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NFL: Priorities for each AFC team in Free Agency

With the Super Bowl done and dusted, the thirsty NFL fans’ eye will now turn to the offseason and Free Agency and then the NFL Draft. Team cap space importance and manipulation is a topic people can argue until the cows come home as there are many teams that always produce Houdini tricks to come in under the cap each season.

The legal tampering period starts on 14 March, which is always a weird concept to get your head around. Imagine being able to legally tamper with things?

Before we get started, there is a really good visual found on Twitter regarding the maneuverability for each of the teams:

No surprise in seeing the Saints at the bottom of the pile, they seem to be there most years. Green Bay, the recently crowned Super Bowl Champions, the LA Rams along with 2 NFC East teams, Dallas and New York, fill out the bottom 5.

Let’s go division by division and look at some key players that are due to hit the market, unless their current owners intervene and stop their players’ eyes prying into other team’s front offices.


AFC East

Buffalo Bills:

Pending Free Agents: EDGE Jerry Hughes, EDGE Mario Addison, CB Levi Wallace, WR Isaiah McKenzie, WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Matt Breida, RT Bobby Hart, IDL Vernon Butler, RG Ike Boettger, RB Taiwan Jones, WR Jake Kumerow, EDGE Bryan Cox Jr., IDL Harrison Phillips, CB Siran Neal

The Bills will likely get lighter at WR so may look to beef that up in FA or the draft, while there is a clear need along the defensive line.

However, Levi Wallace, who played over 92% of the Bills’ snaps at corner in 2021, would be a good get at the right price. Opposite Tre’Davious White, they have both formed a decent tandem limiting opposing offences to scraps through the air over recent sesasons.

Nic Antaya

Mitchell Trubisky seems adamant he’ll find a starting job elsewhere. If the market agrees, don’t expect him to back up Josh Allen next season.


New England Patriots:

Pending Free Agents: S Devin McCourty, RT Trent Brown, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB J.C. Jackson, C Ted Karras, WR Matthew Slater, RB James White, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Brandon King, K Nick Folk, IDL Carl Davis, QB Brian Hoyer, LB Jamie Colins, LB Harvey Langi, TE Troy Fumagalli, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley

A fair few big names on the pending Free Agent list in the next month, none more coveted than J.C. Jackson. Jackson returned 1 of his 8 interceptions this year to the house, the first of his career. It’s likely that there could be a bidding war on him, which sees him set off into the Massachusetts sunset and out of Foxboro’.


Miami Dolphins:

Pending Free Agents: TE Mike Gesicki, WR Will Fuller, Emmanuel Ogbah, QB Jacoby Brissett, RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Albert Wilson, CB Justin Coleman, LB Elandon Roberts, RB Malcolm Brown, P Michael Palardy, IDL John Jenkins, S Jason McCourty, WR Mack Hollins, LB Brennan Scarlett, LB Duke Riley, C Greg Rancz, RB Duke Johnson, LB Vince Biegel, WR Isaiah Ford, TE Durham Smythe

It’s likely that WR will be a sought-after position this offseason for the Dolphins, this should be extended to looking at getting the signature of Mike Gesicki at the TE position. They’ll have plenty of cap space to work with to at least get to the negotiating room with him. He’s improved on the stats sheet each and every season and account for almost a fifth of their first downs in 2021. Tua will be hoping the Dolphins also patch up that offensive line. It’s possible he gets franchise tagged, but unlikely.


New York Jets:

Pending Free Agents: S Marcus Maye, QB Joe Flacco, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Keelan Cole, WR Braxton Berrios, LB Jarrad Davis, RT Morgan Moses, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, LG Dan Feeney, S Lamarcus Joyner, TE Tyler Kroft, RG Conor McDermott, RB Tevin Coleman, S Will Parks, IDL Nathan Shepherd, LT Greg Senat, K Eddy Pineiro, FB Nick Bawden, IDL Folorunso Fatukasi

It’s obvious that the Jets should be looking to upgrade their secondary this offseason, that could also include getting Safety Marcus Maye to re-sign. They, like the Dolphins, have a decent amount of cap space to try and attract the top names to help with the rebuild project at Gang Green. At Wide Receiver, Braxton Berrios could find himself pricing himself out and Jamison Crowder will likely want a decent amount of money to stay.


AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals:

Pending Free Agents: S Jessie Bates III, CB Darius Phillips, IDL B.J. Hill, RT Riley Reiff, IDL Larry Ogunjobi, TE C.J. Uzomah, RG Xavier Su’a-Filo, CB Vernon Hargreaves, QB Brandon Allen, CB Tre Flowers, WR Auden Tate, P Kevin Huber, IDL Josh Tupou, S Ricardo Allen, CB Eli Apple, LS Clark Harris, LG Quinton Spain, LB Jordan Evans, IDL Zach Kerr, S Michael Thomas, WR Mike Thomas

Alexander Jonesi 

The obvious one here is Jessie Bates III in the pack of Bengals looking to find some money in Free Agency. He is a candidate for the Franchise Tag but expect the Bengals to use a good portion of their ~$57m cap space to go after Offensive linemen, purely because they aren’t picking in the top 10-15 this year like they have done over the past 5 seasons.


Pittsburgh Steelers:

Pending Free Agents: CB Joe Haden, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, TE Eric Ebron, Cb Ahkello Witherspoon, RG Trai Turner, S Terrell Edmonds, LB Miles Killebrew, WR James Washington, QB Joshua Dobbs, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, CB Arthur Mallet, C B.J. Finney, EDGE Taco Charlton, IDL Montravius Adams, RB Kalen Ballage, RT Chukwuma Okorafor

The recently retired Ben Roethlisberger would have also been on this list, had he not retired. Either way, Quarterback will be a major priority this offseason. There isn’t much in Free Agency at the position so expect a trade or Draft capital to be invested.

Of the current crop on offence, offensive lineman Trai Turner and Chukwuma Okorafor played the 1st and 3rd highest number of snaps respectively in the whole Pittsburgh roster in 2021. That’s saying too much due to the line’s performances last season, but they say consistency is the key.

On the defence, former 1st round pick Terrell Edmunds is part of a secondary that struggled last season and could also lose 5-year Steeler and 12 year AFC North veteran Joe Haden as he will be 33 if he plays in 2022.


Cleveland Browns:

Pending Free Agents: S Ronnie Harrison, WR Rashard Higgins, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, IDL Malik Jackson, EDGE Takkarist McKinley, LT Chris Hubbard, LB Anthony Walker Jr., TE David Njoku, S M.J. Stewart, LB Malcolm Smith, P Dustin Colquitt, IDL Sheldon Day, QB Nick Mullins, EDGE Ifeadi Odenigbo, WR Ryan Switzer

There are a couple of key decisions for the Browns to make this offseason, one of which whose name isn’t on the list above. They need to decide on whether Baker Mayfield is the guy they want going forward and an extension of that is the Wide Receiver position, which currently consists of not a lot after they shipped off OBJ to go get a Super Bowl Ring and Jarvis Landry played hobbled last season.

The two on the above list are Jadeveon Clowney, who amassed 9 sacks in his 14 games played (Tak McKinley, former Falcons 1st round pick is also there) and David Njoku, who despite all the athletic abilities and talent, has just not quite done it consistently in a Browns jersey and will probably be suited for pastures new.


Baltimore Ravens:

Pending Free Agents: IDL Calais Campbell, IDL Brandon Williams, S DeShon Elliott, C Bradley Bozeman, WR Sammy Watkins, FB Patrick Ricard, CB Jimmy Smith, EDGE Justin Houston, LB L.J. Fort, RB Devonta Freeman, RB Latavius Murray, LB Chris Board, S Tony Jefferson, S Anthony Levine, LB Josh Bynes, EDGE Pernell McPhee, IDL Justin Ellis, QB Josh Johnson, LT David Sharpe, TE Eric Tomlinson, CB Anthony Averett

There are a number of positions that screams “help!” on the defence with a lot of old/injured dead wood and most likely not returning so don’t be surprised to see a lot of these names not on the roster come kickoff 2022. Bradley Bozeman, the Center who was moved from Guard in 2020, has been a decent find from the 6th round back in 2018’s draft and is probably a guy they would like to keep protecting Lamar Jackson.


