Neil Reynolds' Week 11 Mailbag

We're into Week 11 of the 2021 NFL season and it remains a wonderfully-jumbled and exciting mess with no clear favourite emerging from the pack. Thank goodness the playoffs have to eventually leave us with two teams standing in the Super Bowl come February. Who those teams are, nobody knows! And that's going to make it a fun ride the rest of the way. Let's get into some of your questions in this week's mailbag.

Which quarterback will my Denver Broncos go for next offseason? Do you see a high draft choice or a proven star? – Kevin Hogg.

First of all, Kevin, I think you are 100 percent right to be thinking along those lines. The Broncos don't have faith in Drew Lock and the recent Teddy Bridgewater decision to avoid tackling Darius Slay on a fumble return touchdown has left him out of favour with head coach Vic Fangio, with his boss playing the video in front of the whole team last Monday morning.

While we don't really know if Fangio will be there next year, I do think Denver are in the market for a quarterback and, as they have seen in the past with Peyton Manning, the proven veteran route can reap huge dividends. Plus, the college quarterback class does not appear to be as stellar as in previous years.

Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson should be the first two targets but maybe Denver would also get into the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes if his legal situation gets resolved one way or the other. And the Broncos would be a good destination. They play well on defense and have very good skill-position weaponry around the quarterback. My choice from the three veterans mentioned above would be Wilson – he gives you more years and probably a lot less hassle.

Are the New England Patriots the real deal? – Simon Povey.

Any team that wins five games in a row has to be taken seriously, especially when they have the winning pedigree of a squad like the Patriots. In what is a very balanced, competitive and week-to-week league, coaching matters. So, it all starts there because New England are led by the greatest of all time in Bill Belichick.

We've already seen Belichick's defense confound many quarterbacks this season, including his former pupil in Tom Brady. The Pats are big and stout up front and opportunistic, deep and talented on the back end. They mix things up so well, play with great intelligence and versatility and they take advantage of their chances.

On offense, the emergence of Rhamondre Stevenson alongside Damien Harris means we are going to see a double-headed rushing attack the rest of the way. Mac Jones is rarely asked to do too much at quarterback and is growing into his role; and his receivers are doing enough to provide balance. This team is moving beyond being a one-and-done playoff team – they can definitely contend to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

I'm starting to think it could be third time lucky for the Green Bay Packers to get to the Super Bowl. Even if they do, will Aaron Rodgers want to stay? – John Bell.

I think that is the scenario that could see Rodgers spend another couple of years in Green Bay. Despite all the angst and animosity during this past offseason, the disgruntled player and management have found a way to keep plodding along and winning games.

If Rodgers is coming off a Super Bowl win or appearance, maybe he feels differently about his future in Green Bay. So much is going to depend on how this season finishes. Remember how upset he was after last year's loss in the NFC title game? I think that lingered and affected his offseason mood, for sure.

I also think there will be more openness from the Packers when it comes to dealing with Rodgers and making him happy. They were offered a glimpse of their future when Jordan Love subbed for Rodgers in Kansas City and it showed the drop-off from the veteran to the youngster is going to be significant if and when that time comes.

The future is cloudy with Rodgers and the Packers, of that there is no doubt. But, of course, a Super Bowl win might allow all parties to don some rose-tinted glasses the next time they get around the negotiating table.

The NFL is so unpredictable in 2021. What is at the heart of it? Is it coaching issues, player underperformance, player or team arrogance and complacency, injuries or all of the above? – Errol Dyer.

It is a great question, Errol. And I appreciate you trying to get to the bottom of it with your follow-up remarks. Some of what you mention could creep in and become a factor at various times during a season, but the bottom line is that we are truly seeing now what should be the norm in the NFL.

As I'm sure you are very aware, the NFL operates under a salary cap and splits its revenues evenly among the 32 teams. So, when you think about that, it's actually surprising we haven't seen this kind of scramble more often.

I think further answers depend on who you talk to. Players will tell you how talented everybody is in the NFL and that makes the margin for error so small. If you don't bring your 'A' game, you're going to lose. We have countless examples of better teams being turned over this year. Coaches would probably argue that poor or inconsistent fundamentals can influence games and shock results. There is still a school of thought among the coaching fraternity that they cannot get the pads on the players enough during the season, nor work with them enough in the offseason.

What do you think of the NFL expansion rumours and where would you like to see the extra (eight!!) teams? – David (@davidmnufc).

First of all, I don't know if it would be eight teams, taking the league total up to 40; even though that makes sense from a divisional alignment and scheduling point of view. But I most definitely see the NFL looking to expand what is a blossoming and ever-producing business proposition.

The first port of call is likely a move to 18 regular season contests, but I also get the desire to put more teams onto the slate of games each week by adding teams. There used to be an argument that there were not enough quarterbacks or players to fill additional rosters, but I don't see that being an issue. The NFL can make stars out of just about anybody, as we saw recently with the albeit-short-term hype around Mike White, of the New York Jets. Also, college football is providing more and more quarterbacks every year.

When it comes to destinations for franchises, I always revert back to something New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told me during a one-on-one interview. He said the NFL was close to maxing out in the United States and international markets offered the next big growth spurt. So, why not a couple of teams in London and a team in Germany and France? I could see that working and adding significant interest and growth for the NFL. We're some way off that yet, though. I think 18 regular season games will the next major step in expanding the league's portfolio.

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