Wild Card Weekend has come and gone, and with it a wild slew of games to kick off the 2018-2019 NFL Playoffs. While the games weren’t super rich in scoring, defenses really made their mark throughout the games. I’ll discuss who stood out this past weekend as well as the latest news and rumors in football, such as the Antonio Brown saga, all the coaching hires, which team picked the wrong head coach, which team could continue to shock the world, Wild Card Round Awards, and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know the Chargers looked like the best team over the weekend. They did something that no other team has been able to do: They stifled Lamar Jackson and the red-hot, run-happy Ravens. When I said the Chargers were the deepest team in the AFC a few weeks ago, I wasn’t exaggerating. Now I can confidently say that Los Angeles has surpassed another mantle in the AFC by becoming the conference’s most versatile team. Yes, I might be crazy to say the Chargers are more versatile than the explosive Chiefs, and if I was talking only about offense I’d likely stick with Kansas City.
On Sunday afternoon, though, the Chargers showed that defensive versatility is just as important as offensive versatility. Los Angeles had guys like safeties Derwin James and Jahleel Addae constantly stepping up and stopping the run. In case you couldn’t tell, running the ball so well is partially what got Baltimore into the playoffs. The way the Chargers used their defenders showed that they have players who can take on various roles, something that is so crucial for modern defenses. Just look at the similarities between the Chargers’ defense on Sunday and the Seahawks’ and Falcons’ defenses that reached Super Bowls this decade. As good as the L.A. offense is, it’s the team’s defense that secured the franchise’s second playoff victory since 2008.
I know Dak Prescott is good enough for the Cowboys. I don’t understand all the hate towards the third-year QB. It seems like critics are expecting him to replicate his successful first season when he won Rookie of the Year. The Cowboys’ scheme doesn’t call for Prescott to constantly put up big numbers, so obviously he’s not going to match the stats of other young gunslingers. With a great RB like Ezekiel Elliot on the roster, Dallas doesn’t need to go pass heavy. Prescott’s job is to command the offense and move the chains, not be the team’s lone source of yards. Having Amari Cooper to throw to now surely helps, but at the end of the day, Prescott does what he needs to do and nothing more. Maybe that is a problem, but until the Cowboys start consistently losing (which doesn’t look like it’ll happen anytime soon), I don’t have any issue with Prescott at the helm. Besides, how would the Cowboys replace him if they moved on from him? It’s not like there’s any good QBs lying around this offseason…
I know Nick Foles is auditioning himself for a new job. Here could be a solid option for QB-needy teams. The Eagles have an option to keep Foles for another season, let him go, or both and then franchise tag him. Like I said last week, the Eagles have a slight issue at QB. I won’t repeat myself entirely but Foles has been playing unbelievably when stepping in for star QB Carson Wentz. I also reported last week that the Eagles love Foles and that Foles loves the Eagles; it’s a match made in heaven. However, with an offseason of very few solid options at QB looming, I bet another team will love Foles more than the Eagles.
The way Foles has been playing recently, that admiration is likely increasing by every throw. I still stand by my prediction that a desperate team will make an offer that Philadelphia can’t refuse. (Jacksonville? Division-rival Washington?) I don’t think it would matter, though, because trading Foles strips the team of their MVP while removing Foles from the only environment he has ever succeeded in. I know it’s a stretch to look this far in advance, but trading Foles could possibly spell doom of the Eagles, Foles, and the team that sacrifices high draft picks for him.
