Well, it’s that time of year where I can sit back, crack a beer, look at the local sports scene, look at the sports scene n general, and make snarky comments like Dennis Miller in the 1990’s- that’s when he was still funny. Now he’s boring horseshit, and has no idea why. Fuck him.
I’d like to start with the baseball lockout. Specifically the Cohen Tax. Folks, we are watching chess. Steve Cohen bought the Mets, and apparently is flush with cash, as every employee at SNY will fall over themselves to tell you. Teams responded to him and his vast resources by not letting him poach their talent. Check. So Cohen found the best of the unemployed talent in the game with experience to come in and manage a pre-lockout wide open wallet. Check. So the owners add a new tax in the new collective bargaining agreement specifically aimed at top spending teams where the lowest spending teams will get welfare AND no directive to spend the money in case Cohen or Los Angeles goes payroll crazy. Check. So Cohen announces that the tax doesn’t mean shit to him. Check.
Baseball took their swing for a rare few million in added taxes. Check. Cohen responded by making $750 million 5 days later. Check. Other owners went out and made moves that are more significant than the Mets adding the end of career Scherzer and the already hurt Marte. See what the Braves did? The Mariners? Phillies? Cubs? Many better players than the Mets acquired. How do I know? Because the Braves won the World Series, and the Oakland A’s – the team you got three players from – didn’t.
In short, since the Cohen tax became a thing? Cohen looks like it kneecapped him.
Plus, the Mets are counting on an AWFUL lot of bounceback years from players, including an outfield that averaged 120 games played per player. They need Nimmo, Cahna, McNeil, Scherzer (dead arm in playoffs, at the most important time?), DeGrom (July? SHUT IT DOWN!), Smith, Cano (juice free), Davis, McGann, Carasco, Walker, Peterson, and Lindor to bounce back. Did I miss anyone? You know, suddenly that roster looks really fucking horrible.
Also, a big fuck you to baseball owners. To punish a guy for trying to win? And using that tax to prop up teams that lose on purpose? While charging the fans premiums for everything? As a sport you’re upset with Steve Cohen but aren’t saying boo about what the Cincinnati Reds are doing? What the Oakland A’s are doing? FUCK YOU, WELFARE QUEEN THIEVES.
Now that I got that out of the way, lets take a look at whatever I feel like.
The New York Mets: the lockout has focused the team on acquiring an aging, expiring contract one time all star starting pitcher, a reliever at a discount coming off of two bad years, another reliever to a minor league contract, and a bunch of guys destined for Triple A. I guess that Cohen tax did work! On a positive note, The Phillies took Familia and Hand into their bullpen, so thanks for taking inconsistent relievers, divisional rivals.
The New York Mets: Hey Billy Eppler- the Oakland A’s just unloaded their all star first baseman. The A’s are the Wal Mart of baseball. You never want to go there, but when you do, you come home with something. The Oakland A’s need a starting first baseman. The Mets rotation needs a left handed starter. Dominic Smith for Sean Manaea? Then move Cookie Carasco or Taijuan Walker for bullpen help? Also, still a fan of the idea of trading Robinson Cano with the Seattle money and an additional ten million just to get him elsewhere. Any return is found money. Roughly $10 million worth. And after that press conference? Good riddance to a guy who will hit 260 without drugs, or roughly $100,000 per point of batting average.
The New York Yankees: How did you shank getting Freddie Friedman? Or Carlos Correa? George is vomiting in his grave and spinning through it.
The New York Rangers: Still amazed at the speed of the transition that losing a $10 million contract and having two top picks back to back in drafts can do. With the right coach.
The New York Islanders: Good job with a strong March. Unfortunately it follows a bad November, December, January, and February. Not the best way to run through a season. This is a great time to trade middling assets for premiums- See Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, Zdeno Chara, Seymon Varlamov, and Scott Mayfield. Also, consider a reup on Parise at minimum wage. It’s still higher than major league baseball, and Minnesota still owes him cash. If the season ended, they would be drafting 10th. It may be a good time to improve those odds via selloff and tank and go for the first overall like the Rangers and Oilers get every losing season. Not that a fix is in for some teams.
Also, This whole Ilya Sorokin thing? He’s not special. I’m going to present some goalie stats without attaching names to them, and you pick out Sorokin. 2.51/920, 2.13/.930, 2.28/.923, 2.45/.919. These are the Islanders 4 starting goaltenders under Trotz. Which is Greiss? Lehner? Sorokin? Varlamov?
