Potential Teddy Bridgewater Trade Destinations

With two solid showings in the preseason under his belt, Teddy Bridgewater has become a trade target for teams seeking a temporary upgrade that can provide a bridge to their next franchise quarterback… or at the least a reliable backup. The New York Jets have made it clear that Sam Darnold is their guy come Week 1, and Josh McCown proved last year that he can be a more than adequate #2. The Jets took a bit of a gamble signing Bridgewater to a one year, $6 million deal ($5 million non-guaranteed P5 base salary, $500k signing bonus, $500k workout bonus) that included an additional $9 million in incentives based on performance and percentage of playing time. These incentives (for example: $250k for every game he plays 50% of the snaps) effectively discourage the Jets from starting him. The gamble appears to have paid off whether the Jets ultimately decide to keep Bridgewater as a backup, especially considering that Josh McCown is 39 years old, or if they end up trading him for what could be a decent return.

2017 was the year of the backup QB. NFL teams understand now more than ever the importance of depth at the most vital position on the field. The Eagles proved that teams with stout defenses and a bevy of weapons can recover from the loss of an MVP-caliber QB if their backup is above average. The teams I selected as Bridgewater’s potential destinations all share one thing: a strong need for an upgraded QB2.

New York Giants – The Giants appear to have no reliable backup quarterback for Eli Manning, as Davis Webb’s two lackluster preseason performances have not inspired any confidence. While 4th round pick Kyle Lauletta has shown flashes and may develop into a quality quarterback, the adjustment from Division I-AA University of Richmond to the NFL will take some time. The Giants decided against jumpstarting a rebuild this offseason and instead are attempting one last push before Eli (37 years old) retires. It would be foolish with all they have invested in this offense, including consecutive first round draft picks in Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley, to allow it all go to waste should Eli get hurt.

The division rival Eagles obviously showed how crucial a good backup QB can be. But it doesn’t have to be a miraculous Super Bowl run; Teddy Bridgewater subbing in for Eli for a hypothetical 2-4 week injury could be the difference between a playoff berth or an early trip to the golf course in a highly competitive NFC East. Eli Manning carries a $22.2 million cap hit into 2018, which is the final year of his deal that includes guaranteed base salary. On the third day of the league year in 2019 he will earn a $5 million roster bonus, but if he is cut before then the only dead money the Giants will carry on the cap is the final $6.2 million of his signing bonus. The aforementioned Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta are carrying a combined 2018 cap hit of just $1,528,456.

What likely prevents this move is the fact that the Giants have very little cap room, with just $1,481,401 currently available, and with Odell Beckham Jr. still seeking a new deal. However, Odell’s 5th year option currently counts for $8,459,000 against the cap for 2018 and that number could be reduced with a new deal that has a small base salary amount for 2018. This would certainly be a great concession for Odell and his agent to make that benefits both parties in the long run. Cutting former first round pick and major disappointment Ereck Flowers is certainly an option as well after the Giants signed Nate Solder to a huge deal to become their new starter at LT. One big factor that cannot be forgotten: Giants new head coach Pat Shurmur was the Vikings offensive coordinator the last two seasons and obviously knows Bridgewater well.

New Orleans Saints – If there is one surefire way to determine that a franchise does not believe they have their quarterback of the future on the roster it is playing him on special teams, which is exactly what the Saints did with Taysom Hill in 2017. Hill, an undrafted free agent out of BYU (where he was plagued by injury), has been referred to as the “heir apparent” to Drew Brees. Place me firmly in the camp that believes comments like these coming from the Saints are more an effort to boost Hill’s confidence than anything else. Rumors that the Saints were seriously considering drafting Lamar Jackson only bolster this belief.

Hill threw two interceptions on his first two drives in the Saints latest preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, and while an argument could be made that one of them was more WR Cam Meredith’s fault, the second one was downright ugly. Hill displayed the athleticism that has caught the eye of the Saints with three carries for 43 yards, but he had a paltry 4.53 YPA on his fifteen passes. Suffice it to say, he is not the heir apparent to Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Tom Savage is the only other QB on the roster. The Saints are another team far too heavily invested in making a deep playoff push the next two seasons as Drew Brees’ career comes to an end to have it all collapse should Brees miss time. The NFC South is just as competitive as the NFC East, if not more so. Every game matters. The Saints’ defensive overhaul last season was very successful, and the Saints traded away their 2019 first round pick to move up for UTSA Edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Like the Giants, the Saints do not have a ton of cap room, due in part to a very questionable contract for free agent LB Demario Davis, which earned a spot on Jason’s “Worst of bad NFL contracts” list here. Regardless, trading for Bridgewater is something the Saints should certainly consider.

