Fifteen Sundays deep in the 2018 NFL season, a lot of fans are struggling to — as I channel my inner Jack Nicholson — handle the truth.
While I didn’t order the code red, I did execute the request of my editorial staff, separating fact from fiction, Schein Nine style:
1) The Chargers are currently the most complete team in the NFL.
This is absolutely true. And we all saw the best proof yet last Thursday night, in Los Angeles’ pulsating comeback win over the Chiefs in Arrowhead. The Chargers (11-3) can win any style of fight — anywhere. That last bit is crucial, especially if L.A. doesn’t end up with home-field advantage. The Bolts are 6-1 on the road. In just the past three weeks, they’ve have erased major second-half deficits to win at Pittsburgh and Kansas City. This team doesn’t need the comfy confines of home to thrive. And let’s be honest: The Chargers haven’t had a true home game since they left San Diego.
At 37 years old, Philip Rivers is arguably having the best year of his Hall of Fame career. He was majestic in that fourth-quarter rally last Thursday, particularly on the game-winning drive. The fact that he did that without Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon cannot be overlooked. Los Angeles’ passing attack is explosive, with Mike Williams emerging as a real weapon opposite Allen. The backfield is loaded when everyone’s healthy: a three-headed monster of Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson is quite an enticing proposal. And the line is solid. Defensively, the Chargers make plays and get to the quarterback. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Derwin James are high-impact players. Lastly, the special teams have been consistent this year — no small development for this snake-bitten franchise. These Chargers have a totally different feel to them. And it’s awesome.
The Saints are great. The Rams — the other half of my preseason prediction of an all-L.A. Super Bowl — are loaded, but they just struggled mightily in all three phases for the second straight week. And in the AFC, no team comes close to the Bolts in terms of being well-roundedness.
2) The Eagles are better with Nick Foles at quarterback.
This is beyond false. Far too hot a take for this man.
Credit Foles for his resplendent replacement work in the Sunday night spotlight. I didn’t think he could knock off the Rams in the L.A. Coliseum. Heck, I still can’t believe what happened in the playoffs last season. It’s wild. It’s magical. And he made Alshon Jeffery reappear out of thin air on Sunday evening (eight catches for 160 yards), with the highly paid wideout logging his first 100-yard game since Week 4.
Still, Carson Wentz is an absolute stud. He’s elite. And despite the fact that some folks say he doesn’t look the same post-knee injury, Wentz’s 2018 passer rating (102.2) is actually higher than his 2017 mark (101.9). The 25-year-old is the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Foles will be somewhere else next season. Don’t be a prisoner of the moment.
3) The Texans will finish with a better record than the Patriots.
Yes, this is happening. And I dig it. Houston (10-4) is a solid, well-rounded team that’s fueled by some notable stars. DeAndre Hopkins is the best receiver in the league this year, and has been among the true elites for a while. Deshaun Watson, who has thrown 43 touchdown passes in his first 21 NFL games, is special. J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt again, and it’s great to have him back. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are an elite pass-rushing combo. I do not see these Texans losing either of their last two regular-season games: at Philadelphia, vs. Jacksonville. I think Bill O’Brien’s team can handle success and prosperity.
Meanwhile, I was floored seeing New England lose in Pittsburgh, especially given how the loss went down. Getting bottled up on offense? Penalties? Drops? Tom Brady making awful decisions in the red zone? Errant throws with the game on the line? Against a spiraling Steelers team that had lost its previous three games? Wow. Credit the Pittsburgh defense. But this was a major disappointment for the Pats, who dropped to 9-5 and are now slated to play on Wild Card Weekend. New England finishes with a pair of home games against the Bills and Jets, so the Texans have no margin for error. I think they are ready to rock and will nab a first-round bye.
4) The Cowboys had the most disappointing performance of Week 15.
I have to say false, because … JOSH JOHNSON MARCHED INTO JACKSONVILLE AND BEAT THE JAGUARS! Imagine typing that sentence this past offseason, or after the Jags beat the Patriots in Week 2. What an unbelievable collapse for Jacksonville, which has now lost nine of its last 10 games.
