Season in Review – Kansas City Chiefs

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

As we get to the end of our Season in Review series, we finally get to the story with the fairy tale ending. Here’s the lowdown on the 2019 campaign that saw the Kansas City Chiefs lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years.


ENTERING THE SEASON


2018 had been a successful year for the Chiefs, winning the AFC West and getting within a coin toss of reaching the Super Bowl. An overtime loss in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots may have ended differently if Patrick Mahomes had started with the ball instead of Tom Brady…

In the offseason, KC released two of their most established players in linebacker Justin Houston (now with the Colts) and safety Eric Berry (still a free agent). They also shipped out newly acquired receiver Sammie Coates, now starring in the XFL for the Houston Roughnecks.

DE Dee Ford was franchise tagged before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, while Frank ‘The Shark’ Clark came in from Seattle. He was joined by running back Carlos Hyde, corner Bashaud Breeland and the Honey Badger himself, safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

All this trade action left KC with no first-round option in the 2019 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, with their first selection (#56 overall), the Chiefs acquired WR/return specialist Mecole Hardman from Georgia, who went on to the Pro Bowl in his first season. Their other Round 2 choice, safety Juan Thornhill, formed a solid partnership with Mathieu.

During pre-season, Chiefs fans wouldn’t have had a sense of what was to come. Of course, they beat the Bengals but lost the other three warm-up games to the Steelers, 49ers and Packers.


DURING THE SEASON


In 2019 – the Chiefs’ 50th NFL campaign, 60th in total and seventh under Andy Reid as Head Coach – they shot out of the gate with four straight wins. As well as going to Jacksonville (three receiving TDs for Sammy Watkins), Oakland (four TD passes by Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter) and Detroit (three rushing touchdowns), they dished out a rare L to the much-fancied Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium. One of Hardman’s two receiving plays that day was an 83-yard score during which he was clocked at 21.7 mph.


Get 10% off at NFL Europe Shop with code FULL10


But given how the season started and finished, it’s hard to believe that KC then went on a run of just two wins in six. Their 19-13 loss to the Colts ended a 25-game streak of scoring at least 25 points, and they also fell at home to the Texans (having only 20 minutes of possession didn’t help). Matt Moore stepped in at QB after Mahomes injured his knee in a TNF win over Denver, and started two home games: a loss to the Packers and a win against Minnesota, decided by a Harrison Butker FG with three seconds left.

Mahomes returned with a bang to face the Titans, attempting 50 passes, racking up 446 passing yards and nailing three TD throws, including a 63-yarder to Hardman, but it still ended in defeat. Luckily, it was their last one of the campaign.

James Kenney/Associated Press

Through their sticky patch, KC had stumbled from a confident 4-0 to an unsteady 6-4. But from Week 11 onwards – when the Chiefs dispatched the LA Chargers in Mexico City – they became the model of perfection, recording nine wins in a row, including The Big One in Miami on 2 February. 

After their bye week, the Kansas City defence really stepped it up, keeping Oakland to just nine points and running a blocked kick back to the house with the final play. After a 23-16 win over the Patriots, which sealed the AFC West crown for the fourth time on the bounce, the Chiefs held both the Broncos and Bears to a single field goal in easy wins. 

In Week 17, Hardman returned a kick-off for a 104-yard TD in another victory against the Chargers, earning them the No.2 seed in the AFC and a free pass through to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Chiefs battled back from 24-0 down after 15 minutes to see off the Houston Texans 51-31, with Mahomes throwing three of his five TDs passes to TE Travis Kelce, and Damien Williams running in two more. Their points tally was a KC postseason record, it sealed back-to-back playoff wins for the first time in franchise history and it was first time any team has scored TDs on seven consecutive drives since 1970, when Kansas last won the Super Bowl. (Oooh, spooky…)

Jeff Curry

The Chiefs hosted the AFC Championship, where they got their revenge over the Tennessee Titans in front of the Arrowhead faithful. Again, they trailed at the end of the first quarter but five TDs (including two for Tyreek Hill) saw them advance to Super Bowl LIV with a 35-24 win.

As we all know by now, Mahomes rallied his team once last time in the season finale, leading a late charge to beat the 49ers 31-20 and take their first championship title since Super Bowl IV exactly 50 years ago. Read my take on the game here.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


Heading into the offseason, it’s obvious that KC really need a new quarterback… ha ha, as if.

While they may need a new backup, with Matt Moore entering free agency, their top priority should be re-signing Chris Jones, the team’s sack leader for the last two years. The defensive lineman’s contract could set them back around $20m a year – akin to what they pay Frank Clark – and when the time comes, they’ll have to pay Mahomes mega-bucks too. This won’t leave GM Brett Veach much of his $13.9 million cap space (the sixth lowest in the league) to be as aggressive as he has in previous offseasons unless something else gives.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Of the Chiefs’ 24 players whose contracts are expiring, LeSean McCoy, Terrell Suggs and Spencer Ware are three that will probably depart or even retire. And when it comes to April’s NFL Draft, the Chiefs only have five picks, having traded away their sixth and seventh rounders. As champions, they’ll pick last, starting at #32 overall.

Given the free-agent status of Jones, as well as Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller, the Chiefs may target a defensive lineman (Jordan Elliott from Missouri?), cornerback (Clemson’s AJ Terrell seems a possibility) or linebacker (I’m seeing Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma and LSU’s Patrick Queen mocked to the Chiefs). Another edge rusher could complement Clark well, so Curtis Weaver (Boise State) or Zack Baun (Wisconsin) may also be in the mix.

