Good morning and happy Thanksgiving. First, take a quick look: Is your oven actually on? These days can be a scramble with kids and relatives and constant robocalls with area codes from your hometown that you mistakenly answer over and over, thinking it might finally be your old high school football coach calling to tell you it was a mistake to keep you on the bench those four years back in the early 2000s and that you guys definitely would have made it to State if they only let you be the holder on field goals, a massive relief that would put an end to the vivid dreams you keep having. It’s hard to keep your mind focused on the task at hand, especially if you carry the responsibility of cooking The Bird.
We’re going to talk about what each NFL team should be thankful for this year, but before we get started, I’ll throw something out there myself.
I took my kids to vote on Election Day, and we live in a town that skews slightly opposite of where I’d find myself most of the time (something that I do enjoy and that has given me the ability to have conversations I wouldn’t normally have if I simply lived on Twitter, which also colors some of my writing in a way that I hope represents a broader swath of the population). There was a 35-minute wait to get to the one functioning machine, and it gave us all time to get comfortable inside the senior citizens center. We got a new machine this year, and the technology was drastically different, but it allowed us to see a completed paper ballot before it zipped through a return slot, which felt really secure and definitive. Election officials, people we knew from the neighborhood, and also, after the past few years, people who have every reason to be defensive and beaten-down and defeated, were running constant demonstrations. They were running in the back room to get bags of pretzels so my kids wouldn’t flip over a 5,000-piece puzzle in progress on the table behind us. In line, there were conversations about a lack of faith in the electoral system, specifically from someone who did not trust mail-in voting, but it didn’t result in a shouting match. Most everyone seemed willing to give this exercise a shot again with (somewhat) fresh eyes. A few days later, we were hit with a trove of data mapping out how much more willing our area was to vote split ticket, which I’m cherry-picking as evidence that the gradual warming I felt in the polling center was not just a blast of heat intended for the seniors who gather there for bingo and roast beef.
It mirrored my most recent experiences with football discussions, either in person or online. For the better part of the past few years, it would seem that, sometimes unconsciously on my end, and on the receiving end from the public, there was this loaded element to the discussion, that we were all using something we were trying to say to say something else. Something bigger about how we felt. Whether or not that was actually true, even the suspicion of such a thing could throw our conversational equilibrium off course. Now, there is a more sober give and take.
In that respect, life seems healthier now, and my hope is that Thanksgiving, a holiday that has become synonymous with uncomfortable, suspicious conversations, mirrors for all of you my experience in line to vote. That we can all feel like we’re in this together, regardless of how we feel at the moment.
As a side note, we mentioned last year that the holiday season can be a difficult one or a lonely one. My email is Conor.Orr@si.com, and I have open direct messages on Twitter. I will try to check both during the day, if you are looking to complain about your bad football team and would like a little back and forth. All messages are welcome.
Thankful for: Kelvin Beachum
The 33-year-old tackle has been in Arizona since 2020, but this season in particular, with the entire roster feeling the strain of injury and disappointment, his presence has been particularly valuable. I am not, admittedly, an avid watcher of the in-season Hard Knocks, which I’m sure the Cardinals globbed onto as an opportunity to make this operation look like a finely tuned sports car (or at least to try to make it clear that last year wasn’t a statistical fluke), but, whoops. But, I am told that the latest episode featured the details that Beachum nearly passed out due to a perceived appendix issue but played anyway and that he’s been a counselor of sorts for this sordid bunch. I remember when Beachum was with the Jets, living not too far from where I currently reside. While it didn’t make huge news nationally, he stepped up in a significant way during the water crisis in Newark. It wasn’t his town, but he still felt the pull to do something about it. When a season goes south, it’s uncanny how many people in a building depend on people like Beachum.
