If you picked up Swift for your fantasy team last year as I did, then you will remember the pain and heartache. The dreaded ‘Running Back Committee’ was in full force in Detroit, and it didn’t resemble a 3 headed monster, but more of a 3 headed kitten. Swift had to share carries with Kerryon Johnson and the fountain of youth that is Adrian Peterson for most of the season. It was only until Week 10 when Swift finally became the starter after averaging just 13.2 touches a game. For a guy with his dual-threat skills, this was nowhere near enough.
To compound the misery, the team wasn’t (and still isn’t) very good. Coach Matt Patricia and Darren Bevell failed to get anything going, and the Lions limped to a 5-11 record which left them bottom of the NFC North.
Swift displayed some shows of promise, however, with a standout performance against the Jags where he became the first Lions rookie running back to rush over 100 yards and score 2 touchdowns since Barry Sanders back in 89’. The former 22-year-old Georgia Bulldog has the attributes to perform at a high level. Now, it’s about taking the next step.
The Lions are in a transition and effectively starting again. Patricia, Bevell, and the boys are gone. Matt Stafford, the man handing the ball off to Swift last year, has gone as well. Heck, even Kerryon and Peterson have gone. This means expectations should be low, and pressure minimal. The perfect storm for a sophomore running back?
What will aid Swift’s cause was the selection of Penei Sewell in the draft. Sewell, one of the top prospects, will join Taylor Decker and elite centre Frank Ragnow in quietly one of the best O-Lines in the league. With new QB Goff adjusting to the new playbook, and the lack of weapons at wideout, it is a fair assumption the Lions will be run-heavy this year.
How many touches exactly Swift will get remains to be seen, but murmurings from new OC Anthony Lynn indicate he believes Swift can be that all-important ‘3 down back’ for fantasy players. This will surely include more receptions as well in the short passing game to make Goff feel more comfortable, as Swift has demonstrated in the past, he’s more than capable.
I genuinely believe Swift is bordering on RB1 territory this year. Barring injury, there should be a healthy uptick in carries and receptions, ideal for those in PPR leagues. There is the danger the Lions fall behind early and a lot, which might leave them abandoning the run more than they would like. But quite frankly, Swift is one of the best, if not the best, offensive weapons they have now, so I expect him to be involved heavily regardless.
Xmas football is here! Just 2 weeks left of the regular season before we separate the men from the boys. Yet another feast of action provided by SkySports this weekend including a Christmas Day game and 3 on Boxing day. So get your mince pies in your hands as you peruse through the games. Use the handy menu below to choose your game!
Merry Christmas to everyone and hope that it is as good as it can be considering the year we have had, but thankfully the NFL is here to keep us company if you can’t be with those that you intended to be with.
You have to wonder how much stuffing has been knocked out of the Vikings after their loss against divisional rivals Chicago. They have conceded an average of 28 points over the last few games and take on a Saints team on a 2 game losing streak but should have a as healthy as can be Drew Brees under center.
Personally, I feel that Drew Brees came back too early but considering the position the Saints are in, I can understand why. currently the #2 seed, chasing the Packers and had Kansas coming to town, totally get why they brought back the future hall of famer, even if it was a bit hastily.
He’ll have a better time of it against the Vikings but it isn’t a fixture thay’ve had too much success in, with Minneosta leading the all time series 23-12 and winning 3 of the last 4 (who can forget the Minneapolis Miracle).
Brees will have to do it without Michael Thomas who landed on IR so that he can as fit as possible for the playoff and try and rekindle that partnership on the field in the post season with the Saints guaranteed to be there. The Saints (10-4) still need to win one of their two remaining games to clinch the division and the Buccaneers are making a late charge, only one game back.
Alvin Kamara has had far from a vintage year and you have to go back to week 6 since he had his last 100yard scrimmage game and the recent switch at QB and an under par Brees and missing Michael Thomas has played its part in that. That being said, he is still the leading rusher AND receiver on the team so expect similar outputs from him here against a Vikings defence that ranks 23rd against the rush and 24th against the pass in terms of yardage.
The Saints defence has come to play and is getting better as the season goes on. Their 32 points conceded against the Chiefs, which is no embarrassment at all, was the first time they conceded 30 plus since week 5. Since their week 6 bye, they have limited opposing offence to under 14 points 4/9 times and under 300 yards of total offence 5 times.
Led by leading team sacker Trey Hendrickson, who was able to be more than a nuisance for Patrick Mahomes last week, will look to add to his current 12.5 sack total on the year. Fellow Defensive end and partner in crime Cameron Jordan, whilst not having his best year has still been able to notch 6.5 sacks and are a good pass-rushing duo that Kirk Cousins will no enjoy getting to know this Xmas.
For Minnesota, despite being the 9th seed currently, are all but out of it by name being 2 games behind Arizona and also now behind Chicago in the tie-breaking ranks.
They’ll look to play spoiler here and they do have the talent on offence to score the points and star rookie WR, who earned a pro Bowl nod (for what it’s worth) this week, will continue to add to his 1182 yards and 7 Touchdown dances this season. A perfect compliment to Jefferson is Adam Thielen who has gotten the Touchdowns and redzone looks, if not the yardage and has 13 TDs and just a few ticks under 800 receiving yards this season.
This team is a run first offence though as Dalvin Cook, also a Pro Bowler for 2020, will look to find the endzone against a Saints defence giving up the fewest amount of rushing scores. that being said, he did find the endzone against Chicago who are also a top 5 stingy team when it comes to scores on the ground. Cook has mustered 8 games with over 100 rushing yards this season and has scored in all but 3 games.
For Minnesota to have any chance, they’ll have to be clean in the turnovers battle, a metric that Saints rank 6th (+6 turnover differential) compared to the Vikings lowly 23rd (-5).
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
I can’t see anything but a Saints victory here against a Vikings team that only has pride to play for now. That being said, if Brees is no better than he was last week, they could struggle but considering how dominant the defence has become since their bye (Kansas game aside), they could bail the offence out anyway. Saints should cover the 7 points that the bookies have handicapped them and I feel the total points line of 51 is too high.
Brady and the Bucs struggled to get going in the first half against the Falcons, but they got out of jail because they were playing the Falcons.
They remain a game back from the Saints who are far from guaranteed win either of their remaining games in the division but they also sit level with the Rams at 9-5 and they’ll at least want that #5 seed which is a trip to play the NFC East winner, so essentially a bye in the Wildcard round in January. As the Rams are facing the Seahawks, a win for the Bucs in this one likely lifts them into that 5th spot regardless of the NFC West battle result.
So how good has Tom Brady been this year? Well stat wise, it’s in keeping with most of his years. Consistent, if not spectacular. A win in either of his last 2 games will continue his streak of double digit wins in the regular season, with 2002 the ONLY season he won less than 10 games as a starter and that includes a 11-1 season (due to suspension) in 2016. It’s fair to say the Belichick vs Brady debate clearly is a battle that Brady has won this year. You can still tell that he has the fire in his belly after his riposte to Tony Dungy on Twitter when he ranked him as his 6th hardest QB to play against.
It helps when you have players like Mike Evans, Anotnio Brown and Chris Godwin catching balls for you. Evans, who paces the Bucs with just 779 receiving yards, epitomises what Brady has done this year, which is spread the love around. 5 receivers have over 30 receptions and all have over 300 yards and there are 10 different players that have caught a receiving touchdown off the future Hall of Famer.
Leonard Fournette, with 2 TDs last week will continue in place of Ronald Jones, who will continue on IR but this is a pass first offence who rank in the top quarter of most passing metrics including yardage, Touchdowns and points.
They face a Lions team that are 1-5 at home and a defence which rank in the bottom 5 in most metrics in either passing, rushing or total defence including a league worst 31.1 pts per game given up so should be able to do what they want, when they want.
Whilst there are points giving up on defence, on offence, they are able to score too so signs point to a potentially high scoring game. Matthew Stafford doesn’t seem as though he’ll miss this game despite having multiple injuries including a back injury, a consequence of trying to carry this team for years.
The same can’t be said for Golladay who clearly has some serious hip issues that have kept him out for the majority of the season. Marvin Jones has rolled back the years somewhat over the past few weeks, with 2 TDs and 276 yards in his last 3 games. Like he did in New England, Mo Sanu has made a decently positive impact in his first few weeks for the Lions and will look to continue his part in the last 2 weeks.
The team’s main target hog who fumbled last week, TJ Hockenson, will look to get back on track and add to his 6 TDs on the season, which has seen him earn a Pro Bowl nod (though Evan Engram did also, so whether we can use Pro Bowl as an achievement is very much debatable).
Stafford an Co. take on a Bucs defence that has seemed to have been more frivolous in recent weeks, allowing at least 4 scores (TD/FG) in 6 of it’s last 7 games (would have been 7/7 if not for Dan Bailey) and have been picked apart through the air all season giving up an average of 255 yards.
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
Hard to see anything other than an away day victory for the Bucs on “Bucsing Day” (sorry). The 9.5pt handicap line indicates a tough day for the Lions, which would be in keeping with their defensive performances throughout this season. I’d probably fancy the Bucs to win by double digits.
The Bucs defence has gotten into the Xmas giving spirit too though and the total points line of 54 appeals on taking the over.
It’s Christmas, and on Boxing Day we get served up two tasty match-ups to enjoy after everyone has eaten approximately 781kg of turkey & stuffing. The evening game sees a depleted San Francisco team, hobbling to the end of the season at this point, visit State Farm Stadium to play the Cardinals. Is this now a home game for San Francisco? As they’re temporarily playing out of State Farm? Should they not choose a neutral venue? Sod it, send them both to Wembley. Not much going on there right now…
Okay, okay, London is a long way from the West coast. I get it. If this had been the reverse game it would have been very interesting, especially seeing as Arizona is currently allowing some fans into the games. Not much of a home game for SF? Focusing on the game, San Francisco comes into this one beaten down and hurting from their extensive injury list this campaign. Jimmy G is still on IR and according to reports isn’t expected to return again this season. Fans have to be wondering if he can be relied on moving forward from here. Since tearing his ACL after 3 games of the 2018 season, he will now have missed 23 games from a possible 45 (assuming he doesn’t start again in 2020). Could he have played his last game in a 49ers uniform? The bad news doesn’t end there either, with Nick Mullens also headed to IR after elbow surgery this week. The end of the season can’t come soon enough for Kyle Shanahan.