The New York Knicks: Tank already. You are not going to improve by stockpiling second round picks. Get a top pick and fucking find a decent player. Also, Julius Randle has to go. And it’s OK to trade Kemba Walker in the offseason. He had his homecoming. Now he gets a homegoing. Look across a borough for some ideas. Somehow the Nets acquired Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Ben Simmons. You acquire Evan Fournier and Taj Gibson, while sending out Kirstaps Prozingis and Tim Hardaway for a draft pick. How is competence so far off for a team run by…incompetents? You’d think you’d screw up into an accidental win. This is sports karma for the owner being a jerkoff.
The Brooklyn Nets: The height of your existence happened in Nassau Coliseum. That was in the 1970’s. Harden and Durant did not win in Oklahoma. Harden and Durant did not win in Brooklyn. Simmons hasn’t won shit. Irving only won when he had LeBron and all the refs and league helping his bring Cleveland an asterisk title. Long story short- you’re not going to win with this. Use your salary cap manipulation this offseason to retool.
New Jersey Giants: If anyone buys season tickets, it’s only for the tax write off. You stink. Aim for moving talent for draft picks, and get the first overall for next year. Your management sucks as well. Liars pay a price in the long run.
New Jersey Jets: The last time you were entertaining? You played at Shea Stadium. The last time you were winners? Your coach got a tattoo of his quarterback. Ownership needs to be forced to sell a flagship franchise, because they run it worse than a sprinter with no legs. Oh, one last thing: the Jets had a good start to free agency. They have a lot of draft capital. If they don’t win 8 to 10 games this year? Expect a fired GM.
California Angels: You blame Billy Eppler for how shitty your organization is? Well, he’s gone, but not before bringing in your arguably best player. My question- did he sign Albert Puols to that awful deal? Is he presently ruining Mike Trout’s career? Way to ruin two to three Hall of Famers careers simultaneously. Try to win a World Series maybe?
Los Angeles Lakers: Amazing how bad you are when having to play a full season and the refs can’t just hand LeBron everything. It must suck to know that the only time LeBron truly won a title it was in Miami. And Dwayne Wade won it for him. The only top ten all time NBA list that LeBron belongs to is heel.
Tom Brady: Of course you’re not retired. Of course. Your career will end when you stop drinking the blood of orphans or some shit. Although if your defense held up for 60 more seconds? Or could have guessed as to where the ball was going like all of America watching the game did? It’s probably be another Super Bowl ring. So, why not go for it and walk out on the highest note?
The city of Portland, Oregon: You are due for another sports team. I recommend relocating the Pittsburgh Pirates to an area with West Coast money, and not a dead industrial base.
Marijuana: I do not indulge in smoking anything, which is a personal choice. But if it’s legal in some places, then we should stop prescribing athletes opiates that are heroin derivatives, and just let guys flare up a spliff. There are places in America where alcohol is illegal- which is also draconian- but if it’s not illegal everywhere, why break balls? On some level, this is no different than breaking the color barrier, and its a way to normalize something more holistic than stomach lining eating, liver damaging painkillers.
Performance Enhancing Drugs: Tommy John surgery is performance enhancing surgery. Cortisone is a performance enhancing drug. No one seems to have issues with that. Personally, I think the Baseball Hall of Fame should have a cheater section where we honor Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, all the dudes that did cocaine in the 70’s and 80’s, and a section dedicate to players that use enemas to inject drugs. Oh, and betting. That’s totally bad for Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, but clearly not for Major League Baseball.
If you made it this far? The Islanders goaltender stat puzzle answers are exactly as they were listed. Looks like letting Lehner walk and signing Varlamov was a bad idea. Also, Igor Shesterkin has better career numbers than Sorokin, and has played for non playoff teams until now.
Well folks, that’s all for now. Feel free to add your hot takes in the comments below, and remember this- in the end, the athletes work for us. If they’re not entertaining you, stop giving them your money.
It’s been about two months since I last had a thought. Wait, what? NO! It’s just been two months since I had time to write down a few thoughts about the local sports scene, and I guess anything in the sports scene that I’m thinking about.
Let’s start with the obvious: the New York Mets.
Last time I wrote about the Mets, I said that the organization was doing something wrong if they couldn’t acquire a team president. Steve Cohen changed my mind.
Steve Cohen is a very rich man, as every radio show host will repeatedly let you know. The other owners know this, and have been fucking with him in the only way that they can. “I don’t have your money, so you can’t have my stuff.” Agents fucked with him. Players fucked with him. Because he was playing nice and trying to fit in. He finally decided enough was enough.
