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It’s Wildcard week and we’ve got games every day over the holiday weekend. I’ll be pacing around my living room on Saturday afternoon as Cincinnati hosts Las Vegas, but I’m excited to see the playoffs unfold. I’ve got some injury storylines to monitor as we head into the weekend, but I wanted to spin things forward now that the regular season has come to a close.
Looking Forward to 2022
I spent the last couple of weeks looking back at 2021, so I wanted to switch things up this week. Free agency and the draft will change our perception of many teams. But, of the things I’m looking forward to for next season, a few stuck out.
A *Healthy* Ravens’ Offense
Overall, and I’m stressing the word “overall,” Baltimore’s offense gave us what we wanted. Lamar Jackson was seventh amongst quarterbacks in points per game, Mark Andrews was the TE1, and Marquise Brown was a top-24 receiver. But the end-of-season results don’t even begin to tell the story of the Ravens’ 2021 season.
I enjoyed watching Andrews become the focal point down the stretch. But look at who’s passing him the ball in the highlight clip I used. Think of the other injuries the team sustained throughout the year. Baltimore had the second-highest number of players on IR heading into Week 14 (22). It’s like the annual Chargers’ curse decided to switch coasts and reside in Maryland for a season.
They opened the season down a recently extended running back, an All-Pro corner (both taken out in the same practice), and two receivers. The nightmare extended into Week 2 as J.K. Dobbins got carted off the field. More players went on IR as the weeks continued. And yet Jackson was able to will the team to multiple comeback victories. But, his injury was the final straw. Tyler Huntley was good in Jackson’s absence, and the team lost by no more than a field goal in each of his starts. But there’s only so much loss a franchise can withstand.
I’m expecting a bounceback season for Baltimore in 2022. Their passing rate on early downs was 13th after being at the bottom of the league for two seasons. However, their efficiency only took a slight hit (15th in Dropback EPA last season to 19th). With everyone back healthy, Ravens (other than Andrews) may come at a discount in fantasy drafts setting fantasy managers up for a successful season.
Another Season for Jalen Hurts
I could be wrong about this. Probably. Maybe I’m biased or influenced by the fantasy results. Almost assuredly. Regardless, I’d like to think the Eagles have seen enough to give Jalen Hurts the job next year.
Yes, I get it. That’s one play. One play against a secondary ranked 24th in dropback EPA over their last four games. But his accuracy on the run in a third and long situation is an improvement. He’s made strides as a passer, albeit the progress has come in spurts and stutters. But growth and planting a foundation have been the Eagles’ mantra.
Hurts started four games last season, Nick Sirianni noted Hurts’ mechanics as a point of focus, and Philadelphia still came out firing early in the season. The results were volatile. Hurts was a top-12 fantasy quarterback every week but bottom-12 in EPA per Play and completion percentage over expected (CPOE) through Week 6. However, as Sirianni (with Hurts) re-shaped the offense, consistency started to show.
Hurts is top-10 in both metrics since the team’s passing rate bottomed out in Week 8. He’s still drawn the ire of Sirianni for his mistakes. But plants are survivors. And, more importantly, the Eagles are still playing football in January. Next season should be even better.
Philadelphia has three first-round picks in 2022. They also have ~$13.6M in cap space. Their priority will likely be defensive additions and upgrading their offensive line. But anything to improve the team as a whole benefits Hurts. Let’s hope the Eagles see it the same way.
Seeing the Texans Improve
Houston winning in Week 1 against Jacksonville might’ve been a warning signal about the Jaguars’ season to come, but I came away impressed overall. We collectively set the bar low, but there were genuine moments of surprise throughout the season.
The Texans were shut out twice, held to single digits five times, and are close to the bottom of every offensive metric. But they were a field goal away from beating the Patriots. Took down the Titans once and nearly did it again last week. Plus, they put up 437 yards against the Chargers. The flashes were enough to get everyone’s attention. And they’ve got some pieces to build around.
Davis Mills, at worst, ranks alongside most of his classmates. He was 40th in EPA per play and 24th in CPOE on the season. However, he’s ahead of Justin Fields and Zach Wilson in EPA per play. Mac Jones is the only other rookie quarterback with a greater CPOE. His emergence with guest appearances by Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan give the team something to build on for 2022. But their offseason is filled with critical decisions to make even before the draft.
The Texans are yet to decide on David Culley’s future with the team, and Deshaun Watson still looms in the background. Regardless, the team is above the league-average cap space and picking third overall in the draft. Management may still be dysfunctional, but the team has a few bright spots to watch heading into 2022.
I’m probably jinxing it, but things have been relatively quiet on the COVID front this week. We’ve got fewer teams to focus on, but the skill-position players are mainly at our disposal for the weekend. Plus, the protocol changes give players a quick route to returning to the squads. Regardless, we’ve still got some injuries to track.
I can chalk most of the absences in Week 18 up to teams resting their players, but a few had some health concerns worth revisiting. Any updates to close out the week will show up in the playoff rankings provided by John Daigle, which he’ll be updating up until kickoff.
- Jalen Hurts – Ankle – Rested with all of the starters last week, but a full participant yesterday.
- Miles Sanders – Hand – Limited practice for the first time since Week 15.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Shoulder – LP yesterday and “looked good,” according to Andy Reid.
- Leonard Fournette – Hamstring – Activated from IR on Wednesday, opening his 21-day practice window.
- Ronald Jones – Ankle – DNP to start the week and considered doubtful by Bruce Arians.
- Tony Pollard – Foot – Full participant to start the week.
- Tyreek Hill – Heel – Looked normal while taking punts to start practice and expected to be at full speed by Sunday.
- Emmanuel Sanders – Ankle – Just a walkthrough on Wednesday but was a full participant.
Mitchell’s expected to be travel with the team to face the Cowboys on Sunday, putting the 49ers at (mostly) full strength for the playoffs.