However, defensively San Francisco might actually be able to put up a bit of a fight. They currently have the 5th-best ranked defence in the NFL in total yards allowed, they are also 4th in the NFL when it comes to passing yards allowed (2,938). The 49ers secondary is looking good and if they can pressure Murray into quick first and second read throws, they might be able to create some turnovers and hand their offence a short starting field position, which will certainly help given the boat load of injuries they have on that side of the ball. They will have to rely on their secondary as their pass-rush just isn’t getting it done. With Ezekiel Ansah and Dee Ford both on IR, San Francisco aren’t getting the sacks to try and pressure opposing offences. They only have 25 sacks this season, which is almost half that of the league leaders (Pittsburgh – 47).
Arizona come into this game on the back of the game of the week versus Philadelphia. A shoot-out between the two ex-Ohio State QBs ended in a narrow victory for Kyler Murray. He threw over 400 yards in the process with 3 scores, but had some real ‘interesting’ moments. The interception throw straight into the arms of Eagles safety Marcus Epps was puzzling to say the least. Murray obviously still has plenty time to improve, he’s only in his sophomore season in the league and with one more win will lead Arizona to their first winning season since 2015. He’s also on the brink of a milestone; he needs a further 363 passing yards to reach 4,000, and 259 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season respectively. One would imagine he will fall short of the rushing total, but its a monumental effort – note that no QB has ever done that before, showing how difficult it is to achieve.
Kyler’s youthfulness was bailed out a couple of times from some truly incredibly catches by his receivers. The DeAndre Hopkins catch pictured above was eventually the game-winning score, and just a truly mesmerising display of athleticism. He ended up one handing that catch down to the ground. Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also caught a wonderful low pass at the back of the end zone, making it 255 games in a row that he has caught a pass. A absolutely mesmerising statistic – he’s only missed 8 games in 16 seasons in the league.
On the ground Arizona should be a dominant force too. They are 4th in the league in rushing yards – averaging 147.8 per game with 4.8 yards per attempt average (T-7th). Murray’s elusiveness will prove tricky for the 49ers defensive line and pass rushers, if he can get out of the pocket and run the ball on either designed runs or RPOs, Arizona could have some success but they shouldn’t expect a walk in the park against the 7th ranked rush defence in the league (104.4 yards per game).
On the face of things, this Arizona defence should have an easier time of things if Garoppolo isn’t playing and CJ Beathard gets the start. San Francisco are also still without star RB Raheem Mostert, not making their attack on the ground much more formidable than the one in the air. However, there is no such thing as an easy game in the NFL and just 4 weeks ago the 49ers pulled off an upset win against the Los Angeles Rams. Haason Reddick and co should be licking their lips with a chance to get to the top of the sacks table. Arizona has 43 on the season, only 4 away from the league leaders. If he can have another 5-sack game like he did in week 14, I can’t imagine SF will be leaving (or staying in) Arizona with the W.
Writer’s Pick (Steve Tough – @SteTough)
Despite some real hearty performances from San Francisco this season in the face of absolutely horrible injury luck, I just don’t think they have enough to overcome Arizona. Kyler Murray is coming off a 400+ yard passing game and will be looking to add to that total. DeAndre Hopkins also leads the league in receiving yards with 1,324 and will be looking to take that crown for the first time in his career. It will be interesting to see if the San Francisco defence can enjoy the same success that Philadelphia did against Arizona, if they can, this game could be closer than most anticipate it will.
The Las Vegas Raiders will hope that quarterback Derek Carr can return for Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins, as the Silver and Black look to pursue very narrow play-off dreams entering Week 16.
Carr, who left the defeat to the LA Chargers with a suspected groin injury last week, has split time in practice with Marcus Mariota, who looked ultra-capable when he came in to cover for Carr in Week 15, despite the over-time loss to Justin Herbert.
The loss marked a fourth crushing defeat from the last five games, the only win coming in that last gasp deep-ball win over the New York Jets, a run that has seen them slip from play-off consideration to holding on for dear life at 7-7.
A win over the Dolphins who sit at 9-5 would at least give them a shot going into Week 17 should other results go their way, but the miserable season collapse has paid way to them deciding their own destiny for 2020/21.
Josh Jacobs ran for 76 yards and a touchdown last Saturday which looked impressive when partnered with the 88 yards from Mariota but averaging just 2.9 yards a carry and without a 100-yard rushing game in four attempts is a worrying trend for the young starlet.
The offence will be aided should Carr return, especially with tight-end Darren Waller continuing to play at an exceptional level as the second best tight-end in the league behind the incomparable Travis Kelce.
The former-receiver notched 150 yards and a magnificent looking deep score as he approaches the 1000 yard mark with two remaining games to go on the season.
Defensively, the Raiders may also be boosted by the return of safety, Jonathan Abrams who has practiced all week, and they might need the help as they continue to shift big yards against all most everybody they face.
Corner Trayvon Muller had a particularly tough outing against the Chargers, as they gave up 314 yards through the air to rookie Herbert and now rank 7th worst in passing yards allowed on the year and 6.0 yards per play on the season, which is 5th most and in competition with some of the worst defences in the league.
On the other side of that scale however is the Miami Dolphins constricting defensive unit who held the New England Patriots to just 12 points in a victory over their division rivals in Week 15.
The group was also coming off the back of a game in which they picked off Patrick Mahomes on three occasions, as the high-paid cornerback combination of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones prove their value to this defence first set up that Brian Flores has built.
The group has been under pressure to perform throughout the year, as rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa attempts to find his feet in the NFL before they potentially reach the play-offs for the first time since Adam Gase.
The Alabama-alumni has shown glimpses of what made him the fifth overall pick last year, and why the Dolphins replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick with the young-gun half-way through the year as the leftie has done well to continue building rapports with Mike Gesicki and Devante Parker in particular.
Gesicki has become a good safety valve for the young QB, and now has over 600 receiving yards on the season as he looks to further his numbers against a team who has shifted 700 yards against tight-ends in their 14 games this season.
The Week 16 matchup with the Raiders will prove a further test for Tua with the opportunity to kick the Raiders out of contention for that 7th and final play-off spot providing he gets the Florida team a big win on the road in Las Vegas.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall, the Carr news only makes a small difference to what I think will happen when these two teams face up on Saturday. The Raiders have struggled a bunch in all four of their recent losses and they cant seem to stop anybody with any consistency on defence.
Miami however can stop just about anyone and even made the Chiefs sweat for the entire game which is a far more effective offensive unit than the Raiders, and I expect them to grind out a low-scoring, but important win to keep themselves in the driving seat of that final play-off spot.
With major play-off implications at stake, these two postseason-bound teams may have similar records but they are on quite different trajectories. The visitors are fresh off a 27-20 victory over divisional rivals the Texans, their third win in a row, while the Steelers suffered an unexpected 27-17 loss to AFC North foes the Bengals – their third defeat in succession.
If we use a New Year Eve’s fireworks display as our analogy, the 10-4 Colts are a Catherine Wheel, spinning away nicely at an even tempo. These steady Eddies have been slugging it out with the Titans (also 10-4) in the AFC South and it’s all still up for grabs, although they lag behind on a tiebreaker. In stark contrast, the 11-3 Steelers are a Skyrocket. Everyone went “oooh” and “aaah” as they raced out to an 11-0 record, only to explode in a big, noisy and colourful way. The ashes are now drifting back to earth.
With a chance to wrap up the AFC North, the wobbly Steelers had a Monday night match-up on primetime at Cincinnati: talk about the perfect get-right scenario. The pundits queued up to predict an easy win for the 14-point favourites. Everything that transpired thereafter felt like it belonged to the alternative universe from His Dark Materials: close to the one we know but not quite the same. The Bengals D was fierce; Ryan Finley was competent; Ben Roethlisberger was poor; Diontae Johnson wasn’t Mr Butter Fingers; there were three first-half turnovers in favour of Cincy. All very odd indeed. The 10-point upset, in front of a national TV audience, saw the Bengals snap a five-game losing streak and an 11-game run of defeats against their nemesis.
Pittsburgh’s offence has been held to under 20 points for four consecutive games now and was restricted to a measly 244 total yards by Cincinnati. Big Ben clearly wasn’t at his best (throwing 4-of-10 for -5 passing yards in the first quarter), even though he became the seventh player to pass for more than 60,000 yards. His 62.4 QB rating set a new low for the season.
The pressure is growing on the ailing Steelers’ QB and his WR corps because the team owns the league’s second-worst rushing attack. With the banged-up James Conner once again missing, they’ve gained an average of 51 yards on the ground during the three-game losing streak. If it weren’t for Benny Snell’s 84 yards and a rushing TD on Monday, Pittsburgh would have posted a net total of 2 yards rushing.
Their once-invincible defence is still the second-best in the league but it has been weakened by a number of key injuries of late, not least to linebacker Bud Dupree and on Monday, to fullback Derek Watt. At least his brother, TJ, continues to excel. His league-leading 13 sacks make him a Defensive Player of the Year contender but he can’t do it all by himself.
You could argue that, like Pittsburgh, Indy’s defence (ranked 7th in the NFL) has been the backbone of the team for much of the campaign. Their mainstays stepped up again to complete the season sweep over Houston, with Darius Leonard forcing the game-deciding fumble, rushing up and punching the ball out of Keke Coutee’s hands as he headed for the end zone with just 23 seconds on the clock. And one of the trades of the year, DeForest Buckner, sacked Deshaun Watson three times, despite operating on one good leg.
The revitalised unit has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league – not great news for the Steelers’ weak running game. Indy’s D have also forced the third most turnovers in the league so Diontae Johnson’s handling needs to be error-free in this game.
Another similarity between these teams is that they both have a veteran quarterback plucked from the 2004 Draft class. Unlike Big Ben’s current funk, Indianapolis winning four of the last five is down in no small part to Philip Rivers, who could be back to his best (11 TDs to 2 INTs in that spell). His 419 career TDs leave him needing just two more to pass Dan Marino and go fifth in the all-time list, a milestone he could esily reach in this game. The team ranks ninth in overall offence, with major contributions from the league’s RB10, the second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor (842 yards, 7 TDs). Top wideout TY Hilton is also quietly effective but his 675 yards only just scrape him into the NFL’s top 40.
The Colts have not committed a turnover in their last three but it’s also noting that they relied on a last-minute fumble for the second time in three weeks to grab the W against Houston. This doesn’t shout Super Bowl contender from the rooftops but nonetheless, Indy just keep on clearing one hurdle at a time and moving on to the next.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@Sean TylerUK)
A month ago, the Steelers looked locked in as AFC North champions elect and a bye in the Wild Card round was within their grasp. Now, it’s all starting to slip through their fingers. Their postseason place is in the bank but their current form probably makes them the team others want to face. Having lost twice in recent weeks to teams below .500, the AFC’s No.3 seed needs to end the slump – and fast – if they’re to stay ahead of the Browns and Ravens.
