NBC Sports Predictor: Play SN7 for a chance to win $1,000,000. Download the app today and play for FREE!
The regular-season finale is something of a somber event. For most of us, no more waivers, and we can bask in the glory of a championship. Others are too exhausted to care. But the season was too chaotic to turn away from it as soon as Week 18 hits. I’ve got injury updates below, but first, I wanted to go over some of the mini-seasons we went through with a few teams.
Seasons within the Season
There were so many high points or phases we collectively went through that made up 2021. Each set up a larger discussion with real and fantasy football implications that changed the course of a few franchises. I can think of quite a few more, but these three stuck out to me when looking back on the regular season.
Remember when the Panthers’ offense was fun?
I remember this one because I fell for it. Sam Darnold put on a show to start the season, and I believed he turned a corner. He baited me by giving D.J. Moore red-zone targets, and then he went full Konami on us to sweeten the deal. I couldn’t resist the upside.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but Darnold was QB9 through Week 5. Adding five rushing touchdowns does wonders for a quarterback’s rank, but Darnold’s passing was encouraging. He seemed to have fundamentally improved his game outside of the explosive plays.
2021 Weeks 1-5
EPA per Play
Darnold improved across the board in clean-pocket situations. It’s a back-of-the-envelope way of measuring if a quarterback can do their job at a basic level, and Darnold was trending in the right direction. But tragedy was waiting right around the corner.
Darnold may have been heading in the right direction, but he still had a ways to go. He was still battling accuracy issues (20th in CPOE), and the Panthers’ offensive line was ready to give way. By Week 5, he was already eighth in pressure rate, and he was fourth in sacks taken. It’s easy to look back on it and see the train wreck coming, but the calamity extends past the quarterback now. Hopefully, things don’t get worse in 2022.
Remember Mike White?
I thought the Jets were fun to watch for about three weeks, and it wasn’t even with their first-round pick under center.
OK, so it wasn’t great seeing Mike White’s best moment come as he dunked on my favorite team. But I respected it. To be honest, I was jealous. Look at White and the rest of the offense. They were having fun! And, it’s part of what we expected with how the offense looked on paper over the offseason. However, it was supposed to be Zach Wilson leading the charge.
But White came with his own flaws masked by an effective game plan. It was a “death by a thousand cuts” approach with a 3.9 aDOT, but it got the job done. And, it forced the conversation about how the team would develop Wilson after a disastrous start to his career. Regardless, I wouldn’t mind seeing White back in the saddle next year. Just not against Cincinnati.
Remember when the Bengals were run-heavy?
Oh, I do.
Leone’s tweet tagging me came after Week 2. It hurt then. The Bengals had the ninth-lowest early-down passing rate through Week 7. It hurt worse a month later. I was the physical form of the “daily struggle” meme trying to reconcile my emotions. The team was 5-2, but Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon were the best fantasy options. I couldn’t have both to start the season, but maybe Zac Taylor saw all the tweets about his play-calling.
Their overall PROE tells most of the story, but their early-down passing rate has been the most significant change for them over the last month. Cincinnati went from a -9% passing rate on first down through the first month to 2%. They’re sixth in the neutral passing rate. I have no idea what to expect in the playoffs, but this is the team I’m hoping we see more of in the seasons to come. It’ll give me an excuse to draft Tyler Boyd again next year, which I’m sure won’t be a problem.
I have less of a feel for evaluating injuries this week. Like all of you, I can follow practice reports and press conferences, and project who will suit up the following weekend. But the regular-season finale brings an extra level of uncertainty to the task because now, motivation becomes a factor. Contract incentives or getting healthy for the playoffs enter the equation. It’s best to start with what we know, but I’ll be taking any report with a grain of salt up until kickoff.
We had several guys miss Week 17 or got hurt during their contests. I found some updates on them, and then we’ll get to the others.
- Lamar Jackson – Ankle – Another missed practice after getting in a limited session last week. Huntley is in line to make his fourth start of the year.
- Justin Fields – Ankle – Got in his first full practice since Week 15 and already named the starter to close out the Bears’ season.
- Jimmy Garoppolo – Thumb – Sore after Wednesday’s throwing session, and Shanahan won’t reveal the team’s starter ahead of Sunday.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Shoulder – Opens Week 18 with a DNP, but the Chiefs’ running game was productive yet again with The Mentor (14-88-2) as their RB1.
- Kareem Hunt – Ankle – Lobbying to play in the season finale and limited during the team’s walkthrough.
- Leonard Fournette/Ronald Jones – Hamstring/Ankle – Fournette’s still on IR but seen at practice yesterday. Jones was still in a boot after his injury on Sunday.
- Miles Sanders – Hand – Logged another DNP after Sirianni said he wouldn’t play against Dallas to likely get him back for the playoffs.
- Nelson Agholor – Concussion – Limited on Wednesday but first practice in any capacity since getting knocked out in Week 15.
- Emmanuel Sanders – Ankle – Still not practicing after logging two DNP’s before Buffalo’s Week 17 game. He may sit out again as the Bills face the Jets to lock up the AFC East.
- Curtis Samuel – Hamstring – DNP on Wednesday while working with trainers off to the side.
- Kyle Pitts – Hamstring – Expected absence on Wednesday after battling a hamstring injury Sunday. He’s 58 yards from breaking the rookie yardage record for tight-ends.
- Ricky Seals-Jones – Neck – Missed practice yesterday but up and walking around after a scary collision with a cameraman on Sunday.
The biggest news from Wednesday came out of Nashville as the Titans got back one of their biggest stars ahead of the playoffs.
Derrick Henry is top-7 in rushing yards and touchdowns this season. He hasn’t played since Week 8. Tennessee designated “the engine” of their offense to return from IR, and all they need is a win over the Texans to secure a first-round bye. What a runout for a team with so many other injuries throughout the season. Las Vegas also got back one of their primary weapons with their playoff hopes still alive.
We haven’t seen nor heard any positive reports regarding Darren Waller since Week 12. I’ll be more on board with playing him if we see another LP to close out the week. His limited appearance is a great sign, but I’d want to see continued participation from him ahead of Sunday. Las Vegas can still make the playoffs making motivation a non-issue for the Raiders. But, clearly, motivation was an issue for Cincinnati.
There was a chance the Bengals could have improved their seeding on Sunday. But the Chiefs would need to lose (on Saturday) along with the Titans. It’s a stretch, and the team placed Joe Mixon on the COVID list, so I get it. Let’s hope they’re all healthy by the start of the divisional round.