AFC South

Tennessee Titans:

Pending Free Agents: EDGE Harold Landry, C Ben Jones, LB Jayon Brown, TE Anthony Firkser, LB Rashaan Evans, TE Geoff Swaim, WR Marcus Johnson, LS Morgan Cox, LB Nick Dzubnar, S Matthias Farley, K Randy Bullock, CB Buster Skrine, EDGE Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, LB Dylan Cole, LB B.J. Bello, CB Greg Mabin, WR Chester Rogers, IDL Kyle Peko, IDL Trevor Coley, TE MyCole Pruitt, RB Dontrell Hilliard, RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Cameron Batson, S Dane Cruikshank

Harold Landry will command a decent amount of interest and it far from certain he’ll be able to don a Titans jersey in 2022 considering their cap situation. Like the Browns, they have an upcoming decision on Ryan Tannehill certainly next year, if not this (signs point to him being under Center in 2022). If they are unable to retain Landry, that could mean more emphasis on fellow Linebackers Jayon Brown or Rashaan Evans are prioritised.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

Indianapolis Colts:

Pending Free Agents: LT Eric Fisher, WR T.Y. Hilton, RG Mark Glowinski, CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Mo-Alie Cox, WR Zach Pascal, EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad, LT Sam Tevi, IDL Isaac Rochell, S George Odum, CB T.J. Carrie, RB Marlon Mack, EDGE Kemoko Turay, LT Julie’n Davenport, LG Chris Reed, EDGE Tyquan Lewis, S Andrew Sendejo, S Jahleel Addae, RG Matt Pryor, K Michael Badgley, IDL Antwaun Woods, LB Matthew Adams, LB Zaire Franklin

With Carson Wentz “unlikely” to be in a Colts uniform in 2022, he could be followed out by some long-tenured players such as TY Hilton and Marlon Mack on offence. They should try and keep the services of Mo Alie-Cox, with it looking likely Jack Doyle will retire. He’ll probably garner some interest from others and the Colts have a good cap space situation so expecting some noise in Free Agency, especially as their draft capital isn’t as much as it could be.

Former #1 overall pick in 2013 Eric Fisher signed on a 1-year deal last year from the Chiefs and had an OK season on a decent Colts O-Line. He was tied 10th for penalties given up (8) and sacks allowed (7), though it was Carson Wentz at QB (known for holding on to the ball for too long) which is reflected in his better run block performance rather than his pass protection.


Houston Texans:

Pending Free Agents: QB Tyrod Taylor, S Justin Reid, RB David Johnson, CB Desmond King, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Eric Wilson, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, WR Danny Amendola, S Terrence Brooks, IDL Maliek Collins, C Justin Britt, CB A.J. Moore, LB Neville Hewitt, TE Pharaoh Brown, IDL Vincent Taylor, EDGE DeMarcus Walker, WR Chris Conley, LB Tae Davis, LS Jon Weeks, EDGE Chris Smith, LT Geron Christian, LB Hardy Nickerson, TE Antony Auclair, LG Lane Taylor, QB Jeff Driskel, WR Chris Moore, IDL Jaleel Johnson, RB Royce Freeman, RG Cole Toner, TE Jordan Akins, EDGE Jacob Martin

I’m half surprised this list isn’t longer with the amount of 1-year deals that were signed last year to the Texans roster. We all know that until the Deshaun Watson saga has ended and he’s moved on, this franchise will just be in constant purgatory and still trying to pick itself up from the demolition job Bill O’Brien et al did. As there is a lot of 1-year guys here, don’t expect many back.

One that could be back is Defensive lineman Maliek Collins, who performed OK but that’s not saying much for one of the worst rush defences and averaged 2 sacks per game in 2021 (were the 3rd least in blitz %).


Jacksonville Jaguars:

Pending Free Agents: LT Cam Robinson, WR D.J. Chark, LG Andrew Norwell, RG A.J. Cann, IDL Taven Bryan, EDGE Jihad Ward, C Tyler Shatley, CB Tre Herndon, LB Damien Wilson, TE James O’Shaughnessy, CB Nevin Lawson, EDGE Adam Gotsis, WR Tavon Austin, EDGE Lerentee McCray, TE Jacob Hollister, WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Jaydon Mickens, LB Tyrell Adams, P JK Scott, RT Will Richardson

DJ Chark seems like he will be in negotiations at the very least with the team desperate at WR. While Trevor Lawrence will need someone to throw to, even more importantly, he needs linemen to keep him upright and not running for his life. Tackle Cam Robinson, while not elite, is a key cog in understanding the Jags’ priorities this offseason as they hold the #1 overall pick and a tackle named Evan Neal looks like he is the bookies’ favourite to be picked 1st overall. They could sign both Robinson and take Neal 1st overall, but you can be sure at least one of them will be their starter in Week 1 of 2022.


AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs:

Pending Free Agents: LT Orlando Brown, S Tyrann Mathieu, IDL Jarran Reed, LB Melvin Ingram, CB Charvarius Ward, RT Mike Remmers, CB Mike Hughes, S Daniel Sorensen, WR Byron Pringle, QB Chad Henne, RB Darrel Williams, LB Ben Niemann, RG Kyle Long, TE Blake Bell, WR Demarcus Robinson, EDGE Alex Okafor, C Austin Blythe, RB Jerick McKinnon, FB Michael Burton, IDL Derrick Nnadi, LG Andrew Wylie, LS James Winchester, WR Marcus Kemp, LB Dorian O’Daniel, S Armani Watts

On offence, Orlando Brown should be the #1 priority for the Chiefs this offseason, followed quickly by Safety Tyrann Mathieu on the defence. They are somewhat tight on the budget sheet though and they will be struggling to replace the Honey Badger if he gets decent money elsewhere on the table. Both of these guys are the frontrunners for the Franchise Tag. My money goes on the Honey Badger due to how important he is in that secondary.

Christian Petersen | Getty

With Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson headed for the market, they may look to try and find that 2nd Wide Receiver to help draw coverage from Hill and Kelce.


Las Vegas Raiders

Pending Free Agents: LB Nicholas Morrow, IDL Johnathan Hankins, QB Marcus Mariota, LB K.J. Wright, IDL Quinton Jefferson, IDL Solomon Thomas, WR Zay Jones, RB Jalen Richard, CB Casey Hayward, LG Richie Incognito, WR DeSean Jackson, IDL Gerald McCoy, C Nick Martin, TE Derek Carrier, CB Desmond Trufant, RT Brandon Parker, RG Jermaine Eluemunor, LB Kyle Wilber, RB Peyton Barber, IDL Darius Philon, LB Patrick Onwuasor, CB Brandon Facyson, LB Marquel Lee, LG Jordan Simmons

Usually when you get a change at co-ordinator, they can shake things up so Patrick Graham, formerly of the Giants may look to get some of “his guys” on the defensive side.Of the guys hitting the market, Casey Hayward had himself a good season but with the new DC, unsure whether they’ll look to bring him back. Derek Carr’s situation is worth monitoring as he can be cut if the Raiders wanna move on or even trade him but they or Derek himself may also want to re-enter negotiating that contract. With Marcus Mariota’s contract also being up, we could see either both QBs next year, or neither.


Los Angeles Chargers

Pending Free Agents: CB Chris Harris Jr., IDL Linval Joseph, WR Mike Williams, TE Jared Cook, EDGE Kyler Fackrell, RB Justin Jackson, RG Oday Aboushi, CB Ryan Smith, QB Chase Daniel, EDGE Uchenna Nwosu, WR Andre Roberts, LS Matt Overton, RG Senio Kelemete, K Dustin Hopkins, LG Michael Schofield, IDL Christian Covington, CB Devontae Harris, TE Stephen Anderson, IDL Justin Jones, LB Kyzir White, LG Scott Quisenberry

Mike Williams is probably braced for some big numbers coming his way from a variety of teams, should he wish to take a peek at the market (who wouldn’t). Whether he is deserving of them is another case but fortunately for the Chargers, there is plenty of cap space.

Run defence/interior lineman and Cornerback are areas they’ll look to beef up in March and April.


Denver Broncos

Pending Free Agents: QB Teddy Bridgewater, CB Kyle Fuller, RB Melvin Gordon, CB Bryce Callahan, S Kareem Jackson, RT Bobby Massie, LB Alexander Johnson, RT Cameron Fleming, EDGE Stephen Weatherly, IDL Shamar Stephen, CB Mike Ford, CB Nate Hairston, TE Eric Saubert, C Brett Jones, IDL Justin Hamilton, LB Josey Jewell, LB Micah Kiser, LB Kenny Young

A lot will be determined by how aggressive they pursue Aaron Rodgers (if leaving Green Bay and not retiring) or whether new HC Nathaniel Hackett (formerly of Green Bay for what it’s worth…) deems Teddy Bridgewater adequate enough to warrant entering new contract negotiations. Safety Kareem Jackson was Denver’s leading tackler on the defence last season, but is now entering year number 13. After losing Von Miller who went and got a Super Bowl ring, don’t be surprised Denver address their edge rusher situation.

