The Toughest Loss

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Well, we know the Super Bowl match-up, which looks as good as I can remember for a long time so let’s take a quick look at how we got them before we say goodbye to those who fell at the final hurdle.

What I Saw

The first game on Sunday followed the pattern of the Chief’s previous game, but whilst putting up a better fight that then Texans, the Tennessee Titan’s ultimately could not keep with up with the Chiefs on the road.

The Titans took an early lead and held it for most of the half, but they were not able to hold it until half time as the Chiefs once again demonstrated just how explosive their offence is. This time it was Sammy Watkins who led the teams in yards whilst Tyreek Hill caught two touchdowns.  Patrick Mahomes once again looked remarkable for the Chiefs, scoring the go ahead touchdown on an unforgettable run as well as once again demonstrating that he is possibly the best quarterback in the game right now.

The Titans didn’t exactly do badly on defence, but you are going to have to score points to beat the Chiefs and Derek Henry could only managed sixty-nine yards after the sequence of heroic games. With the run bottled up and the play-action passes slowing down after the initial outburst the Titans were not able to keep up with a healthy Mahomes and there’s no shame in that.

The next game was much less of a contest as the Green Bay Packers were held scoreless in the first half, going in 27-0 at half-time and whilst the Packers technically won the second half, they couldn’t get to within two scores of the 49ers.

The toughest thing to take for the Packers and their fans is the complete domination of the run game with the 49ers’ Raheem Mostert running for two-hundred and twenty yards and the 49ers only attempting to throw the ball eight times. I wonder how the 49ers will approach the next game but that’s a discussion for another day.

If feels like we have got two great teams in the Super Bowl, but it has been interesting to hear how these are probably the worst games to lose as you’re so close to the Super Bowl, which even if you do lose there will still be the stories and the build up. I can’t bring myself to care about the Pro Bowl so let’s say goodbye properly to the Titans and the Packers.

The Toughest Loss

The Tennessee Titans had a rough start to the season, but in took off when they made the switch to Ryan Tannehill as starting quarterback. In Derek Henry they had the league’s leading rusher and iookie AJ Brown broke a thousand yards receiving although he was quiet in the playoffs. The big question surrounding their quarterbacks seems to have been answered as it is hard not to see Tannehill returning, but there are several other players who also need resigning and we’ll have to see how they manage to pull things together but it feels like this team have taken on the character of their coach Mike Vrabel, and it seems like they may well be competitive again next season.

With Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback you should always have a chance, but time is running out for the Green Bay Packers to get a second Super Bowl with him, and whilst this was a more balanced team than in recent years, the offence looks like it could use more receiving options and the defence has to shore up its run defence. The Packers have re-modelled their roster since Brian Gunterkist took over, but there is still work to be done and a closing window of opportunity before they have to find Rodgers’ replacement.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘It’s nearly the end of the season and I believe that the Super Bowl could be one of the most appetising prospects for some time.

What took me aback in the first game last weekend was that the Titans took an unexpected and significant early lead, but the Chiefs were not tardy in making amends and gained a lead they would not lose before half time. A dour scoreless third quarter was followed by an effective Chiefs performance which augers well for the 2nd Feb.

The NFC game, it is true, brought together two teams who have had solid, consistent seasons and the prospects were good. It’s not just because I’m a Vikings fan which makes it hard to favour the Packers but I’ve seen the 49ers consistently turn in workmanlike performances and that is what happened here. With the Packers shut out in the first half the game was all but over before there was a reply. Even with SF easing down the die was cast and my expected Super Bowl was delivered.

For the record, I’ll pick the Chiefs by 6

Which brings us, must we, to the Pro-Bowl. I know many find it a nice way of rounding out the season but for me it’s my ‘bye week’.

The idea of sending two coachloads of very rich athletes, who haven’t played well enough over the season to make it to Prize Day, off on a ‘jolly’ just doesn’t do it for me. Whether it’s like a prize for turning up or another money making-opportunity, you choose.

I can’t see how, in such a short time, even a good coach can mould a disparate crop of athletes into anything more than a team akin to a good College set up I don’t know. OK, some fans get a few days away and get to see some players playing together which they wouldnt get to see but still it leaves me cold.

Rant over, it’s time we moved onto the Trivia.

There were 3 questions this week as we steer toward completing the 32.

We started in Oakland asking “ Who did the Oakland Raiders play when they made it to Super Bowl II?” I think Gee’s thought process was well argued and he correctly scored the point for picking the Green Bay Packers.

The Raiders met the Packers on January 14, 1968 in Miami at the Orange Bowl. The Packers beat the Raiders 33-14.

Moving on it was Philadelphia where I asked  “Which Eagle quarterback threw for 464 yards in one game setting a team record?”

This was Donovan McNabb and they both mcNabbed a point for giving me the right answer.

McNabb’s big day was against the Green Bay Packers on December 12, 2004. The Eagles won 47-17 at Lincoln Financial Field. Randall Cunningham set the previous mark at 447 yards in a win against the Redskins in 1989.

Finally we hit Pittsburgh so tell me, “In the Steelers’ first Super Bowl appearance, who did they defeat? “

Gee had the jitters because while it would fit, he didn’t know if 3D was coming into play. Well, this time it wasn’t (but it may return soon)

The answer was, “Minnesota Vikings”

Super Bowl IX saw Pittsburgh defeat the Vikings 16-6. The game capped off a 10-3-1 1974 season and was played January 1975 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.

No points either way so this week it ran out 2-1 to Gee bringing the totals to Gee 28 v Dan 31. Very close with 6 questions to go.

The first 2 of which are

San Francisco 49ers:

How many 49er quarterbacks were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 20th century?

Seattle Seahawks

Which player finished the 2003 season as the Seahawks starting quarterback?

Enjoy the Pro Bowl’

The Conference Championship Games

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We are running out of games, but the upside is the quality of the contests now that we’re down to the four teams left. I am incredibly excited about tonight’s games, but before I look at them I have to fail at another week’s trivia questions.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘We start at Oakland and the question is:
Q1.  Who did the Oakland Raiders play when they made it to Super Bowl II?

Moving on we get to Philadelphia and I want to know:
Q2.  Which Eagle quarterback threw for 464 yards in one game setting a team record?

Finally this week we arrive in Pittsburgh. So tell me:
Q3.  In the Steelers first Super Bowl appearance, who did they defeat?’

I am trying to make an informed guess for question one, where I’m slightly worried that my answer is too often the Packers when it comes to the early Super Bowls, but I think they won the first two Super Bowls and so beat the Raiders.

I’m less sure about this next question, my first instinct was trying to work out if either Randall Cunningham or Ron Jaworski would be the answer, but framed in the context of overall NFL passing they probably played too long ago to pick up such spectacular numbers and so my mind turns to Donovan McNabb as a modern era quarterback who played under Andy Read so with that neat tie in to today’s games I am setting with McNabb.

Whilst I can see 3D asking two questions where the answer is the Packers, I don’t think they made the Super Bowl after the early few until Brett Farve led them there in the 90s and so I’m trying to remember who the Bliztburgh Steelers played in their four Super Bowl wins. I probably should know this, but I’m blanking a little, but the Dallas Cowboys are the team lurking in my head so I might as well plump for them.

Now over to Dan:

‘Right, not long now and I was more than shocked that I got any points at all last week, let alone 4 for 2 correct answers!!

Oakland: I don’t know the answer to this so I’m going to guess. Super Bowl 2 would have to mean it’d be an NFC team who has been around a long time. I’ll guess it was the Chicago Bears.

Philadelphia: Think I know this one – I had a jersey of his while I was at uni. I think it’s Donovan McNabb.

Pittsburgh: The Steelers have been in loads of super bowls so this could be anyone. It’ll be another guess I’m afraid so… maybe the Green Bay Packers?

