NEW YORK, N.Y.- Have we lost our minds? I understand that the last calendar year has flipped the entire world upside down, but we as football fans still need to hold on to our common sense. As the feuding between Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks plays out, there’s no justification to siding with the organization over one of the best quarterbacks in the game currently. The Seahawks are nothing without Wilson and that if they trade him away, they would surpass the Houston Texans as the most incompetent franchise in the NFL.
Get with the times and realize where your bread is buttered is what I would tell Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. Carroll’s old school philosophy of playing hard-nosed defense, running the football and not turning it over have produced plenty of wins, including a championship. But as we approach the 2021 season, things are different both on the field and with decision making. Carroll is no longer the most important piece of the franchise and him jettisoning the player most responsible for winning should send the head coach out the door quicker than Russ can say “Go Hawks.”
Let’s straighten one thing out first: Russ’ frustrations were never solely about the offensive line. That unit was a façade as Wilson was speaking more about of the lack of input he’s had in multiple different aspects of the offense, from scheme to play calling to philosophy. Take this anecdote from The Athletic of an incident that happened leading into Seattle’s Week 11 game against the Cardinals.
“Before the Thursday night game against Arizona, Wilson met with his coaches. For some time, Wilson has sought – even pushed – for influence within the organization regarding scheme and personnel. In the meeting, he outlines his own ideas for how to fix the offense. His suggestions were dismissed, another reminder to Wilson that the Seahawks did not see him the same way he saw himself, as a player who had earned greater control over his situation, his future, his legacy. He stormed out of the room.”
As you can remember, Russ was cooking the first half of the season. Through the first seven games of the season, Wilson threw 26 touchdowns to six interceptions as Seattle jumped out to a 6-1 start. The following two games against the Bills and Rams, in which Wilson committed a total of seven turnovers, led to the meeting between coach and quarterback detailed above that left the signal caller miffed. Since that meeting where it was “decided” (more like demanded) that the offense throttle down, Wilson threw just 12 touchdowns to three interceptions the final seven games of the season.
While the turnovers were reduced, so was the potency of the offense. The final eight games of the season (including the playoff game), the offense was neutered, turning the Seahawks from legitimate Super Bowl contender to playoff flop. Seattle averaged just 23.6 points per game after that infamous meeting detailed above, which would have tied them with the Lions for 20th in the NFL in terms of points per game if extrapolated out for the entire season. In a league that’s seen the successful teams pivot to a more aggressive style, Pete still clutches the philosophy of playing not to lose. This has led the team to win games at times in spite of Carroll’s conservative coaching. Carroll is trying to buy a Ferrari but drive it like it’s a Prius. I’m no expert, but I would love to know how handcuffing one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL is conducive to winning.
Now that we’ve outlined the importance of Wilson to winning and why it would be asinine to trade him away, what happens if a trade does go down? How on Earth can Seattle expect to make up the value of losing a top-3 quarterback in the league? With how much of a crapshoot drafting his replacement is, there’s no guarantee that even five first round picks would be enough to equal the value that Russ brings to this organization. Carroll doesn’t want to enter a rebuild, so which quarterback is coming back in a trade that can step in and lead this team to the playoffs? Dak Prescott? Jameis Winston? Derek Carr? Good luck with that.
The NFC West, which was the most competitive division in the NFL in 2020, will become even tougher next season with the Rams acquiring Matthew Stafford, the 49ers getting healthier and the Cardinals making a splash with their signing of J.J. Watt. The only hope of repeating as division champs rests on the shoulders of number three. If he’s anywhere else but Seattle, it’s curtains on any hope of even making the playoffs.
