Five teams that nailed the 2020 NFL Draft

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

From the record-breaking television ratings to the lack of technical issues, the NFL’s first virtual draft was an undoubted success (unless you’re a Green Bay fan). Like a bizarre episode of Through The Keyhole, we also saw inside the homes of the star players, and the makeshift war rooms of the general managers and coaches: Kliff Kingsbury’s huge villa, Dave Gettleman’s basement and Mike Vrabel’s total madhouse. As I alluded to earlier this week, some teams left us with more questions than answers but here’s a quick round-up on who ‘won’ the 2020 NFL draft.


BALTIMORE RAVENS


Most analysts concur that Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh knocked this draft out of the ballpark, with A and A+ grades being handed out like candy. They made their 10 picks count with good value on both sides of the ball and didn’t seem to reach. Instead, they waited for the likes of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen (#28) to fall into their laps, as well as Ohio State running back JK Dobbins and speedster WR Devin Duvernay on Day 2.

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Queen should make an impact in the heart of the defence with his sideline-to-sideline speed, especially after Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike also had many a pundit purring, with the defensive tackle getting snaffled at pick #71 despite being widely predicted to go in the 30s.

Alongside Mark Ingram, Dobbins should give yet more oomph to their league-leading rushing offense, while linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson add depth across the board. Baltimore also picked up a couple of late steals, with receiver James Proche, who logged almost 4,000 receiving yards and 39 receiving touchdowns over four seasons at SMU, and Iowa safety Geno Stone, rated by both Move the Sticks’ Daniel Jeremiah and PFF’s Mike Renner as the best value pick of the final round.

Baltimore were exceptional last season and didn’t have many needs. But even so, they improved even more over the weekend, staying neck and neck with the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC Conference.

In short: they smashed it.


DALLAS COWBOYS


When drafting, the big question that faces every team now and again is whether you go for the best player available or fill your biggest need. The Cowboys entered the 2020 draft with the league’s top offense and obvious needs in defence, yet opted to spend their first-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Bullseye.

Alonzo Adams/AP

Lounging around on his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar super-yacht, team owner/president Jerry Jones must have been laughing into his champagne cocktail when he picked Lamb at #17. Arguably the best receiver in this loaded class, there was no way he should have been the third off the board. With the ‘Boys having signed Amari Cooper to a $100 million extension, Lamb probably wasn’t on the radar but taking him was a no-brainer: Christmas came early in Texas. Preventing their receiver-needy rivals in Philadelphia from securing his run-after-catch abilities was just the icing on the cake.

Only then did Dallas move on to address their two main areas of need, cornerback and defensive tackle, and they did so with great value picks. Stefon’s lil’ brother Trevon Diggs, mocked by many to go (to Dallas, as it happens) on Day 1, landed in the second round to help fill the void left by CB Byron Jones. Oklahoma’s huge defensive lineman Neville Gallimore also came a day later than many expected. Steals? All three picks border on daylight robbery.

Rewriting the draft textbook, the Cowboys also picked up Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with pick #179 (90 picks later than predicted by Mel Kiper of EPSN). I saw a comparison with Maxx Crosby recently, which means he should be a viable replacement for the departed Robert Quinn. They also snatched up another corner in Reggie Robinson, adding depth in a weak spot, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, arguably this year’s top center. If he can stay healthy, he could step straight in for the retired Travis Frederick.

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After a disappointing campaign in which they didn’t seem to want to win the NFC East, despite the stuttering Eagles handing them chance after chance, Dallas are shaping up nicely to boss the division in 2020. Jones can now start to focus on getting Dak Prescott’s deal inked. With a mouth-watering trio of targets at his disposal – Lamb, Cooper and Michael Gallup – it’s time to keep the franchise QB (and his bank manager) happy.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS


Vikes GM Rick Spielman is probably still resting up after selecting a massive 15 players in the 2020 NFL Draft, the biggest haul since the seven-round format was introduced in 1994.

He did a great job addressing the team’s needs, particularly in the first three rounds. To replace wide receiver Stefon Diggs, he used the 22nd pick to take LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Jefferson can play out wide or in the slot, and should give Kirk Cousins a tasty option alongside Adam Thielen, if his 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year are anything to go by.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

They then moved down a few spots, giving #25 to the 49ers in return for the 31st and two later selections, but still found another would-be star in TCU corner Jeff Gladney. Minnesota then double-dipped to take Cameron Dantzler (#89) to boost a depleted cornerback room missing Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, while Ezra Cleveland should add useful depth at left tackle.

A total of 11 picks on Day 3 brought several more decent pick-ups, including James Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, Oregon LB Troy Dye and defensive end Kenny Willekes.  

Boom. Job done.


CINCINNATI BENGALS


Who knows if any trade offers were received and rejected but with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals held fast to secure their quarterback of the future and their franchise poster boy.

Joe Burrow was the obvious choice, having just completed the best college football season by anyone, ever. He starts from the get-go as the incumbent QB, Andy Dalton, was finally released (while I was writing this article) after a lack of trade interest. If Burrow’s success at LSU is any guide, the 2019 Heisman winner could eventually end Cincy’s three-decade playoff win drought and have the Who Dey Nation eating out of his hands. I bet they’re already planning a statue outside Paul Brown Stadium.

Associated Press

After last season’s struggles, just picking the Ohio native makes Cincinnati a winner in this draft. Admittedly, he can’t reverse their fortunes alone, so it’s just as well de facto GM Duke Tobin and HC Zac Taylor kept their foot on the gas. Mirroring the 2011 draft when they picked AJ Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds, they paired Burrow with WR Tee Higgins with the first pick of Day 2. The 6’4” jump-ball specialist notched 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson, and has been compared to Green, his new teammate (and favourite player). Higgins may even replace the franchise-tagged wideout in time.

With the only slight gripe being a (misguided) belief that their O-line didn’t need help, three of their five remaining selections were used to beef up their underperforming linebacker corps. Cincinnati opened Round 3 with Logan Wilson, who excels in pass coverage, while Akeem Davis-Gaither is a one-man highlight reel who might see some special teams action early doors. The Bengals chose a third linebacker in Purdue’s Markus Bailey with their final pick. Touted to break the Top 100 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season, Bailey may yet prove to be a real find, if he can stay healthy.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS


Let’s face it. Before Cincinnati was even on the clock, Tampa had probably won the offseason, having replaced turnover merchant Jameis Winston with GOAT Tom Brady, and then enticed TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement for one last hurrah alongside his ol’ pal. But the Buccs complemented their trade prowess with a strong draft, focusing on giving their new (but old) QB some much-needed O-line help and more offensive weapons.

In Round 1, Tampa traded up one place to #13, coughing up their 14th and 117th picks to the 49ers, to ensure Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, arguably the draft’s top tackle, was theirs. He wasn’t expected to drop that far after storming the Combine, so I bet the Buccaneers did some last-minute big-board shuffling.

