NFL Media researcher Brandon Mendoza identifies several of the biggest overreactions from each week’s set of games. The storylines below are bound to play out because, after all, numbers never lie. Right?
NOTE: All stats and rankings are current through Sunday of Week 15.
Brady vs. Belichick: Brady wins!
Since Tom Brady entered the NFL in 2000, the Patriots have missed the playoffs four times: in 2000, in 2002, in 2008, when they lost Brady to a season-ending injury in Week 1, and now in 2020. Sunday’s 22-12 loss to the Dolphins snapped the longest streak of making the postseason in NFL history (11 seasons) — and it provided a chance to compare the performances of Brady, who is now with the Buccaneers, and Belichick in their first season apart since building one of the most resilient dynasties in sports together in New England.
Even if the Patriots (6-8) win out, they’ll finish 8-8, which would be their worst record since Bill Belichick’s first season (5-11 in 2000). The offense, which ranked in the top 10 in scoring in each of the last 16 seasons, is averaging 20.6 points per game. That’s the fewest since 2000 (17.3), the season that Brady spent riding the bench as a rookie. On Monday, Belichick found himself in unfamiliar territory as he fielded questions about giving his backup, Jarrett Stidham, more opportunities now that the team has been eliminated from the postseason.
Meanwhile, Brady continues to thrive in Tampa. He has 32 passing TDs so far, meaning he’s two shy of setting the Buccaneers’ single-season record, which is currently held by Jameis Winston (33 in 2019). And he’s doing it while breaking new ground for QBs his age; the 43-year-old Brady has thrown 10 more passing TDs this season than all the passing TDs previously thrown by QBs age 43-plus combined.
Ultimately, the Brady vs. Belichick debate comes down to wins and losses — and Brady (9-5) is guaranteed to finish 2020 with more wins than New England. While the Patriots are now planning offseason vacations, Brady’s Buccaneers are set to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, which would end the second-longest active drought in the NFL, behind the Browns (17 seasons).
Oklahoma is Quarterback U
Oklahoma has become a QB factory, having churned out three QB prospects drafted in the first two rounds since 2018 (Baker Mayfield, No. 1 overall in 2018; Kyler Murray, No. 1 overall in 2019; and Jalen Hurts, No. 53 overall in 2020). No other school boasts even two such draftees in that span, much less three. In college, they all had success, as Mayfield (2017) and Murray (2018) won Heisman Trophies, while Hurts (2019) was a runner-up. However, the litmus test is the NFL — and, as Week 15 showed, they are all passing with flying colors this season.
On Sunday, the Eagles’ Hurts and the Cardinals’ Murray faced off for the first time, and while Arizona ultimately prevailed, the two QBs lit up the stat sheet. Their eight combined passing and rushing TDs were the most in a game since 1950 by opposing QBs from the same college. Their 836 combined passing and rushing yards were the most in a game since 1950 by two QBs age 23 or younger.
Murray, 23, now has nine games with both a passing TD and a rushing TD this season, the most by a QB in a single season in NFL history.
Hurts, 22, is the first QB since 1950 with at least 500 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in his first two starts.
Oh, and Mayfield, 25, has the third-highest single-season passer rating in Browns history (99.4), behind Milt Plum (110.4 in 1960) and Hall of Famer Otto Graham (99.7 in 1953), after recording a passer rating of 126.2 (while completing 84 percent of his passes for 297 yards and two TDs) in Cleveland’s win over the Giants. More importantly, he helped snap the Browns’ streak of 12 straight losing seasons, and he has Cleveland in prime position to end its 17-season playoff drought, which is the second-longest in the Super Bowl era (behind the Saints’ 20-season drought between 1967 and 1986).
The Bears should re-sign Mitch Trubisky
Prior to the season, the Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option for the second overall pick in 2017, Mitchell Trubisky, setting him on a course for free agency in 2021. Couple that with the offseason acquisition of Nick Foles, who ended up starting seven games after a rough start to the season led to Trubisky’s benching, and the future for the Bears and Trubisky seemed very cloudy. Ah, but after another 30-point game with Trubisky under center, it’s nothing but sunny skies in the Windy City.
You see, Trubisky returned to the starting role after Foles suffered a hip injury in November, and on Sunday, Trubisky led the Bears to 30 points for the third straight game, marking Chicago’s first such streak since 2013, when Trubisky was a redshirt freshman at North Carolina.
Over that three-game stretch, Trubisky has five passing TDs and just one INT. He has a completion percentage of at least 70 in all three games, marking not only a career-best streak, but the longest such active streak in the NFL. When Trubisky records a passer rating of at least 90, as he has done in every game since Week 13, he is tough to beat (15-4 record). So, face it, Bears fans: As long as he maintains this production, there might be more seasons of Mitch TruBearsky on the horizon.
Ryan Tannehill is the NFL’s most underrated player
After the latest showing of extreme efficiency and production, it is time we start giving Ryan Tannehill the credit he deserves. On Sunday, Tannehill became the third player in NFL history with a passer rating of at least 145, three passing TDs and two rushing TDs in a single game, joining Jack Kemp (1960) and Michael Vick (2010).
Tannehill’s passer rating (110.4) is fourth-best in the league, and he is on pace to have the second-highest single-season passer rating in Titans/Oilers history — behind only his own mark from last season (117.5).
Tannehill is also sitting at 31 passing TDs, which trails only Hall of Famers George Blanda (36 in 1961) and Warren Moon (33 in 1990) for the most in a season in franchise history.
Sure, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are the MVP frontrunners, and Tannehill’s teammate Derrick Henry gets the majority of the headlines, but after Sunday’s 46-25 drubbing of the Lions, the Titans now have more 40-point games (four) than any team in the NFL, and they’ve reached 10 wins for the first time since 2008. None of that happens without a quarterback playing at a very high level.
The Ravens are the hottest team in football
After the Ravens lost three straight games in Weeks 10-12, everyone was writing off a team that went 14-2 last season behind the eventual 2019 MVP, Lamar Jackson. Three impressive wins later, including Sunday’s 40-14 thrashing of the Jaguars, and it’s time to buy in again.
Sure, two of the three wins came against the Cowboys and Jaguars, who currently carry a combined 6-22 record, but the offense is back on track. Consider that the Ravens’ three-game winning streak while scoring at least 34 points is the second-longest in franchise history, behind the four-game streak recorded last season.
Jackson is back to MVP form, logging 10 total TDs against just two giveaways in his last three games. Jackson also has a passer rating of 100 or better in each of the last three games, a benchmark he failed to hit in any game between Week 5 and Week 11. Running back J.K. Dobbins is coming on strong, having scored a rushing TD in four straight games, a Ravens rookie record. Even Dez Bryant is catching touchdowns — Sunday marked his first score in 1,106 days.
With their final two games coming against the Giants and Bengals, two teams that have started backup QBs in the last few weeks, the Ravens have a good chance to keep this momentum going.
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