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NFC (West) Championship Game: Can the Rams and McVay finally beat Shanahan and the 49ers in NFC’s biggest game?

2 teams remain in the NFC and they are two teams that know each other pretty well.

As well as being teams that are both in the top 3 of all time NFC Championship appearances (49ers 1st with 17, Rams 3rd with 11), they are two teams that watch twice as much (if not more) tape on each other every season, trying even harder to find a new wrinkle or a new way to outsmart one another. For Sean McVay it’s something in recent times he’s not been able to do against Kyle Shanahan.

The Rams have had a recent tough time of it against the 49ers in the Sean McVay era, after a promising first couple of years and for all of the plaudits Sean McVay has gotten in his 5 years and 136 games as the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Rams, including that video of his amazing recall of plays from yesteryears, it wont take too much racking of the brain for him to recall the pain experienced in his last 3 years against the 49ers.

SF 49ers vs. LA Rams: Sean McVay isn't better than Kyle Shanahan
Jayne Kamin-Oncea | Getty Images

Even more infuriating about his most recent defeat, a streak which is now 6 games deep, is that it wiped his perfect 45-0 record of winning games when winning at halftime, that was even with a 17-0 lead.

That win for the 49ers in week 18 was a main reason as to why they were even able to get into the postseason, so you could say they’ve only got themselves to blame that they face this matchup.

Let’s not make any bones about it, there are probably 15 other teams Sean McVay and the Rams would’ve rather seen in the NFC Title game than the 49ers.

But whilst that’s a decent subplot to this game, the main one has to be how the Quarterbacks have fared in this postseason. Matthew Stafford has trailblazed, demolishing the Buccaneers defence last week to the tune of 366 yards, 2 TDs, a rushing touchdown and a 121 quarterback rating. Makes a lot of difference playing for this offence compared to the Lions’ ones he took to the playoffs and lost on 3 occasions.

Kyle Shanahan Talks 49ers' Pursuit Of Matthew Stafford Trade Before Rams  Deal | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights
Marcio Jose Sanchez | Credit: AP

The Rams version of “Playoff Stafford” has come alive and is a far cry from the Stafford we saw in the final few weeks of the regular season; a trigger happy, interception machine. He’ll need to replicate the performance from the last 2 weeks rather than the 2 performances against the 49ers this year for the Rams to have a chance to come out victorious. That means utilising star WR and probable offensive player of the year and one of his best pals in Cooper Kupp.

Kupp pre-Stafford Rams has struggled vs the 49ers but this season under Stafford, has surpassed the century mark in receiving yards on both occasions and a touchdown, doubling his tally against them in his career. His low points this season in receptions and yardage is 5 and 61 respectively, lofty heights for any receiver and even Jerry Rice would probably be raising eyebrows at the season he has had.

On the other side, it’s been a case of Jimmy Garoppolo trying to remove his finger from the self destruct button. In the games against the Cowboys and Packers, fans would have been wincing most times he’s gone to throw the ball. In the last 4 consecutive games, he has thrown more interceptions than TD passes, including the last 2 games where he has not even thrown a TD pass. Considering you have the talent on the roster that the 49ers do in Samuel, Aiyuk and Kittle, it beggars belief that this is the case.

Yes, the 49ers are heavily committed to the run, play great defence and it often amazes how the 49ers are able to win games in spite of his at best average Quarteback play. It’s eerily similar to their Super Bowl run 2 years ago where you’ll recall the game against Green bay, where he only attempted 8 passes for 77 yards.

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo buoyed by support of teammates as NFC title game  approaches | The Japan Times
Tim Heitman | Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Garoppolo’s future is hanging in the balance with each snap taken in this post season and whilst even a Super Bowl may not be enough to prevent him from heading out the exit door of Levi’s Stadium, Head Coaches of teams needing a signal caller will possibly looking his way intriguingly and it’s absolutely plausible that he may even find himself out of a starting gig next season off the back of a Super Bowl win.

Whilst it’s more quantity over quality seemingly in the upcoming NFL draft at the Quarterback position, it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out for the handsome one because i cannot see him wanting to play second fiddle to Trey Lance, a Quarterback in which John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan invested a lot of draft capital in to take over the reins, many who’d have thought that he would have been in long ago.

So, what to make of this game?

Both teams have stellar defences, and that old cliche of “defence wins championships” will no doubt get another run out this weekend from Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the Fox commentary box, but in my opinion, it may actually come down to how different Sean McVay approaches this game and thus how well Stafford is afforded to make plays, capitalising on his recent purple patch.

It wont be easy as the bread and butter of the 49ers defence is being able to generate pressure with the juggernaut front 4, specifically defensive ends Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead. This allows the 49ers to drop more back in coverage, the highly talented Fred Warner and the rest of the linebackers to run downhill once the ball has been handed off to the opposing running back.
This 49ers defence is one that has limited 2 of the best offenses in the post season to 17 and 10 points and a team that has given up 30 points twice since the start of November.

However, the 49ers chink in the armour is that beatable secondary (provided you get enough time to look that far) and Stafford has enough weapons at his disposal to go for the jugular, as we saw last week against the Buccaneers.

Even outside of Cooper Kupp, who doesn’t need any introduction, Odell Beckham Jr is recapturing his best form and has found the endzone 6 times since his mid season move from the Browns. Tyler Higbee has been seeing increased workloads, seeing 38 targets over the last 4 games.

Talking of mid-season moves and recapturing old form, former Bronco Von Miller’s matchup against 49ers Right Tackle Tom Compton is going to be a key. Yes yes yes, I am aware Aaron Donald, one of the best, if not the best NFL player in the league is on the Rams line, but he gets the requisite treatment. Von Miller has recorded 6 straight games with a sack and although the week 18 game was the only time he has tasted defeat as a Ram, he seemingly has gotten his appetite back and is still putting the work in at the ripe old age of 32. Not a former Super Bowl MVP for nothing.

They and the other Rams defenders will be trying to clog up the well oiled 49ers running machine and Elijah Mitchell, one of the diamonds in the rough in the 6th round of last year’s draft is leading the charge.
He has more than stepped up (when healthy) replacing one of the 49ers’ captains in Raheem Mostert, and Mitchell in the process of doing so, broke the 49ers single-season franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie, accomplishing the feat in only 10 game appearances. Just shy of the 1,000 mark on 963, has also contributed a little through the air too on 137yards, 1 TD on 19 receptions.

The jewel in the crown for the 49ers is do-it-all superstar Deebo Samuel. Selected to his first pro bowl and also 1st team All-Pro, Deebo has exploded onto the NFL upper echelons of superstars and is box office each week. For the Niners it’s simple, get the ball in his hands, and Kyle Shanahan knows it.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan says Deebo Samuel will be 'out a while' after  injuring hamstring vs. Washington -
Icon Sportswire 

He’s an absolute nightmare to account for as he’ll lineup literally anywhere, even having snaps as a kick returner and also completing a pass against the Rams in week 18. No matter how he touches the ball, he’s been effective and then some, amassing 1770 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in the regular season.

Keeping him and Mitchell quiet seems like mission impossible, but even if they do, they can call upon Brandon Aiyuk who has stepped up in parts, George Kittle, who is harder to bring down than Boris Johnson which as we know is no mean feat.

In terms of a winner and predicting the NFC participant in the Super Bowl, if Stafford and McVay stay aggressive and Stafford stays hot, I think the Rams can win this one with their home comforts and play at home again in two weeks time. It wont be without a nail bitten here or there though as they try and get over the recent losing hump against the 49ers. It may well be up to Jimmy G to hand it to them on a plate when push comes to shove should a similar gamescript play out like it did in week 18.

Anything subpar or conservative from the Rams and the Jimmy G led 49ers will be in the 2nd Super Bowl in 3 years and the fascinating offseason storyline with him will start on Valentines day.

For me, the win streak and abilities of Kyle Shanahan and the efficiency of this 49ers team cannot be ignored. I’m taking the 49ers to win it and win it by a Robbie Gould Field Goal, Stafford throwing a heartbreak interception late in the 4th.

Prediction: San Francsico 49ers 26-24 Los Angeles Rams

Featured image: Creator: Michael Zagaris, Michael Zagaris | Credit: Getty Images

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Will the 49ers or the Cowboys be getting the Wildcard Weekend Slime on Sunday?

In probably the match of the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers travel to the NFC East champions, The Dallas Cowboys. A win for either team could open up a charge to the NFC title game but a loss could lead to huge questions marks for either Quarterback come Monday morning.

The 49ers are set to face the Cowboys for the first time in the postseason since the 1994 NFC Championship, San Francisco later winning Super Bowl XXIX. The teams have met 6 times in the NFC title game alone. Dallas leads the overall Head to Head 19-17-1, with San Francisco actually scoring more points in the series.

However, if a game between 2 of the most winning-est franchises in NFL playoff history, creating one of the most fiercest post season rivalries wasn’t enough, those of you that like alternative ways of watching the game will be delighted that this will be the game where you can choose to activate the slime once more as Nickelodeon’s cameras return after their inaugural appearance in the Bears @ Saints game last year and producing a somewhat intriguing alternative experience. Enter the Slime tank, where 82.5 gallons of customer made slime has been manufactured.

CBS Sports and Nickelodeon crew members shipped buckets of slime and a specially designed slime tank to AT&T Stadium ahead of the Cowboys vs. 49ers wild-card game.

The Dallas players have said that they will allow Nickelodeon to slime them after the game, should they be victorious. They’ll be hoping that this is the case rather than the potential slime left on their faces, should they taste defeat.

Let’s start with the home team and NFC East champs, the Dak Prescott led Cowboys. Prescott, seemingly a shoo in for Comeback Player of the Year (sorry Bengals and Joe Burrow fans) has rebounded more than adequately from his gruesome ankle injury suffered in week 5 of 2020. But it’s in the post season in which Cowboys fans and Jerry Jones alike will want to see him earn every single one of his $160m dollars from the contract signed almost a year ago.

To date, the Cowboys’ signal caller has not fared that well in the post season. Just the solitary win against the Seahawks in 2018 sandwiched between losses to the Packers and the Rams. At times, Prescott has been a bit off in his passing this season and can perhaps feel slightly more fortunate he didnt have more than the 10 interceptions so far on his record sheet this season. This has led to games where the offence has stuttered with no real obvious reason as to why, kind of like a beautiful car with an enginge that has a mind of its own – usually it’ll start up, rev and away she effortlessly goes. But in games like the Arizona and Denver ones, for some reason, the engine just doesn’t seem to start.

As it has been for the past few years and is the case in general in the NFL, if Dallas’ offensive line is healthy and operating at the high level they know they can play, Dak Prescott will carve up any opposing defence. The case is true here too as the 49ers boast one of the best rushing attacks on the defensive side of the ball with Nick Bosa et al. ferocious in style which has seen them tied for 5th with 48 sacks on the season. Impressive when you consider their blitz rate of just 19.8% is 4th least this year in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Tyron Smith and Zack Martin will have to play to their future Hall of Fame best to nullify the onslaught of Bosa, Key and Armstead who have accounted for 28 of those sacks and have totaled 60 QB hits. It will take a joint effort along the offensive line, who love to see yellow laundry on the field, with Dallas being one of the most penalised teams on offence. Continue that trend in this game, giving Dak and Kellen Moore a lot to do in 2nd or 3rd and long situations, may lead to a continuation of the sack and QB hit rate of those 49ers pass rushers.

If Dak is upright for the majority of this game, he should take advantage of a beatable secondary and their quick strike ability will be key, especially if they get behind. He has 3 stellar receivers waiting to catch the ball, even with the injury of Michael Gallup. CeeDee Lamb, the only Cowboy to surpass 1,000 yards through the air this season, seems to have done it fairly quietly, especially when you take into account that he has only had 3 100 yard games, the last of those coming in week 8. A somewhat bereft Amari Cooper has hopefully been somewhat appeased by the targets and attention he has been receiving after a recent interview indicated he was unhappy at the amount of workload he was carrying in this offence. He’s seen 37 targets in the last 5 games but outside of a few touchdowns, he’s not really done much with them although half of his receptions in those games were good enough for 1st downs (12/22). Cedrick Wilson has been a bit more flashy and noticeable and has more than adequately filled the void left behind whichever receiver had a knock this season.

Add in the reliable and joint top receiving TD scorer Dalton Schultz into the mix (Blake Jarwin is also back healthy), and you have yourself a fully loaded offence. The question is going to be whether the 49ers will allow Dak to pull the trigger enough times.

In the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott clearly isn’t the force of old and goes up against a stingy 49ers run defence. Tony Pollard has had that bit of X factor about him, but has been dealing with a plantar fascia problem the last month. Both of them have amassed almost 2,500 yards of scrimmage yards between, Elliott able to achieve his 4th 1,000 rushing season against the backups of Philadelphia in Week 18 (his two “failed season saw him gain 983 and 979 yards). If healthy enough, expect pollard to be utilised on outside runs/Jet sweeps/screens and the more creative plays to try and exploit his explosiveness he has shown at various points this season.

Moving over to the visitors and you would have probably been shipped off in a straightjacket if you would have suggested at the start of the season the Mr Handsome Jimmy Garoppolo would be still starting for this team at this point of the year. Their #3 overall 1st round Draft Pick Trey lance has flirted with the first team but Kyle Shanahan has stuck to his word and kept his faith in the guy that got him to a Super Bowl just a few years ago.

Despite the uncertainty of his future (has a very low dead cap cost to the 49ers), Garoppolo led some excellent drives in their week 18 game against the Rams to even give the 49ers a chance in the psot season, which must be applauded when most seem to take every chance to belittle him and his capabilities.

Clearly he does not have the abilities or powers of the other powerhouse QBs in the league or even that of the one he faces on Sunday, but Jimmy G does “fit” in this team and the way that they play. He is never going to be the star that shines the brightest and he is never going to get the 1st place ribbon when it comes to MVPs on this team, but he does enough to give this team a chance and just simply does what is asked as and when it is.

He’s posted similar numbers to 2019, the year in which they were the bridesmaids in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and to be honest, not a great deal has changed between now and then.

Deebo Samuel is balling out, the 49ers continue to be one of the best rushing teams in the league and their defence helps them win a lot of games and yes, they continue to have more than their fair share of injuries.

Deebo Samuel likely to miss some regular-season games
Sam Greenwood/Getty

Talking of Deebo Samuel, perhaps one of the most exciting players to watch in 2021, has burst into the limelight, with more touches than his first 2 season combined, has exploded for over 1700 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns and made many a Fantasy Football champion for sure.

He is clearly the key cog in the 49ers machine, with the point of emphasis is getting the ball in Deebo’s hands in space and then watching poetry in motion.

