It's easy to have an opinion about quarterbacks. But there are too many opinions in this media environment without real conviction behind them. I believe in the four statements below so much that I will fight you if you disagree with any of them.
Patrick Mahomes will have staying power
Intangibles make me uncomfortable. The word is often used to prop up players -- especially quarterbacks -- without the "tangibles" necessary to succeed.
Mahomes obviously has every physical skill possible. He can sidearm scud missiles 40 yards downfield while on a dead sprint. His ability to diagnose defenses and decisively choose the best target is impressive for a 23-year-old. Other young quarterbacks with impressive skill sets have come along this decade -- Andrew Luck chief among them -- but the quality that makes me believe Mahomes will have exceptional staying power is harder to define.
Mahomes' feel for the position appears so impressive. He looks so relaxed when outside the pocket, confident that he'll solve the problem of the particular play in front of him, thinking one step ahead about what he'll do after he evades the first pass rusher. Mahomes appears to operate at full speed while the rest of the game slows down. He mans the position like someone born to play it at the highest level, like a prodigy finally surrounded by talent worthy of his skills.
There is no stat for this skill, but even many longtime NFL starters never display similar feel for the position. Ryan Tannehill still often plays quarterback mechanically, like a former wide receiver. Andy Dalton, even when at his best, paints by numbers. Mahomes' instincts for when to leave the pocket, when to stay, when to check down and when to push the ball down the field all appear so advanced for his age. My instincts tell me that he's going to be showing off this impossible-to-describe skill set in prime time for the next decade and a half.
Anthony Lynn has seen the light: Philip Rivers must be maximized
I nearly yelped in appreciation while watching Game Pass this week after a particular fourth-quarter play call by the Chargers. It was not a close game. Los Angeles dominated the Raiders in total yardage and won the turnover battle. Special teams even made a few plays, as rare at the StubHub Center as a home-field advantage. It was the type of complete performance that can make the remaining few stranded survivors on Chargers Island begin to think irrational thoughts.
This should not be remarkable, but Chargers coach Anthony Lynn would have been calling for a run in that spot at this time a year ago, just like Lynn's coaching mentor Rex Ryan once would have. Even CBS analyst Greg Gumbel expressed surprise in his voice at the modestly aggressive decision. Lynn has fully embraced the reality that the Bolts' passing game is the best part of his team. The running backs still provide the bedrock of L.A.'s offense, but it's Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler's role in the passing game that has this duo on a record-setting pace.
In a league increasingly divided between organizations ready to seek offensive innovation and everyone else, Lynn is closer to another former boss in Bill Parcells. He knows the safest approach in today's NFL is to keep attacking. Rivers and the harmonious Chargers offense wound up running out the clock Sunday with an 11-play drive that ended in kneeldowns on the doorstep of the end zone.
Jameis Winston will take advantage of this opportunity
It's strange to think that this is a now-or-never moment for Winston, who is only one year older than Patrick Mahomes and one year younger than Carson Wentz. Winston's inconsistent initial public response to the NFL's investigation into Winston allegedly groping a female Uber driver will always be part of his record, as will the three-game suspension to start this season after the league found the driver's allegations were "consistent and credible." He is under contract with the Bucs on a fifth-year option for $20.922 million next season and has 12 starts to show he's worth that commitment.
The signs on the field were trending up last season. He finished with a career-high 7.9 YPA and is now 11th among all QBs (min. 500 attempts) in the stat since he was drafted in 2015, ahead of guys like Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford. He still made far too many bad decisions in 2017, but the Bucs were ultimately a top-10 passing attack according to Football Outsiders, trying to keep pace with one of the league's worst defenses.
The elements that helped the Bucs get out to a flying start with Ryan Fitzpatrick before the Bears game remain in place. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken is ultra-aggressive calling plays, and the Bucs sport a basketball team full of receivers who can come down with contested catches. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin have a chance to be the best receiver trio in football. Tight end O.J. Howard is already back at practice after spraining his knee before the team's Week 5 bye. This is the team general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter built around Winston's strengths, and I don't blame them for wanting to see what it looks like fully formed, before it's too late.
Winston is the rich man's Fitzmagic on the gridiron. They both see the field and anticipate beautifully. They both believe in their arm too much and get way more value out of their feet than they are given credit for. They seem too smart to take the chances they do with the ball. They run hot and crash spectacularly. They play every game as if it is their last.
It doesn't hurt Winston that a trip to Atlanta is up first on the schedule, but this opinion is about more than one week. Winston is at the stage of his career, with the right group around him, to elevate his play to another level. He doesn't have a choice.
Blake Bortles is better
Bortles is not necessarily much better than last year. He's just solidified his gains. And no one, myself included, wanted to give him much credit a year ago. For the season, Bortles ranks 22nd in Pro Football Focus' rankings, 14th according to ESPN's QBR and 23rd according to Football Outsiders' DVOA. He's currently coming in at 21st in my less-scientific rankings. He ranked a tick higher in most metrics a year ago, roughly in the middle of NFL starting quarterbacks.
Bortles is still prone to going haywire for entire games at a time, but now he bounces back. He has much better touch on short throws. He's always been willing to throw it deep outside the numbers, and now he's blessed with a fun group of receivers to track down his slingshots. Bortles has always added significant value as a runner, which is one reason he fares so well in QBR.
A lot of the credit has to go to coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. They've built a creative offense around Bortles' strengths, and they've become more aggressive with Leonard Fournette on the sideline. There's no need to hand out too many lollipops for a group that is ultimately below average and had seven points on the board midway through the fourth quarter last Sunday in Kansas City, but it feels overdue to recognize that Bortles isn't the cipher he once was. The Jaguars' offense is quite watchable.
Whether approaching average at quarterback is enough is another question. Jacksonville's loss in Kansas City, which could mean a return trip to town in January, should caution Marrone about the thin line defensive-minded teams walk. The Jaguars managed to pick off Patrick Mahomes twice in his first eight drives, but the Chiefs put up 23 points in the other six drives. The most talented defense in football barely slowed down Mahomes, and there's no reason to think that defenses will suddenly rise in the playoffs after they mostly collapsed last winter. The Jaguars might need Bortles to carry them to go any further this time around, and he's not that much better.