We are still a couple of months away from training camp beginning in the National Football League which means that the 2021 season is still a bit away itself. The year will open with the Dallas Cowboys visiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and while the former is an underdog in that particular game, it stands to reason that they will win more games than they won’t when it is all said and done.
Dallas is being called the team to beat in the NFC East by oddsmakers, which at the very least will be good enough to host a playoff game in mid-January. Speaking of the league’s most-storied division, it is something that Brandon Gowton and I discuss every week on the NFC East Mixtape, a podcast that you can listen to on both the BGN and BTB podcast feeds. Subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network on Apple devices right here or on Spotify right here.
On this week’s episode, BLG and I had Bryan Stabbe from Hogs Haven on to discuss whether the Washington Football Team should be the favorites in the division or whether or not the Cowboys should be ahead of them. We also touched on an interesting idea that BLG has floated out before that has to do with Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott.
Where do Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott rank as a duo against their counterparts in the NFC East?
Much of the reason why the Cowboys are thought to be the favorites in the East by many is because of their quarterback - Rayne Dakota Prescott.
Football is a game that lends itself to a quarterback’s talents and having what is by far the best one of the four teams gives Dallas an enormous leg up on the competition. Consider that they finished only a game behind Washington as far as total wins last year, and that was without Dak Prescott for over 11 games. It stands to reason that they would have won it easily with him under center for the entire season.
Washington did win it, though, and they did so in Ron Rivera’s first season as the team’s head coach. BLG’s stance on Washington being the superior team actually centers Rivera and, seriously, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
One of the hallmarks of a good head coach (especially one who doesn’t call plays) is their ability to navigate adversity. I saw this firsthand with Doug Pederson leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. Things are typically going to go wrong at some point during the season. How does the leader handle it?
In the case of Mike McCarthy last year, the Cowboys crumbled. Players were anonymously ripping the Dallas coaching staff. And, no, Dallas beating Brandon Allen, Nick Mullens, and a rookie Jalen Hurts (before then losing to Daniel Jones) in three straight weeks doesn’t prove they majorly turned a corner at the end of the year.
Washington was simply much more resilient despite facing even more adversity due to their quarterback injuries. Not to mention Ron Rivera battling cancer along the way.
I’ve been consistent about how I feel there’s a significant gap between these two coaches. I said at the time of the McCarthy hiring that I was totally fine with Dallas hiring him. My exact words:
“This feels like a typical “flash over substance” move that Jerry Jones loves to make. I don’t think McCarthy will instantly flame out but I don’t really see how he’s the one to finally get Dallas over the hump. “
The harsh reality, Dallas fans, is that McCarthy is an underachiever. In that vein, I guess he really is the perfect coach for the Cowboys after all.
As for Rivera, I said at the time of Washington hiring him that I didn’t like that development for the Eagles:
“He brings some credibility to an organization that desperately lacks that quality. […] The Eagles are 6-0 in their last six games against Washington. Rivera’s presence could make it tougher for Philly to keep up their winning streak.”
I just trust Rivera more than McCarthy.
As for the quarterback element, no one is going to argue Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than Dak Prescott. We all know Fitz can get pretty hot, though. I also can’t help but wonder if people are romanticizing Prescott’s 2021 outlook more than they should be. He’s coming off a major injury. And I think his early 2020 performance, while great, wasn’t nearly sustainable. I know RJ had maintained this position as well.
So, I don’t know that the gap between Dak and Fitz is necessarily THAT gigantic. Especially when Fitz will be afforded the opportunity to be aggressive with a strong defense to help mitigate his mistakes. I do think the gap between Rivera and McCarthy is wider.
Mind you, I have the Cowboys going 8-9 with Washington going 9-8 so it’s not like I think there’s a world’s difference between these two teams.
For the purposes of this conversation, let us refer to the composite grade between coaches and quarterbacks as C&Q. Do we really believe that Washington has a higher C&Q score than Dallas?
Consider that PFF, just one outlet here, recently ranked Dak Prescott as the seventh-best quarterback of all current starters. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in at number 19 on this list which puts the gap between them at 12. Do we really think that Ron Rivera is at least 12 spots ahead of Mike McCarthy in an average ranking of coaches in the league?
This is the group of coaches that all feel safe to put ahead of both Rivera and McCarthy in the here and now. Keep in mind that this is not a ranking, just a group:
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
- Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
- Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
- Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
- John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
- Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You will notice that all of these coaches have won the Super Bowl which Mike McCarthy has done as well, although that was with a different team and happened 11 years ago (against one of these coaches though to be fair). Arguments can certainly be made today for coaches like Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Sean McDermott, Mike Vrabel, or Frank Reich. The point is that even if you want to lump in those four that they are all ahead of both McCarthy and Rivera.
For the purposes of what is easiest let’s hypothetically say that all 13 of these coaches rank ahead of McCarthy and Rivera, so at best one of them is the 14th-best coach in the National Football League. If we are to say that the coach in question is Ron Rivera is it really possible then that Mike McCarthy is the 26th-best coach in the league? There is no way.
If there is no way that the gap between Rivera and McCarthy is that large then it is impossible for the C&Q gap for the former and Ryan Fitzpatrick to be even equal let alone larger than the latter and Dak Prescott (and the idea of Dak as the seventh-best quarterback in the NFL is also up for debate by the way, as is Fitzpatrick as high as 19).
You can actually make an argument that outside of Bill Belichick and Cam Newton/Mac Jones that the Dallas Cowboys have the largest C&Q gap across the NFL if you truly do not believe in Mike McCarthy; however, the size of that gap is in no way enough to warrant Rivera and Fitzpatrick being above them.