He, along with Elijah Mitchell who has grabbed the opportunities that have come his way with Raheem Mostert’s injury in week 1, have been the heavy lifters of this offence, accounted for nearly 3,000 scrimmage yards.

He ended up just shy of the 1,000 yard season on the ground, but only appeared in 11 games this season and has kept Trey Sermon sitting and keeping the sideline bench warm. He could have another big game if Dallas continues to be over-zealousness on their defence, which has led to some gaping holes to be run through and exploited for huge chunk plays.

The supporting cast (if we can call them that) of Brandon Aiyuk, who has popped up when he has been needed late in the saeson after a shaky start, along with star Tight End George Kittle, who himself has had the injury niggle or two this season, will give Dallas’ defence more than their share of concern due to the creativity but also execution of each and every single play called from the meticulous Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers and Cowboys are each one of four teams with three players to record 800-plus receiving yards and five-plus receiving touchdowns in 2021 means that there is a lot of talent (and possibly slime) on show and this shapes up to be a Wildcard game for the ages.

All things being equal, Dallas should win and possibly set up a trip to Green Bay which has a whoole lot of history ready to be rammed down our throats but will have to be near their best to get the job done. Any slip ups and San Francisco will more than happily boot down the door and take the opportunities given to them from the Cowboys.

Jimmy Garoppolo simply has to not make any silly mistakes and giving Dallas free possession in order for San Francisco to have more than a decent shot at taking the spoils here. Against an opportunistic defence that preys on mistakes and turnovers, the 49ers will rely on Samuel and the run game to try and grind Dallas down and force them into chasing the game and possibly into a mistake forced by their pass rush. It will be interesting to see how Dallas try to nullify the run game, something in which they have struggled with this season and also whether they try and cancel out Deebo Samuel completely. Easier said than done.

Cowboys Micah Parsons will run away with Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The deployment of Micah Parsons in this one will also be interesting to watch. the Rookie, selected as an All-Pro on defence this year has been a playmaker for the majority of the season. I wonder if they man mark him with Deebo Samuel on plays where he is in the backfield and what ratio they have him dialing in on the QB to force a turnover (has 30 QB hits on the year and 13 sacks) or to help contain Samuel/Mitchell on outside/zone runs.

One thing is for sure, the health of Trent Williams will be crucial for the 49ers (has put in a full practice this week and looks good to go). He is the headline amongst one of the better offensive lines in the league. the Dallas defensive line rotation, which has served them well thus far allowing them to record the 4th most pressures on opposing QBs, will need to continue that vein of form to help create those potential turnovers for Trevon Diggs and the rest of the secondary. If they don’t get to Garoppolo, Diggs could be the source of joy if the 9ers go a bit more vertical, Diggs more than susceptible to giving up huge plays and yardage, especially on double move routes. He has given up 907 yards thus far and 16.8yards per completion from 54 completions allowed, a heavy price to pay for his 11 interceptions.

In a game that may come down to the odd decision or two, we have to talk about the head coaching: 49ers fans will back their HC all day long over Mike McCarthy, who stills seems to be missing the beat somewhat at the Head coaching position after his short stint away after his Green Bay days. There are still a lot of people disillusioned at Mike McCarthy 2.0 including myself and feel like he just likes to get in his own way at times. We all know what Kyle Shanahan brings with this 49ers team including their identity. The fact they continue to produce week in week out when you know what’s coming is the hallmark of a really really good team. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to a coaching decision or a play call, especially if you are a Dallas fan (not to mention Robbie Gould is head and shoulders above a shaky leg from Greg).

Some final nuggets for you to chew on ahead of the game:

The 49ers are the best ranked team statistically in the redzone (Dallas ranks 6th), meaning once they get there, they are likely to score. Whereas Dallas are one of the best on 3rd down conversions given up on defence, meaning they get off the field more often if getting the opposition on 3rd down. Dallas’ defence ranks top 6 on defence in average plays, points, yards and time given up, with their offence ranking 1st in points scored and yards gained. The magic number for the 49ers is 30, because whenever Dallas have given up that many points on defence they’ve lost the game this season (3 times)

Prediction: Dallas 35 – San Francisco 31

In what sets up to be a classic, Dallas’s oft opportune defence is just begging Jimmy Garoppolo to make a mistake. I get the sense that San Francisco will start the faster and score the first touchdown and lead for the majority but I think a turnover in some way from the 49ers QB late in the 3rd/early 4th quarter will help Dallas get over the line with a clutch last drive from Dallas. Both teams can be happy with the health of their teams going into this one, which is all one can ask for. It will be close, it may come down to the last kick or throw of the game, which will be great for the neutrals.

May the best team get slimed!

Keys to the game:

  • Dallas Tackles vs Nick Bosa,
  • Micah Parsons deployment,
  • Jimmy Garoppolo turnover watch.
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Friday Night Fallout: Draft Trades

On Friday 26th March the 2021 NFL Draft underwent some pretty sizable changes, just as we were all finishing work and settling into our weekend, BAM, Adam Schefter did what Adam Schefter does, and dropped some huge news about the NFL Draft and more specifically a huge trade between the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers.

The Dolphins traded the 3rd overall pick to 49ers for the 12th overall pick, a 2021 third-round pick (the compensatory pick for Robert Saleh’s hiring) and first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023.

Miami’s third overall pick was always going to be up for auction and it did feel as if it was a care of when and not if the pick was dealt. Well, John Lynch and the 49ers front office got the job done – Much to probable dismay to the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, who were well and truly in the hunt, and probably still are, for a quarterback.

The drama still wasn’t over – Less than 30 minutes later, the Dolphins were at the centre of another trade!

This time they were moving back up, sending the 12th and 123rd overall picks this year as well as a 2022 first-round pick to Philadelphia, in order to acquire the 6th and 156th picks for next month’s draft.

The takes then began to fly in the group chat… So what did we think about these trades and how are they going to affect the draft?

Lee, Raj, Sean and Logan give you their takes below.

What does this mean for the 49ers?

Lee – The 49ers have said that Garoppolo is “their guy”. San Francisco have also said they are “good” with whichever QB drops to them at 3.

I believe the former to be front office speak and the latter to be academic.

Trevor Lawrence is all but a Jacksonville Jaguar and all the signs point to Zach Wilson being the apple of the Jet’s eye.

So it’s down to Justin Fields and Trey Lance for the 3rd overall selection.

Personally I feel like Justin Fields is the better and also the safer choice. He’s played at a higher level, for longer and whilst athletically, both Lance and Fields would be fantastic in Shanahan’s offense – Imagine a super athletic runner in Shanahan’s counter based running scheme – I do feel that Fields is the better player now and in future.

Perhaps Garoppolo can babysit Fields for half a season before the rookie takes over? $1.4 deadcap in 2022 doesn’t offer the former Patriot much protection from a contractual standpoint.

Sean – At #12, the Niners were never in the running for their future QB but now they’re right in the thick of it. And that has to be their plan; you don’t give up a king’s ransom for anyone other than a quarterback. Assuming the first two picks are Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the Niners will have their pick of Justin Fields or Trey Lance. Smarter people than me can say who would be a better fit for Shanahan’s system – I think the big-armed, athletic Fields might just be the prize here – but either way, it seems the writing’s on the wall for the incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers have been at pains to say Jimmy G is their QB1 but even if he starts the campaign as their guy, who knows whether he’ll finish it. (What price a return to the Patriots?)

Raj – The Niners are in their Super Bowl window, and they believe they are a QB away from being back at the top table. After seeing the Rams upgrade their QB room, Murray ascending in Year 2 and Wilson continually performing as a top 10 QB, Lynch and Shanahan felt now was the time to strike; and by trading to 3 allows them to do this. My belief is Fields will be the next QB in San Fran; Shanahan has already experienced coaching Fields at a QB camp a few years back, so the familiarity is there. By not giving up any further 2021 picks for the trade, that is also a big win for the 49ers. With Bosa, Kittle et al returning next year, and with Shanahan being able to mould the new young QB to fit in with his famous run based scheme, don’t be surprised to see the 49ers deep in the playoffs next year. 

Logan – The 49ers move all but confirms they are ready to give Jimmy G a fire under his belt to do better. “Jimmy is here to stay” is coach speak for “we couldn’t find a team who was willing to trade for him”. The 49ers could cut Jimmy next year for a whopping $1.4 million in dead cap money. Kyle Shanahan ready to have his chance to groom his “young” QB of the future, which could make Jimmy G a back up once again in the NFL

What does this mean for the Dolphins?

Raj – 24 hours have passed, and overall I’m happy with how things have turned out; however there is a tinge of wanting more. I’m surprised no additional 2021 picks were accumulated such as a SF 2nd rounder, however overall the moves made give the Dolphins flexibility for at least the next 3 years. Flexibility to pick the top passer in this year’s draft, flexibility to pursue an alternate QB next year should Tua not be the answer or the flexibility to build around Tua should he prove to be the QB answer in South Beach (e.g a Diggs style trade by Buffalo last year). Now the Dolphins have the ammunition, it’s important to hit on the picks otherwise the process of accumulation would have gone to waste. Pitts and Najee would be just fine for round 1 😊. 

Sean – The multi-deal mayhem took Miami out of the mix and then back into it 30 minutes later, settling at #6 and gaining draft picks to boot. Knowing that the first three teams will be courting QBs (maybe even the top four for the first time ever), the Fins can safely assume they’ll still be able to snare a valuable piece to help Tua succeed next year. It’ll be one of OT Penei Sewell, LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase or tight end freakazoid Kyle Pitts – basically whoever’s left after the Bengals have had their turn. My guess is the TE phenomenon Pitts, as he’s the least likely pick for Cincy. Dropping three spots, increasing draft collateral and still landing an elite talent looks like great business to me. Nicely played.

Lee – Let me just say, Chris Grier turning Laremy Tunsil into 4 first-round picks is absolute genius.

The end result of this Friday night’s shuffle in the draft order is that the Dolphins now hold the 6th and 18th picks and a further two top 50 selections.

If I were Grier and Brian Flores, I’d look to beef up the offense early to give Tua Tagovailoa a real shot in 2021. I’d be targeting Kyle Pitts at 6, Najee Harris at 18 and an offensive lineman at 36. Pitts is a game-changing mixture of size and speed and Harris gives them an elite runner who can also be a factor in the passing game. Combine those with a competent offensive line, Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker and Preston Williams and I feel that the offense could be nigh on unguardable because of the size and athleticism available. Spread it out and to force the defense in dime and either throw it to any of those receivers, or watch Najee run against super light boxes with mainly defensive backs to stop him.

Logan – The Dolphins are sticking with Tua as being the QB for the future with the transactions made Friday.  Brian Flores is going to build around Tua, with Kyle Pitts. Pitts is coming off an outstanding season with 12 touchdowns on the year. How many passing touchdowns did Tua have last year….11? Sure, he played half the season, but Carson Wentz had 16 In half a season and ended up traded. I think a new red zone target will boost this offense along with the new wideout Will Fuller joining the team this off-season. A second consideration is trading down again to pick 15, at the Patriots, securing even more capital for the future and having pick 15 and 18 grabbing two skill players.

Photo Credit – Associated Press

What does this mean for the Eagles?

Sean – Unlike the Niners and Miami, the Eagles are more of a long-term rebuild project. That’s why moving back to #12 and gathering more chips to play with – this year and next – makes sense. Sliding down the pecking order does limit Philly’s options a little but assuming they’re after a wideout, as many predict, they should still be able to snap up one of the Alabama two, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, as non-QBs slide out of the top 10. With Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco, the QB room looks sorted so dropping down a few places for the chance to pick up more pieces should benefit them in the long run.

Logan – At 12th overall the Eagles are in the “get your guy” spot unless… a QB is on the board. They will have 10 minutes to decide on that pick if that is the QB, a rookie they want to add to the young Jalen Hurts and seasoned Joe Flacco or trade down to New England to allow them to get a QB and get a skill player 3 picks later at 15. . What should the Eagles do? Get the 2nd best wide receiver of this class, Jaylen Waddle,  and pair him with Jalen and watch the magic unfold.

Lee – The Eagles have made an underrated move by sliding back a few spots to acquire another first-round pick next year, which feasibly could give them three first-round picks next year. When your team is in rebuilding mode, this is never a bad thing – Just ask the Dolphins!

In terms of this year, most had the Eagles pegged to select a receiver to give Jalen Hurts another target to throw to. That really shouldn’t change too much despite Philly moving back six spots.

With the rush on quarterbacks in the top 10, some great players have to slide, which will include receivers.

Let’s say four QBs go before 12, plus Kyle Pitts and Penei Sewell also get taken. That means there are now 5 teams left to pick in the top 11 and the Big 3 are still there. Even if Miami takes one at 6, the Panthers, Broncos, Cowboys and Giants either have good receivers already or bigger needs early in the first round. Detroit probably takes a receiver at 7 but even so, simple math dictates that the Eagles are left with one of DeVonta Smith, Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle.

Nice business.

Raj – The Eagles let the cat out the hat yesterday, it was Zach Wilson or nothing. They were QB hunting, but having the intel that Wilson was not going beyond 2, they decided to give Hurts the keys to the QB room for 2021. Philly knows this is a long term project, and with the ammunition of potentially 3 1st rounders in 2022, if Hurts isn’t the answer they have all the wiggle room to do whatever they want at QB. In the meantime, there are many holes they can fill in their ageing and depleted roster; and 12 allows them to be in play for one of the top CBs, Parsons or even a pass catcher falling out the top 10. And in 2022, who knows, a certain Deshaun Watson could be someone to perk Roseman’s QB search. 

What does this mean for the league and draft as a whole?

Logan – QB’s will go early in this year’s draft, presumably with 4 of the top 5 picks (Jaguars, Jets, 49ers, Atlanta), leaving Bengals the big winners of this presumably taking the 1st player beside outside of a QB thanks to the 2020 draft drafting Joe Burrow. As a fantasy player, I’m curious if Jaylen Waddle or Najee Harris go first or could they end up together on the Dolphins as they have picks 6 and 18?

Raj – The draft now starts at 4 and the ramifications of what the Falcons do affects the rest of the draft. Do they draft Ryan’s replacement, do they dare to trade inter division with Carolina, do they trade to a Denver or New England to make sure Carolina doesn’t get their QB or do they draft the best player available. What they ultimately do decides the strategy of a number of teams in behind, and don’t be surprised if there isn’t another blockbuster move taking place either before or on draft day. 