I know the Texans need offensive line help badly. I could really say this about most of the NFL teams, but Houston is close to being a contender. If they’re going to take that next step, they should spend most of their capital on offensive linemen this offseason. The Draft has promising options at tackle such as Yodny Cajuste, Cody Ford, and Dalton Risner, all of whom may be available when the Texans pick at 23. In the later rounds, Michael Deiter, Greg Little, and Jawaan Taylor are possibilities. I recommend finding offensive linemen in the draft as the options in free agency aren’t too inspiring. Daryl Williams and Ja’Wuan James are intriguing but will probably return to their respective teams. With a projected $67 million in cap space (sixth-most in the NFL), I expect the Texans to use both the draft and free agency to rebuild a unit that gave up a league-leading 62 sacks this year. If they do that, a future Super Bowl berth is not out of the question for Houston.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how the Colts are so good. I’d bet good money that very few people before the season said the Colts would make the playoffs, let alone win a game. Alas, that is what the Colts have done, and I have not a clue as to how the team has performed so well. When I look at the Colts’ roster, I see a bunch of no-name players and free-agent afterthoughts. Defensive lineman Denico Autry started three games last season in Oakland and now he’s the Colts’ leader in sacks. In four seasons as a Raider, he racked up 10.5 sacks. He has nine this season alone. Tight end Eric Ebron was the tenth overall pick in 2014 by Detroit yet managed just eleven touchdowns in four years there. Since signing with the Colts this offseason, his 13 receiving touchdowns are tied for the second-most in football. Even Frank Reich (the team’s first-year head coach) was an afterthought after Josh McDaniels backed out days after agreeing to take the Colts’ head coaching job.
I give credit to General Manager Chris Ballard, who’s long been a favorite of mine. It also helps having Andrew Luck and rookie superstar Quenton Nelson, who are both among the top options for their respective positions. I may not know what spell Ballard put on this team, but I do know the Colts will continue to get better this offseason. Over $100 million in cash to spend will help with that.
I don’t know if Antonio Brown will be traded. On one hand, the star WR has been a headache for the Steelers before. From temper tantrums to sideline antics, the final straw came when Brown skipped crucial meetings leading up to the Steelers’ season finale. There’s no arguing that Brown hasn’t exactly been a perfect player these past few years. Dubbed a diva by some, it looks like Brown’s ego and entitlement has finally overshadowed his on-field production. The tricky part about trading Brown is his contract. Brown is scheduled to have a cap hit of $22 million next season, the highest among all receivers. If the Steelers were to trade him, they’d save just over million dollars. In other words, Pittsburgh would pay over $21 million to have Brown not play for them. I’m not sure the team would want to take that risk when they could keep him for about a million dollars more. If the Steelers do decide to make trade calls about Brown, I can see the Jets and Raiders being the first teams to consider a deal.
I don’t know why people wanted Lamar Jackson replaced by Joe Flacco. I can’t say Flacco would have been better than Jackson because ultimately we’ll never know for sure. Jackson started the game terribly and lots of people, including fans at the game, were calling for the veteran QB who once led Baltimore to a title. However, I have a strong feeling that Flacco wouldn’t have played well either. The Chargers were dominating that game from the start and a big part of that was their success with blitzes and pass rush. There is no chance that Flacco, a 34-year old pocket passer, would have evaded defenders any better than Jackson, a 22-year old scrambler.
It’s not like the rest of the offense was making Jackson’s life easier anyways. The running backs faced similar issues as Jackson when carrying the ball and the receivers had trouble getting open until the final few minutes. Speaking of which, Jackson did almost lead a comeback to end the game. Obviously, hindsight reigns supreme here but even if Jackson hadn’t found his footing in the fourth quarter, there was no way that John Harbaugh would give up on his QB of the future when Jackson was the reason the Ravens even reached the playoffs. Flacco’s days as a Raven are over and Jackson’s days are only beginning; it would’ve been futile to mess that up by substituting Flacco in.
I don’t know why “fans” ever boo their players. It’s as pointless as it is classless. I’m looking at you Chicago after your disgusting send-off to Cody Parkey, who’s could’ve advanced the Bears further in the playoffs. Parkey already feels bad enough, so booing him really just makes you look like a massive jerk. (Sorry, I have to keep it PG.) It’s a terrible show of sportsmanship and pretty immature, especially for parents at the game with their kids. Aside from Eagles’ kicker Jake Elliott, I guarantee no other person in that stadium would have come close to nailing that kick. In other words, let’s see a 200-pound, middle-aged drunk try and knock a ball 43 yards through the air. I know it’s his job to make field goals, which is why he’s likely kicked his last field goal as a Chicago Bear, but at the end of the day, he was the best option and he simply missed. It happens; he’s only human. Besides, the Bears will have a lot of time to find a better kicker before they return to the playoffs next season.
