That’s All Folks

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here we are, the season is done, and we have our Super Bowl champions.

What I Saw

Kansas City Chiefs: 31 – San Francisco 49ers: 20

There was only one game on everybody’s mind this week and what a fascinating contest it was. For three quarters the 49ers looked like the better team and maintained a lead, but in the end Patrick Mahomes found something of his normal form and was able to help the Chiefs offence stage another comeback to clinch the game with a score that in truth slightly flatters the Chiefs.

The marquee matchup of this game was the 49ers defence against the vaunted Chiefs offence, but through pass rush and coverage the 49ers were able to make Mahomes have one of his worst games in a Chiefs’ uniform. However, the Chiefs were clearly expecting the 49ers game plan to an extent as they ran the ball well with Damian Williams who amassed over one hundred yards, sealing the game with a thirty-eight yard touchdown as the Chiefs ran out the clock. However, it was only in the fourth quarter when the quick strike resurfaced for the Chiefs that the offence truly came alive when Andy Reid ran a play that Mahomes had been asking to try again. The third-year quarterback was able to connect Tyreek Hill for a forty-four yard play, which was the first big chunk pass of the game. Within a minute on the game clock the Chiefs scored their first touchdown since the first quarter and began the twenty-one-point swing that took place in the final seven minutes that also included a thirty-eight yard pass to Sammy Watkins to setup the second touchdown before Williams sealed the game with the aforementioned run.

As for the 49ers, they came up with the right game plan and so nearly executed it well enough to win the game. They generated over three hundred and fifty yards of offence and into the fourth quarter they looked like the more likely team to win. There were a couple of occasions where they came away with field goals, which would have frustrated Kyle Shanahan, and Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t execute to the level they were both hoping. In this game Mahomes actually threw the same number of interceptions as Garoppolo but we left this game with some questioning whether the 49ers QB is a true franchise quarterback. This might be a little unfair as Mahomes is an exceptional talent and this is now the second Super Bowl where Shanahan was coordinating the offence and his team couldn’t hold a lead. The question I do think is worth looking at is how much the 49ers tried to run the ball given that they only had twenty-two carries in this game at well over six yards a carry. This is actually less carries than the Chiefs, which you would not have expected going into the game. However, there is much to love about the 49ers offence, whose one receiving touchdown was to a fullback and who also accounted for the 49ers longest receiving play.

In the end, despite history seeming to favour the more well-rounded team with the better defence in the Super Bowl, it was Andy Reid with Patrick Mahomes and that offence who found enough to win the game whilst their defence did enough to get the win. I’m sure the 49ers will be really hurting after this loss, but both teams are relatively young so whilst they will be different next season, both look in good shape to have a run at the Super Bowl next year. Given the quality of this game I think we could all live with that.

What I Heard

I have to report that Dan was not that impressed with the half time show, but I enjoyed it. Although it is interesting to compare some of the complaints about the risqué nature of some of it to what was happening during Janet Jackson’s performance before her legendary wardrobe malfunction.

The reason I started there, apart form the play on words, is that the NFL media has covered the win and almost already moved on to off-season news.

I’m not ready to go there quite yet, although I will have to seek out the Mic’d Up segments which are always entertaining if not informative.

What I Think

I was surprised by how much I was supporting the Chiefs and Andy Reid getting that Super Bowl win in this game, and that now ends the argument that Reid can’t win the big one and likely cements his place in the Hall of Fame.

Given how many games he has won for so long, and the innovation he has show throughout his career I think there was a pretty good case for him getting in anyway. This season we had two teams in the Super Bowl that apart from division rivals, noone would particularly object to see winning. I thought it was a lovely touch for the Eagles to show their support for their former coach, and it does also demonstrate some of how well Reid is liked around the league.

What I Know

I will be taking some time off for a couple of weeks, but I will try to follow something of the pattern of last year’s off-season and do a couple of off-season posts either on the next step of the year-round football news cycle or what I’ve dug into.

