Competition Thursday: 2020 Thanksgiving

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Whilst week eleven was eventful on the pitch, but in terms of the TWF competitions it was a week of maintaining status quos with Dan keeping his nine point advantage in the picks competition and both of us scoring another elimination in our survivor competition.

Still, with games starting early today it is time to start our week twelve picks, minus the Ravens @ Steelers game that has now been moved to Sunday due to Covid-19.

Gee:Week 11:  5 – 9Overall:  74 – 88
Dan:Week 11:  5 – 9Overall:  83 – 79

Texans @ Lions (+2.5)

It somehow feels odd that both the Detroit Lions have won four games and the Houston Texans have won three. I have been pretty harsh on the Lions this season, but I was not expecting them to get shut out last week against the Panthers and I am certainly expecting some kind of reaction. That said, the Texans are coming off their own win against of all opponents the Patriots. Unhelpfully, these teams are ranked right next to each other in overall DVOA as a slightly surprising nineteenth and twentieth. I don’t have a strong lean in this one, and the consensus number suggests picking the Texans, but the points at home in what amounts to the Lions’ yearly Super Bowl party has me nervously grabbing the points. It doesn’t hurt that I have to pick us wins against Dan either.

Gee’s Pick:      Lions
Dan’s Pick:      Texans

Washington @ Cowboys (-2.5)

The Dallas Cowboys pulled themselves back into the race for the NFC East after they beat the Minnesota Vikings last week. A re-jig of the offensive line and the return of Andy Dalton was enough to dent the Vikings streak of wins as they try to mount their own play-off bid. This makes today’s game against the Washington Football Team even more important and this is another game where I am really not sure where to go. The Football Team are not exactly good, but Alex Smith has given them stability at quarterback, and they have been a tough team to face throughout the season. Their overall ranking by DVOA is actually six places better than the Cowboys, but the consensus line has moved to -3 so this is good value if you like the Cowboys. I don’t like the Cowboys particularly, but I’m not sure I like Washington either and I am wary of bias having watched the Football Team beat the Bengals last week. In short, I want to trust the numbers, but I have conflicting sets of those as well. In the end, there are some trends for both Washington and Cowboys that reluctantly has me going for the Cowboys, but I could feel a real idiot tomorrow as 0-6 or 8-0 runs are probably due to be broken.

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

Survivor Competition

Well, both of use were wrong last week, with misplaced faith in the Patriots and Vikings being Dan and mine’s downfall. Dan has decided this week to back the Browns over the Jaguars, which is pretty hard to argue with, but isn’t an option for me so after considering going against the Jets or picking the Saints, I have settled on the Seahawks taking on the Eagles.

Current Score

Gee: 7
Dan: 8

Week 12 Selection:

Gee:     Seahawks
Dan:    Browns

Bold Prediction of the Week

I really dislike this feature and particularly struggled with it both before and on the pod, as evidenced by the fact that my shock of the week is the Eagles beating the Seahawks despite selecting opposite that in the survivor pool.

I guess at least this way I have emotionally hedged that game….

Grateful for What You can Rely On

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It feels like 2020 as a year has emphasised how important it is to be able to rely on different parts of our lives, and I’m sure that those working in the NFL feel no different, so as we approach the US holiday of Thanksgiving it feels more important than ever to think about the things we are grateful for in our lives.

I have been enjoying recording a podcast again, even if we have been a little more sporadic than we would have liked coming into the season, but thankfully the missed weeks were not for any serious reasons. I have had enough of those through the year and as odd as it still is to be missing part of the team I am used to have working on this site, it has been so good to speak to my friend Dan nearly every week, both on the pod and around recording. The dynasty league is also getting to the business end of the season, and the teams’ records are closing nicely to keep things competitive to the end. I’m grateful for a relatively smooth-running league given it is my first season as a commissioner and the disruption that Covid-19 threatened early in the season.

What I Saw

The first of the week eleven games saw the Seattle Seahawks tweak some of their game plan as they hosted the Arizona Cardinals in a divisional game, that the Seahawks ultimately won 28-12. Part of the Seahawks plan was to re-balance the offence with the return of running back Carlos Hyde from injury allowing Russell Wilson to make a more reasonable twenty-eight pass attempts as opposed to the fifty he had when these teams faced each other earlier in the season. The Seahawks’ defence also seemed to have a better plan for containing the Cardinals and Kyler Murray, with the Cardinals quarterback only rushing for fifteen yards in this game. I’m not sure that the addition of Carlos Dunlap was the entire answer, but with three QB hits and two sacks it certainly helped, although I suspect it will always be odd for me to watch the long time Bengal play in a number forty-three jersey after his decade in orange and black wearing ninety-six. The NFC West continues to be fearsomely competitive, and I think the Seahawks could well be mounting another run on the play-offs. I’m not panicking about the Cardinals as their destiny is still in their hands, but playing the Rams twice will be the very opposite of facing the NFC East teams still on their schedule.

Moving on to Sunday and the early game I watched was the heart-breaking loss of the Cincinnati Bengals to the Washington Football Team. It was horrible to watch for obvious injury related reasons, but the first half was frustrating as the Bengals generated plenty of yardage but could not score points and so only took a 9-7 lead into half time. It was painfully obvious just how many offensive line problems Joe Burrow was covering up by getting the ball out as the Bengals just couldn’t move the ball without him. My resolve to watch every snap is going to be tested over the next six games as I’m really not sure what there is to be taken from these games, and I am not at all convinced by this coaching staff. As for the Football Team, they did what they needed to win in the second half, and it is still a source of joy to see Alex Smith back on the field. I really don’t want to call who will emerge from the NFC East to host a play-off game, but you cannot count anyone out of it now all four teams have three wins, so it seems there could be many twists and turns to come.

The last Sunday game I watched was the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Kansas City Chiefs, who went into the game coming of their bye, a situation that Andy Reid’s teams were 18-3 in before Sunday and now stand at 19-3. It was a back and forth game with the Raiders all the way through, but Patrick Mahomes is just behind the tax man and death for inevitability, and led the Chiefs to their final touchdown score with a pass to Travis Kelce to put the game away 35-31 with twenty-seconds on the clock. This drive followed on from Derek Carr giving the Raiders the lead a little over a minute earlier with his own touchdown drive that ended with a pass to a tight-end. The Raiders are a serious team this season, whose defence has risen to the lofty heights of a twenty-fourth ranking by DVOA, and whilst it still looks like the Cheifs and the Steelers are the best of the AFC if not the NFL, I am sure no one would look forward to facing the Raiders with the way they are playing at the moment.

The final game I saw was the Monday night contest between the LA Rams visiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, which was another back an forth game that saw both teams trade score, but the Bucs only took the lead once and were eventually defeated 27-24. This game did not go how I was expecting, and as much as Tom Brady struggled again and threw a couple of bad interceptions, it was the fact that the Buccaneers could not disrupt Jared Goff and the Rams offence even with veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth missing through injury. A couple of weeks ago it felt like the Buccaneers were shaping into one of the best teams in the NFL, but they seem to have fallen back in the last few weeks. This dip does seem to coincide with the signing of Antonio Brown but it might not be that, and those of us outside the franchise can’t truly know. I am still inclined to think this is the growing pains of a team still assimilating a lot of new players without a proper off-season programme, but they are running out of weeks to get everyone on the same page ahead of the play-offs. There should still be time, but I do not feel as confident that they will pull this off as I did only a couple of weeks ago. The Rams meanwhile continue to compete and whilst there are going to be questions regarding Jared Goff in the big game until he repeatedly proves people wrong, he still does enough to win more often than not and has already played in one Super Bowl for Rams. I am not sure he can live up to his contract, but I think the criticism of him often goes too far the other way and I expect the Rams to be there or there abouts come the sharp end of the season.

