Despite all the adversity that comes with Covid-19, the NFL managed to have a 17 week NFL Season. The league executives deserve props for the season going down with only minor hiccups and not having to extend the regular season to get all the games played or even cancel it.
Through out the last five weeks of the season there was still major storylines produced that made the final stretch of the season that much more entertaining. Until the end narratives changed dramatically week to week depending on the outcome of games.
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 last few weeks of the NFL Season.
The Detroit Lions job is the worst head coaching vacancy in the league
The day after Week 17 in the NFL is commonly referred to as “Black Monday”. The Monday after Week 17 ends is usually the day where teams let go of coaches and teams plan to make major moves during the offseason. However this year more multiple head coaches were fired during the regular season. The latest to get fired midseason was Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia. Both Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were let go after a 13-29-1 record together.
There are many head coaching vacancies that bring a lot to the table. The Jacksonville Jacksonville Jaguars have cap space, draft picks, and the number one overall pick. The New York Jets have cap space and four first round picks over the course of the next two seasons. The Los Angeles Chargers have star players including but not limited to Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, Derwin James, and Austin Ekeler. The Atlanta Falcons have a former MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan and one of the best wide receiver duos in the leauge (when healthy) in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The Houston Texans even have franchise players in place in Deshaun Watson, Laremy Tunsil, and J.J. Watt.
What does Detroit offer a head coach and general manager? Their franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of the toughest players in the league, but there are already ramblings of the team trying to sell high on their 32 year old to get a fresh start. By the time they turn the team around Stafford may be past his prime and on a decline. Their best offensive weapon Kenny Golladay missed 11 games last season is a free agent and could use the front office change as an opportunity to escape and join a better team. The Lions defense is a total mess made up of former New England Patriots and draft picks that have not panned out. Their defense has given up 30+ points in 9 of their last 10 games (12 times overall) and the only time they didn’t was during a 20-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers where the Panthers started started backup quarterback P.J. Walker.
The Lions also only have $10.5 million in salary cap space available and not much flexibility. A lot of their money wrapped up in a lot veterans that are hard to move off of and do not have the draft capital to completely blow it up and rebuild the team quickly like Miami and Las Vegas has attempted to do in recent years. Depending on who they hire the Lions could be 2-3 seasons away from being a competitive regular season team and in most situations a coach who does not turn a team into a playoff contender during that span gets fired. The Lions job could a trap for a great coaching candidate.
The Chicago Bears should have never benched Mitch Trubisky
The Chicago Bears season was an actual roller coaster of a season. They atop the NFC at 5-1 to begin the year. But then the team fell a part and went on a six game losing streak. During that span rumors about general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy being let go started to build. It appeared that Chicago was going to blow it up during the offseason and look for a new franchise quarterback. But then the team finished the year 3-1 and edged out the Arizona Cardinals and snuck into the playoffs as the seven seed.
What was the reason for Chicagos up and down season? It was the quarterback play! During the Bears Week three game against the Atlanta Falcons Nagy decided to bench Mitch Trubisky for Nick Foles. After Foles came in the team scored 20 unanswered points and won the game. After that point Foles was named the starter. Despite Foles looking better than Trubisky, he actually had worse numbers and lost more games than Trubisky.
Trubisky started Weeks 1-3 and 12-17. During those games he threw for 2,055 yards (288.3 yards per game), 16 passing touchdowns (1.8 per game), had a 93.5 QBR, and a 6-4 record during his starts. Foles replaced Trubisky during Week 3 and started from Week 4-10. While Foles started he threw for 1,852 passing yards (205.8 per game), 10 passing touchdowns (1.1 per game), had a 80.8 QBR, and a 3-5 record during his starts.
When Bill Lazor took over offensive playcalling and Trubisky became the teams starter in Week 12 they made David Montgomery the emphasis of the offense as well. Before that time Montgomery ran for 472 yards and one touchdown on 131 carries. He averaged 52.4 yards on 14.6 carries per game. After Lazor took over the playcalling and Trubisky returned to the starting lineup in Week 12 Montgomery ran for 598 yards and seven touchdowns on 116 carries. During that time he averaged 99.9 yards and 1.2 touchdowns on 19.3 carries per game.