On the other side of the ball, WR Sammy Watkins has another year left but he didn’t score after Week 1. The Chiefs could release him, save a shed-load of money and pluck a young pup from a loaded 2020 class. They could also upgrade at running back, either with a draft pick like Johnathan Taylor from Wisconsin or maybe a free agent, with the names Austin Ekeler and Matt Breida being bandied about.

But as you’d expect with a Super Bowl-winning side with a much-respected HC, there’s a lot of silver lining and not very much cloud in the long-range forecast. So if you fancy a flutter on the year ahead, the Chiefs (in or around 6/1) are the current favourites to defend their title next year in Tampa.

Season in Review – Denver Broncos

By Chris Tod (@ctdk1980)

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


ENTERING THE SEASON


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

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

Image result for vic fangio
Joe Amon/DP

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

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


DURING THE SEASON


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

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

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

Image result for joe flacco drew lock
Joe Amon / DP

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

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


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


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

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

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

Season in Review – LA Chargers

By Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90)

Welcome to the Chargers season review, by me, a fan.

It’s January and unlike January last year, there has been no playoff football for the Chargers.

Yes, 2019 didn’t end in a Superbowl either, so it was a failure – Just as this season has been but at least the book closed with hope last season. This season, the book closed with questions, and lots of them.


Entering the Season


Well, at least we get to start on a positive note.

Like I alluded to above, yeah getting smoked in the divisional round to the Patriots wasn’t a great way to bow out of the playoffs last year but at least the Chargers had won a playoff game for the first time in what feels like forever and won 12 games in the regular season – Often having to dig deep in those games and get over the hump with a big play, or gutsy play call, or sometimes even a last minute kick.

Optimism was high and some people, fans and media members alike, where talking up the Chargers to make a Superbowl run in 2019. And you know what? The optimism wasn’t misplaced. The team, on paper looked talented and full of playmakers, they’d just come off a 12 win season and their playoff win was one where the coaches out coached the Ravens coaches and they shut down Lamar Jackson almost completely. It looked like everything was coming together.

Thomas Davis came in to sure up the linebacking room and add some experience and steel – Something that was deemed to have been required to stop teams running all over them, like New England did in Foxborough the night the season ended.

Jerry Tillery was added with the 28th overall pick – another mechanism for plugging running lanes but also to add some interior pass rush to match the high quality rushers off the edge that they already possessed.

The signings, whilst not plentiful, seemed sensible and logical. The draft class outside of Tillery contained exciting safety, Nasir Adderley and linebacker Drue Tranquill, and some potential high upside projects, like left tackle, Tray Pipkins – Something the Bolts thought they could afford to wait on, given the talent at their disposal.

It was all looking rosy… Until it wasn’t.

Melvin Gordon started his well publicised contract hold out, Derwin James broke a metatarsal and Russell Okung contracted a Pulmonary oedema.

Adderley then split a hamstring tendon and Tillery was taking longer to adjust to the speed of the NFL than expected and Pipkins wasn’t supposed to play yet…

Where did that sunshine go? Where did out draft class go?

Then the games began.

During the Season


After the early optimism. things weren’t looking great off the field in some respects, the spring felt quite a long time ago but we were going to roll with it and we still backed ourselves. Now the Colts were rolling into town

A prequel for a playoff game perhaps? An early season gut check. 

“At least Hunter Henry was back”, “we can get away with having no Gordon, we’ve got Ekeler and Jackson”, oh how we comforted ourselves.

And Derwin? Well yeah, we’ll miss him badly but he’ll be back around week 8 to lead us into the postseason.

Well, we beat the Colts, just. In overtime. “This is what we do, we can grind wins out against good teams”, “Just like last year”. Like idiots we allowed ourselves to think like this.

The signs were there. We just didn’t know what the signs were yet. Rivers was picked off superbly by Malik Hooker, in the endzone, in this game. Yeah… You know where I’m going. The Chargers, from week 2 onwards well, as the saying goes, Chargered (It’s a phrase that pisses me off whenever I see it, I hate it, it’s what idiots say on the internet to score cheap points or likes but I’ll use it, because this season was just as irritating).

Detroit, week 2 – Rivers threw a pick going for it all instead of just allowing the team to kick a field goal and Austin Ekeler fumbled on the goal line, trying to leap over the pile – Something he’d done successfully earlier in the game. 1-1.

Houston another winnable game goes awry and later Denver and Tennessee…

Gordon was back by now but looking extremely rusty. The whole holdout thing was how exactly not to do it, a disaster for all parties from start to finish.

When I say Gordon was back, it was just in time to fumble literally inches away from scoring a game winning touchdown in Tennessee as the clock ticked its final few ticks.

Image result for melvin gordon fumble tennessee
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

We’re 2-5 and weeks are ticking by, wins that should have been won are slipping through our fingers and players are dropping like flies. Adrian Phillips to a broken arm the latest. The glue of our defense gone.

No Derwin, no Philips, Tillery still not producing, no discernable attempt at fielding competence opposite Haywood at corner, King only present in body. Where has our defense gone?!

Christ this season is falling apart. Like I said, Chargering is irritating at best.

The weirdest game ever – in terms of my post match feeling, at least – followed. At Chicago, week 8.

A game we won as Eddy Piniero missed a walk off field goal. A WIN!

But I was p****d off, we played terribly and didn’t deserve the win. I didn’t feel like celebrating. This wasn’t the team we all thought it was from a year ago. This very much felt like it was papering over some exceptionally large cracks.

I’m eight weeks in now and the issue I mentioned in week 1 has bubbled without exploding in our face yet. It was about to. Through 8 weeks, Rivers had 7 interceptions. Many stupid, needless and costly.

“Rivers is always prone to the odd game like this”, “It’s the line’s fault”, “we’re 3-5, we can bring it back”.

