Is There A Best Team In The NFL?

This NFL season has been a weird one.  We’re through Week 10 and no one’s that good.  Practically every team has an issue, which means we might get the Rams in the Super Bowl.  Yeah, Jared Goff in the Super Bowl!  I’m ready, and you should be too.  It seriously might happen.

For every team that’s worthy of a mention, I’m gonna make a case for and a case against them being the best in the league.  Let’s go!

New England Patriots

Case for: The case for is a pretty obvious one: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and the feeling of being an idiot when you doubt them.  So your best bet is to not do it.  Also, New England’s remaining schedule is the Mexico City game vs. Oakland, which could go either way for multiple reasons, against the Steelers, and two games each against Miami and Buffalo.  I guess you can count the Jets game as a win too.

Case against: The defense is still a disaster.  Some are gonna say “They’ve only given up 36 points in their last three games!!!”  OK, congratulations on shutting down Brock Osweiler, a Chargers team that can’t do anything right, and an Atlanta team whose defense is still young, inexperienced and pretty mediocre (Actually, bad!  29th in DVOA!).  They have no pass rush, and the secondary has been frustrating (The Stephon Gilmore signing was terrible when it was made and is still terrible).  The defense could be a fatal flaw.  Can they shut down the Eagles?

Philadelphia Eagles

Case for: I told you guys this team was gonna be good!  I’m so proud of myself.  I thought Carson Wentz was in for a monster season (He was my target QB in fantasy).  This defense was loaded with talent, and the offense had weapons.  Now, it’s all coming together.  Wentz has it.  The defense is top ten; don’t even try running the ball on this team (They’ve allowed 598 rushing yards all year.  598!).  They’re hot, but the schedule is about to get tougher.  Now comes reality.

Case against: Um…  that nobody thought they’d this good?  Is that why we can’t admit it?  Is that our best case?  Doug Pederson is the head coach?  Wentz has no playoff experience and is only in his 2nd year?  That the schedule gets hard? (Two games vs. Dallas, @Seattle, @Rams, vs. Oakland)  If they’re the best team though, they need to win three of those five games.  Besides those possible reasons, there is no case against.

Los Angeles Rams

Case for: Did I actually just type that?  My God, what a weird season.  Anyways, Los Angeles’ defense is as good as we expected it to be.  They’re ranked 3rd in DVOA.  The Rams defense is clutch.  They’ll give up points and big plays, but when it matters, they get it done.  The offense has been explosive, as Sean McVay has turned Jared Goff into a NFL player.  Robert Woods is 13th in receiving yards in the league.  Todd Gurley is back, and is tied for first in the league with seven rushing touchdowns.  The offense is legit.  They can keep up with practically anyone.

Case against: What if this Jared Goff season is just a big hot streak, and we’re due for an epic, complete nuclear meltdown from him and the Rams?  What if the real Jared Goff is still lurking?  The schedule is gonna get harder; they have Minnesota this weekend in the Case Keenum revenge/Oh my God how are these QBs good game, and Philadelphia (That game is gonna be 50-40 or 14-10), and a Seahawks team that I don’t really know what to expect out of.  So, we’ll see.  But don’t take these Rams lightly.  The odds of them being good as opposed to bad are high.

Minnesota Vikings

Case for: Minnesota has a fantastic defense that’s probably still a little underrated (Personally: It’s the best league.  Vikings fans can stop saying I don’t respect them.  It’s just Case Keenum).  The defensive line is a menace, and Anthony Barr knocked out Aaron Rodgers, which might be one of the biggest reasons Minnesota is as good as they are.  The offense has become not only relevant but scary, with Stefon Diggs getting back on track and Adam Thielen turning into one of the league’s “How did he reel that in?” receivers.  They still miss Dalvin Cook, but the emergence of a passing attack has covered that up.  Oh, and Teddy Bridgewater might be coming back.  Watch out.  He’s hungry.

