Is Andrew Whitworth a Hall of Famer?
Whitworth suffered a Grade 3 MCL/PCL sprain to his left knee and will likely be out six to eight weeks. Whitworth was fortunate to not tear his ACL, and he could return for the playoffs. But he turns 39 in a few weeks, so this is as good a time as any to examine his Hall of Fame credentials.
Here are the basics:
- Two All-Pro selections (2015 with the Bengals, 2017 for the Rams)
- Four total Pro Bowl berths.
- 15 seasons as a starter.
- Three appearances on the NFL Top 100 list. It's unclear what impact those lists will have on future voters. Probably none. But it is about as likely to hold sway for voters as, say, charting stats.
- Eight playoff appearances, possibly nine if the Rams reach the playoffs this season.
- One Super Bowl appearance.
If we award Whitworth an All-Pro selection and Pro Bowl berth for this season (the latter is reasonable; the former would be somewhat honorary for someone about to miss seven games), he still ranks a notch below the Hall of Fame left tackles of the last generation:
- Walter Jones: four All-Pro selections, nine Pro Bowl berths.
- Jonathan Ogden: four All-Pro selections, 11 Pro Bowl berths.
- Orlando Pace: four All-Pro selections, seven Pro Bowl berths.
- Willie Roaf: four All-Pro selections, 11 Pro Bowl berths
- Let's throw Joe Thomas into this bunch: six All-Pro selections, 10 Pro Bowl berths.
Hall of Fame voters don't sit around counting asterisks on Pro Football Reference, and comparing players across eras (even 15- to 20-year spans) can lead to some erroneous Hall of Fame thinking. Whitworth does not have to compete with Odgen or even Thomas (a likely first-ballot selection in two years) to reach the Hall of Fame. He needs to be one of the five best candidates in any given class.
Assuming Whitworth retires this year or next, he will enter classes flooded with the ranks of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, and many others who can safely be classified as "first ballot Hall of Famers." That won't impact Whitworth directly, as he will be one of dozens of non-legends competing for three or four spots per draft class. The two names Whitworth must worry about are Jason Peters and Marshal Yanda.
Peters, who is almost certain to retire at the end of this season, has two All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowl berths in his portfolio. He played for teams which were more successful than Whitworth's teams. Yanda was a guard for the vast majority of his career, but his portfolio includes two All-Pro selections, eight Pro Bowl berths, a Super Bowl ring, and a season blocking for the league MVP. We can debate among them, and that's precisely what Hall of Fame voters are likely to do if two or three of them are finalists in any given year. The fact remains that the three of them will probably be competing with about a dozen other highly qualified candidates for one spot in every given year.
(To clarify: Trent Williams and Joe Staley do not have serious Hall of Fame credentials at this point, though both will make some semifinalist lists in the future. Tyron Smith won't retire for a while, nor will David Bakhtiari, who is quietly compiling a resume.)
Whitworth's candidacy, at least in his first few years of eligibility, will probably come down to the quality of his campaign. You may not like the sound of that, but what's the alternative? Twitter polls? Dozens of tape grinders comparing the 2013 Bengals and Eagles and trying to form a consensus? There's no good way to compare two 2010s left tackles to a 2000s safety and some leftover 1990s linebackers. At least the whole sponsorship/campaign process involves real research and face-to-face debate among folks who have spoken to these players and their coaches, teammates, and opponents.
It's impossible to predict how someone's Hall of Fame campaign will look five to eight years down the road, but I've learned enough about the process to take a few guesses:
Whitworth will be the sole priority for the Cincinnati selector. That will work in his favor. The delegates from some cities are forced to choose who they present or pound the table for in any given year. The Cincinnati voter (I'm not using names, because I know about half of these folks rather well but don't know the other half at all) can focus on Whitworth as the sole representative of a franchise that reached the playoffs six times. The Los Angeles delegation also has little else to do over the next few years except endorse Whitworth.
Whitworth played for many respected/influential coaches. Marv Lewis, Sean McVay, Jay Gruden, Hue Jackson (well-regarded in some media circles), as well as position-coach lifers such as Bob Bratkowski, Aaron Kromer, and Ken Zampese are all likely to heartily endorse Whitworth when interviewed by voters; again, many of them don't have any other offensive linemen and few other players to stan for. It's also possible that Andy Dalton becomes a media personality in four or five years and provides a ringing endorsement.
Of course, Peters may have the Andy Reid coaching tree at his back, and Yanda has ever-so-slightly influential folks such as Ozzie Newsome and his lieutenants in his corner. But it's possible that one of the candidates will get some less-than-glowing recommendations due to, say, lots of late-career injuries or contract squabbles or such.
