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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Concessions and victory laps as we head into the last week of October

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

As we near the end of October, it’s time to check back at my preseason thoughts and see just how smart and dumb I look. Like usual, it’s a bit of both, but it’s always fun to look back on how the world looked in August versus today. I should also note, there’s a good reason why the NFL insists on playing these games on the field and not on paper and why they refuse to award preseason trophies.

1. I was wrong about Matt Ryan

This one might be the biggest whiff so let’s get it out of the way quickly. I thought this was an incredibly smart move by Chris Ballard and figured a reinvigorated Ryan could give the Colts a few years of good football. Unfortunately for Colts fans, he’s been a turnover and sack-taking machine. Through the first 7 games, Ryan has thrown 9 scores against 9 picks, fumbled 11 times (losing 3), and taken 24 sacks.

Word came out on Monday that the Colts are benching Matt Ryan for the rest of the season and that the benching is not related to the reported shoulder injury. Matt Ryan, former MVP, acquired this offseason, benched. The overtones of the owner, Jim Irsay, impacting this decision likely means there’s some financial implications to this move, but it’s also undeniable that Ryan has been incredibly disappointing.

2. I was right about the Eagles

One of the bets I felt strongest about coming into the season was on the Eagles. I took their over wins bet, to win the NFC East, and yes, even to win the conference. They had the deepest roster in the NFC and looked like a balanced squad that could play with anyone. As many of the other teams in the NFC have struggled out of the gate, the Eagles have taken flight to a perfect 6-0. Nick Sirianni looks like an easy choice for Coach of the Year if this trend continues and Jalen Hurts is making it work.

What I like best about this team is they have multiple ways to win. So often teams are finding one way to beat you, but the Eagles will morph into whatever shape fits them best for that particular opponent. It feels almost Belichick-ian.

3. I was wrong about Russell Wilson in Denver

I’ll admit it, I bought into the change of scenery and new weapons for Russ as a win for all parties. He gets to go to a place that has an excellent defense with good weapons and an offensive line that is better than anything he’s had in Seattle in a good long while. Although Denver didn’t land the white whale they were originally aiming for, they got a guy that has been a top QB for a long time. I understood the thinking and picked Denver to nab the seven seed in the AFC over the Dolphins (oof).

Let’s put aside the injury for just a second – it just doesn’t seem to fit. His antics have accumulated in teammates like mercury in fish tissue to the point where players that shared a locker room, and in some cases a championship season, were lining up to take him down. If he landed in Denver with a rock star mentality but only packed a ukulele with three broken strings, I get why there’s unrest in Denver. You’ve got to earn it in this league, each and every year, but particularly on a new team.

4. I think I was right about Brian Daboll

Two off-seasons ago, when I thought the Bears would fire Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, I did a deep dive of all of the head coaching candidates. I came back to the thought of plucking an offensive mind that had shown success getting the best out of the players on his offense. Not necessarily the flavor of the month kind of guy – the ones that actually seemed to understand what they had and shape offense around them. The guys that rose to the top were Arthur Smith, who was hired that cycle in Atlanta, and Brian Daboll.

The New York Giants hired the Buffalo OC to man the helm of Big Blue and so far, so good. The 6-1 Giants are not the most talented squad, but Daboll’s offensive approach, game management, and voodoo on Daniel Jones has this team far exceeding expectations. Too early to take the victory lap just yet, but Daboll has the attention of many people and may end up competing for Coach of the Year votes against Sirianni if his squad can maintain this win rate. I think they likely cool off here but this fast start has certainly bought him ample time with the New York media.

5. I was wrong about the Seahawks

They look feisty! I thought for sure that moving Russell Wilson would put the Seahawks on the path for a gap year and a shot at the #1 overall pick. The Seahawks sit at 4-3, currently atop the NFC West standings, despite entering the year with one of the lowest over/under win predictions in the league. Ironically, the offensive line might be one of the best in recent memory and Geno Smith looks like a legitimate starting quarterback for this football team.

Still, the resume looked a little flimsy heading into last week as the previous victories (Denver in the Russell Wilson revenge game, Detroit, Arizona) could all be written off with some excuse as to the other team failing. Not heading to LA and knocking out the Chargers 37-23. The Chargers are a flawed football team, sure, but that’s an absolute statement win. Oh, and I hope you picked up Kenneth Walker when you had the chance for your fantasy team. That guy might just be a league winner.