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AFC: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In tandem with our NFC round-up, we’re looking back over the 2020 season at the good, the bad and the ugly for every team. Here are the highs and lows from across the AFC during the year. Let us know if you agree with them or if you have suggestions of your own.


Baltimore Ravens

The good: The run game. With more than 3,000 yards on the ground, a third of which came courtesy of dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson, the Ravens were ranked #1 in the NFL for run offence for the second year in a row. A whopping 404 of them came in the 38-3 trouncing of Cincinnati in Week 17 – a new franchise record for the AFC’s fifth seed.    

The bad: November. Despite reaching the playoffs with an 11-5 record, they lost three times in November, succumbing to the Steelers (28-24), Patriots (23-17) and Titans (30-24). Another loss to title rivals Pittsburgh on 2 December left them at a very wobbly 6-5, having entered the previous month at 5-1.

The ugly: COVID-19. That second game with the Steelers was moved three times due to a COVID outbreak in the camp. They finally played on a Wednesday, with 18 players – including Jackson, Mark Ingram, JK Dobbins, Mark Andrew and Calais Campbell – unavailable. The inevitable 19-14 loss ended any hopes of taking the AFC North title.


Buffalo Bills

The good: Allen and Diggs – Making Buffalo Great Again. Buffalo’s third-year QB Josh Allen blossomed into an MVP contender, breaking franchise records for passing yards (4,544) and touchdowns (37), while former Viking Stefon Diggs became the perfect target, as he topped the league for receptions and receiving yards. This partnership was the main reason the conference’s second seed won the AFC East for the first time since 1995 and swept their divisional rivals for the first time ever. They were even the local poster boys on Election Day.

WBFO

The bad: Kyler Murray. When Kyler’s all-or-nothing, 43-yard chuck-it-and-see effort came down in DeAndre Hopkins’ grasp despite triple coverage, it handed Buffalo their only loss in a 10-game streak. Now known as the “Hail Murray”, the play sealed a 32-30 win for the Cardinals with just seconds left. Spectacular but gutting.

The ugly: The AFC Championship Game. It seems a bit churlish to put their 38-24 loss to the reigning champions Kansas City here but they were never at the races in this one. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic season – one of the best in a long ol’ time for the Bills Mafia.


Cincinnati Bengals

The good: Steelers Week. For (us) Bengals fans starved of success against Pittsburgh, the Monday Night 27-17 win over the Steelers in Week 15 was an undoubted 2020 highlight. Big Ben coughed up three turnovers and even stand-in QB Ryan Finley held it together, despite only seven completions for 89 yards. Vonn Bell’s bone-crunching hit on JuJu was probably Cincy’s play of the year.

The bad: The O-line. The Bengals’ offensive line stunk yet again in 2020. Injuries didn’t help matters but relying on several below-par performers all season was always going to be a recipe for disaster (see “the ugly”). The offseason priority has to be investing in protection for Joe Burrow. 

The ugly: Joe Burrow’s injury. The first nine games of Burrow’s nascent NFL career were so promising. Alas, it all came crashing down when a pile of bodies did exactly that against his left knee in a 20-9 loss to Washington, ruining his ACL and MCL. Hopefully, he’ll be back as good as new in time for the 2021 season.


Cleveland Browns

The good: Kevin Stefanski. The team’s new Head Coach revitalised the Browns, leading them to their first non-losing season since 2007 (11-5) and the sixth seed in the playoffs. With an offence built on the rushing prowess of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Stefanski laid the longest active playoff drought (25 years) to rest and has since been named the NFL Coach of the Year. 

The bad: The Jets game. I suspect most of us were largely impressed with how the NFL navigated a global pandemic and got all 269 games played, but there were a few oddities that didn’t seem fair. One of them was the Browns having to play the New York Jets in Week 16 with barely a recognised WR due to COVID hitting their receiver room. The 1-14 Jets won 23-16 and it almost cost Cleveland a playoff berth.     

The ugly: Daniel Sorensen. In their 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round, the KC safety delivered a controversial helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Rashard Higgins at the 1-yard line. Down 16-3 late in the first half, what would have been a vital 26-yard TD was deemed a fumble through the end zone for a touchback. Crucially, Cleveland lost by five and their season was over.

Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos

The good: 2021 expectations. With Drew Lock’s travails hampering the Broncos’ season, it’s easy to look past their young and highly promising offensive weapons. Denver’s receiver corps of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, plus tight end Noah Fant, are an enviable set of weapons that any QB (not necessarily Lock) would be delighted to line up with in 2021, as long as everyone’s healthy (see below).

The bad: Injuries. The Broncos endured a fourth-consecutive losing season (5-11) but injuries had a big hand in decimating their exciting roster. Drew Lock suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2, Von Miller and Courtland Sutton missed the whole year and many others, including Philip Lindsay, AJ Bouye and Jurrell Casey, spent time on IR.

The ugly: Playing without a QB. Echoing the Browns’ woes, Denver were required to play one game without a recognised quarterback, against the Saints of all teams. COVID restrictions ruled out their entire QB room after a positive test, forcing Kendal Hinton – a practice squad receiver – to play under centre. He had twice as many interceptions (two) as completions (one), and logged 19 yards from nine attempts in a farcical 31-3 thrashing.


Houston Texans

The good: Deshaun Watson. The second-biggest contract in NFL history ($177.5 million) theoretically secured Watson’s services until 2025, but at least his performances were worthy of the investment. Despite a 4-11 season, Watson served up a league-leading 4,823 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions – the best campaign in franchise history.

Christian Petersen – Getty

The bad: September. And October. Oh, December too. The Texans lost all four of their admittedly tough opening games – Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings – but other than a couple of wins against the hapless Jaguars, they had nothing more to show in the W column until mid-November. They also lost every game in December. Opening 1-6 and closing 0-5 made the 2020 season memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The ugly: Everything. Oh boy, where do you start? The many ‘uglies’ from this dumpster fire of a year include the highly criticised trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, the inevitable firing of General Manager and Head Coach Bill O’Brien and the endless tales of locker-room unrest. Deshaun Watson has since asked for a trade while JJ Watt was granted a release from his contract after a decade of elite defensive play. It’s all going to hell in a handcart now.


Indianapolis Colts

The good: Philip Rivers. Although they couldn’t quite pip the Titans for the AFC South crown, the Colts did return to the playoffs as the AFC’s seventh seed. Much of their success came through the arm of quarterback Philip Rivers, signed on a one-year deal. Rivers now ranks fifth in all-time passing yards (63,440) and touchdowns (421), and second in consecutive regular season starts by a quarterback (242), having not missed a game since 2006.

The bad: The Wild Card Round. I was sorely tempted to bring up Rivers’ terrible attempt at a tackle against the Ravens… but I digress. The Colts were unlucky in facing the bang-in-form Bills in the first playoff game. They fell 24-10 behind but two fourth-quarter TDs at least made a game of it. They were unable to score on the final drive though, sealing a Buffalo win and calling time on Rivers’ career.

The ugly: Losing to the Jaguars. At least the Colts got their worst moment of the season over and done with in Week 1. Their 27-20 loss in Jacksonville proved to be the Jags’ only win of a terrible campaign, and continued a seven-season streak in which Indy have lost their opening game.


Jacksonville Jaguars

The good: Tanking for Trevor. It’s hard to find positives in the Jaguars’ 1-15 season – their ninth losing season in the last 10 – but finishing with the worst record in the league did bring one significant benefit. The Jags are essentially on the clock for the first pick in the NFL Draft already and are widely expected to take ‘generational talent’ Trevor Lawrence from Clemson as their next quarterback and face of the franchise. Things could be on the up at last.    

The bad: 15 straight losses. As only the fourth team ever to win their opening game but lose the rest, there are many ‘bads’ to pick from. Consecutive losses to the Bengals, Texans, Lions and Texans again in the middle of the season certainly put the writing on the wall, with General Manager David Caldwell and HC Doug Marrone the inevitable casualties.

The ugly: Lack of options at QB. It’s just as well the Jags have their pick of the best signal-callers in college football because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that they need one. With no depth behind starter Gardner Minshew, who injured his thumb and was later a healthy scratch, the team turned to untried rookie Jake Luton and then veteran Mike Glennon. Neither could sustain any semblance of form either.

Nick Wass – AP

Kansas City Chiefs

The good: Reaching Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs strolled through the season, logging a 14-2 record without breaking sweat. Tight end Travis Kelce reeled in 1,416 yards (second in the league), Tyreek Hill scored 15 TDs (second) and Patrick Mahomes threw for 4,740 yards (also second). The AFC West winners and #1 seed ramped it up a notch for the postseason and made it back to the Super Bowl to defend their title at the first attempt. 