Yet the Colts are no pushovers. They have enough going for them on both sides of the ball to bloody the collective Pittsburgh nose for a fourth straight week. But playing at Heinz Field, could the Steelers bounce back after a short week and stun Indy? Of course they could and in fact, the Steelers are slight favourites at the time of writing. But I sense another upset brewing here. Unlike their hosts, the Colts look solid at the moment so I’m expecting them to take care of business, leaving the Steelers with more questions than answers once again.
Without trying to launch straight into hyperbole, this is probably the most important game of the weekend, with the result all but determining who wins the highly competitive NFC West.
A week ago, we all would have assumed that these teams would be sitting level coming into this game. But, thanks to the historic loss to The Worst Team in Football, the 9-5 Rams unexpectedly find themselves a game behind the 10-4 Seahawks, making this a must-win contest. The Arizona Cardinals are just one game behind LA so it’s all pretty tight. So close, in fact, that a win gives Seattle the title, as well as a shot at the top seed and home-field advantage in the play-offs; a defeat would put them behind the Rams on a tiebreaker, as they lost their Week 10 match-up.
Coming off the back of two straight wins, Seattle clinched a play-off spot with a 20-15 victory in Washington, although they did have to hang on a bit at the end after building a 20-3 lead. QB Russell Wilson finished with a season-low 121 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT – not exactly up to the standards he set in the first half of the season. He’s now dropped to 7th in the league for passing yardage but he’s still second only to Aaron Rodgers for TDs thrown (37), more than a quarter of which have landed in the arms of DK Metcalf (1,223 yards, 10 TDs).
The rushing game looked solid last week too, with Wilson’s 52 rushing yards complementing the tally accrued by RB1 Chris Carson (63 yards on 15 attempts) and his backfield compadre Carlos Hyde (an impressive 55 yards and a TD on just two carries).
While their offence (ranked 9th in the league) hasn’t been able to maintain its blistering start to the campaign, ‘Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked a worrying 41 times so this is where the game could be won or lost. Seattle’s wobbly defence (ranked a lowly 26th) is actually playing a bit better of late, with DE Carlos Dunlap joining from Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and Jamal Adams bossing things in an improved secondary. They definitely stepped it up last week in the nation’s capital, with four sacks and seven QB hits on Dwayne Haskins, and their pass rush has delivered at least two sacks in the last eight games, including three on Jared Goff in Week 10.
Coming into this one with a totally different vibe, the Rams’ 23-20 home defeat to the winless New York Jets saw them become only the fifth team in 42 years to lose when favoured by at least 17 points by the bookies. At least they didn’t have any fans in their shiny new stadium to share their views on proceedings.
Jared Goff led the fight-back as they cut the deficit to just three points with over six minutes left on the clock. But then LA went 4-and-out on their next possession, thanks to errors and penalties, and never got the ball back. Goff finished with 209 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Whether his inconsistencies will affect his ability to connect with wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, both hovering around 20th in the league with more than 800 receiving yards apiece, only time will tell.
The match-up on the ground will be less appealing for Los Angeles. Seattle have allowed the third-fewest rushing yards per game (94.6), which will pose a challenge for the league’s ninth-best rushing attack, led by rookie Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, two men with more than 500 yards to their names.
Despite Sam Darnold finding some success on Sunday, the Rams secondary plays at an elite level and is the primary reason for the team giving up the fewest passing yards per game (192.0) in the NFL. It was particularly impressive back in Week 10, when they held DK Metcalf to just two receptions and 28 yards. In short, the main difference between these two outfits is the relative strength of their defences. Aaron Donald and co. have mustered 44 sacks and twice as many QB hits in 14 games, making the Rams D the NFL’s top unit.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The Rams are Seattle’s bogey side, having won five of the last six clashes while averaging more than 31 points per game. This current iteration of the Seahawks’ defence is not the strongest, yet they are currently the -1.5 favourites, despite only posting 16 points against the Rams six weeks ago.
Maybe that demoralising defeat to the Jets is a factor. It could suck the Rams down into a pit of despair or alternatively, it might serve as the kick up the posterior they need to bounce back in the final two regular-season games against their two closest rivals, the Seahawks and the Cardinals. If they can win out, the Rams will be crowned NFC West champions, but that’s a big if.
Those Seattle shootouts from earlier in the year – back when they scored at least 34 points in six of their first eight games – are now distant memories. Maybe Russ is done cooking now and has moved on to the washing-up? His 13 INTs put him behind only Carson Wentz, yet then again, Jared Goff has been intercepted a dozen times himself.
With two takeaway-prone QBs not at their best on show, I’m expecting an attritional, low-scoring affair. When they met in Week 12, the Rams won 23-16 and I think we’ll be in the same ballpark again. However, I’m going to plump for Wilson to step it up and lead the Seahawks to a home win and a division title.
The Tennessee Titans will look to knock off their second successive NFC North team in the space of a week when the travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
The Titans had a huge day last week in every possible way when they beat the Detroit Lions into the ground 46-24, as they pursue an AFC South title of their own behind the legs of not just Derrick Henry, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill put together potentially his finest game of the season in Week 15 as threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and also put two score on the board with his feet.
A huge 75-yard touchdown to Corey Davis and a generally wide open passing game showed the signs of the Derrick Henry affect, as defences struggle to stop both the freight train of a running back and the athletic receiving corps of Davis, AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith.
There was the customary 147 yards and a touchdown for the unstoppable Henry, who went over the 100 yard mark for the 10th time this season, and included a rather brutal, highlight reel stiff-arm – again.
The game puts him just 341 yards off of 2K as he continues his most successful season so far in his bright career – 1679 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 games for this Titans team.
Defensively, there continues to be some concerns heading off to the playoffs, as the Lions scored 24 points and moved the ball freely for 430 yards of total offence, which pushed the Titans to 6th worst in yards allowed on the year and 11th worst in points allowed.
Coming up against Aaron Rodgers will further put this defence to the test, as the unit attempts to prove itself against a high powered group that it could potentially end up facing in the playoffs.
Speaking of Rodgers, the Packers will be looking to secure themselves the number one seed in the NFC this weekend in a season that has seen some of the best of their star QB in several years under Matt LeFleur.
The 37-year-old has completed a massive 69.6% of his passes and has done so for 3828 yards in just 14 games and all whilst providing an almost unbelievable 40-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
On Monday it was announced that he had been voted to the ninth Pro-Bowl of his career, which came as little surprise to anybody, as the Packers had a league-high seven players voted in.
While the scoreboard went their way last time out in a win over the Panthers, concern was high over a second-half performance where the offence produced just a single second half field goal after an electric start.
Rodgers referred to the drop off as leaving a “sour taste” in his mouth, a feeling that will only be doubled by knowing that they face far stiffer opponents this week in the Titans and their overpowered offence.
The danger is clear to LeFleur however, the young head-coach describing stopping the Titans as a “tremendous challenge” on Monday, as he tries to gauge the line between slowing down the Henry train and leaving the back end open to that play-action passing game of Tannehill.
The Packers defence has been much improved this year, ranking near the middle of the pack in most categories, and have given up fewer rushing yards on the season, 1541, than Derrick Henry has managed by himself.
Most teams are not the Titans however and the D-line of Green Bay will have their work thoroughly cut out for them if they want to prevent Tennessee from running the ball against them with ease.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall I don’t know if I can see anything other than a Packers win this Sunday. Despite the issues that the offence had in the second half, I don’t think its too much too worry about, especially since the Panthers defence has played well above its station on several occasions this season.
Rodgers will be buoyed by the opportunity to rack up the number one seed at home, and I expect him to show it against a defence who has struggled to hold down fast paced and meticulous offensive units like the Packers.
The king is dead, long live the new king. After a quarter of a century wait the Buffalo Bills (11-3) can finally lay claim to the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Back then the Bills limped into the postseason with a 10-6 record. They did smash the Dolphins in the Wild Card game, but went on to lose in the Divisional round to the Steelers (who went on to lose to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl).
2020 also marks the first time the New England Patriots (6-8) have not punched a ticket into the playoffs, continuing the ‘non Brady’ streak of no postseason action. The last time the Pats failed to get into the business end of the season was 2008 when Matt Cassel led New England to an 11-5 record, pipped to the division by the Miami Dolphins who also finished 11-5 but won the points margin in the two head to head games.
Both teams met earlier in the season, with Buffalo escaping the clutches of Cam Newton’s oak tree legs with a later Tyler Bass (pictured above) field goal. This time, with one team already eliminated, it’s time for the Sith Lord to unwrap Jared Stidham. The 4th round pick in the 2019 draft has already seen the field four times this season, and has ever thrown a couple of touchdowns, replacing a woeful Bryan Hoyer to get a garbage time score, and then a little cameo in the Pats 45-0 steamrolling of the Chargers.
Stidham needs to be rolled out for the last two weeks of the season. With no expectations this is an ideal opportunity for Pats OC Josh McDaniels to see if he has somebody to work with in 2021.
New England have been wholeheartedly underwhelming all season, and at one point they were 2-5, so to still be mathematically alive before Week 15 was pretty remarkable. The Cam Newton experiment has been a failure. Yes he runs, and is a redzone td monster, but through the air #1 has been atrocious. 5 passing touchdowns in 13 games is not going to get you far. This has obviously had a huge knock-on effect regarding the WR production. No Julian Edelman for most of the season, and what has been left is the weakest unit in the league. What makes the Pats offense a laughing stock is the TE production. Ryan Izzo has managed 13 catches for under 200 yards and 0 scores.
When we turn to the Bills it is the complete opposite. The team have tied the NFL record for the most different players to catch a TD – a remarkable 13. Josh Allen has been wowing fans all season, and is full value for his 11 wins in 14 games. Allen is a Pro Bowler for the first time, albeit on the second team behind Patrick Mahomes in the AFC. The dual threat is one of a small handful of franchise studs to still be in the running for the 2020 NFL MVP award, going up against Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers to decide the winner.
Leading the Bills in catches is Stefon Diggs (pictured above), a 2020 Pro Bowl starter, who has 111 catches already and over 1,300 yards. Team mate Cole ‘slot machine’ Beasley needs just 50 to reach 1,000, which would mark the first time he has reached 1K in his 9 year career.
The only real weakness the Bills have is a rather pedestrian running game. The combination of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss do not scare anyone, and was it not for the rushing threat posed by Josh Allen this would be one of the worst rushing units in the league.
