Willo's 2021 stock report: Week Two
By Thomas Willoughby
Is it just me, or has there been a higher volume of high-quality matchups through these first two weeks than last season? I’m struggling to remember a time when we got given the Ravens vs Raiders AND the Ravens vs Chiefs, or equivalent, in weeks one and two of a new season. There are some genuinely good sides with a .500 or less record right now, and it’s setting the season up very nicely.
Yes, we’re back with a whole new edition of the stocks! And you have to get on them now, otherwise you won’t be able to give me stick in 4 or 5 weeks times when everything I’ve said is turned on its head!
Can I shock you? I like Baker Mayfield. Long time readers of the stocks won’t find that much of a shock, to be fair. I used the exact same line in week 14 last season. NEVERTHELESS. I like Baker Mayfield. He’s a technically sound quarterback dealt arguably the worst possible hand coming out of college. Fast forward 3 full seasons, and the Cleveland Browns (no, I can’t quite believe it either) are one of the most exciting teams in football. Mayfield has played a massive role in that.
We took a look at their week one defeat to the Chiefs last week, but their win over the Texans this week was just as impressive. Mayfield bounced back from an early interception to end the day with 213 yards, a passing touchdown, 10 rushing yards, and a rushing touchdown. So far, so blah. It was the manner of the victory, and the performance, that struck me. See, the Texans aren’t good. But they came to play on Sunday, and the Browns needed their franchise QB to step up in critical moments. He did, giving the Browns 22 first downs, as well as converting 4 out of 9 3rd downs. It was efficient.
I think the Browns are a good team, and I think they’ve got a guy in Mayfield. He’s unfortunate to be in the same conference as Mahomes, Jackson, Allen et al, but he’s shown over the last two weeks that he can put the Browns in a position to hang with the best. Good on him.
Speaking of coming up clutch, a word on Lamar Jackson, who is EXCELLENT, by the way. Lamar and friends fell victim to an overtime defeat in week one, and had the toughest test in the sport in week two. They hosted the Kansas City Chiefs, who you might have heard of. Oh, and to make things more difficult, they’d lost approximately 78 players to injury. Incredibly, they put those ingredients together and came out with a win. Lamar was to thank.
239 passing yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions? Not that good. Tack on 107 rushing yards and 2 more touchdowns? That’s more like it. Jackson really did have to do it all on Sunday night. Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray, and Devonta Freeman are a reasonable enough running back room in 2021, but there’s a reason two of them weren’t on a team last week, and the other was due to be 3rd on the Ravens depth chart heading into week 1. Jackson basically had to elevate those guys by himself. AND keep the passing game ticking. Oh, and pick up a crucial 4th down at the end of the game. Phew.
Lamar Jackson is a stud quarterback, and I won’t hear anything otherwise. His performances since taking over the starting gig in 2018 have been nothing short of stunning, and he’s effectively returned the Ravens to relevance in that time by himself. He’s going to have another excellent year. Get on the train now, and enjoy the ride.
Keep An Eye On
Ok. Let’s try this again, shall we? In 2019, I got excited by the Oakland Raiders run of form heading into the business end of the season, and they made me look foolish by blowing it. In 2020, I got excited by the Las Vegas Raiders run of form heading into the business end of the season, and they made me look foolish by blowing it. In 2021? Let’s do things a little differently.
The Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0, and have beaten the Baltimore Ravens AND the Pittsburgh Steelers on their way to that record. They’ve faced two legitimately competitive sides, back to back, and come up with two wins. Derek Carr, the Raiders offense in general, has looked electric. This week, the Raider defense showed up too. They’re in a really good spot right now, with the banged-up Dolphins round the corner. So what gives?
Fool me once? Shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me. Fool me THRICE? Well…umm…won’t get fooled again. I’m not diving in just yet. Let’s put a pin in the Raiders, and come back to them later in the year. We’ve acknowledged you. We’re aware of you. Now don’t mess it up.
I feel for Jared Goff. I gave him a bit of a kicking last season, and, since then, things haven’t gone to plan. His Rams were booted from the playoffs, and he was subsequently booted from his position as their starting quarterback in favour of Matthew Stafford. He’s replaced Stafford in Detroit, and has actually looked pretty ok. But those Lions. They just can’t catch a break right now.
Just when it looked like they were getting blown out in week one, they threatened to overturn a huge deficit to the 49ers. On Monday Night Football, they went toe to toe with their Wisconsin-based rivals, at Lambeau Field, and had a 17-14 lead at half time. They lost 35-17. It really could have gone better.
The second half implosion was a sight to behold. A botched 4th down attempt turned the ball over on downs, and Jared Goff fumbled the ball away inside the Lions 30, as Green Bay hit the Lions for 3 touchdowns unanswered in the 3rd and early 4th quarters. It was all so self-inflicted.
The worst part is that the Lions have looked ok, in spells. But 71 points conceded in 2 games isn’t the platform you want to jump from moving forward. In week three, they host the Baltimore Ravens. Best to assume 2021 is going to be a rough one.
Sell Sell Sell!
I’m not much of a betting man. Rarely will I have a flutter and, when I do, I do so expecting to lose my money immediately. IF I WERE, however, I’d be inclined to look at the “first head coach to lose their job” market. Whatever odds Zac Taylor has on him, take them. It’s free money.
We discussed Zac Taylor last season, and, I’m sorry to say, little has changed. An overtime win against the Minnesota Vikings in week one allowed us to dream of a successful Bengals side, only for us to crash down to Earth in week two. The Chicago Bears, having lost their starting quarterback early, were offering very little on offense. The Bengals managed to offer exactly nothing in response. They lost 20-17, and looked dreadful in the process.
I don’t know what to say, at this stage. Zac Taylor is now in year 3, and has a worse record with the Bengals in that time than the New York Jets. Taylor has an excellent young quarterback in Joe Burrow, an exciting receiving room for Burrow to call on, and a largely functional defense on the other side of the ball. Are the Bengals any better now than they were when Taylor took over? You’d be hard-pressed to argue “yes”.
This is a make-or-break season for Zac Taylor. They need to see some serious steps forward, or it’s over. If I were calling it shots, it’d have been over last season. I don’t see any reality where this ends well.
Featured image credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports