You have to wonder if the Kansas City Chiefs are bored. Perhaps they can’t fully get up for some of these out-of-conference games. Maybe they’re trying to peak for the playoffs.
We know this, Andy Reid’s offense sure didn’t peak for the fantasy playoffs.
The Chiefs secured a 17-14 victory over Atlanta on Sunday, but it wasn’t vintage Chiefs by any means. Kansas City had a couple of sloppy turnovers — and a third gift interception was dropped — and only scored three times. If not for a short miss from Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, Kansas City would be pressed into overtime.
Patrick Mahomes posted ordinary numbers — certainly less than we expect against a spotty Falcons defense. He finished with 278 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, two touchdown passes, one pick. He’s the QB11 as we go to press, on the heels of last week’s QB9.
No one disputes Mahomes is the league’s signature player, and he was the MVP favorite (likely flipped now) into Week 16. But he’s been a little off in recent games.
It’s been surprising to see Kansas City’s fantasy tree be limited to just three reliable starts in most weeks. Mahomes is always too good to sit, Travis Kelce (13-7-98-1) has crushed all the tight ends, and Tyreek Hill (6-4-65-0) is also very consistent, though the Falcons contained Hill on Sunday. But the Kansas City backfield has been a fool’s errand for most of the year, and that trend continued in Week 16. Even with Clyde Edwards-Helaire out, Le’Veon Bell did very little (eight touches, 39 yards). Darrel Williams led the backfield in touches (14) and yards from scrimmage (73).
A fourth-down play in the middle of the second quarter perfectly summed up the Kansas City malaise. Faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 26-yard line, the Chiefs dialed up an option pass from WR Sammy Watkins — with Mahomes the intended target. The play was well defended and had no real chance of being completed; Watkins chucked it up anyway, perhaps because it was fourth down or maybe because one-time quarterbacks always wanna shoot their shot. The Falcons intercepted the pass at the 2-yard line; at least Kansas City got a de-facto punt out of it.
NFL fans might wonder why we’re even discussing this — after all, the Chiefs now have a 10-game winning streak. But that run has been marked by occasional sloppiness in the red area, or late-game defensive lapses. Frame it this way — if we grade last week’s win at New Orleans as a push against the spread (it was -3 in many shops, not all), the Chiefs haven’t covered against the spread since Week 8.
And when you’re not covering, it’s fair to say, you’ve been a minor disappointment. We’re just hoping to see the Chiefs hit the high end of their range a little more often.
Look for most of the main Chiefs to rest some or all of next week’s game against the Chargers, which is now meaningless. Andy Reid and Company have two weeks to figure this out, before returning to playoff action in January. The road to the AFC Championship still routes through Kansas City, but the Chiefs have some bumpy road to smooth out between now and then.
Cowboys flashy in late-season surge
It took a while for the Cowboys to find their footing in the post-Dak Prescott run, but they’ve finally put it all together. The Pokes were clicking in last week’s 41-33 victory over the pesky 49ers, and the good times continues Sunday, with a 37-17 rout of Philadelphia. The loss knocked the Eagles out of the NFC East chase; the other three teams remain alive.
Zeke Elliott got back to work and took control of the backfield — 23 touches, 139 yards. He ran with power, vision, acceleration, like the early years of Elliott. Maybe the looming presence of Tony Pollard lit a fire under Zeke. Pollard, we’ll note, wasn’t a factor at all (10 touches, 20 yards).
Andy Dalton had a professional quarterback game, tossing for 377 yards and three touchdowns, and Michael Gallup (8-6-121-2) had his best day of the year. Dalton hit splash plays with all of his main receivers; Amari Cooper sailed to 121 yards, and CeeDee Lamb, the King of Garbage Time, had two more touchdowns, one of them inside the 2-minute warning. Give the Cowboys a healthy Prescott next year and this gets really fun.
Heck, maybe the Cowboys in the playoffs could be fun, too. If the Washington Football Team wins at Philly, the WFT wins the NFC East. Otherwise, the Cowboys at Giants winner will represent this absurd division.
Dwayne Haskins’ wild ride
I don’t know what the Football Team is going to do in next week’s win-and-in challenge at Philadelphia, but Dwayne Haskins isn’t the answer. Haskins was a one-man bad decision in last week’s loss to Seattle, and it got worse Sunday against a bad Panthers defense. Haskins completed just 14-of-28 passes for 154 yards (5.5 YPA), taking two sacks and giving away three turnovers. He struggled with accuracy, pocket awareness, and downfield reads. The Football Team managed two piddly field goals on his watch.
