T.J. Houshmandzadeh Says It Would Be Great For The League If Tyreek Hill Wins MVP
In our exclusive interview, the former Bengals WR looks ahead to the end of the 2023 NFL season and reveals his MVP and Super Bowl matchup pick.
Here in New York the big question is what the Jets are going to do with Zach Wilson. He has only thrown one interception in the past four games, but he has only thrown one touchdown pass in the past five games, and you can tell this team is winning despite the performance of its offense. Is this all on Zach Wilson, or are the offensive coordinator and other offensive coaches not helping him enough? We have seen how the Vikings and Raiders were able to succeed with backups in Josh Dobbs and Aidan O’Connell. At what point should fans start to wonder why the Jets’ offensive coaching staff isn’t putting together a better game plan for Wilson to succeed?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Obviously, I don't know the ins and outs of the Jets’ offense, but one thing I do know is that Nathaniel Hackett is the offensive coordinator and I know his track record. You can just go back to Jacksonville when he had Blake Bortles as his quarterback. Offensively, they were just OK. And then Hackett was really good in Green Bay because he had Aaron Rodgers, but even I could probably be a successful offensive coordinator if Aaron Rodgers was my quarterback. Great players tend to mask the deficiencies of average coaches.
I don't know Nathaniel Hackett, but I will say that I know last year when Russell Wilson struggled, it was like “Wow, is he really this bad?” And Russell Wilson is playing better this year with Sean Payton. Zach Wilson was the second pick in the draft, and everybody thought he was going to be drafted high, so you can’t say the Jets made a bad draft pick. Everybody would have drafted Zach Wilson. So why hasn't he developed? If you look from Mark Sanchez to Geno Smith to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Sam Darnold and now Zach Wilson, are you going to tell me that none of those guys can really play? … Are you going to tell me they all suck or they all were busts? Or is it a culture thing that’s going on? So, course, Zach Wilson has to shoulder some of the blame, and Nathaniel Hackett is going to have to shoulder some of the blame, but I’m assuming it's a combination of things.
When you don't play well after you're drafted high, obviously your confidence is going to take a hit, but the coaching and game planning shouldn’t make things worse, especially when you have a really good receiver that can win one-on-one situations and you're running the ball extremely well. Your reads should be very defined, so we shouldn’t see Zach Wilson holding on to the ball like he doesn't know where to go. If they're going to play you two-high safety, then you just run the ball. And if they play you single high, throw the ball to Garrett Wilson. It doesn’t help that Allen Lazard hasn’t had his best games lately. When a quarterback is struggling, your complementary piece is your skill guys, and they have got to do their part.
Recently, Jets head coach Robert Saleh spoke with ESPN radio, and when Zach Wilson was brought up, it seemed like Saleh was biting his tongue on what he really wanted to say. As someone who has played this game at the highest level, do you think Saleh’s hands might be tied by the higher-ups regarding the decision to start Zach Wilson over Trevor Siemian?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Do you really think Siemian would be a better option than Zach Wilson? I mean, what other option do the Jets have? They don’t have any other options. Zach Wilson is their best option now. You could say that they probably should have signed Carson Wentz or they probably could have traded for Kirk Cousins, but now that Cousins is injured, that’s not a possibility. So, to me, Zach Wilson is their best option. They don't have anything else, and there are plenty of occasions where the front office will say they want to see Zach Wilson play -- and he has improved -- but he hasn't improved at the rate that they need him to improve at.
Saleh might not want to play him, but what other option does he have? Because if he decides to go with Siemian, it’s going to get worse. That's just my opinion. Saleh might also be thinking that about Siemian, but he can't say that on air. But by not really answering the question, that’s basically what he’s saying. … Also, that offensive line is trash, and there are people talking about Aaron Rodgers coming back before the end of the season. If Aaron Rodgers comes back behind that offensive line, he’s going to get injured again.
