The one game in the NFL calendar where EVERYTHING is put under the microscope: every throw, every rush, every kick and every call. We analyse five major factors that will decide where this game will be won and lost.
Can the Bengals’ offensive line hold the barrage of the Rams’ pass rush?
In my opinion, the key matchup that will determine this game is how the Bengals’ offensive line handles Aaron Donald, Von Miller and company.
The ghost of “You should have drafted Penei Sewell” was pretty much exorcised during the season with Ja’Marr Chase a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year. That being said, the Bengals’ O-Line is not the best. Burrow was subjected to nine sacks in the Divisional Round against the Titans, who themselves have a strong and powerful front unit.
In his career, Burrow has consistently come under pressure (around 25% of his dropbacks) and on average, has been afforded just 2.3 seconds of time in the pocket since becoming a Bengal. Those factors, amongst others, saw him suffer the most sacks this past regular season out of all starters with 51.
But Joe Burrow is a special talent. He was the only player to have a completion percentage in the 70s and the second-highest Quarterback Rating, behind only Aaron Rodgers. As we have seen multiple times in his short career, when dealing with the onslaught coming towards him, he can escape the pocket and make crucial plays to extend drives. Part of the reason he was selected #1 overall.
He’ll have to call upon those abilities one more time this season to win the biggest prize of them all. The Rams recorded the third most sacks in the regular season and have been dominant on defence in the post-season too, including a four-turnover game against the recently retired Tom Brady and his Buccaneers.
Aaron Donald got his SEVENTH STRAIGHT All-Pro selection and has been selected to the Pro Bowl every year; at least this year, he won’t need to attend it. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year is one of the best, if not the best player in the NFL. He consistently puts up large totals for sacks (five seasons in a row of double-digit returns), tackles for loss and QB hits, despite consistently being double- and sometimes triple-teamed.
Von Miller joined the team halfway through the season and has enjoyed an uptick in rushing production, only recently losing his six-game sack streak against the 49ers in the title game.
If the Rams continually get home and win against the Cincinnati offensive line, Joey B and the Bengals may find it hard to put together long or successful drives and thus, struggle to score enough points to lift the Lombardi. Burrow will no doubt have to pull out some more Houdini impressions during the game, but he really needs his line to help him out.
Can the Bengals get the ground game going?
To help out on the above point, the Bengals will need to get a ground game going. The Bengals have only posted two 100-yard rushing games in the last nine and even one of those (last week against Kansas City) needed overtime.
Mixon has had a great year and was selected to his first Pro Bowl (is this even an accolade any more?) after posting career highs in touches, rushing yards (1,205) and receiving yards (314), and obliterating his previous best in total touchdowns with 16. He’s only really jumped off the stat sheet a few times this season though, with just three 100+ rushing games, but more often than not, he has found the end zone (five games with multiple TDs).
It will be important that Zac Taylor stays with the running game to help nullify the pass rush and to stay on the front foot, or at the very least keep things balanced. It promises to be a fairly close game so there isn’t really a reason for the Bengals to go away from the run.
That being said, the Rams were excellent last week against the 49ers’ dominant run game, limiting them to 50 yards on the ground. LA’s run defence in the playoffs has been pretty suffocating too, with a measly 162 rushing yards given up across all three games.
The Bengals are 7-1 in games where they have rushed for over 100 yards this season, with their only blemish coming against the Packers in OT in Week 5. They were 4-6 in the regular season when not surpassing 100 yards on the ground, including defeats to the Bears, Browns and Jets,
It’s going to be a very difficult task to achieve 100 rushing yards in the Super Bowl but they have a stellar running back in Joe Mixon, who is always good for making players miss (sixth best in broken tackles with 20, and fourth best in yards after contact with 543). And if they do get to that total, chances are they’ll be running the Rams close.
Can the Bengals stop Cooper Kupp?
Cooper Kupp has not only built on a solid 2020, he’s absolutely blown it out of the water. While Joe Mixon on the Bengals side was selected to his first Pro Bowl, Cooper Kupp has gone one better and found himself in his first All-Pro team. That’s what 145 receptions for 1,947 yards and 16 (count them!) does for you. He was a mere 17 yards off Calvin Johnson’s all-time record (albeit from one more game) and he’ll be the one the defensive backs coaches will spend the most time on trying to neutralise.
Kupp’s only previous game against the Bengals probably still gives Cincy nightmares: seven receptions from 10 targets, 220 yards and a touchdown. You’ll have to think that for the Bengals, if they can keep Kupp to half those stats, it would seem like a big win.
Cincinnati fared well against the pass towards the back end of the season and into the palyoffs. In their statement AFC title win against the Chiefs, they limited KC to just one drive of over five plays after half time.
Will the kicking game be a factor?
Evan McPherson, or “Money Mac” as he has become known, has had the final say in each of the Bengals’ last two games. He kicked from 52 yards in the Divisional Round to seal the win in Nashville against the #1-seeded Titans, then slotted home a more comfortable 31-yarder in their first OT possession last week against the Chiefs.
Fifth round pick McPherson, the only kicker taken in the 2021 draft, has enjoyed a decent rookie season. He has only missed five field goals and two extra point tries.
His opposite number, Matt Gay, knows all about trying to repay teams that invested decent draft capital. He was drafted by the Buccaneers in the 5th Round in 2019 but didn’t have a great rookie season. He found himself waived just prior to the 2020 season, losing out to Ryan Succop. He found his way to the Rams later in the year and came back to haunt the Bucs by hitting the game winner. He’s enjoyed a good season for the Rams, being selected to the Pro Bowl after missing just three kicks in the regular season. He has missed a few in the playoffs thugh and will hope to shake that trend, as it could be costly in a game with a spread line of four points.
You’ll get short odds with the bookies that this game is decided by the boot of either McPherson or Gay.
Will there be a mismatch at the Head Coach position?
This Super Bowl sees the first instance where both head coaches are under the age of 40.
Even the most avid Bengals fan would find it hard to choose their Head Coach Zac Taylor if given the choice between him and Sean McVay. Often lauded for his ability to remember plays or situations from many years ago, you’ll recall Sean McVay saying how awestruck and overcome he was in Super Bowl LIII when his Rams mustered just three points in a humbling defeat to the New England Patriots.
However, if there is one thing Zac Taylor does have in levelling the playing field, it’s the fact that he will know Sean McVay and his tendencies very well. Taylor was a coach in LA for two years under McVay, and was there for that Super Bowl loss.
Taylor has had his critics ever since he stepped foot into the jungle as Cincinnati’s Head Coach. Many felt that he was only given the role because he’d worked under McVay and they wold have flet vindicated after he posted a 6-25-1 record in his first two seasons.
Yet you could argue that the pressure is all on McVay, with the constant pushing of the poker chips into the middle of the table, how revered he is and the expectations on the team coming into the season.
In a game that is often referred to as a chess match, the element of familiarity between these two adds a nice bit of intrigue. Start the clock…
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
The NFL playoffs are now in full swing, it’ll be Conference Championship Sunday before we know it. But before we get to that in seven days’ time we need to know who’s going to be there.
We already know one team in each game after last night saw the Cincinnati Bengals allow 9 sacks on their quarterback and still come out victorious over the sloppy AFC Number 1 seed Tennessee Titans. The first NFC representative is San Francisco after they took down the NFC 1 seed Green Bay Packers without scoring an offensive touchdown in the snow at Lambeau Field.
The attention now turns to tonight where the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams travel to Tampa to face off against Tom Brady’s reigning SB champ Buccaneers before we get another potential classic between two AFC giants. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes face off again as Buffalo travels to Kansas City. Due to both 1 seeds being eliminated last night, these games have a little more on the line. The winner of each will host the championship games next week. This is a preview of the first of tonight’s two matchups.
Both teams are coming off dominant home victories in the wildcard round. Tampa had the game done before the half against Philly, whilst the Rams achieved a similar feat, jumping out to a four-score lead vs the Cardinals. The Rams defense managed to contain Kyler Murray, which is very difficult to do, sending a tonne of interior pressure, forcing 2 INTs and 2 TDs. Whilst by getting out in front early against the Eagles, Tampa Bay forced them to do something they’re not the best at, throw the football.
Monday night at SoFi saw Matt Stafford win his first-ever playoff game in a convincing win. He seems to be developing a relationship with Odell Beckham in the absence of Robert Woods. He’s stepped into that role perfectly. The Rams didn’t have to air it out much due to the way the game went, so Stafford wasn’t required to force anything. But when necessary he played pretty well, going 13/17 for 202 yards and 2 passing TD’s.
It’ll be interesting to see if they lean towards the run again (38 rushing attempts, 18 passing last week) against the league’s 3rd best run defense. I doubt it, especially if they go down 10 points or so, but one thing to look out for is the return of Darrell Henderson. Sony Michel has played pretty well in his absence.
Mike Evans had a big day for the Bucs, in the absence of Chris Godwin (IR) and Antonio Brown (released) he’s the one in the pass game that gets the O moving. Evans caught 9 of his 10 targets for 117 yards and a TD. I’d assume that the Rams will put Jalen Ramsey on him, as he’s their main receiving threat. The likes of Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson will get a fair few targets, as will Gronk and Cameron Brate at TE.
The team had a couple of injury scares last Sunday as both Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen, their starting right tackle and center went down during the game. Both were practicing Friday but were limited. Look for LA to exploit their replacements if they’re not good to go. One player that looks set to be back is their star running back Leonard Fournette. He’s not featured since straining his hamstring in Week 15.
These two franchises have already played each other this season, all the way back in Week 3. The Rams came out on top in that one 34-24 in LA. You may remember that Tom Brady was the Bucs leading rusher in that one with 14 yards on the ground. Tampa never really got going so had to abandon the run pretty quickly. TB12 threw 55 times, completing 41 for 432 yards and only 1 TD. LA got the game plan spot on. One man who did have a big day was Desean Jackson. He however is now a Raider, having been traded ahead of the deadline after complaining about a lack of targets.
Prediction: Los Angeles 31, Tampa Bay 23
This one is so difficult to predict because I believe the Rams are the better team, there’s no denying that. But Brady is the better quarterback and one I trust in big moments. A lot of the time when teams meet for a second occasion in the playoffs the outcome is different because they’ve seen what you do had a second chance at looking at the tape, then build a game plan around what went well, and what didn’t last time. That would also lean me towards the Buccaneers.
But yet I’m drawn to the Rams. I expect they’ll take a lot from what the Saints did to Tampa (dropping back and letting your elite pass rush get at Brady) especially if Jensen and Wirfs aren’t good to go. Aaron Donald’s going to have a monster game. Watch out for Von Miller too. Hopefully, Stafford won’t have to overthink things like he did a couple of times down the stretch then. Giving LA an 8 point victory and a home NFC Championship game.
The 8-3 Green Bay Packers will play host to the 7-3 Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field on Sunday evening in a key matchup that will have huge implications on the NFC playoff picture.
Green Bay are one week removed from a heartbreaking division loss to the Vikings, whilst LA are coming back from a much-needed bye week, having been pounded by the 49ers a week previous. Let’s take a look at some of the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s affair.
Rodgers vs Stafford again, but different
The Rams made headlines in mid-January when news broke out that they had made a blockbuster trade with the Detroit Lions involving two former #1 overall picks. LA had realised that Jared Goff wasn’t it, so decided to ship him to Detroit in exchange for Matthew Stafford and a few high draft picks. Stafford has been up there among the league’s elite over the years but was surrounded by the pool of dysfunction that was the Lions so never got a fair shot at a championship. That’s not the case in LA. While he’s not really in the MVP conversation, Stafford has continued his good play for his new team and has lead them to a 7-3 record and the current #5 seed in the NFC.
He’ll face a familiar foe in Aaron Rodgers this week, the quarterback of his former division rival Green Bay Packers. The pair have faced off 16 times over the years, with Rodgers leading the head-to-head series with a 12-4 record. This time however they’re on a more even playing field. Looking at the numbers this season, both over 10 games, the two are operating about the same. Stafford has thrown for 3014 yards, 24 TD’s, and 8 INT’s, whilst the reigning MVP has put up 2571 yards for 21 TD’s and 4 INT’s. What that tells you is that the Rams QB has tried to push the ball further downfield than Rodgers this season, which is also shown when looking at his yards per attempt (8.3) compared to Rodgers’ 7.8 effort. On the contrary, he’s thrown two more turnover-worthy plays than the Green Bay QB with 13, compared to 11. It’ll be interesting to see who’ll come out on top when the pair meet again on Sunday.
Who are the 2021 Rams?
There aren’t many teams in the NFL that are more polarising than the Los Angeles Rams. They started off hot, winning 7 of their first 8 before being beaten rather convincingly by a Derrick Henry-less Titans team and yet again falling to Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers. In that time they also lost key receiver Robert Woods to IR. Suddenly the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. is looking like a pretty good bit of a business, while at first it just didn’t seem necessary. The offense seems to struggle to play from behind, which doesn’t make sense as they’ve got a QB with plenty of comeback victories, a great pass-blocking offensive line, (best team pass blocking grade on PFF, 82.3), and one of the better receivers in the league. Hopefully the bye week has fixed those issues, the Packers are difficult to fight back when trailing.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams unit are PFF’s #1 ranked defense, I’d expect that’s because Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are both the highest graded players at their position. When you look at the numbers though, it’s really just above average. They rank 12th in yards allowed per game (346.9), 15th against the pass, and 10th against the run. YAC allowed is always an interesting one, the Rams have allowed the 9th most yards after catch this season. That being said, the reasoning behind that number will be that teams are afraid to test Jalen Ramsey. LA have faced the second fewest average depth of target this season, meaning teams are preferring to throw short passes against the unit. I don’t blame them either, you don’t want to hold on to the ball for too long when Aaron Donald and Von Miller aren after you.
Green Bay coming off of a heartbreaking loss
Green Bay suffered a heartbreaking loss to their division rival Minnesota Vikings in a thrilling shootout. Mistakes and penalties cost the Packers this game. There was a point in the second quarter where they could have minimised their deficit to only 3 points, but unfortunately Mason Crosby missed yet another field goal, turning the ball over to Minnesota. Cousins lead his team down the field, before throwing a pass straight at Darnell Savage for a pick. It actually turned out that the interception didn’t count as Kirk was drilled to the ground by Kingsley Keke, a play that was ruled roughing the passer. The Vikings were moved closer to the end zone, which enabled Cousins to find Justin Jefferson to make it a 14 point game. The Packers managed to recover from a two score deficit to take the lead at 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter. Rodgers found a wide open Davantae Adams in the end zone on what looked like a busted coverage on Minnesota’s part.
As you know that wasn’t it, the last few minutes of this game were electric. A perfect jump ball thrown under pressure by Cousins found Jefferson in the end zone again with just over two minutes to spare, putting the Vikings 31-24 up after a 2 point conversion. Green Bay responded instantly, with Rodgers hitting Marquez Valdes-Scantling in stride for a TD on the very next play. That levelled the game at 31-31. Savage had another game-changing play called back, after another interception was called back as the catch wasn’t completed. That incomplete pass gave Minnesota life, and enabled them to march down the field and run down the clock. Greg Joseph converted the game winning field goal with just two seconds to spare. The Packers will be kicking themselves as the game was there’s to win. Unfortunately luck just wasn’t on their side and they scored too quickly in the 4th.
