2020 Week Two Picks

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We are still early enough in the season that every game holds plenty questions as we don’t truly have a handle on how all the teams compare.

Early Games:

The games that leap out of the early slate first are the ones that see two 0-1 teams facing each other as one team will get over the early loss and another is going to be looking at a very tough if not impossible task to get to the play-offs.

The Cowboys host the Falcons is one such game and having talked about the use of analytics and indeed gone for it on a fourth down, this year’s Cowboys under Mike McCarthy don’t look that different to last season’s only the defence appears to be thinner and already weakened by injuries. The Flacons looked like their defence was still a problem and their offence generated plenty of stats but could not keep up with the Seahawks last week. I like the Cowboys to win this game, but I am not sure they are going to do it by six points, although I think this could be a very entertaining game with plenty of scoring..

The Vikings will be looking to get over last week’s heavy loss to the Packers, but they face a Colts team who moved the ball well enough and I am still concerned about the number of new players on the Vikings’ defence. I am making a numbers based play in this game, but this is definitely one to watch for me as I’m still trying to figure out these teams.

Finally, the Eagles lost to a surprisingly tough Washington Football Team in week one, with their offence struggling thanks to the injuries on the offensive line and never quite getting things together. People are already asking questions about Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson and this week they host a Rams team who started with a win against the Cowboys and who look to have some of their offensive mojo back. There are plenty of questions around both teams, but I have that bit more faith in the Rams right now and so I am going against the numbers in my spreadsheet and I am just hoping that I am not wrong.

Other things of interest:

  • Josh Allen threw the ball for three hundred yards last week, but this is a test of whether they can beat the teams that they should, whilst the Dolphins will be looking to bounce back in a second divisional game as Brian Flores tries to build on last season. It will not take many losses for the clamor for Tua to start in Miami.
  • The Giants are not a good football team, but the Bears had to rely on fourth quarter heroics from Mitchell Trubisky to get their win last week so which version of the Bears offence is the true one and can the Giants show signs of improvement?
  • The Broncos were more competitive than I was expecting last week, but they have to face a Steelers team who look like they have the capacity to make the Ravens work for the AFC North title.
  • The Lions looked back to their familiar losing ways last week, so can they truly compete on the road against the Packers, or will Aaron Rodgers continue to look sharp as the Packers try to establish themselves as the best team in the NFC North and I am already wondering if I was wrong about them and they may not regress as much as I thought.
  • The Titans won a close game on Monday, but the offence did not look as strong as it did late last season so given that the Jaguars won in week one with Gardner Minshew looking like he has build on his debut season, I  wonder why the Jaguars are getting this many points
  • I’m not sure what the Jets are meant to be building on going forward, there are plenty of questions surrounding Sam Darnold’s development and Le’Veon Bell is injured and doing little to justify his contract. The 49ers have a cluster of injuries at receiver and lost to the Cardinals last week – I wonder how the 49ers will pull things together but I still would be surprised if the Jets can compete in this one
  • The Buccaneers have plenty of work to do on offence but receiver Chris Godwin being out of the game with a concussion won’t help Tom Brady look better than he did last week. I think the Bucs can bounce back against the Panthers, but I don’t think it is a sure thing given how close the Panthers pushed the Raiders last week so the points looks wonky to me.

Falcons @ Cowboys (-5.5)

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

Bills @ Dolphins (+5.5)

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

Giants @ Bears (-5.5)

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

Broncos @ Steelers (-6.5)

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

Lions @ Packers (-6.5)

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

Jaguars @ Titans (-10.5)

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

Vikings @ Colts (-2.5)

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

Rams @ Eagles (+1.5)

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

49ers @ Jets (+6.5)

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

Panthers @ Buccaneers (-8.5)

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

Late Games:

Despite all the turmoil of the off-season, Ron Rivera got off to a winning start with Washington, but I don’t know how good they truly are given the problems the Eagles have. That said, I would expect Washington to be a tougher team to face under their new head coach. The Cardinals got off to a winning start with DeAndre Hopkins giving their offence a boost as quarterback Kyler Murray builds on his promising rookie season. I would not be surprised if the Cardinals win, but this line looks rich to me.

The other games look somewhat lopsided as they feature the two AFC teams who looked ominously good last week. The line might be too big for the Chiefs to cover but I couldn’t bring myself to pick the Chargers, particularly as they lost their starting center as they once again they are struggling with injuries whilst I don’t trust the Texans’ defense to be able to contain the Ravens potent offence.

Washington @ Cardinals (-6.5)

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

Chiefs @ Chargers (+8.5)

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

Ravens @ Texans (+6.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

Patriots @ Seahawks (-4.5)

The re-run of Super Bowl XLIX features very different rosters but looks a hugely enticing game. The Patriots ran Cam Newton a lot last week, but some of them were read-option plays according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and with the Pat’s chameleon approach to game plans you don’t know if the Pats offence will change this week or if Newton will be heavily running again. However, the Seahawks looked like an offensive team last week with their defense only ranking twenty-first in the league by DVOA while Russell Wilson completed a preposterous thirty-one of thirty-five passes for three hundred and twenty-two yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. I an really not sure who will run out winners in this one, but it promises to be a fascinating game featuring as it does half of the top four teams in DVOA after week one.

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

Monday Night Football

Saints @ Raiders (+5.5)

The Saints got the win in week one, but have ruled out Michael Thomas for several weeks with a high-ankle injury and he didn’t look right in week one. However, if the offence wasn’t exactly their high flying best, the defence looked good against the Bucs and the Saints look set for another strong season. The Raiders play their first game in their new home after their week one win on the road against the Panthers. The big question for me is whether the Raiders defense can improve on the last two seasons and this will be a stiffer test than the Panthers new offence last week. The Raiders are one of the teams I am not sure about so I am very interested to see how the Raiders shape up against one of the best teams in the NFC in recent seasons.

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

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 Two

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It feels like week two has come round very quickly, and I’m hoping that I can peg back Dan who taken a single point lead after one week. We also both got off to winning starts in the dynasty league, although Dan did live up to being the more experienced fantasy player by having the highest total in the entire league for week one.

Gee:Week 1:  8 – 8Overall:  8 – 8
Dan:Week 1:  8 – 8Overall:  9 – 7

Bengals @ Browns (-5.5)

The Thursday night game sees the battle for Ohio series continue as the Bengals look to build from their second half of last week against a Browns team who will be desperate to put their putrid loss the Ravens behind them. I saw signs that could be improvements for the Bengals, whilst Baker Mayfield looked very similar to last season as the offence struggled and the Browns are currently ranked thirty-first by DVOA in all three phases of the game. When you combine rankings like that with getting this many points then even thought the Bengals are on the road on a Thursday night, I am picking them to cover this one.

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

Survivor Competition

Well it appears Dan and I got too clever for our own boots last week and so in a proper survivor pool we would have be eliminated in the first week so no bonus for either of us.

We are at least going for different teams this week so hopefully one of us gets a score. Dan is underlining his confidence in his pick for today by going with the Bengals whilst I’m playing it a little safer and am taking the Steelers at home against the Broncos

Current Score

Gee: 0
Dan: 0

Week 2 Selection:

Gee:     Steelers
Dan:    Bengals

It is Not Time to Panic, yet…

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Here we are looking at the second week of the 2020 season and so far we got through the first week of games with the storylines being what happened on the field and not any kind of Covid outbreak. There is still a long way to go and the problem with Covid-19 is that it can spread rapidly so whilst the teams and the locker room are managing to police themselves so far, an already long season looks like a mammoth exercise in endurance. There may well be an asterisk placed against this season by the time it is done, but if the NFL manages to crown a champion, they will be truly worthy.

