In support of our BRITBALL WEEK podcasts, we have gotten in touch with a few people from different teams in order for us to know a bit more about the Britball community. We will have a series of written interviews over the coming week or so to ease up on the podcast overload!
First up we have Luke Carlton, the offensive co-ordinator for the Manchester Titans Adult contact team (Twitter/Instagram – @ljacarlton).
How long have you been with the team: This would be my fourth season as Offensive Coordinator for the Adult Contact team, but I spent four years playing for the junior and youth teams.
How did you first get into American Football and what made you go in to coaching:
First got into American Football after being bored of playing Soccer and Rugby. Was off school ill for a few days when I was 14 and started playing my brother’s copy of ESPN NFL 2K5. Soon after, some friends at school started bringing in a football to throw around and we got playing games in the playground. Two friends and I decided to go down to the Titans in early 2008 and I’ve been infatuated with the game ever since.
On the coaching side, I was never injury prone until I got to American Football. I fractured, dislocated and chipped off part of my throwing shoulder in my first pre-season game at 11-a-side in 2010. Then came back the next year and tore my ACL and MCL in the third game of the next season in 2011. So, played four games, completed two, season ending injuries in the others. I took that as a sign that maybe I shouldn’t be playing anymore, so I got into coaching when I went off to the University of Central Lancashire a few months later in 2011, who were just in the process of setting up a team.
How would you describe the teams play style, do you have a particular way of playing and what does your team try and achieve:
We’re not a huge team in size, so our offensive hallmark is Space and Pace. We want to exploit space as fast as possible and manipulate you into covering the entire width of the pitch. We’re a calculated team, we’re never without a plan and we’re always working to take what’s available. I personally feel as though we do a great job of understanding what players can bring what to the table and work with their strengths.
Our defense does a great job of being opportunistic – they set up a plan to take away what you want to do most and force you into your plan B. As a team, we really don’t try to be something we’re not.
As for what we try to achieve – we try to play entertaining football. It sounds cliché, but for us, it’s important to put on a show and be fun to watch from the side-line. We want to bring ideas and styles to Britball that aren’t straight from the cookie cutter and allows our players to be creative. A Manchester Titans game shouldn’t look like any other game in the UK.
Give us a quick reminder of how the team got on last season and what your or the team learned:
We went 7-3 in the Premiership North for our second season in a row, with our three losses coming away to Merseyside and Edinburgh, and at home to Tamworth. Despite what we were able to accomplish, we all came away from the season feeling as though we could and probably should have come away with more, with only ourselves to blame. It felt as though in 2018, we had more to prove than we did last year. We maybe struggled to adapt to being the team with a target on their backs.
However, in the grand scheme of things, it was a successful season for us. We were able to assert ourselves once again as a playoff team in the Premiership North and beat each team in the North at least once, which is something nobody outside of the Phoenix can say they’ve done in recent years. We’ve seen our youth and Flag teams in the organisation consistently be near the top of the pile and now it finally is starting to feel as though our Adult Contact team is up there with them.
Obviously the offseason has been disrupted, but did you manage to conduct any offseason training/rookie days (and how important are the rookie days in your view?):
We’d been training since the first weekend of January all the way up until the order from BAFA came in. So we’d been training twice a week working towards a training camp that was due to take place from April 3rd-5th and our opening game taking place on April 19th.
Rookie days are massively important for us. It gives us an opportunity to fill out our roster and evaluate incoming players who are eager to impress and develop. It also allows us to continue to add to our Bee Team, which gives players who might not be able to immediately contribute at a Premiership Playoff level a chance to develop and not slip through the net. We began to realise that for where we are as a team, we need to do a better job of retaining those players within the organisation and it’s been great to see the Bee Team begin to set up and really flourish.
What other teams (Flag/Youth) do you have as part of the setup?
Oh boy, where to start! We’ve got:
– Adult Contact A Team – Adult Contact Bee Team – Adult Flag A Team – Adult Flag B Team – Women’s Contact team – Women’s Flag Team – U19s Contact team – U17s North Contact team – U17s South Contact team – U17s Flag team – U12s Flag team.
It’s probably the part of the organisation I’m most proud of – being able to consistently offer American Football to so many people in North West.
What has been advised to the players to help them try and stay as well conditioned as possible considering the current pandemic?
We’re just telling them to not be idiots and follow instructions laid out by the government. While Football is important, there are more important things happening in the world that take precedent over it right now. We’ve got a few Personal Trainers in the team so one of our players (shout out Cade Makin) has put together a training programme for our guys who are interested. Other people like Sam Fossey is uploading videos of different home workouts to try. Outside of that, our hands are really tied. We can’t set the timeline for this, only the virus can. Once we understand when we’ll be back, we’ll start discussing what we need from our players.
Do you think we will see any Britball football this season and would you settle for a shortened/more compact season (i.e play each team once, less gaps between games):
I’d be surprised. Given the game plan from the government seems to be to time the peak for the Summer, it’ll be a struggle to give teams the appropriate amount of preparation time to safely be ready for the start of a season. Throw in the logistical issues of ensuring grounds and venues can be booked on certain weekends and then you’ve got to take into account the limited amount of refereeing crews, I think it’ll be a logistical nightmare to be able to get anything official off the ground. If I had to guess something, I think it’d be on teams to arrange friendlies and joint scrimmage days against other teams for Football to go ahead this season.