While I’m writing, I’m REALLY hoping that the Titans make it to the Bowl! I always said Tannehill wasn’t as bad as he appeared in Miami and poor coaching and offensive lines meant he looked worse. If they don’t though, I’ll be supporting Kansas in the bowl as Mahomes has been so exciting to watch in his 2 years in the league – he more than deserves a ring already!’

Tennessee Titans (6th) @ Kansas City Chiefs (2nd)

The AFC Conference Championship pits the Titans going for their third upset in a row as they travel to Arrowhead stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs. I have so much respect for Andy Reid as a coach and he apparently also seems to be a really nice guy, but for all his success he has only won one of the six previous conference championship games he has made and he has not won a Super Bowl. One of the big topics of discussion this week was whether he was a Hall of Fame coach without a Super Bowl win and that this was one of his better chances to get that win. However, even as impressive as the Chiefs performance last week was, the Titans are a much stiffer opponents than a Texans team who never fully convinced me this season.

The Titans come into this game full of belief that between their defence and Derek Henry’s ability to finish a game that they can beat the Chiefs, not least because they have already done it once this season. The difference this time is that Patrick Mahomes is a lot further away from his dislocated knee cap than he was when he faced them in week ten and indeed the Chiefs have not lost a game since. You can’t rule out the Titans winning this game having already beaten the Patriots and the Ravens, but the Chiefs’ offence is even more multi-faceted than the Ravens and with an improved defence from last year and fresh from a fifty point outburst last week, my hunch is that the Chiefs are going to win out in this one.

Green Bay Packers (2nd) @ San Francisco 49ers (1st)

The NFC Conference Championship games pits the first and second seeds against each other as the Green Bay Packers return to Levi’s Stadium hoping to do better than the 37-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers that was the result of their week twelve game.

The Packers have consistently won all season but the 49ers look like one of the most complete teams in the league and will be a real handful. The addition of receiver Emmanuel Sanders via trade and the development of rookie Deebo Samuels has given the 49ers’ offence the passing options to complement their stable of running backs, whilst tight-end George Kittle has played so well this season he has been called Gronk 2.0 by some in the media. The 49ers defence has been fearsome, finishing the season ranked second by DVOA, with their defensive line causing havoc against the Vikings last week.

That said, the Packers defence has been much better and in Matt LaFleur’s first season they have finally had the defence and running game to backup Aaron Rodgers. The concern for me in this game is that outside of Rodger’s link up with receiver Davante Adams, the Packers are very reliant on Aaron Jones running the ball and whilst I don’t exactly expect a repeat of the week twelve humbling, it does feel like the 49ers have the edge as they can play in more ways than the Packers. I think that much like with the Patriots, I won’t believe Rodgers is beaten until I see it, and he has acknowledged that he doesn’t know how many more chances like this he will get, but in the end I have to give the edge to the 49ers in this one.

 

A Chiefs versus 49ers Super Bowl would be pretty spectacular, but there has been no shortage of upsets and truthfully I would be excited by any matchup of these four teams, and with three games left (no, I don’t count the Pro Bowl) we need to enjoy every moment we can before the long off-season begins.

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.

The Divisional Disappointed

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The divisional games mostly lived up to expectations, the last NFL head coach was hired and new staff’s are beginning to take shape so let’s get going.

What I Saw

I’ve been delayed in getting to this week’s post by work and travel so I’m going to zip through the games a bit as I’m pretty sure you know what happened by now!

The San Francisco 49ers win was an impressive team effort based on a defence that limited the Vikings all game and running the ball. Jimmy Garoppolo had a quiet game, but the 49ers looked comfortable and will be confident going into the weekend having beaten the Packers 37-8 in week twelve, but more on the Packers in a moment.

The next Saturday game saw the Tennessee Titans pull of the shock of the weekend as they beat the Baltimore Ravens in a similar fashion to the previous game. The Titans were able to contain the Ravens’ offence, helped no doubt by the injury to Mark Ingram that lessened the impart of the Ravens running game. The Titans didn’t get a great game from Ryan Tannehill, but he did enough whilst Derrick Henry ran for nearly two hundred yards and combine that with special teams and the Titans deserve to be in the conference championship games.

That start of the Sunday pair of games saw a wild game where the Houston Texans produced an almost perfect quarter of football and went twenty-four points up in the second taking advantage of special team errors and Chiefs receivers dropping the ball. However, the Chiefs’ rust didn’t last for long and by half-time they had taken a lead as they scored an unanswered forty-one points. The Chiefs managed to score fifty-one points in three quarters whilst the Texans couldn’t do anything to stem the tide or get back into the game.

The final game of the weekend was the most competitive and was the only one to feature a real quarterback duel. For all that things aren’t exactly humming for the Packers offence, they were able to do enough to take and hold the lead. Down the stretch Aaron Rodgers got the first downs for the Packers not to have to face a final win the game drive from Russell Wilson. I’ll talk about how maddening the game plan was later, but Wilson almost singularly dragged the Seahawks back from 21-3 down to win the game and had them within a score with over nine minutes left in the game. However, as they have done all season, the Packers ran the ball well with Aaron Jones, played good defence and so didn’t need Rodgers to play to the level he had to previously to win games.

What I Heard

The Cleveland Browns have hired Vikings offensive co-ordinator Kevin Stefanski, which wasn’t a huge surprise as he was Paul DePodesta’s choice last season, and after the failure of Freddie Kitchens saw him fired after a year and lost John Dorsey his job it appears the Browns are swinging back behind the analytics model. The only worry is if things don’t turn around quickly it feels like Jimmy Haslam could pull the trigger to early but let’s see how this shapes now.

I also thought it interesting that fresh off helping LSU win the national title as their passing coordinator, that Joe Brady has been hired by the Panthers to their new offensive coordinator. The only way was down for Brady in the college ranks after the year that LSU had but by hitching his wagon to Matt Rhule and his seven year contract he should have time to find his feet in the NFL.

Whilst I’m talking about the Panthers, I just wanted to acknowledge the retirement of Luke Kuechly who was one of my favourite players to watch on coaching tape. He was a linebacker who always seemed to know what was going to happen, never seemed to put a foot wrong and clearly wishes he could still play. It’s not the all time career I said was possible a few seasons ago, the concussions and injuries put pay to that but eight years is five longer than average at one of the tougher positions to play in the NFL and he is a Hall of Fame player as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad he’s stepping away on his own terms. Very few players get to do that.

The Divisional Disappointed

This is going to be a painful section to write as I have a huge amount of affection for Mike Zimmer and what he did for the Bengals, but I’m beginning to think that the Vikings have a Marvin Lewis type problem. Now some might draw the comparison between Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton, but my worry is that Zimmer is clearly a good coach and taken the Vikings to the playoffs three times in his six years in charge. However, I’m not sure if he’s going to win the big one, and for me the problem is that he is too old fashioned in how he wants the offence to run, quite literally running the ball too much into a 49ers defence that was stuffing them. Now the pass rush of the 49ers played a huge part in thee Vikings’ offensive woes, but Cousins is now going to have his third play caller going into his third and final year with the Vikings. We shall have to see how next year’s team are assembled, but the defence is not getting any younger and when you have one of the best receiver pairings in the game should you be as reliant on the run game as Zimmer wants? I await Dan’s Dad verdict on this theory and would love to be proved wrong next season, but I have my concerns that the window for this current version of the team is closing.

The Baltimore Ravens had such a successful year and so the ending of it has to be particularly hard to cope with. Clearly they need to work out a plan B on offence, but this is not proof that you can’t win with Lamar Jackson who did things no quarterback has done before and is only twenty-two. Given the franchise stability you expect the Ravens to improve again in the offseason and they would be my favourites to win the AFC North next season and likely for several years to come. The questions about Jackson in the playoffs will remain until he gets a win, but it wouldn’t surprise me if next year the Ravens get that win and go deep into the playoffs.

