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5 things I care about
Aaron Rodgers is the MVP
I’m sure there are some voters and observers who are hesitant to give it the same guy two years in a row. They’re going to have to get over because Aaron Rodgers deserves the MVP.
If Tom Brady hadn’t slipped to end the season, had Matthew Stafford not piled up picks in bunches or some dark horse really got hot we’d be having a different conversation. Alas, none of those things happened.
So here we are, once again … with Rodgers.
Let’s go back to the basics of the award. MVP often goes to the best quarterback from the best team. Whether you like it or not, that’s about how it goes. Rodgers has been as eclectic if not more so this year than he was in his delightful 2020 MVP season.
As for the team component, it’s hard to argue for anyone else atop power rankings right now.
The Packers’ offense is as hard to game plan for and as dynamic as anyone out there. The defense has been far better than expected in Joe Barry’s first year on the job. And all of this has been without some of the best players on the roster. David Bakhtiari, Z’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander … those names would be atop any ranking of Green Bay’s talent pool and they’ve barely made an impact (if at all) this year.
And why has Green Bay been able to weather storms while not losing an ounce of steam? They have the MVP on their roster. This might be the year he ends it with a Super Bowl run.
Shoutout to Bengals fans
Imagine being a Bengals fan right now? How could you be anything but insanely jacked about your team?
The future is bright in Cincinnati with the young core they’ve developed. That’s as exciting as anything for a fan but even more hype-enducing: This team is really good right now.
Joe Burrow and the Bengals are the rightful winners of the AFC North. To lock it up by taking down the Chiefs is just so fitting. It shows that this operation has developed from an exciting offense to a true, well-rounded team that has an identity it can lean into with Burrow and his wide receivers. Kansas City was top-five in EPA per dropback allowed in the back half of the season. If you took issue with Cincinnati's “level of competition” against the broken Ravens secondary, you have to be quiet this week.
There’s no such worry against the Chiefs.
As long as the Bengals play this way every single week, with this pass-first style, they can make a little run in the postseason. This is a fun team and Bengals fans deserve to bask in it.
I have no idea what will come of it but I just can’t talk enough about Rashaad Penny’s wild run to end this season.
Perhaps it’s just because it’s so hilarious that the ill-fated first-round pick has finally shown up right at what seems like the end of this Seahawks' era of football (and his contract). Maybe it’s just the irony of the fact that as Pete Carroll has searched long and hard for an answer to his average post-Marshawn Lynch run game, the solution was Penny … the man he wanted all along.
Putting all that aside, it’s worth talking about Penny because of just how statistically dominant he’s been since taking over.
Penny has rushed for 481 yards over the last three games alone. He is as explosive as any back in the league when he gets to the open field. The Seahawks back has cleared 6.5 yards per carry in three of his last four contests. He’s been awesome and is going to win some fantasy leagues for those shrewd enough to have added him for this gorgeous end-of-season schedule.
Who knows what will happen to Penny when he hits free agency this offseason. We don’t even know what the Seahawks roster or brain trust will look like heading into 2022.
It's still worth celebrating this wild and slightly hilarious run.
Worrying about Carson Wentz
We spent all week fretting about whether Carson Wentz would play for the Colts in Week 17. Turns out he did play and reminded us why that can be just as concerning as him being out.
Typically I hate doing the, “Well if you take away his best play,” thing but Wentz’s lone touchdown — a 45-yard heave into double coverage that just happened to rebound off a Raiders’ hand to T.Y. Hilton deeper in the end zone — it’s worth doing. Remove that fluke and Wentz was 15 of 26 for 103 yards as a passer.
Wentz has absolutely had his moments with the Colts this year. His trade to the team has been a success for the most part. Wentz has been good enough to hold down the fort for a team that’s well-built and ready to make a run. He plugged a hole for a team that’s been consistently fighting back the quarterback wilderness ever since Andrew Luck shockingly retired.
That doesn’t change the fact that anyone objectively watching the Colts must also fight back the pit in your stomach that seems to constantly warn you the other shoe is going to drop. The grand mistake Wentz just can’t seem to shake will either stall out a key drive or worse, send the ball to the other team in brutal fashion.
The end of Antonio Brown
If this is it for Antonio Brown, you couldn’t write a more fitting end to his NFL career than a shirtless mid-game exit after a war of words with his head coach considering how the last three years have gone.
I can’t imagine another team would sign Brown. His spot in Tampa was secured by Tom Brady and the leverage he holds. Not many other players wield power to such a degree and more importantly, none of them would use it for Brown — especially not now. Of course, anyone who has followed sports for more than five seconds knows better than to say never.
The Bucs can still win the Super Bowl without Brown. The problem is that this is just one swing on the wrong side of variance among many for Brady and co. They got the best version of Brown heading into the postseason last year.
This year, not so much.
They were the healthiest team in football amid their run to February last year. The 2021 Bucs have been anything but, with Mike Evans the lone star receiver remaining.
Brady can do a lot for a team and the Bucs can still get healthy to end the regular season. However, this road is going to be much harder than last year’s.