Overall this season the offense looked much better when Trubisky started over Foles. Chicago could have avoided their six game losing streak if they would have kept Trubisky in the lineup.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have multiple pressing needs this offseason
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a unicorn this season. Seemingly in a blink of an eye they went from an 11-0 undefeated Super Bowl contender to a team that may win a playoff game but probably not two. In the history of the NFL there has never been a team who has went undefeated and played so dominant so deep into the season and received as much doubt and disrespect by media surrounding the league.
But there is a reason why the perception on Pittsburgh changed as dramatically as it did. The day the narrative on Pittsburgh changed was Week 12 when Bud Dupree tore his ACL. Despite picking up the win, Pittsburgh lost their second star linebacker to a torn ACL and their elite defense didn’t play as dominantly after that. When Bud Dupree and Devin Bush were healthy Pittsburgh arguably had the best front seven in football and the leagues best defense. But after the two were lost for the season their defense wasn’t nearly as dominant. Along with those two Joe Haden, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Terrell Edmunds all dealt with injuries.
On top of that the offense appeared to lose its spark that it had earlier in the year. During their winning streak Ben Roethlisberger averaged 254.5 passing yards, 2.3 passing touchdowns, and 0.5 interceptions a game. After that point of the season he stats slightly dipped. He averaged 250.8, 2 passing touchdowns, and an interception a game. The stats don’t tell the whole story, Roethlisberger looked different from how he looked earlier in the season. Part of the reason why could because of the lack of support by the defense put pressure on the offense that they couldn’t keep up with. But the reason is at age 38 Roethlisberger cannot carry the offense and the team overall.
The Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the league for the second straight season and their defense went from its own category of dominance to slightly above average. It may be fair to say that the Steelers Super Bowl window closed after Week 12 this season.
So going into the offseason Pittsburgh has some massive questions to answer. Does Roethlisberger decide to hang it up? If he does how do they replace him and if not do they add a better backup quarterback to keep the team afloat if Roethlisberger continues to trend in the wrong direction? How does Pittsburgh address their lack of a running game? What does Pittsburgh do to retain or replace Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, Tyson Alualu, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner who are all free agents at the end of the season?
All of these questions need to be answered while they are currently $21 million over the salary cap and with draft picks ranging between the 20th and 32nd pick in each round. If there is one thing Kevin Colbert and the Steelers franchise as done a great job with over the years it is drafting talented players throughout the draft. But it will be no easy feat to fill all of the Steelers needs next offseason and return them to the Super Bowl contender many thought they were earlier this season.
Miami should be confident in Tua Tagovailoa‘s future
Despite the sense of disappointment felt by the Miami Dolphins organization and fan base the team should be proud of how they finished the season. Within one year the team went from the worst roster in football to the best team to miss the playoffs. After an excellent offseason the Dolphins went from 5-11 to 10-6. Brian Flores appears to be a favorite to win coach of the year and have $33 million in salary cap space and five draft picks in the top three rounds to add more talented starters to their team.
Those disappointed with the Miami Dolphins performance are going to point to rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s performance late season. When Tagovailoa was named the starting quarterback after their Week 7 bye it was reported that this was a tryout to see whether he could be the quarterback of the future of if they had to use the Texans top-10 draft pick (#3 overall) on another franchise quarterback. In recent weeks many questions have come out about Tagovailoa’s last three games where the he averaged 200 passing yards, .67 touchdowns, and 1.3 interceptions a game. During the Week 16 game against the Raiders Brian Flores benched Tagovailoa for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to win the game. Then in Week 17 Tagovailoa imploded in a win get in the playoffs game throwing three interceptions in a 56-26 loss where the Bill benched their starters at half time.
The pressure on Tagovailoa is also intensified by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert who was selected one selection later and had a record rookie season that included breaking the rookie passing touchdown record and falling just short of the rookie passing yards record.
Those who believe the Dolphins should move on from Tagovailoa need to look at what he did throughout the entire season before passing judgement. In ten games this season Tagovailoa threw for 1,814 yards, 11 passing touchdowns, rushed for 109 yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, and only had five interceptions (and one fumble). He also completed 64% of his passes. For a rookie with no training camp joining an offense that had not made any major changes from the year prior that was one of the worst in the league it is not that bad. If the last game of the season is taken away Tagovailoa looks like the quarterback many thought he would be right away which is an extremely accurate quarterback who will keep you in games.
