The San Francisco 49ers aren’t making the playoffs. Yet few teams will have more excitement heading into 2018, all thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo.
San Francisco is 5-10. The 49ers are not going to make the playoffs, a place they haven’t been since Richard Sherman screamed into Erin Andrews’ microphone back in Jan. 2014.
Yet, incredibly, only a handful of fanbases are more changed up about their teams. The 49ers won again on Sunday, this time hanging 44 points on one of the league’s best defenses — if not the best — in the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 10-point win.
The victory is San Francisco’s fourth consecutive, and all have come since Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted into the starting lineup. Garoppolo, a fourth-year quarterback acquired on Halloween for a 2018 second-round pick, is proving his worth and then some. Taking over a one-win team, the former Eastern Illinois star has transformed the Gold Rushers.
On Sunday, Garoppolo threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The 26-year-old has thrown for 1,250 yards in those four aforementioned starts, shredding a potential playoff team in the Tennessee Titans last weekend, and then backing it up by getting downfield against the likes of A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. The Jaguars have played Ben Roethlisberger this season, along with Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Philip Rivers. None of them were able to throw for chunks of yardage and walk away victorious. Garoppolo was.
San Francisco might be set up better than any team in the league to improve dramatically in 2018. The 49ers are projected to have more than $110 million in cap space, something that ought to help the young nucleus of Garoppolo, Carlos Hyde, Reuben Foster, Eric Reid, Solomon Thomas and others.
Additionally, San Francisco is going to have a top-10 pick in April’s draft. Originally, it was thought that general manager John Lynch would either try to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency or opt to take a first-round quarterback to fill the team’s greatest need. Instead, Lynch snagged Garoppolo for a comparative song, allowing the 49ers to use that premium draft capital on another position of need.
To this point, Lynch has looked terrific in his new role. He deftly moved around the draft board to acquire ample picks while landing value players, then backing it up with a deadline deal to get his franchise quarterback. Now, Lynch is armed with a boatload of cash and a team that suddenly should be attractive to potential free agents, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
For years, the NFC West has been the domain of the Seattle Seahawks and to a lesser degree, the Arizona Cardinals. Those days appear to be ending rapidly, with the Los Angeles Rams at the top of the heap, and the 49ers closing the gap with every Garoppolo dime.
Top 10 QB arms in NFL history
1. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers
2. John Elway, Denver Broncos
3. Bert Jones, Baltimore Colts
4. Jeff George, Indianapolis Colts
5. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins
7. Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings
9. Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
10. Sonny Jurgensen, Washington Redskins
“I’ve always been a Cowboys fan growing up. The biggest thing when I said ‘come get me,’ I didn’t literally mean, ‘come get me now,’” Thomas explained to reporters. “I’m still in the prime of my career, I still want to be here. But when Seattle kicks me to the curb, please, the Cowboys, come get me. You know? This is the place where I want to be when they kick me to the curb. So that’s what I meant by. People take me too serious. That’s just who I am.”
– Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, trying to explain his very awkward comments
The Seahawks defeated the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but the biggest storyline afterwards was All-Pro safety Earl Thomas telling the Cowboys to “come get me.” Thomas, who is under contract through 2018, overstepped his bounds and then some.
Look, Thomas can absolutely go to Dallas when he’s a free agent, but this is the wrong way to go about it. This is a horrible look for a player that is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have to handle this situation. Immediately.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill break down the NFL action every week in our Stacking The Box podcast. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes to get the latest episode sent straight to your Apple devices!
Tom Brady has won the AFC East an incredible 14 times with the New England Patriots. Dating back to their inaugural American Football League days of 1960 to the present day, the Buffalo Bills have won the AFL/AFC East on 10 occasions.
Info learned this week
1. Playoff picture comes into focus
So, what did we learn on Christmas Eve? The Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Rams clinched their respective divisions. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers ensured NFC playoff berths, with the Saints in need of a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to secure the NFC South.
Meanwhile, the Eagles can clinch home-field advantage throughout with a win over the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night. The Vikings are going to have the second seed barring a loss next week against the Chicago Bears.
While none of the playoff matchups are set yet, we are starting to get a good idea of who the participants will be come Wild Card weekend.
2. Wild card scenarios wacky as ever
Week 16 gave us some clarity in terms of division winners, but the wild card spots are largely up for grabs.
We know that either the Saints or Panthers will have the fifth seed in the NFC, but the sixth seed remains unclaimed. Despite losing to New Orleans on Sunday, the Falcons own the inside track to the postseason. A win over the Panthers would put them in, likely setting up a road game with the Rams or Saints in the Wild Card round. The Seahawks stayed alive by beating the Cowboys on the road, and can get into the postseason with a win over the Cardinals next weekend, coupled with an Atlanta loss.
Meanwhile, the AFC has four teams fighting for two spots. The Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans are both in with victories in Week 17 over the Cincinnati Bengals and Jaguars, respectively. The Los Angeles Chargers can get in by beating the Raiders and getting a Tennessee loss, along with a Ravens win. The Bills have the hardest road, needing a road win over the Miami Dolphins along with either a loss by the Ravens, or losses by the Titans and Chargers.
3. Browns earn top pick in next year’s draft
The Cleveland Browns finally won something … the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Cleveland lost 20-3 to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, clinching the top selection for the second consecutive year. Last spring, the Browns used the pick to nab outside linebacker Myles Garrett, a superstar in the making.
Behind Cleveland, the New York Giants are picking second followed by the Colts, Buccaneers, Texans, Jets and Broncos, rounding out the top seven. Houston’s pick is owned by the Browns, who acquired it when allowing Houston to trade up for Deshaun Watson back in April.
4. Lions deserve fate after horrid loss to Bengals
The Detroit Lions won’t be making a return trip to the playoffs after a disastrous 26-17 loss that knocked them down to 8-7 on the year. Detroit had an opportunity to get back into the postseason conversation with the Falcons losing, but Week 17 was rendered meaningless due to a nine-penalty effort.
Head coach Jim Caldwell likely keeps his post and maybe deserves to, but if the Lions are ever going to be known as anything more than a speed bump for real contenders, they have to learn to win games like this.
5. Jack Del Rio on the way out?
The Raiders have been one of the most disappointing teams of the year, and head coach Jack Del Rio might be paying the price for it. According to Pro Football Talk, there’s a 50-50 chance that despite a four-year contract being signed in February, the Raiders might move on from Del Rio.
The guess here is that regardless of the final two games, Oakland keeps Del Rio for 2018. The potential coaching pool is relatively shallow this offseason, and Del Rio led the Raiders to 12 wins only a season ago. Oakland should try to rebuild the defense and give it another go, especially with a roster that has already had success under the current regime.
New Year’s Eve will be the 50th anniversary of the Ice Bowl, played between the Packers and Cowboys at Lambeau Field. The contest remains the coolest in NFL history, with the temperature at -13 degrees at kickoff.
I will have a longform coming on Sunday about this game, including interviews with players who endured the elements. Make sure to check out FanSided.com for that piece, it will hopefully be a fascinating read.
With this column going up on Christmas morning, it feels appropriate to wish all of you a happy and safe holiday season.
We all get caught up in the rush of everyday life. Sometimes, it almost feels impossible to stop and enjoy the company we keep, the people we love, the moments we live for. Today, and everyday, let’s all try to stop and embrace those times and these people just a little bit more, because when all is said and done, that’s what matters most of all.
Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading Stacking The Box all year. It has been my distinct pleasure to write this column, and I look forward to all that lies ahead.