As we look ahead to the upcoming season, the ball is in the head coach’s court to decide whether his ideal principles of winning or actually winning are more important. If wins are truly what he cares about, Russ should be cooking more than a Popeyes employee after their chicken sandwich was introduced. If instead ego wins out and Seattle decides to trade their top-3 quarterback, not only will Wilson be gone, but so will the wins.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- When a once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself, would you want your team to pass it up? That opportunity could arise this offseason as Houston Texans franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson is furious at his organization for their handling of the offseason process so far. If this gets to the point of contention to where the only solution is for Watson to play elsewhere next season, how many teams could justify not trading for the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback? The answer is just one.
Outside of the Chiefs, every other NFL team should be on the horn with the Texans trying to facilitate a trade to bring in the stud quarterback. Whether it’s because of age, production, or consistency, Watson is an upgrade for every other team outside of Kansas City.
Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Watson. I’m not going to tell you different. Rodgers will most likely win his third MVP award in just a few weeks, so while he gives the Packers a better opportunity to win the Super Bowl this season, the long-term view favors Watson. The former Clemson standout is entering the prime of his career, as he’ll be just 26 years old next season.
If you are Green Bay, would you rather have a Super Bowl window of another year or two with the 37-year-old Rodgers, or would you rather have a decade long window to win a championship with Watson? Don’t forget, the Packers are going to trade the former Cal quarterback within the next two years anyway because they moved up to draft Jordan Love in the first round this past offseason. If you are going to move on sooner rather than later, I’d rather pivot to Watson than an unknown commodity in Love.
Other teams with aging quarterbacks even have less of an argument to hold onto their current starter than the Packers do. Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, Tampa Bay with Tom Brady, New Orleans with Drew Brees (although I’d be shocked if he does decide to return in 2021) and even Seattle with Russell Wilson all would be better off ditching their guy to bring the current Texan on board. The NFL is about sustained success. Winning a title in the short-term is great, but consistently contending year in and year out is just as important. Watson provides both of those options.
Despite organizational chaos, Watson’s play has stayed consistent throughout his short career, and it’s been consistently good. In the three years he’s been healthy for a full season, Watson has made the Pro Bowl all three times. The former first round pick has been able to keep the ship afloat despite seeing three general managers come and go. Rick Smith, the man who drafted him, stepped away to tend to his ill wife. Brian Gaine took over before he was relieved of his duties after one season. Bill O’Brien was able to wrestle power away and become both the head coach & general manager before he was canned during this past season.
Despite all of the turbulence and turmoil going on in the front office, Watson was still able to stay focused and play at his best. When looking across the league, consistent quarterback play is far from a given. Guys like Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo all have had up and down careers. Some have reached highs greater than what Watson has achieved so far, but all have reached lower lows that have led to bad play and questions about their future in some cases. Watson has been more consistent than all of these guys above, another reason why he would be an upgrade for all of those teams.
Finally, we reach the production side of Watson’s game. Not only has he been one of the most dynamic players we’ve seen the past few years, no single caller has done more with less. Heading into the 2020 season, O’Brien thought it would be a savvy business decision to trade away one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and Watson’s security blanket in DeAndre Hopkins for an injury prone running back and a second-round pick. Not only did Watson have one of the best receivers taken away from him, he also had to deal with a Houston rushing attack that was the second worst in the entire league while also getting sacked the second most times of any quarterback in the NFL.
Despite that, Watson had himself a career year. He led the league in passing yards (4,823) and finished second in passer rating behind only Rodgers. Watson threw 33 touchdown passes, a career high, while only tossing seven interceptions, a career low. He also set a career high in completion percentage (70.2%), which was good for third in the league.
How many quarterbacks are having career years after their top weapon was taken away, their run game was nonexistent and their offensive line doubled as a turnstile? From the production perspective, Watson would be an upgrade over Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert and even eventual No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence.