Getty Images

In the third round, they turned to skill positions, collaring Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#76) to beef up their backfield before diving into the deep wide receiver class to come up with Tyler Johnson (#161). Johnson’s Minnesota teammate, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (#45), is a versatile ball hawk could yet turn out to be one of the best snares over the three days. For added spice, his dad was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who intercepted Brady in 2001 when playing for the Bills.

If Bruce Arians deploys the battle-weary Gronk sparingly, alongside his other tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers could be a team to watch next season.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GM Chris Ballard filled a lot of needs, even without a first-round pick (traded for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, which won’t do them any harm). Second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. from USC could become a top receiver, while explosive RB Jonathan Taylor – averaging 2,000 yards a year over three years – is a hot prospect, despite some concern about the tread left on his tyres after his heavy workload in Wisconsin. A day later than many predicted, the 6’6” Washington quarterback Jacob Eason got picked up in Day 3. The big-armed gunslinger won’t play next year but, under HC Frank Reich, he’ll be groomed to take over from Philip Rivers in due course.


The MIAMI DOLPHINS had 14 darts – including three first-rounders – and most hit the target (though they did use one on a long snapper). Despite some pre-draft smoke and mirrors, GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores selected Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first. Who knows if his injury woes are behind him but the Dolphins had to take the risk on the most naturally talented QB out there. His hip injury was bad luck but it made him available at #5, an equivalent slice of good fortune after Miami didn’t quite #TankForTua. Tua will line up behind a shiny new offensive line including another Round 1 pick, tackle Austin Jackson, and while cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was one of Day 1’s biggest reaches, they got better value in later rounds with DE Jason Strowbridge and edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Outside the draft bubble, acquiring Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Matt Breida only increases the sense that Miami will be much, much better next year.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY

Earlier this month, I suggested going best defensive player available for a few rounds might be a wise tactic for the CAROLINA PANTHERS. Well, whaddya know? Despite having a new offensively minded Head Coach in Matt Rhule, GM Marty Hurney used all seven of his picks on defence, including a big ol’ run stuffer in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (#7) and athletic Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#38). Later on, they traded up to the last pick in Round 2 to get safety Jeremy Chinn, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was also good value in the fourth. The moves they made in free agency – replacing Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater and adding Jets receiver Robbie Anderson – should also reinvigorate the team’s offence, making the Panthers a contender again.


I also liked the high-risk, high-reward approach of the ARIZONA CARDINALS. Picking at #8, GM Steve Keim somehow ignored the team’s needs at offensive tackle and went for Clemson linebacker/safety hybrid Isiah Simmons. It might have been a risk (especially having shipped out their second-round pick in the DeAndre Hopkins trade) but 63 picks later, the ace in the pack came up when they snaffled Houston left tackle Josh Jones. After standing out at the Senior Bowl, there was some Day 1 hype about him but he fell… and fell… and fell. Apparently, Kliff Kingsbury even called Jones’ college coaches to ask if there was something he ought to know about. Some steals feel like pick-pocketing but getting Jones in Round 3 was a ram-raid.

10 SERIES: 10 TEAMS THAT NEED A GOOD DRAFT

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the big live NFL Draft event planned in Las Vegas has been shelved and, rather than sitting together in physical “war rooms”, team representatives are now preparing to dial in remotely from home. Obviously, all 32 teams could do with a successful haul come close of business on 25 April but if they can master Zoom or Skype, which teams really need to nail this first-ever virtual draft?


Cincinnati Bengals

(7 picks: #1, #33, #65, #107, #147, #180, #215)

The league’s worst team last year obviously need as good a draft as any but it’s not quite as crucial as usual. In Cincy terms at least, they had an active free agency and filled a few holes, especially in defence. That said, with Andy Dalton still under contract, and Dre Kirkpatrick and Cordy Glenn released, Cincinnati’s best chances of acquiring extra picks didn’t come to fruition so they’ll just have to make the seven they do have count.

Trades notwithstanding, the Bengals are due to pick first in every round, giving them the next 10 days or so to decide what to do with the first overall pick (as if we didn’t know) and several hours each evening to consider any trade offers they receive before starting Days 2 and 3. They shouldn’t mess this up but you only have to go back 12 months to see how a draft can be a total washout. With injuries (Jonah Williams) and underperformance (Drew Sample, Ryan Finley) in abundance, only LB Germaine Pratt came out of the class of 2019 with any credit.

After, we assume, Ohio native Joe Burrow becomes their new franchise quarterback, the Bengals should get a couple of skill-position weapons for him to work with (as AJ Green and John Ross both hit free agency next season), at least another offensive lineman for protection and probably another linebacker.

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Washington Redskins

(7 picks: #2, #66, #108, #142, #162, #216, #229)

Picking second after a terrible 2019, it should be no surprise to anyone that Washington also feature in this article. They have a sackful of needs, even after a busy free agency, just the standard seven picks with which to address them and a new Head Coach in Ron Rivera who’s going to want to make progress PDQ. So this draft matters.

Rick Scuteri / Associated Press

Almost everyone has the ‘Skins taking Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young at #2 overall and while the defensive line isn’t their most pressing need, it would be hard to pass on a player widely regarded as a “generational talent”. Then again, they may trade the second spot away to someone like Miami, and grab one or two other first round picks. After that, the Redskins don’t pick again until #66, so they’re not going to get the pick of the bunch. They’ll need a tight end or two after Jordan’s Reed’s departure and Vernon Davis’ retirement, and a WR mate for Terry McLaurin: Chase Claypool or Antonio Gandy-Golden maybe?

If Trent Williams decides he’s washed his hands of the franchise after sitting out last year, left tackle will suddenly become a pressing need too.


Miami Dolphins

(14 picks: #5, #18, #26, #39, #56, #70, #141,
#153, #154, #173, #185, #227, #246, #251)

The Dolphins opted for a total reboot last year, trading away the likes of Kenyan Drake and Minkah Fitzpatrick in exchange for a million draft picks (OK then, just 14, including three in Round 1 alone). Having acquired all this capital in exchange for bombing last year out, the Dolphins can’t afford to waste any of it now they have so many holes to plug. 

With Josh Rosen probably not the guy and Fitzmagic a stop-gap at best, the Fins will probably take Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, and have the ammo to move up from #5 if they need to. Their woeful pass rush has been bolstered in free agency with LB Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Shaq Lawson, and they now have the highest-paid corner in the business in Byron Jones, so that leaves their O-line as the other main priority. Picking at #18 may mean they miss out on the top-tier OL talent and have to wait for someone in the second wave, like Isiah Wilson or Ezra Cleveland, or they may double-dip on Days 1 and 2.

