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Brock Purdy Will Have To Find Balance To Beat the Eagles in the Playoffs



The Brock Purdy story has been fantastic to follow. A late-arriving entrant into the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, Purdy will likely win the award despite playing half the season. His explosive entry onto the scene has been made all the more unbelievable given his position on the roster and position in the draft.

The San Francisco 49ers Offense is Perfectly Designed for Brock Purdy

It’s well known now that Purdy was the final player selected in the 2022 draft, earning the title of “Mr. Irrelevant,” given the low impact of players selected there. Even more surprising is that Purdy made the roster at quarterback above Lions quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who was given a guaranteed contract that offseason to be Trey Lance’s backup.

Despite Purdy only earning one or two reps early on in camp as the third arm — Jimmy Garoppolo sat out while the San Francisco 49ers attempted to trade him — the small windows into his talent were enticing enough to encourage head coach Kyle Shanahan to keep Purdy above Sudfeld.

As Shanahan said, “Every time [Purdy] got his one or two reps in practice, just how decisive he was and got the ball to the right spot and did it aggressively. Never seemed unsure of anything and so he kept earning more reps, and the more reps we gave him, the more he continued to look the same and didn’t take any steps back.

“Then he carried it over to some of the preseason games,” added Shanahan. “So by the end of that, it was pretty easy to see how Brock was coming, and we knew we wanted to keep him on the roster and not risk him going to practice squad, so it was a decision we had to make.”

The problem is that the Purdy we’re seeing in the postseason is not the one that Shanahan signed onto the roster, and it’s not just because of the normal process of rookie development.

There have been two Brock Purdys.

The one in the regular season who was getting rid of the ball on time within the structure of the offense and relying on his after-catch receivers and the one in the playoffs that has been a no-holds-barred scrambler willing to throw deep. If either of them shows up, it could be a big problem for the 49ers.

MORE: 3 San Francisco 49ers Keys to Victory vs. the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game

The Shanahan playbook is both small and large. The number of plays that Purdy is being asked to run is relatively small compared to the inventory of plays around the NFL, but that’s not a knock on Purdy.

The two best quarterbacks of the 2000s, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, had completely opposite approaches. Brady would have a large array of plays at his disposal, sometimes going entire games without calling the same passing play twice. Manning would sometimes enter games with a play count smaller than his jersey number.

These approaches had different advantages and disadvantages. Manning needed to make sure that everyone on the offense was highly-tuned and executing at a high level. The advantage is that the Colts knew those plays better than anyone else.

Defenses would encounter those plays only one week of the year, while the Colts would run them all 17 weeks. In order for that advantage to mean anything, they would have to execute them inch-perfect. Defenses knew what was coming, so Indianapolis simply had to be better than their opponents.

The Brady playbook was notoriously difficult for receivers to learn, and New England had a difficult time finding receivers in the draft and free agency that had the bandwidth to learn the playbook every week and combine the various option routes, route concepts, hot reads, and audibles in it along with Brady’s preferences for how to attack each coverage given the route pattern on each side of the ball.

But with answers to every test defenses could throw at them, it was hard to stop.

In this instance, is Purdy out-executing opposing defenses with precise timing, technique, pre-snap diagnosis, and accuracy? Not really. He’s been fantastic, but his approach has been very rough around the edges.

That makes sense for a rookie regardless of where he was selected in the draft, but especially one from Matt Campbell’s offense at Iowa State — one that emphasized RPO concepts in a spread-heavy offense that made reads remarkably easy for the quarterback but limited opportunities to adjust plays or read the full field.

That doesn’t mean it was easy to pick up the playbook. But it was relatively easier than some of the more voluminous playbooks around the NFL. And making it simple for the offense doesn’t mean making it simple for the defense.

Shanahan’s approach has been described by a number of his disciples as “the illusion of complexity,” where things look complex to opposing defenses but, in reality, are quite simple. And the 49ers have more tools in their toolbox to muddy up the view for those defenses.

With players like Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, and Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers have the ability to move pieces around more than any other team in the NFL. Samuel can play running back and has been an excellent chipper on the line of scrimmage as a “tight end,” while also lead blocking well for Aiyuk on his big plays.

McCaffrey can run any route in the receiver route tree from any position on the field, whether that’s in line, in the slot, or on the outside. Juszczyk and Kittle trade off positions constantly at fullback, wingback, and tight end. Kittle also has the ability to run receiver routes on the outside.

This ability to move players around can dizzy defenses, especially when paired with truly positionless football that allows the team to run the same play out of dozens of formations, making it easy for the quarterback — whose reads are the same — but difficult for the defense.

