Key takeaways from Week 17 of the 2020 NFL and fantasy football season

5 Things I care about

Washington’s future

We might go a couple of lifetimes before seeing another NFL division won in such a ridiculous fashion.

Washington shouldn’t feel like some powerhouse for winning the NFC East. That sham of a division was won on the most sham of moves by the Eagles coaching staff. That’s what it deserved.

Nevertheless, Washington should feel good about its future. And to be clear, I mean “next few years future” — not whatever hellscape awaits them in the playoffs.

You can laugh about culture and setting a standard all you want but that type of thing matters in organizations. Anyone who has had a job in a poisoned environment should be able to tell you that. So, Ron Rivera pushing his players to a division title through his own personal adversity after all the turmoil that franchise has brought on itself of late does set them on the right path going forward.

More importantly, Washington has good young pieces on offense. Chase Young and the defense get the headlines but there are building blocks on the other side of the ball. Terry McLaurin returned in Week 17 to remind us of what a game-changing presence he is. Antonio Gibson has been a boon to the offense all season and should be a fantasy football star in 2021. Logan Thomas wrapped up his shocking 100-target regular season with a beastly touchdown catch.

Whenever Washington figures out the quarterback position, they’ll plant that player into soil that’s surprisingly fertile.

The immediate future of Washington is what we’ll all focus on until they’re inevitably outclassed by a real playoff team. But I guess you can call me the silver-linings guy because whenever I look at this team, I can’t help but be excited about the young offensive stars they’re quietly growing.

Derrick Henry puts together a special resume

I’ve always said that Derrick Henry is no ordinary running back.

We’re talking about a 6-foot-3 behemoth who can dust anyone and everyone in the open field. He’s built different. Over the last three years, he’s run different.

Henry wrapped up his second-consecutive rushing title in Week 17. It’s a rare feat that’s only been accomplished by future Hall of Fame running backs.

At this point, he’s been so special that Henry has to be on the radar to join that group.

Week 17 saw Henry join two select clubs with back-to-back rushing titles as well as a 2,000-yard rushing season. When we look back through the NFL history books and we’re dissecting top rushing work, Henry’s name will pop up. As you debate with the next generation about the best running backs of the current age, one of the first players you’ll reference is No. 22 on the Titans.

Whatever rule you’ve wanted to put on the running back position, Derrick Henry has broken it.

Fantasy drafters will also break the typical standards for Henry next year. I’d imagine the Titans back will be the top pick in most fake football leagues in 2021. That would represent a break with the typical pass-catcher obsession we’ve had at the top of drafts the last few years. But if we’ve seen anything from Henry the last three seasons, it’s what I said a couple of lines ago — he’s just different.

The wide receiver position is stocked right now. The 2018, 2019, and especially the 2020 NFL Draft classes have flushed the position with so much young talent that it’s more difficult than ever to rank. As such, quality pros tend to get overlooked. Mike Evans may be chief among those players.

Evans recorded his seventh-straight 1,000-yard season after catching three passes for 46 yards on Sunday. He’s one of the rare players to clear the century mark in every season as a pro. Long before these recent draft classes were dominating the league, the 2014 crop was rising up the ranks. After all these years, Evans might well be the best of the bunch. He doesn’t get enough credit when we debate the very top-tier of the wide receiver position.

If there’s any justice in this world, Evans’ Week 17 injury won’t be a serious one. An MRI after the game indicated we should be in the clear. Let’s hope so. Evans has constantly been at the forefront of saying he doesn’t care what other players the Buccaneers add to the pass-catching department, as the team brought in Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, etc. For Evans, it’s always been about making his first playoff trip.

Fingers crossed this moment isn’t taken away from him.

John Brown returns

As you watched the Bills offense reach white-hot status to end the year, theoretically it would have been tough to imagine that the unit could get even better heading into the postseason.

Looks like you should have expanded your imagination.

John Brown’s first game action since Week 10 was a good reminder he’s that type of game-changing player.

His presence raises the ceiling of an entire unit. This just happens to be a unit that was already hitting its stride. Brown caught all four of his targets for 72 yards and a score against Miami. He made several huge downfield catches, including his touchdown reception.

Brown looked as quick and agile as he ever has. He’s one of the best separators at the wide receiver position as there is in today’s NFL. And of course, one of the other guys at the top of that list happens to be his running mate on the outside in Stefon Diggs.

Even as Miami had everything to play for and Buffalo just a spattering of motivation, the Bills offense essentially did whatever they wanted on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine an AFC team better equipped to give Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs a run for their money. Dropping Brown into a unit that was already vaulting its quarterback into the top-three of the MVP discussion is that consequential.

Marquise Brown finishes the season strong

When you take into account the fantasy hype around the Ravens receiver, Marquise Brown might have been one of the most disappointing (non-injured) offensive players in the league. Brown was a feature for any wide receiver breakout list this summer. Many of those wideouts hit. Brown did not.

Nevertheless, as the Ravens scoring unit righted the ship to end the 2020 season after weathering a COVID outbreak, so did Brown.

The 2019 first rounder scored six times in the final six games of the season. The only game where he didn’t find the end zone during that stretch was a win against Jacksonville, in which he posted 98 yards.