What I Heard

There has been a lot of talk about the Joe Burrow injury, with lots of people pointing out how often he had been hit this season and everyone agreeing what a blow it was. As a fan the tweet is still pretty heart breaking, even with the positive attitude:

I’ve heard positive things from medical commentators that he should come back as good next season, and I just hope the Bengals have an improved situation for him to work with.

Still, hearing Alex Smith on Peter King’s podcast was an even greater comeback and as much as the loss was painful, there’s not another quarterback I’d rather lose to than Smith after all he went through to get back on the field.

It’s a timely reminder of the lengths these highly talented athletes go through to have a career and the risks they are taking even before you take Covid-19 into account.

What I Think

The fates appear to have been listening to Dan and mine’s conversation on Tuesday regarding Covid-19 and the NFL’s commitment to getting the season done as demonstrated by its upping of all teams to the intensive protocol. We mentioned the Raiders issues last week that still saw them play the Chiefs this Sunday, and mentioned that the Ravens were already operating virtually after some positive tests.

In a move that I think Dan is taking as a deliberate pre-empting of the podcast release tomorrow, the Baltimore Ravens game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh has been put back to Sunday. In the context of how the protocols are running it makes perfect sense as this gives the Ravens enough days that they can get five clear days of tests for those close contacts to the positive tests, and as long they don’t get an escalating situation that we’ve not seen since the Titans outbreak earlier in the season, then it seems likely the game will take place on Sunday.

I really wasn’t sure when the season started whether that the NFL was going to get to the end of the season, and I certainly expected them to have to run late, but in fairness the league and franchises (including all players and staff) are currently on schedule with no lost of games yet, and there are contingencies if the worsening situation should affect teams and the schedule more dramatically. The real world test of all of this is continuing to escalate, but on then league’s own terms it is a case of so far so good.

What I Know

If the trues wisdom is knowing that you know nothing, then the 2020 season has been a very apt demonstration of it.

I feel like you can trust perhaps two and a half teams to win regularly at the moment, and then there is a large number of teams that win or lose games when you are least expecting it. Let’s not even start on the mess that is the NFC East where all four teams have a riotous three wins and a shot at the play-offs.

There’s always a large element of randomness in the short NFL season, but that has never been clearer than in this Covid affected season with its absence of proper off-season, expanded practice squads,  more relaxed IR rules, and varying Covid-19 protocols. All that said, whoever does eventually win the Super Bowl, if and when it has been played, will have truly earned a championship.

What I Hope

This week I hope to be proved wrong, and that the Bengals give us something to enjoy. I’ll take Bandon Allen starting and helping this team develop in Burrow’s absence.

Of course I will be hoping for a full and swift recovery for Burrow as well, but I can’t write that every in post from now until next season so let’s just take it as read.

Get well Joe.

As for the rest of you, look at the things you are grateful and tell the people responsible thank you. I think we could all stand to hear that at the moment.

2020 Week Eleven Picks

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After a pretty disastrous week ten for picks it is kind of appropriate that I got week eleven off to a losing start, but I suppose I had better start from the beginning.

The last week was pretty rubbish for me given that I was ill for a lot of it, but let’s hope that’s the last week of the season that my routine is affected by illness. I fell another four games back from Dan and so whilst I managed to keep his lead down to single digits, it really does feel like he is destined to take over from his dad as picks champion, which somehow feels appropriate. He has even scored more points than my value tracking numbers, although because there isn’t always a line advantage his winning percentage is over ten points lower, but I am no where near 50-50 this season so I am clearly going to have to re-work things in the off-season.

However, having watched the Seahawks stomp over the pair of us backing the Cardinals on Thursday night, it’s time to swing through the survivor competition and get into the rest of the week eleven slate of games.

Gee:Week 10:  4 – 10Overall:  69 – 79
Dan:Week 10:  8 – 6Overall:  78 – 70

Survivor Competition

Through ten weeks Dan and I are a pretty respectable eight and seven points respectively. Dan’s confidence paid off last week as he took the Vikings over the Bears whilst my play against the Texans with the Browns worked out for me. Although the Jets are back in play this week, neither Dan or I are trusting enough of the Chargers to risk them as our pick and so while Dan is demonstrating confidence in the Patriots recent run of wins by backing them over the Texans, I am working my way up the list of losing teams and settling on the Vikings going against the Cowboys. I am a little concerned that Jerry’s team are coming off a bye and are getting Andy Dalton back from his concussion/Covid-19 nightmare, but there are fifteen places between them in the overall DVOA rankings and I like how the Vikings have been playing in recent weeks.

Current Score

Gee: 7
Dan: 8

Week 11 Selection:

Gee:    Vikings
Dan:    Patriots

Early Games:

I can find reasons to pretty much watch any NFL game, but it does feel like this week the exciting contests are a little thinner on the ground and somewhat weighted to the later part of the slate and Monday.

The first of the early games to really catch the eye is the Tennessee Titans travelling to face the Baltimore Ravens, but that is as much because of what it will tell us about the teams than conviction in the inherent quality of the contest. The Titans are a perfectly respectable 6-3, but the concern will be that they have slipped to that record after a 5-0 start and have lost three of their last four games. The defence is not good and the kicking game has been a real Achilles’ heel and whilst the big names have been performing on offence, losses to the Colts and the Steelers will be concerning as they came at home whilst having already lost to the Bengals on the road, the Ravens will prove a stern test. The Ravens are a matching 6-3, but whilst they have another top ten defense and are second in the league in special teams by DVOA, the offence is ranked in the twenties and is definitely struggling after they set the league alight last season. The interesting commentary I have heard over this is that for all the questions about Lamar Jackson throwing the ball this season, he is near the top of the league when throwing on first down, the problem with their run heavy attack is that the Ravens just don’t do this a lot. If the Ravens can figure out their pass-run balance on first down, and they are known as one of the more analytically minded teams, then they could truly terrify, but as I have said all season, they won’t really scare opponents until they can demonstrate the ability to come back from a big deficit. I think they are unlikely to face that problem in this game though, and think they are likely to win a physical game although that line does look generous to me.

The other game I am interested in is the New Orleans Saints hosting the resurgent Atlanta Falcons. The Saints have looked a lot better in the last couple of weeks, but they are obviously going to be a different team whilst Drew Brees recovers from his collapsed lung and broken ribs. The Saints demonstrated they could win consistently without Brees for multiple weeks last year, but Teddy Bridgewater is now starting for the Panthers and it is interesting that at the time of writing the starter is rumoured to by Taysom Hill and not Jameis Winston. Regardless the Saints will be without Brees for at least three weeks as he’s been placed on IR and they start this run against a rested Falcons team who have won three of their last four games. If the Falcons continue to win at this rate it could make how to proceed in the off-season a tricky question, but this is their first real test since their mini turnaround given that it consisted of beating a Vikings team without Dalvin Cook, then facing the Lions, Panthers and Broncos. I think I like the Saints to win out given their experience and defense, but I am not exactly sure about it and the line seems high to me.