That’s why Shanahan’s receivers are more open than almost any other group in the NFL. Purdy, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, threw the second-fewest percentage of his attempts to receivers within a yard of the defender.

It also explains his relatively short targets. Next Gen Stats records him as having the third-shortest depth of target from the line of scrimmage and fourth-shortest depth of target when measured against the first-down marker.

No offense in the NFL is more dependent on after-catch production than the 49ers’, with and without Purdy.

He knows it, too. After his win against Arizona in Week 18, he said, “I’ve got so many playmakers around me I don’t feel I have all the weight of the world on my shoulders to make something up.”

“[Shanahan] calls a great game plan,” said Purdy. “I just go through my progression, throw checkdowns to guys like Christian [McCaffrey] and Deebo [Samuel], and they make guys miss. I’ve just got to distribute it to guys, and they come up with all the yards.”

In an entirely different offense than the one he ran in college, Purdy plays with a similar style. Of all FBS quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts in 2021, he had the third-shortest depth of target.

Playoff Purdy Is College Purdy

There is one element of play that runs counter to the style he’s demonstrating right now — a long time to throw and a tendency to scramble. His average dropback took three seconds, 15th longest among FBS quarterbacks in 2021.

Purdy’s time to throw is down in the NFL, and in the regular season, it matches the league average of 2.73 seconds. It’s not quite as systematic as Garoppolo, a quarterback with a snap-and-throw process that saw him get rid of the ball faster than almost anyone else in the NFL, but it’s much faster than his college tendency.

The issue is that Purdy naturally wants to make plays. He doesn’t have the arm strength of many of the league’s best scrambling playmakers, which means his throws demand more precision.

As the weeks have gone on, he’s become more audacious with his playmaking. In his two postseason games, Purdy’s average time to throw jumped up to 3.21 seconds from his 2.73-second regular-season average.

MORE: Kyle Shanahan Is a Wizard, But His Game-Management Issues Could Cost 49ers in NFC Title Game

While this has led to some of his best moments with some incredible throws, it also put him in trouble. In the first half of both of his postseason games, Purdy struggled. He made some dangerous throws and threw further downfield than he had during the regular season without much success.

After the Seattle game, Shanahan was asked about Purdy’s college free-wheeling tendencies and how well he’s tamped that down in the NFL. “I think he’s done a real good job,” said Shanahan. “He’s extended a number of plays. I think he’s made a few mistakes. There’s a fine line between all of that, but when there’s no play there, you always want guys to extend plays.”

He added, “I think guys get in trouble when they start relying on extending plays before making the play that’s there. I think that’s sometimes things you have to be careful of, especially when you have some playmaking ability like that. And I think that’s stuff that Brock has learned, and he’s done a pretty good job of. There were a couple of times he extended the play last week where he almost got in trouble, and he was able to survive it.”

Against the Raiders, Purdy had a fourth-quarter opportunity to Tyler Kroft, the intended read on the play, for a touchdown. He threw it to a covered Aiyuk instead. A better decision could have avoided overtime.

“I would say the one to Kroft, yes, I rolled out I was trying to hold the defender with my eyes and then come back to hit B.A. on that shallow,” said Purdy after the game. “Obviously, Kroft was there. In the moment, I was just trying to make a play to B.A., but right as I threw it, I look back, and I see Kroft, and I’m like, man, I already know that’s going to be one of the plays and it was.”

This theme came up again after his Seahawks performance. Shanahan said of Purdy’s spotty first half, “Yeah, there were a couple of open guys that he just missed.”

But later, Shanahan added, “When you just have a couple misses, you really don’t want to panic. Brock’s an accurate thrower, he has been doing that all year and playing well. He missed a few, and I don’t think there was really much of an explanation for it. We had to settle down a little bit and give him a few more opportunities, and he got those in the second half and was pretty lethal with them.”

Some of the best throws in the playoffs — from any quarterback, not just Purdy — have come off these scrambles. The deep shot to Kittle that took a few friendly bobbles to reel in was off-schedule; Kittle wasn’t in the progression. So too with his touchdown in the red zone to Elijah Mitchell in the fourth quarter against Seattle.

Purdy Will Have To Find Balance To Beat the Eagles

Against the Eagles, he’ll have to combine those tendencies. Philadelphia invites short passes perhaps better than any other defense in the league and feast on turnover production on the few deep throws they see. On top of that, they have the second-best pressure rate in the league and convert pressures into sacks better than any other team in the NFL.

