Quarterbacks: The Injured and The Young

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One of the things that makes the NFL such a spectacle week to week is that each team only plays sixteen games so every one matters and a teams prospects can change really quickly as several teams saw this weekend. Even a team with the roster depth of the Philadelphia Eagles can get undermined if too many injuries cluster around the same position, but I’ll cover that when I write up their game in the section, so let’s get started.

What I Saw

The week two Thursday night game saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers break my Thursday night line picking rule and win on the road against a Carolina Panthers team who have now fallen to 0-2. It was not a great spectacle that even started off looking strange as thanks to the weather the broadcasters only had two camera angles available and further lightening problems saw the game paused until it cleared. Neither team really shone, but for the Buccaneers Jameis Winston played without throwing an interception and didn’t get the Buccaneers into trouble while Cam Newton continued to look nothing like himself. It’s hard to evaluate from the outside what is going on with his shoulder and foot problems, but he is not effective at the moment and as good as Christian MaCaffrey has looked, he cannot carry the team when they are struggling in the red zone and Cam is missing so many consecutive passes. A trip to Arizona might help get the Panthers get back to winning ways, but they have not made things easy for themselves.

The final mention important part of this game was that it was my first safety of the season – now this is actually the third of the year and I need to cover them properly at some point – but yes I am still tracking them! In this one the Bucs were pinned back to the three yard line by the Panthers punt team, and on second and eleven Luke Kuechly burst through the line to tackle Peyton Barber in the end zone and prevent him from getting the whole ball back across the goal line.

It was a slightly light week of watching for me thanks to work and things going on at the weekend so I only got through half of the coaching tape from the week one game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants but it was enough for me to be impressed. The Cowboys might have started off slowly, but their offence is transformed with the kind of pre-snap motion you see all over the league as well as plays where running backs split out, line up as receivers and run routes, which the Patriots used very effectively last season. The added benefit of this offensive transformation is the way Dak Prescott is playing. There were two throws that impressed me with their precision and timing, but Prescott has also amassed six hundred and seventy-four yards with seven touchdowns and only one interception in his opening two games. Right now the Cowboys look like one of the better teams in the NFL and if they can stay healthy then this could be a very good year indeed for them indeed.

I have watched two games from Sunday and I will start with the painful one from my perspective, as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals very convincingly 41-17. The 49ers managed this whilst not so much looking spectacular on offence as benefitting from some truly awful tackling from the Bengals defence who looked so good in week one. The pass rush still looks good dangerous and it could just be a blip, but in a home opener it was a pretty dispiriting performance. The Bengals’ offence didn’t do much better barring a couple of flash plays. There are receivers in the passing game with John Ross looking good for a second week in a row and Tyler Boyd leading the team in receiving yards, but two one-hundred-yard receivers could not produce consistently enough for the Bengals to keep them in the game. More injuries hampered the offensive line and for a second week in a row the run game never got started. More worryingly the Bengals’ next game sees them travel to an unbeaten Buffalo Bill’s team who might not finish as the class of the AFC at the end of the season but look setup to be a difficult team for anyone to face. I have a nasty feeling I’ll be writing about an 0-3 team next week.

The final game I saw was the Atlanta Hawks hosting and beating the Philadelphia Eagles in a highly entertaining 24-20 contest. The Eagles really struggled with injuries in this game losing multiple offensive players early and Carson Wentz missed a series with a rib injury. It was an entertaining game but at times there was sloppy quarterback play for both teams and five interceptions were thrown between Wentz and Matt Ryan. That said the Falcons did flash on offence several times and sealed the game with a beautiful fourth and three play that saw the left tackle Jake Matthews get down field and block a poor DB to spring Julio Jones for fifty-four yards and the winning touchdown.

What I Heard

There has been much discussion of quarterbacks with two of the elite tier going down injured and the announcement finally coming that Eli Manning will be benched for Daniel Jones. Unusually, Sam Darnold did not even make the start of the week two game having been ruled out with mononucleosis, but has been cleared to return to the facility and is aiming for a week five return. What state the team will be in by then is anyone’s guess as poor Trevor Siemian was lost for the season to an ankle early in the game. The former Denver Broncos quarterback has played well when healthy but was not able to stay that way in Denver and on a one year deal this is pretty much the worse case for him.

The Cleveland Browns did what they should have done and won 23-3 but they are still sloppy. You also have to wonder about the game management when a running back comes out of the medical tent after a concussion check and gets thrown back into the game despite it being the fourth quarter with the game well and truly in hand.

What I Think

Whilst picking games on Sunday I mentioned that there would be more 1-1 teams than 2-0 or 0-2 teams, which is my way of reminding myself that we can’t take too much as set in stone from one game for each team. Unfortunately, I promptly forgot that as I actually made my selections and that partially accounts for me having such a poor week, but it also feels like that the ratio of records is different than in previous years. What I ought to do is go look at the numbers, but it’s my birthday tomorrow so things are a little all over the place and I don’t have time today, but I might well have a look at some point.

What I can tell you is that there are nine teams that have gone 2-0 to keep an unbeaten record and matching nine who have lost both of their games. Thanks to the Detroit Lions’ tie with the Arizona Cardinals we have a team with a 1-0-1 record and a corresponding 0-1-1 record while twelve teams have gone 1-1.

The teams that are really in trouble are those like Washington who have lost two divisional games already and the Pittsburgh Steelers who have lost both games and their starting quarterback. The New Orleans Saints have also lost a starting quarterback and will need Teddy Bridgwater to play well if they hope to keep themselves in contention until Drew Brees can return form surgery on his torn thumb ligament. There are some teams that may well right themselves from a solitary loss but I’m finding it hard to see turn arounds for the 0-2 teams which is a worry. The Steelers have tried to strengthen this year’s team despite Roethlisberger being done for the season with his elbow injury by trading next year’s first round pick for Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, which is a brave move and if any team can turn it round it might be the Steelers but the defence needs to come together as well as the offence.

What I Know

This is going to be one of those ones that is going to haunt me for a while, as I know that Lamar Jackson is really good and he is going to torture my Bengals for a long time. He is rapidly becoming one of my favourites of the young quarterbacks and we are beginning to amass quite a list: Patrick Mahomes (who somehow is possibly playing better this year), Jackson, Jarred Goff who has been to a Super Bowl, Josh Allen has got the Bills to 2-0 whilst Kyler Murray has already show flashes in a couple of games. I may not be too keen on the way Baker Mayfield conducts himself at times but he was good enough to give the Browns hope whilst Sam Darnold has shown flashes and people were excited by Daniel Jones in pre-season despite him being picked too high. Still, I haven’t had to work hard to find this quarterbacks, and whilst I’m certainly not wish the end of the careers of the likes of Brees, Brady (the Patriots were scary good again on both offence and defence), or Roethlisberger – the quarterbacks that follow them are suddenly looking a lot better than it was only a couple of years ago despite the retirement of Andrew Luck and the stalling of careers like Derek Carr. I’ll finish by saying that Dak Prescott has looked really good through two games so one to keep an eye on as he approaches getting his second contact.

What I Hope

I want the Dolphins to do something in week three that brings Dan joy and the Bengals surprise us all with a win up in Buffalo. Failing that, I hope the Ravens @ Chiefs lives up to the expectations I have them because I think this has the potential to be the best game we’ve seen yet.

