2 teams remain in the NFC and they are two teams that know each other pretty well.
As well as being teams that are both in the top 3 of all time NFC Championship appearances (49ers 1st with 17, Rams 3rd with 11), they are two teams that watch twice as much (if not more) tape on each other every season, trying even harder to find a new wrinkle or a new way to outsmart one another. For Sean McVay it’s something in recent times he’s not been able to do against Kyle Shanahan.
The Rams have had a recent tough time of it against the 49ers in the Sean McVay era, after a promising first couple of years and for all of the plaudits Sean McVay has gotten in his 5 years and 136 games as the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Rams, including that video of his amazing recall of plays from yesteryears, it wont take too much racking of the brain for him to recall the pain experienced in his last 3 years against the 49ers.
Even more infuriating about his most recent defeat, a streak which is now 6 games deep, is that it wiped his perfect 45-0 record of winning games when winning at halftime, that was even with a 17-0 lead.
That win for the 49ers in week 18 was a main reason as to why they were even able to get into the postseason, so you could say they’ve only got themselves to blame that they face this matchup.
Let’s not make any bones about it, there are probably 15 other teams Sean McVay and the Rams would’ve rather seen in the NFC Title game than the 49ers.
But whilst that’s a decent subplot to this game, the main one has to be how the Quarterbacks have fared in this postseason. Matthew Stafford has trailblazed, demolishing the Buccaneers defence last week to the tune of 366 yards, 2 TDs, a rushing touchdown and a 121 quarterback rating. Makes a lot of difference playing for this offence compared to the Lions’ ones he took to the playoffs and lost on 3 occasions.
The Rams version of “Playoff Stafford” has come alive and is a far cry from the Stafford we saw in the final few weeks of the regular season; a trigger happy, interception machine. He’ll need to replicate the performance from the last 2 weeks rather than the 2 performances against the 49ers this year for the Rams to have a chance to come out victorious. That means utilising star WR and probable offensive player of the year and one of his best pals in Cooper Kupp.
Kupp pre-Stafford Rams has struggled vs the 49ers but this season under Stafford, has surpassed the century mark in receiving yards on both occasions and a touchdown, doubling his tally against them in his career. His low points this season in receptions and yardage is 5 and 61 respectively, lofty heights for any receiver and even Jerry Rice would probably be raising eyebrows at the season he has had.
On the other side, it’s been a case of Jimmy Garoppolo trying to remove his finger from the self destruct button. In the games against the Cowboys and Packers, fans would have been wincing most times he’s gone to throw the ball. In the last 4 consecutive games, he has thrown more interceptions than TD passes, including the last 2 games where he has not even thrown a TD pass. Considering you have the talent on the roster that the 49ers do in Samuel, Aiyuk and Kittle, it beggars belief that this is the case.
Yes, the 49ers are heavily committed to the run, play great defence and it often amazes how the 49ers are able to win games in spite of his at best average Quarteback play. It’s eerily similar to their Super Bowl run 2 years ago where you’ll recall the game against Green bay, where he only attempted 8 passes for 77 yards.
Garoppolo’s future is hanging in the balance with each snap taken in this post season and whilst even a Super Bowl may not be enough to prevent him from heading out the exit door of Levi’s Stadium, Head Coaches of teams needing a signal caller will possibly looking his way intriguingly and it’s absolutely plausible that he may even find himself out of a starting gig next season off the back of a Super Bowl win.
Whilst it’s more quantity over quality seemingly in the upcoming NFL draft at the Quarterback position, it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out for the handsome one because i cannot see him wanting to play second fiddle to Trey Lance, a Quarterback in which John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan invested a lot of draft capital in to take over the reins, many who’d have thought that he would have been in long ago.
So, what to make of this game?
Both teams have stellar defences, and that old cliche of “defence wins championships” will no doubt get another run out this weekend from Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the Fox commentary box, but in my opinion, it may actually come down to how different Sean McVay approaches this game and thus how well Stafford is afforded to make plays, capitalising on his recent purple patch.
It wont be easy as the bread and butter of the 49ers defence is being able to generate pressure with the juggernaut front 4, specifically defensive ends Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead. This allows the 49ers to drop more back in coverage, the highly talented Fred Warner and the rest of the linebackers to run downhill once the ball has been handed off to the opposing running back. This 49ers defence is one that has limited 2 of the best offenses in the post season to 17 and 10 points and a team that has given up 30 points twice since the start of November.
However, the 49ers chink in the armour is that beatable secondary (provided you get enough time to look that far) and Stafford has enough weapons at his disposal to go for the jugular, as we saw last week against the Buccaneers.
Even outside of Cooper Kupp, who doesn’t need any introduction, Odell Beckham Jr is recapturing his best form and has found the endzone 6 times since his mid season move from the Browns. Tyler Higbee has been seeing increased workloads, seeing 38 targets over the last 4 games.
Talking of mid-season moves and recapturing old form, former Bronco Von Miller’s matchup against 49ers Right Tackle Tom Compton is going to be a key. Yes yes yes, I am aware Aaron Donald, one of the best, if not the best NFL player in the league is on the Rams line, but he gets the requisite treatment. Von Miller has recorded 6 straight games with a sack and although the week 18 game was the only time he has tasted defeat as a Ram, he seemingly has gotten his appetite back and is still putting the work in at the ripe old age of 32. Not a former Super Bowl MVP for nothing.
They and the other Rams defenders will be trying to clog up the well oiled 49ers running machine and Elijah Mitchell, one of the diamonds in the rough in the 6th round of last year’s draft is leading the charge. He has more than stepped up (when healthy) replacing one of the 49ers’ captains in Raheem Mostert, and Mitchell in the process of doing so, broke the 49ers single-season franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie, accomplishing the feat in only 10 game appearances. Just shy of the 1,000 mark on 963, has also contributed a little through the air too on 137yards, 1 TD on 19 receptions.
The jewel in the crown for the 49ers is do-it-all superstar Deebo Samuel. Selected to his first pro bowl and also 1st team All-Pro, Deebo has exploded onto the NFL upper echelons of superstars and is box office each week. For the Niners it’s simple, get the ball in his hands, and Kyle Shanahan knows it.
He’s an absolute nightmare to account for as he’ll lineup literally anywhere, even having snaps as a kick returner and also completing a pass against the Rams in week 18. No matter how he touches the ball, he’s been effective and then some, amassing 1770 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in the regular season.
Keeping him and Mitchell quiet seems like mission impossible, but even if they do, they can call upon Brandon Aiyuk who has stepped up in parts, George Kittle, who is harder to bring down than Boris Johnson which as we know is no mean feat.
In terms of a winner and predicting the NFC participant in the Super Bowl, if Stafford and McVay stay aggressive and Stafford stays hot, I think the Rams can win this one with their home comforts and play at home again in two weeks time. It wont be without a nail bitten here or there though as they try and get over the recent losing hump against the 49ers. It may well be up to Jimmy G to hand it to them on a plate when push comes to shove should a similar gamescript play out like it did in week 18.
Anything subpar or conservative from the Rams and the Jimmy G led 49ers will be in the 2nd Super Bowl in 3 years and the fascinating offseason storyline with him will start on Valentines day.
For me, the win streak and abilities of Kyle Shanahan and the efficiency of this 49ers team cannot be ignored. I’m taking the 49ers to win it and win it by a Robbie Gould Field Goal, Stafford throwing a heartbreak interception late in the 4th.
Prediction: San Francsico 49ers 26-24 Los Angeles Rams
Featured image: Creator: Michael Zagaris, Michael Zagaris | Credit: Getty Images
In probably the match of the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers travel to the NFC East champions, The Dallas Cowboys. A win for either team could open up a charge to the NFC title game but a loss could lead to huge questions marks for either Quarterback come Monday morning.
The 49ers are set to face the Cowboys for the first time in the postseason since the 1994 NFC Championship, San Francisco later winning Super Bowl XXIX. The teams have met 6 times in the NFC title game alone. Dallas leads the overall Head to Head 19-17-1, with San Francisco actually scoring more points in the series.
However, if a game between 2 of the most winning-est franchises in NFL playoff history, creating one of the most fiercest post season rivalries wasn’t enough, those of you that like alternative ways of watching the game will be delighted that this will be the game where you can choose to activate the slime once more as Nickelodeon’s cameras return after their inaugural appearance in the Bears @ Saints game last year and producing a somewhat intriguing alternative experience. Enter the Slime tank, where 82.5 gallons of customer made slime has been manufactured.
The Dallas players have said that they will allow Nickelodeon to slime them after the game, should they be victorious. They’ll be hoping that this is the case rather than the potential slime left on their faces, should they taste defeat.
Let’s start with the home team and NFC East champs, the Dak Prescott led Cowboys. Prescott, seemingly a shoo in for Comeback Player of the Year (sorry Bengals and Joe Burrow fans) has rebounded more than adequately from his gruesome ankle injury suffered in week 5 of 2020. But it’s in the post season in which Cowboys fans and Jerry Jones alike will want to see him earn every single one of his $160m dollars from the contract signed almost a year ago.
To date, the Cowboys’ signal caller has not fared that well in the post season. Just the solitary win against the Seahawks in 2018 sandwiched between losses to the Packers and the Rams. At times, Prescott has been a bit off in his passing this season and can perhaps feel slightly more fortunate he didnt have more than the 10 interceptions so far on his record sheet this season. This has led to games where the offence has stuttered with no real obvious reason as to why, kind of like a beautiful car with an enginge that has a mind of its own – usually it’ll start up, rev and away she effortlessly goes. But in games like the Arizona and Denver ones, for some reason, the engine just doesn’t seem to start.
As it has been for the past few years and is the case in general in the NFL, if Dallas’ offensive line is healthy and operating at the high level they know they can play, Dak Prescott will carve up any opposing defence. The case is true here too as the 49ers boast one of the best rushing attacks on the defensive side of the ball with Nick Bosa et al. ferocious in style which has seen them tied for 5th with 48 sacks on the season. Impressive when you consider their blitz rate of just 19.8% is 4th least this year in the NFL.
Tyron Smith and Zack Martin will have to play to their future Hall of Fame best to nullify the onslaught of Bosa, Key and Armstead who have accounted for 28 of those sacks and have totaled 60 QB hits. It will take a joint effort along the offensive line, who love to see yellow laundry on the field, with Dallas being one of the most penalised teams on offence. Continue that trend in this game, giving Dak and Kellen Moore a lot to do in 2nd or 3rd and long situations, may lead to a continuation of the sack and QB hit rate of those 49ers pass rushers.
