Watching the absolutely lifeless performance by the Buccaneers offense in their 31-14 loss to the Cowboys that ended their season on Monday, there was one obvious question you had to ask: Was that the last time we'll see Tom Brady in an NFL game?
Remember, Brady announced his retirement last offseason, before opting to return to the Bucs, so we know he's already given it some thought. And, though he managed to make it through another full 17-game season (plus the playoff loss!) without injury at the age of 45, Monday's game wasn't exactly an outlier for Tampa or Brady, who averaged his lowest yards per attempt since 2002 – and his lowest touchdown rate ever.
Which is all to say … it sure looked like Brady might be at the end of the line. I never want to write him off entirely, because I kind of did that after his final season in New England and he made me look pretty stupid. However, after an incredibly tough season that saw the Bucs just scrape into the playoffs despite the first sub-.500 record of Brady's career, but Brady sure didn't look like the same guy this season, and it might just be that, after outrunning it for longer than any player we've ever seen, Father Time finally caught up to him.
Brady's future is obviously going to be one of the key questions heading into the 2023 offseason, and it's going to dominate any conversations about the Buccaneers, who might be shaking things up even if Brady returns. In today's newsletter, we're going to talk about the biggest question facing each of the teams eliminated from the playoffs in the wild card round, along with the three biggest winners and losers coming out of last weekend's games. We're going to have some updated Dynasty rankings from Heath Cummings later on in the week, too, so keep an eye out for that.
There are still eight teams left, and we'll repeat this exercise in the wake of the divisional round results next week, but for now, here are my takeaways coming out of the first round:
Biggest questions for eliminated teams
Buccaneers: What does this offense even look like next season?
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are likely coming back, but with Byron Leftwich likely on the way out and Brady's status very much in doubt, there's a lot that needs to be figured out here. Godwin and Evans are a good start, and they'll make for a nice soft landing for whoever ends up playing QB here. The problem? The Buccaneers are going to have some tough decisions to make with very little flexibility with regards to the salary cap, so they might be left shopping in the bargain bin so 2023 could be a rebuilding – or at least retooling – year.
Dolphins: Does Tua Tagovailoa return as the QB?
The Dolphins are saying all the right things regarding Tagovailoa, with GM Chris Grier telling reporters this week, "Tua is our starting quarterback." He's expected to be cleared well in advance of the start of the 2023 from his repeated concussions, and for a team without much cap flexibility for 2023, keeping Tagovailoa on a relatively cheap rookie deal probably makes sense. However, they have no long-term commitment beyond 2023 here, and the Dolphins have been linked to plenty of big-name quarterbacks over the past few seasons, so it wouldn't be a shock to see them try to be aggressive there yet again. We know this offense works with a healthy Tagovailoa, though, and if the Dolphins decided to do something like bring in Tom Brady – something they were heavily rumored to be interested in – it would actually raise quite a few questions about Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
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Chargers: Can Justin Herbert bounce back?
Herbert took a step back pretty much across the board, posting the worst Y/A and TD% of his career. Yes, the Chargers dealt with a ton of injuries, both among his top receivers and on the offensive line, but this was also an offense that just wasn't aggressive enough to take advantage of Herbert's tremendous gifts as a passer. Just 25.5% of Herbert's attempts traveled 11 or more yards down the field, the sixth-lowest mark in the NFL and a total waste of Herbert's massive arm. I think you can blame fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi for that, but it's also a reflection of the personnel – the Chargers didn't have a line that could protect well enough, and they lack downfield speed in the receiving corps. I'd like to see them address both this offseason, and the good news is, with a soon-to-be 25-year-old franchise QB in house, they should have their pick of available offensive coordinators. Betting on a bounceback seems smart, especially since Herbert will undoubtedly be quite a bit cheaper than he was this season.
Ravens: Does Lamar Jackson return?
Over the past two seasons, the Ravens have played 10 games without Lamar Jackson, and the results have been, predictably, quite awful: They are 3-7 in those 10 games while averaging just 17.4 points per game. Jackson's value is quite clear, and now he heads into free agency for the first time with very real questions about whether the Ravens are willing to commit to him long-term at the price he's looking for. They could, of course, opt to slap the franchise tag on Jackson, though I'd be shocked if that didn't lead to a trade demand and holdout if they don't follow up with a long-term extension. At this point, it looks like there's a real chance Jackson won't be on the Ravens next season, which seemed almost impossible at the beginning of the season. The entire Ravens offense would be much worse off if that were the case.
Seahawks: How much upside does Kenneth Walker III have?
Walker's streak of 100-yard games came to an end in the Seahawks playoff loss, but from a Fantasy perspective, he still had a decent game – 13.6 PPR points on 66 total yards, 63 of which came on the ground. Over the 12 games Walker started, he ended up putting up 13.5 PPR points per game – and that goes up to 14.2 if you take out the game he played on 21% of the snaps before leaving with an ankle injury. That would have been good for RB17 in points per game, and the question now becomes how much better can he be? He was a solid RB2 as a rookie, but he was held back mostly by a limited pass-catching role – he put up 2.3 targets per game in his 15 full starts, a 40-target pace. That's fine, but unless he's going to be otherworldly as a runner, it probably limits him to RB2 upside. Walker posted a solid 0.52 yards per attempt above expectation as a rookie (16th out of 48 qualifiers), but that was mostly fueled by a few big plays – only 33.5% of his attempts saw him gain more yards than expected, the second-lowest rate among qualifiers, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Walker was pretty boom or bust as a rookie, but if he can keep the big plays while cutting out the minimal gains, there's room for him to break out, even if the passing-game role doesn't come. If the Seahawks do start to use him more as a pass-catcher next season … well, he probably has top-five RB upside.
