Monday Morning Digest, Playoff Preview Edition: MVP Mahomes Is Locked and Loaded

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 31, 2018

Monday Morning Digest, Playoff Preview Edition: MVP Mahomes Is Locked and Loaded

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The playoff seedings are set after a wild Week 17, and Digest has you covered with all of the playoff preview and Sunday roundup action you can handle, including:

    • The flaw in Lamar Jackson's game that may prove costly against the Chargers

    • The best way for the Bears to prevent more Nick Foles magic

    • The reason the Seahawks' ground-and-pound approach will prove more effective than the Cowboys' ground-and-pound approach

    • The Texans' search for a fifth player to step up for them against the Colts

    • One viewer's play-by-play diary of Sunday's action to make you feel like you are glued to your television and wondering whose bright idea it was to pay Kirk Cousins all that money all over again

    • 2019 power rankings of teams that failed to make the playoffs

    ...and much more.

    But we started with the guy whose 50 touchdown passes not only ensured that his team would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but also reset our expectations of what great young quarterbacks can do. 


What Makes Pat Mahomes the Most Dangerous Man in the Playoffs

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Patrick Mahomes' 50th touchdown pass was an 89-yard showstopper.

    Mahomes dropped back on 3rd-and-long, nearly into his own end zone, stepped up to avoid pressure, flicked the ball effortlessly to Demarcus Robinson about 50 yards down the field and trusted his receiver to out-leap a defender, snatch the ball and trot the other 40 yards into the end zone.

    The Chiefs needed a play that would take the life out of the Raiders once and for all and guarantee home-field advantage. Mahomes delivered, as he has done so often this season. It was an MVP moment for the prohibitive favorite to win the award.

    Oh, and did we mention that it was also Mahomes' 50th touchdown pass?

    Three quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown 50 touchdown passes in a season: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes.

    Brady did it in 2007, when he was a 30-year-old three-time Super Bowl champion. Manning did it in 2013, when he was a 37-year-old living legend.

    Mahomes is 23 years old. The last time we saw a quarterback remotely as good as Mahomes at so young an age was Dan Marino in 1984, a lifetime ago in an NFL that was very different.

    Yes, yes: this was a record-smashing offensive year all around, so take all offensive totals with a grain of salt, blah blah blah. Maybe throwing 50 touchdowns is slightly easier this year than in past years.

    But even so, no other QB came even close to Mahomes' 50 touchdowns in this season of madcap offense. Not perennial MVP bridesmaid Drew Brees (32), not Brady (25), not second-place finisher Andrew Luck (39, thanks to three in the Sunday Night win).

    Mahomes is unlike any quarterback we have ever seen, past or present. His accomplishments are going to change the NFL in ways we cannot yet anticipate. But you didn't need statistics to illustrate that if you have been paying attention all season.

    Mahomes is not just the the clear-cut choice for MVP but also Digest's official Player No One Wants to Face in the Playoffs. He has the potential to turn any defensive game plan into the scribbles of an overstimulated toddler.

    That's just one of the playoff awards and designations handed out by Digest on Sunday night, though. Here's the full rundown:

    Player No One Wants to Face in the Playoffs: Mahomes

    Team No One Wants to Face in the Playoffs: The Saints rested most of their starters and looked dreadful in a 33-14 loss to the Panthers scrubs and subs. It's the kind of game that prompts lots of hand-wringing about "momentum" for two weeks, after which the well-rested Saints beat some team with a "hot hand" in the Superdome 42-10.

    Place No One Wants to Play in the Playoffs: The Superdome and Arrowhead Stadium are tough, but only Foxborough can trick opponents into surrendering when they leave the tunnel. The weather will probably stink in two weeks, too.

    Teams the Favorites Wish Had Been Eliminated: Nick Foles and the Eagles climbed into the playoffs because Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense couldn't get out of their own way. The Colts reached the playoffs despite a shaky performance against the Titans because of Marcus Mariota's injury.

    Rest assured that the other contenders would rather see Cousins and Blaine Gabbert (or the sideways-listing Steelers on some technicality) than the red-hot Eagles and Colts. The Bears, in particular, could have spared themselves a dose of Foles mojo by resting their starters and doing whatever it takes to let Cousins win a big game (sitting down and checking their email before each snap, perhaps).

