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London Game 1 Preview: Jets and Falcons out to turn their seasons around at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

The 2021 London Games are finally here! After a year hiatus due to the pandemic, football will be played outside of the US for the first time since 2019, and I for one cannot wait. It’s not very often that you get excited to watch two 1-3 teams, but any chance to see this sport live is golden here in the UK. On Sunday afternoon (2:30 PM) the Atlanta Falcons will play host to the New York Jets in front of a packed crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Both teams have made the trip before, the Jets in 2015, and the Falcons in 2014. The latter famously blew a 21 point lead to the Detroit Lions, whilst the former beat the Dolphins. Even though these teams have two wins between them there’s plenty to look out for.

Former MVP down two key weapons

2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan is the biggest star on show this weekend, and rightly so. He’s still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL fourteen seasons into his career. It’s not every game you get to see an exciting QB in London. This year we have four. Ryan is by far the most established of the bunch and will be looking to carve out a young Jets defense. He’s got his work cut out this weekend however, as two of his starting receivers (Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage) are out due to personal reasons and injury respectively.

This Falcons offense is going to look very different as Matty Ice is down to the likes of Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe at wideout. Luckily for him, he’s got Cordarelle Paterson, who’s having an excellent year, and Mike Davis in the backfield. Interestingly, the offensive line may struggle to protect Ryan on Sunday as the Jets D-line is very good, which means he’ll be looking to get the ball out to Paterson who I’d recommend picking up in fantasy this week. There’s also two first-round pick TE’s in Kyle Pitts (2021) and Hayden Hurst (Ravens, 2018.)

Jets coming off first win under Robert Saleh

Robert Saleh achieved his first win as a head coach last week against the Tennessee Titans. It was a great performance from the previously mentioned D-line who got to Ryan Tannehill seven times. They look very un Jets-like. What I mean by that is that Saleh’s Jets look disciplined and well-coached. I’m not surprised at all, if anything I don’t understand how it took an extra year for him to get a job.

Their offensive line is looking above average, even without Mekhi Becton, when arguably it’s not very talented. That’s good coaching. I wish my Miami Dolphins had that. 4 out of 5 linemen are within the top half of the league at their position in terms of PFF grade, C Connor McGovern is even in the top 10 with a 70.8 grade. Joe Douglas’ draft class is looking very good too. Zach Wilson had his best game yet whilst both Michael Carter’s are making plays and Alijah Vera-Tucker is coping very well at guard.

Zach Attack

The current Pepsi Rookie of the Week, Zach Wilson, is looking to become the first-ever rookie quarterback to win in London. Blake Bortles, Gardner Minshew, Derek Carr, and Deshone Kizer couldn’t do it, can the second overall pick be the first? Quite possibly, yes. He’s going up against the #32 ranked pass defense in Atlanta and showed real growth leading his team to victory last Sunday.

His day started badly as the Jets couldn’t get anything going in the first quarter, and was made worse early in the second by throwing straight at Titans DB Kristian Fulton. Wilson bounced back on the very next drive, bringing his team back in the game by finding Corey Davis for a big gain, putting Carter in a great position to bulldoze into the end zone. The former BYU Cougar got better as the game went on, showing a real ability to extend plays, as seen on the deep shot to Keelan Cole and the TD pass down the sideline to Jamison Crowder.

Predictions

Atlanta are the most talented team in my opinion, but I’m just not sure. At this moment in time, I’m leaning towards picking the New York Jets. When you add the fact the Falcons offense is missing two key weapons as well, it may be difficult for ATL to move the ball effectively. Arthur Smith’s tenure hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts. They look poorly coached, unlike the Jets, the Washington game showed that. That being said, Tennessee were missing a bunch of players last week so maybe I’m exaggerating the Jets performance a bit.

London games often throw up surprises, so I’m expecting to be wrong don’t you worry. One thing I’m learning to be is braver with my predictions, I was hoping Arizona would prove me wrong last Sunday and they did. So screw it, I’m picking a rookie quarterback to win a London game for the first time ever. It’ll be close, within one score.

Falcons 25, Jets 27

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Britball: Week 9 Preview

Welcome in to your weekly preview piece. Hope you are getting out there and supporting your local team.

Before we get in to it, it would be remiss of me to not put our 2021 NFL Season guide in front of your noses. It’s our may fundraiser to help put back into the game by helping you out there wanting to be come officials, or sponsoring teams. If you are a fan of the NFl, please support us and buy this guide. £3.99 (use code YARDS” at checkout) for a digital copy, but if like me, you like something physical to read/keep, the physical copies are limited in numbers and there’s only a handful left. They come with a free digital version whilst you wait for the post to deliver the goods. If you know someone that would enjoy it, please spread the word! Appreciate the support already so far.


Right, let’s draw a line under that and get into the thick of week 9. Just the one postponement I am aware of at time of writing coming via BAFA’s website. Warriors and Blitz in the London division will not be played this week.

*UPDATE: Hereford vs South Wales also off*

Talking of BAFA’s website, I have also been reliably informed there is an added fixture between the Northumberland Vikings and the Darlington Steam, which doesn’t appear on there (maybe something for the new prospective Operations Manager to help sort out as well as the million other things in that job spec).

*ADDED FIXTURE* Northumberland Vikings face Darlington Steam

There is some live stream action (hopefully) from Onside Productions. They’ll be covering the Leicester @ Sandwell Game, you can find the link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5CebQix8fI .

Let’s start north and work our way down. Just the one fixture in Scotland and it comes in the form of the Caledonia division as the 0-1 Wolves take on the 0-0 Glasgow Tigers. Could be a very interesting fixture this one and if there was a stream, I’d be certainly watching. I think this is a result that could go either way, despite Edinburgh being a division or two above Glasgow.

Another new logo you’ll see in the above picture is that of Leigh Miners, who host the Chester Romans. Chester coming off two valiant efforts in defeat to the Merseyside Nighthawks, I would assume Chester would be able to flex their muscles in this one with Leigh being thrown in at the deep end here. Similar comments apply to Knottingley, whilst less new to the sport, but the challenge is just as vast as they travel to Humber to face the Warhawks. The Raiders are without a win in 3 attempts and Humber are 3-1 with a loss to the Yorkshire rams their only defeat in 2021.

Staying in the division, Doncaster and Leeds reacquaint themselves and Leeds will look to try and get some retribution for their 42-13 defeat 3 weeks ago. I can’t see Leeds being able to turn it around but this is Britball. Leeds are also without a win thus far in 2021 whilst Doncaster are 2-3 with their two defeats coming against the powerhouses of Yorkshire and Sheffield.

Moving a bit further south, as previously mentioned, you’ll get to see a bit of action between the Falcons and the Steelers. Probably fair to expect a Leicester win in this one with the tumult over at Sandwell this year. It’ll be a “slog” as Steelers OC Butler put it on social media earlier in the week and I think this season is perfect for them to right the ship ahead of a prem visit in 2022. It will be a fierce game between the two, but Leicester likely to come out on top there.

Cracking game in prospect in the Central East division as the Nottingham Caesers travel to Scunthorpe to face the Alphas. Nottingham really do have a decent head of steam and some momentum built this year and will be interesting to see if the usually stout Alphas defence can continue to be Alphas and shut down the high flying Caesers offensive attack. Nottingham unbeaten at 3-0 thus far this year with the Alphas just having that shock shutout loss a few weeks back. A win for Scunthorpe in this one and that division is wide open.

Staying in the division, the Lincolnshire Bombers travel to Northants to face the Knights. Should be another decent game this one, but I expect more woe for the Bombers social media guy, go follow them and weep together. They do say misery loves company. Both teams have competitive losses against the Caesers in the form books so indications are that this shouldn’t be a wide margin victory.

Heading south but staying in the east, a couple of fixtures in the East Anglia division, which sees the cambridgeshire Cats travel to Norwich to face the Devils along with my favourite team (not) to predict, the Ipswich Cardinals hosting the Colchester Gladiators. Both Ipswich and Colchester have wins over Ouse Valley and Norwich, so yet again I am at a loss to try and predict an Ipswich game correctly, I’ll plump for Colchester (winces). Should be a bit more straight forward in predicting that Cambridgeshire, currently unbeaten at 4-0, should be taking the win here. They have a one score victory (28-20) in the last meeting over a month ago and look to double down on that and improve to 5-0. Norwich have tasted defeat in their last 3 fixtures after winning their opening fixture against Ouse Valley.