Who would win in a tug of war between your O-Line and all the defence? I’m never going to bet against my O-Line. Sorry, D!
Favourite/least favourite training ground drill? Favourite – Run Skelly. It’s nasty, physical, realistic and it’s so much fun throwing in a play action and we get to call out linebackers for assuming it’s a run.
Least Favourite – Any drill where the defense knows what the play is/where it’s going before the ball is even snapped. It’s not realistic and there are creative ways around it to ensure the defense can practice reaction and swarm.
Which player (or player position group) is most likely to forget their gumshield?
Wide Receivers. I won’t name names, but they know who they are.
Which player (or player position group) is most like to sleep on an away game?
Which player (or player position group) think they are in the NFL?
Next up in our review series is the Tennessee Titans.
Before the season the Tennessee Titans were one of those teams that nobody really thought much about. They were “just a team” who were too good to be bottom of the pile in the AFC South, but behind the Texans and Colts. When Andrew Luck announced his retirement, hopes grew, but the prospect of DeShaun Watson on offence, JJ Watt on defence and strong teams in other divisions, making the playoffs via a wildcard look difficult.
The Coaching team lost OC Matt LaFleur to the Packers which led to Arthur Smith being promoted from the TE coach role. Otherwise, nothing changed. Mike Vrabel was HC, Jon Robinson GM and Dean Pees DC.
On Defence the team had 5 rookies in the final roster, but mostly the team was led by veterans Jurrell Casey, Kevin Byard and Logan Ryan with developing stars Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry and Jayon Brown all stepping up. Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler began their 2nd seasons at the Titans while Cameron Wake joined from Miami.
On Offence the team added AJ Brown in the 2nd round of the draft to pair with Corey Davis (taken in the 1st round last year). They also grabbed Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay and retained Delanie Walker for another year. Walker went down very early and so Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser shared to load. Ryan Tannehill joined from Miami so act as backup to Marcus Mariota (who started the season with a rather short leash). The Running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis were retained while the offensive line was improved by the addition of Roger Saffold from the Rams to join Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan and co. Henry and Lewis were okay in 2018 but Henry only just scraped over 1000 rushing yards and his utilisation stopped him from reaching his full potential. A lot of experts doubted he’d be able to become elite but as the season unfolded, he exploded.
The Regular Season
Cast your minds back to the conclusion of week 6. The Titans had just been shutout 16-0 by the Denver Broncos to drop to 2-4. The Bills, Jags and Colts had each got the better of them and wins away against the Browns and the Falcons were the only high points. Marcus Mariota was struggling and the team as a whole only scored more than 20 points in 2 games (those in which they won) and had 3 games scoring 7 points for fewer.
During and after the loss in Denver the Titans switched QB and put Ryan Tannehill under centre and that decision was key in turning around their season. They went on to in 6 of their next 7 games to move to 8-5 and in a fight with the Texans for the AFC South. In 10 starts and 2 relief games, Tannehill would complete 201 passes for 2,742yds and 22TCs with only 6INTs. A 117.5 passer rating and completion percentage over 70% was a revelation for the Titans while he was also able to rush 43 times for 185 yards and 4TDs. This support and change in playing style caught teams off guard and gave Derrick Henry the room and licence to run.
Tannehill made the team a passing threat and brought relevance to the likes of 2nd round pick AJ Brown, 2018 1st rounder Corey Davis and the Delanie Walker replacements at TE in Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser. Brown grew throughout his rookie season and became a serious big play threat. Even more so when Henry got into his stride. Brown managed to break the 1000yd reception plateau with 1,052 on 52 receptions, with many of them being more than 20yards. 8 TDs made him an invaluable asset and he was ably backed up by Davis and Humphries.
Dion Lewis was largely ineffective all year. With enough good passing options Lewis was left as more of a backup and a decoy while Derrick Henry ran the show. Henry never had more than 3 targets, so all his work was done on the ground, but after 9 weeks he had only had one game with over 100 rushing yards. Fantasy owners weren’t feeling to need to trade for him and even though the team was improving, nobody could foresee what was coming. In week 10 at home to Kansas City, Henry had 188 rushing yards on 23 attempts and his first multiple TD game of the season. Up to that point he’d had 644 yards and 6TDs in 9 games. This game was the turning point as the 35-32 win (mostly on Henrys back) was the start of a 4 game win streak in which Henry would amass 641 scrimmage yards and 7TDs and each of the 4 games would see him rush for over 100 yards. It was an incredible run which made them the form team going into their crunch divisional game against the Texans.
The week 15 head to head was critical as it effectively decided whether then Texans would win the division or whether the Titans would overhaul them. With the Steelers currently in the wildcard spot, whoever lost would be in a scrap to make the post-season. The Texans were off form, totally the opposite to the Titans but DeShaun Watson and co secured a 24-21 win. the Titans were left scrapping with the Steelers for the final wildcard and a loss to the Saints (with Derrick Henry missing from the line-up) the following week proved not to be critical as the Steelers loss to the Jets gave Tennessee the jump on them based on strength of opponent. The Titans then had a simple “Win and in” game against the already playoff bound Texans. An easy 35-14 win against a below strength Houston sealed the deal. A 9-7 record and with the 2nd wildcard spot they’d go in as the 6th seeds in the AFC.
