THE NFC: FORGET WHO CAN, HOW ABOUT WHO CAN’T?

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?

Drew Brees hopes to have another photo like this taken in February. Can he elevate his play to accomplish this? Photo: Getty Images

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.

Who will be the team in the NFC competing to raise the Lombardi Trophy? Your guess is as good as mine. Photo Courtesy: Ryan Kang / Associated Press

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.

Final Look: NFL Week 7 – Five Interesting Stats

Final Look: NFL Week 7 – Five Interesting Stats

As we near the mid-point of the 2020 COVID-19 Special NFL season, strange circumstances surround the league. With the NFL trade deadline set for November 3 at 4 PM EST, Week 8 is the last weekend teams can showcase the players they wish to offer.

Here is the Week 7 version of Five Interesting Stats.

Eagles Lead NFC East with Losing Record and Negative Point Differential

Despite registering just two wins in their first seven games, the Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFC East. The Eagles 22-21 victory over the Giants on Thursday Night Football (Philadelphia erased a 21-10 lead with under six minutes remaining) gave them a 2-4-1 record, which currently sits percentage points higher than the 2-5 Cowboys and Redskins in the NFC East. All four teams feature negative point differential, with Washington currently besting the Eagles by 1 (Eagles -33, Redskins -32).

Highest Negative Point Differential
Division Winners, NFL Regular Season History
W-LPoint Diff.
2010 Seahawks7-9-97
2011 Broncos8-8-81
2016 Texans10-6-49
2014 Panthers*7-8-1-35
>>All Won Wild Card Playoff Game

Carson Wentz rallied the Eagles for a 22-21 win over the Giants in Week 7.

Falcons Lose in Final Seconds…AGAIN. 

Matthew Stafford’s GW 11-yd TD pass to T.J. Hockenson saw the Falcons fall to 1-6 on the season. Atlanta’s 23-22 loss marked the third time the Falcons surrendered a lead with two minutes or fewer remaining in their first seven games.

Largest Negative Point Differential
Second Half, 2020 Season
W-L2nd Half Pt Diff.
Atlanta Falcons1-6-40
New York Jets0-7-37
Buffalo Bills5-2-33
Philadelphia Eagles*2-4-1-25
Minnesota Vikings1-5-25

Todd Gurley’s go-ahead score left 1:12 remaining, left too much time on the clock for the Lions and Matthew Stafford.

Jets Fall to 0-7 behind Offensive Offense

After totaling 30 plays for 193 yards and culminating their third drive with a five-yard TD run by rookie RB La’Mical Perine with 8:28 remaining in the second quarter gave the Jets a 10-0 lead, the Jets offense disappeared. 

Gang Green recorded 25 total yards on 22 plays covering their final six possessions. If the Jets lose at Kansas City Sunday, they will match the 1996 team for the worst start in franchise history.

New York Jets Offensive Drives
Week 7 vs. Buffalo
1st 3 DrivesLast 6 Drives
Plays3022
Total Yards19325
Points Scored100
1st Downs113
Turnovers02
Punts04
Sacks Allowed24

Sam Darnold and the Jets totaled just 25 yards on their final six drives.

Stafford Registers Another Fourth-Quarter Rally

In the Lions 23-22 victory over the Falcons, Matthew Stafford posted his 28th fourth-quarter comeback and 34th game-winning drive since 2011, the most in the NFL. The former Georgia alum threw for a season-high 340 yards, with 75 coming on their game-winning drive. 

Despite his success, Stafford’s 42,605 career passing yards are the most for a QB never to win a postseason game.

Most Regular Season Passing Yards
No Postseason Victories, NFL History
Pass YdsPlayoff W-L
Matthew Stafford42,6050-3
Jim Hart34,6650-2
Ryan Fitzpatrick34,4210-0
John Hadl33,5030-2

Matthew Stafford led the Lions on his 34th GW drive since 2011, the most in the NFL.

Steelers Stay Undefeated

In a battle of unbeaten teams, the Steelers bested the Tennessee Titans, 27-24, as Stephen Gostkowski missed a 45-yard FG as time expired. Trailing 27-7, the Titans rallied but lost for the first time in 2020. The Steelers never lost a game in which they led by 20 or more points (212-0-1). The Raiders and Jaguars are the only other NFL franchises never to lose when leading by 20 or more points.

