Half-Term report – AFC/NFC North

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.


AFC North

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  1. Baltimore Ravens 5-2
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4
  3. Cleveland Browns 2-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 0-8

*BALTIMORE RAVENS*

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


*CLEVELAND BROWNS*

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


*PITTSBURGH STEELERS*

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


*CINCINNATI BENGALS*

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

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NFC NORTH

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings

  1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
  4. Chicago Bears (3-4)

*GREEN BAY PACKERS*

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

*MINNESOTA VIKINGS*

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



*DETROIT LIONS*

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


*CHICAGO BEARS*

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.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9

Full10Lookahead – Week 2

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Week 2 is already here folks. Time flies when you are having fun!

Hope everyone enjoyed their stay at overreaction town, now it’s time to depart for context city, where hopefully you’ll be able to see some indicators as to what was the real deal and what were outliers from last week.

Here are 10 things we are looking forward to this week in the NFL:

Me-Cam-ical Issues?

Cam Newton’s Pass attempts vs LA Rams

The Panthers QB will be looking to rectify a performance from week 1 that was classic Cam. Some good plays but also a few errant and shocking high passes.

66% completion rate is about where Cam has been with Norv Turner pulling the strings but if it wasn’t for Christian McCaffrey, these numbers would not be great at all. You could argue that this is now the offence the Panthers will employ going forward.

As per next gen stats, Cam only attempted 1 pass over 20 yards in the week 1 game vs the Rams which agrees with the narrative that the offence is going to show similar results this season. Yes he attempted around 40 passes, but if they are averaging on 5 yards in the air, is it really a proper NFL throw?

The players they have in McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel suit the style they are trying to enforce on other teams but I think this merely could be covering over some cracks. Is this the play style because of Cam’s shoulder or is this a coincidence?

The problem is, every team needs a vertical threat; if it becomes too predictable and similar to the chart above, Christian McCaffrey may struggle to be as efficient as he has been thus far because teams will just load the box and ask Cam throw longer passes. Below is DJ Moore’s routes run vs the Rams, not even an indication that there was an interest in throwing deep. Unfortunately, i dont have Curtis Samuel or Greg Olsen’s routes run because i feel these would probably be a bit more vertically orientated.

DJ Moore routes run vs LA Rams

Back to Cam though, the reason I say all this is and that it is something we are intrigued in seeing in week 2 is that we still probably require further confirmation that Cam’s shoulder is #fine and that his play is not restricted by the multiples surgeries endured over recent years. We’d all love to see him at least attempt a few more deeper passes right?

What wont help is a short week this early on in the season so all eyes will be on Cam in Thursday Night Football as we try to ascertain whether or not everything is ok with #1.


Da do Ron Run Run da do Ron Run

IMAGE CREDIT: MONICA HERNDON

Arguably the single most disappointing rookie performance by anyone drafted in the top two rounds of last year’s draft was Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones II, who recorded 44 yards at 1.9 a pop in the whole season. Already Jones has almost doubled his performance with 75 yards on the ground in Week 1 (at 5.8 a carry) along with an 18-yard catch. If Jones keeps up this rate of rushing he can end up with 1,200 yards of ground and pound.

The Buccaneers face the Panthers in Week 2, a team that gave up over 150 yards rushing and two scores to the Rams combo of Gurley and Brown. Jones may not be listed as the starter but if his contributions remain positive then he will take carries away from Peyton Barber. Buccs fans will likely be in for another season of mediocrity but they could have bit of a dusty gem that is starting to sparkle in the Florida sunshine.


Don’t You Forget About Me!

Image Credit – Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

It’s easy to forget that Sammy Watkins came off the draft board earlier in 2014 than both Mike Evans and OBJ. The former Clemson star has often been out performed when compared to his peers in the same draft class, but maybe, just maybe 2019 will be different. Watkins exploded out of the gate on Sunday with a 9 catch, 198 yard, 3 touchdown performance. Showing plenty of breakaway speed to pile up yards after the catch, he was the best friend of Pat Mahomes to open up the season. With the news that Tyreek Hill will miss 4-6 weeks through injury, Watkins is in a prime position to remind everyone of the talent he possesses for a red hot Chiefs offence that will surely have too much for the Raiders. Let’s see if his week 1 performance wasn’t just another tease of his brilliance and he can find some consistency.



Hype Train Derailed?

Image Credit – Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Kitchens wanted to know how his team would handle adversity, He gets his wish in week 2. Humbled by the Titans in a week 1 blow out, the eyes of the nation will be looking for a response on Monday Night Football. The talent in the skill positions offensively appears to be in place but can the Browns find a way to keep Baker Mayfield upright? He was harassed all throughout the opener as the obvious preseason concern was exposed by Cameron Wake and co. One storyline that has slipped under the radar in this one, is the fact that the Jets DC is now Gregg Williams who was actually the man in charge of the Browns during their renaissance in the 2nd half of last year. He will be out to inflict more misery on his former employers after not securing the job permanently. With the Rams ahead on the week 3 schedule could we already be talking about a must win game for the off seasons most talked about franchise?