If seeing the Patriots lose the Dolphins and fall into the Wildcard round (much to the benefit of the Chiefs) wasn’t surprising enough, then what happened at Gillette Stadium certainly was. Very few analysts gave the Titans a chance. They squeaked in on the last day as the final wildcard, have Ryan Tannehill as their QB and weren’t a top 5 defence. Meanwhile the Patriots have Brady and Edelman, a top 3 defence and Belichick in control.
In the regular season Derrick Henry totalled 1,505 rushing yards on 303 attempts and a (tied) league leading 16TDs. In the post season, he looked unstoppable. He had 34 attempts for 182 yards and a TD against the Patriots, while the defence stifled an increasingly annoyed Patriots offence. Ryan Tannehill only completed 8 passed (from 15 attempts) for 72 yards and a TD but that was all he needed. Anthony Firkser caught the 12 yard pass in the first quarter before Henry took in in from the 1 yard line just before half time to see the Titans into a 14-13 lead. A stalemate second half was finally broken when Logan Ryan picked off Brady with 9 seconds left and took it to the house to cue wild celebrations nationwide.
The upset against the Patriots was incredible and many anti-Patriot fans were quick to get behind them, but very few people would have said they had a chance against the top seed Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson. Once again, the Titans proved the world wrong. Derrick Henry again would star with 30 rushes for 195 yards at 6.5yrds per carry. He did get a TD, but it was neither rushing, nor receiving. A 3 yard loop ball to Corey Davis on a trick play was probably the moment where the game was won. The defence held, what some argue was the most potent offence in the NFL, to just 12 points while on offence Ryan Tannehill got them over the line without really doing much.
Tannehill only completed 7 passes, but 2 of those were touchdowns. First to Jonnu Smith to set the tone early and then followed up by Kalif Raymond as they took a 14-0 lead. 2 Field goals for the Ravens brought them back into it but the trick play from Derrick Henry to Corey Davis took the wind out of the Ravens. Only minutes later Tannehill was rushing the ball in himself and at 28-6 with less than 20 minutes to go, it was over. The Ravens would get one back through Hayden Hurst, but it was too little too late.
The AFC Championship game against the Chiefs wasn’t the matchup expected on most people’s brackets, but with the Titans on form and Patrick Mahomes being Patrick Mahomes, it was going to be fun to watch. A heavy run offence vs a heavy pass offence and in the end, despite the Titans taking 10-0 and 17-7 leads, the Chiefs did what they have done so often, and scored a succession of TD’s to swing the balance in their favour. A Greg Joseph field goal and a Derrick Henry 4 yard TD run gave the Titans a perfect start to the game. The response from Mahomes to Hill kept it tight but the 10 point lead was restored when lineman Dennis Kelly caught a pass from Tannehill when labelled as an eligible receiver. Another trick that worked a treat.
After that, it became the Patrick Mahomes show. 4 TD’s in 12 game minutes including a short pass to Hill, a dazzling run, a rush from Damien Williams and a 60 yarder to Sammy Watkins finished off the Titans. At 35-17 with 7:33 left on the clock it was a mountain to climb. Tannehill did get another TD to Firkser but with the team behind, he was being forced to throw more. He had 209 yards and 2 TDs with no INTs but with Derrick Henry limited to under 70 rushing yards the Chiefs got the job done and would go on to the Superbowl.
At no point in the season did anyone truly think the Titans would be in the AFC Championship game. They just kept surprising people and after years of not realising his potential, Derrick Henry has finally shown how elite he can be. No shadow from Demarco Murray, no split responsibilities with Dion Lewis and a QB that is capable of running and providing an alternative which keeps the opponents guessing.
It’s hard to say what they need to concentrate on in the off season since the only thing that stopped them was the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes. They had a good young secondary who are learning fast, a pass rush which maybe could use a fresher set of legs (but are still playing to a high level) and some good special teams’ players. On offence, if Henry stays healthy and the likes of Davis and Brown keep developing and the Smith/Firkser combo can evolve into the long term replacements for Delanie Walker then it’s hard to suggest what else they can do. The O-Line is great, and Ryan Tannehill has been a revelation. The big decision is whether the Titans see him as their future. Tannehill is a UFA this off season and it will depend on contracts and cap space whether he returns. I’d be very keen to keep him on as low level deal as he is willing to take if I was the GM. The foundations of something great are there. I’d like to see Tannehill to AJ Brown for another year.
After the loss to the Chiefs Dean Pees announced his retirement (again) and so the team will need a new defensive co-ordinator next season. Their defence was a big reason why Derrick henry was able to be so dominant. There is still room for improvement as they gave up 20+ points on 8 occasions in the regular season and they need to figure out a way of stopping Mahomes, but the signs are positive and maybe a the new DC can tip them over than edge.
It will be interesting to see how they cope next season with the new weight of expectation and teams targeting Henry and Brown, but if you are a Titans fan then this has been a season to remember and you have some exciting times ahead. #TitanUp
This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch.
Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.
AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22.
Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7
Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens.
If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers.
