Here we are Conference Championship Weekend, the final four teams vying to win their conference title and book a place in Super Bowl 56 in LA. This is the preview for the AFC, the NFC one is available here. On Sunday we’ll see the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Arrowhead to try and stop the mighty Kansas City Chiefs from reaching their third Super Bowl in a row.
Before we delve deeper, let’s take a moment to reflect on what was potentially the greatest set of games we’ve ever seen last weekend and look at how these two sides got here.
Saturday evening saw the first of the two teams in Sunday’s AFC Championship game secure their place as the Cincinnati Bengals managed to beat the Tennessee Titans 19-16 in Nashville, despite allowing 9 sacks on their quarterback. The Bengals defense stepped up massively, forcing Tannehill to throw three interceptions, and Derrick Henry to only 3.1 yards per carry. Saturday’s slate was concluded with a shock result in the NFC. A late blocked punt for a TD was enough to keep San Francisco in the game vs Green Bay before they won it 13-10 with a walk-off Robbie Gould field goal, scoring zero offensive touchdowns but still securing their place in the NFC Championship.
Now, the Saturday was good, but man Sunday was way better! The Rams almost bottled a four-score lead to the Bucs, before Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for a big gain down the middle ending the chance to see a vintage TB12 comeback victory in what could be his final game. It then got even better. We saw one of the greatest playoff performances ever from Bills WR Gabriel Davis and 10 points scored in the last 17 seconds of regulation in a great shootout between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. The latter’s Chiefs team came out on top in overtime, setting up a home championship game vs the Bengals.
I’m so excited for this game, if it’s anything like their Week 17 matchup then we’re in for a ride. The home team Bengals came out on top 34-31 in a game where their superstar quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 446 yards and 4 TDs. Jamarr Chase definitely secured All-Pro status in this game, after his 11 receptions for a whopping 266 yards and 3 TDs. The only team Kansas City has lost to since Week 7 is Cincinnati.
It should be a high-scoring game like the last one. Both sides have the offensive firepower to make a 5-yard completion a 75-yard touchdown. Chase and Tyreek Hill do that on the regular. As good as both defenses have been at some points this season, they can be streaky and have certain players that are picked on at points. Sorry, Eli Apple and Daniel Sorensen. You guys do have your good moments too.
There’s one interesting matchup between what could be the best overall position groups on each team. The Kansas City offensive line vs the Cincinnati defensive line. It’s going to be a great battle. The likes of Trey Hendrickson, B.J. Hill, and D.J. Reader vs a group that includes Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, and the two standout rookies in Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith.
On top of Chase, the Bengals also have Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Two criminally underrated wideouts. The three of them could be the best all-round trio in the league. And then there’s Joe Mixon at running back who’s had a career year coming back from a season-ending foot injury at the start of last year. Their starting tight end CJ Uzomah has stepped up when needed too. This offense would be unreal with an offensive line.
It’s mad to think that the Chiefs are here now when you look at where they were at the start of November. The team looked out of it sitting at 3-4 heading into their bye in the last week of October. Patrick Mahomes looked a shell of himself, the defense was giving up a tonne of big plays and the ever-reliable Travis Kelce was dropping passes left, right, and centre.
Mahomes cleaned his play up, the team’s drops and fumbles minimised, and the defense stepped up. Their star quarterback looked a shell of himself in the first 7 games of the year, leading the league in picks at the time with 9. Things weren’t quite going the way they’d been in his first three years as a starter, teams played them differently, it looked bleak for a superstar who some thought was broken.
But he worked through it, and by the end of the regular season he was an outsider in the MVP conversation, cutting down the interceptions to 4 in the last ten games of the regular season, 9 of those 10 were wins by the way. He also became more conservative, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. His average depth of target went down by 1.08 yards in that time span. What a story it would be if the Chiefs got to the Super Bowl again after looking finished only a couple of months ago.
Prediction: Kansas City 35, Cincinnati 31
It’s going to be tight. The Chiefs are 7.5 point favourites. That’s quite a big margin. If you’re a gambler I’d go big on the Bengals covering. They’ve already beaten them once this season and whilst yes Kansas City and Andy Reid have been there done that, and this is Zac Taylor’s first playoff foray, there’s no doubt that their big-play ability will keep this a close one. Ultimately the experience factor is why I’m picking the Chiefs to win. I don’t trust Taylor and Burrow to win in this spot. I’d love to be wrong though. There’s a chance I could be if Tyrann Mathieu doesn’t clear the concussion protocol. He’d be a huge loss.
This is part four of the series where I take a quick look, position by position, at my favourite Day 3/Undrafted guys from the 2021 NFL Draft.
This time we are focusing on those beautiful brutes, the Tight Ends.
Now I’m old enough to remember when the Tight End position was just a glorified extension of the Offensive Line, and they would catch as many passes as they would have birthdays in a season. Obviously, the position has evolved now into one where most Tight Ends are just big Wide Receivers, who aren’t required to block much at all. In an ideal world every team would have a George Kittle type, who can do it all at a very high level, and save at least one valuable roster spot that can be used elsewhere, but teams usually end up carrying three Tight Ends so they can cover all the skill sets needed for the position.
If you exclude Kyle Pitts (Fourth Overall), the 2021 class was a pretty underwhelming group. Only 11 Tight Ends were drafted (12 if you want to include Full Back Ben Mason), so there aren’t many Day three guys to choose from, but I’ve managed to find three that are certainly worth discussing.
Brevin Jordan: Miami (Houston, round 5, Pick 147)
Jordan was a consensus four-star recruit, and the number one ranked Tight End in the 2018 recruiting class. He chose Miami over other prestigious programs such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Miami has a reputation of churning out highly drafted, NFL ready Tight Ends, and Jordan will continue that trend, although he wasn’t drafted nearly as early as most thought.
Jordan made an immediate impact at Miami, starting 11 of 12 games as a Freshman. He would go on to start for the next two seasons and increase his production each year in all the receiving categories, showing an ascending player. His production could be spotty at times, he had 6 catches over a three-game stretch in 2019, and 5 catches over two games this past year, one of them being against Clemson who completely nullified him. You can argue that over his first two seasons in Miami the Quarterback play was average at best, but in 2020 exciting transfer D’Eriq King took over, and he formed a very good relationship with Jordan. With King being a scrambler and creator outside of structure, Jordan had to adapt his game to this kind of Quarterback, and you can see this in the way he tries to remain open when the play gets extended, or how he comes back and help’s block to create possible running lanes for his Quarterback. Jordan will always be considered a pass catcher first, but I think his blocking has improved each year and he will always give effort in the run game, and can lock out and control edges too, especially when put in motion at the snap.
He was always considered smallish by a Tight End’s standards (6’3 247lbs), and many thought he would test similarly to Evan Engram (NY Giants, Round 1 2017), but he failed to live up to those expectations, with a very average pro day workout which almost certainly cost him come draft day. The tape doesn’t lie though, and I see a better athlete on the field than those numbers suggest. I had him as my TE2 above Pat Freiermuth (Round 2, Pick 55), but he ended up being the ninth Tight End selected, which still, 2 weeks later, blows my mind.
Now he has a great opportunity to be featured very early, as he was drafted by one of the worst rosters in the NFL in the Houston Texans. With only really Jordan Akins ahead of him right now, I’d expect Jordan to head into the season as their starting Tight End. Who’ll be throwing him the ball though is still very unclear……
Noah Gray: Duke (Kansas City, round 5, pick 162)
Noah Gray has spent four years toiling away for one of the worst Offenses in the ACC, if not the entire nation. Duke has finished 90th (2020), 93rd (2019), 64th (2018) and 80th (2017) in scoring offense in Gray’s time there, even with Daniel Jones as the Quarterback for the first two of those years. Gray was never heavily featured but he always did something when I watched him that just suggests there’s more to come from him.
He first piqued my interest going up against Alabama in the season opener in 2019, where he made a few nice plays against a dynamic defense. He followed that up with an even better outing against a decent Virginia Tech defense in week five of that 2019 season, and his name was very much one I noted down for the future. Now Duke tape isn’t always easy to find and can sometimes be even harder to watch. I’ve only managed a couple of games from this past season, against Notre Dame and Boston College, which were both early in the season. In these games he looked good in the passing game, running precise routes and having excellent hands, but never threatening with the ball in his hands. Blocking was technically good, but at his size (6’3 240lbs) he is never going to dominate anyone, and his best plays were those where he could block in space rather than the edge, where longer defensive ends can control him.
Now he tested better than Brevin Jordan, at a similar size, and this is probably why he was just 15 selections after Jordan was drafted. This was pretty much the range I had for him, so while his selection isn’t particularly a steal, where he landed makes him a very interesting player.
In Kansas City he has a pretty clear path to be TE2 behind the great Travis Kelce. Now Kelce has been incredibly durable over the years, but if he were to miss some time at least they have someone like Gray on the roster now to step in. He clearly isn’t the second coming of Kelce, but Gray’s consistency and excellent hands give him a chance to contribute in this high-powered offense. I just wonder what Brevin Jordan would look like in this offense though instead, and you have to assume if he’d been there, they would have taken him.
Briley Moore: Kansas State (Undrafted, Tennessee Titans)
I won’t lie, I had no idea who Briley Moore was as we entered the 2020 season.
My first watch of him came against Arkansas State in week two, and the thing that instantly stood out was the fact he was a Tight End wearing the number zero! Now you’ve got to have a certain something if you want to pull that off, and Moore showed he certainly did have that, catching 6 passes for 54 yards and a Touchdown. This sent me scrambling to Google and trying to find out why I’d never heard of him!
Moore was a graduate transfer from FCS Northern Iowa, where he dominated that level, so he already had a lower level pedigree, and was testing himself at the next level up, which I always have time for.
I next caught him against Oklahoma (week four) and unsurprisingly he wasn’t quite as productive, but still flashed not only as a receiver but in the run game too. The final game I caught was his best, against Texas Tech in week five. Now the highlight play is a 66-yard catch and run, showing great turn of speed and elusiveness, but I was surprised by how well he did in the run game, which is the staple of the Kansas State Offense. He’s another smaller guy (6’4 240), but he seems to have more upper body strength than the other two we’ve discussed, and his second level blocking was consistently good. Now there were times he was caught reaching and could get off balance, but for an athletic tight end he could certainly hold his own with the dirty work.
He tested very well, and with those numbers I thought he certainly would get picked in the last couple of rounds, but it wasn’t meant to be and he slipped into the undrafted pool. He has signed with the Titans, and this looks a very good fit to me. The Titans lost All-Pro Jonnu Smith to New England, so there’s a lot of targets waiting for one of these Tight Ends on the roster to claim. There currently isn’t one drafted Tight End on the Tennessee depth chart, so although he has a lot of bodies to get through I believe Moore has a chance to get on that final roster.
Next up in the series will be those big uglies, the Offensive Lineman…
The Draft will always be the preferred way to build your team. Yes, flashy big name, expensive free agents will please the fan bases, but it’s the draft where you build your core young players, whilst paying them much less than the guys on a second contract. Hit on a decent draft class, and your franchise will reap those rewards for at least 4 years, fail and you’ll have to overpay in the Free Agent market to rectify those mistakes.