If Dak is upright for the majority of this game, he should take advantage of a beatable secondary and their quick strike ability will be key, especially if they get behind. He has 3 stellar receivers waiting to catch the ball, even with the injury of Michael Gallup. CeeDee Lamb, the only Cowboy to surpass 1,000 yards through the air this season, seems to have done it fairly quietly, especially when you take into account that he has only had 3 100 yard games, the last of those coming in week 8. A somewhat bereft Amari Cooper has hopefully been somewhat appeased by the targets and attention he has been receiving after a recent interview indicated he was unhappy at the amount of workload he was carrying in this offence. He’s seen 37 targets in the last 5 games but outside of a few touchdowns, he’s not really done much with them although half of his receptions in those games were good enough for 1st downs (12/22). Cedrick Wilson has been a bit more flashy and noticeable and has more than adequately filled the void left behind whichever receiver had a knock this season.
Add in the reliable and joint top receiving TD scorer Dalton Schultz into the mix (Blake Jarwin is also back healthy), and you have yourself a fully loaded offence. The question is going to be whether the 49ers will allow Dak to pull the trigger enough times.
In the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott clearly isn’t the force of old and goes up against a stingy 49ers run defence. Tony Pollard has had that bit of X factor about him, but has been dealing with a plantar fascia problem the last month. Both of them have amassed almost 2,500 yards of scrimmage yards between, Elliott able to achieve his 4th 1,000 rushing season against the backups of Philadelphia in Week 18 (his two “failed season saw him gain 983 and 979 yards). If healthy enough, expect pollard to be utilised on outside runs/Jet sweeps/screens and the more creative plays to try and exploit his explosiveness he has shown at various points this season.
Moving over to the visitors and you would have probably been shipped off in a straightjacket if you would have suggested at the start of the season the Mr Handsome Jimmy Garoppolo would be still starting for this team at this point of the year. Their #3 overall 1st round Draft Pick Trey lance has flirted with the first team but Kyle Shanahan has stuck to his word and kept his faith in the guy that got him to a Super Bowl just a few years ago.
Despite the uncertainty of his future (has a very low dead cap cost to the 49ers), Garoppolo led some excellent drives in their week 18 game against the Rams to even give the 49ers a chance in the psot season, which must be applauded when most seem to take every chance to belittle him and his capabilities.
Clearly he does not have the abilities or powers of the other powerhouse QBs in the league or even that of the one he faces on Sunday, but Jimmy G does “fit” in this team and the way that they play. He is never going to be the star that shines the brightest and he is never going to get the 1st place ribbon when it comes to MVPs on this team, but he does enough to give this team a chance and just simply does what is asked as and when it is.
He’s posted similar numbers to 2019, the year in which they were the bridesmaids in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and to be honest, not a great deal has changed between now and then.
Deebo Samuel is balling out, the 49ers continue to be one of the best rushing teams in the league and their defence helps them win a lot of games and yes, they continue to have more than their fair share of injuries.
Talking of Deebo Samuel, perhaps one of the most exciting players to watch in 2021, has burst into the limelight, with more touches than his first 2 season combined, has exploded for over 1700 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns and made many a Fantasy Football champion for sure.
He is clearly the key cog in the 49ers machine, with the point of emphasis is getting the ball in Deebo’s hands in space and then watching poetry in motion.
He, along with Elijah Mitchell who has grabbed the opportunities that have come his way with Raheem Mostert’s injury in week 1, have been the heavy lifters of this offence, accounted for nearly 3,000 scrimmage yards.
He ended up just shy of the 1,000 yard season on the ground, but only appeared in 11 games this season and has kept Trey Sermon sitting and keeping the sideline bench warm. He could have another big game if Dallas continues to be over-zealousness on their defence, which has led to some gaping holes to be run through and exploited for huge chunk plays.
The supporting cast (if we can call them that) of Brandon Aiyuk, who has popped up when he has been needed late in the saeson after a shaky start, along with star Tight End George Kittle, who himself has had the injury niggle or two this season, will give Dallas’ defence more than their share of concern due to the creativity but also execution of each and every single play called from the meticulous Kyle Shanahan.
The 49ers and Cowboys are each one of four teams with three players to record 800-plus receiving yards and five-plus receiving touchdowns in 2021 means that there is a lot of talent (and possibly slime) on show and this shapes up to be a Wildcard game for the ages.
All things being equal, Dallas should win and possibly set up a trip to Green Bay which has a whoole lot of history ready to be rammed down our throats but will have to be near their best to get the job done. Any slip ups and San Francisco will more than happily boot down the door and take the opportunities given to them from the Cowboys.
Jimmy Garoppolo simply has to not make any silly mistakes and giving Dallas free possession in order for San Francisco to have more than a decent shot at taking the spoils here. Against an opportunistic defence that preys on mistakes and turnovers, the 49ers will rely on Samuel and the run game to try and grind Dallas down and force them into chasing the game and possibly into a mistake forced by their pass rush. It will be interesting to see how Dallas try to nullify the run game, something in which they have struggled with this season and also whether they try and cancel out Deebo Samuel completely. Easier said than done.
The deployment of Micah Parsons in this one will also be interesting to watch. the Rookie, selected as an All-Pro on defence this year has been a playmaker for the majority of the season. I wonder if they man mark him with Deebo Samuel on plays where he is in the backfield and what ratio they have him dialing in on the QB to force a turnover (has 30 QB hits on the year and 13 sacks) or to help contain Samuel/Mitchell on outside/zone runs.
One thing is for sure, the health of Trent Williams will be crucial for the 49ers (has put in a full practice this week and looks good to go). He is the headline amongst one of the better offensive lines in the league. the Dallas defensive line rotation, which has served them well thus far allowing them to record the 4th most pressures on opposing QBs, will need to continue that vein of form to help create those potential turnovers for Trevon Diggs and the rest of the secondary. If they don’t get to Garoppolo, Diggs could be the source of joy if the 9ers go a bit more vertical, Diggs more than susceptible to giving up huge plays and yardage, especially on double move routes. He has given up 907 yards thus far and 16.8yards per completion from 54 completions allowed, a heavy price to pay for his 11 interceptions.
In a game that may come down to the odd decision or two, we have to talk about the head coaching: 49ers fans will back their HC all day long over Mike McCarthy, who stills seems to be missing the beat somewhat at the Head coaching position after his short stint away after his Green Bay days. There are still a lot of people disillusioned at Mike McCarthy 2.0 including myself and feel like he just likes to get in his own way at times. We all know what Kyle Shanahan brings with this 49ers team including their identity. The fact they continue to produce week in week out when you know what’s coming is the hallmark of a really really good team. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to a coaching decision or a play call, especially if you are a Dallas fan (not to mention Robbie Gould is head and shoulders above a shaky leg from Greg).
Some final nuggets for you to chew on ahead of the game:
The 49ers are the best ranked team statistically in the redzone (Dallas ranks 6th), meaning once they get there, they are likely to score. Whereas Dallas are one of the best on 3rd down conversions given up on defence, meaning they get off the field more often if getting the opposition on 3rd down. Dallas’ defence ranks top 6 on defence in average plays, points, yards and time given up, with their offence ranking 1st in points scored and yards gained. The magic number for the 49ers is 30, because whenever Dallas have given up that many points on defence they’ve lost the game this season (3 times)
Prediction: Dallas 35 – San Francisco 31
In what sets up to be a classic, Dallas’s oft opportune defence is just begging Jimmy Garoppolo to make a mistake. I get the sense that San Francisco will start the faster and score the first touchdown and lead for the majority but I think a turnover in some way from the 49ers QB late in the 3rd/early 4th quarter will help Dallas get over the line with a clutch last drive from Dallas. Both teams can be happy with the health of their teams going into this one, which is all one can ask for. It will be close, it may come down to the last kick or throw of the game, which will be great for the neutrals.
As part of our two-part series, here are your NFC teams’ season reviews. Do you agree with our selections for each category? Make sure you follow us on Twitter and join in the conversation!
The good: Kyler Murray-DeAndre Hopkins connection.You can forgive most players when transitioning to a new team, especially at the wide receiver position. However, Nuk hit the ground running and despite having precious little offseason to build rapport and chemistry with K1, Hopkins was able to tie his career best in receptions and post his third-best season in terms of receiving yardage. While he would have liked to find the end zone more than six times this year, it bodes well that he and Kyler were able to produce those numbers straight out of the gate, which included one of the season highlights in the “Hail Murray”.
The bad:2019 WR class. The Cardinals tried to support their #1 overall pick with weapons from the start. Andy Isabella (2nd round), Hakeem Butler (4th) and KeeSean Johnson (6th) were all wide receivers selected in the same draft. Outside of a few Isabella highlight plays, these WRs have struggled to be on the team, be on the field or catch the ball. Isabella leads the trio with 30 catches for 413 yards and 3 TDs in both seasons since being drafted… nothing to write home about. Hakeem Butler is no longer on the team and now finds himself pushing for a TE in Philadelphia, while you’d struggle to even remember who KeeSean Johnson is. Cards fans will be hoping for some magic third-year breakout, but with Kirk and Nuk established in the team, it’s hard to see Isabella or Johnson play any bigger role than they currently occupy in Glendale.
The ugly:Post bye-week results.Arizona were in a good position heading in to their Week 8 bye, sitting at 5-2 after their OT win against the Seahawks. However, on the ‘back nine’, they posted just three wins and slumped to 8-8 with a lacklustre performance in their final game against a John Wolford-led Rams, with Murray failing to overcome the injuries suffered.
The good: Calvin Ridley. In a season of few bright spots, Ridley was one of them. The third year WR out of Alabama (where else?) surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career on 90 receptions from 143 targets. Life after Julio is no longer a fear for Falcons fans.
The bad:The 2020 season. As previously mentioned above, the season was another disappointment. Since their heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl to the Patriots, the Falcons are 28-36. We saw the departure of Dan Quinn as the Head Coach, and he has since been replaced by Arthur Smith from the Titans coaching staff.
The ugly:The manner of losses. Atlanta were the butt of many a joke as they continued to lose big leads. The highlight? The famous ‘watermelon’ kick in Dallas in Week 2. Jumping out to a 20-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys came back to lead after the game clock hit double zero. That was bad enough, but the Falcons also lost in similar style against Chicago and Tampa Bay. In an already crappy 2020 for Falcons fans, it must constantly feel like Groundhog Day. No matter how big a lead they have in future, they’ll always be looking at the bookies’ odds to stick a token nugget on the eventuality that they will take another L.
The good: Promising first season under Matt Rhule. Many teams saw Carolina as a team that would struggle to make waves in 2020. Even though they had only five wins to their name, there is a lot of promise in this Panthers team. They were fast starters too, which is unusual for teams with upheaval to the levels Carolina experienced, going 3-2 through their first five games. Matt Rhule was able to get a lot of production out of Curtis Samuel, allow Mike Davis to be relevant after CMC was sidelined and their defensive exclusive draft class made a lot of plays.