What I Saw

The season opened with the Kansas City Chiefs in ominous form, easily beating the Houston Texans 34-20 and looking every inch the defending champions. The Chiefs DVOA rankings look relatively modest, but rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire quickly established himself with one hundred and thirty-eight yards rushing, and the passing attack distributed the ball efficiently between half a dozen receivers. The numbers for Patrick Mahomes look relatively modest but belie how in control of this game the Chiefs were. The Houston Texans did take the lead in this game after a crisp second drive finished with a nineteen yard touchdown run from David Johnson who showed some of the explosion he was missing last year as he tries to get somewhere near the Pro Bowl form he showed back in 2016. However, after the Texans surrendered their lead towards the end of the second quarter they never got close again as the offence looked to be missing DeAndre Hopkins and could not keep up with the Chiefs, particularly as the Texans’ defence could not contain the Cheif’s offence. It is way to early to write off the Texans as head coach Bill O’Brien has a history of competing in their division but I do worry they are not setup to maximise the window they have with Deshaun Watson.

I watched two games from the late slate of Sunday games. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the LA Chargers and in a parallel universe somewhere beat them with a pass to AJ Green in the dying seconds that didn’t get the offensive PI call that wiped out Burrow’s chance of a debut win. The game could have been taken into overtime with an eminently kickable field goal, but the Chargers played their own part in getting the 16-13 win. The Bengals offensive line struggled in the first half as the Chargers introduced Burrow to what an NFL pass rush can do. This not only resulted in three sacks but Burrow struggled early and in the second half he gifted the Chargers an interception with an ill advised shovel pass, but the second half and the final drive showed glimpses of what he could become. Not to mention the Bengals defence looked better than it did last season. It’s too early to tell just how good either of these teams are in the context of the league, but I’m hopeful that the Bengals will remain competitive and I expect the same from the Chargers.

The final game I watched fully was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit to New Orleans where they lost to the Saints 34-24. It was not the premier contest you might have expected with Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the quarterbacks. In a new uniform Tom Brady had some moments and a couple of nice deep balls, but also looked like a quarterback in a new offensive system and with special teams mishaps and uncharacteristic interceptions the Bucs were unable to keep up with the Saints. This time the Bucs surrendered an early lead in the second quarter and never really got close to the Saint. The Saints defence looked good and generated turnovers whilst their offence spread the ball around without dominating. Alvin Kamara caught and rushed for a touchdown but Drew Brees only threw for one hundred and sixty yards so I have no doubt that people have his throws under the microscope for the next few weeks. I still like the Saints to be one of the teams in the NFC, but it looks like Brady and the Bucs have some work to do if they want to join them in the play-offs.

What I Heard

With the abbreviated pre-season it is perhaps not surprising that it was the established premier coaches who won their first games. For example, the Patriots utilised Cam Newton effectively and will be looking to pile the pressure on the Bills who many were tipping to be favourites for the division. Execution, third-down play, and conditioning is what will win games in this early part of the season.

It will be no surprise to anyone that Peter King is good at covering the NFL, but this week’s podcast interview with author Jeff Benedict was really good and his new book, The Dynasty sounds like a really good book unless you’re my friend Dan and pathologically hate the Pats for AFC East reasons.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Tom Brady being a Californian stuck in the snow and in danger of missing Bill Belichick’s mandatory three-hour early arrival meeting ahead of a game as he’s stuck on a gridlocked freeway. However, Brady is smart enough to call the Pats’ head of security, who confirms he is in his yellow jeep and within ten minutes state troopers arrive and give him an escort through the traffic. It sounds like a scene from a movie, but the other drivers soon realise who is being prioritised through and start honking their horns and cheering as other Pats’ players fall in line behind the convoy, recognising Brady’s car and everyone makes it to the game. It sounds like a movie. Oh, and this is ahead of the infamous tuck rule game against the Raiders.

However, believe it or not, that’s not the best story in the podcast, and nor is the one about how Bon Jovi was a part of Robert Kraft’s vetting process for Belichick. No, author Benedict read his own prologue of the day where Drew Bledsoe could have died and trust me, even if you can’t stomach a book about the last twenty years or the Patriots, you should listen to that story because it is a work of a proper writer.

I hope one day to write something as good as that. I also enjoyed them keeping Peter King’s unfiltered response during the recording process.

What I Think

Every year going into week two I try to remember that it is early in the season, that a team is more likely to finish week two 1-1 than 2-0 or 0-2, but it is very hard to make it into the play-offs if you start the season 0-2.

There might be some more room to manoeuvre this season given the expanded play-offs, but there will be a number of teams in the AFC and NFC who are expecting to compete for the play-offs who will be desperate for a win this week.

What I say to fans of those teams is that it is not time to panic, yet… I would wait until the end of week three and even then, unlikely runs can happen, but what most teams and fans will be hoping is that by then they have not left themselves too much to do already.

What I Know

What I know right now is that no one’s life currently looks like they planned at the beginning of the year. We are all struggling to adjust, and I am sure that is true for everyone working in the NFL and not just for Covid-19 related reasons.

To be honest, the blog still feel odd to me. It’s not a surprise, there are meant to be three of us involved and now we’re down to two a person is missing from our usual conversations and plans.

I’m trying to enjoy the process, but I wonder about the grind of the season. It’s never work, but it can get to you and given how I feel going into week two, I can’t help but wonder how the players are going to find it. That’s why I found Dak Prescott’s honesty about his struggles with his mental health earlier this year so moving.

There are still things to take from the league, and I just hope that at some point things to feel less heavy, even if it is going to feel strange for a while.

What I Hope

I’m going to be selfish this week, I’m hoping for a Thursday night win for the Bengals, and that Joe Burrow gets that first win early so the Bengals can start building something that might one day lead back to the Super Bowl.

It all has to start with that first win.

I hope it is soon.

2020 Week One Picks

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Well, I didn’t exactly start the picks competition how I wanted to on Thursday, but I don’t feel bad about the process of my pick and I think it is going to take some time to dial in given the absence of pre-season games to work from. We also don’t know how the absence of crowds will affect home field advantage so I might play some hunches a little more at the start of the year, but it is a long season.

I am going to try to break up this picks column in a new way this season to take some of the leg work out of the post and so hopefully get into coaching tape more regularly, assuming that life settles down. The blog still feels weird without trivia because of why I have had to move things round and I think that sense of loss is going to be there for a while, but it will also be nice to get back into something like our normal in-season routine.

At this stage, with no pre-season almost every game is intriguing because we have even less idea of how teams really are so let’s get down to some picks.

Early Games:

My favourite of the early contests to watch is probably the Packers at the Vikings as that is a big divisional game and I want to see how the Vikings re-tooled defence looks and if there is any progression in the Packers offence. The consensus number for this game has the Vikings at -2.5 that might lead you to take the Packers, but I have also seen a projection higher than the -3.5 the Vikings are laying and with them  at home I’m leaning to the Vikings, who have taken on an increased importance to me this season.

The other contests that catch the eye in this time slot are the Seahawks taking on the Falcons in Atlanta as the Falcons will be looking to pick up from their strong end to last season and the Seahawks are always competitive under Pete Carroll. I think everyone will be curious to see how Cam Newton looks as the Patriots host the Dolphins, but given this is a divisional game and the Pats lost more players to Covid-19 sit outs than any other team I think this one will be closer than seven. I could be wrong, but I have a lot of Brian Flores even though this is based on only one season as a head coach.

Finally, the Ravens are heavy favourites hosting the Browns, but with Kevin Stefanski taking over the Browns I think the offence could take a big step forward depending on how pre-season has gone. Certainly Baker Mayfield needs to regain some confidence as a starting QB in his third season, but with some improvement and a healthy Odell Beckham as well as Myles Garrett returning to the defence I like the Browns to keep this game closer than nine points. However, I do think the Ravens are going to be strong contenders this season as they look to not just get back to the play-offs, but win and go deep to better reflect their regular season form.