Vikings: Do they shake the offense up?
T.J. Hockenson ended up being a nice midseason pickup, but I think this game exposed how little this offense has besides Justin Jefferson. Adam Thielen is well past his prime, K.J. Osborn hasn't proven to be consistent enough, and Dalvin Cook too often looked like he lost about a step and a half this season, all of which was on display in the loss to the Giants – Cook somehow managed 10 yards on six catches, combining for 80 yards on 14 targets total with Osborn and Thielen. The Vikings need a lot of help on defense, but they also too often wound up being a one-man show this season. There's room for another playmaker to shine here, and they might need one.
Wild-card round winners and losers
Brock Purdy – I'll have more thoughts on the 49ers offense shortly, but Purdy really has been a perfect fit in this offense. In seven games – counting the one where he played 90% of the snaps after replacing Jimmy Garoppolo – he has multiple touchdowns in each, with 16 to just two interceptions. The scheme and talent around him deserves a lot of the credit – perhaps a bulk of it, as evidenced by Deebo Samuel's 74-yard catch-and-run Saturday – but Purdy deserves some of his own. He's far from physically ideal, and he's been bailed out of at least a few bad decisions, including on Saturday, but he's been accurate enough and generally knows where to go within the context of the scheme. That's enough for the pieces around him to lift him up. I have no idea if the 49ers are going to embrace Purdy as their starter in 2023, but if they do, he's playing well enough that it's going to be hard to just ignore him for Fantasy.
T.J. Hockenson – Hockenson never quite lived up to expectations in his time with the Lions, but he ended up being a pretty tremendous fit for the Vikings. Sure, a lot of it is just operating as a safety blanket underneath for Kirk Cousins, but unless they make significant changes to this offense, Hockenson looks locked into a high-volume role in this offense for the foreseeable future after catching 10 passes against the Giants, his second 10-catch game in his past four. With Justin Jefferson haunting opposing defensive coordinators' dreams all week, Hockenson has had plenty of room to operate underneath, and while I'm not sure he has the kind of touchdown or downfield upside to ever challenge the truly elite options at the tight end position, he looks set to have a few years as a peak-Zach Ertz clone. He's an easy top-five option for 2023.
Daniel Jones – Cards on the table, I remain a pretty big Jones skeptic as a player, and every game the Giants win increases the chances that they make a $100 million mistake with a guy who might never be one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, even I have to admit that he's turned into a pretty darn good Fantasy quarterback. He took advantage of a miserable Vikings defense for 301 passing yards and two touchdowns, but the real draw, as it usually is, was the 78 rushing yards on a whopping 17 attempts. Say what you will about Jones' limitations as a passer, but he's avoided the kind of mistakes that have buried the Giants in the past, and that's allowed them to lean on the running game, leading to his 708 yards as a rusher this season. The Giants are sure to add at least one or two pass catchers to this offense, and with Jones' rushing floor, that should only help. He really might be a top-12 QB again next season.
The 49ers math problem – The 49ers offense is awesome for whoever happens to be the quarterback, but Sunday's game only served to raise more questions about the skill players and how they all fit. OK, to be clear, the skill players fit great, and it's an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses trying to keep up with them. But when you look at the touches, things start to get a fuzzier. Christian McCaffrey had another big game, scoring 21.6 PPR points, but he did it with 15 carries and just two targets; Elijah Mitchell had nine carries and three targets, and he clearly has a place in this offense when he's healthy. Deebo Samuel had a big game in the passing game, catching six of nine passes for 133 yards, including that long touchdown (plus three carries for 32 yards), but that left George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk with just seven targets between them. This is an incredibly efficient offense with four legitimate star-level players, but getting all of them enough touches when they are healthy remains an issue. And it's one that would be exacerbated if Trey Lance and his high-level rushing ability is at QB next season.
Leonard Fournette – If Brady does come back next season, the Buccaneers running backs will probably be pretty good for Fantasy yet again. However, the fact that Rachaad White played a bigger role than Fournette in their biggest game of the season seems like a pretty bad sign for the vet here. White got the edge in terms of snaps (44 to 35) and touches (11 to six) in this one, and while he didn't shine as a rookie, the fact that he played Fournette to a draw more or less seems to suggest he's going to be the lead back next season. Whether he'll matter for Fantasy will likely come down to what Brady decides, but Fournette may not matter much either way.
J.K. Dobbins – Dobbins actually had a pretty great game Sunday night, but it was almost exclusively because he caught four of five passes for 43 yards and a touchdown – it was his first multi-catch game since Oct. 2, so I don't think you can really rely on that. Otherwise, it was more of the same, as he had just 13 carries for 62 yards; backfield mate Gus Edwards had 12 carries for 39 yards. It's that split, in the most important game of the season, that worries me – the Ravens have nearly always been a multi-back team, and the fact that they used Edwards as much as they did in such a key moment suggests that's going to be the case moving forward. Dobbins is a very good back, and the Ravens should be a very good rushing offense (if Jackson returns next season), but Dobbins is never going to have as much upside as many Fantasy players think he will because of how they deploy their backs. And, look, J.K. isn't happy about it either, as he said after the game. "I should be the guy. I'm tired of holding that back," Dobbins told reporters. Yikes.