So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise.
In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 11, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Patrick Mahomes stacks another signature moment
It really just shouldn’t be this easy.
He makes it that easy but let’s never stop acknowledging that what Patrick Mahomes does on a seemingly weekly basis just isn’t normal.
The great quarterbacks — and we’re talking top of the line, tier-of-one type guys — are inevitable. It doesn’t matter that they get the ball with fewer than two minutes left in the fourth quarter trailing a division rival on the road. They are inevitable. Give them a chance to plunge the dagger and you’ll find it right in your heart.
That’s what Mahomes did to the Raiders on Sunday night.
The disheartening part of this for Las Vegas is that for most of the game, they made Mahomes look mortal. Usually the definition of unflappable, the Raiders undermanned defense forced him into some mistakes under duress. And the offense did its part to keep the game within striking distance and had it not been for a few mistakes by some Raiders receivers (more below), they could have soared to another win over Kansas City. But that’s the problem when you’re facing Mahomes. If you’re not flawless, he’ll beat you. Give him an inch, he’s taking a mile. A mere glimmer of hope is enough to light his path to victory. If you inexplicably leave Travis Kelce wide-open in the middle of the end zone, he’s not missing that throw.
Nights like this are why Mahomes could cruise to another MVP title, depending on how the rest of the field shapes up.
Fantasy managers already expect greatness out of Mahomes. And we particularly love to see it when his usage tree is pretty narrow. Top pass-catchers Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill paced the team with a combined 24 targets. Both of them scored. In the backfield, there is a clear preference with Clyde Edwards-Helaire playing on over 50 percent of the snaps and logging 15 touches. He scored twice. While Le’Veon Bell also found the end zone, he was a sub-30 percent player and was targeted just once.
Either way, the Chiefs just have so much to throw at you. The Raiders gave them all they could handle and even then, the absolute best night for Las Vegas wasn’t enough. It was all just a reminder of how truly terrifying the Chiefs are once again heading into the final quarter of 2020.
Taysom Hill nails his starting QB trial
If any quarterback completed 78.3 percent of his passes at 10.1 yards per attempt and tacked on 51 yards with two scores on the ground in a winning effort during his first career start, the NFL the world over would say he aced his first test. We’d all agree his head coach was right to believe he has future promise. No one would have any problem that he was played over a former first-round bust from another team.
However, if that isn’t the universal reaction to Taysom Hill’s first start at quarterback, it wouldn’t be too surprising considering the discourse around him has always been weirdly hyper-negative.
Sure, it’s frustrating to watch him take touches away from highly drafted fantasy players. At least this year, the Hill package has seemed more miss than hit. And in fairness, some of the overdone praise of Hill can be outrageous, like when people touted him as a “better Lamar Jackson” when one player has an MVP on his resume and the other zero starts. I get it — it can all be a little much.
Just as foolish was the absolute certainty that so many spoke with when declaring one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL was a fool for believing in Hill long-term, that he’d fail spectacularly when allowed to start at quarterback and/or the outrage that came when he was given the start over a guy who played himself out of a starting job in Tampa Bay.
It’s all just so weird and Sean Payton deserves to take his victory lap. Fantasy analysts and gamers alike have laced up the shoes for much less.
No outsider should come out of today ready to 100 percent declare Hill a future star, or even a future starting-level quarterback. This was just one game against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. But this was promising and should put an end to the idea of Hill the starter as merely some troll-job or the punchline of a joke.
At the very least, Hill dunked on the strangely large horde of haters.
The 2019 NFL Draft WR class
The 2020 wide receiver draft class has absolutely been everything it was billed to be but don’t forget the 2019 class also provided us with several legitimate studs.
DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin are all pushing to be considered top-10 NFL wide receivers in just their second seasons. McLaurin and Metcalf rank third and fifth in the NFL in yards. Brown has battled injuries but bulldozed the Ravens defense for the Titans’ late fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown to remind us how good he is.
Diontae Johnson is right up there with them, too. Johnson had 12 catches on Sunday and his second 100-yard game in as many weeks. Baller. He has been everything he was hyped up to be. Let’s hope you stayed patient through the injury hiccups early this year.
