Even with just a month left in the regular season, there are still major storylines being made in the NFL. This year more than ever it seems like teams narratives and ranking are likely to change dramatically week to week. As a whole there have been a lot of shocking storylines and games this season that has made 2020 one of the most memorable seasons. There have been numerous takeaways and headlines that were produced in the last couple of weeks. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the three quarter mark of the NFL Season.
Tampa Bay is just as likely to make the Super Bowl as they are to lose early in the playoffs
Since signing Antonio Brown, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be spiraling a bit. Not to the fault of Browns, but the team is 1-3 over its last three games. The offense looks like it lacks an identity and appears to be trying to hard to utilize all of their weapons rather than playing to their strengths. While the defense has been exposed as of late. In Week 11 Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp became the fifth pair of teammates in NFL history to have 10+ catches in the history of Monday Night Football. Then the following week Tyreek Hill had 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns against Tampa.
Now a narrative has sprung up that Tom Brady and Bruce Arians have not been on the same page as far as what kind of offense to run. Arians also appears to be pointing the finger at Brady for why the Buccaneers offense has been running the plays they have in recent weeks. However it is extremely hard to believe that Brady is the reason why the Buccaneers have abandoned the run game and short passes in recent weeks and instead is going for deep passes throughout the entire game. Short passes over the middle and relying on the running game has been Brady’s bread and butter for years in New England. Arians offenses in the past have relied on big plays by deep play receivers that may results in more turnovers. Each of the last three franchise quarterbacks who have played for Arians threw for career high in interceptions in their first seasons under Arians.
Despite all of this going on, the Buccaneers as a whole are still an extremely talented team and have the potential to make a Super Bowl run. Their three most recent losses are to teams who are expected to make the Playoffs and have a case to be seen as Super Bowl contenders. That being said it is fair to say that the Buccaneers may not be a lock for the Super Bowl like many thought they were a few weeks ago. But if Tampa can fix their mistakes during their bye, get back to running the football, controlling the pace of the game rather than intentionally get into shootouts, and play favorable opponents early in the playoffs the Buccaneers can still make a Super Bowl run.
The DROY race is more interesting that the OROY race and has a few great candidates for the award
Early in the year the offensive rookie of the year race got the spotlight because of all of the impactful offensive rookies. Rookie quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herberts were electrifying putting up great numbers each and every week despite not putting up much success in the win column. Undrafted free agent running back James Robinson took the starting job from Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville and has not looked back. It would hard to argue that he has not become Jacksonvilles best offensive player. On top of that the historic wide receiver class has not disappointed early as Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool have been outstanding for their teams throughout the first part of the season. But after Burrows season ending injury, Herberts outstanding production, and the fact that the award usually goes to the best quarterback, it would be shocking if Herbert didn’t win the award.
However there are a few defensive rookies who have great cases to take home the defensive rookie of the year award. Many of which were no expected as impactful as they have been this early in their careers.
The least shocking player who can win the award is second overall pick Chase Young. Young has 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Washington Football team. His addition to to Washingtons defensive front has given their defense the boost they need to stay alive in this division.
Second round pick Antoine Winfield Jr. has the third most tackles for the Buccaneers with 69. He also has two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception.
It was surprising to see Jaylon Johnson fall to the 50th pick when many had a first round grade on him. But Chicago got a great starting cornerback when they drafted Johnson. Johnson is fourth in the league in deflected passes with 13.
Jeremy Chinn is quickly becoming one of the best players on the Carolina Panthers defense. He is the favorite to win defensive player of the week for Week 12 after his performance against the Minnesota Vikings. Chinn forced a fumble and had two fumble recoveries taken for touchdowns on back to back plays. He is the first player to do this since 1948. Chinn also leads the team in tackles with 87 and has an interception on the season.
The most shocking player to make this list was Indianapolis Colts third round pick Julian Blackmon. He has been outstanding filling in for former first round pick Malik Hooker. Blackmon has 28 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble on the season.
The Most attractive head coaching vacancy may be in Los Angeles
Through twelve weeks of the NFL season there are already three head coaching vacancies and four general manager opportunities available. But it could be argued that the most attractive head coaching opportunity has not been vacated yet. In recent years no other team has lost one possession games than the Los Angeles Chargers. That trend has continued this season as the Chargers have lost seven games by eight points or less. Now that the Chargers have made the change from Philip Rivers to Justin Herbert more of the blame has to be on head coach Anthony Lynn.
Once regarded as one of the better head coaches in the league, Lynn has had the narrative on him turn rather quickly and now may be on the hot seat. In Week 12 against his former team the Buffalo Bills Lynn had multiple questionable moments. His use of his timeouts were hard to rationalize and the way the Bills handled their final drive was awful.
