Whitney Mercilus Stars in: Escape from the Houston Texans!
Welcome to the outside world, Whitney Mercilus and Andre Roberts!
We know you are a little disoriented after getting tossed into a culvert from the back of that old Econoline with "Houston Texans" stenciled on a side panel. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts. No, you no longer have to refer to Jack Easterby as "The Infallible Oarsman." No, he controls neither the weather nor the tides. And no, you don't need to sell rhubarb jelly in bus terminals on weekdays any more. The brainwashing will wear off in a few days. You are free!
It has been a wild ride for you, Whitney. You were the Texans' only remaining link to the relatively good, relatively normal times. Well, you and the Phantom of the Opera, but that situation speaks for itself.
You still have value as a football player and a person, Whitney. You have played well this season, despite being the lone pass-rushing threat on a team that rarely forces opponents to throw the ball. Texans expert Aaron Wilson says the Chiefs may want to sign you. That would be a great fit! The Cowboys and Saints would also be fine fits if you would rather stay local. None of those teams have three cap nickels to rub together, but they'll work something out for you. After all, a contender can never have enough veteran pass-rushers.
We hear you have been battling a knee injury, Andre. But you looked pretty spry on a couple of kickoff returns against the Colts on Sunday. That knee will probably feel much better once you are returning kicks in games that matter. The Chargers really need a return man, and you would look great in powder blue!
Frankly, the Texans could have just dropped both of you guys off in Glendale this week. Watt and Nuk would welcome you both with open arms, and the Cardinals can always find roles for extra edge rushers, playmakers, and Texans escapees.
Now that both of you have had some hot soup, it's time for a little debriefing. Do either of you have any idea what the Texans are doing? Whitney: you are the type of veteran who typically fetches a mid-round draft pick at the trading deadline. Why were you simply released? And Andre: a team with no hope of competing is better off trying out some undrafted speedsters as return men than bringing in a three-time Pro Bowler. Do you know why you were signed in the first place?
What about Laremy Tunsil, who before his thumb injury was practically plopping on his tuckus after the snap and waving at the defenders running past him? He'll reportedly be back by Week 9. Lots of teams could use a left tackle, and Tunsil would likely rediscover his motivation once he's no longer required to listen to Easterby's Yuckin' It Up With the Apostles CDs on a constant loop. Is Tunsil available for a pre-deadline trade?
We're not even going to ask you guys about the Phantom. That's above all of our pay grades. We're just trying to determine the Texans' next move. Do they have any rebuilding plan? Is anyone even answering phones in the front office? Is there any hope?
Sigh. It's not your job to know the answers, fellas. It's just hard to make sense of the NFL when one team isn't even going through the motions of trying to act rationally or professionally.
Good luck, Whitney and Andre. Hope to see you playing football in January.
Now if you will excuse us, there's a duffel bag under that freeway overpass that is shaped suspiciously like Tyrod Taylor.
Walkthrough Prop Watch: NFC Playoff Props
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough handicaps the field in an NFL awards race or some other type of futures bet.
The Seahawks are a fascinating exercise in probabilistic reasoning.
The Football Outsiders Playoff Odds Report gives the Seahawks a 25.2% chance to reach the playoffs. The house gives them a +250 moneyline. Russell Wilson's absence is baked into our odds report as follows: "Seattle DAVE is reduced by 20% due to Russell Wilson injury, with Wilson's chance to return at 40% in Week 10, 80% in Week 11, and 100% in Week 12." Geno Smith's presence is baked into our perceptions as "the Seahawks are screwed." The house knows that keeping the payout low dissuades wagers, limiting its risk: there's no reason to entice bettors with Seahawks +500, then get burned if Wilson catches fire in December.
Smith will likely lead the Seahawks to a loss next Monday night against the Saints and a win the next week over the Jaguars. Then comes the bye, then a possible Wilson return. The Seahawks face the Packers and Cardinals in Week 10 and Week 11, so a lot is riding on those 40% and 80% adjustments in our odds formula. If Smith starts, or if Wilson rushes back to grip the football with three fingers because Smith is so terrible, the Seahawks' playoff probability will plummet quickly toward zero.
