Lamar Jackson said he was “ticked off” after the Ravens drowned in a Foxborough monsoon. Doug Pederson said he was “pissed off” after Joe Judge out-coached him coming off a bye. Matt LaFleur called his team’s performance “disturbing,” and that was after a win.
Everyone’s Mad! would work as a movie title for the year 2020, with lengthening nights at the end of a long year making a lot of folks understandably edgy. After Week 10, here’s my list of teams that should be the most frustrated:
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is getting sarcastic and testy with the media. NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported about Pederson having “too many voices” in his ear, along with Carson Wentz’s poor practice habits. A year and a half after Wentz signed a four-year extension, there are questions about Wentz’s long-term viability and whether the team could all be blown up.
It would almost be easier for the Eagles to think about what’s next if they weren’t in the NFC East. The Eagles’ first-place status despite their 3-5-1 record makes each week a bit more agonizing, as nearly every advanced team metric indicates they have been a bottom feeder this season, without many sustained reasons for hope. Healthier than they have been all year — which is still relative — the Eagles now face a stretch of five straight games out of the division against winning teams. A 5-10-1 record may be enough to take the division. But can the Eagles find two more wins in their schedule — and does it matter if Wentz, who’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes while throwing a league-high 12 picks, continues to play as poorly as he has?
Deshaun Watson is performing like a top-eight quarterback at minimum. The Texans have won two games.
I rank the Texans so high on this list because of their relative lack of long-term hope. They don’t have their top two picks in the upcoming draft, traded to the Dolphins by ex-coach Bill O’Brien as part of last year’s Laremy Tunsil deal. More importantly, current football czar Jack Easterby — the former Patriots chaplain — is in line to orchestrate their next search for a general manager and coach. That assumes there will even be a next general manager. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Easterby could wind up running the show while interim coach Romeo Crennel gets another season at the helm in 2021, which sounds like a strange purgatory for everyone involved.
Easterby was O’Brien’s right-hand man and bears as much responsibility as anyone in the franchise for the mess the team is in, so allowing him to pilot their way out feels like a bad process, no matter what he does.
The Broncos’ injuries provide the team a reasonable excuse for their record. But like many teams trying to build around a young quarterback, they are primarily judging their success by how said young quarterback plays. I watched every snap of Drew Lock’s promising rookie season closely, and have seen all his games as a second-year pro this season — when he’s averaging more than one pick per game. There’s no doubt he’s taken a massive step back, which raises questions about every aspect of the organization. It feels like the Broncos are back at square one.
The Colts are, in many ways, the team the Titans want to be. Tennessee’s meltdown against Indianapolis on Thursday Night Football showed how vulnerable the pass defense and offensive line are to attack. It was the start of a brutal three-week stretch that also includes trips to Baltimore in Week 11 and then back to Indianapolis in Week 12 for what becomes a must-win game if the Titans want to ensure their AFC South survival. Finishing that stretch at 6-5 is in play after a 5-0 start.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receiver A.J. Brown have backed up their boffo 2019 seasons, and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is a piece to build around. There is a strong foundation in place. But the 2020 Titans are 2-2 in games decided by more than six points. Their fast start to the season possibly made everyone in Nashville believe they had finally moved out of the NFL’s middle, but the prospect of a fifth straight 9-7 finish remains on the table.
It is undeniably frustrating to mount such a limp defense of an NFC title. But what happened to the 49ers this season was cosmic, the result of a series of injuries so devastating that it’s impossible to put the blame on anyone. While it would be nice to have prioritized keeping, say, DeForest Buckner (Indy’s highest-graded defender by Pro Football Focus this season after San Francisco traded him to the Colts) instead of Dee Ford (on injured reserve) or Arik Armstead (1.5 sacks), no team or coach could have overcome this.
After being gifted with Todd Gurley’s whoopsie touchdown in Atlanta and Chase Young’s roughing-the-passer penalty on Sunday, the 2020 Lions can’t complain about being unlucky. They also can’t blame their fans for being uninspired after predictably giving up a 24-3 lead to the Washington Football Team before sneaking out a win.
The Lions might catch another break in Week 11 if Teddy Bridgewater can’t suit up for the Panthers, which sets up a very Lions Thanksgiving: get to 5-5, pump the Lions’ fans hopes up and then lose to the Texans.