All of that is to say that Purdy likely won’t be able to play a completely free-wheeling form of football with all the pressure bearing down on him and needs to be careful with how he improvises or throws deep. But he can’t rely solely on a short, methodical passing game.

On passes longer than 2.75 seconds, the Eagles perform better than any other team in the league. They allow -2.95 expected points per passing dropback, by far the best rate in the NFL.

Brock Purdy

That’s a concern, and Purdy will need to be more diligent about picking his spots than he was against the Seahawks or Cowboys.

“What’s been cool about Brock when he does get surprised, he’s got the quickness to sometimes be able to get out of it,” said Shanahan after the Raiders game, where they needed overtime to pull out a win. “He did that and was able to save it not being a bad play, but you can’t always count on making that guy miss.”

Purdy’s scrambles have put him in enormous trouble, but he’s been able to dig out of it so far. But the reliability of that tactic is minimal. Against a better closing team like Philadelphia, he’ll have to play in structure more often.

The problem is that the Eagles also do a good job closing down on short throws and aren’t extraordinarily susceptible to yards after catch. If San Francisco relies exclusively on the short game, there won’t be much there in terms of scoring, even if they can be confident that they are somewhat consistent in their passing game.

So Purdy will need to combine his regular-season play with his postseason play if he’s ever going to have a chance of advancing to the Super Bowl and becoming the first rookie to start at quarterback in the game. In essence, the two Purdys will have to become one.

The further teams advance in the playoffs, the smaller their margin for error. And as Shanahan said of Purdy’s freelancing, there’s a fine line.

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Should You Start Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Jayden Reed, or Romeo Doubs in Fantasy Football in Week 13?




We’re diving into the outlooks for Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Jayden Reed, and Romeo Doubs in fantasy football for Week 13. Who is the better Green Bay Packers wide receiver to start this week?

Should You Start Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Jayden Reed, or Romeo Doubs This Week?

The Pro Football Network Start/Sit Optimizer says Reed is the player to start. His projected 8.7 points include 3.9 receptions, 53.9 yards, and 0.2 TDs. That doesn’t seem like a big stat line, but it outperforms the PFN Consensus Projection for Watson (8.2 points), Doubs (7.8 points), and Wicks (4.8 points).

However, when you isolate my rankings, I see Watson outperforming all of Reed, Doubs, and Wicks. Watson balled out on Thanksgiving and has a unique skill set. The matchup is tough all around for them. Watson’s size and elite speed, along with being the alpha, make him the top choice for me.

Fantasy Outlook for Watson This Week

This season has been a disappointment for Watson and his managers, but Thanksgiving offered a glimmer of hope. Watson finished with his highest point total of the season, with 17.9 half-PPR points. That was good enough to make him the WR10 on the week. Most of that damage was done in the first half, too.

MORE: Fantasy News Tracker

All year, Watson has been good by most metrics; he and Jordan Love just seemed to miss on his deep routes. All three primary receivers (Watson, Doubs, Reed) are targeted at similar rates, even with regard to first reads. The biggest difference? Watson’s average depth of target (aDOT) is 5-6 yards deeper than his teammates.

This means that Watson is the best bet for more yardage over any of his teammates. The Chiefs CBs are a tough matchup, though. Reed is the other top option and gets Trent McDuffie, the Chiefs top cover CB, in the slot. Watson and Doubs see L’Jarius Sneed or Jaylen Watson. Watson is the easiest one to pass against.

Fantasy Outlook for Wicks This Week

Wicks is the Packers’ fourth receiver on the depth chart. He had been trending up, but after missing last week with the concussion, and with Watson blowing up, Wicks is just a possible stash.

Wicks has been an efficient WR when seeing opportunities this season. Just don’t expect him to see a ton of them. When Watson has been healthy, Wicks has not played more than 44% of snaps in any game. He’s seen at least four targets in each of his last four games played, but that’s a tough bet to gamble on.

Fantasy Outlook for Reed This Week

Reed has been probably the Packers’ best, most consistent fantasy WR this season. Reed has been a top-36 fantasy WR in seven of his 11 games. While all of that is true, and he’s the safest bet most weeks, this isn’t most weeks.

MORE: Kyle Soppe’s Week 13 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet

It’s hard to throw on the Chiefs in the slot. McDuffie is the primary slot CB for the Chiefs, and he’s been elite this season. On the year, McDuffie has allowed just a single TD when in coverage. Teams look to avoid him most weeks — he’s seen four or fewer targets against in six of his 11 games on the year.