Case against: This is a hard one to make.  Essentially, it begins and ends with the quarterback.  Case Keenum has been playing out of his mind, but we can’t forget that he is in fact Case Keenum, and that math and logic tells us there’s a drop-off coming.  There’s no way he can keep this up.  The good news is that if he regress to the mean, the Vikings have Teddy Bridgewater locked and loaded.  I’m on the Bridgewater Bandwagon.  If he’s healthy and can be the guy he was before the injury, Minnesota will be home for the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Case for: Pittsburgh doesn’t pass the eye test, but a 7-3 record has them in decent position.  They’re a second half team, still have Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, and a super underrated defense (4th in DVOA!).  Martavis Bryant did some things Sunday, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has been just as exciting as we’d hope he’d be.

Case against:  Maybe that this team has looked and played like crap for 75% of the minutes they’ve been on the field this season?  What about the fact that they’ve almost lost to Cleveland and Colts?  What about actually losing to Jacksonville and Chicago?  Do we really trust this team?  This has been the most inexplicable Mike Tomlin coaching season yet; it really doesn’t feel like these players have any confidence left in him.  Oh, and what about the locker room?  Are they all the way in  on each other?  What about Ben Rothlisberger?  He hasn’t been totally fantastic this season and considered retirement in the offseason.  Is he all the way in?  I’m waiting for this team to fall apart.

New Orleans Saints

Case for: Drew Brees will never die, Alvin Kamara is unstoppable and the Saints defense actually isn’t a flaming disaster!  That’s really all there is to it.  New Orleans’ offense lights up scoreboards, with Kamara and Mark Ingram creating a deadly 1-2 punch and Brees turning dudes like Ted Ginn Jr. into reliable receivers.  Also, Willie Snead came back; he’s a beast and will probably end up with 50 catches.  The defense has been stunningly good; ranked 5th by DVOA, the secondary has shut down top receivers thanks to rookie Marshon Lattimore and Vonn Bell, another Ohio State product who’s having a breakout year.  New Orleans isn’t being talked about enough.

Case against: The Panthers are their best win during this seven game win streak, and they were beat pretty soundly by Minnesota (A game I was at.  Then, it seemed like last year’s issues would plague them) and New England.  The other issue is similar to a bunch of teams:  It just doesn’t feel right.

Kansas City Chiefs

Case for:  Alex Smith is a MVP candidate, Kareem Hunt (like Alvin Kamara) has been unstoppable, and Tyreek Hill is a “Let’s run this defensive package and hope we catch him” type player.  The offense has gone to levels we didn’t expect, and they can hang points on anyone.  They also have wins over Philadelphia, New England and a good Houston team.

Case against:  The defense, which has been a mainstay over the past three years, is 26th in DVOA and has been plagued by a terrible secondary.  The loss of Eric Berry has killed them.  They’ve been even worse up front, struggling to get to the quarterback with what seems like an aging group of guys.  Also, don’t we have to ask the Keenum question here too?  What happens if this is just one long hot streak by Smith?  What if he regresses to the mean?  KC has the offensive weapons to survive it, but a streak like this would regress to Blake Bortles-like levels.

Carolina Panthers

Case for:  If the offense can be at least average, then the defense should be able to carry them.

Case against:  They’ve been incredibly inconsistent.  You can’t watch any Panthers game and actually expect them to win.  The offense has been mediocre and is now being torn apart by trades and injuries; Curtis Samuel was their primary receiver after the Kelvin Benjamin trade and now he’s gone.  That’s leaving Russell Sheppard as the main target (Though Ed Dickson can catch balls like it’s nothing) and will increase Christian McCaffrey’s role, as if he needs the ball more.  They still have Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta left on their schedule.  Yeah…  Carolina should be lucky they got a spot on this list.

Seattle Seahawks

Case for: Russell Wilson can do anything.

Case against: Wilson has been on the run all season due to a faulty offensive line, which can’t even protect him from the fronts of Tennessee and Washington (Though the Redskins’ line is underrated).  The defense wasn’t the same at the beginning of the year and is now tattered by injuries, which now includes Richard Sherman being out for the year.  Due to these issues, they’re always gonna be in close games and will look like crap for at least the first half.  Can they get away with that in the playoffs (if they even make it)?

Those are the teams with the best cases.  Since this is a weird year, most of them are surprises and don’t really seem fit to be there.  But they have to be; like, the Rams are 7-and-freaking-2.

