sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): It was a wild weekend of football, on and off the field: coach and GM firings, a game postponement, a rookie Carolina safety scoring fumble-return touchdowns on back-to-back defensive plays against the Vikings. 🙄
But Week 12 of the NFL season will certainly be remembered as the week when the pandemic was bad enough that a team took the field without an actual quarterback at starting quarterback. (It faced another team not starting a quarterback, but that one was on purpose.) After a COVID-19 protocol violation disqualified every one of their quarterbacks, the Denver Broncos called up wide receiver Kendall Hinton from the practice squad, gave him the playbook and wished him well against the New Orleans Saints. Guys, what were you expecting out of that game … and did it deliver?
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Watching that Broncos no-QB offense operate … cue the Arrested Development “idk what I was expecting” gif.
It would have been a great story if Hinton had led them to victory. Snarky people on Twitter were pointing out that the Broncos won a playoff game with Tim Tebow. But alas, they were doomed from the start.
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): We all know it was bad, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Total Quarterback Rating of 1.8 until this weekend. That is — unsurprisingly — the lowest of the year.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): It sounded like it would be fun, like when the Colts famously had to plug in running back Tom Matte at QB in the 1960s. But I worried it would be a slog and an embarrassment, and that is what that game was. It was one of the NFL’s worst moments. They’ll be writing about this decision forever.
neil: And on the other side, Taysom Hill is not exactly Joe Montana, either. This was only the third time since 1982 that two teams combined for 75 or fewer passing yards in a game.
The other two were both Week 17 games — hello, J.T. O’Sullivan — but I guess this also had some real Week 17 energy, QB-wise.
Salfino: I will say that the plan for Hill had to be to basically do no harm since it was going to be impossible for the Broncos to score legitimately.
joshua.hermsmeyer: There was a lot of terrible football on Sunday, but I don’t think Bunker Mark Sanchez could have saved it.
Salfino: “Bunker Mark Sanchez” should be a band name or something,
I think the right thing to do would have been to suspend the game and fine the Broncos a second-round pick. You have to respect the sport.
sara.ziegler: What really should have happened is the Saints should have lent Jameis Winston to the Broncos since they refuse to use him themselves.
neil: It’s like the “house goalie” in hockey.
sara.ziegler: I’m just saying, people would have paid to see that.
neil: Oh, it would have been great. “Bench me? For Taysom Hill??? Take that, Sean Payton!”
Salfino: Winston probably would have thrown six picks. Or pick-sixes.
sara.ziegler: But he would have had more than six completions…
Salfino: According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, the Broncos were the first team since Ryan Leaf and the Chargers in 1998 with more interceptions than completions.
neil: Never wanna be drawing comparisons to Ryan Leaf. Surely Hinton’s NFL QB career is over now.
sara.ziegler: As opposed to the promise it had shown before.
neil: Right, LOL
joshua.hermsmeyer: My understanding is that the Broncos staff didn’t know he was on the team in the first place, so that probably checks out.
Salfino: Was Hinton even as bad as Nathan Peterman, who still has a backup job, ironically on the team now with QB questions again.
sara.ziegler: Hey, Peterman was 3 for 5 on Sunday for the Raiders — with ZERO interceptions.
Salfino: Exactly! An upgrade over Derek Carr.
sara.ziegler: The Broncos game did have playoff implications, with New Orleans currently the top seed in the NFC. What do you all think: Are the Saints the best team in the conference?
neil: With Drew Brees? Probably. Who else is there? The Packers?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I like the Packers. I think what they did against a solid Bears pass defense was pretty great on Sunday night. They’re second in the league in expected points added (EPA) per play as well, behind the Chiefs.
Salfino: I thought the Rams were the best team, but then they laid a stinker. That wasn’t surprising on offense, but on defense, they decided to not put Jalen Ramsey on the one legit wide receiver on the field for the 49ers (Deebo Samuel). So, yeah, it has to be the Saints now.
neil: So, you’re a Rodgers believer again, Josh?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I believe the numbers 12 weeks in!
neil: Rodgers’s numbers on play-action this season are so sick: 16 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 74 percent completions, 0 sacks, 8.7 yards per attempt and a 139.2 passer rating.
Salfino: I think the Packers offense is legit good, but at some point, any defense is going to pretty much give up when the offense is hopeless and they’re losing — and I think that’s what happened on Sunday to the Bears on the road. If they were home with fans, maybe it would have been a different story.
sara.ziegler: The Bears were also missing Akiem Hicks, which couldn’t have helped.
Salfino: Imagine you’re the defense waiting for the cavalry and here comes Mitch Trubisky.
Mitch is back, baby.
neil: Same as he ever was, LOL
Salfino: At least Trubisky isn’t undefeated this year anymore, which was annoying.
joshua.hermsmeyer: The Bears were once 5-1. Feels like a pre-COVID stat.
Salfino: The Bears collapse is historic:
But, to me, the biggest collapse in NFL history is the 1986 Jets, who were 10-1 and finished 10-6. They still should have gone to the AFC Championship that game, save for the famous Mark Gastineau roughing the passer. Don’t get me started!
neil: “This Week In Jets History” is brought to you by the letter L.
Salfino: Legit Hall of Famer.
sara.ziegler: The Jets give us a nice segue into our recurring segment, Coaches Who Were Fired! Amazingly, Adam Gase has survived so far, but not everyone else has been so lucky.
neil: I mean, why would you fire Gase now and risk going on a run with the interim coach?
sara.ziegler: Fair point.
But the Detroit Lions did clean house this weekend, giving coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn the boot after a lackluster Thanksgiving performance, while the Jacksonville Jaguars let go of GM Dave Caldwell after the team lost for the 10th time in 11 tries.
joshua.hermsmeyer: After Patricia was fired, the public unburdening of grievances by former (and current!) players on social media was something to see.
neil: I never would have guessed he was not well liked!
sara.ziegler: I was amazed at the open celebration from Lions players. That’s really extraordinary in this league!