Other things of interest:

  • How Philip Rivers looks for the Colts and what state the Jaguars are in on the field. They will certainly be watching closely to see if Gardner Minshew is a franchise quarterback.
  • Can Josh Allen take a step forward for the Bills and what effect the addition of Stefon Digs will have on Allen’s passing. I really don’t know what to expect from the Jets, although they are another franchise trying to confirm what they have in their quarterback.
  • How will the Lions look with Matthew Stafford back from injury and will the Lions look more likely to be competitive division. I also wonder how Mitchell Trubisky will look and version of the Bears from the last two seasons will show up.
  • How will the reformed Panthers look as they host a Raiders side looking to get a winning season in Jon Gruden’s third season. More importantly for, can their defence improve on it’s thirty-first ranking by DVOA of the last two season.
  • What will the Washington Football Team look on the field after such a turbulent off-season as they host an Eagles side who will be hoping that they can’t be as injured as last season and that quarterback Carson Wentz not only plays a full season for a second year in a row but has the receivers to let them take the next step.

Seahawks @ Falcons (+1.5)

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

Jets @ Bills (-6.5)

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

Bears @ Lions (-1.5)

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

Browns @ Ravens (-8.5)

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

Packers @ Vikings (-3.5)

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

Colts @ Jaguars (+7.5)

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

Raiders @ Panthers (+1.5)

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

Dolphins @ Patriots (-6.5)

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

Eagles @ Washington (+6.5)

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

Late Games:

There are three intriguing games in the late slot, but the pick of them has to be the Buccaneers travelling to the Saints where the Bucs will be hoping that with Tom Brady the offence will be productive and the defence pays to a similar level as they did last season. I think that Brady will help the Bucs take a step forward, but there have been signs of slippage and as good as his skills players look, the Saints have been all in for three seasons already and have one of the deepest rosters in the league. I could be very wrong, and this will definitely be one of the games I watch this week, but like the Saints’ continuity to win out in this one.

Of course, I am excited to see Josh Burrow to take the field, but I am realistic about what I can expect from the Bengals this season and so I’m looking for progress not the play-offs. The Chargers have already lost a huge impact player from their defence in Derwin James and getting this number of points at home I am leaning to the Bengals keeping the game to within four, if not winning the game if everything breaks right for them.

Finally, a divisional game between the Cardinals and 49ers is interesting with DeAndre Hopkins taking the field with Kyler Murray and we shall have to see if in his second year with the Cardinals whether head coach Kliff Kingsbury can lead them to a better record of 5-11. The 49ers will prove a tough test as they should be competitive again this season and I wonder how the offence will look given their injuries at receivers, which is why I have picked the Cardinals to keep the game closer than eight, but I could easily see me getting this one wrong.

Chargers @ Bengals (+3.5)

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

Buccaneers @ Saints (-3.5)

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

Cardinals @ 49ers (-7.5)

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

Sunday Night Football:

This could be a spectacular game as the LA Rams open their new stadium to a Cowboys team under their new coach Mike McCarthy. I think this has the potential to be an explosive game, and certainly all eyes will be on if Sean McVay can keep the Rams competitive after the overhaul of their roster and the change in defensive coordinator. I am really curious about how the Cowboys will look under McCarthy, and expect them to do well this season, but I’m getting an extra half point for the Rams at home than the consensus line and I’ve seen a projection of an even closer score so I’m going to grab the points.

Cowboys @ Rams (+2.5)

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

Monday Night Football:

Week one finishes with a pair of Monday night football games, but I am not sure how competitive they will be.

The Giants under new head coach Joe Judge are at the beginning of a big rebuild project and whilst I am curious to see how they look, I am looking for progress rather than a spectacular turn around. The Steelers had the third ranked defence by DVOA last season and a fit again Ben Roethlisberger has been getting good reviews in camp. It was an impressive feat for the Steelers to go 8-8 with the combination of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph at quarterback and I expect the Steelers to be truly competitive this season with Roethlisberger back behind center.

The contest between the Broncos and Titans looks less enticing with Von Miller likely out for the season with his ankle injury. The Broncos’ franchise player is a big loss for the defence, and I can’t help but think that the Broncos will be happy if they can establish Drew Lock as their franchine quarterback. This line looks to have been set before the Miller injury news as the consensus has the Broncos getting three points. I worry about the home field advantage that the Broncos will retain as their stadium is at high altitude and this is particularly likely to be a problem with the lack of pre-season games to help with conditioning. However, the Titans have always be competitive under Mike Vrabel and I like getting points when I think the Titans are the better team and only have to win by a field goal to cover. I might regret this, but then that is my usual refrain making picks.

Steelers @ Giants (+3.5)

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

Titans @ Broncos (-2.5)

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

Well, that’s it for week one. I have no idea how these picks will go, but I’m excited to see more football and I’m already eyeing up what I’m going to be watching on coaching tape next week.

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.

Competition Thursday Will Never be the Same Again

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It has been a strange week in a bizarre year. The NFL pre-season has both taken forever then flown by without games and suddenly the season opens tonight.

However, sadly one of the TWF team is not here to see it as Dan’s Dad, current Picks Competition Champion and Trivia Master passed away earlier in the week.

I have already written this pre-season of the power of sports to bring people together, and not only does it do that, but at its best it can provide a scaffolding for friendships and family. Going to the football with your dad for the first time and being enthralled by the green of the grass. The connection to your cricket loving gran and a shared bond through Test Match Special that means the TMS team are never far away from making you think of her, and tears in your eyes when England win the world cup and wishing she’d been here to see it. Taking your nephew to see the Baggies and being responsible for an excited seven-year-old on your own for the first time.

Dan and I met through music. We were the rhythm section for a Leicester band no-one remembers. Making music together is another quick way to tie people together. There’s a vulnerability when creating together that quickly forms a bond if entered into in the right spirit. We stayed in touch even after the band broke up, and a shared love of the NFL led to Super Bowls spent texting each other and so when I was setting up an NFL blog it seemed natural to ask if he would picks games with me to give this blog a structure.

Clearly it worked as six years later we are still here!

About eighteen months after that, Dan came to me and said he fancied doing a podcast and The Wrong Football podcast was born. Early on (I’d have to go back and check to be sure, and I’m really not sure I want to listen to those early pods) Dan’s Dad sent a question to his son and in no time at all a segment was formed and continued, even when the podcast went on hiatus where it transferred to my Competition Thursday posts.

To be honest, a lot of the time it felt like Dan & I taking on 3D as he became known to me (Devious Dan’s Dad) and he won not one but two picks seasons as the trivia flowed on, testing us, sometimes relenting if we were scoreless for too many weeks in a row, but never easing up for long.

The picks wins are the reason that the site is currently in Vikings’ purple and gold, and at some point, I will work out what to do on here to mark his memory, but the colours are his for this season by right as well as sentiment.

Dan’s Dad wrote a great post about his own fandom, eerily titled Th… Th… That’s All Folks! that I would suggest you read for a look into NFL fandom from a different time. I’m sure I will read it again when I can bring myself to.

I am going to miss being stumped by his trivia, and the weekly emails during the season, as well as our WhatsApp group chats. Of course, Dan is going to miss his dad and Dan’s children are not going to remember their grandad. Oh, the stories we are going to tell them, so they know some of the man.

There is no easy way to turn this back to Competition Thursday.

A regular post that I will always associate with 3D.

The is the second post that has reduced me to tears this season, and we haven’t even seen a game yet, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last.

Find someone close and give them a hug is what Dan said earlier this week on twitter, and I cannot think of better sentiment.

In the meantime, as the season stops for no-one, and with a heavy heart, I will turn to the first Competition Thursday of the 2020 season.

Knowing full well that it will never be the same again.

Texans @ Chiefs (-10.5)

I have a feeling that our picks will be particularly turbulent through the start of the season as we have nothing to really guide us. The Chiefs have kept their core together whilst the ongoing issue of having a coach making personnel decisions makes me worry about the Texans. However, at this point what we have is a very big line, that is a point and a half over the consensus figure I have seen and so I’m going to make the numbers based play and look forward to what should be a really good game.