Oh how we deluded ourselves. Well… to add to the delusions. We went and beat Green Bay. Just what we needed. Although it wasn’t. The Chargers would only beat a hapless Jags team the rest of the way.

We all know what happened from here… We threw it all away. Literally and repeatedly.

The team were disjointed on the field and lacked joined-up thinking off it. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, was a casualty and nothing much changed. Was it his fault? Or was it actually the offensive line?

13 more Rivers interceptions, 4 multi-pick games: questions about effort and in-fighting reigned from inside the locker room.

Image result for philip rivers
Image Credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty

The end of an era was nigh. Rivers? Lynn? Telesco? All three? Who was going? In the end it only seems like it’s goodbye to Philip Rivers, and hello to, well, we’re not sure yet. Cam Newton or Justin Herbert? Or Tom Brady? Who knows… Rivers is reportedly moving himself and his family to Florida. Where everyone goes to retire, right?

All we know it’s there’s more questions than answers at this point and the optimism is long gone.


Offseason Outlook


Lots of work to be done. That’s what the outlook it.

Look, this group isn’t too bad, far from it, they have some very talented players and a bunch of good draft picks to take.

The General Manager and Head Coach probably won’t survive another poor season either, so you’d like to think it’s time to push the chips into the middle of the table and make some moves.

First things first – The deadwood needs clearing out. There are a few players who have either, just not worked out or are earning way too much to keep around compared to the end product on the field.

Next – Well, maybe this over anything but maybe you need the money from clearing out the deadwood but anyway, SIGN JOEY BOSA.

Don’t mess around like you did with his rookie deal. Walk in with a smile on your face and a blank cheque in your hand and say: “Joey, you’re the face of the franchise now, you write whatever number you’d like on that cheque and you can have it”. Get it done. No amount is too much. If this team is serious about making a fist of it in Los Angeles, then you absolutely have to keep Bosa in the building. AND! This team could do without the drama of another holdout. Thanks.

Next, have a good draft!

Telesco’s drafts have been spotty at best – We’ve had some notable hits but also some notable misses – Especially in round 3 (If Gordon goes elsewhere in free agency, the Bolts should receive a 3rd round compensatory pick), so eyes peeled for that one. I want to see another QB. Whether it’s Justin Herbert at 6 or Jalen Hurts on day 2, this team needs to usher in a new era at SoFi Stadium, even if the new era begins with Tyrod Taylor under center.

Hopefully we’ll see the 2019 draft class come to the fore too and therefore they’ll be like new signings too.

There’s always room for optimism in the offseason and as I said earlier, there is talent in every room for L.A. but some careful surgery is needed. If they receive that, then we could be looking at a worst to first candidate in 2020.

Maybe.

Season In Review – Oakland Raiders

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

For this installment of the NFL Season reviews, we take a look at a team who were under the spotlight early via Hard Knocks, the Oakland Raiders. We needed the question of “Is Jon Gruden outdated?” answered and the post Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown had more than a few surprises in store. Could they shock the NFL by making it to the postseason in their last season in Oakland?


Entering the season


This was to be the Raiders last season in Oakland before they pack their bags for Vegas. The Black Hole sad, especially when they saw the product on the pitch last year with Gruden taking over with Mike Mayock in tow.

Due to their trades made including Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the Raiders were bolstered by 3 1st round draft picks. Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs and Jonathan Abram were those picks and without any doubt, the Raiders were expected to show improvements under John Gruden after their poor performance the season prior, finishing 4-12.

Image result for oakland raiders hard knocks
Image Credit: Anda Chu

As the face of Hard Knocks this season, there was a big spotlight on them and none more so than Free Agent acquisition Antonio Brown. It’s fair to say that the gamble on him did not pay off and the AB got “cold feet”. Other characters such as Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict were signed to the team.


During the season


The Raiders opened up 3-2 before their week 6 bye which included a win in London against the Bears which was dubbed the “Khalil Mack Bowl”.

Image result for raiders vs bears london
Image Credit: Tim Ireland/AP

Wins against the Chargers, Lions and Bengals saw them improve to 6-4 and were always mathematically in the hunt for a playoff place all the way up to week 17. This was despite losing 5 of their last 6 games with a point differential of -81 in those games.

The Raiders only wins came from beating non-playoff teams which is a good indication that they are no better than average in the league aided by the fact they were 24th in both offensive and defensive scoring. But it’s more the long term outlook that will give the Black Hole optimism going forward; Young team, Gruden starting get the team working how he wants them too and the players certainly play for him.

Derek Carr was a slight improvement from last year’s form and his relationship with Gruden continues to be a mystery. He set a career high in completion % and season passer QB rating, but that probably can be explained by his continued avoidance of throwing deep down field.

Image result for josh jacobs darren waller
Image Credit: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty

Standout players for the Raiders, you have to start with Josh Jacobs and Tight end Darren Waller. Josh Jacobs rushed for over 1100 yards and notched 7 TDs in his rookie season whilst Darren Waller put all his previous troubles behind him, breaking out as the best receiving option for Carr, totaling 1145 yards on 90 receptions. 5th round pick Hunter Renfrow also had a nice rookie season despite missing a portion through injury.

On defence, 4th round pick Maxx Crosby got his name out there and got 10 sacks in an impressive opening season.


Offseason outlook


This was of course Oakland’s last season in Oakland as they now pack their bags to Las Vegas (assuming the stadium completes on time!). We’ll get treated to the Vegas experience early as the 2020 NFL draft will literally be on the Bellagio water fountains.