The bad: The RB big contract paradox. It’s a well-documented and often-debated issue: the value of paying your running backs a fair whack in terms of salary cap percentage. Christian McCaffrey one of THE stars in the NFL signed a four-year extension at approximately $16m a year. He only played three games in 2020, having potentially suffere the effects of shouldering the load in his first three seasons (403 touches in 2019).
The ugly: Having to stick or twist at QB and the NFL Draft. Matt Rhule and David Tepper decided on bringing Teddy Bridgewater in on a two-year, team-friendly deal. While it worked to a certain extent, a decision needs to be made with the Panthers currently picking at #8 overall. The NFL Draft is a minefield at the best of times but the Panthers must decide on whether they allow Bridgewater to play out his contract, whether to wait for the QB to fall to them at 8 (it is a good year to do so) or to package a deal together to go up to #2, #3 or #4 to get a Wilson or a Fields rather than Trey Lance/Mac Jones, who will probably be there at #8.
The good: The first six games. The Bears were one of the trailblazers in the NFC, starting 5-1 thanks to a collective effort from Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles (see below). In hindsight, it was an easy-ish schedule (wins coming against four teams with a losing record plus the pre-bye Buccaneers) and it led many a Bear fan down the wrong path. They were able to capitalise on only needing eight wins to get into the playoffs this year and, along with the Saints, participate in the first game with Nickelodeon slime!
The bad: The in-season quarterback carousel. One of the debated topics coming into the season was who was going to play QB in Chicago in 2020. Nick Foles was signed to a ridiculous deal by Ryan Pace to compete with Trubisky when there were perhaps better options available. Conspiracy theorists such as myself believe it’s all because he didn’t want anyone usurping his #2 overall draft pick from the 2017 draft, especially as Pace gave up capital to go from #3 to #2, too.
The ugly: The QB conundrum. Ryan Pace, despite seemingly willing to die on the Mitch Trubisky hill last year, won’t be doing it this season. As it stands, Trubisky is a free agent, with Chicago not exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. This means Chicago are going to feature in all the articles relating to quarterback activity over the next few months. Matt Nagy remains at the helm and Ryan Pace probably doesn’t have many more cards to play from his self-dealt hand. That hand could have included the unhappy Deshaun Watson or Super Bowl winner and MVP Patrick Mahomes. That last sentence is probably the ugliest for Bears fans.
The good: CeeDee Lamb’s first season. In a tumultuous season in Dallas, and the NFC East, 1st round rookie WR CeeDee Lamb took to the NFL like a duck to water, or a lamb to whatever… I don’t know the metaphor that should be inserted here. Nevertheless, many wondered whether there would be enough production from Dak (and the unexpected long list of QBs that threw passes for Dallas since his injury) for all the mouths to be fed. The answer was “yes, there was” and Lamb helped himself to 935 yards and 5 TDs, including one of the touchdowns of the season against the Vikings.
The bad: The defence. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Dallas’ defence was worse than awful in 2020. Giving up almost 30 poinst per game, the defence saw a lot of yesteryear stars take a step back. DeMarcus Lawrence continues to underwhelm considering the contract he was given a few years ago, Jaylon Smith has disappeared and 2019 1st round pick Leighton Vander Esch struggled to stay on the field. At cornerback, 2020 2nd round pick Trevon Diggs went hot and cold in his first year, just showing the huge Byron Jones-sized hole that was left. As for the free agency additions, well, some didn’t even see the field (I’m talking to you Gerald McCoy).
The ugly:Dak Prescott’s season and future. Here’s a joke: What’s been around for over a year, everyone is sick of hearing about it and we all can’t wait for it to be over? No, not the coronavirus (a close secnd) but Dak Prescott’s contract situation. Dak played on the exclusive rights franchise tag in 2020, and we all saw the pitfalls of doing so. His season ended early in Week 5 with a broken ankle suffered against the Giants, leaving us pondering even more questions about what to do in 2021. I didn’t think that was even possible. The same regurgitation of articles and speculation will circle this offseason. It has to end at some time, right? If Dak once again gets tagged, he’ll net around $37m in 2021, which by my reckoning will all but end his future with Dallas (as a third tag will probably be in the $50m region).
The good: D’Andre Swift’s rookie seasonand the running game. It really was slim pickings for the Lions, and I felt bad for thinking about putting Matt Patricia’s departure in as a good thing (although, you know, it probably is). That being said, for a team that went 5-11 in 2020, to manufacture 17 rushing touchdowns by Swift, Peterson and Kerryon Johnson is not a bad effort. OC and end of season HC Darrell Bevel does enjoy pounding the rock, but rushing attempts usually correlate to positive gamescripts, something Detroit did not enjoy much of in 2020.
The bad: Kenny Golladay’s availability. Kenny G hits free agency this offseason. It doesn’t seem plausible that the Lions will look to tag him (tag and trade possible, but unlikely) considering they have just shipped off Matt Stafford (see below) to the Rams. Whether his injuries were more “exacerbated” by the team’s poor record/performances a la Joe Mixon and AJ Green in Cincy remains to be seen but ideally, Kenny Golladay would have wanted to post decent numbers to earn himself a bigger pay check and a wider net of teams.
The ugly: Matthew Stafford’s time in the Motor City: With Stafford now in pastures new in Los Angeles, you have to feel that Stafford, a truly gifted quarterback who has put it all on the line for his team since entering the league back in 2009, has been one of the most disappointing in terms of being able to achieve anything in the NFL. Three post-season games, all ending in defeat, means Stafford never even saw the Divisional Round in Detroit. His highlight reel is up there with many other stellar QBs in the league, but his achievements are not. Hopefully, he can put that right in a Rams jersey.
Green Bay Packers
The good: Rodgers returns to MVP podium. After the 2020 draft, Aaron Rodgers must have thought to himself that there would be little chance of replicating the performance levels that saw him win his first MVP, especially with the Packers trading up to select Jordan Love. However, in the second year of Matt LaFleur’s system, the Packers returned to the NFC Champiosnhip Game, even hosting it this year, but again fell at the final hurdle. Rodgers fought off Josh Allen for his personal accolade, but I am sure he would have traded the trophy for a trip to Tampa.
The bad: Injuries. I’m clutching at straws a little bit here and there weren’t too many notches in the negative column except for the ugly below. However, a couple of injuries throughout the season, headlined by left tackle David Bakhtiari at the back end of the season, contributed to the Packers’ failure to get through their NFC title game with Tampa Bay. You could argue that Davante Adams’ injury in Weeks 3 and 4 cost him a visit to the 20 TD reception club alongside Jerry Rice (20) and Randy Moss (23).
The ugly: Falling at the final hurdle… again. Most fans and teams would snap your hand off if you said to them that they could have the chance to compete in back-to-back NFC Championship Games. However, the bigger the game, the harder the fall and now questions will be asked whether, despite getting so near yet so far in the last two seasons, the current set-up and assortment of players is right set to get Green Bay back to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams
The good: Aaron Donald. It’s pretty much a copy-and-paste job with #99 for the Rams enjoying another stellar season on his way to earning another Defensive Player of the Year crown. Donald added another 13.5 sacks this season, taking his career total to 85.5. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep up the production as he will hit his 30s before the 2021 season start.
The bad: Jared Goff and John Wolford switcharoo. You know things are rough at the quarterback position when the backup usurps the starter: ask any Chicago Bears fan. Jared Goff suffered a thumb injury at the business end of the season, prompting former AAF QB John Wolford to step in, take the reins and actually help to guide the Rams to the playoffs. This caused a media frenzy on trying to identify the Rams QB for their playoff game, leaving McVay very tight-lipped. In the end, it didn’t really matter either way.
The ugly: Future planning strategies. Many will see the trade of Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford as a great one. However, LA essentially paid to dump Goff’s salary, but they do get a more competent and talented QB to help get them back to another Super Bowl. However, with that trade, the Rams continue their love of trading 1st round picks. Funnily enough, that last 1st round pick the Rams made was for Jared Goff at #1 overall back in 2016. That trade saw them also trade away the 2017 Round 1 pick and have since made further moves, including the trade for Brandin Cooks. With this most recent trade, they are not scheduled to pick in the 1st round until 2024. The reason I have put this in the ugly section is that Rams fans must hate it when draft time comes around and also, you could argue that the plan isn’t working. All will be forgiven though if Stafford is the key that unlocks the Vince Lombardi trophy cabinet.
The good: Justin Jefferson. Only one place to go here. Justin Jefferson was on many people’s lists for Offensive Rookie of the Year. It wasn’t quite to be for Jefferson and he saw his namesake Herbert take that crown. However, Jefferson stole the hearts of many Minnesota fans and fantasy football GMs in 2020, with 1,400 receiving yards from 88 receptions. We also saw his “griddy dance” TD celebration seven times.
The bad: The defence. Not quite Dallas Cowboys levels here but for most parts of the season, the defence was about as stingy as Santa on Christmas morning. Like Dallas, the Vikings gave up almost 30 points per game and talking of Xmas, they were handed a 50 burger by the Saints while everyone was tucking in to their turkey. Long gone are the days of the Vikings defence of 2017.
The ugly: The kicking game. Dan Bailey, back in his Dallas days, was as automatic as they came but he was the complete opposite in Minnesota in 2020. Bailey made a paltry 68.2% of his kicks last season. The low point was the game in Week 13 against the Jaguars when the Vikings literally drove to the goal line to help Bailey make a successful field goal in OT to get the W.
New Orleans Saints
The good: Christmas Day feasting. The Saints and Vikings played a rare game on Christmas Day this year and while we were all gorging ourselves, Alvin Kamara feasted on the Minnesota defence. Week 17 usually throws a spanner in the works with some anomalies and Kamara helped himself to SIX RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS in a single game. He joined Gayle Sayers and Dub Jones as the only other players to find the end zone on six occasions. He totaled 155 yards on the ground and a relatively paltry 17 yards through the air to cap off one of the most dominant performances by an RB in a game.
The bad: Injuries. Sean Payton and the Saints had more than their fair share of injuries to key players this season. Drew Brees once against missed time, while his favourite target from 2019, Michael Thomas, also missed the back end of the regular season due to a high ankle sprain. But despite losing both of those, and other parts too, they were still able to generate touchdowns, points and wins with Taysom Hill, Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook. It was similar to last season when Teddy Bridgewater came in and was still able to go undefeated in his short stint at QB. Kudos to the coaching and preparation down in New Orleans.
The ugly: Drew Brees – will he/won’t he retire? At time of writing, we are still unsure whether Father Time has defeated Drew Brees and whether he’ll be joining us for the 2021 season. You’ll notice that if you search Drew Brees on Twitter/social media, there is a lot of fun poking relating to Drew Brees’ arm strength and power. There are split allegiances in New Orleans and in the NFL social community as to whether it’s in Drew’s best interests to play next season. I hope that it’s a decision that he chats with Sean Payton about and they come to a joint decision as the last two seasons’ injuries are not helping the team, possibly even hindering them looking far enough forward into the future.
