NFL Week 17 Tiers and Reactions: Zach Wilson Defrauded the Jets, Hackett Gets Canned after 15 Games

The Chargers have just beaten the Colts on MNF and clinched a playoff berth for the first time in Justin Herbert’s career. I’m happy about that, because Herbert is definitely too good to not be in the playoffs.

Here are my new tiers for week 17.

A lot of people are moving the Cowboys up into the top tier. I’m not buying them. They were lucky to beat the Eagles at home with Gardner Minshew starting for Philly.

And the Vikings are actually getting knocked down a tier. They’ve just had to rely on too much luck and good fortune this year.

Okay, let’s now describe every NFL team in one sentence:

Eagles: The injuries are really starting to pile up–Hurts, Lane Johnson, Avonte Maddox, CJGJ, Robert Quinn, Jordan Davis.

Chiefs: They just keep rolling along, but there is a great chance now that either the Bengals or the Bills will have the #1 seed in the AFC given that KC has lost to both of them, however they are up a game in the loss column on Cincinnati so that’s big.

Bengals: Beat the Bills and then the Ravens at home, and the Chiefs lose one of thier last two games, and they will lock up the #1 seed in the AFC.

49ers: Nick Bosa DPOTY.

Bills: They just have to win out (Bengals on the road and then the Patriots at home) to secure the #1 seed in the AFC.

Vikings: 11-0 in one-score games, best in NFL history, but they have allowed 300+ passing yards 8 times this year.

Cowboys: Yes, big win over Philly, but they let Gardner Minshew throw for 355.

Chargers: Finally in the playoffs–well deserved for Justin Herbert.

Ravens: They’re lucky they’ve played the Broncos, Steelers, Browns and Falcons the past four weeks (and have the Steelers in week 17) because this is a 10-5 team that could very well be a lot worse than that–in fact their overall schedule has been easy.

Jaguars: America’s AFC team is well on their way to the playoffs with Tennessee in a tailspin. Also, I know this is a second sentence but periodic reminder that this team will have Calvin Ridley next season; Calvin Ridley is a Jaguar.

Giants: Put up a fight but couldn’t overcome that Vikings Minnesota Magic.

Dolphins: Started 8-3, now 8-7 and Tua has yet another concussion–not good.

Panthers: The best team in the NFC South.

Lions: America’s NFC team just got gashed for over 300 yards on the ground by Carolina; we may not get our wish of seeing this Lions team in the playoffs.

Patriots: Is Mac Jones the dirtiest player in the league?

Commanders: They fought hard against San Fran but the limitations of this team really show against a team like the 49ers.

Jets: Zach Wilson STINKS and we’ll address him shortly.

Packers: It’s really starting to look like they’ll win out and make the playoffs… only to get bounced early yet again.

Bucs: Tampa is just a bad football team.

Titans: In complete freefall.

Steelers: You just knew they were winning that game for Franco Harris.

Saints: Apparently Sean Payton might be coming back!?

Seahawks: Will they draft a QB this spring?

Bears: Just have to continue losing to ensure they lock up the second overall pick in the draft so they can choose between Will Anderson and Jalen Carter.

Cardinals: Time to blow it up?

Colts: Outscored 90-9 in the 4th quarter under Jeff Saturday.

Falcons: They’re just ass.

Raiders: The sum is less than the parts with this team.

Texans: They keep fighting hard for Lovie Smith.

Rams: I feel a lot better about the Rams since they got Baker Mayfield.

Browns: Watson should be much better next season, but they have some holes to fill on that roster.

Broncos: Biggest mess in the NFL, which leads us to our next section…

It’s over. Nathaniel Hackett is done as Broncos head coach after just 15 games. He was obviously in way over his head from the start, he lost control of his team, Russell Wilson became the worst quarterback in the league, and his supposed offensive acumen resulted in the Broncos being the worst offense in the league.

He tried to grow a goatee and reinvent his image over the past month but it didn’t work.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was losing 51-14 to the Rams on Christmas Day. Not only did the team throw in the towel and give up, but there were players getting into it on the sidelines–it was a disaster.

The important thing to remember here is that the Broncos got a new ownership group, led by the Walton family, on August 10 of this year. Hackett was hired back in January by the previous ownership team. So his leash was always going to be a short one for the simple reason that he wasn’t the new owner’s guy. When you buy a football team, I’d imagine the first thing you’d want to do is hire your own coach and GM.