The Packers look to have been handed a bit of a luck this week though, as both Rashan Gary and Aaron Jones should be back after missing last weekend’s affair. Both are key parts to their respective units and will be good to have back. Somehow the Rams are favoured by 2 in this game, I don’t get it. These teams are about as good as as each other, and it’s in Green Bay. I know who I’m picking.
Having been made to watch the battle between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday, this week’s meeting poses far more Super Bowl challenging potential, as the LA Rams visit the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams had started off the season in stunning style, combining the passing ability of Matt Stafford with the offensive genius of Sean McVay to immediate and impressive affect as they opened the season with three wins from three.
This past weekend however, they were stunned by another NFC West team, the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals delivered a relentless first half that put them out of sight of LA to leave them on 3-1 as Stafford failed to really get going for the first time all season.
Their hosts for Thursday dragged themselves from the bottom of one of the toughest divisions in football on Sunday, as the Seahawks played fantastically to beat the 49ers in a tough slog of a match-up.
The result means that the Seahawks can now go level on 3-2 should they win on Thursday, which adds fuel to an already brightly glowing spot on the NFL schedule.
With all the attention on the return of Dak Prescott, the explosion of Derek Carr and the scorching heat of Kyler Murray’s form, Russell Wilsons’ record is once again hiding what has been an intensely productive start to the season.
The former Wisconsin Badger has produced a 72.3% completion rate, 1044 yards and a 9:0 touchdown-interception ratio in his four performances so far, which may have been pushed down peoples order of attention due to their 2-2 record.
Wilson has been consistently brilliant, in a team that has allowed 11 sacks on him so far, although based off of previous years performances, maybe surprise is the last emotion we should be feeling.
His opponent under centre on Thursday knows more than anyone what it feels like to fly under the radar despite possessing extreme talent, Stafford performed almost regular miracles during his time in Detroit, only to never get the credit he truly deserved.
Now as part of this explosive offense in California, people are really starting to take notice of 305.5 YPG through the air and a QB rating of 119, numbers that any of the quarterbacks would be doing well to possess through four weeks.
Cupp vs Lockett
When you think of the NFL’s top receivers, the same few names usually pop to mind, but if you were to judge players based off their pure importance to their respected franchises, you would struggle to find two more important than Cooper Kupp and Tyler Lockett.
Cooper Kupp had already become a fantastic safety net in the Jared Goff era of Rams football, but the way that he has already settled so quickly with Stafford is something to behold.
Outside of a generally disappointing performance against the Cardinals from the whole Rams team, Kupp has had a majestic opening to the year with 431 yards receiving on 30 grabs, and a league leading, five touchdowns.
As well as the stats, Kupp turns up his absolute best on third-down, working ways to break free of tight man coverage with his short area quickness and route running ability, or by finding holes in zone coverage for his QB to make easy throws to.
Tyler Lockett on the other hand offers something slightly different yet equally as impressive to his Seahawks, having posted 28 touchdowns across the last three seasons.
Like Kupp, Lockett’s route running makes him a tricky prospect both in the slot and on the outside, and don’t let Lockett get over the top either, his balance and body control on contested catches in the end zone are as good as you’ll see in the NFL.
This game is the next instalment in one of the most incredible divisions in football history, four teams that all legitimately can and maybe will go to the playoffs.
The Rams are looking to recover from their off-day against the Cardinals, and with an offence and defence that has both the names and the coaching to be top level, they look a difficult prospect to beat.
For the Seahawks, one of the major factors will be whether DK Metcalf can get the best of Jalen Ramsey. The highly-paid cornerback will likely follow the Ole Miss alum all over the field, and if Metcalf does a good enough distracting Ramsey, Lockett and co may just get the chance to feast.
If you couldn’t tell already, I think it will be close.
Hi all, hope you are all safe and well. Week 3, apart from the games earlier in the week that were announced as cancelled (Surge/Phoenix, Warriors/Olympians, Raptors/Apache), were all played and completed, giving me a smidge bit more optimism about the rest of the season. However, I’m still pessimistic about the state of the game and where we could end up seeing this year’s competition as we hit the business end of July/August.
That being said, lets focus on what was completed this week, with the results below for week 3.
A few wide margin victories this weekend including one for Yorkshire Rams who took their frustration of week 2 out on Doncaster Mustangs who threw up a goose egg in the process. Essex Spartans also showed no mercy against the Sussex Thunderbolts putting over 60 on them, despite Thunderbolts actually scoring a safety and putting the first points on the board! The audacity! Final score 62-2.
HOMEWORK:Find me another match in Britball that ended 62-2 and the first one that does (if it exists), I’ll award you a T-Shirt!
Another blowout saw the Brimingham Bulls run out easy victors against the Hereford Stampede. The irony that the bulls beat Hereford running all over them…like… a stampede including a couple of long touchdown plays.
Continuing the blowout theme, Oxford Saints were seemingly low on numbers judged by a tweet on their social media in their shutout loss to the London Hornets 34-0. After further digging, I found on the Gridiron Hub Facebook page more around this and it relates to the dilemma the team had with regards to Lateral Flow testing which meant that players travelled to their game with the Hornets but didn’t even know if they could play up until hours before kickoff.
Unfortunately, this wont be an isolated (see what i did there) incident.
Swindon Storm put their previous defeat to Bristol behind them as they thumped Worcestershire Black Knights 42-0 in the Knights first game of the season.
Ouse Valley put in a spirited performance and will perhaps feel unlucky not to take the W, going down 18-14 to Ipswich Cardinals after holding a 12 point lead. Talking of one score games, the Humber Warhawks beat the Leeds Bobcats 16-8.
The Kent Exiles and London Blitz played out a similar type of game to the one in week one, with Kent taking an early 9-0 lead, only to see the Blitz grind out the victory scoring 13 unanswered themselves. Would have been a fascinating watch if it was streamed.
Lincolnshire Bombers were grounded in their game against the Scunthorpe Alphas, where defences were on top generally, final score 10-3 to the Alphas in a game we have dubbed the “4 and out” bowl judging by the Bombers social media tweets.
Predictions wise, a lot tougher this week as was anticipated, as I go 6/11 in week 3 making it 29/38 on the season. Keep your eyes peeled for an update in the 5 fixture prediction competition. I believe i went 3/5 this week.
Beow are the tables in divisions where all teams have played a game. tables where teams have not played a game yet look aesthetically poor so will hold of on them for a few weeks
Ipswich snuck in their 2nd win in 2 games against the Ouse Valley Eagles in a finely poised division in the early stages. Ipswich next play in the first week of August, whilst the Devils and Cats face off before then, meaning an “0” must go!
The Humber Warhawks are enjoying themselves in top spot as it stands after week 3 in the White Rose division and their credentials will be fully tested in the next two weeks with both heavyweights due on the field with Yorkshire and Sheffield the next 2 games. Big game at the bottom in week 4 as the Mustangs and Raiders, who have suffered heavy defeats early on, get a more level playing field this week.
We will have to wait until 5th September for the Knights and the Thrashers to do battle, with the other 3 teams looking like it will be a struggle to keep with the top 2. That beings said, if the Bobcats can put up a decent showing against Rushmoor in week 4, that could change things. Seemingly Portsmouth and Sussex need to overcome number issues to be able to turn their form around.
With the Hornets off the mark with relative ease, I’m not sure we can take that result at more than face value with Oxford’s struggles in week 3 with Covid/player availability and next 2 weeks sees them face off against the Cheetahs, which will be of much intrigue. Hornets dont face the Stallions until Mid August. Think there is a decent level of competitiveness in this division outside of that which is encapsulated by the closeness in the For and Against columns.
Don’t forget we will be continuing to bring you Britball content throughout the weeks and months. I appreciate every click/listen/engagement on Social Media (@F10YBritball) so thank you for supporting us.
In the NFL, March is a nothing month, the no-man’s-land between the last Super Bowl and the next draft. At this time of year, there are more mock drafts out there than I’ve had hot dinners, with everyone mulling over the value buried somewhere in those seven rounds. That makes it as good a time as any to take stock of last year’s rookies.
Obviously, not every Day 1 pick will have worked out (*cough* Isaiah Wilson *cough*) but the opposite is also true: there are always some hidden gems to be unearthed after the obvious names have come off the board. If you’re a supporter of the Rams or the Texans maybe, and don’t have a first-round pick to look forward to this year, fear not – all is not lost! If your Day 2 and 3 picks turn out half as well as some of those from 12 months ago, you won’t be complaining.
#33: Cincinnati Bengals – Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson) *
With the first pick of Day 2, Cincy found a weapon for their #1 overall pick, Joe Burrow. Many pundits thought Higgins would go in Round 1 so when he was still sitting there the next morning, the Bengals had to pounce. With AJ Green and John Ross failing to provide the necessary deep threat for Cincinnati, the Clemson wideout stepped up admirably with 908 yards (third only to Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb among rookie receivers) and six touchdowns. Higgins only broke through as a starter in Week 3 and lost Burrow for the last six-and-a-half games, yet had two 100-yard games (and a 99). In fact, it took a hamstring injury, early in the final game against Baltimore, to deny Higgins a 1,000-yard debut season. It also meant he only tied Cris Collinsworth’s franchise record of 67 catches in a rookie season rather than beating it. Higgins is the epitome of a Round 1 talent falling into Round 2, and there’s the promise of more to come.
#41: Indianapolis Colts – Jonathan Taylor (RB, Wisconsin) *
The Colts’ second pick had a disappointing start to his first NFL campaign but the former Wisconsin running back suddenly hit a white-hot streak around Thanksgiving, becoming one of the very best RBs down the stretch. From Week 11 onwards, only some bloke called Derrick Henry had a higher rushing grade from PFF than the Taylor’s 91.2, and he averaged 6.2 yards per carry during that spell. He ended the season with 1,169 rushing yards (3rd in the NFL and easily the best of the 2020 class) and 11 touchdowns (T-7th), with only one fumble and one drop. He topped 100 yards on the ground on only his second game, stuck a nice, round 150 on Las Vegas and his 253 rushing yards in Week 17 against the Jaguars set a new franchise record, and carried Indy into the playoffs. For Taylor, the sky’s the limit.
#45: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Antoine Winfield Jr. (S, Minnesota) *
Landing Winfield in the middle of Round 2 definitely feels like a decent bang for the Bucs (sorry). He was a productive blitzer with nine pressures on 58 rushes – including two strip-sacks – and he finished the regular season with the second-highest PFF grade for run defence at his position (86.3). The Buccaneers’ 26-14 win over the Vikings in mid-December saw Winfield notch 10 tackles, two assists and a sack, while taking great delight in snuffing out a pass aimed at Tyreek Hill in the Super Bowl a few weeks ago was yet another highlight to add to the reel. His solid debut season featuring 64 solo tackles, two forced fumbles, six passes defended and an interception.
Without a Day 1 selection, Claypool – the 11th WR off the board last year – was actually Pittsburgh’s first pick of the 2020 draft and he came out all guns blazing from the start. The Notre Dame wideout, who saw more deep targets than anyone in the NFL, ended the year with 62 catches for 873 yards and nine regular-season touchdowns, including two against Cincinnati, three in a 38-29 win over the Eagles and an 84-yarder against Denver. He also bagged two more scores from just five receptions in the Wild Card loss to Cleveland. Claypool looks well placed to kick on from here, especially if JuJu Smith-Schuster hits free agency.
#52: Los Angeles Rams – Cam Akers (RB, Florida State)
Akers, LA’s highest pick in the past three years at #52 overall, joined a busy backfield and missed some time with injuries in the first half of the season. But he started to pick up, peaking with 171 rushing yards in a 24-3 trouncing of the New England on Thursday Night Football. He was also used more in the receiving game as the year went on, not least in the Week 17 win over Arizona when he logged 52 yards from four catches, compared to only 34 yards from 21 rushing attempts. Ending the regular season with 748 yards from scrimmage, he carried on where he left off in the Rams’ two playoff games, racking up 221 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards from just three catches and a rushing touchdown in each game. Akers may yet prove to be the heavy lifter in Sean McVay’s running back committee if he keeps this trajectory going.
#64: Carolina Panthers – Jeremy Chinn (S/OLB, Southern Illinois) *
Carolina only selected defensive players in the draft last year and with the last pick of the second round, they opted for Chinn, a safety/outside linebacker from Southern Illinois. Chinn wasn’t perfect by any means, giving up six touchdowns in coverage and struggling in run defence at times, but the signs are promising, having logged 116 total tackles, the most among all NFL rookies, as well as two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Chinn was even in with a shout of winning Defensive Rookie of the Year at one point, not least because of his two fumble recovery touchdowns on consecutive plays in the third quarter of a 28-27 loss to the Vikings in Week 12, aas well as his two NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month awards.
#66: Washington Football Team – Antonio Gibson (RB, Memphis)
We also know that #2 overall pick Chase Young was the high-profile pick but he wasn’t the only Washington Football Team rookie to make his mark in 2020. Memphis running back Gibson also produced a PFF grade above 80.0, with 795 rushing yards (20th in the league) and 11 TDs (T-7th), as well as 247 yards receiving. His two 100-yard days both came against divisional rivals Dallas, racking up 243 rushing yards on 40 carries and scoring four total touchdowns in two meetings.
#85: Indianapolis Colts – Julian Blackmon (S, Utah)
Julian Blackmon switched to safety during his final season at Utah after a few underwhelming seasons at corner, and the move seems to have paid off big time. Through the first 11 weeks of his professional career, Blackmon played lights out and was by far the highest-graded rookie at his position in the league. In a complete role-reversal with Jonathan Taylor (see above), he went off the boil after that. Nonetheless, for a late Day 2 pick, Blackmon was definitely successful, with 35 solo tackles, six passes defended, one forced fumble and two interceptions.
Obviously, top rookie Justin Jefferson took a lot of the limelight in Minnesota but kudos must go to Vikings front office for taking Dantzler, the corner from Mississippi State, late in the third round – especially having already picked a corner in Jeff Gladney on Day 1. A debut NFL season is always going to be a mixed bag but with Dantzler, there were more highs than lows, even with injuries early in the season limiting him to just 11 games. With 46 total tackles, three tackles for loss, four pass defenced, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, as well as two interceptions, he racked up nine solo tackles against Atlanta in mid-October and finished on a high, with his performances against Jacksonville (Week 13) and Chicago (Week 15) securing the top two PFF grades from a rookie corner all year.
