Friday, December 1, 2017

NFL Week 13 Primer (With Picks): When To Bench Your Starting Quarterback

By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

A few things have happened in the NFL over the last few weeks that we think are worth discussing.

There have been two rather high-profile benchings of starting quarterbacks, both in the state of New York. (We wanted to say that one happened in the city and one was upstate, but apparently people in the Buffalo/Syracuse part of New York don't like being referred to as "upstate." They prefer Western New York. I mean, as far as we're concerned, there are only three regions of New York State. There's the city, there's Long Island, and everything else is upstate New York. But that doesn't really go over well when you talk to anyone in New York that doesn't live in New York City. But we digress.)

Two weeks ago, following an embarrassing loss to the Saints, the Buffalo Bills opted to bench their starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The justification for this was that the Bills had lost two straight games, and that Taylor had been particularly bad in the game against New Orleans. With Buffalo barely hanging on by a thread in the AFC playoff picture, maybe a shakeup under center would help them right the ship.

Well, the problem is that there are a whole bunch of problems with this logic. First of all, Tyrod Taylor is actually having a pretty good season. And, while we're at it, a pretty good career in Buffalo. He has a winning record as a starter, a passer rating north of 90 (which is certainly pretty good for someone not known as a pocket passer), and he's consistently among the most efficient ball carriers in the league, regardless of position. He doesn't turn the ball over (1.5% career interception rate, competitive with guys named Brady and Rodgers) and he can make plays with his arm and his legs. Strictly speaking, he's a good NFL quarterback. The second problem is, Taylor wasn't the reason the Bills lost either of those games - against the Jets, he accounted for 279 of the team's 307 yards of offense, as well as all three touchdowns. And in the Jets and Saints game combined, the Bills allowed 492 rushing yards (not a typo). So there really wasn't a reason the bench him unless you're the type of moron who seems to think that a quarterback's performance has some ability to influence how well the other offense runs the ball. The last problem in this whole fiasco is that the Bills replaced him with Nathan Peterman, a 5th-round pick this past April, while, I'll repeat this - they were currently very much alive in the AFC playoff race. It's not like (a) they had a blue-chip stud waiting in the wings and they felt like the time was right to let him loose, or (b) the season was already down the toilet and they wanted to see what the kid could do. Neither one of those things is true. The Bills coaching staff legitimately believed that Peterman gave them a better chance to win than Taylor did.

Luckily, we have the gift of hindsight in this case - Peterman threw five interceptions in his first 14 attempts against the Chargers IN THE FIRST HALF (again, not a typo) and fell into a 40-7 hole before Tyrod Taylor came in to relieve him (from that point forward in the game, the Bills outscored the Chargers 17-14 and Taylor had a passer rating of 91.7). Last week, a Taylor-led Buffalo team beat Kansas City, who were only the AFC's best team as recently as a month ago. Now the Bills sit at 6-5, and with two games against Miami and another against the Colts, stand a reasonable chance at making the playoffs for the first time since the Star Wars prequels were in theaters.

The other thing we want to talk about is Eli Manning.

[Jeremy wants to stress up front that Eli Manning, for his career, is a barely above-average NFL quarterback who was fortunate enough to play for a team whose defense was able to stymie the progress of the New England Patriots' offense on two occasions and was the beneficiary of, quite literally, the flukiest play in the history of professional football, and under no circumstances belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame. He's strictly worse than most of his peers, including Phil Rivers, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, and others, and there's a reason why he never won an MVP award (or even came REMOTELY close) and only made four Pro Bowls in a 14-year career. Medium Talent. All that being said, he also 100 percent agrees with the following paragraphs.]

