NFLUK and the Social Scene

By Adam Walford (@touchdowntips)

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.

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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.

AFC Follower numbers – 1st March, 2020

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.

NFC Follower numbers – 1st March, 2020

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.

Season in Review – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

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.

Paul Sancya/AP

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.

Bucs Report

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.

Leon Halip / Getty Images

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.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


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.”

Octavio Jones / Tampa Bay Times

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.

Oh, and there are some snazzy new uniforms in the pipeline…

Season In Review – Atlanta Falcons

By Dave Moore (@davieremixed)

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?

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

TheAthletic.com

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!).

Atlantafalcons.com

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?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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?

Nope.

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.

Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

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.


Offseason Outlook


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.

TheFalconsWire.UsaToday.com

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.

Season in Review – Minnesota Vikings

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Next in our series, we take a look at Captain Kirk and the Minnesota Vikings. Was this season a success? Vikings fans, let us know your thoughts – @full10yards on the Social!


Entering the Season


The Vikings have always had the end goal of reaching a Super Bowl the moment they signed Kirk Cousins to that huge fully guaranteed contract. With pretty much the same pieces on the team, the pressure was the same as last year, the expectations were the same as last year, get to the big one.

Garrett Bradbury was the new anchor at Center and they also brought in Irv Smith to deploy some 2 tight end sets to help #establishtherun.

Kirk Cousins was entering his 2nd season as a Viking with no more excuses, no more mulligans and certainly nowhere to hide. The team was built to reach a Super Bowl and Kirk Cousins was assigned the role to lead them there. Simple.


DURING THE SEASON


If you put the last 2 seasons of the Vikings back to back, it pretty much was groundhog day;

Struggled in the division, with 3 of their 6 losses coming in the division and swept by the Bears for the 2nd straight season. A top 10 defence in terms of points per game and Kirk Cousins stinking it up on Prime Time/island games when it matters. Oh and Dalvin Cook not being fully healthy for a stretch.

They kicked off their season with home wins against the Falcons and Raiders, but away losses in Lambeau and Soldier Field.

Adam Thielen, who would later go on an miss some time through injury, along with Stefon Diggs kicked up a fuss about the offence and their involvement in it led to a lot of unrest in the VIkings camp, including Diggs being fined for missing practice.

Image result for stefon diggs unhappy
Image Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

They seemingly managed to kiss and make up as Kirk Cousins then went hell for leather with the rock and a relatively easy stretch saw them improve to 8-3 with their only loss before the bye coming to the Kansas City Chiefs (the Matt Moore led one, not the Patrick Mahomes one).

Losses against Green Bay and Chicago meant that they entered the playoffs as a wildcard and a 10-3 record.

Perhaps their most dominant display of the season came in the wildcard round, where they absolutely dominated the red hot Saints andVikings fans thinking maybe, just maybe, Kirk Cousins has turned a corner.

Unfortunately, around that corner was step 1 as a dismal performance against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round saw them go out with a whimper amidst more rumours of unrest with Stefon Diggs, who visibly threw his helmet to the ground during that Wildcard game.

Image result for minnesota vs san francisco
Image Credit: Adam Bettcher/Getty

With no NFC title game being played, you have to grade the season as that the Vikings underachieved and Kirk Cousins really hasn’t gone to prove that he was worth that guaranteed contract or that he is the guy to take this team to the holy land.


offseason outlook


Kevin Stefanski has agreed to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Mike Zimmer is likely to be retained by the Vikings.

It’s hard to put a finger on what to do with Minnesota to help them take the next step, though many will still point to the Quarterback position, as they have done for the past several years. There are a lot of well paid players on both sides of the ball and some creativity with the salary cap will be required. It’s hard to pinpoint where they’ll bolster in the draft as one week they look complete and another they have more holes than a cheese grater (NFC North Green Bay Packers joke there). You have to feel that they’ll add something to the offensive line due to the way they want to run their offence, and they’ll probably focus on defence, Xavier Rhodes did not have a pro bowl worthy season.

Come next season, will it be Groundhog day once again for the Vikings in 2020? Probably.

