I tried to watch the condensed version this morning, but it wouldn’t load, so I watched the full version for as long as I had time and then switched to the highlights – admittedly not an optimal way to take in a game.
I caught the condensed version of this game on my laptop this morning (in Lisbon) without knowing the results. I have to say that’s the best way to watch the NFL.
I got home from London maybe half an hour before the early games kicked off, and after setting my lineups, I realized a couple things: (1) I had left Andrew Luck in on one dead-in-the-water team Thursday even though I had FAABed Carson Wentz; and (2) I hadn’t yet fixed the Apple TV/IPad remote issue that came up on Thursday morning before we left. The first was bad only because it was the NFFC, and I’d hate to swing a win in someone’s favor who didn’t deserve it. Thankfully, that didn’t happen as the team with Luck lost by 100.
I spent Thanksgiving Day in London and had dinner at a party where they were re-filling your champagne glass before you were halfway done with it. I caught the tail end of the Lions-Vikings, a good deal of the Redskins-Cowboys last night and virtually all of the Steelers-Colts this morning. I’m actually writing this at 7:45 am London time because I woke up with a hangover and can’t yet get back to sleep.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a more frustrating game this season. For starters, the referees blew dead a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown, assuming he had stepped out of bounds when he hadn’t. Why not just let it play out and review it later? Second, on the Texans penultimate drive, the referees clearly spotted the ball erroneously short of the first down at least once if not twice. This essentially cost Houston the game, me the cover and a win in the high-stakes Stopa 11K league. Finally, on the Texans final drive, Bill O’Brien punted on 4th-and-7 from his own 44, down seven, with 3:13 and two timeouts left in the game. The Texans never got the ball back, and I’m pretty sure the 29-yard pass from Derek Carr to Jalen Richard on the run-out-the-clock drive was the margin in the Stopa league.
Week 11 seemed especially intense to me, given the against-the-spread drama that went down to the wire in nearly every game and a couple high-stakes fantasy contests that were – and still are heading into Monday night – 50/50 propositions. Usually, I’m merely annoyed and tense watching the games, but this week I was actually screaming curses – and on occasion (like during the long Zach Ertz TD that got called back and the long Pierre Garcon/Kirk Cousins TD that did not) – cheering and clapping.
(A building down the street from us at night. Above, view of Sintra, about an hour outside the city.)
• Ben McAdoo’s Giants are 7-3 and have the Browns in Week 12, so some might consider his debut a success. But the team’s point differential stands at a mere plus-four, and it’s tied with San Francisco for 23rd in points per game (20.4) and just ahead of Jacksonville in yards per game at 339.9 (20th.) Neither of these numbers is due to bad luck, either, as the passing game has a meager 7.0 YPA (18th), despite 10 interceptions (T-8th.) The running game – which McAdoo loves to “establish” without any rational justification is 30th in YPC at 3.4, ahead of only Los Angeles and Minnesota. Remember – McAdoo is an offensive coach, he calls the plays and is responsible for the scheme and philosophy. Why are the Giants 7-3? (1) They’re lucky (no win has been by more than seven points); and (2) Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is good, allowing only 3.6 YPC (6th), 6.7 YPA (7th) and 20 PPG (11th.)
• The Giants took a six-point lead with 6:49 remaining in the third quarter, and McAdoo – as he always does when the team has even a small lead – took his foot off the gas completely, running into the teeth of the defense on first and some second downs, with a safe, barely-at-the-sticks pass play on third. As a result, the Giants managed two first downs and five punts in the last 22 minutes against a defense on which they’d moved the ball with ease. Luckily for McAdoo, his defense stepped up, and the Bears were never able to get their game-winning score.
• I’ll give McAdoo an ounce of credit though – he went for it on 4th-and-2 from the Bears 17 in the first quarter to set up a TD.
• Rashad Jennings, graded as Pro Football Focus’ top pass blocking halfback, seems to have recaptured his near full-time job back from rookie Paul Perkins. Jennings’ 4.0 YPC doesn’t look like much, but he was ripping it up early before the Giants went into a predictable shell. That’s two good games in a row for Jennings who didn’t hit his stride until the second half last year too.
• Jordan Howard looks stiff as a runner, but for some reason he always seems to be racking up big gains.
