Twenty-eight down, four to go. The Divisional Round didn’t bring the flare and spectacle that some had hoped for, but there was still some pretty exciting football. Ultimately, the best four teams remain, all of which happen to be offensive powerhouses. It’s a bittersweet time for football fans because the best football is likely coming up, yet it also means the clock is ticking for the 2018-2019 NFL season.
Today I’ll look at which position groups have quietly shaped the playoffs, change my opinions from last week on some of the new coaches, dissect the Kyler Murray situation, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know I overreacted to some coaching hires. Last week, I provided my initial thoughts on the new coaching hires. All but two were filled, though the Dolphins and Bengals reportedly have tabbed Brian Flores and Zac Taylor as their guys, respectively. I said I didn’t have much research on the guys and relied mostly on the new coaches’ prior experiences, which collectively was not a lot. However, there have been guys with little experience who have had successful careers.
Andy Reid was a quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach for just two seasons before enjoying a 19-year head coaching career. Clearly, there are more factors than where a guy has coached before. Players and staff can tell you about the personality and knowledge of a certain candidate, but only the executives in the coaching interview know the full picture. That includes a candidate’s staff, his thoughts on schemes and personnel, and how he’ll establish a culture and values. Not to mention that the interviewees (commonly a team’s owner, president, general manager, and other top executives) have pre-established what type of answers they’re looking for when they ask the candidate his questions. Even so, no one knows how the coach will perform and it’s premature to label a hiring as a success or a failure before they’ve even coached a game.
I know the best teams remaining have dominated the trenches. For those who aren’t overly familiar with football lingo, the ‘trenches’ refers to the rough, physical environment where offensive and defensive linemen clash every single down. While there are advanced stats to back it up, the best way to determine the winner of these every-down battles is with a simple eye-ball test. That’s really been the underlying story of this postseason, despite that the four teams left are among the top four scoring offenses in the NFL. The Rams, Saints, Chiefs and Patriots have all had superb performances by their offensive and defensive linemen. Going forward, I think the best linemen reside in Los Angeles and New England. We’ll see on Sunday if that storyline rings true.
I know the Chiefs’ defense is underrated. They may have given up the second-most yards all season, but their Sunday victory over Indianapolis was a combination of a solid offensive and defensive performances. It’s no secret that the Kansas City offense is one of the best in football, but people should take note of how well the defense played. They held the Indianapolis offense to 266 yards and 13 points, both of which are the lowest postseason totals. Justin Houston and Dee Ford were thriving off the edges and provided constant pressure all game, hence the three sacks between the two players. In the passing game, six different Kansas City defenders contributed to eleven total passes defended. In comparison, the Colts managed just three passes defended. The playoffs have been driven by offense, and with the remaining games set to to be offensive showdowns, the Chiefs’ defense will need to show up like they did against Indianapolis if they want a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
I know a team will trade up to draft a QB. The NFL Draft is in 97 days, yet here I am predicting what will happen. I’m that sure of it. Anything can happen, but I direct you towards my weekly slogan as to why I’m so certain: “The quarterbacks available this offseason are not great.” (I think that’s the fifth straight week I’ve addressed that.) Anyways, the top five teams in the draft have quarterbacks, though the Raiders could be a wildcard with Derek Carr. The next three teams all could use a new, young quarterback: Bucs, Giants, then Jaguars.
The Bucs’ new head coach Bruce Arians has already publicly supported Jameis Winston, so that leaves New York and Jacksonville looking for signal-callers. The Jaguars are closer to becoming a playoff team than the Giants and have more pieces to potentially move via trade. Their depth could allow them to give up an extra draft pick or two in an attempt to jump the Giants and Bucs. In my mind, it’s the race to draft Dwayne Haskins, and the Jaguars are in the best spot to do that in a defense-heavy draft.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if Kyler Murray should pick football. I might not be the most knowledgeable about baseball, but I like to think I know some stuff about football. With my friend Google helping me out with the baseball facts, I came to the conclusion that, sorry Dolphins and Giants fans, Murray should stick to the baseball diamond. Initially, I saw that massive first-round contract Murray gets in the NFL Draft accompanied with national fame and fortune as a pretty decisive pull towards donning a football helmet over a baseball helmet. On top of that, I doubt Murray would want to spend three to four years in some random midwestern city.
