Following on from Rob Grimwood’s fantastic post on the winners yesterday I’ve been tasked, quite suitably, with the pessimism, the misery, the teams who did sweet FA, or in the case of the Texans. Worse.
Texans get their pants pulled down by the Cardinals.
In one of the weirder trades of recent times the Arizona Cardinals acquired one of the best three receivers in the game for essentially a bag of chips, and not a nice bag of chips, those “baked” one’s by walkers. It’s another moves by GM/Head coach/Supreme Leader Bill O’Brien which has stymied the masses. Oh, and they then went and signed Randall Cobb on a 3 year deal to try and placate the masses. Weird.
Additionally they took on the FULL CONTRACT for David Johnson, the full $10.2m contract, for a back who has struggled with injury and form since breaking onto the scene a few years ago. That’s a lot of cash for a running back especially when you’ve got one of the better pass catching backs in the league on your roster already in the shape of Duke Johnson. For the record, I like DJ and I hope he can get back to form, but it’s still a lot of cash to spend on an RB.
David Njoku has some competition, and apparently he welcomes it.
After being drafted at 29 in the 2017 draft there were high hopes for the super-athletic tight end in Cleveland, but a series of niggling injuries and being unable to get together a decent run of games has hit his stock and led his team to bring in Austin Hooper on a big money deal from the Falcons. Neither of them are really blocking TEs, so it’s direct competition, and in those cases the more expensive man usually get the bulk of it all.
Bengals fall even further behind in the North.
It’d be remiss of me to dampen the spirits of my team and their fans even more. After being quoted by reporters as “being active in free agency” they once again sat and watched as players who’d have improved their roster immediately were picked up for decent deals, the likes of Jack Conklin to the Browns on a 3 year, 42m deal. Nick Kwiatowski to the Raiders for 13m a year both positions of need for the Bengals, and both strengthen AFC teams.
The Ravens have also made moves over the last week which further strengthen them, bringing in Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers to add even more to their defensive line, then getting a pick back for Hayden Hurst. They’re taking full advantage of having a rookie QB on a cheap deal.
And the Steelers will be welcoming back the 400lb man at QB which might make them better at that position for next year.
Josh Allen is digging it, but I’m not too sure.
The Bills paid a whole hell of a lot to Stefon Diggs, a 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th for Diggs and a 7th round pick… It’s a lot more than I thought the Vikings would get for someone who so clearly wanted out and bitched and cried about it publicly.
The Vikings get a ton of picks and him off their payroll. Diggs gets to join a team with an inaccurate QB and probably get further frustrated further down the road. Pairing the best route runner in the league with the least accurate QB is an interesting one, hopefully for them it’s a little chicken and egg and it bring Allen up.
However, I do get the trade, there’s blood in the water with the Pats possibly losing Brady and their offensive issues on the whole. So while it’s a big payout it could work out well for them.
They gave Jimmy Graham HOW MUCH?!
Why on earth would anyone be money on Jimmy Graham? I wasn’t sure he’d get picked up at all, let alone on a 2 year, $16m deal. But Matt Nagy and the Bears seem determined to keep on paying up at tight end. One of the more perplexing moves done yesterday.
They’re also still without a functional quarterback and supposedly interested in Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. The Bengals apparently want a 3rd for Dalton, the Jags reportedly want to keep Foles (They take a big dead cap hit if he leaves so may as well keep him) Both are upgrades on Trubisky, but still. It’s not an enviable situation.
The NFL season is over which means 2 things, 1 – it’s time to be sad for a few months until the NFL Draft and 2 – You now have a lot of time on your hands.
In this series of articles, we try and take care of number 2.
entering the season
Another Houston Texans season has come and gone with an all too familiar ending. A disappointing play-off loss and not for the first time, a resounding defeat to Kansas City. This was to be the final act for the players, prior to clearing out their lockers, at NRG stadium.
In July, the Texans decided against having a GM, when Brian’s Gaine was fired and the team were heavily scrutinised for the investment given in trade deals involving Laremy Tunsil & Kenny Stills coming in from the Dolphins. Conversely, Jadeveon Clowney was sent to Seattle for a cents on the dollar type of value, in a seemingly emotive move by O’Brien.
A mixture of an ageing defensive co-ordinator and erosion of defensive talent contributed to the biggest concerns of this team. The lack of pass rush, mixed with a continuously revolving personnel in the secondary would typically not provide a formula for effective defence. A historical shift in identity for a team which has been lead by it’s defensive stars.
during the season
The biggest change for team was beating the supposed upper echelon teams with wins against Kansas City and New England contributing to a 10-6 record and were even afforded the luxury of resting their starters for week 17 (for those with an interest in to patterns, go and check out the Houston win loss sequence this season).
This offence lead by Deshaun Watson, at times, looked capable of beating anyone. However, two regrettable off-days against Carolina and Denver, both at home, lead to much frustration amongst the fan base. O’Brien was caught on camera amidst a heated exchange with a fan, leaving the field in the latter, which summed up the frustration levels amongst the support.
Will Fuller’s absence towards the back end of the season again was a sore miss for the Texans. Fuller is a true game changer on offence and the Texans looked one dimensional without him on the field. The offensive improvement were equalised by the fading talent and injuries to their defence. Which ultimately left them cursing what could have been, if an automatic seed had been grasped, for a consecutive season.
In the Wildcard game they were reliant on a monumental comeback form Watson against the Buffalo Bills being. Acrobatic heroics from Watson we’re required, coupled with a John Allen implosion to sneak an overtime win. The divisional match up, reversed the roles, where the Texans, inexcusably threw away a 24point lead. As they were on the receiving end of an offensive schooling by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahommes.
Some players of note, Carlos Hyde had a bounceback season, rushing for over a 1000 yards, a career first, after bouncing around multiple rosters in the past few seasons. Duke Johnson was third in targets and provided a complementary piece to this offence. Both 1st and 2nd round picks Tytus Howard and Max Sharping had stellar rookie seasons to build upon and solidified the line in front of their quarterback.
On defence, Whitney Mercilius was able to put together 7.5 sacks and 2 interception on the season. The former Illinois, first round pick was rewarded with his second contract extension, despite his age. Jacob Martin off the edge has a great deal of potential if he can develop as a speed rusher. Zack Cunningham lead the team in tackles yet again and is perhaps their most important piece in that unit.
After falling substantially short, it would seem changes to the coaching staff would likely follow. The loss of Jadeveon Clowney, left a big hole in the front seven which will be priority number one to address. There’s also issues with the personnel in the secondary left the Texans finishing 28th in defensive efficiency and in need of major upgrades. In his maiden season as defensive co-ordinator, will face a sizeable challenge to turn this unit around.