    Team Most Screwed By Seedings: The 12-4 Chargers must travel across the country to play a 1 p.m. road game against the 10-6 Ravens, which doesn't seem fair. On the other hand, if the Chargers played a home game in the postseason, it would really underscore the fact that they play in the kind of venue that usually hosts licensed classic rock tribute bands.

    Team Everyone Wants to Play in the Postseason: Remember the last time the Texans beat a really good opponent? Neither do we. 

    There's plenty more playoff-preview coverage in upcoming segments. But first, let's take a look back on a wacky Week 17 like any other, only more so. 

Week 17 Roller Coaster Diary

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Did you have a hard time keeping up with Sunday's whirlwind of action? Fear not: Digest kept a real-time diary of all the ups, downs and reversals of fortune!

    All times Eastern, some rounded by a minute or two. 

    Early Morning: ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Marcus Mariota is unlikely to play in the Colts-Titans game due to a stinger. This is your moment, Blaine Gabbert! Seriously...this is your moment, Blaine Gabbert. 

    2:30 p.m.: Good news, Steelers fans! Running back James Conner is cleared to play after pregame warm-ups. 

    2:50 p.m.: The Patriots take a 28-3 on the Jets' second fumble of the game to all but guarantee a first-round bye. Earlier Patriots touchdowns came after a shanked punt and on a fumble followed by the most Foxborough of penalties: Nudging the Quarterback.

    The Patriots go on to win 38-3 and enter the playoffs as they entered the season: beating up on opponents that lose all composure the moment they catch sight of Gillette Stadium. 

    2:55 p.m.: Bad news, Steelers fans! Antonio Brown is ruled out with a knee injury. 

    3:55 p.m.: The Texans take the AFC South title with a 20-3 win thanks to a muffed Jaguars punt, Deshaun Watson's ability to survive behind the absence of an offensive line, DeAndre Hopkins' brilliance and the continued employment of Blake Bortles.

    4:10 p.m.: Dak Prescott overcomes multiple sacks and nonstop pressure to lead a 36-35 comeback victory over the Giants to sew up...wait, the Cowboys were slotted with the fourth playoff seeding no matter what and had nothing to play for. What the hell was Jason Garrett thinking risking Prescott like that? 

    4:25 p.m.: Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas intercepts Josh Johnson's first pass of the game. Eagles fans celebrate.

    4:32 p.m.: Nick Foles throws a red-zone interception. Eagles fans lament and gnash their teeth.  

    4:35 p.m.: Bears running back Jordan Howard scores and Chicago takes a 7-0 lead over the Vikings. Eagles fans celebrate. 

    4:45 p.m.: The Rams use a second 49ers turnover to take a 14-0 lead. Eagles fans, fearing the Bears will pull their starters if the Rams take a commanding lead to guarantee them a first-round bye, succumb to Lovecraftian madness before the end of the first quarter. 

    4:50 p.m.: Lamar Jackson looks like he was fired out of a missile launcher on his first touchdown run. 

    4:57 p.m.: Eagles take 3-0 lead. 'Bout time. 

    5:07 p.m.: Lamar Jackson's second touchdown features a jump cut that looks like Toon Link's up-and-B attack in Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Ravens appear to be taking control against the Browns.

    5:08 p.m. Ben Roethlisberger throws a pick-six. The Steelers are playing like they are watching Ravens highlights on the Jumbotron.  

    5:12 p.m.: The Vikings go three-and-out on their fourth straight series. Kirk Cousins has nine passing yards. 

    5:15 p.m.: The Chiefs take a 21-0 lead over the Raiders, the only force in the universe more feeble against a team angling for home-field advantage in Week 17 than the Jets in Foxborough. 

    5:30 p.m.: The Bengals hit a field goal to take a 10-0 lead over the Steelers. Alshon Jeffrey scores to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead. The eastern and western halves of Pennsylvania haven't felt this many conflicted emotions since the 2016 election. 

    5:40 p.m.: Lamar Jackson fumbles while reaching over the goal line. A 100-yard Browns return is negated by a quick whistle. The Steelers kick a field goal moments later, after a fourth-down conversion, to cut their deficit to 10-3. Two sudden reversals of fortune in the AFC North race.  