The bad: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Let’s exclude KC’s Week 17 defeat to the LA Chargers for a moment, when most of their stars were rested to keep them injury-free ahead of the playoffs. That leaves the one ‘proper’ black mark in their regular season copybook: the 40-32 defeat to the Raiders in Week 5. It was the first 7+ point loss in Mahomes career. 

The ugly: Losing Super Bowl LV. Had Kansas City lost a massive shootout in the season finale, we’d have all said “wow, they gave it their all, how unlucky.” But it wasn’t like that. The Chiefs gave away 120 yards of penalties, their offence was shut down by a ferocious Tampa Bay defence and their only points in a 31-9 defeat came courtesy of Harrison Butker’s boot. It was not the storybook finish they – and many of us – had expected.


Las Vegas Raiders

The good: A great start. In their inaugural season as a Las Vegas-based franchise, the Raiders settled into their new home, the Allegiant Stadium, with barely a ruffle. Midway through the season, they’d beaten the Chiefs, Saints and Browns on their way to an impressive 6-3, and things were hotting up in the desert.

The bad: A second-half collapse. Just when it looked like the Raiders may be genuine playoff contenders, the wheels started to fall off the wagon. A run of five defeats in seven games ended any postseason dreams as they slumped to 8-8, with a 43-6 humbling at the hands of Atlanta probably the worst of the bunch. That day, the usually reliable Derek Carr threw a pick-six and fumbled three times, while Josh Jacobs also lost a fumble. 

The ugly: The Week 16 loss to Miami. Despite kicking a field goal with 19 seconds remaining to take a 25-23 lead, the scoring wasn’t over. On the next play, Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow completed a 34-yard pass to Mack Hollins, despite being dragged down by his facemask in the process. The additional 15-yard penalty put the Dolphins in kicking range and of course, the trusted foot of Jason Sanders sealed the one-point win. That left Las Vegas below .500 for the first time in 2020 and eliminated them from the playoffs.


Los Angeles Chargers

The good: The newbie QB. The sixth overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft turned out to be highly successful as young quarterback Justin Herbert ended his first pro season as the NFL Rookie of the Year. Herbert set first-year quarterback records for passing touchdowns (31), total touchdowns (36) and completions (396), and recorded the second-most passing yards (4,336) for a rookie QB.

Kyusung Gong – AP

The bad: The medical staff. It all worked out with Herbert but he was unexpectedly thrown into the fray earlier than expected: just before kick-off against Kansas City in Week 2. In administering a pain-killing injection to Tyrod Taylor’s cracked ribs, a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung. The resulting breathing difficulties meant Taylor was whisked off to hospital and Herbert was suddenly thrust into the limelight.

The ugly: Narrow defeat after narrow defeat. Blowing fourth-quarter leads was a major factor in the Chargers’ penchant for losing close games by narrow margins. Eight of their nine losses were by deficits of 10 points or less (see the Patriots for the other one), two came in overtime and one, at Denver, was by a single point. After a 7-9 season, it was no surprise to see HC Anthony Lynn get the order of the boot, despite a four-game winning streak to close out the campaign.


Miami Dolphins

The good: A winning season. After not quite tanking for Tua last year and still ending up with their QB of choice, this year’s 10-6 campaign was a notable improvement. Under the leadership of Brian Flores, they enjoyed many high points including a great win over the 49ers, a five-game winning streak to go 6-3 and Xavien Howard leading the league with 10 interceptions.

The bad: Tua underwhelms. Sure, the rookie QB was decent enough and won six of his nine starts. However, he wasn’t as amazing as advertised and did have his struggles. He was twice benched in favour of Ryan Fitzpatrick when things weren’t going his way; he was subbed in a loss to Denver and Fitzmagic also came in to save the day against Las Vegas (see Raiders).  

The ugly: Not making the playoffs. In a competitive conference, double-digit wins still weren’t enough to take Miami through the door marked ‘playoffs’. With everything on the line in Week 17, the Dolphins were unfortunate to come up against a rampant Bills team, and took a heavy 56-26 loss. Tua threw three INTs including a pick-six, and Fitzmagic wasn’t available to bail him out this time. Meanwhile, the Colts – their rivals for a postseason berth – were seeing off Jacksonville. Close but no cigar.


New England Patriots

The good: Dropping 45 points on the Chargers. There weren’t many highlights last year but the 45-0 destruction of the LA Chargers in Week 13 certainly stands out. Despite figures of 12-of-19 for 69 yards, Cam Newton threw a TD to N’Keal Harry and rushed for two more, and even Jason Stidham threw one. Special teams also chipped in, returning a punt and a blocked FG to the house. A full team effort.

The bad: COVID opt-outs. The season got off to a bad start, when eight of their players announced they would decline the option to play due to COVID-19. The opt-outs hit the team on both sides of the ball, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, OT Marcus Cannon and wide receiver Marqise Lee among those who sat 2020 out.

The ugly: No January football. Things did not go as planned with Cam Newton under centre instead of Tom Brady. A 7-9 record marked their first losing season since 2000 and, finishing third in the AFC East, the divisional title – as well as a playoff place – eluded them for the first time since 2008.    


New York Jets

The good: Both wins. Gang Green did manage to rustle up two consecutive victories towards the end of the campaign. After 14 weeks of defeats – a franchise record – they beat the LA Rams 23-20, despite starting as 17-point underdogs, then followed it up with a 23-16 victory over the COVID-depleted Browns. The inevitable departure of HC Adam Gase is also seen as a plus point by many.  

The bad: The first 14 weeks. A 2-14 campaign is inevitably going to contain more bad than good, and their record included 36-7, 24-0, 20-3, 35-9 and 40-3 defeats. But to be ranked 30th on defence, 31st on offence and 32nd overall, but still not secure the first pick in next year’s draft, takes some doing. No wonder the Jets faithful were losing their minds when that win over Cleveland snuffed out the possibility of selecting Trevor Lawrence.     

Kathy Willens – Associated Press

The ugly: Extending the postseason drought. The Jets were the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention this year, extending their dry spell to a decade. And with both Cleveland and Tampa Bay qualifying for January football for the first time since 2002 and 2007 respectively, New York now ‘boast’ the longest active run without postseason football in the NFL.


Pittsburgh Steelers

The good: The first 11 games. OK, so some of us thought that the Steelers were the worst 11-0 team in living memory but by hook or by crook, Big Ben, JuJu, Chase Claypool and co. managed to churn out nothing but Ws till 7 December. Building on that best-ever start, the AFC’s #3 seed punched their playoff ticket in Week 14 and clinched the AFC North title with a Week 16 win over the Colts.  

The bad: The rest of the season. Other than the victory against Indy at Heinz Field, their other five remaining games all ended in defeat. The rot set in against Washington, the Bills also saw them off and further losses to divisional rival Cincinnati and Cleveland took the shine off their season as they limped over the line at 12-4. They were also one-and-done in the postseason with a second loss to the Browns in as many weeks. The 48-37 scoreline suggests a fairly even contest but it was pretty much over after a quarter, when they were already 28-0 down.

The ugly: JuJu’s TikTok dances. As much as I wanted to say Ben Roethlisberger’s immobility here, the ugliest part of the Steelers’ season was their wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster posting videos of himself dancing on the opposing team’s logo during his pre-game warm-ups. He was heavily criticised for his lack of respect but only stopped after HC Mike Tomlin had a word.


Tennessee Titans

The good: King Henry. Half-running back, half-machine Derrick Henry managed to better last year’s 1,500-yard season with 2,027 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, topping the NFL in both categories. Taking his knack for stiff-arming defenders to a new level, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year was a major factor in the Titans recording a 11-5 season, claiming the fourth seed and taking their first AFC South title since 2008.

Steve Roberts – USA SPORTS Today

The bad: The first half against Cleveland. The Week 13 loss to the Browns was a classic game of two halves. Unfortunately for Tennessee, it was all but over by half-time, by which time Baker Mayfield had thrown four touchdowns and built a 38-7 lead. They fought back after the break but a failed onside kick in the final minute put the tin lid on a 41-35 loss.

The ugly: Wild Card Weekend. An uncharacteristically flat Tennessee slumped out of the postseason at the first hurdle, going down 20-13 at home to the Ravens. Ryan Tannehill made just 18 passes for 165 yards, only AJ Brown hauled in more than three catches and just one game after setting a new franchise record with 250 rushing yards against the Texans, Henry could only muster 40 yards on the ground.

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NFL Championship Round Takeaways

Just the two games to extract out all the talking points from, but there were some to be had. The AFC and NFC title games provide the most magnifying of glasses, with every snap, catch and decision critiqued more than any of the other 263. So what went down? Find out here! Don’t forget to check out the Monday podcast, available on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and all good podcast outlets.