The biggest talking point this off-season will be the growing influence of coach Bill O’Brien. He as de facto-GM made major plays to add to the offence and the cornerback positions. This then lead to relinquishing draft picks but the teams record regressed and looked more than short of being genuine contenders in the playoffs. Long time cap guru Chris Olsen was let go just weeks after the season, with further changes in offing for the front office and its unquiet structure, centred around O’Brien.
Another AFC South title is a modest achievement based on the draft capital expended. With many key players requiring extensions (Tunsil, Watson, Cunningham & Fuller) this off season, it will likely consume much of their cap space. The ability for Texans to acquire players cable of generating a pass rush and improving depth on Offence may not be an easy task, especially considering the lack of draft capital over the next few years in the early rounds.
As we stand today, the fan base is growing restless with Bill O’Brien who will need to build a roster capable of a top AFC seed and a deep play-off run if they are to be appeased.
Not sure if I had too much coffee over the weekend and started hallucinating but I swear I just watched an NFL game where the road team went 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, then allowed their opponents to score 28 in the second, before allowing a further 23 second half points, resulting in a 20 point loss. That doesn’t happen in the real world does it? That’s a Madden score when your cousin has unlocked a cheat code after playing possum for a quarter. Believe it or not it was what happened when the Houston Texans travelled to K.C. to take on the Chiefs on Saturday. Not all playoff loses have the same magnitude or embed the same emotional scars, but this game will take a lot of recovery time for the Texans, especially QB DeShaun Watson and head man Bill O’Brien, who will have to take it right on the chin (where incidentally a small family of sparrows have nested).
King Henry looking for more than the rushing crown
It’s pretty much in the can that Lamar Jackson will win the NFLs Most Valuable Player award for his incredible season, 13 wins in 15 starts and his destruction of the QB single-season rushing record, but in the cold light of day the most valuable player in the entire league is not a Ravens one. Titans RB Derek Henry, with help from a superb offensive line, are all still alive in the playoffs, and will not be daunted by a third consecutive road playoff game. Baltimore’s 14-2 record and number one seed meant nothing on Sunday as Henry ploughed, slashed, pummelled, drove, and executed his will over the Ravens, becoming the first RB in NFL history to have three consecutive 180+ yard rushing games. Already the newly anointed owner of the 2019 NFL rushing crown, and unlikely to get the regular season MVP award, the man with a beavers tail sticking out of his helmet is 120 minutes away from winning a Super Bowl MVP.
4th and own goal
When you enter the playoffs having gone 8-8 of 4th and 1, and the opportunity arrises to go 9-9 on these plays in a home playoff game that you are losing, but only by a TD, then its understandable to be brave. On their own 45 Coach Harbaugh decided to make s statement in the opening play of the second quarter. Problem was Lamar Jackson didn’t get any kind of exquisite block, and he was stuffed for no gain. On the very next play the Titans dialled up a miracle and Kalif Raymond picked up the receiver, or to put it another way the receiver connected with the ball. That two play series effectively ended the game there and then as the Titans didn’t need the last two touchdowns to win – they had the W when they went 14-0 up. Unlike some other AFC team that melted worse than that flying white guy in Raymond Briggs The Snowman the Titans defense stayed strong all game.
By the time the Ravens packed their playoff bags they managed to fail to convert their second, third and fourth 4th down conversions.
Miami motivation for revolutionary Ryan
There is no doubt about it, stats lie. You can make a series of stats paint a masterpiece or a dirty protest, depending on the contextual angle you adopt. Let’s look at Titans QB Ryan Tannehill’s passing output in Tennessee’s two playoff games. In two full contests Tannehill has passed for 160 yards on 15 of 29 completions and thrown an interception. In those same three contests Tannehill has thrown three touchdown passes, gained two wins (his first playoff victories) and thrown the single most important touchdown in the 2019 playoffs. When the former Dolphins passer struck gold, following a Ravens failed 4th and 1, and hit Kalif Raymond (pictured above) for his first post-season catch of his career, it was single-handedly the point the air came out of the Ravens magnificent ambition balloons. After that completion, with just 7 seconds gone in the second quarter, Tannehill only competed three more passes all game, as King Henry and the Titans defense locked down the W. Ryan is now one game from going back to Miami to play in the Super Bowl. Just let that sink in.
RETRO – The under 100 club
Throwing for under 100 yards as the starting QB (playing the vast vast majority or all snaps) and winning in the playoffs is nothing new. Back in 1974 Terry Bradshaw the Pittsburgh Steelers signal caller won the AFC Championship against the Raiders and then Super Bowl IX with passing performances of 96 and 96 yards (17 of 36). It gets better/worse as two quarterbacks played every offensive snap of their respective victories whilst managing to throw for under 35 yards. The first time this occurred was unsurprisingly in the 1970s as Bob Griese led the Dolphins to a 27-10 win by going 3-6 for 34 yards. The second time this happened was incredibly in 2010 by none other than Joe Flacco. He led the Ravens to a 33-14 Wild Card win against the New England Patriots. Flacco’s stat line that day was 4 of 10 for 34 yards and 6 runs for 5 yards.
Can you Adams and Eve it the Pack are back
The Green Bay Packers have been criticised as the worst 13-3 team ever, barely mustering wins week after week. Now they are the 14-3 Packers after another just about good enough performance against the Seattle Seahawks. One Packers star to shine brightly was WR Davante Adams who led all Divisional Games receivers with 160 yards, on 8 catches. His two touchdowns were the difference makers in the game, and the first time he has caught a pair of six pointers in the post-season. We know the Seahawks secondary is not the finest, after the dissolution of the Legion of Boom. One former legionnaire, the not shy Richard Sherman, now with the San Francisco 49ers, will be licking his lips as he waits for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams to travel over to the West Coast for the NFC Championship.
A-ROD on the brink of a TITLE SHOT
Wrestling fan and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers wants a chance to pin down his second Super Bowl ring, and after forcing the Seahawks to tap out he is one game away from a title shot. Rodgers will now enter his fourth NFC Championship this weekend, having won his fifth Divisional round playoff contest. He did suit up in the 2007 NFC final but this was in the third year of the apprenticeship he was serving under Brett Favre, and he didn’t get on the field. Rodgers has faced the Bears, Seahawks and Falcons in the conference championship games, and in the three games scored 21, 20 and 21. In his 18 playoff games Rodgers threw his lowest amount of completions (16) in the home win at the weekend, but that doesn’t really matter when you convert 9 of 13 third downs. In his 15th season Rodgers is easily the oldest starting QB left with a shot to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy, can he dial one up from the top rope or will he be suplexed into submission by Bosa and co. ?