Now that I have familiarized myself with how the MLB works, a guaranteed contract sounds pretty good, especially since Murray was the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. An MLB career is not only safer on the body but it’s also safer on the bank accounts. It all goes back to the fully-guaranteed contracts. Murray can suck in baseball and still make serious cash. I know Murray could make lots of money if he becomes a superstar in the NFL (which as of now, I don’t think would happen), but that’s a rare possibility. There are obviously others upsides to choosing football but baseball is the safer option for Murray.
I don’t know how much longer Drew Brees has left. Don’t get me wrong, Brees is still a good quarterback who could probably play on 28 other NFL teams. Watching him under-throw a wide-open Taysom Hill in the third quarter made me realize that he might be losing a step or two. I can see two scenarios playing out. The first one is that Brees stays a year or two in New Orleans. The question then becomes what happens to Hill (the Saints’ quarterback who technically plays three other positions) and Teddy Bridgewater (who cost the Saints a third-round pick).
I’ve voiced my opinion on Bridgewater before and I have a legitimate concern about how New Orleans would handle three capable quarterbacks. The other scenario here is that Brees retires after the season. The only way I can see that happening is if Brees rides off into the sunset with another Super Bowl. I think Tom Brady would do the same too, but I’ll save that spew for another week.
I don’t know how to fix the Pro Bowl. At this point, the issues with it are so well broadcasted that there is no way to satisfy all parties involved. The NFL wants fans to show up and people to watch, hence the move from Hawaii to Orlando a couple years ago. The fans can easily get to the game, but do they want to get there? The players certainly don’t. How else can you explain the sudden influx of small and meager injuries in the weeks leading up to the game? Not to mention that all these tired, beat-up all-stars are spending the beginning of their vacation at Disney instead of Honolulu.
The fantasy draft they did a few years ago was cool entertainment, but it didn’t halt the declining play during the actual game. Players look like they’d rather be doing burpees in the grueling summer heat again. Why should they risk their careers (and boatloads of cash) for a meaningless game? The bonuses they get for playing aren’t worth risking millions of dollars down the line. The Pro Bowl has become purely about entertainment, but until it finds a balance between entertainment and football, neither sides will care enough about the game to make it meaningful.
I don’t know why Dave Toub doesn’t have a job yet. Toub was the Bears’ special teams coordinator for eight years and has held the same position for the Chiefs since 2013. Toub’s had multiple head coaching interviews in recent years and it’s about time he actually gets one of the jobs. Aside from helming some of the best special teams in football the past decade, Toub’s position as a coordinator is so valuable. He has to be familiar with countless players on both sides of the ball, figure out how to use them best, and convince the players to play a position they didn’t sign up for. Telling a fifth-round running back to block a 250-pound edge rusher on an extra point is no easy task.
In the last two decades, only Jim Harbaugh has made the jump from special teams coordinator directly to head coach, and I’d say that’s worked out well. Other successful coaches like Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, and Mike Ditka have dabbled in special teams before too. It’s time Toub is recognized for his success and traits with a head coaching job.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: When was the last season the Patriots lost more than two games at home?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Every week, I’ll feature a college football player who recently grabbed the spotlight. This week, I’ll be highlighting N’Keal Harry
Stats: In three seasons at Arizona State, the Junior had 213 receptions on 2,889 yards receiving and 25 total touchdowns.
- Long, rangy body (6’4 213)
- Physical athlete
- Great Combo of speed and size
- Surprisingly smooth footwork
- Moves better than I expected
- Feisty in open-field
- Very strong hands
- Excels at winning contested catches
- Outstanding ball skills
- Human highlight reel
- Reliable catcher
- Has been used as a running back and Wildcat QB
- Can have a slow or broken release (a.k.a his ability to separate off the line of scrimmage)
- Had trouble separating consistently in routes
- Doesn’t seem to know how to use hands when fighting press coverage
- Average blocker
The Unknown: How easily can Harry improve his route-running skills?
Bottom-Line: Human highlight reel who’s specialty is simply catching the ball in every way possible.