#128: Buffalo Bills – Gabriel Davis (WR, UCF)
As a Day 3 pick, some degree of inconsistency is to be expected but there were times during the season when Davis made some big plays and looked the real deal, rather than the 17th wide receiver off the board. The rookie finished the regular season with 599 receiving yards from just 35 receptions (his average of 17.1 yards per catch was 4th best across the entire league) and bagged seven TDs, having carved out a role alongside Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. He also made a name for himself as a sideline toe-tapper, bringing in two tight catches in quick succession in his first playoff game against the Colts. Alas, he didn’t manage to haul in anything in the Divisional Round or the AFC Championship games, but the fourth-rounder looks set fair for another good year in 2021.
Sneed wasn’t even among the first 10 safeties off the board but he certainly represented exceptional value at the end of Round 4. Having played in the slot, out wide and deeper at college, his versality was a contributory factor in becoming PFF’s top rookie defensive back. He allowed just one gain of 20+ yards and according to PFF, only one touchdown, while notching 41 total tackles, three interceptions, two sacks, two tackles for loss, four pass breakups and seven passes defended during the regular campaign –despite missing six weeks with a broken collarbone. With only six starts and nine regular season appearances under his belt, it’s still early days but he’s already sacked both Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen in the playoffs, and played in a Super Bowl (his first loss as a professional). I think snaring Sneed in Round 4 already feels like daylight robbery and I’m not the only one who thinks so: a recent redraft by CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso had Sneed going to the Carolina Panthers at #7 overall.
#182: New England Patriots – Michael Onwenu (G, Michigan) *
Round 5 was a bit of a desert but when we got to Round 6, ker-ching! Jackpot! The Patriots love a sixth-round bargain out of Michigan(!) and Onwenu might just prove to be the biggest steal in the entire draft. The 6’3”, 350lb lineman logged more than 80 snaps at three different positions (left guard, right guard and right tackle) and posted at least a 79.0 PFF grade at each. Despite playing guard in his four years at Michigan, his rookie campaign was mainly spent at right tackle (616 snaps). In a class that featured six first-round offensive tackles, Onwenu scored the highest PFF grade of all of them – and ranked third among all rookies, in all positions, behind only Justin Jefferson and Chase Young. Impressive stuff from the big fella!
Peoples-Jones was another steal in the sixth round, helping to fill out the Browns’ receiving corps when Odell Beckham Jr was lost for the season. Although he only made 14 receptions and no more than three in any one game, he posted 304 regular season receiving yards – that’s nearly 22 yards a pop. Of his two touchdowns, one was a 75-yarder against the Titans in a game they led 38-7 by the break but earlier, in Week 7, a 24-yard catch for the game-winning score against AFC North foes Cincinnati with just 11 seconds remaining made him an instant hero in the Dawg Pound. Given Cleveland’s roster, Peoples-Jones may remain a supplementary weapon but he’s already proved that he can make the big plays when called upon.
Sixty picks after they selected Gabriel Davis, Buffalo netted Bass. The rookie kicker bookended his first pro season with bad games – he missed field goal attempts of 34 and 38 yards in his NFL debut, and also missed a pair of kicks in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore (to be fair, the conditions weren’t great that day). Otherwise, Bass was pretty solid, going 28-of-34 for FGs (82.4%) and 57 of 59 on extra points (96.6%), including 19 successful attempts in his last three regular season games. The 141 points he scored for his team was the fourth-best total in the league.
#199: Los Angeles Rams – Jordan Fuller (S, Ohio State)
With pick-ups like Fuller in Round 6, you can see why teams like the Rams are willing to keep trading their Day 1 picks away for more draft capital. Fuller was an immediate starter on the NFL’s best-ranked defence and even though he missed four games with a neck injury, he still accumulated 60 total tackles, five pass breakups and three picks, two of which came off a certain Mr T. Brady of Tampa during a 27-24 primetime win on Monday Night Football. A further 12 tackles in two postseason games leaves the former Ohio State safety with a tidy Year 1 record on which to build.
#216 Washington Football Team – Kamren Curl (S, Arkansas) *
There was one stand-out selection in the final round of the 2020 draft and yet again, Washington came up trumps. Curl, the Arkansas strong safety, emerged from the shadows when Landon Collins was lost for the year with a torn Achilles in Week 7. He soon became a key part of the secondary, finishing the regular season as the highest-graded safety from the 2020 rookie class. He also made the Rookie of the Year team and one PFF article I read suggested that Curl had a legitimate claim for being the runner-up Defensive Rookie of the Year behind Chase Young, finishing second on the team for tackles (88), as well as notching 3 INTs, four passes defended, two sacks and three tackles for loss. Of his interceptions, taking a game-winning pick back for a 76-yard touchdown against the 49ers in mid-December was definitely one for the Curl family archives.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
We can’t end without mentioning two of the undrafted free agents who got picked up after the draft, given the impact they had.
The Jacksonville Jaguars has 12 picks last year but their best move was probably made afterwards, when they got James Robinson* to sign on the dotted line. The Illinois State RB was a revelation, ending up with 1,070 rushing yards (T-5th in the NFL) and seven touchdowns. He also added 49 catches for 344 yards and three receiving touchdowns for good measure. A legitimate contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year with seven games with 100+ total yards, Robinson posted awesome numbers for an UFA playing on the league’s worst team, especially when you consider they would have been playing catch-up in pretty much every game they played.
I think Indianapolis ‘won’ last year’s draft with Pittman Jr, Taylor and Blackmon among their haul, but they also played a blinder in the undrafted free agent market, securing the services of Rodrigo Blankenship*. The former Georgia kicker became a cult figure during the season, on his way to kicking 43 of 45 extra points (95.5%), 32 of 37 field goals (86.5%) and a tally of 139 points for his team (5th across all players in the league). He was also responsible for 13 of the Colts 19 points in a 19-11 win over Chicago in Week 4, pretty much winning the game by himself. Respect the Specs!
As a side note, the New York Jets were also able to pick up Lamar Jackson after the draft was over. Alas, this particular version was a cornerback from Nebraska but still, it sounds like good value to me!
Week 17 is in the books folks. That means we have our road to the Super Bowl set.
But it’s not all about those that have made it, with plenty of teams already vacating the positions of their Head Coaches or GMs.
Plenty of action, talking points and debate to be had with the dust settling on 18 teams’ seasons.
But what were the main takeaways from the week?
Top of the slops
The theory that Doug Pederson yanked Jalen Hurts in favour of the inept Nate Sudfeld to give the Philadelphia Eagles a three place boost in the draft is all nonsense.
The real reason the Eagles tanked a game they stood a legitimate chance to win was due to a call from Roger Goodell to Eagles top brass to say the NFL could not allow a 6-10 team to win a division, and thus go into a wormhole that will be deeper than a Sarlacc Pit.
Well that’s what one writer here thinks.
With the Washington v Philly game deciding if it was burgundy and gold or Big Apple blue to lift the NFC (L)East the dawning realisation that a six win team could punch a ticket in the post-season was simply too much to bear.
Washington now host the ‘Tom’pa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, looking to become the third successive 7 win team to win their first round playoff clash. The repercussions of giving up in a game will linger long into the non-playing season, and leave an acidic taste in the mouthes of grizzled Eagles veterans such as Jason Kelce (Travis’s big brother) and Zack Ertz (who likely played his last home game in Balboa Town.
For Washington fans their team lives to fight another day. Its highly likely that all they have done with the win in Week 17 is to slip down the draft, but where there is 60 minutes to play then it is Any Given Saturday.
Lamar loses MVP belt but is arguably in a better place
Not a soul has talked about Lamar Jackson in glowing terms this season, after all it was predictable that he would not eclipse his 2019 season in terms of wins (13) and total touchdowns (43). With a 6-5 record and 5 games behind undefeated division rivals the Steelers, even getting to 10 wins was going to be a tall order.
Instead, with odds stacked against him, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens impressive defense have reeled off 5 consecutive wins, and enter the playoffs with the #5 seed secured after they humiliated the Bengals by rushing for over 400 yards as a team. The likes of Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have outperformed Jackson in 2020, yet for Mahomes and Allen you can bet they would rather face Pittsburgh or Cleveland in a divisional playoff round game.
LJax has been one and done in two consecutive seasons of post-season play, losing to the Titans last year. 12 months later and the Ravens travel to Tennessee to attempt to exact some revenge on Ryan Tannehill and King (Derek) Henry. With more eyes and more burden on the higher seeded Chiefs and Bills, can the Ravens maintain their form and win their first playoff game in the Lamar era.
In a game that will see more runs than an England v Vatican City cricket test, whoever pounds the rock the best will emerge victorious.
C2K? More like D2K!
Derrick Henry became the 8th player in NFL history to record 2,000 rushing yards. He joins greats Adrian Peterson, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, OJ Simpson and of course former Titan Chris Johnson.
With his 250 yards on the ground vs the Texans, King Henry finished up with 2,027 yards, 21 more than his fellow Titan and ends up 5th on the all time rushing leaderboard in a season.
The Titans Running Back justifying his team giving him a 4 year extension worth $50m over the next 4 years, it remains to be seen if he can keep up his current production and trajectory.
Selected to his second straight Pro Bowl, Henry has improved on previous total rush yards for the past two years by roughly 500 yards, plotting an extraordinary trend line.
2,500 rush yards next year anyone?
You’re my Number 1
Talking of King Henry he finds himself with quite a few accolades this season.
I’ll spare any S Club 7 or N-Dubz references here, but at the start of each season, each skill position player (and defensive players too!) want to be number one in the metrics that help them get paid; Touchdowns, yardage, sacks, interceptions, etc.
But only 1 player can atop each of those mountains (usually).
So here are your 2021 season leaders in the main categories
Passing Touchdowns: Aaron Rodgers (48)
Rushing Touchdowns: Derrick Henry (17)
Rushing Yards: Derrick Henry (2027)
Receiving Touchdowns: Davante Adams (18)
Receiving Yards: Stefon Diggs (1535)
Total Touchdowns: Alvin Kamara (21)
Total Scrimmage Yards: Derrick Henry (2141)
Sacks: TJ Watt (15)
Interceptions: Xavien Howard (10)
Fumbles Forced: Marlon Humphrey (8)
Total Solo Tackles: Zach Cunningham (106)
Total Tackles for loss: TJ Watt (23)
Most Field Goals Made: Y.Koo (37)
Most Accurate FG kicker: M.Crosby & J.Myers (100%)
Heads start to roll
Barely minutes after the end of the regular season, teams started to press the ejector seat button on their respective Head Coaches.
First up, Adam Gase’s time as the New York Jets reached its inevitable conclusion after a two-year tenure. In the worst-kept secret in football, he was relieved of his duties after a 28-14 loss to the Patriots, drawing a line under a 2-14 season. Gase, whose contract ran until 2022, went 9-23 overall in his time at the Meadowlands.
Instead of turning around a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs for a decade, he leaves the Jets with five-straight losing seasons and the 32nd-ranked offence for the second year in a row. He was expected to oversee the development of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold but it seems he has taken a few steps backwards too, with career lows in several categories including passing YPG (184.0) and a 9 TD-to-11 INT ratio. The young QB has gone on record saying that he wants to be a Jet for life (poor lad) but with the team picking second in the 2021 NFL Draft, a new HC could well bring in another signal-caller to compete with, or simply replace, him.
It’s not been a lot of fun under Gase. There was the trade of star safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, the release of expensive RB flop Le’Veon Bell and the nine double-digit defeats. In a post-game (under)statement, chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson said: “It’s clear the best decision … is to move in a different direction. It is obvious we have not been good enough.” You’re not kidding, mate.
Talking of different directions, it’s all change in Jacksonville, following Doug Marrone’s dismissal after four-and-a-bit years. Already searching for a new General Manager and with the No. 1 draft pick (to be used on Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, one assumes) in their back pocket, their 27-20 loss to the Colts on Sunday put the final nail in a 1-15 season. Now owner Shad Khan is looking for a new HC, with Marrone’s dismissal the full stop that punctuates his 23-43 record in Florida.
Marrone took over as an interim coach for the final two games of 2016 and unexpectedly led them to the AFC Championship Game in 2017. Since then, however, it’s been much like the Jets: wins increasingly rare, star players leaving – Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue among them – and the failure to find a franchise QB. Marrone’s revolving cast under centre has included Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Cody Kessler, Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon and Jake Luton – eek, no wonder they have only made the play-offs once since the 2007 season. But whoever comes in will inherit the best cap space of the teams currently with vacancies (around $81m) and a shedload of draft picks, including two each in Rounds 1 and 2, so it could be quite an attractive option for someone.
Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Chargers jettisoned Anthony Lynn on Monday after a second consecutive sub-.500 season. Lynn actually has a decent overall record (33-31) with the franchise, and has two winning seasons and a trip to the Divisional Round in 2018 to his name. But 5-11 and 7-9 campaigns have followed, so Lynn was shown the door.
Based purely on the numbers, it sounds like he’s unlucky to be let go (especially with the likes of Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor staying put despite a 6-25-1 record). But looking at the bigger picture, the writing was probably on the wall by the time LA lost by 45 points to the Patriots and slipped to 3-8. He oversaw four close ‘garbage time’ wins after dropping out of the play-off race but that was too little too late, leaving the Chargers watching post-season football on TV for the ninth time in 11 years.
Like Gase and Marrone, injuries – to Tyrod Taylor, Derwin James, Mike Pouncey, Austin Ekeler, Melvin Ingram and Bryan Bulaga – contributed to Lynn’s fate but they weren’t the only factor. Lynn made some very odd game and clock management decisions over the year and oversaw the league’s worst special teams unit, who missed kicks and had punts blocked with alarming regularity. The QB position seems in safe hands with Justin Herbert, but a new Bolts HC will get to oversee his development.
These three franchises join Detroit, Atlanta and Houston in the Head Coach Sweepstake, after they fired their own coaches mid-season. Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Colts DC Matt Eberflus, Ravens DC Don Martindale, 49ers DC Robert Saleh and former Bengals HC Marvin Lewis are among the bigger names interviewing for the six* vacancies.
*Watch this space – it’s a fast-moving situation…
Let’s “Just” wait and see
There seems to be two standout candidates for Offensive Rookie of the year in 2020.
This is an award previously won by Adrian Peterson, Matt Ryan, Odell Beckham Jr and…Eddie Lacy.
OK, maybe winning this award isn’t a first class ticket to the Hall of Fame but you only get one shot at winning this award and is seen as a path towards greater things.
LA Chargers QB Justin Herbert has had a stellar first season in the NFL. The #6 overall pick in the 2020 draft broke Baker Mayfield’s passing Touchdown record, which now stands at 36 and became the youngest QB to throw for at least 30 TDs in the NFL.
Here are just some of the other accolades:
Most completions in a season by a rookie quarterback (396)
Most games with at least 300 passing yards for a rookie quarterback (8)
Most games with multiple passing touchdowns for a rookie quarterback (10)
If it wasn’t for Anthony Lynn’s incompetency, he could have also had Andrew Luck’s record of rookie passing yards which stood at 4,374. Herbert was a mere 38 yards away.
Whilst Herbert is the likely favourite for the award, a special mention goes to Justin Jefferson, who did manage to snag the most receiving yards in a rookie season (in the Super Bowl era) with a nice round 1,400 receiving yards for the Vikings in 2020. That’s 23 yards more than Anquan Boldin’s effort back in 2003. He also breaks a Vikings rookie receptions record by 14 with 83 in his first year, surpassing the great Randy Moss’s effort in 1998. (69).
