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.
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.
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’.
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.
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
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.
PendingFree 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 %).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Indianapolis Colts organisation has been left reeling as both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson were both sent off for foot surgeries this, meaning they’ll both miss time in the upcoming NFL season.
Both Wentz and Nelson have been given timelines of 5-12 weeks for their return, which means that the Colts could be without their new starting Quarterback and their All-Pro guard until Week 7.
Carson Wentz was initially excused from training camp late last week and rumours started to speculate on him rehabbing the injury, but the decision was then almost made for him as surgery was then announced on Monday.
As soon as that was settled, news of Nelson’s ‘loose bone in his foot’ was also announced after it was stepped on in camp, and carries an identical timeline to his quarterback.
In come the sophomores
Frank Reich has said that there are no plans for bringing in a new quarterback to fill the Carson shaped hole under centre. Instead, they are currently pinning their colours to the mast of Jacob Eason, a fourth round pick last year for the Colts out of Washington.
Not much can be said about the prospect, as Jacoby Brissett led the second string last year limiting the practice reps for Eason. He has, however, been described as a Brissett style quarterback, using lots of underneath routes to his advantage.
Another 2020 draftee would sub in for All-Pro Quenton Nelson also as Danny Pinter is next up on the depth chart. Something which doesn’t help when it comes to assisting your bushy-tailed sophomore.
Worst spell to lose key pieces
All teams lose key pieces of their team over the course of a season. Your best players you’d rather not lose, and particular your quarterback and Pro guard, but it’s understandable.
The main issue concerns the duration but also the calibre of games they’ll be missing. If both go the distance with their rehab and don’t return until Week 7, they miss the following games: Seattle, LA Rams, at Tennessee, at Miami, at Baltimore, Houston and then come back potentially in time for San Francisco.
Those first five games are difficult, and 50/50 at best with everyone healthy. Without these key pieces, and not looking at replacing their QB, the Colts starting out at 0-5 is not inconceivable.
It gets worse too, as there are at four or five more after this period where the Colts would be considered the underdogs too. Therefore, the Colts are facing a massive uphill struggle from the off and need to put their best foot forward and look to steal a win or two early doors.
Do the Colts need to look at free agency or a trade?
Nick Foles is mentioned as the most likely man to take up the role if the Colts looked outside the organisation, as the current third string quarterback in Chicago. However it seems that Frank Reich and the Colts backroom staff doesn’t want to invest more in the position nor upset Wentz. Foles of course was the man who stole his limelight in Philadelphia after the first rounder got injured whilst making the position his own. He’s not been the same since.
While that is admirable, it may come at a cost of putting a strong Colts team down. Playoff spots in the AFC are at a premium this year with most divisions stacked with great teams. To tie down the team to an untested QB with the schedule they have is either showing incredible confidence, or acceptance that they are not ready to go deep into January. Time will tell.
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Whew! What a crazy three days for the 2021 NFL draft. The beauty of being in a dynasty league is your team can be built up or torn apart thanks to NFL GM’s. I mean do they even consider our fantasy dynasty teams?! Here is a quick write up for three winners post the 2021 draft from a dynasty perspective. Come back next week to read my Dynasty Losers (spoiler Ja’Marr Chase is on the losers).
Myles Gaskin – RB, Miami
Every mock draft had a running back going to the Miami Dolphins. “Myles was drafted in the seventh round, imagine if they had a highly graded running back” was the running story as the Dolphins had five picks in the first three rounds (two being in the first and two in the second, one in the third.).
Those who had Gaskin (including myself in multiple dynasty leagues) were prepared for a running back selection, just hoping it wasn’t the big three (Harris, Etienne, J Williams). Somehow Gaskin made it through (most people still can’t believe it), but Gaskin is in line for a solid workload.
The 23 year old will go into the season as a solid RB-2 for your lineup for now, as he will have to compete to be a true workhorse running back as Salvon Ahmed producered just fine in Gaskins absence. Oh yeah, Jordan Howard (who had 4 touchdowns on 33 yards), isn’t on the team anymore, which you can give Gaskin a shot at the goaline work.
In a dynasty league, to try and acquire him on the “cheap” move two late 2nds as a starting point to try and acquire Gaskin with the possibility adding a 3rd to sweeten the deal If I had Gaskin, I wouldn’t move him for anything less than the 1.06 in regular 10 team 1 QB dynasty leagues to be able to get one of the big 6 this year.
Count your blessings this year as it could be the breakout season for him. (If you have Gaskin, make it a priority to acquire Ahmed, as Ahmed was a fantastic back up to him last year and could be on your dynasty waiver wire).
Allen Robinson – WR, Chicago
Wait, the Bears drafted a rookie QB, Justin Fields, and rookie QB’s aren’t good for fantasy production, why would be a winner? Well to begin with, the second round pick was an offensive tackle, Teven Jenkins, who has a chance to go right into the starting line up to protect Justin Fields.
The Big 10 star never lost a game as the starter against Big 10 teams, coming off a 2100 yard college season, and Allen is the alpha target on this team and no changes to that anytime soon. His counterparts on this team, Jimmy Graham (possibly retiring-76 targets), Cordarrelle Patterson (signed with the Atlanta Falcons-25 targets) and Anthony Miller (in the final year of his rookie contract and speculations he will be traded had 76targets) opens the door for more production for the back to back 1K receiving yard wide receiver.
Expect Allen Robinson to be a PPR monster as what is a good way for a rookie QB to get acclimated in the NFL? Short quick passes. Acquiring Robinson is going to be tricky in any competitive dynasty league as he is one of more underrated wide receivers but still provides elite production.
Robinson is still 27 years young (Calvin Ridley is 26 to put that into perspective), and is in line to sign a mega contract this coming year after being placed on the franchise tag back to back seasons. Personally I’d have Robinson over any rookie Wide Receiver drafted this year, but I believe it will take more than that to get someone to want to move him. (p.s.- Darnell Mooney is a much cheaper option and a great dynasty target).
Michael Pittman Jr. – WR, Indianapolis
The Indianapolis Colts did not draft a wide receiver in the 2021 NFL draft which means they liked what they saw for the 2020 rookie.
With Carson Wentz as the guaranteed starter for the 2021 season and working under his old OC from the Eagles Frank Reich from 2017 (his MVP caliber year), all signs point to a great year for Pittman. Yes, T.Y. Hilton is back for another year and Pittman isn’t ready to be the alpha for year 2 (see Juju Smith-Schuster without Antiono Brown in 2019). Parris Cambell has played in 9 games in his two years in the NFL, which doesn’t help his chances of getting targets.
Pittman’s ability to make contested catches was the deciding factor for me last year and I wanted to trade for him immediately. The 6’4 wide receiver finished the year with 61 targets, 40 receptions and 503 yards in 13 games last year. Pittman’s is currently the 43rd wide receiver off the board in dynasty leagues which to me is a great value.
I believe Pittman can have a top 20 wide receiver this year in the Colts offense. Last year with rookie Jonathan Taylor, the NFL wasn’t sure what the expect, so they let him run. I would expect a much different approach for defenses against Taylor which can give Pittman more opportunities. The 23 year old isn’t going to be easy to collect on your roster, but it is possible for sure.
If you are in a win now mode and have a chance to add him as a depth piece, I would move a projected late 2022 first for him, as if he has the breakout season, that price would be a steal. If you are in rebuilding mode and have some older options (Julio Jones (32), Robert Woods (29), Tyler Lockett (28)), could be a great starting piece to get the youngster on your team.
As always, if you made it to the end, I do appreciate you reading this and always love to hear back from you. Find me on Twitter (@loganbrown0805). Dynasty losers from the 2021 draft will be out shortly.
In the NFL, March is a nothing month, the no-man’s-land between the last Super Bowl and the next draft. At this time of year, there are more mock drafts out there than I’ve had hot dinners, with everyone mulling over the value buried somewhere in those seven rounds. That makes it as good a time as any to take stock of last year’s rookies.
Obviously, not every Day 1 pick will have worked out (*cough* Isaiah Wilson *cough*) but the opposite is also true: there are always some hidden gems to be unearthed after the obvious names have come off the board. If you’re a supporter of the Rams or the Texans maybe, and don’t have a first-round pick to look forward to this year, fear not – all is not lost! If your Day 2 and 3 picks turn out half as well as some of those from 12 months ago, you won’t be complaining.
#33: Cincinnati Bengals – Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson) *
With the first pick of Day 2, Cincy found a weapon for their #1 overall pick, Joe Burrow. Many pundits thought Higgins would go in Round 1 so when he was still sitting there the next morning, the Bengals had to pounce. With AJ Green and John Ross failing to provide the necessary deep threat for Cincinnati, the Clemson wideout stepped up admirably with 908 yards (third only to Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb among rookie receivers) and six touchdowns. Higgins only broke through as a starter in Week 3 and lost Burrow for the last six-and-a-half games, yet had two 100-yard games (and a 99). In fact, it took a hamstring injury, early in the final game against Baltimore, to deny Higgins a 1,000-yard debut season. It also meant he only tied Cris Collinsworth’s franchise record of 67 catches in a rookie season rather than beating it. Higgins is the epitome of a Round 1 talent falling into Round 2, and there’s the promise of more to come.
#41: Indianapolis Colts – Jonathan Taylor (RB, Wisconsin) *
The Colts’ second pick had a disappointing start to his first NFL campaign but the former Wisconsin running back suddenly hit a white-hot streak around Thanksgiving, becoming one of the very best RBs down the stretch. From Week 11 onwards, only some bloke called Derrick Henry had a higher rushing grade from PFF than the Taylor’s 91.2, and he averaged 6.2 yards per carry during that spell. He ended the season with 1,169 rushing yards (3rd in the NFL and easily the best of the 2020 class) and 11 touchdowns (T-7th), with only one fumble and one drop. He topped 100 yards on the ground on only his second game, stuck a nice, round 150 on Las Vegas and his 253 rushing yards in Week 17 against the Jaguars set a new franchise record, and carried Indy into the playoffs. For Taylor, the sky’s the limit.
#45: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Antoine Winfield Jr. (S, Minnesota) *
Landing Winfield in the middle of Round 2 definitely feels like a decent bang for the Bucs (sorry). He was a productive blitzer with nine pressures on 58 rushes – including two strip-sacks – and he finished the regular season with the second-highest PFF grade for run defence at his position (86.3). The Buccaneers’ 26-14 win over the Vikings in mid-December saw Winfield notch 10 tackles, two assists and a sack, while taking great delight in snuffing out a pass aimed at Tyreek Hill in the Super Bowl a few weeks ago was yet another highlight to add to the reel. His solid debut season featuring 64 solo tackles, two forced fumbles, six passes defended and an interception.
Without a Day 1 selection, Claypool – the 11th WR off the board last year – was actually Pittsburgh’s first pick of the 2020 draft and he came out all guns blazing from the start. The Notre Dame wideout, who saw more deep targets than anyone in the NFL, ended the year with 62 catches for 873 yards and nine regular-season touchdowns, including two against Cincinnati, three in a 38-29 win over the Eagles and an 84-yarder against Denver. He also bagged two more scores from just five receptions in the Wild Card loss to Cleveland. Claypool looks well placed to kick on from here, especially if JuJu Smith-Schuster hits free agency.
#52: Los Angeles Rams – Cam Akers (RB, Florida State)
Akers, LA’s highest pick in the past three years at #52 overall, joined a busy backfield and missed some time with injuries in the first half of the season. But he started to pick up, peaking with 171 rushing yards in a 24-3 trouncing of the New England on Thursday Night Football. He was also used more in the receiving game as the year went on, not least in the Week 17 win over Arizona when he logged 52 yards from four catches, compared to only 34 yards from 21 rushing attempts. Ending the regular season with 748 yards from scrimmage, he carried on where he left off in the Rams’ two playoff games, racking up 221 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards from just three catches and a rushing touchdown in each game. Akers may yet prove to be the heavy lifter in Sean McVay’s running back committee if he keeps this trajectory going.
#64: Carolina Panthers – Jeremy Chinn (S/OLB, Southern Illinois) *
Carolina only selected defensive players in the draft last year and with the last pick of the second round, they opted for Chinn, a safety/outside linebacker from Southern Illinois. Chinn wasn’t perfect by any means, giving up six touchdowns in coverage and struggling in run defence at times, but the signs are promising, having logged 116 total tackles, the most among all NFL rookies, as well as two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Chinn was even in with a shout of winning Defensive Rookie of the Year at one point, not least because of his two fumble recovery touchdowns on consecutive plays in the third quarter of a 28-27 loss to the Vikings in Week 12, aas well as his two NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month awards.
#66: Washington Football Team – Antonio Gibson (RB, Memphis)
We also know that #2 overall pick Chase Young was the high-profile pick but he wasn’t the only Washington Football Team rookie to make his mark in 2020. Memphis running back Gibson also produced a PFF grade above 80.0, with 795 rushing yards (20th in the league) and 11 TDs (T-7th), as well as 247 yards receiving. His two 100-yard days both came against divisional rivals Dallas, racking up 243 rushing yards on 40 carries and scoring four total touchdowns in two meetings.
#85: Indianapolis Colts – Julian Blackmon (S, Utah)
Julian Blackmon switched to safety during his final season at Utah after a few underwhelming seasons at corner, and the move seems to have paid off big time. Through the first 11 weeks of his professional career, Blackmon played lights out and was by far the highest-graded rookie at his position in the league. In a complete role-reversal with Jonathan Taylor (see above), he went off the boil after that. Nonetheless, for a late Day 2 pick, Blackmon was definitely successful, with 35 solo tackles, six passes defended, one forced fumble and two interceptions.