So what did Cohen do? Basically he said “The stuff I have? The players want.” And then he overpaid Starling Marte by roughly $20 million dollars. Then he offered a guy coming off of an injury tens of millions of dollars. And then the gut punch. The highest annually paid player was the New York Yankees Garret Cole. Was. The Mets offer to Max Scherzer – a future Hall of Fame pitcher who, while old, competed for a Cy Young last season- wasn’t just $5 more than the Cole deal. It wasn’t 1% more.
IT WAS 20% MORE THAN WHAT COLE GETS. TWENTY PERCENT.
Folks, that is called a fuck you. And a game changer.
EVERY agent will come to the Mets with their free agents as a final offer. A deal with Samsung will transform Citi Field into an entertainment destination. The manager is not only not a brand new inexperienced manager, but a widely respected, player friendly one in Buck Showalter. And the general manager he hired was both experienced and mentored by a baseball legend in Gene Michael- Billy Eppler. You know, the guy that brought Shohei Ohtani to the majors? The guy that hired former Yankee Showalter?
I get the sense that Eppler isn’t done contacting former Yankees. Brian Cashman will be a free agent executive in December of 2022. He’s presently making $25 million. I get the sense that Cohen can make a better offer.
And I want to give a pat on the back to Eppler for this overlooked gem- sure, losing Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto hurts if you’re rooting for a player instead of the team. But by losing both Confotro- who seems to be good every other year, and Syndergaard- who has pitched a handful of innings over the last two years and will maybe throw 125 innings next year if he doesn’t get injured? The Mets gained two second round picks in this upcoming MLB draft. And with the Kumar Rocker fiasco? The Mets gained a compensatory first round pick. So 5 of the top 80 and 6 of the top 100 picks will belong to the Mets. Anyone want to know how to restock a farm system? Let inconsistent and injured players bring you high level picks and save you wanted money.
Gone are the days where the Mets are auditioning rookie major league managers. By the way, former Mets manager Rojas is now an outfielders coach for the Yankees. Outfielders coach.
I’ll add this- in October I offered to be the Mets GM. At this point, I will accept an assistant GM position.
The New York Yankees: Your Dad wouldn’t put up with this Mets shit!
Major League Baseball: Give the players what they want. When it comes to Labor vs Management situations, there are two truisms: Management will always fuck labor because management itself is inherently backstabbing as people, and labor asks for fairness which usually falls against backstabbers.
The Chicago Cubs saw their team value increase 400% in the last decade because PLAYERS won them a World Series. Shouldn’t the owners reward the players with that new found $3 billion dollars? That the players made them? Yes, yes they should. The Wilpons sold the Mets for almost 7 times what they paid for it in a mere 20 years.
Also, paying players more doesn’t mean fans pay more. In the last 5 years, the average salary of baseball players has decreased. Have ticket prices?
The New York Rangers: Again, a good coach with a solid system can create a winning culture when surrounded with talented athletes.
The New York Islanders: A coach that works hard to emphasize defense at the point to stifle the offense has faith in Josh Bailey, who magically neither plays offense or defense. Something I learned in research this week- the more time you play Josh Bailey in a game, the statistically more likely you are to miss the playoffs.
The NHL: Maybe it’s time to go back to the 2019-2020 COVID playoff schedule, where everyone makes the playoffs? You screwed up early outbreaks, which benefits present COVID teams. My position is that if you can’t field a team, you should forfeit. But reality says that teams will roll out AHL caliber players and charge you NHL prices. Since you’ll fuck the fans at every turn, collapse the season and give each team a playoff birth. There’s not going to be an NHL player Olympics anyway, so let it fly.
The NFL: Have you seen the state of football in New York? Pretty good, right? Sure, a playoff bubble, but very likely a 10 win team.
But those guys in New Jersey are absolutely terrible. You need to have two pro leagues. One for the good teams, and one for teams trying to get there. Like European soccer.
The NBA: you have the most complicated salary cap in sports. You have a $113 million salary cap. One team follows that. ONE. Five teams are 50% above the cap. Sure it’s a soft cap. But if you have 29 teams ignoring the cap? You need to rewrite the collective bargaining agreement into reality.
The New York Knicks: Last year was fun because you were hard nosed and tough. Then you added soft players in free agency, drafted strong players that you refuse to play, and wonder why you’re losing. You lost your way.
The Brooklyn Nets: You’re not winning a title. Too old, too much Kyrie. Thank you for signing those guys so that the Knicks didn’t look even more dysfunctional.
