Admittedly, there are sentences I did not ever imagine typing when the journeyman signed a non-descript, $2M contract with Minnesota in the offseason to fall somewhere behind Sam Bradford and, perhaps even Teddy Bridgewater, depending on the rate of Bridgewater's recovery from a gruesome knee injury suffered before the start of the 2016 season. Much less for it to be the lead sentences of a column written in Week 10 of the NFL season.
But then here we are, watching the Vikings soar to near the top of the NFC standings, with a legit shot at the top seed, with Bradford injured – as per the norm of his star-crossed career – and Bridgewater now healthy enough to play but stuck behind Keenum, a career backup, more or less, who has been one of the most productive passers in the league this season since taking over in Week 2. Lest one wonder, there is no quarterback controversy here, especially not after Keenum's magnum opus in Washington on Sunday, and there will likely not be one. It would take a prolonged slump of some magnitude – or any injury, of course – for Mike Zimmer to even consider a QB change now, given Bridgewater's long hiatus and the way this offense is expanding even after the loss of running back Dalvin Cook for the season.
Yes, Keenum had consecutive drives Sunday where he threw picks to DJ Swearinger (what a stud he is becoming), but outside of that he was perfect and he did more than enough, yet again, for Minnesota to keep this dream season going, one in which they have escaped the shadow of Adrian Peterson. Keenum has been downright special on more than one weekend, he has an otherworldly chemistry thing going with Adam Thielen and he has done more than enough for the Vikings to start thinking about that quarterback room next season before it's too late.
The reality for them is that they have no NFL quarterback under contract for next season, despite using a first-round pick on Bridgewater and despite trading a first-round pick and then some for Bradford. Both are unrestricted free agents at season's end, Bradford's chronic knees are going to preclude any team from truly counting on him in 2018, and who knows how much we'll learn, if anything, about Bridgewater's progress down the stretch … particularly if Keenum maintains his stranglehold on the position. Don't get me wrong, I am rooting for Bridgewater as much as anyone, and him even reaching this point is one of the feel-good stories of the season, with no fifth-year option on him for next season and no security at the position, I'd be checking in with Keenum's agent ASAP about getting a two-year deal done before he forces himself into another earning threshold.
No reason why you can't bring him and Bridgewater back, but Keenum would be my priority right now. At least extend something along the lines of what Josh McCown is making with the Jets this season ($6M base with chance to earn several million more in playing time incentives) and start trying to find out what the price point is while he is still exclusively Vikings' property. Because so far this season, he already has three games with a QB rating of 110 or more (Sunday's four touchdown, 304-yard performance was downright magical at times) and on the season he is completing 65 percent of his passes for a healthy 7.3 yards per attempt with 11 passing touchdowns to give interceptions and a rating of 92.6.
Keenum, mobile and elusive, has been sacked just five times this season, helping out his offensive line, and he's thrived despite missing top receiver Stephon Diggs for part of the season as well. He's proven to be a perfect on the offense being run by Pat Shurmur (get ready to hear his name again as a head coaching candidate after getting a raw deal in his brief tenure coaching the Browns) and its obvious how much his teammates enjoy playing with him and having him in the huddle. I'm not saying you break the bank for the guy – far from it – but he's proven he is more than worth having around next season, especially given Minnesota's murky future at that most important position.
Keenum averaged 10.5 yards per attempt Sunday in carving up the Redskins, and at one point in the second half he was statistically perfect from a rating standpoint. Then came the consecutive picks, which have been a bugaboo throughout his five-year career after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Houston in 2013. But should not obscure the repeated great strikes he threw on the move, rolling right or left, throwing across his body when need be for an on-the-money 50-yard lob pass to Adam Thielen (only player in football with at least five receptions on every game this season) and Stefon Diggs (the two receivers combined for 12 catches for 244 yards and two TDs Sunday.
He certainly seems to be coming into his own, and given the rate at which quarterbacks are being injured or cycled through due to failure this season, keeping Keenum on the roster should be more of a priority than anyone would have expected back in September. Given all of the injuries, its fair to say he's saved Minnesota's season and maybe a few jobs as well.
In a wacky year in the NFL, with no truly great teams and quality quarterbacking in short supply, Keenum continues to stand out. And with the Vikings standing just one game behind the Eagles for the first seed, in a season in which anything possible and Matt Stafford is the only QB starting in the NFC North who was also doing so in Week 1, Keenum might not be done making people think twice about him by a long shot.
