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NFC East – Are the Cowboys still the ones to beat?

All the dust has settled from Free Agency Frenzy and the NFL Draft in Vegas, and the offseason lull officially begins.

For degenerates such as myself, that triggers the cursory glance at the divisional odds for the upcoming season. Upon review of the NFC East odds, I was more than taken aback that the Cowboys were odds-on favourites for the division. They have eased slightly in the last few days but there is still 10/11 widely available for that (and a best-priced 11/10 if you shop around).

OK, the NFC East is far from competitive and hardly full of Super Bowl-calibre teams, but are the Cowboys a shoo-in once more for the NFC East, a division where there has not been a repeat winner for almost two decades?

Let’s take a look at how the offseason has shaken up the NFC East so far:

Dallas Cowboys

Best odds: 11/10

Brandon Wade | AP

It’s not been a great offseason for the Cowboys in terms of personnel. Randy Gregory headed for the exit after Stephen Jones got too particular with contract verbiage. That was a sign of things to come with Amari Cooper also heading for the out-door as the Cowboys’ front office staff were not willing to/not able to pay Cooper a seemingly sensible amount of money, especially considering the dollars Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams et al got. They turned Cooper, a player they traded a 1st round pick for, into Matt Waletzko, their 5th round draft pick from the recent draft.

They say things come in threes, so let’s add talented offensive lineman La’el Collins also departing the Cowboys to the Bengals. This for a team that is now a far cry from having the “Great Wall of Dallas” and one that now often crumbles when their offensive line is not healthy, something they have struggled with over the last year or two.

Moving on to the draft, there are not many people shouting from the rooftops that the Cowboys had a good or even a decent draft. A lot of players were reached for in the eyes of many and while those closer to following the Cowboys will be cautiously optimistic with their haul, especially with their recent draft history and the amount of picks they have hit on. They are players that tick the boxes the Cowboys look for (no, not necessarily the “previously arrested/off-field issues” box) and you have to applaud Dan Quinn’s efforts to turn this sieve-like defence around into one of the most opportunistic in 2022.

The Cowboys will have a “division winners” schedule in 2022, which includes games against the Bengals, Packers, Rams and Buccaneers.

As it currently stands, there are a few holes on the offensive line and a few question marks about the team and the direction it is headed, especially considering how last season ended with a botched snap/time expiring in that heartbreaking loss to the 49ers in Jerryworld.

Verdict: The offseason so far does not scream repeat winners of the East and their horrid record in the post-season will get one loss worse, if they even get there.

Philadelphia Eagles

Best odds: 5/2

Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles have made moves that signal a more positive intent in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Birds pulled off one of the best transactions of the offseason during the draft when they traded their 1st round pick to the Titans for wide receiver AJ Brown before handing him a huge contract extension.

The Eagles’ draft class was small, but there are a few players to be excited about. Jordan Davis, the defensive lineman from Georgia nabbed in the 1st round, and potential steal Nakobe Dean, a projected 1st rounder who was selected in the 3rd, will provide some fresh blood into that defence.

Through free agency, they added Kyzir White, a tackling machine who led the Chargers last year with 144, before bringing back some of their own long-standing furniture in Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett.

Philly’s coaching staff and front office opted against going for one of this year’s higher-profile quarterbacks and have put it all on Jalen Hurts. Hurts has no excuses this year and has to put it altogether, otherwise they will be looking for a QB in next year’s draft, especially considering the draft capital they have and the QBs who will likely be available. To be fair to the Eagles franchise, they are giving Hurts every opportunity to succeed.

Verdict: If Jalen Hurts continues to make progress, he now has all the weapons at his disposal to succeed. They are in prime position to take advantage of any Cowboys fragility in 2022 and make it another year where the previous year’s division winners do not repeat the feat. The odds for them to do so are attractive.

Washington Commanders

Best odds: 5/1

Patrick Semansky | AP

New name, new quarterback, new outlook?

As Washington embark on their inaugural NFL season as the Commanders, they will try and shrug off recent struggles that have left them without a winning season since 2016 (even though they won the division in 2020).

The Commanders set their stall out early by acquiring Carson Wentz from the Colts. He is already familiar with the NFC East with his time with the Eagles and he’ll look to inflict some pain on his former team in the two matchups they’ll have in 2022. He does have a 16-9 record against NFC East teams in his career, which isn’t the worst. He does have a leadership cloud hanging over him and more than just murmurs that he isn’t exactly carrying all the attributes required to carry a team like the Commanders and is a shell of his former 2017 MVP-in-waiting self.

The Commanders wheeled and dealed in the NFL draft, using negotiations with the Saints to accumulate picks and create depth at a variety of positions, including the interesting 5th round selection of QB Sam Howell. Terry McLaurin could have been given a decent WR partner in Jahan Dotson who seems to be able to catch everything thrown at him. He’ll have to fair better than recent WR recruits from the draft to help the Commanders obtain that winning record though.

In free agency, there was a “will he/won’t he stay” debate with JD McKissic who ended up doing an Antonio Brown-type U-turn when arriving at Buffalo’s front door to re-sign with the Commanders. By adding Brian Robinson during this year’s draft, Antonio Gibson could be on a short leash after fumbling issues as well as health troubles over the last season.

Verdict: Despite a lot of talent on the defence and some decent playmakers on offence, Ron Rivera has not quite been able to get the different variations of Washington firing on all cylinders in his fairly short tenure. It’s probably asking a lot of Carson Wentz to be the piece that makes it all click.

New York Giants

Best odds: 8/1

Joseph Maiorana | USA TODAY Sports

Blue is very much the colour for Giants’ fans at the moment, as they have been belittled ever since Eli Manning hung up his cleats.

From Dave Gettleman’s strange draft approaches, the failed appointments of Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett (as OC) to a consistent string of injured players to their skill positions, combined with Daniel Jones’ inability to grab the bull by the horns and drive this team to victory, the Giants – like the Washington what’s-their-names – have not had a winning season since 2016.

They have wiped the slate clean on a few occasions but the same issues remain. Now it’s Brian Daboll’s turn to try and fix the mess in the Big Apple after coming over from a Buffalo Bills team with a history of getting the most out of the players at it’s disposal. Pretty much all of the coaching staff have been replaced and the majority of the players that hit free agency were not retained or brought back on another deal.

There’s no one inspiring coming in through the door either but the 2022 rookie class could provide a bit of life with Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux at 5th and 7th overall respectively heading this year’s newbies.

Verdict: In a theme consistent with the NFC East for 2022 (post-season Dallas included), it will fall on how each team’s quarterbacks fare to determine the success each team has.

New York could have the widest range of outcomes heading in to 2022 but most would be betting on them picking in the top half, if not the top 10, of next year’s NFL Draft, something they are oh-so-familiar with. Brian Daboll seems to be the right type of person for the job in hand in Big Blue but you have to feel that they need to be rid of Daniel Jones to finally be able to move onwards and upwards.


On paper, the betting should be a little bit closer between the Cowboys and the Eagles, especially as it seems each of those franchises are projecting in different directions. The Cowboys are a very fragile favourite in a division that does not like repeat winners. It will come down to quarterback play for each of these teams (what a surprise!) but whoever wins the division, they will still have a seemingly insurmountable task in doing damage deep in the post-season, even if the NFC as a whole lacks strength in depth at that particular position compared to the AFC.

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Betting Preview – NFC East

By Tim Monk

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The NFC East isn’t synonymous with making profit. You wouldn’t have had many accumulators including teams from this division last year. Well, if you did you’d be in the poor house.

Ante post wise and the division title, its been nearly 2 decades since a team retained the division title (2004), form book usually goes out of the window and is a scrappy division and throw in the injuries, you have yourself a betting nightmare. Washington won the division after going 1-5 last year, hope you all got on. Its always a candidate for worst to first, the only advice usually to heed is to avoid the favourite or last year’s winner.


Before we get in to the markets, just to let you know we have an affiliation this year with Redzone betting. If you aren’t signed up to them yet and want to take advantage of decent overround books on the NFL, sign up here!

Content wise, we will have a weekly podcast throughout the season so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel. We will also look to bringing you a weekly look at the best Request a bet’s out there as well as our best bets on all the common markets in written form.

You can also find more betting previews in our NFL season guide, which you can buy from our shop.

Prior to the season, we will have ante post previews on divisions, outrights, team totals, season awards and a whole lot more if ante post is your thing.

Odds taken end July 2021

That bet is Washington Football Team to retain, yes RETAIN the NFC East. Sitting at around 2/1, they have the best defence on paper, on the field on the stat sheet by a country mile.

I could reel off the heavy investment that front 7 has received over the past couple of years from the NFL draft including Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen to name just a couple from the 1st round.

They gave the eventual Super Bowl champs, the Tampa Bay Bucs the biggest scare in the post season last year, and that was with Taylor Heinicke. No disrespect to the guy, especially after his dive to the pylon in said game, but if they have an average Quarterback playing the position in that game, things may be looking a lot different.

It’s the 2nd season for Ron Rivera in Washington, and despite his discontent at the vaccination status of the team, they just have to be a lot shorter than the current 2/1 they find themselves at. They have brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who isn’t to be trusted for a whole season and there is a reason why he has never played in a playoff game. They have also acquired the services of WR Curtis Samuel to go with Terry McLaurin. Added to that Adam Humphries is a signing that has gone under the radar and also selected a couple of wideouts from the draft including the potentially exciting Dyami Brown.

The defence is enough to win them a few games this season and can account for any of Fitzpatrick’s erratic episodes. The talented RB Antonio Gibson should continue to produce behind a competent Washington offensive line, backed up by JD McKissic.

For me the reason the prices are how they are is because this screams “bookies dont want to take any money” on Dallas.

Sometimes in gambling, you’ll find what is called “false favourites”. This usually means the bookies cripple the price of a certain selection, not because they think it will win or they think they are the best, it’s because they dont want to be on the wrong side of that selection or they want a “green” line on it, meaning they want the favourite to be a winning selection for the house.

That, for me my friends, is the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. Hard knocks team, hype around the star and now particularly wealthy Quarterback Dak Prescott. Happy to debate whether Dallas are worthy favourites, however i will not have that the Washington Football Team aren’t at least closer in the betting to them.

Dallas are horrendous on defence and there isn’t too much they have done in the offseason to think that they’ll be anything than just below average. The signing of Malik Hooker looks good on paper, but 1st round draft pick Micah Parsons has character questions, the Cornerback group have a lot of question marks and the linebackers have more than a point to prove with Jaylon Smith coming off a poor season, Leighton vander Esch struggling to stay healthy, taking over that mantle from Sean Lee.

Even if they shave a couple of points of the 30 pt average they gave up in 2020, they’ll still struggle to get to double digit wins. You can’t even mark them up confidently for 3-4 divisional wins, let alone 10 for the season.

Do they have the best offence, yes, and it’s by a country mile, especially if the offensive line stays healthy, but even that is a coin flip these days. They had 12 different offensive line combinations in their 16 games last season, #NotGreatBob.

Even with all of the above guaranteed and having a number one scoring offence, it’s hard to cover up all the cracks on a pourous defence. Dallas even with Dak struggled in their first 4 full games last year and were only a successful watermelon kick away from an 0-4 start as they had seemingly more double digit deficits than you have had hot dinners. This is despite averaging 31.5pts through those first 4 games.

The division will likely go down to the wire as it usually does and in all honestly, will likely hinge on the head to head matchups between Dallas and Washington, which come in week 14 and 16. Going head to head, Washington’s defence absolutely mauled Dallas last year including an humiliation on Thanksgiving. Yes, Dak was missing, but you could have had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning behind center and it still would have been a bloodbath.

Dallas have a tough start to the season with the opening kickoff cameras on them at Raymond James Statdium as they face the defending champs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers before travelling to the Chargers in week 2. 3 winnable games follow at home before a potentially pivotal game at New England in week 6 before their bye. They’ll need to be 3-3 going in to that.

Making a case for the other 2 teams in the division. Well, it’s the NFC East.

The Philadelphia Eagles (seemingly) have given the keys to Jalen Hurts for a year. There are continuous rumours swirling that Deshaun Watson could pull on the Eagles jersey in 2021 and if that move comes to fruition, Philadelphia’s odds will come crashing down.

They employ 1st year rookie Head Coach Nick Sirianni and you can expect a lot of “Hey, Siri” jokes plastered across social media. He’ll look to improve on the 4-11-1 record from last season in a season where they waited until week 4 to record their first win and went 1-7 after their bye week.

Similar to Dallas, Philadelphia need an offensive line that is healthy for Hurts to have a chance (less so if Watson comes through the entrance) to make things happen. That being said Hurts is a mobile QB, which is any leveller for poor offensive line play. Drafting his teammate in the 1st round will help too as Devonta Smith, WR from Alabama joins a particularly poor group of players the position.

Zach Ertz seemingly couldn’t find a new home and miraculously is “sorting through” the problems he seemingly had with the Franchise. He was underwhelming in 2020 and Dallas Goedert may still have more playing time in 2021 at the position, but expect both to be on the field for the most part, especially if the aforementioned poor O-line play or injuries rears it’s ugly head.

The much maligned Cornerback group of the Eagles was bolstered by Steven Nelson, who comes over from Pittsburgh and joins Darius Slay, one of the premier corners. Anthony Harris was also added to the secondary of the Eagles which may make them a bit closer to the average. They’ll look to improve the 26th ranked defence in the redzone and 22nd in terms of points allowed per drive on average.

The Eagles probably are in too much tumult to cause a stink but as it always is with the NFC East, they all love playing party poopers when it comes to the divisional games.

Moving over to the New York Giants, already had some fun and games as Daniel Jones found himself at the bottom of a big Giant pile, much to the dismay of Joe Judge who then sent them running for a little while. Kelvin Benjamin and Joe Judge if you believe some reports, have had a few back and forths, leading to Benjamin’s release only after 1 day in New York. Saquon Barkley looks unlikely to be ready for week one. Oh, and Jason Garrett is still around.

A shaky offensive line has not had much attention given to it in the offseason and fully expect that to be part of their troubles again this season.

Kenny Golladay and eyebrow raising 1st round WR selection Kadarius Toney join a middling set of WR in Slayton, Shepard and TE Evan Engram. Golladay has injury troubles in the past year and there are already whispers that Toney has not been the most focused or motivated since being drafted and participating in camp.

The defence should be competent enough after re-signing Leonard Williams and acquiring Adoree Jackson at Cornerback.

That being said, it’s just feels like an absolute mess in New York, something which the New York media should have fun with in 2021 and I do not see them troubling for the division title or a playoff spot.

It’s likely that only 1 team progresses to the post season from this division, so as a Washington backer, i have no interested in any of them at the prices.

Other Markets:

Finishing Positions

Dallas – 1st – 5/4 , 2nd – 2/1 , 3rd – 4/1, 4th – 13/2

Washington- 1st –2/1 , 2nd – 2/1 , 3rd – 11/4 , 4th – 4/1

Philadelphia – 1st – 11/2, 2nd – 4/1, 3rd – 9/4, 4th – 5/4

New York – 1st – 9/2, 2nd – 3/1 , 3rd – 19/10, 4th – 2/1

Selected prop bets:

Just to remind you that there are 17 regular season games this year, which is why you might find the lines a bit higher than you normally would if you are cross referencing previous year’s totals. On first glance, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s number looks quite high. He has only played a full season 3 times and his highest total is 3,905, which was for the Jets. However, i think that they’ll be a defensive side and I am not sure how gunslinger happy he will be in this team. Dak Prescott on the other hand could smash 5,000 yards. he was on course for a million of them through 5 games (had 1875) and still ranked 32nd in passing yards in 2021 despite playing less than a third of the season. The defence is not that much improved and could see the same pattern as last year. Difficult to gauge Jalen Hurts’ line as they’ll likely be behind a lot this year but Hurts, like myself is a leg man. Daniel Jones has barely reached 3,000 in the either of his first 2 seasons. His line of 3,800.5 looks fairly inflated. Of the props below, the absolute standout bet is Dak Prescott over 3.5 rushing TDs. He had 3 last year in just over 4 games. He did have 3 the year before but i would be shocked to see this go under. He had 6 in each of the first 3 seasons in the NFL.

Passing Yard lines: Ryan Fitzpatrick – 3,900.5, Jalen Hurts – 3,650.5, Dak Prescott – 4,795.5, Daniel Jones – 3,800.5

Passing TDs: Fitzpatrick – 23 , Hurts – 20.5, Prescott – 32.5, Jones – 24

Rushing Yard lines: Antonio Gibson – 1,025.5, Ezekiel Elliott – 1100.5, Miles Sanders – 1000.5

Rushing TDs: Gibson – 9.5, Elliott – 9.5,Prescott – 3.5, Hurts – 7.5, Sanders – 7,

Receiving Yard lines: McLaurin – 1,180.5, Cooper – 1,175.5, Lamb – 1,050.5, Golladay – 1000.5

All in all, the division is always a tough one to bet on, however it seems to be a tale of two halves. the top 2 being Washington and Dallas, Philadelphia and New York being the bottom 2. Redzone are offering 7/5 on Dallas and Washington in the top 2 positions come January, which appeals considering the state of the franchises. Is also a nice security blanket of sorts if you are betting Washington to win the division

Favourite bets:

  • Washington Football Team to win NFC East – 23/10 (07/08/21)
  • New York Giants under 7 wins – 11/10 (if you can find 7.5 wins line take that)
  • Dak Prescott over 3.5 rushing TDs – 10/13
  • Dallas / Washington Dual forecast – 7/5



“When the fun stops, stop”


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NFL Week 17 Takeaways

Week 17 is in the books folks. That means we have our road to the Super Bowl set.

But it’s not all about those that have made it, with plenty of teams already vacating the positions of their Head Coaches or GMs.

Plenty of action, talking points and debate to be had with the dust settling on 18 teams’ seasons.

But what were the main takeaways from the week?

Order’s up!

