2020 Wildcard Sunday

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Here are my thoughts about the second wave of games this Wildcard weekend.

Baltimore Ravens (5th) @ Tennessee Titans (4th)

The Sunday games start with what will be a bruising encounter that pits Derrek Henry and the Titan’s fourth ranked offence by DVOA against the Ravens’ ninth ranked defence, with the Titans hoping to have enough success to offset their twenty-ninth ranked by DVOA defence and twenty-eighth ranked special teams.

The Tennessee offence is clearly impressive, with Derrek Henry rushing for two thousand yards and Ryan Tannehill throwing for well over three and a half thousand passing yards. They might be a bit conservative in terms of rushing on early downs, but the throwback run/pass ratio works because of Henry and sets up their play-action passing game. I think there could well be more efficiency for the Titans in throwing more on first and second down, but in the Ravens they face a team that have their own run-based offence. After a stretch of season where the Ravens looked out of sync following the Covid-19 outbreak and were still adjusting to personnel changes over the off-season the Ravens started to look dangerous again and finished the season with five straight wins. Their running game starts with the option running game where Lamar Jackson is so dangerous and he ran for one thousand yards from the quarterback position at an average of over six yards per carry for the second straight season. The running back by committee is also working with rookie JK Dobbin looking speedy and particularly dangerous in recent weeks. The Ravens might not have a standout receiver of the quality of the Titans’ AJ Brown but Mark Andrews is one of only five tight-ends to have over seven hundred receiving yards this season and interestingly is only joined by Travis Kelce of the Chiefs in the playoffs. When you couple this offensive production with a Ravens’ defence that may not be as fierce as in recent years but is still top ten by DVOA and effective special teams then I think you have a recipe for success. There will be real concerns in Baltimore if Jackson fails to win a play-off game for a third season in a row, but with the Titans defensive worries I think the Ravens stand a good chance of winning. That said, I’m impressed with how Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel game management so they definitely should not be written off, but I think the Titans will find it hard to match their play-off run from last season.

Chicago Bears (7th) @ New Orleans Saints (2nd)

The Bears have had an odd season where they started 5-1 without really impressing and eventually Mitchell Trubisky got pulled as the starting quarterback for Nick Foles based on performance, and then injured a shoulder running the ball as an option play while Foles continued to get the start. As the losses continued to mount Trubisky got back the starter job and just about managed to get the Bears into the playoffs, albeit with a loss against the Packers that meant they were reliant on the Rams beating the Cardinals in week seventeen. All this is to say that whilst the Bears are not the worst ranked team by DVOA to make the playoffs, it is hard to see them competing with the Saints in New Orleans. Without their vosiferous fans there won’t be the same kind of home advantage as normal for the Saints, but with all three phases of the game ranked in the top ten by DVOA it looks like the Saints are as well placed as they can be to make a deep run in the playoffs for what could be Drew Brees’ last time. It has been a difficult season for the Saints in that Drew Brees at one point had eleven broken ribs and has had real problems throwing the ball deep, whilst Michael Thomasm, their lead receiver from last season, has only played seven games and has been ineffective for longs stretches of those. Still, the Saints have a way to win, even when their entire running room was held out of their week seventeen game due to close contacts with Alvin Kamara who tested positive for Covid-19. The good news for the Saints is that Kamara and Thomas have both been cleared to play and I think they should have no problems in beating a Bears team who will have to decide if their sneaking into the play-offs is enough to keep faith with the current setup or things need changing. Of course, the Bears could win and that will make for a different decision even if it might be covering some crack from regular season but I really do think this situation is unlikely and that the Saints will go through to the divisional game for the third time in four seasons.

Cleveland Browns (6th) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd)

The final game of the playoff should have been full of drama as the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season, but continued Covid-19 positives have disrupted the last couple of weeks and prevent head coach Kevin Stefanski from coaching in this game as well as Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio from taking part in this playoff game. It is particularly rough for Bitonio, who is the longest tenured Browns player on the roster and has been through all the recent rough seasons including the one win and winless seasons. The Browns were not even able to practice until late this week and so to win on the road against the Steelers is going to be a difficult task, although not an impossible one. For much of the seasons the Steelers just kept on winning, going 11-0 despite losing their bye week to the Titans’ Covid-19 outbreak and then losing a mini-bye when their Thanksgiving game against the Ravens was also moved, this time due to the Ravens’ Covid-19 outbreak. However, the Steelers were only able to win one more game during the last five weeks of the regular season as the injuries on defence, particularly amongst the linebackers hindered that side of the ball whilst opposing defences seemed to work out the Steelers short passing game that had been so effective for the majority of the season. The Steelers’ running game has been absent for most of the season and they have not looked to push the ball down field as you might have expected given the talent they have at receiver. However, with the Steelers resting Ben Roethlisberger and other starters in their final game of the season, a game the Browns had to win to ensure they made the playoffs, the Steelers only lost by two points.

I suspect with a rested Roethlisberger and all the disruption in Cleveland that the Browns’ wait for a playoff win will go on another year, but you can’t rule out that they find a way to win somehow. It would certainly cap a remarkable turnaround under Stefanski in his first season as head coach and mean that he does get to coach a playoff game, but I think it is likely that he will have to wait another year before he can lead his team in the playoffs.

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

2020 Wildcard Saturday

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The expanded Wildcard Weekend is here, that unsurprisingly throws up a couple of tasty games, but thanks to the structure of the playoffs we have a lopsided road favourite, but we shall get to them in a bit.

Indianapolis Colts (7th) @ Buffalo Bills (2nd)

The play-offs start with a cracking matchup that sees the Colts take their seventh ranked defence by DVOA to Buffalo to see if they can stifle the Bills and their fifth ranked offence who have look as good as anyone in the league. The Bills come into this game having scored 48, 39, and 56 points in the last three weeks but the loss of slot receiver Cole Beasley could well cause this offence some problems as could the Colts defence. The addition of DeForest Buckner this off-season has helped the Colts’ pass rush and Darius Leonard continues to impress as a linebacker up there with any in the league. This Colts offence might be outside the top ten by DVOA, but Philip Rivers has added veteran leadership and has been splitting red-zone and short yardage snaps with Jacoby Brissett as the younger QB being better able or more willing to be his body on the line. In truth this is not your average play-off seventh seed given that the Colts won eleven games but with the Bills defence playing better in recent weeks and a perfect 6-0 following their bye week the Bills look like the team best placed to test the Chiefs in the play-offs. The improvement from Josh Allen in his third season is remarkable, with the ten point leap in completion precentage jumping out at you and I would expect him to lead the Bills to a first play-off win since the 1995 season. Anything else will be a disappointment for the Bills.

LA Rams (6th) @ Seattle Seahawks (3rd)

The second of the Saturday matchups is a game that is intriguing rather than one promising fireworks, but it is a divisional matchup that has potential. The LA Rams lost in a head scratching manner to the New York Jets of all teams in week fifteen, before losing to the Seahawks in a game that saw Jared Goff dislocate the thumb in his throwing hand although he finished the game. There were stretches of the season where Goff looked really good, but towards the end of the season the quarterback had a couple of bad games and after surgery on his thumb had to watch the Rams eek out an 18-7 win without an offensive touchdown in week seventeen for the Rams to secure their play-off spot. There is talk that Goff could be back for this game, but the Rams have not named the starter yet so it could be that John Wolford gets to start his second NFL game, and in the play-offs. Wolford offers more with his legs both on designed runs and scrambling to make plays than Goff, but does not have the potential to match Goff when he is playing well. The good news is the Rams are much more balanced than the year they went to the Super Bowl thanks to a defence that ranks fourth in the league by DVOA this season, anchored around the other worldly talents of defensive tackle Aaron Donald and corner Jalen Ramsey. The offence also welcomes back Andrew Whitworth from IR who barring setbacks is set to start at left tackle but it seems they will need to dig deep into head coach Sean McVay’s excellent playbook to get the win.