New York Giants
The good: Joe Judge/Patrick Graham. There isn’t too much to draw a positive spin on if you are a Giants fan from the 2020 season. Not that you were expecting to contest a Super Bowl so if you can clutch at any straws, it’s that the players seemed to buy in to Joe Judge’s ethos and culture. His Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham got his name out there with the way his defence played this season, ending up surprisingly as a top 10 scoring defence. If the offence wasn’t the second-worst points scorers in the division, they may have well seen a playoff game this season.
The bad: The offence. Now to that offence. Ranked 31st in terms of points scored, they once again fought injuries. Saquon Barkley’s draft day and his rookie season seem like distant memories, as do any game where all of their receiving targets were all able to take the field. Expect the Giants to bolster their WR room in the draft and free agency.
The ugly: The turf monster grabs Daniel Jones. One of the highlights of the year saw the Giants quarterback Daniel Jones get swallowed up by the turf monster. In front of a primetime audience on Thursday Night Football, Daniel Jones caught all of the Eagles’ defensive players off guard on a designed run, as he tucked the ball and ran for paydirt. However, as you can see below, his legs were moving at a different speed than his mind and the invisible turf monster did the rest.
The good: Jalen Hurts’ promise. I’m not going to lie, I nearly typed “literally none” or “you tell me and I’ll put it in here” for the Eagles because the season was an absolute abomination (this is supposed to be the good segment). I nearly plumped for Boston Scott’s last minute TD to beat the Giants in Week 7 but I thought I’d try and project some optimism at a time where there isn’t too much in the City of Brotherly Love. Hurts showed flashes this season when Carson Wentz was benched. The 2nd round pick from last year’s NFL Draft splits opinion on whether he is the future of the franchise, especially with the Eagles sitting at #6 overall in the 2022 draft . That’s about as good as I can get. Sorry.
The bad: Drafting receivers. Let’s face it, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson simply cannot pick a successful wide receiver in April. Jalen Reagor was this year’s 1st round selection and the Eagles tripled down later on with Quez Watkins and John Hightower. They combined for 669 yards and 2 TDs on the season. 2019 WR pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside somehow managed to have a worse year than his rookie season totaling just four catches and his only TD came from a teammate’s fumble. Their draft selections over the past few years are the main reason why they are in their current state but those wide receiver selections are something else.
The ugly: Carson Wentz. Again, plenty to choose from but quarterbacks get all of the love when they are winning, so they have to take the falls too. Wentz looked the smallest of shadows of himself compared to his Super Bowl winning season and the year where the MVP crown was robbed from him due to injury. However in 2020, he accounted for 15 interceptions, took 50 sacks and completed 57.4% of his passes. That is #NotGreatBob. The aftermath is that the fractured relationship between Wentz and HC Doug Pederson saw both of them walk through the exit door to pastures new. Can Wentz be fixed by teaming up with old OC Frank Reich in Indy? Will Doug Pederson end up with another HC gig in the future? Time will tell.
San Francisco 49ers
The good: Jimmy Garoppolo’s revenge win against the Patriots. I went a bit left field here as there were a few bright spots for a 49ers team that went 6-10 in 2020. It’s always to go back to your old stomping ground and pick up a win, but the 49ers’ 33-6 demolition of the Patriots in Foxboro’ in Week 7 must have been pretty sweet. Unfortuantely for the handsome QB, he was unable to throw a passing TD, as the ground work was all done… on the ground by Jeff Wilson. But those are the games you enjoy just that little bit more.
The bad: The humilation from the Dolphins. The 49ers succumbed to some Fitzmagic from the Dolphins in Week 5 and it was the Dolphins’ defence that also outshone a usually elite San Fran defence. Jimmy G threw two interceptions inside the final minute of the first half, handing the Dolphins a 30-7 lead at the half and that was the game done.
The ugly: Injuries. This was yet another team that suffered with key injuries. Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle and the majority of their running backs were missing for large portions of the season and this was replicated on defence too with Nick Bosa, Kwon Alexander, Richard Sherman and Dee Ford, to name just a few, all missed time. This left the 49ers playing with their arms behind their backs all season. Their 6-10 record was admirable in the circumstances but it remains to be seen if the momentum from reaching the Super Bowl in 2019 can be rekindled and replicated.
The good: Two 1,000-yard receivers. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are an excellent duo to have. DK seems to have grown immensely in his first few seasons in the NFL and is certainly not a one-trick pony, he can chase down defenders too! The duo had their ups and downs during the season but when they went big, they went big. Lockett had a huge Week 6 against Arizona, going for 200 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Metcalf, selected to his first Pro Bowl in his second year, went bananas the week after against San Francisco with 161 yards and 2 TDs. DK was able to post eight 100-yard receiving games and 10 games with a touchdown, which is great momentum to take into 2021. Honourable mention: Jason Myers – 100% FG made.
The bad: The loss against the Giants. In a loss that no one saw coming, the Giants walked into CenturyLink Field and stifled Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, defeating them 17-12. Just five points were scored in the first half (all by Seattle) but the Giants defence had their number all game and Alfred Morris piled on two touchdowns as a nice blast from the past.
The ugly: Pass defence. Far gone are the days of the Legion of Boom and in 2020, you could just throw on the Seahawks. They gave up the second-most yards through the air (4,560) and took the field collectively for the most snaps. They were actually outside the top 10 in terms of rush yardage given up; their ranking in terms of sacks was also pretty good but Seattle will look to vastly improve on this heading into next year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The good: First Super Bowl win since 2002. The move for Tom Brady and some of his pals paid off. In the biggest headline move in the last offseason, the Buccaneers prized Tom away from New England and it worked to perfection. Demolishing the reigning champions in their home stadium was music to the ears of Bucs fans. It was a team effort too, with the defence capturing their best levels of performance when it mattered most, having travelled to Green Bay for the NFC title game.
The bad: Early season form. It wasn’t all straightforward for the Buccaneers though, as they did suffer some low points early on. This includes a 38-3 ass-kicking by the Saints on Monday Night Football in Week 9, on the same field on which they eventually won the Super Bowl. It seems as if all that was needed was their Week 13 bye as they were pretty much perfect from that point on.
The ugly:The messy Super Bowl parade. Tom Brady and alcoholic beverages do not mix well. One of the lighter moments from the season was seeing Tom Brady get escorted to god knows where to take a timeout. He poked fun at himself later on Twitter saying that they were avocado shots. He was able to complete a successful pass of the Lombardi Tophy from his boat to his teammates’ boat, however ill-advised it was. For a guy who is approaching his mid-40s, to play at the levels he has, especially this season, his body must have been a temple with regards to guilty pleasures so it’s good to see him have a bit of fun. Not fun though was the other messy instance on the parade as Chris Godwin lost his phone after teammate Scotty Miller dropped it in the water. He needed a helping hand from Mike Evans’ Instagram to contact Verizon to help him get a new one.
Washington Football Team
The good: Alex Smith retaking the field. Alex Smith was by far the most appropriate recipient to ever be crowned the Comeback Player of the Year. His efforts were all worth it as he and the team claimed an NFC East crown and the team put up a sterling effort against the eventual Super Bowl winners in the Wild Card round. It’s a shame Smith wasn’t able to play a pivotal part in the offseason adventures, but we recommend going to watch the story on ESPN’s documentary. Honourable mention: Ron Rivera winning the cancer battle off the field.
The bad: The limitations of the offence. It’s probably a bit harsh considering the heroics of Mr Smith, but you have to think that Washington are only a QB away from being a real dark horse contender for the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay were there for the taking in the Wild Card round and while I’m not saying that Heinicke wasn’t good or Alex Smith would have won the game if 100% healthy, the cat would have been put among the pigeons had an average-to-decent QB was signal-calling for the team. There is an interesting decision to be made by Washington in this offseason about the quarterback situation.
The ugly: The defence. I’m going to use ugly in a positive way here. This defensive line, crowned by Chase Young this year, is mean. A top 5 defence in a plethora of categories is exactly what Super-Bowl-winning defences look like. As mentioned above, the offence has a few things to work on but they have a fabulous opportunity to capitalise on the youth on the defence and the line in particular, which has seen heavy draft capital investment over the past few years. Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Jon Allen and DaRon Payne were all selected in the 1st rounds of the last four years of the NFL Draft. They have been moulded together and are a perfect blend on that front line.
Just the two games to extract out all the talking points from, but there were some to be had. The AFC and NFC title games provide the most magnifying of glasses, with every snap, catch and decision critiqued more than any of the other 263. So what went down? Find out here! Don’t forget to check out the Monday podcast, available on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and all good podcast outlets.
Fortune favours the brave
Even if you haven’t been a highly trained commando or have never watched Only Fools and Horses, I suspect you still know the phrase “he who dares, wins”. That turned out to be the sub-plot of the Packers’ 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. In short, the Bucs dared and sealed the first-ever home advantage for a Super Bowl. Green Bay didn’t and they’ll be watching the season finale on the telly, along with the rest of us.
Tampa Bay’s Head Coach Bruce Arians has more catchphrases than Del Trotter but one of them – “no risk it, no biscuit” – sums up his philosophy on life, not just his coaching style. Essentially, you won’t achieve much by not taking chances and in the end, that was the difference between the two teams on Sunday night. And it means that Arians still has a chance to add “Super Bowl winner” to his CV.
Contesting his first-ever NFC Championship, Tom Brady faced third downs on several occasions, only to chuck a dime almost every time. Never phased and never looking for an easy out, Arians and Brady dialled up big plays right from the off. Their first drive saw a 27-yard connection with Mike Evans on a 3rd-and-4, and a 14-yard pass to Chris Godwin on a 3rd-and-9. The result: a TD drive and a 7-0 lead. Then at 7-7, facing another 3rd-and-9, Brady went all special forces on us and dialled up a spectacular pass up the middle to Godwin again. The 52-yard gain moved the Bucs from their own 28 to the edge of the Packers’ red zone in one fell swoop. Courageous. Offensive. And, based on Leonard Fournette’s rushing score a play later, ultimately successful.
Then, just before the half, they faced a 4th-and-4 in midfield. A more cautious approach would have seen the punt team emerge but no, a 6-yarder to Fournette kept the drive going. The instant payback was a 39-yard lob by Brady to Scotty Miller in the end zone, bring up a 21-10 lead at the half.
Maybe they forced it a bit too much in the second half, when TB12 killed three successive drives with interceptions (coming from three of his nine attempts of 20+ yards) but only one of those lost possessions gave Green Bay any points. The last two saw the conservative Packers punt on three-and-outs instead of taking a more high-risk, high-reward approach.