Buffalo’s defense has been fantastic all year long. LB Tremaine Edmonds and CB Tre’Davious White are all deserving Pro Bowl selections, and even KR Andre Roberts has been recognised for his special teams qualities.
Unsurprisingly the Patriots have zero offensive players on the Pro Bowl team, and only Stephon Gilmore the CB made the Defensive squad, more by reputation and name recognition than actuations game play. The Patriots do value special teams very highly and were rewarded with Pro Bowl nods to the punter Jake Bailey (pictured above – who had a lot of work experience in 2020) and evergreen gunner Matthew Slater.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
With that highly significant Steelers loss to the Bengals on MNF in Week 14, the Bills have shimmied up the playoff pole to the #2 seed with just two regular season weeks left. Having sniffed that rarified air the Bills will not take anything for granted, and will be striving to win out against AFC East division rivals the Pats and then the Miami Dolphins.
Josh Allen can hoist up an NFL MVP trophy just like his fellow 2018 first round draft class buddy Lamar Jackson, and sweeping the Patriots would make the accolade that bit sweeter.
For the Bills D there is limited game film on Jared Stidham, including 0 starts or truly meaningful snaps, so the surprise element will favour the Patriots. This does not mean they will translate this into a victory. The empire has crumbled in New England, and it’s time for Pats fans to look to the future now and not the present.
Josh Allen to have another big game, and Buffalo to put immense pressure on the Steelers who are melting faster than a snowman in a naan bread oven (inspired by watching Eddie Hall trying to eat the world’s largest naan bread!!). Look to 21 year old Bills WR Gabriel Davis to add to his impressive 6 td total in this contest.
Welcome in to the Full10Yards Week 12 Takeaways. While you are tucking in to your Tuesday (other days are available) dinner, get some of these side dishes round your chops.
Don’t forget, for a more in-depth look at the Week 12 games, there is our regular Monday recap show available on Twitter/YouTube/Facebook or through podcast outlets.
Let’s get to it then. Here are our takeaways from the weekend’s action:
No quarters given?
The first quarter of football in Tampa Bay for the Kansas City Chiefs was just electric. Everyone scrambling through KC record books and also NFL ones too. MVP clubhouse leader Patrick Mahomes and star wideout Tyreek Hill put on a show combining for seven connections, 203 yards and two receiving TDs.
Fantasy owners who had thrown in the towel rejoiced and you’d have been forgiven in thinking the Buccaneers would have done too.
Whether the Chiefs took their collective foot off the gas or whether it was the Buccaneers’ half-time adjustments giving them the failed late comeback attempt is up for debate, but we have seen a plethora of instance where the Chiefs just blow teams away in a quarter.
Just go back to last post-season, when the Chiefs put up 28 points against the Texans in the second quarter of the divisional round. And we all remember the three TDs in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how you try and stop the Chiefs. From a defensive standpoint, it’s hard to draw anything up because if you play zone coverage or play with a big buffer to the WR, they’ll just pick you apart underneath with Kelce, Watkins and the running game; play too aggressively and/or blitz, and you get performances like the one we saw from Tyreek Hill.
It’s just going to be a case of fighting fire with fire, which makes the Chiefs’ match-ups mouthwatering when they occur (we all remember the 54-51 game against the Rams in 2018!).
The Chiefs stay hot on the coat tails of the Steelers (who possibly play on Wednesday) and with the Steelers offence probably being one of the better ones in the AFC, I don’t think anyone will scoff at a potential Steelers vs Chiefs AFC title game. Yum yum.
The Thanksgiving Day turkey finally stuffed
You hear that? That’s the sound of Detroit Lions fans around the world (but mainly in Michigan) rejoicing at the dismissal of HC Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn. Prior to Patricia’s stint, Jim Caldwell and “Jim Bob” Cooter were often ridiculed for their results each season. My, how some of them probably wish that these guys were still here.
Patricia leaves with a 13-29-1 record from his first stab at the head coaching role and you have to wonder whether he’ll get another. Maybe he’ll end up back in New England with Bill and Josh, but the Mad Scientist certainly needed more than a few rockets up their backsides to get anything positive from this team.
Blasted for consistently failing to adapt his defence, Patricia did have injury-plagued seasons with the likes of Chase Daniel, Jeff Driskel and David Blough captaining the ship. But even so, there were enough stars on both sides of the ball throughout that roster to make his finishing record something you just have to shake your head at.
The back office have said that they endeavour to get the next hiring right and you can argue that the Lions are in worse shape now than they were pre-Matt Patricia.
There is a decision to be made at quarterback and don’t be surprised to see a few teams sniffing round to acquire his services comes next season, but the cap is not in great shape after huge deals and overpays given in the past year or two to the likes of Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Their defensive front is putting zero fear into opposing offences and needs an overhaul. they have a few pieces on offence with rookie RB D’Andre Swift and star wideout Kenny Golladay, but he is in the last year of his rookie deal.
For the Detroit faithful, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief, probably fist-pump a little bit and then it’ll likely go back to the usual cycle of underwhelming and the franchise continuing to play non-meaningful games on Thanksgiving (sorry Lions fans).
QB or no QB, that is the question
I think it’s a decent stretch to say that there no quarterbacks on the field in the New Orleans “match-up” with the Denver Broncos.
Due to Drew Lock and the rest of the Denver Broncos QBs being removed from the game due to Jeff Driskel’s COVID diagnosis as a result of the close contact protocols, Kendall Hinton – the practice squad WR – got his chance to shine and accumulate a little niche fan club on the field in Week 12.
Hinton has actually thrown a TD pass more recently (at Wake, 2017) than his opposite number, Taysom Hill on Sunday (BYU, 2016).
While no-one knew what to expect on the field from him and ultimately wasn’t too much to shout about when the dust had settled, Kendall must have had one of the craziest 24 hours for an NFL player.
“I can easily say it has been the most eventful 24 hours of my life, but when I got the call, it was pure excitement. I would not say this was how I had it planned out in my dreams, it usually doesn’t work out how you want it. So just getting this opportunity and this experience was amazing.”
Kendall on going into the Saints game, his experience and his reflection on the game vs the Saints.
Hinton got to realise a dream, of being introduced as an NFL starting QB, coming out of that tunnel last with his name announced and got a decent pay cheque at the end of it.
He’ll tell his grandkids about his one completed pass to tight end Noah Fant if maybe not necessarily focusing on too much else.
Hinton ended up with 2 INTs and just one completion on nine attempts. For the rest of the Broncos, Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon and even Royce Freeman (who was initially slated to get the nod in the wildcat system at QB) all took direct snaps, but the Broncos putting up three points was as probably as good as it was going to get.
Kendall though joins the Google search trending hotlist, just under namesake Jenner and a lovely quaint village in the Lake District (OK, I cheated on that one, I’ll take the extra L).
Taking it on the Chinn
A bit of defensive appreciation here.
It comes in the form of Carolina rookie DB Jeremy Chinn.
The 2020 second round pick out of Southern Illinois managed to score not one but two touchdowns in the game against Minnesota. Even better still, it was on BACK-TO-BACK PLAYS!
After scooping up a fumble and returning it for 17 yards into the end zone, he then stripped running back Dalvin Cook and returned it 28 yards to rack up 12 points for the Panthers.
The team effort ultimately fell short as Kirk Cousins found a fourth quarter performance from seemingly nowhere, but in 2021, I’m certainly not going to be sleeping on the Panthers. This team is going to go places.
I wonder if they sniff at Matthew Stafford…? (see above)
InZane in the membrane
The Arizona Cardinals lost vital ground in the NFC West division race with their loss in New England in Week 12.
A Nick Folk 50=yard FG as time expired was enough for the Patriots to take the win 20-17. The drive prior though, Zane Gonzalez missed a 45-yard kick with 1:52 on the clock, giving Cam and the Pats’ offence enough time to engineer a game-winning drive.
That loss could be huge for the Cardinals with the Seahawks winning and the 49ers tightening the pack up a little bit.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see all teams in the NFC having a non-losing season, which makes losses like these for the Cardinals even more crucial.
Falcons swoop on Carr crash in Atlanta, AFC team playoff pileup
The week after taking the Chiefs to the wire at home, Derek Carr and the Raiders laid an absolute egg against the Falcons.
To take the car analogy further, it was a total write off too as we saw some Nathan Peterman on the field after three fumbles and one interception from Carr returned for a pick-six, effectively sealing the game in the middle of the third quarter.
The loss leaves the Raiders at 6-5 and currently the number #9 seed (this is written before the Ravens/Steelers game) and while the loss was against a cross-conference opponent, it’s a game you felt the Raiders needed to keep pace with the pile-up currently in the Wild Card hunt.
They have a change to get right next week against the Jets, but something just stinks in that game to me that the Jets get their first win, which will kill the Raiders for 2020.
For the Falcons, nobody saw this coming, not Deion Sanders, Jerry Glanville or the ghost of Elvis Presley (who the former Falcons coach would leave tickets for).
The Falcons stifled the Las Vegas Raiders to the extent they got the same amount of points defensively in one play as Gruden’s gang managed in 60 minutes of football. Atlanta’s D forced three Derek Car fumbles (he lost all three), got five sacks and an interception, and dominated the game from start to finish.
The Falcons are a very respectable 4-2 since installing interim head coach Raheem Morris. Morris has got the Falcons playing with some pride, and is doing himself a world of good in terms of securing the post in the longer term.
A laughing stock for the majority of the season, if anyone placed a wager that the Falcons would beat the Raiders by 37 points, I want to see the betting slip… and then get their tips for all this week’s upcoming games.
Brissett sneaks under the radar
It was quite the week for back-up QBs, who were standing in for injured starters (Brandon Allen) or coming on when the QB1 got injured mid-game (Colt McCoy). Some weren’t even quarterbacks (much respect to Kendall Hinton in Denver). So it’s understandable that you may have missed the latest cameo from Jacoby Brissett, buried deep in the stats from the Colts’ 45-26 hiding by the Titans.
Nothing much went right for Indy on Sunday, from clock management issues to Derrick Henry running amok. The result was essentially set in stone by half-time, after ‘The Beaver’ (TM Lawrence Vos) had rumbled for 140 yards and three touchdowns. He ‘only’ got 38 more after the break but he’s definitely doing everything he can to get his name into the MVP conversation.
By contrast, the Colts’ offence recorded just 56 yards rushing but three of those – courtesy of Mr Brissett – were no less intriguing than Henry’s 178. Now a bench-warmer in Indianapolis after the arrival of Philip Rivers, Brissett went 0-for-2 for passing, but rushed four times for three yards and two touchdowns.