5 things I don’t care about
The Vikings’ past
It was as anticlimactic an end as you could write but these feel like the final days of this version of the Vikings as we know them.
The broadcast noted that this would be the first time since Mike Zimmer’s arrival that Minnesota would miss the playoffs in back-to-back years. The Zimmer era has objectively been a hit. As Cris Collinsworth said, “You can get a new coach but you’re not going to find a better coach.”
It will be tough to top Zimmer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t time for a change. The longer this has gone on, the more it’s felt like the marriage of the coach and quarterback was never set up to succeed. It would be great to know how Zimmer really feels about how the events of the last few days unfolded with the Vikings quarterback room.
Simply put, the Vikings have been the same exact team for about three to four years now. Sometimes those years ended with a playoff spot, sometimes they didn’t. That’s not really the point. From a process standpoint, you know exactly what the Vikings will be each and every NFL season. It’s never quite good enough. Unfortunately, that’s the tell-tale sign a team needs a reset, even if it has some good bones around the foundation.
Other Lions players
Because it’s all about Amon-Ra St. Brown!
There was plenty of worry about the rookie’s Week 17 outlook when it was announced receiving running back maven D’Andre Swift was coming back. It was made even more concerning when Jared Goff was listed as doubtful.
No matter. Just another 100-plus yards on 11 targets with multiple touchdowns.
You only have to look at the box score to know that Swift didn’t play a full workload. That’s still a future variable to think about but it’s more important that, in this current reality, the Lions are scheming up touches for St. Brown. They’re using him as a layup target like a light-beer Cooper Kupp. They gave him work out of the backfield like Deebo Samuel on Sunday.
More importantly, he’s delivering big-time on those opportunities.
This breakout certainly feels different from some random Day 3 wide receiver rookie breakouts we’ve seen in the past. St. Brown has a clear role and just keeps coming through no matter the circumstances — come hell or high water.
The Titans’ flaws
The Tennessee Titans moved back into the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the Chiefs loss in Week 17. Everyone wants to pick at their flaws, roll their eyes at the team’s lack of excitement and just straight up find reasons why they don’t belong.
Yet, the Tennessee Titans remain.
The Titans are not a perfect operation. Ryan Tannehill isn’t in the tier of excitement inhabited by other AFC passers like Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. His stats are far from pretty this year. The roster has other holes.
Despite all that, here the Titans are … ready to compete in the postseason. They’ve maintained this pace despite not having Derrick Henry for months and with A.J. Brown in and out of the lineup. Most teams sink without their best players, especially when one of those guys is the key to their identity, as is the case with Henry.
The Titans deserve to be met with loads of praise for this run — not more skepticism.
Trey Lance’s rushing
It’s going to sound weird because Trey Lance’s rushing ability is basically the backbone of the usual thesis surrounding his fantasy value.
Watching him play, Lance’s instincts as a rusher could use some work. What gets me more excited about Lance taking over as the full-time starter one day, however, is what he brings as a vertical passer.
That was on full display against the Texans:
Trey Lance brought a vertical element to the 49ers offense in his second career start.
Lance averaged the most air yards/attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.#HOUvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/EBe38tvrUU
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 3, 2022
No matter what any efficiency metric tells you, there’s no way you can watch the way Jimmy Garoppolo plays and not feel like there’s meat left on the offensive bone. That’s especially true when it comes to the downfield game and outside the numbers.
Lance was certainly willing to test those areas, more so than any Niners quarterback has in years. The rushing ability is nice and it’ll be the key behind Lance’s destined breakout 2022 fantasy season. But I hope Kyle Shanahan doesn’t get lost in the wild rushing play designs and focuses instead on nurturing the kill-shots his prized passer can bring in the deep game.
This is about the time of year where I bid farewell to boring football operations.
With fantasy ending, I no longer have to allow lifeless teams to occupy mental space in a faux pursuit of projecting their players for fake football.
The Giants seem to always operate this select list of teams but the 2021 version of this team has been one for the ages. With so many skill-position injuries and a backup quarterback carousel that would make even Matt Rhule blush, I had forgotten this team existed for about three weeks.
We were ahead of schedule … until Joe Judge put them right back on the radar:
Joe Judge (amid 10+ minute rant) said that there are players that were on the #Giants last year that have been calling him saying "how much they wish they were still here even though they’re getting paid more someone else.” #Giants
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) January 2, 2022
This might be the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever heard a head coach assert and it was one of just many curious statements Judge made in his post-game presser. Beyond how insane it is for Judge to pull the “My ex still texts me all the time” card with a straight face, who is he even talking about here? Dalvin Tomlinson? Colt McCoy? The Giants didn’t lose many guys in free agency last offseason and few of them would qualify for the parameters Judge laid out.
There were rumors last week that the Giants planned on running it back with Daniel Jones and Judge. They must reconsider. The media loves to remind us that New York is supposed to be one of the most respected franchises in the NFL.
It would be nice if their football moves would reflect that.