GOLD RUN – CAN I HAVE A ‘W’ PLEASE BOB
Amongst all the bonkers momentum shifts, mind bending play calling and chaotic turnovers that took place in the Divisional Playoffs there was one team that emerged from the battlefield like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, mildly perspiration but without a scratch or a bruise on their collective bodies. The San Francisco 49ers looked calm and composed, and with the exception of a late second quarter interception by Jimmy Garoppolo, ruthless in their efficiency. When you hold Dalvin Cook and the impressive rookie Alex Mattison to a team total of 21 yards, execute six sacks, and don’t allow a second half point, you become the Super Bowl favourite. For a team that had not made the playoffs from 2014-2018 this was a statement win and also Jimmy G’s first as a starting QB. He already has two Super Bowl rings without taking a single snap in either big game. Staying in California the Niners now remain the only #1 seed still alive. As someone who lived through a significant period of time of San Francisco dominance, including watching four Super Bowl wins, I’m not sure I can deal with another Gold Run. Might be time for me to take a ‘P’.
RETRO – Divisional playoffs 50 burgers
Following the Chiefs firing up the playoffs grill and cooking a 50 burger (51) on the Houston Texans I was curious to see who had served up a similar culinary treat in the Divisional round of the playoffs in the Super Bowl era and scored over half a century. Surprisingly Mahomes and co. were the fifth team to exceed 50 points in the final eight stage (see below). Just imagine being a Jaguars fan 20 years ago as your team went up 41-0 in the first half, in only their fifth season of existence. This was a team that also went 24-0 up early, but unlike the Texans they didn’t take their foot off the playoff points pedal. The opposing QB that day – none other than Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
Jaguars beat Dolphins 62-7 (January 2000)
Raiders beat Oilers 56-7 (December 1969)
Cowboys beat Browns 52-14 (December 1967)
Redskins beat Rams 51-7 (January 1984)
Chiefs beat Texans 51-31 (January 2020)
Thanks FOR THE MEMORIES
Two big requirement announcements this week, one inevitable, and one on the Andrew Luck scale of shock. Happy trails to TE Antonio Gates who leaves the NFL with the most touchdown catches in league history for his position. Gates was an outstanding route runner, sticky handed and a favourite of Philip Rivers for many years. Gates only won 5 playoff games in his career and bizarrely only scored post-season touchdowns in his first and last of 12 playoff games. The much more surprising news was the retirement of Luke Kuechly the outstanding Carolina Panthers LB. The 9th overall pick of the 2012 has called it a day after 8 seasons, 1,092 tackles and one Super Bowl appearance. Kuechly may have announced his retirement but he does have to make one more decision, does he suit up one last time with his team mate Christian McCaffrey for the 2020 Pro Bowl?
The playoffs are here and are accompanied by the usual stresses and pressures that the post-season provides.
This week’s Wild Card Weekend will feature the New England Patriots for the first time since 2009 following their disappointing slip up against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.
They face a Tennessee Titans team that is built for some cold weather up in Foxborough with a strong rushing game and a quarterback on a hot streak with his receiving corps.
Elsewhere, the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles play host to a Seattle Seahawks team that few considered a serious challenger before the season.
The New Orleans Saints will seek out some revenge as they welcome the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome in an attempt to heal the wounds of the Minneapolis miracle.
The other AFC match-up sees two of the NFL’s youngest quarterbacks face off against each other as Josh Allen leads his Buffalo Bills into battle with Deshaun Watsons Texans.
But who is heading into the 18th week of the season with the weight of the world on their shoulders and who will thrive in the pressure?
Titans @ Patriots
The Patriots made a costly error last week by failing to beat the lowly Dolphins.
It is the sort of situation that Brady and Co. have become infallible in, which may explain why the Dolphins went into the game as 14-point underdogs.
In a year where Tom Brady has been questioned more than ever, registering his lowest ever adjusted QBR score of 55.0 in comparison to Lamar Jacksons 81.7, the Week 17 result continues to heap pressure on the 42-year old to prove he is not done and dusted.
Bill Belichik will also face questions over Miami’s last-ditch winning drive against what was one of the best defences in the league.
The Titans enter the game feeling far less pressure on the table.
Heading into the season out of the playoff picture, with questions marks at the quarterback position and a second-year head coach, things have gone better than many envisaged.
They have also performed well over the odds given their mid-season QB switch and have been helped a long by the thumping downhill power of Derrick Henry in the back field.
PRESSURE IS ON: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Bills @ Texans
Its AFC East vs AFC North part two as Buffalo head southwards to visit a Texans team still giddy with the news that talismanic edge rusher J.J Watt has returned early from a pectoral injury.
The Texans who sealed up the division a week early, concluded their season with a loss to the division rivals, Titans.
Now the fourth season of six under Bill O’Brien where they have finished top of their division, the pressure will begin to fall on the head coach to deliver some deeper runs into the post-season.
For the Bills, very few coaching staffs can consider to have done more with less.
Sean McDermott has just one pro-bowler on his roster and a quarterback that still has an uncertain ceiling, managing to look more developed to incredibly raw from week to week under centre.
For this reason, there is little pressure on the Bills who probably expected a more mediocre season than this.
Any further playoff progression is just extra credit.
PRESSURE IS ON: HOUSTON TEXANS
Vikings @ Saints
These two franchises are pretty hard to separate when it comes to who’s under more pressure to win.
Both of them have quarterbacks in need of a deep playoff run but for very different reasons.
Drew Brees is a lock for the Hall of Fame but aged 40 and 10 years removed from his Superbowl, the window for a second Lombardi Trophy is gradually closing.
The quarterback of the Vikings, Kirk Cousins, is not fighting to seal his Hall of Fame status but instead just looking to set himself up another big contract once his time in Minnesota expires after next season.
Still attempting to prove himself as one of the leagues elite quarterbacks, Cousins needs some primetime, big-time playoff performances to stack a currently empty CV.
Both teams also have a fairly young core of talented players, giving them both a bigger Superbowl window than some of the other teams in the Wild Card.
Overall the pressure will lie on the Saints though as they try to forget and forgive their acrimonious playoff exits in 2017 and 2018.
PRESSURE IS ON: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
SEAHAWKS @ EAGLES
How good is Carson Wentz? That’s the real pressure here.
The 2016 second overall pick has played in spells of brilliance, including his MVP trajectory of 2017 before his injury kept him out of the Superbowl run.
The Eagles paid Wentz big in June of last year and are waiting to see some return on that investment in the form of a play-off run.
The North Dakota State alumnus has done a lot alongside an un-experienced receiving corps so far, but whether they can withstand the rigors of playoff football is a new question.
In Seattle, another impressive season for superstar QB Russell Wilson has meant that the Seahawks are in a playoff that many did not predict.
