Lester is resting up for the playoff push and looking for Zimas, so he’s letting some of us fill in. Here are ten things I think I think about the Chicago Bears and the NFL:
#1) Only five teams made the playoffs in both 2017 and 2018: the Patriots, the Chiefs, the Eagles, the Rams, and the Saints. However, despite all of the turnover in the playoffs, only two teams actually managed to make the famed worst-to-first turnaround in their divisions--the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans. That sounds like a pretty good Super Bowl, to me. The ads write themselves.
#2) Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes were all quarterbacks that teams were supposedly going to have to settle for in the 2017 draft. The 2018 class was much more polished, and they were supposedly going to eclipse the ‘weak’ class that preceded them. Every first-round quarterback from 2017 is headed to the playoffs this year, while Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and the Joshes are all staying at home. Only Lamar Jackson has a winning record of that group, and he is the one a lot of experts thought would fall out of the first round or struggle. Interestingly, he’s headed for the playoffs with the Ravens.
#2A) The quarterback class that’s looking shakier by the moment is 2015. Jameis Winston has yet to see the playoffs and his single Pro Bowl nod is ammunition for those who discount the honor. Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota is turning into the Jeff Fisher of quarterbacks--good enough to be “not bad,” but a median-level player at best.
#3) For all of the hand-wringing about penalties, this year was pretty consistent with the new pattern. In 2018, there were 3445 penalties called for a total of 29435 penalty yards (just under 7 penalties and 60 yards per team per game). In 2017, it was 3421 penalties and 29582 yards during the regular season; in 2016 the totals were 3433 penalties for 29573 yards. If you want to see a real drop, you need to go back to 2013, when there were 3129 penalties for 27019 yards.
#4) Passer Rating, on the other hand, is definitely on the rise. The median passer rating among quarterbacks with at least 224 attempts was 94.2 (Cam Newton). Last season, it was 86.6 (Andy Dalton). Alex Smith’s 89.8 was the median rating for 2016. In 2008, only one passer finished the season with a passer rating north of 100 (Rivers). This season? Nine different quarterbacks met that mark.
#5) One-quarter of NFL head coaches lost their jobs this season. That’s a lot, but it’s not shocking in a league that stresses the need for results. On the other hand, there is another trend that does not look good for the NFL. At the start of the year, there were seven African-American head coaches in the league. With Jackson, Lewis, Bowles, Joseph, and Wilks all out of their jobs, that means that a league that already struggled for inclusion at the upper levels of management is likely to see that trend get worse before it gets better. With Reggie McKenzie’s departure from the Raiders, Baltimore’s Newsome is the only African-American in the league with final control of a roster.
#5A) Newsome is reportedly retiring at the end of next year.
#6) On the subject of GMs, I don’t understand how Mike Mayock make sense as a General Manager. I guess the thinking here is that he knows the draft, but at this point I half-expect a sideline reporter to end up as the special teams coordinator for the Raiders. I never had a very high opinion of Gruden as a talking head (he seemed to be a lot of style and little substance), and I have a hard time crediting him for the accomplishments of others in Tampa Bay. Still, I sort of understand the desperation of the Raiders to make a splash with a new head coach pending their move. Bringing in Mayock, though, makes it seem like a blatant effort at entertainment instead of credibility.
#7) Also, at what point in Denver do people begin to really wonder if John Elway has a plan? Vance Joseph never had a real chance with the way the quarterback situation was handled, and while Elway has hit on the obvious moves (drafting Bradley Chubb did not take an act of genius), the last couple of years have not been good for the mile-high organization.
#8) If the Bears do lose Vic Fangio to a head coaching job, he would instantly become one of the oldest head coaches in the NFL. Carroll and Belichick are older, as is Zimmer. Andy Reid even beats Fangio by a couple of months. Fangio would be #5. However, all of those guys have a lot of experience at the top. I don’t doubt that Fangio is a good coach, but I wonder if he can overcome the dual obstacles of an offensive bias and the youth movement in the NFL.
#9) How does any team offer Josh McDaniels a job this year? Make him pinky promise? Matt Patricia’s erratic impact on the Lions is worth noting, as are the general struggles of Belichick mentees in the pro game (his methods seem to transfer better to college). However, leave aside the struggles of the Belichick coaching tree for the moment. Just think about Indianapolis and pass.
#10) Every year, there is a sports writer who catches my eye for truly odd commentary. This is not to say commentary I disagree with, but rather comments that I just don’t understand. For 2018, that writer was Bill Barnwell. He led an attack on criticizing the way the Bears handled the Kyle Fuller situation (Fuller is certainly earning his contract, even if armchair GMs insist that somehow the details could have been handled better), but more significantly he claimed that Mitchell Trubisky was a quarterback on the bubble of making the roster in 2020, going so far as to call him “the Blake Bortles of the North.”
That is a strange position to take on a quarterback who was the #2 overall pick and who was steadily getting better even then. I sort of hope it was a deliberate hot take in an effort to drive clicks and not an actual opinion. In any event, my New Year’s resolution is to make sure I chuckle whenever Barnwell is invoked in a football discussion during 2019.
#10A) Honorable mention goes to Bart Scott, however, who in late November still picked the Packers to win the NFC North. After he made that prediction, the Packers went 2-4 in their remaining games. I don’t believe pro athletes need “bulletin board” material to get fired up, but I do think that some opinions are less informed or reasonable that others, and I hope that players get a good chuckle out of them.