OK, so I wouldn’t go scouring the waiver wire to add him to your fantasy football team just yet but he’s carved out a niche for himself, despite sitting out for all but a few snaps each week. Head Coach Frank Reich has started to use him in two contrasting but specific scenarios: when the Colts need a quarterback sneak (Philip Rivers is not a fan, having attempted just one in the last five years) or when they need to throw it halfway down the field (arm strength was never Rivers’ USP). Everything else falls under young Pip’s remit but for the opposite ends of the spectrum – the 1-yard QB sneak or the Hail Mary – it seems Jacoby’s the man.
He was wheeled on to hurl an all-or-nothing bomb against the Ravens in Week 9 (it was a ‘nothing’) but more notably, in the past few games, Brissett has started to see some action on short-yardage runs. On his only running play two weeks ago, in Indy’s first match-up against Tennessee, he scored on a 2-yard rush and he managed two more against them this Sunday (he also secured a vital 4th-and-1 on the Colts’ opening TD drive).
By way of comparison, Rivers has three rushing touchdowns in his entire career – and he’s no spring chicken. Although Brissett can only boast 14 yards, three of his nine rushing attempts this season have resulted in TDs, putting him on a par with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Teddy Bridgewater, Justin Herbert and Dak Prescott in that regard.
Switching between QBs is not normally recommended, as it risks upsetting the star of the franchise, let alone the rhythm of the offence. But to their credit, the Colts seem have fully embraced the respective talents of their top two play-callers and are happy to let the understudy play to his strengths, while giving their team the best chance when the circumstances are right.
Gibson is playing a chart-topping tune
Why does Mike McCarthy hate guitar music? He hates playing a Gibson – Antonio Gibson that is.
It may be a while ago that Washington put the second beat down on the Dallas Cowboys this season, but it’s never too late to pay tribute to a rookie that is having a truly outstanding season.
Gibson, more of a receiver in college, has quietly gone about his business on a team that has been abysmal in part and surprising in the last two weeks.
The fact he leads all rookie running backs in rushing touchdowns is worth a mention, the fact he is third in the entire NFL for this category is somewhat shocking. His three scores on Thanksgiving were a personal highlight.
His 11 scores are five ahead of his nearest rookie rival, the Jaguars’ UDFA James Robinson. Washington are incredulously joint leading the NFC (L)East after 12 weeks – with a 4-7 record. Their head-to-head record against the Giants mean if the playoffs were today, they would be out.
We know Joe Burrow was the prime candidate for rookie of the year, with Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson narrowly behind. But nobody is talking about Antonio Gibson. Maybe that starts to change this week with Washington facing Pittsburgh in a second consecutive spotlight game.
If you used to play Guitar Hero back in the day and now play Draft Kings, then you can do worse that firing up a Gibson!!
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Since the Eagles broke their duck in February 2018, we’ve been left with 12 NFL franchises that have never won the Super Bowl. They include the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills, both of whom have appeared four times without tasting victory, and the Cincinnati Bengals, whose most recent appearance came more than three decades ago.
Of those dozen, the Browns, Lions, Jaguars and Texans haven’t even reached the season finale. As the league’s newest expansion teams, Jacksonville and Houston have only been around since 1995 and 2002 respectively, but long-suffering Cleveland and Detroit fans surely deserve a medal by now.
Not a power ranking as such, this is a take on how (im)probable it is for any franchise to win their first-ever title at Super Bowl LV in Tampa come February 2021. I think we need to say from the outset that none of these teams are likely to do so. However, the addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference this season at least gives them all a greater shot at the biggest prize.
So let’s dust off the crystal ball and start the countdown in reverse order, from least likely to the best shot…
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
We shouldn’t really be talking about a debut Super Bowl appearance here. With ESPN’s Football Power Index making Jacksonville the most likely team (23% chance) to pick first in the 2021 draft, a better question might be “will Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence be a Jag next year?”
The team’s immediate fortunes rest on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II. Minshew outplayed the now-departed Nick Foles, going 6-6 in his first season, and has new pass-catching options in TE Tyler Eifert and rookie receiver Laviska Shenault. If only Leonard Fournette can start finding the end zone again – he only logged three TDs in 2019 – and the offensive line can lend a hand…
On defence, there’s been a bit of a fire sale, with AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell following Jalen Ramsey through the door marked ‘exit’, but franchise-tagging DE Yannick Ngakoue and grabbing linebacker Joe Schobert from the Browns suggests there’s no #TankforTrevor at play here. Nonetheless, both first round draft picks – cornerback CJ Henderson and linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson – will need to find their feet quickly or HC Doug Marrone will be out on his ear.
At least the Jags’ schedule is on the easy side, with the Dolphins, Bengals, Lions and Chargers as the first four out-of-division opponents. Be that as it may, they may struggle to match last year’s 6-10, let alone reach their first-ever Super Bowl. They’re not bottom of every pundit’s power rankings for nothing, you know.
11. Carolina Panthers
Can Carolina push on from last year’s 5-11 under new HC Matt Rhule? When you have Christian McCaffery, only the third player ever to rush and catch for 1,000 yards in a season, all is not lost. But let’s not get carried away…
With Luke Kuechly now enjoying a well-earned retirement, the defence could be a worry. The organisation must have felt the same as they cashed in all seven draft picks on defensive players, boosting the front seven with DT Derrick Brown and DE Yetur Gross-Matos, and adding Jeremy Chinn and Kenny Robinson to the secondary.
These guys are gonna be busy though; 10 of their games will be against divisional rivals Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, as well as Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. Eeek! The Panthers’ attack is going to have to go some to outscore some of these teams.
The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice before without bringing home the bacon, most recently in 2016 when they lost 24-10 to the Broncos. Despite their shiny new QB Teddy Bridgewater and the ever-present CMC, we can be fairly sure they won’t be heading back to the big time quite yet.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
A 2-14 team winning the Super Bowl the following year? It’s a very long shot but in theory, the extra playoff spots mean Cincy can continue to prop up the AFC North and still reach the postseason.
By all accounts, Joe Burrow is acing all the Zoom meetings but without physical reps, it’ll take time for the #1 overall draft choice to gel with his new receiving corps. Despite his 60-touchdown season at LSU, even the future face of the franchise won’t turn the Bengals into world-beaters overnight.
That said, the only way is up for Cincinnati. There were season-long injuries to AJ Green and rookie left tackle Jonah Williams in 2019, while extended time out for John Ross and Cordy Glenn left them relying on fourth or fifth choices at times. Then there was the short-lived ‘Ryan Finley Experiment’, which sounds like a modern jazz combo but was even more painful…
To improve on defence (equal last in the league for yards allowed per play), they dabbled in free agency for a change. Acquiring Houston defensive tackle DJ Reader was a massive coup, safety Von Bell and linebacker Josh Bynes were unexpected arrivals from the Saints and Ravens respectively, and the two Vikings corners – Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander – should move that needle too.
If AJ Green stays fit, if Burrow meets expectations, if Joe Mixon has another 1,000-yard year and if the O-line isn’t as leaky (that’s a lot of ifs), Cincy could be half-decent. Statistically, they have the second-easiest schedule of our dozen, with the Redskins, Jaguars, Giants, Chargers and Dolphins in the mix. But given the strengths of their divisional rivals, the long odds aren’t going to shorten. The league’s longest wait since their last Super Bowl, a last-minute loss to the 49ers in 1989, will go on.
9. Detroit Lions
I’m hardly sticking my neck out by saying the Lions won’t be making their Super Bowl debut this season but I expect them to fare a lot better than 3-12-1 this time.
Losing Matt Stafford to a back injury mid-season was a serious setback when he was on pace for a 5,000-yard season. His stand-ins, Jeff Driskel and David Blough, just didn’t cut the mustard, and the Lions lost their last eight straight. Grabbing Chase Daniel in the offseason at least gives them a bit more QB insurance, their receivers could have a decent year and second round pick D’Andre Swift should dovetail nicely with Kerryon Johnson in the RB room.
If Stafford is back to his best, the Lions should score enough points so their fortunes in 2020 will fly or fall with their defence – one of the worst last year. Still, their consolation prize was #3 draft pick Jeff Okudah, the Ohio State CB. Two former Patriots, DT Danny Shelton and linebacker Jamie Collins, could prove useful additions, along with Reggie Ragland and Desmond Trufant, but with Darius Slay departing to Philly, the holes aren’t quite plugged yet.
The Lions are a couple of seasons away from having serious Super Bowl credentials so for now, Matt Patricia needs to improve on his 9-22-1 record. The schedulers haven’t been kind, giving Detroit the equal toughest schedule of our gang. With only two home games in the first seven weeks, hitting their stride from the get-go again seems unlikely.
If the D improves, Stafford stays healthy and they get the rub of the green for a change, the Lions could yet win a playoff game for the first time since 2009. After finishing bottom of the division for the last two years, that would be a massive step forward. It’s a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.
8. Los Angeles Chargers
Doubts over a first return to the end game since 1995, when the Chargers lost their only SB to the Niners, are at least partly due to the question marks hanging over the QB position. With Philip Rivers in pastures new, journeyman Tyrod Taylor is the expected starter after three solid-but-not-spectacular years in Buffalo. The front office clearly concurs, or else Justin Herbert wouldn’t have been the sixth overall draft pick. The Oregon product should challenge Taylor and help the Chargers improve from last year’s disappointing 5-11.
Over the offseason, franchise-tagging TE Hunter Henry and resigning running back Austin Ekeler were solid moves, and the Bolts replaced DT Russell Okung with the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga. The other big additions were cornerback Chris Harris from Denver and linebacker Kenneth Murray, a Day 2 draft pick.
The Chargers’ schedule could see Taylor face his old Bills, while road trips to the Saints and Buccaneers should bring him (or Herbert) up against two league legends. It may take a while to bed into the SoFi Stadium so match-ups against the Panthers, Jets and Jaguars could be crucial in building some early atmosphere in their new home. In short, there are just too many things stacked against the Bolts to make a genuine charge at this year’s Super Bowl.
7. Arizona Cardinals
If we’re looking for a sleeper to give the 49ers a run for their money in the NFC West, let alone make a third trip to the Super Bowl after unsuccessful excursions in 2009 and 2017, could that be Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona?
The Cardinals reside in a competitive division, which always makes their schedule tough. This year, they’ll also have Dallas, Buffalo, New England and Philadelphia on their plate although, with the Redskins (or whatever they’re called by then), Lions, Panthers and Jets all front-loaded in the calendar, they could build some early momentum before things get tough.
Things are definitely blooming in the desert, starting with the downright theft of All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins from Houston. He’ll help Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald to elevate Kyler Murray’s game as the QB enters year 2. OT Josh Jones was great third-round value in the draft and Kenyan Drake should continue where he left off, notching three 100-yard rushing games in his eight weeks at Arizona.
