Our dream Super Bowl matchup is now set and the off-season storylines are already playing out after another massive few days in the National Football League.
Kansas City and Philadelphia booked their places in Arizona on Sunday week with very differing victories - the Chiefs squeaking past Cincinnati in controversial circumstances while the Eagles literally crushed San Francisco.
Already this week we have major news about a player who is not in post-season action, with the GOAT Tom Brady announcing for the second consecutive year that he is retiring. This time the move looks permanent for Brady, who ends a glittering career with seven Super Bowl rings at the grand old age of 45.
Our Midweek Update is intended to keep you across all the major developing stories in the biggest pro league of all, and aid your strategy whether you are putting together parlay picks or betting against the spread.
Pro football is a brutal game, played by powerful athletes at devastating speed. Not surprisingly the injuries which inevitably result have a massive impact on a team’s eventual success.
Here are some of the major injuries right now, with a particular eye on how they affect things moving forward:
Patrick Mahomes (QB, Kansas City Chiefs): More of a progress report this, rather than a new injury. Mahomes had never beaten Joe Burrow heading into Sunday’s AFC title game, and doing it on one leg did not look like a favourable bet. The Chiefs QB though was stellar, throwing for 326 yards and a pair of scores despite suffering a high ankle sprain just eight days earlier. He was way more mobile than many experts had predicted, and should be close to his best by the time Super Bowl LVII rolls around.
Travis Kelce (TE, Kansas City Chiefs): The Chiefs didn’t need another injury heading into last Sunday at Arrowhead, so the panic was off the charts when it emerged All World TE Kelce was a major doubt with a back injury. Like Mahomes though he not only suited up, but was a key to KC’s 23-20 victory. He caught 7 passes for 78 yards and a score and, like his QB, should be back to his best for Glendale on Sunday week.
L’Jarius Sneed (CB, Kansas City Chiefs): Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt said after the win over the Bengals that his team had suffered a season’s worth of injuries during the last week. We include Sneed on that list after he sustained a concussion during the AFC title game. The bye week before the Super Bowl should give him an improved chance of suiting up vs Philadelphia.
Kadarius Toney (WR, Kansas City Chiefs): We’ve said repeatedly that Toney - a mid-season trade acquisition from the Giants - could yet be the X factor for Kansas City in their Super Bowl bid. So it was disappointing to see him leave the win over Cincinnati early with an ankle injury. Again the two-week window before Super Bowl LVII will increase his chances of playing.
Mecole Hardman (WR, Kansas City Chiefs): Hardman was another Chiefs WR to hit trouble in the win over Cincinnati. No sooner than returning to action from a pelvis injury, he aggravated it during the AFC title game win. It is too early yet to guess on his status for the matchup against the Eagles.
Willie Gay (LB, Kansas City Chiefs): Yet another injury for the ravaged Chiefs as Gay suffered a shoulder injury vs Cincinnati. The Chiefs defense was excellent when it mattered on Sunday, and they will hope to have Gay back to full health vs Philly on Sunday week.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, Kansas City Chiefs): Just about every Chiefs wideout had problems against Cincinnati, and JuJu was one of the walking wounded with a knee injury. We now wait to see how he recovers ahead of the biggest game of all.
Landon Dickerson (OG, Philadelphia Eagles): The O-Line has been a huge strength for Philly this season, so Dickerson suffering a hyperextended elbow in the win over San Francisco was far from ideal. The post-game vibes were more positive though, and he should be healthy enough to suit up in Super Bowl LVII.
Brock Purdy (QB, San Francisco 49ers): ‘Mr Irrelevant’ Purdy’s incredible rise to prominence ended abruptly at the Linc on Sunday when he suffered a completely torn UCL in his throwing elbow. Purdy did come back into the game in the second half but was a mere passenger, unable to throw the ball more than a few yards. He now faces surgery to repair the injury and a six-month rehab timetable.
Josh Johnson (QB, San Francisco 49ers): Johnson replaced the injured Purdy during Sunday’s loss, only to be knocked out of the game himself by a concussion. This ended the NFC title game as a spectacle, with San Francisco unable to do anything through the air. The post-game chatter was all about reintroducing the league’s third QB rule, which meant teams could carry a third signal caller without it counting against the 45-man gameday roster. The final few minutes in Philly presented a grim spectacle for such a big game. Imagine if you were a brand paying millions of dollars for ad slots during that…
With no actual games this weekend (we don’t count the Pro Bowl), it’s time to look into a crystal ball and predict what might happen with some of the league’s biggest off-season storylines.
Tom Brady already ticked one box with his retirement announcement on Wednesday, and the Denver Broncos shelling out a bounty of draft picks to make Sean Payton their new HC was another.
A number of huge narratives remain though as the league starts to look ahead to the 2023 season. Here are some of the biggest:
Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay trading Aaron Rodgers is a rumour or narrative that comes up every single off-season. A bit like Patrick Vieira to Real Madrid or Wesley Sneijder to Manchester United. Moves which seem inevitable but never actually happen. Well this time we believe the divorce in Wisconsin will actually be for real. The Packers have two choices in 2023 - roll with Rodgers at around $50million APY or finally work out what they have in his now long-time backup Jordan Love. The 2020 first-round draft pick is heading into his fourth year in the league and the Pack need to find out if he is the future after all. This just makes so much sense - trade an ageing Rodgers for a much-needed bounty of draft picks, surround Love with new weapons and utilise that final year of a very cheap rookie salary.
Lamar Jackson: This feels like another messy divorce could be in the offing. Former league MVP Lamar has played five seasons in Baltimore and still the Ravens haven’t managed to sign him to a contract extension. Either that or they haven’t made him an offer he likes. The signals have been pretty weird in recent weeks and this doesn’t feel like the normal contractual standoff before somebody gets that massive deal. Jackson is due to become an unrestricted free agent in March but we expect the Ravens to place the franchise tag on him before finally making a decision on whether to trade or sign.
QB1 in San Francisco: This might be one of the most fascinating decisions of all. Kyle Shanahan built a scheme in the Bay Area in which just about any QB could win. Even the final pick of the NFL Draft. The emergence of Brock Purdy followed by that injury, the likely departure of Jimmy Garoppolo and the failure so far of Trey Lance to make the starting job his own means Shanahan and the Niners brass have a big decision to make. Don’t rule out a move for Rodgers either - San Fran did try to prise him away from Green Bay a couple of years ago.
(New York) Giant stars: Big Blue surprised everybody by making the playoffs in its first season under rookie HC Brian Daboll. But now he and his front office have two massive decisions to make with both QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley about to hit free agency. Jones was adequate as a game manager in 2022 but does one post-season supershow vs Minnesota give the G Men enough faith to drop him $40million a year for four or five years? And while Saquon was much improved in 2022, is it crazy these days to give a big second contract to any RB? Watch this space.
Zeke, Pollard and RB questions in Dallas: The Cowboys had a pretty nice backfield combo going on for most of the 2022 season, but there are big question marks over both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard heading towards 2023. It would be stunning if the Cowboys do not cut ties with Zeke after unwisely handing him a massive contract extension in 2019, a deal they can finally get out of now. As for Pollard, Dallas waited three years to find out how good he was and now he is due to hit free agency. The broken leg he suffered during the loss to San Francisco could give the Cowboys a chance to get him back for a cheaper deal, but nothing is certain.