Image result for las vegas raiders
Image Credit: Manica Architecture

Derek Carr’s future will no doubt get some media attention this offseason and in the lead up to the draft. The Raiders can save $16m in cap space if they were to cut him and considering he is only commanding around $20m in the first place, isn’t the worst guy to keep around. In total, they have around $60m to play with with seems quite low considering their recent influx of rookies.

Considering the talent Mayock and Gruden brought in since their arrival, a good 2020 haul could really see the raiders make a push in their new home for January football. They have 2 1st round picks in 2020 as part of the Khalil Mack trade and will be picking from spots 12 and 19. They still have a few areas to improve on which includes the WR position.

House-call Hardman: The Chiefs Secret Weapon.

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most stacked offences in the league, if not the most stacked.

Asking someone to name off their weapons would be like asking the Army to name all of theirs; they’d get half-way through and you’d already know that you were going to lose.

Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, Damien Williams; the list goes on and they really do seem as dangerous on paper as on the grass of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where they will face up against the equally impressive San Francisco 49ers for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

But despite all the big names on their roster, and despite all the first-round picks on the 49ers defence, there is a certain name you should be looking out for as soon as that ball is kicked off on the 2nd February.

Mecole Hardman.

A second round pick out of Georgia this last year, Hardman’s explosive rookie season has seen him go to the pro-bowl as a returner, and as I’ll explain, may take him to Super Bowl MVP.


Return to sender


Hardman’s impact as a return specialist has been incredibly impressive in just his rookie season.

You can expect the Pro-Bowler to attempt to affect field position and even cause some danger to the end-zone in Miami as Hardman has a serious chance to be the first player since Devin Hester to return the opening kick-off of a Super Bowl for a touchdown.

Related image
Stan Szeto/UAS TODAY Sports

The Chiefs not only lead the post season in return yards with 247, but also post the highest average return of any team that featured in the Championship round.

The 49ers gave up 148 kick return yards to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round, so the possibility of breaking a big runback is there for Hardman who ranked highly in all returning statistics this season.


A helpful alternative


Mecole Hardman’s fairly lowkey status may also be of huge assistance as he shoots to become the Chiefs main Super Bowl weapon.

With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce likely to be doubled by the 49ers defence, there is space for an alternative threat to emerge for Andy Reid’s offence.

Image result for mecole hardman travis kelce tyreek hill
Abbie Parr/Getty

Hill will be in crosshairs come game time after his performance in the AFC Championship meaning that he may see coverage rolled his way by Niners DC, Robert Saleh.

And as for Kelce, well you can expect to see him struggle in Florida as well, as the 49ers gave up just 552 receiving yards to Tight Ends in the regular season, the fewest of any team.

Kelce suffered a similar fate vs the Tennessee Titans as he saw chips and bracketing galore in an attempt to slow him down, which worked.

These techniques used by opposing DC’s to prevent the Chief’s main weapons often give up some space to players like Hardman to make a name for themselves, or indeed Sammy Watkins who ended up over 100 receiving yards last time out.


Slotting into place


Both at the University of Georgia and indeed as a Chief, Hardman has done much of his business from the inside the hashes.

37% of his season has been spent trying to take advantage of the slot and the people who defend it, and it has been fairly successful as Hardman collated 6 receiving touchdowns in his debut campaign.

Image result for mecole hardman lined up
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

This week he is likely to face up against Slot Cornerback K’Waun Williams who had a good game against the Green Bay Packers and specifically Allen Lazard.

The challenge for Williams this week is the incredibly rapid Hardman, who times in over a quarter of a second faster over 40 yards (4.33 to 4.58) than Williams and posts far higher agility and speed scores, per PlayerProfiler.

The 2019 49ers defence for all its dominance, have given up 50+ yard and one touchdown receiving games to both Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks and Pharaoh Cooper of the Arizona Cardinals.

Of all the players to have returned against the Niners, interestingly these two post the hights snap share in the slot, 50% and 67% respectively, all of which could be pointing to an area of small weakness for Andy Reid to try and use.


Rushing to conclude


If I hadn’t already convinced you to back Hardman at the Hard Rock, then just give me one last chance.

Any college football fans will probably recall, the 2017 National Championship between Alabama and Georgia, but what you might not remember is Mecole Hardman having over 130 all purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Image result for mecole hardman georgia vs alabama
Jamie Squire/Getty

Apart from preventing concerns that Hardman struggles to perform when the lights are bright and the pressure is on, his rushing touchdown in that game on a Jet Sweep leads me to my bravest prediction.

Andy Reid often takes advantage of trick plays like Jet Sweeps and motions from his receivers like Tyreek Hill’s first touchdown of the Championship game.

He has only rushed Hardman four times this season, preferring Hill for this duty, which if I’m not mistaken, is setting us up for an attempt or two in the big game for number 17.

Hardman may just end up with a rushing touchdown to match the 150 all purpose yards and a receiving touchdown that i’ll be betting on him to have.

Half-Term Report: AFC/NFC West

It’s just about the half way point in the NFL regular season. Depending on your outlook on such things, that’s good or bad.

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


AFC West

Image result for afc west
By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  • Kansas City Chiefs 5-3
  • Oakland Raiders 3-4
  • LA Chargers 3-5
  • Denver Broncos 2-6

*Kansas City Chiefs*

Midseason Grade: B

How has it gone so far?

The offensive juggernaut picked up where they left off. Patrick Mahomes has spread the ball around with ease despite missing Tyreek Hill for most of the 1st half of the season. A trade on the eve of the season for LeSean McCoy had solidified the backfield and Travis Kelce remains the league’s best tight end.

However the achilies heel is once again the defence. In particular it has been the Chiefs inability to defend the run. Only the winless Bengals have given up more yards on the ground and teams have found a formula to beat the Chiefs.

