by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND & F10YRetro)
Steel-ing a duck flavoured wild card
Pittsburgh’s QB Delvin ‘Duck’ Hodges is determined to drag the Steelers into the playoffs, whilst all around him appears to be crumbling. The duck man is the first undrafted rookie to lead his team to wins in his first two starts since the lesser known Redskins QB Ed Rubert who matched the impressive feat back in the strike ridden 1987 season.
Entering W14 the Steelers are one of only 7 AFC teams with more wins than losses. Hodges, who a decade ago won the Junior World Duck Calling Contest, and last year won the prestigious Alabama State Duck Calling Championship, is the newest cult hero, out-zeitgeisting even Minshew Mania.
His two 2019 victories may have both just been by 7 points, but they both count. In these two games he only took a single sack, which is an incredibly good sign of someone who can instinctually feel pressure and avoid it.
Duck has a very winnable game in Arizona on Sunday – making that Wild Card berth ever more likely to be sitting neatly wrapped under the Christmas tree.
The second coaching casualty occurred in the build up to W14 as Riverboat Ron Rivera was relieved of his duties in Carolina following a loss to the resurgent rushing Redskins.
The former two-time Associated Press (AP) coach of the year won 54.6 percent of the games he coached.
Riverboat – famous for his gung-ho play calling style – was in part a victim of the long-term injury woes suffered by franchise QB Cam Newton, but mostly removed because the Panthers defense was toothless.
Allowing 116 points over four consecutive losses is going to test any GM. That and the fact the Panthers at one point had a four-game winning streak earlier makes it even more frustrating.
Carolina face the Falcons on Sunday, likely their only realistically winnable game on their remaining schedule.
With playoffs out the window the Panthers interim HC Perry Fewell will be able to experiment and take a quality look at the roster.
Fewell has already had a stint as interim HC – back in 2009 he wen 3-4 to end the Buffalo Bills season before being fired.
For fired Riverboat Ron hewon’t be out of work for long and has been quoted saying at this point the only job he would take at present would be going back to his alma-mater California.
Makes sense for a guy who won a Super Bowl as a bear.
Golden Gate v Golden Dome
We have another UK treat this Sunday in the early window as Sky has got the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers travelling to the Bayou to take on the equally impressive 10-2 New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers need this win far more than the Saints, who became the first team to clinch their division by the end of W13.
The Seahawks have crept up on the Niners to take a tie-break lead in the NFC West so Jimmy Garoppolo will need to be at his best to keep pace.
San Francisco looked solid against the active volcano hot Ravens, and this week will have the luxury of being indoors in a climate controlled dome.
This is a fantastic test for the Saints, currently on a three-game win streak, to see if they are contenders or pretenders, as they have faced a relatively simple schedule to date.
Saints WR Michael Thomas is legitimately pushing for NFL MVP contention. He has led the team in receiving yards 10 of 12 week this season, and has a boggling 110 catches and 1,290 yards in just 12 games.
Thomas won’t touch Calvin Johnson’s yardage record (1,964 in 2012) but he is getting ever closer to Marvin Harrison’s 143 catch mark, set 17 year ago. Thomas needs to average 8-9 catches over the last quarter of the season to get the crown.
An intriguing contest between the travelling 10-2 Ravens and the 9-3 Buffalo Bills may have an unknown outcome, but it will be bursting from the seams with one thing – running plays.
The two finest rushing QBs (sorry Kyler Murray) Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen have combined for 1,423 yards and 15 touchdowns, and more importantly a combined 19 wins.
If the QBs get a bit tired they can handoff the ball to a vast array of quality RBS. Bills Devin Singletary and Frank Gore are both top 25 in rushing this season and Ravens Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards both average 5.0 and 5.1 a carry.
With a Patriots loss to the Chiefs, which is very possible, and a Bills win the AFC East will have two teams at 10-3.
A Ravens win and a Steelers loss and Baltimore secure the AFC North. Lots to play for between the two most impressive second year quarterbacks in the league.
Where does the L.A story move to next?
In the last season for the foreseeable future where the NFL has two franchise in L.A. it’s hardly been memorable for either the Rams or the Raiders. Going into Week 14 the Rams are somehow 7-5 and the Raiders Autumn wind has only mustered 6 wins.
The Rams host the 10-2 Seahawks and the Raiders welcome a rather tasty Titans team. Both teams are led by big name coaches who have both been to Super Bowls, and both are currently still in the playoff hunt but in their thermals standing outside looking in the window as their divisional rivals sip Prosecco and eat ice-topped mince pies.
Neither team has done anything to make their season stand out yet, and they now have just four weeks to do something special. Rams WR Cooper Kupp needs 56 yards to top 1,000, Todd Gurley hasn’t broken a single play over 25 yards and their leading receiver by yards per catch is safety Nick Scott.
For the Raiders Josh Jacobs is their first ever 1k rookie, their leading receiver by a huge margin is TE Darren Waller and they have had 9 different WR make a catch in 12 weeks.
Defeats this week and the L.A. Story is pretty much on the last page with no cliffhanger reveal.
K.C. and the Sunshine Band or TB12 and the Sith Lord?
Under twelve months ago this was the AFC Championship game where everyone apart from Patriots fans wished Tom Brady would finally turn into a mortal. It wasn’t to be as New England went on to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime, thanks in large part to TB12’s 348 passing yards.
Now in the final period of the 2019 regular season this matchup is the second opportunity for Patrick Mahomes deliver the blow that signals the true rise of the youth movement.
The Patriots defense is still doing tremendously but they are being dragged into a lower playoff seeding and even a division battle by a pedestrian offense.
Sith Lord Belichick always has a plan, but WR Julian Edelman and RB James White can only ever represent two receiving options on any given play. The bare naked truth is the Patriots either need to coax TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement or convert somebody like Jamie Collins to a dual-threat superstar that catches the ball.
The latter sounds like a joke, but just take a look at some of the Patriots earlier Super Bowl wins when they utilised LB Mike Vrabel as a redzone touchdown monster.
The Chiefs need to somehow keep Brady off the field with a combination of Shady McCoy, Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware helping grind out some 6-8 minute drives. This is a fantasy mess in the backfield, especially as we are in playoff game mode, as anyone could end up vulturing a score.
With a duck and a moustache helping headline writers, let’s hope there is some very early Monday Mahomes magic manifesting.