AFC has the power, Deshaun Watson latest, Baker Mayfield and more
If you think the balance between the AFC and NFC is wildly out of whack, take a look at the quarterback situation and know it’s going to get far worse.
From 1984-97, the NFC won 14 consecutive Super Bowls.
The AFC might soon go on a similar run of its own.
This offseason saw a pair of star quarterbacks jump from the NFC to the AFC, with Russell Wilson joining the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts landing Matt Ryan.
Those two 30-somethings join a conference loaded with star quarterbacks either entering or in their prime including Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers) and Deshaun Watson (Cleveland Browns).
Mahomes, Watson and Allen are 26 years old. Burrow and Jackson are 25. Herbert is 24.
Then there are the first-round picks since 2020, headlined by Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (New York Jets), Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins), Mac Jones (New England Patriots) and Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Finally, there’s Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders), who at 31 years old just signed an extension worth $40 million annually and who arguably ranks as a top-12 quarterback.
Now, to the NFC.
Looking at WynnBet’s Super Bowl future odds, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+600), Los Angeles Rams (+1000) and Green Bay Packers (+1000) lead the way for the conference. Their respective quarterbacks are 44-year-old Tom Brady, 34-year-old Matthew Stafford and 38-year-old Aaron Rodgers.
Of the other 13 NFC teams, only four can argue they have a definitive franchise quarterback or have chosen a first-rounder at the position in the last three drafts, with the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in that group.
With the NFL being driven more than ever by quarterback play, the NFC is at a severe disadvantage. When Brady and Rodgers finally decline or retire, there’s not a single quarterback in the conference worthy of a Hall of Fame conversation save for Stafford.
Furthermore, the balance of future draft capital and therefore the opportunity to make a big move towards landing a franchise quarterback is even across the conferences.
While the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks hold two first-round picks in 2023, the Dolphins and Houston Texans do as well. And Houston can say the same for ’24, the only team in such a position.
It’s hard to identify another time the conferences have been so imbalanced in terms of quarterback play. Even the aforementioned 14-year stretch of NFC dominance was largely fueled more by complete teams than anything else. In that era, Jim Kelly lost four Super Bowls, John Elway lost three and Dan Marino lost another. All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Over the next year or two, the NFC still has Brady and Rodgers. Stafford should carry the torch to some degree afterwards.
But the AFC is poised for a sustained run of titles behind a tidal wave of quarterback talent.
Top 10 players who played into their 40s
1. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers
2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
3. Johnny Unitas, QB, Baltimore Colts
4. Bruce Smith, DE, Buffalo Bills
5. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
6. Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers
7. Warren Moon, QB, Houston Oilers
8. Darrell Green, CB, Washington Redskins
9. Bruce Matthews, OL, Tennessee Titans
10. Junior Seau, LB, San Diego Chargers
“Oh man. We all feel like we’re on an all-star team, so we feel great. We feel unstoppable, I’m not gonna lie. The vibes are great, always have been.”
– Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders on his remade team entering 2022
Everybody remembers a decade ago when the Eagles had a self-proclaimed Dream Team, only to go 7-9. However, Sanders’ confidence is understandable. By almost all accounts, Philadelphia has enjoyed a rousing offseason with a terrific draft, the trade for receiver A.J. Brown and the signing of corner James Bradberry.
An all-star team? That’s a bit much, but the Eagles should strongly contend in the NFC East.
In 1976, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a win a 40-14 AFC Divisional win over the Baltimore Colts. It remains the only postseason game where a visiting quarterback accomplished this feat.
Info learned this week
1. Deshaun Watson’s hearing finished, and now we wait
The NFL and Deshaun Watson spent three days in a disciplinary hearing from Tuesday-Thursday. With it concluded, both parties wait for the ruling of Sue Robinson, the discipline officer overseeing the case.
At this juncture, it seems inevitable Watson will be suspended for a lengthy portion of the 2022 season before training camp, with the entire campaign being in play. If the Browns are without him, the next bit of drama comes with who they’ll start, as both Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett remain on the roster.
Meanwhile, the NFL has to be wondering what the reaction will be nationally if Watson only gets something like half of the season. Most — including myself — have expected the Browns to be without his services until 2023 based on his facing 24 civil suits this offseason, with 20 being settled in June. Still, Watson has four active civil suits against him for sexual misconduct with more potentially coming.
One way or the other, we should know Watson’s fate in the next few weeks.
2. Washington gets good value with Terry McLaurin, but he also wins
It’s rare to say the Washington Commanders did a smart thing. Last week, they did a smart thing.
After an offseason of speculation regarding star receiver Terry McLaurin’s future, the Commanders stepped up and signed the former Penn State star to a three-year extension worth up to $71 million. Most importantly, McLaurin received $53 million guaranteed.
While the pact certainly takes care of McLaurin in the short and long term, some around the league were surprised. In the lead-up to a deal getting done, league sources told FanSided they believed McLaurin would come in around the same numbers as A.J. Brown, who after being traded from the Tennessee Titans to the Philadelphia Eagles, signed a four-year deal worth $100 million with $57 million guaranteed.