Denver Broncos – Paxton Lynch receiving a downpour of boos in Denver following another bad performance against the Chicago Bears in the Broncos’ most recent preseason game is just further confirmation that the QB situation behind Case Keenum is not in a good place. Perhaps no team in the NFL last year had an uglier QB carousel than Denver, completely derailing what is otherwise a very solid team at most positions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Keenum was signed to put an end to the disaster that was the Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch trio. However, should Keenum go down, the Broncos will have to turn to Chad Kelly, the last overall draft pick in 2017. Kelly has impressed thus far in preseason and is certainly talented; an injury and character concerns killed his draft stock more than anything he ever did on the field. Nevertheless, Denver would be smart to ensure that their contingency plan if Keenum misses some time is better than two young, unproven quarterbacks (Lynch may be proven… proven he is indeed not an NFL caliber QB).

The Broncos have some cap room to work with, about $9.8 million. This team is also on the “too good to let a bad QB ruin their entire season” list.

Dallas Cowboys – This might make the most sense of any team on this list as the Dallas Cowboys currently have Cooper Rush, an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, as their #2 QB. Much like the division rival Eagles, the Cowboys have an elite offensive line that can make life easy for an above average quarterback. Dak Prescott may have suffered from a sophomore slump, or he may have sorely missed Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, but whatever caused his struggles the fact is he was not great in 2017. Prescott clearly has the full trust and support of the coaching staff and front office in Dallas, but another rocky start may put that into question.

The big offseason storyline in Dallas was obviously the loss of Jason Witten to retirement and the release of Dez Bryant. The two accounted for a whopping 45.1% of Dak Prescott’s targets in 2017 and were replaced by a blocking tight end in Geoff Swaim (nine catches in three seasons in Dallas) and former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns. The Cowboys also drafted Michael Gallup, a wide receiver out of Colorado State, who has been impressive in camp and the preseason lining up in Dez’ old spot as the ‘X’ receiver. Replacing nearly half of Dak’s targets while losing the ultimate security blanket that was Jason Witten is no small task. With all of these new pieces working to build on their chemistry and skills in Dallas, a highly accurate quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater at the very least would provide a great benefit in practice.

The other big offseason storyline in Dallas has been the Cowboys’ pursuit of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. With Cowboys safety Xavier Woods suffering an injury against the Bengals that reportedly may cause him to miss time in the regular season, adding a safety is likely their top priority, as it may be the most glaring weakness on the roster. This development may prevent a move for Bridgewater. The Cowboys may also elect to go with a cheaper option at safety which would leave room for Bridgewater. A move for Thomas would require a trade and likely a big new contract, something that has been extremely rare for safeties this offseason. There are plenty of theories for why this is, my personal belief is that all NFL teams have drastically reduced the value of safeties given the new lowering-the-helmet rule. It’s hard to justify spending top dollar on a position that the NFL rule book appears to have all but eliminated from the game (enough on that tangent, though I could certainly go on).

Houston Texans – The Texans may not want to add another QB to their roster with a history of significant knee issues considering what they had to endure after Deshaun Watson went down last season. The loss of Deshaun Watson to a torn ACL (the second of his career) effectively ended the Texans season in 2017 as they went 1-8 in their final nine games with Tom Savage at the helm. The Texans certainly have the talent to make some noise in the AFC South following a productive offseason. Houston added former Arizona Cardinals S/CB Tyrann Mathieu to a secondary that needed some help, as well as former Kansas City Chiefs guard Zach Fulton and former New Orleans Saints guard Senio Kelemete to an offensive line that needed a lot of help.

