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5 Things I care about
Davante Adams’ historic season
Aaron Rodgers is probably going to win MVP or, at the very least, finish second in a tight race with Patrick Mahomes. I don’t have a vote, but he’d get mine. We should always remember this as a special season in Rodgers’ storied career when he officially set the tone for his second act.
All that said, we should have Davante Adams’ season right up there in our minds when assigning levels of specialness to this Green Bay campaign. It’s the year when he firmly established that he’s an elite NFL receiver ... even if that should have been apparent before 2020.
Davante Adams is now averaging 26.3 points per game in PPR leagues, which is not only the most anyone ever has seen in fantasy football from a WR but is the third highest ever, behind Hirsch 51 and Hutson 42.
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) December 28, 2020
I’ve been of the opinion that Adams has been this level of player on film since the 2018 season. That’s the year when he put it all together. He’s been one of the top separation receivers in the league. He proved he was one of the five best route runners in the NFL. On a per-game basis, he never lost pace. Despite missing time in 2020, he’s putting Hall of Fame level stats to go along with his individual play.
The reality of sports is that we often need numbers to categorize greatness because we poor, feeble humans just understand things when we can quantify and sort them this way. For that reason, I’m so thrilled Adams is having this historic season.
He’ll finally get the credit he deserves as a truly elite player.
If anyone deserves that, it’s Adams. Never forget that following a 2015 season where he fell on his face after an offseason of relentless hype and a preseason Jordy Nelson injury, it looked like Adams was on track to wash out of the Green Bay offense entirely. Instead, he worked like a madman to become one of the game’s premier technicians. He went from statistically one of the worst receivers in the game to the best as we prepare to turn the page from the 2020 season.
All that’s a legend’s type of business. Now, he has the statistical resume to make sure you never forget he belongs in that group of players. We love to see it.
The Browns played without their wide receivers
I knew the 2020 season had broken my brain when I woke up to the news on Christmas Eve that the Lions would have to play without half their coaching staff because of COVID protocols and my reaction was, “Well, yeah that just happens sometimes.”
Because, no, that is not anywhere close to normal.
In any other year that would be the biggest story of the season. In 2020, it’s just a blip.
I was glad to have already had this revelation in my mind for when we got word the Browns would have to be without almost all of their wide receivers on Sunday. Only in 2020 is it normal for a team to see their entire position group wiped out less than 48 hours before the game.
Despite Mayfield throwing 53 passes, no wide receiver cleared 60 yards. Undrafted Ja'Marcus Bradley led all Browns wide receivers in the first NFL action of his career. It was a tough scene.
You should still beat the Jets. Mayfield owned the loss after and didn’t make excuses. That’s what you’d expect, that’s what you’d want. But the reality is, this is not normal. Having to scrap your plan of execution right before the game changes everything.
It’s unfortunate that it happened to Cleveland amid their playoff push. Cleveland can still right the wrongs with a win in Week 17. Again, they still should have beat the Jets but we have to have a real dialogue about how weird all of this is.
Jaguars lock up the No. 1 pick
It looks like the winners of the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes will be the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For the first time in their franchise’s history, they’ll be picking first overall. That seems wild considering they have been such a struggle-prone operation.
While it would seem that being sent to Jacksonville would be a curse for any young quarterback, don’t be so sure. Not only are the Jags flush with resources to stock up their roster around Lawrence but there’s quietly already a nice collection of talent on the offense.
Sunday reminded us that the Jaguars have something in the wide receiver room. DJ Chark has suffered through a litany of injuries and hideous quarterback play but put a beautiful touchdown on the board against Chicago. It was a refresher on how good he can be, in case you forgot about how well he played in 2019. Laviska Shenault hasn’t dominated like some other rookie wide receivers but flashed again with a 34-yard touchdown.
Chark is in Year 3. Shenault is a rookie. There’s room for growth here.
While James Robinson wasn’t on the field Sunday, he’s perhaps the best player in this young core. The upstart running back was awesome no matter the conditions in his surprising rookie campaign.