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Los Angeles Chargers

(7 picks: #6, #37, #71, #112, #151, #186, #220)

On paper, the Chargers don’t look in bad shape so suggesting they need a blinding draft might seem to be over-stating it. But many of their best players –DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry and centre Mike Pouncey among them – are entering the final year of their contracts. It’s time to put some successors in place now, as they won’t be able to keep them all.

In Philip Rivers’ wake, Tyrod Taylor is the bridge QB for now but LA are touted to pick their playcaller of the future at #6; whether that’s Tua, Herbert or Love remains to be seen.

Free agency signings such as corner Chris Harris and right tackle Bryan Bulaga suggest the Chargers might be going all out this year. Another lineman or two are on the cards too, so expect a tackle in Round 2 – a Josh Jones or a Lucas Niang maybe. Later rounds will give the Chargers the chance to fill out the wide receiver room and beef up the secondary.


Carolina Panthers

(8 picks: #7, #38, #69, #113, #148, #152, #184, #221)

Having shelled out $33 million for Teddy Bridgewater, a full-scale rebuild seems to be on the cards in Carolina under new HC Matt Rhule.

Chuck Cook

Jets WR Robby Anderson joined during free agency, so their offensive focus can probably be directed towards O-line help to support the running game of Christian McCaffrey, and a TE to replace Greg Olsen. That said, they’re more likely to look at their immediate defensive needs. With Luke Kuechly’s retirement, only one starting cornerback of note and the D-line needing help, just picking the best defensive player available for several rounds might not be a bad tactic.

They have more than enough picks to haul in a strong draft class this year. They’re out of the gate at #7, behind three QB-needy teams so they’ll be spoilt for choice when their time comes: at least one of LB Isiah Simmons, CB Jeff Okudah and DT Derrick Brown should be there for the taking.


Jacksonville Jaguars

(12 picks: #9, #20, #42, #73, #116, #137, #140, #157, #165, #189, #206, #223)

You could argue that the salary-cap-strapped Jags need help pretty much everywhere and anywhere. HC Doug Marrone is in one of hottest hot seats in the NFL and needs his 12 picks to pay off if he’s to avoid another losing season.

Jacksonville’s defence has more holes than a block of Emmental, having lost Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell, so they’ll need to use some of their extensive draft capital early on. With picks #9 and #20, they could start at corner and on the edge. If Okudah falls to them, they’ll snap him up and Yetur Gross-Matos would be a solid pick at 20. Gardner Minshew may yet get some competition on Day 2 if the Jags consider Jacob Eason at #42.

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Las Vegas Raiders

(7 picks: #12, #19, #80, #81, #91, #121, #159)

Las Vegas made some decent FA pick-ups, including LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and safety Jeff Heath, so a few more shrewd selections could propel them from also-ran to playoff contender.

AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

Now that the draft is online rather than at a massive public event, there’s slightly less need for the former hosts to make a big splash in their new home. Nonetheless, the Silver and Black have two first round selections with which to make some Day 1 headlines, with wide receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb being widely mocked to the Raiders. If they go that route, their selection would probably leapfrog Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones in the pecking order.

Cornerback could be the other likely first-round target while Days 2 and 3 will likely see them hone grab a defensive tackle and added depth at safety and linebacker.


Minnesota Vikings

(12 picks: #22, #25, #58, #89, #105, #132, #155, #201, #205, #219, #249, #253)

A contract extension for QB Kirk Cousins can only mean one thing: the Vikes are in “win-now” mode. But if they are going to go a step or two further than last year, they’ll have to address several areas, on both sides of the ball, with their dozen 2020 picks.

Offensively, the Stefon Diggs trade to the Bills means a viable #2 wideout to support Adam Thielen is vital. The WR class is deep this year but I suspect pick #22 or #25 could well be used on someone like Tee Higgins or Laviska Shenault.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

A guard or two might be wise, having released Josh Kline, but addressing the defence is arguably as pressing. They could do with two or three corners to fill the vacancies left by Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander (both Bengals now) and Xavier Rhodes, now with the Colts. There’s also no depth at safety and with Eversen Griffen also off to pastures new, a defensive end like Iowa’s AJ Epenesa is also on Minnesota’s shopping list.


New England Patriots

(12 picks: #23, #87, #98, #100, #125, #172, #195, #204, #212, #213, #230, #241)

There was a time, not that long ago, when suggesting the Pats really need to nail this draft would’ve been considered heresy, or even the first signs of madness. But for a change, they need a lot of their 12 picks to hit the target.

With the untested Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer their only choices at QB, Bill Belichick suddenly has much to ponder in the post-TB12 era. Are they happy with their options or will they be in the market for someone like Jordan Love at #23 or even Jalen Hurts in a later round?

Both are possible, but their offense could really benefit from a track star who can take the top off a defence. If they go WR in Round 1, Henry Ruggs could be available, or they might wait for Denzel Mimms or Chase Claypool. Post-Gronk, there’s also been a noticeable TE-shaped hole in the Patriots’ ranks so the top dog here, Cole Kmet, might even be the first selection.

In later rounds, New England really need some of those compensatory picks to find viable replacements in their defence, having lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, during free agency. And they don’t have a kicker on their roster, so a top prospect like Tyler Bass may well be Boston-bound.

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Chicago Bears

(7 picks: #43, #50, #163, #196, #200, #226, #233)

In complete contrast to the Dolphins, the Bears don’t pick till midway through Round 2. Having had limited cap space to play the free agency field, Chicago are going to have to play a canny game to make the picks they do have count.

Having already acquired Nick Foles to give the troubled Mitchell Trubisky some competition, they’re not likely to consider anything but a late-round ‘project’ at QB. Therefore, expect the gaps in the backfield left by departing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Prince Amukamara to be the ones the Bears fill at #43 and #50. Could Grant Delpit fall that far, for example, or maybe Antoine Winfield Jr?

It won’t be until staggering 113(!) picks later that Chicago will get the chance to do anything else, like find a wideout to complement Allen Robinson or add a piece to their O-line, but they’ll probably need to do both with their Day 3 choices.

Season in Review – Minnesota Vikings

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

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


Entering the Season


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

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

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


DURING THE SEASON


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


offseason outlook


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

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

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

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The Pressure of the Playoffs.

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

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

Image Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel

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

Image Credit: Kevin Jairaj

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

Divisional Round - New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings
Image Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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

Image Credit: Getty

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.

PRESSURE IS ON: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Full10Lookaheads – Week 16

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Crunch time! This week we are treated to the NFL being spread out over the weekend with 3 games on Saturday with huge implications as the Rams travel to the 49ers and the Bills try to upset the applecart in New England.

On Sunday, the SkySports offering serves up some fantastic matchups where New Orleans continue to chase for a 1st round bye against a Titans team effectively already in the playoffs. Plus, it’s the battle for the NFC East as Dallas travel to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Eagles in a winner takes all matchup.

