Top 5 NFL Playoff Storylines that No One is Talking About

Andy Reid

Image courtesy of www.csnphilly.com

I hope the NFL playoffs far surpass the quality of the product that was on display during the regular season. As I documented in October, the regular season was a sloppy mess, highlighted by teams trotting out four different quarterbacks (Houston, Dallas & Baltimore), injuries to innumerable star players on both sides of the ball and noise about off-field actions (Manziel, Johnny & 3 teams pining to relocate to the #2 US market…Los Angeles, to name a couple) that took away from the play on the field. Alas, onto my list…

1) QB play has been among the worst we have seen this century

Ultimately, the biggest issue facing the league now is the dearth of talent at the quarterback position, which has been painfully obvious for a third of the NFL teams. I found myself watching too many games that were stalemates due to incompetent passers being unable to go through more than one progression, before scrambling or throwing to avoid a knock-down/sack. Here’s the run-down of starting quarterbacks this year for 9 teams (28% of the league), with the number of starts for each QB in parenthesis.

  • Dallas – Matt Cassel (7), Tony Romo (4), Brandon Weeden (3) & Kellen Moore (2)
  • Houston – Brian Hoyer (9), Ryan Mallett (4), TJ Yates (2), Brandon Weeden (1)
  • Cleveland – Josh McCown (8), Johnny Manziel (6), Austin Davis (2)
  • St. Louis – Nick Foles (11), Case Keenum (5)
  • Pittsburgh – Ben Roethlisberger (11), Michael Vick (3), Landry Jones (2)
  • Baltimore – Joe Flacco (10), Matt Schaub (2), Jimmy Clausen (2), Ryan Mallett (2)
  • Indianapolis – Matt Hasselbeck (8), Andrew Luck (7), Josh Freeman (1)
  • San Francisco – Colin Kaepernick (8), Blaine Gabbert (8)
  • Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota (12), Zach Mettenberger (4)

6 teams trotted out three or more starting QB’s this season. 6 teams! That’s nearly 1 in 5 teams. Keep in mind that Ryan Mallett, Brandon Weeden (Houston version) and Josh Freeman were picked up off the street. This is how QB desperate the NFL is in 2016. Seems like a huge problem to have when you’re trying to put out an entertaining product, don’t you think?

The raw scoring numbers don’t point to a down offensive year (22.8 points per game is actually up 0.2 from last season and tied for the 2nd highest PPG since 2000) but the quality of the product has eroded due in large part to the ineffective play at the QB position across roughly half the league’s teams and injuries on both sides of the ball (where do we find a year-by-year breakdown of minutes/games lost to injured reserve? Pro-football-reference.com help me out!).

2) Why is no one talking about DeAngelo Williams’ ankle injury?

For the second consecutive year, the Steelers have lost their starting tailback in Week 17 prior to Wild Card Weekend. Remember last year the gruesome hyper-extended knee that Le’Veon Bell suffered at the hands of Bengals safety Reggie Nelson? Bell suffered another gruesome knee injury (this one more serious) in Week 8. DeAngelo Williams has been more than capable filling in for Bell, totaling 1,274 yards and 11 TD’s. Williams gained the most total yards this season since the 2009 season, when Williams was just 26 years old.

Williams is day-to-day with a sprained ankle but are we to assume he will be 100% for an early game this weekend (Saturday @ 7:15pm CST)? I say he’s no better than 60%, which is a huge blow to arguably the team’s 3rd most important player (behind Big Ben & Antonio Brown), that relies heavily on its offense to bolster a defense that is overly reliant on takeaways.

3) Are we sure the Vikings are good?

I love Mike Zimmer and I love how that team plays on both sides of the ball. They’re also getting healthy at the right time, returning three starters on the defensive side of the ball last week. With that being said, they haven’t exactly lit the world on fire this season. They have one notable win this season – beating Kansas City in Week 6, 16-10. This is not quite notable for a couple of reasons: the Chiefs were slowly working back to 100% a handful of starters from injury/illness the previous season (Derrick Johnson – Achilles tear, Mike DeVito – Achilles tear & Eric Berry – Hodgkin’s disease, to name a few). They also put up 16 points! Of their other 10 wins, only one other win was against a winning team…Green Bay in Week 17. Two of their 11 wins are over teams with winning records. At the time of the Chiefs game, the Chiefs were 1-5 and at the nadir of their season. Upon a cursory look at their record, it’s propped up by wins over teams that were average to bad this season…or over teams that were playing poorly at the time (Chiefs in Week 6).

