Dynasty-Fantasy Analysis: 2020 Season AFC Wild Card – Browns 48, Steelers 37
*Just like our in-regular-season coverage, we’ll be analyzing all of the playoff games for Dynasty/Fantasy purposes…with an eye on 2021 valuation changes, etc. During this time, I’m watching the tape and writing up an analysis on NFL Draft prospect scouting studies and prepping/studying for the Senior Bowl (still on for now) – so, I’m typing out my thoughts/notes quickly and not hardcore editing. Forgive any typos/grammar, etc.
Let me see if I can find a fresh take about this game besides…”That was a crazy game, amiright?”
I think the takeaway from this game, as the weeks wear on (and assuming Cleveland loses by 50 to KC this week), will be: Remember that first play, the snap over Big Ben’s head…it was a wild game that just went the Browns’ way and the Steelers almost got right back into it but the Browns…it was just Cleveland’s night. Good for them…it feels good that the Browns won…kinda like watching a kid ride a bike for the first time for a stretch where they don’t fall over. Good for those lovable losers!
The dominant theme will be focused on patting the Browns on the head for this lucky, improbable win.
Here are some things that sentiment overlooks, conveniently…criminally…
1) The Cleveland Browns were just a better team the 2nd-half of the 2020 season than the Steelers. They officially crossed paths…and it’s a trajectory that will continue into 2021. The Steelers are dying. The Browns are ascending. It’s a combination of both forces/momentums. Our brains won’t allow us to really believe it – like if we thought we saw an alien or a ghost in our backyard last night. The Browns are better suited (and coached) for the near future than the Steelers.
2) The fact that the Browns were missing two (Ward, Bitonio) of their 4-5 best players and missing several members of the coaching staff and outplayed and out-coached the Steelers…at Pittsburgh – it should be judged as one of the most ‘stunning’ things to happen in football in years. It’s a positive for how much better the Browns are set up now than the Steelers going forward. Also, along that same vibe…
3) Mike Tomlin is so ‘over’. I wish I had this guy’s PR firm. No matter how poorly he coaches, no matter how bad his team plays, no matter how many times he misses the playoffs of late – he is never blamed. He comes out after games and says blunt statements about how his team sucks, and we all have our hearts warmed by his ‘honesty’. Well, if you keep saying your team sucks and didn’t come to play – shouldn’t we also blame you at some point? Like, look for an alternative kind of ‘blame’?
The Steelers missed the playoffs in 2018 season and 2019 season, and I’d argue that this ‘made the playoffs’ season with an utterly humiliating loss was worse than actually just missing the playoffs altogether. The Steelers are getting worse with time. Tomlin won his Super Bowl 13 seasons ago (2008), in his second season (with arguably ‘Cowher’s guys’)…he’s (5-8) in the playoffs otherwise. In the past decade the Steelers are (3-6) in the playoffs never getting to the title game. When is any of this blamed on Tomlin to the point of looking for a replacement/new direction?
I’m not trying to kick Tomlin when he is down, but he’s had an elite/franchise QB his entire Steelers run and he works for a sound organization – how has he blown it/underperformed for a decade and been then now blown past by the Browns dysfunction, and no one holds him accountable or speaks of ‘a change needed’?
Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll are like ‘knighted by the Queen’. You can’t touch them.
4) Like I said for two seasons…one of the main problems with the Browns, the thing causing a lot of their offensive pain – Odell Beckham Jr.
If OBJ is so great, how did this offense/team take off without him?
Because OBJ is an attention hog that wouldn’t allow the offense to unfold naturally with Baker…it was instead focused on trying to shove a pacifier in OBJ’s mouth hole every week…a mouth hole who can’t catch, is 100% vested in playing the game, and is past his prime.
Had OBJ not gotten hurt/gone, the Browns probably would not have a winning record or make the playoffs.
OBJ will be dumped this offseason. His contract makes it obvious. Released for no CAP hit.
The funny thing will then be…the football media panting over ‘Who should sign OBJ!’…as if it would be so awesome for whatever team to land him. He’s an overrated, overpaid cancer…and the mainstream football media is not in the business of pointing that out.