As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds.
Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs.
Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs.
So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans
The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs.
Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches.
Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks.
Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career.
Keys for a Titans win
Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed.
Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory.
NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
49ers record to date – 14-3
Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day.
The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10.
In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl.
49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season.
Top 5 strengths of the 49ers
Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans.
The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season.
Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts.
The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week.
Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games.
Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage.
Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game.
Keys for a 49ers win
Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball.
Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd.
Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.
By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) and Adam Walford (@touchdowntips)
So here we are down to 2 games for Championship Weekend. all 4 teams now just one game from the big one in Miami on the 2nd February. This is of course a set of matches that were played out in the regular season.
Tennessee @ kansas city (-7.5) – O/U 53
The Titans have the opportunity to beat all 4 AFC divisional winners in a row here and with the way they are playing, it will take a brave person to take KC on the 7.5 spread, especially with the hook going the Titans way. that being said, the Chiefs were the first team to win a game by more than 20 points after trailing by 20 points.
The Chiefs are the explosive, chunk play and most exciting team whilst the Titans have been plucky but effective in executing their gameplans which has seen them knock off Baltimore and New England in their back yards.
How will this game pan out I hear you cry!
Both these teams offences can exploit the opposing defences; Kansas City ranked 26th in the Regular season in terms of rush yards given up per game (128) and gave up 94 against DeShaun Watson and Carlos Hyde last week, so a small improvement if you want to be picky. Ryan Tannehill isnt asked to do much with his legs but can scamper for the first down but if it ain’t broke, dont fix it. Expect a lot of Derrick Henry once more as the Titans will look to sustain drives, score first and chew the clock whilst trying to force a turnover on defence. The KC offensive passing game goes up against a Titans pass D that gives up 255 yards per game on average, which ranked 24th in the regular season. The 2 games in the post season has a higher watermark than that, but don’t forget that the Baltimore yardage and some of the New England yardage through the air was because those teams were trailing. The Titans D has 3 INT in their 2 playoff games, including that pick 6 in Foxborough.
Both these teams are top half in the league when it comes to scoring offence and scoring defence and truly is a fascinating game to see which style comes out on top. It could very well be team with last possession wins the game and for that reason you would have to take the Titans on the handicap if you must bet on that market. The total points line of 53 is a bit high for me to take the over but considering the offences match well against the opposing defences, i wouldn’t want the sweat of backing the under. The Titans will want to keep the score down, keep it close. They wont win in a shootout style game this time around (the regular season game ended up with 67 points).
If you want to get creative, your edge may be in the Ryan Tannehill markets.
Ryan Tannehill’s 2 post season games has seen him muster a measly 160 yards COMBINED through the air! whilst I can see a bit more in the passing game this weekend due KC’s explosiveness and putting up points, causing the Titans to potentially chase, I am certainly flummoxed as to why his line is generally around the 236.5 mark with redzone sticking their neck out with 245.5. If the game plays out how i think it will, there is no chance he gets near that line, so I like Tannehill to throw forunder 245.5 passing yards. His pass attempts line 29.5 and his completions line is 17.5. BOTH of those lines would have gone under in the last 4 straight games. Take the under 29.5 pass attempts.
Staying with Ryan Tannehill, his rushing yards line is 19.5 with Redzone, which he has only managed to do once in his last 7 matches. Derrick Henry’s line is around 106.5 for what it’s worth…something which he has surpassed by a fair distance in 6 of his last 8 games. You can even get 99.5 rushing yards as the line on Redzone if you want a bit of overs action. DT for the Chiefs Chris Jones has been absent from practice all week with a calf injury, which could prove pivotal in this game.
I fear that with the Ryan Tannehill lines, it’s a trap and the bookies are begging you to take the unders and that they see the Kansas City Chiefs being too much of a juggernaut that the Titans actually have to throw and take away Henry. I am not going to overthink it and going to trust what I have seen thus far over the last month or so and feel the Titans will stick to their plan and be able to execute just as effectively as they have done to get to where they are now.
Bets: 2pts – Under 245.5 passing yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone), 2pts – Ryan Tannehill pass attempts under 29.5 (5/6 B365). 1pt – Under 19.5 rush yards Ryan Tannehill (20/23 Redzone). 1pts – Over 99.5 rush yards Derrick Henry (20/27 Redzone).
The Packers lost the previous meeting in the regular season by a whopping 29 points and there is nothing telling me that this game’s result will turnout any differently.
Whilst the 7.5 is not great when taking favourites, I would be surprised if the 49ers don’t cover this. Sticking to my principles of never taking -7.5, therefore that is no bet. If you wish to take the -7/6.5/6 and pay the shorter odds, that’s where I would rather go SF -6 is currently 8/11. There is a tell on the team individual totals too with SF having a line of 27.5 and GB having 18.5, implying there is a 9pt handicap spread.
I don’t mind the unders here either but I think it’ll be close and I’ve already told you how I feel about under sweats.
Getting into the finer details, Raheem Mostert seems to have been given as much as a focused role you are going to get in the 49ers backfield, commanding double digit touches over his past 6 games. It was strange to see Tevin Coleman get the touches he did last week. His rush yards line at Bet365 is 50.5, something which he has also achieved in each of his last 6 games (even if just barely). Take Mostert to make it a 7th consecutive game over 50 rush yards. With George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk (perhaps one of the most underrated guys in the league!) helping set the edge and blocking downfield, it has been a joy to watch Kyle Shanahan deploy this offence.