Dan is going the other way and could very well be right!

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

Survivor Competition

We were already moving the trivia competition to the podcast so when the pod resumes next week so will the trivia. In its place on the blog we are going to run a friendly (I’m sure Dan and I will still desperately want to win) survivor competition. I’m running it via a spreadsheet across the season with a score to see who does best as there’s just the two of us, but we will still only be able to pick a team once for the season and unless Dan objects I think there should be a bonus point for whoever stays alive the longest.

However, this week both of us appear to have used the same logic, and picked the team playing the Jaguars. We shall see if this is a case of great minds think alike, or fools seldom differ.

Week 1 Selection:

Gee:     Colts
Dan:    Colts

AFC and NFC West Preview

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AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

How much is there to really say about the Chiefs? They won the Super Bowl last season, kept the core of their team intact including offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and look set to have another strong season. They extended Patrick Mahomes so they have him for ten years, extended disrupted defensive tackle Chris Jones and drafted a new running back for the offence. Said offence should stay one of the most fearsome in the league and may even be stronger given that Mahomes missed two games with injury last season. The defence will be back under Steve Spagnuolo for a second year and having improved their ranking from twenty-seventh by DVOA in the 2018 season to fourteenth in 2019, all they need to do is maintain a ranking somewhere around there to keep the team winning. You can never guarantee anything in the NFL, particularly this season but the Chiefs feel like one of the safest bets to be making a noise in the play-offs. Given how fun it is to watch an Andy Reid schemed offence, yet alone one helmed by a quarterback of the talents of Mahomes, I am sure everyone is planning to watch the Chiefs a lot this season. I certainly am.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have not made the play-offs since they won the Super Bowl and have had a losing record  in each of the last three seasons, but there is some hope for the 2020 Broncos as there’s a possibility that John Elway has found a franchise quarterback. It was always going to challenge to follow Peyton Manning, even if he was limited in his passing ability during the final Super Bowl winning year. However, after a number of false starts the Broncos made second round draft pick Drew Lock the starter for the last five games of the 2019 season where he went 4-1. Now judging a quarterback solely on wins is a massive oversimplification so we should be wary of drawing too much from such a small sample of games, but it has at least given the Broncos a plan for the season. In his second year as head coach, Vic Fangio will be looking to get the defence to improve after it was ranked thirteenth by DVOA last season and losing a corner of the ability of Chris Harris will hurt but as defence tends to be more volatile from season to season than offence, a lot could rest on the Broncos being able to maintain a similar standard of defence and the offence improving. This is particularly the case with Bradley Chubb still making his way back from injury and All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller dislocating an ankle tendon and facing the real possibility of being out for the season. These previews have been giving me a series of things that I want to follow this season, and I think I need to take a look at Lock to see how he plays pretty soon. I’m not sure that the Broncos can compete for the playoffs, although with the expanded format it is possible, but it might not take too much to catapult the Broncos up there so definitely a team to keep an eye on.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders get to open the Death Star, or Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas as it’s properly called behind closed doors, and there is still much to uncover about this team. Last season’s 7-9 record was an improvement for Jon Gruden but he has yet to have a winning season since re-joining the Raiders in 2018 and will be looking to get back to winning ways this year. There are still questions about Gruden’s commitment to his starting quarterback Derek Carr, but the offence really wasn’t the problem last season. A ranking inside the top ten by DVOA on offence will not satisfy Gruden, but it was a defence that was ranked thirty-first and special teams that ranked twenty-fifth that sank last season’s team. Ex-Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had good success in Cincinnati when he took over their Defence from Mike Zimmer, but with the Raiders the signing of Vontaze Burfict backfired, and the loss of big hitting rookie safety Johnathan Abram didn’t help. I don’t know if Guenther will be able to improve a defence that has ranked thirty-first by DVOA for two seasons in a row, but if he can’t that will only increase the pressure for Gruden to improve the offence. There seems to be a rotating cast of receivers, although last year’s rookie running back Josh Jacobs impressed until his shoulder injury hampered his ability to get on the field late in the season. This is another team where there is a lot up in the air and with the shortened off-season I don’t know what to expect, but I think the season likely rests on getting the defence to at least be respectable.

LA Chargers

The Chargers are something of an enigma. They have a talented roster but have struggled on the offensive line and have been bitten by the injury bug often. They may have an advantage compared to the rest of the league when playing in empty stadiums as unlike last season where their home games often had more away fans than their own, at least they can control the environment in the shiny new SoFi Stadium. I like Anthony Lynn as a coach and there is a lot of intriguing talent on the roster, but they paired a twelfth ranked offence by DVOA with the twenty-fifth ranked defence and were dead last special teams. Even with Philip Rivers moving to Indianapolis there is hope for the offence and the Chargers have just extended the contracts of pass rushing duo Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but the injury bug has already bit with last season’s rookie sensation First-Team All-Pro safety Derwin James on IR with a torn meniscus. The Chargers won or were within a touchdown in fourteen of their sixteen games last season, so they were close to a much better record, but in a tough division where they have to face the Chiefs twice and travel to face Denver in high-altitude I don’t know if they can expect a huge turn around. I think it is possible, but they would need to be healthy for once and have some bounces go their way. It feels like the Chargers are due a run of luck, but with Tyrod Taylor as starting quarterback it is hard to predict that they will do much more that be competitive this season unless Taylor improves on his previous record.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Last season the 49ers finally delivered on the promise they have flashed through the rebuild masterminded by head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch. A fearsome defence ranked second only to the Patriots by DVOA was paired with a top ten offence that Shanahan schemed to enough success for them all the way to the Super Bowl and they should be in contention again this year. However, they did trade defensive linemen DeForest Buckner away to allow them the cap flexibility to retain other players and they are already having problems at receiver with multiple players injured before the team have taken a competitive snap against another team. Shanahan is such a good coach that unless the number of injuries gets too big they 49ers should be able to compete, but the NFC West looks like a fearsome division so there could be a surprise or two in store.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks come into the 2020 season on the back of eight consecutive winning seasons, despite having to overhaul the vaunted Leigion of Boom defence in the last couple of seasons. In Russell Wilson they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and last year’s rookie receiver DK Metcalf flashed alongside Tyler Lockett whilst Chris Carson was again the running back required to fit the run focussed offensive game plan that Pete Carroll wants to run. I do wonder how much home advantage the Seahawks will lose by not being able to play in front of their famously loud home crowd, but it is hard to see them do anything other than compete as that is Carroll’s mantra and even at the start of his time in Seattle, Carroll’s two losing seasons were still 7-9. That said, the usually strong defence was only ranked twenty-first by DVOA and whilst you have to go back to 2016 to find them ranked inside the top ten, their offence has not been that explosive so we shall have to see how this team does without the help of the home crowd.

LA Rams

The Rams failed to make the play-offs for the first time in Sean McVay’s three years with the franchise, and there was plenty of talk that teams had worked out the McVay’s offence. That said, the Rams still went 9-7, and later in the season the Rams started to use more 12 personnel as McVay adjusted to the adjustments opposing defences had made to his scheme. The Rams were also not helped by the dip in play from Todd Gurley that led to him being cut in the off-season and this was one of a number of adjustments the Rams had to make to the roster to get themselves under the salary cap. They also fired defensive coordinator Wade Philips, which is one of bigger decisions McVay has made in his tenure and could be an interesting one to monitor as  the defence was ranked top ten by DVOA last season and Philips is very experienced coach, but the only big names left on the defence are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Now Donald is arguably the most important non-quarterback in the league and a bona fide pass rush nightmare, but Donald plus a lockdown corner in Ramsey does not a defence make and with a number of defensive starters gone from last season it is not hard to see a slip on that side of the ball this year. I wouldn’t count the Rams out, but there are enough questions that you can’t simply put them in the play-offs. With the expanded wildcard slots I wouldn’t rule out them being there or there abouts, but this could be a big season for McVay’s long term prospects in LA.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals knew they were in for a long rebuild going into last season, but their 5-11 record was not actually that bad considering the 3-13 disaster it followed and there were some promising things to take away. Although Kyler Murray (their second first round quarterback selection in two years) didn’t set the league alight, he showed promise and proved that he could get through a season despite the size that many were worried about. Murray looked to have the Russell Wilson knack of not taking the big hit and although his college now NFL head coach Kliff Kingsbury had to adjust his scheme when it didn’t work when facing NFL defences, he did just that and so they come into the season hoping to build on last year. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins is upgrade to the Cardinals’ receiver group, although the continuing presence of Larry Fitzgerald also reassures but he must retire soon and so Hopkins is a valuable addition for the next couple of years at least. The defence still needs work but I am curious about how this team does so I look forward to monitoring how they progress this season.