From the rest:

  • The Bengals are a two-win football team for a reason, and after a really great win against the Titans they were battered by the Steelers last week. This is a very winnable game, but the experience of Alex Smith worries me, even if it is amazing to see him come back from the injuries he had to start in the league once more. If the Bengals don’t win this one though, you will likely find my querying the directions of the franchise under Zac Taylor in next week’s podcast.
  • The Eagles still stand atop the NFC East despite their loss against the Giants last week, but they were meant to come back stronger from the bye not lose another game and this is a tough match up as they travel to Cleveland to face a Browns team with twice as many wins. The Eagles are going to have to really improve to compete in this one and if they don’t soon then a very winnable division is going to slip through their fingers. It is a sign of how far the Browns have progressed this season that there’s not a lot to say this week and we are not focused on Odell Beckham’s injury.
  • The story breaking about last season’s Lions having a party at the end of the season because they would be free of Matt Patricia is not a ringing endorsement of him as a head coach, and having just finished a biography about Bill Belichick for all his testy relationship with the media, his players like and respect him and he wins, something Patricia with a 13-27 record has failed to consistently do. Having beat Washington by three points last week the struggling Panthers provide another opportunity to pad the win column, but it still feels like the Lions are a franchise marking time until off-season changes.
  • With two consecutive wins the Patriots have dragged themselves back into contention and are only a win away from get back to even wins and losses, which they really should get this week against a Texans team who can’t really compete now that Deshaun Watson no longer has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. The slow rebuild the Texans are going to need over the coming seasons will stand testament to how GM Bill O’Brien let down head coach Bill O’Brien.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers unbeaten streak was never in doubt against the Bengals last week, and I doubt they will struggle to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but it will be worth keeping an eye on this game just in case the Steelers have one eye on their week twelve Thanksgiving meeting with the Ravens.

Falcons @ Saints (-4.5)

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

Bengals @ Washington (-1.5)

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

Eagles @ Browns (-3.5)

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

Lions @ Panthers (-1.5)

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

Titans @ Ravens (-6.5)

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

Patriots @ Texans (+2.5)

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

Steelers @ Jaguars (+9.5)

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

Late Games:

I think there is a singular stand out game in the late slot, which is the Green Bay Packers taking their 7-2 record to Indianapolis and a Colts team who have won consistently but haven’t quite convinced yet. This should be a really interesting contest when the Packers have the ball as it will see Aaron Rodgers running Matt LaFleur’s offence against a Colts defense who are currently ranked top five by DVOA, but it will likely be determined by how well a fading Philip Rivers can operate a Colts offence that hasn’t quite found its feet this season against a Packers defense that has so far done enough to win games thanks to their offence being second only to the Chiefs by DVOA. I am really looking forward to this one.

From the rest:

  • It is a testament of how things are coming together for the Dolphins that this looks like a straightforward game for them given that the Broncos are struggling to do anything consistently and Drew Lock has failed to prove himself the answer at quarterback despite the promise he had shown coming into the season.
  • The team without a win meets the team who seem to specialise in close losses, and something has to give. It is not exactly a surprise that the LA Chargers are favourites, but the Jets could be more competitive than this line suggests coming off a bye
  • The Cowboys will be hoping that the return of Andy Dalton gives them a boost as they also come off the bye, but the Vikings have looked a different team since getting Dalvin Cook back and will have an eye on a run to the play-offs in the final seven games of the season. However, with games on the road against the Buccaneers and Saints to come, they can’t afford any slip ups, including dropping a game against the struggling Cowboys.

Dolphins @ Broncos (+3.5)

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

Jets @ Chargers (-8.5)

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

Cowboys @ Vikings (-7.5)

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

Packers @ Colts (-2.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Chiefs @ Raiders (+6.5)

This tasty looking Sunday night game feature a divisional matchup where the Chiefs will be looking to revenge their single loss of the season to the Las Vegas Raiders, which is the only game where Patrick Mahomes has thrown an interception. The Raiders continue to struggle with Covid-19 protocols as one of the most heavily fined teams in the league had over half of their defensive starters put on the Covid-19 list this week due to close contact to a person with a positive test. As of Saturday there had been no further positive tests so if that holds they should get them all back for this game, but they have not been in the facility whilst the Chiefs are coming off a bye and Andy Reid has an 18-3 record after the bye so I have a feeling I know which way this contest will go. The Raiders will be hoping to confound this record but have not exactly had the ideal preparation to do so.

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

Monday Night Football

Rams @ Buccaneers (-3.5)

This should be a really good game as the LA Rams have been compeititve in pretty much every game this season and have a top ten offence and defence. The issue could be that Jared Goff is a quarterback who tends to either look really good or confused, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their best defence by DVOA absolutely have the capacity to take Goff out of his game. The additional problem for the Rams is losing Andrew Whitworth at left tackle to a knee injury against the Seahawks last wee as even at 39 Whitworth was playing great football and he will be a big miss. The Bucs have only three losses this season, two against a Saints team that seem to have their number and to a Bears team that the Bucs should have beaten on a Thursday night if it was not for the number of penalties they gave away. The unsurprising bad news stories that follow the unstable Antonio Brown hit this week, demonstrating the dangers of signing him but for now the Bucs are coming off a big win against the Panthers and will be looking to prove their status against the Rams and Chiefs ahead of their week thirteen bye. I would not like to bet against the Bucs winning this week, but the line did give me pause picking the game, but as much as I rate Sean McVay as an offensive mind, the known issues with Goff against good defences would already worry me before he lost his left tackle.

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

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.

AAF: Chargers End of Game Play Calling

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I am trying something a little bit different this week with my Amateur Adventures in Film post because as I have discussed on the podcast, I am struggling to find time to grind an entire game’s worth of tape, even if I am only looking at one side of the ball in a game.

However, having complained about the LA Chargers play calling at the end of their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders I thought I would take a look at the coaching tape and go through it in a little bit more detail, particularly as having gone back and watched the whole game after recording the podcast on Monday there was another red-zone play that caught my eye that I wanted to contrast against the final two plays.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had led the Chargers seventy-one yards using up four minutes and thirty-one seconds of play clock and using all three timeouts, but spiked the ball with six seconds left on the clock and only needing four yards to score a touchdown and win the game. Perhaps not the best clock management, but the Chargers were in a position where they could win the game, yet here is where the problems start.

The Chargers’ first call on second and four with six seconds left was a fade pass to Mike Williams who had lined up on the right side of the field with the team in a shotgun formation with 11 personnel (one running back & one tight-end) on the field. There was no motion and so this was an execution play relying on the six foot four Williams to come down with a contested catch in the back corner of the endzone. It was a nice enough thrown ball, but this was really a fifty-fifty shot and it did not work.

I am not a huge fan of the goal line fade route, but calling one from four yards out really gives the pass target a very tight area with which to work. Additionally, the Chargers were static before the snap of the ball so there was no indication of the coverage and more importantly they didn’t make the Raiders’ defence have to adjust with seconds left on the clock and the game on the line.

I knew I didn’t like this call when I watched the game highlights on Monday, and was wrong about the player targeted when recording our podcast that night, but there is an additional factor that made these two end of game plays worse, so let me take you back to the second quarter for an end zoneplay that resulted in a touchdown.