Let’s head over to the west coast now and the Severn division. South Wales, a bit more convincing last week than their scoreline of 12-0 suggests against Swindon Storm look to take care of business against Hereford Stampede, who are winless in 3 matches in 2021. They will look to improve to 3-1 and keep winning to be best of the rest in the division alongside the Birmingham Bulls who again, should get the business taken care of against a struggling Worcestershire Black Knights team, also winless in 2021 in their 4 matches to date and only 7 points scored.

In the South West division, we have the Cornwall Monarchs returning to the field to travel to the Jurassic Coast Raptors. Cornwall won their previous meeting this year 38-12 and the raptors are coming off a couple of wins against Torbay and a narrow loss to the Somerset Wyverns. Have to expect a Monarchs victory in this one, who lost to the Apache last time out.

From South West to South East (yes, I realise I’ve not gone totally geographically correct from North to South, leave me alone) and a couple of fixtures here also. The more straight forward one will be the East Kent Mavericks who’ll look to heap the same misery on the Thunderbolts like as they did back at the end of July and their 55-0 win. The other fixture and potentially one of the best ones this weekend sees the rematch between East Essex Sabres and Essex Spartans. The Sabres took the spoils by a point 4 weeks ago and the Sabres will be fighting tooth and nail to maintain their undefeated season. A win would surely give them the division, barring anything miraculous. Promises to be another close, low scoring affair with both teams giving up just 25 points between them in the combined games they have played in the division this year.

Moving more centrally, despite the postponed fixture in the London division, the other 2 teams face off as the Olympians and Exiles meet up. Olympians coming off their loss in a cross divisional game against the Thrashers whilst the Exiles, have not perhaps seen the results their performances have warranted in some of their defeats against the Blitz and more recently, the Warriors. No wins for either side so, barring a tie, one of the teams will hopefully be feeling a bit better about themselves in the team zoom call on Monday.

In the Thames Valley, just the one fixture as the Hertfordshire Cheetahs host the London Blitz B. Somehow the teams have not faced of yet this year despite both teams playing a decent number of fixtures. I’ll take the 3-1 Cheetahs to take victory against the 2-1-1 Blitz B, as i get ridiculed for selecting the Cheetahs opponents this season (wink wink). Both teams need the victory to keep pace with the Wembley Stallions. Hertfordshire, don’t turn into the Ipswich Cardinals and do the opposite of what i predict each week please :).

Finally in the deep south, we have a couple of fixtures to inform you of (slight tangent here, but is it still known as the Wessex division as BAFA have labelled it? Could’ve sworn it was just known as South Central, or Central South, or whatever it was possibly changed to, answers to @F10YBritball on twitter please!), with the cancelled fixture last week between Sussex and Rushmoor, they hopefully are able to step on to the field this week as Rushmoor travel south. Not sure why the it was cancelled last week, assuming it’s Covid and not the fact it’s a tedious journey. Rushmoor were awarded the walkover victory from last week. I’d expect Rushmoor to win in the more traditional style this week and thats by the points on the scoreboard.

The other fixture has the hallmarks of a potential decent matchup. Bournemouth. Solent have that aforementioned win over the Olympians and have multiple wins over Sussex, but it’ll be interesting to see how that form stands up as Bournemouth possibly around the levels of Olympians as things currently sit in the Britball landscape (my rookie opinion, of course). Still expect the impressive Solent to win the game, but upset of the week could come in this one. Solent currently 4-0 looking to maintain their undefeated year thus far.

There you have it, a fair amount of fixtures glossed over for you. I hope to be back on the podcast next week and have an interview or two lined up, for those that have read the blog for a number of weeks will know there should be one to come from the Warriors, still working on a date for that one. So if you are reading Warriors Instagram team, reply to my message! The other podcast lined up is with the South Lincs Lightning, giving a bit of airtime to one of the lesser known teams in the Britball world.

If you would do me the honour of subscribing to said YouTube channel, that would be fab and if you are a team that wants to come on and shout out, maybe Solent? Or Cambridgeshire? Or Notthingham? Please give me a nudge, would love to have any team on.

Predictions wise, the running totals are 87/110 on the season. I’m still in front in the 5 fixture competition too.

I’ll also be selecting another Photographer of the week so those behind the lens, I’m watching you too!

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you all next week. Psst – buy the NFL Season guide!!!


Week 9 Predictions

  • East Kent to Beat Sussex B
  • Cornwall to beat Jurassic Coast
  • Essex to beat East Essex
  • Solent to beat Bournemouth
  • Rushmoor to beat Sussex
  • Glasgow to beat Edinburgh
  • South Wales to beat Hereford
  • Humber to beat Knottignley
  • Birmingham to beat Worcestershire
  • Chester to beat Leigh
  • Hertfordshire to beat London
  • Doncaster to beat Leeds
  • Nottingham to beat Scunthorpe
  • Cambridgeshire to beat Norwich
  • Northants to beat Lincolnshire
  • Leicester to beat Sandwell
  • Colchester to beat Ipswich (still wincing)
  • Kent to beat the O’s
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Dynasty Stock Trend 08/06/21

Good day to everyone!

Logo here bringing another dynasty stock trend to see who is on the rise and who is on the fall going into the month of August. If you didn’t check out my last article regarding Best Ball, I would highly recommend it here. I go over tips tricks and a few of my late round sleepers I am targeting. Back in April I wrote an article on some dynasty buy lows and sell high which mentioned Laviska Shenault, James Robinson and Josh Reynolds (missed on that one with the Julio Jones signing). This was just a month before the 2021 NFL draft which I mentioned to sell Robinson and buy Shenault.


Trending up: Darnell Mooney

5 comparisons to Darnell Mooney rookie season with Chicago Bears
Quinn Harris / Getty

There was potential for Mooney to be the number 1 wide receiver on the team if Allen Robinson was leaving the Chicago Bears, however as for now Mooney is the perfect complement of Robinson and is trending up on dynasty players platform. Currently at wide receiver 52-55 in rankings, the 2nd year wide out will look to break into the top 30 in relative dynasty rankings with potential to be a top 24 wide out this season.

Last season Mooney saw 98 targets, which was ahead of Brandon Aiyuk, Chris Godwin, Laviska Shenault, and just 10 shy from Tee Higgins total. His average yard per catch was 10.34 and added 4 touchdowns on the year. Where can Mooney improve? Receptions over 20 yards, better quarterback play and touchdowns. Looking ahead to the first few weeks of the 2021 season, the Bears play: LA Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. Look for Mooney to get off to a hot start with Robinson getting the double coverage.

Obtaining Mooney in your dynasty league isn’t going to be difficult but will be challenging to find a player that is equal to his explosiveness and caliber. Any 2nd round rookie picks you can give up (2021 or 2022) would be a steal to get him. As far as player wise, trading someone like Antonio Brown or Jarvis Landry could be a great deal to get the 23 year old. 


Trending down: Adam Thielen

Will Adam Thielen return to form for the Vikings in 2020?
Hannah Foslien / Getty

Nobody wants to get caught holding the bag on the dynasty player who is in his 30’s came off one of his best wide receiver fantasy football finishes and has an up and coming rookie to take his presumed alpha role.

Last season Justin Jefferson was going undrafted in fantasy football redraft drafts because the assumption was Adam Thielen and nobody else. Whew, was the fantasy community wrong on leaving Justin Jefferson left for dead because he exploded and won a lot of people a fantasy championship last season (myself included). Why was Thielen’s WR 7 finish an outlier season?

Touchdowns.

In 2020 he scored 14 touchdowns with 925 yards. I mentioned above he tied for his best WR finish at 7, which was also in 2018. What was the difference? 2018 he had 1373 yards and just 9 touchdowns, on oh yeah 153 targets. That is as many targets he got in 2019 and 2020 combined.

The Vikings defense was a total nightmare last year causing Captain Kirk Cousins to lead the ship throwing the ball on average 30 times a game. Moving on from the veteran might feel like your getting out too early, however Jefferson has made it known he is able to play in the NFL. Some still believe he has another 2 strong years left however with an aging QB in Cousins, the presumed number 2 wide receiver on the team (possibly 3rd target with Dalvin Cook in the mix), it might be difficult for Thielen to get back to a top 12 WR again.

I would try to capitalize on his 2020 season and move him for Chase Edmonds, Darnell Mooney (as referenced above), or a QB move of Dak Prescott could be in the cards for the right manager. 


Dynasty Wild Card (Deep Sleeper):  Javian Hawkins

2021 NFL Draft: Do not sleep on Louisville RB Javian Hawkins
Andy Lyons / Getty

2021 NFl rookie Javian Hawkins has some work to do to make it on the field this season. This is a hold and see approach as Hawkins enters his NFL rookie 2021 season.

