Season in Review – Denver Broncos

By Chris Tod (@ctdk1980)

Today we take a peek back at the Denver Broncos’ season. One of a few teams that deployed 3 Quarterbacks in one season, which kind of tells you how successful it was. They do say that every cloud has a silver lining though.


ENTERING THE SEASON


The Denver Broncos entered the season with a new signal caller after trading for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco from Baltimore.

GM John Elway hoped he had finally found a viable successor to Peyton Manning after failures (to at least some extent) with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum since the future Hall of Famer’s retirement in 2016.

Image result for vic fangio
Joe Amon/DP

Vic Fangio came over from the Bears as a first time Head Coach at the age of 61, hoping to capitalise on a defence boasting the abilities of Von Miller, Chris Harris and Bradley Chubb among others.

However, they were probably always an outsider for a playoff position, battling with phenom Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs in the division.


DURING THE SEASON


Denver, perhaps understandably considering the changes undergone in the offseason, started slowly, losing their first 4 games.

With an offence struggling to get out of second gear, added to a defence strangely passive in the early going, indeed exalted pass rush duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb failed to record a sack between them in the first 3 games of the season. With Chubb tearing his ACL in the week 4 loss to the Jaguars, as the season threatened to fall out of control.

However, the Broncos certainly showed some fight, as they managed to end the season with a respectable 7-9 record, good enough for 2nd place in the division.

Image result for joe flacco drew lock
Joe Amon / DP

On the offensive side of the ball Joe Flacco struggled to recapture his former magic, and when he went down to a neck injury after week 8, Brandon Allen was thrust into a starting role that he probably wasn’t ready for.

When Drew Lock returned from his own injury in week 13 however, he promised at a better future to come in Mile High. He went 4-1 to finish the season on a high note. WR Courtland Sutton also took a big step forward in his play, finishing with over 1,100 yards despite the turmoil at the QB position.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


Denver are in a more settled position this year than in recent years, with the franchise’s confidence in Drew Lock, meaning Flacco will likely be moved on, or at least brought back on a reduced salary as a back up. That should mean they are able to be active in free agency, projected to have around $60million in cap space available.

Although some of that money will almost certainly be tied up in bringing back key personnel like Justin Simmons. It’s likely too that Denver look to invest in the lines, with most of the defensive linemen up for free agency, as well as improving the offensive line.

It feels like a big offseason coming up for John Elway as he tries to catch up with Super Bowl winners, the Kansas City Chiefs. However, with a few well-judged forays into free agency and a strong draft, there is no reason why they can’t improve next season and be a factor in the playoff chase for 2020.

Season In Review – LA Rams

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Time for another installment of the Season In Review Series. This time, we turn our attention to last year’s Super Bowl participants, the LA Rams.

The Super Bowl hangover is still as bad as the Madden curse!

ENTERING THE SEASON


Coming into the 2019 season the Rams were looking to bounce back from their Super Bowl
disappointment and go one step better to earn the franchises 2nd championship.

Patrick Semansky/AP

HC Sean McVay returned most of the same players and staff, adding veterans like Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews to an impressive roster.

With Cooper Kupp returning after a serious injury ended his 2018 season prematurely and standout RB Todd Gurley with his own injury question marks, the pressure would be on Jared Goff to live up to his massive $134 million contract. At least on the other side of the ball, DC Wade Phillips would have the luxury of calling on all-world defensive linemen Aaron Donald to set the tone.


DURING THE SEASON


The Rams were consistent only in their inconsistency during the 2019 season, managing to go from a
28-12 beatdown of the Seattle Seahawks in week 14, to a 44-21 shellacking at the hands of the
Dallas Cowboys in week 15 that all but ended their postseason hopes.

While the 2019 season was ultimately disappointing there were still some highlights for the Rams
faithful, including a week 2 win against the New Orleans Saints in a Conference Championship
rematch from the previous season.