But can the D keep their end of the bargain? The additions of Bills DT Jordan Phillips and versatile first round pick, LB Isaiah Simmons, should raise the bar (2019: 28th in points allowed, 32nd in yards allowed), while another linebacker, Detroit’s Devon Kennard, boosts the pass rush.
After finishing 5-10-1 last year, there are bluer skies ahead for the Cardinals. However, unless there’s a massive plot twist, it won’t be the blue skies of Tampa in February.
6. Houston Texans
Established in 2002, the Texans are the babies of our group and have yet to reach the final showdown in their short history. It’s a reach to suggest they’ll be contesting Super Bowl LV as 2020, clearly a stinker for all of us, has been especially horrible for the Texans.
The ‘fun’ started with the AFC Divisional Game, in which they threw away a more-than-promising 24-point lead against the Chiefs, getting outscored 51-7 in the last 40 minutes. And it’s not been great since, swapping top receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for, well, not a lot (sorry, David Johnson fans). ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave the Texans an ‘F’ and he wasn’t alone in slating the trade.
The Texans did acquire a pair of experienced receivers in Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb to give Deshaun Watson options beyond Will Fuller, but if they are going to make the playoffs and beyond, their 28th-ranked defence (slumping from 12th the year before) needs to step up. Will JJ Watt, who’s missed exactly half of the last 64 games with injuries, bounce back to the Defensive Player of the Year version of himself? Can rookie Ross Blacklock hope to replace defensive tackle DJ Reader?
Houston’s schedule is one of the hardest of our SB-deprived teams; their first six fixtures include the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings and Packers, making a 1-5 start perfectly feasible. And with plenty of AFC teams likely to do well, emerging among the conference’s top seven isn’t a given by any means for the Texans.
5. Atlanta Falcons
By the midway point of last season, the 1-7 Falcons were clearly not destined to go back for their third Super Bowl appearance. Then, inexplicably, Dan Quinn’s team hit their stride and won six of their final eight games to finish 7-9.
Having started 4-9 the year before (also ending 7-9 after a late rally), it’s clear that the Falcons don’t fly out of the traps but finish well. Opening with the Seahawks, Cowboys, Bears and Packers doesn’t sound conducive to a solid start in 2020 and another rip-snorting finish might be beyond them this time: five of their last seven games are against the Saints (twice), Buccs (twice) and Chiefs.
With Matt Ryan under centre, Julio Jones (six straight seasons of 1,300+ yards) and Calvin Ridley in the wideout group, Baltimore’s Hayden Hurst plugging an Austin-Hooper-shaped hole at tight end and RB Todd Gurley joining from the Rams, 2020 could be quite something offensively (if Gurley’s gammy knee holds out). On the other side of the ball, Vic Beasley has moved on and they need more than 28 sacks so can new signings Dante Fowler Jr. and Takkarist McKinley get to Messrs Brees, Brady, Bridgewater and Mahomes?
With the personnel in place, Quinn is under pressure to take the Falcons into the postseason. However, they’d need to replicate their form from the latter half of recent campaigns for a whole season and I can’t help but feel their schedule is against them.
4. Cleveland Browns
In 2019, many saw the Browns as a legitimate contender for their first-ever Super Bowl or at least worthy of a side bet. On paper, the names looked good: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett. But in Freddie Kitchens, they had a first-time Head Coach who proved to be hopelessly out of his depth.
He had the ‘anti-Midas touch’: everything he touched went wrong. Baker Mayfield regressed. OBJ disappointed. Garrett went rogue. The O-line was feeble. Despite the hype, the Browns stumbled to 6-10 and stretched the league’s longest playoff drought to 18 years.
Under new HC Kevin Stefanski (their 12th since 2000), the arrow is pointing north. They signed Jack Conklin and drafted Jedrick Wills to help Mayfield to flourish, and both Landry and Beckham Jr. should be over their injury niggles. Chubb and Kareem Hunt are as good as any RB tandem in the league, and free-agency acquisition Austin Hooper is a solid tight end option. Now, if Mr Garrett can just keep his cool…
To that point, Stefanski has inherited a team loaded with potential but he needs to instil more discipline than Kitchens could muster. If he does, I can see the Browns tucking in behind the Ravens and Steelers, and riding the wave into the postseason as the AFC’s seventh seed.
The statisticians say theirs is the easiest schedule of our Super Bowl-challenged group, and with Washington, Jacksonsville, both New York teams and the Bengals (twice) on the list, it’s hard to disagree. Then, once in the playoffs at long last, it’s all up for grabs.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have four Super Bowl appearances under their belt – most recently in 1997 – but no victories. Having reached a Divisional Game last time around, the NFC North outfit currently have the shortest odds among our unlucky 12 to return to the big finale.
Offensively, there’s much to like, even though they shipped star receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills. They used part of their haul of draft picks on Day 1 to pick Justin Jefferson; factor in that Diggs was disgruntled with his situation and it’s probably the best outcome for all parties. Dalvin Cook will shine again, as long as he doesn’t sit out the season.
The Vikes’ defence is more of a worry. They gutted the secondary during the off-season, letting three corners – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander – walk, and will be relying on rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler to plug the gaps. Those defensive concerns, plus the third-toughest schedule of our 12 – only the Lions, Panthers and Jaguars can contemplate sub-.500 seasons – and I see the Vikes being the least likely of our top tier to lift the Lombardi trophy for the first time.
2. Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ four Super Bowls came in consecutive years in the early 1990s but they lost the lot, and have won just one playoff game since. Now, HC Sean McDermott is looking for his third post-season in four years with the rejuvenated Bills looking like legit contenders for the AFC East title.
For the first time in ages, it’s a coin flip between them and the TB12-free Patriots, though neither has an easy ride fixture-wise. Buffalo has one of the toughest schedules among our bevvy of SB bridesmaids, with the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers all lying in wait. The nearest the Bills get to a gimme are their four divisional games against the Jets and Dolphins.
Putting last season’s OT Wild Card loss to the Texans firmly in the rear view mirror, the Bills have much to look forward to. As well as one of the best defences in the league, Stefon Diggs’ arrival from Minnesota should be a boost to their 23rd-ranked offence. He’d better be though: the Bills handed over a bucket-load of draft spots to get him. Averaging 1,000 yards and eight TDs a year, he also has a reputation for down-the-field catches, which should suit Josh Allen nicely. Pairing running back Zack Moss with Devin Singletary could create the best RB duo in the division, even without the ageless Frank Gore in their ranks any more.
So in summary, all is set fair for Buffalo. Don’t be surprised if they edge some of their tougher contests, win their division and go on from there.
1. Tennessee Titans
Of our teams that have never won a Super Bowl, Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee seem the best bet at putting that right in 2020.
Making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, the Titans exceeded most people’s expectations last year. The decision to replace ineffective QB Marcus Mariota with the Comeback Kid himself, Ryan Tannehill, rescued the team’s season. In their unforeseen push for glory, Tennessee won seven of their last 10 games, and beat the first and third seeds on the road in the process.
So how likely are the Titans to go one better than their only appearance in 2000, when they lost Super Bowl XXXIV to the St Louis Rams? (That was the last time it featured two teams that had never won the title before.) Well, probably more likely than any other team on this list.
With Derrick Henry, who ran the ball 386 times in 2019, on a franchise tag, they can still dominate with their running game. Jack Conklin will be a miss on the O-line, but Isaiah Wilson looks a solid first-round draft pick. Defensively, trading perennial Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey to the Broncos means Jeffery Simmons needs to step up a notch in year 2, while Vic Beasley joining from Atlanta should beef up the pass rush.
With an easier than average schedule, with only the Ravens as a genuine favourite on the fixture list, the Titans seem well-placed to beat Indianapolis and Houston to the AFC South title. Just a win or two more than usual (they’ve finished 9-7 for the last four years) would hold them in good stead going into the playoffs and who knows how far beyond.
How did I do? Do you agree? Let us know @Full10Yards if you’d rank anyone higher than the Titans or want to big up the Jags’ chances
After missing almost the whole 2019 season due to injury Ben Roethlisberger is poised for a big comeback.
While I’m not a fan of this man, he’s undeniably a great player and given the problems the Steelers had with their quarterback situation last year, I’m sure most Steelers fans want to see him back. Even though Duck Hodges is undeniably one of the best personalities in the sport, his play isn’t quite up to scratch.
I’m a betting man so my money is on Big Ben winning the comeback player of the year with the weapons around him.
Todd Gurley – RB, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons landed the former first round running back, giving him a one year deal worth $5.5 Million.
Now this is more of a risky pick given Gurley’s history with injuries, but provided he can stay healthy, Gurley will want to prove what a mistake the Rams made by dropping him the way they did.
The Atlanta Falcons have a ton of weapons going into this season, so look for Gurley to be a big part of this offence and, health permitting, make a big comeback.
Baker Mayfield – QB, Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield was, to put it bluntly, a complete shambles last year. After a record-breaking rookie season Mayfield was poised to come in and bring the Browns their first winning season in years. He sadly flopped. You knew by midseason that hacks like Colin Cowherd were foaming at the mouth watching the Browns struggle to put it together come game time, despite their stacked roster.
The biggest reason for the Browns underperformance was having a first time head coach trying to manage a team full of talent and strong personalities. Oh, and instead of getting an extra piece for their offensive line, they just added OBJ and gave up a first round pick. Never change, Cleveland. Never change.
Mayfield has the talent to be a top tier quarterback in the league, and provided he gets the right attention in camp and stays away from filming so many endorsement deals, I see Mayfield being a serious contender for comeback player of the year in 2020.
Mathew Stafford – QB, Detroit Lions
Until his unfortunate injury last season, Matthew Stafford was looking like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He ranked 8th amongst quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grading from week 1 to week 9; no small feat.
Now factor in all the weapons this offence has. TJ Hockenson, Kenny Golliday, Danny Amendola and now D’Andre Swift (Top receiving running back in the draft) among others.
If Stafford can start the season strong, and even string together some decent wins for the Lions, there’s no reason we can’t see Stafford take this award home for a second time. Honestly, Stafford has a good a chance as any.
J.J. Watt – DE, Houston Texans
It’s a shame that a man like J.J. Watt has been so unlucky with injuries. One of the best defensive players in the league and, before Aaron Donald came along, probably the best pass rusher, it’s fitting that the only person that can slow down J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt.
Provided he can stay healthy next year as the Texans push for another run at the playoffs, he’s going to be a force. It would be really great to see the former Walter Peyton man of the year award winner add a comeback player of the year award to his collection.