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2019 Week Two Picks

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I will have to rush through these a bit, but here are our trivia answers and the week two picks.

Our question from Dan’s Dad was;

‘On their Monday Night Football debut in 1970, the Falcons lost 20-7 to whom?’

Now, this could be anything, so I’m going to try to narrow the field. I believe the Falcons were an expansion team and I did a search and found that they were, in 1967 and there are three expansion teams that were created around the same time: Dolphins (66), Saints (67) and Bengals (68) but since Dan and my teams are both AFL and it would seem a little odd for Dan’s Dad to pick them so I’m going to plump for the Saints. Now it’s going to be something completely different or a devious double bluff and be one of our teams.

The theme that was mention still doesn’t seem that clear, if it’s not the centenary year, we’re still looking at a fairly early period so I’m going to plump for pre-merger football.

‘Well this really could be anyone. Absolutely anyone. I’m going to take Dad’s ‘Happy Hunting’ comment as a steer… first thought is ‘Bears’, but as Chicago was last week’s answer, I think I’ll go with the Cowboys. Complete guess though.

Link-wise, I’m no clearer. I’m not even going to make a guess this week, so here’s your chance to take an early lead, Gee!’

Bills @ Giants (+2.5)

This is a tight line that sees the home dog New York Giants trying to get their first win against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills look like they are going to be a tough team to face and managed to win a scrappy game last week. I want to take the points but this isn’t quite enough for me to do so as I do not trust the Giants one bit.

Gee’s Pick:       Bills
Dan’s Pick:      Giants

49ers @ Bengals (-1.5)

This is one of those tricky early season lines where I thought the Bengals looked pretty good on the road in Seattle, and the 49ers win against the Buccaneers looks better now that the Bucs won their second game quite convincingly against the Panthers on Thursday night. This is a tough start for the 49ers with two road games, and whilst this can build togetherness I’m going to back my team for a second week in a row.

Gee’s Pick:       Bengals
Dan’s Pick:      Bengals

Cowboys @ Washington (+5.5)

I’ve not watched the entire game, but I was impressed with the Dallas Cowboys offence that was running standard NFL pre-snap motion plus jet-sweeps and utilising flexed out running backs in stark contrast to their offence last year. Meanwhile Washington were competitive again before the Eagles turned things around against them in week one so it still hard to trust them as a team. This leaves me in a bind and I’m really not sure what to do so I’m going to grab the points and hope.

Gee’s Pick:       Washington
Dan’s Pick:      Cowboys

Chargers @ Lions (+2.5)

The Detroit Lions looked good for three quarters but couldn’t seal the game in the fourth quarter or over-time and this does not bode well. Nor does having to play an extra quarter of football. The LA Chargers are injured but got off to a winning start and I have lot more faith in them at the moment so that’s who I’m going to pick.

Gee’s Pick:       Chargers
Dan’s Pick:      Chargers

Vikings @ Packers (-2.5)

This should be a fascinating game but is another stern test of the Packers new offence having faced the Bears in week one. The good news is that it looks like Aaron Rodgers has more support from his defence than he’s had in a long time, but the Vikings bring their run first attitude and tough defence to Lambeau in what should be a close game. This line gives me very little to work with and even last years game was a tie. I’m going to go with the Packers given they are at home and I’d pick Rodgers over Kirk Cousins but I don’t feel great about it.

Gee’s Pick:       Packers
Dan’s Pick:       Vikings

Colts @ Titans (-3.5)

The Indianapolis Colts gave a good account of themselves last week, but having lost narrowly to the Chargers in overtime now travel to the Tennessee Titans who shocked a lot of people by beating the Browns last week. It should not be that surprising that the Titans were competitive as they were in contention for the playoffs last season and I think they could well be again this year. In fact, coming off that strong win I fancy them to win this game but the line does make me pause but not enough to change my mind.

Gee’s Pick:       Titans
Dan’s Pick:      Colts

Patriots @ Dolphins (+18.5)

I want to run a mile from this game. The Miami Dolphins got absolutely stuffed last week and it is hard to see the Patriots stuggling like they often seem to in their anual trip to face the Dolphins. I’m pretty certain this is the highest line I’ve ever seen, and whilst I can see the Patriots beating it, I just can’t bring myself to pick it. I would run away from this line if I was playing with money or try to tease the line down to something sensible but as I have to pick it I’m grabbing the home underdog of all home underdogs.

Gee’s Pick:       Dolphins
Dan’s Pick:      Patriots

Cardinals @ Ravens (-13.5)

I do not expect the Baltimore Ravens to have the kind of fourth quarter mishaps that stopped the Lions putting away the Cardinals last week and so the question to me is can the Ravens beat the Cardinals by two touchdowns. The Ravens defence will be a very different beast to face for the Cardinals and I’m not sure that Kyler Murray will find the kind of rhythm he did late against the Lions. Still, this is a lot of points of I’m not quite confident enough that the Ravens will cover so I’m going to grab the points, which will feel like the smart play until the Ravens offence explodes again…

Gee’s Pick:       Cardinals
Dan’s Pick:      Cardinals

Seahawks @ Steelers (-3.5)

This should be a really interesting game as the Steelers will be desperate to get back to winning ways having laid an egg in front of the nation against the Patriots last week. The Steelers do seem to be one of the teams who can be prone to those kind of mishaps and then bounce back but they welcome a Seahawks team who will be tough and competitive so with the Steelers needing to win by four to cover this line I am going to grab the points.

Gee’s Pick:       Seahawks
Dan’s Pick:      Seahawks

Jaguars @ Texans (-9.5)

The Houston Texans lost to a field goal in a remarkable game that featured multiple lead changes in the last few minutes and this week get the chance to bounce back against a Jacksonville Jaguars team reeling from a tough loss to the Chiefs that also cost them their new franchise quarterback to a broken collarbone. More worrying for me is the Jaguars’ defence that looked more like last year’s iteration rather than the all league unit it was two seasons ago. This is another game I’d stay away from by choice as this seems like a very high line even if the Jaguars are down to a backup quarterback. Still, I don’t trust the Texans either so I’m going to grab the points and hope.

Gee’s Pick:       Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:      Texans

Chiefs @ Raiders (+9.5)

The Kansas City Chiefs ran out easy winners last week but lost Tyreek Hill to a nasty sounding clavicle injury and their defence still does not inspire confidence. This week they travel to face the Oakland Raiders who got a win on opening night, but at the cost of their first round draft pick. It’s not that I can’t see the Chiefs winning by ten, but given the changes and a seemingly tougher team this year I’m going to grab the points. This could be a big mistake but if the consensus spread I’m seeing is seven then this is enough above that to sway me.

Gee’s Pick:       Raiders
Dan’s Pick:      Raiders

Bears @ Broncos (+1.5)

This is a real I do not know what to do game as whilst the Bears defence looked really good in week one, their offence did not fire at all whilst the Denver Broncos came out with an uninspiring offensive game and managed not to get a sack in their loss to the Raiders. The Bears also have extra rest having opened the season on Thursday night whilst the Broncos played late Monday but many teams struggle in the thin Denver air. That said, I have a lot of faith in Matt Nagy’s ability to scheme an offence and with the one unit I know I trust I’m going to nervously back the Bears.