Franchises Never To Lose
When Leading by 20 pts or more
First Season (Year)Largest Blown Lead
Steelers193318 pts (2x)
Raiders196018 pts (3x)
Jaguars199517 pts (4x)
NFL Week Five: Five Interesting Stats

NFL Week Five: Five Interesting Stats

Tuesday night’s game between the Bills and Titans was the second Tuesday game in the last 70 years. As we finally say goodbye to Week Five, here are five interesting stats to review. (*NFL.com research).

Steelers Rookie WR Scores Four TD

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie WR Chase Claypool scored a rushing TD followed by three TD receptions (32, 5, and 35 yards) in a 38-29 win over the Eagles. Claypool’s 110 receiving yards were the fourth-most for a rookie scoring four TD in NFL history.

Most Receiving Yds, Rookies To Score 4 TD
Single Game, NFL History
DateTeamRec. YdsTD
9-23-1979Jerry ButlerBUF2554
10-31-1954Harlon HillCHI2144
12-3-2006Reggie BushNO1314
10-11-2020Chase ClaypoolPIT1104

Steelers WR Chase Claypool joined Franco Harris as the only Steelers rookie with a receiving and rushing TD in the same game.

Steelers: 4-0 for first time since 1979

Despite winning six Super Bowl titles, the Steelers registered four wins without a loss to start the season for only the fourth time in franchise history. In two of those seasons, they went on to win the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Starting 4-0, Team History
PPGSacksTO Forced
202029.5207
1979>>23.81411
1978>>23128
197332.81117
Won Super Bowl

Pittsburgh is off to their fourth 4-0 start in franchise history.

Kyler Murray Run & Throws Cards to Victory

In the Arizona Cardinals 30-10 win over the 0-5 New York Jets, Kyler Murray threw and ran for a TD for the fourth time this season. Murray joins Cam Newton in 2011 and Kordell Stewart in 1997 as the only players with five touchdowns rushing and throwing in the first five games of a season.

Five TD Rushing & Throwing
First Five Games, NFL History
SeasonPass TDRush TD
Kyler Murray, ARI202085
Cam Newton, CAR201175
Kordell Stewart, PIT199776

Kyler Murray ran and threw for a TD for the fourth time this season in the Cards win over the Jets.

Lamar Jackson Throws 50th TD

The Baltimore Ravens rebounded from their loss to the Chiefs last week, defeating the Bengals 27-3. Lamar Jackson owns the fewest interceptions of any QB at the time of his 50th TD pass.

Fewest INT Thrown
At Time of 50th TD Pass
INTGames
Lamar Jackson1036
Patrick Mahomes1317
Russell Wilson1830
Colin Kaepernick2148

Russell Wilson leads another game-winning drives for Seattle.

Russell Wilson Leads Seattle to Victory Again

Seattle defeated Minnesota 27-26 on Sunday Night Football to start 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. Wilson culminated their win with the 30th game-winning drive of his career. Wilson has the most for any QB since joining the NFL in 2012.

Most Game-Winning Drives
QB, Since 2012
Russell WilsonSEA30
Matthew StaffordDET29
Drew BreesNO24
Matt RyanATL22

Introducing the Playoff Draft!

Introducing the Playoff Draft!

Want to make sports more exciting? Welcome to Playoff Drafts!

COVID brought all sorts of new ideas to sports. It may be the ultimate legacy to a botched public response to a global pandemic- new sports rules. Like? A baseball double header lasting 14 innings. If it goes extra innings? The inning starts with a guy on 2nd base. Everyone gets a DH, like the games are played in Oprah’s studio.

As a sport, baseball was way ahead of its rivals. They made fundamental short term changes to the game in order to have something that looked like a season. Football? Showed its true mentality. “SMASH! RUN!” was the Commissioners reaction grunt to how football would deal with fans and corona.

Two sports thought of a bubble. One thought of one without prostitutes, which may speak to the long run difference of being raised with one parent versus two.  

Wow…

But there was one change I would have liked to have seen be introduced in every sport. And not just this year, but going forward forever. That idea? Playoff drafts.

What’s a playoff draft? I’m not sure it even exists, so I get to totally create this new and brilliant idea. In theory, a playoff draft is a way to make playoff sports more interesting and exciting. How does it work? It goes like this:

Team A beats Team B in the playoffs. Fuck you, Team B, you pieces of shit! After A dispatches B, depending on the sport, Team A can harvest players off of Team B’s roster. How many players? Easy.

