December is upon us. The days are shorter, the weather is colder, but the NFL playoff race is heating up. The good teams have been separated from the mediocre and the bad have been eliminated Mortal Kombat style.
Four teams have broken off from the pack as the worst of the worst.
The San Francisco 49ers were decimated by injuries this year, with the biggest being 27-year-old quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL in week 3.
Ever since then, the 49ers have lost their sense of direction.
The New York Jets have looked helpless since Todd Bowles took over in 2015.
At this point, they are conserving rookie Quarterback Sam Darnold for the future, which makes sense because they aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Why risk further injury?
Bowles will most likely be fired by the end of the season and a new head coach will have to handle what’s been a disastrous organization. Ever since Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan (yikes) led them to back to back AFC championship appearances, they’ve been straight up bad.
The Arizona Cardinals finds themselves in a similar boat as the Jets: They have a rookie quarterback with a lot of potential and not much else around him. Chandler Jones is a forced to be reckoned with on defense and David Johnson is a quality running back.
But the Cardinals lack consistency. Three of their losses have come by 3 points or less and four of their losses have come by more than 18 points. I expect them to make big moves this offseason, including draft day.
Last but certainly not least: the Oakland Raiders.
Jon Gruden will purposely keep the Raiders bad until they move to Vegas in 2020.
Part of the reason the city of Las Vegas became attached so quickly to the Golden Knights of the NHL was that they were surprisingly good in their first year. They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, becoming the first expansion team to do so in their first year.
The financial implications of sports betting in the NFL, in particular, could be an enormous opportunity for the Raiders. We could see fans making bets from their seats at the Raiders new stadium. So what’s going to get fans to actually show up and attend Raiders games in Las Vegas? If they are actually good at football. So what Gruden is doing is gathering assets in exchange for his remaining star players to build a team that will be ready to contend down the line rather than right now. Hopefully, for Gruden’s sake, his diabolical plan pays off.
Photos courtesy of ESPN, FOX/NFL, and CBS Denver