By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Welcome to the land of 7-on-7 flag football.
OK, the NFL is not quite fully there yet, but have you seen the passing numbers thus far? They’re ridiculous, and they’re exactly what the NFL wants.
Take, for example, this little statistical nugget:
That means that across the NFL on Sunday, the majority of quarterbacks played better than Aaron Rodgers has played in his career. That means that Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Patrick Mahomes, Andy Dalton, Deshaun Watson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Ryan Tannehill were all playing like Hall of Famers — along with a crew of names you might expect (Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, etc.). That’s just a week after Sam Darnold (in his first ever start), Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Fitzpatrick, Mahomes and Dalton did the same.
In Week 1, nine quarterbacks threw at least three touchdowns (five of them didn’t throw a single pick). And it was nine quarterbacks once again to throw at least three touchdowns in Week 2, with Mahomes throwing six and a quartet of quarterbacks throwing four apiece. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 60 times, throwing for 452 yards and three touchdowns without throwing a pick. He lost.
The point of this is that passing in the NFL right now seems to be a bit easy. It’s as if the NFL moved that slider down from All-Madden to All-Pro.
Naturally, with the passing insanity, scoring is up. Way up. A little more than eight points per game. There have been 174 touchdowns scored so far, which is the most ever through two weeks.
It’d be hard to definitively pinpoint the exact reason why, but it does feel at this point like it’s due to the amalgam of the emphasis on roughing the passer penalties, the emphasis on defenseless receiver penalties, and — to a lesser extent, because it doesn’t actually exist — the new penalty for lowering the helmet.
While the Packers and their fanbase have been feeling the rage this past week after the penalty call on Clay Matthews, it won’t take long at all for them to have some company. Just look at a side-by-side comparison on the Matthews hit and a Yannick Ngakoue hit on Tom Brady from the same day to see just how differently each individual officiating crew can enforce the rules. That’s going to spell confusion — among fans, media members, and most importantly, players — as to how the games will be officiated. And while the kinks work themselves out, quarterbacks stand to benefit in the meantime.
Of course, extrapolating a “16-game pace” after just two games is idiotic. But, understanding that, here’s what we’re looking at if we project out some stats for the 2018 season. It’s for effect.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 78.7%, 6,552 yards, 64 TDs, 8 INTs
Drew Brees: 81.3%, 5,456 yards, 40 TDs, 0 INTs
Philip Rivers: 73.1%, 5,440 yards, 48 TDs, 8 INTs
Kirk Cousins: 65.5%, 5,352 yards, 48 TDs, 8 INTs
Ben Roethlisberger: 61.4%, 6,296 yards, 32 TDs, 24 INTs
Matthew Stafford: 61.6%, 5,064 yards, 32 TDs, 32 INTs
For those who aren’t the best at counting, that looks like (counts fingers … hang on … OK, yup) six quarterbacks currently on pace to top 5,000 yards passing this season, and two quarterbacks on pace to throw for more than 6,200 yards. Only nine times has a quarterback ever thrown for 5,000 yards in a season, and only five quarterbacks have done it. (Drew Brees, shoutout to you for doing it five times, you animal.)
A quarterback has thrown for 6,000 yards … never. A quarterback has thrown for 5,500 yards … never. Yet the immortal Ryan Fitzpatrick, who didn’t even have a starting job a few months ago, is on such a track.
Obviously, these “paces” won’t continue. That’s not how sports work. Even still, with some falling back to earth, we could be in for some outrageously inflated passing numbers this season, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2011 and 2012. The 2011 season saw Brees throw for 5,476 yards, Tom Brady throw for 5,235 yards (a career high), Stafford (!!!) throw for 5,038 yards and Eli Manning throw for 4,933 yards. In 2012, Brees threw for 5,177 yards, Stafford (!!!) threw for 4,967 yards, and Tony Romo (!!!!!!!) threw for 4,903 yards.