Top of the slops 

The theory that Doug Pederson yanked Jalen Hurts in favour of the inept Nate Sudfeld to give the Philadelphia Eagles a three place boost in the draft is all nonsense.

The real reason the Eagles tanked a game they stood a legitimate chance to win was due to a call from Roger Goodell to Eagles top brass to say the NFL could not allow a 6-10 team to win a division, and thus go into a wormhole that will be deeper than a Sarlacc Pit.

Well that’s what one writer here thinks.

With the Washington v Philly game deciding if it was burgundy and gold or Big Apple blue to lift the NFC (L)East the dawning realisation that a six win team could punch a ticket in the post-season was simply too much to bear.

Washington now host the ‘Tom’pa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, looking to become the third successive 7 win team to win their first round playoff clash. The repercussions of giving up in a game will linger long into the non-playing season, and leave an acidic taste in the mouthes of grizzled Eagles veterans such as Jason Kelce (Travis’s big brother) and Zack Ertz (who likely played his last home game in Balboa Town.

For Washington fans their team lives to fight another day. Its highly likely that all they have done with the win in Week 17 is to slip down the draft, but where there is 60 minutes to play then it is Any Given Saturday.

Lamar loses MVP belt but is arguably in a better place 

Not a soul has talked about Lamar Jackson in glowing terms this season, after all it was predictable that he would not eclipse his 2019 season in terms of wins (13) and total touchdowns (43). With a 6-5 record and 5 games behind undefeated division rivals the Steelers, even getting to 10 wins was going to be a tall order.

Instead, with odds stacked against him, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens impressive defense have reeled off 5 consecutive wins, and enter the playoffs with the #5 seed secured after they humiliated the Bengals by rushing for over 400 yards as a team. The likes of Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have outperformed Jackson in 2020, yet for Mahomes and Allen you can bet they would rather face Pittsburgh or Cleveland in a divisional playoff round game.

Streaking Ravens look forward to 'next challenge' vs. Titans
Aaron Doster / AP

LJax has been one and done in two consecutive seasons of post-season play, losing to the Titans last year. 12 months later and the Ravens travel to Tennessee to attempt to exact some revenge on Ryan Tannehill and King (Derek) Henry. With more eyes and more burden on the higher seeded Chiefs and Bills, can the Ravens maintain their form and win their first playoff game in the Lamar era.

In a game that will see more runs than an England v Vatican City cricket test, whoever pounds the rock the best will  emerge victorious. 

C2K? More like D2K!

Derrick Henry became the 8th player in NFL history to record 2,000 rushing yards. He joins greats Adrian Peterson, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, OJ Simpson and of course former Titan Chris Johnson.

With his 250 yards on the ground vs the Texans, King Henry finished up with 2,027 yards, 21 more than his fellow Titan and ends up 5th on the all time rushing leaderboard in a season.

High-scoring Titans earned 1st home playoff game in 12 years
Eric Christian Smith / AP

The Titans Running Back justifying his team giving him a 4 year extension worth $50m over the next 4 years, it remains to be seen if he can keep up his current production and trajectory.

Selected to his second straight Pro Bowl, Henry has improved on previous total rush yards for the past two years by roughly 500 yards, plotting an extraordinary trend line.

2,500 rush yards next year anyone?

You’re my Number 1

Talking of King Henry he finds himself with quite a few accolades this season.

I’ll spare any S Club 7 or N-Dubz references here, but at the start of each season, each skill position player (and defensive players too!) want to be number one in the metrics that help them get paid; Touchdowns, yardage, sacks, interceptions, etc.

But only 1 player can atop each of those mountains (usually).

So here are your 2021 season leaders in the main categories


  • Passing Touchdowns: Aaron Rodgers (48)
  • Rushing Touchdowns: Derrick Henry (17)
  • Rushing Yards: Derrick Henry (2027)
  • Receiving Touchdowns: Davante Adams (18)
  • Receiving Yards: Stefon Diggs (1535)
  • Total Touchdowns: Alvin Kamara (21)
  • Total Scrimmage Yards: Derrick Henry (2141)


  • Sacks: TJ Watt (15)
  • Interceptions: Xavien Howard (10)
  • Fumbles Forced: Marlon Humphrey (8)
  • Total Solo Tackles: Zach Cunningham (106)
  • Total Tackles for loss: TJ Watt (23)

Special Teams

  • Most Field Goals Made: Y.Koo (37)
  • Most Accurate FG kicker: M.Crosby & J.Myers (100%)

Heads start to roll

Barely minutes after the end of the regular season, teams started to press the ejector seat button on their respective Head Coaches.

First up, Adam Gase’s time as the New York Jets reached its inevitable conclusion after a two-year tenure. In the worst-kept secret in football, he was relieved of his duties after a 28-14 loss to the Patriots, drawing a line under a 2-14 season. Gase, whose contract ran until 2022, went 9-23 overall in his time at the Meadowlands.

Bill Kostroun – New York Post

Instead of turning around a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs for a decade, he leaves the Jets with five-straight losing seasons and the 32nd-ranked offence for the second year in a row. He was expected to oversee the development of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold but it seems he has taken a few steps backwards too, with career lows in several categories including passing YPG (184.0) and a 9 TD-to-11 INT ratio. The young QB has gone on record saying that he wants to be a Jet for life (poor lad) but with the team picking second in the 2021 NFL Draft, a new HC could well bring in another signal-caller to compete with, or simply replace, him.

It’s not been a lot of fun under Gase. There was the trade of star safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, the release of expensive RB flop Le’Veon Bell and the nine double-digit defeats. In a post-game (under)statement, chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson said: “It’s clear the best decision … is to move in a different direction. It is obvious we have not been good enough.” You’re not kidding, mate.

Talking of different directions, it’s all change in Jacksonville, following Doug Marrone’s dismissal after four-and-a-bit years. Already searching for a new General Manager and with the No. 1 draft pick (to be used on Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, one assumes) in their back pocket, their 27-20 loss to the Colts on Sunday put the final nail in a 1-15 season. Now owner Shad Khan is looking for a new HC, with Marrone’s dismissal the full stop that punctuates his 23-43 record in Florida.

The Canadian Press

Marrone took over as an interim coach for the final two games of 2016 and unexpectedly led them to the AFC Championship Game in 2017. Since then, however, it’s been much like the Jets: wins increasingly rare, star players leaving – Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue among them – and the failure to find a franchise QB. Marrone’s revolving cast under centre has included Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Cody Kessler, Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon and Jake Luton – eek, no wonder they have only made the play-offs once since the 2007 season. But whoever comes in will inherit the best cap space of the teams currently with vacancies (around $81m) and a shedload of draft picks, including two each in Rounds 1 and 2, so it could be quite an attractive option for someone.

Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Chargers jettisoned Anthony Lynn on Monday after a second consecutive sub-.500 season. Lynn actually has a decent overall record (33-31) with the franchise, and has two winning seasons and a trip to the Divisional Round in 2018 to his name. But 5-11 and 7-9 campaigns have followed, so Lynn was shown the door.

David Zalubowski – AP Photo

Based purely on the numbers, it sounds like he’s unlucky to be let go (especially with the likes of Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor staying put despite a 6-25-1 record). But looking at the bigger picture, the writing was probably on the wall by the time LA lost by 45 points to the Patriots and slipped to 3-8. He oversaw four close ‘garbage time’ wins after dropping out of the play-off race but that was too little too late, leaving the Chargers watching post-season football on TV for the ninth time in 11 years.

Like Gase and Marrone, injuries – to Tyrod Taylor, Derwin James, Mike Pouncey, Austin Ekeler, Melvin Ingram and Bryan Bulaga – contributed to Lynn’s fate but they weren’t the only factor. Lynn made some very odd game and clock management decisions over the year and oversaw the league’s worst special teams unit, who missed kicks and had punts blocked with alarming regularity. The QB position seems in safe hands with Justin Herbert, but a new Bolts HC will get to oversee his development.

These three franchises join Detroit, Atlanta and Houston in the Head Coach Sweepstake, after they fired their own coaches mid-season. Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Colts DC Matt Eberflus, Ravens DC Don Martindale, 49ers DC Robert Saleh and former Bengals HC Marvin Lewis are among the bigger names interviewing for the six* vacancies.

*Watch this space – it’s a fast-moving situation…

Let’s “Just” wait and see

There seems to be two standout candidates for Offensive Rookie of the year in 2020.

This is an award previously won by Adrian Peterson, Matt Ryan, Odell Beckham Jr and…Eddie Lacy.

OK, maybe winning this award isn’t a first class ticket to the Hall of Fame but you only get one shot at winning this award and is seen as a path towards greater things.

LA Chargers QB Justin Herbert has had a stellar first season in the NFL. The #6 overall pick in the 2020 draft broke Baker Mayfield’s passing Touchdown record, which now stands at 36 and became the youngest QB to throw for at least 30 TDs in the NFL.

Here are just some of the other accolades:

  • Most completions in a season by a rookie quarterback (396)
  • Most games with at least 300 passing yards for a rookie quarterback (8)
  • Most games with multiple passing touchdowns for a rookie quarterback (10)

If it wasn’t for Anthony Lynn’s incompetency, he could have also had Andrew Luck’s record of rookie passing yards which stood at 4,374. Herbert was a mere 38 yards away.

Whilst Herbert is the likely favourite for the award, a special mention goes to Justin Jefferson, who did manage to snag the most receiving yards in a rookie season (in the Super Bowl era) with a nice round 1,400 receiving yards for the Vikings in 2020. That’s 23 yards more than Anquan Boldin’s effort back in 2003. He also breaks a Vikings rookie receptions record by 14 with 83 in his first year, surpassing the great Randy Moss’s effort in 1998. (69).

Whilst the Vikings didn’t have too much pleasure this season, Justin Jefferson has taken to the NFL like a duck to water and is a sign of perhaps great things to come, even if it was just for the celebrations.

Many feel that Jefferson is the worthy winner of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but we’ll just have to wait and find out on “Honors Night”. In his favour was the fact it was only he and Chase Young that were selected to the Pro Bowl out of all of the rookies, so perhaps it’s not a done deal “Just” yet.

John pulled the Wol over the Cardinals’ eyes

The Rams and Cardinals faced off in Week 17 and it ended up with both teams having to play backup Quarterbacks for the majority of the game.

We knew we were getting a full dose of former AAF Arizona Hotshots QB John Wolford for the Rams after Goff was ruled out with a broken thumb.

However, on the first Arizona Cardinals series, hearts were in mouths as Kyler Murray limped off on to the sideline with an ankle injury and missed the majority of the game until late. The offence totaled 240 yards in the end for the whole game, that’s not going to see you to the playoffs. Murray played through the pain, returning to the game to try and give a last gasp effort to snatch victory that would have seen them make the post season due to the Bears’ loss, but it wasn’t to be.

Cardinals backup, Chris Streveler ended up with stats of 11/16 for 105 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT but the Rams defence smelt the blood and went in for the kill, suffocating him and the Rams offence.

Rams QB John Wolford made NFL history in Week 17 debut
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wolford’s first NFL pass was a deep bomb which was intercepted and the Cardinals turned that into their only points of the game. He recovered throughout the rest of the game and made some decent throws and was working without Cooper Kupp, who is on the Covid list. He also showed off some wheels, not something Rams QBs have ever had associated with them, with his 56 yards a high watermark for quite some time.

We are unsure as of yet whether Goff will be ok to play in the playoffs when they travel to face the Seahawks but you have to feel either way whomever lines up under center, the Rams will need to lean heavily on that defence to bail them out again. Some fans though may point to Nick Foles as a recent understudy to take their team and win the Super Bowl.

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NFL Week 17 Preview

So here we are folks, Week 17. Happy New Year to all our listeners, readers, followers, lovers and haters.

To adjust a phrase coined by RedZone’s Scott Hanson, “WE ARE IN THE WITCHING WEEK!”

“When play-offs become going home and going home becomes the play-offs.”

No Thursday Night Football. No Monday Night Football. Sh*t is getting serious.

Just the AFC South and NFC East division titles have gone to the wire after the Steelers, Seahawks and Saints clinched theirs last week and we know that Trevor Lawrence will (likely) be a Jaguar come April. However, plenty of games will decide the fates of teams and whether they’ll play post-season football this year. There’s also plenty of jostling inside that top 5 of the NFL Draft order to come too.

There are three games on Sky Sports this week but we are going to preview EVERY game with play-off implications.

Use the menu below to select your desired match-up or just scroll to your heart’s content.

| PIT @ CLE | ARI @ LAR | WFT @ PHI | DAL @ NYG |MIA @ BUF | BAL @ CIN | TEN @ HOU | JAX @ IND | GB @ CHI |

Sky Sports – 6pm GMT – Steelers @ Browns

It all comes down to this for Cleveland. Win and they are in; lose and in all likelihood, they are out. After occupying a play-off spot for essentially the entire season, the Browns have reached the do-or-die stage with a home game against their biggest rival to end the longest play-off drought in all of football. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a big enough test at the best of times but for one last time in the NFL regular season, the bigger threat might come from COVID-19.

4 reasons Browns will stomp out Steelers, make playoffs in Week 17 - Page 2
Kirk Irwin – Getty

The Browns could have already punched their ticket with a win against the Jets last weekend but were dealt a body blow when linebacker BJ Goodson tested positive on Saturday. That in itself would have been a blow but when his close contacts were identified as linebacker buddy Jacob Phillips and the entire wide receiving room, it became a catastrophe. Since the conclusion of the game, Andrew Sendejo, the starting free safety, has also now tested positive for the virus and close contacts have been identified in Karl Joseph and Harrison Bryant. At the time of typing, the Browns have eight guys on the COVID list with Thursday being the earliest they may get some of the group back, pending negative test results.

Away from COVID issues, the Browns were down two key offensive line pieces also last week but there is every likelihood that rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills will return to shore up the blindside of Baker Mayfield. There is more of a question mark around the availability of Wyatt Teller but the magnitude of the game would suggest if Teller is even close to a ‘go’, he will be up for this one. The running game has stalled in the absence of Teller over recent weeks. He ranks as the number 1 guard in the NFL so his contribution to the Browns cannot be understated. Rookie Nick Harris, who was destroyed by the Jets, will likely start if Teller does not make it.

No news is good news so we will assume that Jarvis Landry and company will all be eligible to play this week. You simply have to put a line through the Browns wide receiving performance from last weekend and concentrate on what is likely to be a much better product this week. Landry, Higgins and Peoples-Jones have shown an excellent rapport with Mayfield over the past month and with a fire in their bellies from being forced to sit against the Jets they will want to put on a show. From a Browns stand point, that should mean fewer situations where the box is stacked to slow down the running game of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The former only needs to register 41 yards on Sunday to register a 1,000-yard season despite missing a quarter of the season through injury.

Defensively, the Browns could welcome back safety Ronnie Harrison, which would be a huge boost, particularly in light of the Sendejo and Joseph news. Denzel Ward will need to play better than he did against the Jets and a defensive quarterback will need to be established in Goodson’s continued absence. Too many times last week, Cleveland appeared out of position and were burned on two touchdowns with coverage breakdowns. The defensive line will look to set the tone with Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon playing particularly well of late. Myles Garrett has not looked the same player since returning from his own battle with COVID but news of a certain quarterback suiting up for Pittsburgh have certainly added to his own personal motivation for a big regular season finale.

Cleveland Browns safety Ronnie Harrison out 4 to 6 weeks
Justin Casterline – Getty

We are of course talking about Mason Rudolph who will get the start for Pittsburgh. Last time the two were on the field together, we witnessed the infamous helmet swing incident, which led to multiple fines and suspensions for both teams. Expect the CBS announcing crew to bore you to tears with constant reminders of this throughout the game and in prematch video packages. In the bigger picture of the game, the Steelers have taken the decision to give Big Ben a week off to prepare for the play-offs. Having not had a bye week in its traditional sense, securing the AFC North with a big comeback win against the Colts last weekend has afforded Pittsburgh that luxury.

Mike Tomlin has indicated that decisions will be made later in the week with regards to other key players and their upcoming involvement in the game. It is highly likely that James Conner, Eric Ebron, JuJu and Diontae Johnson play a much reduced role on offence, even if they do officially suit up. Defensively, it’s likely that Cam Heyward, TJ Watt, Minkah Fitpatrick and Joe Haden could be in a similar position. Assuming Buffalo win their game, the Steelers will finish in the third seed regardless of what happens here. If a win guaranteed the second seed, it could well have been a different approach.

Certainly on paper, the more starters that Pittsburgh rests, the more a Browns victory becomes likely. But trust me, as a Browns fan, we have been here many times before. The players coming in will be looking to make an impact and give Mike Tomlin some selection dilemmas ahead of the meaningful play-off games to come. Chase Claypool, for example, will want to separate himself as a genuine weapon in the passing game after vanishing for portions of the season. Benny Snell will want to be considered for more work moving forwards, particularily with James Conner struggling. Hungry players with an opportunity may actually be more of a danger than players simply playing to not get injured.

Is Ben Roethlisberger done for the Steelers? – The Athletic
Jamie Sabu – Getty

Writer’s Pick – Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Regardless of the situation, Browns vs Steelers is a huge rivalry game. In recent years, it has been far too lopsided to be considered a genuine rivalry but it would appear those days are drawing to an end. For the Browns however, those days need to end for good on Sunday. Win and you are in, it really is that simple.

Most Browns fans in their wildest dreams would have grabbed that scenario from you 17 weeks ago, so can they get over the line in the finale? Before a miraculous final 20 minutes against the Colts, even with their starters playing, Pittsburgh have been awful for a month. This game was very nearly for the divisional crown, such has been their drop-off from an 11-0 start. But we are where we are, and it is a really difficult game to call without knowing exactly what it will look like.

If the Browns get all of their eligible players back, I would favour them. If they don’t, I would favour the Steelers. If Pittsburgh rests all of their starters, I would favour the Browns. If they don’t, I would favour the Steelers.