The Chargers are lined up on the Raiders five-yard line on fourth and one. The Chargers come out in 11 personnel and line up in a single back formation. First they motion tight-end Hunter Henry right so he swaps sides of the formation and now lines up on the right-side of the offensive line and a Raiders defender follows him (I’d love to identify them properly but the Raiders’ silver on white numbers are not that easy to pick up on coaching tape). The Chargers then send receiver Jalen Guyton left in jet motion left before the snap of the ball with Raiders corner Trayvon Mullen following. The play is a simple toss right, but the blocking in this play is what caught my eye when watching the game on Tuesday as Keenan Allen was lined up close to the formation on the right hand side and when the ball was snapped, Allen blocks in pushing Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib left. This isn’t a pancake block or anything physically impressive because it doesn’t have to be, as Herbert tosses the ball right to running back Kalen Ballage, all Allen had to do was push Nassib far enough left as the defender rushes up field that Ballage can get outside of him, which is what happens. This has the effect that it frees up right tackle Trey Pipkins III to pull right without worrying about Nassib and he blocks safety Lamarcus Joyner as Hunter Henry takes the unidentified Raiders defender who followed his motion, which when combined with Dan Feeney getting to the second level and cutting line-backer Nick Kwiatkoski and delaying him just enough, means there is enough of a lane that Ballage can run the ball in for a touchdown with hardly any contact.

I was hoping to diagram this play up, but I am still looking for the right application to allow me to do that and I ran out of time. What I liked about the play was the double motion before the ball and the inventive blocking scheme. Now, I think you should already be able to see the contrast between that scoring play and the static goal line fade that didn’t work. However, whilst I can understand wanting to throw the ball quickly to get another chance if you only have six seconds on the click, with one second on the clock you know that this play is it so it had better be a really good one so let’s take a quick look at that.

The Chargers line up in shotgun with what I think is 12 personnel, but this time the have a quad of players on the left side of the formation, and tight-end Donald Parham lined up on his own on the right. Once again, the Chargers are static before the snap and they throw another fade right to Parham who caught the ball, but couldn’t hold onto it as he hit the ground. On the left side of the play Keenan Allen drops into a receiver screen position behind the other three Chargers’ players blocking, although the Raiders have an extra defender in the area. However, I do not understand why with the game on the line the Chargers abandon motion before the snap, there is no kind of trickery just another fifty-fifty fade pass. It is even more frustrating when you see such a nice goal-line play earlier in the game like the one that I wrote up.

I developed a lot of respect for Anthony Lynn whilst watching Hard Knocks before the season started, but a combination of game management and play calling lost what was a winnable game and I really struggle to believe that the final fade pass was the best play the Chargers had available to them.

The Chargers keep losing close games, and if you look at the final drive in this game I think you can see why and the combination of game management and play calling like this is a big part of why. It is reasonable to expect Justin Herbert to get better at clock management as he gains experience, but the team have to be calling the right plays and at this point, I think it is fair to wonder if the Chargers will correct it and if they don’t, then big changes could be coming this off-season.

2020 Week Ten Picks

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The split of this Sunday’s games is a little more even this week because of the Masters golf tournament so we actually have more late games than early ones. I felt happy with my Thursday night pick up until half time, but the Titans demonstrated why all three phases of the game are important and I should remember that lines which cross key numbers or in that game’s case, go from giving to getting points mean it is a bad plan to stick with the giving number. Luckily Dan thought as I did so I only dropped a game back from being evens, but it is another thing to remember as we run through the week ten games.

Early Games:

I think there are two games that stand out in the early slate, and Dan has already commented on the podcast about my interest in one of these games so if you can’t hear his disappointment from reading my words, have have a listen here.

I think the obvious big game is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who will be desperate to get right after their horrible loss to the Saints last week. The Bucs travel to Carolina to take on their second divisional opponent in a row and a Panthers team who may only have a 3-6 record but are not an easy team to face even if they have lost their last four games. The Panthers pushed the Chiefs hard last week and only lost by a field goal to the Saints in week seven so I can see them putting up a credible effort against the Buccaneers. However, two of the Bucs’ three losses this season are against the Saints whose coaching staff seem to have the number of both the Bucs offence and defense so whilst I like what Matt Rhule and his staff are building in Carolina, the Bucs are still ranked second overall by DVOA so I like them to win this game, but I’m not so sure about them covering a five and half point line.

The other game of interest to me is the Philadelphia Eagles travelling to face the New York Giants, that is a divisional matchup from the NFC East – the division so bad that all four teams have losing records. I actually like some of what Joe Judge has been building with the Giants and picked them to beat the Washington Football Team last week, but the Eagles are coming off a bye and will be hoping that some rest and returning players enables them to push on in the second half of the season and win the division. I think the Eagles are still the team to beat, but they have to persuade Carson Wentz that throwing away the ball if the pass is not there is an okay thing to do, and get some kind of consistency from the offences. The Eagles still have a good pass rush, but they have not been a good football team this season, which makes the divisional matchups even more important. The Giants own defensive line has been doing some interesting things, but I think they are likely to fall short in this game, If the Giants could get the win they would suddenly be in a wide open race for the division, but I really don’t know what we should expect. It might not be the prettiest game to watch, but I think there is a certain fascination in this one and it might well make it on my watch list for week ten.

Points from the rest:

  • If the Browns are to continue their push for the play-offs then they need to beat a 2-6 Houston Texans team who interestingly are ranked eighteenth by DVOA. With Baker Mayfield back from the Covid-19 list as the Browns come back from the bye they should do so and with the Browns looking like a competently ran franchise I like them to do just that, even if the line does make me nervous.
  • The Washington Football Team visiting the Detroit Lions feels like a game for the die hards only. It was always going to be a big job to turn the Football Team round, whilst the Lions look like a team who are going to fire their head coach after three years.
  • The Green Bay Packers are laying a huge number of points in this game because the Jaguars are bad. That said, rookie quarterback Jake Luton did a couple of nice things in his debut last week so the line might be in danger but I very much doubt the result is.

Texans @ Browns (-3.5)

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

Washington @ Lions (-4.5)

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

Jaguars @ Packers (-13.5)

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

Eagles @ Giants (+3.5)

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

Buccaneers @ Panthers (+5.5)

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

Late Games:

I can make an argument for watching all six of the late game but I’ll stick to writing up a couple of them so this post doesn’t get out of hand.

The Buffalo Bills beat the Seahawks last week and take their 7-2 record on the road to face another NFC West team in the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are a very respectable 5-3 but if you look at their wins, the only win against a team with a current winning record was against the Seahawks. The Cardinals are actually ranked two places better overall than the Bills and are in a tougher division, but with the Cardinals having feasted against NFC East teams and the Jets I think the Bills are a more battle tested group and I like the Bills getting points.

One of the matchups of the week is the NFC West divisional game between the LA Rams and the visiting Seattle Seahawks. I have a feeling this will be an entertaining game as the Seahawks pass defense is struggling and with a sluggish pass-rush you would think that Jared Goff will be able to make the Rams’ offence look like its best self. That might not be enough to get a win against the Seahawks, but I think it should be a highly entertaining game and certainly not one to be missed.

