Welcome to Upset Watch's Cover 5, a new column where I'll talk through the football issues of the week.
Every week I'll answer reader questions and talk about 5 football talking points that aren't necessarily related to picks, allowing Upset Watch to be more focused on those important stats that you love. It'll also be a perfect forum for announcing new features we're building around the platform as we expand in 2022.
This week, I'll be tackling:
Stephen Ross's new weekly NFL show, 'Dolphin Tank'
The curious case of Brian Flores
What if...? The sliding doors moments of this season's postseason
Where next for Jimmy G?
Some old guy retires.
The Cover 5 Mailbag:
Note: each week I'll answer reader questions sent to [email protected]. Whether you agree or disagree with my takes, it's always cool to engage with our passionate and loyal fans. Speaking of which... with no questions in the first mailbag, I have something I want to share with you:
CanuckRebel asks on Twitter: "Hi, I have to ask. Just got an email saying you sent me a gift card from Amazon. I have to check with you before I open it. I don't think I'm that lucky, lol."
Upset Watch: As you may have guessed, Canuck was our weekly winner in the divisional round, and won an Amazon gift card from us. Every week we give away almost $1,000 in prizes for the contests on Pickwatch, and it is always great to know what people are doing with their prizes.
In this case, I wanted to share what Canuck did with his prize, and that was buy a new vest for his Service Dog, Hunter.
CanuckRebel: "I was just able to order my Hunter a new Service Dog vest, his old one was misplaced by his previous owners. This isn't just about money you've given me. It's peace of mind for me. Can't thank you enough for that!"
Everyone here at Pickwatch is happy for you Canuck, but mainly, we're happy for Hunter, who immediately becomes reigning Pickwatch Dog of the Week.
Remember, send in your questions and thoughts about the NFL to [email protected], and I'll try to answer as many as possible each week.
Cover 1: Stephen Ross's new weekly NFL show: Dolphin Tank
Let's just be absolutely clear here: What Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is alleged to have done by offering Brian Flores $100k for every game lost in 2019, strikes at the very heart of sporting integrity and is match-fixing. It's not 'tanking', it's not 'the smart thing to do' or anything else. It's rigging games.
Let me put it this way: If an outsider was offering Flores money to lose a game for any reason, what would happen to them?
The short answer is the inside of a jail cell. The longer answer is that whatever immediate punishment decided by the law, that person would also be permanently barred from ever working in sport.
Nothing goes to the core of the game like a team deliberately trying to lose. It is one thing for a Tim Donaghy-style referee to make calls that don't stack up, or that consistently benefit one team or the other for gambling purposes. Those types of activities are a separate endeavor, and as harmful as they are, the people tasked with monitoring that person's performance, as well as outside agencies, are a failsafe to prevent it becoming a consistent problem.
But when a team owner incentivizes losing (see also: bribery), we lose faith that the teams themselves are taking part in a good-faith contest of equals, and if an owner wants to lose, who will tell him he can't?
There is almost no point in watching the NFL if teams start tanking in such a brazen way, and while I don't think it's endemic (see: The Jags and Lions winning in week 18 when a loss would objectively have helped them reach the no.1 overall spot), it's something that needs to be discouraged and stamped out. If the allegations against Ross - and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam - are true, it's a dangerous game for the NFL to try and defend them.
And in the new era of sports betting, one that I personally think is a net positive for exposing these types of nefarious underhand dealings, anyone - even an owner - caught on the wrong side of the law - and breaking rules of sporting integrity - must go. No ifs, no buts. They cannot be allowed to continue in any capacity.
This is about respect for the game. It isn't about a smart play by a savvy owner trying to maximize his future draft picks. This is actively trying to lose games by breaking the rules and breaking a fundamental part of the sport; the idea that every team plays to win every game.
The day we stop believing that, the NFL will have lost a critical component of it's current domination of the sports world.
Cover 2: The curious case of Brian Flores.
I'm not sure that the specifics of Brian Flores's Giants interview or general situation were motivated solely by race, but I am certain that Flores is being treated in a very odd way, one that invites awkward questions.
I get that people have mixed feelings about the Rooney rule for a number of reasons, but Flores has been given a strange ride by the NFL since the turn of the year, no matter what your perspective on the reasoning. I'm open-minded, and not pre-judging anyone, but Flores has every right to consider what else could be keeping him from a job he is objectively more qualified to do than any available candidate.
I've researched this since his firing earlier this month, because instinctively, I think the firing of a winning coach is always contentious. The more I do, the more confusing it gets.
- Only 13 Head Coaches since 1990 have been fired after or during winning seasons - 12 of whom came after 2000. None have been fired since Jim Caldwell in 2016.
