NFL Hot or Not: Second-half predictions; QB carousel preview

There was a period of time in the early 2000s when I lived in a series of apartments and spare rooms in Denver, Colorado. Employment took the form of low-level temp jobs, often the kind of work in which one is fully trained by noon: menial filing assignments, answering phones and forays into ultra-basic Microsoft Excel to-do’s. I was in a funk, but I’d successfully created an existence with endless free time.

Either this becomes the fertile ground in which one drafts a devastating novel that changes America, or you wind up inching closer by the day to being a quasi-Dracula figure wandering the avenues. I loafed in the unremarkable middle, reading the newspaper in my car during temp-job lunch hours, Nnamdi Asomugha-style, and isolating in the Denver Public Library come late afternoon. All around me, young people were lost in study, having set sail into deep waters that would lead to graduate degrees, doctorates and three-story Colonials. I mostly sat near them in comfy couch-chairs, reading James Ellroy mysteries and a rare, document-rich tell-all on Project Blue Book

I also ripped through a bizarre New Age tome, The Seth Material, a collection of transcribed conversations between writer Jane Roberts and a non-physical teacher known as Seth. Recorded between 1963 and 1984 in more than 20 books, Roberts would dip into trance states and communicate with this otherworldly Seth individual, who shared insights on the nature of death and time, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, dreams and other hazy fascinations.

It captured me: Was it all a sham? Roberts often performed these channeling sessions before intimate crowds, speaking for hours on end in the haunting, more masculine voice of Seth. Explained away by many as New Age flotsam, I still wonder about its true nature. Do certain thoughts channel from somewhere (someone?) else? I desire to know.

Writing about football feels orderly. Pinned to the ground. This time around, though, I’m appealing to forces we cannot see for help. Phantoms! Seths of the 100-yard lawn! Tell me what will happen between now and the end!

To enable such communication, I sat alone this morning in silence for an hour — a miracle unto itself during CoronaTime inside a household bustling nonstop with child activity, footsteps, squabbles and uproar.

Here are the random items that came forth — some hot, some not — plus a glimpse at future quarterback movement set to rock the offseason.

HOT

1) The Dolphins will morph into the AFC’s hottest team: I’m getting 2001 Patriots vibes from Miami. Warming into something special before our eyes, the Dolphins have shown the ability to badger opponents in more ways than one. Only three clubs — the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers — own a better point differential than Miami’s plus-61. The ground game could use a genuine leading man, but these Dolphins post more points per tilt (27.8) than any Miami outfit since the ’84 Dan Marino-led club that reached Super Bowl XIX. The current four-game win streak exhibits traits I adore: The ability to blow wanting teams away (43-17 over San Francisco and 24-0 over the lifeless Jets) and unsettle talented coaching staffs, as we saw in a 28-17 win over the Rams that left quarterback Jared Goff mangled and lost.

If coach Brian Flores cut against the grain in flipping from Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa during the team’s Week 7 bye, he did so with total conviction. Sunday’s rollicking bout against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals marked a thunderous step forward for the No. 5 overall pick. Tua authored a string of remarkable throws and scrambles of derring-do, especially his rugged 17-yard jaunt that saw him dance in the pocket, duck away from peril and blast through a wave of Cardinals heavies to the Arizona 11. Next snap: A Tua laser-shot to Mack Hollins that tied the game at 31-31 and came tagged with a completion probability of 16.4 percent, the most unlikely connection by a Dolphins passer over the past three seasons, per Next Gen Stats.

Tua’s an elixir to the eyes, spraying the field with gorgeous, on-target throws and moving between enemies with grace. He’s helped by a better-than-advertised offensive line and a defense allowing the fourth fewest points league-wide, thanks to a pack of mostly anonymous dudes in Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson and Andrew Van Ginkel. Flores oversees a complete team, one that reflects well on his New England tutelage under Bill Belichick.

Off the field, general manager Chris Grier has loaded up on multiple first- and second-round picks for 2021, but the adventure has already begun. I don’t see a ceiling. That 2001 Patriots team rose up in similar fashion with balance, strength and plenty of hardworking non-stars around a young Tom Brady. They were 4-4 at the midpoint and just another team in the AFC. Three months later, the NFL was changed forever.

I believe the Dolphins are on this journey, too.

2) Strong visions of a Chargers rebound: Bolts fans have plenty to nitpick. Their team refuses to close games, discovering new ways to shatter hearts and psyches on Sunday. Their most recent drama, a 31-26 tumble to the Raiders, required deep-state antics from the review booth to nullify Justin Herbert‘s last-second touchdown toss to Donald Parham. The Chargers have lost 15 one-possession games over the past two seasons and haven’t beaten an AFC West foe since 2018. Feel free to cross them off your dance card, but I predict the Chargers will sizzle down the stretch to carve out a 7-7 mark. Week 16: They wax the Broncos for their eighth win and remain alive for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. Traveling to Kansas City in the finale, Herbert goes punch-for-punch with MVP shoo-in Patrick Mahomes, but the Chargers are stung by fate on a final-minute touchdown pass to Kansas City’s Demarcus Robinson. The 8-8 Bolts see their season dissolve, but the franchise’s future glows brighter than Alpha Centauri in the California night.

3) My Vikings critique from a month ago will amount to the words of a fool: After Minnesota’s ugly loss to the previously winless Falcons in Week 6, I wrote this in a flurry about the 1-5 Vikings: “I don’t believe in them. Sitting less than a fortnight away from November, I don’t consider it knee-jerky to full-on GHOST this team as an observer. Barring a seismic change to the scenery, I will not be mentioning the Vikings in this column again until their season comes to an unholy end.” 