The NFL has yet to experience J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney sharing the field for an extended period, but there is no question that opposing offensive tackles and QBs are already shaking in their boots. Whitney Mercilus is an underrated pass rusher as well, he could be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with if they are forced to pay too much attention to the outside. Add in a healthy Will Fuller for Watson to target opposite Deandre Hopkins and this team could take a major leap in 2018.

I am less high on Deshaun Watson than everyone else on the planet seems to be, maybe (read: definitely) because I’m a die-hard Bears fan and am sick of hearing how Watson should have been drafted ahead of my guy Mitchell Trubisky. All jokes aside, Watson throws a ton of interceptable passes that go unnoticed because Deandre Hopkins is perhaps the best jump ball receiver in the NFL. Watson had a 3.9% interception rate, ranking above only Trevor Siemian and Deshone Kizer for QBs with 200 or more pass attempts in 2017. But most importantly, Watson’s backups are Brandon Weeden (who the Texans released in 2017 because they preferred Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler) and a special teams player in Joe Webb. The backup QB situation alone is enough of a reason for the Texans to take a serious look at making a move for Bridgewater. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the Texans currently have more than $34 million in cap space.

Miami Dolphins – Much like the Houston Texans, there is no shortage of knee issues for QBs already in Miami. On the other hand, losing Tannehill in 2017 forced the Dolphins to coax a lazy Jay Cutler out of retirement (for the not so cheap price tag of $10 million) because the backup QBs on their roster were not playable. That is still the case this season, with David Fales and Brock Osweiler currently slated to replace Tannehill should he get hurt in 2018. Fales earned the trust of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase when the two spent time together in Chicago, but he is no more than a solid QB room presence. Osweiler is on his fourth team in two years.

Unlike the first five teams mentioned, I don’t believe the Dolphins have a great shot to make the playoffs regardless of the situation at QB following a potential injury to Tannehill. I am not as bearish on Miami as many other pundits though, and the AFC is not a deep conference in 2018, so anything is possible.

After clearing several big contracts from the books this offseason (Ndamukong Suh for example), the Dolphins have $14.38 million in cap space. The Dolphins appear to believe in Tannehill, but it is impossible to predict the performance of any player coming off an ACL tear. The Dolphins are likely going through a mini rebuild and looking for their next gunslinger. I for one was shocked that they did not make a move in the draft for Josh Rosen, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

Seattle Seahawks – Last but not least the Seattle Seahawks; in my opinion the worst team on this list. Reports surfaced, and were subsequently disputed by some in the Seahawks organization, that Seattle reached out to the Colts offering a 2nd round pick for QB Jacoby Brissett. The compensation seems a bit excessive, but Seattle has made plenty of extremely puzzling moves this offseason, so it wouldn’t come as a total surprise. The Seahawks have holes to address at a ton of positions besides quarterback, but if Russell Wilson were to go down there is no doubt in my mind that backup QB Austin Davis would struggle to win a single game. The Seahawks have clearly shown that they are making a concerted effort to clear the books to focus on the future, but a one-year flyer on Bridgewater would not affect them long term.

If these rumors are true, I’d say this is very scary news for Seahawks fans. There is no indication that Russell Wilson has any plans of leaving when his contract expires in 2019, but this alleged move by Seattle would be the first warning sign. The offer of a second-round pick would be far less confusing if the Seahawks are working on a contingency plan for Wilson. It’s worth noting that this article could have been written about Jacoby Brissett as well, but with Andrew Luck’s health still a question mark I’d be shocked if the Colts traded a promising young QB with two years remaining on his rookie deal.

Breaking Down The NFL’s Final Four

The common line of thinking in the NFL is that you need a great quarterback to succeed, which has driven the league to the point where half the NFL every year pays over 10% of the cap to about half of the league’s quarterbacks. Every quality of quarterback is in this group, yet only one quarterback still in the playoffs is over 10% of the cap– and that’s Sam Bradford at 10.78% for the Vikings who went down with an injury and now isn’t even starting over the “journeyman” Case Keenum, who is paid 1.14% of the cap. Tom Brady has set an example with his cap hit between eight and nine percent of the cap this year and in 2016, which allowed the Patriots to field the best defense in 2016 and the best scoring defense in the NFL this year from week five on.