Considered to be a rebuilding year by lots of experienced pundits and commentators prior to Week 1, Pete Carroll’s teams should feel little pressure going into the Wild Card Weekend.
The NFL, supposedly stands for the National Football League. A complex sport which relies on its custodians in the black and white stripes for the integrity of its game to be upheld. But the 2019 season has seen many question their role. Their credibility, is the subject of much debate, particularly on the newly introduced pass interference rule, where the play has become challengeable. After 13 weeks of the season, it would seem, it’s not worth a head coach throwing the red flag, if they are not in agreement with the call in the field.
We’ve seen multiple instances of pass interference calls being missed by the officials, none more so than a recent game between the Texans and the Ravens. Wide receiver Deandre Hopkins tangles with Marlon Humphrey, who clearly pulls at his jersey, wraps his arms around him then pushes Hopkin’s right arm away. His forward movement and ability to catch the ball is clearly inhibited. A typical indicator for ref’s when making such calls, did the defensive play make an attempt to play the ball? There was none, only a tackle on a player when the ball was in the air – a foul. The play was then challenged but upheld, as it didn’t meet the supposed criteria for reversal. A flummoxing decision for many, just adding to a long list of plays to this point in the season.
After watching these questionable calls back, the question has to be raised: how can a qualified referee watch it back, on an HD monitor, across multiple angles and not over turn it?
What will stick in the throats of football purists, never mind Texans fans, if there was a change in the rule to allow coaches to challenge, then why have the officiating crews dismissed all but a few challenges? Lead by a league office memo but if the origin of the rule amendment was to correct errors in judgements, then why not use it? A failing was recognised or was seen to be recognised but the remedy offered, is not utilised. That premise is illogical on so many levels.
This melee of confusion originated from the New Orleans NFC Championship game and with the benefit of hindsight, the NFL’s competition committee will perhaps have wished they hadn’t opened this door. If we put to one side, that if the Saints had ran the ball three times, they would have taken time off the clock then this isn’t likely borne into the monster it has created.
Fast forward 9 months, and the game is no better off. The Texans should have had the ball on the 1-yard line, with the score at 0-0. These games are decided by momentum swings and that was handed to Baltimore with this error. It didn’t definitively seal a result as clearly as the decision that benefited the Rams, in handing them a Superbowl ticket, that they just merely needed to stamp. But the Hopkins non-call, certainly put a game early on a path that, by the definition of the rules, shouldn’t have happened. As many will testify, its not for the first time have the powers that be, have entangled themselves in a self-created officiating muddle.
The League head office has a track record of making rule changes based on a watershed moments, leading to mass confusion and frustration. There have been recent seasons where the the definition of something as rudimentary as a catch has been called into question. This plagued games every weekend for a season and then the it appeared that common sense prevailed and the ref’s understanding was rectified. Though, it may be worth noting, the change appeared to occur pre-Superbowl which benefited the Eagles in keeping a score on the board, despite almost identical plays being ruled as incomplete just weeks prior. Perhaps many were blindly delighted that a resolution was sought, but the timing of the change had to be called into question.
There was also a time where the roughing the passer, the result a 15-yard penalty, was having an unhealthy bearing on games. This despite edge rushers adjusting their technique to avoid the outlined, bearing weight down on the passer when coming into contact with the ground. It again reared its head in the Green Bay, Carolina game where the offence was handed an extension of their drive for no discernible reason. This then plays a significant enough role to outweigh the talent on the field, in post game talking points.
Often used as a possible correction to the current crisis, is the addition of a sky judge. The judge would form part of the game day officiating crew, sit in the stand and be used as the video referee, which has been successful in rugby. It would make sense, and could be done with limited changes, bar hiring additional person per crew to take up the role. Could this be done mid-season? It could, of course, but likely won’t change until next season where the ability to challenge pass interference will disappear. But based on recent history, the next dumbfounding rule change is just around the corner for the 2020 season.
For those that truly care about sport and the integrity of it, perhaps an older school of through, could rightly say the Exec’s in Park Avenue, Manhattan have taken their eye off the ball. Or have they?
The intrigue of the NFL is based upon, the unrivalled athleticism of players and skill exhibited, in the midst of executing a highly strategic and tactical game plan, for a said team to win. Now the league head office in it’s infinite wisdom, have grown the value of the sport and are experts in monetising the game.
Potential consumers are changing the way the core product is being consumed and on that front, it’s difficult to argue with their approach, as accessibility of the league is at an all time high. All would seem well, but if you lift the lid even slightly on the most profitable sporting organisation, it would seem there are some worrisome trends occurring and could risk long term cash-flow projections, if they are not considered in their approach.
As the league are acutely aware of the diminishing quality of its product since the agreement of the flawed CBA with the players union. Mid-tier veteran, players have barriers to trade based on ‘Salary-cap-enomics’ and the overall level of play in the field is reduced, as they are replaced, by less talented but cheaper players.
The central theme is one of erosion, there are too many teams, that cannot under current circumstances pay enough good players, to fill out a quality roster, to then in turn fill their stadiums. Many teams have sections of their stadium they don’t even open as they know they won’t sell the tickets and risk a black-out of local television coverage. So this is a huge issue the league faces, but its one they’ve masterfully papered over the cracks with fantasy football and fan-facing analytics, for the time being. But could there be another subtle, but strategic ploy to mitigate the game’s not so obvious plight?
There could be an intriguing argument made that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company actually enjoys the bi-product of terrible officiating. As in reality, it its adds to the circus of media clamber, a rotating news cycle that evokes engagement and reaction across the globe.
On the face of it, it may seems an ill-logical hypothesis but the more its considered, perhaps its the case. Why would you agree a new contract, just this season, for further seasons of part-time officials? Why would you pay them so poorly? As the best talent have taken up cushy numbers at television networks. The good referee’s have left their positions in their droves over the last few seasons, but they were allowed to.
Again, this wouldn’t seem a logical approach to not retain those that are vital for the money to keep rolling in for the owners and its surrounding parallel industries. But the modern mindset of people have the first inclination to exhibit their reaction outwardly, on public platforms. Can they see means to further profit, in designed anarchy?
As remember – it’s not their fault, its the ref’s. They must be the only league employee’s that the corporation distances themselves when the court of public option swing in an unfavourable manner.
The basic rules of engagement of public relations – deflect, deflect and then deflect some more. So all things considered, perhaps this is by design rather than gross oversight. Whichever way, it’s a chronic situation which continues to detract from anyone’s enjoyment watching every team, every Sunday. But maybe consider Goddell & co don’t care about your feelings. They want your money, end of story.
Until such issues are eradicated and the “Shield” find means of speeding the game up and removing mass confusion on what should be straightforward refereeing decisions, the detractors will continue. As is stands, they would be correct in referring to the top-tier of America’s most popular sports as National Football Litigation and it seems those in charge, like it that way.
