The season is now officially over and the quarterback plans for the Patriots now take center stage as the team starts to prepare for 2021. While the speculation has been ongoing for weeks, with no more games to serve as distractions the future quarterback will be the The Story in these parts until there is some sort of resolution.
One and Done
Regardless of which direction Bill Belichick turns, it appears clear that Cam Newton will not be part of the future. As hard as the sides tried to make it work, it simply did not. Despite starting 15 games for the Patriots, Newton managed just eight touchdown passes all year and operated an offense that barely averaged 20 points per game.
He was victimized by a lack of weapons at the skill positions to be sure, just as Tom Brady was last season. But unlike Brady, Newton looked like he was physically limited as a passer and could not drive the ball consistently or accurately. Whether it was due to his previous shoulder problems or not, Newton labored throughout the season and could not get the ball to open targets.
The Patriots need to explore all options in the quarterback market, whether that includes a veteran such as Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford or Jimmy Garoppolo, or through the draft. What it won't likely include is Newton. He gave Belichick everything he had, but it simply wasn't nearly good enough.
It was a terrible look, and there's really no way of getting around that indisputable fact. Yanking Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld for the final quarter, when the result of the game impacted the playoff fate of the opponent as well as the New York Giants, stood in stark contrast to the way the majority of the teams treated their final games.
Philly's Doug Pederson wanted to get his third-string quarterback some work and he chose to do so in a 17-14 game when the Giants needed an Eagles win to steal the pathetic NFC East. With some assistance from Pederson, Washington was able to maintain the lead and therefore won the division with a 7-9 mark.
It looked bad, especially when Sudfeld turned the ball over twice in his limited work. For all of the tanking talk that permeates sports nowadays, it's rare when a coach makes a decision that seemingly puts winning on the backburner. That's what Sudfeld's insertion looked like, and predictably the fallout was loud and self-righteous.
While I agree that the move made little sense – what was to be gained by giving Sudfeld a cameo at that point? – the reaction has been over the top and short-sighted.
First, Hurts played three quarters of the game and was largely ineffective. He rushed for a pair of scores, the first of which came on a drive that was greatly aided by the officials who called three questionable third-down penalties on Washington to keep things going on the march. Hurts failed to find the end zone on four cracks from inside the 5 late in the third quarter, firing a fourth-down pass into the turf in front of a wide open receiver.
So, there's no evidence that Philly would have won the game had Hurts stayed in. And Hurts certainly wasn't playing well in the first place.
More importantly, the hue and cry coming from the Giants is laughable. You want to win your division? Find a way to do better than 6-10. It's hard to complain about any chances you "earned" when you win six games. The Giants got exactly what they deserved – nothing.
Again, Pederson is under fire and he should be. It was an odd decision and offered the appearance of impropriety, and that above all else is a no-no at the professional sports level. When it looks like our teams aren't trying to win then all integrity is lost. And that's what the final NFL game of the regular season looked like.
No big surprise that the league put Brady and the Bucs in Saturday night prime time, a spot Brady grew quite familiar with during his illustrious Patriots run. Tampa will have too much offense for Washington to handle, but that's not the ideal front line for Brady to face. Washington's defensive line will harass Brady at times with the ability to create pressure without blitzing. But unless Alex Smith regains some mobility, it won't likely matter because Washington is too limited offensively to keep up. … The game I'm looking forward to most is the first of the weekend: Colts-Bills Saturday afternoon. Buffalo's offense is scary at the moment, even producing big when Josh Allen & Co. were expected to only play sparingly. Indy is a solid team but one that remains limited due to Philip Rivers' inability to push the ball downfield. He is still turnover-prone and the thought of him playing outdoors against Buffalo in what could turn into a track meet is a bit scary. But the Colts can run the ball and play defense, which is the formula to frustrate Allen and the Bills. Buffalo is rolling and appears to be the top threat to Kansas City in AFC, but it all starts with a visit from the Colts. … The Ravens-Titans game also figures to be one of the best of the weekend. The teams have plenty of bad blood, stemming not just from last season's Tennessee upset in the divisional round but from a regular-season tilt in Baltimore this year when coaches Mike Vrabel and John Harbaugh exchanged words. No team and player enters the postseason with more pressure than the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. What better way to exorcise those demons than by taking on your nemesis.
Power 5 (Plus 9)
With the regular season over and the postseason set to begin, the power rankings will expand to include the tournament field.
- Kansas City (14-2, 1st last week) – The Chiefs have appeared bored for the last several weeks and now have another break before their title defense begins. They're still the team to beat.
- Buffalo (13-3, 2nd last week) – The Bills appear poised to be the Chiefs top challengers with an offense that can score with anyone. Playoff pedigree is lacking however.
- Green Bay (13-3, 3rd last week) – Aaron Rodgers and the Pack have emerged as frontrunners in the wide-open NFC.
- Seattle (12-4, 4th last week) – The Seahawks defense has played well for the last six weeks and with Russell Wilson at the helm Seattle always has a chance.
- New Orleans (12-4, 5th last week) – The Saints defense has led the way in NOLA all year and Drew Brees now needs to lead New Orleans to some postseason success.
- Baltimore (11-5) – Not much has gone well for the Ravens this season but Lamar Jackson has been hot and Baltimore won its last five to get here. The first win is a huge stumbling block, but if Jackson gets it, look out.
- Tampa Bay (11-5) – Brady has his offense clicking but with just one win against a team with a winning record (GB) it's hard to have much faith in the Bucs.
- Pittsburgh (12-4) – The Steelers are headed in the wrong direction having lost four of their last five. Big Ben will need to turn it around in a hurry because injuries have impacted the defense tremendously.
- Indianapolis (11-5) – The Colts at times look as good as anyone but consistency has been elusive. And nowhere is that more evident than with Rivers.
- Tennessee (11-5) – The Titans easily could move up a spot or two with a potent offense led by Derrick Henry. But the defense to too leaky to have much faith in Tennessee.
- Cleveland (11-5) – The Browns have made great strides and their power attack can be tough in a cold-weather, playoff environment. But Baker Mayfield's lack of experience will hold Cleveland back.
- Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – This is another team that can look formidable. Great defense, talented skill plays and a quarterback that can get hot. But Jared Goff is too inconsistent, and now he's dealing with thumb surgery.
- Chicago (8-8) – The Bears endured a six-game losing streak yet still found a way to squeak into the playoffs. There's a reason they lost six in a row.
- Washington (6-10) – The Football Team deserves a lot of credit for rallying from a 2-7 start, and it's not their fault that the division stinks. But Washington doesn't have enough offense to stick around long.