AFC North Winner Prediction and Pick
Your former team, the Bengals, is finally rounding into the form everyone expected them to be in at the start of the season. Do they have what it takes to unseat the Baltimore Ravens and win their division?T.J. Houshmandzadeh: In the last few years since Joe Burrow became the quarterback, the Bengals have had rough starts to the season. When you think about how he tore his ACL as a rookie and was coming back from that in 2021, he wasn’t going to be at 100 percent. The following season, he was coming off an emergency appendectomy. This year, he had his calf injury. So, he just wasn’t healthy to start the season. I don’t know what it is about November, December, and January when it comes to Joe Burrow and the Bengals, but he plays extremely well during that time period.
The team is 15-5 in those games and he has a passer rating over 100. So, the Bengals play well when the wins are needed. The Ravens have a complete team. Offensively, they're playing very well. Defensively, they have the No. 2 defense in the league, so it's not going to be easy. But the Bengals can control their own destiny. They still have to play the Ravens again, and they still have to play the Browns, who have also beaten us in the division. So, you kind of control your own destiny, but you’ve got to go out there and get it. It’s not going to be easy because the Ravens might have the No. 2 defense, but the Browns have the No. 1 defense and they really get after the quarterback. When you think about the Bengals and you think about the teams in that division, ask yourself this: If you needed just one drive to win a game in that division, which offense would you want to have?
The Bengals’ offense is the one you would want, and that’s why I think they can make a run here. That offense is so explosive. It isn’t ranked high because of the way they started the season, but they will gradually work their way up the rankings. The Bengals’ defense also plays well, but the reason I say the Bengals control their own destiny is because if a drive is needed to win a game, I trust that offense more than any other offense in that division.
Bengals vs Ravens Prediction and Pick - NFL Week 11
The Bengals will play the Ravens this Thursday in Baltimore. Do you think the Ravens might be the best team in the NFL, and who do you expect to win that game?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: The Ravens are one of the best teams in the NFL, and I’m certainly not going to discredit the Ravens because of what they have done. When you talk about complementary football, they can beat you on the offensive end and they can beat you on the defensive end. There are very few teams that are top-seven in both categories, and the Ravens are second in defense and seventh in offense. To call them the best team in the league would be premature, but they are one of the best teams because what they have done up to this point warrants that.
They have earned that by beating two of the best teams in the NFC in the Lions and Seahawks, but the AFC is loaded and eventually everything will sort itself out with the Chiefs, Jags, Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Bills. I would put the Baltimore Ravens as a top-three team in the league, but I will take the Bengals in this week’s game, for sure. I say this even though I played with the Ravens and I really enjoyed my time there. I think John Harbaugh is a great coach. In terms of ownership, the way they run things is the proper way to do things, but I just feel like the Bengals have the better team.
I guess I can be naïve because I’m just looking at it from the offensive side of the ball with all the weapons the Bengals have, but it’s not going to be easy. The Ravens have an MVP candidate in Lamar Jackson, and their offense is playing better. They can beat you with the run, and it looks as if they can now beat you through the air passing the ball. I just like the dynamic possibilities with the playmakers that the Bengals have for every single play. And now that Joe Burrow is healthy, I’m rolling with the Bengals.
Also, it’s hard to beat a good team twice in your division. If the Ravens accomplish that, you might want to look out. Because in that case, the Ravens will probably be real Super Bowl contenders, and when I say that I mean they would more than likely be the team coming out of the AFC.
Top WRs in the 2023 NFL season
Which player playing today reminds you the most of yourself, and is there a specific player you enjoy watching these days?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: There is not really anybody in particular. I just love the game of football. I really do. I’m tuning in to watch everybody. If there is one player that reminds me most of myself, it’s someone a lot of fans might not know, because he’s a rookie.