In my mind, Whitworth's Hall of Fame candidacy comes down to whether he should have earned All-Pro/Pro Bowl berths for the 2009-2014 Bengals but was stuck behind Thomas in the AFC on a small-market team with a woebegone history. That's the head-canon argument for Whitworth right now, anyway: he's thought of as a 15-year Pro Bowler even though recognition didn't really come to him until the Bengals were already fading.
My gut tells me that Whitworth, Peters, and Yanda will all cluster-clog each other in their first year or two in the ballot, then all squeeze into the Hall of Fame in no particular order. But there's a chance that Whitworth ends up waiting over a decade like Alan Faneca, or even falls by the wayside like Joe Jacoby if too many coaches whisper that he was a good/popular player, but not an outstanding one. I don't think that will happen, but it does happen.
With that, let's turn to Whitworth's more immediate 2020 impact.
Rams at Buccaneers, Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Here are Jared Goff's statistics when pressured, per Sports Info Solutions: 112 dropbacks, 97 attempts, 39 completions, 388 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions, 13 sacks. His 40.2% completion rate is fourth-worst among quarterbacks with 25 or more dropbacks under pressure. His 4.0 yards per attempt rank second-worst, ahead of only (sigh) Carson Wentz. His efficiency rating is fifth-worst.
Goff's awful pressure stats should not shock anyone who has watched the Rams over the last two years, but they are worth mentioning with Whitworth hurt and the Buccaneers ranked second to only the Steelers (again, per Sports Info Solutions) in total pass pressures.
The Rams will also be without kicker Kai Forbath for a few weeks; Austin MacGinnis and Matt Gay were competing for the job at press time. I would run through their biographies, but you know the deal when a team is auditioning their third and fourth kickers in mid-November. The Rams rank 30th in special teams DVOA, thanks not just to kicker woes but getting zilch from their return game while allowing several long returns. Bad special teams are not an inevitable result of an extremely top-heavy payroll that forces a team to pinch pennies at the bottom of the depth chart, but they are a likely result.
The Buccaneers are currently remarkably healthy and also appear to have diplomatic immunity. Cool cool cool. I have something special planned for them next week; tune in on Thanksgiving morning for the most obscure homage in Walkthrough history. Until then, enjoy Brady's latest "grudge match" against a team or players he once faced in the Super Bowl. Nick Foles will be nowhere to be seen, so Brady should be safe.
Prediction: Buccaneers 34, Rams 20
Patriots at Texans, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Rome did not suddenly collapse in the middle of the fifth century C.E. and immediately throw Europe into every-village-for-itself turmoil, despite what some of us were taught in high school. Rome fell gradually over the course of decades/centuries, leaving kingdoms of Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, and others in their wake which were "barbarian" in name only, often with Roman infrastructure and a Romanized aristocracy carrying on in a manner that did not change much during the course of everyday lives at the time.
Bill Belichick is still conducting on the business of empire behind the walls of Constantinople, where he could still enjoy modest success as the ruler of a depleted empire for a long time. The Texans are in the process of establishing a theocracy in the wake of last month's military coup; the result is likely to be a long, pious Dark Age. Meanwhile, the Lions still rely heavily on trade goods from what's left of Rome to prop up their polity and may soon disappear like the Sossians. Tom Brady still marches at the front of a mercenary army like Belisarius. And Brian Flores? He has eyes on becoming Charlemagne.
Past Patriots/Texans showdowns were as important as the Punic Wars, and usually as decisive as the third. This will be more like a forgettable border skirmish over a muddy patch of farmland in Germainia.
Prediction: Patriots 22, Texans 17
Cardinals at Seahawks, Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
How this game will go …
- The pregame show will gush over last week's "Hail Murray" touchdown as if it was the greatest thing to happen to America in 2020, when really it's [checks vaccine news] barely in the top three.
- Jamal Adams will blitz 10 times. Kyler Murray will throw 10 screen passes, five of which will net 20-plus yards each and five of which will be stuffed at the line because the rest of the Seahawks defense figured out what was coming when DeAndre Hopkins lined up in a triple stack behind two tight ends.
- Adams will drop into coverage 20 times. Murray will have a combined six minutes to throw on those plays, completing 75% of his attempts.
- Adams will whiff on one tackle after getting knocked off balance by a blocker. This will be the only play midday sports hosts talk about.
- Troy Aikman will wonder aloud why Russell Wilson is suddenly in a slump while Wilson hands off to Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas on first and second down, then waits for Freddie Swain and Will Dissly to get open on third down.
- A slight drizzle prompts Aikman to talk about nothing but wet footballs for a half-hour while the two teams combine to score five touchdowns.
- DK Metcalf will fail to chase down Budda Baker from behind on an interception return, sparking multiple voter fraud lawsuits.
- The Seahawks will try to draw the Cardinals offsides on fourth-and-inches by ordering Wilson to stand perfectly motionless behind center with his hand on his temple like Jean Grey and attempt to telekinetically drag defenders across the neutral zone. When that fails, Pete Carroll will punt from midfield. The Cardinals will then drive 80 yards for a touchdown.
- Something something something Wilson Miracle Touchdown something something.
- The game will be decided at 11:57 p.m. Eastern time on a last-second overtime 56-yard field goal. You will be either too tired or desensitized to process which team actually won.
Prediction: Seahawks 37, Cardinals 34
Chiefs at Raiders, Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
What if the Raiders really are Super Bowl contenders?
What if Jon Gruden's coaching style really does resonate with young players? What if his game plans have really struck the perfect balance between old ideas and new? What if Mike Mayock is doing more than just drafting out of the Clemson media guide in early rounds and then grabbing whatever high-risk/reward talent slips through the cracks in later rounds? Or, alternately, what if that's the proper way to approach the draft? What if Tom Cable truly is a great offensive line coach? What if Derek Carr has quietly transformed into the guy he looked like he might become in 2016?
It's hard for me to wrap my brain around most of those possibilities. Gruden still comes across like a self-impressed celebrity coasting on his name recognition and scoffing at any suggestions that what worked in 2002 might not work in 2020. Mayock's top draft picks have been OK, but not as great as top draft picks should be. The time when that wide receiver made both Gruden and Mayock look like absolute dupes last year is still relatively fresh in my mind. At his best, Carr looks like Single Barrel Kirk Cousins on film. Cable is the human representation of everything that's wrong with the NFL, if not society.
And yet the Raiders have beaten both the Saints and the Chiefs; one upset is an "any given Sunday" situation, but two could be a trend. They just spanked the Broncos, and the 37-12 score could have been more like 47-12 if not for some dropped touchdown passes and penalties on punt returns. Blowing out a bad team is often a sign of a great team.
Mayock's late-round flyers such as Maurice Hurst and Maxx Crosby are playing well, as are Dabo's Heroes such as Clelin Ferrell (overdrafted, but still a stout defender, though currently on the COVID list) and Hunter Renfrow. Cable's makeshift offensive line is playing well though injuries and COVID isolations. And there are a lot of teams that would be thrilled to have a reliable veteran field general such as Carr right now. The Raiders have all the makings of a well-run, disciplined organization: young players are developing, coaches are adapting scheme to personnel, weak opponents are easily dispatched, stronger ones are in for a fight.
The Raiders were 6-4 and on the precipice of competence last year when they got hammered 34-3 by the Jets; the Chiefs then climbed through the ropes with a folding chair for a 40-9 knockout blow. I'm 90% convinced the Chiefs will deliver an emphatic revenge victory on Sunday night -- as you well know, Andy Reid is a Legendary Pokemon when coming off a bye week -- but I'm bracing for the possibility that they don't. Even a narrow Chiefs victory will force me to keep re-examining the Raiders as they move on to face the Falcons and Jets over the next two weeks. It's hard to imagine that Gruden, Mayock, Carr, and (ugh) Cable really have things figured out. But there's mounting evidence that they do.
Prediction: Chiefs 37, Raiders 27
Titans at Ravens, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Titans and Colts appeared more or less evenly matched last Thursday night until the Titans suffered a shanked punt, a blocked punt, and a missed field goal on three consecutive series, which led to 21 Colts points.
Stephen Gostkowski is now 2-of-7 from 40 to 49 yards and has missed twice inside of 40 yards; he's 6-of-7 from 50-plus yards because kicker stats, amirite? The Titans punt coverage unit gave up a 57-yard return which led to a touchdown in the loss to the Steelers and a 49-yard kickoff return which helped the Bengals pull away in Week 8.
A team trying to win by controlling the ball and out-executing opponents can't afford miserable special teams. (Miserable special teams are, after all, a sign that you are not out-executing opponents). To their credit, the Titans traded for Desmond King, a quality all-purpose special teamer as well as a versatile dime defender, before the deadline. But they are stuck with Gostkowski, because there aren't any kickers hanging around the waiver wire who are better options for a likely playoff team than a 15-year veteran who has kicked in six Super Bowls, no matter how washed he often looks.