I would love to have the time to dig into the coaching tape of this game at some point, and later in the year I very well might but things have been very difficult this season for reasons outside of football so I am ready for a break.

There may be some changes in process and posts next season, I evaluate the blog every year but there may be some factors that could affect my writing time so we shall have to see how things shake out. Rest assured though, that The Wrong Football will be back in some form for our seventh regular season at the start of September.

What I Hope

That everyone has a productive off-season and fills the time spent on football reading books, pursuing other hobbies or relaxing. We only have so much time gifted to us so make sure you use it wisely.

And now, for the last time this season over to Dan’s Dad:

The 2019 Trivia Contest

‘They Think It’s All Over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous Wembley commentary in 1966 is no less relevant now than it was then.

The Superbowl was acknowledged as one of the best and a comeback worthy of Lazarus! It rounds off a season in which the un-predictable became a regular feature but with some teams coming to the fore that were not always the usual suspects. One big event in 2019-20 was, of course the Pats failing to win playoff game with the inevitable Brady-fest which followed it. That could be an interesting story to play out on the way to next season.

For one last time this term we move to the quartet of questions for the final week. We begin with Dan in the lead by 33 to 30 and this week its 3 points per correct answer.

We started in Tampa and asked:   The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Well the guesses were the Lions or the Falcons, but unfortunately for Dan and Gee the team was actually the Packers.
This happened on October 12, 1980. Packers kicker Tom Birney missed a 36 yard field goal attempt as time expired, ending the game in a 14-14 tie. The two teams finished the 1980 season tied for last place in the NFC Central at 5-10-1.

It’s the ‘tied for last place’ that did it for me, devious to the end.

Right next was Tennessee and the simple question was: Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh?

Both correctly identified Steve McNair so it’s 3 points each.

On now to DC where I threw in this, the Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

This one threw me too, but the backstory is more than interesting.

We got some interesting fantasy team names but the answer is Boston Braves.
The franchise was named the Boston Braves for their first season, then changed their name to the Boston Redskins for four seasons before moving to D.C. Their first season in 1932 brought them a 4-4-2 season record, for a fourth place finish of eight teams. The Chicago Bears won the title in the season for going 7-1-6, although the runner-up Green Bay Packers went 10-3-1.

And finally…

Also with a Washington and a Superbowl element I finished with: Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach.

Czar was perhaps a bit of a giveaway, but both successfully went for Vince Lombardi – 3 points each.

For the record Daniel Snyder wasn’t the first Redskins owner to spend a lot of money to bring in a veteran coach and players and try to win an instant championship but Lombardi was too good to overlook.

Which brings us to the final scores and we end with Gee on 36 against Dan’s 39.. So congratulations and commiserations in equal measure to the pair who have been tormented for another season which I’d say was probably my most devious yet. On well – Onwards and Upwards.’

I would like to send my congratulations to Dan on a well-earned trivia victory and thank Dan’s Dad for his efforts all year as well as congratulate him again on keeping the blog in Vikings’ purple and gold. I’m sure he’s already working on more sneaky or downright evil questions to ask us for next season.

This blog wouldn’t be the same without either Dan or his Dad, and I am very grateful for their involvement and all the effort they put in.

Until next time, live long and prosper!
Gee

Super Bowl Sunday

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here it is the big day and the last game of the season, plenty to write about, but there is the final round of trivia to go through first.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘First stop this week are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tell me:
The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Moving onto the Tennessee Titans so tell me:
Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh

At last we get into DC and for the Washington Redskins tell me:
The Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

Trawling for questions throws up some interesting info and with the closing question for the season, which I predict will be got by both, is

Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach?

This is a mixed bag of questions for questions, some of which I think I might know and some that are a real shot in the dark, with the majority being the latter.

