Hackett Fired, An NFC East Showdown, And a Brutal Fantasy Week
Week 16 delivered another fun week. Well, unless your name is Nathaniel Hackett. Or if you started guys like Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins in your semifinal matchup. Otherwise, it was great. If last week brought you coal, kick back and relax because this episode is ripe with laughs. Matt Harmon and James Koh are back with another episode of Reception Perception: The Show.
If Matt gets his way, the Panthers will win their way into the playoffs. He said it last week and reiterated it this week: He’s done watching and talking about Tampa Bay.
We can’t get into the Panthers’ path to playoffs without talking about their win against the Lions over the weekend. There was concern from every fantasy corner of the world that the Lions’ run defense would stuff the Panthers into a box. The exact opposite happened, with D’Onta Foreman putting up a 20-burger in PPR and Chuba Hubbard finishing as an RB2.
Carolina has been successfully running the ball for the last several weeks. They’re putting it all on the line for interim HC Steve Wilks. Both Matt and James believe Wilks deserves a shot at the permanent head coaching gig.
The Panthers’ storyline(s) are easy to pull for this season. The highlight has to be the franchise firing Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start to his third season. 10 days after Wilks was named the interim HC, star RB Christian McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers. Despite all of that, the Panthers continue to stay in the mix.
Another storyline to keep your eye on though? James is calling it the “Sam Darnold Resurgence.” In response, Matt drops two stunner stats. Since taking over, Darnold is 1st in adjusted air yards per attempt and 2nd in EPA per dropback.
But the guys take it even further than that. James asked Matt if there’s potential for Darnold to be a solid, mid-tier quarterback in the NFL. Darnold hasn’t had the easiest upbringing in the league. James points out that Darnold’s had two years of Adam Gase as a coach, plus a year with Matt Rhule.
Matt agrees that Darnold has at least shown some competency at the position. He goes on to say that Darnold, at the very least, has played himself into a long career in the NFL as a good backup.
Nathaniel Couldn’t Hackett
I know that’s corny, please let me have this one. After weeks of Matt and James piling on my Broncos (not without reason, but it still hurt), Broncos brass finally did the right thing and fired HC Nathaniel Hackett. The firing comes after an embarrassing outing on Christmas day verse the Rams. A blowout loss that included fights between teammates and post-game fights with the opponent.
The guys run through the list of head coaches that didn’t make it through their first full season as the guy in charge. And let me tell you it is not a flattering list to be a part of.
Matt, like many of us, believes that the Broncos brought Hackett to court Aaron Rodgers to Denver. When that didn’t pan out, the Broncos made a horrendous trade for a broken quarterback and promptly extended him before ever seeing him play. Smart. James says he’s unsure how GM George Paton keeps his job after the Russ trade/extension/contract debacle.
If that wasn’t enough good news for Broncos fans like myself, the guys also point out how undesirable a position it is. Russell Wilson is broken, they have no picks, they’re in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, and coaches just saw a guy get booted from the position before he finished a full season.
James says it’s the “least attractive job on the market” and I sobbed. Both guys shut down any Sean Payton dreams pretty quickly. Matt thinks they’ve got to look past 2023 before any semblance of a team starts to form.
And for a cherry on top, Matt says it makes him physically uncomfortable to think about how bad the Broncos could be for the next couple of years. Listening to this segment made me physically uncomfortable.
Eagles vs Cowboys Delivers
There was a lot to talk about with this game. It was a clash of two great teams. We saw wideouts on both sides dominate and it was a back-and-forth contest until the end.
James gives flowers to Gardner Minshew and his performance against a good Dallas defense. I didn’t do the “flowers”/“Gardner” thing on purpose, but I do like it. He says Minshew should be a starter in the NFL. Matt calls him a fringe starter or a really good backup.
It’s important to remember that Minshew will be a free agent at the end of this year. He could find himself on a new team in a camp battle for the starting gig. While talking about that Matt mentions the Jets as a possible destination. The QB free agent class could be really fun this off-season.
This divisional matchup was a wide receiver fan’s dream. By that I mean, this was Matt’s dream game. DeVonta Smith had a monster game for Philidelphia, while CeeDee Lamb put on for Dallas.
Smith’s Reception Perception Rookie Profile was damn near flawless and Matt asks James if he can point to a hole in Smith’s game right now. James doesn’t even let Matt finish asking the question before telling him: “None.”
Matt points to Smith’s ability to separate at all levels and make big plays before James asked him for a player comparison. I’m not going to give that to you here though, you’ll have to listen to the episode.
On the other side of the field, CeeDee Lamb went off with 10 receptions on 11 targets, 120 yards, and 2 touchdowns. What was most notable though, according to James, was the way Lamb was used this week. He took only 38% of his snaps on the outside. Most of his success came as the inside slot man.
The guys point to football history and the belief that the leading pass-catcher in an offense needs to be a big X receiver on the outside. We saw Cooper Kupp dispel that belief last season. Lamb can be that guy in Dallas, dominating from the slot.
Matt and James both acknowledge what the Cowboys already knew, they need a speed guy. Preferably one not named TY Hilton. A true field stretcher will further open up this offense and benefit Lamb. There was truly so much in this segment of the podcast that I couldn’t fit it into the cliff notes, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not listening.
Studs Becames Duds
When we needed them the most, our favorite wide receivers disappeared. James opens by wondering what the point difference was between TE Shane Zylstra and the combined scores of Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Garrett Wilson.
Well, James, I did the math for you. Zylstra finished Week 16 with 25.6 PPR points, and the combined group of wide receivers finished with 26.1 PPR points. They outscored Shane Zylstra by 0.5 points. Woof.
Matt isn’t surprised by Mike Evans’ struggles. Tom Brady was getting the ball out of his hands in 1.88 seconds. That’s just bananas. It’s no wonder Evans and Brady can’t get on the same page, says Matt. How can Evans be expected to get his route run and be in place in less than 2 seconds? Of course, they can’t get in sync.
Between Evans, Adams, and Hopkins the three caught only 6 of 27 targets. The guys agree that Nuk can get a small pass since he was trying to wrangle in passes from Trace McSorely. As well as being covered by Jalen Ramsey. Still, 1-of-10 is decidedly not good.
Smith-Schuster actually caught the majority of his targets. Unfortunately, he only had four total targets. Patrick Mahomes was just not looking his way. The passing attack in Kansas City is running through TE Travis Kelce and the running back room.
Matt would like to know what is up with Justin Watson. “Is he the best blocking wide receiver in the world?!?!” Watson is always on the field and Matt demands answers. Andy Reid, hit the line when you get the chance.