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Season in Review – Arizona Cardinals

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

The NFL season is over which means 2 things, 1 – it’s time to be sad for a few months until the NFL Draft and 2 – You now have a lot of time on your hands.

In this series of articles, we try and take care of number 2.

Today, it’s the turn of the Arizona Cardinals…


Entering the season

The Cardinals were seen as the wildcard in which everyone wanted to see them do well, but wouldn’t be overly vocal about it.

Image result for kyler murray kliff kingsbury
Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With more changes than you can shake a kaleidoscope at, the Cardinals not only got a new HC in Air raid specialist Kliff Kingsbury but also swiftly changed their franchise QB when they took Kyler Murray 1st overall and shipped 2018 1st round selection Josh Rosen off to Miami.

Whilst success wasn’t necessarily expected, forward progress was (well, unless the refs blew it dead first….).


During the season

The Cardinals expectedly had teething problems; Kyler Murray adjusting to the pace of the game and Kliff Kingsbury struggling to implement the offence meant that the Cardinals had to wait until week 5 for their first win against the Bengals.

Despite the improvements as the season wore on, they did not defeat a team with a winning record outside the division all season and only defeated the Seahawks in week 16, a game that meant very little to the Seahawks so it’s arguable at how far they have come since this time last year (NFC West is always a throw of the dice regardless of gap in quality of team), especially when you consider they only put up over 350 yards of total offence 8 times this season, though 3 of those instances came in the last 3 weeks of the season.

Kyler Murray ended up with a respectable rookie season and left the impression that he will be better for the run. Inhis rookie season he accounted for 4266 yards, with 544 coming on the ground, a 20:12 TD/INT ratio on a 64.4 pass completion %.

Image result for kenyan drake
Image Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals transitioned to Kenyan Drake at running back, effectively storing David Johnson in the closet but the backfield was a mess all season. At wide receiver, Christian Kirk (when healthy) built up a nice rapport with his quarterback and Larry Fitzgerald popped up every now and then.

On the defensive side, things didn’t improve all that much when Patrick Peterson returned from suspension, though Chandler Jones continues to rock the air guitar, doing so 19 times this season.

No-one was expecting the Cardinals to be legitimate playoff contenders this early on but maybe on the basis of their 2019 showing, a playoff berth may not be too far away if they continue on their upward trajectory. The division strength would be a concern though.


Offseason outlook

The Cardinals will look to address that porous defence and also give some more help to the offensive line which has been awful for a few years now. Whilst they wont have the #1 pick this year, they will be picking high up in the first round. They still have holes on the offensive line which will need a few darts thrown at it this year too.

Image result for larry fitzgerald
Image Credit: Norm Hall/Getty

In terms of current personnel, the Cardinals may want to try and find David Johnson a new home but his salary may be an issue. Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald will no doubt be coaxed into staying for another season and it remains to be seen whether Larry has the appetite to keep it going when there is no chance of a Super Bowl in the near future (he may be tempted in trying to reach Jerry Rice’s receptions record which he is only x away from though).

The nucleus of the team is there with a lot of youth being brought in from the plethora of draft picks they’ve had, especially on offence so the offseason will be spent ensuring the chemistry and rapport continues to build.

The foundations are set, time to build the house.


Fun Fact – Arizona were 30th in terms of 3rd down conversions allowed in 2019 but 1st overall on 4th down conversion allowed on defence, whilst on offence they were 21st on 3rd down but 3rd on 4th down.

Season In Review – New Orleans Saints

By Dave Moore (@davieremixed)

This is the first team up in our new article series, “Season in Review”, is the New Orleans Saints.

We will go through EVERY team in the NFL and take a look back their season and what the future holds for each team.

The New Orleans Saints, the Bridesmaids of the NFC Championship game from the past few seasons and they were once again a front runner for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2019. How did it all pan out? We break it down here:


entering the season


After New Orleans’ second crushing playoff defeat in as many years there were legitimate questions to be asked about whether this team could put it all together again to go one step further and play February football.

Even more concerning was the apparent fading of Drew Brees’ star as post-Thanksgiving 2018 he was poor. Was it a blip or the stunning drop-off we saw from Peyton Manning a few years prior?