This one is just straight-up stupid. What exactly are the Giants hoping to gain from benching the player who has been the face of their franchise for the last decade? Like, we get it, it's football, you can lose your job at any time if you aren't performing up to snuff, but what's the point here? Is Eli Manning playing well this year? Of course not. The whole team is a dumpster fire. Is Eli in the team's long-term plans? Probably not. He's 36 years old and clearly in decline. At this point, the most obvious line for the Giants to take is to try to get a top-10 pick, draft a quarterback, and start their re-build without Eli. But even if that's the case, how is benching Eli helping them progress along that path?

The idea here is that they want to know what they have in Davis Webb, who was a highly-touted quarterback prospect, but slipped to the third round in the 2017 draft. That's a defensible position. But do the Giants reasonably believe that they can accurately evaluate Webb with no healthy receivers and a ramshackle offensive line? Even the Giants may not believe it, considering the word in New York is that it will be Geno Smith starting at quarterback on Sunday and Webb will likely start next week. Well, we already know what Geno Smith is capable of - not much. He's sucked for his entire career. Even more than that, they've alienated a huge portion of their fanbase, as well as the New York media. Beyond that, it's also likely that head coach Ben McAdoo will be fired at the end of the year, so they'll be evaluating Webb in a system that will get thrown out the window next year, and in many ways they'll be back to square one anyway.

It just seems like a no-win scenario. We generally aren't sentimental guys, but doesn't it just make way more sense to just let Eli play out the rest of the season to maintain some semblance of dignity, and then set him out to pasture next spring? At this point, they really have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. The season is gone, this move just makes them seem somehow both callous and short-sighted. Eli Manning is by no means the sacred cow that many people in New York have made him out to be this week, but he deserved better than this.

Week 13 got underway Thursday when the Cowboys finally got their offense figured out without Ezekiel Elliot. Jeremy and Joe were both caught with their pants down - we both had Washington as a road favorite. But for the first time in a long time, we both enter the week with a winning record on the season, thanks to matching 9-6-1 performances last week. Let's see if we can keep our heads above water for the rest of the season. Let's get to the rest of the picks.

(Ed. Note- Joe is living at Gillette Stadium from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, thanks to eight different state football championships. For this reason, he went full minimalist on his picks.)

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams in CAPS)

Detroit (+3) over BALTIMORE

JC: Somehow, inexplicably, the Ravens are still alive in the AFC playoff picture despite not having a win over a legitimate team all season. Their wins are over Cincinnati, Cleveland, Oakland, Miami, Green Bay sans Rodgers, and Houston. They've played an easier schedule than Cal Tech. I'm not buying them against a real team, and I think Detroit is a real time. They've been up and down, but I like them a whole lot more than Baltimore.

JP: The Ravens are hanging around because their defense is legitimately good. Not great, but good. And they've played a Sun Belt schedule lately. Detroit isn't a world beater, but the Lions should be able to out-score the carcass of Joe Flacco.

San Francisco (+3) over CHICAGO

JC: You know what time it is? It's JIMMY TIME.

JP: Sign me up.

New England (-9) over BUFFALO

JC: Remember when people were talking about the Patriots as if the dynasty was over and maybe they were just going to be a 9-7 team from now on? That was hilarious.

JP: I don't think anybody was saying that, but yeah, New England is once again the unquestioned Super Bowl favorite.

Denver (-1.5) over MIAMI

JC: Denver has lost seven straight, but their defense is still playing at a high level. Miami, on the other hand, has lost five straight and have the league's second-worst average scoring margin. I'm not sure they have any redeeming qualities.

JP: Bleh.

TENNESSEE (-7) over Houston

JC: Houston is bad, on the road, and going up against a team that is suddenly in the thick of a pretty serious division race. The Titans could still take the AFC South (and actually control their own destiny, and play the Jaguars at home in Week 17), but even if they don't, are still live for an AFC Wild Card berth. Their scoring margin worries me (they've been outscored on the season - it's in the same neighborhood as the Jets and Bucs), but they've been able to beat the teams they need to beat (by the skin of their teeth, but whatever).

JP: If Houston was starting anybody other than Tom Savage...