Time to call a Gardner

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty

After winning a Super Bowl by coming off the bench in the regular season, the irony is not lost in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars starting quarterback Nick Foles is now the one injured whilst his backup is now in the spotlight. The big difference here is the guy in the spotlight is the 2019 version of Nick ‘who the hell is that’ Mullens.

Gardner Minshew bounced around three colleges in four years of eligibility, starting at tiny Northwest Mississippi Community College (who gave us Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison) and ending up at Washington State, helping them to 11 wins in 2018. The Jaguars drafted Minshew in the sixth round of this year’s draft, and we all know what happened to a certain gentleman who got drafted in the sixth round. Minshew’s surprise debut was special, 88% completion rate, two tds and almost 300 yards in the air.

Minshew will be an underdog against the Texans, but we have seen they are vulnerable in the air (Brees torched them for 370 yards in Week 1) so this suddenly becomes a fascinating contest where we get to see if the grass is greener when you use a Gardner.


I’m arriving on a Jet plane

The Antonio Brown saga has taken a turn this week that is beyond any form of joke, but  keeping this strictly on the field the Jets are now part of this extrapolated storyline after the Patriots traded Demaryius Thomas to the Big Apple, the green ones of course.

Thomas comes into the Jets just as the incredibly unlucky Quincy Enunwa is put on season-ending I/R with a recurrence of a neck injury that cost him the 2017 season. Thomas is four years older than Enunwa and is more prone to dropping the ball, but the important factor of chemistry will be eased by the fact Demaryius was coached by Jets head coach Adam Gase when he was receivers coach and offensive coordinator in Denver from 2010-2014. Sam Darnold and Enunwa had worked on exclusive routes together and now it will be a case or re-establishing part of the offensive game-plan.

The Jets face the Burst Bubble Browns in Week 2 and they match-up well against Cleveland. It might only be Week 2 but the loser here goes 0-2 and starts facing a lot more scrutiny. Worth staying up for in the unsavoury hours of Tuesday morning to see how this one plays out.


Best Of A Bad Bunch?

Image Credit – Aaron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

They say that defence wins championships, the Broncos will be hoping that statement rings true based on the state of their quarterback room. Joe Flacco looked as advertised in week 1, not the worst quarterback in the league but immobile (always) and inaccurate (at times).

Vic Fangio, the former Bears DC who will surely have a perfect game plan to get the best of the Bears at home whilst also trying to confuse Trubisky with disguised coverages, I expect a turnover feast.

Both sides need to bounce back from opening week defeats and maybe for one of the few times this year, Denver will get superior quarterback play.


Sh*tcago?

IMAGE CREDIT: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Talking of Chicago, many folk in Illinois including Matt Nagy, were not happy with the way the Bears performed on opening night.

“3 points is ridiculous” said the Bears HC after the game and he’s right. You do not win games scoring 3 points.

How will he, Trubisky and the Bears team rebound?

It gets even spicier once you realise that they travel to Denver, an already difficult away destination to get a W from. Why is it spicy? They not only travel to a hard and hostile environment, but they also travel to play a team whose HC is Vic Fangio, a guy who will know a hell of a lot about the team after being their DC last year.

Other storylines include how will the Chicago backfield work in the rotation? Will they lean to their defence once again to try and get a win on the road?

More importantly, are Chicago in trouble??

As for Mitch Trubisky, you want to give young guys time and we shouldn’t forget he only started 13 games in college but the fact is he still looks like a rookie in year 3. Several of his passes give opponents chances for picks, particularly when he throws across his body to the left.

Lot’s of intrigue in this one, just like a cabaret (Chicago reference).


DOING THE BARE MIN-IMUM

IMAGE CREDIT: AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn

Staying in the NFC North, a tasty game for the eyeballs at Lambeau.

This game is another one of those that the fully guaranteed Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has to try and get the monkey off his back in the sense that he can’t do it when it matters.

Only attempted 10 passes in week 1, so his arm is going to be sore and you would expect him to throw more in this one.

Packers squeaked a win at Soldier field on opening night whilst the Vikings could not have been more dominant vs a fancied Falcons team.

A win for a the Cheeseheads here wouldn’t mean at the very worst, split records against their divisional rivals, something Minnesota probably need to avoid to have a chance at winning the division or perhaps even a wildcard spot.

The same fixture last year ended in controversial tie with 2 missed Field Goals both at the end of the game and 2 in OT, multitude of bad referee calls on hits. It had everything. The final spice in the melting pot.

If Minnesota get the win here, it’ll be another “really unique” thing for Cousins this season.

Remember, dont do the wave!

Revenge time!

IMAGE CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Every angle has been covered about the notorious non PI call from last year’s championship game (wonder if Paddy Power will do a special on whether a PI call will be reviewed).