Thankful for: Grady Jarrett
For this one, I consulted the biggest Falcons fan I know, Charles McDonald of Yahoo Sports. Charles specifically mentioned Jarrett’s willingness to re-sign with the team, which he did back in May for three years and more than $50 million. Jarrett has been great again this year, especially as a pass rusher. In fact, he’s so good that even regular sacks appear violent enough to spark ridiculous penalty calls. As we wrote about before this season, we’re in a depressed period for blitzing defensive coordinators (save for Wink Martindale, who is always going to bring the noise). Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees is one of the least-frequent-blitzing coordinators in the NFL, and when you’re rushing four consistently, having a player who can draw triple teams (yes, Jarrett is drawing triple teams sometimes) it means everything for the Falcons’ rebuilding defense.
Thankful for: Devin Duvernay
The average Ravens rushing play is almost a yard better (0.8) when Duvernay is on the field. Despite a 5'11" frame, Duvernay is one of the better blocking wide receivers in the NFL, and is also one of the league’s most productive kick and punt returners. In many ways, he embodies the Ravens’ ethos, which feels like a more modern twist on how the Patriots built their dynasty of the 2000s.
Thankful for: Bills Mafia
More than $200,000 was raised in the name of tight end Dawson Knox’s late brother, Luke, who died unexpectedly in late August. This is just the latest in a long string of donations made by the Bills’ fan base, which are often made in small increments via special numbers paying tribute to someone’s number. Tua Tagovailoa’s foundation received more than 1,800 donations from the Bills Mafia. Andy Dalton’s charity received nearly $500,000 in donations from Bills fans. And, yes, they gave $20,000 to a charity for the blind and low-vision after a game in which they were upset with the officiating. This fan base has graduated so far beyond smashing through tables. In an odd twist, these fans seem to have grown and matured with their team’s sustained success, while other fan bases (cough, Cardinals, Panthers, cough) seem to get petty and sensitive at the slightest glimpse of good fortune.
Thankful for: Derrick Brown
I think next year Brown will be considered among the NFL’s elite interior tackles. While he is playing like one now, we will probably open the 2023 season by grouping him in with Grady Jarrett, Chris Jones, Quinnen Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Jeffery Simmons, Jonathan Allen and DeForest Buckner. It’s clear that, while the Panthers are obviously hovering around rock bottom, Brown has grown to the point where he has a pass-rushing move set, and he’s never completely blocked out of the play. If you want to see which direction a run play is going at the snap, just watch Brown, as he instinctively moves against the place where the offensive lineman is trying to shove him.
Thankful for: Luke Getsy
Being a coach is hard. A lot of times when we watch a game, we wonder: Why the hell aren’t they trying X, Y or Z? Well, Getsy heard you and developed a run-first system that has borrowed heavily from some of the more successful run-oriented offenses in the NFL, while also staying true to the ideals that got him hired as a top offensive assistant in Green Bay. With Getsy as OC, Justin Fields has gone from sinking ship to franchise cornerstone, and, most importantly, the offense is giving him time to develop as a passer. While we still see some situations he isn’t taking advantage of, Fields is excelling in some way and maintaining a breakneck efficiency pace for this offense.
Thankful for: Jeff Ruberg
Ruberg is the lead detective on the case of the Paycor Stadium banner theft, a crime that is sweeping the area. Two people snuck into the team’s parking garage at the beginning of the month, cut a banner loose and swiped it, absconding to a nearby getaway car. I cannot imagine what they would do with a 20-by-eight-foot banner, which, outside of being displayed outside of a frat house (and immediately getting the inhabitants arrested) wouldn’t do anyone much good. A quick Google search on Ruberg turns up some really interesting cases solved around Cincinnati, and a legendary police lineage. Please help him out and call the tip line if you know anything. The Bengals just want their banner back!
Thankful for: these fans
From what I can tell, this is a Reddit post about a Browns fan trying to buy an autographed hat at a yard sale. Not only did the commenters help him figure out that the autograph is none other than Butch Davis’s, but they had some hilarious stories about the devaluation of the Davis autograph and a legitimate argument to be made that he is the best coach in the franchise’s rebirthed history. It’s a good reminder that not all remaining Browns fans can be lumped into one category. Some of them just want to talk about Butch Davis.