The Jaguars have a lot of work to do. And it might be a while before their next young quarterback is ready to elevate them to contention status. However, that player will have some guys to grow up with.
Dallas’ passing game
If you watched the state of the Eagles secondary last week and followed the Cowboys under Andy Dalton, you should have known Dallas’ wide receivers were set up for success in Week 16. That projection certainly came true to an extreme degree:
Long receptions on the day against the Philadelphia Eagles:
- Amari Cooper, 69
- Michael Gallup, 55
- CeeDee Lamb, 52
That is very nice to see.
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 28, 2020
Dalton had stabilized the Cowboys passing game after finding his way back to the starting lineup following an injury/COVID absence. Part of that stabilization was being able to put these players in a position to smash like the three star-caliber receivers that they are.
It’s great to see but in one way it’s a little sad. It should have always been this way. It’s hard not to imagine getting these types of numbers on a weekly basis with Dak Prescott under center. You have to hate the fact this team suffered through the bottom-of-a-roster-type quarterbacks for any stretch of time.
Hopefully, Dallas didn’t miss their window, because I want to care. Prescott should be back and healthy next year. The only question is whether the offensive infrastructure will be different. Kellen Moore could take the Boise State job and it’s hard to love the idea of Mike McCarthy taking over as the HC/OC. It remains an offseason of questions for Dallas, but the upside will remain as tempting as ever.
Curtis Samuel’s big game
I’m absolutely a Curtis Samuel truther. So, with that in mind, if you don’t care about his career day as much as I do and want to just skip ahead, no one will blame you.
The Panthers’ wide receiver was “a difference-maker” in Week 16, according to Panthers coach Matt Rhule. Samuel posted a team-high 106 yards through the air and a team-high 52 yards on the ground. It had to feel extra good for Samuel to ball out with the 2019 Panthers coaching staff (which is basically just the 2020 Washington staff) on the other side of the field. Samuel was criminally misused last year as solely a deep threat. That staff just had him run go routes all game, every game, despite playing with Kyle Allen.
Now that he’s fully healthy, Samuel has been fully unleashed by Joe Brady and the 2020 Panthers staff.
Samuel is a free agent in March. The coaches seem to love him in Carolina but he could easily hit the market. As a player who is about to clear 1,000 total yards on the season, we should care about where he ends up.
5 Things I don’t care about
Aaron Jones disappears in FF championships
A few apologies upfront:
Sorry, Titans — you’re not getting a recap section following Sunday Night Football. I really love this team, so that’s a hard punishment to hand out, but that game earned it.
Sorry, Aaron Jones managers, I don’t feel bad for you either. Let me explain.
There’s no doubt that, if you were in a fantasy championship game this weekend, watching Aaron Jones come off (and back on) the field while dealing with a hip injury had to be mega-tilting. You still got gifted a 100 total-yard effort on Sunday night — and yes, it was a gift. The refs badly missed Jones stepping out of bounds on his long run. Take that lucky break and be happy. It could have been worse.
All the sadness from the Jones fantasy camp couldn’t possibly erase how much fun it was to watch A.J. Dillon plow through the snow in Green Bay and sweep up the Titans’ entire defense along with him.
I know. I should be more analytical. Dillion’s 124 yards and two scores on the ground don’t erase how strange of a pick this was in Round 2 by the Green Bay front office. I know I should also just be a mouthpiece for the fantasy managers in pain because fake football is what pays the bills around here.
However, this column is called “care/don’t care” for a reason — and I truly don’t care about any of that right now.
Call me a sap for getting wrapped up in the weirdness of a snowy game and the classic feel of a hulking Green Bay runner thriving in it. Perhaps it’s needlessly sentimental but it felt like the perfect ending to the calendar year of football.
One last thing: If Jones isn’t back in Green Bay after his contract expires in March, I can’t wait to get way too excited to draft Dillion in fantasy. Do try to remember as our 2020 journey comes to an end that being excited about things is why we do this, or at least, it ought to be the reason.