The other three teams in the NFL Playoffs Final Four have constructed a run-first, defensive model that’s taken awhile to catch on as teams are now copying the model the 2013 Seahawks used to successfully beat Peyton Manning’s top ranked offense that year. The league is a copycat league, but these trends take a few years to take hold as teams need time to re-construct themselves in the image of the roster they’re copying. While the Vikings are spending over 10% of the cap on Bradford, they had already begun the process of building this run-first, defensive model with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback before the injury; but because of the low-costs they had on offense, they were able to splurge a little on Bradford. As Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal realized in an article on the Vikings, their 40.1% of the cap spent on offense is less than all but two Super Bowl champions, the 2004 Patriots and the 2012 Ravens, two teams that also had some larger investments on the defensive side of the ball. When a team does have a first tier quarterback (over 10% of the cap) and high spending on defense, the team then has to find some serious values somewhere on the offense to compete for a championship with this model because there isn’t enough money to go around if you’re paying conventional rates for wide receivers and the offensive line.

It has worked out for the Vikings because they have just $9.3 million invested in quarterback Case Keenum, running back Latavius Murray, and wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen performed at the level of a first tier wide receiver in 2017 with 91 catches for 1276 receiving and four touchdowns, which is a performance that can typically cost between six and nine percent of the cap, but which the Vikings got for just 2.24% of the cap. Stefon Diggs performed at a level that could cost something like 4% of the cap with his 64 catches for 849 yards and 8 touchdowns, but he cost just 0.50% of the cap as he’s a fifth round draft pick on his rookie contract. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon created 945 and 991 offensive scrimmage yards, while consuming 2.27% of the cap, which is something that could cost four or six percent of the cap for an elite, complete running back.

Keenum is still being talked about in journeyman terms, but his 67.6% completion percentage with 22 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions, 3547 total passing yards for 236.5 yards per game and 7.4 yards per attempt was first-tier production. Most importantly, he was efficient: the Vikings had the ninth highest net yards per attempt passing, the second least interceptions in the NFL and the 11th most passing yards in the NFL. While he was very inexpensive, he still performed at a level similar to what someone at Bradford’s costs could produce, which reminded me of what Tom Brady did for the 2001 Patriots taking over for Drew Bledsoe who consumed 10.29% of that year’s cap. In fact, Keenum’s offense is more productive and more efficient than the Brady-led offense was that year. The Vikings also spent just 11.60% of the cap on their offensive line, which is very low for the whole group, but according to Football Outsiders they were the 19th best run blocking line in the league and the sixth best pass blocking line. They were able to piece together an offense that was 10th in the NFL in points scored and 11th in yards produced with many inexpensive and unheralded players, which is a big part of why Pat Shurmur will be the New York Giants’ next head coach.

This idea that you need a quarterback to great succeed isn’t unfounded; quarterback is the most important position at every level, but when a team over-invests in the position as some teams do, then the rest of the roster typically begins to have holes that are exposed come playoff time when your team plays a complete team like one that’s in the top 10 in offense in defense, top 10 passing and rushing, and so on. It’s rare that a team finds so much value as the Vikings have, which is why it’s critical to spend intelligently at this position. Even if a team hits on a quarterback at a 10%+ rate, it can typically create roster issues elsewhere and it typically also takes finding value at positions that supplement the quarterback, like wide receiver. Aaron Rodgers is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, but with a cap hit of 12.16% in 2017, plus Randall Cobb at 7.58% and Jordy Nelson at 6.92%, the team was highly likely to have a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL regardless of Rodgers’ health. A large investment in a small handful of “great” players also decreases the number of “good” players a team can have on their roster.

While Bradford was costly over 10%, the Vikings had 27 players over 1% of the cap, which is a good metric for measuring how many “good” veteran players a team has on their roster. Looking at the Super Bowl champions from 1994 through 2009, before the new CBA locked in the low rookie contract rates we see today, the average champion had 27 players over one percent of the cap. The new CBA actually created the unintended consequence of an increase in top end pay typically going to quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, defensive ends and offensive tackles, while most of the “good” veterans in the middle have been priced out of the league by less expensive rookie contract players.