Points from the rest:

  • The Las Vegas Raiders host a Denver Broncos team who seem to be kings of the comeback but can’t put a complete game together and so I fancy the Raiders to get the win, although I’m really not sure about covering the line.
  • The Miami Dolphins host the LA Chargers in a showcase of two rookie quarterbacks exciting their fan bases. The Dolphins’ players who were put on the Covid-19 list is a concern for this game, but at this point I will believe the Chargers will win consistently only when they prove it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a third win this week.
  • I don’t know if the Cincinnati Bengals visit to Pittsburgh will live up to it’s hard hitting reputation, but I would like Joe Burrow to at least look good against the Steelers, a team that has beaten the Bengal in eleven of their last twelve contests
  • The 49ers visit to the New Orleans Saints should be a marquee matchup, and it’s possible that head coach Kyle Shanahan will muster some tricks from somewhere against the Saints’ defence, but with the 49ers enormous injury list and the Saints looking ominously good last week I wouldn’t like to predict it.

Bills @ Cardinals (-1.5)

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

Broncos @ Raiders (-4.5)

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

Chargers @ Dolphins (-2.5)

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

Bengals @ Steelers (-7.5)

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

Seahawks @ Rams (-1.5)

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

49ers @ Saints (-9.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Ravens @ Patriots (+6.5)

In recent years this would be a great Sunday night game, and it still might spring something of a surprise, but between the players who opted out of the season or just aged out the Patriots are not a good team this year. The Ravens’ offence may not be firing on all cylinders and you would expect Bill Belichick and his staff to have some wrinkles for that offence, but with twenty-one places between their overall ranking by DVOA and this line dropping below the key number I am seeing online I’m going to pick the Ravens. I am nervous about this pick, but lets not forget that the Pats did nearly lose to the Jets last week.

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

Monday Night Football

Vikings @ Bears (+2.5)

The Minnesota Vikings won their second game in a row last week when they soundly beat the Lions, and they have a couple of winnable games coming up so if they can beat the Chicago Bears there is an outside chance of them dragging themselves back into the play-off hunt after a poor 1-5 start. It is a long shot, but the return of Dalvin Cook has given the Vikings’ offence balance and enabled Kirk Cousins to succeed in play-action while the defense is now ranked fifteenth in the league by DVOA despite the overhaul of the secondary. The Bears defense is of course the strength of the team once again, but even though it is ranked in the top five, the Bears offence is ranked twenty-eighth and their special teams are only a little better. Things have got desperate enough in Chicage that Mat Nagy has handed over play calling duties to Bill Lazor, which is a move I do like as it means Nagy can concentrate on managing the game. However, the Bears’ quarterback situation does not cover up the problems they are having on the offensive line and I kind of fancy the Vikings to win this one so with this liner once again dropping off a key number I am seeing online, that is the way I am going to pick.

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

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 Thursday: 2020 Week 10

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Well, it’s not exactly a milestone on the way to overhauling the lead Dan extended by a point in week nine, but I am slowly approaching fifty percent in my picks, which feels like I might get back to some kind of respectability by season’s end even if I don’t pull off the comeback, but I’m not ruling that out either so let’s get to Competition Thursday for week ten.

Gee:Week 9:  8 – 6Overall:  65 – 69
Dan:Week 9:  9 – 5Overall:  72 – 62

Colts @ Titans (-2.5)

I’m really looking forward to this game as it is a big divisional encounter between two winning teams so there are big repercussions on the result. It is also an interesting line as my first instinct is to pick the Titans at home on a short week, but looking at the consensus number online it would seem like this is actually good value line for the Colts. However, whilst the Colts have a really good defence, I don’t entirely trust their offence with a thirty-nine year old Philip Rivers at quarterback, plus the Titans are back to winning ways so whilst I could very well still be wrong, I am going to back my first thought as that is often as good a way to pick as any.

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

Survivor Competition

So, by adopting Dan’s strategy of picking against the Jets I kept pace with him in week nine as he correctly picked the Packers to beat the 49ers. The Jets strategy is unavailable to both of us this week as they are on a bye, as are the Cowboys so looking at the matchups featuring teams with losing records in week ten I can’t go for the Packers against the one win Jaguars as I’ve already used them, so I’m going to go for the Browns hosting the two win Texans. Dan is clearly feeling brave as he is going with the Vikings on the road in Chicago against the Bears but he was clearly feeling good about it when I queried it so we shall have to see how that works out.

Current Score

Gee: 6
Dan: 7

Week 10 Selection:

Gee:     Browns
Dan:    Vikings

Bold Prediction of the Week

With us recording the podcase early this week, I only have the one bold prediction, which is that the 3-5 Minnesota Vikings will beat the 5-4 Chicago Bears, which was bold enough for Dan to allow and that’s all that really matters to me. I wonder if my prediction had an effect on his survivor pick.

There’s a Plan in Here Somewhere

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If you are reading this, then I have successfully avoided missing another midweek post and have managed to fit it around work and everything else that has been going on. The Bengals may have been on a bye week nine, I was very much not so let us see what I can pull together as we make the turn into the back half of the season with all teams now having completed eight games.

What I Saw

Week nine started with a very one-sided affair that saw the Green Bay Packers laying aside my concerns about their run defence and easily beating the San Francisco 49ers 34-17. I was not surprised that the Packers won as the 49ers injury problems were already widely known before they lost their starting quarterback and arguably the most complete tight end in the game, so when you added a short week and positive Covid-19 tests leading to the closing of the 49ers’ facility it was not hard to predict the resulting fifth loss. I don’t think this game did anything to set aside my concerns about the Packer’s defence, but the NFL did manage to keep its schedule going through nine weeks, which I’m sure the league are taking as a win in of itself given the state of things.

I watched two of the late games this week. In the first the Las Vegas Raiders took on the LA Chargers in a back and forth game where the Chargers outgained the Raiders by one hundred and twenty yards but true to form ended up losing 31-26. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was asked to more than his more experienced opponent Derek Carr, and achieved it throwing for three hundred and twenty-six yards and a pair of touchdowns but despite leading the Chargers offence down the field, the Chargers couldn’t punch the ball into score. Now Herbet spiked the ball on the Raiders four yard line with six second on the clock giving the Chargers time to get two plays off, but two consecutive fade passes into the right side of the end zone to different receivers produced the same failure and were in truth, pretty uninspiring play calls. It feels like something in the play-calling and clock management for the Chargers is not allowing this team to reach it’s full potential despite respectable rankings for both their offence and defence by DVOA, which has led them to competitive in every game and yet fall to 2-6.  Meanwhile, I don’t exactly trust the Raiders either, their offence may rank a decent twelfth by DVOA and they have put together a 5-3 record over the first half of the season but a defence that ranks thirtieth still feels like it is going to be the Achilles heel for this team and their opponents won’t all be as accommodating as the Chargers. I should mention that the Raiders do have very respectable wins against the Chiefs and Saints, but I will be interested to see what they do against the Chiefs when they play them again in week eleven.

The other late game I watched the exciting nip and tuck game between duelling number one wearing quarterback Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa that saw the Miami Dolphins win their fourth straight game as they beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-31.  This game featured an even bigger disparity between the two teams’ yardage gain that the previous one as the Cardinals out gained the Dolphins by one hundred and thirty yards, but even Murray adding one hundred and six rushing yards and a touchdown to this two hundred and eighty-three yard three touchdown passing was not enough to win the game. Partly, this was because of the lone turnover of the game in the first quarter when Emmanuel Ogbah was able to strip sack Murray and Shaq Lawson scooped up the ball and returned it thirty-six yards for the touchdown. It might be oversimplistic to state this as the reason the Cardinals loss, but it does represent the more complete team performance the Dolphins gave. In the end despite scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Cardinals bogged down twice around the Dolphins forty-yard line in the fourth quarter, the first time seeing Chase Edmonds stuffed for no gain on fourth and one while Zane Gonzalez missed a forty-nine yard field goal. Both teams leave this game with 5-3 records and probably feeling hopeful about their position. The Cardinals benefit from having Murray in his second year, and he looks dangerous running the ball whilst mostly avoiding taking big hits. The Dolphins will be happy to see Tagovailoa taking the step up he did from his first game last week, and whilst they may not do as well as the Cardinals this season, I feel much better about the direction the Dolphins are taking under Brian Flores but both teams have exciting quarterbacks to build with and that can only be a good thing for the league.