Reed has recently been involved in running the ball as well as receiving it. This likely keeps him viable for fantasy in Week 13, but his ceiling is still limited. He would be my favorite non-Watson option, but he, like all the Packers WRs, is risky this week.

Fantasy Outlook for Doubs This Week

Doubs has been a touchdown-dependent player for fantasy. Since Watson came back from injury, any of his relevant weeks came when he’s found the end zone. All of his top-15 finishes came without Watson playing, and he’s recorded a top-40 finish just four times with Watson in the seven games they’ve played together.

Doubs also hasn’t drawn targets with Watson and Reed there. Since Week 5, he’s seen over six targets just once. In that same span, he’s had more than four catches just once as well. He’s the third-best option of the four but will only be worthwhile to roster if he can find the end zone, and that’s just not a smart bet to make.

Looking to make a trade in your fantasy league? Having trouble deciding who to start and who to sit? Setting DFS lineups? Check out PFN’s Free Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer, Start/Sit Optimizer, and DFS Lineup Optimizer to help you make the right decision!

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What Are the Chances of Getting a Top-5 Pick?




On Wednesday, we explored possible postseason paths for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 5-6 and sit one game out of the seventh and final AFC playoff spot.

Those playoff scenarios mostly involved winning out to go 11-6, although no 10-7 team has ever failed to make the playoffs since the NFL went to the 17-game schedule in 2021.

But what if things go completely the other way? What if the Bengals fail to win another game with Joe Burrow out for the year with a wrist injury and a defense that ranks among the league’s worst in many metrics and main statistics?

How high of a draft pick could the Bengals reasonably expect to get if they finish 5-12?

What Are the Chances the Bengals Get a Top-5 Pick?

It’s a weird dynamic for fans of the Bengals, many of whom probably can’t bring themselves to openly root against the team during the three hours they are playing. But for the other 165 hours in a week, they find themselves hoping for the highest draft pick possible to help bolster a roster that might be just a little too Burrow-reliant.

And Burrow is the key piece here. There’s a belief that the Bengals can be right back in the playoffs and Super Bowl conversation next year simply by inserting the variable of a healthy Burrow.

It’s not as though the team will be facing a two-to-three-year rebuild if it craters to 5-12. However, ending the season on a nine-game losing streak certainly could cloud the culture Zac Taylor has built and cause some doubt to creep into the locker room.

But those are hypothetical intangibles, and we’re here to talk about math.

Using the PFN’s NFL Playoff Predictor, I marked the Bengals for losses in each remaining game and then hit the simulate button to run results for the other 86 games remaining on the NFL schedule.

After running dozens of simulations where the Bengals lose out, their average draft spot was 5.8. The highest they picked was fourth, and the lowest was eighth. However, those numbers come with a caveat.


In every single simulation, the Bengals finished tied with at least one other team at 5-12.

The tiebreaker for the NFL Draft is strength of schedule (the combined winning percentage of all of your opponents). Among tied teams, the one with the lowest strength of schedule number picks first.

Based on 2022 results, the Bengals came into the season with one of the hardest schedules in the league, and just as that has helped lead to the 5-6 start, it could bite them again come draft time because their current strength of schedule number is .552.

MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Depth Chart

Only three teams have a tougher strength of schedule, and the Steelers (.561), Browns (.556), and Chiefs (.556) are not going to be involved in a tiebreaker procedure for a top-10 pick in the draft.

The teams most often showing up in the bottom six during the simulations have lower strength of schedules and, therefore, would beat the Bengals in any tiebreaker.

They include:

  • Patriots (.544)
  • Panthers (.537)
  • Cardinals (.533)
  • Bears (.456)
  • Giants (.474)
  • Commanders (.489)

Some people might look at those numbers and think that with six games and 35 percent of the schedule remaining, a lot can change.

But the key to remember is that with the way the NFL schedule is structured — with each team in a division having only three unique games out of 17 — almost every time a Cincinnati opponent loses, the Bengals’ strength of schedule is theoretically lowered. However, that loss is most likely coming against another team the Bengals have played, thereby raising that team’s strength of schedule and creating a wash.

The Bengals are 7.5-point underdogs at Jacksonville on Monday. Early projections for Week 14 have the Colts favored by 2 at Paycor Stadium.

The Bengals might be a slight favorite against the Vikings in Week 15, but they’ll be underdogs at the Steelers in Week 16, at the Chiefs in Week 17, and possibly at home against the Browns in Week 18.