AFC and NFC South Preview

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Somehow this is the final weekend before our first NFL Sunday, and having take part in the Kickers Matter podcast-athon yesterday, the TWF Dynasty draft is in the home stretch and I think I have time to get the last previews up ahead of Thursday’s season opener.

It has been an odd pre-season given the state of the world and the lack of games so it almost feels weird that we’re going to get actual football this coming week, but here it comes so I had better get to it is as we go through the AFC & NFC South divisions.

AFC South

Houston Texans

The Texans are one of the stranger teams to assess in the league as every year there is plenty of criticism of head coach Bill O’Brien, particularly now he has personnel control and the trading away of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins this off-season has done nothing but encourage that criticism. However, O’Brien has only had one losing season in his six years in Houston, going to the play-offs four times so he has almost always kept the team competitive, even if he has not always had a top tier quarterback to work with. Now that he has a franchise QB, O’Brien will be relying on Deshaun Watson to run his offence without Hopkins, and it will be interesting to see how this goes as there did seem to be two Texans’ offences last year, depending on whether receiver Will Fuller was fit and able to stretch the field or not. To go 10-6 with an offence that only ranked seventeenth by DVOA and a defence ranked even lower at twenty-second is not something I think will be easily replicable so the Texans will be hoping to improve but having traded big names like Jadeveon Clowney ahead of last season, and Hopkins this year, fans will be worried. I have a feeling that given his track record, that O’Brien will manage to keep the Texans competitive and my love of JJ Watt is well documented but my hunch for who is going to win this AFC South is another team, and not the team who came second last season either, but more of that in a moment.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were one of the surprises of the 2019 season, and after a modest start where they went 2-4 with Marcus Mariota as their starting quarterback, the Titans switched to Ryan Tannehill and rolled all the way to the conference championship where they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champions. It was only Mike Vrabel’s second year as a head coach, and he only spent one year as defensive coordinator in Houston before that, but he’s gone 9-7 twice and after last season’s run the Titans will be looking to be good again this season. The issue with that could be they have had to let some players go as they handed big contracts to both Derek Henry and Ryan Tannehill. It is good to see Tannehill succeed after things never came together for him in Miami, but in truth we don’t know if last year was an aberration or if he can finally establish himself as a franchise quarterback. It is for this reason that I completely understand the big contract that they gave Derek Henry. It doesn’t always make sense to invest a lot of money in a running back, but given how central Henry is to their game plan and the fact that it is only guaranteed for two years, it’s an okay investment. They will also be hoping receiver AJ Brown can build on his great rookie season but whether they can stay top ten by DVOA I don’t know. The defence was tough but didn’t rank great last season but it feels like the Titans are one of those teams who have taken on the identity of their coach and so I am expecting them to be pushing for the division all season.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had a tough season where the shocks started before the opening game had taken place with their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retiring at age twenty-nine, choosing to step away to do other things and given all the injuries he had fought through it did made sense to me, although that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The Colts season actually started promisingly, but fell flat down the stretch, not helped by Adam Vinatieri at age forty-seven having some health problems and missing some kicks that he hadn’t throughout his career. I have been really impressed by the job GM Chris Ballard has done in building the Colts roster in recent years, avoiding splashing in free agency and building a talented roster but the Luck retirement was clearly a huge blow. They have several QBs on the roster and Jacoby Brissett was able to do a job for them last season but the signing of Phillip Rivers could be a coup if he can regain his form behind an offensive line that will be able to give him the time that the Chargers couldn’t in recent years. It helps that Rivers is familiar with head coach Frank Reich’s offence, and Reich’s success with the Colts has made some wonder how much of the Eagles Super Bowl win was down to his work rather than Doug Pederson’s. In truth of course the answer lies somewhere in the middle but has Reich had success with the offence already and there looks to be potential for them to be really good this year. The defence will be hoping to be nearer to their 2018 ranking of eleventh by DVOA rather than the nineteenth that they were last season, but with Luke Kuechly’s retirement the Colts have probably my favourite linebacker in Darius Leonard so I’m sure I will be watching their defence at some point. I could be completely wrong, but as Dan is desperately trying to make me make bold predictions, I’m going to suggest that the Colts are my pick for the AFC South in 2020.

Jacksonville Jaguars

So last, and actually probably least in this division if not the league we have the Jacksonville Jaguars who were a pretty rotten 6-10 last season, but held on to head coach Doug Marrone despite racking up double-digit losses for the second season in a row. Additionally, after grievances were upheld against the franchise over the excessive use of fines, a scathing letter was released by the NFLPA announcing that more than twenty-five percent of all grievances filed by players in the entire league were filed against the Jags and that players might want to consider this when selecting their next club. The visible reaction to those of us outside of the team was the firing of Tom Coughlin, but GM David Caldwell was retained despite a number of high profile players being moved on and the Jags once again being in rebuild mode. On the field it did not help that their new Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles was lost to injury after four games, but their sixth round rookie QB Gardner Minshew II manage to lead them to a 6-6 record in the games he started giving the Jaguars some life and endearing himself to fans in the process. Minshew now has the chance to prove what he can do, but the trade moves continued with pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue being moved on this off-season to join players like Jalen Ramsey as highly drafted young players who are no longer on the roster. In fact the defence already looks very different to the Sacksonville Jaguars defence of 2017 that carried the team to the conference championship game. The ugly truth for GM David Caldwell is that through the seven years he has been in charge that 2017 team are the only ones to reach the play-offs, in fact they are the only team that didn’t amass double digit losses in a season. The Jaguars need to find out if Minshew can be consistently competitive and if they have found a gem in the sixth round that will set them up for success, but they have already held on to one supposed franchise quarterback for too long considering their on-field results. The Jags have not made life easy for themselves in building a roster given that they selected running back Leonard Fournette fourth in the 2017 draft, ahead of franchise QBs like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, and have not even given Fournette a second contract. In fact they cut the running back after his most productive season so didn’t even get anything back for him. You can’t hope to succeed with this kind of roster churn and I expect the Jaguars to struggle this season. If they can progress with Minshew as quarterback then there could be hope for the Jaguars, but there’s been precious little success over the last decade and I can’t help but wonder when the Jaguars will be truly set themselves up to be a winning franchise.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

