B/R Staff NFL Weekly Report Card for Wild Card Weekend: Brees' Future in Doubt

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 6, 2020

B/R Staff NFL Weekly Report Card for Wild Card Weekend: Brees' Future in Doubt

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    A new world order overtook the NFL during Wild Card weekend.

    The New England Patriots dynasty seemingly came to an end with a whimper. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints fell well short of their Super Bowl expectations with an overtime loss.

    Instead, different stars rose to the occasion.

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson dazzled onlookers with late-game heroics. Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry pummeled the Patriots into submission. Kirk Cousins played his best when the Minnesota Vikings needed it the most. And the Seattle Seahawks' D.K. Metcalf showed why he should have been a first-round draft pick.

    They each went big, and they're not going home. Survival and advancement are the only things that matter during the postseason. Old faces are gone with new ones replacing them.

    Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman, Mike Tanier and Ty Dunne—oversaw this shift in power and graded the individual circumstances for both the weekend's winners and losers.

    After years of the same old, same old, a new-look postseason picture is just too sweet.


Optimism for the Josh Allen Circus Heading into Next Year

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    It's nearly impossible to describe how Josh Allen played in the Buffalo Bills' overtime loss to the Texans.

    Basically, everyone saw the tantalizing traits to make the Bills believe in him as a future franchise quarterback while he simultaneously made what could only be described as awful decisions even for a high school-level signal-caller, let alone an NFL player.

    "Every loss is personal, and if I can go out there and execute differently—hindsight is 20/20, but there's some things we should have hit on," Allen said, per ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques. "I put that on my shoulders, especially with how well our defense played today. Teams go how their quarterbacks usually go, and I've got to be better for this team."

    Allen made plays for the Bills all season long. He also made massive mistakes beyond the pale of a typical second-year quarterback.

    How optimistic should Buffalo be going into the quarterback's third campaign?


    Ty Dunne: C-

    He was making JV-level mistakes with the Bills' season on the line in Houston. Coaches did a fine job of reining in Allen from October through December but can't really play keepaway 24/7 if they are, indeed, "Championship Caliber" as the team's new slogan says. They need to maximize Allen's big arm and rare athleticism and, unfortunately, Allen seems bound to commit a game-killing mistake whenever given this green light.


    Mike Freeman: A+

    His performance in the final minutes of the Texans game was at times a total disaster, but Allen, easily, has one of the brightest futures of any young player in the league. He'll get better at cutting back on those meathead mistakes.


    Mike Tanier: C

    Allen is somewhere on the Blake Bortles-Mitchell Trubisky-Mark Sanchez spectrum of young quarterbacks who make occasional big plays but are propped up by their defenses. He has grown since his rookie season, and there is potential for more growth as both a passer and decision-maker. Bills coaches can't fool themselves into thinking that what they did this season is sustainable.


    Brent Sobleski: C

    If there were ever a game to explain who Josh Allen is as a quarterback, this was it. He can be absolutely spectacular one moment and then make the most mind-boggling dumb decision the very next play. That's exactly who he was at Wyoming, too.


    Brad Gagnon: C

    He made some unbelievably bad decisions Saturday, and I'm concerned he'll never become an accurate enough passer to achieve stardom. Still, he's only 23 and was raw entering the league. We have to give him another year or two.


    Gary Davenport: C-

    Saturday's loss was Allen in a nutshell—for every big play with his arm or legs, there was an erratic play or an incredibly ill-advised decision. In other words, Allen is who we thought he was—for better and for worse.

Texans' Super Bowl Odds with BOB Leading the Way

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The Texans managed a 22-19 overtime victory Saturday over the Bills despite being down 16-0 in the third quarter.

    Usually, any type of postseason victory is a feather in a coach's cap. However, the Texans were continually bailed out of poor decisions by Buffalo and their Houdini at quarterback, who goes by the name of Deshaun Watson.

    "He's got a huge heart," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said of Watson, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop. "He's been winning his whole life, and he knows how to win."

