Willo's 2021 stock report: Week Four

By Thomas Willoughby

Normally, this would be the point of the season where I point out that the first quarter is over, and make some sort of reference to an actual football game. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”, and the like. But we can’t do that anymore, because we’re just under a quarter of the way through. I don’t even know what fraction we’re at.

Anyway, happy London games week, everybody! We’ve had a year off, but the NFL have bestowed to us two match ups between four of the leagues elite sides. Keep it at The Touchdown for build-up, but let’s get onto the stocks in the meantime!

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You don’t win anything in week four. Well, apart from a gam. Obviously. But you don’t win anything substantial. No divisions are won, and no champions are crowned. And no one has ever been awarded league MVP in that time either. But, if they did, there’s every chance that Kyler Murray would win it. Because he’s been really good.

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0. They’ve scored over 30 points in every single one of their games. A lot of that comes from their supremely talented offense, but the overwhelming majority of that comes from their exceptional quarterback. Across four games, Murray has 1273 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. So far, so blah. But he’s completed over 75% of his passes. That’s good! And the great thing with Murray is more than just as passer. Over 100 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns. The Rams, who have been stunning this season, didn’t come close on Sunday. It was the Kyler show. No one can stop him. No one can stop them.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m not high on the Cardinals. I think they’ve a lot of talent, but their head coach is a huge issue. I’m not even convinced they win the division. But you know what? It won’t be for the efforts for K1. He’s an exceptional player, and he’s going to end 2021 as one of the league’s elite.

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Something feels different in Dallas this season. Dak Prescott, having suffered a horrific season-ender in 2020, looks comfortable, and sharp. Ezekiel Elliott, who struggled to live up to his own legend in 2020, looks rejuvenated, averaging 5.3(!) yards per carry in 2021. The offense is stacked. The defense looks the part, too. The Dallas Cowboys are alive.

126 points in 4 games is really, really good. Conceding 97 points in 4 games isn’t brilliant, but you can get by. That’s where the Cowboys are at, right now. They’re an offense-first team, built of opportunism on the defense. What Dan Quinn has, pieces-wise, is almost exactly what he was trying to build in Atlanta. They’re a side built for the shoot-out, with the capacity to win in them. It’s fun! A football team built like few others.

I don’t know how far the Cowboys go in 2021. There are definitely better teams in the NFC, let alone the NFL. But they’re the cream of the East, by a mile. They’re playoff-bound, sans any catastrophes. If they roll into Tampa or Los Angeles in January, you wouldn’t exactly bet against them, would you?

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When the San Francisco 49ers traded 3 first-round picks and a third-round pick in 2022 to move up to 3rd overall in the 2021 draft, there was only one position they were going. A season removed from their Super Bowl defeat in February 2020, Kyle Shanahan was ready to select the player he believed would lead the franchise for the next decade. We know now that player would be Trey Lance, but he wouldn’t replace Jimmy Garoppolo immediately. He wasn’t ready to take over full time. Lance spent weeks 1-3 playing a complementary role. In week four, Garoppolo suffered a calf injury, ending his game at halftime. In steps Trey Lance. He looks…pretty ok?

Lance is clearly super raw, still. He’s not even 6 months into his 49ers career, that’s no time at all for a player to work through his flaws. It’s clear that Lance is so far from the finished article. But Lance did his absolute best to keep a 49ers team hellbent on shooting themselves in the foot. 157 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 41 rushing yards, in one half? Not bad going.

So why keep an eye on Trey Lance? Well, if we can glean anything from history, it’s that Jimmy Garoppolo’s calf injury will keep him out for a while. Lance may well step in as QB1 for the foreseeable future. And I’m not sure he gives up that title.

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Through four weeks of the season, I’m not sure there’s a more perplexing team in the league than the Tennessee Titans. They propelled themselves into relevancy only two seasons ago, and were a handful of plays from the Super Bowl. In 2020, they shook off COVID case after COVID case to return to the playoffs, only to lose to the Ravens. In 2021, they’re 2-2, and are bemusing.

Yes, they were without AJ Brown. Yes, they were without Julio Jones. But you simply do not lose to the New York Jets, and get away with it. The Jets are bad. Like, really bad. And they Matched the Titans near enough stride for stride, all the way into overtime. Tennessee would miss the field goal attempt that could have tied the game, and the result. They missed, and suffered an embarrassing defeat in the process.

The Titans should recover. They’re the best team in the AFC South by a mile. But there’s no reason to believe they’ll be much more than participants in January. I’m out on them.

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I don’t know what the people of Houston did to deserve this, but the Texans are an absolute mess. Both on and off the field. We all know what DeShaun Watson can do as a quarterback, but his off-field legal issue, rightly, means he’s a non-factor. Tyrod Taylor is a good quarterback, but he’s now out indefinitely. So Davis Mills got the call to start, and he is nowhere near ready. They lost 40-0 to the Bills on Sunday, putting them at 1-3, and with very little to look forward to.

This is a team with absolutely nothing to offer. Brandin Cooks is being asked to carry the load offensively, and he’s being blanketed. There is next to no ground game. The defense has talent, but not enough to mask the awful smell coming from the other side of the ball. It’s a team that is going through it right now, and there’s no real end in sight.

2021 is over for Houston. Unless they manage to secure an excellent quarterback in the next week, somehow, I see no reason to believe they’re winning any of their next six games, at least. 2022 isn’t going to be mch fun, either. It’s time to pack them away for a few years, and try again in 2025 or something. Sorry, Texans. You’re not going to have a good time for a little while.

Featured Image Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports


Thomas Willoughby