If the previous game was showcasing the future of the NFL at quarterback, the Sunday night game demonstrated in front of a national audience two greats of the game fighting against the dying of the light as they try to add one more championship before they finish their careers. Coming into the game you would have given the advantage to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers given they were top of the DVOA rankings and had the best defence in the league, but they were demolished 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints. This is the first time that Brady has been swept by a team in his division, although he never faced a quarterback of the quality of Drew Brees in the AFC East, but the highly ranked Bucs defence did little to help him in this game. The Saints offence scored on their first possession and continued to build their big lead with Brees throwing for modest numbers, but ably supported by one hundred and thirty-eight yards of rushing offence largely spread between Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill. Meanwhile the Bucs could only manage a laughable eight yards rushing as they spent the game trying to catchup and Brady threw three interceptions as the Saints managed to constant pressure. The Bucs have to hope that this was a one off aberration, but they have yet to impress in a prime time game this season and how they recover from this game will be a test of how quickly they can forge their new identity round Brady. As for the Saints, the return of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders did not generate impressive numbers for the returning receivers, but they seemed to help balance the offence as Brees distributed the ball efficiently. The Saints looked much more like the team we were expecting coming into the season and put themselves in the driving seat for the division whilst the Bucs road to play off success got harder but they still might have the team to manage that if they bounce back. This might not be the last time we see this teams face off this season and the Bucs will be hoping for a different outcome if there is a next time. Their season will depend on it.

What I Heard

There are two things I heard this week that I wanted to write about.

The first was an interesting what if that Bill Simmons mentioned on his podcast, which is namely the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck before the 2019 season. Simmons raised it as a what if given that in the last two seasons what the Colts have really missed is a quarterback, and what would the team look like if they still had Luck. For me it is a pertinent question and one that is likely frustrating for Colts General manager Chris Ballard as he took over a team with a franchise quarterback who was injured, rebuilt the roster around him and had one season with a playoff win before Luck retired at age twenty-nine. The Colts went 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett in 2019 and brought in Philip Rivers this offseason but the whilst the Colts are currently 5-3, Rivers has very little lateral movement now and the Ravens were easily able to trouble him and with two games against the Titans, a visit from the Packers and a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers it is fair to speculate at what kind of record the Colts will finish. I’m sure Luck’s decision was the right one for him, but it a big what if for this franchise as they are left scrambling to find answer to maximise their current roster.

The other interesting thing amongst several linked thoughts that Michael Lombardi explored on his podcast The GM Shuffle was the importance of scoring in the fourth quarter and that the problem was the change in attitude when holding a lead was a problem because with the current rules defences cannot protect them and so you need to stick with the plan that got worked for you in the first three quarters of the game. If you look at the scoring in the two close games I watched this week you will see the fourth quarter deficit that ties in with this and whilst we should know that correlation does not equal causality, it is certainly something to think about. so

What I Think

The reasons I wanted to mention the above point is because of a criticism I have heard regarding certain coaches that I think is fair, and if not exactly damming, is worthy of consideration. There are several head coaches known for their tactical aggression when it comes to scheme, but this thinking doesn’t extend to their game management. When Kliff Kingsbury joined the Arizona Cardinals he was not afraid to draft a rookie quarterback even through the Cardinals had taken one the previous year, and Kingsbury has developed his scheme as he has worked through what does and doesn’t work in the NFL. However, it was he who was attempting a long field goal in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins on fourth and one.

Another coach who falls into this category would be Sean McVay and I just think it is an interesting juxtaposition and a further example of how important it is to maintain your approach across all facets of the game and not delve too deeply into a particular facet. There’s no way I can know precisely what the two coaches are intending in this balance and they could have very good explanations, particularly as they no question know more about football and running a franchise than I could possibly hope to find watching from a distance, but it is an interesting thing to think upon as we watch games entering into the final quarter.

What I Know

I know I am grateful for the escape football is giving me this year, and in particular the return of the podcast, even if it seems hard again to find writing time. Dan and I were both discussing the improvements to the Sunday in 60 editing as we prepared for an early pod recording so I think that will be more of my routine going forward.

What I Hope

I would like for the Bengals to beat the Steelers when they are at their best, but I would definitely take a win on Sunday in a prime-time slot. What I hope is that it is a start of a storied run of success for Joe Burrow against our division rivals, a 1-11 record since I started writing here is a painful stat I would love to see improve.
Roll on Sunday – I think…

2020 Week Nine Picks

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So after a convincing win for the Packers on Thursday our focus moves to the Sunday slate of games and the injury/Covid-19 lists with several recognizable names getting activated, be it Dez Bryant getting elevated to the active roster for the Ravens, Christian McCaffery making the Panthers’ fifty-three man roster from IR or Matthew Stafford coming off the reserve/Covid-19 list having been in contact with someone who tested positive but has continued to test negative. It’s hard to keep track of everything, but this can and will have an effect on our picks so let’s take a look and do our best to sort through things as they stand.

Early Games:

For me there are two games that really jump out of the early slate are the Seattle Seahawks visiting the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens at the Indianapolis Colts.

The Bills maintained a two game lead on the Dolphins with a close fought win over the Patriots last week, but whilst they are still the favourites to win the AFC East, the Bills have not looked as they did in their opening four games. The defence that was top ten last year has slipped to twenty-third by DVOA whilst opposing defences look to have found coverages that have cooled Josh Allen’s hot start. The Seahawks defence is only ranked a couple of places higher by DVOA, but Russell Wilson is playing elite level quarterback and has led the Seahawks’ offence to third in the league by DVOA with the shackles finally off as Wilson throws them to big wins instead of relying on the run. The Bills are still a good team, but I don’t see them quite in the same league as the Seahawks and while I think this will be a good watch, I think the Seahawks are likely to prevail.

The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the Steelers in a game they could have won if it were not for the pair of interceptions that Lamar Jackson threw, but as this was the Ravens second loss against a tope tier 2020 team there are plenty of questions now being asked about how good the Ravens are against the best franchises. In large part this is because the offense has not looked right this season, and whilst Jackson is still playing well, it feels like the Ravens offense has not been able to adjust to how teams are playing them this year and that there needs to be a more consistent third aspect to the passing game beyond Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. They travel to face a Colts team who have quietly got to a 5-2 record with a firth overall ranking by DVOA. Their loss to the Jaguars in week one does not look great, but apart from their loss to the Browns, the Colts have been competitive in every game and are coming off a convincing win against the Lions in Detroit last week. This is probably their toughest test of the season so far and if their top five defence and special teams can keep them in the game then I will be interested to see if Phillip Rivers can do enough with an offence that hasn’t quite found its feet to run out winners.