The Saints were one of three NFC teams to win their division with a 13-3 record in 2019, but for the second time in three years lost to the Vikings in the play-offs, this time not making it out of the wild card round. There has been a consistent push to maximise the Saint’s chances of winning a Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires and last season’s success was all the more remarkable considering that Brees missed five weeks with a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand and the Saints went 5-0 with backup Teddy Bridgewater. The Saints have made some big moves in the draft but with players like Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Marshon Lattimore they have built a roster to compete and this offseason seems to be no exception. Brees has returned for another shot at getting back to the big game, and whilst Teddy Bridgewater has moved on to division rivals the Panthers, they signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Jameis Winston to be the backup this season. Winston will be hoping that a season under the tutelage of Brees and head coach Sean Payton will help his development and lead to a chance to start next season, be it for the Saints or another franchise, although the Saints will be hoping the former first overall pick will be sat all season. The front office of the Saints really had done a great job of keeping the Saints relevant in the last few years, but the clock is ticking for forty-one year old Brees and the Saints will be hoping that given the history of old quarterback’s level of play declining rapidly when it does go, that Brees can continue to defy age and they can once again push for the Super Bowl. They certainly could be helped with the continuity of their squad and with Sean Payton trying to get as many players as he can living in a hotel to mimic a bubble I think that it is likely the Saints will be successful in their aim as long as Brees can get somewhere near the level he has reached in recent seasons.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are coming of their second consecutive losing season and have been searching to recreate the formula that took them to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season. The Falcons have had seven winning seasons with GM Thomas Dimitroff in charge and they chose to stay the course with head coach Dan Quinn after he brought the Falcons back to 7-9 after a 1-7 start. In fact the Falcons went 6-2 after the bye week where Quinn and his coaching staff found something to get the Falcons going. To be fair there were a lot of injuries to the defence, but at thirty-five quarterback Matt Ryan will be hoping to get back to the Super Bowl if he can to make up for the tough loss to the Patriots. There are certainly big names on this roster including one of the best receivers in the game in Julio Jones, and with Dirk Koetter remaining offensive coordinator there is a good chance that the offence can improve on their ranking of fifteenth but it is the defence that has not come together in recent years. Some of this is down to health but my concern would be the cover-3 style brought over from the Seahawks by Quinn, which has been great if you had top class talent but hasn’t really been as successful anywhere else and Quinn has struggled to make the defence consistently good in Atlanta. However, this is another team with a good degree of continuity, and I can see them competing for the division this season if they can build on their performance in the second half of last season. However, it is not hard to see things going the other way either so it could be a tough season for the Falcons, but at this point there is definitely hope and we shall just have to see if that survives initial contact with the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It has been an off-season of excitement and frustration in Tampa Bay as after head coach Bruce Arians could only get the Bucs to seven wins in his first year, the Bucs let their 2015 first round draft pick Jameis Winstone walk after he threw thirty interceptions to go with his thirty-three touchdowns and signed Tom Brady to be their new franchise quarterback, if only for however many seasons Brady (now forty-three) has left. The problem is that they are trying to integrate Brady into a new team in the year of Covid and so whilst Brady has been holding plenty of throwing sessions with his receivers before training camp started, he only took his place in the Bucs’ huddle for the first time a couple of weeks ago. In Mike Evans and Chriss Godwin the Bucs have two Pro Bowl receivers that gained over a thousand yards last season, and with Rob Gronkowski coming out of retirement and Brady apparently coaching up OJ Howard there are options at tight-end although who knows how productive they will be.  There have been some very bold predictions this off-season, but whilst I am not prepared to write them into the Super Bowl just yet, I do think that a defence that finished sixth by DVOA last season and an offence helmed by Brady with a better selection of skill players than he has had in a long time means the Bucs do have a lot of potential. I also have a lot of faith in Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles is overly qualified to be a only a defensive coordinator so I expect them to compete but it will be a magical season if Brady takes them deep into the play-offs or to what would be only the second Super Bowl in the franchise’s history.

Carolina Panthers

It is all change for the Carolina Panthers in the off-season as having fired Ron Rivera during a disappointing 5-11 season they let franchise quarterback Cam Newton go as the Panthers embraced a rebuild. They hired college coach Matt Rhule to be their new head coach and gave him a huge contract of $62 million over seven years. The off-season also saw the retirement of standout linebacker Luke Kuechly who in his eight seasons went to seven Pro Bowls and was name First-Team All-Pro five times. Kuechly never dropped below one hundred tackles despite loosing a number of games to concussions and other injuries so as much as I would have loved to see him play for longer, I’m happy he is getting out now. However, the Panthers have had a lot of change this off-season and having signed Teddy Bridgewater to be their starting quarterback this season and handed Christian McCaffrey a four year contract extension they drafted seven defensive players. It should be an exciting time for fans of the Panthers, Rhule hired Joe Brady who was the passing game coordinator at LSU and was credited with having a large part in the turnaround in Joe Burrow’s play last season to be offesnive coordinator. However, with so much change, a head coach brand new to the NFL and coordinators hired from the college game it could take time for potential to turn into results. As good as Bridgewater looked last season for the Saints in the five games he started, it has been years since he was the starting quarterback for a franchise and this is not a one year rebuild. The positive thing from my point of view is that in the contract that owner David Tepper gave Rhule demonstrates a commitment to a long term project, but as ever in the NFL we shall have to see if that commitment survives the results on the field. It will be a year to see progression for the Panthers and we shall have to see how that manifests, but the Panthers are definitely a team I am looking forward to watching this season regardless of their record.

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.

AFC and NFC North Preview

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AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens finished last season with the best regular season record but came up short in the play-offs against a Tennessee Titans team on a roll. This will lead to ongoing conversations about Lamar Jackson’s ability to win play-off games. That question is going to hang around until he does, but Jackson was the 2019 MVP for a reason, namely over three thousand yards of passing and twelve hundred yards on the ground. The Ravens did a great job of building their offence around Jackson and had a top five by DVOA defence to boot. The Ravens are in fact one of the better run franchises in the league so as long as Jackson can stay healthy then it is hard not to see this team competing again this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers went 8-8 last season despite losing veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in week two to an elbow injury. Their defece ranked third in the league by DVOA and their special teams was was top ten but a dead last offence saw them miss out on the play-offs. This is perhaps not surprising given they had no killer Bs left after Big Ben went down with Le’Veon Bell underwhelming for the Jets and Antonio Brown’s erratic and troubling behaviour seeing him barely play for Patriots before being cut for a second time having already failed to make the start of the season with the Raiders. The Steelers are another stable franchise so if Roethlisberger can stay healthy while getting somewhere near his best and the defence manages not to regress too much then they should be in contention come the end of the year. There are no guarantees in the NFL, and the AFC North should be a battle this year but I expect the Steelers to be in contention again as they usually are. That said, out of the thirteen season he has been head coach for the Steelers, Mike Tomlin has only failed to reach the play-offs in five, but that does include the last two seasons. I wouldn’t expect this to lead to problems for Tomlin if there are further struggles this season as the Steelers have been famously patient with their coaches and he did a great job under the circumstances, but it could be one to keep an eye on.

Cleveland Browns

Turmoil seems to follow the Browns ever since their return to the league, but last year was a nightmare. They had play-off ambitions with a talented roster and a new head coach in Freddit Kitches who had established a connection with young quarterback Baker Mayfield in his rookie year. However, things were not right all season. Mayfield regressed in his second season with a falling completion percentage and similar numbers despite starting the full season for the first time. One of his new receiving targets, Odell Beckham was injured all year and so did not look like himself and nothing quite clicked on offence. The defence was hamstrung with Myles Garrett got involved in a fight with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, and having hit the quarterback over the head with their own helmet was suspended for the final six games of the season. The Browns come into this season with another new head coach, who almost can’t help being better than Freddie Kitchens and there is still plenty of talent on the roster, but Mayfield needs to take a step as a quarterback and so a lot is resting on how he will run new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. I have a feeling that thinkg will be better for the Browns, but in a competitive division I’m not sure if they will be able to push for the play-offs or not.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were truly woeful last year in Zac Taylor’s first season as head coach. Some of that wasn’t his fault as AJ Green was lost to an ankle injury that was picked up at the first training camp practice, which for an NFL 100 event was played on a high school field they should never have been on and soon after that the Bengals’ first round draft pick, left tackle Jonah Williams, was lost to a shoulder injury whilst they were still in camp. In fact, the offensive line was bad all year as the offence struggled so much they had to rip up the approach halfway through to get Joe Mixon going and the defence was bad.  They had the worst record in the league for a reason, but they were within a touchdown in half of their fourteen losses and after several seasons where Andy Dalton could never find the form he showed in the 2015 the Bengals moved on, taking college sensation Joe Burrow with the first pick after his ridiculously good Heisman winning season at LSU where he led the Tigers to the college championship. All the talk is that he’s been learning the playbook during the offseason via zoom and has looked in good in training camp, but who hasn’t looked good in training camp this year? There’s no way to know without seeing him in games, and the offensive line needs to be better for him to operate successfully, but there are still lots of good skill players and if they don’t need a perfect pocket for the quarterback to operate then they stand a solid chance of improving on that side of the ball. The Bengals defence has a re-tooled linebacker group and the team signed some free-agents, but it’s hard to get too excited. I think there is a good chance this team will look better and win some more game, they might even flirt with going .500 but after such a bad season I don’t think you can expect a worst to first type performance with a rookie quarterback, and particularly not in this division. I would love to be proved wrong but I think this should be a season of growth for the Bengals and after last season that will be okay.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