15 games in, and new owner Greg Penner had seen enough. Again, Hackett was supposed to be an “offensive guy” yet the Broncos are literally the worst scoring offense in the NFL at 15.5 points per game, which is the lowest for a Broncos team since 1971. Hackett just had to go.

And also keep in mind: the Broncos hired Hackett back in January because they thought there was a real chance they could get Aaron Rodgers. They know Hackett and Rodgers are tight, and back then there was a very real sense that Aaron Rodgers had played his last game in Green Bay and wanted out. So the Broncos hiring Hackett was mainly a way to try to entice Aaron Rodgers to come to Denver. Obviously that didn’t work out, and on March 16 they pulled off the trade for Russell Wilson.

Now people are speculating that Sean Payton is going to be the next head coach of the Broncos. Reports came out over the weekend that Payton is assembling a team for his next head coaching job that includes Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, and Payton will likely have his pick over all the open head coaching jobs–and probably even some head coaching jobs that aren’t technically open at the moment but would be if Sean Payton showed interest.

I don’t know about that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably a better gig than Indianapolis or Carolina, but not by much. Who the hell would want to coach Russell Wilson, honestly? It’s not even that he’s regressed massively, it’s that the guy is just a total cornball as well. You can put up with a chooch when he’s incredible at football, but if he’s not good at football, then it’s a nightmare situation.

His teammates can’t even stand him. Jerry Jeudy has BEEN done with Russell Wilson since like late October, you can just tell from how he acts on the sideline and during games. And Courtland Sutton looks like he’s had just about enough, too:

Russell Wilson is a toxic asset. I really think he makes the Broncos head coaching job less attractive because they are tied to him until 2026. He’s 34 years old right now, will be 35 next season. He’s already lost a lot of the running ability that made him so good in the past–that’s not coming back.

Tom Brady has completely warped peoples’ sense of how long quarterback careers typically are. People think because of Tom Brady that 35 is still young for a quarterback. It’s young if you’re a fitness freak like Tom Brady, and you have the quickest release in NFL history like Tom Brady, and if your entire game is predicated on getting the ball out to the receiver as fast as possible. Then, yeah, you can make it into your 40s.

But that’s not Russell Wilson’s game. I have always said my biggest knock on him (besides the fact that he’s an attention-craving phony) is that he takes way too many “Five Second Sacks” where he holds on to the ball for way too long and gets sacked. I even started calling them “Russell Wilson Sacks” because he’s the king of them.

What made him so good in the past was his ability to improvise and go off-script, scramble around when the pocket collapses, roll out, pick up yards with his legs–he doesn’t do that stuff anymore. I don’t know if he even can do that stuff anymore.

And so I really don’t know what kind of upside Russell Wilson truly has in Denver. I do not think it’s a likely scenario that some miracle worker coach comes in and then, presto, we see Russ out there looking like his 2016 self. I doubt that’s even possible.

What kind of coach would want to take over a team that is basically screwed at quarterback for the next 2-3 seasons?

The reason Denver is a somewhat attractive job is because of their defense, which is unequivocally elite (they gave up during the Rams game, that’s why they gave up all those points).

But here’s the problem with that: if Vic Fangio is Sean Payton’s defensive coordinator, how do they make that work in Denver? Denver just fired Fangio as head coach less than a year ago. You think Fangio is going to want to go back there as a defensive coordinator? I doubt that. And while Hackett was fired, George Paton, the GM that fired Fangio, is still there (at least for now). As are a lot of the players that Fangio coached. That’s just a weird situation for those players, where Fangio comes back but Sean Payton is the head coach. What if a lot of them liked Fangio and didn’t want him to get fired? That’s going to create a weird dynamic. Just too much history and emotional baggage there with Fangio and Denver.

Obviously Payton could just go to Denver without Fangio, problem solved there, but I think Payton really wants Fangio as his defensive coordinator. And for good reason: he’s one of the best defensive coordinators ever. As a Bears fan, I can attest that Fangio is the real deal as a D-coordinator. In fact, his quarters defense has basically taken over the league, that’s how much of an innovator he is. If you have Vic Fangio as your DC, you are going to have a very good defense, period. Sean Payton obviously recognizes that, so for that reason–plus Russell Wilson just being a washed-up cornball–I don’t see Payton going to Denver.

There are other head coaching jobs that will likely be opening up in the coming weeks: Arizona, for one. There are rumors that Kliff Kingsbury might just walk away from the job. Atlanta might part ways with Arthur Smith, although I wouldn’t say that’s a high-probability outcome. There’s the Chargers, who are now in the playoffs officially after beating the Colts on Monday Night Football, but may want to go in a different direction than Brandon Staley, a guy who I have been saying doesn’t know what he’s doing and isn’t a good head coach.