The point is, it’s tight to call but let’s stick my neck out one last time: the Browns win and are in for the first time in forever.

Steelers 20 – 34 Browns

Sky Sports – 9.25pm GMT – Cardinals @ Rams

The Cardinals are the NFC version of Oliver Twist: “Please sir, can I have some more (football)?”

“MORE?!?!” say the Rams.

The Cardinals travel to SoFi stadium to face a Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp-less LA Rams, where they need a victory, coupled with a Chicago loss, to ensure they have more games to play this season.

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were dealt an almost terminal blow last week against divisional rivals the San Francisco 49ers, falling 20-12 and leaving them on the outside looking in.

The Cardinals have not had the best time of it since their Week 8 bye, going 3-5 in that span with wins against the NFC East (completing the clean sweep) and of course that ‘Hail Murray- against the Bills.

The loss against the Patriots is the game they’ll look back on and feel that this was the result that they let themselves down on. In better news, Kyler Murray, who has battled niggles over the past month or two, has looked healthier and far more willing to run the ball with 29 rushes in the last three games. That being said, he has been somewhat questionable this week with a leg injury but has been seen on the practice field according to reports.

Bills prepare for the 'most mobile' QB they've faced with Kyler Murray |  News 4 Buffalo
Rick Scuteri – AP

The bad news is that the former #1 overall pick and 2020 Pro Bowler has not won in his three previous attempts against the Rams including at least one sack and one interception in each of those games and having very little rushing production. McVay, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and co. all seem to have his number.

They may not necessarily have fellow Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins’ number though, who scored in this fixture on eight receptions, albeit for a lacklustre 52 yards. Hopkins, who many thought may struggle in a new team, is only four receptions away from tying his career best season for receptions but you can argue his TD receptions are way down.

Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds have continued to middle in the backfield. Neither Drake or Edmonds have topped scrimmage 100 yards since Week 10 in that game with the Bills.

A Troy Hill interception return for a touchdown was enough to seal the deal in the reverse fixture but the two running backs that scored TDs for the Rams that day will be missing. Cam Akers is on IR and Darrell Henderson suffered a leg injury last week against the Seahawks, courtesy of Jamal Adams as he was scooting for the end zone.

You have to wonder how much scoreboard watching there will be going on in this one as a Bears loss automatically means the Rams are in the post-season. A depleted Rams team may just turtle up and retreat, allowing the Cardinals to take a win and be in the play-offs with them, meaning three teams from the NFC West reach the post-season.

Talking of the Rams, they have thoroughly underwhelmed in the last fortnight, losing to the Jets (enough said) and the Seahawks. Jared Goff, who has crumbled like an overbaked biscuit, is out for this one due to a broken thumb courtesy of a Seahawk helmet when going through his throwing motion.

Rams sign former AAF QB John Wolford
Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

Step forward former AAF QB, John Wolford, who has not seen the field since the 2019 preseason and played for Arizona in the AAF.

The gameplan will probably be similar despite the change at QB. McVay will continue to be creative, and continue with misdirection, bootlegs and screens. With two RBs and their star WR missing, it may be a bit more difficult to execute. Can Wolford continue to be a hot shot? I very much doubt it.

They could welcome back OT Andrew Whitworth, who has been on IR since November and have also activated Micah Kiser, which I doubt Rams’ fans will take solace from.

Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

I cannot see anything other than a Cardinals victory here. The Rams defence has not been depleted anywhere near the same levels as the offence and will cause problems for Kyler so I can see a low-scoring game here.

If McVay can get anything out of this offence, it may well be his finest hour.

But the Cardinals probably only have to score 12-20 points to take this one and it will be the Rams tuning into Redzone or putting on their radios to check on events at Soldier Field.

Cardinals 20 – 10 Rams

Sky Sports – 1.20am GMT – Football Team @ Eagles

The final game of the 2020 NFL regular season sees the worst division in the history of football bring everything to a close.

For Washington, the goal is simple: win and they are NFC East Champions with a 7-9 record. If they lose, the title will go to the victor in the earlier Dallas against New York match-up. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has nothing to play for other than perhaps a slightly better pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. For the first time since 2016, the birds won’t be headed to the post-season and will leave 2020 with some serious questions to be asked. Once again, the NFC East will not have a repeat winner, a streak that dates back to 2004. The division has also never been won by a team with a losing record; 9-7 (on numerous occasions) is the lowest record to win the division prior to this year.

Week 17 match-ups are always difficult to predict, especially when one team has nothing left to play for. Philadelphia heads into the final game week following a drubbing at the hands of Andy Dalton and the impactful Cowboys wideouts. This means they will end with their lowest win total since 2012 when they went 4-12. Depending on results around them, Philadelphia could have the #3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft with a loss; if they pull out the victory, they could pick as far back as #10. Either way, they will have a top 10 pick. With so many questions looming this off-season around QB, front office, head coach and beyond, it is looking like change is afoot for the Superbowl LII winners.

Philadelphia weren’t the only team with off-field issues dominating their coverage this week. Washington parted ways with Dwayne Haskins on Monday, finally ending the cloud of uncertainty that was beginning to engulf his Washington career. This season, Haskins went from starter > back-up > third string > back-up > starter > back-up > waived. It’s been a rollercoaster than I’m sure Head Coach Ron Rivera will be pleased to get off. He said in a statement “I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways.” The encouraging cameo from Taylor Heinicke late in the game against Carolina on Sunday surely helped Washington’s decision to let the former first-round pick go. If Heinicke starts on Sunday in Philadelphia, he will become the 31st QB to start a game for Washington since 1993.

Dwayne Haskins vented the frustrations of a brutal rookie season to his offensive line on Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today)
Geoff Burke – USA Today

On the field, things have been just as up and down for Washington. Their dominant defensive line will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Philly O-line that has given up a league-leading 62 sacks so far this season. In the reverse fixture back in Week 1, Washington had eight sacks against the Eagles and what may have seemed like an early blip has turned out to be the level of the WFT’s pass rush attack. As a defence, they have 44 sacks on the season (6th in NFL); of those, Chase Young has 6.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss, helping him earn a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie season (one of only two rookies to do so, with Justin Jefferson the other). I would look for Washington to dominate in the trenches against a Philadelphia O-line that has had 13 (THIRTEEN!?) different combinations this season.

On the other side of the football, it very much depends who will be under centre. Alex Smith has shown that he still has gas in the tank and has rejuvenated his career after that nasty leg break he suffered back in November 2018. Even though his stat line in 2020 doesn’t make for great reading (4 TD, 6 INT, 79.0 rating), the Washington offence looks calmer and more effective with Smith as the man with the ball. They will also get a couple of playmakers back for the trip to the City of Brotherly Love. Terry McLaurin will be back to add to his 3 TDs and 1,078 yards this season. They also eased Antonio Gibson back in with 10 rushes last week but he averaged 6.1 YPC. Those two weapons could assist HC Ron Rivera in this win-and-in game.

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) scores a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium.
Jerome Miron- USA TODAY Sports

With Philadelphia, it is difficult to predict which team will show up. They could do what Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz suggested and have a ‘no-hat rule’ (not allowing Washington to win the NFC East crown) on Sunday night at the Lincoln Financial Field. However, with it being Week 17 and nothing left to play for, we could see outings from plenty of young players to see if they can impress coaches and put themselves in the conversation for the 2021 roster.

Jalen Hurts has already been named the starter by Head Coach Doug Pederson and it will be interesting to see how he can bounce back after probably his worst performance so far in Week 16 versus Dallas. His passer rating barely got above 70 and he was picked off twice. However, he did link up with a monster play to WR DeSean Jackson for an 81-yard TD as well as utilising his elusiveness, rushing 9 times for 69 yards averaging 7.7 YPC. The Eagles’ offensive unit has looked revitalised at times with Hurts under centre but it is still suffering with poor WR play, mismatches along the offensive line and penalties. Too. Many. Penalties. They had six false starts on Sunday in Dallas, with reduced fans in the crowd. That number is just not acceptable for an NFL offensive line.

Defensively, Philadelphia is struggling with injuries. With the injury report that came out on Wednesday containing Michael Jacquet, the Eagles now have only two healthy CBs on the roster (Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman). However, some won’t be too disheartened if Jacquet isn’t fit to go as he was pummelled by Andy Dalton on Sunday. He gave up 162 receiving yards from 9 targets, which is the second most of any corner in a single game in 2020. However, I will cut the guy some slack; he was an undrafted free agent this season and has had very little time to learn the defence, not to mention he was lined up against whoever D. Slay wasn’t covering, which was either Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb or Michael Gallup… With safety Rodney McLeod done for the year after tearing his ACL vs Arizona in Week 15, this Eagles secondary is barely limping over the line.

However, what I would expect to see is the pass rush to try and provide turnovers or force quick 3-and-outs for the offence. First-time Pro-Bowler Brandon Graham needs two more sacks to get his first ever double-digit sack season. If DT Javon Hargrave can share a sack, the Eagles will have five players (Graham, Cox, Sweat, Barnett and Hargrave) with five or more sacks, which no other team in the NFL has. However, with Sweat on IR, and Cox and Barnett missing practice on Wednesday, it remains to be seen if the Eagles’ pass-rushing pieces will be there to assist.

Patrick Smith – Getty Images

I think even if Taylor Heinicke does start for Washington, they will have too much for Philadelphia. The Eagles’ defence is just too depleted and is limping to the end of the season. If Washington can get out in front, the birds just won’t be able to bring it back. In Jalen Hurts’ three starts, Philadelphia have scored 54 first-half points, yet only 13 second-half points. On Sunday against Dallas, following their 14-3 start, Philly was then outscored 34 -3. Teams appear to be making in-game adjustments to Hurts and at the moment, Doug Pederson and Jalen Hurts don’t have an answer.

Writer’s Pick – Ste Tough (@SteTough)

This will be a close one. It probably won’t be pretty and I can see both teams coughing up the ball one or two times. However with Philadelphia’s injuries and just the torrid season they are having, I can see them losing this one. Before tough losses to Seattle and Carolina, Washington was putting together some momentum, winning 4 games in a row including a blow-out against Dallas. If they can hold that Dallas offence to 16 points, they can certainly hold Philadelphia to less.

Football Team 20 – 13 Eagles

6pm GMT – Cowboys @ Giants

Whichever teams comes out victorious at MetLife stadium WILL be in the play-offs before the Sunday Night Football game with the Football Team. With both teams being able to sniff meaningful January football, this should be a good NFC East clash.

The 6-9 Cowboys visit the 5-10 Giants with both teams still in the play-off hunt, which encapsulates 2020 in the NFL. The Giants still have a chance because of their head-to-head with Washington and the Cowboys have the same record so need to better Washington’s result.

Twitter reacts to Dak Prescott's devastating leg injury
Tim Heitman – USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams met back in Week 5, Andy Dalton took to the field due to that gruesome injury to Dak Prescott. The “Endzone Ed Sheeran”, as we like to call him here at F10Y HQ, has another chance to put a dagger in Big Blue and is coming off a brilliant and commanding performance last week against the Eagles.

Dalton has completed 65.4% of his passes this year after being in and out of the team due to injury, concussion and COVID, but has steered the Cowboys ship in the right direction. Just 14 TDs and 7 INTs in his 10 games isn’t going to fill them with too much confidence. That being said, 13 of those 14 scores have come since Week 11 when he returned to the field and three of the 7 INTs were before his two-week absence.

He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in his last four games including three against Philly last week (yes there was a lot of YAC involved; eat your hearts out 49ers fans). The main reason for that is arguably the best WR trio in the league.

Rookie CeeDee Lamb has taken to the NFL like a duck to water or a sheep to shearing. While he hasn’t reached the heady heights of fellow rookie Justin Jefferson, Lamb has on the whole had a very impressive season, even without Dak Prescott. Lamb has had either over 50 receiving yards or 5 or more receptions on 11 occasions this season, and has been more than just a slot guy, taking jet sweeps to the house, scoring on special teams and also winning on the perimeter. He needs just 106 yards to surpass the 1,000 mark against the Giants.

Why having three 1,000-yard receivers may not be a good thing for the  Cowboys
Vernon Bryant – Dallas Morning News

It helps when you are aided by other fabulous receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. The latter had a “don’t forget about me” game against the Eagles, going for 2 TDs on 121 yards and some fine football play after the catch. Amari Cooper has himself yet another 1,000-yard season, albeit a fairly quiet one. The beauty of having three highly talented WRs is that it’s a ‘pick your poison’ type of scenario .None of these guys need to be the focal point from week to week, which makes it hard for opposing DCs.

The Cowboys do have the momentum off the back of three straight wins, putting up 30+ points on each occasion (albeit against bad teams) but it’s the defence that has come to play recently too, which has been very timely indeed. They have forced at least three turnovers in their last three games and have recorded a turnover every week since their Week 10 bye. They’ve given up yardage and sometimes points too but the opportunistic nature of the defence to turn the field on the opposition is vital for this Dallas team to continue not only this week, but if they head to the post-season.

These two teams served up a great game last time out, with the Cowboys winning 37-34 through a Greg Zuerlein kick as time expired, and the Cowboys have actually won the last seven games vs the Giants. The last time the Giants beat the Cowboys, Tony Romo was the quarterback (in his final season). Another highlight from this game in recent years of course was the Monday Night Football ‘Black Cat’ game, which has seemed to continually curse the Giants franchise since.

For the Giants, Daniel Jones has not looked the same QB since his hamstring injury and Colt McCoy has not been able to replicate his heroics he produced in CenturyLink field against Seattle.

They have lost their last three games to Baltimore, Cleveland and Arizona, and haven’t even looked close to a team that is going to win a game. They have a chance to put it all right here but with a total of 62 points in their last five games since their bye and total offence not surpassing 300 yards in any of their last four games, winning this game seems quite far-fetched.

New York Giants defeated by Ravens: Here's how Twitter reacted
Patrick Smith – Getty Images

They’ll take solace in the fact that three of their five wins have come in the division and, despite opening as underdogs with Vegas for this one, they will fancy causing an upset.

There’s a Catch-22 here though for the Giants. A win coupled with a Washington loss sees them in the play-offs, but a loss for the Giants coupled with wins for teams in and around the same record could actually see them picking from the #3 spot.

If the Giants are to win this game, it’ll have be won in the trenches. They’ll have to make the game a bit of a dog fight and grind a result out. Wayne Gallman will need to recall his form in the middle part of the season where he was regularly finding the end zone and having 100-yard games. The receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard will need to be easily found by Daniel Jones, and Evan Engram will look to replicate his performance last time out against the Cowboys with a bit of trickery to find the end zone on a rush.

The defence will need to step back up in this one after going missing the past few weeks, especially after that dominant performance at Seattle in Week 13. They have forced just one turnover in their last three. Linebacker Blake Martinez will need to add to his tally of 80 solo tackles and will have to channel his inner Kyler Fackrell who had an interception return touchdown last time these two met. The secondary of James Bradberry (three interceptions on the season), recently extended Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers will need to figure out how to put a fire blanket over the Dallas wide receivers.

To help, they’ll need Leonard WIlliams and Dexter Williams to generate pressure on Dalton and against a Cowboys offensive line that has somehow stayed tight enough to not burst like drainpipes in winter. On a side note, All Pro guard Zack Martin has could possibly return for the Cowboys after joining the designated to return from IR list. Talk about good timing.

Most fans of non-NFC East teams will view the participant from this division as a team that is there to simply make up the numbers in the play-offs; however, I’ll just make you aware of the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the 2010 season (2011 play-offs). The New Orlean Saints came to visit and that’s when “Beast Mode” happened.

Any given Sunday and all that.

Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

It’ll be a cagey, low-scoring affair in my view and it would surprise me to see both teams turtle up for the majority. Whoever puts their cojones out first will probably win this one and I expect a lot of 4th-down plays. Dallas have the momentum, the better offence and the better weapons, but it’s a weaker foundation with Andy Dalton rather than Dak Prescott at quarterback. New York could have a trick or two saved for this one but a team that is struggling to move the ball, put up points and a questionably healthy QB (still) means that you have to go with the Cowboys for this one.

Giants 17 – 24 Cowboys

6pm GMT – Dolphins @ Bills

Can 2021 start by finishing off one of the Cinderella stories brought to us in 2020? The Miami Dolphins are on the cusp of meaningful January football, but may well need to win to get into the dance, as they take on the red hot Buffalo Bills to close out the regular season. The maths are quite straightforward for Miami: a win guarantees them their spot; a defeat will see them needing a defeat from either the Colts, Ravens or Browns for them to cling onto a Wild Card berth.

Let’s start however with their opponents in this one. The Bills were a fancied pick for the AFC East in the pre-season musings, with the assumed drop-off of the Patriots coupled with assumed mediocrity at best from the Dolphins and Jets. They haven’t disappointed and kudos must go out to them for capturing their first divisional title since way back in 1995. A win here in the season finale will lock up the number 2 seed in the AFC, which is certainly worth its bounty. A guarantee of at least two home play-off games (assuming they win the first), the assumed weakest play-off opponent in that they would play the 7th seed in Week 1 of the post-season and perhaps most importantly, the guarantee of no Patrick Mahomes until at least the Championship game, if both teams get that far.

The final caveat of course is one out of coincidence, but important never the less. A win for Buffalo here could eliminate Miami and as sports has proven down the years, when you have a chance to take out a foe, do so! The plans on how much players play this week has been a closely guarded secret but with some real tangible benefits to winning this game, I would expect the majority of starters to play at least a good portion of this game.

With that in mind, let’s assume that superstar Josh Allen does indeed suit up. In last week’s massacre of the Patriots, he broke Bills franchise records. He now is the franchise leader for completions on a single season, surpassing Drew Bledsoe with 380 completions and counting. He has also overtaken Jim Kelly for the most passing touchdowns in a single season with 34. The outsider for the MVP race has shown phenomenal growth in year 3 and is one of the major factors in the Bills’ results this year. I say one of the major factors as he has plenty of support from running mate Stefon Diggs who has excelled since his trade from the Vikings.

Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs the reason Bills are top contenders – The Athletic
Adam Glanzman – Getty

The defence, however, is ranked pretty much in the middle of the pack and has if anything taken a slight step backwards, compared to the dominant group of the 2019 season. They rank 8th against the pass, where premier corner Tre’Davious White leads a talented group. Against the run, however, they rank 19th, giving up 123 yards per game, and 14th in terms of points given up, surrendering 23.3 points per game. Having the number 4 ranked total offence has certainly helped them out throughout the course of the campaign.

So the evidence is there for the Dolphins to game plan for victory. Run the ball effectively and then run it some more. That, however, has proved to be a difficult thing for Miami to accomplish with any sort of consistency this year. Injuries have plagued them at the position with Salvon Ahmed, DeAndre Washington and Matt Brieda seeing plenty of carries with starter Myles Gaskin battling niggles. Gaskin looked sharp last week against the Raiders, averaging 6.7 yards per carry but he didn’t find the end zone and the Dolphins’ leading touchdown rusher on the season is still Jordan Howard who was released weeks ago.

The run game really does need to sparkle as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has really struggled to move the ball over the past few weeks. In two games combined, he hasn’t thrown for 250 total yards while throwing just one touchdown pass and a long ball of just 15 yards. He really needs to put it together this week as Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be unleashed from the bench to save the day. The veteran has been the saviour in Miami but he is unfortunately on the COVID list and will not be backing up Tua this week. That role will go to Jake Rudock who hasn’t tossed an NFL pass since 2017.

The defence ranks as the stingiest in the league giving up just 18.8 points per game. Fuelled by a league-leading 27 turnovers (tied with Pittsburgh), despite giving up a lot of yardage at times, the Dolphins have by and large prevented teams from scoring. Xavien Howard has had an unbelievably good season and has registered nine interceptions personally. Emmanuel Ogbah leads the team in sacks and the veteran leadership brought by Kyle Van Noy has had a transformational effect on a group that was already good before his arrival.

Xavien Howard and the Defensive Player of the Year award
Mark Brown – Getty

This really is a case of strength on strength. Miami’s four-most frequently targeted defenders (Xavien Howard, Nik Needham, Eric Rowe and Byron Jones) allow a collective completion percentage of 61.8%. The Bills’ top four wide receivers in targets (Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown and Gabriel Davis) catch 71.4% of their targets. It promises to be an absolute cracker.

Writer’s Pick – Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

If you prefer to view the current state of the NFL by power rankings and not by records, you will find many an observer pegging the Bills ahead of everyone else in the league right now. They are playing some brilliant football and have a high-powered offence that will be able to run with anyone. The defence makes more than its fair share of a contribution and they look a complete unit. Miami have been phenomenal this year and will certainly be up for this one and will make it an interesting contest. I would be really worried about Tua however. Whispers of using their top draft pick (acquired from Houston) on a QB seem harsh, but the reality is the team is probably closer to winning than people realised and can’t afford to be held back at the most important position. I have to side with the Bills in this one, which will leave Miami looking for help from elsewhere with regards to their Wild Card hopes.

Bills 24 – 17 Dolphins

6pm GMT – Ravens @ Bengals

Nick Wass – Associated Press

This is as simple as it gets in terms of playoff scenarios: the Baltimore Ravens win and they will be handed a shiny ticket to the post-season dance. They lose and it is likely a lost season, one where the reigning NFL MVP gets dethroned and Lamar Jackson’s play-off record remains on a goose egg.

For the Bengals, a team on a two-game hot streak with a bunch of ragtag starters and a rather good bunch of WRs, this is the opportunity to sign off the 2020 season on a most unexpected high, considering they lost their overall #1 selection QB Joe Burrow to injury quite a while ago.

Patrick Smith – Getty Images

The Ravens have hopefully learnt the valuable lesson of not underestimating their opponent. Last season, they crashed and burned against the Tennessee Titans in the play-offs, wasting a jaw dropping 14-2 season where Lamar Jackson broke the QB single-season rushing record. The Bengals are not the Titans, but they have beaten the Steelers and the Texans recently, one by digging deep into the defensive playbook and one by out-duelling a dynamic Deshaun Watson.

When the two teams met earlier in the season, the Ravens held Joe Burrow to zero touchdowns and managed to sack him seven times, holding the Bengals to three total points, having gone 27-0 up with just over 30 seconds left. Lamar did not look particularly good, connecting on just over 50% of his passes and inexplicably only rushing for 3 yards on two attempts. In 2019, Lamar had 26 rushing attempts in two games against Cincinnati, gaining 217 yards and two scores, averaging a chain moving 8.3 yards a carry.

Despite some season-derailing injuries to Burrow and Pro Bowl RB Joe Mixon, the Bengals have shown some guts in December. With both superstars healing for 2021, the future in Cincy looks in safe hands thanks to rookie receiving sensation Tee Higgins (pictured), who leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. Higgins needs just 93 yards to crack 1,000 as a rookie, a milestone he deserves to achieve having been a threat all season.

The Bengals have been without a 100-yard back since Week 4, even though Washington cast-off Samaje Perine ripped off 95 yards on the ground last week. Current starting QB Brandon Allen had a monster game in Week 16 against a woeful Texans pass D, but don’t expect the same aerial success against a Ravens secondary that is far more disciplined and tough.

Phil Hoffmann – Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens will continue to deploy a formula that has led to 10 wins this season, running the football both conventionally with rookie JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards (pictured), and unconventionally with Lamar Jackson, who has shown that he is capable of being the box-office performer he was throughout 2019 in December 2020.

Baltimore need to mix the run and pass to win this game and to start winning play-off games (if they get there). This means getting the ball to TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise Brown, who has had an underwhelming 53 catches to date this season.

The Ravens’ strength beyond the power running game is the defence, which is normally well disciplined and capable of big turnovers in pressure situations. Two key members of the secondary, Marcus Peters and grizzled veteran Jimmy Smith, are both currently listed as questionable, so more pressure goes onto Marlon Humphrey to have a big game.

Rookie LB Patrick Queen has fitted in like a cold hand into a sheep’s wool-lined mitten, and he leads the team in tackles with 102. The team has 39 sacks and surprisingly no individual defender has more than four (Calais Campbell). Sometimes, the collective unit is better than its individual parts. Fully fit, this remains one of the best units in football.

Brandon Allen has shown he is a serviceable back-up QB, and with weapons around him and an offensive line that is working weekly miracles, the Bengals can scare anyone. Scaring is good but you don’t defeat the Kraken by shouting nasty words at its mottled face.

Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)

This game is going to feature a big dose of Gus ‘the bus’ Edwards, a RB who is often dismissed as ‘just another back’. If JK Dobbins is still carrying an injury he picked up in Week 16, then Mark Ingram could be activated. Either way, Lamar Jackson will be making more than two attempts to gain first downs, and will be likely low odds on a rushing TD during the game.

Lamar needs just 93 yards on the ground to become the first QB to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. It will be a challenge, but one missed tackle and a 5-yard scramble turns into a 50-yard score.

This game simply means more to the Ravens, and they will not be underestimating the Bengals, despite a rather straightforward win earlier in the season. I expect Lamar to sign off the regular season in style and this writer to score his second sandwich (I’ll take a Halloumi pitta wrap please, Tim) thanks to the great #8.

Ravens 29 – 17 Bengals

9.25pm GMT – Titans @ Texans

With one week to go, the AFC is all but sorted. The Chiefs, Bills and Steelers are all locked into post-season football already; behind them, five 10-5 teams (Titans, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns and Colts) are fighting for four play-off spots. It’s a case of musical chairs: when the music stops, one team is going to be left standing.

At the moment, the Titans control their own destiny. Despite losing 40-14 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, they are the best positioned of the AFC contenders to make the post-season. Only this road game against the 4-11 Houston Texans stands between them and an appearance in the Wild Card Round next week. They could even lose and still get into the play-offs if one of the Colts, Ravens or Dolphins also lose. Essentially, Tennessee have the advantage thanks to the tiebreakers so if they (somehow) blow this one, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame. 

Many pundits were torn between the Titans and the Colts as the winner of the AFC South this year and as expected, it’s gone down to the wire (as it usually does for the Titans). A win at NRG Stadium on Sunday evening or an Indy loss hands them the division. Indy are currently the ones standing outside the post-season sweet shop steaming up the window, but their Week 17 opponents are the one-win Jaguars. (Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, the Jags’ only victory came against Indianapolis back in Week 1 and with the #1 draft pick sewn up, they don’t have to #TankForTrevor any more. But I digress…)

With a win all but written in stone for their title rivals, the Titans need to match them if they are going to take the divisional crown for the first time since 2008. Luckily, they face an underwhelming Texans team who shared a 42-36 overtime thriller back in October but have been on a four-game losing skid since Thanksgiving. Having lost twice in three weeks to the Colts, they followed up with an uninspiring 37-31 loss to the lowly Bengals last time out, despite Deshaun Watson’s three TDs.  

Carmen Mandato – Getty Images

In fact, only Watson (first in the NFL with 8.8 yards per attempt, second with 4,458 passing yards and third with 297.2 YPG) is keeping them in any way relevant, although David Johnson’s 128 rushing yards last week was a long-overdue return to form and their top receiver, Brandin Cooks, is just 16 shy of a 1,000-yard season. Despite Houston’s poor record, this is Watson’s best-ever season with his most TDs, fewest picks, most passing yards and best completion rate. He injured his hand in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, catching it in a defender’s face mask while attempting a pass, but still plans to suit up for their final game of 2020.

The Titans’ loss at a snow-covered Lambeau Field last weekend was a rare off-night for their offence. The defeat ended a five-game run of scoring at least 30 points, but they still rank fifth in overall offence (390.1 YPG), third in scoring (450 points) and second in rushing yards (2,402).

In Week 15, they stuck 46 points on Detroit and put up nearly 500 total yards of offence, 147 of which came on the ground through Derrick Henry. Defensively, Houston are below average in most categories and rank 31st in run defence. Worryingly for them, Henry – the league’s leading rusher (first in attempts and yards, third in TDs) – needs ‘just’ 223 rushing yards to get to 2,000 for the season. Do not rule it out.

Matt Ludtke – AP Photo

But it’s not all about the ground game. Tennessee have two wideouts, Corey Davis and AJ Brown, within sniffing distance of the 1,000-yard milestone while QB Ryan Tannehill has a solid 32 TD:7 INT ratio, despite his two-interception outing in Green Bay.  

Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

Tennessee, the 7.5-point favourites, are expected to bounce back from their poor snow-show, although Deshaun Watson is more than capable of putting up points against the league’s fifth-worst pass defence. But who knows how motivated Houston are for this one? The only thing they’re playing for is Miami’s final position in next year’s draft, thanks to the multi-player, multi-pick trade that saw this year’s first-rounder go to South Florida.

Both teams have plenty going on offensively and defences that rank in the NFL’s bottom four so expect a high-scoring affair, much like their last meeting in Week 6. Then, King Henry rushed for 212 yards and 2 TDs, and the QBs notched four scores apiece. With Derrick Henry bang in form and the Titans owning the league’s best turnover differential (+11), it’s hard to see anything but another win, a play-off berth and the AFC South title for Tennessee.

Titans 38 – 27 Texans

9.25pm GMT – Jaguars @ Colts

The Indianapolis Colts will be looking to jump back into the play-off picture in Week 17 as they welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Lucas Oil Stadium for this all important match-up.

For Colts fans, players and coaches, their shot at the post-season is fairly easy to understand with them needing one team out of the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens to lose, if we were to pre-suppose they do beat the Jaguars.

Head Coach Frank Reich has already stressed to his team that they need to focus on their own scoreline first however, telling media on Wednesday: “It’s better not to have them (other scores) up there (on the big screen). It’s irrelevant. It can do nothing to add to what we have to focus on. It only has a potential negative effect in our view.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this tie yet however. Despite the 1-14 Jags entering the game as a 14-point underdog for the fixture, Jacksonville actually played one of their best games of the season against the Colts in Week 1 by managing a 27-20 shock win over Phillip Rivers.

Michael Conroy – AP Photo

In that game, Rivers managed to throw for well over 350 yards while only managing only one passing touchdown, and their incredible stable of running backs managed only 76 yards between them.

Things have changed since then however. Not only is Rivers now performing at a high level, but in the absence of Maron Mack, rookie Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin has managed 919 rushing yards in 14 games. He’s currently on a run of five games that has seen him average 97.6 yards per game and five touchdowns.

Despite the loss to the Steelers last week, Taylor even managed 74 yards and two scores as the one-two punch of him and Nyheim Hines once again stretched the defence to breaking point at times.

The Colts’ offence looked smooth and polished in the first half of the Steelers game last week (we won’t mention the second half) and they should have some decent luck in Week 17 against a Jaguars defensive unit that has allowed the third-most rushing yards (2023), sixth-most passing yards (4,067) and the second-most points (464) on the year.

On the other side of the ball, Darius Leonard has led a defensive unit that has been spectacular against the run but struggled against the pass. This was put in graphic detail for all to see during their Week 16 collapse, as Big Ben and Diontae Johnson threw themselves back into the game.

Things didn’t get any easier with the news that starting left tackle Anthony Constanzo will end his season early to have ankle surgery and might destabilise what has been a superb O-line for most of the year. Wide receiver Michael Pittman also potentially misses the game with a concussion.

As for the Jags, their big injury news comes in the form of another start for Mike Glennon and the report that incredible undrafted rookie running back James Robinson has officially been shut down for the season, having claimed his 1,000 rushing yards in what has been a dysfunctional offensive effort for much of the year.

Harry Aaron – Getty Images

They were crushed by David Montgomery and the Chicago Bears last week, as their struggling defence allowed the running back to go for over 110 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.

Their biggest victory actually came from another source this season, with the Jets winning their two games and promoting the Jags to first overall pick in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. With the right care, the QB prospect can sort this struggling franchise out for years and years to come.

With the team thoroughly out of meaningful reasons to play hard against the Colts on Sunday other than pride, two LSU alumni have stood out as bright spots in the darkness of the 1-14 season for the Jags. Rookie pass-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and underrated receiver DJ Chark have both shown moments of serious note, and both will be glad to finish this season and get started again with a more complete roster in 2021.

Chark has managed 700 yards and five scores despite a dismal selection of quarterbacks and passing performance but showed his own ability with a stunning toe-tap touchdown last week in the loss to the Bears. While he didn’t practice on Wednesday, the presumption is that he will be back in time for Sunday, as the Jags look to cap off their own season with some pride and some gumption with which to otherwise remember a season that quickly devolved into fighting for the first overall pick.

Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

This pick is probably one of the easier ones I have faced all year, with the huge underdog without its best player in James Robinson and likely to rest a couple of their best pieces at least partially, as they look to next season with excitement.

The Colts need this game badly, and while results in other places could still make them just the third team in NFL history to miss the play-offs with 11 wins, I expect the experience of Phillip Rivers and Frank Reich to make clean work of revenge against a Jags team who look down for the count before a ball is even kicked.

Colts 35 – 10 Jags

9.25pm GMT – Packers @ Bears

The Packers travel to Soldier Field where a win guarantees them the #1 seed. It would also likely confirm Aaron Rodgers, the current clubhouse leader, as the 2020 League MVP.

The Packers have won six of their last seven, steamrolling most teams in their way; their only loss came in overtime against the Colts. They face a Bears team that have seen a mini-resurgence, winning their last three games after a six-game losing streak after starting the season 5-1.

Whether they’ve got to this position on merit, luck or a mixture of both is up for debate but for any team going into Week 17, all you can ask as a coach, player or fan is that you have a chance.

The Packers blew away the Bears in Week 12 at Lambeu but this is a Bears team that is possibly a bit more confident and gritty than that game. David Montgomery has come to the team’s aid in the last few weeks, totting up 529 yards on the ground in his last five games, scoring seven times. He has over 1,000 rushing yards on the season now.

WATCH: Bears RB David Montgomery runs over the Jaguars defense for TD
Stephen B. Morton – AP

After the Packers somewhat stifled Derrick Henry (as much as a team can in December), Montgomery will have to have an effective game for the Bears to try and get ahead in this game. His 10-carry, 53-yard average thus far and 0 TDs on the ground (he has one receiving TD) against the Packers will need to be improved upon.

Montgomery’s efforts have helped take the heat off Mitch Trubisky and how much he has had to carry the team, but he has quietly been very effective since his Week 12 re-introduction into the line-up. His efforts – 10 TDs and 4 INTs since Week 12 with three games with over 70% completion, 2 QB ratios over 100 (and two others north of 95) has all culminated in helping the Bears have a chance to control their own destiny.

The bad news is that Mitch is 1-5 in games against the Packers and has only a 59% completion percentage in those games.

The Chicago Bears’ defence will need to continue its recent string of performances that have seen them bend but not necessarily break. They rank second in red zone scoring percentage on defence and sixth best on 3rd-down conversions allowed. Top tackling linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, supported by leading team sacker Khalil Mack, have a lot to do with the defensive performances this year and will need to get through one of the better offensive lines to get their mitts on Aaron Rodgers. Their defensive line including 31-year-old going on 21 Akiem Hicks has gotten a decent amount of production in his ninth year after a injury-hit 2019.

Davante Adams in reach of Packers' triple crown of receiving records
Wm. Glasheen – USA TODAY Network

For the Packers, argulably the hottest team in the league, Aaron Rodgers will continue to go to Davante Adams, a connection we have seen 109 times this season, 17 of those in the end zone. Many belittled the Packers’ draft selections and many wondered why they didn’t go after Will Fuller (lucky for them they didn’t) before the trade deadline, but Aaron Rodgers just does not care. With Adams’ ability and talent to get open despite his hopping at the line, Rodgers seemingly has more than enough with his supporting cast currently at his disposal.