Obviously, top rookie Justin Jefferson took a lot of the limelight in Minnesota but kudos must go to Vikings front office for taking Dantzler, the corner from Mississippi State, late in the third round – especially having already picked a corner in Jeff Gladney on Day 1. A debut NFL season is always going to be a mixed bag but with Dantzler, there were more highs than lows, even with injuries early in the season limiting him to just 11 games. With 46 total tackles, three tackles for loss, four pass defenced, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, as well as two interceptions, he racked up nine solo tackles against Atlanta in mid-October and finished on a high, with his performances against Jacksonville (Week 13) and Chicago (Week 15) securing the top two PFF grades from a rookie corner all year.
#128: Buffalo Bills – Gabriel Davis (WR, UCF)
As a Day 3 pick, some degree of inconsistency is to be expected but there were times during the season when Davis made some big plays and looked the real deal, rather than the 17th wide receiver off the board. The rookie finished the regular season with 599 receiving yards from just 35 receptions (his average of 17.1 yards per catch was 4th best across the entire league) and bagged seven TDs, having carved out a role alongside Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. He also made a name for himself as a sideline toe-tapper, bringing in two tight catches in quick succession in his first playoff game against the Colts. Alas, he didn’t manage to haul in anything in the Divisional Round or the AFC Championship games, but the fourth-rounder looks set fair for another good year in 2021.
Sneed wasn’t even among the first 10 safeties off the board but he certainly represented exceptional value at the end of Round 4. Having played in the slot, out wide and deeper at college, his versality was a contributory factor in becoming PFF’s top rookie defensive back. He allowed just one gain of 20+ yards and according to PFF, only one touchdown, while notching 41 total tackles, three interceptions, two sacks, two tackles for loss, four pass breakups and seven passes defended during the regular campaign –despite missing six weeks with a broken collarbone. With only six starts and nine regular season appearances under his belt, it’s still early days but he’s already sacked both Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen in the playoffs, and played in a Super Bowl (his first loss as a professional). I think snaring Sneed in Round 4 already feels like daylight robbery and I’m not the only one who thinks so: a recent redraft by CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso had Sneed going to the Carolina Panthers at #7 overall.
#182: New England Patriots – Michael Onwenu (G, Michigan) *
Round 5 was a bit of a desert but when we got to Round 6, ker-ching! Jackpot! The Patriots love a sixth-round bargain out of Michigan(!) and Onwenu might just prove to be the biggest steal in the entire draft. The 6’3”, 350lb lineman logged more than 80 snaps at three different positions (left guard, right guard and right tackle) and posted at least a 79.0 PFF grade at each. Despite playing guard in his four years at Michigan, his rookie campaign was mainly spent at right tackle (616 snaps). In a class that featured six first-round offensive tackles, Onwenu scored the highest PFF grade of all of them – and ranked third among all rookies, in all positions, behind only Justin Jefferson and Chase Young. Impressive stuff from the big fella!
Peoples-Jones was another steal in the sixth round, helping to fill out the Browns’ receiving corps when Odell Beckham Jr was lost for the season. Although he only made 14 receptions and no more than three in any one game, he posted 304 regular season receiving yards – that’s nearly 22 yards a pop. Of his two touchdowns, one was a 75-yarder against the Titans in a game they led 38-7 by the break but earlier, in Week 7, a 24-yard catch for the game-winning score against AFC North foes Cincinnati with just 11 seconds remaining made him an instant hero in the Dawg Pound. Given Cleveland’s roster, Peoples-Jones may remain a supplementary weapon but he’s already proved that he can make the big plays when called upon.
Sixty picks after they selected Gabriel Davis, Buffalo netted Bass. The rookie kicker bookended his first pro season with bad games – he missed field goal attempts of 34 and 38 yards in his NFL debut, and also missed a pair of kicks in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore (to be fair, the conditions weren’t great that day). Otherwise, Bass was pretty solid, going 28-of-34 for FGs (82.4%) and 57 of 59 on extra points (96.6%), including 19 successful attempts in his last three regular season games. The 141 points he scored for his team was the fourth-best total in the league.
#199: Los Angeles Rams – Jordan Fuller (S, Ohio State)
With pick-ups like Fuller in Round 6, you can see why teams like the Rams are willing to keep trading their Day 1 picks away for more draft capital. Fuller was an immediate starter on the NFL’s best-ranked defence and even though he missed four games with a neck injury, he still accumulated 60 total tackles, five pass breakups and three picks, two of which came off a certain Mr T. Brady of Tampa during a 27-24 primetime win on Monday Night Football. A further 12 tackles in two postseason games leaves the former Ohio State safety with a tidy Year 1 record on which to build.
#216 Washington Football Team – Kamren Curl (S, Arkansas) *
There was one stand-out selection in the final round of the 2020 draft and yet again, Washington came up trumps. Curl, the Arkansas strong safety, emerged from the shadows when Landon Collins was lost for the year with a torn Achilles in Week 7. He soon became a key part of the secondary, finishing the regular season as the highest-graded safety from the 2020 rookie class. He also made the Rookie of the Year team and one PFF article I read suggested that Curl had a legitimate claim for being the runner-up Defensive Rookie of the Year behind Chase Young, finishing second on the team for tackles (88), as well as notching 3 INTs, four passes defended, two sacks and three tackles for loss. Of his interceptions, taking a game-winning pick back for a 76-yard touchdown against the 49ers in mid-December was definitely one for the Curl family archives.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
We can’t end without mentioning two of the undrafted free agents who got picked up after the draft, given the impact they had.
The Jacksonville Jaguars has 12 picks last year but their best move was probably made afterwards, when they got James Robinson* to sign on the dotted line. The Illinois State RB was a revelation, ending up with 1,070 rushing yards (T-5th in the NFL) and seven touchdowns. He also added 49 catches for 344 yards and three receiving touchdowns for good measure. A legitimate contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year with seven games with 100+ total yards, Robinson posted awesome numbers for an UFA playing on the league’s worst team, especially when you consider they would have been playing catch-up in pretty much every game they played.
I think Indianapolis ‘won’ last year’s draft with Pittman Jr, Taylor and Blackmon among their haul, but they also played a blinder in the undrafted free agent market, securing the services of Rodrigo Blankenship*. The former Georgia kicker became a cult figure during the season, on his way to kicking 43 of 45 extra points (95.5%), 32 of 37 field goals (86.5%) and a tally of 139 points for his team (5th across all players in the league). He was also responsible for 13 of the Colts 19 points in a 19-11 win over Chicago in Week 4, pretty much winning the game by himself. Respect the Specs!
As a side note, the New York Jets were also able to pick up Lamar Jackson after the draft was over. Alas, this particular version was a cornerback from Nebraska but still, it sounds like good value to me!
One of the first quarterback questions of the year has been answered as Carson Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-round pick.
The move is one that’s not likely to upset many apple carts in Indiana. Wentz is being given the opportunity to rebuild his status as a top quarterback in the NFL with a team that are fresh off a playoff run last time out. The feeling in the Colts war room must be that Frank Reich, former Eagles offensive coordinator and current Colts head coach, can ignite the player that gave the Eagles the roadmap to a Super Bowl run. That run led to the $128 million contract signed in 2019, that the Colts of course now inherit.
If the stars do align and Wentz finds his former self, then the Colts could be dark horses for a deep playoff run next season. They certainly have a much improved supporting cast for Wentz to work with compared to the injury laden Philadelphia offense and a system that left a lot to be desired. However, this in turn means that Wentz will have to prove that he can lead this team early if he’s to get back in most analysts and fans good graces.
There are two main takeaways from Thursday’s big trade for the Eagles:
They were able to get some value for what is a fairly risky contractand a player they were always going to move on from this off season.
They now have to eat $32 million in dead cap, the highest figure in NFL history, in a year set to see cap space inflation hit hard.
The NFC East outfit will be very glad to have been able to get some draft capital. A third rounder this year doesn’t sound enticing but next year’s conditional second-rounder becomes a first-rounder if Wentz plays three quarters of their snaps next season (or 70% and IND get to the playoffs). Not a terrible haul for a player that was benched and a cert to be sold off with a bad looking contract. However, there won’t be much celebration for Eagles fans. This signifies the starting pistol on what is a long road to recovery. A sub-par roster that is now likely to have to cut well-paid veterans in the off-season as they face a rising cap bill that stands currently at $41 million in the red. Hopefully the promise of Jalen Hurts can be realised and it will soften the blow some what.
The NFL announced that the new floor is $180 million for the upcoming year, with potential rises later. This is a $30 million drop in the expected rise thanks to the pandemic’s impact on incomes in the league. That hole wouldn’t have been enough on its own, but it does compound Philadelphia’s need to balance the books and seek a new approach based on drafting well and bringing in cheaper veterans.
In short: we’ve seen the first big trade of the off-season, yet nothing much has really changed for Indianapolis or Philadelphia today. Expect other quarterback moves to have far greater ramifications for the league as a whole.
The first round of the playoffs are now in the books and 6 teams’s seasons have now finished.
Plenty of talking points, highlights and takeaways from the Full10Yards crew…
Cheers to the play of Heinecke
Ok, so last weekend we had a matchup between a QB who had won more playoff games himself than the franchise he was playing against A QB who has six rings against one that had never taken a playoff snap.
Who came out on top?
If you look at the win loss column it’s the Buccaneers Tom Brady, if you look on the stats sheet it’s also Brady, but if you stayed up and watched the game live it was the other QB that left a lasting impression and saw his stock rise through the roof. Taylor Heineke has gone from street clothes to representing the NFC (L)East in the playoffs in an incredibly short period of time.
It will be forgotten shortly, but it was Heineke who had more rushing yards in Super Wild Card Weekend than Derek Henry, and he had more rushing TDs than King Henry too. Heineke’s third quarter ground score – a heroic full elevated body dive to the left pylon was arguably the best touchdown of the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
To add over 300 yards passing and yet another frozen rope touchdown (in the 4th quarter) in front of a national audience has elevated Heineke to be on a lot of team’s list of possible backup QBs.
Heinecke says he loves Washington coach Ron Rivera and would like to stay in D.C. Washington would be wise to sign him up as he provide a spark in five overall quarters of play that Dwayne Haskins did not manage in two seasons of play.
Colts don’t make the Reich calls
Super Wild Card Weekend kicked off on Saturday with a close and very watchable tussle in upstate New York, which saw the Buffalo Bills escape with a 27-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. They’d built up a 14-point lead but saw it fizzle to just three, as they hung on to clinch their first play-off win since 1995. Josh Allen went 26-of-35 for 324 passing yards and 2 TDs, with some dink-and-dunk play interspersed with big-arm action, not least a 35-yard TD toss to Stefon Diggs that gave Buffalo that two-score lead at the end of the third. Allen also led the team in rushing with 54 yards and another touchdown.
So, the Bills march on, riding a seven-game winning streak, yet it was a case of ‘ifs and buts’ for Indianapolis. The Colts outpassed and outrushed Buffalo, didn’t allow a sack, racked up 472 total yards of offence and had almost nine more minutes of possession, so the opportunities for the W were definitely there.
Their game plan – run the ball, run the clock and keep Buffalo’s offence (ranked second in yards and scoring in the regular season) off the field – worked to an extent. However, crucial errors on the Orchard Park field and on the sideline meant a lot of points, easily enough to win, went a-begging. Indy woulda, coulda and shoulda won it if it weren’t for self-inflicted wounds and while each error wasn’t in itself fatal, their cumulative effect was like death by a thousand paper cuts. Exemplifying the sort of night they had, their two drives either side of half time brought 115 yards and ate 12 minutes off the clock, yet neither troubled the scoreboard.
Offensively, too many seemingly straightforward catches seemed to elude their intended recipients. Among seven or so note-worthy drops, Michael Pittman (five receptions for 90 yards) couldn’t haul in a tipped pass while Jonathan Taylor (78 yards and 1 TD on 21 carries) botched one when he was wide open and had room to turn on the jets. TY Hilton, Zach Pascal and Nyheim Hines weren’t immune from the dropsies either.
Then there was the decision by HC Frank Reich, at the end of the first half, to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4, having squandered three previous attempts to punch it home. Indy were 10-7 up at the time and Rivers’ pass just eluded a diving Pittman in the end zone. Maybe it was the wrong call, maybe Rivers just put a bit too much juice on it, maybe a bit of both. But crucial.
When quizzed about his decision later, Reich explained that the benefit of a 10-point lead made it worth the risk but when you eventually lose by three, that logic can bite you on the backside. And with the benefit of hindsight, we know that’s what happened: Buffalo replied with a 10-play, 91-yard drive – aided by an annoying offside penalty on a 4th-and-3 – that concluded with a Josh Allen rushing score and a lead they never relinquished. A critical 14-point swing.
That said, a kick might not have guaranteed anything anyway. In the third quarter, having opted for ‘easy’ points, Rodrigo Blankenship clanked a 33-yard chip shot against the right upright. Instead of conceding three, the Bills marched downfield and scored seven of their own with that bomb to Diggs. Another vital swing of the pendulum in Buffalo’s favour.
There were other errors too. Having cut the margin to eight points with a Pascal TD in the final quarter, a missed two-point conversion from the 1-yard line – when a Jonathan Taylor run got stuffed – added to the litany of points that got away. And defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad failed put the Colts in good field position with three minutes remaining when he couldn’t recover an Allen sack-fumble.
Rivers (27-of-46, 309 yards, 2 TDs) kept the Colts in the mix right up to the final possession, when they just needed to get within FG range to force overtime. However, Coach Reich’s flawed decision to challenge a flag for an earlier fumble by Zack Moss cost the Colts their final timeout ahead of the last, all-or-nothing drive. And it proved to be another game-defining call.