Gee’s Pick:       Bears
Dan’s Pick:      Broncos

Saints @ Rams (-2.5)

This is the other cracking game of the week that pits two of last seasons top teams against each other, both coming off week one wins. That said, both had to work hard to get those wins and there really doesn’t seem much between them. They are right next to each over in overall DVOA ranking. If this was later in the year I might factor in Drew Brees playing out of doors but in this early one I’m going to grab the points given to the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Gee’s Pick:       Saints
Dan’s Pick:      Saints

Eagles @ Falcons (+1.5)

This is one of those games where there is a giant unknown factor for me as I don’t know if the Falcon’s performance last week was an aberration or if there are serious problems. One of their new offensive linemen is already injured and this week they face a Philadelphia Eagles team who took a little while to get going but in the end won fairly convincingly. I’m going to back that credibility even though there will be more teams with 1-1 records than 2-0 or 0-2.

Gee’s Pick:       Eagles
Dan’s Pick:      Eagles

Browns @ Jets (+2.5)

This Monday night game was supposed to highlight two up and coming franchises, only the Browns dropped the ball last week, losing to the Titans whilst the Jets not only lost to the Bills but Sam Darnold is out with mononucleosis and CJ Mosely is also out injured. Given how the Jets’ defence looked without their new leader Mosley last week and Darnold being out I have to back the Browns in this one but I don’t necessarily feel great about it.

Gee’s Pick:       Browns
Dan’s Pick:      Browns

Competiton Thursday: 2019 Week 2

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It’s already week two and our second competition Thursday looms so whilst it’s way too early to read much into anything here’s the results from last week and the selection for tonight’s game.

Gee:                Week    10-6                Overall   10-6
Dan:                Week    8-8                  Overall   8-8
Dan’s Dad:       Week    9-7                  Overall   9-7

Buccaneers @ Panthers (-6.5)

It may be a failure on my part that I don’t have hard rules for the Sunday/Monday games, but my maxim on Thursday nights is to pick the home team unless there are very good reasons not to and this week does not qualify for both football and number reasons.

I see the consensus line as ± 7 depending on which team you pick so this gives me a half point advantage through a key number if I go with the home team Panthers.

Additionally, whilst the Panthers lost a close home opener to the LA Rams in week one, the Buccaneers lost by two touchdowns to the 49ers in a game where Jameis Winston threw three interceptions. I have a lot of respect for Bruce Arians and it’s only one game so you cannot say that Arians can’t improve on Winston’s historically turnover heavy play, but we saw no evidence of it so far and with two teams desperate for the win I see the Panthers coming out on top at home. I am a little concerned given the amount of respect I have for the Bucs coaching staff, but whilst there are only five places between their overall DVOA rankings (technically VOA Football Outsiders don’t adjust for opponents until after week four), the difference in the actual DVOA value is 33.8% and that puts me back on the side of the Panthers in this one.

Gee’s Pick:       Panthers
Dan’s Pick:       Buccaneers

Week 2 Trivia

‘Well the 2019/2020 season is well and truly underway with an opening week which lit a fire in many belly’s while having others fearing a long season with little to show for all the effort. I truly understand the feeling because as a QPR soccer supporter the biggest questions are around which team will turn up and ‘who thought this manager was worth having.

What is in no doubt though is the response to the trivia quiz. Last year it was week 3 before we saw a point on the board – and this time it’s 2 points each. I asked:

Prior to arriving in St. Louis in 1960, in which city did the Cardinals play their home games?

The Answer was Chicago

Founded in 1898 in Chicago, they had a number of name changes, including Morgan Athletic Club and Racine Normal’s. It was as the Chicago Cardinals, they won two NFL championships in 1925 and 1947. Despite those two successes, losing seasons were the norm for the Cardinals, along with low attendances, as they tried to compete with the crosstown Bears. With the new AFL looking to expand into St. Louis, the NFL and the team owners agreed a deal to move the team to the Missouri city.

The bonus ‘Theme’ was not won this week but picking a theme from one sample was hardly expected. My guess is that it will be identified in Week 4 ! Let’s see.

Week 2

Right, here we go again and for Week 2 my question is:

On their Monday Night Football debut in 1970, the Falcons lost 20-7 to whom?

This one also earns 2 points for a correct answer.

Happy Hunting’

Overreaction Week

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It’s that time of the season where we have one game of data and we overreact, so let’s see if we can find a nuanced view that sits somewhere between sixteen teams winning the Super Bowl and sixteen looking at the number one pick in next year’s draft.

What I Saw

The season opener that saw the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers was not exactly the explosive opener I’m sure the NFL would have wanted, but it does look as if the Packers are going to have a more balanced team this season. The Packers and their improved looking defence were able to hold the Bears to three points in a 10-3 win. The Packers needed this performance from their defence as the Bears defence looked as fearsome as year but I did also wonder if the lack of game time for their starters might be playing a factor in the Packers offensive output. This did make me wonder about the rest of the weekend’s games given the increased prevalence of teams resting their starters but it turns out there were plenty of teams whose offence hit the ground running. The Bears were not one of them though and there is still a worry about what the ceiling is for Mitch Trubisky. We should be wary of reading too much into one game but we’ll have an idea of just how representative this game was once we have some more to put things into context.

I only managed to watch a little of the last episode of Hard Knocks thanks to various things, so all I saw was the footage of Antonio Brown catching balls in practice before discovering that he was arguing with GM Mike Mayock having posted a fine letter on social media, and then getting cut having had his contract voided. He signed for the Patriots over the weekend and this morning’s headline is that Brown has been accused of rape by a former trainer. I really don’t know what to say other than that this is a deeply troubling accusation, that the courts need to carry out their due process, and at this point does Brown not have to go on the commissioner’s exempt list?

Moving awkwardly back to football I watched three further games this week.

The Cincinnati Bengals did much better than I feared as they ran out 20-21 losers in their trip to face the Seahawks in Seattle. However, the defence played well limiting the Seahawks to two-hundred and sixty-eight yards whilst containing Russell Wilson and sacking him four times. Meanwhile, for all the talk of establishing the run, Zac Taylor ran his offence according to what the Seahawks sent out, and Andy Dalton threw for a career high four-hundred and forty-one yards. The Seahawks showed their experience in winning ugly, but it was a promising start for the Bengals who now need to learn how to win games like this.

The Detroit Lions must still be kicking themselves over the road trip to Arizona as having established a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter they froze up as the Cardinals managed to stage a comeback and hold on for a tie in overtime. For most of this game the Lions were in control, but they got too conservative in the fourth quarter on offence and managed to call a time-out on a play that looked to have converted a third down, then ran an awful long shot play that didn’t work, before having the resulting punt blocked. The positive for the Lions is that rookie tight end TJ Hockenson set a rookie record of one hundred and thirty-one receiving yards as well as scoring a touchdown but they’ll need to clean up their game management and have a tough looking slate of games coming up. The Cardinals looked like they could have a long season but even though Kyler Murray looks like a small quarterback, his movement skills are impressive and he managed to avoid taking any big hits. Murray needs to learn to throw the ball away earlier in certain situations, but if he can find and maintain the kind of rhythm he found in the fourth quarter then he could justify the faith the Cardinals showed by taking him first overall.