We could see further emergence of 2020 second round draft pick AJ Dillon, who rumbled for his first 100-yard game on the ground and 2 TDs against the Titans, doing his best Derrick Henry impression.

If the Packers do wrap up homefield advantage and a bye, they are more than well equipped to handle any team that comes in to Lambeau. They are actually well balanced both on the ground and through the air, being able to adapt to any team that comes into their house. The Packers’ defence is middle of the road in most metrics, which isn’t particularly a bad thing, but only one team has put up 400 offensive yards on it this season, and required overtime to do so.

Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage have been great in that secondary, and have not given up huge plays for most of the season. At the front end, Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith has 12.5 sacks on the season but it’s a testament to this team that 14 different players have a recorded sack this season. They’ll be beefed up by the midweek addition of DT Damon Harrison.

Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

It’s a ”win and in’ situation for the Bears, something which Bears fans could have only dreamed of at the beginning of December. Once again, they seem to be at the mercy of “Hot Rod” and the Packers.

I think the #1 seed carrot being dangled right under the nose of the Packers will be more than enough to ensure they are victorious. It will be a tight game and the Bears will be gritty and try to slow the game down, relying on Montgomery rather than Mitch Trubisky (similar to the last few weeks that’s helped them get to this position).

If the Bears can’t win their last home game of the 2020 season, they’ll be looking to the NFC West and hoping for some help from the Rams. Get the radios out!

Packers 28 – 25 Bears

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NFL Week 16 Takeaways

Just 1 week left of the regular season. First season in NFL history where a game was played on everyday of the week. How 2020 is that?

Lots of talking points and storylines as we head in to the final week and the business end of it all, but what were the takeaways from last weekend’s action?

The Full10Yards Crew are here with your weekly reminder in our takeaways article.

Order’s up!

Big Time Games, Big Time Players, Big Time Performances

Many of you were biting at those nails as your fantasy stars were trying to win you championships. But for those teams in and amongst the playoff seedings, fans, coaching staff and the players themselves were willing on every yard gained and every touchdown scored.

In the crunch games, when you need your stars to perform, there were a couple of standout performances in week 16.

Step forward Alvin Kamara, Tom Brady, Davante Adams and Ben Roethlisberger.

On Xmas Day, Alvin Kamara gave Saints fans and Fantasy managers the best Christmas present possible, a 6 Touchdown, 172 yards from scrimmage type of present.

Kamara found paydirt from the 1,3,5,6,7 and 40 yard lines to tie an NFL record for 6 Touchdowns in a single game which goes all the way back to the 1920s (Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals). His contributions alone was enough to see off Minnesota 52-33 and keep the Saints in the hunt for the #1 seed.

Talking of the #1 seed in the NFC, The Green Bay Packers combination of Aaron Rodgers/Davante Adams kept red hot in the frozen tundra of Lambeau field. Adam and Rodgers connected 11 times against the Titans, with Adam finding the endzone yet another 3 times and had 142 yards on the day through the air in the snow.

It’s the 2nd time this season Adams has scored what us Brits like to call a hattrick and is the 3rd player in NFL history to have 100+ receptions and 16+ rec TD in a season (Cris Carter/Randy Moss). If Adams can repeat the feat vs Chicago he’ll join Jerry Rice and Randy Moss as the only players to have 20+ receiving TDs in a season.

Staying in the NFC, Tom Brady said “hold my beer” to Alvin Kamara as he just took 1 half to dismantle a sorry Detroit Lions defence. Only playing 2 quarters, Tom Brady’s 1st half was the 2nd time since at least 1991 that a player had 340+ pass yards, 4+ pass TD, and 0 INT in a single half. The other one? Also Tom Brady, in the 1st half of a Week 6, 2009 59-0 win vs the Titans.

What a way to celebrate becoming only the 4th non specialist player to reach 300 career games. Still has another 40 to reach that record though.

Finally, we say hats off to Ben Roethlisberger. For all of the recent disparaging on the Steelers and their credibility to win the AFC North aided by an 11-0 start, they grabbed victory from the Jaws of defeat in their game against the Colts. After going 17 points down in the 3rd Quarter, the Steelers signal claler orchestrated a comeback with dimes to Diontae Johnson, Eric Ebron and Juju Smith-Schuster to claim victory and win the AFC North title. Ben finished with 34 completions from 49 attempts, 342yards and 3TDs. He’ll now be rested as it’s been confirmed Rudolph is just a week late on Christmas this year.

Clubhouse Leaders

As we head in to week 17, some of the players at each of the skill positions will be keeping a close eye on the summit of their respective yardage leaders.

Some players have bonuses on contract and will be fighting for every yards to sit atop the summit of passing, rushing or receiving ladders for 2020.

Last year’s rushing title went down to the wire with Derrick Henry snatching his crown off of Nick Chubb.

Who is in the reckoning this year?

You’ll notice that there aren’t many rushers and receivers to break the 1000 yard marker yet, which isn’t too surprising considering the year we have had. There are a few more players that should reach that milestone and you can bet your bottom dollar, those within reaching distance of their respective summits will play til the final down in the final regular season games.

Tom Tampa’s with the record books again

Having spent 20 years setting NFL records in New England, Tom Brady broke two more on Saturday as Tampa Bay blew the Detroit Lions out of the water in a 47-7 rout.

By just taking the field, Brady became just the fourth non-kicker or punter to make 300 regular-season appearances, joining George Blanda (340), Jerry Rice (303) and Brett Favre (302). Brady, currently 12th on that all-time appearance list, should pass Rice and Favre early in 2021 but he’ll need to achieve his ambition of playing till at least 45 to get anywhere near Blanda’s total.

With his second touchdown pass of the night, TB12 also set a new franchise record in his first campaign in Tampa: 34 passing TDs in a season, pipping the previous high of 33 set by Jameis Winston last year (along with almost as many interceptions). The 27-yard pass also gave the receiver, Mike Evans, a new personal best of 13 TD receptions in a season. Brady’s half-time stat line read 22-of-27 for 348 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs, and his 36 touchdown passes so far are good for equal third in the league. The team’s half-time totals of 410 total yards and 34 points against Detriot were also franchise records.

Grant Halverson – Getty Images

Those first 30 minutes (Brady was rested for the second half, it was that much of a walkover) signalled just the second time a player has ever notched 340+ passing yards, 4+ passing touchdowns and no interceptions in one half. And the other? No points for guessing that was Brady too, when he and the Patriots went nuclear in a 59-0 demolition of the Titans in 2009.

Brady has reset the benchmark in West Florida, with the 10-5 Buccaneers punching their post-season ticket for the first time since 2007. The win ends the NFL’s second-longest play-off drought, with at least a Wild Card place secured a day after the New Orleans Saints secured the NFC South crown again.

It’s also telling that Brady has extended his run to 12 consecutive play-off campaigns, just a week after the former teammates he left behind in Boston flopped out of January football contention.

Montgomery is now a monster of the Midway

Back from the dead, and from the failed Nick Foles experiment at QB, there is a storm brewing in the Windy City.

The Chicago Bears started 5-1 then lost 6 straight, but now with one week to go, following thee consecutive wins by the incredibly consistent and surprising leadership of Mitch Trubisky, David Montgomery (426 yards rushing in December after 463 in his first 10 games) and Allen Robinson – all of whom have led their team in yardage for the past 5 weeks, Da Bearz can punch a ticket to the playoffs with a win against the Packers next Sunday or a Cardinals loss.

WATCH: Bears RB David Montgomery runs over the Jaguars defense for TD
Stephen B. Morton /AP

Second year RB David Montgomery’s form, not quite that of King Henry, has been pivotal, as Trubisky has been able to play to his strengths by using play action and staying mobile in the pocket.

Khalil Mack remains a huge threat on defense, and with Green Bay wanting to secure the #1 seed the Bears v Packers will be an absolute must watch in Week 17. Can the Bears pull off the upset? 

Haskins ‘stripped’ of employment in Washington

The likes of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans may have been on the losing end of the score-line last weekend, but as we all know there was only one real definitive loser, and that is the currently unemployed QB Dwayne Haskins.

Why Dwayne Haskins was benched, and what it means for him moving forward -  The Washington Post
 Jonathan Newton / Washington Post

On Monday Haskins was released from the Washington Football team having stunk up the joint for three and a half quarters of a potential division winning loss to the Carolina Panthers. Haskins breached Covid protocols the week before, being pictured with strippers without a facemask. His Washington career is horrific reading – 16 games, 13 starts – 2,804 yards, 12 td and 14 interceptions, but most telling 3-10 on his starts, including 2-5 this season. Haskins will be missed about as much as 2020 will be by the planet.

For Coach Ron Rivera, who has battled cancer this year, he at least does not have to fight his conscience as he did the right thing releasing the latest D.C. draft bust. P.S – Backup Taylor ‘probably the best QB in the world’ Heinicke had more combined offensive yards in 7 minutes in the 4th quarter than Haskins managed in over 50.

Going into Week 17 and a ‘win and in’ game at least Washington fans will no longer have to suffer the statuesque Haskins lining up under center.

Please sir, can we have some more (Football)?

Week 17, when dreams can stay alive but also die.

The Colts and the Cardinals are two teams that still have Super Bowl aspirations, but they need a bit of a helping hand.

For the Colts, whose loss to the Steelers could prove terminal to their season, need help from any of the teams that they share a record with coupledd with a victory in week 17 vs the Jaguars.

The Titans are no sure thing against the Texans and the Dolphins face a tough task against Miami so it’s not all looking bleak.

The Cardinals however, need a win vs the Rams and also need a Chicago loss against Green Bay. Those are far from certain.

Unfortunately, like every year, there will be winners advancing and the losers going back to the drawing boards. Whichever teams do miss out, they’ll feel sick that the NFC East is send a team to the playoffs…

Leaving the “Least” ’til last

So our present to greet us in 2021? A sunday Night Primetime football game courtesy of the NFC East.

The winner of the earlier NFC East battle between the Cowboys and Giants will be watching nervously hoping that the Jalen Hurts led Philadelphia Eagles can do them a huge post christmas favour by beating the Washington Football Team.

Whether it’s Alex Smith or Taylor Heinicke at QB, Football Team fans must be glad that Dwayne Haskins wont be captaining the ship.

Heinicke has dotted all around the league including a brief visit to the XFL earlier in the year. The journeyman quarterback is a job that many more books should be written about with their trials and tribulations enough to fill multiple novels. If Heinicke can lead Washington to the post season in week 17, maybe they’ll do just that!

Cincy breaking bad streaks at last

In six short days, the Cincinnati Bengals have doubled their tally of wins this season: they beat the Steelers on Monday and then saw off the Texans 37-31 in Houston on Sunday, despite starting both games as major underdogs.

Third-string QB Brandon Allen, returning from a knee injury, threw for a career-high 371 yards, with 2 TDs and 0 INTs, earning a passer rating of 126.5 in just his seventh career start. His 20-yard TD throw to Tee Higgins in the far corner of the end zone was a particular toe-tapping delight, and the O-line kept him sack-free despite JJ Watt’s best efforts.

Having broken a couple of hoodoos related to playing their divisional foes on Monday Night Football, Cincy seem to have acquired a taste for ending unwanted streaks, and busted quite a few against the Texans:

  • This was the first time for over two years that the Bengals have won twice in a row. Their last consecutive victories date back to Weeks 4 and 5 in 2018.
  • This was the first win in a one-score game in the Zac Taylor era; in his two seasons as an NFL coach, he’d previously gone 0-15-1 in close contests.
  • This was the first road win under ZT and the first time the Bengals have won away from Paul Brown Stadium since a 37-36 victory at Atlanta in September 2018. The 20-game winless streak lasted two years, two months and 27 days.

OK, so none of these streaks should have lasted anywhere near as long as they did, but to end them without the likes of Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, DJ Reader and several other key players was impressive. They leaned on Samaje Perine (136 total yards, 2 TDs) and Gio Bernard (131 total yards) for some pass-catching RB action, while rookie wideout Tee Higgins was just a yard shy of a 100-yard outing. Alex Erickson (88 yards) also filled in well for Boyd in the slot.

Sam Craft – AP

Defensively, Cincy weren’t great; David Johnson turned back the clock with a 128-yard game that left the run defence chasing shadows. There were times when it took multiple players to finally bring the Houston ball-carrier down while on his TD run, Darren Fells just carried a couple of defenders into the end zone with him. But the positives outweighed the negatives and for the first time in the Zac Taylor era, the Bengals flew home with that winning feeling.

Having looked locked-on for the #3 pick a week ago, the Bengals are now a four-win team and now sit fifth in next year’s draft order. A sizeable chunk of the fanbase will undoubtedly be furious that the wins are taking them out of range for drafting the top college OT prospect, Penei Sewell, next year. But if ever there was a team that just needed to win a couple of games for the sake of morale and confidence, it was Cincinnati.   

Watt are you playing at?

The Houston Texans haven’t had much to cheer about this season, except perhaps the firing of Bill O’Brien.

Currently sitting at 4-11, 3rd in the AFC South, would have the 3rd overall pick as things stand, but they gave that away to Miami. Their only wins have come against detroit, New England and worst team in the league Jacksonville Jaguars (x2).

JJ Watt, one of the beacon lighters not only for the franchise, but the local communities too had some stern words to say after the Houston defeat to the Bengals in week 16.

It’ll be interesting to see the team and player reaction on the field in week 17 when they have a chance to play spoiler vs the Titans.

The worry for the fans is that there doesn’t seem to be too much light at the end of the tunnel considering opponents in the division, draft picks upcoming and levels of current talent on the team.

JJ himself could possibly play his last year or 2 of his career elsewhere as he goes in search of some post season success.

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NFL Week 10 Takeaways

We’re officially making our way through the ‘back nine’ now (Masters reference for golf fans) and some HUGE games took place last weekend.

But what are we to make of all of the action? Here are the thoughts of the Full10Yards crew on what we have just seen.

Cards pip Bills – Hail Murray!

In what could be one of the most crucial plays of the season, a 43-yard Hail Mary, or should we say Hail Murray, somehow found its way to DeAndre Hopkins’ sticky gloves while being sandwiched in between Bills defenders. The catch saw the Cardinals win in spectacular fashion in the late game window on Sunday.

A back-and -forth game looked to be heading Buffalo’s way after Josh Allen’s own deep bomb found Stefon Diggs at the back of the end zone, sending the Bills sideline into raptures and putting Allen back into the MVP discussion. But it was not to be as Kyler Murray, himself now at the forefront of the end-of-season award conversation, guided them to victory after last week’s loss to the Dolphins.

The game was a slow burner in the first half with the kickers taking centre stage, with the score 16-9 Bills at the half. Both QBs turned the ball over in the second half, giving each team chances to hang around and win the game. But it was ultimately the 2019 #1 overall pick coming out on top, with two rushing touchdowns to boot. He became the first QB in NFL history with both a pass TD and a rush TD in five straight games

He even turned his back on his final throw and watched it all go down on the big screen!

Expect more of the same on TNF in a tasty match-up against the Seahawks in a battle that could go a way in determining the NFC West winner.

Two-headed monster returns to carry the Browns

Ant and Dec. Kermit and Miss Piggy. Abbott and Costello. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Sometimes people just work better in pairs. For the first time since early in Week 4, the Browns were able to field both of their premier back together and the results were fantastic. In fact, they managed a feat not achieved in Cleveland for over 50 years: both runners topped 100 yards rushing to give the Browns the first such pair to achieve the feat since way back in 1966.

Ron Schwane – AP

Hunt has performed well in the absence of Chubb but the overall production of the run game went from very good to average at best. The return of Chubb reignited the running game back to its previous levels of excellence. On a day of bad weather, it was more important than ever as wind and rain limited both quarterbacks in this game. The return of Wyatt Teller to the offensive line was also a key factor as he was involved on several pulling run plays, which helped to generate good yardage.

For me, Chubb is the best running back in the league. His combination of elusiveness, speed, strength, vision and intelligence have him at the top of the RB charts, as illustrated beautifully by two plays. On his touchdown run, he cut back against the grain of all of his blockers to exploit the hole created by the Texans over-pursuing. It was then rubber-stamped by the final meaningful play of the game where Chubb bounced outside, made a defender miss and scampered 59 yards to the end zone. Of course, he slammed on the breaks at the 1-yard line, allowing the Browns to kneel out the clock and remove any remote possibility of a Texans comeback.

The AFC Wild Card race is a packed field but with Hunt and Chubb firing, the Browns are right in the middle of the race. If a game is to be decided by a backfield, then the Orange and Brown will really like their chances with the two-headed juggernaut at their disposal.

Ranting and Raven

There aren’t too many more wheels to fall off the Ravens bandwagon as they suffered their third defeat in 2020, which is already more than last season.

But what exactly is going wrong? Lack of confidence in the run game? Lack of personnel to execute? Too stubborn to admit who they are? Is the silent count due to no fans an issue?

The sign of a great team and a great run game is when the defence knows you are going to run it, defend accordingly and still can’t stop you.

The conditions in New England on primetime were not the greatest, but when you have a team that is built to run, has run successfully over the past 18 months and against a poor run defence, the Ravens just couldn’t muster much consistency in Week 10. Are they particularly focused on trying to be balanced, clouding their judgements for setting up offensive gameplans?

Granted, they have been behind for a bit more of games than they were last year, but the game on Sunday night at worst was fairly neutral throughout.

They are still second in rushing attempts on offence and second in yards gained on the ground, but you just get a sense that Greg Roman and John Harbaugh are trying to make a point of stuffing it in our faces that Lamar Jackson is a passer too.

I hate to break it to you, he just isn’t, and by continuing to make Jackson throw the ball, you are hurting the team’s chances of winning games.

Tennessee Titans: Mike Vrabel provides message regarding playoff picture
Paul Rutherford – USA TODAY Sports

Here’s another stat that isn’t going to help: Lamar Jackson is 0-9 in games where his team has trailed by 10 points or more. So just run the ball, control the clock and the scoreboard.

