A little bit of a different start to the Notebook this week, because the most notable storyline is how little we actually learned from one last wild week of the already-wild 2021-2022 NFL season which saw months-long trends get thrown on their heads and narratives completely shift about a number of teams. 

If you’re looking for comfort after a crazy NFL week, may I suggest just looking at New England Patriots 50 - Jacksonville Jaguars 10, cause that’s just about the most “normal” thing that happened in an otherwise topsy-turvy week. Sure, some of the games went chalk (they always do) but the question a lot of us are asking on Monday is: “Do we believe what we’ve seen for the last month? Or, do we believe the very real things we saw in Week 17?”

Remember, in (almost) every other NFL season before this, Week 17 is the final hurrah for a handful of teams making or breaking their playoff chances. For others, it’s time to debate resting starters. This season, though, we’ve got a Week 18 to worry about, and whether it was extended Holiday hangovers or COVID-related hiccups, we have a handful of teams we just don’t know what to expect from. 

Don’t believe me? 87 percent of experts tracked by Pickwatch expected the Dallas Cowboys to handle the Arizona Cardinals. I’m not going to put words in their mouths, but one would expect that quite a few of that 87 percent (including me) thought that the Cowboys would handle them pretty soundly as well. The Cardinals had lost three straight—including one to the Detroit Lions—and looked completely listless offensively without WR DeAndre Hopkins. Meanwhile, the Cowboys looked like a Juggernaut. 

Instead, the Cardinals won 25-22 in a game where they completely stymied a Cowboys offense which had scored 56 points the week before. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray had himself a day with 263 yards and two touchdowns and little-known WR Antoine Wesley stole the show catching both of those touchdown passes. 

Are the Cowboys the same team that struggled offensively here and there throughout the season yet still managed to finish Week 17 with the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL? Are they the world-beaters who beat very good defensive teams like the Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers? Yeah, they are, but that team should’ve kicked the heck out of the team we’ve seen the Cardinals be over the past month. 

Same goes for the Kansas City Chiefs, whom were picked by 82 percent of experts to down the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chiefs have been the best team in football over the last month and the Bengals have been…up and down. What happened to the Chiefs in this one was the Bengals ability to score from anywhere on the field at any moment. The Chiefs had full control of this one numerous times and were up 14 looking to extend that lead multiple times. Instead, though, quarterback Joe Burrow just did what he does best.

Everything we saw in Week 17 needs to be weighed and measured against a lot of evidence from the 16 weeks prior. Maybe it's just me, but this seems like this isn’t just an extra week but like the NFL season has been going on for an extra month or two. Narratives are always just that, narratives…and narratives about these teams (and more to come below in this column) are almost always shaken and often proven false by the NFL’s overarching “any given Sunday” narrative that is always in play. 

So, what did we learn? We learned that this season’s playoffs is still just about anyone’s game, because even the most bulletproof of defenses are seeing themselves get rattled. Even the most potent of offenses are seeing themselves slowed. 

Based on the above, eliminating the “Should’ve Gotten it Right…” section and jumping straight into…


What We Never Could’ve Seen Coming…

As I watch and re-watch the games above, I can see what happened. I can know my analysis heading into the game was sound even if the pick went the other way. That’s life! When it comes to the Las Vegas Raiders taking down the Indianapolis Colts—a game only 13 percent of experts picked correctly—I still just can’t figure out what happened. 

The Colts started getting their entire team back (including their QB1, Carson Wentz) once the NFL changed their COVID rules. The Raiders, meanwhile, have done nothing during their two-game winning streak other than beat up on teams decimated by the virus. The Colts are one of the two or three toughest teams in the league and the Raiders are on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you’re one of the 13 percent who picked the Raiders and made that pick AFTER the Colts started coming off of the COVID list, my kudos to you. 


The Schottey Six: Six Non-QBs Worth a High Draft Pick this Year

1. Aidan Hutchinson (DE Michigan) — Considered a “lesser” athlete than the next guy on this list, Hutchinson played bigger and is every bit the same kind of freak athlete with a tenacious motor and refined pass-rushing moves. 

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux (DE Oregon) — If you built a pass rusher in a lab, you’d get something between Thibodeaux and former Houston Texans DE Mario Williams. 

3. Kyle Hamilton (S Notre Dame) — In an era of bigger WR and hybrid tight ends, Hamilton is the prototype answer. He’s got the size and hitting power of a tall, rangy outside linebacker and is one of the best coverage men in all of college football. 

