Josh Allen gives Bills belief, Carson Wentz’s next chapter and more


The Buffalo Bills haven’t been truly hopeful since the 1990s, but behind Josh Allen and a great supporting cast, that’s starting to change.

Josh Allen was pissed.

Hours prior to what would become a statement victory by the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster sprinted to the Bills’ logo at midfield and did a bit of a dance.

Smith-Schuster and his teammates needed to atone for his act of pre-game disrespect, and the now suddenly wobbling and 11-2 Steelers certainly did.

On a snowy night on the banks of Lake Erie, Allen and the Bills announced to the league in a 26-15 victory they aren’t just a team on the rise, but one that is capable of mounting a legitimate charge for the Lombardi Trophy.

Much of the Bills’ current success and projected ascent rests on the cannon connected to Allen’s right shoulder.

“Josh Allen is the most talented guy I’ve seen come through the Manning Passing Camp the last seven years,” Test Football Academy quarterback coach Tony Racioppi tells FanSided. “So, from a talent standpoint, I’m not surprised one bit to see what Josh and the Bills are doing right now.”

In the wind and snow on Sunday night against the Steelers’ pass rush, Allen passed for 238 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. He’s now thrown for 3,641 yards with 28 touchdowns, nine interceptions and has a 103.3 passer rating this season.

“I couldn’t believe that Josh wasn’t the No. 1 pick,” Racioppi says. “I saw him with Baker [Mayfield], Sam Darnold, all those guys in that class. You put that chip on his shoulder, and that’s kind of a good thing, if he goes No. 1 who knows if he has that chip. But, regardless, he has the talent and that alpha male in him. You get all those guys in the room and Josh is the top dog.”

The Bills are going to make the playoffs and are likely to host a playoff game for the first time since falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1996 AFC Wild Card Game. Buffalo’s runaway success this season is due in large part to an offense built around wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ game-breaking speed.

Diggs, and his 100 catches for 1,167 yards and five touchdowns, is the perfect complement to Allen’s arm.

This plucky franchise, from a small and somewhat forgotten snow-covered NFL outpost, has the kind of talent, and kind of coach in Sean McDermott, who are built to make a run not just this season but sustain said success for years to come.

“The supporting cast around Allen is much better this year,” Racioppi pointed out. “Diggs is huge. When you have a number one receiver who is dynamic, that’s a game-changer. Cole Beasley is one of the best slots in the NFL. They have the home run hitter, the slot option guy, and a tight end making plays.”

All of those weapons have been maximized by Allen, 24, who is due for a monster contract extension this offseason. Diggs is 27. Rookie running back Zack Moss is only going to get better from here after averaging 3.9 yards per rush and scoring three touchdowns in his first 10 games.

Buffalo’s roster is constructed to grab the AFC East torch from the New England Patriots and run with it. This is perhaps the team most capable of challenging the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead next month, should they get the opportunity to avenge an earlier 26-17 loss.

“They absolutely can beat the Chiefs,” Racioppi said. “On top of everything else, they have a creative playcaller. Brian Daboll has done a great job. He’s a really good coach and teacher. That’s the perfect storm. You have a quarterback who focused on himself, improved his fundamentals, and a great coach who can draw it up for him.”

Daboll hasn’t just brought out the best in Allen, Daboll’s offense is averaging more than 375 yards per game, ranks third in passing offense (3,547 yards) and is ninth in scoring at 27.6 points per game.

While Allen has been on a meteoric rise to superstardom this season, there wasn’t always this much optimism around the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Through his first two seasons, Allen completed just 56 percent of his passes. Allen’s arm-strength was never in doubt, his 30-to-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio certainly raised red flags.

This offseason was a transformational one for Allen, and it changed everything for the Bills.

“I think he did a great job working on his fundamentals, and he’s just fundamentally a better quarterback,” Racioppi said. “His base is better. He’s more of a balanced rotational passer, whereas in the past he used more momentum to throw, when his balance used to be all over the place you saw some of those wild throws at times.

“But, from an arm-strength standpoint, he’s as athletic as it comes for a big dude. There’s no surprise how he’s playing. I just think it’s the fundamentals from the work in an extended offseason, the guys that took advantage of it worked on their game, which they don’t typically do, he got to really focus on himself rather than being in a minicamp and running plays.”

While Allen has been critical to the Bills’ success this season, it is fair to wonder what happens to him and this team when Daboll inevitably gets a head coaching opportunity of his own off the coattails of this offense’s dynamic success.

Is the Bills’ upward trajectory sustainable beyond this season if Daboll moves on?

“I think it’s sustainable because of Josh’s talent,” Racioppi said. “Sometimes the playcaller makes guys look better than they really are, sometimes they have good ability but aren’t elite and the playcaller closes those gaps — like Jared Goff, how good is Jared without Sean McVay? He wasn’t very good before him.