The 2020 class already looks like it might have better depth and maybe by this time next year, it’ll have five-plus guys ready to be declared a high-end No. 1 wide receiver. The reality is that the wide receiver landscape in the NFL is as talent-filled as ever after the influx of strong young prospects. However, the game-changing possible superstars of today and tomorrow seem to have mostly come from the 2019 class. For now, at least.
We need to talk about Deshaun Watson more
It’s really a shame that the Houston Texans are just so far from the plane of relevance this season. We really should be talking about how awesome Deshaun Watson has been. Instead, he’s getting overlooked in 2020 despite playing like the best quarterback in the AFC this side of Patrick Mahomes.
Watson took the Patriots to the woodshed today. He finished with 380 total yards but that doesn’t show just how impressive he was. Watson had all three of his touchdowns in the first half and completed almost 80 percent of his passes for over 10 yards per attempt. His rushing touchdown looked like the type of power run we associate with peak Cam Newton, who just happened to be on the other side of the field.
The Texans star is top-five in the NFL in passer rating, is completing 3.2 percent of his passes over expectation (per Next Gen Stats), and is limiting his mistakes with a 1.5 percent interception rate. In another universe, he’d be in the MVP discussion with the way he’s played in his first season after losing his No. 1 All-Pro wideout and being set up to fail by his former head coach/general manager. Instead, he’d just be playing out the string for a 3-7 team that’s lost at sea.
Watson is about the only thing the Texans have going for them right now. The running game is a disaster and the defense still has cavernous holes. In fantasy though, that’s all right with us. Watson is a top-five quarterback in fake football and he continues to elevate both Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller, both of whom cleared 80 yards in Week 11, to weekly starter status.
Justin Herbert has breathed new life into Keenan Allen
Justin Herbert posted the fifth 300-yard passing game of his rookie season. It was also his sixth game with three-plus total touchdowns. With Joe Burrow out for the year and Tua Tagovailoa mysteriously benched today, Herbert looks like he’s going to moonwalk his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Perhaps the most important thing Herbert has done in 2020 — besides giving something even close to hope to Chargers fans — is helping to remind the football world that Keenan Allen is an elite receiver.
After Sunday’s slate of games, Allen now leads the NFL with 112 targets and 81 catches. He’s inside the top-10 in yards and his six touchdowns tie his total from each of the previous three seasons. Unless there’s some sort of major disaster, he should best the career-high eight touchdowns from his rookie year.
Obviously, the situation is vastly different from what we expected coming into 2020 but either way, Allen will go down as one of the steals of fantasy drafts.
By year’s end, his numbers will reflect exactly what he is: An elite NFL receiver.
5 Things I don’t care about
The Raiders loss
I don’t care about the Raiders losing on Sunday Night Football because I come away from that game feeling better about this team than I have at any point in the last two years — mostly because of their quarterback.
The Raiders’ inspiring play in a loss to the star-studded Chiefs likely served as an awakening moment for most of the national audience. If you weren’t aware that Derek Carr has been playing excellent football this year, he let you know on Sunday night.
Carr was a top-eight quarterback in EPA per play heading into Sunday and he could rise even higher after his performance against the Chiefs. It’s a shame he was picked off on the final drive because it taints what was an otherwise flawless boxscore. And frankly, the raw numbers should have been even better. Several of Carr’s pass-catchers let him down in big spots, no matter their place on the depth chart. Whether it was top receiver Nelson Agholor or all the way down to fullback Alec Ingold, too many players left yards on the field in potential catch-and-run situations.
Even if they couldn’t topple their division-rival for the second time in 2020, anyone invested in the Raiders or their skill position players had to leave Week 11 feeling better. This team is legitimate. They have flaws, no doubt, but Carr looked comfortable and in command of Jon Gruden’s offense while slinging it cooly outside of structure; an unforeseen colossal win for Vegas.
The Raiders can once again welcome visions of postseason dreams entering the holiday season.
The Detroit Lions
Nothing like the Detroit Lions getting stomped 20-0 by a Panthers’ team starting a backup QB to get us all hyped up for their annual Thanksgiving showing next week.
