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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Herbert-Mahomes forever, Robert Quinn chasing down Richard Dent, taking out the trash in Jacksonville and more in this week’s thoughts.

LA Chargers KC Chiefs at SoFi Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

1 – Inevitable

After struggling early in the year, the best young quarterback in the league has his team on a 7-game winning streak with three to go and now control the #1 seed in the AFC. The giant contract that Mahomes signed in the off season will almost certainly start looking like a bargain sooner rather than later. He finished this one with 410 yards and 3 scores including the overtime dagger to Travis Kelce for the win. As long as he’s healthy, the Chiefs will be dangerous and competitive in the AFC.

The Chargers played good games against him twice and it wasn’t until Derwin James exited this contest that Mahomes started to really heat up. The Mahomes-Herbert matchup will be one to watch for years to come as between the two, they’re able to make any throw on the field. Here’s to hoping we get the rubber match in the playoffs.

2 – Analysis Paralysis

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley caught some serious heat for leaning on the analytics in making crucial 4th down calls that did not turn out well for the Chargers. The bolts came away with zero points on three separate drives, which for a game his team lost in overtime makes him and analytics an easy target. They also extended a drive with a 4th down call that immediately led to a TD.

Here’s the thing: analytics are a tool to help aid decision-making. One side can’t make fun of nerds running spreadsheets because they maybe don’t necessarily understand the math that goes into it. The other side can’t just assume they’re correct in all situations because their models spit out an answer. There are plenty of variables to consider and it would be foolhardy to believe that one model is “correct” in any given situation. It’s on the decision maker to understand everything they can that can give their team an edge in winning games. Those that understand the math and apply it to their own team-specific circumstances will be the most successful.

Also, it will never not be funny that the machismo football dude side of this is kicking the field goal or punting where the nerdy side is going for it on 4th down, but here we are.

3 – Dangerous with a Fatal Flaw

I like how Chris Ballard built the Indianapolis Colts. Slow and steady, making moves on his terms, never pressing for something that wasn’t there. It’s an approach I’ve monitored from afar because Ballard worked for the Bears and was the odds on favorite to replace Phil Emery instead of Ryan Pace. The offensive line is one of the best units in the league and they’ve got a fantastic defense that reminds you of the great Lovie-era Bears defenses.

However…

Ballard’s inability to get the quarterback situation figured out after Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired has held this team back from being a legitimate contender in the AFC. The narrative after their big win against the Patriots on Saturday night was that they were a team that no one wanted to face in the playoffs. I’d say they’re a team that no one wants to trail in the playoffs. They are completely game script dependent at this point because their quarterback, Carson Wentz for the time being, cannot be relied upon to come from behind and win a big game. I think they’ll be a fun team in the playoffs, I’m just not convinced they go very far with Wentz.

4 – Meyer Fired

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I never understood the logic of Jacksonville hiring Urban Meyer but even I didn’t think he’d flame out so spectacularly, so quickly. They say the brightest stars burn out the quickest, I guess, but this was 11 months of pouring gasoline on a tire fire.

In less than a year, Meyer managed to bring in a disgraced strength and conditioning coach, add the sideshow Tim Tebow to training camp, break practice protocols, kick his kicker, not fly back with his team, the video in the restaurant incident, called his coaching staff losers, and on and on and on. Maybe Meyer believed in his own brand so much that he thought he was going to walk into the NFL and find instant success. If that’s the case, I can’t overstate just how happy I am to see him humbled. Well, judging by his recent comments, he’s nowhere close to humbled so I’ll settle for booted out of the league disgracefully.

5 – Lions Suddenly Frisky

I tried to warn people that the Lions were not the worthless pushovers their record appeared to be. After the Bears escaped Thanksgiving with a last second win out of Detroit, a lot of Bears fans grumbled about the victory. I did not.