From 2011 to 2016, the average Super Bowl champion has averaged just 24.2 players over one percent of the cap. The 1998 Broncos had 31 players over one percent, the 2003 Patriots had 30, and the 2009 Saints used cap rollover to carry 32 players on their roster over this number. The Vikings have an older school approach that was made possible by their roster construction strategy leading into the Bridgewater Era and it seems almost unaffected by the one big investment in Bradford. They’ve gotten top tier production out of cornerback Xavier Rhodes at 6.24% of the cap, which is the bottom of the first tier for that market, while defensive end Everson Griffen gave them 13.0 sacks at 5.15% of the cap, which is actually a second tier price. Bradford was a good player for them in 2016, he led the NFL with a 71.6% completion percentage and gave them 258.5 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions, so he produced at a high level, so it’s not like he’s a wasted cap figure—he just go hurt, and Keenum has played at a similarly efficient level. The cap hits of Bradford and Rhodes consumed 17.02% of the cap for two good players fits right into the 16-18% range we want to see teams cap their top two player costs to provide themselves the opportunity to build out the rest of their roster as Minnesota has done. Their top three with Everson Griffen costs 22.17%, which is in line with what the Patriots have in Tom Brady, left tackle Nate Solder, and safety Devin McCourty at 21.62% of the cap, a good rate for three top of the food chain players.

Looking at the Super Bowl Champions data from my just released book Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, the top paid quarterbacks for the 22 capped champions have been all over the map, which caused me to seriously question the concept of most of the NFL deciding to pay quarterbacks franchise quarterback money over the last few seasons once they hit their second contract as long as they proved they were the team’s starting quarterback.

While much of the NFL was increasing pay in veteran quarterbacks to the point where the top 15 players at the position all make money in the same high cost range, it opened a huge opportunity for teams with low-cost quarterbacks, specifically players on rookie contracts—like Seattle, to use their quarterback’s low-cost years to build a team in the run-first, defensive model that’s worked. The two Steelers champions were built off the rookie contract of Ben Roethlisberger as well. The 2012 Ravens were able to take advantage of Flacco’s last year on his rookie deal. The 2003 and 2004 Patriots were able to take advantage of the low-costs of Brady’s early years. This is a model teams should be following to build up the roster during the low-cost rookie contracts that will allow him to lean on a good roster, then when the quarterback hits his prime and higher earning years, the team can be more reliant on that quarterback as they’ll have to be because of his higher costs.

This is the model being used by Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and the Vikings. Even though Carson Wentz was an MVP candidate averaging 253.5 passing yards per game with 33 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, the team had the NFL’s third best rushing offense, which created the balance that made Wentz a better player and keeps this team competitive with now under Nick Foles under center for the injured Wentz.

Jacksonville has built their model with Blake Bortles at just 3.94%, which allowed them to spend 27.00% of the cap on their defensive line, which is similar to the 28.18% the Seahawks spent on their defensive line in 2013. The Eagles spent 21.80% of the cap on their defensive line and the result was seven players with over 20 pressures produced in 2017 and they were the only team to generate pressure on more than 40% of passing plays. The four defensive lines that are left all have elite talent and depth; the Vikings might actually be the weakest in the depth department with just five defensive linemen with over 38% of snaps played, while the Eagles have seven playing over 40% of defensive snaps. With Shamar Stephens out for their game against the Eagles having played 38.59% of their defensive snaps this season, the Vikings depth might be tested and this lack of depth on the line may show with a weaker pass rush in the fourth quarter, so that’s a storyline to watch.