Winners progress, losers go home. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to week 16 in the NFL.


BATTLE FOR THE EAST

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Image Credit: Mitchell Leff / Getty

Fierce rivals Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia get it on to essentially decide the winner of the #4 seed for the NFC playoffs. Both teams have underwhelmed this year for a variety of reasons, but it all comes down to this 60 minute game of football.

A win for the Cowboys, they are confirmed champions. A win for the Eagles and assuming a week 17 win against the Giants, they are in too. The Cowboys are the healthier, more potent team this season as judged by their week 7 hammering at At&T stadium. They will also be buoyed by their dominant performance last week at home to the Rams but form goes out of the window in these types of games.

Do Dallas and Jason Garrett have the cajones when it’s all on the line? Usually not, but can they still get the job done against an Eagles team that have been on the ropes more than the Sunday washing.

The coaching and talent on the Eagles are a testament to even be in with a live shout of still winning the division, but it’s also an indictment on how poor the division has been. Still, someone must win it and become the #4 seed for the playoffs, who’s stepping up?


Buffalo-ad of this!

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Image Credit: Mike Groll / AP

Buffalo travel to Foxboro’ this weekend in another pivotal divisional clashe.

A win for the Bills sees a very interesting week 17 indeed. If Buffalo win out, they will take the #1 seed regardless due to conference record tie breaker and that is one hell of a carrot dangled in front of Josh Allen and Sean McDermott. They will be in bullish (or Billish perhaps?) mood after their win away at Heinz field on SNF and it’s now a question of whether they can step up to the plate once more.

Their week 4 meeting saw the Bills blow their chances a little, Josh Allen left with a head injury and still had a few drives to go and beat them late in the 4th quarter. They’ll certainly have to execute better than they did back in September but I feel this Bills team has come quite far since that game. The Bills match up quite well against New England and we don’t need to go over the offensive struggles that Brady and Co. have experienced this season.

A win for the Patriots will secure the #2 seed too and how many times have we seen before that New England just get the job done? New England have won the last 6 between the sides and you have to go back to 2014 when Buffalo last beat a Tom Brady led Patriots (though he did exit with an injury in that one!).


NFC 1st round bye shuffle


The #1 and #2 seeds have shuffled around between Seattle/San Francisco/New Orleans and Green Bay over the past couple of weeks and the jostling will continue this weekend. The current #1 seeds have a straightforward task against the Cardinals, whilst the 49ers will have to be on their toes against the Rams. New Orleans face a tough trip to Nashville and Green Bay travel to Minnesota in a key NFC North matchup.

If results go their way, the Seahawks could potential have their hands firmly placed on the #1 seed if results go their way which will be huge for Russell Wilson and the members of the 12 to ensure they can create a hostile environment in the playoffs and seal that homefield advantage.


HitchViking a ride into the playoffs

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Image Credit: Leon Halip / Getty

The Vikings with a win in either of their last 2 games secure a playoff berth. Problem is they have to face old foes and divisional rivals in the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. They are at home which will help as they enjoy one of the bigger advantages with homefield.

In the 2 away games against those teams however, they only managed to must 22 points collectively and that is just not going to get the job done. This is what Kirk Cousins was brought in for, paid all that guaranteed money for; games like this.

Without Dalvin Cook who is nursing an injury and resting before helping them in the playoffs or rookie Alexander Mattison who is also struggling to be fit for the game, Kirk Cousins is going to have to step up and lead this team to victory.

A win, an the monkey starts to climb off of his back. A loss, and there is huge pressure on him in week 17 against the Bears.


battle for a top 3 pick


With Cincinnati taking on the Dolphins and the Redskins facing the Giants, the current top 4 picks in the 2020 draft face off on Sunday. It is always interesting to see how the teams down “that end” play and how much they really put in to the game.

Whilst the Bengals can win without affecting their position at #1 overall, the other 3 teams could see themselves cause detrimental ramifications should they win a game. These games will be nothing more than a “look at the result after the game” types of affairs, but for the fans of the respective teams, i guess it’s nice that the fans will still be biting their nails during the game, even if it’s for different reasons.


Three Griers for Will!

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Image Credit: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty

Carolina turn to their third QB of the season as 2019 3rd round pick Will Grier enters the fray. Kyle Allen seemingly not the answer for the Panthers front office and David Tepper, Grier has 2 games to show what he can do.

He faces a Colts team that is there for the taking and a New Orleans Saints team which should have something to play for. Quite a contrast in matches will mean ample sample sizes for the team’s scouts and evaluators to see whether he could be the answer and not theoft injured Cam Newton.

Whilst we wont know until late in the offseason who will be the starter, Will Grier has the chance to make a lasting impression and put down a marker for next training camp. At the very least, he can stop the Panthers from drafting a QB or signing one in Free Agency….


the afc #6 a steel?


It seems to be a straight shootout now between Pittsburgh and Tennessee for the #6 seed in the AFC. The Steelers have the easier schedule with the Jets and Ravens to come, the Titans have the better QB but face New Orleans and Houston. Both defences are pretty stout, perhaps the edge going to Pittsburgh but the Titans have the better running game and the healthier team. Pittsburgh have the tie breaker on Tennessee so effectively just need to beat the Jets to punch their ticket to Arrowhead.

Whichever team makes it will be a heavy underdog going in to what is likely to be Kansas City. Considering both teams’ journies this season, I think they will take just the chance to cause an upset in January (the Titans have previous vs the Chiefs!).


you’re quinn denial, dan

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Image Credit: Bob Donnan / USA Today

Dan Quinn was a hot favourite to be handed his P45 on black monday, but after the handful of decent performances by Matt Ryan and the Falcons including their most recent victory as time expired against the 49ers, it’s now a bit more up in the air.

The Falcons are 5-9, which is still a bitter disappointment comparing it with pre-season expectations, but they’ve won 4 of their last 6 including 3 divisional wins on top of the 49ers victory. divisional wins have slightly more weight put on them due to their importance so if the Falcons are able to beat the 5-9 Jaguars and the depleted 5-9 Buccaneers, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility Dan Quinn comes back next year.

He’ll definitely be getting “Blank” stares until the season and he walks in for his performance review…


is drew a lock for denver qb?

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Image Credit: Wesley Hitt /Getty

Drew Lock has performed well in his first 3 starts as Denver Broncos QB; A divisional win against the Chargers to go with a road victory against a playoff team. His last start against the Chiefs can be written off due to the weather and uncomfortable surroudings but all in all, the 2nd round pick from this year’s draft has probably outperformed his expectations when coming in, he was quite a raw prospect.