Offensively however, McVay’s Rams took a step back from 32.9 PPG in 2018 to only 24.6 in 2019. Quarterback Jared Goff endured his troubles throughout, while he did finish 3 rd in passing yards for the year he was only 22 nd in QB passer rating for the year, coupled with the line struggling to open holes in the running game it led to a offence that was strangely stagnant at times. While receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods both had impressive seasons, Todd Gurley was unable to repeat his league leading 2018 form, seemingly limited by injuries.

Image result for todd gurley
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty

The defence was led as always by the incomparable Aaron Donald as he continued his line wrecking
ways, while he didn’t manage to repeat his 20.5 sacks from 2018, he was still a force, demanding
double teams almost every week. The Rams paid a steep price to acquire help for the secondary,
trading 2 first round picks and a fourth round pick to the Jaguars for star corner Jalen Ramsey,
sending previous trade acquisition Marcus Peters to the Ravens to make room. Cory Littleton was a
playmaker at inside linebacker, recording 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. Unfortunately
however, the defence as a whole remained middle of the pack, giving up 22.8 PPG ranking 17th in the
league.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


The Rams have a lot of question marks going forward, with shortages both in cap space and high
draft picks for the 2020 season. With pieces like LB Cory Littleton, LT Andrew Whitworth and DE’s
Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler among others entering free agency, and only $19.5 million of
cap space, GM Les Snead has plenty of work to do this offseason before the Rams move into their
brand new $5 billion home at SoFi Stadium.

foxla.com

The Rams are also undergoing major changes to their coaching staff, with the coordinators leaving
from all 3 phases. Brandon Staley and Kevin O’Connell are expected to be named as coordinators as
Sean McVay reshapes his staff. The NFC West is a highly competitive division and while the Rams
have enough talent to compete with any team, they’ll need Jared Goff to take a step forward for
them to win the big one.

Cam Newton: The Ripple Effect

By Chris Todds (@ctdk1980)

Image result for cam newton
Image Credit: Jacob Kupferman / Getty Images

With Cam Newton currently recuperating from his various ailments, and Kyle Allen’s lustre swiftly wearing off during their last 2 losses, which has left the Panthers very much on the outside of the playoff race, big decisions will have to be made throughout the franchise over the next few months. Ownership, coaching staff and contract extensions could all be affected by Cam Newton’s situation with the Panthers, never mind the dominoes that could fall throughout the league.

David Tepper, the owner of the team, made his own statement when he spoke with a group of reporters last week, giving support to Newton that was lukewarm at best, saying ‘no decision had yet been made on his future’. It was certainly intriguing that Tepper rejected the opportunity to throw his support behind his franchise QB, and presumably Newton himself noted the lack of enthusiasm.

Lets take a look at the various people who have a stake in the former MVP’s future prospects.


Marty Hurney


During his 2nd stint as GM of the Panthers, Hurney gave Newton his initial extension in 2015. With that contract expiring after the 2020 season, Newton has work to do to persuade the Panthers organisation to give him another massive contract.

The Panthers’ have a large group of players currently scheduled to hit free agency this spring, including Shaq Thompson, Mario Addison, James Bradberry and Gerald McCoy, with only approximately $40m of cap space, plus they may have to deal with star Christian McCaffrey’s contract. Cam Newton’s release or trade would free up $19m of space, and leave only $2m of dead money on the cap.

While Cam’s contract for next year is a relative bargain of $21m, if their medical department has concerns over his future recovery and prospects, could they possibly decide to trade one of the most important players in franchise history?


Ron Rivera


Riverboat Ron has an expiring contract in 2020 meaning if David Tepper and GM Marty Hurney see him as being their coach for the future, he’d be likely to receive an extension during the upcoming offseason.

However, Tepper’s recent comments have shown the owner is not willing to settle for mediocre, Rivera’s record as a HC is 76-61-1 (0.554), and his Panthers have yet to record back to back winning seasons in his 9 seasons as HC.

If the top brass decide they need to reload at QB without Cam and rebuild the roster for the future, they may well look for a new coach to lead that process.