• Once A.J. Green went down – possibly for the year – it was over for Andy Dalton’s fantasy value. Throw in Gio Bernard (torn ACL) for good measure, too. Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell should see big shares off this offense, but there won’t likely be much to go around.
• LeSean McCoy needs surgery on his thumb, but supposedly won’t miss a game.
• What a bad beat if you had the Browns plus 8.5 – they were either going to mount a drive and for the tie, or fail and cover – before a fumble TD by Pittsburgh’s defense. Cleveland still could have backdoored it on the final drive, but fell short.
• Le’Veon Bell is the top fantasy player right now – no back, not even David Johnson, has his role in the passing game along with being an elite running back. Like Cam Newton last year who was a top-10 passer and a Jeremy Hill-type back, Bell is a top-10 runner and a Cole Beasley-type WR.
• It’s amazing the Patriots passed on Terrelle Pryor last year. He’d be a top-10 receiver on a good team. It’s also too bad Josh Gordon couldn’t get it together – what a tandem that would be with first-rounder Corey Coleman also in the mix.
• Odd the Cowboys were only seven-point favorites over the Ravens. If we credit Dak Prescott for his level of performance over 10 games, he’s essentially a healthy Russell Wilson. I know people loved Tony Romo admitting Prescott’s earned the job, but they’re underrating Lance Dunbar and Alfred Morris silently conceding the tailback job to Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott could very well win the MVP award this year.
• If Dez Bryant is truly back – as it appears – the Cowboys have the best offense in the NFC and possibly the NFL, though the Patriots with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis are a high bar to clear.
• It amazes me Steve Smith, Frank Gore and Darren Sproles remain relevant at their ages.
• Odd the Ravens abandoned the run game – both Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon were successful despite small workloads.
• The Jaguars passing game is beyond ugly. Power back Chris Ivory led the team in receiving with 75 yards, Marqise Lee had 52 and no other receiver had more than Allen Robinson’s 18. The Lions were more efficient (8.4 YPA), but Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron (who got a rushing TD) and Andre Roberts led the way, further marginalizing the team’s inconsistent receivers. Marvin Jones went from top-10 to unplayable over the last six weeks.
• People are complaining about all the missed extra points, but you can see why the NFL did it. Why waste everyone’s time on something that converts 99 percent of the time? Either make TDs count for seven automatically (or six with the option of going for two) or push the PAT back. Those were the only real choices.
• DeMarco Murray always gets his. Even on a modest 70-yards rushing and three catches for nine yards, he found the end zone.
• Rishard Matthews is easily a top-20 WR. He’s not a game-breaker, but he’s caught everything that’s been thrown his way (45 catches on 66 targets.)
• T.Y. Hilton is one of the safest players in the league when he and Andrew Luck are both healthy.
• Adam Vinatieri finally missed a FG after making 44 straight. It’s an especially remarkable record given his age (43) and the number of kicks from 50-plus (9) in that span.
• Spencer Ware cannot be a top-10 back despite high efficiency and good versatility if Andy Reid doesn’t feed him the ball.
• At some point, the Chiefs have to open up the offense if they want to do better than a first-round playoff exit. At least they targeted Travis Kelce this game.
• Mike Evans is on an historic target pace with another 13 for 105 yards. Jameis Winston was lucky the Chiefs dropped a couple picks, but he was otherwise efficient (except in the red zone) in a tough spot.
• Doug Martin had a bad game, but it appears he’s healthy.
• Apparently Xavier Rhodes’ 100-yard INT return had him clocked as the fastest player in the NFL this year per the next generation NFL stat tracker. But Cordarrelle Patterson looked like Usain Bolt on his kick return TD – blowing by the cover team and extending the margin between him and his nearest pursuers with ease. You rarely see a return that’s not remotely in doubt before midfield.
• The Vikings defense destroyed Carson Palmer down the stretch, but Palmer hasn’t been his 2015 self all year and probably won’t ever be.
• Another 160 YFS and two scores for David Johnson. The venue and the opponent don’t matter in his case. He’s the only player with a case against Le’Veon Bell for the top spot right now.
• It’s amazing the Rams didn’t cover despite being up 10-0 with five minutes left and getting 1.5 points.
• Jared Goff did nothing in his debut, but the Rams have no choice but to play him. Kenny Britt and Lance Kendricks got seven targets each, at least.
• Todd Gurley ran well early, but still wound up with only 3.8 YPC. It’s hard to see Goff’s arrival changing anything for him.