I don’t know why Kliff Kingsbury was a popular coaching candidate. Before the Cardinals made Kingsbury their new head coach, teams were asking for head coaching interviews from the recently-fired Texas Tech head coach. Interestingly enough, USC (who Kingsbury signed with as an offensive coordinator about a month ago) was declining the requests. While I’ll always look down upon what USC was doing, the 39-year old coach should have never taken the USC job if he’d seriously consider an NFL opening.
In his underwhelming six-year career as Texas Tech’s head coach, Kingsbury had two winning seasons: 8-5 his first year and 7-6 in 2015. He probably lasted so long because of his knowledge about offenses, which could be seen in the high-flying Air Raid scheme Kingsbury employed. His offensive success makes Kingsbury an intriguing offensive coordinator candidate but he’s clearly not ready to be a head coach again. So why on Earth did NFL teams think Kingsbury could be a good professional head coach? An offensive coordinator I’d understand; NFL coaches have picked Kingsbury’s brain often about the latest offensive trends. To me, the Cardinals are being naive and incompetent to think that a lackluster collegiate head coach could have better success professionally.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Question: Which school has had the most NFL Draft picks since the first draft in 1936?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Stats: In three seasons at Iowa State, the Redshirt Junior totaled 110 receptions, 2,149 yards, and 18 touchdowns. He was 3rd in yards per catch among the NCAA.
- Human highlight reel
- Big, long freak at 6’6, 225
- Long, strong legs
- Moves better than most guys his size
- Doesn’t go down easily
- Beast at pinpointing balls in air
- Adjusts well to ball
- Redzone target
- Excelled at picking up yards after the catch
- Determination and energy on constant display
- Relied more on size and talent than quickness to get open
- Size likely limits how quick he can play
- Not overly fast
- Lacks explosiveness (a.k.a ability to burst out of a start quickly)
- Average blocker
The Unknown: Will Butler’s lack of quickness affect his separation and route-running ability?
Bottom-Line: Butler is a freak of nature who’s ability to catch is among the best. If he can improve his route-running, Butler can be a very good NFL WR.
Early Team Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars
Early Projection: 2nd Round
The ‘Hands’ Award: Justyn Ross
This twisting one-handed catch is so good that it might be the best catch of 2019! (I’ll show myself out now.) In all seriousness, Ross managed to rotate in mid-air, palm the ball with his right hand, hang onto the ball while getting hit, and stay in-bounds. That’s some serious skill.
Uniform of the Week: Seattle Seahawks
There aren’t many uniform options in the playoffs, so the Seahawks get the nod again this week. They donned their sleek navy uniforms but ditched the navy pants in favor of gray ones. It’s a nice complement because of the team’s color palette but I still prefer all navy.
Weekly Warrior: Kenny Moore
What? A player not on offense? That’s right. The playoffs call for a change, and with no come-out-of-nowhere player on offense from the wild card games, I’ll go with Colts’ cornerback Kenny Moore. He had an interception and a sack to go with five tackles. It’s now the second consecutive week Moore has had a pick. If I wanted to, I could’ve given this to the entire Colts’ roster.
The Blunder Ball: Green Bay Packers
I know, I know. They didn’t even play. Initially, Cody Parkey would have been here for obvious reasons. I couldn’t really think of too many screw-ups during the games so I’ll chastise the Packers for hiring an inexperienced offensive coordinator as their head coach. Keep reading to see why I don’t think LaFleur is that special.
The Lucky 13 Award: Miami Dolphins
While commonly viewed as the unluckiest number ever, 13 is a very respected number among the Dolphins’ franchise. It’s due to the success of Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino, who donned the number 13. This offseason, the Dolphins will not only have the 13th overall pick, but they’ll be selecting their 13th head coach in franchise history. The Dolphins have made the playoffs just twice in the past 13 seasons, but if they make the right choices this offseason (especially with their coach and first-round pick), the team could set themselves up for future postseason success.
