NFL Notes: Week 2

A little while ago you saw my predictions for the 2018 season. Through two weeks, some of those look pretty good, and some look pretty bad. After this week, a couple surprising 2-0 teams emerged. There are also a fair amount of 0-2 teams. Since 2002, when the current playoff system was implemented, only about 10.5% of 0-2 have made the postseason. That’s a cool fact, but there was some much cooler stuff that happened in Week 2. Let’s take a gander.

FitzMagic

Not a lot of people know this, but Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. The 35-year-old quarterback threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. This was his second straight 400 yard performance, giving him over 800 yards, 8 passing touchdowns, and another rushing touchdown so far. DeSean Jackson, who caught a 75-yard TD on the first play from scrimmage, has already expressed his desire for Fitzpatrick to remain the starter after Jameis Winston’s suspension is up. I’d have to agree with him.

The seemingly new “FitzMagic” name caught the attention of another NFL player who shares a name with the quarterback. Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick filed a trademark application for “FitzMagic.” He picked up the nickname in high school, and it appears he wants it back.

Mahomes Goes Mad

Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the only QB slinging large quantities of touchdowns. First year starter Patrick Mahomes has 10 through two weeks so far. That includes six in Week 2 against the Steelers. Consider yourself lucky if you have him on your fantasy team. The kid is a stud. The Chiefs were lucky to have Mahomes, as the defense allowed a taped together Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 450 yards and three touchdowns of his own.

Are the Saints okay?

The Saints dropped their season opener to Tampa Bay, and struggled mightily against the Browns in Week 2. Both of these games were at home. New Orleans really should be 0-2, but [now former] Cleveland kicker Zane Gonzalez missed four kicks, costing eight points. It was a three point game. Sean Payton and company can thank Gonzalez for their Week 2 win, but they should probably get it together soon.

The Rodgers Rule

Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone last season, and the particular play sparked the creation of new and questionable rules for sacking a quarterback. The pass-rusher is no longer allowed to bring his weight down on the quarterback. If he does do this, it results in a roughing the passer penalty on what should be a routine tackle. Quarterbacks deserve some protection, but the NFL needs to acknowledge that they are also football players who run the same risk as everyone else on the field.

Moving on. You might think the Packers supported this new rule, considering why it was made. I doubt that’s the case anymore. Green Bay picked off Kirk Cousins late in the fourth quarter, which should have sealed the win. But, Clay Matthews was flagged for bringing his weight down on Cousins — the correct call. Cousins took the Vikings down the field, scored a touchdown, and tied the game on a two point conversion. The score never changed after that and the game ended in a 29-29 tie.

Irony.

 

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NFL Preview: AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs                                       Projected Record: 11-5

Alex Smith played at an MVP level last season, and most around the Kansas City Chiefs organization feel they got better at the quarterback position. I am buying all of the Patrick Mahomes stock available, and believe he can dominate from his first snap under center. The combination of Mahomes natural ability, the weapons surrounding him, and Andy Reid is absolutely deadly, and should obliterate opposing defenses. The pairing of Mahomes and Tyreek Hill is a match made in heaven, and running back Kareem Hunt remains one of the league’s most prolific talents out of the backfield. The Chiefs also boast one of the NFL’s most consistent offensive lines, with right tackle Mitchell Schwartz anchoring the line from the right tackle position. His job just got significantly easier with the stunning trade of Khalil Mack, but facing the duos of Von Miller/Bradley Chubb and Joey Bosa/Melvin Ingram twice a year remains one of the hardest jobs in football. While the offense looks to be one of the league’s most feared units, their defense should be a welcome sight for struggling offenses. Cornerback Kendall Fuller will try and fill the hole left by Marcus Peter’s departure, but the drop off from a Pro Bowl talent like Peters to league average will certainly be felt. The return of Eric Berry will also help stabilize the group, but overall the secondary has more questions than answers. The Chiefs front seven is equally uninspiring, with an assortment of solid rotational pieces but no elite talent. The pass rushing combo of Justin Houston and Dee Ford is solid, but the linebacker corps as a whole needs serious improvements. In total, Kansas City should be one of the league’s most exciting teams and their offense should prove very quickly to be must watch football.