    The problem is the coach shouldn't rely on his quarterback to get him out of every jam. The Texans need to be better prepared, especially at the start of a playoff contest. Otherwise, the team is being limited by the coaching staff's inadequacies.

    With this in mind, is O'Brien a good enough coach to lead the Texans to a Super Bowl?


    Ty Dunne: B

    As long as Watson is the quarterback, the Texans can always contend for a Super Bowl.


    Mike Freeman: A

    As long as Watson is healthy, and doing Deshaun things that Deshaun does, the Texans can beat any team, anywhere, anytime. They can beat the Ravens, the Chiefs, the '85 Bears. He's, at times, that formidable.


    Mike Tanier: D-

    The Notorious B.O.B. called an awful game Saturday but got away with it because his superstars came to play against an opponent with a popgun offense. That's not a sustainable long-range plan for the postseason.


    Brent Sobleski: D

    The entire Texans franchise is flawed, starting with the decision not to hire a general manager while giving O'Brien far too much power within the organizational structure. The roster is suspect at best with major concern areas. Watson is the only reason this isn't a failing grade.


    Brad Gagnon: D

    O'Brien is the worst game manager in the league, which is likely going to sink a team that has little margin for error. They got some breaks Saturday, but it'll likely be a different story in Kansas City and possibly Baltimore.


    Gary Davenport: D-

    Houston already has a win over Kansas City this season, and any team with Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt has a chance. But it's a slim one—a bad secondary and O'Brien's penchant for puzzling (by which I mean bad) decisions is an awful lot to overcome in the playoffs.

Tom Brady's Chances of Returning in 2020

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    The Patriots could realistically experience what life is like without a franchise quarterback for the first time in two decades.

    Tom Brady's return isn't a given. The 42-year-old quarterback is an impending free agent, and the team should consider all of its options knowing the current state of the organization.

    Brady told reporters it's "pretty unlikely" he'll retire this offseason. Even so, he might not play for the Patriots ever again. The organization has to see the writing on the wall. Brady is no longer the type of quarterback who carries an offense and elevates the play of those around him.

    Though it would be quite weird to see him wearing another uniform.

    "It's hard to imagine Tom not playing football," Patriots safety Devin McCourty told reporters after being knocked out of the postseason by the Titans. "It's hard to imagine him not playing here."

    Eventually, Brady's career will come to an end. He can't play forever. What are the odds he's still playing next year and for the Patriots?


    Ty Dunne: B

    The gut feeling here is cooler heads will prevail and everyone realizes they're best together in New England. Are we so sure Brady's done? With a bunch of no-names, he still threw for 4,000-plus yards and 24 touchdowns. It'd be nuts for the Patriots to move on without an obvious successor in place. Sign or trade for a stud wide receiver (or three) and run it back.


    Mike Freeman: D

    Brady will definitely play again next year, but I'm not so sure it will be in New England. Neither side seems extremely interested in Brady staying there.


    Mike Tanier: A

    He'll be back to try to repeat Peyton Manning's last season and will succeed in repeating Eli Manning's last seasons.


    Brent Sobleski: A

    Of course, Brady will play for the Patriots next season. He says he's not going to retire. What is New England going to do? The Pats are not going to eschew their best starting option in favor of Jarrett Stidham or hope a quality prospect falls into their laps on draft weekend. The organization didn't properly prepare for life without Brady, and it's stuck.


    Brad Gagnon: B-

    Specifically, I'm giving him a 51 percent chance of returning. I doubt he'll retire that way, but it also looks like he's open to something new. I wouldn't be shocked if he took more money from a desperate organization like the Los Angeles Chargers.


    Gary Davenport: A+

    Brady's not going to Dallas with Josh McDaniels, or to Los Angeles, or to any of the other fantasy-land destinations fans are tossing around on Twitter. He's also not going out like this. And the Patriots don't (yet) have a viable succession plan for life post-Golden Boy. He'll be back in Beantown in 2020—the bigger question is what the offense will look like around him.