Whether it’s the age of Deshaun Watson, his consistent play or his production, 30 out of the 31 teams should be begging the Texans to trade the franchise quarterback to their team. It’s unprecedented to have such a dynamic player at the most important position in sports become available, so when the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself, there’s no excuse to not pull the trigger.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- A white cleat flew through the Saturday evening fog in Gainesville, Florida. A seemingly harmless act on the surface could have ripple effects that travel 450 miles north and affect the entire college football landscape moving forward. Is it possible that the monumental upset that LSU pulled off over then No. 6 Florida last Saturday night in the Swamp, aided by the most memorable shoe toss college football fans will ever see, could set a precedent to allow a two-loss team to make the College Football Playoff for the first time in its existence?
Before we go any further, some clarification is necessary. This isn’t a Florida puff piece, opining for the Gators to still make the Playoff. This is actually an argument as to why the Clemson Tigers, ranked third in the poll, should still make the final four even if they lose to Notre Dame for a second time this weekend. This would have never been a thought I considered at any point in the last 16 weeks of this season or in the seven years that the Playoff has been in existence, but things changed a few days ago. There are two reasons why I believe that if the Tigers lose close to Notre Dame, they still would make the Playoff over No. 5 Texas A&M.
The first reason has to do with the College Football Playoff committee. They set the precedent just days ago that losses aren’t the end of the world. Really, in their mind, losses are almost irrelevant. Look at what happened last week as Florida, ranked sixth, lost at home to a talent depleted, opt out filled LSU team. This was their second loss of the season and should have ended any hopes of making the Playoff. But instead, the committee agreed to only slide the Gators down one whole spot, from sixth to seventh as we enter championship weekend. If Florida essentially goes unpunished for losing a game that it had no business losing, how can the committee justify dropping the third ranked Tigers more than one spot after losing to an elite Notre Dame team? It’s why despite having two losses, Clemson would still remain in the top four.
If the committee’s precedent isn’t enough to convince you, how about a straight up resume comparison between the two teams in question. When it comes to strength of schedule, ESPN’s FPI ranking has the Tigers with the third hardest schedule in the country while the Aggies hold the 10th most difficult slate. A&M can boast a better win, as they defeated No. 7 Florida while Clemson’s best win is over a Miami team that just got their doors blown off by North Carolina.
While the Aggies hold a more impressive win, who has a worse loss? Both of the Tigers’ losses would be to the Irish, both times coming when Notre Dame was ranked in the top four. A note has to be made that the first loss came in double overtime while Trevor Lawrence and a few other key defensive leaders were out. The SEC West contender would have one less loss than Clemson, but their loss was about as competitive as a race between a cheetah and an elephant. The Aggies were beatdown by Alabama, losing by four touchdowns in their showdown. So, while Clemson would have twice as many losses as A&M, I would give the Tigers the edge because they were actually competitive in those games.
The last two metrics are courtesy of The Athletic and are two measures used by the committee to determine a team’s dominance week in and week out. Clemson is sixth in the country in yards per play differential (how many yards are you outgaining your opponent by on a per play basis) while Texas A&M is 29th. When it comes to points per game differential, the Tigers are fourth while the Aggies are 32nd. The numbers don’t lie. Clemson has been significantly more dominant on a weekly basis than Texas A&M.
Whether it’s the committee’s indifference towards losing or the straight up statistics that outline Clemson’s dominance compared to Texas A&M’s this season, Saturday’s ACC Championship Game can almost be considered meaningless. Both teams should feel confident that win or lose, they still will have a chance to compete for the ultimate prize. A cleat toss setting the stage for a two-loss team to make history is very fitting. It is 2020 after all. And this is college football.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- It’s not often that we say the phrase “Thank You” in 2020. It’s been a year from hell to put it lightly. With regards to sports, this year has been anything but normal, from stoppages of seasons to delayed starts to no fans in the stands. But something happened this past weekend that had me and many other college football fans uttering those two words.
Last Saturday’s slate featured many timeless rivalries that run deep in the blood of college football. Alabama-LSU. Florida-Tennessee. Ohio State-Michigan State. But the game that caused the most excitement and held the most anticipation was a game that wasn’t on anyone’s radar two weeks ago. Heck, it wasn’t even officially on the schedule until 48 hours before kickoff. But BYU-Coastal Carolina not only turned out to be the game of the weekend, it hopefully broke an age-old stigma that will make the sport better going forward.
