Week 14’s Top NFL Storylines: Terrible Teams, Urban Meyer and Green Bay’s Special Teams Nightmare
Plus, the dominant rookie linebacker who's being touted for Defensive Player of the Year
With the NFC West’s marquee Monday Night Football matchup the Rams and Cardinals over and done with, Week 14 of the NFL season is finished with just four weeks of play remaining. While we can’t get to everything — like the Broncos’ touching tribute for Demaryius Thomas after his sudden and tragic death last week — here are four of the top storylines to emerge in the season’s 14th week, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: There were some truly terrible NFL games on Sunday
During the late window of NFL games on Sunday, 49ers-Bengals and Bills-Bucs both went into overtime, with San Francisco emerging victorious in the former and Tampa Bay getting the win in the latter. In addition to being entertaining, both games had major playoff implications, as all four teams are currently qualified for the postseason and jockeying for position with just four weeks left to play in the season. Those games were good — and important.
While some of the games that took place in the first window of NFL action earlier in the day may have been important, albeit in a different way, they were not good at all. Not by a longshot.
Prior to kickoff in Cincy and Tampa, the Jaguars lost to the Titans 20-0, the Raiders lost to Kansas City 48-9, the Jets lost to the Saints 30-9 and the Texans lost to the Seahawks 33-13. Combined with some later games, those four contests were part of a group of seven games that were decided by 15 or more points, including five by at least 20.
The Lions (1-11-1 following a loss to the Broncos), Jaguars (2-11), Texans (2-11), Jets (3-10) and Giants (4-9 after a loss to the Chargers) were outscored 158-53. The Raiders (6-7) aren’t quite as bad at those teams, but they’ve now been outscored 88-23 in two games with the Chiefs this season.
While no one is likely to catch the Lions in the race to the bottom of the league and the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the right to the second overall selection as the league’s second-worst team is up for grabs, and four teams will spend the final four weeks fighting for draft positioning in addition to wins.
It won’t be pretty, nor will it be a change for the teams in question: the Jets (New York will miss the playoffs for the 11th straight year), Jaguars (one winning season in the last 14 years), Texans (losers of 23 loss for their last 29 games) and Giants (one loss away from securing eighth losing season in nine years) have all made losing a habit.
Clearly, it’s a tough one to break — and watching the NFL’s terrible teams try is far from entertaining.
Sell: The Jaguars should stick with coach Urban Meyer
As mentioned above, the Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the most pathetic teams in the NFL and, were it not for the Lions, would have a legitimate claim on being the league’s worst.
Based on reports that came out over the weekend about first-year head coach Urban Meyer and the way he conducts himself at the team’s facility while interacting with other coaches and players on the team, the Jags may also own the distinction of being the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise.
Per a report on NFL.com from Tom Pelissero that was posted before the Jaguars suffered their first shutout loss since December 2004, Meyer has had “multiple run-ins with players and other coaches in recent weeks” that have “exacerbated frustration in the building with his hard-charging and sometimes condescending approach — a style that many observers believed wouldn’t work in the NFL even before the Jaguars hired him.”
Included in the report are accounts of Meyer disrespecting veteran wideout Marvin Jones, threatening some coaches with being fired and publicly asking others to explain when they’ve ever won and forcing them to defend their résumés while proclaiming that he was a winner.
It would be funny (kind of) if this alleged behavior wasn’t taking place in front of No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who was believed to be a can’t-miss franchise quarterback when he was drafted out of Clemson. With Meyer leading the way, Lawrence has completed 58.2% of his passes this season for 2,735 yards, nine touchdowns and 14 picks. After tossing a quartet of second-half interceptions on Sunday, the 22-year-old only has one touchdown pass in his last six games and hasn’t passed for more than 228 yards in any of them.
Bad as things in Jacksonville are now — and they are pretty damn wretched — they’re likely to get even worse.
“Told by someone in the building, that [the] Tom Pelissero report is the tip of the iceberg,” NFL insider Michael Lombardi tweeted. “It’s much worse than you can imagine. Most of the anger is directed towards the offense as Meyer leaves the defense alone. How can Khan keep him? Once you know it won’t work, more time won’t help.”
Cutting Meyer off after one season would be an extreme move, but how long can Khan afford to keep him and risk the long-term development of Lawrence? A franchise QB, not a franchise coach, is what the Jaguars have been missing for more than a decade. Khan can’t chance losing Lawrence by holding onto his coach. Meyer’s short time is up — and it may have already gone on too long.