There have been some high passing yardage seasons since then, but nothing quite as ridiculous as that particular stretch, when you had guys like Matt Flynn running around and throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns on a random Sunday. Right now, we appear to be in that period that comes before the correction. Which is good news for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, and bad news for everybody trying to stop them.
Now, let’s try to make sense of all of this with some picks.
(Wednesday lines; Home team in CAPS)
New York Jets (+3) over CLEVELAND
The press release that went out to promote this game was a doozy. A dooooo-zy.
“‘Thursday Night Football’ Continues with New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Exclusively on NFL Network”
OK. Straightforward start. Not that exciting. let’s see where it goes from here.
“Jets-Browns EXCLUSIVELY on NFL Network Thursday at 8:20 PM ET”
Ohh. Exclusive, you say? Well why didn’t you say so??
“Former Browns All-Pro OT Joe Thomas Makes His NFL Network Debut on ‘NFL GameDay Kickoff'”
Oh my! A Joe Thomas debut in an analyst role? Clear my entire schedule! (Pronounced “sheh-joole.”)
“Additionally, FOX’s NFL Rules expert Mike Pereira joins to give explanations on officiating and rules throughout the game.”
“Among the topics discussed this week on NFL GameDay Kickoff include: Which team is set to make the leap to playoff contender?”
I’ve already fainted but now I’m fully deceased, solely from the anticipation.
Thursday Night Football, baby. It’s back and better than ever.
Anyways. The Browns? No thanks.
BALTIMORE (-5) over Denver
The Ravens’ offense is the least watchable part of the NFL. It’s painful. It’s become a tired joke to comment about Joe Flacco’s deep ball/pass interference prayers. But there’s nothing left to say.
I did, though, appreciate this comment from John Harbaugh this week: “Nobody in the NFL is a good football team yet.”
An interesting take!
New Orleans (+3) over ATLANTA
Perhaps some familiarity with Matt Ryan will allow the dreadful New Orleans defense to be just a pinch less dreadful for a few minutes?
San Francisco (+7) over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs probably ought to win, but if you take the 32nd-ranked defense to cover seven points, you’re nuts.
New York Giants (+6) over HOUSTON
Oh my! Move this game into prime time, please.
Here are two headlines coming out of each of these team’s Week 2 losses:
One of most embarrassing losses in Texans history
Ownership is to blame for current state of Giants as they head toward another top 10 pick in NFL Draft
What a matchup! If it’s too late for the NFL to swap out that Jets-Browns mess on Thursday night, I may legitimately cancel my plans for this one. It’s too rich.
As for the game? I have no idea. Nobody has any idea. Anybody who claims to have an idea is a liar. A no-good, dirty, rotten liar. Don’t trust them. Meanwhile, I’ll just take the points because I can’t envision a scenario where either of these teams could possibly win by a touchdown.
MIAMI (-3) over Oakland
The world is probably overvaluing Miami a bit at the moment. Unfortunately the world is not undervaluing Oakland at all.
So, forced to make a decision, I will choose what looks to be the most entertaining outcome for me, personally: An 0-3 Raiders start. I don’t even harbor any ill will toward Jon Gruden, really. It just would be funny. Boy would that be funny.
Again, no ill will. But an Oakland loss in Miami? I must admit. I’d let out a hearty chuckle.
MINNESOTA (-17) over Buffalo
You can always tell just how terrible a team truly is when you don’t even hesitate — not for when second — when you see a 17-point spread. There’s not even a debate.
Look, there’s always an outside possibility that some random things happen. It is football, after all. Nothing’s a guarantee. But the Bills:
–Have been outscored 78-23
–Have been outgained 662-446
–Have a minus-3 turnover ratio
–Have players retiring at halftime because everything is so bad
I’m just flattered that Vontae Davis read my column last week, in which I picked apart the negligent roster management and team building of the Buffalo Bills brass. Thanks, Vontae!
Green Bay (-3) over WASHINGTON
Remember when Adrian Peterson ran buck wild against the Cardinals (the NFL’s worst team) and scores of articles came out about a rejuvenated Peterson? I do. I even saw this one: “Adrian Peterson Wants to Play 3 or 4 More Years, Be Best RB Ever.”