Hawkins is a nice change of pace role compared to the bruisers they have ahead of him Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison and Cordarrelle Patterson. He compliments the former Atlanta Falcon Ito Smith, which last season had 63 rushing attempts and 26 receiving targets to go with his smaller NFL stature. With Matt Ryan’s contract causing him to be a Falcon longer than the team may want him too and a 28 year old starting running back ahead of him (he is older than Todd Gurley and look at the fantasy decline he has had), the 2022 season could be totally different for the Falcons.

To snag him away from the majority of the dynasty owners who have heard the potential will be challenging for any player for player trade, however should someone be willing to accept a 3rd round pick for an opportunity like this could be beneficial compared to Rhamondre Stevenson (RB for the Patriots who has a LONG way to go to as his RB coach stated).

Go out and do a price check on him, and if your roster construction allows you to move the 3rd round rookie pick for him, it could pay off next year. 

I’d recommend using Sleeper for any dynasty formats. Find friends to get involved with as you are surprised where some people will draft players and you can get a good feel for the lay of the land.

As always thanks for reading and let’s connect on Twitter @loganbrown0805 

-Cheers Logo-

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Could ANY team win their 1st Super Bowl in 2020?

by Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Since the Eagles broke their duck in February 2018, we’ve been left with 12 NFL franchises that have never won the Super Bowl. They include the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills, both of whom have appeared four times without tasting victory, and the Cincinnati Bengals, whose most recent appearance came more than three decades ago.

Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY Sports

Of those dozen, the Browns, Lions, Jaguars and Texans haven’t even reached the season finale. As the league’s newest expansion teams, Jacksonville and Houston have only been around since 1995 and 2002 respectively, but long-suffering Cleveland and Detroit fans surely deserve a medal by now. 

Not a power ranking as such, this is a take on how (im)probable it is for any franchise to win their first-ever title at Super Bowl LV in Tampa come February 2021. I think we need to say from the outset that none of these teams are likely to do so. However, the addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference this season at least gives them all a greater shot at the biggest prize.

So let’s dust off the crystal ball and start the countdown in reverse order, from least likely to the best shot…


NO CHANCE


12. Jacksonville Jaguars

Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We shouldn’t really be talking about a debut Super Bowl appearance here. With ESPN’s Football Power Index making Jacksonville the most likely team (23% chance) to pick first in the 2021 draft, a better question might be “will Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence be a Jag next year?”

The team’s immediate fortunes rest on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II. Minshew outplayed the now-departed Nick Foles, going 6-6 in his first season, and has new pass-catching options in TE Tyler Eifert and rookie receiver Laviska Shenault. If only Leonard Fournette can start finding the end zone again – he only logged three TDs in 2019 – and the offensive line can lend a hand…

On defence, there’s been a bit of a fire sale, with AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell following Jalen Ramsey through the door marked ‘exit’, but franchise-tagging DE Yannick Ngakoue and grabbing linebacker Joe Schobert from the Browns suggests there’s no #TankforTrevor at play here. Nonetheless, both first round draft picks – cornerback CJ Henderson and linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson – will need to find their feet quickly or HC Doug Marrone will be out on his ear.

At least the Jags’ schedule is on the easy side, with the Dolphins, Bengals, Lions and Chargers as the first four out-of-division opponents. Be that as it may, they may struggle to match last year’s 6-10, let alone reach their first-ever Super Bowl. They’re not bottom of every pundit’s power rankings for nothing, you know.

11. Carolina Panthers


Getty Images

Can Carolina push on from last year’s 5-11 under new HC Matt Rhule? When you have Christian McCaffery, only the third player ever to rush and catch for 1,000 yards in a season, all is not lost. But let’s not get carried away…

With Luke Kuechly now enjoying a well-earned retirement, the defence could be a worry. The organisation must have felt the same as they cashed in all seven draft picks on defensive players, boosting the front seven with DT Derrick Brown and DE Yetur Gross-Matos, and adding Jeremy Chinn and Kenny Robinson to the secondary.

These guys are gonna be busy though; 10 of their games will be against divisional rivals Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, as well as Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. Eeek! The Panthers’ attack is going to have to go some to outscore some of these teams.

The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice before without bringing home the bacon, most recently in 2016 when they lost 24-10 to the Broncos. Despite their shiny new QB Teddy Bridgewater and the ever-present CMC, we can be fairly sure they won’t be heading back to the big time quite yet.

10. Cincinnati Bengals


Paul Childs / Action Images via Reuters

A 2-14 team winning the Super Bowl the following year? It’s a very long shot but in theory, the extra playoff spots mean Cincy can continue to prop up the AFC North and still reach the postseason.

By all accounts, Joe Burrow is acing all the Zoom meetings but without physical reps, it’ll take time for the #1 overall draft choice to gel with his new receiving corps. Despite his 60-touchdown season at LSU, even the future face of the franchise won’t turn the Bengals into world-beaters overnight.

That said, the only way is up for Cincinnati. There were season-long injuries to AJ Green and rookie left tackle Jonah Williams in 2019, while extended time out for John Ross and Cordy Glenn left them relying on fourth or fifth choices at times. Then there was the short-lived ‘Ryan Finley Experiment’, which sounds like a modern jazz combo but was even more painful…

To improve on defence (equal last in the league for yards allowed per play), they dabbled in free agency for a change. Acquiring Houston defensive tackle DJ Reader was a massive coup, safety Von Bell and linebacker Josh Bynes were unexpected arrivals from the Saints and Ravens respectively, and the two Vikings corners – Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander – should move that needle too.

If AJ Green stays fit, if Burrow meets expectations, if Joe Mixon has another 1,000-yard year and if the O-line isn’t as leaky (that’s a lot of ifs), Cincy could be half-decent. Statistically, they have the second-easiest schedule of our dozen, with the Redskins, Jaguars, Giants, Chargers and Dolphins in the mix. But given the strengths of their divisional rivals, the long odds aren’t going to shorten. The league’s longest wait since their last Super Bowl, a last-minute loss to the 49ers in 1989, will go on.


SLIM CHANCE


9. Detroit Lions


Tim Fuller / USA TODAY Sports

I’m hardly sticking my neck out by saying the Lions won’t be making their Super Bowl debut this season but I expect them to fare a lot better than 3-12-1 this time.

Losing Matt Stafford to a back injury mid-season was a serious setback when he was on pace for a 5,000-yard season. His stand-ins, Jeff Driskel and David Blough, just didn’t cut the mustard, and the Lions lost their last eight straight. Grabbing Chase Daniel in the offseason at least gives them a bit more QB insurance, their receivers could have a decent year and second round pick D’Andre Swift should dovetail nicely with Kerryon Johnson in the RB room.

If Stafford is back to his best, the Lions should score enough points so their fortunes in 2020 will fly or fall with their defence – one of the worst last year. Still, their consolation prize was #3 draft pick Jeff Okudah, the Ohio State CB. Two former Patriots, DT Danny Shelton and linebacker Jamie Collins, could prove useful additions, along with Reggie Ragland and Desmond Trufant, but with Darius Slay departing to Philly, the holes aren’t quite plugged yet.

The Lions are a couple of seasons away from having serious Super Bowl credentials so for now, Matt Patricia needs to improve on his 9-22-1 record. The schedulers haven’t been kind, giving Detroit the equal toughest schedule of our gang. With only two home games in the first seven weeks, hitting their stride from the get-go again seems unlikely.

If the D improves, Stafford stays healthy and they get the rub of the green for a change, the Lions could yet win a playoff game for the first time since 2009. After finishing bottom of the division for the last two years, that would be a massive step forward. It’s a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.

8. Los Angeles Chargers


Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images

Doubts over a first return to the end game since 1995, when the Chargers lost their only SB to the Niners, are at least partly due to the question marks hanging over the QB position. With Philip Rivers in pastures new, journeyman Tyrod Taylor is the expected starter after three solid-but-not-spectacular years in Buffalo. The front office clearly concurs, or else Justin Herbert wouldn’t have been the sixth overall draft pick. The Oregon product should challenge Taylor and help the Chargers improve from last year’s disappointing 5-11.

Over the offseason, franchise-tagging TE Hunter Henry and resigning running back Austin Ekeler were solid moves, and the Bolts replaced DT Russell Okung with the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga. The other big additions were cornerback Chris Harris from Denver and linebacker Kenneth Murray, a Day 2 draft pick.

The Chargers’ schedule could see Taylor face his old Bills, while road trips to the Saints and Buccaneers should bring him (or Herbert) up against two league legends. It may take a while to bed into the SoFi Stadium so match-ups against the Panthers, Jets and Jaguars could be crucial in building some early atmosphere in their new home. In short, there are just too many things stacked against the Bolts to make a genuine charge at this year’s Super Bowl.