Buy: Green Bay’s special teams play will cost the Packers
Sitting atop the NFC at 10-3 following a double-digit win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football that gave the Packers a four-game lead in their division, the mood in Green Bay should have been jovial when head coach Matt LaFleur hit the post-game podium to address the media.
Instead, the first question the third-year coach was about whether or not he planned to fire first-year special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton after another dismal performance that saw the Packers muff punts, give up an onside kick recovery and routinely fail to cover returns.
“Absolutely not,” LaFleur said on the prospect of making a change at special teams coordinator. “We’ve got to continue to work, we’ve got to look at the tape, we’ve got to get things corrected. I’ll be the first to tell you that. Yeah, is there some things that we have to clean up as coaches? No doubt about it. But we’ve got to execute better as well.”
It would be hard to execute any worse than the Packers did in the first half on Sunday night, when they allowed Chicago’s Jakeem Grant to return a punt 97 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 24-14 lead in the second quarter. A pint-sized player, Grant returned three punts for 131 yards — an insane average of 43.3 yards per punt — in the first half alone, while kickoff returner Khalil Herbert averaged 41.0 yards per return on his two first-half attempts. Entering the third quarter, the Bears had a robust 213 yards on special teams, while the Packers had a measly 19.
Given Green Bay’s recent history of being not-so-special on special teams, LaFleur, who fired coordinator Shawn Mennenga after the 2020 campaign after LaFleur’s first two teams finished 26th and 29th in special teams rankings, should be very concerned.
With a berth to the Super Bowl on the line and a 16-point lead in the third quarter of the 2014 NFC title game, Green Bay allowed Seattle holder Jon Ryan to toss a touchdown pass after the Seahawks lined up for a 37-yard field goal. Later in the game, with the Packers holding onto a 19-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Seattle’s desperate onsides kick was fumbled away by third-string tight end Brandon Bostick and the Seahawks ended up with it. Green Bay went on to lose 28-22 in an overtime period they should never have been playing in. That was a different time with a different coach and a different team, but the same ending certainly appears as if it’s back on the table thanks to Drayton’s unit.
Though he made his lone field goal against Chicago and went 6-for-6 on extra points, longtime Green Bay placekicker Mason Crosby ranks 32nd in the NFL amongst qualified kickers, having gone 19-for-28 (67.9%) on field-goal attempts this season, and figures to be hard to trust in a pressure-packed playoff situation.
But trusting Crosby (who also gave the Bears the ball at the 40-yard line after sending a kickoff out of bounds) and Drayton is apparently what LaFleur will do. If that trust bites Green Bay in the ass in the playoffs, it won’t be the first time, but maybe it will finally be the last.
Sell: Micah Parsons will win Defensive Player of the Year
Already a shoo-in to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year, Dallas pass rusher Micah Parsons became the co-favorite with Browns defensive end Myles Garret for the Defensive Player of the Year award at +250 after racking up two more sacks and forcing a fumble that was returned by defensive end Dorance Armstrong for a score.
Following Sunday’s dominant performance in a 27-20 win for the Cowboys over the Washington Football Team, the Cowboys’ first-round linebacker has 12 sacks in 13 games (along with three forced fumbles) and will almost certainly break the rookie sack record of 14.5 that was set by Tennessee’s Jevon Kearse in 1999.
The focal point of a defense that is allowing 22.1 points per game on average (12th in the NFL), Parsons is deployed all over the field by Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and makes plays in the run game and passing game as well as getting after opposing quarterbacks. Currently seventh on the NFL’s sacks list behind leaders T.J. Watt (16 sacks) and Garrett (15 sacks), Parsons has four more games to climb the leaderboard and make his case for DPOY honors.
Given his age, competition for the award (which includes teammate Trevon Diggs and his league-leading nine picks) and lack of interceptions (zero), it seems like an uphill battle for the rookie out of Penn State to be recognized as the NFL’s best defender as a rookie, but his chances of winning it at some point during his career, even next season, seem very, very good.
Following Sunday’s win over Washington, ProFootballTalk asked Parsons for his reaction to the use of his name and Hall of Famer and former NFL MVP Lawrence Taylor’s in the same breath. “I think LT is one of the greatest pass rushers of all time, but I want to be my own person,” Parsons said. “My own man. I want people to be like, ‘You pass rush like Micah.’”
Parsons may want to be his own man, but if he wants to be named DPOY as well as take home DROY honors, he may want to encourage the comparisons to Taylor — the former Giant captured both awards following his rookie season in New York in 1981.
It would be a surprise if Parsons is able to match that feat, but there’s clearly a precedent, so don’t count him out just yet.
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