The Houston Texans are a funny team to evaluate because this is the fourth time in his six years as head coach that Bill O’Brien has won the AFC South, and yet he has never totally convinced. This is the second year in a row that quarterback Deshaun Watson has got his team into the playoffs and he did all he could in this game, but there simply wasn’t enough around him to compete with the Chief’s offensive explosion of points. The truly worrying thing is that O’Brien is defending the trades he made and is keeping control, yet the all in moves got them one playoff win and a horrible loss. For all of Watson’s heroics, this does not look like a team capable of winning a Super Bowl and the Texans are now missing the draft picks they traded away to augment the roster in the offseason. They may well get away with it again next year if the Colts can’t find an improvement at quarterback, but Chris Ballard has been doing great work in Indianapolis and I wonder if the Texans fall back next season.

It could perhaps be argued that the Seattle Seahawks have if anything overachieved this season as they continue their rebuild, but with Russell Wilson they always have a chance. If anything that makes their continued insistence on over emphasising the run even more infuriating. In DK Metcalf they have a fearsome rookie receiver who combined with Tyler Lockett helped Wilson excel and yet in the biggest game of the year they managed a three runs then punt drive and gave Marshawn Lynch twelve carries two weeks after he came out of retirement that yielded only twenty-six yards. It’s one thing to use him short yardage as he scored touchdowns but with the injuries at running back not maximising Wilsons prime seems a flawed plan. I have  a lot respect for Pete Carrol but I am beginning to wonder whether whilst I think floor for the Seahawks is always going to be high with him as coach, I’m not sure if they are going to reach their full potential with a quarterback as gifted as Wilson if they don’t build the offence round him. I’m sure that the Seahawks will be competitive next season, but I don’t know if they will be pushing for the Super Bowl.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘And then there were 4.

I wasn’t surprised that the Viking’s luck finally ran out as the 49ers season has been a good one and they have clearly earned their home field advantage. It was by no means a rout, but any defeat hurts especially when the Packers are still in the hunt. That was resolved by the meeting on Sunday of the Packers and Seahawks at Lambeau Field. A close affair, this went the way of the home team but only by 5. This brings the two 13-3 teams head to head in San Fran next weekend. My pick would be the 49ers but as a Viking I’m conditioned to support the Vikes and anyone playing the Packers. I think it will be close though.

In the AFC the Titans played up to their name to take down the 14-2 Ravens in the only road win of the weekend, and by a decent margin of 16 too. The final game of the weekend saw the Chiefs win a high scoring match-up racking up 51 points and I think they will fare well against the Titans whose luck has to run out sometime.

OK, now for the trivia and I know that I may have caused some frustrations in the ranks. Despite claiming to have no idea they both managed to come up with some answers nearing the truth. So here we go.

Q1. In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 13, 2000, Michael Lewis became only the 7th player in NFL history and the first Saint to do what?

Well he didn’t return two Punts in a game Dan, but he did return a punt and a kick-off for a TD in the same game. Gee also went for 2 kick returns so I feel I have to award them both the points for that, but I will take a note of Gee’s thoughts to bone up on rule changes for next season.

Q2. In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 30, 1955, Jim Patton was the first player to achieve what?

I think that Dan must have a camera in my flat as he managed to sniff out my being in one of my devious phases. Gee’s answer about a 50 yd field goal was good but didn’t quite bring home the points. Again we aren’t talking two punt returns but it is another case of a return a punt and a kick-off for a TD in the same game – Sorry it was too tempting when I found these two facts for two adjacent teams so once again despite having no clue they both delivered…

Q3. This should have been the easier one of this week’s questions and asked: From 1960 – 62 the NY Jets were known as what?

Well, Metros and Cities were believable offerings but the actual answer is the New York Titans.

So this week Dan and Gee score 4 and 2 points respectively bringing the total to 30-26 in Dan’s favour.

Now we reach the exciting Championship Week where the real questions get asked on the field but for those of us without helmets here’s the trivia.

We start at Oakland and the question is:
Q1.  Who did the Oakland Raiders play when they made it to Super Bowl II?

Moving on we get to Philadelphia and I want to know:
Q2.  Which Eagle quarterback threw for 464 yards in one game setting a team record?

Finally this week we arrive in Pitsburgh. So tell me:
Q3.  In the Steelers’ first Super Bowl appearance, who did they defeat?

Well after this we just have the Pro-Bowl and Super Bowl to go, a sure sign we are at the business end of the year.

Happy Triving’

Sunday’s Divisional Games

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We have two more games today, but first I have to fail at the trivia questions, although Dan might fare better.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘For New Orleans I want to know this:  In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 13, 2000, Michael Lewis became only the 7th player in NFL history and the first Saint to do what?

Now it’s the New York Giants so tell me In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 30, 1955, Jim Patton was the first player to achieve what?

Finally for the NY Jets – From 1960 – 62 the NY Jets were known as what?

I am properly stuck on these questions, apparently Dan and I need to spend some time in the off-season memorising franchise histories, and I have no idea about some of the early history. I’m guessing that the first two are likely related to rule changes or things that happen rarely. Even safeties happen with fair amount of regularity, as do penalties so my thoughts turn to the kicking or returns, but it could just easily be something else.

I’m sure the forward pass happened earlier than 1955, but I’m really struggling with both questions so let’s say that Michael Lewis was the first Saint to have more than one kick return go for a touchdown in a season. As for Jim Patton, I don’t know the name so let’s go with the first player to kick a fifty yard field goal.

As for the Jets, they went to one of the early Super Bowls the Jets with Joe Nameth so this has to be a seriously obscure fact, going with the New York Metros, even though I’m sure the baseball team is likely older.

Now over to Dan:

‘I’m concerned this week as there’s only a couple of points in it and I know absolutely none of these questions this week so they’re all guesses. One correct answer from Gee and I fear he’s right back in it!

So for the Saints I’ll say he was the first Saint to return two punts for touchdowns in one game.

For the Giants I’ll assume some deviousness and also say he was also the first player to return two punts for touchdowns.

And finally for the Jets, I’ll guess they were previously known as the New York Cities.

Oh well… hopefully there’ll be something I can answer next week!’

Houston Texans (4th) @ Kansas City Chiefs (2nd)

The Chiefs got a bye week and the second seed thanks to the Patriots loss to the Dolphins in week seventeen, but they also finished the season with six straight wins as quarterback Patrick Mahomes adjusted to playing with the sore knee he had after dislocating his knee cap. It would not be surprising that the offence would take a step back from last season even before Mahomes had an injury, but this is still a frightening unit capable of big plays and ranked third in the league by DVOA. However, after a rough start to the season the Chiefs defence has improved and whilst it is sill a relatively average unit ranked fourteenth by DVOA, when combined with such a productive offence then it is easy to see why the Chiefs won twelve games.

The Texans pretty much won last week on the back of Deshaun Watson’s ability to perform outside of the structure of the offence. The usual question about whether Will Fuller can play surround how effective the Texans’ offence will be this weekend, but even with the return of JJ Watt (and in a reduced capacity) their defence doesn’t look that great and so I worry for them in this game. If we have learnt anything about Deshaun Watson it’s that you shouldn’t count him out, but if the Texans start this game like they did last week, the Chiefs will build a lot bigger lead than the sixteen points the Bills managed last week. I could be wrong as on any given Sunday and all that, but I would be surprised if the Chiefs didn’t win this game.

Seattle Seahawks (5th) @ Green Bay Packers (2nd)

The Green Bay Packers are a team that I still haven’t quite got my head around. They were clearly a good team, but they weren’t particularly impressive except you can’t ignore their 13-3 record. Partly the strangeness could be that the Aaron Rodgers hasn’t looked himself this season, and if anything this team has been carried by Aaron Jones in the running game and the defence. Except that Rodgers has thrown for over four thousand yards and only thrown four touchdowns and you would still trust him to do something spectacular with the game on the line.