The Seattle Seahawks have been in contention all season, which is hardly a surprising statement given their 12-4 record, but I confess that it feels a little flattering to me. The Seahawks started the season strongly on offence with Russell Wilson throwing the ball all over the field, but as the season wore on and defences adjusted to the new attack the Seahawks faltered, losing two games in a row. The Seahawks traded for veteran pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap and as the Seahawks defence improved they also reverted to running more on early downs. This has brought them the 12-40record and the division, but I am concerned that Russell Wilson might have to find some truly special performances when he has not looked as good as he did to start the year if the Seahawks are to go deep into the playoffs. With the situation at quarterback, it is hard not to give the edge to the Seahawks, even if McVay has a good coaching record against them, but it wouldn’t be the shock of the century if the Rams were to find a way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5th) @ Washington Football Team (4th)

Thanks to the state of the NFC East, the final game on Saturday sees a 7-9 fourth seed hosting an eleven-win fifth seed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are appearing in their first play-off game in thirteen seasons and will be looking for their first play-off win since the 2002 Super Bowl win. The addition of Tom Brady clearly helped the Bucs improve and with his playoff experience and their opposition the Bucs are favourites to win on the road, but might not have everything all their own way. The Bucs have at times looked as good as anyone in the league, with a plethora of pass catching options for Brady and a defence than can be truly scary. Any team who has a top five offence and defence should feel confident and the Bucs have definitely looked better towards the end of the season as Brady adjusted to the new team and scheme and got over the disrupted pre-season. However, the Washington Football Team made the play-offs thanks to their defence and in particular their defensive line. This is not to say that the Football Team will win, but with impressive rookie defensive end Chase Young leading the way you can see their pass rush getting pressure on Brady and as impressive as the veteran quarterback is, he was very quick to get rid of the ball even before he turned forty-three. The problem that Washington will have in this game is even if their defence can disrupt the Bucs and Brady on offence, there has been genuine discussion of a quarterback rotation as Alex Smith deals with a calf strain that has hampered the veteran quarterback in recent weeks. It takes nothing away from Smith’s incredible comeback from a horrific injury and post-surgery complications that nearly cost him his leg, but with Taylor Heinicke and his one career start being next in line it is hard to feel confident in Washington’s chances. This is still a season of progress for Washington who have not been to the play-offs since the 2015 season or won a play-off game since the 2005 season, and they had a record of 3-13 last year. In fact given the turmoil off the field, Ron Rivera’s transformation of the franchise is pretty remarkable and let us not forget that he has managed all this whilst undergoing treatment for cancer. There are no participation trophies in the NFL, but if you look at both quarterbacks and Rivera it is a remarkable achievement just to be involved in this game, but you know that Brady will see anything other than a win as a disappointed and I think I would be genuinely shocked if he didn’t get one more win tonight.

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

The Disappointed Eighteen – NFC Edition

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Welcome to part two of my rundown of the disappointed eighteen teams who did not make the 2020 NFL play-offs.

In this post I shall be looking at the NFC conference and I’ll work in ascending number of wins and descending draft order.

The cap numbers for next season still come from spotrac.com and the ranking/numbers were right at time of posting with an assumed team salary cap of $175 million.

Atlanta Falcons (4-12)

The Falcons never seem to have quite got over their loss in the Super Bowl back at the start of 2017 even though they got back to play-offs the following year, and after two losing season and an 0-5 start the Falcons let go both head coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons fortunes picked up initially under interim head coach Raheem Morris who went a very respectable 4-2 in his first six games in charge of the Falcons, but they then lost five straight to finish out the season. It was a strange year for Matt Ryan who threw for over four and a half thousand yards and twenty-six touchdowns to eleven interceptions, but the timing of those interception often seemed to be poor. An offensive ranking of twenty-first undermined and average defence but it is interesting to see the Falcons picking fourth by their record but were ranked seventeenth overall by DVOA. Rebuilding this team could a difficult task, Matt Ryan might have a few years left in him at 35, but this is a team who are $32 million over the 2021 cap, behind only the Eagles and the Saints in terms of being over the cap. There are some painful decisions to make and unsurprisingly for a team picking in the top five, a lot of work to be done but this is one of those situations where we shall have to see what vision their new GM sells to ownership and how well they can implement it. It’s not like there are no good players in Atlanta, but there are a lot of questions and I simply do not know how the Falcons will bounce back next season.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)

I can see why the three teams who are the most over the cap got there, the Saints are trying to maximise their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl at the end of their Hall of Fame quarterback’s last season, whilst both the Falcons and Eagles have been to the Super Bowl in the last five seasons. However, if the Falcons never managed to get over their loss, the Eagles might not have moved past their win. The Eagles roster has frequently been spoken of as one of the deepest in the league in the last few season seasons, including by myself, but familiar names have not saved them from injuries and the slow decay over seasons that finally tipped into losing this year. Worse still, their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz who had to watch their Super Bowl win from the side-lines in 2018 fell apart this season, which having signed a four-year $128 million extension in 2019 that kicks in this season causes all kind of problems this off-season. Carson Wentz was dropped for rookie Jalen Hurts towards the end of the season and it has been stated that Wentz’s relationship with head coach Doug Pederson has completely broken down, but Wentz simply cannot be cut. Wentz will count as $34.5 million on the cap next season and there would be a cap hit of $59 million if he was cut. I’m not sure what cap tricks can be pulled, but at $74 million over the cap, and the salary number is expected to down next season because of the lost game day revenue, there are huge questions about what can be done in the off-season. I am no capologist and I don’t cover the off-season in granular detail, but I will be watching with the situation in Philadelphia with interest. I certainly can’t predict a rapid turn around given this franchise doesn’t look to have functioned to the same level since a number coaches left Pederson’s staff after the Super Bowl win. I do wonder how long the owner’s patience will last if things don’t turn around quickly next season though.

Detroit Lions (5-11)

I left the possibility that Matt Patricia could surprise me before the season, but I did not foresee the Lions improving that much this season and that was very much the case. I questioned Patricia’s ability to create a good defence outside the environment of the Patriots where he made his name as a defensive coordinator, and sure enough they finished this season ranked thirty-second in the league by DVOA at the end of the season. Patricia was let go at the end of week twelve having fallen to 4-7 after a blow out loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving along with GM Bob Quinn. Since letting go of Jim Caldwell the Lions have had three seasons with double digit losses so they need to get the hiring decisions right this off-season. As discussed on the podcast this week, the Lions have the second longest play-off win drought in the NFL (second only to the Bengals) but twenty-nine years is a long time to wait for a play-off win! The Lions are not in desperate cap trouble, but $6 million under when you have the worst defence in the league does not give you a lot of options to work with so this is another team that needs the right GM to build a franchise up over a number of years. There is talk that perhaps they should trade quarterback Matthew Stafford and rebuild from the ground up, but at thirty-two he should have a few good years left though he may fancy a change of team if the right opportunity presents itself. There is too much uncertainty right now to predict how the Lions will fair, but I have a feeling that a multi-year rebuild is coming.

Carolina Panthers (5-11)

This was always going to be a tough season for the Panthers who were starting a major rebuild with first time NFL head coach Matt Rhule and a curtailed pre-season. They lost their first two games, but then won their next three despite Christian McCaffery being unavailable due to injury (a situatin that was the case more often that not in 2020) and having heard Rhule on the Peter King’s podcast I was really impressed with how things were shaping up for the Panthers under their new head coach. Unfortunately, what followed was five straight losses and the Panthers were only able to get two more wins over the rest of the season. The Panthers made the decision to move on from GM Marty Hurney who has an overall record of 106-32 with the Panthers but 16-30 since he re-joined in 2017. The Panthers only have marginally more cap space to play with than the Lions so this is yet another franchise who look like they are in for a patient rebuild, but we will have to see and certainly owner David Tepper is not shy of making changes now he has had the team for a while. I still have a good impression of Matt Rhule but it looks like there is a lot more work to do and at some point the question of a franchise quarterback is going needs to be dealt with.

Dallas Cowboys (6-10)

I am almost not sure where to start with the Cowboys who were much fancied going into the season under new head coach Mike McCarthy who started his time in Dallas going 1-4 despite Dak Prescott playing very impressively. Unfortunately, then things went from bad to worse in game five when Prescott went down to a horrible ankle injury that helped turned the sputtering 1-4 start into a 2-7 record before the bye. Things improved in the home run of the season with the Cowboys maintaining a winning record and went into week seventeen with a shot of winning the NFC East. However, a woeful performance from backup quarterback Andy Dalton saw them lose the game as Dalton slipped to a 4-5 record as the starter this season. The Cowboys will face more off-season turmoil about getting Prescott signed to a long term deal but at least he should be fit for the start of next season. The real concern though is the defence, which slipped from sixteenth in the league by DVOA in 2019 to twenty-fourth and the Cowboys go into 2021 with £10 million of space to sign a quarterback so the route to a defence surely lies through the draft and better coaching. It was an odd season for a new coaching staff to take control so you might feel that it is unfair to judge McCarthy too harshly, but it is worth pointing out that McCarthy went 11-16 in his last two seasons with the Packers and his successor Matt LaFleur has gone 26-6. I have concerns about how the Cowboys run by Jerry Jones and how good the coaching staff are so whilst I’m not saying the Cowboys can’t compete next year, they have not been able to compete consistently for a reason which makes it hard to expect good things next season.