Fortune favours the brave

Even if you haven’t been a highly trained commando or have never watched Only Fools and Horses, I suspect you still know the phrase “he who dares, wins”. That turned out to be the sub-plot of the Packers’ 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. In short, the Bucs dared and sealed the first-ever home advantage for a Super Bowl. Green Bay didn’t and they’ll be watching the season finale on the telly, along with the rest of us.

Tampa Bay’s Head Coach Bruce Arians has more catchphrases than Del Trotter but one of them – “no risk it, no biscuit” – sums up his philosophy on life, not just his coaching style. Essentially, you won’t achieve much by not taking chances and in the end, that was the difference between the two teams on Sunday night. And it means that Arians still has a chance to add “Super Bowl winner” to his CV.

Jamie Squire – Getty Images

Contesting his first-ever NFC Championship, Tom Brady faced third downs on several occasions, only to chuck a dime almost every time. Never phased and never looking for an easy out, Arians and Brady dialled up big plays right from the off. Their first drive saw a 27-yard connection with Mike Evans on a 3rd-and-4, and a 14-yard pass to Chris Godwin on a 3rd-and-9. The result: a TD drive and a 7-0 lead. Then at 7-7, facing another 3rd-and-9, Brady went all special forces on us and dialled up a spectacular pass up the middle to Godwin again. The 52-yard gain moved the Bucs from their own 28 to the edge of the Packers’ red zone in one fell swoop. Courageous. Offensive. And, based on Leonard Fournette’s rushing score a play later, ultimately successful.

Then, just before the half, they faced a 4th-and-4 in midfield. A more cautious approach would have seen the punt team emerge but no, a 6-yarder to Fournette kept the drive going. The instant payback was a 39-yard lob by Brady to Scotty Miller in the end zone, bring up a 21-10 lead at the half.

Maybe they forced it a bit too much in the second half, when TB12 killed three successive drives with interceptions (coming from three of his nine attempts of 20+ yards) but only one of those lost possessions gave Green Bay any points. The last two saw the conservative Packers punt on three-and-outs instead of taking a more high-risk, high-reward approach.

They were more cautious throughout the game but the one drive that took the (no-risk-it) biscuit for me was the final Green Bay drive of the game, which ended with the most lily-livered decision by HC Matt LeFleur. After a promising 30-yard kick-off return, further gains of 9, 29, 11 and 9 took them all the way up to the Tampa 8-yard line. They were trailling by eight and with two-and-a-bit minutes remaining, Aaron Rodgers – probably the season MVP-in-waiting – appeared to have four decent shots to seal an unlikely comeback and overtime. They ‘just’ needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Here’s how it played out.

– First down: An incomplete pass to Alan Lazard.
– Second down: An incomplete pass to Davante Adams.
– Third down: Rodgers had more than enough time and space to scramble for the line but instead elected to sit back and throw to Adams again. He missed.
– Fourth down: Wait, what now? On trots Mason Crosby for a field goal attempt. Really?! You think the GOAT is going to gift you another possession after the two-minute warning? No chance. Game over. The kick was good but the Packers lost by five.

Afterwards, Rodgers said that he’d expected a fourth attempt at a TD and LeFleur agreed that, with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t the right call. Obviously, there were many other factors that swung the result in the Buccaneers’ favour but the key one for me was their overall approach. The brave marched on and the timid went home.


Is there a draft in here?

When comparing the two teams after the fall-out from the NFC title game, one possible cause for the Packers’ exit at this stage for the second year running is the rookie factor.

Looking at the difference in impact each team’s 2020 rookie class had looks to be a pivotal point to call out. Matt LaFleur’s play-calling decisions can be debated until the cows come home but on the other side of the field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bolstered their squad and it has helped them a lot more than the Packers’ rookies from 2020.

3 last-minute predictions for the Packers in the 2020 NFL Draft
clutchpoints.com

Jordan Love, AJ Dillion, Josiah Deguara, Kamal Martin, Jon Runyan Jr., Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak, Vernon Scott and Johnathan Garvin were all selected by Green Bay in the 2020 draft. It’s hard to make a case that any of them played a meaningful role this year.

On the Tampa side, Tristan Wirfs, Antione Winfield (who was absent on Sunday), Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Tyler Johnson have all had their name mentioned for positive reasons this season, especially Wirfs, who was a main factor in why Tom Brady has stayed upright this season and that the O-line gave up just one sack in the game against Green Bay.

It was much maligned at the time but the proof is now all there to see: Matt LaFleur and the front office did not help Aaron Rodgers one bit in the 2020 draft. Tom and Tampa are going back home to play for the Vince Lombardi.

It yet remains to be seen whether this could possibly be one of the worst draft classes that Green Bay has ever taken.


Allen couldn’t find the key to the Super Bowl’s front door

Josh Allen has had a stellar season and his three-year trajectory since entering the league has been one as steep as the tallest mountain.

However, in the AFC Championship game, he and the Bills came a bit unstuck and Buffalo bow out at the penultimate hurdle.

Allen completed under 60% of his passes in the game, with his “go-to” guy Stefon Diggs stifled all evening. Allen also made errors by taking sacks at crucial times and the fourth-quarter interception, while perhaps more John Brown’s fault than his own, was the final nail in the Bills’ season coffin.

Charlie Riedel – AP

He and the Bills Mafia will come again and if Allen learns from this game like he did from 2019’s exit to Houston, who’s to say we don’t see the Bills in the big one in 2022?

He’ll enter year four with a 28-16 record, almost 10,000 yards under his belt, and 100 total TDs (72 passing, 26 rushing and 2 receiving) and 35 interceptions to his name. The sky is still the limit.


Fournette about it 


As we head into Super Bowl LV, the leading post-season ball carrier, and second leading rusher is not King Derek Henry, nor is it Ronald Jones, Damien Williams, Alvin Kamara or Nick Chubb. The man with 211 rushing yards and two td’s is none other than Leonard Fournette, one of a number of Tampa Bay reclamation projects that are shining at the exact right time. Fournette, selected 4th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 draft, was arguably selected too early, and expectations from day one were inflated. Two one thousand yard seasons in Florida were not enough for Jags brass to make a serious investment and at the end of August last year they waived Fournette, and within 24 hours he was picked up by the Buccaneers in a move that garnished few headlines. Big Len started three regular season games and had less than 100 carries, so 48 carries to date in the playoffs has been somewhat unexpected. Fournette went Madden button mashing style when he scored against the Packers in the NFC Championship, proving he has moves on moves for a guy who looks like he always had seconds at the dinner table. Fournette can do some major damage in the Super Bowl, and along with Antonio Brown, will be fighting to win the title of ‘most redeemed Buccaneers player’ in front of the world. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Player Contracts, Salaries, & Transactions | Spotrac
Dylan Buell – Getty


Second Super Bowl for underrated secondary

The headlines are dominated by Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, with additional newspaper column inches featuring the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and a few of the defensive stars DT Chris Jones and DE Frank Clark. Aside from the ‘Honey Badger’ S Tyrann Mathieu the Chiefs secondary is a narrative afterthought. This should not be the case, as the likes of Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Juan Thornhill and even the hitman Daniel Sorensen (yes Browns fans we know you won’t forget ‘that hit’ in a hurry) have been delivering results week in and week out without being given the respect they deserve. The unit held the Browns Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards, and more impressively restricted the Bills Josh Allen to under 300 yards passing on 48 attempts. Buffalo came to Arrowhead boasting an eight game win streak, courtesy in large part to the relentless connection between Allen and Stefon Diggs. The KC secondary held Diggs to his joint lowest catch rate of the season (54.5%) and more importantly to under 100 yards and zero touchdowns. The matchup against the Buccs supercharged WR corps will be the key to the Chiefs ability to repeat. After all ‘Honey Badger don’t care‘ – just ask the 96 million viewers.  

Defensive Player of the Year Race: SafetiesThe Brawl Network
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2021 Pro Bowl surprises and snubs

by Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)

Whilst we have been let down as fans from attending the majority of live sports this year, leaving a bitter taste, there has been one teaspoon of something sweeter to swallow, the avoidance of the farcical contest that is more commonly known as the AFC v NFC Pro Bowl.

The game, which descended to depths beyond imagination when Hall of Famers such as Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were made honorary captains of ‘fantasy draft’ teams, will not be played in 2021, in its place a good old game of Madden.

If anything the ‘virtual’ event will not only spare us the televised ‘walkthrough’ of a game, it will also avoid rosters being filled by replacements for those who have opted out (due to injury, or attendance in the Super Bowl). For once the Pro Bowl rosters will remain intact as there will be no trip to Florida or Hawaii.

Further nonsensical decision making

So, with the game itself being fought with joysticks and pixels, and not face to face combat, we must focus on some of the surprise selections and shocking snubs. Here are five of each.

