Sandler: Weekend NFL, NCAA Football Wrap Up

*Joel Lanning started a handful of games at QB last year for the Iowa State Cyclones. No longer their starting QB, Lanning made the transition to LB. He’s not a stud LB by any means, but he made some critical plays on Saturday on the defensive side while getting a few snaps at QB. As a QB, Lanning doesn’t have a bright future so it’s tough to compare his situation to that of a potential NFL QB who chooses to transfer when he loses his starting job. With that said, it’s still nice to see a competitor try and find a way to help his team out and willingly change positions when he loses playing time.

*No loss is a “good loss,” but its certainly worse to lose at home to Iowa State (OU) than on road to Washington State on a short week (USC). With that said, OU has a big time signature win–on the road versus Ohio State–and in the past, a great win has made more of an impact on the committee than a bad loss.

*Clemson’s DT Christian Wilkins is one of the most fun defensive players to watch this year. If you follow along with mock drafts, you’re probably familiar with his name. College DTs–heck, DTs, in general–don’t get a ton of love, but Wilkins deserves it. Clemson is really impressive on the offensive side yet again, but their defense, led by Wilkins, is what makes them scary good. 

*Saquon Barkley is obviously a game-changer and while James Franklin might not be the most likable, he’s one of the five best coaches in the country. With that said, while I like Trace McSorley just fine, I’m not in love with him like some other folks. I think that’s why I would probably take Clemson and Georgia over Penn State right now. 

*Speaking of Georgia, if I’m trying to win tough games late in the year, I think I’d rather have their setup with a “thunder-and-lightning” backfield combo than riding one guy. Just from the standpoint of keeping guys fresh, I wonder if the Chubb-Michel combo will be more effective than Barkley come November. There’s no doubt that Barkley is the best player–and possible Heisman winner–but Penn State rides him and I’d be curious to measure effectiveness in that final regular season month. The twist, though, is that the playoff (or a big bowl game) comes with a sizeabale break and that equalizes things for a workhorse like Barkley.

*TCU looks really good and Kenny Hill has clearly made adjustments to take a step forward, but I just have a tough time looking at that team thinking that they are a playoff team. Next week at K-State is no joke, plus Texas, at OU, and at Texas Tech consecutively is a tough trio of games so I guess we’ll find out. 

*I remember sitting in a sports communications at USC lecture discussing Lane Kiffin’s decision to offer a scholarship to a 13-year old QB. Not only did David Sills not make it to USC, he’s not even a QB anymore, but he is a pretty good wide receiver who will likely get drafted when his time comes. Good on him.

*Speaking of the NFL, I still have a tough time seeing Sam Darnold as a really good NFL QB. 

*Michigan losing isn’t a surprise. It’s tough to get through a strong conference with two bad QBs. Neither O’Korn nor Speight are any good. 

*If you had to rank each state by their two best college football head coaches, where would Washington rank? Between Mike Leach and Chris Peterson, I can’t imagine too many more states having a better 1-2 combo. The Apple Cup will likely have big time playoff implications. 

MY CURRENT PLAYOFF

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Penn State

4. Georgia

…No surprises here. I’m not an SEC guy and tend to think that some SEC teams get overrated because of their conference (Kentucky, Vandy, etc), but I think Georgia is for real, as indicated by my praise of their running attack above. Of the undefeateds outside of the top 4, I think the winner of Washington/Washington State has the best chance to get in. Of 1-loss teams, I think OU still has the best chance. They’re aided by the fact that the Big 12 doesn’t have divisions and they’ll have a good chance to make the conference title game as one of the two best teams.

NFL

*Have been on this train for a few years, but not only is Rodgers the best QB in the NFL, he’s the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not stubborn enough to consider this without debate–there are several great candidates–but I honestly believe that he wins the same Super Bowls that Brady won. There might be a guy with better arm strength or better accuracy (though, not sure i’ve seen anyone more accurate, but maybe), and better IQ, or better mobility, but there’s no one who combines those as well as Rodgers. 

*You never know about a back who has just one good game out of nowhere, but Aaron Jones looks like he’s got something. Will be interesting to follow. The last thing the rest of the NFL needs is for the Packers to add an offensive weapon in the running game. 

*With all that said, I still have a tough time believing Green Bay’s soft secondary can make plays over the course of the three or four straight games it would need to in the playoffs. 