My gut tells me that our adjustments for Wilson's absence are a little conservative and our initial projections for the Seahawks were a little too sanguine. So Walkthrough ain't touching the Seahawks +250, and we think they will shed playoff probability quickly next Monday night. The question then becomes: where will that probability go?
The Vikings may be the most likely beneficiaries. They have a 41.9% chance of making the playoffs with tiebreaker-relevant wins over the Seahawks and Panthers, a knack for landing just north of .500, and a semi-enticing +175 moneyline.
Walkthrough dislikes the Vikings the way we would dislike a company that chops down an old-growth forest to become the fourth-most successful toothpick manufacturer in the Midwest. But if they are going to do what they do anyway, there's no harm in profiting off them.
The Vikings face the fourth-toughest upcoming schedule in the NFL, adding risk to any playoff prop. But the Bears face the second-toughest upcoming schedule in the NFL (the Packers face the toughest) and are more likely to fall off the pack than the Vikings. The Bears' +600 playoff moneyline would look less like schmuckbait if Matt Nagy had a coherent plan for Justin Fields, but if Nagy had a coherent plan for Fields the moneyline would not be +600.
The Panthers' playoff odds have taken a nosedive to 8.8% after three straight conference losses. The house has them at +350. A two-game road trip against the Giants and Falcons should land the Panthers back at 5-3, with some Patriots-Dolphins-Washington (and more Falcons) on the upcoming schedule. Look for the Panthers to siphon some of the Seahawks' playoff probability in the upcoming weeks. Your comfort with wagering on them should rest on A) whether you believed in them at all three weeks ago; and B) whether you think the Patriots or Washington will be able to beat a decent team on the road in November. The Panthers would be more tempting at a Bears-like +600.
The 49ers have a 39.1% chance of making the playoffs but just a +110 moneyline. The house sees the team that we see: one capable of coaching and defending its way through injuries and hacking through the wild-card thicket to come out ahead of teams like the Bears or Panthers.
The NFC East … good lord, where to begin? The Eagles are +400. We have them at 17.3%. Again, at +600 Walkthrough could talk themselves into a homer wager. The Eagles get the Giants, Jets, and Washington for five games from Weeks 12 through 17, followed by the Cowboys, who may be resting everyone in Week 18. There's a slim chance they can build a wild-card resume at 9-8 off of a late run if the Vikings, Bears, Seahawks, and 49ers all punch each other out.
Washington at +900 and 11.0% may be more enticing than the Eagles. Washington could get healthier on offense, figure out what's wrong with their defense, and/or enjoy a Ryan Fitzpatrick bump in the second half of the season, when the Eagles will have three eyes on the first round of the 2022 draft. After watching the Chiefs slip and slide around the FedEx gravel quarry in Week 6, Walkthrough thinks that Washington might enjoy a home-field advantage (or at least drag opponents such as the Cowboys and Buccaneers closer to their level) in the second half of the season.
As you might suspect, there is no meat on the bone for the NFC favorites: the Buccaneers are -5000 to make the playoffs, and any Cowboys/Buccaneers/Packers hater bets to not reach the playoffs would just be a waste of money. The Saints are at 68.0% but -150. Their odds will only go up, and their moneyline down, if Geno Smith is who he appeared to be on Sunday night (and pretty much all of his prior career).
The Giants are +2500 to reach the playoffs, which may be the house's way of trolling Giants fans. The Lions are +25000, which may be the house's way of trolling Football Outsiders.
Walkthrough Tank Watch: Miami Dolphins
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough checks in on one of the NFL's worst teams to determine what's going wrong, what (if anything) is going right, and what (if anything) they can do to start heading in the right direction.
The Dolphins Story So Far: The Dolphins finished 10-6 last season and expected to compete for the playoffs after adding five first-round picks in the last two drafts. Instead, Miami has followed a narrow season-opening win over the Patriots with five straight losses, including Sunday's 23-20 disaster against the Jaguars in London.