Seattle waxed the Vikes 38-7 in Week 13; I expect a similar beat-down this weekend.

4) Mike Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game in 5 years

We generally consider Mike Tomlin to be on the short list of the best 6 or 7 coaches in the league (Belichick, Carroll, Coughlin, John Harbaugh, Payton, McCarthy & Reid are there in some order). The fact remains that he hasn’t won a playoff game since the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl 5 years ago against Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. Since that game 5

Mike Tomlin

Image courtesy of www.cleveland.com

years ago the Steelers have gone 0-2 in two wild card games (2011 & 2014), and have missed the playoffs two other times (2012 & 2013). They should have missed the playoffs this year as well if Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn’t turned into well, Ryan Fitzpatrick and thrown not one, not two, but three picks on back-to-back-to-back drives in the 4th quarter against Buffalo.

A huge reason for the slippage with the Steelers in the playoffs and regular season during the last 5 years has been the rapid decline of their defense. Between 2007 and 2012, Pittsburgh ranked either #1 or #2 in total yards allowed in 5 of those 6 seasons. From 2007 to 2011 they ranked either #1 or #2 in points allowed in 4 of those 5 seasons. Here’s where they rank in the last three seasons.

  • 2013 – #13 in total yards & #14 in points allowed
  • 2014 – #18 in total yards allowed & #18 in points allowed
  • 2015 – #21 in total yards allowed & #11 in points allowed

Too much talent has retired from those teams including Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, James Farrior, Jason Worilds, Larry Foote, Casey Hampton & Troy Polamalu and hardly any stalwarts have replaced these long-time Steelers.

Writers such as Andy Benoit are declaring the Steelers as the playoffs’ most dangerous team. I’m sorry, I don’t see it with a hobbled starting running back, a bottom tier defense that’s too reliant on takeaways and a petulant #2 receiver (Martavis Bryant) who strained his neck last week and has caught only 2 balls for 6 yards combined in the last two weeks (against the Ravens & Browns no less). Pittsburgh might beat Cincinnati on Saturday given that team’s uncertainty at the QB position, but I don’t see Pittsburgh going deep this year, even in a watered down AFC.

5) The Incredible Run of Andy Reid

He’s the brunt of sports talk radio hosts….some of the chatter is well founded. Reid has made costly blunders late in games (re: 2004 Super Bowl), particularly in the area of clock management that has drawn the ire of local fan bases and sports pundits. Despite these apparent shortcomings, Reid has put together one of the most unprecedented NFL head coaching runs we have ever seen. Below are the facts:

  • 17 seasons as head coach (14 with Philadelphia, 3 with Kansas City)
  • Only 3 of those 17 seasons resulted in his team posting a losing record
  • 10 of those 17 seasons have resulted in his team posting 10+ wins
  • He’s posted 3 straight winning seasons with Kansas City (11, 9, 11 wins)
  • Tied for 16th on the NFL head coach wins list with Mike Holmgren (161 wins)
  • He’s had very good QB’s (McNabb, Donovan & Smith, Alex) but never HOF QB’s
  • He’s only 57 years old. For comparison sakes, here’s other active head coaches’ as of Week 17 who are older than Reid:
    • Tom Coughlin – 69
    • Pete Carroll – 64
    • Bill Belichick – 63
    • Bruce Arians – 63
    • Jim Caldwell – 61 on 1/16
    • John Fox – 61 on 2/08
    • Mike Zimmer – 59
    • Jeff Fisher – 58 on 2/25

If Reid were to coach another 7 years (through age 64)….a big ‘if’ by the way, he would be projected to tack on another 66 wins to his total, giving him 227 career wins. This is based on winning on average 9.47 games per season (161 career wins / 17 seasons). This win total of 227 would put him 4th all-time in wins, behind Don Shula (328 – untouchable), George Halas (318 — untouchable) & Tom Landry (250 – slight, slight chance).

Reid is also 10-10 in the playoffs, with one Super Bowl appearance after the 2004 season. At face value 10-10 doesn’t seem impressive, but take a look at a future Hall of Fame QB in Denver, Peyton Manning. Manning has compiled a pedestrian 11-13 playoff record in 17 seasons. Reid has one less win but a better winning percentage than arguably a top 4 QB of all-time.

By any measure, Reid has been a hugely successful coach in this league for a long-time. No one seems to give him credit that’s long been overdue.

 

Enjoy the games this weekend, folks.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

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