Dak Prescott playing for his reputation Thursday night

Every Wednesday, Dan Hanzus combs through the expert findings of the NFL Media Research Department to share nuggets (also known as "nugs") that fascinate, frighten or change him on a fundamental level. This is the Week 13 edition of High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes.


Things change so quickly in the NFL. Back in September, I remember having a conversation with a colleague about how strange it seemed that Dak Prescott wasn't more celebrated entering his second season. After all, Prescott put together one of the most successful rookie campaigns we've ever seen at the quarterback position, not to mention -- and this cannot be overstated -- he did for the Dallas Cowboys, only the NFL's most high-profile and popular franchise.

Those not drinking the Dak Kool-Aid countered that Prescott had so much working in his favor -- a dominant offensive line, the brilliance of running back Ezekiel Elliott -- that it was hard to discern if he was a truly great quarterback or just a competent young passer with a truly great setup.

Well, those in the latter camp are looking pretty smart right now. Prescott has been an absolute mess without Elliott and a healthy line of blockers, his grisly struggles shining a spotlight on him for negative reasons. Consider Thursday's must-win affair against the Redskins a major gut check for Prescott, who will play under a shadow of doubt for the first time in the big show.


I love MVP talk. On the latest Around The NFL Podcast, Gregg Rosenthal made an impassioned plea to eradicate the hot take that Russell Wilson is worthy of consideration for football's most prestigious award. Gregg makes plenty of sense, though I still believe Wilson can wiggle his way into legit contention with an epic December. Then again, even that probably won't be enough for anything better than the bronze.

As it stands now, the MVP race appears like it will come down to Tom Brady and Carson Wentz. As you can see, Bills fans have been getting an up close view of Brady's greatness for decades now. But the other factoids above tell the story of the unsurpassed greatness of the 40-year-old Patriots quarterback.

Even the most virulent Brady Hater -- a title many ATN podcast listeners would bestow upon yours truly -- has to take a step back and admire what the man is pulling off in his 18th season. He may be the most perfect example of a quarterback we'll ever see. And, craziest of all, you don't have to pull up his age-28 game tape to see Brady at the peak of his powers.

Just tune in Sunday.


The Giants are rightfully getting killed for their decision to bench Eli Manning for the opportunity to ride the GenoCoaster. It was a move that came off as callous and short-sighted, even if it was rooted in logic -- that logic being that the Giants' offense has been bad for two years, and Manning is a 36-year-old quarterback showing no signs of Brady-like staying power.

That said, how could you not have endless respect for a quarterback who has suited up every week for 13 years. This is a brutal game, and you can guarantee Manning went on the field at far less than 100 percent more times than any doctor would allow if given a say. That any quarterback in the modern NFL -- a sport dominated by defenders who move with the speed and ferocity of a velociraptor -- could make more than 200 starts in a row is mind-boggling.

Eli didn't sound like a guy ready to retire on Tuesday. I hope he gets to write his own final chapter, just like his big brother. And yeah, I think we all kind of hope he can stick to the Giants before it's over.

Manning is an impossible guy to hate -- just a steady performer who showed up every day, worked his craft, and dotted his career with transcendent highs. He's pro football's version of Tom Petty. And like music fans and the late rocker, the Giants won't realize how lucky they were to have him until he's gone.

(Oh what the hell, here's Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers playing halftime of Super Bowl XLII, a.k.a. The One When Eli Took Down The 18-0 Patriots. It all connects, mannnnn.)


If we're now in the era of cold business decisions involving unlikely Super Bowl heroes, should we automatically assume Joe Flacco will be -- or should be -- in the Ravens' plans for 2018 and beyond?

Flacco has started every game this season for Baltimore and the results have not been pretty. The Ravens are last or second-to-last in total yards per game, passing yards per game, yards per play and third-down conversion percentage. Flacco is last or next-to-last in yards per attempt, yards per game, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating.

He has been, excepting ham-and-eggers pushed into service by injury, the worst starting quarterback in the league. The Ravens obviously could have done a better job putting some weapons around him the last few years, but what we're seeing now is just how much rope one incredible playoff rope can give you.

A lot.


I'm officially working under the impression that the real Chiefs offense was kidnapped after Week 7 and replaced with evil doppelgängers with designs on ruining the holidays for all the people of Kansas City. Basically, it's a loose interpretation of the plot from Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear.

Until next week ...

Follow the NFL Media Research Group on Twitter at @NFLResearch. Follow Dan Hanzus, too.

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