10 things that defined the 2019 NFL season

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

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


1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires


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

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

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

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

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

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


2. Player holdouts become a thing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL


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

Lynne Sladky/AP

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

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

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

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


4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout


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

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

Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

USA-TODAY

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

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

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

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


6. Minshew Mania


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

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

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

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

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


7. Myles Garrett loses his head


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

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

Jason Miller/Getty Images

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

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

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


8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)


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

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

AP Photo/Gary Landers

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

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

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


9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL


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

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

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

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

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

10. A new UK venue earns its spurs


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

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

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

Miles Willis Photography

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

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


11. And one more for luck…


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

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

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

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

Season in Review – New England Patriots

By Andy Goddard (@godsy1985)

The next instalment of our season review articles takes a look at last years world champions, the New England Patriots. Is a 12-4 regular season record really the end of the dynasty?


Entering the season


Going into the 2019 season, the Patriots were once again one of the favourites to lift the Lombardi Trophy in Miami but there were also a lot of question marks against the team. The major concern appeared to be at the wide receiver position, which was very thin, but did still include the reigning Super Bowl MVP in Julian Edelman and the troubled yet talented, Josh Gordon. The other obvious concern was the loss of Rob Gronkowski. ‘Gronk’ had announced his retirement in March 2019 leaving the Pats with an ageing Ben Watson and two unproven players in Ryan Izzo and, the recently acquired, Matt LaCosse.

Preparations for the new season took another hit on 26th August 2019 when it was announced that centre David Andrews had been diagnosed with pulmonary embolism which would eventually result in him being placed on season ending injury reserve (IR) at the end of August 2019. The Patriots 1st round draft pick, N’Keal Harry, also then found himself on IR in September due to an ankle injury.

Before a play had even been called, the Patriots were struggling on offense but the defence had held the high scoring LA Rams to just three points in Super Bowl 53 so there was still optimism that with Brady and Belichick, another trip to the big game was possible.

The AFC East has been looked upon as a little bit of a joke for quite a while now. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins were both in transition periods and the only challenge for New England looked to be the Buffalo Bills. However, heading into the 2019 season, the Patriots were still expected to win the AFC East and head into the playoffs once more.


During the season


The Patriots started the season with what was regarded as a very weak schedule. The Pats opened the season 8-0 and there was talk from some people in the media that this team could go undefeated. Blow out wins against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets (twice) and the Washington Redskins did not tell the whole story as the second half of their schedule would show.

On September 7th, the Patriots signed Antonio Brown to a one year contract. Suddenly a weak wide receiver unit was now looking very promising with Brown, Gordon and Edelman all lining up alongside Tom Brady. Unfortunately, this lasted just one game (at Miami) before Brown was eventually cut on 20th September due to an ongoing court case and further allegations made against the wide receiver.

David Santiago/AP

Regardless of the Antonio Brown issue, the Patriots were winning, and winning comprehensively. Their defence’s play was historically dominant and was the catalyst for the 8-0 record. Scoring touchdowns on defence and special teams at an astonishing rate covered over the cracks on offense. The Patriots ‘ran over’ teams on their way to winning Super Bowl 53, but this team had to rely more and more on Tom Brady as the running game was non-existent. This may seem strange, having to rely on arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game but Brady was 42 when the season began and (finally) showing signs of his age. To make matters worse, his wide receivers were also struggling. They couldn’t get open, and on the occasions they did, the number of dropped catches was very alarming. The once reliable Julian Edelman, lead the league in dropped catches (9) and Brady no longer had his big tight end, ‘Gronk’. In October, Josh Gordon found himself on IR before being before released and claimed by the Seattle Seahawks. Although Mohamed Sanu was traded to the Patriots on 22nd October, he also struggled and finished the season with just 207 yards.

A week 9 trip to Baltimore brought the Patriots first defeat of the season and although they won the next two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys it was once again the defence that were the main cause, holding the Eagles and Cowboys to 10 and 9 points respectively.