Bengals need to rid themselves of Burfict
I hope the next coach of the Bengals stops enabling some of the NFL's worst repeat offenders when it comes to undisciplined and un-sportsmanlike behavior. Vontaze Burfict's act was old and tired long ago, but he won't stop until he is suspended again, and he might just get that sooner than some would expect. It's not just that he keeps doing things beyond the norms of play, it's that he seems to revel in them, smiling at times after his ejection on Sunday for making contact with an official.
Burfict is one of the Bengals' best defenders, but he is also one of the league's dirtiest players who makes sure officials always keep a close eye on him, who seems to revel in the flags and negative attention at times. Problem is, this isn't the WWE and it's not scripted and playing the heel week in and week out costs your team precious reps and precious yards and precious wins. His shady tactics rub off on others and as a highly-paid veteran you can't keep setting a knucklehead tone week in and week out.
It's not so cute when it's costing you playoff games … it's even less cute when you sit at 3-6 without a realistic sniff of the postseason and with the direction of the franchise very much in doubt. Should they promote defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to the head job, perhaps he could crack down on some habitual offenders. But if any coach comes from the outside to replace Marvin Lewis, I'd suggest parting ways with Burfict and others in that locker room who are prone to selfish penalties that have warped the culture in Cincy. The Bengals were crazy to reward him with his latest extension, and they can get out of his deal this March with only a $2.5M dead cap hit (and avoiding $5M in potential bonuses in the process). That's where I'd start my rebuild.
Browns will be Browns
Yes, DeShone Kizer should have never audibled into a QB sneak with 15 seconds left in the first half of a tight game in Detroit Sunday, with no timeouts. But, sorry, it's going to fall on Hue Jackson, whose tenure in Cleveland has been rife enough with coaching missteps. When you have one win since the start of the 2016 season and none this season, and get off to a quick, 10-0 lead on the road and finally have Kizer playing some decent football, you can't have that happen. Just can't happen. Sorry. You have to at least get a shot at a chip-shot field goal. To end up losing that game by 14 points pretty much sums up the Browns under owner Jimmy Haslam. Cleveland is now 4-42 since December 2014. If they can't beat the Jags and Bengals, their next two opponents, that would be four wins in a 48-game span – the equivalent of three full seasons. What a dumpster fire.
Around the league
- Speaking of the AFC North, everyone besides the Steelers is under .500, with a collective record of 7-20. Horrible. The Ravens are the best of the bunch at 4-5, but also have enjoyed a gift of a schedule facing almost nothing but back-up quarterbacks. Only Kizer has more combined turnovers in the NFL this season than Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who has 12.
- The Jaguars are winning games, but they play on the edge quite a bit, a very high-strung team prone to going overboard. Marquise Lee nearly cost them the game with a ridiculous taunting flag he earned in the end zone at the end of regulation with the game on the line when he thought he had drawn a pass interference call. Yeah, that's right. Didn't come close to actually catching the ball. Thought he got a call. Another taunting call in overtime was unnecessary as well, Jalen Ramsey got ejected the week before and he's gone over the line a bunch in his young career. I can't help but wonder if some of that comes back to bite them in December or January if it continues.
- Yeah, losing Zeke Elliott clearly limited the Cowboys offense, big-time. But not as much as losing left tackle Tyron Smith. They could probably survive Elliott's absence another month and stay in games, but they need Smith back ASAP or life is going to get beyond difficult for Dak Prescott.
- The Chargers' late-game meltdowns are beyond comprehension. They should've been a playoff team and have ample talent but something is off with how they respond as individuals and collectively under pressure, and the mind-numbing late turnovers have them 3-6 instead of 6-3.
- The Saints have the best one-two rushing punch in the NFL and they have to be taken seriously.
- Never been a big Marcell Dareus guy, but the Bills rushing defense has certainly been bludgeoned since he was traded to Jacksonville. Maybe its merely a coincidence.
- Seemed to be a crazy amount of empty seats in Tampa. Bucs won the game, but trust me, owners notice that more than the boxscore. Not a good day for Dirk Koetter despite the victory (Had to love McCown and Fitzy trading picks on successive plays).
- Another blowout win for the Rams. Their margin of victory coming into Week 10 was already over 20-points in their six previous victories.