With 1:32 left, the Colts formed a huddle like they had all the time in the world and wasted nearly 30 of the 90 seconds they had at their disposal. Not cool. Then, three plays later, Pascal slid to make a catch on a 4th-and-10, then got up and fumbled it away to the Bills, icing the game. However, the officials (mistakenly) ruled him down – an error compounded by video review – and the fortunate Colts lived to fight on with 26 seconds left. Near the halfway line, they needed one final timeout to set up a play that would get them within kicking range but of course, they’d already squandered it. Forced to go for a 4th-and-11 Hail Mary before the clock hit 00:00, the throw fell anti-climatically short of the end zone. It was certainly not the last hurrah Rivers would have wanted if he does indeed retire after 17 seasons…
All told, it felt like Indy beat themselves in this one. I don’t want to play down Buffalo’s efforts in any way, as they were pretty impressive going forward, but I’m still not convinced they would’ve won had the Colts not given them a lot of help.
He was the Most Valuable Player for a reason
Love it or hate him Lamar Jackson is still the reigning league MVP.
If we are to look at this moniker in it’s true light this definition is about how valuable someone is to their team as well as the league. The Baltimore Ravens have not played one playoff game this season, they have played six.
They needed to win every contest from Week 13 to 17 to even punch a ticket to the dance, and now the mutant gorilla that was on LJax’s back has been sent back with a smacked arse to Kong Island. Down 10-0 to the team that stabbed them in the heart last season, and having thrown an ugly interception, Lamar Jackson dug deep and scored another All-World rushing touchdown to bring the Ravens back from the pits of despair. With the game tied at the half, LJax managed a beautiful opening possession drive to begin the third quarter, and that was, it turned out, all the Ravens needed to get the win.
The Ravens defense held the league’s back-to-back leading rusher to his lowest total ground output in 15 months, but they needed another dynamic performance from LJax to get the W. Lamar is not going to go for 350 yards in the air, why bother when he led all players in rushing yards in Super Wild Card weekend. The Colts left 7 or more points on the field against the Ravens next opponents, the Buffalo Bills.
Baltimore cannot afford to leave a single point this Saturday, and whilst Lamar needs go generate more points, if the Ravens can run for fun they will be 60 minutes from an AFC Championship.
Nickelode of this action!
For US fans, viewers of all ages were treated to something slightly different to encourage more people to watch and get into the sport.
It seems to have been received very well and I would be very surprised
Nate Burleson did a great job in commentary to provide more metaphors than you can shake a stick at. Young Sheldon was at hand to dumb down the penalties that were called and overall, it was a very well put together idea and executed how the NFL would have wanted.
The one slight blemish is that Cordarelle Patterson dropped an F bomb, which I am sure got all parents a bit hot under the collar.
Seahawks off the menu as kitchen closed for the season
Seattle lost their first home playoff game under the leadership of Pete Carroll when they were defeated 30-20 by the LA Rams.
John Wolford barely lasted a half as he was taken out of the game due to a neck injury. On came 1 thumb Jared Goff to manage the game as it was the Rams defence which shut down the Seahawks and helped them advance to the divisional round to face the Packers.
Russell Wilson was playing at an MVP level (a.k.a cooking) and was favourite for the award fairly deep into the season, but since then his performances have dropped off a cliff and the restaurant has been closed. He had another pick 6 in this game too, the pivotal moment in the game and the Seahawaks went out on a whimper.
Pete Carroll has since come out and said that they need to run more in 2021 and OC Schottenheimer is returning for next season.
Don’t expect the kitchen to be opened anytime soon after this announcement that it wont be refurbished anytime soon.
Just 1 week left of the regular season. First season in NFL history where a game was played on everyday of the week. How 2020 is that?
Lots of talking points and storylines as we head in to the final week and the business end of it all, but what were the takeaways from last weekend’s action?
The Full10Yards Crew are here with your weekly reminder in our takeaways article.
Big Time Games, Big Time Players, Big Time Performances
Many of you were biting at those nails as your fantasy stars were trying to win you championships. But for those teams in and amongst the playoff seedings, fans, coaching staff and the players themselves were willing on every yard gained and every touchdown scored.
In the crunch games, when you need your stars to perform, there were a couple of standout performances in week 16.
Step forward Alvin Kamara, Tom Brady, Davante Adams and Ben Roethlisberger.
On Xmas Day, Alvin Kamara gave Saints fans and Fantasy managers the best Christmas present possible, a 6 Touchdown, 172 yards from scrimmage type of present.
Kamara found paydirt from the 1,3,5,6,7 and 40 yard lines to tie an NFL record for 6 Touchdowns in a single game which goes all the way back to the 1920s (Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals). His contributions alone was enough to see off Minnesota 52-33 and keep the Saints in the hunt for the #1 seed.
Talking of the #1 seed in the NFC, The Green Bay Packers combination of Aaron Rodgers/Davante Adams kept red hot in the frozen tundra of Lambeau field. Adam and Rodgers connected 11 times against the Titans, with Adam finding the endzone yet another 3 times and had 142 yards on the day through the air in the snow.
It’s the 2nd time this season Adams has scored what us Brits like to call a hattrick and is the 3rd player in NFL history to have 100+ receptions and 16+ rec TD in a season (Cris Carter/Randy Moss). If Adams can repeat the feat vs Chicago he’ll join Jerry Rice and Randy Moss as the only players to have 20+ receiving TDs in a season.
Staying in the NFC, Tom Brady said “hold my beer” to Alvin Kamara as he just took 1 half to dismantle a sorry Detroit Lions defence. Only playing 2 quarters, Tom Brady’s 1st half was the 2nd time since at least 1991 that a player had 340+ pass yards, 4+ pass TD, and 0 INT in a single half. The other one? Also Tom Brady, in the 1st half of a Week 6, 2009 59-0 win vs the Titans.
What a way to celebrate becoming only the 4th non specialist player to reach 300 career games. Still has another 40 to reach that record though.
Finally, we say hats off to Ben Roethlisberger. For all of the recent disparaging on the Steelers and their credibility to win the AFC North aided by an 11-0 start, they grabbed victory from the Jaws of defeat in their game against the Colts. After going 17 points down in the 3rd Quarter, the Steelers signal claler orchestrated a comeback with dimes to Diontae Johnson, Eric Ebron and Juju Smith-Schuster to claim victory and win the AFC North title. Ben finished with 34 completions from 49 attempts, 342yards and 3TDs. He’ll now be rested as it’s been confirmed Rudolph is just a week late on Christmas this year.
As we head in to week 17, some of the players at each of the skill positions will be keeping a close eye on the summit of their respective yardage leaders.
Some players have bonuses on contract and will be fighting for every yards to sit atop the summit of passing, rushing or receiving ladders for 2020.
Last year’s rushing title went down to the wire with Derrick Henry snatching his crown off of Nick Chubb.
Who is in the reckoning this year?
You’ll notice that there aren’t many rushers and receivers to break the 1000 yard marker yet, which isn’t too surprising considering the year we have had. There are a few more players that should reach that milestone and you can bet your bottom dollar, those within reaching distance of their respective summits will play til the final down in the final regular season games.
Tom Tampa’s with the record books again
Having spent 20 years setting NFL records in New England, Tom Brady broke two more on Saturday as Tampa Bay blew the Detroit Lions out of the water in a 47-7 rout.
By just taking the field, Brady became just the fourth non-kicker or punter to make 300 regular-season appearances, joining George Blanda (340), Jerry Rice (303) and Brett Favre (302). Brady, currently 12th on that all-time appearance list, should pass Rice and Favre early in 2021 but he’ll need to achieve his ambition of playing till at least 45 to get anywhere near Blanda’s total.
With his second touchdown pass of the night, TB12 also set a new franchise record in his first campaign in Tampa: 34 passing TDs in a season, pipping the previous high of 33 set by Jameis Winston last year (along with almost as many interceptions). The 27-yard pass also gave the receiver, Mike Evans, a new personal best of 13 TD receptions in a season. Brady’s half-time stat line read 22-of-27 for 348 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs, and his 36 touchdown passes so far are good for equal third in the league. The team’s half-time totals of 410 total yards and 34 points against Detriot were also franchise records.
Those first 30 minutes (Brady was rested for the second half, it was that much of a walkover) signalled just the second time a player has ever notched 340+ passing yards, 4+ passing touchdowns and no interceptions in one half. And the other? No points for guessing that was Brady too, when he and the Patriots went nuclear in a 59-0 demolition of the Titans in 2009.
Brady has reset the benchmark in West Florida, with the 10-5 Buccaneers punching their post-season ticket for the first time since 2007. The win ends the NFL’s second-longest play-off drought, with at least a Wild Card place secured a day after the New Orleans Saints secured the NFC South crown again.
It’s also telling that Brady has extended his run to 12 consecutive play-off campaigns, just a week after the former teammates he left behind in Boston flopped out of January football contention.
Montgomery is now a monster of the Midway
Back from the dead, and from the failed Nick Foles experiment at QB, there is a storm brewing in the Windy City.
The Chicago Bears started 5-1 then lost 6 straight, but now with one week to go, following thee consecutive wins by the incredibly consistent and surprising leadership of Mitch Trubisky, David Montgomery (426 yards rushing in December after 463 in his first 10 games) and Allen Robinson – all of whom have led their team in yardage for the past 5 weeks, Da Bearz can punch a ticket to the playoffs with a win against the Packers next Sunday or a Cardinals loss.
Second year RB David Montgomery’s form, not quite that of King Henry, has been pivotal, as Trubisky has been able to play to his strengths by using play action and staying mobile in the pocket.
Khalil Mack remains a huge threat on defense, and with Green Bay wanting to secure the #1 seed the Bears v Packers will be an absolute must watch in Week 17. Can the Bears pull off the upset?
Haskins ‘stripped’ of employment in Washington
The likes of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans may have been on the losing end of the score-line last weekend, but as we all know there was only one real definitive loser, and that is the currently unemployed QB Dwayne Haskins.
On Monday Haskins was released from the Washington Football team having stunk up the joint for three and a half quarters of a potential division winning loss to the Carolina Panthers. Haskins breached Covid protocols the week before, being pictured with strippers without a facemask. His Washington career is horrific reading – 16 games, 13 starts – 2,804 yards, 12 td and 14 interceptions, but most telling 3-10 on his starts, including 2-5 this season. Haskins will be missed about as much as 2020 will be by the planet.
For Coach Ron Rivera, who has battled cancer this year, he at least does not have to fight his conscience as he did the right thing releasing the latest D.C. draft bust. P.S – Backup Taylor ‘probably the best QB in the world’ Heinicke had more combined offensive yards in 7 minutes in the 4th quarter than Haskins managed in over 50.
Going into Week 17 and a ‘win and in’ game at least Washington fans will no longer have to suffer the statuesque Haskins lining up under center.
Please sir, can we have some more (Football)?
Week 17, when dreams can stay alive but also die.
The Colts and the Cardinals are two teams that still have Super Bowl aspirations, but they need a bit of a helping hand.
For the Colts, whose loss to the Steelers could prove terminal to their season, need help from any of the teams that they share a record with coupledd with a victory in week 17 vs the Jaguars.
The Titans are no sure thing against the Texans and the Dolphins face a tough task against Miami so it’s not all looking bleak.
The Cardinals however, need a win vs the Rams and also need a Chicago loss against Green Bay. Those are far from certain.
Unfortunately, like every year, there will be winners advancing and the losers going back to the drawing boards. Whichever teams do miss out, they’ll feel sick that the NFC East is send a team to the playoffs…
Leaving the “Least” ’til last
So our present to greet us in 2021? A sunday Night Primetime football game courtesy of the NFC East.
The winner of the earlier NFC East battle between the Cowboys and Giants will be watching nervously hoping that the Jalen Hurts led Philadelphia Eagles can do them a huge post christmas favour by beating the Washington Football Team.
Whether it’s Alex Smith or Taylor Heinicke at QB, Football Team fans must be glad that Dwayne Haskins wont be captaining the ship.
Heinicke has dotted all around the league including a brief visit to the XFL earlier in the year. The journeyman quarterback is a job that many more books should be written about with their trials and tribulations enough to fill multiple novels. If Heinicke can lead Washington to the post season in week 17, maybe they’ll do just that!
Cincy breaking bad streaks at last
In six short days, the Cincinnati Bengals have doubled their tally of wins this season: they beat the Steelers on Monday and then saw off the Texans 37-31 in Houston on Sunday, despite starting both games as major underdogs.
Third-string QB Brandon Allen, returning from a knee injury, threw for a career-high 371 yards, with 2 TDs and 0 INTs, earning a passer rating of 126.5 in just his seventh career start. His 20-yard TD throw to Tee Higgins in the far corner of the end zone was a particular toe-tapping delight, and the O-line kept him sack-free despite JJ Watt’s best efforts.
Having broken a couple of hoodoos related to playing their divisional foes on Monday Night Football, Cincy seem to have acquired a taste for ending unwanted streaks, and busted quite a few against the Texans:
This was the first time for over two years that the Bengals have won twice in a row. Their last consecutive victories date back to Weeks 4 and 5 in 2018.
This was the first win in a one-score game in the Zac Taylor era; in his two seasons as an NFL coach, he’d previously gone 0-15-1 in close contests.
This was the first road win under ZT and the first time the Bengals have won away from Paul Brown Stadium since a 37-36 victory at Atlanta in September 2018. The 20-game winless streak lasted two years, two months and 27 days.