Trivia Answer: USC
Question: Which school has had the most NFL Draft picks since the first draft in 1936?
They’ve had 506 players selected across a span of 82 years, though Notre Dame is hot on their heels at 499. To put that into perspective, 1,696 players make an NFL roster each season. USC had four players drafted last year, including the third-overall pick Sam Darnold. If you’re curious about how many players have been drafted by certain teams, check out this simple and convenient website.
ONE LAST THING
I get a lot of people asking about the process it takes for me to write this column each week. By Sunday night, I have 90% of what I’ll be talking about already written. Monday I outline everything and begin writing. That way, I know what I’m saying usually by Monday afternoon. This week, I underestimated how quickly teams would hire coaches so I packed all my thoughts on them down here. To be honest, I haven’t done too much research on potential new head coaches yet, mainly because I wanted to wait until they were hired. With the coaching carousel in full swing, I thought I’d give quick, initial thoughts on all the hires so far (as of Thursday night):
Matt LaFleur, Packers: The 39-year old, six-year NFL offensive coordinator is being tabbed as the next Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t buy the hype. LaFleur has done nothing to prove he could be a successful head coach. He was McVay’s offensive coordinator in Los Angeles two years ago but didn’t call plays until he became the Tennessee’s offensive coordinator before this season. On the Rams, it was McVay’s show. On the Titans, LaFleur’s 27th-ranked offense was mediocre. This hire looks like another team moving too quickly and anxiously to hire an under-qualified coach.
Bruce Arians, Buccaneers: At 66, Arians likely doesn’t have much fuel left in the tank, especially with his health history in recent years (which allegedly led to his retirement last season). He did wonders with Arizona back in the day and will have some fun tools in Tampa to use. Call me picky, but I wonder if Arians will last long here either due to healthy reasons and/or a change in front office personnel. I can’t see this being a long-term success, but it might not matter if Arians can quickly produce positive results.
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals: I know I talked a lot about him earlier, but with the LaFleur hire, it becomes apparent that the prospect of finding the next great, young offensive guru has blinded teams to obvious caveats. With a surprising array of young and veteran talent, I’m higher on the Cardinals than most. Kingsbury better hire an excellent defensive coordinator to balance out his staff.
Vic Fangio, Broncos: I think I like this hire, especially if Gary Kubiak takes the offensive coordinator job as rumored. Excluding four years as the Baltimore linebackers coach and a one-year stint at Stanford, Fangio was an NFL defensive coordinator since 1995. He lasted four years each for four different teams and spent three seasons with the Colts. In San Fransisco from 2011-2014, his defense was consistently top-five. When he joined Chicago, the defense improved each season until it became one of the elite defenses in football this season. That’s a pretty impressive track record. This job seems long overdue for Fangio and having a talented Denver defense should help.
Freddie Kitchens, Browns: This is an interesting choice, and while Kitchens isn’t the most experienced candidate, his work with Cleveland this season can’t be ignored. Since joining the NFL in 2006, Kitchens has served as tight end coach, quarterbacks coach, and running backs coach. He was the latter for the Browns until Week Eight when he was promoted to offensive coordinator. Since Kitchens’ promotion, the Browns offense has seen a massive improvement. The stats might be salivating, but Kitchens will have to show he can command a team. Who he surrounds himself with on his staff will be huge for a coach who’s highest job title was an NFL offensive coordinator for nine weeks.
Adam Gase, Jets: Leave it to the Jets to sign another former AFC East coach. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Gase’s tenure with Miami was underwhelming, to say the least. I question his ability to handle the personalities on the team’s roster and the harsh New York media. After all, Gase clashed with multiple personalities in Miami as multiple players, including prominent veterans, reportedly vocalized their disdain for Gase to the front staff. For those saying Gase is an ‘offensive genius’ and a ‘QB guru’, did they not see the past three seasons? Congrats, he worked with the legendary Peyton Manning and made Tim Tebow look above average for a season. He would’ve been a better offensive coordinator than retread head coach. I’m dubious that he’ll figure things out in his second head-coaching stint.
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 linked to or stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
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