There are not many outcomes or gamescripts I can find that pave a way to a Packers win but if they did, it will involce quick passes, targeting the other side away from Richard Sherman. Kwon Alexander however, is a big part of the defence at linebacker, cancelling out screens and anything fancy over the middle. The ferocious pass rush plus for the 49ers plus maybe a bit of bootlegging for Aaron Rodgers did make the Over 12.5 rush yardsappeal.
Bets: 3pts San Francisco -6pts (8/11 William Hill) 1pt – Over 50.5 rush yards Raheem Mostert (5/6 Bet365) 1pt – Aaron Rodgers over 12.5 rush yards (5/6 Bet365)
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.
Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders was the first NFL kicker to score a receiving touchdown in the regular season since Denver Broncos booted caught a 25 yard TD in 1977 from Punter/QB Norris Weese.
Talking of rare touchdowns Houston’s QB Deshaun Watson’s receiving touchdown was only the third time in the Super Bowl era a QB has thrown 3 tds and caught one. We all know the last one was Nick Foles in the big game in 2018. The other was Bears QB Jim McMahon back in 1985.
The Washington Redskins win was the only one registered by an NFC East this week, just as it was in the division last week too. With four games left the Redskins can still clinch the division crown.
The Bengals finally won a game and became the final team to register a victory in the 2019 season. Their worst ever season finish was in 2002 when they started 1-13 before beating the Saints in Week 16 to then finish 2-14. With their #1 pick in 2003 they drafted Carson Palmer who went on to become the 13th most prolific passer in NFL history.
With the Buffalo Bills Thanksgiving win they move just one game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Considering they have made the playoffs just once since the Milllennium this is their best record after 12 games since 1991, when they went 10-1 before reaching Super Bowl XXVI.
In a meaningless game Denver Broncos rookie QB made a winning start to his career with an overtime win against a bad Chargers team. Lock threw for only 134 yards but his two scores were enough. He is the 7th Broncos QB in just over two seasons.
The top three Week 13 games everyone is talking about
Patriots (10-2) @ Texans (8-4)
You take a look at the final box score and you might be misled to believe the Texans somehow pulled this one out the bag late with some DeShaun Watson body contorting heroics.
Nothing could be further from the truth as the Texans took a 19 point lead with under 10 minutes left in the game before Tom Brady and his faithful servants (James White and Julian Edelman) made the score look respectable. Brady made up late for a first half shocker. The immortal one went 7 of 19 in the opening half with no TDs and one INT, and 15 of 30 in the second, with three scores and no picks.
Brady looked lost in the first 30 minutes and despite being in a dome he looked like he was fighting through a ginormous wind and rain storm.
For the Texans WR Deandre Hopkins was heading for another quiet one, considering his talent, before making a minor bit of NFL history as he ended a 9-play 75-yard Patriots-style drive by passing to none other than Deshaun Watson for the score. This was Hopkins first career completion, his first pass was an interception against the Panthers in Week 4.
Truth be told the Texans dominated for three quarters and the 28-22 final scoreline flattered a flatfooted Patriots team. One ever-present Patriots contributor was WR Julian Edelman who on one third-quarter route managed to wipe out not one but two Texans defensive backs on a downfield block.
The Texans are hitting some form at the right time, and the once invincible Patriots defense finally could not make up for an offense that is looking like the worst it has in 20 years.
49ers (10-2) @ Ravens (10-2)
In a game that could become a Super Bowl rematch the 49ers and the Ravens fought of the the wet and blustery conditions to deliver a game that oozed defensive quality and showed flashes of offensive brilliance.
It began with a gutsy 4th down attempt that resulted in a 33 yard TD between Jimmy Garoppolo and rising star WR Deebo Samuel and ended with the number one ice-veined K Justin Tucker driving a soggy pigskin through the dampness for the winning score with no tickets left on the clock.
Both teams only committed one turnover, including a rare fumble lost for MVP in waiting Lamar Jackson. Lamar was bottled up passing, managing just one td and barely over 100 yards, but he did continue his assault on the NFL record books as the first QB in NFL history to have four 100+ rushing games. By the end of Week 14 against Buffalo LJax could be sitting atop the all-time rushing throne by a QB – with three games to spare.
For the 49ers RB Raheem Mostert, who has always had a healthy YPC throughout his career, earned his own damp Wilson branded souvenir with 146 yards on the ground. If this is to be a rematch in Miami in a few months then there will be no complaints.
Seahawks (10-2) @ Vikings (8-4)
Monday Night Football and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins added another notch to his unwanted NFL record. Entering the game he had a historically bad 0-7 record on MNF, now it stands at 0-8.
Seattle started slowly as did Russell Wilson who threw his second pick-six of the season on a bizarre attempt that went awry that he tried to bat down that instead went into Anthony Harris’s welcome mitts.
17-10 to the Vikings at the half and all sorts of confidence in the lower room for the road team. That confidence crumbled away as the Seahawks in their colour rush luminous green uni’s went on a third-quarter tear with 17 unanswered points including a 60 yard David Moore catch from Wilson.