The Ravens, on the other hand, have fielded a top-10 special teams every year since 2012, finishing first three times, and currently rank second to the Dolphins (whose special teams have gone gonzo this season). Kicker Justin Tucker is a huge part of the reason, but the Ravens are getting another fine year from Sam Koch and the punt coverage units, and Devin Duvernay has been an asset in the return game.
This matchup will probably not come down to special teams. But the Titans will be in big trouble if it does.
Prediction: Ravens 26, Titans 21
Dolphins at Broncos, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
November, 2017: The Broncos start the season with a 3-6 record. Opening day starter Trevor Siemian gets benched in favor of prodigal pocket statue Brock Osweiler. Osweiler gives way after four losses to former first-round pick Paxton Lynch, who gets injured in his first start. Siemian returns to finish the season, with Lynch making a non-promising cameo in Week 17. The Broncos finish 5-11.
November, 2018: The Broncos start the season with a 3-6 record. The team wins three straight games after their bye week thanks to stout defense and the emergence of running back Phillip Lindsay, then scores just 53 points in four straight losses to end the season 6-10. The losing streak is a blessing in disguise, as it prevents team president John Elway from fooling himself into thinking Case Keenum is the long-term answer at quarterback.
November, 2019. The Broncos start the season with a 3-6 record. Opening day starter Joe Flacco is placed on injured reserve. Brandon Allen leads the team to victory against the self-destructive Browns, then flatlines, paving the way for rookie Drew Lock to lead a victory over the self-destructive Texans, as well as three other wins thanks to stout defense.
November, 2020. The Broncos are 3-6. Drew Lock ranks 31st in the NFL in DYAR and is about to miss time with his second injury of the season. Backups Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel have already started games, and Broncos fans must be wary that a winning streak based on stout defense might fool Elway (who is infatuated with both custodial Siemian/Keenum types and nephews) into believing Rypien is the long-term answer at quarterback.
As we chuckle at the Broncos quarterback situation, keep in mind that Tua Tagovailoa is currently on a three-game winning streak with the help of a stout defense. Tua, of course, is a much better prospect than Lynch or Lock. But a healthy reminder of how hard it is for an organization to break a futility cycle never hurts.
Prediction: Dolphins 23, Broncos 13
Packers at Colts, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
The Colts were 3-of-5 on fourth-down conversions in Thursday night's win over the Titans and are now 11-of-18 on fourth downs this season. There are a few late-game no-choice conversion attempts in the Jaguars and Ravens losses in that data, but by my count at least a dozen of the Colts fourth down conversion attempts were "discretionary." Frank Reich now chooses to go for it about three times per two games, which would have made him the most daring rebel in the NFL about a decade ago.
I could now deliver a sermon to the choir about the wisdom of fourth-down conversions. Instead, I will point out that too many fourth-down conversion attempts can be a sign that an offense often gains 9 yards or less on three consecutive plays. If a team has to go for it on three fourth-and-shorts in one drive, as the Colts did on one Thursday possession, it's a sign that they are not moving the ball as efficiently as they should.
The Packers spend a lot of time these days looking for ways to get upset: terrible run defense, long offensive brownouts, turnovers, special teams miscues, etc. They got away with it against the Jaguars and what's left of the 49ers. They won't get away with it this week.
Prediction: Colts 27, Packers 24
Eagles at Browns, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Browns have responded to Baker Mayfield's obvious struggles and limitations by childproofing their offense, emphasizing the run and building their passing game on play-action rollouts that create easy reads and throws. As a result, the Browns rarely trip over beatable opponents and have positioned themselves to win nine or 10 games and reach the playoffs, despite playing in one of the NFL's toughest decisions.
The Eagles have responded to Carson Wentz's obvious struggles and limitations by lapsing into deep denial, treating the running game like an afterthought, expecting Wentz to take shot after shot downfield and being hyper-aggressive on fourth downs and two-point conversions despite their low success rate (the Eagles are 5-of-17 on fourth downs and 6-of-13 on two-point conversions this season). As a result, the Eagles keep tripping over beatable opponents such as the Giants and Washington and have positioned themselves to lose nine or 10 games and only have a chance to reach the playoffs because they play in the worst division in American professional sports.
And remember, the team that's running the ball and being relatively conservative is the one that's run by analytics dudes.
Prediction: Browns 24, Eagles 20
Falcons at Saints, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Here are Jameis Winston's statistics versus the Falcons in his career: nine games, 277.7 yards per game, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions, a 66.0% completion rate, 8.7 yards per attempt, 11 sacks, 35 rushes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, an efficiency rating of 109.1.
