Willo's 2021 stock report: Week Seventeen

By Thomas Willoughby

Can you believe we’re nearly there? 17 weeks gone by in a flash. The NFL season comes and goes in the blink of an eye, and we’ve only a week more to enjoy before the regular season makes way for playoff football.

It’s all coming to a head, but week 17 gave us some thrills and spills. Qualification, elimination, it had a bit of everything for everyone. So let’s dive in! Let’s go.

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We’ve spoken before about Ja’Marr Chase. Back in week seven, he was racking up yardage at a ridiculous level. With a game to play, he’s reset the rookie receiving yardage record, only a year after it was broken. And he did it against the Kansas City Chiefs. Ja’Marr Chase is ridiculous. We love to see it.

1429 yards and 13 touchdowns is excellent by anyone’s standards. But from a rookie? That’s crazy. It was only last season we saw Justin Jefferson manage 1400 yards, and couldn’t help but be impressed. But, from the moment the regular season began, Jefferson’s LSU teammate has looked set on breaking that record. And on Sunday, he did it in style. 266 yards from 11 receptions, and 3 touchdowns to boot. That performance handed Cincinnati the win they needed to secure their first divisional crown since 2015.

The selection of Chase raised some eyebrows back over draft weekend. Many thought that an offensive lineman, to protect their star quarterback, should have been the way to go. But Chase has proven himself to be more than worth the selection. He’s only just started, and he’s putting up these sorts of numbers. Imagine how good he’s going to be in 2025. Goodness.

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Going back to the rookie pass-catchers well, a few words on Kyle Pitts, who is pretty good! Like the Bengals with Chase, the Falcons raised more than a few eyebrows by opting for a Tight End with the fourth overall pick when they had the opportunity to take their quarterback of the future at that spot. Unlike Chase, you’d be hard pressed to argue that it’s really paid off. That doesn’t mean that he’s not been a success, mind. He absolutely has.

This past weekend, Kyle Pitts surpassed 1000 receiving yards. That’s pretty standard for most top receivers in 2021. But for a rookie tight end, that’s had exactly no help from the receivers around him? That’s excellent. Against the Bills, Pitts became only the second rookie tight end in history to surpass 1000 yards, and set the records for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season, and most receiving yards by a rookie in a single season, in Falcons history. That’s not bad, is it?

With the Falcons out of the playoff race (we’ll get to that, by the way), there are two things left to play for: stop the Saints from making it, and immortalise Kyle Pitts. He is 67 yards from setting the record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end, which is a record that has stood for 60 years. In another year to forget for Atlanta, that’s got to be worth something.

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Man, I slept on this race. It was only two weeks ago that I even highlighted the AFC playoff race. Now, with only a week to go, there are five teams vying for two spots. It’s all getting a bit spicy.

Two of the Colts, Chargers, Raiders, Steelers, and Ravens will join the five already qualified teams. While some need more help than others, it’s certainly going to be exciting to find out which teams crumble when the pressure’s on. That Ravens/Steelers game in the early kick certainly should grab your attention. But what we love most of all is permutations. And, boy, does Adam Beasley have a permutation for you.

In the 1982 World Cup, both West Germany and Austria knew they’d progress to the second group stage of the tournament if West Germany won 1-0. This was because Algeria had already played their last game of the group earlier in the day. What happened over the course of the game was so unsporting that it was decided that every last group-stage match from there on would kick-off at the same time to avoid that knowledge being readily available. It’s so bad that it has its own Wikipedia entry. Can you imagine the uproar if the final game of the regular season is a 3-3 epic? It’s almost worth rooting for.

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What a damp squib, eh? We’ve spent weeks hyping up the carousel of sadness that was the NFC wild-card race, only for it to be all but done with the final week of the season to play. Yes, there is a chance we could see some movement on the final day. But it’s proven to be less exciting than I imagined. Shame.

The Falcons losing to the Bills and Washington losing to the Eagles saw the pair eliminated. Had both won, they’d still be alive heading into the final weekend. They gave it a go, to their credit. Had it not been for an injury to Kyle Pitts in the first half, they might have had enough to even win that game. And Washington led themselves! For a bit. Unfortunately, those teams’ flaws were on full show in the second halves of those games, and their opposition secured post-season football there and then.

So we have one spot left to fill. If San Francisco avoids defeat to the Rams, they’re in. If they lose, however, the door opens for the New Orleans Saints. They face the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons, who have nothing but pride (and records) to play for. I’d have liked a bit more jeopardy, personally. But at least there’s something on the line, right?

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Sell Sell Sell!

One of my closest friends is a San Francisco 49ers fan. In 2014, there was something of a power struggle between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers brass, headed by Trent Baalke. He was stoutly in the corner of Harbaugh. The 49ers ownership backed Baalke, and followed up the Harbaugh era with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. So, you know, it worked out well. Anyway, Shad Khan saw that experience and thought “I’ll have a slice of that”.

Jacksonville in 2021 has been nothing short of an abomination. Urban Meyer. The Tim Tebow experience. Their 2020 first-round pick traded for peanuts. It’s been a disaster, and there’s one man behind everything they do: Trent Baalke. Time and again, Baalke has proven himself incapable of managing a side to any level of effectiveness, and it’s stunning how he’s even in the role still at this stage. 

Jaguars fans will go into Sunday’s fixture knowing they’re going to have the first overall pick for the second season in a row. With zero confidence in the direction of their club, they plan on dressing in clown suits, to protest the decision to keep Baalke on. That should be the tipping point. For the sake of the London Jaguars, Shad, move him on.

Featured Image Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


Thomas Willoughby