Now everyone is familiar with the guys in the top 3 rounds, but the best franchises get the most out of their Day 3 selections. In this series I’ll be taking a quick look at, position by position, late round and undrafted players who I had high on my board, who may have a chance to make an impact on the team who selected them.
We’ll start, as always, with the Quarterbacks…..
Only 2 Quarterbacks got selected on Day 3, they were Ian Book of Notre Dame (Round 4, pick 133, New Orleans) and Sam Ehlinger of Texas (Round 6, Pick 218, Indianapolis). Both, whilst being fun to watch, have big arm strength concerns and get flustered under pressure, leading to bad decisions. I imagine neither will be more than third string material in the NFL, so I’m going to pick a couple of undrafted guys to talk about.
Newman was thought of as a possible third round pick entering the year. He transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia after really impressing in the 2019 season for the Demon Deacons, but instead of competing for the starting job there, he decided to opt out of the season and enter the draft. It seemed a strange decision at the time, and ultimately it cost him being drafted.
At Wake Forest he ran a very heavy zone read/RPO offense, and he did it well. At 6’3 and 234lb he’s a big bruising runner, he consistently took runs up the middle and made good gains and had enough wiggle to make people miss too. He would make the correct read more often than not and showed a very good understanding of the offense he was running. Newman’s problems came when the offense was forced to throw the ball, either on obvious 3rd downs or whilst Wake Forest were chasing a big deficit. When teams knew he was throwing, his technique issues and accuracy problems showed up. He could certainly hit wow plays every now and then, and it was those plays that would draw you in and keep you believing, but those plays weren’t consistent enough.
On the 2019 tape I graded, he had impressive outings against solid defenses in North Carolina and North Carolina State, but absolutely stunk it up against a very good Clemson team. I also had him looking good against Boston College, but he followed that up with an average performance against Louisville, so consistency was a big issue.
He did get a Senior Bowl invite, and this was a chance for teams to asses him for the first time in over a year, but those same inconsistencies came up in practice, looking great on one play and missing wide open receivers the next. This carried over into the game too, and his week in Mobile did little to ease the doubts teams already had.
Having said that, it still seemed that Newman’s 2019 tape would be enough to get him selected anywhere from the fifth round onwards (I had him as QB 10, sixth round grade), but he fell out of the draft altogether and landed as an undrafted free agent in Philadelphia.
Now Philly is a very interesting landing spot for him, as of course they have parted ways with Carson Wentz and we assume it will be Jalen Hurts running the show there now. Newman’s skill set is somewhat similar to Hurts, so he makes a nice back-up option to him, and he certainly seems to fit the system better than Joe Flacco, who the Eagles signed on a one year $3.5 Million deal. I can see Newman making the 53-man roster if he can have a good training camp and making Flacco expendable, but the worst case for him will be a practice squad slot running the scout team.
Buechele’s story is very interesting. He initially went to Texas as a heralded 4-star recruit for then head coach Charlie Strong. He started as a Freshman and Sophomore with mixed reviews and ended up losing his job to the aforementioned Sam Ehlinger in 2018.
He decided to transfer to SMU and put up 2 impressive seasons there. He led a very explosive offense, throwing to a trio of next level pass catchers in James Proche (Round 6 2020), Kylen Granson (Round 4 2021) and Reggie Roberson, who will be picked in next year’s draft. He certainly was fun to watch, and the 3 games I caught this year (Texas State, Tulane and Tulsa) showed development from his decent tape from 2019.
Buechele carries an air of authority and leadership on the field, and when given time can make most NFL throws. The arm strength isn’t great, the deep balls can flutter on him a bit, but when SMU needed a play, Buechele would oblige more often than not. He’s a great, fun college quarterback but he’s lacking top end traits and size – Buechele measures 6’1 and 207lbs, and although it wasn’t surprising he went undrafted, I had him as QB 11 and a Sixth/Seventh round grade on him, and thought he would get selected at some point.
He, like Newman, has landed in a very interesting spot. Kansas City obviously have Patrick Mahomes but backing him up currently is Chad Henne. Henne did OK when he had to step in while Mahomes was injured last year for a game but is certainly expendable. Henne is on a cheap deal, but it runs out at the end of this year, so Kansas City may think it’s worth developing one of their younger guys. I do like the two other quarterbacks Buechele will be competing with (Jordan Ta’amu and Anthony Gordon), but he can beat those out with a good camp, and perhaps work his way up to Mahomes’ back-up in the not too distant future.
Who are your late round or even undrafted QB’s that you think could be gems? Let us know on Twitter @Full10YardsCFB or get in touch with me @LordLucken
Next up in this series will be the Running Backs…..
If your rookie safety costs you 15 yards for an unnecessary personal foul late on in a Super Bowl for taunting, you could be forgiven for being a little irked. But when Antoine Winfield Jr. drew a penalty for flashing the peace sign right in Tyreek Hill’s face, it merely cost Tampa Bay field position rather than points on the board.
It was a calculated act of revenge for being disrespected earlier in the season and, though condoned by commentators at the time, you have to feel for the Bucs’ defensive back. And given the timing, context and delivery of the reaction, it was almost worthy of respect in itself.
When Tampa’s defence stopped Kansas City on a fourth down with around four minutes left to play, with Winfield breaking up a long pass aimed at Hill, he gave the Chiefs wideout a taste of his own medicine before the flags fluttered in. It was direct payback for Hill’s trademark celebration: flashing the deuces at his flailing markers as he runs off into the end zone.
The Cheetah did exactly that against Winfield in Week 12, on a 75-yard touchdown when the Chiefs beat the Buccaneers 27-24. Hill (who racked up a monstrous 269 yards and 3 TDs that day) also performed a backwards somersault into the end zone with Winfield trailing in his wake, winding the Bucs’ defender up even more. Revenge was always going to be sweet and, having kept Hill pretty quiet all night, getting it four minutes from lifting the Lombardi Trophy couldn’t have been better timing.
“The taunting, it was something I just had to do,” Winfield explained afterwards. “When we played them earlier, Hill went off on us. He back-flipped in front of my face and gave me the peace sign. So, it was only right that I gave him the peace sign right back to him at this moment. It felt amazing to be able to do that. I’m not even gonna lie.”
I think that if you dish it out, as Hill often does, you have to be able to take it back. And with Winfield Jr. finishing the game with six tackles, one interception, two pass breakups and a Super Bowl LV ring, the fine he’ll get for incurring the penalty will be the last thing on his mind.
MOTLEY CREW ROCK THE SUPER BOWL
Did you ever see that film Space Cowboys? A rag-tag bunch of aging and retired test pilots – played by Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland – are plucked out of obscurity to form an unlikely team that save the day by sorting out a defunct Soviet satellite. (No, I don’t blame you…)
Anyway, that’s how the Super Bowl felt, with Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette all lured to Tampa Bay by the chance to play alongside our handsome lead actor and the oldest of the crew, 43-year-old Tom Brady. He may be getting on a bit but he can still show young whippersnappers like Patrick Mahomes a thing or two, reminding everyone that they can’t put him out to grass quite yet.
Then there’s his best mate, who he coaxed out of retirement. A lot of the talk before the game was about what damage KC tight end Travis Kelce might do, coming off the back of a historically prolific season but in the end, it was all about the TE on the other team, Rob Gronkowski. Gronk only moved to Florida for the weather and to be with his buddy, but he stole the show on Sunday night after a solid if not spectacular season, following a year away. His two-touchdown performance highlighted exactly why Brady wanted a reunion.
Another of our gang of four, Antonio Brown, bounced from pillar to post following his departure from Pittsburgh. Clearly battling a number of issues, the troubled wide receiver played just one game for the Patriots last season. He was Brady’s housemate in New England and they teamed up again in Tampa mid-season after an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy (one of several misdemeanours that threatened to end his career prematurely). To see him score a TD on the biggest stage was not something I’d expected to see. Bringing him in was a massive gamble and many thought he didn’t deserve a second shot, let alone a third or fourth, but his moment of redemption, thrown his way by Captain Brady, was the perfect end to that particular story.
Our final crew member is Leonard Fournette, who scored with a 27-yard rumble in the third quarter. Like Brown, Fournette (135 total yards on Sunday) was another reject, having been waived by the Jaguars last summer. But in Florida, the former first-round pick looks rejuvenated, as he transformed from being a backup to Ronald Jones into ‘Playoff Lenny’, notching four post-season touchdowns.
A year ago, most of us wouldn’t have put money on seeing this bunch of misfits on the field again, let alone scoring four TDs between them in a Super Bowl and outshining Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the process. It seems like head astronaut Brady had a big hand in bringing all three in from the cold and his bunch of Space Cowboys have paid back that trust in spades.
A HEROIC EFFORT DOESN’T GET ITS REWARDS
The history books will always say that the Kansas City Chiefs lost Super Bowl LV. They will always also state the Chiefs were held without a touchdown for the first time since November 2017. It was the first time since September 2019 that Patrick Mahomes didn’t throw a touchdown pass, when playing in the game. Strange really then that one of my biggest takeaways was just how well Patrick Mahomes played on the biggest stage of them all.
Mahomes was pressured on a ridiculous 52% of his total drop backs on Sunday. To nobody’s surprise, that is a Super Bowl record. More often than not, the Bucs managed to do this while just rushing four. It meant that they were able to double Tyreek Hill out of the game and blanket Travis Kelce, who is the normal relief in the short to intermediate range for the QB to go to. Mahomes amassed a ludicrous 497 yards scrambling before throwing in an attempt to do anything to keep the Chiefs in the game.
He took hit after hit and kept on getting back up. Mahomes has the ability to make the impossible look routine. The one throw in particular where he ended up launching the ball towards the end zone while literally flying through the air left my viewing jaw on the floor. Anyone that knows anything about quarterback mechanics will tell you how important setting your feet is as part of the process. The spiral that Mahomes threw from literally no base was nothing short of spectacular. There were several other examples of him making something out of nothing and despite playing on a toe that requires surgery, he also added 33 yards rushing including picking up some first downs.
Despite all of the challenges Mahomes kept on going. He actually managed to only get sacked three times. He took some vicious hits, one in particular where three Bucs converged from all angles. All of this when it seemed fairly obvious to the fan at home that the Chiefs were never getting back into this contest. Yes, I know he is paid a fortune and he should be the leader of this team. Yes, I know he sometimes gets too much praise for the simple things that he does. The torch may not have been officially passed from Tom Brady on Sunday night, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if it needed confirmation, we found our heir apparent in Patrick Mahomes.
THE SUPPORTING CAST THAT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH SUPPORT
In all truth, there aren’t many Kansas City Chiefs players whose performance in Super Bowl LV can be categorised as one of their better nights in the NFL. However, for a receiving corps that have been widely regarded as the best in the league, it was a particularly dark evening in Florida.
The run-up to Sunday’s big game was littered with conversation about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defence was going to cover the track team that the Chiefs presented at wide receiver, tight end and running back, with the general consensus being that they wouldn’t be able to. Yet as the world saw, a number of drops, slips and mistakes perforated any hope for Chiefs fans and bettors alike that they could take over a game like they did back in Week 12 where Tyreek Hill alone ended up with 269 yards and three scores.