The Steelers’ first half
Excuse me? Where did the Steelers team we saw in the second half against Indianapolis come from? If Ben Roethlisberger was capable of making downfield throws to all of the Steelers’ talented young wide receivers as he did in Quarters 3 and 4 this week, what have the Steelers been doing the last month?
I have so many questions.
Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been as good as the Steelers’ record would have you believe all year. He’s pretty much turned into a nightmare the last month. The offense was nothing but short slants and drags that he’d get rid of far too quickly to expect the receivers to adjust to. Drops followed. Teams started to squat on the offense. The complete lack of a running game made the offense not even one-dimensional but like, half-dimensional. They were easily the most difficult team to watch.
The first half against the Colts looked like more of the same. The entire NFL universe looked ready to write the 2020 Steelers’ farewell letter and send Roethlisberger off into the sunset.
One would assume that if they refused to do anything but that short-area style of offense, it was because the quarterback couldn’t push it downfield or was so unwilling to let pass rushers even get near him that he’d rifle it out too quickly. But judging by the second half of Week 16, he can do it. And we should have known that gifted players like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool can win downfield with JuJu Smith-Schuster a matchup nightmare in the slot as a vertical option.
So again. I have so many questions.
If this isn’t a Ben Roethlisberger physical issue then ... what have the Steelers been doing? We’ll see the Steelers for at least two more games this year (Week 17 and a playoff game) to find out whether those two quarters were just an aberration or the start of an awakening.
The pre-December Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens control their own destiny in the playoff race. The Baltimore Ravens also look completely in control on the field right now.
Whatever kinks this team was working out early in the season, they’re gone.
Lamar Jackson is producing on the ground and positing passing efficiency numbers akin to his MVP run last year. After some brutal moments in the middle of the year, Marquise Brown has a touchdown in four of his last five games. He had 98 yards in the other. Mark Andrews has been productive during this stretch and the ground game looks dangerous with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards bringing the juice now that the running back rotation has been cut to two.
At this point, no one should be excited to play Baltimore. Everything is clicking right now on offense and the defense is no slouch.
Back in late September, when it first looked like there were cracks in this team’s armor, I wondered if it even mattered. Baltimore probably played a bit too fast and loose while trying to find themselves mid-season but we all knew nothing that happened in the regular season mattered for this team. It was all about January and finally going on a playoff run under Lamar Jackson’s watch. As long as they win next week, they are right on schedule.
Limiting Calvin Ridley
Calvin Ridley is a full-blown star. The ascendant wide receiver just completed his eighth game with over 100 yards on the year. He looks like he’s a lock to clear 1,200 yards in his third NFL season. He’s been everything we hyped him up to be coming into this season and more.
The best might still be yet to come. My thought when I saw this route release from Ridley on Sunday is one I’ve felt about this player for a long time: We shouldn’t put any limitations on him.
Ridley has been one of the best separators in the NFL from the day he walked into the league. He was a pro-level technician in college and he’s just gotten better during his time in the league. Players who get open at this level in the pros rarely fail, especially ones like Ridley who keep improving on the margins. He’s pretty much passed every test.
It reminds me of Stefon Diggs, yet another elite-level separator who steadily put everything else together along the way. Diggs was always open. In Buffalo, he’s shown that all the other sectors of the game had caught up to that trait. Ridley looks like he’s on that trajectory.
The NFC West
It feels like 100 years ago that we were all required to talk about the NFC West as an unstoppable powerhouse of a division. In reality, it was just a few months ago.
Seattle was cooking on offense at peak efficiency, the Rams had bounced all the way back from a slow 2019, the Cardinals’ offense was just hitting its stride and the 49ers were playing tough football despite mounting injuries. Now, at the close of the 2020 season, that looks laughable. The 49ers are eliminated from contention and you can argue the other three are all playing their worst football of the season.
Especially with the Rams now dealing with a Jared Goff injury, it’s just hard to have much faith in any of these teams in the postseason. The Seahawks can get hot and turn back into the September version of themselves. However, sitting around and waiting for that to happen seems foolish. Anything can happen in a short playoff window but this division doesn’t look like it can hang with the Packers or Saints.