set. While one or two of them will likely fall down the ladder, and maybe end up 7th instead of in the top six, I think it’s pretty clear the following teams will be in the playoffs. In the AFC: Patriots, Bills, Chiefs, Ravens, Bengals and Titans. In the NFC: Cardinals, Packers, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Rams and 49ers. Here is where shit gets VERY hazy. The final spot in both conferences is WIDE open. As you see from this graphic, there are 8 teams all within reasonable striking distance in the NFC. If the Seahawks win tonight, they join the 4-7 crowd. The only team in the NFC who doesn’t have a real chance at the playoffs right now is the Lions. In the AFC, there is a tiny bit more separation. The Jaguars, Texans and Jets have no shot. The Browns, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Steelers, Colts and even the Dolphins all have a plausible shot at that last spot. Is that a good thing? It depends. I personally don’t really want to see more bad teams slip into the playoffs. I also don’t see the need for a 17th game. Yet, I guarantee the results of both will make more money and get the league more attention. So it’s not going to stop.
Surprise Number Four: The Patriots are real contenders in a wide open AFC
The Patriots have made their move in the middle part of this season. With 6 straight wins, continually improving play for Mac Jones and a solidifying of what had been a shaky defense, the Patriots are right in the mix with the top teams in the AFC. The Patriots have benefitted from a soft schedule. The only good teams they have played in that mix were the Chargers (meh) and the heavily depleted Titans. This should be a sign they are due for regression, but maybe not. First, they are POUNDING those bad teams. With the exception of the Chargers, they have convincingly beaten those weak teams. Second, Mac Jones’ increasingly good play gives them a dimension they didn’t have at the start of the year. He was the most game ready of the five QBs taken this year, and it shows. Finally, they have started to gel defensively, stopping both the run and pass with equal measure. Their front 7, in particular, is very strong. We will find out a lot as they play their next three games against the Bills twice and the Colts. Going 2-1 over that stretch pretty much guarantees a playoff game at home, which they will need if they want to cause the apocalypse by playing the Bucs in the Super Bowl.
Expected Thing Number One: Not playing for several weeks did not fix Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson made his move this weekend to challenge the immortal Mark Sanchez Butt Fumble. Here you can see he shovel passes into the “lower back” of his intended receiver who is not, was not, and never will be looking at him. if I have one regret this season, it is that this pass did not hit his ass. The Jets won, but it was so pyrrhic you will forever see the box score under the dictionary definition of the word pyrrhic. Wilson was as bad as ever, somehow still not managing a single game this season where he has looked even equal to Mike White, or what’s left of Joe Flacco, with the exact same pieces. Wilson is in BIG trouble. The Jets are in BIG trouble. This franchise is in such a dark place, I honestly think they are worse than the Dolphins.
Expected Thing Number Two: Matt Stafford and the Rams are not everything they were built up to be
When Matt Stafford was traded to the Rams, there were two things I made sure to note. One was that he was a major improvement over Jared Goff. The second was that I wasn’t sure he could stay healthy because of his chronic back problems. Here we are two thirds of the way through the season, and both of those things are true. It started great, because Matt Stafford IS a LOT better than Jared Goff. Now, however, it is not going well. He is playing through a number of injuries, as he tends to do. For the last several years those injuries ground down his body and his play declines every year as the season moves along. Matt Stafford has all the talent in the world, but his body has been breaking down for years. This isn’t some kind of aberration. It was/is just reality. Now the Rams have put all their chips in. But I am afraid the pony they are backing has the football equivalent of a leg fracture. I will be genuinely surprised if Matt can maintain a high level of play for the rest of this season through the playoffs. And, unfortunately for the Rams, it isn’t likely to get better in the coming years either.
Expected Thing Three: The Cam Newton thing is fun, but it’s very, very fleeting
As expected, the Cam Newton thing was fun for a week or two, but Cam Newton isn’t really good anymore. The Dolphins absolutely destroyed the Panthers offense. Recent weeks have seen the Dolphins go back to the soul-crushing unit from 2020 that marauded around the NFL, and Cam Newton was just the latest victim. I don’t think this is the last we will see of him. The Dolphins just did this Lamar Jackson, and he is far from finished. But it is clear that he has a ceiling as a player at this point, and that ceiling is nowhere near playoff level. He was 5-20 for 96 yards at one point in this one prior to a mercy benching. If it weren’t for one fortuitous pass for 71 yards on a busted coverage, that would be 4-19 for 25 yards. For the game. This is actually good for the Panthers, as they need to see they have absolutely nothing at the QB position. Maybe then they will take it seriously.
Expected Thing Number Four: The Jags are going nowhere, and it feels preordained
Prior to another soul sucking loss to the also-going-nowhere Falcons, the Jaguars mascot unsuccessfully tried to bungie down to the field, as he is wont to do. Tragically he got stuck, but was safely disembarked on the fortuitously (and typically) empty upper deck of the Jaguars stadium whose name I will never need to know. As I note here, this feels like an overwhelmingly clear foreshadowing of their future. This bottom out rebuild feels like it is not bottoming out properly, even for a team playing like ass. They do not have the right coach. Their QB has not played well in year one (but before we get too judgey, check out Peyton Mannings first few years in the league. He AVERAGED 20 INTs a year for his first 5 years. Pocket QBs take longer to develop). Yet they have still managed to win several games they shouldn’t have, to ruin their draft pick. Not much is going right in a city best known for the misuse of Jet Skis.