Massive game for those chasing the division titles in the
NFC and NFC North as the Dallas Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings.
With Philadelphia on a bye, the Cowboys need to win to keep
their heads just in front of Philadelphia and it’s looking fairly likely that
the 2nd placed team in the East could miss out on the playoffs.
Minnesota at 6-3 still sit one game behind Green Bay over in
the North and whilst, this one is possibly less important for the #SKOL army,
they don’t want to run the risk of running in to the cowboys for the wildcard
and losing on the head to head tie breaker.
It may be a tight, cagey affair on Sunday Night Football,
and that’s just Kirk Cousins we are talking about. Whilst Kirk most recently
won vs the Redskins on Primetime television on TNF, it is more than well
documented that Cousins can have the tendency to be a rabbit in the floodlights
when push comes to shove.
Can Captain Kirk pull his socks up and lead his Minnesota team to a victory this week? His current record of 6-13 in primetime games suggests not.
Life after Cam
It’s going to be interesting watching how Kyle Allen performs down the stretch now that he is going to be starting from here on out.
Cam Newton has recently landed on Injured reserve, leaving
us to wonder whether Cam Newton will ever be seen in a Carolina jersey again
(look out for an article on that coming your way) but now you have to debate
whether the pressure is now more on Kyle Allen to perform as he is “the guy” or
whether there is less pressure on him as he no longer has to look over his
shoulder or live in Cam’s shadow.
Kyle Allen does have the pressure of getting the Panthers to
the playoffs though as they are right there in the thick of the wildcard race
and that adventure makes it’s next stop at Lambeau Field.
Lights, Kamara, Action!
Some of the NFL’s biggest superstars should be returning to
the field this week with Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes and New Orleans Saints running
back Alvin Kamara should be available to suit up for their respective teams.
It’s fair to say though that the rest of the roster and the
Head coaches has performed admirably in their absences over the past few weeks.
It says a lot about the adaptability of these teams to be
able to read off a different script and still pull out the level of
performances that they have. Unfortunately now for the rest of the league, two
of th most potent and high octane offences get arguably, their main cogs back.
Will Wilson win in the West?
MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson and the Seahawks travel to
Levi’s stadium to face the last undefeated remaining team in the 49ers.
A win for the Seahawks here and the NFC West is all to play
for. A win for the 49ers, and the NFC West is pretty much all wrapped up.
Russell Wilson is coming off a 5TD performance vs the Buccaneers last week so
confidence couldn’t be much higher, and Josh Gordon has just walked through the
However, he will need to be at the peak of his powers once again as he faces one of the best defences in the league away from home to stand any chance of picking up the win on Monday Night Football.
Nowhere for haters to Hyde any more
We are just over the half-way point of the season and the general trend for feeding a lead back seems to be on the rise from twelve months ago, or maybe there has simply been less injuries at the RB position.
Standing at number eight in the 2019 rushing charts is a back that has bounced around the league and is now on his fifth team. This season, based on current projections, Carlos Hyde will break all of his own personal rushing records, and easily have his first 1,000+ season.
Hyde had two monster runs at Wembley last week, even if the longest resulted in a fumble on the goal line. His opening carry was as important as it was a tone-setter for the Texans – a 9 yard dart. That drive ended with Houston taking a 3-0 lead. Hyde ended the game with 160 yards rushing and the respect of over 80,000 fans.
For someone who never settled in Cleveland or Jacksonville, and didn’t even make it to the regular season in KC, this is a genuine comeback player of the year candidate. No need to Hyde in the shadows any more Carlos.
We’re all going on a Chubb-Hunt
Two seasons ago Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards, outpacing Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell as a rookie.
Fast forward to Week 10 2019 and Hunt finally makes his season debut for the Cleveland Browns. His last NFL action was over a season ago in the game of the season as the Rams beat the Chiefs 54-51. Hunt was cut by the Chiefs for lying, when questioned, about an incident of domestic abuse that was recorded and went on to be shared on TMZ.
Many people are still divided as to Hunt’s ability to pick up his career after a half-season suspension, and the majority of teams would have stayed away from signing him because of what they saw. It does seem that in the U.S.A. and especially the NFL that players in the main get a second chance despite committing acts that are completely unacceptable.
Hunt has been out a year and starting Browns tailback Nick Chubb is no slouch, but Cleveland do need to snap out of their nightmare stretch and Hunt could offer that spark in the red zone.
Steelers storming back?
With Big Ben Roethlisberger out for the season it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following an abysmal 0-3 start Steelers are on a three game win streak and beyond the Rams face the Browns twice, Bengals and Cardinals weeks 11 to 14. Mason Rudolph has been streaky but is hanging in there. The Steelers run game has been a bit under par and James Connor is ruled out of this weekend’s contest. Another big dose of Swiss army knife Jaylen Samuels is expected. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been underwhelming 33-459 and 3 touchdowns and the #2 and #3 WRs Dionate Johnson and James Washington have been uninspiring.
Despite all this adversity the Steelers are on a three-game win streak and have only lost once, in an epic tussle against the Ravens, since the start of October. 1-4 to a genuinely possible 9-4 record will save Mike Tomlin his job and put the Steelers in an improbable playoff position. Enjoy Sunday’s game it will be a barnstormer.
Godwin and Evans epic season wasted
What a shame that easily the best wide receiver combination in the NFL at the half-way point, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, are on a 2-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.
The Godwin/Evans combo has 104 catches, 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns. Outside of this pairing any other WR combined have 14 catches for 145 yards and one score. Evans and Godwin have moved the chains 82 times between them to date and together are averaging 100 yards in the air each per game.
Under normal circumstances this pairing would equate to wins, but they are getting thrown the ball from an erratic Jameis Winston who goes from a 5 interception game (at Tottenham v Panthers) to a zero pick impressive display on the road at Seattle.
The Buccs offensive line is part of the problem, with Winston already on the receiving end of 30 sacks. It will be fun to watch this combo battle it out for the most impressive stat line. Who said both are going to the Pro-Bowl – I did right here!
Doggedly avoiding a cat-astrophe
In a sports league filled with bears, lions, Bengal tigers, jaguars, broncos, rams, panthers, and colts it took a four-legged friend to stroll across an NFL field last week to create a media furore akin to a niptastic Super Bowl reveal.
Some of the best social media and digital activity includes a mocked up Madden 21 cover featuring the black cat along with the Panini Huddle digital trading card app that issued a special cat card with a paw-print autograph. There has been previous animal hijinx on NFL fields before, a simple YouTube search will reveal squirrels and pigeons causing chaos in recent years.