Thankful for: Cooper Rush
We’ve moved on from the guy some TV analysts decided to use as a go-viral weapon. That’s absurd. There should be some sort of rolling tribute to Rush as the season goes on, especially if the Cowboys reach the playoffs, which, according to FiveThirtyEight, they have a 99% chance of doing (and, still, about a 31% chance of winning the division, even though the Eagles have the best record in the league and the Giants also have seven wins). Rush started five games and kept the season afloat. If you lower the snap minimum on NFL efficiency data, he was, yes, one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of points added per play and completion percentage above expectation. However, he was about as good as Russell Wilson, Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco. He played better than Carson Wentz or any of the Panthers’ quarterbacks. That is significant.
Thankful for: Ejiro Evero
I’m not turning this into an offense vs. defense thing. And I think we should watch the Broncos more critically to examine whether there are open offensive players before we judge Nathaniel Hackett as a play-caller and a designer of offenses. But it’s important to recognize, as we did in our future head coaches list, that Evero is an up-and-coming star in this league. One person connected to the coach hiring process recently described Evero as a coach top executives are extremely excited about. Go back to their game against the Titans to see how absolutely stunned Tennessee was to see him come out in a 5–3 defense. Evero has been juking out offensive coordinators all year.
Thankful for: Ben Johnson
As notable as the Lions’ defensive struggles have been this year, we should note the offense is in the top 10 in almost all major categories and has kept the Dan Campbell regime hanging on by a thread. Johnson, Detroit’s 36-year-old offensive coordinator, has become a fast-rising star in coaching circles and will almost certainly be interviewing for head-coaching jobs at the end of the season. While he was handed the keys to a top-tier offensive line, most of his work has been done with component parts deemed excess by other clubs, like Jared Goff, Jamaal Williams and Josh Reynolds.
Thankful for: Mike McCarthy
While 2022 has been a season of mostly lowlights, the Packers got one emotional win this season that will in no way comfort them deep in the winter when their fan base feels they should be contending for a Super Bowl. Admittedly, I’m not sure there is a remaining McCarthy faction of the Packers’ fan base—people who would have rather they kept the coach and part ways with a still-prime Aaron Rodgers. If there was, the angst was assuaged somewhat a few weeks ago following a Packers overtime victory. Matt LaFleur is one of the best young head coaches in the NFL and is finally bumping into some real coaching adversity, the kind that comes when egos and dollars and age all combine into a gale-force wind. But he still managed to win the most significant game this year.
Thankful for: Dameon Pierce
As we’re seeing with the Giants, a running back can still be an offensive identity in the absence of strong component pieces. Pierce has been phenomenal this season and has a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. As we noted in our recent post on the league’s top rookies, he broke nearly 20 tackles in one single game. And, even though his pass blocking isn’t superb, NFLGSIS statistics show that he makes the Texans almost two yards better per pass by virtue of being on the field. In that way, he has transcended the typical grind-it-out back archetype, as he is at least forcing defenses to conform in a way that makes their passing game more successful.
Thankful for: Parks Frazier
Here is the one part of the entire Colts coaching saga that doesn’t make us feel a range of emotions on the spectrum of disgust to confusion. Frazier, a former intern who used to sleep in his truck, who, thankfully, survived a horrific random act of violence where his home was sprayed with gunshots, is doing an incredible job designing and calling the offense. The 31-year-old was handed the gig amid a firestorm after one of his superiors turned the job down. Imagine if this had gone awry and Frazier had not been willing (or able) to answer the call. The Jeff Saturday experiment, which has gone from headlines to something of an afterthought, could have made the Colts the laughingstock of the NFL for weeks heading into a highly public hiring period which would have no doubt scared off many qualified candidates.