Teams with a shot of finishing with five wins or less, their current record, and remaining schedule:

  • Panthers (1-10): at Buccaneers (4-7), at Saints (5-6), Falcons (5-6), Packers (5-6), at Jaguars, Buccaneers (4-7)
  • Cardinals (2-10): at Steelers (7-4), Bye, 49ers (8-3), at Bears (4-8), at Eagles (10-1), Seahawks (6-5)
  • Patriots (2-9): Chargers (4-7), at Steelers (7-4), Chiefs (8-3), at Broncos (6-5), at Bills (6-6), Jets (4-7)
  • Buccaneers (4-7): Panthers (1-10), at Falcons (5-6), at Packers (5-6), Jaguars (8-3), Saints (5-6), at Panthers (1-10)
  • Titans (4-7): Colts (6-5), at Dolphins (8-3), Texans (6-5), Seahawks (6-5), at Texans (6-5), Jaguars (8-3)
  • Jets (4-7): Falcons (5-6), Texans (6-5), at Dolphins (8-3), Commanders (4-8), at Browns (7-4), at Patriots (2-9)
  • Chargers (4-7): at Patriots (2-9), Broncos (6-5), at Raiders (5-7), Bills (6-6), at Broncos (6-5), Chiefs (8-3)
  • Bears (4-8): Bye, Lions (8-3), at Browns (7-4), Cardinals (2-10), Falcons (5-6), at Packers (5-6),
  • Commanders (4-8): Dolphins (8-3), Bye, at Rams (5-6), at Jets (4-7), 49ers (8-3), Cowboys (8-3)
  • Giants (4-8): Bye, Packers (5-6), at Saints (5-6), at Eagles (10-1), Rams (5-6), Eagles (10-1)

While Bengals fans might struggle to cheer against the team, they certainly can have guilt-free rooting interests in the other games across the league. Here is a look at Week 13 games involved in the derby for a top-five pick and which team Bengals fans should be pulling for to increase their odds of a better draft pick should the Cincinnati season completely implode.

  • Chargers at Patriots: Patriots
  • Cardinals at Steelers: Cardinals
  • Falcons at Jets: Jets
  • Dolphins at Commanders: Commanders
  • Colts at Titans: Titans
  • Panthers at Buccaneers: Buccaneers

Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more! 

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Bengals Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Bengals Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.

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Are Princeton Fant and Noah Fant Related? A Look at the Cousins Playing on Thursday Night Football




Princeton Fant and Noah Fant are set for a reunion of sorts on Thursday Night Football when the Dallas Cowboys square off against the Seattle Seahawks. The cousins will be on opposite teams for the contest.

Are Princeton Fant and Noah Fant Related?

Princeton was elevated from the Cowboys’ practice squad to their active roster on Thursday, the franchise announced, making it possible for him to play against his cousin Noah, who plays for the Seahawks. Both play the tight end position, though they are a bit apart in age, with Noah now 26 years old and Princeton currently 24.

MORE: Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart | Seattle Seahawks Depth Chart

Princeton has yet to make an appearance in an NFL game after signing with Dallas as an undrafted free agent in the offseason. He played a hybrid role during his six-year college career at Tennessee, initially playing as a running back in 2018 after a redshirt year in 2017, then moving to tight end ahead of the 2019 season.

Princeton played in all 13 of the Volunteers’ games in 2022, his final collegiate season, catching 22 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball six times for 17 yards and five touchdowns as an effective short-yardage running back option and even threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to current Giants rookie Jalin Hyatt on a trick play during a game that season.

Those exploits earned him a spot on Dallas’ practice squad, where he has been throughout the year before Thursday’s elevation to the active roster and a potential opportunity to make his NFL debut.

Princeton’s cousin Noah will be suiting up on the opposite side of the field for the Seahawks as usual.

Noah has been a solid contributor to Seattle’s passing game this season, catching 19 passes for 261 yards through 11 appearances, all starts. He also started 16 of 17 games for the franchise a year ago, racking up 50 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns.

Noah spent three years at the University of Iowa from 2016-18 before declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft and being selected 20th overall by the Denver Broncos. He spent the first three years of his professional career in Denver, emerging as a serviceable player at tight end before being traded to Seattle as part of the Broncos’ deal for quarterback Russell Wilson.

Noah has since provided a reliable third option in the passing game behind standout wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

Now, the two cousins’ teams are set to square off at the NFL level and reunite them on the football field. Whether Princeton makes his professional debut on the night remains to be seen, but it should certainly be a special moment for the cousins regardless of playing time.

Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more! 

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