Reality is that there are canines that make it into the seating areas of every NFL stadium every week, even when teams play in London, after all where would we be without a delightful half-time hot dog !!!!
Today’s Half-Term report focuses on the AFC and NFC South.
Which teams are heading south in terms of short term outlook and which teams will we be watching in January?
Let’s find out.
Indianapolis Colts 5-2
Houston Texans 5-3
Tennessee Titans 4-4
Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4
How has it gone so far?
Having your starting franchise quarterback retire on the eve of the season would knock many of a franchise for 6. Thankfully for the Colts, they had a very good back up plan in Jacoby Brissett. He has marshalled the troops to a 5-2 record and crucially a big win in the division against the Houston Texans. Another significant road win was earned at Arrowhead as the Colts took down the Chiefs. They are positioned nicely for any potential tie breaks that may come into play come the post season shake up.
Marlon Mack is on pace for over 1000 yards rushing as there has been a clear commitment to establish the running game. With that said, T.Y Hilton is also putting together a nice receiving campaign and has already found the endzone on 5 occasions.
Rest of Season Outlook:
With games against the Steelers and Dolphins next on the slate you would have to fancy the Colts reaching a 7-2 mark ahead of a vital 3 game divisional game stretch. They then face 3 foes from the NFC South before closing out the campaign away at Jacksonville which could be a hugely important contest.
Ranked as a top 10 defence, expect the Colts to continue to be involved in competitive games but get enough production offensively to come out on top more often than not, particularly if the ask is for Adam Vinateri to kick the game winning field goals, something he has done consistently better than anyone else ever has done.
Regular Season Record Prediction – 11-5(Division Winners)
How has it gone so far?
What a fun team to watch! The Texans always seem to be involved in a game packed with points or lead changes. DeShaun Watson is a special player who Texans fans can look forward to seeing playing for many a year, especially if he is protected. Thankfully the team took steps to address the protection issue by trading for Laremy Tunsil. Yes, the price was high but the pay off has been instant as the sack numbers have come down over the past month.
Carlos Hyde has been a nice addition in the backfield and DeAndre Hopkins is on pace to reach over 1200 yards receiving. The biggest surprise has been the production from tight end Darren Fells who along with Watson himself paces the team with 5 touchdowns.
Rest of Season Outlook:
Similar to the Colts, the Texans have a big stretch of key divisional games coming down the tracks. In an ultra competitive division it’s obvious to say how crucial these games will be. One of those games is this weeks matchup with the Jags in Wembley as they make the plane journey across the pound for the first time. A marquee matchup with the Patriots is also looming on the horizon which could have bearings on AFC playoff seedings all around.
Expect more great value out of the Texans as we head towards the business end. The loss of JJ Watt is a massive blow and possible keeps them behind the Colts but still very likely to be playoff bound.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6(Wildcard spot)
How has it gone so far?
A huge opening day win had people talking about the Titans. 7 weeks on and rather unsurprisingly the Titans sit at a 500 record. A team so inconsistent they are impossible to get a read of.
The inconsistency has lead to a much overdue change at the quarterback position as former Dolphin, Ryan Tannehill has replaced the underwhelming Marcus Mariota. The Titans have responded with 2 wins in his 2 starts as he looks to stake his claim on the job for the long term.
AJ Brown has been a nice addition at the receiver position giving whomever plays quarterback a nice big target on the outside. Derrick Henry continues to churn out yardage and defensively Logan Ryan is having a nice campaign having forced 3 fumbles and compiled 3 interceptions so far on the year.
Rest of Season Outlook:
Almost impossible to predict what this team will do. One thing is for sure though, if nothing else, the next 8 weeks are a trial for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans only sit 1 game back on the divisional lead so they can not be written off by any stretch of the imagination but there can also be no amount of confidence placed in them either.
The only thing I can say with relative confidence is the Titans finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-8
How has it gone so far?
The Jags celebrated the off-season moves to address the quarterback position. Nick Foles threw a beautiful touchdown pass in his opening game but got injured on that play. It might be the best thing that could have happened to the Jags.
Enter Gardner Minshew.
The unfancied rookie has been phenomenal, throwing for just shy of 2000 yards with 13 touchdowns to just 2 picks.
Leonard Fournette has put together a nice season on the ground and the locker room looks a far more harmonious place following the trade of Jalen Ramsey to the LA Rams. 29 sacks on the season also has the “Sacksonville” label ready to return.
Rest of Season Outlook:
The biggest question ahead of the Jags, is can Minshew hold onto the job when Nick Foles returns to fitness? The London game starts a sequence of 3 divisional games which as per all of these teams will be vital given the tight nature of the standings.
Outside of the remaining divisional games the schedule is favourable with the Bucs, Raiders, Chargers and Falcons on the slate a realistic playoff opportunity is in sight.
I feel they just miss out on a tie breaking scenario.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7
New Orleans Saints (7-1)
Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
Atlanta Falcons (1-7)
Midseason grade: A
How has it gone so far?
After franchise icon Drew Brees’ injury in week 2’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, most hoped backup QB Teddy Bridgewater could keep them in playoff contention until Brees returned. Bridgewater managed that and more, winning all 5 of his games during the future Hall of Famer’s absence.
With Ryan Ramczyk and the rest of the O-line performing at a high level, running lanes have been there for both Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Saints averaging well over 4 yards per carry this year and only giving up 12 sacks on the year so far, while largely neutralising rushers of the calibre of Khalil Mack and JJ Watt.
The defence has also more than played their part with the 2nd ranked rush defence, Cameron Jordan playing to all-pro standard and Demario Davis leading the linebacker core.
Rest of season outlook:
This squad is set up for a deep run in the playoffs and will hope to bring a 2nd Lombardi trophy back to the Big Easy. A matchup with the unbeaten 49ers looms large on December 8th which could go a long way to deciding playoff positioning.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 13-3 (#1 Seed)
Midseason grade: B-
How has it gone so far?
Carolina’s season has been a confusing one to say the least, franchise QB Cam Newton continued to struggle in the early part of the season, continuing a worrying trend from the latter part of 2018.
When he succumbed to lingering issues after week 2’s loss to the Bucs most thought the Panthers hopes relied on him returning form injury in short order, however up stepped second year undrafted QB Kyle Allen, winning 4 four consecutive games to drag the Panthers to the edge of the NFC playoff race before week 8’s sobering blowout loss to the 49ers.
Rest of season outlook:
While the odds would appear to be against the Panthers making a playoff run, any team with the talents of all-pro LB Luke Kuechly and the electric Christian McCaffrey can’t be entirely ruled out. It will no doubt hinge on when (or maybe even “if” at this point) Cam Newton returns and how much ring rust there is to shake off.
Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7
Midseason grade: C-
How has it gone so far?