At first glance from Sunday’s rematch, the yardage for the key characters all looks normal (133 for Kelce, 73 for Tyreek) yet in one crucial category, they all scored a perfect zero – touchdowns. Patrick Mahomes did his best to give his guys some chances, but for one reason or another, none of them came through, including a pair of excruciating drops in the end zone by Damien Williams and Tyreek Hill. Hill’s opportunity with five minutes remaining in the first quarter was difficult enough in double coverage that the loss will hardly fall on that moment, but in a season where the Chiefs offence has seemed utterly unstoppable at times, the instant did provide some rather accurate foreshadowing if nothing else.
In the second quarter, it was Kelce’s turn to drop one, butter-fingering a 20-yard bullet from Mahomes on 3rd-and-8 to give the ball back once again to the Bucs with Tom Brady in full swing. The always-dependable Kelce was hardly to blame for the loss with the previously mentioned 133 yards, but as Hill’s drop had been before him, the slips and misses of the hyper-consistent Kelce were just another one of those things in an ultimately disappointing evening for the Chiefs.
With the Bucs staying attached to the Cover-2 that served them so well throughout, and the Chiefs unable to run them out of it into the fourth quarter, Mahomes produced a pass for the ages. Chased down by Shaq Barrett, who was superb throughout, Mahomes was tripped and threw a pass as he fell through the air into quadruple coverage. Running back Williams allowed it to hit his hands before it fell harmlessly to the floor on a crucial 4th-and-9. While his drop will be considered the most egregious in preventing a potential Mahomes comeback, Williams’ mistake was in fact just the final nail in an error-prone coffin that had been in production since the first quarter.
A PERFORMANCE TO RE-MEME-BER
When you fund a Super Bowl half-time show for approximately $28m, I don’t think it speaks well when everyone is turning it into memes.
The Weeknd joined a stellar list of performers to provide a spectacle at the biggest game in sports. However, there was a particular segment that was more than relatable to all of those watching it.
The segment performed under the stage in what seems to be a golden passageway/maze seems to have got everyone thinking creatively and relating it to their everyday lives and even the Super Bowl itself. Below is a selection of memes that caught our eye:
The social media world is very quick to jump on every opportunity to get clicks/likes and follows. I wonder what percentage tried to meme this particular aspect of the performance?
This article breaks down the Chiefs, for a full match preview, click here.
On 4th January 2013, Clark Hunt, the CEO and part-owner of the Kansas City Chiefs had a private plane waiting on the tarmac in Philadelphia. He was waiting on news that everyone already knew. The Eagles weren’t extending 13-year coach Andy Reid beyond his current contract and 2012 would be his last season with the birds.
Less than 24 hours later, he was named the new Head Coach of the Chiefs and a new era had begun in the Sunflower State.
Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the history of the game. During his 13 seasons in Philadelphia, he took them to the playoffs 9 times and won 10 playoff games in that span. During that time, Kansas City had 3 post-season appearances and no wins under 5 separate Head Coaches. In the regular season, Reid had a .583 winning average in Philadelphia, so far in Kansas City he has a .711 average. Reid is the Captain at the helm who makes everything tick. He has transformed the Chiefs from an average AFC franchise who never looked like seriously challenging for the Superbowl, to a dynasty who could legitimately be in the conversation for the next decade. Finally in 2019, Reid got his hands on the Vince Lombardi, the prize that had eluded him for so long. He had been to 5 Championship games and 1 Superbowl before finally lifting the coveted trophy in Superbowl LIV.
Key Player – Offence
Andy Reid isn’t the only change that has come in Kansas City. The dawn of a new era needed a poster-boy, someone who could be the face of the franchise for the next decade. By 2017 the Chiefs had their Head Coach in Reid, they had just promoted Brett Veach to General Manager, a really exciting young prospect who had followed Reid’s career path through Philadelphia to Kansas City. Now they just needed the QB…
Enter Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.
When the Chiefs selected Mahomes 10th overall in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, they probably weren’t aware of just how high Mahomes’ ceiling could be. What he has done in the NFL since coming into the league has been nothing short of sensational and Andy Reid and the Chiefs are going to benefit greatly in the years to come by being able to build a team around a player with as much natural ability as he has.
In 2020, he finished the year with 4,740 passing yards with a 66% completion rate, 38 TDs and only 6 INTs. He also had 2 rushing TDs. Intriguingly he has already beaten Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once this season, with a 27-24 victory in week 12 throwing for 462 yards and three TDs. Mahomes is the key man for Kansas City on offence and sure, that’s an obvious call, but he’s just so talented. He makes everything look so easy and rarely does he look off the pace or flustered by pressure. In week 12 when these two teams met in the regular season, Mahomes was blitzed 9 times from 53 drop-backs. Of those 9 blitz attempts, Mahomes went 6/9, 106 yards and 2 TDs. The kid is just insane.
If he gets hot and gets his chemistry with Hill & Kelce rolling early, the Chiefs will win the game, I guarantee it. More no-look passes please Pat…
Key Player – Defence
Tyrann Mathieu, the ‘Honey-Badger’ himself, is crucial to the defensive play of the Chiefs. The two-time Pro-bowler plays as a safety but is so versatile that he can adopt a hybrid style of play that can see him cover deep in passing plays yet also go after the QB in blitz packages that Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo employs. He had a career-high 6 INTs this year as well as one in the Divisional Round against Cleveland in their 22-17 victory.
Mathieu will be coming up against Bruce Arians, the coach at Arizona where he was drafted into the NFL way back in 2013. Arians gave him his start in the NFL and allowed him to establish himself as a solid NFL-calibre safety in his rookie season, despite a torrid knee injury in December 2013 when he tore both his LCL and ACL on a punt return play vs St Louis.
Mathieu is terrific in single coverage and his versatility gives Spagnuolo options to send him at Brady too, if necessary. However with the receiving options that the Buccaneers have with the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends a high portion of the game in the secondary tracking the deep balls that Brady loves so much.
Can the Chiefs win it all again? Absolutely they can. I would edge them as the favourite by a whisker, and would even expect them to be back here next year and in further years to come. What is incredible about this team is their retention. After winning the Superbowl in 2019, the Chiefs retained 19 of their 22 offensive and defensive starters. They have their QB1, TE1 and WR1 all tied down to long term contracts and even their HC and GM are both locked in for the next 5 seasons at least. Continuity and culture wins championships. Kansas City is not going anywhere anytime soon…
just the three games left, a lot harder to make millions with the opportunities lessened to find the value.
As usual, we did our podcast previewing the games and gave you the betting, and fantasy breakdowns.
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Dont forget to visit our resident tipster Adam Walford’s page at tdtips.com where he gives you an in-depth look at both games and his best bets. (Twitter: @TouchdownTips)
Buccaneers +3.5 @ Packers (52.5)
Should be cold, possibly a sprinkle of snow in Lambeau but thankfully, little wind. That’s all we can ask for in a championship game.
Both title games are repeats of week 6 matchups, freaky! Packers fans will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself as despite going up by 10 points, they got spanked 38-10 after Rodgers committed 2 of his 5 interceptions in this game. Davante Adams was still shaking off injury in that one and since being back to a clean bill of health, has been electric, causing even jalen Ramsey to have fits.
Can Todd Bowles and this young secondary continue to keep Adams quiet? I am not so sure, but his anytime TD price is too skinny for me and he hasn’t found pay dirt against the Bucs in his career.
Allen Lazard is a tiny bit of value, scoring last week, his anytime touchdown scorer odds of 23/10 are pretty good.
Leonard Fournette has found a hot streak in the back end of the season, scoring in 4 of his last 5, but the fact Ronald Jones was missing for the majority of that stretch is no coincidence and he could eat into that to make it at least a split backfield and you are at the mercy of how often Bruce Arians wants to run the ball. One of them should find the endzone at least so to get 7/4 (Fournette) and 5/2 (Jones) on both as a single, whichever one does, you will be in profit. The saving grace for Fournette is that he has seen a spike in receiving work the last two games with 5 and 4 receptions including a TD.
Green Bay’s pass defence is pretty good and with Antonio Brown being ruled out for this one does provide a bit of value for whoever replaces him in the slot. Cameron Brate (4/1) has been peppered to in this post season, but it was fellow TE Rob Gronkowski (5/2) who scored when these two last met. Tyler Johnson (6/1) made a highlight reel catch and does see his fair share in the endzone and we also will probably see a customary target or two for Scotty Miller (9/2).
Whilst Aaron Jones has all of the ability to score in this one, i don’t like the even money/slight odds on odds against a stingy rush defence.
Both QBs should be well protected meaning the veteran and Hall of Fame QBs in waiting should be able to pick apart the coverages on the opposing defences. I dont have a lean on the total points line, but i always have a rule in close games that if you are giving me the hook at 3.5, give me the points. Packers probably win, but Tampa should cover.
Tampa Bay +3.5 (10/11) – 1pt Leonard Fournette Anytime TD Scorer (7/4) – 1pt Ronald Jones Anytime TD Scorer (5/2) – 1pt Allen Lazard Anytime TD Scorer (23/10) – 1pt Tyler Johnson Anytime TD Scorer (6/1) – 0.5pts
Bills +3 @ Chiefs (54.5)
Give me all of the Bills on the handicap. All of it. And then some.
Patrick Mahomes has turf toe which isn’t easy to overcome. On top of that the Bills, despite not being the most convincing in the playoffs have been by FAR the hotter team over the past few months.
A “hail murray” away from being undefeated since all the way back in mid OCTOBER, even the Chiefs win in week 6 was mainly a result of Covid 19 disrupting the game (was played on a Tuesday night, when it should have been the that game week’s Thursday Night game).
The only thing that bugs me with Buffalo is a lack of true running game. It’s not who they are and i guess at this point, you have to be pretty good to be here so maybe it will work out for them again and maybe Devin Singletary, who has been less than efficient or productive in recent times , along with Josh Allen being the main runner is enough to capitalise on the Chiefs susceptible run defence.
The Chiefs Cornerbacks have struggled with injuries this week too which means Stefon Diggs will look to continue his red hot form which saw him as an All Pro and sit atop of the receiving leaderboards for yards and receptions. KC struggle from WR in the slot too for what it’s worth, Diggs on a crosser to the house?
He’ll need the supporting cast to step up and play their roles though, with Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis being held catchless last week.
With Mahomes not being 100%, I would probably lean under the total, as much as we are all praying for a 39-40 matchup. It could be more like Buffalo’s win vs the Ravens last week, rather than 44-34 type game we saw vs Seattle in the regular season.
No Sammy Watkins for KC, not that it really matters and no Lev Bell for them either, not that it really matters. Possible bit of value at the RB position for KC in terms of Anytime TD scorers with Bell definitely out, with Darrell Williams, who carried the ball well in last week’s win, is 2/1 anytime. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (11/8) is expected to go in this one but has missed the past month due to a leg injury, who knows how game ready he will be, I’ll leave him at the shorter of the 2. Williams is evens at Bet 365, but 2/1 in some places. Mecole Hardman is always a decent price to score and the same applies here with him at 3/1. he’s played over 60% of the snaps the last 3 games and with plays designed especially for him and also mainly the return guy, you can do a lot worse with 3/1 shots.
Hopefully we see close to the potential this matchup has on the field.
Good luck with all your bets. We will be back for the Super Bowl and will come at you with more markets and bets than you can shake a stick at, we’ll have some guests joining us and the return of the £100 challenge and probably a giveaway!