Sean – Pondering the ramifications of Friday’s shenanigans, it seems like the value of Atlanta’s fourth pick and Cincinnati’s fifth spot went up, as the sweet spot for picking either Fields or Lance (coud that actually be the Falcons’ intention?), or for selecting the first non-QB in the draft. In contrast, the Panthers (#8) and Broncos (#9) took the biggest blows, forcing them to trade up as well if they want to get their hands on anything but the scraps left over from the quarterback feeding frenzy. Maybe one of them could package up a deal to tempt the Falcons, Bengals or even the Dolphins (again), depending on the first names to come off the board? Then again, it may just be a case of c’est la vie and grab a top receiver or corner instead. One thing’s for sure, though: just when it felt like we had a sense of how Day 1 might pan out, someone shuffled the pack and we have to reassess everything. 

Lee – On one hand, I feel like this makes the first round less interesting due to the fact that I feel like we know the first three names that will be called, the shock for me would be that the Niners take Lance. However, as above, I don’t see it being out of the realms of possibility.

A winner not mentioned above is Atlanta because the price of their 4th overall pick just went up and there are still a number of QB needy teams out there. So unless the sands shift again prior to April 29th, the draft starts at 4.

On the other hand, outside of the QB run, the teams slated to pick from 5 to 15 could be winners too as non-quarterback talent is sure to slide down the board as teams scramble for their next signal caller. So it’ll be interesting to see where those high-end players are selected and as a fan of a team picking in the top 15, that makes round one more exciting!

Looking ahead, the events of Friday evening and the ripples from these trades will be felt for years to come.

Drop the guys a follow:

Lee Wakefield – @Wakefield90, Raj Garcha – The_Garch, Sean Tyler – @SeanTylerUK & Logan Brown – @Loganbrown0805

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NFL Week 16 Sky Sports TV Preview

Xmas football is here! Just 2 weeks left of the regular season before we separate the men from the boys. Yet another feast of action provided by SkySports this weekend including a Christmas Day game and 3 on Boxing day. So get your mince pies in your hands as you peruse through the games. Use the handy menu below to choose your game!

Merry Christmas to everyone and hope that it is as good as it can be considering the year we have had, but thankfully the NFL is here to keep us company if you can’t be with those that you intended to be with.

| MIN @ NO | TB @ DET | SF @ ARI | MIA @ LVR | IND @ PIT | LAR @ SEA | TEN @ GB | BUF @ NE |

Xmas Day 9.30pm – Vikings @ Saints

You have to wonder how much stuffing has been knocked out of the Vikings after their loss against divisional rivals Chicago. They have conceded an average of 28 points over the last few games and take on a Saints team on a 2 game losing streak but should have a as healthy as can be Drew Brees under center.

Personally, I feel that Drew Brees came back too early but considering the position the Saints are in, I can understand why. currently the #2 seed, chasing the Packers and had Kansas coming to town, totally get why they brought back the future hall of famer, even if it was a bit hastily.

He’ll have a better time of it against the Vikings but it isn’t a fixture thay’ve had too much success in, with Minneosta leading the all time series 23-12 and winning 3 of the last 4 (who can forget the Minneapolis Miracle).

Brees will have to do it without Michael Thomas who landed on IR so that he can as fit as possible for the playoff and try and rekindle that partnership on the field in the post season with the Saints guaranteed to be there. The Saints (10-4) still need to win one of their two remaining games to clinch the division and the Buccaneers are making a late charge, only one game back.

Alvin Kamara likely to return for Saints Sunday | Vols Wire
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Kamara has had far from a vintage year and you have to go back to week 6 since he had his last 100yard scrimmage game and the recent switch at QB and an under par Brees and missing Michael Thomas has played its part in that. That being said, he is still the leading rusher AND receiver on the team so expect similar outputs from him here against a Vikings defence that ranks 23rd against the rush and 24th against the pass in terms of yardage.

The Saints defence has come to play and is getting better as the season goes on. Their 32 points conceded against the Chiefs, which is no embarrassment at all, was the first time they conceded 30 plus since week 5. Since their week 6 bye, they have limited opposing offence to under 14 points 4/9 times and under 300 yards of total offence 5 times.

Led by leading team sacker Trey Hendrickson, who was able to be more than a nuisance for Patrick Mahomes last week, will look to add to his current 12.5 sack total on the year. Fellow Defensive end and partner in crime Cameron Jordan, whilst not having his best year has still been able to notch 6.5 sacks and are a good pass-rushing duo that Kirk Cousins will no enjoy getting to know this Xmas.

For Minnesota, despite being the 9th seed currently, are all but out of it by name being 2 games behind Arizona and also now behind Chicago in the tie-breaking ranks.

Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson developing into complete receiver
John Autey

They’ll look to play spoiler here and they do have the talent on offence to score the points and star rookie WR, who earned a pro Bowl nod (for what it’s worth) this week, will continue to add to his 1182 yards and 7 Touchdown dances this season. A perfect compliment to Jefferson is Adam Thielen who has gotten the Touchdowns and redzone looks, if not the yardage and has 13 TDs and just a few ticks under 800 receiving yards this season.

This team is a run first offence though as Dalvin Cook, also a Pro Bowler for 2020, will look to find the endzone against a Saints defence giving up the fewest amount of rushing scores. that being said, he did find the endzone against Chicago who are also a top 5 stingy team when it comes to scores on the ground. Cook has mustered 8 games with over 100 rushing yards this season and has scored in all but 3 games.

For Minnesota to have any chance, they’ll have to be clean in the turnovers battle, a metric that Saints rank 6th (+6 turnover differential) compared to the Vikings lowly 23rd (-5).

Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

I can’t see anything but a Saints victory here against a Vikings team that only has pride to play for now. That being said, if Brees is no better than he was last week, they could struggle but considering how dominant the defence has become since their bye (Kansas game aside), they could bail the offence out anyway. Saints should cover the 7 points that the bookies have handicapped them and I feel the total points line of 51 is too high.

Saints 27 – 17 Vikings

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Boxing Day 6pm – Buccaneers @ Lions

Brady and the Bucs struggled to get going in the first half against the Falcons, but they got out of jail because they were playing the Falcons.

They remain a game back from the Saints who are far from guaranteed win either of their remaining games in the division but they also sit level with the Rams at 9-5 and they’ll at least want that #5 seed which is a trip to play the NFC East winner, so essentially a bye in the Wildcard round in January. As the Rams are facing the Seahawks, a win for the Bucs in this one likely lifts them into that 5th spot regardless of the NFC West battle result.

Tom Brady roasts Tony Dungy on Twitter over QB rankings
Kevin C. Cox / Getty

So how good has Tom Brady been this year? Well stat wise, it’s in keeping with most of his years. Consistent, if not spectacular. A win in either of his last 2 games will continue his streak of double digit wins in the regular season, with 2002 the ONLY season he won less than 10 games as a starter and that includes a 11-1 season (due to suspension) in 2016. It’s fair to say the Belichick vs Brady debate clearly is a battle that Brady has won this year. You can still tell that he has the fire in his belly after his riposte to Tony Dungy on Twitter when he ranked him as his 6th hardest QB to play against.

It helps when you have players like Mike Evans, Anotnio Brown and Chris Godwin catching balls for you. Evans, who paces the Bucs with just 779 receiving yards, epitomises what Brady has done this year, which is spread the love around. 5 receivers have over 30 receptions and all have over 300 yards and there are 10 different players that have caught a receiving touchdown off the future Hall of Famer.

Leonard Fournette, with 2 TDs last week will continue in place of Ronald Jones, who will continue on IR but this is a pass first offence who rank in the top quarter of most passing metrics including yardage, Touchdowns and points.

They face a Lions team that are 1-5 at home and a defence which rank in the bottom 5 in most metrics in either passing, rushing or total defence including a league worst 31.1 pts per game given up so should be able to do what they want, when they want.

Whilst there are points giving up on defence, on offence, they are able to score too so signs point to a potentially high scoring game. Matthew Stafford doesn’t seem as though he’ll miss this game despite having multiple injuries including a back injury, a consequence of trying to carry this team for years.

Matthew Stafford questionable vs. Titans | Yardbarker
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The same can’t be said for Golladay who clearly has some serious hip issues that have kept him out for the majority of the season. Marvin Jones has rolled back the years somewhat over the past few weeks, with 2 TDs and 276 yards in his last 3 games. Like he did in New England, Mo Sanu has made a decently positive impact in his first few weeks for the Lions and will look to continue his part in the last 2 weeks.

The team’s main target hog who fumbled last week, TJ Hockenson, will look to get back on track and add to his 6 TDs on the season, which has seen him earn a Pro Bowl nod (though Evan Engram did also, so whether we can use Pro Bowl as an achievement is very much debatable).

Stafford an Co. take on a Bucs defence that has seemed to have been more frivolous in recent weeks, allowing at least 4 scores (TD/FG) in 6 of it’s last 7 games (would have been 7/7 if not for Dan Bailey) and have been picked apart through the air all season giving up an average of 255 yards.

Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Hard to see anything other than an away day victory for the Bucs on “Bucsing Day” (sorry). The 9.5pt handicap line indicates a tough day for the Lions, which would be in keeping with their defensive performances throughout this season. I’d probably fancy the Bucs to win by double digits.

The Bucs defence has gotten into the Xmas giving spirit too though and the total points line of 54 appeals on taking the over.

Buccaneers 38 – 24 Lions

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Boxing Day, 9:30pm – 49ers @ Cardinals

It’s Christmas, and on Boxing Day we get served up two tasty match-ups to enjoy after everyone has eaten approximately 781kg of turkey & stuffing. The evening game sees a depleted San Francisco team, hobbling to the end of the season at this point, visit State Farm Stadium to play the Cardinals. Is this now a home game for San Francisco? As they’re temporarily playing out of State Farm? Should they not choose a neutral venue? Sod it, send them both to Wembley. Not much going on there right now…

Okay, okay, London is a long way from the West coast. I get it. If this had been the reverse game it would have been very interesting, especially seeing as Arizona is currently allowing some fans into the games. Not much of a home game for SF? Focusing on the game, San Francisco comes into this one beaten down and hurting from their extensive injury list this campaign. Jimmy G is still on IR and according to reports isn’t expected to return again this season. Fans have to be wondering if he can be relied on moving forward from here. Since tearing his ACL after 3 games of the 2018 season, he will now have missed 23 games from a possible 45 (assuming he doesn’t start again in 2020). Could he have played his last game in a 49ers uniform? The bad news doesn’t end there either, with Nick Mullens also headed to IR after elbow surgery this week. The end of the season can’t come soon enough for Kyle Shanahan.

Jimmy Garoppolo
Charlie Riedel/AP

However, defensively San Francisco might actually be able to put up a bit of a fight. They currently have the 5th-best ranked defence in the NFL in total yards allowed, they are also 4th in the NFL when it comes to passing yards allowed (2,938). The 49ers secondary is looking good and if they can pressure Murray into quick first and second read throws, they might be able to create some turnovers and hand their offence a short starting field position, which will certainly help given the boat load of injuries they have on that side of the ball. They will have to rely on their secondary as their pass-rush just isn’t getting it done. With Ezekiel Ansah and Dee Ford both on IR, San Francisco aren’t getting the sacks to try and pressure opposing offences. They only have 25 sacks this season, which is almost half that of the league leaders (Pittsburgh – 47).

Arizona come into this game on the back of the game of the week versus Philadelphia. A shoot-out between the two ex-Ohio State QBs ended in a narrow victory for Kyler Murray. He threw over 400 yards in the process with 3 scores, but had some real ‘interesting’ moments. The interception throw straight into the arms of Eagles safety Marcus Epps was puzzling to say the least. Murray obviously still has plenty time to improve, he’s only in his sophomore season in the league and with one more win will lead Arizona to their first winning season since 2015. He’s also on the brink of a milestone; he needs a further 363 passing yards to reach 4,000, and 259 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season respectively. One would imagine he will fall short of the rushing total, but its a monumental effort – note that no QB has ever done that before, showing how difficult it is to achieve.

Getty Images

Kyler’s youthfulness was bailed out a couple of times from some truly incredibly catches by his receivers. The DeAndre Hopkins catch pictured above was eventually the game-winning score, and just a truly mesmerising display of athleticism. He ended up one handing that catch down to the ground. Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also caught a wonderful low pass at the back of the end zone, making it 255 games in a row that he has caught a pass. A absolutely mesmerising statistic – he’s only missed 8 games in 16 seasons in the league.

On the ground Arizona should be a dominant force too. They are 4th in the league in rushing yards – averaging 147.8 per game with 4.8 yards per attempt average (T-7th). Murray’s elusiveness will prove tricky for the 49ers defensive line and pass rushers, if he can get out of the pocket and run the ball on either designed runs or RPOs, Arizona could have some success but they shouldn’t expect a walk in the park against the 7th ranked rush defence in the league (104.4 yards per game).

On the face of things, this Arizona defence should have an easier time of things if Garoppolo isn’t playing and CJ Beathard gets the start. San Francisco are also still without star RB Raheem Mostert, not making their attack on the ground much more formidable than the one in the air. However, there is no such thing as an easy game in the NFL and just 4 weeks ago the 49ers pulled off an upset win against the Los Angeles Rams. Haason Reddick and co should be licking their lips with a chance to get to the top of the sacks table. Arizona has 43 on the season, only 4 away from the league leaders. If he can have another 5-sack game like he did in week 14, I can’t imagine SF will be leaving (or staying in) Arizona with the W.

Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

Writer’s Pick (Steve Tough – @SteTough)

Despite some real hearty performances from San Francisco this season in the face of absolutely horrible injury luck, I just don’t think they have enough to overcome Arizona. Kyler Murray is coming off a 400+ yard passing game and will be looking to add to that total. DeAndre Hopkins also leads the league in receiving yards with 1,324 and will be looking to take that crown for the first time in his career. It will be interesting to see if the San Francisco defence can enjoy the same success that Philadelphia did against Arizona, if they can, this game could be closer than most anticipate it will.

San Francisco 10 – 27 Arizona

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Saturday, 1.15am Dolphins @ Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders will hope that quarterback Derek Carr can return for Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins, as the Silver and Black look to pursue very narrow play-off dreams entering Week 16.

Carr, who left the defeat to the LA Chargers with a suspected groin injury last week, has split time in practice with Marcus Mariota, who looked ultra-capable when he came in to cover for Carr in Week 15, despite the over-time loss to Justin Herbert.

The loss marked a fourth crushing defeat from the last five games, the only win coming in that last gasp deep-ball win over the New York Jets, a run that has seen them slip from play-off consideration to holding on for dear life at 7-7.

A win over the Dolphins who sit at 9-5 would at least give them a shot going into Week 17 should other results go their way, but the miserable season collapse has paid way to them deciding their own destiny for 2020/21.

