To turn to diversionary things, one interesting thing about the Season of Parity is that the two best teams in the NFC so far have been…the Rams and Eagles. Tanier makes the case for the Rams here. L.A., among other things, is a story about the importance of coaching. Not just getting rid of Fisher and hiring someone who isn’t a massive drag on the organization, but hiring Phillips — predictably, the Rams have gone from -2 (15th) -15.2% (3rd — for the uninitiated, for defensive DVOA more negative is better), while the Broncos have gone from -18.3% (1st) to -13% (4th). The Eagles are similar — good-looking young coach, excellent defensive with a top coordinator, improves offense. Both of these teams, of course, traded up big to get QBs. I’m not sure what I think of the strategy overall, and I wasn’t wild about it in either case here, but if Wentz and Goff keep playing the way they have this year it shows the upside of the gamble. Certainly, nothing is worse for an organization than year after year of noncompetitive QB play (cf. Cleveland, who also hired a good offensive coach, but he’s almost certain to lose the team because he never had a remotely NFL-caliber QB to work with.)
What about the other potential NFC contenders?
- Falcons The easy story is that the decline thus year is all about losing Shanahan, but it’s more complicated than that — after all, the 49ers offense has actually gotten considerably worse this year (mostly because Kaepernick is better than his replacements, of course, but Shanahan isn’t a magician.) It does seem fair to note that hiring Sarkasian makes the dropoff a lot more pronounced than it had to be. But the bigger issue is that the Falcons just aren’t as good as they looked last year — they were, after all, 23rd in DVOA with Shanahan there in 2015. The Real Falcons are somewhere in between ’15 and ’16 –strong front-end talent, but thin and uneven, and I’m not at all sold on Quinn as a head coach. Speaking of which, one thing I forgot to mention about the Schottenheimer firing is that I swear there were people who tried to justify the obviously indefensible firing by asserting that the real brains of the operation was…Cam Cameron. This is funny because going 14-2 with Cam as your OC is like going 18-(-2) with someone competent.
- Vikings Really good defense; I don’t see Case Keenum or Sam Bradford getting multiple playoff wins.
- Seahawks Like the Falcons, they have a QB; unlike the Falcons, they have a good coach; unlike the Falcons, they do not believe in playing NFL-caliber offensive linemen. Well, didn’t — they’re apparently dangling Jimmy Graham for an LT, which will work if 1)a team is tanking, 2)the last tape on Graham the team has available is from 2013, or 3)by “left tackle” they mean “a strong safety Tom Cable has plans to convert into a left tackle.” Anyway, I wish I could disagree with Tanier that L.A. is the best team in the division right now but I don’t.
- Saints Brees is still good enough to win if he gets any kind of defense at all, and this year he has. My guess is that this is mostly the product of a tomato can schedule, but we’ll see.
- Panthers Similar story to the Falcons — not as good as they looked in 2015, not as bad as they looked last year. Not a bad team, but I’m worried about Newton’s health, and Mike Shula is like Steve Sarkasian with nepotism.
- Cowboys Prescott has come back to Earth a touch, but he’s still played well and the offense has played very well. The defense is lousy, though, and unlike the Falcons and Seahawks they probably can’t win their division barring an injury to Wentz. I don’t see this team getting through three road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl.
- Lions They’ve actually improved from last year; I’d put them behind the Falcons and Seahwaks in the “interesting team with glaring flaws” category, but capable of winning a playoff game at least if they get there.
- Packers You know how Mike McCarthy has parlayed one of the 3 greatest QBs ever into a 10-8 postseason record? Now imagine him with…Ray Handley? Something like that. Anyway, from here on out any game in which they get three figures of passing yardage will be a relative triumph.
Will be interesting to see how this plays out.
On the World Series, always good to see one going deep. It’s obviously become harder to cheer for the Astros; if the Dodgers must win, I hope it’s Darvish throwing a gem in Game 7.