SURPRISES-

Picture credit: SI.com

Evan Engram – TE, New York Giants

Ok Engram was not voted in as the starter, but he made the team, and even Giants fans must be scratching their heads. Engram is averaging under 41 yards a game, and has scored a whopping 1 receiving TD all season. Evan has had just one noteworthy game this season, 6-129 on Week 12 in a win against the Bengals. in December Engram has caught 10 balls for 96 yards. The more I research this the more I can imagine a bunch of virgin Giants fans sitting in their parent’s basements, surrounded by crusty Kleenex submitting online Pro Bowl ballots until they only have enough wrist energy to change the channel to late night entertainment.

David DeCastro – G, Pittsburgh Steelers

Since Week 7 the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone over 100 team rushing yards just once, and in five of the last seven the Black and Gold have failed to muster 50 rushing yards. Yes James Connor has been injured, but a team that was 11-0 at one point should be able to muster some semblance of a running game. This has not been the case and the likes of David DeCastro have not helped. DeCastro is a beneficiary of ‘name over actual output’, as casual fans are not going to scroll through game tape evaluating offensive guards, they are just going to tick a recognised name. As of Week 14 David is rated #27 for Guards, behind the likes of Washington’s Wes Schweitzer and second Rams year road-grader David Edwards.

James Bradberry – CB, New York Giants

A second surprise package from the NFC (L)East and a second helping of Big Apple pie in the form of former Panthers CB James Bradberry. In his fifth season, and first with Big Blue, Bradberry has been a pleasant surprise, gaining three interceptions and two forced fumbles for a defensive unit that was the predominant read on for a shock 4-game win streak. His 17 passes defended is impressive and is more in 13 games played in 2020 than he managed in any of his four seasons with Carolina. The Giants are hoping for a miracle in Week 16 against the Ravens to keep their season alive, and Bradberry covering Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown will be a key matchup. This is Bradberry’s first Pro Bowl nod, and judging on his performance in 2020 it will not be his last. He is currently ranked #6 in PFF overall CB ratings, and is #10 in terms of defensive snaps for his position (874).

Picture credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Younghoe Koo – K. Atlanta Falcons

Not a surprise because he gained the nod, Younghoe Koo has been a surprise achiever all season, connecting on 35 of 36 field goals for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. The prospects of being a Pro Bowl performer was highly unlikely after a rather underwhelming start to his career. An undrafted free agent signing in 2017 by the Chargers, Koo was unceremoniously cut after missing game winners two weeks in a row. Koo had a year owl and then joined the Atlanta Legends of the show-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF). Staying in Atlanta in 2019 he signed with the Falcons and converted 88.5 percent of field goal attempts. Koo currently leads the NFL in scoring (133 points), and he was the NFC Special Teams player of the month for November. The only blemish on Koo is his three missed extra points.

Picture credit: SI.com

Chase Young – DE/Edge, Washington Football Team

No this is not a typo, Chase Young is a remarkable young man who will go on to deserve many, many Pro Bowl invites, but one could argue 2020 was a little premature. Young, the #2 pick in the 2020 draft, has had some individual outstanding performances, but this dominance has not been sustained throughout the season, and in patches he has looked like a rookie learning on the job. Young’s 5.5 sacks leads rookies, and his fumble recovery touchdown agains the 49ers was a game-changing play in the literal sense. It might be a bit cruel to say but ‘the Predator’s’ profile as a high pick and College superstar has made his selection by fans as a bit of a lazy one. Fellow DE/Edge Montez Sweat has arguably had a bigger impact this season as an entire body of work, and has better run defense and pass rush ratings according to PFF. What puts Young above Sweat in overall PFF defensive rating is pass coverage. Young can help Washington to reach the post-season, but he needs two big games to end the regular season.


SNUBS

Picture credit: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

J.C. Jackson – CB, New England Patriots

Voters selected the wrong Patriots CB this season to the Madden Bowl 21. Jackson has 8 interceptions in 14 games, putting him second only behind the Dolphins Xavien Howard who has 9. Between Week 6 and 10 Jackson had a pick in each game. J.C. is top 10 in pass deflections (13) and 6th in the NFL with 3 fumble recoveries. Now in season three, Jackson has managed to raise his pick count from 3 to 5 to now 8. The rationale behind no love to Jackson is likely linked to the Patriots 2020 season overall. 6-8 and out of the playoffs, and a likely general hate (jealousy) of the most successful team in the past 20 years, its likely if the Pats were a playoff team then Jackson would be getting a bit more recognition. Jackson stands a legit chance of ending the season with double digit picks – so no Pro Bowl recognition is going to be disappointing.

Picture credit: AP/Elaine Thompson

Robert Tonyan – TE, Green Bay Packers

If one player can be labelled as this season’s most reliable red zone target it is third year Green Bay Packers TE Robert Tonyan. In the Pre-Season the buzz was that second year pro Jace Sternberger would be a sleeper about to awaken in 2020. That never happened, and instead Tonyan, who averaged 7 catches a season entering 2020, has been an absolute sensation. 14 weeks in he has 10 touchdowns on 49 catches, and is caching just under 9 of every 10 balls thrown his way. Heading into Week 15 Tonyan has snagged a TD in 5 consecutive games. Tonyan has had 5 or more catches in half the games he has played in 2020, making him a trusted target for MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay are looking like the best offensive unit in the NFC, and Tonyan has been an important part of the 2020 success.

Picture credit: Si.com

Wyatt Teller – G, Cleveland Browns

The Browns have done a fantastic job this season, a two figured win record and an opportunity to win their division with two games left. Part of the reason for Cleveland’s successful has been the under-appreciated offensive line, led by the PFF #1 rated G, not Joel Bitonio (who was rightfully recognised by Pro Bowl voters), no it was Wyatt Teller. In 10 games this season Teller has posted a 93.8 PFF rating, the top overall rating for ALL offensive linemen. Included in the evaluation is a 93.6 run block rating. The Bills 2018 5th round pick is 8-2 in 2020, the only two losses being against the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns as a unit have rushed for over 2,100 yards, and with a few monster games from Kareem Hunt (and I mean King Kong/Godzilla type performances) Cleveland could boast two 1,000 yard running backs, emulating the 1k pairing of Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack from the 80s.

Picture credit: Getty

Andrew Van Ginkel – LB, Miami Dolphins

This snub is really about recognising the fact the Dolphins defense should have had more than one Pro Bowl selection. Only CB Xavien Howard gained recognition in 2020. Second year LB Andrew Van Ginkel may not have the gaudy stat line, and he may wear a funky shirt number (#43), yet he is the pounding heartbeat of a Dolphins defense that has fought and clawed its way to a 9-5 record, and as it stands a Wild Card berth. Van Ginkel is probably a season away from really blossoming, using 2020 as a way to show that he is a tough guy who is inspiring team-mates to raise their game. The number #14 PFF rated edge rusher, Van Ginkel has posted solid numbers against the run as well as antagonising signal callers. He leads the ‘Fins with 3 forced fumbes and has a fumble recovery TD and 2.5 sacks

Picture credit: NFL.com

James Robinson – RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

There has been no bigger surprise in 2020 than undrafted free agent RB James Robinson, currently ranked 3rd in rushing yards (1,070), 4th in all purpose yards (1,414) and 3rd in touches (289). Robinson has already broken the combined yardage record for an UDFA, passing the previous record held by former Colts RB Dominic Rhodes. A glowing C.V. but one that has not been recognised because Robinson is sitting on a 1 win team who are now the heavy favourites to finish 2020 as the rock bottom team in the NFL. Robinson has had 4 100+ yard running games, averaged 4.5 yards a carry and scored double digit overall touchdowns. Robinson deserves to be recognised for his remarkable output this year, as he has been consistent throughout the season, producing quality fantasy numbers with the likes of Jake ‘Bedfordshire Bomber’ Luton under center.

Do you agree or disagree with the above 10 surprises and snubs? Let us know your thoughts!

Feel free to HMU on Twitter @F10YRetro or on @Full10Yards

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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.



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.

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Season in Review – Tennessee Titans

By James Fotheringham (@nflhypetrain)

Next up in our review series is the Tennessee Titans.


Before the season the Tennessee Titans were one of those teams that nobody really thought much about. They were “just a team” who were too good to be bottom of the pile in the AFC South, but behind the Texans and Colts. When Andrew Luck announced his retirement, hopes grew, but the prospect of DeShaun Watson on offence, JJ Watt on defence and strong teams in other divisions, making the playoffs via a wildcard look difficult.


The Personnel:


The Coaching team lost OC Matt LaFleur to the Packers which led to Arthur Smith being promoted from the TE coach role. Otherwise, nothing changed. Mike Vrabel was HC, Jon Robinson GM and Dean Pees DC.