    Meanwhile, the Rams take a 27-3 lead (they will clinch a first-round bye with a 48-32 win), but the Bears leave their starters in. 

    5:47 p.m.: Cameras catch Adam Thielen and Kirk Cousins having a heated discussion on the sideline with the Vikings trailing 13-3. Cousins begins waving his arms around wildly at Thielen, like a malfunctioning robot or an Overwatch character who just glitched into a wall. (And yes, Digest spent a lot of the week after Christmas playing video games.)

    6 p.m.: TJ Watt keeps strip-sacking Jeff Driskel, but Driskel keeps recovering. The Bengals still lead. 

    6:15 p.m.: Patrick Mahomes throws an 89-yard touchdown pass and the Chiefs extend their lead to 28-3. Home-field advantage is safe (they eventually win 35-3). 

    6:17 p.m.: Baker Mayfield throws a touchdown to Jarvis Landry after juggling the ball in the backfield, cutting the Ravens' lead over the Browns to 20-14. (Column idea: Baker Mayfield rudely interrupts Ravens-Steelers playoff drama by throwing touchdowns like a punk. That sucker will CLICK.)

    6:27 p.m.: The Vikings finally score a touchdown to cut their deficit to 13-10. All it took was a ticky-tack roughing-the-passer penalty, a pass-interference penalty and a fourth-down conversion in the red zone. Cousins has 60 passing yards. 

    6:30 p.m.: JuJu Smith-Schuster scores. The Steelers and Bengals are now tied 10-10. If you give the Steelers a dozen chances to get back in a game, they'll make the most of one. 

    6:48 p.m.: Nate Sudfeld replaces a nicked-up Nick Foles and throws a touchdown pass to give the Eagles a 24-0 lead. Eagles fans tune in to Bears-Vikings, where the Bears are driving.  

    6:50 p.m.: The Bears score a touchdown to extend their lead. The Browns kick a field goal to cut the Ravens' lead to six. The Steelers convert a 4th-and-4. Cue the Gladiator "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" GIF. 

    6:55 p.m.: The Steelers kick a field goal to take a 13-10 lead. Hooray?

    7:03 p.m.: The Bengals tie the Steelers 13-13 with a field goal. The Ravens get breathing room with a field goal (after a dubious 3rd-and-4 spot extends their drive) to give them a 26-17 lead moments later. 

    7:12 p.m.: Kirk Cousins throws four straight incomplete passes trailing 24-10. That whooshing sound you hear is the backdraft that occurs when $84 million is set on fire.  

    7:15 p.m.: A Browns touchdown cuts the Ravens lead to 26-24 with waaaaaaay too much time on the clock. The Steelers kick yet another field goal to take yet another lead. 

    7:22 p.m.: Lamar Jackson fumbles an option pitch, forcing a punt. The Steelers kneel to preserve an ugly 16-13 win. All eyes on Baltimore. 

    7:38 p.m.: C.J. Mosley intercepts Mayfield's fourth-down pass on the fringe of field-goal range. The Ravens clinch the AFC North. The Steelers' playoff hopes now rest with a Colts-Titans tie. After the way they played down the stretch, they deserved to stay up all night Sunday wishing for a tie. 

    9 p.m.: Andrew Luck throws his second touchdown to give the Colts a 14-0 lead over the Gabbert-led Titans. All of this game's drama appears to have evaporated when Mariota was ruled out. 

    9:30 p.m.: A Javon Brown interception return makes it 14-7 Colts. Not a laugher yet.

    10:10 p.m.: Luck's third touchdown makes it 24-10.

    10:38 p.m.: The Titans remember they have Derrick Henry. A long run sets up a touchdown to make it 24-17. The Titans hope for a win remains alive. So does the Steelers' hope for a tie.

    10:55 p.m.: Gabbert throws across his body into the hands of a Colts defender, setting up a Colts field goal. He is, after all, Blaine Gabbert. 

    11:15 p,m.: Darius Leonard breaks up a 4th-and-14 pass after a spate of Titans penalties, and the Colts ice the win with a quick touchdown. The teams that played well down the stretch (Colts, Eagles, Ravens) all earn playoff berths. The teams that did not play well fell short. And, thankfully, no one got in because of some ridiculous tie.

Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    In a nutshell

    It's an AFC South battle, which means zzzzzzzzzz...

    Wake up! (Applies smelling salts.) Look, we know you read "AFC South battle" and think either, "Oh look, the Belk Bowl," or, "Chum chewing each other up so the Patriots can feast on the entrails."

    But this year could be different. The Colts are playing great football now, and the Texans...have...four really great players!

    Yeah, this feels a little like a "happy to be here" undercard. But hey, the @CaptAndrewLuck Twitter feed will probably cook up something good about this game. That's something to look forward to, right? STAY AWAKE FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE.


    How we got here

    The Colts started out 1-5. Then Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton and Dontrelle Inman finally all got healthy at the same time, the top rookies all took a simultaneous step forward, Frank Reich settled in as head coach, and Andrew Luck shook the rust off. The Colts went 9-1 down the stretch, capping the season with a 33-17 win over the Titans (though that was shakier than the final score suggests).

    The Texans feasted on middleweight competition all year, clinching the AFC South on Sunday by beating the Jaguars 20-3 in the most Texans way possible: DeAndre Hopkins caught 12 passes for 147 yards, J.J. Watt had 1.5 sacks, Deshaun Watson threw for 234 yards and added 66 rushing yards and a touchdown—and everyone else stood around wondering if they were supposed to block or catch a pass or something. 


    Key for the Texans

    The Texans' playoff hopes ride on someone besides Hopkins, Watkins, Watson, Jadeveon Clowney and one or two other semi-regular suspects (like Whitney Mercilus) stepping up.

    The problem is particularly acute on offense, where Demaryius Thomas' injury leaves the Texans without a second receiving threat: Hopkins has 115 receptions this season; no other Texans player has more than 32.

    Lamar Miller returned from injury to play well against the Jaguars on Sunday, and the Texans' best bet to diversify their offense and take pressure off Watson and Hopkins is to get both Miller and Alfred Blue more involved in the running and passing game. But the pair is averaging just 7.0 yards per catch this season, and even Adrian Peterson in his prime would struggle to rush consistently behind the pitiful Texans offensive line.


    Key for the Colts

    The Colts went five weeks without allowing a sack in the middle of the season. They gave up four in their early-season loss to the Texans but just two in their Week 14 win. Stopping Watt, Clowney and Mercilus is the best way to beat the Texans. With Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson and others having fine years on the Colts line and Reich designing plays that make life hard for opposing pass-rushers, the Colts are well-equipped to do it.


    Prior meetings

    The Texans held off a Colts comeback from a 28-10 deficit to win a wild 37-34 overtime game in Week 4. Perennial Texans killer T.Y. Hilton caught nine passes for 199 yards as the Colts won the Week 14 rematch 24-21.

    Come to think of it, stopping Hilton is a "key for the Texans," too; it's just not clear that they'll ever be able to do it.


    Bottom line

    The Colts have much more talent once you get past the Texans Big Four, are better-coached, are better-balanced and are playing better football right now. But none of that ever seems to matter during AFC South matchups. 

Playoff Preview: Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    In a nutshell

    Do you like ball control and defense? If so, this has been one tough NFL season for you. But this slugfest should be a day at the spa for you.


    How we got here

    The midseason Amari Cooper trade upgraded the Cowboys passing game from "hilarious" to "adequate" just as their young defense began coalescing into a playoff-caliber unit.

    Things got weird Sunday when Jason Garrett left Dak Prescott in to endure four sacks and run himself ragged in a meaningless comeback win over the Giants, but Prescott survived apparently unscathed and the Cowboys now have "momentum," which is another word for being more tired than they really should be. 

    The Seahawks played the tortoise to free-falling NFC contender hares like the Packers and Panthers in the second half of the season, beating them with a turnover-free offensive approach, a hustling young defense and a spirit of togetherness that was rarely seen when their defense was locked in a never-ending blood feud with their offense from 2015 to 2017.


