5 Things I care about
The Cowboys are loaded
The Dallas Cowboys can win a wide-open NFC. Better yet, there is no tangible roster-based reason they cannot win the Super Bowl in February. The 8-3 Cowboys are a complete team. Defensively, they can fold an offense and keep them under wraps. They can make game-changing plays on turnovers and sacks. When they’re really hot, they can stack multiple instances of those plays in a tidal-wave fashion like they did against the Colts in Week 13.
There has been plenty of talk about the offense bringing in Odell Beckham Jr. I get why the idea of adding a playmaker like Beckham is appealing. I’m not sure they need to add the talented wide receiver.
Dallas has a legitimate WR1 in CeeDee Lamb. The gifted receiver has had a ton of great games this year; the type of outings that prove why he’s a top-10 player his position. Tonight might have been my favorite.
Dallas got him into space consistently against Indy, something I’ve always wanted them to do more. Lamb was a dominant YAC receiver in college at Oklahoma. He was that guy again on Sunday. Lamb averaged a beefy 10.4 YAC per reception and amassed 23 yards on two carries. He was also sent in motion throughout the night which opened up opportunities for other players.
Speaking of which, Michael Gallup was awesome, too. Gallup was targeted on 29 percent of his routes and scored twice. He looked like the old Gallup. All the talk about OBJ has made people forget the Cowboys already have a great receiver about to be “all the way back” from his late-season ACL.
The running game is incredible as well. The combination of Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott is the best one-two punch in the NFL. Elliott was moving better than ever and Pollard was making big plays. These two guys bring out the best in each other.
Last but not least, Dak Prescott might have thrown one pick but he’s been electric the last few games. He’s playing at such a high level and is the perfect man for Kellen Moore’s current version of the offense. This playcaller/passer duo is pitching heaters right now.
Whether they make it there in the end is a whole other question. But it’s clear the Dallas Cowboys have everything they need to be a Super Bowl team.
Bengals are for real for real
It’s been building over the last month-plus but the Bengals are now firmly entrenched as one of the top teams in the AFC. Although, perhaps Week 13’s result shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
After all, the Chiefs have lost five football games since Week 8 of last season. Three of them have come at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals have remade and evolved their offense over the last few weeks.
Joe Burrow was already a great quarterback, but he’s taken yet another step within the context of this offense. He’s getting the ball out faster than ever, averaging just a 2.51-second time to throw against Kansas City. Even with Joe Mixon out again, Samaje Perine remained a huge part of the passing game with six catches. Burrow is throwing to running backs at a higher rate than ever on both designed plays and checkdowns. It all just keeps the offense on schedule.
Zac Taylor and the coaches have finally found the right balance between running out of the shotgun and using play action when under center. The offense had previously been too siloed between their run and pass game formations. Taylor and co. have broken down the walls and their quarterback is thriving.
Oh, by the way, this remade and invigorated offense just got to drop a superstar player back into the mix.
Ja’Marr Chase ran a route on 92% of the dropbacks and immediately brought juice to their quick passing game. Chase added an additional 7.14 yards after the catch per reception. He is the best player on their offense and looked right back at home on Sunday.
The Bengals have made themselves into a prime team. They proved it again with a win over the Chiefs. And most encouraging of all, the best might be yet to come for them.
Davante Adams' dominance
Davante Adams is on pace for 112 catches, over 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns. Some of those numbers would clear his best years in Green Bay. The Raiders aren’t a great team but we can’t lose how incredible Adams has been all season.
Counting stats are not the best way to evaluate wide receivers. Not even close. You don’t need them to prove Adams’ greatness.
Adams has long been elite when isolated from quarterback play the previous four years in Green Bay. He is still elite when isolated from quarterback play in Las Vegas.
The film is as good as ever. Adams is consistently open and ultra-difficult to cover.
Adams’ 177-yard, two-touchdown game against the Chargers was his magnum opus. He dominated each individual matchup and, along with Josh Jacobs, was essentially the team for Vegas. He took over the game.
If there was any doubt that Adams would be the same player in Las Vegas that he was in Green Bay, that was foolish. You don’t lose your ability to always get open just because you change quarterbacks. That’s trickled down to being the same dominant producer we’d come to know over the years. He might find his way onto another All-Pro team.
Jamaal Williams having an absurd touchdown season and Amon-Ra St. Brown only having three touchdowns on 78 targets coming into this week is not a coincidence. Few players have run as unlucky inside the five-yard line as St. Brown.
He was going to break the dam with a big touchdown game eventually and it finally came through on Sunday.
St. Brown scored twice against the Jaguars, once through the air and another on the ground. He touched the ball 12 times overall.
St. Brown remains one of the most underrated star wide receivers in the game. He is a dominant presence in the slot. Few players decipher and beat zone coverage at a higher rate. St. Brown is the engine of this Lions offense, consistently helping the team move the chains.
He really is the new-look Cooper Kupp. They win in extremely similar ways and are efficient layup targets with explosive potential.
St. Brown is already a top-10 fantasy receiver despite missing some games. However, he could be in line for a “2021 Kupp-style bump” with the Lions likely making a move for a franchise quarterback this offseason. He’ll be an electric player to track throughout his career.
Washington and New York tie
How fitting this game between a pair of NFC East teams ended in a tie. I said all week that the Commanders and the Giants were quite evenly matched. Apparently, it’s so even that they couldn’t get a winner in their matchup.