• Maybe the Dolphins have figured out Jarvis Landry doesn’t deserve 10 targets a game. DeVante Parker (79 yards and a TD) led the team with 10.
• It was torture taking the 49ers plus 13.5 at home against the Patriots. Even after the 49ers heroically backdoored a TD to cut it to 13, the Patriots were trying to punch in a gratuitous LeGarrette Blount score in the closing minute, rather than running out the clock. Mercifully, Tom Brady took a knee on third down to seal it. Despite being a public team, the Patriots cover 58 percent of the time in the Bill Belichick era because the models that generate point spreads are too robotic to realize New England is a different animal. While everyone else trades margin of victory for time off the clock, the Patriots increase their margin mercilessly, irrespective of the score.
• Carlos Hyde looked healthy, hitting holes quickly and breaking tackles.
• Julian Edelman had 17 targets with Rob Gronkowski out. Edelman’s a top-20 WR again.
• Tom Brady’s line was pedestrian for him, but he escaped the pass rush several times and made perfect throws on the move. While he’ll never be Russell Wilson, Brady at 39 looks faster and more athletic than he did 10 years ago.
• Blount never did get into the end zone, but he’s a big part of the offense and a top-10-ish non-PPR back.
• Dion Lewis made some plays, looking as shifty as last year’s version, but James White had six targets and caught a touchdown. Both players are good, but with Blount getting a lot of the early-down work, Gronkowski likely back soon, Edelman, Martellus Bennett and an outside receiver (Chris Hogan/Malcolm Mitchell), there are a lot of mouths to feed in this offense. Moreover, the Patriots won’t telegraph ahead of time who’s eating and who’s fasting for a given game.
• I really needed the ~60-yard TD catch by Zach Ertz that was called back on an illegal formation penalty by Nelson Agholor who was standing a couple yards off the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped. The NFL needs to revamp its rules to avoid negating amazing, game-changing plays on account of some inconsequential error that had no effect on the play. Maybe a $50 fine and an hour of community service is in order in cases like that. Agholor followed up the error with a terrible drop on a 20-plus yard would-be catch a couple plays later. He’s got to be in danger of getting cut at this point, former first-round draft pick or not.
• Dorial Green-Beckham finally made an appearance, scoring a TD and going 5-for-54 on eight targets. He could be the No. 2 wideout opposite Jordan Matthews, not that that designation has any value in this offense. Ertz would have had a huge day but for the penalty, but still saw 11 targets and caught a TD.
• Wendell Smallwood has some upside again if Ryan Mathews misses time with a knee injury, especially if Darren Sproles (rib) is also out. Kenjon Barner would also see work in that case.
• C.J. Prosise looked like a potential difference-maker down the stretch after his 72-yard TD run, but now he’s out indefinitely with a clavicle injury. Welcome back Thomas Rawls – you’re now a top-12 back. Because the team cut Christine Michael last week, Alex Collins is probably worth a look in case Rawls does not hold up.
• Oddly, despite a healthy Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse led the team in targets with six. The Seahawks receivers could be said to be a blessing and a Kearse.
• Don’t feel bad getting only one TD pass from Wilson – he also caught a TD from Doug Baldwin.
• The oddsmakers keep giving the Packers too much respect – again they were less than three-point dogs in Washington.
• Aaron Rodgers keeps getting his, but this time it was Jared Cook and Randall Cobb who benefitted, not Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Nelson did score his league-leading ninth TD, but on five targets, three catches and only 28 yards.
• Rob Kelley doesn’t have much wiggle and can’t catch, but he has a job in a good offense and breaks some tackles. That was good enough for 137 yards and three TDs.
• Pierre Garcon has been Kirk Cousins’ top target of late, and he delivered. The Redskins spread it around a good deal, though, so it’s hard to count on anyone other than Jordan Reed.
• With DeSean Jackson back, Cousins has arguably the deepest group of targets in the NFL, including RB Chris Thompson, backup TE Vernon Davis and top slot man Jamison Crowder. He’s a top-10 QB, and there’s not much difference between No. 1 and No. 10.
It took me so long to edit the East Coast Offense podcast, the game had already started, so I watched the first half live, stayed up to 3 am. I caught the condensed version of the second half this morning, taking in some truly baffling play calling by Sean Payton in the fourth quarter.