Christian McCaffrey


As possibly the best all-around back in the league there’s little doubt that electric playmaker Christian McCaffrey will remain a part of the Panthers for the foreseeable future. He has 1 year left on his deal, with a fifth year option too, but is eligible to receive a new contract for the first time during the upcoming offseason, and will undoubtedly be a priority for the Panthers’ hierarchy.

However, as previously mentioned, Carolina have a lot of decisions to make over their upcoming 2020 free agency class with limited cap space to work.

After Zeke Elliott’s holdout during this years camp will RUN-CMC follow his lead and insist on a new deal before reporting for work? It’s worth noting his agent is Joel Segal, who represented both Chris Johnson and Khalil Mack during their holdouts.


Kyle Allen


The Panthers’ replacement for Cam Newton is also a restricted free agent this spring, if Carolina decide to retain Newton he may look to use his performances this year to persuade teams that he could be a bridge QB at the least.

While his performances have tailed off badly over the last few weeks if he can finish the season strongly, he could have an opportunity to win a starting job in a training camp next summer.


2020 QB free agents


If Carolina do decide to cut ties with Newton, he would join a crop of veteran and possible bridge quarterbacks (possibly including a GOAT). While some of these will almost certainly end up re-signing with their current teams, at the moment signal callers of the calibre of Brees, Brady, Winston, Bridgewater, Mariota, Tannehill are scheduled to become free agents this spring.

Also, there could be movement in the trade market with Rosen, Dalton and Trubisky all facing some questions over their futures.

With half of the teams in the league looking for improvements at the position, almost certainly Carolina would have a robust trade market for the former NFL MVP.

Tampa Bay, Chicago, Denver, Tennessee, Miami, Oakland, Cincinatti, LA Chargers would all make some sense as trade partners.


2020 QB draft prospects


There is also the prospect of Carolina becoming a serious player in the QB stakes early in next years NFL draft, while they did spend a 3rd round pick on Will Grier this past year, he has yet to see the field in regular season action.

With Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason and the recently injured Tua Tagovailoa all potential 1st round picks, the Panthers will be doing their due diligence on the prospects entering the league.

While the question marks will remain, and are unlikely to disappear until Cam Newton returns to the field, the best option for all concerned would probably see Cam Newton play out his current deal in Charlotte, proving his fitness and durability prior to signing a new deal to play out his career in the area he has come synonymous with.

However, there’s a long way to go before we can have any certainty about anything with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. When we do get certainty, the ripple effect willhave huge ramifications.

Half-Term Report: AFC/NFC South

Today’s Half-Term report focuses on the AFC and NFC South.

Which teams are heading south in terms of short term outlook and which teams will we be watching in January?

Let’s find out.


AFC South

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  • Indianapolis Colts 5-2
  • Houston Texans 5-3
  • Tennessee Titans 4-4
  • Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4

*Indianapolis Colts*

Midseason Grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

Having your starting franchise quarterback retire on the eve of the season would knock many of a franchise for 6. Thankfully for the Colts, they had a very good back up plan in Jacoby Brissett. He has marshalled the troops to a 5-2 record and crucially a big win in the division against the Houston Texans. Another significant road win was earned at Arrowhead as the Colts took down the Chiefs. They are positioned nicely for any potential tie breaks that may come into play come the post season shake up.

Marlon Mack is on pace for over 1000 yards rushing as there has been a clear commitment to establish the running game. With that said, T.Y Hilton is also putting together a nice receiving campaign and has already found the endzone on 5 occasions. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

With games against the Steelers and Dolphins next on the slate you would have to fancy the Colts reaching a 7-2 mark ahead of a vital 3 game divisional game stretch. They then face 3 foes from the NFC South before closing out the campaign away at Jacksonville which could be a hugely important contest. 

Ranked as a top 10 defence, expect the Colts to continue to be involved in competitive games but get enough production offensively to come out on top more often than not, particularly if the ask is for Adam Vinateri to kick the game winning field goals, something he has done consistently better than anyone else ever has done.