6. I was right about the Vikings

I think the Vikings are going to cruise to the NFC North title this year because they’re the only team in the division seriously built for competitive football. By extension, this means I was right about the Packers not being a very good football team, but my bias on that team up north is so strong it’s hard to know where analysis stops and dreamworld begins.

The Vikings have a quarterback with limitations – we all know this – but he has a good offensive line to work behind and an absolute star wide receiver in Justin Jefferson. The Vikings always seem to have good wide receivers, including a couple Hall of Famers, but if Jefferson keeps his play, he deserves to be mentioned in the company of Cris Carter and Randy Moss. For some reason, I can’t be mad at Jefferson. I think he’s incredibly fun to watch and find myself cheering for him. He’s entering Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders, and Moss territory for me.

7. I was wrong about the Chargers

Justin Herbert is really good at football. He makes throws regularly that only a few quarterbacks in the history of the game make. His arm talent is truly that special. Unfortunately, this team just isn’t serious about competing for championships and I can’t figure out exactly why. Brandon Staley was a media darling, with an analytics-forward approach and a willingness to talk about the game in a way that most coaches won’t, but he’s made questionable decisions and it’s difficult to say that he’s put his star gunslinger in a position to succeed.

I wonder if having such a small fan base really does add up on a team over time. The stands in LA are constantly filled with the opponent jerseys. I’ve never put much stock into that, but it sure feels like that could add up overtime. A fresh scheme might be the answer, but the Chargers have then essentially wasted the Herbert rookie contract. They’re just not a serious contender at this point and will be lucky to get to the wildcard round.

8. I was wrong about the Chiefs

Now, I thought the Chiefs would be a playoff team, don’t get me wrong there, but I thought they’d take a step back to the field after dealing Tyreek Hill. They look fantastic on offense because, of course, they have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. At some point, you have to give those guys credit for being amazing at their jobs and wait until it actually falls off before assuming it will. I fell for that trap, that shiny new thing mentioned up above.

I don’t think they’re as good as Buffalo, but who cares? If Mahomes can guide this team to another AFC West championship and get into the playoffs, they could absolutely find themselves in another deep playoff run. They proved in last year’s divisional round that Mahomes can take over the game and go punch for punch with the Bills – why not again? At this point, the Chiefs are still the perfect foil for the Bills and as football fans, it would be a treat to get Bills-Chiefs II. I cheer for good, entertaining football and the Chiefs regularly deliver just that.

9. I think I’m right about Rodgers and Brady

I really thought Rodgers would sink his team with this new contract and the subsequent trade of Davante Adams. While I don’t think that Rodgers should’ve gotten the MVP last year, he obviously played well enough to earn votes, and it made it almost impossible to trade him. Still, I was oddly happy Green Bay didn’t cash out for a mega-deal to move Rodgers out of our collective lives because the other way pointed in the direction of madness. Think about how bad it would feel if Rodgers got moved for a king’s ransom and then destroyed some unsuspecting third party. It’s so much more fun this way. I’ll enjoy watching this implosion.

The guy who I think should have won MVP last season, Tom Brady, came back to play one more year. My initial response was – oh, now that’s just sad. While I expected Brady and the Bucs to win the NFC South, I didn’t think it would be a pretty ride or that they’d be particularly competitive for a deep playoff run. This man has nothing to prove, nothing to play for, but just keeps coming back because he’s addicted. He’s an addict and once you realize that’s all this is, it simply becomes sad. Get him some help with a microphone, a booth, and a bowl of strawberry ice cream.

10 Justin Freaking Fields

Oh, that was fun. This is why you stick with it and continue to watch the games even if everything was lining up to be a rough night in Foxborough. This rookie coaching staff took advantage of the mini-bye week and really came out with a smart game plan against one of the best coaches to ever do it. Part of that game plan involved using Justin Fields in the run game in a more prescribed way than the previous six weeks.

Fields ran fourteen times in this one but importantly, only three were scrambles. The rest were a combination of designed runs (5), read option keepers (3), sneaks (2), and a knee to effectively end the game (1). That proved to be a smart approach to take advantage of the dynamic runner, much like the Ravens do with Lamar Jackson and the Eagles do with Jalen Hurts. While that isn’t an evergreen approach for a fifteen-year career, it sure does help him now as it forces defenses to respect that ability, opening up easier intermediate throws. Fields took advantage of those last night and the entire operation looked better than it has all year. Let’s see if they can build on this moving forward.

Find me on Twitter @gridironborn