On Defence the team had 5 rookies in the final roster, but mostly the team was led by veterans Jurrell Casey, Kevin Byard and Logan Ryan with developing stars Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry and Jayon Brown all stepping up. Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler began their 2nd seasons at the Titans while Cameron Wake joined from Miami.

On Offence the team added AJ Brown in the 2nd round of the draft to pair with Corey Davis (taken in the 1st round last year). They also grabbed Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay and retained Delanie Walker for another year. Walker went down very early and so Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser shared to load. Ryan Tannehill joined from Miami so act as backup to Marcus Mariota (who started the season with a rather short leash). The Running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis were retained while the offensive line was improved by the addition of Roger Saffold from the Rams to join Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan and co. Henry and Lewis were okay in 2018 but Henry only just scraped over 1000 rushing yards and his utilisation stopped him from reaching his full potential. A lot of experts doubted he’d be able to become elite but as the season unfolded, he exploded.


The Regular Season


Cast your minds back to the conclusion of week 6. The Titans had just been shutout 16-0 by the Denver Broncos to drop to 2-4. The Bills, Jags and Colts had each got the better of them and wins away against the Browns and the Falcons were the only high points. Marcus Mariota was struggling and the team as a whole only scored more than 20 points in 2 games (those in which they won) and had 3 games scoring 7 points for fewer.

During and after the loss in Denver the Titans switched QB and put Ryan Tannehill under centre and that decision was key in turning around their season. They went on to in 6 of their next 7 games to move to 8-5 and in a fight with the Texans for the AFC South. In 10 starts and 2 relief games, Tannehill would complete 201 passes for 2,742yds and 22TCs with only 6INTs. A 117.5 passer rating and completion percentage over 70% was a revelation for the Titans while he was also able to rush 43 times for 185 yards and 4TDs. This support and change in playing style caught teams off guard and gave Derrick Henry the room and licence to run.

Image Credit – Chipermc, Wikimedia

Tannehill made the team a passing threat and brought relevance to the likes of 2nd round pick AJ Brown, 2018 1st rounder Corey Davis and the Delanie Walker replacements at TE in Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser. Brown grew throughout his rookie season and became a serious big play threat. Even more so when Henry got into his stride. Brown managed to break the 1000yd reception plateau with 1,052 on 52 receptions, with many of them being more than 20yards. 8 TDs made him an invaluable asset and he was ably backed up by Davis and Humphries.

Dion Lewis was largely ineffective all year. With enough good passing options Lewis was left as more of a backup and a decoy while Derrick Henry ran the show. Henry never had more than 3 targets, so all his work was done on the ground, but after 9 weeks he had only had one game with over 100 rushing yards. Fantasy owners weren’t feeling to need to trade for him and even though the team was improving, nobody could foresee what was coming. In week 10 at home to Kansas City, Henry had 188 rushing yards on 23 attempts and his first multiple TD game of the season. Up to that point he’d had 644 yards and 6TDs in 9 games. This game was the turning point as the 35-32 win (mostly on Henrys back) was the start of a 4 game win streak in which Henry would amass 641 scrimmage yards and 7TDs and each of the 4 games would see him rush for over 100 yards. It was an incredible run which made them the form team going into their crunch divisional game against the Texans.  

Image Credit – Walker Kinsler, Wikimedia

The week 15 head to head was critical as it effectively decided whether then Texans would win the division or whether the Titans would overhaul them. With the Steelers currently in the wildcard spot, whoever lost would be in a scrap to make the post-season. The Texans were off form, totally the opposite to the Titans but DeShaun Watson and co secured a 24-21 win. the Titans were left scrapping with the Steelers for the final wildcard and a loss to the Saints (with Derrick Henry missing from the line-up) the following week proved not to be critical as the Steelers loss to the Jets gave Tennessee the jump on them based on strength of opponent. The Titans then had a simple “Win and in” game against the already playoff bound Texans. An easy 35-14 win against a below strength Houston sealed the deal. A 9-7 record and with the 2nd wildcard spot they’d go in as the 6th seeds in the AFC.


The Post-Season


If seeing the Patriots lose the Dolphins and fall into the Wildcard round (much to the benefit of the Chiefs) wasn’t surprising enough, then what happened at Gillette Stadium certainly was. Very few analysts gave the Titans a chance. They squeaked in on the last day as the final wildcard, have Ryan Tannehill as their QB and weren’t a top 5 defence. Meanwhile the Patriots have Brady and Edelman, a top 3 defence and Belichick in control. 

In the regular season Derrick Henry totalled 1,505 rushing yards on 303 attempts and a (tied) league leading 16TDs. In the post season, he looked unstoppable. He had 34 attempts for 182 yards and a TD against the Patriots, while the defence stifled an increasingly annoyed Patriots offence. Ryan Tannehill only completed 8 passed (from 15 attempts) for 72 yards and a TD but that was all he needed. Anthony Firkser caught the 12 yard pass in the first quarter before Henry took in in from the 1 yard line just before half time to see the Titans into a 14-13 lead. A stalemate second half was finally broken when Logan Ryan picked off Brady with 9 seconds left and took it to the house to cue wild celebrations nationwide.  

Image Credit: Will Newton/Getty Images

The upset against the Patriots was incredible and many anti-Patriot fans were quick to get behind them, but very few people would have said they had a chance against the top seed Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. Once again, the Titans proved the world wrong. Derrick Henry again would star with 30 rushes for 195 yards at 6.5yrds per carry. He did get a TD, but it was neither rushing, nor receiving. A 3 yard loop ball to Corey Davis on a trick play was probably the moment where the game was won. The defence held, what some argue was the most potent offence in the NFL, to just 12 points while on offence Ryan Tannehill got them over the line without really doing much.

Tannehill only completed 7 passes, but 2 of those were touchdowns. First to Jonnu Smith to set the tone early and then followed up by Kalif Raymond as they took a 14-0 lead. 2 Field goals for the Ravens brought them back into it but the trick play from Derrick Henry to Corey Davis took the wind out of the Ravens. Only minutes later Tannehill was rushing the ball in himself and at 28-6 with less than 20 minutes to go, it was over. The Ravens would get one back through Hayden Hurst, but it was too little too late.

The AFC Championship game against the Chiefs wasn’t the matchup expected on most people’s brackets, but with the Titans on form and Patrick Mahomes being Patrick Mahomes, it was going to be fun to watch. A heavy run offence vs a heavy pass offence and in the end, despite the Titans taking 10-0 and 17-7 leads, the Chiefs did what they have done so often, and scored a succession of TD’s to swing the balance in their favour. A Greg Joseph field goal and a Derrick Henry 4 yard TD run gave the Titans a perfect start to the game. The response from Mahomes to Hill kept it tight but the 10 point lead was restored when lineman Dennis Kelly caught a pass from Tannehill when labelled as an eligible receiver. Another trick that worked a treat.

After that, it became the Patrick Mahomes show. 4 TD’s in 12 game minutes including a short pass to Hill, a dazzling run, a rush from Damien Williams and a 60 yarder to Sammy Watkins finished off the Titans. At 35-17 with 7:33 left on the clock it was a mountain to climb. Tannehill did get another TD to Firkser but with the team behind, he was being forced to throw more. He had 209 yards and 2 TDs with no INTs but with Derrick Henry limited to under 70 rushing yards the Chiefs got the job done and would go on to the Superbowl.


Conclusions


At no point in the season did anyone truly think the Titans would be in the AFC Championship game. They just kept surprising people and after years of not realising his potential, Derrick Henry has finally shown how elite he can be. No shadow from Demarco Murray, no split responsibilities with Dion Lewis and a QB that is capable of running and providing an alternative which keeps the opponents guessing.

It’s hard to say what they need to concentrate on in the off season since the only thing that stopped them was the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes. They had a good young secondary who are learning fast, a pass rush which maybe could use a fresher set of legs (but are still playing to a high level) and some good special teams’ players. On offence, if Henry stays healthy and the likes of Davis and Brown keep developing and the Smith/Firkser combo can evolve into the long term replacements for Delanie Walker then it’s hard to suggest what else they can do. The O-Line is great, and Ryan Tannehill has been a revelation. The big decision is whether the Titans see him as their future. Tannehill is a UFA this off season and it will depend on contracts and cap space whether he returns. I’d be very keen to keep him on as low level deal as he is willing to take if I was the GM. The foundations of something great are there. I’d like to see Tannehill to AJ Brown for another year.

New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans
Image Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After the loss to the Chiefs Dean Pees announced his retirement (again) and so the team will need a new defensive co-ordinator next season. Their defence was a big reason why Derrick henry was able to be so dominant. There is still room for improvement as they gave up 20+ points on 8 occasions in the regular season and they need to figure out a way of stopping Mahomes, but the signs are positive and maybe a the new DC can tip them over than edge.