Notoriously, the Patriots thrive in December and begin to play their best football. The 2019 season was the complete opposite of this as they fell to consecutive defeats against the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. New England’s offense had looked a little better against the Chiefs but one really bad piece of officiating took points off the board when N’Keal Harry was wrongly adjudge to have stepped out when he had scored a touchdown. They would eventually lose 16-23.

Nancy Lane/ BH

Heading into week 16, the Patriots needed to beat the Buffalo Bills to secure another AFC East title. A 24-17 win meant that not only did they win the AFC East but a victory in their final game, at home to the (4-11) Miami Dolphins, would secure the number 2 seed in the AFC and clinch a first round bye in the playoffs. In week 17, things appeared to be going to plan as Tom Brady drove his Patriots down the field late on to take a 24-20 lead but ‘Fitzmagic’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) had other ideas as the Dolphins scored with seconds remaining to win the game 27-24. That defeat, coupled with a win by the Kansas City Chiefs, meant that the Patriots would finish as the third seed and have to play in the wild game for the first time in since 2009!

The Patriots hosted the Tennessee Titans in the wild card game. With the Titans leading 14-13 at the half, the Patriots would fail to score another point in the 2019 season as the Titans ran out 20-13 winners and advanced to the divisional round.


Offseason outlook


The big question going into the off season revolves around quarterback Tom Brady, who will be an unrestricted free agent. It’s crazy to think of Brady in another uniform but there is a real possibility this happens. It was well reported that Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, wanted to keep Jimmy Garoppolo before he was eventually traded to San Francisco so we could see a new quarterback under centre for the Patriots. Of course, Brady could very well return for another season but one thing appears certain, Brady does not want to retire just yet.

Adam Hunger /AP

If Brady was to move on, do the Patriots go with back up Jarrett Stidham, draft their new man, or make a trade? I would be very surprised to see Brady sign with someone else and believe that Robert Kraft (New England Patriots Owner) will do everything in his power to keep his QB around and make him a Patriot for life.

In 2019, the defense looked solid against the pass with Stephon Gilmore being the stand out performer and winning Defensive MVP, but they need to improve against the run. This was highlighted in the wild card game against the Titans.

The Patriots also have a long list of players who will hit free agency. Some big name players including Devin McCourty, the impressive Kyle Van Noy, Matthew Slater, Jamie Collins, Joe Thuney and Danny Shelton will be available. Not all of these players will be Patriots next season. Kyle Van Noy and Joe Thuney will get paid big money by another team so will need replacing and the offense still needs improvement at the skill positions. The loss of Gronkowski was huge, not only in the passing game but he also excelled as a blocker. New England has $49 million in cap space and this will probably grow with contracts being restructured.

Heading into the 2020 season, the Patriots need at least 2 wide receivers, a tight end and maybe a quarterback! Added to those positions there is also a need at guard and the linebacker position if Thuney and Van Noy do not sign new deals. This could be the biggest offseason for the Patriots in a long time!


Summary


At the top of the article we asked, ‘is a 12-4 regular season record really the end of the dynasty?’ And for me, the answer is a resounding no! The Patriots actually improved on last seasons regular season record and although their season ended early, they still went 12-4! In fact, there are only a handful of teams that wouldn’t be very happy with that record. There is no arguing, It was a disappointing season but that just highlights the success that the Patriots have had over the past two decades. One teams failure would be seen as a huge success by many other teams in the league. Whilst Belichick is still the head coach, they will always have a chance.

If Tom Brady returns and Belichick can get the right people around him, they will be challenging again next season. The AFC East will be more competitive next year with the Buffalo Bills being the biggest challengers and the Miami Dolphins improving.

Much was made of Brady and the Patriots passing offense, but if you look at the stats, if wasn’t too bad. They finished the season 7th in passing yards per game (253.6 yards) and were also in the top 5 for total number of drops (23). To the dismay of many, I don’t see New England fading away just yet but improvement is needed.


Fun Fact: Heading into week 9 the Patriots were 8-0 but if their offense hadn’t scored a single point, they still would have been 4-2-2!