Exhibit A – Ravens first touchdown drive against New England involved nine rushes and four passes, and took 8+ minutes off the game clock.

You have four running backs (I’m including Lamar here) and have your offence built a certain way for a reason. Whether it was the loss of offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley last week or Nick Boyle this week – two huge pieces for setting up an effective run game – is a debate for the end of the season, but there is plenty of head-scratching going on in Baltimore.

You can argue that the defeats thus far this season have been to high-flying Kansas, the undefeated Steelers and Sunday night so maybe not all is looking dead in the Ravens’ garden. But they are now three games back from the aforementioned Steelers, battling with the Browns for second place and the AFC Wild Card picture is looking muddier than a pig sty.

Looking at their SNF counterparts, Cam Newton, who has also had his critics surrounding his passing game, especially since his shoulder and foot injuries, threw the ball just 17 times and New England trusted the run game. Belichick and McDaniels have never been afraid to be proud of who they are and how they come out and play. Maybe the Ravens need to stick to who they are and do what they do best.

Through Week 10, Jackson has had 90 rush attempts; compare that to 116 from the same time last year. He has three rushing TDs compared to six after Week 10 in 2019. Why be less effective at doing everything rather than be very effective at fewer things?

It remains to be seen how it plays out from here and whether there will be any adjustments going forward, but the Ravens’ and Lamar Jackson’s invincibility cloak is starting to wear off.

RoNo RoJo… RoYES!

Running backs have different lengths of leashes when it comes to mistakes, inefficiency and reliability throughout the 32 teams in the NFL. Tampa Bay RB Ronald Jones II, for the most part, has a short one.

In games past, the former USC runner has been given the cold shoulder after a fumble or lack of production, and faced running back battles with the likes of Peyton Barber, Dare Ogunbowale and Jacquizz Rodgers to get some playing time over the past few summers.

A similar story could’ve quite easily played out when fumbling in the first Bucs drive against the Panthers, but Bruce Arians has shown faith in Jones by letting him continue to get opportunities in this game

Buccaneers' sideline predicted Ronald Jones' huge TD run | Yardbarker
Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports

That faith was rewarded when Ronald Jones rumbled for a 98-yard TD run, which puts him history books and highlight reels come Week 10’s end or even the season’s end. Jones ended up with 192 yards on the ground from 23 carries, to the delight but expectation of Arians:

“I told him that’s what I expect of him: ‘You’re our guy and that’s what we expect of you all the time.’ He ran great today. He feels terrible when he makes a mistake and the fumble in New York really upset him. This one, I wasn’t going to let upset him and he bounced back really strong.”

Bruce Arians post match interview

The writing seemed to be on the wall when former Jags first round pick RB Leonard Fournette joined the ranks this season, but Jones and Arians seem to be on the same wavelength. There is an element of trust to think that Jones is Tampa’s guy, as long as the mistakes don’t build up. Jones’s efforts saw him post his fourth game of the season over the century mark rushing and snaps a three-game streak of less than 35 rush yards.

For the Buccaneers, the bounceback from MNF embarrassment was completed despite a spirited effort from Carolina. They will face a stout defence in the LA Rams next week and considering the defence the Rams have, Ronald Jones may be a key cog in the Buccaneers’ machine in Week 11.

Brees has the wind knocked out of him

Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees was hit by 49ers Kentavius Street on a 3rd and 18 half way through the second quarter. Brees was slow to get up but he played the remainder of the quarter. He didn’t play a snap in the second half.

Upto 65% off sitewide at Fanatics!

It has come to light that Brees had rib injuries coming into this game and that hit from Street consequently sees Brees now nursing broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

Jameis Winston came in on mop-up duty and the Saints took home the W (and in Jameis’s case, he ate it on the car ride home). But the bigger question is, what now for Brees?

Brees is 41 and could be missing for an extended period of time, which is something Saints fans endured last season when he was out multiple games with a thumb injury. But Brees, as optimistic as ever, posted on his Instagram that he’ll be back “in no time soon”:

You have to wonder if the word on the Street (sorry) becomes that this might actually be the last time we see Brees on the field.

The not-so-hateful eight

Cordarrelle Patterson may not cut the mustard as a hybrid running back and wideout, but give him the opportunity to return a kick-off and there is no finer athlete in the entire league.

During MNF, the Minnesota Vikings made the fatal error of presenting Patterson a rounded leather gift in the end zone, and the wily veteran returned 105 yards for the score. It was the only touchdown for the offensively inept Chicago Bears but for Patterson, it was the eighth kick-off return he has taken to the house.

How long was Cordarrelle Patterson's kickoff return Monday night
Mike Dinovo – USA TODAY Sports

He now stands at the pinnacle of this statistical table, alongside Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington. Both Cribbs and Washington are retired (both in 2014) so Patterson has a chance to set the all-time record with his next touch of a ball.

There must be something in the water in the Windy City, as standing joint second (with six) and joint third (five) are Bears legends Gale Sayers (RB) and arguably the greatest combined kick and punt returner in NFL history, Mr Devin Hester. Was a shame that Patterson’s record-tying effort was in vain, but he does at least have a place in NFL folklore for now.

Giants starting to stand on shoulders

The NFC (L)East is still a joke, and nobody has more than three wins. In a world full of incompetence, bad play calling and even invisible snipers wreaking havoc from the bleachers, there seems to be a hand emerging from the swamp.

Yes, the fingernails are cracked and a used condom covered in pond scum dangles lifelessly from the index finger, but are we seeing the rise of the New York Giants?

Two consecutive wins over fellow division opponents (Washington and Philadelphia) and a quarterback who now realises that if you maintain an action of putting one foot in front of the other in a straight line, you can actually reach your destination in a vertical position, is adding up to some sort of momentum.

BigBlueInteractive - New York Giants News and Discussion
Vincent Carchietta – USA TODAY Sports

Nobody wants to see a six-win team take a division; it will be an embarrassment to the rich history of the NFL, and it will carve out a hideous scar on a season that is making the Red Wedding look like an episode of Junior Bake Off.

Somehow, the Giants could emulate the Bruce Willis character in Unbreakable and walk out of the train wreck that is the NFC East intact, with a divisional title.

Stranger things have happened. Look at the turnaround in Miami as evidence. 

The defensive Sean McVay

The Rams have been mighty impressive on the defensive side of the ball this year, and they largely have their rookie Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley to thank for their dominance.

When McVay opted for Staley back in January, it was a turn away from the Rams’ previous direction with their defence. Wade Phillips was an experienced head, brought in to complement the youth and agility of McVay’s dynamic offence. However, when his contract came up at the end of the 2019 season, the Rams promptly told him it wouldn’t be renewed and they would be going in a new direction.

Boy, has that paid off…

Staley was handed a defensive unit that most assumed was on the decline. They had a sub-par pass rush, outside of Donald, and a poor LB unit, yet he has the Rams defence atop most of the defensive stats chart. They are averaging 296.4 YDS/G (2nd in NFL), allowing an average of 18.7 PTS/G (2nd) and have only allowed 19 TDs through nine games, which is the best in the league.

It cannot be understated how well the Rams D is playing. Years ago, the phrase ‘Defence wins Championships’ was coined and it certainly worked for divisional rivals Seattle in 2013 when they held the Broncos to only 8 points in Super Bowl XLVIII. I picked the ‘Hawks as the NFC title winners for 2020, but could I have gone for the wrong team in the NFC West…?

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NFL Deep Dive – Mid-Season Special / NFC

By Ste Tough (@SteTough)

As we reach the halfway point in the NFL season, let’s have a look at the state of play of all 32 franchises. Who is getting top marks and who has the dreaded “Must try harder” remarks? We’ve already been through the AFC, so let’s turn our attention to the NFC…

(Note: written after Packers vs 49ers on 5 November)

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (2-6)

Half-Term Report

The Cowboys have been one of the biggest disappointments in 2020. With a new Head Coach, a good draft and their star QB back (albeit on the franchise tag), most picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East. How that has all unravelled! While Dak’s injury was a real gut-punch, Mike McCarthy just doesn’t look like he has what it takes to drag this team into the post-season. Their defence looks a mess, conceding 266 points through eight games (the worst in the NFL) and their offence hasn’t been much better (even taking the Dak injury into account). Key players like Zeke have not been contributing as McCarthy would have liked, especially for someone who loves the run game as much as he does.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Dak Prescott – I know, I know, he’s injured now and out for the season, but you just have to tip your cap to the fifth year QB for the season he was having. Until he went down with that horrible ankle injury in Week 5 against New York, he had more than 1,800 yards with 9 TDs and a 75.4 QBR. Had he kept that up, he would have thrown for over 5,900 yards and 29 TDs… It is now a case of ‘what could have been’ for Dallas fans. Has Dak played his last game in a Cowboys jersey?

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

Dallas is the worst team in the NFL right now. Yes – in the entire NFL. Philadelphia put the game on a plate for them last week and they had absolutely nothing on offence to be able to go and get it. If a team can’t score points, it won’t win games: it’s that simple. If Andy Dalton can come back from concussion and COVID-19 protocols and get some semblance of fluidity with the talented Dallas WR room, then they could pick up a couple more wins this campaign, sealing a final record of around 4-12. But I think a bigger question looms for Jerry Jones. Is Mike McCarthy really the man to lead ‘America’s Team’ going forward?

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)

Half-Term Report

I’m not really too sure what is happening in Philadelphia right now, although old curses still remain. They have been rocked by injury. On the offensive line alone, they are missing four starters (Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson and Andre Dillard) as well as TE Zach Ertz and WRs DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. Their offence and defence seem incapable of playing well in the same game and their franchise QB is having a really difficult season, leading the league in interceptions and turnovers. With wins coming against the Cowboys and Giants, Philly fans are hardly filled with confidence that this team can go far. However, the defence has shown signs of promise with 28 sacks (equal 2nd) and the shutdown play of star CB pickup Darius Slay.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Brandon Graham – The 2010 first-round pick defensive end is having his best season in the NFL, at 32 years old. It cannot be understated how good Graham has been so far. He has seven sacks and is on course to get into double figures for the first time in his career. He also has nine tackles for loss and 11 QB hits. He’s playing at a very high level this season and I would expect the Philly veteran to make the Pro Bowl on this trajectory. Another honourable mention goes to Travis Fulgham, the former Detroit Lions sixth rounder. He has 435 receiving yards since he came into the team in Week 4 and leads the entire NFL since then.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The Birds should win the NFC East but they have to improve if they want to go any further than that. Carson Wentz is having a really down season and needs to play better than he has been. They also need to get healthy, and with a bye week this week, that should help with the likes of Miles Sanders, Lane Johnson and Alshon Jeffery expected to return for the Week 10 game with the Giants. Their schedule is tough and many are expecting that they won’t get more than 6 or 7 wins in total – which amazingly should be enough for them to host a playoff game! Doug Pederson needs to give more playing time to his young break-out players. With guys like Jeffery, Jackson and Peters unlikely to be in the City of Brotherly Love next season, I’d like to see more of the likes of Fulgham, Jalon Reagor and Jordan Mailata.

Chris Szagola – AP

Washington Football Team (2-5)

Half-Term Report

Aside from their impressive Week 1 comeback win against Philadelphia, Washington have been a bit of a dumpster fire this season. New Head Coach Ron Rivera is having a tough first season, much like his NFC East counterparts. However, his decision to drop young QB Dwayne Haskins not just to the bench, but to third choice – behind a QB who hasn’t played a snap in almost two years – is a puzzling one. With their only other win against a depleted Dallas side, Washington looks destined for another losing season. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. There have been some signs of life from their D-line, who have 22 sacks on the season (sixth in NFL).

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Montez Sweat – One of very few stand-out players this far for Washington, Sweat has five sacks this season and looks to be improving all the time. The 2019 first-rounder terrorised Baker Mayfield in Week 3 with a sack and three QB hits and did the same in Week 7 against Dallas with a couple of sacks and three QB hits. Washington’s pass rush has been a major positive for Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, and Sweat has been a key component of that.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The Washington Football Team have the benefit of being in the 2020 NFC East – the worst division in the NFL (perhaps ever). What this means is that amassing even six or seven wins could be enough to clinch the division and with it, a play-off berth. While Philadelphia leads at the moment, the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat winner since 2004. Washington’s schedule is also very kind; they have games left against the Giants, Lions, Bengals, Cowboys, Panthers and Eagles, all of which could be considered winnable. If Washington can put a run together and get some momentum going, I would not be surprised if they take the NFC East title this season.

New York Giants (1-7)

Half-Term Report

The Giants, like divisional rivals Washington and Dallas, have a new coaching staff this season and just like those other two teams, they’re struggling. HC Joe Judge has a solitary win against Washington in Week 6 and, aside from that, has struggled to get his team going. New York has only scored 145 points in eight games, which is 31st in the league. However, one positive has been the production from their defence, one with limited pieces. They have allowed only 199 points (14th in NFL) so considering the Giants are 1-7, Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham deserves a ton of credit for that. Losing star RB Saquon Barkley to an ACL injury in Week 2 has obviously been a huge blow and their run game has suffered dramatically since.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

James Bradberry – The big name free agency pick-up for GM Dave Gettleman continues to look like a shrewd investment. Bradberry has started all eight games and all 533 defensive snaps in those games. He has three INTs, 12 pass break-ups and a forced fumble, making Bradberry one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise grim Giants team.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

Questions continue to be raised at the QB position, like ‘Is Daniel Jones the guy when the 2021 draft class looks so strong?’ As he continues to struggle, the microscope will be put over Jones and HC Joe Judge. The Giants still need to play each divisional rival once as well as the Bengals. Then they have four games against teams with winning records (Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens). It looks likely that the Giants may not win again this season. With another high draft pick looming, the main question must surely be whether Dave Gettleman is the guy they still want to be overseeing that pick?

Al Bello – Getty Images

NFC North

Chicago Bears (5-3)

Half-Term Report

Chicago have raised a few eyebrows so far in 2020. It took HC Matt Nagy just three weeks to realise that the Mitch Trubisky experiment was over. However, Chicago have put together impressive wins this season against Detroit, Tampa Bay and that incredible comeback against Atlanta in Week 3. They also took New Orleans to overtime and only narrowly missed out on the win last week. Their QB situation still doesn’t look solid. Nick Foles has had periods where he has struggled but Chicago has managed to grind out wins when it mattered and have certainly put themselves in the conversation for the NFC North title, especially with Green Bay stuttering. Not many would have expected them to be 5-3 by the halfway stage, but here we are!

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Allen Robinson – Where else is there to go here other than the stand-out WR? The wideout has been the go-to man for Foles and Trubisky, amassing 631 yards through eight games. His average YPC is 12.6 and he has 3 TDs. That incredible TD catch against the Saints in Week 8 highlights how crucial he is to the success of Chicago. Expect Foles to continue going to him to drive this Bears offence.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia – Sun-Times

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The theme of the second half of the season for Chicago is divisional. They still have to play five divisional games (two each against the Packers and Vikings, and one against the Lions). Divisions can be won and lost against your rivals (see NFC East) and if Chicago can go even 3-2 in those games, they will put themselves in a strong position, even for one of the Wild Card spots now that seven teams per conference make the playoffs this year. However, doubts will remain as long as there is a question mark hanging over the QB position.

Detroit Lions (3-4)

Half-Term Report

Detroit has had a somewhat underwhelming first half of the 2020 season. Aside from that eyebrow-raising Week 3 victory over the Cardinals, their only other wins this season have come against teams they would be ‘expected’ to beat (the Falcons and Jaguars). Head Coach Matt Patricia’s overall record since he came in is 12-25-1 and some fans in Detroit have understandably had enough. Their defence has really struggled, with 206 points against through seven games which is 26th in the NFL. They’ve also conceded 35+ points on three separate occasions so far this campaign.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Marvin Jones Jr – The veteran wide receiver was expected to help carry the Detroit offence this season but he only has 265 yards from 22 receptions. Aside from his stand-out game against Arizona, Jones has been largely disappointing with only 3 TDs from 37 targets through seven games. He needs to improve down the stretch.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The chances of Detroit tasting the postseason in 2020 are slim-to-none. Even though they have five of their remaining nine games against teams with losing records, they’d still have to win another two or three outside of those divisional games to be in with a shout. I’m just not sure the Lions have it in them. Some big questions could be asked in Detroit again this off-season if they fail to play in January yet again.

Green Bay Packers (6-2)

Half-Term Report

The Packers started this season on fire, racing out to an impressive 4-0 record and looking unstoppable, with Rodgers back to his best and several young playmakers around him. Their offence scored a mammoth 122 points in their first three games and by their Week 5 bye, they had amassed over 150 points on offence. However, their losses have looked ugly, only managing 10 points and 22 points in losses to Tampa Bay and Minnesota respectively. The defence is beginning to show some holes and Matt LaFleur needs to get them back on track if they are to clinch that coveted single play-off bye spot in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings game recap: Everything we know
Dan Powers – Appleton Post-Crescent / USA TODAY

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Za’Darius Smith – It would be easy to mention Aaron Rodgers here (2,253 yards, 24 TDs, 2 INTs, 86.9 QBR), but I’m not going to go with him. I’m going to pick their stand-out Pro-Bowl OLB Za’Darius Smith, who has seven sacks, eight tackles for loss and 13 QB hits. He’s also forced and recovered a crucial midfield fumble in their Week 3 victory in New Orleans and another on Week 9 TNF against San Francisco. Look for him to kick on in the coming weeks.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

After their shock loss to poor divisional rivals Minnesota in Week 7, the NFC North isn’t as wrapped up as Green Bay may have hoped. The 5-3 Bears are breathing down their necks and it could go down to the wire. This week, they had a tough road trip to San Francisco (but won comfortably, due in part to the Niners’ injury woes) but they now have four match-ups against teams with losing records and they still have to play Chicago twice. The Packers should win at least another five or six games. If they can get to 10 or 11 wins, that should be enough to take the NFC North, but the NFC overall? We’ll have to wait and see.