As far as the game itself – the Browns got up quick off that bad snap to start the game, so it feels like they were ‘handed a win’ but that sells short how the Browns then dominated on both sides of the ball and took a huge lead going into halftime…and then when the Steelers started racing back into the game and everyone felt the score shrinking and the momentum turning – the Browns rallied themselves and just delivered knock out punches to the Steelers comeback effort. This happening while the Browns lost more offensive linemen as the game went on and were playing OLs that hadn’t ever been on the team until that week.
This was an undermanned Browns team just being ‘better’ than their opponent…as the 14-year head coach (Tomlin) was out-coached in every way by a guy who had never coached a game before this week.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- Now can we confidently say that Baker Mayfield (21-34 for 263 yards, 3 TDs/0 INT) 2020 is better than Big Ben 2020…and might be better than Big Ben for an entire career when it is all said and done? I said/speculated that last week in my playoff preview of this game. Now, I think we can start to believe it might very well be true.
Look, when any NFL team rises to power…it’s either led by a dominating defense or a great QB. A dominating defense can help hide QB/offensive issues…and a great QB can make up for a bad defense.
Are you telling me the Browns got here by a dominating defense? They won 11 games because of their defense? They humiliated the Steelers missing their best corner (Ward), a starting DB (Johnson) and chunks of their O-Line…and do you think the run game carried them? Please. It’s a fine run game but you have to have a very good/great QB talent PLUS that QB be a great leader of men to take a team with a spotty/injured defense this far.
It’s time to give Baker his due.
He was the best QB in the 2019 NFL Draft, you can have Lamar Jackson…I’ll take Baker for the long haul. Lamar went into a good team/organization and made it still good. Baker went to the worst organization with the worst history with the worst head coach in football (Hue Jackson), coming off an (0-16) season and got them into the playoff picture late by his rookie season end, ditto 2019 under a new coach (who was fired after a year), and then Baker sealed the deal with his fourth head coach in three seasons in 2020 – putting this team on his back, willing it to win because he’s a really good/great QB talent and one of the best leader-personalities in the NFL at QB.
Since Hue Jackson was fired, Baker is (23-18) as the starter…and the Steelers are (24-17) in that same span. Baker has one playoff win in the last 3 seasons; the Steelers last won a playoff game in the 2016 season.
Since OBJ was taken away (the Browns biggest blessing) – Baker is (9-3) with 19 TD passes and 2 INTs. One of his losses in that span was in a wind gust game v. Las Vegas and the loss to the Jets when all the COVID stuff hit 24+ hours before their game and they lost all their WRs.
Baker Mayfield was the right #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, no shame to Lamar Jackson who is also a sweet QB talent…and all shame to Sam Darnold, the guy the football overlords loved the most of the three.
Baker, with OBJ gone forever, now enters the QB1 discussion for FF 2021 and beyond.
-- #1 question I’m getting after the wild card weekend? What do you think the Steelers are going to do at QB next year?
The same thing they did in 2020.
If you think Mike Tomlin thinks anything is really wrong (besides needing to play ‘tougher’) or if you think Mike Tomlin is capable of ‘answers’ on offense – you’re delusional.
Tomlin is already excited to build his offense around Bennie Snell (Conner gone in free agency), and if you think Bennie Snell sucks as bad as James Conner – then you don’t know ‘Steelers football’ like Mike Tomlin does. You are the problem in this equation.
Big Ben (47-68 for 501 yards, 4 TDs/4 INTs) will be there next year throwing a million passes again. The run game will be a joke, again. Tomlin will give a lot of tough guys answers in press conferences as the Steelers embark on a losing record season, the press will swoon and delight at Tomlin’s gruff answers, Big Ben ‘aging’ will be made to be the scapegoat, the Steelers will have little plan otherwise to address the long term QB situation with Tomlin secretly thinking ‘if I could just get to Josh Dobbs starting all my problems would be solved’, the Steelers won’t make the playoffs next season and Tomlin will be back again in 2022 like nothing happened.
Big Ben, for his part, is fine enough for NFL football 2021. When Green Bay wasn’t winning and Aaron Rodgers’ numbers were way down two years ago, he was thought to be ‘slipping’. Now look at him. Every time Tom Brady had a bad game in the 2020 season, he was deemed ‘not what he used to be’ – then he’d throw for 350+ yards and multiple TDs the next week and all the ‘slipping’ talk was tabled until the next loss. I’m as guilty as charged as anyone on that.