The 2013 Seahawks set a blueprint with a remarkable eight defensive linemen playing between 46 and 58% of snaps, which may be the start of a trend as coaches understand that the explosive and violent nature of the position makes it vital to have multiple good players who can perform at their highest capabilities, rather than a couple better players who can’t perform at their highest capabilities due to fatigue. The 2016 Patriots had six defensive linemen play between 44 and 65% of snaps. The 2017 Eagles have seven players between 40 and 65% of snaps. The 2017 Jaguars had Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson all playing between 73 and 78% of snaps, Abry Jones and Dante Fowler, Jr. played 46.96% and 44.83% respectively, while Marcell Dareus has played between 43.5% and 66.2% of snaps in his last seven regular season games for the team. It’s critical to create depth across the line to execute this low-cost, potentially lower-performing, quarterback strategy as the goal is to nullify the other team’s quarterback. If you’re playing a team with an elite quarterback, a general vision of your goal is to decrease or slow down his performance to the point where your quarterback can be more productive and/or more efficient. Your quarterback doesn’t necessarily need to out-produce the player in yardage, but the goal is for him to be more efficient with a rushing attack at his disposal that the elite quarterback might not have and a better defense than that quarterback. We saw this strategy succeed for the Seahawks against the Broncos while Manning threw for 280 yards to Wilson’s 206 yards, Wilson had a better completion percentage and 2.5 more yards per attempt than Manning. Wilson had 8.2 yards per passing attempt, while Manning had 5.7 per attempt. The Seahawks defense also gave up just 27 rushing yards, while their own offense created 135 on the ground. While Manning was only sacked once, the Seahawks constantly moved him off his first read, disrupted his processing, and forced two interceptions.

The Eagles executed this style of decreasing the quality of play of the other team’s elite quarterback against the Falcons with Matt Ryan completing 22 of 36 passes (61.1%) for 210 yards (5.8 yds/attempt) and one touchdown, while their back-up Nick Foles completed 23 of 30 (76.7%) for 246 yards (8.2 yds/att). The effect of great coaching like Doug Pederson’s game plan cannot be understated. As Danny Kelly wrote for The Ringer, Foles “leaned on dump-offs, check downs, and run-pass options,” which helped facilitate the win and put Foles in his comfort zone. Continuing, he wrote, Foles’ stats were padded by receivers and running backs picking up yards after the catch and he had an average depth of target of just 5.2 yards per Pro Football Focus, which was almost two full yards short of any other quarterback that weekend. They hope he is able to do a little more against Minnesota this weekend with much more accuracy on deep passes than he showed against Atlanta, while the defense maintains the same kind of pressure they put on Ryan. Minnesota is happy to have Case Keenum and his 55.7% completion percentage under pressure, which was second in the NFL in 2017 behind Jimmy Garoppolo and slightly better than Tom Brady at 55.5%.

In looking at past champions during the research process of writing Caponomics, I found something that should be common sense, but we’ve lost sight of with our acceptance in the notion that you need a great quarterback to succeed at all costs, which has driven the price of the market up to heights that make it hard to compete for many teams. As seen above, Steve Young has a record cap hit of 13.08% and only seven of the 22 salary capped champions have had a quarterback over 10% of the cap, yet half the league seems to do it every year. What the research has taught me is that Joe Flacco at 14.70%, Kirk Cousins at 14.34%, Matt Ryan at 14.22%, and Carson Palmer at 14.45%–and if you include any other large cap expenditures with those players–creates a situation where these teams can only compete for a championship if they get some kind extreme, unlikely value out of other parts of their roster.

The 2016 Falcons almost pulled off a Super Bowl win with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones combining for what would have been a record-setting 25.54% of the cap, with the previous record being Steve Young and Jerry Rice at 21.64%, because they had a defense almost entirely filled with rookie contract players. The probability of hitting on as many rookie contract defensive players as they did is very low and it was the lack of depth on defense that ended up doing them in with the Patriots running 99 plays during that game and wearing them out by the time the final whistle blew.

It was very helpful that Dan Quinn and the Falcons organization was able to look at the 2013 Seahawks as their defensive prototype as well because they had player prototypes in their head that allowed them to build out their defense with a lot of success. Along with Kyle Shanahan’s elite offensive mind, they’re an example of the extreme value produced by great coaches. Their young defense improved as the 2016 season went along, but they were still ranked 27th in points allowed, 25th in yards allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed, and 17th in rushing yards, which was exploited by a Patriots offense that was third in points scored, fourth in yards gained, fourth in passing yards, and seventh in rushing yards.