Early Team Fit: Oakland Raiders
Early Projection: Late First-Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Sammy Watkins
You know who doesn’t get this? Alshon Jeffery, but I’ll get to him in a minute. There weren’t many jaw-dropping grabs this week, but Watkins certainly grabbed my attention. It’s tough enough to catch a ball with your opposite hand, but Watkins did it while falling down. It would’ve been cooler if he had snagged the ball with one hand, though. I’ll let it slide for now.
Uniform of the Week: Los Angeles Rams
Shocker. Another week, another UOTW for the Rams. Next, please.
Weekly Warrior: James White
It was increasingly harder to pick a standout player from four games this week. Nonetheless, White gets the nod because of his 17 targets, a new postseason record. Everyone might know who White is at this point, but it’s his impact on a dominant New England team that seems to fly under the radar too often.
The Blunder Ball: Alshon Jeffery
I mean, duh? Your number one job as a receiver is to catch the ball. Jeffery let an easy slant route become the nail in the Eagles’ postseason coffin. While Philadelphia’s Super Bowl repeat hopes might be dead, let’s say Jeffery does catch this pass. There’s still a chance the Eagles screw up. Of course, we’ll never know because Jeffery forgot to clean the butter off his hands.
The Drugs Award: Troy Aikman
That’s the only explanation for why Aikman said Robert Woods is the best receiver in football, right? I’ll admit that Woods is criminally underrated, but I don’t even think he cracks the top ten. Sometimes broadcasters have air to fill and they go to the first thing that jumps in their head. This looks like one of those times.
The Drugs Award, Part Two: Adam Gase
Clearly, Troy Aikman and Adam Gase have been hanging out. I have no words for Gase’s strange press conference (and ‘strange’ might be underselling it). What else could explain why Gase looked like a vampire adjusting to light? Maybe the New York air has something the Miami air doesn’t (very likely), or maybe Gase wasn’t the only Dolphins coach in recent seasons to be messing around with illegal substances at work. Whatever the absurd reason is, there’s a funny video of Gase and a taco I suggest you Google.
Trivia Answer: 2012
Question: When was the last season the Patriots lost more than two games at home?
New England’s last home loss came in Week Four of last season. It’s been seven seasons since the Patriots lost multiple home games, with their last one coming in 2012 after losing the Conference Championship at Gillette Stadium. In that time span, the Patriots have also gone undefeated at home twice, if you include the current season.
ONE LAST THING
Since I have very little idea about who will come out victorious this upcoming weekend, I outlined the number one thing each team has to do to secure a Super Bowl berth.
Patriots: Stop Tyreek Hill
In the previous two matchups against the Chiefs (a 43-40 win this season and a 42-27 loss last season), Hill has scored four times. Two of those scores have been for 75 yards. Needless to say, Hill is the Chiefs’ best weapon right now. There’s simply no one like him. Stopping him is a grueling task, but it would force Kansas City to rely on guys like Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson. I’m sure Bill Belichick would prefer dealing with them over Hill.
Chiefs: Control the tempo
The Chiefs need to do to the Patriots what the Patriots did to the Chargers last week. Kansas City needs to get the ball and score immediately. Their best shot at winning will be forcing New England to play from behind. Going up 14-0 could seal the game quicker than you think. The Chiefs’ four losses came at a difference of 3,3,1 and 7, respectively. By establishing an early lead, Kansas City can avoid the late-game shootouts that have bested them throughout the season.
Rams: Limit Drew Brees’ time to throw
The Rams have arguably one of the most talented defensive lines. Aaron Donald is a generational player and Ndamukong Suh is a beast in his own right, too. That line will have to pressure Brees constantly and force him to either get rid of the ball quickly or scramble. At 40-years old, Brees can’t rely on his legs and the Rams should take advantage of that. The Eagles did this well and were only a drop away from potentially winning.
Saints: Stop the Rams’ defensive line
Considering the Rams’ key to win, this becomes pretty evident. The Saints had some issues along their offensive line against Philadelphia and struggled to contain Fletcher Cox. This time, it’ll be Aaron Donald. Brees had a 69.8 passer rating when pressured, but finished the season with a 115.7 passer rating. New Orleans will have to keep their star quarterback clean if they want to walk away with a win.
The Deep Route Fantasy Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
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