Having tasted defeat in 3 of the past 4 contests the Chiefs will be anxious to get Mahomes back from injury to allow the offence the greatest opportunity to make up for the defensive deficiencies. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

The Chiefs are comfortable within the division and the 3 losses they have tasted were against quality opponents. They take care of business in the games that you would expect them to do so. They will not be concerned with regular season record however as they will be concentrating on what they want to achieve in January.

Fixing the run defence will have to be a top priority as the ground game becomes more of a factor as we get towards playoff time. The offence will continue to cause problems for anyone and outside of games with the Vikings and Patriots, the Chiefs will be big favourites in the other contests they have left to play.

Regular Season Record Prediction – 11-5 – Division Winners


*Oakland Raiders*

Midseason Grade: C

How has it gone so far?

The team of hard knocks has very quickly moved on from Antonio Brown to post some decent performances in the first half of the season.

Losses to the Chiefs, Vikings, Packers and Texans are nothing to be ashamed of. Derek Carr has been very accurate, completing over 72% of his passes as he has found himself 2 new best friends. Darren Waller has been a revelation at tight end, he leads the team with 46 receptions,over twice the amount of the next leading receiver.

Josh Jacobs is arguably one of the leading candidates for offensive rookie of the year honours with 620 rushing yards from the 7 games played.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Winnable looking games against the Jets, Bengals and Chargers provide plenty of optimism for the Raiders in the second half of the season.

The impending move to Vegas should hopefully mean plenty of motivation to give the fans over in the Bay area a good send off.

Look out for the continued development of the 2 young playmakers mentioned as the Raiders may have stumbled across a nice young core to develop with. 

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9


*LA Chargers*

Midseason Grade: D+

How has it gone so far?

In the conversation for the most underwhelming team of the 2020 season, the Chargers have fallen off massively from where they were last year. The offensive line has been a problem throughout and what feels like the standard injury curse has once again struck. Melvin Gordon backed himself in a contract hold out in a move that appears to have backfired having been outperformed by Austin Ekeler during the campaign.

Mike Williams found the endzone on 10 occasions last campaign but has yet to find pay dirt this time around. In fact Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry are the only 2 skill positions outside of the running backs that have scored a touchdown for the Bolts so far.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Looking for consistency, the Chargers need to stop beating themselves. 2 games against the Chiefs along with difficult looking matchups against the Vikings and Packers make the road ahead look difficult. WIth 5 divisional games still ahead though, with a heavy fair wind the Chargers aren’t quite out of things just yet.

Getting Michael Badgeley back on the field will help also as even if the Chargers get into winning positions the find a way to lose.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9


*Denver Broncos*

Midseason Grade: D

How has it gone so far?

As you would expect a Joe Flacco led offence to look, a little pedestrian. Ranked just 28th in points scored at just 15.6 per game the defence is keeping the Broncos competitive. That unit ranks 8th in terms of points against so its clear to see where the issues are in Mile High. An 0-4 start has been followed by a 2-2 stretch for a team struggling to establish an identity.

Philip Lindsay is still the most valuable offensive piece but despite his superior production he is stuck in a timeshare with Royce Freeman. Von Miller is having a relatively quiet season with only 4 sacks so far on the campaign.

Rest of Season Outlook:

After criticizing the defensiveness of offensive play calling Joe Flacco has miraculously picked up an injury so Brandon Allen is in at QB. The schedule does not look kind with Vikings, Texans and Chiefs all still to come. The Broncos would have been hoping for more of a boost from Vic Fangio than they have received and this has a feeling of a 1 and done season.

Development of the young wide receiving core will be crucial as the Broncos will hope that Drew Lock will be able to take over this offence in the non to distant future.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 3-13


Get 10% off at NFL Europe Shop with code FULL10


NFC West

Image result for nfc west
By Lawrence Vos (@NFLFanInEngland)

Current Standings 

  • San Francisco 49ers – 7-0
  • Seattle Seahawks – 6-2
  • Los Angeles Rams – 5-3
  • Arizona Cardinals – 3-4-1

*San Francisco 49ers*

Midseason Grade: A

How has it gone so far?

Without doubt the surprise package of the season, the 49ers are not so much dark horses, but sparkly rainbow unicorns, with the only undefeated record in the NFC. How are they racking up the W’s?

A perfect blend of creative and consistent running and a tough tackling defense led by rookie Nick Bosa and wily veteran CB Richard Sherman. Jimmy Garoppolo has been upright all season and only sacked 11 times. He needs to cut down interceptions (7)  but at a nearly 70% completion rate Garoppolo is just fine. The strong running game is led by a three-headed monster of Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert who have combined for over 1000 ground yards already and 10 combined touchdowns.

The receiving unit has been a big letdown, with the exception of All-Pro TE George Kittle, so a mid-season trade for Emmanuel Sanders from Denver was a welcome boost. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

The remaining part of the 49ers schedule is much harder than the first half. Two matchups against the Seahawks, plus the Ravens, Saints and Packers. The 49ers will not go 16-0 regardless of however hard they run or tackle.

The two Seahawks games will define the season, and will provide the difference between a division win and a wild-card. Emmanuel Sanders will need to strike up immediate rapport with Jimmy G, as ridiculously his nine touchdown passes this season have gone to nine different team-mates. The return of versatile FB Kyle Juszczyk in the final third of the season will be a big boost.

Regular season record prediction: – 12-4 (and a wild card)


*Seattle Seahawks*

Midseason Grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

The Seahawks have not been convincing in 2019, winning their six games by a combined 32 points, including two one point wins. Regardless Russell Wilson is having a spectacular season, 2,127 yards, 17 touchdowns and just the one int in 8 full games.