No question, the Baltimore Ravens went through an identity crisis that lasted way too long this season. However, as soon as we turned the calendar to December, this offense looked like the exact type of unit anyone would have expected to see in 2020. The run game was demoralizing for opposing defenses to deal with. The quarterback was an unstoppable, multi-dimensional force. And on top of all that, they fielded a young, big-play receiver who made crucial scoring catches.

It wasn’t the prettiest sophomore campaign for Marquise Brown, but it would be foolish to write him off for good.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown
Marquise Brown showcased the potential we all expected him to have the last few weeks. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

5 Things I don’t care about

Any justification for the Nate Sudfeld stunt

Alright, that’s not true. There is one possible explanation Doug Pederson could provide that I’d accept.

If he wanted to intentionally put out a putrid product for every media corp overlord to see and be humiliated by in an effort to finally shame them for force-feeding us the NFC East in key primetime games, I’d take it. Thank you for your sacrifice Coach Pederson.

No other reason is acceptable. Getting a look at one of your young quarterbacks? Nope — this isn’t the third preseason game. Trying to tank for your draft position? Give me a break. Moving from the ninth pick to the sixth pick doesn’t move the needle on your future prospects one bit. Trying to stick it to the Giants? You can’t tell me they care about that with a straight face when they’re sending their other rival to the postseason.

There was perhaps no more fitting end to the NFC East’s 2020 journey than what we got on Sunday night. The weirdest division of all time was the last thing settled in the weirdest season of all time. That seems appropriate. But man, that was tough to swallow.

The 2020 NFL regular season had a finale to rival such flops as Dexter and Game of Thrones, all thanks to the Eagles.

Brandin Cooks trade rumors

After his excellent finish to the 2020 season on Sunday, Brandin Cooks sealed the fifth 1,000-yard season of his career. Much like Mike Evans (discussed above) but to a lesser degree, Cooks is a pretty underrated player.

Even wilder than his total 1,000-yard season count, Cooks has hit quadruple digits with four teams now. It’s time for him to stop moving.

Given the Texans are heading into a reboot and don’t have too many draft assets or cap space, it’s only natural for Cooks’ name to come up in trade rumors. He has a $12 million cap hit with no dead money. His contract is easy to move. But please, Texans, find another way.

Not only does Cooks deserve to settle into an offense, Deshaun Watson absolutely does not deserve to see his wide receiver room destroyed in yet another offseason. The team might already lose impending free agent Will Fuller. Watson is the best piece of the Texans franchise by three country miles. They shouldn’t ask him to figure things out with just two starting wide receivers in 2021 one year after shipping off All-Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Any guarantees for Tua

Tua Tagovailoa had a golden chance today.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick ruled out after a positive COVID test, the rookie could have gone out in Week 17, played a clean game, and punched his team’s ticket to the postseason. None of that happened and because of it, all options for Miami at quarterback will be discussed given how Tua’s season has played out.

I like Tua. And I think people are being a little ridiculous in their critiques of him. Let’s not forget, he was not long ago recovering from a devastating hip injury. Not getting off to an electric start to his NFL career isn’t altogether shocking.

That said, I’m ready to see a potential experiment play out.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if a team decided to double-up on young, highly drafted quarterbacks and let them duke it out. The 2019 Cardinals were the best shot we had. However, there was no chance an old regime was going to hang onto Josh Rosen after they selected Kyler Murray first overall.

The Dolphins’ first Round 1 pick in 2021 won’t be the top overall selection. If they went down this road, it would be the same brain trust that drafted Tua last year. This is a similar, but not one-to-one situation. They’re flush with enough resources to consider a “luxury pick” at the game’s most important position one year after taking QB fifth overall.

Miami could draft another quarterback and Tua could beat him out. That is completely within the range of outcomes given his college pedigree and some of the flashes he’s shown in 2020.

No matter what, I’m ready to see Miami get weird this offseason.

Limiting Justin Jefferson’s potential

I thought Justin Jefferson was the most pro-ready of any of the star-studded wideouts from the 2020 NFL Draft class. Never in a million years would I have predicted he’d finish as the WR6 overall in fantasy this year.

Jefferson’s 1,400 yards as a rookie will now go into the NFL record books. From an efficiency standpoint, he came close to matching Odell Beckham Jr.’s rookie campaign, just without “The Catch” flair or the New York media hype. He played like a top-15 receiver in his first year, operating like a pro in tight coverage and separating against almost anyone who tried to cover him.

As we turn ahead to the 2021 NFL season, I won’t be in the business of limiting my projections for this player. That’s how special his rookie season was.

As an organization, the Vikings have to ask themselves why they were playing for nothing in Week 17 during a season when their quarterback and running back enjoyed career seasons and featured one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. Still, Jefferson is one of their answers. He’s a foundation piece they don’t need to have any questions about heading into next year.

Too much Cardinals criticism

Patience is in short supply when we’re talking about the NFL. Part of me wishes we could have a few more doses of it when talking about the 2020 Cardinals.

Two years ago the Cardinals looked like a ghost ship of misery. They were heading toward an offseason clouded by holding the league’s worst record and looking at another full-on teardown. At the end of the 2020 season, they’ll have just missed the postseason by a hair. Few would have predicted this coming to pass.

At times this year, Kyler Murray looked like he would push his way into the MVP discussion. The momentum stalled, things fell apart and there were some admittedly concerning signals thrown out by the coaching staff.

All told, however, it looked like an encouraging second season for the Murray/Kliff Kingsbury era. And if Murray was healthy in Week 17, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

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