New York Giants (6-10)

The New York Giants were understandably frustrated when the Eagles pulled Jalen Hurts at the end of a close game they eventually lost against the Washington Football Team, handing the NFC East to the capitol, but with only six wins the Giants really only have themselves to blame about not making the play-offs. Their season started badly with the Giants going 0-5 and losing Saquon Barkely for the season after only two games. The Giants got their first win for rookie head coach Joe Judge against Washington, but that was followed by two more losses until the Giants went to Washington and swept their divisional opponents. This was followed by two more wins against the Eagles and the Bengals before their marquee win of the season, a masterpiece of a defensive performance that saw the Giants hold Russel Wilson and the Seahawks to twelve points in Seattle and come away with the win. At this point in the season I was really becoming very impressed with the coaching job Judge was doing and fancied them to make a run at the division. To be fair, they were still in the race on the final day despite losing the next three games, but the Giants needed Washington to lose because the their twenty-sixth ranked offence couldn’t score enough points for them to maintain their challenge for the division. I am not convinced by Daniel Jones as a quarterback or for that matter, Jason Garrett as an offensive coordinator but I do feel like this season finally represents progress after three seasons of failing to make the play-offs, even if the Giants still recorded double digit losses. However, the slow progress will have to continue with the Giants over the cap by $9 million next season, and I do think they need another quarterback, but with the arrow finally pointing up and a talent like Barkley returning next year they could well be a surprise in the NFC East.

San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

The 49ers season seemed doomed from the start due to injuries, a problem that followed them all through the 2020 season. Once again Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t make it through an entire season with the teasing quarterback only playing in six games this season and it would not exactly be a surprise to see the 49ers make a move at that position in the off-season. Still, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have created a great culture in San Francisco so this 6-10 feels a lot more positive than how a lot of teams might feel. Certainly defensive coordinator Robert Saleh did well to get his unit to a ranking of sixth in the league overall by DVOA and it would not be a surprise to seem him as a head coach next season. The 49ers have cap space next season but not necessarily enough to sign a big contract quarterback without some clever moves, but I do expect them to compete again next season. If they can finish the regular season ranked eleventh overall by DVOA despite their raft of injures then with a bit of luck they can sustain a challenge in the very competitive NFC West.

Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

It’s perhaps not a surprise that the Vikings struggled on defence this season given that they let 223 collective career games in their secondary walk out the locker room in the off-season. I should also mention that the Vikings were part of that rare thing, the NFL trade that benefited both participants. The Vikings sent disgruntled receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills and he transformed the Bills’ offence alongside Josh Allen’s remarkable development, whilst the Vikings used the pick they acquired to draft Justin Jefferson who set a Vikings rookie receiving record which is no mean feat when the pervious record holder was Randy Moss. The Vikings actually made fifteen draft picks in a year with no proper off-season programme so they did pretty well to reach 7-9 with a defence that Mike Zimmer called the worst he ever coached. That said, the defence still ranked eighteenth by DVOA and if anything, it was the problems the Vikings had with winning when running back Dalvin Cook wasn’t available that stopped them from making the play-offs. Still, under Mike Zimmer the Vikings have been to the play-offs every other year and while this is only his second losing season since his first with the team in 2014, I don’t see any major reason why they can’t challenge again next season. Their path there still might not be that straight forward though as they are $17.5 over next year’s cap and so once again they will have to rely on draft picks and coaching. I wonder who else on the current roster might be let go. However, given the Vikings have been consistently able to be competitive I expect them to be so again next season.

Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

The Cardinals pulled off something of a coup in the off-season, acquiring receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with the Houston Texans that most would say the Cardianls got the better of the deal. They also got off to a good start this season going 5-2 before their bye, but were unable to keep pace with the more experienced play-off contenders in the NFC West and just missed out on the play-offs. Though there were no announcements, it seemed like second year quarterback Kyler Murray was dealing with some kind of injury mid-season as there was a notable drop in his rushing production for a number of weeks and this seemed to hamper the offence. Still, they got back to winning ways towards the end of the season but losses to two divisional opponents in the final two weeks sees them on the outside of the play-offs looking in. A year of development is nothing to be sneezed at, but while the three more wins and ten place improvement in defensive ranking by DVOA from their 2019 record is good, as is the thirteenth ranking by overall DVOA, the slip in offensive ranking given the acquisition of Hopkins is a concern. This might all be down to the injury I suspect Murray was dealing with, but I have heard enough concern about head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s play calling and game management to be very curious to see if they can improve again next season or if they hit a plateau or get worse. The Cardinals don’t have a huge amount of cap space available to them next season, and we are once again wondering if this is the last season for veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but I wonder if the results of season rest on the lessons the coaching staff learnt this year and whether they can apply suitable changes to get them over the top next season. To me this is one of the more interesting situations in the league going into next season so I will be watching with interest.

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average, and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

The Disappointed Eighteen – AFC Edition

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It is always a strange time of year for NFL fans as the excitement regarding the play-offs is tempered by whether you team is directly involved and how you feel about the state of the franchise you support. There is also the rolling coverage of the teams changing GMs and coaching staff, which is getting a head start this year as the NFL has changed rules allowing teams to start interviews earlier under certain conditions.

Still the countdown of disappointed teams has well and truly begun where the number will eventually reach thirty-one, but for now let’s have a look at the disappointed eighteen who didn’t make the play-offs.

In an effort to make life easier for myself I will split these run downs by conference and so we start with the AFC and I’ll work in ascending number of wins and descending draft order.

I am taking my cap numbers for next season from spotrac.com and the ranking/numbers were right at time of posting with an assumed team salary cap of $175 million.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)

The Jaguars set a franchise record for losing this season with their solitary win in the opening week being the lowest total ever. They were already committed to making changes having fired GM Dave Caldwell when they fell to 1-10 for the season and head coach Doug Marrone followed once the regular season was completed. The good news for whoever takes control of this franchise is that they both have the number one pick in the draft and are projected to have the most cap space available in 2021. There is no shortage of things that need addressing given the only phase of the game the Jaguars were near average in was special teams, but with their choice of quarterbacks in the draft and money to make sensible signings the Jaguars could make a swift return to contention. The Jaguars were nothing if not patient with Caldwell so this could well be one of the most promising teams to join for both GM and head coaches this off-season, but all the fans will care about is someone finally establishing a franchise identity and building a team who can win regularly as the Jags have had one winning season in the last thirteen and only three of those seasons did they avoid a double-digit amount of games. There is a lot of work left to do in Jacksonville if they want to get back to the play-offs.

New York Jets (2-14)

The byword for incompetence for much of the NFL 2020 season, the Jets are such bad losers than in the race for the number one draft pick they came second. Having fired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who we should remember was pushed onto their head coach as a condition of him being appointed) in December when an all-out blitz cost them a win against the Raiders, it surprised literally no one who follows the NFL that Adam Gase was fired shortly after the Jets lost against the Patriots to finish a painful season. There was really no-one left for Gase to blame, particularly as within six months of him being hired as head coach, he had forced out GM Mike Maccagnan who hired him only to be fired 18 months later by Maccagnan’s successor Joe Douglas. In his two years with the Jets Gase failed to spark the offence or improve young quarterback Sam Darnold who might still have a career in the NFL but looks like he will be moving to a new franchise for his fourth season given that the Jets are still well placed to take a quarterback high in the draft. The Jets stand behind only the Jaguars for cap space in 2012 and so could also be well placed for recovery, but much like the Jaguars, with little recent history of success on the field the Jets need to build a new culture and get the front office working in lock step with whoever the new coach is to turn things around.