The expectation for the Saints would’ve been to go one further and appear in their second ever Super Bowl but with the Falcons seemingly healthy again after an injury-struck 2018 and Christian McCaffery turning in an impressive rookie year it looked for all the world like it’d be a very, very competitive NFC South.

Image result for max unger
Image Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty

A huge factor heading into the new season was the retirement of Center, Max Unger, this was a player who was a figurehead of one of the most impressive offensive lines in the game, with the signing of free agent Nick Easton and the drafting of Erik McCoy in the 2nd Round of the 2019 Draft it seemed far from certain who #9 would be taking snaps from come Week 1.

The other major change for the Saints came in the skill positions as we said farewell to Mark Ingram II who left in free agency to join Baltimore but welcomed in Latavius Murray and Jared Cook from the Vikings and Raiders respectively. I think there was quite a shock when Ingram left and Saints fans weren’t exactly enamoured with Murray as his replacement given the chemistry between Alvin Kamara and Ingram had been a huge part of the near-perfect 2018 season. However, Ingram did have fumbling issues and perhaps it was Payton’s way of trying to freshen up the team.

Jared Cook was a definite upgrade at the Tight End position after Ben Watson left in the off-season and after a few swings and not-quite-misses-not-quite-hits at securing a solid WR2 behind Michael Thomas, it was definitely a sign that the Saints meant business. Especially given that they had never replaced Jimmy Graham since he was traded to Seattle.


During the season


There were so many stories around the Saints in the regular season it is hard to get your head around them all. How about Week 1, Monday Night Football at home to the Texans? The Saints kick a 47-yard field goal to go 27-21 up with 50 seconds to play. Vintage late drive from Drew Brees to seal the game? Not quite. Deshaun Watson uncorks a couple of bombs which result in Kenny Stills of all players taking the ball into the endzone just 13 seconds after the Saints had kicked that field goal! 28-27 and that’s a stunner for the Superdome. But wait…Here comes that vintage late drive…Sort of. The Saints work it to field goal range and Wil Lutz uncorks a bomb of his own to send a 58-yarder through the uprights as time expired. The Saints don’t do anything simply do they?

That would prove to be the case in Week 2 in what was already highlighted on the schedule as The Revenge Game. On the road in Los Angeles. After that non-call just eight months prior that ended the Saints season and allowed the Rams to go and roll over for the Patriots a fortnight later. Surely this is where New Orleans lay those ghosts to rest? Well…

Image result for new orleans saints cam jordan rams
Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty

This is where the Saints lose without scoring a touchdown. This is where Aaron Donald bursts through that much vaunted offensive line, gets to #9 who, whilst throwing a pass has his throwing thumb broken/ligaments torn/completely busted. Out goes Brees, in comes Teddy Bridgewater. The Saints lose 27-9 and despite there being a strip sack from Cam Jordan returned 87 yards for a touchdown being denied because the refs had blown the play dead there could be no real complaints from New Orleans. They were beaten. Revenge will have to wait for another season.

So you lose your star Quarterback for 6-8 weeks who, by the way, was not showing any issues that plagued him toward the end of the season. You’ve got six games before your bye week. You have to go on the road to Seattle, host Dallas and go to Chicago alongside some easier games against the Bucs, Jaguars and Cardinals. Hope for 4-2? Expect 2-4? Settle with 3-3?

Image result for teddy bridgewater saints
Image Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty

Nope. Somehow the Saints go 6-0 with Teddy BridgeH2O under center for the first five. They did it in different ways, too. They score 2 twice on D/ST in Seattle, kick 12 points to win 12-10 against Dallas (their first win since 1998 without reaching the endzone). BridgeH2O threw for 300+ against Tampa, they ran all over Chicago and the Defense held Jacksonville to a pair of field goals.

This was a stunner for the NFC as for so long the Saints had been the team that would have to score 30 just to keep themselves in the game as their D would regularly crumble. Now you’ve got them winning games without Drew Brees? Meanwhile in the NFC South, the worries of their divisional rivals putting up more of a fight this season proved to be something of an unfounded concern as they all flopped spectacularly. The South was the Saints’ to lose and even by the time the Bye arrived in Week 9, the Saints were 8-1 and eyeing another Bye Week in January.