Josh Jacobs ran for 76 yards and a touchdown last Saturday which looked impressive when partnered with the 88 yards from Mariota but averaging just 2.9 yards a carry and without a 100-yard rushing game in four attempts is a worrying trend for the young starlet.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The offence will be aided should Carr return, especially with tight-end Darren Waller continuing to play at an exceptional level as the second best tight-end in the league behind the incomparable Travis Kelce.

The former-receiver notched 150 yards and a magnificent looking deep score as he approaches the 1000 yard mark with two remaining games to go on the season.

Defensively, the Raiders may also be boosted by the return of safety, Jonathan Abrams who has practiced all week, and they might need the help as they continue to shift big yards against all most everybody they face.

Corner Trayvon Muller had a particularly tough outing against the Chargers, as they gave up 314 yards through the air to rookie Herbert and now rank 7th worst in passing yards allowed on the year and 6.0 yards per play on the season, which is 5th most and in competition with some of the worst defences in the league.

On the other side of that scale however is the Miami Dolphins constricting defensive unit who held the New England Patriots to just 12 points in a victory over their division rivals in Week 15.

The group was also coming off the back of a game in which they picked off Patrick Mahomes on three occasions, as the high-paid cornerback combination of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones prove their value to this defence first set up that Brian Flores has built.

The group has been under pressure to perform throughout the year, as rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa attempts to find his feet in the NFL before they potentially reach the play-offs for the first time since Adam Gase.

Credit by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

The Alabama-alumni has shown glimpses of what made him the fifth overall pick last year, and why the Dolphins replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick with the young-gun half-way through the year as the leftie has done well to continue building rapports with Mike Gesicki and Devante Parker in particular.

Gesicki has become a good safety valve for the young QB, and now has over 600 receiving yards on the season as he looks to further his numbers against a team who has shifted 700 yards against tight-ends in their 14 games this season.

The Week 16 matchup with the Raiders will prove a further test for Tua with the opportunity to kick the Raiders out of contention for that 7th and final play-off spot providing he gets the Florida team a big win on the road in Las Vegas.

Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

Overall, the Carr news only makes a small difference to what I think will happen when these two teams face up on Saturday. The Raiders have struggled a bunch in all four of their recent losses and they cant seem to stop anybody with any consistency on defence.

Miami however can stop just about anyone and even made the Chiefs sweat for the entire game which is a far more effective offensive unit than the Raiders, and I expect them to grind out a low-scoring, but important win to keep themselves in the driving seat of that final play-off spot.

Dolphins 21-15 Raiders

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Sunday 6pmColts @ Steelers

With major play-off implications at stake, these two postseason-bound teams may have similar records but they are on quite different trajectories. The visitors are fresh off a 27-20 victory over divisional rivals the Texans, their third win in a row, while the Steelers suffered an unexpected 27-17 loss to AFC North foes the Bengals – their third defeat in succession.

If we use a New Year Eve’s fireworks display as our analogy, the 10-4 Colts are a Catherine Wheel, spinning away nicely at an even tempo. These steady Eddies have been slugging it out with the Titans (also 10-4) in the AFC South and it’s all still up for grabs, although they lag behind on a tiebreaker. In stark contrast, the 11-3 Steelers are a Skyrocket. Everyone went “oooh” and “aaah” as they raced out to an 11-0 record, only to explode in a big, noisy and colourful way. The ashes are now drifting back to earth.

With a chance to wrap up the AFC North, the wobbly Steelers had a Monday night match-up on primetime at Cincinnati: talk about the perfect get-right scenario. The pundits queued up to predict an easy win for the 14-point favourites. Everything that transpired thereafter felt like it belonged to the alternative universe from His Dark Materials: close to the one we know but not quite the same. The Bengals D was fierce; Ryan Finley was competent; Ben Roethlisberger was poor; Diontae Johnson wasn’t Mr Butter Fingers; there were three first-half turnovers in favour of Cincy. All very odd indeed. The 10-point upset, in front of a national TV audience, saw the Bengals snap a five-game losing streak and an 11-game run of defeats against their nemesis.

Pittsburgh’s offence has been held to under 20 points for four consecutive games now and was restricted to a measly 244 total yards by Cincinnati. Big Ben clearly wasn’t at his best (throwing 4-of-10 for -5 passing yards in the first quarter), even though he became the seventh player to pass for more than 60,000 yards. His 62.4 QB rating set a new low for the season.

Michael Conroy – AP

The pressure is growing on the ailing Steelers’ QB and his WR corps because the team owns the league’s second-worst rushing attack. With the banged-up James Conner once again missing, they’ve gained an average of 51 yards on the ground during the three-game losing streak. If it weren’t for Benny Snell’s 84 yards and a rushing TD on Monday, Pittsburgh would have posted a net total of 2 yards rushing.

Their once-invincible defence is still the second-best in the league but it has been weakened by a number of key injuries of late, not least to linebacker Bud Dupree and on Monday, to fullback Derek Watt. At least his brother, TJ, continues to excel. His league-leading 13 sacks make him a Defensive Player of the Year contender but he can’t do it all by himself.

You could argue that, like Pittsburgh, Indy’s defence (ranked 7th in the NFL) has been the backbone of the team for much of the campaign. Their mainstays stepped up again to complete the season sweep over Houston, with Darius Leonard forcing the game-deciding fumble, rushing up and punching the ball out of Keke Coutee’s hands as he headed for the end zone with just 23 seconds on the clock. And one of the trades of the year, DeForest Buckner, sacked Deshaun Watson three times, despite operating on one good leg.

Brett Coomer – Houston Chronicle

The revitalised unit has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league – not great news for the Steelers’ weak running game. Indy’s D have also forced the third most turnovers in the league so Diontae Johnson’s handling needs to be error-free in this game.

Another similarity between these teams is that they both have a veteran quarterback plucked from the 2004 Draft class. Unlike Big Ben’s current funk, Indianapolis winning four of the last five is down in no small part to Philip Rivers, who could be back to his best (11 TDs to 2 INTs in that spell). His 419 career TDs leave him needing just two more to pass Dan Marino and go fifth in the all-time list, a milestone he could esily reach in this game. The team ranks ninth in overall offence, with major contributions from the league’s RB10, the second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor (842 yards, 7 TDs). Top wideout TY Hilton is also quietly effective but his 675 yards only just scrape him into the NFL’s top 40.

The Colts have not committed a turnover in their last three but it’s also noting that they relied on a last-minute fumble for the second time in three weeks to grab the W against Houston. This doesn’t shout Super Bowl contender from the rooftops but nonetheless, Indy just keep on clearing one hurdle at a time and moving on to the next.

Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@Sean TylerUK)

A month ago, the Steelers looked locked in as AFC North champions elect and a bye in the Wild Card round was within their grasp. Now, it’s all starting to slip through their fingers. Their postseason place is in the bank but their current form probably makes them the team others want to face. Having lost twice in recent weeks to teams below .500, the AFC’s No.3 seed needs to end the slump – and fast – if they’re to stay ahead of the Browns and Ravens.

Yet the Colts are no pushovers. They have enough going for them on both sides of the ball to bloody the collective Pittsburgh nose for a fourth straight week. But playing at Heinz Field, could the Steelers bounce back after a short week and stun Indy? Of course they could and in fact, the Steelers are slight favourites at the time of writing. But I sense another upset brewing here. Unlike their hosts, the Colts look solid at the moment so I’m expecting them to take care of business, leaving the Steelers with more questions than answers once again.

Colts 31-27 Steelers

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Sunday 9.25 pm – Rams @ Seahawks

Without trying to launch straight into hyperbole, this is probably the most important game of the weekend, with the result all but determining who wins the highly competitive NFC West.

A week ago, we all would have assumed that these teams would be sitting level coming into this game. But, thanks to the historic loss to The Worst Team in Football, the 9-5 Rams unexpectedly find themselves a game behind the 10-4 Seahawks, making this a must-win contest. The Arizona Cardinals are just one game behind LA so it’s all pretty tight. So close, in fact, that a win gives Seattle the title, as well as a shot at the top seed and home-field advantage in the play-offs; a defeat would put them behind the Rams on a tiebreaker, as they lost their Week 10 match-up.

Coming off the back of two straight wins, Seattle clinched a play-off spot with a 20-15 victory in Washington, although they did have to hang on a bit at the end after building a 20-3 lead. QB Russell Wilson finished with a season-low 121 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT – not exactly up to the standards he set in the first half of the season. He’s now dropped to 7th in the league for passing yardage but he’s still second only to Aaron Rodgers for TDs thrown (37), more than a quarter of which have landed in the arms of DK Metcalf (1,223 yards, 10 TDs).

The rushing game looked solid last week too, with Wilson’s 52 rushing yards complementing the tally accrued by RB1 Chris Carson (63 yards on 15 attempts) and his backfield compadre Carlos Hyde (an impressive 55 yards and a TD on just two carries).

Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports

While their offence (ranked 9th in the league) hasn’t been able to maintain its blistering start to the campaign, ‘Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked a worrying 41 times so this is where the game could be won or lost. Seattle’s wobbly defence (ranked a lowly 26th) is actually playing a bit better of late, with DE Carlos Dunlap joining from Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and Jamal Adams bossing things in an improved secondary. They definitely stepped it up last week in the nation’s capital, with four sacks and seven QB hits on Dwayne Haskins, and their pass rush has delivered at least two sacks in the last eight games, including three on Jared Goff in Week 10.

Coming into this one with a totally different vibe, the Rams’ 23-20 home defeat to the winless New York Jets saw them become only the fifth team in 42 years to lose when favoured by at least 17 points by the bookies. At least they didn’t have any fans in their shiny new stadium to share their views on proceedings.

Jared Goff led the fight-back as they cut the deficit to just three points with over six minutes left on the clock. But then LA went 4-and-out on their next possession, thanks to errors and penalties, and never got the ball back. Goff finished with 209 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Whether his inconsistencies will affect his ability to connect with wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, both hovering around 20th in the league with more than 800 receiving yards apiece, only time will tell.

Keith Birmingham – Pasadena Star-News/SCNG

The match-up on the ground will be less appealing for Los Angeles. Seattle have allowed the third-fewest rushing yards per game (94.6), which will pose a challenge for the league’s ninth-best rushing attack, led by rookie Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, two men with more than 500 yards to their names.

Despite Sam Darnold finding some success on Sunday, the Rams secondary plays at an elite level and is the primary reason for the team giving up the fewest passing yards per game (192.0) in the NFL. It was particularly impressive back in Week 10, when they held DK Metcalf to just two receptions and 28 yards. In short, the main difference between these two outfits is the relative strength of their defences. Aaron Donald and co. have mustered 44 sacks and twice as many QB hits in 14 games, making the Rams D the NFL’s top unit.

Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

The Rams are Seattle’s bogey side, having won five of the last six clashes while averaging more than 31 points per game. This current iteration of the Seahawks’ defence is not the strongest, yet they are currently the -1.5 favourites, despite only posting 16 points against the Rams six weeks ago.

Maybe that demoralising defeat to the Jets is a factor. It could suck the Rams down into a pit of despair or alternatively, it might serve as the kick up the posterior they need to bounce back in the final two regular-season games against their two closest rivals, the Seahawks and the Cardinals. If they can win out, the Rams will be crowned NFC West champions, but that’s a big if.

Those Seattle shootouts from earlier in the year – back when they scored at least 34 points in six of their first eight games – are now distant memories. Maybe Russ is done cooking now and has moved on to the washing-up? His 13 INTs put him behind only Carson Wentz, yet then again, Jared Goff has been intercepted a dozen times himself.  

With two takeaway-prone QBs not at their best on show, I’m expecting an attritional, low-scoring affair. When they met in Week 12, the Rams won 23-16 and I think we’ll be in the same ballpark again. However, I’m going to plump for Wilson to step it up and lead the Seahawks to a home win and a division title.

Rams 20-24 Seahawks

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Sunday, 1:20am, Titans @ Packers

The Tennessee Titans will look to knock off their second successive NFC North team in the space of a week when the travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.

The Titans had a huge day last week in every possible way when they beat the Detroit Lions into the ground 46-24, as they pursue an AFC South title of their own behind the legs of not just Derrick Henry, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill put together potentially his finest game of the season in Week 15 as threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and also put two score on the board with his feet.

A huge 75-yard touchdown to Corey Davis and a generally wide open passing game showed the signs of the Derrick Henry affect, as defences struggle to stop both the freight train of a running back and the athletic receiving corps of Davis, AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith.

There was the customary 147 yards and a touchdown for the unstoppable Henry, who went over the 100 yard mark for the 10th time this season, and included a rather brutal, highlight reel stiff-arm – again.

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The game puts him just 341 yards off of 2K as he continues his most successful season so far in his bright career – 1679 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 games for this Titans team.

Defensively, there continues to be some concerns heading off to the playoffs, as the Lions scored 24 points and moved the ball freely for 430 yards of total offence, which pushed the Titans to 6th worst in yards allowed on the year and 11th worst in points allowed.

Coming up against Aaron Rodgers will further put this defence to the test, as the unit attempts to prove itself against a high powered group that it could potentially end up facing in the playoffs.

Speaking of Rodgers, the Packers will be looking to secure themselves the number one seed in the NFC this weekend in a season that has seen some of the best of their star QB in several years under Matt LeFleur.

The 37-year-old has completed a massive 69.6% of his passes and has done so for 3828 yards in just 14 games and all whilst providing an almost unbelievable 40-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

On Monday it was announced that he had been voted to the ninth Pro-Bowl of his career, which came as little surprise to anybody, as the Packers had a league-high seven players voted in.

While the scoreboard went their way last time out in a win over the Panthers, concern was high over a second-half performance where the offence produced just a single second half field goal after an electric start.

Rodgers referred to the drop off as leaving a “sour taste” in his mouth, a feeling that will only be doubled by knowing that they face far stiffer opponents this week in the Titans and their overpowered offence.

(AP Photo – Sam Craft)

The danger is clear to LeFleur however, the young head-coach describing stopping the Titans as a “tremendous challenge” on Monday, as he tries to gauge the line between slowing down the Henry train and leaving the back end open to that play-action passing game of Tannehill.

The Packers defence has been much improved this year, ranking near the middle of the pack in most categories, and have given up fewer rushing yards on the season, 1541, than Derrick Henry has managed by himself.

Most teams are not the Titans however and the D-line of Green Bay will have their work thoroughly cut out for them if they want to prevent Tennessee from running the ball against them with ease.

Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

Overall I don’t know if I can see anything other than a Packers win this Sunday. Despite the issues that the offence had in the second half, I don’t think its too much too worry about, especially since the Panthers defence has played well above its station on several occasions this season.

Rodgers will be buoyed by the opportunity to rack up the number one seed at home, and I expect him to show it against a defence who has struggled to hold down fast paced and meticulous offensive units like the Packers.