Minnesota Vikings (2-5)

Half-Term Report

Minnesota has been one of the most disappointing teams so far in 2020. I don’t think many would have predicted them starting their season 1-5 until they managed an impressive win in Lambeau at divisional rivals Green Bay in Week 8. Their schedule hasn’t been too kind, with match-ups against Seattle, Indianapolis and Tennessee so far. However they also suffered a humiliating loss in Week 6 to Atlanta. The loss of go-to WR Stefon Diggs has clearly had an impact in Minnesota.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Kirk Cousins – The 32-year-old gunslinger has struggled this campaign, and his 12 TD to 10 INT ratio hasn’t helped the Vikings’ offence. He’s been sacked 15 times and has a measly QBR of 52.9, which is 26th in the league. Cousins’ contract APY is $33m so he needs to be playing far better than he is. An honourable mention here goe to Dalvin Cook who has rushed for 652 yards and 10 rushing TDs, as well as one receiving TD from 127 receiving yards.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The good news for the Vikings is their second-half schedule is kind. With matches against Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville as well as two games against fellow NFC North strugglers Detroit still to play, Minnesota has a clear path back to .500. However, they also face tough match-ups against the likes of New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Chicago twice. Their season could very quickly unravel if they suffer further ‘unexpected’ defeats. Of course, there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ game in the NFL but for a team that has finished with a winning record in four out of the last five seasons, a sub .500 season would be quite the setback.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

Half-Term Report

Tom Brady packed his bags this offseason and shipped out of Boston. The result? A Tampa Bay team that looks like a real Super Bowl contender. With experienced HC Bruce Arians at the reins, the Bucs are really challenging New Orleans for the NFC South title this season. Brady has picked up where he left off in New England: he’s thrown for 2,189 yards (fourth in NFL) and 20 TDs (third). They also have eight rushing TDs (two from Brady) and have scored 247 points (second). Defensively, they have been dominant too, with 28 sacks (T-2nd) and holding teams to an average of 300 yards per game (third). Tampa Bay did have a surprise loss against Chicago in Week 5 and it will be interesting to see if that was just a blip, or if they also have similar struggles as the season goes on.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Jason Pierre-Paul – I didn’t want to talk about Brady here, everyone knows he’s been great. Instead, the veteran LB has been superb for the Buccaneers so far this season. Alongside Devin White, JPP contributes to one of the most fearsome LB groups in the NFL, with 6.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and three forced fumbles to date. He really aids the Bucs rush defence, having allowed only 563 rushing yards (2nd in NFL) in the first half of this season.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

I expect the Buccaneers to continue to dominate and put themselves in the conversation for the NFC Championship game. Next week, they face the return of Drew Brees and New Orleans after that hotly contested Week 1 match-up. They also have interesting games at home to the Rams and Chiefs before their bye in Week 13. Then they end with Minnesota, Atlanta (twice) and Detroit – you’d imagine they finish 4-0 after their bye. Many predicted Tampa Bay to be the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in their home stadium; no team has ever done it before but the Bucs could well be the first in 2020.

Atlanta Falcons (2-6)

Half-Term Report

The 2020 Atlanta Falcons are somewhat of an enigma. A Super Bowl team just four years ago, they now look a shadow of that, giving up points and throwing away games. After their Week 3 loss to Chicago, they became first team in NFL history to have back-to-back games in which they blew a 15+ point fourth-quarter lead and lost. They fired their HC of five years, Dan Quinn, after starting the season 0-5 and since doing so, they’ve gone 2-1. Matt Ryan is, incredibly, second in the NFL for passing yards per game with 292.4 so it isn’t Atlanta’s offence that is struggling this season.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Atlanta Defence – Atlanta’s defence has been so poor as a unit that it was impossible to single out one or two players. They are allowing 331.4 passing yards per game (31st in NFL) and have allowed 224 points through eight games (29th in NFL). Dante Fowler Jr. was given a monster three-year, $45m contract in Atlanta and so far has posted a lacklustre two sacks and six QB hits. Since 2016, their defence has been getting progressively worse and this year, HC Dan Quinn finally paid the price.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

Atlanta reside in a division with two teams who already have six and five wins respectively so they won’t be tasting the off-season this year. After parting ways with their HC and GM, they need to decide who is going to take the franchise in its next direction – in the front office and coaching positions especially – as it looks like they may have another top 5 draft pick in 2021. The rest of this season looks difficult with games against New Orleans, Las Vegas, LA Chargers, Kansas City and Tampa Bay (twice) following their Week 10 bye. All of those teams will look to this game and place it in their prospective ‘W’ column. It’s hard to disagree.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brian Blanco – Getty Images

Carolina Panthers (3-5)

Half-Term Report

The Panthers are putting together a very respectable campaign considering all of the transition they went through during the off-season. Rookie HC Matt Rhule turned some heads when he was hired but so far, he appears to be doing a great job transforming the culture in Carolina. Since their 2015 Super Bowl appearance, they seem to have been suffering from that hangover and have only been to the playoffs once (2017) where they suffered a Wild Card loss to New Orleans. This season, they’ve had an impressive win against Arizona in Week 4 and were actually sitting at 3-2 after Week 5. However, consecutive losses against Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta have dragged them to 3-5.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Robby Anderson – Anderson has been such a good free-agent signing for Carolina. They had been desperate for a star WR to compliment second-year wideout DJ Moore. Anderson is providing OC Joe Brady with another speedy weapon in this exciting Carolina passing game. He’s proving to be good value for his two-year, $20m contract. Anderson could afford to improve his contributions with more TDs but so far, he’s doing a terrific job of helping Teddy Bridgewater spread the ball around the field – especially with franchise poster-boy, Christian McCaffrey, still out injured.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The remaining eight games for Carolina are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they face teams with losing records (Detroit, Minnesota, Denver and Washington) but they also need to play tough games against teams doing very well (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New Orleans), all of whom could be vying for the NFC title come January. They’ll welcome Christian McCaffrey back either this week or next, a very welcome return from IR after being out since Week 2. I think Matt Rhule would be happy with 7-9 or 8-8 this season, knowing that it is a foundation year to start the rebuild. But with questions at QB looming, Carolina needs to decide what to do with Bridgewater too.

New Orleans Saints (5-2)

Half-Term Report

Drew Brees and his chase for that second Super Bowl ring seems like the never-ending love story; if anyone in the league deserves another, it’s him. Brees has had a Super Bowl-calibre team for the last few seasons, and they’ve faltered in the play-offs every time. This time around, he’s signed a fresh two-year deal in what is surely his final dash to grasp the Vince Lombardi once again. The Saints stuttered at first, with back-to-back losses to the Raiders and the Packers, but since then have won out and now sit at 5-2. What is possibly more impressive is that they’ve done it all without star WR Michael Thomas due to an ankle injury. Once he comes back, I would only expect they’d get even better. They are averaging 29.4 points-per-game (7th in NFL) on offence and allowing an average of 28.1 points-per-game (23rd in NFL) – every Saints game seems to be a shootout! It’s worth noting that their rush defence is one of the best around – only allowing an average of 90.6 yards per game (3rd in NFL).

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Alvin Kamara – Sometimes you run out of superlatives to describe players, and Kamara is one of those players. In mid-September, the Saints and Kamara agreed on a five-year, $75m contract extension keeping him with the franchise until 2025. He is looking very good on that investment so far. He is one of the best ‘dual-threat’ RBs in the league. He has posted 431 yards rushing but perhaps more impressively, he has 556 yards receiving, adding up to almost 1,000 all-purpose yards through seven games. Kamara leads the Saints in broken tackles (nine) and TDs (seven), making him absolutely crucial to their success.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The Saints just seem to find ways to get it done in the regular season. Even without Thomas, when Brees normally struggles, they have five wins. They should have Thomas back for Week 10 at the latest and that will only add to their offensive weapons. Their remaining schedule is relatively kind. Aside from tough games against the Buccaneers and Chiefs, they should stand a good chance of winning their remaining games. I would fully expect the Saints to be in the play-offs, as they usually are. However, with some of the quality around the NFC, they may find it difficult to make it to the top of the conference and book their slot at Raymond James Stadium in February 2021.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Derick E. Hingle – USA TODAY Sports

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (5-2)

Half-Term Report

After admitting their shortfalls at QB and going back into the draft and selecting Kyler Murray #1 overall in 2019, the Cardinals are beginning to look like a young, up-and-coming team that has everything together. Off-season addition DeAndre Hopkins has given HC Kliff Kingsbury yet another offensive weapon and allows the Cardinals to be more aggressive and spread the ball around the field. So far, they are keeping up with the leading pack at 5-2 and have had a couple of impressive wins against divisional rivals (49ers and Seahawks). However, they’ve also had a couple of underwhelming losses against Detroit and Carolina that have kept their feet firmly on the ground. They lead the league in average offensive yards per game with 419.1 and are second in the league in rushing yards per game with 160.7.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

DeAndre Hopkins – It’s difficult to pick anyone else than the league leader in receiving yards. When Hopkins became available from Houston in the off-season, Kliff Kingsbury must have been straight on the phone to GM Steve Keim and packing David Johnson’s bags himself. Hopkins has been one of the best receivers in the league for several seasons. This time around, he has 704 receiving yards (first in NFL) and is one of only two WRs in the league averaging more than 100 yards per game (along with Green Bay’s Devante Adams). Hopkins has continued his impressive production in Arizona and just carried straight on from where he left off with the Texans.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The Cardinals are in the most competitive division in the league. Any of the four teams could still realistically win the NFC West (although the 49ers’ injury woes are seeing them fall away). However, outside of their remaining divisional games, the schedule is tricky. Miami have one of the best defences in the league and Buffalo being led by Josh Allen have been impressing so far in 2020. They should win games against the Patriots, Giants and Eagles but they will have to do well in their divisional match-ups. It’s also worth noting they are 2-0 in their divisional games so far. If they keep that up, the NFC West could be heading to Arizona for only the second time since 2009.

Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

Half-Term Report

The story of the Los Angeles Rams so far in 2020 is defence, defence, defence. They lead the league in average yards allowed per game with 291.9 and are holding teams to an average 19.0 points (T-3rd), holding five of their eight opponents this season to under 20 points. They also have 25 sacks on the season (fourth in NFL). DC Brandon Staley has done a terrific job with the defence. Their offence hasn’t been quite as productive but Jared Goff has been spreading the ball around with five different pass-catchers having more than 220 yards and at least one TD so far. Their five wins have come against teams you’d probably expect them to beat (the entire NFC East, plus Chicago) and their losses have all been relatively close. Los Angeles have been a bit too ‘predictable’ so far.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Aaron Donald – I know, it’s a bit boring to talk about the six-time Pro Bowler, two-time Defensive Player of the year, 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year and current sack leader in the NFL… but it is a testament to just how dominant he is and how crucial he is to the success of the Rams. He is equal first for sacks with nine so far in 2020, including four in a single game against Washington. He also has 15 QB hits and 11 tackles for loss. Since he entered the league in 2014, he leads the league in sacks with 81. I think Donald’s most incredible statistic is that in his 6.5 years in the NFL, he has only missed two of 104 games. He keeps himself so healthy, which is even more impressive given the position he plays.

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

The second half of the Rams’ season is where things start to get a bit tricky. They still have five divisional games remaining as they have only played at San Francisco (a 24-16 loss) so far. They have a bye in Week 9 then, after a tough home game against Seattle, they travel to Tampa Bay for the prime-time MNF slot in Week 11. The only remaining games on LA’s schedule you would expect them to win are at Foxborough in Week 14 and at the Jets in Week 15. That said, with the dominance of their defence so far, LA should remain competitive. I’m just not convinced they can get any more than another three or four wins. Wild Card weekend could be beckoning for Sean McVay.

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams
Sean M. Haffey – Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks (6-1)

Half-Term Report

The Seattle Seahawks are the best team in the NFL right now, with their dominant offence brushing teams aside. They are third in yards per game (289.0) although Dallas is top and I expect them to drop off now Dak is injured. They are leading the league with 34.3 points per game, which is wild – and a full 2.7 points above their closest competitor (Green Bay). What has perhaps been most impressive about Seattle’s offence has been their ability to adapt without a consistent, healthy running back. Chris Carson only has 323 yards rushing and 3 TDs so far, but HC Pete Carroll has let Russell Wilson take the reins on offence and spread the ball around. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett look like they’re going to have career seasons – both have seven TDs – with Wilson under centre. Defensively, the ‘Hawks have been the polar opposite. They are deal last in average yards per game allowed with 460.0, and 23rd in average points per game allowed (28.4). Pete Carroll’s approach seems to be just get the ball back in Russell Wilson’s hands as quickly as possible, no matter how, and let him work his magic…

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Russell Wilson – Who else is there other than the current league MVP favourite? Let’s look at his 2020 stats. Total passing TDs: 26 (1st in NFL); average YDS/G: 307.3 (3rd in NFL); passer rating: 120.7 (1st in NFL); completion percentage: 71.5% (3rd in NFL). On top of those numbers, he also has 260 rushing yards, making him the ultimate dual-threat QB. Wilson has been nothing short of incredible in 2020 and I fully expect his dominance to continue right the way to the NFC Championship game and perhaps even Super Bowl LV.

Alika Jenner – Getty Images

Expectations for the Second Half of the Season

Seattle should continue its early season dominance as long as it can keep its stars healthy. The breakout of DK Metcalf has been a welcome addition to the WR room and gives Wilson another reliable asset down the field. They still have four divisional games to play (including two against the Rams) but then should pick up at least four wins from their remaining five (Bills, Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington). Their only loss so far came in overtime. I can see this Seattle team going 13-3 and clinching that first round play-off bye.

San Francisco 49ers (4-5)

Half-Term Report

No team in the NFL has had worse luck with injuries than the San Francisco 49ers. For their Week 9 TNF game against Green Bay, San Fran had almost $80m worth of contract cap hit on Injured Reserve, including QB Jimmy Garoppolo, CB Richard Sherman, DT Solomon Thomas, DE Nick Bosa, DE Dee Ford, TE George Kittle and RB Raheem Mostert. With such substantial injury problems, it is actually incredible that the 49ers have accrued four wins this season. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers put them to the sword on TNF but they still managed 17 points and 337 total yards. Aside from their loss to Philadelphia in Week 4, the other losses probably would have been expected, especially given their injuries. They’re very middle of the road when you look at statistics – 225 points for (18th in NFL) and 207 points against (10th) – but they have just struggled to convert that into wins.

Star Pupil or Detention Specialist

Brandon Aiyuk – The rookie WR out of Arizona State is having an impressive year after being asked to contribute much more than expected after injuries to key 49ers WRs. While his stats don’t light up the page (seven games, 371 yards, 4 TDs and a modest 66.7 catch percentage), he has been an important factor. He’ll be an important piece in San Francisco in the coming seasons and offers Kyle Shanahan a young, cheap option at WR , a position they have struggled to add depth at in recent years. There was also his atheltic hurdling of Eagles safety Marcus Epps in Week 4… it was beyond belief.

Expectations for Second Half of the Season

It feels unlikely that the 49ers will improve much further this season with number of players they currently have out. Jimmy G and George Kittle are both expected to be missing until at least Week 14 and without them, San Francisco will struggle to pick up Ws. They face a tough road game to New Orleans in Week 10 and then they have their bye, perhaps a chance to get a couple more players back from injury. However, the schedule doesn’t get any easier, with games against the LA Rams, Buffalo, Arizona and Seattle. I think this season might just have to be a write-off for Kyle Shanahan, especially given the competition in their NFC West division. They can regroup, get healthy in the off-season and go again in 2021.

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The Burning Question for the Eagles in 2020

By Ste Tough (@SteTough)

The burning question for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020…

Will the WR’s actually stay on the field and further yet, actually catch the ball?

The clear issue that has faced the Eagles in the last 2 seasons has been the wide-out position. So much so that Philly would probably have rioted had Howie not selected a Wide-Receiver with that First Rounder back in April. That receiver room looks very different going into 2020, but how impactful can they be?

One element of the offence that Philly has lacked since their impressive Superbowl-winning campaign in 2017 is a speedy pass-catcher that can stretch the secondary and take the top off a defence. Even if they are not the #1 priority route for the QB each play, having a speedy receiver just gives the defence something else to think about.

In 2017, between Agholor, Jeffery and Smith the three top WR’s (based on total receiving yards) on the Eagles, they had 23 20+ yard plays on offence in the regular season and a further 8 between them in the postseason – totaling 31. In 2019, their top 3 receivers (Jeffery, Agholor & Arcega-Whiteside) had 15 between them with none in the postseason. Astonishingly, Zach Ertz (12), Dallas Goedert (8) and Miles Sanders (8) all had more ‘big’ plays than any of the Eagles’ top 3 wide-outs. 

Doug Pederson says Carson Wentz has embraced being a leader for Eagles
Chris Szagola / AP

Does this mean that the quality has gone down? Does Wentz just not trust the guys he’s throwing to? Does injury play a part? There’s a little of all three in play here. 

Philadelphia started the season having Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor at the top of their WR depth chart. 18 weeks later, they started the NFC Wild Card game vs Seattle with Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis (who didn’t even catch a pass) as their top 3 receivers. None of those players were on the Eagles’ roster at the beginning of the season. Injuries are obviously playing a part here. Jackson suffered an abdominal injury very early in the Falcons game in week 2, and whilst he returned to the field versus Chicago in Week 9, he reignited the injury almost immediately and didn’t play another 2019 snap. Jeffery went down in week 14 vs NYG with a foot injury, which later turned out to be a Linsfranc injury from which he is still recovering. Agholor had a knee injury he couldn’t seem to shake and didn’t feature again following the week 13 loss in Miami.

With the amount of injuries in the WR room, the fact that Wentz was still able to lead the team from 5-7 to four consecutive wins to round out the season should earn him far more plaudits than it did. 