They were more cautious throughout the game but the one drive that took the (no-risk-it) biscuit for me was the final Green Bay drive of the game, which ended with the most lily-livered decision by HC Matt LeFleur. After a promising 30-yard kick-off return, further gains of 9, 29, 11 and 9 took them all the way up to the Tampa 8-yard line. They were trailling by eight and with two-and-a-bit minutes remaining, Aaron Rodgers – probably the season MVP-in-waiting – appeared to have four decent shots to seal an unlikely comeback and overtime. They ‘just’ needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Here’s how it played out.
– First down: An incomplete pass to Alan Lazard. – Second down: An incomplete pass to Davante Adams. – Third down: Rodgers had more than enough time and space to scramble for the line but instead elected to sit back and throw to Adams again. He missed. – Fourth down: Wait, what now? On trots Mason Crosby for a field goal attempt. Really?! You think the GOAT is going to gift you another possession after the two-minute warning? No chance. Game over. The kick was good but the Packers lost by five.
Afterwards, Rodgers said that he’d expected a fourth attempt at a TD and LeFleur agreed that, with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t the right call. Obviously, there were many other factors that swung the result in the Buccaneers’ favour but the key one for me was their overall approach. The brave marched on and the timid went home.
Is there a draft in here?
When comparing the two teams after the fall-out from the NFC title game, one possible cause for the Packers’ exit at this stage for the second year running is the rookie factor.
Looking at the difference in impact each team’s 2020 rookie class had looks to be a pivotal point to call out. Matt LaFleur’s play-calling decisions can be debated until the cows come home but on the other side of the field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bolstered their squad and it has helped them a lot more than the Packers’ rookies from 2020.
Jordan Love, AJ Dillion, Josiah Deguara, Kamal Martin, Jon Runyan Jr., Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak, Vernon Scott and Johnathan Garvin were all selected by Green Bay in the 2020 draft. It’s hard to make a case that any of them played a meaningful role this year.
On the Tampa side, Tristan Wirfs, Antione Winfield (who was absent on Sunday), Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Tyler Johnson have all had their name mentioned for positive reasons this season, especially Wirfs, who was a main factor in why Tom Brady has stayed upright this season and that the O-line gave up just one sack in the game against Green Bay.
It was much maligned at the time but the proof is now all there to see: Matt LaFleur and the front office did not help Aaron Rodgers one bit in the 2020 draft. Tom and Tampa are going back home to play for the Vince Lombardi.
It yet remains to be seen whether this could possibly be one of the worst draft classes that Green Bay has ever taken.
Allen couldn’t find the key to the Super Bowl’s front door
Josh Allen has had a stellar season and his three-year trajectory since entering the league has been one as steep as the tallest mountain.
However, in the AFC Championship game, he and the Bills came a bit unstuck and Buffalo bow out at the penultimate hurdle.
Allen completed under 60% of his passes in the game, with his “go-to” guy Stefon Diggs stifled all evening. Allen also made errors by taking sacks at crucial times and the fourth-quarter interception, while perhaps more John Brown’s fault than his own, was the final nail in the Bills’ season coffin.
He and the Bills Mafia will come again and if Allen learns from this game like he did from 2019’s exit to Houston, who’s to say we don’t see the Bills in the big one in 2022?
He’ll enter year four with a 28-16 record, almost 10,000 yards under his belt, and 100 total TDs (72 passing, 26 rushing and 2 receiving) and 35 interceptions to his name. The sky is still the limit.
Fournette about it
As we head into Super Bowl LV, the leading post-season ball carrier, and second leading rusher is not King Derek Henry, nor is it Ronald Jones, Damien Williams, Alvin Kamara or Nick Chubb. The man with 211 rushing yards and two td’s is none other than Leonard Fournette, one of a number of Tampa Bay reclamation projects that are shining at the exact right time. Fournette, selected 4th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 draft, was arguably selected too early, and expectations from day one were inflated. Two one thousand yard seasons in Florida were not enough for Jags brass to make a serious investment and at the end of August last year they waived Fournette, and within 24 hours he was picked up by the Buccaneers in a move that garnished few headlines. Big Len started three regular season games and had less than 100 carries, so 48 carries to date in the playoffs has been somewhat unexpected. Fournette went Madden button mashing style when he scored against the Packers in the NFC Championship, proving he has moves on moves for a guy who looks like he always had seconds at the dinner table. Fournette can do some major damage in the Super Bowl, and along with Antonio Brown, will be fighting to win the title of ‘most redeemed Buccaneers player’ in front of the world.
Second Super Bowl for underrated secondary
The headlines are dominated by Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, with additional newspaper column inches featuring the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and a few of the defensive stars DT Chris Jones and DE Frank Clark. Aside from the ‘Honey Badger’ S Tyrann Mathieu the Chiefs secondary is a narrative afterthought. This should not be the case, as the likes of Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Juan Thornhill and even the hitman Daniel Sorensen (yes Browns fans we know you won’t forget ‘that hit’ in a hurry) have been delivering results week in and week out without being given the respect they deserve. The unit held the Browns Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards, and more impressively restricted the Bills Josh Allen to under 300 yards passing on 48 attempts. Buffalo came to Arrowhead boasting an eight game win streak, courtesy in large part to the relentless connection between Allen and Stefon Diggs. The KC secondary held Diggs to his joint lowest catch rate of the season (54.5%) and more importantly to under 100 yards and zero touchdowns. The matchup against the Buccs supercharged WR corps will be the key to the Chiefs ability to repeat. After all ‘Honey Badger don’t care‘ – just ask the 96 million viewers.
just the three games left, a lot harder to make millions with the opportunities lessened to find the value.
As usual, we did our podcast previewing the games and gave you the betting, and fantasy breakdowns.
Please subscribe to our channel to get notification on when we go live every week and we have some fun stuff planned for Super Bowl week!
Dont forget to visit our resident tipster Adam Walford’s page at tdtips.com where he gives you an in-depth look at both games and his best bets. (Twitter: @TouchdownTips)
Buccaneers +3.5 @ Packers (52.5)
Should be cold, possibly a sprinkle of snow in Lambeau but thankfully, little wind. That’s all we can ask for in a championship game.
Both title games are repeats of week 6 matchups, freaky! Packers fans will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself as despite going up by 10 points, they got spanked 38-10 after Rodgers committed 2 of his 5 interceptions in this game. Davante Adams was still shaking off injury in that one and since being back to a clean bill of health, has been electric, causing even jalen Ramsey to have fits.
Can Todd Bowles and this young secondary continue to keep Adams quiet? I am not so sure, but his anytime TD price is too skinny for me and he hasn’t found pay dirt against the Bucs in his career.
Allen Lazard is a tiny bit of value, scoring last week, his anytime touchdown scorer odds of 23/10 are pretty good.
Leonard Fournette has found a hot streak in the back end of the season, scoring in 4 of his last 5, but the fact Ronald Jones was missing for the majority of that stretch is no coincidence and he could eat into that to make it at least a split backfield and you are at the mercy of how often Bruce Arians wants to run the ball. One of them should find the endzone at least so to get 7/4 (Fournette) and 5/2 (Jones) on both as a single, whichever one does, you will be in profit. The saving grace for Fournette is that he has seen a spike in receiving work the last two games with 5 and 4 receptions including a TD.
Green Bay’s pass defence is pretty good and with Antonio Brown being ruled out for this one does provide a bit of value for whoever replaces him in the slot. Cameron Brate (4/1) has been peppered to in this post season, but it was fellow TE Rob Gronkowski (5/2) who scored when these two last met. Tyler Johnson (6/1) made a highlight reel catch and does see his fair share in the endzone and we also will probably see a customary target or two for Scotty Miller (9/2).
Whilst Aaron Jones has all of the ability to score in this one, i don’t like the even money/slight odds on odds against a stingy rush defence.
Both QBs should be well protected meaning the veteran and Hall of Fame QBs in waiting should be able to pick apart the coverages on the opposing defences. I dont have a lean on the total points line, but i always have a rule in close games that if you are giving me the hook at 3.5, give me the points. Packers probably win, but Tampa should cover.
Tampa Bay +3.5 (10/11) – 1pt Leonard Fournette Anytime TD Scorer (7/4) – 1pt Ronald Jones Anytime TD Scorer (5/2) – 1pt Allen Lazard Anytime TD Scorer (23/10) – 1pt Tyler Johnson Anytime TD Scorer (6/1) – 0.5pts
Bills +3 @ Chiefs (54.5)
Give me all of the Bills on the handicap. All of it. And then some.
Patrick Mahomes has turf toe which isn’t easy to overcome. On top of that the Bills, despite not being the most convincing in the playoffs have been by FAR the hotter team over the past few months.
A “hail murray” away from being undefeated since all the way back in mid OCTOBER, even the Chiefs win in week 6 was mainly a result of Covid 19 disrupting the game (was played on a Tuesday night, when it should have been the that game week’s Thursday Night game).
The only thing that bugs me with Buffalo is a lack of true running game. It’s not who they are and i guess at this point, you have to be pretty good to be here so maybe it will work out for them again and maybe Devin Singletary, who has been less than efficient or productive in recent times , along with Josh Allen being the main runner is enough to capitalise on the Chiefs susceptible run defence.
The Chiefs Cornerbacks have struggled with injuries this week too which means Stefon Diggs will look to continue his red hot form which saw him as an All Pro and sit atop of the receiving leaderboards for yards and receptions. KC struggle from WR in the slot too for what it’s worth, Diggs on a crosser to the house?
He’ll need the supporting cast to step up and play their roles though, with Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis being held catchless last week.
With Mahomes not being 100%, I would probably lean under the total, as much as we are all praying for a 39-40 matchup. It could be more like Buffalo’s win vs the Ravens last week, rather than 44-34 type game we saw vs Seattle in the regular season.
No Sammy Watkins for KC, not that it really matters and no Lev Bell for them either, not that it really matters. Possible bit of value at the RB position for KC in terms of Anytime TD scorers with Bell definitely out, with Darrell Williams, who carried the ball well in last week’s win, is 2/1 anytime. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (11/8) is expected to go in this one but has missed the past month due to a leg injury, who knows how game ready he will be, I’ll leave him at the shorter of the 2. Williams is evens at Bet 365, but 2/1 in some places. Mecole Hardman is always a decent price to score and the same applies here with him at 3/1. he’s played over 60% of the snaps the last 3 games and with plays designed especially for him and also mainly the return guy, you can do a lot worse with 3/1 shots.
Hopefully we see close to the potential this matchup has on the field.
Good luck with all your bets. We will be back for the Super Bowl and will come at you with more markets and bets than you can shake a stick at, we’ll have some guests joining us and the return of the £100 challenge and probably a giveaway!