We’ll start with the opening question that very much falls into the shot in the dark category, but I am going to plump for on NFC team on the grounds as they play them more and going with Atlanta Falcons as a divisional opponent who have been around long enough to up the chances by having more games.

As for the Titans’ quarterback, my first thought was Vince Young, but I think that 2005 is a bit early so I’m going to plump for the only other Titans quarterback that I can think of from around this period and hope 3D isn’t living up to his nickname – that quarterback, Steve McNair

I have really struggled with the early franchise names and this is no exception. I have no memory or knowledge of a previous pace for Washington and it seems baffling that they changed to a name that many find offensive so I don’t know what they could have had before or if they were even in Washington. I’m going to have to try a total guess so how about the Washington Presidents? I’m sure it’s not that but I genuinely have no cluse.

This problem had me stumped the most, particularly with the whole football czar angle until I had slept on the question and instead of trying to pick out some complex link to a modern coach that I couldn’t work out, I had what I hope is a flash of inspiration. As I have very much discovered this season, my knowledge of NFL history is somewhat patchy, but for all that Vince Lombardi is forever associated with Green Bay, I think I remember listening to a podcast on him and unless I’m completely misremembering his final year of coaching was with Washington. I think…. Well that’s it, I can’t do any more this season so over to Dan:

‘Final week then, it’s all down to this! After having amassed a 3-point lead, I could grumble about this week being 4 points per question, but I shall resist! Couple of guesses, couple I know this week.

I’ve got a feeling that Tampa’s tie was this season and I think it was against the Lions – probably wrong but I’ll go with that.

For Tennessee, I’m slightly hesitant as I’m not sure if this guy was still there by 2005 but I’ll go with Steve McNair as I know he was in Tennessee for years and would have been roughly around this time.

The former name of the Redskins I have no idea of, so I’ll guess at the DC Defenders, and forfeit that question!

And finally for the bonus question, my first thought was John Madden, but Im fairly sure he retired as a Raider (or at least was there for years) and then the timing hit me – I’ll go with the trophy namesake, Vince Lombardi!

Enjoy the Bowl!’

Kansas City Chiefs Vs San Francisco 49ers

This is game has the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls we have had in a while, with a couple of outstanding play-calling coaches whose offences will have different approaches but are no less effective so let’s take look at the match-ups before I take a swing at how this game might go.

I’ll start with what is going to be the strength on strength match-up when the Chiefs have the ball. The Chiefs finished the regular season with the third ranked offence by DVOA but that doesn’t tell the whole story as Patrick Mahomes missed a pair of games after he dislocated his knee cap and it took several more weeks after his return to look like last season’s all conquering MVP. However, whilst he couldn’t match last years numbers the Chiefs finished the season winning six straight games and rolled right into the playoffs. There is a compelling argument for Mahomes to be the best quarterback in the league right now and with the speed that the Chiefs have at receiver this makes them one of the fastest strike offences in the league. If the combination of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman at receiver were not scary enough, the Chiefs also have one of the premiere pass catching tight-ends in Travis Kelce who actually led the team in receiving yards like this. Andy Reid has always liked his offence to throw the ball, and the devastating speed is how the Chiefs can be twenty-four points down in the second quarter of a playoff game and go into half time leading,

However, the 49ers had the second ranked defence in the league by DVOA in the regular season and will hope that they can stifle the Chiefs’ devastating speed with their four man pass rush and quality coverage. A lot of the pass rush plaudits have gone to rookie Nick Bosa, but they have five first round picks in their defensive line rotation and it is Arik Armstead who led the team in sacks. However, one of the important things in this game will be the defensive line’s ability to rush in a coordinated manner as apart from his remarkable ability throwing the ball, Patrick Mahomes is also a capable rusher as he demonstrated against the Titans with over fifty yards of rushing. If the 49ers hope to win with coverage, that will be tested by both the Chiefs’ team speed but also their pre-snap motion and the myriad ways of that Andy Reid likes to attack a defence. There will be screens a plenty the 49ers will be hoping to keep the Chiefs in front of them and have them consistently maintain long drives.