Here’s a couple teams I left out:

  • The Falcons have gotten poor play out of their receivers, with multiple crucial drops.  Matt Ryan hasn’t passed the eye test, and Atlanta seems to have the Super Bowl in the back of their minds (not surprising) because they cannot be trusted with any lead.
  • The Cowboys’ defense isn’t what people are making it out to be.  They have a pass rush (which is important), but it doesn’t mean much if the rest of the group can’t get it done.  Dallas’ D is 22nd in DVOA, and stack up pretty average against the run and pass.  But the difference is a big one; in their four losses, Dallas has given up over 30 points three times.  They can contain bad teams, but don’t stand a chance against average-to-good ones. The loss of Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliot has been detrimental to the offense, as Adrian Clayborne proved.  Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are in pretty similar spots.  It’s hard to see them escaping it.

Predicting The CFP Committee’s Next (Probably Idiotic) Move, And How To Avoid It

Photo credit Matt Cashore

With senior year, college admissions and everything else kicking my butt right now, college football hasn’t found its way to a column yet this season.  If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve been watching the biggest games every weekend, so I’m in tune. But I just haven’t had the time to write a column yet.

Today, that changes.

There’s been a lot of parallels from this college season to the NFL season so far.  How many good teams are there?  Can you really trust anyone?

The College Football Playoff Committee’s first rankings infuriated me.  There were some atrocious decisions, like Iowa State, Notre Dame, Georgia and LSU.  But there were also some correct placements:  Wisconsin, TCU and Virginia Tech were all properly ranked coming into this past weekend.

But with all this, there’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had.  Should we really be arguing over whether Wisconsin is No.9 or No.10?  Should we need to watch and analyze Stanford-Washington State, a game that’s between two ranked teams but won’t matter at the end of the season?

Right now, there’s too few teams that matter and too many teams stuck in the middle.  Let’s run an exercise real quick:

Who’s the top four after Week 10?  Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and… Notre Dame? Oklahoma?  TCU??  It’s certainly not Ohio State or Penn State, who have serious adversity issues, and probably murdered the Big Ten’s chances of a Playoff berth.  It’s not Miami, who like Notre Dame and Oklahoma, probably have the cushion of the Playoff’s PR staff, but wouldn’t stand a chance against Alabama or Georgia.

All year, we’ve been in search of that 4th team.  Early in the season, the top looked like 1) Alabama, 2) Clemson, 3) Ohio State..  Penn State was the favorite for the 4th spot, but AP voters wouldn’t let go of Florida State (Now, they’re not ranked) and wouldn’t dare put TCU that high (Smart).

A month later and we’re still in the same spot.  Here’s my top four after Week 10:

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Clemson
  4. Oklahoma

I feel really good about the top three.  I get Georgia’s schedule is a little more impressive, and they’re more complete offensively (Still don’t trust Jalen Hurts), but ranking the Bulldogs No.1 in the first ranking last week was totally insane.  Haven’t we learned to never go against and/or piss off Bama?

Clemson’s played some really good teams, but this isn’t last year’s squad and I worry about Kelly Bryant in a big, big spot.  Also, their defense is a tad concerning.

Oklahoma’s probably the best candidate for the last playoff spot.  Unlike the NFL, college football is more about having an explosive offense rather than a good defense.  Quarterback is equally as important.  The Sooners have both of that, making them the most-qualified for the last playoff seed.

Why wasn’t there more outrage about Notre Dame being ranked No.4 last week?  It looks better now, since the Big Ten is effectively out, and there’s not a lot of options left. But at the time, it was pretty clear this was a total ratings push by the committee.  You rank a team high now so it 1) Gets the media to fall in love and 2) Makes them harder to push out down the road.  Like me, they didn’t have a better option for No.4

I don’t want to totally crap on Notre Dame.  Josh Adams is a beast, and their defense doesn’t give up big plays.  The advanced metrics love the Irish defense.  They’re 7th in FEI, which is Football Outsiders’ college football DVOA.  That looks better than 18th in the country, which is where the simple scoring defense stat has them ranked.

My problem is 1) It’s Notre Dame.  They’re a ratings darling and it’s not hard to see what the Committee is doing here.  2) Their offense is practically all Adams.  Quarterback Brandon Wimbush averages only 6.47 yards per attempt, which isn’t even top 80 in the country.  Sure, their offense is fine for now, and it’s not costing them.  But against a defense like Alabama or Georgia, it’s gonna find issues quickly.