Tagovailoa did look to play conservatively during his first season opposed to Herbert and Joe Burrow who put up better numbers than he did. But that also has more to do with the teams they were drafted to. Both Burrow and Herbert were inserted into situations where they had to throw for over 300+ yards a game and 3+ touchdowns to win. While Tagovailoa had to effectively move the ball down field and avoid turnovers to win. The records of their teams during their starts reflect that. Before tearing his ACL Burrow went 2-7-1, Herbert went 6-9 with a loaded roster, Tagovialoa went 6-3 during his starts.
It might have not been the flashiest or pretties when Tagovailoa played his rookie season but if and when the Dolphins add more pieces on offense for him to work with his stats will improve while he tries to maintain his high touchdown to interception ratio, completion percentage, and win percentage.
The Philadelphia Eagles organization cannot pull the “2017 Super Bowl Champions” card anymore
The Philadelphia Eagles ended the season in a way that perfectly defined their year as a whole. They ended the season with a controversial quarterback decision that has players and media members fuming in anger and questioning the decision making of the Eagles coaches and executives. Down by three points in the fourth quarter of Sunday Night Football in a game where the outcome decided who would win the NFC East and make the playoffs Doug Pederson decided to bench second round pick quarterback Jalen Hurts for career backup (previously third string quarterback) Nate Sudfeld. This move enraged fans of the NFL, New York Giant fans, New York Giants players, and East Coast media members, and most main stream media members. Despite finishing the year 4-11-1 the Eagles are the most talked about topic in football media circles despite the playoffs starting this week. This season the Philadelphia Eagles exposed how much of a mess they are as a franchise. The three most important people to the Philadelphia Eagles teams success have been exposed for frauds this season.
Their general manager Howie Roseman has not drafted a Pro Bowler since he traded a haul of draft picks to select Carson Wentz second overall in 2016. Howie Roseman drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside who has 12 career catches for 214 yards and one touchdown throughout his first two seasons over D.K. Metcalf who was seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,180 and eight in the league in receiving touchdowns with 10. This past year he shocked the NFL Draft community by taking Jalen Reagor in the first round over Justin Jefferson who fell in their lap at 21st overall. Reagor had 361 receiving yards and a touchdown in eleven games played this season while Jefferson broke the NFL records for most catches and receiving yards in a single season by a rookie with 88 catches for 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He also created an unneccesary quarterback controversy by drafting Heisman nominated and National Title winning quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round the same season Wentz’s untradeable 4 year $128 Million contract that started. Roseman felt that it was a better decision to hold onto their second round pick to draft Hurts than to package it with their first round pick to get ahead of division rival Dallas Cowboys and draft CeeDee Lamb who had no business falling to Dallas’ 17th overall pick to begin with.
It couldn’t have been easy to deal for Doug Pederson to deal with the quarterback controversy he did this season. But he didn’t have to wait until Week 13 to stop the bleeding of Carson Wentz terrible play and replace him with the rookie. At that point it was all but too late to salvage the season. Instead doing something similar to what Chicago did when their quarterback play was falter and focusing the teams offense on their star running back Miles Sanders he kept trying to cater to Wentz and framed the offense around Wentz making him the focal point of the offense and the team which in the long run cost the Eagles multiple games and a seemingly easy opportunity to make the playoffs with the NFC East as bad as it was this year. Despite having a Super Bowl on his resume, Pederson is an average coach at best. He has a 22-25 record since the Super Bowl victory and after the last stunt he pulled in Week 17 he appears to have lost the locker room which is a terrible thing to occur right before the offseason.
Wentz has had to deal with a lot mentally during his tenure with the Eagles he has dealt with his backup quarterback Nick Foles leading his team to a Super Bowl in his absence and getting a statue built of him in front of the stadium. Then Foles led the Eagles to playoffs the following season and was an Alshon Jeffery dropped ball away from beating the Super Bowl contender New Orleans Saint. For the past two season everyone around Wentz has dealt with major injuries which has caused him to have to play with undrafted free agents and practice squad players. Then the team drafted Hurts in the second round this season. All of this has caused Wentz to lose trust in the organization, coaches, and his players. He played like it was him against the world and he had to make every big play himself which is the reason why he missed easy reads and had a lot of head scratching turnovers throughout the year.