Whilst we have been let down as fans from attending the majority of live sports this year, leaving a bitter taste, there has been one teaspoon of something sweeter to swallow, the avoidance of the farcical contest that is more commonly known as the AFC v NFC Pro Bowl.
The game, which descended to depths beyond imagination when Hall of Famers such as Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were made honorary captains of ‘fantasy draft’ teams, will not be played in 2021, in its place a good old game of Madden.
If anything the ‘virtual’ event will not only spare us the televised ‘walkthrough’ of a game, it will also avoid rosters being filled by replacements for those who have opted out (due to injury, or attendance in the Super Bowl). For once the Pro Bowl rosters will remain intact as there will be no trip to Florida or Hawaii.
Further nonsensical decision making
So, with the game itself being fought with joysticks and pixels, and not face to face combat, we must focus on some of the surprise selections and shocking snubs. Here are five of each.
Evan Engram – TE, New York Giants
Ok Engram was not voted in as the starter, but he made the team, and even Giants fans must be scratching their heads. Engram is averaging under 41 yards a game, and has scored a whopping 1 receiving TD all season. Evan has had just one noteworthy game this season, 6-129 on Week 12 in a win against the Bengals. in December Engram has caught 10 balls for 96 yards. The more I research this the more I can imagine a bunch of virgin Giants fans sitting in their parent’s basements, surrounded by crusty Kleenex submitting online Pro Bowl ballots until they only have enough wrist energy to change the channel to late night entertainment.
David DeCastro – G, Pittsburgh Steelers
Since Week 7 the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone over 100 team rushing yards just once, and in five of the last seven the Black and Gold have failed to muster 50 rushing yards. Yes James Connor has been injured, but a team that was 11-0 at one point should be able to muster some semblance of a running game. This has not been the case and the likes of David DeCastro have not helped. DeCastro is a beneficiary of ‘name over actual output’, as casual fans are not going to scroll through game tape evaluating offensive guards, they are just going to tick a recognised name. As of Week 14 David is rated #27 for Guards, behind the likes of Washington’s Wes Schweitzer and second Rams year road-grader David Edwards.
James Bradberry – CB, New York Giants
A second surprise package from the NFC (L)East and a second helping of Big Apple pie in the form of former Panthers CB James Bradberry. In his fifth season, and first with Big Blue, Bradberry has been a pleasant surprise, gaining three interceptions and two forced fumbles for a defensive unit that was the predominant read on for a shock 4-game win streak. His 17 passes defended is impressive and is more in 13 games played in 2020 than he managed in any of his four seasons with Carolina. The Giants are hoping for a miracle in Week 16 against the Ravens to keep their season alive, and Bradberry covering Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown will be a key matchup. This is Bradberry’s first Pro Bowl nod, and judging on his performance in 2020 it will not be his last. He is currently ranked #6 in PFF overall CB ratings, and is #10 in terms of defensive snaps for his position (874).
Younghoe Koo – K. Atlanta Falcons
Not a surprise because he gained the nod, Younghoe Koo has been a surprise achiever all season, connecting on 35 of 36 field goals for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. The prospects of being a Pro Bowl performer was highly unlikely after a rather underwhelming start to his career. An undrafted free agent signing in 2017 by the Chargers, Koo was unceremoniously cut after missing game winners two weeks in a row. Koo had a year owl and then joined the Atlanta Legends of the show-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF). Staying in Atlanta in 2019 he signed with the Falcons and converted 88.5 percent of field goal attempts. Koo currently leads the NFL in scoring (133 points), and he was the NFC Special Teams player of the month for November. The only blemish on Koo is his three missed extra points.
Chase Young – DE/Edge, Washington Football Team
No this is not a typo, Chase Young is a remarkable young man who will go on to deserve many, many Pro Bowl invites, but one could argue 2020 was a little premature. Young, the #2 pick in the 2020 draft, has had some individual outstanding performances, but this dominance has not been sustained throughout the season, and in patches he has looked like a rookie learning on the job. Young’s 5.5 sacks leads rookies, and his fumble recovery touchdown agains the 49ers was a game-changing play in the literal sense. It might be a bit cruel to say but ‘the Predator’s’ profile as a high pick and College superstar has made his selection by fans as a bit of a lazy one. Fellow DE/Edge Montez Sweat has arguably had a bigger impact this season as an entire body of work, and has better run defense and pass rush ratings according to PFF. What puts Young above Sweat in overall PFF defensive rating is pass coverage. Young can help Washington to reach the post-season, but he needs two big games to end the regular season.
J.C. Jackson – CB, New England Patriots
Voters selected the wrong Patriots CB this season to the Madden Bowl 21. Jackson has 8 interceptions in 14 games, putting him second only behind the Dolphins Xavien Howard who has 9. Between Week 6 and 10 Jackson had a pick in each game. J.C. is top 10 in pass deflections (13) and 6th in the NFL with 3 fumble recoveries. Now in season three, Jackson has managed to raise his pick count from 3 to 5 to now 8. The rationale behind no love to Jackson is likely linked to the Patriots 2020 season overall. 6-8 and out of the playoffs, and a likely general hate (jealousy) of the most successful team in the past 20 years, its likely if the Pats were a playoff team then Jackson would be getting a bit more recognition. Jackson stands a legit chance of ending the season with double digit picks – so no Pro Bowl recognition is going to be disappointing.
Robert Tonyan – TE, Green Bay Packers
If one player can be labelled as this season’s most reliable red zone target it is third year Green Bay Packers TE Robert Tonyan. In the Pre-Season the buzz was that second year pro Jace Sternberger would be a sleeper about to awaken in 2020. That never happened, and instead Tonyan, who averaged 7 catches a season entering 2020, has been an absolute sensation. 14 weeks in he has 10 touchdowns on 49 catches, and is caching just under 9 of every 10 balls thrown his way. Heading into Week 15 Tonyan has snagged a TD in 5 consecutive games. Tonyan has had 5 or more catches in half the games he has played in 2020, making him a trusted target for MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay are looking like the best offensive unit in the NFC, and Tonyan has been an important part of the 2020 success.
Wyatt Teller – G, Cleveland Browns
The Browns have done a fantastic job this season, a two figured win record and an opportunity to win their division with two games left. Part of the reason for Cleveland’s successful has been the under-appreciated offensive line, led by the PFF #1 rated G, not Joel Bitonio (who was rightfully recognised by Pro Bowl voters), no it was Wyatt Teller. In 10 games this season Teller has posted a 93.8 PFF rating, the top overall rating for ALL offensive linemen. Included in the evaluation is a 93.6 run block rating. The Bills 2018 5th round pick is 8-2 in 2020, the only two losses being against the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns as a unit have rushed for over 2,100 yards, and with a few monster games from Kareem Hunt (and I mean King Kong/Godzilla type performances) Cleveland could boast two 1,000 yard running backs, emulating the 1k pairing of Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack from the 80s.
Andrew Van Ginkel – LB, Miami Dolphins
This snub is really about recognising the fact the Dolphins defense should have had more than one Pro Bowl selection. Only CB Xavien Howard gained recognition in 2020. Second year LB Andrew Van Ginkel may not have the gaudy stat line, and he may wear a funky shirt number (#43), yet he is the pounding heartbeat of a Dolphins defense that has fought and clawed its way to a 9-5 record, and as it stands a Wild Card berth. Van Ginkel is probably a season away from really blossoming, using 2020 as a way to show that he is a tough guy who is inspiring team-mates to raise their game. The number #14 PFF rated edge rusher, Van Ginkel has posted solid numbers against the run as well as antagonising signal callers. He leads the ‘Fins with 3 forced fumbes and has a fumble recovery TD and 2.5 sacks
James Robinson – RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
There has been no bigger surprise in 2020 than undrafted free agent RB James Robinson, currently ranked 3rd in rushing yards (1,070), 4th in all purpose yards (1,414) and 3rd in touches (289). Robinson has already broken the combined yardage record for an UDFA, passing the previous record held by former Colts RB Dominic Rhodes. A glowing C.V. but one that has not been recognised because Robinson is sitting on a 1 win team who are now the heavy favourites to finish 2020 as the rock bottom team in the NFL. Robinson has had 4 100+ yard running games, averaged 4.5 yards a carry and scored double digit overall touchdowns. Robinson deserves to be recognised for his remarkable output this year, as he has been consistent throughout the season, producing quality fantasy numbers with the likes of Jake ‘Bedfordshire Bomber’ Luton under center.
Do you agree or disagree with the above 10 surprises and snubs? Let us know your thoughts!
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Chances are if you are reading this, you have an antepost ticket on a team to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. With Covid starting to sink it’s claws into the season, you’ll be forgiven for thinking whether you’ll be getting your stakes refunded (more so hoping if you are a Cowboys fan).
However we have reached the quarter pole after a little stumble there in week 4 with the possibility of further treacherous paths ahead in week 5 (thanks Tennessee).
With that in mind, lets take a look at how the Super Bowl 55 outright market has morphed itself over the first 4 weeks. Sports Betting Dime has been tracking and averaging each team’s Super Bowl odds since the end of last season, which we’ve converted and rounded to the numbers listed below.
Green Bay Packers
Pre-Season: 33/1 Now: 10/1
Cheeseheads will certainly be cheering “Go Pack Go” as they have arguably been one of the best teams thus far in 2020.
After what was considered a swing and a miss in April during the draft, the Packers, even with decimation at the Wide Receiver, have stormed to a 4-0 start and stomping all over anyone that has crossed their path.
QB Aaron Rodgers has finally embarked on his “F-You” tour that most have been waiting for (at least it’s one tour we’ll get to see this year). He’s depended on a variety of supporting cast through those first four weeks and made Valdes-Scantling and new flavour of the week TE Robert Tonyan a name that has been heavily sought after in fantasy football.
They’ve posted scores of 30+ points in each of those first 4 games and been in control of all of the games thus far, which has included potentially tricky trips to New Orleans and Minnesota. Whether the lack of crowds has helped that (i’ll say most definitely judging by the focus the hard count is getting) or it’s just a case of Rodgers upping his game I’ll leave for you to all debate but they get the early bye this year and will be putting their feet up in week 5 and will look to welcome back star WR Davante Adams in week 5 against the Bucs. Apart from that trip to Tampa in week 6 and a trip to the west coast to face their demons at Levi’s stadium to face the 49ers in week 9, the rest of the schedule looks pretty plain sailing from here on out.
At this point, I will be shocked if they aren’t in the running for the NFC’s 1st round bye come week 17 (remember only the #1 seed gets the bye this year!).
If they continue to play as they have done coming out of the bye week, 10/1 could still possibly be value but kudos to those people that have tickets with 33/1 on them.