The Notre Dame/No.4 seed in the Playoff is part of a bigger issue that’s emerging.  As I mentioned above, there are parallels to the NFL season.  There’s a lack of really good teams, so much so that we’re considering teams like TCU, Miami and Wisconsin for the last Playoff spot.  Yikes.

So how do we solve this?  Rehash this…  Remember the biggest criticism about the Playoff besides it being on New Years Eve?  It was the lack of teams.  Some said they should expand to eight, some to 16.  I wanted to give it a few years.

It’s been a few years.  We need more spots.

So what if we blew it up?  A 16 team playoff might seem odd if we can’t even find four good teams, but with this, we have to change our thinking.  The scale is different.  There’s a lot of more options.

It’s a little hard to tell on the bracket, but the seeds across the top row of teams are 1,2,4,3.  The 2nd row is 16,15,13,14.  The 3rd row is 7,8,5,6.  And the 4th: 9,10,12,11.

Say what you want about my top 16.  That’s not the point here though.  The point is that no one should feel good about Notre Dame, Oklahoma or any other team getting the 4th seed in the Playoff.  If we blow it up, it’s much easier to accept a team like Virginia Tech or USC being one of the 16 best teams than Notre Dame or Oklahoma being one of the best four.

Obviously, if the Playoff were to expand, some things would change:  A 16 team playoff means four extra games a year for the Champion.  Do 10 game regular seasons become standard for all of Division 1?  How does that affect conference matchups?

Secondly, how can we trust that the committee’s gonna do a better job and not fall for ratings darlings?  If a new Playoff were enacted this season, most of the media favorites are already taken care of.  The only tough omission for the committee would be Michigan.

It’s much more likely an expansion goes to eight teams first.  But even then, you’re still leaving out Penn State and Ohio State, who despite embarrassing losses are still probably two of the best eight teams in the country.

But think about a 16 team playoff this season…  Look at that bracket!  A defensive grudge-match between Alabama and Michigan State?  Washington and Penn State each scoring 60+ points?  A Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Wisconsin?  Bedlam 2.0?!!?  Sign me up!

A 16 team playoff isn’t necessary.  This year is probably just an outlier.  We’ve seen some crazy things happen.  Florida State’s unavoidable meltdown really threw things in a monkey-wrench.  I can guarantee you that’s the 4th team we’re missing.  But the NCAA loves attention and money (They really love money).  If they want to make college football more like the masterpiece that March Madness is, then this is the way to go.

Wrapping Up The Ridiculous NFL Trade Deadline

I didn’t know the NFL turned into the NBA all the sudden!  Tuesday’s trade deadline was completely insane for the first time ever.  We saw defenses get better, San Francisco get a potential starting quarterback, and teams gearing up for a playoff run.  It really was like the NBA!  Anyways, here’s a recap of the deals that went down.

Jaguars get: Marcell Dareus

Bills get: 6th round pick

The Bills’ moves over the past two months have been… interesting.  None of them have been terrible though:  Sammy Watkins only has the 4th most catches on the Rams; Buffalo got great value out of him.  Jordan Matthews has been solid, though giving up on Ronald Darby still confuses me (It’s not like their defense really misses him).  Reggie Ragland has been just as dormant in Kansas City as he was in Buffalo.

The moves make no sense on paper.  In one deadline, they shipped out Marcell Dareus, an absolute beast of a defensive tackle to Jacksonville, to a team that doesn’t need him whatsoever.  They traded for Kelvin Benjamin, who was Carolina’s only reliable receiver by a mile.  I’ll explain their strategy more below.

As for the Dareus trade, I thought a 6th round pick was an incredibly weak return.  I understand he’s on a massive contract, so the Jags wouldn’t have given up much more, but Buffalo sent a quality player to a team that didn’t need him.  Even a 5th round pick makes this trade look much better.

All that said, Buffalo didn’t really need Dareus either, and you shed that kind of contract any time you can.  The Bills defense is 8th in DVOA so far; much better than I thought they’d be.  They swarm to the ball, and finally have a competent secondary (Micah Hyde has been phenomenal and Tre’Davious White has not played like a rookie).  They’re here to stay.