It will be interesting to see how they cope next season with the new weight of expectation and teams targeting Henry and Brown, but if you are a Titans fan then this has been a season to remember and you have some exciting times ahead. #TitanUp      

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Season in Review – Baltimore Ravens

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

In another installment of our NFL series looking back at the 2019 season, it’s time to put the Baltimore Ravens under the spotlight.


entering the season


The shiny new toy of the NFL, Lamar Jackson had a full offseason as starter to help aid his progression. After committing to Lamar Jackson the talk of the off season was could the Ravens be sustainable in their offensive style. An excellent end to 2018/19 came crashing down in the playoffs as the Chargers appeared to show everyone how to stop the offence.

Several key pieces left on the defensive side of the ball as the the defensive turnstile gate was in full swing with the likes of Zadarius Smith going out, but Adding Earl Thomas was a major coup to provide some quality play and veteran leadership in the secondary.

The first season in the post Ozzie Newsome era appeared to be one of offensive development and defensive rebuilding.


during the season


59 points in their opening game of the season was a pretty decisive answer to how this offence would look. Lamar Jackson had time in the pocket and threw to wide open receivers and the ground game looked impressive.

Image result for lamar jackson vs dolphins
Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The next few weeks saw some close contests with the ravens losing 2 games in that stretch, but the season really got its jolt in week 7. Travelling to Seattle the Ravens dominated by a score of 30-16 and then never looked back.

A demolition job of none other than the New England Patriots followed in the following week as the Ravens staked their claim on being the class of the AFC.

The offence then put up 49 against the Bengals, 41 against the Texans and 45 against the Rams in an impressive stretch of production. A huge week 13 win against the 49ers kicked off December and 3 more routine wins wrapped up the number 1 seed in the AFC for the first time in their franchise history. The stellar play in all 3 phases of the game rewarded the team with an impressive 12 pro bowl selections.

Image Credit – Patrick Smith/Getty

Lamar Jackson unanimously won the MVP award as he broke the single season rushing record for a QB, whilst improving his passing game to the point of being a legitimate dual threat by having the most passing touchdowns in the regular season.  The Baltimore Ravens were 1st in points per game scored and 3rd in defensive points given up.

With a 1st round bye secured, it was a shock to everyone when they fell to the Tennessee Titans at home in the divisional round, with some people questioning whether Lamar Jackson can do it in the big games.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK

The exciting thing for the Ravens is that they have a young core to continue to build around offensively. Lamar Jackson will be paired with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown for years to come and young running back Justice Hill has flashed when spelling Mark Ingram for a series here and there. The future of Greg Roman seems to be secure for another season as he was overlooked for any open HC vacancy, which will be music to the ears of Ravens fans. He and John Harbaugh were winners at the NFL Honours night, picking up Assistant Coach and Coach of the Year respectively.

Defensively, the Ravens will look to get some younger pieces into the group as veterans Earl Thomas and Marcus Peters (acquired this season) can’t go on forever. Adding a veteran pass catcher on the outside would also not be a surprise

The Ravens look primed for a sustained few years of ultra competitive football. Defenses have yet to find a way to consistently stop Lamar Jackson and company and until they do it is hard to look past these Ravens.

The obvious concern is an injury to Jackson. He is such a unique player and the ravens deserve praise for tailoring everything around him but could anyone else be successful in this scheme?

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Season in Review – Cincinnati Bengals

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Today’s flashback to the 2019 NFL season is through the lens of Bengals fans. Let’s get to it!


entering the season

All off season it seemed as though the entire NFL was on the hunt for the “next Sean McVay”. Well the winners of that race was to be the Bengals as they snagged Zac Taylor to lead the franchise after finally parting ways with Marvin Lewis.

Was this finally the year that Andy Dalton moved out of the definition of bang average to something better than that? Would the offence have more variety and explosion? Could AJ Green stay healthy?

Defensively there was a lack of firepower going in and the Bengals polarised opinion form being basement dwellers to one of the league’s most under-rated teams.


during the season

On the road in week 1 to Seattle is never an easy assignment but the Bengals pushed them all the way and were unfortunate not to leave with a win.

Some further close defeats followed at the hands of the Bills, Cardinals and Ravens as the Bengals failed to register in the win column before making the trip across the pond to battle the rams at Wembley Stadium. Unfortunately for UK fans the losing streak continued as the Rams took care of business. Attention started to turn towards the 2020 season and if the Bengals could register a win at all during the campaign.

Image Credit – Wilfredo Lee / AP

A move at quarterback followed the bye week with Ryan Finley, who had been impressive in preseason, given the opportunity to start week 10. His 3 game audition bought 3 more defeats to move the record to 0-11 before the ginger prince was reinstated into the lineup for the week 13 encounter with the Jets.

December 1st was the 1st win of the Bengals season and in the coaching career of Zac Taylor as the Bengals caught the Jets on one of their regular an off days to win 22-6. A return to losing ways followed however and a week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins secured the number 1 pick in the 2020 draft for the Bengals.


offseason outlook

The excitement will now build for the franchise as we head towards the draft. Most draft analysts will have them slated to take Joe Burrow to become the signal caller on a team that has had 10 years of middling play at the position. However, do not be fooled into thinking that the problems on this team all stem from Andy Dalton.

Image result for joe burrow
Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

There are issues on the offensive line (seemingly always), AJ Green never saw the field this year and is likely done in the jungle so a new wide receiver is needed.

Upgrades are required throughout the defence and it would be wrong to not at least debate if Zac Taylor is the right guy after a 2 win season.

There appears to be plenty of work ahead in Cincinnati to reshape the Bengals into a competitive unit. I wouldn’t rule out a trade down from number 1 overall if the can find a willing trade partner, with the Dolphins sitting at 5 (and armed with ammo) the most likely candidate in this scenario. 

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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.

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Season in Review – Cleveland Browns

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Next stop in our whistlestop tour of the NFL 2019 season, today we head to the AFC North and breakdown the laughing stock of the NFL over the last few years, the Cleveland Browns.


entering the season

Has there ever been more hype around a team as there was regarding the Browns this past off season?

Buoyed by an encouraging end to the 2018/2019 campaign and the acquisition of a certain Odell Beckham Jr, big things were expected of Baker Mayfield in his second season behind center.

The trenches on both sides of the ball were a concern going in but the volume of quality skill players meant a first winning season of the decade was the absolute minimum expectation with playoff football being the realistic aim.


During the season

It unfortunately unravelled pretty quickly. The Titans trounced the Browns in week 1 at home was a sign of things to come.

Despite evening up their record at 2-2 with a huge road win against the Ravens no less, the inconsistencies on the team were obvious. Cue a 4 game losing streak and all of a sudden the Browns were in a hole.

Playoff hopes were reignited after wins over the Bills and Steelers but that November 14th game effectively ended the Browns season.

Myles Garrett was suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, at least, in response to the fight he participated in on Thursday.
Image Credit – Ron Schwane / AP

With the game wrapped up a mass brawl ensued on a meaningless garbage time play. It ended with Myles Garrett, who had been the Browns stand out defender on the year, swinging his helmet at Mason Rudolph. An indefinite suspension followed and with it, any realistic hopes that the browns retained of the playoffs vanished.

Further inconsistent play, riddled with baffling coaching decisions and play calling mean the Browns finish the decade as the only NFL team without a winning record. 


offseason outlook

It feels like it is said every off season, but make no mistake this is a huge one for the browns. A coaching change already in the books with Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski replacing Freddy Kitchens. Not quite the veteran presence to control the locker room and stamp out the indiscipline that is required but we’ll wait and see.

They still have unquestionable young talent throughout the roster in the likes of Nick Chubb (NFL rushing leader), Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and assuming no trades, they will bring back OBJ and Jarvis Landry again.

Image result for baker mayfield
Image Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty

The bigger question is who is Baker Mayfield? The cocky and arrogant gunslinger who let his play do the talking in year 1, or the often sulking, off target and off timing thrower we saw in year 2.

The offensive and defensive line should be the priority in the off season. The tackle positions on the offensive line have been a liability all year and 2 quality starters are required there. On the defensive side, it is a case of adding quality depth to the 4 starters, assuming Myles Garrett is reinstated into the league. The browns are likely to move on from a few higher earners in Damarious Randall and Christian Kirksey so look for another aggressive off season from the front office.

Many of the reasons for optimism at the start of this campaign roll over into next year. The Browns have a young core to build around and with the right guidance and additions on the lines, should be primed for a nice bounce back campaign.

This is the Browns though, so please, don’t quote me on that!