Houston Texans (4-12)

The Texans only managed four wins this season despite having a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson who threw for 4823 yards and thirty-three touchdowns to seven interceptions, all having lost his favourite receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a bad trade with the Arizona Cardinals. The decisions made by Bill O’Brien as the GM used up future resources to manage the franchise and having amassed so much power, when the season started with four consecutive losses there was no one else to blame and O’Brien was fired. To be fair, it was a tough open to the season with visits to the Chiefs and Steelers sandwiching their game against the Ravens, but when they lost to a then 0-3 Vikings team the decision was made to fire O’Brien. In recent weeks we have had pretty strong statements of discontent from both JJ Watt and Watson, but having been blocked from talking to Patriots’ director of personnel Nick Caserio in 2019, the Texans have an agreement in place to hire him as their new GM. He will join the extensive search committee to find a new head coach as they seek to turn round a team that was plain bad on defence, but with several picks traded away by O’Brien including this year’s third overall pick to the Dolphins this likely not a quick fix. Apart from the draft capital, the Texans are projected to be twenty-sixth in the league for cap space in 2021 with them twenty million dollars over the projected cap so there is going to be at least a year of pain as they work their way back from that. If they hope to compete with the Colts and Titans any time soon they will need to lay a solid foundation this off-season but it will not be easy.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)

Zac Taylor’s doubling of the Bengals win total in his second season, including his first road win, was apparently enough to secure him a third season as head coach but I have to think that another failure to develop the offence to a rank higher than late twenties by DVOA won’t be enough to a fourth. The failure on offence is partly down to the loss of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow to injury, but he was covering up a multitude of sins on the offensive line, which eventually led to him being hit enough that he was lost for the season. This rests on the should of Taylor and his coaching staff and the one top ten phase of the game the Bengals had this season was special teams, and Taylor inherited Darrin Simmons from Marvin Lewis’ staff having been a fixture in Cincinnati since 2003. Certainly the defence really wasn’t much better than the offence despite defensive end Carl Lawson and safety Jessie Bates being right up there with any other players at their position. To be fair, the reports from the locker room have been supportive and there are other young players who look promising, but we are relying on development in areas in the third year that don’t seem to have progress in the first two. The Bengals have a conservative draft and develop programme historically, although they splashed some cash last off-season but saw most of those acquisitions injured. There are no problems with cap space, the Bengals have the sixth most free in 2021 and usually draft well, but I find it hard to see the next big step forward with things remaining the same. I hope to be proved wrong and this could be a more traditional re-build, but Marvin Lewis turned round a franchise in his time, even if he couldn’t get a play-off win, but the Bengals seem to have returned to their poor pre-Lewis ways since his leaving and with five losing seasons since the often-mentioned (if only by me) 2015 team that looked so promising, the Bengals feel like a franchise who have lost their way. I really hope they find it next year, but I have to be honest, I have my doubts…

Denver Broncos (5-11)

I feel like the Denver Broncos slipped under my radar a little this season. They managed to win five games with an offence that ranked thirtieth out of thirty-two teams by DVOA with quarterback Drew Lock missing three of their games but not exactly convincing in the other thirteen. However, whilst it was always going to be tough for them on defence when they lost veteran pass rusher Von Miller for the season before it had even started, a ranking of thirteenth by DVOA is at least respectable. The worry must be that the Broncos have not been to the play-offs since they won Super Bowl fifty and GM John Elway, despite being a Broncos legend, has not been able to find a franchise quarterback to follow Peyton Manning. Elway does seem to be recognising problems and is planning to step away from the day to day running of the franchise with the plan of hiring a GM with full autonomy over player personnel. The Broncos are at least projected to have space under next season’s cap and Lock has only finished his second season so they don’t have any big contract decisions to make this year on that front, but I’m not sure they have their franchise quarterback either and from the quotes that head coach Vic Fangio made about Lock’s potential as a franchise QB and the work Lock still has to do, it would not be a surprise to see someone brought in to challenge or mentor Lock in the QB room next season. I am not sure I am expecting massive changes this off-season, but a new direction seems like a good idea given five seasons of losing and head coach Vic Fangio is likely to need to find success going into his third season if he wants keep his job. Patience is not a virtue often utilised in the NFL, and whilst things can turn around more quickly in the modern NFL, for the Broncos a lot will rest on what they do at GM and how well that hire meshes with Fangio.

Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)

The LA Chargers finished an almost surprising 7-9 thanks to a strong four-win finish, but that was not enough to save head coach Anthony Lynn’s job. The last two seasons of his four years with the franchise yielded two losing seasons and in his lsat Lynn managed the transition from one franchise quarterback to another, but it was the manner of the losing that would have worried those in charge. I don’t think I have heard such positive views of a head coach as a man, something last year’s Hard Knocks series only served to highlight, coupled with such heavy criticism of in game management and general approach to offence. Lynn’s job with the Chargers was never easy as this is the first season where the Chargers had their own stadium in LA (all be it them renting from the Rams) and Lynn managed the transition to Los Angeles well, but with Justin Herbert looking like the rookie of the year having been thrown into the starting line-up in week two after Tyrod Taylor suffered a collapsed lung after a nerve block procedure went wrong the decision was made to change course. With Herbert looking like a franchise quarterback already, plenty of other talent spread around the rest of the roster, and over $20 million in cap space next season the Chargers should bounce back strongly even if they do share a division with the Chiefs. However, they will need to get their next coaching hire right (spotting a pattern here?) to pull this off. The Chargers of recent years have had a reputation for often losing close games so it might not take that much to turn things round, but we shall just have to see how they choose to go about it.

New England Patriots (7-9)

The Patriots’ season sputtered before it even began as they went into their pre-season with the most Covid-19 opt-outs in the league and when combined with the departure of Tom Brady after twenty seasons with the Pats in the off-season, you could see how they might struggle and struggle they did. The late signing of Cam Newton was a canny move that was a gamble for both parties that didn’t work out for player or team, and whilst the Patriots’ staff were effusive in their praise of Newton’s leadership and effort, he was not able to turn that into success throwing the ball. Yes he was still an effective running quarterback and there are limitations in the Patriots skill positions, but the truth is he simply could not complete enough passes for the team to truly compete. We had the strange situation where Bill Belichick, the ultimate no nonsense pragmatist, has been making excuses about this season was the payoff for the investment they put into maximising their chances with Brady. There are some facts that back up this position, the Pats go into next season with nearly $60 million in cap space but their record in drafts over recent years has not been stellar (which makes the hiring away of Nick Caserio to the Texans interesting) but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Belichick and the staff get it right with more room to manoeuvre. However, they will need to find a solution at quarterback and it seems like that answer is not currently on the roster and their path to getting one is unlikely through the fifteenth pick in the draft. I am not prepared to bet against one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history for long, and while I don’t know whether next season will see a turnaround, you wouldn’t bet against Belichick managing it before too long.

Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)

The Raiders first season in Las Vegas was rolling towards the play-offs through the first ten weeks of the season, but the last seven weeks only added two more wins to their week ten 6-3 record that fell to 8-8 by the end of the 2020 campaign. I wrote before the season about my concerns regarding the defence and their performance was still problematic and cost Paul Guenther his job as coordinator during the season. There was a marginal improvement to a ranking of twenty-eighth by DVOA but that was not enough for the Raiders to finally achieve a winning record in Jon Gruden’s third season as head coach. When a head coach gets a ten-year contract then they have a certain amount of job security, but there surely has to be some very pointed questions in private this off-season and a lot of pressure on Gruden and GM Mike Mayock to get the coaching hires on the defensive side of the ball right. I don’t know when owner Mark Davis’ patience might run out, but for Gruden to get the Raiders where they want to be he has to be able to serve the whole team going forward and not just the offence. However, the Raiders are currently $17 million over the 2021 salary cap so the roster management could be distinctly tricky this off-season and I have to wonder if Gruden can get this to team to where he wants to next year.