The final game I saw this week as they New England Patriots sending out a warning to the rest of the league with a 33-3 demolition of the supposed fellow AFC challengers the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots coaching staff seem to absolutely have the number of the Steelers and worryingly for the league, looked sharp on both sides of the ball in their opening game. For a team that have often started slowly in recent years they played well and Tom Brady looked to have the deep ball in his armoury. As for the Steelers, they looked like they weren’t quite there on offence and the coaching staff need to find some way of stopping Brady shredding them, which to be fair is easier said than done. This was a tough way for any team to start the season so it’s not time to hit the panic button yet but the Steelers host the Seahawks in their first home game this week and they’ll want to get their season back on track quickly.

What I Heard

I head an interesting discussion with Warren Sharp on the Pro Football Doc podcast this week, where they discussed how teams seemed to be listening to the people who having looked at the numbers suggest throwing the ball on first down is a more efficient play call. Essentially the suggestion was that a team should call a throw on first down, but switch to a run play if the defence they faced or matchup favoured it, but otherwise passing on first down was more gave better results by trying to get a first down quicker than limiting the distance on third down. This increased uptake of passing first downs might be even more impressive if you remove the outliers like the Minnesota Vikings who only asked Kirk Cousins to throw ten times during the entire game this week.

I would need to see the maths on this to analyse this, but it feels logical to me. Particularly, when advocating that you still run if the situation is advantageous. For all the talk of balance and establishing the run, the Bengals threw a lot of passes against the Seahawks and it could well be that amongst the enlarged staff the Bengal’s new head coach asked for and got, are some more analytics people being listened to. I have thought for a while that it’s not so much that you have to establish the run, as maintain a credible threat so a defence can’t concentrate on stopping one thing. One to keep an eye on.

What I Think

It’s early in the season, so the crucial this is not to overreact. That said, I’m not sure that you can overreact as a Dolphins fan. I was chatting with Dan as the Ravens’ touchdowns kept coming up on Red Zone. The Cleveland Browns proved that an NBA style tank can work, and the coaches and players are absolutely trying to win but this is going to be a long difficult season for the Dolphins.

My suggestion was for Dan to adopt a fun NFC team to watch as he’s not going to stop supporting the Dolphins but for the sake of his sanity he needs something fun to watch on gameday. Here’s how bad it is, after five seasons of always picking the Dolphins to win in the pick’em competition he has announced he’s not doing it this year.

See what you’ve done Chris Grier!

What I Know

The top teams look pretty familiar and expected with the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints, and Rams all running out winners, although no one took that as literally as the Vikings did in week one.

There were plenty of surprises, although I wasn’t that shocked that the Browns struggled, but even I was not expecting them to give away that many penalties. The Titans were competitive last year and with Andrew Luck’s retirement they feel they should be in the mix for the AFC South. I may well have got the Falcons completely wrong, but I think I understand most of where I dropped points in the picks competition, although I clearly didn’t account for the Raiders maintaining their pre-season competitiveness into week one, but let I am not going to make any grand pronouncements until we have four games played.

I took a tenuous point lead in the pick’em competition despite my lack of preparation, but the regular season is marathon not a sprint. I am going to take a look at the Cowboys offence for my first coaching tape of the week as the discussion surrounding how it thrived despite Ezekiel Elliott’s rust interested me. I look forward to seeing how Dak Prescott played.

What I Hope

I am hoping to get through the coaching tape and picks despite being at a music festival this weekend (Hmmmh, I might need to find some extra hours from somewhere) and I hope all those teams who lost this week get a win on the board next week. However, it won’t happen as the season of hope is over – football is here and it is very much a results orientated business.

Still, good luck for the week two teams, I can see a number of teams (and fanbases) who will need it.

2019 Week One Picks

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And so to a week of picks I feel singuarly unqualified to make, although in fairness week one is always tough with so little to go on other than instinct. This feels particularly true this year given how little most team played their starters in pre-season.

Still, running with the theme of unprepared here we go with the week one trivia question:

‘Prior to arriving in St. Louis in 1960, in which city did the Cardinals play their home games?’

Now, I’m fairly sure I remember this from an offseason feature about franchise records and so I’m going with them moving from Chicago to St Louis before becoming the Phoenix then Arizona Cardinals. I’m also going to take a guess at the them being the pre-merger teams given we are celebrating the NFL’s 100th season. Now for Dan’s answers:

‘Well, this couldn’t have been a better start for me as I immediately knew the answer to the trivia question!  The Cardinals moved from Chicago in 1960.

For the question link, it literally could be anything at this stage! I’m going to make a guess at the answers are all places that my dad has been to?’

Falcons @ Vikings (-4.5)

This is an intriguing matchup as the Vikings, who are always competitive under Mike Zimmer, host a Falcons team who did surprisingly well last season given how ravaged they were by injury. The Falcons have invested a lot in strengthening their offensive line and I’m expecting a close game. The Vikings have a good home field advantage, but I’m expecting more of a contest than this and so based purely on the number I’m backing the Falcons to keep it within five points.

Gee’s Pick:       Falcons
Dan’s Pick:      Vikings

Bills @ Jets (-3.5)

This should be an interesting game that sees two division rivals looking to improve on last year’s showing and given the offseason moves I’m really not sure how these teams are going to matchup. I think that Sam Darnold is the more talented quarterback starter and the addition of Le’Veon Bell has the potential to really help Darnold. I am also looking forward to seeing what Adam Gase can do with him after the difficult years in Miami but the Bills have been frequently competitive under Sean McDermott and the extra half point has me nervous about the Jets. I don’t trust either team really so I’m once again basing this pick on the number.

Gee’s Pick:       Bills
Dan’s Pick:      Jets

Titans @ Browns (-5.5)

It is interesting that the consensus line I’m seeing matches the one ESPN have given us and it clearly reflects the positivity surrounded the Browns. Opening their season against the Titans at home they will be looking to break their fourteen game losing streak in opening games and I can definitely seem them doing so, but this feels like a high line to me. The Titans were nothing if not competitive last season and I expect them to be so again. I think the Browns have as much hope as I can remember and I could live to regret this, but I want to see it before I start given away these kinds of points, even if they are at home.

Gee’s Pick:       Titans
Dan’s Pick:      Browns

Chiefs @ Jaguars (+3.5)

The Jaguars will be looking to get revenge from last season as they welcome the Chiefs in what should be a fascinating contest between the Chiefs high powered offence and the Jaguars defence. This may well be my first coaching tape matchup of the new season but right now we have a home underdog who only have to be within a field goal for me to get the point. I’m really not sure about this line and with no numbers to work on I’m falling back on the fact that head coach Andy Reid is spectacularly good when he’s had time to prepare and so despite being tempted by the home points, I’m nervously backing the Chiefs and their high-powered offence. This feels very wrong,..

Gee’s Pick:       Chiefs
Dan’s Pick:      Chiefs

Rams @ Panthers (+2.5)

Much like the previous game, the Rams starting their season in Carolina sees one of last year’s high powered offences starting their season on the road, but whilst even on a down year the Jaguars’ defence was top ten by DVOA – the Panthers very much weren’t. The Panthers have not had the best preparation this off-season either with Cam Newton suffering a foot injury and having to manage his shoulder after another injury last season. This is another home underdog game where I should probably grab the points but I am not going to – I have a lot more faith in Sean McVay and the Rams right now to win by a field goal. I don’t like taking two road favorites in a row but these project to be some of the strongest teams in the league and so I’m picking like it.