7. Arizona Cardinals


Christian Petersen / Getty Images North America

If we’re looking for a sleeper to give the 49ers a run for their money in the NFC West, let alone make a third trip to the Super Bowl after unsuccessful excursions in 2009 and 2017, could that be Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona?

The Cardinals reside in a competitive division, which always makes their schedule tough. This year, they’ll also have Dallas, Buffalo, New England and Philadelphia on their plate although, with the Redskins (or whatever they’re called by then), Lions, Panthers and Jets all front-loaded in the calendar, they could build some early momentum before things get tough. 

Things are definitely blooming in the desert, starting with the downright theft of All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins from Houston. He’ll help Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald to elevate Kyler Murray’s game as the QB enters year 2. OT Josh Jones was great third-round value in the draft and Kenyan Drake should continue where he left off, notching three 100-yard rushing games in his eight weeks at Arizona.

But can the D keep their end of the bargain? The additions of Bills DT Jordan Phillips and versatile first round pick, LB Isaiah Simmons, should raise the bar (2019: 28th in points allowed, 32nd in yards allowed), while another linebacker, Detroit’s Devon Kennard, boosts the pass rush.

After finishing 5-10-1 last year, there are bluer skies ahead for the Cardinals. However, unless there’s a massive plot twist, it won’t be the blue skies of Tampa in February.


OUTSIDE CHANCE


6. Houston Texans


Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Established in 2002, the Texans are the babies of our group and have yet to reach the final showdown in their short history. It’s a reach to suggest they’ll be contesting Super Bowl LV as 2020, clearly a stinker for all of us, has been especially horrible for the Texans.

The ‘fun’ started with the AFC Divisional Game, in which they threw away a more-than-promising 24-point lead against the Chiefs, getting outscored 51-7 in the last 40 minutes. And it’s not been great since, swapping top receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for, well, not a lot (sorry, David Johnson fans). ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave the Texans an ‘F’ and he wasn’t alone in slating the trade.

The Texans did acquire a pair of experienced receivers in Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb to give Deshaun Watson options beyond Will Fuller, but if they are going to make the playoffs and beyond, their 28th-ranked defence (slumping from 12th the year before) needs to step up. Will JJ Watt, who’s missed exactly half of the last 64 games with injuries, bounce back to the Defensive Player of the Year version of himself? Can rookie Ross Blacklock hope to replace defensive tackle DJ Reader?

Houston’s schedule is one of the hardest of our SB-deprived teams; their first six fixtures include the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings and Packers, making a 1-5 start perfectly feasible. And with plenty of AFC teams likely to do well, emerging among the conference’s top seven isn’t a given by any means for the Texans.

5. Atlanta Falcons


Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

By the midway point of last season, the 1-7 Falcons were clearly not destined to go back for their third Super Bowl appearance. Then, inexplicably, Dan Quinn’s team hit their stride and won six of their final eight games to finish 7-9.

Having started 4-9 the year before (also ending 7-9 after a late rally), it’s clear that the Falcons don’t fly out of the traps but finish well. Opening with the Seahawks, Cowboys, Bears and Packers doesn’t sound conducive to a solid start in 2020 and another rip-snorting finish might be beyond them this time: five of their last seven games are against the Saints (twice), Buccs  (twice) and Chiefs.

With Matt Ryan under centre, Julio Jones (six straight seasons of 1,300+ yards) and Calvin Ridley in the wideout group, Baltimore’s Hayden Hurst plugging an Austin-Hooper-shaped hole at tight end and RB Todd Gurley joining from the Rams, 2020 could be quite something offensively (if Gurley’s gammy knee holds out). On the other side of the ball, Vic Beasley has moved on and they need more than 28 sacks so can new signings Dante Fowler Jr. and Takkarist McKinley get to Messrs Brees, Brady, Bridgewater and Mahomes?

With the personnel in place, Quinn is under pressure to take the Falcons into the postseason. However, they’d need to replicate their form from the latter half of recent campaigns for a whole season and I can’t help but feel their schedule is against them.

4. Cleveland Browns


Joe Robbins / Getty Images

In 2019, many saw the Browns as a legitimate contender for their first-ever Super Bowl or at least worthy of a side bet. On paper, the names looked good: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett. But in Freddie Kitchens, they had a first-time Head Coach who proved to be hopelessly out of his depth.

He had the ‘anti-Midas touch’: everything he touched went wrong. Baker Mayfield regressed. OBJ disappointed. Garrett went rogue. The O-line was feeble. Despite the hype, the Browns stumbled to 6-10 and stretched the league’s longest playoff drought to 18 years.

Under new HC Kevin Stefanski (their 12th since 2000), the arrow is pointing north. They signed Jack Conklin and drafted Jedrick Wills to help Mayfield to flourish, and both Landry and Beckham Jr. should be over their injury niggles. Chubb and Kareem Hunt are as good as any RB tandem in the league, and free-agency acquisition Austin Hooper is a solid tight end option. Now, if Mr Garrett can just keep his cool…

To that point, Stefanski has inherited a team loaded with potential but he needs to instil more discipline than Kitchens could muster. If he does, I can see the Browns tucking in behind the Ravens and Steelers, and riding the wave into the postseason as the AFC’s seventh seed.

The statisticians say theirs is the easiest schedule of our Super Bowl-challenged group, and with Washington, Jacksonsville, both New York teams and the Bengals (twice) on the list, it’s hard to disagree. Then, once in the playoffs at long last, it’s all up for grabs.


BEST CHANCE


3. Minnesota Vikings


Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

The Vikings have four Super Bowl appearances under their belt – most recently in 1997 – but no victories. Having reached a Divisional Game last time around, the NFC North outfit currently have the shortest odds among our unlucky 12 to return to the big finale.

Offensively, there’s much to like, even though they shipped star receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills. They used part of their haul of draft picks on Day 1 to pick Justin Jefferson; factor in that Diggs was disgruntled with his situation and it’s probably the best outcome for all parties. Dalvin Cook will shine again, as long as he doesn’t sit out the season.

The Vikes’ defence is more of a worry. They gutted the secondary during the off-season, letting three corners – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander – walk, and will be relying on rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler to plug the gaps. Those defensive concerns, plus the third-toughest schedule of our 12 – only the Lions, Panthers and Jaguars can contemplate sub-.500 seasons – and I see the Vikes being the least likely of our top tier to lift the Lombardi trophy for the first time.

2. Buffalo Bills


Ron Schwane

The Bills’ four Super Bowls came in consecutive years in the early 1990s but they lost the lot, and have won just one playoff game since. Now, HC Sean McDermott is looking for his third post-season in four years with the rejuvenated Bills looking like legit contenders for the AFC East title.

For the first time in ages, it’s a coin flip between them and the TB12-free Patriots, though neither has an easy ride fixture-wise. Buffalo has one of the toughest schedules among our bevvy of SB bridesmaids, with the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers all lying in wait. The nearest the Bills get to a gimme are their four divisional games against the Jets and Dolphins.

Putting last season’s OT Wild Card loss to the Texans firmly in the rear view mirror, the Bills have much to look forward to. As well as one of the best defences in the league, Stefon Diggs’ arrival from Minnesota should be a boost to their 23rd-ranked offence. He’d better be though: the Bills handed over a bucket-load of draft spots to get him. Averaging 1,000 yards and eight TDs a year, he also has a reputation for down-the-field catches, which should suit Josh Allen nicely. Pairing running back Zack Moss with Devin Singletary could create the best RB duo in the division, even without the ageless Frank Gore in their ranks any more.

So in summary, all is set fair for Buffalo. Don’t be surprised if they edge some of their tougher contests, win their division and go on from there.

1. Tennessee Titans


Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports

Of our teams that have never won a Super Bowl, Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee seem the best bet at putting that right in 2020.

Making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, the Titans exceeded most people’s expectations last year. The decision to replace ineffective QB Marcus Mariota with the Comeback Kid himself, Ryan Tannehill, rescued the team’s season. In their unforeseen push for glory, Tennessee won seven of their last 10 games, and beat the first and third seeds on the road in the process.

So how likely are the Titans to go one better than their only appearance in 2000, when they lost Super Bowl XXXIV to the St Louis Rams? (That was the last time it featured two teams that had never won the title before.) Well, probably more likely than any other team on this list.

With Derrick Henry, who ran the ball 386 times in 2019, on a franchise tag, they can still dominate with their running game. Jack Conklin will be a miss on the O-line, but Isaiah Wilson looks a solid first-round draft pick. Defensively, trading perennial Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey to the Broncos means Jeffery Simmons needs to step up a notch in year 2, while Vic Beasley joining from Atlanta should beef up the pass rush.