I’m going to say his name because I have trained him a lot and he listens to the things that I tell him very intently. His name is Michael Wilson, a receiver who plays for the Cardinals. I’m not at all surprised, by the way, that a lot of rookie receivers are doing well this year because they’re coming into the league much better than they have ever been. That’s because they’re getting access to better trainers and they’re around better players at an earlier age. Seven-on-seven football is a big reason.
They get so many routes and reps. And they just work at it more. When you’re able to train with professional guys as early as age 15 or 16 -- or even in your first year of college -- that’s a completely different situation from what I had coming into the league. The social media explosion has advanced it as well, because you can train and watch different videos, and if you’re smart enough, you can start to mimic those guys and understand what they are trying to do. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that even some of the receivers picked later in the draft are performing as well or better than guys who were drafted earlier. You can’t judge somebody’s hunger when they feel like they should have been drafted higher. Scouts can’t judge the determination and desire that those players will have.
As a former NFL wideout yourself, what does Miami’s Tyreek Hill have to do to become the first wide receiver to win the NFL’s MVP award?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: He is certainly in the MVP conversation right now, but we all know he won’t win it. I mean, he could have 2,500 receiving yards, but the MVP has now become a quarterback award, and the Offensive Player of the Year award is the one that goes to everybody else. I don’t believe Tyreek Hill will win the MVP award, but he is absolutely in that conversation because I truly believe he will break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record. He will break that record, but the quarterback who has the best season on one of the better teams -- not necessarily the best team – will win MVP. Still, I’m 100 percent sure that Tyreek Hill will at least be in the conversation when it comes to that award.
2023 NFL Season Sleepers
Which NFL team has been the biggest surprise for you this season in a positive way?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: I wouldn’t say this particular team “surprised” me, but the Jags have surprised me because they have an opportunity to be the No. 1 seed. I felt they would be a good team, but I didn’t feel like they would be competing to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Obviously, the Texans have been a big story. When you have the No. 2 pick in the draft, you are a bad team. For them now to be 5-4, well, that’s because of great quarterback play and great coaching by DeMeco Ryans. The Jags are the real surprise for me. We all thought they would be better than they were last year, because Trevor Lawrence was going to improve and Calvin Ridley is now able to play again. Because they are now in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, I would say the Jags are the biggest surprise.
2023 AFC, NFC Predictions and Super Bowl LVIII
Who are your picks to win the AFC and NFC? And who would then win that Super Bowl matchup?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: I try to make predictions every year in the preseason, and I have been lucky in the last few years with this. My preseason picks for the Super Bowl this year were the Bengals and the Niners. That still might hold true. I believe that the Bengals can make the playoffs, even though they have a tough late-season schedule. I am going to stick with the Bengals. I picked them in the preseason, and I’m going to stay with them. Now, the way the Eagles are playing gives me concern as far as the Niners making it, but I am going to stay with that preseason pick, too. Of course, I like the Bengals to win the Super Bowl against the Niners. It would be payback for John Taylor catching that pass in the back of the end zone many years ago.
2023 NFL MVP Prediction and Pick
Since, as you say, the MVP is an award is now always given to quarterbacks, which quarterback do you feel is the MVP this year?
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: That’s a tough question, because no quarterback is really running away with it. The Chiefs are winning, but Patrick Mahomes just threw for under 200 yards against the Dolphins in Germany. Then there’s Lamar Jackson. His team is playing well, but he’s not lighting it up individually. Jalen Hurts’ Eagles are playing well, but he’s doing just OK. To me, those three would be the front-runners. On the back end, you can look at Trevor Lawrence, and I believe Joe Burrow will force his way into the mix if the Bengals can continue to win. There’s really no clear front-runner this year, which is why Tyreek Hill will be in contention. No quarterback at this point in the season has staked his claim as the front-runner who will run away with the MVP award, and there is so much parity in terms of who is having a great season at that position. Honestly, it would be great for the league if Tyreek Hill can win it. He has a chance, but I just don’t believe he’ll win it.
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