Salfino: Both moves were long overdue. I think Patricia would need to win 24 in a row to have a better record than Jim Caldwell, who was fired before him? And the Jaguars have been a draft disaster even worse than the Jets for Dave Caldwell’s tenure. It’s hard to think of a pick that went right.
neil: I’m just shocked Doug Marrone was not let go as well.
Salfino: I think Marrone is probably no worse than an average coach. But he’s going to get fired. No way around it. Coaching can’t overcome horrific drafting.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I wonder if the Caldwell move — which is slightly strange timing — is to get a jump on the GM hiring process. I suppose there’s not much else for a lame duck to do at this point in the year, so maybe it’s a sharp move.
Salfino: You probably know this better than me, Josh, but who can the Jaguars hire until the draft is over? Can’t teams block even underlings until then?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Hiring from other teams, sure. But the Mike Mayocks of the world are just sitting out there, ripe for the picking!
sara.ziegler: Any early predictions on who becomes the next coach in Detroit?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Eric Bieniemy makes sense for a whole host of reasons.
Salfino: Yeah, Bieniemy has to be the guy. But you’re stepping into a really bad situation with no QB really to build around. And their pick this year is not going to be that good. I don’t know how deep the QBs go this year — no one really does.
joshua.hermsmeyer: He also has a reputation for letting players express themselves. Which would probably be a nice switch from Patricia.
neil: And, hey, Matt Stafford can make some Mahomesian throws sometimes.
Salfino: I think if the Lions try to middle the rebuild, they’re screwed. Never take half measures when full measures are needed.
sara.ziegler: Don’t you think they could rebuild still around Stafford? He’s only 32 — that used to be old for a quarterback, but not anymore.
Salfino: That’s true. But a rebuild takes three years, and then Stafford is 35 and you’re trying to rebuild paying a franchise QB? Seems half-baked.
I don’t think Stafford is trash by any means, BTW.
neil: Does a rebuild take three years if you already have a decent QB and far superior coaching? I guess I’m just saying that I wouldn’t be shocked if Stafford had another act left in him.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I think you certainly draft a QB or three in those three years, but I tend to agree, Neil. This is a decent situation.
neil: Certainly better than some of the other jobs that will be open for Bieniemy to consider. (Hi, Jets.)
Salfino: I would have thought that you, Josh, would be more in for a tank. Trading Stafford for a No. 1.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Stafford seems like the right QB to HODL. You could luckbox into a deep playoff run — you never know. But if not, you don’t look incompetent and you can try to get the next QB aggressively in the draft.
Salfino: Remember that the Lions are going to have to give Kenny Golladay $20 million a year now, too, if they don’t tear it up. That’s a lot of cap. And the cap is going to go down.
joshua.hermsmeyer: He’s making $2 million! Is this one of those wild Salfino predictions?
Salfino: Golladay is going to take franchise money, isn’t he? He’s a free agent in March. To be clear, I sure wouldn’t sign him. But if you’re playing for now, I’d think they would.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Narrator: Despite the salary-cap drop, the Lions new GM made Kenny Golladay the fifth-highest-paid WR in the league, crippling the team. Again.
The Lions aren’t even technically out of the playoff hunt this year! Maybe now that Patricia is gone, they’ll surge for that new seventh seed.
Salfino: There could be an eighth seed by Tuesday.
neil: The Lions have a 92 percent playoff chance if they run the table, per our model!
That would bring their record to 9-7. This being the Lions, I would also accept 7-9. But nothing else.
sara.ziegler: I love that weirdness about them.
My money for a late playoff contender, though, is on the Falcons. They dismantled the Raiders.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes, Sara!
neil: Has any team ever looked more different in back-to-back weeks than the Raiders? You go from hanging with the Chiefs to just being totally embarrassed by the Falcons.
Salfino: Derek Carr threw a pick-six and lost three fumbles, which is crazy.
neil: Josh, you had a stat where the Raiders offense actually averaged fewer EPA per play than the no-QB Broncos, right?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Thanks for teeing that up! Yeah, I was shocked to see that the Broncos’ offense was not the worst in the league yesterday on an EPA/play basis. That honor went to the Raiders.
neil: That seems … not even possible.
Salfino: Do the turnovers have a big impact here? I wouldn’t think they would per play.
neil: They do seem to have made a big difference in EPA. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s EPA model, the Raiders’ turnovers cost them 28.1 points! Denver’s cost “only” 12.8.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Hand size is one of those things that I laugh off or take seriously depending on how I feel that day.
Salfino: Me too!
neil: Whatever the cause, Carr’s fumbles are definitely an issue. He led the league in 2018, and he’s leading again this season. He’s already at 11, or averaging 1 per start, this year. That makes four seasons with double-digit fumbles in his career.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Apropos of the Hawks game tonight and the Raiders discussion, here is this bit of historical trivia:
Salfino: Also apropos of nothing, the Patrick Mahomes-Tyreek Hill show was historic on Sunday. Looks like Mahomes is the slam-dunk MVP. He’s the Mike Trout of football — so reliably great, he’s boring us.
It kind of felt like the GOAT torch was passed from Tom Brady to Mahomes. (Though Steve Young was really the GOAT.)
Hill was incredible:
neil: I did love the announcers hinting that Mahomes would want to rack up as many head-to-head wins vs. Brady as possible for the eventual GOAT debate. Ya gotta think ahead.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Posted without comment:
sara.ziegler: Must. Not. Respond.
neil: In fairness, Hill was probably just talking about Mahomes there. Isn’t Mahomes great? Love him.
Check out our latest NFL predictions.