Jeff isn’t available this week, so readers will have to make do with a few slightly different takes on the league.
1. The phrase “meaningful football” has a new edge. Like many fans of the Chicago Bears, I am tired of the Bears being out of “meaningful football” games by mid-December. However, at least the Bears play in a system with clearly defined rules and where the targets are knowable. Say what you want about how some divisions are weaker than others at times, all teams have a chance at making the playoffs, and they always know what they need to do in order to get there. This makes the NFL (in this one regard) a much better institution than other so-called football playoff systems that are really invitational exhibitions.
2. Gardner Minshew is on track to be the next Ryan Fitzpatrick. And I’m here for it. The sixth-round draft pick is on his third team in five years, and he just added another 100+ passer rating performance to his game logs. Drawing a line at games with at least 20 pass attempts, Minshew now has thirteen games above 100 and only nine games below 80, but he is still very much a hit-or-miss quarterback. His time with the Colts has managed to show why he remains employed in the NFL but also why he will struggle to secure a stable starting job.
3. The implosion of the Patriots is reaching awkward and epic proportions. New England currently has fewer wins than Chicago and is making a solid run for the #1 overall pick. Mac Jones is joining former Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the group of players who technically won a Pro Bowl while really just being present for a team’s solid performance, and Bailey Zappe isn’t getting it done, either. Belichick has gone from running a team that could find a way to win with Matt Cassel or Jimmy Garoppolo to looking like he just doesn’t have answers no matter who he plays. “The Patriot Way” seems to work a lot better when the division is weaker.
4. Don’t look now, but the NFC North has three teams with a clear path to the playoffs. Seriously, don’t look. It’s kind of disgusting. The Detroit Lions are already guaranteed to have a winning record for the season, but the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers are also sitting dead even on the season. The Vikings have a tough schedule ahead of them, but the Packers are facing the New York Giants (4-8), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7), the Carolina Panthers (1-11), the Minnesota Vikings (6-6), and the Chicago Bears (4-8). It sucks for Chicago, but the Black and Blue division will be playing meaningful football games well into December with only one exception.
5. Iowa tight ends. Sam LaPorta continues to do amazing things–in this last game he became only the fourth rookie TE to get nine receptions, 140 receiving yards, and a touchdown in one game. It would be hard to make a list of the best tight ends in the league without also mentioning T.J. Hockenson or George Kittle. Those three join Travis Kelce in the Top 4 at the position in yards per game (and they are also in the Top 5 in total first downs earned).
6. The Saints miss Payton and Brees. There are those who felt that Mickey Loomis had a special cheat code for how to build a team by redlining the salary cap. It’s looking a lot more like the real cheat code was partnering an offensive genius with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Make no mistake–no matter what struggles he might have in Denver at the moment, Sean Payton was an offensive genius in New Orleans. However, the Saints haven’t been to the playoffs since Brees left, and it’s hard not to wonder if the “lost” years of 2014, 2015, and 2016 might not have turned out better for Brees and company had the team’s finances been managed a little bit better somewhere in that stretch.
7. Coaching seats are heating up. This time of year, it’s easy to find lists of NFL head coaches (and coordinators) who might be out of a job soon. With Josh McDaniels and Frank Reich already fired, the speculation turns to other coaches with multiple losing seasons. Ron Rivera and Robert Saleh (plus Matt Eberflus) top a lot of those lists, but Brandon Staley, Dennis Allen, and Todd Bowles also feature heavily. It will be interesting to see how many of those coaches really are let go and if their teams all swing for “opposite side” coordinators as their head coaches. If so, there will be a run on offensive coaches to head football teams.
8. Former Bear Greg Olsen is open to the Panthers’ coaching job. I enjoy Olsen’s work as a commentator, but with Tom Brady theoretically coming for his job, it makes sense that he’s looking to expand his resume. Add to this the Saturday-Colts situation and I suggest only half-jokingly that just as teams have a third-string emergency quarterback, they should all have an emergency team veteran who can step in as interim coach just in case everyone needs to be fired mid-season. If nothing else, it would make for good entertainment as fans speculated whether or not a retiree with no formal coaching experience would be better than whoever is currently calling the shots. Of course, arguably the bigger joke is that Fox might actually disrupt a coverage team that has been such a focal point of their advertising without any idea if Brady is going to be any good in the booth.
9. Speaking of media coverage… I know it’s probably not going to happen ever, but just like I can choose to watch a broadcast in another language or with closed captioning, I would love for a “language” option that was just the refs and the on-field mics without anyone droning on with their own agenda or their own commentary. I’ve watched videos with “language” soundtracks that omit noises that might trigger misophonia, so I know it’s possible. I’d love for each network to offer a “sounds of the game only” broadcast option wherein I never have to listen to a Buck or a Collinsworth again. Sigh. It’s not going to happen, but it should.
10. The myth keeps crumbling. The Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Indianapolis Colts all have winning records right now despite not spending a first-round pick in the acquisition of their primary starting quarterbacks. The Baltimore Ravens, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers all have winning records but drafted their quarterbacks in the first round after finishing winning seasons. That means that of the twelve winning teams in the NFL right now, only three drafted quarterbacks in the first round when they were struggling and had an elite draft pick due to their struggles–the Miami Dolphins took Tagovailoa 5th, the Jacksonville Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence 1st, and the Houston Texans took C.J. Stroud 2nd. The Browns did give up a first round pick as part of the package to acquire their starter from Houston. That still means that two-thirds of all of the teams with winning records right now found a way to get a quarterback without falling into the desperation move of “if you have a high draft pick you have to swing.”