NBA? 1 guy. NHL? 2 guys. MLB? 2 guys. NFL? 3 guys.

A smart team would select other players to cover for weaknesses. Is your running back average? Steal the better one! Did a star player get hurt? Take the equivalent?

Think back to when the Jets beat anyone in the playoffs. In 2010 Tom Brady would have been a Jet. That’s a big wow factor, no?

The player additions are also a per round total. If your baseball team wins the play in and the wild card? You have 4 new guys on your team.

Forever? No. You get the player back on your team after the postseason.

Do you have to take other players? No, its up to your GM and coach.

You may say “Since we won, why would we take a player from the other team?” The better question is- Why wouldn’t you? What, you think by sharing how you’re coached a guy or two will have the keys to your weaknesses? They just lost to you, so if they couldn’t figure it out then, one player wont break a code in an extra week or two. The only thing he may figure out is that his regular coach sucks.

No, this is about rewarding winning. About adding excitement for the fan. About offering the best product that you possibly can. Plus now you get multi city appeal. Derek Jeter on the 2004 Red Sox? New York will be watching that World Series.

For the players, it’s like a free agency window. You get to check out other teams operations first hand. Players should love that because it will push wages up when they jump ship for teams that they liked.

What if there is an upset? Holy cow is that a game changer! Say The LA Lakers lose in the semi finals. Suddenly you have LeBron James or Anthony Davis coming off of your bench in the next round. That’s sudden interest in an underdog team. And the more LeBron, the more ESPN exists.

What about the guys that they replace? Those guys get put into suspended animation on your roster. New guy gets injured? Fuck off. You’re down one. You have to give the suspended animation list a positive sounding name so it doesn’t sound like a punishment. Call it the “Recent Reserves” list.

The 2020 New York Islanders and their awful power play beat the Capitals. Top 5 bust Michael Dal Colle goes on the Reserves list, add Alexander Ovechkin to your lineup. Power play issues solved, maybe the Islanders beat Tampa Bay and add Braden Point to their team at forward, and Victor Hedman on defense. But Tampa won….bet Josh Bailey wouldn’t be in their top ten players to poach list.

Reunited with Trotz? Power play solved.

Players you take in a playoff draft? They get playoff money shares, a title ring, but their name isn’t added to your team history or on the Stanley Cup. Their stats however are added to their personal history. Say Pete Alonso is taken by the Braves and hits 4 playoff home runs? That’s all Alonso stats, not the Braves.

The Celtics beat the Sixers? Suddenly backing up at point for the Celtics? Ben Simmons! Makes the game more interesting, and the team stronger. This year in the NBA Kawai Leonard would have been picked up by Denver. How would that change their approach in the next round?

Plus, the selection process itself would be super exciting. All sports leagues make a big deal about amateur drafts. Imagine the headlines of a professional draft? It would be interesting to see who would get picked. Sorry, choking ass Clayton Kershaw!

Whomp whomp!

And if you chose a player who was a bum? The second guessing would make a whole new world of sport talk what if’s. “Imagine how it would have turned out if the Yankees took Ichiro, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito in 2001? They win 6 World Series in a row!”

Think about the revenue opportunities available for sports teams. Sport leagues keep making money off of TV ratings. Why would they want to water down a product?

Could players throw games? Absolutely. That makes the selection more exciting- it’s the chance you take as a franchise. Plus, couldn’t a player throw a game in the playoffs anyway, or was John Starks that god awful bad versus Houston?

Reggie Miller was right

This idea is most definitely outside the box, and will insult sports purists. However, if would create dream teams in each sport, and that’s what fans want to see, right? So come on big leagues, time to grow a pair and start the playoff draft!

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL CAM NEWTON HAVE ON THE PATRIOTS?

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL CAM NEWTON HAVE ON THE PATRIOTS?

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Has Bill Belichick done it again? Is the evil empire pulling a line from Lee Corso and saying, “Not so fast my friend!” to all of those who are burying the Patriots dynasty? The legendary head coach, after departing from a quarterback who helped him win six Super Bowls this offseason, pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the signing of former MVP Cam Newton on Sunday evening. While the move is a flashy one with a big name set to fill the void left by Tom Brady, there’s little reason to believe Newton will have much of an impact for the Patriots this season and even less reason to believe he’ll even beat out Jarrett Stidham to win the starting job week one.