    Key for the Seahawks

    The Seahawks offensive line is much improved over last year's unit (five guys pulled off a New Year's Eve pub crawl bus would be an improvement over last year's unit), but that doesn't mean it's good. They allowed six sacks in a narrow win over the Cardinals on Sunday, 51 on the year.

    The Seahawks must find a way to both slow down Tank Lawrence (10.5 sacks) and create running room for Chris Carson and their other backs against a defense that allows just 3.8 yards per carry.


    Key for the Cowboys

    Speaking of sacks, the Cowboys allowed 56 of them this season due to injuries along the offensive line, Prescott's tendency to hold the ball too long and Garrett's innovation-free approach to game planning. Protecting Prescott means running the ball, and Ezekiel Elliott should be able to eat against a run defense ranked just 18th in the NFL entering Sunday by Football Outsiders.


    Prior meeting

    The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 24-13 in a game that was never really close in Week 3. But Earl Thomas had two interceptions in that game, and Cooper was still in Oakland. Things are bound to be different with Cooper here and Thomas gone.


    Bottom line

    Both teams will strive to run the ball, stay ahead of the sticks and grind out a win. If the Seahawks can't make that work, they will fall back on the talents of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. If the Cowboys can't make it work, they must count on Garrett and Prescott to be creative and decisive. Advantage: Seahawks, by about a galaxy.

Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    In a nutshell

    The team no one watched until it started the season 7-2 visits the team no one wanted to watch until Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco and turned around an offense that had been as scintillating as a Windows 95 screensaver. 

    The Ravens beat the Chargers 22-10 just last week, so this game is a compelling rematch between one of the best wild-card teams of recent memory and a division champion with a knack for manufacturing wins. 


    How we got here

    Jackson only made the Ravens offense slightly better than it was under Flacco. But it certainly made the Ravens different, and late-season opponents struggled to adapt to the option threat while the Ravens defense responded well to not having to jog back onto the field after as many three-and-outs. The Ravens went 6-1 after their bye, proving that they are better at their grimy brand of football when they are grinding out yardage on the ground than when they were pretending to have a normal offense. 

    The Chargers may be the NFL's most-balanced team: great running and passing games, strong run and pass defense (with both a formidable pass rush and sound coverage), plenty of depth, good-enough special teams. But they were trapped in the AFC West with the Chiefs, forcing them to prove themselves on the road.


    Key for the Ravens

    Jackson fumbled twice on Sunday in a narrow victory over the Browns, giving him 12 fumbles on the year, four of them lost. Many of the fumbles come on option pitches and exchanges, illustrating one of the downsides of executing an option offense.

    Jackson cannot afford to be sloppy with the ball against Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and the Chargers defense. If he can avoid turnovers, the Ravens can control the ball and the clock.


    Key for the Chargers

    The Chargers have been outscored 98-78 in first quarters this year. They have come roaring back for a 151-66 edge in second quarters, but they do not want to fall behind early on the road against the Ravens defense. If they can take an early lead, they have a better chance of avoiding what happened last time. 


    Prior meeting

    The Ravens' victory in Los Angeles last Saturday night proved just how hard they can be to defeat when they lull you into their type of game. The Chargers stopped Jackson on the ground, took a brief third-quarter lead and forced multiple three-and-outs, only to lose on a Jackson touchdown pass and a Tavon Young fumble recovery because their offense never established any rhythm.


    Bottom line

    The Chargers are the better team on paper. The Ravens have a long history of being unpredictable—and dangerous—in the postseason. 

Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    In a nutshell

    The defending champs face their closest cousins and imitators: a team that took the NFL by storm with an Andy Reid coaching disciple, innovative offense, surprising second-year quarterback and stifling defense.


    How we got here

    Nick Foles worked his usual late-season relief sorcery, capping a three-game winning streak by helping the Eagles pummel Josh Johnson and the eager-to-quit Redskins 24-0 in the season finale. 

    The Bears helped the Eagles cause by holding walking money incinerator Kirk Cousins to just 132 passing yards in a 24-10 win.

    The Bears grew from an up-and-down young team early in the season into a legitimate Super Bowl contender that no longer sabotages itself with critical mistakes. The Eagles are playing their best football right now since last January.

    (Foles left Sunday's game late in the fourth quarter with a chest injury. It was believed to merely be a deep bruise at press time.)