Billed as a team with a turnover-happy defense and a developing offense built around Tua Tagovailoa and explosive playmakers such as Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins now appear to lack talent and direction on either side of the ball. Head coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier aren't on hot seats yet, but they're burning through their reserves of benefit of the doubt.
What's Going Wrong? It's a long list.
- Grier's idiosyncratic draft tactics haven't produced results, particularly on the offensive line, where Austin Jackson and others have been slow to develop.
- Grier's decision to trade up to draft Waddle is looking like a devastating mismanagement of resources: the maneuver cost the Dolphins a 2022 first-round pick, and the Eagles used the Dolphins' pick on Waddle's college teammate DeVonta Smith, a more productive NCAA player off to a batter NFL start.
- The Dolphins' short passing game doesn't produce any YAC, despite the presence (when healthy) of speedsters such as Waddle and Fuller. Their screen game is so predictable that it led to a disastrous safety against the Raiders. It can be hard to tell what co-coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studeville are trying to accomplish.
- The phrase "co-coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studeville" deserves its own bullet point.
- The Dolphins are -2 in takeaways after finishing +9 last year. Takeaways are the most volatile, least sustainable element of a defense, and the Dolphins relied heavily on them last year. There's not much top-tier talent on defense beyond cornerback Xavien Howard and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
- Injuries to Tua, Fuller, Parker, Howard, Raekwon Davis, and others have been an undeniable factor in the Dolphins' decline. But c'mon: they have lost to the Colts and Jaguars, for heaven's sake.
- We're still waiting for the first really good game of Tua's career. Go ahead, look at the game logs. He had decent games against the Cardinals and Chargers last year, but he was obviously in rookie game manager mode. (He was so impressive that Flores pulled him the following week). We can talk about Tua's injuries and other extenuating factors, but at some point the reasons why a top quarterback prospect isn't progressing become irrelevant. All that matters is the lack of progress.
Is Anything Going Right? Most Tank Watch teams are rebuilding, allowing us to say things such as "players seem to like the new coach" or "the draft picks are showing promise." Sure, Waddle and some others are showing promise. For the most part, however, the 2021 Dolphins have been an unmitigated disaster.
What Needs to be Done? The Dolphins need a time machine so they can go back and re-draft in 2020 and 2021. Barring that, here are some ideas:
- Ditch the Godsey-Studeville Project: The Dolphins need to pick one coordinator, demote the other, and create some sort of coherent vision for their offense.
- Find a Running Back: Myles Gaskin has been effective in small doses, but he's a change-up back without a workhorse to complement him. The Dolphins need their own James Robinson who can generate yards without much help from the offensive line.
- Watch the Tua Messaging: Last year's benching and the whole "not a captain" affair have done nothing for Tua's development. He'll collapse into a Josh Rosen/Carson Wentz singularity if the doubts surrounding him start to snowball. And the Dolphins aren't in position to find a replacement after trading next year's first-round pick.
- Place Grier on Notice: He manages the roster as if the Dolphins are a baseball team building a farm system instead of an NFL team that needs to turn first-round picks and cap bucks into more-or-less immediate blue-chip talent. Stephen Ross should give Grier strict timelines for results so the Dolphins don't lapse into a rebuild-within-a-rebuild.
How Bad are the Dolphins? They face the Falcons next week and the Texans and Jets in November. Those should be three wins, but it's hard to be certain after what we saw on Sunday morning.
What's Next? The Dolphins remind me a little of the Browns in 2019. They have had several years with multiple first-round picks and are coming off a surprise season. Just when everything was looking up, their young quarterback crashed into a wall and the whole regime began to look as though it were out of its depth. Flores and Grier are Freddie Kitchens and Jon Dorsey in this analogy, and while Flores isn't an overpromoted goofball like Kitchens, Dorsey has a much better track record for acquiring talent than Grier.
The Browns analogy offers hope that Tua and the Dolphins can still turn things back around if they are aggressive and urgent about making some fundamental changes. That doesn't mean that Grier and Flores must go, but it does mean that they cannot just keep doing what they have been doing.