Whilst those injuries obviously had an effect on production at the position, Eagles wide outs in 2019 also just quite simply weren’t as good. Trying to measure the metric of ‘drops’ is difficult as there is no official definition of a ‘drop’. The throw, positioning of the ball, positioning of the WR, defender and all sorts of other factors can come into play. Nevertheless, going from catches that are be deemed ‘catchable’, amongst WRs in their 2019 regular season, they had 15 drops. That may not seem like a huge number, less than once a game. But the problem is that they came at such crucial times. Agholor vs Falcons late in the 4th Quarter would have seen the Eagles go up by three with less than 2 minutes remaining.

Arcega-Whiteside vs Detroit would have put the birds up by four with 40 seconds left.

Agholor again this time against New England in the end-zone. Whilst that was a more difficult catch, it’s not too dissimilar to the catch he made against them 2 years prior in the Superbowl.

The Eagles lost all 3 of those games, and whilst a single play can’t be blamed for the loss as a whole, if they win even just 2 of those 3 games, they end with a record of 11-5 and perhaps could have looked at resting some starters in week 17. A whole load of ‘what-ifs?’…

So what of the upcoming campaign?

Well I think there is certainly reason for Eagles’ fans to be hopeful, dare I even say excited? 

Has Eagles' DeSean Jackson matured since Philadelphia cut him 5 years ago?  Ask his inner circle -
Matt Slocum / AP

Firstly, DeSean Jackson has had the entire offseason to keep healthy and from early training-camp reports looks ready to hit the ground running. A recent video showing him burning no other than recent CB1 acquisition Darius Slay and catching a perfectly thrown ball from Carson should have fans salivating. It’s only training camp. I must not get overexcited…

New boy on campus Jalen Reagor has reportedly been training at both the X and Z WR position, and whilst it was first said he would deputise under Jackson, having him on the field with him at the same time can surely only be a good thing? His highlight reel at TCU certainly shows a number of impressive catches, especially contested ones. The sooner the Eagles can get him firing the better. An injury in preseason has left him in doubt for week 1, putting the road blocks on hitting the ground running.

The birds also added further depth at the position, something they have been crying out for. John Hightower and Quez Watkins were both late-round draft picks, both of whom possess impressive speed. 

Doug Pederson also recently admitted that Greg Ward is in the running to start at slot-receiver. Is he the guy in the slot? I think that remains to be seen, but he adds some experience, especially with how much the Eagles were forced to rely on him down the stretch last season.

However, flip that coin over and there is still certainly room to be doubtful. 

Alshon Jeffery, with his enormous, fully-guaranteed contract, remains on the team and on the PUP list. Will he ever find that dominance that he had in 2017, or are his best years very much now behind him? Either way, I would be surprised if he ever plays another snap in the midnight green.

Arcega-Whiteside, a 2019 Second-rounder does not look like he will produce anywhere near what you would expect from that level of draft pick. Although he had very brief flashes of his ability through 2019, those were too few and far between. He seriously needs to improve in 2020 or I think his time with Philly could come to a very forgettable end.

The giant elephant-in-the-room for Philadelphia is that they are just one or two injuries away from having to hold more open practices to find pass-catchers.

I’m not sure there’s another Vince Papale tending a bar in South Philly that could walk on to the field in Week 6 vs Marcus Peters and the Baltimore secondary and put up 150 yards… 

Let’s hope Philadelphia don’t have to try that.

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From Worst to First?

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)
April 2019, the team picking 2nd in the NFL draft? The San Francisco 49ers.
February 2020, the team competing in the Superbowl? The San Francisco 49ers.
That’s the beauty of the NFL, a league designed with parity in mind allows a struggling franchise the opportunity to quickly turn things around. It may be the impact of the new draft class having a positive influence, just look at the contributions of Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and Dre Greenlaw with the said 49ers as evidence of what an infusion of new talent can provide. It may also be the return from injury of a superstar or the team’s starting quarterback. The 49ers again benefitted here with the return, behind center, of Jimmy Garoppolo. Think what you will about Jimmy G but I think it’s safe to assume most of us rate him higher than CJ Beathard and Nick Mullens.
The 49ers are just the most recent example, and as I’m sure Mr Retro (Lawrence) will attest to, it’s a pretty common phenomenon in NFL history. The phrase can be traced back to the 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went 0-26 in their first 2 years of existence before reaching the playoffs in year 4 after just 5 wins in year 3.
From Worst to First: The Unlikely Rise of the 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -  The Grueling Truth

Image Credit –

The 1999 Indianapolis Colts turned a disappointing rookie season of Peyton Manning completely on its head, finishing 13-3 just a year after Manning debuted in a 3-13 season. The 2003 Carolina Panthers went all the way to the big dance after back to back seasons in the NFC South doldrums. The Eagles went 1 better in 2017 turning last place into Superbowl champs within 12 months. And it was the worst to first seasons for the Rams and Patriots that introduced us to Kurt Warner and Tom Brady respectively. 
With that being said let’s have a look at the 8 sides in the conversation for going from worst to first in the 2020 season.

No Chance!

Jacksonville Jaguars 
I had already predicted the Jags as taking the number 1 overall selection in the 2021 draft prior to the inevitable release of Yannick Ngakoue and the more surprising release of Leonard Fournette. The AFC South hosts 3 other competitive franchises and as much as Minshew mania may have been a thing, I fully expect the Trevor Lawrence talk to get progressively louder as the season rolls along. I’m not going all in on any 0-16 predictions as I believe as with the Dolphins last year the players and coaches will use that as a big motivator for themselves. The 3 early picks of C.J Henderson, K’Lavon Chaisson and Laviska Shenault jr. provide hope for the future but I expect another season in the division basement for the Jags this time around.
APTOPIX Jaguars Ravens Football

Image Credit – associated press

Carolina Panthers
When a team spends all of its draft picks on 1 side of the ball, that ladies and gents is the definition of a rebuild. That’s exactly what the Panthers chose to do on defense to try and fill a big Luke Keuchly sized hole. Yes of course there is Run CMC, fresh of his new pay day and there is some potential in a receiving corps of DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson but its a tough ask to turn this around in a single off season. Teddy Bridgewater deserves his opportunity to reignite his career after a couple of years rebuilding himself in New Orleans following his devastating knee injury. As just 1 of 2 teams finishing last in their division to change head coaches you have to feel for Matt Rhule who more than anyone needed a proper off season to start making his mark on this franchise. Mega tough division also doesn’t help.
Panthers Falcons Football

Image Credit – John Amis

Chance of Progression

Washington Football Team
Read everything I wrote about Carolina and almost reverse it. I love the hire of Ron Rivera. Experienced, disciplined and ruthless he will turn around the culture in the building. (As a side note, kudos for pretty much everything the team has done off the field this offseason) The defence has plenty of weapons and I’m looking forward to seeing Chase Young make a major impact on a line already containing 3 former first round picks. All of the questions in DC surround the offensive side of the ball. Dwayne Haskins convinced nobody he was NFL ready or worthy last year, Adrian Peterson has yet more tread on his already pretty worn wheels and the starting tight end is a converted quarterback who has just 53 catches in his career. Terry McLaurin showed promise in his rookie season but on paper at least, this team is a long way away from competing for the playoffs. There are certainly chances however to get out of the NFC East cellar with coaching changes also in New York this offseason.

Image Credit – Geoff Burke

LA Chargers
Remember when I said players returning from injury can have a big impact? Well unfortunately the reverse is also feasible where a teams stud goes down and with him go the hopes of the franchise. It’s maybe a little dramatic to go that far but the season ending injury to all pro safety Derwin James is a massive blow for the bolts. The defence will be looking to Chris Harris jr and pass rushing tandem of Melvin Ingram and the NFL’s highest paid defender, Joey Bosa, to offset the impact. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Justin Herbet ends up getting and will obviously be linked to if Tyrod Taylor has the Chargers competitive. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are a nice receiving combo and the middle of the field looks good with Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry. The chances of going worst to first are obviously hampered by the Chiefs residing in the division but the Chargers will certainly be in the mix for 2nd spot along with the Raiders and Broncos. Personally I have the Broncos pinned as 2nd best in that division but it will certainly be competitive.
NFL: Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers

Image Credit – Robert Hanashiro

Cincinnati Bengals
I remember the buzz of 3 years ago when the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield. A new signal caller gives a franchise hope and that’s exactly what the Bengals fan base have in number 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. If you listen to our NFL podcast you will hear tales of fans gathering on bridges to get a glimpse of their guy in action and off the back of an historic college campaign you can understand the hype. Joe Mixon is an under appreciated talent in the backfield and had a very nice end to the 2019 campaign. AJ Green missed all of last season but will hopefully be back alongside Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate and newly acquired Tee Higgins. All in all the offence looks pretty good although as usual with the Bengals some extra help on the offensive line would help. Defensively they spent big money in free agency with the signings of Von Bell and DJ Reader in particular providing big upgrades. Most expect the Ravens to take the AFC North crown again but there are definite possibilities to see Cincy moving up within the division in what will be an important year for Zac Taylor who surely can’t afford another season as disappointing as his first.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow practices throwing the football during the team's first day of training camp on Aug. 4, 2020 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Image Credit –

Definite Possibilities

Miami Dolphins
Sign me up as a member of the Brian Flores fan appreciation society. He did an incredible job last season and has seen his roster receive a massive influx of talent to push on in year 2. Byron Jones was the free agency coup to pair with Xavien Howard as possibly the best cornerback combo in the league. Kyle Van Noy is a smart signing not only for his play and leadership but he also weakens a divisional rival in New England. They obviously scored big in the NFL draft and nabbed the player everyone assumed they were supposedly “tanking for” in Tua Tagovailoa. I’d love to see him play week 1 and see if he can carry this franchise in a similar way to what I described above with Joe Burrow. I also really like the backfield duo of Breida and Howard. They compliment each other very well and will both be playing with chips on their shoulder after being discarded by their previous employers. I’m not in the group that thinks the Patriots will completely fall from grace without Tom Brady but I also think it is perfectly legitimate to think there will be some regression. I simply can’t trust the Jets because of Adam Gase and although on paper the Bills are rightly favourites it’s been a long time since that has been the case. If they fail to live with the expectations the Dolphins will have every chance to swoop.

Image Credit – Al Diaz

Arizona Cardinals
If this list was on talent alone this team would be the pick of the crop for me. However you have to consider all factors and the fact this division contains the Rams (don’t sleep on them), the Seahawks and the 49ers it’s tough to see a clear path for the divisional crown to head to the desert. Kyler Murray in year 2, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitz out wide, with Kenyan Drake in the backfield and it’s a big thumbs up from an offensive skill position perspective. On the other side of the ball the forever under appreciated Chandler Jones continues to be a beast. Patrick Peterson can be a difference maker on the back end, and add Isaiah Simmons into the mix then you can see potential in that unit also. Along with the Bucs, the Cardinals have received the most pre-season hype which doesn’t necessarily translate to on field production (see Cleveland Browns 2019). It would be great to see Larry Fitz go out with a bang in what must surely be his last season?
Kyler Murray throws a pass in his NFL debut.

Image Credit – Ralph Freso

My Pick

Detroit Lions
Considering you have to go all of the way back to 1993 to find the last divisional win for this team I almost can’t believe I am choosing the Detroit Lions as my worst to first pick of 2020. As with the Cardinals above I’m factoring everything into this selection and not just the talent on the roster. Green Bay won the NFC North last season but are probably one of the most unconvincing and vulnerable division winners of 12 months ago, particularly considering their own puzzling off season. The Vikings have lost Stefon Diggs amongst a few veteran players and the Bears are difficult to read after a disappointing 2019 campaign. 
So the division is open and the Lions have talent at their disposal. Kenny Golladay had a breakout campaign last year and partnered with Marvin Jones and the useful Danny Amendola its a nice receiving group. TJ Hockenson also has plenty of upside from the tight end position to add to the receiving threat. D’Andre Swift was the number 1 running back on many draft boards in April and he himself provides a dual threat out of the backfield catching 73 passes in his college career. Jeff Okudah was the number 3 overall selection in the draft to lock down 1 side of the field from a coverage perspective and with some savvy veteran additions the defence looks like a solid unit. 
The biggest reason however is Matthew Stafford. In an injury hit campaign of just 8 games he had stacked up 19 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions, over 310 yards per game and a passer rating over 100. He doesn’t enter the conversation of many people’s top 10 quarterbacks, but if he can stay healthy he can be the real difference maker for this team.
Matthew Stafford-Kenny Golladay ranks 18th in top QB-receiver tandems

Image Credit – Ralph Freso

In Summary

It happens almost every year, so you can be pretty sure at least one of these franchises will indeed turn it around in 2020. This time 12 months ago you would have likely been ridiculed for thinking the 49ers would be lining up in the big game at season end, it’s one of the reasons we all love the NFL. It’s week 1, we are all 0-0 and tied for the divisional lead, over the next 17 weeks nothing would surprise us. Detroit vs Cleveland Superbowl anyone?

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Season in Review – Dallas Cowboys

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

In the 2nd installment of our new article series, today’s team for the season review is America’s Team. The Dallas Cowboys, constantly in the news as they always are (usually for scrutinising more than any plaudits) and this season was no different. Let’s break it down and see where it all went wrong.

Entering the season:

The Cowboys opted against handing Jason Garrett an extension prior to the start of the season to see if that brought upon an improvement to the divisional round loss to the Rams from the season prior. Dak Prescott’s contract was not extended despite ongoing talks, with the QB betting on himself to play his way into a huge deal come the end of the season.

With Washington and New York seemingly in disarray, the only competition was the Eagles. Kellen Moore was employed as the team’s offensive co-ordinator for his first year, hoping to install creativity and different looks for a team that had talent all over the offence. On the other side of the ball, a lot was expected on defence with Robert Quinn coming over from Miami to help aid the pass rush of DeMarcus Lawrence and the young, talented linebackers of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Van Der Esch were expected to take a step forward.

During the season:

The Cowboys slumped to a 8-8 season, Jason Garrett’s 5th such time he has had that record (even Jeff Fisher is jealous!) with no playoff football this time around, leading to his unceremonious exit saga. The team were 1st in total offence in terms of yardage including an almost 5000 yard passing season for Dak Prescott, only behind Jameis Winston. It’s fair to say that they were a team with the talent of a 12 win team, but a head coach of a 5 win team as Jason Garrett’s reluctance on 4th downs reared it’s ugly head again, only being aggressive when his job security was as fragile as a china doll.

Image result for dallas cowboys vs miami
Image Credit: Richard Rodriguez/Getty

They started the season hot out the gate with blowouts against New York Giants, Washington and Miami but got found out as soon as they played anyone with a winning record. Very disappointing losses against the Jets, the Bills and the Bears along with some low scoring performances against the Saints, Patriots and most devastatingly in week 16 vs the Eagles with the division on the line, essentially costing them division meant that there were more dips than highs on the season. Yes, this despite being the 6th highest point scorers, having the most yardage and 3rd most 1st downs on the season.

Despite being in control of their own destiny for the majority of the season and chances given to them by the rest of the teams in the division, the team flattered to deceive and did not deserve that playoff spot, even if the same could be said for the division winning Eagles.

Image result for dallas vs philadelphia week 16
Image Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Player wise, Michael Gallup has to go down as one of the best players performing on the season. The 2nd year wide receiver went for 1107 yards in the air with 6 TDs and that was with missing a few games with injury. On the other side Amari Cooper had season highs in yards (1189) and TDs (8) and put a case forward for a huge contract next season. Special mention to Travis Frederick who was able to come back from the horrible auto immune disease and pick up where he left off, whilst Zack Martin got yet another nod to the All-pro team.

On defence, DeMarcus Lawrence only managed to muster 5 sacks on the season, but his presence giving help to free agent signing Robert Quinn to conjure up 11.5 sacks.

Brett Maher was released during the season due to his shocking performance in the kicking game.

Offseason outlook:

Jason Garrett has been fired from the Cowboys and ex Packers HC Mike McCarthy is in after signing a new 5 year deal. Among the coaching staff reshuffle, Rod Marinelli and Jon Kitna a few of the names to also head for the exit door. McCarthy brings in Mike Nolan at defensive co-ordinator and Kellen Moore is to return to continue his decent start as an OC (partly the reason for the lengthy divorce of Jason Garrett). The Cowboys future success will depend on whether McCarthy has freshened his ethos and looked at why his offence became stale in Green Bay. Early signs are positive, however.

I would be very surprised if they don’t address the safety position in the draft with a day 1 or early day 2 pick. Long time Cowboy Jeff Heath is an unrestricted free agent so expect him to test the waters but it’s not a position the Cowboys have historically treated with any contempt. Maybe the new coaching setup will change that.

Other areas of priority are Nose tackle, and possibly a LB or CB depending on what they do with Byron Jones.

There will be some contracts to sort out, none more so than Dak Prescott, expect the Cowboys to announce a monster deal with him. The Cowboys must also decide on whether or not Amari Cooper is worth and extension and Byron Jones too. They will have upwards of $100m in salary cap space once players are cut, and have up to 29 potential free agents on the team. The Cowboys also have a franchise tag along with the transition tag available for 2 of those big names.


After a thoroughly disappointing season which led to the exit of Jason Garrett, there are better times ahead for Cowboys fans;

New coach, new ideas and a roster full of talent and plenty of salary cap space. You can expect Dak to not be exercised on those tags and instead be signed to a huge deal over possibly a record breaking number of years (watch out Jon Gruden!). You should fully expect Cooper and Jones to get the combination of the franchise and transition tags.

It would be deemed a failure if McCarthy does not bring playoff football to Dallas next season. The team is young, talented and heading in a new direction, but is that direction heading towards another Lombardi trophy?

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Image Credit: Ron Chenoy

Fun fact: Jason Witten had his highest career catch rate (75.9%), at the age of 37. He is now just 23 yards away from totaling 13,000 receiving yards and is 19th all time in terms of receiving yardage for all players (2nd for TE). and remains 4th in the list of all time receptions with 1215. will he be back?