Willo's end of Season 2020 report
By Thomas Willoughby
Welcome back, all. I hope you all enjoyed a few weeks off from this nonsense. It’s been lovely to not have to think about all the negatives surrounding the league for a while, personally, and I’ve really enjoyed just watching this years slate of playoffs, even if we didn’t get the Nickelodeon broadcast of the Saints/Bears. I would have really liked to have seen Spongebob Sportspants.
It’s been an up and down year, to say the very least, in the NFL. Before we turn our collective attentions to the Super Bowl, let’s take a look back at the season at large, and see who’s risen the highest, and who’s fallen the lowest.
As a sidenote, I had planned to do this in the style of an end of year report, but I have never read one of those. If anyone has, and has some pointers for 2021, please let me know so I can be better. Thank you.
The Kansas City Chiefs ended the regular season 14-2, and are headed to their second Super Bowl in as many years. Patrick Mahomes is the youngest quarterback to have played in 3 AFC Championship games. Andy Reid looks set to (somehow) keep hold of every major piece in his coaching team. The Kansas City Chiefs are a side that are going to dominate the AFC for the foreseeable future. Controversial take, I know.
I spoke, at length, about what I think about Patrick Mahomes, and why I think he will be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game when the book is written. You can read that here. There’s more to this team than just the new hot, though. Tyreek Hill makes people miss tackles at an alarming rate. Tests will have to be done on Travis Kelce’s hands to confirm they aren’t actually lined with velcro. They can even rely on Harrison “butt kicker” Butker to kick them out of a jam if need be. Most importantly, they have a defense.
Steve Spagnolo is someone Tony Romo could talk about for hours, I think. Every time I watch the Chiefs, Romo is on commentary, and loves to wax lyrical about “Spags”. And he’s right to. Over their playoff runs, both this season and last, the Chiefs defense has shown up. They are brutal, and swarming, and capable of holding down anyone. That’s what you need.
I’m not going to give a Super Bowl prediction here. But I’m telling you that the Chiefs will be in the AFC Championship game again next season. Maybe even the game after that, too. They’re built to win, and win often. With so many sides threatening to become the next dynasty, the Chiefs are the ones that will make it happen. Believe me.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected is seconds away from happening at any given time. Case in point, Josh Allen, much maligned by me before he was drafted, has become a legitimate NFL quarterback. Again, I know I’ve talked about him before, but it’s worth repeating. 2020 is the year Josh Allen properly arrived. Good for him.
He was pretty good in 2019, too. He just needed a couple of pieces around him to really crack on. The Bills got him a very important piece, mind. Stefon Diggs has gone from being the de-facto number 2 in Minnesota to the undisputed number 1 in Buffalo, and propelled himself into the conversation of the leagues very best. I have to stress, though; thanks to the efforts of Josh Allen, as well as Brian Daboll, Diggs is in that situation.
The Bills made the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen was a massive part of that, and you wouldn’t be shocked to see him receive any number of MVP votes. No, they weren’t good enough in the Championship game. But only two sides (Las Vegas in week 5 and, bizarrely, the Falcons in week 16) have been. They have the opportunity to make the AFC East their own for the next few years. Regroup, tool up, learn to TRUST YOUR QUARTERBACK on critical fourth downs, and they’ll be back before they know it. As for Josh Allen? Keep up the good work of making me look stupid.
Keep An Eye On
Speaking of the AFC East, I think that division is on the verge of becoming the most competitive in the league. A large part of that is, incredibly, down to the Miami Dolphins. Imagine, at the start of 2019, telling NFL fans that the Dolphins were poised to make a run at their division. They’d be baffled. Or livid. Or a combination of the two. I know I would.
The Dolphins are in as good a position as you can hope to be. You’ve a defense capable of being dominant, and metric boatload of cap space, a coach who has shown time and again over his two season stint to be one of the smartest in the game, and a top 3 draft pick thanks to Houston-based incompetencies. They head into 2021 a 10-6 team, with some top tier pieces on their roster, and the capability of adding some more through the draft, and free agency. This team is going places.