Whilst the Vikings didn’t have too much pleasure this season, Justin Jefferson has taken to the NFL like a duck to water and is a sign of perhaps great things to come, even if it was just for the celebrations.
Many feel that Jefferson is the worthy winner of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but we’ll just have to wait and find out on “Honors Night”. In his favour was the fact it was only he and Chase Young that were selected to the Pro Bowl out of all of the rookies, so perhaps it’s not a done deal “Just” yet.
John pulled the Wol over the Cardinals’ eyes
The Rams and Cardinals faced off in Week 17 and it ended up with both teams having to play backup Quarterbacks for the majority of the game.
We knew we were getting a full dose of former AAF Arizona Hotshots QB John Wolford for the Rams after Goff was ruled out with a broken thumb.
However, on the first Arizona Cardinals series, hearts were in mouths as Kyler Murray limped off on to the sideline with an ankle injury and missed the majority of the game until late. The offence totaled 240 yards in the end for the whole game, that’s not going to see you to the playoffs. Murray played through the pain, returning to the game to try and give a last gasp effort to snatch victory that would have seen them make the post season due to the Bears’ loss, but it wasn’t to be.
Cardinals backup, Chris Streveler ended up with stats of 11/16 for 105 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT but the Rams defence smelt the blood and went in for the kill, suffocating him and the Rams offence.
Wolford’s first NFL pass was a deep bomb which was intercepted and the Cardinals turned that into their only points of the game. He recovered throughout the rest of the game and made some decent throws and was working without Cooper Kupp, who is on the Covid list. He also showed off some wheels, not something Rams QBs have ever had associated with them, with his 56 yards a high watermark for quite some time.
We are unsure as of yet whether Goff will be ok to play in the playoffs when they travel to face the Seahawks but you have to feel either way whomever lines up under center, the Rams will need to lean heavily on that defence to bail them out again. Some fans though may point to Nick Foles as a recent understudy to take their team and win the Super Bowl.
Surely can’t happen here?
The Road to the Super Bowl starts now!
14 teams remain, only one lifts the Lombardi. But who do you think will win it all in Tampa in 5 weeks time?
You have an opportunity to enter our free competition and whoever get the most points from the below competition will win a prize!
So here we are folks, Week 17. Happy New Year to all our listeners, readers, followers, lovers and haters.
To adjust a phrase coined by RedZone’s Scott Hanson, “WE ARE IN THE WITCHING WEEK!”
“When play-offs become going home and going home becomes the play-offs.”
No Thursday Night Football. No Monday Night Football. Sh*t is getting serious.
Just the AFC South and NFC East division titles have gone to the wire after the Steelers, Seahawks and Saints clinched theirs last week and we know that Trevor Lawrence will (likely) be a Jaguar come April. However, plenty of games will decide the fates of teams and whether they’ll play post-season football this year. There’s also plenty of jostling inside that top 5 of the NFL Draft order to come too.
There are three games on Sky Sports this week but we are going to preview EVERY game with play-off implications.
Use the menu below to select your desired match-up or just scroll to your heart’s content.
It all comes down to this for Cleveland. Win and they are in; lose and in all likelihood, they are out. After occupying a play-off spot for essentially the entire season, the Browns have reached the do-or-die stage with a home game against their biggest rival to end the longest play-off drought in all of football. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a big enough test at the best of times but for one last time in the NFL regular season, the bigger threat might come from COVID-19.
The Browns could have already punched their ticket with a win against the Jets last weekend but were dealt a body blow when linebacker BJ Goodson tested positive on Saturday. That in itself would have been a blow but when his close contacts were identified as linebacker buddy Jacob Phillips and the entire wide receiving room, it became a catastrophe. Since the conclusion of the game, Andrew Sendejo, the starting free safety, has also now tested positive for the virus and close contacts have been identified in Karl Joseph and Harrison Bryant. At the time of typing, the Browns have eight guys on the COVID list with Thursday being the earliest they may get some of the group back, pending negative test results.
Away from COVID issues, the Browns were down two key offensive line pieces also last week but there is every likelihood that rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills will return to shore up the blindside of Baker Mayfield. There is more of a question mark around the availability of Wyatt Teller but the magnitude of the game would suggest if Teller is even close to a ‘go’, he will be up for this one. The running game has stalled in the absence of Teller over recent weeks. He ranks as the number 1 guard in the NFL so his contribution to the Browns cannot be understated. Rookie Nick Harris, who was destroyed by the Jets, will likely start if Teller does not make it.
No news is good news so we will assume that Jarvis Landry and company will all be eligible to play this week. You simply have to put a line through the Browns wide receiving performance from last weekend and concentrate on what is likely to be a much better product this week. Landry, Higgins and Peoples-Jones have shown an excellent rapport with Mayfield over the past month and with a fire in their bellies from being forced to sit against the Jets they will want to put on a show. From a Browns stand point, that should mean fewer situations where the box is stacked to slow down the running game of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The former only needs to register 41 yards on Sunday to register a 1,000-yard season despite missing a quarter of the season through injury.
Defensively, the Browns could welcome back safety Ronnie Harrison, which would be a huge boost, particularly in light of the Sendejo and Joseph news. Denzel Ward will need to play better than he did against the Jets and a defensive quarterback will need to be established in Goodson’s continued absence. Too many times last week, Cleveland appeared out of position and were burned on two touchdowns with coverage breakdowns. The defensive line will look to set the tone with Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon playing particularly well of late. Myles Garrett has not looked the same player since returning from his own battle with COVID but news of a certain quarterback suiting up for Pittsburgh have certainly added to his own personal motivation for a big regular season finale.
We are of course talking about Mason Rudolph who will get the start for Pittsburgh. Last time the two were on the field together, we witnessed the infamous helmet swing incident, which led to multiple fines and suspensions for both teams. Expect the CBS announcing crew to bore you to tears with constant reminders of this throughout the game and in prematch video packages. In the bigger picture of the game, the Steelers have taken the decision to give Big Ben a week off to prepare for the play-offs. Having not had a bye week in its traditional sense, securing the AFC North with a big comeback win against the Colts last weekend has afforded Pittsburgh that luxury.
Mike Tomlin has indicated that decisions will be made later in the week with regards to other key players and their upcoming involvement in the game. It is highly likely that James Conner, Eric Ebron, JuJu and Diontae Johnson play a much reduced role on offence, even if they do officially suit up. Defensively, it’s likely that Cam Heyward, TJ Watt, Minkah Fitpatrick and Joe Haden could be in a similar position. Assuming Buffalo win their game, the Steelers will finish in the third seed regardless of what happens here. If a win guaranteed the second seed, it could well have been a different approach.
Certainly on paper, the more starters that Pittsburgh rests, the more a Browns victory becomes likely. But trust me, as a Browns fan, we have been here many times before. The players coming in will be looking to make an impact and give Mike Tomlin some selection dilemmas ahead of the meaningful play-off games to come. Chase Claypool, for example, will want to separate himself as a genuine weapon in the passing game after vanishing for portions of the season. Benny Snell will want to be considered for more work moving forwards, particularily with James Conner struggling. Hungry players with an opportunity may actually be more of a danger than players simply playing to not get injured.
Writer’s Pick – Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)
Regardless of the situation, Browns vs Steelers is a huge rivalry game. In recent years, it has been far too lopsided to be considered a genuine rivalry but it would appear those days are drawing to an end. For the Browns however, those days need to end for good on Sunday. Win and you are in, it really is that simple.
Most Browns fans in their wildest dreams would have grabbed that scenario from you 17 weeks ago, so can they get over the line in the finale? Before a miraculous final 20 minutes against the Colts, even with their starters playing, Pittsburgh have been awful for a month. This game was very nearly for the divisional crown, such has been their drop-off from an 11-0 start. But we are where we are, and it is a really difficult game to call without knowing exactly what it will look like.
If the Browns get all of their eligible players back, I would favour them. If they don’t, I would favour the Steelers. If Pittsburgh rests all of their starters, I would favour the Browns. If they don’t, I would favour the Steelers.
The point is, it’s tight to call but let’s stick my neck out one last time: the Browns win and are in for the first time in forever.
Steelers 20 – 34 Browns
Sky Sports – 9.25pm GMT – Cardinals @ Rams
The Cardinals are the NFC version of Oliver Twist: “Please sir, can I have some more (football)?”
“MORE?!?!” say the Rams.
The Cardinals travel to SoFi stadium to face a Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp-less LA Rams, where they need a victory, coupled with a Chicago loss, to ensure they have more games to play this season.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were dealt an almost terminal blow last week against divisional rivals the San Francisco 49ers, falling 20-12 and leaving them on the outside looking in.
The Cardinals have not had the best time of it since their Week 8 bye, going 3-5 in that span with wins against the NFC East (completing the clean sweep) and of course that ‘Hail Murray- against the Bills.
The loss against the Patriots is the game they’ll look back on and feel that this was the result that they let themselves down on. In better news, Kyler Murray, who has battled niggles over the past month or two, has looked healthier and far more willing to run the ball with 29 rushes in the last three games. That being said, he has been somewhat questionable this week with a leg injury but has been seen on the practice field according to reports.
The bad news is that the former #1 overall pick and 2020 Pro Bowler has not won in his three previous attempts against the Rams including at least one sack and one interception in each of those games and having very little rushing production. McVay, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and co. all seem to have his number.
They may not necessarily have fellow Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins’ number though, who scored in this fixture on eight receptions, albeit for a lacklustre 52 yards. Hopkins, who many thought may struggle in a new team, is only four receptions away from tying his career best season for receptions but you can argue his TD receptions are way down.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds have continued to middle in the backfield. Neither Drake or Edmonds have topped scrimmage 100 yards since Week 10 in that game with the Bills.
A Troy Hill interception return for a touchdown was enough to seal the deal in the reverse fixture but the two running backs that scored TDs for the Rams that day will be missing. Cam Akers is on IR and Darrell Henderson suffered a leg injury last week against the Seahawks, courtesy of Jamal Adams as he was scooting for the end zone.
You have to wonder how much scoreboard watching there will be going on in this one as a Bears loss automatically means the Rams are in the post-season. A depleted Rams team may just turtle up and retreat, allowing the Cardinals to take a win and be in the play-offs with them, meaning three teams from the NFC West reach the post-season.
Talking of the Rams, they have thoroughly underwhelmed in the last fortnight, losing to the Jets (enough said) and the Seahawks. Jared Goff, who has crumbled like an overbaked biscuit, is out for this one due to a broken thumb courtesy of a Seahawk helmet when going through his throwing motion.
Step forward former AAF QB, John Wolford, who has not seen the field since the 2019 preseason and played for Arizona in the AAF.
The gameplan will probably be similar despite the change at QB. McVay will continue to be creative, and continue with misdirection, bootlegs and screens. With two RBs and their star WR missing, it may be a bit more difficult to execute. Can Wolford continue to be a hot shot? I very much doubt it.
They could welcome back OT Andrew Whitworth, who has been on IR since November and have also activated Micah Kiser, which I doubt Rams’ fans will take solace from.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
I cannot see anything other than a Cardinals victory here. The Rams defence has not been depleted anywhere near the same levels as the offence and will cause problems for Kyler so I can see a low-scoring game here.
If McVay can get anything out of this offence, it may well be his finest hour.
But the Cardinals probably only have to score 12-20 points to take this one and it will be the Rams tuning into Redzone or putting on their radios to check on events at Soldier Field.
Cardinals 20 – 10 Rams
Sky Sports – 1.20am GMT – Football Team @ Eagles
The final game of the 2020 NFL regular season sees the worst division in the history of football bring everything to a close.
For Washington, the goal is simple: win and they are NFC East Champions with a 7-9 record. If they lose, the title will go to the victor in the earlier Dallas against New York match-up. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has nothing to play for other than perhaps a slightly better pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. For the first time since 2016, the birds won’t be headed to the post-season and will leave 2020 with some serious questions to be asked. Once again, the NFC East will not have a repeat winner, a streak that dates back to 2004. The division has also never been won by a team with a losing record; 9-7 (on numerous occasions) is the lowest record to win the division prior to this year.
Week 17 match-ups are always difficult to predict, especially when one team has nothing left to play for. Philadelphia heads into the final game week following a drubbing at the hands of Andy Dalton and the impactful Cowboys wideouts. This means they will end with their lowest win total since 2012 when they went 4-12. Depending on results around them, Philadelphia could have the #3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft with a loss; if they pull out the victory, they could pick as far back as #10. Either way, they will have a top 10 pick. With so many questions looming this off-season around QB, front office, head coach and beyond, it is looking like change is afoot for the Superbowl LII winners.
Philadelphia weren’t the only team with off-field issues dominating their coverage this week. Washington parted ways with Dwayne Haskins on Monday, finally ending the cloud of uncertainty that was beginning to engulf his Washington career. This season, Haskins went from starter > back-up > third string > back-up > starter > back-up > waived. It’s been a rollercoaster than I’m sure Head Coach Ron Rivera will be pleased to get off. He said in a statement “I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways.” The encouraging cameo from Taylor Heinicke late in the game against Carolina on Sunday surely helped Washington’s decision to let the former first-round pick go. If Heinicke starts on Sunday in Philadelphia, he will become the 31st QB to start a game for Washington since 1993.
On the field, things have been just as up and down for Washington. Their dominant defensive line will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Philly O-line that has given up a league-leading 62 sacks so far this season. In the reverse fixture back in Week 1, Washington had eight sacks against the Eagles and what may have seemed like an early blip has turned out to be the level of the WFT’s pass rush attack. As a defence, they have 44 sacks on the season (6th in NFL); of those, Chase Young has 6.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss, helping him earn a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie season (one of only two rookies to do so, with Justin Jefferson the other). I would look for Washington to dominate in the trenches against a Philadelphia O-line that has had 13 (THIRTEEN!?) different combinations this season.
On the other side of the football, it very much depends who will be under centre. Alex Smith has shown that he still has gas in the tank and has rejuvenated his career after that nasty leg break he suffered back in November 2018. Even though his stat line in 2020 doesn’t make for great reading (4 TD, 6 INT, 79.0 rating), the Washington offence looks calmer and more effective with Smith as the man with the ball. They will also get a couple of playmakers back for the trip to the City of Brotherly Love. Terry McLaurin will be back to add to his 3 TDs and 1,078 yards this season. They also eased Antonio Gibson back in with 10 rushes last week but he averaged 6.1 YPC. Those two weapons could assist HC Ron Rivera in this win-and-in game.
With Philadelphia, it is difficult to predict which team will show up. They could do what Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz suggested and have a ‘no-hat rule’ (not allowing Washington to win the NFC East crown) on Sunday night at the Lincoln Financial Field. However, with it being Week 17 and nothing left to play for, we could see outings from plenty of young players to see if they can impress coaches and put themselves in the conversation for the 2021 roster.
