Will peak Matt Ryan return before it's too late?

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 16 edition of High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes.


If you're a Falcons fan, you're wondering if 2016 Matt Ryan is ever going to show up this season. Monday night was another ho-hum affair from the reigning MVP, who has yet to throw more than two touchdowns in a game this season. His passer rating sits at a mundane 92.0, 16th in the NFL and a tick ahead of Blake Bortles. You can go ahead and pin it all on the transition from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian at offensive coordinator, but that doesn't explain why Ryan is missing throws this season that he was putting on the numbers 12 months ago. At least his potty-mouth game is as strong as ever.

Drew Brees isn't putting up his typical numbers either, but he's expertly sublimated his game into a system that leans heavy on Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara -- and with good reason. More importantly, Brees has already proven he can crank it up and win a game on his own when necessary (see the Saints' comeback win over the Redskins in Week 11).

When the Falcons need their quarterback to win a game, will Ryan rise to the occasion? Their hopes of getting back to the Super Bowl ride on it.


Sunday in Seattle felt like a reckoning. On the Around The NFL Podcast, colleague Chris Wesseling aptly described it as a Changing Of The Guard Game. The Rams led 13-0 after the first quarter. The visitors were up 34-0 at halftime. By the end -- after thousands of Seahawks fans had long since exited CenturyLink Field -- the scoreboard said 42-7. Whoa.

In retrospect, all the signs were there that a beating of this magnitude was possible, but many people (myself included) hung onto the idea that the Seahawks were a proud franchise that would summon up a big effort in their building when it counted most. After all, how many times has the same scenario played out over the past six years?

Not this time, though. Stats like the one highlighted above would have been unthinkable in Seattle's heyday. The Seahawks will probably be home in January, and the team that returns in September will likely look significantly different. As Mike Silver wrote this week, stalwarts like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett could all be gone. No assumptions should be made about Earl Thomas.

The good news? Russell Wilson isn't going anywhere. Neither is linebacker Bobby Wagner or wideout Doug Baldwin. Left tackle Duane Brown, a deft midseason trade acquisition, is under contract through 2018. But does 66-year-old Pete Carroll want to lord over a potentially difficult transition process? If done right, this can be a retool rather than a rebuild. Still, this is a delicate situation.


And here's another reminder of how much things can change over the course of an NFL season. Back in August, how many people thought the Jaguars-49ers Week 16 matchup would feature perhaps the most compelling quarterback matchup on the schedule? It remains a remarkable achievement by 49ers general manager John Lynch that he was able to acquire a young franchise quarterback ... in the middle of a season ... for the price of a second-round pick. Just wild.

There are no shortcuts back to relevance in the NFL -- unless you trade for a young franchise quarterback and only have to give up a non-premium draft pick in return. I don't know why more teams go this route.

As for Blake Bortles? I don't know, man.

Just be careful everybody. I don't want to see you get hurt.


Last Christmas Eve, the Browns gave their fans the gift of a single victory in 2016. This weekend is probably their last chance to "eat a W" in 2017. The Steelers, who might be playing for a playoff bye or top seed in the AFC, await in Week 17. No bueno.

As for that list of draft picks? That is an embarrassment of riches for any organization. Of course, it's tempered considerably by the fact that Cleveland traded away the opportunity to draft both Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson for the future opportunity to potentially draft a quarterback prospect who was as good as, well, Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson. This is Browns life.

Until next week. Merry Christmas, folks ...

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

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