The Seahawks got the win last week, and it certainly feels like they can never play an ordinary game so this should be a fascinating contest. We have two quarterbacks who are absolutely capable of taking over a game, and in rookie receiver DK Metcalf the Seahawks appear to have found a replacement for Doug Baldwin in their season without him. However, there are problems in the running game thanks to injuries and I do wonder if a rested Packers team at Lambeau field will just have too much. I think this might be the closest contest of the weekend, and in a snowy Green Bay it feels like the perfect way to end the divisional round. If I had to pick a winner I think I’d go for the Packers as the healthier team, but this game could truly go either way.

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.

Saturday’s Divisional Games

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We get both number one seeds in action against the sixth seed today, so let’s see if either game has much chance of an update.

Minnesota Vikings (6th) @ San Francisco 49ers (1st)

The San Francisco 49ers started the season with an 8-0 run and finished the season 13-3, whilst they rank fifth overall in DVOA. The impressive resume won’t phase the Vikings who have already beaten the third seed Saints who ranked above the 49ers by DVOA.

The 49ers turnaround from last season is impressive even accounting for them having their franchised quarterback back from the injury that saw Jimmy Garoppolo only played three games last season. An offence that features an all pro tight-end in George Kittle who some are calling Gronk 2.0, a group of speedy running back and a quarterback whose completed nearly seventy percent of his passes. The defence is perhaps even better, second only to the Patriots in the DVOA rankings, with rookie Nick Bosa seeming to complete a fearsome defensive front.

Enter the Vikings, coming off their win against the Saints and looking more like their mid-season selves where they went 8-2 once they got the offence really working. It is clear how important running back Dalvin Cook is to the Vikings offence and Adam Thielen had a great game last week, although is dealing with cut that required stitches, which could bother him today.

This will be a fascinating contest between head coaches when the 49ers have the ball, but it looks like a great contest all round. I wonder if the Vikings playoff experience might tell at some point but it’s hard to pick an edge in this despite the seeding.

Tennessee Titans (6th) @ Baltimore Ravens (1st)

The Baltimore Ravens are perhaps one of my favourite teams to watch in the NFL right now, which is only tempered by the fact that the Bengals will have to compete them in the division for years to come. In his second season Lamar Jackson passed for three thousand yards, ran for another thousand as he dominated the league and made the extraordinary seem routine. When combined with a blitz heavy defence whose coverage improved with the acquisition of Marcus Peters you had the recipe for the best record in the record season. Hell, they even had a three-hundred-pound two-way play in Patrick Ricard who plays both fullback and defensive end.

The Titans go into Baltimore having knocked out the Patriots last week, will be hoping that Derrick Henry will be able to control the clock again and that Ryan Tannehill has a better game. However, I think this is a clearer contest as whilst the offences will be more conservative in the post-season, I think the Ravens are going to have too much offence for the Titans to keep up. For all of Henry’s two hundred rushing yards last, the Titans offence only scored thirteen points and I think that is going to be the problem.

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.

Fallen at the First Hurdle

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We have had a weekend full of competitive games that yielded upsets and storylines that will rumble on into the offseason, plus there has been a run of new head coach hires so there is plenty to dig into this week.

What I Saw

The first game of weekend saw the Buffalo Bills lose in overtime to the Houston Texans, but whilst the outcome was very similar to what I was predicting before the game – it took a slight detour to get there. For the first forty minutes or so of the game, the Bills had the upper hand, steadily building to a 16-0 lead having scored a touchdown on their opening drive. However, the Bills were unable to make the most of their early offensive success, kicking three field-goals as their defence held the opposition scoreless. The problem was that in the second half, despite being without with receiver Will Fuller through injury, Deshaun Watson was able to lead the comeback as he started connecting to DeAndrew Hopkins, and the highlight of the game was Watson bouncing off two Bills defenders trying to sack him and completing the pass. It was also pretty impressive to watch JJ Watt get a sack with limited use of his arms as he’s not fully recovered from his pec injury. It has to be said there was some questionable game management on both sidelines and fourth down attempts, but the Texans live to fight again whilst the Bills have cause for optimism that I’ll talk about later.

The second game on Saturday is the one that generated all the headlines, even if it was the upset that was being predicted beforehand, but it was still odd to see the New England Patriots have the ball twice in the last five minutes down one point and not be able to get the win. The Tennessee Titans under Patriots alumni Mike Vrabel sealed the win with a last minute pick-six interception of Tom Brady, but the moment everyone is talking about is the Belichick style move Vrabel pulled as he ran out the clock with multiple delay of game and false start penalties before the Titans finally punted the ball having ticked off another minute and a half of clock. What was distinctly un-Belichickian was the two hundred yards of rushing the Patriots gave up to Derrick Henry, although to be fair they did move to the Super Bowl defence of six defensive lineman in the second half and that slowed down Henry some and did disrupt the play-action passing of Ryan Tannehill but not enough to secure the win. This was because once again the Patriots offence couldn’t move the ball consistently enough and of all people, it was Julian Edleman who dropped a crucial fourth down pass when the Patriots really needed it. Take nothing away from the Titans, but their next game could well prove a tougher test.

The first game on Sunday was perhaps the biggest upset of the weekend as the sixth seed Minnesota Vikings travelled to New Orleans and beat the Saints in overtime. This was a slightly curious game as the Saints struggled to get anything going on offence, which is largely down to Mike Zimmer’s defence, but Drew Brees was quiet and suffered his first fumble of the season, whilst the Saints seemed to forget they had one of the better pairs of running backs in the league. There was no bad winner for me in this game as I would love to see Drew Brees get a second ring, but this win at least goes someway to counter all those who say that Kirk Cousins can’t win a big game, particularly as it was his throw to Kyle Rudolph that sealed the game in overtime and he outgained Brees, even if the yardage for both quarterbacks was modest. The Saints didn’t look right for large stretches for the game, but the Vikings are no slouches on defence and got healthy at the right time. I understand why people think the last play should have been reviewed, and you can see Rudolph straightening his arm, but given the standard of evidence they have required to overturn calls this season I am not surprised that the play wasn’t reviewed.

The final game of the weekend was the injury bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the visiting Seattle Seahawks. Technically this was the third upset of the weekend, but whilst this game saw the third road winner of the weekend, the Seahawks did have two more wins than the Eagles and didn’t lose their starting quarterback early in the game. The play where Wentz picked up a concussion didn’t look bad, but whilst he was diving forward on a scramble Seahawks’ defensive end Jadeveon Clowney landed on top of him and the contact to the back of Wentz’s head was enough for him to have to leave the game at the end of the drive. I’m not sure it was exactly a dirty play, although it should have been called a penalty, and Clowney was taking the opportunity to let Werntz know that if he ran there would be a prices to pay. The sad thing is that Wentz really did nothing wrong, got through the whole season uninjured and still was missing in the playoffs due to injury. The Eagles had dragged Josh McCown out of retirement to be their backup, and he kept the game competitive, in part because the Seahawks can’t play a normal game but in the end he couldn’t do enough. The standout player of this game statistically was rookie receiver DK Metcalf who had one hundred and sixty passing yards on seven catches, emphasising that he really should not have been the ninth receiver taken in the draft, but once again it was Russell Wilson to the rescue and you feel like as long as the Seahawks have him they have a chance.

What I Heard

There’s quite a lot of new, but before I get to that I want to pick up on something that was discussed on The Ringer NFL Show, namely that in the NFL playoff success is reliant on individual matchups and moments rather than how well a team has implemented current trends in the league. We had evidence of that this weekend with the Eagles struggling through a list of injuries that would have felled most teams only for their quarterback to get injured in the first quarter of their playoff game. The Patriots may well have got a win against another team, but having already lost the to the Dolphins the Titans were well constructed to beat the Patriots, much like the Vikings were a good match for the Saints due to their quality on defence and having beaten them in the playoffs two years before. I dislike the whole judging quarterbacks by how many rings they won as well as some of the wider commentary on the league as the NFL does not play a long season, it is a small sample size mini-league followed by a single elimination cup competition. By record the Ravens were the best team in the NFL this season, and they very well could win it all but whilst it might shock, it would not exactly be that crazy for them to be beaten, just like it was not that surprising that the Titans beat a team who won three more games this season. The margins in the NFL are very small, and there is not even that much difference between the roster talent of the best of the best, and that of an average team.

With that said, let’s take a look at where some of the crucial differences between franchises can be found.

Washington were early enough out the blocks with their hire of Ron Rivera that it got included in last week’s post, but the next team to hire were also one of the latest to let go of their 2019 head coach. Apparently, Jerry Jones wanted to give Jason Garrett a soft landing after nearly three decades round the team and after multiple internal meetings it was finally revealed that Garrett was being let go Sunday evening, The Cowboys wasted no time in announcing they had agreed terms with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy the following day. This is not the college coach hire many had predicted, and a lot depends on how fully McCarthy is committed to the analytics and revamped playbook he was talking about in the press in recent weeks, but they are hoping to keep current offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and are slated to hire LA Rams’ special teams coordinator John Fassel, which are both moves I like. You can’t tell anything at this time of year, but the Cowboys produced well statistically this season an it does feel that if you can manage your owner then this job has the most upside for a quick turnaround. McCarthy seems likecoach who will be happy for Jones to take the limelight so I can definitely see this working out if everything comes together.

It gets harder for me to pass comment on the next hires as I don’t know as much about them, but following on from the Cowboys hiring, the Carolina Panthers announced their signing of college coach Matt Rhule on a seven year $60 million contract and the New York Giants then promptly hired Patriots receivers coach and special teams coordinator Joe Judge.

The Matt Rhule contract is both long and rich, whilst Joe Judge is not a name that has been widely discussed, although the recent improved performance by members of Belichick’s coaching tree might have helped his chances.

The final interesting point is that this just leaves us with the Cleveland Browns searching for a new coach, which I mention only because apart from their long and tortured history, there was a lot of talk about Josh McDaniels leaving the Patriots but given the way Jimmy Haslam has burned through coachers and GMs I wonder if McDaniels will take what would likely last chance at a head coach position with the Browns or wait another year for a better situation.

Fell at the First Hurdle

Time to say fond farewell to those teams who were unlucky enough to fall at the first hurdle inn the playoffs.

The Buffalo Bills have a lot to build upon from this season, they may still have to go back to 1995 for their last playoff win, but they have now been there in two out of the last three years. They appear to have their front office and head coach working in unison so if they continue to find players and develop it is not hard to see them back in contention next year. I know from personal fandom how hard it can be to jump from a team that can make it to the playoffs to one that gets the win and so Bills fans will hope Josh Allen makes that leap at quarterback soon, but the arrow still seems to be pointing up for this franchise.

I’m sure rumours of the demise of the New England Patriots are slightly overblown, but looking at Tom Brady’s quote, and the age of both him and the roster and it does feel like it could be the end of an era. However, you would trust in the infrastructure to effectively rebuild, but it does seem odd to think that we might be about to see a new quarterback take over the franchise. The Bills are already challenging, and the Dolphins look set to improve, but this off-season more than most will set the expectations for the Patriots’ next season. All things must end, even the most stable period of a success that the league has possibly seen. I’m sure Dan is thrilled about it.

The New Orleans Saints there third straight last play elimination from the playoffs, and if there was a theme from last weekend it was the fall of the last generation of quarterbacks. The Saints look like they can compete for another year, but it is rare for quarterbacks to age gracefully, and it can’t be long before Father Time comes for Brees. In this age of counting rings, it’s worth taking into account the whole of Brees’s career and what he has done for both the Saints franchise and the city of New Orleans. As ever, we should enjoy these players whilst we have them because it may not be for long.

The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t really have any right to make the playoffs given the injuries they suffered. I went into season thinking they had one of the deepest rosters in the league, and that was sorely tested and there were definitely problems at both receiver and corner back. I have faith that the front office will address this in the offseason, but the Eagles have already moved on from their offensive coordinator and receivers coach, which is worth noting as head coach Doug Pederson had voiced his confidence in them only twenty-four hours before. It doesn’t feel like this team has ever recovered from the post Super Bowl brain drain, and they must start again on offence, and hope to get Carson Wentz in position to succeed in the playoffs. They will also likely need to address the backup quarterback position given how often they have had to play through Wentz’s young career and with Josh McCown being forty they cannot expect him to repeat the trick. I’m not totally sure what to expect next season, but Pederson has got this team to the playoffs three years in a row and won a Super Bowl in his second season so he has earned time to get it right again.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘OK just 4 rounds to go and I should start this week’s post with an apology to the Chiefs. Last week, you will recall, I predicted that the Super Bowl would see a narrow win for the Chiefs over the Saints. Well half of that has already gone the way of all flesh when the Vikings triumphed in Sunday’s overtime win.

I recall last year where some discussion was had over the number of road winners in Wildcard games. In truth there shouldn’t be a surprise as the seedings are such that teams will inevitably close. It’s when the top seeds enter the fray that form, and a bye week, can have an effect. This year, for the record, only the Texans scored a home win but there are 3 other sets of fans with that satisfied smile ahead of Divisional week.

Now for the Trivia and Dan started the week with a 3-point advantage, but has he maintained it?

Q1 – After the Dolphins made it to Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season, what was the next season they saw Super Bowl action?

There was some thought checking here but both Gee and Dan went for 1982 which is, of course, correct. 2 points each

Q2 – Who did the Vikings play in their first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl IV, played on January 11, 1970?

Well Gee went for Kansas while Dan picked the 49’ers. The Vikings lost to the Chiefs 23-7. So 2 points to Gee

Q3 – The Patriots moved and changed their name in 1971. What was the home city and their name prior to that?

This caused Gee some head scratching but while the City was Boston they weren’t the Whalers, which could have been either a hockey team or a type of boat. Dan however, nailed it .

The Boston Patriots were an original member of the American Football League in 1960. They took part in the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They moved to Foxborough in 1971 and because of the move, they wanted a name change. They originally wanted the name, Bay State Patriots, but the NFL rejected that one. The New England name was accepted in March 1971.

Gee scores 1 and Dan 2 to bring the current totals to Gee 24 and Dan 26 = but what is coming next?

Well, for Divisional Week I’ve landed in New Orleans before moving up to New York and I promise there are no Joe Namath questions.

For New Orleans I want to know this:  In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 13, 2000, Michael Lewis became only the 7th player in NFL history and the first Saint to do what?

Now it’s the New York Giants so tell me In a game against the Washington Redskins on October 30, 1955, Jim Patton was the first player to achieve what?

Finally for the NY Jets – From 1960 – 62 the NY Jets were known as what?

2 points per question. Pick the bones out of those.’

2019 Wildcard Sunday

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Two games down and two more to go, but first we have this week’s trivia questions, where Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘After the Dolphins made it to Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season, what was the next season they saw Super Bowl action?

Who did the Vikings play in their first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl IV, played on January 11, 1970?

The Patriots moved and changed their name in 1971. What was the home city and their name prior to that?’

So the first question is one of those that is worrying me because I know that Dan Marino went to the Super Bowl early in his career, lost and everybody thought it would be okay because he would go back but he never did, yet I’m not totally sold on the year. I think it’s 1982 or 1983 and I’m going to plump for 1982 and hope I’m not trumped by Dan’s franchise knowledge of his own team.

I had an idiot moment when I first looked at the Vikings question as my brain thought Packers before it realized that would be impossible as they are both NFC teams. I’m not totally sure on this, but I think the Kansas City Chiefs were one of the early winners so I’m going to plump for them, and hope it wasn’t the Jets…

I have no idea on the Patriot question as again I don’t remember hearing about a franchise move, and I’m now once bitten twice shy of accusing 3D of being extra devious after being wrong the other week about the Chiefs. I’m wondering if the team have moved from Boston to their current location in Foxborough, but I really don’t know so let’s go with the Boston Whalers, even though that might be a hockey team.

Now over to Dan:

‘So, the Dolphins question I know. 1973 was the third Super Bowl in a row for the Dolphins, and after that I believe it was 1982 (when I think we lost to the Redskins, but I might be wrong there).

Now the guess… while one of our ‘three in a row’ was against the Vikings, 1970 would be the year prior to that run, so it’s not us. I’ll guess it was the 49ers.

And then back to confidence! Before the New England Patriots were the New England Patriots, I believe they were known as the Boston Patriots. And they still weren’t good enough to beat the Dolphins! #FinsUp!’

Minnesota Vikings (6th) @ New Orleans Saints (3rd)

The New Orleans Saints are the fourth ranked team by DVOA, but are a lot of people’s favourites to come out of the NFC in the Super Bowl and have looked good all season, which is particularly impressive as they achieved their 13-3 record with Drew Brees missing five games with a hand fracture. Their offence ranks fourth by DVOA, but their defence that was for so long the Achilles heel of the Saints franchise post the Bountygate scandal ranks just outside the top ten and has done more than enough to facilitate winning. Even their special teams is ranked third in the league by DVOA and so at home they are a particularly formidable opponent for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are another wildcard team who had a winning record all season but like the Bills in the AFC East, couldn’t keep up with the division winner as the Packers won thirteen games. This is the second year of Kirk Cousins three-year guaranteed contract but with an 0-9 record in Monday night games and an 0-2 playoff record there are plenty of questions about his performances in big games. The playoff record is a little unfair as Washington have not won a playoff game since 2005 and he wasn’t even the starter in 2012, but to win in New Orleans is a tough ask. The Vikings managed to be the Saints two seasons ago with a remarkable last minute score, but their defence has looked slightly vulnerable against the pass this season, whilst the offence took a while to find its feet. Kirk Cousins has looked really good for a lot of the second half of the season, but in the last couple of weeks an injury to running back Dalvin Cook has hurt their running game and the Vikings come into this game having lost their last two.

I think it will be a close game, but I do think that the Saints likely have too much for the Vikings, which will do nothing to dispel the narrative that surrounds Cousins and I will be interested to see if the Vikings stick with their offensive coordinator if they do lose as if there is a criticism of Mike Zimmer it is his interference with the offence and the number of offensive coordinators he has been through, but let’s get this game out of the way before we worry about that. For the Saints, who have been so close the last two seasons and were essentially robbed of a place in last year’s Super Bowl by a bad call, time is running out for Brees to get another Super Bowl and this could be the year.

Seattle Seahawks (5th) @ Philadelphia Eagles (4th)

The last wildcard game pits two of the most injured teams to make the playoffs against each other. The Philadelphia Eagles are the fourth seed by dint of winning the NFC East, but this took a four-game winning streak against the rest of their division to close out 9-7. The Eagles actually have a worse record than the Seahawks, and rank three places below them in overall DVOA, but they should not be underestimated. However, they barely have any receivers left, and even their leading tight end Zach Ertz is dealing with a rumoured lacerated kidney. However, Carson Wentz seems to have adapted to the recent change in game plan well and running back Boston Scott caught the eye last week, even if his average yards per carry was pretty paltry. The defence is beginning to get its pass rush back, which is important as the secondary is another area where the Eagles have a cluster of injuries.

The Seahawks may not have quite the same number of injuries as the Eagles, but a key injury to left tackle Duane Brown as well as injuries at running back that has resulted in Marshawn Lynch being signed out of retirement have dented the Seahawks attack. It still seems slightly odd that the Seahawks insist on featuring the run so heavily when they have one of the best passers in the game, but it will take all of Russell Wilsons ability to evade the pass rush to keep the Seahawks in this game. Especially as their usually strong defence only ranks eighteenth by DVOA this regular season. Interestingly the Seahawks have actually been better on the road this year, going 7-1 as opposed to their surprising 4-4 home record, which is very poor for a team who pride themselves on being one of the tougher places to visit in the NFL.

This looks like another close game, and I can absolutely see the Eagles doing enough to win the contest, but I give the advantage to the Seahawks simply because we know how good Russell Wilson is and this is Carson Wentz’s first ever playoff game.

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.

2019 Wildcard Saturday

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The playoffs start today, and unusually both AFC teams are playing today with the NFC taking over the Sunday schedule so let’s take a look at the two AFC matchups.

Buffalo Bills (5th) @ Houston Texans (6th)

The Texans won out in the AFC South and are rewarded by getting to host the Buffalo Bills. The headline news about the Texans is the return of JJ Watt from a pectoral injury and he has been cleared to play but this is much earlier than is typical for such an injury so I don’t know how effective Watt will be. Of more importance to the Texans in recent weeks is whether Will Fuller will play as the often injured this season receiver seems to have a dramatic effect on the offence through his ability to stretch the field. He was rested last week but it is looking doubtful that can play, and even if the answer at the start of the game is yes the question is whether he can give the Texans what they need and he has already aggravated an injury and had to come out the game once this season as well as missing five others. Interestingly, the Texans are ranked six places lower overall by DVOA than the Bills and not only are the worst ranked of the playoff teams by DVOA, but are ranked below seven teams who failed to make the playoffs. Now two of those teams are special cases as only this year’s iteration of the Cowboys could manage to rank top ten statistically (6th overall by DVOA) and still manage to miss the playoffs with their 8-8 record, whilst the Rams in a down year still won nine games despite having to play the 49ers and Seahawks twice thanks to being in the fearsomely competitive NFC West. The Bills also ranked below the Rams and Cowboys but unlike the Texans, they did not rank behind any other team who failed to make the playoffs.

The Bills has a somewhat quiet season in terms of press coverage despite never coming close to a losing record and finishing the regular season 10-6. They are not a flashy team and have their limitations on offence. In his second year Josh Allen has improved, but he is still far from an elite quarterback but the Bills have done enough to win thanks to their defence, which ranks sixth in the league by DVOA and hasn’t allowed the opposition to score more than seventeen points in the last four weeks. This looks like it should be a really competitive game and I don’t have a clear winner in this one, but I just get the feeling that between the Texans being at home and Deshuan Watson’s ability to conjure something out nothing, that the Texans will edge this one out. That said I love the direction the Bills are heading in, with a front office and coach working in lock step over the last three years, and even if they don’t manage to get their first playoff win since 1995 today, it feels like it is coming.

Tennessee Titans (6th) @ New England Patriots (3rd)

The Patriots won the AFC East for the eleventh year straight, but have not looked quite the same team on offence, with people whispering with a little more evidence this time that Tom Brady is too old and a week seventeen loss to the Dolphins set alarm bells ringing amongst their faithful fans. The Patriots have the number one defence in the league, but have neither been able to get the passing game going whenever they want nor had the power running game they were able to utilise to such effect last season. Between the retirement of Robert Gronkowski and the play of Tom Brady dipping just enough, people are wondering if the end of an era is finally coming.

Part of the reason for this worry is their opponent, the Tennessee Titans who after a rough start to the season switched to Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback and from then went on a 7-3 run that took them to the playoffs. They also enter this game with the rushing champion of the league in Derrick Henry who managed to average over five yards a carry, whilst rookie receiver AJ Brown had a breakout season and seems to have forged a real bond with Tannehill.

This game should be fascinating, although the often-bad January weather looks to be heading into New England. The Titans have a real chance in this game, but it feels like Patriots probably have enough to win this at home, particularly as I am sure that Belichick and his staff with be throwing every trick they have at this game. It is a testament to their history that no one is comfortable writing them off, but this could very well be an end of era, and if the Patriots do win they are going to really struggle against either the Ravens or the Chiefs.