With an easier than average schedule, with only the Ravens as a genuine favourite on the fixture list, the Titans seem well-placed to beat Indianapolis and Houston to the AFC South title. Just a win or two more than usual (they’ve finished 9-7 for the last four years) would hold them in good stead going into the playoffs and who knows how far beyond.

How did I do? Do you agree? Let us know @Full10Yards if you’d rank anyone higher than the Titans or want to big up the Jags’ chances

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Intriguing contract-year conundrums

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

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

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

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


Cincinnati Bengals: Can AJ rediscover the old magic?

John Grieshop/Getty Images
Status: Franchise tagged

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

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

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


New Orleans Saints: Is Jameis the heir apparent?

Status: One-year deal

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chicago Bears: Do they trust Trubisky?

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

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

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

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


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

The Associated Press
Status: Final year of existing deal

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

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

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


Tennessee Titans: Will Derrick Henry get paid?

Status: Franchise tagged

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

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

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


Pittsburgh Steelers: Has JuJu lost his mojo?

Getty Images
Status: Fifth-year option declined

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

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

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

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


Jacksonville Jaguars: Is Fournette a bust?

Status: Fifth-year option declined

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

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

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


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

Action Images via Reuters
Status: Fifth-year option declined

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

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

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

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


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

Status: One-year deal

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

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

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

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

Banner image credit: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

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Flying the flag: The British NFL players in 2020

by Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

It’s probably not that surprising that British athletes carving out a solid career in the NFL have been few and far between. Obviously, there have been a few: London-born running back Jay Ajayi played for the Dolphins before winning Super Bowl LII with the Eagles, while Osi Umenyiora, now a pundit on The NFL Show, is another Londoner with a ring, thanks to the Giants’ surprise win over the Patriots a decade earlier. Before him, Hertfordshire’s finest, Mick Luckhurst, played his entire career as a kicker with the Falcons before becoming the face of Channel 4’s NFL coverage in the Eighties.

But what about now? Who are the guys born or bred on this side of the pond that we should be rooting for in 2020? Here’s the low-down…


THE EIGHT-YEAR PRO

Jack Crawford – Defensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans

Kara Durrette / Atlanta Falcons

You gotta love Jack. Raised in Kilburn, the early claim for this 6’5”, 20-stone bald guy (due to alopecia) was being at school with Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. He then moved to the States as a teenager with dreams of becoming an NBA star but due to international transfer rules, that didn’t pan out. Undaunted, he took up football in high school and after four years at Penn State, was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Not a bad plan B…

Crawford featured as a backup in his rookie season and appeared in 15 games the following year before being waived. He then enjoyed three-year spells with the Cowboys (you may have seen him at Wembley against the Jaguars in 2015) and the Falcons. Arguably not a starting-calibre lineman, Crawford, who has played at both defensive end and defensive tackle, has registered 136 tackles and 16 sacks to date.

A couple of months ago, Crawford signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. It’s hard to say how it’ll pan out for Jack as he enters his ninth year in the league, but he’s certainly able to fill in should Mike Vrabel need him to. With Austin Johnson signing with the Giants and five-time Pro-Bowler Jurrell Casey packing himself off to Denver during the off-season, there may even be a decent chance we might see him as a starting DT in 2020…


THE WORK IN PROGRESS

Jermaine Eluemunor – Offensive Guard, New England Patriots

Ron Schwane  / AP Photo

Now 25, Eluemunor was born in Chalk Farm, London, to a Nigerian/English family and grew up in Camden. He played rugby and cricket as a youngster – preferring the former – but got into football because of the other football, and in particular, his beloved Arsenal (check out @TheMainShow_ on Twitter).

The story goes that in 2007, he was skipping through the channels looking for the Arsenal match when he stumbled on the NFL International Series game between the Giants and Dolphins at Wembley. His interest piqued, he started down a path that would lead him to play high school football in New Jersey before attending Texas A&M. He and his father briefly came back to England but Eluemunor was allowed to return Stateside, as long as he graduated and put everything into pursuing a career in football.

On the eve of the 2017 Draft, in which he was picked by the Ravens in the fifth round, Jermaine told The Independent Wherever I get picked, I’m gonna work as hard as I’ve ever worked to make this happen and my dream come true. This is just the start.”

And that he did. Eluemunor made the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) All-Rookie Team in his first year, and played 27 regular-season games and one postseason contest in Baltimore before being traded to the Patriots. The 335-pound offensive lineman played 10 times in New England last year and has been retained for the 2020 campaign. Sitting behind left guard Joe Thuney in the depth charts, he isn’t a starter but provides depth in the middle of the line and we should see him get a decent number of snaps this season.


THE INTERNATIONAL PATHWAY PROSPECT

Efe Obada Defensive End, Carolina Panthers

Rex Features

Obada had a tough start in life. Born in Nigeria before moving to the Netherlands, Obada and his sister got moved to London, where they slept rough and ended up in foster care. He fell into football when he saw how a college friend transformed himself playing for the London Warriors.

Looking for some cameraderie, Obada joined him and was taken under the wing of Aden Durde, who told his Dallas Cowboys contacts about Efe. Obada had only played five games for the Warriors when he was offered the chance to work out for Dallas, ahead of their Wembley game against the Jaguars. Despite his lack of experience, Efe was signed as an undrafted free agent a year later. It didn’t work out, nor did it with the Chiefs and Falcons, so his last hope was the NFL’s inaugural International Player Pathway Program, which placed him with the Panthers’ practice squad.

The following year, Obada become the first player from the program to make a 53-man roster, and played his first regular season game in Week 3 against the Bengals, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Last October, Obada posted a career-best 24 tackles and played in all 16 of Carolina’s games, including the Buccaneers game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Obada was named an honorary team captain for the 37-26 victory that day, a fitting tribute in front of a ‘home’ London crowd.

Having signed a one-year contract extension in January 2020, Obada is heading into his third season with the Panthers. He’s shown promise so far but has yet to start in any of his 26 appearances to date and hasn’t recorded any sacks. By his own admission, he hasn’t established himself yet and, with a new HC Matt Rhule – let alone 2020 NFL Draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos jumping the queue at DE – he has his work cut out this season. It could be the most important of Obada’s career; he’s set to enter free agency in 2021 so let’s hope he can do enough to earn a longer contract.


THE FIRST-YEAR SUCCESS STORY

Jamie Gillan – Punter, Cleveland Browns

Getty Images

Growing up in Inverness, Scotland, Jamie’s all-consuming passion for rugby took him to Merchiston Castle, a boarding school in Edinburgh with a reputation for fast-tracking players into the Scottish national squad. As a promising fly-half, he developed a talent for kicking – one that would eventually stand him in good stead.

When his RAF dad was posted to Maryland, the Gillan family, including a 16-year-old Jamie, moved too. He had never watched football and initially, had no intention of playing it, but he asked to join the high school team, purely to keep fit during the rugby off-season. With a few tweaks to his technique, Gillan soon became an accomplished kicker and offers began to trickle in.

“All my mates were telling me you could get scholarships for kicking a ball and I didn’t believe them at first,” he told the BBC sport website last year, “but I thought I’d give it a try after I saw the guy missing field goals.”

Well, the punt – if you’ll excuse the pun – was worth it. A year ago, the undrafted rookie was brought in by the Cleveland Browns as a back-up to Britton Colquitt. And whaddya know, after some impressive pre-season turnouts – including a 74-yard punt and some robust, rugby-style tackles on punt returners – he took the starting job from the 10-year veteran.

Known as “The Scottish Hammer” for his solid physique, the long-haired Scotsman soon got the fans and the pundits onside. Gillan was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September, and his debut campaign – 63 punts for 2913 yards, including a 71-yard season’s best – earned him a place on the PFWA All-Rookie team.

As he enters his second season, the sky’s the limit for Jamie. He’s been working out and bulking up even more so he should be raring to go by the time the new season starts.


THE INJURED VETERAN

Graham Gano – Kicker, Carolina Panthers

Irish Mirror

I have to hold my hand up to this one: before researching this article, I had no idea that Gano was born in Arbroath, Scotland. But his dad, a US Navy man, was stationed there when Graham was born.

Apparently, young Graham was a decent goalkeeper, and supported Bayern Munich and Scotland. Prior to attending high school in Florida, he was approached by a scout at the end of a summer tournament in which he’d excelled but he rejected the chance to move back to the UK… and join a little outfit called Manchester United.