*The Cowboys have had some bad second halves this year. In football, people like to associate a team’s quality of play in the second half with coaching. Is that the case with the Cowboys? Worth discussing.

*The second-and-short fade to Dez was costly. Even if the Cowboys didn’t get it that play with a run, then they’d have either burned 40 seconds or forced Green Bay to take a timeout. 

*It’s very easy to go down and stop short of the end zone when all you need is a FG to win it. You can just kneel until fourth down and you’re in no worse shape. When you need a touchdown, there’s no guarantee that you put it in and it’s fair to ask whether or not it’s worth risking it. If you stop short and your team doesn’t score, you get roasted. While I would fault a player for scoring when a field goal wins it, I don’t fault Dak in that spot. However, I also wouldn’t fault him for going down. Even if they score on the next play, that’s another 40 off the clock or a Packers timeout. I’d trust that the Cowboys could put it in with four tries at one yard. But, again, this is different than when you need a field goal to win it. Scoring was the right play.

*Really stinks seeing the J.J. Watt injury and learning that he’s out for the year. Whether or not you like Watt, there’s no denying what type of an impact he’s had through his singular charitable efforts. He’s an easy guy to root for, especially if you listen to him on “Pardon My Take” address some of his corny social media stuff. Besides that, he’s the best defensive player on a budding and exciting team. I picked the Texans to not only make the playoffs but to advance to the AFC Championship game, specifically saying they’d beat the Patriots in the process. Maybe they still do that, but losing Watt hurts. Speaking of the playoffs…

*The Texans are 2-3 with two of their losses coming at home to the NFL’s best team thus far, the Chiefs, and on the road in a nail-biter to the Patriots. Deshaun Watson wasn’t amazing last night, but against a very good Chiefs D, he threw for five TDs without a turnover including a beautiful deep ball to Will Fuller highlighting his night. The Texans are for real. They’ll make the playoffs. I really believe it.

*The Panthers are 4-1 and Cam, who got off to a really poor start, has had back-to-back outstanding games on the road. New England’s defense has been bad, but Detroit’s D has been very good. Needless to say, he’s bounced back very nicely. 

*What a disastrous season for the Giants. On one hand, I’m surprised their defense hasn’t been more successful, but their offense has lacked flow and thus has made it way tougher on their defense. 

*I know that Marshawn Lynch is a funny guy and was very good for several years, but he isn’t very good anymore. 

*Speaking of running backs, I’m surprised Carlos Hyde (8 carries, 11 yards) had so much trouble running the ball against the Colts. 

*I fell victim to having watched a lot of Devin Funchess take advantage of mismatches in college in thinking he’d be really good in the NFL. Injuries and inconsistency prevented that from being so in his first two years, but it seems like he’s staying healthy enough to put that unique size and athleticism on display. With Greg Olsen’s injury, Funchess has really stepped up.

*That Jacksonville D is nasty. Not only have they allowed just 16.6 points/game, but they’re helping out the O immensely. The Jags have a QB who shouldn’t be a starting QB in Bortles, but the field position battle the Jags are consistently winning is making things a lot easier. Plus, when they score two defensive touchdowns like they did Sunday, that helps, too.

*Please don’t forget about Earl Thomas’s strip of Todd Gurley to save a TD in the first quarter. Of all the great defensive players the Seahawks have had over the last decade, he’s the best.

*Zeke might be the better player over their rookie contracts, but Jalen Ramsey will have the better career. He’s a special player who once again showed how strong he is with outstanding ball skills. That’s a combo not many at his position put together as well as he does. While Barry Church 

*Hats off to the NFL for getting rid of the back-to-back commercial breaks. No longer is there a score, break, touchback, break. 

*Tough to roast DeShone Kizer because it clearly isn’t easy leading that offense, but he has gotten worse each game, it seems. 

MY NFL TOP 5

1. Kansas City Chiefs

2. Atlanta Falcons

3. Green Bay Packers

4. New England Patriots

5. Carolina Panthers

I just can’t leave the Pats out of the top 5. Detroit was in there, but they’re in there no more. Green Bay’s secondary struggles (and their decisive loss earlier to Atlanta, plus the way Atlanta matches up favorably against them) has the Falcons ahead of them, even though the Packers have basically played without an O-line all year. 

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