At 31, Watt’s days in the NFL may soon come to a close, so a return to form would be a fitting conclusion to a storied career. Watch for J.J. to leave it all on the field this year if he can stay healthy.
A few days ago you were treated to a fantastic Sells equivalent which you can check out here. Today we take a look at those you should be trying to acquire. Let us know your thoughts, let us know YOUR OPINION. Because that’s what it is all about! Let’s see who can get these guys the cheapest!
The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.
Courtland Sutton – Denver Broncos
There’s a feel-good factor around Denver’s offense at the moment. After finishing the season 4-1 with Drew Lock under centre, John Elway has added Pat Shurmur to his coaching staff and signed Melvin Gordon, Graham Glasgow and Nick Vannett in free agency.
All this looks good for third year receiver Courtland Sutton. Coming off a 1,112 yard, 125 target, 72 reception season, the former SMU man has firmly established himself as the Broncos WR1.
The addition of Shurmur looks set to only help Sutton’s development, with his track record as an Offensive Co-ordinator unquestionably good for young QBs and the passing game. If Shurmur can recreate this in Denver, then look for more fireworks from Lock and Sutton as they look to navigate a difficult AFC West.
In your Dynasty League, the time to buy Sutton might not be now. There are plenty of rumours linking the Broncos to a high quality deep threat receiver in the draft, with CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs both regularly mocked their way. This shouldn’t harm Sutton’s production, in fact it should help minimise double coverage. Others may disagree, getting caught up with the inevitable post draft-fever, make your offer then!
The Associated Press
Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles
Another young player that finished the season well, Miles Sanders was a game changer during the Eagles’ late drive to secure a play-off spot.
The 3rd round pick out of Penn State had an up and down start to 2019, with Jordan Howard forcing him out of the starting role for a string of games before going down injured in week 9. Sanders capitalised on this, increasing his playing time and yardage increase until he peaked against the Redskins in week 14.
Howard is now completely out of the picture, having joined the Dolphins, leaving Sanders in competition with Boston Scott as the Eagles’ presumptive week 1 starter. It’s a battle he should win, considering his potential as a dual threat back and the relative draft capital invested in both.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Calvin Ridley – Atlanta Falcons
You’ve all seen the stat doing the rounds at the moment, the Atlanta Falcons have a starting offense built solely from first round picks. Calvin Ridley is amongst those, with the third year receiver currently occupying the WR2 designation behind Julio Jones.
Jones is contracted through 2024 and given the huge salary the Falcons have invested in him, it doesn’t look like he’ll be going anywhere soon. So why Ridley?
It’s all about consistency. In both his years in the league so far, Ridley has locked up 92 and 93 targets respectively, catching 64 of those in 2018 and 63 in 2019, those catches have gone for 821 and 866 yards, with 10 TDs in his rookie year, compared to 7 last year.
He’s the perfect flex player for your line ups, averaging above 10 points per game and providing the perfect complement to Julio it Atlanta’s offense. With such a stacked WR class this year, chances are he’s available relatively cheap in your league, and with Julio entering a period in which some players decline, Ridley could be set to ease in the other direction.
TJ Hockenson – Detroit Lions
After week one of the 2019 season, Hockenson was cleared off waiver wires everywhere. The first rounder caught six passes from Matthew Stafford, going for 131 yards and a TD. Huge numbers for a rookie Tight End.
From there, things went downhill, with Hockenson only adding another 230 yards across the whole season. When you look at the cards dealt to the Iowa product, it’s not hard to see why his form trailed off, when Stafford went down injured, a combination of Jeff Driskel and David Blough stepped into uninspiringly fill the void and the Lions only managed one win after week three.
So, why trade for him now? Everyone knows that rookie Tight Ends are to be avoided in fantasy, so that shouldn’t put you off when looking at Hockenson’s rookie production. Instead look at the upside, this year’s TE class is poor, he was a top 10 NFL pick for obvious reasons last year, and when fit, his QB is one of the most reliable in the game. Pick him up cheap where you can, and watch him develop into one of the league’s elite TE options.
Marcus Mariota – Las Vegas Raiders
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Marcus Mariota – Las Vegas Raiders
This time last year I picked up Ryan Tannehill in 3 leagues, I didn’t get a complete bargain in all cases, but he was cheap for a QB in superflex leagues. The things I liked about Tannehill were, his work ethic, his commitment to his team, his experience as a starter and the precarious nature of the QB he was backing up.
Fast forward 12 months and the irony is there for all to see that we could say the exact same of that QB, Marcus Mariota. The new Raiders QB has always been the model of professionalism, he’s got a ton of starts (including playoff games) under his belt and he’s backing up Derek Carr, who just doesn’t seem to fit the Jon Gruden school of thought.
So, I’m picking up Mariota where I can this year, half the league had him down as QB1 in the 2015 draft class, and in places he has flashed exactly why they believed that. With a bit of encouragement and the freedom to use his legs, Mariota can certainly be a starter in the NFL, if Carr slips you can bet Mariota will be straight in. Buy low, and buy now!
Time to look in the basement of the NFC North. In there were find the Lions, with no witches and no wardrobes. Can Matt Patricia turn this franchise around?
entering the season
The Lions were under the 2nd year guidance of Matt Patricia, a Bill Belichick disciple. Rumour has it the pencil behind his ear has not changed or moved since being appointed.
The Lions went Tight End heavy during the offseason, signing Jesse James from Pittsburgh which ultimately turned out to be a poor investment, and drafting TJ Hockenson in the first round and Isaac Nauta in the the bargain basement 7th round of the 2019 draft.
Heading out of Ford Field was Ziggy Ansah who signed a 1 year deal with the Seahawks whilst Darrell Bevell came the other way from the Seahawks after being released shortly after the 2018 season to oversee offensive playcalling duties and did ok with the weapons at his disposal.
during the season
The Lions were actually fast starters going the first 3 games unbeaten including an opening weekend tie against the Cardinals followed up by wins against the Chargers and upsetting the Eagles away from home.
A much ridiculed NFL staple, the early bye week put pay to their season as they then went on to win just 1 of their remaining games of the season against the lowly Giants.
The main storyline was at the Quarterback position, where is was unearthed that Matthew Stafford played with a back injury, linked to a back fracture back from the 2018 season. From week 10, Jeff Driskel (5 games) and David Blough (3 games) were under center and the season spiraled from there, only scoring more than 20 points just once compared to 7/8 in the games with Stafford as their signal caller.
It wasn’t just the QB position which suffered as a result of injury. Running Back Kerryon Johnson continue his form of injury setbacks, just playing the 8 games this season. A patchup consisting of 6th round draft pick Ty Johnson, Seattle Seahawk castaway JD McKissic and Dallas Cowboy reject Bo Scarborough were employed from the back half of the season with Scarborough probably doing enough to earn a roster spot for next season. Other cameos at the running back position included Tra Carson, CJ Anderson and Paul Perkins. Enough said.
The running game numbers, something which OC Darrell Bevell is well known for were similar to the previous year and it’s fair to say that Bevell managed to get the most out of Stafford in his curtailed season. He was able to ensure that Stafford became the fastest player to reach 40,000 passing yards on a career.
In the passing game, Kenny Golladay probably had one of the most quiet 1190 yard season to be ever achieved and Marvin Jones was unable to replicate a decent 2018, finishing with just short of 800 yards on 62 receptions. talking of 62 receptions, that was the total that offseason FA signing Danny Amendola amassed on the season for 678 yards and 1 touchdown which came in week 1. He did have a passing touchdown in week 17 so a nice bookend season for him.
The defence was bottom 10 defence in terms of points allowed, turnovers, yards given up and 1st downs allowed.
A few gaps to fill for Detroit, but have the luxury of a pick #3 in the 2020 draft. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them trade back in a QB needy year with lots of QBs ripe for the picking.
Wide receiver will probably be addressed after Marvin Jones is getting up there in age. There are a few holes on defence that need to be filled including defensive tackle and a passrusher. They may take a shot with a late round running back too to help cover for Kerryon Johnson, who will unlikely be trusted with a full workload.
It bodes well for the Lions that the most notable names that could hit free agency are Graham Glasgow, the versatile offensive lineman and Danny Amendola, an ageing slot receiver. The Lions may look to extend one of their more reliable defensive pieces in Darius Slay, too.
Talking of staying, Matt Patricia and co. are seemingly here to stay after no changes were made personnel wise. In a division where wins will be hard to come by, the outlook isn’t as bright as some other teams out there but if Stafford is able to stay healthy in 2020 (ditto Kerryon Johnson), the Lions could surprise next season. Don’t expect January football though.
It’s just about the half way point in the NFL regular season. Sad times.
In this series of articles, we take a look back over those 8 glorious weeks of pigskin action and also project how the 2nd half of the season will play out.
Baltimore Ravens 5-2
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4
Cleveland Browns 2-5
Cincinnati Bengals 0-8
Midseason grade: B+
How has it gone so far?
The Ravens came flying out of the blocks with bug wins against the Dolphins and Cardinals. Back to back defeats to the Chiefs and the Browns raised questions about if this team was “for real” but a subsequent 3 game winning streak including an impressive road win in Seattle sees the Ravens with a healthy lead in the division.
Lamar Jackson is on historic pace for yards on the ground and has shown progress throwing the football in year 2. The defence isn’t as feared as it once was but still ranks highly and is 11th against the pass and 2nd against the run respectively.
Rest of Season Outlook
It’s fair to say that the schedule stiffens for the Ravens down the stretch. With games to come against opponents with a plus 500 record in the Patriots,Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills. A weak division means this commanding lead would appear to be extremely secure however with a divisional game against each opponent and the lowly Jets providing the other contest. Even on a “worse case scenario” basis you have to fancy the Ravens getting to at least 9-7 from here and that should be ample to win the division.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 – Division Winners
Midseason grade: D
How has it gone so far?
The product has certainly not lived up to the preseason hype. Steamrolled by the Titans and 49ers along with close losses to the Rams and Seahawks the Browns face an uphill tussle to get back to relevance in the division. A defeat coming out of the bye week to the Patriots has again raised questions about discipline and preparation
A big road win at Baltimore was the lone bright spark on what has been a disappointing campaign. The promising end to the 2019 season seems like a distant memory and Baker Mayfield appears to be regressing in year 2.
Rest of Season Outlook
Ironically despite the record, everything is still in play for the Browns. The schedule is such that 5 divisional games remain and as stated earlier, they have won the only game of such nature to date. The plan will be to go 6-0 in the AFC North and hope that tie breakers enable them to find a way into a wildcard berth. For that to happen though they need to improve massively, reducing turnovers and penalties, a category that they lead the league in with an average of 10 per game.