- There has only been a single head coach fired after 2 winning seasons consecutively in his first HC job: Steve Marriuci in San Francisco, and that came on the back of 6 seasons.
- Mariucci walked straight into a job with the Lions where he was the only candidate from day one - ironically prompting Dennis Green to refuse an interview because he knew it was only to satisfy the NFL's then-unofficial policy of interviewing a minority candidate.
That hasn't happened here, because although Flores has been interviewed by multiple teams, he has never been a serious contender for any of the jobs going.
Let me clarify: I don't think teams are under any obligation to hire Brian Flores. I don't think he is the second coming of Bill Belichick, and I don't think he is a perfect fit for every team regardless of circumstance. The Giants have every right to interview both Flores and Brian Daboll, and decide that Daboll is the right man for the job on any criteria they want.
But this is not about what I think, this is about fact.
Flores is a proven, winning, young NFL Head Coach in a hiring cycle with 9 vacancies. It is barely credible that not one of those teams has found Flores worthy of a job, when Eric Mangini managed to parlay a single winning season at the Jets into another shot with the 49ers.
In fact, what is most perplexing is that half of the teams who need coaches have not even interviewed Flores.
Let me give you a pertinent example: The Jacksonville Jaguars interviewed Vic Fangio, a defensive HC with a disastrous losing record and not a single winning season in Denver over the last 3 seasons that Flores was employed by the Dolphins. How could they possibly think that Flores isn't worth an interview if Fangio is worth a chat? It is beyond comprehension that they would interview an objectively worse version of him, and not at least make that call.
The Vikings had one of the worst defenses in the league, and have interviewed Todd Bowles, a defensive coach with a 24-40 record as a Head Coach over his stints in New York at the Jets, and a brief 3 game interim gig at the Dolphins. Ditto, the Raiders did the same before hiring Josh McDaniels. Neither interviewed Flores, despite ample opportunity to do so. It doesn't stack up to not have any conversation with the only Head Coach on the market who has his resume.
I don't know how you fix the Rooney rule to make people act in good faith, or whether it's even a factor here as Flores claims, but I do know that some of these decisions make no sense unless you have a coaching search that is determined to come to one conclusion and is not open-minded about the type of person who should lead your franchise.
Whatever the reason for his lack of serious interest, and whatever happens in future, Flores deserved a better January than he's had.
Cover 3: The NFL Cinematic Universe Presents: What if?
I can't think of a better NFL postseason than this January has given us.
You could make a case for at least 10 of the 14 playoff teams to win it all on merit, and that narrow gap in skill has delivered us a handful of season-defining moments that - if they go differently - mean the Super Bowl is being contested by two different teams.
- Jaquiski Tartt's dropped interception
Tartt, the 49ers Safety, has been so full-blooded in his self-criticique, that it feels tough going in on him again, but the drop of one of the easiest interceptions you will ever see with 9:48 to go in the 4th quarter, feels like the game-changing moment of Sunday's NFC Championship.
If he catches it, the 49ers are likely driving from at worst midfield, at best, field goal range, and taking at least 3 minutes away from the Rams. Given what happened from that point on, it's hard to believe the 49ers would have lost.
- The Bills refusal to squib kick
This must haunt Sean McDermott. A squib kick with 13 seconds left is the right call, and wastes at least 3 or 4 of the precious ticks that the Chiefs had to get into Field Goal range. I get the argument about the 40yd line if it goes wrong, I get the idea that the defense should do better, but I think that as a coach, you have to think of what the other team would want you to do, and in this case, they'd want you to put it in the end zone every time.
- The Todd Bowles blitz call
This I will never understand. You're in the NFC divisional round with your opponent on their own 35. You have Tom Brady waiting to head into overtime with just 27 seconds on the clock if you can stop your opponent scoring, and you blitz 6. If Bowles wants to bring pressure, that's fine, but when your team needs to stop the big play, the Bucs, more than anyone, know that is the priority.
- The Chiefs not kicking a Field Goal before Half-Time
You're up 21-10 on your opponent's 1 yard line with Half-Time 5 seconds away and no timeouts. Your two options are to kick a Field Goal and take a two TD lead, or you go for it and potentially make it a 3 score game if you get in.
As much as the latter option may seem tempting, the lesson for everyone is that going for it in this situation made no sense. The Field Goal was a freebie that hurt the Bengals as one of a thousand cuts. Going for a killer blow at that stage gave the Bengals the momentum to come out and make the game close straight after the break.
- Cedrick Wilson can't hang on.
A lot has been made of the final drive for the Cowboys, where Dak Prescott sneaked up the middle for a second too long, but the real killer was on 4th and 11 with 1:49 to go.
