Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 12: Browns are America's new team, Baker gets revenge on Hue Jackson
Plus more news and notes from around the NFL in Week 12
It should be hard to get revenge on a fired head coach, but nothing is impossible when it comes to Hue Jackson. The former Browns coach, fired earlier this season by Cleveland after managing just three wins in two years and change, was the target of revenge by his former team on Sunday after he defected within the division, joining the Bengals as a "special assistant" to Marvin Lewis.
Jackson's move isn't unusual -- lots of coaches who are fired move on to roles like that with other teams. But not a lot of them move within the division in the same year when they're slated to play their old team twice in the final six weeks of the season. Jackson did just that, and it's clear the Browns players weren't pleased with the move.
Some of the guys talked a little bit about their feelings prior to the week, but the distaste for Jackson emerged pretty quickly in the game. Cornerback Damarious Randall picked off Andy Dalton in the first half and, instead of cutting upfield with the ball to pick up more yardage, spotted some would-be tacklers and .
The former coach didn't appear to understand it wasn't Randall being nice, which is just perfect. Actually perfect is the handshake between Jackson and Baker Mayfield following the game. Mayfield was reportedly "not upset" at Jackson getting canned; you could tell from the start of the season, during "Hard Knocks" even, Mayfield was lukewarm on Jackson's coaching.
After the game, Hue sought Baker out, tried to give him a hug and Mayfield, who had dapped it up with Vontaze Burfict just moments before, gave Hue the old "Oh, hello there. I hope you're well" handshake.
Mayfield said after the game there were some hard feelings because of Hue's decision to go coach a team the Browns were set to play.
"Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati. I dunno. That's someone who was in our locker room asking us to play for him and then goes to a different team that we play twice a year," Mayfield said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "Everyone can have their spin on it, but that's how I feel."
This might not be the last time Mayfield gets up to play against Jackson either.
"It's just like any rivalry game,'' Mayfield said. "That's how it is now. That's how I'm going to treat it every time we play him, but there's no hate. That's just how it is. That's how I'm going to treat it and I think that's how the team should treat it too.''
And make no mistake -- despite me burying the lede here, Mayfield's play was a bigger story than just getting revenge on Hue. The rookie quarterback was excellent for Cleveland.
In the first half, Mayfield went 17 for 21 for 245 yards and three touchdowns, including this gem to Antonio Callaway, a beautiful toss where he showed off his ability to throw from any platform.
Mayfield became the first Browns quarterback since the team returned to Cleveland to throw for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of a game. Mayfield tied Bernie Kosar's streak of consecutive games with a passing touchdown (eight) and he tied the NFL record for consecutive games with multiple passing touchdowns (five) for a rookie.
But this wasn't just a single-game vengeance play. Mayfield has been substantially better since Jackson and OC Todd Haley were fired. Mayfield is now the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record a passer rating of 140 or higher in two consecutive games and he's the first Browns quarterback since Vinny Testaverde in 1994-95 to throw for multiple touchdowns in five straight starts. Mayfield's have come in his last five games, three of which have happened since Hue was fired.
Mayfield with Hue
Mayfield After Hue
The difference is stark. And so is the difference between the Browns now, a team appearing to crawl out of the darkness, and the Browns before they fired Jackson. For years, Cleveland's been the NFL's punching bag and a layup for jokes on Twitter.
Mayfield is a polarizing quarterback, but if you don't like him, that's a YOU problem. Nick Chubb is going to be a superstar running back as early as next year; he's been nothing but a monster since he was moved into the starting lineup after the Carlos Hyde trade. Myles Garrett will contend for DPOY honors on the reg, and there are any number of fascinating guys on this roster, like Randall, who are willing to make watching football fun.
The Cowboys became popular in the early '90s as they rose to success out of nowhere. Let's all bask in the Browns becoming good again. Except Hue Jackson, who definitely shouldn't be allowed to claim any part of the success when the Browns end up making a mini playoff run this year. For that to happen, the Browns will definitely need to beat Jackson and the Bengals again in Week 16, a game you can stream on fuboTV (Try for free).
People really are going to get hot and bothered about Mayfield's beef with Jackson -- Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma after all -- but I'm here to tell you that rooting against Mayfield is a mistake you're going to regret later on. The Browns are set to be a fun team for the next five to 10 years. If they hire the right coach this offseason (Bruce Arians anyone?) there's a chance for this bandwagon to skyrocket. Get on board now.
AFC top seeds getting interesting
I'm kind of fascinated by the top seeds in the AFC after a Sunday that saw the Steelers lose while the Patriots and Chargers both won. The Texans will play Monday and the Chiefs are on a bye, so we didn't get maximum movement, , you'll notice the Texans jumped Pittsburgh on the back of .