Meanwhile, I thought the Colts would end Dallas’ five-game win streak — albeit not in the lopsided manner that we saw. 23-0 was indeed surprising. Still, the Cowboys are a great defensive team with a game-changing running back — this group can win a game or two in the playoffs. Burn the game film and move on. However, as I’ve been saying consistently on SiriusXM Radio and CBS Sports Network, Dallas needs to think long and hard before paying Dak Prescott the big bucks.
5) The Bears are the team to beat in the NFC.
Back in March, I said Chicago would be the NFL’s Cinderella team in 2018. Well, now that they’ve officially gone from worst to first in the NFC North, I’m gonna call that prediction a winner. It’s an awesome accomplishment in Matt Nagy’s debut season as an NFL head coach. And Chicago’s defense is special and capable of fueling a run to Atlanta. I do love the Bears’ run game, and Mitch Trubisky rocked steady in beating the Packers to clinch the division title Sunday. Honestly, I won’t bat an eye if the Bears march to Super Bowl LIII.
But still, the above statement is false.
Even with the Rams scuffling and New Orleans coming back down to Earth a bit, I still favor those two teams over Chicago and Dallas in the NFC race.
6) The Vikings will hold on to the NFC’s No. 6 seed.
True! Kevin Stefanski! Genius!
Minnesota needed to make a change on offense. The head coach wasn’t happy, while Kirk Cousins was in a funk (especially in big games). Minnesota lacked balance with John DeFilippo at the controls. Insert Stefanski, who followed Mike Zimmer’s orders to pound the rock more. Lo and behold, the Vikings lambasted Miami, 41-17, with 198 yards passing and 220(!) rushing. Dalvin Cook? Yeah, that guy’s pretty good: 19 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns. This Stefanski might be onto something, giving the second-year back the rock.
I expect the Vikings (7-6-1) to beat the Lions before losing to the Bears. But the real deal here is … well … there is simply no other NFC wild-card contender I trust.
7) Frank Reich is the Coach of the Year.
He’s amazing and a legit candidate, but that’s false. For truly changing the culture with the Chargers, Anthony Lynn is getting my AP vote. In a typically Bolts season, the team either starts painfully slow or finishes with a thud. But these Chargers seem to be peaking at the right time.
The Colts have totally turned it around, and Reich is the maestro. Pete Carroll also deserves serious consideration, considering everyone thought this would be a rebuilding year in Seattle. But Lynn is my guy for 2018.
8) Sam Darnold is going to be a star.
Did you see the way he worked against the AFC’s current No. 2 seed on Sunday? Did you see how Darnold made clutch plays versus the Texans’ excellent defense a week after he flummoxed a well-coached and strong Bills defense on the road? Darnold can make every throw in the book. And it was so impressive the way he kept plays alive in Sunday’s tight loss.
The Jets have no surrounding talent on offense. The line is terrible. The receiving corps is weak and there are way too many drops. I hope you didn’t jump off the Darnold bandwagon during his midseason struggles. This offseason, I believe the Jets will change the coach, play caller and give this talented kid some support in the personnel department. It’s true: Darnold is going to be a bona fide star, and I can’t wait to see it.
9) Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Ryan Tannehill will relocate in 2019.
Lamar Jackson’s a stud, so Joe Flacco’s done in Baltimore. Blake Bortles is terrible when it comes to the forward pass; kind of crippling for a, uh, passer. Jacksonville, the NFL’s biggest underachiever in 2018, will eat the dead-cap money and release the former No. 3 overall pick.
Personally, I would absolutely move on from Ryan Tannehill if I were running the Dolphins. It’s Year 7, and he remains just a guy, something I’ve been saying for quite some time. But at the moment, there are no indications Miami will cut bait on Tannehill, who is under contract through 2020.
So, I’m calling this 2/3 true and 1/3 false. But for the great, long-suffering fans of the Dolphins, I hope it’s 100 percent true.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.
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