Thankful for: Jim Bob Cooter
Remember Cooter, who took the reins of the Lions’ offense under Jim Caldwell during a midseason parting of ways with Joe Lombardi and, in 2017, had a top-10 offense? He’s now the Jaguars’ pass-game coordinator and has helped oversee the development of a passing game that marries their running schemes, which has led to the development of second-year back Travis Etienne Jr. Being able to facilitate Etienne’s explosiveness and also make it a sustainable offensive strategy was a huge component of the team’s ’22 campaign, which has shown far more maturity offensively and has kept the Jaguars respectable and competitive during the first half of the season. While they are still young, building a worthwhile running game is a critical aspect of Trevor Lawrence’s development.
Thankful for: This person
A few weeks back, we took one of my kids to their first football game at the JMA Dome in Syracuse. At one point, hiking up the stairs, I had waters in both hands, had clasped my elbows together to form a bucket in which to carry the pizza and hot dogs, and filled the stomach-level pocket of my sweatshirt with other accouterments necessary for sustenance. At the end of the game, I couldn’t find my car keys, and it was horrifying to consider the possibilities as a flood of bodies pushed us toward the exit. I was certain that all the stadium food had forced them out of my pocket somehow and the thought of going through the process of replacing them was a nightmare. (It turns out, someone else in my party had scooped them up.)
Well, someone at Arrowhead Stadium a few weeks ago actually lost a wallet. And … an incredible stranger found it and drove it to their house using the address on the ID. This mystery benefactor saved them hours of confusion and horror, plus whatever else might have happened once the person left the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Also: Patrick Mahomes.
Thankful for: Impatience
Most general managers are loath to deal for draft picks that aren’t for the current or upcoming NFL draft. The Raiders traded for Davante Adams utilizing their first-round pick in 2022, avoiding handing over some equity in the ’23 draft, where their pick will be infinitely more valuable. While the current regime has a lot to answer for, getting Adams at pick No. 22 in ’22 and a quarterback of the future in ’23 with what is currently projected to be the No. 4 pick is a haul that most fans would likely accept. Derek Carr’s tradable contract makes this offseason an interesting one, and their kept equity also makes it a promising one.
Thankful for: The Rams
When you share a stadium with another team and are frantically battling for relevance in the market, it’s always nice when there’s a bit of a talent truce. Last year the Rams won a Super Bowl, sure, but the Chargers also established a franchise star quarterback, wore some cool uniforms, employed an imminently watchable coach who took more strategic risks than any coach in the NFL and, generally, earned the high expectations they came into this year with. Now that they have found themselves regressing to the mean a bit, it’s helpful to know that the Rams have reached something of a rock bottom, with injuries and a high-risk roster-building strategy ultimately sinking the team in its quest for a title defense.
Thankful for: The Chargers
As the Rams bottom out, they will cling to their Lombardi Trophy like the lifeboat in Titanic (which Rose absolutely could have shared with Jack, by the way). The Rams in recent years have been like that cool neighbor you would see driving a different car every year—how did he even get his hands on a new Ford Bronco?—before realizing that this game of auto-lease gymnastics came with a mafia-type vig they must pay back. The result is a gargantuan yard sale full of the family’s most prized possessions. But people tend not to forget how cool you look in a Bronco, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Did the Chargers ever have a Bronco?
Thankful for: Tua Tagovailoa mic’d up against the Browns
Mike McDaniel is like the well-dressed dad at soccer practice who always has healthy snacks and the most perfectly reasonable and positive thing to say to his kids when they accidentally score an own goal. I thought it was so important that we got a glimpse of his relationship with Tagovailoa, especially when McDaniel continues his praise of the quarterback despite needing to be on the headset to be the head coach. Young coaches, old coaches willing to learn, high school coaches, grade school coaches, flag football coaches, they all need to see this and try to emulate some version of humility and decency. Study after study shows that constructive praise beats trying to do a horrible Bill Belichick impression every time. Winning makes this possible, for sure, but this short window into McDaniel’s persona leads us to believe that even the tough times with him are not that bad.