Health is still the most pressing question for Newton. Since taking the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, the former Heisman Trophy winner has played a full 16-game season just once in the last four years. This is a player who missed the final 14 games of the 2019 season and two games in the prior season. As the old cliché in sports goes “The best ability is availability.” It’s impossible to deem the Patriots true Super Bowl contenders because their newest acquisition is far from a guarantee to step on the field.

While getting on the field is one concern, staying on the field is an even taller task. The good news for the Patriots is that Newton did pass a physical back in March, with both his shoulder and foot “checking out well,” according to a source who relayed that information to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. So while the Auburn product has checked the first box, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that this will equate to a healthy 2020 season. Cam’s body has taken a ton of abuse throughout his nine-year career. He’s had surgeries to his shoulder (twice), foot and ankle while also suffering back vertebrae fractures after a car accident.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

As a Colts fan myself, I’ve witnessed first-hand how a player’s body gets worn down over time to the point where the slightest injury could end a career. Andrew Luck, while not as reliant on his legs as the 2015 NFL MVP, would still use his body to run over defenders while also being able to bounce back up after punishing hits. Years of exposure to big hits eventually took its toll, as Luck decided to retire in 2018 in part because of all of the punishment his body suffered.

While the Luck example is an extreme one, it highlights what happens if a team neglects to protect their quarterback. The wear and tear Newton’s body accrued over nine seasons doesn’t just go away because he’s healed from previous injuries. It will only get harder for Cam to keep himself healthy as his career elongates. If the former top pick wants to continue to play his physical, bruising style of football, it’s tough to imagine he’ll be able to make it through a full 16-game schedule, which would put a damper on the playoff hopes of the Patriots.

Putting health aside for a minute, the learning curve that the former Panther has to overcome in this unusual offseason is another reason to slam the brakes on the “Cam Newton will have a huge impact in New England” narrative. Signing on June 29th, Newton will have just about a month to learn the Josh McDaniels offense before training camp begins. The difficulty level increases due to the fact that the quarterback and offensive coordinator can’t meet in person until practices officially get underway. Taking it a step further, this also means Newton won’t be able to throw to any of his new teammates until training camp. Not exactly an ideal circumstance when you’re trying to beat out a player who already knows the offense.

2020 will be a season like we’ve never seen before. Two factors that will play a major role in the success or lack thereof from teams will be: continuity and familiarity.  Minimal-to-zero offseason contact between players this offseason benefits those teams who are returning head coaches, quarterbacks and rosters from 2019. This gives Stidham a tremendous leg up on the competition. The former Auburn quarterback himself had all of last year to build chemistry with the skill position players and absorb McDaniels’ system, which will mean he’ll hit training camp full steam ahead. The familiarity that the second-year quarterback has with the offense could end up being the difference in him starting week one.  

Another pandemic-affected aspect that will benefit the returning quarterback is that the preseason has been chopped in half, as there are only two preseason games scheduled. While teams have been valuing these glorified scrimmages less and less in recent years, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Belichick & Co. to see what they have in the former number one pick. The less preseason games, the bigger the advantage for Stidham to win the starting job.

Between injuries and learning a new playbook, it doesn’t add up to Cam Newton having success with the Patriots in 2020. To already hand New England the AFC East title or even going further to state this signing makes the six-time Super Bowl champions a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy is premature to say the least. When all is said and done, it will be Stidham, not Newton, that will be under center by the time week one rolls around.

SHOULD THE DOLPHINS DRAFT TUA TAGOVAILOA?

SHOULD THE DOLPHINS DRAFT TUA TAGOVAILOA?

NEW YORK, N.Y.- The Miami Dolphins are finally on the clock. After a year of “Tanking for Tua” and accumulating as many draft picks as possible, they can finally start addressing their needs, starting at the quarterback position. Holding the fifth pick, it seems destined that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be sitting in their lap, waiting to put on the aqua and orange. But now that this day has finally come, the decision is harder than it seems. There is no doubting that the Crimson Tide quarterback has the talent to transcend a franchise. There is very little on the field that Tua does wrong, transforming the SEC powerhouse from a ground and pound team to one that slices and dices defenses with a lethal aerial attack. There is a major flaw with the 22-year-old and that is his health, more specifically, his durability.  Which begs the question: Should the Dolphins trust Tua to be their franchise quarterback?