Seahawks get: Duane Brown, 5th round pick

Texans get: 3rd round pick, 2019 2nd round pick

The original trade had Houston getting Jeremy Lane and a 5th round pick in addition to the 2nd rounder.  That would have been quite a haul.

Seattle was clearly willing to overpay for offensive line, and with the way that group has played this year, they should have.

Really, either deal is a steal.  Lane would have made a ton of sense for Houston, whose secondary has been bad all year and was totally embarrassed against the Seahawks Sunday.  Lane isn’t amazing, but he would have been a competent addition.

It’s a little bit of a weird move for the Texans, whose offensive line has been awful all year.  But Duane Brown started playing just a few weeks ago after a lengthy contract holdout, and Houston has a quarterback who can escape literally anything (If there was an astroid coming at Earth Deshaun Watson would survive).  So trading Brown, especially for a package like that, is probably okay.

Brown’s awesome, which is why Seattle had to give up so much.  The Seahawks offensive line has been as bad if not worse than Houston’s, simply because they lack NFL players on it and have no other offense besides their defense and Russell Wilson doing whatever he can.  They’re very similar to Houston, which is why Sunday’s game was so close.

It was a lot to give up, but Brown’s an all-pro and moves that John Schneider makes usually work out.  This was a win-win trade.

49ers get: Jimmy Garappolo

Patriots get: 2nd round pick

I’m still stunned.  Jimmy Garappolo was supposed to be the next great Patriots quarterback.  The Brady Successor.  The guy Bill Belichick hit right on the head again.  The future.

You could make a case that drafting Garappolo is Belichick’s biggest mistake as GM/Head Coach of New England.  Then again, can you really blame him?  As amazing as Tom Brady is, did the Patriots really think in 2014 that Tom Brady would play till he was 45?  Did they really think Brady would still be this good at 40 years old?

And plus, his value never changed!  In fact, it went up!  Garappolo was taken at No.62 overall, which is deep in the 2nd round.  San Francisco’s 2nd rounder, which New England received in this deal, will end up being No.33 or No.34 overall, essentially a first rounder.

Sure, you could knock Belichick for Garappolo.  Jarvis Landry went next in that draft (Boy, could they of (or a lot of teams) used him).  Preston Brown was there.  So was Devonta Freeman.  But the Patriots took an asset and cashed in big time, which really tells the “It’s a business” truth.

The San Francisco side of this trade is fascinating.  Garappolo’s their guy.  Not Kirk Cousins.  Not Sam Darnold.  Not Josh Rosen.  Unless they’re the Bears.  Then one of those guys is also their guy.

The deal they made for Garappolo feels like a steal compared to the trade rumors we heard around the draft.  New England was looking for two first rounders or No.1 overall from Cleveland.  You have to think the 49ers were sniffing around him too.  A 2nd round pick for a potential franchise quarterback is 100% worth it.

We haven’t seen a lot from Garappolo, but in those two games during Brady’s DeflateGate suspension, he was decently impressive.  They got lucky against Arizona, but Garappolo played pretty well.  Against the Cardinals, Garappolo put up  264 yards on 24/33 passes with three TDs for a QBR of 98.9.

The eye test was passed too.  While watching those two games, I remember thinking “Man, he’s got it.”  And that was against a good Cardinals defense.

With Garappolo’s contract up after this season, the 49ers have a big decision to make. If he has an awesome 7-8 games (It’s not likely Garappolo is starting this weekend), the 49ers could offer him a giant contract to make him the face of the franchise.  But we’ve seen a team make that mistake before, signing a guy to a big deal after just a few games.

It’s more likely San Francisco tags him, which would impose a heavy, one year price tag, but would also give them flexibility, and time to really evaluate Garappolo.

The move also suggests two things:  1) They like Garappolo’s upside more than the idea of giving Cousins a long term deal (Smart).  2)  They don’t like any of the quarterbacks in this draft, which seems to be a growing opinion around the league.  This draft seems much more likely to have a Dak Prescott than a guy at the top really impressing.  I would still take Josh Allen high though.