Wanting to put the game to bed Rashaad Penny’s second score in just over 10 minutes early in the 4th gave the Seahawks an apparently unassailable 17 point lead. This was where Kirk Cousins woke up, and in under 6 minutes he tossed two TDs, one on possibly the biggest blown coverage of the season to the career underperforming Laquon Treadwell, and one to Santa’s right hand man TE Kyle Rudolph.
With seven minutes left it was a 4 point game. The Vikes D held the Seahawks to a 5 play drive that ended in a punt and with just over 3 minutes left Cousins had the chance to become a hero. It was then he realised that he chokes on MNF and his final two passes, including a 4th down attempt were incomplete.
To add a kick in the balls to the punch in the face received Seattle recovered a late onside kick. Seattle now take over the NFC West and will be determined to stay there for the last four weeks. For the men with purple helmets and red faces they remain a game behind the Packers in the NFC North.
Dessert – somethings light and fluffy to finish the meal
Who gets to wear the rushing crown?
With four weeks still to go, and a quarter of the regular season left, five RBs have already eclipsed 1,000 yards, and three more have over 980 yards. We also cannot forget that the number nine rusher is none other than QB Lamar Jackson. In other words there are legitimately almost ten players capable of winning the rushing crown.
Week 13 saw a few rushing milestones met, including Raiders RB Josh Jacobs become the first Raiders rookie to hit the 1k milestone. Elsewhere Titans RB Derrick Henry moved over 1,000 yards too. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook had the opportunity to move to #1 but he got hurt against the Seahawks, and ended up with only 29 yards.
The current king of the hill is Browns second year back Nick Chubb with 1,175 but with the Panthers Christian McCaffrey just 8 yards behind, and the man who lives with a beavers tail poking out the back of his lid, Titans Derrick Henry just 35 yards behind him, its the best rushing race since Norris McWhirter announced Roger Bannister had broken the four minute mile over 65 years ago.
Despite being the third highest fumbler in the league I am going to stick my rather grubby and stubbly neck out and predict Derrick Henry to lift the crown when the season ends.
A little side note – with their 8 game current win streak the Baltimore Ravens have three of the top five YPA (yards per attempt) players for anyone who has had over 75 carries. Obviously Lamar at 7.0, Gus Edwards at 5.1 and Mark Ingram at 5.0.
By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y) and Euan De Ste Croix (@dissy89)
be the Turkey at Thanksgiving?
they’ve done away with the Galloping Gobbler award on thanksgiving, many people
will be looking to see if Jason Garrett will be ripe for roasting once again as
they host the Buffalo Bills in their traditional home Thanksgiving game.
A lot of criticism
went Garrett’s way after his decision to kick a field goal late in the game at
Foxboro’ and the dangerous Buffalo Bills could put Garrett and his coaching
qualities under the spotlight once again.
The Cowboys missed an opportunity to steal a march on the NFC East, which would have given him a bit less of a hotseat. With the Eagles now having an easy stretch of schedule, the Cowboys cannot afford to slip up, although it’s likely the NFC East title will come down to their Week 16 game, even if the Cowboys fall to a game behind. IF that scenario does play out, will Garrett even be the coach then?
Other potential Turkeys include third stringer QB David Blough for the Lions who goes up against a Bears defence that’s actually giving up less points than they did last year (funny how our opinions see them as less fearsome), Mitchell Trubisky (no explanation needed) and the Atlanta Falcons, who have to prove it all again after their defeat to the Bucs as they host the Saints.
game between the Steelers and Browns needs no introduction but this particular
fixture will have more spice than Jamie Oliver’s cookbook.
be a few key protagonists missing from the game that were involved in the
skirmish 2 weeks ago, some through suspension (Garrett, Pouncey) and some
through inability to function as an NFL player (Rudolph).
be lost is the heavy hitting, cheap shots between the players looking to
continue their scuffles.
Keep an eye
on the referees in this one as they will try to maintain order in the AFC North
battle. The Browns will want the win more as they still have an outside shot at
the playoffs, but can they keep their composure, can they execute their plans,
something they’ve struggled with all season.
The mouthwatering clashes keep on coming for the neutrals as 49ers and the Ravens, the 2 trailblazers with a combined record of 19-3, meet this Sunday. Yet again the 10-1 49ers are the ones who seemingly have to prove their credential for the Super Bowl whilst many are quick to brandish Lamar Jackson the MVP award and the Ravens a Super Bowl berth.
This is of course a Super Bowl rematch from the “Harbaugh Bowl” back in Super Bowl XLVII when the Flacco led Ravens came out victorious of the Colin Kaepernick led 49ers in the Mercedes Benz Super dome (and of course that famous blackout).
Can the 49ers now do it on the road after recording home victories the past few weeks against the Packers and Cardinals. Teams usually get their due when travelling to tough environments in the NFL as home comforts can usually get you bye in case of any struggles.
There will be no room to hide with the spotlight currently beaming down on these two teams and it will be fascinating to see who comes out victorious when the dust settles.
LA-st chance Saloon
That Jared Goff Contract is not looking like it will be conducive to them reappearing in the Super Bowl anytime soon.