The four remaining teams this year have all been competent passing the football, but–outside of the Patriots at second in passing yards– the rest of this group is outside of the top 10. The Patriots were 10th in the NFL in rushing yards, while the Jaguars, Eagles and Vikings ranked first, third, and seventh with passing offenses that ranked 17th, 13th, and 11th in yards produced. The Vikings ranked first in both points and yards allowed, while their defense was second in yards allowed both passing and rushing. The Jaguars were ranked second in both points and yards allowed, while ranked first in passing and 21st in rushing, an issue that may have been remedied in a big way with the acquisition of Marcell Dareus mid-season. The Eagles were fourth in both points and yards allowed, while they were 17th in passing defense and first in rushing yards allowed giving up just 79.2 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots were fifth in points allowed, but may have some defensive weaknesses being ranked 29th in yards allowed with the 30th ranked passing defense and the league’s 20th ranked rushing defense. The Patriots did seem to right the ship a bit from a yardage perspective later in the season. Having the league’s fourth best redzone defense as well helped them.

Point being, all four of the teams left have complete rosters. Yes, each has some issues: the Patriots have some issues in yards allowed, the Jaguars have issues with Blake Bortles passing the ball, while Nick Foles and Case Keenum can perform, but leave us with some question marks heading into Championship Weekend. All four of these teams have coaches who have created strategies for success that can overcome the issues they do have and we’ll see on Sunday who can execute those strategies best. But none of them are really bad at any phase of the game.

My take is that the Patriots will move past the Jaguars as they will be able to make the Jags’ offense one-dimensional. While the Patriots don’t rank well from a yardage standpoint, they do have elite defensive backs who can cover a wide variety of match-ups, while the Jaguars don’t present match-ups in the passing game that should scare a backfield with McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore, and Malcolm Butler. I think the Patriots offense uses their running backs extensively in the passing game as a means to beat the Jaguars pass rushers and avoid throwing at their elite cornerbacks. The match-up of Danny Amendola versus slot cornerback Aaron Colvin will be an x-factor in this game, while it would surprise me if Jacksonville or anyone else figures out how to stop a healthy Rob Gronkowski. We’ve seen the Patriots execute this quick passing game to success in past playoff match-ups and we’ll probably see it again on Sunday. I think the Jaguars keep it close for the first half, but the Patriots find some advantages they can take over the course of the whole game, as they usually do.

Both the Eagles and Vikings will be facing better defenses than the ones they faced last week, and that’s not to say the Falcons and Saints don’t have good defenses, but both the Eagles and Vikings have elite defenses. My take is that the Eagles will be able to produce enough pressure with their pass rush to decrease Keenum’s efficiency as, while he’s performed well under pressure, he hasn’t seen a defense that produces as much pressure as the Eagles do. With the passing attack slowed down, the Eagles will also be able to stop a rushing attack that, while it ranked well over the course of the season, doesn’t scare me with neither Murray or McKinnon averaging over four yards per carry and ranking 23rd in the NFL in yards per attempt at just 3.9.

The Eagles on the other hand weren’t just third in the NFL in rushing, but they were also fourth in the NFL averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While the Vikings lost their best running back, Dalvin Cook, early in the season, the Eagles added their best running back, Jay Ajayi, midway through the year. Ajayi had 499 offensive yards in seven games and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had 766 rushing yards and a light workload for him with just 173 carries, which has likely kept him a little fresher as the season has gone into January and provided the team a great, power back to close the game out in the fourth quarter, a very valuable tool. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement is the final piece with 444 offensive yards this season as he really came on in the second half the year and showed considerable explosive quickness. He and Ajayi combined for 8 catches for 75 yards against the Falcons, which will likely be a key against the Vikings to give Foles high percentage completions. They’ll look to execute screens, swing routes, flat routes, and other quick passes. They may even look to hit one of these running backs on a wheel for a big play after Minnesota spent the week watching Philly’s backs catch short balls, which could be a big play Pederson has circled on his call sheet.

I imagine it will be a low-scoring game that’s won in the trenches; I think the Eagles have the better offensive and defensive lines. While Jason Peters is out, which has affected their performance, the rest of their offensive line has been elite all season with Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson being three of the best in the league at their positions. The Eagles defensive line will dictate the way the Vikings are able to play offense, while the Eagles offensive line will allow their offense the time to throw the quick passing game and the push running the football to control the clock. I don’t see the Eagles receivers and tight ends having a quiet night either, they have too much talent across the offense for Minnesota to stop everyone–even with Foles at quarterback. That said, the Vikings are the NFL’s best defense and Case Keenum has had a very efficient season. This game is more of a toss up than the AFC match-up, but I’ll take the Eagles.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” and an NFLPA Certified Agent. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.