“Josh is so, so athletic, he has the strongest arm I’ve seen in my entire life, he has a howitzer. He can throw it hard, he can throw it far, and he has the feet … You see a confident guy. When guys are fundamentally sound, believe in the coaching, then you play well. Head coach Sean McDermott is a good guy, knows what he’s doing, and it’s a perfect storm for them this year that could grow into something really special.”

The Eagles have turned the page, but what’s Carson Wentz’s next chapter?

It’s the end of an era in Philadelphia.

That’s the only way to look at what’s transpiring after the Eagles’ victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday that sent aftershocks through the NFC Playoff picture, with second-round rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts making his first career start for the benched Carson Wentz.

Hurts was a spectacular playmaker with his legs, rushing for 106 yards, while unremarkable but efficient enough with his arm, passing for 167 yards and a touchdown.

The Oklahoma/Alabama alum’s versatility and fearlessness to take off and run was a welcomed injection of juice into what had become a stagnant offense. Hurts even opened up the running game for Miles Sanders to bust out for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson quickly, albeit somewhat tentatively out of respect for Wentz, named Hurts the starter for a must-win Week 15 clash with the Arizona Cardinals, a got-to-have it game to keep Philadelphia’s flickering playoff hopes alive.

Pederson should rip the bandaid off and name Hurts the starter the rest of the way.

For Wentz, it’s over. There’s no coming back from this, and I’m not convinced Wentz has it in him to salvage this situation or mount a comeback to become the Eagles’ starter again next season.

Unfortunately, for the Eagles, this has the chance to get very awkward very quickly.

It would be easy to suggest the Eagles could possibly trade Wentz this offseason.

A team like the Indianapolis Colts, where a reunion with Frank Reich might be the last chance to reignite what helped Wentz become an MVP candidate in 2017 prior to shredding his ACL diving for the goal line against the Los Angeles Rams that December might be a match.

Likewise, the San Francisco 49ers might be an ideal landing spot, given head coach Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback-friendly scheme and the organization’s desperation for a quarterback they can win because of rather than in spite of.

However, that conversation is all but moot because trading Wentz would trigger a $33.8 million dead money charge in 2021. Even if the Eagles toss in a second or third-round pick to sweeten the pot for a team to take on Wentz and his mammoth contract, it’s highly unlikely to happen.

“I just can’t see any possible way the Eagles could trade him,” former New Orleans Saints and Miami general manager and 2000 NFL Executive of The Year Randy Mueller tells FanSided. “Those cap ramifications are fairly prohibitive. There would be a market for him, but not under the cap restrictions of next year.”

Beyond the ramifications on the Eagles — who even before trading Wentz are projected to be $65.7 million over the cap in 2021 — is the fact teams with cap space to absorb Wentz’s contract aren’t lining up down Pattison Avenue for him. Why? He’s a quarterback who has missed time due to serious injury three of the past four seasons and was just benched amid the least-productive season of his career.

So, what do the Eagles do with Wentz? Where do they go from here?

“You have to let [Hurts] play,” Mueller said. “Then open up a competition for the starting job next summer during training camp. You have to hope that Howie Roseman does a better job of rebuilding than he has, and that Doug is more versatile and player-friendly on offense in 2021.”

Broncos’ deep threat dashes onto the scene

The Denver Broncos’ offense had been stuck in the mud in recent weeks.

Desperately looking for a spark, the Broncos turned to second-round rookie wide receiver K.J. Hamler on Sunday, who proved to be the tinderbox both for the Broncos’ offense at large and an emergent favorite target of second-year quarterback Drew Lock.

In the third quarter with Denver clinging to a 13-7 lead over the Carolina Panthers, Lock looked to his right and noticed Hamler isolated against cornerback Rasul Dougles, and with a nod he audibled into a nine-route to the speedster. Hamler stutter-stepped near the line of scrimmage, which was all it took to force Douglas to stumble, allowing him to break wide open on his way to catching an easy 40-yard touchdown.

Later, Hamler again got behind the Panthers’ secondary, adding a 46-yard score to cap the Broncos’ 32-27 victory.

Hamler’s college coach, Penn State’s James Franklin, wasn’t surprised in the least to see the latest Nittany Lion alum break out in the Broncos’ passing game.

“His speed and quickness on the field is matched by his energy and positive nature off of it,” Franklin tells FanSided. “You want him in your locker room. He’s just a great guy, fun to coach, and most of all he’s a culture driver. You can’t have enough guys like that.”

Catching two of his three targets for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns earned Hamler a career-high 77.6 receiving grade from Pro Football Focus.

“K.J.’s high production and low maintenance,” Franklin added.

Through the first 10 games of his NFL career, Hamler is the Broncos’ fourth-leading receiver, with 52 receptions for 377 yards, and ranks third on the team with three receiving touchdowns.