Elsewhere the offence has been performing admirably, RB Chris Carson is on track for 1,200-1,300 yards and the mix of veteran WR Tyler Lockett and rookie WR DK Metcalf is providing a winning combination.

LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright continue to play at a Pro-Bowl level and the addition of DE Jadeveon Clowney may not have yielded gaudy sack totals, but he leads the team in tackles for loss and forced fumbles. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

The Seahawks have the 49ers clearly in their line of sight, and the two games they face against each other will be box office television both times. It’s all NFC games for Seattle for the rest of the season and six more wins is a realistic target. Seattle and San Francisco should have safely punched their ticket to the post-season by Week 16, so the Seahawks hosting the 49ers in Week 17 will likely determine who wins the division.

CenturyLink Field is no longer a fortress for the Seahawks, but they will use the wet-weather to squeak a W17 win and with it a division title. 

Regular season record prediction: – 12-4 (and a division win) 


*Los Angeles Rams*

Midseason Grade: B-

How has it gone so far? 

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for the Rams so far, starting with a three game win streak, followed by a three game crash, before crushing two awful teams.

In the space of three weeks (2-4) L.A. put a beat down on the Saints, scraped past the Browns and then leaked 55 against Tampa. Jared Goff is on pace for 5,000 yards and WR Cooper Kupp is looking like an All-Pro. Kupp’s 220 yard outing at Wembley will take a long time to forget.

Todd Gurley has flattered to deceive, his 7 touchdowns hiding a rather unimpressive season so far. LBs Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews are on pace for double digit sacks. The biggest impact on defense is CB Jalen Ramsey who was traded in from the Jaguars in October. Ramsey is currently undefeated as a Rams star.  

Rest of Season Outlook: 

The Super Bowl hangover is for real.

A tough run of games against Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco are sandwiched between two contests against the Cardinals. There have been five receiving yardage leaders on the team in eight games, and Todd Gurley has not had a single 100 yard rushing game this year.

Two home MNF games (Chicago and Seattle) will put the Rams in the spotlight, but they are not going to make the playoffs because their offensive line is their weak link, that will cost them dearly in the Winter months.

Regular season record prediction: 9-7


*Arizona Cardinals*

Midseason Grade: C+

How has it gone so far? 

Three wins and a tie in half a season is above expectation for a Cardinals team expected to be near the foot of the conference whilst they let rookie QB Kyler Murray settle in to the team.

The three wins were against weak opponents by a combined 10 points. Murray has shown improvement from his first four games, but he has been let down by a poor running game, which now has former Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake moving to Arizona from Miami.

The immortal WR Larry Fitzgerald is still churning away, and with an upsurge in targets could get another 1,000 season under his belt. David Johnson is still underperforming and he has more touchdowns catching than he does rushing. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

There are not a lot of winnable games left for the Cardinals in the second half of the season, ending in two tough road-trips to Seattle and L.A. Kyler Murray is going to see better days as the Cardinals move into a new era.

The youth movement will soon takeover throughout the roster, with WRs Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella making competition healthy of offense. Arizona still need help on the defense and offensive line, but another impactful draft could see them competitive as early as 2020.

One small shoutout to LB Terrell Suggs, coming up to his 38th birthday, as he is still performing at a high level – five sacks, four forced fumbles and 9.5 tackles for loss. Oh and he can act too if you have seen Ballers. 

Regular season record prediction: 5-10-1

#NFL100 Memories – 7/100

Why I am a Chargers Fan – By Lee Wakefield (@Wakefield90)

I started watching football in around 2006 or 2007, I was at college and I was starting to experience the phenomenon known as the Sunday Fear for the first time in my life. I was no longer in the comfort zone of going to school and being around all my mates every day as I went to a different college to a lot of my school friends, so I’ll be honest it wasn’t the easiest time of my life.

On a Sunday afternoon, my family and I would settle down for Sunday tea – or “dinner” if you’re a southerner – big roast, lots of yorkshire puds and gravy, magical. I’d then have a few hours to myself before having to prep for college the next day, then bed… However, one Sunday, I was flicking through the sports channels and came across the NFL on Sky Sports.

I kept it on for a bit – I’ve always been sports mad, I still am and will give most things a watch for 5 minutes at least.

I kept it on for way longer than 5 minutes and even though I’ll tell the truth and say, I can’t remember who the game was between or at the time, even what was going on half of the time but I was hooked and watching the NFL became my Sunday evening pastime and still is!

At some point in my very early days of being an NFL fan, there was a game involving the San Diego Chargers, again, I couldn’t tell you who it was against but I do distinctly remember the guy wearing the #21 jersey for San Diego and how much the broadcast team were talking about him.

This, of course, was none other than LaDainian Tomlinson. 

LT was electric, he did it all, he was a superstar and he was my first NFL love. He was also just coming off his record breaking season, where he rushed for 28 touchdowns (he also caught 3 more) and he was almost always the best player on the field.

He just seemed faster than everyone else. Stronger too. He would do things that were just really, really impressive and in a time when there weren’t as many do-it-all running backs as there are now, LT did do it all.

I guess as a novice and a British novice at that, I would guess that running back is the easiest position to understand when you’re first getting to know the sport… I mean, the clue is in the name, “running” back, right?

I guess LT just captured my imagination more than any player at the time, to a point where, outside of a few QB’s who were big at the time, I can’t remember any other player I really liked when I first started watching the sport – I was all about LT.

Obviously, time goes on and I’m sat there thinking, “yeah, I’m into this now”, and with that, as a sports junkie, comes to selection of a team to root for and that was obviously an easy one for me.