John Elway has never been the most convincing with his selections in the draft so far, especially at QB, but Drew Lock is looking like he fits over in Mile High. Whilst his completion % is low and his interceptions were not pretty, both lending to his gunslinger mentality, there are certainly some tools there for Lock to fine tune over the offseason and potentially be the answer at QB over in Denver.

With the weapons at his disposal sure to be added to during the offseason to compliment the running game, Drew Lock and the Broncos may not be in that bad of a position to challenge for January football come 2020.

A big tell will come against the Detroit Lions, as we will see how he responds to that rough game against Kansas and the criticisms he would have endured this week.

Full10Takeaways – Week 10

By Shaun Blundell, Tim Monk and Lawrence Vos

Week 10 saw shocks, drops and stops as the 49ers tasted their first defeat, the Saints got pummelled by the Falcons and the Browns won!

Here are 10 takeaways from week 10 in the NFL:


Baker Mayfield Feeling More at Home

Image Credit – John Kuntz / cleveland.com

A first home win of the season for Baker Mayfield emphasised his improved play over the past 3 weeks. Riddled with turnovers and poor decision making the 2nd year QB had tossed 11 interceptions and committed 3 fumbles in the opening half a dozen games of the season. Fast forward 3 weeks and games against good pass defences in New England, Denver and Buffalo and Mayfield has only added 1 takeaway to those numbers.

He looks more decisive in the pocket and his completion rate of 68.4% on Sunday was a season-high. He regularly looked for his top 2 targets in Jarvis Landry and OBJ whilst leaning on a stout run game. The entrance of Kareem Hunt into the offence gives the Browns a new dimension and with a favourable schedule on tap a winning streak is a realistic possibility.

The Browns #6 seed credentials will be key to any such possibilities.


Big Man Rumbling

Image Credit – Frederick Breedon / Getty Images

“Never judge a book by its cover”. The age old phrase that continually catches all of us out. Derrick Henry is a home run hitter! His scamper for 68 yards against the Chiefs on Sunday marked his 4th touchdown run of over 65 yards since 2017 which is the most by any player in the NFL over that span.

His almost customary plunge from 1 yard away was tacked onto his big day as he gashed the Chiefs woeful run defence to the tune of 23 carries for 188 yards with 2 touchdowns. Henry has often been used in a timeshare during his time in the league but Mike Vrabel appears to have figured out that he gets better with more usage.

The only player outside of a few Tannehill scramble to carry the ball on Sunday, Henry is on pace for 1300 yards plus on the campaign for a Titans team that are as unpredictable as the British weather.


Just Win Baby

Image Credit – AP Photo

“Knock on wood if you are with me”. Who would have thought that when Jon Gruden continuously barked those words throughout hard knocks that his Raiders team would be in with a realistic opportunity of competing for a division title?

Thursday night football was a huge victory in the division that put the Raiders right on the heels of the Chiefs. A performance that saw yet another Derek Carr 4th quarter comeback win moved the Raiders to 5-4. Josh Jacobs continues to look like the runaway winner of offensive rookie of the year, scoring the game winner in this one.

Winnable games upcoming against the Dolphins and Jets next on the schedule have the silver and black primed for a late season playoff run. Maybe, just maybe that bloke who used to commentate on Monday Night Football can actually still coach?


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You spin me right round baby right round like a record

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Image Credit: Frank Victores / AP

If you have seen a better spin move this season than the one made by Lamar Jackson on his TD run this weekend you will have either been at the World Yo-Yo championships or at some kind of ice skating Olympic qualifier.

In 2018 we were running out of superlatives to describe Patrick Mahomes, and this season the same is getting said about the Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who is now getting MVP type chatter beyond his own appreciative teammates.

Yes this was the 0-9 Bungles L-Jax faced, but if you have not seen the move he made mid-run against Cincy then find it online and start to drool. Fantasy fans were left a little bit sore after the Ravens had such a ridiculous lead they let Lamar sit for the fourth quarter whilst former running QB phenom Robert Griffith III performed mop-up duties.

Talking of RG3 Coach Harbaugh’s decision to line up the former Baylor superstar as a running back in a split-backs formation was a treat, and then watching L-Jax pitch to him on an outside run was masterful. 


Falcons D rises from the ashes

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Image Credit: Rusty Costanza / AP

It’s supposed to be a Phoenix that rises from the ashes, but after NFL alignment some years ago there is no longer a team in that said city. Instead we have to make reference to another feathered friend that has arisen from the depths of despair.

The Atlanta Falcons beating the 7-1 New Orleans Saints was the biggest upset this season since Darnold and the Jets downed the Cowboys.The Falcons defense had 6 sacks including 2.5 from Grady Jarrett.

This by itself is not headline worthy, but considering the team had 7 sacks all season before this point showed that sticking a rocket in places rockets should not be placed sometimes works. The Saints offense was held without a touchdown and Alvin Kamara the so-called fantasy stud had 74 total yards, including just 24 on the ground.

We all know it’s too late for the Dirty Birds to resurrect their season, but sometimes wins like this can turn around fortunes in the long term. One question to quietly ask is ‘was it right to bring back Brees considering Teddy’s hot streak?’


Anti-tank missiles spotted in Miami

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Image Credit: Bobby Ellis / Getty

Maybe they are not red hot, but the Miami Dolphins are on the boil after securing their second consecutive win in a season that was supposed to be all about displaying ineptitude not grizzly bearded attitude.

Ryan Fitzmagic may not win another game in Miami but he will forever be remembered for bringing some respect to a franchise that has been written off more than a scrapyard full of old bangers. The contrast in styles between Lamar Jackson’s mesmerising TD run and Fitzmagic’s plough through the field for his score was like chalk and cheese, but both ended up in exactly the same result – six points and the extension of a lead.

Sympathies do go out to the team Miami beat in Week 10 as the Indianapolis Colts are akin to a M.A.S.H. unit, especially at WR, so this was a great time for the ‘Fins to paddle their way to a victory. Miami now have their sights set on at least a third win in Week 17 when they face Tom Brady and the Patriots. 


Steel-ing another W

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Image Credit: Justin K. Aller / Getty

If you listened to the F10Y Week 10 look ahead podcast Lawrence predicted a Steelers win against a Los Angeles Rams team that is looking like a shrivelled balloon, the type you might find on the floor when sweeping up from say a Super Bowl party.

The Steelers are using gorilla glue, frog tape and any other legally sanctioned substance to patch together wins against half-decent opponents and despite the criticism Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph is hanging in there. It’s a little reminiscent of Big Ben Roethliberger’s rookie season when he led the team to a 15-1 record despite performances that were not exactly pretty.

The Steelers now boast a four-game win streak, and their first above .500 record of the season. With Cleveland twice, the Bungles and the Cardinals ahead we could be looking at a rather strong 9-4 Steelers team a long time before Rudolph the Kyle nosed reindeer takes to the skies. 