Jalen Hurts has already been named the starter by Head Coach Doug Pederson and it will be interesting to see how he can bounce back after probably his worst performance so far in Week 16 versus Dallas. His passer rating barely got above 70 and he was picked off twice. However, he did link up with a monster play to WR DeSean Jackson for an 81-yard TD as well as utilising his elusiveness, rushing 9 times for 69 yards averaging 7.7 YPC. The Eagles’ offensive unit has looked revitalised at times with Hurts under centre but it is still suffering with poor WR play, mismatches along the offensive line and penalties. Too. Many. Penalties. They had six false starts on Sunday in Dallas, with reduced fans in the crowd. That number is just not acceptable for an NFL offensive line.
Defensively, Philadelphia is struggling with injuries. With the injury report that came out on Wednesday containing Michael Jacquet, the Eagles now have only two healthy CBs on the roster (Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman). However, some won’t be too disheartened if Jacquet isn’t fit to go as he was pummelled by Andy Dalton on Sunday. He gave up 162 receiving yards from 9 targets, which is the second most of any corner in a single game in 2020. However, I will cut the guy some slack; he was an undrafted free agent this season and has had very little time to learn the defence, not to mention he was lined up against whoever D. Slay wasn’t covering, which was either Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb or Michael Gallup… With safety Rodney McLeod done for the year after tearing his ACL vs Arizona in Week 15, this Eagles secondary is barely limping over the line.
However, what I would expect to see is the pass rush to try and provide turnovers or force quick 3-and-outs for the offence. First-time Pro-Bowler Brandon Graham needs two more sacks to get his first ever double-digit sack season. If DT Javon Hargrave can share a sack, the Eagles will have five players (Graham, Cox, Sweat, Barnett and Hargrave) with five or more sacks, which no other team in the NFL has. However, with Sweat on IR, and Cox and Barnett missing practice on Wednesday, it remains to be seen if the Eagles’ pass-rushing pieces will be there to assist.
I think even if Taylor Heinicke does start for Washington, they will have too much for Philadelphia. The Eagles’ defence is just too depleted and is limping to the end of the season. If Washington can get out in front, the birds just won’t be able to bring it back. In Jalen Hurts’ three starts, Philadelphia have scored 54 first-half points, yet only 13 second-half points. On Sunday against Dallas, following their 14-3 start, Philly was then outscored 34 -3. Teams appear to be making in-game adjustments to Hurts and at the moment, Doug Pederson and Jalen Hurts don’t have an answer.
Writer’s Pick – Ste Tough (@SteTough)
This will be a close one. It probably won’t be pretty and I can see both teams coughing up the ball one or two times. However with Philadelphia’s injuries and just the torrid season they are having, I can see them losing this one. Before tough losses to Seattle and Carolina, Washington was putting together some momentum, winning 4 games in a row including a blow-out against Dallas. If they can hold that Dallas offence to 16 points, they can certainly hold Philadelphia to less.
Football Team 20 – 13 Eagles
6pm GMT – Cowboys @ Giants
Whichever teams comes out victorious at MetLife stadium WILL be in the play-offs before the Sunday Night Football game with the Football Team. With both teams being able to sniff meaningful January football, this should be a good NFC East clash.
The 6-9 Cowboys visit the 5-10 Giants with both teams still in the play-off hunt, which encapsulates 2020 in the NFL. The Giants still have a chance because of their head-to-head with Washington and the Cowboys have the same record so need to better Washington’s result.
The last time these two teams met back in Week 5, Andy Dalton took to the field due to that gruesome injury to Dak Prescott. The “Endzone Ed Sheeran”, as we like to call him here at F10Y HQ, has another chance to put a dagger in Big Blue and is coming off a brilliant and commanding performance last week against the Eagles.
Dalton has completed 65.4% of his passes this year after being in and out of the team due to injury, concussion and COVID, but has steered the Cowboys ship in the right direction. Just 14 TDs and 7 INTs in his 10 games isn’t going to fill them with too much confidence. That being said, 13 of those 14 scores have come since Week 11 when he returned to the field and three of the 7 INTs were before his two-week absence.
He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in his last four games including three against Philly last week (yes there was a lot of YAC involved; eat your hearts out 49ers fans). The main reason for that is arguably the best WR trio in the league.
Rookie CeeDee Lamb has taken to the NFL like a duck to water or a sheep to shearing. While he hasn’t reached the heady heights of fellow rookie Justin Jefferson, Lamb has on the whole had a very impressive season, even without Dak Prescott. Lamb has had either over 50 receiving yards or 5 or more receptions on 11 occasions this season, and has been more than just a slot guy, taking jet sweeps to the house, scoring on special teams and also winning on the perimeter. He needs just 106 yards to surpass the 1,000 mark against the Giants.
It helps when you are aided by other fabulous receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. The latter had a “don’t forget about me” game against the Eagles, going for 2 TDs on 121 yards and some fine football play after the catch. Amari Cooper has himself yet another 1,000-yard season, albeit a fairly quiet one. The beauty of having three highly talented WRs is that it’s a ‘pick your poison’ type of scenario .None of these guys need to be the focal point from week to week, which makes it hard for opposing DCs.
The Cowboys do have the momentum off the back of three straight wins, putting up 30+ points on each occasion (albeit against bad teams) but it’s the defence that has come to play recently too, which has been very timely indeed. They have forced at least three turnovers in their last three games and have recorded a turnover every week since their Week 10 bye. They’ve given up yardage and sometimes points too but the opportunistic nature of the defence to turn the field on the opposition is vital for this Dallas team to continue not only this week, but if they head to the post-season.
These two teams served up a great game last time out, with the Cowboys winning 37-34 through a Greg Zuerlein kick as time expired, and the Cowboys have actually won the last seven games vs the Giants. The last time the Giants beat the Cowboys, Tony Romo was the quarterback (in his final season). Another highlight from this game in recent years of course was the Monday Night Football ‘Black Cat’ game, which has seemed to continually curse the Giants franchise since.
For the Giants, Daniel Jones has not looked the same QB since his hamstring injury and Colt McCoy has not been able to replicate his heroics he produced in CenturyLink field against Seattle.
They have lost their last three games to Baltimore, Cleveland and Arizona, and haven’t even looked close to a team that is going to win a game. They have a chance to put it all right here but with a total of 62 points in their last five games since their bye and total offence not surpassing 300 yards in any of their last four games, winning this game seems quite far-fetched.
They’ll take solace in the fact that three of their five wins have come in the division and, despite opening as underdogs with Vegas for this one, they will fancy causing an upset.
There’s a Catch-22 here though for the Giants. A win coupled with a Washington loss sees them in the play-offs, but a loss for the Giants coupled with wins for teams in and around the same record could actually see them picking from the #3 spot.
If the Giants are to win this game, it’ll have be won in the trenches. They’ll have to make the game a bit of a dog fight and grind a result out. Wayne Gallman will need to recall his form in the middle part of the season where he was regularly finding the end zone and having 100-yard games. The receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard will need to be easily found by Daniel Jones, and Evan Engram will look to replicate his performance last time out against the Cowboys with a bit of trickery to find the end zone on a rush.
The defence will need to step back up in this one after going missing the past few weeks, especially after that dominant performance at Seattle in Week 13. They have forced just one turnover in their last three. Linebacker Blake Martinez will need to add to his tally of 80 solo tackles and will have to channel his inner Kyler Fackrell who had an interception return touchdown last time these two met. The secondary of James Bradberry (three interceptions on the season), recently extended Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers will need to figure out how to put a fire blanket over the Dallas wide receivers.
To help, they’ll need Leonard WIlliams and Dexter Williams to generate pressure on Dalton and against a Cowboys offensive line that has somehow stayed tight enough to not burst like drainpipes in winter. On a side note, All Pro guard Zack Martin has could possibly return for the Cowboys after joining the designated to return from IR list. Talk about good timing.
Most fans of non-NFC East teams will view the participant from this division as a team that is there to simply make up the numbers in the play-offs; however, I’ll just make you aware of the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the 2010 season (2011 play-offs). The New Orlean Saints came to visit and that’s when “Beast Mode” happened.
Any given Sunday and all that.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It’ll be a cagey, low-scoring affair in my view and it would surprise me to see both teams turtle up for the majority. Whoever puts their cojones out first will probably win this one and I expect a lot of 4th-down plays. Dallas have the momentum, the better offence and the better weapons, but it’s a weaker foundation with Andy Dalton rather than Dak Prescott at quarterback. New York could have a trick or two saved for this one but a team that is struggling to move the ball, put up points and a questionably healthy QB (still) means that you have to go with the Cowboys for this one.
Giants 17 – 24 Cowboys
6pm GMT – Dolphins @ Bills
Can 2021 start by finishing off one of the Cinderella stories brought to us in 2020? The Miami Dolphins are on the cusp of meaningful January football, but may well need to win to get into the dance, as they take on the red hot Buffalo Bills to close out the regular season. The maths are quite straightforward for Miami: a win guarantees them their spot; a defeat will see them needing a defeat from either the Colts, Ravens or Browns for them to cling onto a Wild Card berth.
Let’s start however with their opponents in this one. The Bills were a fancied pick for the AFC East in the pre-season musings, with the assumed drop-off of the Patriots coupled with assumed mediocrity at best from the Dolphins and Jets. They haven’t disappointed and kudos must go out to them for capturing their first divisional title since way back in 1995. A win here in the season finale will lock up the number 2 seed in the AFC, which is certainly worth its bounty. A guarantee of at least two home play-off games (assuming they win the first), the assumed weakest play-off opponent in that they would play the 7th seed in Week 1 of the post-season and perhaps most importantly, the guarantee of no Patrick Mahomes until at least the Championship game, if both teams get that far.
The final caveat of course is one out of coincidence, but important never the less. A win for Buffalo here could eliminate Miami and as sports has proven down the years, when you have a chance to take out a foe, do so! The plans on how much players play this week has been a closely guarded secret but with some real tangible benefits to winning this game, I would expect the majority of starters to play at least a good portion of this game.
With that in mind, let’s assume that superstar Josh Allen does indeed suit up. In last week’s massacre of the Patriots, he broke Bills franchise records. He now is the franchise leader for completions on a single season, surpassing Drew Bledsoe with 380 completions and counting. He has also overtaken Jim Kelly for the most passing touchdowns in a single season with 34. The outsider for the MVP race has shown phenomenal growth in year 3 and is one of the major factors in the Bills’ results this year. I say one of the major factors as he has plenty of support from running mate Stefon Diggs who has excelled since his trade from the Vikings.
The defence, however, is ranked pretty much in the middle of the pack and has if anything taken a slight step backwards, compared to the dominant group of the 2019 season. They rank 8th against the pass, where premier corner Tre’Davious White leads a talented group. Against the run, however, they rank 19th, giving up 123 yards per game, and 14th in terms of points given up, surrendering 23.3 points per game. Having the number 4 ranked total offence has certainly helped them out throughout the course of the campaign.
So the evidence is there for the Dolphins to game plan for victory. Run the ball effectively and then run it some more. That, however, has proved to be a difficult thing for Miami to accomplish with any sort of consistency this year. Injuries have plagued them at the position with Salvon Ahmed, DeAndre Washington and Matt Brieda seeing plenty of carries with starter Myles Gaskin battling niggles. Gaskin looked sharp last week against the Raiders, averaging 6.7 yards per carry but he didn’t find the end zone and the Dolphins’ leading touchdown rusher on the season is still Jordan Howard who was released weeks ago.
The run game really does need to sparkle as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has really struggled to move the ball over the past few weeks. In two games combined, he hasn’t thrown for 250 total yards while throwing just one touchdown pass and a long ball of just 15 yards. He really needs to put it together this week as Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be unleashed from the bench to save the day. The veteran has been the saviour in Miami but he is unfortunately on the COVID list and will not be backing up Tua this week. That role will go to Jake Rudock who hasn’t tossed an NFL pass since 2017.
The defence ranks as the stingiest in the league giving up just 18.8 points per game. Fuelled by a league-leading 27 turnovers (tied with Pittsburgh), despite giving up a lot of yardage at times, the Dolphins have by and large prevented teams from scoring. Xavien Howard has had an unbelievably good season and has registered nine interceptions personally. Emmanuel Ogbah leads the team in sacks and the veteran leadership brought by Kyle Van Noy has had a transformational effect on a group that was already good before his arrival.
This really is a case of strength on strength. Miami’s four-most frequently targeted defenders (Xavien Howard, Nik Needham, Eric Rowe and Byron Jones) allow a collective completion percentage of 61.8%. The Bills’ top four wide receivers in targets (Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown and Gabriel Davis) catch 71.4% of their targets. It promises to be an absolute cracker.
Writer’s Pick – Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)
If you prefer to view the current state of the NFL by power rankings and not by records, you will find many an observer pegging the Bills ahead of everyone else in the league right now. They are playing some brilliant football and have a high-powered offence that will be able to run with anyone. The defence makes more than its fair share of a contribution and they look a complete unit. Miami have been phenomenal this year and will certainly be up for this one and will make it an interesting contest. I would be really worried about Tua however. Whispers of using their top draft pick (acquired from Houston) on a QB seem harsh, but the reality is the team is probably closer to winning than people realised and can’t afford to be held back at the most important position. I have to side with the Bills in this one, which will leave Miami looking for help from elsewhere with regards to their Wild Card hopes.
Bills 24 – 17 Dolphins
6pm GMT – Ravens @ Bengals
This is as simple as it gets in terms of playoff scenarios: the Baltimore Ravens win and they will be handed a shiny ticket to the post-season dance. They lose and it is likely a lost season, one where the reigning NFL MVP gets dethroned and Lamar Jackson’s play-off record remains on a goose egg.
For the Bengals, a team on a two-game hot streak with a bunch of ragtag starters and a rather good bunch of WRs, this is the opportunity to sign off the 2020 season on a most unexpected high, considering they lost their overall #1 selection QB Joe Burrow to injury quite a while ago.
The Ravens have hopefully learnt the valuable lesson of not underestimating their opponent. Last season, they crashed and burned against the Tennessee Titans in the play-offs, wasting a jaw dropping 14-2 season where Lamar Jackson broke the QB single-season rushing record. The Bengals are not the Titans, but they have beaten the Steelers and the Texans recently, one by digging deep into the defensive playbook and one by out-duelling a dynamic Deshaun Watson.
When the two teams met earlier in the season, the Ravens held Joe Burrow to zero touchdowns and managed to sack him seven times, holding the Bengals to three total points, having gone 27-0 up with just over 30 seconds left. Lamar did not look particularly good, connecting on just over 50% of his passes and inexplicably only rushing for 3 yards on two attempts. In 2019, Lamar had 26 rushing attempts in two games against Cincinnati, gaining 217 yards and two scores, averaging a chain moving 8.3 yards a carry.
Despite some season-derailing injuries to Burrow and Pro Bowl RB Joe Mixon, the Bengals have shown some guts in December. With both superstars healing for 2021, the future in Cincy looks in safe hands thanks to rookie receiving sensation Tee Higgins (pictured), who leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. Higgins needs just 93 yards to crack 1,000 as a rookie, a milestone he deserves to achieve having been a threat all season.