    Key for the Bears 

    Stopping Foles Magic means stopping Alshon Jeffery (16 catches and 301 yards in the three games since Foles took over), Zach Ertz (116 catches this season, the most for a tight end in a single season) and Nelson Agholor (10 catches, 156 yards and three touchdowns in the final two games after an early season spent catching mostly three-yard passes).

    The Bears had the top-ranked defense in the NFL at stopping No. 1 receivers, third-ranked against tight ends and sixth-ranked against slot guys entering Week 16, per Football Outsiders—and none of those numbers will go down after what they did to Cousins and Friends. If the Bears defense plays to its capacity, it can turn Big Game Foles back into dreary-old Regular Game Foles.


    Key for the Eagles

    Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had three sacks on Sunday and took over the Rams game for long stretches. The Eagles need him to help shut down the Jordan Howard-Tarik Cohen running game and pressure Mitchell Trubisky into a mistake or two to take pressure off the Eagles secondary, which is still a patchwork of backups and youngsters.


    Random fact

    The Eagles have won their last three matchups with the Bears, dating back to 2013, by a combined 114-28 score. That probably won't matter this weekend.


    Bottom line

    The Bears are more talented, playing at home and have overcome their early-season case of the yips against tough opponents. It was a heck of a ride for Eagles fans, but it ends in Chicago.

    And yes, we said almost the same thing this time last year. 

Eliminated Team Power Rankings for 2019

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Digest ranks the teams who missed the playoffs this year based on their chances of becoming serious contenders next year. 


    1. Browns: They have built the young core of a future Super Bowl contender, proving that Moneyball works best once you replace all the Moneyballers.

    2. Packers: The team most of us expected to be 11-5 is still intact and waiting for someone who can get Aaron Rodgers to study his playbook instead of shaking his head in disgust at it.

    3. Vikings: The good news is that Kirk Cousins and the entire veteran core is under contract for two more years. The bad news is that Kirk Cousins and the entire veteran core is under contract for two more years.

    4. 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo and other injured starters return to a team with a high first-round pick and plenty of cap space. Also, Kyle Shanahan did a much better coaching job when you actually watch the games than when you evaluate him based on the final scores.

    5. Titans: Maybe if Marcus Mariota shaves off the 1970s G.I. Joe facial hair, he will stop putting up 1970s passing statistics. 

    6. Steelers: The Apocalypse Now of perennial playoff contenders. 

    7. Buccaneers: They are a competent coaching staff, one more defensive star and a kicker away from 11-5, assuming Jameis Winston can keep it under 25 turnovers next year (a competent coaching staff should help with that). 

    8. Jets: Sam Darnold took a big step forward late in the year, there's plenty of talent on defense, and the Jets have more than $100 million in the cap-space coffers. A 10-year-old with a fantasy football app could make this team much better next year. Unfortunately, the Jets may once again count on Mike Maccagnan to do it instead.

    9. Giants: Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume their Eli Manning delusion fades before the draft. If so, there's the basis of a pretty solid team under contract.  

    10. Panthers: There's a lot of over-30 talent on both sides of the ball and a real risk that Cam Newton's shoulder sends them spiraling into a 2017 Colts situation. 

    11. Bills: They are just like the Jets, but with less optimism about the rookie quarterback, less talent on offense, older talent on defense and a coaching staff and front office that haven't been around long enough to make how badly they are messing things up obvious yet. 

    12. Raiders: Three first-round picks and over $78 million in cap space sound great, but the Raiders have zero assets right now, not even a stadium to their name. They'll be a glorified expansion team next year. In fairness, that's an improvement over what they were this year. 

    13. Redskins: A shambling zombie of a team that screwed up its quarterback situation beyond recognition but has just enough talent in the trenches (and money tied up in veterans) to not have to admit there is a problem or do something about it. 

    14. Jaguars: The only thing saving them from going 7-9 with a great defense and Joe Flacco or Nick Foles at quarterback next year is that there is no way they can fit Flacco or Foles under the cap. And their defense probably won't be that great. 

    15. Broncos: Like the Jaguars, but with both the money to land a Flacco/Foles and the organizational vision to insist that it's a great idea. 