Vikings run and plunder a win

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Image Credit: Michael Ainsworth / AP

He can’t win in prime-time, he has a routine he can’t break, he crumbles under pressure. Three common perceptions of Vikings QB Kirk ‘you like that’ Cousins in big and important games. Three perceptions that were proven to be untrue on Sunday night as Minnesota came away from Jerry’s world having pillaged a big ol’ bag of booty including a big shiny W.

To be fair this was not a game dominated by clutch Cousins passes, as the Vikings ran, ran and ran some more, including one 10 play touchdown drive that was on the ground from start to finish.

The MVP conversation as usual is dominated by special quarterbacks and a dash of Run CMC, but at the pace he is going and the rate he is being fed the ball, don’t be surprised if Dalvin Cook makes a ’late run’ for the NFL’s most valuable player.

The Vikings remain one game behind the Packers in the NFC North, but things can change quickly. 


HEY mr wilson!

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Image Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks dealt the San Francisco 49ers teir first loss of the season. No surprise that current MVP favourite Russell Wilson was the main culprit for the defeat.

In what was a Monday Night Classic, the performance of Russell Wilson may have left the thoughts of “what if” for 49ers fans as Jimmy G on the other side was many classes below the Seahawks signal caller.

The 49ers and Jimmy G had a chance to seal it in overtime where perhaps a better thrown ball to Deebo Samuel on the sideline in stride would have seen a walk off touchdown. The ensuing drive saw Wilson take the Seahawks 40 yards in 81 seconds (no timeouts) to allow Jason Myers’ to score from a 42 yard field goal with 4 seconds left on the clock.

With Full10Yards favourite Tyler Lockett being taken to hospital, I’m sure Russell Wilson will be able to overcome any time that he may miss to add to the long list of adversities he’s been able to overcome in this offence.


Ryan tanne-hero

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Image Credit: Wesley Hitt / Getty

It was billed as the second coming of Patrick Mahomes but it was the otehr Quarterback at Nissan Stadium that took the plaudits.

Ryan Tannehill completed his 3rd 4th quarter winning drive this season in just 4 games as the starter. That is only 1 behind the season leaders Josh Allen and Russell Wilson.

The drive, which started with 1:21 on the clock, ended just 58 seconds later with a 23 yard touchdown throw to big off season free agent WR signing Adam Humphries also included a 18 yard scramble on the first play

The decision to bench Marcus Mariota may be a game or two too late and could potentially cost the Titans a playoff berth this season, the redeeming factor though, is that they may not have to go searching for a QB in next year’s draft.

For Tannehill, frequently lambasted at his poor quarterback play, will rightly get the plaudits in this one though, which is an incredible feet considering the jumping Patrick Mahomes was clearly in the spotlight. Questions now turn to Adam Gase, who coached him in Miami, as to why he looked so average in a teal jersey.

Half-Term report – AFC/NFC North

It’s just about the half way point in the NFL regular season. Sad times.

In this series of articles, we take a look back over those 8 glorious weeks of pigskin action and also project how the 2nd half of the season will play out.


AFC North

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  1. Baltimore Ravens 5-2
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4
  3. Cleveland Browns 2-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 0-8

*BALTIMORE RAVENS*

Midseason grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

The Ravens came flying out of the blocks with bug wins against the Dolphins and Cardinals. Back to back defeats to the Chiefs and the Browns raised questions about if this team was “for real” but a subsequent 3 game winning streak including an impressive road win in Seattle sees the Ravens with a healthy lead in the division. 

Lamar Jackson is on historic pace for yards on the ground and has shown progress throwing the football in year 2. The defence isn’t as feared as it once was but still ranks highly and is 11th against the pass and 2nd against the run respectively.

Rest of Season Outlook

It’s fair to say that the schedule stiffens for the Ravens down the stretch. With games to come against opponents with a plus 500 record in the Patriots,Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills. A weak division means this commanding lead would appear to be extremely secure however with a divisional game against each opponent and the lowly Jets providing the other contest. Even on a “worse case scenario” basis you have to fancy the Ravens getting to at least 9-7 from here and that should be ample to win the division.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 – Division Winners


*CLEVELAND BROWNS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The product has certainly not lived up to the preseason hype. Steamrolled by the Titans and 49ers along with close losses to the Rams and Seahawks the Browns face an uphill tussle to get back to relevance in the division. A defeat coming out of the bye week to the Patriots has again raised questions about discipline and preparation 

A big road win at Baltimore was the lone bright spark on what has been a disappointing campaign. The promising end to the 2019 season seems like a distant memory and Baker Mayfield appears to be regressing in year 2.

Rest of Season Outlook

Ironically despite the record, everything is still in play for the Browns. The schedule is such that 5 divisional games remain and as stated earlier, they have won the only game of such nature to date. The plan will be to go 6-0 in the AFC North and hope that tie breakers enable them to find a way into a wildcard berth. For that to happen though they need to improve massively, reducing turnovers and penalties, a category that they lead the league in with an average of 10 per game.

The talent is there, can they turn it around?

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9 – Miss Playoffs


*PITTSBURGH STEELERS*

Midseason grade: C

How has it gone so far?

Smashed by the Patriots on opening night and losing your starting quarterback part way through your 2nd game isn’t exactly the way the Steelers drew up the plans for this season. The reality is though that the Steelers season was probably over before it had even really began following the QB injury. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges have anchored the squad to some respectable performances and with a turnover differential of plus 7 they are getting opportunities within games.

Big names JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner have struggled to reproduce anything close to what they did a year ago and the offence lacks weapons outside these 2. Defensively the rank middle of the pack but an in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick signals intent to improve the playmaking on the back end.

Rest of Season Outlook

Similar to the Browns in that the division schedule is heavily back loaded so 4 games still to play in that regard and an opportunity if they can build momentum to make a late run. Difficult to trust that Mason Rudolph will be able to get them there however. Ranked 30th in both team passing and rushing there just isn’t enough production from this unit. The defence ranks 6th in points allowed so the Steelers will stick around in games but its hard to see anything better than a 500 record at this point.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 6-10 – Miss Playoffs


*CINCINNATI BENGALS*

Midseason grade: E

How has it gone so far?

A record of 0-8 will pretty much answer that question. With the worst record in the NFL at the week 8 stage the Bengals can’t get any worse. Ranked 28th offensively and 27th defensively, unfortunately there is not an obvious quick fix as the poor play is on both sides of the ball. 

Offensively AJ Green has not been able to dress after picking up an injury in the preseason and Joe Mixon has not been able to get anything going on the ground. Defensively the pass rush has been a little non-existent with only 9 sacks and they have not taken the ball away with any regularity.

Rest of Season Outlook

There are some winnable games on the schedule with games against the Browns, Dolphins and Jets all on the horizon so nobody should be panicking around a 0-16 season just yet. Unfortunately for the Bengals, wins will now likely only hinder draft capital as the season is well and truly lost. 

