Willo's 2020 stock report: Week Seven

By Thomas Willoughby

I think, when the dust settles on 2020, we’ll look back on this season as the point when the league got really interesting. Heading into week 7, there were 3 sides unbeaten. Two of those sides played each other, and the other was against a divisional rival. Coming out, only the Pittsburgh Steelers remain loss-less, and they even threatened to lose late on.

It’s certainly been a good week for the sport, in regards to setting up the narratives late on. But that’s not why you’re here. Let’s talk about some nonsense. Here’s the stock report!

Invest Heavily

Two weeks ago, I took aim at the NFC East. It remains, comfortably, the worst division in football right now. Possibly the worst division, top to bottom, in modern history. I try to take the rough with the smooth, here, so let’s spin that notion on its head completely. The NFC West is absolutely obscene right now. 

3 of the 4 sides making up that division have 5 wins. The San Francisco 49ers, at 4-3, just handed the New England Patriots the worst home defeat of the Bill Belichick era, and their worst loss in general since a 31-0 loss to the Bills in 2003. The Rams, currently 3rd in the division, hung 24 points on a brilliant Bears defense. This past weekend, the Cardinals hosted the Seahawks, and defied the odds to hand Seattle their first loss of 2020. 

I’ve already spoken about my dislike of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff, but their deficiencies can be masked by the level of brilliance held by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. Regardless, all 4 sides are capable of winning every game they play. The only thing that stands in their way is a spate of injuries and, as the 49ers have shown, even that can be overcome.

I’m not sure all 4 sides will make the playoffs. There is a lot of talent in the NFC, and you can make the case for at least 3 sides outside of the West being a wildcard side. But the West as a whole will be there or thereabouts. We might be in a situation where 11 wins might not be enough to make the cut. Incredible.

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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Admit it. When you saw Tom Brady was making the move south, to Tampa Bay, you couldn’t help but dream of a world where it was all over. The master/apprentice pairing of Belichick and Brady was separated, and neither would thrive apart. I know I did. In fact, I was convinced that Brady would live to regret that move, on the basis that the Buccaneers simply weren’t very good. I somehow forgot that winning 6 Super Bowls is an alright achievement.

Tom Brady, in 2020, has been annoyingly good. On Sunday, against a Las Vegas Raiders that is actually pretty good, he dropped 369 yards and 4 touchdowns. This season as a whole, he’s put up 18 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, to the tune of just over 1900 yards. He is, by every possible metric, balling.

Whether he has the ability to keep it going remains to be seen. About halfway through last season, his arm practically fell off. That said, he didn’t have access to anything close to what he has in Tampa Bay, weapons wise. Right now, though, they’re playing at an exceptionally high level. Don’t be shocked when they win the NFC South, and go deep in the playoffs. Moving forward, I ask we make moving from Bill Belichick to Bruce Arians illegal.

Keep An Eye On

Someone who clearly isn’t benefitting from the Brady move is Bill Belichick. The New England Patriots are not in a good way right now. That misery was compounded on Sunday, when the 49ers walked into Gillette Stadium and utterly waxed them. Oh it’s a real shame, isn’t it? Poor Patriots.

Listen, I won’t revel in their current hardships totally, but I’d be lying if there wasn’t an element of Shaudenfreude to Sunday evenings events. But there’s a trend appearing that should give Belichick and company nightmares. 3 losses from the last 4 games, all of which saw them fail to score 12 points. Despite their depleted defense doing its best to hang in games, Josh McDaniels’ offense simply cannot get it done right now. 

There are a few things to consider. As I mentioned, their defense is missing key pieces. The Patriots, seemingly more than anyone else, had several players opt out of 2020 owing to COVID-19. Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 less than a month ago. I’m absolutely not speculating on his health, but we simply do not know the long term effects of that virus just yet. Either way, he’s throwing to basically no one. As a roster, it’s as threadbare as you can get.

So why should we keep an eye on a 2-4 side that likely won’t begin recovering for 2 weeks? Well, they’re the Patriots. Despite everything, I’m refusing to count them out. Until they’re truly buried, I fully expect them to turn it around and sweep to the Conference game. Let’s just enjoy it, for now.

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Full disclosure: I had decided on this section long before this past weekend’s games played out. Save for a 250+ yard, 3 touchdown game, this spot would always be occupied by Odell Beckham Jr. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Across the globe (well, everywhere apart from New Zealand), the general population is being forced to make sacrifices to protect the health of those around us. We’ve written the past 7 months off to stay at home basically 100% of the time. A lot of us have taken a forced reduction in our income so businesses can survive. We’re adapting to a world trying to get a fatal virus under control. Sadly, a lot of people have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19. A lot of us are doing everything we can to keep more from dying.

So when Odell Beckham Jr, one of the league’s few international superstar names, publicly announces that he doesn’t “think COVID can get to me”, all of that sacrifice is basically for nothing. “I don’t want no parts of it, it don’t want no parts of me” is a stupidly arrogant statement to make. Especially when at least 1.16 million people worldwide, 226,000 people in the US, and 5200 people in Ohio, the state he resides in, have lost their lives to it.

Again, this section was prepared well before the events of this weekend transpired, and I truly wish him the best as he recovers from a season-ending injury. Hopefully the injury gods show his ACL more compassion than he has to those afflicted by this truly relentless virus.

Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch-Getty Images

Sell Sell Sell!

I can’t just pick on the NFC East every week. At some point it becomes bullying. So let’s try and get creative here. The current Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Mike McCarthy, is over as an NFL Head Coach. He’s done.

His time at Green Bay should be looked back on by Packers fans with great fondness. McCarthy put together an exceptional Packers side that, after 14 years of coming close, delivered a Super Bowl to title town in 2010-11. While they weren’t able to follow that success up with further trips to the big dance, they came awfully close on a number of occasions. Sadly, his time at Lambeau ended not with a bang, not even with a wimper, but with disgust. Think of the circumstances Arsene Wenger left Arsenal under. They’re almost identical here.

He spent a year out of the game, and took over a Cowboys side capable of a deep playoff run. All he needed to do was replicate the scenario he was in early on at Green Bay. Obviously, he has not.

The Cowboys sit 2-5 in the NFC East, less than a game behind the division-leading Eagles. They are coaching competence away from being 0-7. Their offense existed purely on the arm of Dak Prescott. With him out for the season, they do not exist. He handed the keys to the defense over to Mike Nolan. As a Falcons fan, I can’t tell you how much of a stupid idea that is.

Mike McCarthy needed to reinvent himself to be a success in Dallas. He did not. They might still win the division, but it certainly wouldn’t be by his hand if they do. Dallas would be wise to totally reassess that position.

Thomas Willoughby