With their embarrassing loss to the Ravens at home on MNF, the Rams are now 6-5 and 3 games back off Seattle, 4 off of the 49ers and 2 games back in the Wildcard race where the Vikings currently sit with the #6 seed.
It’s amazing how not even a year ago, the Rams annihilated everyone that was put in front of them and it was about this time last year when we were treated to the 100+ game in LA vs the Chiefs.
That Rams team is a far cry away from what it is now and you have to wonder whether or not McVay and co have the ability to turn it around.
Their recent trade for Jalen Ramsey means they don’t have any picks of great value for the next couple of years and Jared Goff’s salary means that they can’t move on from him (nor Todd Gurley’s for that mattter).
It could be a spiral out of control situation and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that the whole organisation is blown up.
PS: Dallas, send the Rams a 1st round or 2nd rounder for McVay.
An AFC South battle sees the current #8 and #9 seeds going toe to toe in effectively a playoff matchup.
Indianapolis and Tennessee will leave it all out on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium as the winner could potentially move in to the 6th seed which the Steelers currently hold. Pittsburgh face the Browns and the #7 seeded Raiders face the Chiefs, so chances are the winner here leap frogs all of them.
The Titans has seen a resurgence under Ryan Tannehill, currently the highest rated QB since he took over from Mariota. HC Mike Vrabel and OC Arthur Smith will look to keep on rolling as they face a slightly banged up Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack-less Colts team. Indy have won the last 3 between these two so recent history is against them but this wasn’t a Ryan Tannehill led Titans team.
The Titans then travel to Oakland before facing Houston in 2 of their last 3 games.
You have to feel the Titans have it all in their hands. The question is can they grab it?
Can the decibel best the mentor?
Bill O’Brien is comfortably the most successful graduate from the Bill Beikchick coaching tree but that is hardly a seismic feat. After serving under the most successful head coach of the modern era from 2007-11, O’Brien must be considering privately, this Sunday Primetime game, would represent his best chance to finally claim a victory against the New England dynasty. But Bill is currently 0-5 against them and 0-2 since the drafting of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Perhaps the closest the the Texans have come was in Watson’s rookie season. Not going for a 4th & 1, saw the Texans hand the ball back to new England and miss out on their best chance to beat their perennial superiors rivals since 2011.
The New England offence, post the loss of Gronkowski, is still attempting to find an identity and it’s output won’t be one that will scare any potential opponents and particularly Watson and the Texans offence who will likely fancy their chances, all things being equal. The key will be – can O’Brien’s Houston team learn from the great one and play mistake free football? A central theme to the success for footballs ever persistent powerhouse.
The Texans have their not so secret weapon in speedster, Will Fuller, who O’Brien publicly declared the up turn in Hopkins and Watson’s game when he’s on the field. Fuller, often injured, but immeasurably effective when on the field, has missed the previous two clashes with Watson under centre.
If O’Brien and his coaching staff can come out of the headlights of a primetime game win against his professor, prior to move Pat’s personnel chief, Nick Caserio, to Houston as GM this off season. Then the Texans will possibly have their first one over New England in a long time, until at least the play-off’s.
A Cross-State Battle with more Questions than Answers at QB.
Tampa Bay visit their Florida rivals in Jacksonville this Sunday in a game that will likely be shunned by neutrals and for good reason. The visiting side perhaps put their best performance of the season against division rivals in Atlanta, last Sunday. Jameis Winston, continues to the show up short of his draft status and the franchise is at a cross roads on what to do with the 5th year passer.
Taking last weeks game in isolation, that alone would suggest Winston would be in line for an off-season extension, but his interception filled stint would not in Tampa, would not. Winston has 5 games to avoid a career as eternal back-up. Regardless the outcome, a year on the franchise tag may be all he can hope for, if he’s to stay in south Florida.
On the other side of the field, a similarly intriguing proposition lies, as big money free agent and former super bowl MVP, since returning form injury has appeared to take Jacksonville backwards. In his absence, Gardner Minshew appeared to have won the job in 9 games posting, 13 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and racking up 2,285 yards at a completion rate of above 60%. Losing both games since his return, albeit putting up more accurate passing numbers, Foles has thrown two TD’s but the team doesn’t appear to carry the same spark as it did, when Foles was watching from the sidelines.
The Jag’s are not so far removed and from an AFC championship berth but have had many salary-cap casualties when signing Foles to a his deal. It could be argued that the lack of cap space was the initial driver of the Jalen Ramsey trade and it would seem they are lily to lose edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. A lot is riding on Foles to be successful in Duval county but it would seem, the rest of their roster has suffered in an attempt to replace the Blake Bortles saga.
Both teams are looking for reasons for optimism but it would seem change lies ahead in either coaching or personnel to revive either teams fortunes.
Games to Get Right Or Quelling underlying fears?
Both Philadelphia and Carolina face two games which on the surface of it would seem automatic wins. Both are 10 point favourites. Both, on the surface have strong rosters and will feel their respective records should be healthier than they currently read.