OK, so none of these streaks should have lasted anywhere near as long as they did, but to end them without the likes of Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, DJ Reader and several other key players was impressive. They leaned on Samaje Perine (136 total yards, 2 TDs) and Gio Bernard (131 total yards) for some pass-catching RB action, while rookie wideout Tee Higgins was just a yard shy of a 100-yard outing. Alex Erickson (88 yards) also filled in well for Boyd in the slot.
Defensively, Cincy weren’t great; David Johnson turned back the clock with a 128-yard game that left the run defence chasing shadows. There were times when it took multiple players to finally bring the Houston ball-carrier down while on his TD run, Darren Fells just carried a couple of defenders into the end zone with him. But the positives outweighed the negatives and for the first time in the Zac Taylor era, the Bengals flew home with that winning feeling.
Having looked locked-on for the #3 pick a week ago, the Bengals are now a four-win team and now sit fifth in next year’s draft order. A sizeable chunk of the fanbase will undoubtedly be furious that the wins are taking them out of range for drafting the top college OT prospect, Penei Sewell, next year. But if ever there was a team that just needed to win a couple of games for the sake of morale and confidence, it was Cincinnati.
Watt are you playing at?
The Houston Texans haven’t had much to cheer about this season, except perhaps the firing of Bill O’Brien.
Currently sitting at 4-11, 3rd in the AFC South, would have the 3rd overall pick as things stand, but they gave that away to Miami. Their only wins have come against detroit, New England and worst team in the league Jacksonville Jaguars (x2).
JJ Watt, one of the beacon lighters not only for the franchise, but the local communities too had some stern words to say after the Houston defeat to the Bengals in week 16.
It’ll be interesting to see the team and player reaction on the field in week 17 when they have a chance to play spoiler vs the Titans.
The worry for the fans is that there doesn’t seem to be too much light at the end of the tunnel considering opponents in the division, draft picks upcoming and levels of current talent on the team.
JJ himself could possibly play his last year or 2 of his career elsewhere as he goes in search of some post season success.
Xmas football is here! Just 2 weeks left of the regular season before we separate the men from the boys. Yet another feast of action provided by SkySports this weekend including a Christmas Day game and 3 on Boxing day. So get your mince pies in your hands as you peruse through the games. Use the handy menu below to choose your game!
Merry Christmas to everyone and hope that it is as good as it can be considering the year we have had, but thankfully the NFL is here to keep us company if you can’t be with those that you intended to be with.
You have to wonder how much stuffing has been knocked out of the Vikings after their loss against divisional rivals Chicago. They have conceded an average of 28 points over the last few games and take on a Saints team on a 2 game losing streak but should have a as healthy as can be Drew Brees under center.
Personally, I feel that Drew Brees came back too early but considering the position the Saints are in, I can understand why. currently the #2 seed, chasing the Packers and had Kansas coming to town, totally get why they brought back the future hall of famer, even if it was a bit hastily.
He’ll have a better time of it against the Vikings but it isn’t a fixture thay’ve had too much success in, with Minneosta leading the all time series 23-12 and winning 3 of the last 4 (who can forget the Minneapolis Miracle).
Brees will have to do it without Michael Thomas who landed on IR so that he can as fit as possible for the playoff and try and rekindle that partnership on the field in the post season with the Saints guaranteed to be there. The Saints (10-4) still need to win one of their two remaining games to clinch the division and the Buccaneers are making a late charge, only one game back.
Alvin Kamara has had far from a vintage year and you have to go back to week 6 since he had his last 100yard scrimmage game and the recent switch at QB and an under par Brees and missing Michael Thomas has played its part in that. That being said, he is still the leading rusher AND receiver on the team so expect similar outputs from him here against a Vikings defence that ranks 23rd against the rush and 24th against the pass in terms of yardage.
The Saints defence has come to play and is getting better as the season goes on. Their 32 points conceded against the Chiefs, which is no embarrassment at all, was the first time they conceded 30 plus since week 5. Since their week 6 bye, they have limited opposing offence to under 14 points 4/9 times and under 300 yards of total offence 5 times.
Led by leading team sacker Trey Hendrickson, who was able to be more than a nuisance for Patrick Mahomes last week, will look to add to his current 12.5 sack total on the year. Fellow Defensive end and partner in crime Cameron Jordan, whilst not having his best year has still been able to notch 6.5 sacks and are a good pass-rushing duo that Kirk Cousins will no enjoy getting to know this Xmas.
For Minnesota, despite being the 9th seed currently, are all but out of it by name being 2 games behind Arizona and also now behind Chicago in the tie-breaking ranks.
They’ll look to play spoiler here and they do have the talent on offence to score the points and star rookie WR, who earned a pro Bowl nod (for what it’s worth) this week, will continue to add to his 1182 yards and 7 Touchdown dances this season. A perfect compliment to Jefferson is Adam Thielen who has gotten the Touchdowns and redzone looks, if not the yardage and has 13 TDs and just a few ticks under 800 receiving yards this season.
This team is a run first offence though as Dalvin Cook, also a Pro Bowler for 2020, will look to find the endzone against a Saints defence giving up the fewest amount of rushing scores. that being said, he did find the endzone against Chicago who are also a top 5 stingy team when it comes to scores on the ground. Cook has mustered 8 games with over 100 rushing yards this season and has scored in all but 3 games.
For Minnesota to have any chance, they’ll have to be clean in the turnovers battle, a metric that Saints rank 6th (+6 turnover differential) compared to the Vikings lowly 23rd (-5).
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
I can’t see anything but a Saints victory here against a Vikings team that only has pride to play for now. That being said, if Brees is no better than he was last week, they could struggle but considering how dominant the defence has become since their bye (Kansas game aside), they could bail the offence out anyway. Saints should cover the 7 points that the bookies have handicapped them and I feel the total points line of 51 is too high.
Brady and the Bucs struggled to get going in the first half against the Falcons, but they got out of jail because they were playing the Falcons.
They remain a game back from the Saints who are far from guaranteed win either of their remaining games in the division but they also sit level with the Rams at 9-5 and they’ll at least want that #5 seed which is a trip to play the NFC East winner, so essentially a bye in the Wildcard round in January. As the Rams are facing the Seahawks, a win for the Bucs in this one likely lifts them into that 5th spot regardless of the NFC West battle result.
So how good has Tom Brady been this year? Well stat wise, it’s in keeping with most of his years. Consistent, if not spectacular. A win in either of his last 2 games will continue his streak of double digit wins in the regular season, with 2002 the ONLY season he won less than 10 games as a starter and that includes a 11-1 season (due to suspension) in 2016. It’s fair to say the Belichick vs Brady debate clearly is a battle that Brady has won this year. You can still tell that he has the fire in his belly after his riposte to Tony Dungy on Twitter when he ranked him as his 6th hardest QB to play against.
It helps when you have players like Mike Evans, Anotnio Brown and Chris Godwin catching balls for you. Evans, who paces the Bucs with just 779 receiving yards, epitomises what Brady has done this year, which is spread the love around. 5 receivers have over 30 receptions and all have over 300 yards and there are 10 different players that have caught a receiving touchdown off the future Hall of Famer.
Leonard Fournette, with 2 TDs last week will continue in place of Ronald Jones, who will continue on IR but this is a pass first offence who rank in the top quarter of most passing metrics including yardage, Touchdowns and points.
They face a Lions team that are 1-5 at home and a defence which rank in the bottom 5 in most metrics in either passing, rushing or total defence including a league worst 31.1 pts per game given up so should be able to do what they want, when they want.
Whilst there are points giving up on defence, on offence, they are able to score too so signs point to a potentially high scoring game. Matthew Stafford doesn’t seem as though he’ll miss this game despite having multiple injuries including a back injury, a consequence of trying to carry this team for years.
The same can’t be said for Golladay who clearly has some serious hip issues that have kept him out for the majority of the season. Marvin Jones has rolled back the years somewhat over the past few weeks, with 2 TDs and 276 yards in his last 3 games. Like he did in New England, Mo Sanu has made a decently positive impact in his first few weeks for the Lions and will look to continue his part in the last 2 weeks.
The team’s main target hog who fumbled last week, TJ Hockenson, will look to get back on track and add to his 6 TDs on the season, which has seen him earn a Pro Bowl nod (though Evan Engram did also, so whether we can use Pro Bowl as an achievement is very much debatable).
Stafford an Co. take on a Bucs defence that has seemed to have been more frivolous in recent weeks, allowing at least 4 scores (TD/FG) in 6 of it’s last 7 games (would have been 7/7 if not for Dan Bailey) and have been picked apart through the air all season giving up an average of 255 yards.
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
Hard to see anything other than an away day victory for the Bucs on “Bucsing Day” (sorry). The 9.5pt handicap line indicates a tough day for the Lions, which would be in keeping with their defensive performances throughout this season. I’d probably fancy the Bucs to win by double digits.
The Bucs defence has gotten into the Xmas giving spirit too though and the total points line of 54 appeals on taking the over.
It’s Christmas, and on Boxing Day we get served up two tasty match-ups to enjoy after everyone has eaten approximately 781kg of turkey & stuffing. The evening game sees a depleted San Francisco team, hobbling to the end of the season at this point, visit State Farm Stadium to play the Cardinals. Is this now a home game for San Francisco? As they’re temporarily playing out of State Farm? Should they not choose a neutral venue? Sod it, send them both to Wembley. Not much going on there right now…
Okay, okay, London is a long way from the West coast. I get it. If this had been the reverse game it would have been very interesting, especially seeing as Arizona is currently allowing some fans into the games. Not much of a home game for SF? Focusing on the game, San Francisco comes into this one beaten down and hurting from their extensive injury list this campaign. Jimmy G is still on IR and according to reports isn’t expected to return again this season. Fans have to be wondering if he can be relied on moving forward from here. Since tearing his ACL after 3 games of the 2018 season, he will now have missed 23 games from a possible 45 (assuming he doesn’t start again in 2020). Could he have played his last game in a 49ers uniform? The bad news doesn’t end there either, with Nick Mullens also headed to IR after elbow surgery this week. The end of the season can’t come soon enough for Kyle Shanahan.
However, defensively San Francisco might actually be able to put up a bit of a fight. They currently have the 5th-best ranked defence in the NFL in total yards allowed, they are also 4th in the NFL when it comes to passing yards allowed (2,938). The 49ers secondary is looking good and if they can pressure Murray into quick first and second read throws, they might be able to create some turnovers and hand their offence a short starting field position, which will certainly help given the boat load of injuries they have on that side of the ball. They will have to rely on their secondary as their pass-rush just isn’t getting it done. With Ezekiel Ansah and Dee Ford both on IR, San Francisco aren’t getting the sacks to try and pressure opposing offences. They only have 25 sacks this season, which is almost half that of the league leaders (Pittsburgh – 47).
Arizona come into this game on the back of the game of the week versus Philadelphia. A shoot-out between the two ex-Ohio State QBs ended in a narrow victory for Kyler Murray. He threw over 400 yards in the process with 3 scores, but had some real ‘interesting’ moments. The interception throw straight into the arms of Eagles safety Marcus Epps was puzzling to say the least. Murray obviously still has plenty time to improve, he’s only in his sophomore season in the league and with one more win will lead Arizona to their first winning season since 2015. He’s also on the brink of a milestone; he needs a further 363 passing yards to reach 4,000, and 259 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season respectively. One would imagine he will fall short of the rushing total, but its a monumental effort – note that no QB has ever done that before, showing how difficult it is to achieve.
Kyler’s youthfulness was bailed out a couple of times from some truly incredibly catches by his receivers. The DeAndre Hopkins catch pictured above was eventually the game-winning score, and just a truly mesmerising display of athleticism. He ended up one handing that catch down to the ground. Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also caught a wonderful low pass at the back of the end zone, making it 255 games in a row that he has caught a pass. A absolutely mesmerising statistic – he’s only missed 8 games in 16 seasons in the league.
On the ground Arizona should be a dominant force too. They are 4th in the league in rushing yards – averaging 147.8 per game with 4.8 yards per attempt average (T-7th). Murray’s elusiveness will prove tricky for the 49ers defensive line and pass rushers, if he can get out of the pocket and run the ball on either designed runs or RPOs, Arizona could have some success but they shouldn’t expect a walk in the park against the 7th ranked rush defence in the league (104.4 yards per game).
On the face of things, this Arizona defence should have an easier time of things if Garoppolo isn’t playing and CJ Beathard gets the start. San Francisco are also still without star RB Raheem Mostert, not making their attack on the ground much more formidable than the one in the air. However, there is no such thing as an easy game in the NFL and just 4 weeks ago the 49ers pulled off an upset win against the Los Angeles Rams. Haason Reddick and co should be licking their lips with a chance to get to the top of the sacks table. Arizona has 43 on the season, only 4 away from the league leaders. If he can have another 5-sack game like he did in week 14, I can’t imagine SF will be leaving (or staying in) Arizona with the W.
Writer’s Pick (Steve Tough – @SteTough)
Despite some real hearty performances from San Francisco this season in the face of absolutely horrible injury luck, I just don’t think they have enough to overcome Arizona. Kyler Murray is coming off a 400+ yard passing game and will be looking to add to that total. DeAndre Hopkins also leads the league in receiving yards with 1,324 and will be looking to take that crown for the first time in his career. It will be interesting to see if the San Francisco defence can enjoy the same success that Philadelphia did against Arizona, if they can, this game could be closer than most anticipate it will.
The Las Vegas Raiders will hope that quarterback Derek Carr can return for Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins, as the Silver and Black look to pursue very narrow play-off dreams entering Week 16.
Carr, who left the defeat to the LA Chargers with a suspected groin injury last week, has split time in practice with Marcus Mariota, who looked ultra-capable when he came in to cover for Carr in Week 15, despite the over-time loss to Justin Herbert.