Anyone walking out of this game thinking the Steelers problems are because of Ben is falling prey to the typical football analyst class that centers everything on the quarterback being at fault for losses/disappointments. We’ve all been coached that way by the football minds on TV. All offseason there will be hours of discussion about the Steelers QB position, and minutes about the run game, Tomlin, the O-Line.
-- JuJu Smith-Schuster (13-157-1/19) ends his Steelers career on a statistical high note going into free agency. The Steelers, for all their issues the past couple years – they’re still pretty good at contract assessments and player valuations. There’s no way they pay JuJu the big-time money. If they do, you’ll know the Steelers are truly finished as a top NFL team/organization.
I think JuJu back to Pittsburgh has a less than 1% chance of happening.
If you want to know which NFL teams are the worst run – you’ll get a big clue on whichever one signs JuJu to a mega deal in this era of tight cap space and WR talent falling out of trees.
JuJu will go to a team that cannot attract free agents via their location or organization. So, think of the worst run teams in the NFL in the worst geographies with WR needs that would die for a ‘name’ like JuJu to be signed to their club…
The Jets or Jaguars might be out of the running because they have made coaching and/or GM changes to reboot fans’ hopes.
Chicago, Washington, Cincinnati, and maybe Miami (but they don’t have any issue getting FAs) would be my contenders for JuJu 2021.
-- Once JuJu is gone, Chase Claypool (5-59-2/7) steps in fully to produce, potentially, the greatest 1-2 punch at WR in the NFL in 2021…Claypool-Diontae.
Ben can have a QB1 FF 2021 with the Claypool-Diontae-Washington trio…arguably the best #1-2-3 WR grouping in the NFL (and the fact that they have no run game).
-- You noticed I’ve mentioned Snell as the lead RB in Pittsburgh next year a few times here and for the past few weeks. I believe Mike Tomlin is 100% convinced Bennie Snell (2-13-0, 1-4-0/2) is the prototypical, perfect Steelers RB.
Snell is the prototypical Mike Tomlin running back – painfully slow, runs like a fullback, ineffective, but will have a tough guy run every so often that makes Tomlin ‘randy’.
James Conner (11-37-1) is a free agent and I’d say he’s 90% gone. Mike Tomlin 110% wants him back, but they’ll let him walk (based on the Steelers personnel history on such things). Conner could be back if there are zero takers in free agency, and he limps back cheap, which is possible.
Snell was Tomlin’s 2021 plan going into this season. Knowing Conner was a year from free agency, the Steelers drafted Anthony McFarland as a plan in 2020…and McFarland is not a lead back type, not a Conner replacement. The Steelers did this because Tomlin sees Snell as a lead RB in place of Conner. The GM might try to draft a real RB despite Tomlin, but even if he does – Week 1, Snell will be the Steelers starter…I would almost bet my life on it…unless Conner returns to Pittsburgh because even CFL teams weren’t interested. By Week 4, Snell will have fizzled…but Tomlin likely will stick with him until it’s beyond obvious he shouldn’t.
Might the Steelers sign a real RB in free agency? That’s not their motif usually…bad business spending money on RBs, but if a power runner comes cheap, maybe Tomlin pleads for him – like this is where Adrian Peterson or Frank Gore can play in 2021.
-- You want to love Nick Chubb (18-76-0, 4-69-1/4) more for FF 2021+, but the presence of Kareem Hunt (8-48-2, 1-13-0/1) is always just sitting there waiting to ruin the Chubb stat party.
Hunt tends to start showing up in games/in the rotation in the red zone…and right on cue, Hunt’s first two carries of this game were two red zone totes…for two TDs.
Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook types don’t typically yield good touches to ‘the other’ RB on the team.
Chubb had 13 total TDs this season (including playoffs), which is awesome…but Hunt had 13 total TDs as well. Chubb ran for 100+ yards in a game one time his final 6 games of the season…against the Steelers’ backups Week 17.
I’m not mentioning all this because Chubb is ‘bad’…more that his ability to hang, project as a top 3 type fantasy RB1 for 2021 is hampered by the presence of Hunt.
For the final time in 2020 season: https://youtu.be/q4zEymao60I
Snap Counts of Interest:
39 = Chubb
25 = Hunt
68 = Conner
20 = Snell
87 = JuJu
79 = Diontae
70 = Claypool
28 = Washington
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