In case you missed the backstory, the Chanticleers, ranked 18th in the College Football Playoff poll, were originally scheduled to host Liberty with College Gameday on hand for that matchup. Instead, because of COVID issues with Liberty, the game had to be canceled. Coastal acted quick and helped out not only themselves, but college football fans in the process. BYU, in a bye week, was also looking to add a game to counter the argument from the CFP committee that cited a weak schedule in justifying their No. 13 ranking. The Cougars were available and took the game, agreeing to fly across the country on the drop of a hat and play a game in which both teams had a grand total of two days to get ready for.
This set the stage for one of the most thrilling games to have been played this season. The Cinderella story that is Coastal Carolina continued, as despite being smaller, slower and weaker than the Cougars, their spread option offense gave BYU enough fits and their mullet inspired defense got a stop at the two-yard line to win the game.
Spinning this forward, college football needs more of what Coastal Carolina and BYU did. Not intimidated to play another good team or complain about the hurdles their team has to clear in order to play a game on short notice. This brings me to voice one of my biggest frustrations that commonly occurs in the sport: Scheduling non-conference games 10 years in advance.
Some games are scheduled so far in advance that the players who would play in that game aren’t even born yet. As we sit here in 2020, there is a game between Kansas State and Rutgers scheduled for 2031!!! Seniors on that team are just wrapping up their first year on this earth. Notre Dame and Alabama will play a home & home series starting in 2028. Other incredible future matchups include LSU-Oklahoma, Michigan-Texas, Oklahoma-Michigan and Notre Dame-Texas A&M. All of these intriguing and different games are at least four years away. So, the question is: Why? If BYU and Coastal can schedule a game 48-hours away from kickoff, why are these big-time programs scheduling games that feel like they are 48 years away?
Whether the excuse was it’s never been done before or it’s too difficult to do, this crummy year has proven that those excuses aren’t valid. Fans want to see big games between great teams, and they want to see them now. On paper, Michigan-Texas or Alabama-Notre Dame sound like tremendous matchups if they were played next year, but who knows down the road if any of these teams are even good by the time they actually play. There’s no guarantee that Nick Saban will still be leading the Crimson Tide when they head to South Bend in 2028, as he’ll be 77 years old. If the program takes a step back once Saban retires, that sexy matchup now is less intriguing.
It’s extremely rare and frankly unprecedented that football powers like Alabama and Texas would take the lead from a small school like Coastal Carolina, but it’s been a year for the unthinkable. So, thank you to both Coastal Carolina and BYU, who put on an incredible show and gave college football fans a lasting memory. We’ll see if other schools notice this and change their scheduling habits in the future. Even if nothing else comes out of this, these two schools proved that in a year that has given everybody lemons, you can still make lemonade.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Can’t. It’s been the operative word used by all of us in 2020 more than we could have ever wanted. “Sorry we can’t come visit this weekend.” “We can’t be inside for too long.” “We can’t do this, and we can’t do that.” The word can’t has long been associated with negativity. But how about we use “can’t” in a positive way? As in when looking at the landscape of the NFC, which team can’t make a run to the Super Bowl?
Through the 12-week mark in the NFL, we have a pretty good idea of who the contenders and pretenders are. In the AFC, the Chiefs and Steelers have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack, while in the NFC, it feels as if each team is only closing the gap on the other. Excluding the winner of the NFC East (for obvious reasons), the other six current playoff teams have a reason why I think they can represent the conference in the Super Bowl and also have a reason why I have pause in hitching my wagons to their postseason success. So let’s dive into each team and layout one reason why they can head to the Super Bowl and one reason why could be watching the big game on their couch.
