Last week, all the teams won that should have, except, in my opinion, the Cowboys… Jason Garrett and his team have made major strides throughout the season and seemed to be one of the teams to beat, but his clock management in that last drive was not the best. Prescott shouldn’t have spiked the ball, because if they’d just kept going, they wouldn’t have left so much time on the clock for Green Bay to score the last-second field goal. Yes, the game would have been tied, but both teams get a chance to score in overtime.
Well, the games ended how they ended and the one overarching consensus seems to be: as long as the Patriots don’t get into the Super Bowl, everyone will be happy. I mean, come on – who wants to see the Pats make it there again? Nobody outside Boston likes them anyway, and I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Packers or the Falcons.
(Please remember, as with all things, these are my opinions.)
Of the four teams remaining, the team that has the most edge in my opinion is the Atlanta Falcons. They are running with a surprisingly prolific offense that has all but guaranteed their offensive coordinator a rebuild head coaching job with a storied franchise, and their defense is nothing to sneeze at, either. Their quarterback will very likely win the MVP award this year. I know that Aaron Rodgers is who he is, and he can flip a pass down the sideline to some guy whose name I don’t remember while being tackled and doing a handstand, but if the Falcons keep it together, they can make it. Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino has a great breakdown of both the passing and running elements of the Falcons’ offense, but to sum it up, Atlanta has been averaging the most yards per play since the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in 2000, and are using play-action on 27.6% of their snaps, the most of any team in the NFL. That not only calls to just how talented their offense is in all aspects of the game, but how balanced it is as well. When you have that much talent, it is easy to do. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff (and friends) have quietly put together a great, winning program. If they don’t reach the Super Bowl this year (and in my opinion, they should be able to), it will be soon.
CALM DOWN ABOUT BROWN – Antonio Brown streamed the Steelers’ locker room meeting last weekend, and people are all up in arms about it. I’m still trying to figure out why. Yes, it broke some minor rules, but the guy was excited and wanted to share something cool with the fans. What’s wrong with that? Brown is a major cornerstone of a great team, and if this is the extent of his “bad behavior,” then that’s fine with me. People chomped at the bit to sign Terrell Owens, who was a jerk, knew it, didn’t care, and kept on being a jerk, and also wasn’t as talented as Antonio Brown. The whole T.O. mania thing was silly to me. Antonio Brown is way better than him in many ways. You put up with T.O., so hopefully this incident gets shoved to the side now that it’s time for the games.
RELOCATION MANIA – When will it ever stop? It’s getting ridiculous. The Chargers should not be relocating. I’m sorry, but if you can’t get the voting public to pay for a stadium, then it’s not like you don’t have money – pay for it yourself. Los Angeles cannot really support two NFL teams. It doesn’t make sense.
Neither does the Raiders’ apparent relocation to Las Vegas. That city is steeped in tourism dollars and I do not see anything positive about alienating your Oakland fans AGAIN, and going to a city that will struggle in significant fashion to build a permanent fan base in order to even fill a stadium. They could theoretically sell single-game tickets to those tourists traveling into and out of the city, but NFL teams make their money on selling those season tickets.
A better closing statement on the Chargers has been made by someone other than myself, by Drew Magary of Deadspin, and it’s a good way to close out this segment of the article: Their colors won’t be preserved for San Diego, nor will their records, nor will the best helmets in pro football. That all goes to LA. Once there the Chargers will likely serve as the NFL’s death knell—the price of the league’s greed for new stadiums, regardless of cost or circumstances, finally made manifest. The NFL may have gotten a bit of relief thanks to last week’s awesome Packers/Cowboys game, but in the big picture you can sense the distaste growing. The Chargers are now a talisman of that distaste, and they probably will be for a long time.
NOT THE SAME JAGUARS – The Jacksonville Jaguars have made some major changes on their coaching staff, but don’t think that just because they have retained Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett and Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash that the plays will be the same. Hackett was running previous OC Greg Olson’s system when he took over; there is no way to install an entire offense in-season. Wash was running former head coach Gus Bradley’s defensive design, and we will no longer see things like “LEO,” “OTTO,” and so forth out of the Jags. Wash spent some time in Tampa and is a Tampa 2 disciple, which is a modified 4-3 scheme. The fact of the matter is that the defensive playmakers will have more of a chance to do what they do, instead of worrying about following a scheme or a zone. A notable change once Bradley was fired was that Myles Jack saw a lot more playing time when Doug Marrone took over, and he is a lot more athletic and talented than Dan Skuta, the person he often replaced. With dynamic players like Gipson, Jack, Smith, Ramsey, and Amukamara in the defensive backfield next year, I think the Jags have a great chance of being even more feared on that side of the ball.
Are the Jags laying the blame for their bad season solely at the feet of Gus Bradley? Kind of, but it also seems like they know they were in need of a culture change and a note that winning is more important than “learning” or “developing.” You can develop and learn while you win. The Jags have an influx of free agents and college players that come from successful programs and aren’t just going to lay down about losing and try to find silver linings. These players are hungry for wins. I think they will show it next year.
PROGRAMMING NOTE – The top 5 is kind of moot at this point, right? Also, look for a slightly different format next week during the dreaded non-game week “off.” Nothing major, but a bit of a different feel. Stay tuned!
THE PICKS THAT WILL PROBABLY BE WRONG
PACKERS at FALCONS (3:05PM Sunday, Fox) – This should be a fun, high-scoring game kind of in the vein of last week’s GB-Dallas game, but I think it will be better. I outlined my reasoning why I think Atlanta will win above, and Green Bay is still pretty beat up but at the same time, Aaron Rodgers can make something out of nothing, unlike his personal relationships. People will begin asking if Matt Ryan is elite after this game, and I think he will take his place with the upper echelon of quarterbacks in such a discussion – he definitely has the talent and is in the system to do so, and I’m sure the team wants to give Kyle Shanahan a positive sendoff. GREEN BAY 31 ATLANTA 40
STEELERS at PATRIOTS (6:40PM Sunday, CBS) – Bill Belichick can scheme all he wants, but LeVeon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, and Antonio Brown and friends are significantly better than the Patriots’ offense right now, if you ask me. The Texans showed last week that if you rush Brady and keep him off-balance, he gets vulnerable. The Steelers should be able to do that, easily. Roethlisberger is not nearly as easily distracted or thrown. It will probably be a defensive battle, but I think the Steelers have the edge here. PITTSBURGH 27 NEW ENGLAND 18