Packers 31-21 Titans

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MNF – Tuesday, 1.15am Bills @ Patriots

The king is dead, long live the new king. After a quarter of a century wait the Buffalo Bills (11-3) can finally lay claim to the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Back then the Bills limped into the postseason with a 10-6 record. They did smash the Dolphins in the Wild Card game, but went on to lose in the Divisional round to the Steelers (who went on to lose to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl).

2020 also marks the first time the New England Patriots (6-8) have not punched a ticket into the playoffs, continuing the ‘non Brady’ streak of no postseason action. The last time the Pats failed to get into the business end of the season was 2008 when Matt Cassel led New England to an 11-5 record, pipped to the division by the Miami Dolphins who also finished 11-5 but won the points margin in the two head to head games.

Picture credit: buffalo

Both teams met earlier in the season, with Buffalo escaping the clutches of Cam Newton’s oak tree legs with a later Tyler Bass (pictured above) field goal. This time, with one team already eliminated, it’s time for the Sith Lord to unwrap Jared Stidham. The 4th round pick in the 2019 draft has already seen the field four times this season, and has ever thrown a couple of touchdowns, replacing a woeful Bryan Hoyer to get a garbage time score, and then a little cameo in the Pats 45-0 steamrolling of the Chargers.

Stidham needs to be rolled out for the last two weeks of the season. With no expectations this is an ideal opportunity for Pats OC Josh McDaniels to see if he has somebody to work with in 2021.

Picture credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne

New England have been wholeheartedly underwhelming all season, and at one point they were 2-5, so to still be mathematically alive before Week 15 was pretty remarkable. The Cam Newton experiment has been a failure. Yes he runs, and is a redzone td monster, but through the air #1 has been atrocious. 5 passing touchdowns in 13 games is not going to get you far. This has obviously had a huge knock-on effect regarding the WR production. No Julian Edelman for most of the season, and what has been left is the weakest unit in the league. What makes the Pats offense a laughing stock is the TE production. Ryan Izzo has managed 13 catches for under 200 yards and 0 scores.

When we turn to the Bills it is the complete opposite. The team have tied the NFL record for the most different players to catch a TD – a remarkable 13. Josh Allen has been wowing fans all season, and is full value for his 11 wins in 14 games. Allen is a Pro Bowler for the first time, albeit on the second team behind Patrick Mahomes in the AFC. The dual threat is one of a small handful of franchise studs to still be in the running for the 2020 NFL MVP award, going up against Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers to decide the winner.

Picture credit: AP Photo/Brett Carlsen

Leading the Bills in catches is Stefon Diggs (pictured above), a 2020 Pro Bowl starter, who has 111 catches already and over 1,300 yards. Team mate Cole ‘slot machine’ Beasley needs just 50 to reach 1,000, which would mark the first time he has reached 1K in his 9 year career.

The only real weakness the Bills have is a rather pedestrian running game. The combination of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss do not scare anyone, and was it not for the rushing threat posed by Josh Allen this would be one of the worst rushing units in the league.

Buffalo’s defense has been fantastic all year long. LB Tremaine Edmonds and CB Tre’Davious White are all deserving Pro Bowl selections, and even KR Andre Roberts has been recognised for his special teams qualities.

Picture credit: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

Unsurprisingly the Patriots have zero offensive players on the Pro Bowl team, and only Stephon Gilmore the CB made the Defensive squad, more by reputation and name recognition than actuations game play. The Patriots do value special teams very highly and were rewarded with Pro Bowl nods to the punter Jake Bailey (pictured above – who had a lot of work experience in 2020) and evergreen gunner Matthew Slater.

Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)

With that highly significant Steelers loss to the Bengals on MNF in Week 14, the Bills have shimmied up the playoff pole to the #2 seed with just two regular season weeks left. Having sniffed that rarified air the Bills will not take anything for granted, and will be striving to win out against AFC East division rivals the Pats and then the Miami Dolphins.

Josh Allen can hoist up an NFL MVP trophy just like his fellow 2018 first round draft class buddy Lamar Jackson, and sweeping the Patriots would make the accolade that bit sweeter.

For the Bills D there is limited game film on Jared Stidham, including 0 starts or truly meaningful snaps, so the surprise element will favour the Patriots. This does not mean they will translate this into a victory. The empire has crumbled in New England, and it’s time for Pats fans to look to the future now and not the present.

Josh Allen to have another big game, and Buffalo to put immense pressure on the Steelers who are melting faster than a snowman in a naan bread oven (inspired by watching Eddie Hall trying to eat the world’s largest naan bread!!). Look to 21 year old Bills WR Gabriel Davis to add to his impressive 6 td total in this contest.

Buffalo 36 – 16 New England

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NFL Week 8 Takeaways

Week 8 in the books means this week is officially the halfway point of the season. Be sure to check out our Half Term report on site running the rule over ALL 32 teams. Check out and see our grades for your team!

But you are here because you want our takeaways! So without further ado…

Harsh treatment on the 49ers table

The San Francisco 49ers are in dire needs of a miracle if they hope to make a repeat run to the Super Bowl. Following a Week 8 loss to divisional rivals the Seattle Seahawks, the Red and Gold dropped to a 4-4 record. While losing to Seattle in itself is no cause for panic, the repercussions are.

Now, the Niners must go six weeks without QB Jimmy Garoppolo who suffered a high ankle sprain and, arguably more devastatingly, TE George Kittle suffered a broken bone in his foot putting him on the sideline for a minimum of eight weeks.

49ers overreactions vs. Seahawks: Is it over for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Elaine Thompson – AP

In this timeframe, without their QB and the face of the franchise, the Niners travel to the LA Rams and New Orleans Saints as well as hosting the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills. To cap off what can only be described as a brutal run into the end of the season and, bearing in mind George Kittle will presumably miss the rest of the regular season, the Bay Area team finish their season on the road to the Arizona Cardinals and then finally, the aforementioned Seahawks.

In short, the deck is stacked up against the Niners. Truly, a miracle is required if they have any hope of even making it to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. Kyle Shanahan will be hoping such a miracle will come in the shape of QB Nick Mullens who, so far, has shown glimmers of hope. Whether this tandem of Mullens and Shanahan can get this team out of the hole they find themselves after Week 8 is very unlikely.

The dynasty is over

If you didn’t already know it, the Patriots dynasty is finished. Well, it actually finished on 17 March when Tom Brady announced he wouldn’t be returning to New England.

New England went to four Super Bowls in five years, winning three of them. They went to a record 11 AFC Championship games in a row until last year. Nothing could stop them. Everyone knew New England would never be the same without its prodigal son, but Bill Belichick has worked wonders before. Some even thought Brady leaving might not be as dramatic as most feared.

Well, it has been. And some…

New England is struggling. They are 29th in receiving yards and, outside of Julian Edelman, no receiver has more than 300 yards on the season. They also rank 29th on points for (136) and 30th in offensive turnovers lost (15). Their offence looks stagnant and devoid of ideas. Cam Newton looks a shadow of the player who led Carolina to Super Bowl L.

Free-falling Patriots' skid hits 4 following loss to Bills
John Munson – AP

Their defence isn’t playing much better. They’ve given up 983 rushing yards through seven games, which is more than 140 yards per game. They cannot stop the run. They also only have 10 sacks on the season; only four teams have fewer. To put that in context, Myles Garrett and Aaron Donald have nine each.

They’re 2-5. Bye week has already been and gone. Cam Newton doesn’t appear to be the answer. They still don’t have any reliable pass-catchers outside of Edelman, who is again injured. Their defensive line looks mediocre at best. After many clamoured for it for so long after their dominance, the Patriots finally appear to be a weak team. Makes you wonder how much Belichick has left in the tank…

Who’s next in line for the banged-up Bengals?

Last week’s defeat to the Cleveland Browns cost Cincinnati a lot more than a W; they also lost three starters from their offensive line, already considered to be one of the NFL’s weakest units. LT Jonah Williams (neck), C Trey Hopkins (concussion) and RT Bobby Hart (knee) all exited the game and were deemed unavailable for Sunday’s match-up with the Tennessee Titans.

To compound matters, left guard Michael Jordan dropped out 90 minutes before kick-off with an illness. That left Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner needing to replace four of his starters from the previous week at short notice. Gulp!

With the first-choice options hardly setting the world alight, relying on their understudies seemed to reduce Joe Burrow’s life expectancy even more. Free agent signing Shaq Calhoun made his first Bengals start in place of Jordan. Right tackle Fred Johnson also made his starting debut while sixth-round rookie Hakeem Adeniji was also put into service at LT from the get-go for the first time, having only played seven snaps previously. Then back-up to the back-up at left guard, Quinton Spain, who only joined the team on Friday after being traded from Buffalo, replaced Calhoun after one drive.

The only players with any experience playing in tiger stripes worth talking of weren’t exactly flavour of the month: Alex Redmond was briefly cut at the start of the season and former first rounder Billy Price is little more than a stand-in center or guard these days. To say it was a rag-tag mob is an understatement of epic proportions and the omens did not look good against the then 5-1 Titans.

Luckily, Tennessee’s pass rush hasn’t lived up to billing of late, so despite boasting names like Jadeveon Clowney in their ranks, it wasn’t the worst opposition they could’ve faced. But still, like a conjuror, Turner had to magic this mish-mash of second and third stringers, newbies and untested rookies into a cohesive unit. And somehow, leaving us all open-jawed in disbelief, he pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

Adding up to more than the sum of their parts, the front five were awesome. They went nose to the grindstone and didn’t give up a single sack or QB hit, according to PFF. That’s literally unheard of, with the Bengals tied for the most sacks allowed this season (28) beforehand. Burrow was protected well and given lots of time to pick out Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Auden Tate and co. with some seriously tight-window darts, finishing the day with 249 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.

Andy Lyons – Getty Images

On the odd occasion when the Titans did break through, the young QB became an escapologist (one play in particular saw him evade four tackles in a collapsing pocket and still scramble for 8 yards). In the absence of the also-crocked Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard and Samaje Perine needed to get the ground game going. Their 118 yards and three TDs helped seal the 31-20 win, again thanks to the channels gouged out by the linemen upfront.

“The newer guys up there on the line did an awesome job,” Bernard said afterwards. “Hats off to those guys… they worked their tails off. They deserve that win. They went in with minimal experience and they showed out today.” Amid a lot of ‘trade him’ chatter, Billy Price’s performance was particularly commendable, earning a game ball from Zac Taylor for his unwavering commitment and work ethic after a difficult couple of years. 

As the Bengals embark on their bye week, Taylor can bask in the glory of this unexpected win – his first against a team with a winning record – for a fortnight. That rest period will give the walking wounded time to heal but it also gives the coaching staff the opportunity to address an unexpectedly difficult decision: which five linemen start against the league’s most feared defence in Week 10, when they travel to Pittsburgh?

Steel unbeaten

In the blockbuster match-up of Week 8, the AFC North top-of-the-table clash saw the Steelers squeeze out the win in Baltimore.

Despite Lamar Jackson’s and the rush game’s best efforts, the Steelers defence continued to dominate.

Lamar’s Jackson’s struggles continued with his first drive ending in a pick-six. The Steelers’ defence helped themselves to four sacks, two interceptions and laid down nine hard hits on the Baltimore QB.

7th heaven: Unbeaten Steelers keep winning without 'A' game
Nick Wass – AP

Standouts on the defence include Stephon Tuitt, who helped himself to another two sacks and eight tackles (three for loss) and three QB hits.

The Steelers won’t be happy with the 265 rushing yards they gave up. However, after allowing an average of 129 yards coming in to the game, they’ll be happy with the win they picked up in the division on the road.

Securing the win forcing a Lamar Jackson fumble will be something they’ll peacock until Thanksgiving week, when these teams meet again. Will Pittsburgh still be unbeaten when that games comes to pass?

Chiefs didn’t give LeVeon a Bell

A main storyline heading into this week’s games was one at Arrowhead, where former Jet LeVeon Bell and his Chiefs welcomed in his former team the New York Jets.

Many expected the Chiefs and Andy Reid to put it to the Jets but Bell ended up with a disappointing statline come game’s end: six carries for 7 yards on the ground and three receptions for 31 yards without finding the end zone.

Best photos from Kansas City Chiefs' Week 8 win over New York Jets
Jeff Roberson – AP

The backfield will be a puzzle for the foreseeable future with first round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire also seeing three receptions and six carries. You have to think that both of them sharing the limelight will ensure neither player shines too brightly on any given week. Music to the ears of fantasy owners…

Running by committee

Yesterday’s 41-21 win by the Indianapolis Colts over the Detroit Lions came with lots of positives, but also managed to muddy the waters further on who would be the go-to choice at running back for the rest of the year.

Since Marlon Mack’s season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1, the triple-headed monster of rookie Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines have been fighting for the limelight.

Before their bye week, Taylor had been putting down a solid case for the starting role, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and two total touchdowns in the last three games before the Colts travelled to Ford Field on Sunday.

That form didn’t carry over the break however and, with Taylor averaging a measly 2 yards per carry, Jordan Wilkins, the fifth round selection from 2018, stepped up with 89 yards on 20 carries and one score.

Colts: Receiving breakdown vs Lions proves Indy is best when run is  established
Nic Antaya – Getty Images

Taylor’s case to be lead back wasn’t helped by Hines who hauled in a total of three catches, two of which were taken in for touchdowns. They included a sensational catch-and-run in the first quarter that put the Colts’ first points on the board, and was celebrated in style with a move rarely seen outside of a gymnastics hall.

If the increased production by the second and third backs continues into the future, Frank Reich may soon have to head towards a defined running back by committee approach. Reich admitted after the victory that the team had “rode his (Wilkins’) hot hand” as they continue to try and find the answers to their drop off in the running game.

Mack’s absence must surely be the key, with the team dropping from 133.1 rushing yards a game last season to just 101 this season, bad enough to rank 24th in the league after eight games. Whatever the answer is for Reich’s men, they might need to work it out quickly.

With just two more games against top 10 rush defences left this season, the Colts’ chances of holding the AFC South lead might end up falling or succeeding with Taylor, Wilkins and Hines.

Dawn of the living Dalvin

The Vikings coaching staff need to go back to school to learn some very basic sums, namely that 33 x 25+ = W. Yes 25+ carries for Dalvin Cook in a game week equals a W.

Conclusive proof that this theory can be proven came on Sunday against a pretty decent Green Bay Packers team, as Cook was fed the ball 30 times on the ground and three times in the air.

The result was four touchdowns for Cook, 28 points for the Vikings and only their second win of the 2020 season. The usually indomitable Aaron Rodgers did manage a furious comeback, and he had the ball in his hands in the final minute, but a strip sack put pay to a cheese-headed victory.