The talent is there, can they turn it around?
Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9 – Miss Playoffs
Midseason grade: C
How has it gone so far?
Smashed by the Patriots on opening night and losing your starting quarterback part way through your 2nd game isn’t exactly the way the Steelers drew up the plans for this season. The reality is though that the Steelers season was probably over before it had even really began following the QB injury. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges have anchored the squad to some respectable performances and with a turnover differential of plus 7 they are getting opportunities within games.
Big names JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner have struggled to reproduce anything close to what they did a year ago and the offence lacks weapons outside these 2. Defensively the rank middle of the pack but an in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick signals intent to improve the playmaking on the back end.
Rest of Season Outlook
Similar to the Browns in that the division schedule is heavily back loaded so 4 games still to play in that regard and an opportunity if they can build momentum to make a late run. Difficult to trust that Mason Rudolph will be able to get them there however. Ranked 30th in both team passing and rushing there just isn’t enough production from this unit. The defence ranks 6th in points allowed so the Steelers will stick around in games but its hard to see anything better than a 500 record at this point.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 6-10 – Miss Playoffs
Midseason grade: E
How has it gone so far?
A record of 0-8 will pretty much answer that question. With the worst record in the NFL at the week 8 stage the Bengals can’t get any worse. Ranked 28th offensively and 27th defensively, unfortunately there is not an obvious quick fix as the poor play is on both sides of the ball.
Offensively AJ Green has not been able to dress after picking up an injury in the preseason and Joe Mixon has not been able to get anything going on the ground. Defensively the pass rush has been a little non-existent with only 9 sacks and they have not taken the ball away with any regularity.
Rest of Season Outlook
There are some winnable games on the schedule with games against the Browns, Dolphins and Jets all on the horizon so nobody should be panicking around a 0-16 season just yet. Unfortunately for the Bengals, wins will now likely only hinder draft capital as the season is well and truly lost.
The remaining games need to be used as an assessment of the roster and a decision needs to be made with regards to the long term future of Zach Taylor. The Bengals are very likely to pick high in the upcoming draft and now that Ryan Finley is in the driving seat, his performances over the back nine will determine how high up in the rounds they take their next QB (if at all).
Regular Season Record Prediction: 2-14 – Top 3 pick
Green Bay Packers (7-1)
Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
Chicago Bears (3-4)
Midseason grade: A
How has it gone so far?
One of the most intriguing storylines to follow at the beginning of the season was the union of new HC Matt Lafleur and franchise QB Aaron Rodgers, so far the results have been good with the offence improving with every game.
In the early part of the season, it was the defence that was leading the team, DC Mike Pettine’s unit looking vastly improved from the previous year. Free agent signees Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have contributed hugely, added to standout corner Jaire Alexander and leading tackler in the NFL Blake Martinez, have led to a unit that may have conceded yards but has stood up when needed.
Given the injury suffered by leading receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers has entered one of his hot streaks at precisely the right time.
Rest of Season Outlook
The Packers look well set for a playoff run, time will tell whether it will take them all the way to Miami in February. With the head to head wins vs all their division opponents thus far, they are looking quite rosy to maybe even push for a wildcard round bye.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4
Midseason grade: B
How has it gone so far?
Behind the leading rusher in the NFL in Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have bulldozed their way into the playoff discussion. Beyond this though, there has been some discord within the group, notably receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen expressing frustration with the offence. Kirk Cousins’ improved play of late has helped to quell these noises, with Diggs especially going on a tear of late to the tune of 453 receiving yards in the last 3 weeks. The defence has continued to perform at a high level throughout, with Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Eric Kendricks particularly impressing.
Rest of Season Outlook:
With the talent throughout on the defensive side of the ball, and if the offensive line can support Dalvin Cook, this team can compete with anyone. They’ll need continuing support from Kirk Cousins though, where for some, the questions remain. They’ll need to settle the score with the Packers in the return fixture and also negotiate a tough stretch immediately starting with the Chiefs and then the Cowboys. Negotiate that, they could look at a first round bye.
Regular Season Record Prediction:11-5
Midseason Grade: C
How has it gone so far?
The Lions have been competitive in every game this season and could easily find themselves right in the mix for a playoff spot. However, poor execution at crucial times have led to a middle of the pack record. They have lost late leads in 2 of their losses to the Chiefs and the Packers as well as in the tie with the Cardinals, with redzone inefficiency plaguing them in the Packers loss in particular.
There have been high spots for the team with QB Matthew Stafford having a very good year. Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson have also been playmakers this year before the latter’s injury, TJ Hockenson has hinted at what might be to come from the TE position too.
Perhaps surprisingly, given HC Matt Patricia’s pedigree, the defence has been the bigger issue. They have struggled especially against the run, where Mike Daniels’ injury has been especially problematic.
Quandre Diggs’ recent trade to Seattle has been met with scepticism too, depriving the back end of the defence with one of their key players.
Rest of Season Outlook
Judging by the 2 teams that preceeded them in this Half-Term report, it is probably a long shot that the Lions taste January football this year, but as a long term view, the Lions fans must be optimistic about some playoff football sooner rather than later. That being said, their schedule does not look too tough with games against Oakland, a double header vs the Bears along with tussles against the Broncos, Redskins and Buccaneers.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-7-1
Midseason grade: D
How has it gone so far?
The expected step forward for the Bears offence in the second year of HC Matt Nagy’s reign has yet to come to fruition. The offence currently ranks 27th in PPG, with both the run and pass games struggling to get out of second gear.
While QB Mitch Trubisky has yet to prove his pedigree as a starting calibre player at this level, playcalling has also been an issue at times. The coaches have seemed to go away from the run too early at times, placing too much pressure on the young signal caller. While Trubisky’s development is crucial to the future success of the Bears, at the moment the best chance of success would surely involve committing fully to the rungame and using Trubisky to take judicious shots downfield to keep the defences honest.
The defence is still performing at a very high level (if not quite the league leading unit of 2018), Mack, Trevathan, Floyd, Goldman, Clinton-Dix, Fuller et al are still a fearsome unit, although lineman Akiem Hicks is a big loss after his loss to IR following his elbow injury.
It wouldn’t be a Bears season without kicking troubles either, following Eddy Piniero’s potential game winning missed kick in week 8.
Rest of Season Outlook
While this team certainly could go on a run, they have a hard road back to the playoffs with games remaining against fellow NFC playoff hopefuls Eagles, Packers, Cowboys, Rams. Possibly the best case scenario for the Bears would be that week 17 at the Vikings ended up a playoff eliminator, they have a lot of work in front of them to get that far.
Every year a bunch of shiny new faces are selected by NFL teams to improve the fortunes of the franchise and replace aging veterans. Some have instant pay off (hello Baker Mayfield) whilst others take some time to come to fruition. Below I take a look at a number of players entering their 2nd season who are poised to make a significant leap from their performance levels of 12 months ago.
There is no doubt Saquon Barkley is a huge talent but make no mistake about it the New York Jets had a huge present fall right into their laps last April when the New York Giants passed on Sam Darnold. As a rookie, the No. 3 overall pick last year had plenty of ups and downs but flashed the kind of potential which had many draft analysts calling him the best prospect in last years draft. The Jets have done a nice job inn adding protection up front on the offensive line, and add into the equation running back Le’Veon Bell then all of a sudden this whole offence has potential. If Darnold and new offensive minded head coach Adam Gase mesh well, the Jets could surprise quite a few teams this year.
Arizona drafted Kirk in the second round out of Texas A&M last year, and he is primed to replace future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald as Arizona’s no. 1 option in 2019. There is a tremendous buzz about what Kliff Kingsbury is going to bring to the Cardinals, certainly from an offensive perspective and Kirk could be set to be the main beneficiary. Proof will be in the pudding of course but with rumoured desires to be running 90 plus offensive plays per game and many in 5 wide receiver sets then opportunity should be plenty for Kirk. He is familiar with Kingsbury’s Air Raid system from his college days at Texas A&M, which also improves the confidence rating behind this selection.
Somebody has to take the targets that usually went the way of Antonio Brown, and although JuJu Smith-Schuster will put up big numbers, look out for Washington to make a nice leap in year 2. A second-round pick in 2018, Washington was expected to put up better numbers in his rookie year. Slated to be the starter opposite the aforementioned JuJu he will certainly get the opportunity especially considering that Big Ben throws as often as any quarterback in the league. He’l have Donte Moncrief to beat out in camp and throughout the preseason, but considering 2 other teams have already given up on him, that shouldn’t too hard to do.
The Detroit Lions running back was putting together a nice rookie season with over 850 all purpose yards before a knee injury cost him the last 6 games of the season. Not only does Johnson have obvious ability himself, when you add in the fact that the Lions released Theo Riddick, it’s fair to assume that Johnson could see his role expand to a 3 down back giving him even more opportunities to shine. He has the opportunity to become the focal point of the Lions offence assuming he can steer clear of injury this campaign. For those that are worried about CJ Anderson pulling off a LeGarrette Blount, with the amount the Lions want to run this year, Kerryon will still be knocking on the door of RB1 territory.
Expectations were big for Tremaine Edmunds as a 20-year-old rookie drafted on the first round 16th overall by the Bills. Its fair to say he initially did not reach those expectations and got off to a slow start to the campaign. However, by the end of the season, the unbelievably athletic linebacker turned into the key cog in the Bills defence. He was named NFL defensive rookie of the month for December and If the former Virginia Tech star can keep improving, the Bills defense will be even better this season.
Nobody questions the talent of the Houston Texans front 7, all the questions are aimed at the back end of the defence. The Texans may have found a gem in the third round of the 2018 draft when they selected Justin Reid from Stanford. He quietly put together a nice rookie campaign with 88 tackles, 10 pass break ups and 3 interceptions from 12 starts. With the honey badger being signed by Kansas City look for the Texans to maximise Reid’s versatility and for him to transcend into a real playmaker on the back end during his second full season.
This is a classic example of a player benefitting from the addition of greater talent around him. Jaire Alexander began his NFL career with a strong rookie campaign. In 11 starts last season he made a significant impact for the Packers tallying 66 tackles, 1 interception, 11 passes defended, and 0.5 sacks. Green Bay added significant talent to its defence this offseason with 3 starters added via free agency and 2 first round selections booth on that side of the ball. That will benefit Alexander and the team’s secondary as a whole. The Packers finally seem to have realised that the defence needs to help out Aaron Rodgers and Alexander could well be the leading light on that side of the football.