    16. Dolphins: No team spends more time, money and resources seemingly purposely building .500 rosters quite like the Dolphins. 

    17. Bengals: Would crack the top five on this list if they were committed to organizational and coaching-staff restructuring and bringing in fresh ideas from outside the organization. Will rank below the CFL teams if they decide to keep Hue Jackson around in some capacity. 

    18. Lions: Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn will spend next year blaming Matthew Stafford and his high cap number for the team's struggles while filling the roster with Patriots castoffs in an ongoing effort to change the "culture of losing" they claim to have inherited but are actually creating. 

    19. Cardinals: This season couldn't have been much worse if they just tied Josh Rosen up and left him in the middle of the desert. 

    Not Ranked. Falcons: We're just really sick of trying to make sense of them. 

Inside the Numbers: End-of-Year Edition

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Frank Gore, Dolphins: 14,748 career rushing yards.

    Assuming Gore retires this offseason, he will finish his career fourth on the all-time rushing list.

    If Todd Gurley gains 1,200 rushing yards per year for the next five years, he will still be 4,000 yards behind Gore. 

    Gore tore the same ACL twice when he was in college. Remember that when branding some player "injury prone" because of some early-career setbacks. 


    Drew Brees: 74.4 percent completion rate.

    Brees fell just short of being the first quarterback in history to complete 75 percent of his passes in a full season. He did, however, shatter the completion rate record of 72.0 percent he set last season. Brees has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in five seasons. All of the other quarterbacks in history have combined to do so in six seasons. 

    The overall NFL completion rate went up nearly three points this year, with quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins (70.1), Carson Wentz (69.6) and Marcus Mariota (68.9) posting rates that would have been eye-popping a decade ago in what were perceived as "down" seasons this year. Completion percentage has become a misleading statistic when evaluating quarterbacks. But don't hold that against Brees, because he's awesome. 


    Saquon Barkley: 1,307 rushing yards, 91 receptions for 721 yards, 15 total touchdowns

    Barkley is the only the third rookie running back in history to gain over 2,000 scrimmage yards, joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. He broke Reggie Bush's rookie running back record of 88 receptions. He broke a Giants rookie rushing touchdown record set by Bill Paschal in 1943. He finished the season second to Ezekiel Elliott for the NFL rushing title.

    It would be cruel and argumentative to spoil Barkley's big day and season to point out that Baker Mayfield (who set his own rookie touchdown mark Sunday) is the Rookie of the Year and that selecting Barkley over a quarterback remains a bad long-term move for the Giants. So we won't do that here. 


    Kyle Williams, Bills: 48.5 career sacks

    Williams announced his retirement this week, and sadly, there remains no reliable statistic for measuring a defensive tackle's contribution to his team. Williams ranks fifth on the Bills' all-time sack list, behind stars Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett and non-stars (though fine players) Phil Hansen and Aaron Schobel. Interior linemen just don't rack up sacks unless they are named Aaron Donald.

    But the folks at Pro Football Reference created an Approximate Value metric to reverse-engineer the contributions of guys like Williams from the performances of the defenses he played for. Williams ranks 10th on the Bills all-time list. Not bad for a list that includes Smith, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, O.J. Simpson and a bunch of old AFL stars.

    Williams also has one career offensive touch: a one-yard touchdown plunge in 2017. He lined up at fullback on Sunday, and while he didn't get a touchdown, he did bulldoze Josh Allen over the goal line for one. It was a great going-away gift for a great player. 


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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Season-ending news 'n' notes ... 


    Tom Brady told Westwood One's Jim Gray he plans to play in 2019.

    Point: Patriots coaches celebrated the news by drawing up 175 new running plays and really, really short screen passes for next year's playbook.

    Counterpoint: Brady will still be effective next year so long as he bathes in the Blood of the Innocent* twice per week and the Bills, Dolphins and Jets retain most of their current coaches and general managers. 

    *Don't worry, folks: "Blood of the Innocent" is just Alex Guerrero's name for Bloody Mary mix and Red Bull, poured into a brandy snifter and resold to Brady at $75 per ounce. 


    Lions head coach Matt Patricia is frequently late to both press conferences and team meetings.

