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18-10-17 M-Tomlin

Image Credit: behindthesteelcurtain.com

So with a heart filled with the familiar pain of a loss to our divisional rivals I have to pick up the jagged bloody pieces of my fandom and get on with the blog because the NFL schedule waits for no one.

The Bengals lost to the Steelers again, but it wasn’t exactly an implosion and Andy Dalton gave the boys in stripes a lead with 1:18 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brows sealed the game and whilst some are complaining about calls, this was a close game and the mounting injuries were as much the cause as anything. It doesn’t get any easier though as the Bengals are on the road against Kansas City this week and have been flexed into the Sunday night game, which bodes badly given the Bengals poor record in nationally televised games.

However, enough of my gloom! One of the reasons that covering the NFL is fun is that even with the most detailed preparation no one knows anything and there were plenty of surprises amongst the entertaining week six games.

I chose entertaining deliberately as we had one of the best games of the season this week with the Kansas City Chiefs going to New England taking them down to the final whistle as Stephen Gostkowski kicked a twenty-eight yard field goal to seal the win. For what felt like the first time this season it looked a little bit like Patrick Mahomes felt some nerves being on the road in front of the nation, but the Chiefs recovered from a half time score 0f 9-24 and forced a final second field goal out of the Patriots. I’m sure plenty of people are already hoping for a repeat game in the playoffs, whilst I’m just worried about what the Chiefs are going to do to the Bengals next week, but let’s not disappear down that rat hole!

Part of the excitement of this season has been the dominance of the offence this season where even a team that has the number one defence by DVOA can give up five hundred yards to a Miami Dolphins offence helmed by Brock Osweiler. Now a lot of this was done by Adam Gase utilising his young skill players ability to turn short passes into long gains, but is impressive none the less. I’m beginning to think the only reliable defence at the moment belongs to the Baltimore Ravens who shut out the Tennessee Titans this week and managed to rack up eleven sacks. This is too many for me not to take a look at their pass rush for my amateur adventures in film post and it will be nice to get back to some defensive tape. However, the story this season really is offence and not always from the usual suspects. I shared the frustrations I had heard repeatedly stated about the Dallas Cowboys offence having seen it for my own eyes against the Texans earlier this season, but thanks to modern technology it takes so much less time for plays to spread and the Cowboys came up with a doozy of a game plan in week six that enabled them to stick forty points on the Jacksonville Jaguars defence. Okay, so there were four field goals in that total but Cole Beasley racked up over a hundred receiving yards and a two touchdowns whilst Ezekiel Elliott also ran for a hundred yards. All this was with Dak Prescott throwing for a modest one hundred and eight-three yards but he also chipped in with eighty-two yards on the ground. I’m not saying everything is suddenly fixed, things are far too unpredictable but this game is definitely something that could be built upon.

There’s a reason that I said could. If this season has taught us nothing else, it is to be wary of the grand statement. Now this is a familiar feeling to me having been blogging about this league for four years now, which is really nothing, but it does feel like the development and changes within the league are accelerating. Every year we see teams who were bottom of their division suddenly leading, even if there are a handful of teams who always seem to do well or poorly, but it does feel like things are increasingly topsy-turvy and week to week. This is likely to be that apart from the structural things to do with the rosters, injury luck, and tactical complexity that makes predicting outcomes difficult, we have such a small sample size that every game takes on more importance and we draw bigger inferences than we should on the basis of one game. Across the entire season they sort themselves out a little, but it is so hard to remain competitive across a season never mind to build a dynasty like the Patriots currently have, or that the 49ers had when I was growing up.

It also doesn’t help when trends spread across season. It feels like LA Chargers have been competitive but losing too many close games for a while, but if you look back at their results to include last season. They may have started 2017 with four losses, but since week five of last season the Chargers have only lost to the Patriots, Jaguars and Chiefs last in 2017 and the Chiefs and Rams this season. That gives them a record of 13-5 record over an admittedly arbitrarily selected series of games. However, they beat the Cleveland Browns convincingly this week and so perhaps I should be a little more trusting of them given that they had moved cities and hired a new head coach before the start of said 2017 season and that four loss streak. There is plenty of talent on their roster and having listed them as a real contender two weeks ago, I’m really beginning to think they will compete across this season. I hereby apologise for the jink I have just placed on the Chargers.

I can’t finish this blog without saying a quick word about the London game. It was a rainy Wembley that saw the host Oakland Raiders get thoroughly beaten by the Seattle Seahawks and we should not take for granted that we still get to see live regular NFL games in this country. There have been some great competitive games at Wembley, but we have also seen our fair share of one sided contests. This time both teams had to travel from the west coach of America so there’s no real disadvantage there but whilst the Seahawks may well be rebuilding, at least they have a settled head coach and general manager working together. It feels like Jon Gruden is rebuilding the Raiders by tearing everything down, which is interesting as the GM who built it, Reggie McKenzie, is still there. Not content with trading away Khalil Mack there’s now rumblings the Raiders would accept a number one pick for Amari Cooper and people are talking about how little a cap hit it would be to cut Derek Carr at the end of the season. This is all getting a bit speculative for me to want to cover, other than to say with a roster that has a number of older players, if they are going to tear everything down it could take a while to get good again and I don’t see how this is going to sell tickets in Las Vegas. Still, all we can do for now is watch and wonder, which is pretty much how I’ve felt all season, be it considering thoughtfully or gazing in awe.