Miami Dolphins (10-6)

Fans of the Dolphins are probably as disappointed as any fanbase this week given that their team won ten games in the first year of the new expanded play-off format and still didn’t make get in. Their wait to make the play-offs has now extended to five seasons, but once the initial sting wears off there is still a lot to be hopeful about. Brian Flores impressed in his first season, managing five wins with a roster that was in the middle of a massive overhaul and in 2020 he followed that up by doubling the number of wins and mounting a serious push for the play-offs. The way that push ended in Buffalo is definitely a concern, but under the circumstances with the Bills playing well and Tua Tagovailoa unable to keep up with the Bills’ high flying offence with Ryan Fitzpatrick unavailable to play his QB reliever role due to Covid-19 it is at least partly understandable. There are concerns about Tagovailoa’s ability to push the ball down field, but we are only nine games into his career and he had to deal with shortened pre-season where he was still recovering from the hip injury that ended his college career so there is still plenty of potential to grow. For the first time in years it feels like the Dolphins’ front office and coach are working in lock step, the Dolphins go into next season with $25 million in cap space and as I mentioned earlier, have the Texans’ third overall pick in the draft. If they are that worried about Tagovailoa they could easily pick a quarterback, and I certainly think they were keen to get a good look at him this season, but if they have faith in their previous decision they should have their choice of the best players at the top of the draft. Thanks to injury they were having a lot of problems with their skills position late in the season but with an upgrade there and a new offensive coordinator the Dolphins look set to challenge in the AFC East for years to come. I can’t say if they will win a game in the post-season next year or even make the play-offs, but I absolutely expect them to compete for it and I think they are more likely to make the play-offs than not. That’s probably as much as any fan of these nine teams can hope for.

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average, and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

2020 Week Seventeen Picks

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I need a remarkable seven-point turnaround in week seventeen to stop Dan from winning the picks competition and I really can’t see myself pulling that one off. Still, let us see if I can pick my way through the odd permutations of play-off motivation, resting teams and my stuttering form to at least make it interesting. Right now I’d settle for seven different picks to Dan, which as I always make my picks before I look at his is not guaranteed but I will try to take some big swings if I see them.

Gee:Week 16:  7 – 9Overall:  116 – 125
Dan:Week 16:  6 – 10Overall:  122 – 119

Survivor Competition

Dan wrapped up the inaugural TWF Survivor competition with another point picking against the Vikings and oh boy did the Saints win that game. Meanwhile I failed to see that the Bengals were going to make it a streak with their first road win under Zac Taylor that both confirmed Dan’s win in this competition and likely saw the Dolphins vault the Bengals in the 2021 draft with the Dolphins in possession of the Texans’ pick. This week Dan discovered that he hadn’t picked the Seahawks and so is backing them against the 49ers, whilst the best game I could find was the Cowboys visitng the Giants. Congratulations to Dan on his win and I just hope that I can keep his lead down to three.

Current Score

Gee: 10
Dan: 13

Week 17 Selection:

Gee:    Cowboys
Dan:    Seahawks

Early Games:

Week seventeen is often a difficult one to pick through and while there are several games to watch in the early slate with play-off implications, they all seem to have flaws as contests so let’s look at the four games with play-off stakes.

The Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo to face a Bills team who might want to wrap up the number two seed if they can, but we don’t know how invested they are in achieving that but the fact they are facing divisional rivals might factor into their performance in this game. Things get even more complicated when you factor in that Ryan Fitzpatrick has tested positive for Covid-19 and so the Dolphin’s backup quarterback cannot enter the game if Tua Tagovailoa struggles again. I am leaning towards the Dolphins keeping the game within five points as they did in week two, but I don’t know if they can win and even with Dan telling me there are only two out of a possible thirty-two combinations of results that see the Dolphins miss the play-offs, I am sure he is in for a nervous evening of score watching.

The Cincinnati Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens who need to beat the Bengals or have the Browns or Colts lose to get a play-off berth. I am sure the Ravens will want to keep matters in their own hands and given how they have been playing in recent weeks it is hard to see the Bengals getting the upset win. That said, whilst the consensus line is even bigger, the Bengals have won two straight and I just wonder with the chance to act as spoiler whether the Bengals will keep this game closer than twelve and with the need to take some swings if there is any chance of me winning the picks competition I’m going to back the Bengals to cover.

The Pittsburgh Steelers go to Cleveland with Ben Roethlisberger getting the week off as the Steelers have not had a proper bye this season, and with the Browns most likely chance of making the play-offs being a win and facing a backup quarterback the line has got pretty big. As much as I like what Kevin Stefanski has done with the Browns in his first year as head coach, the Browns lost to the Jets last week having not had most of their receivers available thanks to close contacts with a positive Covid-19 test and there have been more positive tests this week with the facility closed as recently as Saturday. I think the Browns should get the win, but I am not totally sure they will do so by a touchdown even if they are facing a Steelers offence that has really struggled even before starting a backup quarterback and with stories of last week’s turnaround being Roethlisberger changing more calls. I expect the Browns to win but in the quest for enough differences to Dan to win I’m going to swing for the fences and back the Steelers to cover.

The last game with direct play-off implications is the Dallas Cowboys travelling to New York to take on the Giants. The mess of the NFC East will be finally resolved this week, even if it will have a losing team hosting a Wildcard play-off game. The Cowboys come into this contest on a three-game winning streak while the Giants have struggled with Daniel Jones playing despite injuries affecting his mobility as Jones is simply not an effective pocket quarterback. The Giants have slim hopes of making the play-offs, but I think that with their late run of form the Cowboys should win this game and will then turn their eyes nervously to the last game of the day.

Points from the rest:

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have started to come together in recent weeks, winning three in a row and this week likely look to maintain momentum as a team built through the season thanks to the lack of pre-season so I see them rolling through the Atlanta Falcons who have nothing to play for
  • The Minnesota Vikings may have lost Dalvin Cook as he has left the team early due to the death of his father, but they should still have more than enough to beat a bad Lions team. The lines suggest the Lions are the team to pick with this sized line, but they were truly woeful last week and with me needing big swings I’m going to back the Vikings and hope the passing game can hold up in Cook’s absence.
  • The New England Patriots have had a tough year and will be looking to rebuild in the off-season just like the New York Jets. As much as there is no love loss between these two franchises, the Jets come into this game with a better run of form and whilst the Pats could well win this game, the extra half-point required for them to cover is having me back the 2020 Jets one last time.

Falcons @ Buccaneers (-6.5)

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

Dolphins @ Bills (-4.5)

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

Ravens @ Bengals (+11.5)

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

Steelers @ Browns (-6.5)

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

Cowboys @ Giants (+2.5)

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

Vikings @ Lions (+7.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Vikings
Dan’s Pick:      Lions

Jets @ Patriots (-3.5)

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

Late Games:

The Green Bay Packers head to Chicago needing a win to clinch the number one seeding whilst the Bears need to at least match the Arizona Cardinals’ result to get into the play-offs. It is a big task for the Bears to beat a team who have four more wins and are 24% better by total overall DVOA, but since their meeting in week twelve the Bears have scored thirty points each week and won their last three. I think the Packers will run out winners in a game they want to make sure the path to the Super Bowl runs through Green Bay, but the numbers see some value in backing the Bears to cover.

The Tennessee Titans come into this game needing a win to secure their play-off berth and given that they are facing a Houston Texans team whose defense couldn’t stop the Bengals last week I think the Titans should run out winners in this one. However, I am a little nervous about an eight point win given the Titans’ own defensive frailties and how well Deshaun Watson is playing so with the numbers on my side I’m going to follow them and go with the Texans.

The Indianapolis Colts’ play-off situation is both simple and complex. The Colts need a win to stay in the race but are reliant on one of the other four ten-win AFC teams losing to actually make the play-offs and could in fact finish 11-5 and be on the outside looking in. They should beat a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars who are guaranteed the number one pick in the draft, and the Colts have been playing well but this line is huge and as much as I think the Colts will win, I can’t back them to win by fifteen even if it is plausible that they could.

The LA Rams followed up their surprising loss to the Jets with another loss to the Seahawks and so come into week seventeen needing a win a to guarantee their place in the play-offs, although they also will get in if the Bears lose. They might well need that Packers’ win as the Rams come into this game without Jared Goff after he had surgery on Monday to stabilise his fractured thumb and will also miss Cooper Kupp who has tested positive for Covid-19. They face an Arizona Cardinals team who have looked better since Kyler Murray seemed to recover from whatever injury was troubling jim through the middle of the season, but the Cardinals lost to the 49ers last week and Murray picked up a leg injury on the final play of the game. This is a matchup of backup QB versus a possibly injured one but with the Rams’ still having the best unit in the game thanks to their defense and with Sean McVay’s ability to scheme offence I think they should win. The line makes me nervous with backup quarterback John Wolford starting but I need to make big calls this week so here’s another.