The loss marked a fourth crushing defeat from the last five games, the only win coming in that last gasp deep-ball win over the New York Jets, a run that has seen them slip from play-off consideration to holding on for dear life at 7-7.
A win over the Dolphins who sit at 9-5 would at least give them a shot going into Week 17 should other results go their way, but the miserable season collapse has paid way to them deciding their own destiny for 2020/21.
Josh Jacobs ran for 76 yards and a touchdown last Saturday which looked impressive when partnered with the 88 yards from Mariota but averaging just 2.9 yards a carry and without a 100-yard rushing game in four attempts is a worrying trend for the young starlet.
The offence will be aided should Carr return, especially with tight-end Darren Waller continuing to play at an exceptional level as the second best tight-end in the league behind the incomparable Travis Kelce.
The former-receiver notched 150 yards and a magnificent looking deep score as he approaches the 1000 yard mark with two remaining games to go on the season.
Defensively, the Raiders may also be boosted by the return of safety, Jonathan Abrams who has practiced all week, and they might need the help as they continue to shift big yards against all most everybody they face.
Corner Trayvon Muller had a particularly tough outing against the Chargers, as they gave up 314 yards through the air to rookie Herbert and now rank 7th worst in passing yards allowed on the year and 6.0 yards per play on the season, which is 5th most and in competition with some of the worst defences in the league.
On the other side of that scale however is the Miami Dolphins constricting defensive unit who held the New England Patriots to just 12 points in a victory over their division rivals in Week 15.
The group was also coming off the back of a game in which they picked off Patrick Mahomes on three occasions, as the high-paid cornerback combination of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones prove their value to this defence first set up that Brian Flores has built.
The group has been under pressure to perform throughout the year, as rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa attempts to find his feet in the NFL before they potentially reach the play-offs for the first time since Adam Gase.
The Alabama-alumni has shown glimpses of what made him the fifth overall pick last year, and why the Dolphins replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick with the young-gun half-way through the year as the leftie has done well to continue building rapports with Mike Gesicki and Devante Parker in particular.
Gesicki has become a good safety valve for the young QB, and now has over 600 receiving yards on the season as he looks to further his numbers against a team who has shifted 700 yards against tight-ends in their 14 games this season.
The Week 16 matchup with the Raiders will prove a further test for Tua with the opportunity to kick the Raiders out of contention for that 7th and final play-off spot providing he gets the Florida team a big win on the road in Las Vegas.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall, the Carr news only makes a small difference to what I think will happen when these two teams face up on Saturday. The Raiders have struggled a bunch in all four of their recent losses and they cant seem to stop anybody with any consistency on defence.
Miami however can stop just about anyone and even made the Chiefs sweat for the entire game which is a far more effective offensive unit than the Raiders, and I expect them to grind out a low-scoring, but important win to keep themselves in the driving seat of that final play-off spot.
With major play-off implications at stake, these two postseason-bound teams may have similar records but they are on quite different trajectories. The visitors are fresh off a 27-20 victory over divisional rivals the Texans, their third win in a row, while the Steelers suffered an unexpected 27-17 loss to AFC North foes the Bengals – their third defeat in succession.
If we use a New Year Eve’s fireworks display as our analogy, the 10-4 Colts are a Catherine Wheel, spinning away nicely at an even tempo. These steady Eddies have been slugging it out with the Titans (also 10-4) in the AFC South and it’s all still up for grabs, although they lag behind on a tiebreaker. In stark contrast, the 11-3 Steelers are a Skyrocket. Everyone went “oooh” and “aaah” as they raced out to an 11-0 record, only to explode in a big, noisy and colourful way. The ashes are now drifting back to earth.
With a chance to wrap up the AFC North, the wobbly Steelers had a Monday night match-up on primetime at Cincinnati: talk about the perfect get-right scenario. The pundits queued up to predict an easy win for the 14-point favourites. Everything that transpired thereafter felt like it belonged to the alternative universe from His Dark Materials: close to the one we know but not quite the same. The Bengals D was fierce; Ryan Finley was competent; Ben Roethlisberger was poor; Diontae Johnson wasn’t Mr Butter Fingers; there were three first-half turnovers in favour of Cincy. All very odd indeed. The 10-point upset, in front of a national TV audience, saw the Bengals snap a five-game losing streak and an 11-game run of defeats against their nemesis.
Pittsburgh’s offence has been held to under 20 points for four consecutive games now and was restricted to a measly 244 total yards by Cincinnati. Big Ben clearly wasn’t at his best (throwing 4-of-10 for -5 passing yards in the first quarter), even though he became the seventh player to pass for more than 60,000 yards. His 62.4 QB rating set a new low for the season.
The pressure is growing on the ailing Steelers’ QB and his WR corps because the team owns the league’s second-worst rushing attack. With the banged-up James Conner once again missing, they’ve gained an average of 51 yards on the ground during the three-game losing streak. If it weren’t for Benny Snell’s 84 yards and a rushing TD on Monday, Pittsburgh would have posted a net total of 2 yards rushing.
Their once-invincible defence is still the second-best in the league but it has been weakened by a number of key injuries of late, not least to linebacker Bud Dupree and on Monday, to fullback Derek Watt. At least his brother, TJ, continues to excel. His league-leading 13 sacks make him a Defensive Player of the Year contender but he can’t do it all by himself.
You could argue that, like Pittsburgh, Indy’s defence (ranked 7th in the NFL) has been the backbone of the team for much of the campaign. Their mainstays stepped up again to complete the season sweep over Houston, with Darius Leonard forcing the game-deciding fumble, rushing up and punching the ball out of Keke Coutee’s hands as he headed for the end zone with just 23 seconds on the clock. And one of the trades of the year, DeForest Buckner, sacked Deshaun Watson three times, despite operating on one good leg.
The revitalised unit has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league – not great news for the Steelers’ weak running game. Indy’s D have also forced the third most turnovers in the league so Diontae Johnson’s handling needs to be error-free in this game.
Another similarity between these teams is that they both have a veteran quarterback plucked from the 2004 Draft class. Unlike Big Ben’s current funk, Indianapolis winning four of the last five is down in no small part to Philip Rivers, who could be back to his best (11 TDs to 2 INTs in that spell). His 419 career TDs leave him needing just two more to pass Dan Marino and go fifth in the all-time list, a milestone he could esily reach in this game. The team ranks ninth in overall offence, with major contributions from the league’s RB10, the second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor (842 yards, 7 TDs). Top wideout TY Hilton is also quietly effective but his 675 yards only just scrape him into the NFL’s top 40.
The Colts have not committed a turnover in their last three but it’s also noting that they relied on a last-minute fumble for the second time in three weeks to grab the W against Houston. This doesn’t shout Super Bowl contender from the rooftops but nonetheless, Indy just keep on clearing one hurdle at a time and moving on to the next.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@Sean TylerUK)
A month ago, the Steelers looked locked in as AFC North champions elect and a bye in the Wild Card round was within their grasp. Now, it’s all starting to slip through their fingers. Their postseason place is in the bank but their current form probably makes them the team others want to face. Having lost twice in recent weeks to teams below .500, the AFC’s No.3 seed needs to end the slump – and fast – if they’re to stay ahead of the Browns and Ravens.
Yet the Colts are no pushovers. They have enough going for them on both sides of the ball to bloody the collective Pittsburgh nose for a fourth straight week. But playing at Heinz Field, could the Steelers bounce back after a short week and stun Indy? Of course they could and in fact, the Steelers are slight favourites at the time of writing. But I sense another upset brewing here. Unlike their hosts, the Colts look solid at the moment so I’m expecting them to take care of business, leaving the Steelers with more questions than answers once again.
Without trying to launch straight into hyperbole, this is probably the most important game of the weekend, with the result all but determining who wins the highly competitive NFC West.
A week ago, we all would have assumed that these teams would be sitting level coming into this game. But, thanks to the historic loss to The Worst Team in Football, the 9-5 Rams unexpectedly find themselves a game behind the 10-4 Seahawks, making this a must-win contest. The Arizona Cardinals are just one game behind LA so it’s all pretty tight. So close, in fact, that a win gives Seattle the title, as well as a shot at the top seed and home-field advantage in the play-offs; a defeat would put them behind the Rams on a tiebreaker, as they lost their Week 10 match-up.
Coming off the back of two straight wins, Seattle clinched a play-off spot with a 20-15 victory in Washington, although they did have to hang on a bit at the end after building a 20-3 lead. QB Russell Wilson finished with a season-low 121 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT – not exactly up to the standards he set in the first half of the season. He’s now dropped to 7th in the league for passing yardage but he’s still second only to Aaron Rodgers for TDs thrown (37), more than a quarter of which have landed in the arms of DK Metcalf (1,223 yards, 10 TDs).
The rushing game looked solid last week too, with Wilson’s 52 rushing yards complementing the tally accrued by RB1 Chris Carson (63 yards on 15 attempts) and his backfield compadre Carlos Hyde (an impressive 55 yards and a TD on just two carries).
While their offence (ranked 9th in the league) hasn’t been able to maintain its blistering start to the campaign, ‘Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked a worrying 41 times so this is where the game could be won or lost. Seattle’s wobbly defence (ranked a lowly 26th) is actually playing a bit better of late, with DE Carlos Dunlap joining from Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and Jamal Adams bossing things in an improved secondary. They definitely stepped it up last week in the nation’s capital, with four sacks and seven QB hits on Dwayne Haskins, and their pass rush has delivered at least two sacks in the last eight games, including three on Jared Goff in Week 10.
Coming into this one with a totally different vibe, the Rams’ 23-20 home defeat to the winless New York Jets saw them become only the fifth team in 42 years to lose when favoured by at least 17 points by the bookies. At least they didn’t have any fans in their shiny new stadium to share their views on proceedings.
Jared Goff led the fight-back as they cut the deficit to just three points with over six minutes left on the clock. But then LA went 4-and-out on their next possession, thanks to errors and penalties, and never got the ball back. Goff finished with 209 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Whether his inconsistencies will affect his ability to connect with wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, both hovering around 20th in the league with more than 800 receiving yards apiece, only time will tell.
The match-up on the ground will be less appealing for Los Angeles. Seattle have allowed the third-fewest rushing yards per game (94.6), which will pose a challenge for the league’s ninth-best rushing attack, led by rookie Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, two men with more than 500 yards to their names.
Despite Sam Darnold finding some success on Sunday, the Rams secondary plays at an elite level and is the primary reason for the team giving up the fewest passing yards per game (192.0) in the NFL. It was particularly impressive back in Week 10, when they held DK Metcalf to just two receptions and 28 yards. In short, the main difference between these two outfits is the relative strength of their defences. Aaron Donald and co. have mustered 44 sacks and twice as many QB hits in 14 games, making the Rams D the NFL’s top unit.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The Rams are Seattle’s bogey side, having won five of the last six clashes while averaging more than 31 points per game. This current iteration of the Seahawks’ defence is not the strongest, yet they are currently the -1.5 favourites, despite only posting 16 points against the Rams six weeks ago.
Maybe that demoralising defeat to the Jets is a factor. It could suck the Rams down into a pit of despair or alternatively, it might serve as the kick up the posterior they need to bounce back in the final two regular-season games against their two closest rivals, the Seahawks and the Cardinals. If they can win out, the Rams will be crowned NFC West champions, but that’s a big if.
Those Seattle shootouts from earlier in the year – back when they scored at least 34 points in six of their first eight games – are now distant memories. Maybe Russ is done cooking now and has moved on to the washing-up? His 13 INTs put him behind only Carson Wentz, yet then again, Jared Goff has been intercepted a dozen times himself.
With two takeaway-prone QBs not at their best on show, I’m expecting an attritional, low-scoring affair. When they met in Week 12, the Rams won 23-16 and I think we’ll be in the same ballpark again. However, I’m going to plump for Wilson to step it up and lead the Seahawks to a home win and a division title.
The Tennessee Titans will look to knock off their second successive NFC North team in the space of a week when the travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
The Titans had a huge day last week in every possible way when they beat the Detroit Lions into the ground 46-24, as they pursue an AFC South title of their own behind the legs of not just Derrick Henry, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill put together potentially his finest game of the season in Week 15 as threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and also put two score on the board with his feet.
A huge 75-yard touchdown to Corey Davis and a generally wide open passing game showed the signs of the Derrick Henry affect, as defences struggle to stop both the freight train of a running back and the athletic receiving corps of Davis, AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith.
There was the customary 147 yards and a touchdown for the unstoppable Henry, who went over the 100 yard mark for the 10th time this season, and included a rather brutal, highlight reel stiff-arm – again.
The game puts him just 341 yards off of 2K as he continues his most successful season so far in his bright career – 1679 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 games for this Titans team.
Defensively, there continues to be some concerns heading off to the playoffs, as the Lions scored 24 points and moved the ball freely for 430 yards of total offence, which pushed the Titans to 6th worst in yards allowed on the year and 11th worst in points allowed.
Coming up against Aaron Rodgers will further put this defence to the test, as the unit attempts to prove itself against a high powered group that it could potentially end up facing in the playoffs.
Speaking of Rodgers, the Packers will be looking to secure themselves the number one seed in the NFC this weekend in a season that has seen some of the best of their star QB in several years under Matt LeFleur.
The 37-year-old has completed a massive 69.6% of his passes and has done so for 3828 yards in just 14 games and all whilst providing an almost unbelievable 40-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
On Monday it was announced that he had been voted to the ninth Pro-Bowl of his career, which came as little surprise to anybody, as the Packers had a league-high seven players voted in.
While the scoreboard went their way last time out in a win over the Panthers, concern was high over a second-half performance where the offence produced just a single second half field goal after an electric start.