When the 49ers have the ball they will build of their running game, which they have lent on heavily in the post-season. One of the narratives of the build up as has been that the 49ers have lost faith in Jimmy Garoppolo, but the team have vehemently denied that in the build up this week and my mind can’t help but go back to the week fourteen game against the Saints where Garoppolo threw for nearly three hundred and fifty yards and four touchdowns. I suspect the 49ers will be hoping to run the ball and control the clock to an extent, but they will be aware of how the Chiefs sold out to stop the run against the Titans in the previous round and so there will be more passing in this game. The 49ers have their own quality receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel, but whilst Kelce is one of the best pass-catching tight-ends in the league, this season George Kittle has established himself as one of the best all round tight-ends in the game who loves blocking as much as catching the ball and refusing to be tackled. I expect the 49ers to be a more balanced offence than the Chiefs, but with the speed the 49ers have at running back the are capable of deep strikes on the ground they will be hoping the mixture of outside zones and power running will still be effective against a defence that is likely to be setup to stop them running.

The Chiefs’ defence may only rank fourteenth in the league, but that is a twelve place improvement on where they ranked last year and with an offence as potent as Chiefs, they don’t need to be top ten for them to win the game. The concern is that their rush defence only ranks twenty-sixth so if they are to contain the run they may have to commit eight players to stop the run leaving the secondary exposed. In Tyrann Mathieu the Chiefs picked up a versatile safety who will be important in getting the defence lined up and it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs try to cope with the 49ers varied attack.

We have known for years that Andy Reid is an excellent coach, his teams are always competitive and the results of pairing him with a truly elite quarterback have been impressive. There have been questions about his clock management but this looks to be as good a team as he has ever had. This is not Reid’s first Super Bowl and there has been plenty of talk about this being his chance to secure a Hall of Fame slot. If Mahomes can stay healthy then there could well be more, but people thought that about Dan Marino and he famously never made it back to the Super Bowl so we can’t take it for granted. If Andy Reid has scars from his previous Super Bowl appearance then so does Kyle Shanahan who was the offensive coordinators for the Atlanta Falcons when they suffered the incredible turn around from the New England Patriots. This game pits two of the best offensive minds in the game against each other, and as good as Reid is coming off a bye you can argue that the 49ers have the better overall team.

I’ve heard the arguments for both teams, with the 49ers being tipped as the better overall team and others unwilling to pick against Parick Mahomes. I wouldn’t want to pick this game. I have seen Garoppolo keep his team in a shoot out with the Saints and win, but we should not forget the skills players that Mahomes have to work with. If the 49ers defence gets on top it could be a dour game but I think the most likely outcome is a relatively high scoring game and I have a feeling that the winner will be whichever team has the ball at the end. So much could happen, but I feel like this could be a truly exceptional game. There are no guarantees, but I think this last game of the 2019 season could for once live up to the hype, and I can’t think of a better way to finish the season.

Let’s settle in for the big one – as Super Bown LIV is here.

DVOA is Football Outsiders’ statistic to 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 Show Goes On

Tags

, , , , , , ,

It has been a very strange week, particularly after Sunday as whilst the actual Pro Bowl game was being played the news of Kobe Bryant’s death broke.

This has been huge news round the world and has given a different feel to Super Bowl week. The approach Bryant took to his sporting career transcended the sport of basketball and made a Bryant a significant figure in NFL locker rooms. He had pursued also his new post playing career with as much vigour as his basketball. I can think of any other league MVPs who by age forty-one also had an Oscar.

He was also a complex individual, and with all the positive stories surrounding him, it is also important to acknowledge that he was charged with sexual assault in 2003. At the time he flew back and forth from the court case to play games and eventually the case was dismissed as the victim refused to testify. The woman, nineteen at the time of the attack had her name leaked several times as well as being smeared by the defence team. What we do know is that after initially denying the incident took place, Bryant admitted to not explicitly asking for consent and after the case stated that he understood that she had a different understanding of the event to him. Bryant also settled a civil suit, part of which was a non-disclosure agreement on his side.

As ever, a lot of the recovery of his reputation was down to returning to winning ways on the court and society’s view of successful men. However, Bryant also became a committed family man, taking pride in being a girl dad and an advocate for women’s sport as well as reaching out and mentoring a number of sports people. He was interested in many things including his next chapter and storytelling, but one of the sadder aspects of this whole situation is the death of his middle daughter Gianna, who was only thirteen and was pursuing her own basketball dreams.

In this era of real-time social media reactions and the seeming desire to divide in good and bad people we forget that everyone is hugely complex and good deeds in one area do not negate bad actions in another, but if we are to believe in redemption or at least the attempt to make amends then we have to give people a chance to improve. We can’t ignore or excuse Bryant’s actions in this case, but nor can we define him solely by them and so the man who was capable of great feats on the basketball court is the same person who was involved in the sexual assault case and approving his legal defence. It is the same man who inspired people round the world as well as his peers, who doted on his children. When you contemplate his death you think about the family without a father or daughter, the other children and parents from the same team who also died, the woman who is witnessing the reaction to Bryant’s death filtered through her own trauma and complex feelings about what is happening.

People are complex and only here for a short time and so we have to make the best of what we have, strive our best every day, and face the consequences of our actions whether we intended the outcomes or not.

There’s no easy way to segue out of this topic and back to football, and it feels like a lot of the Super Bowl coverage has been subdued because of that very fact, but I can steadily make my way back to football because what I was just writing about is relevant to one of the key players for the Kansas City Chiefs. For all that I’m a big fan of Andy Reid, and I’m so impressed by Patrick Mahomes, one of the key skills players for the Chiefs is Tyreek Hill who has his own complex history. A fifth-round draft pick by the Chiefs due to a domestic assault of his then pregnant girlfriend, which saw him dismissed from the Oklahoma State football team. He’s been a successful player for the Chiefs going from a speedy returner to one of the best receivers in the game, but in the off-season he was investigated over the care of his son, who we know had a broken arm and was taken into care. The investigation was dropped and he has been given a contract extension, in part because of his conduct around the team and I have read the stories about how he has matured but as ever, if you have talent then often it seems you get to play your way out trouble. I’m hugely looking forward to the Super Bowl, but this will be itching away at the back of my brain because we shouldn’t forget that as great as some of these players are, they are human and complex and in some case you wonder where the line between rehabilitation and facilitation lies.

My schedule has got out of step this week, so I’m going to wrap up with a couple of quick points, and will drop my proper preview of the Super Bowl Sunday morning so you can get up to speed because as strange as the build up as been, the actual games looks like it could be one for the ages.

What I Saw

I saw a few video highlights of the quarterback throwing competitions and other of the periphery competitions, but the Pro Bowl is not a proper game of football and I freely admit to not watching it, even if it does get a very high rating in the States.

What I Hope

There is so much to hope for having been repeatedly been reminded of the frailty of life over the last few weeks.

In life I hope we take on board the lesson that we have to make sure we make the most of every day and the opportunities that gets presented to us as there are no guarantees that we will get another chance tomorrow.

What I hope for Sunday is that the game lives up to the potential I see in it, and for a few hours a large section of the world sets aside the struggles of life and gets to enjoy what could be a truly glorious game.

In the meantime I’ll hand over to Dan’s Dad for normal service on the trivia front, and don’t worry, I very definitely have thoughts about the oncoming game.

What We’ve Been Asked

‘The penultimate game of the season has come and gone. Apart from stating that the AFC ran out winners by 5 points we can switch focus to what I can see as a potentially great Super Bowl this weekend.

I’ve harboured a liking for the Chiefs’ work all season and have said as much. My thoughts were that the Saints would be my choice to represent the NFC in Miami, after the Vikings rolling them over in Wild Card week. The Vikings were less successful in the Divisional week losing to the 49ers and from there San Fran rolled over the Packers to become a very capable contender.

In a 49ers / Chiefs Superbowl, who wins? I’ll leave Gee to do the coaching analysis but for me, while SF have a great momentum the Chiefs may benefit from by-passing the Wild Card game so I’ll plump for H.C Wolf to edge out Sourdough Sam by 6 points,

And in the Trivia nothing really changed in terms of Dans lead of a still gettable 3 points.

For the Pro Bowl the questions were on the 49ers and Seahawks.

For San Fran I asked one of my occasional stinkers which was, “How many 49er quarterbacks were inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 20th century?”

Well I was impressed by the ideas that came through and the guesses were plausible, but the answer was actually just 1.

Only Y.A. Tittle (1971) was inducted in the 20th century. Although Joe Montana and Steve Young played in that century, they were inducted in the 21st.

Moving up the coast to Seattle I asked what turned into a head scratcher with, “Which player finished the 2003 season as the Seahawks starting quarterback”?

The answer of course was Matt Hasselbeck. He started every game for the Seahawks in 2003, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

2 points each to Gee and Dan for that one leaving us with scores of 30 – 33 respectively.

Which brings us to the final game and the completion of our road trip round the 32 teams with the final 3 teams, and 4 questions – because I can!

First stop this week are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tell me:
The Bucs played in only one tie game in the 20th century. Who was it against?

Moving onto the Tennessee Titans so tell me:
Which player started at quarterback for the first game of the 2005 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh

At last we get into DC and for the Washington Redskins tell me:
The Washington Redskin franchise began in 1932 in the NFL. What was the team’s name in that season?

Trawling for questions throws up some interesting info and with the closing question for the season, which I predict will be got by both, is

Which famous football czar ended his career in Washington as coach?

Three points for each question this week so there are twelve points on the table so go for it!

And so, to Miami – Lets play Ball!’

A Week for Trivia

Tags

,

I am not a fan of the Pro Bowl and with all that’s going on at the moment I am taking it a bit easy this week. I’m really looking forward to the Super Bowl and I am hoping to do my usual coaching tape break downs of the game in the following weeks, but I am very aware that the season is nearly over. However, even facing up to the oncoming football desert, the weird half game of the Pro Bowl does not tempt me. However, 3D’s torture of us continues unabated and so I have to take a look at this week’s questions.

Dan’s Dad asked us:

‘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?

Now this first question feels like a trap. The obvious candidates are Joe Montana and Steve Young, but I have a feeling that one if not both of them might have got in after the year 2000, but was there an earlier player I’m not thinking of? I am going to plump for two as I think Montana might have got in before the first of January 2001 and there was someone earlier. I could, as usual, be overthinking this one.

As for the Seahawks question, it took me a moment to dig the name out of my memory, but I believe it was Matt Hasselbeck who was quarterback at this time and who took the Seahawks to the Super Bowl at some during his run with the team. I’m not remembering any great changes of things to note, other than I think he took over from former Bengal Jon Kitna so I just hope 3D hasn’t got something sneaky I haven’t thought of planned for this question.

Now over to Dan:

‘Right, for the 49ers, I can only name Steve Young and Joe Montana off the top of my head. I’d imagine I’ll kick myself when I’ve forgotten someone obvious when the answers are revealed but I’ll go for 2.

The Seahawks question has been a real head scratcher for me. I want to say Matt Hasselbeck but something is telling me that 2003 is a bit early for him. Also the wording ‘at the end of’ suggests it’s someone different to who would have started but I can’t think of any other names. I’ll just go for Hasselbeck and hope for the best I think!

The Toughest Loss

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.’