Regular Season Record Prediction – 11-5 (Division Winners)


*Houston Texans*

Midseason Grade: B

How has it gone so far?

What a fun team to watch! The Texans always seem to be involved in a game packed with points or lead changes. DeShaun Watson is a special player who Texans fans can look forward to seeing playing for many a year, especially if he is protected. Thankfully the team took steps to address the protection issue by trading for Laremy Tunsil. Yes, the price was high but the pay off has been instant as the sack numbers have come down over the past month.

Carlos Hyde has been a nice addition in the backfield and DeAndre Hopkins is on pace to reach over 1200 yards receiving. The biggest surprise has been the production from tight end Darren Fells who along with Watson himself paces the team with 5 touchdowns.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Similar to the Colts, the Texans have a big stretch of key divisional games coming down the tracks. In an ultra competitive division it’s obvious to say how crucial these games will be. One of those games is this weeks matchup with the Jags in Wembley as they make the plane journey across the pound for the first time. A marquee matchup with the Patriots is also looming on the horizon which could have bearings on AFC playoff seedings all around. 

Expect more great value out of the Texans as we head towards the business end. The loss of JJ Watt is a massive blow and possible keeps them behind the Colts but still very likely to be playoff bound.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard spot)


*Tennessee Titans*

Midseason Grade: C+

How has it gone so far?

A huge opening day win had people talking about the Titans. 7 weeks on and rather unsurprisingly the Titans sit at a 500 record. A team so inconsistent they are impossible to get a read of.

The inconsistency has lead to a much overdue change at the quarterback position as former Dolphin, Ryan Tannehill has replaced the underwhelming Marcus Mariota. The Titans have responded with 2 wins in his 2 starts as he looks to stake his claim on the job for the long term.

AJ Brown has been a nice addition at the receiver position giving whomever plays quarterback a nice big target on the outside. Derrick Henry continues to churn out yardage and defensively Logan Ryan is having a nice campaign having forced 3 fumbles and compiled 3 interceptions so far on the year.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Almost impossible to predict what this team will do. One thing is for sure though, if nothing else, the next 8 weeks are a trial for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans only sit 1 game back on the divisional lead so they can not be written off by any stretch of the imagination but there can also be no amount of confidence placed in them either.

The only thing I can say with relative confidence is the Titans finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-8


*Jacksonville Jaguars*

Midseason Grade: B-

How has it gone so far?

The Jags celebrated the off-season moves to address the quarterback position. Nick Foles threw a beautiful touchdown pass in his opening game but got injured on that play. It might be the best thing that could have happened to the Jags.

Enter Gardner Minshew.

The unfancied rookie has been phenomenal, throwing for just shy of 2000 yards with 13 touchdowns to just 2 picks.

Leonard Fournette has put together a nice season on the ground and the locker room looks a far more harmonious place following the trade of Jalen Ramsey to the LA Rams. 29 sacks on the season also has the “Sacksonville” label ready to return.

Rest of Season Outlook:

The biggest question ahead of the Jags, is can Minshew hold onto the job when Nick Foles returns to fitness? The London game starts a sequence of 3 divisional games which as per all of these teams will be vital given the tight nature of the standings.

Outside of the remaining divisional games the schedule is favourable with the Bucs, Raiders, Chargers and Falcons on the slate a realistic playoff opportunity is in sight.

I feel they just miss out on a tie breaking scenario.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7

Get 10% off at NFL Europe Shop with code FULL10


NFC South

Image result for nfc south
By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings:

  1. New Orleans Saints (7-1)
  2. Carolina Panthers (4-3)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

*New Orleans Saints*

Midseason grade: A

How has it gone so far?

After franchise icon Drew Brees’ injury in week 2’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, most hoped backup QB Teddy Bridgewater could keep them in playoff contention until Brees returned. Bridgewater managed that and more, winning all 5 of his games during the future Hall of Famer’s absence.

With Ryan Ramczyk and the rest of the O-line performing at a high level, running lanes have been there for both Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Saints averaging well over 4 yards per carry this year and only giving up 12 sacks on the year so far, while largely neutralising rushers of the calibre of Khalil Mack and JJ Watt.