Rodgers referred to the drop off as leaving a “sour taste” in his mouth, a feeling that will only be doubled by knowing that they face far stiffer opponents this week in the Titans and their overpowered offence.
The danger is clear to LeFleur however, the young head-coach describing stopping the Titans as a “tremendous challenge” on Monday, as he tries to gauge the line between slowing down the Henry train and leaving the back end open to that play-action passing game of Tannehill.
The Packers defence has been much improved this year, ranking near the middle of the pack in most categories, and have given up fewer rushing yards on the season, 1541, than Derrick Henry has managed by himself.
Most teams are not the Titans however and the D-line of Green Bay will have their work thoroughly cut out for them if they want to prevent Tennessee from running the ball against them with ease.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall I don’t know if I can see anything other than a Packers win this Sunday. Despite the issues that the offence had in the second half, I don’t think its too much too worry about, especially since the Panthers defence has played well above its station on several occasions this season.
Rodgers will be buoyed by the opportunity to rack up the number one seed at home, and I expect him to show it against a defence who has struggled to hold down fast paced and meticulous offensive units like the Packers.
The king is dead, long live the new king. After a quarter of a century wait the Buffalo Bills (11-3) can finally lay claim to the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Back then the Bills limped into the postseason with a 10-6 record. They did smash the Dolphins in the Wild Card game, but went on to lose in the Divisional round to the Steelers (who went on to lose to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl).
2020 also marks the first time the New England Patriots (6-8) have not punched a ticket into the playoffs, continuing the ‘non Brady’ streak of no postseason action. The last time the Pats failed to get into the business end of the season was 2008 when Matt Cassel led New England to an 11-5 record, pipped to the division by the Miami Dolphins who also finished 11-5 but won the points margin in the two head to head games.
Both teams met earlier in the season, with Buffalo escaping the clutches of Cam Newton’s oak tree legs with a later Tyler Bass (pictured above) field goal. This time, with one team already eliminated, it’s time for the Sith Lord to unwrap Jared Stidham. The 4th round pick in the 2019 draft has already seen the field four times this season, and has ever thrown a couple of touchdowns, replacing a woeful Bryan Hoyer to get a garbage time score, and then a little cameo in the Pats 45-0 steamrolling of the Chargers.
Stidham needs to be rolled out for the last two weeks of the season. With no expectations this is an ideal opportunity for Pats OC Josh McDaniels to see if he has somebody to work with in 2021.
New England have been wholeheartedly underwhelming all season, and at one point they were 2-5, so to still be mathematically alive before Week 15 was pretty remarkable. The Cam Newton experiment has been a failure. Yes he runs, and is a redzone td monster, but through the air #1 has been atrocious. 5 passing touchdowns in 13 games is not going to get you far. This has obviously had a huge knock-on effect regarding the WR production. No Julian Edelman for most of the season, and what has been left is the weakest unit in the league. What makes the Pats offense a laughing stock is the TE production. Ryan Izzo has managed 13 catches for under 200 yards and 0 scores.
When we turn to the Bills it is the complete opposite. The team have tied the NFL record for the most different players to catch a TD – a remarkable 13. Josh Allen has been wowing fans all season, and is full value for his 11 wins in 14 games. Allen is a Pro Bowler for the first time, albeit on the second team behind Patrick Mahomes in the AFC. The dual threat is one of a small handful of franchise studs to still be in the running for the 2020 NFL MVP award, going up against Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers to decide the winner.
Leading the Bills in catches is Stefon Diggs (pictured above), a 2020 Pro Bowl starter, who has 111 catches already and over 1,300 yards. Team mate Cole ‘slot machine’ Beasley needs just 50 to reach 1,000, which would mark the first time he has reached 1K in his 9 year career.
The only real weakness the Bills have is a rather pedestrian running game. The combination of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss do not scare anyone, and was it not for the rushing threat posed by Josh Allen this would be one of the worst rushing units in the league.
Buffalo’s defense has been fantastic all year long. LB Tremaine Edmonds and CB Tre’Davious White are all deserving Pro Bowl selections, and even KR Andre Roberts has been recognised for his special teams qualities.
Unsurprisingly the Patriots have zero offensive players on the Pro Bowl team, and only Stephon Gilmore the CB made the Defensive squad, more by reputation and name recognition than actuations game play. The Patriots do value special teams very highly and were rewarded with Pro Bowl nods to the punter Jake Bailey (pictured above – who had a lot of work experience in 2020) and evergreen gunner Matthew Slater.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
With that highly significant Steelers loss to the Bengals on MNF in Week 14, the Bills have shimmied up the playoff pole to the #2 seed with just two regular season weeks left. Having sniffed that rarified air the Bills will not take anything for granted, and will be striving to win out against AFC East division rivals the Pats and then the Miami Dolphins.
Josh Allen can hoist up an NFL MVP trophy just like his fellow 2018 first round draft class buddy Lamar Jackson, and sweeping the Patriots would make the accolade that bit sweeter.
For the Bills D there is limited game film on Jared Stidham, including 0 starts or truly meaningful snaps, so the surprise element will favour the Patriots. This does not mean they will translate this into a victory. The empire has crumbled in New England, and it’s time for Pats fans to look to the future now and not the present.
Josh Allen to have another big game, and Buffalo to put immense pressure on the Steelers who are melting faster than a snowman in a naan bread oven (inspired by watching Eddie Hall trying to eat the world’s largest naan bread!!). Look to 21 year old Bills WR Gabriel Davis to add to his impressive 6 td total in this contest.
Welcome in again for Week 14’s previews for the Sky Sports games. There are some crackers again this week and we are going to start to see some playoff-style games in the sense that losses for some teams see them elimated from January football. If you want to preview a certain game, click below for your match-up! If your team isn’t on TV this week, you can find our preview of your game in Shaun’s weekly previews.
Wait a second, is this a trap, as Admiral Ackbar likes to scream in his dulcet fishy tones? The Kansas City Chiefs will be mightily relived that the Pittsburgh Steelers finally registered a loss this season, putting both teams atop the AFC with an 11-1 record. What they will not be looking forward to is facing one of the most improved units in football, in the shape of the Miami Dolphins defence.
Along with smiles resonating from Chiefs faces after the Steelers loss, the Dolphins alumni from 1972 (remaining the only team to go a full season undefeated) will be reaching to the back of the fridge to pull out a nice chilled bottle of Moet. Their celebrations will be short lived as the front runner for the 2020 MVP, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, and the rest of the reigning Super Bowl champions will be soaking up some Florida sunshine this weekend as they bring their explosive offensive unit to South Beach.
With four games left, the Chiefs have already secured a play-off spot, so they will now be gunning for the number one slot and precious home field advantage. The Dolphins, as it stands, hold the #6 seed, their 8-4 record and win percentage in conference games being marginally superior to fellow 8-4 record holders the Indianapolis Colts.
Where do you try to stop the Chiefs from gaining big chunks of yardage? It’s a bit like the challenge of trying to catch every raindrop in a storm. The Broncos did an admirable job in Week 13 in slowing the Chiefs down, forcing them to kick five Harrison Butker field goals.
This lack of touchdown action will have Mahomes and his crew fired up, with Tyreek Hill (leading the league in touchdown catches with 13), Travis Kelce (who has the second most receiving yards for a TE in 12 games in the past 70 years) and rookie jitterbug Clyde Edwards-Helaire returning from a brief injury stint. CEH was available in an emergency last week, but was held out to enable a speedier recovery.
CEH can quite easily eclipse 1,000 yards of offence on Sunday, providing he does not underestimate a Dolphins defence that is allowing less than 13 points a game in the last month and that posseses the league’s leading interceptor – CB Xavien Howard (8 interceptions).
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has done an admirable job to date, turning lesser-known players such as Zach Sieler, Jerome Baker and Andrew Van Ginkel (pictured) into rock-solid performers.
Somehow Miami have avoided a quarterback controversy or any sideline animosity by getting rookie Tua Tagovailola and grizzled hirsute legend Ryan Fitzpatrick to bond like long-lost brothers, each stepping up when needed to support the team to continue to progress.
Since the turn of the century, Miami have won their division just the once, falling prey to two decades of TD12, but now they have an opportunity to have a first winning season since 2016. And if they get more breaks than a KitKat testing facility and win out, it will be the first time they’ll reach 12 wins since way back in 1990. Back then, they reached the play-offs and beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card game before being trounced by the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo Bills.
The Chiefs need to bring their big boy pants to Miami, where the weather may be welcoming and the opposition uniform is no silver and black sign of intimidation. But if there’s any degree of underestimation, which was likely the case in part against the Broncos, it will cost KC a possible shot at the AFC #1 seed.
If KC can do anything well, it is scoring quickly and often, so this game will need to see Miami bleed down the clock on every possession they have. Miami’s running game is pedestrian at best, but they will need to feed Myles Gaskin over 20 times to stand a chance of winning the clock battle. Having missed significant time, Gaskin did manage a healthy 90 yards in Week 13, and he will be looking to crack 100 in front of Sky fans.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@NFLFanInEngland)
This would be up there with the shock Washington win over Pittsburgh if Miami could somehow overcome the most dynamic offence in the NFL, with a combination of disciplined defence, strategic excellence and a sprinkling of turnovers. There is evidence that the Chiefs can be manhandled: the Raiders simply out duelled Andy Reid’s crew and Josh Jacobs punched in two scores in the fourth quarter.
Tua will need to play mistake-free football to keep pace with the Chiefs. One suspects there will be a break in concentration by the rookie, and that is going to be enough for the reigning champions to move ever closer to that top seed in the AFC.
Kansas City 33 – 23 Miami
Late Game: Indianapolis Colts @ Las Vegas Raiders
The 8-4 Indianapolis Colts travel west this week to face the Las Vegas Raiders in a match-up that could have big implications in the AFC play-off picture. An Indianapolis win would see them move to 9-4 and potentially leapfrog Tennessee for the lead in the AFC South if they don’t bulldoze the Jaguars like most would expect them to this week. However, if Las Vegas stays strong and hold out for the victory, they would move to 8-5 and move into the 7th seed over Indy – there’s no chance they’re catching the 11-1 Chiefs for the division lead in the AFC West.
The Raiders may not care too much as to why Henry Ruggs III was left wide open downfield in the last seconds of the game versus New York last week. After all, it stopped them from moving to 7-6 and handing the Jets their first victory of the season. However, what they will care about is their defence having a better game. They gave up 376 total yards to the Jets, including 206 rushing yards and 2 TDs. They are now allowing an average of 378.2 YDS/G (22nd in NFL) and 28.9 PTS/G (28th in NFL). They will also be concerned with their pass rush, having only gotten 15 sacks on the season, which is tied for dead last in the league.
What they face this week is a strong Indianapolis offence that spreads the ball around well. Five different players have over 350 receiving yards on the season. Through 12 games, Indianapolis average 265.3 passing yards per game (11th in NFL) and Philip Rivers is having a good season in new surroundings, posting an impressive 68.1% completion rate and 3,263 passing yards. While he probably won’t be in the league for much longer, his experience is helping Frank Reich’s Indianapolis team to push for only their second play-off appearance since 2014. They’re also having success on the ground too. While they were unfortunate to lose rising star RB Marlon Mack to an ACL tear in Week 1, rookie Johnathan Taylor has stepped up to the plate posting over 600 rushing yards from only nine starts and a very respectable 4.1 yards per carry average.
Meanwhile, the Raiders offence will be hoping that Darren Waller can continue playing at the high level he has been. He posted 200 receiving yards last week against New York as well as two scores. He has 742 receiving yards on the season which puts him second only to Travis Kelce among TEs. The Raiders offence are one of the least pressured in the league, which has allowed Derek Carr to have success in moving the chains. Las Vegas is currently 48.7% on third downs (3rd in NFL) and Indianapolis not being a great QB pressure team won’t help their cause. Carr will have an age to find a receiver in this game. Las Vegas’ run game is also vital to their success. Josh Jacobs continues to dominate on the ground, with 782 yards on the season (7th in NFL) and 46 first downs (5th in NFL) with the Raiders as a whole, averaging 121.2 rushing yards per game (10th in NFL).
The Indianapolis defence will have their work cut out when it comes to that LV third-down conversion percentage. Indy is allowing 40.7% third-down conversions so far in 2020, which is 15th in the league. If Carr remains unpressured, this defence could be made to pay. However there are upsides: Indianapolis makes things difficult for opposing QBs in the passing game and just last week ,they held Deshaun Watson to his first game in 2020 without a TD pass. They are holding teams to just over 218 passing yards per game (8th in NFL) as well as only 100.9 average rushing yards per game (7th in NFL). Las Vegas could find it tough to move the ball if this Indianapolis defence comes to play.
Writer’s Pick – Steve Tough (@SteTough)
This is a really intriguing match-up in the AFC playoff picture. It could be a bit of a shoot-out if both QBs get warm and spread the ball around the field like they can. Expect a lot of the ground game too, with Jacobs and Taylor likely to have 15+ carries each. Ultimately, I think it will be a high-scoring game, but a close one. I have Indianapolis to edge out Las Vegas in a nail-biter!
Indianapolis 37 – 34 Las Vegas
SNF: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to bounce back from their first loss of the season last week when they travel to Buffalo to face the impressive Bills for Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers suffered a crushing 23-17 loss to the Washington Football Team in Week 13, as weeks of miscues on offence and injuries on defence finally struck in unison to undermine what had been an unbeaten 11-0 start up until that point.