Points on the Rest:

  • The New Orleans Saints will want to win and hope that results go their way to get the number one seed, but to get it they need the Bears to beat the Packers and the Seahawks to beat the 49ers. The first part of this scenario got a bit more complicated with Alvin Kamara testing positive for Coivd-19 and the whole running back room being ruled out of their game against the Carolina Panthers. I wouldn’t rule out the Saints beating the Panthers, but I kind of like the home team’s chances of keeping the game within seven.
  • I’m really not sure what to make of either the Las Vegas Raiders or the Denver Broncos and in a dead game I’m not totally sure of the result. However, this a chance for Gruden to have his first non-losing season with the Raiders and as the better team I’d like to think they manage to do just that.
  • The line that sees the Chiefs getting points against the Chargers is a result of Andy Reid likely resting players in a game that doesn’t matter to the Chiefs who have the number one seed secured. The extra half point is enough to make me nervous but bold picks are what is needed this week.
  • The Seattle Seahawks secured the NFC West with their win over the Rams last week and so come into their games with only play-off seeding to play for. The 49ers beat the Cardinals last week and given how they have been playing they could well give the Seahawks trouble this week, but the numbers are pointing towards the Seahawks firmly enough that I’m not going to back the 49ers. I just hope I don’t regret it…

Packers @ Bears (+5.5)

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

Raiders @ Broncos (+2.5)

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

Titans @ Texans (+7.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Texans
Dan’s Pick:      Titans

Jaguars @ Colts (-14.5)

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

Chargers @ Chiefs (+3.5)

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

Cardinals @ Rams (-1.5)

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

Saints @ Panthers (+6.5)

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

Seahawks @ 49ers (5.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Washington @ Eagles (+1.5)

The finale of the NFL regular season sees the Washington Football Team taking on the Philadelphia Eagles looking to secure the division and book a place in the play-offs. While Washington’s defensive and their defensive line in particular have continued to impress, their offence has wobbled without Alex Smith until Taylor Heinicke played better than Dwayne Haskins last week. This was enough Haskins to be cut form the Football Team and with Smith returning to the starting line-up and a better backup Washington are now favourites on the road. This would seem to make sense with the Eagles eliminated from the play-offs and their defense losing Fletcher Cox from the middle of their defensive line. For all the talk of the Eagles not wanting to have Washington win the division in their stadium, the Eagles feel like a team who could be dangerous but don’t ultimately have the team right now to stop Washington.

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

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

Waving Goodbye to 2020

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There are plenty of people ready to wave 2020 goodbye, but things are not going to be changing any time soon even as vaccines start to be distributed. We are already looking at the spread of a new more transferable variant of Covid-19 across the UK and we are essentially in another lockdown.

As for the NFL, I was not sure we were going to get here, but here we are – looking at a week seventeen schedule starting on time despite there being plenty of positive tests and several outbreaks across the season. With the expanded play-off format there will be eighteen teams finishing their season on Sunday, but there will still be only one winner come February. The disappointment will be delayed for at least a week for the two additional teams who benefit from the new format, but even then with five teams on ten wins in the AFC and only space for four of them in the play-offs there will be a very good team watching from outside who are desperately disappointed.

However, before we get there I ought to run through week sixteen as we pay full attention to the 2020 regular season before it is finished.

What I Saw

The first game of week sixteen was the Christmas Day showdown between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints that was a very one-sided affair that finished 52-33 thanks in large part to the Saints’ Alvin Kamara rushing for six touchdowns and one hundred and fifty-five yards. It was a performance that won a lot of fantasy leagues, but it was strange to see a Mike Zimmer team have a such a big problem on defence. Drew Brees threw for over three hundred yards but threw two interceptions and whilst the Saints are heading to the play-offs they will need Brees to get somewhere near his best for them to go deep. It would help if Michael Thomas can get off injured reserve but with the NFC path to the Super Bowl going through the frozen tundra of Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers you wonder if the Saints can get back to the big game. As for the Vikings, this is only the second losing season of Mike Zimmer’s seven years with the franchise and with a full off-season to develop their young defence they can improve next season, but they have to be disappointed at losing three games straight having worked their way back to 6-6 from the 1-5 start.

The next game I saw was the Boxing Day game between the Miami Dolphins and the Las Vegas Raiders. The lead story coming out of this game was the remarkable fourth quarter pass made by Ryan Fitzpatrick where he connected with Mack Hollins on a thirty-four-yard pass left whilst Arden Key had hold of Fitzpatrick’s facemask and was dragging him round by it as Fitz threw the pass. This pass when combined with the resulting fifteen-yard penalty was enough for the Dolphins to get a game winning field goal despite only have nineteen seconds left on the clock when Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offence took the field. However, the concern would be that once again Tua Tagovailoa was pulled out of the game and whilst the rookie quarterback completed seventeen of his twenty-two passes, he is still is not stretching the field vertically with this offence. This blend of quarterbacks can only work in the short term and if I was Dan I would be happy with bringing back Fitzpatrick next season in a mentor/reliever role but there is not unreasonable conjecture that one of the reasons the Dolphins are playing Tagovailoa whilst chasing the play-offs is that they have what looks to be the third draft pick next year and perhaps they are evaluating their options. We shall have to see, but there is all to play for as they take on the Bills next week. Meanwhile, the Raiders continue to be let down by their defence and Jon Gruden’s ability to have long term success with the Raiders is going to rest on if he as head coach can make the right hire at defensive coordinator and enable that hire to have success on the other side of the ball. If he cannot master that responsibility, it doesn’t matter how good Gruden’s side of the ball is, if he does not serve the whole team then they can never take that next step and start competing for Super Bowls. To do that Gruden has to first get the Raiders into the play-offs, something he will have failed to do in his first three years with the franchise.

The next game was an unexpected win for the Cincinnati Bengals who followed up their Monday night win against the Steelers with their first road win for Zac Taylor as they beat the Houston Texans 37-31. I’m still not convinced by the direction the team are heading in, particularly when the opposition defence is ranked thirtieth by DVOA but Brandon Allen had a career day throwing for over three hundred and fifty yards with a long of forty-two and there were some nice longer throws to mix in with the numerous screen passes that seemed to be particularly effective. It’s a win that cheers Dan as the Dolphins have the Texans 2021 first round draft pick, but my concern is that this late rally won’t convert into big improvement next season and after five losing seasons and with a talented young quarterback I am running out of patience with the current regime, but that won’t affect Mike Brown’s decision so we shall see what happens. The Texans meanwhile have a franchise quarterback and a lot of questions to answer in the off-season so we can’t speculate too much until they have a new GM and head coach, but there is a lot of work to do with the roster and not a lot of draft picks so I wonder how quickly things can be turned around, but I have thought that before and been wrong.

The final game I watched in full was the Sunday night prime time game between the Tennessee Titans who started slowly in a snowy Lambeau field and lost heavily 14-40 against a now 12-3 Green Bay Packers team. I thought this could be a competitive game but I could also see paths for both teams to win big, but failed to take into account the weather and while the Titans were still finding their feet the Packers had built a nineteen point lead that they never looked like surrendering. The Titans are not a bad team, but the weaknesses in their defence exposes them to results like this, even before they start spotting teams points, and I do wonder should they make the play-offs if they can repeat their run from last year or if they will be found out fairly quickly. Meanwhile, the Packers defence held up in this game but I still don’t entirely trust them, but with the offence running as well as it is at the moment (and they are currently ranked first by DVOA over the Chiefs) and with home field advantage so the Packers are setup to make a deep run into the play-offs and perhaps even make the Super Bowl.

What I Heard

We are in that awkward period between Christmas and New Years where everything is out of synch and this is particularly the case for me in following the NFL so as I caught up with podcasts and reading, I have spent a lot of time kicking myself over missing the context of performances and other details during Tuesday night’s podcast recording. For instance, we somehow missed the Brown’s hot tub fiasco meaning that they could not play a lot of their receivers against the Jets on Sunday. If the Browns miss the play-offs with that as part of the equation then that is on them and not the league, but I feel for their fans as to get ten wins and not make the play-offs, even with an expanded format is going to be pretty hard to take. Particularly when the NFC are going to have a team with a losing record hosting a play-off game in the Wildcard round.

What I Think

In some ways you can take the fact that we are approaching the last week of the regular season as a success, but what we don’t know from the outside is the cost of getting there. I have heard plenty from coaches who feel like they have made a success of zoom meetings and avoiding close contacts. How they didn’t want the current Covid-19 situation being used as an excuse for a drop in quality of their team’s football.