Gee’s Pick:       Rams
Dan’s Pick:      Rams

Ravens @ Dolphins (+4.5)

If there is one thing I know about the Dolphins it is that Dan will be blindly picking them even though they are clearly focusing on the future rather than this season. This is also the third home underdog in a row and I’m still not taking one of them. I’m sorry Dan, the points make me pause a little, but I think the Ravens are going to be very competitive and with the trading away of their talent last weekend I’m not sure even Fitzmagic can rescue a cover for the Dolphins.

Gee’s Pick:       Ravens
Dan’s Pick:      Dolphins

Washington @ Eagles (-9.5)

This is the first of two giant lines and I can totally see why. The Eagles have one of the deepest looking rosters in the league thanks to their top-notch front office and a Super Bowl winning head coach, whilst Washington’s front office is questionable to say the least. There are some injuries amongst the Eagles starters that might make me pause, but the consensus line I’m seeing is actually higher than this line and so I’m once again backing a strong hunch.

Gee’s Pick:       Eagles
Dan’s Pick:      Washington

Bengals @ Seahawks (-9.5)

So the Bengals have one of the toughest starts to the season I can remember, on the road in Seattle and with yet another potential starting lineman missing through injury they are starting Andre Smith at left tackle. I want to be full of hope, but I have a feeling this could be a rough start to the season. That said, this would be the fifth straight pick where I back the favourite and given how the Bengal’s move the ball in the offseason and Russell Wilson losing his favourite target in Doug Baldwin, I’m going to back the Bengals to keep this within ten. If I can’t have hope in the first game of the season, when can I?

Gee’s Pick:       Bengals
Dan’s Pick:      Seahawks

Colts @ Chargers (-2.5)

I never know how to treat the Chargers given their unusual home field situation as it definitely feels they have lost out to the Rams in the battle for LA fans . They go into this game as favourites despite the injuries and likely because of Luck’s retirement and I don’t have a strong feeling on how the Colts will cope. The good news is that Jacoby Brissett has taken first team snaps all pre-season and the Colts are perhaps the healthier team but I’m going to stick with the home team as they only need a field goal to cover. I’m just worried this is a reflex pick because of how good Philip Rivers is.

Gee’s Pick:         Chargers
Dan’s Pick:        Chargers

Giants @ Cowboys (-7.5)

The Dallas Cowboys have Ezekial Elliott in the fold but the Giants have their own star running back. However, the Cowboys have their strong offensive line and an improving defence to rely on whilst the Giants are very much in transition. However, this is a big line and I do wonder if big blue might be a bit more competitive than this given the rust that Elliott might have with his lack of off-season work. I’m basing this pick purely off the number as I need to see the Cowboy justify a choice back them to win by eight before I am going to do it – I don’t have that much faith Jason Garrett.

Gee’s Pick:       Giants
Dan’s Pick:      Cowboys

Lions @ Cardinals (+2.5)

And here is the first game where I throw up my hands and state I don’t know what to do. We haven’t seen what Kliff Kingsbury has in store for his offence and this could well be a game where he can spring a surprise thanks to the lack of tape. They host a Lions team who struggled last season and I’m not sure they have made the moves in the off-season to turn things around. This is my last chance to pick a home underdog and given that I have no earthly clue what is likely to happen in this game that is what I am going to do…

Gee’s Pick:       Cardinals
Dan’s Pick:      Lions

49ers @ Buccaneers (-1.5)

I am interested in every game this week, but given the soft spot I have for Bruce Arians I am really curious about what he can do with his new team and Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers start the season by hosting a 49ers team who still don’t really know if the player they are paying like a franchise quarterback is one, and Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off a torn ACL that cost him most of last season. I’m really not sure how this game is going to play out and that is what worries me. Still, the Football Outsiders playoff odds predicts the 49ers to be 1.4 games better than the Buccaneers and this line is half a point higher than the consensus so I’m going with the 49ers.

Gee’s Pick:       49ers
Dan’s Pick:      Buccaneers

Steelers @ Patriots (-6.5)

Now this should be fascinating match-up as the Steelers roll into New England to take on the Super Bowl champion Patriots. The Steelers will be hoping that the removal of two of their killer Bs will improve their team through the subtraction of their distractions, but they go into this game with a 2-6 record over the last ten years against the Patriots. If there is a good time to catch the Patriots though it is at the start of the season, and the Pats do have problems coming into the season thanks to injuries on the offensive line. I think come the end of the year the Patriots will be right up with the best teams as usual but they deliberately start the season slow, have injuries, and even though Roethlisberger’s road from is questionable this feels like too many points to be giving the Steelers.

Gee’s Pick:       Steelers
Dan’s Pick:      Patriots

Texans @ Saints (-6.5)

The first Monday Night Football game of the seasons sees the Houston Texans travel to take on the New Orleans Saints. Their has been a lot of roster movement in the last week or so for the Texans and there only a few places tougher to go to in the league than the Superdome. The Saints are all in for another year and my only concern is the way Drew Brees struggled to throw the ball deep in the second half of last season, yet the Saints were close to getting to the Super Bowl and look to be in the mix again this year. As much as I love JJ Watt, the Texans do not convince me so whilst this is a lot points I’m still leaning to the Saints and hope that I’m not underestimating the Texans.

Gee’s Pick:       Saints
Dan’s Pick:      Saints

Broncos @ Raiders (-2.5)

The second Monday night game of the week sees the Oakland Raiders welcome the Denver Broncos and I really don’t know what to do. The Raiders have not convinced under Jon Gruden one bit and the Denver Broncos are relying on Joe Flacco to lead the offence. I like the hire of Vic Fangio for the Broncos but this feels a little like the meeting of the also rans of the AFC West. The presence of Von Miller gives the Broncos possibly the biggest difference maker but I don’t have strong lean either way. I don’t like the idea of giving away points picking the Raiders so that will have to do as the final deciding factor in this one. Oh to have some numbers to work with in the coming weeks!

Gee’s Pick:       Broncos
Dan’s Pick:      Broncos

A Glance at the AFC

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I am so far behind where I want to be, and right now I’m looking at a list of NFL lines with horror – I was meant to have spreadsheets and formulas but despite getting the first game of the season right, I’m looking at the rest of games without even a picking pin to help me and that seemed to serve Dan’s Dad so well last year.

So before I have a nervous breakdown about the week one lines I still have time to run through the AFC divisions, which I suppose might help me gather my thoughts.

AFC East

The obvious class of the division is the defending Super Bowl Champions who will once again be the team to beat. The New England Patriots may well start slowly again, but I won’t believe they can’t be a contender to repeat when I see it, even if Tom Brady has to stop at some point. The combination of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon could be combustible off the field, but could be terrifying if Belichick and his staff can channel their talent.

This season the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets will both be hoping to be more competitive in the division as their young quarterbacks go into their second years. I have a bit more faith in the Bills’ coaching staff than Adam Gase but Sam Darnold might well be the better quarterback. I’m curious to see how these teams will develop, but I’m not sure this is the year they compete for the playoffs.

One team who definitely won’t be participating in that race is the Miami Dolphins, who committed to the Fish Tank when they traded away three starters last weekend. They are clearly stacking up picks for the future and trying to replicate the Browns approach to the rebuild. I feel sorry for Josh Rosen who after a tough rookie year has been traded to a team who look like they could be just as bad as the Cardinals were last year.