The defence has also more than played their part with the 2nd ranked rush defence, Cameron Jordan playing to all-pro standard and Demario Davis leading the linebacker core.

Rest of season outlook:

This squad is set up for a deep run in the playoffs and will hope to bring a 2nd Lombardi trophy back to the Big Easy. A matchup with the unbeaten 49ers looms large on December 8th which could go a long way to deciding playoff positioning.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 13-3 (#1 Seed)


*Carolina Panthers*

Midseason grade: B-

How has it gone so far?

Carolina’s season has been a confusing one to say the least, franchise QB Cam Newton continued to struggle in the early part of the season, continuing a worrying trend from the latter part of 2018.

When he succumbed to lingering issues after week 2’s loss to the Bucs most thought the Panthers hopes relied on him returning form injury in short order, however up stepped second year undrafted QB Kyle Allen, winning 4 four consecutive games to drag the Panthers to the edge of the NFC playoff race before week 8’s sobering blowout loss to the 49ers.

Rest of season outlook:

While the odds would appear to be against the Panthers making a playoff run, any team with the talents of all-pro LB Luke Kuechly and the electric Christian McCaffrey can’t be entirely ruled out. It will no doubt hinge on when (or maybe even “if” at this point) Cam Newton returns and how much ring rust there is to shake off.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7


*Tampa Bay Buccaneers*

Midseason grade: C-

How has it gone so far?

Tampa look like a franchise approaching a turning point. With QB Jameis Winston in a contract year and the same old issues of turnovers blighting the offence, it would appear there are poised to reset at the position after this year. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed before the Buccaneers can make a realistic run at the postseason. While Winston is certainly not without blame for his poor ball security and decision making, the offensive line is porous at best.

There are certainly pieces promising a better future, with Chris Godwin making his awaited step forward this year, to give a formidable 1-2 at receiver with Mike Evans. Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Devin White have all impressed at times this season, but the secondary is a real weakness surely that must be addressed this offseason, with the 31st ranked pass defence this season.

A huge plus so far has been the top ranked run defence, shutting down the likes of Gurley, McCaffrey and Barkley. Certainly however, the Bucs have a lot of question marks going into the offseason, surely they must identify a QB to take the team forward but will HC Bruce Arians stick around to be a part of it?

Rest of season outlook:

Bruce Arians has a lot of deadwood potentially to clear out on the roster on the offence whilst the secondary always seems to be a quandry for the Buccaneers so i would expect the HC to use the rest of the season to assess players that he wants to use going forward and those that he wants to chuck out.

That includes 1 Mr Jameis Winston.

*Atlanta Falcons*

Midseason grade: E

How has it gone so far?

Arguably no team has been more disappointing than the 2019 Falcons, the defence has had a myriad of problems leaving HC Dan Quinn under huge pressure to salvage his job over the second half of the season.

While only 7 sacks in 8 games tells its own story of where things have gone wrong, things have hardly been much better at the other end of the field with the secondary giving up big plays on a regular basis. Keanu Neal’s season ending injury in week 3 meant one of the big leaders in the secondary was missing for almost the entire season for the second year running.

While the offence has got plenty yards from messrs Ryan, Freeman, Jones et al turnovers have plagued the offence, giving away 9 interceptions and 6 fumbles, ranking 28th in the league for turnovers allowed.

Rest of season outlook:

While spirited showings late in games seem to show the locker room is still working for Quinn, big questions hang over this franchise’s future direction. Don’t be surprised that if by the time you are reading this, he is out the exit door.

The season is already over to the dismay of the Falcons’ faithful and you have to wonder whether it’s time to blow most of this team up and try to start again because despite all the talent on both sides of the ball, something just isnt right here. Maybe all it’ll take is a coaching change…

Half-Term report – AFC/NFC North

It’s just about the half way point in the NFL regular season. Sad times.

In this series of articles, we take a look back over those 8 glorious weeks of pigskin action and also project how the 2nd half of the season will play out.