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 & The Disappointed Twenty: NFC Edition

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Well the picks competition is over and for a second consecutive year since he started competing, Dan’s Dad is pick champion whilst I slipped back to third.

Dan’s Dad: Week 17:   6-10 Overall:   143-113
Dan: Week 17:   6-10 Overall:   136-120
Gee: Week 17:   7-9 Overall:   130-126

Looking back at last year I am three points worse whilst Dan has increased his score by eleven (I suspect through not blindly picking the Dolphins) whilst Dan’s Dad added a modest six to beat Dan by seven, which is a three point increase on his lead over me last season.

The moral of all this is that Dan and I will need to really step are games up next season if we’re stop the blog permanently being purple and gold. I’ll let 3D fill in the rest in his trivia write up, whilst I take a run through the teams from the NFC who left us this week.

The Disappointed Twenty: NFC Edition

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of talent on the roster, but couldn’t convert good statistics into wins with clear issues in coaching. However, there is still no word out of Dallas about Jason Garrett losing his job despite everybody thinking it would happen. His contract doesn’t run out until later this month, but with a series of solid drafts the big question for next season is what is going to happen with the coach and until we know that, you can’t say too much about the Cowboys’ plans for next year, although they do have to make big decisions on who to re-sign.

The New York Giants had a tough season with a few scattered bright spots from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, but clearly had a disappointing season finishing 4-12. After two consecutive losing season this has cost Pat Shurmur his job, but interestingly not Dave Gettleman. I mention Gettleman not because I have any wish to campaign for someone to be fired, but the Giants have not won for two season and Gettleman was responsible for picking Saquon Barkley with the second pick two years ago rather than taking a quarterback or even listening to offers. Even in last year’s draft he took Daniel Jones at a position much higher than he was predicted to go when he had a second pick in the first round to use on him. It’s hard to know what is going to happen in the off-season, but I don’t have a lot of faith in this franchise to make enough of the right decisions to improve drastically next season.

The seasons of failure continued in Washington, but Dan Snyder has certainly wasted no time in making changes having fired Jay Gruden earlier in the season. Gone from the front office is Bruce Allen whilst the news of new head coach Ron Rivera’s hiring was broken Monday and made official on Wednesday. There is a lot of work to turn around the culture in Washington and a lot will depend on who the new GM is and who has final say in drafting players and roster moves, but they do at least have an experienced coach who has always had a great relationship with his locker room.

The Chicago Bears finished 8-8 with third year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky failing to develop from last season. There are some big decisions coming with regards to their signal caller, and certainly the move to get him is not justifying itself yet so all eyes will be on him until he either proves himself or another player is given a go. It will be worth watching the Bears in the off-season to see if they make any moves at quarterback.

The Detroit Lions hired Matt Patricia to put them over the top having missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record under Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, Patricia decided an overhaul was needed and the Lions have been rewarded with first a 6-10 season and now 3-12-1 so next season is a big one for Patricia who has kept his job. It may be that the saving grace for him was quarterback Matt Stafford being out for the latter half of the year, but the defence hasn’t been good (it’s never good for a head coach if their side of the ball is not great) and I imagine there will need to be a dramatic turnaround next season for there not to be big changes.

The Atlanta Falcons started the season 1-7 but managed to finish 7-9 and come second in the NFC South as the players seemed to rally round their head coach Dan Quinn and were successful in keeping him his job. However, I don’t know if they can turn things round in the off-season given that things haven’t really been right since they were in the Super Bowl and at some point there may need to be a change to get back to winning ways.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also finished 7-9, although they started 2-6 but their season can be summed up in the performance of Jameis Winston who threw for over five thousand yards and thirty touchdowns, but he also threw thirty interceptions. It feels like the positive statistics means that you have to re-sign Winston, but unless Bruce Arians can find a way to limit the turnovers it is hard to see the Bucs consistently win.

The Carolina Panthers had a rough season, starting with two losses before Cam Newton was sat with injuries that ultimately didn’t see him return to the field. The Panthers turned to backup quarterback Kyle Allen who was able to get the team back to a 5-3 record before things truly fell apart and they could not win another game this season. This led to Ron Rivera being fired before the end of the season, and has overshadowed the remarkable feat of running back Christian McCaffrey who managed to amass over a thousand yards rushing and receiving. New owner David Tepper says he wants to meld old school football toughness with modern analytics and is also overhauling the front office so we shall just have to see what this results in next year.

The LA Rams finished with a winning record, but could never quite compete with the Seahawks and 49ers in their division. They never fell below .500 but Todd Gurley does not look the same running back and as a result for much of the season Sean McVay couldn’t find the right balance on offence. He is still a really good coach, but there are now structural problems with the roster as they have a lot of money tied up Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. Neither player have really lived up to them, and there are other players who also need signing and not many draft picks to refresh the roster. The front office think they have a different formula to compete, but next season will be key to see if the franchise can bounce back or if things are going to go badly.

Finally, we have the Arizona Cardinals who got five wins in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as an NFL head coach with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray showing promise. Given how much work was needed to improve the roster, it was no mean feat to improve their season record by two wins and a draw from last year given the quality of the other teams in the NFC West. However, they will need Steve Keim to have a good off-season if the Cardinals are to get enough talent for them to challenge for the playoffs and if they fail to make it for a fifth season then perhaps the position of Keim is the one that will need examining.

Wildcard Trivia

‘Greetings Friends

Week 17 has come and gone and the end of the Regular Season has delivered what we hope will be a juicy playoff series.

I will be keen to see if the Vikings can reverse their recent collapse of momentum against the Saints, but with the 49ers lying in wait this will be a big ask. Equally attractive is the Seahawks and Eagles vying for a match up at Green Bay. Yet again the NFC seems to deliver some meaty games.

In the AFC I am less excited by the Wildcard games, although never rule out the Pats is one lesson I’ve learned. The excitement though will be in the next games when the oft-unfancied Ravens and the Chiefs re-enter the battle.

I feel that the week’s gap for 4 teams can go either way. Momentum or recovery time can be important and this is one area where a coach earns their corn.

I’ll stick my neck out now and predict that Superbowl LIV will be contested between the Saints and the Chiefs with Kansas running out narrow winners. There, I’ve given you a stick to beat me with. Ho Hum never mind.

Talking of predictions the Picks competition also ended on Sunday and I agree with Gee’s comments in Thursdays post that week 17 is very difficult to call as some teams have nothing to play for while others would be desperate to position themselves well for either the Play-offs or, don’t forget, who will be on the roster for next year. Already we have seen the coaching merry-go-round starting up and I see this being a very busy closed season.

I think the mixed agendas contributed to one of the lowest scoring weeks we have had. What is pleasing though is that as a group we have increased the total of wins by 9 over last season. Dan and I managed a disappointing 6 each but the week was won by Gee on 7. But how I achieved a rank of 2253 in the whole competition I will never know. Maybe it proves I have a smarter pin than I thought.

One thing that is still running through the post season is the trivia quiz and in week 17 I set 2 questions both around LA Quarterbacks. They were:

I was the quarterback that led the Rams to a victory in the 2000 Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans. I lost my starting job after I fumbled six times in the first game of the 2003 season. Who am I?

This was correctly identified by both Dan and Gee as Kurt Warner

Which Charger quarterback bounced back from a dismal 2003-04 season, winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award, throwing 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and landing himself a spot in the 2005 NFL Pro Bowl?

Here too they both named Drew Brees.

So 4 points each being Gee up to 19 and Dan 22.

This week I will drop in at 3 teams and again there is 2 points for each.

First we are at the Miami Dolphins, so no pressure here Dan.

After the Dolphins made it to Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season, what was the next season they saw Super Bowl action?

Next we relocate to the Twin Cities to ask this about the Vikes.

Who did the Vikings play in their first Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl IV, played on January 11, 1970?

Finally this week it is the New England Patriots,

The Patriots moved and changed their name in 1971. What was the home city and their name prior to that?