LaDainian Tomlinson is the reason I’m a Chargers fan. LT made me an NFL fan but in true Chargers fashion, there simply had to be some kind of heartbreak around the corner… So in 2010 when Tomlinson left for the Jets, he also gave me my first NFL heartbreak too.

They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes but last year when the Chargers played the Titans at Wembley, I was lucky enough to be invited to a small, NFL UK event where LT was speaking, I said hello, as did everyone and he just seemed like the most normal guy. No airs and graces, just a guy who would talk football and about the Chargers all day if you could.

A true gent.

So here’s to you LT, thanks for making me a Charger.

AFC West Breakdown

Last Season 

Kansas City Chiefs 12-4

L.A Chargers 12-4

Denver Broncos 6-10

Oakland Raiders 4-12

Kansas City Chiefs

Draft selections: 

Round 2 – Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia & Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia 

Round 3 – Khalen Saunders, IDL, Western Illinois

Round 6 – Rashad Felton, CB, South Carolina & Nick Allegretti, IOL, Illinois

Offseason key additions:

Tyrann Mathieu – The Honey Badger came over after playing just the single season in Houston, signing a 3 year, $42m contract with the Chiefs.

Emmanuel Ogbah – The Nigerian defensive end came over in a trade that say safety, Eric Murray go in the opposite direction, to Cleveland. One of two defensive ends that came through the door to cover the loss of Dee Ford to the 49ers. The other addition was…

Alex Okafor – The veteran pass rusher will replace Dee Ford as the Chiefs primary speed rusher off the edge after signing a 3 year, $18m dollar deal to join Kansas City.

Offseason key departures:

Justin Houston – Franchise legend Houston was allowed to walk in free-agency. However, he still found his way on to a contender, signing with the Indianapolis Colts.

Eric Berry – Berry has yet to find another team since being released by the Chiefs and perhaps it’s questionable whether he will do considering he suffered a ruptured Achilles in 2017 and was subsequently diagnosed with Hugland’s deformity in his heel following the injury. 

Super Bowl odds: 8/1

Analysis:

It’s all going to be on Mahomes and the offense but are the Chiefs better on the whole than they were in 2018? I’m not certain. Fans are putting enough money on them to make them favourites for the Superbowl but how much is that off the back of the hype and media love-in that we’re seeing for Patrick Mahomes? I think that’s definitely playing a part, personally.

Bottom line is that the Chiefs will be a good team and probably pretty fun to watch if you like watching lots of points being scored.

Look out for: 

Points! I think the Chiefs will be involved in a lot of shootouts this coming season and I feel that they’re actually going to be pretty comfortable with that given the offense they have. They know they have the real deal in Patrick Mahomes under center, they have the offensive mind of Andy Reid on the sidelines and r̶i̶g̶h̶t̶l̶y̶ ̶o̶r̶ wrongly they will have Tyreek Hill suit up from week 1 and even side from him, they have one of, if not the best tight end in the game, who like all the best tight ends, is a mismatch nightmare.

Flip it over to the defense and I don’t see how this defense is much better than last year. They might be more opportunistic, with Thornhill and Mathieu on the back end and with the pass rushers that they’ve added but I strongly believe that they still won’t be a “good” defense.

However, in the modern NFL that’s more than passable when you have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone. All the Chiefs need to do is put the ball back in Mahomes’ hands one more time than the opponent and that could be enough.

To sum up,as I’ve said, I think the Chiefs will be good again and will win 10 or more games but I’m reluctant to go further than that, given how lopsided their team is.

Los Angeles Chargers 

Draft selections:

Round 1 – Jerry Tillery, IDL, Notre Dame

Round 2 – Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware

Round 3 – Trey Pipkins – OT, Sioux Falls

Round 4 – Drue Tranquill – LB, Notre Dame

Round 5 – Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State7

Round 6 – Emeke Egbule, LB, Houston

Round 7 – Cortez Broughton, IDL, Cincinnati 

Offseason key additions:

Thomas Davis – The veteran linebacker comes in from Carolina to give the Bolts some big time leadership. That said, Davis may be in his mid 30’s but he can certainly still play. Davis signed a 2 year, $10.5m contract with the Chargers to become one of only two free agency acquisitions. 

Offseason key departures:

Darius Philon – I was surprised when the team allowed Philon to walk in free agency. He’s entering his prime, the team had developed him from a 6th round flier to a very useful defensive tackle who was a key part of their rotation in 2018. Philon chipped in with 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons and brought some real energy and urgency to the defensive line. I guess what we can say is that this was a nod towards the selection of a defensive tackle in the early part of the draft – Which obviously came to fruition with the selection of Jerry Tillery, someone who should go on and become a better player than Philon if all goes well. Nevertheless, I am sad to see Philon go and wish him well in Arizona.

Super Bowl odds: 14/1

Analysis:

I feel like the Chargers are primed for a big season and to have a big run at winning a Lombardi. The team is very talented and the roster is one of the most balanced in the NFL, with young stars and top class veterans on both sides of the ball. Let’s not forget that this was a team that was a late season implosion against the Broncos away from being the #1 seed in the AFC. I feel that there’s a chance that they can get the #1 seed this year which will mean that opponents are travelling cross-country to play in L.A. and that they will get that all important week of rest before the playoffs begin; two things that the Patriots had to their advantage before the Divisional matchup in January.

Look out for: 

What happens to Melvin Gordon? The only dark cloud hanging over the Chargers at the moment in the contract dispute they have with their star running back. Will Melvin Gordon sign? Will he be traded and if he does get traded, where to and what’s the compensation going to be? Or, will he appear for the Chargers mid season (probably week 10), with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove? Personally, I have no idea, I change my mind every time I read something about it… However, as a Chargers and Melvin Gordon fan I will say this; neither side is in the wrong here and both sides are making business decisions that they feel are the right thing to do. There’s no ill feeling towards either side on my part and that will remain the case no matter the outcome… Well unless he gets traded for a dirisory compensation, then I’ll have something to say.