The Bengals have been without a 100-yard back since Week 4, even though Washington cast-off Samaje Perine ripped off 95 yards on the ground last week. Current starting QB Brandon Allen had a monster game in Week 16 against a woeful Texans pass D, but don’t expect the same aerial success against a Ravens secondary that is far more disciplined and tough.
The Ravens will continue to deploy a formula that has led to 10 wins this season, running the football both conventionally with rookie JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards (pictured), and unconventionally with Lamar Jackson, who has shown that he is capable of being the box-office performer he was throughout 2019 in December 2020.
Baltimore need to mix the run and pass to win this game and to start winning play-off games (if they get there). This means getting the ball to TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise Brown, who has had an underwhelming 53 catches to date this season.
The Ravens’ strength beyond the power running game is the defence, which is normally well disciplined and capable of big turnovers in pressure situations. Two key members of the secondary, Marcus Peters and grizzled veteran Jimmy Smith, are both currently listed as questionable, so more pressure goes onto Marlon Humphrey to have a big game.
Rookie LB Patrick Queen has fitted in like a cold hand into a sheep’s wool-lined mitten, and he leads the team in tackles with 102. The team has 39 sacks and surprisingly no individual defender has more than four (Calais Campbell). Sometimes, the collective unit is better than its individual parts. Fully fit, this remains one of the best units in football.
Brandon Allen has shown he is a serviceable back-up QB, and with weapons around him and an offensive line that is working weekly miracles, the Bengals can scare anyone. Scaring is good but you don’t defeat the Kraken by shouting nasty words at its mottled face.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
This game is going to feature a big dose of Gus ‘the bus’ Edwards, a RB who is often dismissed as ‘just another back’. If JK Dobbins is still carrying an injury he picked up in Week 16, then Mark Ingram could be activated. Either way, Lamar Jackson will be making more than two attempts to gain first downs, and will be likely low odds on a rushing TD during the game.
Lamar needs just 93 yards on the ground to become the first QB to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. It will be a challenge, but one missed tackle and a 5-yard scramble turns into a 50-yard score.
This game simply means more to the Ravens, and they will not be underestimating the Bengals, despite a rather straightforward win earlier in the season. I expect Lamar to sign off the regular season in style and this writer to score his second sandwich (I’ll take a Halloumi pitta wrap please, Tim) thanks to the great #8.
Ravens 29 – 17 Bengals
9.25pm GMT – Titans @ Texans
With one week to go, the AFC is all but sorted. The Chiefs, Bills and Steelers are all locked into post-season football already; behind them, five 10-5 teams (Titans, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns and Colts) are fighting for four play-off spots. It’s a case of musical chairs: when the music stops, one team is going to be left standing.
At the moment, the Titans control their own destiny. Despite losing 40-14 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, they are the best positioned of the AFC contenders to make the post-season. Only this road game against the 4-11 Houston Texans stands between them and an appearance in the Wild Card Round next week. They could even lose and still get into the play-offs if one of the Colts, Ravens or Dolphins also lose. Essentially, Tennessee have the advantage thanks to the tiebreakers so if they (somehow) blow this one, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame.
Many pundits were torn between the Titans and the Colts as the winner of the AFC South this year and as expected, it’s gone down to the wire (as it usually does for the Titans). A win at NRG Stadium on Sunday evening or an Indy loss hands them the division. Indy are currently the ones standing outside the post-season sweet shop steaming up the window, but their Week 17 opponents are the one-win Jaguars. (Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, the Jags’ only victory came against Indianapolis back in Week 1 and with the #1 draft pick sewn up, they don’t have to #TankForTrevor any more. But I digress…)
With a win all but written in stone for their title rivals, the Titans need to match them if they are going to take the divisional crown for the first time since 2008. Luckily, they face an underwhelming Texans team who shared a 42-36 overtime thriller back in October but have been on a four-game losing skid since Thanksgiving. Having lost twice in three weeks to the Colts, they followed up with an uninspiring 37-31 loss to the lowly Bengals last time out, despite Deshaun Watson’s three TDs.
In fact, only Watson (first in the NFL with 8.8 yards per attempt, second with 4,458 passing yards and third with 297.2 YPG) is keeping them in any way relevant, although David Johnson’s 128 rushing yards last week was a long-overdue return to form and their top receiver, Brandin Cooks, is just 16 shy of a 1,000-yard season. Despite Houston’s poor record, this is Watson’s best-ever season with his most TDs, fewest picks, most passing yards and best completion rate. He injured his hand in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, catching it in a defender’s face mask while attempting a pass, but still plans to suit up for their final game of 2020.
The Titans’ loss at a snow-covered Lambeau Field last weekend was a rare off-night for their offence. The defeat ended a five-game run of scoring at least 30 points, but they still rank fifth in overall offence (390.1 YPG), third in scoring (450 points) and second in rushing yards (2,402).
In Week 15, they stuck 46 points on Detroit and put up nearly 500 total yards of offence, 147 of which came on the ground through Derrick Henry. Defensively, Houston are below average in most categories and rank 31st in run defence. Worryingly for them, Henry – the league’s leading rusher (first in attempts and yards, third in TDs) – needs ‘just’ 223 rushing yards to get to 2,000 for the season. Do not rule it out.
But it’s not all about the ground game. Tennessee have two wideouts, Corey Davis and AJ Brown, within sniffing distance of the 1,000-yard milestone while QB Ryan Tannehill has a solid 32 TD:7 INT ratio, despite his two-interception outing in Green Bay.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
Tennessee, the 7.5-point favourites, are expected to bounce back from their poor snow-show, although Deshaun Watson is more than capable of putting up points against the league’s fifth-worst pass defence. But who knows how motivated Houston are for this one? The only thing they’re playing for is Miami’s final position in next year’s draft, thanks to the multi-player, multi-pick trade that saw this year’s first-rounder go to South Florida.
Both teams have plenty going on offensively and defences that rank in the NFL’s bottom four so expect a high-scoring affair, much like their last meeting in Week 6. Then, King Henry rushed for 212 yards and 2 TDs, and the QBs notched four scores apiece. With Derrick Henry bang in form and the Titans owning the league’s best turnover differential (+11), it’s hard to see anything but another win, a play-off berth and the AFC South title for Tennessee.
Titans 38 – 27 Texans
9.25pm GMT – Jaguars @ Colts
The Indianapolis Colts will be looking to jump back into the play-off picture in Week 17 as they welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Lucas Oil Stadium for this all important match-up.
For Colts fans, players and coaches, their shot at the post-season is fairly easy to understand with them needing one team out of the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens to lose, if we were to pre-suppose they do beat the Jaguars.
Head Coach Frank Reich has already stressed to his team that they need to focus on their own scoreline first however, telling media on Wednesday: “It’s better not to have them (other scores) up there (on the big screen). It’s irrelevant. It can do nothing to add to what we have to focus on.It only has a potential negative effect in our view.”
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this tie yet however. Despite the 1-14 Jags entering the game as a 14-point underdog for the fixture, Jacksonville actually played one of their best games of the season against the Colts in Week 1 by managing a 27-20 shock win over Phillip Rivers.
In that game, Rivers managed to throw for well over 350 yards while only managing only one passing touchdown, and their incredible stable of running backs managed only 76 yards between them.
Things have changed since then however. Not only is Rivers now performing at a high level, but in the absence of Maron Mack, rookie Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin has managed 919 rushing yards in 14 games. He’s currently on a run of five games that has seen him average 97.6 yards per game and five touchdowns.
Despite the loss to the Steelers last week, Taylor even managed 74 yards and two scores as the one-two punch of him and Nyheim Hines once again stretched the defence to breaking point at times.
The Colts’ offence looked smooth and polished in the first half of the Steelers game last week (we won’t mention the second half) and they should have some decent luck in Week 17 against a Jaguars defensive unit that has allowed the third-most rushing yards (2023), sixth-most passing yards (4,067) and the second-most points (464) on the year.
On the other side of the ball, Darius Leonard has led a defensive unit that has been spectacular against the run but struggled against the pass. This was put in graphic detail for all to see during their Week 16 collapse, as Big Ben and Diontae Johnson threw themselves back into the game.
Things didn’t get any easier with the news that starting left tackle Anthony Constanzo will end his season early to have ankle surgery and might destabilise what has been a superb O-line for most of the year. Wide receiver Michael Pittman also potentially misses the game with a concussion.
As for the Jags, their big injury news comes in the form of another start for Mike Glennon and the report that incredible undrafted rookie running back James Robinson has officially been shut down for the season, having claimed his 1,000 rushing yards in what has been a dysfunctional offensive effort for much of the year.
They were crushed by David Montgomery and the Chicago Bears last week, as their struggling defence allowed the running back to go for over 110 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.
Their biggest victory actually came from another source this season, with the Jets winning their two games and promoting the Jags to first overall pick in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. With the right care, the QB prospect can sort this struggling franchise out for years and years to come.
With the team thoroughly out of meaningful reasons to play hard against the Colts on Sunday other than pride, two LSU alumni have stood out as bright spots in the darkness of the 1-14 season for the Jags. Rookie pass-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and underrated receiver DJ Chark have both shown moments of serious note, and both will be glad to finish this season and get started again with a more complete roster in 2021.
Chark has managed 700 yards and five scores despite a dismal selection of quarterbacks and passing performance but showed his own ability with a stunning toe-tap touchdown last week in the loss to the Bears. While he didn’t practice on Wednesday, the presumption is that he will be back in time for Sunday, as the Jags look to cap off their own season with some pride and some gumption with which to otherwise remember a season that quickly devolved into fighting for the first overall pick.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
This pick is probably one of the easier ones I have faced all year, with the huge underdog without its best player in James Robinson and likely to rest a couple of their best pieces at least partially, as they look to next season with excitement.
The Colts need this game badly, and while results in other places could still make them just the third team in NFL history to miss the play-offs with 11 wins, I expect the experience of Phillip Rivers and Frank Reich to make clean work of revenge against a Jags team who look down for the count before a ball is even kicked.
Colts 35 – 10 Jags
9.25pm GMT – Packers @ Bears
The Packers travel to Soldier Field where a win guarantees them the #1 seed. It would also likely confirm Aaron Rodgers, the current clubhouse leader, as the 2020 League MVP.
The Packers have won six of their last seven, steamrolling most teams in their way; their only loss came in overtime against the Colts. They face a Bears team that have seen a mini-resurgence, winning their last three games after a six-game losing streak after starting the season 5-1.
Whether they’ve got to this position on merit, luck or a mixture of both is up for debate but for any team going into Week 17, all you can ask as a coach, player or fan is that you have a chance.
The Packers blew away the Bears in Week 12 at Lambeu but this is a Bears team that is possibly a bit more confident and gritty than that game. David Montgomery has come to the team’s aid in the last few weeks, totting up 529 yards on the ground in his last five games, scoring seven times. He has over 1,000 rushing yards on the season now.
After the Packers somewhat stifled Derrick Henry (as much as a team can in December), Montgomery will have to have an effective game for the Bears to try and get ahead in this game. His 10-carry, 53-yard average thus far and 0 TDs on the ground (he has one receiving TD) against the Packers will need to be improved upon.
Montgomery’s efforts have helped take the heat off Mitch Trubisky and how much he has had to carry the team, but he has quietly been very effective since his Week 12 re-introduction into the line-up. His efforts – 10 TDs and 4 INTs since Week 12 with three games with over 70% completion, 2 QB ratios over 100 (and two others north of 95) has all culminated in helping the Bears have a chance to control their own destiny.
The bad news is that Mitch is 1-5 in games against the Packers and has only a 59% completion percentage in those games.
The Chicago Bears’ defence will need to continue its recent string of performances that have seen them bend but not necessarily break. They rank second in red zone scoring percentage on defence and sixth best on 3rd-down conversions allowed. Top tackling linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, supported by leading team sacker Khalil Mack, have a lot to do with the defensive performances this year and will need to get through one of the better offensive lines to get their mitts on Aaron Rodgers. Their defensive line including 31-year-old going on 21 Akiem Hicks has gotten a decent amount of production in his ninth year after a injury-hit 2019.
For the Packers, argulably the hottest team in the league, Aaron Rodgers will continue to go to Davante Adams, a connection we have seen 109 times this season, 17 of those in the end zone. Many belittled the Packers’ draft selections and many wondered why they didn’t go after Will Fuller (lucky for them they didn’t) before the trade deadline, but Aaron Rodgers just does not care. With Adams’ ability and talent to get open despite his hopping at the line, Rodgers seemingly has more than enough with his supporting cast currently at his disposal.
We could see further emergence of 2020 second round draft pick AJ Dillon, who rumbled for his first 100-yard game on the ground and 2 TDs against the Titans, doing his best Derrick Henry impression.
If the Packers do wrap up homefield advantage and a bye, they are more than well equipped to handle any team that comes in to Lambeau. They are actually well balanced both on the ground and through the air, being able to adapt to any team that comes into their house. The Packers’ defence is middle of the road in most metrics, which isn’t particularly a bad thing, but only one team has put up 400 offensive yards on it this season, and required overtime to do so.
Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage have been great in that secondary, and have not given up huge plays for most of the season. At the front end, Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith has 12.5 sacks on the season but it’s a testament to this team that 14 different players have a recorded sack this season. They’ll be beefed up by the midweek addition of DT Damon Harrison.
Writer’s Pick – Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It’s a ”win and in’ situation for the Bears, something which Bears fans could have only dreamed of at the beginning of December. Once again, they seem to be at the mercy of “Hot Rod” and the Packers.
I think the #1 seed carrot being dangled right under the nose of the Packers will be more than enough to ensure they are victorious. It will be a tight game and the Bears will be gritty and try to slow the game down, relying on Montgomery rather than Mitch Trubisky (similar to the last few weeks that’s helped them get to this position).
If the Bears can’t win their last home game of the 2020 season, they’ll be looking to the NFC West and hoping for some help from the Rams. Get the radios out!
Xmas football is here! Just 2 weeks left of the regular season before we separate the men from the boys. Yet another feast of action provided by SkySports this weekend including a Christmas Day game and 3 on Boxing day. So get your mince pies in your hands as you peruse through the games. Use the handy menu below to choose your game!
Merry Christmas to everyone and hope that it is as good as it can be considering the year we have had, but thankfully the NFL is here to keep us company if you can’t be with those that you intended to be with.
You have to wonder how much stuffing has been knocked out of the Vikings after their loss against divisional rivals Chicago. They have conceded an average of 28 points over the last few games and take on a Saints team on a 2 game losing streak but should have a as healthy as can be Drew Brees under center.
Personally, I feel that Drew Brees came back too early but considering the position the Saints are in, I can understand why. currently the #2 seed, chasing the Packers and had Kansas coming to town, totally get why they brought back the future hall of famer, even if it was a bit hastily.