I think this is one of the more intriguing division in football, and last year’s division winners are an interesting case in point. The Packers went 13-3 and got to the Conference Championship game, but were handily beaten by the 49ers and gave up over two-hundred and fifty yards of running in that game. A lot of the talk through the season and on into the off-season was the play of Aaron Rodgers who still threw for over four thousand yards despite what many were calling a down year and his new head coach Matt LaFleur’s focus on running the ball. If there were to be signs of this approach changing, they were not obvious in the Packers offseason. Not only did they not take a receiver again this draft, but they traded up in the first round to select quarterback Jordan Love. It might be that the Packers are taking the view that you should always have a quarterback in development, or that they saw the opportunity to recreate the transition the Packers had from Brett Farve to Rodgers, but it was a significant move. Given the age of Rodgers (36) and the change of both GM and head coach in recent seasons, they could simply be preparing to move on. However, whilst Rodgers is clearly closer to the end of his career than the start, with modern sports medicine and the NFL’s current rules to protect quarterbacks he should still have several productive years yet and has spoken of playing into forties. The Packers might be expected to regress from thirteen wins this season and will be looking to further improve their defence. I suspect they will remain competitive, but I can’t help but feel this will be a team battling to maintain their success rather than taking a step forward.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings won a play-off game against the Saints before losing to the Super Bowl bound 49ers in the divisional round, but this did give quarterback Kirk Cousins his first play-off win of his career. Under head coach Mike Zimmer the Vikings have alternated years in the play-offs with seasons missing out despite being around 8-8, but they had a busy off-season and they would be hoping these transactions will helps them build on last season’s success rather than having a fallow year. However, integrating a draft class of fifteen was always going to be a big task, but doing so with the current practice restriction in place for this season could be a step too far. This is particularly the case for an overhauled secondary that lost three starting corners with over 223 collective career games. I have a lot of faith in coach Zimmer to look after a defence, but it makes me hesitant to be too bullish on them, particularly given the number of offensive coordinators that the Vikings have been through under Zimmer and the fact that they traded away star receiver Stefon Diggs. Going into the season with so many unknows makes it hard to be certain of anything, and given the limited number of games in an NFL season there is a certain amount of randomness built in. I like that Gary Kubiak is the offensive coordinator having consulted last season before Kevin Stefanski left for the Browns, and I think the Vikings will compete for the division but I can easily see things going awry for them in a potentially turmultous season.

Chicago Bears

There is a large amount of anxiety surrounding the Bears, which mainly stems from the quarterback position as Mitchell Trubisky regressed in 2019 after a promising first season in head coach Matt Nagy’s debut as a head coach. I never liked the trade up to pick Trubisky, and that pick looks even worse given that the Bears picked him ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The offence ranked a miserable twenty-fifth by DVOA whilst the defence regressed from first in 2018 by DVOA to eighth in 2019. The defence will likely be good enough, but with Trubisky now having Nick Foles in the quarterback room there is the potential for a quarterback controversy, although it is hard to have a huge amount of faith in either one as Foles has a history of inconsistent play. Special mention should go to Khalil Mack as the fearsome pass rusher he is, but I’m not sure that the fairly traditional for the Bears formula of stout defence and a struggling offence is going to cut it in 2020, and likely wasn’t envisioned when offensive minded coach Nagy was hired. The Bears could surprise me, but I’m not putting any faith in it.

Detroit Lions

The Lions opened last season with a concerning draw to the very inexperienced Arizona Cardinals, dragged themselves to 2-0-1, before falling back to 3-3-1 and failing to win another game. They were not helped by losing quarterback Matthew Stafford halfway through the season, who was playing well and very nearly had two and half thousand yards through eight games. My concern here is that the Lions were a nearly team under Jim Caldwell, but 9-7 was not deemed good enough when the Lions missed out on the playoffs and so Matt Patricia was brought in from the Patriots to get the Lions the play-off success Detroit thirsts so much for. However, Patricia has rebuilt the Lions as a pale re-imagining of the Patriots and has been unable to recreate the Patriot’s defensive formula away from Belichick. The Lions have only managed to win nine games in the last two season and whilst I can see that if everything goes right that the Lions might vault the Bears in this division, I’m not sure if I can see them doing much more. Matthew Stafford has some good skill players around him so it’s not impossible, but given the history in Detroit it could take a monumental effort to turn things around. Equally, the Lions could be due for a change, but for whatever reason, I do not find Patricia inspiring but as I tend to hope for success he could yet prove me wrong.

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.

AFC and NFC East Preview

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Despite having a longer run up to the start of their season than the rest of the major four American sports did to restarting their seasons, it feels like the NFL are approaching the 2020 season with a higher degree of improvisation and as a result there are no pre-season games.

This means that as far as I know the season opener will be the first time the NFL plays a game with the as yet untested protocols. Certainly, this is the case for two teams playing each other and only time will tell how that goes.

The inaugural draft of The Wrong Football Dynasty NFL fantasy league takes place this week, and we are under two weeks away from the start of the season so I thought it was time to roll through the divisions to see what I thought about the teams.

I always want to see how a team does rather than speculate too much, and I think that is going to be even more true for the upcoming season, for which we have nothing but training camp reports to work with so there is a lot of speculation and little we know for certain. In fact, I think it’s distinctly possible that things will move faster than a website can keep up with, but let’s start with the two East divisions and see what I can say.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Let’s start how we mean to go on, with a Patriots team who lost an all-time great quarterback, and so were already in flux before half a dozen players opted out of the season due to Covid-19. I can’t find fault with any player deciding to sit out, but with a shortened offseason, a retooled defence, and a Brady-less offence for the first time since his ACL tear in 2008 things are going to be very different for the Pats this season. I would say with their coaching staff they should be fine, but the last time Dante Scarnecchia retired the Pats offensive line really struggled. The pickup of Cam Newton was a canny stroke and I really hope he can get back to his best, but whilst I expect the Pats to compete, this is the first year in a while where you can’t pencil them in for the playoffs, although it would hardly be a surprise if they do make it.

Buffalo Bills

After a seventeen year wait, the Bills have gone to the playoffs in two out of the last three seasons under head coach Sean McDermott and they are hoping that their off-season trade for receiver Stefon Diggs will catapult them to the next level. The aim surely has to be to win a playoff game this season, but Diggs can’t catapult the offence to more closely match the defence’s top ten ranking by DVOA on his own. A lot rests on if quarterback Josh Allen can take another step forward in his third year. It feels like the Bills front office have done an excellent job of building around the young quarterback and he doesn’t have to become elite for the Bills to be a dangerous team, but their ceiling is going to be set by his performance. Still, they look to be the other contender for the AFC East title and will be looking for more than that.