Going forward, it’s far easier to see a way out of the offensive issues than injuries, especially with the news that standout veteran corner Joe Haden and linebacker Robert Spillane were absent from practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Spillane has been particularly impressive since he took over middle-linebacker duties from Devin Bush, who tore his ACL in late October, only to have his job made even more challenging in Week 12 when Bud Dupree picked up the same major injury. The absence of either would make victory over the Bills very difficult to manage, especially with the confidence boost Josh Allen received last week with his demolition of the 49ers defence.
Pittsburgh’s loss to Washington, however, was not merely an issue with stopping a team’s offence; in fact, their own offensive errors once again played a part, with several receivers having drops in big moments despite Big Ben still managing to throw for 305 yards and two touchdowns. It was a similar story against the Ravens in a game in which the Steelers could easily have lost their unbeaten streak a week before, yet it was Eric Ebron and Anthony McFarland with crucial drops in the loss to Washington.
The issue was called out in no uncertain terms by Mike Tomlin after the defeat. The 13-year Head Coach warned his receiver group that “they can either catch it or get replaced by someone who will catch it”. It’s a problem that will need an immediate fix to beat the Bills as well, who play opportunistic defence and will have an early Christmas feast should catchable balls continue to pop into the air.
In fact, the Washington game was the second in a row with five total drops, having had just two such games in the last 15 years of NFL football, giving the Steelers a big reminder in all fashions that they need to get back to walking before they can run.
For the Bills on the other hand, Week 12 was a masterpiece of everything they wanted to see from their offensive unit, as Josh Allen returned to MVP form with a sensational 375-yard, 4 TD day through the air on Monday night.
The Wyoming alum once again hooked up snuggly with his two major receiving threats, Cole Beasley and Stephon Diggs, as the Bills torched a defence that showed little resolve, though this week’s match-ups with the Steelers should be a far greater test.
The defence also grabbed two picks off Nick Mullens as it continues to improve. The quartet of Trumaine Edmunds, Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde looked ominously hooked up as we head into the part of the season where offences start to struggle in colder temperatures.
Over the course of the season, they have consistently given up decent yardage against both the pass and the run (bottom 13 in both categories), but being able to take the ball away, with 19 total turnovers, means that they will easily sniff out any further mistakes from the Steelers’ up-and-down offensive ability.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
I think this game is going to be close, especially if the weather turns the game into a battle of attrition to see who breaks first and makes the big mistake. It’s easy to look at Week 13 and say that the Bills are going to win again because they looked so mightily impressive while the Steelers, well, didn’t. Yet it’s important to remember that the Washington defence is seriously, properly good and they’ve made a lot of teams look bad so I don’t think we will see quite the same story again this week. Despite that, I think Josh Allen has enough to grind and muscle a way past the Steelers in his own building.
Bills to beat the Steelers 21-17.
MNF: Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Prior to Week 1, you’d have got decent odds on the Browns having a better record than the Ravens heading into this clash, but 2020 doesn’t care for the script. It’s thrown it out of the window.
But here we are, the play-off bound Browns (sounds weird, doesn’t it?) at 9-3 host the COVID-hit Ravens (7-5). The Browns have a decent shot here at kicking the Ravens while they are down and could go a long way to making the Ravens’ play-off ambition hang by a thread. A loss for the Ravens coupled with some other results could see Lamar Jackson and co. two games back with three to play. I think that is a big enough carrot in itself for the Browns and Kevin Stefanski.
After four straight wins coming out of the bye, the Browns are dreaming of play-off football. With a win on Monday night, that would all but confirm their first post-season game since 2002 and their first season with double-digit wins since 2007.
The Browns will not be worried by what they saw out of the Ravens as they rushed all over Dallas, but the Ravens defence was unable to get much pressure on Dalton and Dallas were able to convert almost 50% of their 3rd and 4th downs last Tuesday night.
With Baltimore struggling with injuries, COVID and a lack of rhythm coming off a short week, the Browns have the Ravens exactly where they want them. The problems lie a bit deeper than that though for the Ravens, and I can’t but help but get the sense of Colin Kaepernick syndrome with Lamar Jackson with regards to how he has performed this year and how much production he has been able to produce for this offence.
As Jackson is not there with his passing and the weapons in the passing game have flattered to deceive, teams are able to sell out defensively on the run and teams (Dallas aside) are able to limit the Ravens to a degree. The Browns should be able to contain the Ravens enough here.
Yes, it is still a top rushing offence, mustering over 2,000 yards now, and they still manage to gain chunk yardage on the ground after Week 13’s demolition of the Cowboys. But this is a far cry from the 2019 rushing attack (2,494 yards at the same point last season).
Mark Andrews, due to his Type 1 diabetes, is taking a bit longer to come back from COVID and on the defensive side, Calais Campbell did not look comfortable on ‘TuNF’ against the Cowboys after a multiple-week absence with a calf injury. The Ravens need to get healthy and quick, as this game could quite possibly be the start of their play-offs. Their last three games against the Jags, Giants and Bengals are probably three notches in the win column so this game feels like it will decide whether we see Lamar and co. in January.
Switching our attention to the Browns, Baker Mayfield had a career first half last week against the Titans as he helped put 38 points on the board against Tennessee. He’ll be looking to continue the hot streak, as will Nick Chubb who, despite missing four games and change through injury, still sits at 799 rushing yards on the season, ranking fifth among all RBs.
Despite the Browns’ offensive focal point being the run game, if Baker is able to get some momentum going as the regular season closes and play-offs arrive, this team could go far. They need to be as balanced as possible to aid that run game and you do find that games where Baker isn’t playing well or at the level required, the Browns can be defended against.
Talking of the run game, Jack Conklin was limited in practice this week and but Wyatt Teller should be good to come back from the COVID list.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers losing against Washington and having a tough game 24 hours prior to this one, the juiciest of carrots could be dangling with the division title door slightly ajar. The Browns would likely win all of their remaining games going into Week 17 when they face the Steelers, where the division title could be on the line so this is a crucial match-up to close out Week 14.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It would be “so Browns” of Cleveland to throw it away from this position, but I think Kevin Stefanski has the right culture installed, the right mindset and the right players to be able to secure a first play-off game for almost two decades.
The Ravens are too beaten up and seem a bit too fatigued from the ramifications of COVID sweeping through their team. There is no rhythm or momentum for the Ravens and they are coming off a short week, albeit after playing their “free square” against Dallas.
I’m going for the Browns to win at home and I am more than surprised to see Cleveland as underdogs here so take Cleveland +2. I don’t have a lean on the total points at its current 47 point mark, but would veer towards the under if anything.
Welcome to the Week 13 TV preview. There could potentially be a bumper offering of games this week with Monday seeing a double header and Tuesday getting a game also. As it stands today, it’s just the regular four slated games but we will preview all six potential TV games to make sure you are covered.
Sunday 6pm / Cleveland Browns @ Tennessee Titans
The Titans will look to follow up on their emphatic victory over AFC South rivals the Indianapolis Colts by beating the equally impressive Cleveland Browns in the early game of Week 13.
They grabbed their revenge on Phillip Rivers with a 45-26 victory to move themselves onto 8-3 on the season and remind everyone with play-off and Super Bowl aspirations that they are a serious contender as the season moves into the last quarter of regular season football.
The magnificent Derrick Henry maintained his spectacular form with a third straight game with over 100 rushing yards, notching 178 and three touchdowns against a good Colts defence that looked unable to even slow King Henry, let alone stop him.
As tends to be the way with most teams, Henry’s raw dominance left the door not just open for Ryan Tannehill but nearly off its hinges, as he threw for 221 yards and touchdown on 13 completions and an extra score with his legs.
The game plan will be identical for this week’s match-up with the Browns too, as the Titans look to draw in the Cleveland linebackers with some play-action and try to get the ball in their hands of their playmakers on the outside: the explosive AJ Brown and the improving Corey Davis.
Defensively, the Titans played far better against the run last week, holding the Colts to just 56 yards on the ground. This was a large improvement on the 115 yards-per-game they have averaged so far and a crucial factor in stopping a Browns team that will undoubtedly be looking to get going behind Nick Chubb.
The job of stopping the Browns will be made harder with the news that multi-faceted DT Jeffrey Simmons did not practice all week and so looks a doubt for Sunday, but hope is growing that cornerback Adoree Jackson could start his first game of the year having been activated off IR nearly three weeks ago.
As for the Browns, they look like they’ll once again be without their own young corner with Denzel Ward still struggling with his injury, but crucially there is no injury to their bell-cow Chubb, who is going to play the figurehead of any potential Browns victory once again. The former Georgia Bulldog is on his own personal tier this season, with 384 rushing yards in his last three games, as he has helped drag the Browns to an impressive 8-3 record in the AFC North.
Calls for MVP consideration have been heard in the distance as Chubb has allowed Baker Mayfield to take things at his own speed, without an interception in five games but also without a passing score in three of those. His connection with Jarvis Landry has looked to be improving too in recent weeks; Landry is now over 600 yards receiving on the season as Stefanski’s run-heavy scheme awards some nice light coverage in the passing game.
Defensively, the Browns will likely have Myles Garrett for the match-up with the Titans as they will try and become one of the first teams in 2020 to find out how to slow down the freight train that is Henry in the Titans backfield.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall, this game has the potential to end up looking like a play-off game in style. They are both run-heavy teams looking to grind away at the will of the opposing defence, to set up some easy play-actions and bootlegs for their steady QBs.
The Titans will miss DT Simmons for sure and I think that probably closes the gap between these two teams but I sense that in the cold temperatures that the teams can expect on Sunday, the unstoppable force of King Henry grinds the Titans past a tricky Browns outfit. I’m taking the Titans over the Browns by 21-13.
Sunday 9:05pm / Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
It feels like every NFC West match-up is a crucial one this season and this one is no different.
After a somewhat shock defeat at home against the 49ers last week, the Rams have some making up to do with Seattle taking full advantage. The Rams are now 1-2 in the division with both losses coming against the 49ers. However, their sole victory was against Seattle so if they can keep pace with the Seahawks in terms of notches in the win column as they head into their Week 16 clash, then no harm done.
They travel to Glendale, Arizona, for this one to take on a Cardinals team that kind of threw the win away against New England. They were there for the taking but a missed Zane Gonzalez field goal with under two minutes remaining sealed their fate. The offence and Kyler Murray couldn’t get much going in that game in Foxborough so you’d have to feel Sean McVay and co. will be breaking down that film, especially in the red zone were Arizona looked awfully ineffective.
You get the feeling that this game is essentially a knockout game for the Cardinals, who sit at 6-5 (2-1 divisional) after three losses in their last four games. That could have been four straight losses if it wasn’t for the Nuk Hopkins end-zone miracle catch against the Bills. They are two games off the pace in the division (split with Seattle 1-1) but also way off the pace in terms of conference records in the tiebreakers. A loss here, coupled with a win for the Rams and Seahawks, means that it could be back to the drawing board.
Their last two games have seen their offensive output plummet from the lofty heights seen prior to their game with Seattle and that’s mainly down to the wear and tear of their QB. Kyler has been troubled by a shoulder injury over the past few weeks and did not look comfortable after taking a hit or two in New England last week. But some are also pointing fingers at Kliff’s play–calling for long parts of that game being too conservative. The Cardinals and Kliff Kingsbury will be hoping that any bruises or wounds have healed sufficiently so that Murray can play his normal game and help the offence continue to produce as one of the top offences in the league (currently second ranked in terms of yards per game).
One way the Cardinals will want to try and impose themselves in on the defensive side on the ball, trying to exert pressure on Jared Goff.
Goff has not looked great when faced with pressure, ever. What Sean McVay is still able to achieve with this team in spite of Goff and his liabilities goes underappreciated. That being said, it was their coaching staff and front office that decide to give him the contract they did, effectively handcuffing their ceiling under McVay.
You have to feel the Super Bowl run in 2018 season was a case of all the stars aligning for Goff behind a great line. With the recent loss of Andrew Whitworth and a bit of shuffling around, you can see that Goff is not great when there is no trust in that he’ll be protected. This is also reflected in the play-calling, with constant jet sweeps and misdirections going to skills players like Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks when he was a Ram.
It took the Rams defence to make a play last week before the offence was able to get anything going and I think McVay knows that they have to be near perfect in all phases of the game to come out with any kind of win here.
The game plan from San Francisco last week, in being hard hitting and establishing the run, is something the Cardinals could try and replicate with their 1-2 punch of the often-underwhelming Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds (not forgetting Murray too!). If they can get anywhere near what Mostert and the rest of the 49ers produced last week, they’ll have a chance to stay balanced and win the game. If they abandon the run and try and ask Kyler to win through the air, it could be an issue.
It will be fascinating to see if Ramsey will try to neutralise Nuk Hopkins, who is 33 yards of the 1,000-yard mark.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
If the Cardinals win this game, you can bet your bottom dollar, Haason Reddick and co. get to Goff on multiple occasions. If they can’t get home and the Rams handle the pass rush, you have to feel Sean McVay will find a way to smash and grab the win, effectively making it a shootout for the division.
In a really tough game to call and with a lot on the line, the spread of Rams (-3) is probably about right, but I’d probably take the Cardinals with the points and total points to go over the 48 projected by the bookies (little confidence though, considering how these offences performed last week and can have the ability to fall flat).
Monday 1:25am (SNF) / Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
Going into the final five weeks of the regular season, the Broncos have to face the nigh-on impossible task of taking on the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. Usually in these previews, parallels between teams become apparent. That being said, the Broncos and Chiefs had polar opposite Week 12 match-ups.
For the home team, it was an electric performance in which the tandem of Pat Mahomes and Tyreek Hill sought to break every record manageable. In typical KC fashion, one which is still so captivating while also so unsurprising, Mahomes threw for 446 yards, gaining 3 TDs and a passer rating of 124.7 along the way. The opposite can be said of practice squad WR Kendall Hinton for the Broncos who completed one pass out of nine attempts and was picked off twice.