Pre-Season: 20/1 Now: 8/1
Perennial Playoff participants the Seattle Seahawks always appear on our TV screens in january and have done for 8 of the last 10 years. However in recent years, they have never reallllly been peoples ideas of Super Bowl Contenders. Yes, they won it all back in 2013, but they’ve been most people candidates to go out to just stronger teams and since the Legion of Boom left Century Link Field, not many people have given them much more respect than that. Does it have to do with Russell Wilson’s MVP credentials that have gone without gratitude? Is it that they never had any flashy players on offence? Who knows, but one thing is for sure in 2020, this team and Mr Unlimited has a different air about them.
Another team that has stormed to 4-0 in the early portion of the season, Seattle have seen their talisman storm to the front of people’s minds and the MVP betting (surely he’ll get a vote this year!).
They trail only the Packers in points scored thus far and like the Pack, they have put up 30+ points in each of their first 4 games.
A win on SNF against the Patriots put them on our radars and yes they could have quite easily lost that game as Cam Newton was at the 1 yard line in the dying moments (where have we heard that before, Marshawn?) but the Seahawks have gone about and handled their business with little fuss and a lotta Russ.
Can they continue this streak? You’d expect them to pummel a poor Vikings team before taking a week 6 bye and coming out of the other side, they face 4 huge games with 3 against divisional opponents in what is considered the toughest division in the league this year and the impressive Buffalo Bills (see below) sandwiched in there. We’ll know from those 4 games what the Seahawks are made of and what their crednetials are this year and we’ll go a long way to answering whether they are the Seahawks of 2013 or the Seahwaks of the last few years making an exit sometime in January.
As things stand, I would like to see a Packers/Seahawks reunion in the playoffs.
Pre-Season: 28/1 Now: 16/1
Those of you that fancied a Patriots demise this year maybe have enticed you to have a tickle on Buffalo for the AFC and most certainly the division, but the Bills have probably been the most impressive team from the AFC side of the draw.
Whilst nearly pulling off an Atlanta Falcons impression against the Rams, The Bills have continuously lit up the scoreboard. Some will argue they’ve not really faced much stiff competition yet, but ladies and gentleman, i welcome you to the AFC East.
Their next two battles (Covid dependant) will be against the 2 teams that faced off in the AFC title game last year so we’ll know from those two games where the Bills stand.
Josh Allen has arguably been one of the best players this year at the QB position and is starting to win people’s appreciation from the sidelines and on the sofas (12/1 for MVP in from 50s).
The addition of Stefon Diggs from Minnesota has helped Allen no end and the Bills Mafia will be hoping they get to continue to blooming chemistry for the rest of the year and into 2021. The change on defence hasn’t really hindered them too much and are still a stout run D but have been susceptible against the pass, causing them to concede 28 to Fitzmagic, 32 to Goff and 23 to Derek Carr.
For them to be really taken seriously, they’ll need to tighten that up in their next two games. The rest of their schedule has bumpy moments with matchups against the Cardinals and Seahawks before the bye, they tackle the 49ers and Steelers shortly after. If they make it to the post season, they’ll have to banish the ghosts of playoffs past that saw them exit in spectacular fashion against the Texans last year.
At the odds though, if you are an Allen believer, they are still pretty tempting especially when you consider the division is there for the taking with Cam Newton out for another week or 2.
(Still with a chance)
San Francisco 49ers
Pre-Season 9/1 Now: 28/1
I’m not going to put teams that were never really in with a shot (insert Dallas joke here) so we’ll stick with some teams that some will still feel all is not lost.
The bridesmaids from last season have been…how do we put this nicely…f****d by injuries.
Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, George Kittle, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo are just a snapshot of players missing that were integral to their Super Bowl run last year (ok, maybe not Garoppolo. PSYCHE!) and through 4 weeks they sit with a 2-2 record after their SNF defeat to the Eagles.
They’ll grit their teeth at their two week stay at MetLife for the rest of the season and maybe even longer if they fail to make the playoffs. Super Bowl hangover? some will point to it and if they were in another division not named the NFC West, their task would be that little bit easier.
Even so, the hits keep on coming for Kyle Shanahan and co with matchups @Patriots, @Seahawks and @Saints couple with homes ties against the Packers and the Rams on the horizon and all before their week 11 bye.
It doesn’t get much easier after that so it looks like a long way back for the 49ers taking into account that they’ll have to see this season out with such a plethora of players on the treatment table.
Pre-Season 12/1 Now: 33/1
Oh how it pains me to put the Cowboys here and how much joy it gives anti-Cowboys fans.
Mike McCarthy has not given the Cowboys the oomph to help the team quickly forget about Mr Clappy Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys are essentially a watermelon away from an 0-4 start. Yes they’ve faced tough matchups @ the Rams and @ the Seahawks but the home loss against the Browns highlighted to every team that the defence is absolutely turgid and you can see them live at your local Carpet Right in the door mat section (other stores are available).
The offence has been under insurmountable amounts of pressure and the miscues they’ve endured due to a patchy offensive line has helped dig those holes even deeper that they have found themselves in.
To their credit, they have made huge deficits disappear like a top draw trick from Paul Daniels and they were an Aldon Smith tackle on OBJ for 10-15 yards away from snatching a defeat in similar style against the Browns to that of the Falcons.
To further make the case as a possible value bet, they play in a division where there are 3 wins collectively between the 4 teams out of a possible 16 so with the way the post season is set up, 1 of these teams HAS to play at least one game in January, so you are hoping the Cowboys have ironed out these issues and get a few players back healthy on both sides of the ball, namely O lineman Joe Looney and star LB Leighton Vander Esch.
For the neutrals, Cowboys games will be great watching from here on out regardless so there is that going for them and Dak Prescott is still a tempting price for most pass yards (11/4 with Unibet/888). They have given up the most points in the NFL this year and have conceded 38+ points for the 2nd time in franchise history, with the other instance being their inaugural season in 1960, ending with a 0-11-1 record. At least they are guaranteed to better that after 1 notch in the win column.
Unfortunately, guys, I don’t think Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan are the answer. They won’t be getting a round of applause anyway, though the Giants come to town in week 5 (Jason Garrett joke). Further afield, they’ll feel like they have winnable games before their bye as they face a stumbling Arizona before travelling to Washington and Philadelphia. win those three games or even the last two, they’ll be in OK shape to win the lethargic NFC Least. Get in the playoffs and it’s anyone’s ball game (can you tell I am a Dallas fan trying to convince myself we still have a chance?)
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For the NFL fan March is the ultimate down-spot, we had the climax of the season with the Superbowl, a week or two to recoup, then for all the college nerds the excitement of the combine then the draft in April, but March, well we’ve got free agency opening at least which gives a bit of excitement for a few days but ultimately it’s all just killing time until peak off-season excitement on draft day.
For myself as the betting expert at F10Y towers there’s a few things to keep myself busy. There were markets available on the combine, there’s already odds on teams to win each division, their win totals, MVP and the likes. So a few bits to keep me busy, but my main aim for the summer, much to the delight of the bossman is to reacquaint myself to Excel. Some high-level nerding has been going on with a little help from Tim and his uber-dorklike abilities. All in with the aim of finding any slight edge to gambling when the season comes a-knocking.
So with it being a little quieter I thought it would be a good time to give a shout out to the community in the UK and give a little promoting to the many fan groups available this side of the pond.
Originally I saw these tables posted by @BaseballBrit on twitter and for the most part the handles haven’t changed since he last updated his 2 years ago but as he’s now travelling the world and excellently promoting Baseball to a UK audience I’m guessing he hasn’t got the time to update so I’ve decided to take the torch and have a follower numbers on twitter.
Of course it might not be an accurate reading of followers of teams in the UK, but as most of my time is spent on twitter it’s where I was looking for numbers. There are of course many many groups on facebook which may be larger than these, but, it is what it is. Oh, and if you know of any other team groups worth a mention then let us know!
So without further blabbed, the AFC teams first.
Obviously with the Jags being the designated UK team it’s no surprise to see them atop this list, and while I guess it’s still a fan group, I’m assuming here, but it’s probably the only one run by the team itself, it’s definitely the only one with a blue tick, so should we really count them?
The Superbowl champs are in second having topped 10,000 followers on the day of the game this last season, for a true fan-run account it’s an impressive achievement especially as unlike quite a few teams in the list they didn’t have the greatest success in the 80s/90s when football was taking off on this side of the pond, as teams like the Dolphins, Broncos, and to a lesser extent my Bengals did.
A little shameless plug here for the hard work that Paul and Nathan (mostly Paul) do over at WhoDey_UK. As a short-term ‘in-the-know’ participant I had the smallest peek of some of the things they organise on a weekly basis and it’s not just them, there’s a dedicated and eager group of folks who create great data whether it’s college analysis, mock drafts, game previews or predictions and in my humble opinion (having not listened to others) the best team-focused podcast in the UK featuring players, former coaches, beat writers and a whole lot of fun irreverent chat. Earlier in the season they “celebrated” 30 years since the ’89 Superbowl loss to the 49ers but putting together an amazing interview with the sadly late Sam Wyche. One that even neutrals would probably appreciate.
A little surprising to me to not see the Cowboys at the top of this list, not only are they “Americas team” they were THE team of the 90s with the triplets helping them dominate a large part of the decade. Mick McCarthy is now the coach of them, but he led to the Green Bay Packers to their last Superbowl success a decade ago, I’d guess that led to a lot of the Packers followers, Rodgers and Favre being under center for nearly 30 years now and the fact they’re fan owned probably adds to their appeal. Fair play to the UKPackers and their followers. I can only imagine how large this fan group would be should they ever come over here for a game!
So I’ve tried my best to not make this a ranking exercise as the fact these things exist at all is a great indictment of growth of the game in the UK and the passion that fans over here have towards the game.
Here’s a shout out to all the founders, the participants and readers of good old UK based content! Keep up the good work folks.
Time to take a look at Mr 30/30 himself and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arguably one of the most exciting teams to watch (not always for the right reasons) in 2019 but what did Bruce Arians achieve this season and what has he got to do to try and obtain a winning record in 2020? More importantly, does it involve Jameis Winston?
ENTERING THE SEASON
Hoping to improve on 5-11 from the previous year, Tampa Bay spent the spring re-signing, extending and acquiring a whole host of players. These included offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, and leading rusher Peyton Barber. WR Breshad Perriman was a decent pick-up in free agency, but linebacker Shaquil Barrett was arguably the best signing (by any team) in 2019.
A couple of months later, former LA Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also joined the fray, and in the NFL Draft, the Bucs stayed D-heavy. Other than kicker Matt Gay and receiver Scotty Miller, every other pick was a defender. Headed by another linebacker (LSU’s Devin White) at No.5 overall, followed by corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, NFL.com recently gave the rookie class an A+ grade.
Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ pre-season games were close, low-scoring affairs, with a two-point loss at Pittsburgh preceding wins over Miami (16-14), Cleveland (13-12) and Dallas (17-15).
DURING THE SEASON
To the uninitiated, their eventual 7-9 record might appear to have been an unremarkable campaign for the Bucs. But in many ways, it was anything but; in fact, the record-book writers were kept pretty busy.
Providing a snapshot of what was to come, Jameis Winston featured heavily in the highlight reel of the opening day 31-17 loss to San Francisco, for all the wrong reasons (three interceptions, including two pick-sixes). The Bucs’ win at Carolina in Week 2 featured some solid last-ditch defending to keep Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone but then they blew an 18-point lead against the New York Giants, with rookie kicker Matt Gay missing what would have been a winning FG as the clock hit zero.
In Week 4, Suh, a former LA Ram, iced the 55-40 victory over the reigning NFC champions with a 37-yard fumble return. The win took the Bucs over the 50-point mark for the first time.
Despite their early promise, the Buccaneers hit a wall and limped to 2-6 with a run of four defeats. In a lacklustre 31-24 loss to New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater threw four TD passes, while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson went one better a couple of weeks later. Worryingly, Tampa shipped almost 1,000 total yards in those two games alone.
In between, Tampa lost 37-26 in their Panthers rematch, with Winston (five interceptions – there’s a theme here, people) fumbling twice and getting sacked seven times in the second NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. After the bye week, our erstwhile quarterback hero (four turnovers) carried on where he left off in a 27-23 loss to the Titans.
Somehow, things picked up with a run of five wins in six, starting with Arians getting the better of his former team the Arizona Cardinals. After another loss to the Saints (Winston: four interceptions), the Bucs hit their stride, tormenting Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in wins over Atlanta and Jacksonville. And in defeating the Colts 38-35, Winston (three turnovers) nabbed five total touchdowns and threw for 456 yards, surpassing his own single-season total with three games to spare. The win lifted the Bucs to 6-7, but it wasn’t enough to avoid elimination from postseason contention.
In setting yet another NFL benchmark – two consecutive games of 450+ yards passing – Winston threw for four TDs in a dominant 38-17 win over the Detroit Lions. Third-choice wideout Breshad Perriman – suddenly the target man after Chris Godwin and Mike Evans sustained hamstring injuries – set career bests down the stretch with 134 yards receiving (week 17 vs Atlanta) and three TDs (week 15 vs Lions), and finished the season with three 100-yard games.
Disappointingly, having battled to back to 7-7 and the chance for a winning season, Tampa lost their last two against the playoff-bound Houston Texans and NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons, in which Devin White returned a fumble 91 yards to the house.
Looking back, the season was awash with new franchise records: most touchdowns (54), most points (458), fewest rushing yards allowed (1,181) and, to put the icing on the cake, Shaq Barrett smashed his one-year ‘prove-it’ deal out of the park with 19.5 sacks. The Bucs also led the NFL in run defence, allowing only one player (Seattle’s Chris Carson) – and only three entire teams – 100 yards rushing.
Even Jameis Winston himself set new highs: 5,109 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes, 626 passing attempts and 389 completions. But on the flip side, he also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Amazingly, that wasn’t a franchise record (thanks to Vinny Testaverde back in the Eighties).
Reaching 7-9 in 2019 – with Head Coach Bruce Arians at the helm for the first time since being hauled out of retirement – the Buccaneers weren’t a million miles from the playoffs. That said, their eventual failure extended the NFL’s second-longest postseason drought to 12 years.
At this time of year, which Bruce Arians has referred to as “monotonous”, there are no gaping holes to fill but Tampa Bay do have 19 unrestricted free agents, which muddies the waters somewhat. Even keeping the half-dozen regular starters like Suh, Dotson and Perriman will put a sizeable dent in their $92 million of available cap space (the third most in the NFL). While they’ll want to keep the bulk of their young defence in tact, the priorities remain two-fold: Shaq Barrett and Jameis Winston.
Back in December, Arians said that Barrett “ain’t going anywhere”. Alas, the Pro Bowl linebacker only signed for a year so if he’s staying, he’s gonna get paid. And if he’s not staying, he’s still gonna get paid. They could franchise tag him but if not, a DT like Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) or Iowa’s edge rusher AJ Epenesa could be Round 1 draft targets.
As for quarterback, heaven only knows what they’ll do. At 67, Arians can’t wait forever for Winston to eradicate the errors. After their final game, he summed up the dilemma perfectly: “There’s so much good, and so much outright terrible.”
So do the highs outweigh the lows enough to pay Winston the $25m he could expect? It’s hard to tell.
They could move him on and get a bridge quarterback (a la Dalton or Bridgewater). They might keep him – possibly on a franchise tag – but still sign a new young thing to wait in the wings in case he goes turnover-crazy again. (And since his 30 TD/30 INT season ended, he’s had eye surgery so maybe we can expect something nearer 20/20 next year?) Or they could just let him compete against some of the game’s best QBs in a crowded free agent market, and sign a newbie. Whatever the case, Arians likes ‘em big and strong, so Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Jacob Eason from Washington could well be in the frame when they’re on the clock at the NFL Draft with pick #14.
So in summary, Buccaneers fans should be looking ahead to the coming year with a degree of optimism… as long as they can tie down a few of their best performers (#ShackleShaq) and solve The Great Winston Conundrum.
Next up in our series is the Atlanta Falcons. I could have scheduled this for the 28th March but you know, too far to wait.
Entering The Season
It’s a strange and difficult time to be a fan of the Dirty Birds, after that turnaround in The Big Game, they managed to get back to the playoffs the following year only to be defeated in the Divisional Round by the Eagles. They seemed primed to make a run at The Big Game once again in the 2018 season only to be utterly wrecked by injuries.
The goal for this season? Get healthy, stay healthy, knock the Saints off the top of the NFC South and make the most of a favourable schedule against the unreliable AFC South and the Bizarro World that is the NFC West.
During The Season
The season did not exactly get off to a positive start with a 28-12 spanking on the road in Minnesota, the Falcons not scoring any points until there were nine minutes of the game remaining. No big deal, a get right 24-20 victory over the Eagles despite blowing a two-score lead with a three game stretch against the AFC South coming up? Could establish a spot in the wildcard spots at this rate, right?
At stages against the Colts and Titans the Falcons were down 20-3 and 24-7 respectively. To compound this issue, they were blown out 53-32 by the Texans in Week 5. The return to NRG Stadium only inflamed the bad memories.
By the time the Week 9 bye rolled around, another three-game divisional stretch – this time against the NFC West – came and went the same way as the AFC South trio. Ugly, ugly defeats. A missed field goal as time expired on the road at the Cardinals, a 27-point defeat against the Rams and a loss to Seattle meant that Atlanta’s season was over before Halloween. Nevermind a spooky season, this was downright horrifying from Dan Quinn’s team.
There were more than a few whispers that Arthur Blank was going to take action against Quinn before the season was out, what a staggering fall from grace just a couple of years removed from Super Bowl LI and here was the Head Coach, 1-7 and without any apparent idea of how to stop the bleeding (31.25 PPG given up through the first eight weeks!).
Meanwhile, the offensive line was just a whole heap of garbage, first round pick (31st overall) Kaleb McGary had a terrible year and it showed in not only Atlanta’s season overall with 50 sacks allowed, the fifth most in the entire league, but also in the run game which struggled so badly that not one Atlanta running back posted a triple digit game all year. How can a bad defense stay off the field when the offense can’t do anything other than pass? An impossible situation.
Spare a thought at this point for Julio Jones and Matty Ice. Two elite players who did their best whilst everything else was going to hell around them. Even Calvin Ridley chipped in as a solid WR2 and Austin Hooper was a good redzone threat. That isn’t enough, however. The season was basically over by November. What to aim for in the second half? A perfect 2nd half seals a 9-7 record that might be enough for the playoffs but with such a loaded NFC that’s a tall order.
The last thing Atlanta needed coming off the bye week then was a trip to the Superdome to face the 7-1 Saints who were on the verge of running away with the division. This could be the game that finally forced Blank’s hand to show Quinn the door.
Atlanta 26-9 New Orleans. What. The. Heck?
A transformed Falcons D smothered a Saints team that had scored 30+ points in five out of their first eight games. The Falcons line broke through and sacked Drew Brees six times and held the Saints to a paltry three field goals. Even Brian Hill (who?!) got in on the action with 71 scrimmage yards and a score. Was this the turning point of the season? A chance to put something together for pride, for their HC who was on the brink not long after being on the brink of winning it all?
Well they went one better against the Panthers, blowing them out 29-3, keeping them scoreless for 47 minutes. They couldn’t go on a run could they? An all-time second half of the season to sneak into the 6 seed?
Consecutive home losses to the Bucs and the Saints saw to that, although let’s take a moment to talk about the wild end to the Thanksgiving matchup against New Orleans where the Falcons recovered THREE onside kicks in a row (the first being brought back for a penalty) in a somewhat amusing end to a comfortable revenge win for New Orleans.
3-9 going into December. Season over, time to play spoiler? On the road? Against the dominant 49ers? You betcha.
A touchdown with two seconds remaining (Julio from Matty Ice, who else?) gave the Falcons a 23-22 lead which would swell to 29-22 on a fumble return on the kick-off. How about that for a feather in your cap, Dan Quinn?!
Atlanta finished the season 7-9, going 6-2 in the second half of the season to achieve a modicum of respectability but the season was doomed after the AFC South fiasco in September.
So where next for Atlanta? They’ve got eight draft picks to play with and need to hope that they land on better selections than 2019’s picks. An edge-rusher is something they’re in desperate need of as they finished with just 28 sacks on the year, tied for second least. If Austin Hooper isn’t to return in free agency then Tight End becomes a priority, also.
Meanwhile that 50 sack year indicates that they need to either coax more out of the O-Line they have or make it just as big of a priority.
There isn’t much room in free agency to pick up pieces either, $7.5 million to play with and not many players who can be sacrificed to make room. Devonta Freeman has arguably been ineffectual for two straight years now but his 2020 cap hit of $9.5m is offset by the fact that there’s $6m in dead money going to him this coming year.
A lot of money is tied up in Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett this year in what will be important years going forward for them as Atlanta cannot afford to take the cap hit on these guys. It could be a tricky year ahead for the Falcons, despite having a great QB and WR1-2 punch.
Atlanta’s road schedule for 2020? Green Bay, Minnesota, Dallas, Kansas City, LA Chargers, Saints, Bucs and Panthers. Ouch. If they’re going to get out of the NFC South, it’s going to be on the back of being near-perfect at home and steal two/three wins on the road because that is an absolute stinker of a road schedule.