Welcome in again for Week 14’s previews for the Sky Sports games. There are some crackers again this week and we are going to start to see some playoff-style games in the sense that losses for some teams see them elimated from January football. If you want to preview a certain game, click below for your match-up! If your team isn’t on TV this week, you can find our preview of your game in Shaun’s weekly previews.
Wait a second, is this a trap, as Admiral Ackbar likes to scream in his dulcet fishy tones? The Kansas City Chiefs will be mightily relived that the Pittsburgh Steelers finally registered a loss this season, putting both teams atop the AFC with an 11-1 record. What they will not be looking forward to is facing one of the most improved units in football, in the shape of the Miami Dolphins defence.
Along with smiles resonating from Chiefs faces after the Steelers loss, the Dolphins alumni from 1972 (remaining the only team to go a full season undefeated) will be reaching to the back of the fridge to pull out a nice chilled bottle of Moet. Their celebrations will be short lived as the front runner for the 2020 MVP, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, and the rest of the reigning Super Bowl champions will be soaking up some Florida sunshine this weekend as they bring their explosive offensive unit to South Beach.
With four games left, the Chiefs have already secured a play-off spot, so they will now be gunning for the number one slot and precious home field advantage. The Dolphins, as it stands, hold the #6 seed, their 8-4 record and win percentage in conference games being marginally superior to fellow 8-4 record holders the Indianapolis Colts.
Where do you try to stop the Chiefs from gaining big chunks of yardage? It’s a bit like the challenge of trying to catch every raindrop in a storm. The Broncos did an admirable job in Week 13 in slowing the Chiefs down, forcing them to kick five Harrison Butker field goals.
This lack of touchdown action will have Mahomes and his crew fired up, with Tyreek Hill (leading the league in touchdown catches with 13), Travis Kelce (who has the second most receiving yards for a TE in 12 games in the past 70 years) and rookie jitterbug Clyde Edwards-Helaire returning from a brief injury stint. CEH was available in an emergency last week, but was held out to enable a speedier recovery.
CEH can quite easily eclipse 1,000 yards of offence on Sunday, providing he does not underestimate a Dolphins defence that is allowing less than 13 points a game in the last month and that posseses the league’s leading interceptor – CB Xavien Howard (8 interceptions).
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has done an admirable job to date, turning lesser-known players such as Zach Sieler, Jerome Baker and Andrew Van Ginkel (pictured) into rock-solid performers.
Somehow Miami have avoided a quarterback controversy or any sideline animosity by getting rookie Tua Tagovailola and grizzled hirsute legend Ryan Fitzpatrick to bond like long-lost brothers, each stepping up when needed to support the team to continue to progress.
Since the turn of the century, Miami have won their division just the once, falling prey to two decades of TD12, but now they have an opportunity to have a first winning season since 2016. And if they get more breaks than a KitKat testing facility and win out, it will be the first time they’ll reach 12 wins since way back in 1990. Back then, they reached the play-offs and beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card game before being trounced by the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo Bills.
The Chiefs need to bring their big boy pants to Miami, where the weather may be welcoming and the opposition uniform is no silver and black sign of intimidation. But if there’s any degree of underestimation, which was likely the case in part against the Broncos, it will cost KC a possible shot at the AFC #1 seed.
If KC can do anything well, it is scoring quickly and often, so this game will need to see Miami bleed down the clock on every possession they have. Miami’s running game is pedestrian at best, but they will need to feed Myles Gaskin over 20 times to stand a chance of winning the clock battle. Having missed significant time, Gaskin did manage a healthy 90 yards in Week 13, and he will be looking to crack 100 in front of Sky fans.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@NFLFanInEngland)
This would be up there with the shock Washington win over Pittsburgh if Miami could somehow overcome the most dynamic offence in the NFL, with a combination of disciplined defence, strategic excellence and a sprinkling of turnovers. There is evidence that the Chiefs can be manhandled: the Raiders simply out duelled Andy Reid’s crew and Josh Jacobs punched in two scores in the fourth quarter.
Tua will need to play mistake-free football to keep pace with the Chiefs. One suspects there will be a break in concentration by the rookie, and that is going to be enough for the reigning champions to move ever closer to that top seed in the AFC.
Kansas City 33 – 23 Miami
Late Game: Indianapolis Colts @ Las Vegas Raiders
The 8-4 Indianapolis Colts travel west this week to face the Las Vegas Raiders in a match-up that could have big implications in the AFC play-off picture. An Indianapolis win would see them move to 9-4 and potentially leapfrog Tennessee for the lead in the AFC South if they don’t bulldoze the Jaguars like most would expect them to this week. However, if Las Vegas stays strong and hold out for the victory, they would move to 8-5 and move into the 7th seed over Indy – there’s no chance they’re catching the 11-1 Chiefs for the division lead in the AFC West.
The Raiders may not care too much as to why Henry Ruggs III was left wide open downfield in the last seconds of the game versus New York last week. After all, it stopped them from moving to 7-6 and handing the Jets their first victory of the season. However, what they will care about is their defence having a better game. They gave up 376 total yards to the Jets, including 206 rushing yards and 2 TDs. They are now allowing an average of 378.2 YDS/G (22nd in NFL) and 28.9 PTS/G (28th in NFL). They will also be concerned with their pass rush, having only gotten 15 sacks on the season, which is tied for dead last in the league.
What they face this week is a strong Indianapolis offence that spreads the ball around well. Five different players have over 350 receiving yards on the season. Through 12 games, Indianapolis average 265.3 passing yards per game (11th in NFL) and Philip Rivers is having a good season in new surroundings, posting an impressive 68.1% completion rate and 3,263 passing yards. While he probably won’t be in the league for much longer, his experience is helping Frank Reich’s Indianapolis team to push for only their second play-off appearance since 2014. They’re also having success on the ground too. While they were unfortunate to lose rising star RB Marlon Mack to an ACL tear in Week 1, rookie Johnathan Taylor has stepped up to the plate posting over 600 rushing yards from only nine starts and a very respectable 4.1 yards per carry average.
Meanwhile, the Raiders offence will be hoping that Darren Waller can continue playing at the high level he has been. He posted 200 receiving yards last week against New York as well as two scores. He has 742 receiving yards on the season which puts him second only to Travis Kelce among TEs. The Raiders offence are one of the least pressured in the league, which has allowed Derek Carr to have success in moving the chains. Las Vegas is currently 48.7% on third downs (3rd in NFL) and Indianapolis not being a great QB pressure team won’t help their cause. Carr will have an age to find a receiver in this game. Las Vegas’ run game is also vital to their success. Josh Jacobs continues to dominate on the ground, with 782 yards on the season (7th in NFL) and 46 first downs (5th in NFL) with the Raiders as a whole, averaging 121.2 rushing yards per game (10th in NFL).
The Indianapolis defence will have their work cut out when it comes to that LV third-down conversion percentage. Indy is allowing 40.7% third-down conversions so far in 2020, which is 15th in the league. If Carr remains unpressured, this defence could be made to pay. However there are upsides: Indianapolis makes things difficult for opposing QBs in the passing game and just last week ,they held Deshaun Watson to his first game in 2020 without a TD pass. They are holding teams to just over 218 passing yards per game (8th in NFL) as well as only 100.9 average rushing yards per game (7th in NFL). Las Vegas could find it tough to move the ball if this Indianapolis defence comes to play.
Writer’s Pick – Steve Tough (@SteTough)
This is a really intriguing match-up in the AFC playoff picture. It could be a bit of a shoot-out if both QBs get warm and spread the ball around the field like they can. Expect a lot of the ground game too, with Jacobs and Taylor likely to have 15+ carries each. Ultimately, I think it will be a high-scoring game, but a close one. I have Indianapolis to edge out Las Vegas in a nail-biter!
Indianapolis 37 – 34 Las Vegas
SNF: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to bounce back from their first loss of the season last week when they travel to Buffalo to face the impressive Bills for Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers suffered a crushing 23-17 loss to the Washington Football Team in Week 13, as weeks of miscues on offence and injuries on defence finally struck in unison to undermine what had been an unbeaten 11-0 start up until that point.
Going forward, it’s far easier to see a way out of the offensive issues than injuries, especially with the news that standout veteran corner Joe Haden and linebacker Robert Spillane were absent from practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Spillane has been particularly impressive since he took over middle-linebacker duties from Devin Bush, who tore his ACL in late October, only to have his job made even more challenging in Week 12 when Bud Dupree picked up the same major injury. The absence of either would make victory over the Bills very difficult to manage, especially with the confidence boost Josh Allen received last week with his demolition of the 49ers defence.
Pittsburgh’s loss to Washington, however, was not merely an issue with stopping a team’s offence; in fact, their own offensive errors once again played a part, with several receivers having drops in big moments despite Big Ben still managing to throw for 305 yards and two touchdowns. It was a similar story against the Ravens in a game in which the Steelers could easily have lost their unbeaten streak a week before, yet it was Eric Ebron and Anthony McFarland with crucial drops in the loss to Washington.
The issue was called out in no uncertain terms by Mike Tomlin after the defeat. The 13-year Head Coach warned his receiver group that “they can either catch it or get replaced by someone who will catch it”. It’s a problem that will need an immediate fix to beat the Bills as well, who play opportunistic defence and will have an early Christmas feast should catchable balls continue to pop into the air.
In fact, the Washington game was the second in a row with five total drops, having had just two such games in the last 15 years of NFL football, giving the Steelers a big reminder in all fashions that they need to get back to walking before they can run.
For the Bills on the other hand, Week 12 was a masterpiece of everything they wanted to see from their offensive unit, as Josh Allen returned to MVP form with a sensational 375-yard, 4 TD day through the air on Monday night.
The Wyoming alum once again hooked up snuggly with his two major receiving threats, Cole Beasley and Stephon Diggs, as the Bills torched a defence that showed little resolve, though this week’s match-ups with the Steelers should be a far greater test.
The defence also grabbed two picks off Nick Mullens as it continues to improve. The quartet of Trumaine Edmunds, Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde looked ominously hooked up as we head into the part of the season where offences start to struggle in colder temperatures.
Over the course of the season, they have consistently given up decent yardage against both the pass and the run (bottom 13 in both categories), but being able to take the ball away, with 19 total turnovers, means that they will easily sniff out any further mistakes from the Steelers’ up-and-down offensive ability.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
I think this game is going to be close, especially if the weather turns the game into a battle of attrition to see who breaks first and makes the big mistake. It’s easy to look at Week 13 and say that the Bills are going to win again because they looked so mightily impressive while the Steelers, well, didn’t. Yet it’s important to remember that the Washington defence is seriously, properly good and they’ve made a lot of teams look bad so I don’t think we will see quite the same story again this week. Despite that, I think Josh Allen has enough to grind and muscle a way past the Steelers in his own building.
Bills to beat the Steelers 21-17.
MNF: Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Prior to Week 1, you’d have got decent odds on the Browns having a better record than the Ravens heading into this clash, but 2020 doesn’t care for the script. It’s thrown it out of the window.
But here we are, the play-off bound Browns (sounds weird, doesn’t it?) at 9-3 host the COVID-hit Ravens (7-5). The Browns have a decent shot here at kicking the Ravens while they are down and could go a long way to making the Ravens’ play-off ambition hang by a thread. A loss for the Ravens coupled with some other results could see Lamar Jackson and co. two games back with three to play. I think that is a big enough carrot in itself for the Browns and Kevin Stefanski.