AFC North

I have to acknowledge my own bias, but the AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. That said the class of the division are sadly not the Bengals but the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens who even during their down years are still competitive. The Steelers look like they could be rejuvenated without dealing with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and Devin Bush looks like the piece the Steelers defence has been missing since the Ryan Shazier injury. The Ravens have looked good in pre-season and the defence seems to keep their identity regardless of additions and leavers. The offence will need to develop as you can only sustain so much running with your quarterback, but the comeback late in their wildcard loss did show signs that Lamar Jackson could throw enough for the offence to thrive.

The big offseason narrative of the off-season has been around the Browns, who have been amassing futher talent including Odell Beckham as John Dorsey sets the team up for what many believe will be a serious run for playoff success. My one concern though, is that Freddie Kitchens had not even run an offence until last season and now he’s in charge of the whole team. I’m not saying that they can’t succeed, and they may well challenge for the playoffs but I don’t think it is as a sure thing as a lot of people seem to.

I can’t argue that the Bengals should be taken as seriously being in the mix for the division, particularly given the ongoing injury problems along the offensive line, but I am looking forward to finally seeing what Zac Taylor’s plan is for the team. Although, on the road in Seattle has to be one of the toughest places to make a debut. I’m hopeful the offence can be effective as Andy Dalton has looked good in his limited pre-season snaps and Ryan Finley might be the future at quarterback although pre-season success for a rookie quarterback is no guarantee of success. However, I’m worried about the middle of the defence again and we’ll just have to see how things shake out.

AFC South

This is a division that was already looking very competitive and has been thrown up in the air by the shock retirement of Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts have really improved under GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich and will still be competitive with Jacoby Brissett running the offence but the expectations for the season obviously feels different now.

The Houston Texans are a hard team to read, but the lack of full-time GM led Bill O’Brien to make some distinctly short term moves over the weekend and I’m not sure they were really in the position to make them even with the division opening up for them. The Texans have plenty of top tier talent but somehow have never quite convinced despite O’Brien having them in contention for the playoffs most seasons.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be looking to bounce back from a dreadful season last year and part of this has been moving on from quarterback Blake Bortles as they look for Nick Foles to provide consistent play under coordinator John DeFilippo who was part of the Eagles Super Bowl winning staff that turned Foles into that game’s MVP. The defence was top ten last year by Football Outsiders DVOA despite knowing that the offence was going to let them down and will look to be dominant again. Meanwhile running back Leonard Fournette is healthy and will be wanting to demonstrate he’s worthy of the kind of contract handed to Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in recent years.

The Tennessee Titans were really competitive under Mike Vrabel despite quarterback Marcus Marriota dealing with a nerve issue in his throwing arm. This is Mariota’s fifth year in the league and for different reasons than Jameis Winston (who thanks to draft position he’ll always be compared to) he has never quite broken out. Still, on the evidence of his first season as head coach it might end up being Vrabel who becomes the most convincing player/coach connected to Belichick to lead a team. If they can keep Marriota healthy and the defence plays well, the team has the potential to be competitive. Definitely a team to watch in the early weeks.

AFC West

The obvious team to start with is the Kansas City Chiefs who have rebuilt their defence in the off-season but all the focus will rightly be on Patrick Mahomes who had an otherworldly first season at starter last season. They have just added three more years to Tyreek Hill’s contract despite the horror of his domestic situation and we really should not ignore his worrying history. However, the talent is apparently too valuable to ignore and so he gets to play despite many feeling he would get a huge suspension when the recording of him threatening his partner and discussing their child who has been removed from their care. The Chiefs’ were obviously worried about this as they drafted Mecole Hardman who looked good when I saw him in pre-season. I’m not sure how improved the defence really will be, but the combination of Andy Reid and Mahomes should see the Chiefs in contention for years to come.

The other team that looked to be obviously competitive in this division are the LA Chargers, but it feels like they might have been derailed before the season has even started. I have marvelled for years about Philip Rivers’ ability to run the offence without any protection from his offensive line and the team looked legitimately good for long stretches of last season but they have already got injuries to some key players across the roster including left tackle Russell Okung. They will probably still be a tough team to face but without a real home field advantage and multiple injuries this could be a tough year.

The Denver Broncos are hoping that new head coach Vic Fangio will give them the spark to rebound from the disappointments of the Vance Joseph era but this is a very different team to the one that went to two Super Bowls with Peyton Manning. That said, they still have a terrifying pass rusher in Von Miller and Fangio is an excellent defensive coach, but John Elway has not been successful at finding a francise quarterback outside of the free-agent signing of Manning and the Broncos go into this season hoping that Joe Flacco can turn round his decline of recent years. It might be a big ask but I have a lot more faith in the experienced Fangio to at least have the team more competitive than in recent years.

And so to the final team of the AFC, who were all over the news even before they were the subject of this year’s Hard Knocks. They seemed to be tearing the team down and starting again last season, but it is hard to see how their big free-agent acquisition Antonio Brown could have caused more disruption. After the cryogenic treatment issue that made a mess of his feet and kept him out of the start of training camp and the saga of what helmet he would play in that dominated the news – he got into an altercation with GM Mike Mayock after posting his fine letters on Instagram and was finally cut from the team after the Raiders voided most of the money from his contract. Brown has been picked up the Patriots in a move that surprises nobody and Dan finds deeply suspicious.

What does all this mean to the team? I’m not sure as he’s hardly been with them and I’m not convinced at all by Gruden in this second stint as Head Coach. The defence looked pretty good in pre-season but Derek Carr has just lost his best potential receiver and with so much turmoil on the roster in the last two season I don’t know what to expect and I don’t have a lot of faith. I always want teams to do well as selfishly it provides for better content and makes the league more fun to cover but it feels like in their final year in Oakland the Raiders have the potential to implode spectacularly or rally round together. As ever only time will tell.

Competition Thursday: 2019 Week 1

I am so far behind, but my pick is in so here we go with our first Competition Thursday!
Packers @ Bears (-3.5)

The season opens up with a difference this year – instead of the Super Bowl Champions the NFL have decided to start the centenary season with the oldest rivalry in the league, so we have the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears.

My usual Thursday night theory of always take the home team unless there is a really good reason not to doesn’t hold in week one given that neither team has a short week and both had plenty of time to prepare. As I wrote yesterday, I think the Bears will be competitive with another year for the offence to settle into Matt Nagy’s system and whilst the defence can’t sustain the number of turnovers they created last year, they still look a fearsome unit. However, the Packers kept hold of their defensive coordinator Mike Pettine despite the change in head coach and it is hoped the new offence will get even more out of the terrifying Aaron Rodgers. There are a lot of unknowns at this time of year, but the extra half point sways me to back the Pack on the road and it seems that Dan agrees. I’m sure the weekend’s games will separate us

Gee’s Pick: Packers
Dan’s Pick: Packers

Week 1 Trivia

After it’s debut in last night’s newsletter, it’s time to confirm what trivia terrors Dan’s Dad has in store for us this season:

‘After an interesting, and oft times infuriating season last year and another pre-season which proves absolutely nothing we arrive at the main event for the next 5 months – ‘The 2019 TWF Trivia Quiz’.

There will be a mix of old and new, a flexible scoring system more akin to QI than Brain of Britain but we also have a theme. I’m not going to say what it is but there will be a bonus of 3 points for the first player to spot what it is. To be clear there is one guess per week and if both get it in the same week both players will score the points.

Anyway enough obfuscation here is the question for Week 1 which is worth 2 points

Prior to arriving in St. Louis in 1960, in which city did the Cardinals play their home games?