Justin Jefferson a No. 1 WR? What we learned in Vikings' win – The Athletic
Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports

Dalvin Cook is a terrific asset, and hopefully now the Vikings will keep providing him with opportunities to influence games. In six games, Cook has now accrued 13 touchdowns.

The NFL record is 31 in a season (by LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006). Unfortunately, due to a one-game injury absence, Cook is unlikely to eclipse this mark, but he will go darn close by season’s end.

Acting up: Tua needs to thank his supporting cast

It was the long-awaited NFL debut of Tua Tagovailoa and for Head Coach Brian Flores, the move from the hirsute Fitzmagic to the clean-shaven first round rookie proved to be a winning decision.

The Miami Dolphins moved to 4-3, and second in the AFC East, after logging their third consecutive win, with last weekend’s win over the five-win Rams their most impressive of the season.

Tua was all smiles in the post-game presser, but he knows that many more performances like the one he served up on his debut and the Dolphins will be in trouble.

What Tua Tagovailoa's NFL debut indicates about rest of his rookie season  with Dolphins -
Ron Chenoy 

Tua was less than impressive in his matinee performance, getting sacked on his first snap, before failing to get much going all day. His 102 yards were hard fought and while he did manage to settle, even throwing his first TD (to DeVante Parker), it was a bonkers second quarter where the Dolphins defense looked like the 1970s ‘Killer Bees’, and Jakeem Grant returned the first punt of the season to paydirt that was the difference.

The Dolphins are looking like a playoff team. Can Tua drive the bus or will he be a passenger?  

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Betting: Super Bowl update

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Chances are if you are reading this, you have an antepost ticket on a team to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. With Covid starting to sink it’s claws into the season, you’ll be forgiven for thinking whether you’ll be getting your stakes refunded (more so hoping if you are a Cowboys fan).

However we have reached the quarter pole after a little stumble there in week 4 with the possibility of further treacherous paths ahead in week 5 (thanks Tennessee).

With that in mind, lets take a look at how the Super Bowl 55 outright market has morphed itself over the first 4 weeks. Sports Betting Dime has been tracking and averaging each team’s Super Bowl odds since the end of last season, which we’ve converted and rounded to the numbers listed below.

Biggest decreases

Green Bay Packers

Pre-Season: 33/1 Now: 10/1

Cheeseheads will certainly be cheering “Go Pack Go” as they have arguably been one of the best teams thus far in 2020.

After what was considered a swing and a miss in April during the draft, the Packers, even with decimation at the Wide Receiver, have stormed to a 4-0 start and stomping all over anyone that has crossed their path.

QB Aaron Rodgers has finally embarked on his “F-You” tour that most have been waiting for (at least it’s one tour we’ll get to see this year). He’s depended on a variety of supporting cast through those first four weeks and made Valdes-Scantling and new flavour of the week TE Robert Tonyan a name that has been heavily sought after in fantasy football.

Aaron Rodgers deflects criticism, says down years from him are 'career  years for most quarterbacks' -
Sean Gardner / Getty Images

They’ve posted scores of 30+ points in each of those first 4 games and been in control of all of the games thus far, which has included potentially tricky trips to New Orleans and Minnesota. Whether the lack of crowds has helped that (i’ll say most definitely judging by the focus the hard count is getting) or it’s just a case of Rodgers upping his game I’ll leave for you to all debate but they get the early bye this year and will be putting their feet up in week 5 and will look to welcome back star WR Davante Adams in week 5 against the Bucs. Apart from that trip to Tampa in week 6 and a trip to the west coast to face their demons at Levi’s stadium to face the 49ers in week 9, the rest of the schedule looks pretty plain sailing from here on out.

At this point, I will be shocked if they aren’t in the running for the NFC’s 1st round bye come week 17 (remember only the #1 seed gets the bye this year!).

If they continue to play as they have done coming out of the bye week, 10/1 could still possibly be value but kudos to those people that have tickets with 33/1 on them.

Seattle Seahawks

Pre-Season: 20/1 Now: 8/1

Perennial Playoff participants the Seattle Seahawks always appear on our TV screens in january and have done for 8 of the last 10 years. However in recent years, they have never reallllly been peoples ideas of Super Bowl Contenders. Yes, they won it all back in 2013, but they’ve been most people candidates to go out to just stronger teams and since the Legion of Boom left Century Link Field, not many people have given them much more respect than that. Does it have to do with Russell Wilson’s MVP credentials that have gone without gratitude? Is it that they never had any flashy players on offence? Who knows, but one thing is for sure in 2020, this team and Mr Unlimited has a different air about them.

Comms go out, Russell Wilson excels in Seahawks win at Miami | Tacoma News  Tribune
Wilfredo Lee / AP

Another team that has stormed to 4-0 in the early portion of the season, Seattle have seen their talisman storm to the front of people’s minds and the MVP betting (surely he’ll get a vote this year!).

They trail only the Packers in points scored thus far and like the Pack, they have put up 30+ points in each of their first 4 games.

A win on SNF against the Patriots put them on our radars and yes they could have quite easily lost that game as Cam Newton was at the 1 yard line in the dying moments (where have we heard that before, Marshawn?) but the Seahawks have gone about and handled their business with little fuss and a lotta Russ.

Can they continue this streak? You’d expect them to pummel a poor Vikings team before taking a week 6 bye and coming out of the other side, they face 4 huge games with 3 against divisional opponents in what is considered the toughest division in the league this year and the impressive Buffalo Bills (see below) sandwiched in there. We’ll know from those 4 games what the Seahawks are made of and what their crednetials are this year and we’ll go a long way to answering whether they are the Seahawks of 2013 or the Seahwaks of the last few years making an exit sometime in January.

As things stand, I would like to see a Packers/Seahawks reunion in the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills

Pre-Season: 28/1 Now: 16/1

Those of you that fancied a Patriots demise this year maybe have enticed you to have a tickle on Buffalo for the AFC and most certainly the division, but the Bills have probably been the most impressive team from the AFC side of the draw.

Whilst nearly pulling off an Atlanta Falcons impression against the Rams, The Bills have continuously lit up the scoreboard. Some will argue they’ve not really faced much stiff competition yet, but ladies and gentleman, i welcome you to the AFC East.

Their next two battles (Covid dependant) will be against the 2 teams that faced off in the AFC title game last year so we’ll know from those two games where the Bills stand.

Josh Allen has arguably been one of the best players this year at the QB position and is starting to win people’s appreciation from the sidelines and on the sofas (12/1 for MVP in from 50s).

Josh Allen, the Bills' wild win and more from NFL Week 3 - Peter King
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The addition of Stefon Diggs from Minnesota has helped Allen no end and the Bills Mafia will be hoping they get to continue to blooming chemistry for the rest of the year and into 2021. The change on defence hasn’t really hindered them too much and are still a stout run D but have been susceptible against the pass, causing them to concede 28 to Fitzmagic, 32 to Goff and 23 to Derek Carr.

For them to be really taken seriously, they’ll need to tighten that up in their next two games. The rest of their schedule has bumpy moments with matchups against the Cardinals and Seahawks before the bye, they tackle the 49ers and Steelers shortly after. If they make it to the post season, they’ll have to banish the ghosts of playoffs past that saw them exit in spectacular fashion against the Texans last year.

At the odds though, if you are an Allen believer, they are still pretty tempting especially when you consider the division is there for the taking with Cam Newton out for another week or 2.

Biggest Increases

(Still with a chance)

San Francisco 49ers

Pre-Season 9/1 Now: 28/1

I’m not going to put teams that were never really in with a shot (insert Dallas joke here) so we’ll stick with some teams that some will still feel all is not lost.

The bridesmaids from last season have been…how do we put this nicely…f****d by injuries.

Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, George Kittle, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo are just a snapshot of players missing that were integral to their Super Bowl run last year (ok, maybe not Garoppolo. PSYCHE!) and through 4 weeks they sit with a 2-2 record after their SNF defeat to the Eagles.

49ers-Eagles: Week 4 overreactions — move McGlinchey to guard
Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group

They’ll grit their teeth at their two week stay at MetLife for the rest of the season and maybe even longer if they fail to make the playoffs. Super Bowl hangover? some will point to it and if they were in another division not named the NFC West, their task would be that little bit easier.

Even so, the hits keep on coming for Kyle Shanahan and co with matchups @Patriots, @Seahawks and @Saints couple with homes ties against the Packers and the Rams on the horizon and all before their week 11 bye.

It doesn’t get much easier after that so it looks like a long way back for the 49ers taking into account that they’ll have to see this season out with such a plethora of players on the treatment table.

Dallas Cowboys

Pre-Season 12/1 Now: 33/1

Oh how it pains me to put the Cowboys here and how much joy it gives anti-Cowboys fans.

Mike McCarthy has not given the Cowboys the oomph to help the team quickly forget about Mr Clappy Jason Garrett.

The Cowboys are essentially a watermelon away from an 0-4 start. Yes they’ve faced tough matchups @ the Rams and @ the Seahawks but the home loss against the Browns highlighted to every team that the defence is absolutely turgid and you can see them live at your local Carpet Right in the door mat section (other stores are available).

The offence has been under insurmountable amounts of pressure and the miscues they’ve endured due to a patchy offensive line has helped dig those holes even deeper that they have found themselves in.

Cowboys' Dak Prescott predicts turnaround after slow start to 2020: 'We're  only stopping ourselves' -
Ron Chenoy

To their credit, they have made huge deficits disappear like a top draw trick from Paul Daniels and they were an Aldon Smith tackle on OBJ for 10-15 yards away from snatching a defeat in similar style against the Browns to that of the Falcons.

To further make the case as a possible value bet, they play in a division where there are 3 wins collectively between the 4 teams out of a possible 16 so with the way the post season is set up, 1 of these teams HAS to play at least one game in January, so you are hoping the Cowboys have ironed out these issues and get a few players back healthy on both sides of the ball, namely O lineman Joe Looney and star LB Leighton Vander Esch.

For the neutrals, Cowboys games will be great watching from here on out regardless so there is that going for them and Dak Prescott is still a tempting price for most pass yards (11/4 with Unibet/888). They have given up the most points in the NFL this year and have conceded 38+ points for the 2nd time in franchise history, with the other instance being their inaugural season in 1960, ending with a 0-11-1 record. At least they are guaranteed to better that after 1 notch in the win column.

Unfortunately, guys, I don’t think Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan are the answer. They won’t be getting a round of applause anyway, though the Giants come to town in week 5 (Jason Garrett joke). Further afield, they’ll feel like they have winnable games before their bye as they face a stumbling Arizona before travelling to Washington and Philadelphia. win those three games or even the last two, they’ll be in OK shape to win the lethargic NFC Least. Get in the playoffs and it’s anyone’s ball game (can you tell I am a Dallas fan trying to convince myself we still have a chance?)

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Intriguing contract-year conundrums

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

2020 will see a wealth of the NFL’s top players hit their contract year on one level or another. There’s obviously Dak Prescott at Dallas, looking to get paid for four years rather than five, but we yak about Dak elsewhere on the site so let’s park him for now. The F10Y gang have also discussed Minnesota’s Captain Holdout, Dalvin Cook, on a recent podcast so again, I’ll step away.

The old timers, like Philip Rivers at the Colts, new Raiders tight end Jason Witten and fellow TE Greg Olsen, now in Seattle, will probably see out their careers one year at a time. And barring disaster, many of those under the franchise tag, from Jalen Ramsey to Chris Jones, will probably waltz right into their next big deal.

But which players have more uncertain futures? Who has everything to play for – or all to lose – this year?

Cincinnati Bengals: Can AJ rediscover the old magic?

John Grieshop/Getty Images
Status: Franchise tagged

While Cincy need to work on a deal for Joe Mixon, Adriel Jeremiah Green is the real head-scratcher. There’s a lot of speculation surrounding AJ, which isn’t surprising, given that the veteran has missed almost a year and a half with an ankle injury sustained in the first offseason training camp and, before that, turf toe. When healthy, Green has been one of the league’s best receivers and currently ranks second in franchise history in receptions (602), receiving yards (8,907) and touchdowns (63). Green hasn’t taken the field since November 2018, which is why the seven-time Pro Bowler got franchise tagged.

There’s no doubting AJ’s pedigree but the big question is, just how much will age and recent injury woes impact his performance? We’ll have to wait till mid-September to see whether he’s worth tying up longer-term in the Queen City. Turning 32 before another snap is played, his current one-year, $18 million “prove it” arrangement is eminently sensible. But should he endure another injury-ravaged campaign, there’s a distinct possibility he’ll be out the door and relying on short-term contracts for the rest of his career.

Green and the Bengals front office have been in talks over a third multi-year deal for a while now but as yet, there’s no agreement. Unless something gets inked before the 15 July deadline, he’ll be in the same boat next off-season. The Bengals rejected trade offers so they must want him around but will they commit to three or four years for a player who’s missed 29 of the last 64 games? If he gets back to his old self and clicks with rookie QB Joe Burrow, I reckon so…

New Orleans Saints: Is Jameis the heir apparent?

Status: One-year deal

As one of the league’s top runners, Alvin Kamara is likely to get (over)paid Christian McCaffrey-esque amounts of money when his deal runs out. But I’m more intrigued to see how Jameis Winston’s one-year, $1.1 million deal plays out.

The 26-year-old is coming off a 5,000-yard, 30-TD season (yeah, OK, there were 30-odd interceptions too) so if Drew Brees is unavailable at any point, Winston could make watching the Saints even more exciting – or nerve-wracking, depending on your allegiances.

The other incumbent, Taysom Hill, was given a rather generous extension for a 30-year-old who only ranks third on the current roster for passes to Saints players, behind Brees and, somewhat amusingly, Winston himself. (Yes, Jameis has been picked off 10 times by Saints defenders while at the Buccaneers, eclipsing Hill’s seven career pass completions!). Yet Hill, whose own $21 million contract is the third-highest for a back-up QB, is also a special teams Swiss Army knife and they may have other plans for him.

We won’t know for sure whether Winston will be the immediate stand-in, let alone the long-term answer, unless Brees goes down. But, much like Teddy Bridgewater last year, things could work out well if he fills in successfully for a few games.

For all his foibles, at least Winston is a known quantity but what if he sits out the whole year? The Saints will have quite the dilemma deciding what to do with the former #1 overall pick if he stays on the bench. Brees signed a two-year, $50 million contract in March so he won’t be put out to grass quite yet, so do they sit on Jameis for another year?

I think they do. I can see him learning the ways of Sean Payton so that when Brees does finally retire, the Saints have their long-term replacement primed and ready to go.