2. Los Angeles Chargers                                 Projected Record: 10-6

The Los Angeles Chargers have compiled one of the leagues deepest and most talented rosters, complete with elite level talents on both sides of the ball. The addition of rookie safety Derwin James, and the first full seasons for both wide receiver Mike Williams and guard Forrest Lamp adds three highly touted “rookies” to a team that won nine games last season. At quarterback, Phillip Rivers remains a steadying presence as he continues to crank out Pro-Bowl caliber seasons. Running back Melvin Gordon finally rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and looks to set a new career high this season behind a much improved offensive line. For the first time in a very long time, the Chargers can evaluate their offensive line and feel optimistic about their chances. Even if the inevitable injury bug makes an appearance, Los Angeles has about seven or eight league average offensive lineman which is a lot more than many teams can say. On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will continue to wreak havoc this season as one of the league’s top pass rushing duos. The Chargers also possess one of the league’s deepest collection of corners, with All-Pro cornerback Casey Hayward captaining the squad. Trevor Williams and Desmond King III both took huge strides last season as up and coming corners, and each will play a pivotal role as Los Angeles looks to remain one of the best secondaries in the league. Where the Chargers remain weak is up the middle. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon remain huge question marks, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman has yet to prove he can stay healthy and on the field. Los Angeles struggles in special teams can also not be overlooked. After the Younghoe Koo debacle last season, the Chargers failed to shore up the kicker position this offseason. Los Angeles signed both Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo to compete for starting kicker with Sturgis eventually winning out with Aguayo getting cut. Sturgis looked strong in the preseason, but he should in no way quell the fears of worried Chargers fans everywhere.  If everything breaks right, the Chargers could overtake the Chiefs for the AFC West crown, but more than likely they will settle for second place and a wild card berth.

3. Denver Broncos                                            Projected Record: 7-9

The Denver Broncos have enough exciting players to keep a lot of their games competitive, but lack the coaching or the star power to truly compete with the upper echelon of the AFC. Denver’s new starter under center is Case Keenum, who unlike any of the Broncos quarterbacks last season, is actually a competent NFL quarterback. The addition of rookie running back Royce Freeman should provide a spark on an otherwise bleak offense that probably peaked about three years ago. Neither Demariyus Thomas nor Emmanuel Sanders are the players they used to be, but while Sander’s career could be extended by Keenum’s affinity for short and intermediate routes, a deep threat like Thomas could see a dramatic dip in production. Defensively, the Broncos still employ a bevy of playmakers across all levels of defense, but it has yet to translate to a strong, cohesive unit. Rookie pass rusher Bradley Chubb should excel from week one, and lining up opposite Von Miller will only open up opportunities for the top five pick. At middle linebacker Denver has Brandon Marshall, a quick and versatile tackling machine who captains the Bronco defense. Finally in the secondary Denver has retained a few crucial members of their Super Bowl winning defense, most namely cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. Both Harris Jr. and Roby grade out as above average starters and the two form an experienced and savvy cornerback duo. Overall, the Broncos will remain close in a lot of their games this season, but will ultimately wind up with a losing record and on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

4. Oakland Raiders                                              Projected Record: 3-13

New Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s handling of the Khalil Mack situation has only cemented my belief the Raiders will be an absolute dumpster fire this season. It takes a special kind of coach to have already lost the locker room before week one even begins, but then again Gruden is a special kind of guy. The move to trade Mack for two first round picks makes theory in a vaccum (tying up almost half your cap in two players like the Raiders would have with Carr and Mack doesn’t make team building sense) but not for an Oakland team that believes they can compete now. Trading away a player of that caliber sends a clear message to the rest of the team that winning is no longer a priority, and when that player was a team leader like Mack it can be even tougher to see the silver lining. For now, Mack departs a defense that could be one of the worst in the league. Bruce Irvin and draft darling Maurice Hurst are both enticing players in Oakland’s front seven, but overall the unit is lacking in exciting young talent. The secondary has a couple intriguing young players, including second year corner Gareon Conley and third year safety Karl Joseph. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders seem equally inept. Derek Carr has come to be defined by mediocrity, while Marshawn Lynch continues to chug along in his twelfth season in the league. Oakland’s receiving corps is more style than substance, with big names like Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson masking just how bad this unit could be. Incredibly, this roster is one of the oldest in league history with an average age of 27.4. This is a full six months older than the next closest team, the Atlanta Falcons who clock in at 26.9. All signs point to the Raiders having an absolutely dreadful season, as Gruden’s return to coaching should get off to a less than stellar start.

