When a true icon speaks, you listen. And back when we worked together, John Madden always used to tell me that you don't start talkin' playoffs or awards until after Thanksgiving.
Welp, here we are, with Turkey Day in the rearview. So ...
With all thoughts gravitating toward the postseason field and postseason awards, let's separate fact from fiction, Schein Nine style!
1) Patrick Mahomes is the MVP
Yes, this is an unadulterated fact. Mahomes is well on his way to receiving my Associated Press MVP vote. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger would take the silver and bronze spots on the podium if the season ended today, but they're both well behind Mahomes. And besides, AP voting only allows for one name on the MVP ballot. That name is obvious. Don't overthink it.
And don't let the 27-24 final score in Tampa Bay fool you -- this game was never really in doubt for Kansas City. Mahomes had 359 passing yards in the first half -- the highest opening-half total since at least 1978, per NFL Media Research. For the game, he completed 37-of-49 passes (75.5 percent) for a season-high 462 yards and three touchdowns against zero interceptions. His electric connection with Tyreek Hill (13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns) is unstoppable -- shoot, these two hooked up seven times for 203 yards and two scores in the first quarter.
None of this is normal. It's astonishing -- and we need to acknowledge it as such. Mahomes is a generational, Jordan-esque unicorn. He makes the extraordinary feel ordinary. In the month of November, Mahomes averaged 399.5 passing yards per game while completing 72.9 percent of his throws. In those four contests -- all wins, naturally -- he posted a 14:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 123.1 passer rating.
Celebrate. Validate. Appreciate. And schedule that parade for this coming February, too. Yep, that's right. After earning league MVP in his first year as a starter and Super Bowl MVP in Year 2, Mahomes is poised to claim both this season.
2) The Buccaneers' offense will figure it out before it's too late
This is fiction. Bruce Arians deserves a ton of blame. His "no risk it, no biscuit" strategy clearly doesn't fit the 43-year-old quarterback. Tom Brady is struggling mightily throwing the ball, specifically downfield. His general accuracy is seriously lacking. With two more interceptions in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Chiefs, Brady has seven picks in his last four games. He had eight all of last season.
As mentioned in the Patrick Mahomes blurb just above, Kansas City's three-point win in Tampa was far more one-sided than the score indicates. The Chiefs are on a completely different level than the Bucs. Blame the COVID-curtailed offseason and a resulting lack of chemistry. Blame Brady. And definitely blame Arians. His random and arbitrary usage of running backs (stop playing Leonard Fournette!) defies logic.
But whomever you want to blame, just know that this isn't going to get better. Brady and the Bucs have been front-running all year. With five of their seven wins coming against teams that currently own sub-.500 records, they beat teams they're supposed to beat. But when it's bad, it's avert-your-eyes ugly. And it's been a horror show recently. The Brady-Arians connection just hasn't taken. Despite all of the talent on this roster, the Bucs are broken beyond repair and will not become the first team ever to host a Super Bowl.
3) The Rams had the worst loss on Sunday
I was so disappointed in Los Angeles. The Rams were fresh off inspiring wins over the Bucs and Seahawks. I was starting to call them the NFC's best team. Whoops. Losing to a depleted and injury-riddled Niners bunch is unacceptable, especially when it completes San Francisco's second straight season sweep of L.A.
However, that statement above is fiction. The worst loss on Sunday came from a former L.A. team. The Raiders' 43-6 loss to the Falcons was staggeringly bad. I thought Las Vegas would roll in Atlanta. Shame on me. In a repeat of last season, the Raiders entered Week 12 at 6-4 and completely laid an egg. Last year, it was a 31-point loss to the 3-7 Jets. This year, it was a 37-point loss to the 3-7 Falcons. The 2019 Raiders never recovered, losing five of their last six games and missing the playoffs. Will the 2020 Raiders bounce back? Time will tell, but Sunday's effort was a frightening setback.
Atlanta entered the game with the 31st-ranked pass defense, but the Falcons coaxed a career-worst four turnovers out of Derek Carr. And when the Raiders weren't coughing the ball up, they were shooting themselves in the foot, as evidenced by 11 penalties for a whopping 141 yards. For a team trying to earn its second playoff bid in 18 seasons, this kind of no-show just cannot happen.
4) Four NFC West teams will make the playoffs
The fact that this is a legit discussion point is flat-out awesome -- and really, a major credit to Kyle Shanahan and the aforementioned 49ers, who've been absolutely leveled by injuries and COVID-related issues. Shanahan is such a sensational coach that somehow, some way, San Francisco (5-6) currently sits just a game out of a wild card slot.