However, this is a big ask not only for all who are involved directly with the franchises, but all those other families and support networks connected to them. I can’t help but read something like this on the NFL’s own site regarding the effects on players’ significant others and wonder what is going on for all the staff who may not have the same union support.

What I Know

As we head into tier 4 restrictions in Dan and mine’s patch of the UK (and for most of the rest of the country to be fair), I can’t but help wonder how this first quarter of 2021 is going to go as we are a long way from done with Covid-19 yet.

It has been a strange NFL season that has been both familiar and yet uncanny, and whilst I’ve been grateful for the distraction, I’m still not wholly sure it was a good idea to play through a pandemic. Of course, I’m hypocritical enough to be watching so I am not being too judgemental, but it has been a strange year nevertheless.

What I Hope

As the end of the year approaches I hope that this time next year things will be much different, that we will at least have things under control even if things never quite go back to the way they were.

In the meantime, I have one last Bengals game to watch and the play-offs to look forward to as the NFL doesn’t stop for anything, apparently not even Covid-19.

2020 Week Sixteen Picks

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Somehow my modest two correct picks over the Christmas games has seen me pick up another point on Dan, but let’s see if I can get any more and make Dan sweat a little going into the final week.

Early Games:

There are a few games from the early slate that have play-off repercussions but there is only one that looks like a real contest and that is the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Indianapolis Colts. However, even then the line could be deceiving as the Steelers have lost three straight having won their first eleven games wity the offence seeming to have been solved in recent weeks whilst the injuries at linebacker have started to really hurt the defense. The Bengals’ offence did not actually do a lot against the Steelers defense last week, but the Colts offence ranks seventeen places better by DVOA and their defense ranks nineteen places better so having seen the Steelers lose by ten to a then two win Bengals team I give the edge to the Colts this week.

Points from the rest:

  • I’m a little torn as to what to do with the Kansas City Chiefs game as whilst they have a 13-1 record, you have to go back to week eight against the Jets to find an opponent they have beat by double digits. The Atlanta Falcons have not exactly been good value recently after the minor recovery under Raheem Morris stalled, but they haven’t been beat heavily since playing the Saints in week eleven so I’m going to nervously back them to keep within eleven.
  • The Chicago Bears are in a slightly strange position of having had a mini recovery after re-inserting Mitchell Trubisky into the starting line-up but need to catch the Cardinals to get into the play-offs and likely have too many wins to draft a quarterback in the off-season. They should have enough to beat a bad Jaguars team who are currently in position to pick first in next year’s draft, but I don’t know about doing it by eight points.
  • The Bengals got a third win on Monday, but they are not a good team and whilst neither are the Texans, they should win this game although I don’t know if they can do it by ten points.
  • The New York Jets managed to avoid going winless but might have cost themselves the number one pick in next year’s draft in the process. This week they welcome a Cleveland Browns team who are making a late push to win the AFC North as the Steelers continue to slide and if things break right, the Browns could find themselves in a winner takes all divisional game in week seventeen. I don’t know if the Steelers will continue to lose, but I do expect the Browns to have eleven wins going into that final game in Pittsburgh.
  • I may have been a bit bullish on the Giants, who definitely need a lot of work on offence, but I do wonder if their defense can limit Lamar Jackson and a Ravens offence that has looked good in the last three weeks. I don’t expect the Giants to win, but keeping the deficit within twelve seems possible. That said, the Ravens have posted scores of 34, 47 and 40 in the last three weeks.

Falcons @ Chiefs (-10.5)

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

Bears @ Jaguars (+7.5)

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

Bengals @ Texans (-9.5)

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

Browns @ Jets (+9.5)

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

Colts @ Steelers (-2.5)

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

Giants @ Ravens (-11.5)

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

Late Games:

The late slate of games looks to be a lot more competitive, but the best quality matchup must be the LA Rams trying to put their loss to the Jets behind them as they travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks. This season the Rams look as well balanced as they ever have under Sean McVay, but the questions that surround Jared Goff and his ability to cope with pressure remain, making it impossible to entirely trust the Rams even if McVay has coached them to four straight winning seasons and should return to the play-offs for a third time in January. However, while the Seahawks have a game lead in the division, the Rams have a 5-2 record against them since McVay took over the Rams and as good as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offence has been with DK Metcalf establishing himself as one of the most promising young receivers in the league, their defense still only ranks twentieth by DVOA. Given that the Seahawks have been perhaps as affected as any team in the league by the absence of their fans in a stadium designed to enhance crowd noise, I like the Rams getting the points in this one. It should be a cracking game.

Points on the Rest:

  • The LA Chargers have had some extra rest after beating the Raiders on Thursday night in week fifteen, but the only teams they have beaten by more than a field goal this season are the Jets and Jaguars. My concern in picking this game is the Broncos offence being thirty-second in the league by DVOA, but with injuries to young quaterback Drew Lock amongst others disrupting their season, I think this might be near the worst of possible outcomes for the Broncos and so I like them to cover this one.
  • The problem that Washington have right now is that with Alex Smith fighting a calf injury they have had to turn to Dwayne Haskins at quarterback and might well have to turn to him again this week despite him being fined and stripped of his captaincy for violating Covid-19 protocols when he was photographed in a club without a mask. The Panthers might not be a good team yet, and Washington’s defensive line is definitely impressive, but I can’t lay these kind of points with this level of uncertainty at quarterback.
  • The Dallas Cowboys have won two straight including scoring forty-one points against the 49ers but come into this game as underdogs thanks to a reversal in fortune for the Philadelphia Eagles after inserting rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts into their starting lineup. That said, the Eagles lost to the Cardinals last week and it is hard to know what will happen when two NFC East teams face each other. Still, the Eagles are laying a point and a half less here than I’m seeing as the consensus on line so I guess I have to take the Eagles in this one.

Broncos @ Chargers (-3.5)

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

Panthers @ Washington (-2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Panthers
Dan’s Pick:      Washington

Eagles @ Cowboys (+1.5)

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

Rams @ Seahawks (-1.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Titans @ Packers (-3.5)

This is the game of the week for me as it sees two teams with double digit wins face off in a matchup that has the potential to get lopsided for both teams but could be a great contest. The weakness for the Tennessee Titans is their pass rush and facing Aaron Rodgers and the second ranked offence by DVOA this has could go horribly wrong. That said, the Packers rush defense is ranked twenty-first in rush defense by DVOA, which is surprisingly high and I could absolutely see Derek Henry dominating this game for the Titans. There may be eleven percentage points between these two teams by overall DVOA, but I think this could be a great game and the Packers defensive frailties make me just nervous enough about laying three and a half points to back the Titans. It will be ominous for the NFC if the Packers win convincingly in this one.

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

Monday Night Football

Bills @ Patriots (+6.5)

Week sixteen finishes with the newly crowned AFC East Buffalo Bills getting a chance to sweep the New England Patriots and improve their chances of securing the second seed in the AFC. The New England Patriots have struggled thanks to the problems on offence and the number of Covid-19 opt outs across the team. There are going to be plenty of questions about the offence during the off-season and the Patriots will need an answer at quarterback, but there’s still part of me that worries about what Bill Belichick could scheme up to cover this line. However, the Bills have looked really good in recent weeks and if they are to deliver on the promise of the season in the play-offs then this is the kind of game they should win.

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

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

2020 Christmas Picks

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I’m not sure how read this post will be, and in fairness I finished work and hit something of a wall so let’s got through our four Christmas NFL games and I’ll regroup again on Sunday.

Gee:Week 15:  10 – 6Overall:  109 – 116
Dan:Week 15:  6 – 10Overall:  116 – 109

Christmas Day

Vikings @ Saints (-6.5)

I think should be a really good contest between a New Orleans Saints team who will want to get their offence running more smoothly now quarterback Drew Brees has returned from injury and get back to winning ways to see if they can regain their number one seeding should the Packers slip up in the next two weeks. I can’t see the Vikings making the play-offs but they will not want to go quietly in these final two weeks and so I do seem them being competitive. However, as I’m getting an extra half point from the consensus, I’m seeing online I’m going to take the Saints.

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

Boxing Day

Buccaneers @ Lions (+8.5)

The first of the Boxing day games sees the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the Detroit Lions in a game that the Bucs should win by a decent amount. I’m slightly hesitant that it will be by nine points, except this line is actually a whole point less than the consensus online and the Lions defence is not good and I don’t trust their offence to keep up with the Bucs either. I may regret this, but if the Bucs are going to make the play-offs and do more than be there then they need things to come together and with very little of the regular season left now seems as good a time as any for them to do so.