Derrick Henry's Ability to Carry the Titans on His Back to a Super Bowl

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    Derrick Henry swiped the 2019 NFL rushing title with a 211-yard performance on the final day of the regular season. While impressive, his contributions during the first round of the playoffs were even more remarkable.

    Henry carried the ball 32 times for 182 yards against the league's top defense. He added 22 receiving yards as well. In fact, the fourth-year back became the first player with 200 scrimmage yards against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    "He has a defensive mindset on offense. I feel like that's what makes him so unique," Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans said of Henry, per ESPN's Turron Davenport. "Guys don't want to tackle him for four quarters. It's obvious. The fact that he continues to run the ball and pound defenses, it helps us tremendously."

    But the passing game didn't fare well at all. Ryan Tannehill threw for a measly 72 yards, and the entire wide receiver corps managed two receptions for 10 yards.

    Considering how Henry has carried Tennessee's offense, is he capable of leading and taking the Titans all the way?

    Ty Dunne: C+

    Henry has been unstoppable. He absolutely can will the Titans to two more wins. We've seen No. 6 seeds get hot before to go the distance. With the best running back of any team remaining, why not Tennessee?

    Mike Freeman: A+

    There isn't a single defense he can't pulverize. In the last month or so of the season, he has physically intimidated every defense he's played. It's a fascinating thing and, yes, it can continue.

    Mike Tanier: D

    A power runner taking a team to the Super Bowl? Is this 1977? Am I watching M*A*S*H while listening to ELO on eight track? Am I in first grade again? Running backs may matter more than the hipsters claim they do, but c'mon guys.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    Here are where the other three remaining AFC teams ranked during the regular season in average yards per carry allowed: 20th, 27th and 28th. 'Nuff said.

    Brad Gagnon: C

    You never know, because both the Ravens and Chiefs have weaker run defenses than New England. But the Titans are likely going to need a lot more than 14 points to beat either of those teams, and that's all they had before Brady threw a late pick-six on Saturday night. Running backs don't really carry successful teams these days.

    Gary Davenport: F

    This is by no means a knock on Henry, who was just as fantastic against the Patriots as he was over the second half of the season. But it's going to take more than Henry to win in Baltimore. Or in Kansas City. Or even in Houston. The Titans have had a great run the past couple of months. But Miami remains a pipe dream.

Ryan Tannehill As the Future QB of the Titans

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    The Titans caught fire once head coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill took over as the team's starting quarterback in Week 7. Tennessee finished strong with a 7-3 record to secure the final AFC playoff seed before upsetting the Patriots on Saturday. 

    Tannehill led the league this season at 9.6 yards per attempt (by a full yard) and with a 117.5 quarterback rating.

    Sometimes, a player falls into the right situation, and an opportunity presents itself.

    "His preparation has been outstanding," Vrabel said, per the Boston Globe's Ben Volin. "For a player that came in in April and started out in a secondary role, [he] has really ascended in his leadership, and his command of the offense has been impressive."

    At the same time, Tannehill did next to nothing against the Patriots and is a pending free agent.

    Based on what we've seen this season, should he be considered the Titans' future at quarterback?


    Ty Dunne: B+

    That wasn't pretty in Foxborough. But the Titans won, and Tannehill did lead the NFL in passer rating during the regular season. It'll be awfully interesting to see how he performs when a defense sells out against Derrick Henry and the ground game.

    Mike Freeman: A

    The Titans not keeping him as their quarterback would be one of the dumbest things any franchise has ever done. I can't believe I'm writing that sentence about Tannehill. But it's true. Tennessee's gargantuan back is the key to the team, but Tannehill is a close second.

    Mike Tanier: C

    Yes, he's the Titans quarterback of the future. Yes, he is better than Marcus Mariota. And yes, he's about to get overpaid for a hot streak and a win against the Patriots that was far more symbolic than impressive. Pay top dollar for league-average quarterbacking and you should not be upset when you get what you get.