If Garappolo doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.  Sure, that’s a high 2nd round pick out the window.  But this San Francisco team certainly isn’t a contender next year no matter how good their quarterback play is.  They’re still a couple years away.  Talent is needed at practically every offensive position, and the back seven needs upgrades.

However, San Francisco might be closer than we think.  If Garappolo is the real deal, they could enter the frisky tier next season.  Carlos Hyde has to stay healthy, and the defensive line has to take strides.  But SF has made a move that, if successful, will give them stability they haven’t had in years.

Eagles get: Jay Ajayi

Dolphins get: 4th round pick

This had to be the most confusing move of the deadline.  In the past two years, Jay Ajayi has grown into one of the league’s best running backs.  He’s labeled as a power back, but is actually quite fast for his mold and has underrated shiftiness.

So why would Miami trade him?

It’s not like they’re about to embark on a rebuild.  Sure, they need upgrades on the defensive end.  But this was a playoff team before Ryan Tannehill went down in the preseason.  Ajayi was a big reason why.

To make this drastic of a move simply because of a rough year is way too reactionary.  The Dolphins should have just accepted this year as a lost one when Tannehill went down.  Did they really expect to compete with Jay Cutler?

If they took that approach, Miami comes in next season with Tannehill, Ajayi, Jarvis Landry (Whose name was also for some reason floating around), DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills.  That’s a good offense!  It might even be able to make up for some of the defensive mistakes.

Now, that’s out the window, and the Dolphins are turning to Damien Williams, a more specialty like runner than a lead back, and Kenyon Drake, who was awesome in college but is probably best suited out of the backfield.

Ajayi was someone to lean on with Cutler’s struggles, but with him gone, it increases the amount of times Miami has to throw the ball.

Plus, if you’re gonna trade someone as good as Ajayi, you better be getting good compensation.  Miami failed to do that, only netting a 4th round pick from Philadelphia.  I understand running backs can’t be trusted like other players when it comes to reliability and performance, but Philly is one of the best teams in the league and probably didn’t really need Ajayi.  Therefore, you should make them pay appropriately.

For Philadelphia, I mean, what a trade.  As deep as they are at running back, they lack an every-down ball carrier.  LeGarrette Blount’s been effective, rushing for 4.7 yards per carry, but he’s 30, and hasn’t gotten more than 20 carries in any game.  He’s more suitable as a 3rd down back these days, which is why trading for Ajayi, a lead rusher, makes the Eagles even more dangerous.

Bills get: Kelvin Benjamin

Panthers get: 3rd round pick, 7th round pick

This trade came in like 15 minutes after the deadline, which was pretty fitting considering how ridiculous this deadline was.

Carolina’s one of the teams that are much worse than their record.  Aren’t you surprised this team is 5-3?  Their offense has been mediocre, with Cam Newton struggling to find a rhythm and Christian McCaffrey playing exactly like I thought he would.  Their receivers haven’t been reliable besides Benjamin, who… Oh wait!  He’s gone!

If Carolina had any consistency in their offense, it was Benjamin.  He’s got 475 yards on the year, and has certainly been their most efficient receiver on the roster.  Now, they lack a deep threat and a reliable target for a struggling Newton.  But here’s for more McCaffrey screens!

Carolina got pretty good value for a guy who’s been injured and has effort questions.  A 3rd round pick (plus a 7th!) was much more than I’d give up for Benjamin.  But for Buffalo, they see a window, and there’s a lot of light in it.

Despite the steep price tag, I thought adding Benjamin was an excellent move.  Their receivers haven’t been great; they drop a lot of balls, and Andre Holmes is their go-to guy right now.  They don’t have a big, go-up-and-get-it target; Anquan Boldin was supposed to be that guy.  Now, Benjamin gives Tyrod Taylor a reliable weapons on the hashes.

I think the rhythm to Buffalo’s deals over the past two months follow this track:  They wanted to change the culture slowly, but not to the point of a blowup.  They were gonna take this year to evaluate Taylor once again, and see whether he’s the guy.  Not only was that questioned answered, but the team ended up being much better than they thought due to a dominant defense.  They got rid of Dareus because they didn’t need him or his contract, and upgraded the offense to try and make a run.

That’s my guess as to why their moves have been so strange lately.  But strange isn’t always bad.  Sometimes you have to adjust on the fly, for better or for worse.