 

Draft Overview: New York Giants

The New York Giants finished the 2017 with a 3-13 and have the second overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. What will they do with it?

Coaching played a big role in the Giants’ terrible season, and they have lots of talent, so this draft gives them a chance to add to that.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley will almost definitely be available. He would give the Giants a much needed improvement in a backfield led by Orleans Darkwa, who rushed for 751 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.

The Giants’ offensive line also struggled last year, and now they risk losing Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, who were both ranked in the top five of free agent offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

Tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson, both from Notre Dame, are considered the best in this draft class. If Pugh and Richburg both depart, the Giants might be forced to draft an offensive lineman.

But is any offensive lineman in this class worth the number two pick in the draft?

Maybe, but probably not.

If the Giants do decide to draft an offensive lineman, look for them to trade back a few picks. Someone will be willing to give up something for that number two pick, which could set the Giants up to potentially win in 2018, and definitely improve their roster going forward.

Something new the Giants face this offseason is addressing their quarterback situation.

Eli Manning is 37 years old and has two years remaining on his contract, but can opt out and test free agency this offseason, though that looks unlikely.

Manning is above average at best, but he can still play. Ben McAdoo was an idiot for benching him. He will also have the ability to throw the ball to his top four wideouts next year. All of them missed significant time in 2017 due to injuries.

Unless they have loads of faith in Cal product and 2017 third rounder Davis Webb, the Giants should (and likely will) consider drafting a quarterback.

UCLA’s Josh Rosen is widely considered the second best quarterback in the draft, and we know he likes the attention he’s sure to garner in the New York market. However, some personality concerns surround Rosen. Would he be okay with sitting out a year, or maybe even two, behind Manning?

Josh_Rosen_vs_Virginia_(cropped)

UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen

The Kansas City Chiefs took a similar approach in drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017. They ended up trading Alex Smith to the Redskins with one year on his contract because they believe Mahomes is ready.

The Giants could certainly do the same thing, but if Manning has a season like 2017, teams might hesitate to trade for the aging quarterback.

As of today, Rosen or Barkley look like the best options for the Giants. Of course that can all change once the new league year starts next month.

I’d like to take this time to acknowledge the Giants’ 2003 first round selection, William Joseph. The 11th overall selection out of Miami, he started only 17 of 60 games played and recorded 60 tackles in four seasons with New York. After the Giants cut him in 2008, he appeared in only nine more games, making the total for his career … wait for it … 69.

Nice.

Rams, Chiefs to play in Mexico City

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City in 2018.

“Over the past two seasons, we have seen the extraordinary passion that exists for NFL football in Mexico,” Goodell said.   “We are excited for another memorable event at Estadio Azteca … in 2018.”

This game, featuring the Rams as the home team, will be the third played in Mexico City since 2016. It is one of four international games on the 2018 NFL Schedule, the other three being in London. The date and time of the game will be announced with the rest of the 2018 schedule.

“It is great to be participating in the NFL’s international games again and working with the league to grow the game abroad,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said. “Mexico has one of the largest NFL fan bases in the world and we are excited to bring Rams football to the millions of fans there.”

Because the Rams are technically the home team, they will only play seven games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next season.

The Oakland Raiders played in the past two games in Mexico City, taking on the Houston Texans in 2016 and New England Patriots in 2017.

 

Alex Smith traded to Washington

The Kansas City Chiefs traded quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins on Tuesday night.

The news was first reported by Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star.

The trade cannot be officially completed until the new league year begins at 3 p.m. on March 14th.

The 12-year veteran finished the 2017 season with 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns, both career highs. He threw just five interceptions in 505 attempts. The Chiefs lost in the Wild Card round to the Tennessee Titans.

Smith spent five seasons with the Chiefs after playing in San Francisco from 2005 to 2012. He lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII with Smith as his back-up.

2014 NFL Pro Bowl

Smith at the 2014 Pro Bowl.

Smith is due $14.5 million in 2018 and will become an unrestricted free agent following the season.

This move comes as current Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is expected to leave in free agency. Washington has placed the franchise tender on Cousins before each of the past two seasons. With Smith on his way, Cousins’ departure is all but guaranteed.

It is expected that the Chiefs will start 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

UPDATE 11:00 pm.

Smith and the Redskins have agreed to a four year, $94 million contract extension.