Thankful for: Iced Out Captain Kirk
Apparently, Kirk Cousins did not want shirtless pictures of himself wearing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds to surface on the internet, but his teammates understood good content when they saw it. Every great team needs an identity, like the Eagles wearing dog masks a few years ago, the Patriots being incredibly dour all the time or the Rams essentially piecing together an AAU basketball team of stars and acting like it. Had it not been for their blowout loss to the Cowboys, Kirk Cousins’s shirtless foray into viral stardom would have essentially sealed a Vikings championship.
Thankful for: Bill Belichick
Yes, Bill Belichick was our person to be thankful for last year as well (for two different teams, actually). This year, it’s for a different reason. We’ll be writing more about this as the season wears on, but the quality and the diversity of his defensive game planning is still stunning. We talk a lot about how much of a disadvantage defensive players and coaches operate at on a down-to-down basis, and yet, Belichick is always hurling something at offenses they haven’t seen before. Over the past three weeks, the Patriots are giving up just 3.3 points per game in the second half, which shows just how good he still is at in-game adjustments. The Patriots recently overtook the Broncos as the league’s best overall defense in terms of EPA per play allowed.
Thankful for: Chris Olave
The Saints have traded away some of their upcoming draft picks, so it’s at least good news that the ones they mortgaged their future for are really productive. Olave, so far, is the best rookie wide receiver in terms of production. (You can read more about Olave in our aforementioned rookie rankings.) He’s had to learn on the fly in a broken offense with two subpar quarterbacks (even if Andy Dalton has played well in spurts). By the time the Saints are ready to compete again, he may be nearing the conclusion of his rookie contract, but by then, he should be a top-five player at the position.
Thankful for: Saquon Barkley
Barkley was the executive chairperson of this year’s Covenant House sleepout, which raised almost $1.5 million to end youth homelessness in New Jersey. He also happens to be a great running back who is piloting the ninth-most efficient running game in the NFL. I feel like Barkley had every reason to try to force his way out of town multiple times through the years. Even though the draft-bust label is (generally) ludicrous, since most of the blame should be laid on the organizations, GMs and coaches who refuse to (or cannot figure out how to) work with a player and not the player himself, it’s still an uncomfortable badge to wear. It was never his fault that he got drafted when he did, by who he did. Now, in a contract year, without any assurances monetarily beyond this season, he is still helping his adopted community and propelling a playoff team no one saw coming.
Thankful for: Sauce Gardner
It would be difficult for us to describe the singular effect Gardner has had on the Jets’ defense and franchise had we not gotten a recent example that was almost identical: Darrelle Revis. While stylistically different, both have been singularly dominant within their systems very early on in their careers. Gardner is allowing an opposing quarterback completion percentage of 52% and empowers other members of the secondary through his competence. Only the Bears and Titans blitz less than the Jets, which is a sign of a team profoundly confident in the coverage it’s able to get on the back end.
Thankful for: The Commanders
As I wrote the night they lost their first game of the season, their performance against a lesser division rival was going to be the most impactful wake-up call. While I’m not at all sold on the signing of Ndamukong Suh—will he play within the scheme?—Howie Roseman seconded the opinion. The Eagles are now sold out on experienced veteran run-stuffers. This locker room is packed with experience. While you can always overdo it, and Roseman is certainly putting a lot of pressure on his coaching staff here, the Eagles seemed to have taken one loss to heart instead of brushing it off as an inevitability like many GMs would do.
Thankful for: Minkah Fitzpatrick
While I am sure my mentality doesn’t sum up the lot of NFL players—I would completely shut down if my team was well below .500 at the midway point—Fitzpatrick is not only playing hard, but also played a game merely eight days after an emergency appendectomy. I know that the typical recovery for one of these surgeries is about a month on the longer end, but it’s always stunning to me to see someone who’s just had a knife put through his stomach muscles lining up and playing football. Here’s another thing that’s wild about Fitzpatrick: Five years into his career, in a season where open-field tackling is more valuable than ever due to the drastic increase in checkdowns and shorter line-of-scrimmage throws, he has a career-low missed tackle percentage of 4%. At worst, before he was traded from the Dolphins to the Steelers, Fitzpatrick was missing about 15% of his tackles.