After four straight wins coming out of the bye, the Browns are dreaming of play-off football. With a win on Monday night, that would all but confirm their first post-season game since 2002 and their first season with double-digit wins since 2007.
The Browns will not be worried by what they saw out of the Ravens as they rushed all over Dallas, but the Ravens defence was unable to get much pressure on Dalton and Dallas were able to convert almost 50% of their 3rd and 4th downs last Tuesday night.
With Baltimore struggling with injuries, COVID and a lack of rhythm coming off a short week, the Browns have the Ravens exactly where they want them. The problems lie a bit deeper than that though for the Ravens, and I can’t but help but get the sense of Colin Kaepernick syndrome with Lamar Jackson with regards to how he has performed this year and how much production he has been able to produce for this offence.
As Jackson is not there with his passing and the weapons in the passing game have flattered to deceive, teams are able to sell out defensively on the run and teams (Dallas aside) are able to limit the Ravens to a degree. The Browns should be able to contain the Ravens enough here.
Yes, it is still a top rushing offence, mustering over 2,000 yards now, and they still manage to gain chunk yardage on the ground after Week 13’s demolition of the Cowboys. But this is a far cry from the 2019 rushing attack (2,494 yards at the same point last season).
Mark Andrews, due to his Type 1 diabetes, is taking a bit longer to come back from COVID and on the defensive side, Calais Campbell did not look comfortable on ‘TuNF’ against the Cowboys after a multiple-week absence with a calf injury. The Ravens need to get healthy and quick, as this game could quite possibly be the start of their play-offs. Their last three games against the Jags, Giants and Bengals are probably three notches in the win column so this game feels like it will decide whether we see Lamar and co. in January.
Switching our attention to the Browns, Baker Mayfield had a career first half last week against the Titans as he helped put 38 points on the board against Tennessee. He’ll be looking to continue the hot streak, as will Nick Chubb who, despite missing four games and change through injury, still sits at 799 rushing yards on the season, ranking fifth among all RBs.
Despite the Browns’ offensive focal point being the run game, if Baker is able to get some momentum going as the regular season closes and play-offs arrive, this team could go far. They need to be as balanced as possible to aid that run game and you do find that games where Baker isn’t playing well or at the level required, the Browns can be defended against.
Talking of the run game, Jack Conklin was limited in practice this week and but Wyatt Teller should be good to come back from the COVID list.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers losing against Washington and having a tough game 24 hours prior to this one, the juiciest of carrots could be dangling with the division title door slightly ajar. The Browns would likely win all of their remaining games going into Week 17 when they face the Steelers, where the division title could be on the line so this is a crucial match-up to close out Week 14.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It would be “so Browns” of Cleveland to throw it away from this position, but I think Kevin Stefanski has the right culture installed, the right mindset and the right players to be able to secure a first play-off game for almost two decades.
The Ravens are too beaten up and seem a bit too fatigued from the ramifications of COVID sweeping through their team. There is no rhythm or momentum for the Ravens and they are coming off a short week, albeit after playing their “free square” against Dallas.
I’m going for the Browns to win at home and I am more than surprised to see Cleveland as underdogs here so take Cleveland +2. I don’t have a lean on the total points at its current 47 point mark, but would veer towards the under if anything.
Welcome to the Week 13 TV preview. There could potentially be a bumper offering of games this week with Monday seeing a double header and Tuesday getting a game also. As it stands today, it’s just the regular four slated games but we will preview all six potential TV games to make sure you are covered.
Sunday 6pm / Cleveland Browns @ Tennessee Titans
The Titans will look to follow up on their emphatic victory over AFC South rivals the Indianapolis Colts by beating the equally impressive Cleveland Browns in the early game of Week 13.
They grabbed their revenge on Phillip Rivers with a 45-26 victory to move themselves onto 8-3 on the season and remind everyone with play-off and Super Bowl aspirations that they are a serious contender as the season moves into the last quarter of regular season football.
The magnificent Derrick Henry maintained his spectacular form with a third straight game with over 100 rushing yards, notching 178 and three touchdowns against a good Colts defence that looked unable to even slow King Henry, let alone stop him.
As tends to be the way with most teams, Henry’s raw dominance left the door not just open for Ryan Tannehill but nearly off its hinges, as he threw for 221 yards and touchdown on 13 completions and an extra score with his legs.
The game plan will be identical for this week’s match-up with the Browns too, as the Titans look to draw in the Cleveland linebackers with some play-action and try to get the ball in their hands of their playmakers on the outside: the explosive AJ Brown and the improving Corey Davis.
Defensively, the Titans played far better against the run last week, holding the Colts to just 56 yards on the ground. This was a large improvement on the 115 yards-per-game they have averaged so far and a crucial factor in stopping a Browns team that will undoubtedly be looking to get going behind Nick Chubb.
The job of stopping the Browns will be made harder with the news that multi-faceted DT Jeffrey Simmons did not practice all week and so looks a doubt for Sunday, but hope is growing that cornerback Adoree Jackson could start his first game of the year having been activated off IR nearly three weeks ago.
As for the Browns, they look like they’ll once again be without their own young corner with Denzel Ward still struggling with his injury, but crucially there is no injury to their bell-cow Chubb, who is going to play the figurehead of any potential Browns victory once again. The former Georgia Bulldog is on his own personal tier this season, with 384 rushing yards in his last three games, as he has helped drag the Browns to an impressive 8-3 record in the AFC North.
Calls for MVP consideration have been heard in the distance as Chubb has allowed Baker Mayfield to take things at his own speed, without an interception in five games but also without a passing score in three of those. His connection with Jarvis Landry has looked to be improving too in recent weeks; Landry is now over 600 yards receiving on the season as Stefanski’s run-heavy scheme awards some nice light coverage in the passing game.
Defensively, the Browns will likely have Myles Garrett for the match-up with the Titans as they will try and become one of the first teams in 2020 to find out how to slow down the freight train that is Henry in the Titans backfield.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall, this game has the potential to end up looking like a play-off game in style. They are both run-heavy teams looking to grind away at the will of the opposing defence, to set up some easy play-actions and bootlegs for their steady QBs.
The Titans will miss DT Simmons for sure and I think that probably closes the gap between these two teams but I sense that in the cold temperatures that the teams can expect on Sunday, the unstoppable force of King Henry grinds the Titans past a tricky Browns outfit. I’m taking the Titans over the Browns by 21-13.
Sunday 9:05pm / Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
It feels like every NFC West match-up is a crucial one this season and this one is no different.
After a somewhat shock defeat at home against the 49ers last week, the Rams have some making up to do with Seattle taking full advantage. The Rams are now 1-2 in the division with both losses coming against the 49ers. However, their sole victory was against Seattle so if they can keep pace with the Seahawks in terms of notches in the win column as they head into their Week 16 clash, then no harm done.
They travel to Glendale, Arizona, for this one to take on a Cardinals team that kind of threw the win away against New England. They were there for the taking but a missed Zane Gonzalez field goal with under two minutes remaining sealed their fate. The offence and Kyler Murray couldn’t get much going in that game in Foxborough so you’d have to feel Sean McVay and co. will be breaking down that film, especially in the red zone were Arizona looked awfully ineffective.
You get the feeling that this game is essentially a knockout game for the Cardinals, who sit at 6-5 (2-1 divisional) after three losses in their last four games. That could have been four straight losses if it wasn’t for the Nuk Hopkins end-zone miracle catch against the Bills. They are two games off the pace in the division (split with Seattle 1-1) but also way off the pace in terms of conference records in the tiebreakers. A loss here, coupled with a win for the Rams and Seahawks, means that it could be back to the drawing board.
Their last two games have seen their offensive output plummet from the lofty heights seen prior to their game with Seattle and that’s mainly down to the wear and tear of their QB. Kyler has been troubled by a shoulder injury over the past few weeks and did not look comfortable after taking a hit or two in New England last week. But some are also pointing fingers at Kliff’s play–calling for long parts of that game being too conservative. The Cardinals and Kliff Kingsbury will be hoping that any bruises or wounds have healed sufficiently so that Murray can play his normal game and help the offence continue to produce as one of the top offences in the league (currently second ranked in terms of yards per game).
One way the Cardinals will want to try and impose themselves in on the defensive side on the ball, trying to exert pressure on Jared Goff.
Goff has not looked great when faced with pressure, ever. What Sean McVay is still able to achieve with this team in spite of Goff and his liabilities goes underappreciated. That being said, it was their coaching staff and front office that decide to give him the contract they did, effectively handcuffing their ceiling under McVay.
You have to feel the Super Bowl run in 2018 season was a case of all the stars aligning for Goff behind a great line. With the recent loss of Andrew Whitworth and a bit of shuffling around, you can see that Goff is not great when there is no trust in that he’ll be protected. This is also reflected in the play-calling, with constant jet sweeps and misdirections going to skills players like Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks when he was a Ram.
It took the Rams defence to make a play last week before the offence was able to get anything going and I think McVay knows that they have to be near perfect in all phases of the game to come out with any kind of win here.
The game plan from San Francisco last week, in being hard hitting and establishing the run, is something the Cardinals could try and replicate with their 1-2 punch of the often-underwhelming Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds (not forgetting Murray too!). If they can get anywhere near what Mostert and the rest of the 49ers produced last week, they’ll have a chance to stay balanced and win the game. If they abandon the run and try and ask Kyler to win through the air, it could be an issue.
It will be fascinating to see if Ramsey will try to neutralise Nuk Hopkins, who is 33 yards of the 1,000-yard mark.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
If the Cardinals win this game, you can bet your bottom dollar, Haason Reddick and co. get to Goff on multiple occasions. If they can’t get home and the Rams handle the pass rush, you have to feel Sean McVay will find a way to smash and grab the win, effectively making it a shootout for the division.
In a really tough game to call and with a lot on the line, the spread of Rams (-3) is probably about right, but I’d probably take the Cardinals with the points and total points to go over the 48 projected by the bookies (little confidence though, considering how these offences performed last week and can have the ability to fall flat).
Monday 1:25am (SNF) / Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
Going into the final five weeks of the regular season, the Broncos have to face the nigh-on impossible task of taking on the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. Usually in these previews, parallels between teams become apparent. That being said, the Broncos and Chiefs had polar opposite Week 12 match-ups.
For the home team, it was an electric performance in which the tandem of Pat Mahomes and Tyreek Hill sought to break every record manageable. In typical KC fashion, one which is still so captivating while also so unsurprising, Mahomes threw for 446 yards, gaining 3 TDs and a passer rating of 124.7 along the way. The opposite can be said of practice squad WR Kendall Hinton for the Broncos who completed one pass out of nine attempts and was picked off twice.
Again, in not so surprising fashion, Hill had himself a game. On 15 targets, Hill went for 269 yards and 3 TDs, only failing to connect with his star QB twice all game. Considering some were predicting a reasonably tough match-up for Hill and the rest of the KC offence, with the Bucs being placed in the top 10 in most defensive categories, the outcome was anything but. The same cannot be said for the Broncos. While little more can be expected when a team loses all their QB options, the Broncos only managed 3 points and 13 total passing yards.
I don’t think it can be overstated just how different the form of these two team’s previous showing were.
