After a fantastic weekend of football in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, it felt greedy to anticipate more of the same in the NFL’s Conference Championships, but the Bengals and Rams lived up to expectations as both teams secured a comeback win to punch their tickets to play in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles two weeks from now.
The NFL’s final game is at Rams -4 with a total of 49 on DraftKings; Los Angeles is at home, but while the Rams possess some obvious matchup advantages, the fact that this game is not at Rams -3 or less is an indication that NFL bettors still don’t quite buy Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow even after his team won in Kansas City as a seven-point dog.
The coming weeks offer more than enough time to break down the final matchup of the NFL season, but after a weekend when news broke that Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady will hang it up after the greatest career in NFL history, The Professor’s Damage Report will be a bit more speculative and consider what bettors can expect from an NFL landscape that is a lock to change dramatically between the Super Bowl and the season opener.
NFL Quarterback Play Set to Decline
The only prop currently available on DraftKings for the 2022 NFL Draft is for the number one overall pick, but when the over/unders on first selection at each position come out, The Professor will be ready to jump on the over for the quarterback position, where mediocre reviews on the top five quarterbacks are likely to drive the number down. The talent pool may be limited, but NFL teams are going to be desperate for options at quarterback, so regardless of the grades on these quarterbacks, it is overwhelmingly likely that the league will overdraft them.
Tom Brady’s retirement from Tampa Bay, which comes on the heels of Drew Brees’ exit from New Orleans, leaves Matt Ryan, the quarterback so many NFL analysts called for the Falcons to move on from, as the clear-cut best quarterback in the NFC South. The exit of the greatest quarterback in NFL history, who capped his career by leading the NFL in passing yards in his final year, would create a void in any season, but when you couple it with the exit of Ben Roethlisberger, who was one of the NFL’s best 32 quarterbacks in his final season even if he was a shell of his former self, and the fact that the Saints did not find a legitimate replacement for Brees, you have a market where teams are likely to aggressively pursue options such as Ravens backup Tyler Huntley based on the flashes of potential in his performance against the Packers even though he failed to distinguish himself in other opportunities.
Recent NFL drafts have produced several stars, but while players such as Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Kyler Murray have their organizations set up for future success, they were all accounted for coming into this season, and none of the rookies from the most recent draft class established themselves as obvious franchise cornerstones. The class of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones has time for redemption, but the way Burrow played as a rookie in Cincinnati despite wretched offensive line play, or how Herbert responded to being thrown into action against Kansas City with no notice, are reminders that if a guy has “it”, it typically shows up quickly, even in a disadvantageous situation.
The New York Giants are an example of a team affected by this market; the organization should have considerable interest in upgrading the quarterback position based on Daniel Jones’ inconsistent track record as a pro, but they are going to remain publically committed to him because it is unlikely that they will find a better option. For now, it is easy for the Giants to say they will look at other positions in the NFL draft, but as the situations around Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo, among others, start to settle, and the NFL Draft approaches, teams will get desperate and start to fixate on the most optimistic projections of the quarterbacks in the coming class, which could drive the players up the board. Organizations that can afford to take a long-term view could have an opportunity to add elite talent at discounted prices if teams such as the Giants, Lions, or Texans decide to roll the dice on one of these rookies.
How this will play out on a team-by-team basis is hard to guess at this early juncture, but the disparity in the NFL between the haves and have-nots at quarterback will grow, so The Professor would expect to see many of the same teams back in the NFL Playoffs, with the Herbert-led Chargers and Ryan-led Falcons as two strong bets from the teams that missed the tournament this year to get in the mix next season. It is also possible that scoring, which has risen steadily for decades, could experience a brief plateau, though the folks on the NFL’s competition committee will likely find more ways to increase the offense’s advantage if they see that as a possibility.
Jimmy Garoppolo Sweepstakes
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has one year remaining on his contract, and while he ultimately wasn’t able to get San Francisco back to the Super Bowl this season, he added two more playoff wins to his resume, and in a starved market at quarterback, Garoppolo could fetch a surprising return.
It seems unlikely that new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels wants to start over in an AFC West division that houses two of the NFL’s premier quarterback talents, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. McDaniels is on his second go-around as an NFL head coach, which is why he has been so selective over the years about his job search process, a process that includes his infamous decision to bail on the head coaching job he had accepted in Indianapolis; another failure would is overwhelmingly likely to end his head coaching opportunities. It stands to reason that McDaniels wanted a job with a level of certainty at the quarterback position, and Derek Carr, who has shown high-level processing ability from Day One in the NFL and possesses superior traits to Mac Jones, is a clear upgrade over the presumptive future at the position in New England.
There is some possibility that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gets moved, but unless the options are watching the player retire or getting a package to start a rebuild in a trade, it is difficult to see why either organization would trade their quarterback in an NFL landscape where there is no clear path to replacing them. Assuming that Trey Lance matches Garoppolo’s performance level, the 49ers could be better next year, especially if they get any notable draft capital in a Garoppolo trade; with the Rams in the Super Bowl and Kyler Murray in Arizona, the Seahawks would face bleak prospects in 2022 and beyond without Wilson, and while the NFC North is more forgiving, Green Bay has to shed significant cap space this offseason and will be hard-pressed to field as talented or deep a roster next season, which could spell disaster if former first-rounder Jordan Love flops in a world where Rodgers has moved on.
Organizational Landscapes Taking Form
General manager, head coach, and coordinator roles are being filled around the NFL, with Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, and the New York Giants making hires, Minnesota halfway through their process with new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in place, and no word from teams such as Jacksonville and Houston as other teams, such as Green Bay, look to fill roles that opened up when talent was hired off of their staff.
Head coach openings remain for five teams: Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, and New Orleans. Some of these teams could have a lengthy process ahead; Houston took a long time to hire head coach David Culley last season, and after Culley was bounced after one season, that job could be a hard sell, particularly with the lack of talent on the current roster and the inability to get a franchise-changing player at quarterback with their top draft pick. New Orleans is still in cap hell, there are rumors that Miami fired head coach Brian Flores because he pointed out (correctly) that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is a mediocre (at best) quarterback option, and Jacksonville’s ownership group fell for the Urban Meyer con in their last search for a decision-maker, which does not speak to their ability to make a competent decision in this realm. The patience that the Wilf family showed with the Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer tandem makes the coaching job in Minnesota by far the most appealing opening of the five that remain; regardless of roster structure, going to a consistently competitive organization and an ownership group that has shown they will let experiments play out even when things look lean (such as Kirk Cousins’ first season after signing a record free-agent deal) is far more important than what is currently in place on a roster that will look dramatically different in two years.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him 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.
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