*Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side. *
In this space, I'll be articulating a handful of positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below are my unpopular opinions for Week 6.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers was amazing last Sunday in Dallas. After Dak Prescott gave the home team a three-point lead on a third-down scamper into the end zone with just over a minute to play, one of my Cowboys-loving acquaintances turned to me and said, "Great -- he left too much time on the clock. Now Rodgers is going to be able to tie the score."
Tie the score? Yeah, uh, most non-star-loving sports fans knew Rodgers was going to win that game in regulation. The Cowboys' defense was overmatched. Losing to the Packers 35-31 on Rodgers' ensuing (and predictable) 75-yard touchdown drive, Dallas allowed 35-plus points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2013. In fact, the Cowboys have actually yielded 35-plus points in three of their five games this season -- they're the only NFL team with that on the 2017 resume. So it wasn't like Rodgers was facing stout opposition. This was like Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXVIII. Of course, that didn't stop a lot of people on Twitter and other social media platforms from saying Rodgers is the best quarterback of all time.
(And I'm sure you all saw it, but it was fitting Peyton Manning had his statue unveiled in October. Probably the best month of his career. I'll admit, though, it was awesome to see one final snap from Jeff Saturday -- replete with a touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne! I mean, it might have been more apropos if Antonio Cromartie had appeared to intercept that final pass to Wayne, but I don't want to take away from Peyton's moment. Honestly, it was super cool.)
But here's the thing: Like Manning in years past, Rodgers is now lauded over Tom Brady. Because of wins like this. While important, as you need to win games to get to the Super Bowl, it's a little hollow if you don't turn those into championships. I mean, I'm sure it's neat to be in contention every year -- I wouldn't know this, as a Bears fan -- but don't you want to cash in those chances sometimes? Colts owner Jim Irsay knows what I'm sayin'.
And I understand why some think it's lazy to simply say, "Hey, Tom's the best -- look at the rings!" But I think we all ignore how great he's been in the regular season, too. Even this season, at age 40. Brady is currently averaging 340.4 passing yards per game, which would be the best mark of his career. His 112.0 passer rating would be the third-best of his career. He's thrown 11 touchdowns with only one interception. He's thrown three picks total in his last 17 regular-season games. He hasn't had double-digit INTs in a season since 2013. This all gets overshadowed because he also plays this well in the postseason and wins Super Bowls.
So, yes, if I need one quarterback to win one game for me -- be it in October or January or even February -- I'm going with Brady. Even at age 40.
Cool story, brah. The Ramsdefended their home turf against the Seahawks last season. Actually, it was the first home game back in L.A. for the Rams in 22 years, and I was there. It was freaking brutal. The Rams won 9-3 -- God love you, Jeff Fisher -- and the only interesting thing was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' pregame show. Mostly because the band came out in Rams jerseys and I honestly can't remember the last time I saw Anthony Kiedis perform with his shirt on. Seriously, the guy went double-nipple during the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show in New Jersey. Here it was, hot as footballs in the shadeless Coliseum, and he was wearing a jersey. (Though, no matter -- he did finally ditch the top, and all was right with the world.)
The thing that stood out the most to me in last Sunday's game was the growth of quarterback Jared Goff. He was great statistically in his previous games this season -- including the one against that *awesome* Cowboys D! -- but this was probably his most inspiring effort. He made mistakes, sure. There were some turnovers (though not all his fault). But with everything that happened, he still found a way to put that behind him and drive the Rams down the field in the closing moments. He even threw the winning touchdown pass. Only problem: Cooper Kupp dropped it.
Ultimately, the Rams did lose Sunday's game, though. Fine. But better days are ahead. I feel the same about the Rams as I did watching the "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" trailer. While I haven't seen the full thing, I got excited enough by the preview to get me ready for December. Goff gets better with every game. Todd Gurley has become a threat in the passing game. And the defense hasn't yet fully jelled under first-year coordinator Wade Phillips -- but the unit did shut down the Seahawks, which feels like a springboard to future returns.
This is some cruel irony ...
Now, they finally appear to have found a legitimate franchise quarterback to build around in Deshaun Watson ... but the defense is falling apart.
OK, let's get our bearings here. While it stings to lose a talent like J.J. Watt, the Texans' defense has been the same without him in the recent past. Houston has allowed an average of 22.9 points with Watt since the beginning of the 2016 campaign. They've allowed 22.2 points in that span without him. Over that same period, the Texans' defense has allowed an average of 305.9 yards with him and 306.9 without him. So it's been about the same. And yes, I know the team is also without Whitney Mercilus. Oh, and the thing nobody ever talks about is how the Texans let A.J. Bouye walk across the division to Jacksonville. But there is still talent on the defense. It won't be the top D in the league, but good enough to make one stop when you need it.
The upshot is a quarterback who can actually move the ball up and down the field. Combining the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Houston's offense ranked 28th in points per game and yards per game. Since Watson took over as the team's starter in Week 2? The Texans rank first in total points and seventh in yards per game. This team can now win games with its offense. Seriously.
It's going to be unusual to see. Kind of like when you first saw Bill Murray performing a dramatic role in "Lost in Translation" way back when. It wasn't the dude who was the Cinderella story winning the Masters, but he was really damn good.
And let's cut to the chase: The AFC is more wide open than we've seen it in year's past. Winning the AFC South against Jacksonville could honestly be the big challenge. The Patriots have struggled on defense (though I'm not closing the door on them), the AFC North is LOLZ, and hey, look, the Chiefs are well ahead of their blueprint of being the best team in the regular season and then losing (at home) in the divisional round. Now is the time for Bill O'Brien and the Texans.