Gano broke all sorts of Florida State records in his senior year, prompting a pick-up as an undrafted free agent in 2009 by the Ravens (they do like a Brit!). Alas, he was soon released and flirted with the inaugural United Football League, scoring the Las Vegas Locomotives’ championship-winning kick and leading the league in scoring and field goals.

Finally breaking into the NFL in 2009, Gano experienced an up-and-down three years at the Washington Redskins, where he earned a reputation for nailing game-winning field goals in overtime, yet had to compete for his job more than once.

Since 2012, Graham has been a Panther. In his time, he hit the upright in Super Bowl L in the loss to the Broncos, and was named to a Pro Bowl in 2017, having made 96.7% of his FG attempts that year. Having sealed yet another OT win, against the Giants, in early October 2018 with a career-best 63-yard kick, he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury and missed the entire 2019 campaign, prompting the 32-year-old to have surgery.

Speaking to Panthers.com last August, he said “Whatever my future holds, I’m excited about it. I’m always going to keep a positive attitude, no matter what’s going on.” Gano’s a decent kicker – he only missed three FG attempts during 2017 and 2018 – so if he can battle back and compete for his old job again, there’s a chance he’ll be a rock-solid leg again in 2020.


THE PRACTICE SQUAD HOPEFUL

Christian Wade – Running Back, Buffalo Bills

Adrian Kraus / AP Photo

Christian Wade is currently on the Buffalo Bills practice squad, with hopes of another year of development ahead of him, but he’s already had an impressive career in rugby.

The lad from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, played for Wasps since his school days and went on to score 82 tries for them, which puts him fourth on the Premiership’s all-time list. He also represented England at all levels (alas, only the one national appearance though), and was also called up to the British and Irish Lions squad.

Frustrated with the lack of England opportunities, he decided to switch codes, clubs and countries and try out as an NFL running back, despite having zero experience. He came through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, and spent last season in upstate New York on the Bills’ practice squad. Almost immediately, he made headlines, with a 65-yard TD run with his first-ever touch in a preseason game against the Colts, and a 48-yard run with his first catch.

Despite his undoubted speed and athletic ability, Wade failed to make the active roster last year and is yet to appear in a regular-season game. But he’s undaunted, telling The Telegraph “It has been a success to come across, learn the game, participate in practice at full speed and to play in preseason. I just want to keep improving. I’m going to give it the same energy as I did this year and see where that gets me.”


THE 2020 ROOKIE

Julian Okwara Defensive End, Detroit Lions

Mike Miller / One Foot Down

Okwara was born in London, when his mother was visiting family, but grew up near Lagos in Nigeria. He moved to North Carolina aged eight and eventually took up football, following his older brother Romeo through Ardrey Kell High School and Notre Dame on his way to the NFL. Romeo (also a defensive end) signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and was claimed off waivers by the Lions in 2018.

Julian was a standout at Notre Dame, making 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over his last two seasons. And now, he finally catches up with Romeo, having been selected by Detroit in the third round of the 2020 Draft. According to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, Okwara could prove to be the steal of this year’s class, after a broken leg toward the end of last season impacted his Combine and quelled any first-round chatter.

Helping to address one of the Lions’ biggest weaknesses last year, their pass rush (tied for second-last with just 28 sacks), Okwara – also considered an outside linebacker – may end up competing with Trey Flowers and Austin Bryant, as well as his big brother, for starting snaps.

Matt Patricia is getting a versatile player who can drop back into coverage or rush the passer. On signing with the Lions, he told Detroit Free Press reporters “They’re getting a pass rusher, great defensive end, someone who wreaks havoc in the backfield.”  So look out for Okwara to come out from his brother’s shadow and make a name for himself in the NFC North next season.


THE FREE AGENT

Josh Mauro – Defensive End (No current team)

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Mauro began his journey to the NFL in that hotbed of American football, St Albans, but started to play football at Stanford after he moved to the US.

The lad impressed the Steelers enough for them to sign him up as an undrafted free agent but he was released, kickstarting a tour of the league in subsequent seasons that took in the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants (where he got caught up in some controversy over the use of a banned substance) and, finally, Los Angeles. With his one-year deal with the Raiders now at an end, the 6’6”, 290-pound run stuffer is currently looking for his next landing spot.

He’s made 30 starts in five seasons but now aged 28, the clock is ticking and I’m not sure we’ll see him take the field in the season ahead. Fingers crossed.

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Comeback Players in 2020

By Kieran Patterson (@DCCYTFootball)

Ben Roethlisberger – QB, Pittsburgh Steelers


After missing almost the whole 2019 season due to injury Ben Roethlisberger is poised for a big comeback.

Don't Give Up On Ben Roethlisberger Just Yet | FiveThirtyEight
Joe Sargent / Getty

While I’m not a fan of this man, he’s undeniably a great player and given the problems the Steelers had with their quarterback situation last year, I’m sure most Steelers fans want to see him back. Even though Duck Hodges is undeniably one of the best personalities in the sport, his play isn’t quite up to scratch.

I’m a betting man so my money is on Big Ben winning the comeback player of the year with the weapons around him.


Todd Gurley – RB, Atlanta Falcons


Atlanta Falcons landed the former first round running back, giving him a one year deal worth $5.5 Million.

Now this is more of a risky pick given Gurley’s history with injuries, but provided he can stay healthy, Gurley will want to prove what a mistake the Rams made by dropping him the way they did.

The Atlanta Falcons have a ton of weapons going into this season, so look for Gurley to be a big part of this offence and, health permitting, make a big comeback.


Baker Mayfield – QB, Cleveland Browns


Baker Mayfield was, to put it bluntly, a complete shambles last year. After a record-breaking rookie season Mayfield was poised to come in and bring the Browns their first winning season in years. He sadly flopped. You knew by midseason that hacks like Colin Cowherd were foaming at the mouth watching the Browns struggle to put it together come game time, despite their stacked roster.

Ravens defense 'holds' attention of Browns' Baker Mayfield ahead ...
Ben Margot / AP

The biggest reason for the Browns underperformance was having a first time head coach trying to manage a team full of talent and strong personalities. Oh, and instead of getting an extra piece for their offensive line, they just added OBJ and gave up a first round pick. Never change, Cleveland. Never change.

Mayfield has the talent to be a top tier quarterback in the league, and provided he gets the right attention in camp and stays away from filming so many endorsement deals, I see Mayfield being a serious contender for comeback player of the year in 2020.


Mathew Stafford – QB, Detroit Lions


Until his unfortunate injury last season, Matthew Stafford was looking like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He ranked 8th amongst quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grading from week 1 to week 9; no small feat.

Now factor in all the weapons this offence has. TJ Hockenson, Kenny Golliday, Danny Amendola and now D’Andre Swift (Top receiving running back in the draft) among others.

If Stafford can start the season strong, and even string together some decent wins for the Lions, there’s no reason we can’t see Stafford take this award home for a second time. Honestly, Stafford has a good a chance as any.


J.J. Watt – DE, Houston Texans


It’s a shame that a man like J.J. Watt has been so unlucky with injuries. One of the best defensive players in the league and, before Aaron Donald came along, probably the best pass rusher, it’s fitting that the only person that can slow down J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt.

Texans' J.J. Watt unsure of how much he will play vs. Chiefs
Bob Levey / Getty

Provided he can stay healthy next year as the Texans push for another run at the playoffs, he’s going to be a force. It would be really great to see the former Walter Peyton man of the year award winner add a comeback player of the year award to his collection.

At 31, Watt’s days in the NFL may soon come to a close, so a return to form would be a fitting conclusion to a storied career. Watch for J.J. to leave it all on the field this year if he can stay healthy.

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Fantasy: Dynasty Buys

By Andy Moore (@AJMoore21)

A few days ago you were treated to a fantastic Sells equivalent which you can check out here. Today we take a look at those you should be trying to acquire. Let us know your thoughts, let us know YOUR OPINION. Because that’s what it is all about! Let’s see who can get these guys the cheapest!


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The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.

Courtland Sutton – Denver Broncos


There’s a feel-good factor around Denver’s offense at the moment. After finishing the season 4-1 with Drew Lock under centre, John Elway has added Pat Shurmur to his coaching staff and signed Melvin Gordon, Graham Glasgow and Nick Vannett in free agency.

All this looks good for third year receiver Courtland Sutton. Coming off a 1,112 yard, 125 target, 72 reception season, the former SMU man has firmly established himself as the Broncos WR1.

The addition of Shurmur looks set to only help Sutton’s development, with his track record as an Offensive Co-ordinator unquestionably good for young QBs and the passing game. If Shurmur can recreate this in Denver, then look for more fireworks from Lock and Sutton as they look to navigate a difficult AFC West.