After Herbert completed a hail mary on 4th and 27 to get them within scoring distance with a little over 40 seconds remaining Lynn decided to run the ball on first and goal. This took the clock down from 23 seconds to 8 which eliminated the opportunity the Chargers had to score potentially make it down the field twice to score the ten points they needed to tie the game. To top it of with 3 seconds remaining there was a miscommunication between offensive personnel that resulted in Herbert attempting to quarterback sneak the ball into the end zone, but his offensive line went into pass protection and did not clear the way for him to score.
This game was a mess for the Chargers and was winnable if they did not make as many mistakes throughout the game. It is likely that the game could be the deciding factor on whether or not to bring Lynn back next season.
If this job was to become available, it would become an extremely attractive opportunity for a few reasons. The Chargers would have a second year quarterback in place in Herbert who has shown a lot of potential in his rookie season. They also have great weapons on offense in Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry (if he resigns). Then on the defensive side of the ball the Chargers have multiple first round picks and elite veterans including Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram (if he resigns), Jerry Tillery, Linval Joseph, Kenneth Murray, Chris Harris Jr., Casey Heyward, and Derwin James. On top of that the Chargers have one of the best young general managers in Tom Telesco and could very well have another top-10 draft pick to add to their talented roster. The Chargers might be a head coach away from becoming a real threat in the AFC.
Atlanta’s next head coach may already be in house
After starting the year 0-5 the Falcons seemingly waived the white flag on the year by firing head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Since then Raheem Morris has taken over as the teams head coach they have went 4-2. Also it should be mentioned that if Todd Gurley falls at the one yard line against the Lions, the Falcons are 5-1 during that stretch. Something that Morris is doing that Quinn did not is working in Atlanta and has the Falcons winning games.
At this point Morris has earned himself an interview and legitimate shot at the head coaching job next season. What do the Falcons have to lose by taking a chance on Morris full time. Even with Matt Ryan turning 36 before next season, there is nothing Atlanta could do to stop his steady decline and his contract suggests that Ryan will remain their starting quarterback for at least another season or two. It was rumored that Morris could be interview to potentially return to a head coaching position following the season. His time as the interm coach in Atlanta strengthens that case. There is no reason for Atlanta not to keep Morris in house for at least another season. The upside of keeping Morris and pairing him with the right general manager is huge.
Many forget that Atlanta played in the Super Bowl only three years ago and have many of the same players from that team still in house. For a while it seemed that Quinn and the rest of the coaching staff never truly recovered from losing that game.
The Saints should not rely on Taysom Hill as their QB1 after Drew Brees retires
After Drew Brees was put on IR for multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung the New Orleans Saints turned to flex player Taysom Hill into their full time starting quarterback. Before Week 11 Hill only had 205 career passing yards, more career tackles than pass attempts, and never attempted more than two passes in a game. But after giving him a two year $21 Million deal in the offseason , Sean Payton has decided to see what Hill has since the Saints have made him one of the highest paid backups in the league. In two starts Hill has played well enough to get two dominant wins over the Falcons and Broncos and keep the Saints atop the NFC.
Hill threw for 233 yards on 18 of his 23 pass attempts against the Falcons. The following game in Denver Hill went 9 of 16 for 78 passing yards. In both games he rushed ten times for just under 50 yards and two touchdowns each. His play is enough to get through the next couple of games, but cannot be the long term answer for the Saints offense post Drew Brees.
A comparison for Hill’s play the past two weeks is a poor mans Lamar Jackson (this season). Much like Jackson, Hill’s strengths can be easily studied over film and defenses could force him to play to his weaknesses. Hill’s weaknesses are the deep ball and making second or third reads on a play rather than tucking and running. Despite how well rounded the Saints roster is, they can only play so well with a quarterback who is limited when it actually comes to passing the ball (check out the Ravens this season).
A resolution could be to utilize a two quarterback system like they already use now when Drew Brees is healthy. But it could be made more of an even split between Hill and (very likely) Jameis Winston. Having a traditional quarterback to go with Hill protects the Saints from teams exposing him for his flaws as a passer while still being able to use Hill in the running and receiving game. This solution also gives the Saints a window where the team does not fall into a major decline once Brees retires and keeps them afloat until a they find a long term answer at quarterback.
A major change will need is needed in Philadelphia
One of the most consistent storylines throughout the entire season is the dysfunction that is happening in Philadelphia. Seemingly every week this season the Eagles play sloppy football, Carson Wentz shows major regression through is quarterback mechanics, people demand for the Eagles to start second round pick Jalen Hurts, and somehow the Eagles are in first place of the NFC East (except for this past week the Giants are in first place). It is at the point where everyone can agree that there is a huge problem in Phili, but many people have different opinions on the teams biggest issue. Three parties that have received the most blame for Philadelphia’s 3-7-1 start are Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson, and general manager Howie Roseman.