In short, McLaurin came in $29 million less on a deal one year shorter. However, he only took $4 million less guaranteed while getting to hit the market again a year earlier than his NFC East counterpart.
This is the rare instance where both the team and player won.
3. Odell Beckham Jr. remains on the market despite talents
The Los Angeles Rams probably don’t win the Super Bowl without Odell Beckham Jr. Yet entering July, he remains a free agent while rehabbing his torn ACL suffered on Super Sunday.
Beckham, 29, remains one of the elite talents at his position. Yet he’s now coming off a second torn ACL in as many seasons, and he’s without a 1,000-yard campaign since 2019. Eventually, he’ll likely sign a one-year deal and play the latter portion of 2022, but where?
The Rams are the obvious choice, but there could be other teams in play. Green Bay could desperately use another receiver. The Buffalo Bills have Stefon Diggs but little in the way of a proven second option with Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley gone. The Colts also make sense, in need of more weaponry on the outside. The Dallas Cowboys could also use an upgrade after losing Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson.
While his injury situation is limiting, Beckham remains a considerably cheap, high-upside play for a contender.
4. Desmond Ridder draws high praise from Falcons
Maybe Kenny Pickett won’t be the only rookie quarterback starting this season.
In Atlanta, the Falcons took a third-round flier on Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, and they like the early returns. Head coach Arthur Smith lauded Ridder’s mental acuity, while teammates have spoke about his leadership. While expecting Ridder to start Week 1 over veteran Marcus Mariota is too aggressive, perhaps the youngster seeing time in 2022 isn’t a reach.
Think about it. The Falcons are likely going to be a bad football team. There’s no upside in watching Mariota come November and December when Atlanta is out of the postseason chase. If the coaching staff believes there’s something to Ridder’s long-term viability as a starter, let him play some pressure-free games and get reps with rookie receiver Drake London and second-year tight end Kyle Pitts.
What looked to be a dreary year in Atlanta could prove a turning point if Ridder steps to the fore.
5. Enjoy the 4th!
Nope, not something learned, but something worth saying.
Instead of trying to find some uninteresting note to jam into the column on this holiday, why not celebrate the 246th birthday of America? Wherever you are, hopefully you’re getting a decent fireworks show, some dogs on the grills and a nice dollop of potato salad. That’s my kind of 4th, anyway.
For me, this holiday always signifies the beginning of a new NFL season. The OTAs and minicamps are over. We know who is on what team. We’re only three weeks away from teams showing up and not dispersing again until January — or February.
Football is about to be back in full force, but until then, enjoy some grilled goods and a beverage.
The two rookies who will have the biggest impact on who wins Super Bowl LVII are both first-round defenders which went to the same team.
Meet Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected McDuffie at No. 21 overall before snatching Karlaftis up nine selections later. Both will start immediately, filling roles left by corner Charvarius Ward and edge rusher Melvin Ingram, respectively.
Despite trading receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks — one of which was used to acquire McDuffie — the Chiefs’ offense will still produce. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and a great offensive line has that effect.
But how far Kansas City can go will be determined by the defense, one relying on a litany of new faces. None will be more critical than McDuffie and Karlaftis, two rookies thrust into high-pressure situations.
Normally, there are a bevy of first-year quarterbacks to look at who could shape the league in the year ahead. This season, nobody will alter the championship chase, for good or bad, more than Kansas City’s two defensive rookies.
Inside the league
Count me out on Baker Mayfield going to and getting an extension from the Seattle Seahawks.
Not because it can’t happen — it’s in play — but because it makes no sense for the franchise.
Seattle has enjoyed a decade-long run of success behind quarterback Russell Wilson. Since 2012, the Seahawks have enjoyed four division titles, two Super Bowl appearances, seven playoff runs and a title.
However, Wilson is gone, traded for multiple first- and second-round picks to the Denver Broncos, including such choices in 2023. And it should be noted the ’23 class is expected to be loaded with quality quarterbacks, including Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s E.J. Stroud.
So why would Seattle acquire Mayfield when winning four games is more enviable than winning seven for a rebuilding club?
Mayfield makes all the sense imaginable with the Carolina Panthers, a team tired of losing that doesn’t have a bushel of picks moving forward.
Seattle isn’t in that spot. Locking itself into Mayfield for anything more than one year is lunacy.
Only three NFL franchises which existed prior to 1995 have never had a single game started by a Hall of Fame quarterback; the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.
The Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers are also waiting for a starting quarterback of theirs to don a gold jacket, but each remains in its relative infancy.
Every year, there’s talk about who the first coach fired will be. This year, there aren’t many candidates.
Assuming men in their first or second years are safe, you’re already down to 17 candidates. Then remove the champions, including Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy, Sean McVay and John Harbaugh, and the list dwindles to 10.
Here are those 10 coaches:
- Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals
- Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
- Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
- Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
- Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
- Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
- Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
- Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
- Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
- Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders
Rhule stands outs considering he’s in his third year saddled with a bad Panthers team. Cleveland is unstable, so perhaps Stefanski is the casualty of insanity. Outside of them, you have either established coaches with plenty of good will, coaches with playoff-caliber teams, or a crossover of those two.
The same logic applies to changes after the upcoming season. We saw 10 jobs turn over last offseason. It would be surprising to hit half that number in 2023.