AFC North

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  1. Baltimore Ravens 5-2
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4
  3. Cleveland Browns 2-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 0-8

*BALTIMORE RAVENS*

Midseason grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

The Ravens came flying out of the blocks with bug wins against the Dolphins and Cardinals. Back to back defeats to the Chiefs and the Browns raised questions about if this team was “for real” but a subsequent 3 game winning streak including an impressive road win in Seattle sees the Ravens with a healthy lead in the division. 

Lamar Jackson is on historic pace for yards on the ground and has shown progress throwing the football in year 2. The defence isn’t as feared as it once was but still ranks highly and is 11th against the pass and 2nd against the run respectively.

Rest of Season Outlook

It’s fair to say that the schedule stiffens for the Ravens down the stretch. With games to come against opponents with a plus 500 record in the Patriots,Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills. A weak division means this commanding lead would appear to be extremely secure however with a divisional game against each opponent and the lowly Jets providing the other contest. Even on a “worse case scenario” basis you have to fancy the Ravens getting to at least 9-7 from here and that should be ample to win the division.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 – Division Winners


*CLEVELAND BROWNS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The product has certainly not lived up to the preseason hype. Steamrolled by the Titans and 49ers along with close losses to the Rams and Seahawks the Browns face an uphill tussle to get back to relevance in the division. A defeat coming out of the bye week to the Patriots has again raised questions about discipline and preparation 

A big road win at Baltimore was the lone bright spark on what has been a disappointing campaign. The promising end to the 2019 season seems like a distant memory and Baker Mayfield appears to be regressing in year 2.

Rest of Season Outlook

Ironically despite the record, everything is still in play for the Browns. The schedule is such that 5 divisional games remain and as stated earlier, they have won the only game of such nature to date. The plan will be to go 6-0 in the AFC North and hope that tie breakers enable them to find a way into a wildcard berth. For that to happen though they need to improve massively, reducing turnovers and penalties, a category that they lead the league in with an average of 10 per game.

The talent is there, can they turn it around?

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9 – Miss Playoffs


*PITTSBURGH STEELERS*

Midseason grade: C

How has it gone so far?

Smashed by the Patriots on opening night and losing your starting quarterback part way through your 2nd game isn’t exactly the way the Steelers drew up the plans for this season. The reality is though that the Steelers season was probably over before it had even really began following the QB injury. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges have anchored the squad to some respectable performances and with a turnover differential of plus 7 they are getting opportunities within games.

Big names JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner have struggled to reproduce anything close to what they did a year ago and the offence lacks weapons outside these 2. Defensively the rank middle of the pack but an in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick signals intent to improve the playmaking on the back end.

Rest of Season Outlook

Similar to the Browns in that the division schedule is heavily back loaded so 4 games still to play in that regard and an opportunity if they can build momentum to make a late run. Difficult to trust that Mason Rudolph will be able to get them there however. Ranked 30th in both team passing and rushing there just isn’t enough production from this unit. The defence ranks 6th in points allowed so the Steelers will stick around in games but its hard to see anything better than a 500 record at this point.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 6-10 – Miss Playoffs


*CINCINNATI BENGALS*

Midseason grade: E

How has it gone so far?

A record of 0-8 will pretty much answer that question. With the worst record in the NFL at the week 8 stage the Bengals can’t get any worse. Ranked 28th offensively and 27th defensively, unfortunately there is not an obvious quick fix as the poor play is on both sides of the ball. 

Offensively AJ Green has not been able to dress after picking up an injury in the preseason and Joe Mixon has not been able to get anything going on the ground. Defensively the pass rush has been a little non-existent with only 9 sacks and they have not taken the ball away with any regularity.

Rest of Season Outlook

There are some winnable games on the schedule with games against the Browns, Dolphins and Jets all on the horizon so nobody should be panicking around a 0-16 season just yet. Unfortunately for the Bengals, wins will now likely only hinder draft capital as the season is well and truly lost. 