No. 1 Seed: New Orleans Saints (9-2)
Reason To Believe: Balance.Few teams in the NFL, let alone in the NFC, are this strong on both sides of the ball. While Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara get most of the headlines on offense, this defensive unit can make the case that they are the strength in New Orleans. Through 11 games, the Saints are first in total defense, fifth in pass defense, second in rush defense and are allowing just 20.5 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league. This defense is good enough to slow any offense in the NFC down, which is key when looking at teams like the Seahawks, Packers and Cardinals, who can score on anyone.
Reason(s) To Be Concerned: Drew Brees. This concern is actually two-pronged. Let’s start with his health. Brees suffered 11 rib fractures and a punctured lung stemming from first a hit he sustained back in Week 9 against the Buccaneers before getting crushed again in Week 10 against the 49ers that forced the 20-year veteran to go on injured reserve. He’s eligible to return in Week 14, but there’s been zero updates suggesting that he will indeed play then. At 41-years-old, it’s a waiting game to see when Brees can return and how effective he’ll be.
Assuming he’s healthy and can return in midseason form by the playoffs, there is also some real concern whether the Super Bowl champion can be the reason why the Saints win in the playoffs. The last two postseason runs especially have me concerned that Brees can’t elevate this team in order to get them to the Super Bowl. In the last two years the Saints made the playoffs (three games), Brees has averaged 252.6 passing yards per game, a 93.9 quarterback rating and a 1.6 touchdown/interception ratio. Comparing those recent postseason numbers to his regular season stats in those two seasons, Brees averaged 268 yards per game, a 113.1 quarterback rating and a 6.5 touchdown/interception ratio. The 13-time Pro Bowler has had his own postseason struggles the past few seasons when he’s been healthy. What happens when he’s not 100 percent?
No. 2 Seed: Seattle Seahawks (8-3)
Reason To Believe: The Potential League MVP. The Seahawks will go as far as Russell Wilson will take them, and for most of this season, that’s pretty far. The one-time Super Bowl champion is top 10 in every important statistical category, from touchdown passes (2nd), total passing yards (3rd), QBR (7th) and completion percentage (2nd). The only issue with Wilson’s play has been his sudden propensity to turning the ball over, which peaked in a four-game midseason stretch in which Russ committed 10 total turnovers as Seattle lost three of those games. The good news is that Wilson has been turnover free the last two games, both of which resulted in wins. The connection Wilson has developed with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett has been deadly. The case can be made that Seattle is in the driver’s seat in the NFC with Wilson leading the way.
Reason To Be Concerned: Secondary. The biggest weakness on this team is pass defense. Heading into Week 13, Seattle has allowed the most passing yards per game in the league, surrendering 328.8 passing yards per game. The good news is that the tide is turning since the addition of Carlos Dunlap. The pass rusher from Cincinnati has given this unit a much-needed lift in rushing the passer, which in turn has helped out the secondary.
Since Dunlap’s acquisition, Seattle has allowed only 276.5 passing yards per game. In that same time, the NFC West leaders have recorded 20 sacks compared to just nine in the first six games of the season. Dunlap has given some energy to this defense, which in turn has aided the beleaguered secondary. While it’s trending in the right direction, the offensive firepower that the Saints, Packers, Cardinals and Buccaneers possess can rip this improving unit to shreds.
No. 3 Seed: Green Bay Packers (8-3)
Reason To Believe: The Other Potential League MVP. It’s been well documented how little the Packers did this past offseason to address their biggest need on offense: wide receiver depth. They signed Devin Funchess only for him to opt out of this season while not using any of their nine draft picks to nab a pass catcher. But despite the lack of additions, this Green Bay offense is more explosive and dangerous than the 2019 version that went to the NFC Championship Game. Why? Because Aaron Rodgers is playing his best football in years. After throwing just 26 touchdown passes last season while the team sat at 18th in total offense, Rodgers this season is leading the league with 33 touchdown passes and Green Bay is fourth in total offense. The 16-year veteran signal caller has single-handedly made this team extremely dangerous in the postseason. There is much more potency to this offense in 2020, something defenses will find out the hard way in the playoffs.