Carson Wentz, Howie Roseman, and Doug Pederson all all remembered for what they did during the 2017-18 season where Wentz played at an MVP level while Roseman and Pederson built a Super Bowl coaching team. But after their atrocious performances this season they likely will not be let go. But they will now be held accountable for their actions next season and if a similar result follows they should be let go from their positions despite their past success.
There is a legitimate debate for the “Best Running Back in Football” title
After this season more than ever there is a bigger group of running backs that could each identify as the best running back in football. This is not typical from the running back position, it is usually a debate every offseason who is the best wide receiver in the league and a lot of people around the league make top-5’s because there are so many talented players at the position and now there is legitimate conversation with running backs.
The obvious candidate and the favorite for the tile is Derrick Henry. This season Henry became the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in NFL History. In a league where the modern running back could also double as a receiver Henry is a north and south downhill between the tackles running back. At 6’3″ and 238 pounds Henry is a beast and at times impossible to tackle. The later in the season it gets the better Henry looks. He had ten games this season where he rushed for 100 yards and three of those game he went over 200 rushing yards. Henry is a human highlight reel whose season highlights are filled with aggressive stiff arms and the amazing speed Henry possesses to go along with his outstanding size and strength.
One of the biggest knocks of Alvin Kamara throughout the years was the fact that he never rushed for 1,000 yards and he isn’t used like a conventional running back . He fell just short of that goal this season after missing the last game due to missing the game because of Covid-19 protocols. But after an off year because of lingering ankle and knee injuries there was doubt on whether Kamara’s production was because of Sean Paytons offense to Kamara’s talent. This season he returned to how he looked in previous seasons and had career highs with 932 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. To go along with that he had 83 catches for 756 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. This season there wasn’t many more dangerous offensive players than Kamara. Even when Drew Brees missed time Kamara was an affective weapon in the Saints offense. The game that confirmed Kamara’s place in the best running back conversation happened Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings. Kamara 155 yards and tied an NFL record with 6 rushing touchdowns. A performance like that to go with his resume over his career is enough to give Kamara the title.
It’s fantastic to see Dalvin Cook get recognized more than a player that is injury prone. Over the past two seasons he has been able to show that the moments he had early in his career where he looked like the one of the best offensive players in the league could be sustained for most of the season. Cook has not played a 16 game season yet, but has been affective in 14 games each of the past two seasons. He rushed for 1135 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 and had career highs with 1557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns this past season. Cook is multidimensional he is among the leagues best at running between the tackles, rushing outside the tackles, and as a receiver. If Cook can shake off the the injury prone label and play in a 16 game season he could easily be seen as the best.
Despite missing a month of action, Nick Chubb still rushed for 1,067 yards and twelve touchdowns without cracking 190 carries. Chubb was one of leagues best running backs despite splitting time with Kareem Hunt who is arguably as talented as him. Like Henry Chubb is a bigger back that runs between the tackles, but Chubb has shown on multiple occasions this season he is a homerun threat and can outrun anybody. His success largely played into why Cleveland snapped their 18 year playoff drought. It would have been amazing to see Chubb in an offense where he is the workhorse back receiving the snaps and carries like many of the leagues top backs. If Chubb had 345 carries which is the average between Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry this season and put up the production he did this year he would have rushed for 1,937 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Last year the NFL was deprived of seeing Christian McCaffrey for most of the season. But during the three games where McCaffrey played he still looked like the elite player he was last season. He had 59 rushes for 225 yards, 17 receptions for 149 yards, and six total touchdowns. On a per game basis he averaged 19.7 rushes for 75 rushing yards, 5.7 catches per game for 49.7 yards, and two touchdowns. That type of production of 16 games would be enough to put McCaffrey in the category for offensive player of the year. When deciding who is the best running back in football McCaffrey’s 2019-20 season cannot be dismissed because he missed most of last season. He should be considered not only the best running back in football but possibly the best offensive player in football if these injuries don’t linger throughout his career.
Takeaways from Earlier this season