The 2021 NFL season offered all fans could ask for and more, from dramatic division races to edge-of-your-seat playoff games, not to mention entertaining spectacles such as the Urban Meyer Saga and Antonio Brown’s take on the Great Resignation.
The Super Bowl brings with it a sense of letdown, but while today marks the furthest point from more live NFL action, the playoff runs NFL fans saw from quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford and their respective teams is a reminder that when September rolls around, the on-field product should continue to shine. The Professor will take a moment to break down the Bengals-Rams game, then will shift the focus of this article to how things stand for teams ahead of the 2022 NFL season. All odds are provided by DraftKings.
Matthew Stafford Lifts the Lombardi
No player changed his narrative more dramatically during the 2021 NFL season than Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Long-maligned as part of the reason the Detroit Lions couldn’t win an NFL playoff game, many league observers were shocked that the Rams would give up so much to acquire a quarterback whose talent hadn’t been enough to elevate his team to a championship level. After a Super Bowl where Stafford prevailed despite the early loss of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and a run game that could not gain traction, any questions about Stafford’s ability are now firmly put to rest.
Receiver Cooper Kupp, who took home MVP honors, was outstanding, but it is difficult to imagine Kupp’s outstanding route-running would have mattered much with former Rams quarterback Jared Goff at the helm. It was fitting that this Super Bowl presented the exact scenario where Rams head coach Sean McVay needed a Matthew Stafford at quarterback; the Bengals took away the run game and forced Stafford to win as a full-field processor from the pocket, which is the area of the game where Goff has notable flaws.
Even though receivers Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek were wildly unreliable, Stafford continued to make plays, manipulating Cincinnati’s defense with his eyes to free up Kupp despite the attention Kupp drew after Beckham’s injury. It was not a flawless performance, as Stafford threw an interception on a 3rd and 15 deep shot that Bengals safety Jessie Bates beat Jefferson to in the endzone, and another when Skowronek fell on a dig route, but Stafford continued to perform despite those setbacks, and the result was a touchdown to Kupp to give the Rams a lead on the game’s final drive.
There are some flaws to point out in Cincinnati’s performance, but the Bengals acquitted themselves well against a superstar-laden Rams team, and have a huge amount of cap space to upgrade the roster headed into Joe Burrow’s third NFL season. The one issue The Professor had with Cincinnati’s final drive was the decision to give backup running back Samaje Perine the ball on 3rd and 1; it isn’t a definitive error, as it would have been a solid call in an ordinary game situation, but on the final drive of the Super Bowl, it might have made sense to keep the ball in Burrow’s hands, though given the way Rams defenders Aaron Donald and Von Miller were getting after Burrow, it may not have mattered.
In all, it was a disappointing night for Bengals fans, but an exciting game for neutral observers to take in, which is what the NFL is looking for in their showcase event.
2022 Offseason: All About the Quarterbacks
If it was not already obvious, the 2021 NFL season further cemented the idea that a team needs a stud quarterback to win. Making the NFL Playoffs is one thing, but once a team gets there and has to face a Patrick Mahomes, or a Matthew Stafford, with all the chips on the line, it is increasingly difficult to advance without a superstar on your side.
The 49ers provide an interesting contrast, as they are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the fifth-shortest Super Bowl odds despite their anticipated change at quarterback from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance, but the rest of the odds-on favorites are the teams with established quarterback situations. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has thrown a wrench into things with talk of potential retirement, but assuming Donald decides to continue making a million dollars plus on each Sunday of the NFL season, the Bills, Chiefs, Rams, and Bengals are set to enter 2022 as the Super Bowl favorites. These four teams face different obstacles; assuming Donald returns, the Bills and Rams should have a similar formula, while the Chiefs face hard decisions on players such as safety Tyrann Mathieu due to cap constraints, and the Bengals have the cap space to target any player they want, but in all four situations, the assumption is that the quarterback will put them in contention.
Outside of those four favorites, the contending teams with their quarterback locked in are limited to the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, and Titans. Many other teams would be in the mix if NFL bettors were certain of their quarterback situations, but until fans know where Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Deshaun Watson, and Jimmy Garoppolo will play football in 2022, there will be significant uncertainty about many teams around the NFL.
Which Quarterbacks Move?
The present list of quarterbacks with questions is long, but the names could disappear quickly. Rumors surfaced on Super Bowl Sunday that the Josh McDaniels-led regime in Las Vegas intends to offer Derek Carr a contract extension, and Aaron Rodgers has indicated he will decide his future before free agency, but Packers fans only have to recall the Brett Favre days to remember such situations can get dragged out, and some of the other quarterback situations are likely to linger.
The list of NFL teams desperate for a quarterback upgrade includes Denver, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Washington, Detroit, and perhaps Indianapolis, and if a Rodgers or Wilson becomes available, that list would swell to include many teams who are currently evaluating a prospect at quarterback. Throw in an underwhelming NFL Draft class at quarterback along with the number of teams that need to upgrade at the position to compete, and the market for a Rodgers could become ridiculous, particularly given what the Lions got back for Stafford, but therein lies the problem. Acquiring Stafford allowed the Rams to win the Super Bowl, and while Detroit got a lot of assets back, they are once again desperate to upgrade at quarterback, and outside of trading those draft assets for a veteran, they have no clear path to fix their problem.
The 2022 odds are limited to the Super Bowl at this point, but The Professor found the relative difference between Tampa Bay (+2200) and Atlanta (+5000) startling. The Falcons have problems to fix, particularly on the offensive line, but quarterback Matt Ryan is coming off a strong season and head coach Arthur Smith did a great job scheming up their offense. The Professor wouldn’t take Atlanta to win the Super Bowl, but with the Bucs moving to a post-Tom Brady world, the Saints in cap hell, and the Panthers unable to find answers on offense, he will be looking to get some value on the Falcons in the NFC South as soon as Division Futures are released. In terms of Super Bowl value, the Chargers, who have an ascending superstar in quarterback Justin Herbert and a huge amount of cap room, are an interesting option at +2500.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL. To stay up to date on the NFL throughout the offseason, check The Professor out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.