Chicago Bears: Do they trust Trubisky?

David Banks/Getty Images
Status: Fifth-year option rejected

I think we can safely say that, in acquiring Nick Foles during the offseason and declining Mitchell Trubisky’s fifth-year option, the Bears have put their QB on notice. It’s possibly a bona fide battle for the starting job in 2020 and it’s arguably Trubisky’s to lose at this point. But given his form since Chicago traded up to take him at #2 overall in the 2017 Draft – ahead of Deshaun Watson (oof!) and Patrick Mahomes (ouch!) – he may not start all 16 games. 

Over the last three campaigns, Trubisky clearly hasn’t progressed as expected, with a completion rate of 63.4%, an average of 6.7 yards per attempt and just 48 touchdowns. He’s also struggled with shoulder injuries, which is probably another reason why the final-year option wasn’t picked up.

In short, Trubisky needs a breakout season to keep Foles off the field, and propel the Bears to a playoff spot that really should’ve been theirs last year. Even if he suddenly becomes the QB they’d hoped he was three years ago, Chicago could franchise-tag him next year, just to be sure it’s not a flash in the plan. Or they might just trade him away, with Foles waiting in the wings. However it plays out, 2020 feels like a make-or-break year for Trubisky.

San Francisco 49ers: Where’s Trent Williams’ head at?

The Associated Press
Status: Final year of existing deal

It’s hard to see the Niners letting TE George Kittle walk away when his deal expires, and they may also have to budget for fellow contract-year teammates Richard Sherman and Kyle Juszczyk. So for me, the main question mark facing the 49ers is Trent Williams.  

Williams has been one of the best tackles in the NFL for years, competing with the likes of Jason Peters for being top of the class for pass and run blocking. But obviously, there are alarm bells concerning his health issues last year: a pre-cancerous growth on his head led to him sitting out the entire 2019 season, due to how he felt the Redskins medical staff handled the situation.

The 49ers traded for Williams during the 2020 Draft, so what kind of player will the 33-year-old be after such a protracted layoff? Well, he passed his medical, didn’t ask for an extension and restructured the final year of his existing deal so that he could prove himself. He’s also familiar with Kyle Shanahan, a former offensive coordinator in Washington, so he should prove to be a plug-and-play, Pro Bowl calibre starter in a position of need, having joined the Niners just as Joe Staley retired. Assuming he’s OK health-wise, I can only see this working out well for both parties.

Tennessee Titans: Will Derrick Henry get paid?

Status: Franchise tagged

Derrick Henry was a contract-year conundrum this offseason so the Titans slapped him with the franchise tag (just north of $10 million) to keep him away from free agency, giving the prolific running back another 12 months’ grace.

The 25-year-old half-man, half-tank led the league in rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16) in 2019, and almost single-handedly carried the team through their three playoff games. But the fact that he still hasn’t earned himself a multi-year contract says a lot about how teams undervalue running backs. It also says a lot about how much the Titans value QB Ryan Tannehill, who did get paid.

So where does this leave Mr Henry? The vibe between team and player seems pretty positive: he wants to be in Tennessee and Tennessee want him so hopefully, it’s just a matter of time before he gets the pay day his services deserve.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Has JuJu lost his mojo?

Getty Images
Status: Fifth-year option declined

The Steelers have a lot of talent with a year left on the clock but they can’t afford to pay them all. They slapped the franchise tag on linebacker Bud Dupree and DT Cameron Heyward is probably due a monster, Aaron-Donald-like deal. Tackle Alejandro Villanueva could earn himself a new contract too, but RB James Conner may well leave, having taken a backwards step last year.

But what about his 2017 classmate, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster? He needs a bounce-back season as much as anyone. In his 12 games last year, he totalled 42 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns – all career lows and certainly not numbers worthy of a No.1 receiver. With Diontae Johnson and James Washington showing promise, plus new draftee Chase Claypool, the odds of JuJu getting a big second contract are dwindling.

I don’t know whether last year’s struggles were all due to the rotation of back-up quarterbacks, or if a team’s top wideout should still post decent numbers, whoever’s throwing the rock. Maybe it’s a bit of both but at least Ben Roethlisberger is back at the helm after missing most of last year. Perhaps this will help JuJu will get back to where he was in 2018: 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, with a trip to the Pro Bowl thrown in, despite playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown.

Had he kept that momentum going last year, he might already have that extension in his pocket. But for now, the best Smith-Schuster can hope for now is a return to form and a franchise tag a year hence.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Is Fournette a bust?

Status: Fifth-year option declined

While the Bears deserve some stick for drafting Trubisky in 2017, the Jaguars are probably equally culpable for selecting Leonard Fournette at #4. With Blake Bortles (with a 11-34 record) on their books, a new QB might have been a wiser move but they aslo passed on two generational signal-callers and plumped for a running back. Even then, they picked the wrong one, with Christian McCaffrey available.

It’s easy to be critical with hindsight and Fournette is at least coming off his best season, after a terrible 2018. Despite just three TDs, his 1,674 total yards was a career high. But even when performing well, he’s not worth the big-money deal, which is why the Jaguars tried to trade him before rejecting his fifth-year option.

Without Jalen Ramsey, Nick Foles and Calais Campbell, the Jags could struggle this year. So, even if Fournette does well on an individual level, he’s still likely to end up signing a cheap, short free-agent deal with another franchise next off-season.

Los Angeles Rams: Will Cooper’s cup runneth over?

Action Images via Reuters
Status: Fifth-year option declined

The Rams have two big names playing in the final season of their rookie contracts. The first, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, will almost certainly recalibrate the value of elite CBs when a deal gets done. The other is WR Cooper Kupp.

A third-round section in the 2017 Draft, Kupp’s fifth-year option wasn’t taken up. Maybe the Rams’ miniscule salary cap space was a factor, having coughed up huge deals to Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Brandin Cooks over the last couple of years, but it still came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Admittedly, an ACL injury ruled him out for half of 2018 but in his other two-and-a-half seasons, he’s notched 21 touchdowns and caught 196 passes for 2,596 yards (a figure boosted by the 220 he got against the listless Bengals defence at Wembley… but I digress).

Is Kupp special enough or productive enough to hit pay dirt? Well, his 1,161 regular season receiving yards (12th) and 10 touchdowns (second) were certainly up there with the best in 2019. Sure, he faces some fresh competition from rookie Van Jefferson and a plethora of undrafted free agent WRs, but I’d expect Kupp to have another solid season and sign a deal that keeps him in LA.

Atlanta Falcons: Is it too early to write off Gurley?

Status: One-year deal

After being let go by the Rams in March, Todd Gurley II found a new home in Atlanta just 24 hours later. Largely driven by concerns over his troublesome left knee, the brevity of his $6 million deal – it’s just for a year – marks quite the comedown from the 2018 deal that made him the highest-paid RB in NFL history: $60 million over four years. The fact that LA were willing to let the 25-year-old go, despite the massive hit in dead-cap money, speaks volumes. Ludicrously, despite not having to fork out a roster bonus, the Rams will still be paying Gurley more this year ($7.5 million) to play for the Falcons than the Falcons will!

In five seasons with the Rams, Gurley rushed for 5,404 yards and scored 58 touchdowns; he also caught 218 passes for 2,090 yards and 12 more TDs. He was 2017’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year but by the end of 2018, things had gone sour in LA. Then, last year, Gurley rushed for a career-low 857 yards and while questions about his knee persisted, Rams coach Sean McVay swore he was healthy and eventually called himself an idiot for not giving him more touches.

So will Gurley’s homecoming of sorts – he’s a product of the University of Georgia – enable him to earn himself a longer, more lucrative deal? It feels like a crucial year for HC Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff as they target the playoffs so if they get there, even partly due to Gurley, the next contract shouldn’t be an issue.

With a wealth of talent around him – Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst – Gurley doesn’t need to be superman. He just needs to stay healthy, and give Atlanta’s anaemic, 30th-ranked running game some life support. As a replacement for the outgoing Davonta Freeman, Gurley could just be the man to save the day.

Banner image credit: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

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Top 10 NFL quarterbacks going into 2020

By Kieran Patterson (@DCCYTFootball)

Every season there is one position valued above all others, a position that’s scrutinized and picked apart more than any other…the quarterback.

With the position being so varied between teams, players styles and schemes I think it would be interesting to take a look at the top 10 signal callers in the league, break them down and see who is going to be exciting to watch going into the 2020 season.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

I know off the bat I’m going to get flack for this. I know it. Not only was the former number 8 overall pick a complete bust in Miami, he was also injury prone. Every season he played the full 16 games he threw double digit interceptions and struggled to help the Dolphins get anywhere.

So what changed in Tennessee?

Better coaching? More motivation? Better culture? Regardless of what changed at the Titans, it worked. In the 12 games he took the field (only started 10) he put up 2,742 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He had 4 less touchdowns than Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes while only starting 10 games!

Tennessee Titans' Ryan Tannehill named best QB at 4 types of throws
Jim Brown – USA Today Sports

Behind a dynamic hardnosed offence that includes man mountain Derrick Henry and dynamic Wide Receivers like AJ Brown, Cory Davis and Adam Humphries this offence has all the power it needs to take them deep into the playoffs again. Possibly even a Superbowl appearance.

This isn’t just me jumping onto a player who had a hot season, this is me telling you that the Titans are dangerous and can beat any team they face off against this year. Good luck stopping them.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

You might be asking why I have a future all of famer this far down this list. Well it’s not only his lack of weapons but actually his recent productivity.

Last year Rodgers posted a respectable 4,002 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Couple that with the fact that not only is he missing weapons he’s not getting any younger. The Packers realized this and that’s why they brought in Jordan Love.

Now my personal opinions on Rodgers aside he is in fact a future first ballot Hall of Famer and an all time great. But I think we see him start to wind his career down now. With little to no offensive weapons to help him move the ball I don’t see Rodgers living up to any of the hype we see around him and the Packers every year.

Sure he’s one of the best…but he can’t win games alone anymore.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49er’s

Now many people might call Patriots bias due to who drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and his history with the Patriots but if you’re familiar with my work then you know that I know what I’m talking about (I’m pretty good at this whole football lark).

The 49er’s are 19-5 with Jimmy G under center since he suited up in red and gold and 3-10 without him…now you tell me he’s not a difference maker. People love to hate on Jimmy G but watching him play is sensational, his release is one of the fastest in the league, he can make throws downfield, he makes fast reads and isn’t afraid to take a hit.

Jimmy Garoppolo back to throwing after torn ACL
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Jimmy racked up 3,978 passing yards for 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Oh no he’s terrible despite having a stat line almost identical to Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. With just a few more interceptions. Yeah tell me he’s bad again.

Despite coming up short in the Superbowl I think it would be foolish to not expect this even stronger 49er’s team to not tear it up next year and make another run at the Superbowl behind this super-powered offense.  

Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

After Deandre Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the off-season there was rumors that Deshaun Watson was looking from a way to escape Bill O’Brian too and the Patriots got mentioned…to say I was excited was an understatement.

Watson is unquestionably one of the most exciting signal callers in the league he’s a great athlete with a really accurate arm and despite his O-Line failing to keep him upright most of the time he still manages to make plays and as long as he’s on the field the Texans are still in the game. Watson has taken the Texans to playoffs for 2 of his 3 seasons, the exception being his rookie year.

Last year he had a great season but unfortunately fell to the eventual Superbowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs. He went into the playoffs with  3,852 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also tallied 413 ground yards taking 7 touchdowns in with his feet.

Despite losing Hopkins, Watson still has a strong defense and competent offensive pieces to aid him going into the 2020 season which will be crucial in helping the Texans to their 3 playoffs berth in as many years.

Hopefully Watson wears a visor this year so he doesn’t nearly lose an eye while escaping the pocket.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

When it was reported that Drew Brees has already signed a TV deal ahead of the 2020 season I think that was almost a confirmation that this was his last 2 years as a player.

Despite playing at a high level his whole career an MVP award has always alluded this man, not that he hasn’t deserved it. The future hall of famer has one last shot at the MVP and he’s in a great position to do it with the team around him.

Drew Brees responds to Donald Trump on national anthem: 'I realize ...
Mark Zaleski/AP

With a pro-bowl supporting cast including players like Alvin Kamara, Micheal Thomas and Taysom Hill it’s not hard to picture this Saints team making it back to the playoffs. Last season Brees unfortunately missed 5 games due to a thumb injury he picked up in week 2 against the rams. After back up Teddy Bridgewater came in and went 5-0 in his absence Brees returned and managed to finish with 2,079 passing yards, 27 Touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Despite struggling against the Vikings in the playoffs in the past 3 years Brees has all the tools to finally make it to the big game and despite Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Jimmy G all being in the NFC it’s not smart money to bet against this man.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Now if I had to pick one quarterback to extend a play as long as possible until someone gets open, I’d pick Russell Wilson.

For pretty much his whole career Wilson had played behind one of the worst O-Lines in history, no matter what he’s tried to make plays and subsequently pulled off some of the most jaw dropping plays in NFL history.

Seahawks' Russell Wilson using Google to prep for Pittsburgh ...
Joshua Bessex

A true leader of men Wilson would earn a place on this list for almost every year he’s been in the NFL. Last season the Seahawks signal caller threw for 4,110 yards, 31 touchdowns and 5 interceptions taking the Seahawks to the playoffs for the 7th time in Wilson’s 8 year tenure with the Seahawks.

It seems a this point a guarantee that Wilson and the Seahawks will see post season action, with stiff competition now in the NFC how far can Wilson take his men?

Time will tell, but with this man as a signal caller the Seahawks won’t go down without a fight.

Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady will be 43 years old when the NFL season kicks off this year. 43. Just let that sink in for a moment.

So after one of his worst seasons in 2019 Brady decided to leave for pastures new in Tampa Bay. Whether it was him butting heads with Bill Belichick or him feeling under appreciated by the team he spent the last 20 years of his life leading, Brady left the Patriots. He’s walked into a great situation in Tampa. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howards, JF3 and oh…Rob Gronkowski are just a few reasons why Tampa Bay is looking to be the best team in the NFC this year.

At 43 Brady will 100% slow down, it’s just nature but if that Tampa Bay pocket gives him 2-3 seconds every snap then no doubt they’re dangerous. Now last year on a team plagued with injuries, young players making mistakes and an O-Line made out of paper Brady managed to throw for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Pretty good considering.

So now put him on a team with Gronk who’s in the conversation for best tight end ever, Mike Evans a rough and ready wide receiver who can out muscle anyone covering and high points balls like a man twice his size, Chris Godwin who can take the top off a secondary and might be one of the fastest guys in the league and the little mentioned JF3 a Taysom Hill type player with 4.19 speed and agility to match. SCARY.