Again, in not so surprising fashion, Hill had himself a game. On 15 targets, Hill went for 269 yards and 3 TDs, only failing to connect with his star QB twice all game. Considering some were predicting a reasonably tough match-up for Hill and the rest of the KC offence, with the Bucs being placed in the top 10 in most defensive categories, the outcome was anything but. The same cannot be said for the Broncos. While little more can be expected when a team loses all their QB options, the Broncos only managed 3 points and 13 total passing yards.
I don’t think it can be overstated just how different the form of these two team’s previous showing were.
On the bright side for the travelling Broncos, their pass defence was good against the Taysom Hill-led Saints. Overall, the game was difficult to watch for fans of Denver, but the bright spot was how they limited Hill. Despite the blow-out scoreline, the Broncos limited Hill to 5 yards per attempt and a passer rating of sub-50. It is practically impossible to imagine the same outcome this weekend, but if they stand any chance of keeping this divisional tie in contention, the Broncos secondary have to maintain the top-10 calibre they showed the previous week and across the season.
Another upside for the Broncos is the fact that they will have a QB this week instead of relying on a Hinton, who has developed his own little cult following. However, the Broncos, with or without a QB, have struggled offensively in the air and rank dead last in yards per game and passer rating. As if often the short-lived debate with the Chiefs, their rush defence looks like the only kink in the armour until you remember that rushing isn’t a viable option when down three or four scores. While the pairing of Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay has seen the Broncos ranking middle of the pack in most rushing statistics, coupled with KC ranking towards the bottom of most rush defence metrics, I really can’t see this making an impact against Mahomes, now favourite to become this season’s MVP.
Writer’s Pick – Richard O’Brien (@Richard_obs)
Typically, I try to find the parallels between the two teams. I try to find areas the underdogs can exploit. I try to highlight any key storylines heading into the game.
For this matchup, not so much. There are very few parallels, serious weaknesses or storylines aside from the fact that Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs are really, really good at football. That being said, I’m predicting a 35-13 win for the Chiefs taking them to a 11-1 record.
Monday 10pm / Washington Football Team @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Anyone who witnessed the reserve offence of the Baltimore Ravens hanging in there against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday (2 Dec) will have left with a feeling that the six-time Super Bowl champions are frankly mortal.
Their 11-0 record is impressive and heading into Week 13, they remain the only team without an ‘L’ in their record, but that was an unimpressive display. Commentators tried to flatter Big Ben Roethlisberger after the game, but he was the first to say he was unhappy about his own performance. Not so much the stupendous amount of completions in an offence that was ‘1,000 paper cuts’ as opposed to ‘ferocious axe swings’, but more botched 4th down attempts, lack of points and failure to put away a team that was missing the 2019 MVP, his favourite target (Mark Andrews) and key defenders.
Next up to try and pop the balloon of perfection is the Washington Football Team, who may boast a miserable 4-7 record, yet they are joint top of the NFC (L)East and on a two-game winning streak.
The walking miracle that is Washington QB Alex Smith is providing veteran leadership and giving the team the most dangerous thought in the world: hope. With the Giants losing Daniel Jones for a week or two, and the Cowboys and Eagles wetting the bed on a regular basis, there is a faint spark that seems to be producing a tiny whiff of smoke in the nation’s capital.
Talk of the Rookie of the Year is taking place, and is being dominated by Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson, with nobody giving any well deserved love to Washington’s RB Antonio Gibson. Gibson has amassed 11 touchdowns to date, easily the top for any first-year player, and the number is remarkably the third best total for all NFL running backs. His three touchdowns against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving thrust Gibson into the spotlight for the first time this season, and he looked comfortable under the bright lights.
The jury is still out on fellow Washington rookie DE/edge Chase Young. He has realised that the big boys league is not going to be a breeze, and has had a mixture of performances to date. 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 10 games is not quite the impact the Football Team expected when they grabbed him at #2. He trails grizzled vet Ryan Kerrigan (5.5) and squad leader Montez Sweat (6) in sacks.
Washington’s defence has kept the team alive and, along with Gibson, two Football Team skill players have stuck out among the grey mulch. WR Terry McLaurin is a diamond among a load of broken bottles, and running back JD McKissic, second leading rusher, has racked up 46 catches (a career best).
Looking to stop this unexpected bunch of merry men is the league’s best defence. The 2020 version of the Steel Curtain is beyond impressive, with edge TJ Watt continuing to add credibility to his audition for the Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers did suffer a huge blow on Wednesday when LB Bud Dupree was injured with a probable ACL. His eight sacks will be sorely missed going into the final phase of the regular season. Having lost Devin Bush earlier in the season, it will be time for second-year LB Robert Spillane (#41 – pictured) to elevate his game once again.
This game on paper is not even close, with the Steelers owning a seven-game advantage over Washington. Pittsburgh’s defensive front four will look to feast on a Washington offensive line that is susceptible to committing penalties at key moments. The black and gold bring the pressure, but they also drop back to confuse QBs, as evidenced by TJ Watt trailing the Ravens speedster WR Hollywood Brown on Wednesday.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
All the signs are pointing at a Steelers win here; in fact, the last time Washington beat Pittsburgh was all the way back in 1991. Somewhat ironically, 29 years ago, that win put Washington at 11-0 and dropped the Steelers to 4-7, an exact mirror image of the team’s current records.
There have been accusations the Steelers have had a bit of a passive schedule, and the same could be said of the Football Team, as all their wins have come against team with losing records. The Steelers will need to up their game to remain unbeaten, but something tells me Big Ben will be playing mad enough to put up another big performance. Washington 16 – 29 Pittsburgh
Tuesday 1.15am (MNF) / Buffalo Bills @ San Francisco 49ers
The Bills and 49ers returned to action after bye weeks last weekend against Los Angeles-based opposition. They both nearly threw it all away in the second half but, in the end, emerged victorious.
The Niners crossed California to play the Rams, who were coming off impressive wins over the Seahawks and Bucs. San Fran stayed strong to win 23-20, despite being 5-point underdogs. The season sweep of LA was secured with two Robbie Gould FGs: one to level the score and another that sealed the deal as time expired. The result breaks a three-game losing streak and just about keeps the Niners (5-6) in the play-off picture.
Meanwhile, the Bills (8-3) hosted the Chargers in a battle of two in-form QBs, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Allen threw for a touchdown and ran in another as they built up an 18-point lead, only to try and blow it with three consecutive turnovers in the fourth quarter. Joey Bosa also put Allen on his derriere three times, allowing the Bolts back into the game but the AFC East leaders did enough to hold them off. The 27-17 victory leaves Sean McDermott as one of only five current Head Coaches never to lose after a bye.
Let’s start by turning the microscope on poor ol’ San Francisco, who have had their roster absolutely decimated by injuries and COVID-related absences. Starters on both sides of the ball have been on and off the treatment table all season long, giving very little opportunity for continuity. By mid-November, 21 of their 27 crocked players were on Injured Reserve, yet they keep on keeping on… so respect to Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh for making their offensive and defensive units viable against all odds.
With five games to go, Frisco are at last getting a bit healthier, with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson (86 combined rushing yards and a TD for Mostert), Richard Sherman (seven tackles and a pick) and Deebo Samuel (11 passes for 133 yards) all returning to the fray to great effect last Sunday.
But their main dilemma is still whether Jimmy Garoppolo, who has now missed three weeks with a high ankle sprain, will make it back this season, let alone if he’ll be retained after that. Less than a year ago, he was contesting the season finale; now, if he makes the field at all, he’ll be auditioning for his own job.
Even though he finished with no TDs and an interception against the Rams, Nick Mullens has proved he can (just about) lead the team in Jimmy G’s place. That said, his 6 TD/7 INT ratio doesn’t inspire much confidence in the aerial attack so, if the 49ers are to secure a home (from home) win, the ground game of Mostert and Wilson needs to click again, especially as Buffalo allow almost 130 rushing yards per game.
Turning our attention to the visitors, third-year QB Josh Allen has been one of 2020’s success stories. For a while, his name was being uttered alongside Mahomes and Wilson in the MVP discussion and, even though he’s fallen a little behind now, he’s still seventh in the NFL in passing yards and needs just 61 more to surpass last year’s 3,089. His 29 total TDs leaves him just five short of Jim Kelly’s single-season franchise record and his completion rate (68.8%), average yards per completion (7.8), passing rate (102.3), sacks taken (22) and fumbles (2) are all heading towards new personal bests.
Success in upstate New York this year has also been built on WR Stefon Diggs. The former Viking is now only 55 shy of a 1,000-yard season, 6th in the league, and while four TDs is a little disappointing, he does stretch the field. This allows slot receiver Cole Beasley to contribute more – not least, like last Sunday, by throwing the occasional trick-play TD.
The Bills have needed to sort out their run game for a while, with Devin Singletary’s 483 yards (27th) and 1 rushing TD not exactly setting the league on fire. In fact, his own QB (six rushing TDs) has two more than the rest of the team put together. But last week, McDermott finally turned to the ground game, with Singletary logging 82 yards on 11 carries and rookie Zack Moss going for 59 yards from nine. Allen himself added 32 yards and a score.
Holding LA to just three points on the drives that resulted from their three turnovers, last week’s defiant fourth-quarter stand shows that the Buffalo D can do the business too; they also sacked Herbert three times and Tre’Davious White snagged an interception. Although not a particular strength in 2020, if the Bills’ defence can stay solid, they’ll be tough to beat all the way to January and beyond.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The Bills look all but play-off bound already while the 49ers’ future is much murkier. They may end up above .500 but that’s no guarantee of anything, especially in the hyper-competitive NFC West. Yet this one’s a tricky one to call, not least because Buffalo are 0-4 on MNF since 2015 and also because the contest will be held at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. COVID-19 protocols in Santa Clara have forced the 49ers out of Levi’s Stadium for the rest of the season but it may not be such a bad thing: they’re 1-4 there this year.
With the Niners currently ranked 10th in the NFC and a game shy of the final Wild Card spot, they need to keep their foot firmly on the gas to keep those slim postseason dreams alive. And yet they still have several key players still missing – cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Ken Webster were injured last week, and I haven’t even mentioned long-term absentee George Kittle. Also considering that Mullens isn’t exactly rewriting the QB textbook, plus last week’s reliance on their kicker and their recent ‘eviction’, I can’t help feeling that there’s too much conspiring against the Niners. Put me down for the Bills adding another W to their tally. Bills 28-24 49ers
Wednesday 1.05am (At Time Of Post Not Confirmed As TV Game) / Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
For a game that prior to the COVID shenanigans should have already been in the books, the Cowboys have a further delay to travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens.
After their Thanksgiving Day performance, it seems like they need a lot longer than the 12 days that they have been given. Despite the game being close going into the 4th quarter, the Washington Football Team routed the Cowboys, embarrassing Jerry in his home on prime time while we sat and ate turkey. Antonio Gibson ran right through the heart of the Dallas defence on his way to a Thanksgiving Day hat-trick, which hasn’t been seen since Randy Moss did it to the Cowboys way back when.
The Cowboys currently sit with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft, but also are only still one game (and probable tie-breakers) from the division lead. The NFC East continues to be a historically bad one and it’s a catch-22 for all the teams in it. Do you try and win games and get to the play-offs, get embarrassed there but consequently moving your draft pick by about half of the board? Or do you just play out your games knowing that Penei Sewell could be yours (especially in Dallas’ case) in that top 3-5 range in the draft?
The Cowboys actually have a shot at winning this game and it all hinges on the Baltimore QB situation. Lamar Jackson is currently on the COVID list but if he clears protocols, he could be suiting up. It’s likely that if available, Jackson will play in the game despite having no practices or training over the past week or so. He can clear the protocol as early as Sunday, thus giving him a day of practice if all things go well. If he doesn’t go, however, the door is wide open for Dallas.
Back-up RGIII pulled a hamstring and was replaced by third-stringer Trace McSorely against the Steelers. RGIII, unless his hamstring pull is only minor, would be unlikely to play and would be questionable at best.
On the Dallas side, their offensive line took two huge hits from Thanksgiving with All-Pro Zack Martin missing multiple weeks, and he was joined by Cam Erving on the treatment table early on in that match–up too. That has usually spelled the end for the Cowboys in recent seasons but the pass rush of this depleted Baltimore team could be the equaliser they need.
Ezekiel Elliot has just not got anything going this year and added yet another fumble to his tally for 2020. Tony Pollard may get a bit more time to shine and has looked good in spots.
The wide receiver trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb are only going to be as good as their O-line protecting Dalton. It’ll be a lot of short stuff, the old “dink and dunk” relying on yards after catch, which is not something this offence predicates itself on.
For Baltimore, they must win to keep tabs in the Wild Card race as they sit on 6-5; Las Vegas on the outside looking in as they are on a three-game losing streak. They have three easier games to finish off the season but Week 14’s clash against the Browns is huge.
It’ll be a heavy dose of run game again with hopefully the returns of Mark Ingram and JK Dobbins. They’d also like to welcome back Mark Andrews to give them more weapons in the passing game as I think we have seen enough of Luke Willson for this season.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
Until we get nearer to game time, we won’t know the chances of either team but the more players that return for Baltimore, the more likely they are to win the game.
The current line (Friday evening ) is begging you to take the Cowboys at +7.5. I would just stay away from this game altogether but if you are sharp on your Twitter feeds and hear news about availability either way, it’s a line that can be taken advantage of.
Like Wednesday night, when there is so much disruption to the team and travelling, it usually dictates the game to be a sloppy, low scoring affair, so the Under 45 probably looks the way to go in terms of total points.
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