On the bright side for the travelling Broncos, their pass defence was good against the Taysom Hill-led Saints. Overall, the game was difficult to watch for fans of Denver, but the bright spot was how they limited Hill. Despite the blow-out scoreline, the Broncos limited Hill to 5 yards per attempt and a passer rating of sub-50. It is practically impossible to imagine the same outcome this weekend, but if they stand any chance of keeping this divisional tie in contention, the Broncos secondary have to maintain the top-10 calibre they showed the previous week and across the season.
Another upside for the Broncos is the fact that they will have a QB this week instead of relying on a Hinton, who has developed his own little cult following. However, the Broncos, with or without a QB, have struggled offensively in the air and rank dead last in yards per game and passer rating. As if often the short-lived debate with the Chiefs, their rush defence looks like the only kink in the armour until you remember that rushing isn’t a viable option when down three or four scores. While the pairing of Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay has seen the Broncos ranking middle of the pack in most rushing statistics, coupled with KC ranking towards the bottom of most rush defence metrics, I really can’t see this making an impact against Mahomes, now favourite to become this season’s MVP.
Writer’s Pick – Richard O’Brien (@Richard_obs)
Typically, I try to find the parallels between the two teams. I try to find areas the underdogs can exploit. I try to highlight any key storylines heading into the game.
For this matchup, not so much. There are very few parallels, serious weaknesses or storylines aside from the fact that Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs are really, really good at football. That being said, I’m predicting a 35-13 win for the Chiefs taking them to a 11-1 record.
Monday 10pm / Washington Football Team @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Anyone who witnessed the reserve offence of the Baltimore Ravens hanging in there against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday (2 Dec) will have left with a feeling that the six-time Super Bowl champions are frankly mortal.
Their 11-0 record is impressive and heading into Week 13, they remain the only team without an ‘L’ in their record, but that was an unimpressive display. Commentators tried to flatter Big Ben Roethlisberger after the game, but he was the first to say he was unhappy about his own performance. Not so much the stupendous amount of completions in an offence that was ‘1,000 paper cuts’ as opposed to ‘ferocious axe swings’, but more botched 4th down attempts, lack of points and failure to put away a team that was missing the 2019 MVP, his favourite target (Mark Andrews) and key defenders.
Next up to try and pop the balloon of perfection is the Washington Football Team, who may boast a miserable 4-7 record, yet they are joint top of the NFC (L)East and on a two-game winning streak.
The walking miracle that is Washington QB Alex Smith is providing veteran leadership and giving the team the most dangerous thought in the world: hope. With the Giants losing Daniel Jones for a week or two, and the Cowboys and Eagles wetting the bed on a regular basis, there is a faint spark that seems to be producing a tiny whiff of smoke in the nation’s capital.
Talk of the Rookie of the Year is taking place, and is being dominated by Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson, with nobody giving any well deserved love to Washington’s RB Antonio Gibson. Gibson has amassed 11 touchdowns to date, easily the top for any first-year player, and the number is remarkably the third best total for all NFL running backs. His three touchdowns against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving thrust Gibson into the spotlight for the first time this season, and he looked comfortable under the bright lights.
The jury is still out on fellow Washington rookie DE/edge Chase Young. He has realised that the big boys league is not going to be a breeze, and has had a mixture of performances to date. 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 10 games is not quite the impact the Football Team expected when they grabbed him at #2. He trails grizzled vet Ryan Kerrigan (5.5) and squad leader Montez Sweat (6) in sacks.
Washington’s defence has kept the team alive and, along with Gibson, two Football Team skill players have stuck out among the grey mulch. WR Terry McLaurin is a diamond among a load of broken bottles, and running back JD McKissic, second leading rusher, has racked up 46 catches (a career best).
Looking to stop this unexpected bunch of merry men is the league’s best defence. The 2020 version of the Steel Curtain is beyond impressive, with edge TJ Watt continuing to add credibility to his audition for the Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers did suffer a huge blow on Wednesday when LB Bud Dupree was injured with a probable ACL. His eight sacks will be sorely missed going into the final phase of the regular season. Having lost Devin Bush earlier in the season, it will be time for second-year LB Robert Spillane (#41 – pictured) to elevate his game once again.
This game on paper is not even close, with the Steelers owning a seven-game advantage over Washington. Pittsburgh’s defensive front four will look to feast on a Washington offensive line that is susceptible to committing penalties at key moments. The black and gold bring the pressure, but they also drop back to confuse QBs, as evidenced by TJ Watt trailing the Ravens speedster WR Hollywood Brown on Wednesday.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
All the signs are pointing at a Steelers win here; in fact, the last time Washington beat Pittsburgh was all the way back in 1991. Somewhat ironically, 29 years ago, that win put Washington at 11-0 and dropped the Steelers to 4-7, an exact mirror image of the team’s current records.
There have been accusations the Steelers have had a bit of a passive schedule, and the same could be said of the Football Team, as all their wins have come against team with losing records. The Steelers will need to up their game to remain unbeaten, but something tells me Big Ben will be playing mad enough to put up another big performance. Washington 16 – 29 Pittsburgh
Tuesday 1.15am (MNF) / Buffalo Bills @ San Francisco 49ers
The Bills and 49ers returned to action after bye weeks last weekend against Los Angeles-based opposition. They both nearly threw it all away in the second half but, in the end, emerged victorious.
The Niners crossed California to play the Rams, who were coming off impressive wins over the Seahawks and Bucs. San Fran stayed strong to win 23-20, despite being 5-point underdogs. The season sweep of LA was secured with two Robbie Gould FGs: one to level the score and another that sealed the deal as time expired. The result breaks a three-game losing streak and just about keeps the Niners (5-6) in the play-off picture.
Meanwhile, the Bills (8-3) hosted the Chargers in a battle of two in-form QBs, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Allen threw for a touchdown and ran in another as they built up an 18-point lead, only to try and blow it with three consecutive turnovers in the fourth quarter. Joey Bosa also put Allen on his derriere three times, allowing the Bolts back into the game but the AFC East leaders did enough to hold them off. The 27-17 victory leaves Sean McDermott as one of only five current Head Coaches never to lose after a bye.
Let’s start by turning the microscope on poor ol’ San Francisco, who have had their roster absolutely decimated by injuries and COVID-related absences. Starters on both sides of the ball have been on and off the treatment table all season long, giving very little opportunity for continuity. By mid-November, 21 of their 27 crocked players were on Injured Reserve, yet they keep on keeping on… so respect to Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh for making their offensive and defensive units viable against all odds.
With five games to go, Frisco are at last getting a bit healthier, with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson (86 combined rushing yards and a TD for Mostert), Richard Sherman (seven tackles and a pick) and Deebo Samuel (11 passes for 133 yards) all returning to the fray to great effect last Sunday.
But their main dilemma is still whether Jimmy Garoppolo, who has now missed three weeks with a high ankle sprain, will make it back this season, let alone if he’ll be retained after that. Less than a year ago, he was contesting the season finale; now, if he makes the field at all, he’ll be auditioning for his own job.
Even though he finished with no TDs and an interception against the Rams, Nick Mullens has proved he can (just about) lead the team in Jimmy G’s place. That said, his 6 TD/7 INT ratio doesn’t inspire much confidence in the aerial attack so, if the 49ers are to secure a home (from home) win, the ground game of Mostert and Wilson needs to click again, especially as Buffalo allow almost 130 rushing yards per game.
Turning our attention to the visitors, third-year QB Josh Allen has been one of 2020’s success stories. For a while, his name was being uttered alongside Mahomes and Wilson in the MVP discussion and, even though he’s fallen a little behind now, he’s still seventh in the NFL in passing yards and needs just 61 more to surpass last year’s 3,089. His 29 total TDs leaves him just five short of Jim Kelly’s single-season franchise record and his completion rate (68.8%), average yards per completion (7.8), passing rate (102.3), sacks taken (22) and fumbles (2) are all heading towards new personal bests.
Success in upstate New York this year has also been built on WR Stefon Diggs. The former Viking is now only 55 shy of a 1,000-yard season, 6th in the league, and while four TDs is a little disappointing, he does stretch the field. This allows slot receiver Cole Beasley to contribute more – not least, like last Sunday, by throwing the occasional trick-play TD.
The Bills have needed to sort out their run game for a while, with Devin Singletary’s 483 yards (27th) and 1 rushing TD not exactly setting the league on fire. In fact, his own QB (six rushing TDs) has two more than the rest of the team put together. But last week, McDermott finally turned to the ground game, with Singletary logging 82 yards on 11 carries and rookie Zack Moss going for 59 yards from nine. Allen himself added 32 yards and a score.
Holding LA to just three points on the drives that resulted from their three turnovers, last week’s defiant fourth-quarter stand shows that the Buffalo D can do the business too; they also sacked Herbert three times and Tre’Davious White snagged an interception. Although not a particular strength in 2020, if the Bills’ defence can stay solid, they’ll be tough to beat all the way to January and beyond.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The Bills look all but play-off bound already while the 49ers’ future is much murkier. They may end up above .500 but that’s no guarantee of anything, especially in the hyper-competitive NFC West. Yet this one’s a tricky one to call, not least because Buffalo are 0-4 on MNF since 2015 and also because the contest will be held at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. COVID-19 protocols in Santa Clara have forced the 49ers out of Levi’s Stadium for the rest of the season but it may not be such a bad thing: they’re 1-4 there this year.
With the Niners currently ranked 10th in the NFC and a game shy of the final Wild Card spot, they need to keep their foot firmly on the gas to keep those slim postseason dreams alive. And yet they still have several key players still missing – cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Ken Webster were injured last week, and I haven’t even mentioned long-term absentee George Kittle. Also considering that Mullens isn’t exactly rewriting the QB textbook, plus last week’s reliance on their kicker and their recent ‘eviction’, I can’t help feeling that there’s too much conspiring against the Niners. Put me down for the Bills adding another W to their tally. Bills 28-24 49ers
Wednesday 1.05am (At Time Of Post Not Confirmed As TV Game) / Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
For a game that prior to the COVID shenanigans should have already been in the books, the Cowboys have a further delay to travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens.
After their Thanksgiving Day performance, it seems like they need a lot longer than the 12 days that they have been given. Despite the game being close going into the 4th quarter, the Washington Football Team routed the Cowboys, embarrassing Jerry in his home on prime time while we sat and ate turkey. Antonio Gibson ran right through the heart of the Dallas defence on his way to a Thanksgiving Day hat-trick, which hasn’t been seen since Randy Moss did it to the Cowboys way back when.
The Cowboys currently sit with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft, but also are only still one game (and probable tie-breakers) from the division lead. The NFC East continues to be a historically bad one and it’s a catch-22 for all the teams in it. Do you try and win games and get to the play-offs, get embarrassed there but consequently moving your draft pick by about half of the board? Or do you just play out your games knowing that Penei Sewell could be yours (especially in Dallas’ case) in that top 3-5 range in the draft?
The Cowboys actually have a shot at winning this game and it all hinges on the Baltimore QB situation. Lamar Jackson is currently on the COVID list but if he clears protocols, he could be suiting up. It’s likely that if available, Jackson will play in the game despite having no practices or training over the past week or so. He can clear the protocol as early as Sunday, thus giving him a day of practice if all things go well. If he doesn’t go, however, the door is wide open for Dallas.