    Point: Stop making a big deal out of this! He just needs extra time to perfect his speeches about creating a culture of accountability.

    Counterpoint: ... Or perhaps he is adhering to the motto he learned from the Patriots: "Do your job when you get around to it."

    Bonus counter-counterpoint: After Patricia is fired in disgrace and winds up on some other sideline as a buddy's assistant, no current Lions player better look at him funny, because that would be disrespec...oh wait, Patricia insults a reporter's posture instead of cultivating television besties like Hue Jackson? In that case, stare him down to your heart's delight.


    Redskins shake up their front office, firing several business/marketing executives.

    Point: If you can sell tickets to watch a football team with a name half of Americans feel uncomfortable saying, playing in a stadium that was obsolete 10 years before it was built, which signs indefinitely suspended linebackers accused of domestic violence but forfeits playoff opportunities because it purposely chooses bad backup quarterbacks for political reasons, contact Bruce Allen at 1-571-555-HOGZ.

    Warning: Do not look Mr. Allen directly in the eye during the interview or he will open the trapdoor beneath your chair.

    Counterpoint: The Skins should sell tickets to their boardroom meetings instead of their games: They are undoubtedly more dramatic, more competitive and harder hitting. 


    Raiders exercise 2019 contract options on several veterans, including 33-year-old Jordy Nelson.

    Point: They may end up playing their home games in Nelson's backyard next year.

    Counterpoint: The Raiders appear to be in great cap shape next year, but in reality their veteran spending spree this offseason left them with so few viable players under contract for 2019 that they need to keep aging players like Nelson and Lee Smith just to fill out a quasi-competitive roster. Hey, it's the end of the year, folks: Not all of the "counterpoints" can be zingers. 


    DeSean Jackson wants out of Tampa Bay, per ESPN's Josina Anderson.

    Point: DeSean Jackson was in Tampa Bay?

    Counterpoint: Jackson wants to return to the Eagles, per John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia. C'mon, D-Jax: You're a a 32-year-old deep threat with a history of low-key disenchantment and immaturity who wants to play for a winner late in his career. Forget Philly. Buy a condo near Gillette Stadium now and get it over with. 

End-of-Year Memory Lane

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Let's take one last look back at the 2018 season as we look forward to the 2018 playoffs (and, for 20 teams, offseason). Do you remember:

    • Kirk Cousins' summer grilling skills? Should we have seen those mounds of Purina Quarterback Chow on the grill as some form of warning?

    • Kelvin Benjamin getting downsized by Cam Newton in preseason pregame warmups? 

    • That Sam Bradford started the season as the Cardinals' starting quarterback? That Sam Bradford made more money to complete 50 passes this season than most humans could earn in 200 years?

    Dez Bryant and Jerry Jones at the Jay-Z-Beyonce concert?

    • When "burping the quarterback" was a thing for about two weeks and Clay Matthews was always guilty of it?

    • The night it rained light beer in Cleveland?

    • Jimmy Garoppolo?

    • When Julio Jones finally scored a touchdown and your Twitter timeline melted?

    • Drafting Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker in your fantasy league and thinking, "Yep, now I have all my bases covered with the Broncos' running back situation"?

    • When the Dolphins beat the Bears and you thought, "Eh, nothing too weird about that"?

    • Nitwits burning their Nikes?

    • When Jim Bob Cooter called Matthew Stafford's performance "Detroit Lions information" like he was a member of the East German secret police in the 1970s?

    • When Hunter Henry got injured? (Because a television talk personality didn't remember.)

    • When Tyler Eifert got injured? (Because an NFL defensive coordinator didn't remember.)

    • The Buccaneers being 2-0? The Panthers being 6-2? The Colts being 1-5?

    • Watching the Rams beat the Chiefs 54-51 on Monday night before Thanksgiving and feeling like you were falling in love with football all over again?

    • Le'Veon Bell tweeting during the Thursday night Steelers-Panthers game? Bell's former teammates rummaging through his locker like they were on Storage Wars

    • The three months of your life you wasted thinking about Le'Veon Bell? 

    Happy New Year, readers. Stay tuned to Digest for all the playoff and coaching-carousel action—and lots of speculation about what's next for Le'Veon Bell!—every Monday morning in January.


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