Luckily for the Rams, this isn’t back at the scene of the crime but judging by LA’s fanbase, there will be a lot of Saints fans in the stands with referee uniforms on.

Can emotions stay in check for the Saints? Can Goff and company put the saga to rest? And will there be any more incidents as bad as that one back in late January?

Both of these teams met in a classic in the regular season too and this one should be no different. Two high powered offences with great players and playcallers. One for the everyone to sit down and enjoy on the late slate of games. Both will no doubt be expecting to make the post season and likely write in another log of this recently fierce rivalry.

Where Do They Go From Here? Bears

After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…

Today we take a look at the Chicago Bears.

Don’t forget to check out the NFC North podcast where we talked to Martin from BearDownUK and get their thoughts on them!

How Did Last Season Go?

It couldn’t have gone any better really, even with all the hype surrounding the team and the bandwagon getting overbooked. If you’d have offered a Bears fan a playoff spot, they’d have bitten your hand off like a bear would if you offered it a salmon…

Top of the North with a 12-4 record and if it wasn’t for Cody Parkey’s exceptional accuracy for connecting pigskin with metal, they would have seen the divisional round of the playoffs and maybe more.

A week 17 win vs the Vikings and knocking them out of the playoffs would’ve tasted sweet for those at Soldier Field, though. The Bears won 9 of their last 10 with the only loss coming in OT vs the Giants in a strange one.

The defence gave up the fewest points I the NFL over the regular season and were top 10 on offence in points scored, which may surprise some.

Housekeeping

The Bears are not rich in the Salary Cap or Draft Pick stakes after their trades last year.

Around $18m in cap at the time of writing and their 1st and 2nd round picks have been traded away for Mack and Miller respectively. So it’s pretty much as you were in terms of personnel for the Bears.

Outgoings

Rumours of Jordan Howard going out the exit door are interesting. The tandem of Howard and Cohen seem to do the trick, its just a question of perhaps having them both in the backfield to help with trying to not be too predictable for playcalling when one of them are in on the snap. Apart from that, don’t expect too much change for a team that feel like they are almost there.

UPDATE: Amos has signed with the Packers

Incomings

After all of the outlay last season, I’d be surprised if we see much movement from the Bears this offseason. They have most of their pieces in place on both sides of the ball. Maybe a sprinkle here or there for depth. Baked in to that is their lack of options with their salary cap position and draft picks for 2019. Expect a replacement for Howard if he leaves and also maybe an addition or two on the O Line.

UPDATE: Mike Davis has signed from the Seahawks

Outlook for Next Year

Things look great for the Bears and now look to maintain rather than be a part of the chasing pack, which may come as a weird feeling to Bears fans. The microscope will be on Trubisky to see if he can take another (needed) step forward.

The Bears will face a division winners schedule and the collective W% of their opponents last season stands at .520 with matches against the Chiefs, Saints, Rams, Chargers, Cowboys to add on top of 2 matches vs Green Bay and the Vikings. If they retain their division title, they’d have earned it.

Prediction

You’d expect the Packers and Vikings to be much more competitive so things could be a lot tighter this season.

The defence will probably be leaned on once more and grinding out results, which was the winning formula last season. In Nagy’s 2nd season, maybe expect a bit more effectiveness on offence with a few more tricks up his sleeve to come out on the field. I’m not sure Trubisky progresses as much as most will hope and this may just come back to bite them in 2019.

That said, a playoff berth should await them again, but as a 5 or 6 seed.

Fantasy Football

Mitch Trubisky – No thanks. (likely undrafted in redraft, mid/low QB2 range. Maybe one for a late round bestball)

Jordan Howard – 5th Round, low RB 2 range

Tarik Cohen – 4th Round, High RB 2 range (higher in PPR)

Allen Robinson – 3rd Round, low WR2 range

Anthony Miller – 8th/9th Round, low WR3 range

Taylor Gabriel – Late rounds, low WR4

Trey Burton – 9th Round, low TE1

Exit Interviews – NFC North

Time to go North once more for the NFC side.

Bears leapfrogged the Vikings and the Packers to take the throne, but can they stay there?
And what do the Vikings and Packers fans have to say about that?
And then there are the Lions who haven’t had much to roar about recently.
Many thanks to Martin, Paul, Charlie and Rob for their help putting this podcast together.
Tomorrow sees the last in the series with the NFC West.
Enjoy!

Podcast 12 – My Team My Thoughts – Bears

We “Bear Down” with Luke Campbell in this episode.

I am wearing a special shirt just for this episode and get Luke to guess which former Bears player is on the back of my non Bears jersey.

We talk about the intriguing prospect of the Bears offence in 2018 under Matt Nagy and we play a game of JoHo vs others close to him in terms of rushing yards last year. Can Luke be the first to get the full house?

I also explain how i got trolled by our version of football…