So two things happened with the Steelers' loss: the Patriots jumped the Steelers for the No. 2 seed and the Texans jumped the Steelers for the No. 3 seed.
Both of those things would have massive implications for the postseason if that seeding ended up holding.
For starters, it would mean the Patriots land a bye. New England has never advanced to the Super Bowl without a bye before. That extra week of practice and prep for Bill Belichick and the extra week of rest of Tom Brady is a massive advantage.
Secondly, it would mean the Steelers probably end up hosting the Chargers. The No. 4 seed in the AFC is a nightmare this year because whoever lands that home playoff game is likely going to see L.A. show up on Wild Card Weekend. The Chargers shouldn't care about playing at home because of their weak home-field advantage, and they will have played most of the top teams in the NFL by the time the playoffs get here. They're battle-tested and dangerous. And the alternate to that? Hosting the Chiefs if Los Angeles can walk down Kansas City. Finishing fourth in the AFC is a nightmare.
So who has the best odds of it? Here's the remaining schedules for the top teams:
KC: @OAK, BAL, LAC, @SEA, OAK
NE: MIN, @MIA, @PIT, BUF, NYJ
HOU: TEN, CLE, IND, @NYJ, @PHI, JAC
PIT: LAC, @OAK, NE, @NO, CIN
LAC: @PIT, CIN, @KC, BAL, @DEN
Bold indicates my belief that the team will be favored by Vegas and therefore expected to win. New England is in great shape. The Vikings are a tough matchup, but it's at home. The Steelers matchup is basically a playoff prep game because the winner holds a huge advantage. I would expect New England is a slight favorite.
In short, the Steelers have, to me, the toughest path of any division leader here. They should win the division, but Baltimore's hanging out there ready to pounce. The problem is going to be the wild card situation if the Steelers can't close out against good teams. They're going to potentially host a really dangerous opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
Don't sleep on the Colts (and stop throwing to Luck)
One team not mentioned above that deserves to be: Indianapolis. The Colts moved to 6-5 on Sunday with a late win over the Dolphins, and now Indy has won five straight games. Frank Reich deserves some buzz for Coach of the Year -- the job he's done with what we thought was a depleted roster after following a 1-6 start has been outstanding.
Indy is playing pretty good defense, they're blocking really well for the run game (Marlon Mack got hurt on Sunday) and Andrew Luck is playing like an MVP. This is a team that can win its division -- they're probably Titans fans on Monday night though -- and with games against the Jaguars, Titans and Texans left on the schedule, there is a chance they can end up winning enough games to easily secure the division or to land a wild card. The Colts' only other two games outside the division are the Giants and Cowboys, which are both winnable.
The Colts can smother people, even if they didn't take advantage of a weakened Dolphins team and had to squeak one out. One piece of emphasis though: Stop throwing passes to Andrew Luck.
Luck, coming off major shoulder surgery that made him miss all of 2017, has been targeted in both of the last two weeks and in both cases he ended up taking a big shot. Today he caught the pass, but the risk isn't worth the reward. I know Reich loves these plays (Philly Special), but if Luck gets hurt there will be a mob out for his head.
Another AFC North rookie QB
We talked about Baker Mayfield a ton up top, but don't sleep on Lamar Jackson either. (And, , don't sleep on the rookie class in general, because it's looking pretty special.) Jackson didn't finish Sunday's convincing win by the Ravens over the Raiders (34-17) with a ton of passing yards and crazy passing stats. He ended up just 14 of 25 for 178 yards, one touchdown and a pair of picks. But he made up for it from a fantasy perspective by using his legs to run for 71 yards on 11 carries, including an easy touchdown on a bootleg near the goal line.
Jackson is about to get a nice little schedule, featuring the Falcons, Chiefs and Buccaneers over the next three weeks. There is a really good chance that Jackson will continue to put up big numbers and could actually be a league-flipper for fantasy football purposes with that schedule.
I also believe he could help propel the Ravens into the playoffs. Those are tough matchups to win outright -- the Ravens also get the Chargers and the Bengals to close out -- and Jackson needs to find a way to fix some of his accuracy issues quickly. But he looks like he belongs, he makes the Ravens significantly more dynamic on offense and he makes their rushing attack better (rookie Gus Edwards went over 100 yards again on Sunday) because of the threat his legs bring.
Joe Flacco is supposedly going to be healthy enough to return in Week 13. I'm not so sure he's going to see the field any time soon.
Celebration of the week
Not sure when the NFL celebration thing is going to jump the shark -- I'm not a huge fan of the "class photo" thing that defenses do, but whatever -- and maybe the answer is it won't. Maybe there are so many good moments in history that, no matter how many touchdowns are scored, we can always see NFL players recreate them.
Like the time Allen Iverson crossed up and stepped over Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals. Gold from the Seahawks here.
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