NFL playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets, Deshaun Watson and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Firepower is making the difference in the NFL playoffs
There is no way to definitively prove it, but it sure seems like the chaotic nature of the 2020 NFL season has made quarterback play more valuable in the postseason. And while that may seem obvious, consider this: Teams quarterbacked by Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Nick Foles, Matt Ryan and a 39-year-old Peyton Manning have made the Super Bowl in the past five years. Ryan won MVP that season and Manning is obviously an all-time great, but neither of them were considered an elite quarterback heading into the season they reached the Super Bowl.
This year, some combination of Patrick Mahomes (if he’s healthy), Josh Allen, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will be facing off in Tampa on Feb. 7. There is no well-balanced team that relies heavily on its defense remaining. The Cleveland Browns came close, but only because they had the vastly superior signal caller once Mahomes left the game. What’s left are some of the best quarterbacks in the sport and the all-world weapons they throw to. While it’s possible it’s a coincidence, recent history and the limited time for preparation suggest there’s a reason why the teams who don’t have to get creative and have everything go to plan are the ones who are still alive.
2. The Nets got desperate
There is no other way to explain why a team built in the same mold as every championship team in the last decade without LeBron James on it sacrificed control of its next seven drafts to exchange its remarkable depth with James Harden. Everyone could see the problems Harden was causing in Houston and Brooklyn still gave up everything it possibly could to get him. It’s fair to wonder if the Harden trade goes down this way without the events of the past few weeks.
The Nets quickly went from looking like a juggernaut to a team without Spencer Dinwiddie (torn ACL) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) sitting around .500. Had Irving not mysteriously stopped coming to work and Dinwiddie not gotten hurt, the Nets would’ve been in a much better position to acquire Harden on their terms if they wanted to. Instead, they were facing the real possibility of not being serious contenders this season with Kevin Durant only locked in for one more year. So Brooklyn felt obligated to tear down its roster and mortgage its future to create a big three that doesn’t fit together offensively or offer much defensively.
3. Manchester United let an opportunity go to waste
Manchester United’s draw at Anfield on Jan. 17 that gave the Red Devils a two-point cushion at the top of the Premier League table looks like a positive result in a vacuum. The context of the game itself and the season overall, however, provide a different perspective. United had the better chances against a Liverpool team with one goal in their last four games and playing two midfielders as makeshift center backs. The defending champions will not be this vulnerable the rest of the season.
There’s also United’s neighbors, who’ve won eight in a row across all competitions and are averaging .003 more points per game than they are. For United to win the league for the first time since 2012-13, they will need to avoid the awful runs of form that’ve plagued them during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure or hope their two fiercest rivals (the aforementioned Liverpool and Manchester City) continue to struggle. The Red Devils have three draws and a defeat against the four teams directly behind them. Their extended periods of consistency will keep them in this bizarre title race, but they’re not winning the league without a victory or two in big games.
4. If any NFL team needed Urban Meyer, it was the Jaguars
There is not a team in the NFL that has to do more to become part of the national NFL conversation than the Jacksonville Jaguars. They are not the New York Jets, who are always relevant because of where they play. Unless they are nearly beating Tom Brady’s New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl, the biggest news coming out of Jacksonville is Leonard Fournette getting released or Jalen Ramsey showing up to training camp with a Brinks truck. Adding Trevor Lawrence into the equation makes the Jaguars interesting for a while, but nobody is ready to carry a bad roster as a rookie.
That’s where Urban Meyer comes in. Jacksonville’s new coach comes with quite a reputation, both good and bad. Three-time national champions don’t become available every day, and there is a reason Meyer was working as an analyst. Once the intrigue of Lawrence in the NFL wears off, Jaguars fans will still be excited because they have a serial winner on the sidelines with a franchise quarterback to work with. One or the other gives Jacksonville guarantees a temporary infusion of excitement. Having both keeps that excitement around for a while.
5. Deshaun Watson put too much faith in the Texans
Deshaun Watson has every right to be furious with the series of events that have transpired within the Houston Texans organization. Watson just wanted to be part of the conversation when it came to picking a new general manager and head coach. Apparently that was too much to ask for. So now Watson — again, for completely understandable reasons — is reportedly uninterested in playing for the team he signed a four-year extension with before the season.
After Watson signed that extension, I wrote in this very column that he’d surrendered much of the leverage he could’ve had, specifically when it came to a situation like this one. Considering the Texans’ track record, it’s not surprising at all things unfolded the way they did. By choosing the security a long-term deal offered, Watson seeded control of his short-term future to the Texans and lost the ability to keep them in check. He can’t use impending free agency as a negotiating tool, leaving a trade request and not showing up as the tactics available to get the resolution he wants. Watson undoubtedly deserves better, and sadly, he doesn’t really have a way to force the organization that’s treated him so poorly to change.
Jared Butler’s 2-of-11 performance against Texas Tech and Michigan’s 18-point loss to Minnesota were a reminder of the flawed nature of every college basketball team except Gonzaga. The regular season has officially become a competition to see who’s most likely to take advantage should the Bulldogs slip up in March.
Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons