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I’m starting this week’s post early as Christmas is already messing with my usual weekly schedule, and it’s still over a week away so let’s see what I can get out written for you and when – the timeline of this week’s post might be a little out of sync.

What I Saw

The final Thursday night football of the 2019 season (which feels like a very odd thing to be writing right now) was a one sided contest where the good home (Baltimore Ravens) beat the poor road team (New York Jets) and covered a fourteen and a half point spread to boot. It was more of the same for the Ravens who continued to sweep away all in their path. I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the Ravens play and the surprising thing about this game was only that they managed to run for over two hundred yards going against the league’s second rated rush defence going into this game by DVOA. I’m curious what happens to the Jets in the off-season as Adam Gase manoeuvred his own person into the GM role, but he has struggled mightily this season whilst his former underachieving quarterback Ryan Tannehil is playing like a man transformed in Tennessee (correct at time of writing, I have not watched the Titans game yet – that’s coming later). Given his win-loss record and that the thing Gase is meant to be is a quarterback whisperer, the performance of this Jets team and Sam Darnold in particular has to lead to some pressure coming Gase’s way as questions need to be asked.

The next game I watched was the Chicago Bears visiting the Green Bay Packers, which was a strange game in that for long periods the Packers defence had control of the Bears offence whilst the Packers offence did enough to eek out a lead. The Packers were able to withstand a fourth quarter comeback as Trubisky found enough success to get to within eight points, but it was too little too late. The funny thing about this game is that for a large stretch of the game the Packers looked better, but the offence still doesn’t look quite right and Aaron Rodgers seems to be having a quiet year, but at 11-3 Packers fans might not be complaining too much until the playoffs. I’m not sure the Packers have what it will take to compete with the elite of the NFC despite their record but that could change rapidly if Rodgers can find some of his previous form and I would be hesitant to bet against that. Meanwhile, the Bears have recovered from some of their problems this season but face some big decisions about Trubisky and the direction of the team in the off-season, which looks like it could start at the end of week seventeen.

One of the games with the most riding on the result in week fifteen was that divisional matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans, where the Texans ran out 24-21 winners but could have won much more convincingly if Deshaun Watson hadn’t throw two interceptions in the endzone. Equally the Titans looked to move the ball more effectively for long stretches of this game and had their own ricochet interception near the Texan’s goal line. The result gives the Texans a big edge in the race for the division and they have the easier game next week as they take on the Buccaneers whilst the Titans have to take on the Saints next week. It may well be that the Titans don’t quite make the playoffs but they look to have found something in Ryan Tannehill and his connection with developing rookie receiver AJ Brown, whilst tight-end Jonnu Smith caught the eye with his speed both catching the ball and rushing for fifty-seven yards from his one snap at running back. The Titans might well be the more consistent team over the last eight weeks, but don’t look to be able to overcome the 2-4 start to make the playoffs, whilst the Texans can compete with anyone when healthy and if they go into the playoffs with receiver Will Fuller healthy then they will be a danger to whoever they face. Their ability to win games whilst being out-gained is what happens when you have a couple of superstar players who can turn a game for you with big moments and receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge fourth quarter in this one. I’m sure Bill O’Brien would love his team to play more consistently from week to week, but for a coach whose future is often speculated upon he has gone to the playoffs and won the division in three of his six years and only had one season with a losing record. My worry for this team is the future given the draft picks they have given up this year, but they are a dangerous team that no one will want to face come the playoffs.

The last game I watched was the New England Patriots easy win over the Cincinnati Bengals, which even after we hear more about the dubious taping of the Bengals side-line last week, I’m still not that upset about that and this was pretty much business as usual and no team needs that much of an edge to beat the Bengals at the moment. The Bengals were competitive for the first half and moved the ball okay, but the problems in the red-zone and turnovers once again doomed the Bengals to a loss. This was not helped by Andy Dalton throwing four picks, including a pick-six to Stephon Gilmore who had a second interception and kept Tyler Boyd to three catches for twenty-six yards. The Patriots offence still looked to be struggling, whilst the Bengals ran for one hundred and sixty-four yards against the Patriots defence and outgained the Patriots offence. I still can’t sit here and say the Patriots won’t compete in the playoffs, but it would not exactly be a surprise if this team can’t turn it around in the post-season as there are warning signs. However, we have been here before and having gone to four of the last five Super Bowls and won three of them, I’m not saying the Patriots are out of it until they absolutely are.

What I Heard

There’s been a lot of different topics, including more on the Patriots documentary filming as a section of the film was leaked on Monday.

More interesting to me though, has been the discussion of ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy who has apparently hired himself a staff to be the thirty-third team in the NFL so he can work the 2019 season. McCarthy has also been investigating analytics and was talking about his staff plan for the football technology team he wants. Obviously press like this doesn’t just happen, and after a year off he will be definitely looking to get back into coaching and is trying to drum interest, but it does sound like a positive thing to hear from a coach who was accused of lacking innovation in the final years of the time with the Packers. Despite the focus on young play callers in recent years, it’s not difficult to see some teams going for either McCarthy or Ron Rivera in a few weeks.

There has also been some discussion about former college coach Urban Meyer as he was seen in a press box at Washington, which has fueled speculation that he might be a target as the new coach for Washington or that the Cowboys might be interested in him should Jason Garrett fail to produce a significant playoff success.

It seems the days of waiting until Black Monday after week seventeen to fire your coach and start the search is well behind us, that allows this kind of speculation to get started well before the season is even done.

What I Think

There were a number of unexpected results over the weekend, which in of itself is not that unusual given the parity of the league and the small sample size, but even so the 49ers losing to the Falcons and the Jaguars beating the Raiders were two results that jumped out to me as well as the Cowboys beating the Rams 44-21.

It feels odd for the final Raiders game in Oakland to be a 16-20 loss to the Jaguars in week fifteen, and a fairly ignominious end for one of the most famous home sections in the league. The moving of franchises always feels alien to me as it is something that happens so rarely in the UK, but with two teams moving to Los Angeles and now the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, there are a lot of franchises in flux at the moment. The Vegas move might well be the most successful in terms of fan support (the Rams are having problems and the Chargers nearly always play to more away fans their tiny temporary stadium), but it still feels sad to be the Black Hole. The Oakland stadium needed renovating or replacing, but you can’t just replace or recreate the Black Hole and there is something inherently sad for those fans even if all things must end.

What I Know

I know that I need a miracle to turn around the picks competition, and that this off-season I really need to find time to go through my spreadsheets from the end of last season, work out my method/formula and combine that with my pick system this season and see if I can come up with a formula to get back into contention next season.

What I Hope

I am actually beginning to embrace the idea of the Bengals selecting Ohio raised Joe Burrow in the draft and seeing if he can turn round the team next season, but a lot of other things also have to improve for us to recover from a woeful 2019 season. Still there’s good football left to enjoy this season so let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much.