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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Some thoughts before the holiday weekend

NFL: AUG 12 Preseason - Jets at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Off-Platform

When the New York Jets took Zach Wilson second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, I simply did not get it. All the buzz leading up to draft night indicated they’d select the Junior Prom King, but it felt like a massive mistake, in the moment, to draft a highlight reel of off-platform throws without the basics of quarterbacking. In a sense, the Jets are getting what they deserve by misevaluating this draft class, but one has to wonder how it can go off the rails this fast.

As I check my own receipts on Wilson, early in the draft process I was intrigued by the possibility of the Bears taking him in the middle of the first round. I had similar interest in Trey Lance as it seemed likely their respective lack of resumes would keep them on the board for awhile. Wilson and Lance both rose quickly, at the expense of Justin Fields’s draft position, to go in the top three. The book is still largely unwritten for all of the young QBs from this draft but I’d say the Bears lucked out in many ways that night.

2. Titan Up

Heading into last Thursday night, the Packers still retained the imagination of the betting public as three point favorites against the visiting Tennessee Titans. That’s simply catnip to someone like me who has been down on Green Bay all year. The Titans moneyline reallocated some funds from the sportsbook to my account and moved the Packers to 4-7, 2.5 games back of the 7th playoff spot in the NFC. As Thanksgiving nears and we all indulge a little too much, I’ll gladly take the extra helping of schadenfreude.

The Titans continue to roll through the season under the radar. They’re the least exciting good team out there so the sportsbooks continually underrate them. They play a throwback version of football so they don’t dominate the highlight shows or pop up on Red Zone frequently. They’re just a solid football team looking to make some noise in a crowded AFC playoff picture. As long as Derrick Henry is healthy, I don’t see any reason to fade them. Oh, and rookie Treylon Burks coming back from injury may just be the key to unlocking a next level for this offense.

3. Death Rumors Exaggerated

We as humans like the shiny new object. It’s fun to speculate about the rise and fall of a team in the preseason, playing out scenarios in our heads. Then the games are played and we get to find out how close our imagination predicted reality. For the most part, we’re terrible prognosticators and in particular, a lot of people had the Kansas City situation wrong, this writer chief among them...

The Chargers late collapse to Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce - AGAIN - underscores just how stable the Andy Reid ecosystem is for Kansas City and just how far away the Chargers truly are from being a real contender. I was convinced of my mistake on the Week 2 Thursday Night Football game where the Chargers failed to close out the Chiefs after taking a 17-7 lead early in the 3rd quarter. I didn’t need to see the sequel on Sunday Night Football this last week but it played all the hits and gave us the exact ending you paid for. The Chiefs once again control the AFC playoff picture with a relatively easy schedule to finish out the year.

4. Home Away From Home

A weird situation for the Buffalo Bills as they needed to dig their way out of an epic snowstorm to travel to Detroit to take on the Cleveland Browns. Of course, a little frozen precipitation can’t stop Bills Mafia from supporting their squad so Ford Field felt warm and cozy for the “home” team as they took care of business. There was some early chatter (unsubstantiated) about the equipment not getting to the stadium in time for the game and I loved the idea of the Bills wearing Lions uniforms with makeshift nameplates. It would’ve either been the best looking Lions squad we’ve ever seen or the jerseys would’ve cursed them forever. No middle ground.

The Bills get to stick around in the Motor City for the annual “America on Tryptophan vs. Lions Challenge” as they try to put your uncle into a slumber by the early third quarter. Depending on the uncle, this could be a good thing. I don’t think that playing in an away stadium twice in a row probably has much of an advantage. I’m sure there’s some data out there for teams that played back to back in the Meadowlands, for example, but I do think that this could be an important rallying point for the Bills after back-to-back disappointing losses. They likely need to run the table and have the Chiefs drop a game to get back into the #1 seed in the AFC.