Look, life hasn’t been all that easy for the Detroit Lions, especially on offense. Matthew Stafford has missed a ton of practice time of late while spending time on the COVID-19 list and dealing with injuries. Two of their young and promising players (and there aren’t many of those) in Kenny Golladay and D’Andre Swift missed this game. Golladay’s absences in particular have taken a huge toll this year.
But come on, Lions. Give me a break with this one.
After their shutout today, the Lions are 13-28-1 under Matt Patricia’s watch and the current version of the team does not do one single thing well. Their defense has long been miserable and the offense as currently constructed isn’t any better. Sure, if Golladay and Swift make it back into the lineup, they’re probably fantasy starters. T.J. Hockenson probably is too, simply because tight end is a wasteland. That is it.
Deshaun Watson and co. should demolish this team on Thursday. The end of the Patricia era can’t come soon enough.
The Philadelphia Eagles
Whatever hope any of us suckers (me) had that the Eagles would at some point turn into a real, normal operation has long since withered and died. Nevertheless, it’s just as irritating as ever watching this bad football team bumble its way to the finish line, a course that might still result in a first-place finish in the NFC East.
Here’s how we’re going to operate with this Eagles team for the rest of 2020 unless a miracle takes place:
-Dallas Goedert is in starting consideration at tight end because he has a pulse. It’s a low standard at tight end.
-Miles Sanders is a starter in fantasy. He registered 19 touches against the Browns. Frankly, running the ball is about the only thing the Eagles do reasonably well on offense.
-The days of Travis Fulgham (one catch) starting for your fake team are probably over. Jalen Reagor is the No. 1 receiver here, but you cannot expect a high ceiling or a consistent floor.
-Carson Wentz is not a QB1. You can hate-start him but there aren’t many juicy defensive matchups left on the schedule. Odds are, you can do better.
That is it. This is the 2020 Eagles. Anything beyond this, just log off.
Sadly, the Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow took a heart-stopping shot to the knee and confirmed via tweet within the hour that we wouldn’t see him again until 2021. In a year full of gut-punches, this one really stings:
Thanks for all the love. Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year✊
— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) November 22, 2020
It felt like only a matter of time until disaster struck for Burrow while playing behind that miserable Bengals offensive line. Burrow has been dropped for 32 sacks before the fateful hit on Sunday against Washington. He’d been under pressure on over 100 of his dropbacks as a rookie.
Beyond the brutal individual loss of Burrow, it feels like this fun but not-perfect version of the Bengals offense is lost with him.
All year, Tyler Boyd has been a rock-solid safe floor play as their slot receiver. Tee Higgins has become a guy we comfortably chased as a ceiling play while he established in his rookie season that he’s a strong vertical threat outside the numbers. Even long-time Bengals like Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green have enjoyed their couple moments in the sun with Burrow moving this offense.
More than likely, all that is gone now. We’ve seen Ryan Finley in this offense before. If you’ve forgotten what that was like — and no one can blame you for erasing that memory file — it was not good. New faces like Higgins and tackle Jonah Williams have been positive additions but the biggest difference between the Finley/Andy Dalton-led Bengals offense and the 2020 group has been Burrow.
Now, that chapter is over.
Jonathan Taylor’s big game
In Week 11, the rookie running back showed the sort of explosiveness he’s flashed in limited looks this year. When he gets into the open field, Jonathan Taylor looks like a load to bring down. He’s got a lot of juice for someone his size but whether it’s due to the disappointing run blocking or Taylor’s own vision mishaps, we just haven’t seen him in those situations often enough in 2020.
It was great to see all that, but we should be wary of it being some sort of signal that the tide is turning in Taylor’s favor.
His Week 11 line of 114 total yards has more to do with Green Bay’s defense. The Packers are just hopeless as a run-stopping unit and are only getting worse as a coverage team. At least once or twice per week, they make a major mistake like letting rookie Michael Pittman cruise right downfield for a 45-yard catch-and-run score. The Packers fancy themselves as one of the elite teams in the league and the best squad in the NFC. However, this looks like it could be a fatal flaw that holds them back against some of the best operations in football.
As for the Colts, it remains to be seen if this was enough of a showing to get Taylor feature duties going forward. We should be skeptical.