Alright folks. I’m switching from writing to reading: next up, The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. Hopefully Buck will hand it out to the players.
As we sit in the rarified time of year where all four major North American sports are rolling, now is as good a time as any to do some quick hits on the New York sports scene, as well as anything else I can fit into a paragraph of a take.
New York Mets: A second year in a row of failing to find a president tells me something: you’re doing it wrong. Yes, a team president can change a culture. But the St. Louis Cardinals have had back to back losing seasons once since 1960, and I’m almost positive that they’ve had more than one team president in that time. Maybe culture starts at the top?
Also, I am available for the GM position. And unlike other GM’s I won’t trade any of the top 5 prospects unless I think they stink.
New York Yankees: Need a shortstop? Wait until a week into free agency, and see what the Mets would take for Francisco Lindor. I get the feeling that you could move a bad contract or two and get a bargain price based on the savings. Maybe move Gerrit Cole’s deal, because without super glue in the glove that deal seems like it’s about to blow up.
New York Rangers: See what happens when you get a good coach? Amazing. Hopefully the Mets take note.
New York Islanders: While you’ve been the most successful team in New York for the last two seasons, realize that’s always a tenuous position. On that theme, Zdeno Chara needs a rest. Time to make that guy a 7th defenseman and give Robin Salo or Samuel Bolduc a chance.
New York Knicks: You need an all star. Watching Julius Randle shoot in the clutch is like watching…Kirstaps Porzingis shoot in the clutch. You need the guy that ends opponent’s rallies. You need the guy that looks forward to getting the ball with 8 seconds left on the clock and the team down by one. You have 4000 draft picks over the next few years. Seems easy to look to move picks and pieces starting with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robrokenson.
How many times do we need to watch a Knicks 10 point lead evaporate in the last 3 minutes of a game before you address this?
Brooklyn Nets: Trade Kyrie Irving. I get he is wholly overpaid and few teams can afford him. But he is a me first player. Always has been, always will be. No one wins with him unless they have 3 other all stars, and then they don’t even win. A swap with the Sixers for Ben Simmons would help with the salary differential, and Simmons doesn’t need to shoot with James Harden and Kevin Durant willing to throw even more shots up. Plus, Philly hates winning, so Irving will fit in nicely.
New York Giants: You are hard to watch. You need an identity. You wasted a 2nd overall pick on a running back when you had so many more issues. That’s like a homeless guy buying a Ferrari. You can’t even sleep in that, which makes it a total waste.
New York Jets: You are hard to watch. You need an identity. And a new owner. You have a head coach who was a defensive guru, and your defense is absolutely horseshit. You have the second best quarterback in the draft playing like he was chosen in round 5. You’re a dysfunctional franchise.
Jet and Giants: If you merged these two teams into one? They would win 4 games all season. Think about that. Also, call yourself New Jersey, for fucks sake. You’ve been there for 40 years.
All Major Sports: Stop firing people today over things that happened years or decades ago. It’s a stupid practice to use modern standards to not only evaluate the past, but to punish it. Or in many cases, punish it a second time. It’s even dumber to have the people who originally made those initial decisions making new ones that are even worse. Unless you can dig up Hitler’s bones – who actually did bad stuff- and make him apologize? Shut the fuck up, be glad the world is a little better now than it used to be which isn’t much, and then learn what forgiveness is so that we continue progress instead of falling into retroactive justice for none of your concern that makes society even worse than it used to be. Let he or she who is without sin case the first stone, but everyone else? SHUT THE FUCK UP. We’re not chasing Nazi’s hiding from Holocaust crimes. Most of these sins are from emails and tweets that hurt your feelies. Remember that sticks and stones rhyme? Time to grow up.
Besides, why should behavior occurring outside of work affect your job? If your lawn looks bad you should lose your job? If your wife is ugly you should lose your job? How about losing your job when you’re bad at your job, and dealing with personal matters personally?
Sports Teams Across the Nation: It costs $2 to make a t-shirt. Here’s an idea: start selling them to fans at $5. Not all of them- you can have some kind of fancy t-shirt, maybe with frills or flip flop paint or something. But a basic, made in China t-shirt? You give that shit away to fans at games in rocket launchers. Offer fans some free advertising for your awful franchise at low prices as a thank you for putting up with our milking you for every dollar you have while we have a 300 winning percentage offering. You know, actual decency? Instead of firing a guy that said “Ching Chong” 20 years ago? Speaking of, Shaq is still on the air, so get cracking, social justice warriors!
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.- 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.