Willo's 2021 stock report: Week Sixteen

By Thomas Willoughby

Merry Christmas, all. I hope we all got through the mania safe and well, and that Father Christmas brought you everything you wanted. I received a custom Falcons jersey, to remind me of the time the Falcons played in London. It is lovely, yes.

Enough about me, though. We’ve had a full slate of fixtures, and plenty of drama along the way. Let’s push the leftovers to one side for a minute, and get into some NFL-related hijinx. Here’s the stocks!

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Cards on the table, I had Burrow behind Tua Tagovailoa heading into last season. AND I MAINTAIN that Tua Tagovailoa is going to have a really, really good NFL career, by the way (Falcons pls consider having a look). I was impressed by him in 2020, and the way he managed to perform despite the Bengals’ many, many failings, that ultimately spelled the end of his rookie season early. But he’s back. Not only is he back, he’s slapping a clown suit on anyone who dare question his legitimacy.

Enter Don “Wink” Martindale.

“I don’t think we’re ready to buy Joe a gold jacket yet” is a pretty innocuous statement, to be fair. He could have said a lot worse. But Burrow saw that as motivation enough to let loose. 525 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and a massive win over their nearest competition in the AFC North race. Burrow has the Bengals in the driver’s seat for their first divisional crown, and a playoff berth, since 2015.

Joe Burrow is just really, really good. He stepped into the breach after a number of very, very poor years in Cincinnati, and has looked the part, near enough, from day one. All that’s left is for Burrow to deliver the Bengals’ first post-season win in over 30 years. 


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For the third time this season, we’re handing kudos to a rookie pass catcher. Amon-Ra St. Brown is someone who’s been on my radar for a while. Don’t believe me? Here I am calling him a hidden gem 9 months ago! Seeing him blossom into a legitimate weapon in a horrible situation has me looking like a proud parent. He’s going to be really good for a while, guys.

No, his season stats aren’t overly impressive. 692 receiving yards through 15 games isn’t great. Since week 13, however, St. Brown has been treated like the Lions’ WR1. In that four-game stretch, St. Brown has managed between 8 and 10 receptions a game, over 70 yards a game, and notched a touchdown in three of those four games. Against the Falcons, he looked pretty unstoppable. 9 catches from 11 targets, a touchdown, and miles away from Josh Reynolds, who had the second-most yards on the day. Blimey.

The Lions have their new WR1 from a fourth-round selection. St. Brown’s emergence in recent weeks should be seen as a huge plus in Dan Campbell’s favour, but also Brad Holmes’. Will this carry through to 2022? We’ll see. Another good draft class, and a haul in FA, might see his role diminished. But he’s developed nicely, and has the opportunity to further his growing reputation against the Seahawks and the Packers before the seasons close. I like him, basically. He’s on his way.

Keep An Eye On

I started the season very high on Baker Mayfield. I would like to double down and say that I still like Baker Mayfield. I think he’s good. He’s dealt with a very tumultuous situation in Cleveland since he was drafted, which doesn’t seem to be close to steadying. Not many players could thrive in that scenario. He’s also spent the majority of 2021 with a very injured shoulder, which, obviously, isn’t good. But the wider view of his isn’t overly positive, I believe. 

Mayfield has both been hailed the saviour of the Browns, and the one thing holding them back. The Browns are still (just about) in the playoff hunt, but there’s a growing belief that he isn’t the man to take them much further than they’ve already gotten. Which is why I want to keep an eye on Baker over the final two weeks of the season. I can’t see a way for Cleveland to make the playoffs in 2021, but I do know that he needs to perform better than he has moving forward. Why? Well, he’s on the hook for over $18mil next season.

I want to reiterate: I like Baker Mayfield, and I would be more than happy to see my own team line him up under center. But his fifth year option sees his cap hit jump by $8mil in 2022. Realistically, Mayfield isn’t likely to command less than that when his contract is up. Do the Browns truly back their guy, or are they closer to being in agreement with the general populous? I doubt we’ll glean a great deal from that question over the next two weeks, but it’ll be an interesting thread to explore next season.

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I tell you who are a weird team: The Los Angeles Chargers. One week they look like the next great dynasty. The next, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re one of the league’s bottom feeders. Fortunately for them, they’ve looked closer to the former than the latter more often than not. Unfortunately for them, they’re looking closer to the latter right now.

The Houston Texans are really, really bad. They’ve question marks at just about every position on their roster, and routinely concede more than 30 points. And they nearly did, again! The Chargers put up 29 points on Sunday, and, in most cases, that’d be enough to win. But the Texans offense, that had averaged 13.7 points a game so far this season, put up 41 points. Themselves. If you’re a team with playoff intentions, that’s just not good enough.

The Chargers are in the playoff hunt. They’re only a game behind the Colts and Patriots, and are only out of a wildcard spot thanks to tiebreakers with the Dolphins. They face the Broncos and Raiders in the final two games of the season, both of whom have their own ambitions for post-season football. Unless they figure things out sharpish, there’ll only one team that willl be playing playoff football at So-Fi Stadium next month.

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Saw what you like about the NFL, but they’re absolutely committed to playing their schedule on time. That is, simultaneously, a positive and a negative. Take the current Premier League situation, for example. At the time of writing, 18 fixtures have been postponed due to COVID outbreaks within certain squads. A great number of those games have been cancelled mere hours before a game was due to kick off (Aston Villa vs Burnley, for example). What you get, however, is, in a lot of cases, depth names being asked to start when they’re nowhere near ready. The fans are getting the product, but the product isn’t what the fans expected when they signed up.

The NFL has been very good at keeping COVID at bay. And I appreciate that its interests are tied to that of their investors, and simply cannot afford to add a full week onto the schedule. So they take a flexible approach. Last week, for example, we saw three games moved from their Saturday/Sunday slots onto Monday and Tuesday. Fortunately, this weekend, we didn’t see a single game moved. That’s great! Some of the comments from the league’s medical department? Not so.

On the NFL Network, Dr Allen Stills went as far as to suggest those with COVID, whom are asymptomatic, tend to not transmit the virus to others in the same way those with symptoms do. It feels like there is about to be a push from the NFL to make it easier for players testing positive to play with COVID. Which, obviously, is pretty dangerous.

Listen, I want this thing to be over as much as the next man. I’m sick of it, too. But there has to be an understanding that we’re going to have repeated spikes over the course of the next few years unless it’s tackled seriously. The NFL, influential as it is, is playing a dangerous game by opening the door to COVID positive cases playing the game while positive. Continue down this road, and we face the same problem in 2022 and beyond.

Featured Image Credit: Rich von Biberstein-Getty Images

Thomas Willoughby