Dak Prescott gets flushed out of the pocket, throws deep, and puts the ball in a catchable area for Cedrick Wilson. Wilson slips fractionally, and drops a ball that would have put the Cowboys on the 11 yard line, needing just a TD to take the lead. The Cowboys would not get closer to a game-winning score.
Cover 4: Jimmy G landing spots
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo finds himself in a strange situation, but not a bad one.
There's no ill-feeling between he and the 49ers, but there's equally no doubt that whether Trey lance is ready or not, it's time for Garoppolo to move on. Garoppolo has been solid, even good at times this season, but whether it is through injury or a mental block, his play deteriorated through the playoffs.
So it now looks as though he'll be traded, but where will he end up?
First, a list of teams that definitely need a QB before next season:
- Houston (DeShaun Watson, Davis Webb)
- Carolina (Cam Newton, Sam Darnold)
- New Orleans (Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston)
- Tampa Bay (Kyle Trask, Blaine Gabbert)
- Pittsburgh (Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins)
- Washington (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinike)
- Denver (Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock)
Then let's list those teams that can probably play another season with their incumbent, but may be interested if the chips fall right:
- Detroit (Jared Goff)
- Cleveland (Baker Mayfield)
- Indianapolis (Carson Wentz)
- NY Giants (Daniel Jones)
- Miami (Tua Tagovailoa)
Then, add in the unknowns - teams who may lose a franchise QB this offseason
- Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers)
- Seattle (Russell Wilson)
That's 12 teams for Garoppolo to potentially land at. In an ordinary year, my instinct would be that Houston, Detroit and Carolina would be pretty likely to try and draft a QB from the top 6 spots. Similarly, I think the Giants would - if they need one - consider it at 7.
What complicates this is that the 2022 draft class is not heavy with QB prospects. Mel Kiper's highest ranked QB is no.20 (Kenny Pickett, Pitt) and the consensus is that there is no player that you'd assume would be a top-10 pick in an ordinary year.
Will someone reach? Yeah, probably. There are too many teams with needs, and too few QB's in the league today, but I don't think that you'll see teams betting the house on a prospect this season in the top 5. I'd look for some of the teams with options (like New Orleans, Washington and Cleveland) to potentially pick up a QB via the draft, but it seems inevitable that someone will be left with the short straw once everything shakes out.
That means Jimmy G will be a hot commodity. Only Rodgers and Wilson are more viable trade targets, and 3 of the teams in the list of potential landing spots made the playoffs this season. If you're the Packers, Bucs or Steelers, maybe someone like Garoppolo makes a lot more sense than a full rebuild. It could even incite a trade between the Packers and 49ers, although the Packers may feel the outrageous value they can get from Rodgers alone would be better than a makeweight deal such as the one that sent Jared Goff and some high-ish picks to Detroit for Matthew Stafford.
My instinct is that Garoppolo needs the first dominoes to fall before he finds his forever home. When Rodgers and Wilson make their call to move on (which at least Rodgers will), and the A-Rod and Danger Russ stakes begin, teams will have a better idea of what their chances are to get a QB. Jimmy will be someone's consolation prize, but a pretty good one.
Cover 5: Some old guy retires, for now.
Well, Tom Brady is gone. For now. Probably.
I don't know how well Brady will react to the itch he's going to have in September when he watches Kyle Trask or Blaine Gabbert throwing pick-6's in a Bucs uniform, or Trey Lance making a hash of the 49ers playoff run in week 8.
For the ultimate competitor, it might come down to how much of his retirement is spur-of-the-moment, and how well he settles into doing nothing - or whatever version of nothing is possible for a guy like Brady.
I still think Brady is wallowing in the feeling he inevitably has after the Rams game 10 days ago. Imagine putting your body on the line at age 45, knowing that you can pull off an amazing comeback and send a game to overtime, only for a bad defensive call to make the entire season meaningless.
That lack of agency at the end of the game is surely what hurt Brady the most. It's one thing for a season to end with the ball in his hands, but pondering his own insignificance in the final moments of a team's season is a reminder that he is only (probably) human. The prospect of another 12 months needing to pass before he can re-do it probably doesn't seem that appealing right now.
But I think that will change. I doubt Brady will fall out of football shape, and while the pull of life beyond football is there, and the chance to walk off in Staubach-esque fashion, with the best years of his career at the end, is strong, I think there's a 50/50 shot that Brady plays again if the right team comes calling at the right time.
But if this is it, then it truly is the book-end on the era that saw football become the biggest show in town, with Brady as it's superstar. His duels against Peyton Manning were, for many people under 50, the defining image of football as a sport. No matter what you saw before, or what we will see in future, his presence has been dominant.
If the definition of greatness is whether you could write a history of the game without someone, then there is no greater validation of his greatness that when they write the book of football's history, 2000-2020 will simply be known as The Brady Era.