    Brent Sobleski: C

    An average grade is necessary since the Titans should hedge their bet. Yes, Tannehill earned another contract. And yes, he's now their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the organization better draft another signal-caller to develop when the floor inevitably falls out from under the offense.

    Brad Gagnon: B-

    Tannehill's remarkable yet abbreviated 2019 season feels a lot like Nick Foles' remarkable but abbreviated 2013 season. Foles had another nice run that resulted in a Super Bowl win later in his career, but he's never been a consistently reliable franchise quarterback. I'm not sure Tannehill will be anything more than a Foles. Still, there may be no better options for now.

    Gary Davenport: B

    Will Tannehill be Tennessee's quarterback in five years (or even three)? Who knows? I don't know that he's even earned a long-term deal. But the Titans, at the very least, are going to tag Tannehill. He's going to be "the guy" in 2020.

Drew Brees as the Saints' Starter in 2020

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    Drew Brees will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His numerous passing records set the bar for everyone who follows him. He's a future Hall of Famer. He, alongside head coach Sean Payton, turned the Saints into a championship-contending franchise.

    But the Saints repeatedly fell short during the playoffs over the last decade, especially the last few seasons. Brees turns 41 years old in less than two weeks. Plus, he's scheduled to be a free agent. His future remains cloudy.

    "I've always just taken it one year at a time," the 13-time Pro Bowl quarterback told reporters after Sunday's 26-20 loss to the Vikings.

    Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who played well in Brees' absence this year, is a pending free agent, too. The organization has a major decision to make at the game's most important position.

    What are the odds Brees is back with the Saints next season as the team's starting quarterback?


    Ty Dunne: A

    Another postseason, another heartbreaking loss for Brees and the Saints. But he'll be back because he's always back.

    Mike Freeman: C

    This is a tricky one because Brees was so good for much of the year (when he wasn't recovering from his thumb injury), but this game against the Vikings was scary. He looked older, slow and out of it. The Saints have a ton of quarterback talent, and no one should be shocked if they move on.

    Mike Tanier: A

    Unlike Brady, Brees isn't going to pretend he's willing to pick up and move to a new city to scowl at his receivers and coaches in an effort to prove his immortality. He's planted deep roots in New Orleans, and the Saints have some on-paper cap space carved out for him thanks to all the galaxy-brain accounting they have used to retain him over the last few years. So he'll be back. He'll probably have the season Brady just had, but he'll be back.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    Brees gives the Saints a better outlook for the 2020 campaign. Bridgewater gives the franchise a better look for multiple seasons. Since the Saints will have to pick between those two, they'll almost certainly go with the older, more familiar model because NFL franchises aren't good at long-term planning.

    Brad Gagnon: A

    Like Brady, he'll likely insist on returning to try to atone for a deflating home playoff loss. And if he wants to return, the Saints don't have much of a choice but to pay him. The organization knows what would happen to it if it were to let Brees walk and move on to Bridgewater or Taysom Hill.

    Gary Davenport: A+

    Hey, I know! Brees can go to New England, opening the door for Brady to be the Saints quarterback! Bridgewater was outstanding in place of an injured Brees earlier in the season, but there is no chance in Cleveland (by which I mean hell) that the Saints are moving on from the Saint. And he's not walking away after another devastating loss in the postseason.

Can the Eagles Trust the Injury-Plagued Carson Wentz Moving Forward?

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Fair or not, Carson Wentz is on the verge of being saddled with an injury-plagued designation.

    Why? His last three campaigns have ended because of an injury.

    Granted, each malady affected a different body part. In 2017, the quarterback suffered a torn ACL. Last season, a back injury put him on the shelf. During Sunday's 17-9 loss to the Seahawks, the fourth-year signal-caller suffered a head injury when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney fell awkwardly on top of him.

    The culmination of these injuries has caused Wentz to miss significant time and crucial games.

    "I feel bad for him," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson told reporters after Sunday's contest. "… I'm disappointed for him. I wanted this for him."

    At this point, can the Eagles trust their quarterback to be healthy for an entire season?