New York Jets

I have very little idea what to make of the Jets coming into this season. They had a top ten defence by DVOA last season, but traded away their All-Pro safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks, their special teams were top five by DVOA, but their offence was ranked thirty-first by DVOA and second year quarterback Sam Darnold missed games with mono. More importantly there seems to be very little stability in their front office and with all the caveats that he’s likely forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, Adam Gase does not inspire confidence and I suspect he is a better co-ordinator than head coach. Even after having said all of this, they still went 7-9 last year so we can’t write them off completely, but I definitely have them pegged for a similar or worse record this season. As ever I would love to be proved wrong, although I’m sure Dan would disagree.

Miami Dolphins

I am pretty certain I’m going to be singing the Dolphins’ infuriatingly catchy fight song on the podcast a time or two this season as despite their 5-11 2019 season, things are definitely on the up for the ‘phins. For starters, they were tanking and so had no business winning five games, yet they still got to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who for many fans was the off-season target all along. More importantly, Brian Flores is probably the first Bill Belichick assistant who truly convinced in their first season as a head coach. They had a raft of draft picks in April and I think the arrow is definitely pointing up for this team. They might not win that many more games this year given the shortened pre-season, but I believe Flores will make them competitive no matter how many games Tagovailoa does or does not start and I feel as confident as I ever remember since I started this site about the Dolphins going forward. I’m sorry if that’s a jinx Dan.

Now it’s time to jump conferences and look at the NFC East

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

The 2019 season was a really odd one for the Eagles with a lot of people, including myself, thinking that they had one of the deepest rosters in the league, but they were ravaged by injury, particularly at receiver and corner and so just getting to the play-offs was in truth something of an achievement. They seemed to put a high priority on speed in the draft, but it is a slightly odd quirk for Carson Wentz is that in his four season in Philadelphia the Eagles have gone to the play-offs the last three season, won a Super Bowl yet his play-off record is 0-1. I think this is just a quirk of some bad injury luck, but I’m sure Wentz would like to get at least one win and put this behind him before the passionate Philadelphia fans start to question their franchise quarterback. I like the Eagles chances of doing just that, but we shall have to see.

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys were a very good team on offence last season, finishing second in the league in offensive DVOA, but a middling defence and poor special teams when combined with some less than inventive coaching led to the end of the Jason Garrett era in Dallas. The Cowboys come into this season with the same offensive coordinator, operating the offence under new had coach Mike McCarthy who made headlines by running a staff without a team last season and professing that he’s been studying analytics. We can’t know if such an approach will survive contact with the season, particularly given McCarthy’s reputation for conservative play calling at the end of his tenure in Green Bay, but it will be fascinating to watch. I don’t understand why they haven’t committed to Dak Prescott yet and signed him to a long term contract, but Prescott will be hoping to prove that it was a mistake not to get him signed up and the addition of rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb gives them a potentially formidable receiving group. The Cowboys really weren’t that far away from winning this division last season and I expect them to compete with the Eagles all the way for the division.

New York Giants

Last season was a mess for the Giants, who went 4-12 with very few positives on either side of the ball. The hire of thirty-eight-year-old Patriots’ special teams coordinator Joe Judge was definitely not a big name hire. I like the idea of hiring a special teams coach who is used to interacting with the whole roster, but it has to be viewed as a gamble with quarterback Daniel Jones going into his second year. The young quarterback has not shone early and the Giants are a team that looks to be a multi-season rebuilding project that they are entrusting to a young first time head coach. The Giants have some good skills players, and in Saquon Barkley a truly special running back, but I’m not sure I trust Dave Gettleman’s judgment of draft value in terms of who he picks where, though he clearly has an eye for talent. I simply don’t know enough about Judge as a coach to have strong feelings about this team, but I would be surprised if they did more than show progress. However, at this point in their team building, that would still be a positive step.

Washington Football Team

It’s hard to know where to start with Washington. It might be easier to go through what hasn’t happened to them. The 2019 season was a disaster on the field and off, leading to the hire of Ron Rivera as their new head coach, and loss of long-time president Bruce Allen. So far this off-season we’ve had the horrible revelations of the climate of sexual harassment around the team. The franchise has finally been forced into addressing their name, but only after major sponsors threated Dan Snyder with pulling out of contracts, and their owner has now also had allegations related to sexual harassment levelled against him. The turmoil does not end there as the conduct of Snyder over the years has led to several minority-owners of the team looking to sell their stakes, and Rivera who has so much on his plate already this off-season has been diagnosed with cancer. The one truly positive on-field news story has been the remarkable return to practise of Alex Smith from his gruesome 2018 leg injury, that after complications and infections nearly cost him the leg. As big a feel-good bit of new as Smith’s return to practise is, it’s hard to see him being anything other than a valued veteran voice in the quarterback room unless Dwayne Haskins continues to struggle in his second year and Kyle Allen (who has followed Rivera from Carolina) can’t get the job done either. The addition of first round draft pick Chase Young should really help this team’s pass-rush, but with so much change it is hard to see this team excelling this season, but Washington are another football team for whom forward progress would be a genuine achievement considering the position they are starting from.

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.

It’s Not Possible to Stick to Sports

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Everything is up in the air at the moment, and the NFL is no exception.

I started this blog on Wednesday, and the above was the opening line. The rest can wait for another day.

I was already aware of the police shooting of  Jacob Blake and had the sadly all too familiar sorrow at hearing of another such failure in policing, and anger that despite all the recent discussions that seven shots were fired into the Blake’s back.

What took place overnight was the powerful actions of the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their playoff game and the rest of the NBA teams in the bubble, as well as the league itself standing in solidarity with them. There were various other teams and individuals from different sports including the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team who also cancelled games yesterday.

There were many NFL players supporting the actions of the Bucks to sit out their game, the Detroit Lions cancelled practice and both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears put out statements regarding the shooting.

We have now also had a seventeen-year-old boy shoot dead two Black Lives Matter protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin who were part of a demonstration about the shooting of Blake,

This is a sports blog and I try to find a balance between writing about the NFL and the other things that can and should intrude. There has been much talk of whether it is worth playing sport in the middle of a pandemic, but also serious discussions about whether NBA players should be going to the bubble to finish the season at all.

Or if their place was in their communities advocating for change.

I’m not sure there is a right answer here. In fact, I fully support all those who have opted out of sports to work in their communities or as a precaution because of Covid-19. We should also support those who thought their loudest platform was provided by what they do.

What the Bucs players, and all those other NBA teams, coaches, and league officials who demonstrated solidarity with them, was leverage the platform they had already built as best they could. Escalating their ongoing protests as another shooting took place despite all the fine words of the last few months.

The Bucks raised their voices in solidarity with those already protesting, and the wider world including those from other sports joined as well.

But it should not be up to sports people to force accountability.

The issues of structural racism, of police brutality, cannot be fixed overnight. It is going to take long hard work to rebuild institutions, to educate, to transform a situation that is the result of hundreds of years of disadvantage.

The NBA, perhaps more than any other American sport, has empowered its athletes to take on such issues and has a much healthier relationship between its owners and players than a lot of leagues, and certainly better than the NFL.

This is an NFL blog and I wonder how this situation will interact with Covid-19 and the leagues desire to get the season done. It will be an incredibly tough season for the players, another thing for them to fight through. They shouldn’t have to, but they will.

The very least we can do is be witness to these efforts, support them how we can, and see these sporting heroes as they are, complex flawed individuals with gifts and shortcomings trying to find their way through this strange world, just like the rest of us.

Football is coming, sport is big business, and some people just want an escape from the world.

Believe me I get that.

However, some things are too important to ignore, and given the unifying effect sport can have, we should never, ‘Just stick to sports.’

My thoughts aren’t on pre-season, roster make up and the coming season right now.

I don’t think they should be.

And in truth, I don’t think yours should be either.

Maybe tomorrow, or the weekend, but not today.

Black Lives Matter

That shouldn’t be a radical statement. We can’t allow it to become an empty phrase.

There are plenty of people trying to prevent just that. It’s really a matter of if you are with them or not.