I’m not going to try to convince you that this is a good football team at this point. They are not. They do not have the depth of talent it takes to be a good or even average team, but they play hard, and they’ve done better than what many give them credit for. Taking down the 10-win Cardinals at home is a big red feather in their mane and something they can build off in the off-season. The win may have cost the Lions the #1 overall pick in the draft, as that now belongs to the Jaguars.

6 – Football is Weird

The Bucs came into Week 15 as the highest scoring team in the NFL with 410 points. The left Week 15 with 410 points.

A few injuries to key players during Sunday night’s game and some big mistakes in key situations and the highest scoring team in the NFL was shut out at home against the Saints. New Orleans has Brady’s number in the regular season, sweeping both games each of the last two seasons. The Bucs did beat the Saints in last year’s playoffs on their way to the SB title, but I think it’s safe to say the Bucs want none of the Saints again this season.

Sometimes, a team just has another team’s number. It may be one of the weirdest things in sports.

7 – Going for the W

The Ravens decision to go for two at the end of the game was almost certainly the right call. The play choice wasn’t great, but the young QB did miss his second read, Hollywood Brown, who was wide open along the back of the middle of the end zone. That would have put them up one with 42 seconds left against the Packers. With so many injuries at corner and a fire-breathing dragon on the other sideline, I think you had to take your shot then and there.

If instead, John Harbaugh took the extra point, he’d still need to defend the last 42 seconds against Rodgers (an eternity for him) and then hope the Ravens win the coin toss. It’s tough for Ravens fans (and Bears fans who wanted to see the Packers lose) as they’ve been on the wrong side of some of these Harbaugh decisions but this one sure seems like the right thing from an analytics standpoint and from a gut feel.

8 – What Did I Just Watch?

I do not understand how the Pittsburgh Steelers keep winning football games. The zombified form of Ben Roethlisberger put up 148 yards on 16/25 passing while Najee Harris ran for – checks notes – 18 yards on 12 carries. Seriously, this offensive output should be a guaranteed loss in 2021, but the Steelers beat the Titans to keep their playoff hopes alive. Personally, I could do without the Steelers in the playoffs but they’re well coached and they just keep hanging around.

As for the Titans, the AFC South looked like a sure thing a few weeks ago and now is in serious doubt given the surge of the Colts. They now get the 49ers on a short week on the Thursday night game.

9 – Bears Record Breaker

I’ve been talking about Robert Quinn with my co-host and WCG Boss Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. about Quinn having a shot at Richard Dent’s single season sack record of 17.5 for the last five or six weeks. What an impressive bounce back from a player who toughed out an injury last year with lackluster results. Quinn currently sits at 16 sacks with three games to go. The Seahawks are among the league leaders in sacks allowed, the Giants are middle of the pack, and the Vikings, who Quinn just terrorized, are actually among the league’s best. Quinn just needs two more takedowns against those three teams to own the franchise mark.

What makes this even more special is that Quinn has stepped up his production after Mack was shut down for the season. He’s been a force in the run game and has overall played up to the big contract. Congratulations to Quinn and here’s hoping he enjoys his trip to the Pro Bowl.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

The Bears had one of those nights on Monday. Fields contributed to that with a couple of needless sacks taken and the lost fumble. I also thought he made a lot of good throws and moved the offense well. It was his first time facing a Mike Zimmer defense, who has a long history giving QBs trouble, especially on third downs. He’s also still running the Matt Nagy offense, which hasn’t done him a lot of favors during his rookie season.

The overall numbers still don’t look particularly good, but they’re improving on the whole. Personally, I want and need more data before I can make any determination about what kind of player Justin Fields will be in the league, but I’ve certainly seen enough to be excited about what Year 2 will look like. He has proven a number of things, like his willingness to push the ball down the field with accuracy, that you can build around. Some of the problematic issues can be improved, like ball security and getting the ball out quicker when needed. Overall, there seems to be steady and obvious improvement from his early starts to now.

If you’re out on Justin Fields already, well… bye. Grab your parting gift at the door and we’ll see you down the line.

What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.