Back-up RGIII pulled a hamstring and was replaced by third-stringer Trace McSorely against the Steelers. RGIII, unless his hamstring pull is only minor, would be unlikely to play and would be questionable at best.
On the Dallas side, their offensive line took two huge hits from Thanksgiving with All-Pro Zack Martin missing multiple weeks, and he was joined by Cam Erving on the treatment table early on in that match–up too. That has usually spelled the end for the Cowboys in recent seasons but the pass rush of this depleted Baltimore team could be the equaliser they need.
Ezekiel Elliot has just not got anything going this year and added yet another fumble to his tally for 2020. Tony Pollard may get a bit more time to shine and has looked good in spots.
The wide receiver trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb are only going to be as good as their O-line protecting Dalton. It’ll be a lot of short stuff, the old “dink and dunk” relying on yards after catch, which is not something this offence predicates itself on.
For Baltimore, they must win to keep tabs in the Wild Card race as they sit on 6-5; Las Vegas on the outside looking in as they are on a three-game losing streak. They have three easier games to finish off the season but Week 14’s clash against the Browns is huge.
It’ll be a heavy dose of run game again with hopefully the returns of Mark Ingram and JK Dobbins. They’d also like to welcome back Mark Andrews to give them more weapons in the passing game as I think we have seen enough of Luke Willson for this season.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
Until we get nearer to game time, we won’t know the chances of either team but the more players that return for Baltimore, the more likely they are to win the game.
The current line (Friday evening ) is begging you to take the Cowboys at +7.5. I would just stay away from this game altogether but if you are sharp on your Twitter feeds and hear news about availability either way, it’s a line that can be taken advantage of.
Like Wednesday night, when there is so much disruption to the team and travelling, it usually dictates the game to be a sloppy, low scoring affair, so the Under 45 probably looks the way to go in terms of total points.
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Welcome in to the Week 12 TV preview. There has been a bit of a reshuffle in the deck with the Ravens struggling to cope with their Covid-19 outbreak.
That being said, we still have some crackers for us to view on Sky Sports this weekend, with every win now becoming more important as we head towards the playoffs (unless you are a Jets, Jags or Cowboys fan).
Titans @ Colts – 6.00pm
It feels a tiny bit like déjà vu here as this is a rematch from just two weeks ago. Why do the schedulers create the schedules like this? Anyway, the two teams can probably just refer to their pre-game prep from Week 10 to prepare for this one.
Both teams will be fighting tooth and nail in this one as both teams are 7-3 and in the thick of the playoff race.
The Colts took the win on TNF in Week 10 in Nashville with a good all-round performance, stretching away in the second half with the aid of a special teams TD with the final score 34-17.
Michael Pittman JR achieved his first 100-yard receiving game, following it up last week with a highlight reel TD reception with plenty of YAC. Nyheim Hines had two TDs in the game two weeks ago but Jonathan Taylor looked as if he is starting to go through the gears with his performance against the Packers last Sunday. There will be a mixture of the two once more with a light sprinkling of Jordan Wilkins, which has been the case for the last couple of weeks.
Philip Rivers has played the Titans 10 times in his career and has thrown a passing TD in every one of them, averaging 271 yards through the air, and has just 4 INTs against the Titans defence.
I don’t really see much objection coming from the Titans defence once more as they are ranked 27th coming into this one in terms of yardage allowed through the air. They aren’t much better defending the run (19th) and rank 26th in total defence on DVOA.
The Titans are a hard to team to gauge. Arthur Smith has done a grand job in making the Titans a feared team to play. Their OT win against the Ravens could be huge come Wild Card playoff berth adjudication and when you see they also have wins against the Bills but then a loss against the Bengals, it kind of sums this team up.
The gameplan will be to try and replicate the run game from Week 10’s match-up, where Henry was able to notch over 100 yards on the ground, not something many teams do to the Colts defence this season.
They’ll want to get Ryan Tannehill passing a bit more than the 147 passing yards he had and that means to try and get AJ Brown more involved (he was held to just one catch in that game). He since had a nice game against the Ravens including a strong effort to find the end zone.
If they fail to strike up the connection, he may pivot to Corey Davis, who has seen a mini-resurgence. He has at least at least five receptions in five of his last six games, with 2 TDs and two 100-yard receiving games.
Both teams will want to improve on their third down completions from the corresponding fixture, combining for 7-of-22 on that particular down.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
The Colts, at home, should take the spoils and the 3-point spread is probably worth taking, especially after their morale-boosting win over a top NFC team. The Titans just won’t be able to stop the Colts in my opinion and the only thing that can is the Colts themselves (Philip Rivers and/or penalties). The total points line of 51 looks about right and I have no lean either way.
If the Colts win, you have to feel that is the division won with the sweep against the Titans. The Titans would be nervously looking at the pack clustered in and around them to see how the path lies from here on out, and whether it extends in to January.
If the Titans win, they have a somewhat favourable schedule to round out the season with games against the Jaguars, Lions and Texans. They should get to 11, maybe even 12 wins, which will be music to the ears of Titans fans, hoping their team can break the current four-season streak of finishing 9-7. While the Colts also face the Jags and the Texans (twice), you’d have to think it’s advantage Titans.
Chiefs @ Buccaneers – 9.25pm
Our Sunday evening TV game this week really whets the appetite, with two of the league’s best in Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes facing off for the fourth time. Has the old GOAT still got it, or is the hand of time passing the baton to the young pretender?
The Buccaneers, lying second in the NFC South behind New Orleans on 7-4 (as one of two teams yet to have their bye week), have struggled in front of a national audience, losing by a point to the Bears (Week 5), scraping past the Giants 25-23 (Week 8) and getting destroyed 38-3 by the Saints earlier this month.
In last week’s 27-24 defeat to the LA Rams, Bruce Arians’ outfit weren’t on their game either, with Brady’s two turnovers illustrating the pressure Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey et al put him under. The veteran QB (216 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) just looked off all night and when LA settled for a field goal, giving Brady two-and-a-half minutes to go 81 yards and win the game, he threw an interception. Game over.
Not vintage TB12, I’m afraid, but his second score of the game – and 566th of an unrivalled career – takes him back above Drew Brees as the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. Top spot has alternated between the two for a while now but with Brees out with broken ribs, Brady may yet build up an unassailable lead.
The Brady Bunch (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown) were held to a combined 159 yards receiving last time out but, credit where it’s due, the sight of the 6’5″, highly inked Evans dragging cornerbacks Troy Hill and Darious Williams over the line with him for a 9-yard score was epic. And while we’re talking players going Beast Mode, also watch out for Rob Gronkowski this week: Gronk has four receiving TDs in the last five games and the Chiefs found the Raiders’ Darren Waller a handful last weekend.
The Bucs’ running game was non-existent (18 rushes for 42 yards), with Ronald Jones nowhere near adding to his five 100-yard games this season. However, KC’s run defence is only ranked 26th (133.5 yards per game allowed) so that could be their Achilles heel. Tampa need to get the ground game going, letting Jones and Leonard Fournette eat up the yards – and the clock – while Mahomes twiddles his thumbs on the sidelines.
As for the visitors, the Chiefs are riding a five-game winning streak and sitting proudly on top of the AFC West at 9-1. Even though their record doesn’t quite match the unbeaten Steelers, they’re still No.1 in many power rankings, having lost just one in 18.
HC Andy Reid’s offence is steered, almost effortlessly at times, by Patrick Mahomes. He is probably the front-runner in the MVP race now, and he wrote the final headline in the exciting 35-31 win in Las Vegas late on Sunday night. Le’Veon Bell rushed for his first KC touchdown, Clyde Edwards-Helaire added two more and Tyreek Hill (102 yards, 1 TD) also had another solid game but (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors) when the chips were down, Mahomes stepped up and answered the call.
After Derek Carr connected with Jason Witten to put Vegas ahead with just 1:43 left, Mahomes did that “hold my beer” thing, driving KC 75 yards down the field with six completions from seven plays. And you don’t need to have read the script in advance to know he found his tight end, the irrepressible Travis Kelce (eight catches, 127 yards), wide open in the end zone, finally breaking the Raiders’ resistance. Tom Brady, take note: this is how you do it.
By the end, Mahomes was 34-for-45 for 348 yards, two TDs and only his second interception of the year, compared to 27 TDs. But it was close, so kudos to LV for that. Nonetheless, the win cancels out Kansas’s only defeat this season back in Week 5. That’s why the Chiefs dominate the NFC West: they don’t lose divisional games. In fact, they haven’t lost more than one a season in six years.
The Chiefs’ D has allowed 31 points in their last two games so they aren’t infallible, but with Mahomes pulling the strings, they’ll just score 35, or 40, or 45… They’re on a mission to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and have Pittsburgh – and that No.1 seed, the only bye available this year – in their sights.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
With both teams in the playoff hunt, this game could be a preview of the season finale. I’m not convinced, however, because the one thing we can be sure of is that we can’t be sure of Tampa; they’re just too inconsistent. They slapped 77 points on the Panthers over two games and posted 38 against the Chargers and the Packers, so they can put teams to the sword. What’s more, their defence has 14 takeaways (second in the NFL), 32 sacks (third) and their run stopping leads the league in terms of yards per carry (3.2) and yards per game (73).
Yet their abject loss to the Saints just shows how far the pendulum can swing the other way, especially (like this game) when they’re coming off a short week. They couldn’t stop Jared Goff last Monday so, without a full week off, who knows what might Mahomes might do to them.
With home advantage – whatever that means these days – the Buccaneers might well rise to the occasion but the bookies have them as 3-point dogs, and who am I to argue? Give Mahomes under two minutes to score it and the Chiefs might even win by a TD. Chiefs 30-23 Buccaneers.
SNF: Bears @ Packers – 1.20am
This series, which goes back 99 years, reaches its 201st encounter on Sunday night. A series that the Packers lead by just four games (99 wins, 95 losses and 6 ties).
Don’t expect fireworks: neither team has scored 30 on each other since 2017. We all remember to forget the opening game of last season, billed as the 100th anniversary showcase, between two bitter division rivals. The game finished 10-3 (to the Packers) in one of the worst ways to have a 100th birthday party. A socially distanced Zoom call to an old people’s home would have yielded ten times more excitement for sure.
The Bears, who shocked everyone with a 5-1 start are now, as former MLB Mike Singletary said, “who we thought we were”, lingering outside the playoffs and in danger of slipping into a losing season. High-priced free agent (and Super Bowl winner) Nick Foles has kept his job for most of the season and, while remaining competitive in most games, has failed to display any real fourth-quarter magic.
For Green Bay, the team has a healthy dose of superstars (Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones) but for reasons unknown, they have shown infuriating inconsistency, and are somewhat fortunate to have a 7-3 record heading into Week 12.
After going up 28-14 against the Colts last week, the offence suffered from a second-half collective batch of narcolepsy, only waking up to kick a field goal at the death to send the game into overtime. It was somewhat fitting that Marquise Valdez-Scantling fumbled away the Packers’ possession in overtime that led to a Colts winning field goal shortly after.
The Colts defence stiffened up after a sloppy second half. The Bears defence, by comparison, are up there with the Colts and Rams as a terrific unit, led by their talismanic edge rusher Khalil Mack. While the Bears are on a four-game skid, the last three losses have been by 7 or under, and no team has scored more than 26 points all year.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are scoring just under 31 points a game and the Bears D is allowing just under 20, so something has to break if the Packers are serious about chasing the number one seed in the NFC. Once a fortress, the Packers have already taken a home loss this month, after Dalvin Cook ran all over the Cheeseheads (163 yards, 3 TDs).
