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So the games of week ten were as good as my picks were awful!

One of the reasons suggested for the NFL’s falling ratings has been the quality of the games, particularly in the nationally televised games, but we had a series of close and eventful finishes and probably the game of the season in the Sunday night prime time slot with the Seattle Seahawks beating the New England Patriots in a back and forth game that had seven lead changes. This followed and equally back and forth game between the Cowboys and Steelers that featured three touchdowns in the last two minutes.

The New Orleans Saints must have thought they had won the game when Drew Brees somehow found Brandin Cooks in the end zone despite being covered by two Broncos’ players. However, the resulting extra point was blocked by rookie safety Justin Simmons who vaulted the long snapper Justin Drescher with the help of Jared Crick who made sure that Drescher couldn’t stand up and make contact with Simmons by pushing him down. The NFL has later confirmed that as this was an open handed push it was legal. If Simmons’s block wasn’t enough though, another rookie safety in Will Parks scooped up the ball and ran it back to the end zone for a two point defensive score that gave the Broncos the lead before receiving the ball and holding on for the win. Such are the margins that games turn on in the NFL, although the Saints will likely feel aggrieved as with no definitive view of Parks who likely stepped out of bounds during the return, the return stood. It is very possible that this play would have been overturned if Parks had been wearing black boots, but it is too late now. Still, it is yet another dramatic ending for a really good slate of games over the weekend and we will likely see similar leaping block attempts in crucial field goals/extra points at the end of games, with the same manoeuvre executed on the poor long snapper who can’t do much to defend himself in that position.

The fine margins that separate winning and losing are not always so obvious, but the differences between good and average teams are not always that big. This season seems to have a particular large sample of so-so teams, with it seems everybody agreeing that the Patriots, Cowboys, and Seahawks are looking dangerous, a mass of teams with one or two potential contenders for post season success, and then likes of the Browns and 49ers vying for the first pick in next year’s draft.

The Bengals could be seen as a microcosm of this in that their 3-5-1 record is pretty awful, but they are only two games out in the surprisingly poor AFC North. They are not actually a bad team, but they seem to have been doomed by too many changes at once and things won’t quite come together. Whether certain parts of the team just got too old at the same time I don’t know, but most would consider the roster to be one of the most talented in the league. However, there have been so many changes with a new offensive coordinator and several new postition coaches on defence, and nothing has looked quite right. The lack of consistency is what is hampering the Bengals and those who have been calling for Marvin Lewis to be fired are unlikely to be quietened by anything other than a major turnaround in the second half of the season and post season success.

There are so many moving parts in an NFL franchise, that playing within a structure that is supposed to promote parity, it hardly a surprise that it is hard to be consistently good. Only the very best and worst are standing out at the moment, but whilst you will frequently hear people questioning decisions, you also frequently hear criticisms of such and such is a bad coach, and I’m not always sure that is fair.

In some corners of the NFL coverage you will frequently hear disparaging comments about Andy Reid’s clock management, and these are not entirely without merit, however as demonstrated by their come back on Sunday, even when the Chiefs fall into a hall the players believe in Reid and keep playing. He has won an awful lot of football games, and there is a lot more to being a head coach that clock management. If you get a chance, listen to Ron Riviera talking on this week’s Peter King podcast to get a flavour of what the coaches are going through. I do sometime feel that coaches are wedded to the way they were brought up in football, but there is a constant search for the next small advantage that could turn a game and we don’t always get to see or hear about them.

In a changing game with so much variation from season to season, the sustained success of the Patriots and Seahawks are all the more remarkable, and whilst there is a lot to take from the recent string of Bengals success, they still haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the longest in the league. In a results based world like the NFL, people’s jobs are tied to very variable results and this does not always lead to better results, but with the seasons that the Bengals are having, much like the Packers who are a team who also have a history of patience with coaches, change could be in the air at the end of the season. There is still over a quarter of the season to go, but things are getting serious now so let’s see what happens.

 

Saints @ Panthers (-3.5)

I got bitten by the line last week, but whilst the Saints are a better team than the Browns, and have a better record than the Panthers, the Panthers played well for long stretches against the Kansas City Chiefs and have looked a lot more like themselves in recent weeks. It may be too late for a playoff push, but I’m not picking against them at home in this Thursday night game.

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

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