Regardless if they win by the outlined margin, does the 6.25% step forward, really represent anything other than short term progress. The Eagles, at the outset would have been set for a Super Bowl run or at least deep into the play-offs, by many on lookers. Hindered by a poor secondary and a quarterback – who after a number of injuries and changes to his offensive personnel – seems lost, in not overwhelmed. Wentz’s regression is stark and in spite of a bounce back game on Sunday against Miami, there are longer terms concerns for a team who were heralded for Howie Roseman’s roster building acumen. This is now the second consecutive season of under achievement after their Super Bowl win and concern has to be there and unaffected, even by a 50-point win on Sunday.
The Carolina Panthers, have a quandary at the most important position in all of sports also. The continual decline of Cam Newton’s health has seen Kyle Allen step in a lead the ship admirably. An underachiever in the college game has never been doubted talent-wise but it would appear his consistency and application has. There have been some strong outings for Allen. But he also has has some games to forget, the showing at home versus at Atlanta, rightly called into question his decision making. Even with a strong follow up performance against a struggling Washington team, Kyle will be looking to re-assert some positively after their narrow loss to New Orleans. A game they should have won, if not for the missed five points by their rookie kicker Joey Slye.
There are question to be asked about how much Allen’s play is bolstered by Christian McCaffery’s all-pro and possibly MVP calibre season at running back. As limitations have been shown, so is there enough there to give confidence to ambitions new owner, David Tepper? A many who made his fortune in investments, will shortly tell us how willing he is to invest the future of the franchise in Kyle Allen.
Does Defence win Championships still?
The adage has been echoed round NFL-based discussions for decades. If you didn’t have a league leading defence with multiple blue-chip players, at all three levels your chances were nullified. This uprising of the San Francisco 49er’s has perhaps shown that the notion is alive and well. The undoubted strength of the team is it’s defence. The litany of first round draft picks across its front seven make it difficult for the opposition to move the ball. Whether it’s, Ford, Bosa, Armstead, Thomas or Bucker. There isn’t 5 tougher blocking assignments for an offensive line in the game.
This front has allowed the linebackers and secondary to flourish with the additional pressures this unit brings. Witherspoon finally seems to be realising his talent at corner and Richard Sherman appears to be having a plus year, after looking not his former self last season. So the leading statement has proven to have varying levels of validity across the season. So much so, the performances have been questionable from their quarterback but Jimmy-G plays within a system that he suited to and it doesn’t require him to chase big plays outside of it. The running game the defence will ensure that’s not the case. But Sunday they face their biggest test of the year.
An apposing body evidence to this argument would be the Baltimore Ravens who, defence is strong in its own right and have done an amicable job of letting players go and finding replacements throughout the draft. But their real revelation has been the improvements show in the game of second year quarterback, come magic man, Lamar Jackson.
After crashing out the play-off’s he has come back with vengeance. Their unique brand of offence is an intriguing one which relies on the run. The league seem to have changed and in a way that has allowed Jackson to flourish rather than one that would have traditionally rejected his athleticism. His play and level at the offence is running at, is unrivalled through this point of the year. The two and three tight end sets have allow Baltimore to control the line of scrimmage and pick off high percentage throws and run the ball to the tune of over 200 yards per game.
The 49ers perhaps pose the strongest test of their system to get the best out of Jackson. This Sunday, will likely be one for the old school lovers of ground and pound running game. Whilst the game could provide a timely reminder that in 2019 offence may well win championships. Or is the old platitude still correct? The number 1 rushing team plays the number 2 team in a clash which should help us in that understanding, come Sunday.
Only the Young & Offensive Minded need apply
When a failed college head-coach in Cliff Kingsbury was hired by the Arizona Cardinals it seemed odd. Relieved from his duties at Texas Tech, he had only just taken up the Role of USC’s offensive co-oridnator in the weeks prior. But some how he had landed one of the prized 32 gigs to coach at the highest level. It seemed odd on the face of it. Kingsburry was allowed to draft Kyler Murray No1 overall in this years draft, re-make an offence and a team with limited talent for year one of a multi-year project.
Last off season – that was the latest trend for every franchise who wanted to get ahead of the curve or at least join it, was to hire a specific model of coach, to take them into the next decade of a changing league. At one point last off-season the common joke was: “I once cleaned Sean McVey’s pool so I’d like to apply for the Head Coaching job.”
Fast forward not even three quarters of a season and those remarks certainly won’t contain the same level of relevancy, compared to when team owners/GM’s were looking for a new team leader, last off season. Often referred to as an acronym off ‘Not For Long’ the NFL has a habit of building you up just as quickly as it will bring you down with a crash. The Ram’s offence appears to have embodied a typical NFL cycle and crash it has done, but with such alarm. After letting linemen leave the building and extending Jared Geoff, no longer receives to the same level of protection and wide open targets he previously enjoyed. It would seem that their once heralded system appears to have dropped in effectiveness. Just as the brightest head coach in the NFL galaxy doesn’t appear quite as bright as it once gleamed.
Now, Sunday represent a milestrone game and clear barometer of how these two young coaches are set for the following seasons and beyond. Both need a further influx of talent to be competitive with the play-off calibre teams. But it will show, how was has Geoff fallen from his perch of league leading offence against a questionable defence – out with safety Budda Baker. But it will also show how the QB of choice, young dream coach experiment is rounding into shape.
It will be an intriguing watch if this archetype is desired for the next round of, off-season, head coach carousel, in 2020.