Both of these teams are well-coached and have some clear roster strengths. However, the holes in both passing offenses keep them grounded.
The Commanders are playing with their backup quarterback. The Giants have employed musical chairs at the pass-catchers spots. It’s hard for either team to find a ton of consistency as an aerial attack.
The Commanders will go on their bye and then face the Giants again on the other side of it. There is a chance both of these teams make the postseason. But if it comes down to that game, one of these teams will have to make the slightest bit of a leap over the other and win on the margins.
5 Things I don’t care about
Who the Colts start at QB
Sunday Night Football was an absolutely brutal watch. Matt Ryan offered up a predictable horror show against the vaunted Cowboys defense. The Cowboys pass rush was all over Ryan in the pocket and then the secondary started to take well-rewarded risks.
Ryan threw three mind-numbing picks, was sacked three times and lost a fumble on one of them. The Cowboys started to smell blood in the water as the night went on and the frenzy began in the fourth quarter. Dallas outscored Indy 33-0 in the final 15 minutes.
Ryan was a mess on Sunday night but it doesn’t really matter who is behind center for the Colts. None of the players on their roster was going to survive that nightmare.
The Colts weren’t a real NFL offense when Sam Ehlinger played. They are too often a sitting duck when Ryan is out there. The broadcast discussed the option of Nick Foles, who is now the No. 2 quarterback, but I don’t have the imagination to think he’d be even an iota better than Ryan.
Indianapolis is not one of the worst teams in the league but they are a limited team. When they get bumped off course by a great defense, it can get embarrassing fast. If they have to drop back and pass to win, it won’t end well. That is true no matter who is under center.
Geno Smith’s past
We shouldn’t need reminders of who Geno Smith is but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still refreshing to get on a weekly basis.
The Rams tried to play tight coverage on the Seahawks wide receivers and paid the price. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf got open at will and Smith just kept delivering. He’s been doing it all year. It’s not a shock.
We’ve gotten used to how good Smith is in this Seahawks offense. He’s delivering some peak best seasons to these two great receivers at all three levels of the field.
It was easy to overlook Smith on the late-afternoon slate as some bigger games with larger stakes were going on. Then again, I guess it’s been easy for NFL teams to overlook Smith for years now.
Smith delivered a game-winning dart — one of many — to silence a Rams defense that was clearly playing up for this game. It was just a reminder of how legitimate his comeback season is. He is one of the biggest stories of the NFL.
We don’t need to have a final answer on Tua Tagovailoa just yet. We are still in the middle of finding out where he ranks within the quarterback pantheon. If you still think the answer is, “He’s not good,” that’s foolish. If you think it’s already decided he is and will always be an elite quarterback, I think that’s just as misguided. We know he’s good but we don’t know just how good at this stage.
Games like Sunday’s loss to the 49ers are going to go a long way in moving the needle.
Week 13 set up as a big test for Tua in going against the NFL’s best defense and, unfortunately, it really couldn’t have gone worse. The Dolphins hit a big play right away on a quick pass where Trent Sherfield sliced through the entire defense for a 75-yard touchdown.
That was not a sign of things to come.
Tua finished the day ranked 26th in EPA per dropback. The only quarterbacks who were worse were Kyle Allen and Deshaun Watson, who hadn’t played football in almost two years.
The Dolphins were banged up on the offensive line and Tua couldn’t get comfortable with Nick Bosa and co. hunting him all game long. He committed multiple turnovers under pressure and still tried to get the ball out fast while attacking deep. Nothing added up for the Dolphins quarterback.
The story is not written on Tua after this game, just like it wasn’t complete heading into Week 13. However, this was set up to be a statement game if he vanquished the NFL’s most intimidating defense. That just didn’t happen.
The Ravens offense without Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson sustained a knee injury midway through the Ravens win over Denver and didn’t return. John Harbaugh indicated after the game that there’s optimism Jackson won’t miss the rest of the season but didn’t offer a clear timetable:
The Ravens' offense already had a ton of problems. Jackson has scored just eight touchdowns since Week 4 and had just 11 yards on four attempts before leaving this game. Losing him for any stretch is another huge roadblock for this unit.
Tyler Huntley is a good backup. He had a number of excellent weeks and was even fantasy-viable for stretches last season. This year’s unit, however, is a far cry from what Huntley played with last year. The receiver talent is dramatically worse and the run game isn’t any more dangerous.
Mike White’s two INTs
Touchdown-to-interception ratio always gets over-discussed with quarterbacks. Let’s hope we don’t harp on Mike White’s two picks from Week 13.
White’s first came on a pass that clanked off a receiver’s hands early in the game. The second occurred in the final push to win the game.
Overall, this was still a fine game for White. The offense continued to move with the type of solid rhythm we didn’t get out of New York early in the season. White amassed 369 yards and scrambled for a score. The offense just stalled too often in its own territory, as Greg Zuerlein kicked five field goals.
White ran the offense well and distributed the ball. He threw to nine different players today, taking shots when needed and checking down when the defense didn’t give him room downfield. And, despite the wide-spread tree White still made it a point to hammer the team’s best offensive player.
Garrett Wilson drew 15 looks and posted 162 yards. There were more plays left on the field for the dynamic rookie on moments when White just missed him down the field.
Wilson agreed that there's no steam lost on the White experience:
The Jets offense is featuring its best player and moved the ball well against a generous defense. There is no reason to lose optimism about White’s time under center for the Jets. We are still seeing how much talent is on the field and in the offensive coaching staff for New York.