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NFL Wildcard Open Thread #1

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Before we get to today’s games, since a surprising number of commenters are siding with Kraft over Belichick and defending a trade that shows every appearance of being a disaster, a couple of points on the decision to give away Garoppolo and stick with a QB that, while great, will be 41 next year:

  • It’s misleading to say that Garoppolo was traded for the second round pick, since the Pats would have gotten a compensatory pick if he left as a free agent. So, really, they got more like the equivalent of trading into the low second or high third round. If you (extremely implausibly — I mean, the Pats traded a first and third rounder for one year of a good-not-great wideout earlier this year!) that the return the Pats received by calling one team and making a lowball offer represented full value, I would still keep him because he’s worth more as insurance in case of a Brady injury than the pick. With Jimmy G. the Pats would be favored against any conference opponent and at worst live dogs in the Super Bowl. With Hoyer, I’d make them underdogs against anyone but the Titans or Bills. Yes, including the Jags — Bortles is only marginally better than Hoyer, but Jacksonville has the best defense in the conference, if not the league, and the Pats…do not.  (Oh, and speaking of the best pass defense in the NFL…Garoppolo went 21 for 30 8.1 Y/A 2 TD 1 INT against them, behind a bad offensive line throwing to replacement-level weapons. I do not think his performance this year was a fluke at all. I think he’s about as good as he looks, and I think the best coach in NFL history knew exactly what he had and what he was forced to give away.)
  • As a result, the defenses of the trade are essentially self-refuting. You can’t defend the return by citing constraints the Kraft chose to impose on himself (having a pissed-off coach/de facto GM hastily dumping him at the deadline rather than in the offseason, “YOU CAN’T TRADE PLAYERS IN THE SAME CONFERENCE IN THE NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE!”) The latter defense is particularly incoherent. He can be marginal enough that he’s worth dumping for the equivalent of trading up to the 55th pick or whatever, or he can be so good you can’t risk him even playing in the AFC West, but he certainly can’t be both of these things.

On to today’s games:

KC (-8 1/2) over Tennessee I’ve been arguing that the Titans have squandered the most interesting talent core in the division by hiring a sub-replacement level head coach and a 140-year-old DC who was a great coordinator as recently as the Bush administration and more recently lost a playoff game to Tim Tebow, and…playoffs or no playoffs haven’t changed my mind. The Titans aren’t good on either offense or defense, and aside from a looks-better-in-retrospect early win over Jacksonville and a less-impressive-in-retrospect win over Seattle, their specialty was coin-flip wins over teams that were awful and/or had nothing to play for, with their 12-9 OT win against an 0-16 team being definitive.  It’s possible that Mariota just isn’t that good, but remember the lesson of Jeff Fisher: until he gets the chance to work with a real coach I wouldn’t assume that. The Chiefs are very vulnerable, but their most conspicuous weakness — the secondary — is the one the Titans are particularly ill-equipped to exploit. I don’t expect this game to be close enough for Andy’s clock management to matter, and even if it does get into a battle of wits ol’ EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH isn’t exactly a mastermind on the other sideline.

LA (-6) over Atlanta Terrific game. I said before the year that losing Shanahan shouldn’t have been a severe blow — as he showed again this year, he’s a more-than-croumluent playcaller who will get good results with good talent and bad results with bad talent. That’s valuable to an organization, but it shouldn’t be irreplaceable. The problem for Atlanta is that theoretical replacability is one thing  and Steve Sarkasian is another. Atlanta still has a lot of talent on offense and it wouldn’t be a shocking upset. But not only were the Rams much better defensively than Atlanta, they were actually more efficient on offense. And as with Jimmy G. I don’t think it’s a fluke — going from Fisher to McVay/Phillips may well have created more value to the Rams than if they had acquired Aaron Rodgers for a 3rd rounder (which they presumably could have if Robert Kraft had owned the Packers in 2007.) I can’t place even a no-stakes bet on 28-3 Quinn against a team as talented and well-coached as LA.

UPDATE:

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