Wentz has received the most blame and deservingly so, he leads the league in interceptions (15), times sacked (46), and has the second most quarterback fumbles (10). He is trying to hard to overcompensate and make the big play but instead he is holding onto the ball too long and makes extremely avoidable turnovers and horrible plays.
Those who don’t believe its Wentz have turned their attention to Doug Pederson and his management of the offense and the team overall. The team has played extremely sloppy football this season and seems to be getting worse as the season goes on. Many believe that it is Pederson’s responsibility to fix the teams minor issues especially with some high end talent on the roster.
Recently the spotlight has hit Roseman because of the teams lack of depth. The Eagles have been hit with a lot of injuries seemingly all over their roster every year after their Super Bowl run. Despite this Roseman has not done a great job of adding capable backups to their roster at major positions like on the offensive line and wide receiver. On top of that it is fair to say when looking at the Eagles recent draft history that they have had a lot more misses than hits especially in the early rounds. This past draft was extremely important to build upon their playoff run from this past year and Roseman overdrafted Jalen Reagor in the first round with a few better receivers on the board. Also in the second round he selected Jalen Hurts a quarterback despite giving Wentz a four year $128 million deal that the team will not be able to trade or cut until at least 2022. Its fair to say Roseman deserves some blame for this too.
At the rate this season is going despite if the Eagles win the NFC East or not this franchise in need of a major change at the quarterback, head coach, or general manager positions. If Wentz, Pederson, or Roseman were to become available they would have significant interest and would resume their current role for another franchise as soon as next season. But it seems unlikely that the Eagles retain all three and don’t make a change to one or multiple of those positions.
The Seahawks cannot let Russell Wilson be the only ‘cook in the kitchen‘
After starting the season 5-0, the Seattle Seahawks lost three of their next four. During those weeks it seems like the Seahawks relied too heavily on their quarterback Russell Wilson who was the favorite for MVP before that span. The Seahawks have gotten back on track winning their past two games, but cannot fall back into the hair on relying on Wilson to carry the team seemingly by himself for every single game if they want to be a serious Super Bowl contender.
If there was one player in the NFL who could carry his team to a winner record and playoff appearance that one player would be Russell Wilson he has done it for years. Wilson has only missed the playoffs once since he was drafted in 2012 and the Seahawks went 9-7 this year. The only difference this year is that the Seahawks defense has been suspect this year. They are on pace to have one of the worst defenses in NFL history so Wilson needs to put this team on his back more than ever. But Seattle won’t reach their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl championship if that is the case.
During Seattles wins this season Wilson averages 3.3 touchdowns and .38 interceptions a game. While in their losses Wilson averages 2.5 touchdowns and 2.3 interceptions a game. The Seahawks need Wilson to have a great game and almost perfect in order to win. But if there is one thing that Wilsons play has showed us it is that when a quarterback tries for perfection every game he is likely to have a bad dud every once caused by mistakes made by trying to make every play perfect.
In recent weeks Seattle’s defense has played better now that Jamal Adams has returned from injury and the team has added pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. Seattles defense will need to be at least average from here on out for them to have a legitimate shot at a championship. Wilson shouldn’t have to be near perfect every game from here on out in order for Seattle to win games.
These next couple of weeks are going to be rough as far as dealing with COVID-19
This last takeaway is unfortunate, but very true. In recent weeks the number of Covid-19 cases amongst NFL players has skyrocketed. Earlier in the season the Titans had an outbreak that resulted in 24 people going on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and both the Titans and Steelers got their bye weeks moved. After that the New England Patriots had an outbreak that spread to quarterback Cam Newton that caused the game to be moved and Newton missing time. On two separate occasions the Raiders almost went without a large part of their team for a game. During their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they were almost without all five of their offensive line starters. Then a few weeks later multiple players along the Raiders defense were going to miss their Week 11 game against division rival Kansas City Chiefs. There were multiple players who did miss the game, but not as many that started the week on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. This past week things got worse when twenty two members of the Baltimore Ravens missed their game this week because they were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Also the Denver Broncos had to start wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback because all of the teams quarterbacks were ineligible to play due to being exposed to Jeff Driskel who tested positive for Covid-19.
Now that flu season is coming up the cases are supposed to go up in numbers. This means that the last five weeks of the regular season may not happen so easily. Games could get postponed or cancelled. There could possibly be a Week 18 to play all the makeup games that got postponed. Some of the leagues superstars and teams best players could land on the Reserve/COVID-19 list which could give opposing teams a huge advantage. There is also uncertainty on how the playoffs could get affected by Covid-19 and what the plan of action would be for moving a playoff game. Fans of the NFL should brace for this and ensure to also practice safe behaviors like NFL players to reduce the spread. That little bit could help reduce the spread of Covid-19 and help the NFL season play out on time.