Tampa look like a franchise approaching a turning point. With QB Jameis Winston in a contract year and the same old issues of turnovers blighting the offence, it would appear there are poised to reset at the position after this year. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed before the Buccaneers can make a realistic run at the postseason. While Winston is certainly not without blame for his poor ball security and decision making, the offensive line is porous at best.
There are certainly pieces promising a better future, with Chris Godwin making his awaited step forward this year, to give a formidable 1-2 at receiver with Mike Evans. Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Devin White have all impressed at times this season, but the secondary is a real weakness surely that must be addressed this offseason, with the 31st ranked pass defence this season.
A huge plus so far has been the top ranked run defence, shutting down the likes of Gurley, McCaffrey and Barkley. Certainly however, the Bucs have a lot of question marks going into the offseason, surely they must identify a QB to take the team forward but will HC Bruce Arians stick around to be a part of it?
Rest of season outlook:
Bruce Arians has a lot of deadwood potentially to clear out on the roster on the offence whilst the secondary always seems to be a quandry for the Buccaneers so i would expect the HC to use the rest of the season to assess players that he wants to use going forward and those that he wants to chuck out.
That includes 1 Mr Jameis Winston.
Midseason grade: E
How has it gone so far?
Arguably no team has been more disappointing than the 2019 Falcons, the defence has had a myriad of problems leaving HC Dan Quinn under huge pressure to salvage his job over the second half of the season.
While only 7 sacks in 8 games tells its own story of where things have gone wrong, things have hardly been much better at the other end of the field with the secondary giving up big plays on a regular basis. Keanu Neal’s season ending injury in week 3 meant one of the big leaders in the secondary was missing for almost the entire season for the second year running.
While the offence has got plenty yards from messrs Ryan, Freeman, Jones et al turnovers have plagued the offence, giving away 9 interceptions and 6 fumbles, ranking 28th in the league for turnovers allowed.
Rest of season outlook:
While spirited showings late in games seem to show the locker room is still working for Quinn, big questions hang over this franchise’s future direction. Don’t be surprised that if by the time you are reading this, he is out the exit door.
The season is already over to the dismay of the Falcons’ faithful and you have to wonder whether it’s time to blow most of this team up and try to start again because despite all the talent on both sides of the ball, something just isnt right here. Maybe all it’ll take is a coaching change…
In the game widely regarded as the #tankbowl, Bill Callahan takes charge of his first game as interim head coach of the Washingotn Redskins as they take on the Dolphins.
Many will see the loser of this one in prime position to bag
that lucrative #1 spot in the 2020 draft but you could argue that the #1 pick
is needed by one of these teams more than the other.
Miami have a plethora of early picks in the next few years
after some trading that has gone on from the Dolphins front office but
Washington are in a bit of a mess.
Seemingly lacking in direction, focus and with barely any
foundations in which to build this team on for both sides of the ball,
Washington and their fans probably wouldn’t mind a terrible performance here to
get ahead in the race for #1, even if that means it gives them the ability to
acquire more picks by trading back from the 1st overall selection
which will be highly sought after next year.
Miami do not have much more talent on their roster but have
the war chest of picks in order to ease the pain the Dolphins fans are
currently suffering and hopefully the light is at the end of the tunnel.
I think Washington’s tunnel may have caved in.
There once was a time that the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins were NFL powerhouses. The teams were gritty, and won games by using a dominant running game to outmuscle opponents and break their will.
In fact the two teams have met twice in Super Bowls, once in the 70s and the second time a decade later. The results were split, the 1972 Dolphins ended up undefeated and the 1982 Redskins survived a strike-shortened season to lift the trophy thanks to the irrepressible RB John ‘The Diesel’ Riggins. Fast forward to 2019 and you have debatably the most pitiful NFL matchup since the woeful games of the 2018 0-16 Dan Orlovsky led Detroit Lions. Even they managed a fairy-tale ending as the Lions DE Cliff Avril went on to win a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks.
Either Case Keenum or Josh Rosen will be responsible for their once-proud franchise falling to 0-6 with absolutely no end in sight. Redskins new interim head-coach Bill Callahan will be feeding Adrian Peterson the rock faster than a five-year old after consuming a selection box at a Christmas Day game of Hungry Hippos. The Dolphins will be looking for absolutely anything to stick, including any balls throw in the direction of UDFA WR Preston Williams. If rubbernecking is your thing, and you like to slow down at a motorway car crash then get your dash cam at the ready as the footage from this game will be a live recording of a crime against football. It should just about be a Redskins win (there I said it and thus the curse begins) but who is to say that Washington GM Bruce Allen is huge military fan. After all he may like a ‘tank’ as much as the Dolphins ownership.
When these two teams met in Super Bowl VII one of the greatest mistakes ever was committed when Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian had a kick blocked, and instead of doing anything sensible he passed the ball right into a Redskins player who ran it back for a touchdown.
It is absolutely possible that the only scorers on Sunday are defensive players.
Can Cousins continue chucking?
There was definitely a focus on making sure the Cousins
throwing narrative was chucked out of the window vs the Giants. The Big Blue
defence provided a timely opportunity for Cousins to quell the detractors (which
included some of his teammates) of the fully guaranteed signal caller as he was
able to have time in the pocket and throw multiple touchdowns in a game for the
first time since week 16 last year.
Will that continue as they welcome the Philadelphia Eagles?
Whilst they aren’t quite as bad as the Giants defence, they
are no world beaters either due to injuries. It will be interesting to see if
Cousins continues to throw as much as he did last week or whether they revert
back to type and hand the ball off to Cook.
Watson vs Mahomes
2 quarterbacks that always put on a show get it on in week 6
with the Texans travelling to the recently Colt conquered Arrowhead stadium.
Both QBs combined account for just under 3400 yards so far
this season and when they are healthy, they are definitely up there as the most
exciting players to watch with the ball in their hands.
Mahomes is a bit dinged up, a feeling that Watson knows oh
so well after having to resort to bus as a means of transport to and from games
last season. Watson wasn’t actually touched by the Falcons last week so it’s
possible this is the healthiest Watson will feel all season. The Chiefs’
defence isn’t the greatest, nor is the Texans, so we should get a shootout here
in an all AFC clash.
On one of the rare occasions, Mahomes and the Chiefs have to
bounce back from a defeat.
jack in the box
People are starting to question the credentials of the 2018
#32 overall pick after a couple of poor performances.
A trio of interceptions on Sunday saw him fail his fantasy
owners and now everyone is wondering whether or not Lamar Jackson has actually
improved in his 2nd year.
First few games were plain sailing and as it turns out,
against 2 very poor teams. Now that he’s faced a few tougher defences (and
Arizona), things aren’t looking as rosy in the Baltimore garden.