He’ll have a better time of it against the Vikings but it isn’t a fixture thay’ve had too much success in, with Minneosta leading the all time series 23-12 and winning 3 of the last 4 (who can forget the Minneapolis Miracle).
Brees will have to do it without Michael Thomas who landed on IR so that he can as fit as possible for the playoff and try and rekindle that partnership on the field in the post season with the Saints guaranteed to be there. The Saints (10-4) still need to win one of their two remaining games to clinch the division and the Buccaneers are making a late charge, only one game back.
Alvin Kamara has had far from a vintage year and you have to go back to week 6 since he had his last 100yard scrimmage game and the recent switch at QB and an under par Brees and missing Michael Thomas has played its part in that. That being said, he is still the leading rusher AND receiver on the team so expect similar outputs from him here against a Vikings defence that ranks 23rd against the rush and 24th against the pass in terms of yardage.
The Saints defence has come to play and is getting better as the season goes on. Their 32 points conceded against the Chiefs, which is no embarrassment at all, was the first time they conceded 30 plus since week 5. Since their week 6 bye, they have limited opposing offence to under 14 points 4/9 times and under 300 yards of total offence 5 times.
Led by leading team sacker Trey Hendrickson, who was able to be more than a nuisance for Patrick Mahomes last week, will look to add to his current 12.5 sack total on the year. Fellow Defensive end and partner in crime Cameron Jordan, whilst not having his best year has still been able to notch 6.5 sacks and are a good pass-rushing duo that Kirk Cousins will no enjoy getting to know this Xmas.
For Minnesota, despite being the 9th seed currently, are all but out of it by name being 2 games behind Arizona and also now behind Chicago in the tie-breaking ranks.
They’ll look to play spoiler here and they do have the talent on offence to score the points and star rookie WR, who earned a pro Bowl nod (for what it’s worth) this week, will continue to add to his 1182 yards and 7 Touchdown dances this season. A perfect compliment to Jefferson is Adam Thielen who has gotten the Touchdowns and redzone looks, if not the yardage and has 13 TDs and just a few ticks under 800 receiving yards this season.
This team is a run first offence though as Dalvin Cook, also a Pro Bowler for 2020, will look to find the endzone against a Saints defence giving up the fewest amount of rushing scores. that being said, he did find the endzone against Chicago who are also a top 5 stingy team when it comes to scores on the ground. Cook has mustered 8 games with over 100 rushing yards this season and has scored in all but 3 games.
For Minnesota to have any chance, they’ll have to be clean in the turnovers battle, a metric that Saints rank 6th (+6 turnover differential) compared to the Vikings lowly 23rd (-5).
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
I can’t see anything but a Saints victory here against a Vikings team that only has pride to play for now. That being said, if Brees is no better than he was last week, they could struggle but considering how dominant the defence has become since their bye (Kansas game aside), they could bail the offence out anyway. Saints should cover the 7 points that the bookies have handicapped them and I feel the total points line of 51 is too high.
Brady and the Bucs struggled to get going in the first half against the Falcons, but they got out of jail because they were playing the Falcons.
They remain a game back from the Saints who are far from guaranteed win either of their remaining games in the division but they also sit level with the Rams at 9-5 and they’ll at least want that #5 seed which is a trip to play the NFC East winner, so essentially a bye in the Wildcard round in January. As the Rams are facing the Seahawks, a win for the Bucs in this one likely lifts them into that 5th spot regardless of the NFC West battle result.
So how good has Tom Brady been this year? Well stat wise, it’s in keeping with most of his years. Consistent, if not spectacular. A win in either of his last 2 games will continue his streak of double digit wins in the regular season, with 2002 the ONLY season he won less than 10 games as a starter and that includes a 11-1 season (due to suspension) in 2016. It’s fair to say the Belichick vs Brady debate clearly is a battle that Brady has won this year. You can still tell that he has the fire in his belly after his riposte to Tony Dungy on Twitter when he ranked him as his 6th hardest QB to play against.
It helps when you have players like Mike Evans, Anotnio Brown and Chris Godwin catching balls for you. Evans, who paces the Bucs with just 779 receiving yards, epitomises what Brady has done this year, which is spread the love around. 5 receivers have over 30 receptions and all have over 300 yards and there are 10 different players that have caught a receiving touchdown off the future Hall of Famer.
Leonard Fournette, with 2 TDs last week will continue in place of Ronald Jones, who will continue on IR but this is a pass first offence who rank in the top quarter of most passing metrics including yardage, Touchdowns and points.
They face a Lions team that are 1-5 at home and a defence which rank in the bottom 5 in most metrics in either passing, rushing or total defence including a league worst 31.1 pts per game given up so should be able to do what they want, when they want.
Whilst there are points giving up on defence, on offence, they are able to score too so signs point to a potentially high scoring game. Matthew Stafford doesn’t seem as though he’ll miss this game despite having multiple injuries including a back injury, a consequence of trying to carry this team for years.
The same can’t be said for Golladay who clearly has some serious hip issues that have kept him out for the majority of the season. Marvin Jones has rolled back the years somewhat over the past few weeks, with 2 TDs and 276 yards in his last 3 games. Like he did in New England, Mo Sanu has made a decently positive impact in his first few weeks for the Lions and will look to continue his part in the last 2 weeks.
The team’s main target hog who fumbled last week, TJ Hockenson, will look to get back on track and add to his 6 TDs on the season, which has seen him earn a Pro Bowl nod (though Evan Engram did also, so whether we can use Pro Bowl as an achievement is very much debatable).
Stafford an Co. take on a Bucs defence that has seemed to have been more frivolous in recent weeks, allowing at least 4 scores (TD/FG) in 6 of it’s last 7 games (would have been 7/7 if not for Dan Bailey) and have been picked apart through the air all season giving up an average of 255 yards.
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
Hard to see anything other than an away day victory for the Bucs on “Bucsing Day” (sorry). The 9.5pt handicap line indicates a tough day for the Lions, which would be in keeping with their defensive performances throughout this season. I’d probably fancy the Bucs to win by double digits.
The Bucs defence has gotten into the Xmas giving spirit too though and the total points line of 54 appeals on taking the over.
It’s Christmas, and on Boxing Day we get served up two tasty match-ups to enjoy after everyone has eaten approximately 781kg of turkey & stuffing. The evening game sees a depleted San Francisco team, hobbling to the end of the season at this point, visit State Farm Stadium to play the Cardinals. Is this now a home game for San Francisco? As they’re temporarily playing out of State Farm? Should they not choose a neutral venue? Sod it, send them both to Wembley. Not much going on there right now…
Okay, okay, London is a long way from the West coast. I get it. If this had been the reverse game it would have been very interesting, especially seeing as Arizona is currently allowing some fans into the games. Not much of a home game for SF? Focusing on the game, San Francisco comes into this one beaten down and hurting from their extensive injury list this campaign. Jimmy G is still on IR and according to reports isn’t expected to return again this season. Fans have to be wondering if he can be relied on moving forward from here. Since tearing his ACL after 3 games of the 2018 season, he will now have missed 23 games from a possible 45 (assuming he doesn’t start again in 2020). Could he have played his last game in a 49ers uniform? The bad news doesn’t end there either, with Nick Mullens also headed to IR after elbow surgery this week. The end of the season can’t come soon enough for Kyle Shanahan.
However, defensively San Francisco might actually be able to put up a bit of a fight. They currently have the 5th-best ranked defence in the NFL in total yards allowed, they are also 4th in the NFL when it comes to passing yards allowed (2,938). The 49ers secondary is looking good and if they can pressure Murray into quick first and second read throws, they might be able to create some turnovers and hand their offence a short starting field position, which will certainly help given the boat load of injuries they have on that side of the ball. They will have to rely on their secondary as their pass-rush just isn’t getting it done. With Ezekiel Ansah and Dee Ford both on IR, San Francisco aren’t getting the sacks to try and pressure opposing offences. They only have 25 sacks this season, which is almost half that of the league leaders (Pittsburgh – 47).
Arizona come into this game on the back of the game of the week versus Philadelphia. A shoot-out between the two ex-Ohio State QBs ended in a narrow victory for Kyler Murray. He threw over 400 yards in the process with 3 scores, but had some real ‘interesting’ moments. The interception throw straight into the arms of Eagles safety Marcus Epps was puzzling to say the least. Murray obviously still has plenty time to improve, he’s only in his sophomore season in the league and with one more win will lead Arizona to their first winning season since 2015. He’s also on the brink of a milestone; he needs a further 363 passing yards to reach 4,000, and 259 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season respectively. One would imagine he will fall short of the rushing total, but its a monumental effort – note that no QB has ever done that before, showing how difficult it is to achieve.
Kyler’s youthfulness was bailed out a couple of times from some truly incredibly catches by his receivers. The DeAndre Hopkins catch pictured above was eventually the game-winning score, and just a truly mesmerising display of athleticism. He ended up one handing that catch down to the ground. Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald also caught a wonderful low pass at the back of the end zone, making it 255 games in a row that he has caught a pass. A absolutely mesmerising statistic – he’s only missed 8 games in 16 seasons in the league.
On the ground Arizona should be a dominant force too. They are 4th in the league in rushing yards – averaging 147.8 per game with 4.8 yards per attempt average (T-7th). Murray’s elusiveness will prove tricky for the 49ers defensive line and pass rushers, if he can get out of the pocket and run the ball on either designed runs or RPOs, Arizona could have some success but they shouldn’t expect a walk in the park against the 7th ranked rush defence in the league (104.4 yards per game).
On the face of things, this Arizona defence should have an easier time of things if Garoppolo isn’t playing and CJ Beathard gets the start. San Francisco are also still without star RB Raheem Mostert, not making their attack on the ground much more formidable than the one in the air. However, there is no such thing as an easy game in the NFL and just 4 weeks ago the 49ers pulled off an upset win against the Los Angeles Rams. Haason Reddick and co should be licking their lips with a chance to get to the top of the sacks table. Arizona has 43 on the season, only 4 away from the league leaders. If he can have another 5-sack game like he did in week 14, I can’t imagine SF will be leaving (or staying in) Arizona with the W.
Writer’s Pick (Steve Tough – @SteTough)
Despite some real hearty performances from San Francisco this season in the face of absolutely horrible injury luck, I just don’t think they have enough to overcome Arizona. Kyler Murray is coming off a 400+ yard passing game and will be looking to add to that total. DeAndre Hopkins also leads the league in receiving yards with 1,324 and will be looking to take that crown for the first time in his career. It will be interesting to see if the San Francisco defence can enjoy the same success that Philadelphia did against Arizona, if they can, this game could be closer than most anticipate it will.
The Las Vegas Raiders will hope that quarterback Derek Carr can return for Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins, as the Silver and Black look to pursue very narrow play-off dreams entering Week 16.
Carr, who left the defeat to the LA Chargers with a suspected groin injury last week, has split time in practice with Marcus Mariota, who looked ultra-capable when he came in to cover for Carr in Week 15, despite the over-time loss to Justin Herbert.
The loss marked a fourth crushing defeat from the last five games, the only win coming in that last gasp deep-ball win over the New York Jets, a run that has seen them slip from play-off consideration to holding on for dear life at 7-7.
A win over the Dolphins who sit at 9-5 would at least give them a shot going into Week 17 should other results go their way, but the miserable season collapse has paid way to them deciding their own destiny for 2020/21.
Josh Jacobs ran for 76 yards and a touchdown last Saturday which looked impressive when partnered with the 88 yards from Mariota but averaging just 2.9 yards a carry and without a 100-yard rushing game in four attempts is a worrying trend for the young starlet.
The offence will be aided should Carr return, especially with tight-end Darren Waller continuing to play at an exceptional level as the second best tight-end in the league behind the incomparable Travis Kelce.
The former-receiver notched 150 yards and a magnificent looking deep score as he approaches the 1000 yard mark with two remaining games to go on the season.
Defensively, the Raiders may also be boosted by the return of safety, Jonathan Abrams who has practiced all week, and they might need the help as they continue to shift big yards against all most everybody they face.
Corner Trayvon Muller had a particularly tough outing against the Chargers, as they gave up 314 yards through the air to rookie Herbert and now rank 7th worst in passing yards allowed on the year and 6.0 yards per play on the season, which is 5th most and in competition with some of the worst defences in the league.
On the other side of that scale however is the Miami Dolphins constricting defensive unit who held the New England Patriots to just 12 points in a victory over their division rivals in Week 15.
The group was also coming off the back of a game in which they picked off Patrick Mahomes on three occasions, as the high-paid cornerback combination of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones prove their value to this defence first set up that Brian Flores has built.
The group has been under pressure to perform throughout the year, as rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa attempts to find his feet in the NFL before they potentially reach the play-offs for the first time since Adam Gase.
The Alabama-alumni has shown glimpses of what made him the fifth overall pick last year, and why the Dolphins replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick with the young-gun half-way through the year as the leftie has done well to continue building rapports with Mike Gesicki and Devante Parker in particular.
Gesicki has become a good safety valve for the young QB, and now has over 600 receiving yards on the season as he looks to further his numbers against a team who has shifted 700 yards against tight-ends in their 14 games this season.
The Week 16 matchup with the Raiders will prove a further test for Tua with the opportunity to kick the Raiders out of contention for that 7th and final play-off spot providing he gets the Florida team a big win on the road in Las Vegas.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall, the Carr news only makes a small difference to what I think will happen when these two teams face up on Saturday. The Raiders have struggled a bunch in all four of their recent losses and they cant seem to stop anybody with any consistency on defence.
Miami however can stop just about anyone and even made the Chiefs sweat for the entire game which is a far more effective offensive unit than the Raiders, and I expect them to grind out a low-scoring, but important win to keep themselves in the driving seat of that final play-off spot.
With major play-off implications at stake, these two postseason-bound teams may have similar records but they are on quite different trajectories. The visitors are fresh off a 27-20 victory over divisional rivals the Texans, their third win in a row, while the Steelers suffered an unexpected 27-17 loss to AFC North foes the Bengals – their third defeat in succession.
If we use a New Year Eve’s fireworks display as our analogy, the 10-4 Colts are a Catherine Wheel, spinning away nicely at an even tempo. These steady Eddies have been slugging it out with the Titans (also 10-4) in the AFC South and it’s all still up for grabs, although they lag behind on a tiebreaker. In stark contrast, the 11-3 Steelers are a Skyrocket. Everyone went “oooh” and “aaah” as they raced out to an 11-0 record, only to explode in a big, noisy and colourful way. The ashes are now drifting back to earth.
With a chance to wrap up the AFC North, the wobbly Steelers had a Monday night match-up on primetime at Cincinnati: talk about the perfect get-right scenario. The pundits queued up to predict an easy win for the 14-point favourites. Everything that transpired thereafter felt like it belonged to the alternative universe from His Dark Materials: close to the one we know but not quite the same. The Bengals D was fierce; Ryan Finley was competent; Ben Roethlisberger was poor; Diontae Johnson wasn’t Mr Butter Fingers; there were three first-half turnovers in favour of Cincy. All very odd indeed. The 10-point upset, in front of a national TV audience, saw the Bengals snap a five-game losing streak and an 11-game run of defeats against their nemesis.