Gee’s Pick:     Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick:     Lions

49ers @ Cardinals (-4.5)

I could be wrong about this, but the San Francisco 49ers are coming towards the end of a long season that has been plagued by injury and with them staying away in Arizona with their families but with nothing left to play for except pride they may struggle against a Cardinals team who are chasing the play-offs. The Cardinals have benefitted from Kyler Murray looking much more like himself in the last couple of weeks and so I’m going to back them to cover this line.

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

Dolphins @ Raiders (+2.5)

A couple of weeks ago this would have been an important game for both teams’ play-off chances and it still is for the Dolphins, but I think the Raiders have lost too many games in recent weeks. I wonder how fit Derek Carr will be despite training in the week, but it is too late for there to be huge changes to the defence that has let the Raiders down all season so whilst I could be wrong, I like the Dolphins to win this game and setup a big finale against the Bills in week seventeen.

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

Survivor Competition

The best I can do now is draw with Dan and he only has to score one more point to seal the season win. The Ravens saw him through against the Jaguars last week and did the Titans for me against the Lions. This week Dan has got the Saints going against the Vikings whilst I’m pumping for the Texans going against the Bengals.

Current Score

Gee: 10
Dan: 12

Week 16 Selection:

Gee:    Texans
Dan:    Saints

2020 Week Fifteen Picks

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I would love to think that I am getting into Dan’s head having gone three out of three so far in week fifteen and picked up two points on him already, but despite his text this morning I am keenly aware that this still only cut his lead to under double digits and there are plenty of opportunities to fall further back.

Still, it is nice to be perfect so far so let’s take a look at the rest of the week fifteen games.

Early Games:

There are a couple of games that leap out of the early slate and once again one of the teams involved is the Miami Dolphins. They are hosting the New England Patriots, and this is a fixture that the Pats have had difficulties with for a number of years even when they were still running up double digit wins and making the AFC East their own. The East looks to be going to the Bills this season, but the Dolphins are very much in the hunt for a wildcard slot and I think this divisional game should be the next step in them doing just that, but I also think it should be a tense competitive game.

The Seattle Seahawks have an interesting test this week as they travel across the country to face the Washington Football Team who currently stand atop the NFC East and still have a shot at a winning record. I somehow doubt the Football Team are going to win out, particularly with the Seahawks coming to town this week, but watching the Washington defensive line trying to limit Russell Wilson should be fun and I think Washington could well cover even if I think the Seahawks are more likely to win.

Points from the rest:

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers really can’t afford too many more losses even with possession of the sixth wildcard spot as the Cardinals are only a game behind them and with the Vikings and Bears two games back neither are out the hunt yet, although you would fancy the Bucs to hold on. Still, while the Falcons should not prove too difficult an opponent this week, the Bucs have not impressed for a while and hanging on for a wildcard spot was not exactly the aim coming into the season
  • The Chicago Bears finally broke their six-game losing streak against the Texans and looked pretty good doing it. The Minnesota Vikings have improved after a bad start to the season and I do like the Vikings to win at home, but I have a feeling this divisional game will be closer than the line suggests with he Bears actually ranking better by overall DVOA.
  • It’s hard to take too much from the Dallas Cowboys’ win last week as the Bengals are a terrible football team, whilst the 49ers have remained competitive despite numerous injury problems and playing in an NFC West division that has been fearsomely competitive in 2020. I lean towards the 49ers winning this one and the points are not enough for me to pick against them.
  • The Detroit Lions followed up their win over the Bears with a loss to the Packers last week, although it was a reasonable showing. Still, the Tennessee Titans looked very solid against the Jaguars last week and with the league’s thirty-first defense by DVOA and the twenty-sixth ranked rush defense facingthe Titans I don’t expect that the Lions will manage a different result than the Jags.
  • The Indianapolis Colts are a very solid football team, top ten in both defense and special teams by DVOA and have enough good quarterback play through the combination of Philip Rivers’ experience and Jacoby Brissett providing short yardage sneaks and run-options close to the goal line that they should win this game. The Houston Texans are a divisional opponent so the line does worry me, but the Colts are a better team than the Bears so I think the Colts should cover
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars got a bit of a boost from starting Mike Glennon for two games but didn’t get a win and they were beat convincingly by the Titans last week. Meanwhile, the Ravens looked very good last week with Lamar Jackson running the ball effectively and it’s hard to see anything other than a Ravens win, although whether they cover the points is another question.

Buccaneers @ Falcons (+5.5)

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

Bears @ Vikings (-3.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Bears
Dan’s Pick:      Vikings

49ers @ Cowboys (+2.5)

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

Lions @ Titans (-9.5)

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

Texans @ Colts (-7.5)

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

Patriots @ Dolphins (-2.5)

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

Seahawks @ Washington (+5.5)

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

Jaguars @ Ravens (-13.5)

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

Late Games:

The pick of the late games is clearly the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the New Orleans Saints as this is probably the game of the week. The Saints will welcome the return of Drew Brees after the Taysom Hill experiment ran aground against the Eagles last week. This should be a fascinating contest, but how good Brees can be given his layoff for eleven broken ribs is a reasonable question and there does seem to be something inevitable about opposing quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offence. That said, the Saints defense is second only to the Steelers by DVOA and there are enough questions surrounding the Chiefs defense and performance in recent weeks that they are beatable. It’s just no-one but the Raiders have managed it so far this season.

Points on the Rest:

  • The LA Rams looks to be a better-balanced team this season than the year they went to the Super Bowl and should have no problem beating the New York Jets at home.
  • The Arizona Cardinals got back to winning ways last week, and Kyler Murray looked much more like himself. That said, the Eagles found something in Jalen Hurts and having beaten the Saints last week will be hoping to build on that win. I wonder if the Saints were complacent last week, but this line still seems a bit high to me but we shall see.

Jets @ Rams (-16.5)

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

Eagles @ Cardinals (-6.5)

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

Chiefs @ Saints (+3.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Browns @ Giants (+3.5)

The New York Giants lost their first game in five weeks against the Cardinals and the games don’t get any easier this week with the Cleveland Browns coming to town. There is three points between the consensus line and this one so I pretty much have to pick the Browns by default, and I would expect them to win given recent performances. The Giants still have a good defense but they will need their offence to do better if they want to apply pressure to Washington at the top of the NFC East over the final three games.

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

Monday Night Football

Steelers @ Bengals (+12.5)

The Steelers have a particularly good record against the Bengals anyway, but I can’t see any hope for a bad Bengals team who will be starting third string quarterback Ryan Finley who has an 0-3 record as a starter. There are genuine issues with a Steelers’ offence that cannot run the ball or stretch the field and a defence that has a cluster of injuries at linebacker but the Bengals are simply not equipped to exploit this.

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

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.

Competition Saturday: 2020 Week Fifteen Picks

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Week fifteen started with a win for me, although I was lucky in that I picked against Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr and he picked up a groin strain early but he was on the bench for my dynasty team so the injury helped my pick without damaging my play-off matchup. With the first Saturday games of the season coming into view there’s just time to take a quick look at tonight’s games.

Bills @ Broncos (+6.5)

The Buffalo Bills follow up their statement win against the Steelers with a trip to face the Denver Broncos who are coming off their own win. The Broncos best win of the year was against the Miami Dolphins, but the Bills offense is a very different thing to face than the Panthers who they just beat and I fully expect the Bills to win out in this one. That said, this line is big enough that it really makes me wonder if I want to back the Bills, but they have had a number of solid wins and I can’t quite bring myself to back the Broncos. I do wonder if I will regret going against my numbers though…

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

Panthers @ Packers (-8.5)

I misremembered the results of the Panthers on the podcast this week as they actually only got back to 3-4 after losing their first four games, and won their last game as recently as week eleven against the Lions. This puts me in a second Saturday quandary as they have been competitive for a number of weeks and so whilst I would be shocked if they could travel to Green Bay so close to having eight players on the Covid-19 list and win, I wouldn’t be if they covered this line. The Packers are currently ranked number one in the NFC for a reason, and that reason is their league leading by DVOA offence, but whilst there are still questions about their defence against elite competition, I don’t think that is going to cause them issues in this game. That said, when I look at the consensus number the line is just that bit too rich for me, even with the Panthers only having four wins.

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