After previously catching the game-winning touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Chargers back in Week 8, it sure sounds like Sunday’s outburst could be a harbinger of things to come for Hamler and the Broncos’ aerial attack.

"“Nice to see KJ come up with some big plays. We can add that to our offense,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “Big-time, that’s why we drafted him. He’s fast, he can stretch [the field], he’s tough to cover 1-on-1, and we’re hoping it’s the start. … He’s been coming around, but we’re hoping to see more and more of that.”"

The NFL Draft prospect no one is talking about, but you should get to know

Every year there’s a prospect that rises from the crowd of relative obscurity to the top of draft boards after strong finishes to the college football season and even stronger performances at the NFL Combine, Pro Days and various all-star game showcases.

So, who’s it going to be this year?

Jim Nagy spent 18 seasons as an NFL scout and is currently the Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and without hesitation says the player fans should get to know before his rise in April is Notre Dame defensive end Ade Ogundeji.

Ogundeji, 6-foot-4 and 268 pounds, has the ideal frame to put his hand in the dirt or even stand up as a disruptive pass-rushing outside linebacker has been among the Fighting Irish’s most dominant defenders this season.

Through eight games, Ogundeji has produced 5.5 sacks, 20 total tackles, and forced a fumble.

Like Nagy, the NFL sees potential in Ogundeji, as well.

“He’s a good defensive end,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the draft. “Can he be great? We’ll see.”

The executive has a Round 3 grade on Ogundeji, but if Nagy is right, he might come off the board much sooner.


"“Tremendous effort by the defense. I thought [OLB] Markus [Golden] set the tone, which is kind of poetic to come back here and get that strip sack and really set the tone early that they were going to be there all day as far as the rush goes. Great overall effort, great plan by [Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph] and those guys. I was very, very excited to see that level of play the entire afternoon.”"

– Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury following a dominant 26-7 win over the Giants

It certainly was fitting that on the Giants’ first possession Sunday, it was Golden who broke loose and walloped quarterback Daniel Jones in the pocket, forced a fumble, scooped it and returned it 30 yards to spark a statement victory for the Cardinals.

Golden re-signed with the Giants, who showed nary a bit of interest in committing to him long-term, despite the fact that he produced a team-high 10 sacks for New York last season, only bringing him back on the little-used restricted free agent tender.

The Giants wound up trading Golden to the Cardinals for a sixth-round pick at the deadline, and he now has 13 total tackles, a pair of sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

The Cardinals’ dominance, holding the Giants to just 159 yards of total offense, was a proclamation to the rest of the league that this is a team that can beat you in plenty more ways than with Kyler Murray’s electrifying skill-set or DeAndre Hopkins’ torching your secondary.

Arizona essentially won two games over the Giants Sunday, because they now own the wild card tiebreaker over New York, and if the Cardinals get in, this is a team that can make some serious noise in the postseason.

What I’ll be watching

Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints

As far as mid-December inter-conference games go, does it get better than this?

Patrick Mahomes, despite tossing three interceptions against the Miami Dolphins for just the second time in his career, still led the Chiefs to a rather effortless victory last Sunday in a testament to the explosiveness of the assemblage of talent around the runaway MVP favorite.

The Chiefs enter Sunday afternoon’s 4:25 kickoff at the Mercedes Benz Superdome riding an eight-game winning streak in hopes of creating some distance between the suddenly floundering Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC playoff bracket.

Meanwhile, the Saints desperately need a win after stumbling in Philadelphia last week. New Orleans might be getting Drew Brees back, too, which would only add to the drama and intrigue.

New Orleans owns a two-game cushion in the NFC South over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but look to inch closer to the Green Bay Packers and the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

There’s a very real possibility this game will be played again 660 miles away in Tampa sometime in February. The possible appetizer on Sunday afternoon should be pretty fun, and a great way to cap the weekend.

Final thought

Chase Young altered the season Sunday.

There’s a sea change underway in the NFC East, with the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys ceding supremacy to the Washington Football Team and the Giants both this season and the years ahead.

However, the most gifted player in the division might be rookie defensive end Chase Young. The former No. 2 overall pick is lifting all boats in Washington, which now controls its divisional destiny.

Young’s performance on Sunday might be a glimpse into the future of a career with limitless potential.

Just as 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens was being strip-sacked, Young sprinted from about five yards away to scoop up the fumble and speed 47 yards into the end zone for a go ahead touchdown. He also produced six solo tackles, one sack, and crushed 49ers running back Jeff Wilson to force another fumble.

It was only one game, but Young might have torpedoed the Giants’ playoff chances, blown out the Niners’ flickering playoff hopes, while reinforcing why he was chosen No. 2 in the NFL Draft in the first place, all in one day.

Just close your eyes and imagine how much more destructive Young can be from here …

Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.