Journeyman Taylor Heinicke was pressed into action in the fourth period, and put up some garbage-time numbers (12-for-19, 137 yards, one touchdown). It’s hard to take those stats at face value, but at least he didn’t wilt in the moment. Heinicke, 27, joined the organization on Dec. 8 and was promoted off the practice squad a week ago. He’s been with five NFL organizations over six years, throwing a mere 58 passes before Sunday.
It’s hard to trust Haskins these days, on or off the field. If I’m the Football Team and Alex Smith can’t go next week, I’d take my chances with Heinicke. Haskins seems like a lost cause. Washington has the core of a legitimate contender in future seasons — a loaded defense and exciting skill talent on offense. But until they find stability at the most important position, they’re dealing with a very low ceiling. The long-term quarterback for this team currently isn’t on the roster.
• Make it two straight wins for the Jets — two straight three-hour beat-down wins — and they’re now 5-2 ATS in their last seven games. There’s some hope here for the next coaching staff. New York entered the day ranked 8th in rush-defense DVOA, and the Browns couldn’t do a thing on the ground Sunday.
Of course, we didn’t learn anything about the Browns offense here, with its four best receivers held out because of COVID-19 issues. Cleveland was also banged up on the offensive line. But like the Dolphins last year, the Jets have quietly started to do some things right, and could be a plucky group — if not fully competitive — next year. Of course, I’d still get rid of Adam Gase.
• Davante Adams can’t win MVP the way quarterbacks dominate the award, but perhaps he can get the Offensive Player of the Year trophy. Adams is in the midst of a historical year, one of the best of all time. Appreciate him while he’s here; a master in setting up defenders, winning on the boundary, and dominating in the red area. His touchdown rate isn’t a fluke, it’s a product of skill that he cultivates.
After Sunday’s clinic against Tennessee (12-11-142-3), Adams is now sitting on the best PPR/game season since the merger. He’s averaging an absurd 26.29 points per game, which puts him above all sorts of NFL royalty.
Sure, it helps to have Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball. Sure, you need a competent overall offense and a smart coaching staff. But Adams is the best route runner in the game today, and I can’t think of anyone who’s ever been better at winning in tight spaces. What a joy to watch him every week.
Looking at the NFC East Week 17 lines to figure out a back-of-envelope chance for all. I see Dallas -2.5 and Philly -1.5. That means:
WFT is ~47.5 percent for division (win and in)
Dallas is ~28.6 percent for division (win/PHI)
New York is ~23.8 percent for division (win/PHI)
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) December 28, 2020
• Most teams are screwed if the starting quarterback gets hurt, but the Rams might be especially in trouble if Jared Goff’s thumb injury is serious. Undrafted John Wolford is the No. 2 in Los Angeles.
Mind you, Goff was terrible at Seattle, and while the revamped Seahawks defense had something to do with that, it’s a troubling trend. Goff was also a mess in the loss to the Jets. The Rams probably have a Super Bowl-capable roster with the majority of its personnel, but they’re not close at quarterback.
• It will be interesting to see how Chicago spins the Mitch Trubisky comeback. The Bears are still in the playoff hunt, and the Bears have piled up 140 points the last four weeks. Then again, the schedule has been a daisy: Lions, Texans, Vikings, Jaguars. At least Trubisky’s athleticism allows the offense to attack more of the field than it could with Nick Foles.
• It’s fun to see Lamar Jackson getting his mojo back, and I suspect a healthy Mark Andrews is a big part of that. Andrews absorbed 42 percent of the market share Sunday, and Jackson is at his best when there are easy throws in the middle of the field.
• Daniel Jones didn’t turn the ball over Sunday but he took six sacks and averaged just 6.1 YPA. The Giants won’t admit it publicly, but they might be in the quarterback market sooner than they expected.
• Jerry Jeudy doesn’t have any problems getting open — he’s especially twitchy and a smooth route runner — but he had a parade of drops in the loss to the Chargers. Ignore this stuff. Follow the opportunity, and follow the raw skills. He’s poised to make a second-year leap, even with the Broncos being so well-stocked with all sorts of skill talent.
• So much for Letting Russ Cook; Seattle has decided to focus on balanced (if boring) offense, tied to an improved defense. Tyler Lockett was already hard to trust into Week 16, and he had another no-show against the Rams. I suspect we’re going to find out after the year that Lockett’s been playing through an undisclosed injury. He’s scored just one touchdown in his past nine games, along with a pedestrian 422 yards and 9.8 YPC.