I missed the first half of the early games due to an appointment at the pub, but I caught the second half and all the late games before watching the edited version of Sunday night game this morning. The biggest takeaway for me is there are no great teams this year. The Saints might have lost at home to the Steelers but for some questionable calls and a late fumble, the Chiefs have lost two in a row and don’t play defense, the Patriots lack offensive firepower and struggle on the road and the Rams have struggled for the month, something a decisive win over the Cardinals does not erase. I bought an 18:1 ticket on the Ravens before their game in Los Angeles, and one could have similarly invested in the Eagles (need help), Chargers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Colts and/or Vikings.
• Russell Wilson missed a wide open Doug Baldwin for a would-be TD, but he made perfect throws most of the game, scrambled out of trouble and outplayed Patrick Mahomes in an important contest. Not that Mahomes was bad – he made clutch third-down conversions, completing passes from improbable angles and scrambling effectively too – but Wilson was the better QB last night.
• Doug Baldwin has been less than 100 percent for most of the year, but he finally looks like he’s back. The Seahawks are already a good running team, and now with Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, they can beat you through the air too. Unfortunately, they’ll likely have to play all their playoff games on the road. Chris Carson is a bull, and the Seahawks are likely to get Rashaad Penny, a quicker and more explosive option, back for the playoffs too.
• Damian Williams lost a key fumble, but he looks awfully quick whenever he touches the ball. Odd he never got a real shot in Miami for so long, but the Dolphins are a virtual RB factory with Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake all doing time there the last few years. The Andy Reid system also makes it easy on backs – Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt all had huge seasons under him – but Williams looks faster than Kareem Hunt or Spencer Ware.
• Antonio Brown (19-14-185-2) was in peak form on the road against a strong defense. Juju Smith-Schuster (15-11-115) had a more modest output and lost a fumble to seal the game. Of course, it might have gone differently had the Saints not been gifted a TD on a sketchy end-zone PI that occurred on a fourth-down play in the first half. The Steelers would have taken the ball back on downs and instead the Saints got it first-and-goal from the one.
• Ted Ginn’s (8-5-74) return is big for the Saints as their non Michael-Thomas/Alvin Kamara targets are bad. Keith Kirkwood (4-2-35) in particular had an inexcusable drop late in the game, and Tre’Quan Smith (1-1-11) doesn’t got much work.
• For someone who made the Niners plus four his best bet, that was a frustrating non-cover. The Niners really blew it on their penultimate drive with the interception deep in Bears territory. There was plenty of time for a FG to cut it to 14-12 and lock up the cover before playing out the final seven minutes. Instead, the Niners got the ball back with less than two minutes to play, needing the TD
Of course, they never should have gotten it back, but Allen Robinson, after catching the game-sealing first down, kept running for God knows what reason and fumbled on the play. If he goes to the ground, it’s game over. Not to be outdone, Nick Mullens threw an out-of-bounds Hail Mary on 4th-and-5 from midfield rather than run for an easy first down on the sideline, with a full minute left in the game. Either way, the Bears too could get hot and run the table, Mitchell Trubisky’s mediocrity notwithstanding.
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• I always thought C.J. Anderson (20-167-1) could make an impact this year, only I expected it to be for the Panthers at Christian McCaffrey’s expense rather than for the Rams at Todd Gurley’s.
• Speaking of which McCaffrey set the record for running back receptions with 106 to go along with 1,080 rushing yards and 13 total TDs. I don’t like to “take the L” on players, but there’s no hiding from this one.
• TD machine Julio Jones scored for the seventh time in his last eight games.
• Nick Foles (471 yards, 9.6 YPA, four TDs, one pick, one sack, one fumble) has resurrected the Eagles 2017 offense by taking shots down the field. Foles had an 83-yard TD to Nelson Agholor and a 52-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery en route to 32 points and a win over the Texans, keeping the Eagles playoff hopes alive. If the Bears (who are still playing for a first-round bye) beat the Vikings, and the Eagles beat the Redskins, the Eagles get in. I’m pretty sure it’s still Carson Wentz’ job next year, but if Foles were to make a deep playoff run, it would be a harder sell.