In your Dynasty League, the time to buy Sutton might not be now. There are plenty of rumours linking the Broncos to a high quality deep threat receiver in the draft, with CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs both regularly mocked their way. This shouldn’t harm Sutton’s production, in fact it should help minimise double coverage. Others may disagree, getting caught up with the inevitable post draft-fever, make your offer then!


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The Associated Press

Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles


Another young player that finished the season well, Miles Sanders was a game changer during the Eagles’ late drive to secure a play-off spot.

The 3rd round pick out of Penn State had an up and down start to 2019, with Jordan Howard forcing him out of the starting role for a string of games before going down injured in week 9. Sanders capitalised on this, increasing his playing time and yardage increase until he peaked against the Redskins in week 14.

Howard is now completely out of the picture, having joined the Dolphins, leaving Sanders in competition with Boston Scott as the Eagles’ presumptive week 1 starter. It’s a battle he should win, considering his potential as a dual threat back and the relative draft capital invested in both.


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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports 

Calvin Ridley – Atlanta Falcons


You’ve all seen the stat doing the rounds at the moment, the Atlanta Falcons have a starting offense built solely from first round picks. Calvin Ridley is amongst those, with the third year receiver currently occupying the WR2 designation behind Julio Jones.

Jones is contracted through 2024 and given the huge salary the Falcons have invested in him, it doesn’t look like he’ll be going anywhere soon. So why Ridley?

It’s all about consistency. In both his years in the league so far, Ridley has locked up 92 and 93 targets respectively, catching 64 of those in 2018 and 63 in 2019, those catches have gone for 821 and 866 yards, with 10 TDs in his rookie year, compared to 7 last year.

He’s the perfect flex player for your line ups, averaging above 10 points per game and providing the perfect complement to Julio it Atlanta’s offense. With such a stacked WR class this year, chances are he’s available relatively cheap in your league, and with Julio entering a period in which some players decline, Ridley could be set to ease in the other direction.


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Joe Camporeale

TJ Hockenson – Detroit Lions


After week one of the 2019 season, Hockenson was cleared off waiver wires everywhere. The first rounder caught six passes from Matthew Stafford, going for 131 yards and a TD. Huge numbers for a rookie Tight End.

From there, things went downhill, with Hockenson only adding another 230 yards across the whole season. When you look at the cards dealt to the Iowa product, it’s not hard to see why his form trailed off, when Stafford went down injured, a combination of Jeff Driskel and David Blough stepped into uninspiringly fill the void and the Lions only managed one win after week three.

So, why trade for him now? Everyone knows that rookie Tight Ends are to be avoided in fantasy, so that shouldn’t put you off when looking at Hockenson’s rookie production. Instead look at the upside, this year’s TE class is poor, he was a top 10 NFL pick for obvious reasons last year, and when fit, his QB is one of the most reliable in the game. Pick him up cheap where you can, and watch him develop into one of the league’s elite TE options.


Marcus Mariota – Las Vegas Raiders

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports 

Marcus Mariota – Las Vegas Raiders


This time last year I picked up Ryan Tannehill in 3 leagues, I didn’t get a complete bargain in all cases, but he was cheap for a QB in superflex leagues. The things I liked about Tannehill were, his work ethic, his commitment to his team, his experience as a starter and the precarious nature of the QB he was backing up.

Fast forward 12 months and the irony is there for all to see that we could say the exact same of that QB, Marcus Mariota. The new Raiders QB has always been the model of professionalism, he’s got a ton of starts (including playoff games) under his belt and he’s backing up Derek Carr, who just doesn’t seem to fit the Jon Gruden school of thought.

So, I’m picking up Mariota where I can this year, half the league had him down as QB1 in the 2015 draft class, and in places he has flashed exactly why they believed that. With a bit of encouragement and the freedom to use his legs, Mariota can certainly be a starter in the NFL, if Carr slips you can bet Mariota will be straight in. Buy low, and buy now!

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Season In Review – Atlanta Falcons

By Dave Moore (@davieremixed)

Next up in our series is the Atlanta Falcons. I could have scheduled this for the 28th March but you know, too far to wait.


Entering The Season


It’s a strange and difficult time to be a fan of the Dirty Birds, after that turnaround in The Big Game, they managed to get back to the playoffs the following year only to be defeated in the Divisional Round by the Eagles. They seemed primed to make a run at The Big Game once again in the 2018 season only to be utterly wrecked by injuries.

The goal for this season? Get healthy, stay healthy, knock the Saints off the top of the NFC South and make the most of a favourable schedule against the unreliable AFC South and the Bizarro World that is the NFC West.


During The Season


The season did not exactly get off to a positive start with a 28-12 spanking on the road in Minnesota, the Falcons not scoring any points until there were nine minutes of the game remaining. No big deal, a get right 24-20 victory over the Eagles despite blowing a two-score lead with a three game stretch against the AFC South coming up? Could establish a spot in the wildcard spots at this rate, right?

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

TheAthletic.com

At stages against the Colts and Titans the Falcons were down 20-3 and 24-7 respectively. To compound this issue, they were blown out 53-32 by the Texans in Week 5. The return to NRG Stadium only inflamed the bad memories.

By the time the Week 9 bye rolled around, another three-game divisional stretch – this time against the NFC West – came and went the same way as the AFC South trio. Ugly, ugly defeats. A missed field goal as time expired on the road at the Cardinals, a 27-point defeat against the Rams and a loss to Seattle meant that Atlanta’s season was over before Halloween. Nevermind a spooky season, this was downright horrifying from Dan Quinn’s team.

There were more than a few whispers that Arthur Blank was going to take action against Quinn before the season was out, what a staggering fall from grace just a couple of years removed from Super Bowl LI and here was the Head Coach, 1-7 and without any apparent idea of how to stop the bleeding (31.25 PPG given up through the first eight weeks!).

Atlantafalcons.com

Meanwhile, the offensive line was just a whole heap of garbage, first round pick (31st overall) Kaleb McGary had a terrible year and it showed in not only Atlanta’s season overall with 50 sacks allowed, the fifth most in the entire league, but also in the run game which struggled so badly that not one Atlanta running back posted a triple digit game all year. How can a bad defense stay off the field when the offense can’t do anything other than pass? An impossible situation.

Spare a thought at this point for Julio Jones and Matty Ice. Two elite players who did their best whilst everything else was going to hell around them. Even Calvin Ridley chipped in as a solid WR2 and Austin Hooper was a good redzone threat. That isn’t enough, however. The season was basically over by November. What to aim for in the second half? A perfect 2nd half seals a 9-7 record that might be enough for the playoffs but with such a loaded NFC that’s a tall order.

The last thing Atlanta needed coming off the bye week then was a trip to the Superdome to face the 7-1 Saints who were on the verge of running away with the division. This could be the game that finally forced Blank’s hand to show Quinn the door.

Atlanta 26-9 New Orleans. What. The. Heck?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A transformed Falcons D smothered a Saints team that had scored 30+ points in five out of their first eight games. The Falcons line broke through and sacked Drew Brees six times and held the Saints to a paltry three field goals. Even Brian Hill (who?!) got in on the action with 71 scrimmage yards and a score. Was this the turning point of the season? A chance to put something together for pride, for their HC who was on the brink not long after being on the brink of winning it all?

Well they went one better against the Panthers, blowing them out 29-3, keeping them scoreless for 47 minutes. They couldn’t go on a run could they? An all-time second half of the season to sneak into the 6 seed?

Nope.

Consecutive home losses to the Bucs and the Saints saw to that, although let’s take a moment to talk about the wild end to the Thanksgiving matchup against New Orleans where the Falcons recovered THREE onside kicks in a row (the first being brought back for a penalty) in a somewhat amusing end to a comfortable revenge win for New Orleans.

3-9 going into December. Season over, time to play spoiler? On the road? Against the dominant 49ers? You betcha.

Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

A touchdown with two seconds remaining (Julio from Matty Ice, who else?) gave the Falcons a 23-22 lead which would swell to 29-22 on a fumble return on the kick-off. How about that for a feather in your cap, Dan Quinn?!

Atlanta finished the season 7-9, going 6-2 in the second half of the season to achieve a modicum of respectability but the season was doomed after the AFC South fiasco in September.


Offseason Outlook


So where next for Atlanta? They’ve got eight draft picks to play with and need to hope that they land on better selections than 2019’s picks. An edge-rusher is something they’re in desperate need of as they finished with just 28 sacks on the year, tied for second least. If Austin Hooper isn’t to return in free agency then Tight End becomes a priority, also.

Meanwhile that 50 sack year indicates that they need to either coax more out of the O-Line they have or make it just as big of a priority.