The remaining games need to be used as an assessment of the roster and a decision needs to be made with regards to the long term future of Zach Taylor. The Bengals are very likely to pick high in the upcoming draft and now that Ryan Finley is in the driving seat, his performances over the back nine will determine how high up in the rounds they take their next QB (if at all).

Regular Season Record Prediction: 2-14 – Top 3 pick

Get 10% off at NFL Europe Shop with code FULL10


NFC NORTH

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings

  1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
  4. Chicago Bears (3-4)

*GREEN BAY PACKERS*

Midseason grade: A

How has it gone so far?

One of the most intriguing storylines to follow at the beginning of the season was the union of new HC Matt Lafleur and franchise QB Aaron Rodgers, so far the results have been good with the offence improving with every game.

In the early part of the season, it was the defence that was leading the team, DC Mike Pettine’s unit looking vastly improved from the previous year. Free agent signees Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have contributed hugely, added to standout corner Jaire Alexander and leading tackler in the NFL Blake Martinez, have led to a unit that may have conceded yards but has stood up when needed.

Given the injury suffered by leading receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers has entered one of his hot streaks at precisely the right time.

Rest of Season Outlook

The Packers look well set for a playoff run, time will tell whether it will take them all the way to Miami in February. With the head to head wins vs all their division opponents thus far, they are looking quite rosy to maybe even push for a wildcard round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4

*MINNESOTA VIKINGS*

Midseason grade: B

How has it gone so far?

Behind the leading rusher in the NFL in Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have bulldozed their way into the playoff discussion. Beyond this though, there has been some discord within the group, notably receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen expressing frustration with the offence. Kirk Cousins’ improved play of late has helped to quell these noises, with Diggs especially going on a tear of late to the tune of 453 receiving yards in the last 3 weeks. The defence has continued to perform at a high level throughout, with Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Eric Kendricks particularly impressing.

Rest of Season Outlook:

With the talent throughout on the defensive side of the ball, and if the offensive line can support Dalvin Cook, this team can compete with anyone. They’ll need continuing support from Kirk Cousins though, where for some, the questions remain. They’ll need to settle the score with the Packers in the return fixture and also negotiate a tough stretch immediately starting with the Chiefs and then the Cowboys. Negotiate that, they could look at a first round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 11-5



*DETROIT LIONS*

Midseason Grade: C

How has it gone so far?

The Lions have been competitive in every game this season and could easily find themselves right in the mix for a playoff spot. However, poor execution at crucial times have led to a middle of the pack record. They have lost late leads in 2 of their losses to the Chiefs and the Packers as well as in the tie with the Cardinals, with redzone inefficiency plaguing them in the Packers loss in particular.

There have been high spots for the team with QB Matthew Stafford having a very good year. Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson have also been playmakers this year before the latter’s injury, TJ Hockenson has hinted at what might be to come from the TE position too.

Perhaps surprisingly, given HC Matt Patricia’s pedigree, the defence has been the bigger issue. They have struggled especially against the run, where Mike Daniels’ injury has been especially problematic.

Quandre Diggs’ recent trade to Seattle has been met with scepticism too, depriving the back end of the defence with one of their key players.

Rest of Season Outlook

Judging by the 2 teams that preceeded them in this Half-Term report, it is probably a long shot that the Lions taste January football this year, but as a long term view, the Lions fans must be optimistic about some playoff football sooner rather than later. That being said, their schedule does not look too tough with games against Oakland, a double header vs the Bears along with tussles against the Broncos, Redskins and Buccaneers.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-7-1


*CHICAGO BEARS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The expected step forward for the Bears offence in the second year of HC Matt Nagy’s reign has yet to come to fruition. The offence currently ranks 27th in PPG, with both the run and pass games struggling to get out of second gear.

While QB Mitch Trubisky has yet to prove his pedigree as a starting calibre player at this level, playcalling has also been an issue at times. The coaches have seemed to go away from the run too early at times, placing too much pressure on the young signal caller. While Trubisky’s development is crucial to the future success of the Bears, at the moment the best chance of success would surely involve committing fully to the rungame and using Trubisky to take judicious shots downfield to keep the defences honest.