5. CP Flash Record Holder

The Chicago Bears have an incredible history of return men, led of course by Devin Hester and Gale Sayers. The fact that the Bears served as a two-year stop on the Cordarrelle Patterson experience shouldn’t be overlooked. CP Flash took two kicks to the house for the Bears and reminded Bears fans how good he is with a touchdown up the gut and past a... outmatched Cairo Santos for a score.

Believe it or not, this is the third kick return for a touchdown against the Bears for Patterson. He got his first return TD in his second career game in 2013 as a Minnesota Viking on the opening kickoff, a game where the Bears held on for a one-point victory. Patterson then shocked the Patriots back to life in 2018, sparking a rally for a 38-31 victory. The encore on Sunday was the difference again in a 27-24 win for the Falcons. The two returns for the Bears came in losing efforts (2019 vs Saints, 2020 vs Vikings). Five return TDs out of his nine career scores involving the Bears so yes, the Bears have quite a lot to do with this new record.

6. Home Dog for a Reason

A lot was made about the Vikings hosting the Cowboys as underdogs this week and sometimes, it all makes sense once the game is played. The Vikings have been fortunate on their path to an 8-2 record, pulling off some late wins in remarkable fashion. A 40-3 drubbing by the visiting Cowboys should at least slow the roll of that Vikings fan in your life. Long way to go and we get Primetime Kirk on Thursday Night Football against a good defense so buckle up.

7. Jimmy G in Control

After an impressive 4 TD performance against the hapless Cardinals on Monday Night Football, the conversation is now back to - “what’s Jimmy gotta do to keep this job into the future?” I’m not sure I know the answer about the future, but I do think the 49ers are hitting their stride at the right time and could make some real noise in the NFC once again. Besides the Eagles, who do you trust to go deep in this conference?

8. Fading the Giants

The hot start for Brian Daboll and the Giants was fun while it lasted, but now is the time to pump the brakes and remember that this team is rebuilding. Wins against the Titans and Ravens are a real testament to a good coaching staff and should have Giants faithful feeling good about the future. Rebuilds take time, no sense in trying to jump ahead and believe you’re something you’re not, particularly without a long term answer at quarterback.

With divisional games on tap, the Giants could absolutely earn their way into the playoffs or fade away with a second half that has their talent catching up to them. An afternoon Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys is on tap next, followed by two games against Washington and their first against Philly. I’d be willing to bet they come out of the next month with an 8-6 record.

9. Thanksgiving Football

Thanksgiving has always been about football for me. There’s this balancing act I try to play where I wonder how much TV time can I get away with while family is visiting, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. It’s not that I dislike family gatherings, it’s that I am addicted to football. However you spend your holiday, let me just thank you all for reading this column and sharing your thoughts. Football, family, friends, food... full glasses of bourbon - all the important things that start with f in life - in whatever order you put them in.

As for what Thanksgiving means to the football calendar, I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as the pivot point to the end of the year. Week 12 is now two thirds of the way through the season of 18 weeks and the playoff chase is in full effect. Some teams will soon pivot to shutting down veterans, giving reps to young players to get some film for next year. The puzzle is starting to take shape.

10. Justin Freaking Fields

I didn’t like how the end of the game shook out for Fields and the Bears and how referees seemingly are not giving Fields the same protection as other quarterbacks in the league. It’s frustrating. I won’t speculate on the injury or his status the rest of the year. Instead, I’d like to share some nuggets from the NFL research team on his performance over the last five weeks:

“Fields is the second player in the Super Bowl era with at least one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown in five consecutive games, joining KYLER MURRAY (five consecutive games in 2020).

Fields is the third quarterback to record a rushing touchdown in five consecutive games in the Super Bowl era, joining KYLER MURRAY (five consecutive games in 2020) and CAM NEWTON (five consecutive games in 2021).

Fields, who had 178 rushing yards in Week 9 and 147 rushing yards in Week 10, is the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 75 rushing yards in three consecutive games within a single season, joining JOSH ALLEN (three consecutive games in 2018) and LAMAR JACKSON (three consecutive games in 2019).”

Pretty impressive, in my opinion.

Enjoy the holiday. Find me on Twitter, while it still stands @gridironborn.