We’ve mentioned on the NFL podcast before that he’ll have these questions to answer for pretty much every week of this season because of the nature of his play and the polarising opinion he gives the analysts and that will continue this week as he faces a Bengals team that should provide some respite for Jackson and his fans as a QB of similar ilk in Kyler Murray just got the win in the Jungle and a decent rushing performance.
Sunday Night Footb-oh
Prior to the start of the season, the Steelers and Chargers were two teams expected to make the playoffs and produce an entertaining game.
Fast forward to now and this game looks like it’s not even
worth the paper it’s written on.
Pittsburgh down and out for the 2019 and now down to possibly
their 3rd QB after Mason Rudolph got walloped against the Ravens whilst
the Chargers have whimpered so far this season losing last time out to Denver
I think it’s fair to say that only the fans of these two teams will watch this one in the UK in the early hours, purely because I don’t think there are any Chris Collinsworth fans. Now here’s a guy who can get on your nerves…
Showcase showdown in London
I haven’t got the intestinal fortitude to check if this has happened before in a regular season contest in England. This Sunday’s clash between the English noobs the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers features three current major statistical category leaders.
The leading rusher, the leading tackler and the leading sack master all belong to teams who will be competing in the 26th NFL London matchup. Most surprising or impressive depending on your lens is Shaquil Barrett the Buccaneers edge who leads the league in sacks with 9 so far in 5 games. Not far behind him is the Panthers DE Mario Addison with 6.5 to his name.
What makes both of these feats truly impressive is that neither actually were drafted by any of the 32 teams. Addison bounced around three teams (Bears, Colts and Redskins) in his first two years before being signed by the Panthers in 2012. He has a solid 52 sacks in his career. Barrett, who has a Super Bowl ring from his stint with the Denver Broncos, had only started 15 games in four seasons at Mile-High, notching his best sack total of 5.5 as a rookie. Now he stands alongside the legendary Jets pass rusher Mark Gastineau (who sported a fine moustache) with the most sacks ever in both the first three and first four games in a season.
To see both players coming over to play at the impressive Tottenham Hotspur stadium will be a highlight for the 60,000 fans this Sunday.
Fools Gold or real prospects?
The Jimmy Garoppolo led San Francisco 49ers have been patient, they have had a plan and GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan are starting to show that they know their way around a football field.
Both the GM & HC signed epic six-year deals just days apart in 2017, and vowed to bring back the 49ers to a time when they were as dominant as the New England Patriots are right now. The plans to progress were seriously scuppered in 2018 when both QB Jimmy Garoppolo and highly-touted RB Jerrick McKinnon both got injured. McKinnon is still crocked but Jimmy G has been kept upright and his team are now 4-0. No they have not faced the likes of the Saints or Bears yet, but to be the last undefeated NFC team is still an achievement.
The 49ers travel to L.A. on Sunday to play the reigning NFC champion Rams. This will be a true test if the 49ers are the real deal or a shiny lump of pyrite. The dual punching power of a bruising running game, made up of Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman is arguably the best backfield pairing in the league, and this is only enhanced by the lead blocking of the NFL’s top fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Jusczyzk to his credit can catch the ball too as evidenced by his 6 snags so far.
Being able to draft the premier defensive chess piece in this year’s draft in the form of Nick Bosa (Joey’s not so little brother) has helped a lot, but this is a team that boasts the league’s number one rushing attack (200 yards a game) and the second highest scoring offense (31.8). Not even laid-back Californian surfer dude types would have projected the 49ers to be undefeated heading into Week 6.
This is not the 49ers of old, but spending years shining the shoes of, and carrying the clipboard for Tom Brady looks to be paying dividend.
Can someone tune up Le’Veon Bell
After a year spent on his sofa chewing on sunflower seeds and experimenting no doubt with himself as the protagonist in a Madden Franchise, Le’Veon Bell returned to the NFL with a new team, a new attitude but an old goal, to win a Super Bowl. So far this is as likely as the Miami Dolphins going on an 11 game winning streak.
The New York Jets are languishing in the cess pool that is the lower half of the AFC East. Without a win, without a starting quarterback and averaging under 10 points a game is classic Bruce Coslet territory (an old and unsuccessful Jets head coach in the 1990s). Behind a poor offensive line Bell is averaging under three yards a carry, has zero rushing touchdowns and is only barely being tolerated by fantasy owners because he is projected to end the season with a whopping 108 catches.
If this was any other season the Jets would be the lowest power ranked team, but even they are unable to sink to the levels of ineptitude on display in South Florida. Sam Darnold, the saviour, is due to return to action after his bout of Mono in a tough contest against a crest-fallen Dallas Cowboys team who will be wanting to prove to doubters that the incredibly slow start against Green Bay was an anomaly. Bell when on fire is a sight to behold. His 2017 running style was a unique blend of power, patience and incredible vision, mixing snake hips with poisonous tongue darts between defenders. Bell at the moment is more komodo dragon than slippery lizard.
After the Cowboys allowed four touchdowns to Aaron Jones in Week 5 the Jets will at least go into this Week 6 matchup with some degree of hope, along with Sam Darnold at the wheel. Look to Bell to maintain his short passing route production, but ultimately enter Week 7 without a team victory in sight.
Third becomes first after Mason mashed
Not one to stay up for, but it is worth noting undrafted rookie Delvin Hodges will make his first start in Sunday Night Football for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Hodges got a $1000 signing bonus and initially made the team because the Steelers traded backup Josh Dobbs to the Jaguars in September. Undrafted quarterbacks have performed miracles – the likes of Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme and Mike Tomzak have all reached Super Bowls.
In Tomzak’s case he won a ring backing up Jim McMahon on the legendary 1985 Bears team, and for Kurt Warner he got a ring starting against the Tennessee Titans. Mason Rudolph, deputising for an already injured Ben Roethlisberger, suffered a horrific hit in Week 5 but managed to get up after minutes of collective breath holding. The NFL may be doing some things wrong but the concussion protocol is being taken dead seriously now, unlike in the past when players would be back far earlier that they should have been.
Nothing is expected from Delvin Hodges against a Chargers team that still cannot find a way to post a winning record in the first half of a season, but 2019 it seems is a year that will go down as one that saw unknown quarterbacks take centre stage and perform admirably. Hodges could be the man to spark Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster back to life after a somewhat soggy start to the season.
Without Antonio Brown (remember him) as his partner in crime prevention JuJu is looking like a rather distressed Robin, and not even the good one from the 1960s TV show, he looks like the Chris O’Donnell version who wore the red nipple-protruding chest piece.
The Chargers are going to have to face life without QB Philip Rivers at some point soon, so this is a much needed win that would put them at 3-3 and still in contention for a Wild-Card berth come the Winter.