So in true New Orleans fashion they get blown out by the Falcons in the Superdome 26-9. This proved to be little more than a flesh wound as they won their next three (all divisional) games no problem. The big one was hosting the 49ers in Week 14 to essentially decide who gets that first weekend of January off.

It was a classic. A 48-46 victory for the 49ers on a time-expiring field goal. Another heartbreaker in the Dome but this time there were no contentious final plays. It simply came down to which team had the ball last would win and it broke San Francisco’s way. George Kittle proved once again magnificent he is and Emmanuel Sanders stuck 157 yards and a score on the Saints.

George Kittle
Image Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

What was getting lost amidst all the MVP talk surrounding Lamar Jackson was that Michael Thomas was setting record after record and was arguably in with a shout for MVP. The man did nothing but catch balls all year round and by the time the 49ers had left New Orleans in Week 14, he was on pace to break the single-season record for catches (143, Marvin Harrison).

Indeed, two weeks later on the road against the Titans he caught a pass at the one-yard line for 144 and then followed it up with catch 145 for a touchdown. Michael Thomas was the star for the Saints this year.

New Orleans closed out the season with a 42-10 blowout win over the Panthers to finish 13-3 but as luck would have it, those losses would come back to haunt New Orleans as they finished outside of the top two seeds for the playoffs. An absolute stunner for a team with that record to be playing Wildcard Football but with the 49ers and the Packers both having better inter-conference records the Saints wound up looking at hosting Minnesota then going on the road to Green Bay and then in all likelihood to San Francisco if they wanted to be playing in Miami come February 2nd. It’d be possible, but very difficult.

Lo and behold, the Saints laid an egg against the Vikings as they lost 26-20 in overtime. A scarcely believable result but yet again New Orleans found a new way to blow it in January. They barely deserved to get the game to OT as the Vikings completely outplayed them from first to last. What is a real kicker for the Saints is that the next week the Vikings – much like the Rams in the Super Bowl – turn up the next game and just stink the place out against San Francisco.

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph held on to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to upend the New Orleans Saints, 26-20, in overtime.
Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are so many unanswered questions from the post-season. What would the Saints been like in Lambeau in January? Would we have seen another classic between New Orleans and San Francisco in the NFC Championship game? What would Kansas vs New Orleans looked like in Miami? We’ll never know.

The stars of the season – Thomas aside – came mainly from the other side of the ball, Cameron Jordan, Vonn Bell, rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and most of all, Demario Davis. The OLB played magnificently all season and was rightly named to his first ever Pro Bowl. After Brees went down in Week 2, Davis essentially became the leader of the team and after #9’s return they shared these pre-game leadership duties. A real testament to a player who has come on leaps and bounds since leaving the Jets in 2018.


offseason outlook


Going forward for the Saints, there are decisions to be made at Quarterback.

Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Saints
Image Credit: Clutchpoints.com

Theoretically they could wind up without Brees, Bridgewater and Go-Go-Gadget Taysom Hill on the roster as they’re all free agents (although the only way Brees leaves is if he retires). It is hard to see a world in which all three of these players are on the team come September but if Brees takes another team-friendly deal and Bridgewater fancies his chances of replacing him in 2021 – if not before – then it is possible.

The offensive line will need shoring up as Andrus Peat was a real weakness in the defeat against the Vikings after injuries took their toll up front on both sides of the ball. Look for New Orleans to perhaps draft a Guard.

Another major issue – as ever – is a WR2. Tre’Quan Smith hasn’t done enough. Ted Ginn Jr isn’t getting any younger and it is doubtful he’ll be brought back. Deonte Harris seems to be restricted to Special Teams for now. The Saints will pick at #24 in the first round. I suspect they may use it on a wide-out who can stretch the field because that is the one singular limitation of Michael Thomas is that he isn’t the player that’ll rip off 50+ yarders and it is important to note that he doesn’t need to be that player but New Orleans do need someone else to do that.