The other game that catches my eye out of the early schedule is the Chicago Bears taking on the Tennessee Titans. The Bears have scrapped their way to 5-3 on the back of the sixth ranked defence by DVOA and just enough production from a limited offence. The Titans have dropped two games in a. row to the AFC North with the loss to the Bengals last week being a serious upset. The line for this game sees the Titans bigger favourites than I think they should be, and I think this has the potential to be a close game given the Bears’ defence could be able to restrict the Titans offense whilst the Titans’ defence is struggling. I’m not sure it will be the most spectacular game but it will be a tense game with a lot at stake for both teams as they try to stay in the race for their respective divisions.

Other things of interest from the early games:

  • The Falcons have gone 2-1 since Raheem Morris has taken over as acting head coach and a healthy Julio Jones is also a big help, but I’m not sure what to make of them and they welcome a Broncos team fresh off a comeback win against the Chargers. The Broncos are 3-1 in their last four games, with the only loss to the frightening Chiefs but this game could reveal a lot about how these teams are going to look over the second half of the season
  • The Minnesota Vikings got a monster game from running back Dalvin Cook last week as he returned from injury and helped the Vikings get the upset win against the Packers. The Detriot Lions have failed to convince all season and I wonder how competitive they can make this game although getting Matthew Stafford back from the Covid-19 list should help.
  • The Carolina Panthers have dropped back to 3-5 having lost three then won three to start their season, but star running back Christian McCaffery is making his way back from injury and the Panthers are still ahead of where many thought they could be coming into the season. However, the loss to the Falcons last week will be disappointing and I wonder how competitive they can truly be against the Kansas City Chiefs who clearly wanted to make a statement against the Jets last week and look poised to be one of the teams to beat this season.
  • Just as I said that the Giants seemed to be coming together under first year head coach Joe Judge and were building something, there was the news about veteran receiver Golden Tate’s benching and he won’t be travelling with the team this week. The Washington Football Team have not convinced, even if they did beat the Cowboys last week and having already lost close to the Giants this season so I think this could well be another close game.
  • The Houston Texans are a team in flux and did not move JJ Watt or Will Fuller before the trade deadline, but they are still in purgatory and it hard to see that changing soon. They should have enough to beat a Jaguars team who flattered to deceive at the start of the season, but are as bad as many suspected coming into the season and who are turning to a different sixth round quarterback in rookie Jake Luton to evaluate what they have their whilst Gardner Minshew gets the chance to heal the strained ligament and multiple fractures in his right thumb.

Broncos @ Falcons (-3.5)

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

Seahawks @ Bills (+2.5)

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

Bears @ Titans (-5.5)

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

Lions @ Vikings (-3.5)

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

Ravens @ Colts (+2.5)

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

Panthers @ Chiefs (-10.5)

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

Giants @ Washington (-3.5)

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

Texans @ Jaguars (+6.5)

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

Late Games:

The most interesting game of the late starts for me is the Miami Dolphins fresh off their win against the Rams taking on the Arizona Cardinals. The Dolphins won last week thanks to great defence and special teams so Tua Tagovailoa’s modest NFL debut was not a huge contributing factor. The  Cardinals should prove to be a tougher test and I will be interested to see how Tagovailoa does in his second game and how things shake out for the Cardinals who are ranked two places lower by overall DVOA but are solid in all three phases of the game.

Thoughts on the other games:

  • The Raiders have amassed yet more fines related to Covid-19 protocol failures and have not entirely convinced despite having wins against the Saints, Chiefs, and Browns this season. They might have enough to beat the Chargers, but I am curious if their defensive frailties could get exploited by Chargers’ rookie quarterback sensation Justin Herbert
  • The Cowboys have a new starting quarterback but have problems on both sides of the ball and are unlikely to do much against the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL unless the Steelers have a let-down game after their always tough matchup against the Ravens last week.

Raiders @ Chargers (-1.5)

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

Steelers @ Cowboys (+10.5)

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

Dolphins @ Cardinals (-4.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Saints @ Buccaneers (-4.5)

The Sunday night game is the matchup of the week as it sees a divisional matchup between the 6-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 5-2 New Orleans Saints. All the talk coming into the season for the Buccaneers was the signing of Tom Brady, but it is the defence that has truly impressed given it is the best in the league by DVOA and has led the Bucs to the top of the DVOA standings by 9.1%. This defence will taking on a Saints team who are ranked seventh overall by DVOA despite missing their leading receiver Michael Thomas for nearly the who season through one injury or another. There is so much debate surrounding Drew Brees’ arm, but his accuracy in the short to intermediate area of the field is still supreme and Alvin Kamara has been leading the way from the backfield in keeping the Saints offence in the top ten. The Saints might not be as complete a team as we thought coming in to the season, but they are still winning at an impressive rate and I think this rematch has a chance to be more impressive than their season opener. This is not a game to miss.

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

Monday Night Football

Patriots @ Jets (+7.5)

The week nine slate of games closes with a bit of a whimper as the New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in a contest that can only muster two wins between both teams. The Jets are having a putrid season, made more difficult by Sam Darnold re-aggravating the AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder so we see a return to the starting line-up for Joe Flacco that is likely to scupper my bold prediction of the Jets’ offence scoring more points than the Cowboy, but doesn’t completely rule it out. The Patriots meanwhile should win this game, but they really need to find something to hang their hat on for the rest of the season. We still don’t know if Cam Newton is hurt or feeling the effects of recovering from Covid-19, but he has not looked good since he returned and the Patriots look as bad as they have done since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000. They should win this game, but the Pats are not as competitive as I was expecting even given their tough circumstances so what interest there is in this game will be how they look against a divisional rival who have simply been woeful this season.

Gee’s Pick:     Patriots
Dan’s Pick:     Patriotså

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 Thursday: 2020 Week Nine

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It’s been a weird couple of days, and throw in the first site visit for work in months and my writing time has simply disappeared. The major news appears to still be Covid-19 with the 49ers having to close their facilities and the Packers missing multiple running backs through injury/Covid-19, but tonight’s game is still going ahead. So, as the NFL is waiting for no-one this season I guess I had better get on with Competition Thursday for week nine!

Gee:Week 8:  8 –6Overall:  57 – 63
Dan:Week 8:  7 – 7Overall:  63 – 57

Packers @ 49ers (+2.5)

This is a bit of a cheat line for us, as with the injuries and disruption to the 49ers preparation with their facility closed due to positive Covud tests the consensus line I am seeing is already up to +7 so whilst it’s always possible that the 49ers could spring a surprise, when you add both one of the best tight ends in the game in George Kittle and starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the already extensive 49ers’ injury list it seems unlikely. I’m a little nervous about the Packers run defence going against a Kyle Shanahan co-ordinated offence but the Packers, whilst having their own injury/Covid-19 cluster at running back, have Aaron Rodgers and only need to win by a field goal to cover this line and I like that option.

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

Survivor Competition

Well, Dan changed his plan last week and took the Buccaneers against the Giants and won, whilst I had my third eliminating pick when the Packers had a dud against the Vikings and mainly Dalvin Cook (which in turn makes me marginally more worried about my pick above). This gives Dan a point lead as we go into week nine and Dan has gone for the Packers tonight as he doubles up on tonight’s game. I’m taking a leaf out of his book and I’m going for the Patriots at the Jets, which might be a slightly risky pick but hopefully will pay off in the long run.

Current Score

Gee: 5
Dan: 6

Week 9 Selection:

Gee:    Patriots
Dan:    Packers

Bold Prediction of the Week

I once again made two bold predictions this week, which as much anything is because I’m struggling to find them and am never sure that Dan will allow them but for week nine they are:

  1. The New York Giants will beat the Washington Football Team.
  2. The Jets will score more points against the Patriots than the Cowboys will against the Steelers.