Reason To Be Concerned: Same Issue As Last Season. After getting chewed up by the San Francisco 49ers to the like of 285 rushing yards in the NFC Championship game last year, the run defense has still been the Achilles Heel for this team. In their three losses this season, Green Bay has allowed an average of 157 rushing yards per game. While the Packers are average in run defense (14th in rushing yards allowed per game), it’s their inability in key moments to slow down the likes of Dalvin Cook and Jonathan Taylor that have come back to bite them. While most of the contenders in the NFC rely on their passing game, the Cheesehead faithful can’t be too thrilled that their weakness last year, while improved this season, has still cost them games.
No. 5 Seed: Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
Reason To Believe: Elite Defense. This side of the ball for Los Angeles has been flat out dominant. Stopping the run? Check. Slowing down the aerial attack? Check. Holding teams out of the end zone? Check. They are second in total defense, third in pass defense, fourth in rush defense and have allowed the fourth fewest points per game. Only once in 11 games has a team scored more than 30 points. This defense can limit any team they face in the playoffs.
Reason To Be Concerned: Inconsistency. Through 12 weeks, the Rams have been consistently inconsistent. The last three weeks perfectly encapsulate this claim. Los Angeles slowed down the Seahawks, holding them to 16 points in a 23-16 win. They followed that up with an impressive 27-24 win on Monday Night Football over the Buccaneers. Then this past week, the Rams lost to a Nick Mullens-led 49ers team at home. Every time this team takes two steps forward, they take one step back. Can Jared Goff and this team play well enough in three consecutive games to be the NFC representative? So far, we haven’t seen anything to believe that answer is yes.
No. 6 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
Reason To Believe: Potential. Despite the offensive struggles, this team has the talent to go all the way. Pairing Tom Brady with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette and Rob Gronkowski is too much skill to not have success. While the offense is a work in progress, this defense is good enough to keep them in any game. They are the best run defense in the league and while they struggle in pass defense, they were able to hold the high-flying Chiefs offense to just 27 points. If the offense can figure it out, this team will be the hardest out in the playoffs.
Reason To Be Concerned: Continuity. All year long I’ve compared the Buccaneers to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Bucs, similar to the Clippers, are using the regular season as a testing ground to see what works with the ultimate goal of playing their best football in January. With just four games remaining until then, Tampa Bay hasn’t provided much to feel confident about. As we saw with the Clippers, having the most talent doesn’t ensure victory. If Bruce Arians and Brady don’t figure out how to get on the same page, the Bucs will be watching someone else enter their house and play for the Lombardi Trophy.
No. 7 Seed: Arizona Cardinals (6-5)
Reason To Believe: Murray Magic. Kyler Murray is one of the most exciting players in 2020 and has taken this offense to a new dimension with the addition of All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins. When things are cooking in the desert, Murray is slicing and dicing defenses with both his arm and legs. Murray has thrown for 19 touchdowns while rushing for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns. This team at their peak can score on any defense and can do so in a variety of ways.
Reason To Be Concerned: Inexperience. When looking at the landscape of the NFC, what do you notice? Playoff experience. From players like Rodgers, Brady and Wilson to head coaches like Pete Carroll, Sean Payton and Sean McVay, there is loads of experienced professionals who know what it takes to win in the playoffs. The postseason is a different game, where every weakness is magnified, and every tendency is realized. With this being both Kliff Kingsbury and Murray’s first trip to the dance, I worry that their lack of big game seasoning will be the difference as to why they are home like us watching another NFC team battle for the coveted Super Bowl crown.
The final quarter of the season will be as exciting as ever as teams jockey for positioning in a wide-open conference. While my pick is still the Seahawks to represent the NFC in Tampa, there’s a case to be made as to why any of these other five teams can make their own run at history.