• Deshaun Watson (339 yards, 8.5 YPA, two TDs, no picks, four sacks, one fumble, 49 rushing yards two rushing TDs) is a wizard, but he takes too many sacks. DeAndre Hopkins (12-9-104) has the highest floor in the league right now. You’d think a team with those two, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney would have a puncher’s chance in a wide-open playoffs, but if the Colts beat the Titans next week, I’d rank Houston 12 out of 12 among the qualifiers. And I’d take the Steelers and Eagles (both underdogs to qualify) over them too. That said, the Texans look about as good as the 2007 or 2011 Giants did at this point, and the top teams those years were much tougher.
• With 12 more catches, Zach Ertz (16-12-110-2) broke Jason Witten’s (110) TE reception record. Ertz has 113, and he won’t be rested in Week 17.
• Aaron Rodgers (442 passing yards, two TDs, no picks, four sacks, 32 rushing yards, two rushing TDs, one 2-pt conversion run) had a fantasy game for the ages, likely sealing fifth place for you. No matter what the sixth-place finisher, who might not have set a lineup, says, you own that loser.
• Davante Adams (18-11-71-1) caught the game-winning TD in overtime, but he worked awfully hard for his 71 yards. There’s no doubt he’s a top-three fantasy receiver but for real life, I maintain he’s outside the top 10.
• Robby Anderson (13-9-140-1) finished strong with 312 yards and three TDs over his last three games. It doesn’t surprise me – I drafted (and cut) him everywhere.
• Sam Darnold (341 yards, 9.7 YPA, three TDs, no picks, two sacks) had his second straight strong game. The season totals (7.0 YPA, 17 TDs, 15 picks) are mediocre, but he’s the youngest QB in the league, and he got better as the season went on. There’s plenty to be hopeful about if you’re a Jets fan and a little to be nervous about if you’re a Jets-hating Giants fan mocking people for saying the Giants should have taken him over Saquon Barkley. (For the record, I’d still rather have Barkley, but as long as Darnold shows even a glimmer of potential greatness, you have to concerned.) And no, it’s not possible to root for both players to do well.
• The Patriots are smart, only have to beat the Jets to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and nasty at home. But with Rob Gronkowski looking 68 and Josh Gordon gone, they’re woefully thin on playmakers. As for the Bills game itself, I’ll just say that backdoor cover (I laid the 12.5) really chapped my hide.
• The Jaguars-Dolphins game isn’t worth the ink on which this sentence is printed, and the ink is virtual.
• I caught some of the Giants-Colts, including the game-ending pick thrown by Eli Manning (309 yards, 9.4 YPA, one TD, one pick, one rushing TD and no sacks.) Manning’s numbers were otherwise strong, which bodes badly for the Giants if they push them toward keeping him another year. Teams need a QB who is excellent in the pocket, rarely makes mistakes and/or whose mobility allows him to extend plays. Manning is none of those.
• Saquon Barkley got stuffed for the second game in a row. Perhaps defenses are smartly keying on him with Odell Beckham out, but Barkley hasn’t made an impact since the Redskins game.
• Andrew Luck rallied the Colts for the win. They still have to beat the Titans on the road, but Indy is the far more interesting team should they get there.
• What an abominable year for Matthew Stafford. He’s now down to 6.7 YPA in the most inflated QB environment the league has ever seen. Don’t get excited about Kirk Cousins’ 9.0 YPA and three TDs either – the Kyle Rudolph Hail Mary at the end of the first half was a big part of it. If the Vikings win at home against the Bears, they’re in the playoffs, but assuming the Bears go all out for the two seed (they need the Rams to lose at home to the 49ers), that’s far from a layup. And their competition, the Eagles, have a fairly easy game at Washington.
• How did the Buccaneers go from the most exciting team in the league to its most boring in half a season? With the win, the Cowboys are locked into the No. 4 seed. I suspect they’ll sit some players next week, no matter what Jerry Jones says.
• What a backdoor push by the Bengals! Honestly, one of the greatest of all time.
• I’d love to see Breshad Perriman (4-2-76) have an NFL career. No one in the world at 6-2, 215 runs a 4.24 40.
• Baker Mayfield is up to 7.5 YPA and 24 TDs vs. 11 picks in 12.5 games, with terrible receivers and Hue Jackson as his coach for half the year. He’s already a top-10-ish NFL QB.