Those are Winston's best numbers against any opponent he has regularly faced. He threw just nine touchdowns but 14 interceptions in nine games against the Panthers, with 32 sacks. He completed just 57.5% of his passes with 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 24 sacks in nine games against the Saints. Keep in mind that the Falcons were a Super Bowl team in one of those years and a playoff team in another, so while their defense was never spectacular, Winston consistently put up solid numbers against a competitive opponent.
Winston will face the Falcons twice in the next three weeks and should be able to parlay that into a chance to compete for a starting job somewhere like Denver, Chicago, or New England next season. Nothing I see over the next few weeks is likely to convince me that he'll ever be more than a lower-tier starter with a too-high turnover rate. But after watching Nick Foles on Monday night and guys such as Garrett Gilbert and Jake Luton in recent weeks, I'm eager to watch Winston get a second chance.
And if Taysom Hill is named the Saints starter, ignore this segment and picture me slamming my head into my office wall for 20 solid minutes.
Prediction: Saints 26, Falcons 22
Lions at Panthers, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Lions could reach .500 by beating the Panthers with P.J. Walker or a very limited Teddy Bridgewater (knee) at quarterback on Sunday, one week after needing a 59-yard field goal to fend off a comeback by Washington last week. They could then rise to 6-5 by beating the Texans in the Fake Patriots Dysfunctionality Bowl on Thanksgiving. The schedule gets tougher after that, but it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where they finish .500, saving Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn's jobs so we can do all of this again next year, except with Jason McCourty in the secondary and Rex Burkhead as the third-down back.
In other words, you should root for the Panthers if you care about this game at all, unless you are a Packers, Vikings, or Bears fan.
Prediction: Lions 26, Panthers 20 with Bridgewater; Lions 31, Panthers 13 without him
Steelers at Jaguars, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Steelers have faced Garrett Gilbert, Joe Burrow, and now Jake Luton over the last three weeks, which may prompt some observers to place an asterisk next to their 9-0 start. Let the record show that the 2007 Patriots faced such quarterbacks as Cleo Lemon (twice), J.P. Losman, A.J. Feeley, and Kyle Boller. Looking up the quarterbacks the 1972 Dolphins faced is left to the class as an exercise.
Prediction: Steelers 33, Jaguars 13
Bengals at Washington, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The last Bengals-Washington game ended in a 27-27 tie in October, 2016. It was a Kirk Cousins-Andy Dalton showdown, and it lived precisely up to that billing.
I got a little unearned attention by calling the Eagles-Bengals tie earlier in the season. Can lightning strike twice? Almost certainly not. But it's not like you are breathlessly waiting for my opinions on this game, anyway.
Prediction: Washington 26, Bengals 26
Cowboys at Vikings, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Speaking of Kirk Cousins-Andy Dalton showdowns, Dalton returned to practice this week and is likely to start for the Cowboys. Hooray!?
The Vikings could claw their way into the playoff conversation. They've posted positive DVOA in their three consecutive victories, which all came against divisional foes. They face the 25th-ranked remaining schedule, per DVOA. Justin Jefferson has adequately filled the void left by Stefon Diggs, and the rookie cornerbacks are no worse than last year's big-name burn unit. If the Vikings finish 9-7, they may need to win a common-foe tiebreaker to slip past an NFC West team with the same record. This game will be critical if that's the case, because all three NFC West contenders have beaten the Cowboys.
The fact that the Cowboys could also make the playoffs is too obvious to mention and too depressing to dwell upon.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Cowboys 17
Jets at Chargers, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Melvin Ingram has zero sacks this season. Ingram missed several games with a knee injury, but he has been back since Week 7, and there are no indications that he is playing through an injury. Ingram played 49 snaps last week against the Miami Dolphins but did not appear on the stat sheet at all. Ingram is now 31 years old and in the final season of his contract.
The Chargers never really "rebuilt" during the Philip Rivers epoch. They typically added a quality player or two in each draft class while losing an important veteran or two to age or free agency each year while Rivers kept the team competitive and a frugal front office avoided any "all-in" splurges. The Chargers have therefore never really established a "young nucleus." The current roster consists of veterans about to hit the downside of their careers (Ingram, Casey Hayward, Bryan Bulaga, injured center Mike Pouncey), a few stars at or approaching their expensive prime (Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry), and lots of "jury's out" younger players such as Nasir Adderley, Forrest Lamp, Jerry Tillery, and the ever-injured Derwin James. The veteran-heavy roster, particularly on offense, has worked in Justin Herbert's favor from a development standpoint, but it could slow the franchise's progress as the Chargers spend the next season or two rebuilding a defense and offensive line that looked pretty good not too long ago.
The Jets never have to worry about such matters because they have had neither a nucleus of young talent nor a coherent roster management plan since approximately 2009.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Jets 16