4. Evan Neal (OT Alabama) — 6’7”, 350lbs, Alabama pedigree and moves as well as a man half his size? Roll damn Tide. 

5. Derek Stingley Jr. (CB LSU) — If injuries weren’t an issue, Stingley Jr. would be in the conversation for No. 1 overall. He has rare coverage skills and runs a legit 4.3. He could break the NFL Combine 40-yard-dash record this spring. 

6. Nakobe Dean (LB Georgia Bulldogs) — After years of being told not to take off-ball linebackers high in the draft, the entire league is watching Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons wreck shop. Dean isn’t Parsons, but in some ways Parsons isn’t Dean either. He’ll go higher than many mocks project. 


Cleaning Out the Notebook

— It’s been a while since I was covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report, but I still know lots of guys in buildings around the league. I feel absolutely terrible for people inside the building both in the New York Giants organization and in Jacksonville. It’s important to remember that ownership isn’t out here trying to tank long term and even if coaching/personnel leadership aren’t the best (or even good) choices, the building is filled with lots of professionals just trying to do their jobs and care for their families. 

— While we’re on the subject, news recently broke that “hundreds if not thousands of fans” in Jacksonville will dress as clowns (as part of a meme targeting owner Shad Khan) this weekend as the team takes on the Indianapolis Colts. The goal is to both voice their displeasure at the direction of the organization but also to pressure the organization to get rid of General Manager Trent Baalke. Yikes. 

— I 100 percent agree that Baalke needs to go. Late in his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, it was clear (to everyone around the organization) that Baalke was part of the many interpersonal problems. It’s also one of the worst kept secrets that he’ll talk to any bent ear in the media. He was definitely a “leak” in previous organizations and the Jaguars just dealt with leaks themselves. 

— At this point, Baalke needs to resign. He will not be able to fulfill his duties. There is no bright light at the end of this tunnel. The Jaguars are one-to-two years before being competitive and the rabid fans of #Duuuval will not let this go. I’ve been a target of their wrath in the past, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. He’s earned some of their ire, but it’s just going to get worse. 

— Mentioned the Patriots domination of the Jaguars earlier. I read about 10 different “what we learned about the Patriots” tweets, columns and messages on Sunday and Monday. Those are all nonsense. You don’t learn anything about a game like that…expect that one team is playing professional football and the other is not. 

— I’ve ranted about Joe Judge multiple times, but his press conference on Sunday deserves a little extra ranting. He sounded like a man possessed…and not in any sort of good way. At one point, he admitted to illegal tampering, and if what he said about former players contacting him is true, the Giants should lose draft picks. It’s not true, though. He’s a buffoon, and he’s proving it in real time. 

— In other front office/coaching shenanigans, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made some headlines with his cold comments about potentially playing backup QB Kellen Mond. On the surface, Zimmer’s comments about Mond are brief but all the more inexcusable. At some point in the press conference (or a long time ago), Zimmer apparently forgot his players are, you know, people. More to the point though, I don’t think Zimmer’s comments about Mond were directed at Mond but at a front office that handed him a player he didn’t want and has no desire to help develop. 

— We’ve gotten this far before talking about (former?) Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown. Here’s the long and the short of it: He’s not well. But, as the Three & Out team said on this week’s Key Takeaways, it’s possible to be very generally supportive of mental health issues (especially men’s mental health issues which are so often swept under the rug) but also recognize that Brown has been more than just “unwell” for a long time. Stories dating back to his time at Central Michigan paint Brown as a serial abuser, alleged criminal and more. He’s had every opportunity to seek and accept treatment. He has not. My empathy for this specific situation has long run out. 

— Speaking of not having time for something…I do not have time for Tom Brady and Bruce Arians scolding the public about Brown’s mental health. They’re enablers. Their care for Brown extended insofar as he helped them win football games. Period. 

— Washington Football Team is changing its name and the new name is set to be revealed on February 2nd. It’s a savvy PR move after a rough couple of weeks for the team. I still love “Washington Football Team” as a permanent name, though. 

— The Buffalo Bills got the win on Sunday, but am I the only one concerned that this Buffalo team still seems to struggle at home in the cold? That’s supposed to be their super power, and the Falcons legitimately seemed more ready for an outdoor game. 

— The Eagles are a good football team getting better. It’s too late for this season, but a few offseason tweaks and continued improvement from a bunch of lesser-known players could mean a drastic improvement in 2022. 

Parting Schot

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King Jr.