Willo's 2020 stock report: Week Sixteen
By Thomas Willoughby
A belated Merry Chirstmas everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful AND SAFE few days. Myself? Thanks for asking. I slept in later than I’ve ever done on Christmas Day, was truly spoilt by the people I love, and roasted a turkey (well, half) for the first time ever. Not only did we survive, but it was genuinely delicious. I’ve got a picture for anyone who wants one. No idea how anyone can carve that thing every year, mind. Made a real hash of that.
We also had a few games, if you noticed. As the season reaches its penultimate week, it’s clearer than ever what teams need to do to make the playoffs. With that in mind, let’s crack on. Who’s going up? Who’s coming down? And who deserves your attention in week 17? Here’s the stocks!
Not content with taking the AFC East crown from New England, the Buffalo Bills marched down to Foxborough on Monday night and royally took the Michael. Start pinching yourselves, Bills fans; your team is legitimate.
I’ve gone back through this season’s series, and I surprised myself at how few kudos I bestowed upon Sean McDermott’s men. It’s not like I’ve slept on them, either. Way back in week four, I urged you to invest everything in Josh Allen. Something I did by starting him every week in my fantasy team. How I didn’t win it all is a mystery. The curse of Ogunjobi-Wan Kenobi rages on. But all season I’ve enjoyed watching them. Their defense is amazing, but the way Brian Daboll has that offense purring is something else.
The Bills are back in the playoffs for the second straight season, and I see no reason why they’ll be “one and done” this time around. As of right now, they’re slated to face the Cleveland Browns who, if you’ve been following this series, I’m not particularly high on. Get your tables ready; they’re going to be a force in January.
I’ve discussed this class of quarterbacks on three separate occasions, both in detail and in passing. I think it’s made up of a wonderful group of players who, for the most part, will have long and successful careers. I want to zone in on one player for a moment, however. Over the course of the season, he’s been the stand out player. Despite being let down time and time again by his defense, and even his coaches, Justin Herbert has reached highs that few gave him a chance to. He is the obvious offensive rookie of the year winner. Take a bow, young man.
On Sunday, Herbert achieved something no rookie quarterback had achieved previously. A touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler meant that he owns the single-season passing touchdown record for a rookie. Herbert surpassed Baker Mayfield, who reset the record in 2018. When you look back at the great rookie seasons (Mayfield, Prescott, Griffin et al), that’s some doing.
It feels inevitable that the Chargers will clean house in the offseason, and Herbert will be working under a new play-caller. Whether being forced to learn a whole new system will affect his production remains to be seen, of course. By simply having him, however, puts the Chargers in a spot to attract some of the top names out there. I think he’s fantastic. The city of Los Angeles finally has a quarterback worth cheering for.
Keep An Eye On
It all comes down to this. We’ve made it to week 17, and only one division has yet to be truly decided; The NFC East. Unfortunately, we won’t be treated to a straight shootout between the division leaders, like we did with the NFC West in 2010, or the NFC South in 2014, but this is it. Will it be Washington? Can Dallas get it done? Or can Jones do the job for New York? Hold onto your hats.
For Washington, it’s simple: win, and you’re in. That was the case heading into the weekend, however. They were soundly beaten by a pretty poor Carolina Panthers outfit. It’s worth mentioning, however, that they were quarterbacked by a combination of Dwayne Haskins and Taylor Heinicke. That’s not ideal. They’ve released Haskins, and are hopeful that Alex Smith will be ok to play this weekend. In the event that he isn’t, however, it’s Heinicke to start.
Dallas and New York have a bit more against them. What they absolutely must do is win. The fact they’re playing each other does ramp up the excitement a little there. The history surrounding that fixture makes it required viewing. That it’s a game to earn the right to watch the final game of the weekend with some hope? Box office.
The key to all this, amazingly, is the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite being eliminated from the race on Sunday, Philly could act as kingmaker on Sunday night football. The Eagles, as you well know, hate the Cowboys. Now, I’m not saying that they would intentionally lose the game to keep Dallas out of the post-season. Would their fans be too upset with a loss on the final day? I can’t imagine so.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I was all in on the Los Angeles Rams. Since then, they’ve lost back to back, including handing the New York Jets their first win of the year. The Rams kind of look done right now. I’ve been sold a lie.
The moment that summed the Rams afternoon up on Sunday was early in the third quarter. Los Angeles were 13-6 down, yet had the ball at the Seahawks 2 yard line. That the Seahawks held, and forced a turnover on downs, the Rams isn’t necessarily a surprise. That McVay called 4 consecutive run plays, however, should be an indication as to how little belief he has in Jared Goff.
The Rams head into week 17 with a simple task in front of them. Beat the Cardinals, and they tie up a wild card spot. They can even make the cut with a loss, albeit relying on results going their way. In any case, they’ll have to do that without Jared Goff, who has undergone thumb surgery. In his place will be John Wolford, who plied his trade in the now-defunct AAF with the Arizona Hotshots. It’s all set up for Rams-shaped heartbreak.
Sell Sell Sell!
Oh Las Vegas. What are we going to do with you? Just like last year, you were in a position to kick on into the post-season, and make some real noise. They’re the only team to have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs, for goodness sake. SInce being slapped about by the mighty, mighty Atlanta Falcons, they’ve won 1 from 4. They head into week 17 7-8, with eyes firmly on 2021. A season that threatened to be genuinely good has descended into farce. Again.
Thursday night really was their last chance. They needed a lot to go in their favour, but a win was the bare minimum required to go into the weekend slate alive. It was a good game, too, with the lead changing hands four times in the final four minutes. But they absolutely bottled it. With 19 seconds left, and the ball firmly in the Dolphins half, Ryan Fitzpatrick launched the ball down the left sideline despite his vision being exceedingly obscured. “Blown coverage!” remarked the night’s lead commentator, Joe Davis. Seconds later, Jason Sanders knocked through a 44 yard field goal to hand the Dolphins a 26-24 victory. Appalling.
The Raiders are in a weird position. They have a lot of talent, and I can already see the “dark horse” tag being slapped on them heading into 2021. But there’s clearly a mental issue with that side. In that it lacks any amount of fortitude. The moment the season threatens to be a success, they collapse. Does that come from coaching? Or the key players in positions of leadership? I dunno. Why am I asking me? All I know is I have no reason to believe in them next year. To quote George W. Bush: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me…can’t get fooled again.”
Featured Image Credit: Ashley Landis – AP Photo