New Orleans has roughly $12.4 million in cap space and will likely need to make room for a Marshon Lattimore contract extension that he richly deserves. However, there is the question of Alvin Kamara. In 2018, Kamara was incredible for the Saints but was something of a flop this season by comparison, especially in the scoring column as he went over ten weeks without finding the endzone. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays going forward as he is still on his rookie contract and by all rights, hasn’t done enough in 2019 to demand Ezekiel Elliott money. He becomes a UFA in 2021 so it’s potentially a prove-it season for the running back. Definitely a key thing to watch going forward.

F10Y – NFC and AFC Championships 19-20 Look ahead

by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)

This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. 

Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.

AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Photo caption: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com

H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22. 

Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7 

  • Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens. 
  • If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
  • They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds. 

Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs. 

Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans

Photo caption: Cbsnews.com
  • The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
  • Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs. 
  • Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches. 

Titans weaknesses 

  • Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
  • Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks. 
  • Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career. 

Keys for a Titans win 

  • Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
  • Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed. 
  • Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory. 

NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

49ers record to date – 14-3 

  • Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens  punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day. 
  • The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10. 
  • In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl. 
  • 49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season. 

Top 5 strengths of the 49ers

Photo credit: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports
  • Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans. 
  • The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
  • Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season. 
  • Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts. 
  • The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week. 

Weaknesses 

  • Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games. 
  • Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage. 
  • Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game. 

Keys for a 49ers win 

  • Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball. 
  • Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
  • Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd. 

Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.

Photo credit: Albert Dickson/Sporting News

Sit back, grab your popcorn, and have a blast.

Best Bets – NFL Championship Round

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) and Adam Walford (@touchdowntips)

So here we are down to 2 games for Championship Weekend. all 4 teams now just one game from the big one in Miami on the 2nd February. This is of course a set of matches that were played out in the regular season.

Tennessee @ kansas city (-7.5) – O/U 53


TIM:

The Titans have the opportunity to beat all 4 AFC divisional winners in a row here and with the way they are playing, it will take a brave person to take KC on the 7.5 spread, especially with the hook going the Titans way. that being said, the Chiefs were the first team to win a game by more than 20 points after trailing by 20 points.

The Chiefs are the explosive, chunk play and most exciting team whilst the Titans have been plucky but effective in executing their gameplans which has seen them knock off Baltimore and New England in their back yards.

How will this game pan out I hear you cry!

Both these teams offences can exploit the opposing defences; Kansas City ranked 26th in the Regular season in terms of rush yards given up per game (128) and gave up 94 against DeShaun Watson and Carlos Hyde last week, so a small improvement if you want to be picky. Ryan Tannehill isnt asked to do much with his legs but can scamper for the first down but if it ain’t broke, dont fix it. Expect a lot of Derrick Henry once more as the Titans will look to sustain drives, score first and chew the clock whilst trying to force a turnover on defence. The KC offensive passing game goes up against a Titans pass D that gives up 255 yards per game on average, which ranked 24th in the regular season. The 2 games in the post season has a higher watermark than that, but don’t forget that the Baltimore yardage and some of the New England yardage through the air was because those teams were trailing. The Titans D has 3 INT in their 2 playoff games, including that pick 6 in Foxborough.

Both these teams are top half in the league when it comes to scoring offence and scoring defence and truly is a fascinating game to see which style comes out on top. It could very well be team with last possession wins the game and for that reason you would have to take the Titans on the handicap if you must bet on that market. The total points line of 53 is a bit high for me to take the over but considering the offences match well against the opposing defences, i wouldn’t want the sweat of backing the under. The Titans will want to keep the score down, keep it close. They wont win in a shootout style game this time around (the regular season game ended up with 67 points).

If you want to get creative, your edge may be in the Ryan Tannehill markets.

Ryan Tannehill’s 2 post season games has seen him muster a measly 160 yards COMBINED through the air! whilst I can see a bit more in the passing game this weekend due KC’s explosiveness and putting up points, causing the Titans to potentially chase, I am certainly flummoxed as to why his line is generally around the 236.5 mark with redzone sticking their neck out with 245.5. If the game plays out how i think it will, there is no chance he gets near that line, so I like Tannehill to throw for under 245.5 passing yards. His pass attempts line 29.5 and his completions line is 17.5. BOTH of those lines would have gone under in the last 4 straight games. Take the under 29.5 pass attempts.

