Isn’t it amazing that, even with 15 weeks of regular-season evidence in the hopper, so many of us still lock in on one-week samples?
A week ago, the Cowboys were flying high, Eli Manning was looking like the Giants’ quarterback of the foreseeable future, the Chargers couldn’t beat the Chiefs, the Vikings’ offense was broken and the Redskins didn’t have a viable quarterback.
After 15 games’ worth of Week 15 action, Jason Garrett is back on the hot seat, the Giants’ offense is stuck in the mud again, the Chargers are the hottest story in the league, the Vikings are fixed and the Redskins with Josh Johnson somehow aren’t finished yet.
It feels as though everything changes completely in an NFL week’s time. Even if that’s not really the case (and it’s not), that makes overreacting an awful lot of fun.
To this week’s reactions/overreactions:
Jason Garrett is back on the hot seat
A five-game win streak and last Sunday’s overtime victory over the Eagles seemed to have locked up a division title for the Cowboys, and the addition of Amari Cooper to the offense seemed to have settled down a lot of the questions people had about this team for much of the season. But Sunday’s shutout loss in Indianapolis combined with Washington’s stunning comeback against Jacksonville left Dallas with work to do before the Cowboys can hang any banners.
Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Cowboys still should win the division. They need to win only one of their remaining two games to do it, and even if they don’t do that, they still could get in if Washington and Philly each lose one more game. But a division title at 9-7 (or 8-8!) and a first-round playoff exit might not be enough to convince the Cowboys not to make changes. The sense around the team since training camp has been that a playoff run — not just a playoff appearance — was what Garrett needed to guarantee his return. It’s possible that has changed, but the way the season goes from here will determine the taste ownership has in its mouth when it comes time to decide.
The Chiefs peaked too soon
Given a chance to lock up the division title and a first-round bye with a victory Thursday night, the Chiefs instead coughed up a 14-point lead in the final five minutes of a home game to a team they’d beaten nine times in a row, including in Week 1 this season. They’re still in the driver’s seat for the division and the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, but the loss to the Chargers brought into play the real possibility that they could end up as the conference’s No. 5 seed and with a much more difficult path to the Super Bowl.
Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. Obviously, you have to win a game when you have a 14-point lead with five minutes to go at home. There is no disputing that the Chiefs missed a huge opportunity Thursday night. And if it felt too familiar to last season’s playoff collapse against Tennessee … well, I can’t blame you for that reaction. But given what the Chiefs have accomplished this season, I have a hard time seeing this one loss as something apocalyptic. The Chargers are a no-joke, legit contender who just did basically the same thing in Pittsburgh 11 days earlier, and you know the old saying about how tough it is to beat the same team 10 times in a row, right? Chiefs fans are worried because the next game is in Seattle and it’s no fun to play a must-win game there. But no matter what happens the next couple of weeks, Patrick Mahomes & Co. aren’t going to be a fun team to prepare for and play in January.
The Browns should bring back Gregg Williams as head coach in 2019
Williams has won more games (four) in seven weeks as Cleveland’s head coach than Hue Jackson won (three) in 2½ seasons. Saturday night’s victory over Denver kept the Browns’ playoff hopes alive, slim though they might be. More important, Williams has presided over a confidence-building stretch for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and this entire young team that sets it up for a promising future.
Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. Williams has absolutely earned the right to be seriously considered for the job. And if the Browns decide his is the voice and vision to guide Mayfield and the Browns through the next 5-10 years, then fair enough. It’d be fun to see it, because personally, I think Williams and Mayfield are kind of good for each other in a bit of a kooky, who-cares-what-anyone-else-thinks way. But what the Browns should NOT do is base their decision off two months’ worth of good-looking football by a team and a coach with basically nothing to lose. When they let go of Jackson seven weeks ago, the Browns surely had an idea for what they were seeking in a new head coach. If Williams fits that bill, fine. But other than adding him to it, his success in this small sample size shouldn’t change much if anything about their search process. Too many times, we see teams get tricked by a hot finish into believing they’re something they’re not. These Browns are still a work in progress, and it’s vital that they pick someone who can nurture that progress long term.
DeAndre Hopkins is the best wide receiver in the league
Hopkins rolled his ankle on the first play of the Texans’ go-ahead fourth-quarter drive Saturday. He said after the game he had a hard time running. He still managed to catch three passes on that drive, including a 14-yard touchdown while leaping, twisting and basically wearing Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne like an overcoat. For the game, which put Houston on the brink of a division title, Hopkins had 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. With two games to go, he already has more than 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in a season for the third time in his six-year career, which has seen him play with all kinds of different quarterbacks.
Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. To watch Hopkins play in person is to realize you’re watching greatness. What’s really beautiful about it is that Hopkins’ brilliance is clearly the result of hard work. It’s not just the acrobatic grabs, it’s the perfect technique stuff — hand placement, foot placement, body positioning, the ability to locate the ball in the air before the defender does. “He works at it like no other,” Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph told me in the locker room after Saturday’s game. “What you see on game day is the result of what he does in practice. Going against him in practice, when we see it in a game, it’s routine for us.” The topic of “best receiver in the league” has a lot of eligible contestants, including Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and this season guys like Adam Thielen and JuJu Smith-Schuster, among others. But Hopkins belongs in the conversation, and it’s far from an overreaction to consider him the best.
Aaron Rodgers was part of the problem in Green Bay this season
Coach Mike McCarthy paid the price for the Packers’ disappointing season with his job. After the contract they gave Rodgers this offseason, the Packers aren’t going to make Rodgers do the same, and they shouldn’t. But it’s worth pointing out that Rodgers is on pace for the second-worst completion percentage of his career, his worst single-season QBR and his lowest full-season touchdown total.
Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. An average of 233 yards per game and 6.3 yards per pass (to go with two touchdowns and an interception) in the two games since McCarthy’s firing hardly screams, “The coach was the problem!” Rodgers is a bit of a victim of his own success, and I believe him to be the best I’ve ever seen at actually playing the position of quarterback. The 35-year-old should have plenty of career left, and I would expect him to bounce back next season regardless of who the new coach is. But since the Week 1 comeback against the Bears, he hasn’t been the sensational fourth-quarter wizard we’ve come to expect him to be. It’s fair to call this a lackluster season for Rodgers, and to lay some of the problems at his feet. His return from injury was supposed to return the Packers to the playoffs, and he hasn’t played well enough to elevate those around him.