2017 NFL Picks: Week 16

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. Continue reading 2017 NFL Picks: Week 16 »

2017 NFL Picks: Week 15

LIONS (-5.5) over Bears– Bears got a win out of their system last week. They keep it close for awhile before Stafford and company pull away. Lions 27 Bears 20 Continue reading 2017 NFL Picks: Week 15 »

2017 NFL Picks: Week 14

PANTHERS (+2.5) over Vikings– Should be a good game this week and these teams should match up well. Vikings have more explosiveness so one play probably sets up a very close win. Vikings 21 Panthers 19 Continue reading 2017 NFL Picks: Week 14 »

2017 NFL Picks: Week 13

Had a pretty decent week last week and will hope to keep it up this week. Ill try to tally the overall record next week too. Continue reading 2017 NFL Picks: Week 13 »

2017 NFL Picks: Week 12

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. The rest of the picks are now up once you scroll beyond the first three games from Thursday,

Vikings (-2.5) over LIONS– Vikings are clicking right now and it looks like it will just be one of those years for them. I like them in a close game. Vikings 24 Lions 20

Chargers (+1.5) over COWBOYS– Dallas is headed in the wrong direction while the Chargers got a great break last week in a laugher vs the Bills keeping them fresh. If LA can stay strong they have a shot in the weak AFC West. Chargers 23 Cowboys 21

REDSKINS (-7.5) over Giants– Both teams are banged up and the line is big, but this is the kind of team that the Redskins should feast on unless there is a hangover from last weeks loss. Redskins 27 Giants 14

Titans (-3.5) over COLTS– Though I  think the Titans have been disappointing this year I would expect them to find a way to beat the Colts even if it’s a late game win. Titans 27 Colts 23

FALCONS (-8.5) over Bucs– Falcons are looking better on offense while the Bucs have to be one of the most disappointing teams of the year. Falcons 30 Bucs 17

PATRIOTS (-16.5) over Dolphins– This is a huge line but the Dolphins are a mess. They may put a few points on the board but this is a game the Pats should wrap up by the end of the first quarter. Patriots 37 Dolphins 17

Browns (+8.5) over BENGALS– This is a tough one as I have no faith in the Browns but equally I have little faith in the Bengals being able to win by 9 points. Ill take the points. Bengals 19 Browns 13

EAGLES (-13.5) over Bears– This has the makings of a trap game but I believe the Eagles are good enough to avoid that. If they are on their game defensively they should cover this one. Eagles 33 Bears 17

JETS (+4.5) over Panthers– Jets have played relatively well at home and should be able to hang around the Panthers unless Carolina’s defense has one of those days where they hold a team to a few field goals. Panthers 20 Jets 16

CHIEFS (-9.5) over Bills– Huge game for KC. If they cant right the ship against a Bills team that just looks like they have given up the alarm signals have to go way up. Chiefs 31 Bills 17

Seahawks (-7.5) over 49ERS– Part of me thinks this is a game that the Seahawks sleepwalk through and win 9-3 while another part of me says they will just pour it on against an overmatched team.  Ill go with the latter. Seahawks 34 49ers 14

Jaguars (-4.5) over CARDINALS– Not sure the Cardinals stand a chance even at home. Jaguars 27 Cardinals 13

RAMS (-2.5) over Saints– Last weeks game was too big for LA but maybe being home will help them get back on track.  This will be an impressive win for the Rams if they pull it off. Rams 29 Saints 26

RAIDERS (-4.5) over Broncos– Since the bye week the Broncos have been competitive in all of one game. Raiders are struggling as well but I have more faith in them than I do the Broncos offense. Raiders 20 Broncos 13

Packers (+14.5) over STEELERS– Nobody plays down to bad teams more than the Steelers and I don’t expect any differently this week. Steelers 23 Packers 13

RAVENS (-7.5) over Texans– Ravens are a feast or famine team. Basically if you think they will win its going to be a slaughter, otherwise they will get upset outright. Ill pick them to win. Ravens 23 Texans 7