OK. Well. He rushed for 20 yards on 11 carries last week. There aren’t as many Adrian Peterson stories this week. Huh.
Anyway, the Packers tied last week and much like the Raiders’ failures, I also found that funny. If you don’t enjoy ties then you need to move to Canada. Ties are hysterical. I hope everybody ties this weekend.
JACKSONVILLE (-6.5) over Tennessee
It’s the Jags’ year. We’ve been over this already.
CAROLINA (-3) over Cincinnati
This week we learn whether it’s actually a brand new Andy Dalton, or whether the old Andy Dalton was just benefiting greatly from Joe Mixon. My money is on B.
By the way, in news that absolutely tickled me pink, the Bengals won in consecutive weeks with final scores of 34-23 in both games. What in the wide world of sports! That’s a final score that’s only happened 15 times in NFL history, and two have happened in the past two weeks to the same team. My simple little brain is doing BACKFLIPS!
Indianapolis (+6.5) over PHILADELPHIA
Is Carson Wentz going to be Carson Wentz right away? Against Indy, would he even need to be? It’s hard to say. Making picks in the first four weeks of the season is hard, man.
I’m basically a hero out here.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-7) over Los Angeles Chargers
The Rams are allowing less than seven points per game this year. I suppose at some point reality will come crashing down. The Rams are good but likely not 16-0 good. If you want to be the one who tries to guess that it’s coming, you can feel free. But I feel all right about this wave continuing on for at least another week.
I just wish this game was in the Chargers’ little stadium. For one, it’s so quaint. How cute! But secondly, filling an L.A. stadium with visiting fans of another L.A. team would really mess with people’s brains.
Chicago (-6.5) over ARIZONA
When you’re the worst team in the NFL and your quarterbacking has been second-worst in the whole league, probably the last thing you want to see if Khalil Mack on the schedule. Not ideal. Some people are saying it’s time to throw Josh Rosen in there in place of Sam Bradford. Allow me to suggest perhaps waiting another week, yes?
SEATTLE (-1) over Dallas
Last week for the Giants-Cowboys game, I only wrote, “The Cowboys stink.” For that I apologize. Truly. I was wrong.
What I should have written was this: “The Cowboys stink. But the Giants stink much, much worse.”
We regret the error.
New England (-7) over DETROIT
What a tough spot for Matt Patricia. Obviously Week 1 was a disaster. Week 2 should have been a hard-earned win, if not for a really unwise penalty away from the play. Tough break. But now with 0-3 staring you in the face, it’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady coming to your new house. And they’re coming off a loss. Kind of a bad loss, too. Yeesh.
Pray for the Lions.
Pittsburgh (-1) over TAMPA BAY
The easy pick this week is to get sunk into the Antonio Brown/Le’Veon Bell saga and assume it’ll sink the Steelers this upcoming Monday night in hilarious fashion. While that would indeed be a humorous development, it’s just too simple. Things don’t usually end up working out like that.
And if I can be honest, I’m a bit nervous about this game. The thing is, I feel a certain kinship with Ryan Fitzpatrick and this recent run of Fitzmagic. You see, we’ve both been doing some things related to the NFL for a while — really, both in a full-time capacity for about a decade. We’ve both done well enough to keep a job, but we haven’t really excelled to the point where anyone would ever consider us great. We both have beards — though his is admittedly more bodacious. He studied at Harvard; I’ve eaten ice cream and imbibed some adult beverages while standing close to Harvard. We’re really kindred spirits, he and I.
But this year, he’s been on fire … and so have I! A 10-5-1 Week 1 with an 11-5 follow-up? Definitely the best start of my picks career. It had me feeling all sorts of ways, almost like …
Obviously, things are going swell for Fitzpatrick right now. But knowing his history … I’m not banking on this fun ride to continue very long.
Which doesn’t say much for my own personal hopes.
Last week: 11-5