    Ty Dunne: A+

    He's the reason this injury-ravaged team was even in the playoffs. You can't control a defender rolling on top of your head. Wentz will be back in the playoffs again...and again...and again. Maybe other teams have buyer's remorse at quarterback, but not Philly.

    Mike Freeman: B

    It's a fair question, but yes, you trust him, because you don't have a better option. Wentz is talented, and the Eagles are better rolling the dice with him than starting over again with an unknown entity.

    Mike Tanier: A

    Miss me forever and ever and ever with the "Guy who got his helmet slammed into the ground by Clowney after starting all 16 games for a team whose receivers kept falling down manholes has an injury problem" angle. It's a talking point for people who want talking points, not facts or ideas.

    Brent Sobleski: C+

    Wentz's injury concerns date further back than his time in Philadelphia and well into the collegiate and high school ranks. He missed half of his senior year at North Dakota State with a broken wrist. A broken hand during his junior campaign stunted his recruitment out of high school. Wentz is a big-bodied quarterback who takes a beating, and his body hasn't been able to absorb the pounding.

    Brad Gagnon: C

    This was a "C+" at best prior to Sunday. It's concerning that Wentz suffered season-ending injuries in 2017 and 2018, but this was more of a freak injury on an illegal hit. I'm not going to hold this one against him. The Eagles, though, should already have been concerned about his durability, and that obviously shouldn't change now.

    Gary Davenport: A-

    I won't go "A" here because it would ignore the fact that Wentz does have an injury history. But getting clocked in the back of the head against Seattle is what it is: a fluke thing that just so happened to occur at a terrible time. During a year in which every Eagle got hurt, Wentz started all 16 games. Were it not for him standing on his head most of December, Philly wouldn't even have been in the playoffs.

DK Metcalf Becoming a Potential Star WR

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    The Seahawks are riddled with injuries. The offensive line is a mess. The team had to pull Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to man the backfield alongside quarterback Russell Wilson.

    On top of that, the Josh Gordon experiment failed (again). Seattle is running out of bodies to run its offense.

    But rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf emerged in the wild-card round with new career highs of seven receptions for 160 yards to offset the pressure Philadelphia applied on Wilson.

    The 6'4", 229-pound wide receiver is an awesome target in the vertical passing game. Lynch summed up the rookie's capabilities quite well.

    "That he a big ass dude who can move like that," the running back said when asked what impressed him most about Metcalf, per NBC Northwest's Joe Fann.

    With this latest performance, has the second-round receiver turned the corner from massive potential to breakout star?

    Ty Dunne: A

    He has everything—size, speed, power—and he's a far better route-runner than scouts expected. The entire league should be kicking itself for letting Metcalf slide to the bottom of the second round.

    Mike Freeman: A

    He's already a damn star. By the end of next season, we might be talking about him as a top-three wideout.

    Mike Tanier: B+

    Metcalf is going to have a Plaxico Burress career. He's never going to catch 120 passes or do the things Michael Thomas does. But huge, fast receivers create mismatches along the boundary and catch touchdown passes, and that's what Metcalf is going to do. As for all the pre-draft chatter about Metcalf's cone drills and such, just remember there's a big difference between what draft hipsters argue about on Tuesday mornings in March and what actually happens once players step onto the field.

    Brent Sobleski: C+

    Tyler Lockett prevents Metcalf from being graded higher. Lockett has quietly been one of the league's best targets over the last two seasons when healthy. Whereas, Metcalf will likely serve as a capable mismatch best suited for the deep game instead of becoming a truly complete wideout.

    Brad Gagnon: A

    That's 241 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back critical games for a dude who has been 22 for just three weeks. He entered the league with some developing to do, which makes his recent emergence scary.

    Gary Davenport: B

    Metcalf was two things entering the 2019 draft: raw and immensely physically talented. That he's put in the work to improve his craft has been evident as his rookie season has worn on. As a crow-eating doubter of Metcalf before he entered the NFL, I'll freely admit I was wrong. If he keeps working at his route-running, the star potential is there and then some.