There isn’t much room in free agency to pick up pieces either, $7.5 million to play with and not many players who can be sacrificed to make room. Devonta Freeman has arguably been ineffectual for two straight years now but his 2020 cap hit of $9.5m is offset by the fact that there’s $6m in dead money going to him this coming year.

TheFalconsWire.UsaToday.com

A lot of money is tied up in Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett this year in what will be important years going forward for them as Atlanta cannot afford to take the cap hit on these guys. It could be a tricky year ahead for the Falcons, despite having a great QB and WR1-2 punch.

Atlanta’s road schedule for 2020? Green Bay, Minnesota, Dallas, Kansas City, LA Chargers, Saints, Bucs and Panthers. Ouch. If they’re going to get out of the NFC South, it’s going to be on the back of being near-perfect at home and steal two/three wins on the road because that is an absolute stinker of a road schedule.

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Full10Lookaheads – Week 16

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Crunch time! This week we are treated to the NFL being spread out over the weekend with 3 games on Saturday with huge implications as the Rams travel to the 49ers and the Bills try to upset the applecart in New England.

On Sunday, the SkySports offering serves up some fantastic matchups where New Orleans continue to chase for a 1st round bye against a Titans team effectively already in the playoffs. Plus, it’s the battle for the NFC East as Dallas travel to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Eagles in a winner takes all matchup.

Winners progress, losers go home. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to week 16 in the NFL.


BATTLE FOR THE EAST

Image result for dallas vs philadelphia
Image Credit: Mitchell Leff / Getty

Fierce rivals Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia get it on to essentially decide the winner of the #4 seed for the NFC playoffs. Both teams have underwhelmed this year for a variety of reasons, but it all comes down to this 60 minute game of football.

A win for the Cowboys, they are confirmed champions. A win for the Eagles and assuming a week 17 win against the Giants, they are in too. The Cowboys are the healthier, more potent team this season as judged by their week 7 hammering at At&T stadium. They will also be buoyed by their dominant performance last week at home to the Rams but form goes out of the window in these types of games.

Do Dallas and Jason Garrett have the cajones when it’s all on the line? Usually not, but can they still get the job done against an Eagles team that have been on the ropes more than the Sunday washing.

The coaching and talent on the Eagles are a testament to even be in with a live shout of still winning the division, but it’s also an indictment on how poor the division has been. Still, someone must win it and become the #4 seed for the playoffs, who’s stepping up?


Buffalo-ad of this!

Image result for buffalo bills new england patriots
Image Credit: Mike Groll / AP

Buffalo travel to Foxboro’ this weekend in another pivotal divisional clashe.

A win for the Bills sees a very interesting week 17 indeed. If Buffalo win out, they will take the #1 seed regardless due to conference record tie breaker and that is one hell of a carrot dangled in front of Josh Allen and Sean McDermott. They will be in bullish (or Billish perhaps?) mood after their win away at Heinz field on SNF and it’s now a question of whether they can step up to the plate once more.

Their week 4 meeting saw the Bills blow their chances a little, Josh Allen left with a head injury and still had a few drives to go and beat them late in the 4th quarter. They’ll certainly have to execute better than they did back in September but I feel this Bills team has come quite far since that game. The Bills match up quite well against New England and we don’t need to go over the offensive struggles that Brady and Co. have experienced this season.

A win for the Patriots will secure the #2 seed too and how many times have we seen before that New England just get the job done? New England have won the last 6 between the sides and you have to go back to 2014 when Buffalo last beat a Tom Brady led Patriots (though he did exit with an injury in that one!).


NFC 1st round bye shuffle


The #1 and #2 seeds have shuffled around between Seattle/San Francisco/New Orleans and Green Bay over the past couple of weeks and the jostling will continue this weekend. The current #1 seeds have a straightforward task against the Cardinals, whilst the 49ers will have to be on their toes against the Rams. New Orleans face a tough trip to Nashville and Green Bay travel to Minnesota in a key NFC North matchup.

If results go their way, the Seahawks could potential have their hands firmly placed on the #1 seed if results go their way which will be huge for Russell Wilson and the members of the 12 to ensure they can create a hostile environment in the playoffs and seal that homefield advantage.


HitchViking a ride into the playoffs

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Image Credit: Leon Halip / Getty

The Vikings with a win in either of their last 2 games secure a playoff berth. Problem is they have to face old foes and divisional rivals in the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. They are at home which will help as they enjoy one of the bigger advantages with homefield.

In the 2 away games against those teams however, they only managed to must 22 points collectively and that is just not going to get the job done. This is what Kirk Cousins was brought in for, paid all that guaranteed money for; games like this.

Without Dalvin Cook who is nursing an injury and resting before helping them in the playoffs or rookie Alexander Mattison who is also struggling to be fit for the game, Kirk Cousins is going to have to step up and lead this team to victory.

A win, an the monkey starts to climb off of his back. A loss, and there is huge pressure on him in week 17 against the Bears.


battle for a top 3 pick


With Cincinnati taking on the Dolphins and the Redskins facing the Giants, the current top 4 picks in the 2020 draft face off on Sunday. It is always interesting to see how the teams down “that end” play and how much they really put in to the game.

Whilst the Bengals can win without affecting their position at #1 overall, the other 3 teams could see themselves cause detrimental ramifications should they win a game. These games will be nothing more than a “look at the result after the game” types of affairs, but for the fans of the respective teams, i guess it’s nice that the fans will still be biting their nails during the game, even if it’s for different reasons.


Three Griers for Will!

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Image Credit: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty

Carolina turn to their third QB of the season as 2019 3rd round pick Will Grier enters the fray. Kyle Allen seemingly not the answer for the Panthers front office and David Tepper, Grier has 2 games to show what he can do.

He faces a Colts team that is there for the taking and a New Orleans Saints team which should have something to play for. Quite a contrast in matches will mean ample sample sizes for the team’s scouts and evaluators to see whether he could be the answer and not theoft injured Cam Newton.

Whilst we wont know until late in the offseason who will be the starter, Will Grier has the chance to make a lasting impression and put down a marker for next training camp. At the very least, he can stop the Panthers from drafting a QB or signing one in Free Agency….


the afc #6 a steel?


It seems to be a straight shootout now between Pittsburgh and Tennessee for the #6 seed in the AFC. The Steelers have the easier schedule with the Jets and Ravens to come, the Titans have the better QB but face New Orleans and Houston. Both defences are pretty stout, perhaps the edge going to Pittsburgh but the Titans have the better running game and the healthier team. Pittsburgh have the tie breaker on Tennessee so effectively just need to beat the Jets to punch their ticket to Arrowhead.

Whichever team makes it will be a heavy underdog going in to what is likely to be Kansas City. Considering both teams’ journies this season, I think they will take just the chance to cause an upset in January (the Titans have previous vs the Chiefs!).


you’re quinn denial, dan

Image result for Matt ryan dan quinn
Image Credit: Bob Donnan / USA Today

Dan Quinn was a hot favourite to be handed his P45 on black monday, but after the handful of decent performances by Matt Ryan and the Falcons including their most recent victory as time expired against the 49ers, it’s now a bit more up in the air.

The Falcons are 5-9, which is still a bitter disappointment comparing it with pre-season expectations, but they’ve won 4 of their last 6 including 3 divisional wins on top of the 49ers victory. divisional wins have slightly more weight put on them due to their importance so if the Falcons are able to beat the 5-9 Jaguars and the depleted 5-9 Buccaneers, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility Dan Quinn comes back next year.

He’ll definitely be getting “Blank” stares until the season and he walks in for his performance review…


is drew a lock for denver qb?

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Image Credit: Wesley Hitt /Getty

Drew Lock has performed well in his first 3 starts as Denver Broncos QB; A divisional win against the Chargers to go with a road victory against a playoff team. His last start against the Chiefs can be written off due to the weather and uncomfortable surroudings but all in all, the 2nd round pick from this year’s draft has probably outperformed his expectations when coming in, he was quite a raw prospect.

John Elway has never been the most convincing with his selections in the draft so far, especially at QB, but Drew Lock is looking like he fits over in Mile High. Whilst his completion % is low and his interceptions were not pretty, both lending to his gunslinger mentality, there are certainly some tools there for Lock to fine tune over the offseason and potentially be the answer at QB over in Denver.

With the weapons at his disposal sure to be added to during the offseason to compliment the running game, Drew Lock and the Broncos may not be in that bad of a position to challenge for January football come 2020.

A big tell will come against the Detroit Lions, as we will see how he responds to that rough game against Kansas and the criticisms he would have endured this week.