Here’s where your Friendly Neighborhood Rube backpedals via keyboard to acknowledge an error in judgment. The season appeared washed when the Vikings desperately shipped Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore, but reality was based somewhere else: Dalvin Cook. The hard-charging runner who missed that Falcons failure returned after the bye to ice Green Bay with 226 total yards and four scores before unfurling another 252 yards against the Lions on Sunday. With the Bears, Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars up next, life remains full of possibilities for a Vikings team that will sit at 6-6 at worst if they win at least three of those confrontations. When I see a club running the ball with fury in November, I rule nothing out. The Vikings will remain a factor into December.

4) Say hello to our AFC berserker squad: While a from-the-wilderness Vikings team creates tumult in the NFC, a dark horse rises in the AFC. You get one every year. An early-season pushover who winds up throwing fists after Halloween. At its root, the berserker label refers to “an ancient Norse warrior who fought with frenzied rage in battle, possibly induced by eating hallucinogenic mushrooms.” The Bengals (somewhat) fit the bill, fresh off their Week 9 bye after a surprise win over Tennessee in Week 8. The Titans learned firsthand what others today know about rookie QB Joe Burrow: He senses pressure before it arrives, bobbing around the pocket and evading would-be agents of terror before firing bullets downfield. Averaging 30 points a game over their past three outings and watching young skill position players like Tee Higgins grow mighty, the Bengals are days away from their greatest feat yet: a win over the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.

NOT

1) The Browns will be forced to beat the Steelers to hit the playoffs: And it won’t work out. The Week 8 loss to Las Vegas will prove costly as Cleveland finds itself tussling with the Ravens, Dolphins and Raiders for the AFC’s three wild-card spots. In my hour of silent meditation (perhaps a less-reputable model than Cynthia Frelund‘s analytics-drive paradigm), I saw Cleveland’s season melting away in a Week 17 fumble-and-bumble act against Pittsburgh. One that leaves the ultimately 9-7 Browns without an invite to the postseason. Fingers will be aimed at a defense that bleeds yardage and points and falls apart in one killer loss to either the Giants in Week 15 or the Jets in Week 16. Questions will linger over the ceiling of Baker Mayfield, but nobody will doubt the hiring of coach Kevin Stefanski. The Browns will spend all offseason rebuilding a defense with one clear task: Learn to bully the teams in your own division, or pay the price.

2) One ill-fated franchise will lose a playoff game to the Eagles: The NFC East is a special place. Has been all year. We giggle over the idea of a six-win squad making the playoffs, but it’s highly possible — and someone will be forced to play them. If the season ended today, Tom Brady’s Bucs, fresh off Sunday night’s 38-3 meltdown against the Saints, would be tasked with traveling to frigid Philly to outduel the team that nipped him in Super Bowl LII. If and when this occurs, please be reminded of recent visions I’ve received over Tampa crumbling in rude fashion to the fly-casual Eagles.

WARMING UP

1) Quarterback landing spots for 2021: It’s never too early to ride the quarterback carousel. Please alert me in the form of a detailed complaint on Twitter — or in person — if you disagree with even a fragment of the following. Or reach me by mail at: CocoVail Beer Hall Barcelona / C/d’Aragó, 284, 08009 / Barcelona, Spain. On to the signal-callers:

  • New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson — In word, Gang Green will insult us with flowery nothings over the future of 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold. In action, they’ll rocket to the podium to grab Clemson’s wonderboy with even better hair. Thousands of barely-creased Darnold jerseys will then be shoved deep into the closet next to that Le’Veon Bell signed mini-helmet and overly ambitious scrapbook dedicated to Dowell Loggains.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields, Ohio State — It turns out Jake Luton wasn’t the guy, either, for a team desperately attempting to find a quarterback who is more than a plucky, fun story from Round 6. Fields hits the ground running and turns Jacksonville into liquid gold by November 2021.
  • Chicago Bears: Sam Darnold — If ever a quarterback needed a fresh start. This just feels like a Bears move. I like the fit, assuming Chicago harbors the courage to start over with an offensive coaching staff committed to not making our eyes bleed.
  • WFT: Matthew Stafford — Washington will finish with five wins and out of the race for Lawrence. Ron Rivera did everything he could to get away from a young project in Dwayne Haskins. His heart beats for a known-quantity veteran with huge upside. With Detroit a candidate to punch the reset button this offseason, Stafford could be dangled.
  • Pittsburgh: Dwayne Haskins — Steelers QB2 has served as a wasteland for years. Time to find Ben Roethlisberger‘s successor. Why not secure another arm who played his college ball in Ohio? Play-by-play bros can mention that nugget every single time Pittsburgh is dropping a scud missile on Cleveland.
  • Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott — You don’t walk away from this brand of player.
  • Detroit Lions: Trey Lance, North Dakota State — Drawing Andrew Luck comparisons from NFL draft guru Daniel Jeremiah, Lance offers exciting upside to a Lions team yet to Google what the phrase “exciting upside” actually means.
  • Indianapolis Colts: Kyle Trask, Florida — The Colts will keep Philip Rivers around for one more season, but the quarterback of tomorrow arrives in the form of the 6-foot-5, 239-pound Trask, who will go down as one of the last statues-in-the-pocket to ever be taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter.

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