Pittsburgh’s offence has been held to under 20 points for four consecutive games now and was restricted to a measly 244 total yards by Cincinnati. Big Ben clearly wasn’t at his best (throwing 4-of-10 for -5 passing yards in the first quarter), even though he became the seventh player to pass for more than 60,000 yards. His 62.4 QB rating set a new low for the season.
The pressure is growing on the ailing Steelers’ QB and his WR corps because the team owns the league’s second-worst rushing attack. With the banged-up James Conner once again missing, they’ve gained an average of 51 yards on the ground during the three-game losing streak. If it weren’t for Benny Snell’s 84 yards and a rushing TD on Monday, Pittsburgh would have posted a net total of 2 yards rushing.
Their once-invincible defence is still the second-best in the league but it has been weakened by a number of key injuries of late, not least to linebacker Bud Dupree and on Monday, to fullback Derek Watt. At least his brother, TJ, continues to excel. His league-leading 13 sacks make him a Defensive Player of the Year contender but he can’t do it all by himself.
You could argue that, like Pittsburgh, Indy’s defence (ranked 7th in the NFL) has been the backbone of the team for much of the campaign. Their mainstays stepped up again to complete the season sweep over Houston, with Darius Leonard forcing the game-deciding fumble, rushing up and punching the ball out of Keke Coutee’s hands as he headed for the end zone with just 23 seconds on the clock. And one of the trades of the year, DeForest Buckner, sacked Deshaun Watson three times, despite operating on one good leg.
The revitalised unit has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league – not great news for the Steelers’ weak running game. Indy’s D have also forced the third most turnovers in the league so Diontae Johnson’s handling needs to be error-free in this game.
Another similarity between these teams is that they both have a veteran quarterback plucked from the 2004 Draft class. Unlike Big Ben’s current funk, Indianapolis winning four of the last five is down in no small part to Philip Rivers, who could be back to his best (11 TDs to 2 INTs in that spell). His 419 career TDs leave him needing just two more to pass Dan Marino and go fifth in the all-time list, a milestone he could esily reach in this game. The team ranks ninth in overall offence, with major contributions from the league’s RB10, the second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor (842 yards, 7 TDs). Top wideout TY Hilton is also quietly effective but his 675 yards only just scrape him into the NFL’s top 40.
The Colts have not committed a turnover in their last three but it’s also noting that they relied on a last-minute fumble for the second time in three weeks to grab the W against Houston. This doesn’t shout Super Bowl contender from the rooftops but nonetheless, Indy just keep on clearing one hurdle at a time and moving on to the next.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@Sean TylerUK)
A month ago, the Steelers looked locked in as AFC North champions elect and a bye in the Wild Card round was within their grasp. Now, it’s all starting to slip through their fingers. Their postseason place is in the bank but their current form probably makes them the team others want to face. Having lost twice in recent weeks to teams below .500, the AFC’s No.3 seed needs to end the slump – and fast – if they’re to stay ahead of the Browns and Ravens.
Yet the Colts are no pushovers. They have enough going for them on both sides of the ball to bloody the collective Pittsburgh nose for a fourth straight week. But playing at Heinz Field, could the Steelers bounce back after a short week and stun Indy? Of course they could and in fact, the Steelers are slight favourites at the time of writing. But I sense another upset brewing here. Unlike their hosts, the Colts look solid at the moment so I’m expecting them to take care of business, leaving the Steelers with more questions than answers once again.
Without trying to launch straight into hyperbole, this is probably the most important game of the weekend, with the result all but determining who wins the highly competitive NFC West.
A week ago, we all would have assumed that these teams would be sitting level coming into this game. But, thanks to the historic loss to The Worst Team in Football, the 9-5 Rams unexpectedly find themselves a game behind the 10-4 Seahawks, making this a must-win contest. The Arizona Cardinals are just one game behind LA so it’s all pretty tight. So close, in fact, that a win gives Seattle the title, as well as a shot at the top seed and home-field advantage in the play-offs; a defeat would put them behind the Rams on a tiebreaker, as they lost their Week 10 match-up.
Coming off the back of two straight wins, Seattle clinched a play-off spot with a 20-15 victory in Washington, although they did have to hang on a bit at the end after building a 20-3 lead. QB Russell Wilson finished with a season-low 121 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT – not exactly up to the standards he set in the first half of the season. He’s now dropped to 7th in the league for passing yardage but he’s still second only to Aaron Rodgers for TDs thrown (37), more than a quarter of which have landed in the arms of DK Metcalf (1,223 yards, 10 TDs).
The rushing game looked solid last week too, with Wilson’s 52 rushing yards complementing the tally accrued by RB1 Chris Carson (63 yards on 15 attempts) and his backfield compadre Carlos Hyde (an impressive 55 yards and a TD on just two carries).
While their offence (ranked 9th in the league) hasn’t been able to maintain its blistering start to the campaign, ‘Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked a worrying 41 times so this is where the game could be won or lost. Seattle’s wobbly defence (ranked a lowly 26th) is actually playing a bit better of late, with DE Carlos Dunlap joining from Cincinnati a few weeks ago, and Jamal Adams bossing things in an improved secondary. They definitely stepped it up last week in the nation’s capital, with four sacks and seven QB hits on Dwayne Haskins, and their pass rush has delivered at least two sacks in the last eight games, including three on Jared Goff in Week 10.
Coming into this one with a totally different vibe, the Rams’ 23-20 home defeat to the winless New York Jets saw them become only the fifth team in 42 years to lose when favoured by at least 17 points by the bookies. At least they didn’t have any fans in their shiny new stadium to share their views on proceedings.
Jared Goff led the fight-back as they cut the deficit to just three points with over six minutes left on the clock. But then LA went 4-and-out on their next possession, thanks to errors and penalties, and never got the ball back. Goff finished with 209 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Whether his inconsistencies will affect his ability to connect with wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, both hovering around 20th in the league with more than 800 receiving yards apiece, only time will tell.
The match-up on the ground will be less appealing for Los Angeles. Seattle have allowed the third-fewest rushing yards per game (94.6), which will pose a challenge for the league’s ninth-best rushing attack, led by rookie Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, two men with more than 500 yards to their names.
Despite Sam Darnold finding some success on Sunday, the Rams secondary plays at an elite level and is the primary reason for the team giving up the fewest passing yards per game (192.0) in the NFL. It was particularly impressive back in Week 10, when they held DK Metcalf to just two receptions and 28 yards. In short, the main difference between these two outfits is the relative strength of their defences. Aaron Donald and co. have mustered 44 sacks and twice as many QB hits in 14 games, making the Rams D the NFL’s top unit.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
The Rams are Seattle’s bogey side, having won five of the last six clashes while averaging more than 31 points per game. This current iteration of the Seahawks’ defence is not the strongest, yet they are currently the -1.5 favourites, despite only posting 16 points against the Rams six weeks ago.
Maybe that demoralising defeat to the Jets is a factor. It could suck the Rams down into a pit of despair or alternatively, it might serve as the kick up the posterior they need to bounce back in the final two regular-season games against their two closest rivals, the Seahawks and the Cardinals. If they can win out, the Rams will be crowned NFC West champions, but that’s a big if.
Those Seattle shootouts from earlier in the year – back when they scored at least 34 points in six of their first eight games – are now distant memories. Maybe Russ is done cooking now and has moved on to the washing-up? His 13 INTs put him behind only Carson Wentz, yet then again, Jared Goff has been intercepted a dozen times himself.
With two takeaway-prone QBs not at their best on show, I’m expecting an attritional, low-scoring affair. When they met in Week 12, the Rams won 23-16 and I think we’ll be in the same ballpark again. However, I’m going to plump for Wilson to step it up and lead the Seahawks to a home win and a division title.
The Tennessee Titans will look to knock off their second successive NFC North team in the space of a week when the travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
The Titans had a huge day last week in every possible way when they beat the Detroit Lions into the ground 46-24, as they pursue an AFC South title of their own behind the legs of not just Derrick Henry, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill put together potentially his finest game of the season in Week 15 as threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and also put two score on the board with his feet.
A huge 75-yard touchdown to Corey Davis and a generally wide open passing game showed the signs of the Derrick Henry affect, as defences struggle to stop both the freight train of a running back and the athletic receiving corps of Davis, AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith.
There was the customary 147 yards and a touchdown for the unstoppable Henry, who went over the 100 yard mark for the 10th time this season, and included a rather brutal, highlight reel stiff-arm – again.
The game puts him just 341 yards off of 2K as he continues his most successful season so far in his bright career – 1679 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 games for this Titans team.
Defensively, there continues to be some concerns heading off to the playoffs, as the Lions scored 24 points and moved the ball freely for 430 yards of total offence, which pushed the Titans to 6th worst in yards allowed on the year and 11th worst in points allowed.
Coming up against Aaron Rodgers will further put this defence to the test, as the unit attempts to prove itself against a high powered group that it could potentially end up facing in the playoffs.
Speaking of Rodgers, the Packers will be looking to secure themselves the number one seed in the NFC this weekend in a season that has seen some of the best of their star QB in several years under Matt LeFleur.
The 37-year-old has completed a massive 69.6% of his passes and has done so for 3828 yards in just 14 games and all whilst providing an almost unbelievable 40-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
On Monday it was announced that he had been voted to the ninth Pro-Bowl of his career, which came as little surprise to anybody, as the Packers had a league-high seven players voted in.
While the scoreboard went their way last time out in a win over the Panthers, concern was high over a second-half performance where the offence produced just a single second half field goal after an electric start.
Rodgers referred to the drop off as leaving a “sour taste” in his mouth, a feeling that will only be doubled by knowing that they face far stiffer opponents this week in the Titans and their overpowered offence.
The danger is clear to LeFleur however, the young head-coach describing stopping the Titans as a “tremendous challenge” on Monday, as he tries to gauge the line between slowing down the Henry train and leaving the back end open to that play-action passing game of Tannehill.
The Packers defence has been much improved this year, ranking near the middle of the pack in most categories, and have given up fewer rushing yards on the season, 1541, than Derrick Henry has managed by himself.
Most teams are not the Titans however and the D-line of Green Bay will have their work thoroughly cut out for them if they want to prevent Tennessee from running the ball against them with ease.
Writer’s Pick – Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Overall I don’t know if I can see anything other than a Packers win this Sunday. Despite the issues that the offence had in the second half, I don’t think its too much too worry about, especially since the Panthers defence has played well above its station on several occasions this season.
Rodgers will be buoyed by the opportunity to rack up the number one seed at home, and I expect him to show it against a defence who has struggled to hold down fast paced and meticulous offensive units like the Packers.
The king is dead, long live the new king. After a quarter of a century wait the Buffalo Bills (11-3) can finally lay claim to the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Back then the Bills limped into the postseason with a 10-6 record. They did smash the Dolphins in the Wild Card game, but went on to lose in the Divisional round to the Steelers (who went on to lose to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl).
2020 also marks the first time the New England Patriots (6-8) have not punched a ticket into the playoffs, continuing the ‘non Brady’ streak of no postseason action. The last time the Pats failed to get into the business end of the season was 2008 when Matt Cassel led New England to an 11-5 record, pipped to the division by the Miami Dolphins who also finished 11-5 but won the points margin in the two head to head games.
Both teams met earlier in the season, with Buffalo escaping the clutches of Cam Newton’s oak tree legs with a later Tyler Bass (pictured above) field goal. This time, with one team already eliminated, it’s time for the Sith Lord to unwrap Jared Stidham. The 4th round pick in the 2019 draft has already seen the field four times this season, and has ever thrown a couple of touchdowns, replacing a woeful Bryan Hoyer to get a garbage time score, and then a little cameo in the Pats 45-0 steamrolling of the Chargers.
Stidham needs to be rolled out for the last two weeks of the season. With no expectations this is an ideal opportunity for Pats OC Josh McDaniels to see if he has somebody to work with in 2021.
New England have been wholeheartedly underwhelming all season, and at one point they were 2-5, so to still be mathematically alive before Week 15 was pretty remarkable. The Cam Newton experiment has been a failure. Yes he runs, and is a redzone td monster, but through the air #1 has been atrocious. 5 passing touchdowns in 13 games is not going to get you far. This has obviously had a huge knock-on effect regarding the WR production. No Julian Edelman for most of the season, and what has been left is the weakest unit in the league. What makes the Pats offense a laughing stock is the TE production. Ryan Izzo has managed 13 catches for under 200 yards and 0 scores.
When we turn to the Bills it is the complete opposite. The team have tied the NFL record for the most different players to catch a TD – a remarkable 13. Josh Allen has been wowing fans all season, and is full value for his 11 wins in 14 games. Allen is a Pro Bowler for the first time, albeit on the second team behind Patrick Mahomes in the AFC. The dual threat is one of a small handful of franchise studs to still be in the running for the 2020 NFL MVP award, going up against Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers to decide the winner.
Leading the Bills in catches is Stefon Diggs (pictured above), a 2020 Pro Bowl starter, who has 111 catches already and over 1,300 yards. Team mate Cole ‘slot machine’ Beasley needs just 50 to reach 1,000, which would mark the first time he has reached 1K in his 9 year career.
The only real weakness the Bills have is a rather pedestrian running game. The combination of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss do not scare anyone, and was it not for the rushing threat posed by Josh Allen this would be one of the worst rushing units in the league.
Buffalo’s defense has been fantastic all year long. LB Tremaine Edmonds and CB Tre’Davious White are all deserving Pro Bowl selections, and even KR Andre Roberts has been recognised for his special teams qualities.
Unsurprisingly the Patriots have zero offensive players on the Pro Bowl team, and only Stephon Gilmore the CB made the Defensive squad, more by reputation and name recognition than actuations game play. The Patriots do value special teams very highly and were rewarded with Pro Bowl nods to the punter Jake Bailey (pictured above – who had a lot of work experience in 2020) and evergreen gunner Matthew Slater.
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro)
With that highly significant Steelers loss to the Bengals on MNF in Week 14, the Bills have shimmied up the playoff pole to the #2 seed with just two regular season weeks left. Having sniffed that rarified air the Bills will not take anything for granted, and will be striving to win out against AFC East division rivals the Pats and then the Miami Dolphins.
Josh Allen can hoist up an NFL MVP trophy just like his fellow 2018 first round draft class buddy Lamar Jackson, and sweeping the Patriots would make the accolade that bit sweeter.
For the Bills D there is limited game film on Jared Stidham, including 0 starts or truly meaningful snaps, so the surprise element will favour the Patriots. This does not mean they will translate this into a victory. The empire has crumbled in New England, and it’s time for Pats fans to look to the future now and not the present.
Josh Allen to have another big game, and Buffalo to put immense pressure on the Steelers who are melting faster than a snowman in a naan bread oven (inspired by watching Eddie Hall trying to eat the world’s largest naan bread!!). Look to 21 year old Bills WR Gabriel Davis to add to his impressive 6 td total in this contest.