The remaining games need to be used as an assessment of the roster and a decision needs to be made with regards to the long term future of Zach Taylor. The Bengals are very likely to pick high in the upcoming draft and now that Ryan Finley is in the driving seat, his performances over the back nine will determine how high up in the rounds they take their next QB (if at all).

Regular Season Record Prediction: 2-14 – Top 3 pick

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NFC NORTH

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings

  1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
  4. Chicago Bears (3-4)

*GREEN BAY PACKERS*

Midseason grade: A

How has it gone so far?

One of the most intriguing storylines to follow at the beginning of the season was the union of new HC Matt Lafleur and franchise QB Aaron Rodgers, so far the results have been good with the offence improving with every game.

In the early part of the season, it was the defence that was leading the team, DC Mike Pettine’s unit looking vastly improved from the previous year. Free agent signees Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have contributed hugely, added to standout corner Jaire Alexander and leading tackler in the NFL Blake Martinez, have led to a unit that may have conceded yards but has stood up when needed.

Given the injury suffered by leading receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers has entered one of his hot streaks at precisely the right time.

Rest of Season Outlook

The Packers look well set for a playoff run, time will tell whether it will take them all the way to Miami in February. With the head to head wins vs all their division opponents thus far, they are looking quite rosy to maybe even push for a wildcard round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4

*MINNESOTA VIKINGS*

Midseason grade: B

How has it gone so far?

Behind the leading rusher in the NFL in Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have bulldozed their way into the playoff discussion. Beyond this though, there has been some discord within the group, notably receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen expressing frustration with the offence. Kirk Cousins’ improved play of late has helped to quell these noises, with Diggs especially going on a tear of late to the tune of 453 receiving yards in the last 3 weeks. The defence has continued to perform at a high level throughout, with Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Eric Kendricks particularly impressing.

Rest of Season Outlook:

With the talent throughout on the defensive side of the ball, and if the offensive line can support Dalvin Cook, this team can compete with anyone. They’ll need continuing support from Kirk Cousins though, where for some, the questions remain. They’ll need to settle the score with the Packers in the return fixture and also negotiate a tough stretch immediately starting with the Chiefs and then the Cowboys. Negotiate that, they could look at a first round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 11-5



*DETROIT LIONS*

Midseason Grade: C

How has it gone so far?

The Lions have been competitive in every game this season and could easily find themselves right in the mix for a playoff spot. However, poor execution at crucial times have led to a middle of the pack record. They have lost late leads in 2 of their losses to the Chiefs and the Packers as well as in the tie with the Cardinals, with redzone inefficiency plaguing them in the Packers loss in particular.

There have been high spots for the team with QB Matthew Stafford having a very good year. Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson have also been playmakers this year before the latter’s injury, TJ Hockenson has hinted at what might be to come from the TE position too.

Perhaps surprisingly, given HC Matt Patricia’s pedigree, the defence has been the bigger issue. They have struggled especially against the run, where Mike Daniels’ injury has been especially problematic.

Quandre Diggs’ recent trade to Seattle has been met with scepticism too, depriving the back end of the defence with one of their key players.

Rest of Season Outlook

Judging by the 2 teams that preceeded them in this Half-Term report, it is probably a long shot that the Lions taste January football this year, but as a long term view, the Lions fans must be optimistic about some playoff football sooner rather than later. That being said, their schedule does not look too tough with games against Oakland, a double header vs the Bears along with tussles against the Broncos, Redskins and Buccaneers.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-7-1


*CHICAGO BEARS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The expected step forward for the Bears offence in the second year of HC Matt Nagy’s reign has yet to come to fruition. The offence currently ranks 27th in PPG, with both the run and pass games struggling to get out of second gear.

While QB Mitch Trubisky has yet to prove his pedigree as a starting calibre player at this level, playcalling has also been an issue at times. The coaches have seemed to go away from the run too early at times, placing too much pressure on the young signal caller. While Trubisky’s development is crucial to the future success of the Bears, at the moment the best chance of success would surely involve committing fully to the rungame and using Trubisky to take judicious shots downfield to keep the defences honest.

The defence is still performing at a very high level (if not quite the league leading unit of 2018), Mack, Trevathan, Floyd, Goldman, Clinton-Dix, Fuller et al are still a fearsome unit, although lineman Akiem Hicks is a big loss after his loss to IR following his elbow injury.

It wouldn’t be a Bears season without kicking troubles either, following Eddy Piniero’s potential game winning missed kick in week 8.

Rest of Season Outlook

While this team certainly could go on a run, they have a hard road back to the playoffs with games remaining against fellow NFC playoff hopefuls Eagles, Packers, Cowboys, Rams. Possibly the best case scenario for the Bears would be that week 17 at the Vikings ended up a playoff eliminator, they have a lot of work in front of them to get that far.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9

Full10Takeaways – Week 8

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

Another week, more takeaways from the National Football League.

This week saw the first Wembley game, more controversy from the officials and the dolphins threatening to win a football game.


Trade deadline

Image result for contract signing

Tuesday sees the Trade deadline shut for NFL teams wanting to adjust their rosters for the business end of the season.

We’ve already seen players like Mohammed Sanu move from Atlanta to New England and Emmanuel Sanders move out west to San Francisco. They have been able to slot in to their new teams seamlessly and it remains to be seen whether or not that could be the difference between a runners up prize or the Vince Lombardi.

Other teams have traded with the future in mind though, as Miami running back Kenyan Drake is that latest player to move cities as he packs his bags for Arizona.

Expect teams to make a few phone calls to try and get last minute deals but one thing is for certain, there’ll be no extension granted to that deadline #brexitjoke.


they’ll be kicking themselves

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Image Credit: Getty Images Sport/Dylan Buell

This season has seen the most missed kicks (XP and FG) through week 8 in the last 25 years with 121.

The next closest in terms of misses is 109, which was “accomplished” in 2017 and 2001.

You’d think with all these misses, the coaches would try and make it as easy as possible for them… Nope.

Matt Nagy and Dan Quinn doing their kickers no favours whatsoever and we of course have the hall of Fame quote from Bruce Arians from a few weeks back that his kicker Matt Gay’s Field Goal miss was “better from 5 yards back”.

Add to that a plethora of missed FGs in controlled dome environments, it wasn’t a week where you’d get many highlights from a special teams standpoint.

Shout out though to Adam Viniateri, who poked one through from 51 yards (again with no help from Frank Reich!) to help his team win the game vs Denver despite having his troubles in this game and this season.


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Who is the King of the NFC North?

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Probably safe to say the NFC North will be sending 2 teams to the playoffs this year as we reach the midpoint in the season.