Indianapolis (+9.5) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: How many games do the Colts need to inexplicably almost win before we realize that they shouldn't be getting close to double-digit points against teams that are still a bit sketchy. Yeah, the Jaguars still have one of the league's best statistical profiles, but they also lost to the Cardinals and Jets, and as a wise man once said, when Blake Bortles is your starting quarterback, Blake Bortles is your starting quarterback.

JP: Colts are underrated, Jaguars are slowing down offensively, and Bortles is still Bortles.

NEW YORK JETS (+4) over Kansas City

JC: I am 100 percent out on the Chiefs. I think they stink. I think there's an outside chance that they finish 6-10. I honestly think they should be a slight underdog in this game. There's no way I'm laying points, let alone more than a field goal.

JP: Yeah, Andy Reid's annual meltdown started early this year.

Carolina (+4.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: Call me crazy, but I really, really like how Carolina's defense matches up with what New Orleans looks like on offense right now. I think Carolina's linebackers are going to give the Saints fits, and I still don't totally believe in this Saints defense, especially against the run. If you're looking for extra advice, bet the under on this game. I think it will be fought on the ground and there will be a lot of long, grindy drives, and I think that favors Carolina.

JP: Gimme the points.

OAKLAND (-8.5) over New York Giants

JC: You could tell me Kerry Collins was coming out of retirement to play quarterback for Oakland again and I still wouldn't bet on the Giants this week.


SEATTLE (+6) over Philadelphia

JC: Wait a minute, you're giving me almost a full touchdown to take the Seahawks at home in a game they kinda have to win to keep pace in an incredibly competitive NFC? Where do I sign up? Can I sign up twice? Can I sign my friends up? I have many questions about the sign-up process in general.

JP: Too rich for my blood in Seattle.

CINCINNATI (+5) over Pittsburgh

JC: Do we just not trust Pittsburgh on the road until shown otherwise? It seems safest at this point. I don't like the Bengals any more than you do, in fact, I probably like them a lot less, because I don't like them at all, but I just haven't seen much that says Pittsburgh should be laying that many points on the road against anyone. They woudn't have covered this same spread against Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, or Indianapolis on the road this season, so why would they cover it against Cincinnati?

JP: Still betting against the Steelers.

Here Are The Picks We Disagree On (Home Teams Still In CAPS)

JC: ATLANTA (-3) over Minnesota

Don't look now, but Atlanta has won three straight and their offense seems to be clicking. Minnesota is still chugging along, but I'm just not convinced of their staying power. Maybe that will come back to bite me over the next few weeks, but something is telling me to fade the Vikings.

JP: Minnesota (+3) over ATLANTA 

You're really gonna bet against Case Keenum?

JC: Tampa Bay (+2.5) over GREEN BAY

I'll dip my toes back in the water with Jameis Winston. But if the Packers have an offensive day like they did Sunday night against the Steelers, they might be a nice value play for the next few weeks.

JP: GREEN BAY (-2.5) over Tampa Bay

I'm not buying the Packers, though Hundley did look much more comfortable last week, so much as I'm selling the Bucs.

JC: Cleveland (+13.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

If the Browns can cover a two-touchdown spread against anybody, I wouldn't put it past these Chargers. I kinda like the Chargers at this point (nobody else in the AFC West even comes close to deserving respect), but I could see this game being strangely close with a lot of Phil Rivers Angry Face.

JP: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-13.5) over Cleveland


JC: ARIZONA (+7) over Los Angeles Rams

The Cardinals don't totally suck at home, and they've actually looked vaguely competent on offense since adding Adrian Peterson. I'm not excited about this pick, but here it is.

JP: Los Angeles Rams (-7) over ARIZONA

I can't figure out the Cardinals, so I'm just flipping a coin each week on whether or not they show up.

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 9-6-1
Season: 85-83-8
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-3
Season's Disagreements: 24-28

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 9-6-1
Season: 90-78-8
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-3
Season's Disagreements: 28-24

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