If I manage another 50/50 week I will be very happy.

2020 Week Eight Picks

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It was a rough start to the week eight picks competition for me, but I was going on the information I had available and I think I would make the same pick again. Clearly I need to be careful about what to make of the Falcons going forward but I can’t over adjust as I have been slowly whiltling down Dan’s lead. Let’s see if I can get any closer to Dan this week as I go through the games that leap out to me across the rest of week eight.

Early Games:

For the second week in the highlight of the early Sunday games feature the Pittsburgh Steelers who after holding on for the win against the Titans now travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. We get to see this matchup at least twice a year, and it is particularly tasty this season as the Steelers take their unbeaten record to a rested 5-1 Ravens team. The only loss the Ravens have was against the Chiefs, but despite their bye there are questions about their offence as it is not running as smoothly as last season and their blitz heavy defensive scheme is not an ideal matchup against Ben Roethlisberger who is getting the ball out as fast as any quarterback in the league. I can see either team winning this one, but with the consensus number being higher and the extra half point the Ravens are laying over a field goal I’m going to take the Steelers.

The other game that grabs my attention is as much about the importance of the result as the play of both teams. The New England Patriots travel to face the Bills on a three-game losing streak and are struggling on both sides of the ball. Cam Newton has not looked right since he came off the Covid list and the Patriots have just put their most productive receiver Julian Edleman on IR. As strange as it feels to pick against Bill Bellichick (even under these circumstance) and particularly as the Bills have been struggling in recent weeks as defenses adjust to Josh Allen’s hot start to the season, the numbers indicate the -3.5 line should be higher and so with a little reluctance I am backing the Bills in a game they need to win to maintain their hold on the AFC East and to keep themselves ahead of the lurking Dolphins

The Dolphins are my other game from the early set to watch, both because I am curious to see how the LA Rams do with yet another trip across the country (their fourth in eight weeks) but mainly because this game sees rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa make his first start. Even only residing on the periphery of Dolphins fandom through my friendship with Dan, I can feel the excitement over Tua time and I just hope that everything goes well for him. That said, with he Rams travelling to Miami I am also grabbing the points so I will have my own selfish reasons for hoping the Dolphins play well, even it is the hope is that they can keep the game closer than four points.

  • The Titans will be looking to bounce back from their loss to the Steelers while the Bengals have been dealing with some malcontents in the lockeroom. The numbers all show that the Titans are the team to pick, which feels odd as the Bengals have been in all their games bar the Ravens and given how the Titans’ defense is playing and recent performances by the Bengals I am going to back them to stay within six.
  • The Raiders and Browns are right next to each other by overall DVOA, and this could be a close game, but the numbers are telling me to take the Raiders so that’s where I’m going. However, it is interesting to me that the Browns as the twenty-second ranked team by DVOA have a 5-2 record while the Raiders at twenty-third are 3-3.
  • The Detroit Lions come off a win that to an extent they lucked into with the Falcons haplessly scoring a touchdown to give the Lions the ball back, but Matt Stafford still had to drive down the field and score the Lions’ own game sealing touchdown. However, the Colts are coming off a bye and this has the potential to turn into one of the more interesting games of the week, but with the Lions consistently underwhelming under Matt Patricia they didn’t quite make the cut for a highlight game.
  • A big divisional game like the Vikings taking on the Packers should be a highlight of any week, but with the Vikings making moves for the long term and the Packers bouncing back after their tough loss to the Buccaneers it feels like this game is only going one way. That is a little dangerous as anything can happen in the NFL, particularly with divisional games, but it is hard to see any other result than a big win for the Packers in this season’s iteration of these two teams.
  • Somehow the consensus line for the Jets’ visit to the Chiefs is even higher than the -19.5 points we are picking on, but I do have a slight hesitation as the Jets did cover for me last week against the Bills. However, there is a world of difference between playing a divisional rival at home and travelling to take on the Chiefs, even if the legendarily noisy Chiefs’ crowd won’t be there. I did think about picking the Jets but I just can’t do it with the Chiefs ranked best in the league on offence by DVOA.

Patriots @ Bills (-3.5)

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

Titans @ Bengals (+5.5)

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

Raiders @ Browns (-2.5)

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

Colts @ Lions (+2.5)

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

Vikings @ Packers (-6.5)

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

Jets @ Chiefs (-19.5)

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

Rams @ Dolphins (+3.5)

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

Steelers @ Ravens (-3.5)

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

Late Games:

There are two great matchups in the late games and one intriguing matchup so let’s start with what I think will be the most competitive.

The San Francisco 49ers have remained competitive in a fearsome NFC West division despite their extensive injury list and having beaten the Patriots convincingly in week seven must now travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks. It is a testament to the coaching job that Kyle Shanahan and his staff have done that the 49ers are ranked eighth overall by DVOA (one place higher than the Seahawks) despite their injury list and are around top ten in all three phases of the game. The Seahawks meanwhile are relying on their offence with Russell Wilson playing as well as he ever has but the defense, and in particular the Seahawks pass defense is struggling and this makes for an intriguing matchup. This is definitely one of the games to watch this week, but I don’t have a strong hunch for it and I am making a play based on getting an extra half point.

The Chicago Bears get a real test this week as they put their 5-2 record and top ten defense to the test against a 4-2 Saints who are still a good team despite them not living up to the expectations we had coming into the season. The Bears really don’t convince on offence and the consensus line being the Bears getting four I am going to pick the Saints, but I think this could be a sneaky interesting game, particularly when the Saints have the ball.

The other late game sees the LA Chargers visit the 2-4 Denver Broncos with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert coming of his first career win and the Broncos have been beaten heavily by the Chiefs in week seven. The Broncos were hoping they had found their quarterback of the future in Drew Lock but injuries have muddied the water on how good he can be. The Chargers only need a field goal to cover this line and with the consensus number being on the other side of three points I will back the Chargers, but I could see the Broncos springing a surprise.

Chargers @ Broncos (+2.5)

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

Saints @ Bears (+2.5)

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

49ers @ Seahawks (-3.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Cowboys @ Eagles (-6.5)

The Sunday night game must have looked so good for the schedule makers before the season, but with the Cowboys season in disarray already this feels like a very one-sided affair. The Cowboy are starting their third different quarterback in seventh round rookie Ben DiNucci who is going to have an incredibly tough time given how injured the Cowboy’s offensive line is and straight bad their defense is. The Eagles only have a 2-4-1 record compared to the Cowboys’ 2-5 record but feel like they are in a very different place even if they have their own long list of injuries. The line would give me pause except that the consensus line I am seeing sees the Eagles giving eleven points to the Cowboys so under a touchdown seems a comparative bargain. In another world I might still take the points, but with the Cowboys shipping out or cutting underperforming members of their defense and starting a seventh round rookie quarterback I simply can’t pick them.

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

Monday Night Football

Buccaneers @ Giants (+10.5)

The last game of the week is another one-sided contest that sees the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the struggling New York Giants. There have been some encouraging moments for the Giants in their last three games but these have all come across fellow NFC East team. Taking on the Buccaneers is a very different prospect and even though this is a big line, I am seeing a higher consensus so whilst I am slightly nervous about this play, I am going to back the Buccaneers and their fearsome defense as Tom Brady continues to find his way with the Bucs offence.

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

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.