I think if this Tampa Bay team doesn’t make the playoffs it will be the biggest shock the league has ever seen. They’re almost a lock for the Superbowl and Brady vs Mahomes would be one of the most fun matchups ever. This Tampa Bay team is going to be fun to watch with the GOAT at the helm.

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

If it wasn’t for Lamar Jackson winning the MVP then Josh Allen would’ve been number 2 instead of here. Josh Allen is my favorite quarterback in the league and that’s coming from a Patriots fan. He’s got a bazooka for an arm, he’s athletic and he’s tough.

Josh Allen has come into a long snakebitten franchise and completely changed the energy. In his Rookie season he played in 12 games throwing for 2,074 yards for 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also added a further 631 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. Oh and he hurdled over Anthony Barr against the Vikings. That was pretty great.

ESPN highlights where Bills QB Josh Allen needs to improve
John Munson / AP

In his sophomore season he really improved starting in all 16 games putting up 3,089 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while adding 510 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Between his huge frame and cannon arm he really does look like a movie quarterback in every sense of the word. He came into the league with so much potential and only last year did he scratch the surface in terms of what he’s really capable of. The Bills unfortunately dropped out of the playoffs early another one and done situation.

Look for them to make a deep run this year taking on the likes of the Ravens, Titans and Chiefs along the way. If they can beat a team like the Chiefs in the playoffs I’d say they’d be a safe bet to win the big game come February.

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Honestly the number 2 on this list was hotly contested for a whole host of reasons but reigning MVP Lamar Jackson just edged it.

Showing massive improvements in his passing game during his sophomore season Jackson was one of the most electric playmakers in the league. With a mix of great throws and ridiculous speed and agility on the ground Jackson was a true duel threat.

The year he was drafted I was on record saying he might be one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen in a long time and 100% the best quarterback in his class. Not only did he stick to his guns when teams wanted him to work out as receiver he showed true improvement in his passing game taking his completion percentage from 58.2% in his rookie season to 66.1% in his sophomore year.

In his first season as a starter (starting all 16 games) he put up 3,127 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 6 interceptions plus his staggering 1,206 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns there’s a reason why he won MVP. While he does look like he struggles in the playoffs it clear that Jackson is a true duel threat and more than a handful for any NFL defense.

Expect the Ravens to appear in the playoffs again this year as they finally try as Lamar finally tries to break the one and done showings of his first 2 years.

He is on the cover of Madden though…but then again Patrick Mahomes may have ended the Madden curse for good

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Former MVP and reigning Superbowl champion, Patrick Mahomes might be the best quarterback in the league right now.

The former 2017 first round pick sat his full rookie season, which is something I actually recommend for most quarterbacks coming into the league.

Fresh from blinding stat lines at Texas Tech one of which was throwing for 734 yards in a game (819 combined yards) against Oklahoma. It was clear Mahomes had talent and the Chiefs coaching staff realized sitting him behind a veteran like Alex Smith was a great idea.

It paid off.

In his first season as a starter Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the road to an MVP award and AFC championship game. In his first year as a starter…that’s crazy. His stats saw a slight drop in 2019 where he threw for 4,031 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He did go on to win the Superbowl though so I’m sure he’s not too upset.

Super Bowl 2020: Several Super Bowl records set or tied as Chiefs ...
Robert Deutsch / USA Today Sports

Mahomes looks to be the best quarterback in the league for years to come, he’s got a cannon for an arm, great feet and awareness which allow him to extend plays and he understands football. If you could pick the best quarterback in the league at this exact moment, it’s Mahomes.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of his career plays out. Honestly I feel like it’s a given that the Chiefs at least appear in the AFC Championship game behind one of the best offences the NFL has ever seen, appearing to have broke the Madden curse with a Superbowl win and Superbowl MVP award to boot.

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10 things that defined the 2019 NFL season

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.

1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires

The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”

Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.

But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.

Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.

2. Player holdouts become a thing

The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.

There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.

Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.

Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.

The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.

There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare. 

To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.

3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL

The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.

Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.

The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.

4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout

Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.

Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.

Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up

How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success. 

Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.

Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.

Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.


But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.

Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.

Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.

There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on… 

6. Minshew Mania

Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.

The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.

Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.

Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.

Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.

7. Myles Garrett loses his head

As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”

Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.

At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.

Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.

8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)

There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.

In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.

AP Photo/Gary Landers

When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.

The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.

Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.

9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL

In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.

Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.

That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.

Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

10. A new UK venue earns its spurs

Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.

In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.

But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.

Miles Willis Photography

No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards.This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at. Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.

11. And one more for luck…

We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.

During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.

Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”

The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.

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Season In Review – San Francisco 49ers

By Lee wakefield (@Wakefield90)

Time to look at this year’s bridesmaids, the San Francisco 49ers. How did Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan turn it all round? Are they here to stay? Let’s find out…

Entering the season

Coming off a 4-12 season when your starting QB tears his ACL is tough, especially when we’re talking about a QB you traded for and signed him to a 5 year contract (although more of that later), in the hope that he could lead your team to bigger and better things.

What’s more, the NFC West is a very competitive division and a division rival had just been beaten in the Superbowl. The Rams and Sean McVay were the darlings of the NFL in the media, Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury were teaming up in the desert to but Arizona back on the map and Seattle, well, nobody in San Francisco likes Seattle and their Seahawks.

However, it was certainly looking rosier in the Bay Area…

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USA Today Sports

The reward for finishing 4-12 was the #2 overall pick which turned into Nick Bosa – Not a bad consolation prize, and the rest of the draft class looked good in the Spring. Bosa was followed by wide receivers, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd on day 2. Day 3 brought punter Mitch Wishnowsky and linebacker Dre Greenlaw from Utah and Arkansas respectively – Neither of these players moved the needle much back in April of last year but both were very solid contributors to the past season.

Drafting well made what looked like a decent draft haul into what is now a great draft haul and for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, that is what makes teams stick around at the top.

Another aspect of team building is, of course, trades and this is another method by which John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan improved the 9ers in the off season; Laken Tomlinson and Shon Coleman looked like solid acquisitions, even if they weren’t groundbreaking by any means, and even if Coleman didn’t play a snap this year after being injured in preseason. However, the point is, the 49ers braintrust was prepared to make moves in order to elevate their group and drag them from the second pick to what became second place.

During the Season

You know how I mentioned that things were looking rosier in the Bay? Well things started off more than rosy, the 49ers began the season on F I R E. Week 1, the 49ers went across the country and smoked the Bucs – The defense, led by Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Richard Sherman, suffocated Tampa, forcing 4 turnovers and put Jameis Winston on his backside another 3 times. This was the kind of performance from the defense that we came to expect week-in, week-out from this unit and they were really the driving force behind the much improved San Francisco squad.

Week 2, for example against the Bengals, the 49ers surrendered a mere 25 yards rushing, sacked the QB 4 times and forced another turnover. Week 6 against the Rams, L.A. were held to a total of 157 yards of offense and 7 points. The Rams, the Sean McVay Rams, the team that every media analyst was salivating a few months before. These are just a few examples of how dominant of a unit the 49ers defense had become – Like I said, it was sort of to be expected. This unit was the 2nd ranked defense by total defense by the end of the year.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Another thing that we came to expect was Jimmy G just doing enough in the passing game. This offense was powered by Kyle Shanahan’s running game and play-action.

The passing game finished a middle of the road, 13th in yards per game at 237, which usually wouldn’t be enough to power anyone to 13 wins but the running game was absolutely dominant. 144 yards per game was second only to the Ravens frankly insane, 206 per game. No matter how it’s cut, if you’re putting up a shade under 30 points per game, your offense is a problem.

Of course, not everyone has a head coach who is an offensive genius, willing blockers such as Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle and a bevvy of running backs who can all get hot in a hurry but these two guys were certainly the driving force, the heartbeat and the emotional leaders of the offense. They really did personify it. Whereas other tight ends might get uppity about not catching passes, George Kittle loved running people over, laughing as he did it and jogging to the sideline to ask Shanahan to run the ball again.

What was the result of this?

Well, a whole bunch of blow out wins. The 49ers weren’t just winning most weeks, coming out the right side of one score games – which can sometimes be a sign of a team getting lucky – the 49ers were smoking a lot of teams, and not just being flat track bullies either. San Francisco blew out; the Bucs, the Panthers, the Rams in L.A., the Packers… And when they were asked to win a close one, they were able to get the job done, such as the regular season wins against the Saints, the Seahawks in Seattle and the Rams at home.

The only losses were in overtime at home to Seattle by 3, a 3 point loss in Baltimore and a weird loss at home to the lowly Falcons.

The offseason beckoned and it was much of the same – The Vikings and Packers fell again and truth be told, they were one-sided affairs. The 49ers steamrolled them both, Nick Bosa was on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl nomination and so were Juszczyk, Kittle and Sherman.

(Fred Warner was robbed y’all).

Kittle, Sherman and DeForest Buckner made All-Pro too, but this team was gunning for the biggest prize of all, not personal accolades.

The Superbowl then… Sorry to 49ers fans who are reading… I tried to hold off talking about it for as long as a could.

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Jose Carlos Fjarado/Bay Area News Group

It was all going so well, wasn’t it? Until it wasn’t. The Chiefs just did what they do and put up points in bunches with their blitzkrieg-esque offense. It was a great game and even if it’s no solace to 49ers fans, the 2019 season was still a great season for this team and I have optimism that the 9ers are here to stay, too. Which leads me on to… 

Offseason Outlook

I think the offseason outlook for the 49ers is pretty good. As I alluded to a moment ago, I feel like this team is set to be good for a while, or at least the next 3 or 4 years.

I’m a massive fan of Kyle Shanahan and keeping him in the building is going to be of paramount importance – Although, why would he want to leave?

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Wilfredo Lee/AP

John Lynch has just won NFL Executive of the Year, and seems to do as he’s told by Shanahan in terms of player recruitment and he hasn’t been afraid to put the trigger on a deal. Aside from Garoppolo and the linemen I mentioned earlier, Dee Ford has been brought in, Emmanuel Sanders was acquired later in the season and provided a boost, and not only incomings, before this season, the likes of Daniel Kilgore, Vance McDonald and Trent Brown all left town.

We see far too many teams who stick rather than twist when it comes to roster building, talent acquisition and the acquisition of draft capital, and many of those teams stagnate.

San Francisco, New England and Seattle are teams that I think of that are never afraid to do a deal, whether that be in season of around the draft and that coupling of good coaching and a front office that isn’t scared to deal has meant that in the past 10 Superbowls, since Superbowl XLV in 2011, there has only been two Superbowls that hasn’t featured at least one of those 3 teams.

Food for thought – That’s an elite group of teams in terms of their philosophy and the way they do business.

In terms of the business that the 49ers need to do this offseason, well… there’s actually very little to be done. Which is a great thing! This team is fresh and young in all the right places – Young leaders on defense, such as DeForest Buckner, Fred Warner and of course, Nick Bosa are matched on the other side of the ball by George Kittle, Mike McGlinchley and Deebo Samuel. All these guys and more are young or coming into their primes on relatively cheap contracts.

Buckner is moving into his 5th year option and Kittle is in the final year of his rookie deal and will both need extending and both will get done, I’m sure.

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Brett Duke/AP

The 49ers have a decision to make with Arik Armstead, whose contact is up and there may be no room at the inn unfortunately, since the two players above and also Kyle Juszczyk need paying first and the cap situation isn’t the prettiest in the NFL.

The 49ers have $12.8m of space to play with according to, which isn’t a lot when you have to find money for Buckner and will probably have to make Kittle the best paid tight end in the NFL.

Cuts will have to be made…

Sanders deal is expiring and was worth $11m, so I doubt he’s retained unless he takes a hefty pay cut – That frees up a fair chunk of capital. As will saying goodbye to the likes of Jimmie Ward, Jascon Verrett (and it maybe goodnight on his NFL career) and a bunch of other players who are further down the pecking order such as Ben Garland, Anthony Zettel and Jordan Matthews.

It is also quite handy that other free agents that they may want to keep hold of, players such as, Emmanuel Moseley, Matt Breida, Kendrick Bourne and Jeff Wilson are all exclusive rights free agents or restricted free agents, meaning the 49ers can retain them on the cheap for another year, which I am sure they will.

Ok so, a little bit of careful surgery here and there, a contract extension or two and delaying extending a couple of others means the 49ers can do into next season with a pretty similar squad to last year and just add to it via the draft, but what about next year when new contacts kick in for Kittle and Buckner and you still need to extend Moseley and Bourne?

Well, this is where we come all the way back to the top of the article and look at the contract of one, James Richard Garoppolo.

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Jose Carlos Fjarado

The 49ers are on the hook for $25.2m for Jimmy G next year, however, due to the way Jimmy’s contract is structured, San Francisco’s dead cap hit drops from $13.7m to just $4.2m after the 2020 season and after that it’s just $2.8m in 2021 when Garoppolo’s deal could cost $25.2m.

That’s a heck of a cap saving. Especially because we’ve got to start considering where the money is going to come from to make Nick Bosa the most highly paid edge defender in football in a few years time.

We know Jimmy G isn’t the greatest QB of all time – The 49ers focused on their run game and making that the strength of the offense in 2019 and relegated Garoppolo to being a facilitator. Which is fine and he did a good job and will probably do a good job in that role again in 2020… But do you know what, you can pay a facilitator QB around $10-15m per year and get similar results.

Unless Garoppolo seriously elevates his game next season, I think it’ll be his last season in the Bay Area, because it simply isn’t a good business decision to give a facilitator QB north of 25 million dollars when you have to pay a young team who are coming into their prime.

So yes, the future for San Francisco football is bright but they just may have a new QB in 12-18 months time.

A final word on the draft before I sign off here…

The 49ers are one of the most intriguing teams in the later portion of the first round this year, in my opinion.

As Superbowl runners-up, they pick 31st in the first round, a prime trade back spot for teams to deal with another team who want to get back into the 1st round and get that 5th year option on a guy they really want.

Now what do the 49ers do?

Due to their wheeling and dealing in the past, after the 31st pick they don’t pick again until the 5th round and the 159th overall pick – That’s quite a wait.

Do the 9ers trade back and pick up a few more swings? Or do they recognise that they are perhaps one player on defense away from becoming a complete unit?

I believe a deep safety such as LSU’s, Grant Delpit or a physical corner such as Jaylon Johnson of Utah or Trevon Diggs of Alabama could really be that icing on the cake.

In reality, they will probably wait and see how the board falls on the night and see how it matches up with their board and go from there, but it, like the draft as a whole should be absolutely fascinating.

Either way, I’d back this group to do the right thing – I was part of the 49ers Hype Train last year and I think I’ll be signing up again for 2020.