Question is though, who wins the division? Both the 7-1 Packers and 6-2 Vikings have looked red hot in recent weeks and both teams enjoy a favourable homefield advantage for different reasons.

The Packers currently have the edge with a game lead and the tie breaker against the Vikings after beating them in week 2.

Getting a home game in January is paramount in having a deep run in the playoffs and that will be the goal for these two teams on the back 9.

The week 16 clash between these 2 teams will likely decide who’ll get that home game in January.


Did I Reid that right?

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Image Credit: Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

Say what you like about Andy Reid’s time management skills or coaching decisions, but you cannot undersell his abilities as a coach.

Many were expecting a bloodbath in Kansas for a  few weeks when Mahomes went down with a dislocated knee, but Matt Moore went toe to toe with Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night Football to the tune of 24-of-36 (66%),267 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions which gave them a halftime lead. Moore completed passes to 7 different receivers and looked like he had been in that 1st team offence for months, not days.

Playbooks and play-calling does not have to be rocket science, but Andy Reid makes it’s that easy for whomever is his quarterback. Remember, this was a guy that made Alex Smith look like an MVP.


Traditional values


Sunday saw a battle of traditions go blow for blow as the Chargers doing Charger things battled the Bears’ kicker woes.

It seems that the force is strong with the Bears’ woes with kickers as Eddy Piniero hooked his FG attempt wide and saved the Chargers from themselves.

It’s amazing how certain things can get engrained into franchises (just look at the Browns!) and you have to wonder how this would have all played out if Robbie Gould had just been re-signed…

Let’s not forget the circus act of the offseason where the Bears had a competition to identify their new kicker!

If Piniero does get kicked to the kerb at some point, I wonder how long the line will be at Soldier Field to try out for the gig.


Shanahan Can Masterplan


The 49ers obliterated their stiffest test to date, putting up a 50 burger on the Panthers who were coming off a bye.

Brian Baldinger does some great content (Baldy’s breakdowns) on Twitter and he looked at the Kyle Shanahan offence from this game.

It shines a microscope on the level of detail in a Kyle Shanahan offence and there are multiple instances of the same paly being drawn up but a different player getting the ball upon reading the defence reaction.

You can kind of understand why some players have historically found it hard to adjust when joining the 49ers or why rookies struggle out of the gate. Multiple players including the great George Kittle have come out an divulged at how difficult the system is to get to grips with.

When you get used to the system however, the results are yards, touchdowns and just disarray on the defence. Just as Shanahan dialled it up.

As for the 49ers collectively, even the most stubborn of nay-sayers must now understand that this team is a legitimate one.


How aggressive is too aggressive?


Talking of dialling up plays, there’s a lot of scrutiny on the other end of the phone these days on every single play from scrimmage in the National Football League.

As time progresses, the more analytical the world becomes. This is especially true in sport.

One area that’s always under the spotlight is coaching decisions on 4th down depending on the point in the game, the yardage required and the scoreboard.

Hindsight usually dictates the social media view on these plays and this week was no different.

Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals had a 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter down 10-6 from their own 30 yard line which resulted in being stuffed on a run up the middle.

Other games saw Jon Gruden and his Raiders and Andy Reid’s Chiefs punting lateish in the 4th Quarter in their respective games. Neither coach got the ball back meaning the game was lost but lead to some criticising those decisions.

Depending on your mentality as a person or whether you’re playing Madden, there’ll always be these debates on when it is the right time to “go for it”, but essentially when the gavel comes down, the opinions of the majority are based on whether you won or lost the game.

PS. Follow @surrender_index on twitter for an index on cowardly punts.

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Can you teach this Darn-Old dog new tricks?

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Image Credit: Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media

Sam Darnold seems to be reverting back to his 2018 self. 7 Interceptions through his last 2 games and now 8 on the season for him in his 4 starts.

More ghastly interceptions, more ghostly shenanigans, Sam Darnold will do well to get through this rough patch. Whether he is still feeling the effects of mono and isn’t quite there yet remains to be seen but the season is now done for gang green so if he is still not 100%, Gase should think about who should be under center.

Talking of Adam Gase, the Jets Head Coach in his career as “the guy” is now more likely to lose by double digits (has happened 25 times in his career) than win a game (24). He isn’t a quarterback whisperer and is an imposter of a Head Coach. You have to wonder whether the Jets front office will blow the whole thing up once more in the offseason. More so for the sake of Sam Darnold, who seemingly isn’t going to progress whilst Gase is at the helm.

The antics of Jacksonville were somewhat entertaining though, with Jackson De Ville jumping down into the stadium as a ghost and the Jumbotron showing Darnold’s lowlights to date playing to the tune of Ghostbusters.


Ravens should start Browns-nosing

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Image Credit: Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports

I hope Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh were watching the game between the Patriots and the Browns on Sunday.

Despite what the boxscore says, the Browns matched the Patriots in quite a few categories and if it wasn’t for 3 consecutive turnovers, 13 penalties and some absolutely shocking output from the Kitchen, the Browns could’ve given the Patriots a real scare.

Yes, the conditions helped play in to the script of the game but the Cleveland Browns put a show on how to potentially beat the Patriots and the Ravens could capitalise considering their modus operandi.

One thing going against Jackson and the Ravens though is the way Brady, Belichick and the Patriots have taken care of all the 1st round Quarterbacks in the 2018 draft so far this season. Jackson is last on that list.


Whistle-blowing

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Image Credit: USA Today

In most companies, there is a something that needs reporting, you should be able to confidentially whistle blow on bad practice.

In the NFL though, whistle-blowing has caused many fans to feel aggrieved at the official’s practice.

Yet more instances on Sunday of perhaps whistling that may have been a bit premature.

Leonard Fournette has almost toted the rock 200 times this season, is the 2nd leading rusher in the NFL but only has 1 touchdown to show for his efforts. If Brad Allen and his crew held off for just a  second or two more whilst the pile was being pushed, it would have been paydirt for the second time this season for the Jags RB.

The biggest one of the weekend was definitely in Nashville, though, where Brett Kern fumbled the ball on what appeared to be a botched Field Goal attempt. He scooped the ball up and made haste for chains but got his soul taken from him by the Tampa Bay defence. Of course, when you lose your soul, you also lose the football. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Adrian Hills’s zebra crew blew this one dead and whilst the ensuing return from the Bucs was credited with possession of the football, they were not rewarded with 6 points that they perhaps could’ve have inherited due to the play being blown dead.

Whistleblowing eh? Makes you want to keep quiet.

One for the road…


it was Touted to be a poor game


Despite what the announcer may have said, there were quite a few empty seats at Wembley for their first International Series game of the season.

Very much a sore point with NFL fans across the UK, the touts may finally be getting the point.

With plenty of people happy to point out how low ticket prices were for the Rams vs Bengals game, you have to wonder if the tide is now turning not only for the NFL, but for events in general.