I cannot completely rule out every NFC West team making the playoffs. It's possible. But ultimately, I have to say the statement is fiction, because I envision Tampa stumbling into the playoffs before fully flaring out in January. Shanahan keeps the snake-bitten Niners viable in every game, but I think they fall just short, leaving the NFC West with three playoff teams. The Cardinals have hit a rough patch, but I still think they have the firepower to make the tourney. Despite stumbling against San Francisco on Sunday, Los Angeles will also punch its ticket. As will Seattle.
5) The Titans just won the AFC South
I'm not quite ready to call it, so I will say fiction. Yes, Tennessee's 45-26 win was quite impressive. And yes, it gave them sole possession of first place in the division at 8-3. But remember, Indy didn't have DeForest Buckner (reserve/COVID-19 list) on Sunday. He's a star defensive tackle who changes everything for the Colts' defense, especially against the run. Related note: Tennessee ran for 229 yards on Sunday. I still maintain nobody will want to play the Colts in December or January.
But let's not minimize what the Titans did. They smashed the Colts -- in Indy -- to go up a game in the division. Derrick Henry, who deserves serious consideration for Offensive Player of the Year, ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns. The guy is Mr. November/December/January. (Take that, Reggie Jackson!) In 24 games over these three winter months since 2018 (including the playoffs), Henry has scored 29 touchdowns.
6) The Browns are legit
Oh, heck yeah -- this is an absolute fact! And I don't want to hear about the competition, or the fact that the Browns only beat a one-win team by two points on Sunday. Historically, Cleveland loses these games. Three years ago, they lost ALL GAMES. Now the Browns are 8-3, snuggly positioned with a wild card slot.
I loved the January hirings of head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. These guys are culture-changers, as we can clearly see 10 months into their tenure. These Browns pound the rock with Nick Chubb. They bust your will. They finish games. These Browns are indeed legitimate.
7) The Patriots will sneak into the postseason
You can find this title in the fiction section. This isn't happening -- it's Planet Delusional material.
Cockeyed Patriots fans are fired up after an impressive 20-17 win over a more talented Cardinals team. But New England's game-winning drive was fueled by a personal foul on Isaiah Simmons, and like DeAndre Hopkins, I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around the flag. Furthermore, the Patriots' offense was hardly special, getting outgained 298-179 in total yardage. Arizona's offense was stuck in the mud, the coaching was shaky and the Cardinals missed a very makeable field goal late in the fourth quarter with the game tied.
This game should've been over when Arizona went up double-digits in the first quarter. Credit the Patriots for fighting back and snagging the W, but they are still a 5-6 team with serious flaws. The 8-3 Bills are going to win the AFC East by multiple games, as I predicted before the season. Miami is better than New England, according to the eye-ball test and the Dolphins' 7-4 record. They'll even the head-to-head score when the Patriots come to town in Week 15.
For the first time since the 2008 season, the NFL playoff field will not include New England.
8) The NFC East winner will be frisky in January
Frisky is a fun word here, but still: This is fiction. The 4-7 New York Giants are in first place, having already logged a season sweep of the 4-7 Washington Football Team. Joe Judge's club plays hard every week for the first-year head coach, but Dave Gettleman hasn't exactly stocked the roster with talent in recent years. Meanwhile, Alex Smith is the story of the year, and Washington's defensive line is legit. But do you really see this Football Team as a tough out in January? It has wins over the Eagles, Cowboys (x2) and Bengals. The Eagles (3-6-1) need to sit Carson Wentz to have a prayer, and the Cowboys (3-8) just lost their Thanksgiving showpiece game by 25 points.
Whoever ends up with the No. 5 seed will hit the road on Wild Card Weekend and smoke the NFC East champion.
9) Aaron Rodgers is the most talented thrower ever
It's a fact. Tom Brady's the most accomplished QB in NFL history, but I have long argued that Rodgers is the most talented. I waxed poetic about Patrick Mahomes at the top of this piece, and the fourth-year pro could definitely take this title in due time, as his game continues to mature. But Rodgers holds the throne for now. The way that he delivers the football -- in the pocket or on the move, on platform or off balance, with a full windup or a flick of the wrist -- is second to none. The way he deciphers -- and honestly, plays with -- defenses feels unfair. When No. 12's firing on all cylinders, it's beautiful to watch. And that was the case in Sunday night's 41-25 rivalry beatdown of the Bears.
Chicago entered the game with the No. 6 scoring defense in the NFL, having yet to yield more than 26 points in a single game. Green Bay had 27 at the half. The Bears boasted the league's top third-down defense. The Packers converted six of their 11 attempts -- and also went 3-for-3 on fourth down. Rodgers finished the night with a robust 132.3 passer rating, completing 21-of-29 throws for 211 yards and four touchdowns (to four different receivers). This is what the future first-ballot Hall of Famer does, eviscerating opposing defenses with cool efficiency. This was his 23rd career game with four-plus TD passes, zero interceptions and a 125-plus passer rating -- tied with Drew Brees for the most by a player since at least 1950, per NFL Media Research.