Good Luck and enjoy the season which will see a stunning Vikings win in the Superbowl and a back to back ‘Pick ‘em’ winner.’

The Season Starts Tomorrow, Whether I’m Ready or Not…

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The first game of the new season starts tomorrow night and my weekly schedule is in tatters again (I could bore you with IT project discussions, but I doubt you want me to) so I’m going take you through a quick stroll through the NFC divisions ahead of the Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears Thursday night.

What I Saw

The week four pre-seasons games are always a slightly strange spectacle as for the players it is their last chance to get play on tape, not only to try to make the team they have been training for but to catch on somewhere else.

The Bengals lost a 13-6 game against the Indianapolis Colts but undrafted rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala played well enough across the last two games to catch on as the third quarterback. Things were more heart breaking for rookie running back Rodney Anderson who tore his ACL having only just got back on the field from tearing his ACL back in college. The Bengals’ cuts were interesting in of themselves as they kept a lot of defensive line players and went light on line-backers, which seemed to be something of a weakness in the pre-season but playing nickel and dime packages will have to work for this move to pay off.

The Oakland Raiders are playing things close enough to their chest on Hard Knocks that we had an extended sequence of Jon Gruden asking for knocks on wood, but it’s hard to know exactly how they’ll play. They could well be better than last season but I’m not expecting them to be challenging for the playoffs. In their final game they lost narrowly to the Seattle Seahawks who seem to have their number for most of the game, but a late surge nearly got the scores tied but the Raiders couldn’t complete the two-point conversion. It looked like Nathan Peterman had played well enough to earn the backup gig (pretty much the only story line they seem to be focussing on in Hard Knocks is his contest with Mike Glennon ) and was on the roster over the weekend as the Raiders signed a fourth quarterback. This move was somewhat strange until the Raiders sent Perterman to IR with an elbow injury.

I have been fairly impressed with the Green Bay Packers defence through pre-season, but we didn’t get to see Aaron Rodgers running the new system in pre-season so all eyes will be on them in the season opener.

What I Heard

I am so far behind in my prep for the season, I’m pretty worried about my picks as I haven’t even setup my spreadsheet yet, but I have at least got an idea of what I think for each team. I’m still catching up weekend moves, but hey Ezekiel Elliott just signed and I’m just going to try to go with the flow so lets take a swing through the NFC.

What I Think

This is going to be slightly quicker than I had originally planned so here’s a lighting run through the NFC, and I will try to somehow get the AFC covered in the coming days as they don’t play until the rest of the league starts on Sunday!

The class of the NFC East looks to be the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys and I would give the edge to the Eagles. They look to have the depth built by a front office that seems to really know what they’re doing. The Cowboys continue to add talent to their defence and are no long beholden to Sean Lee’s health on that side of the ball, but a lot rests on how the new offence functions and how Ezekiel Elliot performs having not been there. I suspect it might take him a couple of weeks to get up to speed.

The New York Giants have a mismatched timeline with aging quarterack Eli Manning fading and Daniel Jones looking good in pre-season, but plenty of rookie quarterbacks have looked good in pre-season and failed to turn that into regular season results. I don’t understand what their approach is and so I think it could be another long season for the Giants. I actually think that Jay Gruden could be a good head coach, and he did well with the Bengals offence but the front office in Washington in such a mess that it’s hard to have faith in them fighting for the playoffs. Their offence will miss Jordan Reed, but after seven concussions I hope he steps away from the game.

Across to the AFC North and It’s harder to separate the top three teams. I have a soft spot for the Minnesota Vikings as Mike Zimmer will have that defence competitive, another new offensive coordinator will be hoping to improve Kirk Cousins play. They will battling a Green Bay Packers team with a new coach and a GM into the second year of his rebuild. I refer you to my previous comments about the Packers, but Rodgers is a dragon so if he’s healthy they have a chance. I think there has to be some regression for the Chicago Bears just because defences can’t maintain that level of turnover production, but they will be there or there abouts in the playoff hunt at the end of the year.

The Detroit Patriots aren’t building their roster like the Pats, they’re paying players like the Lions and so I don’t know if Matt Patricia is going to get the turnaround he’ll be hoping for after a tough first year.

In the NFC South I think it’s another three team division. The Carolina Panthers will have been alarmed by Cam Newton’s foot sprain, but he should be okay but a lot depends on the new normal for his shoulder. The New Orleans Saints could be the class of the division and it’s hard to bet against them, the one worry is that Drew Brees did not have the deep ball at the end of the season and a lot like Tom Brady, we’re waiting for time to catch up with him. The Atlanta Falcons cannot be as injured on defence as they were last season and head coach Dan Quinn is taking responsibility for it. They have invested a lot in the offensive line over the off-season, but we will have to see how things turn around.

I can’t see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite getting into the playoffs mix, but I am prepared to be surprised because long time readers know I have a huge amount of respect for Bruce Arians and reunited with Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator they could be a lot better than in recent years.

Finally, the NFC South has a stand out team in the LA Rams who are reconfigured, but I have faith that Sean McVay and Wade Philips will once again have the Rams rolling.

I have a feeling the Seattle Seahawks will be difficult to play all season and have themselves in the mix for a wildcard spot at the end of the season For all the focus on the run game, Pete Carroll knows how to get his teams into the postseason.

I’m not sure what the San Franciscos 49ers are going to do this season as in year three the combination Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch will be hoping that they finally compete. If things work out I think this is possible, but there are too many questions for me to predict it.

Finally, the Arizona Cardinals look like they could really struggle to me. It’s not that I’m down on the talent of their rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, but Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t winning in college and with wide splitting offensive lines and an up-tempo offence not protecting the defence, I’m worried that things could go bad quickly. I would love to be proved wrong as we should want more change makers in the often traditional NFL, but I’m not holding my breath.

What I Know

This is probably my most disorganised start to a season since year one of the blog. I know what I intend to get done, but only time will tell if it is possible. There will be coaching tape next week though!

What I Hope

I hope we continue to see concussions going down across the league, that more young quarterbacks make their teams competitive.

Also, can we beat last season’s number of safeties?

It’s good to get things off your chest sometimes…

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So last weekend we saw the league’s cut-down day, where all 32 teams had to cut their rosters down to 53 (from the 90 that they play around with during pre-season). I’m sure I mentioned this last year, but for the players involved, this has got to be a horrible time of year, and it means that while Week 4 of pre-season may be seen as an unnecessary game, it gives players a final chance to show their coaches what they can do in a ‘game’ situation. What it also means is that for a lot of the players playing in Week 4, it’s the end of a dream that they’ve worked for months and years to achieve.

Those of you who regularly follow Hard Knocks on NFL Gamepass or Sky will also know that the final episode, which largely covers this last game and the cutdown day, can be a difficult watch. That being said, I’ve still tried to keep as ‘spoiler free’ as I can by avoiding news of Oakland’s cuts (although a few have slipped the net, and it made it weird watching Gruden patting players on the back and strongly praising people who I now know he cut a week or so later!).

But Saturday for me also served as confirmation of what I had suspected the Dolphins were doing in the off season… Settle in, reader – I’ve got some things to get off my chest.

Basically, it became extremely clear that the Dolphins are tanking, and aiming to earn themselves the first pick in the 2020 draft. We’ve been in the process of clearing out all summer with a number of names moving on. But Saturday and Sunday saw us trade away 3 players who were arguably (not even arguably in some cases) our strongest in their respective positions. Kiko Alonso headed to the Saints on Sunday, which was preceded by Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills moving to Houston to join up with the Texans.