The weather, injuries and a vintage Bill Belichick game plan helped ground the Ravens on Sunday night in New England. The Ravens trail the 9-0 Steelers by three games in the AFC North, which may be too much to overcome with seven games to play, even if the Ravens were to win out. Injuries are their biggest concern.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle, perhaps the best blockers at their positions in the entire NFL, are not coming back. The soft middle of the Baltimore offensive line was attacked by the Patriots, the latest team to limit Ravens runners not named Lamar. Injuries to run-stuffers Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and L.J. Fort limit some of the creative ways defensive coordinator Don Martindale likes to call plays. It’s hard to blitz with impunity if the opposition avoids long-yardage situations or simply refuses to pass.
The Titans-Ravens playoff rematch this week is fascinating for so many reasons, including the Titans being well-suited to adopt New England’s run-heavy approach from Week 10. When Baltimore and Tennessee last met, a spot in the AFC Championship Game was on the line. This year, it feels like survival is at stake. The Ravens still have enough strengths — starting with Lamar Jackson and their pass defense — to believe they can weather this storm. But their team is catching the injury bug later and harder than most, just as the games get more meaningful.
Joe Burrow has helped the Bengals compete nearly every week, except against the AFC North heavyweights. The Ravens and Steelers have outscored the Bengals 63-13 this season, which cuts against coach Zac Taylor’s signature trait of losing close games.
Burrow’s comfort in Taylor’s scheme is the best advertisement to keep the head coach in 2021, but I’ll be watching the rematches against Baltimore (in Week 17) and Pittsburgh (in Week 15) closely. If the coaching staff can’t help Burrow find answers, it’s worth wondering how much progress these Bengals have truly made.
The Saints are relatively low on this list because they have managed all the obstacles in their way throughout 2020 with aplomb. They win games in a lot of different ways. Their defense is improving, and their receivers are finally healthy — just in time for their starting quarterback to be injured.
Drew Brees broke multiple ribs Sunday, which is expected to knock him out of action, possibly for a few weeks. Brees is also struggling with a shoulder injury, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport alluded to other possible maladies in a situation that is reminiscent of Peyton Manning’s final season.
Like Manning in 2015, Brees has a team around him that could deliver a long-desired second Super Bowl. It remains to be seen whether the combination of backup QBs Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill can keep the Saints afloat like Teddy Bridgewater did for the Saints in 2019 — or Brock Osweiler did for the Broncos in Manning’s absence in 2015 — but it will give Saints fans a preview for life without Brees, which increasingly feels like it will start in 2021.
This is an outstanding, if tricky, opportunity for Winston. The Saints’ offense couldn’t be much different than the one he knew in Tampa. New Orleans currently leads the NFC South, but in-division threats loom, with two games upcoming against a hot Falcons team that gives the Saints trouble even in the best of times. (Remember Thanksgiving last year?) Winston could play well enough to earn himself a job next season, even as the Saints’ starter. Or he could start a career path closer to that of Sam Bradford, another former No. 1 overall pick for hire stuck somewhere between starter and backup.
The Hail Murray hurts, especially heading into a bye week. It hurts that Sean McDermott’s defense gave up over 200 yards rushing for the second time this year and the seventh time since he took over as coach in the loss to Arizona. It hurts that what was possibly the best throw of Josh Allen’s career — his opposite-hash touchdown throw to Stefon Diggs — is now an afterthought following Kyler Murray’s heroics.
But the Bills are 7-3 and only play two teams with a winning record the rest of the season. Considering how their defense and running game have performed for most of the year, the Bills are relatively fortunate to have the record they do. Allen’s transformation has turned the Bills into a top-five passing attack, and the rest of the team needs to catch up. Before Sunday’s game, the Bills were 5-0 in one-score games. They were due to drop a close one, and they are still in prime position for a high seed in the AFC.
Matt LaFleur talks a lot about the Packers not having enough energy. That’s a common 2020 problem, but having Aaron Rodgers playing well enough to win the MVP award is more important. I’ll take an elite passing game over everything in today’s NFL, and the Packers undeniably have one. LaFleur, who calls for runs too often early in games, just needs to lean on Rodgers even more.
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