Staying with Ryan Tannehill, his rushing yards line is 19.5 with Redzone, which he has only managed to do once in his last 7 matches. Derrick Henry’s line is around 106.5 for what it’s worth…something which he has surpassed by a fair distance in 6 of his last 8 games. You can even get 99.5 rushing yards as the line on Redzone if you want a bit of overs action. DT for the Chiefs Chris Jones has been absent from practice all week with a calf injury, which could prove pivotal in this game.

I fear that with the Ryan Tannehill lines, it’s a trap and the bookies are begging you to take the unders and that they see the Kansas City Chiefs being too much of a juggernaut that the Titans actually have to throw and take away Henry. I am not going to overthink it and going to trust what I have seen thus far over the last month or so and feel the Titans will stick to their plan and be able to execute just as effectively as they have done to get to where they are now.

Bets: 2pts – Under 245.5 passing yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone), 2pts – Ryan Tannehill pass attempts under 29.5 (5/6 B365). 1pt – Under 19.5 rush yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone). 1pts – Over 99.5 rush yards Derrick Henry (20/27 Redzone).

ADAM:

Find my full preview for the AFC at http://www.tdtips.com/afcTitle2019

Bets: 2pts stakes – Jonnu Smith o2.5 receptions – 5/4 (365), Ryan Tannehill o1.5 passing TDs – 5/4 (365) 1 pt stakes on Tannehill anytime TD scorer – 6/1 (365), Mecole Hardman anytime TD scorer – 4/1 (WillHill)


Green Bay @ san francisco (-7.5) – o/u 46.5

TIM:

This game is a bit more straight forward.

The Packers lost the previous meeting in the regular season by a whopping 29 points and there is nothing telling me that this game’s result will turnout any differently.

Whilst the 7.5 is not great when taking favourites, I would be surprised if the 49ers don’t cover this. Sticking to my principles of never taking -7.5, therefore that is no bet. If you wish to take the -7/6.5/6 and pay the shorter odds, that’s where I would rather go SF -6 is currently 8/11. There is a tell on the team individual totals too with SF having a line of 27.5 and GB having 18.5, implying there is a 9pt handicap spread.

I don’t mind the unders here either but I think it’ll be close and I’ve already told you how I feel about under sweats.

Getting into the finer details, Raheem Mostert seems to have been given as much as a focused role you are going to get in the 49ers backfield, commanding double digit touches over his past 6 games. It was strange to see Tevin Coleman get the touches he did last week. His rush yards line at Bet365 is 50.5, something which he has also achieved in each of his last 6 games (even if just barely). Take Mostert to make it a 7th consecutive game over 50 rush yards. With George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk (perhaps one of the most underrated guys in the league!) helping set the edge and blocking downfield, it has been a joy to watch Kyle Shanahan deploy this offence.

There are not many outcomes or gamescripts I can find that pave a way to a Packers win but if they did, it will involce quick passes, targeting the other side away from Richard Sherman. Kwon Alexander however, is a big part of the defence at linebacker, cancelling out screens and anything fancy over the middle. The ferocious pass rush plus for the 49ers plus maybe a bit of bootlegging for Aaron Rodgers did make the Over 12.5 rush yards appeal.

Bets: 3pts San Francisco -6pts (8/11 William Hill) 1pt – Over 50.5 rush yards Raheem Mostert (5/6 Bet365) 1pt – Aaron Rodgers over 12.5 rush yards (5/6 Bet365)

ADAM:

Find my NFC preview at http://www.tdtips.com/nfctitle2019

Bets: 2 pt stakes on Kendrick Bourne o20.5 receiving yards – 5/6 (Will Hill), Over 5.5 sacks – 10/11 (365), 1pt stakes on Kendrick Bourne anytime TD – 3/1 (888), Jamaal Williams anytime TD – over 4/1 (Redzone)

Good Luck with whatever you’re on this week and thanks for listening/reading/being you.

Adam and Timothy