There had been rumours in the days before the Tunsil move that he was going to make his way to Houston in return for Jadeveon Clowney – a move which, having spoken to a number of fans on both sides of the fence, nobody was particularly keen on. During the day on Saturday (or possibly Friday night… I can’t remember) that fell through, with Clowney moving to the Seahawks. However, conversations must have been ongoing, and the Tunsil/Stills move happened late Saturday night. And I’ll be honest… I was more than slightly annoyed!

Now, true – we got a good deal out of it. 2 first round picks and a second round pick aren’t to be sniffed at. But in return, Houston have got themselves a top level tackle, and a wide receiver who still has plenty of use left in him. I was a bit confused with the Stills part of the trade – we’re weak at WR, but I can’t imagine his disagreements [I think outright criticism my be a more accurate description – Ed.] with owner Stephen Ross will have helped his cause.

The people I really feel sorry for are our QBs: Fitzpatrick and Rosen. Fitz has been named as our starting QB, but this year I think he’s going to spend more time on his arse than he is throwing the ball – the line we have in front of him is flimsy at best. If I’m in Rosen’s shoes though, I’m really questioning my situation. To me, it feels like he’s been set up to fail. Not only does he face the same problems as Fitz, but he’s got much less experience, and is starting from the bench. Fitz will only be here for a year, and it’s very well known that the ‘Fins are desperate to get their hands on Tua Tagovailoa at QB in next year’s draft, so really Rosen can’t win. Even if it doesn’t work out with Tua, we’ve got 2 first round picks in 2021, so can have another go at finding ourselves a Franchise leader!

We’ve even got rid of 14 year veteran long-snapper John Denny!

Now, I understand the need for a re-build. I know I’m moaning, but I do appreciate the usefulness of banking more picks than a Nathan Peterman game (I can’t take credit for that one – that belongs to Graham @Grummy1976 on twitter!) but what we need to remember is that they are a RISK. How many times has the ‘next big thing’ been drafted early only to struggle in the league? One of them is sitting on our bench wearing number 3 – just because you’re drafted in the first couple of picks does not mean you’re going to be an instant hit.

All this being said, my support of the Dolphins won’t waver, and I’ll still be sat in my armchair every Sunday evening cheering us on. I’ll still be getting my hopes unnecessarily high, and I’ll still be winding up fans of the people we’re playing on Twitter! After all…

Anyway, enough moaning. As I write this, we’re just 3 days away from the start of the season, and as always, I’m really REALLY excited! I’ve not got any bets on this year, so I can’t keep you posted on how that’s doing. Instead, I’ve set myself a challenge – I’m re-discovering my inner child, and I’m challenging myself to complete the Panini NFL 2019 Sticker Book by the end of the season! I’ve got a sticker album and a box of stickers on their way, so hopefully they’ll be with me before the weekend. It’s this one, if you want to collect along…

Let me know if you’re collecting too, and get your swapsies ready!

In the next day or two, I’ll be making my week one Pick’em Picks (I’m determined to turn the blog Aqua and Orange!) and my Fantasy League team, the ‘Little Lebowski Urban Achievers’ are ready to go (despite me forgetting that Zeke was holding out, and Shady McCoy being let go from the Bills at the weekend!) so there’s plenty to talk about!

Until next time…

@TWFDan

Pre-Season Stops and Starts

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There’s only one place to start this week’s post and that is the retirement of Andrew Luck. No one was expecting that the latest ankle/calf problems that had been troubling Luck though the Colt’s off-season activities and had stopped him from taking a snap in pre-season would be the tipping point for him to step away from the game. The video of him walking of the Colts field to boos resounding round the stadium when the news broke was a tough watch, and a clearly emotional Luck spent most of his retirement press-conference talking about other people to further demonstrate what a good person he seems to be.

The constant cycle of pain and rehab is Luck pointed to as the reason he was stepping away from the game he loved, and given how tiring chronic pain can be it should not be as surprising as it is that Luck chose to walk away. In fact, as awareness of head injury has grown we have seen more players unwilling to stay in the game once they have made their money. I have heard many coaches and players talk about how they love football but football does not love you. The injury rate is basically one hundred percent. It can be a brutal sport and there are many reasons to play it but for Luck, a career spent battling injuries since 2015 saw the start of his shoulder problems was too much. He is a man of many and varied interests (what other franchise QB founded a book club) and so whilst the league will be poorer for his absence, I hope he finds peace and fulfilment away from the game. I suspect he will.

What I Saw

On the field the week started with me watching the Bengals fall to a narrow loss to the New York Giants in their first home game and leaves me worried about the upcoming season. We know it is the first year of a new regime and the optimist in me wants to see a quick improvement, but we now know several starters against the week one opponents will be rookies who will have to go into Seattle to face the Seahawks in one of the league’s most hostile environments without AJ Green. More worrying for me is that for all the camp buzz about a better defence, it has looked decidedly fragile up the middle again and whilst I’m not suggesting that it is as bad as last season’s bottom of the league group it does not fill me with confidence.

I have always been resistant to the complaints about pre-season, but the increasing removal of starters has made it a tough watch for anyone barring your own team. Having been following the Bengals as usual I have my eye out for players throughout all four quarters but even with a bit of reading around the Packers and following the Raiders on Hard Knocks the games aren’t quite grabbing me as they have in the past. They are still as important for the players at the bottom of the roster but coaches are playing very vanilla and with them very much working the bottom of the roster it is hard to latch onto things. I may be personally happiest about the success Ryan Finley has had this pre-season, but probably the most impressive team I have seen this pre-season has been the Baltimore Ravens who I saw for a second time this week as I watched them play and beat pretty handily the Philadelphia Eagles. For all the talk of how good the  Browns are and the Steelers being better through subtraction, the Ravens are going to be difficult opponents again this season and I think will be challenging for the AFC North.

What I Heard

I’m on holiday this week so not as plugged into the NFL media as I usually am, but the fates stepped in for me whilst I was double check something on ESPN and I suggest you read this: – No distractions: An NFL veteran opens up on his sexuality

What I Think

I was thinking again about Jay Z’s deal with the NFL again. I understand what the NFL are trying to do with the deal and time will tell if Jay Z has answers to those that are criticising him for the move. I don’t think we are beyond kneeling, but I also don’t believe Jay Z has just jumped into this business partnership only for commercial reasons. He does too much philanthropy of his own and is too smart to just provide expedient cover for the NFL and help them book new artists for the Super Bowl half time.

The reason that this is cropping up again in my brain is the nexus around sports and politics. I understand why those who want sports to be an escape want nothing to do with politics and I’m not unsympathetic (believe me, with the state of British politics I get it), but there is undoubted power in bring a wide selection of people together through sport and if there’s a way for Jay Z to co-opt the institution of the NFL to further that then I’m all for it.

What I Know

That this time next week I’ll be excitedly prepping for the first game of the season and I have not done any of the spreadsheet work that I was planning to this off-season for the picks competiton…

What I Hope

I’m hoping that all those who don’t make a team after the final pre-season game tonight get another shot if that’s what they want. I know not everyone gets the chance to walk away on their own terms like Andrew Luck but it would be great if all those who don’t get to make the league can at least feel like they gave it their best shot.