If only the Bears had a quality run game, they would likely be 6-4 or even 7-3. Second year RB David Montgomery has been a frustrating watch: in nine games, he has one rushing TD and his 3.6 yards a carry (45th in NFL) is underwhelming to say the least. It gets worse when you look at the backfield supporting cast as a virtual primary school panto will contain a higher proliferation of protagonists. Cordarrelle Patterson, the WR and stud returner, is the team’s second leading rusher with 118 yards.
Green Bay’s running game is led by Aaron Jones, who has already missed time this season. Mercifully, the Packers have one of the best number two backs in the league and he does not get the respect he deserves. Jaamal Williams has over 100 touches and over 500 yards of offence. Rookie AJ Dillon, it seems, is being introduced very gently.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
The old adage goes that Aaron Rodgers does not tend to have two bad games in a row. The fact of the matter is that he had one bad half last week, so if we extrapolate that to the first half of this game, then 60 minutes of poor play would have occurred.
The Bears are managing to hang around in games because of Nick Foles and his relative calmness in big situations. They do not have the running game to wear teams out and sustain 12 play drives. The likes of Jimmy Graham are being relied upon as veteran leaders, even though they are past their physical peak. Look to the Bears to capitalise on any sloppy play by the Packers’ offensive line.
The Packers are a better team on paper, but this is a rivalry that goes back 100 years. So, pride will be at stake and the Bears will elevate their play for this nationally televised game.
Still, I see a Packers win, 29-20, with three TD tosses from number 12.
MNF – Seahawks @ Eagles – 1.15am
This Monday night sees the clash of the birds as the Seattle Seahawks travel East to the Lincoln Financial Field to take on the seriously misfiring Philadelphia Eagles. Seattle was able to halt a losing streak last week with an impressive win over divisional rivals Arizona. However, the story in Philadelphia is quite the opposite. The Eagles are on a four-game losing streak and should no longer be atop the East by the time MNF comes around. By the way, it is absolutely insane that they even lead the division at all; they only have three wins. THREE!!!
Looking at Seattle first, Russell Wilson got back to his old ways last week. He looked poised in the pocket and was able to come up with his signature big plays just when Seattle needed them. He threw two TDs and 197 yards – which would have been a lot more had DK Metcalf not had a big completion pulled back for a questionable O-line holding call in the first quarter. Speaking of the passing game, Metcalf and Lockett continue to dominate downfield, both with 862 and 748 receiving yards and 9 and 8 TDs respectively. If Wilson can connect with these two, Seattle will certainly run up the scoreboard.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks’ defence has not been the most spectacular. Seattle has very much been operating with the belief that Wilson will be able to lead the offence down the field to score more points every time and thus defensively giving up scores isn’t a problem. They are currently allowing 434.9 YPG (32nd in NFL) and giving up 28.7 points per game (29th). This is where Philadelphia may stand a chance: if they can score and do it early, they then just have to try and contain Wilson and co.
However, that won’t be easy, Seattle’s run defence is one of the best in the league, averaging only 91.2 yards per game (4th) and only 3.6 YPC (also 4th). With Wentz struggling when he is being asked to throw the ball, it might be a tough ask for the Eagles to move the ball on the ground facing the rush defence of Seattle.
The problems in Philadelphia are mounting up in every which way you look. Their franchise QB, who is locked in on a new contract worth north of $130m until at least 2023, looks an absolute shadow of himself. The MVP-calibre talisman of the 2017 season is lost. His accuracy is off, he’s holding onto the ball too long, he’s missing reads and he very much looks like he doesn’t trust his receivers. HC Doug Pederson needs to do something to stem the flood and try to turn this ship around because it is sinking, fast.
For what it is worth, I don’t think benching Wentz is the answer… yet. Jalen Hurts is a rookie, let’s not forget. Wentz has been a terrific QB in the past, he just needs to rediscover that form. He has a very sobering 14/14 TD-INT ratio so far in 2020. He’s also been sacked 40 times, which is astonishing. However, if he can link up with some of his trusted guys early, get the ball out to the likes of Rodgers, Goedert and Fulgham, and if Doug can scheme him to get out of the pocket more often and let him play his game, the Eagles could build momentum.
Jim Schwartz doesn’t exactly have an easy job this week either, having to contain one of the best in the game in Russell Wilson. However, the Eagles’ passing defence has actually been surprisingly productive in 2020, allowing only 209.3 YPG (6th) mainly due to the dominant play of CB Darius Slay. They also have a ferocious pass-rush that has 34 sacks on the season (2nd) adding another three against Cleveland last week, and 76 QB hits (3rd). If the Eagles can pressure Wilson and get to him, they might be able to force turnovers or prevent Seattle from getting those first downs. However that is the issue, Wilson is just so elusive…
Writer’s Pick – Ste Tough (@SteTough)
A lot of games are decided up-front, in the trenches but I don’t think that’s the case for this one. I expect a lot of passing yards and a lot of passing TDs. If Seattle can get their run going as well as allowing Wilson to throw the ball, this could be a whitewash. In recent years, Seattle has had Philadelphia’s number (Seahawks have won six straight since 2008) and I think that streak will definitely continue. Seattle 30-13 Philadelphia
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As we get to the end of our Season in Review series, we finally get to the story with the fairy tale ending. Here’s the lowdown on the 2019 campaign that saw the Kansas City Chiefs lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years.
ENTERING THE SEASON
2018 had been a successful year for the Chiefs, winning the AFC West and getting within a coin toss of reaching the Super Bowl. An overtime loss in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots may have ended differently if Patrick Mahomes had started with the ball instead of Tom Brady…
In the offseason, KC released two of their most established players in linebacker Justin Houston (now with the Colts) and safety Eric Berry (still a free agent). They also shipped out newly acquired receiver Sammie Coates, now starring in the XFL for the Houston Roughnecks.
DE Dee Ford was franchise tagged before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, while Frank ‘The Shark’ Clark came in from Seattle. He was joined by running back Carlos Hyde, corner Bashaud Breeland and the Honey Badger himself, safety Tyrann Mathieu.
All this trade action left KC with no first-round option in the 2019 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, with their first selection (#56 overall), the Chiefs acquired WR/return specialist Mecole Hardman from Georgia, who went on to the Pro Bowl in his first season. Their other Round 2 choice, safety Juan Thornhill, formed a solid partnership with Mathieu.
During pre-season, Chiefs fans wouldn’t have had a sense of what was to come. Of course, they beat the Bengals but lost the other three warm-up games to the Steelers, 49ers and Packers.
DURING THE SEASON
In 2019 – the Chiefs’ 50th NFL campaign, 60th in total and seventh under Andy Reid as Head Coach – they shot out of the gate with four straight wins. As well as going to Jacksonville (three receiving TDs for Sammy Watkins), Oakland (four TD passes by Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter) and Detroit (three rushing touchdowns), they dished out a rare L to the much-fancied Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium. One of Hardman’s two receiving plays that day was an 83-yard score during which he was clocked at 21.7 mph.
But given how the season started and finished, it’s hard to believe that KC then went on a run of just two wins in six. Their 19-13 loss to the Colts ended a 25-game streak of scoring at least 25 points, and they also fell at home to the Texans (having only 20 minutes of possession didn’t help). Matt Moore stepped in at QB after Mahomes injured his knee in a TNF win over Denver, and started two home games: a loss to the Packers and a win against Minnesota, decided by a Harrison Butker FG with three seconds left.
Mahomes returned with a bang to face the Titans, attempting 50 passes, racking up 446 passing yards and nailing three TD throws, including a 63-yarder to Hardman, but it still ended in defeat. Luckily, it was their last one of the campaign.
Through their sticky patch, KC had stumbled from a confident 4-0 to an unsteady 6-4. But from Week 11 onwards – when the Chiefs dispatched the LA Chargers in Mexico City – they became the model of perfection, recording nine wins in a row, including The Big One in Miami on 2 February.
After their bye week, the Kansas City defence really stepped it up, keeping Oakland to just nine points and running a blocked kick back to the house with the final play. After a 23-16 win over the Patriots, which sealed the AFC West crown for the fourth time on the bounce, the Chiefs held both the Broncos and Bears to a single field goal in easy wins.
In Week 17, Hardman returned a kick-off for a 104-yard TD in another victory against the Chargers, earning them the No.2 seed in the AFC and a free pass through to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Chiefs battled back from 24-0 down after 15 minutes to see off the Houston Texans 51-31, with Mahomes throwing three of his five TDs passes to TE Travis Kelce, and Damien Williams running in two more. Their points tally was a KC postseason record, it sealed back-to-back playoff wins for the first time in franchise history and it was first time any team has scored TDs on seven consecutive drives since 1970, when Kansas last won the Super Bowl. (Oooh, spooky…)
The Chiefs hosted the AFC Championship, where they got their revenge over the Tennessee Titans in front of the Arrowhead faithful. Again, they trailed at the end of the first quarter but five TDs (including two for Tyreek Hill) saw them advance to Super Bowl LIV with a 35-24 win.
As we all know by now, Mahomes rallied his team once last time in the season finale, leading a late charge to beat the 49ers 31-20 and take their first championship title since Super Bowl IV exactly 50 years ago. Read my take on the game here.
Heading into the offseason, it’s obvious that KC really need a new quarterback… ha ha, as if.
While they may need a new backup, with Matt Moore entering free agency, their top priority should be re-signing Chris Jones, the team’s sack leader for the last two years. The defensive lineman’s contract could set them back around $20m a year – akin to what they pay Frank Clark – and when the time comes, they’ll have to pay Mahomes mega-bucks too. This won’t leave GM Brett Veach much of his $13.9 million cap space (the sixth lowest in the league) to be as aggressive as he has in previous offseasons unless something else gives.
Of the Chiefs’ 24 players whose contracts are expiring, LeSean McCoy, Terrell Suggs and Spencer Ware are three that will probably depart or even retire. And when it comes to April’s NFL Draft, the Chiefs only have five picks, having traded away their sixth and seventh rounders. As champions, they’ll pick last, starting at #32 overall.
Given the free-agent status of Jones, as well as Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller, the Chiefs may target a defensive lineman (Jordan Elliott from Missouri?), cornerback (Clemson’s AJ Terrell seems a possibility) or linebacker (I’m seeing Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma and LSU’s Patrick Queen mocked to the Chiefs). Another edge rusher could complement Clark well, so Curtis Weaver (Boise State) or Zack Baun (Wisconsin) may also be in the mix.
On the other side of the ball, WR Sammy Watkins has another year left but he didn’t score after Week 1. The Chiefs could release him, save a shed-load of money and pluck a young pup from a loaded 2020 class. They could also upgrade at running back, either with a draft pick like Johnathan Taylor from Wisconsin or maybe a free agent, with the names Austin Ekeler and Matt Breida being bandied about.
But as you’d expect with a Super Bowl-winning side with a much-respected HC, there’s a lot of silver lining and not very much cloud in the long-range forecast. So if you fancy a flutter on the year ahead, the Chiefs (in or around 6/1) are the current favourites to defend their title next year in Tampa.