Denver Broncos

Draft selections:

Round 1 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Round 2 – Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State & Drew Lock

Round 3 – Dre’Mont Jones, IDL, Ohio State

Round 5 – Justin Hollins, LB, Oregon

Round 6 – Juwann Winfree, WR, Colorado 

Offseason key additions: 

Bryce Callaghan – A lot of fans may ask who on earth is Bryce Callaghan? Well, as we all know, I’m a sucker of defense and especially defensive backs and to me, Bryce Callaghan is one of the best slot corners in the game right now. Callaghan arrives from Chicago where he worked in, now Denver Head Coach, Vic Fangio’s system, on a 3 year, $21m deal which may well turn out to be one of the most shrewd pieces of business in the league this off season.

Ja’Wuan James – Probably the best right tackle available in free agency was Ja’Wuan James and provides some insurance against growing pains that rookie tackle, Dalton Risner may experience, since we know how difficult the transition into the pros can be for young linemen. James could also start alongside Risner should Risner start his Broncos career inside at guard.

Joe Flacco – The writing was on the wall when Lamar Jackson was drafted in Baltimore – The Flacco era was coming to an end. The Broncos QB situation was in limbo so the chucked the Ravens a 4th rounder for the pleasure of having the veteran QB bridge until the Drew Lock era commences in the near future.

Offseason key departures:

Shaq Barrett – The Broncos lost a decent depth piece from their pass rush rotation when Barrett went to Tampa Bay.

Shane Ray – Ray has signed with the Ravens. See the Barrett, Shaq for the analysis.

Bradley Roby – The Broncos and the Texans switched former first round corners in free agency as Roby went to Houston and Kareem Jackson joined Denver.

Super Bowl odds: 66/1

Analysis:

Denver should get better on defense with the fantastic mind of Vic Fangio now running the show but in his 60’s, is it too late to be a first time head coach? I’m skeptical on whether there’s enough talent on the defense to be successful with Fangio’s system and whether Rich Scangarello is experienced enough to get a tune out of the Broncos offense, which like the D, has some talented players but probably not enough. I think overall, even if Fangio is a success, the Broncos are still another good draft/offseason away from being a really good team again.

Look out for: 

The development of Drew Lock. Lock is the next swing from the fences that GM, John Elway has taken in search for his QB in Denver but the signs thus far aren’t good. After the Hall of Fame game, Fangio said that he expected more from Lock but wasn’t surprised [at his lackluster performance]. That, boys and girls, ain’t good. Flacco obviously isn’t a great QB anymore, if he ever was so it’ll be interesting to see whether Fangio turns to Lock at any point during the season, especially if Denver aren’t in the playoff hunt. Subsequently, how will Lock do if he does indeed make it on to the field. If it doesn’t go well or if he sits on the shelf all season, Elway’s seat may become a little warmer.

Oakland Raiders

Draft selections: 

Round 1 – Clelin Farrell, Edge, Clemson, Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama & Jonathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

Round 2 – Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson

Round 4 – Maxx Crosby, Edge, Eastern Michigan, Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston, Foster Moreau, TE, LSU

Round 5 – Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

Round 7 – Quenton Bell, Edge, Prairie View A&M 

Offseason key additions:

Mr. Big Chest – Antonio Brown was banished from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Does he still have the ability to be an excellent addition to the Raiders? Yes. Does he have the appetite? This is where it gets questionable. Yes, AB has an unbelievable work ethic but in Oakland he has no chance to win a championship whereas he did in Pittsburgh for much of his time there. I wonder how much the imminent move to Las Vegas had a bearing on this move… I’m sure AB will love the bright lights and what it could do for his personal brand.

Trent Brown – Brown is a solid tackle who had a lot of success in New England. Now, I’m not saying he’s a bad player because he’s not but how much of that was down to Dante Scarnecchia? Who is regarded as the best offensive line coach in the NFL. We’ll see… Brown got wildly overpaid so it could look like a bad signing, quickly if he doesn’t perform.

Tyrell Williams – Tyrell is a good receiver who was a WR3 in L.A. who wanted to be paid like a WR2 and deployed like a WR2. He’s gotten his wishes but I wonder about the fit. Derek Carr doesn’t go deep very often, less often than any QB in the league. Williams is best of deep routes… you see where the problem lies, don’t you?

LaMarcus Joyner – The feisty and diminutive safety comes over from the Rams since they couldn’t afford to keep him. Joyner definitely raises the level on the back end for the Raiders.

Offseason key departures:

Kelechi Osemele – Remember a few years back when Oakland had one of the better offensive lines in the NFL? Osemele was a huge part of that at the time but his play fell off recently and that unit it being rebuilt with younger bodies. He now finds himself at the Jets.

Super Bowl odds: 66/1

Analysis:

There’s been a heck of a lot of changes and there will be even more as the franchise moves cities and Gruden constructs his roster alongside Mike Mayock. All of which has resulted in me not really being sure if Oakland have actually gotten any better for it all. The Raiders are tough to call but as you’ll see in my oeductiom below, I’m siding with my doubt and my feeling that there will be some growing pains in 2019 and perhaps beyond.

Look out for: 

Drama. Gruden, Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, Mike Mayock as GM and an imminent move of city. It’s going to get really, really interesting for Raiders fans and we’ll potentially get a peek into that throughout Hard Knocks. 

2019 Season Prediction:

L.A Chargers 13-3

Kansas City Chiefs 11-5

Denver Broncos 7-9

Oakland Raiders 3-13