Then there’s the chance that Jerry Jones fires Mike McCarthy if and when the Cowboys lose in disappointing fashion in the playoffs, because we all know that Jerry Jones has always wanted to Sean Payton as his head coach.

I think Mike McCarthy has been doing a good job as Cowboys head coach even though he’s one of the most criticized head coaches in the league. The critics have largely backed off given how good the team is this year, but damn have they been ruthless towards the guy for most of his three year tenure there. They’ve been openly speculating on when he’ll be fired the whole time, and yet the guy is 29-19 overall. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s ever been a less-respected Super Bowl-winning head coach than Mike McCarthy. The guy has a career record of 154-96, he wins 61% of his games, and people act like the guy is a total clown.

All that said, if the Cowboys get bounced early in the playoffs again this year, I think there’s a great chance Jerry could decide to pull the plug on the McCarthy era. Sean Payton being out there on the market definitely is a factor here.

So bottom line, Sean Payton will have no shortage of options. You already know I’m predicting Jim Harbaugh will be the head coach of the Colts, but I’m sure the Colts will also offer Sean Payton. I think he’ll turn them down, though, because of their uncertainty at quarterback–and the roster in Indy just isn’t elite.

As for Denver, I could be wrong, but I don’t think a guy like Sean Payton wants that job. I don’t think he wants to take on the project of trying to fix Russell Wilson. The Broncos are going to have to hire some young and hungry guy who is desperate for a head coaching job. A guy with options, like Sean Payton? I don’t think he’ll be interested.

I could be wrong, though. He could well see something in Russell Wilson that leads him to believe he can fix Russ, and that it was all Hackett’s fault or something. It wouldn’t be that shocking if this were the case, as Russell Wilson wasn’t bad last year.

One final thing I want to point out: Broncos GM George Paton is potentially in some jeopardy here as well. I mean, he was the one who hired Hackett, he was the one who made the disastrous trade for Russ that may have just crippled the franchise for the next two to three years–he is very culpable here. And most of the good players on that roster are Elway guys, as Paton only took over in 2021.

I’m kind of looking funny at Paton because he made a decision to hire a head coach based primarily off of the hope that hiring that head coach would entice Aaron Rodgers to sign with Denver. I’m not going to say it’s an inherently dumb move, but it’s an inherently risky move. They could’ve gone after Mike McDaniel, Brian Daboll, Kevin O’Connell–there were good head coaching candidates available last offseason, but George Paton went for Nathaniel Hackett because he thought Hackett would help him land Aaron Rodgers. Well, that didn’t happen, and he was stuck with a head coach that he hired for reasons other than “I think this guy is the best coach for our team.” Paton was kind of left holding the bag when Rodgers returned to Green Bay.

And here’s another thing about Paton that Mike Florio brought up in his podcast: Paton didn’t have to give Russell Wilson the massive contract extension. For some reason, in my mind, I remembered the whole thing wrong and I thought Wilson signed the contract extension when the trade was made–like it was a part of the trade. But no: Denver gave him that 5 year, $245 million ($165 million guaranteed) contract on September 1, 2022. That’s almost 6 months after the trade. The article says he still had 2 years remaining on his contract, which meant that Denver could’ve waited out this season to see how he played, and then potentially did a long-term extension this upcoming offseason.

He would’ve still had one year left on his contract (2023) if they’d waited til this upcoming offseason to work on the extension.

But for whatever reason, George Paton decided to give Russell Wilson the contract extension when he still had 2 years left on his current contract, before seeing him take even one single regular season snap as a Denver Bronco.

Just so we have the timeline straight: the new ownership group took over on August 10, and Wilson signed his contract extension on September 1. So it’s possible the new ownership group wanted the contract extension. I really don’t know.

But the bottom line here is that I’d imagine George Paton is on thin ice here as well, if indeed he was the one who insisted on signing Russ to the long term contract when he still had 2 years left on his existing deal. If Russ shits the bed again next season, I wouldn’t be shocked if George Paton gets run out of town.

I tried to tell you people back in 2021 there was absolutely no reason for Zach Wilson to be drafted ahead of Justin Fields.

But although I doubted Zach Wilson from the get-go, I never foresaw him being this bad.

Other people did, but I thought he would at least be decent:

He tricked a hell of a lot of people.

