Five Wide: 2023 Week Twelve

By Thomas Willoughby

Peek behind the curtain here; I tend to write the bulk of this piece on Monday, and get it uploaded on Tuesday ready to go for Wednesday’s publishing. I usually leave a space or two just in case something big happens on Monday night football. Hedged my bets that nothing would happen. Pretty pleased with myself with that.

Another odd week in the old NFL. One truly stand-out game, and I’ve not bothered writing a word about it (until now). Apologies Eagles and Bills fans. Anyway, onto this nonsense.

Written in the stars

I’m not a gambling man, but I know the lengths that people will go to to try and get an edge on the bookmakers. You know full well a dad somewhere is unloading a lifetime of attention on his daughter to get a general idea when Taylor Swift is on tour, and when she might be at a Kansas City game. Marginal gains, baby. But where does it end? Can gamblers, for example, turn to astrology in order to beat the bookies?

Apparently so! In the habit of the lifetime, the hot shot Lions hosted the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, while the moon was waxing gibbous, no less, and got their backsides handed to them. That makes it 0-13 since the AFL/NFL merger, and a trend that, you have to say, is worth paying attention to. So when is the moon in its waxing gibbous phase next? Hell if I know. I think it’s 2029 based on the 10 minutes of research I did. Get your bets in now.

Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Jets Black Friday Sale: 95% off competence

Speaking of Thanksgiving, a quick word on this week’s scheduling. Simultaneously a blessing and a curse, for me. On the one hand, I enjoy sitting down on a random Thursday night and watching two NFL games (that late-night game isn’t happening unless it’s the Falcons). And the addition of the Friday night game? Gross intentions aside, I dig it. Appreciate it won’t likely stay due to blackout rules with High School and College football, but that was a nice surprise.

The downside was found only a couple of days later, however. That’s three (not counting that Thursday night game, that’s always going to be gone) games involving some pretty good teams off the table. A smaller slate of games on Sunday led to a less exciting redzone broadcast, and kind of exposed to a reality that I don’t think many of us want to face: there’s more mediocre talent in the NFL than there is top talent. 

None of the three additional games this past week were thrillers, so it’s difficult to argue that they were sorely missed on Sunday. The gulf in quality felt more obvious this weekend than it has previous ones as a result of bad teams having more of the spotlight available to them.

A Reich cock-up

The second domino has fallen, and, I will say, this one’s surprised me a little bit. Frank Reich has been relieved of his duties, making the Carolina Panthers the second team to call time on their current regime. He ended his career in Carolina with a 1-10 record, bottom of the worst division in football. The organision now begins its earch for it’s fourth (permanent) head coach since David Tepper took over in 2018. Lee Wakefield did a good job breaking down the situation here, but that’s not good, is it!

The question to this will always be “with the organisation as unstable as it is, who’d want to go to there?!?” to which the answer will always be “there are only 32 of those jobs in the world, loads of people will take it”. That’s not really the point, I know, but try to keep that in mind when Ben Johnson inevitabley takes the gig and your first thought is “WHY”. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the franchise right now, there’s actually a few good reasons for a prospective head coaching candidate to be interested in the gig.

For one, they’ve got their QB. I think. This year’s been so bad for the Panthers that you’re willing to believe that Young’s growing pains go beyond “he’s a bust”. Given Carolina doesn’t have a first-round pick in 2024, someone high up better believe in him, right? Secondly, the division is a mess. The Buccaneers are weird, the Saints have created a $75 million QB problem, and the Falcons refuse to acknowledge their QB problem full stop. If someone comes in and can get the Panthers playing even average football, they’d probably win the division. Finally, they’re going to have a little bit of play with. Not much, granted, but the Panthers are slated to enter 2024 with about $34million in cap space. The Panthers could easily improve their talent level in 2024 without stepping foot on the practice field. That has to be somewhat enticing. 

I look at this Panthers side and get the same feeling I do with the 2016 Los Angeles Rams. When you look back, you see a former first-overall QB struggling on a losing team that doesn’t have much of any draft capital as a result of trading for him. It’s like poetry, each stanza rhymes with the last. All Carolina needs to do is find the new Sean McVay. Easy!

Jacob Kupferman-AP

Toxic and Terrible

Speaking of the South; the NFLs best rivalry saw its first leg this weekend, as the Falcons threw open their doors to the New Orleans Saints. Listen, I know people will try to argue the Packers/Bears or 49ers/Seahawks are *bigger*, but I would strongly argue that Falcons/Saints is the most toxic. These boys are BAD BAD, and they’d still rather win than aim for better draft standing. Don’t believe me? Here’s how an actual Avenger is treated when they don a jersey of one of these teams in their opponent’s home.

It was a pretty ugly game, all things told. Two bad teams playing badly. The only really notable moments were from a Jessie Bates pick-6 and Bijan “Bisto” Robinson logging a rushing and a receiving touchdown. But it was chippy, and horrible. Players were getting hit a bit harder than usual. Cordarelle Patterson was lifted off the ground and slammed down at one point. The Falcons even refused to put “Saints” on the scoreboard. “Falcons 24-15 Visitors” will suffice. So wonderfully petty.

With that win, the Falcons tied the overall series record at 54 wins each, and took a step on the Saints including playoff fixtures, leading 55-54. Not too long ago this fixture enjoyed back-to-back seasons as the Thanksgiving Thursday Night game. Before then, it was a Christmas Eve fixture. I urge the NFL to consider putting it back in the spotlight in 2024, and allow our holiday seasons to toxicify somewhat as a result.

Cleveland are donezo, mate

Is now a good time to write off the Cleveland Browns? I think now’s a good time to write off the Cleveland Browns. I’ve not been sold on them really all season (Deshaun Watson is NOT living up to that contract in any capacity), but that defense has kept them alive. And the offense has done just enough to chug along. They went into this weekend 7-3, with Dorian Thompson-Robinson starting at QB following a season ending injury last week afflicting the aforementioned Watson. Can they keep their post-season dreams alive? You know the answer is know. You read the start of the paragraph.

They were really bad on Sunday. Like, they kind of looked ok to begin with, but things unraveled. DTR was hauled after getting stung on a big hit but things were pretty bad before then. The Broncos played mistake-free football and let the Browns beat themselves. They’ve won 5 in a row, by the way. That’s gross.

As for the Browns, they’ve got a pretty rough final six, not least with a rookie backup starting down the stretch. It would be very impressive if they made it from here, let me tell you. Win at the Rams on Sunday and I’ll reconsider my stance. For now, I’m calling time on the Browns season early. 

Features Image Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Willoughby