Thankful for: Christian McCaffrey
We’ll be writing about this more in the coming weeks as well, but in short, McCaffrey makes the 49ers as close to unstoppable as any team remaining in the pool of clubs that could legitimately win the Super Bowl. This is not a slight against the Eagles, but I feel like of the teams that added talent at the trade deadline or after, the 49ers made a more beneficial and targeted addition, whereas the Eagles are simply adding talent (Linval Joseph and Suh), whom they haven’t even begun to deploy. The acquisition of McCaffrey represented the perfect understanding of where NFL teams are right now economically and physically. So long as McCaffrey continues to be agile, difficult to tackle and willing to catch 14 short passes a game, he will be a critical ingredient in a deep playoff run.
Thankful for: This video:
It perfectly sums up the feeling of Seahawks fans, who have been on a wild ride this year. While I was going to put Russell Wilson here, schadenfreude isn’t necessarily the vibe I’m getting. It’s more a group of people enjoying a group of people who are allowed to thrive and more easily be themselves (especially Pete Carroll). Wilson was an eclipse blocking one of the most enjoyable sets of personalities in the NFL and complicating fun at its purest levels. And, boy, were we all wrong this offseason about everything Seahawks related. The video certainly points that out, too.
Thankful for: Their remaining schedule
Of the teams in contention with the easiest remaining schedules, the Buccaneers most certainly benefit the most. Only the Ravens and the Chiefs have it easier in terms of strength of schedule (though, it is worth noting, Baltimore gets the Browns after Deshaun Watson’s return, while the Buccaneers are the last team to play Cleveland before Watson comes back). The Buccaneers started to regain their footing in a win over Seattle in Germany, including a potential scheme-lifting performance from rookie running back Rachaad White. Tampa Bay has divisional games against the Falcons, Panthers and Saints remaining, two of which should provide no true opposition. It also has the Cardinals left. It’s a favorable slate for a team that leads its division at 5–5.
Thankful for: Mike Vrabel
I often wrestle with how much of successful coaching is just constant humility and how much of it is being an evil genius who is allowed to be completely, maniacally absorbed in everything. With Vrabel, his assistants always seem to have the power and latitude to innovate, and his players have always seemed to experience open affection. Even last week against the Packers, you could see Vrabel constantly perched like a proud father on the sideline. That’s a powerful display. We always mystify this idea of getting people to want to play for you when in reality, the secret might just be genuine love and appreciation. While he can seem standoffish in a press conference setting, it’s easy to tell the difference between a coach who is doing so in order to protect his players and a coach who is doing so to fulfill some kind of Bill Parcells–ian fantasy to make other people feel small.
Thankful for: Peer pressure
At some point, NFL owners will squeeze Daniel Snyder into the sale of the Commanders. It may take a few more exposés or senatorial inquiries. Perhaps all billionaires involved will phone fellow rich person Bruce Wayne to see whether he can put the Batman on it. But eventually, Washington will have a new owner and a new stadium, and we won’t have to watch Ron Rivera pour every ounce of emotional strength into every game plan just to clinch a one-point victory over a fellow middling opponent. It won’t have to be so difficult.
Snyder is not a good owner. I know that the Commanders’ recent strategy has been to point at their improvements (new name, new president, a commitment to not stealing money from their fans or serving them weird coffee mugs with the wrong state on them), but if I begrudgingly painted my house after years of structural decay, my neighbors would still be concerned about the place falling down. The paint is nice, sure. French Beige. Not the cheap stuff either: Behr Premium. But THE HOUSE IS FALLING DOWN. A demolition crew is coming.
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