He was so bad in the Thursday Night game against the Jags they pulled him in the 4th quarter for Chris Streveler–and their offense immediately took off. They had 88 yards of total offense in the game with Wilson, and then 73 alone on the drive that Streveler came in.

Prior to Streveler, the Jets had 88 yards of offense on 27 plays–3.26 yards per play. With Zach Wilson at QB, the Jets had only one third down conversion in the game.

This dude was not just the #2 pick in the draft, he was the guaranteed, cemented, no-doubt-about-it #2 pick for at least a month prior to the draft.

The Jets did not even consider taking Trey Lance, Justin Fields or Mac Jones. They were absolutely 100% dead-set on drafting him the whole time. The possibility that he might not be the second best quarterback in the draft evidently didn’t cross their mind.

It might have been the greatest fleecing in NFL history, getting Zach Wilson drafted second overall. Think of how many people were fooled from the TV networks to the fans and most importantly, the league itself. Because I’m sure the Jets weren’t the only team that thought he was the next big thing.

Did you see how much better Trevor Lawrence was than Zach Wilson? If I had to quantify it, I legitimately think he’s 10x better. That’s not an exaggeration. Maybe even more than that, honestly. Lawrence is so much better than Wilson is it’s insane. I can’t believe they were drafted one and two.

It’s like the difference between an F1 car and a used 1993 Honda Accord.

If Zach Wilson could actually play, that’s a game the Jets should have won. At home, good defense, in the elements, Jaguars coming off a big emotional win—it was set up well for the Jets to win that game. The Jets probably have a more talented roster overall, too. In fact they definitely do: they’re a much better roster than the Jaguars are from top to bottom.

And yet the Jaguars won. And it wasn’t even close. The quarterback discrepancy between those two teams was so extreme that the team with the superior roster playing at home got laughed off the field.

How did so many people get fooled by this guy? Since like 2017, everyone had known that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields were the two best quarterbacks in the nation and that they would be drafted 1 and 2 in 2021 when they became eligible. They were 1 and 2 in the nation as high school recruits in the class of 2018, they both had amazing college careers at two of the most elite programs in the nation. It seemed like it was going to happen as late as January 2021, when Lawrence and Fields faced off in the college football playoff for the second straight year. Only a few months until the draft and it was all but certain that Trevor would be drafted #1 by the Jaguars and Fields would go #2 to the Jets.

And then, somehow, between the college football playoff in early January 2021 and the NFL draft on April 29, 2021, things changed.

Lawrence was still #1 but this kid named Zach Wilson emerged from out of nowhere and overtook Justin Fields.

I still don’t really know how it happened.

Wilson’s stats went through the roof in the 2020 season, when the virus completely upended college football. Wilson’s school, BYU, had to scrap together a schedule of Group of Five teams because they could no longer play Power Five teams, as they had all gone to conference-only schedules. Since BYU was at that time an independent, they were left out in the cold.

I always rip the Bears for the Mitch Trubisky trade because I feel like they didn’t actually evaluate the quarterbacks in the 2017 draft (Trubisky, Mahomes, Deshaun Watson), they just went with whoever was the consensus best QB by the media. They were like “whatever, we’re a defensive team, we don’t know how to evaluate QBs, but we need one, so let’s just draft the guy they’re saying is the best in the draft class.”

Joe Douglas, the GM of the Jets, seems like a similar guy. He’s great at drafting defense, and has even had a lot of success on offense with Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, Elijah Moore and Michael Carter—plus he brought in Corey Davis and Tyler Conklin via free agency. The Jets are unquestionably a much better roster than the Bears and just about every other team that drafted a quarterback back in 2021, but Joe Douglas whiffed epically on the Zach Wilson, and unless he can find a great quarterback in the offseason, I think he might have blown it.

This Jets team really doesn’t have any major weaknesses outside of quarterback. Their offensive line isn’t great, and it’s even worse now that Alijah Vera-Tucker is out (another great Joe Douglas draft pick). But their defense is stacked, they have great skill players–with a good quarterback, this Jets team is not far away from being one of the top 10-12 teams in the league.

Joe Douglas really blew it with the Zach Wilson selection. I mean they didn’t even consider anybody else with that draft pick. I don’t think they ever seriously considered taking Justin Fields–they were dead set on Zach Wilson. They bought in to the stupid media hype over him.

And now the word is they’re already done with him, according to Jay Glazer:

Joe Douglas did almost everything right, except he massively botched the quarterback position. Unless he can pull a rabbit out of the hat here in the offseason, I think he might have squandered the Jets’ chance to contend.

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