The popular conversation around Miami right now is that of Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa started 9 of the last 10 Miami games, ending his rookie season with a 6-3 record, recording 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and 1814 yards. 3 of those picks came in the season closer, when the Dolphins were already behind. He played some really good stuff, in spells, and it felt like he was being handled with kid gloves, almost. I want to remind you that Miami built their 2019 side specifically to lose enough games so they could draft Tagovailoa. They have already begun building an offensive coaching group to help him progress, moving on from Chan Gailey this off-season.
With two first-round picks, I expect the Dolphins to take an actual receiver for Tua to throw to. This Dolphins offense will explode the moment they get Tagovailoa some legitimate weapons. In 2021, they will go toe to toe with the Bills for the East. Mark my words.
2020 has not been kind to Carson Wentz. He started the year, back in January, receiving a concussion before the Eagles playoff defeat to the Seattle Seahawks had even really begun. A few months later, he saw one of his few receiving targets, Nelson Agholor, leave for pastures new in Las Vegas. To cap off a horrid few months, Howie Roseman decided, seemingly on a whim, that the Eagles were going to become a “QB factory” (his words, not mine), and drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round, having passed on Justin Jefferson a round earlier. Not great
Still, Wentz, is a professional. Having played out a quietly underrated season in 2019, he looked set to bounce back, and lead the Eagles to a third NFC East division crown in four seasons. He decided, of all the seasons, to have the worst season of his professional career thus far. Benched for the aforementioned Hurts in week 13, Wentz ended 2020 with 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and 2620 passing yards. Not great for someone the organisation considers the face of their franchise.
There is, of course, more to it than we’re privvy to. The Philedelphia Inquirer has put together a very good piece on the deteriorating relationships between the Eagles figureheads, which I urge you to read. Purely from what I see on a week to week basis, however; I think Carson Wentz is done. I spoke about Wentz’s decline in week three, but it’s far worse than I thought back then. There’s no zip to his throws. There’s no air under his passes. If his first read isn’t open, he panics and tries to take off. Wentz is mechanically, and mentally, a broken player, and I’m unsure if he can recover.
New Head Coach, Nick Sirianni, has his work cut out. It’s one thing calling plays for Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers. It’s another entirely trying to revive the career of a player a million miles from where he was even a year ago. I’m sorry to say, I can’t see it happening. Roll with Hurts.
Sell Sell Sell!
Put their regular season record to the wayside for just a second. The Pittsburgh Steelers should look back on 2020 as a massive waste of everyone’s time. They were 11-0, yet playing some entirely unconvincing football. They lost four from their final five games, which should have sent alarm bells ringing. Did they heed those warnings? Did they heck. The Pittsburgh Steelers should be ashamed.
They went into the playoffs matched up against a side that hadn’t made it to the postseason for years. A side built of a strong ground game, helmed by a quarterback capable of making the plays to compliment it. in the days building up to the game, they showed a complete lack of respect towards their opposition, suggesting they’d considered the game a done deal, and had turned their attentions to the road ahead. Gameday rolls around, and they get the brakes beaten off of them early, before staging some sort of attempted comeback to try and save face. When they lose, they decide to talk about how their opponent won’t make it past the next round. Oh, you thought I was talking about the 2020 Steelers? Lol, no. These are the 2017 Steelers, who just let the Jaguars move on to the AFC Championship game.
The Steelers have learned nothing in the past three seasons. The players are still unreasonably arrogant for a side that hasn’t made the Super Bowl in a decade. The quarterback is still trying to play hero, despite being physically incapable of maneuvering the pocket like he could even 5 years ago. They’re a side incapable of progressing, with a culture of entitlement embedded into a crop of players that haven’t earned a thing.
I like Mike Tomlin a lot. I think he has been excellent throughout his career, and will be excellent in the future. But it’s time to be bold, and be aggressive. Move on from the coaches around you that have failed, and move on from the quarterback that hasn’t been anything close to himself for years. He has a choice, now, to fundamentally correct the culture within the Steelers, or risk 2021 and beyond being another waste of everyone’s time.
Featured Image Credit: Jeff Roberson-AP Photo