Season in Review – Pittsburgh Steelers

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Next up in our NFL series taking a look back at the 2019 season, we travel to Heinz Field where we look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, where there was another Big Ben who was taken out of action for while…


Entering the season

An offseason removing the diva distractions of Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell saw the steelers lose obvious talent, but probably gain some locker room harmony.

They were aggressive in the draft trading up into the top 10 to select linebacker Devin Bush and were hopeful of nice follow up seasons from JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner.

Talk was quiet on the Ben Rothelisberger retirement front and as with most seasons, the Steelers started the year as many experts pick for the AFC North crown.


during the season

How quickly can a season unravel?

An opening Sunday Night Football embarrassment on the road in New England was a bad start. The loss of their starting QB for the season in week 2 was a heartbreaker. An 0-3 start was confirmed with defeat to the surging San Francisco 49ers and many people were getting their pitchforks ready to declare the season over before it had even really began. Do we never learn anything? Winners of 5 out of their next 6, all of a sudden the Steelers had a winning record and hopes of a playoff berth.

An in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick proved fruitful as the defence kept the team in games whilst rotating through Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges at quarterback.

JuJu and James Conner through a combination of injuries and poor quarterback play have not reproduced at the level people had hoped for but through good coaching the Steelers have hung around. A 3 game winning streak had them with control over their own playoff destiny but a late season skid sees them just fall short.

Image Credit – Jessie Wardaski / Post-Gazette

A season that the Steelers can be proud of, considering the hand they were dealt. Fitzpatrick has been a roaring success on the back end of the defence. TJ Watt has been a dominant force in the pass rush department and Devin Bush has grown as the season has developed. 


offseason outlook

The offseason focus will surely be on the offensive side of the ball. Will “Big Ben” return is the most pressing of questions.

All of the noises indicate that he wants to return and if that is the case some new weapons will be required. JuJu may not be the number 1 receiver they had hoped for so help is needed out wide. James Conner has struggled when healthy this year so an upgrade in the backfield would not go amiss either.

The line is solid and the defence is always competitive. Mike Tomlin should have a mention for coach of the year honours (he will not win it) so a restocked roster will see the Steelers primed to go again in 2020.

Fantasy: DraftKings/DFS Week 1

by Andy Goddard – @godsy1985

The long wait is almost over as another NFL season is about to begin!! This means it’s also time for fantasy football! So who are we picking for week one on our DraftKings fantasy team?

QB – Kirk CousinsMinnesota Vikings vs Atlanta Falcons $5,500

Cousins averaged 19.7 points per game (PPG) last season with 30 TD and 10 INT but most impressively, he completed 70.1% of his passes. This reliability should continue to rack up the points and he is going against a Falcons defence that may struggle with pressuring the quarterback.

The back end of the Falcons D is above average but without pressure, players will get open and Cousins will find them. Stefan Diggs and Adam Thielen are a very good wide receiver pairing which defenses will struggle to match up against. Dalvin Cook also provides a solid run game which could free up further space when using play action.

RB – Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers vs LA Rams – $8,800

McCaffrey is an easy choice in a points per reception (PPR) league as not only can he run the ball, he is also very reliable with his hands. He averaged 25.2 PPG in 2018 clocking up 1,098 yards on the ground and 867 yards through the air. Those receptions came on 107 catches from 124 targets.

The LA Rams have a lot of talent of defense, especially at the line. If that pressure comes Cam Newton’s way look for him to hit the check down passes to McCaffrey. The LA Rams D may have put in a good showing during the Super Bowl but in a recent article on Bleacher Report, it was ranked as just the 21st best in the league heading into the new season

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2833750-power-ranking-every-nfl-defense-after-the-2019-draft

RB – Sony MichelNew England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers – $5,900

The reigning Super Bowl champions will be a run first team this season with much of the load being carried by Michel. Brady isn’t getting any younger and the team will look to establish the run early.

The Pats operate a ‘run by committee’ out of the backfield and some of his time will be shared with both James White and Rex Burkhead but after seeing what Michel did during the post season, he will be the lead back.

Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

There are also reports coming out of New England that Michel has been involved a lot more in the passing game so look for him to pick up more points there as well. He averaged 14.4 PPG in his rookie year and ran for 1,267 yards. He only had 8 receptions but that will likely be a bigger number this season.

WR – Antonio BrownOakland Raiders vs Denver Broncos – $7,400

After ruining his feet and then arguing about his helmet it would appear Antonio Brown is ready to play football again. Brown is still arguably one of the best receivers in the game and will be Derek Carr’s ‘go-to-guy’.

He will be up against a good defense in the Broncos but Brown has produced against good defenses his whole career. He averaged 22.6 PPG in his final season in Pittsburgh with 104 catches for 1,297 yards. Never be afraid to select a player going up against a good D!

WR – Stefon DiggsMinnesota Vikings vs Atlanta Falcons – $6,700

Whoever you select as your QB, you have to pick one of his wide receivers! Diggs gets the pick because Adam Thielen has been struggling with ‘soreness’ and is listed as questionable (although you have the option of using Thielen at the FLEX position).

There also isn’t really much to choose between the two. Averaging 18.6 PPG last year with 102 catches for 1,021 yards, Diggs is a threat all over the field. With Thielen lining up as well, this causes problems for any defense. If the Falcons can’t get any pressure on Cousins, Diggs should have a good day.

WR – Cole BeasleyBuffalo Bills vs New York Jets – $3,600

Beasley is a guy who is real value. At just $3,600 you get a solid slot receiver who could easily become the security blanket for Josh Allen. If this happens, Beasley’s stock could rise rapidly. In fact at one stage last season, Beasley was valued at $4,600. He had 69 receptions in 2019 for 715 yards at an average on 9 PPG.

That may not seem great in the PPG column, but in the preseason Allen looked early and often for Beasley and seemed to be developing some chemistry with his new recruit.

TE – Tyler Eifert Cincinnati Bengals vs Seattle Seahawks – $3,100

It seems strange to say this but the Seahawks defense is major concern. With Russell Wilson seemingly taking all of the money in Seattle, the defense has taken the hit! The Bengals are banged up at wide receiver so look for them to use multi-TE formations.

Image result for tyler eifert td celebration
Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Amis

Eifert averaged 9.7 PPG in 2018 with just 15 receptions but he was sent to season ending IR after a foot injury sustained in week 5 against Miami. Eifert is still a good choice at TE in a week by week format due to concerns over injury issues.

FLEX – Will Fuller V Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints – $4,900

Use your FLEX positions wisely! Will Fuller V is coming back from an ACL tear suffered last October although head Coach Bill O’Brien has confirmed he is on track for week 1.

Before this he was performing well averaging 16.5 PPG on 32 receptions for 503 yards. His matchup in week 1 could be very favourable as the Saints will surely use their top corner, Marshon Lattimore, on DeAndre Hopkins. If there are any problems with Fuller V, use the ‘late swap’ to your advantage. Putting him at FLEX gives you the option to swap in a WR/RB/TE.

DST – New England Patriots New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers – $3,400

The Patriots are the best ‘bend don’t break’ defense in the league headed up by the best Head Coach. When the team need a turnover, they usually stop opposing offences. In fact, the Pats D only allowed opposing teams to convert third downs 37.5% of the time. This was ranked second behind the Jaguars in 2018.

Super Bowl 53 showed just what this team can do! There may be concerns over the front end but the additions of both Michael Bennett (from Philadelphia Eagles) and Chase Winovich (via the draft) should cover the loss of Trey Flowers.

New England are stacked in the secondary which is lead by all-pro Stephon Gilmore. The Steelers have lost Antonio Brown so the Patriots can push their double coverage to JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Kap and AB taking a Knee. Console yourselves.

Action packed episode featuring the latest news and opinions regarding Colin Kaepernick, Antonio Brown and Kyler Murray.
Richard King joins Tim and Lee to talk about things they learned from last season and what to remember going into the 2019 season.
Paul Mitchell from NFL Scotland podcast takes on the quiz and we have a new segment: “Put the Mockers on it” which takes a look at a random topic and favourite things…This week – Games consoles and games. What’s your #1 overall?