Ryan Hickey breaks down why the Dolphins should pass on drafting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Catch “The Morning Boys w/ Ryan Hickey” every Monday/Thursday from 9:00 am – 11:00 am ET

From a talent perspective, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Normally, the biggest question marks surrounding quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft are their physical tools. Do they have a strong arm? Are they accurate? Can they read defenses and analyze information quickly? Can they be a leader of men? At Alabama, he aced all of those questions. The two-year starter amassed 77 touchdowns to just nine interceptions while claiming numerous accolades, including 2018 SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American that same season. He holds the single season touchdown record (43) and is the career touchdown leader (87) in Alabama history.

Equally as impressive as his stats are his leadership abilities. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a very glowing compliment of the quarterback’s effect on the university as a whole.

“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program as any player we have ever had,” Saban said. It’s tough to find a compliment that has greater weight than that.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

While the on-field accomplishments and leadership say that the Hawaiian native can turn a franchise around, the injury concerns say he can’t be relied upon. The former Alabama star has had more than his fair share of nicks and bruises throughout his two seasons as the starter. During his three years in Tuscaloosa, there were five documented injuries that Tua suffered. Three of these injuries (broken finger in March of 2018, sprained right knee in October of 2018 and left ankle surgery in December of 2018) did not see the signal caller miss a game. The latest two injuries he suffered this past season saw the Heisman hopeful miss a total of four games, including a dislocated hip that ended his college career.

What’s even more alarming is that while five injuries in three years is significant, it’s possible that more setbacks occurred without anyone knowing. Former NFL executive Mike Lombardi reported that on top of the injuries listed above, Tua broke his wrist not once but twice. On the GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi expanded.

“It’s not just his hip. It’s his ankle. It’s his wrist,” Lombardi said. “He broke his wrist the first day of spring ball one year. And then they fixed it and he came back and he re-broke it again.”

This is of major importance because it could be a precursor to what Dolphins fans could expect in the future if Miami tabs Tua to be their guy. At Alabama, Tagovailoa had great offensive lines in the two seasons he was the starting quarterback. Both in 2018 and 2019, the Crimson Tide were finalists for the Joe Moore Award, an honor given to the best offensive line in the country.

Oct 13, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen (3) call for a play in the first quarter of the game against the Washington Redskins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The junior was sacked just 10 times in 2019, while Alabama as a whole allowed the third fewest sacks in the country. In 2018, the Crimson Tide were tied for 12th with just 16 sacks allowed in 15 games. Despite having great protection throughout his college career, Tagovailoa still found himself injured. Looking at what the Dolphins possess on their offensive line, it’s worrisome that the injury-riddled quarterback will be subject to a ton of pressure and will be hit more in one year than his entire college career. Miami allowed the most quarterback hits (147) and tied for first in sacks allowed (58) in 2019, so it’s a stark contrast from the protection Tua was afforded in college to the kind of protection he’ll be dealing with in the pros.

The injury prone label that is being floated around isn’t hyperbole, as NFL teams are legitimately questioning whether the talent is worth the injury risk. Lombardi went on to say that two teams he knew of flunked Tua’s physical not just because of the questions surrounding his hip injury, but because of the total compilation of injuries suffered throughout his career. There is good news concerning his hip injury, as two doctors have said his hip is recovering perfectly and there should be very little worry that his hip will suffer the same fate of Bo Jackson’s. While the hip is encouraging, the fear for the Dolphins should be focused on his ability to stay healthy, not his current health to date.

All of these injuries and serious concerns are enough for me, if I were the Dolphins, to pass on drafting Tagovailoa. There are already examples in the NFL of talented quarterbacks getting drafted to be the franchise leader only to have injuries derail their career. The last thing the Dolphins can afford is to have another Robert Griffin III or Sam Bradford situation. While Tua’s upside is higher I believe than both of those players, the risk is even greater as well. Andrew Luck’s career arc should be enough to give the Dolphins a peek into the future if they draft Crimson Tide star and aren’t able to protect him adequately enough. Even just a year or two behind this extremely porous offensive line could be enough for the already brittle quarterback to never fully recover.

It’s an old cliché, but a very fitting one when it comes to the decision of finding the next elite quarterback. A player’s best ability is his availability, and for Tua, that’s his most questionable feature. It’s why I believe the Dolphins would be better off drafting Oregon’s Justin Herbert or even bypassing the position completely and drafting an offensive tackle. While they might not be getting the player they dreamed of drafting back in September, the good news for the Dolphins is that there are other fish in the sea.