The defence is still performing at a very high level (if not quite the league leading unit of 2018), Mack, Trevathan, Floyd, Goldman, Clinton-Dix, Fuller et al are still a fearsome unit, although lineman Akiem Hicks is a big loss after his loss to IR following his elbow injury.

It wouldn’t be a Bears season without kicking troubles either, following Eddy Piniero’s potential game winning missed kick in week 8.

Rest of Season Outlook

While this team certainly could go on a run, they have a hard road back to the playoffs with games remaining against fellow NFC playoff hopefuls Eagles, Packers, Cowboys, Rams. Possibly the best case scenario for the Bears would be that week 17 at the Vikings ended up a playoff eliminator, they have a lot of work in front of them to get that far.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9

A future 17 game season?

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

The NFL prides itself on ensuring parity throughout the league (the Patriots’ constant presence at Championship games notwithstanding), one way the league tries to impose parity is through its schedule, which in theory provides easier fixtures for weaker teams from the previous year.

Outside of divisional games and a rotation of divisions from year to year, teams currently play their remaining games against the other teams in the conference that finished in the same position in the standings the previous season. This helps teams who struggled the year before to bounce back to competitiveness.


While parity is a goal for the NFL, another goal undoubtedly is to maximise revenues and this is where the idea of a 17 game season comes in. Glossing over the undoubted objections the NFLPA will have with the suggestion, how even would a 17 game schedule look?

An issue with the current construction of the schedule is the paucity of intra-conference games, this has lead to a situation where the NFL has generational talents competing against each other infrequently. Long serving legends of the game such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have only battled twice through their long careers, while Brady has come head to head with Peyton Manning a remarkable 17 times.

Adding an extra game to the season would allow the league’s schedule makers led by Senior Vice President Howard Katz a little more flexibility to make regular season ratings winners. Imagine the match ups, Mahomes-Wentz, Watson-Wilson, Jackson-Prescott. Surely, that will have network executives salivating at the incoming advertising revenues!


Get 10% off at NFL Europe Shop with code FULL10


The issue then becomes how to deal with the logistics of squeezing another game into the schedule, proponents of an extended regular season often talk of cutting down the preseason, given that starters play very limited snaps during camp, and most coaches say they learn more about their players in intra-squad competitive practices than in actual preseason action.

At the moment there is a 4 game preseason followed by a regular season of 16 games in 17 weeks, for any change to go beyond idle thought there would need to be significant ground given to players. While negotiations are ongoing for the new CBA, this would be the obvious time to start discussions about significant changes to playing conditions.

To add a game to the regular season, how about taking 2 games from the preseason. The league could mandate joint practices between teams (rather than the current system of friendly coaching staffs agreeing to them privately) to add some competitiveness to camp. This would also leave room in the schedule for a 2nd bye week, which would certainly go down well with players and safety chiefs. It would mean the regular season would consist of 17 games in 19 weeks without needing to take up more space in the calendar so playoffs would stay in January and the Super Bowl would stay in its now traditional spot in the first weekend of February.


A bye product of this restructure of the regular season could also help the NFL plans for international growth and further expansion. Currently 5 teams give up a home game to play on neutral venues in London and Mexico, causing frustration for fans of these teams, and could be seen as an area where the NFL lacks its desired parity.

The extended regular season could allow a fairer schedule of 8 home games, 8 away and 1 at a neutral site. This would allow for further expansion of the International Series without requiring a franchise to move in the short term. This would also mean the NFL would be able to develop fanbases in other territories; Germany, Brazil, Netherlands and even China have been mooted as potential sites for future International Series match ups. This could also allow the NFL to present games in US cities that have been marked as potential future bases for expansion franchises down the line, San Diego, Portland, Oakland, San Antonio, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Salt Lake City among others have all been mentioned as bases in the event of expansion.

Perhaps the NFL could test the water with one or two games each season.