Right then, that’s 2019 done and we look for a vision for 2020. Catch you next week’

The End of the 2019 Regular Season

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So here we are at the end of the regular season, but the start of playoffs and a new decade. I’m going to do a recap of the games I watched in week seventeen before I run through the AFC side of the Disappointed Twenty, and will follow up tomorrow with the NFC side.

What I Saw

The first game I watched in week seventeen had no bearing on the playoffs or draft position, but it still made me happy as the Cincinnati Bengals secured only their second win of the season as they beat the Cleveland Browns in a relatively comfortable manner. The Bengals pass rush was able to harass Baker Mayfield all game and got six sacks as well as picking him off three times. I’ll be talking about both of these teams in my roundup so only thing I will add here is that I was surprisingly happy about this win, even if it was ultimately meaningless in the wider scheme of things.

Whilst the Bengals win had no real affect on things, one of the other TWF teams had a definitive effect on the playoffs even thought they will not be playing either. For a bad season in terms of results, there has been much to be cheered about this season for a Miami Dolphins team, who got more wins that you are supposed to whilst rebooting your roster and look to have found a really good head coach who cemented this view with a win against the New England Patriots that cost their divisional foes a bye week and throws them into an eminently losable match-up against the Tennessee Titans next week. The problems that have plagued the Patriots offence resurfaced this week, but in addition Tom Brady threw a horrid pick-six where he sailed a ball between two receivers that Eric Rowe grabbed and took gratefully into the end zone. If that wasn’t bad enough, Stephon Gilmore did not look at all like the shutdown corner he has looked like for most of the season and the Pats’ defence did not look itself. I’m still not going to declare the Patriots done until I’ve seen them eliminated, but I can’t remember a recent time where the Pats looked this vulnerable this late in the season.

There were two divisions up for grabs in week seventeen and the first of them to be won saw the Philadelphia Eagles finish their mission impossible with four straight wins despite the injuries that plagued them all season. Their final victim were the New York Giants who offered up some glimpses of what Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley might be able to achieve between them as the Giants kept the game close into the fourth quarter, helped by an impressive sixty-eight yard touchdown run from Barkley, but whilst Jones managed to outgain the Eagles’ Carson Wentz through the air, he could not match his care with the ball and the Eagles finished strongly to win 34-17.

The final game of the regular season was to decide the AFC West as the Seattle Seahawks hosted the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers had dipped in form thanks to injury but looked to be getting back to some of their mid-season form in recent weeks and got out to a strong start in this one, building a thirteen point lead that should have been more whilst holding the Seahawks scoreless. The Seahawks have injury problems of their own, hence the signing of Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, who provoked a huge response from the Seattle crowd despite not producing that many yards but did get a touchdown. However, Russel Wilson was able to work out the 49ers defence in the second half and mount a comeback that very easily could have produced the win were it not for a combination of refereeing and the return of late game mismanagement. The Seahawks had three downs on the one-yard line to get the winning touchdown, or would have if they had not been called for delay of game and then failed to get in from the five. The result means the Seahawks travel to face the Eagles and could very well face the 49ers again before the end of the playoffs.

The Disappointed Twenty: AFC Edition

So here is my quick run through the AFC teams who missed out on the playoffs.

The New York Jets finished 7-9, despite losing their starting quarterback to mono and so you could say that this was not a bad year. The problem is that I am not convinced by Adam Gase as a head coach these days, but whilst I don’t think he has done anything to lose his job, a lot will be riding on next season.

I have already mentioned that the Dolphins looked to have found a really good head coach in Brian Flores, and with the influx of picks coming in the next couple of years things could really take off for the Dolphins. They need to find a franchise quarterback, and Dan would very much like them to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick as a mentor/capable backup, but if the Dolphins get the picks right they could be peaking as the Patriots enter into a new phase of the franchise.

Given the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their franchise quarterback to injury in week two, their 8-8 record is very creditable, and Mike Tomlin answered those who suggested that the Steelers might need to make a change at head coach. However, now having fixed the defence it is the offence that needs attention now, and given this franchise’s record of finding receivers in recent years you would like to think this is possible.  However, the Steelers are another franchise who will need a new quarterback sooner than later, but we shall have to see if Ben Roethlisberger has another trip to the playoffs in him.

The Cleveland Browns had a horrible year full of dysfunction and disappointment that ended with the firing of both Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey. I wrote that there were warning signs before the season, and having created a roster full of character issues and not been prepared to change his role after a discussion with owner Jimmy Haslam, Dorsey lost his job for it. There is a lot to put right in Cleveland and it feels like they need a coach capable of building a winning culture at the Browns and sorting out Baker Mayfield. Given their track record it’s hard to have faith that Haslam will get this decision right but the fans in Cleveland definitely deserve better.

The results for the Bengals may have been hugely disappointed, but the culture in Cincinnati certainly seemed to hold up through the season and the players were saying good things about Zac Taylor. It looks like Joe Burrow is going to be the Bengals selection with the first overall pick, which is exciting because of both the player he is and the person he seems to be (Heisman Speech). I always hoped that Andy Dalton would get the right team to prove people wrong as under the right circumstances he was a really good quarterback (that 2015 team will forever haunt me because of his injury) and I hope he gets to enjoy success going forward, but I am ready for a new leader and hopefully a better team. It will need to be given the how good the Ravens are likely to be for years to come.

The Indianapolis Colts had their plans for the season thrown into the air with Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, but further burnished the credentials of head coach Frank Reich by going 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett as quarterback and with some different injury luck could have won more game. I wonder if they will be looking at quarterbacks in the off-season, but given their franchise progress over the last couple of years under GM Chris Ballard I see them being competitive again next season. That said, the other reason they struggled this year was that after a Hall of Fame career, kicker Adam Vinatieri had a bad year before having knee surgery that ended his season. It’s hard to see a forty-seven year old man coming back next season, but you would have said that for a number of seasons before now and it has been an incredibly impressive career that should not tarnished by a difficult season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a disappointing year where a sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew outplayed their prime off-season signing at quarterback. The Jaguars have provided a structural conundrum for a while and really need to establish an identity, but it is interesting that after a second season of missing the playoffs they are keeping GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone in place having fired Tom Coughlin once the players’ union announced that the Jaguars accounted for 25% of all their filed grievances. I’m really not sure what to expect next season as there are a lot of questions surrounding their roster and we shall have to see if they can get everyone pointed in the right direction next season.

The Denver Broncos finished the season with four wins out of five and in Drew Lock may well have finally found a quarterback to follow Peyton Manning. It may have taken some time for Vic Fangio to get things working for the Broncos in his first year, but if they can build on their late season success in the off-season then the Broncos can be back in contention next season.

The last year of the Raiders playing in Oakland saw them improve by three wins from 2018, but Jon Gruden still finished with a losing record and questions will continue to be asked about quarterback Derek Carr. The Raiders lost their first round safety early in the season, but rookie running back Josh Jacobs established himself as franchise back until he was injured and if the Raiders can continue to add talent they can compete for the playoffs in their first season in Las Vegas. There’s still something that is making me hesitate to say they will do this, but if Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have a second good off-season and don’t have the distractions of Antonio Brown they could easily do so.

It felt like Philip Rivers was saying goodbye after the LA Chargers last game, and the franchise seems to be in flux having failed to build on last year’s success, hampered again by injuries and seeming short on fans in LA. I don’t know what is going to happen to this franchise in the off-season, head coach Anthony Lynn seems safe but the Chargers need a new quarterback and something to bring the fans in. To be honest I’m not sure they are going to make a success of life in LA and whilst I think a possible move to London is a non-story (as their owner colourfuly explained earlier this year), I do think they could rue the day they left San Diego, even if Dean Spanos is unlikely to admit it.

That’s it for today’s post – check back tomorrow for a round up of the NFC teams as Competition Thursday swings into gear.